John Spencer, a former senior officer in the United States Department of Defense, explains why the battle in Mariupol is set to intensify.
The Russian military is attempting to reform itself after a string of devastating setbacks and massive material and people losses. Russia’s military is running low on ammo, gasoline, replacement parts, and even personnel. The Ukrainian city of Mariupol has been the scene of brutal close-quarters battle, with defenders still entrenched inside the now-famous Azovstal steel complex. The Russian military has shifted its emphasis from the capital city of Ukraine to the country’s eastern and southern regions. John Spencer is the former U.S.
The army major explains why the Ukrainians have successfully battled against a more formidable force. Spencer refutes suggestions that the Ukraine conflict indicates a substantial technologically-driven shift like warfare. Before the invasion, the Ukrainian government passed legislation that expanded the territorial defenses from around 200,000 to approximately one million troops. I feel that many foreign observers have underestimated the capability of the Ukrainian military. Russia’s offensive strategy was not absurd, but it lacked the military power it believed it had.
The effect of the Ukrainians’ weaponry, supplies, and assistance was also underestimated. He claims that the Ukrainians could not have destroyed the Moskva, the flagship of the Black Sea force, without better intelligence. And it wasn’t a fluke that the Neptune missiles were able to strike that ship. Neither were they all good shots. After accelerating its forces, Russia expanded its operational scope.
Such a strategy is not unprecedented, but the Russians could not hold the lines to sustain all of their simultaneous advances. They attempted to fight like a contemporary Western military with a weaker Soviet-style force than during the Soviet era. They have been revealed as suffering from years of corruption, deterioration, and a belief in an ineffective way of fighting. Alexander Motyl, Russia has achieved victories in certain strategic places but lost in others. According to him, the Russians are changing from urban combat to “maneuver warfare” in more open territory.
Motyl asserts that the exact number of Ukrainian casualties is unknown, but it is inevitable that a significant deal of life has been lost and that the Ukrainians are paying a high price for their participation in the conflict. The Ukrainians resisted 15,000 Russian soldiers in Mariupol for two months, keeping these Russian forces engaged. In eastern Donbas, I anticipate a mix of large-scale and long-distance conflicts. The ultimate objective is to annihilate the opposing party and rule the battlefield. There will be several forms of competition, but the more open landscape enables two adversaries to locate, repair, and eliminate each other.
The character of conflict is founded on unalterable fundamentals. Yes, there are kamikaze drones and cyber warfare, but to me, these are just extensions of the fundamentals of combat. There is no substitute for an armor-protected vehicle that lets you get close to your target and then has the firepower to destroy it. War is an emotional roller coaster exacerbated by the interconnected digital environment in which we live. The Ukrainian military has mobile phones, as do their Russian counterparts.
This battle for the story, even in the soldier’s mind, is now an integral aspect of warfare. War is also intense anxiety and brutality interspersed with boredom and severe violence moments. Russia’s army lacks non-commissioned officers, or sergeants, who constitute the backbone of a force. Sergeants are available to inspire and care for the troops’ health. When Russia lacks this competence, and its military is placed under tremendous stress, it cannot make a choice.
It cannot build smaller teams of motivated troops to prevent soldiers from engaging in illegal behavior. It essentially disintegrates.