Russia Is Weak, and That’s a Problem

One of the unintended consequences of Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine is that it has exposed how weak the Russian military is. Over the past couple of months I can’t tell you how many analyses I’ve read pointing out the massive incompetence revealed by the invasion of Ukraine. Here’s one from a couple of weeks ago, from the New Yorker. The speaker is Joel Rayburn, a retired Army colonel and former U.S. special envoy for Syria.

They have a lot of systemic and institutional weaknesses that had been masked because they had not operated on this scale in a really visible way, at least not for quite a while. You’d have to go back to their invasion of Georgia, in 2008, to find something approaching the scale that they’re operating at now. And that one didn’t go well. They were showing the same kind of problems back then: this disunity of command; logistical weaknesses; poorly trained, poorly motivated, poorly led troops; very poor quality of officer corps; very poor quality of campaign design and ability to plan. They also have very poor integration within and among the armed services, including the synchronization of air and ground operations.

Rayburn goes on to say that after Georgia, the Russian military announced a massive reorganization of the military to address these problems. And they seemed more effective in Syria and in some other military actions, but these were much smaller actions. “But then when they had to scale it up to an operation that was, let’s say, forty times the size, then all of these weaknesses came out and they’ve been pretty shocking.”

The whole analysis is interesting, but Rayburn says that what he sees is more than just miscalculation. Russia just plain doesn’t have the military capability to invade Ukraine as it is trying to do. And apparently military experts in the West didn’t realize that until they saw how the Russian military has bumbled around in Ukraine. Things that Russia was supposed to have spent a lot of money improving turned out not to have been improved, and Rayburn suspects that a lot of Russia’s military budget has been eaten up by corruption.

And, Rayburn says, as badly as Russians are doing against Ukrainians, if they had tried to take on just one NATO power, they would have been wiped out fairly quickly.

The problem with Russian weakness is that it accounts for why troops in Ukraine have fallen back on commiting atrocities against civilians. It’s all they can do. They have no direction, and Russian military discipline is obviously a joke.

In mid-March there were reports that the heads of Russian intelligence services had been arrested and several of their locations raided by the Federal Protective Service (the successor to the KGB). Obviously, Putin was unhappy with their results. But one wonders how Russian intelligence gathering could possibly have improved since then. Probably, it hasn’t. Ukraine, on the other hand, has benefited from help from the U.S. This is from the Sydney Morning Herald, April 28:

America helped foil Moscow’s efforts to take Kyiv and repelled its advances elsewhere by sharing such detailed intelligence that Ukraine knew exactly when and where Russian bombs would fall, it has emerged.

In an unprecedented information-sharing operation, US spy agencies divulged the co-ordinates of Russian forces and aircraft to Ukrainian troops, allowing them to pre-empt attacks.

And then there is the celebrated Russian cyberwar capability. It turns out that freelance hackers have been shredding Russian cyber security and “liberating” huge amounts of Russian data. See Hacktivists Stoke Pandemonium Amid Russia’s War in Ukraine at Wired and Russia Is Losing a War Againsts Hackers Stealing Huge Amounts of Data at the Intercept. However, there are concerns that Ukraine-supporting freelance hackers could do as much harm as good; for example, by accidentally exposing western intelligence operations.

One thing the smart people on the teevee have said all along is that Putin will not accept a defeat. One, Russian leaders who are defeated tend to be deposed. And two, Putin is all about showing the world how strong he is. It’s his entire purpose. He is not going to accept defeat even if he is defeated. For that reason, IMO there’s a real possibility that he will resort to nuclear weapons. See Putin is inching towards his nukes, threatening to annihilate the world if he fails to capture Ukraine, says foreign affairs expert. But you can find smart people declaring Putin wouldn’t use nukes, along with those who say he could.

There is new reporting also saying that the war in Ukraine could turn into a years-long conflict that just goes on and on without resolution. And that’s because no credible diplomatic track exists that Russia would accept, other than “Russia wins.” But Russia appears to be using up resources, and conscripts, with remarkable speed, while Ukraine is being assisted by several countries. The only thing that might keep the war going is if China begins shipping arms to Russia. A month ago there was a flurry of news reports saying that China might send economic or other aid to Russia. There’s been little in the news about China’s support of Russia since then, though, and I’m hoping that Xi Jinping will not want to get his country entangled in Putin’s blunder.

16 thoughts on “Russia Is Weak, and That’s a Problem

  1. A nuclear war is not likely to stay local to Ukraine.  

    Look on the positive side!  As there is no reason to believe that world leaders (especially the oligarchs) will do anything about global climate change until way past the point of no return, a nuclear war will make the suffering be over a shorter time than climate change thus it would be more humane than the suffering the not-to-distant future residents of the planet would be faced with.    A nuclear war that eliminates the homo sapiens species as the dominant force on the planet is a win for the planet.

    • I saw a comic strip that modeled global warming in a way that I think made the most sense. This person is tearfully confessing to Gaia/Mother Nature and saying they're *so* sorry for harming her with global warming.

      Her response is "oh, please, you're not hurting *me*. New forms of life will evolve eventually. You're screwing yourselves over, and are still *arguing* over it….

      Removal of people *probably* wouldn't improve the earth – we've only been here for a cosmic eyeblink, and the earth probably doesn't notice us much yet. The thing to worry most about is Venus.

      See, I've seen it said that Venus used to be a lot more earth-like, and then, its atmosphere got flooded with carbon dioxide, making it astoundingly unfriendly to life-as-we-know-it.

      Could that be the result of some massive feedback loop, triggered by the sorts of things we're tracking when discussing global warming? We don't know, not for sure. And that means we don't know if we humans could find a way to turn Earth into a Venus-style hell. It seems unlikely, but, we've never been around when average global temperatures were more than yay-high (that's a scientific term, meaning "whatever is actually precisely accurate"), so we haven't measured what happens when it's yay-high+so-and-so-much-more.

      (Please let me know if the excess scientific jargon is confusing anyone….)

      In most scenarios, we're not screwing over "the earth;" we're just screwing over "humanity".  But it is, in fact, possible that we could screw over the future of life on earth.

      A nuclear war, well, that would be even less well known, but has a lower likelihood of wiping out all animal/plant life. In the oceans, especially, a lot of living critters will be unaffected. Water is *great* at stopping ionizing radiation. That said, we could very easily not be around to appreciate how we didn't destroy everything.

      (It's also possible that nuclear winter effects will knock out most life by disrupting the ocean ecology. I still suspect the most cold-adapted plants and animals will survive, especially if the effects fade sufficiently quickly.)


      Prediction: if it creates a nuclear winter effect that allows more than 60% of humanity to survive, Republicans will insist they were right, "see, we told you not to worry about global warming!"

      • The reason Republicans never make a mistake is well known.  To make a mistake you must have the ability to comprehend a cause effect relationship.  This takes critical thinking skills and a mind that can tell the difference between reality and a bogus conspiracy theory.  I think you have to buy into at least a half a dozen really asinine notions just to be one or listen to their notions.  Most of them are still trying to figure out why electing Trump was a good idea or in denial that he lost the election at all.  Just for fun, try asking a Republican what the biggest mistake the Republican Party or any Republican (or they themselves) ever made.  Only RINOS and liberals make mistakes will be their answer.   

        Good points on our planet.  Even Elon Musk is not crazy enough to envision escape to Venus.  Now Mars might have promise.  Most of us will have to stay here and watch Earth turned into another Venus.  You can be assured that when that slowly happens, no Republican will admit any responsibility. 

        Nuclear war could be a faster way to make the planet uninhabitable for humans faster than climate change.  It sounds like a Brownback type experiment to me.  By the way, how did that experiment work?  


  2. >One of the unintended consequences of Putin’s decision to invade Iraq is that it has exposed how weak the Russian military is.

    I think you mean Ukraine …


    • Eric – you are an example of why there's a warning not to sniff airplane glue.

    • They "killed themselves"?  Or, perhaps, this is part of a housecleaning by Putin?

      • They committed suicide with their hands tied, and shot themselves in the back of the head.

      • Flashback to Mystery Men: "they (in this case) fell down an elevator shaft. Onto some bullets."

  3. From a friend (Alex Gowan if you look on FB for photos) who is on the ground in Ukraine now… 

    "A Matter of Logistics…and Thievery

    During our post-battle investigation I made several critical observations. They are as follows:

    1) Russian tanks have a fatal flaw: the crew is in the same compartment as the ammunition. Whenever a Russian tank takes a properly-aimed hit the crew is incinerated…the turret is blown off of the tank…and the bottom of the tank is blown downward. The end result is catastrophic. Our tanks are built to avoid such problems.

    2) The Russian logistical system is ineffective. Fuel and food were unable to reach their units, so Russian advance units ran out of gas and the soldiers were forced to steal supplies from nearby stores. I saw a LOT of stolen food but only a few MRE boxes.

    3) Russian boots must be horrible! I saw so many discarded boots. I assume they were replaced by footwear the soldiers stole.

    4) There was a massive amount of alcohol consumption. No drunk army can function properly.

    5) Of the vehicles which hadn’t burned I noticed that the tires were in terrible condition. I assume that this was a major part of the broken logistical system. If you can’t deliver food, ammunition and fuel to your army, you don’t have an army.

    6) The Russian army has done a TREMENDOUS amount of stealing! Not only did they ransack stores and homes for food, but also money, jewelry…and anything else they could carry.

    Everything here points to poor planning…substandard training…inadequate maintenance…confusion…and lack of leadership. Below are photos proving my observations. Descriptions provided."

  4. Historically, Russia has always been overrated as a military power.

    The USA has used that perception of vast Russian power as a lever to continually ratchet up our own defense spending. I remember throughout my childhood being told over and over about Soviet superplanes, advanced rifles, and next-generation weaponry.  I also remember that whenever we would finally get our hands on one of these marvels, it was always at least three generations behind us.

    • Many years ago, my crew joined up with a Russian Aeroflot crew touring the Smithsonian.  I bought late lunch for them afterwards, sharing quite a bit of booze in the process, thinking they were going to spend the night, then fly back to Moscow.  The Captain stood up after lunch, and reminded his crew that they had an hour to meet the bus at their hotel to go to the airport to fly home.  Reminds me of a Concorde landing.  I was jumpseating in the cockpit and on landing, the purser brought glasses of wine (not for me).  The Captain had his wine well before we even turned off the runway.

      Things are different outside the US.  I can only imagine what the Russian army does.

    • Any country with nukes and ICBMs can not be disregarded. This does not mean they must be appeased with whatever they want. But the process of curtailing their international incursions must be nuanced.

  5. In the next few weeks, if you see an ad on the inter-tubes for a "Food-taster" in the Moscow metro area, DON'T apply!

    I can't imagine the number of people there might be who dream every night of poisoning Putin.

    What do you think?

    How many?



  6. "Our" SCOTUS has just leaked a document concerning "Roe," according to MSNBC right now.


    R.I.P. Roe.

    1973 – 2020

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