War ends in Peremoga

An article by LJ-user kungurov on the real reasons why the war went the way in did in the first few months.
Worth noting that this is written in the summer, about the events of April-July, when Russian intervention and supply was minimal to nonexistent, and always covert.

Current Russian involvement modifies the situation somewhat: on one hand, it rules out any chances of Kiev government successfully drowning the independence movements in blood, but on the other hand, Russia is also against large-scale advances by the rebels. This is because the Russian Federation seems to be trying to freeze the civil war and "put the genie back in the bottle" so to speak - Ukraine becoming a unified federation with a consensus government is much more favorable to them than having North/South Koreas 2.0 on their doorstep, one or both of which they would have to rebuild.

Source: kungurov.livejournal.com/94013.html


We always look at the civil war in Ukraine from biased positions: here are our guys (Pro-USA / Pro-Russia, pick one) - they are good fellows, their cause is just and therefore they will win; the enemies (terrorists / neo-nazis, pick one) - they are orcs and therefore doomed to fail, so they will all soon die and burn in Hell. But, in fact, victory or defeat on the battlefield is only slightly dependent on ideology and on what the talking heads on TV are saying (especially since TV can always spin the most terrible defeat into an easy victory). Therefore I propose we look at the situation impartially, taking into account only military and economic factors.

If you look at the situation superficially, things for the Donbass militias (separatists) are hopeless: the government army outmatches them 5 to 1 in armor, 3 to 1 in men and 10 to 1 in artillery, along with a huge advantage in supply and total air superiority (militia has no aircraft). In operational terms, there are two pockets of resistance - Lugansk and Donetsk, between which there is little or no interaction. Structurally the insurgents, unlike ATO forces, have no unified command structure, reserves, or system of supply. Then the question arises: how come the government forces didn’t stomp the rebel defenses flat, by now?

To answer this question, we need to consider the situation as it unfolded: four months ago, the militias were motley crews armed with hunting rifles and guns taken away from the cops. They had no artillery or armored vehicles, and their numbers were negligible. Nevertheless, the government forces, having a 20-50 to 1 advantage on paper, failed to achieve any tangible successes in the early months.

Yes, Kiev suffered a political defeat in the spring – Crimea was abandoned without a shot; politicians in the capital were busy squabbling over power and were not concerned with Donbass separatist movements. However, the problem could be easily solved by force. Could be, if Ukraine had an army. But the fact of the matter is that in March-April, Kiev had no army. There were people in uniform, weapons lying in warehouses, tanks rusting at storage bases, aircraft standing on the ground in neat rows (some even beautifully painted). But there were NO armed forces capable of carrying out tasks assigned to them. Simply put, there was absolutely nobody to send into battle and nothing to fight with, too.

While soldiers were given guns and shown how to shoot them (in case someone doesn’t know, the military rarely see weapons in peacetime, and certainly neither like them nor know how to use them), while APCs were rolled out of hangars, while it was determined which APCs were capable of, theoretically, driving as far as the railroad station, while tents and ammunition were received from the warehouses, while everything was, with great confusion, loaded onto trains and sent somewhere, time was hopelessly lost. But even after arriving in theater, all these thousands of armed men in uniform did not become an army. It was a disorganized rabble much like the Donbass militia, and at this stage the numerical superiority of the government army was not a boon but a disadvantage. Axiom of military affairs says: The more troops, the more damaging are the consequences of disorganization.

Actually, it is not necessary to engage in battle with the enemy for the troops to lose the ability to fight. Do not feed them for three days, and the army will just run away - the soldiers will wander off in random directions, bartering their weapons for food and warm clothes. And so it happened, and so it is still in government forces: desertion is perhaps the most significant reason for their manpower losses.

For the militia, all of this was much easier. Firstly, their number was very small, so they were able to achieve local organization very quickly. Therefore, it was the separatists who initially seized the initiative and forced the enemy into a raiding-ambushing manner of fighting, which gave them an advantage, given their local knowledge and superior mobility. Yes, in spite of the government troops possessing considerable numbers of armored vehicles and even aircraft, militias had far greater mobility. They used civilian vehicles, while government armor was at best used as stationary weapon emplacements due to lack of fuel, spare parts, drivers, and orders to move. Well, sometimes they would drive tanks to village stores to buy vodka.

