The Russian Way of War

What I am about to say should be self-evident to anyone following closely the move of Russian forces into Ukraine and having a recollection of what the same Russian general command did in Crimea and then did again in their Syrian campaign.  Regrettably, Western audiences do not find these observations on CNN, the BBC, The Financial Times and The New York Times, not to mention on the still less reputable television channels and print media that provide 99% of the (mis)information which the public receives daily on the Ukrainian conflict and on much else. Their producers and editorial boards, their journalist staff all are looking at one another or just contemplating their belly buttons. They have for some years now been living in a virtual world and paying little heed to the real world.  I can only be surprised that an astute observer of commercial opportunities like Zuckerberg took so long to launch Meta.

I have three points to make today about how the Russians are conducting their military campaign in Ukraine.

The first point is a generalization from the remarks I made yesterday about their humane treatment of the enemy’s servicemen. This approach to the military tasks results from awareness that the military is a handmaiden to diplomacy and to politics, not vice versa, as has been the case in each of the major wars that the United States fought and ultimately lost in the past thirty years. That is why the Russians are not practicing “shock and awe,” which is the American way of war.

The second point closely abuts the first.  The ascent of Russia’s military capability in the past decade was defined not by their celebrated cutting edge hypersonic missile technology or the deep sea nuclear drone Poseidon..  After all, in the final analysis once parity is established in means of nuclear deterrence, the weapons become useless in the garden variety conflicts that we see everywhere and in every age.  Ultimately what counts to project power at the regional level, which is where Russia positions itself, is conventional weapons which can be and are used in attempts to resolve intractable conflicts by force of arms. This is precisely where the Russians amazingly caught up with the United States, bypassing, incidentally, all of the weapons industry of Western Europe in quality and quantity. 

So the Russians have their ‘toys for the boys,’ which they designed, manufactured and implemented in their ground, air and sea forces. They did all this at bargain basement prices. But they use them sparingly and demonstratively rather than as blunt instruments of mass destruction. This is a cardinal difference from the American way of war.

The third point is that there is continuity in Russian military behavior which makes it predictable.  In the takeover of Crimea, the game-changer favoring the Russian PsyOps was their ability to disrupt entirely the military communications of the Ukrainian enemy, so that field units lost touch with their commanders and were exposed on the spot to calls for surrender and desertion, to which the vast demoralized and confused majority acceded at once.  There is evidence that the same technique is being practiced today by Russia in Ukraine

Yesterday anyone watching Euronews on one screen and Russian state television on another would have been perplexed by the totally contradictory coverage of both with respect to the fate of the armed detachment of Ukrainian border guards on one island in the southeast of Ukraine.  Euronews carried the address of President Zelensky awarding posthumous designation as Heroes of Ukraine to the entire detachment, which reportedly resisted the attacking Russian forces and were slaughtered.  Meanwhile Russian news showed those same border guards seated at tables and signing sworn statements that they voluntarily lay down their arms and awaited repatriation to their homes and families.

Was Zelensky engaging in brazen propaganda?  No, he was simply misinformed because the detachment had been wholly cut off from its superior officers in Kiev and they feared for the worst.  This is what the Russians practiced so successfully in their Crimean campaign in 2014.

Finally, I wish to share one more defining pattern of Russian military behavior today that carries over from their operations in their Syrian campaign to destroy the US-backed terrorist groups in that country. In Syria, the Russian army established special units to sort out in field conditions the bad terrorists from the very bad terrorists. The former were allowed to lay down their arms and go home to their families. The latter were fought to the death and “neutralized.”

This slow, painstaking effort to distinguish enemies who can be brought back into civil society from those who cannot is unique to the Russian way of war today, and it deserves much more attention than it receives in our media. It is surely enabled by advanced psychological training of officers in charge. And it is an entirely different mindset from the “counterinsurgency” techniques that David Petraeus popularized and rode to fame and advancement in the Iraq War.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022

