UncategorizedA Ukrainian Strategy to Fight the Russians for the next 12-24 months (March 2024-March 2026)

2024-03-01by Sun Tzu0


By Retired US Army Special Forces LTC Erik Kramer, Kyiv Ukraine

Executive Summary:

This white paper discusses a Ukrainian strategy to fight the Russians for the next 12-24 months (March 2024-March 2026) with minimal external support capitalizing on Ukraine’s strengths and what they have available. The pluses are that it is indigenous, cost effective, and can save Ukraine’s most valuable resource, its soldiers. It focuses on three key areas: overall strategy; organization and employment of combat forces to include Ministry of Defense and Interior units; and training. The challenges are that it will require a change in the insular, stove-piped military culture and will likely require new legislation from the Rada. The U.S. military faced a similar challenge in the 1980s forcing the services to work together in the aftermath of the failed Iran hostage rescue mission, the lessons learned from Vietnam, and observations from the invasion of the island of Granada in 1983 and it required U.S. Congressional legislation under the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 and the Nunn-Cohen Amendment of 1987.


I am a retired U.S. Army Special Forces lieutenant colonel who has been in Ukraine since July 2022 training the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU). I have trained and advised regular Army, Border Guards, Combat Police, National Guard, Special Operations Forces (SOF), and Territorial Defense on basic to advanced soldier skills to include brigade level staff planning. My observations and recommendations are based on many months of adapting Western tactics, techniques, and procedures for brigade, battalion, company, platoon, and squad operations and planning to the culture, laws, AFU capabilities, time constraints, and the realities of the war in Ukraine.

This is NOT a regurgitation of U.S./NATO methods that only work with the advantages that the U.S./NATO forces possess and take for granted such as domination of the air; strong counterbattery fire capabilities; domination of the electro-magnetic spectrum; standardized training and equipment; strong engineering capabilities/capacity; the luxury of time and space to plan and safely train; large, experienced staffs/NCO corps with decades of experience; and robust logistics.

I have worked at every level of command to include my last assignment working in the Pentagon. I spent several months in Ukraine during 2016 visiting most of the major Ukrainian Army commands and training centers as well as Donbas conducting a study for the U.S. Army on the Russian Army. The result was a handbook titled, “The Russian New Generation Warfare Handbook.” My graduate degree is National Security Affairs with a focus on Eurasia and in 1997-1998 I lived and worked with the Russian Separate Airborne Brigade in Bosnia-Herzegovina. I know and understand the Russian military. My intent is to provide an experienced and informed outsider’s observations and recommendations on a possible way ahead for Ukraine. I have a deep affinity for Ukraine and want to see the country of my future family succeed.

I recommend that Ukraine focus its strategy on a combination of “bleeding the Russian Army” with a consolidation and reorganization of its forces. It should be an active defense with selective offensive operations concentrated in one to two areas along the line of contact where Russians are the weakest. Ukraine should assume risk with a robust and layered defense based on easily defendable positions using natural obstacles wherever possible with minimal manning and avoiding major population centers. The AFU can use technology, i.e. constant UAS surveillance and sensors, to overwatch these obstacle belts. To mitigate the risk, place mobile reserve forces at key locations behind the line of contact able to quickly stop Russian attacks and breakthroughs.

The layered defense will need to be a defense in depth relying on mines and obstacles with multiple layers of “belts” similar to the Russian defenses which channelized attacking AFU forces and caused assault forces to quickly culminate in the first two-three belts. Also in these defensive “seams”, the AFU can designate these areas Special Operations Areas (SOA) and utilize SOF to conduct operations just ahead of the forward line of troops (FLOT) to tie up Russian forces and gather intelligence for breaching operations. The AFU will assume risk with minimally manned defenses, but that can be mitigated by technology, mobile reserve forces, and the use of SOF.

The selective offensive operations should focus on weaknesses in the Russian lines and not on cities/towns where the Russians expect the AFU to attack. Assaults in built up areas cause excessive casualties with both AFU and Ukrainian citizens, for little strategic gain. One of the principles of war is mass and the AFU should only concentrate their forces on one main effort in the northern part of the line of contact and one in the southern part. Again, it should be based on identified weak points in the Russian lines. The Russians cannot be everywhere. The AFU should consider the use of deception and subterfuge in all offensive operations and conduct a demonstration or ruse as a supporting effort in in areas that the Russians expect them to attack. The mobile reserves that are supporting defensive operations can also be dual-hatted as reserve forces in support of offensive operations.

