Russia: Desperation Is Not A Winning Strategy

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November 30, 2022: Putin says Russia may need to mobilize five million men in order to defeat Ukraine. That is considered impossible unless Russia can carry out a mobilization on the scale of the mobilization carried out after the Germans invaded in 1941. In 2022 it’s the Russians doing the invading and there is no foreign invader burning down Russia to justify a major mobilization to defend the motherland. Vladimir Putin is no Josef Stalin and the Putin government has a lot less control over the population than Stalin did. Russians can, more easily and at less risk, fight back against government injustice. Putin’s actions are seen as responsible for the economic depression Russia finds itself in and the growing number of men forced to fight, and die, in Ukraine against better motivated armed and effective locals. State controlled media has tried to put the blame on NATO, but that has not worked. More Russians are discovering that it’s Putin, not NATO, that is bringing all this misfortune into Russia. Stalin never had to deal with the Internet or a generation of Russians who have experienced democracy, can see the differences, and do something about it.

Over five million Russians have permanently left Russia since Vladimir Putin took power in 1999. The exodus accelerated when he made his rule legally permanent in 2020. In 2022 Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine, the first of several conquests he proclaimed necessary for Russian survival. This is not working out because of disastrous mistakes at the top, while increased internal repression and external violence have crippled the economy (fewer jobs). That and forcing unwilling men into the army to fight in Ukraine have led to still more Russians leaving Russia. These departures are substantial and continually reduce the population and percentage of the population that is Russian. This is all about Putin seeking to increase Russia’s Slavic population and rely less on migrants from former Soviet states in Central Asia to make up the difference in numbers. This is worse because ethnic Russians have a much lower birth rate than new central Asian arrivals. This lower birth rate is similar to what is happening in most industrialized nations. When Putin became the Russian leader in 1999, there were 117 million ethnic Russians who formed 80 percent of the population. The other 20 percent were various “less reliable” minorities. That included Ukrainians. By 2020 there were 109 million ethnic Russians and 24 percent of the population was non-Russian. In 1999 the total population was 147 million while in 2020 it was 144 million. Russia added the population of Crimea (2.4 million) to the official total but that province belongs to Ukraine and the Ukrainians are poised to take it back.

In contrast, over half a million Ukrainians have volunteered or been conscripted to join the military since February. Ukrainian forces are composed of troops with more training as well as better equipment and leadership. In combat Ukrainian losses are less than half what Russia suffers. Training, leadership and better weapons and tactics make a big difference. Ukraine also assigns many of its troops to perform essential transportation, supply and other support functions that Russia neglects or puts less effort into. It should not be this way because Russia has over three times the population of Ukraine and an equal superiority in resources, but still does not acknowledge the importance of support services for the combat troops. As Ukraine turned to the West for new and more effective ways of doing things, they discovered, especially since 2014, that Western military practices were superior to what was still standard in Russia. For example, Ukrainians have, since the 1990s, sought to adopt a Western style of logistical support. Russian invasion plans depended on a quick victory because Russia did not have the logistical capabilities to handle a longer war. That turned out to be a major flaw in the Russian war plan and now they are feeling the impact of superior Ukrainian logistics support from NATO. For example, Russia has not been able to supply its troops with as much artillery ammunition as Ukraine is receiving. Ukraine and NATO nations have increased their artillery ammo production far above what Russia can produce. The Ukrainians also continue to use their artillery more effectively than the Russians. This sort of situation has long been expressed another way; “amateurs study tactics while professionals study logistics”.

Speaking of logistics, the United States has been the major supplier of weapons and other assistance since 2014 and most of the weapons shipped to Ukraine in the last year. That is costing the Americans less than six percent of their annual defense budget while Russia is seeing its military defeated and discredited while its economy suffers long-term damage. The war in Ukraine is diminishing the Russian threat to Europe. This is why many European NATO countries are spending even more (as a portion of their military budget) to support Ukraine. The main purpose of NATO has always been to protect Europe from Russian threats.

November 29, 2022: Russia has sent at least one of its Buk-M3 self-propelled anti-aircraft systems to Donbas. In 2014 it was an older Buk-M2 system that shot down a Malaysian Boeing-777 airliner enroute from the Netherlands. Russia tried to blame this on Ukrainian forces, but an extensive investigation proved that Russia was the culprit. That investigation finally wrapped up this year. Ukraine is receiving Patriot air defense systems and 250 heavy machine-guns with thermal sights to deal with the low and slow Shehed-136 cruise missiles.

November 28, 2022: Ukrainians were warned by their government that Russia would continue attacking the electricity generating and distribution system. Ukraine is more dependent on nuclear power for electricity than any other country in Europe and the Russians sought to take advantage of that. In response Ukraine has organized a large force of technicians to keep repairing damage to the electrical power facilities. Currently Ukraine believes that at least 20 percent of electricity will not be available because of continued Russian attacks. On the plus side, Russia is backing away from threats of a “nuclear disaster.” This is partly because the UN sponsored IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) nuclear risk inspectors made it clear to everyone that any catastrophe at a Ukrainian nuclear power plant would end up hurting at least as many Russians, and Belarussians, and other Europeans as Ukrainians.

Russians still remember the 1986 nuclear power plant disaster caused by the Soviets. This enabled the IAEA to get involved in demilitarizing the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant complex, the largest in Europe. The complex is on the Dnieper River in Zaporizhzhia province, which is adjacent to Donbas. Russia took control of the nuclear facility in February. Russia is using the threat of damage to the nuclear facility to force the advancing Ukrainian forces to retreat. Failure to comply will, the Russians imply, create another Chernobyl disaster and an even larger radioactive zone. A large region around the Chernobyl power plant is still highly radioactive because of the 1986 nuclear meltdown of one of the reactors. This nuclear disaster, which the Soviets tried to keep quiet, was quickly exposed as a major disaster and one of the reasons Ukrainians were so eager to leave the Soviet Union five years later. Most of the victims of the radioactivity were Ukrainian but there were plenty of victims in Russia and other nations.

On the second day of the invasion Russian troops arrived at Chernobyl and replaced the Ukrainian security guards keeping people out of the 2,600 square kilometers (thousand square miles) radioactive exclusion zone near the Belarus border. After 1986 about 250,000 people were moved from the zone and since then only tourists were allowed in, under escort, for short periods. About 5,000 people guard the security zone and monitor the enormous concrete and steel structure now surrounding the still highly radioactive power plant uranium core. Those monitors spend fifteen days at a time in the zone and then two weeks outside it, with their radioactivity levels carefully monitored. Those monitoring personnel remained, but under Russian control. While Ukrainians comprised most of those killed by the melt down, about 70 percent of the initial radiation fell on what is now Belarus. For that reason, it seems unlikely the Russians would not arrange for an accident at the entombed nuclear core. Most Belarussians oppose Russia and their own dictator, which is currently kept in power by Russian forces. The main reason for taking control of the exclusion zone was that it is a key element of one of the shortest routes to Kyiv. That offensive failed and Russian troops withdrew from Chernobyl at the end of March, as all Russian forces retreated from northern Ukraine.

The IAEA has no police powers and is autonomous, although it cooperates closely with UN agencies. Ukraine knows that but Ukraine allows foreign reporters to visit the front lines, something Russia prohibits in the name of “security”. IAEA inspectors can observe the Zaporizhzhia complex and confirm that the Ukrainians are not firing on it, while the Russians are, and claiming the Ukrainians are responsible for damage to the reactors. Russia is one of the five founding members of the UN with a veto over most UN efforts. But the IAEA is not part of the UN and can document who did what at Zaporizhzhia. That can lead to war crimes charges against the Russian officers and officials involved. This is the sort of thing IAEA was created for when the IAEA was founded in 1957.

November 27, 2022: Ukraine believes that Russia is planning another mobilization of Russian men to serve in the military. The first mobilization in September sought to obtain 300,000 men but after more than a month only about 200,000 could be obtained. The December mobilization is supposed to avoid the problems of the September effort and actually obtain 300,000 men for the military.

November 26, 2022: The Ukrainian military reported they had killed 600 Russian soldiers today. This brings the total Russian troop losses since February to 88,000. Equipment losses stand at 2,900 tanks, 5,800 other armored vehicles, 2,200 artillery (gun and rocket launcher) systems, 209 air defense systems, 278 fixed wing aircraft, 261 helicopters, 1,556 UAVs, 531 cruise missiles, 16 ships or patrol boats and 4,500 supply vehicles (trucks, tankers and some special vehicles.

November 25, 2022: In Russian occupied Ukraine (Zaporizhzhia province) a major Russian ammunition storage site blew up, apparently because of sabotage. Russian troops searched for those responsible as munitions continued to explode for several hours as the warehouse holding the munitions burned. Russia is experiencing more of these attacks by individuals, Some of them are partisan groups while others are believed the result of Ukrainian special operations troops who are able to get into Russian occupied territory and move around covertly until they reach their target. The front line in Ukraine is 900 kilometers long and there are not enough Russian troops to watch, much less guard it all.

