Army vehicles were so rickety that repair crews were stationed approximately every 15 miles. Some officers were so unfit that the Army allocated $1.5 million to bring back the standard size uniform.
This was the Russian army over a decade ago when the country invaded Georgia, According to the defense minister at the time. The shortcomings, big and small, were glaring enough that the Kremlin announced an overhaul of the army to build a more agile, flexible, and professional force.
But now, nearly three months after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it is clear that the Kremlin has unfortunately failed to create an effective fighting machine. The underperformance of Russian forces in Ukraine has surprised most Western analysts, raising the possibility that President Vladimir Putin’s military operation will end in failure.
By any measure, despite its occupation of lands in the south and east, the Russian army was dealt a severe blow in Ukraine. She had to give up what she expected as a blitzkrieg to take over the entire country in a few days. Its troops were expelled from all over Kyiv, the capital. The battleship sank its fleet in the Black Sea, the Moskva. You have never controlled the sky; According to some Western estimates, tens of thousands of Russians died.
This war revealed the fact that much of the military culture and acquired behavior of the Soviet era, to the detriment of Russia, still exists: inflexibility in the command structure, corruption in military spending, concealment of casualty figures and the repetition of the slogan that everything is going according to plan.
Signs of trouble were hiding in plain sight. Just last summer, Russia conducted war games that the Defense Ministry said showed its ability to coordinate the deployment of 200,000 soldiers from various military branches in a mock attempt to fight NATO. She added that it would be among the largest military exercises ever.
Lieutenant-General Yunusbek Evkunov, Deputy Defense Minister, told reporters that the exercises demonstrated Russia’s ability to rapidly deploy combined forces in such a way that any enemy would be sober.
The entire exercise has been written. There was no opposing force. The participating major units had practiced their choreography for several months; Each exercise starts and stops at a specific time. Military analysts said the number of participating forces may have been half the number announced.
“It’s basically the Soviet army,” said Kamil Galev, an independent Russian analyst and former fellow at the Wilson Center in Washington. “The reforms increased the efficiency of the army, but they only went halfway.”
When, after the Georgia conflict in 2008, Russia tried to revamp its army, the idea was to get rid of the highly centralized Soviet-era army that was supposed to muster four million soldiers at any given time. Instead, field officers will receive more responsibility, units will learn to synchronize their skills and the entire arsenal will be dragged into the computer age.
Many traditionalists resisted change, preferring the old model of massive, focused power. But other factors also contributed to the military’s inability to transform. Birth rates declined in the 1990s, reducing the pool of men who could be recruited. This, and persistently low salaries, are delaying hiring goals. Endemic corruption hampers efforts.
But the main problem was that the military culture of the USSR held, despite the lack of men and the means to maintain them, according to analysts.
“The Soviet Army was built to generate millions of men to fill many, many teams with an endless supply of equipment,” said Michael Kaufman, director of Russian studies at CNA, a research institute in Arlington, Virginia. For World War III, the war with NATO that never happened.”
Ultimately, the push for change stopped, leaving a hybrid version of the military somewhere between mass mobilization and a more resilient force, analysts said. She still preferred large artillery over infantry that could capture the ground.
The written way in which the military conducts warfare, which was demonstrated at last summer’s exercises, is indicative of this. “No one’s ability to think is tested on the battlefield,” said William Alberkey, director of the arms control program at the Berlin-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. Instead, officers are evaluated based on their ability to follow instructions, he said.
Russia wants the world to see its army as it appears during its annual D-Day Parade – a well-stocked instrument of decent soldiers in uniform marching in unison and bristling with menacing weapons.
“They are using the military as a propaganda machine,” said Gleb Irisov, 31, a former Air Force lieutenant who left the army in 2020 after five years. He then worked as a military analyst for the official TASS news agency before leaving the country and leaving the country because he strongly opposed the invasion.
Senior military leaders argue that recent expeditionary forces, especially in Syria, have provided real combat training, but analysts describe this claim as exaggerated.
