Moscow military analyst: Russian Army currently ‘unprepared for modern war’

Pavel Felgenhauer

Pavel Felgenhauer, Russian military analyst 

2015/02/23 • Military analysis, Russia

Russian forces fought in the Donbas the way Soviet forces fought “50 years ago,” a reflection of their lack of contemporary equipment and training and that they are so “unprepared for modern war” that in a war with NATO, they would suffer much the same fate as the Zulus against the British army, Pavel Felgenhauer says.

“That does not mean,” the independent Russian analyst says, that Russian forces cannot conduct another campaign like the in Ukraine. They can if the enemy resembles one in Ukraine. Instead, it means that Russian forces are not in a position to defeat modern NATO armies on the field of battle.

But Russia is rapidly rearming and updating its training programs, and as a result, by 2025, a decade from now, Felgenhauer says, the world must be “prepared for a world war” between Russia and the West “or for a series of major regional conflicts” over natural resources and spheres of influence.

By 2025, a decade from now, Felgenhauer says, the world must be “prepared for a world war” between Russia and the West “or for a series of major regional conflicts” over natural resources and spheres of influence.

Although there are some modernized units in the Russian military and the success of certain FSB units in Crimea, the Moscow analyst paints a devastating picture of the overall state of the Russian armed forces:

“The arming and equipment of the soldiers does not correspond to contemporary standards. They do not have the arms, the protection, or the communications” that modern armies do. “Nothing has changed in principle.” Russia doesn’t produce “contemporary rifles or normal bullets, or artillery shells” and consequently “shoots with the old ones.”

“There are no sniper rifles and no snipers,” he continues. “There is a clutch of specialists in the FSB who have foreign arms and bullets. Russian tanks are antiquated and poorly armed, and they are “willingly purchased only by those countries which do not have any problems with their birthrates.”

Russian aviation, Felgenhauer continues, “cannot effectively support ground forces, in any case, at night or in bad weather.” Russian avionics are antiquated. And radars of the most advanced kind are produced only in the US. “We used to purchase them, but we can’t get them anymore.” Russia can’t produce equivalents.” And it lacks the GPS guidance systems that make modern armies so effective.

All this means, he concludes, that Russia’s armed forces currently “are at the level of Pakistan’s. Of course, [Russia] has nuclear weapons, rockets, and submarines,” although “how many of them really are suitable for use in the event of a nuclear war, no one knows for certain or will specially seek to find out.”

Changing that, Felgenhauer says, will not be easy because “all serious modernizations in Russian history have relied on Western technology,” and now it is going to be more difficult to gain access to it.

Moreover, he points out, “Russia in general is a very provincial country situated to the side of progress in the world and especially with regard to its armed forces.” It was “isolated already in tsarist times,” and its commanders and political leaders “do not understand what contemporary war is.”

Russia’s goal is obvious: “the reestablishment of control over Ukraine.” And that means it is interested “not in Debaltseve but in Kyiv.”

“They know that there are new technologies” and tactics, Felgenhauer says, but up to now, they train their officers to fight the way they did in World War II, even though the advanced world has moved on. And it will be a real tragedy if they conclude that they achieved some great new success in Crimea. That is “an invention and a scarecrow,” not a reality.

Given that, it is “of course, possible” that some in Moscow may think they can fight and win a major war. But that is a delusion, Felgenhauer says. What would happen then is what has happened before when there have been clashes between “contemporary armies” with those of a more antiquated kind.

Indeed, the independent analyst says, such a war might look like a clash “of the Spanish and the Indians or the Zulus with spears against the English with machine guns” or of Saddam Husseyn with his gigantic army against the much smaller but much better armed and led forces of the American led coalition.

Emblematic of this old-fashioned approach in Russia, he continues, is the belief among many Russian commanders that the economic crisis will make it easier for them to fill the ranks because those who can’t find jobs in the private sector will be happy to become soldiers. That is not how a modern army is complected.

Moscow’s current military thinking reflects the notion of “a Malthusian trap,” the view that there will necessarily be a fight for resources and that Russia must expand to have more and be ready to defend itself against others who will be interested in gaining access to the resources on its territory.

Moscow views the US as “the main opponent,” with China a distant second, Felgenhauer says. It is thus building a peripheral defense, in the first instance in Ukraine. “Losing Ukraine” would thus be a breakdown in that perimeter,” and consequently, he says, Moscow will work to “hold Ukraine at any cost.”

It would have been easier for Moscow to do so if it were further along on its rearmament campaign, perhaps in 2018-2020, but that doesn’t mean it won’t do what it has to do in order to prevent Ukraine from becoming part of the West.

Not surprisingly, NATO views what Russia is doing as something which means the Western alliance “will prepare for a war with Russia.” Two weeks ago, the alliance’s defense ministers, including those from Greece and Hungary, voted for that and voted to create a rapid reaction force in Poland to be prepared to deal with any Russian move against the Baltic countries.

As far as Ukraine is concerned, it will develop as “proxy wars” typically do because what is taking place in the Donbas is “a proxy war like Vietnam, Afghanistan, and the Near East conflict. The Cold War has returned, and the tactic of the Cold War has returned as well.” Those like Putin who began their careers in the 1970s “understand this quite well.”

In the coming weeks, there will be “an unstable armistice” because both sides need “an operational pause.” But it won’t last long and the fighting will intensify again in the late spring or early summer, Felgenhauer says. Russia’s goal is obvious: “the reestablishment of control over Ukraine.” And that means it is interested “not in Debaltseve but in Kyiv.”

Until Moscow achieves that goal, the conflict will continue, and everyone should remember that ‘proxy wars can last for decades,” Felgenhauer warns in conclusion.

Edited by: A. N.

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  • Brent

    And Russia could be stopped now if not for Western leaders with their heads in the sand.

  • Alex Shenderov

    Has anybody, since Mongol Empire, been prepared for a modern war? And has this unpreparedness ever stopped anyone?

    • Adam Rytwiński

      Many times 😉

  • Mazepa

    No problem….there is more than one way to ‘skin a mockal monkey’.
    Natural gas pipelines and other sites will become our new targets in mockovshchyna.
    Smert mockalyam.
    Guaranteed.

    • Alex Shenderov

      Your views are a good demonstration of WHY the West hesitates to help Ukraine. Javelins are just as good at blowing up pipelines as it is at blowing up tanks. Which is why Ukraine can’t get them.

      People (of any nationality) consumed by hatred cannot think. Guaranteed.

      • puttypants

        Alex shenderov. what else can Ukraine do. The west has deserted her and they certainly don’t want to return to Putin. The hatred between both countries will not end for centuries. Putin is devastating Ukraine. In the end, Both Russia and Putin will lose and will be isolated from the world. No one trusts them. They will be pariahs in the world. Ukraine should not have to tolerated Putin killing people living in Ukraine. No one will forgive him for this.

        • Alex Shenderov

          As of right now, both Putin and Poroshenko are isolated from the world. Everyone avoids them both like a plague. Which, short-term, is perfectly acceptable to Putin, but not Poroshenko. What else can Ukraine, and specifically Poroshenko, do? (other than blow up Russian pipelines, that is)

          It might be useful to take the option of abandoning Ukraine off the table for the West. It can be all done in an hour. All Poroshenko has to do is to board the presidential plane with his family, take off for the Maldives of Caribbean, and let the West know that as of 15 minutes ago, Putin is no longer his problem but theirs.

          I cannot imagine Merkel in this situation doing anything other than offering Poroshenko ANY kind of help in return for his immediate return. Any king of credit, antitank weaponry, military training, intelligence information, whatever – just please YOU fight THERE rather than US HERE.

          Or maybe I can imagine her NOT doing any of this. See, trouble is, if they give Ukrainians the weapons, it won’t take too many idiots to blow up pipelines in Russia instead of tanks in Ukraine. Which would be all the justification Putin needs to sweep through Europe in the name of security of Motherland. So the blackmail scenario I described probably won’t work in practice.

          • Adam Rytwiński

            You have forgotten about us, Poles my friend, we will support Ukraine and will do our best to influence our European partners :)

            But on the other hand, the major problem is as you have written already – Ukraine itself. The key issue for the country are the reforms.

            There was an interview recently taken with a British citizien (pro. military guy) of Ukrainian origin, who has been schooling volunteer units for ATO operation, as well took part in the operation too. The shape of Ukrainian army is as bad as the described in the article above, if not worse. Sending weaponry to Ukraine won’t help much, they need really deep reforms, training, new organisation, officers, etc.

          • puttypants

            I think everyone is expecting too much to happen from Ukrainian government. They have a huge tank (Russia) breathing down their backs and loaded with propaganda and weapons. I’d like to see anyone do better than what the government is doing in this situation. Their economy in thetoilet and an impossible war they know they cannot win only keep begging for help and no one is stepping up. What experience does anyone in the rada have to deal with all these issues? They need a marshall plan. and they need UN peace keeping troops. They need some powerful arms. If we can arm countries in the middle east why can’t the west arm Ukraine? Is the middle-east in any better shape? At least the west knows Ukrainians don’t hate the west but wants to be part of it. Although with all the help coming from the West I wouldn’t blame Ukrainians for saying wow are we any better off with those cowardly Westie’s?

          • Brent

            That’s an ‘unusual’ response….

            You suggest the Ukrainian President abandon his people. His country. Maybe he’s more honorable of a man that that?

            You suggest if the U.S. gives javelins to Ukraine, they will automatically use them to go blow up pipelines in Russia. Maybe they are more honorable than that and not terrorists like what Russia has sent to Ukraine? Maybe they will continue to defend their home, their family and their country with those javelins.

            Very interesting you envision Putin justifiably sweeping through Europe though.

  • Mazepa

    Some US weapons are already on the ground in Ukraine. However, even the US understands that we will alter the nature of this war by taking it to mockal territory. They understand that we have no other choice and we have their unofficial support.
    Kind regards.

  • Dirk Smith

    Mariupol will be Putin’s Stalingrad. Slava Azov Regiment!!

    • Alex Shenderov

      Ukrainian army has no tools to stop Russian tanks. Unless Poroshenko manages to get the West to put their money (weapons, training, intelligence data) where their mouth is, there won’t be any Stalingrad. And it’s hard to make the West behave like they regard Russia as an aggressor if Ukraine itself does not. Last I checked, Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow was still open…

      As far as the level of indecision of the leadership, Ukraine already is a Western country. I wish Ukrainians learned something more useful from the West than mumbling and hesitation. That would save a lot of lives (paradoxically – including a lot of Russian lives as well)

      • Vlad Pufagtinenko

        coo coo

  • Adam Rytwiński

    Exactly. But Ukraine can get help in training for modern warfare from the West (as well as technology), for example from USA, Poland, UK. Russia has no chance for such aid. So in some sort of time Ukrainian army has a chance to get on higher, proffessional level, Russia does not. But remember, a lot depends on Ukraine itself.

    • puttypants

      You’re right but I can’t imagine they’re not extremely demoralized right now. They’re in a war they didn’t chose. Their government asks them to live worse when they were already living so badly. I think they need a marshall plan now. They need all the help they can get. What do the leaders tell the people when the people are constantly being propagandized from within. What’s happening in Ukraine is frankly is almost unbearable. No matter what Poroshenko or Yat’s says the people won’t believe them. I’m sure Poroshenko has been getting advice from the west and look what’s happened to them. Economy is even worse than it was and they don’t know how far Putin will go.

  • puttypants

    Friendly fire is common in every war. Imagine not having enough training or the proper arms or even being a proper army. I think all this bad mouthing is inappropriate and the wrong thing to do right now when Ukraine is fighting for her life. Those poor guys out there are doing the best the can under the circumstances. We really don’t know for sure how many died from friendly fire. How does anyone prove that. It’s probably more Putler propaganda