Russia: Pain Management

Russia: Pain Management. By Strategy Page, after about 24 hours of the invasion.

As expected, not a lot of the nearly 200,000 Russian troops now near the Ukraine borders actually entered Ukraine. All, or most appeared to be volunteers, rather than the one-year conscripts that comprise half the strength of the armed forces. Few of the conscripts and even fewer of their parents are eager for the conscripts to be fighting neighbors.

Russian airborne forces managed to take an airport ten kilometers outside Kyiv. Efforts to use that airport to bring in additional troops were disrupted by the Ukrainian use of Stinger portable anti-aircraft missiles as well as rifle and machine-gun fire at low flying aircraft. The airport was quickly attacked by a Ukrainian army rapid reaction force organized and trained for retaking key locations seized by Russian airborne forces. While the area around the airport was soon surrounded by regular reservists and armed volunteers, the Rapid Reaction unit retook the airport before the Russians could use larger transport aircraft to bring in more troops.

Russia appears to have underestimated the preparations Ukraine have made since 2014 to deal with this kind of invasion. In addition to 150 local defense units (of at least battalion size) arrangements were made to quickly arm, train and deploy volunteers, which includes all physically able males aged 16 to 60. The regular army obtained more portable anti-aircraft weapons and trained special units to deal with any Russians that seized key objectives. All those armed Ukrainians were more of an obstacle that the Russians expected.

The invaders are using about a dozen main roads from the border to objectives inside Ukraine. Within hours all those roads were under fire from the armed locals. Even convoys with numerous armed escorts were fired on and the Russians did not have enough troops to clear the roads of armed hostiles. Some convoys were halted by roadblocks and at least one Russian reconnaissance platoon was captured. While the Russians control most Ukrainian airspace and coastal waters, land areas remain under Ukrainian control.

An amphibious assault on the major Black Sea port of Odessa failed and most ground advances appear to have stalled as well. One Russian column that did not encounter any resistance was the one into the Chernobyl radioactive zone. … The main reason for taking control of the exclusion zone was that it is a key element of one of the shortest routes to Kyiv. …

The outcome of the invasion will be more obvious within a week. Much depends on the effectiveness of the local resistance to Russian forces and the roads they use. It is currently the “mud” season in Ukraine where most of the snow is gone and replaced by weeks of mud, which limits off-road travel by wheeled vehicles. …

Russian credibility is gone:

Russia has repeatedly broken promises and formal agreements, so now only Russian actions have any meaning and Russia refuses to behave. Days before the invasion Russian leader Putin told his French counterpart that there would be no invasion. …

Even the 2014 sanctions hurt:

The Russian economic decline since 2014 because of Western sanctions has been very real for the average Russian as personal income declines and the percentage of the population living in poverty increases.

Efforts to restore the Russian Empire have some popularity among Russians if the economic cost to them is not too great. The new sanctions will be felt most by the average Russian and that is how the Soviet Union lost so much popular support that it collapsed. When it comes to popular unrest the main reason is usually economic and, if you follow the money, you discover who did what to create the mess. …

In the last century, Ukraine doesn’t have much to thank Russia for:

Ukraine, the target of all this Russian aggression, was motivated to resist militarily. This has been a very active tradition during the last century. Towards the end of World War I (1914-18), Ukraine was briefly independent once more. Ukrainians fought back after World War I ended and a civil war broke out in Russia that led to a communist victory and particularly harsh treatment of separatist Ukrainians.

Stalin starved Ukraine in the early 1930s and felt justified because of its continued resistance to communist rule. This Holodomor (Great Hunger) killed over three million Ukrainians as too much Ukrainian grain was exported for hard currency.

During World War II Ukrainian partisan fighters fought the Germans but many continued to fight returning Russian control late in the war. The armed Ukrainian separatists remained active into the early 1950s. The brutality with which Russia put down this resistance kept the Ukrainian anger alive into the 1980s and that played a role in Ukraine leaving the Russian empire.

In the Russian occupied areas of Donbas, Russia assumed that unless harsh measures were taken there would be armed resistance there. While most of the locals were ethnic Russians imported decades before the Soviet Union collapsed, most spoke Ukrainian and welcomed Ukrainian independence in 1991. Russia spent a lot of money and effort to prevent an armed uprising within their Donbas territory. This was the reason so many ethnic Russian Ukrainians fled to Ukraine rather than take a job with the Russian militias or local governments. …

Unlike the past, this time Ukraine has active foreign support from NATO neighbors and NATO in general. Since Putin declared the Donbas republics legitimate, pledges of military aid to Ukraine have increased, along with economic aid.