The analysts who swung and missed regarding the (initial phase of the) Ukraine War and the Russian performance in it still made reasonable assumptions.
- It was reasonable to assume that Russia’s modernization was deep and genuine.
- It was reasonable to assume that, having spent a year moving the forces, that Russia would also spend a year planning.
- It was reasonable to assume that modern weapons on the Ukrainian side (like the few Georgia had in 2008) and/or any degree of qualitative superiority would just increase Russian casualties slightly without changing the outcome.
- Finally, it was reasonable to assume that Russia would follow its paper doctrine, like it did in Chechnya, Georgia, and in 2014.
Of course, it was also reasonable to assume that even a smashed-by-the-fire-strike Ukraine would still fight ferociously, and that a conventional “victory” would just mean occupying a large country that loathed them. Yet few expected something that would have a Voroshilov instructor saying this:
Yet the most baffling part is how the Russians struggled with the very areas where they had a reputation for being good: Operational planning, concentration of force, and air defense. It would be like the U.S. going to war, and not just struggling, but struggling with logistics and air power. Goes to show that even the best model or most well-thought out analysis is only as good as its inputs.
And one of those inputs, and one of the hardest to actually measure, is personnel quality. It came to me as an armchair theory that “professionalizing” the military without creating more incentives for the middle class to join meant that its recruit base, centered around the rural poor, would actually be of lower quality. Then I saw a piece from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project that seemed to reinforce this, containing the explicit quote “‘Contract soldiers are getting worse and worse‘” amidst describing training woes. This would seemingly lead to the worst of both worlds-personnel who are more expensive but not more capable than the previous mass-mobilization system.