Even before the build-up to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Russian Government and its military leaders were already spewing out disinformation and propaganda. Their propaganda talks about how modern and advanced their military was in terms of troop skills, weapons, research and development, military vehicles, armored carriers, tanks, and of course, their nuclear program. When their invasion of Ukraine came, most of the world’s military analysts were shocked to see that the Russian forces had been doing so terrible to the point that many questioned the actual veracity of the intel coming out of Russia.
So, did the world get duped regarding Russia’s actual military power? More so, did Russia believe their own disinformation that they threw into the world?
The Western Reception of the Russian Propaganda Machine
Did the world fall for the whole Russian propaganda? In simple terms, yes, it did. More so, US intel did.
Remember when the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley told lawmakers and Americans that Ukraine could fall within 72 hours if the Russians were to invade it? He claimed these on February 2 and 3 when Milley attended closed-door meetings with some lawmakers and said that some 15,000 Ukrainian troops would die, with Russia garnering some 4,000 dead troops.
Other US intelligence officials warned that Kyiv could fall under Russian control in a matter of “days,” with some sources stating that Ukraine could fall as fast as three days. In fact, President Biden had been warning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine as far back as late 2021 and January 2022 when he said there was a “distinct possibility” that Russia would invade “next month.” This would be followed by rhetoric that the Russian invasion was “imminent” beginning in November and running through January and then saying “at any time” in February after predicting an invasion at any moment for nearly 4 months. After hearing these claims for months, SOFREP expressed skepticism in January that an invasion would happen at any moment. In our judgment, Russia did not have enough troops to take Ukraine(just 120,000 in January) and the weather would leave them stuck using the roads and result in a slaughter of Russian armored formations. We also noted that the US and NATO response to an imminent invasion was all but non-existent. We certainly weren’t sending billions in weaponry to Ukraine and neither was NATO. We also did not impose the threatened sanctions while believing the invasion was going to occur at any moment, which made them look like a big bluff by the US.
#Ukraine: A destroyed Ukrainian T-64BV tank and BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicle in the vicinity of Zolote, #Luhansk Oblast. A Ukrainian MT-LB-based vehicle was also captured there by the Russian forces. pic.twitter.com/Xv6TZfgos6
— 🇺🇦 Ukraine Weapons Tracker (@UAWeapons) June 24, 2022
Even Ukrainian President Zelensky did not believe a Russian invasion was imminent(looking at the same intel the US was looking at) and asked the West to stop claiming an “imminent invasion” was about to occur because it was damaging Ukraine’s economy.
It has been over four months since US officials came up with that assessment. Here we are with the Ukrainian forces who successfully defended against the initial advance to Kyiv. Even at four months with revised war goals, Russia has been unable to produce much of a “success,” just capturing Kherson, Mariupol, and recently, Severodonetsk in the Luhansk region – after losing some 97 colonels and lieutenant colonels, 12 generals, and over 33,000 men. That is not a success. That is a military blunder at its finest.
— Jason Jay Smart (@officejjsmart) June 26, 2022
These Western assessments of Ukraine falling to Russia within days both before and after Russian forces had advanced to Chernobyl after entering Belarus, where they took hold of the Chernobyl nuclear plant as this was the fastest route to Kyiv. Days later, the 40-mile Russian convoy would pop up on the scene, advancing as near as 20 to 40 miles from Kyiv. Many analysts feared the worst such as the Russian forces encircling Kyiv, taking down the Zelensky Government with the Chechen Special Forces, and installing a puppet regime. But no, that did not happen as we all know. The Russian forces pretty much stopped cold on that road and allowed it to be bombed all to Hell, for reasons we still don’t know but suspect had to do with obtaining fuel for them.
In a way, did US intel and Western intel as a whole fall for the so-called strength of the Russian Armed Forces? Yes, it did, otherwise, General Milley and President Biden would not have said that Ukraine could fall within days of a Russian invasion. But we would not blame it on them solely for that matter even if they were responsible for intelligence collection. To be fair, Russia had really worked hard on their propaganda throughout the decades, and they did it with a lot of hard work. In fact, if they put those efforts into actually training their men, they would have been more successful with their invasion of Ukraine.
