What Russian Army Doing?

Recall NAFO making fun of a Russian blogger who asked “What air defense doing” after Ukraine attacked Saky airfield in August?

In Topwar.ru this week, Roman Skomorokhov essentially asked “What Russian Army doing?”

He stridently criticizes the high-level decision-making and conduct of Russia’s war on Ukraine. He perpetuates the tripe about the Russian Army not actually being allowed to wage war. This, despite evidence of tens of thousands of war crimes.

Skomorokhov’s biggest question, however, is why Moscow isn’t using its entire million-man regular army in the war. Why aren’t mobilized reservists sent to the military districts instead of to the front in Ukraine. He predicts a slaughter. Perhaps he doesn’t realize Russia’s best combat units weren’t really that good and are now badly degraded. Maybe he doesn’t understand how little motivation Russian forces have. Or how much Ukrainian soldiers do.

Questioning of the Russian military has taken a sharp edge since the Russians were chased from Kharkiv, then suffered major losses in Donetsk (and most recently in the south toward Kherson). Rebukes like Skomorokhov’s are tolerated even though their vitriol exceeds that of independent Russian military journalists in the 1990s and 2000s.

Liberal media was shut down by Putin, but war hawks are unmuzzled, leading some to conclude their views are shared (and protected) by powerful folks in, or close to, the Putin elite.

Still, Skomorokhov’s editors make a post-script assertion that they aren’t “demeaning” the army or “sowing panic,” just highlighting the military’s mistakes so they can be corrected.

Here’s a translation.

Where generally is the Russian Army?

Since the Ministry of Defense still continues Operation “Silence of the Lambs,” one has to think up for oneself where Russia’s army is located generally and how it is fighting there. One could do a free essay on the theme “If I think it up myself, the worse for you,” but alas, statistics will have their place here.

What do we hear recently? Constant complaints about how the VSU1 is several times superior in manpower and equipment and as a result is developing its offensive success, seizing one populated point after another.

The Russian Army can’t offer proper resistance by virtue of these sad facts (mobilization of Ukrainian reserves and skillful leadership of the VSU by NATO officers) because it is constantly “regrouping,” which looks more like fleeing, supplying the VSU with the newest equipment in the framework of a “Russian lend-lease” program.

Here’s a just question: Why?

Why do we hear in the dispatches of military correspondents a strange litany of “Barsiki,”2 “Musicians,”3 NM LNR,4 NM DNR5 (but what the hell kind of policemen, Donbas tigers are there), Chechen “Akhmat-Force” subunits and only quite seldom slips “units of the 20th Army.” It’s clear we’re talking about the 3rd and 144th MRDs, there are also units of the 8th Army, but you really get the impression the Russian Army has been teleported and fights somewhere in another dimension. And there, yes, every day 200 VSU soldiers and officers are killed, another Su-25 is shot down and another “HIMARS” is destroyed.

If possible to say without sarcasm, then we really have some trash going on.

Everything happening reminds me of a duel between two boxers. For one side — the best of the Klichko brothers (good, let it be Vitaliy6, he speaks beautifully), for the other — Nikolay Valuyev.7 Everything’s in order with Klichko, but Valuyev will fight with shackles on his left leg and weights attached to him, with his right hand tied to his torso and his left eye blindfolded. And he won’t be allowed to hit Klichko in the head.

So how does the SVO8 look compared to the war Ukraine is conducting.

Generally, no matter how I tried, I couldn’t find a more or less sane definition of SVO. What the “special military operation” is in the view of the Russian command, it, the command, didn’t deign to explain. When the Americans conducted SVO “Desert Storm,” they didn’t hold back in any way and tore up Iraqis by all available means. In contrast to our army, which, to say it directly, has conducted a very strange war.

A very strange war, yes. Without destroying communications, wrecking bridges, power facilities, decision-making centers. That is, what all normal wars which end, begin with. And for some reason it was simply necessary to conduct this war with a military contingent of not more than 120 thousand men, not counting, it’s true, LDNR9 formations, volunteers, “musicians,” the Chechen contingent and “Barsiki.”

A question arises: if we don’t have enough manpower, why are 10% of the entire VS RF10 taking part in the SVO? What is the remaining 90% doing? And why instead of them is it necessary to send untrained (a couple firings is nothing) formations of mobilized reservists to the front? They aren’t even “Barsiki,” they are significantly weaker in terms of training!

What will this very same million men of the Russian Armed Forces be doing? Receiving their preferential mortgages?11 On maneuvers to show how our army is strong and powerful? That’s been shown already, as they say, in real time.

It’s forbidden to send conscripts to the SVO? So don’t.

Time to go through the figures

We expressly won’t take the Russian president’s order from August of this year12, but will take an earlier document as the baseline.

On 17 November 2017 Russian President V. V. Putin signed decree No. 555 “On establishing the manning of the Armed forces of the Russian Federation,” by which the size of the Russian Armed Forces was fixed at 1,902,758 personnel, including 1,013,628 [T.N. – uniformed] servicemen. The decree became effective on 1 January 2018.

Fact is, on 24.02.2022 the manning of the Russian Armed Forces was more than a million men. We’ll proceed from this.

Furthermore. Additionally our Defense Minister Shoygu in March of last year made an announcement from which it follows that “…in the Russian Army the number of servicemen on contract has more than doubled and exceeds 405 thousand, and the number of conscripts, on the other hand, has decreased.

Here’s a very important figure: in March 2021 there were 405 thousand contract servicemen. This, naturally, doesn’t include the officer contingent which is considered separately.

But on December 22, 2021, the defense minister made another announcement: “Officer manning had reached 96%, and manning with servicemen on contract in other ranks — up to 99.4%. Their number exceeds the quantity of conscripts by more than two times.” All these figures were presented by TV Zvezda.13

So at the very beginning of the SVO the Russian Army was fully manned with officers and contractees, the latter twice as numerous as draftees.

Question: Why is it impossible for almost half a million contractees to fight in the SVO?

It’s good now that in the fleet most serve on contract. But the number of servicemen in the Navy with all its structures, including admirals, captains and cooks ashore is nearly 150,000. Accordingly, without our not especially useful Navy, the General Staff still has at its disposition almost a million soldiers and officers.

