What Ukranian experts think about rumors of Russian Iskanders and possible occupation of Kyiv
For a month now, every Western media outlet has been reporting about the growing threat of large-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. Kyiv belatedly confirmed the fears of its Western partners – a new wave of Russian aggression could begin this winter. Moreover, Ukrainian intelligence released one of the possible scenarios for the development of events. They were analyzed by the Ukrainian hromadske TV company.
Will ‘armageddon’ in Ukraine start with Russian Iskanders?
On November 25, the “Right to Power” talk show on the Ukrainian TSN channel discussed the possible offensive by the Russian army. The program was called ‘Putin’s Blitzkrieg’. The presenter Natalya Moseichuk recounted a possible scenario for the beginning of a large-scale invasion:
“Recently, Russians were actively citing the Scandinavian Schibsted publication. Its analysts came to the unequivocal conclusion: the Russian invasion of Ukraine would begin within three months. According to their scenario, the Russian armed forces will launch an attack using Iskander missile systems.
In a matter of minutes, they will destroy Ukrainian airfields, radar stations, air defense systems, ammunition depots, command posts, and other military targets … Then the Russian Aviation Forces aviation will launch a massive aerial bombing… After that, the Russians will take as much Ukrainian land as the West will allow them to”.
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Defense Minister Alexei Reznikov called this scenario “Armageddon”, which is cited a lot on the air of various media outlets. This is indeed the case. In the Russian propaganda media, they declare exactly this beginning of the war.
So, on November 22, on the Russian talk show “60 Minutes”, the Russian Lieutenant-General of the Reserve Yevgeny Buzhinsky told how to destroy the Ukrainian armed forces and navy. At the same time, he added that after this it is not envisaged that Russia will use tanks and further seize Ukrainian territories.
This could be perceived as banal intimidation. However, the scenario of the outbreak of war with the use of Iskander is quite real.
Mikhail Samus, deputy director of the Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies, explains that the invasion scenario outlined in the “Rights to Power” broadcast is not fiction and not some kind of special analytics. “These are not predictions. This is the doctrine of how offensive operations are conducted. This is how the operations are carried out now, ”says Samus.
The expert explained the sequence of further actions. First, an air-missile offensive operation is carried out. In parallel, there is a propaganda campaign, which Russia is already waging against Ukraine. Then comes the electronic phase, during which the enemy’s systems are suppressed.
“After that, massive missile strikes begin, destroying air defenses and command posts. In fact, the ability to manage territories will be destroyed. Then the aviation will come and hit the ground forces. Front-line aviation, assault, or bomber will enter into force. Maybe several waves of air raids, when the troops can no longer defend themselves systematically”, Samus says.
Only after that, the land stage can begin.
The same sequence is confirmed by the expert of the Army Research Center Igor Levchenko.
In fact, Russia had even worked out this war scenario when it openly invaded Syria in September 2015 – back then, it all started with the bombing too. Then a missile strike from ships from the Caspian Sea at a distance of 1,500 kilometers. On the same day, Assad’s troops launched an offensive. It is known what this “Armageddon” led to.
Can Ukraine resist this? Mikhail Samus says that since Soviet times, Ukraine has had an extensive air defense system, which includes the S-200, S-300, and Buk anti-aircraft missile systems. However, these systems are old.
Outdated and ineffective air defense systems are also pointed out by the director of the Ukrainian Militar Center Taras Chmut. Russia has received more than 1000 new and modernized aircraft since 2010. So Ukraine will not be able to fully resist the strike of Russia at the initial stage.
“In the total salvo of the first wave (from the Russian side – ed.) There may be approximately 300 missiles that will fly across Ukraine. These are Iskander and Caliber; from aircraft – Kh-55 (strategic aviation cruise missile – ed.) and others. That’s quite a lot. We will not be able to hold back this first blow”, Chmut concludes.
The attacks will not only be launched from Russia and the occupied Crimea. In mid-November, Alexander Lukashenka voiced his desire to deploy Iskanders on the territory of Belarus.
Ukraine is losing to the Russians not only in the air but also at sea. As Taras Chmut says, we have nothing to oppose there.
