Russia: Who Can You Trust

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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.

The War in Ukraine has had an impact on other wars that Russia is involved in. For example, Russian influence in Libya has diminished since Russia invaded Ukraine and failed to achieve a quick victory. Libyans note that Russians in Ukraine are now stuck in a morass of its own making. The Russians are losing ground and the situation in Ukraine takes priority over what Russia had going on in Libya. There are still enough Russian troops in Libya to prevent Turkey, Libyans or Egyptians from taking control of whatever they want. In this case the Russians have a lot of local support. Libyans see the Russians as a foreign occupier that doesn’t want to be there while the Turks are former imperial occupiers that have ambitious plans for a continued presence in Libya.

In Russian cities the impact on civilians is more obvious. Prices of retail goods are way up and many popular Western goods are no longer available. Higher interest rates and inflation have reduced living standards while the war in Ukraine takes more money away from civilian needs. The official government attitude is that everything is normal and open criticism of government policies is a crime. Government spending on the war, while Russian casualties increase and a Ukrainian counter offensive is succeeding against weakened, by low morale, high losses and less government support, Russian forces.

August 29, 2023: In northern Ukraine (Kyiv) Russia launched its largest missile attack this year. Air defense systems intercepted 20 of the missiles but some got through and killed two people and wounded two others as well as damaging some buildings.

Ukraine launched late night cruise missile (explosives equipped UAVs on a one-way mission) attacks at several targets in Russia, including an air base in Pskov, which is 20 kilometers from the Estonian border. The Ukrainian missiles often got through because they were attacking targets deep (up to 800 kilometers) inside Russia and the Russians were not prepared for that. Some damage was inflicted on airbases and military aircraft. Four Il-76 military transports were damaged.

In southeastern Ukraine, the Ukrainian offensive against Russian forces continues and picks up speed as Ukrainian forces move past the Russian fortified zone in Zaporizhia province. Russia's defenses and counter-attacks slowed down but did not stop the offensive. The ultimate goal was the Sea of Azov coast, which would cut off land access to the Crimean Peninsula.

August 28, 2023: Ukraine has moved a second grain carrying cargo ship from Odessa down the eastern Black Sea coast to the Turkish controlled exit to the Mediterranean. Russia has imposed an informal blockade on these grain shipments but no longer has naval or missile forces able to attack the ships These grain ships had been trapped in Odessa since the Russian invasion began in early 2022. Russia tried to keep Odessa shut down as a port because it is where most Ukrainian grain exports are exported. Many of the customers are African and Middle Eastern nations that rely on Ukrainian grain to avoid hunger and starvation. This hurt diplomatic and trade relations Russia had with these nations and Russia made it worse by promising they would deliver the grain the Ukrainian customers relied on. The Russian invasion included a blockade of all Ukrainian ports. This trapped 30 merchant ships in Odessa and several other smaller ports. Technically, the Russian blockade is still in force but Russia no longer has sufficient military capabilities to enforce the ban.

Russian ballistic and cruise missiles were used to destroy grain storage facilities near Odessa and other ports. The grain was meant for export to customers in Africa and the Middle East.

August 27, 2023: In southern Ukraine the Ukrainian offensive to cut off Russian land access to Crimea has had some success. Ukrainian forces have moved past the Russian field (improvised) fortifications that initially slowed down the offensive. The only other truck and rail route into Crimea is the Kerch Strait bridge, which was recently disabled by several Ukrainian attacks by air and sea. Ukrainian special operations troops have been carrying out raids into Crimea and Ukrainian missiles and guided bombs destroyed Russian air defense systems and other military targets there.

Ukraine has apparently developed technology that enables its attack (explosives carrying) UAVs to avoid and then destroy Russian air defense systems at an airbase in Kursk province, which borders northwestern Ukraine. The attack involved 16 UAVs that destroyed four SU-30 and one MiG-29 fighters as well as S-100 and Pantsir air defense systems. This is not the first time Ukraine has overcome Russian air defense systems. Longer range Ukrainian UAVs continue to carry out attacks deep inside Russia, usually hitting government facilities in cities or military bases outside cities. These attacks have been frequent enough to force Russia to move military aircraft to airfields far away from the Ukrainian border. That reduces the number of Russian airstrikes, usually by fighters or bombers carrying long range air-to-ground missiles.

August 26, 2023: Ukrainian carried out long-range UAV attacks deep inside Russia and caused four Russian airports near Moscow to shut down for hours. In southern Russia (Belgorod province) the Russian air defense systems were more numerous and alert and shot down three Ukrainian UAVs headed for targets deep inside Russia. The Ukrainian UAV attack on major cities generally do little damage or cause many casualties. These attacks do demoralize the local population because Ukrainian attacks like this are not supposed to happen. Similar attacks on military bases do often inflict serious damage on military equipment. Inside Ukraine, or Russian provinces bordering Ukraine, attacks on military bases and supplies for the troops are hit. Ukraine locates all these targets because part of the NATO aid is regular and rapid access to military satellite photos.