Other parts of this strategy include a focus on operations that asymmetrically attack Russian forces. Every occupied oblast should have a designated SOA where SOF is a supporting effort to the main effort of an eventual breach by the conventional forces. The SOF tasks should include the probing of Russian lines for weaknesses, disruption of lines of communications, attacks on command and control nodes and logistics hubs. Having a constant SOF presence in these occupied areas will tie up Russian forces in their rear area and keep them off of the line of contact. The AFU should also the integrate partisan forces partnered with SOF in these occupied areas as a force multiplier. The AFU is already conducting effective SOF operations and UAS attacks within the territory of Russia, the Black Sea, Syria, and reportedly in Africa. The AFU should also capitalize on Ukraine’s “tech army” to conduct constant cyber-attacks focusing on Russian command & control and logistics. The recent establishment of a separate AFU UAS service should include the integration of all things tech to include a cyber corps.

All operations should support the overall mission and have a clear link to the mission of the command above them as well as an easily understood purpose. I have observed repeatedly AFU missions from SOF as well as conventional brigades and below that are not linked to a specific overall purpose.

For example, if the main effort is a “1ˢᵗ brigade” attack in order to breach a specific location on the line of contact in order to open a gap for a follow on attack, all other missions should be focused on supporting it; supporting effort 1, “2ⁿᵈ brigade” conducts a ruse attack in support of 1ˢᵗ brigade’s attack. Units should not conduct missions unilaterally that are not “nested” under an overall mission like the matryoshka dolls. Even SOF operations should be tied to a specific mission and either directly support conventional force missions or be part of an overall strategic mission such as “disrupt Russian command & control nodes in support of 1ˢᵗ Brigade’s breach” or “conduct a raid on a Russian airfield in order to degrade Russia’s ability to launch strategic strikes on Ukrainian critical infrastructure.” Doing operations just to do something is a waste of limited resources and lives.

Organization & Employment of AFU Combat Formations:

It is no secret that the AFU soldiers in the fight are exhausted and understrength. Ukraine has had to mobilize not only soldiers but also Border Guards Service and Police for the fight. With that said, Ukraine is trying to have both “bullets and butter”; trying to maintain a sense of normalcy while in an existential fight for its life. The current policy of only conscripting men ages 27-60 is causing the AFU to unnecessarily suffer manpower shortages by not tapping into men at the prime military age, 18-27. No other military in the world does this. I understand that Ukraine is trying to protect its future generation of leaders, doctors, engineers, etc., which is admirable, but it will not have a future unless it wins this current fight. I fully understand that this is a very painful and politically charged decision, but according to the “CIA World Fact Book” updated on September 18, 2021, the male age group 20-24 had just over 1 million men and the 25-29 age group had approximately 1.4 million men (the available data grouped 18 and 19 year olds with the 15-19 demographic so I did not include them in the count). According to a November 24, 2023 “BBC” article, 650,000 conscription-aged men have left Ukraine since February 2022. That still leaves a large pool of men aged 20-27 available for conscription by conservative estimates of over 1.5 million men not including 18 and 19 year olds. The numbers speak for themselves.

The AFU should also consider sending military recruiters or targeting recruiting efforts in countries with large populations of unemployed, trained soldiers such as Afghanistan and Colombia. Of course Ukraine should be aware of political sensitivities attempting to recruit soldiers from other countries. Many of them are coming anyway and hear about opportunities via unofficial social media and word of mouth. At least with official recruiting the AFU can conduct some screening and provide accurate enlistment information.

Ukraine is short soldiers, but there are ways to increase troops available for combat. The AFU has a lot of redundancies. Each service, the Army, Border Guards Service, the National Guard, etc. has its own academies and schools and there is little cross service training. Why not consolidate these schools for the duration of the war? That will free up men to fill the vacancies in units and ensure consistency across training.

The AFU also suffers from a lack of funds to pay for more soldiers. The government of Ukraine should consider unorthodox ways to pay such as providing land or free/subsidized permanent housing or some type of war bonds. The AFU and the Ministry of Veterans Affairs should consider post-service incentives such as free education, technical skill training, and job placement. The deployments of units are unpredictable and some soldiers and units have spent an inordinate amount of time on the front compared to others. Also many units are at less than 30% strength according to a February 8, 2024 article in the “Washington Post.” The answer is to consolidate units and bring units to full strength. It will provide commanders a more realistic understanding of available units and lessen casualties by sending in full strength units into the fight.

With the current situation, the AFU has severely depleted brigades and battalions performing missions designed for full strength units. Units quickly culminate and are taken off of the line. This results in a chain reaction where unprepared units are thrown into the fight to backfill these depleted units with little notice. Consolidating units and bringing them up to full strength will result in slowing the degradation of combat effectiveness and exhaustion and lessen casualties because you will not have company-sized battalions performing battalion missions. It will also allow for more predictably in unit rotations. Higher command can develop a “patch chart” (unit patches) calendar so units will have a better idea when they are deploying. It allows for more predictable training, leave, and better prepared units. Units are sent to the front piece meal with a battalion or a company from a National Guard brigade deploying under an Army brigade that is not in their chain of command.

