Slowly, Then Suddenly

I concur with the Armchair Warlord’s take on how the Russian strategy is likely to switch to a much more aggressive mode of offense when the time is deemed right.

The Stavka has placed a heavy emphasis on efficiency in this war. Many Russian decisions at the operational-strategic level can be explained simply by their seeking the most efficient means to inflict mass casualties on the AFU with the lowest risk to themselves. Thus, any decision to transition to high-speed, mobile warfare from low-speed, positional war can be expected to follow that rubric. In other words, the Russians will launch an offensive to rout the AFU after its back is broken in positional war, rather than attack seeking to “change the game” and defeat the Ukrainians in mobile war. The “game” heavily favors the Russians and they’re not in a rush to change it!

The difference between these scenarios can be seen quite easily by comparing two very successful offensives: Operation Bagration in 1944 and the 1975 Ho Chi Minh Offensive. Bagration routed the once-mighty Army Group Center – at the cost of 180,000 killed in action, three times the total Russian death toll of this war. I’m sure the Russians would much prefer the 8,000-strong butcher’s bill of North Vietnam’s war-ending 1975 operation – and they have the strategic insight to see that modern Ukraine, as a corrupt and deeply dysfunctional garrison state propped up by endless foreign aid, is far more akin to South Vietnam than Nazi Germany.

So what does this look like in practice? The Russians are going to keep poking and prodding in their usual methodical way until part of the line collapses “in depth,” and then all hell is going to break loose.

It seems most observers have forgotten that the Russians have already shown great flexibility in their approach to the Special Military Operation in Ukraine. The initial gambit was a high-risk, low-cost decapitation strike at Kiev combined with support for very rapid advancement into the Donbass by the separatist militias backed by Russian air and artillery support. Only when the limits of that approach were reached did they switch to using Chechen and mercenary light infantry to storm fortified locations like Bahkmut, after which they switched again to the brutal, but low-risk attrition warfare we’ve been seeing over the last year.

Therefore, it is correct to anticipate another change in grand tactics, (the more proper term in this context as the strategic objectives remain unchanged) which will primarily depend upon whether a) the Ukrainian Armed Forces break under the relentless attritional pressure or b) if NATO ground forces are sent in to prevent the UFA from breaking. Remember, the Russian strategists will comprehensively plan for all possible situations, not merely the particular scenarios that the enemy media deems most likely.