With its ground troops forced to withdraw into the Ukraine and regroup, and its Black Sea flagship sunk, Russia’s military failings are mounting. No country is paying more attention than China to how a smaller, outgunned force has badly bloodied what was thought to be one of the world’s most powerful militaries.
China, like Russia, has been ambitiously reforming its Soviet-style military, and experts say leader Xi Jinping will carefully analyze the weaknesses exposed by the Ukraine invasion as they might apply to his own People’s Liberation Army and its designs. about self-government. Taiwan island.
“The big question that Xi and the PLA leadership must ask themselves in light of the Russian operations in Ukraine is whether a military that has undergone extensive reform and modernization will be able to execute operations that are far more complex than those Russia has undertaken for years. his invasion of the Ukraine. Ukraine,” said M. Taylor Fravel, director of the security studies program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Russia’s armed forces have undergone an extensive process of reform and investment for more than a decade, with lessons learned in combat in Georgia, Chechnya, Syria and its annexation of Crimea helping to guide the process. The invasion of Ukraine, however, has exposed top-down weaknesses.
Experts were collectively shocked that Russia invaded Ukraine seemingly with little preparation and lack of focus: a poorly coordinated campaign along multiple axes that failed to effectively combine air and ground operations.
Soldiers have run out of food and vehicles have broken down. Faced with mounting losses, Moscow has withdrawn its bloodied forces from the capital, kyiv, to regroup. Last week, the Moskva guided-missile cruiser sank after Ukraine said it hit the ship with missiles; Russia blamed the sinking on a fire on board.
“It is very difficult to see success at any level in the way Russia has conducted the campaign,” said Euan Graham, a senior fellow at the Singapore-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.
President Vladimir Putin, who has been heavily involved in Russia’s military reform, did not even name a commanding general for the operation until a week ago, apparently hoping for a quick victory and seriously misjudging the Ukrainian resistance, Graham said.
“It’s a very personal war on his part,” Graham said. “And I think the expectation that this would be a piece of cake is obviously the biggest single failure.”
Putin’s decisions raise the question of whether he was given accurate assessments of the progress of Ukraine’s military reform and capabilities, or simply told what he wanted to hear.
Xi, also an authoritarian leader who took a personal role in China’s military reform, may now be wondering the same thing, Fravel said.
“Xi may also specifically wonder if he is receiving accurate reports about the PLA’s likely effectiveness in a high-intensity conflict,” he said.
China hasn’t had a recent major conflict to measure its military prowess, having fought its last significant engagement in 1979 against Vietnam, said David Chen, a senior consultant at CENTRA Technology, a US-based government services company.
“The wake-up call for the (China’s) Central Military Commission is that there are more unknown factors involved in any such campaign than they may have anticipated,” Chen said.
“Russia’s experience in Ukraine has shown that what may seem plausible on paper at the Academy of Military Sciences or the National Defense University becomes much more complicated in the real world.”
Xi, the son of a revolutionary commander who spent time in uniform, began undertaking military reforms in 2015, three years after assuming leadership of the Central Military Commission.
Total troop strength was reduced by 300,000 to just under 2 million, the number of officers was reduced by a third, and greater emphasis was given to non-commissioned officers to lead in the field.
China’s military has a tradition of respecting the initiative of lower-ranking soldiers dating back to its revolutionary origins, said Yue Gang, a Beijing-based military analyst. On the contrary, the Russian forces in Ukraine have shown weaknesses where decisions have had to be made on the front lines, he said.
“Chinese soldiers are encouraged to express their thoughts and views when discussing how to fight,” Yue said.
China’s seven military districts have been reorganized into five theater commands, the number of army groups has been reduced, and the logistics system has been reorganized to increase efficiency. The ratio of support to combat units was increased and a greater emphasis was placed on more mobile and amphibious units.
Xi has also sought to end rampant corruption in the military, going after two former high-ranking generals shortly after taking power. One was sentenced to life in prison and the other died before his case was concluded.
China’s military is highly opaque and off limits to civilian judges and corruption investigators, so it’s hard to know the extent to which the organization has been exorcised from practices such as kickbacks and kickbacks in defense contracts.
For Xi, the main mission of the armed forces remains to protect the ruling Communist Party, and he has followed his predecessors in fighting efforts for the armed forces to change their ultimate allegiance to the nation.
Xi’s overriding political focus could mean that the lessons he draws from the Ukraine conflict are misplaced, Graham said.
“Xi Jinping will always apply a political solution because he is not a military specialist or an economic specialist,” Graham said. “I think the military lessons have to go through a political filter, so I’m not sure China will take the lessons that are plentiful and out in the open.”
The stated goal of China’s military reform is to “fight and win wars” against a “strong enemy,” a widely understood euphemism for the United States.
China has pumped huge amounts of money into new equipment, launched more realistic force-on-force training exercises, and sought to reform its combat doctrine by studying US commitments in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo.
Gen. David Berger, commander of the US Marine Corps, told a forum in Australia last week that Beijing would closely watch the Ukraine conflict.
“I don’t know what lessons they’ll learn, but … they’re focused on learning, for sure, because they’ve been doing it for the last 15 years,” he said.
Berger emphasized the need for strong coalitions in the Pacific as a way to keep China’s ambitions toward Taiwan in check.
China claims Taiwan as its own, and control of the island is a key component of Beijing’s political and military thinking. In October, Xi reiterated again that “the reunification of the nation must be done and will definitely be done.”
Washington’s longstanding policy has been to provide political and military support for Taiwan, without explicitly promising to defend it from Chinese attack.
Like Putin’s assessment of Ukraine, Xi’s China does not seem to believe that Taiwan would try to put up much of a fight. Beijing routinely blames its troubles with the island on a small group of staunch independence advocates and their American supporters.
Meanwhile, the fully state-controlled Chinese media is based on the imaginary narrative that Taiwan would not willingly go into battle against what it describes as its Chinese compatriots.
Now, the swift response of many nations to impose tough and coordinated sanctions on Russia after its attack on Ukraine, and the willingness to supply Ukraine with high-tech weaponry could cause Xi to reconsider his approach to Taiwan, Fravel said.
With “the rapid response from advanced industrialized states and the unity they have shown, Xi is likely to be more cautious with Taiwan and less emboldened,” he said.
Rather, Ukraine’s experience could prompt China to speed up its timetable on Taiwan with a more limited attack, such as seizing an outlying island, as a real test of its own military, Chen said.
“A sensible path would be to mature the PLA’s joint institutions and procedures through increasingly rigorous exercises,” Chen said.
“But as the world has witnessed, a central leader with a specific ambition and a shorter timeline can unwisely short-circuit the process.”