Overall command of all the enemy's forces in the Donbas is conducted, according to Censor.NET's data, by the command of the Russian Federation Armed Forces.
Attacks are conducted by infantry and armored vehicles of the Russian mercenaries by about 60%, and 40% are local betrayers. Those are mixed combat teams of infantry, armored vehicles, and artillery.
The number of shock troops of the mercenaries is up to 6-7 attack groups with total of 10,000 soldiers.
Gangs of low capabilities in the rear, who were given cities and villages to feed from and who also receive weapons and military aid, total up to 20,000 people.
Russian mercenaries and local gangs do not have large junctions to concentrate and mass forces. Enemy units retain the character of large partisan detachments. However, the Russian command has made serious efforts to improve the training, the growth of the discipline, cohesion, and to form the mercenaries into units of the likes of tactical companies and tactical battalions of permanent staff. The bandit army deployment scenario is exactly the same as was used in the Transnistria, Ossetia, and Abkhazia.
Regular Russian army provides logistics and combat support, radio intelligence, electronic warfare, air defense, communication on operational and tactical level, supply of military equipment, artillery reconnaissance and support. Regular units of the Russian army, being battalion task groups of the mechanized troops, as well as Special Forces units, perform the functions of operating reserves, protect the rear, and inflict fire damage to the Ukrainian army. Russian security services also serve as counter-intelligence and order-keepers within the gangs, and are not reluctant to indulge in elimination of undesirable chieftains - Alexandr Bednov and Ievgenii Ishchenko were killed this way.
The regular Russian troops' strength in the Donbas is currently fewer than 10,000 people, but at least 20,000 more are concentrated on the border with Ukraine and engaged in provisioning, rotation, and overall support.
Russian command uses Ukraine as a training ground for working out a combat training plan and studying possible routes in the event of the large-scale invasion.
The regular Army detachments obviously have an order to engage in combat in particular cases only. As a rule, Russians are engaged in noncontact warfare, detecting battle formations of our troops and then causing fire damage to the revealed centers of defense.
The detachments of the mercenaries are trying to use similar tactic.
TACTICAL SITUATION ANALYSIS:
The purpose of the enemy's attacks is destruction of combat capability of specific Ukrainian units. I emphasize - this is an exhaustion war. Therefore, the goal of the war is not to seize territories and fly the flags: the goal is to reduce combat forces, decrease fighting capacity, and disrupt connectivity between combat units.
Strikes are committed at the same time in different places in order to avoid forces maneuver and make [Ukrainian army - ed.] spend the maximum amount of reserves along the front line. However, most of the attacks are just an imitation of activities. In such a way the enemy masks the direction of its main attacks.
Russia wants to destroy the army - to knock out our military equipment, especially artillery, armored vehicles - all equipment that we do not resupply, equipment that provides combat stability of many poorly trained infantry units.
"Traps" in D-sector and Ilovaisk show that knocking out the equipment and supply transport, and wearing down combat-ready units leads to rapid collapse of the front line, withdrawal, and surrender of territory without fight. This is the most convenient and desirable option for the enemy.
Since the enemy maneuvers its reserves on internal operational lines freely and is not bound with task of protecting the long front line, it tries to defeat the units along the front line. Increased sparseness of combat formation and insufficient density of our troops simplifies this task.
Directions of the enemy's activities:
1. Debaltseve salient. Debaltseve is one of key communication hubs in the Donbas. The enemy conducts attacks at our units from two sides at the throat of this salient - in Svitlodarsk and Troitske. These two are the most dangerous zones along the front line.
2. Donetsk. The enemy attempts at all cost to move the front line away from Donetsk. The directions of the attacks are Marinka, Avdiivka, Pisky, Donetsk, being a large base of supply and a key communication hub of the enemy. The proximity of the Ukrainian army significantly troubles the enemy's use of Donetsk and threatens the enemy's bases in the city and its vicinity.
3. Bakhmutka road. The enemy is attempting to fling back our units from the road, which is of great operational value for the forces maneuver. Controlling the road is key for controlling the majority of the positions in the area.
