The Kremlin's recognition of the independence of the DNR and LNR could be a prelude to a full-scale war, according to Western intelligence sources, and the deployment of Russian troops on the Belarusian border was also clearly not intended just for Donbass. However, the Ukrainian Armed Forces have been pondering scenarios of Russian aggression since 2020, and in the absence of the surprise factor, Ukraine can still defend itself even despite Russia's overwhelming advantage in numbers and military equipment. In both Ukraine and Russia, there is little open discussion of the prospect of a full-on war with an attempt to capture Kyiv, although the sheer number of Russian troops deployed along the border indicates that such a scenario is possible. Here are the main scenarios according to which a Russian invasion of Ukraine could proceed.
According to Western intelligence, Russia and Belarus have concentrated nearly 150,000 troops on the border with Ukraine. Under the guise of the joint exercise «Allied Resolve 2022», logistics units and significant supplies of fuel, medicines and food have been pulled close to the Ukrainian border. For several weeks, global media headlines, citing military sources and sometimes political leaders who rely on intelligence, have been reporting various possible scenarios for Ukraine and on invasion plans, some of which involve the occupation of most of Ukraine's territory.
Undoubtedly, the military power amassed at Ukraine's borders makes it possible to implement the most ambitious plans. All that Ukraine can use in self-defense in the event of aggression is up to half a million armed men (add up all the Ukrainian Armed Forces – about 200,000 people, plus the National Guard – 60,000, police, border guards and SBU - another 200,000 in all).
However, we should not forget that when assessing the probability of different scenarios, we must consider other factors beyond the numbers of people in the military, because the occupation of Ukraine, which is twice the territory of Syria or Belarus (not to mention the number of population), will raise the issue of managing the territories, which under Western sanctions will be an absolute disaster for the Russian economy.
Given all of the above, we can imagine two basic scenarios for the development of military action.
Attack on Kyiv
The first scenario is a massive strike by the 20th Combined Armed Forces and affiliated forces along the Kharkiv-Dnepr-Zaporizhia line, and a simultaneous strike from the annexed Crimea in the direction of Zaporizhia, and if successful, along the Black Sea coast in the direction of Odessa and the Russian-controlled Transnistria. Implementation of this plan will provide a land corridor to Crimea and will make it possible to resume water supply to the peninsula before the start of the sowing campaign and summer drought by establishing control over the North Crimean Canal. Establishing control over enterprises strategically important for the Russian Federation will be an economic bonus: the production of launch vehicles, rocket and aircraft engines, turbines for nuclear and hydroelectric power plants.
At the same time, the Sumy - Priluki - Kyiv and Chernigov - Kyiv lines are very likely to be attacked from the north. This will make it possible to destroy the command centres of large military formations, in particular the JFO headquarters, Operational Command North and others.
By capturing Kyiv, Putin, in terms of public opinion, will win a geopolitical victory and have a trump card up his sleeve for the subsequent diplomatic resolution of the conflict according to the formula: «de-occupation of Kyiv and part of Ukraine's territories in exchange for a land corridor and water for Crimea» - provided that the West doesn’t offer Kyiv real military assistance. In the event of military intervention by the West, it is likely that the Belarusian card will be played and attacks will be launched on the Pinsk-Rivne and Mozyr-Zhytomyr lines, with Russia gaining control over the major logistics routes, part of Ukraine's oil and gas transportation system, and the main pipeline that transports Russian oil products to Europe, and disrupting the energy supply system in central Ukraine and Kyiv.
The troops amassed inside the Pinsk - Brest - Grodno triangle can implement three key tasks - by striking in the direction of Lutsk and Rivne, destroy the command centers of large military formations and the military infrastructure, thereby paralyzing receipt of military aid from the West and, in the case of NATO's direct intervention, to implement the long-standing military plan in the so-called «Suvalki corridor», capturing the border areas of Lithuania and Poland to provide a land corridor to the Kaliningrad region.
It is worth noting that land strikes and the occupation of parts of northwestern Ukraine would entail nuclear safety risks, as the Rivne Nuclear Power Plant with its four power units is located 60 kilometers from the Belarusian border.
Such a scenario would lead to huge losses in manpower and equipment for the attacking side, because there are dense forests and swamps in the north of Ukraine, along the border with Belarus, that are practically impassable for vehicles. At the same time, for the past two years the Ukrainian side has been developing an elaborate and deeply echeloned defense and the so-called «corridors of death» in the explored and more or less passable areas away from the border with Belarus and Russia.
Another problem to be faced in the event of a possible offensive in northwest Ukraine is the local population, which in principle does not recognize any sovereignty over themselves, has been living in isolation for decades, and earns money from shady trades such as illegal amber mining and logging. Anyway, after the criminal wars of 2014-2017 in the west of the Ukrainian Polesia it's hard to find a household without weapons, either legal hunting rifles or illegal combat weapons.
War for Water
The second scenario, worked out to the finest detail back in the early 1990s in Moldova: having recognized the independence of the so-called LNR and DNR, Russia, in order «to ensure peace and tranquility», will legitimize its military presence in the region by introducing a peacekeeping contingent. When Russia gains a foothold in Donetsk and Luhansk, the most likely scenario would be a provocation on the demarcation line and a successful «joint operation» of Russian «peacekeepers» and the so-called LDNR military units along the lines of Donetsk-Zaporizhia and Mariupol-Melitopol-Kherson.
In such a scenario, Putin would get a small but victorious war, and in exchange for increased sanctions from the West there would be a land corridor and water for the Crimean Peninsula, and Russia would establish full control over the Azov Sea basin and the waters of the Dnieper Delta and the Nikolaev seaport and shipyard. It was these toponyms that Putin referred to in his address to the Russians when he announced his decision to recognize the LDNR.
In the event of a full-on war Russia's main problems will not occur during the fighting, but after the start of the occupation: quickly formed territorial defense forces will be active in large cities and the occupiers will meet a strong, though poorly organized resistance of the local population, up to a small-scale guerrilla war. The shelves are currently half-empty in the hunting weapons stores despite the difficulty of obtaining the necessary permits.
Reacting to the feelings of unsafety among the people, the owners of the big hunting stores chains lowered prices on smooth-bore hunting weapons of the budget segment. So, a Turkish-made pump gun, the so-called «people's shotgun» - the perfect tool for self-defense in the home and the city – can now be bought for $160 in Ukraine, with a safe and a permit costing another $160. According to weapon store owners weapon sales have doubled or even tripled. Especially in the budget segment. The panic over a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine caused a tenfold increase in the demand for ammunition, and then a shortage of hunting cartridges. A significant increase in weapons and ammunition sales is noted throughout Ukraine, from Kharkiv to Uzhgorod.
The so-called «people's shotgun» — the perfect tool for self-defense – can now be bought for $160 in Ukraine, with a safe and a permit costing another $160
Whether Russia is ready for such resistance is unclear, but it is clear that seizing the entire territory of Ukraine in 2022 would be a fundamentally more difficult task for Russia than seizing Crimea and Donbass in 2014, and it is unlikely that the Kremlin does not understand this.