Russia is coming out of anaesthesia: six phases of Special Military Operation
First phase: the successes
The first abrupt phase was marked by Russian successes: during it, Russian forces overran Sumy, Chernigov and reached Kiev from the north, arousing the fury of the West. Moscow proved its seriousness in liberating the Donbass and, with a quick escape from Crimea, established control over two more regions, Kherson and Zaporozhye, as well as part of the Kharkov region.
Mariupol, a strategically important city in the DNR, was taken with difficulty. Overall, Russia, acting with speed and surprise, achieved significant success at the beginning of the operation. However, we do not fully know what mistakes were made at this stage that led to the subsequent failures. The matter has yet to be investigated. But they were certainly made.
Overall, this phase lasted the first two months of the SMO. Russia was expanding its presence, facing unprecedented sanctions and pressure, establishing a foothold in the regions.
With visible and tangible successes, Moscow was ready for negotiations that would consolidate military conquests with political ones. Even Kiev was reluctant to accept negotiations.
Second phase: the logical failure of negotiations
But then the second phase began. It was a strategic-military miscalculation in the planning of the operation, the inaccuracy of the forecasts and the failure of unfulfilled expectations, both on the part of the local population and the willingness of some Ukrainian oligarchs to support Moscow under certain conditions.
The offensive faltered and in some directions Russia was forced to retreat from its positions. The military leadership tried to achieve some results through negotiations in Istanbul, but this did not lead to any success. The negotiations became futile as Kiev believed it could resolve the conflict militarily in its favour.
From then on, the West, having prepared public opinion with the furious Russophobia of the first phase, began to supply Ukraine with all kinds of lethal weaponry on an unprecedented scale. The situation began to deteriorate little by little.
Third phase: stalemate
In the summer of 2022, the situation began to stall, although Russia achieved some successes in some areas. By the end of May, Mariupol had been conquered.
The third phase lasted until August. In this period, the contradiction between the conception of the Special Operation as quick and fast, which was to enter the political phase, and the need to fight against a well-armed enemy, which had the logistical, intelligence, technological, communications and political support of the entire West and on a front of enormous length, emerged in all its evidence.
Moscow was still trying to carry out the original scenario, without wanting to disturb society as a whole or address the population directly. This created a contradiction of sentiments between the front and the home front and led to a misalignment in the military chain of command. The Russian leadership did not want to enter the war, putting off in every way the imperative of partial mobilisation, which by then had become urgent.
During this period, Kiev and the West in general turned to terrorist tactics - killing civilians in Russia itself, blowing up the Crimean bridge and then the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 gas pipelines.
Stage four: the Kiev regime counter-attacks
We have thus entered the fourth phase, characterised by an AFU counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region, already partially under Russian control at the beginning of the Operation. Attacks by the Ukrainians in the rest of the front also intensified, and the massive supply of HIMARS units and the provision of the closed Starlink satellite communications system, along with numerous other military and technical means, created serious problems for the Russian Army for which it had not been prepared in the first phase.
The retreat into the Kharkiv Oblast, the loss of Kupyansk and even Krasny Liman, a town in the DNR, were the result of a 'half-war' (as Vladlen Tatarsky accurately put it). Attacks on the 'old' territories also increased: bombings on the Belgorod and Kursk regions became regular. Some enemy targets were also hit by drones deep inside Russian territory.
It was no longer possible to fight and not fight at the same time, i.e. to keep society at a distance from what was happening in the new territories.
It was at this point that the SMO became a full-fledged war. More precisely, this fait accompli was finally realised in earnest at the upper echelons of Russia.
Fifth phase: the decisive turning point
These failures were followed by the fifth phase that, albeit very belatedly, changed the course of things. Putin took the following measures: he announced a partial mobilisation, reshuffled the military leadership, set up the Coordinating Council for Special Operations, put the military industry on high alert, tightened the measures for breaking the state defence order, and so on.
The culmination of this phase was the referendum on the accession of four subjects - the DNR, LNR, Kherson and Zaporozhye regions - to Russia, Putin's decision to admit them to Russia, and his keynote speech for the occasion on 30 September, where, for the first time he frankly declared Russia's opposition to Western liberal hegemony, its full and irreversible determination to build a multipolar world, and the beginning of the acute phase of a war of civilisations that declared the West's modern civilisation 'satanic'. In his subsequent speech to the Valdai, the president reiterated and elaborated on the main theses.
Although Russia was forced to surrender Kherson by retreating further, the AFU attacks were stopped, the defences of the lines under their control were strengthened and the war entered a new phase.
As the next step in the escalation, Russia began to regularly destroy Ukraine's military-technical and sometimes energy infrastructure with missile bombardments.
The cleansing of society from within began: traitors and collaborators of the enemy left Russia, patriots ceased to be a fringe group and their positions of selfless devotion to the homeland became - at least outwardly - the ethical mainstream. Whereas liberals used to compile systematic denunciations against anyone who showed any sign of leftism or conservatism critical of liberals, the West and so on, now, in contrast, anyone with liberal sentiments was automatically suspected of being at least a foreign agent, or even a traitor, saboteur and terrorist sympathiser. Concerts and public speeches by declared opponents began to be banned. Russia started on its path of ideological transformation.
Sixth phase: the rebalancing
Gradually the front stabilised and a new stalemate emerged. None of the adversaries could overturn the situation any longer. Russia had reinforced itself with a mobilised reserve. Moscow supported the volunteers and especially Wagner's PMC, which managed to make considerable progress in turning the situation around in the local theatres of war. Many necessary steps were taken to supply the army and the necessary equipment, while the volunteer movement was in full swing.
The war entered Russian society.
This sixth phase lasts to the present day. It is characterised by a relative balance of power. In this state, both sides cannot achieve decisive and decisive successes, but both Moscow, Kiev, and Washington are willing to continue the confrontation for as long as necessary.
In other words, the question of how soon the conflict in Ukraine will end has lost its meaning and relevance.
Only now have we truly entered the war, we have become aware of it. It is a kind of being-in-war. It is a difficult, tragic and painful existence, to which Russian society had long since become disaccustomed and which most people did not even really know about.
Translation by Lorenzo Maria Pacini