June 6, 2023 Special Dispatch No. 10648

Leading Russian Strategic Analyst Kashin Unpacks Reasons Behind Russia's Failures In Ukraine War

June 6, 2023
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 10648

Vasily Kashin, Director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies, at Russia's Higher School of Economics tellingly titled his article in the May-June issue of Russia in Global Affairs "The First Year of the Great War." He used the term war interchangeably with the regime euphemism, Special Military Operation, but no one will be deceived.

In his review of the first year of the war, Kashin claimed that Russia launched a war with an expeditionary force in a gamble to avoid a protracted war. The gamble failed, because it relied too heavily on the work of pro-Russian agents. Also, due to what he called "the costliest failure of Russian academic policy of the post-Soviet era," Russian leadership was ill informed about developments in Ukraine. Only belatedly did Russia realize that the Ukrainian army was no longer the pushover of 2014 and that a strong anti-Russian consensus had developed in Ukraine. But it still instilled among Russia's citizens the notion that the conflict will be short and sweet. Russia is still paying the price for this information disaster.

Still, Kashin is not a defeatist. He argued that both the U.S. and Russia failed to achieve their objectives in the first year. Russia did not crush Ukraine; the United States did not eliminate Russia as a key player in international politics. If Russia fails to decisively defeat Ukraine and force it to sue for peace on terms acceptable to Russia, then Ukraine will be for Russia what Pakistan has been for India.

Kashin's analysis differs from what is published in Russia's daily press, but then Kashin is writing for the Russian foreign policy elite, and as such can take greater liberties.

The full text of Kashin's article follows below:[1]

Vassily Kashin (Source:

"The Russian Special Military Operation in Ukraine [hereafter – the SVO], the first major armed clash between states in the 21st century, came as the result of the long-term plans of the great powers, above all the United States and Russia. The Ukrainian conflict represents their clash on the territory of Ukraine and, in case for the U.S. by the use of Ukraine as well.

"Enjoying significant military capabilities and the strongest land army in Europe (deployed outside of Russia), the country has never possessed the resources of its own to resist Russia for more than a few months. By mid-2022, it had become clear that Kyiv's ability to continue fighting is a function of Western s willingness to provide it with significant military and economic support.

"Back in October of 2022, when the military situation looked most favorable for Kyiv and the Russian bombing of Ukrainian infrastructure had not yet started in full force, the Ukrainian budget [expenditures] for 2023 was expected to be supported by foreign loans and grants by 58%.

"Practically, Ukraine's dependence on foreign financing could approach that of the Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani reaching 80%. Furthermore, the depletion of the enormous resources of Soviet military equipment and ammunition available at the start of the campaign means that Ukraine's military efforts are also conditioned by the West's limits in supplying it.

"Thus, the course and outcome of the conflict is primarily determined by the goals and capabilities of the U.S., on the one hand, and Russia's aims and capabilities, on the other. The aspirations of other actors, including Ukraine itself, have less influence on the course of the conflict.

"American control of warring Ukraine should not be overestimated. The data available, including the U.S. documents that surfaced on the Internet in April (whose degree of credibility, however, is questionable), suggest that Washington has problems getting full information about the 'situation on the ground.'

"In many cases, the U.S. has to deal with lies, distortions and concealment of information, provided by the Ukrainian side, which are partly offset by the conduct of full-scale intelligence activity targeting the Ukrainian ally.

"The Americans are concerned about the worsening corruption in Ukraine, recorded during the conflict, but are far from always securing the dismissal of officials suspected of embezzling Western aid.

"Ukraine, like many other junior partners in Washington, is actively trying to influence the American decision-making process, using the traditional tools of lobbying and legally sanctioned American practices of political manipulation. Be that as it may, the severe resource constraints and high level of corruption, evident to the U.S. representatives dealing with the Ukrainian issue, do not allow the 'tail to wag the dog,' as Kyiv might dream of doing.

"The Goals Of The U.S.

