Russia's Military "Power": Myth or Reality?

Turan Atakishiyev Analysis 13 May 2022
Russia's Military

Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February, but Ukrainian forces retook large areas around the capital Kyiv in early April after Russia abandoned its push towards Kyiv. Following its withdrawal from the north of Ukraine, Russia has refocused its efforts on taking control of the east and south of the country. Particular attention is focused on the state of the Russian Armed Forces, which were previously the second strongest armies in the world, according to the Military Strength Ranking. But is this really the case?

Many modern experts in Russia and the West agree that the current state of the Russian Armed Forces is not in the best condition. However myths about the "might" of the Russian Armed Forces may be beneficial for the Russian ruling elite and some Western countries, they have nothing to do with reality. All this is clearly reflected in numerous reports and analyses carried out by military experts of Western countries, as well as Russia itself.

Military experts have also noted Putin's considerable contribution to the creation of the myth of "reviving Russian military might".  Strange as it may seem, these legends are also popular in the West. For some countries, such legends are an opportunity to demand increased military expenditures by explaining this by the preparation and conduct of various kinds of military operations. According to experts, of course, this opinion has only exacerbated the negative trends affecting political and economic relations between Western countries and Russia.

What problems in the Russian Armed Forces have the military actions on the territory of Ukraine revealed?

At one time, Russian military experts and some politicians themselves expressed their opinion about the development of defense capabilities, as well as what weaknesses exist in the Russian Armed Forces. Igor Korotchenko, editor-in-chief of the National Defense magazine, who spoke openly about the lack of development of unmanned aerial vehicles, especially strike and reconnaissance aircraft. Konstantin Sivkov, chairman of the Union of Geopolitics, pointed to the paucity and inability to procure the necessary amount of modern military equipment. Military observer of Konstantin Boqdanov expressed his opinion about the military reform, launched back in the 2000s, calling it incomplete and constantly changing.

All these statements and analyses show that there are at least five significant problems in the Russian Armed Forces that weakened combat readiness of the army.

• Lack of morale

• Poor equipment and supplies

• Lack of professionalism and social security, as well as means of communication.

• Lack of reconnaissance capabilities and lack of missiles

• Understaffed personnel.

Lack of fighting spirit.

The Russian Armed Forces soldiers' lack of fighting spirit is due to a lack of motivation. This is due to the fact that until February 24, all servicemen considered everything just a routine exercise and were waiting to return home. When they already had to cross the Ukrainian border, then everyone already realized the beginning of the war. They hoped for a large army and thought "a quick ride and victory. In fact it turned out to be the opposite. Because no one purposefully prepared them for the war, they were just shown propaganda "First Channel" and patriotic films. Only then, the Russian propaganda began to tell how the Ukrainian military was allegedly striking civilians, considering it sufficient to build the morale of already broken military personnel.

If we consider the material motivation of Russian Armed Forces soldiers, there are also numerous intercepts of soldiers' conversations with their relatives, which indicate that the compensation promised by Putin for death or injury in a "special military operation" is not always paid. This is explained by the fact that soldiers were at training exercises and did not take part in any special operations. Soldiers who realized this are well aware that there is no martial law and their refusal to fight in peacetime, threatens them with maximal dismissal.

Poor equipment and supplies

The equipment and supplies of the Russian Armed Forces leave much to be desired. For example, winter uniforms of the Russian Special Forces are made of easily flammable material and do not do a very good job of thermal insulation. There are known cases when Russian soldiers have taken off the bodies of dead Ukrainian soldiers with boots that are not available in the Russian army.

There is also a problem with military equipment and supplies. For example, only special forces in the Russian Armed Forces have night vision devices, while the Ukrainian army has enough of them to conduct combat operations at night. Russian soldiers still have first-aid kits from the 1970s, which contain bandages and painkillers. New ones are expensive, and the old ones are already in stock. There is also a problem with the supply of food, some of which turns out to be stale more often than not.

 Lack of professionalism and social security, as well as means of communication.

