Russia's 'garbage' army is down, but not out
Ukraine is on the attack. So naturally, they want guided missiles.
THE RUSSIAN MILITARY HAS PROVEN its land army is “garbage” yet again, a senior U.S. military officer assigned to NATO recently told me. I had asked for his perspective on a Ukrainian military counteroffensive that had retaken thousands of square miles from the Russians and destroyed or captured hundreds of tanks.
The stunning “rout” of Russian forces in Kharkiv was so undeniable that the Kremlin even acknowledged the defeat—a first in a war that many analysts assumed would persist as a World War I-style match, with both sides hurling rockets and artillery from fixed lines for the foreseeable future. That grinding war of attrition ended after the Ukrainians launched an impressive attack in the northeast that liberated many of their countrymen and showed the world they could win.
“I felt joy for the Ukrainian people for the first time in months,” said the senior NATO officer.
Ukraine’s recent battlefield gains were astonishing and provided a massive morale boost. Kyiv captured more territory in a week than the Russian invaders had in the last five months. And according to retired Australian Army Maj. Gen. Mick Ryan, the “strategic initiative” in the war has likely shifted to Ukraine.
Still, Russia’s army may be down, but it is not out. Russian President Vladimir Putin still holds dangerous cards, and may perhaps destroy critical infrastructure, further attack civilians to “demoralize the population,” or use nuclear weapons.
“When you push an aggressive person who has an extreme nationalist ideology [like Putin],” said the NATO officer, “When he’s pushed into a corner, what’s he gonna do next?”
That seems to be the question on everyone’s mind.
“The Russian military now knows it can lose,” said Michael Kofman, an expert on the Russian military.
“It’s very clearly a dire situation for them.” And now, the blame game has begun.
“Kremlin sources are now working to clear Putin of any responsibility for the defeat, instead blaming the loss of almost all of occupied Kharkiv Oblast on underinformed military advisors within Putin’s circle,” reads the Sept. 13 assessment from the Institute for the Study of War.
“The successful Ukrainian counter-offensive around Kharkiv Oblast is prompting Russian servicemen, occupation authorities, and [military bloggers] to panic,” the ISW report noted as a key takeaway.
Several Russian lawmakers have “expressed concern” over the dire situation in Ukraine and are pushing Putin to finally call his “special military operation” a war.
Doing so would allow the Kremlin to order a full mobilization of soldiers to replenish its ranks with conscripts, though that would take significant time and would be deeply unpopular.
Russia’s short-term play? Intensify the patriotic rhetoric and propaganda to get soldiers to join the military through “deception, coercion, or promised financial rewards.”
The Kremlin has also adopted narratives of Russian military bloggers who are urging attacks on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure.
“Kremlin-controlled and Kremlin-influenced media are now openly calling for an intensive missile campaign against Ukrainian civilian critical infrastructure and transit routes, an idea with broad support among many milbloggers.”
The Ruck is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
MEANWHILE BACK AT THE PENTAGON, officials are taking a victory lap of sorts.
“It’s not surprising to us that they [the Ukrainians] have pushed as quickly as they have,” Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, the top Pentagon spokesman, said Tuesday. This recent New York Times headline may explain the lack of surprise: Ukrainian Officials Drew on U.S. Intelligence to Plan Counteroffensive.
Notably, Ryder fielded several questions from reporters about sending additional military aid to Eastern Europe, including ATACMS, or Army Tactical Missile System, which would help Ukraine strike high-value targets deeper into Russian-held territory. The U.S. has so far resisted, fearing the guided missiles may potentially be used to strike inside Russia and spark a wider conflict with the West.
“We will continue to have those conversations,” Ryder said, adding that the U.S. has been in constant dialogue about Ukraine’s needs. The U.S. has delivered about $15 billion in weapons, ammunition, and other supplies “as quickly as we can,” he said, and there won’t be any “letting up on the throttle.”
But the U.S. and other Western governments will likely be under pressure to give more. The Ukrainians want advanced tanks from Germany, for example, and a new request to U.S. lawmakers lists 29 types of weapon systems and ammunition the Ukrainians say they need ahead of a long-term campaign to kick Russia out for good, according to The Wall Street Journal.
“The only way to radically change the strategic situation is, without a doubt, for the Armed Forces of Ukraine to launch several consecutive, and ideally, simultaneous counterattacks during the 2023 campaign,” top Ukrainian military officials wrote in a recent strategy statement, according to WSJ.
“We are making significant progress here. We're very happy about that,” Eddy Etue, a U.S. Marine veteran who joined the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces in April and now runs drone reconnaissance and assault missions against Russian forces with his unit in the south near Mykolaiv, told THE RUCK.
“However, this isn't over. We've still got Crimea, Zaporizhzhia, and all of Donbas—Mariupol, Donetsk, Luhansk—to take back,” Etue said. “Rest assured, we will take it back. I say that not as a Westerner or American. I say that as an extremely proud member of the Ukrainian Defense Forces. The Ukrainian people will not stop until all territory is recovered. No exceptions.
“But as inept as the Russians are, it will be hard fought,” he said. “Especially with winter approaching.”
🚨 Open Sources
I AM CONSTANTLY talking to people, scouring the web, and checking my phone and email for the latest insights, quotes, links, docs, reports, and other all-source intel from the national security world. A huge amount hits my radar screen. Here’s what I think is worth putting on yours:
The U.S. Navy has ordered an investigation into the grueling SEAL training course in Coronado, California, amid allegations of physical abuse and a lack of oversight. A letter obtained by The New York Times ordered investigators to look into “safety measures, the qualifications of instructors and medical personnel and its drug testing policies for students. It also asked what, if anything, had changed at the course since February, when a 24-year-old former elite college athlete, Kyle Mullen, died hours after completing its most punishing phase. The vice chief gave investigators 30 days to report their findings.”
The top U.S. Army officer in the Pacific is “just going to leave” a couple of rocket launchers on a Japanese island about 600 miles from Taiwan. Gen. Charles Flynn told Reuters last week that two high mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS) would be left at Amami Oshima until the next time U.S. and Japanese troops train together.
"It's an opportunity for us to keep capabilities forward," Flynn told Reuters. HIMARS range about 300 miles.
A new CRS In Focus report explains why directed-energy weapons such as lasers and high-powered microwaves may “dazzle” but not in a good way. Such weapons, which the U.S., China, and Russia are developing, might be used to temporarily disable or “damage satellites and sensors,” according to the report, potentially screwing up intel-gathering, military communications, weapons targeting, and navigation. [PDF]
The U.S. Air Force is turning cargo planes into cruise missile launchers. And allies are expressing interest in the “palletized munitions concept,” according to the head of Air Force Special Operations Command.
"A C-17, which doesn't require much more than 3,000 feet of dirt strip, can carry 36 palletized long-range munitions,” said Lt. Gen. Jim Slife. FYI: There are plenty of dirt strips in the Pacific.
The U.S. Army wants an additional 22,000 acres of public land for testing “GPS-guided parachute technologies” in Yuma, Arizona. According to the Army, the move would widen the Yuma Proving Ground, where it tests artillery, armored vehicles, and various munitions, and provide a safety buffer for testing “advanced air delivery technologies and aviation systems. The additional land will also allow the Army to execute more complex air delivery and tactical scenarios.”
And that’s it for this week’s dispatch. Thanks as always for your support of The Ruck. And thank you for reading!
Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Ruck
👉🏻 Feedback? Simply hit reply to this email or send your tips, questions, and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you know someone who might like The Ruck, consider forwarding this email or sharing it on social media. It would mean the world to me. Thank you!