The news that Putin has fired under-performing generals and taken personal command of tactical decisions has General Hertling in a gleeful mood. I share with him the sentiment that bad news for Russia is good news for Ukraine. My glee is tempered by the single pair of hands that now control both conventional operations, and use of WMDs. In the words of CIA, this further heightens unpredictability. It complicates intelligence work.
History suggests that Putin is motivated less by high casualties than stalemate. Look at the Donbas map; it contains a de facto Ukraine salient, extending to Severodonetsk, that defies Kremlin military logic.
Russian military minds recall that in World War II, in almost every Soviet victory, save the great encirclements, the Russians suffered much higher casualties than Germany. The Battle of Kursk, by some measures the largest tank battle in history, was 200 miles from Severodonetsk, so it bears comparison, even if the comparison is faulty. Here the Soviet forces were defending a salient, which the German forces attempted to reduce.
Then, as now, the Soviet forces had a primitive command structure, which included the motivation of commissars who summarily executed soldiers who abandoned the front. At least one current Russian POW claims the threat still exists. By some counts, Germany lost 165,000; the Soviets lost 863,000. This is celebrated without qualification in Russia.
A more discretionary example. In the Winter War with Finland, Russia ran out of parachute silk. So paratroopers were nailed into barrels, and rolled out of planes into deep snow; 60% survived the drop.
(Euromaidan Press) Russian troops suffer epic fail while attempting to cross river at Bilohorivka. The bunching of troops has been exemplified as tactical incompetence. While true, it may not have been discretionary. Reports of low morale, which implies fear not neutralized by motivation, may have required the “commissar solution”, threat of summary execution, corralling and pushing masses to the bridges. Those who reached the other side probably bunched up out of fear.
The battlefield balance of terror is now heavily in the favor of Ukraine.
- Does Putin intend to continue the kind of mutual attrition that gave victory to the Soviets in WW2?
- Or does he intend to flip terror to Russian advantage in the Severodonetsk salient by the use of WMDs ?
- In view of historical losses that the West has not experienced since WW1, would the inevitable self-inflicted losses of Russian forces to their own WMDs be acceptable to Russia?
Watch the colonels: Power Transition in Russia? Revolution? Part 1