My Paper At the ASMEA conference November 2022

Counterinsurgency in the Greater Middle East: The Russian Tar Baby


According to my father[1], a Russian born in Vitebsk, the son of an officer in the Czar’s army, the Russian soldier is the best soldier materiel in the world. Despite fighting for despotic governments, under mostly incompetent officers, usually with inadequate equipment, and very little training, he still defeated the German army; a superb fighting machine in WWII. So why the debacle in Ukraine? The surprise has not been the been the apparent ineptness of the Russian forces, which has characterized the Russian army in the beginning of every conflict, but the loss of the soldierly ardor which characterized the traditional Russian army. The flippant, but not untrue answer, is that the Russian military has been involved far too long and invasively in the maelstrom of the Greater Middle East.[2] The most persuasive of the more recent evidence of this intense interest is the manner in which the Soviet leadership played nuclear roulette with United States in 1967 and 1973. They have continued this pushing against the red lines of American reaction in Syria. The long held conventional histories of the Arab Israeli wars and Soviet roles in them have held that while the Soviets amply supplied the Arabs with military equipment and thousands of advisors, they did not plan or actively participate in the wars. It has always been asserted by the major American leadership at the time, that the Russian nuclear threats were pure bluster.  Not so wrote, Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez in two exceptionally informative books who posit that:

The evidence now shows that Kosygin’s threat was not an empty one: The Soviets had prepared a marine landing, with air support on Israel’s shores, which was not only planned but actually set in motion; they had readied strategic bombers and nuclear armed naval forces to strike; and thy had even committed their most advanced, still secret experimental aircraft and top pilots for provocative reconnaissance flights over Israel’s most sensitive installation – its nuclear complex.[3]

Integral to the Russian centuries old interest in the greater Middle East is the rather startling similarities in political/cultural traits. These traits have produced a sort of cultural bonding[4], being played out today in the reluctance of Middle Eastern countries to blame the Russians for the war in Ukraine.  Nevertheless, despite the many congruencies in culture, there has never been any love lost between the Russians and Middle Easterners, both sides seeing themselves at being threatened, particularly the Russian fear of Muslim encroachment on their empire. This is one of many contradictions in Russian -Middle Eastern relations.


In this paper I hope to surface the corrupting and debilitating influence on the Russian army as a result of its the long involvement in the Greater Middle East. In this I concentrate primarily the impact on intangibles, the ethos, character and spirit, “soul” of the traditional virtues of the Russian army.[5]


My contention is that the long Soviet/Russian involvement in the Middle East has corrupted their military ethos, and given the Russian military leaders a false sense of capabilities in conventional and unconventional warfare they did not demonstrate and do not have.

Since the massive wave of Soviet weaponry and trainers pouring into Egypt in preparations for the 1973 war, the Russians have been deeply immersed in Middle Eastern culture, and feeding a militaristic trend in the Middle East.[6] This has had an adverse effect for both Middle Easterners and Russian military effectiveness.

I will support my contentions by first examining the congruities of Russian and Middle Eastern cultures. In part two I will assess the Russian military problems in Afghanistan and Chechnya, and how they impacted the Russian soldier and officer, and the illusion of the “success” in Syrian war experience, which supposedly served as test bed for the new Russian weaponry, training of their army, organization, and battle worthiness of their forces. Finally, I will conclude with a cautionary tale of the similarity in Middle East experience for the past near 50 years of our own forces and the dangers of confusing our lessons in low intensity conflict with the conflict ongoing in Ukraine.

Previously I have written extensively on the Arab military cultural affinities and way of war,[7] and also on the generally ineffectiveness of Western training of Arab militaries[8]. In my experience the Russians had somewhat better fortune training Middle Eastern militaries, not because of better systems or more knowledgeable trainers, but because of the many cultural affinities of the two cultures. They were immersed down to battalion levels for longer periods of time, and concentrated on the simpler soldier tasks. Nevertheless, observers have rightly explained the Russian military advisors were generally not popular among the Arabs[9], and Arab and African military students training in the Soviet Union frequently encountered a crude type of discrimination and were never very comfortable in public.[10]  At the top, especially in Egypt,[11] there was considerable rancor but at the bottom, Russian advisor and Egyptian soldier, got along well enough to fashion an army that crossed the canal to everyone’s surprise.

Absorbing cultural traits is a two- way impact on both the foreign trainers and the indigenous students. I learned this serving with Arab and Korean soldiers.[12]  I saw the way American liaison officers and advisors with the South Vietnamese assumed the laid-back tempo of fighting a war[13]. Those that were unable to conform to the Vietnamese way of war became frustrated and ineffectual. As T.E. Lawrence so sagely advised, one must allow the Arabs to do it their way This was certainly my experience serving with or instructing Arabs. The quantum space between what should be done and what could be done is a perennial issue. While hopefully one can pull the students up, all too often the environment pulls the instructor’s standards down.  It is true Russian military advisors who have served in the Middle East generally achieved a measure of temporary political success, especially in Egypt, but they did it at the price of lowering their own military proficiency. Cultural collision can also result in an abrupt realization of one’s own societal defects. This was true when the Russians occupying Germany came into contact with the culture of western Europe. As an example, the more educated and observant officers and soldiers, kept in isolation and ignorance by the Communist regime, saw the much higher standard of living of the West, impelling them to redouble their efforts to catch up with West.[14] But since then, their long involvement in the Middle East and renewed isolation from the West, has exposed them to a military culture less advanced their own.  In a military sense it entails osmosis and social proximity as one absorbs the traits of the general ineffectiveness of the Middle Eastern militaries.[15]

Since the 1960’s, with a hiatus after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russians have been immersed in the third world, particularly the Middle East, training Arabs for conventional wars, fighting counterinsurgency in mountain, or urban terrain, and at times complicit in terror operations.  For several decades the Russians have been trying with varying success to maintain political and military relations with constantly shifting Middle Eastern alliances, involving brutal, corrupt despotic regimes, and terrorist organizations.  They exhibited a duplicity which entailed supporting a regime, while at the same time supporting insurgents against the regime.[16] Inevitably this immersion in the morass of Middle Eastern tribal, sectarian, and religious conflicts has had a corrupting influence on the human materiel of their officers and soldiers. This is not to propose that the brutality so common in Russian conduct of warfare was acquired from the Middle Easterners, but it has certainly had an inevitable and unenviable reinforcing effect.

 Now we are witnessing a drawn-out war of attrition in which the Russians seemingly learned very little from their combat experiences in the Middle East, particularly their counterinsurgency wars in Afghanistan and Chechnya. Nor did they learn much in assisting regime militaries to fight rebels in Angola, Libya and Syria.[17]  No doubt the Russians did achieve political influence, fleeting as it turned out to be, however, in none of these countries did they create a professional army among their hosts. Their seemingly omnipotent presence sometimes did create a “the Russians are coming” mindset among the Western media, particularly the seemingly new Russian doctrine and way of war, particularly based on the ostensibly impressive reentry into the Middle East by way of Syria and Libya.

Congruencies in Russian and Middle Eastern Culture


My sources on middle eastern culture include my nine years’ experience studying or working in a number of Arab countries, often working with their militaries in which I made a point to understand their impressions of their earlier training by Russians. Raphael Patai’s[18] and Sonia Hamady’s [19] books, as well as the works of Ali Al Wardi[20] were the guideposts buttressing my observations of Arab culture. To the extent possible, given the covert nature of their military culture, I have studied the available information on the Russian experience training and maintaining their Arab and Greater Middle Eastern clients as well the wars fought against them. On military effectiveness I emphasize the mutual reinforcement of the cultural attributes of both cultures. They directly influenced one another and often reinforced weaknesses in their respective military’s capabilities. These congruities worked to the detriment of both Russian’s clients and the Russian military. Below, I detail some of the most important.[21]

Paranoia on Western influence

Like the Middle East, Russia was cut off from Western influence for centuries and during those centuries developed a scornful ignorance of European culture, as did the Middle Easterners.

As Isaiah Berlin wrote,

It is interesting to note that with the possible exception of Turgenev, there is no great Russian writer who did not suffer from xenophobia, amounting at times to acute hatred of the West. There is a permanent neurosis resulting from this uneasy position which Russia feels she occupied- ‘Scythians’ belonging a neither to West or East.[22]

Bernard Lewis captured the essence of the impact on the Middle Easterners in which the Islamic peoples lived in a bubble of serene self-confidence, confident of their superiority over the dark civilization of Europe.

For centuries then world view and self-view of Muslims seemed well grounded. Islam represented the greatest military power on earth-its armies at the very same time, were invading Europe and Africa India and China. It was the foremost economic power in the world, trading in a wide range of commodities through a far-flung network of commerce and communications in Asia, Europe and Africa….[23]

While their power was crumbling the Islamic rulers were blissfully unaware until the French invasion of Ottoman – ruled Egypt. The shattering of this illusion by Napoleon’s armies in 1798 had impact that has persisted to this day.  Today on one hand we observe the fascination of Middle easterners with Western technology, particularly gadgetry, but there is a distaste for our way of life. The Middle Eastern intelligentsia and religious clerics constantly rail about “Westoxification[24],” the supposed evil of Western Godlessness and materialism finding a home among the young and urban of the Islamic world. Similarly, the Russian elites often decried “Anglophilia,”[25] an admiration among some of the intelligentsia in the 19th century for all things English., or Gallomania,[26] the love of French culture, The Russians elite have always claimed the West was “without soul.” This soul is the essence, they assert, of being Russian.[27]

In the Middle East conservative Islam remains the prime defense against creeping westernization, while with the Russian elite it has been the deeply religious spirit of Russian nationalism combined with Russian Orthodoxy. As the Russian elite constantly affirm, they are not part of the West and do not want to be. While the militant secularism of the communist regime (and the proto capitalist regime of Putin) would seem to clash with Islam, it never has in terms of political objectives. Both have totalitarian aspects that produce the same mind set.[28] In fact, the totalitarian aspects of the radical version of Islam are very compatible with Marxism, particularly in the total control of every aspect of human life.[29]

Armies Protect but Also Threaten the Ruler


Arab armies have always suffered from the ruler’s fear of a military coup. Because of this the combat readiness of their forces are always secondary to their control by the ruling circles. Command structure is always fragmented, divided and created to ensure that no one person other than the ruler can exercise control of the armed forces.[30] Because of this, large-scale exercises, especially live fire exercises, are few and far between. Obviously because of this the readiness for actual combat is dismally low. Typically, the Arab rulers have a myriad of intelligence agencies and special pretorian guard units to protect their regime. In Russia the omnipotent and ubiquitous Federal Security Service, (FSB) of which Putin and many of his inner circle are former members, keep tabs on the Russian military. [31] Ambitious officers with initiative and an independent mind are often seen as potential rivals and ousted from power. In both the Arab world and Russia top officers are careful to not step too far beyond the green lines. The nail that stands up gets hammered down. It should be remembered that Marshal Zhukov, “Hero of the Great Patriotic War” was made an “unperson” by Stalin.[32]

Communism is officially dead in Russia but the imprint remains strong. Putin keeps a strong hold on the military remembering the 1993 October coup in which Boris Yeltsin had to use the military anti- coup operations.   Partly as a result of the involvement of the generals in politics, the vaunted Russian General Staff, excellent in meticulous planning and compiling operational history, became enervated by factional politics and proved to be inept in the Afghanistan war. Lester Grau wrote,

Though the military leadership had unparalleled opportunity to study Afghanistan and rehash the lessons of previous insurgencies of their huge empire., they continued to see everything through Marxist-Leninist – filters. This combined with usual and pernicious   Soviet compartmentalization of information blurred the General Staff’ perception of the realities of Afghanistan[33]

Authoritarian cultural characteristic of the Russian and Arab military leadership.

