February 14, 2023:
Russia has a problem with the growing number of Ukrainian spies and paramilitary partisan groups operating in Russian-occupied portions of Ukraine as well as pro-Ukraine or anti-Putin Russians inside Russia who provide Ukraine with targets and other information about Russian military activities. Ukraine abides by the American restrictions on using American supplied missiles on targets inside Russia. Instead, Ukraine uses improvised and Ukrainian-made long-range weapons to strike these targets. Ukrainian special operations forces have also operated inside Russia and carried out some spectacular attacks on Russian military bases and industrial sites. This damage, especially large explosions and fires, are hard to hide from commercial and military satellites overhead or curious Russians with cellphone cameras and access to the Internet outside Russia. Russian lack of adequate facility security or effective air defenses is embarrassing but no surprise to most Russians and Ukrainians.
Some information comes from Russians themselves as they complain about how their own government is treating them, especially government efforts to put more Russians into uniform and send them off to fight and die in Ukraine. This sort of thing is nothing new for Russians. They experienced it in 1994 when Russia sent untrained and poorly led troops to fight and die battling Chechens in the Caucasus. Nearly 3,000 Russian troops died and the rest withdrew and left the Chechens to run their own country. Before that there was the nine -year Afghanistan campaign that kept up to 115,000 Russian troops at a time in Afghanistan until 1989 and sent 14,500 of these soldiers home in coffins. No railroads and a few roads limited the number of troops Russia could support in Afghanistan. They also had some help from 55,000 pro-Russia Afghans. Russia used a lot of air force bombers stationed across the northern Afghan border in Russia to kill about a milli0n armed and mostly unarmed Afghans. Later, starting in 1999 another round of fighting in the Caucasus led to a victory but 0ver ten thousand Russians died in Chechnya this time in a victorious campaign that left Chechnya devastated by massive air strikes. Over 30,000 civilians died, along with 12,000 armed men.
So far in Ukraine over 150,000 Russians have died in less than a year. The Wagner Group recruitment of convicts with the promise of a pardon if they served six months backfired when it became known that only about 20 percent of the first convicts recruited survived their six months and received their pardons. Recent recruiting efforts show that far fewer convicts are willing to volunteer and, justifiably, feel safer serving out their sentences. Russia has now officially banned recruiting prison inmates. Efforts to recruit, conscript or otherwise mobilize a large new force of Russian troops is working on paper but not in reality. That is why so many of the newly formed Russian combat units are full of unwilling, unarmed, untrained and unsupported troops who can be coerced into starting an attack but any serious resistance causes the troops to flee, often abandoning undamaged armored vehicles as they head for safety. Some attacks do succeed, mainly because they advance in an area where there are few or no Ukrainian troops.
Russia still has a few real combat units that are composed of well trained and armed troops led by experienced officers. These units have to be used sparingly and carefully. Russia cannot afford to lose too many of these troops because they are difficult to replace. The presence of these reliable troops prevents the generally more professional Ukrainian forces from chasing the Russians forces out of Ukraine. Ukraine takes better care of their troops and will not get them killed on pointless frontal assaults that are exposed to Ukrainian artillery fire. While the Russian infantry is not very reliable, Russian artillery is dependable but the Ukrainians use their artillery more skillfully, especially against Russian artillery.
While Ukraine continues to catch, prosecute and punish corrupt officials, Russia is eliminating anti-corruption laws to enable corrupt officials to evade detection and continue to profit from corrupt practices. This encourages Ukrainians to keep fighting and Russians to resist getting mobilized into the military. It also encourages more Russians to sabotage the war effort via individual efforts. The Russian war effort is often disrupted by these individual actions against railroad signal systems. This is s=easy to do and difficult to prevent. Russian mothers organize effective protests against the war, as they have been doing in the 1980s. Russia is increasingly at war with itself as well as Ukraine.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin insists Russia will keep fighting no matter the casualties and setbacks his forces suffer in Ukraine. This will go on as long as he continues to have the support of provincial and municipal leaders and internal security forces. These local leaders are appointed by the central government and are expected to keep the peace in their areas and deliver quotas of new recruits when asked. That is increasingly a source of opposition to the local governments. Putin is also making it more difficult for military-age men to leave the country and is establishing a hopefully accurate database of men eligible for military service.
Russia has many other problems. Their latest military technology gets captured, scrutinized and countermeasures developed. This has been going on since the war began. Ukraine shares this captured gear with its NATO allies who receive a constant flow of Russian weapons sent to Poland and beyond for further examination and analysis. This has been particularly hard on Russian electronic systems, especially counter-measures that are supposed to reduce the effectiveness of Western weapons. Russia developed some interesting new tech which loses most of its effectiveness when the enemy knows how it works and how to remotely make it not work.
Russia has captured some Western systems but not to the extent that their systems have been captured and analyzed. These losses are common in any war and first became a major factor during World War II. This was especially true with the electronic warfare German and British engineers engaged in to keep their bombers operational over enemy territory. This established the model for tech warfare that persists to the present, especially in Ukraine and Russia. During World War II the Russians were allies of Britain and the United States and received a lot of impressive (to the Russians) Western tech. Russia found that even when they had this tech they had a hard time duplicating it. Throughout the Cold War Russia continued to fear the Western edge in tech and the Russian inability to manufacture it themselves. That changed after the Soviet Union disappeared in 1991 and a new democratic (for a decade or so) Russia had free access to Western manufacturing technology as well as the tech itself. During the last decade Russia has again gone to war with the West and no longer has all that access to Western tech and is feeling the widening gap between Russian and Western technical capabilities.
China has long learned from Soviet and Russian mistakes, is now nearly equal to the West in terms of tech, and a much more formidable foe for the West and, if need be, Russia. China is replacing Russia as the primary trade partner of the central Asian states that were more part of the Soviet Union and later post-Soviet Russia. The war in Ukraine has given China the opportunity to completely replace Russia in Central Asia, where Russia is facing growing Chinese activity. Russia long believed their eastern flank was secure but now there is a potential threat from China and a two-front war if Russia survives the current conflict with Ukraine and its NATO allies.
Russia also continues to commit a growing list of war crimes against Ukrainian civilians in Russian occupied areas. This means more Ukrainian partisans forming and operating against the Russian occupation officials and internal security forces. This is one reason why Ukraine is intent on driving all Russian forces out of Ukraine. Meanwhile they collect names and war-crimes activities by Russians in the occupied territories. That makes it more difficult for these killers to one day try to gain asylum in the West, as some known war criminals have done in the past and were eventually identified and prosecuted, and might make their hiding out in Russia more sporting. Russia considers these men, and some women, heroes for diligently carrying out crimes against Ukrainian civilians. This includes forcing Ukrainian civilians to behave by threatening to send their children to Russia where they are adopted by Russian families. The threats are often carried out and Ukrainian orphans are regularly shipped off to Russia for adoption and absorption into the Russian population. The Ukrainian government knows who many of these children are and will seek to get them back after Russian troops are driven out of Ukraine. This will produce some interesting post-war diplomacy and drama.
February 13, 2023: The Russians have been surprised and dismayed by the ability of Ukrainian aircraft, especially unmanned jet or propeller driven autonomous systems, to evade the elaborate and supposedly effective Russian air defense system. Effective it wasn’t as the Ukrainians carried out several spectacular attacks in late 2022 and early 2023 that were deep inside Russia, some not far from the capital Moscow. Blowing up air bases or missile storage sites is one thing, but the targets could also be the senior military and political officials running the war against Ukraine. So far the Ukrainians appear to believe that missiles and military aircraft that carry them are more important and less easy to replace than the military and political officials in charge of wartime operations.
The successful Ukrainian attacks on air bases near Moscow called into question claims that the air defenses around Moscow were effective. In response the Russian air defense forces have added short-range SAM (surface to air missile) systems like Pantsir S-1 to tall buildings around key military headquarters or places where senior leaders (like Vladimir Putin) live or work. This may not work because that’s been the experience with Pantsir.
Russia has long been unsure about how effective its new short-range anti-aircraft systems actually are. In 2020 the troubled Pantsir S1 (SA-22) anti-aircraft system was given more opportunities to be useful in combat. A new version, Pantsir S1M, was shown in public for the first time in a 2020 Moscow parade. S1M was first made public earlier at a 2019 trade show. S1M systems didn’t reach users and new customers until 2021.
February 12, 2023: Examination of the wreckage of crashed Iranian Shahed-131, Shahed 136, and Mohajer-6 cruise missiles in November showed that 82 percent of them had some Western electronic components the Iranian sanctions are supposed to access to. Most of the banned components were manufactured in 2020 and 2021 and some of them improved the existing capabilities of the Iranian UAVs used as one-way cruise missiles. Iran is assisting Russia in setting up a UAV manufacturing plant in Russia and the two heavily sanctioned countries are combining their component smuggling efforts. This cooperation will allow improvements in current weapons and military equipment used by both countries as well enable the development of more capable systems. Iran has developed effective smuggling operations over the last few decades. These need cash to succeed and Russia is still exporting their oil more successfully than the Iranians. Russia is forced to sell its oil at a large (20 percent or more) discount to countries willing to aid, and profit from, this process. Some large countries, like India, tolerate, support and profit from these oil exports and efforts to smuggle tech into Russia. There are smaller countries in south and southeast Asia that are willing to get involved.
February 11, 2023: Russia appears to have lost nearly twice as many troops (dead and wounded) than the Ukrainians in a year of fighting. Over 7,000 Ukrainian civilians have died and over twenty percent of the population has been driven from third homes, with many fleeing the country. The massive military aid Ukraine received from NATO countries has led to Russia suffering unexpectedly large personnel and equipment losses. So many Russian combat units suffered such high personnel and equipment losses that they were no longer effective. This happened even when personnel and equipment losses were replaced. The new personnel were poorly trained and the new equipment was older and less effective than the equipment lost. Back in Russia questions are raised about the wisdom of continuing the war with less effective forces. It may not be wise, but it’s what leader Vladimir Putin wants and so far there is no one to stop him.
February 9, 2023: In Ukraine the modern Russian air defense systems like S300 and S400 are vulnerable to Ukrainian countermeasures, especially with the more effective radar destruction weapons supplied by NATO nations. This enables air defense systems like I Hawk (Improved Hawk) to keep Russian aircraft away and deny the Russians air superiority or even use of much Ukrainian airspace. For this reason, most of the successful Russian airstrikes are carried out by Russian warplanes still in Russia firing long-range air to surface missiles. I-Hawk can intercept many of these missiles. I Hawk may be officially obsolete in most parts of the world, but in Ukraine it’s a major problem. Russia considered the I Hawk a threat and blocked Israel from sending its I Hawk missiles to Ukraine. Russian can do this because Israel needs Russian support in blocking the Iranian anti-Israel efforts in Syria and Lebanon. Fortunately, there are many other American allies with I Hawk batteries and missiles in storage and available for use in Ukraine. Spain is currently training Ukrainian soldiers how to operate the I Hawk.
February 8, 2023: Russia has sent about half a dozen of their new Mi-28NM combat helicopters to Ukraine, where they expect to thrive and survive using new weapons and countermeasures. Not many Russian helicopters have been seen in Russian occupied Ukraine since so many were destroyed during the first months of fighting. At the time of the invasion the Russian air force had about 1,500 helicopters. Most (74 percent) were older transport helicopters. Some were more recent versions of the Cold War era Mi-8 transports and Mi-24 gunships. This helicopter force seemed formidable but the Russians had a shortage of pilots and maintainers. Most of the available pilots and maintainers were assigned to operate the 400 more recent models that had been introduced since 2006. These were the ones sent to Ukraine where they received their first real combat test against modern anti-aircraft weapons and aircraft. The new Russian helicopters did not do well. The KA-52 gunship (introduced in 2011) was thought to be well equipped to handle modern portable anti-aircraft missiles like the American Stinger. The Americans had updated the Stinger more than the anti-missile defenses of the Ka-52 could handle. Transport helicopters were even more vulnerable. After eight months of combat Russia had lost nearly a hundred helicopters, mainly to ground fire. There were also losses due to accidents and mechanical failures. It was obvious that the most modern Russian designs were not up to the demands of combat against well-equipped opponents. This was disappointing because a decade ago Russian began a program to upgrade its helicopter force with new models and upgrades to older models. Part of this upgrade program was putting all nine existing helicopter manufacturers into one firm; Russian Helicopters. As part of this effort, the Russian military ordered more helicopters, especially new designs produced to appeal to export customers Russian helicopters were back as a powerful international brand. For peacetime operations or use against poorly armed opponents, the Russians helicopters were adequate. Against better armed opponents the new Russian helicopters performed poorly and Russia is trying to remedy this with the new Mi-28NM and its new weapons.
February 2, 2023: In the last few weeks the Russians have been losing (dead, wounded, missing) about 800 troops a day in futile attacks in eastern Ukraine. The Russian soldiers were poorly trained and their commanders and planning staff inept. Attack plans that failed were tried again and again, failing the same way each time. Back in Russia there were calls for commanders to be punished. In some cases that is not possible because the Ukrainians also shelled a headquarters and killed most of the officers working there.
February 1, 2023: While North Korea has recruited workers to work in Russian occupied portions of Ukraine, there has been a delay as North Korea assembled a force of soldiers and police to accompany the works. This has been done and the North Korean personnel will arrive in Russian occupied Ukraine in about a month. The delays in the North Koreans going to Russia was apparently because Russia is losing the war and it was feared that the North Korean workers would be captured by Ukrainian forces and ask for asylum. Additional military and police personnel are being added to the North Korean workforce to reduce this risk. North Korea has long provided workers to Russia, where they are better fed and housed than in North Korea and paid well. The North Korean government keeps most of the wages but enough is passed on to worker’s families to make foreign work tolerable to families. The several thousand workers needed for service in Ukraine and Western Russia were to work on two-year contracts and be able to keep more of their pay for their families. Even with the better pay, the longer contracts and work in a combat zone discouraged a lot of North Koreans from applying for these jobs. Usually, the government can be selective in choosing men for work in Russia. With these new contracts the government had to accept men who normally would not be considered because they were single and seen as less politically reliable. Those rules have been waived and the first contingent, selected in early November, and two more groups were being processed but none were sent to Russia until the North Korean security personnel could be added. This is insurance against the deteriorating Russian situation in Ukraine getting a lot worse along with the growing unemployment in Russia because of sanctions.
January 31, 2023: The United States supplied most of the munitions Ukraine needed and now has to replace its war reserves stockpiled for a major war. While European NATO nations don’t have to worry about their major threat, Russia, while they rebuild their war reserves, or don’t, the Americans have to plan for potential conflicts elsewhere, like China, North Korea and Iran. The Americans can still do so because supporting Ukraine does not degrade American naval or air power. A war with China would not become more difficult because of American military aid to Ukraine. The same is true for potential conflicts with China, North Korea or Iran as both of them have plenty of powerful local near-peer opponents who would be American allies in such conflicts, i.e., South Korea, Japan, the Arab gulf states and Israel, who can deal with China, Iran or North Korea given American and naval support. American ground forces are also available for a Pacific campaign, but cannot use artillery munitions as heavily as they would prefer. The Americans confirmed that North Korea had shipped ammunition (mostly 152mm shells) and missiles (actually unguided rockets) to Russia by rail several times in late 2022. Satellite photos were provided showing trainloads of this material crossing into Russia and later showing up on the Trans-Siberian line headed for Russian forces in Ukraine. Officially, North Korea denies sending any weapons or munitions to Russia. North Korea received several large shipments of food and fuel from Russia to pay for the munitions.