Russian forces have not faced any real adversary in Syria. Warfare was mostly an Air Force operation where pilots could fly over targets at will. Russia has not fought a major land war since World War II.
However, Russia’s leaders overestimated the country’s success. In 2017, Sergei K. Shoigu, Russia’s defense minister, boasted at a meeting of fellow ministers in the Philippines that Russia had “liberated” 503,223 square kilometers in Syria. The problem is that the area that Mr. Shoigu claimed to have liberated from militants is more than twice the size of the entire country, it was reported. ProektAn independent news outlet.
With about 900,000 In general, a little more than a third of them are ground forces, analysts said that the Russian army is not that large, given that it must defend a vast country covering 11 time zones. But the target of 50,000 contract soldiers each year, first set a decade ago, has not been met, so there is still annual recruitment for those aged 18 to 27.
Mr. Putin did not resort to mass military conscription that would rally all healthy adult males to war. But even if he did, the infrastructure needed to train civilians en masse would no longer exist. The consensus is that the bulk of the ground forces available to Russia have already been deployed in Ukraine.
Endemic corruption drained resources. “Everyone steals an amount of money allocated in proportion to their rank,” said retired Major General Harry Ora Aho, a former intelligence chief in Finland who is still an adviser to the Ministry of Defense.
Corruption is so widespread that some cases inevitably reach court.
In January, Colonel Evgeny Postovoy, the former head of the procurement department for armored vehicles, was accused of helping to steal more than $13 million by forging battery contracts from 2018 to 2020, according to the TASS.
In February, a Moscow military court stripped Major-General Alexander Ogloblin of his rank and sentenced him to 4.5 years in prison for what the fraud charges described as “on a particularly large scale”. Authorities accused him of embezzling about $25 million by overstating expenditures in state contracts for satellites and other equipment, the business news site BFM.RU mentioned.
Huge contracts aren’t the only temptation. Analysts said the combination of low salaries — a senior officer earns nearly $1,000 a month — and bloated budgets is a recipe for all kinds of theft, leading to a chain reaction of problems.
The analyst, Mr. Irisov, said the leaders are hiding the few exercises they do, and are getting the resources allocated to them in the budget. This exacerbates the lack of basic military skills such as navigation and shooting, even though the Air Force has maintained flight safety standards.
“It is impossible to imagine the extent of the lies within the army,” said Mr. Irisov. “The quality of military production is very low because of the race to steal money.”
Military Prosecutor General Sergei Fridinsky told Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the official government newspaper, in 2011 that one in five rubles spent on the armed forces is stolen.
Mr. Eresov said he has come across numerous examples of substandard equipment – the ornate Pantsir air defense system is unable to shoot down an Israeli small drone over Syria; Russian-made light bulbs on the wings of SU-35 warplanes melt at supersonic speed; New trucks break down after two years.
Military analysts said that Russian weapons in general lag behind their computerized Western counterparts, but they are usable. However, some new production was limited.
For example, the T-14 Armata, a “next generation” combat tank that was unveiled in 2015, has not been deployed in Ukraine due to its small number, they said.
Russia has pumped hundreds of billions of dollars into its army, and under the state armament program has produced a new batch of aircraft, tanks, helicopters and other equipment. Military spending has not fallen below 3.5 percent of GDP for most of the past decade, according to figures from the International Institute for Strategic Studies, at a time when most European countries have struggled to invest 2 percent of GDP and that’s just the public. Part of the military budget of Russia.
This type of financial investment helped Russia make its gains in Ukraine.
Russia and its military are so sprawling that he doesn’t expect them to solve every problem, even within a decade, said Johan Norberg, a Russian analyst at the Swedish Defense Research Agency. He said the war in Ukraine revealed the fact that the Russian army is “not 10 feet tall, but not 2 feet tall either.”
Alina Lobzina and Milana Mazeva contributed to this report.
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