Kudos to Andrei Martyanov for highlighting an article I missed — Bad history makes for bad policy on Ukraine — by Robert English. Andrei correctly takes English to task for butchering the statistics regarding the Battle of Kursk. I want to take a deeper dive into Mr. English’s article because he embraces a number of false assumptions about Russia but still manages to come to the correct conclusion about the failure of U.S. and NATO planners to understand the cause of the Ukrainian debacle, which is:
. . . a broader analytical failing that has yet to be acknowledged: flawed and often facile historical analogies led defense planners to underestimate Russia’s resilience.
Okay. There is the benchmark — i.e., Identify the “flawed and often facile historical analogies” that produced the delusional analysis and predictions pumped out by a raft of “military experts” during the last 20 months. But English immediately displays his own ignorance with this passage:
One example is Russia’s acceptance of mass casualties and use of “human wave” attacks where they lose three or more soldiers for every Ukrainian casualty. Time and again — right up to the present — commanders and commentators cite this as a sign of severe Russian weakness.
Okay. Time for a reality check. Russia has not suffered mass casualties and has not used “human wave” attacks. Seems that the Russian General Staff are not a bunch of cretins. They entered Ukraine with an estimated 70,000 to 100,000 soldiers and attacked a Ukrainian Army that consisted of 196,000 soldiers and an active reserve of 900,000, according to the Business Insider. English could argue that the Russians were guilty of hubris, but I think that move reflected their confidence in being able to deal effectively with a force two to three times larger. There is no evidence that Russia conducted any human wave attacks during 2022 or 2023 and certainly did not suffer mass casualties. Just the opposite. The Russian General staff conducted operations specifically designed to minimize Russian casualties.
Russia has done two basic things to pulverize Ukrainian forces. First, it used its decisive advantage in missiles and artillery to pound Ukrainian trenches, bases and supply depots. Second, it used drones in an unprecedented fashion (and with increasing sophistication) to conduct “drone wave” attacks on Ukrainian soldiers hunkered down in bunkers.
How do we know that Russia avoided mass casualties? Very simple. The social media platforms in Russia do not show massive new graves nor are there posting by grieving relatives about the loss of Sasha or Vitaly.
Robert English, to his credit, takes a well deserved shot at General Mark Milley and other poseurs, such as the disgraced David Petraeus, for saying incredibly stupid things:
On the eve of Ukraine’s counteroffensive, U.S. Joint Chiefs chairman General Mark Milley declared that Russians “lack leadership, they lack will, their morale is poor, and their discipline is eroding.”. . .
Former CIA Director General David Petraeus predicted that Russian resolve could “crumble” in response to Ukrainian drone attacks on Moscow. Such strikes “bring the war to the Russian people” and might convince Putin’s regime that, like the USSR’s Cold War quagmire in Afghanistan, Russia’s current war in Ukraine is “ultimately unsustainable.”
While correctly skewering Milley and Petraeus, English misses the elephant in the room. Russian leaders, not just Putin, viewed the West’s efforts to bring Ukraine into NATO as an existential threat. Putin made that point quite clear to the West starting in 2008. Not only did the United States and the United Kingdom ignore those warnings, they upped the ante by helping fund and organize the Maidan coup in February 2014 and backed the new Ukrainian leaders as they attacked the Donbas.
English also correctly notes that bombing campaigns of civilian targets is counterproductive):
As for “bringing war to the Russian people” by bombing Moscow, when did that ever work? NATO brought the Kosovo War to the Serbian people in 1999 by bombing Belgrade, and it only rallied them to the side of dictator Slobodan Milošević; 25 years later, Serbs remain strongly pro-Russian and anti-NATO. And when Chechen rebels bombed Moscow and other Russian cities in the early 2000s, it only rallied Russians around Putin and helped justify his increasingly authoritarian rule.
These aren’t mere historical quibbles, but illustrations of flawed analogies that framed both strategic expectations and tactical decisions. And they have cost dearly, in both Ukrainian lives and now Western support. Confidence in Washington-Brussels elites falls even as officials still claim that Ukraine is winning and Putin “cannot outlast” the West.
To quote Homer Simpson, “Duh!” Moreover, it appears that the Russian Generals and Putin grasped the concept that killing civilians is a foolish, unproductive tactic. I think that explains why Russia has been very cautious in its use of aerial bombs and missile strikes. Were it otherwise the Western press would be filled with stories of civilian carnage in Ukraine caused by Moscow.
English also is spot on with his observation that the West made a fatal error in underestimating Russia’s military industrial competence:
Many have contrasted America’s innovative private arms producers with Russia’s technology-starved state factories, predicting that Moscow would soon exhaust its munitions. Instead, Russia has consistently belied the “all brawn and no brains” narrative, not only outproducing the West in tanks, artillery and shells but defying sanctions to develop new precision-guided bombs, drones and missiles. Perhaps those discounting Russian ingenuity forgot the Katyusha multiple-rocket launcher, a legendary artillery weapon that both the Germans and Americans copied in WWII.
The unanswered question implicit in English’s observations about Russia outproducing, not just the United States, but NATO as a whole is this — why are Western intelligence analysts so ignorant of Russia’s industrial capability? Early on in the Special Military Operation I was writing pieces about Russia’s rich supply of natural resources and minerals essential for producing bombs, drones, tanks, artillery and missiles. Russia, unlike the United States and Europe, was not dependent on imports to sustain its military industrial capability. It is self-sufficient and has trained workers who can do the job required to manufacture such items.
Robert English fails to pinpoint the real weakness of the West — it has stripped itself of steel and manufacturing plants and shipped those overseas. The United States and Europe do not have the ability, at least in the mid-term, to ramp up production and match the Russians shell-for-shell and tank-for-tank.
The United States is like an aging boxer who decided to fight a rejuvenated contender in a 15 round Heavyweight match, but only trained to last two rounds. That is why Russia is battering the hell out of Ukraine and, by proxy, the United States.
Robert English closes his article with the following nonsense. Apparently he is afraid to tell the chattering elite class in Washington the truth:
So as NATO planners and media pundits take up the “cannon fodder” refrain again with reference to the heavy losses Russians are taking as they advance in the battle for Avdiivka, these planners and pundits would do well to consider a quip famously attributed to Soviet wartime leader Josef Stalin: “Quantity has a quality all its own.”
He still takes refuge in the provably false meme that Russian is suffering heavy losses. Nope. You, Mr. English, are engaged in projection. It is Ukraine that is being bloodied on a horrific scale. It is Ukraine that is sending women, including pregnant women, to fight in trenches. No civilized country possessed of its right mind would entertain such a grotesque measure.
It is true that Russia has “quantity” on its side. But it is not needlessly expending the blood of its 20 year olds. It is using quantities of artillery and drones and aerial bombs (FABS) to demilitarize Ukraine. Russia can and is producing more bombs, rockets, missiles, shells, tanks, drone and aircraft than the West combined. That’s the message Washington needs to hear.