Of course, the RVSN,14 repair bases, depots — they aren’t going anywhere. Border security is now on the FSB,15 and there everything is somehow in order. Broadly I direct attention to the fact that Kiev’s promise, “Russia will choke in a wave of terrorist attacks” didn’t happen, and this means the FSB is working as needed. But the RVSN is 60 thousand men, engineering brigades and the like — in short, insignificant.

And here’s where the issue gets ominous

Suddenly it happens that it’s forbidden to touch this million in any way. It’s simply as unreal as it is dangerous. The million has to sit in its PPDs16 and at most go out for exercises. But any other use of the troops is fraught somehow.

And so it’s necessary to call up another 300 thousand.17 And send them to Ukraine or however we’ll call the new territories which we are slowly beginning to surrender to the enemy. At least, the first formations have already gone there.

Why will mobilized 35-45 year old (and even older) men be more effective than contractees who serve in the VS RF today — I don’t have an answer. With the level of training the army can provide today, this is simply unprepared people sent to slaughter. It’s greatly unfortunate but this is exactly what it is.

As a result we have a picture that’s more than strange. The main combat missions in Novorossiya (let’s call it this still) are carried out by LDNR formations, “musicians,” Chechen and volunteer formations and “BARS” reservists on the one hand and units of the 8th and 20th Russian armies on the other.

How mobilized men whose military service was twenty years ago can be useful here, I can’t hazard to say. However they are sending them not to the Central or Eastern Military Districts to free up line units that are occupied for some unknown reason, but to the west.

The defense ministry’s conduct is as always: very strange and illogical actions against a backdrop of deathly silence. But evidently there they seriously believe that a 40-year-old mobilized man will be more effective than a contractee of 22-24. More uncanny stupidity doesn’t come to mind, but alas, they don’t explain anything to us, all information comes in the form of speculation, rumors and gossip.

Why is it forbidden to take from the Eastern Military District those units which shone so brightly in the recent “Vostok-2022” exercises? There they simply beautifully showed their level of training, what’s the problem? Apparently, there are some kind of problems because the million-man army continues to sit in its PDDs, but we read every day about how the VSU has superiority in everything.

This is completely incomprehensible. On paper we have more of everything than the VSU, we have the most. More aircraft, tanks, guns, MLRS, missiles. More trained soldiers and officers. Just more.

But under the conditions of this strange war, which our generals draw for themselves, we don’t have the possibility of using the million-man army. And into battle the mobilized will go, patriots equipped at their own expense, whom they’ll take from the lathe, or from the field. Because the biomass of systems administrators and marketing people have already left Russia’s territory.

Generally, our military department continues to demonstrate to everyone that its conceptions are of a higher plane of understanding than the common man. They are somewhere out there, in transcendental heights, incomprehensible to the mind of an ordinary man.

Evidently, the Ukrainians also don’t understand and act not so much brilliantly as effectively. And they occupy populated points which are now located on Russia’s territory. And they’re already beginning to shoot Russian citizens there.18

Generally there are very many questions, but we wish, of course, to get an answer to the most burning question: Where is our million-man army and why is it impossible to use it in the war in Ukraine?

P.S. The editors of “Military review” believe its our duty to say that we are now talking about problems and shortcomings not for the sake of demeaning the army and sowing panic, but so that the necessary conclusions will be made and mistakes corrected today and not allowed tomorrow. We express hope for understanding and regret for those who didn’t get it.

__________________

1 Ukrainian Armed Forces.

2 Barsiki means Russian reservists from the MOD RF’s Army Special Combat Reserve (BARS) system initiated about one year ago. Bars also means leopard, hence the subsequent reference to “Donbas tigers.”

3 Russians often refer to the Wagner mercenary group (named for composer Richard Wagner) as the “musicians.”

4 “People’s Militia of Luhansk People’s Republic.”

5 “People’s Militia of Donetsk People’s Republic.”

6 Mayor of Kyiv and former professional heavyweight boxer.

7 Russian State Duma deputy and former WBA heavyweight champion.

8 Специальная военная операция, special military operation.

9 Luhansk Donetsk People’s Republics.

10 RF Armed Forces.

11 Started in the mid-2000s, MOD RF program that puts money into a mortgage savings account each year for officers and soldiers who sign (and re-sign) service contracts.

12 Putin’s decree — not an order — from August 25 established that, from January 1, 2023, uniformed personnel of the RF Armed Forces will increase by 137,000 to 1,150,628. Total personnel will be 2,039,758.

13 MOD RF’s television channel.

14 Missile troops of strategic designation, often Strategic Rocket Forces in English.

15 Federal Security Service, inheritor of the KGB’s internal security mission.

16 Points of permanent basing, home garrisons.

17 300,000 is the lowest figure publicly mentioned for mobilized Russian reservists. The eventual number could be as high as one million.

18 The author is fully invested in the notion that Putin’s illegal “annexation” of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson makes these regions Russian territory. There’s no evidence the VSU has harmed any non-combatant there who claims to be a Russian citizen. It has, however, been shown clearly that the Russian Army intentionally killed civilians during its invasion of Ukraine.

No Answer for HIMARS

Russia’s war on Ukraine has been paralyzing.

It’s paralyzing because Russian media outlets covering the Russian Federation Armed Forces have spent 166 days doing two things. Either spewing Kremlin propaganda about the “special military operation.” Or not saying or writing anything true about the Russian military for fear of prosecution, fines, and prison time for disseminating “fake” information or “discrediting” the armed forces.

Needless to say, it’s crimped the “bread and butter” of these posts.

Be that as it may, Oleg Falichev wrote last week for NVO about Russia’s faltering war on Ukraine. Falichev’s a former KZ correspondent. But not really notable.

Without meaning to, Falichev shows how deflated Kremin loyalists are. His summation of the war indicates how large, perhaps insurmountable, are the difficulties Russia faces in its war on Ukraine. He attests that Ukraine’s artillery and missiles — Western-supplied or otherwise — are taking a toll on Russian forces. Falichev seems to have lost whatever optimism he once had for Putin’s adventure in Ukraine.

