On June 16, the Ukrainian website Mirotvorets published what are allegedly Russian military draft plans of a massive military invasion of eastern Ukraine. The invasion plan or “special operation of army group ‘North’ ” was apparently put together by the staff of the Western Military District (ZVO) in St. Petersburg (commander—Colonel-General Anatoly Sidorov). Russian troops, mostly from the ZVO, together with reinforcements from the Central Military District (TsVO) and marines of the Baltic Fleet, are to invade eastern Ukraine, overrunning Ukrainian regular military and volunteer units while the Russian air force gains air supremacy. Engineering units are to build bridges over the many rivers between the Russian border and the Dnepr River, which flows from the Belarusian border in the north toward the Black Sea in the south, roughly dividing Ukraine in half. According to the published plan, after 14 days of offensive combat, army group “North” is to be regularly reinforced by secondary echelon reserve formations and fulfil its strategic goal: reach the Dnepr along a 500-kilometer wide front from Kyiv to Dnepropetrovsk. Kharkiv, Poltava and many smaller Ukrainian towns are to be occupied. In all, army group “North” would need to march some 300 km from the Russian border to the Dnepr, occupying in two weeks about 150,000 km2, or about a quarter of the overall territory of Ukraine (Mirotvorets, June 16).
The published plan does not detail the interaction between army group “North” and Russian troops to the south of its zone of operation in Rostov oblast, in Crimea, or with forces already in the Donbas region of Ukraine. According to Ukrainian Supreme Rada deputy Anton Gerashenko, an army group “South,” organized by the South Military District (UVO), seems designated to operate south of army group “North.” According to Gerashenko, the two army groups, “North” and “South,” could occupy about half of Ukraine (some 300,000 km2), from the Russian border to the Dnepr. Gerashenko promised more documents would be published (Facebook.com/anton.gerashchenko, June 15).
The Russian Ministry of Defense’s official spokesman, General Igor Konashenkov, dismissed the publication as a hoax, “conjured by some military retiree.” According to Konashenkov, the military papers published by Gerashenko “do not agree with the modern command structure system of the Russian military.” Konashenkov told journalists, “The published plan could be a rewrite of some Soviet-era military document taken from the archives of the Kyiv military district staff” (Politrussia.com, June 17).
The published papers are detailed and written in a professional military matter. Moreover, the papers reflect the mixed structure of the Ukrainian forces: a sometimes unruly composition of regular military, Interior Ministry National Guard units and different volunteer territorial defense formations. The plan names this mixed nature of the Ukrainian forces as an advantage the Russian forces may successfully use. The plan envisages the use of the newest Russian military hardware, including Israeli-designed Forpost drones and the combat deployment of tactical battalion groups. It is not simply some Cold War throwback. But Konashenkov seems to have a point—the proposed composition and command structure of army group “North” is strange. If Russian troops were to ever massively invade Ukraine, they would be commanded by a separate operational joint forces staff that, in turn, would form joint operational task force groups—as happened during the 2008 invasion of Georgia. Possibly, a separate operational joint forces staff is already secretly operating on Russian territory in the vicinity of the Ukrainian border, coordinating the logistics and the actions of differing formations from various branches of the military and other militarized Russian departments in Donbas, as well as the activities of proxy pro-Russia rebel forces. Yet, there is another important inconsistency: The published documents are classified as “Sovershenno Secretno” or “Completely Secret”—the equivalent of the United States’ and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) “Secret” classification. Such low-level classification seems to designate the published papers as relatively unimportant (Mirotvorets, June 16).
If the published army group “North” special operation plan was indeed a true military operational plan, it would surely be classified “Sovershenno Secretno Osoboy Vaznosti” (OV)—“Particularly Important”—the equivalent of the US’s and NATO’s “Top Secret.” In fact, the published papers could be a military staff exercise paper, prepared by the ZVO staff. Such staff exercise documents typically hold a lower classification—“Sovershenno Secretno”—to allow wider distribution to be used to train officers and staffs; and a wider distribution could have facilitated a leak. Regardless, the plan was never executed. The document refers to last spring (end of March—beginning of April 2015) and mentions ice on the rivers and snow in the fields (Mirotvorets, June 16). Now that it is summer, new plans may be in the works. The army group “North” march to Kyiv and the Dnepr could have been no more than an exercise in military planning, but it evokes a deliberate provocation in an already dangerous situation in Ukraine and escalating military tensions between the East and West.
Speaking at the inauguration of the elaborate military themed Patriot Park (described as a “Russian military Disneyland”) in Kubinka, about 50 km west of Moscow, President Vladimir Putin announced Russia will be procuring in 2015 “40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles [ICBM] capable of penetrating any possible enemy missile defense.” Putin’s statement was branded “irresponsible” by NATO’s Supreme Commander in Europe, US Air Force General Philip Breedlove, who accused Putin of “ratcheting up nuclear tensions.” The Kremlin responded by accusing NATO of “advancing its military infrastructure to Russia’s borders,” while Moscow was merely responding to threats, maintaining nuclear parity and the strategic stability created by nuclear deterrence (Rbc.ru, June 17).
Last January, first deputy defense minister and the chief of the General Staff, Army-General Valery Gerasimov, announced that “Russia will not allow the US and NATO to gain military supremacy,” and in 2015, “more than” 50 new ICBMs will be procured, while four new regiments of land-based ICBMs and two newly built Borei-class strategic nuclear ballistic submarines, each armed with 16 Bulava submarine-launched ballistic missiles [SLBM]—the Vladimir Monomakh and Alexander Nevsky—will be designated as ‘permanent readiness’ ” (Mil.ru, January 30). Now, the number of new ICBMs is only 40, instead of “more than 50.” According to a defense ministry source, apparently only one Borei-class submarine will receive a full load of 16 Bulava SLBMs, and some 20 new Yars RS-24 land-based ICBMs will be deployed to replace the old Topol SS-25 ICBMs (Newsru.com, June 17). It seems Russia’s rearmament is not going entirely smoothly. Despite the constant PR bluster, ambitious plans are not being fully implemented, either in Ukraine, or with the new ICBMs.