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Russian Invasion of Ukraine: Another View

August 8, 2014

My recent post analyzing what might happen if Putin invades eastern Ukraine has generated much discussion and some excellent comments. I’m posting a recent one by Jim A. (who, full disclosure, I know “in real life” and served in the Navy with; he possesses vast expertise in matters Russian and military), which offers a different perspective that merits your pondering:

Well, it’s probably cold comfort, particularly to those facing them, but I don’t think all those Russian troops massed along the Ukrainian border are as battle-ready as their chain of command would like us to think. The overwhelming majority are 12-month conscripts, and so probably of less utility than one might think. Russian law requires that Russian conscripts may not be sent to a combat zone until they have had at least six months of training, but six months’ training produces a very basic soldier, not one capable of a whole lot more. The draft cycles run in fall and spring which probably leaves Russia with pretty narrow windows for launching a military campaign: the spring 2014 class isn’t fully trained up yet, while the Fall 2013 class is already antsy short-timers. In terms of trained soldier availability though, I might invade in late August to early September to best take advantage of Russia’s available conscript manpower. That also just happens to be the same time of year when Russian runs its annual set-piece military exercises. Thanks to Russia’s archaic military manpower system, the upcoming six weeks are the most potentially dangerous for a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Numbers weren’t a problem for the Russian military of the past, but they are now. The mass mobilization force of the Cold War is long gone, and there is little in the way of a reserve force. I don’t mean to suggest the Russian buildup should not be taken seriously, it should, but rather the Russian Ground Troops and VDV have some real personnel impediments to their effective employment. This was supposed to have been fixed with the introduction of a professional enlisted force and NCO corps, which was one of the original planks of the Noviy Oblik (New Look) reforms of 2008-2009, but this has been walked back several times now due to the failure of sufficient qualified recruits. Both the VDV and Ground Troops have attempted to deal with this through implementation of Permanently Ready battalions (battalions, not brigades here, e.g, always fully manned. mostly with professionals), but even this will may be hard for them to sustain.

Even though the most opportune time for the Russians in terms of manpower is just now opening up, they’re probably lost strategic momentum. The “surprise the enemy” train has long since left the station, Russia has lost whatever international goodwill it formerly had. Should they choose to invade, they’ll be choosing an enemy who’s alert, already mobilized (such as they are) and who has history of fighting a multiyear insurgency. If Putin invades, he’d need to win quickly in order to retain much support, but the odds of military success are against him there. Backing down isn’t likely part of his calculus, since there’s no saving grace there. The best I think he can hope for is another frozen conflict.

I think Jim’s hit the nail on the head there: a frozen conflict in eastern Ukraine probably is the best outcome now for the Kremlin, with a lot of dead people to get there. Think Nagorno-Karabakh, a not-all-that-frozen frozen conflict (just yesterday Azerbaijan’s president had an epic Twitter rant that all but declared war on Armenia over that one, after twenty years of sorta-peace), but on a far grander scale, in a place much more vital to European security.

I also concur that, if he wanted war, Putin should have struck months ago, when Ukraine was even less ready militarily and psychologically to resist, with Kyiv till reeling from the shock of Crimea’s near-bloodless loss. Now, Russia will have a real war on its hands if it crosses the Ukrainian frontier in strength. Let’s hope the Kremlin reconsiders. I think we’ll know what’s going to happen rather soon.

 

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28 Comments
  1. Question:
    What happens if Putin shuts off all gas pipelines simultaneous with the attack sometime in October, November?
    Ukrainians would face a winter without heat.
    Soldiers are not the only weapon.

    Assuming ukrainian leave the territory to escape the freeze during war, that would be almost a bloodless war and an empty territory with no people to defend, wouldn’t it?

    • That would, ahem, not improve Ukrainian morale, no.

    • thesurlybeaver permalink

      It’s not enough. If Putin cuts off gas exports he further cripples his economy, and there are enough alternate sources of gas to keep Europe (and Ukraine) functioning.

