Wednesday, February 28, 2024

The War in Ukraine or “The special military operation in Ukraine”?

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DIPLOMAT MAGAZINE “For diplomats, by diplomats” Reaching out the world from the European Union First diplomatic publication based in The Netherlands. Founded by members of the diplomatic corps on June 19th, 2013. "Diplomat Magazine is inspiring diplomats, civil servants and academics to contribute to a free flow of ideas through an extremely rich diplomatic life, full of exclusive events and cultural exchanges, as well as by exposing profound ideas and political debates in our printed and online editions." Dr. Mayelinne De Lara, Publisher

                           – 30 days since it began –

By Major Gen. (ret) Corneliu Pivariu

On February 24 2022, around 5 AM Moscow time, on Vladimir Putin’s order the Russian army launched an unprovoked war against Ukraine.

There is no chance for us to fall into Kremlin’s propagandistic trap and accept circumventing the term war for this aggression and use Moscow’s expression.

The re-invasion Russia launched on ground, from the air and from the sea is the largest attack of a state against another state in Europe after the WWII. The 2014 invasion should not be frogotten and that is why we used the term re-invasion which is, otherwise, coming across in the international media.

From its military dimension, the conflict became manifest in the economic, diplomatic, media and social fields in the countries directly involved, yet with reverberations in almost all of the world’s countries.

The present approach will deal predominantly with the military aspects while not neglecting the essential aspects in other fields.

  1. Why did Russia attack Ukraine?

Ever since president Putin delivered his speech at the 2007 Munich Security Conference, it was quite obvious that Russia would not accept the geopolitical developments that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall and will try to re-establish its lost sphere of influence especially in Europe. Soon, in August 2008, the conflict in Georgia followed with almost no reactions from the Western democracies and that encouraged Moscow to annex Crimea in 2014 and to partially occupy regions in eastern Ukraine, regions  which were later on declared as separatist Donetsk and Lugansk republics. That time too, the international community’s reaction was rather feeble, with superficial sanctions against the said aggression.

It is possible that encouraged by that reaction and most probably miscalculating the consequences of launcing the war against Ukraine, as well as of Ukraine’s internal situation, Putin believed he could replicate in the whole of Ukraine  the situation he was met with in Crimea and could set up a pro- Muscovite puppet regime within days from launching the offensive.

Putin made the decision to attack Ukraine seeing the demarches the country has made to join the EU and NATO, although  they were already provided for in the 2019 Ukrainian constitution.

  • The way the conflict unfolds

However, after the first day of war, the Russian ground forces missed the initial moment of the offensive due to lack of fuel (some unconfirmed enough sources speak of the Russian military bartering fuel for alcohol), of ammunition and even of food supplies. It is also assessed that the first echelon of the Russian troops included not only poorly trained military but also an equally poor leadership.

The offensive was simultaneously launched on four directions:

  • Towards Kyiv (around 2,8 mil. inhabitants) from Belarus (circa 90 km north) and from further east, from the Russian territory;
  • Towards Harkiv, Ukraine’s second city (around 1,4 mil. inhabitants) from the east, from the Russian territory, less than 30 km from the Russian border;
  • From the south, from Crimea and the Black Sea, pursuing the closure of the Ukrainian sea shore of the Black Sea by achieving the land connection between Russia and Crimea and by occupying Odessa (Ukraine’s third city, with more than 1 mil. inhabitants).

The land offensive started simultaneously with the launching of 160 missiles from the ground, from the air and from the sea as well as with two aviation attack waves (around 80 bombers and escort fighter jets), namely in total 400 attacks in the first 24 hours which targetted 15 commandments and command centers, 18 air defense units, 11 airfields and six military bases.

At the end of the first fighting day, the Snake Island (0,15 Km2) , which is 45 km far from the Romanian sea shore, was occupied. The Ukrainian garrison there (some 15 military) was captured and it was initially announced that the military there were killed. This very action proves the importance Russia attaches to the tiny island. The satellite images show that a Russian military navy entered the island’s tiny port.

From unofficial sources, I can say that before the invasion started, there was a proposal to the American side that NATO set up a radar and a symbolic garrison on the island in order to protect it and avoid its occupation, a proposal which was rejected by the US.

The Russian special forces in uniforms and civilian clothes have been spoted in Kyiv’s center while paratroopers landing from helicopters tried to occupy the Hostomel airport situated to the north-west of the capital. Initially, the Russian forces succeeded in occupying the airport, but at the end of the fighting day the Ukrainian forces resumed the control of the objective.

