The Russian military has underperformed in the war in Ukraine. Almost no unit has escaped criticism. Indeed, some of Moscow’s most elite units have suffered the worst and most embarrassing defeats on the ground.
Now, it looks like the Kremlin is trying to revive these units’ reputation through one of its specialties—disinformation.
The 155th Naval Brigade and Russian Disinformation
During Monday’s update on the war, the British Military Intelligence stated that the Russian Ministry of Defense is likely attempting to run a “deliberate information operation” in order to save the reputation of one of its elite brigades that has suffered devastating defeats on the battlefield.
“The Russian MOD is likely running a deliberate information operation to revive the reputation of a brigade which has become synonymous with recent Russian failures in Ukraine,” the British Military Intelligence assessed in its latest estimate of the war.
Throughout March, the Russian Ministry of Defense and Russian media released numerous first-person combat footage videos from Russian marines serving in the 155th Naval Infantry Brigade. The videos showed the Russian marines performing well while engaged in heavy combat.
In addition, the Russian Ministry of Defense has press releases about the unit, claiming it is “high spirits” and ready to fight again.
Moscow is also likely reequipping the unit with modified main battle tanks.
But the reality couldn’t be different. Twice in the span of just six months, the 155th Naval Infantry Brigade has been rendered combat ineffective due to the catastrophic losses it has suffered on the ground, first in Pavlivka and then in Vuhledar.
“The MOD’s effort to revive the brigade’s image likely reflects concern about the way in which its failures were being increasingly associated with Russian senior military leaders,” the British Military Intelligence added.
But the 155th Naval Infantry Brigade isn’t the only Russian elite unit to have suffered humiliating defeats on the ground.
Another elite unit that has suffered humiliating defeats is the 1st Guards Tank Army. Considered an elite mechanized outfit, the 1st Guards Tank Army spearheaded the push toward Kyiv in the opening days of the conflict.
After suffering heavy losses on the road to the Ukrainian capital, the 1st Guards Tank Army redeployed to the eastern front in the direction of Kharkiv. There, the unit didn’t manage to break the defenses surrounding Ukraine’s second-largest city and suffered additional casualties over the summer without having much to show for it.
As the Fall came, the Ukrainian military launched a surprise counteroffensive in the east, sweeping through the area and liberating hundreds of square miles of territory in just a few days. The 1st Guards Tank Army was caught in the middle and suffered extremely heavy losses. Indeed, the elite unit’s casualties were so heavy that its combat effectiveness was in question.
The leadership of the Russian military has repeatedly demanded that its elite units achieve feats of warfare that are beyond their doctrine, training, and arsenal. In doing so, the Kremlin has dented the image of its most elite formations, while turning them into combat-ineffective ragtag outfits at the same time.
A 19FortyFive Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. He is currently working towards a Master’s Degree in Strategy and Cybersecurity at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.