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Putin’s Real Problem: The Russian Military Is a Paper Tiger

Russia Aircraft Carriers
Russia's only aircraft carrier. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Just how dangerous is the Russian military after all? Considering its performance in Ukraine so far, it’s truly hard to say: During the 2012 Presidential Election, then-Republican candidate Mitt Romney, who is currently serving as a United States senator representing Utah, warned that Russia remained America’s great geopolitical threat.

“This is without question our number one geopolitical foe,” Romney said a decade ago while on the campaign trail in March 2012. He reiterated his stance during an October 2012 debate with President Barack Obama and was quickly mocked for it.

“The 1980s are calling to ask for their foreign policy back,” Obama quipped. “Because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.”

Then-Vice President Biden also scoffed at Romney’s suggestion that Russia remained a significant foe on the world stage, stating, “Romney acts like he thinks the Cold War’s still on… I don’t know where he’s been.”

In recent years, Obama and Biden have admitted that those comments haven’t aged well, and Russia under President Vladimir Putin has been seen again as a “near peer” adversary. Moscow has made great strides in developing advanced weapons, including its hypersonic missiles.

Russia has certainly stirred up trouble, including its 2014 annexation of Crimea, while Moscow has sought to expand its presence to overseas bases in Africa and the Middle East. The 1980s didn’t call, but the United States certainly has found itself in Cold War 2.0.

Moreover, as Russia massed its forces on the border prior to its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, it seemed that the Russian bear was showing its claws and was again a near peer adversary to fear.

“Putin’s Ukraine invasion is the first time in 80 years that a great power has moved to conquer a sovereign nation. It is without justification, without provocation, and without honor,” Romney said last month after Russia launched its attack.

Romney also recalled his past warnings, adding, “The ’80s called, and we didn’t answer.”

Then It Invaded

Perhaps Romney was right, even if Russia’s performance in Ukraine has shown considerable shortcomings.

Russian tanks have been destroyed in ambushes, while others have been reportedly “stolen” by Ukrainian farmers who have used tractors to tow them away. Russian casualties have mounted, and its combat losses after just three weeks have already overtaken Soviet casualties in Afghanistan over a nine-year period beginning in 1979.

Russia has also lost as many soldiers in Ukraine as the United States lost in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001!

What is clear is that even if Russia has shown itself to be more of a paper tiger than a mighty bear, NATO won’t – and shouldn’t – let its guard down. Across the alliance, member states are increasing defense spending, while Sweden and Finland are moving ever closer to joining the alliance.

Officials from the United States Air Force have also made it clear that Russia’s setbacks won’t give them reason to rethink existing strategy or spending.

“I don’t know that, for me personally, it’s really changed my perspective,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown Jr. told reporters March 3 at an Air Force Association conference in Orlando, Air Force Times reported.

“We will learn more and more … to really make an assessment of how we need to think about the Russians in the future,” Gen. Brown added.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may have revealed significant problems with its military’s logistics, command and control, and even attempts to maintain control of the skies.

Lessons From History

It might be easy to dismiss Russia given its setbacks in Ukraine, but history offers a reminder that Moscow has overcome far worse.

The Soviet Union showed that it was largely unprepared when it launched its assault on Finland in 1939. It faced a determined enemy that it thought it would quickly defeat. Instead, the “ Winter War” dragged on for months, and the Soviets looked weaker for it.

That helped convinced Nazi Germany that it would quickly roll over the Soviet Red Army, which did take significant losses and faced serious setbacks in the early stages of the Nazi invasion, but the Soviets came back stronger than ever.

The United States and NATO would be unwise to believe that Russia isn’t still a significant threat. It is a nuclear power, has been more successful than the United States in developing hypersonic weapons, and still has a sizeable force of submarines and combat aircraft.

Nations often come back stronger from tough fights, as the military undergoes reforms to address shortcomings. Russia will learn from its mistakes, and possibly even be battle-hardened albeit battered in the process. Should Russia actually lose in Ukraine, this bear won’t be declawed.

Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.

Written By

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. Suciu is also a contributing writer for Forbes Magazine.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. CK

    April 25, 2022 at 11:13 am

    I think both Putin and the West fell for the Kremlin’s own propaganda. What you see on May 9th is not what the rest of the Russian army looks like, as clearly has been shown. Not that I’d ever have wanted to test that in a NATO confrontation (which would have meant war) but Russia went ahead and showed their cards to us, attacking Ukraine.

    And what a joke they are. We must not indeed put down our defenses, but double down with NATO and our allies (and Sweden and Finland) so ensure Russia is never capable of going on an imperialist adventure like this again.

    In a few months time all they will have will be their nukes, and its unfortunate enough those can’t be taken away.