With the exception of long distance missiles strikes, almost all the initial targets of the invasion were missed. Ukraine’s air defence was not totally annihilated and not all of the airfields were disabled. The Ukrainian forces maintained, to a large extent, their freedom of movement and kept their positions.

Russian invasion of Ukraine 28/2/ 2022 / 12:00 AM (Est)

The Ukrainian reserves and its territorial defenses mobilised in no time. The Russian landing troops and the special forces placed deeply into the Ukrainian territory were isolated  from the troops deployed on the front and re-supplying the former, especially with ammunition, was made more difficult.

From the way the operations were unfolding, it was clear that Russia did not succeed to integrate in the best circumstances some modern warfare instruments – electronic, cyber and outer space ones into the terrestrial offensive.

Around 150,000 Russian military took part initially to the invasion (almost 200 batallions), i.e. an important force, but launching operations on 15 different directions meant diminishing the strength on each and every offensive direction. Most probably, the Russian planers underestimated the resistance of the Ukrainian army.

We present below the situation and the evolution of the Russian controlled territory two weeks after the the invasion started:

06/03/ 2022 Ukraine.

We will not enter the details concerning the military operations and especially the losses mentioned by each side as we keep in mind a quotation saying that “truth is the first to die in case of war, but from the way the operations were carried out to date, some important conclusions may be drawn:

  • The Ukrainian army achieved important progress in training and equipping, as compared to the situation in 2014 and put up a resistantce that the invading army did not expect;
  • The defense was organized on areas enjoying an extended command independence and logistic flexibility as compared to the ultra-centralised command of the Russian army;
  • The anti-tank and air defense equipment sent to Kyiv was extremely efficient against the Russian tanks, fighter jets and helicopters;
  • The poor command of the Russian troops of the first echelon and presumably the low morale of the latter made the higher military leadership of the invasion decide sending Russian generals close to the contact line and that explains the fact that, by March 26, the Ukrainian snipers killed around 15 high ranking Russian military among whom six generals. It is presumed that they were spoted as a result of the non observance of communication rules and used their mobile phones for getting in touch with certain subordinates;
  • Russia was unable to obtain air supremacy over the entire Ukrainian territory and most likely it does not have enough highly trained pilots ready for such a large scale conflict;
  • As of March 19 and 20, Russia started using Kinjal and Kaliber hypersonic missiles launched from the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea and from the air space for striking certain tactical targets (ammunition and fuel depots, a training center for the Ukrainian special forces and probably mercenaries). That demonstrate president Putin’s desire to obtain as qiuckly as possible important results in the offensive operation. According to certain (not fully confirmed) reports, an important percentage (even more than 50%) of the launched cruise missiles did not explode on their  targets;
  • I consider that Ukraine benefits too from important intelligence concerning the deployment and the movement of the Russian invading forces supplied by satellites and other means by certain NATO states;
  • Ukraine’s counterintelligence services in general and the military ones in particular succeeded after 2014 in countering the FSB and GRU actions both within the local political class and especially within the Ukrainian army (in 2014 Ukraine had to disband the 15 Airborne Brigade which was accused of treason);
  • After the first three weeks since launching the invasion, a certain change in the share of the targets hit by the Russian missiles and aviation is noticed as they aim at diminishing the capacities of supply and communications and of the Ukrainian troops movements; also, the troops positioned on the north fringes of Kyiv started engineering works, sign that the extended offensive on the capital is not imminent.

An interesting issue that is worth mentioning is that of the foreign mercenaries. Early as February 27, Ukraine appealed to foreign fighters to join a so-called “Foreign Legion”. An important number of volunteers crowded the Ukrainian embassies abroad and around 20,000 people of 52 countries offered their services. Their status within the Ukrainian army is not known and Kyiv promised them Ukrainian citizenship, social incentives and an unrevealed salary. It seems that 3,000 Americans, 1,000 Canadians, 600 Czechs, 100 Scots as well as Georgians, Polish, Germans, Israelis and others enlisted already. According to certain sources, after March 20, the number of candidates decreased sharply and almost no new volunteers applied.

