Russian forces’ actions in Ukraine show a dilemma like Indian Army’s in 1948 Hyderabad ops

[An Ukrainian Molotov Cocktail spacialist]

The way the Russian forces are advancing in a halting fashion on the capital city of Kyiv and on Kharkiv — taking casualties and not always reacting harshly, suggests that this is not a war of the kind the Russian military is geared to fight. There is no semblance here to the victorious campaigns of Joseph Stalin’s Red Army against the German Wehrmacht in the Second World War or the sort of operations the Soviet military and its Warsaw Pact complement were prepared to unleash across the Fulda Gap during the Cold War.

This ruthless mode of warfare emphasizes a rolling barrage of ceaseless and devastating long range artillery fire in tandem with the equally relentless air-to-ground strikes by combat aircraft of the “frontal aviation” forces, which combined arms effort is meant, quite literally, to flatten the earth, and clear the path for the onrushing columns of armour and mechanized infantry. So, what explains the stumbling, bumbling, progress by Putin’s army in Ukraine?

Russia on Ukrainian soil

It is clear the Kremlin did not bargain for the inspiring leadership of the young Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, or for the resistance put up by the Kalashnikov-armed nationalists prosecuting holding actions alongside a competent military. These include strikes on Russian tanks and armoured personnel carriers by the TB-2 Bayraktar-armed drones purchased from Turkey, anti-tank guided munitions, sniper fire, and, at close quarters, expert attacks with Molotov Cocktails — the endless bottles of half-filled beer provided by a local brewery. Putin’s plans for intimidating Zelensky and Co. into submission has plainly failed.

But an agreement that retains for an Ukraine, minus the eastern “autonomous republics” of Luhansk and Donetsk in the Donbas region habited by Russian-speaking people, its freedom in return for not joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) may still be the compromise solution all parties will eventually agree to. Russia, moreover, is unlikely to restore to Ukraine parts of the Black Sea coast it captures, except on the condition that the naval infrastructure built on it, inclusive of the naval bases at Sevastopol and Odessa which, according to the 1997 partition agreement, is shared by the Russian and Ukrainian navies, is never allowed to be accessed by the United States and NATO navies. After all, Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 was supposed to address precisely Russia’s vulnerability from the Black Sea approaches.

These geostrategic aims aside, there is no apparent premium for the Kremlin to so embitter Ukraine and its people as to make permanent enemies of them. This is reflected in the relatively small size of the deployed Russian force — just 175,00 troops strong — which is inadequate to forcibly take over Ukraine (for perspective, the Indian Army has some 650,000 soldiers in place to keep the Srinagar Valley “quiet”). And in the extremely wary and careful movement, for instance, by the Russian armoured component from Crimea to capture the city of Kherson intact, and then to permit the local government there to fly the Ukrainian flag from government buildings.

Such military behaviour was undoubtedly part of Putin’s plan for “restrained action”, symbolised by the precision attack on the “training” hub of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear complex, rather than on the nuclear reactors, and the immediate dousing of the resulting fire. The Zaporizhzhia power plant supplies 20-25 per cent of the electricity consumed in Ukraine, and a hit on it was to send a message to Zelensky to not tarry at the negotiating table. 

The other reason for Moscow ordering peaceful capture of nuclear power stations may be to take control of stocks of spent uranium fuel to pre-empt a future Ukrainian government from using them to make nuclear bombs. In any case, the moderation in Russian military operations is to minimize the offence given to native Ukrainians and to wait out/wear out the armed nationalist elements among them, rather than go in for wholesale slaughter of the population and destruction of cities. In this context, the Ukrainian resistance, while brave, is ultimately hopeless and is potentially useful only as a bargaining card for the Zelensky regime to play in the ongoing negotiations with Russia in Belarus.

