In line with the theory, Moscow adequately reasoned that the local population wouldn’t offer significant resistance to the military administration (e.g. Kherson, Henichesk, Melitopol) but also wouldn’t greet the Russian army with flowers. This reasoning formed the core of the original plan that involved actions bypassing almost all cities.
Intentionally or unintentionally, the Russian military has spent years creating the image of itself as among the most powerful in the world, second only to the US. Perhaps this was supposed to help quell Ukraine’s will to resist. The Russian army has held many brand events like the so-called tank biathlon, produced custom-made high-tech weapons like the Armata tank and Kalibr missiles, and advertised its victories in Syria.
All this image building created expectations for at least the battlefield defeat of Ukraine in the first days of the war. Note that early on the image really worked, and both Russia and Ukraine believed in a swift victory for Moscow.
As in the case of Operation Danube
, Russia launched a 1:1 military invasion, emphasizing the rapid capture of the Gostomel airport by paratroopers. The paratroopers were supposed to ensure an air corridor for reinforcements to land by the time the main troops came from the territory of Belarus. Linking up with the main units, the paratroopers could take control of Bankovskaya Street, arresting or forcing the Ukrainian political elite to flee the country.
Departing from the Soviet experience, Russia adopted the tactics of mass bombing of military installations used by coalition forces during the shock and awe operation in Iraq in 2003. Back then, the strike force was a third the size of the Iraqi army, but this ratio was compensated by 1,000-2,000 daily air sorties
, which basically destroyed Iraqi infrastructure within three weeks. Widespread, intense bombing of Iraqi military and infrastructure sites generated a feeling of horror among the local population and made them feel that resistance was pointless. The intensity of Russia’s actions in Ukraine pale in comparison (5,722
sorties as of June 2 and 3,500
missiles as of August 22), though it is likely that the total number of strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure already exceeds the 29,200
bombs and missiles that the US army used in Iraq.
Since the Russian doctrine of local war doesn’t involve information and psychological warfare, Russia completely failed in this part of the operation. Shock and awe requires cornering the enemy in a diplomatic and informational blockade. In 1968, all the Warsaw Pact countries opposed Czechoslovakia, and in 2003 the US presented Saddam Hussein as a rogue in the eyes of the world community and managed to assemble a coalition of Western countries.
In the Russia-Ukraine war, it was the aggressor, not the attacked, who turned out diplomatically isolated. All Kremlin propaganda was aimed at the domestic audience and intended to contain public discontent. The Russian offensive in Ukraine had no propaganda support abroad. In other words, the Kremlin didn’t even try to “shake a vial” in front of the UN, as Colin Powell did before the start of the US operation in Iraq, trying to convince the international community that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
An important reason for the failure of the political component was the fact that Russia didn’t announce to the enemy what the goal of its military campaign was: what demands Russia made on Ukraine and on what conditions a truce could be reached. In the Soviet Union, the invasion of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan was presented as a response to a “request for help” – it was assumed that when internal forces loyal to Moscow came to power, the operation would end. In Iraq, the coalition forces aimed to establish control over the supposed weapons of mass destruction, which also involved seizing power. If a demand that a country's government relinquish power is at least understandable, then a demand for "denazification" will trigger anger mixed with bewilderment. Still, “denazification” was just one of several goals of the special military operation, none of which was clearly articulated. This meant that it was impossible to answer the question of what the Ukrainians needed to do to end the war.
In 2001, Putin summed up the tragedy of the Kursk submarine as "it drowned." The same can be said about the "special military operation" in Ukraine, which failed the moment that Russian troops retreated from outside Kyiv, despite the fact that the Ukrainian capital was seemingly the top objective of the entire campaign. The Russian military and political leadership developed an invasion plan for a special military operation without having a working military doctrine for such an operation. Thus, the actions of the military and political blocs went uncoordinated, which is why the Russian government still had $350 bln of reserves in Western assets at the beginning of the war, why Russian Representative to the UN Vasily Nebenzya comes up with ways to justify the invasion seemingly on the fly, why the numerous Kremlin agents in Ukraine didn’t even try to undermine the situation from the inside. The soldiers sent to Ukraine didn’t know until the last moment that they would have to fight a real war, the goals of which remain unclear to this day.