PODCAST: War the Russian Way

It’s now been over three weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine and none of the major cities have fallen yet. In this podcast we look at the military and tactical aspects of the war and what this tells us about Russia and how the war may evolve
23rd March 202225 min

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[00:00:00] Yusuf: Welcome to Geopolity, the podcast from geopolity.com. Now it’s been three weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine, and none of the major cities have fallen yet. So what we want to do today is go through some of the tactical aspects of this war. We got Adnan Khan the founder of geopolity to unravel all this for us. How are you doing Adnan.

[00:00:29] Adnan: I’m good to Yusuf, how you

[00:00:31] Yusuf: I’m good, thank you.

[00:00:32] Yusuf: Now, it’s been over three weeks since Russia invaded, but Russia’s military it seems like it’s really, really struggled to make any big moves in the country from a military perspective, how would you describe where things are right now?

[00:00:45] Adnan: So, three weeks you would think that’s pretty early to be reviewing the overall war. However, there’s been so many bizarre things militarily that have been done by Russia. So many shocking things that, it’s probably a good idea to review where the war stands and what they’re trying to achieve. You know, just to give a caveat, despite many of the things that have gone wrong, it does appear now that Russia is adjusting and is trying to fix a lot of the problems, which are its own creation really, in order that the war goes in the right direction for them. The best place to start, which probably gives a bit of an indicator why things haven’t gone according to plan from a Russian perspective is, Russia, clearly looking at the way they deployed, looking at the fighting that they are doing. They based this war, the invasion of Ukraine, on a number of assumptions and these assumptions very, very quickly unraveled. And as a result, they’ve been forced to make some significant adjustments. These assumptions include the Kremlin believing that the Russian military in just a matter of days could probably overthrow the regime. The Kremlin, it seemed, they assumed that Kiev would fall pretty quickly that they would be little resistance. And as a result there won’t be a protracted war in Ukraine.

[00:02:01] Adnan: Now, if you go to war with such assumptions that has an impact on everything, how much material you’re going to put aside, how many units you’re going to use. And that’s what it seems came to haunt Russia. There’s other things. For example, there’s been a complete lack of air warfare, which is shocking. There has be no use of electronic or cyberwarfare from Russia. And it now appears from many of the POW’s prisoners of war that had been captured from the Russian side, that the army was really informed about the war at the last moment. So many of these troops probably weren’t even psychologically prepared when they crossed the border into Ukraine.

[00:02:37] Adnan: So three weeks in there appears to be four main fronts to the war. And if we’re going clockwise order, you’ve got the north where troops went in from Belarus, down as a column to try and take over Kiev, the capital. And this is quite significant. If Kiev was to fall, the war would effectively be over. But what we’ve seen is a 40 mile long convoy that sitting there and in any air war that will be a sitting duck. And it seems what’s actually happened is the Russians pushed so many units down the same route that they all got stuck. So really for the last three weeks, Russia’s been trying to sort this out. It’s been really, really, slow. They took Chernobyl which doesn’t even make sense. They will probably argue the Russian they’re taking Chernobyl, they were the ones that created the problem in the past. But why on earth would you take Chernobyl, which is a nuclear disaster. You’re now responsible for it.

[00:03:29] Adnan: So if we go clockwise, we go to around two o’clock. So the Northeast, this is where Kharkiv is. Now, originally this was the most successful advance from Russia, but now it’s facing supply shortages. And this has actually been a common problem in this war. The logistics and the supplies has been terrible and that’s actually what’s forced Russia to really slow down and get bogged down in many, many areas. Now obviously they entered the war thinking that there’s going to be very little resistance. That was an assumption that turned out to be completely incorrect. And now that they are forced to readjust.

[00:04:02] Adnan: So at three o’clock. So looking at the Donbass region fighting continues in this area, but very slow progress from Russia. They got a lot of pushback from Ukrainian forces and the Ukrainians who were putting up resistance and it’s taking up so much resources now that Russia is forced to resort to his reserves.

[00:04:20] Adnan: So if we go further down to around four o’clock, so, south south east, this is the Donetsk and Metropol area, which is getting a lot of media attention at the moment. What seems to be happening is area things have slowed down to such an extent that Russia is shelling infrastructure as civilian areas. So the hope here is by shelling them, by destroying infrastructure, there will capitulate. Now Mariupo looks like the worst at the moment is probably going to fall. But it’s going to be a hollow victory if you’ve had to literally just shell the area to submission and we’ve got to keep in mind that there must be a political objective here, which is to remove the regime and install a new regime and if you want the people to accept that, shelling them, massacring them isn’t going to help.

[00:05:00] Adnan: Then in the south of Ukraine, this has probably been the most successfull. And what happened here was is a number of cities have been captured pretty quickly by Russian forces. And this then allowed them to use railways to bring up supplies. Now keep in mind in Crimea, Russia already took over this area, it occupied it, it separated it from Ukraine and Russia already had a military presence in this area as well. So this has probably been his most successful. The only problem is the capital, the political capital is in north. So despite making a lot of progress in the south politically, that doesn’t really Russia. And from here, it will seem they want to go further west and take over a Odessa and I don’t think they can with the logistics they’ve got at the moment, they’re going to have to bring in more and more supplies in order to do it.

[00:05:44] Adnan: So in summary, Russian forces continue to face significant difficulties. They’re now forced to mobilise replacements. So that’s why now they’re bringing in Syrian mercenaries. They bringing in in other mercenaries to fight because they own troops have been struggling and keep in mind that they been forced to use conscripts because of the very very bizarre assumptions they had that this will be a very quick war and it’d be over well.

[00:06:08] Yusuf: Now I guess we need to give some credit to the Ukrainians and their resistance. What’s been their strategy in pushing back the Russians.

[00:06:15] Adnan: Okay so the Ukrainians on paper, they should really have no chance. You’ve got probably one of the largest armies in the world with have lots of equipment and what the Ukrainians have tried to do is utilise their advantages. So there country is quite large. Ukraine is i think the largest country in Europe. So what they’ve tried to do is do hit and run attacks, across Ukraine, where Russian forces are in order to overstretch them. Also, what they’ve tried to do is take advantage of the terrian so they’ve been trying to draw Russian forces into their environment, into urban areas. And obviously in urban warfare the Ukrainian people have the advantage because you’ve got the advantage of hiding behind buildings, you know the terrain, something similar to what the Taliban did in Afghanistan. So obviously they received a lot of military equipment over the years. They’ve been training as well. And I think we can definitely say they have actually caused significant problems for Russian forces, that’s why they’ve got bogged down. It didn’t help the Russian forces that they assumed there would be little to no resistance. And that’s why the Russian forces are having to bring a lot more equipment, getting equipment from Russia to the frontline during a war is no difficult, it’s not a simple feat. If that equipment was already there, you can make use of it. But now having to get it there to logistics can complete nightmare. So the Ukrainians are taking advantage of a lot of the assumptions that turned out to be wrong for the Russians. And they are utilizing the terrain to their advantage. Now that doesn’t mean they can win. What they can do is hurt Russia. They can fight on attrition, that can economically make it very, very difficult. Even if the Ukrainians win, they lose, in terms of the country being bombed back to the stone age, the country being leveled. But for the moment, three weeks in, they don’t seem to be any attempt by Ukrainians to give in or just to give up and just accept defeat.

[00:08:03] Adnan: So what that means is for the Russian, this is now turned into a long slog. It seems the Russians thought they could just do a raid into Ukraine. Send in a few full forces, you push them up to the Capitol and you do that, they then basically win, that hasn’t happened. So yeah, that you’ve got a credit that Ukrainians for

[00:08:21] Yusuf: Now, whenever I think of Russia, I always put it up there with some of these other countries such as France, Britain, America, in terms of its power and Ukraine you always think of it as a quite poor country. We always hear about the Russian army is modernising. I just don’t understand why it struggled so much. Are any of these issues linked to the collapse of the Soviet union in the past? Why is Russia struggled so much?

