The Russian Military: Hype Versus Reality
Is it somewhat of a Potemkin village?
So far, Russia’s conventional military forces have been waging the war against Ukraine, and for this first month many of the reports have been about seeming Russian failures or stalls or of the Russian military being “bogged down.” However, since propaganda on both sides is also a large factor in this war, much of this was initially considered to be possible or even probable Ukrainian propaganda and exaggeration.
There’s almost certainly still some of that. And it remains possible that through sheer numbers and willingness to take and inflict heavy casualties that Russia will win militarily in the end. That’s the traditional Russian way of war. But over time I think it’s become more clear that the Russian military actually does have some grave problems.
Some people were well aware of those failings already, as this video makes clear:
So, is the Russian military at least somewhat of a facade-like Potemkin village? If so, that doesn’t mean they still can’t inflict great damage – they can – but it certainly hampers them in that effort. But the deleterious effects for the Russian forces may be even greater in an invasion of Ukraine, because reports are that mud season has been a problem, and troops were not even told they would be fighting in Ukraine (where many of them might have relatives and friends). So there may be a significant amount of increased internal psychological conflict among the troops and morale may be even lower than usual.
In politics and economics, a Potemkin village is any construction (literal or figurative) whose sole purpose is to provide an external façade to a country that is faring poorly, making people believe that the country is faring better. The term comes from stories of a fake portable village built by Grigory Potemkin, former lover of Empress Catherine II, solely to impress the Empress during her journey to Crimea in 1787.
The term seems especially apropos because the story was about a Russian, and Crimea was involved. The story may not be true – which would also be apropos, wouldn’t it? – and of course the Russian military is hardly wholly a facade. But still, maybe somewhat of a facade, at least in terms of its organization and expertise.
If so, why is this the case, and why has it persisted? Some of the suggested factors are money problems (cutting corners), rampant graft and corruption, maintenance and logistical problems, morale problems, and organizational problems. In addition, with a tyrannical leader, underlings are often afraid to tell that leader hard truths.
There is evidence that some of Russia’s newer weapons designs have been mostly for show:
In fact, many of Russia’s high profile technological leaps in military prowess have since proven to be little more than publicity stunts. The Su-57, Russia’s 5th-generation stealth fighter, exists in too few numbers to matter even if it were as capable as they claim. Expert assessments place their premier stealth fighter’s radar cross-section as about comparable to that of America’s 4th generation F/A-18 Super Hornet, and their recently unveiled Checkmate fighter, if it ever flies at all, will almost certainly be even less stealthy.
Likewise, Russia’s T-14 Armata main battle tank may also prove to be among the best in the world, if only Russia could afford to build any.
Believe the following video or don’t believe it, as you wish. It’s from an Australian news site:
There’s also this report about big problems with Russia’s precision-guided munitions.
As for the question of Russia’s nuclear arsenal, I wonder how well-maintained that is. Of course, we do not want to have to find out.
I also wonder how our military is doing in these woker-than-woke days. Our exit from Afghanistan wasn’t the least bit reassuring.
[Neo is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at the new neo.]
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“As for the question of Russia’s nuclear arsenal, I wonder how well-maintained that is.”
It would be Russian Roulette on a gigantic scale.
Analysis of the Russian tank force and its reserves suggests only 10% of the reserves can be made operational.
Even if you assume the same lack of investment, corruption and laziness have depleted the nuclear arsenal to the same degree, that still leaves Russia quite enough weapons to leave the Northern Hemisphere utterly fucked.
There’s also the possibility that Russia’s failures, along with direct Chinese intervention, are a facade to lull the rest of the world into a false sense of security.
Sorry that should say “….along with a lack of direct Chinese intervention,…”
Lest we forget, Washington D.C. is the ultimate Potemkin village.
…headed by the ultimate Potemkin President.
came here to say both of your comments
As a military reader of Russia history finesse was never the Russians strong suit even in Czarist years.
It’s mostly brute force attacks to win battles.
(alaskabob good one)
I’m not saying Russia’s military is all-powerful or anything, but all the idiots talking about this are always overlooking the critical point.
Despite what the propagandists would have you believe, Russia is being VERY, VERY hesitant to use major airstrikes or artillery strikes to avoid indiscriminate collateral damage, because the major ground combat is taking place in and around cities. And yes, blah blah, I’m sure somebody is going to whip out a picture of a destroyed hospital or something, but that’s nothing, Russia is totally capable of LEVELING the cities if they wanted to avoid military casualties. The fact that they’re not bombing out entire city blocks says that they don’t WANT to destroy the cities.
Russia could easily carpet bomb Ukraine into submission, and Ukraine knows it, that’s why Ukraine was begging for a no-fly zone they know they can’t enforce themselves.
Russia is fighting a near-peer on the ground, and they’re unwilling to leverage their biggest military advantage against Ukraine in the cities because of PR.
And of course I don’t believe casualty projections from EITHER side.
