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Russia's Soup Sandwich
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To say I’m shocked by how terrible Russia’s military has been from both a strategic and tactical standpoint since the moment they whimsically undertook the invasion of another country would be a woeful understatement. I mean, they’re bad. Regardless of what happens from here on out, they've shattered the fantasy that the Russian army is one of the most fearsome on the planet.
Amongst Washington bobbleheads, there was a consensus stretching back years before the conflict even started that the Ukrainians would never prevail against Moscow’s superior numbers and military might. Of course, that consensus assumed the definitude of the countless Russian military journals that foretold how this invasion would play out if it were ever given the green light.
No-go on that one, esteemed intellectuals.
Ask any U.S./NATO-nation observers for their assessment of this invasion, and I'd bet my bottom dollar they'd all say more or less the same thing: Despite almost a year’s worth of preparation by the Russian armed forces massing at several points along the Ukrainian border — to say nothing of all the years Putin sat stewing about the U.S. and NATO and the West and how outrageous it was that Ukraine wasn't his — the invasion is a “disaster and a borderline failure,” as one former U.S. military officer, now working as a civilian contractor in Poland, said.
Russia’s air force, which is supposed to be “one of the world’s most advanced,” still doesn’t have air superiority; their ground assaults have all been at a snail’s pace; tragicomic supply and logistical issues abound; and the number of Russian soldiers KIA in only fifteen days is almost difficult to fathom.
I want to stress that, with regards to everything hereon in this post, the situation is very fluid—numbers change every day, the ebb and flow of combat is unpredictable, and the “fog of war” is very real. As such, I think that vis-a-vis casualties it’d be prudent to consider several different sources to narrow down an accurate guesstimate.
Since I first started writing this post I've had to update it several times, but as of 01:52 Saturday 3/12/22, this is the most recent estimate from U.S. officials I could find:
Folks, that many Russian KIA is insane.
It's so easy to treat these numbers as abstractions—we see high figures and they mean nothing to us because we've been desensitized in all manner of ways by a media-saturated culture that renders us ignorant and unmoored if we're not too careful.
Just pause for a moment and reflect on the fact that every single one of these men, most of them as young as 18 and no older than 40, are sons. They have mothers. Families. Friends. And while many people seem more than happy to unanimously condemn all Russians as evil Nazis, with some morons even vandalizing and destroying local businesses and restaurants owned by Russian Americans — (“Take that, Putin, you wretched rat!”) — I feel like it's yet another attempt to remove moral complexity from a situation most of us would feel much better about if we could treat it as a simple binary issue in which the good side and the bad side are clearly delineated—but only if it feels good to publicly posture as being on the good side.
But so yes, now consider that the actual tally is likely much higher than the one provided by U.S. officials.
According to Michael Weiss, an investigative journalist who has published widely on Russian espionage and disinformation, a senior European intelligence official says “things look much different” than some of the reports shared through U.S. media (which really shouldn’t be a surprise I guess). How different? U.K. intelligence estimates Russian KIA to be between 7,000-9,000 as of a few days ago. And here's the Ukrainian figure:
I can’t help but feel somewhat inclined to believe it’s closer to what Ukraine says, even though they could very well be inflating it for reasons that need not be explicated.
But folks, any one of these figures — even the low end that U.S. intelligence stated — is stunning. For context, during the 36 days of fighting on Iwo Jima, the U.S. lost 6,821 men. It must be acknowledged, though, if only for posterity's sake, that estimates don’t come anywhere close to the losses incurred during WWI. Take the Battle of the Somme, for instance. Of the 120,000 Allied troops — including those from Australia, India, South Africa, New Zealand, Newfoundland and Canada — who launched the initial attack, nearly 20,000 were killed, most of them in the first hour, and another 37,000 were wounded. Thirty-seven sets of British brothers lost their lives on the battle’s first day, and one man was killed every 4.4 seconds, making July 1, 1916, the bloodiest single day in the history of the British Army. Over the course of the 141-day battle, the British advanced a total of only five miles. (I've said it before and I’m going to keep saying it: I wish more people would study history. Perspective nourishes gratitude.)
