“You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”
o said Leon Trotsky, the military leader of the murderous Red Army that brought the Bolsheviks to power in Russia.
We in Europe have been sharply reminded of the truth of this statement several times in recent months.
This is because Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine is a version of all-out war – a modern form of military struggle that is multidimensional. It includes cyber attacks, information warfare, economic attacks and of course kinetic warfare of the traditional battlefield type.
One of the main implications of unrestricted warfare is that the consequences of what happens on the battlefield are not confined to the battlefield.
Completely surprised, the Russian army panicked
The collapse of the Russian army in the Kharkiv region last week was both surprising and unprecedented, but it was not the result of simple luck.
The Ukrainian high command had unexpectedly turned the tables on their Russian counterparts, using the oldest trick in the military book – deception.
But for deception to work in this kind of information warfare, it had to be credible—and it was.
For two months Ukraine had telegraphed its intention to launch a major offensive to liberate Kherson in the south. This gave Russian military planners time to move soldiers, including elite troops, from the northern Kharkiv region to Kherson (see map).
This meant that up to 30,000 Russian troops were stationed west of the Dnieper River, which Ukraine then surrounded there, cutting off their supply and escape routes by destroying the Dnieper bridges.
With Russian commanders busy rescuing their isolated troops, Ukraine abruptly changed the attack point to the north.
Ukraine began to test Russian resistance along its now weakened northern defenses around Kharkiv. Completely surprised, the Russian army panicked.
Russian soldiers fled in a disorganized and demoralized retreat, leaving behind weapons, ammunition and many armored vehicles, including tanks.
As a result, much of the territory Russia had seized over the previous five months was surrendered in just five days – with a tremendous loss of life.
To everyone’s surprise (including, one suspects, the Ukrainian military), the resulting Russian defeat resulted in Ukraine retaking the entire Kharkiv region. It was an amazing twist of fate.
If this continues, the cities of Lysychansk and Severodonetsk could soon come under Ukrainian control again. Donets, the capital of the Donbass region, is also in danger of being recaptured.
The TV anger was not directed against Putin – but against the Russian military command
But back in February, just days before Putin’s invasion, General Mark Milley, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the US Congress that Ukraine would fall within 72 hours of a full-scale Russian invasion.
Incredibly, seven months later, the Ukrainian army launches two successful counter-offensives simultaneously.
Part of Putin’s calculus in invading Ukraine was to reinforce Moscow’s claim to world power status. However, Russia’s repeated demonstrations of military inefficiency – and this recent fiasco in particular – have exposed that claim as dead wrong.
At current performance, Russia would hardly qualify as a second-tier military power.
Since the invasion was a Putin-inspired initiative, it will be extremely difficult for him to avoid the ill effects of an escalating military debacle.
He has already sparked heated debates on state-controlled prime-time TV.
Last week, the Moscow television studios were filled with angry pundits who openly criticized the failure of what they excitedly dubbed the “war” and dropped the official designation of “military special operations.”
But none of this indicates the emergence of democratic dissent.
Significantly, the TV anger was not directed at Putin – but at the Russian military command. These were right-wing Russian nationalists outraged that their army did not deliver on what they had been promised: the obliteration of Ukraine.
Their recipe for victory was simple: double down with a more expansive invasion.
The whole performance may also have been a regime-sanctioned softening exercise to prepare the Russian public for Putin’s next move.
Putin’s efforts to induce political hypothermia across Europe this winter may also falter. As of today, his energy freeze appears to be less successful than it was a few weeks ago.
Putin may be forced to call a general mobilization
Thanks to a successful EU coordination campaign, Europe’s gas stocks are almost 90 percent full – and, just as importantly, current wholesale gas prices are about half what they were in August.
After a determined attempt to undermine Putin’s stranglehold on gas supplies, barring a severe winter, the EU may have averted the worst possible energy scenarios.
With his army in disarray and his energy gambit falling short, Putin may be forced to consider riskier options.
The nuclear option is clearly there, but since it would mean some kind of Armageddon, also for him and Russia, he is unlikely to go that route. He could also opt for negotiations, but at this point Ukraine would not be interested.
A more likely scenario is that Putin could be forced to do something he has so far strenuously resisted – a general mobilization.
This would mean declaring war, with implications that NATO would find difficult to ignore. It also has potentially major domestic disadvantages, as conscription could become the catalyst for large-scale resistance to his regime.
As we watch Russia’s war machine begin to disintegrate, it’s incredible to imagine that just seven months ago, the bulk of Ukraine’s army was made up of peasants, factory workers, nurses, teachers, lawyers and dentists – with no military training. But this force is beginning to gain ground against a numerically superior enemy.
Napoleon, a man with a keen understanding of the fundamentals of military conflict, identified the most salient aspect of human agency in warfare: “Morals are to the physical three to one.”
Despite the tremendous odds they faced, it was high morale that kept the Ukrainian army going when no one, not even their allies, conceded them a snowball chance in Hell. By contrast, low morale will continue to plague Putin’s “military special operation” – and there is little he can do about it.
https://www.independent.ie/world-news/europe/after-this-latest-defeat-can-russia-even-be-considered-a-second-rate-military-power-41997366.html After this recent defeat, can Russia even be considered a secondary military power?