Russo Ukrainian War : The Eastern Offensive by Lt Gen P R Shankar(R)

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The fifth phase of the Russo Ukraine war commenced on 18 Apr. Various inputs indicate that Russian forces have begun widespread offensive operations in Eastern Ukraine. The stated intent is to capture the Donetsk and Luhansk regions which Russia perceives as regions independent of Ukraine. Ground operations have commenced after two days of systematic pre-planned firepower strikes(air, missile and artillery) which targeted Ukrainian military targets, fuel depots, warehouses and other infrastructure. It would be fair to assume that Russia has commenced this offensive when it is clear to them that Mariupol is firmly in their grip and Ukrainian resistance there is reduced to being ineffective. However the larger questions need to be answered. As the war is entering the second month, two macro questions prop up. The first is that how will this offensive unfold and how will it affect the overall picture. The second question is what will it take to end this war? The corollary to both these questions is that is there a connection between the two? To answer these vexing questions one has to step back to the political objectives of this war and analyse them with military outcomes. 

As per the Western viewpoint, Russia invaded Ukraine with imperialist designs of expanding its influence to re-attain superpower status. The western commentary has consistently declared the complete attempt as a failure in no uncertain terms. Every move and setback suffered by Russia has been magnified and shot down through a fresh media narrative.  The picture repeatedly painted is that Russia has reached its culmination point and will not be able to sustain the war much longer on account of irreplaceable equipment losses, excessive ammunition expenditure, poor logistics and huge problems regarding unmotivated manpower and disciplinary issues. Despite all this, Russia has continued to do whatever it set out to do. Ukrainian Forces have been lionised. While there is no doubt they have fought with a plan and have indomitable spirit, they are not equipped or have been superior to inflict a defeat on the Russian Forces. Their so called ‘counter attacks’ around Kiev have only been reoccupation of territory after Russian withdrawal. Their ambush tactics including the sinking of Moskova have been admirable and have imposed caution and out of proportion causalities on the Russians. Ukrainians have held their own politically and militarily despite considerable marginalisation. On the other hand, Western military assistance despite all the fanfare has been only marginal. The overall Western political objective has been to exhaust Russian military into a political defeat by supporting Ukrainian Forces without direct involvement in combat. Their ultimate aim is to contain Russia.  

Russia has repeatedly expressed its core concern that Ukrainian aspiration to join NATO and, NATO drills or deployment of weapons systems in Ukraine constitute a  red line. Besides this, by the end of the first week of Mar, it had laid down four conditions for war termination.   To reiterate, these were 1. Ukraine not to be part of NATO, 2.Donetsk and Luhansk  to be recognised as independent states, 3.Crimea to be recognised as part of Russia and 4.Demilitarisation of Ukraine. These metrics have been more tangible to analyse in relation to their military outcomes. However the Russian offensive so far has been laborious and largely unimaginative, punctuated by poor planning and logistics. By the end of Phase 4 of its operations , it appears that Russia is clear that it has been able to achieve its first objective of preventing Ukraine from joining NATO. Despite the high cost paid in manpower and equipment causalities,  it has not been able to achieve its other three objectives either militarily or through talks between Russia and Ukraine, which have broken down. That is why it had to take recourse to renewed hostilities at enlarged scale.



Russia is commencing this offensive from a wide base from Zaporizhia to Izium. Territory to the east and south ( in pink colour in the map )  is already under their control. All along this horseshoe frontage , Russian Forces are engaging with Ukrainian Forces. It is also reported that Russia has concentrated anything between 11 to 22 Battalion Tactical Groups around Izium. That is a lot of force.  Speculation is also rife that a multi-pronged attack from Izium is being planned/underway. These prongs could head towards Severdonetsk, Kramatosk and Dnipro. Their initial capture of Kreminna suggests so. Further substantial troops would be available in the South to the Russians. These forces  would have been freed since Mariupol operation is in final stages. An offensive towards the North from the general area between Donetsk and Zaporizhsia is also on the cards. The Russian attack on Marinka suggests so.  These multiple prongs shown representatively(not the actual ones) on the map above should ultimately act as pincers to round up Ukrainian Forces as also gain additional territory. Seizing Kramatorsk will be vital. That would be the overall aim. The intent and progress of these offensives will depend upon and the resistance offered by Ukrainian forces and the terrain. The Rasputitsa  factor will still be in play and the terrain will still be muddy enough to inhibit widespread tactical moves. If the operations have to be conducted astride existing roads and tracks, we will end up hearing about hard fought battles and both sides will take serious losses. Then the whole issue might boil down to the fact as to who will be able to withstand the losses better and recuperate from them in a slogging match. However if either side undertakes bold cross country moves then the battles will be decided faster. Victories will be decided at troop/squadron/company level. It will be interesting to see if Russia changes its battle tactics and is innovative enough to force an early victory or will it dish out the same old fare?    