A tactical dilemma 

The Russian forces in Ukraine, have, from the beginning, faced a tactical dilemma that’s not unlike what the Indian Army units, perhaps, faced when advancing on the “princely kingdom” of Hyderabad with the intent to amalgamate it into the Indian Union. The Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, was determined on having a sovereign country right in the middle of peninsular India. His representative, the British barrister Walter Monckton, spent over a year negotiating with the home ministry under the no-nonsense Vallabhbhai Patel. ‘Operation Polo’ was launched on 13 September 1948, only after it became obvious to the Indian government that the Nizam was buying time and using the “standstill agreement” to equip his forces with weapons ferried from Karachi in old Dakota aircraft piloted by foreign mercenaries, with a view to resisting the unification. By 17 September it was all over.

Consider the situation confronting Major General JN Chaudhuri — the commander of the Indian force tasked with taking Hyderabad but with minimum fuss. Advancing mainly along the Vijayawada and Solapur-Secunderabad axes, the Commanding Officers of the lead elements from Poona Horse and 2/5 Gurkhas from the Vijayawada side with the 19th Field Battery and two squadrons of the Hawker Tempest fighter planes, ex-Pune, in support, and of the 9 Para, 3rd Cavalry, 13th Cavalry, 3/2 Punjab and 2/1 Gurkhas on the Solapur line, must have been terrified of getting into firefights with the Nizam’s forces, especially in the built-up urban areas as that would have resulted in unacceptably high civilian casualties. This is borne out by the tactics employed of not using strike aircraft or even mortars and engaging the Nizam’s soldiery, as much as possible, on the outskirts of towns and in the countryside. Fortunately, for the Indian Army, the commander of Osman Ali’s forces, General El Edroos, an Arab, had under him the Razakar rabble, not a professional army.

Imagine an alternative scenario and assume, for argument’s sake, that the Nizam’s 66,000-strong army — 55 per cent Muslim, was backed by the majority Hindu population in his quest for an independent Hyderabad. Now consider how much more difficult and delicate the Indian Army’s job would have been. Hyderabad would, of course, have been absorbed one way or the other into India. But the Indian military actions, in that case, would have had to have been that much more cautious, with each step tenuously taken for fear, say, of a rifle company of the Gurkhas taking the khukri to a terrified bunch of civilians caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, or of wayward artillery shells taking out cultural symbols and historical monuments — a Char Minar here, numerous palaces of the Nizam there, or even the Hyderabadi infrastructure the people couldn’t do without — the railways, the power station, communications systems, road transport, post, telegraph, etc.

Seen in this light, one gets an inkling of just how unmanageable the situation can get for an army working under such constraints, and understand the impossible circumstances of the Russian land forces in Ukraine. And why they are moving and fighting so gingerly in the worst kind of mission that a conventional military can be asked to undertake.

For Russia, Ukraine is a site for an onerous ‘police action’; it is not a battlefield where anything goes.


This article published in The Print, March 6, 2022 at

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in arms exports, Decision-making, Europe, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, Iran and West Asia, Islamic countries, nuclear power, Nuclear Weapons, Russia, russian military, Weapons. Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to Russian forces’ actions in Ukraine show a dilemma like Indian Army’s in 1948 Hyderabad ops

  1. Sankar says:

    “… this is not a war of the kind the Russian military is geared to fight ….” –

    Not sure how one can draw such conclusion(s).
    Putin has repeatedly stressed as per international news, that Moscow’s aim is to “de-militarize” and “de-Nazify” Ukraine – Ukraine will not be partitioned either. I interpret “de-militarize” as making sure “no entry” for NATO in Ukraine. There is nothing more or nothing less.

    Russia has not embarked on a “blitzkrieg” on Ukraine as George Bush unleashed on Iraq. The war is going as planned. Putin has communicated this to Macron as per international news I have come across. I guess it will be like the Chechnya war which took more than a year of fighting to cleanse the Islamic terrorism there, and Russia won that war hands down.

    Furthermore, as for:
    ” It is clear the Kremlin did not bargain for the inspiring leadership of the young Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky” –
    Zelensky is by all accounts a US implant. His smooth TV appearance is just meant for an international gullible audience. He has broken all agreements and is very devious in negotiations. He has violated in-toto the Minsk agreement signed with Russia. He wanted to meet the Russian negotiators in Poland, and Putin has now forced him to meet in Belarus. All such ongoing meetings are coming with no outcome even as the war rages.

