A common theme marshaled to “prove” that Russia is failing in its war with Ukraine is that Russia failed to quickly take Kiev and, in fact, was forced to retreat from Kiev. In addition, the military analysts that populate the cable news channels in the United States insist that the Russians are bogged down and not making the rapid progress they (the Russians) expected.
This is nonsense. I defy anyone to show me one statement by Putin or the Russian General Staff where a specific timeline was established or identified. This is a construct of western military analysts who do not have access to Russia’s military plan and are projecting their own wishful thinking as “evidence” of a flailing Russian military.
But it is not only western military analysts sounding the Debbie downer dirge. A blogger popular with many Russia watchers, Strelkov, also is pushing the narrative that Russia is bogged down in the Donbas. More about Stelkov in a moment.
I find it amusing that retired American Generals and Colonels who populate Fox, CNN, MSNBC and Newsmax are busy critiquing tactics they themselves have never carried out. The last time the United States was on a battlefield fighting an organized military with potent air power, artillery and tanks was in Korea. Most of these guys (e.g., General Keane) were in diapers or in elementary school. None of them were on that battlefield.
The United States’ war experience since 1960 has been against third world armies that did not have a modern air force and significant armor capabilities. The closest we have come to fighting a real army was the North Vietnamese. But the North Vietnamese relied more on human waves in combating the U.S. military and the United States had withdrawn its combat units from Vietnam with the North Vietnamese swept south and defeated the South Vietnamese. (I want to add that American troops in Vietnam, for the most part, fought bravely despite a military and political leadership that betrayed their sacrifice. It is not un-American to ask the question–what did they die for?)
Russia is not playing the United States’ game. When George W. Bush launched “shock and awe” in Iraq in March of 2003, the media briefings and images from the frontlines played an important role in convincing the American public that our multi-billion dollar military was moving like a devil’s scythe through the Iraqi forces. It was only after Bush’s Mission Accomplished speech that Americans had to come to grips with the fact that we did not control Iraq and that a viable insurgency existed.
So what is my point? The Russian military leadership and Vladimir Putin are not spending time feeding reporters with daily briefs of body counts of Ukrainian fighters or showing drone footage of Russians wiping out Ukrainian entrenched positions.
Americans indulge the delusion that we have a free, vibrant press. Yet, military analysts like Scott Ritter and Doug MacGregor are rarely invited to appear on any cable broadcast to offer a dissenting view on the narrative being force fed to the gullible, ignorant public. I will repeat a point I made early on in the Russian campaign regarding the 40 mile Russian column that lurked for more than a week north of Kiev. U.S. analysts insisted this was evidence of Russian incompetence in keeping these tanks and trucks supplied with fuel. Yet, during the entire time this big fat Russia target sat exposed, the mighty Ukrainian military failed to launch any significant attack designed to destroy that column.
This is not a minor point. No Ukrainian air assets (fixed or rotary wing) attacked the column. No Ukrainian artillery units shelled the exposed Russian tanks and trucks. And no Ukrainian tank units attacked the supposedly stalled Russians. Why? Because Ukraine had no capability to carry out such strikes.
What was Russia doing? Ritter, MacGregor and Martyanov, among others (including yours truly) saw this as a feint designed to pin down Ukrainian forces around Kiev that were dug in while Russia prepped to focus on the Donbas and the southern littoral of Ukraine.
Which brings me back to Mr. Strelkov, who writes:
It has been a week of only the tiniest gains. Furthermore, the gains have come in the wrong area. Mostly the gains have been to the north of Seversky Donets river. Meanwhile, the Izyum bridgehead to the south of the river from which the thrust is supposed to develop has been static (contained). . . .
These are facts apparent to anyone so the new copium is that Russia is supposedly killing 500 Ukrainians every day. Except there is no way that Russians would have access to this information, and if you believe that Rybar Telegram actually has access to Ukrainian documents you belong in a mental institution.
It’s the good ole Vietnam strategy I guess. When you can’t show any actual real progress on the ground resort to made-up body counts. Body counts don’t win wars, and besides Ukraine can replace its losses. Russia can not. Any men Ukraine losses will be replaced. Those lost by Russia will mostly not be.
Mr. Strelkov is assuming that Russia’s goal is to quickly conquer the Donbas without regard to casualties of Russian troops. Putin is not Stalin. Stalin did not hesitate to send literally millions of his troops to slaughter in order to stop the Germans. Putin and his Generals are moving much more methodically and caustiously. The Russians are relying on artillery and air strikes to soften up Ukrainian defensive positions. And this is paying dividends. Ukrainian troops are surrendering in significant numbers, especially those who were recently put into service and are not affiliated with the neo-Nazi mercenary forces.
I am particularly puzzled by Strelkov’s claim that, “Ukraine can replace its losses.” Mr. Strelkov cannot be this stupid. Pressing 60 year old Ukrainian men into service is not evidence of a robust military response. It smacks, instead, of Hitlerian desperation. In the final days of the Third Reich Hitler scoured Berlin for old men and young boys to man positions no longer defended by the German regular forces. Ukraine’s Zelensky has embarked on a similar strategy even before the “special operation” began:
Ukraine’s Land Forces announced on Wednesday that it was calling up members of its operational reserves, effective immediately. Reservists between 18 and 60 years of age are being mobilized for a year..
Russia is not sitting on its haunches licking its wounds. Rather than send troops against fortified positions, Russia continues to hit targets throughout Ukraine with precision missiles. Here is the activity reported on May 4:
- Russia attacked railway substation in Pyatihatki with a high-precision missile;
- Russia attacked railway substation in Tymkove with a high-precision missile;
- Russia attacked railway substation in Volovets with a high-precision missile;
- Russia attacked railway substation in Lviv with a high-precision missile;
- Russia attacked railway substation in Pidbirtsi with a high-precision missile;
- Russia attacked military assets of the AFU near Protopopovka with a high-precision missile;
- Russia attacked military assets of the AFU near Novaya Dmitrovka with a high-precision missile;
- Russia attacked military assets of the AFU near Sandjeika with a high-precision missile;
- Russia attacked military assets of the AFU near Krysino with a high-precision missile;
- Russia attacked military assets of the AFU near Volnyansk with a high-precision missile;
- Russia attacked military assets of the AFU near Novoalexandrovka with a high-precision missile.
I know for a fact that U.S. military commanders were hoping two weeks ago that Russia had exhausted its stock of precision missiles. Hope is not a good strategy. The Russians apparently did not get that memo (and Ukrainian sources have confirmed these strikes).
Further evidence that Russia is opting for the “reach out and touch someone” strategy comes from a video shot tonight (May 4) of a bombardment of Mykolaev aka Nikolaev:
If you think that enduring this kind of shelling is inconsequential then you have no appreciation of the limits of human endurance to such a sustained barrage.
I am not suggesting that the Russians are not encountering fierce resistance by some Ukrainian units. But I am offering an alternative explanation for Russia’s ground strategy. They are under no deadline. They are not going to send their military units into head on assaults and risk unnecessary casualties. And they are going to bomb Ukrainian units relentlessly until they surrender or are destroyed. Time is on Putin’s side.
The biggest failure of western military analysts is to take into account the fact that Ukraine’s economy has been gutted. Ukraine is shut off from imports/exports in the south and dependent on what Europe and the U.S. can send them overland. Fuel supplies in Ukraine are becoming more scarce, not more abundant. Given these realities, can Ukraine feed its people? That will be a critical factor in the coming days.