Three Things: Part 2 — Russia’s Idiosyncratic Military Deployment [UPDATE-1]

[NB: check the byline as usual, thanks. Updates will appear at the bottom of this post. /~Rayne]

There are so many quirks to Russia’s military deployment in its invasion of Ukraine that it’s obvious to non-military observers this has not been an effective mission or missions.

Let’s say you’re the average event planner without any military background who must organize a very large family gathering with many family members in fleets of gas-sucking vehicles. Would you send them out on the road without ensuring there were fueling locations or respite points for water and food?

Would you stage them so that they didn’t overwhelm any system they needed for travel, refueling, and rest?

Would you allow the family to head out on the road with which they may not be familiar, without ensuring a couple different methods of communications?

Would you brief everyone before they left on Plan A, providing a Plan B and C in case there were problems along the way?

This is a hyper simplification of the scenario, but in essence this is what should have been considered long before gathering more than 150,000 troops at the Russian-Ukraine border, before deploying them to invade Ukraine.

These extremely basic issues appear not to have been addressed in any invasion plan.

Some of these challenges to Russian troop and equipment deployment have only exacerbated the cognitive dissonance of observers.

Can this really be an invasion by the Russians? Has their military’s vaunted capability been hyperbole, or are we supposed to believe there’s more and better coming? Should other countries scramble to throw troops and materiel at this situation when it’s not at all clear what happened to this initial offensive?

~ ~ ~

On February 27 a few days after the invasion began I retweeted this thread by Kamil Galeev, fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center. I still believe this is a must-read.

The shift inside Russian defense from efficiency-maximization to court politics-maximization is a valuable insight and explains some of what we see — not a top-notch well-equipped ground force but one using off-the-shelf Chinese-made walkie-talkies to communicate insecurely.

Ditto the discussion on land-maxing versus PR-maxing, and by PR-maxing it is meant a tradeoff between land-force investment and naval force (stick a pin in this point for later[1]). Again, this could explain why we see less-than-optimal equipment and troops in the first echelon deployed.

And no obvious signs of a second echelon to follow, let alone a third.

Also extremely important is the perspective on Putin’s reliance on special operations versus a true war strategy — literally employing tactics not strategy. But it’s likely what got Putin elected as president in 2000 by way of covert democidal bombings and kept him in office as he continued to use special operations on Crimea, south Georgian, and eastern Ukraine territory.

Amassing an invasion force of more than 150,000 troops and equipment is not a special operation, just as for an event planner an intimate picnic isn’t a wedding banquet.

Lousy logistics and tactics not strategy appear on the face of it to be Russia’s fundamental problem, with inadequate equipment making things worse.

None of these observations and assessments explain this:

Or this — one of several videos showing Russian tanks and other equipment being towed by Ukrainian tractors.

Perhaps much of this explains the rise of Wagner Group and its service for Russian objectives. It not only provides deniability, but it bypasses the court politics, provides its own better equipment, and it serves Putin’s propensity to use special operations tactics instead of strategy.

~ ~ ~

None of the politics and logistics fail, though can explain why Russian national guard units knew about the invasion long before deployed units did — in particular the Chechen National Guard.

Why are Chechens being deployed instead of regular Russian troops? Was this another end run around Russia’s internal politics? (Stick another pin here, too.[2])

This may explain in part why U.S. intelligence has been of high quality — the Chechen security force was sloppy in its operations security and easily monitored.

But the intelligence we’ve seen so far doesn’t explain why the Chechens were needed at all.

A key group of Chechens tasked with a special operation to assassinate Zelenskyy was “eliminated” according to Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council’s Secretary in a live broadcast. Sources within Russia’s FSB allegedly tipped off Ukraine about the hit team because the sources didn’t support the war.

One might wonder, though, if there were other reasons behind the tip; were the Russian sources unhappy with the deployment of Chechens instead of Russian military?

~ ~ ~

A few hours ago this tweet thread examined a issue affecting many of the Russian invasion vehicles.

The thread’s author believes it’s corruption in the Russian military system which has undermined essential maintenance rendering many vehicles unusable in the areas most affected by mud, while suggesting there aren’t enough tires in Russia’s military stores to replace those that fail in the field. It’s not just tire maintenance alone at issue, but inadequate tire care across the Russian vehicles deployed so far is daunting on its own.

All perfectly good points made in the thread, aligning with the corruption likely resulting from a military run under court politics and PR-maximization rather than effectiveness.

But there’s one more factor which hasn’t been raised across military analyses offered so far on Russia’s invasion.

Russia may have lost a substantial number of its military to COVID. The country’s all-cause death rate far exceeds that of the US, and we all know how badly the US has responded to the pandemic in no small part because of active measures by Russia encouraging anti-mask/anti-vax/anti-mandate/anti-lockdown/anti-science positions.

We can see anecdotally how many people are missing in our own workforce, in spite of the availability of highly-effective mRNA vaccines and one-shot adenovirus-vector vaccine and boosters.

Russia’s own vaccine, Sputnik V, has had difficulties beginning with acceptance from the vaccine research community, problems with manufacturing scale-up, and resistance within Russia itself. Assuming the numbers reported are accurate, less than 50% of Russians are vaccinated to date.

Is it possible what looks like poor maintenance isn’t merely the result of corruption, but the loss of personnel due to illness, hospitalization, deaths, and long COVID?

This challenge won’t be exclusive to Russia; Ukraine’s vaccination rate is bad or worse than Russia’s. But Ukraine isn’t having the same problems with equipment failures in the field, though Ukraine, too, has had its own problems with corruption.

Let’s hope we learn sooner rather than later just how much COVID affects a nation’s security.

~ ~ ~

And now for the two items pinned above:

[1]  Russia may have opted for naval maximization because it has a massive arctic coastline and the coast along Alaska it must patrol as well that near Japan. The arctic and Alaskan coasts are nearest to newer oil and gas development and pipelines like the Eastern Siberia Pacific Ocean I and II which serve Japan, China, and Korea. Much of Ukraine can be “reached” by missiles launched from vessels in the Black Sea, too.

But there may still be a problem if the video here is features a Russian naval vessel asking for fuel (it’s not clear what kind of Russian ship is involved here, it may be commercial).

If this is a Russian commercial vessel, how will the Russian navy handle these situations as access to supplies becomes more challenging?

[2] Doesn’t strike anyone as odd that Putin is relying on Muslim Chechen forces now when he’s launched so many attacks on Muslims through out his career? He’s been walking a fine line the relationship between what he perceives as the needs of Russia and biases which are barely restrained, like the support for Orthodox Serbs over Muslim Bosniaks, or the bombings of Syrians, or the blame placed on Muslim Chechens for the false flag Russian apartment bombings in 1999 which resulted in Putin’s election to the presidency.

~ ~ ~

UPDATE-1 — 11:30 PM ET —

Oh my. Somebody’s going to lose their job at a minimum.

Do look for more of Karl Muth’s replies after that tweet. We can’t tell if this is a budget problem, a corruption problem, or lax military standards, but whatever it is it’s not good for Russia.

Chinese-made radios, Chinese-made tires…what else is Chinese sourced in Russia’s invasion?

103 replies
  1. Rayne says:

    There are probably typos and grammatical errors but after looking at this for days I’m sick of this post and I can’t look at it for one more moment.

    Leave a comment with any boo-boos and I’ll get them when I can stand to touch this thing again. Thanks.

    • Ravenclaw says:

      You’re writing “on the fly” and nobody expects grammatical precision under these conditions. Thanks for an informative piece with helpful links.

      I find myself resisting the urge to hope on behalf of the heroic Ukrainians. True, they have stalled the main thrust toward Kyiv, Kharkiv is holding out well so far, and we haven’t heard of any large-scale defeats from further East. But as the southern cities start to fall, the strategic position of the forces in Donetsk etc. becomes untenable & either a full retreat or encirclement/destruction ensues. The Russian commissariat may have failed (as usual), but there is so much more bad stuff coming down the road. One hopes, hopes, hopes for some big victory (wiping out that huge convoy, for example) but daren’t hope too strongly. And meanwhile the remaining civilians face rockets and bombs…

      But I’m writing from a comfortable desk in New England, and maybe none of this will come to pass. Hard data are scarce. Meanwhile, Lt. Col. Vindman has some interesting things to say that are more encouraging:

  2. P J Evans says:

    When I saw that tweet about the Pantsir earlier today I noted that the front wheel isn’t aligned with the rear wheels. That can’t be good, either.

    • Rayne says:

      Yeah, there’s something seriously wrong with that machine besides the tires falling apart. The maintenance deficit explains the condition of many other tanks and trucks, though. They look like crap, not at all like equipment which has been sitting around waiting to go.

      • ducktree says:

        Exactamundo. When the situation comes down to “the tires fell off” it does not look promising – for the Russians.

        That being said, my two years of high school Russkyy Yazuik (Russian tongue, 1969-70) is getting a real work out sounding out the twitter posts. Bolshe muyi!

          • Anne says:

            IIRC that’s Old Slavonic, not Russian. But every Russian or Ukranian (or Bulgarian, Serb, …) understands it.

  3. Raven Eye says:

    WBUR’s On Point had a long piece on Wednesday looking at 1999 when Vladimir Putin ordered the almost complete destruction of the Chechen capital of Grozny — The piece then shifting to what could happen in Ukraine.

    One thing that came up was that Russia’s actions are linked to the type of army they have. Their strategies are, in part, based on their reliance on heavy artillery and air power…The classic “When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” (some discussion starting at about 36:20 in the link). In Chechnya, the Russians used cluster bombs on civilian targets.

    • vertalio says:

      I find myself hoping the intent isn’t to use civilian deaths, cluster bombs, vacuum bombs and other Geneva violations to draw NATO into it.
      Consider we don’t know just what TFG might have slipped to Russia on the way out the door, if not sooner. Does Putin feel he has access to info on NATO weapons systems now?

  4. Rugger9 says:

    It’s something we’ve known about for a very long time during the Cold War (and actually back into Czarist times): that the Russians don’t do details very well. That means logistics to supply their troops for more than 3 days and maintenance among many other sins. So, while the Soviet Navy in its time was the largest in the world with lots of nasty weapons systems, we also know that they were fireballs waiting to happen because they just repainted without chipping the old paint off.

    Conscripts in a war of choice do not fight well especially when lied to about what they are doing and why. The Soviet system (and given Putin’s preferences I suspect it is still true) was that the conscript sailors did scut work, the officers did most of the technical stuff and there were commissars to ensure political fealty. It’s not a recipe for effective fighting spirit, even before the COVID question comes into play (and I agree with Rayne that it is probably significant). Eventually the troops will vote with their feet, which we are already seeing on a small scale not even a full week into the invasion.

    Xi is no doubt loving this quagmire in the making. He’s busy planning on when he can move on the Siberian oil fields since oil is the main military commodity the PRC lacks.

    • DrFunguy says:

      I was thinking the same thing. Also why the Russians have to be wary of over-committing their ground troops; they have the longest border in the world (with China) to secure…

    • Rayne says:

      Funny you should mention conscripts. This Twitter thread may be about a conscript.

      • Rugger9 says:

        I saw that, and it’s pretty weird. Now that the video’s out the best excuse of ‘these weren’t really our soldiers’ seems to be out against future war crimes trials. Maybe some of our lawyers could tells us what Russia could gain by the ‘retroactive discharge’ because I don’t see it.

