Ukraine Is Doing Everything It Can to Win. Russia Isn’t Even Doing Basic Stuff

On the doing-what-it-takes front Ukraine is a giant and Russia is a poodle

Yes, that Ukraine has called so many men under arms that it has to transport them in crappy little buses is a bullish sign for Ukraine

Ukraine is using Territorial Defense units at the front. Not just units raised in the regions that are seeing fighting but even Territorials from far-flung areas of Ukraine.

This has caused at least one protest. In the country’s westernmost region of Transcarpathia the wives of Territorials about to be sent to the front took their ire against an enlistment office. Territorials are volunteers but are not supposed to be sent outside their regions and the wives complained their men had not received sufficient training.

Ukraine has the regular army, the reserve army, and the “National Guard” paramilitary police. All of these are better equipped and better trained than the Territorials. Territorial Defense is only the fourth tier of Ukraine’s fighting force.

In peace its members work civilian jobs and train only very occasionally. In war they form light infantry units with no heavier equipment than mortars. (Albeit there is a video of them using an ancient 1960s anti-tank gun as makeshift field artillery.)

There are two ways to look at Ukraine sending what amount to militia units to the front. One is to say “the Ukrainians must have suffered very serious losses and are being pressed extremely hard if they’re having to patch the front with militias.”

The other is to ask yourself what this reveals about Ukraine’s resolve. If deemed necessary Kiev does not balk at sending lightly-equipped civilians into the meatgrinder alongside conscripts and newly-mobilized troops.

This is in stark contrast to Russia which is not mobilizing and won’t even touch its serving conscript soldiers. If Ukraine is demonstrating pragmatism, ruthlessness, and resolve, Russia is demonstrating the exact opposites. The primacy of Putin’s political calculation at home ahead of what the war needs.

Zelensky is willing to ruffle some feathers to supply the battlefield with all the bodies that it needs. Putin is not.

Which of the two then is more of a war leader?

It would be a different matter if the Russian war already had all the men it needed. But this is absolutely not so and there are numerous indicators that this is the case. The Russian effort in Ukraine is screaming out for more infantry and support troops yet these are not provided even though *they already exist and are already trained.*

In peacetime Russian ground forces brigades are manned at just over 70 percent. (Might be up to 85 percent for a few very elite ones.) According to Russian doctrine the remaining 30 percent is to be raised through mobilization once the war starts. But there is no mobilization and this is not being done.

Moreover, about one-third of filled positions in peacetime ground forces are filled by conscripts. Conscripts are being offered large incentives (and allegedly sometimes pressured) to sign contracts, but as long as they decline are not sent to Ukraine. They are even being released on schedule as their 12-month terms end (while Russia is fighting a major conventional war in Europe with the 2nd largest army on the continent…).

This means that Russian brigades in Ukraine only have 45-55% of the strength they are supposed to have in a war available to them.

As Ukraine fights with professional soldiers, serving conscripts, army reserve soldiers, newly mobilized troops, and militias — Russia fights at 50% strength and using professional soldiers only.

Which of the two sides do you think is going to win?

Ukraine has the manpower to raise whole new units, it’s an open question whether Russia can even fully replace running losses

Of course Russia has captured some Ukrainian territory and will capture more. But that is not the definition of victory. In fact, it is perfectly possible for both sides to lose.

Ukraine can lose in the sense of losing some territory to Russia, but win in the sense of averting a much larger defeat.

Russia can win in the very technical sense of making some gains, but lose in the sense of falling far short of its objectives.

Truly if you told me in 2021 that Russia would stage a surprise invasion of Ukraine and after 60 days of fighting would not have much more than Mariupol, Melitopol and Kherson to show for it, I would have told you that something must have gone horribly wrong for Russia not to have captured much more than that.

It is tempting to start shifting the goalposts, but let’s not fall for the temptation. If at war-start you expected the Russian side to in the next 60 days accomplish much more than it so far has, you owe yourself a real explanation for why that didn’t happen.

We are looking at the war through heavy fog. This fog is actually thicker over the Ukrainian army than the Russian one. Because media and internet are so heavily on Ukraine’s side there is a conspiracy of silence. People who would otherwise be relaying information are now dedicated to “operational security”.

This is to say that it’s very difficult to know to what extent is Ukraine mobilizing, at what speed, and what is it doing with the new manpower.

We know that some of the new manpower like the Transcarpathian Territorials is being rushed to the front. But we don’t know that this is the whole story. For all we know many other units are being held back until they receive intense and proper training. Russia is certainly allowing Ukraine more and more time in which to create efficient, properly trained formations.

