Putin’s plan unmasked: Russia’s four key targets for Ukraine invasion

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Concerned about Ukraine’s relationship with the west, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion of Ukraine on February 24 with plots to seize Ukraine’s capital city, Kyiv, and install a puppet government. In order to reach Kyiv, Russian forces were sent to encircle the city from the north, south, and east, bombarding surrounding cities on route.

The Institute for the Study of Law (ISW) outlined four key areas Russia is targeting in Ukraine, in an assessment on the Russian offensive on March 10.

What are Russia’s key target areas in Ukraine?

Russian forces are currently engaged in what is reported to be four primary efforts:

Main effort – Kyiv
Supporting effort 1 – Kharkiv and Luhansk Oblast
Supporting effort 2 – Mariupol
Supporting effort 3 – Kherson

The main effort is to seize Kyiv. If Russia can successfully invade Ukraine’s capital – the most important political city, they can overthrow Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky and take control, removing any potential threat Russia feels that Ukraine currently poses on the country.

There are three supporting efforts to attain the goal of seizing Kyiv, and this involves attacking Ukraine’s second-largest city Kharkiv, as well as Mariupol, and Kherson, all situated south of Ukraine.

This unbalanced focus on the south is said to be particularly significant in order to capture the north – which is currently occupied by a larger volume of Ukrainian troops.

Mick Ryan, retired major general of the Australian army and author, analysed these moves in a series of tweets, saying: “The southern theatre of the war is a vital element of the overall Russian campaign design for Ukraine.

“[It] contains Ukraine’s 13 seaports, which in 2021, exported over 150 million tons of cargo. This represents 60 percent of exports and 50 percent of imports for Ukraine.

“And while the war in the north and east has settled into a slow-moving and grinding war of attrition, the war in the south has been the location of more operational success for the invading Russian forces.”

The reason for more operational success in the south includes what appears to be a stark disbalance of Russian ground forces compared with Ukrainian forces, and the fact that logistically, it’s easier to resupply troops from Russian bases over the southern border.

The defence of Kyiv has naturally been Ukraine’s main effort, answering for the disbalance of Ukrainian troops in the north compared to the south, subsequently making it particularly difficult for Russia to seize control of it.

The Ukrainian military has currently halted Russian advances “in all directions” and that Russian forces have reduced their offensive pace due to “demoralisation”.

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Further Ukrainian resistance along the Russian lines of communication from eastern Kyiv to the Russian border near Sumy is also reported to have sustained disruption of Russian efforts to bring more combat power closer to the capital.

However, Russian forces are reported to be continuing their bombardment of the southern cities of Kharkiv, Mariupol, and Kherson – but again, the success rate of this is still much lower than what had been anticipated.

Kharkiv Governor Oleh Sinegubov claimed that Ukrainian forces have now recaptured the northern Kharkiv suburbs, although Russian forces are continuing with their attack on the city despite facing three failed attempts of capturing surrounding towns, Izyum, Petrivske, and Hrushuvakha.

Russian forces also continue to encircle and bombard Mariupol, however the Ukrainian General Staff report continuing success in defending the city.

Russian forces are also sustaining assaults on Kherson and the west, as the Ukrainian general staff stated that Russian troops are ”trying to gain a foothold” in settlements near Mykolayiv, just north of Kherson.

Attacks are still being carried out on Zaporizhia, but the Ukrainian general staff confirmed there have still been no territorial gains made here either.

However, following Russia’s failures over the past few days, the ISW predicted the possibility of Russian forces around Kyiv to undertake another operational pause to prepare for renewed efforts to encircle Kyiv from east and west and/or to seize the city centre itself over the next couple of days.

Overall, Russia has not progressed as much as expected at this stage of its invasion, as Ukrainian troops and civilians continue to resist Russian forces.

The military operation in Ukraine appears to be stalling at the current moment – and it doesn’t look likely to be coming to fruition any time soon.

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