Attrition: Invaders Crippled by Desertions, Dissent and Delusions

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June 24, 2022: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February has failed so far, with enormous losses to Russia in terms of combat personnel, military equipment and the reputations for quality/reliability/effectiveness of Russian weapons and forces. Even the Ukrainians were surprised at how unprepared the invaders were for combat and dealing with Ukrainian superiority in weapons (often Western), leadership (all Ukrainian) and tactics. Russia’s leadership, especially supreme leader Vladimir Putin, was delusional about the continuing lack of military progress in Ukraine. Even Russians who thought restoring independent (since 1991) Ukraine to Russian control was a good thing and worth fighting for, began losing confidence in Putin’s ability to make that happen. Each time failure in Ukraine became obvious, Putin would come up with a new reason why Russia was winning, and each of these was soon shown to be false. Their currently alleged key to Russian victory is the disagreements among NATO members about whether Ukraine can win a military victory. NATO is in agreement about the Russia’s inability to win in Ukraine but many politicians in some of the larger, and more distant from the fighting NATO nations (United States, Germany, France and Italy) are openly doubting the Ukrainian ability to regain control of lost territory. Putin supports this attitude by continuing to threaten use of nuclear weapons if Russia is faced with losing all its seized territory in Ukraine.

One thing nearly all Russians agree on is that using nukes to avoid defeat in Ukraine is not going to happen. A majority of Russians now openly oppose the war even though Putin quickly created a law to make such public dissent illegal. That law’s failure soon became obvious in many ways. First, there are a growing number of anti-war demonstrations and physical attacks on military facilities, especially recruiting stations. Refusing to report when conscripted became more common. Another form of defiance is veterans of the Ukraine fighting providing details, based on personal experience, of why Russian forces are failing.

Many of these veterans are no longer in the military because they refused to renew their contracts. Many more soldiers remained in the army but refused to return to Ukraine and got away with it. Putin ordered that these soldiers be officially described, in their military records and military ID, as unreliable and unwilling to fight. In any other country a soldier who refuses to fight during wartime is subject to severe punishment, often execution. That still happens to reluctant Russian soldiers inside Ukraine where officers have the authority to shoot reluctant troops. Initially, as Russian casualties grew and progress was nonexistent, some officers did shoot troops refusing to fight. That soon changed as the troops threatened to, and sometimes did, shoot back (or, and ran over one officer with a tank). Ukrainian forces have provided additional confirmation of this violence and collapsing morale within Russian units. Many Russian troops will surrender to the Ukrainians at the first opportunity and admit it to Ukrainian, Russian and foreign journalists.

The number of Russian military personnel is declining because of the combat losses and veterans refusing to stay in, even though being a contract (volunteer) soldier is one of the few jobs Russians can get because of Western sanctions. The Russian economy is shrinking and unemployment, along with poverty, is increasing.

The Russian government responded by lowering their recruiting standards and accepting recruits or conscripts with physical, mental, legal or psychological problems that would normally make them ineligible for military service. Russia has also dropped age limits for volunteers and is willing to accept non-Russians as long as they can speak some Russian and are willing to fight. These efforts are not producing enough new troops to be immediately useful because most of them have no military training and at least two months are required to produce useful troops for combat. Conscripts, who cannot be sent into combat, require less training and are used for support operations outside Ukraine during their one year in uniform.

Reports from Ukrainian forces and recently captured Russian troops indicate that most BTG (Battalion Task Groups) are sent into action understrength by up to 50 percent. A larger percentage of the BTGs armored vehicles are in action but most of these are IFVs (Infantry Fighting Vehicles) with just the vehicle crew of three men to drive and operate the heavy weapons. Only some carry a few infantrymen as well.

This approach was supposed to provide a force that could advance after the Ukrainians had been weakened or wiped out by a heavy barrage of shells and unguided rockets. This has not worked because the Ukrainian dig in and enough survive to stop the understrength BTGs that withdraw if they encounter opposition. The Ukrainians also have shortages, but not of personnel willing to fight. The Ukrainians have at least 50 percent more troops than the Russians in Ukraine. The Ukrainians are more innovative and have lower casualty rates than the Russians. The innovation has given the Ukrainians better communications (Starlink, which works in moving vehicles) and the ability to prevent the (on paper) superior Russian air force from controlling the air space. This provides the Ukrainians with the ability to provide aerial surveillance as needed using UAVs and light aircraft. This makes it possible to use another innovation; ATVs (All Terrain Vehicles) and light trucks carrying anti-tank or other heavy weapons, troops or supplies held in reserve and able to quickly move to where needed to block a Russian threat.

Ukrainians are running short of artillery ammunition so they use their mobile artillery only for counterbattery (firing on Russian artillery). The Russians are also using artillery ammo at an unsustainable level and, if the Ukrainians receive more artillery ammo from NATO, Russia’s artillery superiority will fade. Vladimir Putin is encouraged by some major NATO nations (Germany, France and the U.S.) not getting promised weapons and ammunition to Ukraine quickly. He pays less attention to the military leadership in these three countries agreeing with the NATO nations closer to Ukraine about the Russian threat. Ukrainians point out that Ukraine cannot afford to leave the Russians controlling any Ukrainian territory. American, German and French politicians still believe peace negotiations with Russia to halt the fighting while arguing over how much Ukrainian territory the Russians would be allowed to keep in return for permanent peace. That won’t work. It was tried after 2014 and failed. Russia media confirms that loss of all Russian-held l territory in Ukraine would be the end of the current Putin plan to absorb Ukraine, the Baltic States, Belarus and portions of Poland. Failure here also means the Putin government is likely to end.

The sooner the NATO big three deliver promised aid as quickly as possible, the sooner the Ukrainians will be able to push the Russians out. Larger NATO nations complain that they are exhausting their own supplies of ammunition, but they are ignoring the fact that they knew this could happen during any major conflict. This was made clear during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war when NATO was shocked to discover that ammunition use rates in a major war were more than three times what they had planned for. The Russian invasion of Ukraine was not a surprise because the Russians have been seeking an opportunity to make it work for over a decade. The 2014 Russian seizure of Crimea and part of Donbas was more alarming to the new East Europe NATO members, who increased their rearmament efforts. The older NATO members thought Russia would be rational while the East European NATO members, and Ukraine knew better. The United States has more incentive to solve its inadequate war reserve (of ammo) problem because they face a threat from China while European NATO nations only face Russia and are willing to supply Ukraine with all the ammo and other support needed because the Ukrainians are able and willing to take the casualties required to expel the Russians. This has other benefits for NATO members because it has already demonstrated that Russian military capabilities were highly overrated and the Chinese are openly concerned that they may have to be realistic in the Pacific.

 


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