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The Coming Russian Offensive 2023 - Part 1
Calm Before The Storm
i: The Calm Before The Storm
Many predictions have been made in the Russo-sphere about the coming offensive, what it will entail, and what will be its effect. The problem is, the vast majority of them were predicated on critically flawed base assumptions, due to an erroneous understanding of Russia’s force disposition in the SMO up to this time.
So let us first correct the largest of the errors, so that we may come to more correct conclusions as to what to expect in the coming late winter/spring offensive.
By far, the #1 most critical error being made is a gross misunderstanding, and over-estimation, of the number of forces that Russia has employed in combat thus far in Ukraine. These misunderstandings stem initially from the engineered and targeted propaganda of the West in the early stages of the SMO, when headlines were rife with the infamous declarations of “180 BTG’s” and “250k Russian troops”, etc. These estimations were all proven completely and utterly wrong.
It stems from a long history of Western-related perversion of Russian force numbers, a deliberate 180° twisting of the disparity of Russian to Enemy troops. It started in WW2 when the oft-spouted trope became that the ‘outnumbered’ but more ‘skilled’ German troops invaded the far superior numbered USSR hordes in the opening days of Barbarossa. In reality, in the opening of the Barbarossa campaign, Germany’s troops vastly outnumbered those of the USSR on the Eastern Front, as can be seen below:
It wasn’t really until the Battle of Moscow later that December where Russia finally started to equalize the numbers for the first time. The USSR fought ambushed and outnumbered for the first 6 months of the war.
The same thing happened in the 2008 Russo-Georgian War. The lie was spread that the ‘much larger Russia’ greatly outnumbered and bullied the smaller Georgian state. In reality, the war which lasted barely a week, saw a much smaller Russian expeditionary force from the 58th Army—a force numbering initially in the range of about 10-14k men—overrun a much larger Georgian force numbering 20k+. In fact, the very first troops that sped through the Roki tunnel into South Ossetia were merely 2 BTG’s from the 58th in size. It was only days later, as Russian reinforcements poured in, that the numbers equalized.
Now, deja vu has struck in Ukraine. It’s in the West’s great interest to push the narrative that numerically superior Russian ‘barbarian hordes’ overran the poor defenseless Ukrainian heroes. In reality, the opening of the SMO saw a tiny expeditionary force doing, in effect, a thunder-run against far superior AFU forces. Gostomel airport was taken by a tiny air-dropped 60+ man element of the 76th Airborne Assault Brigade, which was then joined by a road-marched VDV force only about 250-300 men in size.
Without bogging down in details, we can say that this characterized the entirety of Russia’s SMO thus far. And in fact the mythical “180 BTG’s” was later privately downgraded by many western experts to a mere “70-90”, though of course under the conveniently generated excuse that “the rest were destroyed.”
In reality, Russia’s force usage thus far, at least for the vast majority of the SMO has not been greater than 70-90k men at any given time in theatre. Caveat being: we are only talking about the forces of Russia proper, and not DPR/LPR/Wagner/volunteers, to make a point which you will see later. In this next section we will explore HOW we know this to be the case.
Firstly, one thing that’s ignored is that Russia has a well-established history and doctrine of using 70-120k forces at the very most in conflicts.
In the above graphic, you can see the total force usage that Russia has classically employed in every conflict post-WW2. In Georgia 2008, it was 70k at the peak. In Chechen War 1 it was ~24k initially then ~70k at the peak. In Chechen War 2, a similar 80k. In the Afghan War, note that 620k total were used, but only 115k at any given time. The larger number simply refers to how many total troops rotated through the theatre over the course of the 10 year long conflict.
So the very most that Russia has ever used at any given time was 115k. There is no precedent whatsoever for Russia ever using the claimed 200-250k or even 180k. And this is against a comparable 200-250k force Mujahideen. The Ukrainian Armed Forces (AFU) similarly had only 200k at the start of the SMO in February 2022.
You might argue that the Afghan Mujihideen can’t be compared to the far more advanced, NATO-trained/funded AFU. But the fact of the matter is, there are reasons for why this low force disposition has been used in every conflict, including Ukraine. The biggest of these revolves around how Russian Ground Forces are dispositioned in general.
Most people unwittingly quote the figure of 1 million troops of the Russian Armed Forces. This obviously refers to EVERY branch (Navy, Army, Airforce, etc), both contract and conscript. The fact of the matter is, Russian Ground Forces are only roughly ~360k of that (some believe it’s even less, as the figures are not exact).
And further, those ‘360k’ are arrayed in a ratio of roughly 65/35 of contracts to conscripts, although the exact number is not 100% known and is mostly estimated. Some western think-tank sources have it 60/40 or less.
This means that, nominally, out of those 360k, only about ~215-230k are contracted “professional” ground troops (kontraktniki), while the remainder are ‘conscripts’ fulfilling their compulsory service. As most know, conscripts are forbidden from serving in actual combat in the SMO, and would remain forbidden unless war was officially and legally declared. Sure, there are some known cases where conscripts were used, whether willfully or accidentally, in the SMO (mostly at the very beginning, when things were hectic). The Russian MOD (Ministry of Defense) has stated these incidents were investigated and corrected. They are in effect, outliers. In reality, for the vast bulk of the forces, only contract troops are used. That is fact. (I emphasize the point because some willfully ignorant Westerners continue to insist that conscripts are widely used in the SMO, which is simply provably, objectively false)
So, we have 215-230k eligible ground forces—BUT, they cannot all be used, for a variety of reasons: 1. many of them are serving elsewhere around the world, for instance Syria having the largest contingent where thousands serve, as well as peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh (over 2,000) and Pridnestrovia (officially 1,500, but at the start of SMO, there were claims that Russia sent many more). 2. Many must remain in strategically critical areas of the Russian Federation defense zones, guarding critical borders and infrastructure against any NATO ‘surprise attacks’, training new conscripts, etc., for instance in the Far East, Kaliningrad, Pridnestrovia, and many other critical areas. So out of that pool of forces, a further fraction is reduced as to how many can actually be used in the SMO. Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that out of the 215k only 150k remain to be used in the SMO as the remainder must remain strategically placed around the country for defensive purposes, just as the Russian ‘Eastern troops’ had to remain guarding against potential Japanese surprise attack in the opening of WW2.
Now, these remaining 150k contract troops cannot be used all at once, because a concept of troop rotation must be enforced. Troops in any conflict can only serve on the frontlines for a limited period of time before being rotated. In ‘static’ conflicts like U.S’s years of Iraqi occupation and insurgency, this can turn to 6 month ‘tours of duty’. But in hotter conflict zones, with actual high-intensity warfare like Ukraine, the rotation periods can be as short as a week or two.
So, in principle, out of those remaining 150k, they must be further broken down into something like 50/50 or 70/30 rotation, where only 50-70% are in theatre at any given time, with the rest recuperating in the “rear lines” for some R&R or further training. Then those in the rear relieve the ones on the front, rinse and repeat. We have a plethora of video evidence of Russian rotations, as there are dozens of videos showing convoys of troops coming home to large, cheering, welcoming crowds. Also there is stated confirmation about the number of troops stationed in Belarus, even prior to September’s mobilization, being roughly 25-30k, which figures perfectly with the notion of something like 70-90k in theatre and 25-30k on rotation at any given moment.
So, as one can see, out of that remaining 150k, maybe 70-90k can really be used at a given time. So now it becomes plain that THIS is the chief reason for Russia’s proven doctrinal usage of that golden number of roughly 80-115k troops. In short, it is merely a consequence of the total troops that Russian Ground Forces have at their disposal in a non-declared war scenario, and the contract to conscript service ratio they fall into.
Also, it should be mentioned that even at the higher range of western estimates of total Russian troop involvement—let’s say the 150k+ range—they forget to mention that a good portion of these numbers would be made up by Russia’s Naval and Airforce assets operating in the SMO, and not the actual ‘on the ground’ bayonet-strength of ground troops. Taking only ground troops into account, the total number used thus far at any given time in theatre, is exponentially lower than most people think.
Lastly, it should be mentioned that Russia has seen the issue of its low available manpower and has decreed recently that the Armed Forces will be increased to ~1.5 million total. Most significantly, the aim is also to increase the Ground Forces alone to ~600k+ professional, contract servicemen. This would put Russia directly in line with the United States Army, which has 485,000 full-time professional personnel, and an additional ~180k+ Marines as part of its ground force.
Now we’ll examine other specific bits of info corroborating the above thesis.
Firstly, there have been western “experts” and map-makers like Henry Schlottman who, after spouting the early ‘180+ BTG’ propaganda were forced to curtail their estimates back down to 70-80 BTG’s after actually mapping out the full force structure in ToE’s and OOB’s—they simply couldn’t find all the missing units. Schlottman even gave up trying to keep a tally of his map after he couldn’t find anymore units to tote the fake narrative of 150-200k Russian forces. The brigades he listed only amounted to the equivalent of 80k+ troops at the most, and many of them were guesses listed as “low confidence”. Look at any of the popular maps being used by Ukraine supporters and count the force structure listed, and you will not be able to find the fabled 150-200k troops anywhere.
Secondly, if we do a break down of each particular main frontline, it will be clearly illustrated that it is impossible for a Russian force of more than ~100k to exist in theatre.
The 4 main frontlines were the Kherson region (now shifted to Zaporozhe), the lower Donetsk line (from Marinka and Ugledar all the way west toward Orokhov region), the Bakhmut line, and the Svatove/Kremenaya line (formerly the ‘Kharkov region’ front). We exclude the upper Donetsk front (Avdiivka region and up) as Russian forces don’t really operate there in any number, and is mostly staffed by DPR.
So, out of those 4 main regions we can say a few things. Before Russian forces in Kherson region withdrew for instance, it was ‘estimated’ by some that there were 50-100k or more in that region west of the Dnieper. However, it turned out to be confirmed that only a maximum 35k forces withdrew from the entire right bank by way of the broken pontoons and destroyed Antonovsky bridge. This of course makes sense, as forces numbering in some wildly exaggerated number like 50-70k would not have been able to withdraw over tiny pontoons in only a day or two. Not to mention it would have been extremely obvious and visible: footage of gigantic convoys of entire army corps being moved over a river. Instead, we saw traces of small detachments crossing, which confirms that the entire Kherson region was in fact being staffed by only small elements of VDV and volunteer units like the Kuban Cossacks, BARs, etc.
This, by the way, also relates to the infamous Izyum-Kharkov line and retreat. We saw that a Ukrainian force of maybe 30k-40k troops pushed out an even smaller ragtag force of volunteer units numbering in the 5-15k at the most, which were defending the Izyum and Lyman corridor. Only towards the end, Russia airlifted small elements of the newly formed 3rd Army Corps—also a volunteer force—to plug the gaps, with some elements of the 4th Guard Tank Divison of the 1st Guards Tank Army also coming to assist the withdrawal of troops. In fact, Russia’s official claim was that the AFU forces in the Kharkov offensive outnumbered Russian ones by 8 to 1. Even if the real number isn’t quite that high, it corroborates the fact that Russia likely had only 10-15k forces or less in this region. Some reports had it as low as 5k troops around Izyum—basically a brigade in size.
So—getting back to Kherson—we know from the above that this entire major region numbered only in 35k max before the withdrawal over the Dnieper. And these forces were distributed widely, some sent toward Donetsk, others toward the Svatove line. The current Kherson region is staffed with very minimal numbers, a fraction even of the 35k it had before, due to the fact that watching the Dnieper river requires only a token force, since AFU crossing the river is quite unlikely (particularly since Russia blew the Antonovsky bridge before withdrawing). So the entire Kherson region along the Dnieper can now be watched with 5-10k men or less.
Now let’s turn to the Bakhmut line. We know that actual Russian Army forces almost do not operate there at all. This line famously is led by the Wagner troops, which some claim to be as high as 40-50k in number, though likely it is less. But they are assisted by negligibly small elements of Russian artillery and air from the rear, as well as some VDV (Airborne) elements. We know from AFU’s own sources and admissions that the AFU side in and around Bakhmut numbers anywhere from 40-55k—so it makes sense that Allied forces consisting mostly of Wagner are similar in number here.