While traditionally the Arab culture was individualistic based on the Bedouin trait, the modern history of the Arab world and greater Middle East has been one of despotic or authoritarian regimes.  Ali al Wardi, the Iraqi historian, attributes this to the gradual usurpation of power by the town/urban population[34]. Others point to the necessity of a central powerful ruler to manage hydraulic society such as Egypt. Whatever the reason the Middle East people have inured to despotic rule for the past several centuries and the trait is manifestly visible in the military subculture.  Authority is absolute and obedience to the higher ranks is absolute. Nor has there been any dramatic change in the way Arabs organize, train, or conduct warfare. [35] Thousands of Arab officers have been trained in the United States and most are sent off to their countries with enthusiasm hopefully to introduce lessons they have learned, only to butt into a stone wall of resistance to change by senior officers. The inviolate rule remains in force; the nail that stands up gets hammered down[36]

Among the Russian military the character trait of deference to authority is even greater and of a longer history. As Christopher Donnelly in his superb study[37] of the Russian military opined, the Russian belief in the necessity of despotic rule dates from the Mongol invasions of the 14th century.  The Russian national character accepted despotic rule, back by force of arms and a need to expand national borders to protect the heartland. This has evolved into a militaristic society.[38] The authoritative and ultra conservative nature of both Russian and Greater Middle Eastern societies has acted as a bulwark against change and has to a large extent has enervated those who advocate change in society and the military.  Reading World War II German observations[39] of the Russian army one is struck by the continuity in Russian way of war from World War II to the present time.  These historical documents   have drawn a great deal of criticism of by using lessons learned in WWII [40] related to the Russian doctrine and conduct of warfare, and applying them to the Ukraine, However my extensive examination of the Russian methods of warfare in WWII, and the works of German generals on the Eastern front. I have seen nothing dramatic to differentiate the Russian method of conventional war in the Ukraine to those of WWII[41].






Russian Counterinsurgency. Historically A Russian “Success” story but failure in Afghanistan and Chechnya.


The vaunted Russian successes in counterinsurgency,[42] and the lessons learned were apparently completely forgotten in the succeeding wars earlier in the Greater Middle East, has had the unfortunate effect of further eroding the efficiency and effectiveness of the conventional Russian warfare.  Prior to Afghanistan the Russian army, had forgotten their counterinsurgency successes in Central Asia, and had only to put down revolts in highly urbanized civilized countries, i.e., Hungary and Czechoslovakia where armored units using the excellent road networks were able to crush resistance in a matter of hours or days. To an extent the Russians used their experience in an effort to quickly subdue Afghanistan’s command center. Spetsnaz troops invaded the presidential palace and killed the president, seized likely centers of likely resistance and assumed that all was well.  The somewhat amazing fact is that although the Russians had been intimately involved in Afghan affairs for ages, they seemed to know nothing about the people or the country. The resulting guerrilla war again evidenced the fact that counterinsurgency carries a special brand of poison that is detrimental to traditional soldiering and fighting a conventional war.[43] The inability to distinguish the enemy from civilian, and indeed whether or not there is a significant difference, turns a warrior into a killer. The enemy is dehumanized and the Geneva convention is ignored, discipline breaks down, morale plummets, and objectives become blurred and in the long run usually unobtainable.


Angelo Cordevilla, probably most cogently explained the Russian method of what passes for Russian counterinsurgency, writing that the Russians harkened back to the Roman style of counterinsurgency, “Secure the most valuable parts of the conquered country through a massive troop presence and offer then inhabitants the choice between reasonably normal life under Roman rule or certain death.[44]

This is evident in Syria as the Russian backed Syrian forces have gained control over the most critical areas of control and population leaving large, mostly thinly populated areas to the insurgents or various anti Assad forces. There has been no pretense of population -centric measures as would be integral to the American doctrine.[45] Intrinsic to the type of counterinsurgency is the use of brutal massive force, with little or no distinction between combatant and civilian.

The Soviet Union successfully practiced this pattern against the Muslim Basmachi rebels of central Asia in the 1920’s.[46] In the 1930’s it did so preemptively in its drive to collectivize the Ukraine, causing mass starvation among those who resisted or might have resisted.[47] The Soviet Union repeated this pattern in the 1940’s in the Baltic states and in the 1980’s in Afghanistan.”  The Russians made no distinction between these wars and conventional wars. As Lester Grau wrote,

“The Soviet army that marched into Afghanistan was trained to fight within the context of a theater war against a modern enemy who obligingly occupy defensive positions across the northern European plain.[48]

   A major tenet and insidious aspect of the Russian mindset was a total disregard of collateral civilian casualties. This was engrained in mind set Russian advisors deployed in the greater Middle East, and especially the many thousands on Middle Eastern officers who attended Russian military schools,[49] who undoubtably absorbed the Russian methods. Certainly, the Middle Eastern armies in their forever wars against dissidents use these methods.[50]

Rather than population-centric as formulated in the West, it is regime centric, meaning the3n primary purpose is to protect the regime in power. Russia basically has no counterinsurgency doctrine, as a distinct way of combat. They talk of something they call “hybrid warfare”[51] against an enemy defined as “illegal armed forces.” These are semantic inventions   in which they do not differentiate between terrorism and Guerilla warfare and The Russians do not even use the term counterinsurgency.  For instance, Humanitarian and stabilization operations, which, Russians define as primarily consisting passing out food parcels, is not done conducted until the area is cleared of the enemy.

The primary point here however, is not which variety, American or Russian, is successful because in retrospect neither has well, but rather the fact that the long Russian campaigns in the Muslim East has fortified an indelible trait of brutality and corruption long extant, in the Russian way of war[52]. The histories of the Afghanistan, Chechen, and Syrian wars has shown that in stark terms. The casual brutality inflicted on the civilian populations combined with rampant corruption has become a tenet in the Russian way of war.  The history of barbarity of Russians toward non-Russians, or even their own, plus the lack of discipline within the armed forces has been well documented, but more importantly it is a stratagem with the objective of cowering the enemies and their base of supporters. [53]

The sad story of Russian interventions in all its brutality, inhumanity, revealed the worst about the effects of long-term war in the middle east, aggravated by the the pervasive imprint of Islamist beliefs on war and its effects on the combatants of both sides.  The effect of Islamist war doctrine cannot be lightly dismissed especially in the tribal societies of the Greater Middle East.[54]

Vladislov Tamarov, a talented soldier with the Russian army in Afghanistan poignantly related his memories, “Our base, where kind people transformed into vicious ones. Where the vicious became cruel. Where they made boys into murderers.”[55]

The Russians traded with the Afghans in the day time, selling and buying, and fought the same people at night.[56]Corruption was endemic, as it has been in the Russian army for ages but this war aggravated it as discipline eroded and neither the NCO’s or officers, with a few exceptions, sought to alleviate the miserable conditions of the ordinary Russian soldier.[57] This was exacerbated by the low pay of the Russian ordinary soldier in Afghanistan was about eight to eighteen checks a month[58]..

 As the British Ambassador to Russia (1988-1992), Roderic Braithwaite wrote,

“So, both Officers and men turned to various forms of corruption. The 40th Army was not unique: the victorious Allied armies had done much the same in Europe after 1945. But the corruption of the 40th army was on a heroic scale.” [59]

The detachments guarding the Salang highway would shake down passing Afghan drivers. Storekeepers and lorry drivers would conspire to take their cut from cargoes they were transporting. Some sources relate that these Russian sentries would take the Afghan drivers behind a wall and kill them for their goods. Punishment except for selling arms punishment was light and rarely pursued.[60]

Just as the American soldiers had little faith in Afghanistan’s government army neither did the Russian soldiers. They were always suspect, frequently deserving that lack of respect by desertions, and rallying to the Mujahadeen. The widespread feeling among the Russian troops was if the Afghans do not want to fight the mujahadeen why should we.?[61] . They learned to hate the Afghans, whom they began to see as sub-human. The Afghans earned the hatred they instilled in the Russian soldier by murdering prisoners, mutilating the dead, carving the Russian star in dead soldier’s chests, etc.  As one soldier explained, “Our base, where the kind people were transformed into vicious ones. Where the vicious became cruel. Where they made boys into murderers. For what?[62]

 Perhaps nothing destroyed morale more than the system of dedovshchina, loosely translated as hazing. But this should not be compared to college fraternity hazing. Recruits were beaten to an inch of their lives by senior soldiers and NCOs as a sort of traditional welcome to the Russian army.  The officers turned their eyes the other way, and were indifferent to these activities.

A new recruit arriving in Afghanistan recorded his initiation, “That night they (senior soldiers) beat me up, eight of them, and gave me a good beating kicking with their army boots. My kidneys were crushed and I passed blood for two days.”[63]

The Russian soldier was poorly equipped, fed, and medically cared for. When killed he was shipped home in a zinc casket and it could not be opened. Many used narcotics, looted dead Afghans, who were, in many cases, were better equipped than the Russian soldiers.

One could write volumes about the many faults of the Russian commanders[64], tactics, weaponry, organization, and strategy but the most important deficiency – from the standpoint of a continuing odious legacy – was the Russian military leadership’s total and utter disregard of the well-being of Russian soldier who was fighting for a cause he knew nothing about—despite the many political sessions in which the sleep deprived soldiers used for much needed sleep. This continued in wars in Chechnya and Georgia.


The horrors of the war in Afghanistan for the Russian soldier were, if anything, dwarfed by the savagery and cunning of Chechen rebels, spurred by nationalist fervor, radical Islam, and the history of hundreds of years wars against the Russians. [65] Tolstoy captured the hatred very well, in his story, the Raid in which he wrote that the Chechens saw the Russians as less than human beings. The Russian soldiers were reciprocal in their view of the Chechens.

