Event Transcript: War in Ukraine, Current State and What's Next for the RU Mil
Silverado Co-Founder, Dmitri Alperovitch, sits down with Rob Lee and Michael Kofman to discuss the situation in Ukraine.
TRANSCRIPT: "War in Ukraine: Current State and What’s Next for Experts on RU Mil."
March 3, 2022 - Online via Twitter Space
Dmitri Alperovitch, Co-Founder and Executive Chair, Silverado Policy Accelerator
Rob Lee, Co-Founder & CEO, Dragos, Inc.
Michael Kofman, Director, Russia Studies at CNA. Senior Adjunct Fellow, CNAS
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Dmitri Alperovitch 0:33
We'll get started in six minutes.
Dmitri Alperovitch 6:08
Well that was Ode to the End of War by Sergei Prokofiev, a Soviet composer, who had actually been born in Sontsivka, Donetsk Oblast, where unfortunately there's active fighting going on, even today. I thought it was appropriate music to start our discussion about this terrible war that is taking place as we speak in Ukraine. So welcome, everyone to this Twitter space. My name is Dmitri Alperovitch and I am the chairman of Silverado Policy Accelerator, it is a geopolitical think tank. And I'm very glad to have two extraordinary people with me today. Michael Kofman is a research program director in the Russia's Studies program at the Center for Naval Analysis. And Rob Lee is a senior fellow at the Eurasia program of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, and also a former US Marine infantry officer. Both of them are leading experts on Russian military and defense policy. So welcome Mike and Rob.
Rob Lee & Mike Kofman 7:10
Hey, happy to be here.
Yeah, thanks for hosting us.
Great. So I guess all three of us are somewhat of modern day Cassandra's have been all publicly predicted early on this invasion going back nearly three months ago. And I think Mike, you actually were on record even earlier back in November. Unfortunately, well it turned out to be right. But I think it's fair to say that there are some things about this campaign that have surprised even all of us and we'll certainly get to all of that in a moment. But let's start with the current situation. Rob, your Twitter stream is absolutely amazing. And keeping us up to date on all sorts of open source intelligence coming from the battlefields really across Ukraine. It's hard to keep up with it quite frankly, I'm not sure you ever sleep. But let's kick things off with you, can you provide us with an update on what's happening right now with the Russian advance, where their forces are now to the best of your knowledge.
Rob Lee 8:03
Sure, um, so for the most part, the Russian advance the last few days, is kind of been based in the same kind of story where in the South you have you know, success advancing. They’re forced outside Mykolaiv, which is their kind of latest advance, it seems as though they took some losses today, it looks as though VDV (Russian Airborne Unit) got ambushed. And then there's still heavy foot fighting around Mariupol, not too clear what's exactly happening there. Ukraine forces seem to be surrounded there, but continue to hold out. I expect them to continue fighting, you know, as long as they can. Russian forces in the Donbas are trying to push out now. So they're moving both Northwest of the Donbas and West.
Rob Lee 8:47
Russian forces in the northeast have mostly been surrounded Kharkiv, Sumy, Chernigov, those main cities. What we're seeing is really heavy bombardment in all those cities, right. So initially, it was a lot of multiple launch rocket systems, fire merge would have gone, the grad and then now it's increasingly it's an air campaign. Right. So we're seeing SU-34 and SU-30SM, they're taking off from either Russia or Belarus, heavily laden with bombs, right. So I mean, today, there is this document in a video showing SU-34 with eight 500 kilogram bombs. And they're basically just conducting, you know, pretty constant kind of sorties and conducting airstrikes in the cities. And then in Kiev, right with it being kind of the main focus is, Russian force of advanced from the east. So they have at least some elements have kind of gone to the outskirts in the eastern part of Kiev and Brovary. Ukraine has been able to ambush them, and those forces have success there. And then the Northwest is really interesting area where you know, Hostomel, Bucha, and Irpin neighborhoods were you know, on the first day of the of the War, Russia conduct that air assault operation to try and take the airport there, wasn't able to take it the first day or hold it, but we've seen fighting there ever since. And it appears Ukraines play a key role there. They're doing a really impressive job holding back Russian forces. So it's mostly Russian VDV units we've seen there I think Rosgvardiya, as well. But there are a number of videos showing destroyed VDV columns there. And so it appears Ukraine's you're having a lot of success there. And as long as they have success there, they prevent Russia from encircling Kiev to the west. And so that's become a really important battle. And it'll be interesting to see how you know how long they can hold out there. But basically, you know, Russia having success in the south, although it seems that it's slowed possibly over the last couple days, and then we're still waiting on Kiev. We're still waiting on when can Russian circle Kiev, and actually start a kind of siege, but at the same time, the main cities in the Northeast are still holding out and I think it kind of indicates how much of a tough fight Kiev will be in when Russia actually does encircle it and tries to siege it.
Dmitri Alperovitch 11:00
Great, Mike, anything to add to that?
Mike Kofman 11:04
I think that's a good round up. I think that probably what I would add is that, in the last couple days, we've definitely seen a real shift towards greater use of air power, and much greater use of both combat helicopters and aircraft, Russian forces have taken a number of losses and they paid the price for choosing not to conduct a proper seed suppression of enemy air defense type campaign. And instead, they sort of pursued local air superiority over pockets where the forces are working.
Mike Kofman 11:33
The air losses are definitely significant, but I expect we're going to see more Russian airpower push into this war, we'll see much greater use of sort of overwhelming firepower, as you know, Russia's primarily an artillery army, mortar, rifle maneuver and armor formations, but so far, it sees far less artillery than it could have in these fights. I think the big challenges for them as always, as you see, they're starting to get into a sort of tempo, where they have several days of advances, done a pause to replenish, tighten up supply lines, reconsolidate forces, bring up some other units, and then conduct several days of attacks. Again, I think we're currently in that phase now.
Dmitri Alperovitch 12:19
Got it. And, you know, let's talk a little bit about the initial plan, because it was certainly puzzling to many to see them amass what is essentially the largest invasion force Europe has seen since at least the invasion of Czechoslovakia in the 60s, over 50 years ago, and then not use it in those initial days and do these small unit engagements and try to drive to Kiev. What do you think happened there, Mike? How badly they miscalculate, what drove it in your opinion?
Mike Kofman 12:49
Sure. So, you know, the scope of the conflict, I think is what we expected, even the axis of attack, but certainly not the character and nature of the operation. This operation at the outset, I think, too many, looked profoundly bizarre. What happened was, is that the political system, the Russian regime really assumed that they could rapidly conduct regime change, and they wouldn't face substantial resistance. And they sent Russian forces in with those assumptions. So at the outset, they had thought to introduce units very quickly into the capital, Kiev. And try to get Zelenskyy to surrender, and only push small detachments and elements very rapidly down roads, and what you could colloquially call thunder runs, avoiding major cities, avoiding battles with Ukrainian forces, to try to isolate sectors. Very early on, they got a bloody nose, it was a terrible miscalculation. And so there are two factors that really shaped this operation. The first is a host of assumptions about Ukraine that clearly hadn't evolved much since 2014 and the belief that they could literally just roll up the country without much of a fight and a few days, which I think may seem wild or bizarre to some listeners, but the operation definitely reflects that. This is not a combined arms operation, this isn't a joint operation, about four or five days in, you see the Russian forces attempting to turn it into a combined arms operation after what was initially a debacle. And the second part of it, which is also significant, is that they clearly didn't tell the forces they were sending them to war, they deployed these units on military exercises and pushed them to the border and told them not to worry, nothing serious is going to happen. And then in the very last minute, they finally gave junior officers their orders, which were actually to invade Ukraine. And the troops were I think were shocked to find out what their real mission was. And were psychologically materially not prepared for it, not organized for it. And even then, when they were something you could tell very, very readily by the first 48 hours, that they were sent in under false pretenses believing that they wouldn't encounter substantial resistance. They were essentially given a narrative that they were there to help Ukrainians liberate themselves from, you know, this regime which, of course was profoundly untrue, then to what extent they believe it is debatable, but nonetheless, essentially what they were told. And you saw that, of course, all those illusions and those lies probably dissipated at the first ambush or the first encounter of resistance that they faced. But this is why Russian forces have had tremendously low morale. And I think we've seen sporadic desertions across the board and units abandoning their equipment is because they've realized that not only is the entire affair sort of shambolic in terms of how it was organized, but the Russian forces were clearly sent into Ukraine, and under false pretenses as well. And this is, of course, not the not in any way, shape, or form to make victims of it. But just to express why the operation to any outside observer seems incredibly strange. This is a military invading the largest country in Europe, attempting a full scale invasion of it, but without the actual military operation that you would remotely expect, or that you would feel commensurate to the task.
Dmitri Alperovitch 16:10
So do you think that was an intel failure? I mean, the GRU is usually pretty good at analyzing enemy defenses and capabilities, right? Did they fail here? Or do you think they got overwritten by Putin or others around him?
I don't think it was GRU. I suspect it was FSB and I think that the subprime of decision making in a personal style authoritarian system. One thing I've definitely learned a lot about is the degree of sycophancy because, you know, I think where analysts like me, and no matter how much I got, I may have feel like I've gotten right, there's definitely plenty I got wrong. And the one thing I definitely got wrong. You know, you have fundamentally personal style authoritarian regime. And I think we felt that despite the miscalculations, we assume that this would be a terrible gambit based on war optimism, a lot of wars are certainly for the aggressor, and attempts of regime change usually fail or end up in quagmires. Fine, but we kind of thought that they would hand the ball off to the military and the military itself as an institutionalized military, would conduct a large combined arms operation, and would sort of do it in a particular fashion, and that was profoundly untrue. Actually, the political assumptions, the motivations and the calculus of the regime, characterize the thing throughout. That's why it was a completely unworkable concept of operations. And the only way this could have happened is if people like Sergey Shoygu, the Russian Minister of Defense, or Valery Gerasimov, the Chief of General Staff, actually heard the assumptions and nodded along and said, yes, this is possible. But of course, those assumptions were ridiculous. How could you take Kiev in three days? In what universe is it possible to take the capital of a country like this in a handful of days? And you had to have signed off on or had to subscribe to some of these assumptions in order for this type of operation to ever be launched.
Mike Kofman 17:57
I, like I said, definitely in terms of the character of the operation, how they started, I think that was a misjudgment on the part of a lot of us looking at it. That said, the Russian military since then has definitely adjusted and is now trying to conduct this as a combined arms operation with the rest of the force and services involved in it.