"Both Russia and the U.S. have quite clearly defined their strategic goals throughout the conflict. For the US, it was to inflict strategic defeat on Russia, i.e., to weaken it politically, militarily and economically in a way that would eliminate it from the important components of the global balance of power. This was to be achieved by provoking Russia's economic and political destabilization via a combination of sanctions, a propaganda campaign and military casualties. The US hoped to achieve these results over a short period of time, probably in the first few weeks after the outbreak of hostilities.

"There were also plans for a protracted armed confrontation. In 2020-2021, the Americans and their allies took measures to stockpile arms Soviet-made and produced under Soviet blueprints arms in Eastern Europe, a workable mobilization system was established with Western assistance in Ukraine, and military stockpiles were dispersed [through the country]. But preparations for a prolonged war were extremely limited, reflecting misperceptions on part of the Americans about the degree that the Russian economy was sustainable, the volume of Russian military production and the domestic political situation in the country.

"Russia's Goals

"Russia's goal is to eliminate Ukraine as a source of threats to its military security and domestic political stability, in the words of Russian leaders, to prevent the creation of 'Anti-Russia.'

"The Russian leadership apparently perceives destabilization and defeat of the Ukrainian state conducted in a matter of weeks through a combination of special operations, political pressure and the rapid advance of troops deep into the country as the best way to reach this goal. The result should have been the imposition of a peace agreement on Ukraine on terms favorable to Russia, turning it into a weak neutral state (militarily) with autonomy, or annexation of part of its territory to Russia.

"The information currently available indicates that a significant role in the Russian operation was assigned to a 'special' component related to the activities of the undercover intelligence and special operations forces.

"Initial Conditions

"Russia wittingly did not possess the forces sufficient to quickly crush a military power similar to Ukrainian one, if the Ukrainian government and military commanders had not been destabilized during the first days of the war. Any analogies between the war in Ukraine and the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and other post-Cold War conflicts are superficial.

"Suffice it to recall that at the start of the direct confrontation Ukraine possessed 38 operational divisions of S-300 systems (PT, PS and B series ['Favorite'/ 'Grumble']), 15 divisions of 'Buk' anti-aircraft missile systems and hundreds of short-range 'Osa' systems, 'Strela-10' and 'Tor' surface-to-air missile systems with huge stocks of anti-aircraft missiles.

"The number of Ukrainian peacetime troops exceeded the number of Russian troops that could engage in hostilities, due to political restrictions of the Russian leadership (i.e., refusal to use conscripts; continuation of peacetime contract service with the right to terminate the contract and refusal to conduct mobilization until September 2022).

"As of early 2022, the number of heavy vehicles (tanks, light armored vehicles, artillery) available to Ukraine in some types of arms was comparable to that of the Russian ground forces (not including stocks at military storage bases) with quality comparable to that of the Russian troops.

"As a matter of fact, the lack of arms has never been the main problem of the Ukrainian Armed Forces [the ZSU]. The capability of Ukrainian army in its 2014 iteration was limited not by a lack of 'iron' [arms], but by low combat readiness, poor motivation, corruption and a lack of discipline.

"The Ukraine's communications, intelligence and command and control facilities (the very areas where Cold War technology is completely out of date) were in urgent need of modernization. This was the main focus of Western aid. Ukraine was developing high-precision weapons ('Olha' multiple rocket launcher, 'Kvitnik' guided missile) and modernized its fleet of armored vehicles, which resulted in a multiplication of combat-ready equipment without large-scale imports.

"The need for large-scale supplies of Western-made heavy arms to Ukraine to offset the losses (which became evident as early as April-May 2022), came as an unpleasant surprise to the US and its allies. There were no serious preparations for this, and this shortcoming cost Ukraine dearly.

"Belated Russian Response

"The process of technical modernization of the ZSU could be objectively assessed by observing procurement, production and exercises (although there were no major, high-profile events such as deliveries of large batches of the modern arms). The equally important process of transformation of Ukrainian society, growth of nationalism and consolidation of a stable anti-Russian consensus within the Ukrainian elite was, apparently, not immediately recognized in Russia, which contributed to a later understanding of the inevitability of war.

