As we approach the third week of hostilities in Ukraine, we are reaching a point where the Russians are likely second-guessing their decision to invade. Their attack has bogged down, more because of weather and their own army’s shortcomings than due to Ukrainian resistance. This isn’t to say the Ukrainians haven’t been effective in defending against Russian assaults. They have been. However, it’s fair to say the Russian military’s own flaws have caused almost as much damage as Ukrainian weapons. Naturally, the Russian military is now regarded by much of the world as a ‘paper tiger’ beset by incompetence and corruption. Perhaps this is the case, but we will not know until a comprehensive analysis can be conducted after hostilities cease. Therefore, it would be fair to hold off on rendering judgement until then.
If people are looking for a historical case study to measure the Russian invasion of Ukraine against, the First Soviet-Finnish War is the best comparison. The war began on 30 November, 1939 with a Soviet invasion of Finland. The Soviets made a number of demands that Finland found impossible to agree to and Moscow decided to invade, expecting a relatively short and easy victory given the military advantages it held. Finland apparently was not aware of the major advantages its opponent held and resisted fiercely. The Soviets sustained very heavy losses and its initial attacks bogged down for two months. Only after a vast reorganization and the adaptation of new tactics did the Soviets regain momentum and eventually conclude the war on terms quite favorable to Moscow. The parallels between Finland 1939-40 and Ukraine 2020 are certainly present, though it’s worth pointing out the two conflicts also had several stark differences.
Hopefully, we can discuss these at length in the future. For now, I’ll limit the remainder of this entry to a number of observations on the military side of this conflict.
Weather– There is no doubt Mother Nature has played a major part in how the Russian invasion has panned out thus far. We’re approaching the March thaw, a period of time when the frozen ground thaws out and is assisted by thawing snow and wet weather. The end result is a muddy quagmire on roads and in fields that will undoubtedly affect mechanized units. We’ve already seen many videos and photos of Russian vehicles stuck in mud and abandoned. In the coming days and weeks, expect to see more. In discussions with friends and professional associates in late January, I was one of the voices warning that if Russia was serious about an attack, it had to begin in early February to take advantage of the frozen ground. Extended forecasts reinforced the notion an invasion by 14 February would favor the attackers by a wide margin. Unfortunately, geopolitical realities closed off mid-February as a window of opportunity. As a result, the Russian invasion came in late February and as the conflict continues, the weather will turn against Moscow even more.
Failure of the BTG Concept– I’m only going to discuss this one briefly because the war is not over yet. Final judgement would be premature at this point. But so far, the Battalion Tactical Group concept has proven to be an abject failure in my view. A battalion is too small of a component, even with reinforcements and supporting assets, to function effectively as a combined arms maneuver unit on a modern battlefield. In Donetsk and Luhansk from 2016-2021 they worked well, but that was a very different type of fighting compared to what’s taking place in Ukraine now. Or at least, it’s supposed to be different… 😊
Supply Shortages- I have no idea what the Ukrainian supply situation is now, but I assume it is not good given what the Russian situation is. Russian forces are apparently down to 10 days of fuel, ammunition, and other wartime supplies according to the most recent estimates. Given how quickly modern war devours supplies, I’d say 7 days is a more realistic projection. Since the Russians never expected the war to last this long, their looming supply shortage comes as no surprise. Between the extended timetable for combat operations and the damage done to an extended and vulnerable supply line, the challenges Russia is dealing with in getting the needed supplies forward are quite real and must be solved quickly.