It has been more than a year since the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war, and the outside world's perception of the Russian army has also changed.

At the beginning of the war in February 2022, most analysts, including Russia and the West, believed that Ukraine would be difficult to resist the pressure of the Russian army, and that the Volodymyr Zelensky regime would have a high chance of compromise. Unexpectedly, after the start of the war, the Ukrainian army showed a strong will to resist, and the Russian army did not fight the fierce offensive imagined by the outside world. After May 2, the war basically entered a slow-moving stalemate, and in September there was a large-scale retreat from Ukraine: the Ukrainian army recaptured a large number of settlements and important towns in the Kharkiv region.

In 2023, with the bloody fighting in the Bakhmut region, the internal rifts of the Russian army can no longer be hidden: the Wagner Group, headed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, faced the regular army represented by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov. The former frequently accused the regular army of poor command, undersupplied ammunition, and "only Sergey Surovikin can fight"; The regular army adopted a stoic stance, and neither Shoigu nor Gerasimov responded positively to Prigozhin's accusations.

To be fair, Prigozhin's attack may have political motives to take credit for himself, but in the final analysis, it was because of the long war and the glue on the front line that the leader of the mercenary group was given the right to speak and the regular army lost face. Recalling the previous achievements of the Russian army, the two Chechen wars in 1994 and 1999 cost the Russian army dearly, and although the Russian-Georgian war in 2008 ended in victory, it also paid senseless losses because of the low-level mistakes of the Russian army. In October of that year, Russia launched military reforms, hoping to improve its overall combat power and eliminate long-standing ills, but judging from the annexation of Crimea in 10 and its invasion of Syria in 2014, the reforms seem to have been effective, but they have become question marks due to the Russian-Ukrainian war in 2015.

From 2008 to the present, Russia's military reform has gone through more than ten years, and with the war between Russia and Ukraine unstoppable, Shoigu announced a new military reform plan in December 2022, including increasing the number of troops, strengthening the military industry, and adjusting the deployment of military regions in response to NATO's reexpansion, which is obviously revised in response to actual needs. At this time, looking back at the military reform in 12, we can see more clearly the direction and actual results of that year.

Screenshot of Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Russian mercenary group Wagner Group, speaking next to the remains of a group of fallen unit members on May 2023, 5. He said that the troops withdrew from the eastern Ukrainian town of Bakhmut on the 5th due to heavy damage to troops and insufficient ammunition supplies. The location of the film was not disclosed. (Reuters)

Why is there a 2008 military reform

First, as early as the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia deliberately promoted military reforms, with goals such as reducing the size of the Russian army, reducing the number of conscripts, and creating a professional non-commissioned officer corps. In short, it was a desire to move away from the Soviet model of mobilizing the masses and preparing for large-scale war, but this plan was strongly resisted by the Russian army.

The General Staff delayed the pace of reform under various pretexts, declaring that "the mere return of troops and equipment from the former Soviet member states to Russia would exhaust the energy of the army", "the first priority is to deploy and arrange the withdrawal of troops in Russia and build up force groups in a strategic direction", and then refused the reform on the grounds of poor budgetary conditions. In addition, the Russian Ministry of Defense is also full of doubts about reform, because in the view of some military scholars and generals, even if the Soviet Union has collapsed, it is still necessary to retain the ability to fight large-scale wars and maintain conscription, because Russia still has to face the threat of NATO and other military blocs, and cannot completely avoid the outbreak of large-scale wars.

The ensuing two Chechen wars gave the Russian army more reason to resist reform, taking advantage of the fact that it was impossible to carry out reform while fighting. After Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000, his first priority was to restore the authority of the federal government, save the country's finances, and also had no time to advance military reform, and it was not until his second term in 2004 that he became a hero of the Russian era, gained widespread popular support, and established prestige over the military because of the achievement of these two goals. Therefore, after the end of the unspeakable victory of the Russian-Georgian war in 2008, the Putin government introduced a military reform plan, using the poor performance of the military on the battlefield and the prevalence of corruption to force the Russian army to accept the reform on the grounds of poor performance on the battlefield and widespread corruption. This time, the Russian army did not have the capital to delay any longer.

