Would the Ejection of Russian Forces from Ukraine Lead to a Thermonuclear Response by Moscow?: Some Meditations on Putin’s Likely Thinking

Test launch by the  US Air Force Global Strike Command of an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. In discussing the Ukraine crisis even prior to the Russian invasion, it has been greatcharlie’s near mantra that understanding what Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin thinks is critical to resolving the issue for he is at the center of it all. It was Putin who started the war. There may be a possible nuclear dimension to his thinking that deserves greater attention. Western governments have lavished Ukraine with almost every kind of assistance in its fight against Russia, but it appears they have done so without keeping the matter fully in perspective. At some point, some or all of those governments must catch themselves out, and recognize victory for Ukraine may result in a crisis greater than the war itself, a nuclear showdown with Putin’s Russia similar to the showdown between the US and the Soviet Union over nuclear capable Soviet missiles being deployed to Cuba in October 1962. The nuclear issue regarding Ukraine should be brooked before events suddenly conspire to create a catastrophe. 

The people of the respective Western countries that support Ukraine during its present struggle have put much faith in their political leaders concerning the management of this very complicated situation. Much as their elected officials, they have applied hope against their fears that their world would not be enabled to regress back to a stage in which the evils as the quest for dominance, war, and tyranny would become norms of existence. As it was suggested in greatcharlie’s June 31, 2022 post entitled, “Brief Thoughts from Outside the US Foreign and National Security Policy Bureaucracies on Putin and Facilitating an End to the Ukraine War”, by training Ukrainian troops and providing them with an abundance of relatively cutting edge firepower assets and loads of other military gear along with financial assistance. Indeed, Western governments have lavished Ukraine with almost every kind of assistance in its fight against Russia, but it appears they have done so without keeping the matter fully in perspective. Yet, at some point, some or all of those governments must catch themselves out, and recognize victory for Ukraine may result in a crisis greater than the war itself, a nuclear showdown with Putin’s Russia similar to the showdown between the US and the Soviet Union over nuclear capable Soviet missiles that were being deployed in Cuba in October 1962. 

The honest choice would be to explain to their respective electorates that there is the possibility that the worst might be  the outcome of the Ukraine effort, nuclear war. However, they are also well-aware that mere talk of the use of nuclear weapons can bring strong images and feelings to the minds of their people. There are of course other huge concerns such as financial markets, international trade, commerce, and progress in general. Talk about thermonuclear war could truly have deleterious effects on such important things, and as such the mere mention of it would be a mistake. Perhaps with that in mind, putting the best face on the matter, aiding Ukraine’s potentially winnable ground war was settled upon as the course. If true, that would make it a case of deliberate short-sightedness. Waiting and then attempting to explain the dangers when things are hotting up will likely result in a considerable, unfavorable public reaction. The people would almost certainly ask what the devil their political leaders have been playing at. They would be angered that the efforts of their political leaders for landing them in such a terrifying situation. 

In preceding posts, greatcharlie has suggested that the matter with Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin runs deeper, more subtle than many might suppose. Understanding what Putin thinks is critical to resolving the Ukraine matter for he is at the center of it all. It was Putin who started the war. To that extent, for greatcharlie, providing thoughts on Putin’s pattern of decisionmaking on Ukraine and inferring from those patterns how Putin may perceive actions by the West and may respond to them has become a preoccupation. A possible nuclear dimension in his thinking, the greatest threat of all, deserves examination. It is certainly a issue that should be brooked before events conspire to create a catastrophe. Apparently, greatcharlie is not alone in thinking this. There has been greater visible discussion of this matter by well-experienced former military and diplomatic officials in the West presented within mainstream print and broadcast newsmedia houses. In an admirable essay published in the Sunday Times in August 2022 by retired British Army General Sir Richard Barrons, a former commander of the United Kingdom’s Joint Forces Command, very publicly brought the issue to the fore. Earlier in June 2022, the news website RealClearDefense.com provided a lucid report on Russia’s new threshold for the use of nuclear weapons by Russia and reinvigoration of its nuclear triad. Given this apparent rise in awareness, greatcharlie feels it can comfortably move on to cover other matters. However, before that happens, greatcharlie is compelled to figuratively gnaw at it once more.

Some readers might conclude the rather elementary suggestions made here appear too fanciful, too recherché. However greatcharlie’s aim and objective here is not to present something that resembles what has already been produced in the US foreign and national security policy bureaucracies as well as those of other Western governments, but to present novel ideas. ItsHow the War. Its ideas are designed to help ignite new lines of thought, new insights. Omnia non properanti clara certaque erunt; festinatio improvida est, et cæca. (All things will be clear and distinct to the man who does not hurry; haste is blind and improvident.)

Russian Federation General of the Army Aleksandr Dvornikov (center). Putin appointed Dvornikov commander of the “special military operation” in Ukraine on April 9, 2022, has seemingly well-orchestrated a regrouping of Russian forces, sweeping up the stable so to speak and getting things going. (Note: It has been alleged online, but not confirmed by Moscow, that he has been replaced.) After the relatively disastrous initial weeks of war, the military plans of the General Staff of the Russian Federation were left in pieces on the floor. Under Dvornikov, many Russian commanders have displayed skill in moving troops fairly long distances, shifted them to reinforce those in contact that desperately needed assistance, moved units of both the Army and Naval Troops from sector to sector, and avoiding any repeat of the punishing fights that resulted from attacks and counterattacks by Russian units at Kyiv and Kharkiv in the early days of the special military operation.

How Putin’s “Special Military Operation” Is “Progressing”

Fortunately for Putin, Russian Federation General of the Army Aleksandr Dvornikov, who he appointed commander of the “special military operation” in Ukraine on April 9, 2022, has seemingly well-orchestrated a regrouping of Russian forces, sweeping up the stable so to speak and getting things going. (Note: There has been chatter online from the West and even from Russia alleging Dvornikov was replaced in June 2022 as the overall commander of the special military operation by an an officer subordinate in rank, Colonel-General Genady Zhidko, who was serving as director of Russia’s Military-Political Directorate at the time. The strongest argument offered in support of the alleged change has been that Dvornikov has been away from public view. The supposed change in command has been neither confirmed or denied by the Kremlin or Russia’s Ministry of Defense. Absent official notice of the change, one might safely accept Dvornikov most likely remains in command in Ukraine.) After the relatively disastrous initial weeks of war, the military plans of the General Staff of the Russian Federation were left in pieces on the floor. Dvornikov has become quite a figurehead for the Russian Army cutting a tough as nails image, captivating Russian soldiers and officers alike. On the ground in Ukraine, he has breathed vigor into what was a thoroughly dismayed and disoriented force. Minus habeo quam speravi; sed fortasse plus speravi quam debui. (I have less than I had hoped for; but maybe I had hoped for more than I ought.)

To expound a bit more about events on the ground, Russian commanders displayed some skill in moving troops fairly long distances, shifted them to reinforce those in contact that desperately needed assistance, moved units of both the Army and Naval Troops from sector to sector, and avoiding any repeat of the punishing fights that resulted from attacks and counterattacks by Russian units at Kyiv and Kharkiv in the early days of the special military operation. That success early on convinced some military analysts in the West of the superiority of Ukrainian military leadership. As of this writing, especially in the Donbas, Ukrainian forces have faced retreats, setbacks, and even surrenders as in Mariupol. A land bridge between Crimea and Donbas has been created by Russian forces. It remains to be seen whether Russian forces have truly gained the initiative, and if so  whether they can retain it. Successfully protecting their units from the relatively slow-moving, low-flying threat of observation and attack drones and improving their units’ techniques of assaulting the opponents positions remain big issues for Russian commanders as losses from both continue to be abysmal.

If the Russian campaign is ever to become the fluid one originally envisioned, particularly by some experts in the West in which battalions would advanced hundreds of miles en masse, it must determine how to extricate their units from regional struggles east, southeast, and south, and attack west and north. Perhaps emphasizing the use of superior firepower, they might be able capture large swaths of territory and massing on decisive points, to include some large cities, in a formidable manner. Right now, Russian commanders do not appear to possess the forces in Ukraine or back in Russia necessary to do that and under current circumstances, may never be able to organize that capability. Additionally, such an offensive would need to be conducted before the spring, when the ground thaws, once frozen rivers and streams run faster and harder, and thick mud would positively hinder unit mobility.

General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, is Holovnokomanduvach Zbroynykh syl Ukrayiny or Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and is often mentioned with regard to the defense of Ukraine and foreign military assistance. However, Dvornikov’s main Ukrainian opponent in the field is Ukrainian Armed Forces Major General Eduard Moskaliov, commander of the Operatsiya ob’yednanykh syl or Joint Forces Operation. The Joint Forces Operation or JFO is military jargonese for the operational zone in the Donbas. His more immediate boss is the commander of Ukrainian Ground Forces, Ukrainian Armed Forces Colonel General Olexander Syrskiy, the masterful defender of Kyiv. When the war began, Ukraine’s strength in the JFO’s was 10 brigades and its soldier were considered among the best trained and equipped in the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Zaluzhnyi’s opposite number is Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov.

Ukrainian commanders have proven themselves to be formidable opponents by displaying amazing knowledge of their battle space, foresight and agility acumen, managing to block in one place, counterattack in another, withdrawing their units when conditions were most favorable more often than demanding troops hold on to untenable positions until they were forced to retreat in order to survive or surrender. The ability of Ukrainian commanders to think fast and soundly has been key to their relative success as time is always of the essence. Their opponent relentlessly seeks to gain ground and gain and retain the initiative, and more often than not weaker Ukrainian units have been pitted against stronger Russian ones, stronger at least on paper. French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte is quoted as saying: “Strategy is the art of making use of time and space. I am less concerned about the later than the former. Space we can recover, lost time never.”

The top field commanders of both Russia and Ukraine have likely become accustomed to having their respective political authorities on their backs concerning the very latest developments despite their respective victories and tactical accomplishments. Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky–the latter having become visibly more mature and harder in his job via an unsought crash course in national leadership during wartime–do not appear to be men who have the time and inclination to hear unsolicited opinions of others. They have enough opinions of their own. Nevertheless, both are quite expectedly absolutely gripped by matters concerning the war. In the interest of being diligent, they would imaginably seek recommendations from their respective commanders on how to proceed and what they will need to win the war. Such a potential circumstance would actually work well for both Dvornikov and Moskaliov.  Doubtlessly both would like to have far more firepower, troops, useful drones, and greater, effective close air support to name a few things.  It would seem their respective political authorities are actually working hard to get them just that. 

 From what is presented in international newsmedia reports, with everything taken into consideration, especially military assistance from the US, the war in Ukraine could still end in either side’s favor. To that extent, both Kyiv and Moscow have scrambled to reach out to allies and partners to request military assistance to the extent possible and ways to help them turn the tide sooner than later on the battlefield, to troops on the ground from mercenaries to units from their respective national armed forces.

Kyiv has genuine plans to raise a force of 1,000,000 soldiers to eradicate Russian forces from Ukrainian territory, to include the liberation of Crimea. Apparently, it is much more than an off-handed suggestion, but rather, an active pursuit. Indeed, Zelensky, still much lionized in Western capitals, has told the Ukrainian Armed Forces to retake coastal areas vital to the country’s economy, Ukrainian forces continued to engage in fierce fighting over control of the eastern Donbas region. Ukraine does not appear prepared as yet to mount any counteroffensive that could achieve decisive results. However, that, too, remains to be seen. The Ukrainians, as initially demonstrated in Kyiv, have often surprised observers by achieving what many might assess as unlikely.. Note that Ukrainian commanders have introduced US M142 High-Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and the United Kingdom’s M270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) among their artillery units and are using that enhanced firepower in their operations. Thus, they may be prepared to do a lot of “big” things.

