American government and media statements have led the public to believe that the Russian military has been shockingly ineffective and that there is confident optimism for a Ukrainian victory. Ukrainians have fought courageously and performed above expectation. But there has been a vast gulf between private and public assessments. Recent leaks have confirmed what that gulf has long suggested: that there is a need to reevaluate the performance of the Russian army and to re-calibrate the optimistic expectations.
The ridiculing and mocking of the Russian military has been possible only because of a deliberate self delusion that demanded turning away from two important admissions.
The first is that, in the three quarters of a century since the US became the world’s dominant power, it has seldom decisively won a war or fully achieved its foreign policy reason for going to war. Honestly evaluating the Russian military performance requires comparing it to the exemplar of recent US wars. The US has consistently failed to defeat armies far more ragtag than the modern Ukrainian army.
Since Vietnam, the US has failed to achieve its military and political goals in Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya. After twenty years of fighting in Afghanistan, the US was forced to withdraw. They were in disarray; the Taliban was back in power. The US has twice withdrawn from Iraq because Iraq refused to capitulate to Status of Forces Agreements. The first withdrawal left Saddam Hussein in power; the second removed him and left Iran, and not the US, strengthened in Iraq. The war in Libya left a failed state to bleed weapons to extremist movements throughout the region. In none of these wars did the US leave victorious nor with their foreign policy objectives achieved. Each of them left a government in power that was not pro-US. The war in Syria has also left Bashar al-Assad in power.
If the Russian military has fared badly against the modern Ukrainian army, it has fared no worse than the US has against much less modern adversaries.
The second point the self delusion required ignoring is the reason why Russia is fighting such a modern Ukrainian army. Ukraine has become a de facto member of NATO. The US and its NATO allies are providing everything but the bodies in the war against Russia. Russia is not pulling off this level of performance against Ukraine: it is pulling off this level of performance against the combined resources of NATO. The US and its NATO allies have provided and maintained the weapons, trained the Ukrainian soldiers to use them and provided the intelligence on where to target them. The US is providing “stepped up feeds of intelligence about the position of Russian forces, highlighting weaknesses in the Russian lines.” The US has essentially assumed planning, conducting war-games and “suggesting” which “avenues . . . were likely to be more successful.” In March, the US hosted members of the Ukrainian military at a US military base in Germany for war games to strategize for the next phase of the war. In April, they “held tabletop exercises with Ukrainian military leaders to demonstrate how different offensive scenarios could play out” in the expected counter offensive, for which the US has “worked” with Ukraine “in terms of their surprise,” according to General Christopher Cavoli….