But returning to the present, the losses Russia has incurred thus far are such that the Kremlin has taken to lying about it. There’ve even been reports that Russia is using mobile crematoriums to dispose of the bodies of dead soldiers and civilians to hide the true scale of losses.
So, all this begs the question: What the fuck is going on?
You may have heard this word before. If not, you might as well familiarize yourself with it. Rasputitsa refers to two particular times of the year in Russia—fall, when heavy rains hit, and spring, when the snow melts. Why does this matter? Because the climate is brutal.
Of particular note is how the region’s clay-laden soil becomes so saturated by precipitation that unpaved roads turn into muddy bogs so treacherous that a truck’s front axle can be swallowed whole…and even tanks get stuck.
This is nothing new, though. As a natural phenomenon, Rasputitsa has afforded Russia an invaluable defensive barrier throughout its long history of warfare. Rasputitsa even thwarted Napoleon’s invasion in 1812, and it prevented Germany from occupying Moscow in 1942. Ironically, however, as Ukraine’s daytime temperatures creep above freezing, it’s Russia and its vast armament of tanks and troop transporters that’s suffering the consequences of Rasputitsa.
Fire And Maneuver Sitting Ducks
It goes without saying that roads are sort of important when you’re trying to invade and occupy a country.
Take a look at the two pictures below.
Besides the fact that it can be a gargantuan impediment that must be moved in order to proceed, when something like a destroyed Russian tank sits atop a road, on fire and with ammo cooking off, it does a number on the surface. It destroys it. The pavement becomes so heat damaged that it’s going to crack, Rasputitsa is going to create some nasty potholes.
Think of it as “pavement attrition,” a mundane detail and occurrence in modern warfare that can play a disproportionately important role in determining the outcome of an invasion, and it happens every time the Ukrainians manage to destroy Russian vehicles—which is exactly what they’ve been doing with devastating frequency and efficiency.
The great philosopher of war, Karl von Clausewitz, coined the term “Friction” to describe the unexpected disruptions in war that make even the most simple things difficult. Q.v. - Pavement attrition.
Russian trucks are slowed when they have to go over damaged roads, and when the carcasses of tanks and other vehicles block the way. Even when obstacles are removed, what’s left of the road structurally is liable to fall apart under the weight of whatever’s coming through next, and it’s not going to be a Prius.
Slower trucks means less food, ammo, fuel, etc. are moved each day. Not only that, but the lag gives Ukrainian intelligence more time to locate these trucks, at which point they do one of two things: They use small, stealthy, and incredibly effective Turkish-built “Punisher” drones to target these vulnerable supply lines (as of March 8th, Ukraine had destroyed at least 60 convoys using these); that, or they set up old school ambushes. Believe it or not, it's actually the latter that’s been destroying the most columns—but this touches on tactics, which we’ll save for another time.
“Supply or die!”
That’s what friends of mine who branched Quartermaster liked to say. As a grunt officer, I developed an abiding love for “logis,” the bearers of water and hot food and other niceties; the haulers of heavy shit they saved us from carrying.
Nation, logistics are a matter of great import. We've all borne witness to this over the past couple of years thanks to the dumpster-fire pandemic policies royally fucking up the American economy. And while you can’t win a war through logistics alone, you can definitely lose one, and Russia’s putting on a master class on how to best go about doing so.
Captured Russian intelligence has revealed that Putin didn't really plan an invasion so much as a three day “special operation.”
Ol’ Vlad would’ve failed the shit out of Military Science at West Point. The guy was so hopelessly blinkered, so sure of success, that he actually planned and prepared for the invasion of Ukraine as if it really would take only a few days and everyone would be home for supper by the 4th night and perhaps a military parade the following morning. In little more than two weeks, Putin, not exactly a titan of intellect to begin with and already in the running for most arrogant POS on the planet, has demonstrated with remarkable obtuseness that he’s far — like a whole planetary system away kind of far — from a brilliant military tactician as well.