  2. Joe Tierney

    April 25, 2022 at 12:12 pm

    The title of this article is nothing more than stupid Western propaganda and wishful thinking, likely crafted merely to get attention. As for the actual content on this article, it’s not bad, although the author and everyone else should be reminded that this isn’t over, not by a longshot.

    People need to also remember that war is absolute hell, not only for the attacked, but also for the attacker. After all, look what a paper tiger the US military has turned out to be in the Iraq and Afghanistan quagmires it got itself embroiled in. It could not win wars even against such unsophisticated nations after trying to do so for ten years!

    Russia has taken on, not only a sophisticated Ukraine military with advanced air and ground forces, but also it has almost directly taken on all of NATO via the pumping of advanced weapons into the war on the Ukraine side.

    The US has not taken on such a foe since WWII – rather it prefers to attack weak and almost defenseless enemies. If you put the US military in a similar position to that of Russia in the current Ukraine war, you’d see plenty of hard evidence that the US military is far more a paper tiger than is Russia. But the chest-beating US propagandists will have none of such reality. How selective their memory is!

    I prefer to watch and wait to see how things turn out in Ukraine rather than jump prematurely on the ‘Russia has failed’ bandwagon. Remember, please – the same jackasses that architected the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 are running the mission against Russia in Ukraine and running the propaganda machine alongside.

    • sprinter

      April 25, 2022 at 3:05 pm

      What a joke, describing ukraine as being a sophisticated military with advanced air and ground forces. Russia spends about 30 times on defence what ukraine spends. Ukraine weapon s are leftovers from Soviet times, decades ago. What you are doing is trying to pretend that the Russian military is anything other than a paper tiger.
      Nobody invited russians into ukraine, no visas and passports. It seems the Russian version of a visa, is a tank.
      Ironically the reason Russia is getting its heart handed to it on a plate, is because the Ukrainians know it, is not good to meet a powerful military head to head, so guerrilla methods win.
      Russia has forgotten the lessons of Afghanistan when guerrilla warfare defeated them to exit Afghanistan.
      The only thing different about the ukraine military, is that western countries trained the military in New tactics, after the disgraceful invasions of Russia of ukraine in 2014.
      Russia is pathetic most paper tiger be g true in the world, why, because the Russian economy is smaller than the state of Texas.

  3. CK

    April 25, 2022 at 3:39 pm

    Looks like Alex called his bigger cousin. I like it, at least his arguments are merely incorrect, not deranged. An improvement to be sure!

    “The war isn’t over, not by a longshot.”

    Agreed here, caution should always be taken. Russia has recovered from worse before.

    “After all, look what a paper tiger the US military has turned out to be in the Iraq and Afghanistan quagmires it got itself embroiled in. It could not win wars even against such unsophisticated nations after trying to do so for ten years!”

    Let’s not forget neither could the Soviet Union. The lesson here seems to be conventional militaries cannot win unconventional wars, at the very least.

    “Russia has taken on, not only a sophisticated Ukraine military with advanced air and ground forces, but also it has almost directly taken on all of NATO via the pumping of advanced weapons into the war on the Ukraine side.”

    And what does that tell you? That Russia is stupid, and has acted from a position of weakness. As sprinter mentioned, even if militarily (and technologically) Russia could compete with the West/NATO/Ukraine, it couldn’t possibly economically. Now, we are seeing they can’t even compete militarily OR technologically.

    Tell me, how does Russia win then?

    “If you put the US military in a similar position to that of Russia in the current Ukraine war, you’d see plenty of hard evidence that the US military is far more a paper tiger than is Russia.”

    How? How would it be MORE of a paper tiger? NATO troops are better trained, armed, have higher morale, are better led, and far more numerous than Russians. How exactly would they have performed worse?

    “Remember, please – the same jackasses that architected the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 are running the mission against Russia in Ukraine and running the propaganda machine alongside.”

    Fair point, and about the only one you make that makes me worry. But so far, I’m liking what I am seeing.

    Are you watching Alex? You should take lessons from this guy.

  4. sprinter

    April 25, 2022 at 3:48 pm

    Russia has a reputation as good chess players, unfortunately Putin, who clearly has no competence as a chess player, has gambled on invading a sovereign country, ukraine, with usual playbook of lies, Russian speakers supposedly being persecuted, neo nazis even though the president is Jewish. Attempt to demilitarized ukraine despite Russia spending 30 x what ukraine spends. Perhaps it should be Russia that needs to be demilitarized, with such high spending.
    Putin sees shiny new weapons from Russian designers and makes the wrong assumption that the army has those advanced weapons.

    Russia will fail because what wins special operations is economic might. Russia population 145 million against Nato, population 800 million. Unfortunately Putin hasn’t a clue about economics, as confirmed by his refusal to accept the Russian central bank chief resignation .
    China has much stronger economic ties with western countries. China is sitting on the fence, diplomatically, however if you think China would sacrifice trade with 800 million people for trade with 145 million, then you are living in a dream.

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