ISSN 2330-717X

Strategic Withdrawal Or Is Russia On The Run? – OpEd

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In a late night address on 30 August, Zelensky called on Russian forces ; “If they want to survive – it’s time for the Russian military to run away. Go home; Ukraine is taking back its own land.” 

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Lately it was being felt that the war in Ukraine was settling into a slow stalemate, grinding war of attrition. These assumptions have proved wrong. The Ukrainian military has retaken about 3,000 square kilometers of Russian-held Ukrainian territory and a large number of Russian prisoners. This territory includes the city of Izyum, a rail hub that the Russian military had used to resupply its forces. The images of Russian units fleeing and civilians celebrating in recaptured towns, have stunned military experts. Russian troops have also been almost entirely routed from the province of Kharkiv, where they’ve been fighting since the earliest days of the war.

Ukraine’s sudden success by some has been seen as a Russian collapse but the war is far from over. Russia still controls a significant amount of Ukrainian territory and still has ways to escalate its war effort. Could this be Putin’s planned Strategic Withdrawal to pull out the Ukrainian forces out of the Urban built up areas and then strike having learnt lessons from fighting over six months in built up areas? 

The Russians also still do not appear to have used their air power, an issue that has not been understood by military thinkers since the earliest days of fighting around Kyiv. Initial media reports on the Kharkiv offensive suggested Russian air power has been partly neutralized. So far, the Russian government has refrained from officially declaring its “Special Military Operation” a ‘War’, which would allow President Putin to order a mass mobilization and send conscripted troops into Ukraine.

Extracts from President Putin’s article: “I am confident that true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia. Our spiritual, human and civilizational ties formed for centuries and have their origins in the same sources, they have been hardened by common trials, achievements and victories. Our kinship has been transmitted from generation to generation. It is in the hearts and the memory of people living in modern Russia and Ukraine, in the blood ties that unite millions of our families. Together we have always been and will be many times stronger and more successful. For we are one people. And I will say one thing – Russia has never been and will never be ”anti-Ukraine“. And what Ukraine will be – it is up to its citizens to decide. Could this be the reason for Putin not to use its air power on Ukraine a thought to mull over?

Sun Tzu: “The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.” So could it be a decoy trap for the Ukrainian forces?

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It’s surprising that at this point in the war; the Ukrainians had the fighters and resources to launch major counter offensives. Ukrainians appear to have taken advantage of the fact that the Russians had been moving troops to reinforce their positions in and around Kherson. The local Russian officials have said that the positions in the Kharkiv region were weakly defended by personnel from the Rosgvardia — Russia’s national guard — and militias of the separatist Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics.” These forces are not well-equipped or trained as the regular Russian military.

For the West the Ukrainian military offensive and its success is thus a shot in the arm as a proof for Ukraine’s US-NATO backed resistance with arms being pumped in. President Zelensky has been instrumental in pumping up the spirits and morale of his Ukrainian forces and he has been asking for more and more military aid from the West. 

Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it was predicted that a lightning assault backed by the vast Russian air power will dominate Ukraine air and land. However, it has remained a big mystery as to why Russia has really not employed its air power. Is it Russia’s apparent risk-averse behavior, not necessarily willing to take high risks with their own aircraft and their own pilots. That leaves Russian soldiers vulnerable to attack from Ukrainian forces, including those newly equipped with Turkish drones and US and British anti-tank missiles. Coming to use of its air fleet, technically , Russia lags behind NATO arsenal of missiles and drones . It has suffered heavy losses as US-NATO provided the Ukrainian forces with intelligence. However, Putin has yet not used the full potential of his forces surprisingly. 

Russia’s forces received combat experience in Syria, where they intervened on the side of President Bashar al-Assad, and demonstrated some ability to synchronize ground manoeuvres with air and drone attacks. So far it is seen that the Russian Forces have been underperforming, Ukraine’s military has been exceeding expectations so far. The US estimates that Russia is using just over 75 aircraft in its Ukraine invasion.

This is not the first time in history that Russia has pulled back. Even in Ukraine earlier it dashed to Kyiv but the takeover fizzled out and then it was in the East that Putin concentrated. Such pulling back now is definitely a set back and demoralizing to the forces. But Putin is certainly not out of options including all out mob and ‘Declaring a War on Ukraine’. So far there has been considerable support for Putin. He has now to take major decisive decisions on recasting his strategy on his so-called “Special Military Operation.” 

These successes will further encourage the US-NATO to further supply weapons to Ukraine. With these developments the end to this war is nowhere in sight to the benefit of the West who is looking for a prolonged war to keep Russia engaged having failed to see a major adverse effect on the Russian economy. 

What remains under covers is the moot question….Has Putin failed in his gamble or the pull back is part of a well-considered ‘Strategic Withdrawal’…Russians and especially Putin a ‘Int Man’ is Not that dumb to accept a defeat as it is also the question of his retaining power. The world has to wait and watch to the Russian response.

Patial RC

Patial RC is a retired Infantry officer of the Indian Army and possesses unique experience of serving in active CI Ops across the country and in Sri Lanka. Patial RC is a regular writer on military and travel matters in military professional journals. The veteran is a keen mountaineer and a trekker.

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