What is Russia’s military strategy in Ukraine after the failure of the blitzkrieg?

More than a week after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the “blitzkrieg” that Vladimir Putin wanted did not take place. The capital Kyiv is surrounded, but not fallen. On the other hand, Russian troops managed to make a breakthrough in the south of the country, capturing the city of Kherson. Several military experts describe to France 24 the evolution of military strategy after eight days of fighting.

On February 24, when Vladimir Putin launched a “special military operation” in Ukraine to “demilitarize” and “denazify” the country, he imagined that the fall of Kyiv would be a matter of a few hours. Eight days later, on Thursday, March 3, faced with the resistance of the military and the Ukrainian population, the expected scenario did not happen. And this development seems to have taken the Russian army by surprise, forcing it to reconsider its strategy.

The failure of the “blitzkrieg”

“Vladimir Putin wanted a lightning-fast operation, a coup d’etat that was supposed to create surprise,” Philippe Gros, a senior military researcher at the Foundation for Strategic Studies, assesses with France 24. “The main target was Kyiv: Moscow thought it could overthrow the government of Volodymyr Zelensky quite easily, ‘save the country from the oppressor’, and then continue to invade the territory without meeting significant resistance.”

On February 24, at dawn, troops entered Russia by land from Belarus and headed for Kyiv. In parallel, an operation is underway to seize the Gostomel airport, about thirty kilometers from the capital. “By taking the airport, the Russian army wanted to neutralize the enemy’s defenses and get a major strategic center,” explains France 24 Dominique Trinquan, former head of the military mission of the French delegation to the UN.

“With its long runway, this would allow armored vehicles, weapons and soldiers to be brought to the foot of the capital.” That in order to quickly overcome the Ukrainian forces were taken by surprise. “Unsuccessful bet,” two specialists report. After many hours of fighting, Russian troops were pushed back by the Ukrainian army and did not take control of the airport.

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Russian army faces logistical hurdles

Since then, the Russian army had to implement Plan B. A new strategy: “Mobilize forces on the ground to surround the city, weaken it by attacking water, electricity or even telecommunications, and then finally attack it when it is relatively empty. its population”, continues Dominic Trinquan.

On Tuesday evening, a Russian missile destroyed a TV tower in Kyiv. And from the weekend, ground troops are being drawn to the city in three ground convoys. One of them, visible on satellite images, is now only a few kilometers away, but no attempts have yet been made to break through. To the east, another column, also from Belarus, tried to reach Kyiv along the Dnieper. At the moment, he is stuck about 150 km from his target.

“These convoys are limited by many logistical problems,” analysis from France 24 Cédric Mas, military historian. “They’re running out of fuel but also food, which explains why we sometimes see videos of abandoned tanks or soldiers robbing stores.”

“Refueling capabilities are a constant problem in the Russian military,” he continues. “And this is reinforced by the fact that some of the soldiers were clearly not expecting a fight. I think a lot of them were surprised by what was happening.”

Kharkiv, a strategic city in relation to Kiev

Faced with these logistical obstacles, the city of Kharkiv plays an important strategic role. The second largest city in Ukraine with a population of 1.4 million, actually located only thirty kilometers from the border with Russia, “in the hands of the Russians could become a new strategic relay for the transport of weapons, fuel and supplies.” Dominic Trinquan said. “In my opinion, that is why they choose a different strategy than Kyiv and attack it head-on and brutally.”

Since Tuesday, the city has been repeatedly subjected to artillery fire. Rockets, shells and bombs are continuously falling, causing significant damage. According to the governor of the region, on Thursday, March 3, about twenty people died among civilians.

“Kharkov also has a symbolic meaning. Moscow did not believe that this Russian-speaking city, considered pro-Russian, would put up such a strong resistance, ”adds Cedric Mas. “And by choosing a brutal offensive, Russia is also playing the psychological card. A lot of this war is played out on a moral level, about who breaks first.”

Breakthrough in the south of the country

If the Russian army does not manage to advance as quickly as it would like in the east and north of Ukraine, another front has also opened up in the south, where the Russian army is trying to take control of the entire Black Sea coast. .

On Thursday morning, the Ukrainian authorities thus confirmed that the city of Kherson, located near the Crimean peninsula, annexed in 2014 by Moscow, is now in Russian hands. At the same time, shelling intensified in Mariupol, the main Ukrainian port on the Sea of ​​Azov. “These are very strategic places. By taking control of these cities, the Russians create a corridor with the Crimea and Donbass and ensure their control over the entire Sea of ​​​​Azov, ”explains Dominique Trinkvan.

“Thus, the next target could be the city of Odessa, which at the moment remains relatively undefended,” the former soldier believes. “That would be a very good catch. The port is responsible for the vast majority of Ukraine’s maritime supplies and would open a new door for sending equipment and soldiers…”

“The human cost will be dramatic”

Thus, after the disappointment of the first days, the Russian army seems to have a new priority: to prepare a military breakthrough in Kyiv with a much larger strike force and better rear support behind the front lines, in order to be able to conduct a siege if necessary. .

“I fear that we are gradually slipping into a war of attrition,” concludes Philippe Gros meanwhile. “Designing the necessary logistics, adapting forces to this high-intensity battle, requires a complete reorganization. At the same time, Russian forces will obviously use more and more massive firepower.

By mobilizing its air force and its artillery to conquer these cities, the Russian army actually seems to have moved the war into a new phase, where it no longer hesitates to launch violent attacks on urban areas or nuclear power plants. “The conflict is in danger of drowning, and the loss of life will be huge,” warns Cedric Mas. “Make no mistake, even if he denies it, targeting civilians is part of Putin’s strategy. Spreading terror, he will certainly put pressure on the negotiations.”

“In general, there are three options for the future,” sums up Dominique Trinkvan. “The first, dramatic decision, is to take Kyiv by force. south of the territory. The last option is for the conflict to continue and for the severity of the sanctions not to shake him in his country … “

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