That kind of deployment leads to dysfunction, because the units do not even know each other or their capabilities. No unit below brigade should be deployed under a different chain of command. Unity of command is one of the principles taught in all military command courses. Also operational/regional commands above brigades are predominantly staffed and led by the Army. These headquarters should be joint and staffed by officers from across all services to include not only officers from the MOD, but also the MOI. This will ensure the well-being and capabilities of subordinate units from other services are better understood and taken into account. It also ensures cross-pollination of best practices and procedures across all services. These changes will require cultural shifts and probably changes in the law. They are not easy, the U.S. went through similar forced “jointness” in the 1980s. They will increase efficiency with manpower and better synchronize operations across all services.


Training across the AFU is inconsistent and the quality, scope, duration, etc. varies greatly between services and units. The AFU should develop a standardized program of instruction for all like units. Most of the units in the AFU, regardless of what service, function as light infantry. I recommend a one month training program for all brigades that includes an NCO course, a company/platoon commander course, and a brigade/battalion commander and staff course. These training courses should be followed by a culminating exercise that puts all of the pieces together. The NCO course should focus on leading and training platoons, and teach them the duties and responsibilities of NCOs as well as basic soldier skills to a level of competency where they can train their soldiers. After they complete the course, they will train their soldiers. The company/platoon commander’s course will teach those officers how to train and lead their companies and platoons as well as how to plan missions using U.S. Troop Leading Procedures as the framework. Finally a brigade and battalion commanders and staff course should focus on leadership and planning that uses a modified version of the NATO Military Decision Making Process (MDMP) tailored to the laws, culture, time constraints, and realities of the battlefield in Ukraine. All brigades (Army, Border Guards Service, Combat Police, National Guard, Naval Infantry, and Territorial Defense) should go through this training to ensure consistency and a common understanding and framework for mission planning. I recommend pulling brigades back a few at a time to a major training center such as the Army training center in Yavoriv or the National Guard training center in Ivana-Frankovska so there are less distractions and large areas to maneuver. There are too many issues with training near the line of contact and significantly degrades the quality of training.

Ukraine has an untapped resource for assistance, the large number of foreign NGOs and volunteer organizations that are here to provide advisory assistance, medical and military training, etc. Many of these volunteers have decades of military experience at every level that is available at no cost to the AFU, but they must be screened, vetted, and organized. I recommend establishing a security assistance command under joint MOD/MOI oversight to oversee, vet, and focus their efforts. They can provide most of the trainers and expertise with AFU oversight. Using these foreign volunteers will free up Ukrainian soldiers from instructor duty for front line assignments. I also recommend a “train the trainer” program so that Ukraine can develop its own training capacity to NATO standards.


Ukraine is facing personnel and equipment shortages and does not have an inordinate amount of time to overcome these challenges. One of the only ways to overcome these shortfalls without huge expenditures is through a change in strategy, adjustments to the employment of units, and universal, quality training. With these tried and true changes, Ukraine will see more success on the battlefield as well as protecting its most valuable resource, its soldiers.

LTC Erik Kramer (Retired) is a decorated veteran of the United States Army Special Forces with over two decades of service, distinguished by his strategic acumen and operational expertise. His career spans a diverse range of assignments, including combat leadership roles in Iraq, advisory positions in asymmetric warfare, and crucial support roles within the Department of Defense. Kramer has a proven track record of excellence in training, leadership, and strategic planning, making him a valuable asset in both military and civilian sectors.

Military Career Highlights:

LTC Kramer’s military journey spanned a 23-year tenure, holding various leadership positions, showcasing his exceptional leadership skills and tactical proficiency.

  • Military Advisory Team Leader (2010-2011): In this role, Kramer led a 50-man advisory team deployed in Iraq’s Anbar Province. His leadership resulted in significant enhancements in the region’s Rule of Law, contributing to stability amidst contentious circumstances.
  • Special Forces Group Support Company Commander and Special Forces Company Commander (2004-2006): Kramer demonstrated his adeptness in command by overseeing critical operations at Fort Bragg, NC, where he managed support and company-level elements, ensuring mission success and unit readiness.
  • Assistant Professor of Military Science (2002-2004): Kramer’s dedication to shaping future military leaders was evident during his tenure as an Assistant Professor of Military Science in Charleston, SC, where he imparted invaluable knowledge and skills to cadets.
  • Program Manager (Site Survey Team Leader) – Defense Threat Reduction Agency (2006-2010): Serving as a Program Manager, Kramer led a multi-disciplinary team tasked with addressing Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) issues. His leadership ensured the effective coordination of military and civilian efforts in countering potential threats.Kramer holds a Master’s degree in National Security Affairs (Eurasian Studies) from the Naval Postgraduate School and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Government from The Citadel. He continues to leverage his extensive military experience, strategic insights, and leadership skills to make significant contributions to national security efforts and civilian endeavors alike.

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