The war in Ukraine drags on with mix results and claims of victories by both sides. Today (July 4th, 2022) Russia claimed it forces have entered the city of Lysichansick, the last Ukrainian stronghold in the Donbas region, a claim confirmed by the Ukrainians. This achievement by the Russian forces comes in the aftermath of a humiliating defeat when they were forced abandoned the strategic Black Sea outpost of Snake Island on Thursday, in a major victory for Ukraine that could loosen a Russian grain export blockade threatening to worsen global food supply (the Russians claimed they abandoned the Island as a goodwill gesture so Ukraine can export its grains.) And as the war enters its fifth straight month, and with no end in sight, it is important to evaluate the military performance of both sides
It is the opinion of this writer that Russia has lost the war and mismanaged it badly. It has also exposed the dismal performance of military forces, and the poor quality of its weaponry. It is also his opinion that the current performance of the Russian military in Ukraine is consistent with its performances in other wars since the breakdown of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the emergence of the Russian Federation became as an independent state (that is not to say the Soviet Union faired better in its wars, but that is not our focus now.) It will also show an astonishingly identical pattern of conduct consisting of the Russians taking over a specific territory at an extremely high number of casualties and utter devastation. The following pages will illustrate the dismal performance of the Russian military in previous wars over the past three decades.
The Chechen War
The First Chechen War (Ilyos Akhmadov (June 1999). “Interview” (PDF). Small Wars Journal.) Also known as the First Chechen Campaign or First Russian-Chechen war was a war of independence fought by the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria against the Russian Federation, fought from December 1994 to August 1996. The first war was preceded by the Russian Intervention in Ichkeria, in which Russia tried to covertly overthrow the Ichkerian government. After the initial campaign of 1994–1995, culminating in the devastating Battle of Grozny, Russian federal forces attempted to seize control of the mountainous area of Chechnya, but faced heavy resistance from Chechen guerrillas and raids on the flatlands. Despite Russia’s overwhelming advantages in firepower, manpower, weaponry, artillery, combat vehicles, airstrikes and air support, the resulting widespread demoralization of federal forces and the almost universal opposition of the Russian public to the conflict led Boris Yeltsin‘s government to declare a ceasefire with the Chechens in 1996, and finally a peace treaty in 1997. The official figure for Russian military deaths was 5,732; most estimates put the number between 3,500 and 7,500, but some go as high as 14,000 (Casualty Figures Jamestown Foundation Archived August 14, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.) Although there are no accurate figures for the number of Chechen forces killed, various estimates put the number approximately 3,000 to 17,391 dead or missing. Various figures estimate the number of civilian deaths at between 30,000 and 100,000 killed and possibly over 200,000 injured, while more than 500,000 people were displaced by the conflict, which left cities and villages across the republic in ruins (“The War That Continues to Shape Russia, 25 Years Later”. The New York Times. 2019-12-10. Retrieved 2020-09-08.) The conflict led to a significant decrease of non-Chechen population due to violence and discrimination. (Unity Or Separation: Center-periphery Relations in the Former Soviet Union By Daniel R. Kempton, Terry D. Clark p. 122)
Destroid Russian tank in Chechniya (The Guardian)
It is important to note that the first war in Chechnya and Russian military performance is epitomized by the battle for the capital Grozny. The First Battle of Grozny was the Russian Army‘s invasion and subsequent conquest of the Chechen capital lasted from December 1994 to March 1995, which resulted in the military occupation of the city by the Russian Army and rallied most of the Chechen nation around the government of Dzhokhar Dudayev. The initial assault resulted in considerable Russian casualties and demoralization in the Russian forces. It took another two months of heavy fighting, and a change in tactics, before the Russian Army was able to capture Grozny. The battle caused enormous destruction and casualties amongst the civilian population and saw the heaviest bombing campaign in Europe since the end of World War II. (Williams, Bryan Glyn (2001). (The Russo-Chechen War: A Threat to Stability in the Middle East and Eurasia?. Middle East Policy.)
In conclusion, the Chechen War was highly unpopular in the army and with the Afghan War veterans. Caught in the midst of a major transition and massive organizational turmoil, the Russian Army had suffered heavily, and the Chechen operation had to be called off in 1996. The first Chechen War had been jinxed from the very start. It had been launched when the Russian Armed Forces were in the midst of a major systemic transition and turbulence. The operation was launched in a very great hurry and without adequate thought or preparation. Though the Russian Forces initially succeeded in occupying most of Chechnya, they were not numerically strong enough to retain control. The unpaid Russian conscripts were demoralized and the war was highly unpopular. The Chechen guerillas had survived and by August 1996 they had regrouped and in a series of surprise offensives recaptured Grozney and many other major Chechen cities (The War in Chechnya: A Military Analysis, Strategic Analyses, and August 2000, by By G.D. Bakshi.)