"According to Oleksiy Danilov, Secretary at the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, Ukraine launched preparations for an inevitable full-scale war after the failure of the Normandy format meeting in Paris, in December of 2019. Russia seems to have concluded that war is imminent much later, probably in spring of 2021 (in April large-scale exercises began near Ukraine's borders), although some measures to prepare for a major conflict had been taken before that. Late reactions to the other side's actions predetermined hasty and incomplete preparations for the SVO.

"Overall, Russia's lack of systematic, large-scale academic study of contemporary Ukraine (as well as other post-Soviet countries, for that matter) seems to have played a role in the failure to assess the transformation of Ukrainian society and state in a timely manner. This miscalculation was in every sense the costliest failure of Russian academic policy of the post-Soviet era.

"The SVO

"The impossibility of a quick defeat of Ukraine by the Russian peacetime army of early 2022 was obvious to military experts who tried to truly grasp the scale of the problem (one may recall Mikhail Khodaryonok's article 'Predictions of Bloodthirsty Political Scientists' published in early February of 2022).

"The risky wager on the 'special' component of the SVO therefore, came as a forced consequence of the weakness of the SVO's. Meanwhile, the necessity for launching the SVO, from the Russian leadership's perspective, was not called into question due to Ukraine's continued rapid militarization and its intensifying cooperation with NATO. The conflict with Ukraine over Donbass and Crimea was considered inevitable, and delaying its start would only lead to a deterioration of the balance of power and increased casualties.

"The failure of the special component of the SVO during its first days (probably everywhere except for southern Ukraine) was largely due to the urgent, large-scale and brutal 'purging of the rear' by the Ukrainian security services, carried out with extensive US technical assistance in the last months before and first months after the outbreak of the war.

"The fate of those even suspected of collaborating with Russia at the time was unenviable. The death of its most valuable agent Denys Kireyev, subsequently published by Ukrainian military intelligence attests to this. Kireyev, a member of the Ukrainian delegation to the first round of peace talks with Russia, was arrested by the SBU [i.e., Security Services of Ukraine] in Kyiv on March 5. [2022] and immediately shot in the back of his head as a traitor.

Denys Kireyev (Source:

"No attempt was made at investigation, trial, or evidence gathering. No formalities were observed. The reason for the arrest and execution was that Kireyev had been in systematic contact with various Russian structures upon the instructions of the military intelligence service, and came to the SBU's attention. The execution took place so lightning-fast that the Ukrainian military intelligence had no time to intervene and rescue their agent.

"A true number of lesser-known people assassinated in this way, on the basis of rather ephemeral evidence of their guilt, was probably quite significant.

"Protracted War

"Russia's reliance on a 'special' component seemed precarious from the outset; there are hardly any areas of human activity more unpredictable than agent-based intelligence.

"The first 'Special' phase of the SVO came as a desperate attempt to avoid a full-fledged protracted war, and the attempt was, first, unsuccessful, and second, quite expensive for Russia both politically and militarily.

"The reliance on special tools worked only in Kherson oblast [Ukarine], where, according to subsequent statements on part of the SBU, Russian agents managed to disorganize the Ukrainian defense.

"The attempted quick seizure of Kharkiv by [Russian] special forces, backed by agents inside the city, failed with notable losses on the Russian side, as did the attempts to cause shock and panic among the Ukrainian leadership by the rapid movement of Russian troops towards Kyiv combined with the activities of inside agents.

"Realizing the precariousness of the 'special' toolkit, the Russian leadership was preparing for a protracted war as well. In 2021, the production of a number of arms and military equipment (apparently cruise missiles and missiles for air defense systems) increased substantially, and preparations were rolled out to mobilize the economy [for the hostilities]. In retrospect, some of the steps taken in the months leading up to the war become clear.

"For instance, the surprise inspection by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu of the Cheryomushki District of Moscow military registration and enlistment office on June 8, 2021.

"Military registration and enlistment offices have not been enjoying that much attention from Russian military leaders since the days of the 'Serdyukov reforms.' Discovering the military registration and enlistment office in ruins, lacking computers and a handful of elderly personnel, Shoigu conducted a dressing down of his subordinates and demanded for the shortcomings to be corrected. [The Defense Ministry] failed to do so down to the very start of mobilization, proclaimed on September of 2022, despite the measures taken (e.g., the verification of military registration data throughout the country that was conducted in late 2021 or early 2022).

