Motivation Levels Ukrainian Troops Vs Russian? – OpEd


Russia is understood to have the world’s “Second-best Army”, after that of the US, and has had victories. When Putin’s forces invaded Ukraine on 24th February 2022, many Western observers and governments expected a quick Russian victory but that did not happen. But as the war with Ukraine continues, Putin’s presumptuous plans to seize Kyiv and replace President Zelenskyy’s government have failed to be executed. Now the Ukraine war has entered the 3rd year and Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) continue to stand and fight! So, what makes them fight against a superior and larger Russian Army in all respects?

What makes UAF Fight? 

A former literature teacher, who volunteered to fight pro-Moscow separatists in 2014 and now serves in southern Ukraine sums it all; “I consider Self-Sacrifice and Motivation of Our Military’s main advantage…The factor that everyone understands that this is, first of all, a Fight for our native land, our home, for the future of their children,” she told Al Jazeera. Soldiers battling the invasion have more to fight for than their Russian rivals, so morale is higher. Ukrainian men and women of all walks of life volunteered to join the army or paramilitary units, often paying for their arms and equipment. UAF remains focused on the main goal: Russia’s defeat.

Ukrainian Media and Zelensky Blitzkrieg. The influence of the Ukrainian information media on Western institutions and media has resulted in a successful mobilization of support from the West. As a result, the West sees the war and its implications almost exclusively through a Ukrainian viewpoint, instead of its own.   This makes the EU’s decoupling from Russia and President Zelensky has been instrumental in putting across his view viewpoint to the Western leaders traveling across during the war and making the Western leaders visit Ukraine during the conflict. President Zelensky has projected himself as a War Hero standing up to the Russian might. The UAF continues to demonstrate high levels of operational flexibility, motivation, and capability. The UAF appears committed to capitalizing on Russian military shortfalls and demonstrating to foreign audiences its ability to retake territory. And the US-NATO based on this premise continues to support Ukraine leading to high levels of morale and motivation of the UAF and its citizens who know fully well that at the moment the US, NATO and EU are there to back them up. Whereas Russia fights on its own capability with the West combine wanting to weaken it to the extent never to invade any other country!

The Cossacks Warriors Factor. Since Russia’s full-scale Invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the Ukrainian army has proven itself mighty and tenacious to an international community that may have previously thought them quiet and unassuming. But the fierce Ukrainian army has an historical prototype in the Zaporizhian Cossacks, a daring and fearsome people of the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries, whose adventures fill Ukrainian folklore and inspire an enduring Ukrainian spirit of Independence. For Ukrainians, the Cossacks, or Kozaks, are such figures, emphasized and even romanticized in artistic and historical accounts over the centuries. Living in quasi-democratic communities in what is now central Ukraine, Cossacks elected their leaders, perfected cavalry tactics and repelled attempts of Poland, Ottoman Turkey, and Russia to conquer them. The term Cossack comes from a Turkish word meaning ‘Free Man.’

The enduring mythology of the Cossacks paints them as semi-nomadic, semi-militarized bandits. They lived around the lower bends of the Dnieper River, near Ukraine’s most fertile Lands.  Although they exercised democratic self-rule, much of their attention went to defending their fertile and resource-rich land against invasion. By shaping the identity of the Ukrainian region, the Cossacks lay the groundwork for it to become the independent nation it is today. So, this is also about centuries-old, clash-of-civilizations-like confrontation, as well as the demographics of the warring sides – as other factors contributing to Ukraine’s resilience. They were devoutly Orthodox Christian.

Ukrainian National Anthem. The Ukrainian national anthem, whose lyrics were written by Pavlo Chybynsky in 1862, amidst growing nationalism when Ukraine was under the control of the Russian Empire, says: “Soul and body shall we lay down for our freedom / And we will show, brothers, that we are of the Cossack nation!” The reference to the Cossacks in the anthem still sung today solidifies the significance of these people in Ukraine’s ongoing self-identity and fight to maintain sovereignty. Ukrainian national anthem helps understand how proud Ukrainians are of Cossacks, a caste of medieval frontier warriors somewhat similar to the cowboys of the Wild West.