The second Chechen war
The Second Chechen War (‘Second Russian-Chechen War’ Маршо Радио (in Chechen). Retrieved 24 May 2021.) This took place in Chechnya and the border regions of the North Caucasus between the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, from August 1999 to April 2009. In August 1999, Islamist fighters from Chechnya infiltrated Russia’s Dagestan region, declaring it an independent state and calling for holy war. During the initial campaign, Russian military and pro-Russian Chechen paramilitary forces faced Chechen separatists in open combat and seized the Chechen capital Grozny after a winter siege that lasted from December 1999 until February 2000. Russia established direct rule over Chechnya in May 2000 although Chechen militant resistance throughout the North Caucasus region continued to inflict heavy Russian casualties and challenge Russian political control over Chechnya for several years. Both sides carried out attacks against civilians. These attacks drew international condemnation.
In mid-2000, the Russian government transferred certain military responsibilities to pro-Russian Chechen forces. The military phase of operations was terminated in April 2002, and the coordination of the field operations was given first to the Federal Security Service and then to the Ministry of Internal Affairs in the summer of 2003.
Military casualty figures from both sides are impossible to verify and are generally believed to be higher. In September 2000, the National Endowment for Democracy compiled the list of casualties officially announced in the first year of the conflict, which, although incomplete and with little factual value, provide a minimum insight in the information war. According to the figures released by the Russian Ministry of Defense on in August 2005, at least 1,250 Russian Armed Forces soldiers have been killed in action 1999–2005.(“May 2001: Summary of main news related to the conflict in Chechnya”. Watchdog.cz. Retrieved 17 October 2011.) This death toll did not include losses of Internal Troops, the FSB, police and local paramilitaries, of whom all at least 1,720 were killed by October 2003. (Civil and military casualties of the wars in Chechnya Russian-Chechen Friendship Society.)
The independent Russian and Western estimates are much higher; the Union of the Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia for instance estimated about 2,000 Russian Army servicemen have been killed between 1999 and 2003. (Chechnya war Archived 20 June 2010 at the Wayback Machine, Reuters AlertNet, 11 April 2007)
The War with Georgia in 2008
The 2008 Russo-Georgian War [ was a war between Georgia, on one side, and Russia and the Russian-backed self-proclaimed republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, on the other. The war took place in August following a period of worsening relations between Russia and Georgia, both formerly constituent republics of the Soviet Union. The fighting took place in the strategically important South Caucasus region. The war was brief lasting only five days resulting in the Russian forces defeating the Georgians. However, the war revealed profound deficiencies in the Russian armed forces. Moscow was surprised by the poor performance of its air power, and more importantly the inability of different services to work together. It truly was the last war of a legacy force, inherited from the Soviet Union. The conflict uncovered glaring gaps in capability, problems with command and control, and poor intelligence. As Russia’s then-Chief of the General Staff Nikolai Makarov euphemistically put it, “it is impossible to not notice a certain gap between theory and practice.” In addition, Russian reconnaissance was quite poor, and updated intelligence unavailable to the ground or air force. At several points their units were ambushed by Georgians, and in a number of cases the two sides ran into each other by accident. In an authoritative account of this conflict, in the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies’ book The Tanks of August, the column of the 58th Army commander stumbled into a Georgian recon unit, and the resulting fight left the commanding general wounded. Initial Russian units into the fight had little situational awareness of where Georgian forces were, so they pressed forward to make contact. Army elements had no organic means of reconnaissance, no effective communication with those that did have access to it, and not much in the way of good command and control. In the aftermath, Russia went about the business of reforming and modernizing that military toolkit. (RUSSIAN PERFORMANCE IN THE RUSSO-GEORGIAN WAR REVISITED, MICHAEL KOFMAN, SEPTEMBER 2018.) Furthermore, the Russian Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence (C³I) performed poorly during the conflict. The Russian communication systems were outdated, with a 58th Army commander allegedly making contact with his combat troops via a journalist-owned satellite phone. Without the modern GLONASS, precision-guided munitions could not be used and the US-controlled GPS was unavailable, since the war zone was blacked out. Due to the negligence of Russian defence minister, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles was not sanctioned, (McDermott, Roger N. (Spring 2009). “Russia’s Conventional Armed Forces and the Georgian War” (PDF). Parameters. US Army War College. XXXIX: 65–80. Archived (PDF) from the original on 16 February 2013. Retrieved 26 April 2019), an RIA Novosti editorial said that Russian forces were without reliable aerial-reconnaissance systems, once using a Tupolev Tu-22M3 bomber instead. ( “Russian Army’s weaknesses exposed during war in Georgia”. RIA Novosti. 9 September 2008. Archived from the original on 24 May 2009. Retrieved 26 April 2019. However, Russian reconnaissance battalions and regiments were also deployed during the war. (Tanks 2010, P.147.) Deputy Chief of the General staff of Russia, General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, said that in the conflict new weapons were not tried out. (Sebastian Alison (27 August 2008). “Georgia War Shows Russia Army Now a ‘Force to Be Reckoned With'”. Georgian Daily. Archived from the original on 5 May 2009.)