So let me let me ask you, though, Rob, despite all those failures, I did a little bit of math recently, and I compared this to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. It took us 14 days at that time to drive 550 kilometers to get to Baghdad from the Kuwait border, essentially about 40 kilometers per day on average. And when you look at the Russian advance across multiple axes, it was actually twice as fast in the south. So it took them about five days, I think, to get from Crimea to Mariupol, a distance of about 400 kilometers, that's about 80 kilometers per day, about same number of days to get to Mykolaiv 300 kilometers, from Sumy to Chernihiv, have another five days and another 300 kilometers there. So they're actually moving quite a bit faster than the US was back in those days. And against an army that is much more motivated to fight and much better armed probably then the Iraqis were, with Western weapons. How do you explain that?
Rob Lee 19:21
I guess we'll start off by saying we only know so much, right. So we know, we know we get the random kind of briefing from DOD officials. We know what we see right? From satellite photos. We know what we see from videos on tick tock and elsewhere, where are the Russian troops and what they’re doing. The advance has not been slow by historical terms. But you know, what one has to keep in mind, from when they did the breakout from Crimea. They reached the Dnieper like very, very quickly, right? They basically drove right to it. But by driving there, it didn't mean they secured all the things behind it, right. They didn't necessarily secure supply lines. They didn't secure all the towns on the way there.
We've seen since then, right? As you keep seeing these kind of raids as ambushes by Ukrainian soldiers or territorial units, are not always clear, but we're seeing a lot of those. Right. And so, but you know, by advancing so quickly, Russia kind of assumed a lot of risk, because they put the supply lines at much more risk, they put all these convoys at risk. And, you know, that, ultimately, is a question of whether or not that was a smart move, right? Doe it makes more sense to move quickly and leave your supply lines at risk, or does it make more sense to be, you know, movable, more delivery, but to secure those things? I would say probably the latter made more sense in this case, especially once, you know, the lightning dash to Kiev didn’t turnout. So again, you know, it's still hard to get good estimate of Russian casualties, but you know, they're significant, right? They are there, or they're probably not that far, from what the US took in Iraq over the entire war. And so drastically more than what the US took in the first, you know, in the actual invasion phase. So that's significant. The equipment losses have been, you know, pretty significant too, you know air defense systems, Turan-II, engineering systems, tanks, all these kinds of things they've lost, that's a pretty substantial amount of things they've lost, basically. So anyway, the advances have not been that slow. But still a question of, okay, what, you know, how ready are they to move on to the most important objectives? Right. So Kiev, they still haven't circled it, it's still not clear to me when they're going to be able to take the west side of Kiev, right, with that massive convoy and the forces there, that part is still not clear to me. The main cities in northeast are still holding out. So Russia can bypass and they have bypassed them, but have they bypass them with large enough forces to encircle the east side of Kiev, that's not fully clear to me yet, as well. And ultimately, you know, Ukraine is a large country. And as Russian forces move deeper into the country, their supply lines will become even more vulnerable to these kind of attacks and ambush and things they clearly did not expect. So, you know, I think we're taking stock of where they are right now. Things can obviously change, but they haven't necessarily put themselves in the best position and haven't taken the most important cities yet. And I think there's so a lot of, you know, big questions, the future. And, you know, obviously, Mike was right, this war was based on some very optimistic assumptions. And there's also very optimistic assumptions about what political goals they could achieve with military force, that made sense, but they didn't get much distance. But it really seems to me as though it’s clear, Ukraine's resisting almost everywhere. It's clear, even in these Russian speaking cities, on the south Kherson and Melitopol, there's huge protests happening, you know, almost a daily basis. I find it hard to believe Russia expected that, because obviously, it points to this being a difficult, you know, long term, medium term operation if you're trying to hold the cities and continue to move beyond there. So there's still a lot of problems with operation, even though the advance, you know, wasn't as slow as I guess some people expected.
Mike, do you agree with that? Do you think they move too fast and are still moving too fast?
Initially, yeah, absolutely. But they didn't even try to move as combined arms formations. They were pushing small detachments down roads rapidly to seize roads and junctions. And you saw a lot of basically, tanks operating without infantry. Infantry without tanks, nothing being escorted, no convoy escorts, you get a lot of logistics and support being ambushed along the way. Most definitely. They took that risk, because fundamentally, the cost of operations was that it wasn't a risk, they did not expect to be ambushed, they didn’t expect to find serious resistance. So they had to make very significant adjustments. And the way they split the force up, actually dramatically increased the likelihood of desertion, which is small detachments finding themselves cut off or ambushed, abandoning their equipment, because they're actually not part of a larger formation, right. And so then it comes down to a lot of inexperienced leadership of junior commanders. That said, you know, the Russian military is also known for resilience and for adapting. And so I was trying to hedge some of the initial optimism because Ukraine's military has definitely performed well above and beyond early expectations, for sure. But that was the beginning of the war. And we still are relatively in the early phase of the war. And I was trying to temper that initial optimism with also the reality that the Russian military retains a substantial amount of force in the fight, despite the significant losses they've taken. This conflict is very far from determined and a great deal is contingent.
Dmitri Alperovitch 24:26
Plus, speaking of larger formations, let's talk a little bit about this convoy that's to the west of Kiev. Supposedly a 40 mile convoy. I think there are lots of memes now on Twitter about this convoy. What is the state of it? Is it getting attacked? What do you guys know about it?
Mike Kofman 24:48
Well, I was gonna go first. Let me I'll speak for a bit. First, I think it's a series of units. It's a number of battalion tactical groups. It's not one 40 mile long convoy, or however the media represents it. I think they very much got jammed up because Ukrainians blew most of the bridges. And there's been some pretty serious fighting on the outskirts of Kiev in the Bucha and Irpin in particular. And so they jammed up kind of the front of the convoy. I don't think it's stalled out in terms of being out of gas, food and some of these other things I've heard people say. There's a lot of assumptions about what's happening there and we just don't have enough evidence or data to make some of these claims.
I do feel like they're probably trying to reorganize it and press forward. Regarding the convoy itself, the reason for the merge and why they tried to push so many forces down was a pretty narrow channel of roads is, again, tremendously unrealistic timelines. So try to get to the capital and thinking that they can quickly get into the city and take it otherwise, it would have pursued a much wider front and had a much better sort of hedge to their strategy. That said, nothing is determined, you can see them steadily encircling Chernihiv in the northeast and Russian units pulling up to the east as well. So I think there's still, I think we're in for a conflict, it's likely going to turn a lot uglier, and it's likely going to feature a lot more urban warfare than we've even seen thus far.
We'll talk about that. Rob. Any thoughts on the convoy? Do you see attacks on the convoy beyond just the battles up front?
Rob Lee 26:24
So you know, it's hard to see. One thing that's noticeable from the kind of open source side is that there's much less information on the Ukrainians. What they're doing - they post videos every once while probably a day or two after they do something, right, to not give away too much kind of information on what they're doing. Apparently, the Ukrainian Air Force keeps hitting targets there. We don't see too many videos. There's a video, I think two days ago, allegedly showing a Ukrainian SU-24 operating over the area. And there’s still a question to me about TB-2s. Right. So we saw TB-2s strikes there a few days ago, maybe they're still doing them, and just not releasing the videos, it’s not fully clear to me. So, hard to know exactly what's going on there. But you know, clearly, the longer Ukraine resists in those Northwestern neighborhoods of Kiev, the more difficult it makes for that convoy to kind of spread out or move into positions around the city to actually encircle it. And so that resistance up front, which, you know, they probably didn't expect to last this long. And, you know, they're fighting against VDV, elite VDV units that appear to be getting chewed up pretty well, um, you know, they probably didn’t expect that to be the case. So, now they're moving up heavier units. As I said before, it's not the longest road, it's hard to maybe miss, to move up the unit you want, at the right time, but it isn't fully clear to me exactly what's going wrong there. But, you know, clearly, things are not working out as quickly as they wanted to. But again, you know, the timeline, I think, right now as we look at the rest of the conflict, is that Russia would like to take these big cities, I think, in the next two or three weeks. And so, you know, today, tomorrow, that's not a huge loss if they don't get there. But they want to be able to try and take them in the next couple weeks. And that's what I think was important and timeline wise, before those, you know, all these issues in Russia, I think, start to come back, and present a problem about you know, domestic backlash for Putin. So I think that's what we're talking about in terms of trying to encircle Kiev and try and do an operation there. And ultimately, you know, we're seeing in all these other cities in Kharkiv and Chernihiv, what Russia is going to do to Kiev, at least that they're threatening to do, which is they're going to, you know, use airpower pretty heavily, they're gonna destroy much of the city, and basically try and get all the civilians to leave. And then they're going to go in there with the military and try and seize the cities. Right?
How did they get the civilians to leave? I mean, most of the cities are huge cities, right? Kiev has 3 million people in it, like how do you evacuate that many people?
So it's not going to be again, and again, that's, you know, me saying before about things that we got wrong. One of the things I got wrong, is I thought Russia was gonna stay out of cities. Right? I thought they're trying these operations that go after Ukrainian military and they try to avoid the cities, because you go into cities, it presents a bunch of problems, right? It puts your troops at greater risk. Russia's conventional superiority of Ukrainian military, well, a lot of that gets negated when you go into urban terrain, and the risk of civilian casualties goes up. Right. And that, that, that is an issue, you know, for foriegn audiences. I think it's also an issue for domestic audiences in Russia. And so it's not fully clear to me what they're thinking about doing, or about if they consider the situation was going to happen. But you know, they seem to be committed and they’re clearly going to try and circle Kiev, and they’re clearly going to try and coerce, you know, the government to give in at that point. But ultimately, if we keep seeing these other big cities, like Kharkiv, holding out, right, there's no reason to think anyone in Kiev is going to give up. And ultimately, you know, they're probably going to go in there and it could become a very, very ugly situation. But the problems are pretty obvious. And I'm not sure exactly what they thought. But clearly, I think this is not the scenario they had in mind. I think they clearly had a more optimistic view that was going to happen and that they weren't going to have to go into Kiev, like they did in Aleppo or Grozny or even like the US did in Fallujah.
It just is impossible to take a city where you have a determined resistance and to not destroy much of that city. It's very difficult and Russia lacks the same kind of precision guided munitions the US military has. And so there's no reason to believe that they'd be able to do it any more clearly than the US could do it in Fallujah.
Mike, what is your view on cities? I mean, obviously, they want to take Kiev, and they’re now sieging Mariupol. But do you actually think that they want to go into Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, all these cities in the north, or just surround them and try to lay siege to them?
