Nearly 10,000 Russian soldiers reported dead, leadership failing.

Two things have come to mind since before Russia invaded Ukraine.

1) It would be an incredibly stupid move by Putin. As much as people were warning me that it was coming and officially the buildup was menacing enough to predict an invasion, I did not believe it would happen because it would be a disaster for Russia.

2) Paper Bear. Despite widespread worry about Russian forces having some residual capabilities, deep levels of corruption inherent to dictatorships meant their logistics and technology was sure to fail. Moreover, I didn’t see much evidence of adaptation or learning. The hard work and feedback needed for success are anathema to dictatorships; strong men are typically extremely weak when tested in conditions they can’t cheat.

Clearly I was wrong on the first count as invasion did happen. Being a terrible mistake for Putin wasn’t enough to deter him from invading.

On the second count I was more right, and I’ve had to resist temptation to say “told you so” especially on channels where Americans wildly overestimated Russian ability to execute on anything other than basic looting.

This has now been documented better by the NYT than I could have ever said it.

… shows the pitfalls of Putin’s top-down governance, in which officials and military officers have little leeway to make their own decisions and adapt to developments in real time.

Even though multiple U.S. officials have for multiple days said they expect Russia to adapt to its failures, I have seen the opposite. The culture is devoid of adaptation by design, in order to ensure fealty to Putin.

That same NYT article goes on to say that Putin’s messaging is now that it is an overabundance of concern for Ukrainian civilians to blame for slow progress, and also that it is going exactly to plan.

Clearly anyone with even the least ability to adapt to a situation and think independently would immediately recognize that as garbage propaganda.

And there’s the rub.

The Russian military death toll is unofficially headed over 10,000, nearing the same number of lives they lost over a decade in Chechnya.

It becomes increasingly difficult to cover that up, not to mention explain away a high death toll even among top Russian military leaders.

The deaths reflect operational security failures as well as the challenges of the Russian military’s top-heavy command structure in the face of a much nimbler Ukrainian fighting force. […] “Continuing to lose senior leaders is not good,” he said in an email. “Eventually, loss of leadership affects morale, fighting prowess and effectiveness.”

When morale and effectiveness starts out so low, it’s now a question of how Russia will keep things going at all. History suggests that there will be increasingly hostile speech and greater war crimes, increasing suffering.

In Chechnya and Syria dominance manifested in ruthless scorched-earth campaigns against civilians.

Ukraine however is rolling differently as Russia attempted a complex and rapid mobilization without having much of a clue.

“Even Stalin had an idea,” she said…to underscore Putin’s failure to articulate a reason for invading Ukraine.

Fukiyama’s March 10th prediction is most interesting to me because he suggested morale weakness may cause an abrupt end to Russian force.

The army in the field will reach a point where it can neither be supplied nor withdrawn, and morale will vaporize.

It may already be coming true, according to the latest reports.

“We shot at the first vehicle, and when it exploded the column stopped,” he says. “(Russian soldiers) ran away and we took their military equipment.” According to Golodov and his men, this is a common occurrence on the battlefield. “Russian soldiers are frightened, demoralized. They are afraid to part with each other, because they are being shot at from every bush,” he says. He says some seem to be very young and inexperienced: “Most of them do not know or understand why they are here.”

However, this doesn’t seem to take into account that Putin may attempt to boost morale by engaging in ever more destructive war crimes.

The intelligence report says Russia intends its ‘total destruction’ of Mariupol to ‘serve as a warning to other cities’. It said: ‘The pattern of destruction of food and water supplies, targeting of civilians, indiscriminate use of firepower to advance, is already being repeated elsewhere. This is based on effective lessons learned [by the Russians] in Syria.’

I don’t believe Russia is in any position to learn, but instead are prone to repetition and mysticism/fear. Thus dehumanization of people and targeting civilian areas is likely to increase as a form of desperation to demonstrate power (e.g. give demoralized troops a “reason” to be there), given how a paper bear has been blown away by any real resistance.

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