A Projected Plan for the Russo-Ukrainian War

Let me take a moment to speculate as to what the Russian plan is for this war for the next year. It is clear they have one, whether well-conceived or not. Putin has done a partial mobilization of at least 300,000 reservists. It might end up being more than that, but the initial figures are given as 300,000. They were, of course, met by protests, in particular in Moscow and St. Petersburg. This was as expected, with thousands of protestors in the street and over 1,300 detained/arrested. Still, it was not tens of thousands of protestors, which would have really rattled the current regime.

So, I am guessing that the current plan is to:

  1. Ride out the protests. They can probably do this is if it doesn’t turn into tens of thousands of protestors on the street.
  2. Ride out winter on the battlefield. There is only three-four weeks of good campaign weather left. If Russia can ride this out without many major losses, then they are set to settle down and wait out the war in stalemate until spring. (Right now, I am guessing they will lose Lyman and then that might be the end of the Ukrainian offensive).
  3. Russia can then rebuild their army in Ukraine for the spring with 400,000 troops or more.
  4. Europe will go through a rough winter due to the higher gas and oil prices. This may weaken their support for Ukraine. So far, only Hungary has broken from the EU position on this. It does not appear that anyone else is planning to right now. 
  5. The Russian army may then have enough force to hold a successful defensive position through to next spring/summer/fall. They almost held for most of this fall, until the Ukrainian breakthrough at Balakliya.
  6. Then Putin will be in position to try to negotiate a peace settlement that surrenders none of the “new Russia” that they have claimed.

So, if this scenario carries through, then they would hold onto five “provinces” come fall 2023 (Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Crimea/Sevastopol, Donetsk and Lugansk). They could then try to negotiate a settlement, with Russia permanently holding onto 1 or 3 or 5 of these provinces. This would allow Putin to proclaim victory, to actually have something to show for the war, and maybe stay in power. There is no question that Putin’s ability to stay in power will be closely related to the success or failure of this war (although Hussien lost the 1991 Gulf War and remained in power for more than decade after that). 

Now, not sure if this plan will work or if it is a particularly good plan, but it may be the only plan that has a reasonable chance of success and keeps him in power. So, they are clearly going to go through with it, even though will result in:

  1. Further unrest
  2. Further isolation
  3. Long-term decline in the Russian economy
  4. and considerably more losses in Ukraine.

But, the sense is that Putin has to win this war or he (and his regime?) is history. So, while it may not be a great plan, it may be the only plan he has left.

Putin started this war because he appears to have wanted to become the next Peter the Great (1682-1725). Now he is trying not to become the next Nicholas II (1868-1918).


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Christopher A. Lawrence
Christopher A. Lawrence

Christopher A. Lawrence is a professional historian and military analyst. He is the Executive Director and President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern military experience.
Mr. Lawrence was the program manager for the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base, the Kursk Data Base, the Modern Insurgency Spread Sheets and for a number of other smaller combat data bases. He has participated in casualty estimation studies (including estimates for Bosnia and Iraq) and studies of air campaign modeling, enemy prisoner of war capture rates, medium weight armor, urban warfare, situational awareness, counterinsurgency and other subjects for the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Joint Staff and the U.S. Air Force. He has also directed a number of studies related to the military impact of banning antipersonnel mines for the Joint Staff, Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation.
His published works include papers and monographs for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, in addition to over 40 articles written for limited-distribution newsletters and over 60 analytical reports prepared for the Defense Department. He is the author of Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka (Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, CO., 2015), America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia & Oxford, 2015), War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, Lincoln, NE., 2017) , The Battle of Prokhorovka (Stackpole Books, Guilford, CT., 2019), The Battle for Kyiv (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2023), Aces at Kursk (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024), Hunting Falcon: The Story of WWI German Ace Hans-Joachim Buddecke (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024) and The Siege of Mariupol (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2024).
Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

