It has been well over a month since Russian forces first invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022, with President Vladimir Putin kickstarting a war that has reverberated across Europe. However, despite the size, financial power, and military might of Russia, things have not gone exactly according to Putin’s plan so far.
While the 1991 Soviet Union boasted more than 3.5 million soldiers, the modern-day Russian army has just over 1 million personnel across all services. Around 35% of the military forces are made up of conscripts, meaning veteran groups have been concentrated into small units of action, creating a disparity in experience.
When you factor in the sheer size of Russia and the numerous borders with neighbouring countries, this presents a rather glaring problem in itself. Russia spans across 11 different time zones and over 17 million square kilometres. As such, Putin has concentrated his Western Military District on confronting NATO, his Southern Military District on expeditionary forces, his Eastern Military District on the Chinese border and the Northern Military District protecting the north of the country. Not only is this a logistical nightmare, but each district is also set up to deal with different threats and use different kinds of equipment – creating somewhat of a pecking order. For example, the Eastern District is usually the last in line for new military gear.
Some Rosgvardia, which are the Russian National Guard, have refused to march into Ukraine as their job description revolves more around crowd control than all-out warfare. Putin also has the Wagner mercenaries at his disposal, but they have a reputation for being poor in offensive situations and have never been tested in an exercise on this scale.
This has left Russia with a diverse array of military forces, all using the same roads to travel with coordination or sequencing. This has even led to confusion and friendly fire on occasion over the past six months. The more incidents of this nature and the more shortcomings from the Russian high command, the more the morale of the forces has plummeted during the invasion.
In fact, some reports have claimed that Putin is getting incomplete and overly optimistic reports from his expert advisers due to a distinct culture of fear he has created within his inner circle. It is said that some advisers are simply too scared to tell Putin exactly how badly the military is performing and how much the Russian economy is being crippled.
Early mistakes from those in charge of the invasion have created issues that Russia has found impossible to fully recover from. They now have too many troops pushed into Ukraine without the necessary logistical support or reserves. While Putin had the aspiration to fight a huge war, his expectations exceeded the experience of the forces at his disposal, leaving Russia on the back foot almost from day one.
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