Russia: The Survival Plan

Archives

October 3, 2023: The war in Ukraine has led to massive losses for Russian forces. So far, over 270,000 Russian troops have died in Ukraine and most of their modern tanks have been destroyed as well as many other armed vehicles and artillery systems. Aircraft losses have also been heavy, even though Russia sent few warplanes or helicopters into Ukraine because of the formidable Ukrainian air defense systems. The Ukrainian Russian era air defense systems have been augmented by more reliable and effective Western systems. Another reminder of this was the recent Russian friendly fire incident where one of their S-300 systems shot down a Su-35 fighter, one of the most modern jet fighters Russia has. The more reliable and capable Western aid defense systems made it clear how backward the older Russian systems are. The S-300 was designed in the 1980s and hasn’t been updated much by the Russians. The short range S-125 system was designed in the 1960s and performs poorly against aircraft with modern electronic and decoy defenses against Russian SAMs (Surface to Air Missiles). Russian air defense forces have found it difficult to obtain replacement parts for older missiles used by the S-300 system. Without that kind of maintenance, S-300 missiles are less reliable and accurate. Ukrainian forces still have some of these S-300 systems in use and they find the more recently deigned and better maintained Western systems far superior. Russian allies like North Korea and Iran are eager to receive S-300 systems as these are an upgrade compared to the even older Russian SAMs they currently have. Ukraine has taken better care of its S-300 and S-125 systems and made them more reliable and effective than the ones the Russians use. The Ukrainians are more enthusiastic about doing this because it protects their homeland. The Russians lack that motivation and it shows up when their S-300 systems are not as effective as the Ukrainian ones.

Russia is also losing tanks faster than Ukraine and unable to replace their tank losses as efficiently as the Ukrainians. Russia has limited tank production capability while Ukraine is receiving more tanks from NATO countries than Russia can match in numbers of capabilities. Ukraine also has its own tank production and repair facilities. These have been subject to Russian missile attacks but have been repaired and again producing and repairing tanks, including some sent by NATO countries. Those nations are also involved in the operation of the Ukrainian tank repair operations. Russian tank losses since early 2022 have been much heavier than Ukrainian losses. This means that currently Russia and Ukraine each have about the same number of tanks. A growing number of Ukraine tanks are Western models like the M1, Leopard 1 and 2 and British Challengers. Russia has T-72s, T-90s and T-80s. Ukraine also has some T-72s and T-80s but has found the Western tanks much more effective in combat. The portable anti-tank missiles supplied by NATO are also superior to similar Russian weapons and have accounted for about half the Russian tanks losses in Ukraine.

One of the economic impacts of the war in Ukraine is the decline in the value of the Russian versus the dollar. Recently the value of the ruble reached a record low of 100 rubles per dollar. After the Soviet Union dissolved most of the 1990s were spent with the new Russian economy getting used to the real world. By the late 1990s the Russian currency had reached a realistic value versus the dollar (about 30 rubles per). In 2017 it was 60 rubles per dollar. In 2016 it hit 80 rubles to buy a dollar and in 2023 hit 100 rubles. All of these declines are because of low oil prices and sanctions. More sanctions were imposed in 2018 as the U.S. unilaterally sanctioned about a hundred Russian business and government officials for their role in various illegal activities. While the travel and banking sanctions applied to these people is a minor inconvenience, being named and having your misdeeds explained is embarrassing and could cause long-term problems. After the 2022 Russian invasion began in early 2022, the sanctions multiplied and remained a problem for the ruble, which briefly hit 134 rubles per dollar. After a few months that came down to 65 rules. Since then, the ruble has continually lost its value versus the dollar. This causes problems for Russian oil exports because the primary currency for international trade is the dollar. China has been trying to change that, but without much success. This is partially due to the current problems the Chinese economy is suffering from. Russia wanted to help itself and China by building pipelines for its natural gas and oil exports that used to go to Europe. These stopped when Russia invaded Ukraine. Europe coped with the loss of Russian oil and gas, something Russia did not believe possible. The Chinese pipelines may be equally improbable because of the cost and time required to make it happen. Meanwhile the value of Russian oil and natural gas exports declined from $49 billion a month just before the 2022 Ukraine invasion to about $31 billion now.

