Why Russia’s invasion of Ukraine isn’t going to plan

Thursday marks exactly one month since Russia launched its invasion into Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted a quick takeover of Kyiv, but instead, he has left a trail of broken-down tanks, military convoys stuck in the mud and thousands of dead Russian troops while the Ukrainian capital remains unoccupied.

Experts say corruption, poor logistics and low morale among Russian troops has meant that Moscow’s invasion hasn’t exactly gone according to plan.

On Tuesday, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the Russia has “manifestly failed” to accomplish its objectives. Last week, the UK’s Ministry of Defense said Russia’s invasion “has largely stalled on all fronts.”

“The Russians are not as good as people assume. They are not 10 feet tall,” Aurel Braun, a professor of political science and international relations at the University of Toronto told CTVNews.ca over the phone on Thursday.

POOR PLANNING AND LOGISTICS

On paper, Russia’s military prowess should have overwhelmed Ukraine. It has around 12,000 tanks according to Global Fire Power, making it the largest tank fleet in the world, and its air force is the world’s second-most powerful with over 4,000 aircraft.

But Braun says that corruption in the government and in the military means much of this equipment has been poorly maintained over the years. Poor planning within the military has also meant that Russia is failing to replenish its equipment on the front lines, Braun said.

“The massive military investment that Vladimir Putin made the military over the past 10 years did not escape the general corruption in the country,” he said.

Videos of abandoned and broken-down Russian tanks in Ukraine have widely circulated throughout social media. The UK’s Ministry of Defense has also said logistical problems have been “preventing Russia from effectively resupplying their forward troops with even basic essentials such as food and fuel.”

“It doesn’t matter how good a tank is. If it runs out of fuel, it’s not going to move. So, you have to have the logistics,” Braun said.

National security researcher and Queen’s University professor Christian Leuprecht notes Russia’s “completely dysfunctional logistics system” is one that relies heavily on rail lines. He also adds that much of Russia’s military equipment is more than 50 years old, dating back to the Soviet Union.

“Russia wanted to put out the message that it has this invincible military, and people like myself warned that we know the Russians have moral problems, maintenance problems, modernization problems,” he told CTVNews.ca over the phone on Thursday.

LOW MORALE AND POOR LEADERSHIP

Experts say the corruption in Russia’s military has meant that the Russian soldiers were poorly prepared to engage in this war, leading to poor morale among troops.

“If you have low morale, and the soldiers don’t know exactly what they’re fighting for … it’s very difficult to get more out,” Braun said.

Russia had told its troops that the war was necessary to “liberate” the Ukrainian people from their so-called Nazi government, Braun said. “Instead (they) encountered civilian populations that are hostile and tell them that they’re not wanted.”

Russian troop deaths have also continued to climb. NATO officials have said that 7,000 to 15,000 Russian soldiers have died since the war began.

Leuprecht adds that Russia has “an extremely hierarchical military” that results in “serious communication issues.”

“Their commanders on the ground have very little discretion, unlike Western commanders, when it comes to decision making. They constantly have to go back to headquarters and ask, and that way of warfare is clearly proving extremely ineffective and inefficient,” he said.

The low morale among the Russian troops is in stark contrast to the “extraordinarily high morale” among the Ukrainians who have taken up arms to defend their country, Braun said.

“They are fighting and they’re willing to fight and die for their country to protect their homes, their families. And that has helped Ukrainians overcome the great asymmetry of power,” he explained.

RUSSIA’S NEXT MOVES

Despite the Russian military’s setbacks, Leuprecht says the Russians can sustain its war with Ukraine “for a long time.”

“Yes, it’s difficult and it’s expensive for them to do this. But we saw this in Chechnya, we saw this in Syria. The Russians can keep up this campaign for a while,” he said.

Russia’s tactics have evolved as the war has progressed. When the war first began, Russia sent light infantry to take over cities, Leuprecht said. Then, Russia tried to move in on multiple targets at the same time at a larger scale.

“They realized that that wasn’t working either because the Ukrainians were surprisingly good at defending,” he said.

Now, Leuprecht says the Russians are on “Plan C,” where they amass their forces, one city at a time, before moving on to the next city – the most recent city being Mariupol, where 80 per cent of housing has been destroyed, according to local officials.

“I think this is going to be eight months long, slow war of attrition, where the Russians bit by bit are going to start to lay siege to city after city as they can concentrate and amass their forces,” he stated.

CANADA’S ROLE IN NATO

Although Russia’s military capabilities may have been overestimated prior to the Ukraine invasion, experts agree that Moscow still poses a serious threat to the West.

“It’s not the case that Russia has to be able to overwhelm all of NATO. It’s enough if they can threaten the country on the margin,” he said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau traveled to Brussels on Wednesday for an emergency summit with other NATO leaders. Trudeau has been under pressure from NATO allies to boost its military spending to the NATO target of two per cent of GDP – a commitment Braun believes Canada should “absolutely” make.

Leuprecht also said Canada’s low military spending has also made Canada “an unreliable ally” to other NATO countries.

“We made this contribution to Latvia and to Ukraine, but now that the allies are asking, ‘What more are you going to do for us?'” he said. “We have nothing to contribute because we have nothing else to give. There’s no other equipment, there’s no more soldiers we can send. There’s nothing.”

Russia is also Canada’s neighbor to the north, and Braun says boosting military spending will also help safeguard Canada’s Arctic sovereignty.

“You don’t want to have a militarization of the Arctic because you don’t want to have to fight a war over the passage of civilian ships. Well, guess what Russia is doing? They’re militarizing the Arctic and there are engaged in all our hydrocarbon exploration, which is really risky,” he said.

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