Russia Steps into Panic Mode

Ukraine all set to induce chaos

Shankar Narayan
8 min readMar 26, 2023
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Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s statement, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” is one for the ages. You can rescue an army from a contagion, but if it gets infected with fear, there is nothing you can do to recover.

The ultranationalist community in Russia, vocalized by Russian military bloggers, is in a deep state of panic. The failed eastern offensive by the Russian army has sparked a growing number of questions on Russian Telegram channels.

Russia’s slowdown in offensive operations has made Russian ultranationalists fearful of Ukraine’s potential counteroffensive.

Over the past few months, Ukraine repeatedly hinted at a counter-offensive as part of its information strategy. Ukraine’s military intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov, told ABC News on December 31, 2022 that Ukraine will liberate more territory in the coming months.

Two weeks later President Zelensky poured more fuel into the fire at a panel discussion in Davos by saying Ukraine will liberate Crimea.

“It is not an intention, it is our land. Crimea is our sea and our mountains. Give us your weapons and we will regain [what is] ours,” Zelensky said when asked by the panel in Davos if he intends to retake Crimea.

Panic because of the slowdown

The battle for Bakhmut still remains intense.

Ukrainian Eastern Group of Forces Spokesperson Colonel Serhiy Cherevaty, said that “Russian forces conducted 18 ground attacks near Bakhmut on March 25 but recently conducted 40–50 attacks a day in the area, suggesting that exhausted Wagner forces are unable to sustain their prior tempo of operations alone but may increase their tempo to earlier levels with assistance from Russian conventional forces”.

Russian army has been banging its head against the Bakhmut wall over and over. But the Ukrainian wall refuses to crack. The UK Ministry of Defense has said that the Russian offensive in Bakhmut is coming to an end.

The Russian army increased its offensive tempo in Ukraine for over two months. If they couldn’t capture Bakhmut yesterday, then they are not going to capture it tomorrow either.

Russians overplayed their hand.

The assumption that they could break Ukraine’s defensive posture with overwhelming human force was based on a faulty historical premise. Taking 19th-century doctrines and applying them to the 21st century is sheer madness.

As a result, their firepower is declining and being noticed inside Russia. The Russian nationalists fear the declining capacity of the Russian army will make them vulnerable against a Ukrainian counterattack.

Putin Responded to the Panic

Vladimir Putin, out of nowhere, felt the need to announce, “Russia will deploy tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus by July 1”.

Whenever he gets a panic attack, he will automatically turn to a statement that contains the word “nuclear.”.

Putin also said that “planned Western defense production increases will not match Russian planned increases. Putin announced that Russia will build over 1,600 new tanks by the end of 2023 and that Russia will have more than three times the number of tanks as Ukraine at that time”.

The west knows how much production capacity it has, and so does the media. No one was looking at Putin to give them a Russia vs West production comparison snapshot. The information he shared was clearly aimed at the ultranationalists, who are in fear of a collapse. Putin is telling them, don’t you worry, our production is ramping up faster than the west and we will prevail.

The embedded message he is trying to deliver is this: Let us stay the course and keep pouring more and more resources into this fight. Let us not panic.

I totally understand why Putin felt the need to do so. The problem is, Putin wants his nationalistic cabal to look at the end of 2023, but they’re looking at the end of April. When the Ukrainian axe falls on the Russian occupation chain, Putin’s talk about production capacity will be forgotten immediately.

The more square kilometers Ukraine liberates, the more likely the Russian ultranationalists are to rally against the Russian military. It may reach a point where Putin’s competence is questioned.

How did Ukraine Achieve this?

The failure of the Russian eastern offensive demonstrates Ukrainian military’s tactical superiority.

Self-Denial: Ukraine had multiple opportunities to chase the Russian army in retreat. Kyiv in April 2022, Kharkhiv in May 2022, Kupiansk-Izyum line in September 2022, Kherson in November 2022 and Bakhmut in March 2023. But they did not. They counter-attacked with clear objectives and defended with purpose. Ukraine never pursued pyrrhic victories. This allowed them to preserve and protect its troops.

It is worth fighting for an army commanded by leaders who respect the lives of their soldiers. Self-denial has kept Ukrainian morale high.

Stubborn-Refusal: If morale forms one part of the equation for success, the other side must be resolve. Russia pummeled Vuhledar, Avdiivka and Bakhmut nearly every day since the start of this year. Some western officials even questioned Ukraine’s decision to defend Bakhmut.