Falichev alleges that Ukraine’s foreign-made UAVs attacked a “humanitarian convoy” near Enerhodar on July 30. He describes Ukraine’s HIMARS strikes on the railroad in Zaporizhzhia oblast a day earlier. And he claims Ukraine destroyed a grain depot in Kamianka-Dniprovska. And Falichev notes the July 31 UAV strike on Russia’s BSF headquarters in Sevastopol.

He then repeats the lie about Ukraine using HIMARS to kill its own Azov battalion POWs held by the Russians in Donetsk. He also claims Ukraine may blow up the Bakhmut dam to flood the town of 35,000 and blame Russia.

Falichev notes some Russian “successes” in Ukraine. He claims Russian strikes seriously damaged Ukraine’s 30th Mechanized and 57th Motorized Rifle Brigades in Kyiv and Chernihiv oblasts, as well as the missile-artillery depot of the 81th Air-Mobile Brigade in Kostiantynivka in Donetsk.

Without providing a source, Falichev asserts Russia has destroyed 260 aircraft, 145 helicopters, and 1,631 UAVs since February 24.

But, he said, to warn of “heinous provocations and terrorist attacks on the civilian population,” Russia needs its own “eyes and ears” in space, electronic reconnaissance to intercept enemy long-range weapons and support counterbattery fire.

“We need drones of the most varied dimensions and designations. Not just strike, but reconnaissance drones with automatic and instantaneous systems for transmitting target coordinates.”

“This means we immediately need to correct not only the State Armaments Program (GPV), which was developed for us to 2030, but also the State Defense Order (GOZ-2022). They are now obviously obsolete.”

“If we don’t find answers to these questions, the provocations will continue.”

“But we still don’t have the strength to prevent such provocations. We haven’t even quickly upped the output of UAVs. Much depends on microchips, optics, engines for drones. But also on the work of various subcontractors, inertia of the bureaucratic apparatus, State Duma adoption of laws on additional GPV and GOZ financing.”

“We also don’t have reconnaissance means. We understand the Ukrainian crisis will drag out, there won’t be any lightning-fast resolution of problems. This means we have to work out long-term programs for reequipping the army, our space grouping, the Ground Troops.”

Just a reminder that “provocations” is Falichev’s term for claimed Ukrainian attacks on civilians, or perhaps for any Ukrainian resistance to Russia’s invasion.

Falichev concludes Russia needs what it currently lacks — fast and certain strikes on enemy artillery and missile systems using radar and space systems to geolocate launches by MLRS, long-range M777 howitzers, and HIMARS. Victory on the ground, he says, is connected to successful space missions, but it’s unclear how this will work out for Russia.

A Falichev interlocutor, a veteran of Air Defense Troops and BMEWS, says Russia needs medium- and long-range air defense missiles, modified to receive data from drones, to attack Ukraine’s artillery and missile launchers. Falichev says it seems a bit absurd but it’s up to “specialists to decide.”

It seems Falichev’s trying to say one very simple thing: The Russian military wishes it had GPS and GPS-enabled weapons systems.

But the fact that the “special operation” is creating problems is no longer in doubt, according to Falichev. The country’s management system and especially it OPK has to be reworked. Maybe not full mobilization but not business as usual either.

So while offering lots of doubtful assertions, Falichev makes the valid point that Moscow needs a quick answer to Western UAVs, M777, and HIMARS operated by Ukraine. But his recommendations are weak. Revamp the GPV, GOZ, and OPK? They don’t have time. Western militaries — certainly the U.S. military — adapt on the fly because they value and listen to their troops. With money tight, sanctions blocking access to Western supply chains, and other wartime exigencies, the OPK will find it virtually impossible to adapt and reequip the Russian military midstream.

Fire on the Right

One Vladimir Turovskoy published an op-ed on Topwar.ru (aka Voyennoye obozreniye) on April 8. 

Topwar often has useful information on military issues. Sometimes not. It’s a mixed bag. 

Turovskoy’s article is a right-wing critique of Putin’s “special military operation” against Ukraine. 

While anti-war protesters are arrested and fined for “discrediting” the army, this sharp criticism of Putin’s campaign and his regime is not banned.

The piece makes various points about the military’s operational failures to date and the West’s economic war to “destroy” Russia.

Turovskoy directs his main criticism at Russia’s oligarchs. He identifies them with Putin’s “fifth column of national traitors” who “make money here in our country but live over there” (i.e. in the West) and who are “not here with our people and with Russia.” He suggests the oligarchs could try to make some kind of deal to end the war in the Ukraine.

But he fires on Putin too, saying he should have struck Ukraine sooner. He blames Putin’s closest cronies, like FM Lavrov, for falling down on the job. 

Turovskoy does all but urge stripping oligarchs of their assets to support the war and he calls for full military and economic mobilization.

But the commentator doesn’t say Putin himself is the top oligarch sitting astride the Russian economy. Maybe he doesn’t have to. Putin is obviously part and parcel of all oligarchs in thrall to him.

But Turovskoy still seems to hope Putin might free himself from the oligarchs and prosecute a full-scale war.

Lastly, he seems to suggest, however obliquely, that Russia prepare to use nuclear weapons to protect its interests if it continues losing the war on Ukraine.

There has been plenty of debate whether Moscow would go nuclear if its security were threatened by defeat in a conventional conflict. The so-called “escalate to de-escalate” strategy. To Turovskoy and certainly others, losing in Ukraine is worse than nuclear war. But he is afraid to state it plainly.

This kind of essay, from the right, from a more nationalist stance, underscores the war is not just Putin’s. It’s Russia’s war and may last until Russia is defeated or exhausted. 

Here’s a translation.

Special Military Operation in Ukraine: A View from the Sticks

Developing political and military events in Ukraine call forth a lot of questions, primarily about achieving aims announced by Russia’s president, which he said were de-Nazification and demilitarization. The Russian people understood what Putin told them, that these declared goals and missions applied to the entire territory of Ukraine wholly and fully, including its western part.

This is completely logical because to leave a hotbed of evil, hatred, Banderovites and nationalism in its lair is to subscribe in advance to future problems on this very plane, if not even worse. Probably there are few now who doubt that our generals, along with the FSB (where would we be without it), and even Putin himself, believing in the power of the Russian Army exalted to the heavens by our glorious TV and other media, figured on one-two weeks to solve the problem by military means.

But it didn’t go this way.

