Here is the Ukraine Update that Adam sent to John; it was distributed to the mailing list this afternoon.
Strategic Assessment as of 18 MAY 2022:
After eighty-four days of Russia’s re-invasion of Ukraine and Ukraine’s defense, it is highly likely that the conventional portion of the war will largely end within the next 90 to 180 days. Specifically, the conventional, interstate war that would be qualified as a Phase III Operation by US Army doctrine. Sometime within the next three to six months we should expect to see a full shift to something that looks a lot more like Phase IV Conventional/Phase VII Unconventional Operations as Ukraine pushes to retake the territories occupied by Russia.
Unlike US Phase IV Operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, this will not be clear, hold, and build. Rather it will be clear, hold, and stabilize to set the conditions to reestablish Ukrainian civilian control over Ukrainian territories that the Russians have been occupying so that rebuilding and reconstruction can be undertaken. A robust Ukrainian Civil Affairs capability will be essential to accomplish this task.
This transition from Phase III to Phase IV is already underway. It can be observed in reports of Ukrainian partisans attacking separatist and collaborationist officials, as well as Russian material and equipment, in Kherson and Melitopol. As such, this shift from Phase III to Phase IV may never appear to be a clean and clear shift in operations.
The timeline is unclear, especially for those of us outside of Ukraine looking into the conflict using open sources, because the front lines of the conventional conflict are not static. There are places where Ukrainian forces are making clear progress. There are other places, such as around Lyman and parts of Poposna, where Russia is making slow, steady, incremental progress. Additionally, Putin’s ability to just use Russian medium and long range fires to bombard Ukrainian cities, towns, and villages is a further complication. It has been very clear from the end of the first week of the war that Putin had shifted into a position of “If I cannot have Ukraine, no one gets to have Ukraine, including and especially the Ukrainians.” The concern here is just how far will Putin proceed to make that position a reality. As a result, the current campaign in the east and the south – the Donbas campaign – to liberate the Ukrainian territory that Russia has occupied, has the potential to drag on until Ukraine has attrited Russian capabilities to the point where the Russians simply are unable to continue the fight and their positions collapse. Given Putin’s desire to have Ukraine or destroy it, the strategic concern has to be what does Putin do when faced with this reality. For instance, does he continue to try to reduce as much of Ukraine as possible to rubble using his conventional weapons while driving as many Ukrainians into exile.
One of the major problems with analyzing Putin’s re-invasion of Ukraine is that his geo, regional, and theater strategic objectives are irrational to anyone not operating within Putin’s context. Because Putin has completely bought into, as well as helped to expand on, the alternative history and mythology of Russia’s founding, its place in the world, its relationship to other states and societies, and the centrality of Kyiv and the Kyivan Rus to Russia, he made Kyiv the overarching center of gravity in the first weeks of the war. He was manic to take Kyiv so he could install his pet Ukrainian officials. They would then very publicly go on international television and sign whatever official looking documents they were given to capitulate to Putin’s demands. All in order to validate the alternative history that Putin believes and promotes.
Ukraine has been very fortunate that Putin’s whole hearted adoption of the alternative history of Russia drove the early portions of the campaign. The proper center of gravity that Russia should have thrown everything at in the initial weeks of the war is the Joint Force Operation. As a result of its position between Izium and Luhansk it was vulnerable. Destroying it would have significantly reduced Ukraine’s ability to defend itself, if not made it almost impossible. However, instead of focusing on encircling and reducing it, Putin opted for a speed run to Kyiv.
Similarly, Putin’s obsession with the Azov Regiment and his desire to punish Ukraine by cutting it off from the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov drove him to make Mariupol a key center of gravity. The result is that the Azov Regiment, the 36th Separate Marine Brigade, Mariupolian police, Ukrainian Border Guards, and Ukrainian Territorial Defenders were able to tie up approximately a dozen Russian battalion tactical groups in Mariupol for almost two months, attrit their capabilities, and create strategic time and space for Ukrainian forces in other parts of Donbas. Putin is also not really any closer to establishing his land bridge from Russia through occupied Ukraine to Moldova and it is unclear that he actually has the military capability to actually do so.
The hardest nut of the Russian occupied areas to crack should be Crimea. However, given what we have seen from Russia over the past three months, anything is possible.
