The Russian military operation against Ukraine has revealed some of the constraints on Russia’s exercise of military power; primarily, its limited capacity to sustain an operation of this size.
While the annexation itself of Crimea was relatively peaceful, the actions of Russian and Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine turned into an increasingly fierce fight as the Ukrainian government launched its own ‘anti-terrorist operation’ against the Russian-supported rebels.
In this way, the comparatively bloodless Russian spring gave way to a Russian winter of fierce combat. The first operational successes of Ukrainian forces in late June and early July 2014 first prompted Russian artillery fire from within Russian territory, targeted against advancing Ukrainian troops on their own soil, from mid-July onwards. Direct intervention by Russian troops in combat roles then followed in the middle of August, when the prospect of rebel defeat had become realistic. The presence of large numbers of Russian troops on Ukrainian sovereign territory has, more or less, since become a permanent feature of the conflict.
This briefing explores the Russian military involvement in Ukraine. It argues that the operation is instructive, having been waged in accordance with the Gerasimov Doctrine of Ambiguous Warfare but also because it has revealed some of the constraints on Russia’s exercise of military power; primarily, its limited capacity to sustain an operation of this size.