Going into the first war against the Chechens the Russians the commanders had learned nothing from the pain of Afghanistan.   The first of the two Chechen wars (1994-1996) was a total Russian disaster.[66]  The Russians assumed once again that a show of force would be sufficient entering Grozny and occupying the main governmental center. The Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev hoped to declare victory on his birthday the 31st of December.

A force of 5000 Chechens and 85 Russians with 170 Russian tanks attempted entered Grozny to overthrow the Chechen regime by coup de main as they had initially in Prague and Kabul. They failed and lost 67 tanks.[67] The Russians regrouped and with pride badly damaged, assembled a force of 24,000 men to counterattack.[68]. At first there was no opposition and the Russians left their vehicles and did not post guards, and suddenly ‘all hell broke loose.” The Chechens demoralized the Russians with clever deception, excellent communication and excellent urban warfare tactics. The Russians resorted to using artillery fire of the buildings along the route of advance but the fighting was tortuous for the raw Russian recruits.

The Chechens, however, like the Germans at Cassino, dug in the ruins, and took advantage of underground tunnels and passages from one building to another. The Russians had to leave a few troops in each building they occupied to keep the Chechens from reentering. In doing so they diminished the number of troops available for the next buildings. Unity of purpose among the units, many hastily thrown together, was totally lacking. Small unit leadership, the most important element if urban warfare was nonexistent. The disorganization of the Russian forces was apparent in that a leading cause of casualties among the Russians was fratricide.  As always there was a paucity of competent small unit leaders. After over a month’s fighting the Russians managed to finally occupy the mostly destroyed city of Grozny, and then the warfare shifted to the mountainous rural countryside and small villages.

The Russian ineptness continued in this later phase of the first war. By the end of 1996, the Russians using air attacks and ceaseless artillery strikes had pushed the Chechen territory to a small portion in the south but in general the Russians controlled the rest by day and the Chechens by night. Even Grozny continued under a curfew as rebel Chechens remained in the city. While the new Russian President Yeltsin declared victory, Russians troops were pulled out of Grozny and the number of Russian troops in Chechnya were reduced. At that point about 1500 Chechens infiltrated back into Grozny and within three hours seized control of the city again. The 7000 Russian troops in Grozny were in disarray and panic. The Russian commander threw available units into the battle piecemeal and they were chewed up badly by well entrenched and city-savvy Chechens using their favorite weapon, the 2.75 RPG. They also had many captured Russian weapons from the earlier battles which used with greater competence than the Russian soldiers.  This time, rather than another house-to-house battle, Russians chose massive air and artillery, firing mostly indiscriminately into the high-rise apartment buildings and were guilty of gratuitous and heinous cruelty[69]. By this time, the Grozny war, deemed unwinnable, had deeply alienated the Russian population and the army professionals as well. It has become the Russian “Tet offensive.” After another month of fighting the Russian Security Council Secretary Alexander Lebed engineered an accord with Chechen leader, Aslan Maskhadov.

 For three years desultory fighting continued and during this time frame, a critical element was added – the rise of Jihadism among the Chechens, heavily inspired by a rather infamous individual   a Saudi called Emir Khattab,[70] a ranking member of the ISIS, a charismatic and well financed terrorist. He was instrumental in turning the Chechen struggle from a nationalist one to an Islamist Jihad.  As the Jihadi fervor grew, the Russian military leadership was inching for a rematch accelerated by the Islamists continuing attacks on Russian units in Chechnya, Dagestan and inside Russia itself. This made it easy for Putin to make the case for the second war. The war fever in Russia also enflamed the Russian leadership, who felt humiliated by the way NATO conducted the war in Yugoslavia against their fellow Slavs, (1992-1994), while curtailing the activities of the Russian brigade in Serbia. This figured in to the anti-West theme of Putin and heightened Russian resolve to erase the ignominy of the first Chechen war.[71]

The Russians in the second war digested many lessons from the first war and now with strong-willed Russian nationalist, Vladimir Putin, as president, war became inevitable.  Putin saw the first Chechen War as a stain on the Russian army and nation. The Chechens with their new spirit of Islamist irridentism also pushed the envelope perpetrating horrific deeds of terrorism, facilitating Putin’s approval by the people to act.[72]

Ignoring any pretense of fighting a population centric counterinsurgency war the Russian commanders in their third reconquest of Grozny used massive air and artillery bombardments to level building after building as the motorized units moved cautiously down the avenues.  It was a slow methodical operation of brute force in which civilian casualties were of little consequence.[i]  For over a month the Russian forces ground away bit by bit savaging the areas they occupied.  Using self-propelled artillery as the lead elements in their attacks, the Russians verified their claim that artillery is the God of War.[73] They also cleverly used mercenary Chechen soldiers opposed to the rebel Chechen leadership to do as much of dirty work as possible.[74]

  Finally On 2 February 2000, the Russians were able to hold a “Defender of the Fatherland” parade in the center of Grozny. However, the ordeal of the inhabitants was only beginning as the enraged Russian soldiers  engaged in  “a brutal vengeful’ time, as apartments were looted, men accused of being rebels were dragged off to filtration camps (or simply shot in the street)  as stray rebels continued to mount bomb and sniper attacks.”[75] The war dragged on for nine more years of desultory Chechen attacks,  featuring Russian army sweeps, burning of villages, atrocities on both sides until the Russian and Chechens, exhausted from the mutual killing brought a gradual end of the Chechen war , but did not end the conflict; it moved on to Dagestan, Ingushetia Kabardino-Bakaria and Georgia. The ultimate triumph was indeed a hollow one in that 70000 to 200000 civilians[76] died in the war, with over 400, 0000 refugees.   While this war continued the Russian forces enjoyed a brief fillip in the “successful” conclusion of the three-day Georgian war. The Russians trumpeted that they vanquished an American trained and equipped Georgian army.  That was not the whole truth however.[77].

Throughout the Afghanistan and Chechen war, a prime and grievously critical problem was the absence of a “strategic corporal.”[78] The Russian army lacked these soldiers who provides experience and leadership for a small unit in combat. Lacking competent noncommissioned officers in a war against guerillas, especially in mountain or urban environment is particularly unnerving for the best of soldiers and terrifying for recruits. Some of the Russian airborne, naval infantry and special forces interior units, which have more cohesive structures, performed better in Grozny against the Chechens, even in the first conflict, but that was not the norm.

In the regular units, besides the total incompetence of their NCO’s, the officer corps was not up to the task of filling the void left by NCOs but rather compounded the problem. The officers were frequently drunk and seldom took pains to ease the pain and fears of the young recruits. The fear of the Chechens, a tradition historically potent in Russian history, was justified by the Chechen propensity for gratuitous cruelty. The lot of incoming new soldiers was as brutal as in Afghanistan but against a more innovative and sadistic enemy.  Moreover, in the barracks they had to contend with dedovshchina.

“Short-headed boys, sometimes morose, sometimes laughing, beaten up in our barracks, with broken jaws and ruptured lungs, we were herded in to this war and killed by the hundred. We didn’t even know how to shoot: we couldn’t kill anybody; we didn’t know how. All that we were capable of was crying and dying. And die we did. We called the rebels ‘uncle” and when our boys throats were cut, they’d beg the rebels, please uncle don’t kill me, what did I ever do to you?[79]

 The Chechens decapitated soldiers leaving their heads on the curbs of the main streets of the cities. They took videos of the crucifixion of Russian soldiers. A Russian soldier captured by the Chechens could only hope that he was killed outright rather than hideously tortured.   The Chechens regularly baited ambushes with wounded Russian soldiers, springing the trap on would – be rescuers and then killing the wounded. In consequence, fear of their own commanders, senior soldiers and that of the Chechens led to panic. As the author wrote,

“Young conscripts flee in droves, heading straight from their beds into the steppe, barefoot and wearing only long johns, unable to withstand the nightly torment.”[80]

While ultimately the massive destruction wrecked upon the Chechens and indifference to civilian casualties by overpowering Russian use of the “God of War “(Artillery), were successful in subduing the Chechens, the moral rot of Afghanistan was revealed and reinforced by the Russian conduct in this war.   The bombardment of Grozny was an unparalleled heavy weapons assault on a city, the most since WWII.  For the Russian soldier the brutality of the Russian NCOs and indifference of their officers were obvious evidence of the rot. While much of the strategy and tactics of the Russians can be rightly criticized, it was the lack of a motivated, disciplined army, well – trained and soldiers, supported by military leadership that cared. This kind of army forced the Russians, as is their habit, to use massive artillery bombardment to simply grind the Chechens into a sullen peace.

Middle Eastern Russian Linked Terrorism

The depth of Russian immersion into the La Brea tarpits of Middle Eastern fanaticism and polarization is graphically illustrated by the level of Soviet/Russian involvement in terrorist activities in the Middle East.[81] As the flip side of Russian counterinsurgency, which the Russians always linked with anti-terrorism[82], it should be of little surprise to note that the Russians were up to their necks in subsidizing, training, and organizing terror groups. This despite the CIA in 1981 rendered a judgement that the Russians did not support terrorism.[83]  This facile judgement was based on the theory that while the Russians trained and financed them, they eschewed acts of terrorism against civilians.

Cristopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin found immense amount of materiel linking the Russian KGB to PLO terrorism, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, (PFLP) the Popular Democratic Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, (PDFLP), the Abu Nidal Organization (ANO) and the Black September Organization. Much of this was done through the good offices of Wadi Haddad,[84] the chief of operations of the PFLP and the primary link between the KGB. And the various terror organizations of the Middle East. Those who have closely examined the Russian link to terrorism found that the Russians were fully aware of the operations targeting civilians.  The Russians also cultivated Yasir Arafat, Chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) but apparently the Russians considered him as a poseur and not useful to the Russian objectives. [85]

In consonance with the normal state of internecine warfare, murderous rivalries, and general chaos, which characterizes much of the Middle East, the terrorist groups and individuals cultivated by the Russians warred on each other and the Russians were unable to stay aloof. Much of the history of Putin’s rise to power and his decision to invade Chechnya was based on the alleged terrorist acts of the Islamist Chechens, despite the opinion of many observers who concluded that Putin used these atrocities as false flag operations to create fervor for another war in Chechnya.[86]

The Russian prepossession with terrorism, which in the final analysis, was of little value to the Russians, can only be seen as one more piece of evidence illuminating the Middle Eastern rot the Russians inflicted upon themselves.

SYRIA The experts were mostly wrong on Syria

The supposed test bed and “incubator” for the New Russian professional military was categorized in three sectors, the technological, the extensive use of mercenary forces, a new found capability of demonstrating armed forces unity of action and coordination of political- military operations. There is much to commend in these studies but my conclusion is that the most vital essentials of a competent army were not tested or addressed.