We don’t know if Ukraine is making good use of that time or squandering it, but we do know that Russia by waging war at 50 percent manning levels is providing it with plenty of time to bulk up its military and the West is providing the arms.

It’s a good example of Vladimir Putin and NATO working in concert to create a very large and capable Ukrainian military. Putin has provided the warning and the incentive to rapidly strengthen the military and NATO is providing the means. Perfect harmony.

Among “pro-Russian” commentators I see that goalposts are being shifted again. Increasingly a large Donbass encirclement is no longer expected. The “victory” expected now consists of pushing the Ukrainians out of Donbass in a prolonged and slow grind.

This is even presented as the approach that is going to minimize Russian casualties. This is absurd. There is no scenario where a slow operation results in fewer casualties than a quick one. Going it slow is far costlier in the long run. War of maneuver can be costly on a per-day basis, especially initially, but it means everything is over so much quicker. The only armies that don’t Blitzkrieg — and do positional warfare grinds instead — are those that can’t.

Moreover, that is completely losing sight of the context of this war. According to Putin Russians and Ukrainians are “one people”. Minimizing the losses of this people where it is under the Ukrainian flag is just as important as where it is under the Russian flag. It is far more humane to encircle opposition and force its surrender than it is to beat them by scorching Donbass grid by grid and advancing 500 meters at a time.

Moreover, at its most fundamental Putin’s goal is to pave the way for the Ukrainians’ partial reassimilation into Russianhood. War is a questionable method of going about that as it is, but unimpressive war is even more so. Why exactly should Ukrainians hurry to rediscover their Russianhood when Russians can’t even demonstrate rare skill and great accomplishment in warfighting — which is supposed to be their big thing?

Surely if Russia has any chance of winning Ukrainians for a common identity (through war), it should at the very least show them some impressive war feat like a lightning-fast drive or a gigantic encirclement. Why should Ukrainians hurry to become Russians when the latter apparently aren’t better even at warfighting?

If Ukrainians are pushed out of Donbass in a protracted grind the only conclusion they will draw is that they fought extremely well and hard and lost only because the Russians had more of the big guns. Russia will have Donbass, and Ukrainians, as far as they will be concerned, will have the bragging rights.

  1. Oscar Peterson says

    “There are two ways to look at Ukraine sending what amount to militia units to the front. One is to say “the Ukrainians must have suffered very serious losses and are being pressed extremely hard if they’re having to patch the front with militias.”

    “The other is to ask yourself what this reveals about Ukraine’s resolve. If deemed necessary Kiev does not balk at sending lightly-equipped civilians into the meatgrinder alongside conscripts and newly-mobilized troops.”

    OK, but it’s far from clear that your first interpretation won’t eventually be proved to be the correct one.

    You say that both Ukraine and Russia could be losers from this. But in my view, Russia had two goals: de-NATO-ization of Ukraine and healing the cultural rift between the two countries. At this point, unless some new factor enters the game, I don’t see why Russia won’t achieve the first objective. Admittedly, this comes at the expense of the second goal. But time heals most wounds eventually.

    If Putin has to choose between the two goals (between which, of course, is a significant tension), he must surely choose #1. Unlike #2, #1 cannot be delayed into the future.

    The two big questions of how Putin is executing this operations–failure to mobilize and failure to interdict–stem, I have to assume, from his caution about undermining the economy and will of the Russian people by putting too much stress on them–this isn’t 1942 after all–and from his continuing focus on minimizing damage to Ukraine outside of the immediate battle area.

    I don’t know that these are good calculations on his part. But I don’t yet know that they are bad ones either.

    1. JBK says

      I would agree, I think Russia is holding back so as to not make #2 impossible, Russian air power could make this a lot faster, destructive and expensive. Putin is going with minimal forces towards inevitable success, Ukraine is running out of options.

      1. Field Empty says

        You’re on drugs. “Russian air power” is already doing everything it can that would actually be useful.

    2. Field Empty says

      Both angles are correct, dopehead.

      1. Oscar Peterson says

        “Both angles are correct, dopehead.”

        Well, OK they may both be true, but which is the operative one–the one that is likely to be formative in the ultimate outcome?

        You seem kind of angry. Are you obsessed with the supposed plague of “Putinbots”?

  2. guest says

    Now you are talking like Strelkov.
    In 15 days the ground in Donetsk will be dry and firm enough for tanks to roam around. Perhaps, after three weeks of testing and probing, they will make a bold decisive move.

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