Which means Russia didn’t even bother prepping civil engineering supplies to support the road maintenance needed for artillery-heavy mechanized combat operations. Conspicuously absent in satellite imagery taken on the eve of the invasion were stockpiles and civilian dump trucks full of sand and gravel, not to mention flatbed semi-tractor trailers with pre-made culverts and excavators—all essential to road repair and maintenance required for extended mechanized combat operations, especially during Rasputitsa for Christ’s sake. I daresay that the consequences of Putin’s pomposity may soon prove dire as he attempts to make claim of a muddy country with a landmass that’s roughly the size of Texas.
And then there’s this, too:
A “last-minute” decision? Jesus, Putin. Did you at least have some sort of roundtable with your top generals? Folks, this purported impulsivity, when combined with what I’ll be highlighting further below, suggests that Vlad may or may not have Leeroy-Jenkinsed the invasion.
(Still one of the greatest internet clips of all time. An absolute classic.)
Also reminds me of this:
“The logistics are pathetic. The soldiers are definitely not motivated.”
In all seriousness though, it’s impossible for me to overstate how crucial it is for an army to have sufficient logistical backing—that, and for leaders to respect the sanctity of Murphy’s Law.
And that’s why Russia’s in trouble: Reports indicate their supply chain was in shambles by the third day of the invasion; basically confirming this, all indications suggest food has become a scarce commodity for the invaders in less than a few week’s time—there’s footage of Russian troops breaking into homes, looting, rummaging for food; one clip shows several soldiers trying to catch live chickens on someone’s farm. News channels still in operation have been broadcasting video from security surveillance CCTV cameras inside of supermarkets showing Russian soldiers looting the stores of endless amounts of foodstuffs and then ransacking the tills in the check-out lanes and dumping bundles of money into sacks “Bonnie and Clyde-style.” Jesus.
Simply put, as one “Five Eyes” intelligence officer in Kyiv said: “If they are already running short of rations [on day three] then their logistics must be struggling immensely—and must have been so even all of these months in these staging areas.”
“The logistics are pathetic. The soldiers are definitely not motivated. It’s not what you would call a steady advance. There is actually very little terrain occupied.” — François Heisbourg, French political analyst and national security advisor.
But even more serious, they’re running out of fuel. Ukrainian Armed Forces (ZSU) sources stated that multiple Russian units were already out of petrol by the third day of the war — (third day was clearly the day of reckoning for the Ivans) — and were running low on ammunition as well.
The fuel shortage is made infinitely worse due to factors outside the purview of your mainstream media-types. TV coverage tends to be little more than B-roll loops ad infinitum featuring the same random cuts of a low-flying jet above; women and children sheltered in the subways below; a few soldiers running here; a tank firing there; horrible destruction everywhere; and so on and so forth. Meanwhile, sources like The New York Times are talking about stuff that’s way over the heads of their delicate, Ivy-league employees’ sensibilities.
U.S. intelligence shows that Russia has already committed nearly all of its military power in Ukraine, roughly 190,000 men. But the Russian army doesn’t have sufficient sustainment brigades — or material-technical support brigades, as they call them — for each of their combined arms armies. Remember, Putin thought this would be over in a few days. What we’re already beginning to see happen is Russian supply lines stretched to the maximum while Ukraine targets their logistics and transportation infrastructure.
Think about what it takes to feed that combined force. We’re talking at least 190,000 meals a day, most likely in the form of MREs or the like, and that food needs to be physically brought “up” to where units are located. That means back and forth trips; it means trucks and a lot of gas. Tanks and armored vehicles burn through fuel like crazy even when just idling, stationary. An American M1 tank, for instance, gets atrocious gas mileage—an average of about 0.3 miles per gallon. In other words, every mile that a single tank drives requires three gallons of gas. Personnel carriers transporting Russia’s troops need gas, too. This fuel is not compact and easy to transport like explosives. Gas is bulky, and requires tankers to move. This is why the U.S. Army uses “days of supply” to plan fuel consumption, not range.
