Today’s update is short, but exciting as it includes a risky prediction. That the Russian army is about to collapse. Over the past few weeks, we have discussed the motivation of each Russian soldier, the logistical problems of the Russian military and Ukraine’s effective propaganda campaign and the effects of these factors on Russian morale.
Additionally, we have seen Russian offensive operations come to a halt in all but two places, replaced by shelling of key areas. Today, two key indicators that the Russians are in trouble emerged.
Looking at the two locations where offensive operations are still active, we start to see an interesting story unfold. In the south, the Russians no longer contest the town of Voznesensk, one of two key areas on the Bug River that were attacked last week, indicating a westward push from Kherson towards Odessa. To the north, the town of Obukhiv south of kyiv, which if held would allow complete encirclement of the western side of kyiv by Russia, is no longer contested and is in Ukrainian hands. None of these areas are vital and they are small towns, but they can signal a significant change in this war.
Yesterday, retired US General Ben Hodge predicted that, based on his assessment of the situation, the Russian army had a combat capability of around ten days. This seemed like one of many headline-seeking predictions by retired generals, but the small changes I noted above may be the first indications that General Hodge was right.
Reports of repelled Russian offensive probes could be a harbinger that something is wrong. So far, the arguments for a Russian collapse can be summarized as follows:
- The motivation and training of the average Russian soldier has always been suspect. Russian soldiers are mostly short-term conscripts with limited training and operational experience. Historically, Soviet and Russian soldiers have demonstrated varying levels of motivation, especially during unpopular operations.
- The initial invasion attempted to deploy these poorly trained soldiers in a highly complex and highly dispersed “network-centric” combat model. Lots of small Russian units operating widely dispersed and swarming over Ukraine. Operating this way puts a lot of pressure on the individual soldier, so if they are not well trained and experienced it is a risky proposition.
- Additionally, the total force deployed was too small to achieve the objective if they faced significant resistance, meaning that if they encountered resistance, they lacked the combat power and reserves for the fight. win quickly.
- The battle groups of the small battalions encountered unexpected resistance. The Ukrainians did not crumble or welcome their liberators. We now have very credible reports of many Russian casualties, including many lost vehicles. Less motivated conscripts who expect an easy victory are likely to be affected by resistance and more likely to see their morale drop.
- That the Russian command and logistics system is not working is clear. The failure to destroy the vastly outnumbered Ukrainian Air Force, credible reports of supply problems, video evidence of lost Russian vehicles all contribute to the image of a poorly trained, equipped and led force. trying to do something she can’t do.
- The Ukrainians dominate the information war. Russian soldiers will have telephones and will use them to follow the war. The information they are likely to see is that the Russians are bogged down, overextended and losing. Also, they can see that Russians who surrender are treated well.
- Finally, Russian offensive operations have slowed down and are now very limited. Yesterday, in the two zones subjected to the Russian offensives, the Ukrainians gained ground.
People who have not served in the military find it difficult to understand the loneliness of the modern battlefield. Today, soldiers operate in small, widely dispersed groups without direct supervision and operating in this manner is psychologically difficult. Professional soldiers find this difficult, so for conscripts it must be extremely difficult, especially if you are on the losing side.
Essentially if you were a 19 year old Russian conscript soldier standing in the middle of a country similar to yours possibly with friends or family nearby knowing that if you surrender you will be treated well and looking sideways at your own incompetent chain command would you keep fighting? Russian junior officers and NCOs must be tearing their hair out trying to keep their units together, explaining the lack of offensive activity.
It is becoming more and more likely that Russian morale will break and we could see a catastrophic collapse of Russian units. This in turn could cause even a depleted Ukrainian army to take the offensive and push back the Russians. If this happens, it unfortunately creates a dangerously unstable situation. If the Ukrainians repel the Russian forces, this could provide a causus belli for escalation and the use of tactical nuclear weapons or chemical weapons “to defend Russia”. However, it looks like there may be power shifts behind the throne in Moscow and a decision of this nature should be supported by the military who will likely feel angry and disappointed with Putin for engaging them in this war and destroying both Russia’s economy and their military reputation.
Ben Morgan is a weary Gen Xer with an interest in international politics. He’s TDB’s military analyst.