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From ships to planes, Moscow’s “Soviet” arsenal

According to General Helmuth Karl Bernhard von Moltke, “no operational plan extends with certainty beyond first contact with the main hostile force.” A sentence that is paraphrased in these terms: no plan survives after the first contact with the enemy. The meaning is that any kind of war can be planned, but it will then be the first battle that will decide how the next one will be conducted and that the turn of the conflict will be understood.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, after 50 days of “special military operation”, probably understood that lesson well. Because the war in Ukraine, which according to the Kremlin should have lasted less and with much lower losses, turned out to be a quagmire that many now compare to the Soviet Union’s war in Afghanistan. The last image, that of the damage to the cruiser Moskva, flagship of the Black Sea Fleet, seems to have deeply affected the image of the Russian forces. But the first signs of this difficulty on the part of Moscow had already been seen with the columns of convoys stopped on the street, the vehicles abandoned, the soldiers captured and with the few victories on the field. And many are beginning to wonder if the military device deployed by the Kremlin has not been overestimated.

On this point, several analysts underline that Russia seems to have deployed means that are not particularly new, but well-established. We have seen this with the planes, which in fact have shown that they have not obtained the superiority that they thought they already had after the first hours of conflict. But it is particularly noticeable on land, with Soviet means of production or simply updated later. Several units use T-72B3 tanks, upgrades of the old T-72B, and not the new T-14 Armata. The self-propelled 2S19 Msta, the 2S3 Akatsiya, the 2S7 Malka, the upgraded Grad systems, the Uragan or the Buratino are used. The Russian fleet used many older units, although some have been modernized. Suffice it to say that one of the ships hit by Ukrainian forces in recent weeks, the Saratov, was launched in 1966. The Ropucha classes, the amphibious landing ships that many believe should have docked near Odessa, are all from the Soviet era. And the Moskva, to return to the hit flagship in the Black Sea, entered service in 1983 and underwent major modernization work for many years.

To this, it must be added that in many cases the Russian army has shown that it does not have adequate means of communication for the new technological capabilities of the adversaries, who in fact are arming the Ukrainians with largely decidedly more sophisticated tools. Many military conversations are easily decrypted. And finally, the obsolescence of means and the young age of many soldiers, must be combined with a structural problem of the Russian forces which is that of the strategy used in the conflict. The Moscow army still appears set on the Soviet model, with massive advances of heavy vehicles and artillery. The Russian forces, after 2008, underwent a major modernization process, with huge investments. However, since 2014, being under sanctions, Moscow has had to put a stop to multiple (and ambitious) plans. And the technological program in any case cannot significantly affect the way the war is conducted.

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