Dudes At The Motor Pool Are In Trouble
You’d think that Putin, the guy who’s been talking about invading Ukraine for years now and seems to relish antagonizing NATO and messing with the U.S., would be sure to build up and maintain an effective war machine.
Key word here is “maintain,” nation. During peacetime, military vehicles still require extensive care if you want them to do what they’re supposed to do when shit hits the fan.
Take tires, for example. Military tires are not like the kind you get from Goodyear. They’re “special.” These tires are built from much denser, stronger material to endure heavy loads and avoid flats, and therefore require special maintenance. If you store them under the wrong conditions — i.e. - if you let them sit under the sun for too long — they’re liable to rot and become brittle. And suboptimal tire pressure means they’ll rip and fail catastrophically. Bottom line: It's imperative you conduct maintenance on these tires and vehicles a minimum of once a month.
Take a look at the picture below.
This is an abandoned Russian Pantsir-S1 SAM, basically a massive missile weapon on wheels. According to Trent Telenko, a retired DoD tire guru, “The right rear tire fell apart because the rips in it were too big for the CTIS [Central Tire Inflation Systems] to keep aired up. No one exercised that vehicle for 1 year.” The implications here are massive. “If the Russian Army was too corrupt to exercise a Pantsir-S1. They were too corrupt to exercise the trucks & wheeled AFV's now in Ukraine. The Russians simply cannot risk them off road during the Rasputitsa/Mud season.”
The 40-Mile Convoy Soup Sandwich
You might have heard about the casual 40-mile convoy jam outside Kyiv, which Vlad sent in like three days later than anyone with some semblance of higher cortex functioning would have. This, friends, is an all-you-can-eat soup sandwich of a shit show. Charlie Foxtrot. Clusterfuck.
“You’re only as strong as your weakest link.” Everyone’s heard that. We talked about the Rasputitsa and road conditions and how the burning remnants of a 60-ton tank on ancient pavement can prove problematic for a heavily mechanized invading force that must capitalize on speed in order to close the supply route being used by the 17 countries showering Ukraine with an endless flow of everything from .50 cal sniper rifles to MREs.
Now let’s talk about what happens when a 40-mile snake of very, very important vehicles, including fuel trucks and trucks ladened with rations and ammo, experiences a tad snafu on a regular Ukrainian highway—not a multi-lane American highway.
What do you think happens if one of those vehicles breaks down, or runs out of fuel, or gets a flat? The whole convoy turns into a gagglefuck of epic proportion. Everyone behind that weak link is held up. And as mentioned earlier, military vehicles burn a lot of fuel very quickly when idling. But the problems are compounded by Rasputitsa. Even a two-lane, paved road can cause military vehicles (which tend to be rather large) to get bogged down in the kinetics of a Los Angeles-style traffic jam when mud and tire issues prevent even the vehicles that do have fuel/are operational from going around the weak link because doing so requires going off the road and flirting with that cunning temptress, Rasputitsa.
The key supply chain is between the large railhead depots at launching off points and the forward forces—and the only way to connect them is trucks. It is the single most important limiting factor in operations, and gas tankers are especially vulnerable in situations like this. Rarely armored and extremely combustible, they’re premium targets—“targets of opportunity.”
There are dozens and dozens of clips showing the fiery remnants and ghostly husks of Russian convoys and armor platoons that have been absolutely trashed by dismounted Ukrainians with anti-tank weapons. Most of these ambushes are simple, textbook examples of shooting and destroying lead vehicles so that all other vehicles in the column are trapped between each other. And Ukrainians have been appropriating the vehicles that survive ambushes relatively intact:
Not to mention, these abandoned transports are usually full of supplies—ammo, food, water, medical necessities, and even fuel cisterns that Russians badly need and never receive, and which Ukrainian forces walk away with. Spoils.
According to one estimate, the war is costing Putin around $20 billion per day. Expert though I am not, I must confess that I find it difficult to believe such a trajectory is sustainable given the sheer grit and tenacity of the Ukrainian people, to say nothing of certain recent developments that have put the Kremlin in a precarious situation—like, for example, the most powerful countries in the world tacitly agreeing to turn you into North Korea 2.0.