      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/comment/ambroseevans_pritchard/11017413/Vladimir-Putins-pointless-conflict-with-Europe-leaves-it-a-vassal-of-China.html

      • WJM permalink

        Was looking into the uranium trade between Australia and Russia, given a new prospect of Ozzi sanctions yesterday (still not sure how dependent Russia is in this respect?), and found this article, about the increasing dependence of Australia on China; even though a bit Ozzi-right-wing-colored/biased, it paints a not-so-rosy future for the same dependance between Russia and China….also a nice addendum to your Telegraph article:

        http://www.protectionist.net/2014/07/08/hillary-clinton-criticises-australia-on-china/

      • WJM permalink

        Oh, interesting thing contrary between Russia and China, not similar:
        (one of the factors pointed out in that article, why China will become increasingly chauvinistic & militaristic)

        Birth-sex-rate is opposite to each other; male surplus in China, male deficit in Russia.
        (one-child policy vs alcohol (book tip: ‘The Alcoholic Empire’))

        Just not sure whether Russian females will be happy with Chinese men….nor the other way around, neither physically nor mentally, I am afraid.
        Rather more fuel for conflict than less, somehow.

  2. Mistermischka permalink

    Invasion will come tonight or tomorrow early morning, securing the donbass first. Odessa, Charkow, Cherson.. we will see girls with flowers welcoming the russian soldiers. We will see fightings for some days around Dnepropetrovsk.

    • 4MK permalink

      Send them to there Graves then NATO is waiting,For a excuse to fully arm and deploy the Ukraine and NATO forces,And thats come from NATO European command

  3. Alert and mobilized? What is mobilized in Ukraine? Obsolete equipment? Troops that have ever been in real combat? The same weaknesses Russia has are only more pronounced in Ukraine.

    Russia has air superiority and superiority in every area that counts, such as tactical missiles and artillery. Spec Op units are far superior to anything Ukraine has and can paralyze command and control that waves of Iskanders do not decapitate.

    You also have to consider potential Ukraine defense strategies such as in depth, mobile and forward–all have serious limitation and problems in this context that Russia can overcome. The most likely strategy is in depth as the other two require a very disciplined and highly capable army under superb leadership, none of which Ukraine has.

    If Russia were to attack, therefore, it would wait until the major geographic barriers, the Dnipro River and the Pripet Marshes, which would be elemental in an in depth defense, freeze, reducing their utility. This means offensive will come in winter, if Russians are really intent on an attack, as it will undermine the in depth defense by removing the river and marshes from the table. This will also allow Putin to assemble a force big enough that it will have a 2:1 advantage, just like the Russian prefer.

    The intermediate step to keep the pot boiling would be to work another provocation: send in inexperienced Russian peace troops so they are slaughtered by the Ukrainians, thus creating facts on the ground that play right into the narrative which has been advanced by the Kremlin so far.

    In the final analysis, Ukraine cannot last without NATO help, which is most likely going to be framed by Moscow as an act of war.

    • This is a nice fantasy to have, waves of Iskanders! Super Spec Ops! Air Superiority!

      It took Russians 2 campaign seasons and a total siege and destruction of Grozny before they could even pretend they were winning against the Chechens. Against the Georgians the Russian Airforce suffered staggeringly loses all things considered. What are they going to do when 50-80 Soviet sams open up on them other than fall out of the sky?
      This time they are fighting people who look, sound and are culturally identical, which makes Ukrainian insurgents impossible to properly identify. What are 20,000 going to do in the face of that? Round up all the suspects? Stop every car? Russia invades —> America gives lethal aid —> Russian tanks get blown up in alarming rates and planes fall out of the sky —> Russians do the only thing they know how to do and brutalize the populace –> more things fall out of the sky. The entire Russian Western Theater of War would have to enter Ukraine to interdict the border and control an insurgency. Russian General Staff isnt filled with morons, there was a reason why the Russians withdrew after briefly occupying a small part of Georgia, its impossible for them to wage a genuine war of occupation and the Chechnya experience has left them traumatized, and again, that was against a country of 3 million and of a people the Russians are conditioned to hate.

    • Jeremy permalink

      Winning a military conflict is one thing. Winning what happens afterwards is something different.

      What’s Russia going to do with most of the 40 million Ukrainians hating them? Starve them to death like Stalin? I don’t think so. And imagine the cost economically of running a failed police state that would be an occupied Ukraine.

      Just look at the Americans in Iraq. Far superior equipment than what the Russians have, but spent trillions and the place is now a basket case with an ongoing war and the Americans still having to drop bombs. Putin may be a shifty KGB type, but I don’t think he’s a total moron to ruin his country by invading all of Ukraine.

  4. Derek permalink

    Would Russia be willing to send in “Peacekeepers” simply just to split Europe from the US further? Without having an end goal, destabilizing the situation and creating political arguments and chaos would be a means in and of itself for Moscow, would it not? Seems no one would really want to take this head on anyway and Germany still doesn’t seem that into calling a Russian spade, a spade.

    • TSB permalink

      The split if it develops won’t be between Europe and the US but within the EU itself. You can already see three blocs at play – Southern Europe mired in economic depression wants nothing to do with the matter, Western Europe (including Germany) is fence sitting, torn between “doing the right thing” and protecting their trading relationships with Russia, and Eastern and Northern Europe is outright opposed to Russian agression because it’s much too close to them for comfort. The US and Canada are comfortably far away from it all and have comparatively little trade with Russia, their is less cost to them in supporting Ukaine (and with 1m + Ukrainian Canadians, a lot of votes at stake in the latter).

  5. This line from Jim A. is quite funny:

    “Russia has lost whatever international goodwill it formerly had. ”

    We are constantly bombarded with the silly notion that Russia is somehow ‘isolated’ when in fact the opposite has been shown to the case.

    One of the great incorrect assumptions of late has been to conflate the West (NATO+Japan) with the international community.

    The fact of the matter is that the rest of the world largely is rooting for Russia in an unofficial capacity, de facto, or de jure through economic relations.

    This myopia courtesy of the western media and American foreign policy planners really has harmed its overall strategy in seeking to contain Russia by aggressively stoking the conflict in the Donbas.

    On a (very important) sidenote:

    Are the Ukrainians going to go nuclear on Tuesday by voting to stop the use of pipelines across Ukraine to Europe by Russia? Italy officially went into triple-dip recession this week and Germany has admitted that it is teetering on recession itself. Will they let Ukraine hold them hostage?

    Just who is advising the Kiev regime at the moment to burn its bridges?

    John, do you have any more info on what’s going on in the Southern Cauldron?

    • The situation there is murky, fluid, and changing every few hours: I will blog more once it becomes clearer.

    • EU + Japan + US/Can/Aus represents the bulk of the world economy and the bulk of Russia’s export customers and technology providers. Its true, the Chinese are super excited that they have the Russians over the barrel and are able to extract meaningful price concessions on both the gas price (barely above break even on the new deal) and the project costs (when the Russians were using the Japanese as a stalking horse, the Chinese offered to build the Siberian infrastructure for the gas exports to the East, now that the situation isnt as fluid the Russians are forced to raid their sovereign wealth fund to pay for the infrastructure.)

      The reality of the situation is simple: the West is against Russia, the developing world is indifferent but since the developing world is either directly competing with them in trying to move up the value chain or are too far ahead for Russia to catch up they are not ‘rooting’ for Russia.

    • thesurlybeaver permalink

      “We are constantly bombarded with the silly notion that Russia is somehow ‘isolated’ when in fact the opposite has been shown to the case.”

      The approval of Venezuala, Cuba, and a few African states + $5 will get you a fancy coffee at Starbucks.

      Name one major country that is supporting Russia through this. The Chinese for one are maintaining a studied neutrality.

  6. uwe permalink

    We are all discussing VVP’s (possible) plans and objectives. But what about our’s (NATO’s)?
    What are we trying to achieve with and in Ukraine and Russia? Can we take measures that risk to topple
    the current Russian regime and might bring even more nationalism (like 1905) or destabilization and balkanization of Russia? What would that mean for the Russian/Islamic kraina in the Caucasus and around the Caspian sea? What would that mean for Turkey and the war between Sunni and Shia?
    What about China and the Russian far east? For once, we should really think this through. We might find that Putin and the other thugs are the lesser of two (or more) evils.

    • Great questions all … if I were Moscow I’d be more worried about China than anything else.

