Ukrainian servicemen stand guard at a military check point in Kyiv on March 16, 2022.

Ukrainian servicemen stand guard at a military check point in Kyiv on March 16, 2022. AFP via Getty Images / FADEL SENNA

Ukraine 'Doing a Fantastic Job' of Blocking Russian Reconnaissance, Top Marine Says

“I'm not sure [the Russians] have a good picture of what's in front of them.”

The Russians are struggling with recon. That’s just one of the latest Ukraine battlefield assessments Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger gave on Wednesday.

It appears that Ukrainians are disrupting the Russians’ movements, Berger said, in part by preventing Russians from having a clear understanding of “what’s in front of them,” and confusing the invading forces. 

In addition, Ukrainians are winning the “information space,” Berger said, and using the “inherent strength” of being in a defensive position against an invading force, which can be difficult to overcome, Berger said. 

“I think they're proving to be very disciplined, very well trained, very well led, and very inspired,” Berger said during a Washington Post Live virtual interview with columnist and author David Ignatius.

Russian forces in Ukraine, however, have been surprisingly bad at “combined arms,” he said, referring to the military discipline of using infantry, armored units, or artillery together against an enemy. While it’s not completely clear why the Russians are struggling, Berger believes one possibility is that the “picture that Ukrainian forces are painting” for the Russians could be causing confusion.

“In other words, their effectiveness at stripping away the reconnaissance for the Russian forces–which is what Marines are very, very good at–could be part of the equation. Said another way, if you're a Russian tactical commander right now on the ground, I'm not sure they have a good picture of what's in front of them. And I think Ukraine’s doing a fantastic job of denying that,” Berger said.

Reconnaissance is a particularly elite function in the Marines Corps, and recon Marines have a somewhat legendary status, dating back to World War II. Berger said the Ukrainians are performing scouting and counter-scouting roles of recon very effectively.

Reconnaissance can be gathered about the enemy and environment through a combination of means, like scouts and surveillance drones. Each side is trying to find out how many enemy troops are in an area, where they are located, and if they are close together or spread out. The troops would use that information to make decisions.

“I think what he's saying is that the Ukrainians are doing a good job of disguising where they are so the Russian commanders can't really figure out, ‘Do I have a whole battalion of Ukrainians up ahead of me or is it just a smaller number?’” a former senior military official told Defense One.

“And so that can tend to slow down an advance by a military force, because they're not really sure of what's ahead of them…They don't want to drive into a kill zone.”

The Ukrainians also have an advantage over Russian forces because they are protecting and defending their homeland, whereas the Russians are on the attack which requires more people, the former senior military official said.

“It’s easier, again, to defend because you're just sitting there waiting for attackers to come and you can do all these things to put the attackers at a disadvantage. The attackers then have to then move into a situation, and I think that's where [Gen. Berger]'s talking about. If the Russians are unsure of what situation they're moving into, that causes them to be much more cautious.