    Most interestingly, Israel has abstained in the UN voting against Moscow, thus siding with China, India, Bangladesh, the Middle East etc. This implies to my reading tacit support for the Russian stand by Israel.

    Only time will tell what the final outcome is going to be.

  2. Robin says:

    Well Indian army and paras have only 175K soldiers in Kashmir Valley – referring to what GOC of Chinar corps says. Would you contradict that?

    • Robin@ — Let’s accept GOC, XV Corps, at his word. It is 175K Indian soliders for some 16,000 sq kms of the Srinagar Valley. The same number of Russian troops are in Ukraine sized at some 603,600 sq kms.

  3. Ayush says:

    Stop extolling Putin for his invasion.He is going to carpet bomb all major cities to make them submit(Aleppo model).Of course, it will backfire as usual.Ukrainian soldiers will easily survive the bombardment in underground bunkers And come out only when the city is reduced to rubble enabling even better urban defense.Putin’s image as so called mil superpower has been completely shattered.His best T-80/90 tanks have reduced to moving coffins by javelins which were slyly supplied by US in the midst of “diplomacy” in dec-Jan.What is even more hilarious is that their tanks lack basic GPS and even night vision.They literally rely upon google earth and Ukrainian signboards for guiding them their targets, now both have been removed.Some mil superpower they are.

    Our security establishment is extremely rattled by whAts going in Ukraine.
    These drills were cancelled precisely to conserve ammo and avoid stripping LAC of combat airpower for a critical 24-48 hour period,I have learnt.My gramps has held a flurry of private meetings with senior intel officers . They are extremely rattled regarding how the situation is unfolding in Ukraine.They are frantically talking about Cuban missile crises and 1962

    • Ayush@ — No one ‘s “extolling” Putin’s actions. Only dispassionately analysing what’s happening. Everyone is being swayed by tilted Western media-led international coverage. Objective press coverage is hard to come by. “Carpet bomb”? Putin is going to do nothing of the kind.

      As to China contemplating a strike in Ladakh or elsewhere under the cover of the Ukraine crisis, that’s what I have been arguing Indian nuclear weapons are there for. Use threat of first use, I have been saying, to preempt any PLA misadventure. [Details in my 2018 book ‘ Staggering Forward’.] China has way more to lose than India — should it come to it — in a nuclear exchange. So ask your Gramps to calm down his junior colleagues in Intel agencies.

  4. Deepak says:

    Biden is a huge failure from mishandling Afghanistan exit to Russian invasion of Ukraine to failing to contain China to reducing the importance of QUAD.Trump was much smarter than Biden even with a flaw in his character.

  5. Sankar says:

    The following links give some concrete information on the war in Ukraine:
    along the lines I stated in my previous post.

  6. Amit says:


    According to several Indian military folks, apart from a delay during days 3-5 of the invasion, things are going according to the Russian plan. Most have said from a military angle, Russians are achieving their military objectives and that they have not used their most advanced weapon systems (PGurus interview yesterday with a major (forget his name), MG Sinha, MG Bakshi). Only LG Ravi Shanker has said that in his view the Russian Army has failed to outperform the Ukrainian army so far and they have been surprised by the Ukrainian response to defend key cities than take them on at the borders. But there is consensus that the Russians are not going hammer and tongs like you say. In fact many US military personnel are also perplexed by this, but the western narrative projects that the Russian military has failed badly. Many Indian military assessments also indicate that the West is winning the propaganda war. However, no one on the Indian side is talking about the larger strategic impact to Russia.

    The narrative in the West is that Russia has made a strategic blunder by invading and uniting the NATO against it, not just in the media but also top think tanks. They might achieve their immediate military objectives, but at a high cost. The sanctions will be so punitive that the Russian economy will contract by 35% or so. Additionally, even if Russia decimates Ukrainian military capabilities, it won’t be able to install a puppet government for long. And if Crimea, Donbass and the Black Sea ports are in Russian control, the united NATO front is willing to fund a long proxy war (up to 10 years if required). There is almost unanimous support for this kind of response. Oil sanctions may also be implemented if things get worse. However there is little discussion on the impact of these long term sanctions on dollar dominance and long term US global power. Except for Tucker Carlson, and a few think tank economists who are hesitant about the severity of the sanctions like de-Swifting. WSJ also had an article about this.