The advance of the Russia army says that they’re winning, and they’re GOING to win, although they’re taking much higher casualties than anticipated because they’re unwilling to exploit their air power.
I agree with your assessment, except as to Mariupol, where I doubt citizens would agree Russia used restraint. However, I wonder how much the situation could change if the US supplied sufficient batteries of missiles, like Patriots, to shoot down missiles; and anti-aircraft missiles. It seems apparent that either through incompetence or intent that they are not doing so. US policy appears to be for Ukraine to eventually lose and Putin get a very bloody nose. IMO this is because the Biden administration is so risk averse that it does not want to deal with a WMD situation, if Russia ever were to be in real danger of losing.
Russia is likely to achieve it’s primary and secondary objectives: consolidation of territory in the Donbas and a land bridge to Crimea. Both of these work to create a return to a buffer area between Ukraine and Russia as well as solidifying control of Black Sea.
IMO, the exercise around Kiev were a feint designed as a sort of strategic level recon in force. When Russia couldn’t secure the airport to bring in follow on forces in the first few days they abandoned the goal of a quick victory over the capital. Since then these forces acted to prevent operational maneuver for the Ukrainian forces.
Russian conventional forces are not on par with Western armies. They haven’t demonstrated the ability to function as a combined arms force. The troops around Kiev were second rate at best. Clinging to roadways, no dismounted infantry working with attack helo to sweep ahead of the main bodies and push away anti tank teams, mortars and artillery spotters. Composition appears to be conscripts and out of shape reserves.
In contrast the performance in the south and east was much better. One thing is for sure, the Russian forces in Ukraine are no longer poorly trained cannon fodder. Those still functioning have been exposed to fire and have learned valuable lessons over the past month.
That 40 mile convoy was not a “strategic level recon in force”. The Russian elite airborne troops lost trying to take the airport were not Russia’s ‘second rate’ troops. The begging for Belarus to invade Ukraine is not because Kiev wasn’t a target. The medals already created for the troops who were meant to capture Lviv were manufactured for a reason. The media release of the intended post-victory statement confirms that Russia absolutely wanted and thought they could take Kiev.
So Russia has failed its primary objectives.
Right now Russia is failing its secondary objectives. They’re running out of ammunition, running out of tanks, running out of soldiers, running out of command officers, running out of morale and across much of the country, running out of Ukraine.
Then of course there’s the Russian strategic weakness caused by consuming so much of its army and reserves in the mud of Ukraine.
This whole operation has been an absolute disaster for Putin.
That is the point I am making. The failure to seize and hold the airport to allow follow on forces to then rapidly seize the capital was a clear failure. Ukrainian forces did extremely well in preventing this. Once denied that foreclosed the possibility of a quick seizure of the capital and I contend that Russia shifted focus to other objectives. Frankly this was a long shot but worth a try. Recall Kosovo and the successful gambit to take Prishtina airport.
It’s not that taking Kiev wasn’t an objective but rather that the audacious plan didn’t work due to Ukrainian resistance. IMO, at that point the Strategy shifted to the more important operational areas in the South and East. The ground forces in that ’40 mile’ column are clearly not the best troops. Staying along roadways, lack of demonstrated ability to successfully deploy dismounted infantry to disburse anti tank teams, pausing in place all invited attacks.
The forces in the South and East have been much more successful because they are better troops and have a shorter supply line. Russia doesn’t have a vast number of first rate conventional forces, they lack the budget to develop and maintain them. The ones they have are in the South and East.
At that point? Four weeks later.
The forces in the South and East have been more successful? Mariupol has not remotely been a success for them – constant propaganda failures and horrific losses of equipment and men. Plus 300 civilians dead in just one building.
That’s the sort of success that’s going to lose them Crimea, because the rest of Ukraine no longer has any desire for peaceful resolution of this war.
“Russia is being VERY, VERY hesitant to use major airstrikes or artillery strikes to avoid indiscriminate collateral damage…”
Perhaps that will change after Biden’s ill advised ad lib comments.
I don’t think PR is the motivation behind their unwillingness to level the cities. They simply want to take as much of Ukraine intact as they can.
What’s missing from all the analysis is American politics. Biden, by which I mean the DNC, cannot lose Ukraine.
They were humiliated in Afghanistan, and cannot fail here.
So one way or another, the US will provide whatever is needed to give Ukraine an edge. Russia has a limited budget, and Ukraine has an unlimited budget.
Joe Biden cannot afford to lose Ukraine because they hold lots of secrets concerning his family’s financial ventures in that country.
I like how our alleged intelligence sources never picked up on how horrible the Russian military situation really is.
They’re so busy treating citizens like the enemy instead of the enemy.
Nothing new. The so-called ‘intelligence experts’ told Reagan that the Soviet Union was an absolute rock and would never collapse, and that it was best to just quietly make peace and give them what they wanted.
Literally NONE of the so-called ‘experts’ predicted the collapse until it happened.