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  1. In view of the recruitment in Russia, the rush to annex the Ukrainian territories conquered so far, the blatant threats of Putin and Medvedev to use nuclear weapons and Putin’s words to both Erdogan and Modi in Samarkand about his desire/willingness to end the war quickly, I bring up the following scenario (one of several).
    1. Russia (or rather – Putin) cannot afford to suffer what will be seen by the Russians as a humiliating defeat.
    2. Russia (or more correctly – its army) is unable to defeat the Ukrainian army and even suffers defeats on the battlefield.
    3. The Ukrainian army is also unable, at least at this stage, to overwhelm the Russian forces in the field.
    That’s why the Russian PCA (possible course of action) (can’t say if it’s a most probable PCA, but it’s certainly dangerous one, at least in my opinion).
    1. To try, with the help of the mobilized forces, to create a turning point in Russia’s favor on the battlefield
    2. At the same time to annex – constitutionally – the occupied territories (Kherson, Donetsk, Lugansk and Zaporozhye districts.
    3. To announce that the main goals of the “Special Military Operation” have been achieved and the Russian residents of Eastern Ukraine can now be and live safely under the wings of “mother Russia”. Russia therefore offers:
    A. A ceasefire and even a truce (under the pretext of wanting to avoid further bloodshed and destruction).
    B. Staying within the established lines.
    C, To begin diplomatic negotiations
    4. If the other side does not respond and continues fighting, Russia will be forced to defend its sovereign territory and its citizens by all the means at its disposal, and for this purpose it would authorize the commander-in-chief of the combat zone to use – for operational considerations only – all the means at his disposal, including tactical nukes because this is – according to the Russian doctrine – in defense of Russia’s territory and citizens (in order to give more validity to these things and/or to create a “justification” for the move, it is also possible to activate a chemical charge/weapon somewhere and blame the Ukrainians for it).
    Note: If these basic assumptions are not realized, it will be necessary to think of another scenario

  2. Lev: “…To announce that the main goals of the “Special Military Operation” have been achieved and the Russian residents of Eastern Ukraine can now be and live safely under the wings of “mother Russia”….”

    -One of the original goals was to get recognition for Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts. Donetsk is done, but Luhansk is half done. To leave things as they are would be to admit partial defeat.

    C.A.L: “…if this scenario carries through, then they would hold onto five “provinces” come fall 2023 (Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Crimea/Sevastopol, Donetsk and Lugansk). ..”

    -Hmmm… I saw Zaporizhizia and Kherson as buffer zones for Crimea and Donetsk, or maybe trading chips. If the vote (or “vote”) ends in their annexation, then that means Putin would then be beholden to fight to keep them, then their would then be officially considered “Russian”. The same is true to a lesser extent for Luhansk and Donetsk, which were previously considered allies. Putin is either making things harder on himself, or making these oblasts Russian then draws some sort of redline.

    • Well, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson provides the land bridge that protects Crimea, and one of the issues was that Ukraine had ability to cut off the water to Crimea. It was clear when Putin and his commentators started talking about “new Russia” they were thinking about more than Donetsk, Lugansk or Crimea.

      So, it does appear that Putin is incorporating them in his holdings for now (even though half of Zaporizhzhia, including the capital, is in Ukranian hands). Ukraine will probably have to reclaim them by combat if it can. Putin may be willing to trade them away as part of deal to secure the other provinces. It is just hard to tell right now where this will all be in 12 months.

      In the end, this war will have to be resolved on the battlefield before it is resolved at the negotiating table.

      • Why do I think that the offer of a ceasefire on the existing lines of contact between troops, along with the annexation of already captured Ukrainian territories, is the most dangerous PCA? Because this option is an integral part of the hybrid warfare that Russia has waged so skillfully in recent years (intervention in elections in different countries and, above all, in the USA, Great Britain, France, etc., the use of the Internet and the media, information warfare.).
        Russia is interested in splitting the unity of the West in the ongoing confrontation in everything related to assistance to Ukraine, sanctions, denial/reduction of oil/gas purchases, etc. An offer or even an expression of readiness for negotiations and a ceasefire, combined with an information war, can put Ukraine in the position of “guilty” in the energy crisis, especially on the eve of the coming winter and heating restrictions, not to mention the industry, especially the military one. Thus, Russia will try to drive a wedge into the unity of Europe with Ukraine. If we add to this the possible transition to a war of attrition in Ukraine, associated with the strengthening of Russian troops and the inability of Ukraine to lead to their complete defeat, as well as veiled (and not so) threats to use “all means” to defend and protect Russian territory and citizens of the Russian Federation, then, in the Russian vision, this may be “the key to victory.”

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