On the Breakdown of the Russian Army

Adam Smith, ISL – RCIT section in Israel/Occupied Palestine, 27.04.2022

One of the (correct) arguments against centrists’ opposition to NATO sending weapons to Ukraine is that in the real world, wars are stopped with weapons and not with words. However, if we advise against direct NATO involvement, we can also be accused of naivety. Against this charge, let us look at the Vietnam war and how socialist agitation can lead to the collapse of a powerful army. Of course, the opposition of the working class in the civilian sphere in the US, as well as the armed resistance by the Vietcong played a significant role.

First, Robert Heinl Jr is a former Marine Colonel, and while we totally oppose his views, his report on the state of the US Army is very interesting.

On the general state of disciple, he writes:

By every conceivable indicator, our army that now remains in Vietnam is in a state approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding or having refused combat, murdering their officers and non-commissioned officers, drug-ridden, and dispirited where, not near mutinous.” [i]

There was even official separate companies for refusing soldiers:

They have set up separate companies,” writes an American soldier from Cu Chi, quoted in the New York Times, “for men who refuse to go into the field. Is no big thing to refuse to go. If a man is ordered to go to such and such a place he no longer goes through the hassle of refusing; he just packs his shirt and goes to visit some buddies at another base camp. Operations have become incredibly ragtag. Many guys don’t even put on their uniforms any more… The American garrison on the larger bases are virtually disarmed. The lifers have taken our weapons from us and put them under lock and key…There have also been quite a few frag incidents in the battalion.” [ii]

Fragging, killing of officers, was also common:

Shortly after the costly assault on Hamburger Hill in mid-1969,the GI underground newspaper in Vietnam, “G.I. Says”, publicly offered a $10,000 bounty on Lt. Col. Weldon Honeycutt, the officer who ordered(and led) the attack. Despite several attempts, however, Honeycutt managed to live out his tour and return Stateside. “Another Hamburger Hill,” (i.e. roughly contested assault), conceded a veteran major, is definitely out.” [iii]

As well as open and massive (as opposed to personal, which is a lot less threatening to the military):

As early as mid-1969, however, an entire company of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade publicly sat down on the battlefield. Later that year, another rifle company, from the famed 1st Air Cavalry Division, flatly refused — on CBS-TV — to advance down a dangerous Trail. As for drugs and race, Vietnam’s problems today not only reflect but reinforce those of the Armed Forces as a whole. In April, for example, members of a Congressional investigating subcommittee reported that 12% to 15% of our troops in Vietnam are now using high-grade heroin, and that drug addiction there is “of epidemic proportions.” [iv]

As well as desertion. Also, it is interesting to note the differences between the Army and the Marines/Air Force.

In 1970, the Army had 65,643 deserters, or roughly the equivalent of four infantry divisions. This desertion rate (52.3 soldiers per thousand) is well over twice the peak rate for Korea (22.5 per thousand). It is more than quadruple the 1966 desertion-rate (14.7 per thousand) of the ten well-trained, high-spirited professional Army. Letting the bastards go is something the Marines can probably afford. “The Marine Corps Isn’t Looking for a Lot of Recruits,” reads a current recruiting /36/ poster, “We Just Need a Few Good Men.” This is the happy situation of a Corps slimming down to an elite force again composed of true volunteers who want to be professionals.” “But letting the bastards go doesn’t work at all for the Army and the Navy, who do need a lot of recruits and whose reenlistment problems are dire. “You can’t give them an order and expect them to obey immediately,” says an infantry officer in Vietnam. “They ask why, and you have to tell them.” In the words of an Air Force officer to this reporter, “If a captain went down on the line and gave an order and expected it to be obeyed because ‘I said so!’ – there’d be a rebellion.” [v]

And it ends with acknowledgement that the state of the army is second to the Tsarist army in 1917(!)

All the foregoing facts – and mean more dire indicators of the worse kind of military trouble – point to widespread conditions among American forces in Vietnam that have only been exceeded in this century by the French Army’s Nivelle mutinies of 1917 and the collapse of the Tsarist armies in 1916 and 1917.” [vi]

Let’s jump to current times to see how the Russian Army is doing. Civilians are resisting

in all kins, of ways, for example, by baking poisonous cakes, “Ukrainian civilians have been baking poisoned cake and offering it to Russian soldiers, the country’s intelligence service has claimed, as the Russian invasion enters its fifth week” [vii] or by building trenches[viii].

The latest tactic by the Russians is forced transfer of civilians: “Ukraine accused Moscow on Thursday of forcibly taking hundreds of thousands of civilians from shattered Ukrainian cities to Russia, where some may be used as “hostages” to pressure Kyiv to give up.

Lyudmyla Denisova, Ukraine’s ombudsperson, said 402,000 people, including 84,000 children, have been taken against their will to Russia, and some have reported shortages of food and water there.” [x]

The Russian has been forced away from Kiev and is focusing on the Donbass region, no doubt because of fierce resistance. [x] As of a month ago it reported only 1351 soldiers killed, no doubt a very dubious figure. [xi] The Ukraine side is claiming about 21600 Russian soldiers killed as of yesterday[xii].

It is clear the Russian Army, plagued by corruption, was not prepared for this war.

The Russian military has thousands of tanks, and all of them are vulnerable to Ukranians wielding Javelins and other anti-armor weapons. Before the escalation of its war in Ukraine, Russia tried to get ahead of the problem by welding improvised slats to the top of some of its tanks. Dubbed “cope cages” by outside observers, the strange additions to Russian tanks don’t appear to be helping stop the penetrating power of Ukrainian munitions.” [xiii]

While on the Ukrainian side volunteers are being turned away[xiv], the Russian side has a serious defection and mutiny problem. Here are a couple examples:  A Russian soldier runs over his commander with a tank[xv]. “The brigade commander was killed by his own troops, we believe, as a consequence of the scale of losses that have been taken by his brigade,” one official said. “We believe that he was killed by his own troops deliberately. We believe that he was run over by his own troops.”