Literature on the Russian intervention in Syria generally warned of the Russian advance in weaponry, unity of command, and something termed “new generation warfare,” supposedly combining soft and hard power across military and nonmilitary domains and using the Syrian intervention as a school for the Information Technology Revolution in Military Affairs (IT-RMA)[87]. It led them to boast about their contingency deployment capabilities. It seems that Western analytical fascination with technology, obscured their vision.  Other than small units of mercenaries, Russian units and soldiers were not tested in Syria. In fact the intervention in Syria, from a real-world training standpoint, was more of a classroom war game on a huge sand table, with the added realistic ingredient of using the blood of civilians for realism. I saw nothing which indicated additional emphasis on the core Russian problems, lack of initiative, inadequate small unit leader training, and in fact, relegating troop combat experience to the Privately Owned Companies.[88]

In actuality the Syria adventure had very little to add to Russian military competence to fight effectively in Ukraine and may have had a deleterious effect. What little they learned from Afghanistan and Chechnya was forgotten and a combination of hubris and illusion gave them an unwarranted sense of comfort in invading Ukraine.  Traditionally the Russians were contemptuous of technology relying on the simple but sturdy weapons of war and the solidity of the Russian soldier. However, in Syria, the Russian military leadership seemingly became infatuated   with “technophilia, “a condition which continues to plague the US army.

Nothing was undertaken to upgrade the capabilities of their NCO corps or young officers, or to truly professionalize their soldiery, instead using Privately Owned Companies, (PMC), the Wagner units, for actual combat. The vaunted “combat experience” in counterinsurgency always has great value– as long as the military leadership view with caution the lessons learned and do not attempt to carry them over to conventional war against a first-class opponent. Like the Arab penchant for rhetoricism, exaggeration and over assertion, the Russians fell prey to their own press releases. Part of the Western journalistic peans of praise for the Russian competence in Syria arose from the Western predilection to view any technological advance Russian as “Russophrenia,” a belief that Russia is about to take over the world, prevalent immediately after the Ukraine invasion. The same way of war that exemplifies the Russian military history since WWII prevailed in Syria: the protracted and massive use of standoff heavy weaponry, and disregard of civilian casualties.[89]Aleppo became the Middle Eastern version of the Grozny bombardment.




 The Russian Military Advisory Missions[90]

To capture the depth of Russian military personnel involvement in the Greater Middle East and Africa, one must take note of the thousands of Russian military advisors with the Afghan government and thousands more deployed throughout the Middle East and Africa.

 The vast majority were hastily deployed with only about a week’s worth of training and knew nothing about the county or the people.[91] In Afghanistan many were located in Kabul and made periodic visits to their units but most were assigned to Afghan battalions and stayed with them constantly. They were envied and hated by the Russians in regular combat units because they were paid more and supposedly had a better life. The advisors, as did those in Egypt earlier, felt they were ignored in the way of decorations and promotions.[92]  For the most part the Russians were only tepidly interested in nation-building. It is to their credit that the Russian military commanders in Afghanistan, early on, recognized there was no pure military solution to the conflict but intensive nation -building programs ultimately failed.[93]

 Thousands of Russian advisors (mostly technicians) were deployed to Iraq[94] but for the most part they were not employed at unit level. Saddam was suspicious of the Soviets and possible collusion with local Communists, who had after all, been part of the political groups that brought assassinated president Abdul Qassim, a nemesis to the Baathists, to power, and he did not want any communist influence among his troops. During the Iran-Iraq war, the Russians, after some risk evaluation and a hiatus of a couple of years, supported the Iraqis. However, in consonance with duplicity innate in their Middle Eastern policy, also supported the Iranians, sending 300 Russian technicians to repair Russian tanks captured from the Iraqis.[95]

Overall, the Russian involvement in the greater Middle East, while it offered a number of advantages to the political influence of Russia, has been a draining, enervating, and most importantly, a corrupting experience for the Russian military. The greater Middle Eastern involvement of the Russians have adversely affected their military ethos in several ways: first of all, the long involvement fighting or assisting the third world societies of the region engrained an unsavory ethos of the warrior spirit by the criminal duplicity, using surrogates to do the dirty work, and immersion into a culture rent apart by corruption, sectarianism, and fanaticism. Their own national characteristics made the acceptance of the more unsavory aspects of Islamist/ Middle Eastern culture easier to assimilate.  The accompanying aspects of a war of attrition, in a quasi-counterinsurgency mode lends itself to corruption and cynicism. Part of this is dealing with the environment of an outwardly friendly or submissive people by day who seek to kill you at night; it ingrains a certain cynicism toward human nature, breeding a casual brutality that carries over to the next war.

Secondly, the nature of fighting low intensity conflicts, whether it is called counterinsurgency, small wars, or some other fashionable term, creates a mindset that is not easily erased for the next conventional war. It creates its own industry, particularly since it involves many aspects of academic disciplines, such as sociology, psychology, history, which often dilute concentration and focus on the campaign.[96] Even the Russians in the initial efforts in Afghanistan tried the nation building approach.[97] It was an unmitigated disaster as was the American attempt later.

Thirdly, these wars in the Middle East are unheroic wars, the heroes are few and quickly forgotten, or never recognized.  Unlike in the “Great Patriotic War” against the Germans, the Russian veterans of advisory and combat duty in Africa, Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan often went unrecognized, not only the higher command but the general population as well.   Bodies were sent home in zinc coffins, never to be opened, casualties were lied about, the wounded returned to an ungrateful and uncaring nation. Missing soldiers were never found and there were no governmental attempts to find them. As noted earlier, it was only the brief period of openness that allowed veterans organizations and personal web sites to recount the stories of the Soviet soldiers in the Middle East. [98]

The final note of this article must be a cautionary one. Partially it was carefully delineated by Colonel Gian Gentile in his important book, Wrong turn: America’s Deadly Embrace of Counterinsurgency. As he wrote, “the narrative of counterinsurgency practiced by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan proves to be a story of failure and redemption.”[99]

As he wrote, the myth that counterinsurgency works is catnip for advocates of U. S. intervention overseas because it promises the possibility of successful ‘better wars.’”


I would add to Gentile’s sage observations that our prolonged deployments and wars in the Middle East have had some of the same deleterious effects that it has had on the Russians.[100] The culture and society of the Middle Eastern Islamic culture have always had a pernicious effect on Western armies fighting or assisting various warring groups, beginning perhaps with demise of Napoleon’s French army invading Egypt[101] and long British campaigns to maintain their Middle East empire[102] All were frustrating and inevitably poor investments paid with treasure and blood.


[1] My father, a career Non-Commissioned officer in the US Army, fluent in German, French and Russian interrogated German POWs at Ft. Stewart Ga. 1943.He possessed a phenomenal knowledge of the German view of the Russian army.  The Russian army has always had a deep near primordial tie with people (narod), a tie explained by Christopher Donnelly, Red Banner (Coulsdon: Janes Information Group,1988). “ The accepted view has been that Russians may face enemies with better weapons and training but “the Russians were blessed with compensatory moral qualities that allowed them to fight with inferior equipment and eventually outfighting militaries of other nations. 4.

[2]  I define the Greater Middle East includes the near abroad, composed of those countries of the former Soviet Union, including the Central Asian states, and Caucasus states, plus those countries bordering the near abroad states, such as Afghanistan, Iran, etc.  My master’s Thesis at the American University of Beirut, “The Contemporary and Future Implications of the Impending British Withdrawal from the Persian Gulf,” (1970).  101-153. afforded me access to many of the most prescient writings on the Soviet drive to Warm Waters, a theory discarded by many but with too much history to dismiss. See Peter Hopkirk’s the Great Game, The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia/ (New York, Kodansha International,1992.) 57-69 and 295-306 especially, and Walter Laqueur’s The Soviet Union and the Middle East. London, Routledge,1959) gives a very informative picture of the continuing drive to the south under the Communists. As he wrote, “Communism is an essentially dynamic movement; it does not want to stagnate, and cannot afford to. Applied to the Middle East this observation means cannot be satisfied with in the long run with present status in the Arab world, where it has to play second fiddle to “bourgeois nationalism.”  344. Whether the imperial Russia, the Communist regime, or that of Putin, Russia cannot let go of the Greater Middle East. Galia Golan wrote that the security of the Soviet Union was the first priority of the regime and that this has been “interpreted as the need to maintain a security belt …. just beyond the Soviet borders, that is, the maintenance of maintenance of friendly regimes and denial of hostile forces just beyond the border. “Gallia Golan Soviet (Policies in the Middle East; From World War II to Gorbachev. New York; Cambridge University Press, 1990) 1.

[3] Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez. Foxbats over Dimona. The Soviets Nuclear Gamble in the Six-Day War (New Haven, Yale University Press, 2007). 11. Their follow-on book, The Soviet-Israeli War,1967-1973 (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2017).  is a very impressive refutation of the conventional history narrated mostly by the major actors at the time, including Henry Kissinger, Years of Upheaval, (Boston Little Brown and Company,1982) 545 -613. Their basic contention is that only the adroit diplomacy by the major world power players brought about the end of the war.  See Mohamed Heikal, The Road to Ramadan, (New York, Quadrangle, 1975) 207-261.  Heikal posits Russians were urging Egyptians to push toward the Mitla passes only to save the Syrian army which was being decimated by Israeli attacks.  Anwar al Sadat berates the Russians for inadequate support in his In Search of Identity. (New York, Harper and Row,1977) 316- 324.; Yevgeny Primakov, Russia and The Arabs (New York, Perseus Books, 2009) 151.  wrote that the Russians were under the impression that the Egyptians would advance to the borders of Israel after a short operational pause in the Sinai.  Most histories of the war maintain the conventional view of the cessation of hostilities. See Abraham Rabinovitch, in The Yom Kippur War: The Epic Encounter (New York, Schocken, 2017), is effusive in his praise of Kissinger.  Overall, the idea that the Russians were pushing an end to the Egyptians offensive were vigorously refuted by the Russian veterans of the Egyptian advisory mission. The Russian officials and military heads of the Advisory mission were actually pushing Egyptians to do more. Moreover, the alleged withdrawal of Russian advisors prior to the war did not happen as was assumed by many western analysts. This alleged withdrawal was a primary reason that many analysts believed the Egyptians would not attack. It was a calculated deceptive move. The Egyptians also claim that the plan for the crossing of the canal was totally accomplished by the Egyptians, however as a member of a U.S. intelligence mission to Egypt in 1978, I was shown the plans of the Suez operation. On the bottom of the pages of the plan were signatures in Cyrillic.

[4] Although some Islamic countries reluctantly signed on to the UN vote condemning Russia, most did it with clear reservations. Algeria, Albania, Iraq, Syria, Morocco, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Sudan, Uzbekistan Kyrgyzstan, Mali, Eritrea, Egypt, UAE, Jordan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Kuwait, and Qatar found reasons not to vote to condemn. As developed later Anti-Western attitudes shape much of this.

