Is the Russian Army on the verge of collapse? The question sounds silly. But step through this scenario below.
- That 40 mile Russian column has been “stalled” for 3 days now. They can’t stand still more than a few days more.
- If the column does not (whether cannot or will not doesn’t matter) move forward, that column must either 1). retreat or 2). surrender. Every day it stays stalled, the likelihood of attack falls and probability of retreat/surrender/collapse increases exponentially.
- Either a retreat or a surrender could easily precipitate a general collapse of the Russian invasion.
I’m presenting this as a “plausible scenario” not a prediction. I plead to zero military qualifications and near-zero information. But I’d argue this is more common sense than armchair generalship.
Invading forces should be moving forces. Yet this column has been stalled for 3 days. They cannot stay where they are. Why? Because standing still creates exponential mental, physical, and logistical stress – leading to collapse.
- Go sit in in your car for in cloudy weather a bit above freezing during the day (wet) and freezing overnight (icy). Imagine that your journey ends at a really grim place like your cousin’s wedding. Or, say, a place you are supposed to kill people for reasons that no-one has bothered to explain properly but certainly don’t sound convincing. Also those people are going to try very hard to kill you back.
- Actually they are already trying to kill you. This is a little harder for you and I to imagine, but think about sitting there while people are taking pot-shots at you. Especially if you are sitting the cab of an un-armored truck. Although the armored vehicles tend to attract missiles…
- If you are an officer, those people are actively targeting you personally. So doing “officer” stuff (like talking on the radio to HQ) is proving to be a death sentence.
- If you are a fuel truck, people are definitely targeting you. How excited would you be driving an un-armored 5,000 gallon Molotov cocktail around to fill up other people’s tanks knowing your behavior makes you target #1? How many of your buddies have you seen go up in flames already?
- The only way you can stay warm is to run the engine. How many days of fuel do you carry in your vehicle? How much fuel does the column carry? How easy is it to re-fuel? What is your plan for when the fuel/heat runs out?
After 3 days, how would you feel? Especially if you don’t understand or believe in your “cause.” After 4 days, how much worse are you going to feel? 5 days? You are riding an exponentially increasing misery curve. After 5 or 6 days, you are probably done. Cold, miserable, angry, disgruntled, sullen, sick. Definitely not up for invading anything that doesn’t promise hot food and a warm bed.
So the column can’t stand still for much longer. In the next few days, they must take one of 3 paths forward.
Option 1 – Go forward to Kyiv. This is what they are supposed to be doing. So why aren’t they moving? Per the above, it is hard to see this as a deliberate pause. Otherwise they’d take over in some town, set up a decent perimeter defense, and find beds. So why?
- Ran out of fuel? Bogged down in the mud?
- Unable or unwilling to fight through Ukrainian resistance?
- No-one is in command? Maybe because the Ukrainians obliterated any vehicle emitting long-range radio signals (and presumably the command staff with it). Possibly with a little CIA/NATO targeting help?
- All of the above?
Option 2- Go Back to Russia. If you can’t move forward, you should go back. Regroup. Find another way. But they aren’t doing this either. Why?
- Reasons 1-4 above – fuel, resistance, and/or command problems.
- Putin won’t allow it. Or no-one has the courage to bring it up for Putin to decide – “We cannot do anything without orders from Moscow,” the voice at the other end replied. “And Moscow is silent.” (see ** below)
Option 3 – Do Nothing = Surrender/Collapse: If you don’t go forward or go back, you collapse where you stand. Collapse = surrender for invading armies.
Now unspool time over the next few days…
- As you sit still for just a few days, option 1 slides off the table. Attacking burns massive amounts of fuel and morale that is draining away.
- As resources bleed down further, option 2 fades with them. Retreating doesn’t take as much fuel, but it does need some. You could abandon all the gas-guzzling tanks and anti-air defenses? But will the nice Ukrainians really just let you drive back home in un-armored trucks? Regardless, you are done as a fighting force.
- If you put the decision off for a few days more, your dwindling fuel and willpower leaves Option 3 (surrender) as the only choice.
I would guess (based on zero expertise or facts) the Attack option has slid out of reach and the column is in limbo between Retreat and Collapse. A few days more of this and the fuel runs out and it is so very cold…
If that Russian column collapses OR retreats, the whole Russian invasion likely collapses. Magically transport yourself from that cold, out-of-gas truck to the front lines somewhere else. But hanging on to the mental baggage; I have no idea why we are trying to kill these people who are very clearly trying to kill us, especially since I think my cousin lives around here somewhere and my Mom talks about the great trip she took to Kyiv once.”
You hear that a huge chunk of your invading army has just…
- …retreated. Leaving most of their heavy weapons behind.
- …surrendered. Handing most of their heavy weapons over the Ukrainians, who don’t even need the owner’s manuals to know how to use them. Meanwhile the surrendered troops are sending text messages home telling momma everything is OK and they are being treated well. (OK, the Russian Air Force could bomb their own equipment to keep it out of enemy hands. But think about how that news would play? They’d also risk the Ukrainians turning those anti-air missile systems back on again…)
So a huge chunk of your fighting force has evaporated. And a decent chunk of their weaponry is either destroyed or trundling towards you sporting hastily painted Ukrainian flags. Does this spur you to
- …get out of this damn war and start walking until I find someone to surrender to?
- …hunker down and do as little as possible? Stop answering the radio? Shoot yourself in the foot?
One ongoing mystery could be a supporting clue for the “surrender” scenario. Why haven’t the Ukrainians raked that column over the coals? The simplest answer is they can’t. But maybe they don’t want to? The column is worth vastly more retreating or captured than killed.
- The propaganda value is immense. Per the above. It might just be enough to knock the rest of Russian forces out of the war.
- The materiel value of capture is huge – those tanks and (especially) air defense systems can be re-painted and re-used immediately. The Ukrainians know how to work them. The air defense strength alone could be decisive over, for example, the skies of Kiev.
- Also note the negative propaganda impact of massacring the column. A massacre could galvanize Russian public opinion. Prisoners are more valuable than martyrs. Trudging, dejected columns of prisoners being fed (televised) mugs of hot tea and soup is more powerful than any other weapon in their arsenal.
This is just a castle in the air. The Russian column could be saddling up and moving as I write this. Or maybe they are getting more fuel supplies than I imagine. But it was still worth thinking through. The longer the column stands still, the more plausible the scenario becomes. We will see. And, if not here, then quite possibly elsewhere.
** “We cannot do anything without orders from Moscow,” the voice at the other end replied. “And Moscow is silent.”
It is 5 December 1989 in Dresden, a few weeks after the Berlin Wall has fallen. East German communism is dying on its feet, people power seems irresistible.
Crowds storm the Dresden headquarters of the Stasi, the East German secret police, who suddenly seem helpless.
Then a small group of demonstrators decides to head across the road, to a large house that is the local headquarters of the Soviet secret service, the KGB.
“The guard on the gate immediately rushed back into the house,” recalls one of the group, Siegfried Dannath. But shortly afterwards “an officer emerged – quite small, agitated”.
“He said to our group, ‘Don’t try to force your way into this property. My comrades are armed, and they’re authorised to use their weapons in an emergency.'”
That persuaded the group to withdraw.
But the KGB officer knew how dangerous the situation remained. He described later how he rang the headquarters of a Red Army tank unit to ask for protection.
The answer he received was a devastating, life-changing shock.
“We cannot do anything without orders from Moscow,” the voice at the other end replied. “And Moscow is silent.”
That phrase, “Moscow is silent” has haunted this man ever since. Defiant yet helpless as the 1989 revolution swept over him, he has now himself become “Moscow” – the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin.