Soviet and Russian military doctrine
With this article, I will explain some differences between the Russian and the Soviet military doctrines and explore which one is currently being used in the current operational state of the conflict in Ukraine, and how. I’m going to explain some circumstances with regards to wartime production of military equipment in the West and in Russia. However, to do that, I will first clarify further some strategic predictions that I made in two prior articles, although I consider the strategic picture as outlined by BMA as valid and comprehensive.
I recommend reading the following articles in advance, to get a better understanding of the topics that are being discussed here:
In the article, “Strategic Outlook for the Russian Offensive”, BMA defined five theatres in which the Russian offensive could collapse the Ukrainian army. In the following chapters, I’d like to give a short update about the current strategic picture within these theatres. For tactical and operational details, there are far better and more up-to-date sources available, such as the Slavyangrad Telegram channel.
The main point I’d like to make is that I’m convinced that the sequence of events is triggered by milestones and not by dates. Russia is not pressed for time in this conflict, although Ukraine certainly is, for many reasons. It is not like Artemovsk needs to fall by such-and-such date. It is more likely that Russia will only take Artemovsk once certain conditions have been fulfilled. For instance, only after Ukraine’s potential to equip and reinforce more troops for Artemovsk has collapsed would Artemovsk be fully taken. The use of Artemovsk as a meatgrinder for Ukrainian troops and materiel would therefore be concluded. I’ll discuss this in more detail later.
Now for the strategic update in the five theatres.
This theatre mainly covers the situation around Artemovsk/Bakhmut. Ever more suburbs and villages to the north and to the south of Artemovsk are being captured by the PMC Wagner. Currently, all major roads into Artemovsk are already captured and there are, more or less, only dirt paths, open fields and village roads available for Ukraine to supply its troops in Artemovsk or to evacuate the wounded.
We talked already about the milestone-driven strategy. It appears, since the Russians have chosen to cut off the main roads to Artemovsk, that certain milestones have been achieved. This is indeed interesting. First, I will point out what I suppose could have been the reasons (milestones) for triggering the current developments:
Completion of the training of most of the mobilized troops, that are being designated for offensive operations.
The Ukrainian army could be, according to potential Russian intelligence, sufficiently depleted and stretched thinly enough that it is no longer possible for Ukraine to keep pouring troops into Artemovsk.
Ukraine already stopped pouring elite troops into Artemovsk, thus taking away high-value targets for the Russian army.
There may be other potential milestones of which I am not aware.
Let us come back to why it is interesting, that Russia cut of the main roads into Artemovsk. The grinding operation could be over now, triggered through the abovementioned milestones. But it also could be that Ukraine keeps supplying Artemovsk through country roads and open fields in the same or similar intensity as it did before on the main roads. It would be even more disadvantageous for Ukraine, and greatly advantageous for Russia, because the Ukrainians would need to put even more effort into the logistics chain to achieve the same result.
But let’s assume that Russia has decided to finally move into Artemovsk and trigger further milestones and chains of events in other theatres. How is the Russian military taking towns and cities, especially those with a lot of pro-Russian civilians? Based on the methods observed in Syria and in other Donbass cities, Russia is taking the surrounding outskirts and villages step-by-step, rather than storming the populated areas head-on.
Storming the towns and cities head-on means massive casualties on both sides and among civilians as well. Instead, Russia is slowly taking the far less protected outskirts and villages surrounding the target town until the enemy’s main army is in risk of being fully encircled. Usually, the enemy commander in chief decides, at the last possible second, to withdraw the army grouping so that they can be deployed elsewhere.
If the enemy doesn’t withdraw its forces in time, they eventually end up surrounded, which is both favourable and unfavourable for Russia. A great many troops may decide to surrender and the rest can be taken out by military action. Encircling the enemy in a cauldron indeed has the benefit of taking huge troop formations out of the overall equation of the war, but at great cost in both Russian and civilian lives.
So, to a certain acceptable degree, it is better for the Russians to avoid the biggest part of the fight within the target town and thus avoid both own and civilian casualties.