[5] This is the army that that “tore the guts out of the German army”, a phrase used by Winston Churchill in

  1. See Alexander Werth. Russia at War: 1941-1945. (New York: Avon Books,1965. The fictional image of the Russian soldier is depicted in traditional Russian literature as “simple, healthy, strong and kind, far-sighted, selfless, and unafraid of death.” The stories about him were endlessly recited by the WWII Russian soldiers -rather startling in this age of cynicism See Catherine Merridale. Ivan’s War: Life and Death in the Red Army 1939-1945 ((New York: Picador, 2006) 6-7.

[6] Militarism in this sense is the bureaucratization of the military; a process which, rather than producing a “Sparta,” actually enfeebles the military by replacing martial qualities with military flavored-statism. As an example, Egypt is an example of militarized state. See Zeinab Abul-Magd, Militarizing the Nation (New York, Columbia University Press, 2018.) As he wrote, “Finally the book argues that Egyptian’s military engagement in business and the bureaucracy was not simply to generate profit but amass resources. There is a Foucauldian twist to the story. By tapping into the consumerist markets of all social classes and governing their urban milieus, the officers managed to establish their constant surveillance over their population with an eye toward full control.”7. Russia has evolved into similar environment as explained by Christopher Donnelly in Red Banner: The Soviet System in Peace and War. 95-96

[7] Norvell B DeAtkine, “Why Arabs Lose Wars “in Middle East Quarterly December, 1999 at .  Twenty years later the Arab military effectiveness was only marginally better. See Norvell B DeAtkine, “Why Arabs Lose Wars Twenty Years Later,” at .

[8] See . This article originally appeared in the on -line periodical MERIA as “Western Influence on Arab Militaries: Pounding Square Pegs into Round Holes.”

[9]  Email exchange with USA Maj (retired) Steve Franke who probably has more on the ground experience with Arab military, especially Egyptians, than anyone else in the US military, attests to this as his usual experience in discussions with Arab officers he trained with. In my experience this was also my finding. I have found in my experience that the most intense animosity was at the top political and military level. Disagreements with the Russians were often heated, and it is true that that the Russians, especially the female dependents of the advisors, sometimes outraged the more conservative Egyptians with their immodest dress and behavior.[9] Possible most of all the general propensity of eastern bloc and Russian advisor dependents to travel in noisy groups and buy very little annoyed the Egyptian shopkeepers.

[10] In discussions with Iraqi and Egyptian officers, the drabness, cold, and prevalent racism of the Russian populace was the most generally the complaints; the exception being the receptiveness of Russian women to Arab officers’ social attributes.

[11]  Many references for this including Sadat, Search for Identity, Lt General Saad Al Shazly, The Crossing of the Canal, frommimeograph Copy retrieved from Middle East Institute, published by American Mideast Research dated October 1980. Shazly wrote, “The Russians have many qualities concern for human feeling is not among them. They are brusque, harsh, frequently arrogant and usually unwilling to believe anyone has anything to teach them. “50.  General Mohammed Ahmad Sadek, the defense minister under Sadat, hated the Russians, and this, plus his generally mediocre military expertise, led to his eventual removal by Sadat. Russian observations on the Egyptian military prowess were also acerbic, protesting that Soviet equipment was superb but the Egyptian crews were lacking ability to use effectively. On Soviet advisor stated, “The Egyptians had no confidence in Soviet hardware, which they often said was inferior. But it was by no means the Soviet equipment that was to blame for their defeats, it was rather the low training standard of their missile crews. For example, they would promptly leave their work states upon firing a missile, and it never occurred to them that a missile needed to be guided in flight “…..For you to compare,  our battalion took 32 minutes to take up a new position, and an Egyptian one required 3 to 4 hours.“ Kenneth M. Pollack. Armies of Sand: The Past, Present and future Effectiveness of Arab Military Effectiveness (Oxford; Oxford University Press, 2019) 72.

[12] In Korea I watched Korean officers hit their soldiers so hard they fell to the ground, with the soldiers quickly regaining their position of attention as if nothing had happened. In Egypt I observed officers slapping their soldiers. I participated in an Al Jazeera program called Into the Hands of Soldiers “which detailed the execrable treatment of Egyptian army recruits. See  presented 27 Nov 2016.


[13] One American Advisor with the 25th Division of Army of Vietnam Republic (ARVN) told me that when he remonstrated to his ARVN patrol leader that allowing his men to put up hammocks for the night and putting out no security was foolhardy, the ARVN lieutenant replied they had been fighting for 25 years and they were tired. Asian fatalism is hard to grasp for a Westerner. British Journalist Richard West wrote in 1967, “when you listen to briefs given by Americans, Koreans, or Australians, then listen to the Vietnamese, you are struck by the supreme indifference.  The outsiders are eager and energetic. The Vietnamese do not care very much anymore.”  Max Hastings, Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975 (New York; Harper-Collins, 2018), 432.

[14] The most informative book on this is Catherine Merridale. Ivan’s War: Life and Death in the Red Army 1939-1945 (New York; Picador,2006.)299-371. Also good for background. Vasil Grossman. A Writer at War: A Soviet Journalist with the Red Army 1941-1945and Alexander Werth. Russia at War 1941-1945 (New York; Avon 1964)

[15] Here one must differentiate between a traditional disciplined and well-trained army (ex the WWII Wehrmacht) and the savage warriors (ex.  Chechens).  This has nothing to do with innate intelligence or individual courage.

Because of the more recent concentration on “approved terminology and usage” of the English language I felt necessary to clarify my remarks on middle Eastern military incompetence. This obvious Middle Eastern military incompetence is seen as “military orientalism” by Patrick Porter, Military Orientalism: Eastern War Through Western Eyes New York: Oxford University Press. 2013. My instruction at the Special Warfare School at Ft Bragg using Raphael Patai’s The Arab Mind in instructing officers was sniffily dismissed as a bad example in this sophomoric rehash of Edward Said’s book Orientalism in a military context.221

[16] From discussions with Kurdish warlord in Suliamania in 2004. The Russians were supplying arms to the Barzani Kurds while bombing the rebels. For general information on Soviet careful playing of the Kurdish card see Oles M. Smolansky with Bettie Smolansky; The USSR and Iraq: The Soviet Quest for Influence. (Durham: Duke University Press,1991) 63-98.

[17] See Antonio Giustozzi and Artemy m. Kalinosky (Missionaries of Modernity: Advisory Missions and the Struggle for Hegemony in Afghanistan and Beyond. (London: Hurst and Co., 2016). 42-55. It seems their most egregious failure was in Ethiopia, as was the previous American effort.

[18] Raphael Patai. The Arab Mind. Revised Edition;( Long Island; Hatherleigh Press, 2007) despite some aging, and vociferous criticism by neo-Arabists, still by far the best cultural study of the Arabs in English language.

[19] Sonia Hamady. Temperament and Character of the Arabs. New York; Twayn Publishers, 1960. “Arab society is ruthless, stern and pitiless. It worships strength and has no compassion for weakness.” 38.  A demonstratable true observation exhibited again and again, but often ignored by Western policy makers.

[20] Translations of excerpted Al Wardi works ““Character of the Iraqis” translated and explained by Samah al Momen, Private collection). See also Iraq in Turmoil: Historical Perspectives of Dr Ali Al Wardi from the Ottoman Empire to King Feisal by Youssef H. Aboul -Enein. (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press 2012.) In the piece by Al Momen, Wardi characterizes the Iraqis as having a split personality, going from one extreme emotion to another.


[21] There are many congruities that brevity forces omission in this paper e.g., the issue of logistics and maintenance see Alex Vershinin, “Feeding the Bear: A Closer Look at the Russian Army logistics and the Fait Accompli.”War on the Rocks, Nov. 23 2021 at  The Arab issues with logistics, maintenance, timeliness, illusionary rhetoric, the place of

Non -commissioned officers, and junior officers, are congruent with those of the Russian military. See Donnelly. 29-51. See also Michaels, Daniel and Matthew Luxmoore, “Trains help Drive Russia’s latest Gains in. Ukraine.” (WSJ. June15, 2022).1, 8. Russia’s reliance on train transport reveals critical gaps in its logistics. On the problems with Arab maintenance see Kenneth M Pollack, Arabs at War, 565-568; 574-575. Often Arab officers see maintenance as below their station and eschew it.  As Hamady wrote, “the Arab is utterly contemptuous of manual labor, be it in the farm, in the factory, or in other contexts.”147. In the military officers refuse to get their hands dirty. The problem with Russian officer is not an adverse attitude toward work but a lack of a hands-on attitude. See also Kenneth M Pollack, Empires of Sand: The Past, Present, and Future of Arab Military Effectiveness. (Oxford: Oxford University Press ,2019). 37. Pollack makes point that poor officer-soldier relationship s did not seem to affect military effectiveness. Probably true in that the Arab soldiers expect very little and usually get less.

[22] Isaiah Berlin The Soviet Mind: Russian Culture under Communism (Washington DC: Brooking Institution Press,2011) 90. See also Simon Franklin and Emma Widdis. National Identity in Russian Culture. “The emergence of a national consciousness in Russia was thus both a result of and reaction against Western influence.”56.

[23] Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong: Western Impact and Eastern Response (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002)6.

[24] See Ian Buruma. And Avishai Margault. Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of its Enemies. (London: Penguin,2005). “The Occident……is seen as a threat not because it offers an alternative system of values, let alone a different route to Utopia. It is a threat because it promises materiel comfort, individual freedom and the dignity of unexceptional lives deflate all utopian pretensions.”72.

[25] It was the usual Russian split personality on the British – admiration and extreme distaste at the same time.

[26] Anthony Cross, “Them; Russians on Foreigners,” in National Identity in Russian Culture Ed. Simon Franklin and Emma Widdis. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006) 85.


[27] The leader of the Russian Orthodox church, Patriarch Kirill,  “….. proclaimed the war in Ukraine a metaphysical conflict between the faithful of God and a decadent West. Alan Cullison, “Invasion Widens Rifts among Christian Groups.” WSJ, Aug.1 2022.A7.

[28]  “…..for Soviet civilization is in  some respects  closer than Western Culture to the feelings and spirations of the intelligentsia in backward counties…… Walter Laqueur. The Soviet Union and The Middle East (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul,1959 .292.  With the rise of The ISIS and its popularity among many in the Islamic world should indicate that the totalitarian aspects of Islam (political Islam/Islamism) have certain aspects in consonance with those of Communism.  The inability of scholars to confront this issue head-on, or rather the fear of doing so, has retarded the capability of Western nations to deal with it. See Hannah Arendt. Totalitarianism. Part Three of the Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Harvest Books, 1951.) No doubt, the fact that totalitarian government ……rests on mass support is very disquieting. It is therefore hardly surprising that scholars as well as statesmen often refuse to recognize it.” v.

