Murphy's Law: Russian Reality Check


February 1, 2023: Russian Internet-based war correspondents are a major source of what is actually going on with Russian troops in Ukraine. The Russian government has not (so far) tried to silence these reporters because the reporters can switch their reporting to encrypted apps, like Telegram, which Russia cannot block readers from viewing. Most of these correspondents support the troops, if not the generals. The truth has become more uncomfortable for Putin and his generals and now he threatens to ban the correspondents from the front lines. That makes it a bit more dangerous to be at the front, but not impossible. Most of these war correspondents agree that attempts to limit access to the troops will be just another embarrassing failure.

A current controversy is continued use of cell phones by Russian troops. Ukrainian intelligence can monitor these calls and that sometimes gets Russian troops killed. The Internet correspondents point out that Russia has failed to supply the troops with adequate military radios, which makes personal cell phones a dangerous but essential tool. They are basically the only tactical communications available below brigade level for Russian forces in Ukraine. Plus, Russian combat zone troops and their leaders communicate via text messages, which are quicker and quieter.

This government inability to supply the troops with proper military radios, or much of anything else, is reported by the internet war correspondents and used by them to explain the poor performance of Russian forces in the Ukraine. The Russian government appears no closer to improving this equipment problem or most anything involving the war. The one exception is the use of convict soldiers, which is a marginal improvement. A more permanent solution is to train new troops. This is being done, slowly, because of the shortage of instructors. Early in the war the instructors were sent to Ukraine to replace losses and most were eventually killed, captured or left the army.

It's not just a matter of training and equipping new troops, there are also the problems with Russian combat tactics and support. The Ukrainians are obviously more effective in both areas. The Ukrainians train their troops, supply them with competent leaders as well as proper weapons and regular supplies of food, fuel, munitions and battlefield medical care. Russian war correspondents sometimes mention this but they either do not entirely understand why this is so, or are afraid to discuss it publicly because the corruption which permeates everything due to underlings emulating their corrupt bosses from Putin all the way down.

They know that the Ukrainians have access to the American Starlink satellite-based communications system that is active over Ukraine to Ukrainians and not Russians. Russia says it will shut down Starlink but so far all their efforts have failed. Another blind spot is the fact that since 2015 the Ukrainians have concentrated on training, equipping and supplying their troops using NATO methods. NATO sent a lot of instructors to Ukraine between Russia’s 2014 and 2022 invasions, and now most Russians understand how important this difference was in the relative performance of Ukrainian and Russian troops. Putin ignores this sort of thing, but for his soldiers in Ukraine it is a daily and very dangerous reality. It means that Russian offensive operations mean a lot of dead Russians and far fewer dead Ukrainians, who will safely withdraw when the surviving Russians get too close and continue killing the remaining Russians. Even the convict soldiers had a difficult time accepting this and will desert. This despite the fact that convict deserters are killed if caught while non-convict Russian soldiers are not.

Russia’s Internet-based war correspondents report the inability of the government to remedy all these problems. Some limited efforts have been made to improve the quality of Russian troops but the shortage of experienced officers and continued shortage of adequate weapons, equipment and supplies is mystifying. Some of the braver correspondents do mention continuing corruption in the Russian military, but don’t relate it to greater social and political issues as that would implicate Putin and bring swift retribution.

In contrast the Ukrainian Volodymir (Ukrainian for Vladimir) Zelensky is a more competent leader and regularly cracks down on corruption by Ukrainian suppliers of equipment and other military services and supplies. In 2019 Zelensky was elected president of Ukraine on the promise that he would crack down on corruption which, while not as bad as in Russia. is still present in wartime Ukraine. This sort of thing makes a difference on the battlefield and is another reason the Ukrainians are winning.




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