One year after the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, no doubt remains about the difficulties the Russian army faced in Ukraine. From over-ambitious strategic goals seeking to topple the Ukrainian regime, logistical issues to supply overextended military advances on four different fronts, tactical failures, particularly in the field of combined arms and the use of tanks, and the failure to win the hearts and minds of Russian-speaking population in Ukraine, experts have extensively documented the reasons behind Moscow’s botched invasion.
Moscow suffered over 100,000 military casualties, lost over 1700 tanks and 130 military aircraft visually confirmed by open-source intelligence, and was forced to withdraw its troops from the surrounding area of Kyiv in April, from the Kharkiv region in September, and from the west bank of the Dnipro River in the Kherson region in November. The Russian army was plagued with many structural issues ranging from corruption, disorganization, stubbornness, and low morale.
The failure of the Russian army to take over Ukraine or establish complete control of the Donbas region and Southern Ukraine opened the door for other violent entrepreneurs to rise and use violence in Ukraine to promote their own political agenda. Early in the war, Ramzan Kadyrov, the authoritarian Chechen leader, and Evgeny Prigozhin, the infamous founder of the paramilitary Wagner, supported Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and used it to secure political power and resources. The war in Ukraine became a formidable opportunity for those violent entrepreneurs to rise from the shadows and use their comparative advantage in criminality and violent networks to outbid the failing Russian army in Ukraine. Rather than being subordinated to the general staff of the Russian armed forces, they launched their own independent military machine and recruitment process. The failure of the Russian army to achieve Vladimir Putin’s extensive political goals opened the door for them to join the fight focusing on smaller, more tangible objectives, including the conquest of Mariupol and the fight around Bakhmut.