Russian army is no longer capable of ground-based tactical warfare, UK defense intelligence report

Colonel Sergey Sukharev (on the left) was killed in action near Kyiv.

The Russian military has veered away from an integral part of its military doctrine the past decade, according to a new intelligence report from the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence (MoD).

The MoD reported Tuesday that Russia has “likely largely stopped” deploying battalion tactical groups (BTGs), which were traditionally integrated with a full range of supporting sub-units, including armor, reconnaissance and artillery—the latter of which was described as a departure from usual Western military practice.

“Several intrinsic weaknesses of the BTG concept have been exposed in the high intensity, large-scale combat of the Ukraine war so far,” the Ministry reported.

The report mentioned three key areas: a relatively small and insufficient allocation of combat infantry; a decentralized distribution of artillery that has not allowed Russia to fully leverage its firearm advantage; and few BTG commanders “have been empowered to flexibly exploit opportunities in the way the BTG model was designed to promote.”

“The BTG was ideal for earlier fighting in support of separatist ethnic Russian elements in Donetsk and Luhansk; however, large-scale combat requires large-scale combined arms operations and battalions fighting as part of larger entities,” theRoyal United Services Institute (RUSI), a defense and security think tank headquartered in the U.K., reported in April.

BTGs typically have between 700 and 900 personnel, including logistics, snipers, anti-tank units, etc. They can also come from areas outside ground warfare, such as naval, or ministries such as the National Guard.

“It is not only a tool of combined arms force projection, but also a means of managing the training and deployment challenges inherent to Russia’s tiered readiness and mixed manning system,” the report added.

Nick Reynolds, a land warfare research analyst at RUSI, told Newsweek that “this has been a long time coming.”

“The BTG concept hasn’t worked very well, although that is as much due to the failures of Russian military culture and the deficient way that it trains and treats its personnel as it is to do with the concept itself,” Reynolds said. “The Russian military is, in any case, probably running out of the relevant enabling capabilities and specialist personnel to structure their ground forces into BTGs.”

He added that an alternative to minimized BTGs could be a change in distribution, holding capabilities at the brigade level and then down to the battalion level as required.

“But the Russian problems with rigid command structures, an inflexible planning/targeting cycle, and insecure communications network make this difficult in its own way,” he said.

Also on Tuesday, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in a Facebook update that its military had destroyed nearly 9,000 Russian military vehicles with the intent to increase that number “every day.”

“As of November 29, 2022, Russia has lost more than 2,900 tanks and nearly 5,900 armed combat vehicles since late February,” the update said. “The Ukrainian military thinks that it’s not enough and the number of losses of the enemy until he gets out of Ukraine, will increase every day. This ‘works’ our artillery, aviation, tanks, and the infantry has something to say! Together we will win!”

The update comes one day after the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said that one Russian unit in the annexed territory of Luhansk lost up to 70 percent of its personnel last week.

On Tuesday, NATO foreign ministers pledged to continue to defend Ukraine as Russia’s waged war “threatens Euro-Atlantic peace, security, and prosperity.”

Russia’s aggression against Ukrainian civilian and energy infrastructure, “reckless nuclear rhetoric,” and negative effects on global food supplies “undermine the rules-based international order,” officials added.

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity,” the ministers said. “We will never recognise Russia’s illegal annexations, which blatantly violate the UN Charter. We will continue and further step up political and practical support to Ukraine as it continues to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity and our shared values against Russian aggression, and will maintain our support for as long as necessary.”

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba was expected to meet with NATO ministers Tuesday, along with representatives from Finland and Sweden, both of which have been invited to join NATO.

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