[29] Islam is more than a religion. It is a way of life. As Hitti makes clear the dogmas of Islam remain untouched by modernism. Phillip Hitti. Islam: A Way of Life (Chicago: Henry Regnery,1970).

[30] DeAtkine, “Why Arabs Lose Wars.” The removal Of Al Shazli after the 1973 war by Sadat was only one of an abundant number of military shakeups especially in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. The generals were never confident of their future and were quite justified in that feeling. See Kevin Woods, The Mother of All Battles. (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2008) Saddam constantly complained about his general’s lack of initiative, never quite understanding that their fear of a mistake and Saddam’s wrath was a large part of the problem. 267-268.

[31] See Masha Gessen.  The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin (New York; Riverhead Books,2013) 153-54. See also Angus Roxburgh. The Strongman and the Struggle for Russia. (London Tauras,2013) 245 and 338.The Iraqi generals’ travails are well documented in Kevin Woods, et al. Saddam’s Generals: Perspectives of the Iran-Iraq War. Alexandria Virginia, 2011.  Also see Pasach Malovany. Wars of Modern Babylon (Lexington Ky: University of Kentucky Press, 2017).647-8; See also Lester Grau and Charles Bartles. The Russian Way of War (Ft Leavenworth, Ks: FMSO, 2016), “Russia’s Soviet Legacy made – piped intelligence and security agencies the norm, as the Soviets were leery of investing all military power in a single ministry or organization, primarily due to fear of coup.” 25.

[32]Roberts. On 1 June 1946 arraigned before Higher Military Council chaired by Stalin.   He was dismissed due to his “egotism and disrespect for peers.:” He exiled to the outer provinces. Stalin executed some 30,000 military personnel and 81 of the 103 generals.  Best information on this is Robert Conquest The Great Terror: a Reassessment (Oxford: Oxford University Press,2008) The similarities between the Saddam and Stalin regimes are eerie.  See Kanan Mikiya Republic of Fear Los Angeles: University of California Press,1989.  Both books demonstrate the proclivity of the Arab and Russian people (and their media) to accept or acquiesce to terror as “normal” and the West to look the other way.

[33] Lester Grau and Michael Gress (The Soviet-Afghan War: How a Superpower Fought and Lost. (Lawrence KS. University of Kansas Press,2002) 14. However, The Russians redeemed themselves with a well- planned and well executed withdrawal juxtaposed to the American exit debacle. See also Lester Grau. “The Soviet-Afghan War “in Barry Rubin ed.  Conflict and Insurgency in the Contemporary Middle East (London: Routledge,2009).187

[34] Ali Al Momen translated extracts from his monograph the” Character of the Iraqis”. Baghdad Iraq, 2003.  Private email. See also Cdr. Youssef H. Aboul-Enein (USN). Iraq in Turmoil: Historical Perspectives of Dr. Ali Al Wardi, From the Ottoman Empire to King Feisal. (Annapolis Md Naval Institute Press, 2012.)

[35] DeAtkine, “Why Arabs Lose Wars Twenty Years Later.”

[36] I interviewed a number of Egyptian junior officers who attended courses in the US and the refrain I often heard was that their expertise, upon returning to Egypt, was always ignored by their senior officers,

[37] Donnelly, 37-8.

[38]   A good definition according to John Walter Jandora.  Militarism in Arab Society.   London: Greenwood Press, 1997, Militarism “entails Predominance of the military in governmental affairs, glorification of the military class, and a policy of aggressive military preparedness plus glorification of past military achievements and martial feats in literature, art, song, official propaganda and other media.” XVI. The effects are examined in Dalia Said Mostafa. The Egyptian Military in Popular Culture (London: Palgrave, 2017. As she wrote, “The main motivations for writing this book is the fact that the army is regarded so highly and is held in such a revered status that its impact on culture goes unchallenged by critics and academics.”9.  Russian militaristic society is explained by Donnelly, Red Banner, 91,106,173-5 The Russian version is however much more martial than the more bureaucratic Arab version which is largely theatrical in nature and more for propagandistic value. Arab militarism is more bureaucratic… best described as civilians in uniform.

[39] Peculiarities of Russian Warfare (German Series Report) Department of the Army Historical Series (Washington DC: Military Bookshop, 2010 (originally published in 1949.   Pamphlet N0. 20-230 (Washington DC: Dept of Army: 1950. In judging the basic qualities of the Russian soldier, it should be noted that “he fights only in rare instances for political ideas, but always for the fatherland.” 5. The key to his odd behavior (fanatic bravery but given to sudden flights of panic) is that …as a soldier “…. possesses neither the judgment nor the ability to think independently. “As a soldier, …  “He is primitive and unassuming, innately brave, but morosely passive in a group.” But, in a unanimous opinion of the German generals, the Russian soldier has fighting qualities “superior to the self-confident and more demanding soldiers of other armies.” 3. As with the Middle Easterners the Russian soldier lives close to the ground and expects very little from his superiors. With the possible exception of the Jordanian army. Arab officers are indifferent to the needs or cares of their soldiers.

[40] There has been some criticism of the rather abrasive criticism of the Russian soldier, justifiably so, but the basic truths have been borne out in the Georgian war and in Afghanistan and Chechnya as depicted later in this paper. See Andrei Martyanov (Losing Military Supremacy.: The Myopia of American Strategic Planning. Atlanta Ga.: Clarity Press, 2018. He makes the point which must be considered that the German generals, penned up in America but in nice surroundings, wrote what the Americans wanted to hear. He excoriates what he sees as American unwarranted military hubris.

[41]  In 2014 After a period of hybrid warfare, i.e., non kinetic means were employed, the Russians in the Donbas region of Ukraine resorted to WWII tactics fighting a war “that was looking more like a conventional (even if undeclared), war in which both sides fielded mixes of regular forces and militia in sporadic but brutal combat. “Mark Galeotti.Armies of Russia’s War in Ukraine (Oxford: Osprey Publishing,2019) 17.

[42] “The vaunted” description was derived from the successes of the Russian forces in squashing various revolts in central Asia and the Caucasus.   Closer examination reveals that it was always done by use of kinetic force.

In this section I have relied principally on Lester Grau. The Bear Went over the Mountain: Soviet Combat Tactics in Afghanistan (London: Frank Cass, 2003).  The Russian General Staff; The Soviet-Afghan War: How a Superpower Fought and Lost.  Ed. and translated by Lester Grau and Michael Gress (Lawrence KS: University of Kansas,2002.   Rodric Braithwaite. Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan 1979-89 (Oxford: Oxford University Press,2011; Mark Galeotti. Afghanistan: The Soviet Union’s Last War (London: Frank Cass, 2001.). Artemy Kalinovsky “The Blind Leading the Blind: Soviet Advisors, Counterinsurgency and Nation Building in Afghanistan. “at; William Derleth,” Can the Red Army fight a Counterinsurgency?”  Armed Forces& Society, Vol 15. No. I (Fall 1988) pp. 33-54. Olga Olikar “The Soviet Advisory Mission in the 1980’s. Senior Leadership and Reporting Channels.” Chapter from Building Afghanistan’s Security Forces in Wartime.  Rand Corporation, at https://WWW.JSTOR.ORG.STABLE/10.7249/mg107a. Svetlana Alexievich. Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War (New York:  W.W. Norton, 1992). Vladislav Tamarov A Russian Soldiers Story (Berkely: The Speed Press,2001; Vladislav Zubok.  A Failed Empire: The Soviet Union in the Cold War from Stalin to Gorbachev (Chapel Hill N.C.: University of North Carolina, 2007). 259-264   Give excellent concise introduction to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; Dmitri Trenin. What is Russia up to in the Middle East (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2018) 53-82. Provides a short concise summary of Russian intervention in the Middle East. Serge Alexander Zenkovsky. Pam-Turkism and Islam in Russia (Cambridge.: Harvard University Press,1960) provides good summary of how communism and Islam meshed in Central Asia.276-279; Mark Urban. War in Afghanistan (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1988.) Urban asked the question in 1988. With the Russian exit from Afghanistan and Americans enjoying a bit of schadenfreude at the expense of the Russians what comes after the Russians? No doubt the Russians had enormous delight at the American debacle in exiting Kabul in 2021.  Urban also cautioned against the Western journalists’ acceptance of stories of doubtful credence coming from the Afghans. A lesson we might take to heart in the on-going war in the Ukraine.  After 229 pages Anthony Cordesman and Abraham Wagner’s book, The Lessons of Modern War: vol. III The Afghan and Falklands Conflicts (Boulder: Westview Press, 1990) concludes that the important lesson learned was the “War should never have been fought.”

[43] The Vietnam library on this subject is voluminous. Perhaps one of the best is Cincinnatus. Self-Destruction (New York: W.W. Norton,1981. The author, obviously well tied into the military bureaucracy and keen-eyed observer of the near-disintegration of the army-an army I served in and also observed.  He particularly surfaces the dramatic after-effects of the war of the officer corp.  Also see Shelby Stanton. The Rise and Fall of an American Army. (New York: Dell Publishing,1985). Stanton carefully chronicles the falsification of reports, corruption, and dramatic lowering of standards for conscripts with a few weeks training being sent to the jungles of Vietnam. It became a war of the poor and uneducated.  For reasons I surfaced in “The Arab as Insurgent and Counterinsurgent” Conflict and Insurgency in the Contemporary Middle East (London: Routledge, 2009) middle eastern insurgencies are the most difficult to fight.  Fighting   an insurgency fueled by political Islam is a major separate issue. Islam is not mentioned in FM 3-24; rather it is addressed rather as “religious extremism.” A bad mistake as I surfaced in “Muhammad Taught us to Fight.” At .

[44] Paul Seabury and Angelo Codevilla, War: Ends and Means (New York: Basic Books,1989) 177.

[45] As spelled out in US Army/Marine Counterinsurgency Field Manual FM 3-24 (Old Saybrook CT.: Konecky and Konecky: No Date) . This field Manual largely drawn from David Galula (Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice (London: Praeger,1964. “At its core, COIN is a struggle for the population’s support.”  40.  It is a bit strange that the manual has very few references to any lessons learned from the Russian experience in Afghanistan.  The excellent response to this well written Field Manual is found in Gian Gentile’s Wrong Turn: America’s Deadly Embrace of Counterinsurgency New York: The New Press,2013.” The narrative of counterinsurgency practiced by the US military proves to be a story of failure and redemption.” When asked by a senior commander what I thought of the FM 3-24 I replied that while it was helpful and useful for senior commanders, it has little usefulness at the level that the war is being fought, i.e., platoon and company level…. too academic and complicated.

