Russia’s callousness towards its own soldiers undermines its combat power | Jack Watling

Ohen senior British officers visited Moscow in the days leading up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russian Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov bragged that he commanded the second-largest army powerful in the world. A week into the conflict, however, the performance of the Russian army was dismal. The gap between Russian military expectations and its actual performance shows what it has learned and what it has not learned over the past 14 years of military modernization, and how likely it is to continue its war in Ukraine. .

After its unsatisfactory combat performance during the 2008 invasion of Georgia, the Russian military embarked on a sustained program of rearmament. Russia pours about $159 billion a year into its armed forces, measured on a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis. This created a force with a large fleet of modernized main battle tanks, artillery, air defenses and long-range cruise and ballistic missiles. While during the Cold War the Soviet military expected to depend on nuclear weapons to win any high-intensity conflict, the modern Russian military aspired to fight with speed and precision.

Along with this rearmament, there has been a growth in the conceptual importance of non-lethal military activity. Obsessed with “color revolutions”, the Russian military began to use intelligence officers and special forces to try to divide opposing societies from within. The theory was that if an enemy’s forces can be turned against themselves, if information can be controlled, and if confidence in a country’s rulers can be shaken, then victory could be achieved with a use minimal force.

Russian military operations since 2008 had partly validated Russia’s expectations. In Crimea in 2014, the combination of info ops and speed saw the peninsula seized almost without a fight. In the Donbass region and in Syria, the Russian army found itself with contained conflicts against enemies who could not retaliate effectively. In Syria, it was because of the capacity limitations of the Syrian opposition. In the Donbass, it was because Ukraine was politically deterred from counterattacking decisively by the threat of escalation. In these combat laboratories, Russia practiced the integration of electronic warfare and artillery, began to link its special forces and air forces, and demonstrated that it could manufacture and use precision weapons.

However, it is important to note the limits of the Russian experiments in the Donbass and in Syria. First, the scale of Russian operations in both countries was small. The Russian Air Force may have bombed hospitals with precision, but it did so with flights of two to four aircraft during the day against an adversary with very limited air defenses. Russian ground forces rarely operated in larger formations than company groups of a few hundred. They were also disproportionately special forces or mercenaries. They weren’t always brave, but they were psychologically prepared for battle.

The invasion of Ukraine is a very different war. Russia deployed over 190,000 troops against a Ukrainian army of over 200,000 troops and many other volunteers. Simply preventing units from being trapped in massive traffic jams requires a feat of planning and coordination. Against an enemy with an air force and air defenses, Russian pilots must fly low, at night, while synchronizing the passes of multiple planes against their targets without crashing into each other. Doing this reliably takes a lot of experience and training. While some Russian units are very capable, the skills of the forces she has sent to Ukraine vary wildly.

The cause of Russia’s military debacle in Ukraine, however, lies in its insensitivity to human, Ukrainian and Russian life. Throughout the war in Donbass, families of Russian soldiers killed in action learned that their loved ones had died in training accidents. In Syria, Russia has orchestrated the targeting of civilian infrastructure to break the will of the resistance, while waging a relentless propaganda campaign against civilian medical organizations trying to save lives.

For the Ukrainian people, seeing what Russia has done to Syria and Donbass, the will to resist is strong. Putin described the war as the correction of a historical mistake that brought Ukraine into existence. The struggle is seen by Ukrainians as existential. Russia’s attempts to divide Ukrainian society have therefore failed completely.

Russia’s callous treatment of its own soldiers, though concealable on a small scale, has now had operational repercussions. Having failed to tell his troops that they were about to go to war, his army was left unprepared, logistically and psychologically. Morale is low, which limits the combat power of the Russian forces. With too little time to plan, Russian logistics and communications are in disarray, slowing its pace of advance. This gives the Ukrainians crucial time to prepare their defenses and organize a prolonged resistance.

Unfortunately, the failure of Russia’s early thrusts into Ukraine means that it has now reverted to a more traditional reliance on heavy artillery and the environment of Ukrainian cities. This bombardment is indiscriminate and systematic. The goal is to break the will of the military and civilian defenders, depriving them of water and food and killing them with fire. This is currently underway against Kharkiv and Mariupol, and the Russians are trying to position themselves to similarly attack Kiev. Putin set out to unite a like-minded people. Instead, he makes a desert and calls it peace.

About Sharon Joseph

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