Where will Russia attack? When will the new offensive begin? And finally, what kind of character will it have? All these issues are actively discussed in the media and versions range from the ideas of repeating 2022 to the thesis that “the offensive is already underway” and RF does not have the resources to increase pressure.
This text is an attempt to look at the processes, to model possible algorithms based on the resources accumulated by Russia and the logic of management decisions already made, the ongoing processes in key sectors of the economy, and within the society of the aggressor country.
Problems with materials and technologies.
The key problems for the Russian Federation in 2022 were “technological” and “resource” hunger. The shortage of a number of technological goods, the inability to replace them with analogues available for purchase or to produce independently, is significantly restricting Russia in the production of modern military equipment and weapons systems that exceed the characteristics of those used in Ukraine.
The situation is getting worse with the gradual saturation of the AFU with modern weapons of Western technology. However, it is not necessary to talk about the full technological superiority of Ukraine yet. This moment may come only in late 2023-early 2024.
Among the key problems faced by the Russian military industry are:
• acute shortage of semiconductor products. The shortage of microchips limits the Russians in their capacity to produce modern electronic components for aviation, missile weapons, UAVs, means of automated control systems, EW, communication systems and even aiming complexes for armored vehicles. They tried to partially solve the problem through “parallel import”, ordering ready-made products (UAVs, optical systems) abroad and switching to the use of civilian-style microcircuits. In the mid- term (summer-autumn 2023), RF may launch (construction is underway) new lines at least three large enterprises and is also trying to gain control over the companies of the Belarusian military-industrial complex. In particular, Integral and Planar (manufacturer of electronic systems and lithographic equipment).
• metallurgy is a technological process and lacks a sufficient number of components for the manufacture of alloys required in the production of weapons and equipment. It’s not just about aviation or modern models. For example, at the end of 2022, Russian troops felt shortage of barrels for artillery – the industry was not able to produce enough of them in compliance with quality requirements. A short–term solution may be an active use of old equipment stored as “donor”. Mid–term (the effect will come no earlier than May 2023) – ongoing modernization of existing enterprises.
• shortage of raw materials. The most acute problem for the Russian military–industrial complex is the inability to import titanium (and ore) and lithium compounds in sufficient quantities. The Russian Federation sees its decision in the intensification of relations with African states that have appropriate reserves and are starting their industrial production. Lavrov’s recent trips to the region were limited to just such countries. It is mostly Russian PMCs who work there (and strengthen their presence).
However, as early as September 2022, several features of the Russian military-industrial complex work in conditions of a limited resource base became obvious.
1. Replacing parts of the equipment with simpler (or older) analogues. For example, the T-90M tanks began to be equipped with old Soviet night vision sights instead of modern ones, mass production of which is impossible at this stage. Or the transition from imported engines for armored personnel carriers and LBM to YAMZ engines.
2. Increased funding and active search for workers. Russian military-industrial complex faces a significant shortage of qualified workers, which they are trying to overcome by recruiting personnel even from distant regions, offering new employees high salaries and an opportunity to receive housing. The program for the restoration of specialized vocational education has been aimed to start work in 2-3 years – the budgets of the relevant educational institutions have increased (2023) at least twofold.
3. Search for new types of weapons, mass production of which cannot be organised in Russia in the short term, while looking for options for localization of production. A typical, but so far isolated example is a UAV from Iran.
4. Transfer of the repair base (and modernization processes) of armored vehicles, and artillery weapons to the regions located closer to the theater of operations. For example, Rostech and Uralvagonzavod are starting construction of additional facilities in Kamensk-Shakhtinsky, cooperating with a number of enterprises in Luhansk, an attempt to revive the bankrupt JSC “Spetsremont” (Bryansk).
As a result, by October 2022, the key plants of the RF defense complex have reached stable operational mode. Uralvagonzavod daily ships about 10 new and upgraded units of military equipment (T-90 and T-72B3) and its associate enterprises get some of it restored (after storage or after damage in battle). Since December 2022, the production of cruise missiles (aviation in the first place) has stabilized at the level of up to 20-30 per week (as evidenced by the marking of those shot down over Ukraine).
The produced samples are inferior in characteristics to modern Western weapons, however, the latter are not yet enough for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. If we look at the modernized Soviet models that are still in use in Ukraine (including those modernized in Eastern Europe), then in a number of areas, alas, we can talk about the superiority of Russian technology. When the situation changes (in the light of arms supplies to Ukraine from Western partners), the Russian Federation expects parity of forces due to quantitative superiority in technology.
The arithmetic of war.
Russia is suffering quite heavy losses at the front. The number of casualties, verified by name (according to information about funerals in RF) exceeds the losses of the USSR in Afghanistan for all the years of war. According to the General Staff of Ukraine, more than 144 thousand Russian servicemen and members of military formations were killed, while the number of the group that attacked Ukraine in February 2022 is estimated at 170-180 thousand people.
