The nine flaws that forced the Russian army to rethink its strategy in Ukraine

WASHINGTON – The ineptitude shown by the Russian army in its first attempt to invade Ukraine amazes career soldiers. From the first hours of the invasion, the second most powerful army in the world failed in almost every move. Now, after seven weeks of a war that both Russia and the West hoped would last only a few days, the Ukrainians have the upper hand. They forced the Russians into a humiliating retreat from the north of the country and halted or reversed their advances on most other fronts.

As Russia redirects its resources to conquer the eastern region of Ukraine, the crucial question is whether his army will be able to correct the flaws of the initial assault. These are the nine most decisive errors identified by military experts.

1. Prejudice against Ukrainians

The worst mistake of all was to underestimate both the will and the resilience of the Ukrainians. Russia had planned a quick and easy victory and hoped that its soldiers would be welcomed as liberators. Instead, the Ukrainians defended themselves fiercely, aided by Western weapons.

And the military wasn’t the only one to react. Ordinary civilians also took the lead in countering the Russian advance, such as residents of the agricultural town of Voznesensk, who armed themselves with shotguns and threw bricks to help stop Russian soldiers on the country’s south coast.

Many of the setbacks encountered by Russia stemmed from this initial miscalculation, though not all.

The Ukrainian resistance took the Russians by surprise
The Ukrainian resistance took the Russians by surpriseAP

2. Don’t prepare your troops

From the testimonies of captured Russian soldiers it seems that many were not told that they would invade Ukraine. Some say they were told they were participating in a maneuvering exercise, others that they would simply be sent to the eastern Donbass region. This implies that they were not psychologically prepared to be hit and thrown into the air, as they were almost from the moment they set foot in Ukraine.which quickly affected troop morale, according to Jack Watling of the London-based Royal United Services Institute.

The enormity of the casualties that Russia suffered subsequently ended their morale plummeting, Watling said. More than two weeks ago, NATO estimated Russia’s death toll at 15,000, more than in the Soviet Union’s ten-year war in Afghanistan. Although Russia claims to have lost only 1,351 soldiers, Ukrainian authorities claim to have collected 7,000 Russian bodies from the battlefield.

3. Invade without sufficient or adequate supplies

The Russian units seemed totally unprepared for the conditions and circumstances they encountered. Units hoping to enter Kiev and other cities unchallenged had just two weeks of supplies and were quickly sold out. They got up immediately videos showing Russian soldiers stranded on the roads next to their vehicles without fuelor desperately hungry, looting shops and stealing chickens.

Incredibly, those troops also lacked some key elements of modern warfare, such as night vision equipment. Thanks to this equipment, the Ukrainians took control of the night war, launching attacks and ambushes under the auspices of darkness against a blind enemy.

Indeed, Russia may not even have enough conventional weapons to equip all the forces it is sending to the battlefield. According to witnesses, some newly recruited soldiers on the Eastern Front received rifles manufactured in the 19th century, which went out of production decades ago.

The enigmatic convoy of Russian troops remained the symbol of the Kremlin's logistical failure
The enigmatic convoy of Russian troops remained the symbol of the Kremlin’s logistical failure

4. Don’t acknowledge your bad logistics

Military experts describe a massive logistical failure: after the initial plan went wrong, when the troops ran out of food and other supplies, superiors had no plans to refuel. The tanks got stuck and the poorly maintained trucks that were sent to them broke down or lost their tires.which ended with the famous 65km convoy which became a traffic jam.

“Amateurs talk about strategy, logistics professionals” is a repeated cliché in military circles and to which the Russians seem not to have paid attention.

5. Do not remove Ukraine’s anti-aircraft defenses

Military experts expected the Russians to launch a bombing campaign to destroy Ukrainian air defense systems, bases and aircraft before troops crossed the border. Instead, the troops raided without air support. Perhaps this can also be explained by the commanders’ initial miscalculation in thinking they would encounter little resistance. But that the Ukrainian air force is still flying seven weeks later confuses military observers.

The Russians did not use their air power to accompany the offensive
The Russians did not use their air power to accompany the offensiveGetty Images

6. Attack from too many fronts

The Russian force, the largest gathered in Europe since World War II, proved too small to fight for the vast span of territory that Russia has been trying to seize, let alone hold. The initial invasion was launched from four fronts: north towards Kiev, north-east towards Kharkiv, east and south from the annexed peninsula of Crimea.

Once the first offensive met resistance, troops scattered along the country’s borders, laying supply lines no longer adequate. Under the “power ratio” rule used by military tactics, an invasion force needs 20 soldiers for every 1,000 inhabitants of a country. For a country the size of Ukraine, that figure means 880,000 troops, said Michael Clarke, a professor of war studies at King’s College London.

7. Use of unsecured communications

Amazingly, the Russians waged a great war using old-fashioned cell phones and radios to communicate. Ukrainians had the opportunity to intercept messages on Russian movements on the battlefield and to await them with ambushes. According to a Western official, at least some of the seven Russian generals killed on the battlefield died because the Ukrainians intercepted messages about their location.

Russian military communications are so accessible that radio amateurs can hear and relay them.

Ukrainian general Sergiy Knyazev follows the Russian military movement towards Kiev on the big screen.  Ukrainians had better communications and logistics
Ukrainian general Sergiy Knyazev follows the Russian military movement towards Kiev on the big screen. Ukrainians had better communications and logistics

8. Proceed with no clear command lines

According to experts, Russia’s highly centralized military does not authorize troops on the ground to make decisions or issue orders. Battalions that encountered immediate difficulties could not change course to adapt to the new circumstances because they had to wait for orders from their superiors in Moscow (as just noted, on unsafe lines of communication).

Unlike the armies of the United States and other Western countries, the Russian military has no NCOs. When original orders don’t work, troops falter, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, the former commander of the US military in Europe, told CNN.

9. Don’t have a plan B

It is evident that the Russians were not prepared for a scenario in which they encountered resistance. When they did, they apparently didn’t have a back-up plan. Instead, the troops pushed forward as ordered, constantly ambushing and being shot down by the Ukrainians. Armored convoys were sent without infantry support, making them easy targets for Ukrainians armed with portable anti-tank guns, such as the US-supplied Javalin.

According to military experts, the whole plan in general was badly conceived from the startfrom the dimension of strength to its readiness and its ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

By Liz Sly

Translation by Jaime Arrambide

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