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2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, part 1: Mechanized forces prevail

 2022 will undoubtedly go down in history as the most influential year so far into this millennium. The unprovoked Russian full scale invasion into Ukraine shook the foundations of the international political order that had evolved when the West thought the Cold War ended. It also wiped out the credibility of the Russian armed forces, economy and leadership. While the war between Russia and Ukraine had been a reality since 2014, the invasion led to a scale of warfare not seen in Europe since 1945.

Ukrainian T-64BV MBT during the battles in Eastern Ukraine


The initial Russian concept of capitulating Ukraine by overwhelming its army and taking over Kyiv with a strategic strike was a sound one in theory. The reality of the Russian preparations, logistics, training and morale made such grandiose plans impossible to be successfully executed. 


While the Russian lack of even basic skills at every level of their organization from individual riflemen to corps headquarters came as a shock to most western analysts, the determined Ukrainian defense and high morale were largely expected. The additional boost of a President with a superb media team and the ability to deliver the needed messages with flawless performances on a daily basis boosted morale, especially during the early days of the war. 


The Russian invasion quickly developed into four separate battles that each had significantly different features. The battles can be differentiated as Kyiv, Chernihiv - Sumy - Kharkiv, Donbass and the Southern front.


East and North-East

The Donbass sector was the only one, where Russia failed to make any significant initial gains. The well prepared Ukrainian defenses were manned by troops that knew the area and that had seen battle before. The halfhearted Russian attacks by the LNR and DNR militias were quickly repulsed, just like many similar offensive attempts since 2014. We can argue that these somewhat costly attacks were mainly intended to tie down the Ukrainian regulars manning the line in that area. As of December 2022 the fighting still continues in the same areas.


While geographically vast, the fighting along the North-Eastern approaches to Kyiv had significant similarities between the hotspots. Russia had amassed some of its best and heaviest mechanized formations to these routes and their plan was to punch through Ukrainian defenses in a fast blitzkrieg-style run towards Kyiv. All stiff resistance was bypassed by the charging battalion tactical groups. Following formations were to mob up the Ukrainian forces that didn’t rout during the initial charge.


The small and, arguably agile, BTG:s usually diverted the company that had made contact with a Ukrainian strong-point to hold the contact and the rest of the battalion moved along an alternate route. After a few diversions the BTG commander usually found himself either tied down by an Ukrainian unit he couldn’t deal with the lead element and the rest of his BTG was scattered along the route. 




At the same time when the Russian spearheads were speeding towards Kyiv, the new Ukrainian weapon supplies started reaching the front, territorial units bolstered the regulars and Ukrainian Mechanized forces mounted fierce counter attacks with tank heavy combined arms units. This stopped the main body of the Russian troops and more importantly the supplies and replacements intended for the spearheads on their tracks.


This coupled with the insanely optimistic objectives and woefully inadequate fuel supplies attached to the lead battalions caused the famous scenes where dozens of Russian vehicles were simply abandoned as they had run out of fuel or got stuck without adequate recovery assets.


Ukrainian Farmer towing a captured Russian T-72B3.


After the Ukrainian farmers mopped up the Russian lead elements, the Ukrainian army mounted a very efficient and mobile defense with their armored units. Urban settlements were held by infantry, both regular and territorial, and the professional armored brigades used their tanks and ATGMs to extremely deadly effect.


Southern Front

Southern front contained two major axes of attack. Russian forces broke out from the occupied Crimea and attacked along the Azov sea coast towards Mariupol. Both of these Russian forces were able to rapidly overwhelm and dislodge the Ukrainian defenses on their route. The lack of mobile mechanized Ukrainian forces in the area allowed the Russian forces greater operational freedom than in the Northern regions. 


Ukrainian mobilization was delayed to a very late stage due to international pressure “not to jeopardize a negotiated solution”, this didn’t allow sufficient reinforcements to be sent to the south side of the Dnipro river. 


Russian forces were able to rely on vastly better road networks and ground conditions combined with more forward deployed supply dumps to occupy Kherson, Azov shore and Zaporizhzhia with only the city of Mariupol remaining as a Ukrainian stronghold. Even in the South Russia overextended it’s attacks across the Dnipro towards Kyiv and Odessa, but the failure of these thrusts was less dramatic as the Ukrainians still couldn’t shift counter attack capable mechanized forces from the north to take advantage of the situation.


Southern front stagnated for the summer, until newly established Ukrainian mechanized units, supported by the extremely effective long range fires supported by the West were able to shape the battlespace to such an extent that the Russian presence north of Dnipro became unsustainable.


Conclusions

Unlike the early war Ukrainian information campaigns portrayed, the armored and mechanized formations, equipped largely with BMP-2 IFV:s and T-64 derivative tanks played a huge role in stopping the Russian invasion. But by highlighting the light infantry operations and western supplied Javelin and NLAW anti-tank guided missiles, Ukraine convinced the western citizens that their support was having an overwhelming impact. The support was crucial, but wouldn’t have been enough without the professional and ready elements of the Ukrainian army. The western weapons were most impactfull in the battle of Kyiv, where hastily formed territorial troops equipped with light anti-tank weapons were forced to step up.


The success of the Ukrainian mechanized forces also highlights the complete failure of the Russian BTGs invading Ukraine. The Russian forces had neglected training, forgot logistics and broke just about every instruction that was written in their own doctrine.


This series will continue with the Battle for Kyiv.


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