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Military analysis of the operation in Ukraine from the side of the US

Western media did another information planting about the “losses of the Russian army” in Ukraine

  • INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC STRATEGIES | 28/03/2022

INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC STRATEGIES 

On March 23, Western media did another information planting about the “losses of the Russian army” in Ukraine, indicating that about 40,000 soldiers were killed, wounded, captured or missing. At the same time, the Wall Street Journal, which first gave this news [i], refers to an anonymous high-ranking NATO official, and the rest of the media cite the Wall Street Journal.

This Western hype and wishful thinking is no longer surprising and is quite understandable. Much more interesting are the attempts of Western military and military-political experts to consider the combat tactics and strategy that is used in Ukraine on both sides.

On March 5, the Washington Post pointed to a change in the tactics of military operations. [ii] It was noted that the Ukrainians tried to inflict as many losses as possible on the Russian army, while Russia is likely to increase its firepower. The publication quoted several military experts. Rob Lee believes that Russia’s advantage is in conducting a conventional war with the use of tanks and mechanised infantry units.

Therefore, Ukrainians need to focus on attacks against this equipment during hours of darkness with the help of night vision devices. And Congressman Jason Crow, who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, said that the decentralisation of the Ukrainian army is the best asset at the moment, which, oddly enough, contradicts the necessary indicators for the country’s accession to NATO.

Other estimates are no less interesting. Michael Kofman and Ryan Evans note that Russia is waging a “war of attrition.” [iii] This is one of the classic approaches, which consists in weakening the enemy by constant attacks and exhaustion, forcing them to spend all their resources. Obviously, in such a strategy, victory will be on the side of the participant in the conflict who has more resources and reserves. And this is clearly Russia. Therefore, intensive discussions continue in the NATO countries about the need to supply the Ukrainian Armed Forces in order to continue to inflict damage on Russian troops, despite losses in manpower.

Well-known military expert Michael Mazarr is trying to understand the causes of the conflict and how to respond to them. He writes that in no case should hasty decisions be made, and “the best answer to imperative-driven tragedies is robust deliberation, both public and inside government, that performs exactly the sort of outcome-based, consequentialist analysis the purveyors of imperatives seek — even if unconsciously — to avoid.

Key questions we should be asking about any proposed action in Ukraine include: Will this policy make a measurable difference in the war? Does it risk crossing some objectively defined escalatory threshold, such as the conduct of actual combat operations? What might Russia make of the act? How might it respond? Are there alternatives that would achieve the same effect, with lower risk? What are the possible second-order effects? Does the act accord with American national interests at stake?

The effect of imperative-driven judgment is to brush aside such inconvenient questions. Had enough of them been asked — by the right people, at the right time, with the needed seriousness — the United States might have avoided catastrophes like the Bay of Pigs or the invasion of Iraq.

Global peace is at stake in the wider war that could spread from Ukraine. In this crisis, the United States does confront one undeniable obligation: to ask the right questions before, rather than after, taking large-scale action; to check its sense of duty and moralistic commitment; and, this time, to be sure it finds its way to wise action, rather than a road to disaster.” [iv]

This is a more balanced assessment. It also indicates the need for a delay in decision-making in the military-political circles of the United States and NATO.

Another warning comes from Major Joseph Bedingfield, who says that the lack of historical thinking in the US military does not allow them to understand what is happening in Ukraine. He writes that the current NATO meetings and briefings speak only about the current state of the crisis and operational doctrines.

“Few, if any, of these conversations include a historical perspective on variables such as NATO’s eastward expansion, Putin’s past and how it shapes his worldview, or Russia’s complex relationship with Ukraine. This is perplexing given Putin’s use of revisionist history to justify his invasion.

Perhaps Army officers believe history insufficiently prepares them to solve modern problems. Nonetheless, if the Army wants to prepare officers to understand and win in complex environments like Ukraine it must first reverse an ahistoric culture and restore officers’ historical mindedness.” [v]

But when implementing this approach, there is a risk of understanding history from a position that will justify the interests of a certain political group. There are no guarantees of objectivity in the study of Russia by the US military.

Caitlin Lee from the Air Force Association Mitchell Institute and the RAND Corporation is more concerned about the state of the US armed forces in connection with the current circumstances in Ukraine and around Taiwan.

