Russia’s War in Ukraine: Misleading Doctrine, Misguided Strategy Russie.Nei.Reports, No. 40, Ifri, October 2022
The blame for committing the blunder of starting the war with Ukraine is deservedly placed on President Vladimir Putin, but a single-explanation interpretation of the unfolding disaster is unsatisfactory.
The scope of problems with the chain of command and logistics, scant air support and poor morale indicates that Russian planning and preparations for the war were seriously flawed and misguided.
On the level of doctrine, the assertion of Russia’s ability to deter North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), defined as the main adversary, by employing the complete set of nuclear, conventional and “hybrid” capabilities, laid the foundation for the failure of attack on what was presumed to be a frangible Ukraine. Strategic guidelines on gaining a quick and complete victory by establishing air dominance and executing offensive maneuvers by armored battalion tactical groups (BTGs), led to the confusion of poorly coordinated attacks without proper air support. The strategic culture, pro-forma conservative but distorted by bureaucratic sycophancy and corruption, produced inflexible chains of command, demoralization of poorly led combat units and ugly atrocities.
The sum total of these flaws is too high for the Russian army to learn useful lessons in the six months of fighting, so it has fallen back on the old pattern of positional warfare based on destroying the enemy by heavy artillery fire. The strategy of protracted war of attrition can lead to victory only if the economy and society are mobilized fully for delivering the necessary resources to the fighting army, but such mobilization—while proceeding in defiant Ukraine—remains politically impossible in discontented, isolated, and economically degraded Russia.
Dr. Pavel K. Baev is a Research Professor at the Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO). He is also a Senior Non-Resident Fellow at the Brookings Institution, Washington D.C., and an Associate Research Fellow at Ifri, Paris.