An Australian military strategist has revealed what he believes will happen next after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – and says Vladimir Putin is hellbent on taking over the country.
Russian troops launched a broad assault on Ukraine from three sides, an attack that began with explosions before dawn on Thursday in the capital Kiev and other cities.
Ukraine’s leadership said at least 40 people had been killed so far in what it called a ‘full-scale war’ targeting the country from the east, north and south.
Ukrainians started fleeing some cities, and the Russian military claimed to have incapacitated all of Ukraine’s air defences and air bases within hours.
Malcolm Davies, from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, disputed Putin’s claims that he has ‘no plans to occupy’ the Ukraine.
Dr Davies said Russia will first seize regions in the nation’s east.
Then, he expects, it will claim cities along the southern border until troops have encircled areas in the north-west.
‘What we are seeing is the initial air and missile bombardment, lots of footage of cruise missiles hitting targets all over Ukraine, large artillery barrages coming off the Russia-held areas in the east, in the Donbass, in Luhansk, and Donetsk,’ he told CNN.
Australian military strategist Malcolm Davies (pictured) has explained Russia’s likely course of attack as it invades Ukraine
‘I think the next step would be Russian forces in that area would expand their offensive into Ukrainian-held territory, that’s where you’re likely to see intense fighting,.’
Dr Davies said Russia would soon head for Kiev, the country’s capital, and would likely use naval force at southern port city, Odessa.
‘At the same time you’re going to see Russian forces in Belarus advance south towards Kiev. I think that is a key area of access of advance that we need to focus on,’ he said.
‘The third area is the south around Mariupol and potentially an amphibious operation against Odessa.’
Given the extent of force demonstrated within the past 24 hours, Dr Davies said he does not buy Putin’s claims that he only wants to de-militarise Ukraine and not occupy it.
‘If he doesn’t occupy the country and he withdraws, the Ukrainians will take back Russia’s lost gains,’ Dr Davies said.
An explosion lights up the night sky over Kiev in the early hours of Thursday, as Russia launched an all-out attack on Ukraine from north, south and east with bombs, cruise missiles and rockets raining from the skies
A huge explosion is seen at Vinnytsia military base, in central Ukraine, as the country comes under all-out attack by Russia
The attack has come to Ukraine on all fronts, with bombs and missiles striking targets across the country, ground forces rolling in from Belarus, Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk, and paratroopers dropping on Kharkiv
‘I think certainly he does intend to use overwhelming brute force to physically destroy the Ukrainian military through massive artillery, rocket barrages, and air power assaults and so forth.’
Dr Davies said wars are only won when parties successfully hold and seize ground, which makes it unlikely Russia would invade only to retreat to separatist-region Donbass, in the south-east.
‘[Putin’s] going for broke. He is really committing mass amounts of military force with the goal to dismember Ukraine and remove the democratically elected government and to put in place a regime that is loyal to Russia,’ he said.
‘I think he will occupy key parts of Ukraine, including potentially going into Kiev. I have no doubt he will try to alter territorial borders through brute force as well.’
Dr Davies said Putin would see an opportunity to build a land bridge along the south coast from Mariupol in the east all the way through to Odessa in the nation’s west.
The strategist said the access route would allow Russian forces advancing in Ukraine’s east to meet up with their troops based in Transnistria, Moldova, which would seal off Ukraine’s entire southern line.
Footage shared on social media from Odessa appeared to show an amphibious assault
He said that would leave a rump Western Ukraine, around Lviv, where Ukranian forces would fight a war of insurgency of the army of occupation.
In the meantime, Dr Davies said smaller-military power Ukraine would fight as best as possible with its available resources before switching to insurgency and resistance once it is largely conquered.
‘They [Ukraine] lack the overwhelming fire power of the Russian military today, they lack the air, missile, and electronic power and all of those capabilities,’ he said.
‘They will fight as best they can and will cause the Russians to pay a price then they will switch to insurgency -from the cities through the countryside – and try to reign the cost of any Russian occupation of Ukraine.’
Missiles and bombs rained from the sky, tanks rolled across the border, troops parachuted down on eastern regions and explosions were seen across the country after Vladimir Putin gave the order to attack on Thursday.
‘Hundreds’ of Ukrainian troops were killed in early clashes, and official said, as the fight came to them on all fronts at a moment’s notice. Official figures put the death toll at 40, with ‘dozens’ wounded. Cruise missiles, guided bombs and GRAD rockets took out targets from east to west – aimed at airfields, military bases, ammo dumps, and command posts including in the capital.
Dr Davies said Russia would likely take control over Ukraine’s entire southern line, cornering the north western region
This graphic shows the current position of Russian troops around Ukraine as armed forces invaded the country on Thursday
Six Russian jets were shot out of the sky over the eastern Donbass region with 50 Russian troops killed, Ukraine claimed, before Moscow boasted of taking full control of the skies. Ukrainian border guards said they had come under attack by heavy artillery, tanks and troops from Russia and Belarus as Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko threw his forces into the fight – though he denied taking part.
Luhansk, Sumy and Chernihiv in the east of Ukraine all came under attack, while tanks battled on the outskirts of Kharkiv after paratroopers dropped in. Blasts were also reported in the west – in Zhytomyr and Lviv, close to the border with Poland.
Extraordinary video footage showed what appeared to be a Kalibur cruise missile slamming into Ivano-Frankivsk airport. An apartment block in Kharkiv was also struck, causing civilian casualties including a young boy. Video also appeared to confirm cruise missiles had been launched by Russian troops stationed in Moldova.
