Russian MoD Says It Conducted the Largest Diversionary Operation in History
60% of forces devoted to a feint, and if you believe that there's a Brooklyn bridge on sale...
On February 15 the Russian Ministry of Defense announced it had started withdrawing troops from the Russian-Ukrainian border into the interior.
Then on February 24 Russian troops started pouring across the border into Ukraine quickly reaching Kiev outskirts.
4 weeks into the war the MoD is now saying that its operations against Kiev, Kharkov and Nikolayev were also all feints. Diversionary operations to tie up the Ukrainian military away from the only operation that actually matters to the MoD, the one in the Donbass.
Russia had never intended to capture Kyiv, Kharkiv and other cities, the generals said – these are not setbacks in other words, it's all part of the plan. And the plan was to distract Ukrainian forces while Russia/ Donetsk/ Luhansk made territorial gains in the east.
— Polina Ivanova (@polinaivanovva) March 25, 2022
Of the around 100 BTG that Russia assembled for the campaign at least 7 are tied up on the Nikolayev front (in the south beyond the lower Dnieper), some 10 are tied up around Kharkov, 50 are involved in the Kiev operation of which 40 directly and another 10 by protecting its southern flank around Sumy.
This leaves just a little over 30 Russian BTGs fighting in Donbass backed by 20 BTG equivalents by Donetsk and Lugansk.
So the Russian MoD is saying that of the available 120 coalition BTGs just 40% were assigned to the only theater that actually matters to Russia, and nearly 60% of the coalition BTGs were assigned to diversionary feints of secondary importance.
This is of course an absurdity every bit as brazen as the February 15 withdrawal announcement.
Nobody sends out 60% of their force on a mission to do nothing more than tie down enemy forces. The proposition is absurd.
The whole point of diversions is that they should dilute enemy focus much more than your own. But when fully 60% of your force is sent on a “diversion” that is extremely difficult to accomplish. (70% if just Russian forces are counted.)
On the contrary, by advancing into northern and southwestern Ukraine the Russian military has engaged many Ukrainian units that would otherwise not be in the fight, while *massively* diluting its own mass.
Had Russia really been primarily concerned with preventing Ukraine from reinforcing its positions in Donbass then sending out 7 of its 11 armies on a mission to secondary theaters would be the very last thing it ever did. It would have instead used them to encircle the Ukrainian forces in Donbass thus making it *physically impossible* for Ukraine to reinforce them.
Encircling them would have also served to cut their supply (which they continue to receive via civilian cars) and their avenue of retreat. Thus making it possible to capture them in bulk, rather than having to repeatedly fight the same units again as they continuously fall back.
Summary of MoD briefing:
Russia said it was refocusing its month-long military offensive in Ukraine on the country’s eastern Donbas region, in comments that suggested Moscow could scale back attacks in other parts of the country.
Speaking at a defence ministry briefing in Moscow on Friday, Sergei Rudskoy, a high-ranking official in the Russian army, said what the Kremlin has labelled a “special operation” in Ukraine was entering a new phase designed to fully “liberate” Donbas.
He described the targeting of other cities, including the capital Kyiv, as part of a strategy to distract the Ukrainian army.
“The main aims of the first phase of the operation have been fulfilled,” said Rudskoy, head of the Russian army’s main operations directorate of the general staff. “The military capacities of Ukraine’s armed forces have been significantly decreased, which allows efforts to be focused on achieving our main aim: liberating Donbas.”
Russian troops had succeeded in blocking Kyiv, as well as Kharkiv [actually Kiev and Kharkov aren’t blockaded], Chernihiv and Sumy in the north-east, and Mykolayiv in the south-west, he said, as well as taking control of parts of the south. Doing so had distracted the Ukrainian army and limited its ability to respond in Donbas.
Rudskoy said that Moscow’s goal was always to “liberate” Donbas and it chose to target Ukrainian military capacities across the country first.
“We never planned to storm them,” Rudskoy said in reference to Kyiv, Kharkiv, Sumy and other besieged towns. [No, but the hope was that Kiev would unravel by itself. Failing that the plan was to cut it off from the rest of the country which hasn’t happened.]
Although Russia “does not exclude the possibility” of still targeting these cities, “our forces and resources will be focused on their main aim — the complete liberation of the Donbas”, he added.
It isn’t surprising that the spokesman for the Russian MoD should offer up this cringe. That’s his job.
What is more surprising is that there are people whose identity is so tied up in the Russians as infallible 5D gods that they will convince themselves this transparent goalpost moving is actually true.
Far more Russian BTGs were tied up in the Kiev operation than in the Donbass operation because it is on the success of the former that the Russian Plan A hinged. It was hoped Zelensky would flee leading to EuroKiev’s swift collapse (perhaps aided by Russian sleeper agents in the city). Failing that it was hoped Kiev could at least be swiftly quarantined from the rest of the country. Neither happened.
So of course the Russian MoD is now eager to draw attention to Donbass where things have gone reasonably well, claiming this had always been the central theater for Russia. It plainly wasn’t, albeit it should have been as AE repeatedly stated. Moreover had it actually been treated as the primary theater from the start the victory there could have been much swifter and dramatic.
It is good (for Russia) that MoD finally admitted it is Ukraine’s military center of gravity in the Donbass that should be the primary objective and henceforth will be. The lie lies in the assertion it had been such all along.
Defeating the enemy military in the field and *only then* racing off for the enemy capital is military 101. It is how the Germans won in the Franco-Prussian War 1870-71 and the Battle of France 1940. The reverse is attempted only when the enemy military is declining a decisive battle as was the case in Napoleon’s 1812 march on Moscow and only to force such a battle.
The Russians instead explored the possibility they could have a victory without defeating the Ukrainian military first. Primarily in order to minimize Ukrainian dead since the whole purpose of the war for the Russians is to set the stage for the re-assimilation of Ukraine which every drop of blood that is shed makes less likely to succeed. However, having tried this and failed the Russians are left maldeployed and spread thin without the correlation of forces in the Donbass necessary for a swift and dramatic WW2-style encirclement victory.
15 days ago AE wrote that “Russia Is Trying to Advance Along Too Many Axes at Once and It’s Showing”. Now the Russian MoD by saying that henceforth the two Donbass axes will be prioritized far ahead of others has also said as much. In hindsight trying to advance everywhere at once was a bad call.
We amateurs can be excused for needing the benefit of hindsight to see that a campaign along 6 axes would be suboptimal, but can the Russian military planners — who are after all professionals with decades in the field and with access to far more information than us — also be excused?
What caused them to commit this mistake? Own overconfidence, or pressure from the political leadership above them?
Seeing that Russia was going to attempt a campaign along such an extended front — as if trying to swallow Ukraine all at once — caused raised eyebrows on my part. However, I assumed there was an explanation for that and that Russian military planners knew something I didn’t. I speculated that perhaps the guided munitions revolution had made the dilution of forces across half a dozen axes that would have been such a glaring blunder in WW2 a no-brainer in 2022. It turned out that wasn’t the case and that such an overambitious and non-phased plan wasn’t based on military-technical assumptions at all but on political ones. Namely that Ukraine was such a hollow state (“404” as it is disparagingly referred to) that racing straight for the capital was worth a try and made every sense. It didn’t.
The MoD has also updated its losses tally to 1,351 dead and 3,825 wounded. This does not include Rosgvardia and losses by Donetsk and Lugansk. Nor does the MoD have an incentive to release the most current figure as opposed to a somewhat outdated one.
If Russia hadn't tried to encircle Kyiv from two directions with multiple armies, push towards Mikolaiv, and partially encircle Kharkiv/Sumy/Chernihiv, I think it probably could have encircled Ukrainian forces in the JFO by now. The plan was based on poor assumptions. https://t.co/hM5tueU1Bk
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) March 25, 2022