Here we are talking about the Kharkov front in general and Izyum in particular. The main goal is to take back Izyum and create a buffer zone around it. That’s essentially Phase 1, which is currently underway. Phase 2, presumably when the enemy’s resistance/reinforcements in this front section starts to collapse, will be the encirclement of Kramatorsk and Slavyansk from the North and West. I pointed this out in earlier articles.
The only update I can give here is my impression that Ukraine is committing far fewer resources, both human and materiel, to the Izyum front, which leads to steady Russian gains in Kharkov. Why would they do this? In the short term, this theatre is far less important than Artemovsk and Ugledar, the fall of which would lead to the collapse of the whole East and South front.
Nevertheless, in the middle-term, the Izyum front will be the one that could eventually break the Ukrainian neck in Donbass. By cutting off Kramatorsk and Slayvansk from the North and West, Russia would deny a retreat from or supply to these two cities. This would in fact be the end of the resistance in Donbass.
There is, unfortunately, a long way to go before this milestone is met.
Ugledar is a logistics and supply hub for Ukraine’s south grouping, which is holding the Donetsk oblast. If it fell, the front could be rolled up by the Russians from the southern direction. Hence, it is defended similarly to Artemovsk, with all available reinforcements and supplies.
The 40th and 155th Russian marine infantry brigades are responsible, with some other supporting units, for the offensive on Ugledar. They are facing different Ukrainian formations that are being constantly rotated in and out after reaching a critical level of combat-readiness/depletion, similar to what’s been happening in Artemovsk.
Indeed, this is a problem for the Russian marines. They can’t simply throw men into the offensive to sustain the attrition rates of the Ukrainians, who are depleting their whole male population by throwing them into this and other theatres untrained. So, after having sustained losses that are unsustainable for brigades, which need to operate without having to depend on constant replenishment with reserves, the marines’ offensive stopped and transformed back into grinding from a distance. This is, again, similar to what has been done in Artemovsk in the first months.
Nevertheless, it looks to me that the capture or depletion of the Ukrainians in the south is urgent, since a “captured or partially encircled Ugledar” is needed to trigger certain events on other frontlines. Even though Russia is not time-driven, it is indeed milestone-driven. As is usual in milestone plans, the start of some events depends on the completion of two or more independent milestones.
My personal assumption is that the attrition rate of the Ukrainian reserves in the South is too low and Ugledar too loosely held to trigger a response by Ukraine of pouring in troops for its defense, as in Artemovsk. Ukraine can still sustain other frontlines. (Even though the attrition rate of the Ukrainians in Ugledar is insane, it is still sustainable.)
Remember, the final goal is to overstretch the Ukrainian logistics, supplies, reinforcements, etc., to trigger a collapse, which could be rolled up. Russia’s goal is NOT to kill all Ukrainian males between the age of 16 and 70, despite Ukraine and West apparently being willing to sacrifice them. In fact, this scenario should be avoided by triggering a quick collapse. Russia doesn’t want to kill its brother.
I was looking constantly for Russian troop, equipment, and logistics build-up in Belarus, but I have not seen it. It doesn’t need to mean anything, since it is very well possible that Russia finally started to move its equipment under concealment (Maskirovka). Nevertheless, there are interesting reports about such build-ups in the South. This would be to provide reserves for Ugledar or for “Rolling up” operations, that I will explain later in another chapter.
So, it is possible that more Russian formations will soon be committed to put the right degree of pressure on Ugledar to achieve the desired results.
Here we are talking about the Northern frontline, which stretches all the way from the Russian border with Kharkov to the Russian border with Ukraine east of Kiev. This front is very close to the border.
This frontline is mostly idle right now, even though there are constant reports these days that the Russians are already probing the Ukrainian defences in the border region with Sumy. Moreover, the Russians recently started striking the region with artillery as a preparation for further action.
