New York Times (NYT) investigation of Russian military documents supports ISW’s longstanding assessments about how flawed Russian planning assumptions and campaign design decisions plagued Russia’s invasion of Ukraine from its onset. ISW has long assessed that faulty Russian planning assumptions, campaign design decisions, and Russian violations of Russia’s own military doctrine undermined Russian operations. The NYT acquired and published logbooks, timetables, orders, and other documents of elements of the 76th Airborne Division and 1st Guards Tank Army related to the early days of the war on December 16. The documents demonstrate that Russian military planners expected Russian units to be able to capture significant Ukrainian territory with little to no Ukrainian military opposition. The documents indicate that elements of the 76th Airborne Division and Eastern Military District were ordered to depart Belarus and reach Kyiv within 18 hours against little resistance; Russian planners placed OMON riot police and SOBR Russian National Guard (Rosgvardia) special police elements (essentially a Russian SWAT equivalent) within the first column of a maneuver element of the 104th Air Assault Regiment of the 76th Airborne Division. Riot police are not suitable lead elements for a large maneuver force in a conventional force-on-force war because they are not trained to conduct combined arms or mechanized warfare. The decision to place riot police in the lead column is a violation of Russian (or any normal) doctrine and indicates that Russian planners did not expect significant organized Ukrainian resistance. A separate set of orders indicates that Russian planners expected unsupported elements of the Russian 26th Tank Regiment (of the 47th Tank Division, 1st Guards Tank Army) to conduct a mostly uninhibited, 24-hour dash from Ukraine’s border with Russia to a point across the Dnipro River, about 400 kilometers away. Ukrainian forces destroyed elements of the 26th Tank Regiment in Kharkiv Oblast, hundreds of kilometers short of its intended destination on March 17.
The NYT investigation also supports ISW’s assessments that Russian strategic commanders have been micromanaging operational commanders’ decisions on tactical matters and that Russian morale is very low. The investigation supported existing reporting that Russian soldiers in Belarus did not know they were going to attack Ukraine until February 23—the day before the invasion—and that some soldiers did not know about the invasion until one hour before the invasion began. A retired Russian general told the NYT that the lack of a unified Russian theater command meant there was “no unified planning of actions and command [and control].” A Ukrainian pilot told the NYT he was amazed that Russian forces did not conduct a proper air and missile campaign at the beginning of the war to target Ukrainian airfields—as Russian doctrine prescribes. The NYT reported a Russian tank commander deliberately destroyed a Rosgvardia checkpoint in Zaporizhia Oblast over an argument and that many Russian soldiers sabotaged their own vehicles to avoid combat. The NYT’s findings support ISW’s assessments and body of research on why the Russian military has been experiencing significant failures since the beginning of the invasion.