Report: Some Russian troops surrendering without a fight

Report: Some Russian troops surrendering without a fight
AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky

The report in this case comes from the Pentagon, so … yeah. Obviously the U.S. has an incentive to circulate this information even if there’s not a lick of truth to it.

But don’t assume there isn’t. Morale within the Russian military can’t be great right now.

U.S. propaganda or Putin’s Waterloo? I report, you decide:

I’m skeptical, but judging from social media a lot of Russian materiel seems to have been abandoned in Ukraine. Either the soldiers responsible for it have been killed by Ukrainian forces or they’ve walked away, abandoning their posts. This, for instance, is one of the most savage conventional weapons Russia owns:

Read this to learn what thermobaric weapons do to people. Meanwhile:

Yesterday I noted that experts are split as to just how much of a military fiasco this has become for Russia. Some believe the army has been constrained by Putin wanting to win quickly and “cleanly,” with minimal civilian casualties and therefore minimal international — and domestic — backlash. Believing that was possible turns out to have been a catastrophic miscalculation. “Half a dozen western intelligence officials told the Financial Times that the Russian armed forces’ performance so far suggested Moscow had either failed to collect the correct information on Ukraine’s defences, or that it had been ignored by Putin and his most senior generals — or both,” the FT reported this morning, adding that Putin seems to have badly underestimated Ukrainians’ willingness to resist.

Meanwhile, analysts continue to scratch their heads at Russia’s failure to achieve air superiority over Ukraine’s much smaller air force. Theories kicking around are that Russian pilots just aren’t as well-trained as they need to be or that “the VKS are not confident in their capacity to safely deconflict large-scale sorties with the activity of Russian ground-based SAMs operated by the Ground Forces.” In other words, they risk being mistakenly shot out of the sky by their own troops because they can’t coordinate effectively.

At Slate today, Fred Kaplan says it’s time to accept the reality that’s staring us in the face: The Russian army is inept.

[T]he Russian army isn’t cut out for lightning strikes. Troops are trained in rote set pieces, with no time devoted to improvising if things don’t go as planned. One reason for this is that junior officers are not allowed to take initiative. This is deliberate; it’s part of the top-down command system dating back to Soviet times, if not earlier. In politics and in warfare, the small elite on top doesn’t want subordinates to get too creative—if they did, they might take over.

And so, as the Russian invaders met resistance, they didn’t quite know what to do. Military operations designed to take place sequentially—Step 1, then 2, then 3, etc.—fell apart, catastrophically. If Step 2 hit a big obstacle, the by-the-book soldiers moved on to Step 3 anyway. Therefore, large troop-transport planes tried to land, even though the airport hadn’t been completely secured and Ukrainian air defense systems hadn’t been destroyed. As a result, two Il-76 transport planes, each carrying 100 airborne troops, were shot down.

Similarly, tanks aren’t supposed to roll through hostile territory all alone. They need to be escorted by infantry troops alongside or by combat planes from above, to avoid getting ambushed. Yet, in this invasion, Russian tanks are rolling all on their own or providing protection for reconnaissance scouts, but getting no protection for themselves. So, as might be expected, lots of Russian tanks are getting ambushed.

Another analyst notes that these problems were foreseeable given how poorly Russian-backed mercenaries performed in Syria and how many problems Russian air forces and air defenses experienced in that country. The military leadership is corrupt (surprise) and Putin’s top advisors are doubtless composed of yes-men who fear bringing bad news to him. Rank-and-file Russian troops tend to be one-year conscripts with little training, making efficient operations even more difficult. These kids can’t be much more than 16:

Ukraine can’t match Russia’s firepower but the disparity in how effective their respective infantries are appears to be much smaller than anyone expected.

Russia seems to have little choice but to brute-force its way to victory, capitalizing on its advantage in firepower. Witness the brute force on display this morning as they target civilians to try to terrify the population into submission:

The latest target is the TV tower in Kiev, which happens to be located adjacent to the Babi Yar ravine where the Nazis murdered thousands of Jews during World War II:

“To the world: what is the point of saying «never again» for 80 years, if the world stays silent when a bomb drops on the same site of Babyn Yar? At least 5 killed. History repeating,” tweeted Zelensky after the strike. Remember that Putin’s justification for attacking Ukraine is that the government — led by a Jew — is a Nazi regime and he needs to “denazify” it militarily. Now here he is killing Ukrainians on the site of one of the Nazis’ most infamous atrocities.

How much will that contribute to the Russian military’s morale problem?

Ukraine has been crafty in how it’s gone about trying to erode that morale, incidentally. They’ve set up a website and a Telegram channel designed to allow Russian families with men in the military to check on the status of their loved ones. They’ve also invited Russian POWs to call their mothers and let them know that they’re alive. That’s a cunning way to break through Putin’s information blackout inside Russia and to seed unrest among the Russian population. The more Russian mothers find out that their boys are in captivity, the more grassroots demand for the war to end will galvanize. The worse the morale crisis for Russia gets, the more likely Ukraine is to prevail.

Exit quotation from the AP: “Overall death tolls from the fighting remained unclear, but a senior Western intelligence official, who had been briefed by multiple intelligence agencies, estimated Tuesday that more than 5,000 Russian soldiers had been captured or killed so far.” The total number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq over eight years was 4,400.

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