September 30, 2023: A year ago Russia declared the Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia were now part of Russia. Crimea had already been declared Russian. Russia did not control all the territory of these provinces and still doesn’t. The Ukrainian counteroffensive is reducing the Russian controlled territory in Ukraine. The Ukrainians living in the annexed provinces are not cooperating; this has forced Russia to bring soldiers and FSB (secret police) personnel. Some Ukrainians cooperate with the Russians and are labeled traitors by other Ukrainians in the province. Some of the traitorous Ukrainians are actually working for Ukraine and supplying useful information to the Ukrainians via like-minded Ukrainians in these provinces. These are significant numbers of ethnic Russians in these provinces, who tend to remain loyal to Ukraine but keep quiet about it. The Russian occupation forces are always looking to detect real or suspected traitors. Punishments often exclude being exiled to Russia. There is also a program of sending the children of uncooperative Ukrainians to Russia and keeping them there. This practice is particularly cruel and Russian leader Vladimir Putin was accused by an international court of war crimes for doing this. This somewhat limits Putin’s ability to travel outside Russia because of arrest warrants he is subject to. Putin is a former KGB (now the FSB) officer and that seems to influence his decision making. Putin seems to be aware of the widespread disloyalty in the annexed territories. This is evident in the large number of Ukrainians supplying the Ukrainian military with information on Russian activity in the province. Some of these Ukrainians join guerilla groups that carry out bombings, assassinations and sabotaging or destroying Russian military activities in the promise. In some of the annexed provinces, like Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, the guerillas are very active. Russian countermeasures require more soldiers and FSB agents. In Kherson and Zaporizhzhia the guerillas have survived Russian eradication efforts and continue with their disruptive activities. In all of the annexed provinces Russian activities, especially military ones, are difficult to keep secret from the Ukrainian military, which regularly launches guided missiles, air strikes or artillery fire at operations Russia is trying to keep secret. Russia can hide some things from aerial observation but not from so many local anti-Russian Ukrainians. This intelligence network even extends into parts of Russia where Ukrainians have settled, or been exiled to over the years. This provides work and headaches for the FSB. These Ukrainians also observe Russian military activity and report it back to the Ukrainian military.

Ukraine announced several joint-production programs with Western firms to produce modern weapons and military vehicles in Ukraine.

September 29, 2023: A Ukrainian UAV destroyed an electrical substation in nearby Kursk Province. This left many nearby homes, businesses and other facilities without power.

September 28, 2023: The Mali army and a small number of Russian (Wagner Group) military contractors have been unable, or unwilling, to carry on with that effort or prevent the Islamic terror groups from crossing the Niger border and advancing into Mali. Thes include an al Qaeda alliance called JNIM (Jamâ’ah Nusrah al Islâm wal Muslimîn, or Group for the support of Islam and Moslems) and the more violent groups like ISGS (Islamic States in Greater Sahara), which is one of the two ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) groups in the region. When they showed up in 2018, ISGS operated mainly in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, especially the area where the three borders met. Until recently those Islamic terrorists were a problem but now they are a real threat to the normally well defended capitals of all three countries. Islamic terrorist violence in northern Mali has left nearly 200 dead in the last month.

September 27, 2023: Russia and Turkey continue to keep troops in Libya despite agreeing to withdraw their troops. Both nations want to protect their interests in Libya with sufficient guarantees that their economic agreements will be respected. The UN and NATO oppose this because the Libyan Tripoli faction wants to legitimize an illegal treaty signed by them in 2019 granting Turkey some of Greece’s offshore oil and natural gas rights in an area between Libya and Turkey. This treaty ignored existing, and internationally recognized, Greek claims on that area. Turkey and Greece are both NATO members and NATO backs Greece in this matter. Turkey won’t withdraw its forces from Libya until a new national Libyan government assures the Turks that the illegal agreement is confirmed by a national Libyan government. Many people in both factions do not want to be stuck with a treaty that the UN and NATO consider illegal. Russia is no friend of NATO and is currently at war with NATO-backed forces in Ukraine. Turkey is also a NATO member but most other NATO members would like to expel the Turks from NATO. The problem there is the absence of any legal mechanism for that because, when NATO was founded, the threat to everyone was the USSR. Which dissolved in 1991. Turks and Russians are troublemakers in Europe and Libya is a foreign branch of that mischief.

September 26, 2023: Economic disruptions created by the Russian invasion of Ukraine had some beneficial effects. Two examples are the accelerated demise of the American ULA (United Launch Alliance) monopoly and the elimination of Roscosmos, the Russian government organization controlling all space program activities, as major competitors for new companies like SpaceX. Roscosmos has been on life-support for years and barely getting by on a shrinking budget. Ambitious plans to try and emulate SpaceX innovations are now on hold and rival China has taken the lead in trying to copy SpaceX.

September 25, 2023: Russia is having a hard time dealing the additional expenses created by the Ukraine War. While the salaries of the troops and operating costs of the peacetime military came to $85 billion, the additional wartime expenses included $34 billion for lost weapons and equipment as well as $21 billion for medical care of those wounded and $26 billion for compensating the families of those killed in combat. The latter is also a good way for foreign intelligence agencies to estimate Russian casualties. Those families, especially if they consist of a wife and children, need continued support. Without this compensation you cannot obtain volunteers who join to be career officers and NCOs.

September 24, 2023: The government has ordered mass production of its T-80VM tank to replace the many T-72B3M and T-90M tanks lost in Ukraine. While the T-80 was designed to be a successor to the T-72 line, including the T-90, that did not happen because the T-80 was more expensive to build and operate. The latest version, the T-80VM, purportedly solves most of those problems, especially if it is mass produced. That is why Uralvagonzavod (or (UVZ), the largest Russian tank manufacturing plant, has been ordered to retool and start mass production of the T-80VM. This will not be easy because it is expensive and the Uralvagonzavod plant has its own problems, especially bankruptcy. The government has supplied loans, to keep the Uralvagonzavod from going out of business. Uralvagonzavod has been bankrupt since 2016 and survived because of state-owned Rostec, a holding company that takes over failing, but essential defense firms, to keep them operating. Uralvagonzavod has produced tanks and other armored combat vehicles since World War II and continued after the war. After 1991, most of those military orders stopped but Russia has learned the hard way that, once a lot of these skilled workers are out of work, they use their skills to find new careers or even emigrate, and are virtually impossible to get back later. UVZ obtained enough orders for new armored vehicles or upgrading existing ones in an effort to maintain the workforce that, once lost, is extremely difficult and time-consuming to rebuild.

