What's Behind the Russian Military's Morale Problems?

What's Behind the Russian Military's Morale Problems?

This apparent lack of resolve may be why the Russian military has resorted to massive attacks on civilian neighborhoods.


Russian armored vehicles are being destroyed by determined Ukrainian fighters, the much-discussed Russian convoy has been bogged down with logistical problems, and many question the fundamental ability of the Russian military to conduct a combined arms maneuver operation. In addition to all of these factors, is it possible that Russian soldiers just don’t want to fight? Do Russian soldiers have the will to occupy Ukraine and kill its people, many of whom share a common history with them? While will to fight is difficult to quantify, it is a highly impactful variable that can influence and even determine the outcome of a war.

While they have stopped short of offering specific details and have instead referenced numerous anecdotal reports regarding Russian soldiers, Pentagon officials say that Russian forces are having serious “morale problems.” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters that Russian troops “are having morale problems. They are having supply problems. They are having fuel problems. They're having food problems. They are meeting a very stiff and determined Ukrainian resistance.”


Part of these morale problems, Kirby explained, may simply be that many Russian soldiers had no idea what they would be ordered to do. “It is not clear to us that all of the soldiers that Russia has put into Ukraine, realize that that's what they were doing.  That they were actually going to invade Ukraine. It's not clear to us that they had full visibility on the mission … they were being assigned,” Kirby said.

Although Russian troops may fear the consequences of speaking out, many of them are likely questioning Putin’s war effort. It is possible that their humanity may eventually prevent Russian soldiers from targeting civilians. Despite the pressures of war, humans may have an innate sensibility for compassion. This apparent lack of resolve on the part of the invading Russian forces may be why the Russian military has resorted to massive, long-range attacks on civilian neighborhoods.

Are they being threatened and forced into fighting? Anecdotal reports have suggested this possibility, and there is also the chance that some Russian forces simply do not want to kill Ukrainians. Famous French Philosopher Jean Jaques Rousseau spoke at great length about what he called “natural pity,” a human characteristic that comes from a deeply innate altruistic tendency.

Could this sentiment be emerging within some Russian soldiers who are now aware that their actions are killing children? While that is certainly the hope of many, there are definitely zealots and true believers among the ranks of the Russian military as well. This support for the invasion may be heavily influenced by a large-scale propaganda effort within Russia to distort the truth about events in Ukraine and marshall support for the invasion among the public. Multiple media reports have explained how the “Z” symbol is a sign of support for the Russian invasion. The free flow of information within Russia has continued to be massively curtailed as the country’s government seeks to present a distorted picture of what is happening in Ukraine. This is part of why there is such a large-scale effort among many to get volumes of accurate information about Ukraine into Russia. 

Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Image: Reuters.