This opinion was voiced by Yurii Butusov in his article for Mirror Weekly.
Based on combat activities in 2014-2015, I will try to forecast further developments at the front line and possible threats and problems.
Is peace in the Donbas possible?
Putin's goal is to destabilize Ukraine, create pro-Russian vector within Ukrainian authorities, and legitimize the annexation of Crimea and Donbas occupation. This is only possible if Ukraine acknowledges such state of affairs. Thus, with the present political configuration, peace is unachievable.
The cease-fire is unlikely to be stable as well. Russia does not acknowledge Donbas occupation, and Ukraine cannot delimit the border with the bandits - this would mean acknowledging Russian mercenaries Zakharchenko and Plotnitskii as independent parties to the conflict. Only peacemakers in large quantities can control cease-fire and heavy weapons withdrawal from the demarcation line. However, the EU and U.S. are not yet ready to introduce peacekeepers. The Ukrainian forces have to become one. This means we have to fight.
Low-intensity conflict if good for Putin - the war allows supporting crisis in Ukraine and cuts it off from investments, draws away the resources. As long as Kremlin is not able to seize whole Ukraine by direct military invasion, Russia hopes for build-up of internal problems and conducting local attacks.
Western sanctions have begun to have effect, and consequences of a full-scale invasion could not be forecasted for Putin's regime. Russia is not the USSR. Its resources for waging a full-scale war are very limited.
In order to stop the war, either Ukraine needs to fulfill Putin's demands, or Russia should start incurring losses of such scales that would make it disadvantageous to continue combat activities.
In order to end the war, a radical change in the situation is required in military, political, economic, and informational sectors.
One party must win, and the other must accept its defeat.
Possible directions of the Russian army's attack and the nature of combat activities
Based on the described Putin's strategy, Russian command does not prefer advancing at any particular strategic direction. Yes, they are interested in Mariupol. But in fact, it is clear that the priority goal of Russia in the war is defeating our combat units. Loss of combat capability, especially as a result of entrapment of Ukrainian troops under Izvaryne, Ilovaisk, the 32nd checkpoint, in the Donetsk airport, and Debaltseve leads to large losses of Ukrainian troops in personnel and equipment, allows doing moral and psychological damage, and capturing a large area.
Undoubtedly, further military strategy of the enemy will also constitute a series of local attacks.
Now, during yet another truce, the enemy will conduct fighting reconnaissance to reveal "cohesion points" of the Ukrainian front. That is, objects where Russian troops can impose battle to us on favorable terms for them. In any case, the battles will take place in urban areas because urban and rural zones are natural foci of defense and communications units.
Priority directions of possible enemy attack are Shchastia, Stanytsia Luhanska, Popasna, Artemivsk, Avdiivka, Pisky, Volnovakha, and Mariupol.
By analogy with previous "truce" periods, the enemy will begin to pursue more active combat operations, carry out further reconnaissance into our positions, find out the level of combat readiness of our troops, and concentrate their forces for strike.
Attack will be local. Russian invasion forces will fight in the second tier of the enemy, act as shock troops, mobile reserves, as well as provide artillery fire support, and electronic and artillery reconnaissance.
Russian command is trying to conduct offensive operations only with keeping the initiative, under favorable tactical situation for them.
Lives of mercenaries from second-rate units do not have value for the Russians. When defending Debaltseve, Ukrainian units reported of at least five cases of the enemy's infantry attack at our strong points in the daylight, all out, by obviously untrained units.
By the way, the same frontal attacks were recorded in the fall of 2014 in the Donetsk airport. Second-class units must prove their combat effectiveness and efficiency in a battle, and those who survive and show that they can fight successfully, are deployed to shock units, which fight constantly. Qualified military experts get salaries that are quite competitive with the private sector in Russia, so given the crisis, Russian recruiters still have the reserves to recruit from.
Since those are volunteers who are recruited for the war, this allows hiding real losses and reducing social discontent with huge casualties.
Intensification of combat activities will take place in late spring, when the fields of Donbas are covered with greenery again, which provides for covertness of troops transfer.
The enemy's forces in the Donbas
At the moment, all the control, communications, logistics of mercenaries units are in the hands of the Russian command.
Due to a sharp increase in combat capability of the Ukrainian troops and commanders and fighters' combat experience, the Russians have reorganized bands of mercenaries into regular armored and infantry units.
Russians formed seven units out of mercenaries' gangs and called them brigades and battalions. They have built a command system, put a significant number of leave men from Russian Army as their command, and organized recruitment system - created shock units exclusively of volunteers, mostly Russian military experts with combat experience and qualifications. The bulk of the mercenaries, in which more than a half are recruited local residents, form infantry units with different levels of combat capability, which basically can only lead guerrilla war, perform mopping up and rear protection. Thus, a team of mercenaries may be a few thousand people, but the core of it is the company task force reinforced with tanks, armored vehicles, howitzers, mortars, anti-tank guns, which is involved in the majority of combat operations of the team.
