The Russian Armed Forces, previously touted as one of the world’s largest and strongest armies, have suffered thousands of casualties in their campaign to invade Ukraine in what seems to be an underestimation of the Ukrainian People’s will to resist combined with an overestimation of the abilities of the Russian army. In the last two weeks of fighting, the Russians are suffering not just massive losses in troops and material but now their top field commanders as well. The demonstrated inability of the Russian army to conduct combined arms operations would seem to extend to even being able to provide security for their senior officers.

On paper, Russia had the largest advantage over Ukraine in every single category from size, military capability, and even gear. An imbalance was observed through the metrics prior to the Russian advance, and this still holds true (on paper). Russia has the world’s 5th biggest army with over 900,000 active personnel compared to Ukraine’s 200,000 troops; the Kremlin boasts over 12,420 tanks compared to Ukraine’s 2,596, and Russia has over 1,511 attack aircraft compared to Ukraine’s 98. This isn’t really surprising anymore as Ukraine only spends $5.9 billion on its military while Russia has spent over $61.7 billion.

With just those simple numbers, observers would think that Ukraine would have just been sitting ducks if Russia were to invade, but this does not seem so. Numbers alone do not erase the effects of bad doctrine. The Russian army marched into Ukraine understrength, with second-rate units in bad weather for armored formations to advance in.  As a result, their wheeled and tracked vehicles are bogged down in the mud(if you are wondering why there is a forty-mile-long convoy out there), and dependence on the road net is why they are forced to use five lines of advance into Ukraine, rather than tactical brilliance. Of course, the Ukrainians have had a tough, uphill battle as they have also lost troops and civilians to Russian shelling. They also lost the southern Ukrainian port city of Kherson 5 days ago, a strategic city vital to supplying Crimea with fresh water, which Ukraine cut off following the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. It was previously responsible for 85% of the Peninsula’s water supply.

Russian Commanders Dying On The Frontlines

While the outnumbered Ukrainians are fighting very well against Russian troops the weather confining Russian units to the roads is putting the ducks in the barrel for them so to speak, and they have managed to kill three top Russian commanders in the last two weeks of fighting.

The first of the Russian commander casualties was Russian Commander Major General Andrei Sukhovetsky. He was the deputy commander of the 41st Combined Arms Army of the Central Military District and a direct appointee of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Previously, he served as the 7th Air Assault Division Commander of Russia’s airborne forces and has combat experience in Abkhazia, the North Caucasus, and Syria.

He was reportedly killed by a sniper while visiting the frontlines in an attempt to revitalize the momentum of the invading Russian forces, which had been struck by low motivation amid a shortage of food and fuel and complaints that their officers were leading from well in the rear. As analyzed by SOFREP Editor-in-chief Sean Spoonts earlier, top commanders of this caliber being sent to the front lines would suggest that the Russians are doing very poorly with their so-called special military operation and that their troops need to be directly reprimanded by the head honcho. More so, for a general to be shot by a sniper, suggests that Russian forces don’t know how to conduct security sweeps to protect such dignitaries visiting their positions, or that Ukrainian forces were tipped off that Sukhovetsky would be arriving and they had time to set up the kill on him. Given that three officers commanding at the Army. Division and Regimental level have all been killed in a few days, suggests the Ukrainians were tipped off to them arriving.  We’ve seen convincing evidence in the form of numerous audio recordings that Russian units are using UHF/VHF radio communications and talking in the clear and lack modern encrypted radios. UHF/VHF frequencies can be easily jammed and we’ve seen complaints by Russian troops that whole divisions are out of touch with their headquarters units.

“With great pain, we learned the tragic news of the death of our friend, Major General Andrei Sukhovetsky, on the territory of Ukraine during the special operation,” wrote Sergey Chipilev, deputy of the Combat Brotherhood Russian Veterans Group. “We express our deepest condolences to his family,” he continued.

The bloodshed did not stop there. A few days after Ukraine’s confirmed kill against Sukhovetsky, another commander was killed in action in the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. Guard Colonel Konstantin Zizevsky, the regimental commander of the 247th Guards Airborne Assault Regiment based in Stavropol since 2020, was killed during a navy operation.

The third Russian commander to be killed in action was Major General Vitaly Gerasimov, a decorated general that had seen combat experience during the second Chechen war, Syria, and Crimea. Gerasimov was also the first deputy commander of the 41st Combined Arms Army serving under the now-dead General Sukhovetsky. His death was later confirmed by Christo Grozev, the executive director of the investigative journalism group, Bellingcat. Apparently, Russia’s communication systems were no longer working, thus leaving the Russian forces to use a local sim card. With the communication lines vulnerable, the Ukrainians intercepted the call and gained information about the death of the commander. His death brings things very close to home for the Russian army as Gerasimov is believed to be the nephew or son of the Chief of General Staff of the Russian armed forces, Valery Gerasimov. The strategy for the Ukrainian invasion would have been his brainchild.

As part of the sanctions package against Russia, General Gerasimov was added to the “Specially Designated Persons and Blocked Nationals” list.

Photo of major general of the Russian Armed Forces Vitaly Gerasimov (Wikimedia Commons). Source: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/08/vitaly-gerasimov-second-russian-general-killed-ukraine-defence-ministry-claims
Photo of major general of the Russian Armed Forces Vitaly Gerasimov (Головне управління розвідки Міністерства оборони УкраїниCC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons/The Guardian)

While the deaths of these Russian commanders are a military gain for Ukraine, these dead generals are also Putin cronies who owe the rank and positions of power to their loyalty to Putin.  These continued losses among members of Putin’s inner circle also erode his power and authority over the army. Anyone he picks as replacements will know that the job comes with the significant downside of getting picked off by a sniper or having a warhead placed on their forehead by Ukraine’s armed forces.  The privilege, money and power that comes with being close to Putin are worth much less if you aren’t around very long to enjoy it.

In the table above, Ukraine claims that they have inflicted these losses on the Russian army. While Russia is claiming to have lost less than 600 troops so far. Neither side is accurate but we assess that Ukraine’s numbers are probably closer to being the real ones.  Losses of this magnitude would go a long way towards explaining both the slow progress of the Russian army and the 40 mile long convoy stuck on a highway that seems to be more of a huge replacement pool for lost vehicles than an offensive column.

 

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