As I already pointed out in former articles, I assume that the first phase of an intrusion in the North will not be deep but rather near the border. Maybe, at most, 50 km deep, to test the defences and the logistical sustainability of the Ukrainian troops dispersed over this huge line of contact in the North and to eventually find a vector to besiege Kiev in a second phase.
Currently, I’d say that there are some milestones not achieved that would trigger this theatre. I would go even further and suggest that some of the newly delivered Western equipment will be positioned in the north for defensive operations. Pre-registered fire spots, etc.
I would say that it still is not the time to invade from the North. This front is closer to the main logistics and supply hubs delivering equipment from NATO. And there is still the fourth iteration of the Ukrainian army fighting, which consists of many well-trained and ideologically confused soldiers. It would make more sense to kill them in a far more favorable environment, such as Donbass. And after Donbass begins to collapse (or at least Ugledar and Artemovsk), to use the momentum and panic to execute an intrusion in the best spot in the North that is currently being probed.
This is the gate to Nikolayev and eventually Odessa. I’d suggest it will be the last theatre that will be fully penetrated, even though the probing and preparations have already started. As soon as the other frontlines are under stress or even under collapse, I’d suggest that we would see either the siege of Zaporozhe, depending on whether the Ukrainians will still be willing to divert forces in this direction, or the taking of Zaporozhe and subsequently crossing the Dnieper. This would then allow the Russians to first develop a major bridgehead for logistics and then develop an advance to the next main target.
It could be to the north, hence to Kiev. Or to the West, to Kherson. I don’t see enough Russian troops currently available to develop advances in both directions, taking the other theatres into consideration.
We need to keep in mind, I’ll repeat it constantly, that the goal is a Ukrainian collapse. Hence, there is the possibility that this collapse could have happened already and there will be no offensive, but rather just a drive-through of the Russian army to predetermined positions for troop deployment. Odessa? Transnistria? Who knows? We’ll see.
Every army has a doctrine. Let’s oversimplify a little bit and say that a doctrine is a manual of “how to use the army”, particularly how to respond to certain circumstances and events.
The Soviets had one and the Russians developed it further. In the next chapters, I’m going to give a short insight to develop a basic understanding. You will be able to understand some of my explanations of the war that I already wrote and the ones that will follow in the following articles.
Soviet military doctrine
The Soviets developed a strategy for large scale land combat both during the Winter War with Finland (1940) and WW2 (1941 – 1945). A particular part of this strategy was used on a large scale for the first time in the battle of Kursk in 1943.
It later evolved into the Soviet Military doctrine.
I will describe only the parts of it that will be needed to understand my later explanation. To describe the entire strategy would fill books.
The Soviet strategy in a large-scale ground combat, when defending territory, was to prepare fortifications and layered defensive lines, and to let the enemy attack first and run into the defensive lines, as waves crash upon rocks. In fact, this strategy should ensure that the enemy is committing its energy along lines which have been prepared for this assault. This is essentially an early version of the grinding that we are currently seeing in Donbass, prepared by General Surovikin back in 2022.
It is a literal absorption of the enemy’s offensive energy. As soon as the enemy runs out of this energy, Phase Two, the counter-offensive, begins.
During Phase One, the “Absorption”, the Soviets would in the meantime create huge reserves and train and equip them in the rear. When the enemy runs out of offensive energy, the Soviets would then commit their prepared reserves and punch with an armoured counterattack deep into the enemy’s rear. Essentially, they would break the enemy’s back.
Russian military doctrine
The Russians further developed this doctrine. Out of the considerations of the collapsed Soviet Union and the end of the cold war, there hasn’t been any need for doctrines covering large scale land combat with large formations. The potential enemies were mainly terrorists, insurgents, “colour-revolutioned” neighbours, etc. But they wouldn’t be NATO or China. (Yes, China was also a potential/actual enemy for the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War.)
Hence, a doctrine was developed, to fight fast mobile wars with small formations that would face less resistance and reconnaissance as NATO or China could do. The troops were organized as Battalion Tactical Groups, or BTGs.
