If you follow the Russian military, you need to pick up Brothers Armed: Military Aspects of the Crisis in Ukraine from the Moscow-based Centre for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST) and published by East View Press.
Brothers Armed is a great summary of events in Russia’s seizure of Crimea last February-March as well as in-depth reference detailing the condition of the Russian and Ukrainian militaries. It isn’t perfect, but it’s good and, most importantly, it’s sui generis. It came out quickly and no other book covers these issues. CAST has successfully achieved “relative objectivity” in its approach, as the introduction by David Glantz notes.
Vasiliy Kashin begins Brothers Armed by examining the history of Crimea’s disputed status. He concludes:
“. . . in several agreements and treaties . . . Russia clearly recognized Ukraine’s territorial integrity within its existing borders [including control of Crimea]. Until the crisis in 2014, Russia had made no attempts to question Ukraine’s rights to Crimea.”
Putin’s move on Crimea was opportunistic, not premeditated, according to Kashin.
Two chapters then explain how Ukraine neglected its rich inheritance from the Soviet military. In sheer hardware terms, Ukraine suddenly found itself the second most powerful in Europe, and fourth in the world. The legacy of Soviet defense industry left it with “more than 700 military design bureaus and manufacturing plants that developed and made almost every type of modern weaponry.” But without obvious threats and an army too large for its needs and finances, Kyiv focused on downsizing rather than preserving its forces.
Following Russia’s short war with Georgia in 2008, a “snap inspection” of the Ukrainian Army’s combat readiness “yielded very alarming results.” In 2014, this inability to react to a rapidly emerging threat resulted in the loss of Crimea.
Mikhail Barabanov provides two narratives on Russian military reform — before and after the war with Georgia. He concludes that, although former Defense Minister Serdyukov was despised by the military, he was “instrumental in laying the foundations of a genuinely modern Russian Army.” His successor has normalized and stabilized the military in the wake of Serdyukov’s changes, but not reversed their intent.
Barabanov argues Crimea vindicated Russia’s transition from a big war mobilization army to leaner high readiness forces for smaller wars (despite lingering problems in manning them fully).
Alexey Nikolsky’s report on the formation and use of Russia’s two new SOF units in the seizure of Crimea makes for an intriguing chapter. He argues that the SOF units are elite combat elements, unlike GRU Spetsnaz which are tasked with strategic reconnaissance.
Anton Lavrov’s section on Russia’s military operation in Crimea is the meat of Brothers Armed, and it’s a valuable account of what happened on the ground last winter. He points out that, although Kyiv’s numbers were superior to Moscow’s, its military forces were psychologically, politically, and technically unready to react to the Russian invasion of Crimea. At a point, he writes, “. . . the Ukrainian government was forced to desist from active attempts to restore its control of Crimea, so as not to risk a full-blown Russian invasion.”
The final chapter is Vyacheslav Tseluyko’s insightful look at where Ukraine’s military needs to go now that Russia is giving it “a crash course in real warfare.” He concludes Kyiv should focus on its most dangerous threat — a Russian invasion of mainland Ukraine — and adopt a territorial defense strategy to prevent a foreign occupation. Tseluyko advocates drawing the aggressor into protracted fighting in urban areas, making every Ukrainian soldier an infantryman, and employing anti-armor weapons from light helicopters.
Brothers Armed is an object lesson for countries bordering Russia. They and their armed forces need to be ready immediately to respond to challenges to their sovereignty and territorial integrity from their overweening neighbor to the east. Anything less could be too late.
The book is smoothly translated and features good photos. A good map lost in the back might have served better up front.
With Brothers Armed on the shelf, one looks forward to a future book about the war in the Donbass. CAST publishes routinely about the conflict in its English language journal.