Lawrence Freedman and Michael Kofman walk us through the post-Cold War history of the Kremlin as commander. In the second episode of this multi-part series, they focus on Russia's intervention in the Syrian Civil War and its first assault on Ukraine in the aftermath of Euromaidan. In Syria in particular, Moscow thinks it makes major progress on command and high-tech targeting, but that later proves to be something of a mirage. The Western intervention in Libya is also an important part of this period, informing how Vladimir Putin views threats to his own power and influence. Ukraine soon reveals itself to be an unresolved issue for Moscow. Don't miss the first part of this discussion, which focuses on the First and Second Chechen Wars as well as the Russo-Georgian War of 2008. In these episodes, Freedman draws on his new book, Command: The Politics of Military Operations from Korea to Ukraine.
After Ukraine's stunning Kharkiv counter-offensive, Vladimir Putin has doubled down on his war against Ukraine, announcing a large military mobilization, threatening nuclear use, and pressing ahead with referenda in territories Russia has seized from Urkaine. Can Putin salvage his campaign? Michael Kofman helps us understand these issues and more, encouraging people to think more temporally about Russia's mobilization pipeline and delivering a warning: We are in uncharted territory.
Vladimir Putin's role as supreme commander has been center stage, offering a floundering and frightful performance. To understand the present, we reach back to the past. In the first of a multi-part series of episodes, Lawrence Freedman and Michael Kofman walk us through the post-Cold War history of the Kremlin and especially Putin as commander, starting with the First Chechen War through the short Russo-Georgian War (2008). In doing so, Freedman draws on his new book, Command: The Politics of Military Operations from Korea to Ukraine (https://amzn.to/3qYxPEF).
On a foggy morning in August 1918, Allied forces commenced the Battle of Amiens and the Hundred Days Offensive that ended the Great War. A German general later called it "the black day of the German Army." The Russian military has had a black week ever since Ukraine launched a counter-offensive in the Kharkiv Oblast. Whether this heralds the last phase of this war is still unknown. Regardless, recent events have been a massive setback for Russia. We had Mike Kofman on the show to discuss.
Join us for another discussion with Michael Kofman on the war in Ukraine. The main focus of this episode is the southern counter-offensive launched by Ukrainian forces early this week. Mike explains what has happened so far in this operation, centered around Kherson, and how observers should think about it as it unfolds. The two also discuss what Ukrainian combined arms warfare looks like, manpower challenges on both sides, the airpower picture, and how the counter-offensive is affecting the war in different parts of the country. Also, what is happening in Belarus as far as this war is concerned? And is either side prepared for how long this war is likely to last?
Mike Kofman joins Ryan once again to update us all on the war in Ukraine. The big thing that everyone is watching for is evidence of an impending Ukrainian counter-offensive. Mike explains that we don't see that yet. He also discusses fighting around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, some events that surprised him, Ukrainian strikes on Russian-occupied Crimea, the expenditure of munitions, and the possibility that Russia might hold referenda in the territories it currently occupies in the east and south of Ukraine. Ryan and Mike also discuss slowing aid from Europe and whether European backers of Ukraine will hold through the winter. The big takeaway, however, is the Russia seems to have lost the momentum at this stage of the war and appears to be waiting to see what Ukraine does next.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit was met with fury and condemnation in Beijing, as well as new Chinese military exercises in the seas surrounding Taiwan. In the aftermath of the visit, Ryan invited three experts to talk about relations between the United States, Taiwan, and China. They discuss why the visit generated such a fierce reaction from the People's Republic of China, the role of legislative visits to Taiwan, the Taiwan Policy Act being considered on Capitol Hill, domestic politics in all three countries, and how Beijing tries to move the goal posts. Ryan banged on about discussions over Taiwan's security ought not be separated from debates over the size of the U.S. Navy. The guests called for a new policy review on Taiwan, the first in decades. And all three recommended some essential reading on this topic (episode reading: https://warontherocks.com/2022/08/troubled-waters-around-taiwan/).
Maj. Gen. Frank Donovan of the U.S. Marine Corps sat down with Ryan to discuss the recent mission and exercises of Task Force 61/2, from Greece and Turkey to the Baltic Sea. Aside from playing an important role during a delicate moment in European security affairs, this task force was kicking the tires on Force Design 2030, the future vision for the Marine Corps, which we've previously discussed with the commandant, Gen. David Berger.
