In my previous post on this subject, I talked about how and why a war between the USA and China, sparked by the Chinese invasion of Taiwan, would end in disaster for the US and destroy its hegemony. My basic thesis is that the USA will lose because its military routinely fails to understand some very painful and harsh lessons of warfare. The USA keeps buying and using hugely expensive gold-plated (or platinum-plated, these days) weapon systems that are designed largely to look good, sound amazing, and spend vast amounts of money, but cannot actually win wars. I concluded by arguing that Russia will likely end up as the world’s dominant Christian power in an uneasy balance between a number of regional players, promoting and defending Christian values through an Orthodox lens.
As you can see, my claim above rests on the argument that the USA fails to learn lessons from war. That is not merely my claim, of course. A number of my readers are military or ex-military servicemen. Most of them confirm what I have stated above.
So, if we can take for granted that the USA fails to learn lessons from war… what, exactly, are the lessons that it needs to be learning?
To answer this, it might be easier to look at the experiences that Russia has had in fighting wars against peer-level powers (more or less) in the 20 years since the Neo-Tsar came to power and began modernising and reforming their military capabilities.
The Bear and the Wolf – Russo-Georgian War, 2008
The short, sharp, and quite brutal war fought between Russia and Georgia – former Warsaw Pact allies – in 2008 holds many lessons, both for the Russians and for everyone else. Actually, if you look at the numbers involved, it barely even counts as a war at all, of any kind. Most of us don’t think of a conflict in which less than 1,000 men died, on all sides, to be a “war” – it amounts to less than a minor tussle, by modern understanding.
But this is simply because we as a species have become inured to the kind of killing that goes on in real war, thanks to the slaughter-pens of WWI and the massed infantry and armoured engagements of WWII. Those wars involved hundreds of thousands of men and tens of thousands of casualties in multiple large-scale battles that blazed for days and weeks.
The Russo-Georgian War, on the other hand, lasted just 6 days. And, contrary to the endless lies spread by the never-to-be-sufficiently-cursed whorenalists and presstitutes of the Western (((media))))))))))))), the reality is that the Georgians instigated that war, under the rather oddball and bumbling leadership of Mikheil Saakashvili.
Even so, you would have thought that the Russians would have stomped all over the Georgians, quickly and easily – the Russian military was by far the strongest of all of the post-Warsaw Pact remnants, and the Russian Defence Ministry under the Neo-Tsar had embarked on a long-term rebuilding and rejuvenation programme to ensure that the Russians could match and defeat NATO, if necessary.
The actual war with Georgia showed that Russia actually had a rather long way to go yet:
In August 2008, the Russian military fought Georgian troops in a brief five-day war. Russia defeated the Georgian forces, but the war revealed profound deficiencies in the Russian armed forces. Moscow was surprised by the poor performance of its air power, and more importantly the inability of different services to work together. It truly was the last war of a legacy force, inherited from the Soviet Union. The conflict uncovered glaring gaps in capability, problems with command and control, and poor intelligence. As Russia’s then-Chief of the General Staff Nikolai Makarov euphemistically put it, “it is impossible to not notice a certain gap between theory and practice.” In the aftermath, Russia went about the business of reforming and modernizing that military toolkit.
Put simply, the Russians suffered from tactical, logistical, and operational issues, which contributed to their inability to execute otherwise sound strategic solutions. And they still had the old Soviet mass-mobilisation mindset – which actually predates the Soviets. The “all or nothing” mobilisation of the Russian army goes all the way back to Imperial times – hell, that tendency is one of the reasons why Russia jumped into the Great War with both boots.
From that same article, here are the lessons that the Russkies learned from that war:
Russia’s own assessment of its military performance was quite critical after the war, particularly the abysmal work of the air force. Russia’s General Staff recognized the need to fundamentally reform the inherited Soviet mass-mobilization army to make it suitable for conflicts in the post-Soviet space. Remarkably, within the Russian defense establishment a successful war was used as a catalyst for military reforms and modernization. The Russian General Staff and civilian leadership were critical of themselves, perhaps scathing, particularly Chief of the General Staff Nikolai Makarov. Then-Minister of Defense Anatoly Serdyukov was going to implement a controversial reform plan which involved large-scale consolidation and transformation of the armed forces. This would necessitate deep cuts in the officer corps, numerous retirements, and elimination of various commands, along with a host of radical measures.