[46] General Alexi Yermolov, the commander of Russian troops against the Basmachi rebels wrote that in order to turn the Chechens out of their villagers to pacify the region used scorched earth tactics to including as I he put it, using only an “example of terror can induce them to do so.” Ariel Cohen. Russia’s Counterinsurgency in North Caucasus: Performance and Consequences (Carlisle. Pa.: Strategic Studies Institute, 2014.) 7.

[47] See Anne Applebaum. Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine. (New York: Anchor Books, 2018. As shown by Applebaum the Stalinist Holodomor (hunger extermination) was part of a planned policy to destroy Ukrainian resistance to collectivization. Xxxvii-xxxii.

[48] Lester Grau. The Bear Went over the Mountain Soviet Combat Tactics in Afghanistan (London: Frank Cass,2003) .201.

[49] According to Dmitri Trenin, over three decades the Russians sent 80,000 advisors to the Middle East and trained 55000 Arab officers in the USSR. 21. That does not include the many thousands of Russian advisors in Afghanistan or the   many thousands of Afghan officers trained in the USSR

[50] The Arab application of counterinsurgency closely follows that of the Russian patterns as one can observe in Syria, Iraq and Egypt. The one major tenet is simply to simply to destroy the insurgents will to resist as the Iraqis attempted in their Anfal campaign against the Kurds, the Assad forces against the rebel organizations, and the Egyptians in the campaign in the Sinai against the Wilayet Sinai.  Any attempts to use more humanitarian efforts were quickly set aside as useless.

[51] Best defined as waging war in untraditional methods using all means of defeating your enemy e.g., psychological, economic and disinformation as well as kinetic.

[52] For instance, Leo Tolstoy’s description of a raid on a Chechen village in Hadji Murat.  Terror in Russian literature is a sanctifying grace, it entitles the victim to a special place. They have become inured to it and also perhaps benumbed. See George Gibian,” Terror in Russian Culture and Literary Imagination.” Human Rights Quarterly, Vol.5 No. 2 (May 1983)

[53]  Joseph Conrad wrote expressively of Russian cruelty in Poland based on personal experience, which he described as an “barbaric Asiatic   despotism.” The more recent history of the destruction of Grozny -twice -destruction of Aleppo, and now cities in Ukraine are not collateral damage but a point made to Russian enemies i.e., Insurgents facing the Russians cannot use a tactic frequently used by insurgents against western forces—they cannot use noncombatants as shields.

[54] Terror was a mainstay of the Early Islamic conquests and has been emulated and modernized in the writings of Pakistani General S.K Malik and his famous book, The Quranic Concept of War.  The book was heartly recommended by general Zia al W Haq. Malik makes the point that the Quran advocates the use of terror to as a psychological weapon.  “To Instill terror in the heart of the enemy, it is essential…to dislocate his faith. An invincible faith is immune to terror. A weak faith offers inroads to terror.” Excerpt from the Malik book quoted in Laurent Murawiec. The Mind of Jihad (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.) 323. The Malik book is mysteriously difficult to find. Perhaps is does not fit in to the approved version of Islam currently being taught. See Norvell DeAtkine, “Mohammed Taught US to Fight” at

[55] Vladislav Tamarov. Afghanistan: A Soldier’s Story.98

[56] Braithwaite,182.

[57] Ibid.169.189

[58]  Privates got their pay in checks, military script. It was similar to what we in the US military used in Korea as currency. The Soviet General Staff, The Soviet-Afghan War. 293.

[59] Braithwaite. 189.  In all fairness, it should be recalled that the US army in Vietnam had a major corruption problem, The highest-ranking noncommissioned officer in the army was involved in a massive case of corruption which reached from Vietnam to the United States and American troops in Germany.  See A particular facet of insurgency wars is the massive support infrastructure required maintain soldier morale, and the attendant nation building lends itself to corruption and waste.  It was true for the US in Iraq and Afghanistan. The waste in Iraq and Afghanistan was phenomenal.  See Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience WDC: Government Printing Office, no date). The report downplays corruption but from many sources, including my own observations, any funds proffered to the Iraqi contractors was siphoned off to their pockets.

[60] The Russian General Staff. The Soviet-Afghan War. “Many recruits developed a narcotics habit in Afghanistan. They financed their habit by selling equipment, ammunition and weapons.”313. The quartermasters of military units stationed throughout the country secretly sold the shopkeepers Army foodstuffs in able to buy goods from the Afghans they were unable to buy in Russia, such as fur jackets and digital devices. A person could buy a second-hand car by selling one jacket in Russia. Drunkenness was universal among officers and enlisted men, despite regulations forbidding it. The supposedly devout Muslim Afghans would trade three fur jackets for a crate of vodka. As related by Braithwaite this was rarely punished because the senior officers and officials were on the take.


[61] The Russian troops despised the locals as well.” I hated the locals with their baskets of melons or just standing by their doors. What had they been doing the night before? They killed a young officer I knew from the hospital and carved up two tents full of soldiers and poisoned the water supply.” Alexeivich 23.

[62] Tamarov 98.  In another passage he relates this; “Until then I had seen Mujahadeen only far away…. But that day – a live one, real with trembling arms raised above his head. According to the rules of war I should have taken him prisoner. But there were no rules in this war.  But I had no choice – there were only three of us and we didn’t know how many of them were left. To this day I remember the fear in his eyes: It was so strong, that it was hard for me to take aim. All I could do was close my eyes and pull the trigger.” 126.

[63] Alexievich 50.

[64]   A very succinct summation of the Russian problems are found in Major  James T. Mc Ghee article, “The Soviet Experience in Afghanistan” at   The best on this subject are the works of Lester Grau. The Bear Went over the Mountain, Lester Grau and Michael Grau The Soviet Afghan War.  

[65] Primarily I used the following as references for this section.: Timothy Thomas.” Russian Tactical Lessons Learned Fighting Chechen Separatists.”  Slavic Military Studies (vol18, 2005 issue 4) 731-766. at // ; https: Mark Galiotti. Russia’s Wars in Chechnya  Mark Galiotti. Russia’s Wars in Chechnya 1994-2009. Oxford: Osprey Press, 2014.:  Elie  Cohen: Russia’s counterinsurgency in. North Caucasus; Olga Oliker. “Russia’s Chechen Wars 1994-2000. Lessons from Urban Combat.” Rand Corporation, 2001 at ; Lester Grau   Russian “Lessons learned from the Battles for Grozny” at  ; Kramer, Mark. “The Perils of Counterinsurgency: Russia’s War in Chechnya.” International Security, vol. 29, no. 3, 2004, pp. 5–63. JSTOR,; Arkady Babchenko. One Soldier’s War (New York: Grove Press.2007; Major Raymond Finch III. “Why the Russians Failed in Chechnya. ” FMSO, CALL.  Ft Leavenworth: KS at   Defense Minister Grachev was of the opinion that the war “would be a bloodless blitzkrieg.” The Russian security council considered Dudayev, ( the Chechen president)

And his army as A criminal, disorganized gang of rebels who would be intimidated by the first sign of a tank,

[66] Ariel Cohen.  “The first Chechen war was a spectacularly demoralizing defeat for the Russian Political leadership and the Russian military, which itself was undergoing an identity crisis after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  The strategy included an overwhelming use of air power to destroy cities, kill and terrorize civilians and demolish the power centers of the Chechen separatists.”4.;  G.D Bakshi. “The War in Chechnya: A military Analysis.”  Monthly Journal of the IDSA (Aug. 2000) This was one of the few that that put the wars of Afghanistan and Chechnya in the context of Islamic warfare.  Bakshi asked the question, “Had the era of the Clash of Civilizations come about?  A needed addition to the history of the Western wars in the Islamic East, avoided by Galula and the FM 3-24. The 3-24 lumped Islamism together with “religious extremism.”

[67] Lester Grau “Russian Urban Tactics: Lessons from the Battle of Grozny” Strategic Forum (No 38.(NDU) at . The follow-on assault by Russian units were poorly led, without unit cohesion and  led by armor without infantry protection. Some of tank crews were with out machine guns, or even weapons.

[68]Timothy Thomas, “The Battle of Grozny“at

[69] Angus Roxburgh. Strongman: Vladimir Putin and the Struggle for Russia. (London: IB Taurus, 2013).216-217.  Because the Chechens allowed journalists to freely roan about within their territory and the Russians refused to allow any, the reporting was probably one sided but also mostly verified. The atrocities of the Russian troops were unbelievable in scope and barbarism.  Roxburgh was of the opinion that the later massive terror attacks by the Chechens were calculated revenge acts for Russian atrocities in the first Chechen war.

[70] His biography compiled at Jihadi Bios Project at the USMA West Point Combating Terrorism Center, written by Muhammad al Ubaydi.

[71] See General Wesley Clark. Waging Modern War (New York: Public Affairs Press,2001. General Clark was a bit over aggressive against the Russians, at one time advocating bombing Russian ships supplying the Serbs.   A nervous Sec Def, Willian Cohen, later gently moved Clark away from the command.  The affair over control of an obscure airfield, Pristina, in which the Russian brigade was pushed aside was considered a great humiliation. The NATO forces arrayed against the Serbs supporting Muslims and “fascist” Croats, solidified Russian belief in the eternal animosity of the West. In WWII, Himmler’s infatuation with a Bosnia Muslim division with Croats greatly exacerbated the age-old Serbian-Muslim hatred. See (George Lepre. Himmler’s Bosnian Division: The Waffen SS Handschar Division 1943-1945. (Atglen Pa.: Schiffer Military History,1997.)  “Himmler’s efforts to ‘restore order in the ridiculous (Croatian) state’ simply added fuel to the fire of religious hatred that continues to live and breathe among the Slavs of the Balkan peninsula.”319.

[72]  There are many sources which put most of the blame on Putin and the FSB (Federal Security Service) for producing false flag operations to provide legitimacy for the second war. See David Satter. The Less You Know; The Better You Sleep.                 (London:  Yale University Press, 2016) 1-39 and 97-131. Also see Masha Gesser.  She did not believe that Putin actually engineered the Moscow Opera House massacre (2002) or the Beslan terror attack (2004) but she wrote it was the consequence of “wrong moves, unholy alliances, and   wrecked plans.”217.


[73] Generally, the Russians have within an infantry brigade size unit an organic battalion of artillery and one battalion in direct support the whereas the US army has one artillery battalion in direct support of a brigade.

[74] This was made possible by the fact that not all Chechens succumbed to the siren a call of Islamic Jihad, some maintained a belief in the Chechen nationalist ideology plus the usual trait of all tribal and clan societies to splinter if not held together by a strong charismatic leader.

[75] Galeottti.60.