Eventual Subjugation of Ukraine

In 1654, Ukraine made a pact with Moscow – the only independent Orthodox state at the time and that paved the way to the eventual subjugation of Ukraine. Cossacks spearheaded Russia’s conquest of Siberia, Central Asia, and the Caucasus, winning “their way to the dominion of Eurasia.” Cossacks were elite cavalrymen, while czarist infantry consisted of peasants, slave-like Serfs who were forcibly drafted, and were often used as cannon fodder. 

Russian Forces Low Morale

Western and Ukrainian media appears to have exaggerated stories of low morale and lack of motivation. However, there are reasons to believe. Ukrainian soldiers are Fighting for their native land, their home and for the future of their children and wonder what motivation is there for the Russian troops? The “People’s Militias” in Russian-occupied Donetsk and Luhansk have had to resort to heavy-handed tactics to fill their ranks, amid reports that men in those territories injure themselves or pay bribes to avoid being sent into combat.

Signs of War Fatigue. There have been signs of war fatigue inside Russia as well. The relatives of soldiers have been increasingly vocal with calls to bring their loved ones home, while a wave of significant protests swept the Bashkortostan region in January, fueled at least in part by the widespread belief that families from non-Russian ethnic minorities are bearing a disproportionate share of the war’s burden. Captured Russian servicemen and conscripted men from separatist areas have said many were duped into signing contracts to fight in Ukraine. 

The Levada Center’s survey revealed that people in the 18-24 age range, are least likely to identify military service with being a “Real Man”. They are also most likely to agree with the statement that “Military service is senseless and dangerous and should be avoided at all costs”. Hundreds fled the country to avoid being sent to fight in Ukraine.

Newly mobilised soldiers complain about the lack of training and equipment they are given before facing combat. This dissatisfaction has led to angry confrontations between soldiers and their commanders. There are reports that soldiers are being punished for refusing to fight. These tensions in the ranks have serious implications for morale. 

Putin hesitated to give the order for a general mobilisation, reportedly fearing a public backlash against the war and mass resistance to the call up. Russia needs to regain the trust and goodwill of its soldiers. 

Mercenaries and Convicts. Russia reportedly employs hundreds of battle-tested mercenaries with the notorious Wagner company who fought in Ukraine’s Donbas in 2014 and Syria and were instrumental in the takeover of the southeastern Luhansk region. Yevgeny Prigozhin the owner of the Wagner private army, is said to have recruited hundreds of inmates in Russian prisons, promising them hefty salaries and amnesty if they survived six months of combat, with payments promised to their families if they were killed. This strategy filled the ranks for a time, but the flow of volunteers dried up as reports of the high casualty rates made their way back to prisons. Wagner Chief Yevgeny Prigozhin’s death in a private plane crash is also shrouded in mystery.

Ukrainians are Fighting for their Homeland. The contrast with the high levels of motivation among Ukrainian soldiers is striking as they have a cause to defend their country. Ukrainian soldiers are Fighting for their native land, their home and for the future of their children. The Cossacks remain symbols of Ukraine’s ongoing fight for sovereignty, as well as their military might that is not to be underestimated. This invasion made Ukraine, West, US, NATO and the EU united like never before.

“Do not let your beautiful mind become a battlefield. Just because someone has shown you their weapons does not mean you have to accept the war. Those who try to break you are expecting you to be in fight mode. Conquer them with Peace.” — Della Hicks-Wilson

Sources: Open-Source Intelligence

Patial RC

Patial RC is a retired Infantry officer of the Indian Army and possesses unique experience of serving in active CI Ops across the country and in Sri Lanka. Patial RC is a regular writer on military and travel matters in military professional journals. The veteran is a keen mountaineer and a trekker.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *