The old saying by the German general and military theorist Carl von Clausewitz that war is politics by other means is often true, most often when the politicians and generals running the war understand this. Otherwise, reckless war-fighting becomes very bad politics. Russian President Vladimir Putin has always been a cautious political animal, and he has carried out the ‘special-military operation’ (SVO) or NATO-Russia Ukrainian War consistent with his traditionally balanced approach to politics (https://gordonhahn.com/2017/06/14/putin-the-balancer-containing-and-balancing-russias-multifarious-forces-through-soft-authoritarianism/). Hence, Putin did not invade Ukraine on February 24, 2022 with overwhelming force, say with the half-million troops he could have deployed. Rather, he sent no more than 200,000 troops along a broad 900-mile front extending from Kherson in the south near Crimea up along the southeastern, eastern, northeastern and northern borders with Russia. In the north, the surge towards Kiev was insufficient to come close to occupying, no less holding Kiev and ‘conquering all of Ukraine’ as US President Joe Biden and Western propagandists claim was Putin’s intent. Putin appeared simply to be escalating his pre-SVO coercive diplomacy in the hope that Kiev and/or Washington would be willing to negotiate on the basis of his December 2021 proposals on creating a new security architecture for Ukraine, Russia, and the West. This effort at politics by means of war failed, as the US and NATO somehow convinced Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskiy to abandon the negotiations and fight a war against his much more powerful neighbor, Putin’s Russia (https://braveneweurope.com/michael-von-der-schulenburg-hajo-funke-harald-kujat-peace-for-ukraine).
In terms of the NATO-Russia Ukrainian War since then, contrary to the Western misconception, Putin has been conducting neither terrorism nor all-out war. Government and civilian installations and objects have not been targeted unless they have been turned over to the military or the war effort (to house headquarters, store weapons, bivouac troops). Russian forces have been conducting neither ‘human wave’ attacks in frontal assaults on Ukrainian positions nor missile, drone, and artillery attacks targeting civilians. To the contrary, Putin’s Russia is doing everything it can to limit casualties, except against Ukrainian military targets. This stands in sharp contrast to the way Israeli Defense Forces have waged their punitive expedition against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Indeed, the Ukrainian army itself targeted civilians beginning with in April 2014 with the beginning of its ‘anti-terrorist operation’ against Donbass and has continued to do so intermittently during the present war.
By contrast, Russia’s war strategy and tactics are designed precisely to avoid and eschew practices that would bring large numbers of Ukrainian civilian and Russian military casualties. The strategy is to destroy Ukrainian military forces and potential. For now, Russia pursues victory in its SVO not for the sake of territorial conquest, contrary to Western delusions, but to defeat the Ukrainian army and Maidan regime force Kiev to acquiesce to its political goals: (1) accept Russia’s annexations of territories under threat from Ukrainian discrimination, repression, and violence; (2) renounce membership and close ties with NATO; (3) and adopt measures to protect the Russian language and ethnic Russians in whatever rump Ukraine remains. This will amount to Putin’s declared goals of ‘demilitarization’ and ‘denazification’ of Maidan Ukraine.
By contrast, it has been the Ukrainians who have routinely used human wave tactics, perhaps given their shortage of artillery shells, missiles, drones, and air power. Kiev has carelessly and cruelly thrown human wave after human wave of what frequently have been poorly trained and forced recruits into meat grinders churning with Russian missiles, drone, artillery, and tank fire. This is what happened and continues to happen, for example, around Bakhmut (Artyomevsk), Rabotino, Verbove, Staromayorsk, and across the southern fronts during the Ukrainians’ utterly futile and failed counteroffensive. Westerners and Ukrainians like Zelenskiy told the world would drive to the Azov Sea and Crimea and force the Russians to the negotiating table with a weak hand or even topple Putin. These completely unrealistic military goals has led to Ukrainian casualty count several times higher than the Russians’ own losses—a fact still being hidden from the Ukrainian and Western publics.
Tactically, the Russians in fact have avoided high-casualty engagements by relying on their technological advantages rather than their human-numerical one. In place of human wave tactics or even standard ground war tactics, such as combined arms operations, the Russians have second-echeloned direct combined arms infantry-tank attacks, which are only employed once great damage and intimidation has been leveled against the enemy by way of ‘air power’ in expanded a newly expanded conceptualization of the term (see below). Even traditional air power in the form of fighter jets and attack helicopters are being used sparingly. When faced with an overwhelming or simply a significantly superior Ukrainian force, Russian forces usually withdraw, and then a new attack or intensification of an ongoing offensive on an adjacent front is undertaken to force the Ukrainians to slow down or draw some of their forces away from the targeted front. The Ukrainian force is thereby weakened. Russian air and stand-off (artillery, drones, missiles) power proves sufficient to hold off the less powerful Ukrainian fist, allowing the Russians to regroup and retake any lost kilometers – and usually then some – over time. This is part and parcel of a strategy of defense in flexible depth founded on strong defense lines that flex in the face of great force and draw the enemy into being overextended in its supply lines and troop rotation maneuvers and position to be pounded by long-range attacks from the air.