Military Actions

First. Clear successes of the Russian Army in the first days of the offensive and a number of air strikes with precision weapons on airfields, headquarters and reconnoitered positions of the VSU1, the advantage in weapons quality, including aviation, made it possible to feel quite confident we would easily solve the assigned missions. However, as we moved deeper into the territory of Ukraine, VSU resistance grew in proportion to the inflated in Western media image of Russia as a terrible aggressor who started a war against the freedom-loving Ukrainian people. And taking into account the fact that all this mess in the heads of Europeans and Ukrainians was cooked up long ago, we got an explosion of hatred for Russia with all the ensuing consequences.

Second. Ukraine, pumped up with Western weapons, trained by competent military specialists and using the intelligence of American satellites, having the most advanced U.S. iPhones, iPads and notebooks, in real time, day and night, at a speed of 250 mb/s, has the ability to track any movement of RF troops, down to a matchbox in the pocket of some Russian warrant officer in the latrine. As soon as the effect of surprise and the shock of the initial strike passed, the VSU with the help of Western sponsors and teachers began to organize a well thought-out and furious resistance. Does it turn out we didn’t suppose this would be the case?

Third. Some “analysts” (from the phrase “does everyone have a drink?”2) supposed at the sight of RF tanks the deceived people of Ukraine would run to meet them with flowers. In 2014 it’s possible this might have been the case. But in 2022, even those Ukrainians who went to visit Putin and swore an oath of eternal love to him took machine guns and signed up for territorial defense. Thus, the Russian army began to deal with global resistance on all sectors of the front, in every house, in every city. Of course, you can use the American tactics of carpet bombing, but this is “not our method.”

Fourth. The huge expenditure of high-precision and expensive missiles raises a legitimate question, do we have enough of a stock created for a long conflict? What are the losses of aviation, which also costs a lot of money and its losses cannot be easily compensated, especially flight crew? Judging by the periodically decreasing and increasing intensity of missile strikes, there is an insufficient quantity of high-precision weapons produced by industry. It seems there are simply not enough. They take them hot as pies from the factory to the front, shoot them and wait for the next batch. And then still more will be needed. The alternative is soldiers’ lives…

Political Situation

Putin’s words that “you need to hit first,” which his very ardent and not very smart admirers are fond of quoting, led to a decision that put Russia in front of the whole world in the pose of a woman, as they say, “of low social responsibility.” The world has never seen such unbridled anti-Russian propaganda and outright, undisguised lies about Russia. The goal is to destroy us, primarily economically, to finish off the remnants by military means, to break it up into small principalities, where local princelings will fiercely gnaw at each other’s throats, like Russia and Ukraine now, for the amusement of transoceanic and European publics.

Moreover, at no risk to themselves, since by then Russia’s nuclear weapons will be rendered inoperative, partly by forceful military means, partly by the bribery and betrayal of the highest officials of the RF. Don’t doubt such ones will be found! The state raised them, nurtured them, enriched them, endowed them with appropriate powers, and they are secretly waiting for their finest hour to ensure finally and forever their comfortable and luxurious existence in countries with a high standard of living.

And thirty years of inactivity by the entire state apparatus, including our MFA with its frantic number of highly paid diplomats, its chief and his lover travel about on Deripaska’s private jets3, what do we need to do? This is how it’s necessary to “work” for thirty years to bring the country close to a nuclear war? Maybe, after all, we should have thought earlier, at least a decade sooner, that this Ukraine, which is “not Russia” in the words of the old chatterbox Kravchuk4, could make us hiccup in the future?

No matter what anyone says, this is a complete failure of Russia’s foreign policy, when instead of at least some long–term forecast and analysis of the situation in Ukraine, in the Baltic States, the “Ozero” cooperative5 “made bank,” enriching itself and its children, relatives and lovers. And now they’re throwing up their hands, how so? And that’s it! It was necessary not to steal, but to invest money in the country, in ordinary people, to deal with the economy and security of the state, and not to “express concern,” while actually living on enemy territory with their children and grandchildren who’ve already forgotten Russian. But it’s so, just saying…

Economic Situation

Here’s just one question: how long can we hold out? As long as you want! We have everything, all Mendeleyev’s table6, forests, water, the desire and ability to fight, even with the devil. So why are we, in a pathetic state, still selling the USA and Europe gas, oil, uranium, other rare earth metals? Is it simply charity? Why are supporting countries which see us destroyed in their dreams? After all those dollars and euros, even converted into rubles, will settle in the banks of countries which bought minerals from us. It’s even hard to call that money – they are simply virtual mythical little figures in bank accounts which we can’t spend because they won’t sell us anything we need.

And the treasure chest opens simply! Our oligarchs close to the emperor can’t be without income. Even stones from the sky, there has to be profit. And not to the people, not to you and me, not for the country’s security goes this money. Only into the bottomless pockets of Deripaskas, Usmanovs, Abramoviches, Millers and Sechins, Rotenbergs and Kovalchuks, to secret offshores somewhere on the Cayman Islands. It’s not for nothing that Ukraine received oil, diesel, gas up to the last day, from whom do you think? From Russia! Well and from Belarus, of course…

A question naturally arises: can we possibly allow all this?

It’s possible!

Just don’t think I’ll urge stopping the military operation. In Russian there’s a good saying: Having said “a,” you have to say “b.” Considering NATO’s readiness to enter the conflict, especially since, having “felt” Russia’s chest with the help of Ukraine, their fears have diminished, and the “European hyena” is already eager for battle, wishing, as always, to bite off its piece, Russia will have to stiffen up powerfully.

Only full military mobilization and transferring the economy to a military footing can guarantee our victory over this genuine, evil enemy. Across the ocean they are watching how we’ll cope with this mission. Will they get their backs up? I don’t know, anything’s possible. I hope Russia’s SYaS7 will be ready for this.

But inside the country it’s necessary to eliminate any possibilities for the fulfillment of secret plans of oligarchs, eliminate our own mistakes, both political and military. Here one can quote the correct words of well-known VO8 author A. Timokhin9:

“This is a very important moment – our system can’t recognize its mistakes, even in private, and without acknowledging mistakes, you can never begin to correct them. This political factor must be duly accounted for in any military planning – large-scale changes in the military-technical policy of Russia are almost impossible, even with the country facing ruin, but those changes which impinge on the interests of ‘respected persons,’ are generally impossible in principle, because the interests of respected persons now stand comparatively higher than the survival of the Russian Federation sometime later.”

That’s the main task today. And if we won’t fulfill it – we will be worthless. One of Hitler’s famous Nazis said that victors write the history.10 Therefore we should do everything so tomorrow the Nazis of Ukraine don’t write this history.

_____________________________________

1Armed Forces of Ukraine.

2Lousy pun on аналитики and налито.

3Sergey Lavrov and his wealthy longtime mistress Svetlana Polyakova.

4First post-Soviet president of Ukraine.

5Property association formed in 1996 by Putin and his close associates all of whom became fabulously wealthy through his patronage. Ozero has a common bank account reportedly for them to funnel money to Putin.

6Periodic table of the elements.

7Strategic nuclear forces.

8Voyennoye obozreniye.

9Aleksandr Timokhin is a not particularly well-known military commentator who writes about navies, strategic issues, defense industries, and U.S. military policy for VO, Vzglyad, VPK, etc.

10Apparently a muffed quotation of Hermann Goering’s Nuremberg trial statement that, “The victor will always be the judge, and the vanquished the accused.” 

Army of Marauders

A Telegram post about Bucha from London-based political scientist and scholar Vladimir Pastukhov.

The marauding of the Russian Army in Ukraine is shifting from the periphery of public attention to the center. This was powerfully facilitated by pictures of Bucha liberated from its liberators, which forced many people outside Russia (where they don’t show any pictures except happy ones) to ponder how Russian troops in Ukraine are really carrying out a very special operation.

An international investigative commission will deal with the humanitarian-legal aspects of this operation without any doubt, and I don’t intend to prejudge its conclusions. But besides the humanitarian and legal aspects of this problem, there are purely military ones, more precisely military-political aspects. An army of marauders, stealing and raping the civilian population, cannot fight effectively.

What’s happening in occupied Ukrainian territory no longer resembles war as much as a pirate boarding or a wild Polovetsian (Pecheneg) raid sunken in Putin’s soul. Those who are fighting aren’t a regular army but a rabble. Even in the Soviet and Nazi armies they fought against marauding as best they could, albeit not always successfully. In the Russian Army, they’ve put it on an assembly line and view it, apparently, as a means of extra motivation for personnel.

Bastrykin is so carried away searching for straw in Bandera’s eye that he can’t get the log out of Shoygu’s eye.1 There’s not a single report that Bastrykin’s glorious eagles, if only just to divert evil eyes, if only just to refute, have attempted to investigate the military crimes of his own army on the territory of Ukraine. In this regard, the generally correct thesis about the ideological character of this war against Western liberal values and for the Russian messianic idea needs substantial correction. This is a war for the idea of bandits and with bandit methods. It exudes not so much Orthodoxy or even communism, the banners of which are raised over Russian regiments, as it does the Petersburg alley.2

Such an army by definition can’t long be combat capable and will fall apart in the course of a war, which places in question the achievement of not just the strategic, but even the tactical goals of the Kremlin in this criminal adventure. Everything the thieving ministers of defense reported to their Supreme Commander-in-Chief about the reform of the Russian Army on inspection turns out to be a lie and bluff — not just from the point of view of armaments, but even the most important question of military discipline and training. There are no real contractees, that is professional military men. There is a mix of “wild geese” (professional mercenaries) and untrained, deceived serfs on whom a contract was foisted as a quarterly bonus. This is an explosive mixture which turns the army into a nomadic hellhole.

Generally, there’s nothing surprising in this. Marauding is the essence of the Putin regime, but the army, as real professional military general Denikin wrote, is the core of statehood. What kind of state has such an army?

1Bastrykin heads the SK RF — Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, with statutory authority to investigate crimes by police, local, and federal officials. “Searching for straw” comes from a Russian proverb — one is so busy looking for faults in another that he cannot see them in himself. Bandera was the controversial Ukrainian nationalist leader used here to mean today’s Ukrainian leadership. Shoygu is the RF Minister of Defense.

2Banners refer to the honorific flags carried by regiments marching in the May 9 Victory Day parade on Red Square. They trace back to the Great Patriotic War. “Petersburg alley” refers to Putin’s claims that he learned to hit first when fighting in the streets and courtyards of Leningrad. It also rings of more modern thugs and gangsters in St. Petersburg.

For What It’s Worth

Read and consider a long thread posted yesterday by @igorsushko about the planning and conduct of Putin’s war on Ukraine.

It’s based reportedly on the insights of an FSB analyst who was involved at some level in preparing for the Russian Army’s invasion of Ukraine.

Obviously, many say this account isn’t genuine, it’s a fabrication, etc. Who can know? It’s the fog of war. Everyone has to decide whether they believe it’s authentic.

From this observer’s perspective, it rings true.

What follows are the best parts edited and consolidated.

Putin’s plan to invade Ukraine was kept secret from everyone.

The FSB’s analysis seemed to be a check-the-box exercise and it had to come out favorably for Russia. It contained no clue as to the depth and effect of Western sanctions.

The Russian Army’s KIA might be 2,000 but it’s probably closer to 10,000. It’s lost contact with two entire divisions. Of 20 paratroop “groups” deployed, only one had even provisional success.

Russia has proven utterly incapable of supporting its invasion force with supplies. Its roads can’t accommodate logistical convoys. With the Turkish straits closed to Russia, it can’t supply its force in Syria. For Russia, airlifts are akin to “heating up the oven with cash.”

It cannot possibly occupy Ukraine; it would need a force of 500,000. Moscow can’t find a Quisling to run the country on its behalf. And Putin can’t declare a general mobilization. It would cause an economic, political, and social explosion in Russia. There could be a political battle along anti-war and pro-war lines. The only way for Putin to keep control is to “tighten the screws” on his own people.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian resistance grows stronger. Ukrainians now hate Russians as much as the Chechens did in two wars. Though Putin is wantonly destroying major Ukrainian cities, they will be kept alive by humanitarian convoys arriving from the West.

Putin thought war against Ukraine would be a 100-meter dash; it turned out to be a marathon.