As for Ukrainie’s Western supporters, making certain Ukraine is able to take the fight to the Russians under current conditions has been challenging enough. An ailing global economy, limitations on the even the most feasible levels of military assistance from industrialized Western powers, Ukrainians available and ready to serve immediately in the military, resources for training both at home and abroad, and time available to make difference on the battlefield, to mention only a smattering of challenges facing the million man army plan, really puts the whole matter out of court. Before anyone might feel prompted to argue over what is possible or impossible for Ukraine to do based on what little is presented here, greatcharlie suggests one take also into consideration that Russian commanders will not wait around until Ukraine raises an army that would take the field and potentially overwhelm Russian battalions. Indeed, the Russians will have some say on how things turn out.

Ukrainian Armed Forces Major General Eduard Moskaliov (above), commander of the Operatsiya ob’yednanykh syl or Joint Forces Operation. The Joint Forces Operation or JFO is military jargonese for the operational zone in the Donbas. The commander of Ukrainian Ground Forces, his boss, is Ukrainian Armed Forces Colonel General Olexander Syrskiy, the masterful defender of Kyiv. Ukrainian commanders have proven themselves to be formidable opponents by displaying amazing knowledge of their battle space, foresight and agility acumen, managing to block in one place, counterattack in another, withdrawing their units when conditions were most favorable more often than demanding troops hold on to untenable positions until they were forced to retreat in order to survive or surrender. The ability of Ukrainian commanders to think fast and soundly has been key to their relative success as time is always of the essence. Their opponent relentlessly seeks to gain ground and gain and retain the initiative, and more often than not weaker Ukrainian units have been pitted against stronger Russian ones.

In Moscow, Putin has ordered the Russian Federation Armed Forces to increase by another 137,000 troops starting January 1, 2023. The decree dated August 25, 2022 did not explain by what means Russian forces would be increased,, through expanded conscription, taking on more volunteer soldiers or some combination of both. Responding to concerns over a broader wartime mobilization among the Russian public, Moscow explained that only volunteer contract soldiers would  take part in the “special military operation” in Ukraine. Apparently, Putin’s hope is to increase the number of Russian Federation Armed Forces personnel to 2,039,758 overall, including 1,150,628 servicemen. Reportedly, a similar order in the past put Russia’s military strength at 1,902,758 and 1,013,628 respectively at the start of 2018.

Foreign fighters, who some might label mercenaries, they have been used on both sides of the conflict to bolster numbers and bring trained and well-experienced fighters immediately to the front. Foreign fighters for Russia are normally put under the control of the Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye Generalnovo Shtaba (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff-Military Intelligence) or GRU. 

Foreign fighters for Ukraine operate in units under the control of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. The Ukrainians have had some success taking foreign fighters on to the strength of their frontline units. Many foreign fighters serving with Ukrainian forces are from the armed forces of Member States of NATO. (One must pardon this digression, but at the mere mention of the words mercenaries, greatcharlie calls to mind Stanzas of the renowned 19th century British Romantic poet and satirist, George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, known better as Lord Byron. In “When a Man Hath No Freedom To Fight for at Home” first published in Letters and Journals, November 5, 1830, ii, 337, Byron depicts the mercenary. The stanza’s jaunty lines were sent in a letter written to an associate, Thomas Moore, dated November 5, 1820. Byron writes: When a man hath no freedom to fight for at home, / Let him combat for that of his neighbours; / Let him think of the glories of Greece and of Rome, / And get knock’d on the head for his labours. / To do good to mankind is the chivalrous plan, / And, is always as nobly requited; / Then battle for freedom wherever you can, / And, if not shot or hang’d, you’ll get knighted.)

Napoleon is quoted as saying: “In war, the moral element and public opinion are half the battle.” What has not been very useful to either commander are the respective political warfare operations. In their own way, both sides through political warfare have resorted to Babylonian methods: eye for an eye and that sort of thing. It has not directly led to any apparent boost in morale, shift in momentum, or a dramatic turn of the tide. The indications and implications of it are not clear. At best, it has been a distraction, particularly with respect to the videos produced by both sides showing their opponents’ troops being killed and injured. Those videos have shown the world just how horrible the war is.

Postea noli rogare quod inpetrare nolueris. (Don’t ask for what you’ll wish you hadn’t got.) Hopefully, not one Western political leader actually believes that, if things go their way and fortune goes against Russian forces on the battlefield, Putin will simply throw up his hands, do Sweet Fanny Adams, wait for the West to reach out for peace talks, agree to the West’s terms for the unconditional withdrawal from Ukraine, and let chips fall where they may with regard to Russia’s future and his own. In Western capitals, some might imagine Putin after defeat in Ukraine, sitting alone, crying tears into his favorite samovar much as Achilles in Homer’s Iliad was depicted as crying an ocean of tears over the death of Patroclus. Yet, recall that Achilles took revenge over Patroclus’ killer, Hector, dealing with him in a positively merciless fashion. Putin, much in the same way as Achilles again, would surely try to act ferociously against the West following a hypothetical loss.

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (above). Hopefully, not one Western political leader actually believes that, if things go their way and fortune goes against Russian forces on the battlefield, Putin will simply throw up his hands, do Sweet Fanny Adams, wait for the West to reach out for peace talks, agree to the West’s terms for the unconditional withdrawal from Ukraine, and let chips fall where they may with regard to Russia’s future and his own. In Western capitals, some might imagine Putin after defeat in Ukraine, sitting alone, crying tears into his favorite samovar much as Achilles in Homer’s Iliad was depicted as crying an ocean of tears over the death of Patroclus. Any form of acquiescence by Putin to Western demands would be very unlikely. To expect some gross retardation of Putin’s aggressive instinct and expect him to become humble and conciliatory in the aftermath of defeat,would be absolute madness. Given this, it becomes somewhat difficult to understand what the genuine objective of the West is in Ukraine.

Any form of acquiescence by Putin to Western demands would be very unlikely. To expect some gross retardation of Putin’s aggressive instinct and expect him to become humble and conciliatory in the aftermath of defeat would be absolute madness. Given this, it becomes somewhat difficult to understand what the genuine objective of the West is in Ukraine. It is hard to imagine what Putin and his advisers–inarguably better aware of Putin’s authentic nature and intentions than anyone outside of Russia–make of it all. Suffice it to say, even in the best case scenario for the West in which Ukrainian forces reclaim the overwhelming majority of territory taken by Russian forces, problems of great magnitude will very likely be encountered. In his Ad Urbe Condita (From the Founding of the City) (c. 28 B.C.), the Roman historian Titus Livius (59 B.C.-A.D. 17), known as Livy, provides in Greek a history of Rome that begins with the earliest legends of Rome before the traditional founding in 753 BC through the reign of Emperor Caesar Augustus during his own lifetime. In Book III, section 39, he writes the apposite passage: “The troubles which have come upon us always seem more serious than those which are only threatening.”

There was a Moravian born scholar who within a series of lectures between 1911 and 1915 expressed: “It is a predisposition of human nature to consider an unpleasant idea untrue, and then it is easy to find arguments against it.” That Moravian scholar was Sigmund Freud, the neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, a clinical method for evaluating and treating pathologies in the psyche through dialogue between a patient and a psychoanalyst. In 1917, 28 of his aforementioned lectures were published in his book Introduction to Psychoanalysis or Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis (German: Einführung in die Psychoanalyse). Pertinent to matters discussed here, Freud discusses the concepts of denial or abnegation–in German, Verleugnung or Verneinung, a psychological defense mechanism in which a person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it instead, insisting that it is not true despite what may be overwhelming evidence.

One’s denial can take three forms according to Freud. The two seemingly more apposite in this situation are simple denial and minimization. 1) simple denial: deny the reality of the unpleasant fact altogether; and, minimization: admit the fact but deny its seriousness (a combination of denial and rationalization). Let no ones heart be troubled as greatcharlie has no intention of getting involved in the business of psychoanalyzing anyone. Still, Freud’s luminous thoughts have helped to provide greatcharlie with insight into what, beyond political expediency, would lead to the insistence publicly that the defeat of Russia in Ukraine would lead to a favorable outcome for the West.

Someone with experience and expertise who has considered the possibility of a potential nuclear tragedy, as aforementioned, is retired British Army Lieutenant General Sir Barrons, former commander of United Kingdom’s Joint Forces Command (now designated United Kingdom Strategic Command) In his essay published in the Sunday Times online on August 6, 2022, Barrons explains “The West needs to think about the shape the fighting may now take and to include in that the prospect of catastrophic success for Ukraine: if Russia is thrown back to the extent that Putin senses strategic defeat, he is likely to employ tactical nuclear weapons.” He states such thinking is nothing new as Russian nuclear thinking accepts the use of small nuclear weapons to impose unacceptable damage on an opponent as a means of coercion, particularly in circumstances where the existence of the state is in question.” Barrons reminds readers that “Russia will have declared areas of occupied Ukraine part of the Russian state. So should an Ukrainian offensive roll over this new self-declared border, the use of nuclear weapons to break up the attack will be on the table. This is not unthinkable–it is only unpalatable.” He says that the type of nuclear weapon he has in mind is the Russian Iskander missile which has a range of 300 miles and can deliver a conventional or nuclear warhead of selected yield. He notes that it has already been used with a conventional warhead in Ukraine. Barrons makes the distinction between those weapons and the 1,000 kiloton weapons that might target Washington or London, and assures that he is in no way referring to the possible use of the latter. He concludes by stating: “These [nuclear] weapons exist for just the sort of circumstances the war in Ukraine may lead to, so nobody should claim total surprise if they are used. Events since 2014 have established that neither hope nor denial are sound approaches to dealing with Russia today.”

Russia’s mobile, short-range, nuclear capable, 9K720 Iskander ballistic missile system (above). Someone with experience and expertise who has considered the possibility of a potential nuclear tragedy, as aforementioned, is retired British Army Lieutenant General Sir Barrons, former commander of United Kingdom’s Joint Forces Command (now designated United Kingdom Strategic Command) In his essay published in the Sunday Times online on August 6, 2022, Barrons explains “The West needs to think about the shape the fighting may now take and to include in that the prospect of catastrophic success for Ukraine: if Russia is thrown back to the extent that Putin senses strategic defeat, he is likely to employ tactical nuclear weapons.” He states such thinking is nothing new as Russian nuclear thinking accepts the use of small nuclear weapons to impose unacceptable damage on an opponent as a means of coercion, particularly in circumstances where the existence of the state is in question.”

Barrons knows what he is saying. Given his impressive experience he is surely as experienced or more so to parse out this matter than many military analysts working an intelligence unit in any government focused on Ukraine. Reinforcing Barrons’ point of view is the current head of United Kingdom’s Strategic Command, British Army Lieutenant General Jim Hockenhul. In an interview with the BBC published August 12, 2022, Hockenhull stated that the likelihood of Russia using nuclear weapons in Ukraine may change if the battlefield dynamic shifts. Armies kill selectively and to that extent, a tactical nuclear weapon would be used on the battlefield to kill selectively. There is an odd rationality to it all. Still, greatcharlie states with immense respect for the well-considered views of these honorable men both of whom throughout their careers have spoken truth to power. that their depiction of Putin’s hypothetical nuclear response to the battlefield is a charitable one. 

Although the use of nuclear weapons remains a part of Russian military doctrine much as it was in the Soviet Army as both Barrons and Hockenhull point out, Dvornikov is fighting a conventional war without having some backup plan at his headquarters to use nuclear weapons if he is pushed up against Russia’s border. Putin would unlikely authorize him to use nuclear weapons. Putin would unlikely come to Dvornikov seeking a recommendation regarding the use of nuclear weapons. Taking such a hypothetical step in that direction would very likely be planned out in advance by Putin while doing “what ifs” before he launched his invasion.

Add to all of that, Moscow denies it has even considered the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine. On August 16, 2022, Russian Federation Defense Minister, General of the Army Sergei Shoigu declared that Russia has no military need to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine. In his own words, Shoigu stated: “From a military point of view, there is no need to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine to achieve the set goals.” Shoigu reportedly went further “to slam newsmedia speculation” that Russia could potentially use nuclear or chemical weapons to compensate for slow progress in its special military operation in Ukraine as “absolute lies.”

Shoigu’s statement on the use of nuclear weapons on its face may have struck many as very odd. Rather than provide clarity, which was his stated intention, he has actually created more questions in inquisitive minds and among skeptics about Moscow’s thinking on nuclear weapons. What is immediately intriguing about the statement is that except to shape diplomacy as it had before the war, Moscow rarely explains its military plans and intentions. When it has done so, it has offered what were at best soupçons. Moscow is similarly reluctant to offer anything about its intelligence operations. Surely Shoigu does not believe Russia will lose the war. He is not expecting any pushback of Russian forces by the Ukrainians. Thus, in his mind there would hardly be any need to consider such a great step as to respond with nuclear weapons. Concerning what the international press has been saying about Russia, that long ago should have stopped being a concern of any loyal official in Moscow. If it has been a concern especially among top officials such as Shoigu, the indications and implications of his speech may be that the door is wide open for greater manipulation of them via the newsmedia. Perhaps the degree to which newsmedia reporting has already influenced thinking in Moscow has not been thoroughly appreciated in the West. 

On the other hand, perhaps deceptively, Shoigu wanted to relax Western capitals with regard to a nuclear end to the Ukraine War. Maybe he wanted to figuratively stir the pot by adding his words to the debate on Russian plans and intentions in Western foreign and national security policy circles. Absent any reason that might be remotely viable, Shoigu’s comments concerning Russia’s use of nuclear weapons could be considered superfluous. Still, it is unlikely that Shoigu would take the time and effort to make a public statement with the intention to speak superfluously or idly. Putin presumably green-lit his statement. Shoigu would not have formulated such an approach to nuclear weapons use on his own. Putin is still calling all the shots. To that extent, perhaps Shoigu’s statement should not be considered definitive. There must be something there. Whatever it is, it is not very apparent, but probably important.

Putin (right) and Russian Federation Defense Minister, General of the Army Sergei Shoigu (left). Moscow denies it has even considered the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine. On August 16, 2022, Shoigu declared that Russia has no military need to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine. In his own words, Shoigu stated: “From a military point of view, there is no need to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine to achieve the set goals.” Shoigu reportedly went further “to slam newsmedia speculation” that Russia could potentially use nuclear or chemical weapons to compensate for slow progress in its special military operation in Ukraine as “absolute lies.” Shoigu’s statement on the use of nuclear weapons on its face may have struck many as very odd. Rather than provide clarity, which was his stated intention, he has actually created more questions in inquisitive minds and among skeptics about Moscow’s thinking on nuclear weapons.

The Ladder of Escalation

More than just having an impact on the battlefield, Russia’s use of nuclear weapons might become just an initial step up the ladder of nuclear escalation. Although members of a regional collective security organization and a political and economic union, in Putin’s mind, European countries are mainly an amalgamation of political authorities, each constrained by domestic political concerns and beholden to their respective electorates. Still, he could not be sure how under such extraordinary circumstances how the US, Member States of NATO, the EU, or European countries independently might act in response. 

Some national capitals in close proximity or actually bordering Russia are already very concerned, unnerved, over Putin’s potential plans and intentions for their respective countries. Presumably, protocols have already been established for such potentiality. Still, if frightened enough by the detonation of nuclear ordinance in Ukraine, there is no real knowing what a possible panicked response might be by political leaders in some governments. Perchance reactions to such an event may not be as orderly as NATO might have planned.

Putin may have already concluded that taking such an action would be akin to striking a hornets nest with a stick while in the nude. Retaliatory action could come from so many directions. His troops in Ukraine would be the initial victims. To that extent, nothing would be gained on the ground in Ukraine by using the weapons. If Ukraine’s partners were to take that bold step to strike Russian forces, likely against its Iskander and other nuclear capable weapons systems, it would be up to Putin to decide whether he would strike military targets in their countries. He would also have to imagine what would be his opponents’ follow-up response to his next move. 

Moving up the scale of escalation at that pace would simply be a slow walk toward global thermonuclear war. It is not inevitable, but very likely. Putin would probably be resigned to the fact that the West would hardly be able to back down after nuclear weapons hypothetically had been used in Ukraine. Domestic political considerations would make that nearly impossible Western national leaders. The respective countrymen would expect them to display strength, though groups of citizens may be formed that may insist peace be sought. It would not be prudent for Putin to apply any hope to what Moscow would likely view as “positive efforts”. 

Nullum est malum majus, quam non posse ferre malum. (There is no greater misfortune than not to be able to endure misfortune.) Some European leaders may panic when faced with a staggering crisis. When such a crisis arrives unexpectedly, it can unnerve one who might already be affected by chronic stress and might lack an identical or similar experience to draw from, it can happen to some of the best. (Although he was not one of the best, recall how in 1940, Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin was so shocked by German Reich Chancellor Adolph Hitler’s betrayal of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that he suffered a nervous breakdown and left a power vacuum for two days while German forces poured in the Soviet Union.)

To be certain, moderately armed NATO Members do not take orders from the more powerful ones or the one military superpower, but they are more inclined to see their point of view. As more time passes, Western leaders more assured of what is the right way forward will be able to gird the resolve of those leaders less certain of how to proceed through continuous communications and hastily arranged bilateral and multilateral talks at NATO headquarters and the Europa building. Unsteady leaders, in particular, would be given the time and opportunity to draw upon the energy of the stronger ones. In general, the Europeans would be given more time to prepare for whatever might come next. In Cyropaedia (“Education of Cyrus”), the renowned Greek historian, soldier, mercenary, and student of Socrates, Xenophon (c. 430 – 354 BC), presents a partly fictional novel about Cyrus the Great, the founder of Persia’s Achaemenid Empire, but more so it was a tract on kingship and generalship addressed to the class of educated Greek commanders and potential leaders. Pertinent to the matter at hand, in Book I, Chapter 6, section 21, Xenophon writes: “[P]eople are only too glad to obey the man who they believe takes wiser thought for their interests than they themselves do. And you might recognize that this is so in many instances but particularly in the case of the sick: how readily they call in those who are to prescribe what they must do; and at sea how cheerfully the passengers obey the captain; and how earnestly travellers desire not to get separated from those who they think are better acquainted with the road than they are. But when people think that they are going to get into trouble if they obey, they will neither yield very much for punishment nor will they be moved by gifts; for no one willingly accepts even a gift at the cost of trouble to himself.” People have not changed too much over a couple of millenia.

Among the number of national capitals that would normally take the lead in such a hypothetical crisis, some heed should be given to Xenophon’s words. According to a Pew Research Center survey published on June 22, 2022, the outlook is good so far. Overall ratings for the US were largely positive and stable. A median of 61% of the citizens across 17 countries in which surveys were conducted–not including the US–expressed a favorable view of the US, and large majorities in those countries viewed the US as a reliable partner to their country. Attitudes toward NATO, in contrast, are largely positive, and ratings for the alliance improved since 2021 among citizens surveyed in several of the 17 countries 

With the foreign and national security policy bureaucracies of at least 27 countries plus the staff at NATO Headquarters working night and day to formulate favorable moves that would allow the West considerable advantage over his country, Putin also might find it too risky to get locked into a back and forth struggle, attempting to stay ahead in the action reaction cycle against the aggregate of their capabilities. Naturally, Putin would not be inclined to slow walk himself into any of that. There would just be too many possibilities to consider. The playing field would be a bit too level or even feel a bit one-sided toward the West, despite its positively Wagnerian proportions. He would want to retain, at least in his mind, his position above all of that. Equally naturally, while all of that was happening, Putin would need to keep a very close eye on what was happening politically in Moscow and around Russia and the reactions to each step he would take. Looking at matter from another angle, but still from Putin’s lens, despite the excellent assessments of former and current expert military practitioners, in the grander scheme of Putin’s world, using nuclear weapons on the battlefields of Ukraine would relatively amount to “bad behavior” and not the appropriate response. 

In the worst case scenario, Putin may feel he could truly steal a march on Western leaders by attacking them first, hitting them where it hurts strategically, and then see just how committed they were to a green future. His hope in that vain would be that enough Russians and enough of Russia would survive to a degree that his efforts would not have been in vain. Knowing how some often misconstrue statements to the extent they give them the wrong meaning, it must be noted that greatcharlie is not married to the idea that initiating a thermonuclear war following a loss in Ukraine. For greatcharlie, the outcome it has outlined here is completely undesirable. Going a step further, more so than stealing a march, if Russian forces were forced out of Ukraine, to include Crimea, Putin would know it would be his end at home and everywhere else, and he would likely have no compunction making it everyone’s end.

NATO Summit Meeting on February 17, 2022 (above). Although united as members of a regional collective security organization and a political and economic union, in Putin’s mind, European countries are mainly an amalgamation of political authorities, each constrained by domestic political concerns and beholden to their respective electorates. Still, he could not be sure how under such extraordinary circumstances how the US, other Member States of NATO, the EU, or European countries independently might act in response to Russia’s use of a nuclear weapon in Ukraine. Retaliatory action could come from so many directions. His troops in Ukraine would be the initial victims. If Ukraine’s partners were to take that bold step to strike Russian forces, likely against its Iskander and other nuclear capable weapons systems, it would be up to Putin to decide whether he would strike military targets in their countries. He would also have to imagine what would be his opponents’ follow-up response to his next move. Moving up the scale of escalation at that pace would simply be a slow walk toward global thermonuclear war. It is not inevitable, but very likely.

Taking Putin’s Words Seriously

When Putin makes statements, announcements, declarations, and addresses on foreign and national security policy issues, his usual purpose is to lay out a foundation for action on them. His build-up of remarks foreshadowing the February 24, 2022 invasion provides an example of this. However, it would seem Putin’s words as with that matter and a number of others are more often viewed as being of no-count among political leaders in Western capitals as well as within their respective foreign and national security policy bureaucracies. Surely, they can seem to be scare tactics more than anything else, but in the end they tend to have meaning. As of late, Putin and his top officials have been doing a lot of talking about nuclear weapons and their use. Their expressions alone hold enough materiality and scope to warrant a significant investigation.of the nuclear issue or perhaps there could be wider exploitation of what has been uncovered already.

In July 2022, President Vladimir Putin threatened to continue the war until the last Ukrainian man was standing and his Deputy Dmitri Medvedev suggested that “punishing” Russia over war crimes “potentially poses a threat to the existence of humanity.” Since 2007, nuclear threats have been commonplace among high level Russian officials but the current ones are clearly more extreme. United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson once noted that Putin had personally made nuclear threats 35 or more times.

Putin’s June 2020 directive on nuclear deterrence made it clear the most alarming reports concerning the Russian nuclear first use threshold were accurate. Paragraph 19 (d) of President Putin’s June 2020 decree [translated] states concerning the conditions specifying the possibility of nuclear weapons use by the Russian Federation would inckude: “aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy.” Further, Paragraph 4 of Putin’s decree links nuclear weapons use to sovereignty and territorial integrity. This is potentially very permissive.

