The tension keeps growing in the the Azov Sea and the adjacent Black Sea areas. This is already noticeable even with the naked eye. After the incidents involving mutual seizures of fishing trawlers, the opposing sides (Ukraine and Russia) have actively begun preparations for an armed clash in this region, which looks very likely. Naturally, within the limits of their capabilities.

And the situation here is such that it is quite possible that the re-crowned Kremlin head is planning to rerun the "Novorossia" project, not in an original scales, but with quite tangible military and political bonuses in the general context of the "Ukraine's return to imperial fold" narrative. Quite obvious, that Russia has enough "starting opportunities" for this, and the region occupies the most important strategic significance - for it connects two "operational" directions along which the Russian hybrid army planes to advance into Ukraine. In fact, it is only through Azov and its coast that Moscow can "tie together" the occupied Crimea with its "people's republics" project in the Donbass into a smaller version of the original project of "Novorossia." Otherwise, from a strategic point of view, they have to close the "insurgent region" project.

First of all, the escalation will concern the Sea of Azov, which, after the construction of the Kerch transport bridge, the aggressor may well (and surely will do, considering all the preconditions) to turn into an internal sea by military means. Moreover, the agressor has an overwhelming naval superiority in the region, which is implemented in the form of its domination practically in the whole water area of the Sea of Azov, supported by significant groups of ground and air components of the armed forces already deployed there by Russia's military command.

Only an excuse is needed here, for example, "Ukrainian state piracy", "ensuring the safety of navigation" in the Azov Sea water area or curbing the unsettled "Kyiv naval, who still seek to back Crimea under Ukraine's control."

Quite indicative in this regard is the rush with the commissioning of the Kerch bridge. It is worth noting that this project was originally conceived not as a transport artery, but as a propaganda tool and a way to appropriation a budget funds by Putin related Russian oligarchs. There were mention in Russian media, that the bridge designers at the moment do not have full confidence in its reliability and categorically insist on the need for appropriate tests, which should take a certain period of time, regardless of the tonnage and dimensions of vehicles.

There were mentions in Russian media, that before the bridge opening, the engineers hadn't been fully confident in the construction reliability and categorically insist on the need for appropriate tests, which should take a certain period of time, regardless of the tonnage and dimensions of vehicles. Why such a rush? We return to the foregoing - Moscow needs a formal reason to continue the invasion. Russian media have already spread a legend about a Ukrainian saboteurs and radicals, who are blame for possible collapse of the bridge. It remains to wait when the engineering and construction flaws will turn into real problems and how Russia will use this in the aggression against our country...

Clearly, the issue of domination in common water area of the Azov and Black Seas as a point in the whole invasion plan remains actual for Russia. And it is understandable. Years of purposeful destruction and demoralization of the armed forces makes itself felt, Ukraine's military complex is still concretely behind its eastern neighbor. Naturally, for Russia this fact is a kind of a permanent "irritant" of their constant desire to crack and submit the Ukrainians.

Naturally, the RF hybrid army command has taken into account the readiness and ability of Ukraine's defense forces to resist the invades at this operational direction, as well as they realize the possible price they would have to pay for next Azov campaign. But, judging on the recent actions and public statements of Russia's leadership we can conclude that these factors are considered "insignificant."

However, in this connection a number of quite reasonable questions arise among a rational part of Ukrainian general staff, Namely: in what form the offensive can be realized; by what forces and means; and most importantly - how Ukrainian army can oppose to it, at least with minimal chances to success?

In the current context, one can immediately and unequivocally answer only the last question, since the answer is obvious in advance, and it is hardly possible to find an alternative or "other opinion" here. Implementation of asymmetric methods is seems to be the only way to stop the aggressor on the Azov Sea region. An attempt to conduct here any other military operations against a multiply superior enemy, resembling in essence and form a full-fledged war using the conventional (regular) forces of all three "traditional" components of the armed forces (ground, sea and air), will most likely be resulted in quick and painful defeat.

Thus, the relevant plan of asymmetric actions at all three operational levels (tactical, operational-tactical and strategic) on the preparations for the activation (escalation) of the armed aggression from the Azov Sea and adjacent areas must have been worked out long ago. 

To capture Mariupol and Berdyansk, then break through to Zaporizhia...

And now, let's try to understand in what form and way this escalation can be hold, so as what forces and means the aggressor can attract for its implementation?

Proceeding from the theory and practice of "Soviet military art", which is still the "fundamental basis" for the operational planning of combat employment of troops in Russian military staffs at various levels, a customary and proven "complex" type of operation will be chosen, with a very high probability of conducting an amphibious operation (or, more likely - combined airborne assault). The assault plan can be built either on an operational-tactical level, with the aim to achieve limited goals and results on this theater (for example, to capture Mariupol or Berdyansk), or on a strategic level, if the goal is to achieve strategic, deep and decisive (that is, common, military-political) goals of the war (for example, to break through to Genichesk and Zaporizhia), or cut through the coveted corridor to the Crimea. This would promote to the general plan to "ruining the front" and provoke a change of power in Kyiv as a result of a comprehensive political crisis in the country, caused by a significant defeat at the front.

