Friday, January 2, 2015

Past Russian wars: a quick look at history

The number of well-informed commentators, politicians, blogger and observers who are predicting a war - or at least of a serious risk of war - between Russia and the USA is sharply rising.  Though I myself am rather inclined to believe that the US will use the Ukrainian junta to attack Russia rather then risk a direct confrontation,  I would not go as far as saying that I find a direct US-Russian war impossible.  If only because many wars are not deliberately started, but rather stumbled into.  For all these reasons, it is, I think, high time to look at the historical record of Russia in wars.

It turns out that a military historian in Russia already did all the work for us.  Nikolai Shefov is the author of 10 books about Russian history including one entitled "The Battles of Russia" in which he not only looks at each war, but actually at all the major battles fought in all the wars of Russia between 1700 and 1940 (he stops at the Soviet-Finnish war and does not include WWII).  Here are his findings:

Between 1700 and 1940  Russia/USSR fought in 34 wars and won 31 and in 392 battle and won 279.  We could say that Russia won 91% of her wars and 71% of her battles.  Russia's opponents included: Swedes, French, Germans, Turks, Poles, Tatars, Finns, Caucasians, Japanese, Chinese, Austrians, Hungarians, British, Italians and Central Asians.

In the author's opinion Russia lost only three wars: the Crimean one, the Russo-Japanese one and the one against Poland in 1920.  He considers that Russia won the first world war because no enemy ever stepped on any part of the Russian land (If you are interested, here is a link to an the original book in Russian, to an article summarizing the book, and to a machine-translation of this article into English).

I would just add that Crimea was fought against what I call a "great ecumenical coalition" (including Anglican British, the Latin French and the Muslim Turks) which outnumbered the Russians by over 200'000 people (there was almost a MILLION "ecumenical attackers" for just over 700'00 Russian defenders.  But yes, Russia did lose this one.

Did Russia lose the war against Japan?  I would argue that the Russian Fleet sure was defeated by the Japanese Navy, but Japanese historians have a very different view of what happened and consider that Japan's military was spent by the time the peace treaty was drafted (by the Russian side, by the way) and that Japan had been forced to accept very bad terms.  At the very least, I would call this one a draw.

As for the Russian-Polish war, yes, the Soviet's lost this one badly.  But look at the kind of Soviet Union we had in 1920: a country in the midst of a civil war, with many uprising taking place, with a "worker-farmer" "army" with no real officers and let by clueless commissars.  So while the outcome was a defeat, the circumstances of that defeat are, I think, so unique as to be irrelevant.

But whatever the fine print and different views of the significance of individual outcomes, I think that these figures strongly suggest that attacking Russia is an exceedingly bad idea, even when only conventional wars are considered.  Attacking Russia while she has the powerful nuclear arsenal on the planet is utter lunacy.

Let's hope that this short reminder will reach at least one of the crazies who think that playing a game of chicken with Russia is a sound policy and that the Russians will "blink first" impressed by the US/NATO military prowess.

The Saker