Putin doesn’t have an “off ramp” and has no options for victory. He faces the prospect of more losses. It’s like the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 when Tsarist Russia thought it would easily defeat the Japanese. But the Russian Army found itself in a state of calamity.

In economic terms, Putin’s deadline is June, by then there will nothing left of Russia’s economy. Finance Ministry efforts are like plugging holes in a ship with your fingers.

If Putin threatens war unless sanctions are lifted or rattles his nuclear weapons, it’s just a tactic to scare the West.

The SVR is sowing the media with false allegations that Ukraine is building its own nuclear weapons.

Somewhere in the chain of command, someone will refuse Putin’s order to go nuclear. Putin might not even give the order because self-preservation is his main goal.

Defender’s Day List

Putin signed out his list of military promotions yesterday.

For the MOD a little unusual, no three-star promotions, just five two-stars, but 26 one-stars.

One newly-minted general-lieutenant is Aleksandr Sanchik, commander of the Eastern MD’s 35th CAA.

He is likely with his units now located on Ukraine’s borders.

First deputy commander of Pacific Fleet submarine forces Eduard Mikhaylov also got a second star. He likely will command Pacific (or maybe Northern) Fleet subs one day.

The Central MD’s chief of air and air defense forces Valeriy Belkov was elevated to general-lieutenant.

More complete rundown to follow.

Mass Fire Strike on Ukraine

Mikhail Khodarenok’s article about the course of a possible Russian war on Ukraine appeared in NVO last week. He’s a knowledgeable and realistic analyst.

And he’s a Russian patriot given his military career and service in the General Staff. But he’s one who says what the Kremlin doesn’t want to hear, but needs to.

Khodarenok points to the danger of Russia’s overconfidence about military action even with its significantly revamped and upgraded forces. His piece resembles what many Western observers write when the U.S. contemplates war. But, in Russia, Khodarenok is a lonely voice.

War on Ukraine, he argues, won’t be easy like Moscow’s hubris would indicate.

We can hope Putin won’t opt for war. But, if he does, it will change everything, including for Putin himself. He probably can’t even imagine how right now.

In either event, here’s a translation of Khodarenok’s timely article:

Predications of bloodthirsty pundits

Of rapturous hawks and hasty cuckoos

In Russia’s expert community recently a sufficiently powerful opinion has taken root that it won’t even be necessary to put troops on Ukraine’s territory since the armed forces of that country are in a pathetic state.

Some pundits note that Russia’s powerful fire strike will destroy practically all surveillance and communications systems, artillery and tank formations. Moreover, a number of experts have concluded that even one crushing Russian strike will to be sufficient to finish such a war.

Like a cherry on top different analysts point to the fact that no one in Ukraine will defend the “Kiev regime.”

IT WON’T BE A CAKE WALK

Let’s start with the last. To assert that no one in Ukraine will defend the regime signifies practically a complete lack of knowledge about the military-political situation and moods of the broad masses in the neighboring state. And the degree of hatred (which, as is well-known, is the most effective fuel for armed conflict) in the neighboring republic toward Moscow is plainly underestimated. No one in Ukraine will meet the Russian army with bread, salt and flowers.

It seems events in south-east Ukraine in 2014 didn’t teach anyone anything. Then they also figured that the entire left-bank Ukraine in one fell swoop and ticked-off seconds would turn into Novorossiya. They already drew the maps, thought out the personnel contingent for the future city and regional administrations, worked out state flags.

But even the Russian-speaking population of this part of Ukraine (including also cities like Kharkov, Zaporozhe, Dnepropetrovsk, Mariupol) didn’t support similar thoughts by a huge majority. The “Novorossiya” project somehow imperceptibly deflated and quietly died.

In a word, a liberation crusade in 2022 in the form and likeness of 1939 won’t work in any way.1 In this instance the words of Soviet literature classic Arkadiy Gaydar are true as never before: “It’s obvious that now we won’t have an easy battle, but a hard campaign.”

“WITH LITTLE BLOOD, A POWERFUL STRIKE”

Now about “Russia’s powerful fire strike,” by which “practically all surveillance and communications systems, artillery and tank formations of the VSU2” will supposedly be destroyed.

Only in this single expression it’s apparent that only political workers could say such a thing. For reference: in the course of hypothetical military actions on the scale of a theater of military operations [TVD] strikes on priority targets and mass fire strikes are delivered. We note in the course of operational-strategic planning the adjectives “powerful” (and also “medium,” “weak,” etc.) aren’t used.

In military science it’s emphasized that strikes can be strategic (this for the most part relates to strategic nuclear forces), operational and tactical. According to the forces which will participate and the targets which will be destroyed strikes can be mass, group and individual. And it’s altogether better not to introduce or use other definitions even in works of a political nature.

Strikes on priority targets and mass fire strikes can be delivered in the bounds of a front (fronts on Russia’s western borders still haven’t been formed) or a main command of armed forces in a theater of military operations (such a thing also hasn’t yet been established in the South-Western strategic direction). Anything less than this isn’t a mass strike.

And what is, for example, a front mass fire strike (MOU)? For starters we note that the maximum number of combat ready forces and means of aviation, missile troops and artillery, EW systems at the disposal of the commander of a front (an operational-strategic large unit) are engaged in the MOU. The MOU is one mass sortie of aircraft, two-three launches of OTR3 and TR4 systems, several artillery fire bombardments. It’s good if the degree of fire destruction to the enemy in this is 60-70%.

What is the main thing in this question as it applies to a conflict with Ukraine? It goes without saying that the MOU will visit heavy losses on a probable enemy. But to count on only one such strike to crush the armed forces of an entire state means that simply unbridled optimism has appeared in the course of planning and conducting combat operations. Such MOUs have to be delivered not once and not twice, but much more often in the course of hypothetical strategic operations in a TVD.

To this it’s certainly necessary to add that supplies of prospective and highly-accurate weapons in the VS RF5 don’t bear any kind of unlimited character. “Tsirkon” hypersonic missiles still aren’t in the armory. And the quantity of “Kalibrs” (sea-based cruise missiles), “Kinzhals,” Kh-101 (air-launched cruise missiles) and missiles for “Iskanders” in the very best case number in the hundreds (dozens in the case of “Kinzhals”). This arsenal is completely insufficient to wipe a state on the scale of France with a population of more than 40 million from the face of the earth. And Ukraine is characterized by exactly these parameters.

