The narrative in the western world is that the war in Ukraine has been a fiasco for Russia; that they aren't doing as well as they should be, that their weaknesses have been exposed, that their military is much weaker than it was expected to be, etc.

And yet, the war has only been on-going for about a month, and Russia are fighting the biggest country in Europe. It's a modern country, with a well-equipped military, and a democratically elected leadership, meaning there is little internal insurgency and the people stand together against a common enemy.

So why is it that Russia is deemed to have done so badly so early in the conflict?

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    The entire premise of this seems to be what-aboutism. Just because A is deemed worse than B doesn't mean you can't criticize B.
    – Warcupine
    Mar 31, 2022 at 15:22
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    You are failing to distinguish between "military defeat" (losses in combat) and social defeat (failure to achieve political outcomes). Allowing enemies to escape into hiding is arguably a military failure, but "Led to the emergence of bigger threats" is a failure of politicians and diplomats, not of the military.
    – Ben Voigt
    Mar 31, 2022 at 15:36
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    The USA easily conquered Iraq in 2003, and US-backed insurgents defeated the Taliban and took control of Afghanistan in 2002. Putin seems to have believed he could do something similar to the US in Iraq, where the tanks rolled in largely unopposed and the Iraqi army disintegrated.
    – Stuart F
    Mar 31, 2022 at 15:44
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    Who says that the US-Iraq War was not considered a fiasco? In a 2014 poll of USA residents, about half said that the United States had failed to achieve its goals in the war. And those are Americans. The people who think that the current war between Russia and Ukraine has been a fiasco are mostly not Russians.
    – Obie 2.0
    Mar 31, 2022 at 16:02
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    Experiencing ww2 levels of casualties (by percent of deployed troops), particularly among the generals, is a good place to start. They probably didn't go into this war thinking they would lose more soldiers in 2 weeks than the US did in a decade in Iraq/Afghanistan combined(or the Russian toll in their multi year afghan war).
    – eps
    Mar 31, 2022 at 16:59

5 Answers 5

  • Russia was expected to do better. By the West, and apparently by Russia, too. The latter is somewhat difficult to gauge, but note how they refuse to call it a war. If this is genuine, they expected a victory in days.
  • Russia did do better during the Crimea occupation, and during the 2014 Donbas invasion.
  • Russia seems to view Ukraine as a matter of vital national interest in their Near Abroad. The American wars you mention were far from the American continents.

Have you read the Iraq Invasion 2003 wiki entry??? By this time the war was over and the US had won, at the cost of 200 KIA.

The Russian military is much, much, bigger than Ukraine's. And that's without taking into account that most of Ukraine major weapon systems are literally 30+ year old Soviet designs. Russia has many buyers for its latest-gen weaponry, this isn't looking good as a showcase.

Instead of having taken over the country, Russia has largely been stopped about 100-150 km into the borders, by the local underdog. Loss estimates are at 5000 KIA and go up, steeply, from there. This is the world's 2nd military getting stopped by a nation not even in the top 20, on its doorstep.

The US fiasco in Iraq was, at that point, years in the future, as a result of a protracted resistance campaign by Iraqis. Who's to say, that, if Russia won tomorrow and installed a puppet government like Lukashenko, there would not be resistance on Russian troops securing it? That's what everyone was expecting if Russia was daft enough to invade: a quick military victory, followed by a potential guerrilla quagmire for them.

Afghanistan you say? Again a guerrilla war and those have turned out very hard to win for occupying armies. But the original toppling of the Taliban was done very quickly, with minimal US losses. Both those "much worse outcomes" were in fact impressive US military victories. The, undeniable, US failures that came later were mostly political, failing to put in place popular and stable governments sympathetic to US interests.

Speaking of Afghanistan, since you insist on doing so, can you remind me what country also had to ingloriously withdraw from it in 1989?

Bottom line: by any sane military metric, Russia should have been way more successful in the initial combat phase by now. Instead it has suffered large combat losses, depleted the core of its ground troops, showcased military gear shortcomings (Russia is using unencrypted radio for Pete's sake), had 7 generals KIA, has its tanks run out of gas and is showing major morale problems in its ground troops. Equipment is breaking down to institutionally bad maintenance, seem to be missing parts that were sold off, missiles fail to explode (the dud rate seems to be in the 50% range), the Russian air force has done very little. Troops had been told they were invading the day before.

The list of Russian failures tracked by military analysts is long. It is, truly, a gong show of massive proportion, amateur hour.

I don't necessarily think the Russian army is that bad, something we will have to remember in the future. Given a more just war to fight in, less corruption, and better leadership, the Russian soldiers would fight much harder. This is not that war and Russia doesn't even seem to have appointed an overall military commander for the operation.

