Senior army officer: Ukraine in dilemma with Donbass troops

Brig. Gen. Vahur Karus.
Brig. Gen. Vahur Karus. Source: Estonian Defense Academy

Russian forces have now placed Ukrainian troops in a dilemma as to whether to remove units from the Donbass region in the east of the country, in order to defend the capital, Kyiv, or to risk these units getting cut off from the rest of the conflict, Estonian Military Academy (Kaitseväe akadeemia) commander Brig. Gen. Vahur Karus told ETV news show 'Aktuaalne kaamera' (AK) Tuesday, in an interview which follows.

What tactical changes must Russia make now that the Blitzkrieg warfare it has employed in its invasion of Ukraine has failed?

We do not actually know if Putin has actually planned for Blitzkrieg. When we look at these initial approaches, even from Belarus to Kyiv, an extremely hard landscape is revealed.

This may, at times, suggest that Russian forces may not have received correct information about where the Ukrainian units are located – in other words attempts were made to map their locations.,

That they (i.e. the Russian forces – ed.) were ambushed and hit there is an integral part of this campaign.

For example, I would not venture to say that they tried to carry out [the conquest] in 48 hours, since, to conduct a 48-hour operation, it is really necessary to mobilize close to 150,000, 200,000 personnel on the border.

So what was Russia's initial strategy in Ukraine and how has it changed?

The strategy is evident. Ukraine needs to be neutralized.

I can talk about what I have seen from publicly-available sources, which concern operational-tactical things.

Clearly, there have been two or three such objectives. One has certainly been the neutralization of Kyiv or at least besieging it. The other aspect, the establishment of a land "bridge" between Crimea and the occupied Donbass and Luhansk.

From that point and as a further development, one which we do not have a lot of information about and where we are not seeing much open movement is which direction the battle near Kharkiv takes and which direction Russian troops are moving to, from Kharkiv.

On thing which I have been seeing is that Russia hasn't been very active in the Donbass area. This is rather more relating to the fact that units on both sides can stick to their own routine, which in turn could indicate that one of [Putin's] major plans is to simultaneously neutralize Kyiv and cut off the most effective units from the Ukrainian forces, which are currently vectored on operations in the Donbass.

In other words, units in the Donbass may remain besieged by Russian forces?

Exactly so and this gives the possibilities of moving forward on Ukraine more "calmly".

A new topic that has been on the agenda for the last few days is also Belarus. Will it join up with the Russian units or not, but the mere existence of this threat means that the Ukrainians will not be able to bring up any reserves from western Ukraine.

There was plenty of drone footage in the media yesterday showing the destruction of a Russian military column. Is Russia unable to eliminate airstrikes in Ukraine, or does this have a tactical implication?

There is also the fact that they have not been able to suppress Ukraine's air defense during this initial phase. The Ukrainians have still been relatively successful in banning Russians from operating freely in their airspace.

How much help has been offered to the Ukrainians regarding warplanes, missiles?

Any weapons assistance is welcome to the Ukrainians, especially with regard to armaments intended to combat armored vehicles. 

Second, to fight the Russian air force, I am referring both to planes and helicopters. 

But perhaps the most important aspect is the support for the humanitarian predicament, which now, as soon as the week draws to an end, will allow Ukrainian society to motivate their soldiers much better.

Has Ukraine in any way had to change its tactical plans?

The Ukrainians have held out quite well so far, but no war can be won with battles of delay. 

At present, Russian troops have brought a dilemma: Whether to abandon operations in Donbass and withdraw its units in order to protect the capital, or actively fight with these units somewhere between Kharkiv and Kyiv. 

Otherwise they risk cutting off these units and is no longer able to supply or actually use them.

This does not sound like a very clear prediction

The conflict has lasted too short of a time for us to be able draw any fundamental conclusions yet. The Ukrainians are fighting from the bottom of their hearts, but Russia has not yet really shown its full hand. And as a military man, it is also my job to look realistically at the choices that exist for one side and the other.

A U.S. intelligence report came out today (Tuesday – ed.) painted a relatively bleak picture for Ukraine in the coming days. How accurate have U.S. intelligence forecasts been so far?

They have been very accurate. I think the European and global response to Russia's actions has been a direct response to the fact that Americans have shared intelligence with the world. 

No one can say that anything has come as a surprise to them.

Are more difficult times in Ukraine or about to come?

I can't say. Obviously, Ukraine is fighting back. The stronger his society can resist, the greater the motivation for the soldiers to move on. But switch such a classic army vs. army scenario, then the Ukrainians are facing very critical decisions.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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