A five-part article on Russian military misjudgements in Ukraine
- I—Background and Russian Unit Organisation
- II—Russian Equipment and Manpower
- III—Russian Onslaught
- IV—Russian Inertia
- V—Russian Rout
“Our country is officially and directly declared the main threat to North Atlantic security. And Ukraine will serve as a forward springboard for the strike.”—Vladimir Putin, February 24th 2022
The second week of September 2022 was certainly momentous. In the UK, the monarch died within two days of investing a new Prime Minister and in Ukraine, a front that has moved sluggishlyif at all— for half a year suddenly burst into life Though UK media have focused all attention on “historic” UK events, those unfolding in Ukraine may well have the deeper impact on the world at large.
What has suddenly changed? How could a massive Russian Army experts expected to overrun Ukraine in a week in February become so bogged down and now seems to have been caught napping?
The war is far from over. Accurate and comprehensive data from the front is hard to find. But this appears a turning point in the conflict. What follows is informed speculation why that should happen after months of stalemate.
Russian Unit Organisation
“In war, moral power is to the physical as three parts are to one.”—Napoleon Bonaparte
The Russian Army has always been large. As the Red Army stormed Berlin in 1945, it numbered around 12 million. Kept at a still-impressive size throughout the Cold War, until the collapse of the Soviet Union. At that point, both size and readiness eroded. At one point, only a few dozen armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs) were built in a year. Many junior officers left to find careers outside the service and morale slumped.
Some forces were kept up to strength and in readiness. These were sent to Kosovo and Moldova in the 1990s, but in a peacekeeping role. As he secured his power in the 2000’s Vladimir Putin revived investment in the Army and devised training grounds that suited his flexing of muscles to restore his dream of the Russian “sphere of influence” (a.k.a. Empire).
This was achieved in Chechnya and Ossetia—two smallish territories in the Caucasus far from foreign interest so he could assume a free hand. Unlike the bottomless quagmire of Afghanistan where Russia had burned its fingers and lost 10,000 men through the 1980’s, these were small “brush fire” wars against poorly armed and led local militia, where tactics could be tested and morale restored.
By the teens, the Russian Army had been built to around 80 brigades, formed by the splitting up of divisions that proved too unwieldy for effective deployment—a lesson learned from the early years of WW2.
When Russia first intruded into Ukraine, the fall of Crimea came relatively easy. But the Russian-backed insurrection in the Donbas ran into such resistance that the Russian Army had to intervene, but without insignia to protect the fiction that this was spontaneous local action. Those sent were battalion tactical groups (BTG) were a modular tactical organization created from a garrisoned Russian Army brigade to deploy combat power to conflict zones. BTGs were typically effective in combat operations in Ukraine from 2013-2015, but on several occasions, BTGs were tactically defeated by Ukrainian regular units despite Russian firepower, electronic warfare (EW) and air-defense artillery (ADA).