At the moment, the mercenaries are quickly restoring their combat capability after heavy losses in the battles of Debaltseve and the Donetsk airport with the help of equipment and personnel supplies from Russia.
However, the enemy's strategic stability stems from the presence of regular units of the Russian Armed Forces in the Donbas. At least five or six battalion tactical groups of regular troops of the Russian Federation participate in combat missions in Ukraine. These groups are formed of contract soldiers, sergeants, and officers from regular brigades. Most of them fight because they were ordered to, not because they want to.
Russian troops are in the second tier. Their mission is to cover the flanks and rears of the strike groups of mercenaries; they are a reserve in case of the Ukrainian troops' breakthrough; they conduct many types of technical intelligence, electronic warfare, carry out fire support with self-propelled and rocket artillery, including heavy-caliber systems.
Russia has also deployed a modern army air defense system in the Donbas, so the Russian military actions are carried out under the air defense "umbrella."
An example of cooperation between Russian troops and mercenaries is Debaltseve. Russian troops fought as the first tier only in the key attack sector - villages of Nyzhnie Lozove, Kalynivka, Lohvynove. There, attempts of Ukrainian detachments to unblock the bridgehead were repulsed by units of the separate Russian 5th tank brigade from Ulan-Ude (Buryatia).
Russian troops were deployed to the forefront positions only after advance units of the mercenaries infiltrated into Kalynivka and Lohvynove and ensured unhindered advance of Russian troops. And Ukrainian counterattacks were repulsed by Russians, who took tactically advantageous positions.
Similar scheme of cooperation and possible direct involvement of regular Russian army in the front line activities will be used in 2015.
According to analysts, the following numbers of forces could be presented:
Striking forces of the mercenaries, front line units, make up to 5,000 people.
Follow-up units with limited combat capacity - up to 15,000 people.
Non-organized gangs - up to 5,000 people, who were given rear cities and villages 'for foddering' by Russian special forces.
Russian troops - total of up to 10,000 soldiers, about 5-6 thousand of them are shock troops of ground forces and paratroopers.
Now, during the truce, the enemy quickly increases the combat capability of striking forces of the mercenaries, mans it with qualified personnel, conducts maneuvers for operational coordination, and replenishes and repairs military equipment.
Problems of the Ukrainian command
1. Commanders of the General Staff and the army have lost credibility with the personnel, and above all, with the field officers and soldiers. This is the major threat. The army does not want to fight under command of dunces, liars, and traitors. Please read an interview with Colonel Pokusa, Chief of Staff of the 20th mechanized infantry battalion, or a letter by officers of the 25th and 40th battalions and the 128th brigade - those are not fake, the letter is real and the facts presented in it are for the most part true. Listen to dozens of other criticisms by our soldiers. The General Staff command of the Army should be dismissed as fully incompetent, and dismissed to trial. Right hand of the Chief of Staff Muzhenko, Gen. Nazarov, threatens experts, honored officers of the Army, and Commander-in-Chief Poroshenko does not protect the colonel with 35 years of service and unique experience, who left everything in Crimea for the sake of Ukraine. And Nazarov is not thrown in jail, but continues to command the people despite being involved into criminal proceedings. Is this not a shame for the army and the military command? Is this not a demonstration that Ukrainian generals lack conscience, honesty, and respect for subordinates?
2. Command system. 30,000-people army force is torn between multiple headquarters of sectors and units. Fragmentation of the command system into sectors, as during a police operation, is a terrifying archaism, not suitable for combat manual during a war. A USSR motorized rifle division comprised 14,700 people, and in many cases such division was commanded by an officer holding the rank of colonel. Ukrainian force of two Soviet divisions is managed by multiple generals and colonels. This bureaucratic system with a huge number of control levels paralyzes normal troops command, and the administrative apparatus does not meet the number of combat strength. The commanders of the General Staff constantly intrudes into the command of tactical operations, breaks the chain of command and control system. During fighting in the Donetsk airport, Chief of General Staff Muzhenko personally took command of the units of the 95th, 81st, 80th, 79th Air-mobile and 25th Airborne brigades and brought them into the fighting in the area of responsibility of sector B, where Muzhenko himself replaced many key officers two weeks before. Chaos and disorganization did not allow completing combat missions.
3. Total number of troops in the ATO remains meager - 30-35 thousand of the 230 thousand troops on the list. The General Staff has not taken any measures to build up the number of combat strength. There are so many flags on the map, but with very low strike capabilities of each flag, each division. During the operation in Debaltseve, the General Staff tried to concentrate assault forces to capture the area of Lohvynove. But again, paratroopers reinforced with units of the 1st armored, 30th and 14th mechanized divisions were not able to complete combat missions. The reason is that all Ukrainian units go understaffed to the front. Only one or two battalion tactic groups of a brigade go to fight; and companies are assigned from a battalion. Most of the combat missions on the front line are performed by units not exceeding a company task force in number. Any concentration of forces is out of the question. In countering the shock troops of mercenaries and Russian troops, separate companies can no longer fully perform combat missions.
