Mon, 09/12/2022 By Brian E. Frydenborg September 12, 2022
Editor's Note: This appeared here. I've not requested nor have I received permission to publish this piece, but I consider this important enough to publish in full and if the authors object I will break it down into a link. Also, you may find this piece links well with this analysis, 'Collapse: The Fall of the Soviet Union', which I recommend reading before reading the article below. RK
This article is an adapted excerpt from a much longer article previously published on Brian’s news website Real Context News on September 10 titled Russian Army Collapses—and Revolution—Near-Certain as Russia Loses War: When/Where Harder to Predict
How it started; how it’s going…
In many ways, Ukraine’s victories are the products of a mathematical equation involving Putinism, the nature of Russian forces and behaviors, the nature of Ukraine’s forces and behaviors, and the two sides relative places in the wider world. The sum of the parts, in most cases, not going to look terribly different from what we are seeing now, an eventuality I anticipated on March 8, less than two weeks into Russia’s escalation, in my piece here for Small Wars Journal.
The Russian failures were the almost natural outcomes of years of Putinisms, years of one man above all others running the show. This Ukraine war is the pinnacle of years of Putin’s rule, the best representation of him and the system he built, the people he elevated, the institutions he molded, the natural outcome of his leadership, and it will consume him andan utterly predictable Frankenstein monster utterly predictably doing its father and creator in as can only be the case at this point. No one can, should, or will be blamed more inside Russia (let alone the rest of the world) for this debacle, just as he would have received most of the praise from Russians had this “special military operation” succeeded (calling it a war in Russia
Thus, the terrible casualties and horrific reversals in March and early April exposed that the Russian military was not, in fact, the second most powerful in the world, that its training and the effectiveness of its tactics, the quality of its poorly-maintained vehicles, and the shoddy treatment of its own soldiers meant that what existed on paper and in intelligence estimates was not what Russia had in reality. “Impressive” against the tiny country of Georgia and poorly-armed Syrian rebels, when faced with a stronger foe in the Ukrainian Army, it was not impressive at all. In fact, the Ukrainian military is clearly better than Russia’s in a qualitative sense And nothing will ram this home for Russians more than the vastly-mounting body count , the dead Russians with families in Russia; at some point, a critical mass will be hit and Putin will lose enough support that he will find massive protests making it impossible to govern, the bargain of taking Russians’ freedom in exchange for making them strong and stable at home and strong and respected abroad already null and void, it is just a matter of how bad the economy has to get (short-term measures to prop up Russia’s economy cannot be sustained and Russia’s economy will only get far worse over time ), how many Russians have to die in battle, before the Russian people or those surrounding Putin rise up.
A lot of Russia’s best troops and equipment were destroyed in that first phase. The whole world watched Russian soldiers go into battle without enough food or water, carelessly led into ambushes time and time again. They watched as captured troops say they were lied to about where they were going and what they were doing. We saw perfectly good Russian tanks abandoned because they could not get fuel or ran out of ammunition because of terribly-run supply lines and logistics (just see Trent Telenko’s excellent threads on this topic ). We saw poorly maintained equipment and vehicles fail and a lack of precision from Russian weapons systems. We saw terrible training, morale, and discipline. We saw Russian units run into the ground to the point of destruction and dissolution. And each one of these could be contrasted against essentially the opposite situations with Ukraine’s military. As I noted before , the dynamics are set, with things only getting worse for Russia and better for Ukraine.
Also remember that using HIMARS, drones, M777s, and other advanced Western equipment that Ukraine has been able to hit targets deep behind the front lines. That means that the support systems and defensive lines behind the front line will for Russia be particularly weak and that exhausted and demoralized troops without adequate supplies (the norm now) are not that far from their breaking points, that any serious breakthrough or pushback against Russian can quite easily result in the type of routs and rapid collapses we saw from late march to early April. We are seeing something like that happen now near Kharkiv and Izium and we will see more of these before the war is over unless the military revolts en masse. On the other hand, since that early phase, Russia has only been able to make small, slow gains, as Ukraine’s situation behind the lines is much better (Russia seems to not realize that lobbing missiles into cities may kill civilians but does little to hurt Ukraine’s military capabilities). And, as retired U.S. Gen. Mark Hertling keeps pointing out , Ukraine’s forces are operating with interior lines that are easy to reinforce and supply versus the much longer exterior lines of Russia.
