- After three months of fighting, Ukraine retains its bigger and better-armed Russian attacker.
- Battlefield videos show why this was the case, say former US special operators.
Russia’s attack on Ukraine has been going on for three months, a length that probably comes as a surprise to Russian troops who were told they were sent in a short operation to overthrow the Ukrainian government and to many in the world who expected the Russian army to overwhelm its smaller neighbour.
The Russian military has so far failed to achieve any of its main objectives, suffering tens of thousands of casualties and losing hundreds of tanks, armored vehicles and aircraft.
The lack of progress and heavy casualties can largely be attributed to the Ukrainian military, which has stagnated and in some places rolled back the Russian offensive, forcing Moscow to scale back its ambitions in the conflict.
Ukraine’s success can be attributed to the determination of its forces and leaders, their knowledge of the battlefield, and their judicious combination of weapons and training provided by the United States and European countries.
The poor performance of Russian troops has been revealed to the world in the many videos that have emerged from the battlefields in Ukraine.
The Russian military has been touted as a close competitor to the United States, but its performance in Ukraine suggests it is anything but. Videos show Russian forces lacking discipline, displaying poor operational security and simply having bad tactics – plenty of evidence that Russian forces are unable to perform at the level Western countries expected of them before the war.
In an example with an individual misstep, a Russian soldier spots a Ukrainian drone and runs straight towards his unit, apparently not considering that this would guide Ukrainian forces to the Russian position. Predictably, the Ukrainians bombarded his unit with artillery.
In another example Illustrating wider issues, a Russian supply convoy in Mariupol travels down a single-lane road with no apparent escape route. To make matters worse, the convoy is made up of unarmored civilian cars rather than armored vehicles.
Ukrainian forces ambushed the convoy, eliminating the first and last vehicle and began shooting down the Russian troops who had gathered around their vehicles. In an ambush, sticking together is the last thing a professional force should do, as this makes it much easier for their opponent to take them out.
There are several potential explanations for the poor performance of Russian troops in Ukraine.
“Morale plays a big role, especially if an army is not fully professional. Ukrainians are literally fighting for their land, their women and their children. They are fighting for their homeland and their freedom. It is a powerful factor motivation and can push ordinary people to extremes,” a retired Delta Force operator told Insider.
The videos show that Ukrainian forces are “very familiar” with the operating environment and how that environment resembles both attacker and defender, according to the retired operator, who spoke under cover of anonymity due to ongoing work with the military.
“Ukrainians also know the battlefield and use that knowledge to their advantage,” the retired operator said.
Ukrainian forces have shown that they can effectively deploy mobile anti-tank teams to take out Russian tanks, armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles.
The Russians also dispersed their vehicles inappropriately – long convoys traveling in single file on Ukrainian roads were commonplace in the first weeks of the war. Russian troops in convoys frequently regrouped, making them easy targets for an artillery barrage, drone strike, or Ukrainians with anti-tank weapons.
Despite superior equipment, at least early in the war, the Russians “suffered significant negative impacts from low troop morale on the front line,” retired Marine Raider Major Fred Galvin told Insider.
“Russian military leaders mistook enthusiasm for ability and clashed with the Ukrainian military and militias who stood their ground,” said Galvin, who wrote an account of the first Marine special operations combat deployment in Afghanistan and how it overcame attacks from all sides.
The “sluggish logistics” of the Russian military, coupled with the “low morale” of frontline troops and senior officers struggling to obey President Vladimir Putin’s exacting orders, “led to [Russian] goals being diminished or denied,” Galvin added.
The retired Delta operator said the fighting in Ukraine so far reflected the concept of “relative superiority”.
“You may have fewer troops than your opponent in all areas, but if you achieve relative superiority in certain key locations, you may win or at least be more effective,” the retired operator said. “The Ukrainians are doing very well.”
Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a veteran of the Hellenic Army (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ) and a graduate of Johns Hopkins University.