Occupation of Kyiv. Is the military intelligence forecast realistic?
On November 20, the American Military Times website published an article with a map of the offensive actions of the Russian army. This map was prepared by Ukrainian military intelligence.
In the material, the head of the main intelligence department of the Ministry of Defense, Kirill Budanov, described a possible scenario for a large-scale invasion.
“The attack is likely to consist of airstrikes, artillery, and armored attacks, followed by amphibious attacks in the east, amphibious attacks in Odesa and Mariupol, and a smaller invasion via neighboring Belarus”, Budanov said.
Neither from the map nor from the words of the head of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense it is clear how the Ukrainian army will act in response, as well as what the prerequisites for the occupation of a significant part of Ukraine, including the capital, are based on.
According to the interlocutors of hromadske, the 100,000 Russian soldiers who are accumulating on the border of Ukraine are not enough for a large-scale occupation.
“The occupation requires a number of troops that cannot be compared with what is now available throughout Russia. Millions of soldiers are needed to occupy such territories with such a population as Ukraine. They don’t have such an army now”, says a former participant of the anti-terrorist operation in eastern Ukraine as part of the 25th Kievan Rus volunteer battalion, nicknamed Artie Green.
Member of the Army Research Center Igor Levchenko calls the occupied territory of Ukraine depicted on the map of the Ukrainian intelligence service Putin’s “Wishlist”.
“If we hypothetically weigh the forces, means and possibilities, then the Dnieper border is the maximum for Russia in modern conditions – and only if the state of the Ukrainian army remains unchanged since 2014. Now this is impossible”, says Levchenko.
In reality, in the event of aggression, most likely, it will not be about a large-scale offensive and occupation of essentially half of Ukraine. Russia does not really have the strength to do this. The Ukrainian army can more effectively resist the aggressor’s ground operations than aviation, navy, and missile forces.
For the successful implementation of these scenarios with the beginning of aggression and the occupation of territories, the most important thing for the Kremlin is that Ukraine and the Ukrainian army do not resist at all. Otherwise, Russia may face significant hardships.
“The option of the Ukrainian army defending itself does not suit Putin at all. He clearly understands that this would be a disaster for Russia. He does not need such a development of events”, says Mikhail Samus, deputy director of the center for army research, conversion, and disarmament.
How will Ukraine respond?
Neither the president nor other Ukrainian officials undertake to publicly discuss the possible strategy that would be implemented in the event of war. However, individual statements indicate that Kyiv understands the threat of a repetition of the Syrian scenario. Besides the next batch of conditional Javelins, they are trying to secure even more powerful support from the West.
Thus, in the above-mentioned interview of Kirill Budanov to the Military Times, the head of military intelligence noted that Ukraine “is looking for additional anti-aircraft, anti-missile, and unmanned defense systems”. The American Patriot anti-aircraft missile system is also mentioned. However, if Kyiv has prospects in this regard, then their embodiment will not be in the coming winter months.
Although various Western and Ukrainian sources have voiced the possibility of an attack by Russia this winter, it is currently unknown whether the corresponding decision has finally been made. “The position of the Russian forces does not indicate that an invasion is imminent. It is quite possible that a political decision to start a military operation has not been made”, says the American Foreign Affairs publication.
The article notes that Putin may use force if he considers US support for Ukraine to be insincere. Then he will try to either divide the country in half or impose a new “peaceful settlement”.
In fact, the Kremlin is already trying to impose this “peaceful settlement” on Ukraine and the West. Scarecrows in the face of Iskanders and the occupation of Kyiv form part of the arsenal of pressure. Are the Ukrainian authorities and Zelensky personally succumbing to this pressure?
On the one hand, in his speech in parliament, the president said that no one would defend the country except its own army. In addition, he expressed the position that it is impossible to stop the war without direct negotiations with Russia.
However, Zelenskiy missed an important point: with what trump cards can he go to these negotiations. Putin’s cards are well-known and weighty: a 100,000-strong army on the border, Iskanders, aviation, and navy. Whether the Ukrainian president has anything to smash the Kremlin’s cards with remains unknown?