In order to avoid the pressure of personal favors in the military to hinder reform, Putin specially assigned Anatoly Serdyukov, the defense minister from the tax system, to lead the military reform, because the latter has a very poor relationship with the generals in the army, presumably will not show mercy to his subordinates. Sure enough, under Serdyukov's bold move, nearly a third of the senior officials of the Central Military Administration were dismissed, and Serdyukov gathered old colleagues from the Federal Tax Service, set up a new financial control department in the Ministry of Defense, and decentralized the budget management of the General Staff. At the same time, Serdyukov also launched a reduction plan in the administrative department, which led to a large number of generals and colonels changing positions, and before the military reform, the proportion of officers in the Russian army was extremely high, accounting for about 30% of the overall staff, which was also the focus of Serdyukov's adjustment.

On March 2022, 3, Russia and Ukraine held the first round of negotiations in Istanbul, but failed. The picture shows Russian President Vladimir Putin attending the commemoration of the eighth anniversary of the annexation of Crimea on March 28. (Reuters)

In terms of the transformation of the structure of the troops, Serdyukov also practiced the goal of military reform that the Russian government has always wanted to promote: to get rid of the Soviet model of mobilizing the masses and preparing for large-scale war. After Serdyukov left office in 2012, his successor Shoigu inherited his philosophy and promoted the formation of battalion tactical groups (BTGs), that is, the concentration of a brigade's contract cadre into battalion-sized formations with support units such as air defense, artillery, engineering and logistics, and usually tank or infantry battalions, hoping to maximize combat effectiveness without spending "divisional" budgets as in the Soviet era.

Judging from the results of the Crimean crisis in 2014 and the intervention in Syria in 2015, Serdyukov's reforms are undoubtedly successful. Under its bold strategy, Russia has a number of elite troops that can immediately fight within hours of receiving the order, and the key to the smooth progress of the Crimean Yizhi is that the Russian army quickly blockades the Crimean parliament building, cutting off all communication between the peninsula and Ukraine, and encircling the Ukrainian garrison, making it inoperable.

Looking back at the Chechen War in 1999, it took more than two weeks for the Russian General Staff to form and send two battalions of paratroopers to the Dagestan front to suppress the rebellion of Chechen militants; In February 2014, it took only one and a half days for the Russian army to deploy 2,2015 troops on the Russian-Ukrainian border, realize the change of Crimea and repel the Ukrainian army in the subsequent outbreak of the Donbas civil war. The <> march into Syria was a similar logic of victory, with the outstanding performance of the Russian army cementing Russia into its role as a military power, and the political prestige of Putin, Gerasimov and Shoigu even higher.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Navy Commander Yevmenov attend the Navy Day parade in St. Petersburg on July 2021, 7. (Reuters)

Why setbacks in Ukraine

However, after the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war in 2022, the battlefield performance of the Russian army made many analysts stumble, as if it was a different army from that in Syria.

To be fair, this result is also linked to military reform. As mentioned earlier, Serdyukov achieved the goals of the Russian government: to get rid of the Soviet model of mobilizing the masses and preparing for a large-scale war, and to create a professional and effective armed force; But in other words, these forces are only suitable for short-term local conflicts, such as the 2014 Crimean crisis, the civil war in Donbas, and the war on terror in Syria, not for a long-term, large-scale war. Basically, rejecting the concept of mass mobilization is refusing to win a large-scale war without resorting to nuclear weapons, a flaw that inevitably leads to a bitter battle in Ukraine, because Putin apparently has no intention of using nuclear weapons.

BTG, for example, is based on the mobile power of "Small Sparrow, All Organs", which usually has only 200 infantry, which means that it is difficult to hold its position, but must rely on other units or armed forces to provide security. For this reason, it has been observed that the Russian army has stopped deploying BTG in Ukraine since September 2022.

And this phenomenon exposes another fatal problem of the Russian leadership: due to intelligence errors or overconfidence, it obviously does not think that the "special military operation" will be fought into a "Russian-Ukrainian war", but believes that a larger "Crimean change" will be staged, that is, after sending troops to push into the Donbass and surround Kiev, Zelensky agreed to Russia's "denazification" and "demilitarization" conditions, promised not to join NATO and recognize the independence of Donbass. But this is clearly not the case.