She writes that “defence leaders face a constant dilemma: Absent a major boost in the defence budget, they can’t provide forces for everything, and they also lack the strategic and operational direction they need to consistently prioritise. So, they resort to hedging their bets in various ways. One of the most insidious is to adopt a strategy of “peanut-butter spreading” U.S. forces across the globe.” [vi]

In her opinion, “The Defence Department needs to strike a balance between deliberate and agile planning within the Global Force Management System’s force-allocation process <…> defence policymakers must remain humble about setting strategic objectives in a dangerous and changing world.”  

The author does not promise to magically align the global position with the stated strategic goals, since top-down leadership and clear strategic goals are still needed. This indicates that priorities and tasks are not coordinated in the US leadership now, the opinions of the military and politicians differ, and decisions are not made reasonably, which threatens problems for the US itself.

A similar assessment is contained in a report by former US State Department employee Anthony Cordesman. At the same time, he says that the operation in Ukraine may be a spoiler for improving China’s capabilities and the growth of other regional threats. [vii]

Other RAND researchers William Marcellino and Michael McNerney note the importance of social networks in this conflict, which act as a catalyst, inciting and stimulating the will to fight. [viii]

Although the authors only notice what the Ukrainian side is doing (memes about the “ghost of Kiev” or various curses against the Russian army), completely losing sight of how effectively Russia is working in the media space (including a ban on some American social networks).

They write that “this all has implications for the U.S. and the Department of Defence. RAND research and the events in Ukraine show how critical will to fight is to combat outcomes. Further, in a connected world of social media, images and messages can quickly tell a story that powerfully supports or degrades will to fight.

Will to fight is hard to assess (it’s a lot easier to count tanks), and with rare exceptions early assessments of Russia’s prospects in Ukraine largely ignored will to fight and focused on materiel. But the United States and its allies may need to understand and account for it.”

Most likely, the work of the Russian media ecosystem is still being carefully studied in the United States and NATO, but so far the results are not shared. There may be several reasons — inconsistencies with the presentation of Western media, where there is a lot of misinformation; unwillingness to recognise the surge of patriotism within Russia and open support from a number of countries (Serbia, Syria, Belarus, etc.) and the disclosure of the facts of lies by the Ukrainian authorities.

In a broader context, senior defence researcher Michael Johnson puts forward seven points that the United States and its NATO allies should take into account. [ix]

1. The United States should no longer get involved in any more forever wars. The assumption here is that the United States and NATO should avoid direct military conflict with Russia in Ukraine due to the risk of nuclear escalation. Yet the false choice between extremes of wanton intervention and excessive restraint often ignores defensive deterrence as a rational alternative to prevent war and promote prosperity.

2. A major war in Europe or Asia will not happen because of economic interdependence. Support for sanctions may weaken the longer Western citizens suffer because of the effects of these sanctions on shared finance, energy, and supply chains.

3. Basing NATO ground forces in Poland and the Baltics is a provocative threat to Russia.

There is no political will or military capability in NATO to invade Russia, and Putin knows it.

4. Russia will never attack NATO because of Article V.

5. NATO can deter Russia with airpower; stationing ground forces in Eastern Europe is unnecessary.

6. The United States should cooperate with Russia in “Reverse Kissinger” strategy against China. Genuine Russian cooperation to contain China seems unlikely to happen until genuine Russian democracy allows for a reduction in tensions with the West, or when China presents a direct threat to Russia. Neither scenario seems realistic in the near or even distant future.

7. The United States should leave European security to the Europeans in order to focus defence strategy and spending on China. As China becomes a superpower seeking to dominate Asia and exercise global influence, it is true Americans can no longer care more about European security than the Europeans.

Johnson’s opinion reflects a broad trend within the United States on the topic of the threat from China and the unwillingness to wage war on two fronts.

There are also more specific assessments that are interesting from the point of view of information and psychological operations.

Kane Tomlin (a former US Army soldier and now director of special programs at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement) believes that “according to the Victim Identity Model (VIM), <…> the US and Western Intelligence Community (IC) played a pivotal role in the inevitable defeat of Russia in their war with Ukraine.”