Yes, some of this perception could be attributed to Western propaganda and sympathy for Ukraine. But the fact is indisputable that Russian lines of advance have been stalled. Not, one might add, due to any great desire to minimize civilian casualties, another blow to Russian prestige is the sheer barbarism of its tactics on entrapping civilians in cities they pound from a distance.

At some level it seems like a mismatch in the defense/offense balance in weapon systems. "Cheap" modern ATM missiles are taking out expensive older tanks and making it very hard to conduct offensive operations. The Israeli army encountered some of that when they invaded Lebanon, losing several tanks to ATMs. But the overall scale is much worse. Military think tanks will be dissecting this for decades. The normal counter to this would be cover the tanks with infantry, using combined arms tactics to keep ATM teams away. But that requires motivated, high morale, infantry troops. Not sure if Russia is doing this here. Certainly its failure to do that was the root cause of their defeat in the first Chechnya war.

Speaking of Israel, this unexpected defensive success due to high morale against a larger, incompetent, unmotivated, enemy reminds me most of all of the 1967 and 1973 wars. For all its horrible handling of the Palestinian people since, there was true grit and military competence on display, like Ukraine is doing now.

Or, well, there is always another Russian war of aggression to compare to, the Finnish Winter War of 1940.

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    Some RFERL rumours (backed up by interviewing some locals) were that since the Russian soldiers were not told they were going to invade until a day or so before, many of them did the usual stuff and had sold much of their fuel to Belarusians on the black market. Mar 31, 2022 at 19:11
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    @Fizz It's looking increasingly similar to the Spanish-Cuban-American war, where Spain still tried to behave as the Empire it was once, with the budget of a 4th rate power. Underpaid military resorted to widespread corruption, with episodes like most of the projectiles on the fleet who faced the US navy being filled up with sand rather than explosives.
    – Rekesoft
    Apr 1, 2022 at 6:48

Well, just generally, Russia has:

  • four times as many professional soldiers
  • six times as many tanks
  • ten times as many military aircraft
  • sixteen times as many naval vessels (including submarines, which Ukraine lacks entirely)

One would also expect that Russian equipment has technological advantages, since Russia produces military arms itself while Ukraine is mainly a consumer. This isn't to say that attacking Ukraine was ever going to be a waltz in the park, but sheer numbers should have given Russia an overwhelming advantage.

And yet on the face of it, Ukrainian forces have repeatedly brought Russian advances to a standstill, forcing Putin to change from direct advances to artillery siege tactics. Further, despite the immense numerical advantage, Russia has not been able to establish air dominance, leaving their ground troops exposed. And if we can believe the reports we've heard, Russian forces have suffered a huge number of casualties for a mere month of war, have lost an inordinate amount of equipment from both attack and malfunction, and are having serious supply issues, with food and fuel (and perhaps other things, like ammunition) scarce along the lines.

This is not the picture of a well-designed and well-organized military offensive. It shows poor tactics and poor logistics. And the real fiasco here lies in the fact that Putin — whatever overt military objectives he has, which he hasn't seen fit to disclose — wanted to project strength and competence to both his own people and the world at large. Instead he's been forced to cut his people off from news about the war, found himself accused of war crimes, suffer through serious damage to Russias economy, and in other ways been forced into the role of a petty tyrant, not the authoritative, commanding figure he's prefer.


While Putin wasn't incredibly explicit about his plans regarding Kyiv, it was widely assumed that the intention was not just to camp outside the city (which is what the Russians are doing now) but to quickly remove Zelensky from power. So, analyses of the "Russian fiasco" are predicated on this. Such analyses don't seem totally baseless given the nearly care-free way that Russian (northern) columns had advance in the early days, with practically no flank security for the armored columns, all bunched up on a few roads to Kyiv. A "blitz" attempt basically. Even the map shown by Russia's general staff (with the sitrep on March 25) seem to show that Kyiv was a prime target.

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The Russian (counter-)story now (after March 25) is that they only did those attacks to tie up Ukrainian forces in the West, but YMMV as to the credibility of that. E.g. on Feb 27 TASS had announced that:

The Kiev regime’s ringleaders and their minions will be tracked down and inevitably and properly punished, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told a news briefing on Sunday.

At the very least, the "fiasco" is relative to the publicized expectations of US intelligence community, which had predicted in Feb that Kyiv was going to fall within days.

Regarding casualties, one comparison from over a week ago put it this way:

Seven thousand Russian troops have been killed in battle so far, according to a US intelligence estimate reported by the New York Times [...]

