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'Our Generals Are Untrainable': A Winter Degradation By Fire For Russian Forces
Leaning into Ukrainian attrition strategy
Buildings filled with Russians have been exploding in occupied parts of Ukraine for longer than Russians realize, according to Igor Girkin.
Reacting to the HIMARS strike on a Russian barracks at Makiivka three days ago which reputedly killed as many as 600 Russian troops, Girkin avowed that it was “not the first such case — there were also many such cases last year. But our generals are untrainable in principle.”
Girkin, a former Russian intelligence agent involved in the “hybrid war” invasion of Ukraine in 2014, has been charged with war crimes for the shootdown of MH 17. A fanatic Russian nationalist, Girkin has nevertheless been very candid about various failings of the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) throughout the current invasion.
The strike on a requisitioned vocational college killed Russian mobiks, or mobilized troops, and destroyed a large cache of ammunition co-located there.
Strikes like this were an original design purpose of NATO M30 series rocket systems such as HIMARS. A Cold War weapon system, intended to hit concentrations of Russian troops and ammunition, has been used exactly as intended, mostly producing the intended effects: Russian formations have largely dispersed, ammunition is seldom held in massive dumps near the front lines, aviation is based further to the rear.
Yet Russian generals seem to remain “untrainable,” in Girkin’s words, because this keeps happening.
To understand why, begin with the emphatic targeting of Russian headquarters with M30 series rocket strikes ever since HIMARS first arrived in Ukraine last summer.
High-ranking casualties get all the attention, but each of these strikes has killed or incapacitated the staff who do all the actual work for colonels and generals. Issues that fall under “training” in western armies, such as where to house a battalion of soldiers as well as a stockpile of high explosives, are left in the hands of new, less competent, less trained, less capable people.
A rolling effect emerges. Each HIMARS strike on a Russian command post during July 2022 has helped create opportunities for strikes on Russian positions in January 2023. Russian forces are being degraded over time, but not because they are untrainable.
The trainers — the experienced staff — are dead, and the new staff are being taught on the fly, with a book of rules written before last July.
Ukrainian officials have been careful lately to dampen expectations about Russian mobilization potential fizzling out.
In mid-December, President Zelenskyy and all his high-level defense officials said in unison that the Kremlin plans a new offensive this year, probably through Belarus.
Commenting on Russia's partial mobilization of some 300,000 troops, Reznikov suggested that half, usually after minimal training, were being used to reinforce forces after a series of battlefield failures, while the rest were being more thoroughly prepared for future offensives. "Another part of the mobilized, approximately 150,000, began their training courses in different camps, Reznikov said.
He stated that he expects Russia to continue recruiting its citizens after the partial mobilization in October, describing the tactics of Russian commanders as a meat grinder that involves as many people as possible in the fighting in the hope of overcoming the shortage of Ukrainian forces. The Kremlin is trying to find new solutions to achieve victory, Reznikov said.
In the Economist magazine, General Zaluzhnyi issued a similar warning, rejecting some Western claims that Putin's mobilization has been largely unsuccessful, and Ukraine's Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar warned against gloating over recent Russian military defeats.
Please forgive a sports metaphor, dear reader. This has the flavor of football coaches “po-mouthin’” their own teams before a game. Whenever Las Vegas has Alabama +7.5 against the Gators, and Nick Saban worries aloud about whether his defense is really ready to be number one in the country, he is “po-mouthin'.” Lowering expectations. Preventing a sense of disappointment later, should his team “only” beat Florida by a touchdown or a field goal.
Managing expectations against Russian mobilization potential would be a daunting public communications challenge even without questions about the quality of equipment and organization for those 150,000 or so remaining mobiks, minus the battalion just destroyed at Makiivka.
Ukraine has an attrition strategy to deal with Vladimir Putin’s late mobilization wave. Russian mobilization failures, such as the training and doctrine failure that led to the Makiivka strike, lean right into that strategy.
Russian sources have tried to blame soldiers using their phones for bringing down the HIMARS strike. A concentration point for 21st Century troops should have its own secure 5G uplink. Alternately, Telegrammers have said the townspeople are hostile and likely sharing target locations with Ukrainian forces. Shocking!
Both excuses can be dismissed. Makiivka is a purely Russian mobilization failure. The absence of a wireless hotspot for the troops to use is a training and equipment failure. The use of an urban location under potential enemy observation, let alone within HIMARS range of the enemy, is a training and doctrine failure.
Belarus is an unlikely participant in Putin’s war. My impression from weeks of watching OSINT feeds is that Belarus has simply provided much of the training, as well as some equipment, for the new Russian formations.
These formations have been coming into the “meat grinder” since October, deteriorating under Ukrainian fire. If history is any guide, the next wave of mobiks will once again come into the meat grinder, perhaps with better training, but the same or worse equipment, and the same or worse leadership.
If Putin does embark on another round of mobilization this month, as rumored, then the new formations to come after the first mobilization will likely be the same or worse in every respect. Perhaps the longtime reader will now understand why I have been so focused on the overlong delay in mobilization, and why it has been a potentially fatal error for Putin’s regime.
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