[76] Ibid. 90

[77] Most of the available literature on the Georgian war is confined to strategic and operational performance of the Russians in which the analysis averred substantial improvement in the performance of the Russian army but on the ground, the problems with small unit proficiency were evident. For example, armored external protection, the reactive armor canisters, were not used. One Russian general admitted that in order to provide competent leadership for Russian formations they were forced to “handpick colonels and generals from all over Russia. “They also found that their kontraktniky (contract soldiers) were not up to par and also insufficient in numbers and therefore the Russian leadership was once gain forced to use ill-trained and motivated conscripts. See Ariel Cohen and Robert Hamilton. The Russian Military and The Georgian War: Lessons and Implications (Carlisle, Pa.: Strategic Studies Institute, 2011). Also see Lionel Beehner, et al. Analyzing the Russian Way of War: Evidence from the 2008 Conflict with Georgia, (West Point: The Modern War Institute, 2018). This study gave too much credit to the Russian army in terms of modernization and war fighting capabilities, making the mistake so many have made by concentration of technological improvements instead of the core of soldiery competence.

[78] The idea taught in the US marines that lower rank noncommissioned officers must be trained to make decisions in tactical situations that have strategic implications.

[79] Babchenko, 108.

[80] Ibid.76. It should be noted that Russian soldier desertions and avoidance of combat is not unique to the wars in Afghanistan and Chechnya. The Russian army leading up to World War II and the first year were a prelude of the Russian problems they are facing now. An extraordinarily informative book on the Russian army prior to WWII  is found in Roger Reese. Stalin’s Reluctant Soldiers: A Social History of the Red Army. 1925-1941.  Lawrence KS. University of Kansas Press, 1996. “The problem of the Russian army in 1941 was a human problem. It was not a problem of enemy superiority, technology, or interference from a tyrannical leader……. What was different was that the Soviet regime, contrary to its intentions had created a reservoir of ill-will among potential conscripts through its social and economic policies….”207.

[81] In this section I relied upon Ray Cline and Yonah Alexander. Terrorism: The Soviet Connection. (New York: Crane/ Russak,1985):; Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin. The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB: and Walter Laqueur. The Age of Terrorism (Boston: Little Brown and co., Revised copy, 1977.

[82] Despite the fact that as Laqueur wrote, “In contrast to many writers on the subject, Soviet experts are perfectly aware of the fundamental difference between terrorism and guerrilla warfare.” Laqueur,272.

[83] Laurie Mylroie. The War Against America: Saddam Hussein and the World Trade Center Attacks. (New York: Harper Collins,2001) 247.

[84]Christopher Andrew.380-382.

[85] Laqueur.275-276.

[86] Gessen. 217 and Roxburgh,59

[87] For this section I relied Tom Ripley. Operation Aleppo: Russia’s war in Syria. (Lancaster: Autotelic-Herrick Publications,2018.); Anna Borshchevskaya. Putin’s war in Syria ((London. Taurus,2022.; Dima Adamsky. Russia’s “Lessons Learned, from the Operation in Syria. : A preliminary Assessment”  Feb 2020, The George C Marshall Center at . : Russia’s Military Strategy  and  Doctrine, Eds. Glen Howard and Matthew Czekaj( Washington DC:,. Jamestown Foundation, 2019); Andrei Martyanov Losing Military Supremacy:  The Myopia of American Strategic Planning. (Atlanta Ga.: Clarity Press, 2018.Timothy Thomas, “Russian Lessons Learned in Syria: An Assessment”. MITRE Center for technology,2020.) at .; . Understanding Russia’s Intervention in Syria. Rand Corporation at Charap, Samuel, Elina Treyger, and Edward Geist,” Understanding Russia’s Intervention in Syria.” Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2019. Dima Adamsky Moscow’s Syrian Campaign; Russian Lessons for the Art of Strategy .IFRI,July 2018 at ; Mason Clark,” Russian Lessons Learned in Syria,”   Institute for Study of War Jan. 2021  at’s%20Lessons%20Learned%20in%20Syria_0.pdf ; A  number of Mason Clarks articles for the Institute for the Study of War in the series were very helpful.

Seth Jones. Moscow’s War in Syria. Center for Strategic and International Studies May 2022.

at;.  Theodore Karasik, and Stephen Eds. Blank, Russia in the Middle East. (WDC: Jamestown Foundation,2018.7yh


[88] See Sergey Sukhankin,  “The Russian’s State’s use of Irregular Forces and Private Military Groups: From Ivan the Terrible to the Soviet Period “ The Jamestown Foundation at  

[89]  “It was in greater precision than in the past that Moscow hit civilian targets, such as hospitals, bakeries, and gas stations where people lined up for gas…..”  Borshchevskaya, 77. On the military operational side, It took months of attacks to dislodge ISIS fighters from Syrian towns of Sukhnh and Arak using daily helicopter strikes, artillery ,and rocket barrages . It took a four-month siege to retake Dier Ez Zor.  While there was little concern for the Syrian civilians unlucky enough to be in towns occupied by the ISIS, the Russian servicemen in Syria had good duty in Syria, with accelerated promotion, prefabricated barracks, mess halls, and medical facilities flown in from Russia. Ripley,87. This was not repeated in the first campaign against the Ukraine as once again conscripts, ostensibly against Russian law, were deployed against the Ukrainians.  The life of these soldiers was reminiscent of their life in Afghanistan and Chechnya. See Timofei Kozhansky, “Why Russian Troops are Refusing to Fight in Ukraine, 20 July 2022. At  There are hundreds of similar reports, which must be taken with a large grain of salt, but there can be little doubt  that the core of the Russian military  rotted by years of  involvement in the Middle Eastern  social and military environment has eaten away the “ Soul” of the Russian soldier, formerly the one attribute which allowed the Russians to defeat better trained and equipped professional armies.

[90] I used my own experience plus the following sources:  Artemy Kalinosky. “The Blind Leading the Blind: Soviet Advisors, Counter-insurgency and nation- building in Afghanistan. “Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.   Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez. The Soviet-Israeli War 1967-1973. Antonio Giustozzi and Artemy Kalinovsky. Missionaries of Modernity: Advisory Missions and the Struggle for Hegemony from the 1940’s to Afghanistan (London: Hurst,2016)

[91] See Giustozzi, 31-71. see also Norvell DeAtkine “The Art of Foreign Influence: The Russian Military Advisor.” In Lima Charlie News,

[92]  As a result of the Russian paranoia on security little information is available on the life and experiences of the Russian advisory missions in the Middle East or elsewhere.

[93]  See Brathwaite,146-147. As with most Middle Eastern armies, disunity rather than unity was a debilitating issue with the Russian military in Afghanistan. It was evidently the way the advisory mission in Afghanistan was organized. “Each advisor team, both for security ministries and other ministries and organizations had its own chain of command leading back to Moscow.” Nor was the overall advisory mission adequately tied into the combat command of the 40th Army in Afghanistan.  As the inability of the Afghan army to defeat the Mujahideen became clear, the advisors took over the decision-making and true to the experience of all advisors in the Middle Eastern regions, the local army commanders were content to let then advisors take charge, avoiding blame should an operation go awry. Moreover, the military advisors were drawn into intra Afghanistan political rivalries and conflicts, with most Russian advisors looking favorably on the Khalq faction of the Afghanistan Communist party. This led to intra-Russian friction among the various parts of the Russian government, i.e., the party apparatus, the Intelligence and security apparatus and the military with taking sides in the internal Afghan governing rivalries; See Artemy Kalinosky, A Long Goodbye (London: Harvard University Press,2011) 31-37. “In fighting and lack of coordination among advisers and other Soviet officials had numerous practical consequences that undermined the Soviet Mission. In a number of cases,” liberation” of villages and successful efforts to win over rebels floundered when some Soviet officials refused to cooperate.”35.

[94]   Giustozzi ,33. See Pierre Razoux. The Iran-Iraq War (London: Harvard University Press, 2016) 15, 84-85,240-241.

[95] Razoux, 85

[96] This syndrome is best described as the “Chatham House effect” described by Elie Kedourie as,” The belief then that there is a tight connection between the study of policy and the making of it, the assumption of the unity of theory and practice……”  Elie Kedourie, The Chatham House Version and Other Middle -Eastern Studies (London: University Press of New England, 1984) .353.An example of this is the delay of General Wavell’s army entering Baghdad to stop the destruction of the Jewish community (the “farhud”)  because he was worried about the effect on the Arab world of a British (infidel) army entering a famous Arab city.

[97]  General Sebrov, commander of the 103rd Division summed it up.” The Country we had been helping in every way for ten years now lay in ruins. Everyone contributed to the destruction…but a significant part of the blame lay on us. Braithwaite. 291.

[98] “His domain included another unknown page: participation in the Egyptian conflict, which no one ever mentioned. These internationalist soldiers …found themselves completely forgotten. To prevent this injustice from happening again, officers rallied to defend the rights and interest of the Afgantsy combatants.

[99] Gentile. 140

[100] It is ironic, but not at all surprising that after the Russians departed, many Afghans preferred the Russians to Americans.  “I was told by almost every Afghan I met that things were better than under the Russians. The Russians were not so standoffish as the Americans who had no interest in Afghanistan itself, and looked like Martians with their elaborate equipment, menacing body armour and their impenetrable Ray -Bans.”  Braithwaite, 335.The Shi’a of Iraq, whom we came -ostensibly – to save from the Sunni regime of Saddam, upon assuming power, produced our most inveterate enemy, the Iranian supported Shi’a organizations.

[101]J. Christopher Herold, in his book, Bonaparte in Egypt (London: Hamish- Hamiliton,1962) gives some of the most   vivid impressions of French soldiers entering Cairo. 136-140.This city declared the paymaster, does not deserve its great reputation. It is filthy, badly built, and populated by horrible dogs. Major Detroye, waxed eloquently in describing Cairo as having narrow unpaved dirty streets, dark house like dungeons, shops that look like stables, and atmosphere redolent of dust and garbage, blind men, half-blind men, bearded men, people dressed in Rags…..”136. While his men were being butchered by Egyptians in the Delta, Napoleon was writing Paris that, “all goes perfectly well here., The country is getting used to us.” Herold adds, “To be a conqueror requires unusual optimism and an outsized pair of blinkers.” 141.

[102] Relating the consequence of Sir Anthony Eden’s purported deception initiating the Suez expedition in 1956, Keith Kyle wrote,” A.J.P. Taylor supplied the right verdict when he wrote nine years later, ‘the moral for British governments to is clear, like most respectable people they make poor criminals and had better stick to respectability.’” Suez: Britain’s End of the Empire in the Middle East(London: I.B. Tauris,2011,) 585.

About Tex

Retired artillery colonel, many years in a number of positions in the Arab world. Graduate of the US Military Academy and the American University of Beirut. MA in Arab studies from the American University in Beirut along with 18 years as Middle East Seminar Director at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, Served in Vietnam with 1st Inf Division, Assignments in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, plus service with Trucial Oman Scouts in the Persian Gulf. Traveled to every Arab country on the map including Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
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