From Tatzhit: This article by famous blogger Kungurov explains the real reasons for poor performance of the pro-Kiev forces in the first few months.
Worth noting that this was written a year ago, about the events of
April-July 2014, when Russian involvement and supply was minimal to
nonexistent, and always covert.
By Kungurov: Source article. Translation by Tatzhit. Aug 15th 2015.
WAR ENDS IN PEREMOGA
We always look at the civil war in Ukraine from biased positions: here
are our guys (Pro-USA / Pro-Russia, pick one) – they are good fellows,
their cause is just and therefore they will win; the enemies (terrorists
/ neo-nazis, pick one) – they are orcs and therefore doomed to fail, so
they will all soon die and burn in Hell. But, in fact, victory or
defeat on the battlefield is only slightly dependent on ideology and on
what the talking heads on TV are saying (especially since TV can always
spin the most terrible defeat into an easy victory). Therefore I propose
we look at the situation impartially, taking into account only military
and economic factors.
If you look at the situation superficially, things for the Donbass
militias (separatists) are hopeless: the government army outmatches them
5 to 1 in armor, 3 to 1 in men and 10 to 1 in artillery, along with a
huge advantage in supply and total air superiority (militia has no
aircraft). In operational terms, there are two pockets of resistance –
Lugansk and Donetsk, between which there is little or no interaction.
Structurally the insurgents, unlike ATO forces, have no unified command
structure, reserves, or system of supply. Then the question arises: how
come the government forces didn’t stomp the rebel defenses flat, by now?
To answer this question, we need to consider the situation as it
unfolded: four months ago, the militias were motley crews armed with
hunting rifles and guns taken away from the cops. They had no artillery
or armored vehicles, and their numbers were negligible. Nevertheless,
the government forces, having a 20-50 to 1 advantage on paper, failed to
achieve any tangible successes in the early months.
Yes, Kiev suffered a political defeat in the spring – Crimea was
abandoned without a shot; politicians in the capital were busy
squabbling over power and were not concerned with Donbass separatist
movements. However, the problem could be easily solved by force. Could
be, if Ukraine had an army. But the fact of the matter is that in
March-April, Kiev had no army. There were people in uniform, weapons
lying in warehouses, tanks rusting at storage bases, aircraft standing
on the ground in neat rows (some even beautifully painted). But there
were NO armed forces capable of carrying out tasks assigned to them.
Simply put, there was absolutely nobody to send into battle and nothing
to fight with, too.
While soldiers were given guns and shown how to shoot them (in case
someone doesn’t know, the military rarely see weapons in peacetime, and
certainly neither like them nor know how to use them), while APCs were
rolled out of hangars, while it was determined which APCs were capable
of, theoretically, driving as far as the railroad station, while tents
and ammunition were received from the warehouses, while everything was,
with great confusion, loaded onto trains and sent somewhere, time was
hopelessly lost. But even after arriving in theater, all these thousands
of armed men in uniform did not become an army. It was a disorganized
rabble much like the Donbass militia, and at this stage the numerical
superiority of the government army was not a boon but a disadvantage.
Axiom of military affairs says: The more troops, the more damaging are
the consequences of disorganization.
Actually, it is not necessary to engage in battle with the enemy for the
troops to lose the ability to fight. Do not feed them for three days,
and the army will just run away – the soldiers will wander off in random
directions, bartering their weapons for food and warm clothes. And so
it happened, and so it is still in government forces: desertion is
perhaps the most significant reason for their manpower losses.
For the militia, all of this was much easier. Firstly, their number was
very small, so they were able to achieve local organization very
quickly. Therefore, it was the separatists who initially seized the
initiative and forced the enemy into a raiding-ambushing manner of
fighting, which gave them an advantage, given their local knowledge and
superior mobility. Yes, in spite of the government troops possessing
considerable numbers of armored vehicles and even aircraft, militias had
far greater mobility. They used civilian vehicles, while government
armor was at best used as stationary weapon emplacements due to lack of
fuel, spare parts, drivers, and orders to move. Well, sometimes they
would drive tanks to village stores to buy vodka.
