October 6, 2022
The current story spreading like wildfire in Russia, apparently with tacit but clear support from the Kremlin, is that the Generals screwed up the short, glorious, victorious special military operation (SMO) in Ukraine. Even rags like Военное обозрение (Military Overview), which staunchly hews to the mythology of the SMO, including Nazis, NATO officers leading ZSU, genocide against Russian speakers in Ukraine, mass torture and murder of pro-Russian citizens in liberated towns — apparently up to 80% of the population! — even these guys have gone berserk over the past few days.
Their “analysis” page (linked below) is just a list of curses of the high command. Amid articles like “Does Russia need dead Ukrainian lands?” and “Don’t permit the looting of arsenals” they have gems like “Where, in the world, is the Russian Army?“, “A Strange Military Operation,” and, my favorite, “For the First Time Since the Great Patriotic War, a Russian City is Surrendered to the Enemy.”
The articles are long so I won’t translate them, but the leitmotif is crystal clear: we are losing in Ukraine, and the High Command is to blame. The Generals are incompetent, liars, and thieves. (Can’t argue with any of that.) We need a thorough restructuring of the army, a reform that will clean up the mess. (OK, although how to do this in wartime, isn’t exactly spelled out.) And we will definitely win. (Hmmm, they lost me there.)
There are two issues with all of this that I think are very characteristic of the mania that has gripped the war-supporters in Russia.
First, they have a debilitating cognitive dissonance between facts that cannot be avoided, swept under the carpet, or reinterpreted, and the mythology that these people take as reality. The losses in Ukraine that VSRF is suffering are devastating and just too large to hide despite Ministry of Defense’s best efforts. But, these people wonder, not all of this can be explained with mistakes and corruption. We still have about 1 million contract soldiers in the army — where are they and why are they mobilizing reservists? We still have much more artillery and heavy equipment — why are we told that ZSU’s success is due to them having more? Why are we not using the drones we got but have to get them from Iran? Why are we not attacking infrastructure, population centers, and civilians — it looks like the Kremlin cares more about saving Ukrainian lives than Russian ones. Why are the Ukrainians bombing with impunity Russian territory and we do nothing in return? And so on.
The common theme here is evident: a premise is taken as a fact (Russia is not bombing infrastructure in Ukraine), and then an ominous question is raised (why?), with all of this leading the reading inexorably to the conclusion that the Russian military command is incompetent and the guilty must be punished.
Far be it for me to defend the Russian High Command, but the above rhetorical questions are just nonsense. There are no million contract soldiers that are kept somewhere under wraps for some unknown purpose. There are forces deployed internally for security purposes, but most of the battle-worthy ones have long ago been sent to Ukraine. The initial 120,000 or so force has been replaced, maybe twice over, given the staggering losses in Ukraine, and the fact that the authors of these articles do not acknowledge that simply deepens their divorce from reality. Mobilization is being done because that’s the only way they can plug the manpower holes in the army. It’s as simple as that.
There is no conspiracy not to bomb infrastructure — they are bombing it all the time. Maybe not with the devastating effect that these bloodthirsty propagandists want, but they are doing nonetheless. And it’s not that easy to destroy a dam that the Soviets built to take a nuclear hit. The devastation inflicted on Ukraine is enormous, it’s staggering, and it will take Ukraine decades to recover fully. It just does not have the military and morale-crushing effects that these guys imagine it would have. So the reason the Ukrainians haven’t come begging for mercy isn’t that you haven’t hurt them badly — it’s that you cannot hurt them enough even with that attrition strategy. (The Russians can, of course, unleash more on population centers but this would accomplish nothing militarily and would be very costly politically.)
ZSU has (local) superiority in some parts of the front because Kyiv started the mobilization immediately and spent half a year training the soldiers. This was a necessary risk — they had to keep losing territories over this period because they could only hope to slow down the Russians and buy themselves time to prepare these recruits. This is a time Putin spent daydreaming about victory while the military was telling him he must order mobilization. When he finally did, it came too late to affect anything on the front for the rest of the year. The increasing flow of Western aid also put ZSU in a far more advantageous position just when the Russians were starting to run into problems.
And so on. My point is that these analysis seem unaware that while penning poisonous diatribes about Defense lying to them, they are still using the older, more established, lies of the Kremlin and, ironically, Defense itself. And this is why they can’t reconcile fact with reality, and have to resort to all sorts of weird conspiratorial stuff.
This would have just been funny had it not have a profound effect on the analysis and its conclusions. If you attribute all problems to the Generals (even structural problems in the army), then you are free to imagine that once the Generals are removed and the guilty — punished, the military will spring back to life, more powerful than ever.
Ah, but this can’t happen. Because while the Generals stole a lot and corrupted the military, their theft is just a part of the larger theft perpetrated by the government. They are not to blame for:
- the SMO: the military either opposed the invasion altogether or wanted to do it very differently, on a smaller territorial scale, and with better defined goals; Putin overruled them, and now he’s blaming them
- the deaths of tens of thousands of Russian soldiers: the military has actually been pretty keen on trying to evacuate units under its command (sometimes to the detriment of “allied forces”), and thus far has mostly succeeded, which is why the retreats have been so devoid of POWs; Putin is the one with “stand firm at all costs” orders.
- the recruitment of criminals: these are Prigozhin’s, and they will be a very serious risk to the postwar order, when it comes
- the decline of the Russian economy, the inability to find import substituting goods and services
- the rapid deterioration of government aid and services
The Generals have been contributing their fair share in this nonsense but the problems are endemic to the system, and no replacement is going to fix that.
In other words, all these “analyses” might be correct in identifying the problems but not their causes. The reforms — if any — will not bring the desired results, certainly not in time to make a difference on the front.
And so we’re back to reservists being tossed to plug holes regardless of their (lack of) preparation, local superiority of ZSU, supply shortages, and, of course, nuclear threats.
This will continue until Putin leaves the Kremlin one way or the other. And even then it might not stop. While Russia is waging a criminal war, the internal situation will just go for bad to worse.