        • Rayne says:

          Someone in the replies mentioned it’s against Russian law for conscripts to fight. No idea whether this is legit.

          I wonder if this may also work on setting up false flag attacks; I think I saw tweets this morning indicating there had been Russians firing back from the eastern region into Russia in order to claim Ukraine was firing on Russia. If there’s no Russian troops (just undocumented/recently fired conscripts), then surely it must have been Ukrainians, yes? ~eye roll~

          • Ariopsis says:

            This may also explain the 40-mile column and its delays. The column contains 2d and 3d class troops and equipment that will be used for the occupation now that they have shown their unsuitability for battle. They are being held together in a large mass to better keep an eye on them and to prevent desertion/equipment destruction. Higher quality troops and equipment are being deployed in the north and by the coast to seize territory to which the occupation troops will later be sent.

  5. Rugger9 says:

    Does anyone know about Chechen-Ukrainian relations aside from the religious angle? It seems those units want to be there and I wonder if there is a deeper motivation.

  6. khollenCA says:

    Oh, wow. I haven’t seen COVID-19 raised in other analyses yet, but I was looking at Ukraine’s COVID-19 info today, and OECD just released a brief (that now bears a disclaimer that it was done prior to Russia’s invasion) on “The COVID-19 Crisis in Ukraine.” The OECD brief describes Ukraine as in its fifth wave, recording its highest number of daily infections since the start of the pandemic on Feb. 4, 2022; I wonder how similar Russia’s case rate etc. is.

    I realize there’s no real way to know exactly who’s making up the bulk of the Russian forces – Russia is barely acknowledging it’s got anyone in Ukraine at all, and it’s in Ukraine’s interests to show bewildered young Russian men crying and being offered compassion and tea by Ukrainian civilians – but if they really are mostly young and inexperienced conscripts, COVID-19 may at least partly explain why. And breakout infections would slow troop movements, surely?

  7. Tech Support says:

    To add to this clown show of faux military supremacy, CNN reporters observed that at least some of the equipment amassed at the Ukranian border was inoperable while still sitting in Russia:

    While I am deeply grateful that the Russians overestimated their own capacity to project power while simultaneously underestimating Ukraine’s capacity to resist, it does leave one wondering to what degree did anyone in the west suspect that the Russians were getting way in over their heads? It seems like the only reported sense of doubt came from the Ukrainians themselves, who in January noted their own intelligence suggesting that military barracks on the border weren’t fully occupied:

    It’s frequently (and compellingly) argued that a key weakness of authoritarianism is executive ignorance driven by corruption, cronyism, and hubris. So did western intelligence fail to notice that the Tsar had no clothes by believing the same lies that the Russians were telling themselves? Or was there on some level a deliberate exploitation of Russian puffery to light fires under shy allies?

    Clearly Russia is more than capable of killing countless innocent people in a massive display of petulant table flipping, even if (and maybe especially if) their core objectives become unattainable. If it were true that we were telling allies that Ukraine was going to get steamrolled but on a deeper level actually suspected that it could end up like this? Is keeping that unsaid the right thing to do?

    • Legonaut says:

      I seem to recall a certain Iraqi dictator whose 4th-largest standing army turned out to be not all that. The U.S. had even more incentive then to get the assessments right due to personal involvement, and wound up massively overestimating their opponents; were those assessments “puffed up” for the coalition partners?

      Now, as then, at some point it ceases to be about “What will happen to Ukraine?” and becomes “What will happen to you when Putin’s done with Ukraine?” Even if Ziskey was right (, Putin’s demonstrated (again) the will to start wars to get what he wants, and that’s going to get a lot of registered voters killed even if the target country survives. When he turns to the Baltic states next (your NATO allies), what then?

      • BobCon says:

        I’m increasingly struck by the parallels to the Iraq invasion, which was also a logistical mess with no thought toward the challenges of longterm occupation.

        Russia’s attack is an even more extreme version of the way the US was plagued by micromanagement by ideologues, wildly unrealistic estimates of the force requirements, military leaders either taken out of the chain of command or unwilling ro speak the truth to power, and a top leader with a crazy belief in his ability to assert his will over reality.

        One of the tragedies of Iraq was the way US leadership like Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz slipped into brutality to try to fix their unfixable folly. Russia at a minimum will match the US, and most likely go beyond.

        The Bush team also tried to deal with their horrible planning by belatedly throwing enormous resources at their problems, hiring Erik Prince mercenaries and huge numbers of contractors to supply US forces. Russia doesn’t have the budget to do this, and an obvious possibility is wholesale appropriation of Ukrainian assets to try to bridge the gap.

        • Zirc says:

          I would argue that the Iraq invasion was not a logistical mess. The US military did exactly what it intended to do and logistically supported its troops pretty well. The problem for us was what to do after we “won.” Our military fought the war and fought it pretty well. But it was set up to be a warfighting entity not an occupational entity. Its civilian leaders thought we could just turn over the country to some exiles and let it go at that. Our problem was more political than military. The Bush administration did a godawful job of thinking things through on that end, but the generals did a pretty good job at getting to the occupation.

          The Russians will also have that political problem should they ever win in the initial military phase. But at the rate they’re going they may not get that far. The invasion itself is badly thought out and badly supported. I expect the occupation will be even worse, but they’re not to that phase yet.


      • madwand says:

        I was then receiving those “puffed up” assessments about the Iraqis and in danger of being deployed and the advice was that Saddam had a lot of casts offs of Russian equipment, not first line but equipment that had been replaced in Russia by first line equipment and thus very dangerous. They did their best to scare us and we were as surprised as anyone when Iraqi forces failed to fight like the Ukrainians are doing today. We were also surprised when the DOD elected not to deploy Guard Units, something they didn’t hesitate to do in 2003. IMHO shock and awe in both the Gulf War and in Iraqi Freedom presaged initial successes in both those conflicts despite any sense of Grand Strategy that precluded overall success.

        As far as the Baltic states, if Putin invades then NATO will respond and then it becomes a game of brinksmanship and your question “what then” becomes very relevant

    • BobCon says:

      “to what degree did anyone in the west suspect that the Russians were getting way in over their heads?”

      It’s been reported that one of the key tactics of Biden has been revealing to Putin how much intelligence the US had about Russian military problems.

      The reasoning may have been in part to show off the strength of US intelligence and the weakness of Russian countermeasures. It may also have been to signal the urgency of the US by revealing intelligence that is usually kept under wraps, as well as the extent of US coordination with allies.

      Other suggestions are the US was trying to pierce Putin’s bubble and push him to reconsider based on his weakness, and possibly drive a wedge between him and his enablers — essentially making it clear the only one he can ultimately believe is the US, and help set the table for serious negotiations down the line.

  8. skua says:

    More Chechen forces in UKR = less aroused Russian parents with dead sons?
    More Chechen forces in UKR = more troops experienced in committing atrocities against civilians?

    • madwand says:

      Time honored tradition back in the 13th century conquered troops or civilians were often repurposed as arrow fodder or to fill in moats. Saves your best troops for other things.

  9. mvario says:

    I came across Kamil Galeev’s excellent thread a few days ago and have been sharing it around. Another of his I’ve been sharing argues that the West should get militarily involved or things will become much worse should Ukraine fall:

    Also, the Russian Navy is now their only connection with the Kaliningrad Oblast, since flight routes are all over countries that aren’t allowing Russian overflights.

  10. dadidoc1 says:

    Putin seems desperate to prove that Russia isn’t the third world country that it is. Unfortunately, his decision to invade Ukraine only serves to highlight that which he was trying to deny.

  11. harpie says:

    From: Francis Scarr [@francska1]
    In Moscow with @BBCMonitoring watching Russian state TV so you don’t have to.
    10:23 AM · Mar 2, 2022

    Russia’s Education Ministry has said that tomorrow it will hold a nationwide open lesson on the “liberation mission in Ukraine”
    “Listeners will be told the backstory to today’s events, and the danger posed to our country by Nato will be explained.” [screenshot]

    3:59 AM · Mar 3, 2022 [< Eastern Time Zone]

    About to start: the Russian education ministry’s Russia-wide “online lesson” about “why the liberation mission in Ukraine was necessary.”

    The version I’m watching is on the Ministry’s page on VKontakte, the Russian Facebook clone. Not sure if it’s also streaming elsewhere. [THREAD]

  12. masterofnone says:

    Poor maintenance, poor supply and poor troop quality are things the Soviet/Russian system was designed to operate with going all the way back to Great Patriotic War days. At this point I think this mess is Putin playing Field Marshal. The key question now is whether the commanders who know what to do will be given operational control again.

    • harpie says:
      7:48 AM · Mar 3, 2022

      This is not idle language from Lavrov, sounds like they’re going to impose exit visas and recreate the iron curtain [Pravda dot RU screenshot and link]

      Putin will meet with his security council today, likely an address to the nation afterwards (my guess is he will announce countersanctions, domestic repressive measures under the guise of “stabilizing” the economy, and new exit restriction. Probably all “temporary” but we’ll see)

      • Rugger9 says:

        They should be done with the meeting and like the declaration of ‘special military operations’ I have no doubt that Vlad’s already taped his speech. I wonder why it hasn’t been posted yet?

    • skua says:

      And to the east in PRC:

      From pre-COVID times:

      Currenty situation:
      Last updated: 3 March, 2022
      – China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism required Chinese travel agents to stop the sale of outbound group and package travel (from a minimum of a flight + hotel package) from 27 January, 2020. This ban was reiterated in a press conference on 29 September, 2021.”
      from https:LINKBREAK//

    • madwand says:

      Yeah I think there were two yachts seized this morning. My concern is retaliation. There are a few Americans and westerners in Russia, who if Putin wanted to, he could make their lives miserable. You can’t get out by air anymore, trains appear to be still running, and I’m not sure about motor vehicles and how they would be handled at border crossings. So while we celebrate the affects and successes of asymmetrical warfare, US citizens in Russia may be in danger and as physically isolated as the Ukrainians now feel.

      • dejavuagain says:

        So, who would be able to afford buying one of the seized yachts other than another Russian Oligarch, not to speak of paying the annual operating costs which must be in tens of millions including fuel? Maybe someone could run a B&B at $100,000 a night.

  13. dave the welder says:

    a mechanical failure is a godsend to unmotivated troops who didn’t even know they were going to war.

    • Badger Robert says:

      Soldiers who are good at excuses don’t have to be good at fighting. The political officers can try to enforce discipline. Who knows if that will work.

  14. Badger Robert says:

    Excellent post. Thanks, Its possible the Russian orthodox soldiers are not willing to kill Ukrainians.

  15. madwand says:

    The situation this morning is pretty much the end of yesterday. Russian forces have taken Kherson, Mariupol is surrounded and cut off, which means Russia controls the whole southeast of the country with exception of Odessa along the extension of the Donbas lines, and so far the Ukrainian military has refused to surrender Mariupol. The fighting in Kharkiv continues and if that city is taken it would mean the Donbas lines are most probably flanked and avenues of approach between Kharkiv and The Dneiper and ultimately to Kyiv are now available and it remains to be seen if Ukrainians will fight to the end to preserve Kharkiv.