Now, let’s take a look at the Zaporozhe and lower Donetsk line. We know that around Donetsk, the only real Russian elements operating are the Marines of the 155th Brigade of the Pacific Fleet, and according to some, small elements of the 40th Marines and Black Sea Fleet Naval Infantry, such as the 810th which participated in the Mariupol siege. But the only force of any real number that we have evidence of operating here is the 155th. They are being assisted by various elements of DPR Vostok and other battalions, operating currently around Ugledar. In short, the Russian-specific numbers here are likely in the region of 2 or 3 brigades at the most. Certainly they are being assisted (as always) by elements of artillery/missile forces in the rear lines, as well. But one can safely state that 10-15k Russian forces operate here at the most—anything greatly more than this would be a lie as there is simply no evidence for it. And by the way, we do know for a fact the only Russian detachments here are the various Naval Infantry groups, and the official number for ALL Russian Naval Infantry is about 12,000 for the entire Armed Forces. And, the only AFU units in this region are the 68th Jager Brigade and 72nd Mechanized, thus it makes sense that it’s roughly 2-3 brigades against 2-3 on each side. So, this gives you an idea that even at the very most, about 12,000 Russian infantry can be in this area.
Next door, in the Zaporozhe line around Orikhove, Hulyaipole, and Ugledar—we have mostly DPR groups once again, with some Russian forces transferred from Kherson which were tasked with building defensive lines north of Tokmak. This area has 20-25k men at the most, basically a handful of brigades, which is why up until only very recently, this has been by far the sleepiest, most ‘defensive’ region for Russian forces. I do think they began injecting mobilized troops here recently which is why there has been a spate of successful offensives up to Kamyanske, but I am speaking here broadly about the majority period of the SMO, not just what happened recently.
And lastly, we have the Svatove-Kremennaya line, formerly the Kharkov region line. Here is mostly a ragtag group of Russian volunteer forces like the Kuban Cossacks sent from Kherson, 3rd Army Corps, supported by 76th VDV and 1st Guards Tank Army detachments, as well as LPR units. Russia, here too, is on the defensive for the same reason: their force is relatively small and ragtag. Maybe half a dozen brigades or less with 20-30k total men. After all, these are the forces that were arrayed on the Izyum-Kharkov line, and we know that those numbered very low, which was why they were overrun by the AFU fall offensive to begin with. They’ve been reinforced a bit since then, but not by a huge amount—mostly volunteer groups to plug the holes.
So, if we put the major regions together, we have:
1. let’s be generous and say 30-40k Russian fighters in the Kremennaya line.
2. nearly none in the Bakhmut line (mostly Wagner)
3. nearly none in north Donetsk (Avdiivka line) as this is mostly DPR units
4. probably about 40-50k total between Zaporozhe and west Donetsk (Ugledar area).
5. Another 10-15k watching the remainder of the Kherson region, mostly a token sentry force to guard against Dnieper River landings.
So total we’re left with anywhere in the range of 80-105k. As stated before, there’s another 30-50k forces arrayed in the “rear” for relief and rotation. There’s been no phantom 150k or 250k force in theatre. However as I said before, I do believe that only very recently, Russia has begun injecting new mobilized forces and the number in theatre is likely greater now, but this has only happened in the past month or two, and Shoigu/Putin themselves have stated that the majority of newly injected mobilized are still in the ‘rear lines’ and not doing active combat.
So, what does this all mean? A reminder, the numbers above are to illustrate only official Russian Armed Forces numbers. Yes, there is an additional 30-45k LPR/DPR, and another 30-50k of Wagner and other ragtag volunteer forces (BARS, Cossacks, and others). So altogether, the total Allied force in theatre is likely in the range of 150-170k. The AFU is likely numbering around 190-220k. They started with about 200k in February, lost upwards of 100-150k (depending how you count ‘casualties’) but also replenished with at least another 100-150k in 11+ waves of mobilization.
But the point to be made is this: Russia itself has only used a small fraction of its forces thus far. At any given time, in theatre, Russia has only used 70-90k men at the most, while DPR/LPR and assorted paramilitary/volunteer forces made up the rest. And with these men it has held out against the AFU and has even advanced in key areas. The two sides of the conflict now have rough parity as stated above, but Russia has mobilized an additional 300k (some, like Colonel McGregor, even say another 100k was stealthily mobilized on top of that).