Of course, the problem of communication between soldiers and their unit commanders is the main reason for the current poor coordination of the Russian Armed Forces. The secure communications provided are not always in good working order, and in some cases the Russian Armed Forces have to communicate over an unprotected line, which leads to interceptions by the Ukrainian Armed Forces, which are equipped with modern communications and interception equipment from the West. In peacetime, Russian servicemen used to communicate over a cellular line, and even during exercises, the serviceability of secure communications was not much checked.

Operational-strategic coordination in the Russian Armed Forces was not prepared, and at the exercises everything was just staged, like in a theatrical production.  And the exercises did not include joint coordination of two or more military districts. The lack of a unified command of the operation, of course, led to miscommunications and a lack of complete coordination between the military districts.  An example are the events in Odessa, where the RF Marines advancing on the ground were defeated near Boshtanka, and the RF landing force, without waiting for the arrival of ground forces, began to land in Odessa. There was no coordination, and the result was a complete defeat in this direction. Another example of the lack of coordination is the destruction of the Kuzbass OMON on the bridge across Irpen. The RF Armed Forces military command expected paratroopers to occupy the airfield at Gostomel and additional paratroopers to come in to Kiev for mopping up and the approach of the OMON. This plan failed, and apparently no one informed the OMON of the failure.

As for the ability to fight and shoot, there are also facts of the deception so favored among Russian servicemen. There are stories about how Russian servicemen organized such actions in order to get a good result during the inspection.

It is also worth noting that there is already a lack of special equipment, which are mostly modernized samples invented during the Soviet era. And the so-called "modern equipment" has not shown itself from the best side. The same new generation fighters and helicopters were not able to take complete control in the air. The Navy was also defeated, especially after the sinking of the “Moscow” cruiser, which was considered the backbone of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

Lack of reconnaissance capabilities and lack of missiles

Russian aviation and air defense systems did not perform at their best and Russia failed to gain an advantage in the airspace. Instead of precision strikes, the Russian Armed Forces used the typical tactic of artillery shelling, which generated war crimes in Mariupol.  The Russian army does not have enough missiles to carry out prolonged bombardments, and the rocket attacks on residential buildings show the lack of more accurate missiles in the Russian Armed Forces. At best, Russia uses a maximum of two dozen missiles, hitting only three or four precise targets.

Problems with reconnaissance of the terrain and targets has led to the determination of targets using the old data available to the Russian Armed Forces. At best, this data is from before 2014, and at worst it is from Soviet times. This is proved by numerous photos and videos of Russian missile sites that used to be military facilities, but are now residential facilities.

Understaffed personnel.

During the two months of military operations of the Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine, it has become evident that the Russian Armed Forces are understaffed. This has led to the fact that if a group is supposed to have, say, 800 personnel, in fact there are only 500 or even less. Based on this, the Russian military command sends conscripts or recruits people with non-combat skills. As a result, the servicemen are commanded either by fitters from a distant land or some conductor from the theater.

The reasons for such incompleteness of the army are mainly incompleteness of the military reforms, which in addition are constantly changing. Apparently, the Russian army decided it would be better to put a conscript instead of a contractual soldier in order to save on funds, which were not allocated from the State budget anyway. After the failed attempt to "quickly take everything", the Russian side has seen the lack of contract servicemen to fill the voids for the further offensive.  The Russian Ministry of Defense has already confirmed that conscripts are involved in the war, but it is not certain that such involvements are no longer taking place and only contract servicemen are involved in military operations.


We can clearly see that the current desire of the Russian political elite to restore the role of a great power has contributed to the creation of numerous myths and illusions under the name of "military might. The image created around Putin as the protector of the Fatherland from external and internal threats has, of course, required a corresponding image for the Russian Armed Forces, which are in absolute decline.

The Russian army is a hostage to strategic deceit and numerous disinformation campaigns, which are used by the political elite to reinforce their foreign policy objectives and position against the so-called "enlargement" of NATO. Therefore, some Western military experts find it difficult to give a full assessment of Russia's military potential, relying only on data issued by Russia itself. At the moment, nothing can cure social diseases in the Russian army, that have already taken root.