    If the Russians have any smarts they will move to cut off western and southern supply routes interdicting western attempts to supply stingers and javelins and other ammunition to Ukrainians in and around Kyiv.

    There have been many calls and questions about NATO establishing a no-fly zone over Ukraine. McCaffrey, the retired 4 star advising NBC believes western air forces would take about a week to move Russian air power out of the airspace, however this would come at the expense of having to reduce Russian ground to air missile batteries, S 400 many of which are in Russia just over the border, which would be casus belli, and so not viable as current events dictate.

    • Ariopsis says:

      True. But the problem is that if Putin is not stopped decisively in Ukraine, he will then move on to Georgia, possibly Moldova, etc. He can certainly indirectly or directly cause trouble in the Balkans and, closer to home, Venezuela and Nicaragua to name a few of many. Look at how Mexico is behaving. You sure he couldn’t cut a deal with a cartel or three?

      • Rayne says:

        Putin’s already deeply into Venezuela, has had mercs there for years now, had a diplomat there a week or so before the invasion began and has continued dialog with Maduro since then.

        Mexico is so damned corrupt it would take nothing to screw with them; we also know their elections have been interfered with in the past (see They’ve already refused to participate in sanctions.

        I honestly haven’t bothered to check Nicaragua because I have enough on my plate right now and don’t need more.

      • madwand says:

        Another way to state the problem is can Putin be stopped decisively? Most analysts I’ve seen agree that it is only a matter of time before Putin achieves his goals. To stop Putin decisively would require overwhelming force to remove Russian forces from Ukraine, not impossible and we could do it, but that brings in the possibility of nuclear war. That’s one way. The second way, the way the US Europe and the Ukrainians have opted for is to make it as expensive as possible for 1 Putin to achieve those goals and 2 then to hold on to them. It can be decisive either way but whatever way is ultimately chosen will mean a lot of suffering by the Ukrainian civilians. The first way we would have to build up to as in the Gulf War, the second way we are already doing. A danger exists in Russian military strategies of “Escalate to de-escalate” where if they start losing they go limited nuclear perhaps along the lines of a tactical nuke strike on a Ukrainian city, or destroying the First Armored Division if we should exercise option one That must be dealt with as it happens or doesn’t. As Rayne has pointed out in these posts we are already at war with the Russians, and I believe the Chinese, and right now we are and have been fighting them on an asymmetrical basis and with proxy wars. As far as causing trouble elsewhere see Rayne’s post.

  16. Rugger9 says:

    Making the morning news rounds I ran across the First Draft site which reminded me of how then-Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney admitted the quid pro quo and said essentially “so what?” to extorting Hunter Biden dirt from Zelenskyy in order to get defensive arms to UKR. All in all a good read if a bit pungent at times.

  17. Raven Eye says:

    Thinking a little more as this situation evolves…

    I am reminded of the advice “Amateurs study tactics…Professionals study logistics”.

    Putin’s infantry and armor tactics are certainly not working. He (and his planners who dared not disagree with him) made some really bad assumptions. As he comes to terms with that, many (including myself) have looked at Russia’s (heavy) artillery, surface-to-surface missile, and aerial ground attack capabilities — which are considerable. He has the capability to flatten several cities in Ukraine. To start that activity, all he needs to do is (1) penetrate sufficiently to establish defensible firing positions and (2) establish air superiority. Simple. (/s/)

    But which cities? Grozny’s population in 1989 was almost 400,000, and that number had fallen when the Russians decided to demolish the city (25 DEC 99 – 06 FEB 00). The Kyiv metro area, with a population of almost 3.5 million, presents a different problem. There are 47 cities in Ukraine with populations 100,000 or more – 31 with 200,000 or more.

    Even assuming a smaller large city, the logistics for just a 1- or 2-month siege are staggering — even for the most obvious items. Artillery ammunition would be drawn from across Russia. Gun tubes have a life-span. Add bombs, aviation spares, rockets and missiles — list goes on and on. You can bet the US/NATO are closely monitoring the entire Russian logistics networks.

    Kyiv remains the crown jewel in Putin’s plan, but can he expect a Grozny outcome — especially with the Russian forces’ performance so far? Can any of his military staff even get close enough to whisper a little reality in his ear? So what “practical” options does he have for taking down Kyiv?

      • Raven Eye says:

        Putin can’t occupy Kyiv. It’s too big to level with conventional weapons. Encirclement (strangulation) means that the Russian positions would need to be “deep” enough to defend on both sides (the front and the rear).

        Not many options left.

        • Rayne says:

          Or Putin would treat Kyiv (which I believe is close to the size of Chicago) like he treated Aleppo, a city of 4-5 million people in 2010 before the bombing began in earnest.

          That’s what I fear.

          • earlofhuntingdon says:

            I’ve seen reports of small electronic targeting chips glued to the brick walls of diplomatic buildings, presumably put there by Russian-employed special forces. Indicative of Putin’s willingness to level the most sensitive buildings, regardless of the laws of war.

          • SAO says:

            One of Putin’s narratives is that Ukraine is part of Russia and the birthplace of Russian Christianity. Kiev has some really old churches, the oldest dates from the 1000s, 100 years before the founding of Moscow. So, if part of your narrative is about the birthplace of Russia (generally the founding civilization is called the Kievan Rus), then bombing the city and its ancient churches founded by saints is not going to look good.

            As a side point, the Russian language has separate words for the Rus (founders of the Russian/Ukrainian state), ethnic Russians (Russki) and citizens of Russia (Rossiyani).