Shoigu's visit to the military registration office (Source:

"Many preparations faced problems due to the secrecy surrounding the entire preparation process, which in turn may have been dictated by the large role of the 'special' component of the SVO. The phrases 'put the military enlistment offices in order' and 'put the military enlistment offices in order because tomorrow is war' contain identical instructions, but they will be implemented differently.

"The secrecy regime and the associated lack of any propaganda preparation for the forthcoming campaign also brought a completely man-made PR disaster upon the Armed Forces of Russia [hereafter –AFR] in the first weeks of the conflict, whose consequences have not yet been overcome. The public's inflated expectations of victory over a presumably weak adversary have exacerbated manifold the negative effect of the Russian army's early failures.

"By now, Russian propaganda, influenced by the trauma it has experienced is characterized by a reverse bias: it emphasizes the protracted, extremely grave nature of unfolding events. Russian military Telegram channels and most media commentary insist that there will be a long struggle, losses and possible new failures. Nonetheless, it is revealing that despite the information disaster of March 2022 and the subsequent difficulties and losses, a high level of support for the actions of the authorities and belief in victory has been preserved in Russian society. The West's hopes for a quick destabilization of Russia have proved as ridiculous as Russia's hopes for a quick political disruption of Ukraine.

"What We Have Come To

"By November 2022 it became clear that the US was not achieving its strategic goals in the Ukraine conflict. There was no economic collapse and no political destabilization of Russia.

"For most of 2022 Russia generally waged an 'expeditionary type of war' with a peacetime army, partial mobilization covered a very limited portion of population. Major infrastructure projects, such as the completion of the world's longest circular metro line in Moscow, were continuing. Housing commissioned in Russia in January of 2023 surpassed the previous year's figure by 19%.

"Russia continues to keep its budget deficit under control and can for the time being conduct military activities without resorting to emergency methods of financing public expenditure such as [state] bond purchases by Central Bank.

"The strengthening of relations with China, which was clearly manifested during Xi Jinping's visit to Moscow in March 2023, allows viewing the economic outlook with certain optimism.

"No doubt, sanctions have retarded and will continue to slow the growth of Russia's 'economic pie' in the long term. But they have not led to its significant reduction. Meanwhile, it is clear that a much larger share of the pie will now be allocated to the military, the intelligence services and the foreign policy apparatus.

"In December of 2022 it was announced that the permanent strength of the Russian army would be increased by one and a half times to one and a half million men. There has been a rapid increase in military production and an increasing militarization of various aspects of society.

"The Russian failures at the front (defeat in Kharkiv Oblast and retreat from Kherson Oblast) were not followed by the encirclement and destruction of large groupings of Russian troops. They did not undermine Russia's ability to continue fighting. Russian losses in manpower and their rate of increase are not so great as to lead to internal destabilization and a sharp rise in anti-war sentiment.

"In fact, the Ukrainian conflict is not leading towards the elimination of Russia as an opponent of the US in the international arena, but to its transformation into an even more unpleasant adversary: embittered, hard-schooled and better armed.

"On the other hand, the achievement of Russia's maximum objectives of 'eliminating Anti-Russia' looked and still looks, to put it mildly, an extremely remote prospect. The pace of the Russian offensive in Donbass remains low, with a major Ukrainian counter-offensive expected.

"Russia, so it appears, inflicted losses upon the Ukrainian forces that far exceed its own losses ones. Fragmentary data suggests that the scale of Ukrainian casualties may be, as the Ukrainian ambassador to the UK, Vadym Pristayko, put it, 'enormous and incomprehensible.' Ukraine has been forced to extend mobilization to new categories of the population and to resort to increasingly radical mobilization practices.

"However, there is yet no evidence of a breakdown in the Ukrainian permanently operating mobilization machine, nor of a decline in Western countries' willingness to supply Ukraine.