The devestation in Georgia (The New York Times)
The RIA Novosti editorial also said that Russian Su-25 ground-attack jets did not have radar vision and ground-target coordinate computing. They also did not have long-range surface-to-air missiles that could be fired beyond the air-defence zones of an adversary. (Russian Army’s exposed during war in Georgia.) Opposition-affiliated Russian analyst Konstantin Makienko observed the substandard conduct of the Russian Air Force: “It is totally unbelievable that the Russian Air Force was unable to establish air superiority almost to the end of the five-day war, despite the fact that the enemy had no fighter aviation.” (Konstantin Makienko (15 November 2008). “The Russian Air Force didn’t perform well during the conflict in South Ossetia”. Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies. Archived from the original on 27 March 2009.)
According to Russian expert Anton Lavrov, on 8 August, Russian and South Ossetian troops deployed in South Ossetia were unaware that Russian aviation was involved in the war. Russian troops and South Ossetians often assessed Russian aircraft as enemy and shot at them before precise identification took place. (Tanks 2010, P. 105.) On 8 August, the air force performed 63 flights in support of Russian ground troops. (Tanks 2010, P.57.) A total of six Russian warplanes were lost during the war: one Su-25SM, two Su-25BMs, two Su-24Ms and one Tu-22M3; friendly fire was the cause of the loss of three aircraft. (Tanks 2010, P. 105.) Lavrov denies that the shot-down Tu-22M was being used for reconnaissance. (Tanks 2010, P.100.)
Communication between the North Caucasus Military District commander and the air force was poor and their roles were unclear. Colonel-General Aleksandr Zelin, commander-in-chief of the Air Force, did not set foot in the command post, instead running Air-force operations on a mobile phone from his workroom without any help from his air-defence aides. The air force was blamed of rendering no assistance to land campaign. (McDermott, Roger N. (Spring 2009). “Russia’s Conventional Armed Forces and the Georgian War” (PDF). Parameters. US Army War College. XXXIX: 65–80. Archived (PDF) from the original on 16 February 2013. Retrieved 26 April 2019.)
The War in Ukraine
In brief, the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine (together with pro-Russian separatist forces) began in February 2014 following the Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity, and initially focused on the status of Crimea and the Donbas, internationally recognized as part of Ukraine. The first eight years of the conflict included the Russian annexation of Crimea (2014) and the war in Donbas (2014–present) between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists, as well as naval incidents, cyberwarfare, and political tensions. Following a Russian military build-up on the Russia–Ukraine border from late 2021, the conflict expanded significantly when Russia launched a full-scale Invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022.
According to Newsweek Online Magazine issue of July 4, 2022, Russia’s military deaths in the ongoing war have surpassed 36,000, Ukraine’s armed forces said Monday, as Moscow claimed a major victory after appearing to take control of the Luhansk region. Ukrainian officials regularly provide updates on Russian military losses. The general staff of the armed forces of Ukraine said on Facebook that since Putin’s war began on February 24, Russia has lost 36,200 military personnel. Putin has also lost 1,589 tanks, 3,754 armored combat vehicles, 804 artillery systems, 246 multiple rocket launchers, 105 air defense systems, 217 aircraft, 658 operational-tactical UAVs, 15 warships, 2,629 vehicles and tankers, and 187 helicopters, according to Ukraine’s combat losses update. Russia rarely discloses its own military losses. Moscow last released figures on March 25, when a general told state media those 1,351 soldiers had been killed and 3,825 were wounded. The U.K. government said in April that Russia had lost about 15,000 troops.
Damaged trees and Russian military equipment near a Ukraine military position in Irpin on April 2, 2022. (Heidi Levine for the W. Post)
According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and as of June 22, 2022, 10,403 civilian casualties in the country, including 4,634 killed and 5,769 injured. Of those killed, 1,780 were men, 1,194 were women, and 279 were children (131 girls and 148 boys). Gender is not known on an additional 41 child and 1,340 adult fatalities. OHCHR said the actual figures are considerably higher and most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused “by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area.” The report also added that as of June 21, more than 8 million refugees have crossed borders into neighboring countries since Feb. 24.