  18. Tom says:

    Years ago I read a book by British author Mary Kaldor called “The Baroque Arsenal” published in 1982. Her basic argument was that modern weapons systems were becoming increasingly complex and expensive to maintain to the point that they were almost impractical for sustained use in combat. “Modern military technology is not advanced; it is decadent”, Ms. Kaldor concluded. She quoted a U.S. Navy officer speaking of American jet fighters: “Our maintenance and support people have repeatedly fallen behind the heavy demands which these complex, sophisticated systems have made.” The same was true of ships, tanks, and other military hardware, all of them high maintenance machines, high in fuel demands, and often requiring expensive-to-produce, one-of-a-kind spare parts.

    As for the opposition, “We know that, on the whole, Soviet weapons are simpler, more rugged and reliable than Western weapons”, wrote Ms. Kaldor. “The problems of supplies, communications, and skilled personnel are likely to be less severe than in the West. However, as military spending increases, as the Soviet Union catches up with the West, Soviet weapons systems are likely to meet with similar shortcomings.”

    Ms. Kaldor was writing 40-odd years ago and I’m not sure how much the situation she described still applies to today’s armed forces, but her prediction about the Soviet Union might explain some of the problems the Russians are now having in Ukraine and why they’re sourcing some of their military procurement needs to The Dollar Store.

  19. mospeck says:

    Know 4 Russian expats from Kharkiv and they all agree that the Russian generals and soldiers really really don’t want to kill Ukrainians. Also say there are conflicts within the military and even at high levels within the state security apparatus: the rather strangely stalled giant convoy on the way to turn Kyiv into Aleppo (wtf?) news reports yesterday saying that Ukraine thanks the FSB for stopping the Zelensky assassination (double wtf?!) unconfirmed leaks to Kharkiv last week that 5000 conscripts were arrested in Belgorod for refusing to fight.
    Fiona Hill’s historical perspective on putin’s plan to surround Russia with failed rump statelets:
    In retrospect the plan is simple and clear and the man has been so consistent. Yea, it’s depressing, but there’s no getting away from it that nukes now are clearly in play. She makes it crystal clear that putin is a games player who uses all mechanisms at his disposal and is now all about advertising his ruthless novichok nature. Western World response has so far been a truck and the Russian economy is destined for collapse. What happens to a cornered rat? Gotta bet with a Russian that come hell or high water vlad is gone by April Fool’s day.

    • Ginevra diBenci says:

      mospeck, I’ve wondered about that constipated convoy for days. Kyiv should be a half-day’s drive from the border at most. Who ordered so many apparently under-equipped vehicles onto that highway that the mission would inevitably stall out? I can’t imagine a veteran, trained military leader doing it, so I have to wonder if it is one more symptom of Putin’s irrational overreach.

      • Rayne says:

        I’ve wondered if it was a tactic partially intended to draw fighters out of Kyiv while clogging the highway which might otherwise have been an exit from Ukraine.

        • Ravenclaw says:

          I *think* it’s a combination of much mud, harassment by Ukraine military, poorly maintained vehicles, many troops with low morale, and higher-ups wanting to get all that sorted before going on the offensive in earnest.

          • Ginevra diBenci says:

            My understanding was that the ground was/is still at least mostly frozen. If that’s not true, sending in this column of vehicles would be a monumental miscalculation. Even so, it may very well thaw soon based on what I’ve heard from Ukrainian family members, and that will mean General Mud’s in charge.

            I too wonder if this is a form of sabotage from military higher-ups, a way to say they are executing Putin’s operation while undermining it.

      • Tech Support says:

        It was this post that tipped me to a new thought about why the convoy was stalled, which is the “tires” issue. Prior to the conflict, there were repeated references to the Kremlin wanting to launch this offensive when the ground was hard and easiest to traverse.. but if it’s been determined that the wheeled vehicles can’t be trusted on unpaved services then that creates an enormous bottleneck, and “encirclement” would mean street-by-street advances through the suburbs in order to establish that siege position in the first place.

      • SAO says:

        There are a couple of things:
        1) if you expect the country to capitulate quickly, you don’t need that much in the way of fuel and supplies. And they might have expected to capture the railways, which are the easiest way of moving supplies, but the Ukrainians bombed all railways at the border. That means instead of bringing a trainload of supplies right to the battle area, you have to truck them from the border. All that artillery needs supplies of heavy ammo, which can only get there by truck.

        2) If you’ve been told to prepare for a training exercise, even if you’re told to bring lots of spare ammo and fuel, but might not bother if you know that the exercise is X many days. Rather than bringing lots of gas that soldiers might siphon and sell, you can just use the gas stations.

        3) Although the higher-ups in the know might have wanted to bring a lot more fuel and ammunition for contingencies, had they asked for it, they might have had Putin mock them. I mean, at the start of this war, Ukraine had 70 fighter jets and Russia 700. Most of the other numbers (artillery, troops, etc) are pretty similarly lopsided.

        4) Zelensky was a comedian. He wore a pink, ruffled outfit for the Ukrainian Dancing with the Start and voiced the movie Paddington. His election was almost a joke. Not a resume that says he’s not going to be on the first flight out of Kiev 30 seconds after the first Russian tank breaches the border.

    • Legonaut says:

      If the Russian generals & troops “really, really don’t want to kill Ukrainians”, is it possible that “bungling” the convoy is actually a ploy to give the city time to evacuate without actually refusing to follow orders?

      Just some wild speculation on how you get a general’s stars and still get the basics so wrong, political animal or not. Or, maybe I’ve just seen “Thor: Ragnarok” one time too many: “Asgard is a people, not a place.” :-)

  20. SVFranklinS says:

    Thanks for pulling these together;
    I’ve seen most of them here and there in other links, but put together they paint quite a picture.

    Derek Thompson @DKThomp at the Atlantic is running an ongoing thread on the financial countermeasures (and their possible unintended consequences); he has a great opening line:

    “1/ Putin bankrupting his country to topple Kyiv and invite an insurgency that hates him is like draining your life savings to buy a tiger: Now you’re broke and the expensive thing you bought just wants to kill you.”