I expect the clear, hold, and stabilize phase is going to take a while. The advantage to the Ukrainians is that they’re fighting in and for Ukraine, which makes all the differences in these types of conflicts. As first party/primary party to the conflict they have distinct advantages over third party forces that require linguistic and socio-cultural support, rotate back to garrison on regular annual intervals, and are not fighting to secure their own states and societies. The successful Nepalese counterinsurgency should be studied for appropriate take aways and applicable lessons learned for Ukraine’s Phase IV Operations.
A significant problem giving forward is that donor fatigue in the US has already started to set in. For instance, in anticipation of the Senate finally voting to approve the $40 billion aid package for Ukraine, Senator Rubio stated that he expected that senators from both the Democratic and Republican party would defeat Rand Paul’s filibuster/objection, that aiding Ukraine is the right thing to do, but they – and they was undefined, it was unclear if it was Ukraine or the Biden admin or both – cannot just keep coming back to Congress asking for $40 billion after $40 billion. Given the number of isolationist Republicans (57 as of 18 MAY) that have coalesced around Representative Massie (R-KY) and his position that the US should not provide any aid to Ukraine, should the Republicans retake the House majority, let alone recapture both chambers of Congress in the November 2022 elections, funding will most likely be greatly reduced if not turned off entirely.
This is not because there is not currently a majority in the House between both the parties for providing support, but because with 50 to 60 Republican representatives who are now siding with Massie in his opposition to providing any funding, the Republicans will not have a majority of their own majority to pass the funding legislation. When in the majority the House Republican Caucus operates based on a caucus specific rule known as the Hastert Rule. The Hastert Rule states that unless there is a majority within the Republican House Caucus to pass any specific piece of legislation, then that legislation will not be brought up to a vote. Even if it has majority support overall in the House. While the Hastert Rule has often been waived to prevent a government shutdown or fund disaster aid to US states when the Republicans have had a majority in the House, it is intended to heighten the partisan divide between the parties by functionally excluding the Democratic Caucus in the House from participating in legislating. As a result, any significantly large enough group within the Republicancaucus can prevent a House Republican majority from legislating This was done repeatedly to Speakers Ryan and Boehner by the Republican Freedom Caucus, which was the successor to the Republican Tea Party Caucus.
Additionally, war skepticism, specifically concern over the Biden administration’s strategic objectives in regard to supporting Ukraine, has been adopted as the editorial line by the editorial board at The New York Times. The two poles, or boundaries, of American news media are The New York Times and Fox News. Fox News early on staked out a position of both skepticism of American support for Ukraine among its more journalistic oriented reporting and outright pro-Putin/pro-Russian agitprop as espoused by Tucker Carlson who is Fox’s most watched commenter. Clips of Carlson and his guests, as well as other Fox segments, are regularly promoted on Russian state controlled news and news analysis programs. The other pole, The New York Times, is the de facto editor for all the political reporting in the US other than Fox News. Whatever position The New York Times takes will be quickly picked up by the rest of the US news media. To have the de facto editor for all political reporting in the US adopting a skeptical position to the US’s support for Ukraine as one pole for American journalism while Fox News had already established outright hostility to the US’s support for Ukraine as the other, will constrain how American reporters and news outlets cover Ukraine’s defense against Putin’s re-invasion going forward. It will drive war skepticism among Americans and provide the isolationist wing of the Republican Party, especially of the House and Senate Republican Caucuses, with the excuse they need to try to cut off further American support to Ukraine.
If I were advising the Ukrainian MOD, I would be recommending they ask for everything they think they’re going to need and ask for it immediately because come next January, there is a good chance the majority in at least the House, if not both chambers of Congress will have changed hands. If that does happen, the Ukrainians will likely get nothing once the new Congress is sworn in.
 Andrew Desiderio, “Ukraine Aid Splinters the GOP”, Politico, 17 MAY 2022, https://www.politico.com/news/2022/05/17/ukraine-aid-divides-the-gop-00033078.
 “The War In Ukraine Is Getting Complicated, and America Isn’t Ready”, The NY Times, 19 MAY 2022; https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/19/opinion/america-ukraine-war-support.html?partner=slack&smid=sl-share.