Putin's Embarrassing Military Failures in Ukraine: What Happened?

Jayden D'Onofrio - Teen Aspect - May 18th, 2022

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a ceremony on Feb. 23, a day before invading Ukraine (Alexei Nikolsky / Associated Press)
 

From Napoleon’s Grande Armée to Hitler’s Third Reich, Russia has had an unbelievably rich history in fighting off invading armies who often times ignore potential circumstances and undermine the importance of logistical support. As such, Russia should know better than almost all nations the importance of eliminating assumptions and ensuring a steady logistical supply line in times of military action. In an ironic twist, Russia is currently facing some of the most catastrophic failures an invading military can endure in the midst of the nations war on the freedom and continued liberty of the entirety of Ukraine. Up until this very point, many across the world do not understand how Ukraine, a nation that funds its armed forces just 9% of Russia’s annual military budget, have resisted the full military might of Russia (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 2022). Factors range from the sheer bravery of standard Ukrainian citizens to outright incompetence of the Russian army. So, what exactly happened in the past two months of fighting that has caused upwards of 15,000 Russian troops to perish (North Atlantic Treaty Organization, 2022), the failure of predicted rapid Ukrainian capitulation, and the loss of billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment (Oryx, 2022)?

When Adolf Hitler designed the massive invasion of the Soviet Union, nicknamed Operation Barbarossa, the plan relied on the completion of multiple factors at once such as weak Russian coordination, poor civilian morale, capitulation of the nation upon the capture of Moscow, and the end of the war before the start of the winter in 1941. All of the aforementioned assumptions ultimately sealed the fate of Hitler’s doomed empire as none of them held true, similar to what is being witnessed in Ukraine at this very moment. Vladimir Putin banked off Ukraine capitulating to Russian forces in just two days upon the capture of Kyiv, the capital city of Ukraine and urban center for about 2.9 million civilians (Statistics Service of Ukraine, 2021). The capture of Kyiv was thought to be possible through rapid armored pincer movements carried out by some of the Russian militaries most advanced armored units and the utilization of the “elite” VDV Airborne forces. This was exemplified when on February 24th, the first day of the full Russian invasion, VDV forces were tasked with capturing a number of Ukrainian airports, namely Antonov Airport, just six miles northwest of Kyiv.

Overhead view of Antonov Airport (Oleksiynaumov)

Antonov Airport was an absolutely vital location for Ukrainian troops to hold as it could facilitate the transfer of thousands of Russian troops if it were captured. Unbeknownst to the Russian VDV units preparing to air-assault Antonov Airport, Ukraine had amassed a sizeable defensive force to prevent such an action thanks to the utilization of United States intelligence sharing (Wall Street Journal, 2022), a common theme that has so heavily influenced the outcome of the war so far. To add on, Russian leadership were sending hundreds of their most elite troops without the necessary support to hold up such a critical operation. The lack of Russian air superiority proved pivotal to the beginning stages of the war and also as a complete embarrassment to the world’s third largest air force thanks to amazing Ukrainian resistance both from the ground and air. Once Russian VDV forces were repelled at Antonov Airport, many of the survivors resorted to fleeing into the nearby forests as a way to escape as there had been no plans put forth to reinforce or withdraw the cut off troops sent by Russian leadership. Unfortunately, on February 25th, Russia launched a second wave of several hundred VDV air-assault troops combined with the support of mechanized forces advancing from the Belarussian border and successfully captured Antonov Airport. By that time however, Antonov Airport became an irrelevant piece of land as it could no longer be used as a landing ground for Russian logistical supply and the forward deployment of thousands of ground troops.

Satellite image illustrating the destruction of Antonov Airport (Maxar Technologies)

As a result, Russia became bogged down in various sectors of Northern Ukraine and were unable to effectively supply its army while simultaneously having to deal with the reality that a rapid capture of Kyiv was no longer tenable. What ensued was the creation of the infamous 40-mile-long supply convoy that was intended to aid Russian forces logistical needs but in turn created yet another massive embarrassment for Russian forces that were stagnated in Northern Ukraine by stiff resistance.

Segment of the infamous 40-mile-long convoy (Maxar Technologies)

Faced with the actuality that Russia was now drawn into a much longer war than expected, commanders on the ground for Russian forces were in dire need of fuel, food, munitions, and other basic supplies necessary for even limited military action. The 40-mile-long convoy was a series of logistical vehicles trapped in a massive traffic jam along the roads of Northern Ukraine thanks to fierce Ukrainian ambushes, Bayraktar TB2 drone attacks, and Russia's own shortcomings of required fuel. The massive convoy perpetuated a major stall in Russian advances towards Kyiv while also allowing Ukrainian special forces to attack lightly defended positions along roads. Once regrouped and supplied to necessary standards after the dissolution of the 40-mile-long convoy, Russian troops in Northern Ukraine took to advancing once more towards Kyiv and attempted encirclement. Unfortunately for Russia, the pincer movements that were expected to link up around Kyiv had been lackluster in their progress from the beginning stages of the war, where in the East, Ukrainian troops held the city of Chernihiv with undeniable heroism. The failure to capture Chernihiv delayed the Eastern Russian pincer movement as the city is located on a vital road towards the city of Kyiv.