43 thoughts on “The Russian Way of War

  1. What is the difference between myself and my wife? On the subject of this war, a very great deal, which can be summed up in her statement to me, “If you think Putin is so great, why don’t you go live in Russia!”
    We are happily married and you can imagine perhaps how I respond to this statement: silence. Friendly silence. Change the subject silence. Let’s move on silence. Certainly not a rehearsal of the contents of this brilliant article, this perfect article.
    And therebye hangs the nub.
    The “wars” the US has fought, really since WWI, have had nothing to do with the combatants and everything to do with molding public opinion in the US. And what is the proof of this statement? The incontrovertible proof. Starting with Wilson’s war to make the World Safe for Democracy: “On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson went before a joint session of Congress to seek a Declaration of War against Germany in order that the world “be made safe for democracy.” Four days later, Congress voted to declare war, with six senators and fifty House members dissenting.”
    Suffice it to say that same vote is repeated today every year… for the “Defense Budget” and the absolute success of this strategy can be measured by the modern absence of dissent by any member of Congress and the size of the budget: effectively one trillion dollars, almost infinitely more than any other country on earth.

    Wilson’s strategy was created with the help of Edward Bernays, a man who’s sole goal was to make sure anything even remotely reminiscent of democracy never occurred in the US. Why? What motivated Bernays? What motivated him for example to create the advertising campaign “Freedom Torches” to persuade women to smoke cigarettes, therebye doubling the market for this horrific public health hazard because women had not smoked before?
    Well, that is a thought problem I leave you to ponder. It may be a thought problem on which the future of the US depends. Hint: my wife does not smoke, but she supports sanctions and vilifies Vladimir Putin. Additional hint: the more I think about it the more I think about the climax of Psycho: the unveiling of the real Mrs. Bates
    In any event, I look forward to your wonderful articles eagerly.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think it’s going to get harder for Russia to sell military hardware overseas. They built up a very militarily competent image from their intervention in Syria, but these few days in Ukraine have shown me the Russian army of old. Poor coordination (what are Rosvangardia forces, used for civil control, doing as a vanguard in Kiev?), almost no air support even against Ukrainian forces fighting them outside of cities, reckless commando insertions that would fit a Rambo movie and that take heavy casualties, supply lines running out 80km from the Russian/Belarus borders, still no control of the skies despite vaunted Russian EW and missile attack systems.

    I still think they will “win”, although I’m not sure what winning means. So they capture Kiev? Then? They have to capture every population center in the country, ok excluding Western Ukraine which I think they won’t touch. They couldn’t even take Kharkiv easily, which is supposed to be Russian speaking and “friendly” territory as far as Ukraine goes.

    I don’t buy that the advance is going slowly, but it is showing a marked, almost developing country level lack of coordination, air support, and general competence. Frankly I’m shocked at the state of the Russian forces, this is what I would have expected from them circa 1999.


    1. Wee bit of wishful thinking there, Sean. Give it a day or two, see where things are then. The Russians aren’t waging this fight for television audiences. Go over to, see what he has to say about the military campaign. There’s a reason the Russians haven’t gone into the major population centers at this point, to avoid major civilian casualties.
      Patrick Armstrong points to a major fight shaping up at Mariupol, where the Azov nazis are.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ditto your finest article.
    The US MSM/Deep State is tragically misinforming Americans about the true racist nature of events in Ukraine. Racism may be taboo in American domestic politics but it has long been is a primary feature of our Neocon infested US State Department. The Kiev regime installed by P Obama and VP Biden State Department in 2014 is dominated by openly racist neoNazis who are intent on ethnically purifying Ukraine of Ukrainian Russians, their language and culture. This has understandably caused ethnic Russians of Donbas. Lugansk and Crimea regions to rebel against Bidens Kiev regime. It has also forced the Russians to defend Ukraine’s ethnic Russians against the Kiev regime’s neoNazi Azov battalions who have been shelling Donbass civilians for years.
    The final straw for the Russians appears to have been Zelensky’s recent suicidal threat to acquire nuclear weapons which has sealed the ultimate fate of America’s puppet Kiev regime:
    The Russians now have a bullet proof national resolve to deNazify and deAmericanize the Kiev regime at any cost to themselves. And so finally begins the rebirth of Ukraine and the death of President Carter and Zbigniewn Brzezinski’s, pro Polish/Galatian racist dreams for Ukraine.


  4. Sehr guter Artikel.
    Mich erinnert die russische Kriegführung an Iwan Iljin, dessen Oeuvre von Präsident Putin besonders geschätzt wird. Zufall oder nicht, am 23.02.2022 beendete ich das Werk Iljins “Über den gewaltsamen Widerstand gegen das Böse”; Edition Hagia Sopia, 2018. Iljin schreibt: “Die Verzeihung ist die erste Bedingung des Kampfes gegen das Böse oder, wenn man so will, dessen Anfang…” Genau von diesem Grundsatz läßt sich die russische Kriegführung (noch) leiten.