Approximately the same number of troops is kept at the front by Russia today. But it is not enough for active offensive actions in several directions.
At the same time, a number of measures were taken in the Russian Federation to create strike groups for the organization of offensive actions. To begin with, it is worth estimating the number of military personnel that the Kremlin can attract for its offensive. To do this, I propose a small table that gives an understanding of the effect of mobilization measures in Russia.
The total grouping of Russian forces along the front line as of October was estimated at 170-190 thousand people. Not all of them were servicemen of the RF Armed Forces. Rosgvardiya fighters, consolidated OMON detachments, BARS detachments (24 motorized rifle and 3 tank battalions), Army corps of the so-called LDNR and CHVU (not only Wagner) took part in the battles.
The group suffered losses. We are primarily interested in:
• data on the number of killed — for this we will take the data of the Ukrainian side for the period from October to the end of February.
• Data on irretrievable sanitary losses — military personnel who, after being wounded and treated in hospitals, are unable to serve. The maximum number of such may be equal to the number of dead.
• and part of the sanitary losses, where the process of treatment and rehabilitation takes more than three months. That is, people who are currently unable to return to service. For the maximum estimate, the same upper bound is used — the number of killed.
On the other hand, there were several solutions that made it possible to replace losses and create reserves for a future offensive. In particular:
• Putin’s decision to increase the number of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation by 137 thousand people. It would create an opportunity to actively recruit contract servicemen in August-October. The process, with a lesser intensity, is continuing now.
• additional (autumn) mobilization in the LDPR, which allowed to attract up to 20 thousand people to the “army corps”.
• Recruiting prisoners who were recruited mainly in the Wagner PMCs. Allowed to recruit up to 40-45 thousand people in the fall of 2022.
• Formation of “volunteer” battalions in the occupied territories. This process has not been successful and today there is information about 4 such formations. That is, a maximum of 2 thousand fighters.
• And finally, the actual mobilization carried out in Russia.
For the convenience of assessing the manpower available for use at the front, these data is summarized in one table.
|RF Armed Forces||Rosgvardiya + MIA||BARS||LDPR||PMCs||Total|
|Approximate number of Russian troops at the front in Ukraine at the beginning of October||115-137||5-7||8-9||30||10||170-190|
|Increase in the size of the army (contract recruitment)||130-137||130-137|
|Mobilization||more than 300||20||more than |
|Formation of battalions on the occupied territories||2||2|
|Recruiting prisoners to PMCs||40-45||40-45|
|Casualties killed (October-February)||-81|
|Possible irretrievable sanitary losses (not fit for service)||-80-90|
|Possible sanitary losses (treatment for more than 3 months)||-80|
|Total potential resource for the offensive||352…383|
Thus, theoretically, Russia can attract a group with a maximum force of about 300-352 thousand people to offensive actions (some of the fighters remain in their locations for various reasons). The same data is provided by the intelligence services of Ukraine and European countries.
As the nearest available reserve, which was not previously used at the front, you can specify new recruits. In the spring of 2022, 134.5 thousand people were called up for military service. 120 000 in autumn. If there is a delay in demobilization (or the offensive begins before demobilization of those enrolled in the spring of 2022), the total available reserve of trained soldiers is about 234 thousand people.
Over the past few months, the Russian Federation has been actively stockpiling ammunition and saturating new and additional army units with equipment. The leader of the PMC “Wagner” is not lying when talking about the stocks of ammunition and equipment in the rear (which is not supplied to his fighters). Based on the dynamics of the production of new equipment, from October 2022 to February 2023, the troops received at least 900 new (and upgraded) tanks, 800-900 armored personnel carriers and the same number of artillery systems. To this figure, you can add the equipment restored and removed from storage. But it was used both to manning new units and to making up for the losses at the front.
At the same time, it is worth noting that since December 2022, the RF has used more PMCs fighters, LEOPARD detachments and the “people’s militia” of the so-called LDPR at the front. Personnel units (with equipment attached to them) were withdrawn from the contact line and to a lesser extent used in assault operations in the Bakhmut and Liman directions.
Thus, it can be argued that Russia has increased the stock of equipment available for use at the front. In particular:
• tanks – up for at least 900 vehicles. That is, from about 700-750, the number brought up to 1600-1650
• light armored vehicles (armored personnel carriers, armored vehicles, etc.) from 2000-2300 to about 3500-4000
• artillery systems and MLRS — at least doubled.
Most likely, a certain supply of cruise missiles is also being stockpiled.
This assessment generally coincides with the figures that are published with reference to the intelligence of Ukraine or its partners.
At the same time, taking into account the increase in production, Russia, unlike in the spring of 2022, can provide replacement for daily losses in equipment (we give the maximum possible figures):
• for tanks — from 10 units. But such a pace is impossible with the prolongation of hostilities, if RF does not solve the problem with the manufacture of new cases for the T-90. The reserve of the T-72 cases, used for modernization, is exhausted, and since October 2022, Uralvagonzavod has received only about 200 new cases.
