A Blog by Jonathan Low


Aug 4, 2022

Why Russia Has Lost the Ability To Alter the Dynamics of the Ukraine War

Since its inability to capture Kyiv at the start of the war almost six months ago, Russia has repeatedly failed to make significant gains in Ukraine. 

The causes are many, but the new reality is, that having squandered its best troops and weapons on an inept strategy, Russia now finds itself with inadequate resources including logistics, equipment, troops, leaders, economic support - and time. JL 

Bryan Frydenborg reports in Real Context News:

Russia has lost the ability to alter the dynamics of the war.  After Russia was routed in March and from the Kyiv, Chernihiv, and Sumy fronts, the Russian Army has for months been able to do little more than inch forward in the east, attack defenseless civilians (or even wheat fields) and lob missiles from extreme distances. Most of Russia’s best combat  troops are dead, wounded, or in units that are non-“combat effective”.  Russia’s conscript-contract hybrid system is contributing to a severe lack of cohesion. Massive casualties, equipment losses (and sanctions) mean that Russia’s ambitions far exceed its current and foreseeable capabilities.

I can respect the fact that many journalists are not terribly steeped in military history, strategy, or tactics, but the writing really is on the wall for Russia in its miserable failure of a war.  And while projecting too much optimism may run the risk losing a needed sense of urgency in some quarters, support for Ukraine has not only been stated as a clear and long-term commitment throughout the West but acted upon with vigor over the more than five months of this war, with support only increasing and more and more support surely on the way.  Thus, analysis that misses Ukraine’s success—not just past or tactically, but in forging, driving, and dominating dynamics that have put Ukraine on the path to surprising victory and Russia on the path to ignominious defeat—is not presenting an accurate picture.

July 29 Ukraine war ISW

As I noted elsewhere, a simple look at a few maps produced by the Institute for the Study of War in conjunction with Critical Threats reveals that, since late March, Ukraine has been more on the offensive than Russia and is taking far more of its occupied territory from Russia since then than territory Russia has taken since then from Ukraine, never a good sign for any invader.

Ukraine war maps ISW
Click to go to my source article

What this demonstrates is that Russia has essentially lost the ability to dramatically alter the dynamics of the war.  After Russia was routed in late March and early April from the Kyiv, Chernihiv, and Sumy fronts, the supposedly-mighty Russian Army has for months now—more than three—been able to do little more than inch forward kilometer by kilometer in the east, attack defenseless civilians (or even wheat fields), blockade Ukrainian ports, and lob cruise missiles from extreme distances.

Tactical Realities Dictating Russia’s Shrinking Strategic Outlook

At this point, the Russians’ greatest battlefield asset is their massed artillery barrages (Russia, surprisingly, was never able to achieve air superiority and Ukrainian air defenses are only increasing and improving with Western aid).  And yet, Ukrainian tactics and new Western equipment (M777 howitzers, M142 HIMARS [High Mobility Artillery Rocket System], M270 MLRS [Multiple Rocket Launch System])—equipment literally designed to counter the very equipment the Russians are using—have been an effective counter to undermine this major Russian strength.  The more dispersed and nimble Ukrainians are careful about concentrating many soldiers in vulnerable areas while Russians keep offering up packed headquarters with key officers and ammunition depots as easy targets, both crucial for effective use of Russian artillery (and just about everything else Russia has).  And, indeed, the new Western precision systems and ammunition that are being given (and given in increasing numbers to Ukraine), combined with Ukraine’s innovative and brilliant approach to targeting (an app called GIS Art for Artillery), are already outperforming and outgunning Russian imprecise “aim-in-the-general-area” artillery, inflicting far more military casualties per gun per shot than the Russians, including destroying far more Russian artillery pieces along with the ammunition needed to supply them and Russian S-300 or S-400 air defense systems that seem unable to counter the Western weapons.  The new systems are also further disrupting already severely disrupted Russian supply lines.  In recent weeks, as the new Western weapons have been increasingly rolled out by Ukraine, apart from high Russian casualties, there has also been a telling exponential decrease in outgoing Russian artillery rounds even as Ukraine increases its outgoing fire, the result of weeks of precise and effective targeting by—and an increase in the numbers of—these Western-supplied weapons systems, with more of these systems on the way.

In this context, it is crucial to note that, at this point, most of Russia’s best combat infantry troops are dead, wounded, or in units that have been “mauled” into a non-“combat effective” state through casualties, leadership voids, equipment and supply losses/shortages, or a combination (often so) of these.  In a wider sense, Russia’s endemic corruption very much infecting its military and Russia’s strange conscript-contract hybrid military system contributing to a severe lack of cohesion are big parts of the explanation for these losses.  And the overall numbers of massive casualties suffered by Russia and its Donbas Luhansk and Donetsk proxies along with equipment losses (including catastrophic losses of Russia’s poorly-maintained supply trucks) and ridiculous, consistent supply issues mean that Russia’s outsized imperial ambitions far exceed its current and foreseeable capabilities.

Even so, Russia and those Donbas proxies are resorting to drafting locals in regions of Ukraine they occupy while Russia is also pushing hard to raise troops from remote parts of the Russian Federation populated by down-and-out ethnic minorities and pressure veterans whose contracts are up or have already returned home from combat to go back (getting new recruits in Russia is not as simple or as quick as one may think), and even this will take time and will result in most cases in reluctant, poorly trained-and-equipped troops with low morale or people who will simply surrender or defect at worst.  In some cases, troops are even WWII-era or even late-nineteenth-century bolt-action rifles or are manning obsolete Soviet-era relic tanks recently taken out of storage, most notably the T-62M 1983 upgrade of the 1961 T-62, built upon the 1958 T-55 (this last point strongly suggests that Russia has lost most of its best deployable tanks, or why else would they be dragging out much older Soviet tanks from storage?).  Obviously, none of these new soldiers or units will be anywhere near the quality of the best troops and units that have already been decimated or destroyed in the fighting: those elite troops are basically irreplaceable.

Russia ISW recruitment

None of these moves by Russia reflect winning.

Thus, there simply are currently no good, fast options to replace Russia’s mounting casualties and Russia is basically running out of not just quality troops, but troops in general.  There are not 50,000—let alone 20,000—fresh Russian elite combat forces arriving well-equipped and well-supplied with high-morale and quality leadership at Russia’s fronts anytime soon, and Russia’s current leadership culture is incapable of patiently and methodically training any large numbers of high-quality troops, especially in its current flailing mode.  Even if Russia’s leaders were focusing on producing well-trained troops, it would be a long time before they could be deployable, maybe even too late to prevent a full loss of all Russian gains in Ukraine since 2014, let alone 2022.  It is also crucial to note that Russia’s military machinery cannot be properly maintained or produced anymore without key components manufactured outside of Russia and blocked by Western sanctions.  Even if Russian President Vladimir Putin hits the panic button and begins a general draft mobilization (politically risky for him), that cannot yield serious results anytime soon, either.


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