The main hypothesis of the VIM is ‘that a prerequisite for organised forms of collective violence is a motivated organisational leadership element that convinces his or her followers of their in-group victim status. This vicarious in-group victimisation legitimises the stated retaliatory causes of the group, subsumes individual responsibility to the group, and enables psychologically normal group members to commit violence against their perceived aggressors’.” [x]

Tomlin says that “the intelligence community’s contribution to Russia’s defeat is remarkable because this may be the first time that such a role was so instrumental to the war effort without the US firing a shot… People need to buy into a macrovictim mindset aka ‘victimisation by proxy’ in order to lower our normal inhibitions against out-group violence.

Tomlin says that “the intelligence community’s contribution to Russia’s defeat is remarkable because it is perhaps the first time such an action has played such an important role in the war effort without the US firing a single shot… People need to believe in macro-victimization thinking, known as proxy victimization, to lower our usual prohibitions on violence outside the group.

Events like Pearl Harbour and 9/11 were highly effective macrovictimisation events primarily because they happened to be true attacks on an ‘innocent US’ from our perspective <…> However, these events do not necessarily have to be factual to work for the targeted in-group, in this case the Russians, because the mechanism of injury doesn’t matter as much as the effect of the injury itself.”

This psychological effect is supported by the spread of fakes and an intensified propaganda campaign within the EU and the United States, directed against Russia on the one hand, and showing Ukraine as a victim on the other. Of course, the facts of Ukraine’s aggression in Donbass have been kept suppressed since 2014. Selectivity in the choice of information and attacks on the consciousness of ordinary people is an obligatory mechanism in the process of victimisation.

However, Tomlin is silent about another psychological nuance — the growing frustration among the Ukrainian military and politicians. NATO did not come to the aid of Ukraine, and the population of the liberated cities is overwhelmingly friendly to the Russian military, blaming the UAF and neo-Nazi national battalions for what happened.

Questions of psychology and anthropology are raised by Mary Harrington, but from a slightly different position. She wonders why mercenaries and volunteers from Western countries are coming to Ukraine. The answer is that in the West they cannot realise their masculinity. [xi] The current liberal-democratic society has been suppressing such instincts for a long time, which have now escaped thanks to massive propaganda.

Indeed, why all these newly-born “heroes” did not want to go to Donbass or Syria as volunteers in order to realise their masculine qualities, helping to fight terrorism and saving civilians? Probably, this is a consequence of the influence of this same Western media machine, which shows only the picture that is beneficial to orderers.

Summing up the conclusion, it can be noted that in the leading media, even where the comments of military experts are published, the setting for the imminent defeat of Russia and the fighting spirit of Ukrainians are usually pumped up. Whereas on specialised websites and in analytical centres, military analysts are more accurate in their assessments. Although there is an element of hype and obvious sympathy in the choice of the parties to the military conflict, the general approach suggests the need to revise the US strategy in general and the limited capabilities of NATO in particular.

[I] https://www.wsj.com/livecoverage/russia-ukraine-latest-news-2022-03-23/card/russia-lost-up-to-40-000-troops-in-ukraine-nato-estimates-xyZjWxinMDHzdeRZvAeD

[ii] https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/03/05/ukraine-military-strategy/

[iii] https://warontherocks.com/2022/03/in-the-fourth-week-is-russia-revising-its-war-aims-amidst-attrition/

[iv] https://warontherocks.com/2022/03/duty-bound-to-disaster-beware-the-imperative-in-foreign-policymaking/

[v] https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/ahistoric-army-cannot-understand-putins-war-ukraine

[vi] https://warontherocks.com/2022/03/the-u-s-militarys-force-management-tug-of-war/

[vii] https://www.csis.org/analysis/us-national-security-looking-beyond-war-ukraine

[viii] https://www.rand.org/blog/2022/03/the-will-to-fight-in-the-age-of-social-media.html

[ix] https://www.rand.org/blog/2022/03/after-russias-ukraine-invasion-seven-assumptions-the.html

[x] https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/how-western-intelligence-mortally-wounded-russias-war-effort-ukraine

[xi] https://unherd.com/2022/03/why-western-men-gave-up-on-war/

Source: https://russtrat.ru/analytics_/28-marta-2022-0033-9631

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