The confirmation followed a Facebook post on Wednesday by prominent Ukrainian journalist and YouTuber Roman Tsimbalyuk, who said that troops had been angered by the 50 percent casualty rate suffered by the unit deployed to the Kyiv region. One soldier driving an armored vehicle deliberately ran over the commander, who was shown in video posts being taken on a stretcher for treatment to neighboring Belarus. He was later reported to have died.” [xvi]

The number of senior generals killed is also very high:

A seventh Russian general has been killed in Ukraine, according to western officials who claimed on Friday another senior commander was targeted by his own troops in Ukraine.

His death means that a remarkable 35 percent of Russia’s 20 operational generals deployed to Ukraine have been killed in combat.

They have just lost enormous numbers of people so that what we’ve seen is the cannibalising of battalion tactical groups, joining three together to create one,” the official said. “A fifth of the force being no longer combat effective is a pretty remarkable sets of statistics.” [xvii]

Mass refusals are also becoming more common:

Approximately 60 paratroopers from Russia’s Pskov region have refused to be deployed to Ukraine,” newspaper Pskovskaya Gubernia has reported.

Paratroopers from the area were sent to Belarus days after Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, the outlet wrote Wednesday. They reported that a large number of soldiers were returned to Pskov and fired after refusing to fight — with some also threatened with criminal prosecution for desertion.” [xviii]

Russian authorities face mounting unwillingness to fight among both conscript and contract personnel. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on April 18 that Russian forces began efforts to form additional units in Rostov and Crimea by April 24 to form a “second echelon” to occupy administrative buildings and important infrastructure in occupied Ukraine.[2] Ukraine’s Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported on April 18 that the number of Russian personnel refusing to join the war effort is increasing, including 60-70% of contract soldiers in the 150th Motor Rifle Division of the 8th Combined Arms Army—the primary Russian combat force in eastern Ukraine.[3] The GUR stated that Russian authorities are threatening the families of servicemen who refuse to fight and making permanent marks in the criminal records of those servicemen.” [xix]

BBC Russian, which has kept a confirmed count of the number of Russian losses, has said that 217 of its 1,083 confirmed Russian war dead were officers, from junior lieutenants to generals. Senior Russian officers often fight alongside their units because decisions must be confirmed by higher-ranking personnel (read: they do not trust the lower ranks).

Of the confirmed deaths in the military, more than 15% come from Russia’s elite airborne, or VDV, units. The high number of losses among those units has also been accompanied by reports of desertions.” [xx]

As well as desertion:

A Russian soldier allegedly surrendered his tank to Ukraine, claiming his military bosses’ war campaign was too “chaotic” and that he’d rather take up the Ukrainians’ offer for resettlement than continue fighting.

The soldier will eventually receive $10,000, a comfortable place to live and a chance to apply for citizenship, a Ukrainian official said.” [xxi]

The way forward is clear, what is needed is not just individual action, but mass mobilization, refusal, desertion, and the formation of soldiers’ councils. Also, the creation of working-class councils to coordinate the anti-war actions is needed, as well as civilian working class actions such as strikes and sabotage.

Such action has the potential of not only stopping this war, but setting off a chain reaction inside Russia which can topple Putin himself. The 1905 Revolution came about from the defeat of Russia in the Russo-Japanese war. History teaches us that mass mutineering can change the course of wars(for example in 1917 in Russia). The Russian Army is crumbling daily, suffering from low morale and facing supply shortages. 

Down with the Russian invasion!

For the formation of popular committees to coordinate the anti-war effort!

Down with NATO!




[ii] Ibid

[iii] Ibid

[iv] Ibid

[v] Ibid

[vi] Ibid

[vii] https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/ukraine-civilians-injured-28-russian-26622496

[viii] https://www.facebook.com/worldoftanks4/videos/665326991350130/

[ix] https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/ukraine-people-taken-russia-1.6396247

[x] https://www.cnbc.com/2022/03/29/russia-repositions-troops-away-from-kyiv-marking-a-shift-in-the-war-.html

[xi] https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/russian-army-says-1351-soldiers-killed-in-ukraine/articleshow/90445370.cms

[xii] https://www.facebook.com/ukraineworld.org/photos/a.2031968887081277/3222046564740164/

[xiii] https://www.vice.com/en/article/xgdkbw/cope-cages-on-busted-tanks-are-a-symbol-of-russias-military-failures

[xiv] https://www.foxnews.com/world/ukraine-military-turns-volunteers-away-as-140k-ukrainians-come-home-to-fight-russia

[xv] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSBNGX_dKEA

[xvi] https://www.politico.eu/article/russian-brigade-commander-killed-by-his-own-forces/

[xvii] https://www.thenationalnews.com/world/uk-news/2022/03/25/russian-troops-kill-their-colonel-as-seventh-general-perishes-on-the-battlefield/

[xviii] https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2022/04/07/60-russian-paratroopers-refuse-to-fight-in-ukraine-reports-a77265

[xix] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/russian-offensive-campaign-assessment-april-18

[xx] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/apr/08/russians-start-to-see-evidence-of-high-military-casualties-in-ukraine

[xxi] https://nypost.com/2022/03/27/russian-solider-surrenders-tank-to-ukraine-for-10k/

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