Ukraine war games

Stratfor recently simulated scenarios of military offensives of the Russian Federation (RF) in Ukraine. Results, numbers and notes. Gaming a Russian Offensive is republished with permission of Stratfor.

This scenario making (war games) evaluate operational military options of actors, it does not directly reflect intentions. It’s about possibilities, costs and benefits of actions. In case decision-makers take military realities serious, such scenarios may help to understand the options they face, and thereby it can serve as ground for speculations on future events. The scenarios itself are no predictions.

On the source. Is Stratfor biased? They are based in Austin, Texas and there is some correlation between geography and people’s perceptions. Stratfor’s ties to the intelligence community is no secret either. Scenarios like that are usually based on few measurable variables (quality and quantity of military units, data on geography and population, infrastructure). I doubt their colleagues in Moscow calculate with significant different numbers and models. Nevertheless, it’s just guessing.
ukraine_graphics_scenarios_landbridgeukraine_graphics_scenarios_coastline_0ukraine_graphics_scenarios_dnieper_0Land bridge scenario: 6 – 14 days; required RF attacking forces: 24’000 – 36’000; required RF forces to hold area (including NATO assisting Kiev): 40’000 – 55’000; RF counterinsurgency forces: 4’200 – 42’000, depending on the level of resistance.
Coastal scenario: 23 – 28 days; required RF attacking forces: 40’000 – 60’000; required RF forces to hold area: 80’000 – 112’000; RF counterinsurgency forces: 13’200 – 120’000. “The logic goes that this would cripple Kiev by cutting off access to the Black Sea and would secure all of Russia’s interests in the region in a continual arc.”
Eastern Ukraine scenario: 11 – 14 days; required RF attacking forces: 91’000 – 135’000; required RF forces to hold area: 91’000 – 135’000; RF counterinsurgency forces: 28’000 – 260’000. “Russia has approximately 280’000 ground troops, meaning that the initial drive would tie down a substantial part of the Russian military and that an intense insurgency could threaten Russia’s ability to occupy the area even if it deployed all of its ground forces within Ukraine. … the operation would require such a vast mobilization effort and retasking of Russian security forces that Moscow’s intent would be detectable and would alarm Europe and the United States early on.”

Conclusions: “For all of the scenarios considered, the findings were consistent: All are technically possible for the Russian military, but all have serious drawbacks. Not one of these options can meet security or political objectives through limited or reasonable means.”

// Remarks

– Size of some European armies (all personal, not only ground troops) as wider context: Germany: 181’550, Poland: 99’300, Romania: 71‘400. (IISS, The Military Balance 2015)

– Since the level of resistance is hard to predict, there is a variance in the estimates of the counterinsurgency troops required for holding and consolidating the territory. The population’s incentives, trust networks, innovation in respect of asymmetric warfare are crucial in this respect. Most of all, it’s the interaction of those variables. Footnote: In the past, neither think tanks (especially not Stratfor) nor European diplomacy have been very successful in predicting the Ukrainian population leaving its routine.

– Same but different: the territorial integrity of Ukraine is not just a matter of quantity and quality of troops. Considering the results of the war game, the cost of occupation depends on the level of resistance. Therein lays the strategic importance of people’s hearts and minds. There are enough examples in newer history indicating the limitations of military campaigns against a highly motivated and innovative population.

– Considering this, one might come to the conclusion that people’s hearts and minds must be cultivated (as a strategic asset) and that it’s legit to manipulate Ukrainians (and beyond) the right way. I think that is rather counterproductive. There might be a short term effect of mobilization on the cost of credibility – RF has time. If social and commercial media comment fact-based and critically, they will reach the Russian population sooner or later. Therein could lay the strategic role of media.


2 Responses
  1. Professor Falken

    Russia will stick to their Salami tactics. They wont risk pulling in NATO.

    Option A most likely.

    If when Mariupol is besieged – and the West response. That might be what is needed to push favor to the American hawks to get involved.

    Escalation still possible.

    • That’s how it looks like at the moment, yes.

      Therefore the most likely scenario seems to me A as well, but piece by piece. Supporting separatists enough to help them making advances but not enough to let them become too independent. The salami tactic you mentioned I would picture as a frog in water that starts boiling. If black sea coast is lost and eventually Zakarpattia destabilized, it will be very hard to turn the situation around.

      I am still very sceptical that West is going to intervene directly. I would be less sceptical if the West made a back room deal with China, but that’s speculation. Considering diplomatic activities, I would guess for a deal between China and RF, but I think RF is a too weak partner for China in the long run.

      Escalation always waits around the corner. Russia is the bully, Ukraine can choose how they’d like to loose. Quick or like the frog. It seems to me that the Ukrainian elite is so busy fighting each other that there will no strategy in this respect. So the frog scenario is most likely. It’s also the more comfortable scenario for Europe.