    Putin is clearly not a general; he’s a spy who wants to do secret, manipulative covert ops (poisonings, info wars, false flags) at heart. Ukraine was supposed to fall in hours if not a couple days in the face of the threat of war, now he’s a scared old man backed into a corner. On high alert. Not good.

  21. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The French and Germans are seizing mega-yachts owned by Russian oligarchs. “Meanwhile, Britain is letting oligarchs quietly put their affairs in order before slipping out of the country.” (One potential Swiss buyer for Chelsea FC says he’ll wait a week, expecting the price to drop sharply.)

    Meanwhile, the EU is dropping visa requirements for Ukrainian refugees and letting them live and work in the EU for three years. But the UK still insists that refugees have visas, pay high fees with money they won’t have, and have relatives already living in the UK before they can enter. Its policy is strongly reminiscent of its pre-WWII rules for Jewish refugees, designed to keep them out.

    • Rayne says:

      UK is just so thoroughly pwned and corrupted by Russia.

      • SVFranklinS says:

        Yeah, well…
        Unclear if the emotional sense of righteousness in seizing yachts &c is a clear winner; as someone pointed out, the oligarchs that are close to Putin aren’t the ones hanging out in London; I gather he hates some of these people. If the goal is to have oligarchs hurt and so persuade Putin to back down, seizing Chelsea FC etc. isn’t really going to do it.

        Shutting down the laundromat is a much, much bigger project, and nobody is prepared to do it at this time.

        • bmaz says:

          “….nobody is prepared to do it at this time.”

          Seriously, why not? If not now, then when?

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Emotional righteousness has fuck all to do with it. But you know that, which is why you chose that straw man argument to criticize Russian sanctions.

          The French and German seizures seem consistent with the EU sanctions regime, which is as much about punishment as persuasion. They may be theatrical, but they make sanctions concrete and increase public support for a long-haul fight, as much as they directly target oligarchs. That they won’t immediately persuade Putin to back down is not the point.

          The loss of a half billion dollar yacht is just for starters, but that much money is likely to get every oligarch’s attention. Even if, as you blithely assume, the ones supporting Putin are not lolling around London, their money is in its property market and managed by City banks and their offshore tax haven networks.

          (How, btw, does one remain an oligarch if one does not support Putin?)

        • Rayne says:

          Shutting down yachts isn’t just a feel-good project. Watching the folks who track their movements, these yachts look like places where business can be conducted without worries about surveillance except by folks who track sea-going vessels.

          I can’t recall which vessel it was now, but it seemed really odd that shortly after Bill Barr was sworn in as AG, he took a trip to Alaska to make face with Native American tribes there and an oligarch’s yacht just happened to sail into port nearby. It struck me as weird Barr’s first PR project was on the other coast with Alaskan tribes to begin with, but then the yacht…could be entirely coincidental, may be nothing behind it, but I had to rethink yacht usage. Far too many of the likely suspects happen to enjoy the same ports in places like the British Virgin Islands, for example.

          • earlofhuntingdon says:

            The use of yachts, which inhabit international waters, also makes it hard to establish legal jurisdiction over the business conducted on them, even under long-arm statutes.

            • Rayne says:

              Which is why seizing them is a good move. Stop the business cold.

              Still thinking of the conference room in Usmanov’s yacht seized by Germany:

          • SVFranklinS says:

            I had not thought of yacht usage that way before; very good point.
            Still, much of the “get the yachts” things I’ve seen are all framed as trying to unravel the network of oligarchs that support Putin, to get him to back down. But many took the money and ran in the 90s, and are now at arms length; not active opponents but not in an inner circle, either.

            I’m fully in favor of closing the laundromats, and if this gets it started, all power to it. Just be clear about what the objective actually is. Magical thinking (not here, but all over out there) about grabbing yachts to end the invasion is … silly.

            • Rayne says:

              I’ll have something for you to chew on probably tomorrow morning. I have to put up Part 3 of this Three Things series shortly before I tackle that chewy post.

          • earlofhuntingdon says:

            What about those Unexplained Wealth Orders, meant, we’re told, to ferret out corrupt sources of wealth in the UK? That’s the tool that the Scottish government refused to use in the case of TFG’s golf courses.

            A spokesman for Johnson’s government was recently asked how many of them his government had put in place over the last year. Zero.

            But having the same PR consultants as Boris, he claimed that was because the threat of them worked so well, none were needed. Not much governance there, but lots of chutzpah. No wonder Boris and TFG got along.


            • Rayne says:

              Scotland should have been working harder toward another referendum to break from the UK because of the corruption let alone the damage from Brexit. I hope this has been on the burner because Scotland being independent may be the only way UWOs are processed against Trump org.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        One of many articles supporting your point:

        Johnson and consecutive Conservative governments have been well aware that the lack of transparency over this [Russian] cash was a scandal waiting to be exposed. But they have been willing to turn a blind eye for as long as they could benefit.

        The ecosystem of enablers includes wealth managers, banks, private equity houses, accountants, lawyers – and the growing army of philanthropy advisers, lobbyists, and thinktanks – who have been complicit in the infiltration by those close to Putin of not just our political infrastructure, but our property market, businesses, charities, public bodies, arts, culture, and sports….

        “Think of Brexit as a matryoshka, or a Russian nesting doll, with voting to leave the EU as the outer doll … Pulling off the outer doll reveals another doll that represents something much more worrying.”

      • Ariopsis says:

        True. But then so is the US. How and when can measures be taken to counteract the laws that certain US states have enacted to permit beneficial ownership to be hidden?