  7. Lawrence schneider permalink

    Of course, the Ukrainian army has the same conscript cycle so there’s some parity in training if not in numbers.

    Laeey

  8. WJM permalink

    Back to the article above, concripts vs full-time contract soldiers:

    http://en.censor.net.ua/news/296947/threat_of_a_russian_invasion_exists_ukrainian_army_is_ready_to_give_an_adequate_rebuff

    “By decision of the board of the Ministry of Defense “all peacekeeping brigades should be staffed by the contract soldiers only – no recruits should be here,” Shoigu said.”

    Which then boils down to the numbers needed to invade, vs those needed for a sustained annexation….

    Btw, does any other country have peace-keeping *brigades*?
    Plurial?
    This is worse than 1984 and Animal Farm together.

    “Just a matter of having a good supply of white paint.”

    I also guess that was the flaw of the recent concealed ‘Red Cross’ convoy….you can’t send tanks to escort them, not even heavy (armed) APV’s, if you want to keep that cover/image….what is left is a long convoy of sitting duck for any military that takes offense of such an invasion.
    Not a bad casus belli #2 for Putemkin, but still.

  9. WJM permalink

    Btw, there is another problem with conscripts vs contract soldiers, similiar to what surfaced after the final Russian retreat from Afghanistan.
    Because at that point the military *had* to take home all the bodybags, having accumulated them over the years, to keep the homefront happy, yet leaving their family in the dark about their whereabouts.
    While you can do that with contracts, doing the same with conscripts gets hairy, after their 12 month tour of duty….
    (the Russian post-war cemetries in Berlin/DDR carry similar secrets, then including conscripts of that era….many relatives from Russia, almost too old to travel, only having learned about the fate of their son/siblings after the Wende in 1989, and volunteers registering the until then almost anonymous graves….often claimed suicides, while actually being defecters, shot while on the run (to be truthful to the East-Germans: *they* often managed to divert baffling extreme measures from their Russian counterparts when such Russian defecters were traced or captured (like blowing up a complete house/block, or running it over with tanks, just because one such defector was hiding there, with or without hostages))

  10. Chaney permalink

    I say let’s have a war to end all wars.Get this crap over with

  11. WJM permalink

    An interesting, although by far not surprising note on this distinction between conscripts and contract soldiers:

    http://www.sptimes.ru/story/40640?page=3#top

    XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
    Families of Russian Troops in Ukraine Want Answers

    By Laura Mills

    The Associated Press

    Published: August 30, 2014 (Issue # 1826)

    [snip]

    In recent days, Melnikova said she has received multiple reports from divisions where soldiers have been intimidated into signing up as contract troops and then whisked across the border.

    “According to our military laws, they are supposed to be given a month’s leave before their contract work starts,” she said. “But they aren’t given the leave; they’re sent straight across the border.”

    [snip]

    Putin has tacitly acknowledged the Russian soldiers were in Ukraine, but suggested they simply got lost. “The first thing I heard is that they were patrolling the border and may have found themselves on Ukrainian territory,” he said Tuesday after meeting the Ukrainian president in Belarus.

    Sokolova does not buy that explanation. She said her husband “was forced to sign an agreement to secrecy,” and that he had told her several men resigned from the division just before the trip.

    XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

    Elsewhere aka ‘cannon-fodder’….

    Anyway, seems Putemkin is already seriously lacking the manpower for his madness….

    • WJM permalink

      And another interesting note, on the Georgian war: 30% of the soldiers there were conscripts too.
      Conflicting with Russian constitution.
      That is: *when* war is declared.
      Which is a damn good reason for Putemkin *not* to.

      Btw, I do understand the diplomatic force/goal of *announcing* the deployment/deliberations/analysis of possible new sanctions….but WTF, shouldn’t the next portfolio of those not lay ready on the shelves?
      (and it’s not as if the additional ‘monotoring/fine-tuning’ aspect isn’t an mandatory continuous process anyway)

      Or: since when can a bully be impressed by ‘I will think about some new attacks against you, while re-evaluating my last one, just wait a few days’.

      You raise your arm, and give him a very short deadline for retrait, then smack down.

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