Who is responsible for Russia’s combat operations in Ukraine? The United States is not safe.
Without a senior theater-wide commander on the ground in or near Ukraine, units from different Russian military districts operating in different parts of Ukraine appear to be competing for resources rather than coordinating their efforts, according to two US officials of the defense.
According to these sources, units participating in different Russian offensives across Ukraine have failed to connect and, in fact, appear to be acting independently without an overall operational design.
The Russian forces also seem to have significant communication problems. Soldiers and commanders sometimes used commercial cell phones and other unsecured channels to talk to each other, which made it easier to intercept their communications and helped Ukraine develop targets for its own counterattacks.
It all led to what these sources say was a disjointed — and at times chaotic — operation that caught US and Western officials by surprise.
“One of the tenets of warfare is ‘unity of command,'” said retired CNN military analyst Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, former commander of US Army Europe. that someone has to be in charge of it all – to coordinate fires, direct logistics, commit reserve forces, measure the success (and failure) of the different “wings” of the operation, and adjust actions depending on that.”
Historically, there have been instances when Russia has made this type of information public, but the Ministry of Defense has made no reference to a senior commander for operations in Ukraine and has not responded to the request. comments from CNN on the subject.
And while it is possible that Russia quietly assigned a senior commander to oversee the invasion – even though the United States was unable to identify this individual – the combat operations report would suggest “that ‘He’s incompetent,’ according to Hertling.
Colonel Sergei Sukharev, the commander of an elite Russian airborne unit, was also killed in action in Ukraine, Russian regional state broadcaster GTRK Kostroma reported on Thursday.
“The bottom line is that their command and control broke down,” Petraeus said.
The scale of the invasion only made matters worse. Coordinating operations along a front that measures more than 1,000 miles requires “extensive communications capability and command, control and intelligence assets that the Russians simply don’t have,” Hertling added.
“I don’t see if everything the navy does is coordinated with everything the air force does or everything the army does,” retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges said. another former US Army Europe commander, who warned he had no inside knowledge of US understanding of Russia’s command structure.
“The Russians had enormous command and control difficulties during this operation at all levels,” echoed an American source close to the situation on the ground. “Part of this may be due to the actions of the Ukrainians themselves.”
On the ground, Russian troops on the ground have often been cut off from their senior commanders, sources said.
“The guys on the pitch come out and they have their aim, but they have no way to come back over the radio [if something goes wrong]”Said another source close to intelligence, who added that Western officials believed this was partly why some Russian troops had been observed abandoning their own tanks and armored personnel carriers. on the ground and just walk away.
A stalled campaign
Since Russia launched its assault on Ukraine on February 24, it has bombarded Ukrainian cities with missiles and artillery, destroying apartments, hospitals and schools and killing dozens of civilians. But its ground invasion has largely stalled amid fierce Ukrainian resistance and what senior defense officials have described as tactical errors.
The airspace over Ukraine remains contested and Russia has failed to take control of any of the major cities, including kyiv.
Current officials and outside analysts point out that although Russia has deployed its military in other recent conflicts, including Syria and Crimea in 2014, it has attempted nothing as ambitious as a full-scale invasion. of a great nation like Ukraine. this would require air and ground integration and a coordinated effort by units from several different regional military districts.
Russia rotates its annual military drills between its regional military districts, Hodges said – rather than conducting the kind of so-called “joint” drills the US routinely uses to ensure smooth coordination between the disparate elements of its military. sprawling.
“They have no experience in this area, not on this kind of scale,” he said. “It’s been decades since they would have done something on this scale. What they did in Syria and Crimea in 2014 is nothing compared to that.”
And, he added, “It doesn’t seem to me that they actually exercised that in a way that would have demonstrated that they would need a joint operational commander.”
Putin’s addiction to secrecy
Some officials have also suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin continued to plan the overall operation so tightly within the Kremlin that many of his own military commanders on the ground did not fully understand the mission until the last minute. – probably preventing different weapons from Russia. forces to coordinate effectively in preparation for the invasion.
“In the assessments, we see that it is clear that some people on the [Russian] defense side don’t really understand what the game plan is,” a senior European official said in early February, just weeks before the invasion. The official added that assessments suggest that defense staff think “it’s a very difficult game plan to defend.”
The lack of a central organization also has implications for Russia’s efforts to resupply its forces. Moscow is struggling to provide enough food, fuel and ammunition to troops on the ground – and as its losses mount, officials say there are indications Russia is looking to replenish its losses with fighters foreign and existing Russian troops stationed elsewhere.
Without a theater commander, strategic allocation of limited resources could prove difficult, Hodges said.
“That’s the joint force commander’s job: to allocate priorities,” he said. “Who gets priority for fuel, ammo, or a particular ability.”