Dmitri Alperovitch Profile picture
Jan 23, 2022 56 tweets 9 min read Read on X
A month ago on this site I predicted that Putin is likely to invade Ukraine this winter. Since then the White House, among others, have come out with a similar assessment.

Let’s talk now about how such invasion may unfold and what its primary goals might be 🧵
First, Russia is going to need a casus belli for attack. The most likely scenario is that Putin will create a pretext for war by manufacturing a Ukrainian attack on Russia.
His other option is to try to provoke the Ukrainians into reckless action but that is less likely given how cautious and watchful they are for this scenario and how restricted their rules of engagement are in Donbas
In 1999, there were a series of apartment bombings across Russia, blamed on Chechens, which kicked off the Second Chechen War. To this day there is significant suspicion about who was truly behind it, in part because FSB was found placing explosives in a building as an 'exercise'
In 1939, a Soviet border village of Mainila was shelled with artillery, which Stalin immediately blamed on Finland and used as a casus belli to start the Winter War, not unlike Hitler a few months earlier staging an attack on Gleiwitz as a pretext for an attack on Poland
Khrushchev later admitted in his memoirs that the shellings (which killed 4 Soviet border guards) were orchestrated by the Soviet army.
A pretext like this - perhaps another shelling of a Russian border village, while not original, will be sufficient to launch an invasion
The invasion will start with a fires - campaign missiles, multiple launch rocket systems, howitzers, self-propelled gun-mortars (Nona) and fixed-wing air strikes against UKR air-defenses, air bases, entrenched defensive positions, mobilization and command & control centers
The goal would be to quickly establish air dominance over the skies of Ukraine, impede mobilizations and take down major communication nodes used by Ukranians
With the enormous capabilities of Russia’s long-range fires, they can bring down absolute hell on those targets. The Ukrainians, lacking short and intermediate range air defenses, won't be able to do much in response
Russia also has some of the best electronic warfare (EW) systems in the world. They will be used to blind Ukrainian air defense in the initial hours before they are destroyed with fires. Expect to see extensive use of the new Orion UAVs as well
Russians may also target TV & radio transmitters, Internet exchanges, as well as use wiper malware against media and gov websites to make it harder for the UKR population to receive information. They are also likely to launch psyops in cyberspace to sow confusion and despair
The fire campaign is likely to be followed by a ground invasion designed to encircle and destroy Ukrainian units to the east of the Dnieper river
With the forces Russia is positioning, they will be able to launch a ground attack from 4 directions:
- Belarus (west)
- Kursk, Bryansk and Belgorod regions (northeast)
-Rostov region (east) and
- Up from Crimea (south)
In addition, we might see airborne (VDV) air assault units parachuting in to take strategic locations behind UKR lines and naval landing ships deployed in the Black Sea and Sea Azov conduct landings near Mariupol. Perhaps later even as far as Odessa if they are feeling ambitious
The goal of the simultaneous assaults supported by long-range fires and close air support would be to eliminate organized Ukrainian defensive units or push them to the west bank of the Dnieper
While all this is taking place, GRU Spetznaz operatives likely already deployed in eastern Ukraine will attempt to organize uprisings in major eastern cities with previously identified and armed collaborators, potentially with aid from VDV
The goal would be to take control of the eastern cities from within before the main Russian units arrive to enforce order and help eliminate any resistance
The Russians are highly likely to stop at the eastern bank of the Dnieper river and not attempt to cross it so as to avoid what would be a very tough fight in western Ukraine
However, they are also bringing in a lot of bridgelaying and engineering equipment to have the option to cross the river, but it will be a major challenge given how wide the Dnieper is in most places (and while under major fire from Ukraine artillery)
The Belarus front gives them an option to execute a flanking maneuver and surround Kyiv without crossing the Dnieper but I think they are unlikely to do so and risk a Siege of Leningrad-style battle there. Such a maneuver will also leave them open to rear attacks from the west
With such overwhelming ground, air and naval force, assisted by on-the-ground operations by GRU and FSB (and cyber intel collection), the Russians could neutralize all major organized resistance in the east within 60 days
Eastern Ukraine is exceptionally flat (except for Donets Ridge hills near Donetsk) and most of the significant forests are also in the west. This makes it very hard terrain to defend, as well as relatively ill-suited for an insurgency movement (unlike say Chechnya or Afghanistan)
One point to note here is that many past Ukrainian insurgencies, including the resistance to the Soviet rule in the 1930-50s was based in the west, a much more mountainous and dense forestry region
The insurgent leaders will no doubt try to organize urban resistance in the cities but given the remarkable capabilities of the Russian intelligence services and extremely brutal methods they employ, they will be able to identify and eliminate key leaders in fairly quick order
So having established control of the east, how does this solve Putin’s primary objectives? First, let’s discuss what those might be. They are multiple:
1. Stop further NATO expansion to post-Soviet states

Yes, Putin and the rest of Russia’s elites (going back to Gorbachev and Yeltsin days) believe it is a threat. And no amount of Western pronouncements to the contrary will change that
Incidentally, the claims that NATO is a purely defensive alliance don’t square well with the Kosovo and Libya operations, which the Russians remember well. The fact that they were done for humanitarian reasons provides no consolation to the current Russian leadership
And for Putin - NATO expansion does not only mean membership. He is also very concerned about NATO’s involvement on the ground in Ukraine (and Georgia). Weapons sales, advisors and trainers, reconnaissance flights near Russian borders - he wants to put an end to it all
2. Bring Ukraine back into Russia’s sphere of influence

In addition to stopping all NATO involvement in the country, he wants to reverse the pro-Western orientation of its policies. That includes ending any prospects for eventual EU membership
Putin has enjoyed remarkable success over the last few years in reestablishing firm Russian influence in much of the post-Soviet space. Armenia, Belarus and most recently Kazakhstan have been brought firmly into Russian sphere - and at very little cost
Ukraine invasion would nearly complete Putin’s project of restoring Russia’s power in its near abroad
Given the (justifiable) anti-Russian feelings among the majority of Ukrainians, he knows that the only way to get influence over Ukrainian government and their policies is through a change to their constitution and system of government. More on this in a bit
3. Diplomatically cement Russia’s ownership over Crimea

Realists realize that Crimea is not returning back to Ukraine. No Russian leader would allow it and Russia would go to war to keep it - and no one is going to be insane enough to fight them for it
In addition, the majority of the people in Crimea, except for the Tatar minority (and even they are warming up to Russian annexation), want to remain in Russia…
Russia has dumped tens of billions of $ into Crimean infrastructure, remaking much of the peninsula, and integrating it deeply with the rest of Russia—physically, economically and politically. And economically life has objectively become significantly better for the people there
There is really no realistic imaginable scenario under which Crimea will rejoin Ukraine and Putin undoubtedly wants an official Ukrainian rejection of their claims on the peninsula
4. Resolution to the Donbas crisis

Russia does not want to own Donbas or suffer the burden of supporting it economically, which is one reason it hasn’t annexed or recognized its independence
Plus Putin needs the pro-Russian voters in that region to have influence in Ukrainian government, so he will likely push for reintegration of Donbas in Ukraine but on its own terms and with high degree of autonomy (what he tried with the Minsk agreements)
Putin knows he can’t get his way on any of these key points through negotiations with the US which is why he is so likely to launch a major invasion and a limited incursion will not achieve anything.
So how does an invasion like one I outlined 👆 help him achieve these goals?
The first thing that is likely to happen in an invasion is the fall of Zelensky government, who is already deeply unpopular and polling in the low 30s
It is no accident that his political opponent and former president Poroshenko recently returned to Ukraine despite the threat of arrest for treason. He smells blood in the water
Much of Ukrainian export industry - agriculture, metallurgy and heavy industry - is based on the eastern side of the Dnieper river, as well as in Odessa region. If Russia establishes de fecto control over these areas, Ukrainian GDP will plummet
The pressure on whichever government emerges on the western bank will be immense.
The economy will be in tatters.
There will be tens if not hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the Russian troops from the east.
The military will be decimated.
Putin is counting on this
His objective will likely be to pressure the Ukrainian side under these horrifying conditions into a settlement.
The proposal could look something like this:
Change the Ukrainian constitution to create a Lebanon-style power-sharing political system.
For example, a PM elected from Western side and a President from the East. This would give Russia permanent influence in Ukraine through their proxies in the east
One of them could be this guy per UK intelligence report released last night
In addition, Putin will insist on recognition of Crimea as a Russian territory, broad autonomy for the East and a constitutional rejection of pursuit of accession to NATO and/or EU
In exchange, he will pullback his forces (at least overt ones) out of eastern Ukraine but will likely keep intelligence operatives to continue influence campaigns
This gamble may or may not work for Putin. Ukrainians may very well launch a do-or-die resistance campaign to the bitter end and refuse to accept any deal. People leading it will likely be targeted for assassination
But Putin probably thinks that the combination of a military and economic chokehold gives him a good chance to succeed
In summary, he is gambling that a rapid military operation in the East will result in a sufficient compellence campaign to bring Ukraine back into Russia’s sphere of influence, recognition of Crimea as a Russian territory, and resolution to Donbas
It will also establish a Putin Doctrine of no further NATO expansion into post-Soviet space. Any country that decides to flirt with NATO will know that it risks invasion and loss of independence
The risks to this operation are, of course, substantial. The military campaign may not turn out to be as easy as he thinks and may cost many more Russian lives than can be successfully hidden from the Russian public (as in past conflicts)
Russia will suffer economic sanctions, although most severe sanctions against its oil & gas industry and major banks like Sberbank, VTB and Gazprombank will likely not be put into place due to blowback on European and US economies, as well as impact on already high energy prices
There will be further militarization on Russia’s borders in NATO countries. Sweden and Finland may very well opt to join the alliance at some point in the future
However, if he achieves his primary objectives, these costs will look minor in comparison to the historic and strategic gains he will have acquired.

That is the gamble that he is looking at. And the lives of thousands of innocent people in Ukraine are hanging in the balance


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More from @DAlperovitch

Jan 18
Opening up Black Sea exports was clearly Ukraine’s greatest strategic success since the liberation of Kherson in fall of 2022

It is now clear how this was achieved - via development of credible threats against Russian Black Sea shipping
With the concerted effort by the SBU with the participation of the Ukrainian Navy (and later GUR) since mid 2022, Ukraine was able to develop more and more capable maritime drones that showed their capabilities against Russian military ships and land infrastructure
It is interesting to see how strategically they are thinking about the development of capabilities of these drones:

"We want to decompose a large warship into its functions - air defense, weapons, protection - and put these weapons on several drones," Hunter (SBU) explains.
Read 12 tweets
Dec 28, 2023
The more important question to ask is what would bring about that improved position for an eventual negotiation with Moscow
The only one that’s being discussed as at all plausible is having Ukraine get to the Sea of Azov, destroy the Kerch Bridge and put fire pressure on Crimea🧵
Putting aside the feasibility and likelihood of success of each of those elements of the strategy, I think it’s worth questioning the assumption that Putin would be driven to the negotiation table even if all of the above conditions come to pass
A big assumption in this strategy is that without the Kerch bridge and under constant fires from the Azov coast, Crimea would be difficult to resupply

But the Kerch bridge didn’t exist until 2018 and the rail part until 2019, yet occupied Crimea was just fine since 2014
Read 10 tweets
Dec 5, 2023
Good article on the challenges seen in the early days of the Ukrainian counteroffensive back in June. Some key points:…
“The goal for the first 24 hours was to advance nearly nine miles, reaching the village of Robotyne — an initial thrust south toward the larger objective of reclaiming Melitopol, a city near the Sea of Azov, and severing Russian supply lines”
“Rather than making a nine-mile breakthrough on their first day, the Ukrainians in the nearly six months since June have advanced about 12 miles and liberated a handful of villages. Melitopol is still far out of reach”
Read 32 tweets
Aug 25, 2023
Great WSJ story on Prigozhin’s last days

Something that’s been bothering me since yesterday—why kill Prigozhin now. Putin doesn’t rush into things and often waits years to kill ‘traitors’

The answer— it was not about the mutiny. It was about business, as it always is in Russia
Putin/Defense Ministry/GRU were muscling in to take over Prigozhin’s Africa business and he dared to resist. He did not get the message after the June mutiny—that it was time to apologize and disappear, go to Belarus or wherever. Not fight for control of business in Africa
That is what doomed him

If he had just gone away to sip margaritas in the Maldives and turned over all his businesses to Putin and Co. as penance instead of fighting to preserve them, he would probably still be alive today

Of course, we will never know..
Read 6 tweets
Aug 25, 2023
Putin had personally told Touadera, the Central African Republic president, that the time had come to distance himself from Prigozhin. When Touadera visited St. Petersburg last month, he abstained from taking a selfie with the Russian warlord…
Since June, the Kremlin had been trying to assert control over that shadowy web of murky arrangements. The Defense Ministry had been dispatching delegations to inform foreign governments that they would henceforth do business directly with the Russian state
Prigozhin’s mutiny had left Haftar, the Libyan warlord who had paid Wagner for securing its oil wells and territory, and his close circle nervous about Wagner’s presence in Libya
“They felt that if they do it in Russia, they can do it in Benghazi”
Read 5 tweets
Jun 25, 2023
My thoughts on the implications of Prigozhin's mutiny this weekend: 🧵

First, what have we learned from this?
1. That a hostile armed column of about 5,000 troops can just drive across Russia for hours to within 200km of Moscow and no one in the MoD, Rosgvardia, MVD or FSB seems capable or willing to stop them.

(Ukraine take note)
2. That another armed column of a few thousand troops (some of them former convicts!) can just drive into a major Russian city of a million people and take it over without firing a shot, including a major military command center and an airbase
Read 18 tweets

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