These Western assessments of Ukraine falling to Russia within days before and after Russian forces had advanced to Chernobyl after entering Belarus, where they took hold of the Chernobyl nuclear plant as this was the fastest route to Kyiv. Days later, the 40-mile Russian convoy would pop up on the scene, advancing as near as 20 to 40 miles from Kyiv. Many analysts feared the worst such as the Russian forces encircling Kyiv, taking down the Zelensky Government with the Chechen Special Forces, and installing a puppet regime. But no, that did not happen, as we all know. The Russian forces slowed down, revealing that its ability to conduct combined arms operations was a joke.
In a way, did US intel and Western intel as a whole fall for all the hype about the Russian Armed Forces? Yes, it did. Otherwise, General Milley and President Biden would not have said that Ukraine could fall within days of a Russian invasion. This is also the most likely reason we did not rush billions in military aid to Ukraine immediately, we didn’t expect them to last long enough to use any of it and it would all end up in Russian hands.
There is a pretty big failure in the US not correctly estimating the fighting spirit and proficiency of the Ukraine Armed Forces as well that is mystifying. We spent at least 7 years sending trainers and advisors to work with their armed forces and yet it still appeared that we had no confidence in their ability to sustain a fight and win against Russia. How did that happen?
If we had rushed arms to Ukraine in November 2021, and imposed sanctions on Russia then, the whole invasion might never have happened at all. In the first week of December 2021, we wrote that Putin fears US weapons in Ukraine not a nebulous threat of unspecified sanctions.
Now tens of thousands are dead, we are sending tens of billions to Ukraine in weapons because our intelligence community made a decades-long series of overestimations of Russian military capabilities, a nearly decade-long under estimations of Ukraine’s ability and then seemed to have not given the advice to impose sanctions and send Ukraine weapons that might have kept the war from evening happening in the first place.
Following on the heels of the Afghanistan debacle where they got it wrong the opposite way assuring use the Taliban would need months to take Kabul even as they were rolling into town.
Did Russia Believe Its Propaganda?
It leaves us with no doubt that Russia also believed it was ready to invade Ukraine. They fabricated all of their military readiness and “wonder weapons” (so-called unstoppable weapons) that they actually believed they could pull off invading Ukraine with around 120,000 to 150,000 Russian troops, mostly conscripts.
How do we know they fell for their own propaganda? Putin stated that he expected the Russian forces to swiftly take Kyiv decisively when he announced his so-called “special military operation” on February 24. US intel at that time, specifically CIA Director Bill Burns, stated that Putin expected Ukraine to fall within two days. These two days were believed to be Putin’s war goal, the initial deadline for the invasion, which we all know is moot at this point.
It now appears that most of the Russian army massing on the border of Ukraine had no idea they were there to invade that country until the wheels were rolling and they were on their way. So rather than train for war in their cantonments in Belarus, Russian soldiers goofed off and sold the diesel fuel in their trucks and tanks to civilians to buy vodka with.
Image Matters: The Paper Army and the Russian Media
We all know that Russia invests heavily in its carefully scripted military exercises. In fact, they have a long history of staging elaborate military parades to show off new weapons systems to scare NATO and the US.
As it turns out, based on their military performance in Ukraine, Russia is nothing but a paper army with paper effectiveness. The Russians bought into their own stories of being “the best military in the world” because of these parades and military exercises and because the press over here was willing to buy into it as well and publish scary articles about the huge and lethal Russian army.
Imagine this. If you were a lowly conscript serving the Russian Armed Forces in a year, and all you were doing was preparing for military exercises for that specific year (one like Zapad), you would not be trained in much more than making sure your tank was clean and polished for the parade.
Of course, there would be the Russian soldiers that are all aware that their military is not as strong as they portray it to be because they know what type of corruption is in the system itself.
