A five-part article on Russian military misjudgements in Ukraine
- I—Background and Russian Unit Organisation
- II—Russian Equipment and Personnel
- III—Russian Onslaught
- IV—Russian Inertia
- V—Russian Rout
“No plan survives contact with the enemy.” —Otto von Clausewitz
Although the Russians stoically denied it, there was a blatant amount of warning before the attack on Ukraine actually happened on February 24th. By then, they had deployed the 6th , 8th, 41st, 48th, 58th and 65th Combined Arms Armies (CAAs) along the border, with the 29th, 35th and 36th CAAs deployed in Lukashenko’s puppet state of Belarus. That may sound like nine armies, but they total fewer than 200,000—the size of a single Western army. Despite this belligerent stance, the presumption seems to have been threefold:
- That Ukrainian forces would be as ill-prepared as in 2014.
- That there was considerable sympathy across Ukraine for returning to the Russian fold.
- That the reputation of Russia as a superpower with overwhelming force would cow and resistance by hostile Ukrainians.
All three turned out to be delusional. The Ukrainian Army had used the small-scale war against separatists in the Donbas as a training ground and had cycled many units through there for “live fire” training. The Army was also much better equipped—partly from the West—and, most importantly, were motivated by outrage at earlier Russian attempts to bring the country back under Kremlin control. The invasion was all that was needed for the few remaining skeptics to feel that motivation.
Though they overran another 10% of Ukraine almost immediately, progress slowed to a crawl within a month. This was due to several Russian shortcomings, as well as stiff Ukrainian resistance. These were:
- BTG fragility, leading to decline in combat effectiveness after a few losses
- Poor logistics and support providing POL, ammunition and supply
- Lack of air support as the Russian Air Force failed to gain air superiority
- Lack of initiative at low levels, allowing Ukraine to dictate tactics
- Poor timing, as the seasonal rasputitsa mud made off-road travel difficult
- Poor command and control among units due to little brigase-level, let alone CAA-level operational experience
Perhaps the worst example of all this was the massive column at a standstill NE of Kyiv for well over a week. Within a month, little progress was being made on any front and the Ukrainians were taking fresh heart from having stopped what had been billed as a juggernaut.
Taking nothing away from Ukrainian heroes, the bullets above imply that the Russians did not help themselves. There were reports of Russian soldiers amazed that they were not welcomed as liberators; others panicked when they met stiff resistance they had not expected. Despite there being many Russian-speaking inhabitants in the regions occupied, few seemed ready to collaborate and fewer still to welcome “libettors from the fascist regime in Kyiv”.