    My concern is that so far no one is seriously talking about de-escalating or compromise solutions. Maybe it’s too soon to expect this, but without compromise this could escalate to a wider conflict. Even with only economic warfare as the western response. But it is very interesting to note how the US is absolutely okay with the Ukrainians taking the proxy war hit and dragging this out like in Afghanistan, while Indian military analysts think it is immoral. I have my doubts though about how long the EU would tolerate this.

    In the meanwhile there is extreme frustration with the Indian response. Even a normally sober analyst like Lisa Curtis has said that being neutral with Russia will not help it with arms supply in the future and India should support the US now. My take is that India will remain publicly neutral and have limited bargaining power with the West with additional sanctions, which impact India and the world negatively. And the utility of Russia in military matters will be less to India. I can’t see any scenario in which Russia comes out stronger from this conflict (though they would achieve a military victory), which is not good for India in handling China. Plus the neutral stance will also weaken Indian relations with the West. How would this benefit India? Maybe if India mediates in ending the war it’s stock could go up? Our think tanks are pretty silent on the strategic implications of the Indian response.

    • Amit@ – Look, American analysts, generally would wish India to denounce Russia, etc., and they are bound to bring up the bleak prospecrts of bilateral relations, and so on. Other than the Modi government’s singular success with its Gulf policy there’s not been another policy that I have more fully agreed with than the approach it is taking on Ukraine. Our concern has to be with furthering the national interest, not with winning brownie points either in Washington or even in Moscow. India is simply too pivotal a power for the US or Russia to disregard/disrespect for any reason; therefore leverage in dealing with either or both will always lie with Delhi.

      • Deepak says:

        Sir,Why US is treating Russia as enemy number 1 instead of China?
        Economically Russians are far behind US.Why Biden is soft on China and hard on Russia.I think if Trump would have been there then there would have been no Russian invasion of Ukraine.

      • Biden is an old Cold War war-horse and Russia is what he has on his mind.

      • Amit says:


        My instinct also supports India’s neutral position. And India cannot change its position now. But I also see a weaker Russia down the road more in China’s camp. You are right about Russia still wanting to maintain ties with India due to its suspicions of China. Could China influence Russia more on Indian military supplies? It’s a possibility.

        Additionally, I hope that India’s relations with the US remain unimpacted and the US remains focused on a China as the primary threat. But there is talk in the US of reorienting towards Russia as the primary threat and reducing tension with China. This would be a nightmare scenario for India. At the very least some US politicians will attack the Indian position publicly, while sober heads might prevail in The administration.

        Then there are scenarios where India takes some independent positions on non dollar trade etc., which could completely change US power dynamics. I just hope India plays this well.

        As I see it, the US blundered before the war by unnecessarily taking on Russia and China. After the war, its position has strengthened due to NATO unity. But with the war Russia seems to have blundered as long term it’s position will be weakened. China had already blundered by taking on everyone at the same time. India was right in keeping focus on China and reducing tension with Pakistan before the war. However, after the war, while its long term approach seems right, there are major risks to its position – some which are bad, and some in which it could enhance its position.

  7. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    Hyderabad ultimately was an example of how all wars in the subcontinent are fought like riots. They are riots because these continental wars are ultimately between two illiterate populations and their armies bred in a colonial culture on both sides. There being no real distinction in economic vision which is a vital element of national existence. And on both sides, the existence of populations and their armies which remain forever high on their respective opium of religion. The need to re-educate the civilians was not present nor felt. So basically the Hyderabad Action ended the day it ended. Next day there were riots and a few days thereafter everybody on both sides became enlightened citizen.

