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The Russian Army Has To Be Destroyed
Nothing else will stop Putin
Ukraine has won the battle of Kyiv. After weeks of heavy losses from a determined defense, Russian forces were finally forced out of exurban zones around the city, leaving behind a devastated landscape covered in death without ever completing their encirclement.
Broken tanks that were scheduled to roll through downtown on Day Two litter the roads and fields approaching the city from three directions on Day 39. Grisly scenes are everywhere. Russian paratroopers killed in the first hours of the war were apparently left unburied in Hostumel despite weeks of Russian occupation.
Most horrifying of all are the civilians, many with hands bound, some tortured and murdered by death squads in a campaign of ethnic cleansing. Putin calls the mass graves “de-Nazification.” International law calls them “war crimes.” Europe will call it an emergency.
Moral and logistical collapse never look pretty, but the effect of such an encampment zone on Russian morale must have been indescribable. Indiscipline and looting have clearly wasted much Russian combat strength. Officers were murdered by their own soldiers. This is no way to run an army.
Mariupol remains under siege, and the Russian threat in the east is growing as it recedes elsewhere. Who knows what further horrors await us. Nevertheless, Russia spent its best combat strength trying to invade Ukraine everywhere at once, and now it is not clear that Putin can concentrate enough force to launch an overwhelming attack anywhere, anymore.
After seeing the images of Bucha and Irpin, Europe will have new impetus to wean themselves from Russian fossil fuels. The flow of aid and hardware will redouble. A more immediate problem for Putin, however, is the globalization of his military supply chain. For example, a fair number of Russia’s weapon systems are built with Ukrainian components.
Note the irony that Ukraine has probably captured more tanks and armored vehicles than they have lost in battle, and because they are better-connected to the aforementioned global supply chain, the Ukrainian Army is in a better position to repair and upgrade those tanks than the Russian Army.
The Kremlin also cannot match the spending power of Ukraine’s western friends, at least not for long. Ukrainians are showing up to battle with state-of-the-art antitank and antiaircraft missile weapons. Meanwhile, most of Russia’s prewar supply of artillery ammunition and precision-guided munitions is probably spent now, and where will Putin get more?
I am not claiming that these problems are insurmountable. A Russian is just as capable of improvisation as anyone else. Russian tankers using small drones to see the direction of incoming enemy fire is an example of democratized arms in 21st Century warfare and a military revolution in progress. However inhumane, the Russian Army consists of thinking, planning human beings.
Rather, Russian force structure is not nimble enough to invent a whole new way of war on short notice. Doctrines are decades out of date. “Since 1941, their tactics have not changed,” the Ukrainian general commanding the successful defense of Cherniv says. It has made his job much easier.
Russia has lost more than ten percent of its combat manpower, which is the normal breaking point for armies. Many units have apparently been hit harder. Elite Russian forces have suffered the most disproportionate casualties of all, and so-called contractniki soldiers have barely outperformed the draftees. A new class of regular conscripts is scheduled for training soon, but that is going to take months just to produce basic soldiers.
Of course, Ukraine has the initiative now. Rescuing Mariupol and denying Putin his Crimean land bridge are reasonable goals, especially with a more vigorous western approach to the problem. Counterattacks in Donbass can be organized faster than whatever Putin has in mind.
The new Russian offensive in the east today is likely to go through the same cycle we have already observed. A Russian advance will brutalize and level Ukraine while Ukrainian tactics decimate and isolate Russian columns. Attrition and disorder will eventually result in sudden withdrawal, leaving more war crimes and lots of dead Russians behind.
Friends ask me whether it is possible to remove Putin from power in Russia. This gets the problem exactly wrong. Putin is one man; our problem is Putin’s Russia. To alter the course of Russian history away from the endless violation and annihilation of Russian neighbors, tens of thousands of Russian soldiers must die. This is the simplest, least expensive choice with the smallest risk for the world. It will emerge this week as the default policy option in Washington and Brussels.
Whatever his popularity with Russians today, Putin has now fired the incompetent generals and flattering intelligence heads who told him what he wanted to hear. Putting a new general in charge of the war only leaves one scapegoat between himself and the next military debacle, however. Each ensuing defeat will require more victims. Enough defeats, enough dead Russians, and Putin will have no one left to blame — or to protect him.
So let us be cautious about sweeping pronouncements that Russian failure has supposedly proven tank warfare is obsolete. A handful of plucky Ukrainian tanks was able to resist a whole Russian corps in one small town. Imagine what Ukraine can achieve once they are equipped and supported for more aggressive operations.
Breaking Russian armies is now a moral imperative. The whole world must clamor and work for a second defeat of Russian arms, and then a third, and then a fourth, until the Russian Army has been reduced and Putin right along with it.