September 22, 2023: The senior Russian military leadership is still in shock over the catastrophic losses they suffered since they invaded Ukraine in early 2022. These losses are a military secret in Russia but widely distributed and discussed in the West. So far Russia has lost 279,000 troops (dead, permanently disabled, prisoners, deserters and missing), 13,000 armored vehicles (a third of them tanks), 7,000 artillery systems and over 8,000 unarmored transport vehicles used to carry troops, supplies, fuel, munitions and equipment. The loss of so many trucks has caused delays in supplying the troops and frequent shortages of essential supplies. There were also heavy losses of command posts and field headquarters. The Ukrainians have the ability to rapidly locate and attack Russian command posts and headquarters which appear in the combat zone. The heavy and constant losses of these crucial Russian C2 (command and control) facilities led to a breakdown in the ability to effectively deploy and control combat units. Russian soldiers who were captured complained of supply shortages, the lack of prompt or any treatment for casualties as well as not reporting the names of soldiers who died so their families would know what happened to their kin and claim death benefits. There was such a shortage of officers that troops often went days or weeks without seeing an officer. Even communication by radio was often absent. While cellphones were forbidden in the combat soldiers, many Russian soldiers had them and used them to report the lack of leadership, supplies and much else in the combat zone. Ukrainian intelligence has long monitored these calls and reported useful information to front line commanders and those who plan attacks with missiles or artillery.

September 21, 2023: Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky visited the United States and found that many Americans, including politicians, were less supportive of the Ukrainian war effort, mainly because of the huge cost to and the seeming lack of progress in driving the Russians out. Zelensky tried to explain how things actually worked in the war against Russia. The basic problem was that war weariness was common among Western nations, Ukrainians and Russians. Ukraine cannot afford to reduce their war efforts because they were fighting for their survival as an independent nation and doing all the fighting against the Russian threat NATO was founded to counter. NATO was effective in deterring the Russians and Russian admits that one of the reasons they invaded Ukraine was because it was not a NATO member, like most of Ukraine’s neighbors are. NATO members agree that once the war is over, and Ukraine still exists as an independent nation, Ukraine will be able to join NATO and the European economic union. NATO membership includes a mutual-defense clause. If anyone attacks a NATO member; all NATO nations will fight the aggressor. Russia accuses NATO of trying to surround and weaken Russia, forgetting that NATO is a defensive organization and the fear of Russian aggression is not unwarranted.

September 20, 2023: The War in Ukraine included numerous Russian missile attacks on Ukrainian military, industrial and civilian targets. While Ukraine was obtaining most of its weapons and munitions from NATO countries, Ukraine also had its own defense industries that were thriving before the Russian 2022 invasion. Before Russia turned on Ukraine in 2014, Russia was one of many foreign customers for Ukrainian military technology. By 2022, Ukraine and Russia were no longer supporting each other’s defense industries. While Ukraine had NATO nations as a wartime supplier, Russia was on its own and scrambling to cope with numerous economic sanctions imposed after they invaded Ukraine. Many Ukrainian defense industry personnel have detailed knowledge of Russian defense industries and what the key vulnerabilities are. This enables Ukrainian military intelligence to monitor Russian weapons production. Ukraine believes that Russia has nearly exhausted its pre-2022 stocks of Kalibr cruise missiles, Iskander tactical ballistic missiles and lacks the industrial capability to replace those stocks or even produce a significant number under wartime conditions. Ukrainian and NATO industrial intelligence efforts have identified Russian sources for key missile components that must be imported and which suppliers are willing to smuggle items into Russia. Smuggled components are a lot more expensive because the smugglers have expenses and must take into account losses when smuggled shipments are intercepted and seized. Russia also has to seek out and use alternative components to those it simply cannot obtain. This complicates production because the substitute components do not always function as effectively as the original parts.

September 18, 2023: The Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 had several negative effects on the Russian economy. One of the less obvious ones is a labor shortage. As Russia mobilized more and more young men, it deprived many manufacturing or maintenance facilities of key staff. Military-age men who had manufacturing or equipment maintenance skills were forced into the military, even though their employers warned that this would disrupt production if items needed by the military. Such exemptions were granted during World War II, but now the government decided that additional soldiers were more important than production of weapons and military equipment. What the government did not take into account was that, since the war began, nearly a million military age Russians have left the country. This continued even after the government outlawed the migration of military age men from Russia. Corruption in the government and military made it possible for military age men to get out of Russia. The government was told by employers that unless the government took action on the problems, production of key military items would continue to decline. Sanctions led to the loss of key components normally imported from Western suppliers. It took nearly a year for Russia to line up alternative suppliers as well as smuggling routes to get banned items to Russian factories or existing equipment like armored vehicles, warplanes and warships. There was little success in dealing with the labor shortage. Ukraine has identified Russian plants that produced key electronic components and recently began attacking them with armed UAVs. severely disrupting or halting production of key electronic components. Now Russia has to devote air defense systems to many of these plants. This is what the Ukrainians did for defense manufacturing plants after the war began. That led Russia to concentrate on urban areas and infrastructure targets like power plants and water distribution facilities. The sanctions plus Ukrainian attacks have reduced the number of land-attack missiles Russia can produce and use against the Ukrainian military. That led to Russia shifting its missile attacks to less well prepared and defended civilian targets.

