In the miles of abandoned Russian trenches near the newly-liberated Ukrainian city of Kherson can be found narrow paths open to the elements. Mud and pools of water are common. These were the living conditions for many of the Russian soldiers before their retreat.
Much of the Russian fighting is being waged from these World War I-style trenches. Soldiers have dug into muddy fortifications to endure relentless artillery bombardments. The toll is already twice the 50,000 dead and wounded suffered by the Soviet Union during its ten-year war in Afghanistan.
Reporters noted that, in contrast, the Ukrainian trenches had wooden-floors and sheltered bunkers. Some were equipped with internet and had new terminals. Starlink antennas abounded. A few boasted pet kittens, rescued from the rains.
Putin’s plan doomed the soldiers from the onset, because it ignored strategic reality and had no consideration for the soldiers on the ground. He invaded Ukraine with only 150,000 military personnel — significantly less than the 250,000 soldiers in the Ukrainian armed forces and far off the ratio of offensive to defence forces. At the time, I forecast — as an historian, based on WW2 experiences — that he needed at least three million men. Yesterday, Russia’s top defence ministry acknowledged in a restricted report that it would in fact need five million men. (The Russian troops were not as competent as I had assumed.)
The disaster started immediately in the earliest moments of the war, with the shock deaths of thousands of men trying and failing to encircle Kyiv. It set the tone for the contemptuous Russian use of the lives of their own soldiers.
In Kyiv the Russians used their troops as target-flushers: Russian recruits were ordered to approach Kyiv’s positions in a deliberate tactic to scout Ukrainian positions by being fired at. “Their job is to come up to us and force us to shoot them to reveal our positions,” said a Ukrainian major.
Their own commanders used Russian soldiers as pop-up targets in a shooting gallery.
The troops were thrown in without the cover of airstrikes, precision missile strikes, or artillery barrages — the kind of preparation that the American military did so well in Baghdad. The Russian…