Monday, May 23, 2022

Feint or defeat: What Russian repositioning from Kyiv really means

The partial repositioning of Russian ground forces from the area north and northwest of Kyiv has been broadly interpreted as a natural result of the unprecedented resistance and agility of Ukrainian forces.

Recent inveterate reports of Ukrainian counterattacks have only added to the innate temptation to give round one of the Russian invasion, to Ukraine. However, there is a counter-narrative that perceives a strategic accomplishment for Vladimir Putin in the first five weeks of the war.

PUTIN’S FEINT OR DEFEAT?

In boxing, a feint is defined as an illusory movement when a boxer pretends to do something, but eventually does something else. The idea of ​​a feint is to evade or rather divert the defenses of the opponent so that the boxer is left with much less resistance.

In military terms, according to the US Army Intelligence Center and School, “Feints are offensive in nature and require engagement with the enemy in order to give the appearance of a realistic main attack.”

One of the most successful examples of a military feint remains with the Gulf War, also known as Operation Desert Storm, beginning in early 1991, against invading Iraqi forces that refused to withdraw from Kuwait. The Coalition forces’ early maneuvers indicated a ground offensive likely featuring amphibious landings from the sea and assault from the south toward Kuwait City and up the Wadi al Batin.

“On 24 February, the first day of the ground offensive, the Marines and Navy mounted an amphibious feint that consisted of the battleship USS Missouri firing on an island just east of Kuwait City and SEAL teams landing on the Kuwaiti coast to detonate explosives simulating the first phase of Coalition amphibious landings,” writes author Donald P. Wright.

With regard to the Russian repositioning and partial withdrawal from areas near the capital city of Kyiv, a parallel proposition is being made. Did Putin’s initial aggressive posting towards Kyiv help him achieve his primary goal of securing easier than expected access to the eastern regions with an added tangible prospect of cutting off Ukrainian troops in the region from western Ukraine?

The successful Russian seizure of the coastal city of Mariupol amid the Russian offensive on Kyiv is being presented as the obvious argument in favor of the purported Russian feint.

TOO COSTLY TO BE FEINT

While parallels are being drawn between Operation Desert Storm and Kyiv, the statistics don’t work in favor of the ‘Kyiv Feint’ theory. To begin with, the successful deception in Kuwait resulted in one of the least costly military victories for the US.

The supposed Russian feint has taken a far longer time and caused even worse causalities. NATO estimates suggest that Russia may have lost between 7,000 and 15,000 soldiers in addition to the ones that are injured and unable to report back in the near future.

The overwhelming cost of lost Russian military equipment in the form of destroyed, abandoned and captured battle tanks, anti-tank guided missile systems, surface to air missile systems, aircraft, UAVs, portable air-defense systems, multiple rocket launchers, armored personnel carriers , infantry fighting vehicles and communications stations, is just too much to qualify for a deception.

Feints, by definition, are supposed to be low-cost maneuvers not expected to last for weeks and result in a high loss of manpower and logistics. The celebrated US operation in Kuwait witnessed a victory in 100 hours at the cost of fewer than 250 lives.

While Ukraine may have indeed thwarted a real Russian attempt to capture Kyiv, there is hardly a clear winner in round one. Russian forces have visibly suffered a blowback; however, they still enjoy an overpowering air superiority over their neighbors.

Earlier, the Ukrainian Air Force made a desperate plea before Western media outlets already celebrating a supposed Ukrainian victory, which is far from reality.

“Air superiority has played a key role in all wars since WWII. Ukraine’s air force cannot close the sky over Ukraine or gain air superiority due to a large discrepancy in equipment and technologies”, the official account of the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine wrote in a social media post on Friday.

The frantic request addressed to the ‘Western Media’ by the armed forces of Ukraine is in line with consistent appeals made by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has been warning about the absence of more modern fighter jets and anti-missile systems. Early merriment based only on Ukrainian resistance, agility, and battlefield smartness can only last that long.

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