[00:08:48] Adnan: So this really gets to the crux of Russias military problem. Russia really has been modernising its military for the last 30 years. Really in the 1980s, Russian generals realised that warfare was changing, The Soviet union had a huge military had more tanks than you had soldiers had a zoo of variety of vehicles. It was a massive force that didn’t necessarily have decent equipment, but due to sheer quantity they could overwhelm everyone. And in the 1980s, they realised, the Soviets, that warfare was changing that precision guided weapons and cyber warfare, these were going to be the new ways of fighting. So rather than sending a large army, utilising technology could defeat large armies. And then this obviously played out in 1991, the Iraqi forces were organised and structured on Soviet lines. However at the end of 1991, Soviet Union collapsed and really what happened then was Russia went through a decade of depression. So there was complete economic collapse that industries collapsed. For the last 10 years prior to that, they were already in dire economic straits. So what that meant was the Russian military had loads of equipment that was rusting that they couldn’t maintain, that they couldn’t even replace. So throughout the 1990s Russia was really a hollow force that had nuclear weapons. And that’s why they struggled in Chechnya. That’s why in 1994, they were affectively defeated in Chechnya and then they pursued a ceasefire with the Chechen rebels.

[00:10:11] Adnan: So when Putin came to power in 1999-2000, He then began attempts to modernise the military. And that was when he launched the war against Chechnya, which eventually they won in 2001. However these reforms Putin started, they’ve been very start and stop they’re still incomplete even today. And the reason why is because the economic cost. Russia needs to replace loads of equipment. When we talk about modernisation a military, what that is is you get rid of your old equipment and replace it with new equipment. But Russia has so much equipment, whether it’s fighter jets, whether it’s artillery, whether its tanks because the Soviet union, always prepared to fight a people’s war. So that’s been their fundamental problem. The area Russia still struggles with today. If you’re going to replace your military equipment, then you to design new up-to-date equipment that you can use for the next decade or so. But Russia still struggles with the design and production of new weapons systems, and interestingly Ukraine actually was the key to the Soviet union because it produced everything from gas turbines, for Russian ships to helicopter engines and the like, and obviously wants us to have a union collapsed, ukraine became a completely separate country. So now that’s not to say Russia hasn’t improved in any areas of its military, in terms of anti-air fire, in terms of missile defense. It’s done very, very well. But your war is going to be your ground forces. They need to have the logistics to go and fight. That is the area they’re still trying to improve. They’re still trying to modernise. So modern Russian army is much smaller than the Soviet union, it has less vehicles, it has less equipment, but what Russia’s trying to do is make sure they have more up-to-date equipment and Russia doesn’t want to be buying these in, like many countries do from other countries. Russia wants to develop its own defense industry. And that’s another area Russia struggled in. Because of economics. Russia has a large population, although shrinking and it has to prioritise where this funding is going to be going. So Russia’s military has struggled through a number of wars because it struggled to modernise and replace most of its military with modern equipment and modern methods as well.

[00:12:10] Yusuf: When I look at Russia’s history in the last 20 years or so you find that it’s actually done pretty well for itself. So you’ve got Georgia in 2008, the conquest of Crimea, Donbass in 2014 and then It’s involvement in Syria from 2015. And these are all examples where it shows that Russia militarily is actually a force to be reckoned with. Why have they struggled still so much in Ukraine?

