„If the Russians want to win, they have to learn to fight like Westerners”

In recent days, several unduly irritated, sometimes ill-mannered, young colleagues have complained that I don’t analyze, but „just prophesize,” writes our paper’s senior analyst on his Facebook page.

I strongly suspect a possible reading comprehension deficit. Or perhaps, sometimes just old-fashioned malice.

Like all analysts, I have had my blunders. I see in these errors further learning opportunities, and in fact one of my articles admitting and correcting one of these errors has become one of my most popular.

As for the accusation of „divination,” I usually get this from historians who, as premier researchers of the Old Slavic chaff-cutter, somehow feel competent to analyze Russian nuclear doctrine.

My response to these accusations is that I do not prophesize, but criticize.

Usually I am not trying to guess what will happen, but I am addressing what is missing from the picture. On what do I base these statements? On the theory of war, the lessons of case studies and my own experience.

Interestingly, in many cases, the things I found to be lacking were realized soon after. This is not a testimony to my gut instinct, but to the fact that the craft of war is based on objective principles.

What were the things I found missing?

  • The Ukrainian reconquest of Snake Island as a symbolic victory, without which the reconquest of the lost territories in the East is hopeless
  • The two-dimensionality of the war and the importance of deep strikes
  • The lack of operational and strategic creativity and innovation
  • The lack of surprise, both operational and technological

And so on.

I have also stated on several occasions that the only hope for the Ukrainians to win is to master these force-multiplying methods.

The success of the Kharkiv counteroffensive, but also of the deep strikes in Crimea, proves that I was not the only one to perceive these shortcomings.

The Ukrainians and their Anglo-Saxon advisers have also dusted off the textbooks we grew up on and successfully applied the principles laid down in them.

As for the Russians, the Kharkiv lesson contains a number of very important lessons, even if the price proved to be very painful.

The recurring lesson of the Arab-Israeli and the two Gulf Wars is that Western operational doctrine is more potent than the rigid and conservative Soviet-Russian doctrine.

If the Russians want to win, they must learn to fight the Western way.

And of course they must consider the role of risk-taking, flexibility, creativity, innovation, surprise and deception.

All the things I’ve been missing on both sides of the firing line since day one of the war.

These are the ingredients I diligently find as lacking when I’m not wasting my time arguing with Old Slavic chaff-cutter scholars about the technicalities of 21st century warfare.

Operational creativity and innovation in the war in Ukraine

The teaching of applied creativity and innovation is perhaps the biggest headache. Commentary by Robert C. Castel.