Computer Crime Research Center


Gen. Petraeus: Invasion reveals a host of weaknesses in Russia's military

Date: March 17, 2022
Source: Computer Crime Research Center
By: Peter Bergen

In interviews on Sunday and Monday, Petraeus, who formerly headed the CIA, assessed the war in Ukraine as it has played out in its first three weeks. He is skeptical that the Russians have enough forces to take, much less to control, the Ukrainian capital Kyiv and some of the other major cities, saying that continued urban warfare generally will favor the Ukrainians.
Nonetheless, he also notes that the Russians have enormous capacity for -- and history of -- destroying cities, civilian facilities and critical infrastructure, and they will "rubble" urban areas in an effort to take control.
Petraeus praised the actions of the Biden administration and its allies in recent weeks and noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin, instead of making Russia great again, has made NATO great again. He predicts the most likely near-term outcome of the war in Ukraine will be the continuation of a bloody quagmire for Russia that is largely indecisive, even as it inflicts greater and greater loss of life, infrastructure and basic services on the Ukrainian people. There is, however, also the possibility of a negotiated resolution, as both Moscow and Kyiv recognize the damage and destruction being done to their countries.
Our conversation was edited for clarity.
PETER BERGEN: Is the Russian military's performance in Ukraine surprising to you?
DAVID PETRAEUS: Somewhat surprising, but not entirely. And there are many reasons for the Russians' abysmal performance. First of all, they're fighting against a very determined, quite capable Ukrainian force that is composed of special ops, conventional forces, territorial forces and even private citizens, all of whom are determined not to allow Russia to achieve its objectives. They are fighting for their national survival, their homeland and their way of life, and they have the home-field advantage, knowing the terrain and communities.
But beyond that, the Russians are just surprisingly unprofessional. They clearly have very poor standards when it comes to performing basic tactical tasks such as achieving combined arms operations, involving armor, infantry, engineers, artillery and mortars. They are very poor at maintaining their vehicles and weapon systems and have abandoned many of them. They are also poor at resupply and logistical tasks.
As a Russian journalist, this is the knock I dread
As a Russian journalist, this is the knock I dread
We have known for decades that the Soviet system, now the Russian system, has always lacked one of the key strengths of US and Western militaries, which is a strong, professional noncommissioned officer corps.
And part of the problem is that the Russian military has a fairly substantial percentage of conscripts. It's very hard to determine how many of them are in Ukraine. We know in the Russian military overall, probably in the range of 20 to 25% are conscripts. And there are particularly large numbers of conscripts in a critical area, which is logistics -- including drivers of trucks and fuel tankers and soldiers in maintenance units.
The Russians also have found it difficult to go off-road. Their wheeled vehicles get mired in mud very quickly. The ground is not frozen the way they had hoped it would be. Even tracked vehicles seem to be getting mired in mud. And the Russians are just not performing sufficient preventive maintenance on their equipment.
I've served in mechanized units, with a mix of tanks and armored personnel carriers. And every single time you stop, the driver and the crew members are outside checking road wheels and final drives, pumping grease, topping off fluid levels. If you don't do preventive maintenance, then you will end up with such vehicles breaking down.
Beyond that, the Russians just have relatively unimpressive equipment, given the investment supposedly made over the past decade or so. They certainly don't have equipment comparable to what the United States has.
Their precision munitions aren't very precise: This was underlined by the fact that they didn't crater the runways in Ukraine in the first hour of combat the way we did in Iraq in 2003 to completely deny the Iraqi Air Force any opportunities to take off. In fact, the Ukrainian Air Force is still flying. As modest as it is and as many losses as it has sustained, it's still up in flight.
So Russian precision munitions are lacking. We can also see this with the sheer frequency of the Russians hitting civilian infrastructure, like the hospital in Mariupol, other medical facilities and the government center in Kharkiv -- unless they truly meant to hit those targets, which obviously would be nothing short of horrific.