A very important factor is the presence of competent commanders. The
government army had a lot of overweight dudes with big stars on their
shoulders and big bums from sitting too long at the table, but no one
with any competence in military planning. It’s not even the fact that
the Ukrainian army has never, ever, fought. In peacetime, military
experts keep up professional form through combat training, maneuvers,
staff exercises, and so on. Ukrainian army never did battalion
exercises, heck they even nixed company tactical exercises because of
lack of funding (It is worth noting that Ukrainian army had more
personnel than e.g. Nigerian army, but a much smaller budget). Combat
training was replaced with “classroom exercises” out of complacency.
Well, combat training was replaced with reports that classroom exercises
were done, whereas in reality nobody went to these classes because of
their utter uselessness. At the very best, they were carried out as a
As a result, army officers did not know the most basic things – how to
read a map, use the radio, did not know how to organize patrols,
outposts, interact with other units and support assets. Obviously,
conducting meaningful operations was right out. And quite naturally the
uselessness of commanders increased the longer they were in the army and
the higher they climbed up the decision ladder. Over the 23 years since
the Soviet Union ceased to exist, the generation of Soviet officers
that who had at least some experience was almost completely gone.
Today’s generals were young lieutenants during the perestroika. While
climbing to the top, they have completely forgotten what they were
taught in Soviet military academies, and new skills were not acquired
for the above reasons.
Donbass militias have also been very lucky in the sense of commanding
officers – Igor Girkin/Strelkov (who fought as a volunteer in
Transnistria and Serbia, and later as a soldier in Chechnya) had more
experience in guerrilla warfare than the entire Ukrainian General Staff.
Another man in the right place was the former lieutenant colonel of the
Russian Army Igor Bezler (“Bes”), who moved to Ukraine more than ten
years prior, as well as Alexei Khodakovsky (former commander of the
Donetsk SWAT team). A crucial role was played by the Russian volunteers,
a lot of them veterans of the war in Chechnya. Finally, among the local
militiamen there is a very large proportion of 50-year-old men, and
even older, among which many have combat experience from Soviet war in
So at the initial stages of armed confrontation, the volunteer militia
forces, working under the command of experienced commanders, have not
only inflicted moral defeats, but also made major contributions to their
arsenals via captured military equipment and weapons. I’m talking about
the standoff near Slaviansk in April-July of this year. Of course, the
Kiev government propaganda is desperately squealing about columns of
Russian tanks coming to the aid of the separatists and about hordes of
mercenaries from GRU and FSB, which together with the Chechen gangs of
thugs daily cross the border by the thousands to swell the ranks of the
terrorists, but seriously, this verbal diarrhea is not worth taking
about. Until May the border was generally under the control of
government border guards. The number of Russian volunteers fighting in
the Donbass by now is estimated at about 500 people total, this is one
battalion by army standards.
Kiev has made a huge mistake – deciding to fight the insurgency without a
viable army. As a result, the inept army became the principal source of
arms and ammunition for the rebels. Well, something of course was
captured in warehouses and military units stationed in the Donetsk and
Lugansk regions, but those weapons, quite frankly, were not the most
modern. However, even SKS carbines, designed in 1944, were put to good
use (from pictures and videos it seems that about a third of militiamen
are armed with these slow-firing, but accurate and reliable rifles). And
anti-tank PTRS rifles, declared obsolete back in WWII, though indeed
useless against tanks – perforated light armor quite handily.
As a result, throughout the conflict we saw the same pattern: the
numbers, training and equipment of the militia are growing rapidly,
while the fighting capability of the government forces keeps decreasing.
Frantic attempts to increase the number of ATO troops (ATO =
Anti-Terrorist Operation, since the Kiev government can’t call it “War”
or they won’t get IMF loans that are necessary to keep fighting) lead to
even greater loss of combat capability due to the reasons described
above – the reinforcements, being forcibly drafted off the street, come
to the army incompetent and largely demoralized, increasing the chaos.
Pro-Kiev forces call it “betrayal in the headquarters”, but this is an
ancient tradition – to explain easily understandable cowardice and
stupidity as betrayal. Cadre units that could become the backbone of the
drafted army are sent on the offensive, where they are encircled and
destroyed. Most of those that escape from the encirclements are sent to
mental hospitals, which may be appropriate, considering what they went
through. 40-year-old “reservists” and 20-year-old conscripts who come to
reinforce the decimated units are weaker than those they replace.
Think about this for a second – Donbass self-defense forces that began
four months ago with awkwardly built roadblocks, small ambushes and
nighttime raids, now contest the field against a regular army, organize
encirclements, hold key landmarks, and sever enemy communications by
counterattacking with armored task forces! At least half of the
government’s combat-ready aircraft have been destroyed. Dynamics of this
process aren’t looking good for the ATO forces.
Yes, most of the DPR (Donetsk People’s Rebublic) and LPR territory is
now controlled by the government forces, but from a military point of
view, this brings them nothing but problems. Firstly, this stretches the
lines of supply of over enemy territory, and as all available forces
are tied up at the frontlines by now, militia saboteurs are attacking
military targets as far as Zaporizhie and Kharkov regions. Secondly,
pushing insurgents into a small area increases their density, and
creates a continuous front. And if your ground troops don’t have the
stomach for a stand-up fight, encountering dense enemy formations
everywhere is a bad thing – that’s obvious!
Inside the highway arcs spanning Donetsk and Lugansk, militia can
maneuver forces much faster than the opposing forces can on the outside.
For this reason, government attempts to take any of the towns along
this line have been parried with timely and effective counterattacks.
But government can no longer quickly move forces, for example, from
Debalcevo to Amvrosievka to save the encircled forces in the south –
it’s a long haul, hard to supply, and since the frontline has been
created, leaving it becomes impossible from a PR standpoint. No one
knows what’s gonna happen, if Strelkov pops out again and retakes
Slavyansk – it would be a huge shame. So Ukrainian command does not help
the encircled forces, not because it is cruel and heartless, but
because rescue operations could lead to an even more terrible defeat. In
the meantime, while the encircled forces are slowly ground to dust,
they tie up considerable militia forces, allowing government troops to
make small gains elsewhere and turn them into PR victories.
From an operational point of view, instead of squeezing the militia out
of outlying areas it would be much more effective to encircle pockets of
resistance, and destroy them one by one. Actually, that is how the
Russian army acted in Chechnya – blocking groups of separatists and
destroying them in encirclements. If they were stupidly squeezed into
the mountains, the war in the Caucasus would probably still drag on. But
the Kiev army is not able to achieve even tactical cooperation on the
battlefield, much less correctly solve problems of an operational
nature. Government forces let Strelkov’s men leave the Slavyansk
encirclement virtually unopposed – idiots rejoiced about a blue-yellow
flag over the City Hall, but from an operational point of view, it was a
defeat. It was after Strelkov’s men moved to Donetsk and unified the
local armed groups that the DPR began the very mobile warfare for which
the government army was totally unprepared, and which has led to a
series of disastrous failures, such as the destruction of four brigades
at the south border. Government forces have failed to destroy the
Slavyansk force with a numerical superiority of ten to one. What can
they hope for now, when the balance of forces has changed to three to
The old military saying goes that victory goes not go to the one who
fights well, but to the one who fights better. One of my friends, a
colonel, head of the Department of Ttactics at a military academy,
rephrased it in this fashion: the most important thing is to be less
dumb than the opponent. For him, as a person who has seen war first
hand, stupidity was a strategic factor. Stupidity on the part of
Ukrainian strategists is probably unmatched in recent history. If
tactically pro-government warriors act clumsily, and operationally –
amateurishly, strategically their actions are absolutely crazy, which
will be discussed later…
From the translator: *peremoga means “victory” in Ukrainian.
Since the government media widely misuse the term (e.g. constant reports
of destroying dozens of T-90 tanks, not one of which was ever actually
sighted in the Donbass), it has become somewhat of a running joke.