Russia: Remnants Versus Regulars


April 28, 2023: The Russian economy has not collapsed because of Western sanctions, but those have crippled production of tanks, war planes and all weapons and munitions in general. Russian GDP shrank by about five percent while the number of Russians living below the poverty line reached 60 percent. The government is managing this decline mostly by ensuring that no one starves to death and concentrating military mobilization efforts in regions with the largest number of military age men who are unemployed. These growing economic problems are accompanied by more corruption, especially by officials who distribute emergency aid and manage military mobilization efforts. Russia’s economic situation will grow worse if the Ukrainian offensive is successful and Russian forces have to be reinforced to avoid losing territory. While Putin has declared that Russia will never stop fighting to assert its claim on Ukraine, he has to pay attention to Russian public opinion towards the war. While it’s now a crime to criticize the war effort, there are no restrictions on complaining about unemployment, inflation, shortages and higher taxes (to pay for the war). Russian can no longer borrow money abroad and Russian banks already have too many outstanding loans to the government. While foreign banks will no longer provide loans, Russia is considering money offering Russian government debt to the commercial markets in friendly South American and Asian countries. The problem here is that local bankers will warn, or at least confirm to the public that these Russian bonds are very risky. Chinese banks, usually eager to invest in Russia, now consider Russia a toxic investment environment.

Russia has little economic support from anyone while Ukraine is backed by the NATO nations, which account for about half the world GDP. Putin is more frequently resorting to psychological warfare, trying to come up with something that will scare NATO into backing off on their support for Ukraine. Nothing seems to work for Putin and the sanctions have forced him to export oil via smuggling that led to huge discounts. For the second year in a row the Russian economy (GDP) is shrinking. At the same time Russian arms manufacturers are unable to fill many orders because sanctions have halted imports of key components. What can be delivered is more than the government can afford. There is a similar situation with paying the troops and providing needed bonuses to get volunteers and keep veterans in. Despite all this, Putin believes time is on his side and that NATO nations will tire of supporting Ukraine and Ukrainians will become less willing to fight if Putin waits long enough.

Russian Reality in Ukraine

Most recent Russian losses occurred in Donetsk province where Russian attacks on Bakhmut (for eight months) and Vuhledar (five months) have cost Russia 30,000 dead, hundreds of combat vehicles and several hundred thousand 152mm artillery shells. Most of the fighting and losses were in Bakhmut. Ukrainian losses were far less at about 5,000 dead. These heavy Russian losses and little territorial gain have further demoralized Russian troops so a growing number are refusing to go to Ukraine or fight if they do end up there. In past wars, soldiers who refused to fight could be killed by their officers to encourage the others. That doesn’t work anymore because the Russian troops are armed and see themselves trapped between two groups (Ukrainians and Russian officers) trying to kill them. Few veteran, pre-invasion Russian troops are in Ukraine. Most have been killed, disabled by wounds or quit the military. The “quit” option was recently outlawed and is applied to men “mobilized”, rather than conscripted, in the last year to serve a set term (six months or longer) in Ukraine. This process has now been automated using an electronic registry of all military age men. Mobilization notices are sent via the Internet and failure to comply is a criminal offense. This encouraged so many young Russians to get out of the country that Russian officials claim the economy is doing so well that there is a labor shortage.

Russian media is banned from reporting the heavy losses but Ukraine is not, and the interviews with Ukrainian troops or Russian soldiers captured in Ukraine are available to many Russians via the Internet or video recordings. To make matters worth, Ukrainian forces have prepared for another major offensive, which apparently has already started. This offensive is much larger than the one in mid-2022 that cleared the Russian out of Kharkiv, where Ukraine had four brigades attacking. The current one involves nine brigades and is in the southeast. These brigades are in much better shape than any of the Russian units they will face. Russia has no comparable forces and is using a lot of smaller units that have suffered losses and not had any time to rebuild and train. Most Russian troops have been recently mobilized and have less training and equipment. Morale is low and most men do not want to be in Ukraine. In contrast, the Ukrainian troops are better prepared and confident that they will prevail.

