The current situation on the ground in Ukraine should motivate a lot people who think about the military for a living, including me, to reassess some of our assumptions.
The pundit class, intelligence analysts, and armchair Napoleons alike should realize that the failure of the Russian military in Ukraine not only speaks to their problems but to our own images of them. For if this is all they are capable of, what were we so afraid of?
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve not suddenly converted to a “since there is no threat ban the bomb” type. There are absolutely geopolitical and military threats out there, the Chinese predominant. I’m saying that we need to learn some lessons in Ukraine.
Lesson 1) Russia is a banana republic with nukes- The nukes are still a concern, as is the Russian military. But they are not the Soviets. Many, including me, thought they would take Ukraine like they took Hungary and Czechoslovakia during the Soviet days. We were wrong. The Warsaw Pact no longer exists and the rest of Europe isn’t as intimidated as they used to be by the Russians. Hence why they have stood up to Moscow this time.
2) Mobile defense rules the day- One of the reasons we thought the Kremlin would have a field day was their preponderance of men and material. But we didn’t take into account one Uke infantryman with a Javelin. The stick and move tactics of the Ukes have made the Russian hordes turn and run like a Brownie troop facing an NFL front line. Same in the air. The Russian Air Force has been ineffective because they are afraid of flying through the Ukrainian SAM belts.
3) Logistics, logistics, logistics- If it is said business is about location, location, location, then war is similarly about logistics. You can’t blame anybody for getting this wrong, as the Russian pooch screwing has been so massive in Ukraine hardly anyone could have predicted it.
You’ve all seen the videos and heard the stories. It is truly astounding. From food to fuel to communications to ammo to much more, the Russians weren’t prepared for the invasion or subsequent operations. Even the quality of their men, a conscript army with little training, morale, or unit cohesion, has been substantially wanting.
4) Corruption- Reports are rife the high level Russian commanders have been skimming military funds and supplies to buy expensive toys, fund and build palatial estates, and stash cash in foreign banks. This has been tolerated by Putin as the price of keeping the military in line. But why he didn’t stop the practice some time before a major military operation is anyone’s guess.
So, the Russians are not the Soviets, are not ten feet tall, and are embarrassing on the ground. In the old days we had good reason to find them a dangerous foe because of their sheer size and nukes. Today? Meh. Doesn’t mean they’re not a threat. It means we need to learn to fight them in a different way.