Modern Wargaming: Conflict In The Ukraine Part Four – Endgame & Conclusions

November 16, 2015 by crew

At last we come to the end of our article series on modern wargaming, with a specific focus on the recent conflict in Ukraine. In Part One, we discussed “current-conflict” gaming and summarized the context of the 2014-2015 war in Ukraine, while Parts Two and Three took a more detailed look at the conflict’s engagements.

Shyrokyne

Now we come to the end of the conflict, looking at the last engagements in the spring and summer of 2015. We’ll briefly discuss how the violence has reduced to a fraction of its earlier levels, prompting many to hope that this conflict may be finally drawing to a close.

THE GATEWAY OF SHYROKYNE (March 25th, 2015)

In Part Three we discussed how the Minsk II ceasefire (February 11th, 2015) failed to even slow down the fighting in many areas of eastern Ukraine. One such hotspot lay in the far south of the warzone, where the town of Shyrokyne stood squarely in the path of the separatist advance to Mariupol.

Mariupol is an important industrial centre along the Sea of Asov. Largely pro-Kiev, it was nevertheless a target for separatists and supporting Russian Federation troops, with advanced T-80 series tanks often photographed in the area. Just seven miles (11 kilometres) to the east, Shyrokyne blocked the road and approaches to Mariupol.

Pro-Russian Militants

Mariupol (and by extension, Shyrokyne) was an objective for pro-Russian separatists for more than just industrial and economic reasons. Ukrainian media often suggested that Putin wanted this strip of land along the coast of the Sea of Asov to form a land bride to Crimea, recently annexed by the Russian Federation in early 2014.

Despite constant shelling, separatists attacks, and Russian armour, the Ukrainians never gave up Shyrokyne. Army, National Guard, and volunteer militias (including the “Donbas” and controversial “Asov” Battalions) held their positions for months, especially when fighting reached an apex in March and April, 2015.

Ukrainian Heavy Armour

Finally the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OCSE) negotiated a “demilitarization” of Shyrokyne. On July 1st, the separatists agreed to withdraw if right-wing militias like the Asov Battalion did the same. The agreement was controversial, but the militias pulled out, replaced by the Ukrainian 36th Marine Brigade.

National Guard & Volunteers

During the battle for Shyrokyne, the Ukrainians also had foreign volunteers in their ranks. Polish volunteers were interviewed with the Donbas Battalion during the shooting, but it was never clear how many there were. Ukrainians also claimed other “NATO forces” were helping them, but I could find no source to verify this.

PISKY SUBURBS (July 17th, 2015)

Even as fighting began to diminish in the south, in other areas of the warzone the violence continued unabated. One of the fiercest battlefields in the Ukraine during the late spring and summer of 2015 remained near one of the war’s most bitterly-contested battlefields: the Donetsk International Airport.

Pisky Suburbs

Although the airport had been re-taken by separatists in January (only after a devastating four-month siege), the neighbouring suburb of Pisky had always remained in government hands. This was a sharp thorn in the side of the separatists, as Pisky was right on the outskirts of Donetsk itself, capital of the DPR (Donetsk People’s Republic).

Defended by elements of the Ukrainian 93rd and 28th Mechanized Brigades and the “Dnipro-1” volunteer battalion, Pisky has seen heavy fighting as recently as August 12th (latest confirmed report). Yet this seemed to be strictly “non-kinetic” warfare, with exchanges of sniper fire, artillery salvoes, and patrol skirmishes…but no set-piece assaults.

Slow Attrition

Not that the fighting seemed “non-kinetic” to the civilians who lived here. Once housing over 2000 residents, only about 100 residents did not flee. Those house still occupied were painted in large letters “People Live Here” so as not to draw fire. Without gas, water, or electricity, they have survived on humanitarian aid.

Revamped Panzer Leader

For the Ukrainian troops in Pisky, the objective was simply to hold out. If the DPR couldn’t control the suburbs of its own capital, after all, could it really be recognized by the outside world as a viable independent state?

