Streetwise Professor

February 27, 2022

If Putin Felt Like a Cornered Rat Before, How About Now?

Filed under: History,Military,Russia — cpirrong @ 6:48 pm

ISW reports (based on US intelligence, allegedly) that the Russians are in an operational pause, waiting for logistic support and reinforcements. I have to say, an operational pause after 3 days of a planned operation launched from your own borders is pathetic.

Perhaps I should not have been surprised at the logistic difficulties. This article by a retired US Army LTC who now does simulations for Nato implies that Russian logistics are not configured for high tempo offensive operations away from railheads. If anything, it suggests an army configured to fall back on its communications.

Russian tactical proficiency also seems lacking.

Tanks operating without infantry is a recipe for disaster because they are extremely vulnerable to ambush by anti-tank missiles or attack by drones. This is particularly true if they are operating on roads, especially through built up areas: the ATM crews can pick off the lead and tail vehicles, stop the entire column, go to town on the immobilized vehicles, and then scoot for safety.

This is not news. It has been known since tanks were first deployed in WWI.

This is pretty shocking. The otherwise sensible Kofman cautions that the Russians aren’t fighting the Ukrainians the way they would fight Nato:

Why wouldn’t the Russians bring their A game here? This suggests that they don’t have an A game.

What is transpiring suggests that in addition to logistic and tactical failings, Russia suffered a major intelligence failure, especially with regards to evaluating the combat capability of the Ukrainians.

In sum, piss poor performance, despite alleged prior planning.

So who will take the fall for all this? There were rumors (since denied) that Chief of the General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, had been fired. Maybe it’s not true now, but it could well be soon. Ditto with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

A deeply suspicious–and arguably clinically paranoid–man like Putin may suspect that he has been deliberately sabotaged by the military. If you are looking for a mental model of the man now, Stalin is probably the best bet.

This picture of Putin, Shoigu and Gerasimov is unbelievable:

Again with the table! This suggests a man who is deeply scared about his immune system. (Look at his pictures. The puffy face is symptomatic of heavy steroid use.)

And check out the happy couple who can barely be made out at the end of the table:

A ruble for your thoughts, gentlemen?

By the way, I’m being cheap there: as of now, a ruble is worth about .9 cents.

So Plan A–decapitation and blitzkrieg–didn’t work. What’s Plan B?

Alas, I fear it is a reversion to Russian form, by pulverizing Kiev and perhaps other cities.

There was a story circulating last night that Putin had ordered Kiev be taken by tomorrow.

Sorry, Vova. You don’t take a defended city in a day. Or a week. It usually takes months. Like the 2 months the Germans needed to take Warsaw in 1944 (and they obviously showed no scruple in their means). Or the 6 weeks it took in Grozny. Or the many weeks the US spent securing Mosul, or Fallujah, or Sadr City.

I could go on.

This is a terrible prospect.

Will Putin have the time to carry this out? To my amazement, the Europeans have shown some testicular fortitude and ramped up sanctions. The SWIFT restrictions on Russian banks, and most notably the restrictions on the Central Bank of Russia, threaten to demolish the Russian financial system, and like tomorrow: the sharp decline in the ruble is a harbinger of that. Moreover, this will hit ordinary Russians. There are already lines at ATMs, and bank runs are likely, as are runs on foodstuffs. This could–finally–galvanize widespread social unrest in Russia. With a fire in the rear and at the front, what will Putin do? How much time does he have?

Most concerning is the fact that Russia’s poor performance on the battlefield is a double edged sword. His conventional forces being revealed to be a paper tiger/Potemkin military, Putin has only a single card to play: nuclear weapons.

And he signaled his willingness to play that card today, by putting Russian nuclear forces on their highest level of readiness.

If Putin felt cornered before he launched this folly, how must he feel now?

Sobering as it is, the world’s fate may be in the hands of those unhappy men at Putin’s table, or their subordinates. Either through insubordination or coup, they can take the world’s fate out of the hands of someone who is either literally mad, or gives a damn good impression of it.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Would be interested in your comments on Sweden and Finland potentially joining NATO. I’d think now would be the time to do it (if they want to) with Russia showing a poor hand in Ukraine.

    Comment by Highgamma — February 28, 2022 @ 2:14 am

  2. I think Shoigu always looks like that.

    Comment by Ex-Global Super-Regulator on Lunch Break — February 28, 2022 @ 2:42 am

  3. Panic in Russia today. Foly huck, things are really going pear-shaped. Vlad’s in-tray must be overflowing, no time to concentrate on Ukraine now…

    You focus on ground ops. To me the biggie is the total lack of anything like an air campaign (apparently the Ukrainians are still operating their TB2s, and to some effect). A quick scan of<a href=”Russia’s air force disposition is highly revealing. – only 20 tankers (for the largest country of Earth??), no AEW/ELINT/EW as far as I can make out, only 15 of what I would consider a peer 5th generation fighter. As I said, nothing much for NATO to worry about there.

    A couple of other thoughts. With so much of his military tied up, what are the odds on things kicking off again in ‘Stans or elsewhere in Russia? And what to make of Erdogan – he’s well and truly burnt his bridges with Vlad. Turkey has been a real thorn in his side (Syria, Libya, Nagorno-Karabakh, now Ukraine).

    Comment by David Mercer — February 28, 2022 @ 4:10 am

  4. I can see three good ways this might end.
    The conscripts begin to frag their officers, the revolt spreads up the chain of command.
    The babushkas come out in force provoking a general strike.
    A Kremlin coup.
    Or all three, I’m not fussy.

    Comment by philip — February 28, 2022 @ 5:24 am

  5. philip:
    1. unlikely. they are cannon fodder – will rather surrender than turn against their shepherds.
    2. will never happen – judging by the general tone in russian blogosphere.
    3. our big hope. One rat already smelled the wind:

    Comment by Tatyana — February 28, 2022 @ 8:31 am

  6. @Ex-Global Super-Regulator on Lunch Break. I pity his mirror.

    Comment by cpirrong — February 28, 2022 @ 10:20 am

  7. In other news, Deripaska apparently does not like Putin’s economic policy any more and is suddenly an opponent of “state capitalism”. No opinion on kindergarten bombing policy, though.

    Comment by Ivan — February 28, 2022 @ 10:22 am

  8. @Highgamma. I think it is very likely. In the lead up to this one reason I thought that Putin would not carry out his threats is that doing so would have the exact opposite effect that he intended. It would solidify Nato and lead Sweden and Finland to join.

    This represents another intelligence and analytical failure by Putin/Russia. Putin’s previous truculence was already causing Sweden and Finland to discuss openly the possibility of joining Nato. Did he think that an invasion would reverse that? If he did, his judgment is seriously impaired, and/or he received very bad intelligence.

    Comment by cpirrong — February 28, 2022 @ 10:23 am

  9. @Ivan-Oleg apparently isn’t afraid of Putin throwing a pen at him again.

    Comment by cpirrong — February 28, 2022 @ 11:13 am

  10. Putin wins by March 14th.

    Comment by Joe — February 28, 2022 @ 9:44 pm

  11. Dead Man’s Switch

    Comment by t c phillips — March 1, 2022 @ 9:45 am

  12. Hi SWP, it’s me again. Hope you are well. I’m doing great but was trying to keep out of the Russia topic, “but it keeps pulling me back in.”

    Honestly speaking, I think it’s still early and Russia will gradually run Ukraine over. I don’t know how they can be stopped just from a size advantage alone. Maybe they’ll let up in Western Ukraine, but unless Ukraine starts mowing down the military columns that are rolling in, I don’t see how they can muster a clear defense. Urban warfare may be the only way to break Russia’s morale, but would pay a terrible price. We have two mediocre militaries fighting each other, so mobilizing these forces the way we imagine our own would is setting the bar too high, I think. These comments are extremely painful for me to make.

    On the other hand, I’ve been in contact with several Russian friends. Their prospects are quite grim. Something’s gotta give, so it will be interesting to see how bloody Putin can get before his own people rebel. Too hard to tell since most Russians are probably very much on board. Power and glory still weigh more than than comfort for many.

    Comment by Howard Roark — March 1, 2022 @ 2:13 pm

  13. A Twitter thread on the issues Russians have with their comms (using civilian radios that amateurs can track, lack of long-range comms leading to inability to reach central command, etc.). It includes several audio recordings, supposedly from the Russian units on the ground, should people who speak Russian over here desire to listen.

    Have no idea how credible it is, but someone might find it of interest, if it is remotely true. Would make sense with what we saw happening on the ground, such as small units the size of a company pushing on their own with no support into a city the size of Kharkiv, only to be obliterated moments later.

    Comment by deith — March 1, 2022 @ 2:18 pm

  14. @deith. During the Georgia situation, they were using cellphones to communicate with each other since their comms were screwed up. Apparently, they haven’t mastered that after all these years.

    Comment by Howard Roark — March 1, 2022 @ 4:12 pm

  15. @Howard. Welcome back.

    I agree that Russia will eventually prevail. But it will be a Phyrric victory. IN fact, I think that “Putinic Victory” might enter the lexecon. I had been planning to post on that.

    Comment by cpirrong — March 2, 2022 @ 1:27 pm

  16. @Joe. “Wins.” “If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined.” –Pyrrhus.

    Comment by cpirrong — March 2, 2022 @ 1:29 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress