By Blake Dudley ’23
As the Russo-Ukrainian War continues to rage on, it has become clear that Russia has suffered an immense failure. From the first week of the conflict, when Russia failed to seize Kiev and topple the Ukrainian government, its forces have continued to face setback after setback with continued ground loss and mounting casualties. Russia still holds a significant portion of Ukrainian territory and still poses a significant threat, but its pride and military capabilities have been shattered. Yet, who does Russia blame for this? It is not Ukraine, but rather NATO and the United States.
From President Putin to the common Russian soldier, the failures of the Russian military are being pushed onto NATO. In Putin’s speech announcing the beginning of military mobilization, he justified his decision by reasoning not that the fight against Ukraine dictates the need for mobilization, but rather that they are fighting against the West and all its resources. Pro-Putin tv news outlets are similarly discussing how they are fighting the West now and it is not a simple special operation anymore.
In some ways they are correct: the sheer number of resources and equipment supplied to Ukraine by NATO has been very generous, and only continues to grow in size and scale. Top of the line American military hardware from simple suicide drones to deadly rocket artillery HIMARS systems have been a huge help to the Ukrainian forces. Even Elon Musk’s Starlink system, a satellite network which provides fast and secure internet, has been vital on the battlefield. Ukrainian officials have stated that without all of this Western support, their country would be doing significantly worse in limiting the Russian invasion.
The Russians, however, are not talking about their military’s abysmal failure. Poor training, antiquated equipment and terrible morale are just a few of the problems afflicting Russia’s forces. Video evidence has continued to reveal weaknesses in the Russian army, from tanks getting easily blown up to troops fleeing into open minefields. These are massive flaws that Russia cannot ignore; but, rather than reassessing its strategy, Russia is throwing untrained troops into the conflict to hopefully halt Ukrainian advances. Prior to the war, Russia was seen as a serious global contender in military capabilities, yet now it seems it is no more than a paper tiger. Even Azerbaijan has seized upon Russia’s failures, attacking a Russian peacekeeping zone as part of Azerbaijan’s ongoing conflict with Armenia.
Why are Russia’s failures and its blame for military setbacks on the West significant? Because they could serve as a dangerous catalyst for a revanchist-driven resurgence of Russian military power. No matter what happens in the future of the conflict, Russia has suffered failures it desperately needs to fix. Its men and equipment need to reorient and rebuild if it wants to become the serious power it believe itself to be. With Putin and his supporters exclaiming that their faults are due only to the overwhelming mass of NATO power supporting Ukraine, they will use this as an excuse to expand their military closer to parity with the West.
The post-Soviet diplomatic days are truly over, and the attempt to have more cordial relations and what was an opportunity to bring Russia into the friendly arms of the West is surely lost. Since the end of the Cold War, Russia and NATO have been involved in near open hostilities towards one another, and this is only bound to worsen. Recently, Russian fighter jets fired an air-to-air missile against a British refueling tanker, but luckily the missile failed, Russia claims this was a “technical malfunction”. These heightened tensions and close calls stoke a broader scale of warfare, increasing the threat of nuclear warfare. Recent remarks made by Russian leadership and movements by their nuclear forces have heightened fears over the possibility of nuclear weapons use. While the likelihood of that remains low, the mere fact it is being suggested is frightening.
The Cold War era of proxy fighting between Russia and the West is back, though notably now on the doorstep of Russia, a few hundred miles from Moscow. In its rhetoric the Kremlin has openly painted NATO and the US as its enemies and that its existence and security is under threat because of them. As the invasion continues to falter in front of our eyes, we should continue to view the conflict with great hesitation. Russia is already setting up how it’s handling defeat, and who to blame. We could be facing a nuclear armed revanchist state in the future, a dangerous foe that we should not be eager to have.