Category Archives: Translation

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 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 trope 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.

Fire on the Right

One Vladimir Turovskoy published an op-ed on (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.” 

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.”


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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

The Most Modern Army

In mid-July, Sergey Shoygu declared the Russian Army to be the world’s most modern. Over eight or nine years, he said, the armed forces have cardinally changed their composition.

Most observers won’t confuse “modern” with adjectives like “good” or “best” and descriptions like “most capable” or “most effective.”

Such assessments depend on a multitude of other factors including manpower, training, employment, etc. They require a hard look at whether recently-procured systems are the right ones. The ones needed for the next war.

Modern also implies and necessitates serious investment in maintenance, upkeep, and more updating and modification down the road. A continuing commitment to stay modern.

But, when all is said and done, modern is better than the alternative.

Aleksandr Golts looks at how Russia’s Defense Ministry has gotten (or is getting) modern, what it means, and what it costs in a recent piece for (paywalled).

Golts notes that Shoygu could have claimed 120 percent modern and no one could dispute him given that only the MOD possesses the data. A good bit of Russia’s “modern” equipment, he writes, consists of venerable but modernized weapons systems like the Su-24 and T-72.

He asks why Russia’s OPK isn’t thriving while pumping out all these modern arms. Put simply the answer is the Putin regime’s unwillingness to pay what they really cost (like gold Golts says) and giving defense industries just enough financing and bailouts for them to limp along. He updates Yuriy Borisov’s previous statements about more than 2 trillion rubles ($27 billion) in total OPK debt.

Lastly, Golts explains the failure to launch new weapons like the Su-57 into series production is due to the inability to get multitudinous subsystems, components, and materials needed for final assembly at KnAAPO. Paying what those parts actually cost inevitably raises the MOD’s final purchase price.

It’s worth remembering that truly independent Russian military journalists of Golts’ caliber — not afraid to write and speak about issues that should make the regime uncomfortable — are an increasingly endangered species.

Below is a moderately cleaned up Google Translate translation.

How much Shoygu’s boasting costs.

“Modern weapons,” which the bosses are so proud of, cost the country as much as if they were made of gold

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu bragged about stuff. Speaking in Rostov-na-Donu before employees of [Russia’s] largest helicopter plant Rosvertol, the military department’s head said something sensational: “Today everyone – some angrily, some approvingly – understands and says the Russian Army has more than 70%, or if we put it precisely, almost 71% modern armaments and equipment. This is the highest percentage among all world armies.” With two months left until the Duma elections, and Shoygu in the federal “five” of the ruling party and, it can’t be excluded, planning to continue his career in some higher position, such boasting looks excusable. Before elections, they certainly lie no less than in war and in hunting.

Competing with yourself

But the statement that our army is not only one of the most advanced armies in the world (this has already been stated more than once), but that it even surpasses them, requires at a minimum clarifications. First of all, we note that Russia surely wins a competition with itself. Such a criterion as the percentage of modern weapons exists in the official documents of only the Russian military department. For the armed forces of the United States, like the armies of most other states, it would look meaningless at least. There, overseas, military equipment lives a full and very long period of time. Once put into service, the tank and aircraft consistently — stage by stage, cycle by cycle — undergo scheduled repairs and modernization, remaining in service for decades. Here you can recall the F-15 aircraft (adopted in 1976, will remain in the inventory until 2025), the F-16 (transferred to the armed forces in 1978, will serve until 2025), the Abrams tank (in service from 1980, there are no plans to replace it) and the Patriot air defense system (entered service in 1982, serves at the present time). If it had occurred to anyone to calculate the percentage of “modern” weapons in the American armed forces, it would most likely be steady.

Russia, on the other hand, introduced this indicator [“modern”] due to very specific circumstances. ⁠During 15–20 years (from the beginning of the 1990s to the mid-late 2000s), the Russian military’s armament inventory was not only not updated or modernized. The equipment was not even repaired or maintained in proper condition. In 2008, during the war with Georgia (the war that became the moment of truth for the Kremlin), almost half of the tanks and infantry fighting vehicles urgently taken from storage bases simply broke down and did not reach the border. It was already impossible to bring most of this equipment into operation. As a result, the concept of “modern equipment” was invented, which today safely includes both recently developed Su-57 fighters and Armata tanks, as well as the modernized Su-24 and T-72, which have been in service for almost half a century.

It should also be noted that the existing system of secrecy and the monopolization of information by the military department excludes any possibility of verifying the victorious reports of General Shoygu. The only exception is strategic nuclear forces, data on the composition of which Moscow regularly provides, fulfilling its obligations under the START Treaty (there is a high rate of “modern weapons” — 83% — due to the fact that Russia spends, according to experts, over 20% of its entire military budget on nuclear weapons). As for the general-purpose forces, Sergey Shoygu can draw any indicator of the availability of modern weapons — at least 70, at least 120% — it is impossible to verify this.

