Russia confirmed on Mar 13 a new round of military operations adjacent to the border with eastern Ukraine. Russia’s military chief, Gen. Valery V. Gerasimov in Moscow contacted NATO Gen. Knud Bartles of Denmark, to consult on commencement of the operations, one day after denials there were any such operations taking place.
No details of that conversation have been disclosed by either NATO or Russian officials. Moscow however has publicly disclosed operations involve armored offensive formations assembling in the Belgorod, Kursk and Rostov regions of Russia, with airborne troops assembling in Tambov, further inside Russia.
Amateur video and photos showing Russian light tanks and trucks assembling in the border town of Lapov, situated 30 miles from the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv were posted online. Forces assembling in Rostov, would be positioned to envelope the Ukrainian cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.
These exercises could be a response to beefed up NATO air patrols in Poland and the Baltic states, NATO members all; could be another round of psychological ‘cat & mouse’ Pres. Putin is commencing with the Ukrainian government and military commanders; or possibly a prelude to invasion.
The buildup of Russian forces in Crimea has continued apace since they first entered the territory Feb 27. It would be prudent to assume this build up is also part of any preparation for an invasion. With only a narrow land bridge from Ukraine into Crimea easily defended by a few thousand Russian troops and Ukraine unable to mount an amphibious assault to retake Crimea, even if they wanted to, there simply is no other logic to pouring troops into Ukraine.
There are now reportedly anywhere from 29,000 to as many as 50,000 Russian combat troops in Crimea. Together with the marshaling areas adjacent to eastern Ukraine, that provides springboards for four thrusts of invasion into east and southeast Ukraine.
Launched simultaneously, such an assault would quickly envelope all of Ukraine east of the Dnieper River.
Troops advancing out of Crimea would also be more quickly positioned to fjord the south bend of Dnieper and breakthrough to the Russian enclave of Transnistria; a narrow strip of land sandwiched between southwest Ukraine and Moldova.
Operations in eastern Ukraine would be very swift advances spearheaded by armored units with support from mechanized infantry, and “heliborne” forces for large scale vertical envelopment operations against any Ukrainian formations that put up a fight.
The topography of eastern Ukraine is prime ‘tank country’, flat and open with very few hills and no mountains. During the Second World War, Soviet and German forces alike employed large numbers of tanks massed into large formations and engaged each other in a very similar fashion to fleets of warships at sea.
One of the Russian marshaling areas, Kursk, was the scene of the largest tank battle in the history of modern warfare. The failed German attack known as Operation Citadel, was the last German offensive on the Russian Front after which Germany remained on the defensive for the rest of the war against the Russians.
A fifth Russian advance out of Belarus into western Ukraine cannot be ruled out. Russia has exercised effective sovereignty over Belarus since before 2000 when Russian troops took over guarding Belorussian borders, including the border with Poland.