On March 3, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Sevastopol, Crimea. (Reuters)

Therefore, it can be found that not only the Russian army has played a hard role in the Ukrainian battlefield, but the command department seems to be scattered. For seven months before the special military operation, Russia did not arrange a commander-in-chief for the war, resulting in the leadership of the battlefield troops being scattered among the commanders of the four military districts, and it was not until October 2022 that the commander of the Aerospace Forces was appointed commander of the special military operation, and in January 10, the chief of the general staff was reassigned to Gerasimov. Among them, there may be the reason why Gerasimov suffered political criticism in the early stage, so he could only keep a low profile, but it also shows that Russia did have some underestimation of the enemy at first, and did not seriously see the possibility of action turning into a large-scale war.

In the final analysis, the Russian army in Ukraine has undertaken too heavy military targets, and the actual number of military personnel and armaments required by Russia far exceeds its pre-war estimates. Therefore, it can be found that as the Russian army is deeply trapped in the Ukrainian battlefield, it has a phenomenon of fighting and reforming, including the transfer of the S-300 surface-to-air missile system from Syria to the Ukrainian battlefield, and announced its mobilization in September 2022.

In December 2022, Shoigu announced a new wave of military reform, which mainly includes three major points: first, increase the number of troops, propose to increase the number of military personnel to 12.150 million, and maintain the existing system of conscription and contract soldiers, but the number of contract soldiers should be increased to 69,5, which is equal to twice the number of active-duty contract soldiers. The Russian Ministry of Defense also proposed to adjust the rules for conscription and recruitment, such as raising the compulsory recruitment age from 18 to 21, the maximum age limit from 27 to 30, and the opportunity to sign contracts from the beginning of service.

Second, strengthen military production and logistics maintenance capabilities, and some of the most urgently needed products must be delivered by 2023. In addition, the Russian Ministry of Defense will continue to rebuild its own repair organization, speed up the maintenance of armaments, and will build 2023 new repair shops in 3.

Minister Sergei Shoigu inspected the front-line command post of the Russian army deployed in Ukraine on March 2023, 3, and chaired the meeting, according to the Russian Defense Ministry. (Reuters)

Third, the Moscow Military District and the Leningrad Military District, which were merged into the Western Military District in 2010, were rebuilt, and a new army group was formed. For example, Karelia, near Finland, will create a new army corps, and 2 composite divisions will be created in the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions of Ukraine. In addition, in all strategic military districts, the Russian side will form five artillery divisions and high-power artillery brigades, and some existing units will also be expanded, such as the Western Military District, the Central Military Region, the Eastern Military District and the Northern Fleet, the seven motorized rifle brigades will be expanded into divisions, and the Marine Brigade will be expanded into five divisions. In addition, the Aerospace Forces will also have new formations, including 5 aviation division headquarters, 7 bomber regiments and 5 fighter regiment, the Army Aviation will be newly organized into 3 regiments, the Airborne Forces will also be newly organized into 8 Airborne Assault Divisions, and in the future, each mixed aviation division and brigade of the Army Aviation will be equipped with Aerospace Force forces.

From the above changes, it can be seen that the Russian-Ukrainian war is forcing Russia to reverse some of the achievements of the 2008 military reform, re-establish the Soviet model, not only rebuild the military districts that were abolished in 2010, but also convert some brigades back to divisions, and more importantly, significantly increase the number of troops. Of course, this raises new questions: where to recruit new soldiers? If the promotion of treatment is used to attract contract soldiers, will Russia, which is currently under sanctions, have enough budget available? And can the Russian military-industrial system support the expansion of the troops? For example, the army aviation brigade that is currently being formed needs at least 800 helicopters, but the Russian army currently has only 400 available, and no more than 100 are produced per year.

From a military point of view, Russia's radical military reform in 2008 was indeed effective, but it also laid a deep foundation for today's Ukrainian struggle, so there will be a new military reform that is now leaning towards the Soviet model, although it may take a lot of time to complete. From the perspective of international relations, this change also highlights the ups and downs of Russia's relations with the West: in the past, Russia abandoned the tradition of large-scale mobilization because Moscow did not consider itself likely to have a large-scale military conflict with NATO during the honeymoon period after the collapse of the Soviet Union; Now that Ukraine has encountered the continued bloodletting of the West and the relationship between the United States, Europe and Russia has reached a low point, Moscow has realized the importance of the Soviet tradition. In any case, the war will eventually end, but the reform of the Russian army will continue.

What was the focus of Russia's military reform in 2008?

Get rid of the Soviet model of mass mobilization.

Why is the Russian army struggling on the battlefield in Ukraine?

The Russian army after the military reform in 2008 is not ready for a long-term large-scale war.

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