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HomeGeopolitical CompassEurope, Russia, OceaniaWhy War Fails: Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine and the Limits of Military...

Why War Fails: Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine and the Limits of Military Power

Authors:Sir Lawrence
Freedman, KCMG, CBE

Affiliation: Emeritus Professor of War Studies at King’s College London (1982-2014)
Organization/Publisher: Foreign Affairs
Date/Place: July/August 2022/USA
Type of Literature: Journal Article
Word Count: 4867
Link: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/russian-federation/2022-06-14/ukraine-war-russia-why-fails
Keywords: Russia, Ukraine, Chechnya, Putin, Forces, Kyiv, Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Brief:
Russia is trying to hit hard but Ukraine isn’t silent as well. Russia had planned to seize Ukraine from the Kherson Airport at Chornobaivka, an important point for its upcoming offensive; but the operation wasn’t accurate as the Russians had planned, as Ukraine started to defend itself by armed drones and destroyed the Russian helicopters that were transferring supplies from Crimea. But Ukraine didn’t stop there; it also destroyed another 30 Russian helicopters in March. Ukraine’s attacks have continued to destroy more and more Russian supplies and weapons. Despite the result of these events, Russia
apparently didn’t have a strategic plan to fix all of this, but instead stuck to its original orders, which led to a disaster. Because of the huge numbers of soldiers that Russia has been using to invade Ukraine, many leaders and politicians have questioned how Ukraine has held in front of these forces. Military power isn’t always about the skills and the kind of weapons you are using, but it also includes a good and organized leadership that can lead the troop wisely. According to the author, Putin has made the classical mistake of underestimating the enemy and what it is capable of. Military leaders need to
understand that their decisions must be wisely made because depending on these decisions/orders, the fate of their country will be decided. The author mentions some main standards that every military leader must have: deep professional knowledge, the ability to use resources efficiently, good communication skills, the ability to get on with others, a sense of moral purpose and responsibility, and a willingness to care for subordinates.
Not all subordinates will obediently carry out orders. Even the most careful field officer may disregard orders that are occasionally improper because they may be founded on insufficient and out-of-date intelligence. In other situations, implementation
might be feasible but foolish because there may be a more effective approach to
accomplish the same goals. However, to avoid such conflicts, the modern command philosophy practiced in the West has tended to encourage subordinates to take the initiative to handle the current situation; commanders trust those involved in the action to make the crucial decisions while remaining prepared to intervene if things go wrong. Ukrainian armies have adopted this strategy, while Russia adheres to a more hierarchical leadership paradigm. Although the local initiative is theoretically permitted by Russian ideology, the current command structures discourage subordinates from defying their superiors and taking a chance. The author says that Russia’s command problem in Ukraine is a consequence of current political leadership more than a military philosophy. As autocrats frequently surround themselves with advisors who share their political views and favor loyalty above competence among their senior military leaders, the author suggests that authorities and officers in Russia must be cautious before questioning superiors.
The Russian military has always been a powerful and strategic one. An example was
what happened in Chechnya in 1994-96 by Russian president Boris Yeltsin. The Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev assured the president that by sending the Russian military into the Chechen capital of Grozny as soon as possible, it would put an end to Chechnya’s attempt to break away from the Russian Federation. But because Russia underestimated what Chechnya could do, it lost the first attack on Chechnya. Three years later, Putin decided to resume the Chechnya war, but this time with a complete preparation of Russian forces. Despite all the efforts that had been made by Putin to be a powerful politician/president, his relations with the West have always been under threat because of many reasons, one of them (maybe the biggest) is Ukraine. As the Ukraine has come under the control of the West, Putin decided to join Crimea to his control. This confirmed his status as a shrewd supreme commander, and brought him great support from the local people; but he was always moving with a sensitivity alert without violence, and as violence occurred he had to protect the people in danger. Putin didn’t stop there, but began a bigger battle in the Donbas region. When Putin saw that he could be defeated by the Ukrainians, the Kremlin sent in regular Russian forces. Although the author claims that Russia didn’t face a real threat from the Ukrainian army and says that this move wasn’t necessary, he acknowledges Putin’s wanting to be on the safe side, especially as fighting continued despite the Minsk agreement being signed in 2014.
The author discusses Putin’s strategies to protect himself and his state, that it can be said how the more Putin says that he isn’t using violence, the more he is actually using it. After Putin failed in trying to use the Russian enclaves to influence Kyiv to return to Moscow’s influence and never again consider joining NATO or the EU, he used Ukraine’s weaknesses and needs to convince the world that Kyiv needed to change its government. Such a strategy needs a strict commitment from the armed forces and strong movements. The recent Russian military action in Syria, which has effectively supported the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad, and recent attempts to modernize Russia’s armed forces had increased Putin’s confidence. But the war hasn’t succeeded for Putin because he didn’t listen to the warning that came from different perspectives in his government and leaders, confirming that Ukraine is stronger than it was eight years ago and that the Russian numbers weren’t enough to invade all of the Ukraine. Consequently, the main flaws of the Russian campaign were exposed as soon as the invasion began. The first indication that Putin’s plan wasn’t going as it should was what happened at the Hostomel airport, near Kyiv, where the Russians faced more Ukrainian attacks than they expected.

Putin’s initial strategic oversight was believing Ukraine to
be both helpless against Russian forces and incapable to participate in anti-Russian operations. After Putin made his move and initiated the invasion, he appeared unwilling to adjust to the new situation as the invasion paused, adamant that everything was going according to plan and on schedule. On the other hand, the initial aim of the Russian operation was rejected by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who also rejected offers from the United States and other Western nations to be transferred to safety in order to establish a government in exile. In addition to surviving, he has remained in Kyiv, has been outspoken, and has rallied his supporters while urging Western countries to continue providing additional military and financial help. Putin’s position, and his warning to the West not to oppose what he is doing in the Ukraine, has remained the same. In the new offensive, which began in earnest in mid-April without the Russian forces taking any break for a full re-preparing, Russian forces made few gains, while Ukrainian counterattacks nibbled away at their positions. With Putin out of choices following a continuous spate of bad command decisions, numerous observers started to notice that Russia had become entrenched in an unwinnable conflict that it dared not lose, as the attack in Ukraine neared the end of its third month. The Ukraine-Russia war remains a debatable case of how a powerful state like Russia cannot succeed in winning over a weaker state like Ukraine through persistent force. One point that will be discussed is how Russia trusted in its powerful force and weapons without putting in real and detailed tactics. Moreover, underestimating your enemy is a classical mistake that Putin didn’t avoid. It isn’t always who is stronger in weapons but who is more intelligent in tactics. And despite its successes in different arenas like Syria and Chechnya, Russia didn’t put into consideration what Ukraine is capable of doing, or rather what capabilities the West would bring to Ukraine. One of the other important lessons from this battle will be the value of local initiative and delegated authority. For these methods to be successful, the author explains that
the concerned military must be able to meet four requirements. First, there needs to be
respect amongst people at the most senior and junior levels. Second, the combatants must
have access to the tools and materials they require to continue fighting. Third, individuals
providing leadership at the lowest levels of command must be of the highest caliber. Fourth, to function effectively at whatever level of command, one must be dedicated to the
objective and comprehend its political purpose. The author believes these elements weren’t
included in Putin’s strategic plan, who accordingly is having a challenge in directing people to act in favor of what they may see as a delusion.
By: Sohaila Oraby, CIGA Research Intern

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