    Russians challenges are substantially different – highly skilled populations on both sides, compulsory draft on both sides, no underlying religious tensions, armies that function under an officer class that may still be devoid of political indoctrination by the Right Sector. Aidar and Azov were most likely needed because it was not easy to indoctrinate the Ukrainian military. From the casualty figures, it seems that the Ukrainian military is either substantially immobilized or not keen in offering resistance. In the Russian case, there is a felt need for a military support to the continuation of process of de-nazification. I cannot think of a way of achieving de-nazification, without a robust military component to the process.

    De-nazification, I would imagine, must involve the following and these milestones cannot be achieved without military power and military intelligence :
    (1) shaping the frontline in a way that results in sending off, of the neo-nazis alongwith their families into continental europe,
    (2) holding ground and ultimately making an example of whatever neo-nazi presence is left inside or is sent into Ukraine,
    (3) offering an alternative if the other side can appreciate it eg. re-establishing a national military with a better balance of recruits who have a personal interest in ensuring that the civilian populations remain tied together even when the Russians leave,
    (4) taking over or physically bombing-out of the old education system producing these neo-nazis and establishing a new one which takes up as its primary purpose, the need to provide equal rights to the not so small minorities,
    (5) tearing down all economic systems and resource extraction orgies that these neo-nazis have fattened themselves with,
    (6) constitutionally enforcing a new ideology that formally and institutionally attacks any thought of an Anti-Russia on the Russian border-lands,
    (7) bending the oligarch’s back to the amended constitution.
    Unlike the Hyderabad Action, this Russian action will keep going for may be 2-5-8 years with the Russian military remaining involved all through and that is why it is a special operation and not an invasion simpliciter. It is perhaps for this reason that several westerners are salivating at the thought of seeding a new terrorism.
    Perhaps also, the right model for this war, is the Civil War of USA, but one that needs to be kept a lot less brutal and much more professional. The tussle being mainly of the socio-economic vision and the fate of the statehood.
    There is a terrible paucity of information from the Russian side. Igor Konashenkov comes online and quite funnily begins speaking Russian to the world. But the Russian reporting is pretty professional and consistent. They have officially acknowledged the oath that the Ukrainian servicemen have taken and respect that. The flag incident you highlight is not exactly representative of the ground situation because a Mayor is always a political animal otherwise how can one explain a boxer as one. On the other hand there was a video put up by a youtube channel which shows people lining up for relief supplies from the Russians flying their national flag on their relief trucks, while the long queue starts from a Ukrainian flag hoisted much higher and much farther away. Most likely the Russian armies have been instructed to not dis-respect the Ukrainian national symbols. At least I heard somewhere that the 5000 words of Putin had been mandated as essential read for all Russians servicemen deployed in the special operations.

  8. By email from Lt Gen JS Bajwa:

    Gen Bajwa
    bharat karnad

    Sun, 6 Mar at 7:13 pm

    On what basis have you come to the figure of 6,50,000 troops in the Valley? I hope not Pak ISI data??
    In fact there are two Infantry Divisions that are wholly committed to occupying defences on the LC. It includes all the BSF in Kashmir Valley too. I will not mention the number of brigades and the number of battalions in each for obvious reasons. Since I commanded one of the Divisions deployed along a frontage of 300 km on the LC.
    In the Valley are two RR Force HQ with 3/4 RR Sectors each with 4/5 RR Battalions. Even if each Force HQ has 4 x Sectors each which in turn have 5 x RR Battalions each, the total strength comes to 40,000 and that is based on 100 percent presence of soldiers in the unit (none on leave or undergoing the pre-induction training which is necessary in RR Battalions as, unlike Infantry Battalions, the soldiers are there on a tenure basis for max 2-3 years).
    By your reckoning therefore, there are nearly 6,00,000 personnel of the J&K Police and CRPF??
    Your figures are grossly exaggerated and inflated mainly for ‘effect’!!
    For you to review.
    Jiti Bajwa

  9. Jiti Bajwa@ — Yes, I took the 650,000 figure from the Net. But my argument in an earlier correspondence — see above — still holds. !75,000 Indian troops in XV Corps sector to control 16,000 sq kms of the Vale, versus the same number of Russian troops in ops against Ukraine.

