Small Wars Journal

Ukraine Writes the Textbook on Twenty-First Century Warfare, Conducts Masterclass

Mon, 09/12/2022 - 9:45am


Ukraine Writes the Textbook on Twenty-First Century Warfare, Conducts Masterclass


By Brian E. Frydenborg (

Twitter @bfry1981LinkedInFacebook), September 12, 2022

This article is an adapted excerpt from a much longer article previously published on Brian’s news website Real Context News on September 10 titled Russian Army Collapses—and Revolution—Near-Certain as Russia Loses War: When/Where Harder to Predict

How it started; how it’s going…


In many ways, Ukraine’s victories are the products of a mathematical equation involving Putinism, the nature of Russian forces and behaviors, the nature of Ukraine’s forces and behaviors, and the two sides relative places in the wider world.  The sum of the parts, in most cases, not going to look terribly different from what we are seeing now, an eventuality I anticipated on March 8, less than two weeks into Russia’s escalation, in my piece here for Small Wars Journal.

The Russian failures were the almost natural outcomes of years of Putinism, years of one man above all others running the show.  This Ukraine war is the pinnacle of years of Putin’s rule, the best representation of him and the system he built, the people he elevated, the institutions he molded, the natural outcome of his leadership, and it will consume him and his system, an utterly predictable Frankenstein monster utterly predictably doing its father and creator in as can only be the case at this point.  No one can, should, or will be blamed more inside Russia (let alone the rest of the world) for this debacle, just as he would have received most of the praise from Russians had this “special military operation” succeeded (calling it a war in Russia can get you arrested).

Thus, the terrible casualties and horrific reversals in March and early April exposed that the Russian military was not, in fact, the second most powerful in the world, that its training and the effectiveness of its tactics, the quality of its poorly-maintained vehicles, and the shoddy treatment of its own soldiers meant that what existed on paper and in intelligence estimates was not what Russia had in reality.  “Impressive” against the tiny country of Georgia and poorly-armed Syrian rebels, when faced with a stronger foe in the Ukrainian Army, it was not impressive at all.  In fact, the Ukrainian military is clearly better than Russia’s in a qualitative sense.  And nothing will ram this home for Russians more than the vastly-mounting body count, the dead Russians with families in Russia; at some point, a critical mass will be hit and Putin will lose enough support that he will find massive protests making it impossible to govern, the bargain of taking Russians’ freedom in exchange for making them strong and stable at home and strong and respected abroad already null and void, it is just a matter of how bad the economy has to get (short-term measures to prop up Russia’s economy cannot be sustained and Russia’s economy will only get far worse over time), how many Russians have to die in battle, before the Russian people or those surrounding Putin rise up.

A lot of Russia’s best troops and equipment were destroyed in that first phase.  The whole world watched Russian soldiers go into battle without enough food or water, carelessly led into ambushes time and time again.  They watched as captured troops say they were lied to about where they were going and what they were doing.  We saw perfectly good Russian tanks abandoned because they could not get fuel or ran out of ammunition because of terribly-run supply lines and logistics (just see Trent Telenko’s excellent threads on this topic).  We saw poorly maintained equipment and vehicles fail and a lack of precision from Russian weapons systems.  We saw terrible training, morale, and discipline.  We saw Russian units run into the ground to the point of destruction and dissolution.  And each one of these could be contrasted against essentially the opposite situations with Ukraine’s military.  As I noted before, the dynamics are set, with things only getting worse for Russia and better for Ukraine.

Also remember that using HIMARS, drones, M777s, and other advanced Western equipment that Ukraine has been able to hit targets deep behind the front lines.  That means that the support systems and defensive lines behind the front line will for Russia be particularly weak and that exhausted and demoralized troops without adequate supplies (the norm now) are not that far from their breaking points, that any serious breakthrough or pushback against Russian can quite easily result in the type of routs and rapid collapses we saw from late march to early April.  We are seeing something like that happen now near Kharkiv and Izium and we will see more of these before the war is over unless the military revolts en masse.  On the other hand, since that early phase, Russia has only been able to make small, slow gains, as Ukraine’s situation behind the lines is much better (Russia seems to not realize that lobbing missiles into cities may kill civilians but does little to hurt Ukraine’s military capabilities).  And, as retired U.S. Gen. Mark Hertling keeps pointing out, Ukraine’s forces are operating with interior lines that are easy to reinforce and supply versus the much longer exterior lines of Russia.