How poor intelligence, shoddy military decisions have harmed Russia in its war against Ukraine First Post 05 Jan 2023
A Ukrainian missile strike on the Professional Technical School in Makiivka, a twin city to the regional capital of Donetsk, currently under Russian control, on New Year’s day, claimed the lives of many conscript Russian soldiers. It was amongst the bloodiest incidents of the war. While exact number of dead may not be known, as Russia admits 63, while Ukraine claims around 400, the fact is casualties were high because ammunition was stored alongside troops. The location was identified because Russian soldiers switched on their mobiles, which were tracked by the Ukrainians. Technology dominates the battlespace. Russia will work to avenge the incident only fuelling the war further. Winter may have slowed down the conflict, but it continues. With western arms supplies and financial backing Ukraine will continue the proxy war.
Russia commenced the war seeking to end the independence of Ukraine, warn NATO on its expansion and expand its territories to include regions it considers part of Greater Russia. A western allied Ukraine was a threat which had to be removed. It failed as NATO is inducting Sweden and Finland, as Russian capability to threaten Europe reduces. Reversing this may be part of Putin’s conditions for peace. Russia’s strategic intelligence had evaluated an early end to the Zelensky regime and almost a walk through into Kiev, all in a matter of days. The same was the perception of the US.
Russia had expected to wrap up its campaign in under 10 days, however, it is almost 11 months and there is no end to sight. Russia’s strategic intelligence had misjudged Ukraine’s leadership and resilience of its populace. The US had rightly judged Russian intent but initially doubted the capability of Ukrainian forces in thwarting it. The initial Russian strategy was itself based on flawed intelligence. Its air campaign lasted barely a day and targeted static military targets instead of HQs and command and control centres. The initial aerial campaign should have lasted a few days and amalgamated air, artillery and missiles in a coordinated target destruction plan.
It was this misperception of Ukraine’s military capabilities which led to Russia moving its heavy armour and towed artillery along roads rather than tactically in battlegroups, thereby exposing them to counter strikes. The all-arms concept had been dumped to push for speed with tanks leading without matching support of the infantry and faster than their logistic elements. By the time the Russians amended their tactics, the damage had been done. Russia lost majority of its armour in the first one month of operations, partially destroyed by anti-armour weapons or abandoned due to running out of fuel. Once Russians realized that their strategy has failed, they changed tactics, reducing losses.
Though Russia has annexed most regions it claimed were Russian speaking and part of its initial strategy however is compelled to defend them against strong counteroffensives from Ukraine, pumped by NATO weapons and mercenaries. Russia has also pushed in mercenaries from Chechnya and its Wagner Group. Mercenaries lead the offensives on either side. While the Russian economy will suffer in the long run, Ukraine will face infrastructure and economic damage will could take decades to recover.
Russian intelligence failed again in September last year when Ukraine launched a counteroffensive to regain the city of Izyum and ousted Russian forces from most of the Kharkiv region. It was intelligence failures, both at the strategic and operational levels, which forced Putin to order partial mobilization to back his war in Ukraine. With high losses in Makiivka, Putin is contemplating another mobilization to shore up troops and launch another offensive.
Facing import restrictions, Putin has been compelled to outsource ammunition from North Korea and drones from Iran, which are being effectively employed in the warzone. Currently artillery and missiles are causing maximum casualties. While the Ukrainians employ NATO equipment, Russia uses its mass artillery and rockets. This will continue for some time.
For Russia there is no going back as halting its operations would imply loss of face, while for Zelensky, western support and mercenaries as also the opportunity to remove all political opposition has made him a virtual dictator and a globally revered figure. It is of little concern that all aid being poured would ultimately have to be repaid, while Ukrainians suffer immensely both in casualties and infrastructure damages. With vastly differing perceptions on talks there is little likelihood of any compromise on the negotiation table.
The impact on the war in a globalized world is immense. While European economy is expected to move into recession, the global south faces shortfalls of oil, foodgrains and fertilizers. Inflation is rising across the world. Calls for talks and negotiations have little impact as the US, which calls the shots from behind Zelensky, has yet to signal its acceptance. It is possibly the only country which has financially and militarily gained from the war, a cry which Putin makes regularly but to no avail.
At the end of the day, the standing of the Russian army has dropped. Its failed strategy, intelligence and tactics have ensured that the world’s third most powerful force is no longer what it has claimed itself to be. Its ability to threaten NATO has vastly diminished. The unity of the west, which Russia desperately attempted to break has added to its concerns. Western support has kept the proxy war below levels of nuclear threshold, ensuring Putin’s nuclear threat are redundant. The US’s intentions to keep Russia in check is evident post the visit of Zelensky to Washington and promise of supplying the Patriot Missile system to it.
Moscow is losing global support fast, forcing Putin to mention his willingness for talks. Xi, who backed Putin initially is drawing back while Modi has regularly stated that war is not a solution. However, Zelensky needs to be pushed for now, an act the US is unwilling to take. It is likely that the US would do so till it achieves its end state of making Europe dependent on it and denuded Russian military capability.
2023 would be the year when there will be a push for talks. It will not be easy as the US cannot weaken Ukraine, enabling Russia to take advantage and Zelensky will not bend till he is threatened on withdrawal of support. Putin cannot surrender occupied territories as it could result in his losing power. Truly a catch 22 situation but one which could be navigated through. Mindless killing and wanton destruction has to stop. Can there be a leader who could tread his way through the minefield of uncertainties and obtain a truce.