ON AIR SUPERIORITY

Sometimes in the Russian expert community it’s asserted (by the followers of Douhet’s doctrine6) that since hypothetical combat operations in Ukraine will be conducted in conditions of full Russian air superiority the war will be extremely brief and will end in the shortest time.

But it’s somehow forgotten that the armed formations of the Afghan opposition in the conflict of 1979-1989 didn’t have a single aircraft or combat helicopter. And the war in that country stretched out for a full 10 years. Chechen fighters didn’t have a single airplane. And the fight with them continued several years and cost federal forces a great deal of blood and victims.

And the Armed Forces of Ukraine have some combat aviation. As well as air defense means.

In fact, Ukrainian crews of surface-to-air missile troops (scarcely Georgian) substantially stung the Russian VVS7 in the course of the 2008 conflict.8 After the first day of combat operations the Russian VVS leadership was obviously shocked by the losses sustained. And it wouldn’t do to forget about this.

MOURNED IN ADVANCE

Now on the thesis “The Armed Forces of Ukraine are in a pathetic state.” Naturally, the VSU have problems with aviation and modern PVO9 means. However, we have to recognize the following. If the VSU represented fragments of the Soviet Army until 2014, then over the last seven years a qualitatively different army has been created in Ukraine, on a completely different ideological foundation and largely on NATO standards. And very modern arms and equipment are coming and continue to come to Ukraine from many countries of the North Atlantic alliance.

As concerns the VSU’s weakest spot — Air Forces. It’s not possible to exclude that the collective West could supply Kiev with fighters in a sufficiently short time, as they say, from what their armed forces have — speaking simply, used ones. However those second-hand ones will be fully comparable with the majority of aircraft in the Russian inventory.

Of course, today the VSU significantly lag the VS RF in combat and operational potentials. No one doubts this — not in the East or in the West.

But you can’t treat this army lightly. In this regard it’s necessary always to remember Aleksandr Suvorov’s precept: “Never scorn your enemy, don’t consider him dumber and weaker than yourself.”

Now as concerns assertions that western countries won’t send a single soldier to die for Ukraine.

We have to note that most likely this will be the case. However this hardly excludes in the event of a Russian invasion massive assistance to the VSU from the collective West with the most varied types of arms and military equipment and large volume supplies of all kinds of materiel. In this regard the West has already exhibited an unprecedented consolidated position, which, it seems, was not expected in Moscow.

One shouldn’t doubt that some reincarnated lend-lease in the form and likeness of the Second World War from the USA and countries of the North Atlantic alliance will begin. Even the flow of volunteers from the West of which there could be very many can’t be excluded.

PARTISANS AND UNDERGROUND FIGHTERS

And finally, about the protracted hypothetical campaign. In the Russian expert community they say several hours, sometimes even several dozen minutes. Meanwhile somehow they forget we have already been through all this. The phrase “seize the city with one parachute regiment in two hours” is already a classic of the genre.10

It also pays to remember that Stalin’s powerful NKVD and the multimillion-man Soviet Army struggled with the nationalist underground in Western Ukraine for more than 10 years. And now there is a possibility that all of Ukraine could simply turn into partisans. Additionally these formations could easily begin to operate on Russia’s territory.

Armed struggle in large Ukrainian cities is generally poorly suited to forecasting. It’s commonly known that a big city is the best battlefield for the weak and less well-equipped side of an armed conflict.

Serious experts note that in a megapolis it’s possible not only to concentrate a grouping in the thousands and even tens of thousands of fighters, but also to protect it from the enemy’s superior fire power. And also supply it with material resources for a long time and replenish losses in people and equipment. Mountains, forests, jungles don’t present such a possibility today.

Specialists are convinced that an urban environment helps the defender, slows the movement of attackers, allows the deployment of the highest number of fighters per square meter, compensates for the gap in forces and technology. But in Ukraine there are more than enough big cities, including ones with a million in population. So the Russian Army could meet far from a single Stalingrad or Groznyy in the course of a hypothetical war with Ukraine.

CONCLUSIONS

Generally, there won’t be any kind of Ukrainian blitzkrieg. Utterances by some experts of the type “The Russian Army will destroy the greater part of VSU sub-units11 in 30-40 minutes,” “Russia is capable of destroying Ukraine in 10 minutes in a full-scale war,” “Russia will destroy Ukraine in eight minutes” don’t have a serious basis.

And finally, most important. Armed conflict with Ukraine now fundamentally doesn’t meet Russia’s national interests. Therefore it’s best for some overexcited Russian experts to forget their hat-tossing fantasies. And, with the aim of preventing further reputational damage, never again to recall them. 

_______________________________________________________

1“Liberation crusade” of 1939 refers to Moscow’s conquest of western Ukraine under the secret protocol of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

2Abbreviation for Armed Forces of Ukraine.

3An operational-tactical missile generally capable of striking targets to the depth of a front’s responsibility up to 500 km.

4A tactical missile with shorter range.

5Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.

6Italian strategic bombing theorist Giulio Douhet, 1869-1930.

7Abbreviation for Air Forces.

8Khodarenok is saying Ukrainian troops participated in the air defense of Georgia during its Five-Day War with Russia.

9Abbreviation for air defense.

10Reference to former Defense Minister Pavel Grachev’s claim that Russian forces would easily take the Chechen capital Groznyy in 1994. They were decimated during an ill-advised attack on the city over New Year’s.

11Tactical forces below regiment-level.

Russian Military Pay Still Lags

Despite Defense Minister Shoygu’s announcement of “higher than planned” pay increases for Russian servicemen in 2022 and 2023, military salaries will still lag woefully behind cumulative consumer inflation amounting to more than 90 percent since 2012.

At the December 22 MOD Collegium, Sergey Shoygu said RF servicemen will get higher than planned pay increases in 2022 and 2023.

Conveniently for him, he didn’t say what the original plan was, so Russian officers and soldiers will simply take what the MOD gives and be grateful.

No one (outside the MOD or RF government) will know if it’s more or not. But on Runet, there are rumors (perhaps hopes) of 4, 5, or even 9 percent. Four one year and 5 the next, who knows?

