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April 28, 2022
Notes from the Pentagon

Army reports on Putin’s dysfunctional war

By Bill Gertz
Russian President Vladimir Putin badly miscalculated in launching the invasion of Ukraine and falsely believed his army could rapidly overrun the country, according to an analysis of the war published by the Army War College.

According to the journal report, Russian state media outlet RIA Novosti accidentally leaked Mr. Putin’s war objectives for Ukraine days after the invasion began. The plan called for taking the capital of Kyiv in two days and creating a new world order led by Russia and China.

Instead, the military operation is failing on many fronts.

The Russian leader also ordered the invasion based on his view that democratic movements were preparing covert actions driven by U.S. and Western activities and information warfare.

Mr. Putin also failed in his goal of making Russia a respected great power. Large-scale economic sanctions on Moscow are a disaster for the country and Russia’s international reputation is in tatters.

“Even if he can win battles in Ukraine, the war has been a strategic failure from the start,” the report said.

“Dysfunctionality” was the primary characteristic of the military operation from its earliest days, according to the report. Plans for a lightning assault on Kyiv called for first taking control of Hostomel Airport followed by an incursion of armored columns from Belarus. But quick military reactions and staunch resistance by the Ukrainians blocked both plans.

“The expected blitzkrieg faltered as the Ukrainians destroyed vehicles at a significant rate along predictable routes,” the report said.

Russian forces also were unable to resupply advancing troops and vehicles broke down and ran out of fuel.

The multi-directional Russian invasion also lacked needed air defenses, close air support and electronic warfare tools. “The Russian army stalled despite a year of preparations, and the initial offensive failed,” the report said.

Ukraine also won the information war in the West, fostering widespread international backing and opposition to Russia.

A key battle won by the Ukrainians involved troops near Chernihiv who blocked the capture of the main ground route to Kyiv for a week. And in Kharkiv, two Russian units that breached defenses and advanced into the city were nearly wiped out.

The Russian military also failed to use large-scale bombing and missile strikes in the opening of the offensive in the mistaken belief that Kyiv would fall easily without them. “Russia’s failure to use considerable firepower, except to create confusion, meant even the poorly prepared Ukrainian defenses, including air defenses, remained intact,” the report said.

Russian military formations called “battalion tactical groups” proved too weak to drive deep into Ukrainian territory and became easy targets for devastating Ukrainian counterattacks. Mr. Putin’s invasion plan to overrun all of Ukraine faltered from a lack of sufficient manpower to secure territorial gains.

“Russian prisoners and intercepted communications revealed they thought the Ukrainians would greet them as liberators,” the report said.

The report concludes that the Russians currently are racing against time in Ukraine to try to avoid an even more disastrous defeat.

“The deterioration of the Russian economy and the resupply of the Ukrainian resistance will strengthen over time, which means Putin is in a race to reduce major cities and take Kyiv, in particular, before the economic damage at home worsens,” the report said.

To counter the Russian strategy, the Ukrainians need to hold out and gain as much support from the West as possible, including air defenses, intelligence and financial backing.

“Stubbornly, Putin believes he can win in the face of setbacks,” the report says.

The Russians also fear NATO intervention and thus have stepped up nuclear threats against the West. Mr. Putin is trying to cow the West into submission, survive the economic pressure with Chinese assistance, and crush all internal opposition.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said this week the risks of nuclear conflict “now are considerable.”

The report describes as a “fantasy” Mr. Putin’s claims that he was fighting to prevent genocide against Russian speakers in Donbas, and dismisses his assertion that the operation seeks “de-Nazify” Ukraine because such sentiment is sparse and there is no evidence the country is under control of Nazis.

Mr. Johnson, who authored “Dysfunctional Warfare: The Russian Invasion of Ukraine 2022,” is a University of Oxford professor and director of the Oxford Changing Character of War Center.

FBI sticks to Trump policy on China spy threat
Despite the Justice Department backing off on a program to prosecute Chinese spies, FBI Director Christopher Wray is continuing the Trump administration’s hardline policy toward Chinese espionage.

In a television interview broadcast Sunday, Mr. Wray was asked what he considers the most significant counterespionage threat.

“The biggest threat we face as a country from a counter-intelligence perspective is from the People’s Republic of China, and especially the Chinese Communist Party,” Mr. Wray said on CBS’ “60 Minutes.” China’s spies are “targeting our innovation, our trade secrets, our intellectual property on a scale that’s unprecedented in history,” he added.

Chinese cyberattacks and hacking are a larger effort “than that of every other major nation combined,” the FBI chief noted.

“They have stolen more of Americans’ personal and corporate data than every nation combined,” he said. “It affects everything from agriculture to aviation to high tech to health care, pretty much every sector of our economy. Anything that makes an industry tick, they target.”

Mr. Wray said the FBI counterspies are so busy they are opening a new Chinese counterintelligence probe on average every 12 hours.

“There’s well north of 2,000 of these investigations,” he said. “All 56 of our field offices are engaged on it. And I can assure you that it’s not because our agents don’t have enough else to do. It’s a measure of how significant the threat is.”

Last month, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines echoed Mr. Wray’s assessment of the cyber threat during a congressional hearing on world threats.

Chinese intelligence poses “the broadest, most active and persistent cyberespionage threat to U.S. government and private-sector networks,” she stated.

Those comments contrast with remarks in February from Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen, head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, who announced the department was canceling the Trump administration’s China Initiative targeting Beijing’s efforts to recruit American-based researchers and scholars.

The program, which brought scores of prosecutions against Chinese spies and American academics that were secretly working for Beijing, was shuttered after pressure from activist groups that falsely accused the program of unfairly targeting Asian Americans.

“While I remain focused on the evolving, significant threat that the government of China poses, I have concluded that this initiative is not the right approach,” Mr. Olsen said.

Senior Biden administration officials also have dropped the Trump-era policy of using the term “Chinese Communist Party” in describing the China threat. That policy shift was launched by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during the Trump administration in an effort to clearly delineate the differences between the CCP regime and the Chinese people.

Mr. Wray, however, continues to use the term, as indicated in his recent “60 Minutes” interview.

China deception on COVID deaths
China’s government is continuing to deceive the world regarding the numbers of deaths inside China due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Since the disease outbreak that began in Wuhan, China in December 2019, Beijing until very recently claimed a total of just 4,336 deaths from COVID. By contrast, the U.S. has suffered nearly 1 million COVID-related deaths, according to official estimates.

But other assessments, including from the World Health Organization, say the mortality rates in China are many times higher than the official tally.

Now after mass COVID outbreaks in Shanghai and other cities, possibly to include Beijing soon, the Chinese Communist Party Propaganda Department has begun to revise upward the death count beginning April 19.

As of this week, the Chinese government now says a total of 4,876 deaths occurred from the pandemic — still far short of the actual death toll.

Some analysts say the additional 250 deaths may have been the result of draconian health security measures that forced Shanghai residents to go without food and in some cases water for days on end during the recent lockdown.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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