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Military Experts Ponder Mystery of Russian Performance in Ukraine

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tags: military history, Russia, Ukraine



Why did Russian President Vladimir Putin decide to use military force to achieve his political objectives in Ukraine? Perhaps because recent experience has taught him that it works. In Georgia in 2008, Crimea and the Donbas in 2014, and in Syria starting in 2015, Russia achieved its objectives at relatively little military or economic cost.

We can say with some certainty that the 2022 war in Ukraine has not gone that way.

As of this writing, nearly two weeks into the conflict, Russia has committed more than 90 percent of its planned forces to the fight but does not appear to have accomplished any of its strategic objectives. Ukraine’s government remains in Kyiv and in command of Ukraine’s military, and the Russians have taken only one major Ukrainian city, Kherson in the south, and even there the occupiers were met with significant protests by locals over the weekend.

The number of Russian troops killed is likely somewhere between the roughly 500 claimed by Russia and 11,000 claimed by Ukraine — even the lower figure is high for two weeks of fighting — and there have been widespread reports of desertions and low morale. Russian forces are massing around the capital, Kyiv, but accounts differ as to the degree to which they have the city surrounded.

It’s true that Ukraine’s military and civilian resistance has proved more effective than many expected, and the country has received more international support than anticipated, but some of the Russian forces’ difficulties are also clearly due to their own strategic mistakes and logistical difficulties.

How damaged is the Russian military — in terms of training, logistics and morale — and how much does it matter for the future of this conflict?

The first sign that this was not going to go quickly or easily for Russia came on the first day of the war, when Russian paratroopers attempted to seize Hostomel Airport northwest of Kyiv, which would have allowed them to airlift in troops to take the capital. But the paratroopers landed well ahead of the invading force, had little air cover and ended up in a violent struggle with the Ukrainian military that left the airport unusable. The Russians were forced to transport their troops over land.

Overall, the early days of the Russian invasion were characterized by small units moving on their own, without logistics support or air cover, getting into skirmishes with Ukrainian defenders. An example was a seemingly halfhearted attempt by small detachments of Russian forces to take Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, in the first days of the war. This spread-out and haphazard approach was baffling to some of those who study Russian military tactics, which typically emphasize heavy artillery.

“From what we understand, or what we thought we understood, about Russian doctrine, they’re doing everything wrong,” David Shlapak, a senior defense researcher at the Rand Corporation, told Grid. “They came in completely ignoring the principles of combined arms. They came in without employing artillery and firepower the way we would have expected them to. They undertook some fairly risky operations. Their doctrine is actually pretty clear on how they intend to fight. And they just didn’t do that.”

Read entire article at Grid

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