So for those who believe they’ve seen everything that Russia has to offer offensively, we can reach the following conclusion: all the considerable things Russia has achieved so far in the SMO were done with a small force of less than 100k soldiers at any given time in theatre. Now there are 300k (some say much more) awaiting to fully enter combat. This should give one a rough idea of how much of a gamechanging difference this will be.
I do think that only in the past month or two Russia has injected more as noted above, however people forget that many soldiers have also left the service permanently. Every 6 months or so there is a mass migration of soldiers whose contracts simply expire and who choose NOT to re-enlist in the service. This is normal, and unfortunately there will always be a percentage of troops that will choose not to re-enlist for their own reasons. These are people who might’ve been on a 2 or 4 year contract and their contract expiration date happened to fall right in the middle of the SMO. We don’t know exactly how many there are, but through reports we do know there are some. So, some of the newly injected mobilized men simply replaced the ones which left the service and did not add a huge net total to the troops in theatre. With that said, there is a rumor that internally the Russian MoD has only recently suspended all contracts from leaving service until further notice even if their contract expires—a sort of mandatory, indefinite contract extension. No indication how true this is but it would make sense and be a smart, urgent move toward a more serious war time posture for Russia.
To add a little detail to the above, at the conclusion of the mobilization, Shoigu stated in his speech that roughly 80k of the 300k mobilized were already in Ukraine (the remaining 220k in Belarus and elsewhere outside) BUT half of those were in the rear lines, still training, etc. So out of 300k, about 40k (at that point, at least) were actually put into combat, mostly to plug gaps in defensive zones. So yes, taking my earlier numbers of Russian only troops in theatre to account, that would add an additional 40k and make for maybe a total of 110-150k or so Russian troops in theatre—but this was only relatively recently, and doesn’t count the ones who left or were rotated out for various reasons, so the true current number in theatre may be even lower.
Also notably, Shoigu also stated that 250,000 total servicemen had received ‘combat experience’ during the duration of the SMO. This points to something I mentioned earlier—like the Soviet Afghan War numbers, the 250k shows how many troops in total rotated through the SMO, but as you saw in the Afghan War numbers, only 115k served at any given time, while 620k rotated through. That’s roughly 1/6th ratio, though that war was over a much longer period. So let’s say the current SMO ratio is 1/2 or 1/3 for now since there’s been less time to rotate, we can accept that as I’ve outlined only about 70-120k have served in combat at any given time, and 250k is the total number which have rotated through and saw combat experience.
A Ukrainian defense minister stated this week that the Russian forces which are built up on the border of Ukraine now are “twice as large as the one that had built up there on the eve of February 24, 2022.” If we assume my very rounded number of ~100k being accurate for what Russia has used so far, then this would point to a force of 200k that the minister is referencing. This would be roughly in line with Shoigu’s statement that out of 300k mobiks, 220k were still outside Ukraine training. As I said, many people believe there were even more “stealthily mobilized” and that Russia’s mobilization actually never stopped, so there could be even more awaiting the next big invasion phase.
And a last note, for those wondering why the mobilization has taken so long, or when the new offensive will come, here’s how it works: the mobilization began in late September. But it occurred in waves, not all 300k reservists were called up all at once. There were about 40k called up per week, give or take. The training period for the mobiks is roughly 3-4 months, broken down into 1 month personal basic combat skills re-training and re-certification (remember, these are all troops who have already served previously, not fresh conscripts), 1 month small-unit and group combat tactics, then 1 month for settling into their unit, gaining final ToE’s and OOB’s and MOS’s, and also a final inspection/certification by the actual commanding officer of the brigade for your unit. So, using that as a rubric, you can see that the ones who began being mobilized in late September, would likely finish their training at the end of December or even slightly later. The mobilization continued through September into late October which is when it officially finished. So as you can see, that means the troops mobilized in late October (at the very end)—that batch of last troops would still be training until late January at the earliest. So they would only now be finishing up and passing final certification, getting their unit assignments, and shipping out, etc. So that’s why the real mobilization is only finishing now, and why the new phase 2.0 offensive will finally be on the menu relatively soon.
That’s all for now. Please subscribe and join me next time for Part 2, which will deal with the actual coming offensive of Phase 2.0, the likely strategies and attack vectors Russia will employ, and the busting of a few myths as to what will NOT happen. Predictions on the results and how it will all go down.
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