Are Russian Generals Amateurs?

Everyone knows that old quote that “amateur generals study tactics, professional ones study logistics”

Well, apparently that does not apply to the Russian high command, who seem to have failed to study logistics. I admit I didn’t see this coming, but then, as I said in my last post I am not a military expert and I kind of assumed that, while Russia might have a day or two of confusion as the initial “go in fast and topple the leadership” strategy is replaced by “go slower and more methodically”, it would adjust and continue to press forward.

I appear to have been wrong in that assumption.

First, what may seem like a slight detour, many people have noted Russia’s lack of air superiority. One reason for that could be that the Ukrainians have captured Russian mobile air defense systems in full working order. Which means they have complete lists of IFF signals, scheduled changes, cryptography settings etc. etc. Now potentially the Russians can change them, but they cannot change them via a radio broadcast because the Ukrainians will listen, so the only way to do an update is via soldiers on the ground hand delivering the updates (yes they could use land lines for some of the journey, but eventually they have to download them from some computer (print them out? copy to a USB drive?) and take them to the actual piece of equipment. Which takes time. Particularly since the vehicles doing the hand delivery have to share the roads with other parts of the Russian invasion force. But as the first link in the paragraph speculates another reason could be that the Russian airforce can’t actually coordinate things so that Ukrainian air defense systems can be targeted as they defend key sites against other Russian air attacks.

Failure to be able to take out Ukrainian air defenses is, IMHO, a symptom either way and it contributes to the bigger logistics issue because it means that the only way Russian forces can get resupply is on the ground, particularly since they can’t hold Hostomel airport either.

So logistics. Nitay Arbel posted this fascinating video about how Russians do logistics in Russia (they use the railways) and how that doesn’t work in Ukraine (Ukraine has trashed all cross border rail links). So the Russians need to use trucks. This was known and the consequences/limitations of that (should have been) entirely predictable, yet the Russians seem to not figured it all out in advance and been taken by surprise. Trent Talenko has a blog post and many tweet threads about how, particularly in the inland/north of the country, the Russians have to keep their convoys on the roads and that’s a major problem.

@Militarylandnet As correctly pointed out by some of you, Ukrainian troops seems to flooded the area north of Kyiv. That’s the reason why the Russian advance is stagnating there. #Ukraine #UkraineRussiaWar #Kyiv https://twitter.com/Militarylandnet/status/1499786877448200192

In fact, it seems like the Ukrainians have taken a leaf out of the Dutch playbook and deliberately flooded parts of the country so the Russians cannot get off the roads until the adjacent fields dry out, which could be June according to Trent. This is a disaster for the invaders because it actually doesn’t matter whether the convoys that have got stuck are destroyed or not. If (as seems to be the case) the Russian convoys are stuck on ALL the roads they are now road blocks that stop resupply to the front lines. There probably isn’t a way to undo this and, see detour above, the lack of air superiority means that air resupply is out. So the front of the Russian invasion to Kiev is now in severe danger of running out of artillery shells and missiles. That’s deadly for them. Literally so in that they now can’t shoot back and probably also they are low on/have run out of fuel so even if they can go cross country in ways that the supply convoys can’t they still can’t get away far enough. Plus those logistics convoy drivers and guards are also out of fuel, electricity and, except for a few fortunate ones near a food resupply truck, food.

If I’m right in this then Ukraine is about to kill of capture a third of the invasion force, that is to say all the Kiev attackers. Of course this depends a bit on how much supplies of what missiles etc. the Kiev attackers have but if there’s no resupply then the Kiev attackers have no choice but to surrender or die unless they can take the city quick enough. According to pretty much everyone the advance on Kiev has completely stalled as the key bridges and roads in have been destroyed. So they probably aren’t going to take Kiev.

By the way, what we are seeing with the convoy traffic jam is a clear example of how that strategic genius Matt Yglesias failed to understand the role of trucks in warfare. I assumed the Ukrainians would want to block roads with Ukrainian trucks, but it seems they have gone several better and used the invaders own trucks to block the roads.

