Ukraine: A great Podcast


IN MOSCOW’S SHADOWS (Podcast and blog)

Mark Galeotti (A Short History of Russia, 2021; We Need to Talk about Putin, 2019; Russian Political War: Moving Beyond the Hybrid, 2019; The Vory: Russia’s Super Mafia, 2018).

Information War

•          Galeotti argues that the support rate in the polls for the war inside Russia is actually support for a limited war, perhaps the seizing of the Donbas, not the take over of the entire country of Ukraine.  That support rate will fall rapidly as this goes on.

•          Sanctions while initially provoking a “rally round the flag” reaction, will eventually began to hurt regular Russians and therefore erode the support.

•          Putin is calling for an investigation about why conscripts were in Ukraine. These conscripts are supposed to be coming back just in time for the call up of new recruits.  Their stories about what they experienced in Ukraine will have an effect on regular Russians.

Russian Military

•          The Russian military can operate quite effectively.  We know this from other conflicts.  They also know about their flaws, these flaws are discussed in the press.  They know about the corruption within the miitary and the problems corruption causes.  They have implemented measures to try to deal with that. 

•          Initially, there was a huge buildup of  troops who were not doing any fighting.  They were intimidating Ukraine and the West but were not suffering the military casualties of direct fighting.  As a Political war, what Putin was doing by mobilizing forces around Ukraine, was very successful.  The Russians weren’t spending a great deal of resources.  In addition the economy of the Ukrainians was tanking.  International investors, looking to invest in Ukraine, were getting cold feet. Ukraine lost access to international financial markets.

•          In addition, western politicians were putting serious pressure on Zelensky to make a deal with the Russians, to make concesstions.  So, there was the prospect that the Russians could get political concessions they wanted without having to fire a shot.

•          The economic problems being caused in Ukraine caused the Ukrainians to question the democracy model and its ability to provide them with economic well being. 

•          So, the big question is: Why change?  When dates passed, and the Russians didn’t invade, they could say that the Americans were lying to Europe.  If so, what else were they lying about?  The question the Russians could raise was: Why are they trying to scare you?

•          So why did Putin invade?  Intelligence suggests that perhaps the invasion was Putin’s plan all along, but there was wobbling by Putin even up to the last minute about whether to just try to take back Donbas or invade the whole of Ukraine.

•          It is probable that only a small group of people in Moscow knows the answer to this question. 

•          But, why did Putin abandon a successful political strategy in favor of a risky military one?

•          And, why when they started the invasion was the tactic not the conventional set of tactics that the Russian military is trained for?  There was relatively little preparation.  There was no massive bombardment by air or by long-range artillery.  They did not crater runways or destroy infrastructure.  They did not destroy radar and communications hubs.   

•          They made some attacks, but these attacks were nothing like the ones they could have made. 

•          The Russians made “Bizarre”  “little glory runs.” Small fast-moving raids.  They wasted paratroopers trying to move into major cities.  They operated as if they could just “motor into” the city centers and grab the government. 

•          The only conclusion is that there was massive political interference in the military process.  Putin limited an undermined the military process.  Possibly as early as January, the military was not told that they were moving ahead with the invasion.  It is striking how little psychological preparation there was done with the soldiers.  They thought they were going on exercises.  They were told they would be welcomed by the Ukrainians.  (Note: As were the Americans when they went into Iraq).

•          This method of operation was bypassing the typical way the Russian military prepares for a conflict.

•          Since 2014, the Russians have had a National Defense Management Center.  This is a fancy war management center, a situation room where there are banks of computers and operators.  A collection of all the relevant experts are assembled.

This is not just a way of waging war, it is a philosophy of war.

It represents a philosophy of war management.  It involves a recognition that in the modern world, war is not just about soldiers.  It is about intelligence and the economy.  All these sources of information are part of waging war.

•          If there is a prospect of conflict, a ombat management group is set up.  This is a hub that won’t actually try to run the war on the ground, but make sure that there are the forces needed, resources needed.  The identify an objective.     

•          If the sources are correct, GBU was only set up the day after security council meeting where Putin confronted his security council.  If so, this is a phenomenal indictment of the process.  This war room should have been running for months.

•          If the central war room was not set up until late in the process, it explains why there was such a lack of preparation, why there was little coordination of  ground and air forces, why there was a lack of resources, fuel, food.  If such a war room was operational, they would have prepared for the invasion not happening quickly, and therefore provided food for a longer operation. 

•          We have no idea whether Putin’s own paranoia about the word leaking that they were going ahead with an invasion prevented the establishment of such a war room or not.    

•          But, it is likely that this core means for managing the invasion was hampered by Putin.

•          There were light forces sent in to seize cities.  This is a waste and makes sense only if you have underestimated the Ukrainians and think the government is so rotten it will just collapse.

•          The waste of the paratroopers, squandered on “penny package” attacks, only served to embarrass the Russians, delay them, and give the Ukrainians some early victories. 

•          The military high command would not have made these kinds of decisions.  These decisions would have been made by Putin and a “handful of ideologues around him.”

•          This war, in some ways, can be considered a confrontation between “autocracy and technocracy.”  Autocracy will always win. The technocratic vision will always give way to the authoritarian view.

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