I think the Russian Special Military Operation is kicking into a new gear and that the United States and NATO are mystified and confused about Russia’s next steps. We do have a couple of clear benchmarks — the end of the grain deal, which means Russia is likely to take more aggressive actions in shutting down maritime traffic in the Black Sea that could benefit Ukraine, and the latest terrorist attack on the Kerch Bridge in Crimea. President Putin left no doubt that there will be a massive retaliation for the latest Ukrainian attack on Russian civilians.
Russia appears to be employing a micro-version of Sequential Operations, which was a center piece of the Soviet plan that defeated the Nazi armies during World War II:
The concept of sequencing operations to achieve campaign objectives is not unique to AirLand Battle doctrine. M.N. Tukhachevsky, in his manuscript New Problems in Warfare describes the historical development of the notion of sequencing battles to achieve the objectives of a war. In it, Tukhachevsky attributes to the changing nature of the battlefield the need to sequence operations. According to Tukhachevsky, operational art during the period of Napoleon principally involved the function of “deploying” forces to permit maximum combat power to be brought to bear in a decisive battle. Toward the end of the Napoleonic period there arose the need to conduct several battles in order to create the pre-conditions for the decisive battle of the campaign. Waterloo is an example of such a campaign. Subsequent to Napoleon, armies increased in size, weapons became more destructive, and the dimensions of the battlefield increased in width and depth. The ability of an army to destroy an opponent in one decisive battle vanished. Both the American Civil War and World War I clearly demonstrated this. In 1926 Tukhachevsky commented further that:
“The nature of modern weapons and modern battle is such that it is an impossible matter to destroy the enemies manpower by one blow in a one day battle. Battle in a modern operation stretches out into a series of battles not only along the front but also in depth until that time when either the enemy has been struck by a final annihilating blow or when the offensive forces are exhausted in that regard, the modern tactics of a theater of military operations are tremendously more complex than those of Napoleon and they are made even more complex by the inescapable condition mentioned above: that the strategic commander cannot personally organize combat.
This was written almost 100 years ago but is prescient as hell. Tukhachevsky’s wisdom is still relevant and seems to explain what is happening along the 800 mile line of contact in Ukraine.
Which brings me to an excellent piece written by my friend, Stephen Bryen. WAGNER IS BACK TO FIGHT AGAIN (Prigozhin and Surovikin are Gone). You can read the full piece at Substack here.
Wagner troops are in Belarus training the army there. More Wagner troops are now in a convoy on their way to Belarus. A spokesperson for Wagner and one of its top leaders have released videos with essentially the same bottom line: they will defend the fatherland and support Russia’s military and civilian leaders.
Wagner is back and they appear to be positioning to play a strategic role for Russia and Belarus. . . .
The Prigozhin-led attack aimed at Moscow on June 24th was a near disaster for Putin. The Russian leader was moved out of Moscow as a security precaution. Loyal forces, including Chechens, Presidential Guards and police, were moved in to protect the Defense Ministry in Moscow, Prigozhin’s main target.
Prigozhin apparently believed that key leaders in the army, aside from Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and Chief of Staff General Valery Gerasimov, would support his takeover, purge the defense minister and chief of staff, and put Prigozhin and, perhaps, Surovikin in charge of Russia’s armed forces. Putin would be handed a fait accompli. Either he could accept the change or, in Prigozhin’s view, he would be replaced. Prigozhin saw himself as Russia’s power broker and, depending on how things turned out, perhaps Russia’s new President.
Putin, it seemed, also was unsure about the loyalty of the army. That uncertainty was no doubt prompted by concern over General “Armageddon,” Sergey Surovikin.
Surovikin, who served as a special consultant to Prigozhin and Wagner, was extremely angry with the army’s leadership. Surovikin had been Commander in Chief of Russia’s armed forces from October 8, 2022 until January, 2023 when he was replaced by Valery Gerasimov. Surovikin was given the vague title of Deputy to Gerasimov, and while allegedly keeping the job, became a special consultant to Prigozhin. The humiliation of Surovikin, dished out by the “old guard” in the Army, no doubt led him to strongly back Prigozhin. Both of them made their move after the Bakhmut victory.
I want to remind you that you can be friends with someone and not always agree with them. My experience with Steve is that he gives an honest assessment based on the facts available to him. He may be right about his assessment of Prigozhin and Surovikin, but I have a different view.
I have an alternative hypothesis for Wagner and Surovikin. Let’s start with Wagner. It is a creature of the GRU, which I think means it is used for psychological operations as well as conventional military ops. It has limited military capability because it is primarily light infantry. My understanding (and I could be wrong) is that it depends on the Russian Big Army for artillery, armor and air support. Yet many in the media and the Biden national security team assign an exaggerated importance to Wagner. In my opinion Wagner is the squirrel running around in my back yard and my dogs are barking like crazy as they focus on the critter’s every move. Wagner is like a chess piece doing a dance in a strip club — peeling off layers of clothing and lingerie while the West leers lasciviously.
The Russian intel officers can see and read that the West is obsessed with Wagner — ascribing to it almost magical combat powers. That leads me to believe that public information released about Wagner is deliberate and part of a broader masking operation. Moving Wagner to Belarus and focusing on its “new” leadership will have the effect of forcing Ukraine and NATO to bolster forces and defenses on the northern front. I continue to believe this is part of a maskirovka op to convince the West of a narrative that will force NATO to shift forces towards Belarus and away from other parts of the battlefield where Russia intends to strike in force.
I also think there is deliberate manipulation of the Surovikin narrative as well. When Prigozhin started his feckless mutiny, Surovikin was very quick out of the box with a video supporting Putin and warning the Wagnerians to essentially hold fire or risk destruction. At no point during that 24 hour drama did Surovikin shit on Gerasimov or the chain of command. Now that he has “disappeared” a narrative has emerged in the West that is having similar Wagnerian effect on the intel analysts and planners. It was Surovikin who saved the Russian Army from being trapped in Kherson. I think the Russian military leadership is using Surovikin to persuade the West that he is no longer a threat worth worrying about. Gerasimov could be using Surovikin to promote the meme that chaos reigns in the leadership of the Russian military.
Meanwhile, there is a marked uptick in Russian air operations and missile strikes. That is Surovikin’s command, or at least was his command. The fact that his family is not raising hell on social media or using surrogates to raise hell further convinces me that his supposed “absence” is part of a broader deception operation.
I want to give a belated kudo to U.S. Army Major Russell J. Goehring, whose description of Tukhachevsky’s novel view of modern war caught my attention. The Russians are not in the grip of chaos and uncertainty. I suspect the views of Tukhachevsky is a key part of the foundation of the Russian Special Military Operation.