THE END IN SIGHT?

Meanwhile, against all the odds, violence across the Ukraine abruptly started to scale back, starting in August of 2015. By October, it had almost stopped completely.

The Last Battlefields

Meanwhile, the rhetoric of DPR and LPR leaders became much more conciliatory. They began talking about cooperation with Kiev, assuming certain conditions were met. Hardliners, meanwhile, were quietly replaced. Russian military support for the separatists has also greatly reduced.

CONCLUSIONS?

For those interested in examining the particular problems and characteristics of the Ukraine conflict or similar modern-era war on the table top, here are a few takeaways that might help you get started.

TROOP QUALITY: Far more important than the technical particulars of “this gun” or “that tank” is the training and confidence of the combatants. Whereas late World War II saw armies of relatively similar conscripts using vastly different weapons, in modern warfare the exact opposite is usually the case.

The evolution of modern weapons has led many of them to very similar “apex” designs. In contrast, modern war sees everything from untrained insurgents (angry civilians who can barely reload their weapons) to elite SAS and Navy SEAL teams. These are the critical “force level” details to watch, not millimetres and rounds per minute.

Lucky RPG

TECH, SCHMECH: While we live in a high-tech world where the latest gadget seems to effect everything, this is rarely the case in most wars currently in progress around the world. Bear in mind that most wars today are not fought between “armies” – but insurgencies, militias or terrorist organizations.

Even if one side has technology and the other doesn’t, the low-tech side will do whatever it can to ensure technology doesn’t matter. For example, insurgencies may hide in dense civilian population centres so government forces can’t use smart bombs or artillery on them.

Even if a given insurgency or rebellion has high-tech gear (usually through foreign aid), they usually can’t support, supply, or maintain it. Most smaller armies spend their limited budgets on “bang,” and neglect things like spare parts, logistics, safety, or command and control. So, once in combat, they don’t stay “modern” for long.

Low Tech Engagements

GO TO TOWN: Over half the world’s population now lives in cities, and many of the world’s current or recent conflicts have followed them. This means building a lot of urban terrain, and like Warren says, “more is more.” This is especially true if you’re trying to recreate the density of places like Donetsk, Mogadishu, or Fallujah.

Once the terrain is in place, lines of sight and fire become extremely short. There is no “battle line,” each squad becomes a self-contained cell within its building or alley, and this makes them very easy to outflank. The battle space is also three-dimensional, with movement possible in upper floors or in the sewers.

Separatist Armour

In closing, some special thanks are in order. Firstly, I would like to acknowledge Beasts of War community members @grimwolfuk and @unclejimmy for introducing me to Force on Force, which has turned out to be a near-perfect system for the kinds of conflicts and engagements found in the Ukraine.

I’d also like to thank the community members who’ve supported this series throughout its run. Our subject matter has definitely sparked some lively conversation. Even if some readers may not have agreed with the topic, the worst thing we can do with a conflict like this is ignore it.

Holding The Line

Finally, I’d like to thank @brennon, @warzan, and other members of the Beasts of War team who’ve allowed me to publish on their site, and helped make it look so amazing. People tell me often how great these articles look, but honestly at least half of this is due to the people who work behind the scenes to showcase all this content.

I’ll be taking some time off for the Team Yankee Boot Camp and the holidays after that. Do you have any ideas regarding content for the new year? Even better, reach out to the team and ask about publishing an article of your own!

James Johnson

If you would like to write an article for Beasts of War then please contact me at ben@beastsofwar.com for more information!

"One such hotspot lay in the far south of the warzone, where the town of Shyrokyne stood squarely in the path of the separatist advance to Mariupol..."

"This means building a lot of urban terrain, and like Warren says, “more is more.” This is especially true if you’re trying to recreate the density of places like Donetsk, Mogadishu, or Fallujah..."