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War in Ukraine: Russia conducts the offensive from a distance, without commanders on the battlefield

Russia is conducting its military campaign against Ukraine from Moscow, without a central war commander on the ground to call the shots, according to US officials who have studied the five-week war.

That approach can go a long way toward explaining why the Russian war effort has struggled against tougher-than-expected Ukrainian resistancesources noted.

The lack of a unifying military leader in Ukraine has meant that Russian air, ground and sea units are not in sync.

His disjointed battlefield campaigns have been plagued by poor logistics, low morale and between 7,000 and 15,000 military deaths, senior US officials and independent analysts say.

He has also contributed to the death of at least seven Russian generalsas high-ranking officers are pushed to the front lines to untangle tactical problems that Western militaries would leave to younger officers or higher-ranking enlisted personnel.

A senior US official said NATO officials and the intelligence community had spent weeks waiting for a Russian war commander to emerge.

No one has, leading Western officials to conclude that the men making the decisions are far from the fight, back in Moscow: Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu; General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces; and even President Vladimir Putin himself.

Ukrainian soldiers stand in front of a burning Russian tank outside kyiv on Thursday. Photo: AFP


On Wednesday, Joe Biden administration officials, citing declassified US intelligence, said Putin had been misinformed by his advisers about the Russian military’s problems in Ukraine.

The intelligence, US officials said, also showed what appeared to be growing tension between Putin and Shoigu, once one of the most trusted members of the Kremlin’s inner circle.

Russian officials have disputed the US intelligence claim, with the Kremlin on Thursday calling it a “complete misunderstanding” of the situation that could have “bad consequences.”

But it is difficult to conduct a military campaign 500 miles away, US military officials said.

Distance alone, they said, can lead to a disconnect between fighting troops and war plans that are made in Moscow. Instead of simplifying the process, they said, Russia has created a military machine that cannot adapt to a swift and nimble Ukrainian resistance.

A second senior US official said Russian soldiers, who had been taught not to make a single move without explicit instructions from their superiors, had been frustrated on the battlefield, while Putin, Shoigu and General Gerasimov remained plotting more and more.

instructions from afar

This top-down approach means Moscow relays instructions to generals in the field, who then relay them to troops, who are told to follow those instructions no matter the situation on the ground.

“It shows in the mistakes that are being made,” said retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark, who served as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander for Europe during the Kosovo war.

Last week, Ukrainian forces blew up the Russian warship Orsk, which had been docked in southern Ukraine. Describing the incident, General Clark asked, “Who would be crazy enough to dock a ship in a harbor” before first securing the area?

That the Russian planners who sent the Orsk to the port did not pay attention to the potential danger shows that no one questions the decisions coming from above, officials said. The troops below are not empowered to point out flaws in strategy that should be obvious, they said.

Military analysts said that a complex chain of events, originating with a broken command structure beginning in Moscow, had led to the death of Russian generals.

A Ukrainian soldier, in a trench on the outskirts of the city of Kharkiv.  Photo: AFP

A Ukrainian soldier, in a trench on the outskirts of the city of Kharkiv. Photo: AFP

America’s vision

“I don’t see the kind of coherent organizational architecture that one would have expected given the months of exercises and presumably even longer planning period before the invasion,” said retired Gen. David H. Petraeus, who served as head of Central Command. of the Army and as the top commander in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said in an email.

In an American warfare command structure, a four-star field commander would coordinate and synchronize all subordinate air, ground, and naval forces, as well as special operations and cyber operations. The campaign would have a primary goal, a center of gravity, with operations to support that goal.

In the case of the deaths of some of the Russian generals, for example, the problem originated far from the battlefield, when Moscow did not respond quickly enough after Ukraine jammed Russian communications, analysts said.

Putin’s own dishonest description of the Russian armed forces’ mission may have damaged his ability to carry out the effort, which the Russian president initially publicly portrayed as a limited military operation.

General Clark recalled teaching a class on Ukrainian generals in 2016 in kyiv and tried to explain what an American military “after action review” was. He told them that after a battle involving US troops, “everyone got together and analyzed what happened.”

Vladimir Putin, during a video conference with the Security team, at his residence on the outskirts of Moscow.  Photo: AP

Vladimir Putin, during a video conference with the Security team, at his residence on the outskirts of Moscow. Photo: AP

“The colonel has to confess his mistakes in front of the captain,” General Clark said. “He says, ‘Maybe I took too long to give an order.'”

After listening to him, the Ukrainians, General Clark recounted, told him that this could not work. “They said, ‘We have been taught in the Soviet system that information must be protected and we lie to each other,'” he recalled.

Putin’s decision to send Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov to the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol this week for a victory lap despite the fact that Mariupol has not yet fallen demonstrates the Russian president’s continued belief that the further battle great is information, said Andrei. Soldatov, an expert on Russian security services.

The feared Chechen “is a general, not a real military commander,” he said, adding: “This shows that what Putin still believes is that propaganda is the most important thing here.”

Russian officials are now indicating that Putin could be reducing your ambitions of war and focusing on the eastern Donbas region, though military analysts said it remains to be seen whether that would constitute a significant shift or a diversionary ploy before another offensive.

The Russian military has already committed more than half of its total combat forces to the fight, including its most elite units. Moscow is now drawing on reinforcements from outside Russia, including Georgia, as well as mercenaries from the Wagner Group, a private military company, in eastern Ukraine.

Putin also signed a decree calling up 134,000 conscripts.

“They don’t seem to have a consistent concept of the amount of force it will take to defeat Ukraine’s regular and territorial forces in urban terrain, and hold what they destroy or invade,” said Jeffrey J. Schloesser, a retired two-time military officer. Army stars. general who commanded US forces in eastern Afghanistan. “It will take hundreds of thousands more Russian or allied troops to do it.”

Source: The New York Times


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