On March 11, president Vladimir Putin asked the minister of defense Sergei Shoigu to facilitate the transit of the military from the Middle East wishing to fight in Ukraine on Russia’s side. 16,000 Syrian paramilitary volunteers and members of the 5th Corps are mentioned among those wishing to enlist. It is possible that fighters of the Lebanese Hezbollah and of Hamas  join the Syrian volunteers. Some other mercenaries as well could have been recruited from Libya according to an understanding reached during the recent visit to Moscow of the Libyan General Khalifa Haftar. The average payment of these fighters is estimated between 300 and 500 $/month and is to be paid from the Russian budget.

We do not believe that the mercenaries’ participation, on either side, could have an important influence on the way the military operations are carried out as they are disadvantaged by the fact they do not know the ground, the language and will have probably major logistical and cultural problems.

Russia mercenaries in Ukraina.

From the information and the stands taken by the two sides, from the assessments and analyses of as objective as possible sources, it is clearer and clearer that at the end of the first month of the invasion Russia will finish the invasion and will withdraw from most of the occupied territories, an operation that will be completed the latest around May 7 2022. A first signal to that end was conveyed on March 25 2022 by the speech of the head of the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Federation Army, Colonel Gen.  Serghei Rudskoy.

It is likely that in the coming weeks, the Russian forces will focus on surrounding the Ukrainian group of forces situated close to the west of the separatist regions and securing a terrestrial connection of the Sea of Azov shore and Crimea. General Rudskoy’s speech offers already a first glance on the Russian justification for the coming to an end, in a near future, of the invasion of Ukraine indeed by proclaiming   the “victory” – the achievement of the objecives set at the beginning of the conflict.

Assessed Control of Terrain in Ukraine and Main Russian Maneuver Axes as of March 26, 2022, 3:00 PM ET
  • Sanctions, economic impact, peace negotiations

Russia’s military actions had nevertheless efects and reprecussions that we believe the Kremlin did not assess to their full magnitude and that lead to a reinforcement of the democratic Europe’s cohesion and unity and of the transatlantic relations.

  1. Sanctions and their economic impact

The sanctions are penalties imposed by a country to another country to stop the latter to act aggresively or to break the international law. In this case, the sanctions Russia is subject to are the most severe among those applied so far to Moscow and a great number of countries imposed them. We mention some of them:

  • Banning the export of dual use (civilian and military) goods, including the spare parts for vehicles imposed by the EU, US and Great Britain;
  • Banning the flights of all Russian companies in the air space of the EU, US and Great Britain (which banned also the private charters leased by Russia);
  • The EU, US and Great Britain applied sanctions to more than 1,000 individuals and companies generically designated as oligarchs, considered close associates to the Kremlin; the properties belonging to president Vladimir Putin and to the minister of Foreign Affairs Serghei Lavrov were frozen;
  • The US banned oil and gas imports from Russia while the Great Britain will cease importing Russian oil by the end of 2022; The EU declared it will move to alternate energy sources and will become independent from the energy Russia supplies before 2030. During the recent visit of president Biden to Europe, it has been agreed that the US supply around 50 billion cubic meter of liquefied gas to the EU;
  • Germany suspended for the time being the formalities for the commission of North Stream 2;
  • Among the financial sanctions, we mention the freeze of the assets of the Central Bank of Russia, amounting to 630 billion dollars, a step that caused a ruble’s devaluation by 22% since the beginning of 2022, an increase of prices of the imported goods and an inflation of 14%;
  • Certain Russian Banks were excluded from the international financial system SWIFT.

It is worth mentioning that information coming recently from Great Britain stresses that if Russia withdraws its invasion troops, London (Londongrad as it is also named due to the presence there of a great number of Russian oligarchs) will lift the sanctions imposed on Moscow.

President Putin declared that the unfriendly nations will be obliged to pay for gas imports from Russia in rubles in order to help the recovery of the national currency.

Russia banned the export of around 200 goods till the end of 2022 including telecom and medical products, vehicles, food and agricultural produce, electric equipment and timber. Other retaliatory steps have been also taken in the financial and banking fields.

We do express our hope that Europe drew the real conclusions and will succeed in escaping the „Russian energy trap” and do not repeat the Nabucco experience, a project initiated in 2002, agreed upon in 2009 and then abandoned in 2013 mainly due to political reasons.

