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Why Russian military moves in Ukraine have not gone as well as expected

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Five days is not very long in most wars, not very long at all. It is very early in Russia's invasion of Ukraine. But after five days, we have some picture of how the attack is developing. Jeffrey Edmonds is going to help us analyze what's happening. He's a research scientist who focuses on the Russian military. And he is a former director for Russia at the National Security Council, which of course is part of the White House. Mr. Edmonds, welcome to the program.

JEFFREY EDMONDS: Thank you for having me.

INSKEEP: The impression from obsessively following social media is that the invasion is not going well for the Russians. We hear of botched raids on airports. We see video of blown-up vehicles. We see armored vehicles out of gas already, Russians who seem short of supplies. But what is your impression?

EDMONDS: That is my impression. So I think the Russian strategy assumed that they would face little resistance from the Ukrainians, would be able to move to secure Kyiv quickly and that the Ukrainian military would crumble when they did. That led to operational blunders like the one you mentioned, the air assault mission with no close follow-on support, military convoys simply driving into Ukraine, ambushes and also getting ahead of their logistics. They haven't been really conducting the kind of modern maneuver warfare they've trained for.

INSKEEP: You get the impression that some Russian soldiers at least have no idea what they're doing. The Ukrainians have released videos - and again, these are data points. These are individuals. But you have individuals who are saying, I just thought I was on a training mission. I didn't realize I was even here to attack Ukraine. Is that credible to you, that some portion of the Russian force really has no clear instructions?

EDMONDS: That is credible. I think even, you know, throughout the military ranks, but also into the political sphere, there were many that had no idea that this was actually going to turn into a full invasion of the country. And I imagine the further down the ranks that you got, the less soldiers actually knew that.

INSKEEP: Do you think the Russian plan, as you alluded to a moment ago, was really just, they were going to step across the border and the Ukrainian government was going to collapse?

EDMONDS: I do. I think they hoped for a quick victory, maybe something similar to Crimea - I mean, a little more difficult than Crimea, but something like that. And then they would be able to manage the political outcome. They clearly overestimated the level of support they would receive in Ukraine and underestimated the level of resistance that they would meet.

INSKEEP: I guess we should remind people that in Crimea, there was a larger Russian-speaking population. And Russians were able to slip in in a more covert way - into Crimea...

EDMONDS: That's right.

INSKEEP: ...And take it over before most people realized what was happening. But in this case, there were months and months and months of warnings. We should mention, though, isn't there an awful lot of firepower that Russia has, and an awful lot of technology that Russia has, that they have yet to bring to bear?

EDMONDS: I mean, that's correct. The military can stay at this for quite some time. They have much more to commit. And they appear, just over the last 12, 24 hours, to be using some of the more sophisticated platforms that we didn't see as much of in the early part of this conflict. But there's also the likelihood that as this gets bogged down in urban warfare, the Russians will move to more heavy-handed tactics. And that will make it actually harder for them to achieve their political goals.

INSKEEP: I've seen images of what are called thermobaric weapons, which is a frightening-sounding term. What is that? And what could that do to a city?

EDMONDS: These are very devastating weapons that create a gas cloud that then explodes. And these are the weapons they used to clear out Aleppo. I used to say, you know, Aleppo is very peaceful now because most of the population is dead. And that's - you know, that's the kind of warfare we're hoping this doesn't turn into. But those are very indiscriminate weapons that cause mass destruction.

INSKEEP: And these are weapons that the Russians were comfortable using in their engagement in Syria?

EDMONDS: They were.

INSKEEP: One other thing to ask about - as you know, Russian President Vladimir Putin has put nuclear forces on what I guess we could describe as one notch higher state of alert. How concerned are you about that?

EDMONDS: So I think this is largely signaling against the West and bluster. And it's not surprising given the level of punitive measures we've put on, fumbling operations. He's also very quick to mention nuclear weapons. I don't think we should be concerned at this time. Where this does become pretty critical is if this conflict expands into a wider U.S.-NATO-Russia open conflict.

INSKEEP: Mr. Edmonds, thanks for the analysis, really appreciate it.

EDMONDS: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: Jeffrey Edmonds is with the research and analysis organization CNA. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.