Can Liddle Hart’s ‘Indirect Approach’ Survive In Ukraine? Looking Into Ukrainian Resistance Against Russian War Strategy – OpEd


The 19th-century Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz’s idea that echoed till the outbreak of the First World War on the supremacy of great battles as the key factor in generating major decisions was vehemently rejected by British military thinker Captain B. H. Liddell Hart in his classic text “The Strategy of Indirect Approach.” After having taken dozens of examples from the decisive wars in the global history from Scipio Africanus to the battle of Somme, Liddle Hart argues path to victory lies in the way by striking where least is expected. Despite the criticism of Liddle Hard for twisting the historical examples, his famous military strategic innovation called the “indirect approach” seems to have succeeded in Ukrainian resistance against Russia’s invasion.    

The Russian troops have been flabbergasted by the military resistance of Ukrainians since the outbreak of the war. The Russian war machinery in Ukraine contained launching heavy attacks targeting military and political targets, in contrast, Ukrainians opted for more sophisticated methods such as striking from their own hand-held missiles to target the Russian supply line, which finally brought detrimental results to the Russian war front. The Russian attempt in taking over Kyiv was thwarted by various factors ranging from geography to technology, but mainly Kyiv’s escape from a debacle at the hands of Russians was attributed to Ukraine’s use of the “Indirect Approach”. It was evident that Russians were anticipating a crushing victory over Ukraine by launching a conventional war campaign just as World War I generals did.

From the Russian perspective, the initiative of launching an invasion of Ukraine was timely and necessary strategies to prevent Ukraine from becoming a NATO member, which has been the biggest burden for Moscow. In his commentary to the Modern War Institute at West Point, Dutch military infantry officer Marnix Provoost describes Russian war strategy in Ukraine as a mechanism, which is flexible, opportunistic and subjective, focusing primarily on the perception of the Russian people that the achieved victory justifies the cost of the war.

The invasion of Russia was mainly depicted as a special military operation and it intended to be an onslaught to surprise Ukraine to install a Pro-Russian puppet regime in Kyiv by a lightning action. But, this intended objective of Moscow was reversed by the indirect approach of Ukraine, which finally compelled the Russians to a large-scale war, where Russian troops have neither the numbers nor the capacity to occupy the entire territory of Ukraine. In their case, the long-term political objective stemming from Russia is to transform the world order into a multipolar system, where Russian plays a role and the military operations, which has been continuing in Ukraine are certainly one corner of achieving this political project.

The pivotal question that comes to the fore is how long would Ukraine prolong Russian advancement on the battlefield by using the “indirect approach” championed by Liddle Hart. Thus far, the statistical reports issued by the Ukrainian side show the considerable progress that they achieved against the Russian military, which is ahead of the curve in terms of technology and numbers. It was no doubt that Ukraine was given ample military assistance from the West, but the deployment of them was aptly planned by Ukraine to get the maximum outcome.

For instance, the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System given by the US to Ukraine was utilized as a key offensive weapon to strike the Russian command posts, which slowed Moscow’s military endeavours. It has been reported that two Russian Generals were killed on the war front while Russian military facilities were often targeted by Ukrainian rockets. Last summer Russia suffered heavy causalities as Ukranian forces intensified counterattacks based on the “indirect approach” that included the attacks launched on the Russian garrison in Kherson and destroying the major bridges across the Dnieper River, which led to sabotage Russian supply line.

Meanwhile, in Moscow, Russia’s prime ideologist Alexander Dugin’s daughter was assassinated in October, the US suspected that Ukrainians were behind the attack. Last September was a rather catastrophic month for Russians as Ukraine killed nearly 465 soldiers within a week which was followed by another surprise rocket attack on Russian troops on the New Year’s Eve in Makiivka. Both the attacks manifested Liddle Hart’s two principles in the indirect approach, which states direct attacks on firm defensive positions seldom work and should never be attempted and to defeat the enemy one must first disrupt his equilibrium, which must take place before the main attack is commenced.

This celebrated wisdom of Liddle Hart has clearly saved the Ukrainian military resistance from a complete collapse. But the bitter reality that looms before the war front is that sooner or later Ukraine will need to face significant battles for decisive results. In particular, the recent shift of Russian war strategy in Ukraine has embraced a more rigorous path consisting of unleashing heavy attacks by a new wave of missile strikes, which has risen parallel to the G7 summit in Japan where the US determined to impose more sanctions on Moscow.

The Russian strategy in warfare is rooted in an integral part of the state policy that would always assist the political objectives of the Kremlin and from the Russian perspective, military victory is secondary to the political triumph over the conflict. The annexation of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhya is certainly a political victory for Russia. The current trend that Russia has adopted in its military operations in Ukraine reminds us of the ruthless war efforts made by the Russian troops in Chechnya, which brought complete destruction to the capital city Grozny and in Putin’s own words, his troops fulfilled their task to the very end.

Therefore, the recent increase of Russia’s heavy attacks is a clear sign given by Moscow that there could be tougher days ahead. The ultimate Russian victory strategy is likely to be an embodiment of both territorial acquisition and reaching a durable consensus with the West that would grant recognition to Russia as a world power.  All in all, Ukrainian applicability of “Indirect Approach” in the war front will prove its impossibility in attaining the finality of the war.

Dr. Punsara Amarasinghe is a Post-Doctoral researcher at the Institute of Law, Politics and Development, Scuola Superiore Sant Anna, Pisa.

Dr. Punsara Amarasinghe

Dr. Punsara Amarasinghe is a post doctorial researcher attached to Institute of Law, Politics and Development in Scuola Superiore Sant Anna, Pisa. He held visiting fellowships at Sciences PO, Wisconsin Madison and HSE, Moscow. His co-edited book “Thirty Years Looking Back: The Rule of Law, Human Rights and State Building in the Post-Soviet Space was published in 2022 September.

2 thoughts on “Can Liddle Hart’s ‘Indirect Approach’ Survive In Ukraine? Looking Into Ukrainian Resistance Against Russian War Strategy – OpEd

  • May 19, 2023 at 8:47 pm

    Dr. Amarasinghe’s comments are interesting. However his conclusions do not seem to take into account some events that give pause for further consideration: The recent Moscow May Day parade had one tank, a WWII relic, apparently a large portion of the modern investory (tanks) has been destroyed. Further commentators estimate hundreds of thousands of technology educated young men have fled Russia in fear of the draft. This has significant social, economic and defense procurement consequences. And the list goes on !

  • May 21, 2023 at 10:34 am

    If this is Russia’s attempt for recognition as a Super Power, it reeks of desperation. The brutal invasion has exposed the military, economic, poltical, and moral decay of the Putin regime.


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