And Ukraine is clearly in the driver’s seat: it is dictating the pace and location of fighting, and Russia is now only mostly able to react rather than initiate. As I have argued , Ukrainian prudence—methodically using comparative advantages to inflict high casualties at minimal risk and being able to react and take advantage of great opportunities as they arise, as we are seeing near Kharkiv and Izium now —is meeting Russian limitations, a set of deteriorating capabilities to define and dictate the course of the war. Much of what we are seeing unfolding thus has a mathematical quality to it, inputs and outputs favoring Ukraine and setting Russia up for failure.
So it was inevitable that large parts of this Russian military would simply break down and melt away if they were not destroyed after half-a-year of troops being poorly fed, not being properly briefed or trained. These were Russian troops who could tell after seeing Ukraine in person that their government was lying to them and their families about why they were going to war , who were seeing their lives thrown away carelessly and their friends and leaders die beside them, who had the bad luck to be led by the cruel and incompetent, who were being given slipshod equipment that was not reliable and that broke down often, who were not given enough ammunition or food or water, and who could not defend well against more modern weapons that Ukraine was using very effectively… these things all degrade morale and cohesion.
About Those “People’s Republic” Forces…
And let’s not forget that many of the troops in the east were Donetsk and Luhansk separatists (from their so-called namesake sham “People’s Republics”), mentored by this shoddy, third-rate Russian military, who could only inevitably be of relatively inferior quality to their already inferior mentors.
It is important to remember that the Ukrainian government was essentially not prosecuting the war against the Donetsk and Luhansk Russian proxies for two main related reasons: the Minsk agreements that Russia never honored were still something the Kyiv government was trying to more or less follow to prevent escalation and bloodshed, and that Kyiv nervous about the possibility of Russia becoming even more directly involved as a response to any major successful offensive against those proxies. Had Russia been not involved heavily and looming over Ukraine’s east, it is likely Ukraine could have put down the Donbas rebellions fairly easily, but obviously other factors were at play.
Russia’s self-defeating stupidity truly knows no bounds: a great way to help its imperial project work would be to invest in seriously training the Luhansk and Donetsk rebels well, equipping them well, and treating them and the people it was occupying well. This did not happen ; indeed, the Russians instead are conscripting many people there against their will, are barely giving them any good equipment or training. Almost like they are insulting the very people they claim to be liberating, they are giving some of them World-War II-era, or even tsarist-era, rifles and are cruelly using these people as “cannon fodder ” to feel out enemy positions, including against artillery . Instead of winning people over to their cause or maintaining levels of support where Russia already had relatively high levels of support before February 24, the Russians are steadily alienating the very people at the center of their propaganda and their claims to being the good guys in this conflict. If the goal is to make these places part of Russia over the long-run, mistreating the people you are going to “liberate” is only going to sow the seeds of your own failure.
In this case, it is even doubtful that many of the original tens of thousands Donetsk and Luhansk separatist militia troops allied with Russia are left standing, and it is certain that the replacement conscripts from there would not be terribly good or motivated fighters, especially with how they have been treated by Russia (indeed, it seems plenty are resisting conscription or are deserting ).
Their morale was already low and Russia was earlier having problems getting them to fight . Add to that the fact that some of the best Russian troops in the east were redeployed to the south , and the quality-level of Russian and separatist troops in the east right now is probably the lowest of any sector of fighting. The morale of conscripts from those areas and any remaining from the original separatist forces must be horrible and there are likely more than a few who are willing to provide intelligence to Ukrainian forces or even switch sides. On top of that, remember that even the superior regular Russian forces are not even that good, either, and that their morale is also extremely low. So it would actually be surprising if the Donbas lines and Russian/separatist positions in general did not collapse at some point in the face of a well-led, determined attack from Ukrainians.
You can read the much longer version here , in which Brian expands and updates his argument on why this will be the downfall of the Putin regime, originally made in his March 8 Small Wars Journal article (featured in Real Clear Defense ) titled The Beginning of the End of Putin? Why the Russian Army May (and Should) Revolt
See all Brian’s Ukraine coverage here
Also see of Brian’s related eBook, A Song of Gas and Politics: How Ukraine Is at the Center of Trump-Russia, or, Ukrainegate: A “New” Phase in the Trump-Russia Saga Made from Recycled Materials, available for Amazon Kindleand Barnes & Noble Nook (preview here )
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