To briefly return back to the aforementioned statement by Shoigu, what should not be downplayed is his remark that “the main purpose of Russian nuclear weapons is to deter a nuclear attack. Its use is limited to extraordinary circumstances.” Shoigu did not define what would qualify as “extraordinary circumstances.” That was an odd choice given his statement was ostensibly designed to provide clarity on the nuclear issue.

Putin (center), Russian Federation Defense Minister, General of the Army Sergei Shoigu (left), and Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (right). When Putin makes statements, announcements, declarations, and addresses on foreign and national security policy issues, his usual purpose is to lay out a foundation for action on them. His build-up of remarks foreshadowing the February 24, 2022 invasion provides an example of this. However, it would seem Putin’s words as with that matter and a number of others are more often viewed as being of no-count among political leaders in Western capitals as well as within their respective foreign and national security policy bureaucracies. Surely, they can seem to be scare tactics more than anything else, but in the end they tend to have meaning. As of late, Putin and his top officials have been doing a lot of talking about nuclear weapons and their use. Their expressions alone hold enough materiality and scope to warrant a significant investigation.of the nuclear issue or perhaps there could be wider exploitation of what has been uncovered already.

Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and Putin’s Comfort-Level with Nuclear Weapons

Alterations of Moscow’s policy and posture concerning intermediate range nuclear forces have run near concurrently with its troublemaking in Ukraine. Many might remember, perhaps some a bit vaguely, how nuclear weapons were an all engrossing topic in Western capitals during the Cold War and their reduction became a primary aim of diplomacy among Western countries,  prariiy the US, and the Soviet Union. Reductions were achieved through the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.  The INF Treaty was an arms control treaty between the US and the Soviet Union. US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev signed the treaty on December 8, 1987, and entered into force on June 1, 1988. Regarding its basics, the treaty required both countries to eliminate their ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles that could travel between 300 and 3,400 miles by an implementation deadline of June 1, 1991. By the deadline, the two countries had together destroyed a total of 2,692 short- and intermediate-range missiles: 1,846 Soviet missiles and 846 US missiles. The INF Treaty was the first arms-control treaty to eliminate an entire category of weapons systems. Two protocols to the treaty established unprecedented procedures for observers from both countries to verify firsthand the other nation’s destruction of its missiles. 

The INF Treaty was signed in 1987, however, in 2013, the Russian Federation, which had assumed the obligations agreed to by the Soviet Union under the INF Treaty, had decided to untie itself from the treaty’s restrictions. Russia began developing, producing, testing, and deploying a new intermediate-range missile known as the 9M729, or SSC-8. The 9M729 Iskander missile, mentioned earlier, reduced the warning time for European capitals of Russian nuclear attack to minutes, lowering the threshold for nuclear conflict. The West sought to reason with the Russian leadership on what were seen as disturbing developments. The US initially first raised concern with Russia about the 9M729 missile system on May 23, 2013 without positive results. At NATO’s September 5, 2014 Summit in Wales, Member States called on Russia to preserve the viability of the INF Treaty. That was after Russia had displayed heightened aggressiveness in February 2014 when its forces moved into the Crimean Peninsula and subsequently annexed the territory. At NATO’s Summit in Warsaw in July 2016, Members called on Russia to answer US charges and preserve the viability of the INF Treaty. In an somewhat mocking response, on December 9, 2017, Moscow finally admitted the 9M729 exists but claimed it is compliant with the INF Treaty.

Leaving little doubt as to its thinking, on February 5, 2018, the West received news via the Russian news agency RIA that the head of the Lower House of the Russian Parliament’s defense committee reported Iskander missile systems had been sent to Kaliningrad, Russian sovereign territory on the Baltic Sea. The Iskander, a mobile ballistic missile system codenamed SS-26 Stone by NATO, replaced the Soviet Scud missile. Its two guided missiles have a range of up to 500 kilometers (about 300 miles) and can carry either conventional or nuclear warheads. Moscow stated that previous deployments of Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad, a slice of Russia wedged between Poland and Lithuania, were temporary and a response to the buildup of US forces in the Baltic region. In addition to having a destabilizing effect on NATO countries in the immediate area, US officials at that time expressed concern that the deployments appeared permanent.

In July 2018, NATO Members stated that after years of denials and obfuscation by the Russian Federation, and despite repeatedly raising their concerns, Russia had only recently acknowledged the existence of the missile system without providing the necessary transparency or explanation. Due to the absence of any credible answer from Russia on this new missile, the assessment was that Russia was in violation of the INF Treaty. In December 2018, NATO Foreign Ministers supported the US finding that Russia was in material breach of its obligations under the INF Treaty and called on Russia to urgently return to full and verifiable compliance with the Treaty.

NATO stood open to dialogue and welcomed engagement with Russia on its violation, to include a NATO-Russia Council meeting on January 25, 2019. However, Russia continued to deny its INF Treaty violations, failed to provide any credible response, and did not move a jot toward returning to full and verifiable compliance. Stating Russia’s continued non-compliance as the cause, on February 1, 2019, the US announced its decision to suspend its obligations under Article XV of the INF Treaty. On February 1, 2019, NATO Members stated that unless Russia honored its INF Treaty obligations through the verifiable destruction of all of its 9M729 weapon systems, thereby returning to full and verifiable compliance, Russia would bear sole responsibility for the end of the Treaty. Russia was entitled to return to compliance with the treaty in 6 months and thereby halt the US withdrawal and NATO Members repeatedly urged Moscow to do so, but it refused. On August 2, 2019, the US withdrawal took effect. On that day, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that “Russia is solely responsible for the treaty’s demise.” NATO Members issued a statement fully supporting the US decision, and attributing “sole responsibility” for the INF Treaty’s termination to Russia. The statement made clear that NATO would respond in a “measured and responsible way” to the risks posed by Russia’s SSC-8 system, with a “balanced, coordinated and defensive package of measures,” ensuring credible and effective deterrence and defence. Members also made clear their firm commitment to the preservation of effective international arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation. 

On August 18, 2022, near the time of this writing, the Russian Federation Armed Forces reported that it had deployed Russian Air Force MiG-31K jet armed with state-of-the-art hypersonic missiles, Kh-47M2 Kinzhal, to the Chkalovsk air base in Kaliningrad as part of “additional measures of strategic deterrence.”as part of “additional measures of strategic deterrence.”

The fact that steps taken on policy concerning and deployments of nuclear weapons, with the exception of the deployment of MiG-31K jet armed with the Kinzhal hypersonic missiles have all occurred outside the context of Ukraine or at least the circumstances appear to be such, should indicate that whatever Putin is saying or doing now regarding the is of far greater conception than the “special military operation.”

Certainly, it would be rather counterintuitive for Putin to continue to make statements that intensively would inform the West that there has been a shift in his thinking about nuclear weapons to the extent that he is now more prepared to use them if in his calculus the sovereignty of Russia were both endangered.  That stated, Putin, having had his expositions and entreaties on relatively lesser foreign and national security policy issues of concern to him dismissed consistently by the West, Putin should now be reasonably aware that his concerns regarding nuclear weapons will continue to be brushed aside as Western leaders neither want to consider the possibility of him using them, nor want his words on the issue to have any meaning.

If orders were to be given by Putin to the military to use nuclear weapons, instead of Dvornikov, the call would more likely go to Colonel General Sergei Karakayev, the commander of Raketnye Voyska Strategicheskogo Naznacheniya Rossiyskoy Federatsii (Strategic Rocket Forces of the Russian Federation or the Strategic Missile Forces of the Russian Federation [literally Strategic Purpose Rocketry Troops]) or RVSN RF. The Rocket Forces are a branch of the Russian Armed Forces that control Russia’s land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). In addition, the Aerospace Forces (VKS), as well as the Russian Navy’s Northern and Black Sea, and Pacific Fleets would be alerted. Commanders who are in control of Russia’s strategic nuclear triad would act in the manner prescribed respectively by political authorities. Any plans to use nuclear weapons would be of the utmost secrecy. Discussion of it would surely be limited to a handful of advisers.

US President Ronald Reagan (left) and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev (right) signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 1987. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty was an arms control treaty between the US and the Soviet Union. US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev signed the treaty on December 8, 1987, and entered into force on June 1, 1988. The treaty required both countries to eliminate their ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles that could travel between 500 and 5,500 kilometres (between 300 and 3,400 miles) by an implementation deadline of June 1, 1991. The INF Treaty was the first arms-control treaty to eliminate an entire category of weapons systems. However, in 2013, the Russian Federation, which had assumed the obligations agreed to by the Soviet Union under the INF Treaty, had decided to untie itself from the treaty’s restrictions. Russia began developing, producing, testing, and deploying a new intermediate-range missile known as the 9M729, or SSC-8. The 9M729 Iskander missile, mentioned earlier. reduced the warning time for European capitals of Russian nuclear attack to minutes, lowering the threshold for nuclear conflict.

Implications of Russian Losses in Ukraine

For those who might find it difficult to imagine Putin destroying the world over hypothetical defeat in Ukraine and that firing nuclear weapons is far short of setting off a conventional war, think again. A great conventional war involving hundreds of thousands of soldiers in these times was also extremely difficult for so many to imagine a few short months ago. The invasion of Ukraine and attending gross losses of Russian troops may serve as a proxy for understanding Putin and measuring his willingness to sacrifice human lives in pursuit of his goals. As mentioned earlier, Putin started the war. It was his decision to tear millions of people in Russia and much more so Ukraine from peace and cast them to a seeming foreverness of death and destruction, torment and anguish.

With regard to Russian casualties, according to the latest estimate by US intelligence and military officials, reportedly 500 troops are either killed or wounded every day. The casualty estimates of US officials are reportedly based on satellite imagery, communication intercepts, social media and on-the-ground media reports. The US Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Colin Kahl, told reporters at the Pentagon on August 12, 2022: “I think it’s safe to suggest that the Russians have probably taken 70,000 or 80,000 casualties in less than six months.” The New York Times on August 12, 2022 reported that two US officials estimated that Russia’s losses included about 20,000 deaths. One confidentially explained further that about 5,000 from that number are believed to be fighters from the Wagner Group, and foreign fighters. US officials have gone as far as to assess that the progress of Russian forces in the Donbas became stalled in part due to high casualties. 

During his May 9, 2022 Victory Day address, Putin made a rare reference to casualties suffered by Russian forces fighting in Ukraine. With respect to casualties, Putin mentioned the “irreparable loss for relatives and friends.” He informed Russians then that support would be put in place for the children of the dead and for the wounded. Of course, one could say there is good reason for Putin to take this tack. It is a fairly elementary idea, but Napoleon expressed it in a succinct fashion: “We should always go before our enemies with confidence, otherwise our apparent uneasiness inspires them with greater boldness.” It may very well be the case that Putin is thoroughly disappointed by the heavy losses. He may even have strong personal feelings, and may in private appear somewhat emotional about it all. While that could be true, in public, he shows not a scintilla of interest in those losses. To a great degree, he has glossed over the losses with his words..

Still, readers might bear in mind that during an interview on June 7, 2015 the editor of the Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera, then Luciano Fontana, asked Putin: “Mr. President is there one thing that you regret more than anything in your life, which you consider an error that you would never again want to repeat?” Reportedly, Putin adjusted himself in his chair, and his eyes suddenly seemed to sparkle. He remained silent for a few seconds, and then, according to the daily’s English transcription of the interview, stated: “I will be quite frank with you. I cannot recollect anything of the kind. By the grace of God, I have nothing to regret in my life.” In August 2022, perhaps Putin might offer another response to this question. On the other hand, it is more likely he would not alter his response in any way.. 

Putin as Epic Hero

Putin has a penchant for bringing to bear events in Russian and Soviet history in support of his arguments concerning both domestic and foreign, and national security policy issues. In April 2020, as Russia entered its first coronavirus lockdown, he compared the pandemic to 19th-century Turkic nomadic invasions of medieval Russia during a televised address to the nation. In July 2021, the Kremlin published an almost 7,000-word essay by Putin, entitled “On the historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians”, in which he argued that Russia and Ukraine were one nation, artificially divided. Putin’s inclination for referring to history was apparent in his February 24, 2022 speech announcing the special military operation during which he again  provided a lesson on Ukraine’s historic connections to Russia.

In June 2022, Putin compared himself to the 18th-century Russian Tsar Peter the Great, drawing the following parallel: “Peter the Great waged the great northern war for 21 years. It would seem that he was at war with Sweden, he took something from them. He did not take anything from them, he returned [what was Russia’s].” Putin might humbly shun being labelled a history buff, but he certainly can be said to have retained innumerable facts on the history of Russia and the Soviet Union. It may all appear quite puerile to some onlookers, but simply put, Putin’s predilection for making references may augur that in a very grave danger that may lie ahead in which Putin may view a situation from an historical perspective, not a pragmatic one for the here and now.

A part of Russia’s history and culture has been the creation and promulgation of tales about powerful mythical beings, whose behavior and actions supposedly account for the development of certain geological formations, aspects of Russian behavior, the Russian zeitgeist past and present, and a few place names in the country, to name a few things. Putin, who greatcharlie will go out on a limb and call an historian and recognize as an erudite on all things Russian, is doubtlessly familiar with such mythical heroes, and would surely be able to explain that everything which is most heroic and great about them, holds a place in the soul and spirit of all good Russians. Hearing those tales can reaffirm that. (It would be interesting to hear Putin speak on such matters.)

One of Russia’s greatest mythical heroes is Ural-batyr. His tale is popular particularly among ethnic Bashkirs who named their national epic poem after him. As the story goes, all his life, Ural-batyr (who for Putin might represent himself) selflessly fought against devs (demons), serpents, and dragons (who for Putin might represent the West), defending the human race (who for Putin might represent the Russian people). Also, he was kind and always showed forgiveness to his toxic and malevolent elder brother Shulgan (who for Putin might represent the national government in Kyiv, at least since Euromaidan), who associated with the devs, and responded to their demands that he destroy Ural-batyr and the humans. The people loved and extolled Ural-batyr as their hero and were proud to follow him. Defeating death was an aim and objective to which Ural-batyr dedicated himself. He wanted to allow his people to live forever and not have to die. One day, Ural-batyr encountered an immortal older man who was weary of life and explained to to the effect: “What we call Death and what we are accustomed to regard as evil are just the eternal order of things . . . There is only one thing in life that does not die and remains forever young – goodness.” The immortal’s words sowed within Ural-batyr an inner peace and happiness.

Ural-batyr, himself, would die performing an heroic act of self-sacrifice: He swallowed an entire lake in which devs, snakes, and evil spirits roamed to protect the people from them. The devs, snakes, and evil spirits gorged on Ural-batyr from the inside, thereby killing him. As he died, Ural-batyr tells his descendants not to accept evil in fellow travelers, always accept advice from elders and wise people, and to offer advice to the youth and assist them. By his example of self-sacrifice, Ural-batyr instructed the people to live by justice and peace. The people buried him high in mountains which they named in his honor, and were thereafter called Uralskiye gory: the Ural Mountains.

To the extent that greatcharlie has managed to understand him, any situation that would put Putin up against the wall would demand nothing less from him than something akin to a suicide charge. It would be less about achieving victory and more about a final display of what he might perceive as heroic valor. Inarguably, Putin would surely prefer to lead the Russian people in the next phase after a thermonuclear exchange. A man who has well-managed his survival for three decades would hardly become fatalist, chuck everything aside, and willingly go on to a higher calling. However, if Putin were to find that he would not survive a hypothetical thermonuclear war that he might start, he would conceivably hold some sense of satisfaction as he commenced it knowing that as the mythical Russian heroic figure, Ural-batyr, he was doing his utmost for the Russian people as their defender. Despite the expansive devastation around them, Putin might believe they would come to realize that he secured for them a chance to rebuild and enjoy a future that the US and rest of the West sought to deny them. He would also sense he would be instructing them by action that they should place no limit on their will to fight for the survival and freedom of Russia or some lesson to that effect. Male facere qui vult numquam non causam invenit. (Those who would do evil never fail to find a reason.)

Putin center stage at a concert marking the 8th anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea  in support of Russia’s on-going special military operation in Ukraine at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow on March 18, 2022. To the extent that greatcharlie has managed to understand him, any situation that would put Putin up against the wall would demand nothing less from him than something akin to a suicide charge. It would be less about achieving victory and more about a final display of what he might perceive as heroic valor. Inarguably, Putin would surely prefer to lead the Russian people in the next phase after a thermonuclear exchange. A man who has well-managed his survival for three decades would hardly become fatalist, chuck everything aside, and willingly go on to a higher calling. However, if Putin were to determine that he would not survive a hypothetical thermonuclear war, he would conceivably hold some sense of satisfaction as he commenced it knowing that as the mythical Russian heroic figure, Ural-batyr, he was doing his utmost for the Russian people as their defender. Putin might believe they would come to realize that he secured for them a chance to rebuild and enjoy a future that the US and rest of the West sought to deny them.

The Way Forward

Art Buchwald was a US columnist and humorist who delighted in the absurd, satirizing the follies of the rich, the famous and the powerful. In an interview from his hospital bed for the Associated Press on April 5, 2006, he stated: I don’t know what’s coming next and neither does anyone else. It’s something that we do have to face but the thing is that a lot of people don’t want to face it. And there’s denial. If somebody says it, like me, everybody feels a little better that they can discuss it.”

Finding a point to halt the war and seek peace without total victory by one side or the other seems remote. The ongoing fight could be best described as “bitter, relentless, and cruel.” Nevertheless, it may be the best possibility. Sometimes a solution that might be found can go beyond the physical boundaries of a struggle and include matters that at the moment seem remote from it, in order to provide a reasonably comfortable, sustainable peace for both sides. As aforementioned, for greatcharlie, there is little doubt Putin would not hesitate, in the normal sense, to launch a thermonuclear war in response to a theoretical defeat in Ukraine. In such an event, there would be little opportunity in the West for post mortems, who said what, when, and where. Assumptions are not conclusions, and can go only far with a good number of experienced hands. Expert individuals as them may feel there is no reason to make heavy weather of the issue as it seems so remote, at least at the moment.

Multo enim multoque seipsum quam hostem superare operosius est. (It is harder, much harder, to conquer yourself than it is to conquer your enemy.) As greatcharlie has mentioned in preceding posts, the idea that Putin would be willing to somewhat casually take an action that he knew could potentially lead to global annihilation is too difficult for many to fathom. It requires accepting a line of thinking which for them would be beyond the settled order of nature. It was once widely expressed by leaders in Western capitals that Putin was little more than a callous former executioner for the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) or KGB. A return to that thinking is not really suited to the discussion on Ukraine right now. Numquam aliud natura, aliud sapientia dicit. (Never does nature say one thing and wisdom say another.)

Recently, the editor of greatcharlie was described as a polemicist by one of the blogs readers. The somewhat brusque remark was albeit intended as bon mot. While it is certainly a more preferable label than propagandist, polemicist seemed a bit too heavy a word to derive from the not too controversial scribblings of greatcharlie. There has scarcely been an argument with which greatcharlie has been so bound that it has sought to incite readers to peruse a post. If there is a need to define greatcharlie as one thing or another, perhaps it might help to point out that the words of Stephen Grellet, the early 19th century French-American Quaker missionary, have provided guidance in the writing of every post: “I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way

A Link between Trump’s June 2018 Letters to European Allies and His July 2018 Summit with Putin: A View from Outside the Box

US President Donald Trump (right) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (left) at the G7 meeting in Charlevoix. Trump believes NATO should deploy a combined force under its collective security arrangement that truly has the capability and capacity to deter, and if necessary, fight and defeat attacks from all directions, but especially an attack from their most likely adversary: Russia. He believes the time to rebuild NATO is now. The degree to which the Europeans invest in the build up of their defense will impact how Trump will handle situations concerning Europe with Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin.

The renowned US foreign policy scholar and former US National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, stated that sophisticated US leadership is sine qua non of a stable world order. US President Donald Trump has set forth to serve in the leadership role as prescribed. Serving that role entails meeting with Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin to discuss matters concerning the world’s strongest nuclear powers and the threat posed by Russia to European security. As the leader of West, he must also serve as the steward of NATO and ensure transatlantic security is effectively maintained. On its face, there is a link between these matters as concerns of the president. However, the tie is much greater.

Trump plans to meet with Putin both one-on-one and in a formal meeting with delegations of aides in Helsinki, Finland on July 16, 2018. The meeting will be the first formal summit talks between them. They have met previously on the sidelines of conferences. They have also had a number of telephone conversations. The decision by the two leaders to have summit meeting was actually reached through phone conversations on March 20, 2018 and April 2, 2018. US National Security Adviser John Bolton explained in an televised interview, “The goal of this meeting really is for the two leaders to have a chance to sit down, not in the context of some larger multilateral meeting, but just the two of them, to go over what is on their mind about a whole range of issues.” In a conversation with reporters aboard Air Force One on June 29, 2018, Trump said that he planned to talk to Putin about everything. He further stated: “We’re going to talk about Ukraine, we’re going to be talking about Syria, we’ll be talking about elections. And we don’t want anybody tampering with elections. We’ll be talking about world events. We’ll be talking about peace. Maybe we talk about saving billions of dollars on weapons, and maybe we don’t.” (There is also a good chance that the ears of North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un will be burning once the one-on-one session is underway.) At the same time news broke about the planned summit, reports that Trump sent letters in June 2018 to several European leaders concerning NATO surfaced. The letters also arrived one month before the July 11-12, 2018 NATO Summit in Brussels. Trump purportedly explained in the letters that after more than a year of public and private complaints that allies have not done enough to share the burden of collective security. Trump hinted that in response, he might consider a significant modification in how US forces are deployed in Europe. The letters have indeed been the latest figurative ladle Trump has used to stir billows in the pot with European leaders. While most might view it as doubtful, Trump means well, and at least from his perspective, he has done everything for all the right reasons. Indeed, a closer look at the situation, or a look at the situation from outside the box, indicates that the situation is not as bad as it may seem to other European leaders and their advisers.

Trump wants to get a handle on the important matter of Europe’s defense and transatlantic collective security. He wants to actually do something about the threat that Russia poses to Europe, and contrary to everything critics have stated, make NATO a genuine defense against potential Russian aggression posed by Putin or any other leaders. Trump believes the time to rebuild NATO is now. He would like to have European leaders move away from staid thinking and somewhat superficial action on their security, and deploy a combined force under NATO’s collective security arrangement that truly has the capability and capacity to deter, and fight and win if deterrence fails. The rather restrained efforts of the Europeans so far will have a direct impact on how he might handle situations concerning Europe with Putin. Trump wants them to stop making it so difficult for him to work with them. The purpose here is to take a deeper look, from outside the box, at Trump’s approach to enhancing Europe’s defense and transatlantic security. It illustrates that main task for Trump is not simply to garner increases in spending on NATO, but encourage the Europeans to change their relatively relaxed perspectives and take more energetic approaches toward their own security. Quid ergo? non ibo per priorum vestigia? ego vero utar via vetere, sed si propiorem planioremque invenero, hanc muniam. Qui ante nos ista moverunt non domini nostri sed duces sunt. Patet omnibus veritas; nondum est occupata; multum ex illa etiam futuris relictum est. (What then? Shall I not follow in the footsteps of my predecessors? I shall indeed use the old road, but if I find one that makes a shorter cut and is smoother to travel, I shall open the new road. Men who have made these discoveries before us are not our masters, but our guides. Truth lies open for all; it has not yet been monopolized. And there is plenty of it left even for posterity to discover.)

