Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

The Russian Military After the Ukraine War: On the Brink of Disaster?

Image of T-14 Armata tank in the Russian Military. Image Credit: Vitali Kuzman.
Image of T-14 Armata tank in the Russian Military. Image Credit: Vitali Kuzman.

The Russian Military Has Taken a Hit in Ukraine, but it won’t Stay Down Forever – Russia’s armed forces have undoubtedly run into major issues over the course of Moscow’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, sustaining major losses in the process. Instead of securing a quick victory over Ukraine’s forces in a matter of days, as the Kremlin’s initial employment of forces implies they expected, Russia’s invasion force has instead come to find itself locked into a grueling war of attrition in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, which continues to chew through the Russian military’s equipment and munitions.

However, while the Russian armed forces will undoubtedly need to undergo significant reconstitution to compensate for their losses since the invasion, Russia will likely regain its pre-war raw power in a matter of years, regardless of a temporary drop in capability in the interim as a result of the war in Ukraine.

The Russian Military’s Challenge 

Ever since the opening weeks of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, outside observers have taken note of the significant losses endured by Moscow’s forces. Outside coverage of the first days and weeks of Russia’s invasion noted the strikingly large quantity of Russian vehicles which were abandoned due to technical or battlefield reasons, many of which were still in serviceable condition.

Open-source tracking from blogs such as Oryx reveals that Russia has lost a considerable amount of equipment to date in its invasion, including more than 800 tanks and almost 500 armored fighting vehicles at the time of writing.

Besides the losses Russian forces have taken, the ammunition expended by Russian forces is considerable and will take some time to replenish. According to Ukrainian sources, Russia is firing 60,000 artillery shells per day in Ukraine, a rate that would be taxing on the defense industrial base on any country that has not mobilized its economy for wartime production, which Russia has so far refused to do.

Russia’s arsenal of precision-guided munitions also appears to have been significantly depleted over the course of the invasion, limiting Moscow’s ability to strike certain military or transportation targets, especially those that are mobile. For years, Russian military doctrine has held that precision-guided munitions are a key tool alongside more conventional, unguided munitions.

The Russian Military: What Happens Next?

To recoup its materiel losses in Ukraine, the Russian military will need several years of serial production of everything from armor to munitions to reach pre-war reserve levels.

According to Pavel Luzin, an expert on Russian military affairs, organizational issues in Russia’s defense production base and disruptions to Russian defense supply chains as a result of sanctions placed on Russia following its 2022 invasion mean that it will likely take a minimum of four years for Russia’s armed forces to rebuild its arsenal of armored vehicles to January 2022 levels.

Reserves of precision-guided munitions will take even longer to reach prior levels as a result of similar pressures – Luzin estimates that it would take at least ten years for such stocks to be replenished.

The NATO Challenge

In the short-term, the risk of direct confrontation between the Russian military and NATO is low, save for accidental escalation, in large part due to the fact that the Russian armed forces are so thoroughly committed to the so-called “special military operation.”

Instead of being increasingly concentrated on Russia’s border with Norway and Finland following Finland’s official decision to apply for NATO membership, Russian forces in the area actually appear to be increasingly taking part in the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Even before Moscow’s invasion, Western military analysts had good reason to be skeptical of Russia’s ability to conduct massive military operations outside the confines of the former Soviet Union.

In its existing state, the Russian military are highly dependent on rail links to ensure that its armed forces are properly supplied. Given the fact that only former Soviet countries and Finland use the same rail gauge as Russia, any sustainment operation of Russian forces outside the former Soviet Union would face significant logistical hurdles.

Russian Military Will Learn from Ukraine War Mistakes 

While some of the baked-in weaknesses of the Russian military model have been exposed by its invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. and NATO still have good reason to take competition from Russia as well as the prospect that Russia will learn from its mistakes seriously.

For example, while the Deputy Commander of the Estonian Defense Forces has claimed that Russia is likely too weak to put pressure on or seize the strategic Suwałki Gap (a source of some anxiety given ongoing drama surrounding Lithuania’s enforcement of EU sanctions on overland transport of certain Russian goods to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad), he also cautioned that Russia is no stranger to learning from its mistakes and adapting.

While the direct threat posed by Russia’s military power is momentarily reduced by its ongoing invasion of Ukraine, its long-term threat profile to NATO remains mostly constant. Moscow still sits on the world’s largest arsenal of strategic nuclear weapons, which are regulated by a withering arms control architecture while it enters the tail end of a years-long modernization program.

Of course, one should also remain cognizant of the fact that Russia’s military capabilities it holds today are the culmination of decades of reconstitution following the collapse of the Soviet Union – there is little to suggest that Russia’s leadership will not embark on a similar program once the war has either finished or wound down to a manageable intensity. Despite the war in Ukraine, Russian forces continue to operate all over the world in Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America alike, often times in direct conflict with the interests of the United States and its NATO allies.

While NATO can be relatively confident that the Russian military will not attempt to take on the alliance head-on while it is forced to pull all available resources into its invasion of Ukraine, Russian military readiness will not be sufficiently subdued in the long-term where countries of the NATO alliance can simply ignore the threat posed by Moscow. Russia’s armed forces will undoubtedly focus on rearmament and rebuilding a high state of readiness in the years to come.

Wesley Culp is a Research Fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. He regularly writes on Russian and Eurasian leadership and national security topics and has been published in The Hill as well as in the Diplomatic Courier. He can be found on Twitter @WesleyJCulp.

Written By

Wesley Culp is a Research Fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. He regularly writes on Russian and Eurasian leadership and national security topics and has been published in The Hill and the Diplomatic Courier. He can be found on Twitter @WesleyJCulp.