Mike Kofman 30:32
No, I don't think it was ever their plan to take major cities besides the capital, I think it was very clear they were trying to skirt them and get around them. I think the current plan is envelopment. I think they had to take minor towns and junctions, because you saw initially that they were going precisely for the towns where key roads intersect and ground lines of communication. But they're pursuing a sectoral strategy. They're trying to isolate big sectors, and then try to see if they can envelop Ukrainian forces and get those regional commands to surrender. Kharkiv has been basically kind of a punitive, compellence effort - they’ve been shelling the city while steadily trying to envelop on the outside, I don't think they're actually going to seriously go in. And the same thing with some of the other big ones. So cities consume forces, they just eat up armies really fast. Russia doesn't have the forces for this fight. And here's the other problem. If they took cities like this, it wouldn't resolve what they believe is a center of gravity, which is the capital. That's why you see the bulk of Russian forces focused on the capital. And you see these two pincers slowly, you know, sort of ponderously moving towards it, which does give you unfortunately, very ominous kind of Grozny 1999 vibes of the same way Russian forces steadily approach Grozny in that battle.
Dmitri Alperovitch 31:44
But do you think I mean, obviously, Kiev, the prospects for it are very grim, but do you think that they're going to decimate all these northern cities, too?
Mike Kofman 31:56
I'm skeptical, but I think definitely parts of them for sure. You've already seen them use both heavy firepower and aviation. And you know, Russian troops don't have a tremendous amount of experience in urban combat. The last week has definitely revealed that much. They haven't trained that much for the mission and haven't had a lot of experience in it. And when running into trouble or frustrated, they usually call in airpower, artillery firepower. So you're definitely gonna see parts of cities or city blocks destroyed I think in the fighting.
Dmitri Alperovitch 32:28
Got it. Rob, what's your best estimate for the losses that the Russians have suffered? Obviously, they're putting out very low numbers. I think the last numbers were about 500 losses of personnel. Do you have a sense of how realistic that is? Ukrainians are talking about, I think over 10,000 now, is the truth somewhere in between?
Rob Lee 32:48
I think it's really hard to tell. So yeah, I think the Russians released their figure of 500 killed in action and 1500 wounded. That was the thing on Monday, last Monday. Right. So basically, you know, half of the war ago.
Since then, I think the latest assessment I saw was that the US thinks about 4500 have died. But as you know, a low confidence estimate. I mean, ultimately, we're not going to have high confidence in any kind of estimate at this point. It’s gonna be very, very difficult to come to that. But I think ultimately, it's in the 1000s. Right. And we're talking about the number of casualties they have taken in a short amount of time. Even the 500 figure, right, that was more, or probably about more than Russia's taken at times in terms of k.a., they took in Georgia, they took in the Donbas 2014, 2015. And they've taken in Syria, which is, you know, servicemen not counting, killing Wagner. So we're already talking about a, you know, unprecedented kind of losses for Russia, since Chechnya, right? And even in the second Chechnyan campaign,I'm not sure they took these kind of losses in a short amount of time, right.It's a very significant loss. And of course, as long as this kind of campaign goes on, there's every reason to believe the losses will continue, and they can probably get worse, right? And of course, there's no, there's no clear conflict termination stage, right, at least at least, as long as Russia tries to achieve the kind of a Maximus objective, right? Where they take Kiev, you know, who knows, they occupy half the country or something along those lines, there's no reason to believe the fight ends then, and they can basically just arbitrarily say, this is over, and Ukrainians stop fighting. They're gonna keep fighting, the insurgency will probably become more capable. And, you know, Russian forces are strewn out. They will become isolated in a lot of these cities and areas they are controlling, and a lot of them will be easy targets, right, it'll be difficult to kind of control those areas. So again, hard to say what the figure is. I think it's certainly in the 1000s, and I'd say it's only going to grow. And you know, it's quite possible. It's going to be, you know, orders of magnitude more than the last three wars that Russia fought combined, and it appears the way it's headed in that direction right now.
Dmitri Alperovitch 34:57
What is your current assessment of where Belarus is in terms of their actual forces? Whether air power or ground forces? Are they in the fight yet? What do you see from that perspective?
Rob Lee 35:10
Um, Mike might be able to answer better than I. I haven't seen any clear evidence they've been involved. I mean, the Belarusian military is not, you know, they're not that necessarily effective. They don't take part in too many kind of large scale conventional operations. Right. So, it certainly some big question marks about how useful they would be, they could probably hold some areas, but probably wouldn't want to send them into, you know, main kind of conventional fights with the Ukrainian military. But again, it comes back to this idea that, you know, Russia is a numbers game issue here. Right. So they already have committed, I think, what was it 90, 95%, 96% of the tanks groups that they deployed near the border before, and that was already 75% of the Russian motors BTG. Right. So we're talking, you know, 70% or so of the Russian ground forces, you know, permanent Rez units are right now committed to Ukraine, that's a huge share. And it leaves Russia really kind of vulnerable to if they need to use the military for any other operation. They just don't have the forces right now. And so it's not surprising. We're hearing stories of them, you know, getting Wagner guys, taking Rosgvardiya guys, basically try and pull guys from wherever they can. Because ultimately, if you occupy, you know, areas, you need more force to do that. And, you know, one thing that's unique is that, we compare it to the US military, Russian military, has far more emphasis on fire over maneuver, far more emphasis on a lot of those kinds of important support functions. The problem is, that means they have fewer maneuver units like infantry guys, who are more useful for, you know, insurgency, counterinsurgency type operations, right, they're more useful for, for holding, for patrolling areas. Tank units are not used for that, right, artillery units are not used for that. So in a lot of ways, the Russian mode that went into Ukraine is not really that well suited to a lot of the things they're facing in the south right now. And I'm not sure the Rosgvardiya guys really make up a difference enough, so they're facing a number of issues in that regard.
Mike, let's talk a little bit about logistics. There's been a lot of Twitter threads from various experts on tires and fuel and various other things about the problems that the Russians may or may not be having. With logistics, obviously, we've seen videos, I think you posted one of them looting stores for food, what do you think is happening there? You know, are they having issues across the board with fuel with food? And if so, why?
Mike Kofman 37:32
Sure. So first, I'm skeptical that they actually organize logistics for sustained long term military operation, they probably tried to get that act together a few days in when it became clear, what the reality was. Second, they were not really operating the way they train and fight, and I've been trying to emphasize that. So Russian logistics are definitely not set up to support small detachments operating way forward on their own in these different units. And they weren't really set up or experience with convoy escorts, alot of logistics units and support units are trying to catch up, operating on their own, got ambushed, you saw way too many units that should be in the Combined Arms formation completely separated and vulnerable, not doing many of the things they should be doing. In terms of logistical availability, I've definitely seen a lot of debates with people saying “well, they maybe only planed for three days. And that's why they're running off food.” It might be the case for some units. But overall, I don't think that's true, I actually think they do have quite a bit of logistics, they actually have a hard time pushing it forward. And keep in mind, the Russian military was reformed and constructed - This military in particular, is not really set up for strategic grounds defensives. It's much more oriented around maneuver defense, it doesn't have the right logistical tail for the amount of firepower that the Russian military brings to the battlefield. And it wasn't really designed for prolonged ground defenses. And on top of that, the Russian military has not attempted in operation of the scale in many, many decades. Right. And certainly probably didn't think that it really was, right if you subscribe to the assumptions I told you up front. Many of the units then didn't actually know necessarily about what their tasks and goals were early on. And they didn’t plan for a sustained fight with a conventional military the size of Ukraine. So you're seeing a lot of problems emerge in Russia military on the logistical side. That said, I do think the sustainment conversation is oversold, I will make this comment. I appreciate a lot of folks with military and tactical experience that are joining the conversation and contribute to their piece of the puzzles. But I gotta tell you, if you haven't been in Russian military analysis, you don't know about the Russian military, you haven't studied that, you haven't followed this region. Please be cautious about what you're offering and the extent to which we think this entire war can be described by tire pressure. Alright, be careful about the generalization conclusions you arrive at based on your experience with this problem set.
Dmitri Alperovitch 39:58
Alright, let's talk a little bit about the Ukrainian side. And I want to ask both of you, maybe you can take turns, maybe Mike, we'll start with you. What do you think of the Ukrainian defense so far? What do you think they've done right? What do you think they've done wrong? And the third part of the question is, what do you think the West can realistically do right now to help them in this fight?
Mike Kofman 40:22
So I think what they've done right is definitely focus on defense, particularly in the urban terrain, which heavily favors the defender, assimilate as much as they could of Western capabilities that were pushed forward to them very rapidly. Use the initial Russian mistake to maximize force generation reserves, distribute weapons, and try to fortify the terrain, I think did a good job blowing the bridges and making the Russian task much harder than it could have been early on. And, you know, I actually can't say enough about, like, how impressed I have been with the Ukraine resistance writ large, and even the partisan unit stuff started, you know, ambushing units along the road. And along with a civilian kind of civil but peaceful resistance that you see in the cities.
Where they, you know, if I was gonna say, well, if anything they they've done wrong. I've seen them try to launch some counter offensives that I probably wouldn't have to try to relieve pressure. I think that Ukraine force are going to have a hard time doing anything combined arms themselves, and pushing units forward, in most cases, outside of places like Kiev, might not be necessarily what they want to do. I'm not going to prejudge their operational planning, my knowledge of that is very limited. And basically, it is what you can see here. Nothing I hate more than sort of, you know, being an armchair general for somebody else's existential war. So I'm not going to get into that game. I'm just saying that I've seen other commentators suggest that what Ukraine should do is the counter offensives and the like. And I'm thinking that the fastest way to attrition, the limited amount of military power in Ukraine has is for them to take anybody else's advice and push their forces hard onto a field against the Russian units. Probably not a good idea, given the correlation of forces and capabilities.
Dmitri Alperovitch 42:16
Got it? And last part, what what should the West be doing? You know, obviously, we can't be providing them with our fighter jets that they can't fly. We can't provide them with air defense systems that they can't learn at the moment, but what do you think that we can realistically do to help relieve some of the pressure?
Mike Kofman 42:31
You know, look, push forward, logistics logistics are essential in a sustained conflict, everybody talks about different boutique weapons capabilities, but what ultimately drives the war is logistics, ammunition supply and the like, push forward manned portable systems that can allow them to further equip the force and they've been proven incredibly effective. Not to waste too much
Dmitri Alperovitch 42:56
Like the javelins and the Stingers.
Mike Kofman 42:56
Right. Right. Right. Right. And not to waste too much time with some of these unintelligible ideas. Look, let me be frank allow the aircraft Ukraine has put up have gotten shut down, right Russians have losses, but Ukraine has a lot of losses in his fourth generation, aircraft legacy Air Force and pushing McLean nines, are they gonna fly from air bases that are being readily barraged on a daily nightly basis. And this is not, to me, at least isn’t gonna do nearly as much for Ukraine as certain other things that can be supplied to the country. That's just one person's opinion.
Dmitri Alperovitch 43:28
Yeah, Rob, same question to you. What have they done right? What have they done wrong? What should the West be doing?
Rob Lee 43:32
So I think I think the most important thing they did was that they didn't lose the war on the first day or two, the first two days, right, they didn't lose their air force, they didn't lose their air defenses. They didn't lose their Toshka use, they didn't lose all these important capabilities, they managed to keep them hidden, they managed to, you know, avoid, you know, GRU guys trying to follow where these systems were, you know, US intelligence may have aided them, right, they may have an idea of what Russia was planning to do. But all that was really important. All that was important to not lose the war immediately. And to and to basically, to end this conflict, which is something that Russia clearly did not want to do. Right. And so that was very effective in beginning. In general, their offense seems to be very good, right? It's, it's hard to kind of figure out how what they're doing, where the Ukrainian military is, you're not seeing too many guys, you know, take videos themselves and post it online. So, so a lot of that has been, you know, quite impressive. It been, you know, fairly professional. I think Ukrainian soft appears to be quite effective. And I think, you know, the investments made into them seem like they're really having a strong kind of return on investment. So I think a lot of those things are important, and then ultimately, just resistance, right? We've seen resistance everywhere. They're not giving up, right? Civilians are pushing back. And the military keeps continues to fight. And we haven't seen a real collapse anywhere, right? We've seen, you know, in the south, they trade space for time. That made sense. But in reality, we haven't seen any kind of large scale so running of Ukrainian forces. It seems though that they've been pretty smart. They've retreated when they needed to and didn't, didn't they didn't take massive losses that could have let Russia advance very heavily and take these strategic locations. So all that's been very impressive. They've also fared very well against you know, elite Russian. Yeah. So, Russian paratroopers, you know, they've done well against them where Spetsnaz, you know, the the first day in Kharkiv for whatever reason Russia sent in a maybe a platoon or company of these guys and they got pushed back very quickly. Ukrainians are proving adept at be able to do that adept at fighting, you know, unconventional fight, and they're being smart about, you know, going to cities, making sure they can't get destroyed outside cities and not making this mistake of fighting conventional fight against a superior, you know, power, conventional power. So all that has been very smart. Right? In Mike's right, the idea of counter attacking at tactical level, it can make sense at times, at operational level, it probably doesn't make sense, right? It makes more sense to to not, you know, lose potential forces, and then make the force Russia to go into cities so that Russia knows that you know, that in order to Kiev, right, it's going to take a lot of losses and take time, if you do that, it makes it more likely Russia may not, you know, pursue this, this this campaign all the way and that maybe, you know, all these other kind of issues back in Russia might be enough that to force Russia to make a compromise. So all that stuff, anything smart, in terms of what the US or NATO could aid them with? Um, so look, I stingers. I'm not sure how much roasting is deployed, but manpads has certainly played a role. I would bet that Eagles are playing a bigger role, comparatively, but unintelligible role
Dmitri Alperovitch 46:35
And explain Nicholas for our listeners.
Rob Lee 46:36
Sure. Soviet design MANPAD system. So there are different variants of Russian Beaudesert more advanced variant, but ultimately, look, you know, old, cheap, reliable, stuff still works. And they know the e Eagle system well. And so you know, at least at least one video that apparently showed one of the Russian helicopters getting shot down, it was probably from Eagle, I would bet more of them, you know, more of the losses that Russia's staining are probably from Eagles than they are from stingers. javelins are playing a role, I think, in laws probably playing a role that played a bigger role than I expected. So that's been that's been quite significant. I think, one way that could it could help them out. I agree with Mike. In terms of fighters, I think there's a question about how effective they'd be. It also raised the question of this is conflict escalating, right? More so with NATO than does with some these other weapons we're providing? TB twos make some more sense, right? I think Turkey has continued to probably deliver TB twos, you know, it's hard to see, or hard to know exactly what TB has been doing recently. They posted videos couple days ago, maybe they're still operating, not sure. But at least, you know, if Ukraine wants to, they can make you know, you know, key kind of raids to destroy targets, and maybe send a few TB twos and not worry about losses, right. So that can still be an important asset in a very kind of strategically important time.
Dmitri Alperovitch 47:52
And Rob, just on the TB two question I think you posted a video of a tour to now escorting convoys. Do you think that's in direct response to TB two threat that they are now trying to protect the convoys against the drones?
Rob Lee 48:08
Yeah, so you know, I think, so that it could be TB twps. It could be just to 25s Right. So Ukraine's two 25 continue to, to fly on. And, you know, look, that's another lesson is Ukrainian pilots flying in this kind of very contested, dangerous airspace, it takes a lot of bravery, what they're doing, and they're continue to fly, it's quite impressive of them. You know, going back to what Mike said before, because it doesn't appear the word was passed down to too many soldiers, and many, many guys, the military that they're going to invade, it doesn't appear that like they made all the preparations and thought through coordination with all these things. Right. And so it's certainly possible the beginning, they weren't, you know, they might have their short range air defense systems with these units. It's not clearly Nestle integrated into the plan. And so I assume we look at this, you know, later on after the conflict, learn more about it, there are probably some significant coordination issues between the Russian ground force air defense systems and the Russian ground force maneuver unit, just because that it wasn't necessarily clear told these guys, they're actually gonna be doing this operation. It does seem as though that they're using them more often. As Mike said, I have no doubt they are shooting down TB twos of the Ukraine aircraft, there are allegedly two Ukraine two 25s shot down today, not confirmed yet. So it's just that's just kind of a claim. But it certainly played a role. And we talked about what things might be useful for the Ukrainian military. Well, one of them would be, you know, unintelligible. So some NATO militaries still have, you know, older unintelligible, maybe OSA unintelligible, kind of Soviet style, ground based air defense systems, that Ukrainian soldiers would know how to operate, wouldn't need much time to operate, and you can probably deliver them pretty quickly, those things would be still be effective. And I think, you know, one, one lesson in this conflict is that a lot of these older Soviet air defense systems seem to still be effective, right? They still seem to be potent against aviation, even though these are you know, the things that Ukraine has are mostly, you know, pretty old systems. They're not the most modern systems but they're still having an effect. So it's, it's it is still something you know, important to kind of note going forward.
Dmitri Alperovitch 49:59
That's a great point. You know, one piece of equipment that seems to be incredibly valuable to the Ukrainians is tractors. They seem to be towing a lot of abandoned or taken over Russian, armored, armored vehicles and other things with those tractors. I don't know how many videos I've seen of that at this point. But let me ask you, Mike, coming back to the air power discussion that Rob just brought up. Have we overestimated Russian air power? Why haven't they been able to destroy all the airfields? I was looking at some star images that we're sharing with you the other night. Most of the runways were still operational as of a couple of days ago. Ukrainians are still flying. How have the Russians not been able to shut it shut it shut all that down, given the overwhelming advantage they have in the air?
Mike Kofman 50:46
Well, the honest answer is yes and no. So first, they didn't try this didn't actually start out with a large air space campaign, they thought that they were going to degrade Ukraine's ability to put up its Air Force primarily through missile strikes, and they literally fired quite a few missiles into Ukraine, I think up to 600. Now, which is pretty, pretty large, given the limited size of the magazine depth in Russia as long range PGM arsenal, you actually haven't seen substantial airstrikes on the airbases so far in this war, though, I suspect we're gonna, we're gonna, we're gonna eventually see more of that. They started out with very limited use of air power, and actually very limited use of combat helicopters, given the hundreds that they have deployed in the region, they were doing a bit of close air support, which the Russian Air Force actually isn't all that good at, C25s, which is a pretty high risk platform to use some use of combat helicopters, and you saw a real transition to greater use of air power, probably. But after the fifth day, that's when I began to see the first real tactical bombers appear. Probably in the last 24 or 48 hours, you've seen it really increase and it's been a bit of a dark day for the Russian Air Force, given the losses they've suffered. And they're paying the price for a couple decisions. First, they didn't try to do real suppression or destruction of Ukrainian Air Defense. Right, and they left pocket some of them have been operating throughout the country I think under a judgment that they wouldn't have to and it would be high risk. Why take on air defense systems in regions where you don't really want to fly and have to have to provide air support there. Right. The second factor is that they're actually not very good at suppression or destruction of adversary or defenses and historically have not trained well for that mission. Although you are increasingly seeing anti radar type missiles used in this conflict.
Mike Kofman 52:36
The third reason we can lead to suspect is that they're actually still holding quite a bit in reserve. I've seen some good questions being asked there of hey can the Russian you know, aerospace force conduct complex operations, are they out of PGM’s because we're not seeing them being used? So my short answer is, yes, they do have PGMS if they're not being used
- and just explained PGMS for the audience -
Yeah, precision guided munitions, right, instead of flying lower to try to maximize the accuracy of unguided weapons. So the reason they might not be used is because they might be holding them in reserve fearful that this could escalate, for example, to regional war with NATO, because they're expensive.
Mike Kofman 53:12
And on the air ops, I have to tell you, folks that do OSINT (open source intelligence) are going to really accept the limitations of what you can and cannot see, there's a lot about air operations that you cannot discern, or you cannot remotely discern in a timely fashion, given the limitations of what you can see. So I suspect we're going to learn a lot more about the complexity of Russian air ops, including in Belarus and Russia combat air patrols and, and various aspects of it. We can't see based on which again, social media or telegram channels. That said, it's perfectly fair to ask how come the Russian Air Force had been missing in action early on in this war. And I think a lot of the reasons still goes back to the beginning of this operation. A lot of Russian capabilities have been missing in action. Where are all the unmanned systems of drones, they have 1000s of them, right? We're not really seeing much of the heralded recon strike recon fire complex, where's the electronic warfare? They deployed many systems and haven't used much of them, you know, encrypted comms, digital, you know, VHF, all that jazz. They've clearly had a mix of units and they're using a host of analog radio systems. So there's a lot about this operation that is bizarre, and there are things that it's fair to ask or to reassess about Russian capabilities. I'm kind of reserving judgment. I'll tell you why. So, you know, we tend to veer between extremes, typically in the OSINT community. So right after 2014, I had to spend my time trying to explain why the Russian military wasn't really 12 feet tall, right. I can already tell that given Russian performance on this conflict, probably have to spend a lot of time explaining why the Russian military isn't four feet tall. This war is kind of giving off strong 1939 1940 Winter War vibes, and I think we're gonna learn a lot about actual Russian military capability performance. But we might also learn a host of things that aren't true. And I've been in this field long enough to be conservative as an analyst and sort of approach some of these takeaways cautiously. And not to jump to conclusions too early, especially only a few days into a war.
That's a great point. You actually compared it to the Winter War of 1939. But I saw you comparing on Twitter to the First Chechen War. And you said that Pavel Grachev, the guy that ran that war for Russia back then, seems to have been resurrected from the dead and using the same tactics that they did back in ‘94-’96 with a war that they badly lost.
Yeah, I made a comment that, at the opening at least, the first 48 hours I said it looks like the ghost of Pavel Grachev was well alive and planned this operation, because he infamously said to Yeltsin sort of cavalierly as an airborne officer that an Russian airborne regiment can capture Grozny and you know, two hours. The long story short is that it felt as though the initial operations kind of concept and assumptions were based on the probability that yes, Russian forces in Russian airborne could quickly get into Kiev and, and somehow overthrow Zelenskyy. And of course, maybe that's the best analogy for the beginning of it. Now, it's increasingly sadly looking more like the second Chechen war ‘99 to 2000.
Dmitri Alperovitch 56:30
Yeah, very good point. So for everyone who is joining us, this is Dmitri Alperovitch. I'm Chairman Silverado Policy Accelerator, having a conversation with Mike Kofman of the Center for Naval Analysis, and Rob Lee, of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, about the war in Ukraine and the military campaign that's taking place right now. Let's talk a little bit about the urban warfare that's coming up.
Dmitri Alperovitch 56:56
Presumably at some point, they'll surround Kiev, I assume you guys agree with me on that.
Dmitri Alperovitch 57:02
What is that going to look like? And how long is it going to take? Mike, let's start with you. Is that just gonna be absolutely horrific, barbaric pictures and videos that we're gonna see of decimated civilians, women and children? And complete destruction of that city? Is that what the Russians are planning?
Mike Kofman 57:21
I think it's gonna get pretty ugly. And yeah, I've sort of been on the record for a while saying that I think the worst is yet to come in this war. I definitely think Vladimir Putin is the kind of person that would destroy half a city like Kiev just to take it. And the biggest question I have is looking at the rate of attrition, the issues with sustainment. And I really have begun to wonder, you know, whether or not this force is not going to need a pretty significant operational pause, kind of written, I think, you know, three to four weeks, this force is going to be exhausted, as combat effectiveness is really going to drop, it's really going to diminish, they're going to need some kind of ceasefire to reorganize, resupply replenish, I just see them running through a lot of units pretty quickly, particularly on the front line. And, and I'm skeptical, I'm skeptical that they could take a major city like Kiev in a few weeks. I just I'm, you know, I have to reserve judgment, but I'm not seeing it. To be perfectly frank, after, after barely a few days into his war it became very clear to me that there's no way Russia can really achieve its political objectives in this war, it may be able to achieve military objectives, certainly. But I don't see military needs being able to achieve their desired political ends, not at this juncture, not given how they started, and how wrong their assumptions were. And I now kind of increasingly see them trickle more and more resources to underwrite what I think at the outset is a failed strategy. And I have definitely seen that before in a military conflict.
Dmitri Alperovitch 59:00
Do you think they have those resources to bring in?
Mike Kofman 59:03
I do. I mean, absolutely. And even though, to even to fill out this force, they had to rely considerably on conscripts or support reservists, which we're increasingly seeing in units. So we're definitely mobilized and put there. And auxiliary forces like Rosgvardia I think they still have quite a few more resources. Remember, a lot of the firepower and capabilities the Russia has still aren't necessarily in this fight. Right. This is a pretty limited use of air power, combat aviation in general. And even though a substantial amount of the force they deployed is now in Ukraine in the theater, and technically it's committed, we’re still seeing pretty small scale engagements in terms of how Russian units are organized and how they're acting. And if you look at Russian railroads, you see quite a bit of forces being still pushed through that are possibly weeks away, to reinforce the units or perhaps or replace the units that were largely lost or made combat ineffective.
Got it. Rob, do you agree with Mike that they may not be able to take a large city like Kiev? Or that they're going to need an operational pause here to regroup and rearm and resupply?
Yeah. I mean, I think he's unpredictable. So I think it's always hard to predict this kind of stuff. I think if we look at some of the campaigns, Aleppo took a long time. Right. Obviously, it wasn't mostly Russian forces on the ground, it was mostly Russian SSO, Russian airpower, and, you know, Syrian fighters fighting that fight. But I mean, there's certainly a question of, if they really go into Kiev, and they're defending it block by block, right? Russian mothers will take very heavy casualties, right? Even if they try and reduce the city to rubble, you can still fight from Rubble, right? If you really want to. So there's no guarantee they can take it quickly, there's no guarantee once you encircle you can take it quickly, it’s still a huge city. And of course, to encircle it, you need a really large force to do so. Now, not to mention, they could also leave you exposed to, you know, Ukrainian counter attacks from west Ukraine, or, you know, if Ukraine gets aviation, it would still be an issue there as well. So it's not fully clear to me whether they can do it, I think my view is that it's a bit of a race in time here, right, where I think there's going to be a strong domestic response. I think, ultimately, you look at the effects of sanctions, you see all these private corporations leaving Russia, there's going to be significant effects, right. And the extent of those disruptions, some of this being felt now is going to keep being felt more as the ruble collapses more, all these, you know, all these contracts that are done on medium long term, those gonna have to be renegotiated all these jobs, right, people gonna need to get paid differently than they get paid before, because the ruble now is, you know, worth less than it was before, all those issues become an issue, commercial aviation is gonna start, you know, shutting down in a large degree because much of Russia's commercial aviation is aircraft from Boeing, or Airbus. So they have all these issues. And I think, you know, we're already looking at very heavy casualties, we look at these significant economic disruptions to the way of life for a lot of Russians. Ultimately in a few weeks, I think there's going to be, it's going to be hard for the Russian Government to kind of just deny that's happening, and then not have to make some kind of change, right. And even if the news, even if you cut out, you know, all those independent news sources, ultimately, Russians are gonna, you're gonna feel the effects of this, and you can't kind of keep them blind to that. So I think, ultimately, within a month or so, it's going to be, it's gonna be a problem for Russia to keep continuing this conflict the way it is. And they’re going to have to try and make a change most likely. It’s hard to say exactly when it'll be. But ultimately, I think it's kind of a race for them to try to take Kiev before they can do that. I'm not sure they can do that. Right. And ultimately, you know, I don't think they can take, you know, two months to try and take Kiev or these other operations. And so it's gonna make it's gonna make the overall kind of campaign difficult. And, you know, it's difficult for me, as Mike was saying, it’s difficult for me to see exactly what the political solution is here for Russia at this point, because this campaign was about rewriting the mistakes of 2014, 2015 of what they didn't achieve because Minsk was never implemented, and never had a satisfactory long-term solution. Well, it's not clear to me what that long-term solution is now, that they can’t achieve right now, without taking Kiev. And either they do, you know, it will still look like a long-term occupation of much of Ukraine. And I don't think, you know, just expanding the borders of Donbas is a sufficient compromise for Putin. So it's not clear to me how this thing ends. But I do think it's going to be difficult for me to see how Zelenskyy and Putin will both be in charge of their countries. As you know, at the end of this conflict, I think one of them will go, and it depends how it kind of ends.
Yeah, let me ask a very practical question. We may have people in Ukraine that are listening, and I, like you, probably have been helping a lot of friends try to get west from the eastern side of the Dnieper. And I initially assumed before the war began, that he would stop at sort of the eastern side of the Dnieper, he would take Kiev, but he wouldn't go far west. Do you guys think that there's a real risk that cities like Lviv in the West, are going to be in danger of being encircled and seized in the near future? Obviously, he's already going west towards Odesa, but that's still the Black Sea region. Would he go further, further west? Mike, maybe start with you.
Sure. So I had originally thought that the mental cut line they had in mind was around Zhytomor and Vinnytsia and that they were going to basically cut that border down to Moldova,leaving sort of the more western parts of Ukraine without significant ground presence. I always believed that they were going to operate west of the river, just a question by how much. In fact, if you even saw that map I released of what I thought the Russian concept of operations was the night the war started, it's not far off. It's not exactly right, but isn't very far off from what they've attempted to do. Now, I don't know. I'll be honest, I think they're probably revising and reassessing. So that's, that's as far as I go.
Dmitri Alperovitch 1:05:09
Rob, any, any thoughts on that?
Yeah, I think it's gonna be tough to do. Ultimately, the longer this conflict goes on, it's gonna be tougher for Russia to kind of weather it. And you know that they're already having trouble trying to encircle these cities in the east that aren't falling. So the amount of Ukraine resistance, I think it's made that very difficult for them to try to move the Western Ukraine, given that even you know, even the more the areas they might have expected would be more welcoming of Russian forces are proving to be pretty resistant to that, right and protesting and making it very clear. So I don't think they necessarily want to go to western Ukraine. And I think even if at the beginning, the most optimistic idea was that, that could work. At this point, I think there's gonna be too committed, you know, holding or control all these supply lines, and, you know, trying to control the country. So I just, I don't think that's a likely scenario at this point.
Dmitri Alperovitch 1:06:00
Got it. So, question on occupation and sort of the insurgency prospects. We're starting to see some occupations, right, they took the city of Kherson and some of the other smaller cities like Melitopol. What do you guys see in there? Maybe we'll start with Rob, in terms of insurgencies. Perhaps it's too early, but how are they doing on occupation so far, taking over the governance in those cities, flooding it with Rosgvardia units? How do you assess their ability to occupy them?
Rob Lee 1:06:31
So, you know, I think in the short-term that it might be okay, but medium-term or long-term I don't see that as a viable option. So they brought in Rosgvardia units, allow the ones who operate in the south, it's like, restore us from from Ingushetia, there is a Dogeston. Obviously, the Chechen restorative guys have been quite kind of famous for their involvement in conflicts.