September 17, 2023: Ukraine continues to develop and use new weapons. Those that perform well become “combat proven” and easier to sell to export customers. One example is the Bohdana 155-mm self-propelled howitzer, which is available in several configurations and is popular with Ukrainian artillerymen.

September 14, 2023: China believes that the Russian lack of progress in Ukraine is largely due to the failure of the Russian logistical system. The Ukrainian defenders went after Russian supply lines and that made it easier to destroy most of the Russian offensive forces. The Ukrainians did this from the beginning, attacking Russian supply convoys and leaving Russian combat forces stranded because of fuel and ammunition shortages. Russia underestimated the Ukrainian ability to take advantage of Russian efforts to remedy their logistics shortcomings, which were hampered by corruption in the military logistics bureaucracy. This was something Russian generals could only complain about because they could not fix it. Some Russian leaders realized the logistical risks but could not get needed support from senior political leaders to do anything about it.

September 13, 2023: Ukraine used a British Storm Shadow air launched missiles to destroy the Crime headquarters of the Russian Black Sea fleet. Over a hundred naval officers were killed, including several admirals. This further weakens the Black Sea fleet, which has already suffered heavy losses from a variety of Ukrainian weapons, including UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), USVs (Unmanned Surface Vehicles) and anti-ship missiles. Some of the USVs were modified to operate effectively while underwater. Storm shadow has a range of over 5oo kilometers and effective countermeasures to deal with Russian air defenses. Previously Storm Shadow and land based missiles were used to destroy most of the air defense systems in Crimea and Russia was having problems obtaining and installing new SAM systems. The current Ukrainian counteroffensive has involved destroying a large number of Russian air defense systems and Russia has not got the resources to quickly replace those losses. All this had made it increasingly difficult to protect warships and support vessels. Russia has sent in reinforcements from the Baltic and Northern fleets but the Black Sea Fleet is still understrength and suffering losses, especially for ships based in Crimea. Ukraine also launched attacks on Russian ships at the Russian naval base at Novorossiisk, which is east of Crimea and a major commercial port for oil exports as well as other goods. As naval bases in Crimea come under increasing attacks, Russia moved most of its remaining warships and support ships to Novorossiisk. Now Ukraine is attacking Russian ships at Novorossiisk. using unmanned speed boats carrying up to half a ton of explosives. Most of these attack boats were intercepted and sunk but some got through. Similar attacks were made against the Kerch Strait bridge, damaging the bridge and reducing traffic on a vital link with Crimea.

September 12, 2023: In North Korea, leader Kim Jong Un traveled on his armored train into Russia to meet with Russian leader Vladimir Putin and discuss trade issues related to the Ukraine War. Russia needs more munitions, as in artillery ammunition and unguided rockets. North Korea can also supply rifle and machine-gun ammunition but Putin is most interested in the artillery munitions, which Russian troops do not have enough of in Ukraine and Russia cannot produce enough to meet the demand. North Korea wants technology related to advanced nuclear weapons. Russia is able to send more food, but the nuclear tech is another matter. North Korea uses its primitive nuclear weapons to threaten South Korea and Japan. North Korea is militarily belligerent but has relatively primitive military capabilities compared to South Korea, Japan and the United States. China has long refused to supply North Korea with this kind of tech because of fears that North Korea would use it carelessly and recklessly. China disapproves of Russia providing this tech to North Korea. As a major economic trading partner with Russia, Putin cannot ignore the Chinese concerns. In the long term Russia needs China more than North Korea, but in the short term Russia needs more ammo, which North Korea will supply but China won’t. It may take a while for the outcome of the Putin-Kim discussions becomes public.

September 10, 2023: One of the less publicized Ukrainian advantages in their war with Russia is superior battlefield data collection and analysis. This means Ukrainian commanders have a better knowledge of what Russian forces are in or headed for Ukraine, and what they are likely to be doing. To do this Ukraine uses a combination of locally developed tools plus a wide array of Western and Russian sources. Ukraine built an elaborate and effective distributed system that constantly collects all this information and transforms it into a format that Ukrainian forces can use for finding targets, gauging their value, and suggesting what weapon would be most appropriate and effective to destroy or degrade the target. This explains why Ukrainian precision-guided munitions, air strikes and artillery are able to hit so many essential Russian targets. Ukraine also developed software that continually collects and analyzes online discussions by civilians about military activity and determines which reports are most useful. These are used as part of a data collection system that includes open source videos, satellite photos and radar images as well as overheard Russian radio and cell phone conversations. All this data is organized that military commanders can access to track nearby enemy units and their real-time activity. Ukrainian uses its locally developed Delta battle-management distributed system to organize this information and make it available to any Ukrainian on a remote device like a PC or cell phone because Delta is cloud based and equipped with a robust security system. Delta was certified as NATO compliant and is one of several Ukraine-developed apps that persuaded NATO to back Ukraine against the Russian invaders.