Ukrainian tactics avoid attacks on heavily defended urban areas and instead surround Russian forces and cut their access to resupply or reinforcements. The reality is that Russia has fewer troops in Ukraine and these have far fewer tanks and other combat vehicles. The Ukrainian troops are better trained, armed, led and motivated than their Russian adversaries. Russian state-controlled media now discusses “freezing” military efforts in Ukraine. In other words, going on the defensive and concentrating on holding onto Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine. Russian leader Vladimir Putin is seriously considering the “freeze” option and prolonging the war until Western support for Ukraine diminishes along with Ukrainian morale. To avoid that, Ukraine is on the offensive against demoralized Russian troops.

Previous to this Russia was desperate for some kind of victory in Ukraine and this led to the Battle for Bakhmut, a town in Donetsk province. Using frontal assaults, often without artillery or armor support, against entrenched Ukrainian defenders, the Russians suffered horrific losses. Most of the Russian dead were untrained and poorly led recent recruits. Many of these are convicts, promised a pardon if they agree to fight in Ukraine for six months. This has changed the Russian goals in Ukraine. A year ago, it was to conquer all of Ukraine, now it is to hang onto the remaining Ukrainian territory they occupy and perhaps grab some more if an opportunity presents itself.

April 27, 2023: Without any publicity, Ukraine has been using its locally developed Grom (Thunder) short range (500 kilometers) ballistic missile with a half-ton warhead and GPS/INS guidance as well as an optional terminal guidance system to hit small or moving targets. Grom, it turns out, was responsible for several successful long-distance attacks on targets inside Russia and Crimea. Russia recently reported that their BMD (Ballistic Missile Defense) systems (probably an S-400 missile) had intercepted a Ukrainian ballistic missile attempting to hit the Kerch Strait bridge.

Grom was no secret as it had been in development for over a decade. Completing development and putting Grom into production was frequently delayed because of money problems. What changed that was the American refusal to provide Ukraine with longer (than the 84 kilometers of GMLRS) range missiles. Ukraine quietly got Grom into service and will not reveal how many it has or how many it can produce. Russia had figured out that Ukraine now had a long range ballistic missile and were hoping it wasn’t made in Ukraine. Otherwise, the Russians had a chance of bullying a foreign supplier into backing off.

Ukrainian defense industries are among the largest and most successful in Europe. This is a legacy of the Soviet Union, which placed a lot of key defense operations in Ukraine. In 1991, newly independent Ukraine inherited all these firms along with their assets, customers and nearly all the staff, who were largely Ukrainian. Ukrainian firms improved on many of the Soviet weapon designs they inherited but never reached the level of similar NATO weapons. Before the Russian invasion Ukrainian firms were obtaining manufacturing licenses for some Western weapons. When it came to missiles, Ukrainian designs were already very similar to NATO models.

April 26, 2023: Russian reserves of 152mm artillery munitions are exhausted and production facilities in Russia are unable to supply a significant number of additional shells. Russia received 300,000 shells from Iran and a similar amount from North Korea. South Korea maintains a large stockpile of 155mm shells and that has persuaded North Korea to limit the number of shells they send Russia. NATO nations have provided Ukraine with over a million 155mm shells and a smaller quantity of 152mm shells. NATO nations have more production capabilities for artillery shells but not enough to keep the Ukrainians supplied with what they need. This means that both Ukrainian and Russian forces have less artillery ammunition than they need. This favors the Ukrainians, who's attacking forces will face less artillery fire while they are advancing and out in the open.

