17 March 2022

The paper bear

Today marks three weeks since the beginning of Putin's invasion of Ukraine.  It's far from obvious yet how this war will end, but one thing is already clear:  Russia is not really the superpower it purports to be.

In earlier posts I've linked to various assessments of the startlingly-poor performance of the Russian military in Ukraine.  This interview with general David Petraeus, who knows a thing or two about how armies are supposed to work, summarizes some of the problems -- poor-quality equipment, grossly-inadequate maintenance, bungled logistics, lack of coordination between air and ground forces, planning based on absurdly optimistic assumptions, use of conscripts rather than professional soldiers, etc.  The upshot of all this has been stalled operations and failure to consistently achieve victories, even when fighting within a hundred miles of Russia's own border, even with about 200,000 troops committed.  In three weeks the invaders have failed to capture any large city except Kherson, and the UK ministry of defense assesses that their operations are still stalled on all fronts.  Reports of Russian soldiers looting shops to get food, or puncturing their own vehicles' fuel tanks to avoid being sent into battle, further reveal the reality behind the fa├žade of a Russian military juggernaut.

Western experts estimate that the Russian military is just a few days away from running into critical shortages of supplies and ammunition which will cripple its ability to continue the attack.  The world has been shocked at how the invaders, frustrated at their failure to capture Ukrainian cities, have instead been indiscriminately bombarding them with missiles -- but they don't have an unlimited supply of missiles either, and have already used up over a thousand of them.

In brief, their technology is crap, their logistics is crap, they aren't doing basic essential maintenance on things, their military leadership is grossly incompetent, their soldiers are confused and unmotivated, and their military is barely able to function 100 miles from their own borders.  This is not a world power in the same class as the strongest countries of the West.  Anything but.

(As another example, Russia currently has only one working aircraft carrier, which is so plagued with various technical problems that it has sometimes been accompanied on missions by a tugboat in case its engine breaks down.  The carrier is out of action until 2023 for a massive systems upgrade, which was interrupted in 2018 when a crane collapsed and smashed a 200-square-foot hole in its deck, then again in 2019 when a major fire broke out.  For comparison, the UK, with less than half Russia's population and an economy only 50% larger, has two completely modern carriers in service.)

Some of this is part of the general ineptitude which is inherent in authoritarian, non-democratic states.  With no free press, there is no independent oversight over the government, no accountability or transparency.  Corruption is rife.  Top posts are filled with toadies chosen for loyalty to the regime rather than expertise and experience.  Resources meant for the military or other critical services are often embezzled.  Incompetence and corner-cutting are coddled because of bribery or because the person responsible has family ties to some powerful thug.  I've posted before about some of the most visible consequences of this kind of thing in the other giant gangster-state, China (if China ever launches a really major military operation such as an invasion of Taiwan, its performance will likely be as dismal as Russia's in Ukraine).  What we're seeing in the Russian military is basically the same kind of problems in a different context.  There's a real irony in the way despots from Wilhelm II to Hitler to Saddam to Putin have dismissed democracies as weak and decadent, whereas in reality, authoritarian states are weak because they're authoritarian.

There is, of course, one sense in which Russia remains a superpower -- its nuclear arsenal.  With about six thousand nuclear warheads and numerous ICBMs, Russia could virtually annihilate any country in the world.  Given the performance of its conventional military, it wouldn't be surprising if many of Russia's nuclear warheads and missiles are also inadequately maintained and would fail or malfunction if actually used.  Of course even one-tenth of such an arsenal could devastate the US and Europe, which is why the Western support for Ukraine has diligently avoided any risk of a direct war between Russia and NATO.  But one has to wonder how long such a decrepit and corrupt state will be able to assert great-power status based on an arsenal of probably-decaying nuclear bombs which, while effective for deterrence, can't really be used in a conventional military conflict.

Putin sought to restore Russia's great-power prestige.  His invasion of Ukraine has done the exact opposite.

o o o o o

Francis Fukuyama believes Russia is facing outright defeat in Ukraine.

Putin is purging generals and intelligence personnel, making them scapegoats for his own blunders.  I suspect this will create a further motive for those generals who remain to consider overthrowing him -- to get him before he gets them.

A scholar of modern Russian history discusses the country's chronic problems and missteps in dealing with the West.

Putin exemplifies how the nature of dictatorship leads to bad decisions.

Japan's tough stance against Russia sends a message to China.

Photos show the devastation inflicted by Russian attacks on civilian targets.

The Russian embassy in Portugal gets pwned by its neighbors.

Pundits' assessments of Putin's war evolve over time (found via Angry Bear).

The virtue-signaling canceling of Russian culture and ostracism of innocent Russian individuals is stupid and sad.  Spurning Tchaikovsky is particularly absurd; Tchaikovsky was homosexual and would have been persecuted under Putin's regime if he were alive today.


Blogger Sixpence Notthewiser said...

A paper bear indeed.
Cheetolini wanted to be Vlad, but Vlad has kind of showed that he's the Cheetolini of the world stage. The emperors have no clothes.


17 March, 2022 06:14  
Blogger Mike said...

If NATO keeps supplying Ukraine with anti-aircraft and tank missiles, I think Ukraine can pull this out.

17 March, 2022 09:12  
Blogger SickoRicko said...

Cheetolini - I Love It! But seriously: Thanks for another good essay. I enjoy reading them.

17 March, 2022 10:36  
Blogger Green Eagle said...

Just a note on that one "working" aircraft carrier. There was only one navy base in the old Soviet Union with a drydock big enough to take an aircraft carrier. That was in Odessa, in the Western Ukraine. Another piece of the Putin's rationale for his attack on Ukraine.

17 March, 2022 10:52  
Blogger yellowdoggranny said...

Papa Bear was in hibernation too long..

17 March, 2022 16:56  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Sixpence: Most authoritarians are bullies, and bullies are usually weak people who superficially appear strong.

Mike: Let's hope so. We can supply them with plenty of those.

Ricko: Thanks! Glad if I'm contributing something.

Green: Thanks for the info point -- interesting. You'd think that in the 31 years since Ukraine became independent, they'd have built another drydock somewhere.

Granny: Too bad he didn't stay there.

18 March, 2022 00:08  
Blogger Tommykey said...

There is a quote I remember, though I forget to whom it is attributed.

"Russia is never as strong as it seems, and it is never as weak as it seems."

18 March, 2022 09:33  
Blogger Mary Kirkland said...

Russia might not be as great as they want everyone to think but I don't think Putin is going to stop until either he gets control of Ukraine or someone stops him.

18 March, 2022 10:32  
Blogger Kay said...

I'm trying to be optimistic for Ukraine, but gosh... the news every morning is so bad and sad.

18 March, 2022 19:12  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Tommykey: We'll see. They were pretty strong in 1942-1945. Evidently a lot has changed.

Mary K: So far, the Ukrainians are stopping him. But hopefully saner elements in the Russian military will do something.

Kay: The destruction is terrible, but the effectiveness of their defense is stunning. I'm more optimistic than a couple of weeks ago.

19 March, 2022 03:47  
Blogger Daal said...

if only was as simple as getting out scissors or matches...

21 March, 2022 15:16  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Yes, javelins and bayraktars aren't as convenient, but they'll have to do.....

22 March, 2022 01:32  

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