The now slain Russian Lieutenant General and Commander of the 49th combined arms army, Yakov Rezantsev (TASS News Agency)

Russian generals, now comprehending the fact that their armies were immersed in a massive war while still maintaining ongoing logistical failures and tactical defeats, often decided to lead with the troops as a way to mitigate the frontline crisis, a decision that proved dreadful for multiple generals. As of May 2nd, Russia has endured the loss of a reported 12 generals, the most notable being Lieutenant General Yakov Rezantsev, commander of the 49th combined arms army as reported by Ukranian officials. For context, the United States have only lost two generals since the end of the Vietnam War, an amazing feat considering the nation has been at war for almost the entirety of time since Vietnam. Russian generals have tried to maintain troop morale and also readjust supply issues but have consistently met horrific deaths at the hands of Ukrainian forces via timely artillery strikes, airstrikes, and even sniper shots. However, not only are Russian generals threatened, but even the nation’s leading naval officers. The failures to eliminate Ukrainian air-defenses and capture Odesa, a city in South-Western Ukraine on the coast of the Black Sea, have put Russian naval forces in quite a quagmire and directly led to the deaths of two reported naval officers: Captain 1st Rank Andrei Paliy, deputy commander of the Russian Black Sea fleet, and Anton Kurpin, commander of the now sunk Russian guided missile cruiser the “Moskva”. While Ukraine has a unit specifically designed for intelligence gathering of enemy high-ranking officers, it is incredibly likely the United States has facilitated real-time intelligence sharing with Ukraine on the whereabouts of some of Russia’s most important assets, a move that was all but confirmed by U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. The sharing of intelligence has most likely been the biggest driving factor in how Ukraine has defended its nation so well, besides the obvious determination of the citizens themselves.

The now sunk Russian Black Sea Fleet flagship, "Moskva"

To further illustrate how critical of a role United States intelligence has played in the Ukrainian struggle, an analysis of the sinking of the Moskva must be highlighted. The Moskva, a guided missile cruiser and flagship of Russia's Black Sea fleet, was sunk by two Ukrainian made R-360 Neptune anti-ship missiles, an incredible feat considering the capabilities of the now shattered Russian ship. Having the displacement of over 11,000 tons, the Moskva is the largest ship sunk as a result of combat since the Argentinian ship General Belgrano fell to the bottom of the ocean over 40 years ago. How did Russia's flagship worth an estimated $750 million (Forbes, 2022) become a home for the fish? An hour prior to the targeting of the Moskva, the United States deployed a Boeing P-8 Poseidon aircraft in the range of the ship for reconnaissance. Designated as a maritime patrol aircraft, the P-8 has the capability to determine the readiness of the Moskva's air-defense systems especially if Ukrainian claims that they utilized a TB2 drone to distract the vessel reign true. The combination of United States intelligence of the location of the Moskva and its combat readiness mixed with Ukrainian strategic prowess through the use of a TB2 drone single-handedly led to the destruction of the Moskva, the single most embarrassing event for Russia yet. The TB2 drone distraction paralyzed the ship's ability to respond to the two incoming Neptune missiles, of which the target was supplied by the aforementioned United States intelligence. As a result of the sinking of the Moskva, Russia is now extremely unlikely to carry out an amphibious assault on southwestern Ukraine, specifically Odesa, an extremely important target for Putin's forces. The sheer fact that Russia lost its Black Sea fleet flagship to a nation without a navy is almost unfathomable but now the reality.

U.S. Army soldier fires a Javelin missile system (U.S. Army)

While United States intelligence sharing has been vital, it is not the only major contribution from the nation and other western countries. Among actual material donations is the supply of Javelin anti-tank and Stinger anti-air missiles. Javelin anti-tank and stinger anti-air missiles, produced by Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics respectively, were perfect supplements for Ukrainian defenses against Russian military doctrine. As Russian doctrine focuses on mass armored advances through the utilization of pincer movements in open ground, Ukrainian military leaders focused on practicing a tactic called defense-in-depth. As a famous military tactic, defense-in-depth focuses on the defending army to give up land to reduce likelihood of being cut off and surrounded by swift enemy advances, while also trying to effectively culminate staggered defenses in more urban regions. What results is the invading army creating massive land strides in the beginning days of the war but running into insane turbulence once having to face cities and urban regions, areas that are swarmed with defenders provided by standard defense forces and civilians themselves. The focus on defending urban regions negated Russian superiority of armored personnel numbers as the invading forces no longer had the advantage of maneuverability and were faced with growing logistical issues as Ukrainian guerrilla forces behind the front lines wreaked havoc on supply lines. To add on, Russian air forces were unable to effectively counter tactics (even if they had the power too) that represent defense-in-depth mainly because airstrikes on cities often produce lackluster results. These aforementioned results are exemplified best by one of Russia’s own cities: Stalingrad (current day Volgograd). During the second world war, the city of Stalingrad was cut off and encircled by invading German forces but proved to be one of the most important defensive positions for the Soviets across the Eastern front. Prior to the actual ground combat that resulted in Stalingrad, the city was laid to ruin by the German Luftwaffe, inadvertently creating perfect defensive positions for Soviet forces and citizens. Buildings that were incinerated debuted new sniper, machine gun, and anti-tank positions while simultaneously providing cover for new routes accessible only to the defenders throughout the city. The experiences of Soviet soldiers in Stalingrad draw parallels to what Ukrainian troops have experienced in the destroyed city of Mariupol. Nearly the entirety of Mariupol lay in ruin and yet still, after a two month-long siege, an organized resistance remained in the Azovstal Steel Plant, tying down thousands of Russian troops from the upcoming offensive operations in the Donbas region.