  5. Very good article.
    Russian warfare reminds me of Ivan Ilyin, whose oeuvre is particularly appreciated by President Putin. Coincidentally or not, on Feb. 23, 2022, I finished Ilyin’s work “On Violent Resistance to Evil”; Edition Hagia Sopia, 2018. Ilyin writes: “Forgiveness is the first condition of the struggle against evil, or, if you will, its beginning…” Russian warfare is (still) guided precisely by this principle.

    Translated with (free version)


  6. Russian forces are indeed making progress, but the fact that there is still no air supremacy, still very limited air support for ground troops (and that the Ukrainian Air Force can still even fly their own attack sorties), shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Russian military has been hugely overrated recently. If they put on such an amateur hour against Europe’s poorest country, how do you think they would perform against a developed world military?


    1. I am surprised you didn’t throw in that Donald Trump won the election.
      Where is your proof? Give us verified examples of your assertion, because you only have one, that Russia has not achieved air supremacy. However, you may regard this as a rhetorical request that you can and probably should ignore. My assertion is that you are gunning for the Colin Powell award. It is a crowded field, and I wish you luck.


    2. Good morning Sean, I would like to ask you a question: why do you say that the Russians do not have air supremacy in the Ukrainian skies? what are your proofs? I hope it is not the journalistic reports that appear in the Western press: they are, for sure, completely false.
      According to the information I have learned in the press, the main proof of the Russian failure would be represented by the exploits of the “ghost of Kyiv” – a pilot who, aboard a 30-year-old mig 29 would have shot down 5 su 35 modern Russian planes, immediately deserving the main Ukrainian military honor granted to him by the Ucrainian Ministry of Defense; well, when I heard this news – relaunched by all the western press (even the specialized one) – I was very surprised but I admired this hero who fights (and wins) alone against many enemies who had an impressive technological advantage over him. On the other hand, this story seemed to me typical of a Hollywood film and not very consistent with reality and, even worse, it reminded me of the plot of a game my son plays on the Play Station (ghost of Tsushima); a few days later, in fact, the specialized press confirmed that the images uploaded to You tube were not real but processed on the computer as confirmed by a spokesperson for Eagle Dynamics, the software house that created the flight simulator used to create the images.
      So I would like to ask you: how can you trust the news provided by a nation that bestows its highest military honor on a video game console? and how can you trust the Western press which massively takes up news that are objectively very difficult to believe and which, when it is proved to be false, is careful not to deny it?
      Another example: according to the Western press, the Russians would have occupied the Chernobyl nuclear plant to threaten Ukraine and the West with a nuclear disaster (Western newspapers competed to give this news and comment on it in a very negative way on the horrible intentions of the Russians). Once again I ask you: why would the nation that has the largest nuclear arsenal in the world, which has the largest and technically advanced number of ICBMs, need to cause a new nuclear disaster within walking distance of its home? I can’t give me an answer, can you do it?
      I don’t know what is actually happening on the ground, I can only speculate on the news coming from different sources. Personally I believe that the Russian military action has been, up to now, quite consistent with the objectives that the Russian rulers had set themselves; otherwise why would Western propaganda resort to such infantile systems to prove that the Russian military campaign was a failure?

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Putin’s Russia wants carefully controlled warfare so that it doesn’t create hateful monsters on its border. As Kiev is the source of the Russian Orthodox Church and a wellspring of Russian identity, They don’t want to inflict savage destruction and casualties there. Russia remembers WWII every day and the sacrifices made so they will neutraize any threat to Russia on its borders.


  8. Sean, just for you.US Navy veteran and independent crowd-funded journalist, Patrick Lancaster reporting from Donbass. Ukraine: Forces Continue To Retreat From Volnovakha Area.


  9. No Russian shock and awe? What about the Chechnya wars? (I sent this comment earlier, but it never appeared. I hope you didn’t block it.)


    1. The point was that, unlike Iraq, there was no “Shock and Awe” for the UKRAINE war! This of course will never be recognized or mentioned by the corporate media.


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