Some Russian officers sell off parts of their vehicles initially for maintenance because of low wages. There are also some officers that engage in high-level corruption schemes by obtaining kick-backs from purchases, i.e., body armor or contracts for maintenance services. But of course, these are just examples of what goes on within their system, and no actual scheme does come to light.
What they do not know is that these Russian generals and other high-ranking officers work really hard to make it appear like these exercises are the “real deal.” They are trying to make it seem that this is how the Russian forces would work if they were engaging a real-life enemy.
The reality is that these military exercises by the Russians are all highly-orchestrated, much like a broadway musical. Every step is planned, rehearsed, and tightly coordinated to make it look impressive to the cameras recording it.
We, along with the Russian public, saw how Russian tanks blew up targets in such a spectacular fashion, seemingly over-the-top, Hollywood-type explosions aimed to fool the common viewer. In many aspects, Western military analysts have seen through these trickeries.
As we have all seen, much of the world on a level believed this propaganda as it was coordinated with news of unstoppable missiles and “scary” experimental tanks that boasted much-improved survivability against Western tanks. If we were to assess these military exercises, they would be 90% rehearsed and staged for the cameras.
This photo encapsulates everything about Putin's decrepit Russia. A #Ukrainian forklift truck lifts a pallet load of Russian soldiers bodies into a refrigerated truck. The bodies abandoned when Russian forces fled from #Ukraine's Kyiv region. pic.twitter.com/ML1nXTZ9ig
— Glasnost Gone (@GlasnostGone) June 23, 2022
In the end, the conscripts and these troops, who are just trained to follow orders and not trained to hone their military knowledge and combat skills, just end up being actors in a very large display of military “might,” that is the Russian Armed Forces. They spend days on end rehearsing for parades and military exercises, wasting loads of ammunition just for a show, without really knowing the inner mechanisms of the weapons.
These troops only get involved with the maintenance of their vehicles when it’s already broken down. The vehicle is only fixed when there is a parade or exercise commencing in a few weeks.
In our opinion, this is not how to train conscripts and soldiers. As you can see, most of the Russian forces did not know how to coordinate within their own units, let alone an entire battalion or a combined arms effort. This led them to completely freeze when their high-ranking commanders died as they did not know who to get instruction from or how to adapt to change on a hectic battlefield.
With the Russians thinking that their 150,000-strong invading force could suddenly be so effective, they threw their troops into Ukraine, with most of them either dying or being wounded in the initial siege. Untrained conscripts trying to fight a more disciplined army turned into a literal meatgrinder in Ukraine, with many Russians not knowing how to fight.
More so, the lack of training resulted in the Russian armed forces being unable to adapt to a chaotic environment and coordinate with their own men. As a result, they relied on high-ranking commanders and generals to lead the way, with 12 of them ending up in a ditch.
It is not just us stating these facts. The Swedish Defense Research Agency has revealed through a report that the Russian performance in Ukraine has been “abysmal” as characterized by the lack of capability to undertake dynamic combined-arms warfare – a stark contrast to their military exercise videos of precision and accuracy. For Sweden, which has not fought a war since 1814 to call anybody out for having a military that sucks, it’s gotta suck really bad.
While the Russians have definitely fooled themselves with their own propaganda, this should be a cautionary tale to all other armed forces in the world. Armies are more than just tanks, planes and guns, they are also made up of people of varying degrees of fighting ability and governments that can be incredibly corrupt and incompetent. Spend less time looking a spec sheets and more time looking a troop quality, training and who is leading them in the future.
We have probably grossly overestimated China’s military ability along the same lines.
We should also be pretty clear-eyed about our own military as well.
Our equipment is aging rapidly.
We are engaging in potentially destructive social experiments with our troops that have nothing to do with war fighting ability.
We have made Climate Change a priority of national defense, instead of lethality.
We imagine that an American army, navy, and airforce comprised of unmanned drones, planes, and robots will do the fighting for us in the next big war.
Someday, a writer in a foreign media outlet may write an article like this about a much-hyped US military that turned out to be tough as a wet paper bag.