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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

Russian Nationalists Reveal Everything Wrong with the Russian Military in Ukraine

T-90M tank. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

“Sorry, there will be a lot of swearing,” prefaces Murz, a longtime supporter of pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine, in a fiery LiveJournal blog post. Murz describes the shambolic state of Russia’s war in Ukraine and bitterly excoriates the Russian media’s relentless spin on battlefield setbacks.

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An irony of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war is that its harshest public critics inside Russia are also the invasion’s most passionate supporters in principle. While anti-war voices in Russia are silenced, imprisoned, or driven into exile, nationalists advocating a resurgence of a new Russian empire are given some leeway to share views about how badly the war is being managed, as long as they do not directly criticize Putin.

But even in this context, Murz’s 5,000-word rant apparently crossed a line. LiveJournal, which since 2007 has been owned by Russian companies, eventually suspended the post, opaquely citing a law “On Information, Information Technologies and the Protection of Information.” But they did not take it down before it was shared as recommended reading by Igor ‘Strelkov’ Girkin, a prominent former Russian military intelligence officer and ex-separatist commander known for his biting criticism of Russia’s military and his admitted role in the killing of Ukrainian prisoners.

You can now read an English translation of the suspended full post at the website War Translated. The site’s editor notes Murz has been active since 2014 in helping Russian separatists acquire and use communications and drone systems, and has a lengthy history writing on corruption and malpractice in the separatist and Russian armed forces.

Murz directs almost all his invective at Russia’s military, save for a claim that Ukrainian artillery is rocketing cities in Luhansk and Donetsk indiscriminately to bait Russian forces into wasteful ground attacks. (Russia’s strategic attacks on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure receive scarce mention.)

In his view, private donors and volunteers such as himself are responsible for much of the key equipment reaching Russian forces at the frontline, including body armor, field cable, Chinese-built drones, and counter-drone guns. But these cannot donations possibly provide adequate volume for Russia’s war machine.

Below you can read a distillation and explanation of Murz’s key points and juiciest burns. (I have modified War Translated’s wording in a few places for clarity.)

– Russia’s poorly trained infantry are being ground down World War I-style in senseless attack.

“The Russian military has an incredible talent for turning any village with a couple of landings and a pig farm into Verdun, on which their own, not enemy, units are ground down,” Murz says.

Murz repeatedly likens Russia’s current strategy to the Battle of Verdun in 1916, one of the most infamous bloodbaths of World War I trench warfare. This was by design — the German military attacked Verdun because they believed the French would lose disproportionate troops trying to hold it. This attrition strategy didn’t work out in the 300-day battle — the French suffered horrifying losses (around 400,000 killed and wounded), but so did the Germans (around 350,000).

Thus Murz is arguing that the Russian military’s obsessive attacks on relatively minor towns and cities — notably Bakhmut and more recently Pavlivka — come at the cost of massive losses that are grinding Russian combat power down far more rapidly than Ukraine’s. “Here — we freed another 100 meters of such and such village,” he mocks.

He acerbically continues: “As the Russian army can do nothing except bloody itself capturing another village, while surrendering a district capital or an entire region on the other flank, the Russian army came to an amazing conclusion – let’s take more villages! And arranged the maximum possible Verduns along the entire front line.”

Murz sneers that Ukraine should decorate Russia’s senior military commanders: “It’s impossible to provide the Armed Forces of Ukraine greater service than killing the remnants of our infantry and tanks….[having] driven the lion’s share of those mobilized into ‘rifle regiments’ without heavy weapons and artillery, the same state as the regiments of the Donbass separatist ‘mobiks’ [newly mobilized conscripts].”

Russia earlier in the war used conscripted personnel from the Donbas region of Ukraine as cannon fodder, thrusting them into frontline roles untrained and poorly supplied and equipped. Since Moscow began mobilization in the fall, Murz is saying mobilized conscripts from Russia are being fed into the meat  grinder in the same fashion — with minimal if any training, and outdated, insufficient equipment.

– Tanks are wearing out their barrels being used as artillery.

Recent combat footage show Russian and Ukrainian tanks firing indirect barrages at distant targets like artillery. This is by no means a new tactic, but Murz sees as self-defeating.

The barrels of indirect-fire howitzers are made to last many shots. Tank guns, on the other hand, have shorter service lives as they endure more stress firing sabot anti-tank shells at very high velocity to penetrate armor. By using tank guns to fire large-volume barrages, they’re rapidly using up their gun barrels. Replacing these requires dismantling the entire turret, effectively using up a valuable resource on missions they weren’t built for.

To be fair, tankers in Ukraine have on occasion used drone spotters to execute successful precision strikes on enemy vehicles. However, Murz appears to be referring to sustained area bombardments.

– Russia’s various armed forces form a “monstrous patchwork” worsening command and control problems.

From early on, Russia’s invasion suffered from a lack of centralized command, with rival military branches and regional commands independently pursuing their own goals. Different services in the field include the Russian Army, the Wagner mercenary company, Chechnyan militias (‘Kadyrovtsiy’), BARS volunteer units, the National Guard (essentially riot police), the Airborne Forces, Russian naval infantry, and the separatist armies of Luhansk and Donetsk. Some command centralization has occurred under Gen. Sergei Surovikin, who was appointed in October. But some elements, notably including Wagner, continue to wage their own private war.

– Russia’s new defensive lines are a paper tiger.

Murz views the newly constructed Russian fortification belts as veritable Potemkin villages, citing “250-kg aerial bombs abandoned in forests, without any means for their remote detonation, marked on the maps as “land mines”; and concrete bunkers placed at the indicated points without any foundation and left after a few rain showers with embrasures below ground level.”

He sees these fortifications as futile due to inadequate infantry and artillery to hold the line, and a lack of forces held in reserve to counterattack Ukrainian penetration. He claims a Ukrainian offensive could “go through [them] like a knife through butter.”

– Artillery and air power is being wasted blowing up empty fields

During the summer of 2022, it seemed Russia’s military was content to burn through a seemingly bottomless supply of ammunition to blast Ukrainian defenders back from one incremental stretch of territory after another.

Now it is the winter, and that supply is turning out to be not so bottomless as Moscow hoped, forcing Russian forces to use dangerously old ammunition. Yet the army continues to expend shells wastefully, having failed to implement a modern, fast-responding artillery fire control system.

“We see the result. Monstrous lunar landscapes in the fields, where there is not a trace of Ukrainian fortifications,” bemoans Murz.

He is also scornful of the effectiveness of Russian tactical air power: “Air strikes from afar with unguided 80-mm rockets from a pitch-up (because if you fly closer, they will shoot you down) are also something only tickles a well-entrenched enemy, although it can look very impressive. Pew pew pew! Hooray! What a shot! And when the smoke settled – another plowed field.”

– Tanks are being deployed to the front without the explosive reactive armor needed to keep them alive.

Modern Russian tanks rely on externally mounted bricks of explosive reactive armor to defeat incoming shaped-charge warheads. But as Russia sends more old tanks to the frontline, it’s apparently neglecting to outfit some of them with the necessary explosive elements. That, or it is substituting them ineffectively, perhaps due to inadequate supply or training. That leaves those tanks vastly more vulnerable to rocket-propelled grenades and anti-tank missiles.

– Crappy communication systems are killing Russia’s military.

Repeatedly, Murz highlights various failures of Russian military communication systems, starting with the ease Ukrainian electronic intelligence has in locating “clusters of constantly turned-on cell phones [and] analog Baofeng radios and precisely striking them.”

He also criticizes a reliance on ground-cable communication (which he says Russian units often must obtain from “volunteers…[shopping] at flea markets.”) Though secure from jamming, cables are hard for friendly units to locate, and they often get cut by artillery bombardments “in five minutes” due to a failure to properly bury them for long-term resilience.

In Murz’s estimation, Russia’s military is incapable of exerting tactical control  “as a single organism” over any unit larger than “the remnants of a motorized rifle battalion [typically 400-800 personnel].” He allows that some low-level company and battalion commanders  “become well-deserved heroes, who if possible, drag all the shit on their own backs. Although more often, alas, they don’t.”

Meanwhile, he claims Russian tanks are made vulnerable by obsolete communications setups. “It turns out that the adversary can perfectly track our armored vehicles by monitoring the operation of their obsolete R-123 and R-173 radio stations.” By contrast, he claims the radios on Ukrainian tanks can dial down their electromagnetic signatures to a level indistinguishable from that of a walkie-talkie.

– Russia’s drone operators are playing catch-up to Ukraine’s.

Earlier in 2014-2015, Russian separatist forces pioneered the weaponization of cheap commercial drones by equipping them to drop grenades on hostile forces.

However, according to Murz, since those initial battles, Ukraine’s military devoted substantial resources to developing its drone arsenal. Not only do they field more drones than Russia’s military, but they have developed doctrine and command and control systems to leverage them efficiently.

He bemoans the fact that Russia’s military is crudely trying to copy Ukrainian methods while lacking the numbers and technique to make them nearly as effective. As a result, Russian drone operators are less effectively attacking Ukraine’s better entrenched troops (an “army of moles”) with tiny 30-millimeter grenades, at the expense of performing vital reconnaissance and artillery-spotting missions.

“And the Ukrainians jam these Mavics [Chinese civilian drones] and shoot them down at their leisure, because they’re NOT [EXPLETIVE], THEY ARE LEARNING,” he bellows. “Meanwhile the artillery remains not only with too little ammo but without eyes to spot for them.”

– Russian units lack winter camo-netting, and that could spell disaster.

“A [expletive] hell awaits us in winter,” Murz emphasizes, because Russian units aren’t receiving winter camouflage netting. Leafless trees will become a lot less effective at concealing vehicles, howitzers, and personnel hiding beneath them.

“It will no longer be possible to hide the guns in the forests — the forests are bare, and then more snow will fall and in general, every step will be visible from the air. And the enemy is making good use of drones.”

Murz dejectedly concludes, “When the Ukrainians break through the front, I will get my machine gun, put on my armor and go and try to kill someone before I die.” The better, he writes, not to live in a “decolonized” Russia deprived of imperial possessions.

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Sébastien Roblin writes on the technical, historical and political aspects of international security and conflict for publications including The National InterestNBC, War is Boring and 19FortyFive, where he is Defense-in-Depth editor. He holds a Master’s degree from Georgetown University and served with the Peace Corps in China.  You can follow his articles on Twitter.

Written By

Sebastien Roblin writes on the technical, historical, and political aspects of international security and conflict for publications including the 19FortyFive, The National Interest, NBC News,, and War is Boring. He holds a Master’s degree from Georgetown University and served with the Peace Corps in China.