April 25, 2023: Russian T-14 tanks were seen in Ukraine. Russia is suffering a severe shortage of new tanks because of a ball bearing shortage. Only about twenty T-14s have been built during more than a decade of development. Russia insists its revolutionary new T-14 Armata tank was almost ready and that declared that mass production was imminent. The recent collapse of Russian defense production, because of economic sanctions, resulted in the exposure of the many deceptions and failures related to the T-14 tank project and why the fraud lasted for so long. Cost prevented the Russian army from getting more than a token number of T-14s. In 2019 the army received twelve T-14 tanks and four BREM tank recovery vehicles for the T-14. These were described as the first production models. There were doubts that these vehicles would actually enter service because of the dire financial condition of the manufacturer and reports of unresolved technical problems with this revolutionary tank design. The most serious problems were thought to be with the electronics, which are more extensive than in any previous Russian tank. It was later discovered that the engine powering Armata was unreliable and unfixable. Meanwhile there were more problems with Armata that were supposed to be fixed by increasing crew size to three and installing a toilet in the crew capsule. Because the crew is confined to the armored capsule they have limited visibility if the external cameras are damaged. At that point someone has to stick their heads out of one of the two crew entry hatches. Visibility is normally dependent on the cameras installed outside the tank and the reliability of the power supply and electronics that keep those cameras operational. During tests, much of the time the external cameras were not working. Despite all this, the manufacturer was supposed to deliver about 40 T-14s by 2021. This slow production schedule allowed time for developers to solve many of the remaining technical and design problems but only about twenty 55-t0n T-14s exist and now a few have shown up in Ukraine, but not leading attacks. Instead, the T-14s remain stationery and fire 125mm shells at Ukrainian targets. T-14 uses an auto-loader that operates in the unmanned turret along with 32 rounds of 125mm shells. There are another 13 shells t0 partially restock the autoloader. The crew has to leave their capsule to do the reloading. The advanced T-14 fire-control system makes the 125mm gun accurate out of 5 kilometers and capable of less accurate fire out to 12 kilometers. Top speed is 80 kilometers an hour and max road range is 500 kilometers. Long road marches are not recommended given the continued unreliability of the new engine design. T-14 has an APS (Active Protection System) to deal with ATGMs (anti-tank guided missiles) and unguided RPG rockets. Before being sent to Ukraine, more armor was installed on the top of the turret in an effort to neutralize the effectiveness of top-attack ATGMs. Spending time in Ukraine will give the T-14 some combat experience along with a long list of needed fixes and suggested upgrades. This will speed up the process of getting T-14 ready for regular service. Cost is still a problem with production models costing nearly $10 million each, making the T-14 the most expensive Russian tank ever and more than twice the cost of a T-90M. Given Russia’s economic problems and the sanctions, not a lot of T-14s, or any other tank are going to be built as long as so many key components have to be imported.

April 24, 2023: Ukraine launched another attack on Russian ships in Sevastopol harbor in Crimea using at least two UAVs. One UAV was destroyed by defensive fire while the other one exploded short of a target. Russia has installed extensive defenses for Sevastopol, including a boom across the harbor, as well as radars and heavy machine-guns to fire on the UAVs and ASVs (Autonomous Surface Vessels). Because of the UAV and ASV threat few warships are stationed at Sevastopol and the only commercial vessel there is a passenger ferry that makes few trips outside the harbor. Today’s attack follows a similar attack a month ago and another attack in October 2022 that used a combined force of explosives-carrying UAVs and ASV bomb boats against three Russian frigates and several other ships docked at Sevastopol. The night attack was detected and machine-guns and autocannon were seen firing on the attackers. One of the frigates and an amphibious ship were hit by the ASVs and damaged. The March attack used improved ASVs that can sense and leap over boom defenses the Russians deployed. This time the Russian ships were also prepared to quickly use the various machine-guns and autocannon on board to fire at and destroy the ASVs. This attack appears to have been a test of the new ASV design and the ASV passed. That means there will be another, much larger attack using ASVs and UAVs. If an attack does succeed, Russia may be forced to move its Black Sea war ships to a smaller port on the east coast of the Black Sea. At the moment, Russia no longer controls the waters around Crimea.

April 23, 2023: In Ukraine (Kherson province), four Russian Su-35 fighter-bombers launched five Russian FAB-500 GPS-guided bombs at targets near the Russian border. The Russian aircraft stayed on the Russian side of the border to avoid Ukrainian anti-aircraft missiles. The FAB-500 is similar to the American JDAM (GPS guided bombs) JDAM was first used in the 1990s. JDAM was a guidance kit that was attached to an unguided (“dumb”) bomb and turned into a guided bomb that could glide for over 20 kilometers to its target and land at the GPS coordinates entered into the JSAM guidance system. Since the 1990s nearly half a million JDAM kits have been manufactured. The kits cost about $26,000 each and made unguided bombs obsolete. Normally it requires several hundred unguided bombs to destroy a target. A JDAM bomb was a lot cheaper because there were fewer aircraft and a lot fewer unguided bombs, which cost up to a thousand dollars each. Until recently Russia did not have a bomb kit, but instead used more-expensive guided missiles. The new Russian JDAM works, but suffers more failures than JDAM. Ukraine has been receiving JDAM and the new, longer (70 kilometers) range JDAM-ER. Ukrainians modified their Russian designed warplanes to use JDAM bombs. Ukraine began using JDAM-ER earlier this over a month ago.

April 22, 2023: Ukrainian troops crossed the Dnieper River and established beachheads on the east (Russian defended) bank.

April 20, 2023: Throughout Russian occupied Ukraine, the local civilians continue to be moved to Russia while Russian civilians from given the homes and businesses of the exiled Russians. This is another war crime according to the Geneva Convention. The Russians see this policy as militarily useful because it depopulates areas where partisans are operating. At the same time, the deportations are another reason for people in occupied Ukraine to join the partisans.

April 20, 2023: Vladimir Putin has replaced the generals who were in charge of the disastrous operations in Donetsk province, especially Bakhmut and Vuhledar. The heavy losses during the last eight months deprived Russia of manpower it needed to deal with the coming Ukrainian offensive. Russian generals were ordered to achieve a victory so the government could justify the heavy losses in manpower, equipment and money. The war in Ukraine is increasingly unpopular in Russia and seen as the cause of major economic problems as well as embarrassing Russia by demonstrating how inept Russian armed forces are.

April 19, 2023: Ukraine has begun using Switchblade 600 loitering munitions against the Russians. Ukraine has received hundreds of Switchblade loitering munitions and some of the larger Switchblade 600s. Ukraine uses the smaller 2,5 kg (5.5 pound) Switchblade 300s and larger 600 to find and then attack targets. These are not reusable weapons. The Switchblade was introduced in 2020. It is the latest version of the original Switchblade loitering munition that appeared in 2011. While the original Switchblade weighed a kilogram (2.2 pounds), the latest Switchblade is ten times heavier at 23 kg (50 pounds), can stay in the air for 40 minutes and be controlled up to 80 kilometers from the operator. Top speed is 180 kilometers an hour and more economical cruise speed is closer to 150 kilometers an hour. The heavier warhead can destroy most tanks, although some modern tank designs include protection from top attack. The 600 can be carried into a remote area and used quickly. Switchblade 600 was requested by the U.S. Army for longer range surveillance missions and the option to hit specific small targets, like a building or enemy position. Unlike the earlier Switchblades, the 600 uses a tablet controller with more options, including manipulating the more powerful video camera. Video transmitted back to the operator can be saved and passed on. The operator also has a “wave off” feature in which a quick tap on the controller screen can cause the 600 to abort an attack and be available for another try. The 600 can also be programmed to carry out a mission without operator control. This means there is no control signal for enemy electronic warning systems to detect or jam. In this case when time is up the 600 self-destructs. This guidance option is the only one that can get past the occasional Russian use of their Strizh-3 UAV signal jammer.

April 10, 2023: Leaked American intelligence documents revealed that in February Russian Wagner Group military contractors sought to purchase weapons from Turkey for use by Wagner forces in Mali. Turkey refused, fearing that some of these weapons would end up with the more numerous Wagner forces fighting in Ukraine.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close