August 25, 2023: Ukraine launched an attack on Russian forces in Crimea using 42 UAVs carrying explosives. Russian claimed that it intercepted all the UAVs and it is unclear if any of the UAVs got through.

August 24, 2023: In the south (Krasnodar) a court sentenced Oleg Vazhdayev to six years in prison for attempting to set fire to a local military recruitment office. Vazhdayev was seeking to destroy his military records so he would not be called up to serve in the army. Since Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022, there have been more than a hundred attempts to set fire to military recruitment offices.

Ukraine celebrated 32 years of independence from Russia. This prompted Russia to launch several missile attacks on Ukrainian cities, killing one civilian and wounding sixteen others. At the same time the United States announced that Ukrainian pilots would begin training to operate the F-16. Maintainers are also being trained. These training courses won’t be completed until early 2024. In early 2023 two Ukrainian fighter pilots visited the United States to determine how long it would take the Ukrainian pilots with experience flying Russian designed fighters to transition to F-16s. The answer was four or five months, depending on how well the pilots understood English. Most Ukrainian pilots have some knowledge of English because that is the universal language for commercial and many military pilots. Ukraine expects to receive 61 F-16s from NATO countries that are switching to F-35s and retiring their F-16s. More than one pilot is required to keep F-16s operational. That means Ukraine will need to train at least a hundred pilots and even more aircraft maintainers and ground support personnel. Ukraine plans to use these F-16s to operate four fighter squadrons.

In southeastern Ukraine, the Ukrainian offensive against Russian forces continues, slowly recapturing more Russian occupied territory in Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhia provinces. Russia carried out some counter attacks that were less successful.

August 23, 2023: Northwest of Moscow, Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin and six of his associates died when the business jet they were on crashed, apparently because of an explosion on the aircraft. Prigozhin had long worked directly for Vladimir Putin but the two now had a number of disagreements. Putin was blamed for the crash, but there was no proof and probably never will be. Putin had recently told Russians working for Wagner in Mali that they were now working for the Russian government, not Wagner. Prigozhin refused to cooperate and Putin saw this as treason but had not made any official move to punish Prigozhin. Some Wagner Group members accused Putin of complicity in the death of Prigozhin. Many Russians agree but do not do so publicly. Putin expressed condolences to the families of those who died in the crash and noted he and Prigozhin had worked together since the 1990s and that Prigozhin and Wagner Group had fought well for Russia in Ukraine. Putin will continue to offer Wagner Group members jobs with the Russian military.

In Crimea, a Ukrainian missile destroyed a Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile battery, triggering several secondary explosions. Ukraine also had a UAV in the area that made a video of the attack. The Russians were unprepared for this attack.

Russian ballistic and cruise missiles were used to destroy grain storage facilities near Odessa and other ports. The grain was meant for export to customers in Africa and the Middle East.

August 22, 2023: Ukrainian special operations troops continue to carry out raids on military targets in Crimea. Russia has not got enough troops to guard all the military storage sites in Crimea and the Ukrainians take advantage of that to attack these sites with missiles, armed UAVs or special operations troops. Most Russian civilians have left Crimea, considering it a hazardous war zone.

August 20, 2023: In the north (outside St. Petersburg) Ukrainian UAVs equipped with explosives destroyed a Tu-22M3 heavy bomber parked in the open at an airbase over 500 kilometers from Ukraine.. This is the third, since 2022, such attack on Russian air bases deep inside Russia. If the heavy bombers were parked inside a shelter they would have avoided destruction, but Russian air force commanders never acted to protect these valuable aircraft. Surviving Tu-22M3s have been moved to air bases in the far north (Murmansk).

August 15, 2023: In Africa 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. ISGS (Islamic States in Greater Sahara) 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.

August 12, 2023: In Ukraine Russia has lost about 350,000 troops, of whom 100,000 are dead, missing, prisoners or deserters, and Ukrainians casualties are about 200,000 of whom 50,000 are killed, missing and captured. Russia believed their larger population (140 million versus 40 million Ukrainians) and larger armed forces would guarantee a quick victory. That didn’t happen and Russia decided to pursue a long-war victory where their larger population and manufacturing capability would be decisive. This was another miscalculation. So far both Russia and Ukraine have lost about the same number of troops. To the Russians this means they can grind down the Ukrainians who will run out of troops before Russia does. This was another miscalculation. After the first year of fighting Ukraine changed its tactics in order to limit Ukrainian casualties as much as possible. This was particularly the case with the current Ukrainian counteroffensive. Westerners expected progress to be rapid. That means more losses to the attackers. Instead, it uses its superiority in weapons, training and leadership so the Ukrainians are defeating the Russians in many smaller battles, where the Ukrainians make sure they have the advantage before attacking. This takes advantage of the poor morale, leadership and training most Russian troops have. There are some better quality airborne and special operations troops available but these must be used sparingly and carefully. While Russia can conscript or mobilize civilians into the military and send them into combat quickly with minimal training, these troops take heavy casualties. The elite units are volunteers who take a lot longer to train and losses are not easy to replace because it takes up to a year of training. During the first year of fighting Russia used the elite troops recklessly and lost a lot of them. Commanders of these elite units complained that this reckless approach was wasteful and counterproductive in the long run. It took a while for the senior political leaders and the generals who advised them to realize that misuse of elite units would hurt the Russian war effort in the long run. Russia considers combat casualty data a state secret and has threatened families of soldiers killed in or missing in Ukraine with prosecution if they continue to demand information about these losses.

Ukrainian leaders realized that losses in population were more serious than combat losses. So far about a quarter of the population has left voluntarily, most of them settling down in Poland and making themselves economically useful. Most of these refugees’ plan to return to Ukraine once it is safe, physically and economically, to do so. The Russians have kidnapped between two and four million Ukrainian civilians, many of them children, and moved them deep into Russia as part of Russia’s traditional ethnic cleansing policy towards troublesome minorities. About a third of the 44 million Ukrainians in 2021 have left or been kidnapped since the war began.

Millions of Russians too have fled Russia since the war began, mostly of military age, and most of those went to nearby Central Asian nations (the “Stans”) and made themselves economically useful. The “Stans” were initially unsure if all these Russian political refugees were a good thing, but changed their minds when they saw that the Russians were causing unexpected economic growth.

Russia eventually outlawed military age men from leaving the country. Russia needed more troops, and junior officers as well. The problem was that the need for more troops in Ukraine meant too many were being sent into combat with little training and led by equally inexperienced officers. Russia had a long-range plan to overcome that and the Ukrainians had their own plan to make life more difficult for the Russian military.

Who is winning is mainly about money and access to lots of modern weapons. The Ukrainians have a big edge here, having received nearly a hundred billion dollars in aid from NATO countries so far. The Ukrainians are resourceful and have developed weapons and military equipment that makes the NATO weapons even more effective. Russia has far less cash for new weapons and cannot match the resourcefulness of the Ukrainians. That’s why Ukraine is able to design and build long range robotic weapons to attack Russian commercial vessels and warships in the Black Sea as well as Russian cities and military targets the Russians thought were too far away to reach. The growing number of attacks on Moscow and Russian military bases far from the Ukrainian border is not good for Russian military or civilian morale.

August 11, 2023: In northern Mali, former Tuareg rebels were attacked by Mali soldiers and Russian Wagner Group mercenaries. Mali said this was retaliation for Tuareg threats to the presence of the Mali military in the north. Mali has long had problems in the sparsely populated north, where most of the population is Tuareg or Arab. Most of the Mali population is black African and prefers to live south of the Niger River in the more populated and prosperous south. Mali is a profitable job for Wagner Group, and Mali, a major gold producer, pays in gold. This eliminates any currency exchange problems.

August 4, 2023: Ukraine launched an attack 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 by Ukrainian missiles and unmanned attack boats, 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 one of them got through and damaged the Ropucha-class LST (landing ship, tank) Olenegorsky Gornyak. The explosion caused the landing ship to take on water and tug boats were seen assisting the listing landing ship to a safer berth.

August 3, 2023: Russia added longtime neighbor Norway to the Russian list of Unfriendly States. The addition of ancient friendly neighbor Norway increases the number of official Unfriendly States to 49. Most nations on the list wonder why they are considered unfriendly to Russia, despite years, or even centuries, of friendly relations. The only nation on the list that has a reason to be unfriendly to Russia is Ukraine. Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022, in an effort to absorb Ukraine into Russia. Ukraine prefers to remain independent and points out that, as a member of the UN, Russia agreed, in writing, to respect the independence of other UN members. There are over a dozen other nations on the unfriendly list that used to be part of one Russian empire or another. Russia thinks of these nations as unfriendly just because they openly oppose becoming part of Russia.

August 2, 2023: Ukrainian artillery units have received a large number of North Korean 122mm rockets captured from Russian stockpiles in Ukraine. These rockets apparently were delivered via a ship that smuggled the rockets to Russia. The Ukrainian artillerymen were warned that the rockets were manufactured in the 1980s and 1990s and some might perform erratically because rocket propellant does not age well and after about 30 years deteriorates to the point that normal range and accuracy are degraded. That means some of the rockets will not go as far or as accurately as usual. Some older rockets explode when launched.

August 1, 2023: Few nations supported the 2022 Russian Ukraine invasion. While Ukraine received nearly $100 billion in delivered or pledged aid, Russia received very little. Only Iran and North Korea provided some support for Russia. North Korea supplied artillery ammunition and weapons while Iran did the same, only in larger quantities. North Korea wanted food and Russia sent it by rail. Iran wanted military technology, especially some Su-35 fighters and technical details on manufacturing key components of the jet as well as decades of Russian tech support. Russia turned down this deal because they knew Iran wanted to build Su-35s and needed lots of specialized information to do that. Instead, Russia offered Western weapons and munitions that they had access to in Ukraine. If the Iranian’s wanted to reverse-engineer more Western weapons, Russia could supply them with the needed examples. This was something Iran could work with because since the 1980s, Iran has not been able to buy Western weapons. Iran would pay for intact or largely intact examples of Western weapons. These Iran could reverse-engineer and build locally. Iran has the engineers and production infrastructure to do this as well as decades of experience.

 

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