An armored convoy of pro-Russian troops moves along a road during the Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, April 21, 2022.
Genghis Kondarov | Reuters
The Russian military has been widely discredited and denigrated by Western media since the start of its invasion of Ukraine, seen as having spoiled the first phase of the war after suffering a series of setbacks and setbacks.
But defense analysts from a leading London-based military think tank have investigated Russia’s wartime tactical adaptations and noted that a more structured, coordinated and responsive armed force has emerged – and which is particularly strong defensively.
As such, the Russian military now represents a much more formidable adversary for Ukraine as it prepares to launch a long-awaited counter-offensive to reclaim occupied territory.
“As Ukraine prepares for offensive operations, its armed forces face major tactical challenges,” said Jack Watling and Nick Reynolds, land warfare specialists at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), in their latest report titled “Russian Tactics in the Second Year of its Invasion of Ukraine.”
“The depth of [Russian] means that Ukraine must generate serious combat power in order to penetrate Russian lines, with the extent of Russian defensive fortifications on the front making circumventing them nearly impossible,” noted the report, released on Friday.
RUSI’s Nick Reynolds told CNBC that while Russia “got into a very bad position early last year,” carrying out what he described as massive strategic and operational blunders that deprived them of some of their best units and equipment, “Since then the Russian state and the Russian military have gotten more on a war footing and adapted.”
“In particular, many systems and the way they work together are working much better than last year. The fact that they are on the defensive now allows them to combine weapons in a way that is a bit easier than coordinating offensive operations. They also carry out [in a way that was] much closer to how they were, before the war, supposed to work. »
“Basically, the Ukrainians have a tough challenge,” Reynolds said Thursday, saying RUSI expected Russia to employ a large amount of artillery fire to defend its units and “very high-performance” aimed at defeating UAVs or drones.
These are already proving to be devastatingly effective, with Ukraine losing up to 10,000 drones a month “due to the effectiveness of Russian electronic warfare and extensive use of navigational interference”, said RUSI.
Steep learning curve
There is no doubt among Western defense experts that the Russian military campaign in Ukraine in 2022 generally went poorly.
Russia bit off far more than it could chew when it attempted to invade its northern, eastern and southern neighbor early last year and was forced into several humiliating retreats, including from the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.
Similar successes were seen when Ukrainian forces launched counter-offensives to retake swaths of occupied territory around Kharkiv in the northeast of the country. Then, in October, Russian troops withdrew from part of the Kherson region to the south.
The poor performance of the Russian military has been widely blamed on poor planning, equipment and logistics, ill-equipped and insufficiently trained troops in insufficient numbers to sustain large-scale combat operations and, fundamentally, a sub -estimate of the resistance that Ukraine would mount against Russia and the strength of international support for Kiev, especially in terms of billions of dollars worth of military equipment.
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a concert marking the eighth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea to Ukraine at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow on March 18, 2022.
Mikhail Klimentiev | AFP | Getty Images
Despite Russia’s setbacks, President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin have dug in, intensifying anti-Ukrainian and anti-Western rhetoric and launching the war, or “special military operation”, as an existential issue for Russia and an issue of his survival.
On the battlefield, meanwhile, neither Russia nor Ukraine was able to claim significant territorial gains over the winter and spring, with Ukrainian hopes now pinned on a counter- offensive that will be launched soon, although no one knows when or where it will start.
RUSI analysts say the Russian military still has shortcomings and weaknesses – the main one being the low morale of Russian infantry units – but they warned that it would be foolish to ridicule or write off the Russian armed forces, or settle for their impending defeat at the hands. from Ukraine.
“There is no smoke without fire and some parts of the Russian army, especially their line ground combat formations, performed very poorly, but at the same time they are not useless, they have a lot of firepower and the Russian military is still in the fight,” Reynolds said.
“Components of the Russian military system, especially some of the ground combat units, are certainly surpassed by NATO military standards, I would say they are also surpassed by the Ukrainians. And I am thinking, in particular, of some kind of lack of a clear rationale for why they are fighting and very low morale are obstacles for the Russians to achieve their objective – but they are still in operation and they are still holding their own.”
What does this mean for Ukraine’s long-awaited counter-offensive? Reynolds said it was difficult and reckless to make predictions, but did not underestimate the challenge facing Ukraine, with an expectation of a deadlier war of attrition with major personnel losses for both sides and slow and overwhelming gains or losses of territory.
“Even if the Ukrainians work very, very well, they will have to break through the Russian defensive lines first and they will have to mop up the Russian defensive positions. So there will be attritional fighting, there will be assaults against fixed defensive positions on a certain level, so it will be difficult.