But Ukraine simply refused to yield.

Ukrainian refusal to yield has proved a number of things. The world now knows Ukraine can defend its territory from Russian aggression, and we also know the Russians can’t win a small town no matter how many soldiers they recruit every six months.

The stellar defense of Bakhmut by Ukraine will influence military doctrines around the world to never consider size as a qualification for victory.

Surprise-Packages: Any battlefield relies on deception and surprise. While Russia has been utterly predictable through out this war, Ukraine has been anything but.

On February 22, 2023, Ukraine fired a volley of missiles at Mariupol. (no one clearly knows the type of bombs that were used. I am sticking with missiles for now). Ukraine telegraphed Moscow that they posses the ability to hit targets beyond 80 Kms. It is likely that the Russian generals had a panic attack, anticipating more attacks.

Since then, Ukraine has maintained a strategic silence. No more long range attack using wonder weapons. The Russians know its there in Ukraine. They can see it coming. But only Ukraine knows when.

Now, compare the tactical decisions taken by Ukraine with Putin’s actions yesterday. Ukrainians are rallying their country through action. Putin is rallying his country with bombast.

It is time for Ukraine to demonstrate that it is capable of conducting a large-scale counteroffensive after having defended really well over the last few months.

Ukraine’s Path Forward

It is an excruciatingly tempting moment for Ukraine because the period following an offensive maneuver is when an army is most vulnerable.

Exhausted frontline troops must be replaced with fresh troops. Supplies will be at its lowest point depending on the success of the offensive. A failure of the offensive, like the one we’re discussing, would mean that the weapons stockpile would be at its lowest point. This is because the commanders would have thrown everything they had at their disposal in pursuit of victory.

Exhausted, low on morale and low on supplies is recipe for disaster. That is the exact state of the Russian army right now.

But Ukraine has a lot to consider before launching its counter-attack. It will not be a single axis attack where Ukraine throws everything it has in its possession into a small section. Such an action will make it easy for Russia to concentrate its firepower and tip the balance in its favor.

Instead, Ukraine will prefer to launch a series of offensives, while deceptively hiding the focal point of their attack. Deception will play a key role in decision making.

Troop strength, training, food supply and the state of ammunition stockpile will bear a lot on the timing of the attacks. Additionally, Ukraine will consider Russia’s troops’ strength, regeneration capacity, and ammo reserves.

Ukrainian officials will, of course, keep the weatherman in mind at all times. Russia has built defensive barriers throughout their occupation chain. They will try to funnel Ukrainian troops into designated kill zones. Cutting through these barriers will always be the responsibility of the attacking side.

The west is acutely aware of this dynamic, as they have supplied a large number of engineering equipment that Ukraine will need to clear those defensive structures. We will see a combined arms attack for the first time by Ukraine, so it must be carefully planned.

Ukraine has to find a way to cut through those barriers and reach the rear of the Russian occupation chain in multiple sections and then they will try to connect with each other, cutting off Russian battalions from each other. They might even keep some escape routes open for the Russians to run if they want to.

Russian military bloggers are in sheer panic because they know the attack is coming, but they have no idea, where, when and how large the attack is going to be. Ukraine will be fielding Leopard tanks and Bradley armored vehicles, while Russia is dusting up tanks that were built in the 1940s.

Ukraine now has Russia exactly at the place where it wants them to be.

But when?

I can see myself arguing on both sides: At times, I think Ukraine needs to launch the counterattack as quickly as possible because giving Russia more time will allow the Putin to recruit and train more Russians. Sometimes I think Ukraine should make the Russians wait in agony while it accumulates as many resources as possible before dropping the axe.

Herein lies the excellence of Ukraine’s current situation. There are two options to choose from, and both will work well.

However, Russians have no such option. They can either call out their offensive and immediately go into a defensive posture, or they can continue their offensive by sending troops stationed in the rear to the frontlines.

It may seem that Russia’s only option for victory is to wear Ukraine down. But Ukraine does not need to follow that path. They can go for the kill and split the Russian occupation into multiple parts.

The chaos is about to begin. I just don’t know when!

Of all the San Tzu quotes I read for this story, the one I loved the most and one that is very relevant for Ukraine is the following one:

Great results can be achieved with small forces

Yes, indeed.



Shankar Narayan

He didn't care what he had or what he had left, he cared only about what he must do.