All Vladimir Putin can expect now is a Pyrrhic victory for Russia, as his army cannot hope to keep hold of the territory it will secure.
Article by Major General Jonathan Shaw who was director of special forces in the British Army and the first MoD head of cyber security.
I suspect that Vladimir Putin is not the only one surprised by the slow speed of the Russian army’s invasion of Ukraine. Yet fighting power is more than sheer mass; it includes the way you fight and with what spirit. And on those metrics, Putin seems to have miscalculated.
Massing nearly 200,000 troops on the borders of your intended target is certainly an impressive show of force. The intent, one can assume, was to intimidate the Ukrainian government into acquiescing to his demands.
In that Putin failed. But he was successful in flushing out the West’s likely reaction: the US said they would not put boots on the ground to defend Ukraine; Germany, among others, seemed weak in its commitment to sanctions that had proved so ineffective in 2014 after the Crimea invasion; US and UK bellicosity seemed in the minority.
Thus emboldened, Putin ordered his invasion by around a third of his force. But the attack was higher on symbolism and frighteners than the overwhelming firepower that normal Russian doctrine would demand.
He did not believe the Ukrainians were up for the fight, he thought he would have a quick win, and he knew that the fewer casualties and the less destruction he caused, the more acquiescent the resulting puppet state of Ukraine would be.
Putin’s hopes have been dashed. Napoleon is said to have judged that “the moral is to the physical as three is to one”. The Ukrainians are fighting for their homeland, fired by memories of the four million Ukrainians killed by Stalin’s Great Famine of the 1930s. The Russian soldiers, many from the far east of Russia, have little idea where they are, and are shocked to find themselves not greeted as liberators but told by grannies to “f--- off”.
Morale is low and they must be realising they have been sold a lie. And Putin’s aggression has achieved the seemingly impossible and turned the EU into a military power.
Conceptually, the Ukrainians know Russian tactics and equipment well; they have hit the Russian logistics chain – which, in a country the size of Ukraine, was always going to be a big challenge. The Ukrainians’ fierce resistance has meant that the Russians’ relatively light-touch approach hasn’t worked, which exposes another built-in weakness of the Russian army.
Every army works according to its own national culture; they operate on a spectrum between top-down authoritarianism and the freedom of low-level initiative.
The Russian army remains rooted in the authoritarian end of the spectrum. It is a mass army that relies on (artillery and air) firepower to crush the enemy and then mass troop formations to overwhelm them, regardless of casualties. The relatively soft approach was playing to its weakness. Meeting opposition has asked it to change tactical plans on the hoof.
There is no doubt that the Russian army has the firepower and mass to prevail. It is now bringing up the artillery to engage urban areas with blanket attacks and the prospects are grim.
Quite how imprecise the attacks will be is shown by the use of BM-21 rocket launchers; these were designed in the 1960s and they fire rockets called Grad (or “hail” in Russian). It seems inconceivable that Putin should order the same tactics for Ukraine as he used on Grozny in Chechnya and Aleppo in Syria. But my fear is that, given that defeat is a psychological impossibility for him, his only card is to escalate.
The irony is that, even if he wins the war, he will lose the peace – for there will be no peace to keep. During his time as commander of US forces in Iraq, General Petraeus used to say: “Every army of liberation has a half-life; after which it becomes an army of occupation.”
The Russian army is already en route to being an army of occupation. What this will do to the morale of Russian troops will be key.
But the doctrinal writing is on the wall. The figures are speculative but it is often quoted that the ratio of troops to civilians in a counter-insurgency control operation needs to be 20 troops per 1,000. Ukraine has a population of 44 million (quite apart from being huge); Russia will need 880,000 troops to match this ratio – about five times more than it has currently deployed.
A similar disparity between demand and supply of troops existed for us in Basra when we had under 5,000 fighting troops to control a city of two million.
All we could achieve was local dominance for a limited time. We never controlled Basra, and it is hard to see how Putin will control an occupied Ukraine. The nightmare for him would be for him to end up repeating the disaster of Afghanistan.
As Carl von Clausewitz observed: “If there must be war, victory lies not in defeating an army but in securing the willing submission of a populace. Stability, not a passing triumph of arms, is the test.” Putin has misjudged the resistance of both the Ukrainians and world opinion.
He has misjudged the capability of the military tool he has employed to secure his political goal. Indeed, it is likely that it is the very brutal success of his military that will ensure he fails to achieve his political objective of a stable and pliant Ukraine.
Major General Jonathan Shaw was director of special forces in the British Army and the first MoD head of cyber security
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Ukraine Police officers remove the body of a passerby killed in yesterday's airstrike that hit Kyiv's main television tower Credit ARIS MESSINIS AFP