However, since the war in Ukraine quickly developed into a war against the Western military industrial complex, with all its potential and resources that could be used by the Ukrainians in a reasonable way, it appears that Russia has fallen back onto the classical Soviet doctrine with large scale formations. No BTGs, but rather Brigades, Divisions, Army Corps, Armies and Army groupings.
Essentially, the “Absorption and Counteroffensive” framework is back.
If you take into consideration everything I wrote in this article before the “Doctrine” chapter, you can consider it as the Absorption phase. This phase will go on as long as necessary to sap the enemy’s offensive energy. This will be the trigger for the next chapter.
Rolling up the frontlines
When the Absorption phase is concluded, we will be able to see what some people are falsely describing as big-arrow offensives. Big-arrow offensives are suicidal, and you must only undertake them if you are under enormous time pressure, if you need to achieve a particular objective by a certain deadline. (This describes the situation Ukraine is in now and the Soviets were in during WW2.) We would be talking about catastrophic casualty rates for the Russians (as we are talking about for the Ukrainians now).
Instead, the Absorption phase is currently taking place. The most capable men, material and ammunition will soon be destroyed, dead, wounded, or captured. This is exactly when Russia will likely go in with large formations to roll up the frontline until the next defensive line is reached, that is, if there are any further defensive lines at all. Just study the falling back of the German army up to Berlin after the Battle of Kursk for an example.
This moving in of large Russian forces is not a big-arrow offensive, since it will only be moved in to roll up defeated Ukrainian positions up to a new defense line (if at all). Hence, there would be no direct force-on-force engagement between large formations.
Hopefully, this was a useful summary of the detailed five-theatres analysis that might provide insight as to how Russia might be applying its military doctrine.
Supplies of Russia by friendly nations
There is much talk about military and industrial supply of Russia by some of its allies. Is China supplying semiconductors? Is North Korea supplying artillery shells? Is Iran supplying drones?
I can’t answer all these questions. The Russian general staff doesn’t share this information with me.
But I can tell you one thing. If Russia is fighting against the industrial potential of more than thirty Western countries, then it would be idiotic to not outsource materiel production (factories and workforce) to allied nations. This war is about all or nothing. It is existential for Russia. If Russia loses, then it would be eventually dismembered. But before this happens, it would use all its nuclear potential and end the world.
You know my assessment. I don’t think the situation is that bad. But if the West is fighting Russia with its industrial potential, then it would be highly criminal if Russia, perhaps as a show of strength, would not access the productive capacities of its allies, at least in the beginning of the conflict. This would be like what happened in WW2, when Russia received huge amounts of equipment from Western states to keep up the fight against the Germans at the beginning of the German invasion.
I personally think that Russia is not or was not able to produce the amount of ammunition that it uses in Ukraine on its own. I have a deep understanding of industrial production. Factories will need to be brought up to speed. The workforce will need to be activated and trained. In the beginning, there will be shortages between what is needed and what is available in terms of industrial output, even after industrial mobilisation.
The difference will have to be provided by friendly nations until Russia can create further industrial capacities to produce what is needed and then some. We mustn’t forget that Russia will enlarge its armed forces significantly.
I absolutely believe that Russia is accessing the production capacities of its allies until it can produce enough on its own. It is known that Iran has provided drone technology to Russia and there may be additional examples that we are unaware of. Since one year of the war has already passed, I’d assume that Russia has already activated a lot of its industrial potential. But according to the reports that I see, there is still a lot to do to be self-sufficient. As I said, I have a good understanding of this matter and I’d estimate that Russia will take approximately another year to be fully self-sufficient for its military needs for the scale of war it is currently experiencing in Ukraine.
I want to highlight that I do not say that Russia will run out of anything. As already stated, it has a huge stockpile of ammunition that will be sufficient to buffer the time until the needed production capacity is up to speed. And I’m convinced, even though I do not have concrete evidence, that Russia is supplied by partners as well.
Why aren’t Russian partners supplying Russia overtly? Well, the United States government is still a functioning empire that controls the world economic system and the sea lanes. Currently, Russia’s allies are decoupling step by step, but they are not yet ready to break with the West. If they break with the West too soon, they could quickly suffer very severe and very real economic consequences that they most likely wouldn’t survive. Yes, China as well!
Why should Russia’s partners supply Russia at all? First, since this is an existential conflict by the West against a nuclear power, the survival of the world and humankind depends on Russia’s victory. So, it is in their own interest. Second, because of the emerging multipolar world order. Many allies are openly “rebelling” against the empire on Russia’s side. If this rebellion fails, then these nations would be screwed. If it succeeds, they will have a favourable position in the emerging multipolar world order.
Will Russia need its own expanded capacities for military production, assuming that the war could be over in Summer 2023? I think yes. The military arsenals and warehouses are huge and numerous but are more and more empty. They will need to be refilled, which will take years. And more will need to be built for the enlargement of the Russian army. And Russia needs to be prepared if WW3 actually does kick off. (I still don’t believe it will, at least not resulting from Ukraine. My eyes are looking to China for the start of WW3. See Prospects for World War 3 or wait for my article on Asia.)
Military production in the West
The big question is whether the West will change its economy and its industrial production to a wartime footing. It is one of the questions I asked in my last article (Prospects for World War 3). Personally, I doubt it. At least, I doubt that it would happen in an overt way.
Europe, and especially Germany, could change its industry within half a year to start churning out military equipment (tanks, jets, ammunition, etc.) on a large industrial scale. This is not my assumption but my knowledge. Impossible, you say? I agree. In peacetime.
However, if Germany declares martial law and begins preparing the German people for the mobilization to a wartime footing, the following things will need to be done (extremely simplified):
Create a list of all goods of basic needs for the population.
Create a list (as good as possible) of all military goods needed within a certain timeframe.
Derive the needed resources (energy, materials, and people) from these two lists. Basically, boil the “bill of materials” down to the basic resources/raw materials.
Check all sources for these materials on availability within the national borders or outside, but not in reach of Russian weapons. (I wouldn’t take the possibility of cruise missile attacks into consideration here.)
Secure these resources in the needed quantities and qualities. Make it a war objective to keep the supply secured, even against allies and other suppliers.
Stop the whole civilian industry that is not producing goods mentioned in the two lists above. Change their production lines ASAP into producing assigned goods.
Make the production capacities at least four to six times redundant in case of (guaranteed) destruction.
Mobilize the workforce and train them in parallel for their newly assigned industrial tasks of manufacturing and assembly.
As I said, this is extremely simplified. It would be the overt wartime industrial mobilization.
But it won’t happen.
Today, the Russians would see it coming and as President Putin once said, “If someone is going to punch you then make sure that you punch him first.” If Europe unites a third time to destroy Russia, then Russia would make the first strike.
Hence, the current call for increasing production rates of European military industry can only be done with existing capacities, with known rates. Since the military industry in Europe is in private hands, it would be very difficult to secretly build new production facilities.
So, the current situation is not inclining to WW3-level production, but it indeed needs to be observed later on. It could escalate quickly depending on how the situations in Ukraine and Taiwan develops.
One more remark. All types of ammunition delivered to Ukraine need to be multiplied by a factor of three. For instance, if Ukraine needs 1,000 155mm shells, then the West would need to deliver 3,000. Why? Only every third shell actually reaches an artillery tube. This goes for all other ammunition types as well. Russia is in the business of blowing up ammunition warehouses across Ukraine: strategic depots in the rear, operational on the brigade/division level and tactical on the frontlines.
Wherever Russian intelligence detects them, they get destroyed with the next drone, artillery, or missile strike. I consider a loss rate of 70% as reasonable. But it could be either higher or lower as well.
I expect very soon that many major milestones will be achieved. And as soon as they are achieved, we could see some motion on the battlefield. Maybe we’ll see some as early as March but remember: Absorption Counteroffensive. I don’t expect big arrow Russian offensives any time soon, but rather, what we will see in Ukraine is a “rolling-up” operation after the frontlines collapse.
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