4. Horlivka. Horlivka is one of the most vulnerable cities in the enemy's defense. Horlivka is tightly surrounded at flanks by the Ukrainian army. The positions for attacking the city are very comfortable. Thus Horlivka takes much forces of the enemy. Russian command also intends to repel our units from dominating positions.
5. Combat activities near Volnovakha and Mariupol are currently of demonstrational nature. Terrorist shelling of Mariupol was aimed at dragging attention to Mariupol itself and containing the large forces of the Ukrainian army that maintain this strategic city. Informational resonance from killing civilians is used by the terrorists to conceal their strategic plans. However, the enemy often changes the direction of its attacks, because it keeps attacking only where the holdout is weak. Unfortunately, Censor.NET assumes that probability of terrorist attacks by the Russian mercenaries on Ukrainian cities has increased significantly.
6. Combat activities near Popasna are also of demonstrational nature; however, the enemy is more active there and may possibly attempt local attacks in order to distract our reserves from Debaltseve.
Russian troops commit local attacks in different sectors. Concentration of enemy's attack forces capable of striking into tactical depth is not observed. There is in fact no solid front line - the defense and the attacks are of cellular nature and take place around the towns and communication hubs. The combat intensity is low. The attacks are suspended in case of fitting rebuff, or offensive reconnaissance is applied instead to reveal the enemy's fire means and discover weaknesses in combat formations.
The enemy has concentrated shock troops in various sectors of the front line conducting active offensive, trying to provide local superiority of forces at selected narrow directions.
However, there is no overwhelming superiority of the enemy, and the Ukrainian command is quite capable to repulse the attacks.
The greatest threat is currently the crisis in the area of Debaltseve.
The success of the battle depends on the forces' maneuver and infliction of defeat to the enemy near Svitlodarsk and Troitske. Debaltseve salient is the point connecting the entire Donbas front line at the moment.
ASSESSMENT OF THE MILITARY-POLITICAL SITUATION:
The enemy's goal remains the same - large-scale destabilization of Ukraine, provoking systemwide economic, political, and social crisis. Putin wants to create conditions for collapse of the existing state model and for strengthening the pro-Russian influence, inclusion of pro-Russian leaders into the leadership of Ukraine. This exact scenario was implemented in Georgia, when by means of war, and economic and political blockade Putin achieved election defeat of the Democratic Party of Mikheil Saakashvili; pro-Russian regime of Ivanishvili, who plays into the hands of the Kremlin, came to power.
Censor.NET supposes that the strategy of Russia's actions during the war in Ukraine remains unchanged and cyclical: escalation of the war - truce - preparation for a new phase of aggression - beginning of local hostilities - escalation of the war - truce. Russia has no resources for occupation of Ukraine. Putin fuels war primarily with the forces of units and detachments of level readiness. He cannot manage to throw a large group of Russian troops for the offensive in Ukraine, because for occupation of Ukraine the mobilization in the Russian Federation is required, and the Russian Federation has no available resources at the moment for waging a large-scale war. Permanent low-intensity conflict is a political lever of constant influence on Ukraine for Putin, as well as domestic mobilization tool due to the growth of nationalist moods in Russia, a convenient political solution against the economic crisis and stagnation.
As long as Ukrainian society demonstrates high political stability, and economic crisis still could not bring down the state, the Russian invasion into the central Ukraine will not lead to collapse, but vice versa, will make the resistance fiercer. Russia is trying to avoid responsibility for the invasion because Putin does not have enough resources to maintain a war-ravaged country. Russia does not render support to the Donbas. It completely stopped funding Transnistria, and serious turbulence arose in Abkhazia due to cut in funding.
Direct intervention will most definitely lead to Russia's complete cutoff from the world financial markets and to the catastrophe for Russia's economy, which depends heavily on loans and import. Putin is not ready to stake on this. He is afraid to completely break off relationship with the West. He is afraid to become an outcast; he would like to keep the Russia's elite to the Western material world.
Therefore, we should not be expecting an offensive with broad goals at this stage of the war.