Now the same does not necessarily apply elsewhere, in the south it looks like the Russians have expanded a bit further and taken the key city of Kherson, where the locals are bravely protesting but not attacking. Or at least not attacking YET. If (when?) Russia does something that upsets the locals, or when some Ukrainian saboteurs infiltrate, that could change and that is a problem. There are (see map) two bridges across the lower Dnieper.

The two bridges across the lower Dnieper at Kherson and Novy Kakhovka

If the Ukrainians take both those out then resupply for all the forces north and west of the river is extremely limited which means that the force advancing N & E from Kherson is going to face the same problem

My strong suspicion, since it seems clear that the Ukrainians do understand the importance of logistics, is that those bridges are going to be attacked real soon now. And that will give Ukraine another chunk of Russian military in a few days.

The Kherson bridge over the Dnieper (via google street view)

So that’s two parts of the Russian invasion force in trouble. Unfortunately that doesn’t help Kharkiv which is close to the border and it doesn’t help the various cities south and east of Dnieper, but if the Ukrainians can’t sow a little trouble in the ranks (or in Russia itself) by letting all surrendered conscripts call home, tearful videos etc. etc. then they aren’t the masters of social media warfare that they have been so far in this war.

Plus once they have those bits of the invasion force taken care of they can look at taking the war back into Russia (and/or Belarus) and taking out marshaling yards and supply depots with their Turkish drones, which have been doing a real number on the Russian invaders, just as their relatives did in the recent Azerbiajan/Armenia war.

The logistics issues remind me of the last time Russia invaded westwards first – during WW1 – where their forces on the Eastern front were shambolic and were only really saved from complete annihilation by the fact that the Germans and Austrians were also busy fighting elsewhere. Just as in 1914 the Russian military seems to be a lot less efficient that anyone expected. In 1914 this should not have been a surprise given their performance against Japan a decade earlier. I’m not quite sure what the excuse is this time.

Overall I am increasing convinced that Russia may end up actually losing a conventional war in Ukraine just from Ukrainian resistance and (some) western arms. Certainly they are losing enormous amounts of equipment, and they are not doing anything to ingratiate themselves with the locals. I can’t see this being sustainable, particularly give the abrupt death of the Russian economy, or survivable for the upper layers of the Russian military unless they get Putin first. At one point I was afraid we might be in for a long war of occupation/resistance, I now think that was overly pessimistic and that this war could well will be over in a month with Ukraine the victor.

PS not exactly related, but this twitter thread translating an alleged FSB document (threadreader version) is fascinating. I don’t know if the document is genuine or the translation accurate but I think they are.

PPS also, in addition to the logistics being screwed, Russia seems to be having self-inflicted commo problems. From this thread (threadreader ver) about the death of Gen. Maj. Vitaly Gerassimov:

This is not the worst part. In the phone call in which the FSB officer assigned to the 41st Army reports the death to his boss in Tula, he says they’ve lost all secure communications. Thus the phone call using a local sim card. Thus the intercept.

His boss, who makes a looong pause when he hears the news of Gerassimov’s death (before swearing), is Dmitry Shevchenko, a senior FSB officer from Tula. We identified him by searching for his phone (published by Ukrainian military Intel) in open source lookup apps.

In the call, you hear the Ukraine-based FSB officer ask his boss if he can talk via the secure Era system. The boss says Era is not working. Era is a super expensive cryptophone system that @mod_russia introduced in 2021 with great fanfare. It guaranteed work “in all conditions”

The idiots tried to use the Era cryptophones in Kharkiv, after destroying many 3g cell towers and also replacing others with stingrays. Era needs 3g/4g to communicate. The Russian army is equipped with secure phones that can’t work in areas where the Russian army operates.

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Free the People publishes opinion-based articles from contributing writers. The opinions and ideas expressed do not always reflect the opinions and ideas that Free the People endorses. We believe in free speech, and in providing a platform for open dialog. Feel free to leave a comment!

Francis Turner

Francis Turner has blogged intermittently at various places as "The Shadow of the Olive Tree" or "L'Ombre d'Olivier" for most of the last two decades. As an expat Englishman, he has lived and worked in numerous countries before finally (perhaps) coming to settle down in rural Western Japan.

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