Meanwhile pro-Russian rebel forces pushed out from the occupied Donbass region, capturing two villages and claiming to have shot two Ukrainian jets out of the skies. The port cities of Mariupol and Odessa, where Ukraine’s main naval bases are located, were also attacked. Russian tankers appeared to have blockaded the Kerch Strait, leading from the Back Sea to the Sea of Azov, cutting off Mariupol.
Volodymyr Zelensky, in an address to the nation on Thursday morning, said the history of Ukraine has now changed forever and that Russia has ’embarked on a path of evil’. But he defiantly vowed to fight back, saying the military has already inflicted ‘serious losses’ in the early hours.
He called on Ukrainian citizens willing to defend their homeland to step forward, saying guns will be issued to everyone who wants one. He also asked for civilians to give blood to help wounded troops. And he asked world leaders to impose the ‘harshest sanctions possible’ on Putin.
Vladimir Putin is pictured in the early hours of Thursday morning declaring war on Ukraine, in what he termed a ‘special military operation’
It came after the Russian strongman gave an extraordinary address to the Russian nation – broadcast in the early hours during a UN meeting aimed at avoiding war – in which he declared a ‘special military operation’ to ‘de-militarise’ and ‘de-Nazify’ Ukraine in what amounted to a outright declaration of war. The video appeared to have been pre-recorded, around the same time as Putin’s Monday address recognising Donbass as independent.
Putin also issued a chilling warning to any country thinking of coming to Ukraine’s aid, vowing ‘consequences greater than any you have faced in history’. ‘I hope I have been heard,’ he said.
The mood on the ground in Ukraine was mixed. Some showed incredible resolve – heading to work via train and road even as the bombs dropped. Elderly women in the city of Kharkiv, under heavy attack, gathered in the street to pray. But for others, the sight of Russian attack was too much. Highways out of Kiev clogged with cars as people fled, while refugees began crossing the borders into Poland and Slovakia.
The invasion – a naked attempt to redraw the map of Europe by force – marks the most concerted attempt to up-end world order since the end of the Cold War, and risks sparking the bloodiest conflict in Europe since the end of the Second World War.
Underlining the gravity of the moment, Ukrainian Interior Ministry advisor Anton Herashchenko said: ‘Starting today, the world has a new geopolitical reality. Either Ukraine and the world will stop the new Hitler now, or there will be a Third World War.’
Tanks can be seen, to the right of the image, rolling past a border post between Ukraine and Belarus in the early hours of Thursday
Western leaders lined up to condemn Russia’s actions in the early hours, with security councils convened the world over to mount a response. Heavy sanctions are expected to follow, along with more shipments of military equipment to Ukraine – provided they can find a route in.
But NATO and the US have made it clear that no troops will be sent, leaving Ukraine’s military – far the inferior of Russia – to hold off the assault alone. Few expect it to emerge victorious from what is almost certain to be a prolonged, bloody, and vicious war.
NATO efforts are instead expected to focus on stopping the war from spilling over into neighbouring countries. Poland, a member of the alliance, shares an extensive land border with Ukraine. The Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, also NATO members – will now fear a Russian assault.
Moldova, where some Russian ground troops are already based, is also at risk of falling to Putin. From there, he could strike out at Romania – another former Soviet state.
Unconfirmed reports said that Russian forces had destroyed or rendered unusable the Ukrainian navy, and struck Boryspil Airport in Kiev. Access to the Black Sea and Azov Sea was cut off.
President Joe Biden will address the nation at noon on Thursday, and on Wednesday night he condemned Russia’s ‘unprovoked and unjustified attack.’ He was speaking to Ukraine’s president.
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, posted a video message early on Thursday and urged Ukrainians to stay at home, and remain calm, telling them to have faith in their country
Biden said in a statement: ‘President Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering.
‘Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring, and the United States and its Allies and partners will respond in a united and decisive way. The world will hold Russia accountable.’
Biden said he will be monitoring the situation from Washington, DC, and will continue to get regular updates from his national security team.
Putin justified it all in a televised address, asserting that the attack was needed to protect civilians in eastern Ukraine – a false claim the U.S. had predicted he would make as a pretext for an invasion.
He accused the U.S. and its allies of ignoring Russia’s demands to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO and for security guarantees. He also claimed that Russia does not intend to occupy Ukraine but will move to ‘demilitarize’ it and bring those who committed crimes to justice.
President Joe Biden, pictured on Wednesday, condemned Putin’s invasion of Ukraine
Explosions are seen in the early hours of Thursday in Kharkiv, in eastern Ukraine
Biden in a written statement condemned the ‘unprovoked and unjustified attack,’ and he promised that the U.S. and its allies would ‘hold Russia accountable.’ The president said he planned to speak to Americans on Thursday after a meeting of the Group of Seven leaders. More sanctions against Russia were expected to be announced Thursday.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba described the assault as a ‘full-scale invasion’ and said Ukraine will ‘defend itself and will win. The world can and must stop Putin. The time to act is now.’
In the capital, Kiev Mayor Vitaly Klitschko advised residents to stay home unless they are involved in critical work and urged them to prepare go-bags with necessities and documents if they need to evacuate. An Associated Press photographer in Mariupol reported hearing explosions and seeing dozens of people with suitcases heading for their cars to leave the city.
‘We are facing a war and horror. What could be worse?’ 64-year-old Liudmila Gireyeva said in Kiev. She planned to head to the western city of Lviv and then to try to move to Poland to join her daughter. Putin ‘will be damned by history, and Ukrainians are damning him.’
The Russian claims about knocking out Ukrainian air defenses and Ukrainian claims to have shot down several Russian aircraft could not immediately be verified. The Ukrainian air defense system and air force date back to the Soviet era and are dwarfed by Russia’s massive air power and its inventory of precision weapons.
The Russian Defense Ministry said it was not targeting cities, but using precision weapons and claimed that ‘there is no threat to civilian population.’