Ukraine's counterattack: Unheeded warnings from Russia's pro-war hardliners
For your consideration
What were Russia’s pro-war commentators saying in the weeks leading up to the AFU’s counter-offensive in Kharkov?
In July and August, Voyennoye Obozreniye (Military Review), Russia’s most popular military news portal, was publishing op-eds making the following claims:
Russia’s MOD was downplaying the strength of the AFU by embellishing casualty figures
Dragging the conflict out might not work in Russia’s favor
Russia’s “operational pause” would allow Ukraine to launch a counter-offensive
Donbass militia members lacked basic gear and hadn’t seen their families in months
Nothing was being done to correct mistakes because no one wanted to admit to them
Again, these are views from a patriotic, pro-military, pro-SMO website that refers to Kiev as the “Ukrainian Reich.”
(In April we published a roundup of thought-provoking op-eds from Military Review. You should definitely read these prophetic commentaries.)
Let’s dive in.
July 21: Creative reports from Russia’s MOD
By the end of July, very little progress was being made in East Ukraine. Despite the lack of territorial gains, Lieutenant General Igor Konashenkov, chief spokesman of Russia’s Ministry of Defense, continued to announce to the world that Russia was vaporizing large quantities of Ukrainian armor on a daily basis.
Military Review did some calculations and concluded:
[If we trust the figures given by the Russian MOD], it turns out that all Ukrainian heavy equipment has been destroyed (even “with a margin”), and the Armed Forces of Ukraine cannot continue hostilities. In reality, however, we see a completely different picture. […]
We do not know what methods the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation uses when counting the destroyed military equipment and combat aircraft of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. However, these methods raise serious questions regarding the reliability of the announced figures. If the numbers on the number of destroyed weapons given by General Konashenkov were true, then the Ukrainian army should no longer exist as such.
In general, there are certain questions about [the Russian MOD’s] information policy.
July 23: Is time really on Russia’s side?
There is a risk that time will work against us. We should not repeat the mistake of 2014, when we gave Ukraine and NATO an 8-year head start to dig in and arm up to the current state, and, as a result, we have such a difficult fight.
Kiev will be supplied—we will not completely prevent this—a lot of new and fairly effective weapons, the most dangerous of them are multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) HIMARS (USA) with a range of 300-500 km, which can also reach our territory, and fire at our positions from central Ukraine. And this weapon has been received and is causing us damage. […]
If we do not succeed now, Ukraine will build up its potential at the expense of NATO and strike from long distances, while our losses will increase many times over, and we will have to wage a real and tough war. […]
From an economic point of view, a prolonged war is highly inefficient. Here, unfortunately, the plan of the RAND Corporation (USA) of 2019 is being fully implemented, with the aim of “limiting income and imposing costs.” A similar US strategy led to the dismantling of the USSR, the West imposed on us an arms race in the 1960s and 1970s, when instead of televisions, washing machines, refrigerators and shoes, we produced incredible quantities of tanks and ballistic missiles, which, after perestroika, were no longer needed, they put under the knife, and only weapons-grade uranium was sold to the United States. The longer the war, the greater the attrition. And here the West gets everything it wants.
July 28: The Ukrainians are preparing a counterattack
At the end of July, Military Review warned that Russia’s “operational pause” would give the AFU time to prepare for a counter-offensive:
There is an opinion that Russia is capable of achieving victory without mobilizing and transferring industry to a military footing, but it cannot withstand a collision with reality. So far, the allied forces cannot even liberate the Donbass, and the military conflict is close to a “hot freeze”.
The Armed Forces of Ukraine, in turn, are preparing for counterattacks, under the supervision of Western “partners”. Even if we assume that all of them will be successfully repulsed, with the current alignment of forces, the war may finally take on the character of a positional one, and the front line will stabilize in the current configuration.
August 6: The Donbass militias are underequipped and need a rest
Probably you’ve seen the videos: mobilized Ukrainians have been complaining about the lack of equipment and support from Kiev.
Unfortunately, citizen-soldiers of Lugansk and Donetsk have faced similar setbacks.
As Military Review wrote in early August, forcibly conscripted members of the LDNR militias weren’t being provided with basic military gear:
The supply problem is still a key one for the warring army. Despite the fact that this topic is constantly raised by military commanders, bloggers, and volunteers who help this very army, in general, the situation has not changed much.
After five months of the war, the issue of providing fighters with personal protective equipment is still acute—body armor, helmets, etc. The fighters are either not given them at all, or they are given helmets from the Second World War, and armor from the times of Afghanistan, which burst at the seams. The situation is exactly the same with equipping the army with communications equipment and drones. […]
A lot of uncomfortable questions arise: why, before the start of the special military operation, knowing that mobilization would take place in the republics, the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation did not bother to stockpile the required number of bulletproof vests, helmets, machine guns, and medical kits? There are no answers to these questions.
To make matters worse, militia members were still waiting for rotation:
Despite the announced operational pause, no one gave the soldiers of the LPR and DPR a rest. While during the mobilization, the families of the mobilized residents of the LPR were told that they were called up for 90 days, and after this period a rotation should be carried out, in fact, after this period, no rotation was carried out.
Apparently, the main reason why the rotation is not carried out is that there is simply no one in the People’s Militia of the LPR and DPR to carry out replacements, since there are no reserves in the republics to fully replace those who are fighting on the front lines right now.
August 27: Everything is going according to plan?
The offensive of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and the People’s Militia of the LDNR has been stopped by the enemy at the moment, and the situation has reached an operational dead end, just as Western media report. The supply of Western weapons to Kiev—which, unfortunately, has not been unsuccessful—has played an important role in this development. […]
[T]he infantry of the allied forces is really sorely lacking. Attempts to “plug the holes” by general mobilization in the republics do not bring much result. At the moment, it can be stated that it is impossible to defeat the Armed Forces of Ukraine with existing forces and means.
As for mobilization, now the RF Armed Forces have accelerated the recruitment of people for service under the contract, campaigning events are being held in the regions, and participants in the SMO are being paid high salaries. However, there are still few people who want to participate in the special military operation. Why?
Because, firstly, there is no “idea” that could attract volunteers (abstract “demilitarization” and “denazification” are not ideas), and secondly, generals are not being held responsible for the mistakes being made during the operation.
Nothing is being done to correct mistakes, because no one publicly admits to them. “Everything goes according to plan”. In order to change the situation, this approach needs to be reconsidered.
September 11: The Russian MOD’s silence during the Ukrainian counter-offensive: Not appreciated
Many confusing hours passed before the Russian military issued a statement about what was happening in Kharkov region (a “regrouping”). This made Military Review unhappy:
Today, the Ministry of Defense is really sowing panic and defeatist sentiment precisely by the fact that it is not able to tell the people of Russia the TRUTH. […]
Why does our Ministry of Defense cowardly hide its head in the sand today as soon as problems begin? … Will real success come from verbal victories?
Already today, many in Russia have the same question: if the Armed Forces of Ukraine are left without equipment, if the soldiers do not want to fight and scatter, then who, excuse me, captures the cities? Are necromancers raising the dead? […]
The situation is ominous … The Ministry of Defense can remain silent as long as it wants or draw beautiful reports, destroying the equipment of the Armed Forces of Ukraine for the fourth time. Will this change the situation at the front? Also no. It is high time for the authorities to think about what they are doing, and how long will the Russian people allow themselves to be mocked like that. Trust is lost very quickly, as practice shows. Experiments of this kind can end very sadly, and it is a pity that the Ministry of Defense is playing with fire, pretending not to understand the problem. […]
And, finally, the same question that was mentioned at the very beginning: do you really think that we have no right to the truth?
September 14: “A costly lesson”
When the dust settled:
At the moment, the Russian army has practically withdrawn all its forces from the Kharkov region. That is, this means that Ukrainian forces ended up on the Russian border.
Once again, the Ministry of Defense called this a cosmetic retreat. […]
All this is very similar to the spring gesture of goodwill with the withdrawal of troops from the north of Ukraine.
The Kharkov operational crisis in early September is, of course, a lesson for the allied forces. Underestimating the enemy was very costly. Even taking into account the fact that it was possible to withdraw the troops relatively quickly. In the newly occupied territories, many people remained who believed that Russia was here forever. These are dark times now.
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It looks like Putin and his close advisors are trying to run a war on neoliberal lines. That relies on extreme parsimony, a just-enough just-in-time approach to logistics, reliance on managerial magic, a contempt for the enemy that works in the enemy's favour, and an indifference to the wellbeing of the people doing the heavy lifting (not to mention the people abandoned in the withdrawals). It's a corporate mentality, based on fantasies crafted by crackpot intellectuals.
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