They also have problems in very basic tasks such as staying dispersed. A column never closes up on a major highway where it can be spotted by a drone and hit by artillery, as was seen recently. The 40-mile traffic jam we saw outside of Kyiv -- this is just incompetent movement control for which normally there is doctrine and organizational structures and procedures. And then it took them days just to disperse that 40-mile column into the tree cover as opposed to being out in the open.
War crimes expert: Russian invaders are crossing a line
War crimes expert: Russian invaders are crossing a line
They've also been incapable of combining what should have been a huge advantage for them, which is integrating air and ground operations together. They're not really doing true close air support, just ahead of their ground formations. Rather, they're just doing air attacks.
Russian cyberwarfare has also been unimpressive, perhaps because they overused it in the past and the Ukrainians, possibly with some help, learned how to deal with it. The Russians have been unable to take down the Ukrainian command and control system and unable to take down President Volodymyr Zelensky's access to social media and the internet. So, their cyberwarfare capabilities that seemed impressive in earlier campaigns, when the Russians took Crimea in 2014 for instance, are a whole lot less impressive this time.
And then on top of all of that, you just have an unimpressive campaign design by the Russians that clearly was based on very flawed assumptions about how quickly they could take Kyiv and particularly how quickly they could topple the government and replace it with a pro-Russian government.
So, in every single area of evaluation, the Russians, starting with their intelligence assessments and understanding of the battlefield and their adversary, and then every aspect of the campaign, all the way down to small unit operations, have proved woefully inadequate. And they're facing an enemy that is absolutely determined, surprisingly capable, very innovative and resourceful, and fighting on their home field.
Much of the population also hate the Russians, and that hatred is being deepened with every strike on civilian infrastructure. Not only are the Russians not winning hearts and minds, they are alienating hearts and minds.
BERGEN: Is time and mass on the side of the Russians?
PETRAEUS: I don't think so, but quantity does have a quality of its own over time and the sheer destructive capability of Russian bombs, missiles, rockets, artillery and mortars obviously has to be a huge concern.
Clearly, they do not have enough forces to take, much less to control, Kyiv and some of the other major cities, but they do have missiles, rockets, artillery, and bombs and an apparent willingness to use them in a very indiscriminate fashion.
And so, they continue the approach they used in Chechnya, particularly with Grozny, and in Syria, particularly with Aleppo, where they depopulated the cities by indiscriminate use of bombs. And it is going to be an endurance contest between the Russians' willingness to destroy cities and the Ukrainians' ability to survive such destruction.
BERGEN: Will urban warfare favor the Ukrainians?
PETRAEUS: Very much so. Usually, the rule of thumb for urban warfare is that it requires at least five attackers to every defender. In this case, I'd argue it may be more than that because the Ukrainians are so resourceful. They will work together to prevent the Russians from taking urban areas the way that infantry and combined arms normally would do, such as the way the United States military cleared and then held cities during the Iraq War in, e.g., Ramadi and Fallujah as well as parts of Baghdad and other cities.
This Equal Pay Day, let's smash the maternal wall
This Equal Pay Day, let's smash the maternal wall
Such big-city battles require you to take every building and clear every room, and then you have to leave forces behind in each building or else the enemy will come back behind you and reoccupy them. So, it's incredibly soldier-intensive. The Russians have nowhere near enough soldiers to do that even for Kyiv, much less all of the other cities.
To be sure, the Russians will have some success in some cities, and certainly, the battle for Mariupol is a race between the starvation of the Ukrainians who remain there, which include forces that are still fighting very hard, and the Russians' willingness to continue to heap destruction and innocent civilian casualties on a city that's resisting but is surrounded.
BERGEN: If Putin decides to try and take all of Ukraine, what size army would he need?
PETRAEUS: I'm not sure. I don't think even his entire military could do this, and keep in mind, there's a huge limiting factor, and that is the apparent inability of Putin to replace the forces that are presently fighting. How and when does he replace his forces? It's not apparent to me.
In fact, the Russian conscripts are only on 1-year rotations, so it's no wonder that they demonstrate very poor standards of everything, given...

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