Russia will be unable to fund its military past another month or two of hostilites, claims military expert

31 March, 06:21 PM
Destroyed Russian military vehicles in Kyiv Oblast (Photo:Reuters)

Destroyed Russian military vehicles in Kyiv Oblast (Photo:Reuters)

According to military expert Victor Kevlyuk, if Russia persists in hostilities with Ukraine for another month or two, with the same intensity that we have now, the aggressor’s army will simply run out of money.

Over the one month of its war against, the Russians have spent almost twice as much on military operations as the Americans in Vietnam.  NV discussed this and other war-related finance facts with Victor Kevlyuk, an expert with the Center for Defense Strategies and a retired colonel with combat experience.

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NV: How would you estimate the cost of hostilities for the aggressor country?

Kevlyuk: A month of war against Ukraine cost the Russian Federation $600 billion. But that's not all. Before the war, the duration of which [by the Russians was tentatively] estimated at 72 hours, they promised to pay each family of a dead soldier 7.4 million rubles ($86,328) at once, and 5 million ($58,330) more in installments, as well as 3 million rubles ($34,998) to each wounded man. All of this could well be covered by the Defense Ministry's budget, based on the minimum losses that they foresaw at the invasion planning stage.

If we take the number of those killed/wounded, which is published by our General Staff (I believe that it is not far off), then the debt of the Kremlin gang to the occupying contingent and their relatives stands at more than $3.5 billion ($2.4 billion to the families of the dead and $1.74 billion to the wounded).

The military equipment we destroyed was estimated by Western experts at $6 billion. Let's add $20 billion for operating expenses (repairs, spare parts, fuel, etc.). In total, somewhere around $623 billion in one month. To grasp the sheer size of this number: as of February 18, 2022, the international reserves of the Central Bank of the Russian Federation amounted to $643.2 billion. In short, the Armed Forces of Ukraine are a powerful economic and financial factor globally.

NV: On March 26, the Russian invaders launched at least 70 rockets simultaneously on Ukraine. (Independent Russian media outlet) The Insider estimated that the total cost of these missiles amounted to $340 million in direct production costs, and together with the logistics of delivery to the ships of the Black Sea Fleet, up to $500 million. A rather striking example of costs incurred.

Kevlyuk: A missile strike makes sense when: a) the achieved effect contributes to the solution of the operational (strategic) task of the operation; b) a target was destroyed, the cost of which is comparable to the number of missiles used for the strike; c) missiles were used en masse. We are observing some kind of incomprehensible show: the U.S. Navy strikes at the Syrian base Shampat — 56 missiles in a salvo; the strike of the Russian air forces on the Kulbakyne airbase — 5 missiles, on Vinnytsia — 8 missiles.

It’s either an advertisement for Russian weapons, or a declaration “look what I have!” — it's hard to make out. Missile strikes on infrastructure are of little use. Attacks on the positions of the radio engineering troops (RTV), air defense are quite another matter: if we had not maneuvered differently, the situation in the sky would have been much worse. But now a quarter of the planes and helicopters of the Russian invasion group have been shot down.

NV: And how was money spent during other major wars of our time? Vietnam or Iraq?

Kevlyuk: General estimates are as follows: the cost of maintaining a regional conflict of medium or low intensity is $1 billion per day (up to 10 million affected civilians). The main component of expenses is fuel, the second component is payments to military personnel, the third is payments to the families of the dead and persons who were injured and/or disabled. This is followed by ammunition, spare parts and materials, and medical assistance. Forbes estimates that one day of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan cost $300 million.

In 2019 prices, the cost of the U.S. Gulf War was $116.6 billion (for 7 months), the war in Korea — $389.8 billion (for 37 months), in Vietnam— $843.6 billion (17 years 9 months), the second Iraqi campaign — $1.01 trillion (7 years 5 months).

According to the Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the five-day war against Georgia set the Russian Federation back about 12.5 billion rubles ($520 million), with daily expenses reaching 2.5 billion rubles ($104 million). Russia’s expenses for a day of hostilities in Ukraine are estimated at $20 billion.

NV: How much money will the Russians have if they continue to spend it the way they do now?

Kevlyuk: The expenses of the Russian Armed Forces for the first 30 days of fighting ($600 billion) are comparable to the volume of the gold and foreign exchange reserves of the Russian Federation. From a purely financial point of view and taking into account the growing crisis phenomena (a consequence of sanctions), the Russian Federation will be able to conduct military operations of such intensity for a month or two, and if it transfers the conflict to a stage of low intensity, up to two more months.

NV: How much time would it take the Russian Federation to restore its military potential?

Kevlyuk: This is a huge issue that requires the involvement of world research centers in the field of problems of war and peace. To provide a very rough and approximate estimate, then tank-wise the outlook is as follows: the capabilities of the Russian Federation for the production of tanks are 80 units per year. Losses of Russian tanks in Ukraine amount to 597 units. 597 divided by 80 equals 7 years. It should be taken into account that the potential has a development component, that is, re-equipment with new models and the accumulation of weapons in unshakable stocks. From a purely tank point of view, we are talking 8-10 years.

NV: The Russian Federation has lost many generals and other high-ranking officers, allegedly the most experienced. How soon will they find a replacement?

Kevlyuk: Position and experience are not always interconnected. The loss of seven generals is not a problem, because each has two deputies who are ready to replace the deceased the very next moment. The training of top-level commanders is a lengthy process, but an appropriate personnel reserve is being formed. It should be noted that the commander of the Eastern Military District of the Russian Federation replaced the deceased commander of the 35th Army, which should be regarded as a punishment for the latter for the failure of his subordinates to complete the combat mission assigned to the 35th Army near Kyiv.

NV: What about personnel? Namely, in terms of losses among the most combat-ready units?

Kevlyuk: Phrasing the question like this is wrong. To create a grouping for the operation in Ukraine, BTGs [battalion tactical groups — up to 1,000 soldiers with equipment] were created from the composition of all military units of the Ground Forces of the Russian Federation without exception. It must be understood that in peacetime, military units are kept in peacetime establishments, which differ from wartime establishments, sometimes quite significantly.

We should also bear in mind that — depending on the purpose and tasks — military units may have different staffing levels: in airborne, marines, special-purpose military units, the staffing level is higher and can be 75-80% of the full staff, in others — from 30 to 70%. That is, the former are ready to perform the entire range of combat missions both in peacetime and wartime, while others need to be reinforced.

An analysis of intelligence data indicates that the first category of military units constituted the reserves, or acted as part of vanguards and airborne assault forces, while the second constituted the main forces.

This second category formed BTGs from among the battalions deployed in peacetime, regenerating them with personnel from other units. The combat capability of such BTGs is initially not complete. Repeating this method of reinforcement once again will lead to the formation of new BTGs with even less combat capability, just like making a copy from a copy on a photocopier.

NV: Speaking of quality. Is it true that a rather elite landing of the Russian Federation has settled in Hostomel and Bucha outside Kyiv?

Kevlyuk: For a long time, since the day they were created in the ‘70s, the myth about the eliteness of the paratroopers, their superpowers, and so on, has been cultivated. Everyone understands that the army cannot differ from society, which is its source of recruitment.

When out of 10 candidates, 4 are unfit for military service for health reasons, 4 more are limited, where do you get the "true Aryans"? The Airborne Forces of the Russian Federation are not deployed in the largest (population) centers of the country. That is, the opportunities for getting an education in those places are, well, limited, to say the least. A bunch of prisoners [captured by the Ukrainians] — had completed 9 grades, vocational education.

So far, I have not met a single university graduate in this category. That is, the basis for the supposedly "tough-guy-ism of the Airborne Forces" is non-existent as such. Next comes the preparation: a little more intense. But acting according to a scenario during exercises and acting in a real situation are two different matters.

What do we have? Parts of the Airborne Forces of the Russian Federation were kept in a fairly expanded form, which made it possible for them, with sufficient funding, to conduct more or less acceptable training.

Application experience: in all conflicts, starting from 1994, the Russian Airborne Forces performed the role of elite infantry and did not prove themselves to be anything special, fighting with a deliberately weaker enemy. Their "feats" constitute actions of 331st paratrooper division, and the 98th near Ilovaisk.

Compared to the rest of the Russian army, they stand out. In contrast with a warring army, they are a pale shadow: thrashed wherever they appeared.

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