  • Peace negotiations

The peace negotiantions started on February 28, a few days after the attack begun, initially in physical form and continued on March 3 and 7 on the Belarusian territory, and after that on line at experts’ level. A breakthrough was Turkey’s facilitating a meeting at the level of the foreign ministers of the two countries and the negotiations took place in Antalya under the auspices of the Antalya Diplomacy Forum on March 10 with the participation of the Turkish minister of Foreign Affairs, Mevlut Cavusoglu. Although no progress was registered this time, it was very clear from the Russian minister of Foreign Affairs Serghei Lavrov’s answers at the press conference organized after the meeting that in the Kremlin’s opinion, it is not about a Russia-Ukraine conflict but about a Russia conflict with the West in which the invasion of Ukraine is just a stage.

A pecularity of these negotiations is that the Russian side never accepted any cease fire during the talks.

The Ukrainian president Volodimir Zelensky expressed repeatedly his readiness of meeting and negotiating with president Vladimir Putin, a proposal the Russian side did not accept. The Kremlin’s reply was, of course, that such a meeting would take place when Kyiv accepts Moscow’s conditions. An interesting nuance included in the Ukrainian president’s offer for negotiations is his statement that any agreed upon understanding which will include possible territorial or of other nature important alterations contradicting the provisions of the constitution in force should be subject to a referendum in order to be enforced.

Russia’s main four conditionalities are: An Ukraine declaration of neutrality; the formal agreement that the Crimean Peninsula, annexed by Russia in 2014, is Russian territory and that the Donbas region controlled by the Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine is independent; Ukraine’s demilitarisation; lifting the Western sanctions imposed on Russia. As far as Ukraine is concerned, it seems the country is ready to accept some of these requests including giving up to joining NATO and some territorial compromises.

A new round of negotiations is taking place in physical form in Istanbul on March 29 and 30. Both Turkey and Israel hope of being able to successfully mediate the negotiations, but I think that probably the informal negotiations among the Russian and the Ukrainian oligarchs will be much more effective.

  • Brief conclusions

I think Putin overestimated the possibilities of the Russian army of achieving the established strategic political objectives while underestimating, at the same time, Ukraine’s capacity of resisting Russia’s plans. Concomitantly, it could be about a mistake in managing the relation between the political leadership and the intelligence services agencies, although it is unlikely that the Russian intelligence services were so wrong in their getting acquainted and reporting the situation in Ukraine.

The military conclusions will be indeed interesting especially after the war operations end, yet it is already obvious that a particular higher attention will be paid to cyber actions and UAVs, to a greater interaction between terrestial and spacial, to an increased role of the missiles to the detriment of artillery, to the importance of small forces possessing a high fire power and mobility, to decentralizing the command and so on. Not in the least, the psychological training of troops should gain more and more in importance.

Coming back to a wider framework, the conflict in Ukraine highlights the fact that in what concerns the dispute between Huntington and Fukuyama on the humankind’s future, it seems that the former (with whom I had long discussions at Harvard in the summer of 2001) was right, less in what concerns the border he traced between the two civilisations and which, I believe, is much farther to the east of Romania. We are living into a world of ethnical conflicts and civilizational confrontations which is shaping the future otherwise than the much more optimistic way (liberty, democracy, market economy and secularisation of cultures) foreseen by Fukuyama.

I further conclude that Social Media become an active player in geopolitics. Brexit, Trump, pandemic and now the war in Ukraine, all had a big component of influencing, via the platforms of the big tech companies which were  clearly positioned on a certain side. I remind that the Big 5, who are governing the world now are: Pharma, Defense, Oil, Tech, Banks. Let us not forget about the banks as someone has to lend/manage trillions. Look for who are those who fund the conflicts for a better understanding.

An old proverb says that when two quarrel, the third wins. Such is now the case in the fight between Kyiv (which, it should be made clear, is historically the craddle of the Russian civilization, something which, in equally clear terms, cannot represent in any case a justification for the Russian invasion) and Moscow, as neither of the two belligerents will win, nor the EU, but the US and China.

I think that under such complex circumstances, we have to position ourselves in such a way that we capitalize best our advantages, to stress our possibilities and prove loyalty towards  the strategic partners, without neglecting the national interests. Politically, as it is the case in the military field, one should act rapidly, decisevly and especially in a clever way. The political corectness, a much used and dear term of today politicians, has proved its limits and the return  to Real Politik could represent a clever solution of the contemporary political world.

Major Gen. (ret) Corneliu Pivariu

A presentation by Major Gen. (ret) Corneliu Pivariu done at the Brașov Military Circle – Romania, on March 29,  2022 and posted on the author’s blog,

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