Remains of a shot down Russian Ka-52 helicopter, Hostomel, February 24 (Efram Lukatsky / AP)

Finally, and most remarkably, the failure of the Russian air force to gain air superiority directly hindered offensive operations to an extraordinary extent. Russian missile strikes on the first days of the full invasion failed to eliminate critical communications infrastructure, destroy the bulk of Ukraine’s anti-air capabilities, and shatter the much smaller Ukrainian air force. The preceding failures were some of the most vital successes of the United States led campaign against Iraq in the Persian-Gulf war. Prior to the initiation of the ground war, a massive aerial bombardment targeting crucial Iraqi communications infrastructure and anti-air capabilities effectively paralyzed Saddam Hussein’s military, ultimately leading to the complete destruction of his forces at historically low United States losses. Russia, having witnessed the United States unparalleled successes, attempted to replicate the strategy by commencing the beginning of their invasion in similar fashion to the Persian-Gulf war. However, little success was exemplified as launched missiles had stunning failure rates, Ukrainian anti-air capabilities remained largely intact, and their military leadership could still productively communicate with units across the nation. Failure rates of up to 60% on certain precision guided missiles will obviously not reflect well on the battlefield but highlights the realities Russia faces with its poorly designed, aging military hardware (Reuters, 2022).


While the war in Ukraine is far from over, little has been done by Russia to mitigate much of the aforementioned deficiencies likely due to the outright inability to do so or lack of coordination from the highest leaders of the nation. One thing is clear though, Ukraine has reduced Russia’s military might to that of a puny regional power, or perhaps reveal Russia for its true form. Once thought to be a frightening beast in terms of military might, Russia has now been exposed for being nothing more than a paper tiger.


References

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. (2022, April 25). World military expenditure passes $2 trillion for first time. SIPRI. Retrieved May 3, 2022, from https://www.sipri.org/media/press-release/2022/world-military-expenditure-passes-2-trillion-first-time#:~:text=Russia%20increases%20military%20budget%20in,forces%20along%20the%20Ukrainian%20border.


Qena, N. (n.d.). ABC News. Retrieved May 3, 2022, from https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/nato-7000-15000-russian-troops-dead-ukraine-83642086


Oryx. (2022, May 3). Attack on Europe: Documenting Russian equipment losses during the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. Oryx. Retrieved May 3, 2022, from https://www.oryxspioenkop.com/2022/02/attack-on-europe-documenting-equipment.html


Statistics Service of Ukraine. (n.d.). Чисельність наявного населення України на 1 січня. Number of Present Population of Ukraine, as of January 1. Retrieved May 4, 2022, from http://database.ukrcensus.gov.ua/PXWEB2007/ukr/publ_new1/2021/zb_chuselnist%202021.pdf


Levin/reuters, M. (2022, April 19). Vladimir Putin's 20-year March to war in Ukraine-and how the west mishandled it. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved May 3, 2022, from https://www.wsj.com/articles/vladimir-putins-20-year-march-to-war-in-ukraineand-how-the-west-mishandled-it-11648826461?mod=hp_trending_now_article_pos1


Liebermann, O., Starr, B., Herb, J., & Lillis, K. B. (2022, April 7). US giving Intel to Ukraine for operations in Donbas, Defense secretary says. CNN. Retrieved May 3, 2022, from https://www.cnn.com/2022/04/07/politics/us-intel-ukraine-donbas-operations/index.html


Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance. (n.d.). Exclusive: U.S. assesses up to 60% failure rate for some Russian missiles, officials say. Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance. Retrieved May 3, 2022, from https://missiledefenseadvocacy.org/threat-news/exclusive-u-s-assesses-up-to-60-failure-rate-for-some-russian-missiles-officials-say/#:~:text=WASHINGTON%2C%20March%2025%20(Reuters),of%20the%20intelligence%20told%20Reuters.


Forbes.ua. (2022, May 5). Вартість підбитого крейсера "Москва" – $750 млн. Forbes склав рейтинг найдорожчої російської техніки, знищеної на війні. - Forbes.ua. Retrieved May 5, 2022, from https://forbes.ua/inside/vartist-zatoplenogo-kreysera-moskva-750-mln-forbes-sklav-reyting-naydorozhchoi-vorozhoi-tekhniki-znishchenoi-na-viyni-14042022-5442




1 comment
Teen Aspect (1)_edited_edited.png