Making beginner blunders in a conventional conflict should reveal more about a military’s intentions than its capability for a military ranked among the greatest in the world. And, if the goal is to force Ukraine to accept its conditions, it would be unnecessary to fight in the traditional manner.
Simply said, launching a destructive air campaign against Ukrainian cities and military targets would be counterproductive to its political purpose of preventing Kyiv from joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
Since neither NATO, the United States, nor any other European country is directly involved in the conflict, Russia would not require such overwhelming air dominance.
Ukraine’s small fleet of 98 planes has yet to fight Russia’s whole fleet of 1,511 planes, rendering the latter’s few dozen losses, largely to Ukrainian air defence, insignificant.
Experts have identified a slew of errors made by the Russians, including a lack of precision-guided munitions (PGM), a lack of targeting pods that forces the VKS to use unguided bombs that cause collateral damage, pilots with less than 100 hours of flying per year, poor coordination with ground troops, and an inexplicable preference for a land war. And it is here that they show their lack of understanding of Russian policy.
Military observers expect Russia to “duplicate US-style operations” with enormous air strikes that quickly gain control of the sky and eliminate the enemy’s military capability, according to several US Air Force and intelligence officers stationed in Europe.
Ukrainian pilots have been bemoaning the fact that they have suffered large (and undisclosed) casualties. The VKS’s vastly better fighter bombers, which neither can be taken down by US-made Stinger MANPADs – more suitable for low flying helicopter gunship — showering fire and brimstone on Ukrainian objectives, claim that their obsolete MiG-29s are “simply targets.”
According to John B. Alterman, Senior Vice President of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Zbigniew Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategic Studies, Russia, unlike the US military, does not prefer to win wars in a “sprint.”
He stated the Russian military is “full of marathoners” committed for the “long haul,” as evidenced by its war in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad, pointing to how similar approach ultimately failed in both Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan (2002) and Iraqi Freedom (2003).
Russia appeared to gain advantages progressively while fighting alongside the regime’s Syrian Arab Army (SAA), eventually eliminating the Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels, which included numerous fundamentalist organisations, as well as Daesh (ISIS), with Assad emerging victorious.
Its intervention was decisive, providing air cover for Syrian soldiers with less than 5,000 personnel and barely two dozen fixed-wing aircraft, including Su-33, Tupolev Tu-22M3 bombers, and Mi-35 gunships.
Russia has kept its airport in Khmeimim and naval base in Tartus, allowing for limited military projection into the Mediterranean Sea and the South Caucasus. As a result, Russians agree wholeheartedly with Clausewitz’s thesis that war is “politics by other means,” in which even losing militarily can result in political victory.
Since the start of the war, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has frequently proposed to leave NATO and participate in talks with Russia. The Ukrainian plan of March 29 proposed becoming a non-aligned, non-nuclear state with no foreign military outposts.
It wouldn’t be far-fetched to link this to Zelensky’s restrained and surgical effort, which kept him on the diplomatic track rather than driving him to the wall.
At the same time, neither a complete Russian defeat nor a Russian defeat would have prompted the Ukrainians to continue discussions; instead, they would have pressed home their advantage and possibly taken the struggle to Donbas, if not Russia.
When it was known at the beginning of the month that Russia’s commanders were seeking to construct a contiguous zone from the east to the Ukrainian coastal city of Mariupol while operating distinct military campaigns in the east, south, and north, the “huge Russian losses” became meaningless.
Russian disinformation led the Ukrainians to believe that Kyiv was the goal, so they focused their forces there.
As the remaining pocket of resistance near and around the Azovstal steel factory in Mariupol has proven to be a difficult nut to crack, Russia has turned its attention to Donbas, with the goal of totally liberating the region.
This involves driving Ukrainians back to their administrative borders, away from the separatist Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics’ rule (LDPR).
This means that, even if Zelenskyy succeeds in dragging Ukraine into NATO, despite the silent but adamant opposition, Ukraine will be far from Russia’s western international border. Russia already has control of Crimea, which declared independence from Kyiv in a referendum in 2014 and can be used as a base for future operations.
And if Russia fails to totally liberate Donbas, presuming Ukraine’s strongest troops launch well-coordinated counter-offensives in which it holds only the LDPRs, it will wear out Ukrainians and even the rest of Europe by permanently keeping the territories under its control and establishing a hard border. This is also where the VKS enters the picture, as they can duplicate their actions in Mariupol.
Surround the defenders, cutting off ammunition and food supplies, before unleashing a torrent of heavy artillery, drone strikes, long-range cruise missile strikes from Russian fighter planes, and helicopters pestering the Ukrainians.
All the while, the circle is steadily closing in on itself, forming a kill zone. Russia has traditionally targeted Ukraine’s defence industry and significant military outposts as a source of long-running conflicts.
And, incidentally, Russia has brought in a renowned Syria hand – General Alexander Dvornikov – for this crucial phase of the ‘long war.’
Dvornikov, who served in both Chechen conflicts, honed his ‘patience’ game by never putting too much pressure or relieving it. Whether or not Russia’s military action is justifiable, one thing is certain: Russia will not stop until its aims are met.