OPK in debt

But if we take the minister’s words on faith, it turns out that the successes in the rearmament of the Russian army are much more significant than those of the U.S. armed forces (whose military budget is more than 10 times higher than the Russian one) and of the Chinese army (which spends at least four times more on military purposes than Russia). But if so the the military-industrial complex (OPK), which fulfills the state defense order so remarkably, should flourish. However, it’s never happened. In 2019, even before all the covid lockdowns and ensuing economic losses, Deputy Prime Minister for the defense sector Yuriy Borisov shocked the expert community, announcing that about 2 trillion rubles of debt was hanging over enterprises of the defense-industrial complex. Moreover, he confirmed “the main body of the credits will never be repaid.” In fact, he talked about the inability even to pay interest on loans. Defense enterprises spent about 200 billion rubles on interest payments, according to Borisov. “This figure beats with the planned profits of the defense industry enterprises, it turns out to be such a paradox. I cite an example from real life all the time: we boil water, drink and refill. That is, there is practically no opportunity to rely on internal sources, on the most effective sources, on our own funds,” Borisov complained. Previously, he compared the work of the military industry with exercising on a stationary bike: no matter how much you push on the pedals, you still won’t get anywhere.

According to media reports, more than 10% of defense industry enterprises (140 out of 1319) are approaching bankruptcy. The only thing that the state can offer is early repayment of loans at the expense of the budget. In 2016, 800 billion of budget rubles were spent on this, in 2017 – another 200 billion. At the same time, the debt burden did not decrease in a remarkable way, but grew. In 2020, Yuriy Borisov proposed to write off the debts of defense enterprises already by 600-700 billion rubles. And he managed to convince Putin of the need for this. According to Borisov, in 2020 “350 billion rubles of ‘toxic’ loans were written off through additional capitalization of enterprises. Another 260 billion rubles were restructured, and there is still a 150 billion ruble reserve.”

So the state twice (once through the allocation of funds for production, the second time through the write-off of loans) financed the manufacture of “modern weapons”, which Sergey Shoygu boasts. Do you think that after that there was finally financial prosperity? Not at all. At the end of last year, as reported by the Vedomosti newspaper, it was decided to again finance the implementation of the state defense order with bank loans, although initially it was proposed to do this through the federal treasury, that is, to transfer money directly from the state budget to the defense industry enterprises. Most likely, this is due to the fact that the state is resolutely unwilling to abandon ambitious rearmament programs, despite the fact that the necessary funds are no longer there. It is planned to attract 360 billion rubles of loans in three years to fulfill the state defense order. That is, there is a continuation of the vicious practice of the past decade, when enterprises disrupted production deadlines, and with them the deadlines for paying debts, and finally got entangled in the endless payment of interest.

Russian defense sector with Soviet problems

I’d venture that the source of the problem is the archaic system of the OPK. With the blessing of Vladimir Putin in the mid-2000s, Sergey Ivanov drove military-industrial enterprises into a dozen and a half vertically integrated industrial corporations, which were a caricature of the famous nine Soviet defense-industrial ministries. They quite successfully inherited all the vices of Soviet bureaucracy, endless approvals, corruption, and unwillingness to take responsibility. But, fortunately or unfortunately, they could no longer inherit the production system. Because of its absence. In the Soviet Union, only final assembly plants were considered defense. And numerous components (in the Su-27, for example, up to 1,500) were manufactured at civilian enterprises, each of which had a so-called mobilization task. It had nothing to do with the economy. The cost of producing military products [those components] was actually included in the cost of civilian goods, which was reflected in their quantity (remember the eternal Soviet deficit) and their quality. To create at least the appearance of profitability, the all-powerful Gosplan [State Planning Committee] artificially balanced the prices of civilian goods and weapons. It is no coincidence that now from OPK managers it’s possible to hear proposals for the revival of Gosplan.

In the meantime, even under the threat of criminal punishment, the state has failed to force owners of private enterprises to make components for the OPK at a loss. Indeed, for the production of a limited number of particular parts, it is necessary to maintain separate production lines (the military has completely different requirements for quality and precision) and extra workers. As a result, the military industry is doomed to produce components at final assembly plants. Only this can explain the simply snail-like pace of armaments production which has been declared serial.

So, serial deliveries of the fifth generation Su-57 fighter were supposed to begin in 2016. In reality, the first aircraft was manufactured by the end of 2019, but it crashed during a test flight. After that, exactly one year passed before the next “serial” fighter was transferred to the Aerospace Forces. The head of the United Aircraft Building Company, Yuriy Slyusar, promised Vladimir Putin to deliver as many as four aircraft this year. The same story with serial production of the newest tank “Armata.” It was planned to produce more than two thousand tanks by 2020. Then they started talking about only a hundred tanks. Now they promise to start serial production in 2022, but they don’t specify the size of the series. It’s no secret that serial production is characterized by a sharp reduction in the cost of production. After all, the product, roughly speaking, is assembled from a set of standard assemblies and parts. Nothing needs to be “adjusted” and “customized” any longer. However, this isn’t seen at all in the production of “Armata” (and they specify clearly reduced prices for the Su-57). The approximate cost of the tank has increased from 250 million rubles to 450 million rubles per unit.

On July 20, the international air show MAKS-2021 will open in Zhukovskiy near Moscow. Vladimir Putin promised to attend. Probably, on this day we will hear a lot of praise about the successes of our OPK, including, of course, the rearmament of the army. However, one must remember: all these “modern weapons”, of which the authorities are so proud, cost the country like they were made of gold.