[00:12:33] Adnan: That’s a good question. I think there’s a couple of things here. One is Russia has done a really good job of projecting its victories in these wars. So externally abroad. Russia has presented Georgia, it’s invasion of Georgia in 2008, its conquest of Crimea as Russia is an effective military that can invade other countries. However, internally Russian officials have been very scathing of the performance in these wars. To give an example is similar to winning a war but you lost 90% of your troops. You won the war of course, but look at the cost and each of these wars actually revealed the many, many problems Russia has in its forces, but due to sheer quantity, Russia was able to win. But that’s not the lesson the Russians took. The Russian officials were very scathing of the performance, obviously for propaganda purposes it was utilized differently. They projected to the world that we’re a country that should be messed with and we should be taken seriously.

[00:13:28] Adnan: So if we take the first war, the one in Georgia, now that was quite interesting because that was Russia’s, effectively it was its first war after Soviet union collapsed. Now, it wasn’t really the Chechnyan war was the first war when the Soviet Union collapsed but the Georgia war Russia actually realised it’s got significant problems in its military. The Georgia war was firstly a very limited operation. although we call it the Georgia war, Russian forces only went into Abkazia and South Ossetia which were breakaway regions in Georgia. So it was a very, very limited war that required a very, very limited force. The lesson it taught the west was russia’s back the lesson the Russians took was the complete opposite. They realised that a lot of their equipment didn’t physically work on the communication side, which is absolutely critical for modern warfare. Russia performed absolutely badly to the point soldiers were forced to use telephones in Georgia to communicate with their units back in Russia. So although Russia won that war, that wasn’t the lesson the Russians took the lessons they took because they were fighting a country like Georgia, who actually will using very, very old Soviet equipment. It was because of the sheer force of numbers that Russia actually won. That was the lesson they took. The conquest in Crimea in 2014 was a very swift operation. It made Russia look very good. However, Russia already had a Naval presence in Crimea. It had 18,000 troops there it had logistics there. It had military equipment there. So when Russia took over Crimea, it didn’t have to send a full Russia to go on conquer it, it already had a Naval base there. Russia very cleverly it projected a war that it won, however the war was very different Crimea, it literally the troops in the Naval base, they took over key areas from Ukrainian forces and Ukrainian forces gave up because they were already there. So Crimea really isn’t a normal they’re going to face.

[00:15:25] Adnan: Then you’ve got what happened in Donbass, Eastern Ukraine, which Russia took over at the same time as well. Again, this is a region of Ukraine that already had separatist tendencies. It already was out of favor and critical of the Ukraine government in Kiev and the separatists already were being trained and armed by Russia anyway. So when these areas became seperate and Russia supported them these were the separatists areas already. Anyway, so already Russia had the advantage there. Russia didn’t need to send him a massive forces, go and occupy land, go and supply the troops that are there. That wasn’t the case. Russia has some troops there, but most of the work was done by mercenaries and separatists that were already, in that region.

[00:16:06] Adnan: And then the last war, Syria, Syria really was a small to medium operation for Russia. At most russia had about 5,000 troops in Syria and the sole purpose of Russian forces was to lead the air attack across Syria. So Russia didn’t need to put troops on the ground and it didn’t. So yes, Russia fought a war quite far from home. You know, about 300 kilometers, I think it is or 500 kilometers Syria is. So you got to sustain operations, you got to supply your troops, but by siding with the regime in Syria, they were given bases. These bases were protected and therefore Russian forces were never at harms way because they were just carrying out massacres. So yes, all of these wars russia looks very strong, but those are not the lessons Russia took. In fact, Russia realised it’s actually got significant problems. And each of these cases, if you look at Georgia, if you look at Crimea, if you look at Donbas, if you look at Syria, largely they were fighting civilians, they were fighting militias. They weren’t fighting a peer competitor where a lot of the logistics would have been exposed. So, yes, Russia is making headway, but in a way, all these wars Russia’s won there were significant political and strategic things that went in their advantage. If that wasn’t the case, a lot of Russia’s problems would have been exposed, which we’re now seeing in the first few weeks in Ukraine.