November 24, 2022: A month ago Russia revealed that commercial space satellite-based services might be considered a legitimate target because Starlink provides Ukrainian forces with superior communications than what Russian troops have, while Maxar commercial photo satellites have documented Russian failures in Ukraine in embarrassing detail. What the Russians don’t discuss openly is the fact that Russian EW (Electronic Warfare) equipment and ASAT (anti-satellite) systems have both proved incapable of shutting down Starlink and Maxar electronically (EW) or physically (ASATs). Empty threats are all Russia has left in its efforts to eliminate the threat Starlink and Maxar have been to the Russian military effort in Ukraine. Until the invasion of Ukraine in February, Russian EW capabilities were considered formidable. This was because Russian Cold War EW capabilities were superior to many Western systems and, after the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, a smaller Russia continued developing new EW gear. After encountering some of this in Syria and Donbas (Eastern Ukraine) after 2015, it appeared that the post-cold war Russian EW equipment was not as effective as previously suspected. That was because in Syria both Israel and Turkey found the new Russian EW dangerous, but vulnerable to countermeasure. The Ukrainians came to the same conclusion. Ukraine was, even when part of the Soviet Union before 1991, a source of impressive new military tech. That did not change after 1991, when Ukrainian was more successful than Russian in converting technical talents from military to commercial applications. Russian efforts to disrupt communication with and control of Starlink and Maxar satellites, while theoretically possible, did not work for long because the two American firms involved (SpaceX and Maxar) had ample technical resources and capabilities for countering EW attacks.

November 23, 2022: In Libya, Russia has allied itself with Turkey and cut ties with the nationalist faction that had almost united Libya until the Turks showed up in 2019. The UN supports efforts to get the Turks out of Libya. The UN was hobbled by Russia using its permanent UN veto to block efforts to force the Turks out of Libya. Turkey’s refusal to support the Russian invasion of Ukraine made Russia less inclined to continue using its UN veto to support illegal (according to most UN members) Turkish operations in Libya.

November 22, 2022: With the permanent closure of the Czech embassy there are fifteen left in Kabul. This includes embassies for China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and the UAE (United Arab Emirates). The EU (European Union) has a delegation in Kabul and Qatar hosts a few American diplomats who look after U.S. interests in Afghanistan. There are several other international organizations that maintain offices in Kabul to explore economic opportunities. IEA extends embassy-level protection to these delegations. No one has actually recognized the IEA as the legitimate government of Afghanistan but the IEA does control Kabul and has varying amounts of control throughout Afghanistan.

November 21, 2022: Russia’s failures in Ukraine have demonstrated that it has still not developed a competitive and productive UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) industry. It’s not for lack of trying. Late in the Cold War Russia ignored the development of modern UAVs in Israel and later the United States. In the 1990s, after the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union disappeared, Russian military leaders recognized that Russia was way behind the West when it came to UAV tech and the sheer number of UAVs in operational use for surveillance and airstrikes. After a few false starts, Russia finally focused on Israel as a solution. Russia produced the Israeli Searcher 2 as the Forpost and hundreds were built. First Russia used imported Israeli components but slowly developed local suppliers for these components. Some of these Forpost UAVs have been used, or rather misused, in Ukraine. The Russian problem with UAVs was their difficulty in adopting foreign concepts and technology.

Compared to Ukraine, Russia has not used its many UAVs much during the current invasion. This is apparently due to the bad experience Russia has had using UAVs in Ukraine since 2014. In contrast Ukraine has developed its own UAV force since 2014 which has proven far superior to what the Russians have.

November 20, 2022: After weeks of negotiations, Iran and Russia agreed to terms for Russia producing Iranian UAVs in Russia under license. Iran is supplying Russia with production details for the Shahed-136 UAV and some unnamed larger UAVs. Since Iran has been under heavy sanctions longer than Russia, they have developed some component suppliers who, for a fee, supply some essential missile components. Many smuggled components are needed for the guidance systems. Russia should be able to build Shahed-136’s with components Russia already produces but this will make the UAV more vulnerable to electronic AUDs (Anti-UAV Defense) systems that the Ukrainians are already using to bring down more and more of the Shahed-136s. Russia is paying for all the weapons and equipment from Iran in cash and, it is feared, tech support for the Iranian nuclear weapons program. Russia has increased its annual defense spending by 40 percent. While that provides cash for purchasing Iranian weapons it’s not sufficient to cover all the costs associated with keeping the war on Ukraine going. After Russia attacked Ukraine in 2014 and especially after the 2022 move to seize all of Ukraine, Russia had to deal with more sanctions and the failure of their warplanes and anti-aircraft systems against the Ukrainian. This time around Iran and Russia have become a “coalition of the desperate” while seeking to help each other out. Currently Russia and Iran are equally crippled by sanctions and seeking to negotiate a trade deal that would help both countries. Both have something the other needs and the negotiations are seeking to determine the trade value of each other’s goods. Iran has modern weapons built without access to foreign tech and components. Iran has limited production capabilities for their missiles but has managed to build up stockpiles it has been willing to sell to Russia. These stockpiles are depleted and Iran wants more than cash (about $140 million) and captured Western weapons from Ukrainian battles they received for the first shipments of missiles. Iran wants some modern Russian warplanes as well as spare parts for some of the older Russian warplanes Iran still has. Russia does not have many aircraft or spare parts on hand to give. Iran would also take Russian help with developing nuclear weapons. Russia considers the nuclear request toxic and carrying long term risks.

November 19, 2022: Senior Ukrainian defense officials believe that Ukraine has a chance to take control of Crimea by the end of December and clear all Ukrainian territory of Russian troops by early 2023.

November 18, 2022: Russia is having problems mobilizing its economy to support the war effort in Ukraine. Russia’s problems mobilizing more soldiers for the war were widely reported while the industrial mobilization received little attention. This mobilization is complicated by the fact that Russia no longer has a market economy. Over the last two decades the government has taken control of most of the major industries. That should have made it easier to mobilize Russian firms for wartime levels of production. That has not happened, in large part because the many economic sanctions imposed on Russia after the February invasion of Ukraine caused chaos in many key Russian industries. At first the Russian government was not aware of how thoroughly sanctions had disrupted production of military equipment. There was no centralized control of the industries that produced items the military needed. Finally, in October Russia established the GCC (Government Coordination Council) to organize available resources to get the military what it needed. The GCC quickly discovered that a lot of what defense manufacturers were missing was components imported from the West. Most of these items were no longer available and the best alternative supplier, China, would not help because that would violate the sanctions on Russia and subject China to similar sanctions.

The GCC quickly discovered this widespread lack of key components and that came as a surprise to senior Russian leaders who were more prone to suspect corruption or deliberate sabotage. Suddenly it became clear that the production problems were not the fault of inept management or a shortage of qualified workers, but the lack of key components.

November 17, 2022: Ukraine has revealed more information about the mysterious ASVs (autonomous surface vessel) used in their October 29 attack on Russian ships in Sevastopol harbor. Ukraine is building a hundred of these novel ASVs and using them to gain control over the Black Sea. and protect cargo vessels, especially those carrying grain, against the Russian Black Sea fleet’s blockade. Ukraine did not make public all the performance data on the ASV for “operational security” reasons, but did release enough to make it clear what the ASV was capable of. Each ASV is 5.8 meters (18 feet) long and has an endurance of 60 hours, a top speed of 80 kilometers an hour and a max payload of 180 kg (400 pounds). Max range is about 800 kilometers (one way) or 400 kilometers when performing as a reusable ASV. The ASV has satellite communications, apparently via Starlink and navigation software that deals with autonomous attack (one way) missions. The attacks on Sevastopol were launched from over 200 kilometers away (the nearest Ukrainian controlled coast) and were undetected by the Russians until the ASVs had penetrated the harbor entrance obstacles and were making attack runs on Russian ships. The navigation system apparently includes a digital camera with night vision and the ability for a remote human controller to operate the ASV remotely. Software and communications systems this sophisticated are well within known Ukrainian capabilities. It is not known if NATO allies provided real-time satellite surveillance of Sevastopol harbor during this operation, but that may have been the case.

November 16, 2022: Russia has growing morale problems with the families of men recently mobilized by the army and sent to Ukraine. Too many of these new soldiers tell their friends and families back home that they received little or no training and few supplies. Officers are few and soldiers often have to organize their own leadership and sources of basic supplies like shelter, food and fuel. These new soldiers report that when the Ukrainians attack there is not much they can do to defend themselves because they often have little ammunition for their rifles and some of the men have never used a rifle before.

At first the government denied that this was happening or, if it was occurring, it was rare. As more soldiers managed to report back to their families, many Russians agreed that this situation was real. Many of these new soldiers were never heard from again. They died in Ukraine and there was no one around to get their names and send word to their families. Some of these soldiers did come back, after being wounded, surviving primitive front line medical care and being evacuated to a hospital in Russia or Belarus. These wounded veterans of the Ukraine fighting confirmed what other soldiers down there were saying.

The basic problem was that the government was broke with little cash to spend on equipping new troops, much less operating training camps to give the new men essential training. The government told the provincial officials how many were needed from their area and left it to local officials to supply the new recruits with needed equipment and other essentials. A few provinces were actually able to do this but most could not because the sanctions have created an economic recession and there are more demands on provincial officials than there is cash available to pay for things. Most newly mobilized men went to Ukraine with inadequate equipment and little training. As the extent of this problem became known, the federal government ordered an economic mobilization and the creation of a Government Coordination Council which would somehow create equipment and other items the new soldiers needed. The reality was that there were no resources to call on. Many defense firms were idle because essential components were not available, especially if they were imported. Defense firms that were still operating had nothing they could divert to help the new soldiers. The Coordination Council found that there was little available to coordinate and mobilize. Nothing happened. Another issue not discussed much by the government-controlled media was widespread corruption in the government. That was often a major factor in the new troops not receiving what they needed. There were some private volunteer organizations that raised money to purchase basic equipment for the new soldiers but the body armor, proper boots and cold weather clothing obtained was not enough.

The current problems began on September 21st when the government ordered the mobilization of 300,000 “reservists”. Easy to say, hard to do. The mobilization did not go as planned because a third of those summoned did not appear and those who did were often sent to Ukraine unequipped and unprepared. The normally pro-Russian Internet based media, especially those who report via the encrypted Telegram app, have been covering the mobilization disaster, especially an incident in early October where hundreds of mobilized men from one city were sent to Ukraine and most were killed or wounded by Ukrainian artillery as they moved towards the front line. Their families back home discovered that many of the mobilized men were in hospitals receiving treatment and complaining that there was a shortage of personnel and supplies at the hospital. The government was reluctant to crack down on the wounded men or their families for going public with their complaints because of increasing physical attacks on mobilization personnel and their local offices.

Some Russian media was reporting that many mobilized men were showing up in Ukraine and finding that the unit they were assigned to had few officers or veteran soldiers available to take charge, and that troops already in Ukraine were not much better off. There were shortages of weapons, ammunition, food, medical care, cold weather gear, communications equipment and shelter. The new recruits were forbidden to take their cellphones with them but, with no one supervising the new troops, it was easy to disobey the order and take their phones to Ukraine. That enabled many new soldiers to report back home that the situation was bad and there were so many of these reports from wounded soldiers in hospitals as well as those in Ukraine that news of the mess was picked up by the Russian media and there were calls for the mobilization officials and commanders in Ukraine to be held accountable.

November 15, 2022: In southern Ukraine Ukrainian troops moved into Kherson City four days ago. As news of the arrival of Ukrainian troops spread, it turned out there were still nearly 50,000 civilians in Kerson City. Many had hidden in the city or its outskirts because they feared Russians might try to defend the area. The peacetime population of Kherson City is about 280,000, mostly Ukrainian with some Russians. The city is heavily damaged and without water, electricity or anything else the civilians need to survive. It was quickly clear that Ukrainian troops were entering the city and civilians came out and cheered their liberators. A week before the announcement that Russian troops were withdrawing, most of them left quietly at night. Ukraine quickly began moving in supplies for the remaining civilians. The civilians were helpful in reporting where Russian weapons or explosive devices were. The Russians did not have the time or inclination to plant a lot of landmines or improvised explosives because they were in a hurry to get to the other side of the Dnieper River before the rapidly advancing Ukrainian troops arrived. The Russians were surprised at the speed of the Ukrainian advance. Most of the remaining Russian troops were recently “mobilized” and sent to Ukraine with little training or support. There were apparently hundreds of these Russians in the area, many of them not sure who controlled the city. Few appear to be hostile and most surrender when confronted by Ukrainian troops. Most of these Russian stragglers were abandoned by their officers and left to fend for themselves. Within a week, about 200 Ukrainian police arrived along with the restoration of Ukrainian radio and TV service plus Ukrainian journalists to report on what was happening in the city. Work is under way to restore water and electricity to parts of the city and provide medical services for the civilians, especially the elderly. The civilians still in the city reported that the final days of the Russian withdrawal were chaotic, especially after the last bridge to the east bank of the river was destroyed and only rafts and small boats were available for the last troops. Ukrainian troops drove the Russians out of 41 towns and villages on the way to Kherson City. Ukrainian forces continued to advance south of Kherson City. This has resulted in Russian forces seeking to withdraw all their troops from Kherson City and the west side of the Dnieper River. Russia is still withdrawing troops south of Kherson City and still on the west side of the river. The Russians abandoned the west bank because their troops, especially the recently mobilized men, were untrained and unprepared to conduct even defensive operations when attacked by the better trained, led and equipped Ukrainians. To make the most of these poor-quality soldiers who made it to the east bank, they have been put to work building two fortified lines on portions of the east bank of the Dnieper River that are most likely attacked by Ukrainian troops attempting to get across.

 

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