Five months of “special military operation” in Ukraine. Does everything go according to plan?

The fifth month of the Russian so-called special military operation in Ukraine has come to an end. The Kremlin keeps repeating that it is going according to plan and that it will end after all its goals are achieved. But it often happens that what “Moscow is speaking and transmitting” and what is happening differs very much from each other. And this “special military operation” is no exception.

Recently, while taking part in the Caspian summit, Vladimir Putin once again stated that his “special operation” in Ukraine is going according to plan and that he trusts the professionals regarding its progress. “We are working calmly, the troops are moving, reaching the lines that are set as tasks. Everything is going according to plan,” the Russian President assured. At the same time, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu adds that today one of the main priorities for the Russian armed forces is “preserving the life and health of subordinate personnel.” However, if we make some kind of retrospective of this “special operation” from its beginning to the present day, we can see that, to put it mildly, it does not correspond to what the Russian state and military leadership say about it. That is, either the “special operation” does not go exactly according to plan, or it does go according to plan, but according to one that looks rather strange from the outside.

Here, for example, if you believe Putin and Shoigu, it turns out that the destruction near Gostomel on the second day of the “special operation” of Russian elite paratroopers from the 45th Separate Guards Brigade of special forces of the Airborne Forces, which specializes in capturing airfields, is a part of their plan. On the same day, by the way, the columns of the combined detachment of SOBR and OMON from the Kemerovo region, which advanced from the territory of Belarus to storm Kyiv, were completely destroyed.

The capture of Kyiv was the key goal of Putin’s “special operation”: to overthrow the government in the capital and replace it with Moscow-controlled puppets. However, the Ukrainian defense forces managed not only to stop the rapid advance of the Russian army on the capital but also to inflict painful defeats on it. After the failed attack on Kyiv and in order to avoid the complete destruction of the remnants of the advancing units, the Russian military command decided to withdraw them back to the territory of Belarus. The Kremlin then called it “a goodwill gesture to improve the atmosphere and the situation at the talks with the Ukrainian delegation in Istanbul.” Probably according to the plan too.

In early March, on the highway near Kharkiv, units of one of the elite formations of the Russian army, the 1st Guards Tank Army, as well as a detachment of the Vladimir SOBR, were defeated. The Ukrainian military captured the commanders of the tank battalion, the deputy commander of the regiment, and other senior officers. Also in the same period near Voznesensk, during an attempt to find a crossing over the Southern Bug, units of the 126th Separate Guards Coastal Defense Brigade were defeated. Later, as a result of a counterattack by Ukrainian troops in the area, Russian troops were pushed back 120 kilometers southeast of the city.

In the first weeks of a “special military operation”, and probably according to plan, a full-fledged battalion tactical group from the 20th Separate Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade, as well as the 38th Separate Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade, were destroyed along with the equipment. Because of this, the Russian generals had to withdraw the remnants of the latter to the territory of Russia. In turn, the 150th Motorized Rifle Division lost at least seven of its battalion tactical groups in Ukraine in ten days of the “special military operation.”

Already by the end of March, a solid number of Russian combat aircraft and helicopters had been destroyed, the field of activity of Russian military aviation was sharply limited, as well as several Russian warships were sunk and damaged, including such a large one as the “Saratov” large landing ship. The actual dominance of the Russian fleet in the Black Sea turned out to be largely leveled, and it become unable to carry out most of the planned attacks and landings.

In April, and clearly according to the “special operation” plan, Ukrainian “Neptune” anti-ship missiles hit and sank the flagship and pride of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, the “Moskva” missile cruiser. According to various estimates, only 58 servicemen out of 510 on board were rescued from the flooded cruiser. In the same month, an armored group of one of the units of the 21st Separate Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade was destroyed. 

Interestingly, this unit’s subunits constantly participated in international military exercises and won prizes.

The destruction of a Russian battalion attempting to cross the Siversky Donets at Bilohorivka in May was one of Russia’s biggest losses since the start of the war, on a par with the sinking of the “Moskva”. According to some reports, up to 485 out of 550 soldiers of the 74th Separate Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade trying to cross the river were killed or wounded. The loss of equipment amounted to more than 80 units.

In the second half of June, the Ukrainian military carried out a special operation to liberate Serpent Island, captured by Russian troops. In addition to losses in personnel and military equipment, the Russian military – probably according to the plan – also lost such important air control over the Black Sea waters near the coast of the Odessa region, without which an amphibious landing in this area is simply impossible.

Since June, with the help of several HIMARS artillery systems provided to Ukraine by international partners, the Russian military has already systematically disposed of more than 30 of its ammunition depots, command posts, and other important facilities.

Separately, it is worth mentioning the repeated attempts of Russian troops to gain a foothold at the Chornobaivka military airfield near the city of Kherson. The name of this village has already become a meme, which means the incompetence of the Russian command, the repetition of mistakes, as well as a place where it is easy to get in and hard to get out of. Until today, more than 20 such attempts by the Russians are known, which ended for them in the same way: large losses of weapons, military equipment, and personnel, including military leadership. Among them, according to Ukrainian data, are two army commanders.

In general, according to the Ukrainian General Staff, as of today, Russia in its “special military operation”, which, according to Putin, is going according to plan, has already lost about 40 thousand military personnel, of which 10 are generals, more than 1,700 tanks, more 3,900 armored combat vehicles, more than 2,800 vehicles, more than 100 air defense systems, more than 200 aircraft, more than 180 helicopters, more than 700 operational-tactical UAVs and 15 ships/boats. As a result, and probably also according to the plan, after five months of the “special operation”, Russia is forced to take obsolete weapons from its depots and send them to Ukraine, ask Iran and China for military assistance, conduct covert voluntary-compulsory mobilization and open and involuntary mobilization in the occupied Ukrainian territories, look for mercenaries in Africa and the Middle East, remove the top military leadership from command and open criminal cases against senior officials in the special services, as well as hide the real size of military losses in Ukraine in every possible way.

The whole so-called special military operation, from formidable statements about the “demilitarization” and “denazification” of all of Ukraine, made on the eve of its start, was reduced to the fact that after five months the “world’s second army” with great difficulty and losses continues trying to occupy small areas of Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

And if all this, as Putin says, is part of the plan, then it turns out to be some kind of strange plan…

Igor Fedyk

Head of the South Eastern Europe Section

Igor coordinates the South Eastern Europe Section of the New Geopolitics Research Network. He previously worked as the Head of the Balkan section of the Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies, as well as the Deputy Editor-in-chief of the English-language magazine The Ukrainian Defense Review.

His current research interests are focused on the political, economic and social aspects of the development of the South Eastern Europe and Balkan countries, their interstate and inter-ethnic relations, as well as the relations with third parties (countries not from the region, international organizations), which have an important impact on the situation in the region and in Europe.

He is the author of a number of articles and analyses in various Ukrainian and foreign Media.

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July 2022
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