[00:17:22] Yusuf: Let’s talk about the other side. NATO doesn’t really want to get involved. That’s what you’re seeing is anyway, what factors are preventing them from getting injured?

[00:17:30] Adnan: So really NATO and NATO countries they don’t really have the stomach to intervene. This is an Iraq or Afghanistan where you’re fighting militias or civilians. You’re going to be fighting Russia, which is a nuclear power. And despite all his shortcomings, it can bring a lot to the battlefield. Also, NATO doesn’t really have a good track record. Last 20 years, NATO was in Afghanistan. And we saw the humiliating withdrawal last year. NATO may look good on paper, but the last 20 years, its performance in Afghanistan is being woeful. The Taliban who are not even a conventional army, put them to shame. So you’ve got that fact, I think the other added factor is if NATO gets involved that now means all natal countries are a target for Russia during the war now. So the Russians used to cruise missile last week and they struck a target in the west of Ukraine, close to the Polish border. This is where many foreign fighters are gathering. If NATO gets involved, Russia will start, will potentially start firing across Europe. Now, if NATO was to get involved effectively the type of war Russia is structured for. Russia is structured to fight a peer competitor that also relies on logistics and things like that. And also it would probably lead to an air war as well, which will expand it and now we’re talking about WW3 type of scenarios. I think what to keep in mind that there are political objectives and political objective for Russia, are it wants to protect its border land areas. And if NATO gets involved, then this is an existential crisis for Russia, which now means Russia can make use of whatever weaponry it has disposal in order to defend itself because it’s existential. So there’s these sort of factors really, which I think are key, but probably I think the key thing really being is I don’t think NATO really had the stomach for a war, because if you look at the performance it’s not being great with recently.

[00:19:14] Yusuf: Let’s say hypothetically, they did get involved, what would the war actually look like then with NATO involved.

[00:19:20] Adnan: So likely what will happen is that all this talk of no fly zones, you see that there’ll be an airwar, so have jets taking off from the Baltics, from Germany, from Poland. So the war will basically go into skys. You see a lot of logistical movement. I suspect Russia will start carrying out missile strikes across Europe as well. The interesting thing here would be is this wouldn’t be i think like WW1 and WW2, where you’d have a massive troop movement to go and occupy land. But the problem now you’re going to have is troops would become sitting ducks. So probably the war would expand into the air realm, into the cyber realm and possibly even space, utilising satellites and drone warfare, which we’re seeing already as well. So the likely chance would be with NATO getting involved the war would go more high-tech and the battlefield would drastically expand.

[00:20:07] Yusuf: You mentioned that the battle will take a different style. So the air force will be more involved. Why isn’t the air force involved at the moment.

[00:20:15] Adnan: So I think after the war, this is going to be one of those much studied subjects that why on earth would Russia not bring its airforce. Russia started the war on Ukraine by carrying out a few military strikes. We’ve seen helicopters, but very few of them give close air support, but Russia has lots of jets. It has lots of bombers. It could easily deploy them and take out Ukrainian targets, but we’ve seen the cyber area and the air force have been completely absent. In fact, it seemed the air force has completely sat the war out. Now we’re speculating there could be a couple of reasons um, if your plan is you want to join Ukraine with Russia, if your plan is you want to integrate in some form or shape with Russia, bombing the country back to the stone age, isn’t going to help that. So I think that a lot of the problems Russia’s had. Is because of the assumptions that had, but also I think there’s certain things you just can’t do because politically you want achieve objectives. In many ways, conquering Ukraine, overthrowing the regime being a political goals means you’re limited on how you’re militarily going to achieve that. You can’t do what they did in Syria, where you just drop unguided bombs across the whole country. You carry our massacres. You destroy infrastructure, I know now there resorting to that in some areas. But if your plan is you want to join this country of yours or politically have influence over it, you’re going to have to establish a regime thats loyal to you. That’s not going to work if you’re bombing the country back to the stone age. I think that could be one of the reasons why it’s taking it very easy with this airforce, with use of missiles aswell. These will be the key areas where Russia would have utilised to win the war. The other thing could be that Russia has problems in terms of bringing its airforce into the war in terms of logistics into the capability. Now I’ve seen that online. I don’t think that’s the case because we’ve seen Russia’s air force take part in Syria. We’ve seen them take part in many of these military exercises and I don’t think that’s the issue. I think despite all the problems Russia has, despite its struggle to modernise, it could still bring Soviet jets into the fight and that will still be significant because Ukraine doesn’t have a huge airforce and also it has even fewer of the ground logistics needed to keep your planes in the air. So I think, after the war we’ll find out really what happened or in time all the people that were involved in the decision-making, we find out why the airforce wasn’t deployed. It could be the airforce is holding out in case this expands and Europe gets involved in NATO gets involved. You don’t want to throw all your cards at the beginning of. What you do, you’ve got to save them for later if and when certain things happen. So I think all of these reasons potentially could be correct and we probably just have to wait to see in time what it was.

