Tweets from Texas Republicans have a history of aging like milk and Ted Cruz might take the cake in this regard. Last May, the senator shared Russian propaganda on Twitter while implying that the “woke” U.S. military would stand no chance against their tough, masculine Russian counterparts. “Holy crap,” tweeted Cruz in response to a comparison of a Russian Army ad and a U.S. Army ad. “Perhaps a woke, emasculated military is not the best idea….”
The Russian recruitment video is filled with dramatic music and cinematography, depicting a Russian paratrooper waking up to do all sorts of martial activities like firing a sniper rifle and jumping out of an airplane. The American ad told the story of Cpl. Emma Malonelord, who grew up with two mothers and currently operates Patriot missiles in the Army (by the way Cpl. Malonelord is a real person).
Cruz’s sentiments were widely shared by conservatives who believe that the military is being gutted by liberals imposing their “woke” ideology, while countries like Russia have stronger militaries because they do not care for such things. While Cruz’s tweet was blasted by veterans at the time, it looks even worse in light of the invasion of Ukraine.
It turns out actual combat is a better barometer of military prowess than recruitment ads and so far the Russian military’s performance in Ukraine has been embarrassing, to say the least. In spite of possessing a significant firepower advantage, the Russians are struggling to make progress against fierce Ukrainian resistance. Predictions that the capital of Kyiv would fall within days have been proven false, with the city still holding out three weeks into the invasion.
To be clear, the Ukrainians deserve a lot of credit for putting up a tenacious and skilled defense well beyond what Putin expected. The flow of weapons from the United States and its allies, including large numbers of shoulder-fired anti-tank and surface-to-air missiles, has also helped. Yet the Russians have also demonstrated significant deficiencies of their own and Ukrainian resistance alone does not explain why the military lionized by the right is performing so far below expectations
According to one source, the Russians have lost over 1,400 vehicles at the time of this writing and those are only losses that can be verified with photographic evidence so the real number is probably much higher. Interestingly, roughly half of these vehicles have been either abandoned or captured. The internet is full of videos of Ukrainian tractors simply towing away Russian armor and air defense systems, leading to jokes that Ukraine’s farmers now have one of the most powerful militaries in Europe. In fact, the government of Ukraine has now declared that its citizens can keep captured Russian military equipment tax-free.
The large number of abandoned vehicles points to major issues with morale in the Russian Army. Soldiers deserting one or two at a time is one thing, but entire crews abandoning their vehicles is another. In some instances, it seems vehicles have been abandoned without maintenance or fuel issues, as evidenced by a video of Ukrainians driving a stolen tank. Many Russian soldiers are conscripts, not volunteers, and to make matters worse it appears that they weren’t told they were going to war until the last minute. When Russian troops were told they were going into Ukraine, they were told that the Ukrainians would welcome them as liberators and offer little resistance, leading to a rude awakening when Ukrainian forces began ambushing them.
An oft-repeated saying is that amateurs talk tactics while professionals talk logistics and the Russians have also demonstrated significant flaws in this area. The Russian Army may have plenty of tanks and artillery but they don’t have enough trucks to keep them supplied with fuel and ammunition far away from their railheads. When combined with the sheer size of Ukraine (the country is almost as big as Texas) and Ukrainian attacks on their supply lines, it’s creating a logistical nightmare for Russian forces. Russia seems to have trouble with simply feeding its troops, with footage emerging of soldiers looting grocery stores and Moscow reportedly asking China for rations.
Logistics and morale may be the two most eye-opening problems with the Russian military but they are hardly the only ones. Hazing problems lead Russia to cut down from two years to one, meaning many Russian conscripts are poorly trained (for comparison, most first-term enlistments in the U.S. military require four years of active duty). The Russian Air Force has failed to gain control of the skies even after weeks of fighting, with experts saying Russia may be incapable of complex air operations. The VDV (Russian Airborne Forces), which were the subject of the video Cruz shared on Twitter, may have had the most puzzling and embarrassing performance of all Russian military branches. Throughout the war, the VDV repeatedly conducted ill-advised parachute and helicopter assaults, which have been widely mocked by internet memes. One Ukrainian soldier put it succinctly: “We are very lucky they are so f-ing stupid.”
The war is still far from over and Russia may still prevail through the sheer amount of power at its disposal. But the notion that the Russian military is ten feet tall has been shattered and what we’ve seen is a far cry from the image Cruz and other conservatives built up in their heads. Indeed, the right’s attempts to dunk on the “they/them” Army has come back to haunt them; a popular joke is that the Russian Army’s pronouns are “was/were”
Let this be a lesson for Cruz and the rest of the GOP that propaganda is not a good indicator of military proficiency and performative masculinity does not win wars.