• for ACV(Armored Combat Vehicle) — from 14-15 units of all types
• for artillery systems — from 10 units of barrel artillery (difficulties remain with the production of new barrels)
• for MLRS — from 3-4 units.
At the same time, we should keep in mind that Russian military-industrial complex works “from the wheels” and they cannot stock up shells for more than three to four weeks of intense fighting ahead.
The most radically changed control system of the military grouping of the Russian Federation in Ukraine. Apart from the creation of a single command center “SVO” – a single command of a unified group of troops, the entire vertical of command has been formed. Operational groups were either created anew or fortified:
• UG “West”, which includes the former UG “Bryansk”, “Kursk”, “Belgorod” and “West”.
• UG “South”, which included the former UG “Luhansk” and “Donetsk”.
• UG “Center” (operates in the area of Vuhledar).
• UG “Center” and UG “Vostok” operating in the occupied parts of the Zaporizhia and Kherson regions.
Also, the formal decision had been made to fortify the “Joint Group of Troops” in Belarus. But at the moment it does not have a strike potential and performs the function of a training facility for the Russian mobilized civilians, who are later sent back to the territory of RF or to the occupied part of Ukraine.
Thus, based on the management structure, it can be assumed that Russia is preparing for a possible new expansion of the theater of operations.
Logic of actions.
Russia has already created a vanguard group of troops, which mainly consists of professional units stocked up with equipment and ammunition for conducting active offensive operations. However, given the nature of the confrontation on the front line, using it for frontal strikes in a relatively small area looks impractical. Moreover, the leadership of the Russian group has had an unsuccessful experience in the development of the offensive through Izyum, the assaults of Severodonetsk and Bakhmut. The command and control system also suggests a wider theater of combat operations.
The size of the created group is at least 1.5 times larger than the size of the group that launched the attack in February 2022. But, given the development of the potential of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the forces and funds collected by Russia are not enough to organize strikes in more than 2-3 directions.
Based on the above and the commitment of the Russian military leadership (judging from the history of hostilities in 2022) to “enveloping strikes”, it is logical to assume that the Russian Federation will try to encircle (or create a threat of encirclement) a large group of the Ukrainian defence forces. For instance on the territory of Donetsk region.
But the attempts to besiege Slavyansk-Kramatorsk had been unsuccessful at the previous stages. The withdrawal of a group of troops from Kherson made it impossible to plan an advance along the right bank of the Dnipro. Accordingly, in the current conditions, it is most logical for the Russian Federation (taking into account the accumulated resources) to try again to advance in broad sweeping strikes. But in narrower areas, a simultaneous strike on Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Kharkiv seems unlikely.
At the same time, taking into consideration the international political situation, a large-scale operation would be highly desirable for the Russian leadership, the one that would compensate for the autumn failures in the Kharkiv and Kherson regions.
Therefore, converging strikes from the territory of the Russian Federation through the Kharkiv and Sumy regions and from the territory of the Zaporizhia region along Dnipro may be the most likely directions. With a possible goal — Poltava, or the east of the Poltava region.
A strike in the direction of Kyiv with the current potential of the Russian group is unlikely. It may be possible only if the first phase is successful — that is, the defeat (or siege) of the Ukrainian group of troops in the Donetsk region. However, the “second phase” is possible only under the condition of additional mobilization in Russia — after all, even the use of 240-250 thousand recruits allow to compensate for the losses of the Russian group in the situation of 3-5 weeks of offensive operations.
Russia has already created a vanguard force. But the climatic conditions in the South and East of Ukraine will make offensive actions difficult in the period from the end of March to the end of April.
Besides, according to the information from open sources, Ukraine is recruiting and training at least 10-12 new brigades. Some of which will be armed with Western, more modern weapons.
Thus, Russia has two probable deadlines for launching an assault.
1. The beginning of the operation must be no later than March 10-12. In this case, attempts to implement the above-described scheme of besieging the Donetsk group of the Ukrainian defence forces look the most logical. At the same time, the remnants of the PMCs and the “people’s militia” of the so-called LDPR will be used mainly for distracting strikes along the already existing front line. This offensive may be accompanied (or rather, will be accompanied) by massive missile strikes. However, unlike the logic of the autumn-winter campaign, the choice of priority goals will change. In the event of the onset of an early spring, the railway infrastructure may again become one of such priorities.2. The beginning of the operation in May-June. In this case, Russia will not be restricted by weather conditions, but Ukraine will form its assault vanguard by that time. Therefore, it is logical to presume that in this scenario, the Kremlin will launch another wave of mobilization no later than mid-March. And the offensive itself will also be accompanied by missile attacks, but in this case, in addition to priority targets of the railway infrastructure, we can expect attempts to destroy bridges across the Dnipro.