The main problem of the Ukrainian command is total lack of strategic initiatives, excessive centralization of management decisions, and limitation of independence of tactical level commanders by the ATO command. Unfortunately, the Chief of General Staff demonstrates the lack of understanding of the situation, the lack of strategic thinking and operational planning, low staff culture, misunderstanding of the nature of modern warfare, and inability to analyze and draw lessons.
The reform of the army, which Poroshenko and Poltorak approved according to the plan by Muzhenko, further reduces the capacity of the army command, because the General Staff proposes to complicate management structure and to create two more operational commands for some purpose.
Command and control system has deteriorated significantly compared with the beginning of the war, all the sources of Censor.NET say." Victor Muzhenko's project to create additional intermediates of management between the staffs of operational commands and subordinate brigades, i.e. creating sectors and the ATO Army Staff, proved to be a disaster. As a result, all the staffs are undermanned, and sector staffs exercising operational command are the most undermanned. In addition, Muzhenko has completely confused the management by constantly subordinating separate units and even detachments to himself. Coordination and interaction within the army do not improve, but deteriorate. These are the main reasons of the defeat in the Donetsk airport and at the checkpoint in Krasnyi Partyzan, which Muzhenko and the ATO command tried to conceal cynically.
The Supreme Commander Poroshenko covers Muzhenko and saves him from liability. This is our main disadvantage.
The General Staff is not engaged in the formation of high-readiness forces. As in the beginning of the war, only separate battalion tactical groups of brigade staff are engaged in fighting. The General Staff is not able to send a single complete brigade to the front line, because they are not purposefully engaged in manning. As a result, the enemy acts with large units, while Ukrainian command cannot quickly gather coordinated bodies to achieve superiority in forces and gain quality advantages.
The combat qualification is quite primitive. There are no training centers that could provide training process for the whole brigade, like the Soviet training camps.
Despite the fact that we have two huge intelligence services, large SBU secret service, can engage the State Border Service and the Interior Ministry for the intelligence purpose, and have strong support and a large number of information sources, there is still no efficient intelligence system. Despite tens of thousands of security officers and multibillion-dollar budgets, the actions of special services remain highly fragmented and do not make up a complete picture, do not allow taking control of every village and every street. Coordination of intelligence is completely absent.
Ukrainian army has turned into an armed Maidan. In the absence of competent management, each military unit lives its life. The key figures in the Ukrainian Army and the National Guard are the company and battalion commanders. The course of military operations in a specific sector of the front line depends entirely on their personal qualities. Where a commander is initiative and independent, the inadequate command cannot intervene with effective combat missions and combat training. Where there is no good commander, the level of combat readiness of unit is provisional and depends on various factors.
But it is important to note that a competent and trained cohort of soldiers and commanders has gradually crystallized within the Army, the National Guard, and the Special Forces among privates, company officers, and middle officers, and their number is slowly increasing. A real capable framework is emerging within the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
If the Ukrainian political elite unite to reform the army and the National Guard, and the task of developing a military doctrine, strategy and tactics of war, recruitment and military training, weapons and logistics is fully entrusted to professionals, and command positions are filled by expertise, then Ukraine already has those it can lean on.
Repelling the enemy's assaults at the main directions will lead to rapid fading of the next phase of the war, and to repetition of the cycle. Putin again will allow seating himself at the negotiating table and utter meaningless words about peace. Again, for some time, the war will fade, but not for long. Winter is not the best time for operations in the bare steppe. Good viewing and large range of detection and shooting are kept.
As previously assumed by Censor.NET, spring is the most convenient period for active actions of the enemy, starting from the latter half of April, when dense foliage appears. As the foliage shows up, the enemy will again have the opportunity to use the tactics of infiltration of small groups and short fire raids to attack Ukrainian units chained by passive standing at the checkpoints.
Next and much more active phase of the enemy's activities will happen in spring. Ukraine should make efforts to change the nature of combat activities and start the reform in the army, which reform could radically increase the combat capability and the quality of command.
Putin will not agree for peace before we're powerful enough. The point is not to destroy all Russian troops - Putin will leave even after his detachments incur serious losses. We are learning how to fight, but we also need to learn how to win.
Yurii Butusov, Censor.NET