"By January of 2023, total aid to Ukraine amounted to about 157 billion USD; a second year of war would probably cost the West much more due to depletion of Ukraine's own military reserves.

"But for now, the US and its allies are willing to make such sacrifices. The long-term prospects depend to a large extent on the growth rate of Russian military production and of that in the West. So far, it seems that Russia is increasing production of at least certain categories of arms faster because of certain prior preparation and resource endowment.

"While in possession of fewer resources, Russia concentrates them all on Ukraine, while the US also faces the task of containing China, Iran, North Korea and a host of other problems. However, one cannot predict the dynamics of military production of the parties to the conflict on the basis of open data.

"It cannot be ruled out that Moscow will succeed in exhausting the enemy's production potential during the protracted campaign and achieve overwhelming superiority on the front, for example, to deplete or suppress Ukrainian air defenses in important areas, which would open the door to a return to a war of maneuver and major offensives. But it is also possible that Western countries, by reducing their presence in other parts of the world and at times denuding their own armed forces, could prevent this from happening.

"Provided Russia fails to occupy and keep Ukraine's major economic centers and eliminating its economic viability for the foreseeable future, it can be stated that the Russian attempt to solve the 'Ukrainian problem' has failed just as much as the American attempt to solve the "Russian problem" has failed.

"'Anti-Russia' would then continue to exist. Its resources will be thoroughly undermined by the SVO, the destruction of its economy, the loss of its territories and the emigration of a significant part of its population. Nevertheless, Ukraine will become the main problem of Russian foreign policy for decades to come, just as Pakistan has become an eternal problem for India.

"The Prospects

"The first wave of rumors and signals about the possibility of talks between Russia and the U.S. started to emerge in autumn 2022 and culminated in an unsuccessful meeting between CIA Director William Burns and SVR Director Sergei Naryshkin in Istanbul in November.

Naryshkin (l) and Burns (r) (Source:

"The Chairman at the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, made a series of statements at the same time, about the impossibility of a military solution to the Ukrainian conflict. Then, it became apparent that the parties' requesting positions were seriously at odds.

"The territorial integrity of the new entities of Russia remains an insoluble contradiction, as Moscow is not prepared to compromise on this issue. For the US, the territorial integrity of Ukraine is not a priority as long as Ukraine retains its economic viability as a state and allows itself to be used as an anti-Russian staging-area.

"But significant Russian territorial gains could facilitate problems for American domestic politics and international credibility. The parties are also not ready to reach agreement on Ukraine's future status, mechanisms for possible security guarantees for Ukraine and Russia, Ukrainian military capabilities and conditions under which a ceasefire will be acceptable.

"In 2023, a steady hardening of rhetoric was recorded on both the American and Russian sides. Secretary of State Antony Blinken argued it is acceptable to end the war only if Ukraine's territorial integrity is fully restored and Russian troops are withdrawn. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Galuzin states that 'we will not tolerate the existence of an openly anti-Russian state on our borders, whatever its borders are.'

"Both sides expect a major escalation of hostilities in the spring and summer of 2023.

"The U.S. hopes that a Ukrainian success will allow it to approach the negotiations from a position of strength, Russia (should it win) has reason to expect a collapse of Ukraine and establishing control over significant new territory. The lack of decisive results from the forthcoming military campaign, or Russia's previously indicated success in gaining access to the borders of new subjects could lead again to attempts to start a dialogue, quite possibly long and with unclear prospects.

"At this point, a repeat of the Korean War momentum cannot be ruled out, when, finding themselves at a strategic impasse in July of 1951, the sides negotiated for two years against a backdrop of ongoing hostilities. Provided the spring-summer military campaign will be unsuccessful for Russia, it is likely to take additional steps to mobilize its population and economy. Its scope for compromise on the Ukrainian issue is much more limited than that of the U.S.

"Both Moscow and Washington are currently pursuing long-term programs for a buildup in military production expecting a long -term conflict. At the same time, neither side accepts the possibility of total defeat in this conflict and, if threatened, will escalate and threaten direct confrontation. This threat defines the limits of what is possible for both Russia and the U.S."


[1], May 1, 2023.

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