Of course, a possibility of some sort of a shallow tactical trick - a raid, a seizure of a separate tactical bridgehead - must be taken into account. After all, against the background of growing internal systemic "socioeconomic difficulties" Russia's military general staff will unlikely continue on open implementation of the "aggressive policy of Putin's regime," since they likely wish to remain at the helm even in the case of changes in the Kremlin. On the other hand, it is doubtful - the subordination of Russia's force structures to the current Kremlin regime is strong enough and they will follow to any order.

In my opinion, the most probable in this respect would be an operation of the first level. Something like an encircling and blockade of Mariupol or creating some kind of "security zone" in front of the Crimean isthmus. 

Russia accumulated considerable forces around Azov

So, we have figured out about the levels. Next, let's try to understand how and by what means this can be implemented.

Currently, the navy group of the Russian army in Azov sea is in a permanently expanding state almost at the expense of three components - the Black Sea, the Caspian and fragmentary the Baltic fleet. In the future, it should be the basis for Russia's domination in the Azov Sea, and be able to solve the widest possible range of combat missions. Now, these tasks are rely mainly on the already deployed there sea component of their security services - the Coast Guard of the Border Guard Service of the FSB of Russia, specifically its Azov part (it is structurally part of the Black Sea-Azov division of the FSB of the Russian Federation). And we must admit that, even without involvement of own naval forces in the Azov Sea, they already have forces in this region that surpass ours. Namely - up to 16 frontier ships (including 6 modern projects, #22460 cipher "Ohotnik", with 30 mm artillery guns, drones, two 12.7 mm anti-aircraft weapons, 3 modern radars on board and maximum speed up to 27 knots). In this group we can also find 7 more "heavy" PCSRs (project #10410, #10410B, #12412PE) with a powerful artillery armament, including 76 mm and 30 mm artillery guns, anti-tank missile systems and MPADS, as well as the ability to install mine-torpedo armament, jet bombs, etc. These ships can do 28-30 knots under full sail. The remaining boats also carry armament of the level of 30-mm automatic guns or 23-mm antiaircraft guns, although officially they are "tugboats" or "reconnaissance ships," and also quite fast. Judging on equipment and weapons on board, they quite capable of solving a very wide range of tasks in the considered water area.

To this squad we must add 36 different high-speed (with a maximum speed of up to 47 knots and an economical speed of about 36 knots) boats, mostly of the Sobol type (projects #12150 and #12200), including  the Grif and Grif-M, which are well-known to Ukrainian border grades and which are armed with combat modules with large-caliber machine-gun weapons and modern fire-control systems, radars. To this list we should add hydrographic, trasnal, anti-sabotage and even support vessels, in some cases armed with automatic grenade launchers of 23 mm, 30 mm guns and ATMs. All the above listed vessels form a completely integrated ship grouping of the Coast Guard of the Border Service of the FSB, which in the present situation is able to seize and retain dominance in the whole water area of the Azov Sea without any interference or reinforcement from the Black Sea Fleet or the Caspian Flotilla of the Russian Federation. Even taking into account the fact that only a little more than a third of this group operates directly in Azov.

However, it has already become known that everything is not limited to this. Naval command of the RF, using the incident with the detention of the Nord seiner as a pretext for "curbing the Ukrainian state piracy," decided to deploy a permanent operational reconnaissance of the navy in the northeast part of the water area to "strengthen" the already deployed group, we have describe above. Clearly, exclusively for "peaceful purposes." 

The information is also viable about the deployment of an additional artillery brigade group (up to 8-10 units of old, but reliable and powerful armored artillery boats of #1204 Shmel project, armed with a long barrel 76 mm gun and 25 mm artillery automatic sub-machine gun + 140 mm MLRS), support groups of 5-6 units of tugs, supply vessels and small specialized ships. And what is especially alarming - an amphibious detachment of 4-6 units of the Serna class landing craft (Project #11770, which can land one main tank of the T-72 type, or two APC, or about a marines company and 50 tons of cargo) and a pair of the newest landing craft of the Dugon class (Project #21820, can land up to 3 main tanks of the T-72 type, or up to 5 APC, or one marine company + AFV  and 140 tons of cargo, although it is possible they will not appear in the area at all). As far as we know, Taganrog, Yeisk, Primorsko-Akhtarsk were identified as the main points of basing. 

