Several commentators have observed that the morale of the Russian army fighting in Ukraine is very low and have suggested this is a reason why they will lose the war. Those of us who spent ten years on the Central Front in Germany during the Cold War recognise the same characteristics that contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, we should not be too hasty in drawing conclusions from what we are seeing in the western media and should in stead, remember what General Horrocks wrote about the Russian soldier.
For those who are not aware, Horrocks was an instructor in the Anglo-Russian Brigade in Ekaterinburg during the civil-war in 1919. He described how ordinary Russian soldiers had to put up with brutish leaders, inadequate equipment and appalling conditions on the front line, but somehow accepted their lot with a shrug and the word “Nichevo”. This was on the lips of every man who suffered the slightest annoyance, but was afraid to do anything about it. It means “Oh never mind!” and is whispered by the trampled man in his mud sepulchre with his last breath, while those above nod in agreement (see chapters 5 and 13 of Churchill’s Abandoned Prisoners).
There are so many similarities between what is happening now in the Russia-Ukraine conflict and what happened in the 1919 civil-war. The railway refugees, the humanitarian catastrophe, the brutality of the campaign and the unbelievable propaganda are all prominent. The big danger is that, just as 100 years ago Trotsky built the formidable Red Army, President Putin is using the current war to build a new army that will look to other horizons. At least Jeremy Hunt has recognised this and has called for the British Government to increase Defence spending, so we can properly deter further aggression.