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Moscow Times
April 10, 2003
The Elite's Feeling the Heat
By Pavel Felgenhauer   

As the war in Iraq winds to its inevitable end, uneasy reflections are taking 
over Russia's political and military elite. No one in Moscow ever seriously 
believed that Saddam Hussein might indeed "defeat" the allied forces. But the 
speed and decisiveness of the offensive has bewildered many.

Russian generals were expecting another prolonged so-called non-contact war, 
like the one against Yugoslavia in 1999, in Afghanistan in 2001 or the first 
gulf war in 1991, when a four-day ground offensive was preceded by a 39-day 
air bombardment. It was believed that the Americans were afraid of close 
hand-to-hand encounters, they would not tolerate the inevitable casualties, 
and that in the final analysis they were cowards who relied on technical 

In the first week of the war, allied forces rapidly fanned out of Kuwait, 
occupied most of southern Iraq and moved deep into the central part of the 
country without prolonged preliminary air bombardment. This successful blitz 
caused shock in Moscow. Then came news of the first U.S. casualties and 
prisoners, of severe sandstorms hampering movement, of increased Iraqi 
attacks and an overall pause in the offensive.

As the allies' push into Iraq seemed to falter, many hearts in Moscow and in 
Europe rejoiced. In a poll taken in late March, 52 percent of Russians were 
of the opinion that the U.S.-led military action in Iraq was unsuccessful; 58 
percent believed it would be a long war; 35 percent were convinced the United 
States would win in the end, while 33 percent assumed Iraq would prevail.

Last week it was disclosed that two retired three-star generals -- Vladislav 
Achalov (a former paratrooper and specialist in urban warfare) and Igor 
Maltsev (a specialist in air defense) -- visited Baghdad recently and were 
awarded medals by Hussein. The awards were handed out by Iraqi Defense 
Minister Sultan Khashim Akhmed.
It was reported that the retired generals helped Hussein prepare a war plan 
to defeat the Americans. Achalov confirmed he was in Baghdad just before the 
war and received medals from Hussein for services rendered. He also told 
journalists that the defense of Baghdad was well organized, U.S. tanks would 
be burned if they enter the city and U.S. infantry would be slaughtered. 
According to Achalov, the only way the allies could ever take Baghdad and 
other Iraqi cities was to raze them to the ground by carpet bombing.

Last week, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov echoed Achalov's opinion: "If the 
Americans continue to fight accurately, avoiding high casualties, the outcome 
is uncertain. If the Americans begin carpet bombing, Iraq will be defeated." 
Ivanov also announced that the Defense Ministry was attentively studying the 
war in order to learn how to build a stronger Russian army.

It seems that up to now the result of the study has been negative. It would 
appear that Russian generals and Ivanov assume it's the Americans that should 
be learning from them how to flatten cities -- the way our military destroyed 
the Chechen capital, Grozny.

Many Russian generals truly believe that a bombing campaign that leaves some 
buildings still standing is ineffective. Precision-guided munitions are 
widely considered to be costly pranks -- not real weapons. In Chechnya, we 
tried to use some of these gadgets, but they did not work, as most Russian 
officers and men have not been trained in how to use the limited number of 
modern weapons our military inherited from the Soviet armed forces.

The worst possible outcome of the war in Iraq for the Russian military is a 
swift allied victory with relatively low casualties. Already many in Russia 
are beginning to ask why our forces are so ineffective compared to the Brits 
and Americans; and why the two battles to take Grozny in 1995 and 2000 each 
took more than a month to complete, with more that 5,000 Russian soldiers 
killed and tens of thousands wounded in both engagements, given that Grozny 
is one tenth the size of Baghdad.

The Russian media is generally avoiding the hard questions and serving up 
anti-American propaganda instead. It is alleged that the U.S. government is 
"concealing casualties" (like its Russian counterpart), and that hundreds if 
not thousands of U.S. soldiers have already been killed. Maybe this deceit 
will become the main semi-official excuse for disregarding the allied victory.

Or perhaps our generals who do not want to build a modern post-Soviet 
military will come up with some other propaganda ploy.

Pavel Felgenhauer is an independent defense analyst.
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