From available inputs, it seems that Russia has been able to reinforce this sector. By logic they will have learnt their lessons in the campaign so far and should have a more ‘mobile and flexible’  approach to their offensive. Ukraine would not have been able to carry out any reinforcement due to lack of resources. Further, Ukrainian Forces would be stretched out by now since they will have to hold areas around Kiev in the north along the Belarus border with some strength. Their overall reaction and reinforcement capability would have been degraded. In this phase of the war, the Russian Forces are concentrated whereas the Ukrainians with their limited resources are stretched! It is a situational inversion. Can Russia take advantage of this? Can Russia fix the Ukrainians in their dispersed mode and deal with them piecemeal? Can Russia prevent flow of weapons into the Ukrainians and cut off their logistics? The opportunity and options are there. We will see.   


As days go by we will continue to see a lot of strikes by the Russians in the rear areas as part of their demilitarisation operations. Simultaneously Russia will attempt to slowly but steadily push back the front line and enlarge the area it has recognised as part of Independent Luhansk and Donetsk. It will also continuously strengthen and consolidate the “land bridge” between Crimea and Donetsk. In doing so it is simultaneously and constantly demilitarising Ukraine. Russia has a clear idea that as days go by, Ukraine will be left with no choice but to accept Donetsk and Luhansk  as independent states, and accept Crimea as part of Russia while being demilitarised. In any case whether Ukraine accepts it or not, Russia has already declared that it will not give up any captured territory but will hold a referendum on it once hostilities cease. The larger issue is that hostilities have to cease first. To that extent it is necessary  to examine as to what are the conditions for this war to end. 


This war can end under three circumstances. Firstly substantial destruction of Ukraine can end this war.  Secondly a negotiated settlement will end the war. Thirdly if Russia is defeated, the war will end.  Will the current offensive lead to substantial destruction of Ukraine? The offensive will lead to an impending breakup of Ukraine without doubt. Already there has been considerable internal displacement as also a huge outflow of refugees. However, despite all the media hype, large scale destruction has not happened. Western Ukraine is largely intact. Even in the Eastern Ukraine , infrastructure has not been targeted and Russia has not undertaken mass unwanted destruction. The chances of the war ending due to this factor are pretty low. On the other hand , Russian defeat is also far away. It is doubtful that if Ukraine has the capability left to defeat Russia militarily or bleed it even with  Western assistance to cause a politico military defeat. Further despite all the sanctions imposed by the West, Russia has stated that ‘the strategy of an economic blitzkrieg has failed’. Most importantly, Russia seems to have prepared itself very well to weather the economic sanctions. The inherent strength of being a self-sufficient nation on which many others including Europe are dependent indicate an innate resilience. It makes Russian defeat inconceivable.    Hence, it is only a negotiated settlement which can end this war. Look at it anyway. The outcome of the current offensive might not lead to a negotiated settlement. If Russia gains the territories it wants, it will be not only an Ukrainian defeat but also a NATO one. In which case NATO and USA will continue to fuel the conflict through a combative Zelensky. Let us also be very clear, Zelensky’s image might look very great and heroic, but he has led Ukrainians to misery. It is also on the cards that he might be thrown out by Ukrainian themselves! On the other hand , if Russia fails to achieve its objectives, the chances of a negotiated settlement are worse than slim. In this overall context, do we see the war ending in a hurry ? No. It will only when all parties are fed up of the war rather than being exhausted. That seems a long way off! Till then all will continue losing. 


The only outside chance of this unwanted war to end is if there is someone who can talk sense and mediate between both parties. That is where India comes in. India is acceptable not only to both parties but also to some sections in the international sphere. It is high time that India took initiative to use its good offices to end the war. It will be a great boost to Indian stature in world affairs. 

PS :- This is a balanced analysis and not one to fix blame or take a particular side of one or the other…the only side I take is Indian.  


3 responses to “Russo Ukrainian War : The Eastern Offensive by Lt Gen P R Shankar(R)”

  1. Sir, wouldn't it be better for the Russians to keep the UKR forces in the east bottled up for another month or so, and steadily attrit with artillery and air strikes, while waiting for the terrain to firm up enough for resumption of large scale manoeuver warfare ?

  2. With due respects to your view, whichever way one may like to look at it, Russia is certainly the VILLAIN. There is no excuse whatsoever for violating the international law of sovereignty.China has/is doing the same thing with India and other neighbouring countries. Unfortunately India is in such a blind that it has to support the oppressor Russia.

  3. The readers comparison with the China/India situation is incorrect. A more accurate comparison would be between Pakistan/East Bengal. UKR is an artificial construct cobbled together by the Soviets, for their own internal monkey balancing political reasons, and encouraged subsequently by the US to go radioactive. As such it was bound to be fissiparous and has now reached its half-life towards a natural stable state of the eastern part with Russia and the western part with Poland. Similarly, Pakistan was (and is) an artificial entity cobbled together by the British and subsequently encouraged by the US to keep India off-balance. It reached its first half-life point in 71 and probably would have dissolved by now if India had politically shown an iota of the civilizational resolve Russia has. As for China, its natural state is to have its borders east of Tibet and that will happen eventually.

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