What Russian POWs Have Been Saying
Let’s move on from the material and contemplate the men Putin sent in as part of arguably the most idiotic military gambit in the last 50 years.
You see, on top of all the not at all trivial material issues Vlad shirked during the past, like, 7 years he’s been spouting off about Ukraine, he actually thought it’d be okay if he used an initial invasion force comprised predominantly of brand new conscripts — “We are talking about 19-year-old and 20-year-old boys.” — along with an untold number of civilians dressed up in military uniforms (teachers, welders, farmers, etc.) instead of actual soldiers.
But it gets worse, nation.
Because in addition to surprising many of his men with the order — per POW accounts, even waiting until the day before to pass down that they’d be invading Ukraine come first light — he also assured them that Ukrainians would be waiting with open arms. Overall, it appears that the majority of Russian soldiers were utterly clueless about what was actually taking place.
He reportedly told a non-trivial number that they were going on a “training exercise.”
“Alright boys, goin' to the field for a few days. Little training exercise, we should be home for supper Sunday. Just be sure to kit up, full battle rattle; and, uh, I want no less than 210-5.56 and two tourniquets on each man. Full canteens, camelback. Plates in.”
Per Ben Wallace, the UK's defense secretary:
“We've seen a number of anecdotal reports by young Russian soldiers saying, 'I didn't even know I was here. I thought I was on exercises. No one told me I was going to war. No one told me I was going to kill Ukrainians.’”
All of the above has been confirmed by POWs, many of whom appear more pissed off than scared.
In statements given to a Ukrainian news agency, Lt. Dmitry Kovalensky, a captured Russian officer, said lower-ranking soldiers were kept in the dark about plans to attack. Even Kovalensky himself didn’t learn his country would invade Ukraine until the night before being sent in. Another captured Russian officer, Lt. Col. Astakhov Dmitry Mikhailovich, condemned his commanders in a video published by the Ukrainian news agency UNIAN. Mikhailovich said his men had been duped into believing they were “rescuing the country from Nazis” and were surprised to be met with a fight.
Ukrainian locals have also spoken to some of their invaders. Artem Mazhulin, a 31-year-old from Kharkiv, told The Guardian: "Some of them thought they were on military exercises. They didn't anticipate resistance." In Kharkiv, groups of as many as ten demoralized Russian soldiers are reported to have surrendered to the first, lone representative of the Ukrainian forces they encountered.
At a U.N. presentation last week, Ukraine's ambassador presented a heartbreaking text-message exchange between a Russian soldier and his mother before he was killed:
On a more lighthearted note, there are clips and stories that, in addition to confirming what POWs have been saying, highlight the absurdity at play here.
And this account is my favorite, as it gives you an idea of how green some of these guys are:
“There was no tactical plan.”
No forethought went into Russia’s planning; no appreciation of what operational requirements would be necessary if things didn’t go exactly as planned. Zero respect for Murphy’s Law.
Even Russian military sources have admitted the invasion was deeply flawed from the start. “There was no tactical plan,” said one.
“Our plan, to the extent that there was one, was to ‘play it by ear’ and to just cope with any resistance as it appeared. This was because the expectation had been that we would take all these cities in one to four days and that Ukraine’s military would be immediately overwhelmed.”
“The logistics are pathetic. The soldiers are definitely not motivated,” French political analyst and national security advisor François Heisbourg said. “It’s not what you would call a steady advance. There is actually very little terrain occupied.”
Dominique Trinquand, a retired French general and former head of the French military mission to the United Nations, also expressed doubt. “They've got roughly 200,000 troops now, to occupy a country which is as large as France,” he said. “They don’t have the forces.”
But Malcolm Chalmers, deputy director general of RUSI, a London-based think tank, cautioned against underplaying Russia’s strength. They may not have taken the skies or advanced quickly on the ground, but there's little doubt that Russia has the firepower to lay waste to Ukraine. “Having painted the Russians as 10 feet tall compared with Ukrainians, now some people are painting them two feet tall. It’s somewhere in between. They are still a formidable adversary.”