A collage of two photos that is eloquently circulating on social networks. An image of the Odessa Opera House surrounded by anti-tank barricades and sandbags from 1942 stands next to an image of the same building with the same barricades and sand panels from the last few days. At first glance both photos differs only in black and white design from the older one. It seems almost odd that defenses against Nazi aggressors from World War Two were copied again against the onslaught expected from Russian troops 80 years later.
Opera Odessa is no exception. Most photos from Ukraine, if in black and white, can be mistaken for scenes from the Second World War. Villages and towns razed to the ground, trucks scorched, tanks left abandoned on steep slopes, and people huddled in anti-aircraft shelters are scenes that evoke the shock and horror of brutal wars we may only know from historical documentaries. . At the same time, there is a general consensus that the war is far from over, and a similar scene will escalate in the coming weeks, possibly months. The failure of Russia’s initial plans for a lightning “special operations” is further compounded by the use of force, which is likely to result in a European equivalent in Syria, where the Russian military has contributed greatly to the country’s absolute destruction. . However, the Russian army and politics traveled further over time until 2016, when they brought down the Syrian state of Aleppo.
When the world plunged into the First World War in the summer of 1914, the Western Allies relied on the Russian army as the decisive factor in victory. The largest army in the world at that time, with over four million soldiers, would traverse Central Europe like a steam train and trample on rivals Germany and Austria-Hungary. At that time, the Russian command, in accordance with the prevailing military doctrine, carried out the first attack, namely to break the German resistance and prepare the ground for a smooth victory campaign. However, this attack failed fatally and less than a month after the outbreak of war, the Russian army suffered a major failure in August. Battle of Tannenberg (in East Prussia, now Poland). Most of the units were taken prisoner here, and the commander-in-chief of the entire operation, General Samsonov, shot himself instead of announcing the disastrous results to the Tsar’s court.
The Tannenberg disaster significantly contributed to the course of a further war, which lasted longer than originally thought, in which Russia was forced to mobilize an extraordinary mobilization of human and economic resources. At the same time, it became a memento to Russian military planning, which rejected the doctrine of a first strike as potentially ineffective and, as a result, unnecessarily risky. It was this lesson from Tannenberg’s defeat that was partly behind Stalin’s hesitation towards German aggression in 1941. Stalin’s belief in the pact with Hitler and the reluctance to purge the devastated Russian generals to experience their Tannenberg made the Soviet Union completely unprepared for invasion. German. The result was a second total war in which the Soviets had to reach the bottom of their human and economic potential again.
The common denominator of Russian, i.e. Soviet, involvement in both wars was the underestimation of the logistical preparations for the first phase of the war, the inadequate use of the latest technology, and the naivety of the Russian general. In 1914, although the Russian army was the largest fighting force in the world, it could not effectively use trains for its mobilization, it could not coordinate various units with each other or communicate with each other in sufficient secrecy. However, the deadly siege of most of the Russian troops near Tannenberg came after listening to secret conversations from the Russian command. In 1941, the Red Army was initially unable to withstand the German invasion not only because of the technical superiority of the German enemy, but also because of the paralysis of the command, which again failed to coordinate troops, when some commanders even forbade the Soviet troops to return fire.
What we have seen on the Ukrainian battlefield in recent days looks like Russian deja vu. Initial plans for a lightning “special operations” copying Western patterns failed. Just as at the start of World War II, the Russian military was unable to effectively apply cutting-edge technology, this time in the form of accurate missiles fired from the ground or from the air. Rumors of ancient Chinese tires keeping Russian vehicles from moving by the side of the road, the ignorance of the Russian army where and why they were, and the lack of food, water, and fuel point to failures similar to those of 1914 and 1941.
The Russian command therefore had to repeat the pattern of the second world war. After the initial shock of failure, there was a massive deployment of brute force. At the same time, the methods of warfare used by Russian troops in Ukraine mimic the worst of the obsolete wars of the 20th century. Even several days of continuous cannon without more precise targeting as a means of demoralizing the enemy according to the doctrine of the First World War. The violent clashes of armored vehicles and attempts to demoralize the population through the targeted removal of civilian infrastructure reflect the approach of World War II generals. Unfortunately, not respecting the differences between military and civilian goals, in many cases even between military and civilian people, is a legacy of the two world wars of the 20th century.
Russia and the Soviet Union did not stand alone in these two wars. In World War I, after the initial disaster, the Russian army would hardly have survived three years without massive economic and military assistance from Western countries. Similarly, the Soviet Union would not have won World War II without the generous support of the Western Allies. Between 1941 and 1945, US military aid alone exceeded $11 billion, the equivalent of about $180 billion today.
While Russia doesn’t seem to be able to count on anything like this at the moment, sadly it doesn’t. According to data from European think-tank Bruegel, Russia’s revenue from gas consumption by European customers more than tripled in March compared with the beginning of the year. Every day, more than $650 million comes to Russia’s bills for gas alone. Profits from selling oil are likely to be even higher. But even if they were equal, it would not take Russia half a year to receive the same amount from the West as the United States gave the Soviet Union during World War II. As during the First and Second World Wars, the West significantly helped maintain Russia’s combat capabilities. But this time, with a fundamental difference, when Russia is not an ally but a real enemy.
This led to an implausible situation, with European countries in particular sending exorbitant numbers to Russia to lead a brutal offensive to supply Ukraine with military aid to help repel the attack. In this way, the Russian army can return to its comfort zone in the last century from a failed experiment with the implementation of hypermodern and very expensive warfare in the 21st century. As usual, much of the Western world provided funding for classical warfare in the spirit of the 20th century.
Despite this support, the feudal state of Russia could not withstand the attacks of the First World War and collapsed. Stalin’s Soviet Union withstood the onslaught of World War II and came out of it many times stronger. What will happen as a result of Putin’s Russo-Ukrainian war with Russia depends not only on developments on the Ukrainian battlefield. Perhaps it will be much more important whether the West really decides not only to stop the Russian war, but also to stop paying the entire Russian state. Given Russia’s key position as a strategic raw material supplier, this was not an easy decision. However, although many countries in the Western world today need Russian raw materials, they do not need them more than the Russian army in 1914-1917 and 1941-1945. During both world wars, the West contributed to Russia in maintaining its better future. Today she buys from him only a threatening gift and perhaps a more terrifying future.
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