In fact, to create "significant problems" to Ukraine in the Azov coast the enemy just have to force the Taganrog Gulf for further attack on the United Forces positions in Mariupol from the sea and air. Or, even more, to carry out these actions much further to the west of the coast, accompanying them with concerted strikes at the front - in the coastal area and south of the Donetsk Oblast by significant ground groupings. In this case the very defense of Mariupol will be quite problematical. 

In addition, we must take into account the fact that the shock grouping of the 4th army of the  Russian Aerospace Forces and Air Defense Forces, as well as the corresponding aviation group at the seaside direction has already been redeployed almost directly to the zone of the military operation of the United Forces of Ukraine (some operational airfields are on insignificant, according to modern aviation standards, distance from the state border, for example, the military airfield in Yeisk or the Beriev Aircraft Company and a number of other "field" airfields, not to mention the Rostov airfield "knot"), so as on the opposite coast - in the Krasnodar Kray and the Rostov Oblast of the RF. First of all, it is the 1st Guards mixed  aviation division, including 2 assault and 1 bomber regiments (up to 50-52 units of Su-25, Su-25SM and about 30-35 Su-24 and Su- 34) and the 16th Army Aviation Brigade, which has, among other things, Mi-28 attack helicopters deployed in the Rostov Oblast (up to 24-26). Considering the fact that the command of the Air Force of the Russian Federation   keeps its aviation group in this direction - including the Crimea - constantly in a strengthened state (due to periodical transferring of operational reserves from other bases), as well as in a state of high readiness, we can state - Ukraine should expect on usage of an air-strike group of 100-200 jets of the Su-24, Su-34, Su-25 (different versions) types, and at least 30-35 Mi-28, Ka-50 and Ka-52 in this direction. Just remember that at least 3 Russian air regiments are also deployed in this direction (this is the corresponding number of jets of the Mig-29, Su-27, Su-30, and Su-35 type, some of which are quite capable apply for both ground and surface targets).

Therefore, the time of the "combat reaction" of the corresponding means of Ukrainian air defense in this zone will be very and very limited, especially in the case of a "sudden" air strike. Moreover, in the terms of modern time, the enemy has the opportunity to effectively apply in this zone both its air defense weapons and air defense system, formally not entering the airspace above the zone of the military operation. Which, by the way, Russia had demonstrated repeatedly at the beginning of the hybrid military invasion 2014 and 2015 (for example, the case of the firing of Ukraine's Su-25 jet by the Russian MiG-29, that was held from the RF territory, as well as repeated "violations" of Ukraine's air space by Russian UAVs and drones of the VKS RF mainly from Yeisk and Taganrog).

Now let's consider a possible landing group. First of all, it is the units of the 7th Mountain Assault and Assault Division from Novorossiysk (may be reinforced by units of the 56th Assault Brigade from Kamyshin), as well as the 382nd Separate Marine Battalion from Temryuk. If necessary, the landing can be reinforced by units of the 810th Separate Brigade of the Marine Troops and 414, 727 battalions of the Marine Corps of the RF. Taking into account the fact that units of the 10th and 22nd brigades of the special purpose of the GRU GS of the RF Armed Forces - which are very familiar with the terrain as they are regularly and regularly "on business trips in the Donbass" - can be deployed in the same direction, we must note that only in the first echelon of the assault the enemy can concentrate up to 500-700 of manpower with the appropriate number of armored vehicles (up to 25-30 units). Ie, to land a reinforced battalion on the coast. And in the aftermath, under the condition of seizure and retention of the bridgehead with a more or less serviceable aerodrome or harbor (port), quickly and resolutely build this group up to 2-3 battalion-tactical groups. Moreover, today it does not seem to be an achievable task. Moreover, the aggressor has all the prerequisites for that. Namely - domination in the water area of the Azov Sea and above it. Having added here fully deployed and ready for action accurately along the Azov coast the entire 22nd Army Corps and the 150th Motorized Division of the 8th Army (I previously wrote about these forces and means), we will get quite impressive forces, which have been "accidentally" concentrated precisely in this direction.

I deliberately do not consider in the units of the so-called "1st Army Corps of the People's Militia of the DNR" in this context - namely, the so-called 9th "separate motorized infantry regiment of the Marine Corps of the DNR" - that is concentrated on this direction, for, by and large, its main purpose is to defend itself and keep a narrow strip of the occupied South Dontetsk Oblast, which connects the "republics" with the Azov Sea, and nothing more. The presence of the "marines" word in the name of this militant gang should not mislead the reader. Their maximum is to land a group of 6-8 saboteurs on the sly somewhere on the coast, and slip away as fast as possible. After all, the separatists have neither sufficient landing craft, nor formed amphibious group, nor the relevant professional skills and moral and psychological state. An if someone will land on our coast under the guise of the "DNR unit," one should immediately bear in mind that we have a deal with serving Russian military, masked under "ordinary local miners."

by Konstantin Mashovets,
a coordinator of the Information Resistance Group