The following summary for March 2022 is based on reports from professional journalists in Ukraine and informed comments from a number of recognised military and security experts.
Russia has one of the largest militaries in the world and for 45 years (1946 to 1991) the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact were locked in a tense conflict with the NATO countries during a Cold War consisting of an aggressive arms race and several Soviet proxy wars across the world. These 45 years have also been informally described as a period of ‘Violent Peace’ and ‘War in Peace’.
During this period of instability and dangerous uncertainty the Soviet Union dominated eastern Europe and the Cold War was a conflict between east and west but after the fall of the Soviet Union on 25 December 1991 when the Soviet hammer and sickle flag was lowered for the last time over the Kremlin and replaced by the Russian tricolour, nine years later, under the increasing influence and later leadership of Vladimir Putin, who was a former KGB career officer not a professional politician, we increasingly witnessed the gradual transformation of the long conflict between east and west becoming a conflict between the world’s liberal democracies and totalitarian states and a loose alignment of ‘convenience’ between Russia, China, North Korea and other oppressive regimes.
2014 Russian invasion of Crimea.
We should not lose sight of the fact Putin’s war against Ukraine started in 2014 after his unprovoked invasion of Crimea which developed into a proxy war comparable with the Soviet playbook of the Cold War period along with false justifications in the form of misinformation for Russia’s continued aggression against an independent and democratic sovereign state.
Over a period of 45 years the west became accustomed to Soviet military posturing: large military parades to project an image of military might, the false narrative of superior Soviet military arms and technology, but after Russia invaded Ukraine again on 24 February 2022 the world suddenly became aware Russian conventional military might was an elaborate illusion. Some military commentators suggest Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons if ‘outsiders’ intervened was possibly an indication Putin is aware NATO is capable of a swift military victory against his forces.
This map of the former Soviet Union which many believe Putin is obsessed with reconstituting illustrates why many eastern European counties including NATO members are alarmed at Russian aggression.
According to several commentators specialising in Russian affairs Vladimir Putin is trapped in a closed world of his own making: he is obsessed with his goal to reconstitute the Russian Empire, he believes the Russian Empire was destroyed by the United States, and as Professor Michel Clark pointed out on Sky News (22 (March), only last week Putin was telling Russians ”NATO was planning a war against Russia. NATO intends a holocaust of Russia. That is why we are in Ukraine.” Putin’s misguided assumptions, his resentment of the USA and NATO, his willingness to commit blatant war crimes and his threat to use nuclear weapons should be a serious cause for concern.
Putin also greatly underestimated Ukraine’s military capability and the resolve of the civilian population to protect their land and democracy and early during his invasion it also became apparent he grossly overestimated Russia as a conventional military power. For instance, a Ukraine military commander recently commented that “Russian tactics are like when Germany invaded France in 1941”. Although France was invaded in 1940 his comparison is clear and because Putin is a former KGB career officer some commentators also say Putin is a victim of his own propaganda.
Ukraine’s military capabilities have greatly increased since 2014
Unlike the unprovoked Russian invasion of Crimea in 2004 Putin and his Chiefs-of-staff wrongly assumed their special forces could once again play an important role in helping deliver a quick and decisive blow and a western intelligence officer told the BBC that Russia thought it could deploy lighter spearhead units like Spetsnaz and VDU Paratroopers “to eliminate a small number of defenders and that would be it.”
It also appears Russia was unaware the Ukrainian forces they would confront were far more formidable than those they faced in 2014: since Russia’s relatively easy invasion in 2014 the Ukraine military has received extensive training from the British and American army and is equipped with an assortment of western weapons which would not look out of place in a NATO armoury.
Since the invasion Russian forces have consistently displayed bad leadership; the Russian army has been using outdated tactics and senior commanders have been unable to coordinate their forces and pass orders due to poor communications. After failing to seize airfields Russia has been forced to transport supplies mostly by road and this has created traffic jams and choke points which are easy targets for Ukraine forces to ambush or destroy by UAV’s.
According to BBC Defence Correspondent James Beale (19 March 2022) Russia massed a force of around 190,000 troops for the invasion and most of these have already been committed to battle but have lost about 10% of that force. Though there are no reliable figures, according to Beale Ukraine claim to have killed 14,000 Russian troop and western officials also say there is evidence of dwindling morale among Russian troops with one saying it was “Very, very low”. Another said Russian troops were “cold, tired, and hungry” as they had already been waiting in the snow for weeks in Belarus and Russia before they were given orders to invade (Beale).
These claims are supported by the fact Russia has already been forced to look for foreign troops and mercenaries to make up for the numbers lost and this approach has been described as “Russia scratching the bottom of the bucket of desperation.”
Logistics are both essential and the Achilles heel of a military formation and as we continue to see armoured columns and lorries are running out of fuel and food, ammunition, other essential stores are failing to reach the front line; vehicles including tanks are being abandoned after breaking down and being towed away by Ukrainian farmers using tractors. It is also believed that due to the breakdown of logistics Russia is running low on some munitions and it has been estimated Russia has fired between 850 to 900 long-range precision munitions including cruise missiles and the US believe Russia has approached China for munitions. In stark contrast there continues to be a steady flow of western weapons and equipment for the Ukraine Army.
War Crimes- deliberate bombardment of towns and cities
Russia still has sufficient firepower to deliberately bombard cities, towns and other civilian targets. The current Russian bombardment of Mariupol which has been called “an act or terror” by Ukraine officials and the international community; the deliberate bombardment of humanitarian corridors, residential areas, hospitals, schools, food warehouses and the forced deportation of Ukraine civilians to Russia can only be regarded as a strategy of desperation and the forced deportation as a component of the Kremlin’s information war which is little more an than unconvincing attempt to create the illusion of a war of liberation rather than the true reason which is Russian expansionism.
Inside Russia and the Kremlin information war.
Anti-war protest in Russia
The Russian information war against the international community is farcical at best but still has resonance among a minority of people the former KGB and now the FSB call ‘Useful Idiots’. Eye witness accounts, the international media and forensic evidence proves without doubt Russian war crimes continue to be committed and the main casualties are women and children. Apart from the increasing number of civilian deaths, several towns and cities have no water, heating, electricity, food, medical supplies and other essentials to sustain life but the Kremlin propaganda machine denies this is the case. It is interesting to note most of Russia’s misinformation has recently been directed towards Africa, south east and south Asia which might indicate Putin’s strategic objectives.
In an attempt to prevent the Russian public discovering the truth Putin passed draconian laws: it is now illegal to call the conflict in Ukraine a war or an invasion, anyone questioning Kremlin accounts can be sent to prison for 15 years and Russia’s independent news networks has been replaced by state media networks controlled by the Kremlin. Despite the Kremlin going to great lengths to hide the truth news continues to be received through social media and an estimated 14,000 (numbers vary according to sources) anti-war protesters are said to have been arrested.
The Number of Russian war dead not being reported in Russia and bodies secretly being cremated to hide numbers
There have been several accounts of bodies of dead Russian soldiers not being repatriated to ensure the number of casualties don’t become public knowledge. According to Sarah Newey, (The Telegraph 19 March 2022) more than 2,500 dead Russian soldiers were secretly taken to mortuaries in Belarus and a doctor described terribly disfigured soldiers and said the morgues were overflowing. According to another newspaper, after there was no room in the mortuaries other bodes were secretly burnt. These accounts support a comment made by a Ukraine army commander who told Sky News? (it may have been the BBC) that after 12 Russian soldiers were killed their commander was told there bodies could be collected but the Russian commander said “he could keep them because they were of no use to him.”