Winning: How Russia Lost in Ukraine


October 11, 2022: Russian military performance in the 2022 Ukraine War has been an epic failure. Six months into the war, Russian forces are on the defensive. Since then, Ukrainian troops have been constantly advancing and the Russians not only failing to defend themselves, but surrendering in large numbers or fleeing and leaving their undamaged armored vehicles behind. High resolution commercial satellite photos of the battlefield appeared regularly and allowed an international network of civilians to scrutinize the photos and pool their data via websites (like Oryx) and provide accurate accountings of vehicle losses on both sides. Russia lost most of the vehicles, especially the armored ones, they sent into Ukraine. Russian vehicles losses were four times that of the Ukrainians and Ukraine actively recovered and repaired damaged vehicles belonging to both sides. A unique feature of this war was that both sides were using the same armored vehicles. That was because, until 1991 Russia and Ukraine were both part of the Soviet Union and Ukraine was a major center for Soviet armored vehicle design and production. About half the Russian armor losses were vehicles that were abandoned or captured intact. Because of a flaw (the auto-loader design) there were few “damaged” tanks because any armor penetrations usually caused the vehicle to explode, often with such force that the turret was separated from the tank. The Ukrainians had anti-tank missiles with top-attack capability, which usually destroyed the Russian tanks being attacked. Ukrainian 125mm tank gunfire was actually less lethal, especially when that 125mm shell was fired by a crew of poorly trained and inexperienced Russians. Worse, Russian troops quickly noticed their tanks were easily destroyed by the Ukrainians so most Russian tank crews would abandon their vehicles once they realized their unit was under attack. Six months into the war Ukraine was able to deploy a larger and more effective tank force than the Russians. Ukraine also came up with ways to defeat the Russian artillery and air force superiority. Seven months into the war it was clear that Ukraine’s counter-offensive was continuing and the Ukrainian mobile force (tanks and other armored vehicles) expanded as the Ukrainians put their growing number of captured Russian vehicles into Ukrainian service. This usually took a few days, at most, as each vehicle was checked out, repairs made and the vehicle repainted to remove the prominent white Z that identified all Russian vehicles with the Ukrainian V, often with a Ukrainian flag on the radio aerial.

Ukraine had plenty of military veterans with experience operating these vehicles and mobilized many to teach the younger volunteers. Ukraine used more effective tactics, maintained the vehicles better than the Russians did and suffered a sixth of the Russian casualties. The Ukrainian were operating in friendly territory, the Russians were not. The Ukrainians had developed better battlefield communications while Russian combat leadership and support services were very bad. Ukrainian troops received regular supplies of food, medical care and the support of local civilians. This was especially true in areas where the Russians had recently been driven out.

The Russians had a shortage of effective combat leadership from the beginning but it got worse month after month as Russian officers suffered higher losses than their reluctant troops. Not to mention that the Russians threw the staff of all their junior officer training schools into the fighting during the two months after the war started. After six months Russian officers were too few, too inexperienced and too incompetent to provide effective leadership. There were a few exceptions, but over 90 percent of Russian troops and their officers were ineffective and often fled or surrendered, even if the Russians were on the defensive (in fortifications and facing advancing Ukrainians). Russia is seeking to force former soldiers to join, as well as anyone the recruiters can catch, to fight in Ukraine. While still in Russia these men are given assault rifles and, in many cases, only a few days of training. Those with previous experience are formed into tank crews or assigned to operate other armored vehicles. There are no longer enough trucks to support Russian forces, even with civilian trucks taken from firms idle because of the sanctions.

From the beginning, in February 2022, the Ukrainians went after Russian trucks, especially fuel tankers. These trucks were carrying supplies and Russia has been unable to replace its truck losses or maintain the flow of supplies to its forces in Ukraine. It’s now getting colder in southern Ukraine, where most of the fighting is taking place and most Russian troops don’t have cold-weather clothing. They can steal heavy coats and other items from Ukrainian civilians but that has been difficult because the civilians know to avoid much of the looting and Russian officers realize that soldiers wearing civilian clothing is not a good idea. New arrivals in Ukraine now spend most of their time trying to find food and stay warm. If the Ukrainians attack, most see surrender as the best option, even if their officers threaten to shoot those who disobey orders. Officers know that troops have fired back when fired on by their officers and most Russian officers in Ukraine are more concerned with staying alive than winning the war.

Vladimir Putin, the self-made president for life of post-1991 democratic Russia now prefers to be called the Russian term for a national leader (or “head”), rather than president. He ordered the invasion of Ukraine and is running out of other people to blame for the failures of the Russian military. Now he threatens to use nuclear weapons and, having made empty threats so often in the past, few people believe him. Despite the strict censorship he has imposed, along with new laws punishing those who report what is actually going on with the Russian military, a growing number of prominent Russians are speaking out. It’s a similar crisis to the one that led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. In this case there is no union to dissolve and an incompetent leader threatening to start a nuclear war that would likely hurt Russia more than anyone else. As in 1991, there is not an armed revolution brewing in Russia but a general agreement that the current government is not working and has become a danger to most Russians. This has happened several times in Russia since the 19th Century and each government collapse is dangerous to Russians and neighboring countries as well. Given the unstable situation with Russian forces in Ukraine and the government in Russia, the crisis will be resolved, one way or another, before the end of 2022.




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