A very important factor is the presence of competent commanders. The government army had a lot of overweight dudes with big stars on their shoulders and big bums from sitting too long at the table, but no one with any competence in military planning. It's not even the fact that the Ukrainian army has never, ever, fought. In peacetime, military experts keep up professional form through combat training, maneuvers, staff exercises, and so on. Ukrainian army never did battalion exercises, heck they even nixed company tactical exercises because of lack of funding (It is worth noting that Ukrainian army had more personnel than e.g. Nigerian army, but a much smaller budget). Combat training was replaced with "classroom exercises" out of complacency. Well, combat training was replaced with reports that classroom exercises were done, whereas in reality nobody went to these classes because of their utter uselessness. At the very best, they were carried out as a formality.

As a result, army officers did not know the most basic things – how to read a map, use the radio, did not know how to organize patrols, outposts, interact with other units and support assets. Obviously, conducting meaningful operations was right out. And quite naturally the uselessness of commanders increased the longer they were in the army and the higher they climbed up the decision ladder. Over the 23 years since the Soviet Union ceased to exist, the generation of Soviet officers that who had at least some experience was almost completely gone. Today's generals were young lieutenants during the perestroika. While climbing to the top, they have completely forgotten what they were taught in Soviet military academies, and new skills were not acquired for the above reasons.

Donbass militias have also been very lucky in the sense of commanding officers - Igor Girkin/Strelkov (who fought as a volunteer in Transnistria and Serbia, and later as a soldier in Chechnya) had more experience in guerrilla warfare than the entire Ukrainian General Staff. Another man in the right place was the former lieutenant colonel of the Russian Army Igor Bezler ("Bes"), who moved to Ukraine more than ten years prior, as well as Alexei Khodakovsky (former commander of the Donetsk SWAT team). A crucial role was played by the Russian volunteers, a lot of them veterans of the war in Chechnya. Finally, among the local militiamen there is a very large proportion of 50-year-old men, and even older, among which many have combat experience from Soviet war in Afghanistan.

So at the initial stages of armed confrontation, the volunteer militia forces, working under the command of experienced commanders, have not only inflicted moral defeats, but also made major contributions to their arsenals via captured military equipment and weapons. I’m talking about the standoff near Slaviansk in April-July of this year. Of course, the Kiev government propaganda is desperately squealing about columns of Russian tanks coming to the aid of the separatists and about hordes of mercenaries from GRU and FSB, which together with the Chechen gangs of thugs daily cross the border by the thousands to swell the ranks of the terrorists, but seriously, this verbal diarrhea is not worth taking about. Until May the border was generally under the control of government border guards. The number of Russian volunteers fighting in the Donbass by now is estimated at about 500 people total, this is one battalion by army standards.

Kiev has made a huge mistake - deciding to fight the insurgency without a viable army. As a result, the inept army became the principal source of arms and ammunition for the rebels. Well, something of course was captured in warehouses and military units stationed in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, but those weapons, quite frankly, were not the most modern. However, even SKS carbines, designed in 1944, were put to good use (from pictures and videos it seems that about a third of militiamen are armed with these slow-firing, but accurate and reliable rifles). And anti-tank PTRS rifles, declared obsolete back in WWII, though indeed useless against tanks - perforated light armor quite handily.

As a result, throughout the conflict we saw the same pattern: the numbers, training and equipment of the militia are growing rapidly, while the fighting capability of the government forces keeps decreasing. Frantic attempts to increase the number of ATO troops (ATO = Anti-Terrorist Operation, since the Kiev government can’t call it “War” or they won’t get IMF loans that are necessary to keep fighting) lead to even greater loss of combat capability due to the reasons described above – the reinforcements, being forcibly drafted off the street, come to the army incompetent and largely demoralized, increasing the chaos. Pro-Kiev forces call it "betrayal in the headquarters", but this is an ancient tradition - to explain easily understandable cowardice and stupidity as betrayal. Cadre units that could become the backbone of the drafted army are sent on the offensive, where they are encircled and destroyed. Most of those that escape from the encirclements are sent to mental hospitals, which may be appropriate, considering what they went through. 40-year-old "reservists" and 20-year-old conscripts who come to reinforce the decimated units are weaker than those they replace.

