The War takes on an ominous turn with nuclear sabre rattling and stakes getting higher, even as Russia starts isolation and investment of Ukraine. There are increasing signs of mercenary involvement on both sides, with Russia appearing to be conservative in the use of force both in quantum and application during initial phases of its campaign. An interesting observation by Col Sidhu pertains to his assessment, that Ukraine is a secondary target for Russia. The participation of mercenaries from both sides is also an interesting and perhaps and early development but not surprising. The Indian media coverage of the battle also suggests welcome maturity in reporting from war zone with good viewership. Coupled with this is the massive refugee efflux which unfolds.
Col RS Sidhu, Sena Medal is a post graduate in History from Delhi University. His write-ups on strategic affairs have been published in magazines and journals of repute, and can also be accessed at his BlogSpot www.valleysandvalour.blogspot.com . He is also the author of two books, ‘Success from Being Mad’ on entrepreneurship ventures by veterans, and ‘Elephant on the High Himalayas’ on India China discourse.
Also read, IPKF 10-The Ukraine-Russia conflict, a Jaffna Redux: https://goachronicle.com/ipkf-10-the-ukraine-russia-conflict-a-jaffna-redux/
Goa Chronicle: The Russia-Ukraine War enters another phase, in which Russia is closing the ring even tighter, on the 14th day of the war, with a preponderance of force. From TV footage, it appears urban fighting by underground forces, is here to stay and will bleed Russia irrespective of the immediate outcome of the War. Sir, do you feel Russia underestimated, the extent of opposition it would face, even as the NATO Forces are backing Ukraine covertly, but avoiding direct conflict?
Col RS Sidhu: By launching the ‘Special Military Operation’ in Ukraine, Russia has fired the opening salvo of what may turn out to be the next total war, with the military operation being just the visible spectrum of the larger conflict between Russia, backed by China, and the US led NATO alliance. The NATO, by countering with debilitating financial and trade sanctions has broadened the conflict into the economic horizon, to strike at the very roots of power of Russian state, which in turn is now threatening cessation, of its energy supplies like oil and gas to Europe. Concurrently, Information War between the two blocs, is at its peak to influence and manage public perception about the rights and wrongs of the case. Probing attacks in the Cyber space are also in progress.
There are certain interesting battlefield indicators, which give a reading of the ongoing military campaign and its implications. The progress of Russian military operations is indeed slow. It has not deployed its state of the art weaponry. It has not undertaken pronounced air battles to achieve supremacy in the sky. It is also not enforcing a ‘No Flying Zone’ over Ukraine s airspace. Russian troops are not entering major population centres. Frequent ceasefires are being offered by Russian military, to enable civilians to move out from the war zone even though these are towards Belarus, which has been rejected by Ukraine.
Ukraine s request to NATO to enforce a ‘No Fly Zone’ over Ukraine airspace has not been acceded by the latter. But NATO is following through, with supply of weapons and military equipment to Ukraine. It is also not hindering movement of its private citizens and other foreign nationals, entering the conflict zone through NATO territory, to fight as mercenaries against Russian forces in Ukraine.
That brings us to the first very interesting issue of why Russia has not employed its latest arsenal?
Well…the most obvious reason, would be to not let the US capture their electronic signatures of their emitters using the Electromagnetic spectrum. It also indicates Russia continuing to retain the primary focus of its armed forces, to address any threat along the traditional invasion routes, adjoining Poland. It surely reflects Russia looks at Ukraine as a secondary sector.
But the issue further leads itself to another interesting probability…completing ops with speed, is not critical to Russian war aims?!
Russia has fairly assessed the reluctance of NATO, to get involved in direct confrontation in a secondary sector. Hence, time for completion of military operations is not critical. The military industrial base of East Ukraine, is an asset against which Russia would prefer to avoid causing severe damage. This is also an area with large percentage of population having ethnic affinity to Russia. The slow progress of military operations, enables it to minimise personnel casualties and reduce damage to infrastructure. It is also enabling civilians to flee, as refugees into neighbouring countries, burdening them with refugee management. The leadership of the Ukrainian Prime minister is also a trump card the Russians seem to be confounded with, as the former seems to draw innumerable admirers.
Goa Chronicle: Do you feel that the overall strategy of the Russians has now settled down to something more tangible? Russian President V Putin has also stated that he will halt the roll of his forces if his demands are met? What are these demands likely to be?
Col RS Sidhu: The Russian decision for military intervention reflects that they are carefully weighing enhancing of their national security environment, emanating from a non-NATO aligned Ukraine, vis a vis future loss, in prolonged combating, of an insurgency movement. Russia’s previous experience of combating the fierce Chechnya insurgency, shall enable it to be well poised, for a long-drawn-out military engagement in Ukraine, as may be deduced from its employment of second echelon military formations and equipment. The comparatively inferior combat potential of the Ukraine military, has also played a role in arriving at this decision by Russia.
The Russian President’s offer of halting the advance of its military in Ukraine, is subject to capitulation by the Ukraine government. It may be looked at, more from the impact on Information War domain, as US led NATO, shall continue to facilitate overt resistance by Ukraine, failing which it shall take recourse to covert fuelling of an insurgency movement.
The Russians are confident of achieving their war aims ie, toppling the current Ukraine government, destroying the war fighting potential of Ukraine, and reducing it to the status of a rump landlocked state by hiving off the heavily industrialised eastern region of Ukraine, as also its coastal regions into independent states.
Goa Chronicle: What are the peculiar characteristics of urban warfare? Could you highlight some peculiar aspects of this warfare, considering your experience in Jaffna, vs the LTTE in 1987? Are any of those lessons applicable here?
Col RS Sidhu: Urban warfare is manpower intensive, generally requires at the least one is to ten superiority by the attacking force, and generally favours the defender. It is also attrition heavy, in terms of casualties, and invariably results in extensive collateral damage to population and infrastructure. It is also time consuming.
In Jaffna, the geopolitical dynamics dictated the IPKF, accomplishing the assigned mission of forcibly taking over Jaffna from LTTE militants, in the shortest possible time frame. The IPKF went in literally blind, with non-availability of military maps, no prior information on enemy defenses, and freshly inducted units being straight away launched into the thick of battle without time for military preparations and adequate briefing. Restrictions on employing artillery and air support further compounded the issue. It is creditable that the military aim was achieved, with minimum collateral damage in an acceptable time frame, though with substantially heavy casualties.
Three decades is a long time for advancements in battlefield technology. Russian military does not suffer from the disadvantages of IPKF. It has time on its side, is armed with prior information on the enemy, is supported by real time surveillance inputs. Its previous experience in anti-insurgency operations, in Chechnya, has given it relevant experience. In the ultimate analysis, it will be the resolve and grit of the individual combatants which shall dictate the outcome of the urban battle.
Goa Chronicle: Notwithstanding the hype of grey warfare, drones, etc we see in Ukraine, the use of tanks and mechanized forces extensively highlights the fact that these creatures of war are still not extinct, and maybe there is a lesson for India too. Any comments?
Col RS Sidhu: In modern warfare, synergy generated by military jointness, is all important to achieve success. Classical impact of shock and awe by offensive employment of mechanised forces, is no longer feasible, between two rival armed forces, without being complemented by cyber, electronic, and air effort. The death knell of the tanks has been sounded all too often. But it continues to still showcase its relevance in modern battlefield, by enhancing its survivability through suitably grouped joint arms combat teams.
The classical employment of mechanised forces is so far absent in this conflict. The first golden principle of mechanised warfare is, that they gravitate to the point of decision. But there is no evidence emerging of large scale combat manoeuvres between the mechanised forces of the opposing sides. Most of the available visuals are displaying Russian armoured columns lined up along road axis.
This restricted mechanised forces manoeuvres in the battle zone is being influenced by two factors.
- First, the winter season in this region inhibits cross-country movement of armour.
- Second, is the Ukrainian decision to employ its forces in defending major population centres, to draw in Russian military into infantry predominant and attrition heavy urban operations? The Russians are understandingly varying of taking recourse to this military option.
Goa Chronicle: It is reported that a large number of mercenaries are there on both sides of the warring factions. Is this a new phenomenon or a routine matter in such warfare? How will it impact the course of the war?
Col RS Sidhu: The major protagonists in this conflict, are engaged heavily in Information War, making it rather difficult to sift fact from fiction. There are serious accusations by Russia and China on US, covertly sponsoring underground ‘Bio Labs’ in Ukraine, indulging in weapon grade research activities. US is engaged in counter-allegations of Russian atrocities on civilians tantamount to war crimes.
Employing of mercenaries to pursue perceived security interests is not a new phenomenon for either the US led NATO, or Russia for that matter. So, it should not come as a surprise that the one aspect of Information War, which is being propagated by both the warring sides, is the induction of mercenaries into the conflict zone.
US and NATO have long accused Russia of employing mercenary forces in eastern Ukraine to undermine the latter’s territorial integrity. The presence of heavy military equipment with the insurgents, battling government security forces in Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine, does lend substance to this allegation.
Russia too has been consistent in alleging Ukraine employing mercenaries aligned to broad white supremacy racist groups in US and Europe. The merging of one such group, the ‘Azov Battalion’, into the Ukrainian military substantiates this allegation. Grey zone warfare being conducted by US and NATO is seeding Western media with inputs on private volunteers from US, UK, and other NATO nations, moving into Ukraine to contest the Russian military. No overt effort is being exerted by the affected Governments to stop this development.
Tacit consent of NATO in involvement of Islamic radical mercenaries in Bosnian-Serbian conflict in territories of erstwhile Yugoslavia, as also active US support in training and arming of the insurgency movement in Syria is well documented. The US under cover Al-Tanf Garrison set up around 2016, bordering Syrian-Jordanian-Iraqi border region, that trains insurgents to fight Russian backed Syrian government forces, is now being linked by Russia to the Ukraine conflict. Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) is alleging the induction of these insurgents into Ukraine by US.
The interplay of a marriage of convenience between Islamic radicals and white supremacist mercenaries jointly engaged in combating Russian military in Ukraine should be an interesting phenomenon to watch. This will bring armed Islamic radicals closest ever to the heart of Europe, and its impact on further radicalising Islamist forces in Europe should be a cause for concern to the more sensible factions of NATO leadership.
Goa Chronicle: Any comments on the role of Indian media and their coverage of the war as it appears that there is considerable maturity by our channels like WION and appreciation of the mature coverage internationally? Is this a defining phase for Indian journalism as far as quality war dispatches are concerned?
Col RS Sidhu: The Indian media is an unhealthy mix of qualitative and quantitative coverage of events and news. Their primary focus remains on TRP ratings and pursuing the ideological editorial line of their ownership and/or benefactors. In this their strengths and failings are also mirrored by the prominent international media organisations, whose independence of views reflects equal bias.
The fate of Indian citizens, primarily young students, stuck in the war zone in Ukraine has strong human interest factor. It is natural that their fate and the rescue attempts by the Indian state to evacuate them from the war zone back to India deserve focus. But to detract from this national effort by looking at it from the prism of political ideology impacts national interest and prestige and should be avoided.
Equally important to India, is the impact of this conflict on its national economy, and geopolitical environment. Increase in international energy prices, and delicately balancing its external relations with US and Russia, does adversely impact India’s security environment and economy, with resultant fallout on daily life of its citizens. Yes, it is encouraging that there have been quite a few informed discussions by a fraction of the media organisations who still believe in the principle of ‘informed citizens enable informed decisions by their leadership’.
[author title=”Shefali Kochhar,” image=”http://goachronicle.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Screenshot_20210321-160233_LinkedIn.jpg”]Journalist, Goa Chronicle .
I am an entrepreneur who has tried her hands on various ventures like Electric Vehicle Charging Station , Online Retail Store / Trading and few more ventures. I have done my entrepreneurship from Amity University Noida.
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