  22. Jenny says:

    Thanks Rayne.
    Aired in 2015 on PBS. Worth watching.
    Putin’s Way
    In this 2015 documentary, FRONTLINE traces Vladimir Putin’s ascent from unemployed spy to modern-day czar, and investigates the accusations of criminality and corruption that have surrounded his reign in Russia. (Aired 2015)

  23. Ravenclaw says:

    I *think* it’s a combination of much mud, harassment by Ukraine military, poorly maintained vehicles, many troops with low morale, and higher-ups wanting to get all that sorted before going on the offensive in earnest.

  24. Chris Perkins says:

    Hi Rayne,

    I like the post, but I see a fundamental flaw. The premise in the first sentence belies the problem: “There are so many quirks to Russia’s military deployment in its invasion of Ukraine that it’s obvious to non-military observers this has not been an effective mission or missions.”

    This is incorrect and makes the same mistake you point out. As non-military observers we are not qualified to say whether or not this has been an effective mission.
    Logistics constrain troop movement considerably. Armored columns rarely move more than 80km in a day. As far as I can tell, Russia is advancing exactly as fast as we should expect. Their losses don’t strike me as out-of-the expected either. What I do see is that Kiev will soon be surrounded and cut off by Russian forces on all sides, likely within a few days, and once that happens things will go south very very quickly for the Ukranians. Without immediate intervention from NATO countries (a big ask with many risks) this does not end well for Ukraine as a democracy. Or for Ukraine at all, honestly. It’s bad.
    Iraq is roughly the same size as Ukraine and it took us five weeks to overthrow Hussein and achieve dominance.

    Are links allowed? This Long Island guy has some opinions, but they are better informed than most.

    • bmaz says:

      Um, Ukraine is about 1.5 times the size of Iraq. So, maybe the “fundamental flaw” is with you.

      • Chris Perkins says:

        Good catch! If it took the US 5 weeks to take Iraq, then Russia will could be expected to take Ukraine in 7.25 weeks (6 weeks from now). However, my guess it that once Kiev falls the rest will go quicker. My fundamentally flawed instincts say that we are nearing the middle or even the end of this, not the beginning.

        Us staying hands off and passively watching from outside is the cornerstone on which Putin’s plans are laid. Personally, unless NATO or someone intervenes I think the odds of Ukraine prevailing are very low and my worry is that the window of opportunity in which we could step up and intervene is closing.

    • Rayne says:

      You’re entitled to your opinion. Let me point you right back to the post I’ve cited by Kamil Galeev, who is far more qualified than most to make an assessment of Putin’s invasion so far. I’m also not kidding myself about what’s to come for Ukraine, given a country with a 40 million population fighting against Russia with a 145 million population under the direction of the richest (if most corrupt) man in the world.

      Let me also point to the maintenance expert cited in the post with regard to tires; my bad, I didn’t point out the tire expert’s tweets in their replies:

      I could have waited for yet more expert opinion but I’m really tired of this post and I’ve got others which need my attention.

      Call me unqualified — it doesn’t change what’s readily visible, that a former KGB officer with a penchant for special ops didn’t execute a Blitzkrieg and his army has an incredible range of challenges which speak of inadequate preparation.

      • BobCon says:

        And what’s more, his goal isn’t to eventually beat the Ukrainian army. It’s vastly harder than that.

        How does this force achieve what he wants in five months, let alone in five years?

        • Rayne says:

          Oh just wait. I have another post coming discussing the “vastly harder than that” part.

    • Badger Robert says:

      The military victory will most likely achieve the policy goals of eliminating democracy in Ukraine, and preventing prosperity in Ukraine. But not even that is inevitable. The NATO allies are putting enormous pressure on Zelenskyy to negotiate. The pressure on that side is about more assistance. Macron’s words anticipate the kind of assistance that is beginning to take shape. Putin denies any willingness to negotiate. But he is under enormous pressure too.
      But the cost of success will be in permanently creating a national identity in Ukraine, and in strengthening an anti-Russian economic alliance will be very high. So the occupation of Ukraine will go on as long as Putin lives. But no one is likely to assemble Putin’s control of the Russian state again.
      As for Putin, examine Peterr’s question. Since Putin is lying about some items, he is probably lying about nearly everything.
      His propaganda is about the West which serves as his dog whistle for could war sentiments. He does not want to talk about the French or the Poles, who were once allies of Russia, and were once invaded by real Nazi’s. The refusal of those two nations to approve of his war would raise questions about his attempt to make the Ukrainians into fake Nazis.
      Putin avoids talking about the Germans. He cannot deal very well with long term economic pain the Germans will impose as they get their energy options in line. And of course Russians know from their parents and grand parents, that the real Nazi’s were from Germany. They imposed a fearful price on Russia due to Stalin’s incompetence.
      While I am sorry to clog up the comments, I just wanted to add that bmaz was too tolerant of the nonsense posted immediately above.

      • P J Evans says:

        Negotiation isn’t the hard part – it’s getting Putin to actually abide by the results. (I wouldn’t trust him any farther than I could throw him.)

  25. Riktol says:

    You mentioned the Chechens, I read a long twitter thread about them a few days ago and it took me a while to find it:
    Some key points (it’s long):
    Religion is not a factor, the current Chechen army is loyal to their governor (Kadyrov) and general (Lord), they seem to have some sort of personality cult.
    Kadyrov and Lord are loyal to Putin, in return they have free rein in Chechnya.
    The Chechen army (and I think the whole region) operates independently of the Russian government and army. In some circumstances this could be useful for Putin, such as mutiny in part of the Russian army. On the other hand if Kadyrov and Lord become unhappy, that might be a problem.

    This doesn’t directly answer “why are the Chechens being deployed” but it does give some hints.

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