Ghosts of 1989
Soviet Russia finally pulled out of Afghanistan because fierce Afghan resistance, fueled by U.S.-provided Stinger missiles, was eating away at Russian forces, eventually resulting in 15,000 Russian deaths. "Today the death toll of Russian troops in Ukraine could already match those killed over 10 years in Afghanistan," CNN's Nic Robertson reported early Thursday, citing NATO estimates.
"Afghan parallels with today's war in Ukraine are clear," Robertson said. "Russia's enemies, if not Russia, have learned the lessons of the Afghan war."
"Across dozens of Russian cities, more than 15,000 people have been arrested for protesting the war," Robertson said. "Recently, anxious parents of troops have begun showing up. Putin's Achilles heel is the perception soldiers are dying unnecessarily. It's why he's tightened reporting laws and swamped Russia with Kremlin propaganda, and it's why the Ukrainian military shows off battlefield gains — like knocking out Russian tanks or captured Russian soldiers — because they know bad press back home is what the Red Army out of Afghanistan."
Thus far, Kremlin-friendly media has rarely strayed from the party line. So, for example, this drone footage of Mariupol after weeks of relentless Russian bombing and airstrikes is "shocking" proof on CNN of Russia's scorched-earth campaign of punishing and killing Ukrainian civilians to achieve otherwise unattainable territorial gains.
On Russian state TV, it is portrayed as Ukrainian forces burning down their own house to thwart the Russians.
But there are signs of low morale among Russian forces in Ukraine, reported to be suffering from frostbite and hunger, not just stalemate and high casualties. And the morale problems aren't just among Russian ground troops and field officers in Ukraine, CNN says, pointing to a report it obtained by U.S. military attachés in Moscow who "casually inquired" about a Russian major general's Ukrainian family roots and were shocked when the general's "stoic demeanor suddenly became flushed and agitated."