The Russians have replaced much of the need for ground operations by relying on air power in an expanded conceptualization of the idea. Putting aside Moscow’s large and growing arsenal of various stand off land- and air-based missile systems being used, the Russian military is pioneering drone warfare in Ukraine and its integration into ISTAR or ‘intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance’ with the Ukrainians and NATO playing catch up. Before the NATO-Russian Ukrainian War, high-altitude satellite and person-on-the-ground surveillance were the ISR means (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance minus target acquisition) used to achieve target acquisition. The information gathered would be relayed back to ships, fighter jets, and missile launch centers.
With the massive use of drones, which can cover a greater swathe of territory compared to persons on the ground and with far greater detail than satellite surveillance can and without gaps in data collection forced by cloud cover, the Russian military is redefining air power and revolutionizing warfare. In short, ISR and ISTAR are becoming increasingly drone-based. Drones cannot only find a target for an operator located far from the front, but it can hit the target. Missiles, artillery, and traditional air power cannot perform all these functions and are hundreds of times more expensive. The Russians’ recently upgraded the Lancet drone so it can find and hit a target during flight without the aid of an operator. Commnander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armd Forces, General Valeriy Zalyuzhniy acknowledged the effectiveness of this Lancet long-hovering or “loitering” drone and other Russian innovations in a recent paper analyzing the supposed “positional” nature or stalemate in the war: “(T)he enemy quite widely and effectively began to use the Lancet loitering munition with target “illumination”, the Orlan, Zala UAVs and others for counter-battery, countering which is quite difficult”(https://infographics.economist.com/2023/ExternalContent/ZALUZHNYI_FULL_VERSION.pdf).
“Russia will soon be in a position to send swarms of maneuverable and re-targetable drones armed with several pieces of increasingly more powerful ordinance deliverable to multiple targets. In addition, Russia’s large number of missiles and artillery systems and the now stepped up production thereof helps obviate the need to use close-in air power such as expensive fighter jets and helicopters. Even Russian jets and copters are being equipped with longer-range missiles, just as Russian artillery is becoming ever longer in range, creating even more stand-off capacity. All this has allowed Russia to avoid greater loss of expensive aircraft to Ukrainian air defenses, which are increasingly bad shape but with Western assistance could become more robust.
This stand-off military power allows infantry and tank power to be deployed after the enemy forces have been far more degraded than previously would have been the case, limiting one’s own casualties. Moreover, since all these forms of air power deliver ordinance far more accurately than previous air power, missile and artillery systems and are becoming more accurate still, this form of warfare makes it easier to limit civilian casualties.
Limiting Russian military and Ukrainian civilian casualties, the new war technologies provide dual-use political means. First, the smaller the number of Russian military casualties, the lesser the potential for significant political opposition to the SVO to arise. Second, by limiting Ukrainian civilian casualties, the Russians put a cap on Ukrainian society’s willingness to continue the war and ensure that on the territories Russian troops must seize temporarily during the war or permanently thereafter, there will be fewer prospects for the Ukrainian army or perhaps Ukrainian partisans to find recruits to fight, resist, or engage in espionage, sabotage, subversive, and terrorist operations against the Russian presence. There is also a hesitance on the Russians’ part to inflict a great number of casualties on the Ukrainians, since they are viewed as a fraternal nationality, a part of a larger Russian civilization (https://gordonhahn.com/2023/10/27/working-paper-russian-tselostnost-wholeness-and-ukraine-parts-1-5-complete-version/). In Russia, there is very little anti-Ukrainian sentiment, which has been replaced by anti-fascist sentiment formed by Russian propaganda that tends to exaggerate the, to be sure, very significant ultra-nationalist and neofascist element all too robust in the Ukrainian state and society.
In a dark Dostoevskian act of self-hatred and a desire for revenge against Russia, Zelenskiy refuses to negotiate with the “f…… terrorist Putin.” This approach, — codified in Ukrainian law, which forbids peace talks with Russia — could trump the politics of Putin’s restrained but tough war goals and strategy. In other words, by refusing to negotiate, Kiev and Washington will force Moscow to fully destroy the Ukrainian army by chasing it into adjacent regions Russia then will need to occupy. If or more likely when the Russians win this war, it will have destroyed Ukraine’s army while strengthening its own, making it the most modern and powerful force in the world.
It is said that Tsar Alexander III would often lecture his ministers: “We have only two loyal allies in the entire world: our army and navy.” Thanks to NATO expansion and the Ukrainian war that it and its attendant policies sparked, Russia will be treating her ‘friends’ very well for years to come, bringing a true revolution in Russian military affairs.
EUROPE BOOKS, 2022
MCFARLAND BOOKS, 2021
MCFARLAND BOOKS, 2018
About the Author –
Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., is an Expert Analyst at Corr Analytics, www.canalyt.com. Websites: Russian and Eurasian Politics, gordonhahn.com and gordonhahn.academia.edu
Dr. Hahn is the author of the new book: Russian Tselostnost’: Wholeness in Russian Thought, Culture, History, and Politics (Europe Books, 2022). He has authored five previous, well-received books: The Russian Dilemma: Security, Vigilance, and Relations with the West from Ivan III to Putin (McFarland, 2021); Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the “New Cold War” (McFarland, 2018); The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland, 2014), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), and Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction, 2002). He also has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media.
Dr. Hahn taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia and was a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Kennan Institute in Washington DC, the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group.