Apologies up front for reminding you of Donald Rumsfeld’s musing during the chaos of the 2003 Iraq invasion and its aftermath. I am not sure that the Soviet Union would have survived the Nazi invasion during World War II if the internet existed back then. There is a great World War II documentary with the banal title, Second World War Diary (1939-1945). But it is anything but trite. The “Diary” covers the main events of every day in World War II, starting in Europe with the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939 and ending with the Japanese surrender in August 1945.
Without the internet, news about momentous and innocuous event were much slower and more controlled in getting to the public at large. Events like the bombing of Pearl Harbor were quickly broadcast around the world, but the United States Government limited reporting on the full scale of that disaster. Other events, like the U-boat war in the Atlantic, came out in drips and drabs, without the public having a full appreciation of the peril the submarines presented to England’s ability to supply its forces and feed its people.
Here is a snippet of the first episode:
One of the valuable insights you will glean from watching the daily grind of World War II is that the pivotal battles, such as the Battle of Moscow in 1941, the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942-43, the Battle of Kursk in 1943 and the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, were not decided in a day or two. Stalingrad, for example, for almost six months. There were setbacks for the Russians and the Americans and the Brits. If the internet had been around the ensuing hand wringing over perceived defeats might have sapped the will of the west and the Soviets to continue the fight against the Nazis.
So what the hell does this have to do with the current war in Ukraine. There is enormous disinformation (i.e., deception) flooding the internet from both Ukraine and Russia. However, Ukraine has a decided advantage in the information war given the massive covert action support supplied by US and NATO intelligence organizations. One major consequence of this operation is that much of the public around the world have been convinced that Russia is either losing or barely hanging on by its teeth.
So let us start with what we know for a fact. The Russian Special Military Operation started with a massive air and missile strikes on key Ukrainian military targets throughout Ukraine and the quick seizure of key locations, such as airfields, Kherson and Zaporhyzhia’s Nuclear Power Plant. Ukraine’s response? Not much. They did not halt the attack with counter attacks nor did they re-take the sites Russia occupied.
Media reports on subsequent ground combat in the Donbas and in Mariupol always left readers and listeners with the impression that Russian troops were leading the way and carrying the brunt of the battle. But that is not true. The vast majority of the ground combat was carried out by Donbas militias and brigades from Chechnya. Russian armed forces played a secondary role, i.e., a supporting role, by providing combat air, artillery and missile strikes. The Russians also provided their extensive electronic warfare capabilities.
What Ukrainian forces are involved? That is pretty well defined thanks to the daily briefing provided by the Russian Military of Defense. The Russian MOD details every day the units and command headquarters hit by Russian air and missile strikes. In the previous six months I have not seen a single report refuted by Ukraine. In fact, videos from Ukrainian sources have confirmed many of the Russian reports.
Here is the real curiosity. Nobody knows, at least the public, the full scope or order of battle of the Russian units involved in the SMO. We have seen scant reports from the Ukrainian side reporting on successful strikes on Russian military command posts. What does this tell us? Russia is keeping a very close hold on what units it is deploying into combat and Ukraine, along with its western allies, is not saying a word about the Russia order of battle either. That means one of two possibilities–1)the Ukrainians and NATO know but are doing some incredible operation security in keeping those facts from the public or 2) the Ukrainians and its NATO allies are confused and uncertain.
What is the answer? The Ukrainians and NATO know that most of the ground war is being fought by Donbas militias, but do not want to inform the public of that because it undercuts their propaganda campaign to make this “invasion” all about Russia.
We also know that Russia is much better at deception than Ukraine and NATO. Ukraine did nothing to hide its intent to launch an attack in the Kherson region and also signaled it would attack around Kharkov. Russia? Helped the Donbas militias reinforce their forces around Kherson (and successfully beat back the Ukrainian attack causing massive Ukrainian losses). Russia also leaked information that it was sending huge armor and artillery reinforcements towards Kharkov as that offensive got underway when, in reality, it organized a tactical withdrawal from the region and redeployed forces south to Donetsk.
There is one more salient fact–the Ukrainian offensive around Kharkov took place without any meaningful support from Ukrainian combat air or artillery. Why is that important? That means the Russian air force–both fixed wing and rotary wing–is unscathed and intact. Russian armor and artillery systems also were not destroyed. If they ain’t destroyed they can still fight and the Ukrainian troops do not have a large reserve of armor and artillery to protect them.
Ukraine and the western media blithely ignore this fact and are celebrating the limited Ukrainian advance as if it were the reincarnation of the Nazi blitzkrieg into France.
One final fact to take into account. Ukraine has incurred horrendous casualties over the last two and a half weeks of combat. Russia and the militias have far fewer losses. Russia has not tapped into its trained military reserve. Ukraine has no trained military reserve left. So, for all of you arm chair generals out there second guessing Russia’s command decisions, please explain how Ukraine comes out on top? I look forward to your answers.