September 9, 2023: Ukraine has officially received nearly $100 billion in military aid. That number is inflated because many of the weapons and munitions were obsolete or, in the case of munitions, near or past their “use by” date. The older weapons were still useful against Russian forces. The Russians had few weapons that were as current or effective as the more modern weapons sent by NATO nations, and most of the older Western stuff was as good or better than what the Russians invaded the Ukraine with. Many of the donors are sending weapons they no longer use but had not disposed of. This includes older tanks, aircraft and ships that were put in storage just in case there was another conflict. Many of these reserve items have gone to Ukraine, including older German Leopard 1A5 tanks, IFVs (Infantry Fighting Vehicles) and MRAPs (armored trucks). These were a lifesaver for Ukrainian infantry, especially during the current offensive in southeastern Ukraine. Several NATO nations also had older IFVs to send to Ukraine. Using standard accounting methods, these older tanks and other armored vehicles are worth very little but, to the Ukrainians, most of these vehicles are better and more effective than anything the Russians had at the start of the war. Russia lost most of its modern tanks in the first months of the war to the modern portable anti-tank weapons NATO supplied Ukraine with before and during the war. The tanks Russia still has available are sixty year-old T-55s and fifty year-old T-62s, which are generally ineffective against Western tanks but lethal to lighter armored vehicles. Russia has limited numbers of these older tanks, and had to do some refurbishment on many of them so that these vehicles could be operational in a combat zone. Russia is still building newT-72s, which are an upgraded model with better armor and fire control than the older T-72s that were lost in early 2022. Economic sanctions limit the number of new tanks the Russians can build and these new tanks lack some features because they require components imported from Western nations. Russia is going into debt to pay for their war in Ukraine. Russia was economically weak before the war and never expected it to last this long or destroy so many Russian weapons. The Russian armed forces will come out of this war with far fewer heavy weapons than they had when they invaded. It will take five or ten years for Russia to replace the lost tanks, IFVs , artillery and artillery munitions. Current Russian strategy is to keep the war going a long time, on the assumption that Ukraine’s NATO suppliers will tire of providing Ukraine with weapons and munitions and be willing to force Ukraine to accept a peace deal that will include Russia remaining in control of some Ukrainian territory. There are already symptoms of that. For example, Ukraine recently replaced its Minister of Defense. The dismissed one was corrupt or tolerating corrupt practices that were diverting some of the money from the West to corrupt Ukrainian defense officials. The new Defense Minister was chosen based on proven ability to eliminate corruption and not tolerate efforts to revive the corrupt practices. Russia has far worse problems with corruption in its Defense Ministry, and among senior generals as well. Russia is less able to shut down this corruption because it involves Putin himself and his senior associates, so it goes straight down through civilian defense officials and senior officers all the way to supply sergeants. Ukraine inherited this culture of corruption after it became independent of Russia when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991.

September 7, 2023: In Germany Ukrainian crews are being trained to use the hundred or more Leopard 1A5 tanks they are receiving from Germany. Ukraine also received some of the more recent Leopard 2 tanks but Germany and some NATO allies had many more of the older Leopard 1A5s available. While an older model, the Leopard 1A5 is equal or superior to anything the Russians currently have. Most of the instructors are Dutch and Danish, because their countries had used the Leopard 1A5 more recently. These men were no longer in the military but volunteered their time to show the Ukrainians what they knew about operating the 1A5. Ukrainians with experience using older, Russian designed tanks, found the older Leopards to be an upgrade. Before the recent arrival of Western tanks, Ukraine used the same tanks, most of them T-72s, the Russians use. The Western tanks, even the older Leopard 1A5, are more effective, reliable and easier to maintain. The 1A5 is easier to maintain than the current Leopard 2.

September 6, 2023: China has noted that the Ukraine War is the largest conflict experienced between relatively equal forces since World War II. China is dismayed that its neighbor Russia started the war by invading Ukraine and is losing. The Ukraine war is improving Western weapons by demonstrating what works and what doesn’t and to what extent. Only the Russians and Ukrainians are fighting but Western nations are providing huge, as in nearly $100 billion worth, of military and economic aid. Russia has no such wealthy and generous allies. The West imposed severe economic sanctions on Russia and China is not going to violate those and trigger a ruinous trade war with the West. China would suffer the most and does not need that sort of thing right now. China is noting which weapons work and which don’t. China has provided Russia some economic and diplomatic support and privately criticized its impetuous neighbor for getting into a fight it couldn’t win. For example, China has helped Russia deal with its economic problems by lending them more cash and being patient about repayment or interest payment. China is providing many of the essential imports that Russia can no longer obtain from Western countries. For the communist Chinese, this is the second time the Russians have got themselves into trouble and turned to China for help. This first occurred in the late 1940s when Russia installed a communist government in North Korea while American forces occupied and soon departed from South Korea. Russia then told North Korean leaders they had an opportunity to unify Korea. Russia had supplied North Korea with lots of weapons and economic aid as well as military advisors to quickly upgrade North Korean forces to the point where invading South Korea seemed a reasonably good idea. North Koreans invaded and ran into far more resistance than they expected from South Koreans and the rest of the world. China had to send in lots of troops to prevent the North Koreans from being wiped out and North Korea being united with South Korea rather than the other way around. The war was a bloody stalemate and North Korea is still a troublesome neighbor for China.

September 5, 2023: Russian efforts to conquer Ukraine have not gone according to plan but in the Black Sea, Russian efforts to disrupt Ukrainian agricultural, mainly grain, and exports have had more success. Before Russia invaded in 2022, Ukraine grain and other agricultural exports represented ten percent of such exports worldwide. Most of these agricultural exports left by ship from Ukrainian Black Sea ports before the 2022 Russian invasion, with most being stopped by a Russian blockade. Russia offers to allow renewal of Ukrainian grain exports to get economic sanctions on Russia lifted. Before 2022 Ukraine exported about 33 million tons of grain and other agricultural products a year. Since the war began, that has declined to 13.5 tons a year. Russia normally exports three times more grain and other agricultural goods than Ukraine. There are no trade sanctions on Russian food exports and the more Ukrainian food exports Russia can block, the more Russia receives for its grain. In the last year Russia has shipped 60 million tons of food and is getting above average prices for it. Unlike Ukraine, which only ships grain from Black Sea ports, Russia has other options. Russia has lost a lot of support from African and Middle Eastern countries that depend on Ukraine and Russian grain exports. Russia assures these nations that it will supply the grain, but does not mention that prices will be higher because of the Russian disruption of food Ukrainian exports. Many of the nation’s Russia exports food to are relatively poor countries and the higher prices are a burden.

September 4, 2023: In central Iran (Isfahan) Russia flew in several Yak-130 jet trainers to the Shahid Babaei air base. The Yak-130 can also be used as combat aircraft. The Yak-130 is capable of performing many of the tricky maneuvers of Russia's top fighters like the Su-27/30, MiG-29 and many modern Western fighters. It can also perform as a light bomber. The nine ton Yak-130 has a max speed of 1,000 kilometers an hour and a flight lifetime of 10,000 hours in the air. The pilot instructor and trainee sit one behind the other, and two engines make it a safer aircraft to fly. The Yak-130 can carry an external load of three tons (of bombs, missiles or fuel tanks). Max range, on internal fuel, is 2,000 kilometers. Russia is selling the aircraft to foreign customers for about $15 million. In 2005 Russia decided to standardize on the Yak-130 jet trainer, and production began in 2010. So far, nearly 200 have been built and most have gone to export customers. The Russian military planned to buy up to 72. So far, exports have been made to Algeria, Bangladesh, Belarus, Laos, Myanmar and Iran.

September 3, 2023: North Korean arms exports have significantly increased recently because of the Ukraine War and continued fighting in Syria and Africa. International sanctions prohibit these exports but they are regularly smuggled out. Except for weapons going to Russia. There is a rail link with Russia and once in Russia the weapons can continue on rail to Ukraine or to the Pacific port of Vladivostok for movement by sea. North Korea can also put the weapons and ships for movement to China. The Chinese generally obey the arms sanctions to avoid getting hit with sanctions and other penalties for assisting North Korean smuggling. China does engage in smuggling, but to move Chinese made products to customers no one is supposed to work with. North Korean weapons also go to Iran, Egypt and Qatar. The North Korean weapons are not the highest quality available but adequate for customers looking for low prices and delivery to anyone who can pay. North Korean weapons and munitions factories have had to add additional shifts because North Korea had to use wartime stockpiles to meet the growing Russian demands. North Korea shipped the oldest munitions to Russia first because these items degrade with age and after a few decades they are useless. North Korea has been exporting most of its oldest munitions and replenishing stocks with recently manufactured items. Russia accepted a lot of elderly artillery rockets which performed erratically in Ukraine. These rockets are unguided so the accuracy is not an issue. The more recent munition shipments have contained much less elderly shells and rockets, which reduces the malfunctions. Russian munitions are notoriously unreliable even when newly manufactured. Range and accuracy is erratic as is the reliability of fuzes. This causes many Russian shells to land and not detonate.

September 2, 2023: Russian forces have been in Ukraine for 18 months and Russia refuses to disclose any information on the losses. Ukraine has a similar policy about Ukrainian losses but will share what they believe the Russians have lost so far, which is 250,000 Russian troops dead, badly wounded (disabled), deserted or captured. Weapon and equipment losses includes 4,300 tanks and 8,500 other armored vehicles, 5,300 mortars or howitzers as well as 729 MLRS (multiple launch rocket systems), 490 air defense systems, 315 fixed wing aircraft and 316 helicopters as well as 4,300 UAVs and 18 ships of all sizes.