Reagan is not President
Saw this tonight from a commenter elsewhere, purports to be Ukraine troops shooting to wound Russian soldier prisoners
Keep saying it’s hard to verify anything and can only see if it’s real, but if true quit disturbing.
why disturbing? better to shoot to kill? I don’t understand your concern when the other option is killing them
Once you accept a surrender the safety and welfare of that POW is your responsibility.
When they’re prisoners under your control, disarmed, bound, transported away from the front line and surrounded by armed soldiers, the other option is not killing them.
How effective and large is the U.S. missile defense capability?
What people seem to forget is that outside of border skirmishes with the Chinese in the late 1960’s the Red Army hasn’t faced a reasonably equipped near peer foe since World War II. Neither the Chechens nor the Afghans were anything more than guerrilla armies. The US fought the Korean War, Vietnam and the first Gulf War against well equipped regular formations. Actual combat experience matters.
So you would argue that we did well in Korea and Vietnam? Save the Gulf War, name a few other conflicts in the last seven decades that support your hypothesis. I call BS.
(Yes, I served a decade with multiple tours in the Gulf, so happy to discuss that “victory”, too….”well-equipped regular formations” my butt. We tore down the statue with fewer than a half dozen deaths, then lost thousands while we painted schools and directed traffic.)
I made no such argument. I merely stated that Russia has not fought against a conventional opponent in decades. We easily overran the Iraqi army in 2001. We had no plan for what came after and ended up in a protracted guerrilla war. Same for Afghanistan.
If we grant the argument that Iraq in 2001 was a near peer competitor, then the youngest private then is eligible for retirement. The vast majority of folks with any sort of HIC, high intensity combat, experience have long since departed. Other than a very few SR NCOs and a small number of Col and GO no one in the US Army has actual combat experience in HIC (high intensity combat) We still have a pool of folks with significant experience in LIC (low intensity combat) though more retire each year.
I have been told the f18 is a lot better than the f35. I would not minimize that. F18 has been a cost effective dependable plane fpr us.
It’s time the United States (they/them) started be honest with itself, also; please, anyone, name a conflict that has gone well for the U.S. military.
Gulf War? Sure, but consider we built up for nearly a year to go against a dictator who had a bunch of antiquated (coincidently of Russian origin) equipment and an army that would barely rival the Rhode Island National Guard.
Our focus nowadays is on mandatory vaccinations (and mandatory pride marches) and making white soldiers feel bad about their skin color, not fighting and winning wars…the original intent.
Perhaps the woke recruiting videos soliciting for social justice warriors with two moms will reverse our downward spiral of military might…but don’t think a war with Russia would be a cakewalk in the current state of military affairs. Just ask the 3 dozen real soldiers who took the most strategic airport away from us during a forced evacuation from Afghanistan.
The ability to draw on unlimited manpower is a weapon in and of itself. Napoleon’s Legions and the Wehrmacht learned that lesson the hard way.
Keep it near and dear to our thoughts when dealing with the Russians and ChiComms today.
August 6th and August 9th, 1945 changed the face of warfare forever.
No longer will a landing force be able to draw up offshore of Normandy, France, East Boat Basin, Iwo Jima, or Hagushi, Okinawa Prefecture
Russia’s army may be mediocre in a lot of ways, but I’m sure that enough of their nukes work. I expect them to use nukes to whack weapons convoys from Poland.
They could have argued the Serbian precedent; and followed Clinton to carry out indiscriminate assaults against the civilian population. They could have read emanations from penumbras and opened mass abortion fields. They could have rendered the 8 year… 32 trimester-old Slavic Spring non-viable with a single swipe of a scalpel. Go Pro-Choice without regrets. They haven’t.
The question of why senior Russian officers are being killed is simple. When Putin asks them what the hell is the holdup in seizing Kiev and they respond that they are not certain, his reaction? “Get the hell down there and find out!”.
Do not be fooled. Russia did not send any of its front line battle tanks, they have more than 2,000 fighter aircraft that are not being used, a million man standing army and that 20 mile long convoy sat unmolested for more than a week as what appears to have been a trap. Russia does not follow the doctrine of “mutually assured destruction” and do believe a nuclear war can be fought and won. Russia more likely appears trying to drag our Nation into a fight to begin on Ukrainian soil. . . 5 Generals out of 1,100 is not much to brag about.
Russia yields what we called “petty generals.” Generals who yielded the kind of power you’d expect out of a hair dresser. I’m almost ashamed to tell it, but even the modern U.S. military hasn’t degraded itself to that level.
I don’t know how to describe it. Yes, I do. I found out from my friends in the Marines. Who found Iraqi colonels strapped into the seats of anti aircraft guns.
At that level you’re supposed to plan the fight. You’re not supposed to fight the fight. You’re doing it wrong.
Russia has all that power where????…..why probably all along it’s border with China! Do you really think that the Russians trust the Chinese not to take a big gulp and consume Siberia and all it’s natural resources????