Is Russia’s Invasion Failing?

It is hard to know what information to trust about the situation in the Ukrainian war. A few days ago the Financial Times, which isn’t perfect (what media outlet is these days?) but fairly sober about its news reporting standards, ran a long story outlining what it saw as the significant failures of the Russian invasion:

In the first phase of its offensive, the Kremlin’s military story is one of failure.

Western defence officials have estimated Russian casualties at between 2,000 and 6,000. Based on ratios in similar conflicts, that implies three to four times as many captured and wounded. At its midpoint, such an estimate is more, in three weeks, than the losses of US and UK servicemen combined during 20 years in Afghanistan.

Russia’s losses in materiel are also significant. The Oryx blog has recorded 1,034 Russian vehicles, artillery pieces and aircraft destroyed, damaged, abandoned or captured. These include 173 tanks, 261 armoured and infantry fighting vehicles, and 28 surface-to-air missile systems.

Justin Bronk, research fellow at the UK’s Royal United Services Institute, who co-wrote a book on Russia’s military modernisation under Putin, said the losses “are massively more than in any other recent conflict” including Georgia, Chechnya or Afghanistan in the 1980s.

One of the odd details that jumped out at me was this:

When, several days in, Russian commanders realised they needed to pivot to using more serious firepower, they did so chaotically: huge columns of tanks and artillery moved forward, but the Ukrainians blew up bridges, causing advances to stall. Russian planners appear to have failed to anticipate this basic response, another western military official said, pointing out that engineering units and bridge builders were not even near the front of the advance in some columns.

Back when I studied strategic matters with Harold Rood in graduate school, we looked closely at the Soviet and Warsaw Pact military order of battle, which included a lot of bridge-building equipment—necessary for any serious ground offensive against NATO countries that would surely blow all the major bridges. Is it really possible that the Russian military neglected this?

Second, it appears the reactive armor the Russians have on their tanks designed to foil even a direct hit from anti-tanks rockets—something NATO forces feared when the Soviets rolled it out in the 1980s—appear not to be effective against the Javelin anti-tank rockets we have supplied Ukraine. Maybe that was a conscious design feature of Javelins. I have no idea; I’ve not kept up with weaponry as much as I once did (which wasn’t all that much).

The complete FT story is worth taking in.

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