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?

Aikins in Rolling Stone: Zakaria Kandahari Was in Facebook Contact With Special Forces After Escaping Arrest

This photo of Zakaria Kandahari appears in Aikens' Rolling Stone article.

This photo of Zakaria Kandahari appears in Aikins’ Rolling Stone article.

By now, you undoubtedly have heard about Matthieu Aikins’ blockbuster story published yesterday by Rolling Stone, in which he provides a full description of war crimes carried out by Special Operations forces in the Nerkh District of Maidan Wardan province, Afghanistan. [If not, go read it in full, now!] I began following this story closely back in February when Hamid Karzai demanded the removal of all Special Operations forces from Maidan Wardak because of the crimes committed by this group. As more details of the crimes slowly emerged after that time, it became more and more clear that although several members of the US Special Operations A-Team participated in the crimes, a translator working for them, going by the name of Zakaria Kandahari, was central to the worst of the events. It eventually emerged that Karzai had demanded in January that the US hand Kandahari over for questioning, but the US eventually claimed that Kandahari had escaped. I had viewed that claim with extreme skepticism. Details provided by Aikins at the very end of his article provide justification for that skepticism, as it turns out that while Kandahari was “missing”, he appears to have used Facebook to stay in contact with the Special Operations team of which he had been a part.

Back in May, the New York Times carried an article detailing some of the charges against Kandahari and providing a description of his disappearance. Note especially the military’s multiple claims that they had nothing to do with the disappearance and did not know where he was:

Afghan officials investigated the events in the Nerkh district, and when they concluded that the accusations of misconduct by the team were true, the head of the Afghan military, Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi, personally asked the American commander at the time, Gen. John R. Allen, to hand Mr. Kandahari over to the Afghan authorities.

According to a senior Afghan official, General Allen personally promised General Karimi that the American military would do so within 24 hours, but the promise was not kept, nor was a second promise a day later to hand him over the following morning. “The next morning they said he had escaped from them and they did not know where he was,” the official said.

The American official said the military was not trying to shield Mr. Kandahari. “The S.F. guys tried to pick him up, but he got wind of it and went on the lam, and we lost contact with him,” the official said. “We would have no reason to try to harbor this individual.”

And a spokesman for the American military, David E. Nevers, said General Allen “never had a conversation with General Karimi about this issue.”

That “we lost contact with him” is just one of the many lies put out by the military about this entire series of events. Look at what Aikins uncovered, just by finding Facebook traffic from the A-Team involved (but note that this moves Kandahari’s disappearance back to December from the previous accounts that put it in January): Read more

NYTimes Carefully Transcribes Dubious Denials of US Role in Wardak Province Torture, Murders

As evidence from investigations carried out by Afghan officials continues to mount that a figure now named (although it seems quite likely to me that this is not a real name) Zakaria Kandahari is at the heart of the cases of torture and murder of Afghan civilians that prompted Hamid Karzai to ban US Special Forces from Maidan Wardak province in February, the US found it necessary to provide an anonymous official to the New York Times as they published the Afghan revelations. Here is the heart of the dispute as outlined in the Times article:

The accusations against the man, Zakaria Kandahari, and the assertion that he and much of his unit are American are a new turn in a dispute over counterinsurgency tactics in Wardak that has strained relations between Kabul and Washington. American officials say their forces are being wrongly blamed for atrocities carried out by a rogue Afghan unit. But the Afghan officials say they have substantial evidence of American involvement.

They say they have testimony and documents implicating Mr. Kandahari and his unit in the killings or disappearances of 15 Afghans in Wardak. Mr. Kandahari is of Afghan descent but was born and raised in the United States, they say. Included in the evidence, the Afghan officials say, is a videotape of Mr. Kandahari torturing one of the 15 Afghans, a man they identified as Sayid Mohammad.

As the discussion moves to the videotape, the anonymous official is trotted out:

Afghan officials who have seen the videotape say a person speaking English with an American accent can be heard supervising the torture session, which Mr. Kandahari is seen conducting.

An American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity in line with official policy, confirmed the existence of the video showing Mr. Kandahari but denied that he was an American citizen. “Everybody in that video is Afghan; there are no American voices,” the official said.

What appears not to be in dispute, then, is that Kandahari is torturing the victim in the tape. The US claims no Americans are present and even that the voice identified by the Afghans as having an American accent is not American. But how can the anonymous US official know whose voice is the one in dispute? If the person is not seen on the tape, then the only way the American official’s claim could be true is if they carried out voice analysis on a computer and got a positive match with a person known not to be American.

But the next denial from the anonymous official is even less believable. The US Special Forces group at the center of this controversy is now known to have been based in the Nerkh district of the province and to be an “A Team”, “who work with extra resources that the military calls “enablers””. Remarkably, the article doesn’t make the tiny leap that is needed to deduce that at least some of these “enablers” working with the A Team must be CIA, even though near the end of the article, it is noted that this group came to Nerkh from Camp Gecko in Kandahar and there is a definite CIA connection there: Read more