Retired LtGen Mark Hertling encountered Russian and Ukrainian service personnel over many years in various postings, in Europe and elsewhere. In a very interesting article, he outlines what he remembers of them, and how he saw the Ukrainian army become much more professional over time, while the Russian army did not. (A tip o’ the hat to Tamara for linking to his article, which is how I found it.)
My war stories about the Russian and Ukrainian militaries are … anecdotes, with no associated metrics or figures, but they give indications of what I’ve seen of the performance of two armies now facing each other on the battlefield. My experiences observing or participating in exercises, personal engagements, and training aren’t meant to explain, much less predict, what’s going on in Ukraine as that nation’s military fights its Russian foe. But I like to think they offer a little depth and color about who the people fighting in Ukraine are.
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My old friend, neighbor, and former U.S. Army Europe teammate Brigadier General Peter Zwack … confirmed that … the Russian Army, while still substantive in quantity, continued to decline in capability and quality. My subsequent visits to [Russian] schools and units … reinforced these conclusions. The classroom discussions were sophomoric, and the units in training were going through the motions of their scripts with no true training value or combined arms interaction—infantry, armor, artillery, air, and resupply all trained separately.
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During my assignment as commander of U.S. Army Europe, I also spent a significant amount of time with the Ukrainian Army and was amazed as I watched them grow in professionalism and effectiveness.
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The Ukrainian Training Center at Yavoriv … saw massive changes starting in 2014, likely driven as much by the Russian invasion of Crimea and the Donbas as by Vorobyov’s vision. In April 2015, elements of the U.S. 173rd Airborne Brigade stationed in Italy again deployed to Yavoriv and established an ongoing operational program called “Fearless Guardian.” The program was progressive, training everything from individual soldier skills to battalion-level operations, all based on lessons learned from the eastern and southern Ukrainian combat zones. The increasing energy at Yavoriv showed the need for a permanent enhanced training center, modeled after the U.S. Army’s training programs in the United States and Germany. In December 2015, U.S. Army Europe formally established Joint Multinational Training Group – Ukraine (JMTG-U), where a multi-national team of Americans, Poles, Canadians, Lithuanians, and Brits began training Ukrainian battalions as combined arms teams. Command Sergeant Major Davenport sent me a note a few years ago saying Ukraine had formally established an NCO corps, with standardized training and leadership requirements. Henadii’s vision had become a reality, accelerated by the urgencies of the Russian existential threat.
As for the Russians, their recent battlefield failures—their staged maneuvers, lack of leadership development, absence of a logistics plan to support operations, inability to coordinate and conduct air-ground-sea joint operations and continued use of conscript soldiers in critical missions—all indicate a larger failure to modernize their army. Just as Russia and Ukraine followed different political courses over the past 30 years, so did their armies, and it shows. While Ukraine’s democracy is still addressing issues of government corruption, those violations pale in significance and scope to the embezzlement, graft, and corruption of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, his predecessor Anatoly Serdyukov, and Vladimir Putin himself. Colonel-General Chirkin had, if nothing else, proved that he was acting in line with the role models in his senior leadership.
There’s more at the link.
Although it’s hard to know what’s really going on in Ukraine due to lies, obfuscation and propaganda from both sides, the fact that Russia has made such limited progress after several weeks of war would tend to support LtGen Hertling’s conclusions. His article makes what we’re seeing in news reports rather more comprehensible. Recommended reading.