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (above). Finding a way to establish an authentic positive relationship with Russia is a struggle US administrations have engaged in for a few decades. Trump said he would give his best effort to finding a solution.  He does not want to settle on a long-term stand-off in which peace, particularly in Europe, is placed at risk. Trump has already met with Putin and by Putin’s admission, he and Trump regularly discuss matters by phone. However, everything is not perfect yet; rough patches exist.

Trump-Putin Summit: A Chance to Investigate Possibilities

Finding a way to establish an authentic, positive relationship with Russia is a struggle US administrations have engaged in for a few decades. Trump said he would give his best effort to finding a solution.  He does not want to settle on a long-term stand-off in which peace, particularly in Europe, is placed at risk. Trump logically concluded that accomplishing these things would first require establishing a positive relationship with Putin. Trump has already met him and so far their chemistry has been good. By Putin’s admission, he and Trump regularly discuss matters by phone. However, everything is not perfect; many rough patches exist. In assessing the possibility of improving relations with Russia, albeit in the abstract, Trump has taken a good look inside. He has not missed what has been happening there. He is aware that Russia is an authoritarian regime with all of the authoritarian tendencies at home and abroad. That authoritarianism is harnessed by a quest for economic development. Commingled with that is the politicization of local economic activity. What creates the slightest possibility that economic development may pan out in some way is the fact that Russia is oil rich. Still, that possibility has been dampened somewhat by the reality that Russia is a criminalized state. In terms of foreign policy, the goal of authoritarian Russia is to supplant Western power, diminish Western influence, and weaken stability promoted by the West. Russia has also sought to increase its influence in Eastern and Central Europe. In the previous US administration, that region was not a priority. The previous US administration introduced policy approaches such as “Pivot to Asia” and the “reset with Russia” which sent the wrong signals to Moscow. Russia had kept its sights on the region. It was have very senior leaders visit the region frequently.To the extent that it could, Russia would invest in infrastructure, provide military assistance, and support pro-Russian political parties and movements. Occasional visits from US officials supported a perception in Washington that is was engaged. The vacuum created by the delinquency of the previous US administration in the region was filled by Russia.

After Moscow grabbed Crimea and began to shape Eastern Ukraine, the US made it clear that it did not accept what occurred and set clear boundaries for Russia in Ukraine. Expectations were laid out. Still, Russia has continued to engage in aggressive behavior. Over 10,000 Ukrainians have been killed in the struggle in Donetsk and Luhansk. In the Trump administration, no doubt has been left in public statements and messaging. Sanctions remain in place. The US is willing to engage with Russia where there are shared interests. Counterterrorism and nuclear nonproliferation are examples of that. However, nefarious Russian moves, as seen in Montenegro, Moldova, Bulgaria, and threatening language toward States as Macedonia, Norway, and Finland, have drawn and will prompt harsh language from the US. Russia has even sought to antagonize Trump through efforts such as boasting about the strength of Russia’s arsenal and using computer graphics to illustrate the ability of hypersonic weapons to reach his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida. Trump broached that matter with Putin during his phone call with him on March 20, 2018. US efforts to counter Russian moves have not only included pressing for greater burden sharing on defense, but also weakening support for Nord Stream II.

An additional factor for Trump to consider is the influence of Russia’s intelligence industry–the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) known better as the KGB—the agency responsible for intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security from Russia’s Soviet past, the Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Russian Federation Federal Security Service) or FSB; the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR; and, the Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye Generalnovo Shtaba (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff-Military Intelligence) or GRU–has on the society. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia really became a criminal country. By successfully navigating through the banality, incompetence, and corruption of the Soviet government, the intelligence industry managed to stand on top of all that was good, the bad, and ugly in the new Russia. Intelligence officers have  always been fully aware of what was transpiring in their country. Soviet intelligence officers recognized when the collapse of their country was underway. Yet, they viewed it as a duty to keep the truth from the people. Information control was also used as the justification for such action. Prevaricating remains part of the government’s life system and survival system. Perhaps the primary goal of such mendacity now is to “make Russia great again.” When the truth plays a role, it is misused. Facts are distorted to cloak some scheme. The truth will many times threaten Moscow’s efforts. When Russian untruthfulness is encountered by the West on issues great and minor, often the response is surprise and disappointment. Confronting Moscow on the truth will not bring a satisfactory result. There will be no admissions, no confessions, no mea culpas. That being said, Trump should still meet with the leader who sits on top of it all to find out what is happening in Russia.

As explained in a February 28, 2018 greatcharlie post entitled, “A Russian Threat on Two Fronts: A New Understanding of Putin, Not Inadequate Old Ones, Will Allow the Best Response,” Putin prepares for his meetings or any other official contacts in advance, by mining available information about his scheduled interlocutors and by considering all possible angles of how they might challenge him and how he would explain himself in a plausible, satisfying way. Such is the nature of politics as well as diplomacy. Putin is super observant. It is a quality that stirs admiration from some and or elicits terror in others. If any one could detect a hint of anger or dissention in the eyes, in mannerisms, in bearing and deportment, in the words of another, it would be Putin. Usus, magister egregius. (Experience, that excellent master.)

A long espoused, jejune criticism of Trump is that he has a self-enchantment with tyrants, strongmen, rogue leaders such as Putin. His comments about Putin have been decried by critics as being unduly pleasant and oleaginous particularly in light of reports from the US Intelligence Community that Russia interfered in the 2016 US Presidential Election. Trump dismisses the obloquy of critics. In reality, Trump, rather than finding Putin intoxicating, has developed his own reservations about him having had a number of disappointing experiences with him in the past year. Indeed, while engaged in diplomacy, the Trump administration has observed hostile Russian moves such as continued interference n US elections, as well as those of other countries, efforts to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and the effort to tighten Moscow’s grip Crimea and the Donbass. Nevertheless, with optimism spurred by having found some areas of agreement and given the degree of mutual respect between Putin and himself, Trump still seeks to engage Russia in a way that will improve relations long-term. As one cause for the summit meeting, Trump hopes he might find some touch that he could put on the situation to knock everything into the right direction. As another cause for the summit, Trump is investigating the degree to which Putin is a threat to European defense and transatlantic collective security. Much as it is the case in any legitimate investigation, Trump, is interviewing its subject: Putin. Trump also has system of evaluation people developed from his experience as a business negotiator. Trump has an understanding of human nature, and even sympathy for human frailty. One of his greatest strengths is his capacity for listening. However, when necessary, he can be stubborn and stone-hearted. After the one-on-one session, Trump will better understand Putin’s thinking and intentions from what he hears and what he does not hear. Through well-crafted questions, he should collect enough information to satisfy his own concerns. His skilled observations of Putin’s behavior will also serve to inform. Surely, Trump is fully aware the Putin will attempt to glean information from him. Res ipsa repperi facilitate nihil esse homini melius neque clementia. (I have learned by experience that nothing is more advantageous to a person than courtesy and compassion.)

Trump aboard the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier (above) To immediately field a NATO force that would be genuinely capable of deterring and if necessary fight, repel, and defeat Russian forces the US would need to cover any gaps in NATO’s strength, earmarking a sizeable portion of its forces primarily for that task. Trump cannot rightly increase US spending and invest more US troops in NATO, if the Europeans intend to simply sit back and let the US carry the load, and potentially cut back on defemsr. The Europeans can build stronger armies and field more advanced weapon systems.

Trump Sought to Energize, Not Antagonize with His Letters

The US commitment to NATO is extant. Even after all that has been said, Trump absolutely understands that NATO is essential to the defense of the US and its interests in Europe. Although Trump has not made a grand display of his concern, he actually sees Russia not only as a competitor, but as a genuine threat. The US  will take the lead in handling Russia during his administration, but he wants the European to genuinely stand beside the US in its efforts. In 2017, the Trump administration explained that taking the lead internationally and advancing US military, political and economic strength is a vital US interest. To that extent, the Trump administration has promised to greatly increase the capabilities and capacity of the US military. Additionally, it has sought to bolster US power by strengthening its alliances and its partnerships with economically thriving partners. It has done so while ensuring that those alliances and partnerships are based on mutual respect and shared responsibility. In the US National Security Council’s summary under, ”Preserve Peace Through Strength”, steps the administration stated it would take were outlined as follows: “We will rebuild America’s military strength to ensure it remains second to none. America will use all of the tools of statecraft in a new era of strategic competition–diplomatic, information, military, and economic—to protect our interests. America will strengthen its capabilities across numerous domains–including space and cyber–and revitalize capabilities that have been neglected. America’s allies and partners magnify our power and protect our shared interests. We expect them to take greater responsibility for addressing common threats. We will ensure the balance of power remains in America’s favor in key regions of the world: the Indo-Pacific, Europe, and the Middle East.” Trump’s letters to European leaders manifested his determination to get them to significantly increase their military expenditures, make NATO an authentic deterrent to potential Russian aggression, and along the way, take greater responsibility for addressing common threats. Some might find it confusing, but the letters also evinced the degree to which Trump is genuinely concerned about the well-being of Europe and NATO. According to the New York Times, the actual number of letters sent by Trump has not been revealed. The White House explained that it does not comment on presidential correspondence. Other sources apparently informed the New York Times that at least a dozen were sent. Supposedly, recipients included: Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada, Belgium, Norway, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain.

Each letter reportedly echoed Trump’s complaint that the NATO allies are not living up to the commitment they made at their Wales summit meeting in 2014 to spend 2 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on national defense. US National Security Adviser John Bolton said in an televised interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that “The president wants a strong NATO.” He went on to state: “If you think Russia’s a threat, ask yourself this question: Why is Germany spending less than 1.2 percent of its GNP? When people talk about undermining the NATO alliance, you should look at those who are carrying out steps that make NATO less effective militarily.” However, shortly before the letters were sent, Europeans officials sought to defend their respective failures to meet the 2 percent pledge. German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, for example, said Germany will increase defense spending to 1.5 percent of GDP by 2024. She further explained that Germany and all NATO allies, however, only committed to spend at least 2 percent of GDP on defense by 2024. In her view, there was no pledge in the text of the 2014 Wales Summit Declaration to spend at least 2 percent by 2024. At Wales, it was only agreed that NATO countries aim to move toward the 2 percent guideline within a decade. Some military analysts argue that tying defense spending to GDP makes no sense. Moreover, it leads to issues concerning changes in GDP, a country’s respective spending on defense, and how a country’s defense budget is spent. Semper autem in fide quid senseris, non quid dixens, cognitandum. (A promise must be kept not only in the letter but in the spirit.)

