Some of you may already be familiar with the following articles. If not, I want to encourage you to read all three. Big Serge does his usual masterful job of integrating military history with current events. I do not fully agree with his analysis in this article. He is so focused on the tactical details of the battles in Ukraine that he fails to recognize the evolution of Russia’s tactics in the current offensive. Specifically, Big Serge is fixated on the Battalion Tactical Group aka BTG and overlooks an important shift in tactics.
Where is the big Russian offensive? This is, at the moment, the million dollar question that inevitably intrudes on any discussion of the war’s current course. It is probably not surprising (to those of us that are familiar with human nature, at least) that this question becomes a Rorschach test in which everybody sees their own prior assumptions about the Russian military.
The answers to this question do indeed vary widely. On one extreme, there are those who believe that hundreds of thousands of Russian troops are prepared to launch an enormous “big arrow” offensive at any moment. We see this both from commentators like retired US Colonel Douglas MacGregor and from some Ukrainian sources who are likely trying to foment a sense of urgency to extract more aid from the west. On the other extreme, we have those who claim that the Russian military is so depleted that there will be no offensive at any point whatsoever. There are also some in the
Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propagandawestern intelligentsia, like the Nuland Institute for the Study of War or Michael Koffman, who argue that the offensive has already begun but is so lame and weak that nobody noticed. . . .
The synthesis of all these points is that Russia is currently driving the attrition of the Ukrainian army and denying Ukraine any chance at regaining operational initiative, while at the same time pursuing important shaping objectives. I believe this is occurring against the backdrop of moderate, but not catastrophic organizational disorder and restructuring in the Russian armed forces, which are delaying its readiness to launch a large scale offensive. In other words, the current pace of Russian operations supports the overall attrition of Ukrainian manpower and implies that there is no need to rush an ambitious operation until organizational issues have been sorted out.
Simplicius provides a fascinating counter point to Big Serge with detailed explanation, based on documentary evidence, why the BTG is no longer the primary military entity the Russians are deploying on the Ukrainian battlefield. He writes:
So—what is the big doctrinal shift? It’s the complete replacement of the infamous ‘BTG’ or Battalion Tactical Group as a core structural component of the Russian armed forces with a new, even smaller and more focused unit termed the ‘Assault Unit’ or ‘Assault Detachment’. . . .
The vast majority of Western ‘experts’, completely misunderstand the purpose and origins of the “BTG”, owing to this delusional aggrandizement and mythicization. I’m going to demystify how and why the BTG was formed very succinctly for the laymen amongst us:
In very simple terms, the Russian BTG’s were really formed due to a chronic shortage of troops that could potentially constitute most brigades. Now, this isn’t a problem solely inherent to the Russian forces. Truth is, most militaries in the world can’t really fill all their brigades completely to their absolute ‘on paper’ 100% composition. Even in Ukraine today, both sides commonly operate brigades that are 40-60% constituted. . . .
The Russian BTG was used in the opening of the SMO because it was a self-sufficient maneuvering force capable of solving their own limited objectives at a time when the resistance of the AFU was not yet great. But, as I mentioned before, the tenor of the conflict has drastically shifted. With the defense-first and stalemate/attritional-minded current focus of the AFU, there is not much room and opportunity for ‘maneuver’ war presently, which is why not only have I myself written at length about the hypothetical ‘death of maneuver war’, but as have other more prominent outlets.
The op-ed by Andrew J Bacevich is a loud reveille sounded to rouse the political class in Washington to the looming danger their Manichean national security theology represents to the survival of America:
Even so, for most Americans, World War II remained the authoritative source of relevant memory, with the Cold War a sequel of sorts. Just as U.S. leadership in World War II had defeated the Third Reich and imperial Japan, so, too, would Washington turn back the Soviet threat and ensure the survival of freedom. As the two events merged in the country’s collective imagination, they yielded a canonical lesson: U.S. global leadership backed by superior military power had become a categorical imperative.
In fact, the hard-won victory of 1945 would turn out to be neither validation nor harbinger. It proved instead to be a source of illusions. In the 1960s, the costly and divisive war in Vietnam seemed to demolish those illusions; the collapse of communism at the end of the 1980s momentarily revived them. The post-9/11 misadventures Washington undertook in pursuing its global “war on terror” once again exposed the claims of U.S. military supremacy as specious.
Bacevich’s piece is long but worth your time. Be aware, Bacevich embraces the American prejudice towards Russia and wrongly dismisses the Russian military as a collection of ill-trained, poorly equipped Slavs. While his assessment of Russia is out of touch with reality, he nails the feckless, reckless and dangerous national security policy that United States is doggedly pursuing.
Here are the links to each of these articles.
Big Serge — Russo-Ukrainian War: Schrodinger’s Offensive
Simplicius — The BTG Is Dead, Long Live The BTG!
Andrew J Bacevich — The Reckoning That Wasn’t: Why America Remains Trapped by False Dreams of Hegemony