These heavy Russian losses were the result of poorly trained and led Russian troops being on the offensive much of the time. Corruption in the Defense Ministry and army left Russian troops in Ukraine with shortages of supplies, replacements and even munitions. The poor leadership went all the way to the top, where Russian president Vladimir Putin accepted poor advice and carried out a poorly planned and supplied invasion and now is unable to withdraw Russian troops from Ukraine without endangering his own job. Putin blames the survival of Ukrainian forces on NATO assistance. There’s some truth in that because NATO nations, and some neutrals, have sent Ukraine nearly a hundred billion dollars of military and economic aid while also imposing crippling economic sanctions on Russia. While the Russian media is forbidden by law from reporting details of the disaster in Ukraine, Russian military-age men figured out what was going on and took measures to avoid being mobilized into the army and sent to Ukraine. One reason why the current Ukrainian offensive in southern Ukraine has been so successful is the poor morale of the few Russian troops still around to defend Russian occupied territory.

During the first year of the war Ukraine believed the Russians lost about 149,000 troops plus over 3,300 tanks, twice as many other armored vehicles, 2,800 towed or self-propelled artillery systems plus nearly 500 MLRS, nearly 600 hundred aircraft and helicopters and over two thousand UAVs. About 5,500 trucks were lost, including fuel tankers and cargo transports of various sizes.

Back in Russia, more men are being mobilized for the military. Ukrainian intelligence reported that the Russian government is considering mobilizing another 450,000 personnel in a possible second major mobilization. Inside Russia the government is having a hard time finding many military-age men for the war in Ukraine. This has led Russian mobilization officials to take desperate measures, like forcing migrant workers from Central Asia to sign up for military service if they want Russian citizenship and the right to seek work in Russia. Mobilization efforts are still seeking volunteers from men in prison. The military has found that these prison recruits are unreliable and often dangerous to local Russian civilians and their own officers. This highlights another problem; a shortage of officers. While new recruits can be trained in a few months, it takes over a year to train someone who is qualified to become an officer. There isn’t the time, or enough volunteers, to obtain many officers this way. That leaves “battlefield commissions” which selects soldiers who have become sergeants and survived several months in combat. This is now a major source of new Russian army officers but it still isn’t enough to replace the heavy officer losses since early 2022.The initial Russian invasion force was already suffering an officer shortage and that kept getting worse. Russian-language Internet chatter about the war often mentions the officer shortage and how it makes matters worse for Russian troops, especially new ones. For military-age men the threat of being mobilized and sent to Ukraine is considered a death sentence, or at least a situation that is extremely risky. Since the invasion Russia has enacted a law that forbids military age men from leaving the country. The growing number of Russian men showing up illegally in NATO and Central Asian countries and asking for asylum is a problem few expected.

September 1, 2023: Because of the risk of more Russian violence against Poland, the Polish government has ordered $13.7 billion worth of South Korean weapons in the last year. This included a thousand South Korea K2 tanks, most of which will be produced in Poland under license. The 55-ton K2 is similar to the American M1 but without annoying American export controls. K2 has a 120mm gun that can also fire guided missiles as well as extensive electronic systems and an autoloader. That means the crew size is three. South Korean troops began receiving the K2 in 2014 and currently have 250 of them. Ten were sent to Poland in late 2021 for evaluation. The Poles were impressed and, after Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022, Poland increased its order from 180 to a thousand, with 180 still built in South Korea and the rest in Poland. By the end of the decade Poland will have the largest tank force of any European NATO member and superior in quality, if not quantity, to anything Russia has. he K2 does not use any American tech and that means South Korea can freely export the K2 to anyone. The K2 has an improved 120mm gun, capable of firing an anti-tank missile, as well as the usual gun munitions. The K2 weighs 55 tons and outclasses anything Russia, North Korea, Japan or China has. The K1 outclassed North Korean tanks but the K2 is better protected and more capable. The K2 has a number of new electronic defenses. It will have a laser detector that will instantly tell the crew the direction the enemy laser beam is coming from. Most tanks use a laser rangefinder before it fires its main gun. The K2 fire control system also enables the main gun (120mm) to be used to hit low flying aircraft (helicopters, mostly). There are also numerous improvements to the K1 mechanical and electronic systems, as well as more armor (both composite and ERA). This will make the K2 easier to use and maintain. An autoloader reduces the crew to three men. South Korean engineers will assist Poland in setting up the K2 production facility.

August 31, 2023: Russia continues its tradition of declaring reports of military failures as state secrets. Those who violate this policy are often punished. If many reveal or discuss openly these problems, the government backs off and promises that attention will be paid and changes made. This is especially true if critics use the Internet to communicate about the problems. A current example is the deplorable state of Russian forces in Ukraine. Russian commanders there are often corrupt and dedicated to enriching themselves at the expense of their troops. This often means commanders ignore their military duties and allow the enemy to take advantage of that.

This is currently happening in Ukraine. Russian troops have seen their supplies and transport destroyed or blocked by Ukrainian missile attacks and more effective use of artillery, armored vehicles and infantry. Russian use of poorly trained troops and shortages of supplies and modern weapons means the Ukrainian forces are more effective. This has helped the Ukrainians succeed during their current counteroffensive in southern Ukraine. That means Russian forces are facing better trained, equipped and led Ukrainian units which advance against even prepared Russian defenses because the Russian troops defending these fortified zones are equipped with less capable artillery and shortages of ammunition. The Ukrainians have more capable and more effectively used artillery that prevents Russian artillery from disrupting the Ukrainian advance through Russian minefields and around Russian fortifications.

Ukrainians locate and destroy Russian electronic systems that jam Ukrainian communications and disrupt use of Ukrainian UAVs to locate and destroy Russian artillery and supplies. NATO military aid included equipment to handle the Russian jamming, along with technical advisers to make equipment adjustments as needed. Russia had a limited number of jamming systems and once the Ukrainians figured out how to detect, locate and destroy them, the jamming became much less of a problem. This meant more accurate Ukrainian artillery fire against Russian forces.

Russian military commanders insist that their artillery personnel are capable of finding and accurately firing at Ukrainian artillery. In practice this is rarely true because most Russian artillerymen are not receiving much training before going to Ukraine and, once there, are expected to learn on-the-job. That can work in peacetime but not in a very active combat zone. Moreover, the modern Western artillery used by Ukrainian forces is more capable than the older artillery weapons the Russians have in Ukraine. This puts the Russian artillery at a disadvantage and the Ukrainians are taking advantage of it.

Lack of training for Russian troops and the less effective weapons and equipment they use results in more Russian casualties and lower morale. Senior Russian defense officials and military commanders appear unwilling or unable to remedy these problems. Ukrainian forces take advantage of this and the result is success when attacking the less capable and demoralized Russian troops, even in fortifications. While Russia is still officially committed to victory in Ukraine, most of those running the Ministry of Defense and the military are less certain they can make that happen.

August 30, 2023: Russia has suffered heavy personnel losses in Ukraine and is considering mobilizing about 450,000 more civilians into the military. This is needed to prevent front line units from wasting because of casualties, desertions and illness. Russia has had to establish additional military hospitals to cope with the larger number of wounded and sick. The exact number of dead and wounded in Ukraine is a military secret but the growing number of dead, wounded and missing soldiers is noticed by the families and they discuss their losses on encrypted Internet apps. This data often finds its way to Ukrainian and other foreign journalists. Russia is reluctant to increase the number of mobilized civilians because that is increasingly unpopular because of the growing number of combat losses. What is more obvious, at least to Ukrainian troops, is that Russian units are not receiving enough replacements to make up for combat losses. Captured Russian soldiers confirm the growing lack of replacements and the extremely long periods Russian units stay in the combat zone without any relief by fresh units. To maintain morale and combat capabilities it is customary for both sides to withdraw infantry units from the fighting for some rest, home leave, retraining and integrating new recruits into the unit. Without this downtime, which can last a few weeks to more than a month, combat units decline in per capita effectiveness. This happens despite increasing combat experience because too much time in the combat zone creates exhaustion and hurts morale, always to the point of sharply reducing combat effectiveness. The troops refer to the latter as combat fatigue or burnout. Most troops begin to suffer from combat fatigue after various periods, with generally an irrecoverable breakdown after 200-300 days total in combat. Taking troops out of a combat zone for rest and then putting them back into a less active combat area for a period (rotation) is the only way to deal with this. The United States developed other methods to keep career combat non-commissioned officers (NCOs) effective after the 200-300 day limits during the war on terror, involving more frequent and longer periods of time off, and with special treatment when off. Both sides are suffering from combat fatigue but it is worse for the Russians, most of whose combat personnel have not been rotated (ever), and who suffer from corruption in the military, especially among combat officers who cannot pass up opportunities or enrich themselves at the expense of the troops as Russian officers commonly do. The degree of such corruption varies from country to country and Russia was always one of the worst examples. During World War II there was a lot less corruption because Russian troops were defending the motherland from foreign invaders. That’s why Russian propaganda inside Russia depicts the fighting in Ukraine as a defensive war against NATO pro-NATO Ukrainians who are hostile to Russian claims that Ukraine is part Russia and not an independent country. Most Ukrainians disagree with this interpretation and are willing to fight to defend Ukrainian independence. Many Russians agree with the “Ukraine is part of Russia” claim and consider Ukrainians who disagree as traitors. NATO countries are accused of encouraging these treasonous beliefs among Ukrainians. Before the Russian invasions most Ukrainians did not want to join NATO because Ukraine already had treaties with Russia that recognized and guaranteed independence. Violating that agreement turned Russia into an untrustworthy and dangerous neighbor. Now Ukrainians want to join NATO but have to defeat the Russians first. The enormous military aid from NATO countries confirms to Ukrainians that NATO membership is preferable to trusting the Russians. Older Ukrainians who lived in Ukraine during the Cold War agree that the Russians cannot be trusted and that the Russian invasion is another example of that.

In Syria Russian air strikes against ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) still take place in eastern provinces, using Russian warplanes from the Hmeimim airbase near the Mediterranean coast.

 

Article Archive

Russia: Current 2023 2022 2021 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 


X

ad

Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contribute. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   contribute   Close