    • Debanjan Banerjee says:

      Dear Dr Karnad, as a comparison, Pakistan maintains only 70K troops in Balochistan which is apprx 350,000 sq km in size.

  10. Debanjan Banerjee says:

    Dear Dr Karnad, Pakistani pm Imran Khan is alleging that the West wants to topple him because he wants non-aligned foreign policy for Pakistan when it comes to Ukraine. I would love your opinion on this. Do you believe Mr Khan is right when it comes to Pakistani neutrality on the Russia Ukrainian issue?

  11. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    @Peofessor Karnad, I came across this article today;

    As per the aforesaid link, this place should be fully functional by now. What’s your opinion about it?

  12. Amit says:


    Most Indian military and strategic analysts have indicated that the Russian attack has been very restrained to avoid casualties etc. You also state that it is like a police action rather than a military operation. LG Ravi Shanker is probably among a few who thinks that the Russian military has clearly underperformed.

    Yet almost all the top think tanks in the US which include senior intelligence, military, diplomatic, political and educational experts, have indicated while they are surprised by the lack of a quick and effective assault, it has been a military debacle so far due to poor intelligence, conscript forces, lack of coordination on the ground, poor logistics and low morale of the Russian troops.

    I wonder why such a big difference in the ground assessment exists. Is the Indian assessment based on ground intelligence from the battle zone or is it more an analytical assessment based on reports of what is going on? Most of the US discussions I’ve watched don’t seem like propaganda, but a serious attempt to understand what’s going and to explain the facts.

    • US intel and mil assessments have been so wrong so often, suggest you don’t give ’em too much credence or hold them as a metric. Indian analyses, insofar as I can tell, are all based on Putin’s policies and developments on the ground as reported by international, not just US, media.

  13. Sankar says:

    @Professor Karnad:
    The following are two diametrically opposite assessments of the continuing war:
    What will be your evaluation of the two from the military strategy perspective? Does the size of the state of Ukraine matter as pointed out by the British officer?
    Thank you.

    • In military terms, the size and strength of the targeted state always matters.

      • Ayush says:

        Indian generals like the foul mouthed retired Major General Bakshi extol Putin because they are addicted to buying Russian garbage hardware.These are the same officers who still advocate 1980s-era Soviet tactics.They can’t understand why Ukraine is kicking Russian a** so hard as they are clueless about how 21st century wars are fought. Putin is not carpet bombing cities simply because he can’t , no air superiority. Ukraine has shot down 50+ Russian jets. Moreover, russias ELINT/EW has absolutely failed .

      • Are there any authoritative non-Western sources for the aircraft downed, etc?


    Many prominent Indian analysts like David Devadas want a reapproachment between the Russians and the West in order to present an united triple front of the West-Russia-India against the Chinese. The prominent Chinese analyst Hu Xijin believes otherwise in an article in the website. I am giving below some key points of his thinking :

    1. Russia cannot ditch China to join the US since unlike the Soviet Union which was very domineering and aggressive towards the Chinese, the Chinese are having their best ever relationship with the Russians. Therefore there is much less reason for the Russians to ditch the Chinese in favor of the Americans.

    2. The second point is historical. Since the American uniploar moment in the 1990-s, Americans have learnt to call the shots in Europe and it will be very difficult for them to accept Russia having viable interests in Europe or the post-Soviet space. This American mindset has not helped Russia-USA reconciliation in the long run.

    3. The most important part is that the Chinese do not want to go to war against either the US, Russia or for that matter the Indians. What they want to ensure is that their society and their civilization outlasts all these other competing civilizations. What they are going to do is to sit back and calculate their benefits as both the Americans and Russians go about and blast each other in Ukraine.

    The original article is here :

  15. Amit says:


    I’m finally starting to see more policy influencers come out against the current US policy to stop the war. Emma Ashford has written a brilliant article in Foreign Affairs about why the US should course correct and change its policy to stop the war. I’ve watched her discussions and analysis – excellent! I hope the Indian MEA is putting counter pressure on the US to stop the war. The US is plenty responsible to bring us to this state of affairs.

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