Today President Putin announced a partial call-up of 300,000 reservists, and repeated his threat on the use of nuclear weapons.
I have avoided commenting on the Russian invasion of Ukraine for some time now. I have very good friends and clients on both sides of the conflict, and what is particularly painful for me is to see so much wanton destruction, so many Ukrainian civilian casualties, particularly women and children; so many mass graves and evidence of crimes against humanity. It literally resembles a civil war in many respects. A totally unwarranted and unnecessary one.
This conflict is spiralling out of control in many respects, and as it does the risk of an unforeseen disaster increases.
On the occasion of today’s call-up, I wanted to make some brief observations about the conflict:
The Russian military strategy makes little sense from multiple perspectives. One point is concentration of military force and use of combined arms. Classic military doctrine pioneered by Heinz Guderian, Georgy Zhukov and others has proven the value of combined arms moving at speed, bypassing strongpoints and taking strategic objectives. During the Cold War, one of the main NATO fears was that the Warsaw Pact forces would use exactly this strategy at the Fulda Gap and other locations. Israel proved the concept again in the 1967 Six Day War. None of this is new, and Soviet (and indeed, Russian) doctrine, calls for exactly this kind of deployment. That’s not what we are seeing in Ukraine since the first days of the invasion.
The Russian strategy also makes little sense it that there does not appear to be a unified command, despite announcements to the contrary. Russian military forces in Ukraine include the regular armed forces; a sub-section of these forces that are parachutists and elite troops; a further subset that are conscripts; rear echelon forces supplied by Rosgvardia; mercenary forces under the Wagner Group; and “Kadyrovtsy”, troops supplied by the Chechen Republic. Moreover, these troops are divided into smaller battle groups, and then spread over a 1,200+ km front. The majority of them do not appear to be mobile or capable of high-speed combined arms maneuvers.
The Russian strategy has not made even a token attempt to cut Ukrainian supply lines from Poland. Given the example of so many military conflicts, ranging from the North Vietnamese supply of the Viet Cong along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, or the Taliban resupply via Pakistan, this failure is incredible.
Air dominance has not been achieved despite an overwhelming numerical advantage, at least on paper.
The Russian logistics tail has been problematic, exacerbated by Ukrainian attacks. There is a heavy reliance on rail transport, while captured Russian ammunition depots in Kharkhiv Oblast show a mismatch of the types of equipment needed versus what has been supplied. The main logistics hubs across the Ukrainian border into Russia are particularly vulnerable due to this reliance, and I anticipate heightened attacks against them.
Since May 2022, the Russian armed forces have been engaged in an urban war of attrition for military targets which are not strategically significant, but which also cannot otherwise be “pacified” due to the motivation of their Ukrainian defenders. This has led to an over-reliance on primitive artillery shelling, which at one point reached a reported usage of 60,000 shells per day over the summer. There is no way that the Russian arsenal will be able to maintain this level of usage over time—even taking into account forced replenishment.
Overall, the quality of Russian arms and material leave much to be desired. Deploying T-62 tanks or APCs taken from storage where they were placed during the Soviet Union cannot possibly work effectively. Media reports of Russian purchases of drones from Iran or equipment from North Korea confirm this. There is a severe shortage of equipment, and this is only going to increase as winter sets in.
The Russian Army has apparently not given up the Soviet Army doctrine of a missing layer of command between unit-level platoons and senior regimental officers. The role of NCOs and equivalent positions appears to be vestigial, with regular army units unable to take the initiative to change orders or exploit emerging situations. Micro-management appears to be the order of the day.
I have believed since May-June that the Russian army has been at the point of collapse. The rapid fall of Kharkhiv Oblast to Ukrainian forces confirms this. I believe that similar scenes will unfold in other areas quite soon.
But let’s discuss President Putin’s latest announcement. Even if the 300,000 reservists can be called up:
How long will training and equipping take?
Will they be any more motivated to fight than the armed forces already there?
How will they be equipped?
Will there be any difference in the quality of leadership?
The answer to all these questions indicates that there will be no systemic change in the Russian order of battle. Just more of the same.
But as I’ve mentioned in other posts, the Ukrainian armed forces continue growing stronger. I expect no respite in winter warfare. Indeed, the winter will be a brutal one for civilians and the military together. And the dangers of a Russian collapse will only increase.
Which brings me to my final point. A Russian military collapse is almost sure to trigger disastrous consequences. It is difficult to see how President Putin can survive such a defeat. Which means that the risks of an escalation increase beyond the merely theoretical to the visible.
What kind of an escalation would that mean? Almost certainly the deployment of weapons of mass destruction, either overtly or as a false flag attack. Or equivalent, for instance the apparent melt-down of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
I therefore believe that we are now entering the most dangerous part of the conflict, and one where there are few good outcomes to a process of escalation.
Photo (c) Reuters / Shamil Zhumatov
26 February 2022
27 February 2022
2 March 2022
11 March 2022
20 March 2022
22 March 2022