[00:22:42] Yusuf: Putin’s held back their air force, but he’s actually put his nuclear forces on alert. Why would you, what’s his motive behind that? What are the chances of nuclear, which is a big question in a lot of people’s.

[00:22:52] Adnan: This obviously gets a lot of attention its got lot of media coverage in the west. I think it’s one of those things where it’s very easy for Putin to say this, but he doesn’t really have to do anything. So he said he put his nuclear forces on alert. What does that actually mean? And there’s no tangible thing we can measure to see what that actually physically entails, it up the ante, it got put a lot of media coverage. It got a lot of Westerners worried, but physically after three weeks its made absolutely no difference. Russia still struggling in the war, Russia is still struggling logistically and to supply its troops, saying it I think got a lot of media coverage, it got a lot of people to stand up and take Russia seriously, but it practically has meant] little on the ground. It could’ve even been a slip by Putin. because Putin in a lot of his interviews, he’s been quite angry. He’s been quite flippant. In fact, there’s an argument the whole war is very, it goes against the way the modus operandi of Putin. Putin very calm, very collected person. So we’ll have to see nuclear war doesn’t really serve Russia, neither does it serve Europe. Nuclear war in Europe would mean there’s no borderlands for Russia to protect itself and you’re gonna get a massive radioactive waste in that area. No more Russian energy going into Europe. From the European side nuclear war, you know, you won’t be able to live on a chunk of Europe anymore. And people around them won’t be able to live there anymore. So a nuclear war doesn’t really serve anyone’s agenda. I think Russia has lost wars and not used its nuclear weapons. You look at Chechnya, you look at Afghan withdrawal, the Afghan war in the 1980s, both of these wars, Russia lost and wash should withdrew and it never used its nuclear weapons. So I think that this is part of the propaganda war, part of the political war, when things weren’t going well in the first week for Russia, Putin pulled this out and you know, the propaganda war is as important as the real war. Although Russia completely losing the propaganda war we see Ukranian women preparing Molotov cocktails. We see Ukrainian refugees coming into Europe. We see nothing of the battle from the Russians side. Now some of it’s probably because Russian TV and broadcasting has been banned, but nevertheless, the propaganda side, we’re not seeing anything at all, actually that Ukraine’s winning all of that. So I think these sort of things probably feed more into that from a, you know, if your forces are struggling on the ground, nuclear warfare isn’t going to change that. The political goals if they are to remove the regime and control Ukraine, a nuclear war would just mean on Russia’s border, you’ve got a massive nuclear wasteland and that doesn’t serve you in Russia, the agenda as well.

[00:25:17] Yusuf: Thank you for your time today Adnan. Now we at geopolity are very closely watching what’s happening in Ukraine. So if you want more updates on this issue, you can follow us on www.geopolity.com and we’ll be discussing many other issues on there. So definitely check us out. thank you for your time, take care.

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