After Four Months: Russian Combat Losses

By unleashing a war and then being unable to win it in the first few weeks, Putin has disappointed both those who saw the war as a grave mistake and those who believe the regime is not tough or decisive enough. There is now an unspoken consensus that either the war should have been won immediately using all available means, or not started in the first place. 

Today, it seems to many within the power vertical that Putin bit off more than he could chew, and then wasn’t resolute enough to see it through. The president is caught between a rock and a hard place: ending the war is not an option (it would be seen as a defeat for Russia), but nor can he bring himself to finish it once and for all.

Trouble at Russia’s Power Vertical

Russia has lost about 35,000 men so far in its unprovoked and undeclared war of extermination against Ukraine.  Russia’s air force has lost so many pilots that it is now reduced to using retired pilots employed by private contractors.

Russia’s Attention Span Problem

Russian tactics and strategy remain inflexible and predictable. Having identified Severodonetsk as a vital objective, just as Mariupol was before, failure cannot be contemplated, and so all available firepower and manpower has been hurled at it to break the Ukrainian resistance and then prevent the defenders retreating. This has come at a heavy cost for Ukraine and questions have been asked in Kyiv about the wisdom of committing so much of its own military capability to the defence of a city that has acquired strategic relevance only because it seems to matter so much to Moscow. Yet, the Ukrainian military insists, the effort has been worthwhile: Russian forces have suffered the greater attrition; this defence has delayed advances elsewhere, as Ukraine waits for – and now starts to receive – much-needed Western weaponry; and it has diverted Russian capabilities from places where Ukraine is now able to start moving on to the offensive. Evidence of this offensive is seen in Ukrainian advances in the Kherson area.

Paralysis in Moscow

As long as Ukrainians choose to fight against the brutal invader, this war will not end. Putin started the war, but now that he is in he is not quite sure what to do. So he blunders on, with his own health in decay and Russia’s health similarly beginning to suffer even more than before the war.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February has failed so far, with enormous losses to Russia in terms of combat personnel, military equipment and the reputations for quality/reliability/effectiveness of Russian weapons and forces. Even the Ukrainians were surprised at how unprepared the invaders were for combat and dealing with Ukrainian superiority in weapons (often Western), leadership (all Ukrainian) and tactics. Russia’s leadership, especially supreme leader Vladimir Putin, was delusional about the continuing lack of military progress in Ukraine. Even Russians who thought restoring independent (since 1991) Ukraine to Russian control was a good thing and worth fighting for, began losing confidence in Putin’s ability to make that happen. Each time failure in Ukraine became obvious, Putin would come up with a new reason why Russia was winning, and each of these was soon shown to be false. Their currently alleged key to Russian victory is the disagreements among NATO members about whether Ukraine can win a military victory. NATO is in agreement about the Russia’s inability to win in Ukraine but many politicians in some of the larger, and more distant from the fighting NATO nations (United States, Germany, France and Italy) are openly doubting the Ukrainian ability to regain control of lost territory. Putin supports this attitude by continuing to threaten use of nuclear weapons if Russia is faced with losing all its seized territory in Ukraine.

One thing nearly all Russians agree on is that using nukes to avoid defeat in Ukraine is not going to happen. A majority of Russians now openly oppose the war even though Putin quickly created a law to make such public dissent illegal. That law’s failure soon became obvious in many ways. First, there are a growing number of anti-war demonstrations and physical attacks on military facilities, especially recruiting stations. Refusing to report when conscripted became more common. Another form of defiance is veterans of the Ukraine fighting providing details, based on personal experience, of why Russian forces are failing.


The longer Ukraine fights, the deeper the cracks inside the Kremlin and in the Moscow elite base. Putin’s mafia schtick and his reign of terror assassinations against Russian opponents, has carried him this far. But for how much longer?

Russia is trying but has been unable to target Western weapons flowing into Ukraine, including longer-range systems that Kyiv hopes will be decisive on the battlefield, a senior U.S. defense official said on Friday.

A River of Better Weapons

By using cities such as Mariupol and Severodonetsk as “tar babies” for Putin’s “Br’er Rabbit,” Ukraine has implemented the tactics of diversion and attrition to drag Russian forces back and forth willy-nilly around the battlefield, reducing Moscow’s fighting capacity at every turn. What appears to the uninitiated to be “Russia winning” is actually Russian commanders reacting blindly to irrationally changing objectives handed down from a clueless leadership in Moscow.

Ukraine would have never gone to war to recover the stolen territories of Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Until now. Now, everything has changed. Finland and Sweden are moving to bolster the NATO defense against violent Russian expansionism. The Ukrainian-Polish alliance is likely to yield strange and unforeseen dividends. Stay tuned.

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