At the Collegium, Shoygu also reported that a 3.7 percent indexation of military wages occurred in 2021. It was part of the first series of pay raises since 2012.

Announced at the start of 2018, the salary increases were supposed to be delivered in the amounts of 4.3 percent in 2019, 3.8 percent in 2020, and 4 percent in 2021.

So the actual indexation in 2021 turned out to be less than planned.

Recall that those raises didn’t compensate for the military’s eroded purchasing power. The RF’s CPI went up 50 percent between 2012 and 2018. The three indexations covered only about 12 percent of the rise in consumer prices over that period.

With RF inflation at roughly 8 percent this year, overall prices for essentials paid by Russian servicemen are now 90 percent greater than what they were in 2012.

A nice graph of Russian inflation over the past decade by Trading Economics based on Rosstat data. 

Speaking to same Collegium, the Supreme CINC of the RF Armed Forces Vladimir Putin stated:

One of the unconditional priorities is increasing the level of social guarantees to servicemen. Defenders of the Motherland are fulfilling special missions, often very complex, responsible, and risky ones and we will aim for them to receive worthy compensation for their service.

As in recent years, the base pay of servicemen should not simply correspond to the level of pay for labor in the leading sectors of the economy, but exceed it — we agreed on this with the government already several years ago.

For reference: this correlation is still preserved. The forecast average level of wages in the economy this year is 55 thousand rubles [per month], the average pay in leading economic sectors, that is oil, finance, transport is 62.2 thousand. According to my data, the Finance Ministry says a little more, in the Defense Ministry the average level of base pay of a serviceman at the rank of “lieutenant” in 2021 is 81.2 thousand rubles. It happens differently, various lieutenants serve differently, but the average level is 81.2 thousand, and, as I said, in leading sectors of the economy 63.2 [thousand].

The government needs to index the base pay of servicemen in a timely manner and in that amount which supports this correspondence and, of course, increase military pensions.

So Putin says, on average, lieutenants are making one-third more than employees in the main sectors of Russia’s economy — roughly 80,000 rubles per month versus 60,000.

Most Russian sources still place the average lieutenant’s base (rank and duty) pay at between 35,000 and 45,000. To get to 80,000, a lot of nadbavki (supplemental pay) are required. There are a large number of them and it’s pretty much completely within a commanding officer’s purview to pay or not pay them. They include many things — work with state secrets, special conditions of service, special combat training, at-sea service, command duties, class qualifications, special achievements, good conduct, service outside the RF, etc.

There are many reported cases of commanders requiring kickbacks from subordinates before authorizing these supplements.

The average Russian lieutenant might be very surprised to find out he’s averaging 80,000 per month.

The apparatus supplying Putin information on the situation in the military must be very interesting. It must assume absolutely no one tracks this stuff over time or compares what’s said today to what was said in the past.

At the time of the 2018-2020 indexations (which actually happened in 2019-2021), MOD finance chief Shevtsova said the average platoon commander was making 66,000 and the average lieutenant colonel almost 89,000. Now we’re supposed to believe an O-3 makes what an O-5 made just a couple years ago. It seems a bit improbable. And, as far back as 2014, she said military pay already exceeded salaries in the oil industry — reported as averaging 62,000 — so oil workers haven’t gotten raises in eight years?!

Promotion List

Annual December promotions used to mark the adoption of the RF’s first post-Soviet constitution on December 12, 1993. The two are less often linked now, perhaps because an increasing number of basic citizen’s rights exist only on paper.

Maybe also because Putin rammed through the constitutional amendment restarting his “two term” limit and allowing him to be president until 2036 — basically 36 years in power (Medvedev’s interlude notwithstanding).

Be it as it may, we have the December military promotions list.

In a new wrinkle, Defense Minister Shoygu had 14 of 24 promotees on hand to accept new shoulderboards in the atrium of the RF National Defense Command and Control Center (NTsUO).

KZ covered the event.

The RF MOD got three three-stars, six two-stars, and 15 one-stars (including four rear-admirals). Putin’s National Guard got just two one-stars. Here’s the December 8 promotion decree.

The new general-colonels included:

New lieutenant-generals:

  • Anatoliy Kontsevoy, Deputy Commander of VDV.
  • Aleksandr Maksimtsev, zampolit of Aerospace Forces.
  • Andrey Mordvichev, new commander of 8th CAA, Southern MD.
  • Yaroslav Moskalik, Deputy Chief, Main Operations Directorate, General Staff.
  • Viktor Novozhilov, Deputy Chief, NTsUO.
  • Valeriy Solodchuk, commander of 36th CAA, Eastern MD.

Most of these officers waited a while for a third or second star: Teplinskiy — 7 years; Yudin — almost 7; Kontsevoy — 8; Maksimtsev — 6 and a half; Mordvichev — 8 and a half; and Solodchuk — almost 8.

Teplinskiy still looks like a contender for a future MD command when one opens up, but he faces significant competition (Kuzovlev, possibly Kuralenko).

Mordvichev is only 45, so he was a general-major at roughly 37.

RIAN says this is him (it probably is). But he looks more worn than his 45 years.

New general-majors and rear-admirals included the:

  • Chief, Main Computing Center, RF Armed Forces.
  • Chief, National Nuclear Weapons Storage Site Voronezh-45.
  • Chief, National Nuclear Weapons Storage Site Vologda-20.
  • Chief, Organization-Mobilization Directorate, Southern MD.
  • Commander, 326th Heavy Bomber Aviation Division.
  • Deputy Chief of Staff for Reconnaissance, Central MD.
  • Chief of Staff, First Deputy Commander, 20th CAA, Western MD.
  • Chief, RKhBZ Troops, Central MD.
  • Chief, Operations Directorate, Pacific Fleet.
  • Commander, Moskva CG, Black Sea Fleet.
  • Chief, Shipbuilding Directorate, RF Navy.

Four one-stars couldn’t be identified in a post.

At 47, COS / FDC of the 20th CAA General-Major Andrey Pyatayev might be pretty young still if and when he gets an army of his own.

Pyatayev with General-Lieutenant Aleksandr Yevteyev (now deceased) in 2016.

OB Notes

Here’s a new OB page.

Have been expanding, updating, and rearranging it. But there’s always more to do.