Rob Lee 1:06:53
But you know, ultimately, I'm not sure they really have a great plan for a long-term occupation. And one of the big problems that they face is that right now Kharkiv, and other cities, they're destroying all the industry and economic, you know, all the kind of jobs and economies of cities are being destroyed right now. And so, at the end of this conflict, whenever that is, you know, where the reconstruction funds gonna come from? Russia's economy is in a bad shape, it's gonna get, it's gonna get even worse, they're not gonna have funds to rebuild these things. And if you don't have economies in these cities, right, even if you take them, it's just it's a breeding ground for insurgency. If there are a lot of young men and people who don't have jobs, and aren't particularly happy about what just occurred, so I don't think the prospects are very good in the future, just based on the economic side, based on the amount of popular resistance there is. And you know, it's not going to be that the guys that deploy from Russia are necessarily that well trained for you know, counterinsurgency type of environment. Yes, they deployed Rosgvardia guys to Syria. They haven't, you know, played a key role really, it's, you know, mostly the Syrian army, gotta do most of those things. But, you know, the military police as well, the unit they've kind of developed for counterinsurgency environments, is too small to do a lot of this kind of stuff. And it's not clear that they're, you know, the most confident doing it either. So, I think there are big questions about how this goes medium to long term, if they try and occupy areas, I think it's just, it's not gonna work out that well. And ultimately, you know, if you try to occupy a country that doesn't want to be occupied, your prospects are always gonna be poor, right? No matter who you are, no matter what the other kind of details are.
Well, let me push back on that. Maybe Mike, you can try him on this. But they have a lot of experience doing counterinsurgency. Obviously they've done it successfully in Chechnya by, you know, killing lots of people being extremely brutal, torturing people, committing war crimes, and the like. Even in the Donbas in 2014 and Crimea they had some people that wanted to oppose them, and those people got vanquished very quickly. What do you think of their prospects for fighting an insurgency, knowing the brutal tactics that they usually employ?
Mike Kofman 1:08:56
So that's true. And you know, all authoritarian states often can have a better track record at that, but be that would it may. Most of the counterinsurgency examples we have are pretty small scale, and many of them are internal to Russia. This is something on a very different scale, in terms of the scope of the operation. And the resources and manpower available to it to me, just really aren't there, especially given what the sanctions are going to do to the Russian economy. I think that the Russian gambit is going to result in absolute catastrophe for the Russian economy moving forward and that's going to be felt very rapidly. In the way they restructured the military, right. One of the biggest things you get when you move from a mass mobilization army to a permanent spanning force that's primarily contract based, it's fairly small. It's capable, you know, granted, we're not seeing it really performed the way some asserts, but expected. But what it's not set up for very well, is some kind of population center counterinsurgency or occupying a large part of the largest country in Europe.
And so if we look at the initial assumptions, which were that they would not face, significant amount of resistance, and that they would be able to conduct this operation quickly. And thereby, without significant levels of destruction, doing the sort of things that would generate an increase in growing popular resistance, those were proven wrong. And that's why I'm actually more and more confident in my assertion that I do not see how they're going to achieve their political objective, no matter the amount of military means they pour into this fight. They can fail quickly, or they can fail slowly. But either way, I don't see great prospects for the overall goal of the operation. That's where I'm at right now, that being said, as always, like the caveat, you know, worse highly contingent. So it's difficult to make hard predictions, but I just don't see this military set up for that. I don't see it expecting that. And I ultimately see tremendous problems with Russia trying to even hold these large chunks of territories or some of these cities.
Got it. Let me bring you one more element that does not, I think, get enough discussion in this war. And that is the Information Operations stuff. And given that over the last 10 years, if not more, how obsessed we've been about Russia, and its troll armies and lies in media, etc. It's been astonishing to me to see the Ukrainians have completely decimated the Russians in this field, if not in others, in terms of quickly publicizing their successes, some real, some imaginary. And the Russians really not having a lot of rapid responses to it and really being stymied in their ability to do propaganda in this war. How do you guys explain that? You know, Mike, maybe start with you, and then we'll go to Rob.
Sure. So you know, one of the confounding aspects of this operation is that the Russian leadership actually wanted to keep a secret, they wanted to keep a secret from their own public, they thought they could get away with it. And it's clear that not only did they not intellectually evolve since 2014, they actually thought that this operation might be like a much larger version of what they tried to do in 2014. And so because of that, they completely seize the information environment to Ukraine. After a few days into the operation, they've been trying to slowly claw back, try to brand this operation at home and mobilize public support because they saw they had a big problem. The operation wasn't successful. There were people protesting against them in major cities already. And news was starting to trickle in, and some very unfavorable negative reports. And so now they're doing a lot of damage control, focusing on their own public and public perceptions of Russia, and, you know, with mixed results, but I will say they're definitely mobilizing parts of the public in support of this war. But in terms of a broader information environment, Ukraine has done great. It's allowed Ukraine to basically galvanize support to suggest that they're doing well, that they might win, and to encourage a lot of other countries to back Ukraine in the critical initial days. And yeah Russia basically almost had a media shut out. They largely see this as the information contest and in some ways it's sort of, it's not just the way the military is fighting, it’s also the way they're contesting the information environment it’s like a, you know, harks you back towards the late 1990s, early 2000s. So, but, okay, then-
So, so much for the non existent Gerasimov doctrine of hybrid war, right.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely. The hybrid war, we heard so much about that I used to rail about for many years is in the intellectual junk drawer that, you know, is much less useful than people thought it was. Whereas conventional war is the principal challenge, and it's here to stay is as we can see, but be that what it may, I definitely think that we are going to see a change of Russian approach to the information environment, it will be much more focused on their own public and mobilization, public support, then it will be on the west or contesting the the broader discourse.
Got it. Rob, do you agree with that?
Yeah, um, you know, one of the notable things about this war, right, you compare to say, the Iraq War,the Bush administration had spent a year mobilizing public support for that war, right, justifying it, going to the UN, all the other kind of things, right. And we can look back on it and see how much of that was true. But, you know, they spent a lot of time mobilizing public support, justifying what they're doing before that war started. Russia didn't do that this time. All right, and not just they didn’t mobilize the population. They didn't let the guys who are going to take part in this operation know about it. And so there are huge issues about the status of this war. The longer it goes on, since they didn't make those justifications, except for you know, a day or two prior to the war and it wasn't clear, they really sufficiently mobilized population to get ready for a long campaign that’s gonna see a lot of Russian soldiers get killed and not necessarily clear what their objectives are. Well, you know, part of the issue of the information environment too was that the political goals were always weird, especially the explanation right, initially this was about the Donbas. So the initial videos we're seeing, were all from these kind of like defense, you know, correspondence or, you know, semi or less, you know, related to the government or military who were putting out these videos, but all from the Donbas right, where not much was happening for the first few days. And so they weren’t publishing videos from what's going down in the south. They weren't publishing videos from the North, all these different areas they're basically trying to pretend that weren’t going on, because the justifications operation is mostly about the Donbas. Right, that and denunciation, but, you know, I don't know how you explain that exactly. So only recently, have they started, you know, as Mike said, once we started seeing these videos of Russian losses, right, including of, you know, top line Russian tanks, of Russian helicopters being shot down, of the TB two strikes on the book in one, two systems, they started posting videos, so we've seen some helicopter going to go and camera video footage, they start to show up the kind of a high tech stuff side of this that was a big deal in Syria. They're trying to show oh, look, we are modern military, all these things we can do. Of course, you know, one thing we're seeing is a lot of newcome they have is not as you know, impressive as we thought it was, right. One example is the PGM that’s on the poor, one of the issues they had when they're trying to go after the Ukranian Air Force is they couldn't hit some of the runways. Right? So I mean, runways are not, you know, that small, a PGM should be able to hit them. And there's evidence, satellite photos, they're missing airfields, leaving airfields intact, even after firing, you know, multiple missiles at them, right. That was a, you know, significant kind of lapse, it clearly shows a vulnerability and a problem with kind of Russian equipment. So overall, you know, I think the IO campaign it suffers from the other parts of the campaign where the political goals are a bit strange, not clear what they're trying to achieve, the fact they didn’t let people know, and to kind of prepare this ahead of time. All those are still issues. And, you know, again, it's, it's still a bit strange to try and justify some of the things they’re doing. The Syria campaign was a little different, right, they obviously made a bigger deal and trying to outreach to foreign countries to try and get support for what they're doing, well, that they're not getting that support this time. And obviously, you know, the really unified response outside of Russia I think, is also contributing to that.
Mike, you've made this point to me privately over the last few days that Russia has never done anything on the scale, or at least not in a very long time, probably since World War Two, how much do you think that that's impacting this campaign for them?
Mike Kofman 1:17:40
Yeah I think massively, and clearly they intend to. They thought that this wouldn't be something close to a cakewalk and was a terrible miscalculation. But absolutely, this is, you know, the world's largest country, essentially invading a large country in Europe. And, you know, even in an alternate universe where everything had gone well for the Russian military, they still would have taken significant casualties, who'd been much more difficult to assess, and likely a lot of planning might not survive first contact with an actual war. So my own view over this, and I was expecting Ukraine to put up a solid fight. I mean, outside of, you know, whoever in the Kremlin thought that this could happen in three, four days. I don't think any serious person looked at this and believed that Russia was gonna defeat Ukraine in a handful of days. Right. And, you know, Rob made a good point earlier that, yeah, they, you know, the green military held and didn't lose, but I'm not even sure how any of this would have been possible in the few days. It's just the reality, the scope, and the magnitude of the task. Here's the other thing. People have fairly criticized, said, Hey, military analysts, they overestimate, you know, Russian capability and whatnot. Well, those were basis for the military assessments they had, they were not invented out of whole cloth. However, you know, military analysis 101, military power fundamentally needs a context to express itself, you cannot measure military power in the abstract. I mean, don't get me wrong, lots of people try to, but it doesn't tell you that much. There's only so much you can glean from exercises. There's only so much you can glean from limited use of force and conflicts like Syria, where the country you're studying can dictate the pace of operations as much greater control of the situation. So there are a lot of unknowns that shake out in wars like this. And you're also going to see the Russian military evolve so you know, the long short of this is yes, we haven't seen him try to do something like this. I'm not surprised that a lot of this didn't go well for them. I'm happy that it didn't. I definitely am seeing things that surprised me, I'm sure Rob has to in terms of just poor performance and execution. And we're having a good debate and the debate is - is that because the concept of operations are unworkable? Because I do think this is fundamentally an irrational force employment. And they left a lot of capabilities simply not used. And we know they have, and we've seen them used in other conflicts, or, you know, other people will say that the whole thing is rotten, you know, and we can debate why, but they will say that is just a bad army and whatnot, and you definitely have those takes. I'm not inclined to jump to those conclusions, any judgments yet. I'm probably gonna give it some time.
Got it, Rob, you know, we're getting a lot of questions about the communication piece of this. The fact that the Russians have not really used much of EW, except in a few local areas, the fact that they themselves seem to be relying on cell networks with their cell phones. And even after the Ukrainian shut off all the Russian phone numbers from their telcos, they started grabbing cell phones from Ukrainian civilians and using it for communications. They’re using commercial radio equipment. A lot of questions of well, do the Russians not have sophisticated encrypted military equipment. And I've been looking pretty deeply into this issue. I'm curious what your thoughts on this particularly as a former Marine infantry officer, but it appears to me that they've had two issues, potentially with the comms. One issue is that, if you know, you guys are correct and I think you are, that they haven't been told that they're actually going to war and that they were on these training exercises. If you use the military comms, you, of course, request crypto keys from key material from headquarters, to load into your communication equipment, and you typically get it for a certain number of days. So I do wonder if they got essentially not enough of the crypto material to actually use in the worst situation, if they use it all up in the training part of the deployments. And if their equipment is anything like ours, it won't let you reuse the crypto material, because they'll make it insecure. So that's, that's number one. And number two, you know, having talked to a lot of comms officers in the US military, they tell me that HF communications are really, really tough to get right, and require constant training. Otherwise, people just completely lose those skills, they atrophy very, very quickly, and you're not able to use equipment and communicate with anyone. So potentially, there may have been a training problem as well, where they have the equipment, but they just can't use it because they don't have the key material, or they they're not trained well enough to do it. And they're just resorting to kind of civilian communication systems. What are your thoughts on this hypothesis?
Yeah, I think it can make sense. Um, you know, this is one thing, it's kind of hard to observe from kind of, like open sources looking at the Russian military, right? When you look at the big exercises, you know, to what extent are they using encrypted comms? Or what extent are they, you know, going around and using cell phones and things, you know, collapse or whatever, right? Hard to tell. In Syria, there are some indications that they did have some problems with encrypted comms because they started using RCID jammers. Right, remote control ID jammers on the vehicles, just like we do in the US. And one thing that was true for at least for us, and I think that’s true to them, encrypted communications still work if you're operating with one of these, these kind of EW jammers. But your non encrypted stuff wouldn't work. Right. And so I think in a case for the Russian military, there were examples in Syria, where they were hitting IDs and it appeared they were hitting RCIDs. And it's because they couldn't communicate and they decided, you know, what, we'd rather be able to communicate and use our, you know, black ear radios then use our jammers. Right. So a couple of cases of that, where you know, kind of indicating there's some problems. Another issue, and this is a broader problem in the Russian military, is that there was a big corruption case a year ago - and it’s still ongoing - where it was the head of the Russian military's communication troops, who his big procurement deal for radios, the main kind of green gear encrypted radios that that Russian soldiers use, that basically it was huge corruption scheme he came up with with some of the senior Russian officers and also some of the defense industry officials where basically they set a price for the procurement of the radios, this is what it should cost, and then they went and actually went to China and basically bought most of the radio from China from cheaper Chinese components, and then added some things in Russia. And then basically because the components in China were cheaper, the difference they pocketed, so huge embezzlement case, but which is still very common in Russia, right. This is common in the Navy and the Army and all over the place. So there is some question to me about how much of the equipment problems we're seeing, how much of that is due to corruption, right, how much that is due to these you know, consistent issues that are still a problem in the Russian military. And one thing the Russian MOD has done since 2014, MOD is the Russian Government General, is they basically used the threat of Western sanctions as an excuse to classify things, right, to make more procurement classified. There’s a procurement website where we used to be able to see everything, much of that is classified now, much of the amount of funds that go elsewhere is classified, and so on. Well, that also obviously increases the opportunity for corruption, because there's less transparency, if you can put journalists in jail, which they have for these kinds of things. Well, now you can just be, you know, corrupt more blatantly, and don't have to worry about getting caught. So I think that's potentially an issue for the radio stuff as well. It certainly looks as though it's a limit, you know, liability for them, or at least a weakness. And, you know, one of the issues that has been surprising so obviously, we talked about the EW piece, about how, you know, I'm surprised, more Ukrainian command control and communications was not shut down by Russian EW, because we know they have effective EW. And we've seen it in Syria, right. And U.S. officers have said, you know, Russian EW, has been effective at interfering with stuff we do. Right? It makes life difficult. So we know they have these capabilities, right? Maybe some are exaggerated, but we know they have them. And they're not using their full extent, when it comes back to these issues in general about why aren't they using some of the keyboards they have. One of the things that's interesting is that we know they use electronic warfare to locate communication signals, cell phones, those things, for targeting purposes, right. So they use that as part of the reconnaissance, strike complex, transpire complex, it's not clear to me that we're seeing that much employed right now in Ukraine.
By the way, I was very concerned when Elon Musk started providing Starlink, with Starlink terminals to Zelenskyy and his entourage, because if they're the only ones using those terminals in Ukraine, pretty easy for the Russians to start targeting them, regardless of who's using them. Right.
Right. Exactly. And I thought it was a huge concern. Right. And EM management has been a huge deal with the US military, as it should be. But ultimately, it doesn't appear that they're using it that effectively to target Ukraine, you know, senior officers or positions. And that's again, a little surprising, because we know, they deploy Leer-3 EW systems, we know, they're used for that purpose. It's not clear that they're, you know, maximizing that. So again, one of the big questions we had overall, is that the whole fires piece has been a bit bizarre, right? They haven't used it all they haven't used as effectively, as we've seen them used in Syria. Okay, it's on a broader scale, but still, it should be able to do it more effectively. And we're still seeing, you know, I still have questions about why we're not seeing it employed as effectively as it is. And you know, part of it comes down to they weren't, you know, told ahead of time, but there probably some other issues, too, that we're not necessarily seeing that aren't necessarily transparent right now.
Mike, were getting a lot of questions about the Navy, where's the Russian Navy, we saw them take snake island, Zmiinyi island, with that famous 13 defenders, Ukrainian defenders, that turns out actually did not die and are captured, but where's the rest of the Navy? What is it doing?
Mike Kofman 1:27:54
Well, looks like they're mostly blockading. Right. They conducted some kind of small I think unopposed landing off of Mariupol just to do it with naval infantry. And this is one of those, you know, operations where the naval infantry gets sent in to do its thing, even though they could’ve probably driven there faster from Crimea. They're holding off most of the LSPs for potential amphibious landing somewhere near or around Odesa. We'll see. I think they can only do it if they can link up with ground forces. You see Russian ground forces right now driving around, kind of hunting for a crossing West that's north of Mykolaiv because they've faced stiff resistance in Mykolaiv and can't seem to get through so they might try to go around the whole city. And once they are actually in a position around Odesa that's likely when the naval infantry’s gonna come in. Again, I don't think they need to. I think they're going to do it, because they can just to do it. The rest of the Navy, they've been firing caliber cruise missiles into Ukraine on a pretty steady base. In fact, we saw a salvo of eight towards an airbase today. And they've probably expanded a sizable amount of the caliber land attack cruise missile arsenal. And we've not seen too much naval action. I don't think we expected to see much, you know, there isn't much in the way of a Ukrainian Navy and you know, the only Soviet inherited frigate that they effectively scuttled in Port about two days ago. So that's so much for the Russian Navy. I think if there's a major role to play besides blockade and land attack strikes, we're gonna see it potentially in the coming days. And so I'm not saying that an amphibious assault or landing is necessarily imminent. I'm just saying that they clearly still set up in position to do one.
Dmitri Alperovitch 1:29:44
Got it. Another question that's coming in. The Ukrainians appear to have flooded some of the areas around Kiev, presumably by blowing up some of the dams around Kiev. Do you think that will impede the Russians ability to surround Kiev? Maybe Mike and then Rob.
Mike Kofman 1:30:02
I mean, it's doubly hampered their advance, not only did they blow up the bridges, it definitely flooded parts of the plane. It's constrained their ability to fan out from that convoy, is it going to be such a tremendously deterministic factor overall? I don't think so because eventually, though, they're probably gonna find a way to get around it. But I think it was ultimately a smart thing to do. And it's one of the many factors that has held up this large push of Russian forces from Belarus.
Dmitri Alperovitch 1:30:34
Rob, do you think it will stop them, or they'll find a way around it?
Rob Lee 1:30:38
It's not clear to me how large the area is, I know, I saw, like one or two photos of it, you could probably work around it. But look, I mean, it's one more way Ukraine is throwing a wrench into Russia’s plans, right, making things more difficult, you know, by hitting the vulnerable points. And I think they, you know, they identified that they, we've seen TB2 strikes, one thing they focus on was logistics, vehicles and fuel, and they clearly see what vulnerabilities are, and they clearly think let's go out to those make life more difficult, and, you know, slow down Russia's operation as much as possible and continue to do that. So I wouldn't be surprised is one more way of doing it. Blowing bridges that makes sense too. Russia brought all their bridges, they brought pontoon units. I'm not sure if we've seen those deployed yet. But we've seen them bringing, you know, heavy mechanized bridges and other systems too, so they should be able to work around it. But, you know, look, it's one more way Ukraine is making life difficult for Russian military. And you know, they've clearly shown, I'm sure we're gonna find out some examples in the future, after this conflict is over about all the things they did that made life difficult. And everything you do, you know, it just, it just throws a wrench into the kind of concept operations or what Russia is trying to do.
Dmitri Alperovich 1:31:45
Alright, so our crystal balls, collective crystal balls have been pretty good thus far, certainly in predicting this invasion. Let me ask you to pull them out once again, and answer this question. Mike, we'll start with you. And Rob, go to you next, but how do you think this ends? And how soon?
Mike Kofman 1:32:04
Oh, wow. Not only do I have to answer how it ends, but also given time limit to entry. Its wonderful. So first, I think that this war goes on and gets uglier. But that ultimately what we get is some kind of ceasefire than there's an operational pause, it may lead to a settlement, then or the war will very likely go on in the different phase, we sort of close this initial chapter. And then afterwards, it continues, all the way how it ends, from my point of view? Well, I think it's not going to lead to a political capitulation of Ukraine, I don't think Russia achieves its political goals. I think that it's proved economically disastrous for Russia itself. It's certainly disastrous for Ukraine at the same time, and I'm increasingly starting to think that this might be the beginning of the end of the political regime in Russia, this is the first time I've really started to think this way, after many years of looking at it, I'm, I'm not sure how the regime recovers from this. They've essentially thrown under the bus, all the key security components that form some of its important pillars in this operation. And, you know, those chickens are gonna come home to roost at the end of this. So I I'm skeptical about the future, the future for the for the Kremlin.
Dmitri Alperovitch 1:33:30
Yeah, I tweeted about this, if you think about a week ago that the prospect of a palace coup in Russia, seems to no longer be a 0% chance as I would have thought, even a month ago,given the fact that the economic devastation of Russia is going to be very, very severe. Rob, what are your thoughts on this?
Rob Lee 1:33:49
Yeah. So to piggyback off what Mike was saying. One of the things that’s really surprising about this conflict is that Russia has made a lot of the same mistakes the US made in Iraq, right. I mean, it obviously very different conflicts, but ultimately, trying to pursue maximist political objectives by invading a country and hoping for the best, right, having optimistic kind of scenario, and then not having a great plan if it didn't work out. It's surprising because Russian officials for so long, looked at what the US did in Iraq, looked at what it did in Afghanistan and said, we want nothing to do with this. Right. Basically, US military aside, we don't want to occupy areas and even in Syria, right, it was basically well, we'll help help the Syrian army, you know, take places, we’ll help provide air support but ultimately the Syrians will you know, do the occupation, we're not going to get involved in that kind of stuff. So they basically did a 180 I think that's that's why so many people didn't predict this war would happen. It deviates so much from previous Russian behavior, previous, you know, behavior that Putin kind of took when he was, you know, again, he has a pretty good record in wars. I think Donbas 2014 was a mistake, but other than that he basically, you know, was pretty effective at achieving more limited objectives. This time obviously, is different. And one of the big problems is, you know, a big part of the kind of contract that that Russia has with Putin is that okay if you stay in politics, I'll bring stability, you know, the economy might not be as good as possible, but you know, won't be terrible. And then also, you know, Russia will be a respected foreign policy player, right. And the military was a key element of that, right? Here's our military, it's feared, right? It's always, you know, Russian news covers new weapon systems all the time. And anytime, you know, the national interest or some US Publication says, Oh, the armada tank is good. It immediately becomes an article in TAs and elsewhere. Right, it's a big deal. So they love hyping the Russian military. And they love mentioning how Russians view favorite favorable view of the military has increased dramatically, since you know, the mid 2000s, when hazing was a huge problem, I mean, still is a problem, but maybe not as bad as them. Well, this war has shaken some of those kinds of views, right? It's again, it's not that the Russian military is a paper tiger, right? It can do a lot of good things, it can still defend its borders, and still inflict pain. But Putin put it in a very bad position, he didn't set the political leadership, set the military up for failure, and gave it a reward, it was very hard to achieve the protocols through military use. And then you know, it didn't didn't give them enough time to prepare for it and make coordination. So all those things come back to saying, okay, for Russians, you know, if they're looking right now, at the economy getting, you know, just getting hammered, right, the ruble collapsing, you know, the internet, always kind of companies leaving all these kind of basic conveniences, you know, gonna start affecting their lives, right, traveling abroad is going to be tough, commercial aviation is shutting down, you're gonna shut down. So all these issues are coming. Right. And at the same time, there's a war where it's not necessarily clear what they're trying to achieve. And also at the same time, the Russian military is not performing that well. Right. And ultimately, you know, some of this is the political, some of it is corruption and other kinds of leadership issues, right? We're young Russian soldiers were not told things, there are clear leadership problems. And ultimately, I think that it’s coming to an end too. So when I think when it comes back to it, it is, who do you blame for this, right. And ultimately, you have to blame the senior leadership of the Russian government, you have to blame Putin, he's the one who decided to do this. He's the one that allowed the system to start. And ultimately seeing all these kind of, you know, failures of the Russian military, some of which are maybe not their fault. But you know, many of which are. And Russia spent all this money in the Russian military, and yet we have these issues. So it all kind of comes back saying, what are we you know, is the system really representing Russians? They wanted to represent it? Are they happy about this kind of the contract? Or has that social contract broken down? I think I think it is, I think, you know, we're gonna see that next month or so, in terms of how this ends, you know, it's hard for me to see Zelenskyy and Putin both remain presidents at the end of this, I think one will probably, you know, lose power one way or another, it's really hard to predict this, you know, I don't, I'm not sure they're gonna be able to take Kiev before domestic issues kind of flare up in Russia, they can still inflict a lot of damage, right, they can destroy Kiev, they can kill a lot of Ukrainians, can they can they attain a sustainable long term solution? I don't think so. Because ultimately, Ukrainians don't want it right. And, and the more damage they do, the more Ukrainians are going to be angry about this situation. So it's not good, they have a good situation. And it's certainly possible that they have to accept some kind of compromise solution, or they try and occupy the eastern part of the country. And then you know, over time, that just becomes a bleeding sore, because then uncertainty will more likely kind of come out. And again, as long as Putin's in office, you know, Russia is going to be a pariah for private industry, for you know, government response, all these things. And I don't know how long that can last. But I don't know if you can take a country that has such exposure to the rest of world and then make it into a, you know, not quite North Korea type situation. But you know, losing a lot of those liberties. I'm not sure you can do that and a leadership still stays in power. So I think there's some real questions there. And I know, I think basically, we're looking at, you know, I think similar to Mike, I think we're looking at about a month, right, where they have to achieve some things, and then try and wind down the active phase, even though a long term insurgency may continue after that.
Dmitri Alperovitch 1:39:02
Got it. Mike did wanna make another comment on this?
Mike Kofman 1:39:03
Yeah, I just want to make two quick points. So first, you know, it really struck me that this war sadly have a reversion to what has been historically true in how the Russian political issue had placed the military in the worst position, unintelligible of a conflict, the late Makhmut Gareev, who, for a long time was head of the Russian Academy of military sciences. He died a couple years ago. He served under Agarkov. And he would publicly kind of write and complaint, is seen as one of the late scions of Russian military thought, or at least its curators, and even long, right that, you know, historically, Russian political leadership would always put the military in the worst position at the beginning of a war, you know, from the Crimean War, to the Russo-Japanese war, to World War Two, to you know, the Chechen wars and even the even the Russia-Georgia war, you know, the military would be either unprepared or in shambles or poorly equipped or subjected to a surprise attack. And you kind of thought that after the Russian military reforms this was over. And I think for many kind of looking at this they see it more as a regression than anything else. Another part of that, so, yeah, somehow this ends, and I probably gave at best an incomplete answer. It may end with some ceasefire, but I think it you know, it's heading at best towards an ending as to how the First Chechen War ended with you know, a ceasefire and and an accord that essentially papers over a political defeat and a terribly unfortunate expenditure of military power of casualties and the destruction of a number of cities.
Dmitri Alperovitch 1:40:56
But Mike, the pretext that Putin used for this, which was obviously ridiculous, but it was denazification of Ukraine. So you saying that he's gonna have a ceasefire with the Nazis or the people he's calling Nazis?
Mike Kofman 1:41:10
Yeah, he's gonna go back and say Zelenskyy is actually legitimate. And as you’ve seen, he's got sort of three core demands, recognition of annexation of Crimea, granting of some kind of independence of Donbas, and Ukraine agreeing to some formal form of neutrality. I'm not fully sure what that means. But
Dmitri Alperovitch 1:41:33
I mean I think he means no NATO and some sort of demilitarization.
Mike Kofman 1:41:34
Yeah, I get that. I'm just saying, I'm not sure. Practically, in technical terms, what that means, like, is that something that threatens Ukraine's constitution or, you know, what was he actually asking for for as a deliverable besides Zelenskyy, you know, shaking his hand on it? Which, which obviously he won't do. So looking at it from that perspective, I think if they get some of that they might be able to spin into a victory. But of course, it won't be because look, either way. These troops are going to come back home, the rosgvardia troops, the military. And even some of the I think, deeply frustrated, upset FSB people. And he's gonna have to deal and reconcile with those folks, when they come back, especially the POWs when there's an all for all prisoner exchange, which there typically is, at the end of a conflict like this. They're going to come back home, and they have families, they're going to have stories to tell.
Dmitri Alperovitch 1:42:26
Yep. All right, one more question here. And, Mike, this will be to you because not only do you study Russia, but you also study China. What effect do you think this conflict will have on China and its ambitions to take Taiwan, if any?
Mike Kofman 1:42:42
Okay, I'll just put it out there, I'm primarily a Russian scholar, I'm at best a dilettante and not even China related. So I'm going to engage in a bit of intellectual tourism, but I’ll afford myself given how many people are affording it themselves in the field of Russian military analysis today. So my view is that people probably are drawing too many linear conclusions as to what the Russian invasion of Ukraine means for a potential Russian invasion of Taiwan. My only two good lessons, or at least things that are interesting to me are first, I know that China is looking at the immense amount of sanctions and the political reaction against Russia, the Russians didn't expect, because we ourselves probably didn't expect this degree of unity. And likely wondering what it means for itself, and the kind of economic punishment and containment that it would face in the event that it tried this kind of brazen form of aggression against Taiwan, right? That's the first. And the second, you know, if there's one military that's definitely more untested and unproven than Russia is, is China's, they've bought a lot of kit, they spend a lot of money, they have a lot of capabilities. They don't have a whole lot of military experience in probably the last two generations of warfare. So all that being said, if I was them, if I was us, I would definitely look at the difference between expectations and performance. And I would ask some of those questions about the Chinese military as well. And if the Chinese leadership is of sound mind, they too would wonder exactly what the military instrument of power can deliver in practice, particularly in a high end contention like this, just when you're trying something that you really haven't tried before.
Dmitri Alperovitch 1:44:23
Got it. Well, everyone, thank you so much for coming to this Twitter space. I hope you found this discussion, informational and fascinating. I certainly did. And I think you'd be hard pressed to find more knowledgeable people on the Russian military than Mike and Rob here. Please do follow them on Twitter. Their feeds are just absolutely fantastic. Thank you again, gentlemen, for sharing your insights and knowledge with us tonight. I know most people listening here are certainly hoping you're right, and that Russia does lose this war. And I know all of our thoughts are with the civilians that are suffering just terribly right now in Ukraine. Have a good night everyone. Thank you.
Mike Kofman 1:45:00
Rob Lee 1:45:01
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
Great Power Competition