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The Kremlin’s Misleading Portrayal of Military Progress in Ukraine

The Kremlin’s Misleading Portrayal of Military Progress in Ukraine
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Video producer Nik Yarst

Dmitry Peskov

Dmitry Peskov

Spokesman, Russian President Vladimir Putin

“The special military operation continues, it continues methodically, it continues in accordance with the existing plans. All goals will be achieved.”


On August 30, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described Russia’s six-month-old war against Ukraine as proceeding right on track. To wit:

“The special military operation continues, it continues methodically, it continues in accordance with the existing plans. All goals will be achieved.”

That is misleading. Maybe the “plans” have changed, but virtually all outside analysts believe Russia badly misfired at the start of the war, failed to capture Kyiv as planned, has suffered massive losses and is now running short of tanks, troops and high-end munitions.

Let’s break it down.

Russia attacked Ukraine on February 24. But we now know from captured Russian documents that plans for the all-out invasion were approved on January 18, 2022. The Kremlin aimed to conquer the country in 15 days.

So much for that plan.

According to The Washington Post, U.S. President Joe Biden was briefed on a coming attack by intelligence sources back in October 2021. Russian troops intended to seize Kyiv in three or four days, and after that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was to be removed.

Russian servicemen, preparing for the invasion of Ukraine, even took their full-dress uniforms with medals, apparently hoping to hold a solemn parade around Kyiv. This was announced on March 6 by the Ukraine military, which published a photo of one such uniform.

It wasn’t just U.S. intel that predicted the Russian plans.

On the second day of the war, February 25, Putin's confidante and member of the pro-Kremlin Foreign and Defense Policy Council, Sergei Markov, presented the objectives.

According to Markov, all units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine would be surrounded by the Russian army within three days, and Ukraine would surrender in early March. "After that, the formation of new authorities, new statehood will begin," Markov said.

So much for that plan, too. Zelenskyy remains in Kyiv. And Russian troops were forced to pull back after Ukraine decimated their tank columns with deadly accurate Western weaponry. (See "St. Javelin.")

On May 12, BBC published an interview with a Russian army contract soldier. "We moved as if we wanted to get to Kyiv in three days and take all the cities along the way,” he said. “This is what they do in a blitzkrieg, you know?"

In April, his unit was pulled back to Russia after about half its members were killed or wounded. About that time, the Kremlin shifted its emphasis to eastern Ukraine. A top Russian general, Maj. Gen. Rustam Minnekaev, confirmed the shift, calling it a “second phase.”

So, a new plan.

Then there are the Russian losses. Estimates vary, but some say they are the worst for Moscow since the end of World War II.

The BBC and Mediazona, based on open sources, identified more than 5,700 Russian soldiers and officers who died. In June, British intelligence estimated 20,000 deaths until then. The Pentagon estimates up to 80,000 killed and wounded through the beginning of August.

The Ukrainian military, meantime, claims more than 48,000 Russian servicemen died during the war. According to official data from Ukraine, since February 24, about 9,000 Ukrainian troops have died in battle.

The Kremlin is now recruiting convicts for military service, using the promise of generous payments and amnesty if they survive. As of July, hundreds of inmates from penitentiaries in Adygea (a region in Russia’s North Caucasus) signed up, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

Then there are equipment losses. According to the U.S. Defense Department, through May, Russia lost almost 1,000 tanks – nearly a third of its inventory.

According to the tracking site Oryx, which counts only losses that are confirmed by photos and videos, as of September 1, Russia had lost 994 tanks and 1,869 armored vehicles.

Russia has modernized and produced about 160 tanks and 500 other armored vehicles a year in the last decade. This means Russia has lost roughly six years' worth of production in the war's first six months.

Another sign of hardship: Russia was forced to pull from storage old T-62 tanks, developed in the 1950s and officially adopted by the Soviet Army in 1961, Business Insider reports.

The Insider, a Latvian independent online newspaper, reported August 30 that Russia is running out of precision weapons and will have a hard time replacing them under Western sanctions.

“There are already very few guided missiles, shells for artillery and armored vehicles will be exhausted by the end of the year, and the state of military aviation does not allow for a full-scale air campaign,” wrote analyst Pavel Luzin.

Over the past month and a half, since the early July Russian capture of Lysychansk in Luhansk province, the Russian army has made little territorial progress. Analysts told The Washington Post that U.S. HIMARS rockets, which gave Ukraine longer-range striking power, were helping change momentum in the war.

With HIMARS, Ukraine has hit dozens of Russian ammunition depots miles behind the front lines, disrupting Russian logistics and, well, plans.

On August 29, the Ukrainian armed forces launched offensive operations in the Kherson region. On the very first day, Russia hastened to declare the offensive a failure, although military operations across the region cannot succeed or fail in a day or a week, the Institute for the Study of War reported.

So, Ukraine is counter-attacking? That doesn’t seem “in accordance with existing [Russian] plans” either.

Meantime, under the headline "Why Is Putin Dodging the Draft?", Foreign Policy reports that hard-liners in Russia are pressing Putin for massive military conscription. Problem is, that could prompt a political backlash against the war, and the Kremlin probably couldn't equip huge numbers of troops, Foreign Policy said.

Putin did order an expansion of the Russian military. But that hasn't silenced critics, Foreign Policy noted:

"Aleksandr Borodai, a vocal proponent of the war in the Russian State Duma and former leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine, told The New York Times that he wanted a draft of anywhere between 300,000 and 500,000 soldiers. That number would be far higher than the Kremlin’s planned expansion. 'The situation is such that we are often going on the offensive when there are fewer of us and more of the enemy,' he said. 'This is causing the war to drag out.' "