Excerpts of Trump’s letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel was shared with the New York Times by someone who saw it. Trump allegedly wrote to Merkel: “As we discussed during your visit in April, there is growing frustration in the United States that some allies have not stepped up as promised.”  He continued: “The United States continues to devote more resources to the defense of Europe when the Continent’s economy, including Germany’s, are doing well and security challenges abound. This is no longer sustainable for us.” Regarding frustration over NATO in the US, Trump explained: “Growing frustration is not confined to our executive branch. The United States Congress is concerned, as well.” Trump also posited in the letter that Germany deserves blame for the failure of other NATO countries to spend enough, writing: “Continued German underspending on defense undermines the security of the alliance and provides validation for other allies that also do not plan to meet their military spending commitments, because others see you as a role model.” Most likely in a further effort to light a fire under the Europeans, the Trump administration made it known that the US had been analyzing a large-scale withdrawal of US forces from Germany.

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis expressed concern over the direction that the United Kingdom was moving regarding defense in his own letter to the United Kingdom’s Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson. The United Kingdom has cut defense spending over the past decade in line with an austerity program that has also seen cuts to domestic spending. London and Paris still field far and away the most powerful militaries in Europe. While Mattis noted that the United Kingdom, a NATO allies that has met the alliance’s target of 2 percent spending of GDP on the military, he insisted it was not good enough for a country of its status. Regarding the United Kingdom’s global role, Mattis proffered that it “will require a level of defense spending beyond what we would expect from allies with only regional interests.” Mattis went on to state: “I am concerned that your ability to continue to provide this critical military foundation … is at risk of erosion.” Supporting his position, Mattis explained: “The reemergence of the great power competition requires that we maintain vigilance and the ability to operate across the full combat spectrum, notably at the high end.” He continued: “While we must sustain military capabilities to deter, and win if deterrence fails . . . we must also improve and enhance those capabilities if we’re to carry out our obligations to future peace.” As part of process of turning the situation around, Mattis asked for a “clear and fully funded, forward defense blueprint” from the United Kingdom. Mattis stated that “It is in the best interest of both our nations for the UK to remain the U.S. partner of choice.” However, he noted that France was increasing its spending, and wrote: “As global actors, France and the U.S. have concluded that now is the time to significantly increase our investment in defense.” Some Members of Parliament have called for spending to increase to 2.5 or 3 percent of national output from 2 percent.

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis (left) and Gernan Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen (right). Shortly before Trump sent letters to European leaders, a number of European officials have sought to defend their respective failures to meet the 2 percent pledge. Von der Leyen, for example, said Germany will increase defense spending to 1.5 percent of GDP by 2024. She further explained that Germany and all NATO allies, however, only committed to spend at least 2 percent of GDP on defense by 2024. In her view, there was no pledge at Wales to “spend at least 2 percent by 2024.”

An Awful Experience for the Europeans

In his first book, De Officiis (on Duties) written in 44 B.C., the renowned Roman orator and statesman of Roman Republic, Marcus Tullius Cicero explained that individuals do not exist to be in constant antagonistic contest. Instead, individuals exist to help each other in peaceful cooperation to the mutual benefit of all. He stated: “Consequently, we ought in this to follow nature as our leader, to contribute to the common stock the things that benefit everyone together and, by exchange of dutiful services, by giving and receiving effort and means, to bind fast the fellowship of men with each other.” Europeans leaders unlikely sensed from his inauguration Day on January 20, 2017, that working with Trump would not be a passeggiata. However, there appears to be more than the usual occasions of disappointment and discord with their ally across the Atlantic. Trump’s statements directed toward European leaders on NATO has resulted in an emotional mangle. Real feelings of trepidation exist among them. When national leaders are fogged in on an issue and cannot get a handle on a situation in a satisfying way, there is an anxiety, a sense of panic that ensues. Not being able to answer big questions on foreign policy, especially when they are dealing with such a powerful and influential country as the US will often obstruct, even thwart efforts to formulate and implement policies, strategies, and nuanced approaches.

The popular response of European leaders toward Trump has been to react intemperately and to figuratively march against him, banners of their countries flying. They are well-aware that by reproaching Trump, they will be feted in their respective national news media and within the public of their countries. However, the small benefits derived from pleasing crowds at home is far outweighed by the bigger picture of their countries respective relationships with the US. Many European leaders have not looked beyond the surface by trying to better discern Trump’s words and deeds, by ratcheting up diplomatic and other contacts with US, and devising fresh approaches to work better with the Trump administration. They have failed to view these quarrels as opportunities to develop new, better, enriching paths to take with the US.  What they have done is create the danger of driving their countries’ relations with the US down to lower points. A notable exception to all of this has been German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Although still bearing the brunt of Trump’s admonishments of the Europeans, her approach to Trump has evolved in a very sophisticated, constructive way. She now takes a solution oriented, not a reactionary, approach to issues at hand, taking a hopeful tone with Trump and encouraging him to consider what she is relaying . On the matter of trade, she has offered thoughtful options particularly on economic issues that could mitigate an exchange of harsh tariffs. Merkel is aware that when there are confrontations between European leaders and Trump, “in the heat of battle”, a tigerish performance will be seen from him. That has only had a deleterious effect on relations with US, decelerating the process of finding solutions to issues. Merkel will very likely accomplish much as she moves in a methodical way toward the US president. Given the attitudes and behavior of some European leaders toward him, Trump undoubtedly appreciates the sangfroid and steadfastness displayed by Merkel, and the good rapport he has been developing with her.

Trump’s own responses on social media to reactions in European capitals to his admonishments, not only by letter, but via official statements and messaging, represent his immediate perceptions and his frustration that his counterparts are not seeing issues in the same way he does. At a deeper level, Trump is most likely very disappointed that such discord has been obtained as a result of his words. His goal is certainly not to defeat or lay seize to his allies on the issue of of defense spending. The European allies are definitely not his foes and not perceived as such by him in the slightest way. His actions are not part of some decision to engage in endless campaigns of finger wagging against European allies to achieve some strange, vacuous sense of  superiority over them as has been suggested by some critics. Words have flown back and forth, and critics have described it as chaos. However, order could still be found in that so-called chaos. There is structure underpinning every foreign policy tack taken by Trump.

When deciding to approach European leaders on what he believes NATO must do to defeat that threat, Trump clearly did not feel the situation would allow for some longer term effort in which he would try to cultivate their affections. Trump’s letters to European leaders evince that he doubts they are ready to act on their own volition in a way that cause any real strain. Trump also apparently feels that time is the essence and that facts, not sentiment, support that view. Those NATO Members whose borders are closest to Russia sense the threat. However, it appears that the farther west NATO Members are situated from that virtual “boundary line” with Russia, the weaker their sense of immediate emergency becomes. European leaders may fulminate against Russia in public speeches, creating the optics of being resolute on defense during election campaign or otherwise. Yet, they are less energetic in using their countries’ tools of national power–military, diplomatic, economic, political, and information–to make the situation better. Trump may complain but, they will still hesitate to invest in defense. It may very well be that the alarms set off by Russia’s move into Crimea have been somewhat quieted and nerves are less frayed in capitals over what occurred. Still, Russia has not gone away.

The conceptual sixth-generation US fighter, the F-X (above). Trump has not made a grand display of his concern, but he likely sees Russia as a threat, not just a competitor. In 2017, the Trump administration explained that the US would take the lead internationally and advance US military, political and economic strength. The capabilities and capacity of the US military would be greatly increased. New fighters such as the F-X would be built. Alliances and partnerships based on mutual respect and shared responsibility would also be strengthened.

A Deeper Dive Regarding Trump’s Concerns

Quod dubites, ne feceris. (Never do a thing concerning the rectitude of which you are in doubt.) Likely uppermost in Trump’s mind is how he would ever be able to make progress on NATO when the mindset, the psyche of the allied leaders, evinces a somewhat limited interest in genuinely making the situation better. By all that is being said by national leaders, it sounds as if they want a strong defense, but they are acting quite differently. Indeed, Trump hears Europeans complain about Russian actions and potential actions in Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, and even the Baltic States, a fellow NATO Member. However, complaining and repositioning a modicum of forces will not allow Trump to legitimately tell Putin how energized and prepared NATO Members are ready to act against any aggression especially when its members still will not meet politically agreed goals of spending. Their will and readiness to act must real if their efforts are to have any meaning in the military sense, not the domestic political sense.

Trump is frustrated by the fact that the wrong signals are being sent to Putin by the casual attitude and relaxed behavior of the Europeans. Putin has little reason to be impressed with NATO. The Europeans can be assured that he watching events far more carefully than they would like. He has noticed the degree to which European leaders actually care for Ukraine. Perhaps European leaders would argue that they are providing arms and advisers to Ukraine and have bolstered the defense of the Baltic States and have had their armed forces participate in greater numbers in NATO exercises as well. However, looking good by doing a few good things is not the same as being good, by doing everything at the levels required. Putin may very well be wondering whether European leaders may go soft if he “supports” pro-Russian activity deeper or elsewhere in that Ukraine, if he takes more of Georgia, if he builds up its military and naval bases in Kaliningrad, or if he positions Russian ground forces in a way that threatens the Suwalki Gap. Putin has been engaged in a campaign of probes, investigating, testing the resolve of European leaders with aerial and naval intrusions into NATO airspace and waters. Such prospective moves on the ground would make the Russian threat three dimensional, and leave little doubt in the minds of NATO military analysts that his campaign of probes would best serve the purpose of preparing for military action. To field a NATO force genuinely capable of deterring and if necessary fight, repel, and defeat Russian forces, the US itself would need to cover any gaps in NATO’s strength, earmarking a sizeable portion of its forces primarily for that task.

Trump cannot rightly increase US spending, invest more US troops in NATO, if the Europeans intend to simply sit back and let the US carry the load, and potentially cut back and actually do less. That would hardly be in the interest of the US, especially when the Europeans could build stronger armies and field more advanced weapon systems and gear. What would likely happen is that the Europeans would let the US do all the heavy lifting. The US military cannot be allowed to be a surrogate army for the Europeans.

Given NATO’s current capabilities and capacity, in reality, it may not be able to successfully defend any threatened territory. Trump wants to know why any European leader would think that he should deploy US troops overseas in a somewhat likely untenable defense of countries, particularly when those countries are not fully committed to their own security. Trump wants Europeans leaders to see and understand his position. European leaders successfully transmitted the message that they want Trump and US government to be more understanding of the political considerations that has hamstrung them from taking robust action on NATO. However, they have not publicly expressed empathy or compassion for the position of the US. Recognizing the need to bolster NATO on the ground in Europe, and the great value it has placed in its ties to European allies, the US had consistently bit the bullet over many years and committed its military wherewithal to Europe knowing the Europeans would not do their fair share. Omnes sibi malle melius esse qualm alteri.  (It is human nature that every individual should wish for his own advantage in preference to that of others.)

When deciding how to approach European leaders on what he believes NATO must do to defeat the threat posed by Russia, Trump apparently did not feel the situation would allow for a long term effort in which he would try to cultivate their affections. Trump’s letters to European leaders evince that he doubts they are ready act on their own volition in a way that cause any real strain. Trump seems to feel that time is of the essence and that facts, not sentiment, support his view. On a deeper level, Trump is likely disappointed that such discord was obtained as a result of his words.