Michael Kofman joined Ryan for yet another conversation about the unfolding tragedy of the Russo-Ukrainian War. In this episode, they focus largely on the potential for a Ukrainian counter-offensive on Kherson. They also discuss Russia's repositioning of forces, continued (albeit smaller) Russian offensives in the east, the role of HIMARS, Russia's personnel strategy, and whether we can know if a Ukrainian victory is truly possible.
Shinzo Abe, Japan's former prime minister, was gunned down by an assassin earlier this summer. He is credited with having paved the road to his country's far more more prominent role in global affairs. Mireya Solis of the Brookings Institution and Sheila Smith of the Council on Foreign Relations discuss Abe's story and legacy in this episode.
With military circles abuzz that Ukraine might be preparing to launch a counter-offensive against Russian-held Kherson, Michael Kofman of CNA's Russia team helps us parse the facts. What has been happening on the battlefield since our last episode? How are the two forces faring as they struggle with various problems in mobilizing manpower and equipment to the front? What are the four means by which Russia is trying to squeeze more military power out of its population short of a total mobilization? What of the Turkish-brokered grain export deal? If you want to know the answers to these questions and more, listen to this episode.
Michael Kofman joins Ryan once again to discuss the Russo-Ukrainian War. In this episode, he discusses the looming battle for Slovyansk and Kramatorsk, two small cities near each other that are likely Russia's next effort after the fall of Severodonestk. He also revisits the idea of a Ukrainian counter-offensive to retake Kherson and the prospects for when, whether, and how that could unfold. Mike and Ryan also talk about Ukraine's challenges in mobilizing enough trained manpower at the front and keeping a diverse "petting zoo" of equipment from Western backers in the fight.
Mike Kofman joins the show again to update us on the war in Ukraine. In this episode (which was recorded shortly before Russian forces withdrew from Snake Island), he explains that by focusing on the limited territorial exchanges in the Donbass, we might be missing the bigger strategic picture. Kofman argues that the Donbass is not the territory of greatest significance in this war. Instead, he points to Kherson, which he views as much more important in terms of future battles as well as its larger strategic and economic value. Mike and Ryan also tackle a host of other topics from Russian withdrawals of ammunition from stocks in Belarus, to Russian and Ukrainian struggles in mobilizing personnel, to the mirage of capabilities-based analysis. He closes with some thoughts on what defeat could look like for Ukraine.
This is not an optimistic episode. Michael Kofman speculates that the war might be in its most dangerous phase. Why is that? Ukraine's casualties and shortages in munitions are beginning to show as Russia is gaining some operational advantages in the Donbass. Further, Russia's efforts to fill its manpower gaps have been partially successful without relying primarily on conscripts and conducting a large mobilization. Ryan and Mike speculate that, in the end, this war will be decided by the country that can endure the longest, in terms of their economies, logistics, materiel, and political will. And Ukraine's endurance is tied up closely with the will of the West to continue backing Ukraine with arms and other supplies in a war that could continue to drag on for months, if not years.
It is now widely understood that many observers, in advance of this war, over-estimated Russian military performance and underestimated Ukrainian military performance. Prominent among those observers are those who specialize in analyzing the Russian military. To better understand what they got right and wrong, Ryan put two of those specialists — Dara Massicot of RAND and Michael Kofman of CNA — into conversation with two people who approach this conflict as generalists — Chris Dougherty of the Center for a New American Security and Gian Gentile of RAND. Do not miss this vivid discussion.
Michael Kofman sat down with Ryan again to sort through how the war in Ukraine is proceeding, with a focus on the Donbass, where Ukraine and Russia are concentrating their forces. Beyond the battlefields, Kofman ponders the future of the Russian armed forces and reports what he learned at a recent conference in Poland.
Russia's stumbling war was launched almost three months ago. As Russian and Ukrainian forces battle on, how should we understand the state of play? Michael Kofman joins Ryan again to discuss the war on the ground, in the air, and at sea; Ukraine's ability to get Western weaponry into the fight; the crushing economic realities on both sides; how Vladimir Putin's Victory Day speech was the dog that didn't bark; Russia's stark mobilization constraints; and why a sliver of an island named after a snake has played such a prominent role in the conflict. Ryan puts an important question to Michael as Russia faces the real possibility of defeat: Under what circumstance would Putin use nuclear weapons?
Did that title get your attention? It got Ryan's attention too when it came out of Steve Blank's mouth. If you're a War on the Rocks reader/listener, you've probably heard of him before. A successful entrepreneur, businessman, and veteran, Steve was one of the key architects of Hacking for Defense and, most recently, the Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation. And he is decidedly not optimistic about the state of U.S. defense innovation. In fact, he worries that the Defense Department's inability to innovate quickly and at scale might lead to defeat in a war against China.
What about all these new entrants into the defense marketplace? Can the U.S. Defense Department be reformed before a catastrophe? And what are the stakes? Our guest answers these questions and more. And don't miss his tour de force presentation, "The Secret History of Silicon Valley."
Our friend Michael Kofman popped in for another conversation with Ryan about where things stand in the Russo-Ukrainian War. He gives a wide-ranging assessment of Russia's unfavorable position as it musters an offensive in the Donbass that might be the last one that the Russian military is capable of launching before it is a spent force. From Ukraine's advanced Western kit to holdouts in Mariupol to the naval state of play to Russia's dire manpower shortages, Mike and Ryan discuss it all. Mike also gets into the nitty gritty on Russian infantry manning levels.
This is the national security podcast crossover of the century! Or at least of the year...ok maybe of Spring 2022! For this special episode, Doyle Hodges of TNSR and “Horns of a Dilemma” hosts Zack Cooper, Melanie Marlowe, and Chris Preble of “Net Assessment.” They try to sort through relations between Moscow and Beijing in this time of war, as well as a whole bunch of related issues. And yes, they engage in the airing of grievances, a “Net Assessment” tradition. Make sure you subscribe to their podcasts, which are a part of the War on the Rocks family.
A veteran State Department official and scholar, Derek Chollet is serving as counselor to the secretary of state. He sat down with Ryan to discuss the various challenges facing U.S. foreign policy. Don't miss their wide-ranging conversation on the diplomacy that preceded the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the diplomacy that continues to keep Western allies on the same page, the withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the difficulties of balancing an increasingly competitive strategy in the Indo-Pacific while dealing with a brutal war in Europe.
Michael Kofman joined Ryan once more to update us all on the war in Ukraine. In this episode, Kofman explains how and why Russia is refocusing on the east of Ukraine, what the war in Syria revealed about shortcomings in Russian air force, and what Ukrainian forces need in terms of weaponry and supply to win this war. The two also discuss Russian war crimes and their relation to the Russian military’s internal culture of violence and hazing as well as Vladimir Putin’s framing of this war of “de-nazification.” The conversation ended with Kofman explaining Moscow’s big military manpower decision, which you may have missed, and how it connects to Putin’s difficult strategic position.
President Joe Biden recently made headlines when he described India as being “somewhat shaky” on the issue of punishing Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. Tanvi Madan of the Brookings Institution sat down with Ryan to explain why India is taking a quieter and less aggressive tact as it navigates this international crisis. The answers to the question in the title are far more interesting and complicated than you might think. Join Ryan and Tanvi for this wide-ranging conversation, which touches not only on India’s relations with Russia, but how this all fits in with its relations with China and Ukraine.
With Moscow’s announcement that the core aim of its invasion of Ukraine is now just to secure the Donbass, the conflict has entered a new phase. Michael Kofman of CNA joins Ryan once again, for the fifth week in a row, to help us parse through events on the battlefield. They discuss the resilience of Ukrainian society, stalled fronts, the air war, tactical adaptations, the effects of Western armaments, drones, the maritime picture, where Russian munitions are falling short, why Michael doesn't think Russia will use chemical weapons, why the Battle of Kyiv is not likely to happen, the emergence of the suburban guerrilla, and the ability of Ukrainian forces to continue to turn back Russian offenses and possibly even go on the offensive themselves.
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Michael Kofman joins Ryan once again to help us understand the Russo-Ukrainian War as its fourth week unfolds. They cover a lot of ground: Mike updates us on the three fronts — where Russian forces are making progress and where they are not — and how the stalling campaign might drive Moscow to dramatically change its war aims. He also explains why it’s hard to gauge the condition of Ukrainian forces, how Putin’s stated aim of Ukraine’s ‘demilitarization’ is playing out in terms of strikes against Ukraine’s industrial base, and what role Belarusian forces might (but probably won’t) play in the conflict. Mike and Ryan also discuss the effects of sanctions on the Russian military industrial base, detentions of senior Russian security officials, how long Russian military manpower can last, the role of elite infantry units in this campaign, and the chilling repressive apparatus that seems to be taking shape in Russian-occupied portions of Ukraine. Kofman provides a bracing warning: this war can still get worse in terms of the human cost as it transforms into war of attrition.