Think about this for a second – Donbass self-defense forces that began four months ago with awkwardly built roadblocks, small ambushes and nighttime raids, now contest the field against a regular army, organize encirclements, hold key landmarks, and sever enemy communications by counterattacking with armored task forces! At least half of the government’s combat-ready aircraft have been destroyed. Dynamics of this process aren’t looking good for the ATO forces.

Yes, most of the DPR (Donetsk People’s Rebublic) and LPR territory is now controlled by the government forces, but from a military point of view, this brings them nothing but problems. Firstly, this stretches the lines of supply of over enemy territory, and as all available forces are tied up at the frontlines by now, militia saboteurs are attacking military targets as far as Zaporizhie and Kharkov regions. Secondly, pushing insurgents into a small area increases their density, and creates a continuous front. And if your ground troops don’t have the stomach for a stand-up fight, encountering dense enemy formations everywhere is a bad thing - that's obvious!

Inside the highway arcs spanning Donetsk and Lugansk, militia can maneuver forces much faster than the opposing forces can on the outside. For this reason, government attempts to take any of the towns along this line have been parried with timely and effective counterattacks. But government can no longer quickly move forces, for example, from Debalcevo to Amvrosievka to save the encircled forces in the south - it’s a long haul, hard to supply, and since the frontline has been created, leaving it becomes impossible from a PR standpoint. No one knows what’s gonna happen, if Strelkov pops out again and retakes Slavyansk – it would be a huge shame. So Ukrainian command does not help the encircled forces, not because it is cruel and heartless, but because rescue operations could lead to an even more terrible defeat. In the meantime, while the encircled forces are slowly ground to dust, they tie up considerable militia forces, allowing government troops to make small gains elsewhere and turn them into PR victories.

From an operational point of view, instead of squeezing the militia out of outlying areas it would be much more effective to encircle pockets of resistance, and destroy them one by one. Actually, that is how the Russian army acted in Chechnya - blocking groups of separatists and destroying them in encirclements. If they were stupidly squeezed into the mountains, the war in the Caucasus would probably still drag on. But the Kiev army is not able to achieve even tactical cooperation on the battlefield, much less correctly solve problems of an operational nature. Government forces let Strelkov’s men leave the Slavyansk encirclement virtually unopposed - idiots rejoiced about a blue-yellow flag over the City Hall, but from an operational point of view, it was a defeat. It was after Strelkov’s men moved to Donetsk and unified the local armed groups that the DPR began the very mobile warfare for which the government army was totally unprepared, and which has led to a series of disastrous failures, such as the destruction of four brigades at the south border. Government forces have failed to destroy the Slavyansk force with a numerical superiority of ten to one. What can they hope for now, when the balance of forces has changed to three to one?


The old military saying goes that victory goes not go to the one who fights well, but to the one who fights better. One of my friends, a colonel, head of the Department of Ttactics at a military academy, rephrased it in this fashion: the most important thing is to be less dumb than the opponent. For him, as a person who has seen war first hand, stupidity was a strategic factor. Stupidity on the part of Ukrainian strategists is probably unmatched in recent history. If tactically pro-government warriors act clumsily, and operationally - amateurishly, strategically their actions are absolutely crazy, which will be discussed later…


From the translator: *peremoga means "victory" in Ukrainian.
Since the government media widely misuse the term (e.g. constant reports of destroying dozens of T-90 tanks, not one of which was ever actually sighted in the Donbass), it has become somewhat of a running joke.

Further reading:

Earlier post on the reasons for the government defeat at the airport this January

A series on humanitarian aid, far more deserving of reading and helping, really