4. Reform of the Armed Forces, which was endorsed by the president, is just a sham from the General Staff and a blunder of the military leadership of Ukraine. As a result, two new headquarters of operational command and a new headquarters of air command have been created, the number of generals and general posts has been increased from 121 to 151, and new military units have been created given the horrifying understaffing of the army. Increase in total number of troops to 250,000 people, while not the total number, but the number of combat mechanized units should be increased, is a huge resource expenditure, totally unjustified in conditions of war and totally unaffordable for our army and economy. By continuing to give old equipment to poorly trained, unprofessional, and unmotivated people, we do not strengthen the army. It's vice versa - by this we increase the number of senseless non-combat losses. General Staff has sharply reduced firepower and combat capabilities of mechanized battalions. Staff of artillery batteries has been decreased as well, from six to four guns, but the number of artillery brigades increased from three to six. At the same time, new artillery brigades are being created, despite the fact that artillery reconnaissance resources are still insufficient even in acting brigades and there are no completely manned and equipped detachments. New infantry brigades are also created, though they are not provided with equipment and motivated and trained personnel.
5. General Staff is absolutely inept and wasteful in using military equipment, which is an irretrievable resource for Ukraine. According to ZN.UA data from the General Staff sources, 65% of armored equipment losses and 70% of artillery losses occurred during entrapments near Izvaryne, Ilovaisk, and Debaltseve. According to our data, the losses of Ukrainian troops in the battle near Debaltseve amounted to 127 armored vehicles of all kinds. It happened because the General Staff did not take into account the degree of technical serviceability of the equipment and did not provide for repair and spare parts. In the course of "organized retreat," 70% of equipment losses accounted for those vehicles that had been left behind, destroyed by our soldiers, and left to be used by the enemy.
6. No systematic work with personnel is conducted. There is no analysis of efficiency of combat operations, successful commanders are not being promoted, and those incompetent are not replaced. As a result, there is coherence and interoperability within the units. Commanders are absolutely irresponsible, and Chief of Staff Muzhenko simply manipulates people based on his personal interests.
7. Combat training at training camps does not provide combat coordination and interaction at the level of battalion-brigade. The reason for this is that fully manned battalion tactical groups and brigades are not deployed at the front line. The level of qualification of combat vehicle teams and artillery batteries is absolutely inadequate. In modern warfare, combat training should consist of training within units and parts. For this, whole brigade should be taken to a training camp and be trained. According to Russian servicemen, only contractors who have at least nine months of service and three months of intensive training in field camps near Rostov are sent to the war. We have staffs of brigades and battalions at the front line for months, and brigades fight in combined detachments. Many units do not overlap and do not fight together. Brigades are dispersed in small units along the front line.
8. There is no center for intelligence analysis and transfer to the front line units. Advanced forces have practically no information about the enemy from sources other than their own visual surveillance.
Address to commander-in-chief
Ukraine is fighting due to extremely high level of patriotism and personal initiative of soldiers and officers at the front. Army as an institution, as a system, as a normal military organization is still absent. The patriots fight with their enthusiasm and love to their motherland. And they are supported mostly by volunteers, not the state.
The Army urgently needs military doctrine for the war in the Donbas, as well as significant decrease in management levels and number of command, by three or four times, and sharp decrease in the number of military units, at least by two times from their quantity of 1,400.
Fully equipped and manned combat brigades need to be formed in order to gradually replace collective detachments with fully functional units. Look at the enemy - they are enlarging their combat forces; we need to work proactively.
But the most important thing is this. The country's authorities, especially the president, should stop lying to themselves; stop living with a besieged fortress psychology, in permanent panics that tomorrow people will come to depose them. Mr. Poroshenko, our people are sane and they do not intend to conduct a military coup while country is under military aggression. Everybody understands the meaning of the democratic presidential elections. You have to plan your strategy without fighting phantoms and false threats, and start to lean on the people, on the intellect, learn to trust the people, not only your phobias and advisers of Svynarchuk level. The people will support you if you start successful reforms that will increase the army's combat level now, instead of imitating frenzied activity with field ration and clothing allowance. You have to do what people that fight in trenches and the front line strong points say, not limited schemers with feudal ambitions.
The man with intelligence of a corporal, let repeatedly promoted, tells you, Mr. Poroshenko, that his paratroopers will protect you against any coup. This is nonsense. First, listen to paratroopers themselves, many of whom are volunteers. You will learn a lot about yourself - the videos are online. Second, a liar has no power to protect you from the people. For to a liar, as always, everything breaks down and all are to blame, except for the General Staff.
Mr. Poroshenko, you have just one way - to win the war and get into history, or continue to 'give up' the war and get into a mess. All the people, the best of the patriots, all the soldiers who want to protect their motherland - they all support you. Against you are your fears, rascals and skunks, who, by using your fears, barrier you from wise decisions and systematic reforms. You have to choose which side to take. The army needs and can be reorganized quickly. Ukraine has significant numerical superiority over the enemy, our motivation is much higher. We do not have as much equipment and steel as Putin, but we are superior with people. Believe in people, and this will be your major victory.
Yurii Butusov for Mirror Weekly