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Ukraine: Russian Military Strategy Beyond Istanbul Talks

While initial reports coming from Istanbul, Turkey generated much hope for a country wide cease fire and cessation of hostilities in Ukraine on March 29th there has been only limited progress.

Reuters reported that the Russians have committed to reduce military activity in Kyiv and Chernihiv. The Agency quoted Russian Deputy Defence Minister Alexander Fomin to state, "A decision was made to radically, by a large margin, reduce military activity in the Kyiv and Chernihiv directions."

In military terms this implies that offensive operations in this zone are not likely to be pursued. This was evident with some Russian troops pulling back marginally while others are reported to have occupied static positions as indicated through various social media handles and messaging platforms that cannot be verified.

The Russian negotiating team has also indicated as per Reuters that discussions during the meeting with their Ukrainian counter parts will be put before the Russian President Vladimir Putin and decisions taken.

This clearly indicates continued offensive operations and a cease fire is not likely to be declared any time soon, while Kyiv and Chernihiv may see limited fighting other fronts are expected to see increasing encounter battles.

Russian Military Strategy

On the miliary front, Russian armed forces have taken an overall review of operations in Ukraine and are possibly regrouping forces bringing up reserves from other military districts as well as those deployed as far away as Syria. Russian military strategy here from appears to be as follows:-

  • Expand and consolidate areas that have been secured in Donbass in the Luhansk and Donetsk Oblast in Eastern Ukraine. This will take two forms - secure more territory through offensive operations and political consolidation by appointing pro- Russian mayors and other leaders in positions of power in the cities and towns secured.

  • Secure the land corridor that has been established from Rostov to Crimea. Complete control of Mariupol assumes importance, which remains elusive so far.

  • Pursue further military objectives in other sectors such as Kharkiv, Sumy, Zaporizhia – Dnipro based on availability of combat forces while continuing to hold the lines of advance in strength till then.

  • Similar approach on the Kherson and Mykolaiv front where consolidation in the given areas is evident and only post regrouping further operations are envisaged.

  • Meanwhile across the fronts, sustained destruction of Ukrainian Armed Forces tanks, guns and other military equipment is ongoing thereby neutralizing capability for undertaking any counter attacks or offensives. Russians will also interdict flow of western military aid to Ukraine.

Ukraine Response

Given human tragedy that Ukraine has gone through the leadership is seeking a cease fire and cessation of hostilities through negotiations. Till then aggressive defence of the territory and counter attacks cum offensives to neutralize Russian advantage in local areas are expected to continue. How far Ukrainian armed forces can prevent further progress of offensive operations by the Russian forces is unclear as there is no clarity of attrition levels and strengths available.

As per Reuters, Ukraine’s proposals at Istanbul included the following –Ukraine will not join a military alliance or host foreign troops, but secure guarantees in terms similar to "Article 5", the collective defence clause of the transatlantic NATO military alliance.

Ukraine seeks to join the European Union and expects Moscow not to oppose to the same. The status of Crimea is to be discussed over a 15 year period while the fate of Donbas is to be discussed by the Ukrainian and Russian leaders as per Reuters.

What Next?

Given lack of a clear commitment by Russia to cessation of hostilities in sectors other than Kyiv and Chernihiv operations in other sectors are expected to continue. Albeit if Russian forces are able to regroup and reorganize, these could even expand.

Ukrainian armed forces may have anticipated such a strategy and would be preparing the scenario while launching limited counter attacks on Russian ingress.

Finally, the solution remains on the talks table and a go ahead from the Russian President Vladimir Putin.

On the geopolitical front support to Ukraine by the US and the West and sanctions and strictures against Russia are expected to continue with more strictures in the days ahead.


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