Evaluation of Russia’s military performance in Ukraine
According to Seth G. Jones of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), “Russia has failed to achieve most of its objectives in Ukraine because of poor military planning, significant logistical problems, low combat readiness, and other deficiencies, which undermined Russian military effectiveness. These and other challenges—including Ukrainian military efforts and Western aid—severely impacted Russian air, ground, cyber, and maritime operations. Russia’s failures will force the Russian military to fundamentally rethink its training practices, organizational structure, culture, logistics, recruitment and retention policies, and planning efforts. Nevertheless, Russia is still attempting a de facto annexation of parts of eastern and southern Ukraine that it controls.”
This analysis by Jones further examines lessons from Russian air, ground, cyber, and other domains following Moscow’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine. It asks: What are some of the most important military lessons from the first three months of the war? What do these lessons suggest about the future of the war? The assessment focuses predominantly on the operational level of warfare, especially the planning and conduct of the military campaign. The operational level links the tactical utilization of forces to strategic objectives and includes such aspects as fire and maneuver, logistics, intelligence, command and control, and planning.
The analysis attempts to answer the main questions, as it relied on several types of information. One included collecting and analyzing primary and secondary sources on the war, including military and intelligence assessments from Western countries. Another was a force disposition map of the battlefield, in which CSIS analysts compiled and assessed Russian and Ukrainian tactical and operational activity. The final involved background interviews with Western government officials and other subject matter experts. While the war in Ukraine is likely far from over, this analysis comes to several initial conclusions.
First, the Russian military faced considerable logistics challenges, in part because of poor training and planning. During the Russian push to Kyiv in the early phase of the war, for example, Russian ground forces faced massive logistical and command and control challenges operating in contested areas inside of Ukraine. Without access to rail transport and with roads clogged with Russian vehicles, Russian ground forces failed to move fuel, munitions, spare parts, and other matériel quickly and efficiently to forward-deployed units. Supply lines could not keep up with the long combat pushes, and logistics vehicles were not properly protected. The effectiveness of Russian long-range strike—a key aspect of Russian military operations—was also severely impacted by logistical challenges, including an insufficient supply of precision-guided munitions.
Second, the Russian ground offensive appears to have been planned and executed based on poor assumptions about how the Ukrainian military—and the population—would respond, as well as how the West might react. Seizing and holding territory was a major political objective of Russian policymakers. But controlling territory in a foreign country with a hostile Ukrainian population was deeply problematic for the Russian military, particularly since the conflict began to resemble a “people’s war.”3 In addition, Russian forces failed to effectively integrate combined arms to seize and hold Ukrainian territory, including coordination between land power, air power, and long-range fires. The Russian invasion force was also far too small to achieve its objectives and neglected to block Ukraine’s western border and prevent the supply of foreign weapons, systems, fuel, and other aid to Ukraine.
Third, Russian offensive cyber operations and electronic warfare failed to blind Ukrainian command and control efforts or threaten critical infrastructure for a prolonged period. Russian military and intelligence agencies conducted cyberattacks and utilized electronic warfare against Ukrainian targets, including destructive cyberattacks on hundreds of Ukrainian government and critical infrastructure systems. But these attacks did not notably impact the Ukrainian will or ability to fight or communicate. Ukraine was able to blunt most of the effects of these cyberattacks through an aggressive cyber defense, with help from private companies, Western governments, and other state and non-state actors.
The rest of this brief is organized into three sections. It begins by providing an update on the war, including a tactical map of Russian and Ukrainian force disposition. The brief then focuses on Russian challenges in several domains of warfare. It concludes with policy implications for the United States and its Western allies and partners
The writer believes that Russia is now in quagmire named Ukraine. This conclusion is based upon the following facts.
- The Russians used almost identical military strategy of using relentless and far superior firepower without any planning or vision, resulting in total destruction at a absorbent high price in manpower and equipment with little or nothing to show for
- The inferior nature of the Russian military hardware compared to that made by the USA and other western powers
- The Russians fall into a trap set by the west (as it happened with Iraq in 1991) in which the west used the battlefield in Ukraine to display their most modern weaponry to show first-hand its devastating effectiveness for future potential clients. And to that, news media have reported an increase of demand for new weapons tried in the Ukrainian theater
- The Russians not only failed to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO, but through its ruthless war encouraged other historically neutral countries like Finland and Sweden to apply for and obtain membership with a token resistant by the Turk who later relented
- The intense and suffocating sanctions by the west are having a great impact on the not-so-great Russian economy
At the end, and with the fall of the city of Lysichansick, the Russians, this writer believes, have reached their limit and will be forced to negotiate a cease fire by claiming that their objectives from the war have been met although this city represents more a face-saving small prize after many five months of fighting and thousands or of casualties
*Nadum Jwad is a freelance political commentator who lives in Windsor, Ontario, Canada