By this estimate, Russian military deaths are now much higher than the number of American troops killed in either the Iraq or Afghanistan wars, at 4,825 and 3,576 respectively.

The Russian casualties appear to be of a scale similar to those at Iwo Jima — one of the bloodiest battles in Marine Corps history – where about 6,852 US troops died and around 19,000 were injured in five weeks of fighting against an entrenched Japanese force, which sustained an estimated 18,000 dead and missing.

If Russian forces were to continue losing troops at this rate, in a year about 121,000 Russian troops would be dead, with injured likely to be three or four times higher — suggesting Russia's offensive must break the Ukrainian resistance or suffer unsustainable losses. That toll, for example, would be higher than American casualties during the Korean War, where 36,576 Americans died over the course of three years.

It would even exceed the 58,220 US dead in Vietnam, the bulk of which were over 15 years or so.


So why is it that Russia is deemed to have done so badly, when USA, a country to whom Russia is often compared to, have done spectacularly worse in its wars?

This statement is correct only if you consider the reports from most of rest of the world, other than the Russian Federation (RF). This statement is definitely incorrect from the point of view of Russian government-controlled media. The Russian state-controlled media (mostly Channels 1 and 24, as well as RIA Novosti), at different points in time mentioned all of the below, which definitely makes Russia look rather well, if not outright victorious:

  • The "genocide" of the "nazi" Ukrainian regime against the Russians has been stopped or severely reduced. No new "mass graves" of Russian civilians. All the areas liberated by the forces of the RF now can practice speaking and learning Russian freely. Take, for example the residents of Luhansk and Donetsk regions, and those who fled Mariupol into the RF.

  • Russian forces advance on multiple fronts, leading to "massive" losses, but only among the Ukrainian military forces and its military infrastructure. There are few reported losses among the forces of the Russian Federation. Ukrainian civilian deaths and destruction of Ukrainian civilian infrastructure are carefully avoided by the Russian (but not Ukrainian) forces.

  • Ukrainian forces are fighting "poorly", confronted with a such a successful special military operation by the RF on multiple fronts.

  • The Ukrainian people that have been "liberated" by the forces of the Russian Federation are overall happy and welcome the advances of the Russians forces. They are eager to escape Mariupol and other cities along the green corridors, always "open" and "protected" by the Russian side according to the generally accepted rules of engagement (although Ukrainian forces violate the agreements and prevent the civilians from escaping). Ukrainians "prefer" to escape into Russia, where they are "welcomed" and "treated well".

  • NATO advance towards Russia and the "inevitable" and "imminent" joining of Ukraine into this alliance that "threatens" Russia is successfully stopped. There are no ballistic missiles within a few minutes of flight time from Moscow, the capital of the Russia. Moreover, NATO is so intimidated by the military successes of Russia, that it is not sending its troops to fight in any organized way for its close ally, Ukraine.

  • The economy of the US and Europe continues its steady "decline", and is experiencing inflation due to multiple internal structural factors, but also in large part due to sky-high gasoline/petrol and natural gas prices, caused by the Western sanctions against Russia. Meanwhile Russian economy is doing rather well, with notable advances in protecting financial well-being of the families with children, and in the fight against coronavirus.

  • The known capacity of Ukraine to "mass-produce" weapons of mass destruction, most notably "chemical" and "biological" weapons, has been severely damaged. "Bioweapons" laboratories and research centers masking as Universities have been destroyed. But not all of them have been eliminated - for that, complete demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine are still necessary.

  • Multiple Ukrainian "diversions" and "terrorist attacks" have been successfully prevented and Ukrainian forces have been fought back. These "terrorist attacks" were aimed against civilians, many of whom are not just Russian-speaking, but also citizens of the RF, and thus it has been the obligation of Russia to protect its citizens.

If this picture differs somewhat from what you see in mass media of the rest of the world outside of Russia, the question to ask yourself is the following. Whom do you trust more, "The Empire of Lies" (as Russian President Vladimir Putin calls the US), or the Russian Federation, known for its "consistent" and "truthful" reporting on various issues throughout the decades? Some of the programs on the Russian state-sponsored TV, most notably "The Time" ("Vremya"), have been successfully going on for half a century, dating back to the times of the USSR. This certainly should give one pause.

I think the answer is going to be obvious to you, my dear reader!


Russian TV Channel 1.
Russian TV Channel 24.
RIA Novosti.

  • @Jaood Sorry for the slight frame challenge, but you knew someone would do that. So here it goes! Hope you do not mind. Mar 31, 2022 at 19:08

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