In October 2008, Serdyukov announced the “New Look” reforms stating that they were “strongly influenced” by the events in Georgia. Rather than play up the success, Russia’s leadership encouraged media criticism, because they wanted to garner support against internal opposition. It seems somewhat strange to see a military establishment flagellating itself in public after a successful war. As Roger McDermott commented back in 2009, “little difference can be found between criticism of the campaign in either civilian media or official sources, suggesting the presence of an orchestrated effort by the government to ‘sell’ reform to the military and garner support among the populace.”
In reality, the plans to kill the Soviet mass-mobilization army and replace it with a much leaner permanent standing force were well in motion beforehand, but the war served as timely political ammunition. Stiff resistance existed among the services, the General Staff, and senior officers, which was overcome by emphasizing Russian shortcomings in this conflict as an internal bludgeon. In time, some of the traditionalists’ views also held, as the next Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu reversed the least popular and most problematic reform ideas and resurrected elements of the original force structure.
Aspects of the reforms after the war proved more evolutionary than revolutionary. It might be easy to dismiss as the last war of the Soviet armed forces, assuming that everything has changed since 2008, but the conflict still holds insights for those interested in the Russian armed forces of today. In the ten years since the war, Russia effectively walked away from the Soviet mass mobilization army, but a more modern force, able to conduct combined arms warfare, and work jointly between the services, remains a work in progress.
In the years since, the Russians have significantly cleaned up their act. Today, the Russian military is much leaner, and has a proper professional NCO corps. Its land forces place vastly more emphasis on joint communications and forward human intelligence, drone reconnaissance, and observation posts. They invest heavily in shock-troops and force-multipliers, like their elite Spetsnaz units and their paratroopers. And they have put serious funds (by their standards) into modern, yet cost-effective, weapons like the T-14 Armata and the Su-57 “Felon” (great nickname, by the way). And Russia’s new Kamov Ka-52 “Black Shark” (or “Alligator“, depending on which variant you’re looking at), is BADASS beyond words.
Those advanced weapons systems are NOT up to American standards, not yet. The “Felon” suffers from inferior engine performance relative to the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II. Its actual performance in combat is unknown, and unknowable, at this point. Its stealthiness is an open question – I’ve seen Russian sources arguing that it is stealthier than the F-35, and I’ve seen Western sources arguing the exact opposite. I have no idea which is true.
And the T-14 Armata is an untested platform in combat – we simply have no idea how it stacks up against the American M1A3 Abrams, the British Challenger II, the German Leopard, or the Israeli Merkava. What little information we have about the T-14, such as its completely unmanned turret and its separated crew compartments, show significant evidence of progress against Western designs, but until it is actually used in combat, we have no clue whether it is any good. That is on top of the fact that the original production run has been cancelled, because the tank was too expensive for the Russians – they already have a significant surplus of older-model T-72s and other MBTs, but those are obsolete at this point.
That being said… the Russians have learned to put their money, men, and might into quality over quantity. And that, in and of itself, is a huge change in mindset.
And that change paid significant dividends a few years later.
The Bear and the Pig – Russian Annexation of Donbass, 2014
Just as in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the Russians were NOT the aggressors. They were provoked into attacking by the actions of the West, and by America’s puppets in the region.
By way of background, the Maidan Revolution in 2014 deposed the pro-Russian, popularly elected, President of Ukraine at the time, and replaced him with a much more rabidly nationalist, pro-Western figurehead. The problem was that the CIA directly backed and supported that revolution – it was absolutely NOT a popular uprising against the Yanukovych government at the time. And the evidence shows that the CIA-backed militants at the time engaged in some seriously dodgy false flag operations to stoke up anti-Russian sentiment, by murdering innocent people on their own side.
Eventually, the dust sort of settled, and the 17% of Ukrainians who are actually ethnic Russians, and who live primarily in the eastern third or so of the country, could clearly see the writing on the wall. Their new government in Kiev (or Kyiv, according to the Ukies) was implacably hostile to them, their language, and their way of life.
Now, much of the Russian third or so of Ukraine were content to stay as part of the country. I happen to know a Ukrainian woman of Russian origin – her mother was born in Bryansk – and as far as she and her mother are concerned, they see no contradiction between being Ukrainian by birth and Russian by heritage. It doesn’t bother them or matter to them.
But, to the Ukrainians living closest to Russia, in the border regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, the forcible change in government in February 2014 represented a major threat to them. They declared their intention to break away from Ukraine, form their own republic, and become closer to their ancestral motherland – and they did.
So too did the people of Sevastopol and the Crimea region – historically very much a part of Russia, so much so, in fact, that the Russkies once fought a major war against various Western powers to keep their hold on their highly strategic Black Sea chokepoint port. (You may have heard of the Crimean War?)
Of course, the new Ukrainian government and its Western enablers weren’t about to take that lying down. So the Russians did what they had to do, in order to preserve their strategic interests. They marched in and simply annexed Crimea.
Performance and Lessons Learned
This report from the RAND Corporation makes clear that the Russians learned very serious lessons from their poor performance in Georgia:
The report finds that Russia’s operation to annex Crimea represented a decisive and competent use of military force in pursuit of political ends. Russia’s operations in Crimea benefited from highly favorable circumstances — political, historical, geographical, and military — that limit their generalizability. Analysis of the operation underscores that there are many remaining unknowns about Russia’s military capabilities, especially in the aftermath of its military reforms and modernization program. The report also finds that the campaign in Eastern Ukraine was an ineffectually implemented — and perhaps ill-conceived — effort to achieve political fragmentation of Ukraine via federalization and retain Russian influence. Russia achieved its primary objectives but at a much higher cost than desired and through a fitful cycle of adaptation.
And further, here is an explicit recounting of how Russia learned from its problems in Georgia:
“In South Ossetia, Russia taught the ex-Soviet countries a lesson. It showed them that there was no way they could adopt a different model of development,” said analyst Konstantin Kalachev. Moscow needed “to make clear that its means of action are expanding and that the reaction of Westerners to those actions is not critical.” The expert said the Georgia war was a “first attempt” that shaped the Kremlin’s future policy. “If it was not for the operation in South Ossetia, the annexation of Crimea could not have happened,” he added. In 2008, however, Russia opted not to annex the two Georgian separatist regions, but only to recognise their independence, although they found themselves under Moscow’s de facto patronage after the war. This scenario has not always gone exactly according to the Kremlin’s plan. Even its closest allies Belarus and Kazakhstan have refused to recognise the independence of the two Georgian regions. This taught Moscow a lesson and in Ukraine it has never recognised the independence of the separatist regions, said Andrei Suzdaltsev, deputy head of the faculty of world economy and international affairs at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics. On the other hand, Russia was able to take advantage of divisions in the West, with the only countries virulently opposed to Russia at the time being the newest European Union states, led by Poland and Lithuania.
Learning from Past Mistakes
The Russians learned from their experiences in war in Georgia and Ukraine. They are now a (not completely) modernised, battle-hardened, experienced, skilled, professional, and rapidly evolving military force. I would argue that they are handily the best pound-for-pound land fighting force in the world. (The USA has the best air force and navy – for now – but the Army and Marines can’t seem to figure out how to win an egg-and-spoon race anymore, as I keep pointing out.)
Moreover, the Russkies now understand that war has to be fought on multiple levels – they have evolved beyond the merely physical level of war and into the mental and even moral realms. That is why they have worked assiduously to counter the propaganda efforts of the West, and have emphasised “soft power” initiatives to legitimise their occupation of Crimea and their effective occupation of parts of Georgia.
Beyond that, the Russians have also continued to modernise their military and fighting tactics. They continue to develop joint operations between their various forces – which the USA already mastered a long time ago, and which the Chinese evidently still haven’t really figured out, at all.
Are they in a position to conquer Ukraine, if they have to, and march through Central Europe?
Yes – and NO.
The Russians absolutely have the ability to decisively defeat the Ukrainian military, occupy Kiev, and march as far west as Lviv, if they have to. They also absolutely DO NOT WANT TO. They don’t have the demographics or economic power to support a military occupation like that – a country of 147 million, spread across 11 time zones, with a GDP of $4.3T, DOES NOT have what it takes to occupy a country with a population of 43 million and a GDP of $570B. Not gonna happen.
The Russkies also certainly have the theoretical ability to march through Central Europe and as far as Germany. The Krauts don’t really have a functional military anymore – a Bundeswehr that uses broomsticks instead of actual machine guns in an ACTUAL WAR GAME, is a joke in very bad taste, not an army.
That does NOT mean that the Russians will do so. They categorically do not want to. The Russians learned the hard lessons of empire from the collapse of the Soviet Union, and they have no desire whatsoever to repeat those mistakes.
Conclusion – War is the Harshest Teacher
Russia’s experiences in multiple theatres and engagements are instructive for Western militaries as well. Looking at things more broadly, it is becoming increasingly apparent that qualitatively “superior” powers actually have an enormously difficult time defeating qualitatively “inferior” ones. This problem is not isolated to the USA. The Chinese, as I pointed out before, have a pretty shitty record in actual combat – and unlike the US military, which at least has bloodied itself in actual combat, the Chinese PLA, PLA-N, and PLA-AF, have not seen actual warfare in the past 30 years.
This is where the Russians come in to teach us some useful and relevant lessons.
The Russkies have been at war more or less continuously in one form or another for a THOUSAND years. That is not to say that they are necessarily the best at it – they aren’t. But they do have vast experience in the field, and they present an interesting example.
The modern Russian military is not as advanced as America’s. It is not as numerous as China’s – in fact, their military has been shrinking for years. But its recent record in actual war is significantly better than both.
The Russians know and understand that modern warfare involves a significant amount of manoeuvring, deception, misinformation, propaganda, and joint-force coordination. It also involves giving individual soldiers and commanders the ability to innovate and improvise on the battlefield. And it understands that modern warfighting requires modern equipment – but that such equipment needs to be usable, as well as technologically advanced.
The Russians don’t have trillions to spend on useless Rolex-like weapons that do everything including singing and dancing, yet are so fragile and valuable that they can never be risked in combat. Instead, they spend what little money they do have on weapons that are likely to work – probably not as well as their Western counterparts are supposed to, but more reliably and at vastly lower cost.
The West must stop demonising Russia and start treating its military, and its leadership, with respect. The reality is that Western militaries are in desperate need of root-and-branch reform. They need to get back to the basics of warfighting, strip down their weapons systems, focus on how to win wars instead of merely manage them, and build for competent, results-oriented officer corps, rather than the politically-oriented careerist idiot-factories that currently exist.
Moreover, Western military thinkers MUST constantly criticise and reevaluate the performance of their own side. They must stop trying to create militaries that can fight all conflicts – because no military can do everything at once. No organisation can. In this respect, military thinkers must understand a very basic principle of strategy: an organisation’s strategy is INDISTINGUISHABLE from its design. Whenever an organisation’s design is incompatible with its strategy, or vice versa, the strategy and therefore the organisation will FAIL.
This is a basic truism of management theory. It is true regardless of application and context. And the US military leadership’s failure to adhere to it, is one of the reasons why the USA is now saddled with overpriced, unreliable, and monumentally stupid weapons systems that cannot be risked in battle.
The West MUST learn from Russian experiences in war, and adapt as the Russians did. Otherwise, the next time that the Western powers go to war, they will find themselves comprehensively out-thought, out-fought, and beaten by enemies that take the art of war seriously.