Not surprisingly, as weaponry has advanced, in civilized countries like Russia most young men these days would rather play Call of Duty than engage in the real thing, at least not on somebody else’s turf. While the American military can continue to recruit some of the most public-spirited youths, in Europe, war (other than in defense of the motherland) is increasingly seen as an occupation fit mostly for the dregs of society.
This first became evident during the Balkan wars of the 1990s, when politicians had a hard time drafting normal guys to ethnically cleanse outside their borders.
So, the ex-Yugoslav republics pioneered practices now seen in the current Ukraine war of employing combatants drawn from the minority who enjoy violence: soccer hooligans, prisoners (like the war-veteran convicts recently released and armed by Ukraine), bikers (like Moscow’s Night Wolves, who fight for Russia in Donetsk), mercenaries (like Russia’s Wagner Group, now recruiting criminals), political extremists (like Ukraine’s neo-Nazi Azov Battalion), and warrior tribesmen (like Russia’s Muslim Chechens).
Two centuries ago, when families usually had 5 to 10 children, losing a son in war was bad but tolerable. Now, with only one or two children per family, losing a son is a tragedy. Muslim families, especially in the Middle East, are still large — hence their greater willingness to risk death.
That European mothers don’t want their rare sons used to invade somebody else’s country helps explain why Putin publicly denied to the women of Russia that any conscripts were being employed in his war (or, as he euphemistically calls it, special military operation). But he was then apologetically contradicted by one of his own generals, who admitted conscripts had already been taken prisoner.
The Ukrainians are fighting for their homes, while the Russians are fighting for some complicated historical theory Putin dreamed up while self-isolating from Covid. So far, the mainstream Russian troops mostly haven’t shown overwhelming martial ardor. Nor, fortunately, are there yet many videos online of Russian soldiers committing atrocities against civilians face-to-face (as opposed to long-range bombardments). Despite the Russophobic upsurge in the West, I’m impressed with the average Russian soldier’s apparent hope to just get this stupid war over and done with and get home in one piece without having done something he can’t live with.
Several Russian generals have been killed in combat, with some analysts speculating that it was due to the top men having to go up to the front line to motivate their troops.
In response to modern Russians’ lack of bloodlust for conquest, Putin has announced that he wants to import up to 16,000 Syrian mercenaries to help with the dirty work of assaulting the Ukrainian cities. Of course, these are the same pro-Assad troops that Putin had to bail out from having their government overthrown by Sunni rebels. How Arab hirelings would perform against Europeans fighting to defend their home turf is an open question. I’d bet on the Europeans, but some of Putin’s fans can’t imagine he’d misjudge.
Corruption cripples their war gadgets?
The Russian air force has been curiously less dominant than expected, leading to speculation about whether they just don’t have their heart in it? Or perhaps due to corruption, it’s more of a Potemkin air force, with many planes grounded by embezzlement of funds needed for maintenance?
As a native of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, I’ve long been curious about the source of the wealth behind all the Russians and Ukrainians buying Hollywood Hills estates from movie stars. And where I live down in the flatlands, there are now a lot of Slavic-speaking flatheads, military-looking tough guys who might be home fighting for the homeland except it pays better to provide security to oligarchs wintering in Bel-Air.
And by most accounts, there is even more wealth extracted from Russia on display in Cyprus, the Riviera, London, and New York. Russia is a potentially rich and strong country, but that degree of parasitism has to take its toll on any nation’s capacity to wage war.
The latest Russian strategy:
Russia’s Plan C appears to be to give up on fighting a war of maneuver and just batter cities and factories with artillery. Retired Australian general Mick Ryan argues:
Now we see the beginnings of Russia’s ‘Plan C’ campaign in Ukraine. It is an even more ad hoc & brutal plan than their two previous attempts…. Plan C might be described as: hold current gains, long range firepower on cities, foreign fighters as cannon fodder, destroy as much infrastructure and manufacturing capacity as possible, expand the war to the west to deter foreign volunteers and aid providers.