Although he has not been a politician for long, Trump has discovered much since his full immersion into the world of politics.  It would seem that based on what he has learned so far, which can be added to the considerable experience in human interactions that  he has already acquired, he most likely has a sense that political expediency, not pragmatic thinking, not a genuine concern about national defense, could inevitably be shaping their sense of reality.  Trump understands that those leaders are under pressure to find more money for health, education, the police, immigration, financial pressure created by economically weaker EU members. They will offer explanations, arguments, and occasionally nod the heads and agree that more must be done, then return to doing whatever is expedient. Therefore, Trump is pushing the Europeans hard on the matter. Trump is aware of the fact that while it is a commendable decision, it is not an easy decision for a citizen to engage in the process to become a national leader. Perhaps is could decision could be driven by a calling for some to serve the respective interest of their people and their countries. The job itself, for those who do it well, can become a living sacrifice. The business of politics can be heteroclite. Horse trading is at the very heart of interactions between politicians. If the opportunity arises, they will negotiate preferred conditions, protect and possibly improve the status of their political realms, better things for their constituents and their benefactors, secure their interests. It is often during that negotiating process that things can get mixed up. What is declared a satisfactory outcome becomes relative to the situation. This point can be sardonically illustrated as follows: Politicians may accept as true that the sum of 2 plus 2 equals 4, but after horse trading, many might be willing to agree that the sum is 5! Something that is not quite right is accepted as the new reality. During the next opportunity to negotiate, 2 plus 2 might equal 4 again! This is not corruption, it is simply nature of give and take that is part of the job. “You can’t always get what you want!  Yet, given that apparent mindset, what is evinced from the decisions by European leaders on defense is more style than substance, full of sound and fury that signifies nothing to a threatening adversary. Utque in corporibus sic in imperio gravissimus est morbus, qui a capite diffunditur. (It is in the body politic, as in the natural, those disorders are most dangerous that flow from the head.)

Trump has a sense that European military commanders are well-aware that greater efforts are needed by their respective countries in order provide for an authentic defense of Europe. Moreover, they know the matter is not black and white and cannot be corrected by simply increasing spending. An approach to defense, genuinely based on the idea of deterring an opponent, and fight and defeat the opponent if deterrence fails, must exist. However, they are subordinated to civilian authority, political leadership. Defense officials and military commanders that may insist on expressing such concerns, in the past have been rebuffed, scorned, called paranoid is potentially destabilizing, creating undue uncertainty and insecurity in the minds of the public. They may also be admonished for unnecessarily creating concerns among potential enemies or direct threats to potential adversaries which leaders hope to relax by being cautious and calibrated in their decisions on defense. Denied what they need to succeed by political leaders, their civilian authorities, absent a decision to resign from their respective armed forces, military commanders have little choice but to submit to that authority and fight and likely fail with whatever is given to them. This behavior was evinced in NATO discussions on considering how to organize the NRF and smaller VJTF. In the creation of the force, the well-considered, educated assumption was made that Russia, advancing westward militarily once more, would again use the tactics seen in South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia, and in Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk in Ukraine. In the best case scenario for NATO, it would be alerted before Russian forces rushed into a neighboring country using heavy armored and mechanized units, highly mobile infantry, combat service units, and combat service support units, by observing it painstakingly massing along the mutual border with the country or countries it threatens. However, it would be counter-intuitive for Russian military commanders to do that. It would be similarly counter-intuitive for Russia to use the hybrid warfare tactic which NATO is best organized to oppose in any future moves. In the Zapad 2017 exercises, Russian forces displayed the capability to rapidly mass and quickly and successfully engage an opposing force. If instead of a hybrid attack, Putin ordered a Russian force, truly overwhelming in size and combat power, to rapidly mass and roll into a neighboring country and quickly engage and drive through elements the VJTF on the ground, it might be futile for the VJTF or NRF fly into a non permissive environment in an attempt to reinforce those vastly outnumbered or overrun elements. The quantity of pre-positioned weapon systems and ordinance that made available to it might be of little consequence. NATO forces deployed on the ground must be of sufficient size and power that such a move by Russia would be unthinkable.

Trump is frustrated by the fact that the wrong signals are being sent to Putin by the casual attitude and relaxed behavior of the Europeans. Putin has little reason to be impressed with NATO. The Europeans can be assured that he watching events far more carefully than they would like. Putin may be wondering whether European leaders may go soft if he “supports” pro-Russian activity deeper orelsewhere in that Ukraine, if he takes more of Georgia, if he builds up military and naval bases in Kaliningrad, or if he positions ground forces in a way that threatens the Suwalki Gap.

The Europeans Must Take a Winning Perspective Regarding Their Defense

Meminimus quanto maiore animo honestatis fructus in conscientia quam in fama reponatur. Sequi enim gloria, non appeti debet (I am sensible how much nobler it is to place the reward of virtue in the silent approbation of one’s own breast than in the applause of the world. Glory ought to be the consequence, not the motive of our actions.) Trump seeks to accomplish much for Europe. Some of his goals would have been unheard of in the past. His effort to achieve them is not a mirage. Critics have so desperately tried to convince the world he seeks to do more harm than good. A common, casual, and dastardly way to take down a patriotic citizen of any country is to bring one’s loyalty into question. To the extent that the ongoing investigations into alleged collusion of the 2016 US Presidential Campaign and the Russian Federation government that impression has been created. Even if the outcome of it all goes Trump’s way, the impression of wrongdoing will likely stick to some degree in the US public.

Trump has the will to persevere, to continue until he gets the outcome he wants. Perhaps Trump’s approach is a bit unconventional. Yet, additionally,, there is also an optimism about Trump. He imagines the positive. He anticipates success in what he does. If Trump’s goals for European defense and transatlantic collective security are achieved, and it is very likely they will be, European capitals will appreciate all of it.

Trump is well-aware that being a NATO Member State does not simply mean fulfilling certain obligations of the collective security arrangement, such as: posting an ambassador to the headquarters; attending ministerial meetings; leaders summits; “paying dues” as critics purposely misconstrued his words; committing some troops to occasional military exercises; allowing officers and troops to take advantage of education programs; and other activities. NATO is considerably more than an arrangement that provides for a combined military force designed to deter, and if necessary fight and defeat its most likely adversary: Russia. NATO is an expression of European solidarity. It is essentially an expression of the ties of Western countries as a family. Indeed, the US from the beginning was colonized by many of the same Western countries it now helps to defend. There is in many cases a common history, traditions, culture and well as common values and beliefs. Unity among them in NATO is based on common values and interests. There is no rational reason turn it all asunder. The US, Canada, the European countries, and now Colombia, must stick together and work through issues together as a transatlantic family. Families can always heal over an issue. Things can always get better in a family, especially when good thinkers are engaged on a matter.

Even in family relationships, there are always irritants. Little issues can linger and nag, negative statements are magnified. The role that the US plays on the NATO family should not be minimized or taken for granted. Under U.S. leadership for nearly 70 years, the alliance has accomplished great things while regional peace and security was maintained.. Responding to US leadership certainly does not require submission, subjugation, kowtow, even simply showing deference. It also does not entail expecting the US to carry Europe, or at least it should not. Hopefully, in European capitals, a sense of being entitled to heavy US assistance does not exist. Europe has brought itself up since the end of World War II, through the Cold War, and to the present with US help. Europe now must truly stand side by side with the US, facing forward and not standing behind or in the shadow of their powerful ally. A decision to make that adjustment would truly demonstrate that US efforts on European defense and transatlantic collective security are appreciated and being built on and not simply being taken advantage of. Many leaders in European capitals have shown no indication that they understand or are even trying to understand how things look from the other side of the Atlantic. That kind of broader perspective is not apparent in the public statements and messaging. If those leaders perspectives can change a bit, and the effort is made to work alongside the US as real partners and not as dependents, the security picture will become better for everyone. Trump is likely quietly optimistic about that.

Many European leaders have provided no indication that they understand or are even trying to understand how European defense and transatlantic collective security looks from the other side of the ocean. A broader perspective is not apparent in their public statements or messaging. If those leaders perspectives can change a bit, and the effort is made to work alongside the US as real partners and not as dependents, the security picture will become better for everyone. Trump is likely quietly optimistic about that.

The Way Forward

In Act IV, Scene iii of William Shakespeare’s The Life and Death of Julius Caesar, civil war has broken out and Octavius and Mark Antony are in Rome setting forth to retaliate against all who plotted against Caesar. Brutus and Cassius, who were among Caesar’s assassins, are camped with an army away from Rome, hoping to finish their work of reclaiming the Republic.  Brutus and Cassius are in their tent, formulating a strategy to defeat the army of Octavius and Antony. Cassius suggests waiting for Octavius and Antony move to nearby Philippi, hoping the march will wear out their army, making them less effective if they tried to attack their camp. out along the way. Brutus fears Octavius and Antony may gain more followers during that march and believed their own army was at its peak and needed to strike immediately to exploit that advantage. Brutus states: “Under your pardon. You must note beside, That we have tried the utmost of our friends, Our legions are brim-full, our cause is ripe: The enemy increaseth every day; We, at the height, are ready to decline. There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life Is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat; And we must take the current when it serves, Or lose our ventures.” On occasion, Trump will appear driven in a particular situation by the idea that bold action, when appropriate, can turn situations around. His goal is to exploit success, preserve his freedom of action on immediate matters, and reduce vulnerability from action by his competitors. He acts in a manner designed to gain advantage, surprise, and momentum over his competitors, achieving results that would normally require far more time and would be more costly to the US. This has been observed repeatedly in his interactions with foreign leaders. Trump’s discernment of events and situations as well as his planning and execution of actions against competitors greatly resembles what military thinkers define as maneuver. He rushes to place himself in superior position in order to overcome and defeat his opponents efforts. Trump wants to deal with European defense and transatlantic collective security and the Russian threat to Europe while he is president. He feels that now is the time to act. Unlike his predecessors, he does not want to pass the problem on to another president after his second term ends. He likely sensse that as time passes, the matter will only become more urgent.

For Trump, a robust military build up is the best answer to deal with the Russian threat to Europe. He is also trying his best to connect with Putin to change his perspective and establish long-term peace and stability for Europe. Putin will readily exhibit an openness to diplomacy and his words create the impression that he can be flexible, However, Trump knows that may all be lip service. Given Putin’s record of behavior even during the short span of his administration, it is difficult to trust that Putin will behave. As a next step, if diplomacy does not bring satisfactory results fast enough Trump might boldly push back on Russian advances, reclaiming territory for partners as Ukraine and Georgia. That might inform Putin that he will not be allowed to have a free hand in Europe under his watch and that his latest acquisitions in Europe are vulnerable. However, Trump would still need to wait until sufficient military power in place to thwart attempts by Russia to respond militarily before such moves could ever be executed. That brings the matter back to the Europeans. Right now, European leaders do not seem too interested in building up sufficient military power to defend themselves. Some European leaders are willing to adhere to a position on defense, even if it is wanting, and then fully accepted it as satisfactory because it was determined to be the best or only recourse available. Trump’s letters have called those leaders  out on that behavior. Trump is unwilling to simply accept the status quo. In his view, the time for half-measures has come to an end. Europeans must open their minds to new facts and thoughts. New perspectives on defense must arrive in their thinking.

There is said to be a temper of the soul that wants to live in illusion. Militarily, it has accounted for the limited war in Korea, the war of attrition in Vietnam, the liberation of Iraq, and many errors in between. Some European leaders have turned the reality of what is happening concerning European defense on its head by positing that whatever they might commit to NATO is all it really needs from them. However, the danger their countries face is real. Just as Trump sees opportunity in the moment, they should discern the opportunity that Trump presents. His words may discomfit and it may feel as if he is moving the goalposts. However, he is really offering an invitation. It is an invitation to rise up, to accomplish more, to be more. Hopefully, the Europeans will be willing to accept it. Iniqua raro maximis virtutibus fortuna parcit; nemo se tuto diu periculis offerre tam crebris potest; quem saepe transit casus, aliquando invenit. (Unrighteous fortune seldom spares the highest worth; no one with safety can long front so frequent perils. Whom calamity oft passes by she finds at last.)