Brief Meditations on the Role of Deception, Deceit, and Delinquency in the Planning, Preparations, and Prosecution of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

A T80BV tank of the Russian Naval Troops, featuring the distinctive “Z” marking and explosive armor (above), sits on the side of a road after being destroyed by Ukrainian forces in the Luhansk province in February 2022. Due to his confidence in the capabilities of his Russia’s armed forces and intelligence services, Putin unlikely believed Ukrainian forces would pose too much a problem. In a pinch, Putin perhaps believed there might be ingenious maneuvers and techniques that would see Russian forces through and thereby lead Russia to inevitable success. That would hardly be a reasonable schema, and indeed, perhaps the last thing one might consider. However, it may be the case that Putin was not thinking or acting reasonably before the invasion and perhaps he hoped to be covered by some miracle. Through this essay, greatcharlie has sought to briefly consider the thinking within, and actions directed from the top floors of the headquarters of the Russian Federation intelligence services and the general staff of the armed forces before the invasion and during to a degree. It highlights a few of the points at which leaders of those national security bureaucracies served Putin poorly.

While Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin’s February 24, 2022 televised address made just hours before the invasion of Ukraine was not a comprehensive expression of his ideas and theories to include subjects neo-Nazis and Ukrainian sovereignty called attention to here, although in declaring the right to move Russian forces into Ukraine, he plainly indicated that he did not recognize the sovereign rights of the country. He put before his audience a review of his sense of the threat to Russia from the West, more specifically the threat from the US. Looking back, one might argue that Putin cut a foolish figure, speaking so boldly about the actions and intentions of Russian forces and the notion that Ukrainian forces should lay down their arms. 

Putin surely had too much imagination to expect the Ukrainians not to respond to a Russian invasion the second time around. Certainly, Putin learned long ago that there are patterns one can discern that establish order in the human mind. Awareness of that should have factored into calculations on moving against Ukraine. Placidity should hardly have been expected of Kyiv by anyone thinking clearly in the Kremlin. Allowing Russia to walk into Ukraine the first time in 2014 doubtlessly had tormented leaders in Kyiv since, believing it was a gross error. For Kyiv to allow Russia to walk into Ukraine a second time would surely have been an historical act of gross negligence. Putin was always concerned with Western influence on Ukraine in essays, speeches, and interviews. Perhaps it could be said that Putin had too little imagination to recognize how much the West was involved in correctly preparing the Ukrainians for the possibility of a Russian invasion. In reality, the influence that the West had on Ukraine, something he was so concerned with, likely turned out be far greater than he ever imagined.

In setting unrealistic expectations, one sets oneself up for hurt. Never choose illusion over fact. Illusions disintegrate when confronted by reality, confronted by truth. A leader with unrealistic expectations regarding an enterprise can often be the cause of problems from the start. Presumably due to his confidence in the capabilities of Russia’s armed forces and intelligence services, Putin could not imagine Ukraine would pose too much a problem. In a pinch, Putin perhaps believed there might be ingenious maneuvers and techniques that would see Russian forces through and thus lead Russia to inevitable success. That is hardly a schema, and indeed, perhaps the last thing one might reasonably consider. However, it may be the case that Putin was not thinking or acting reasonably before the invasion. What proved to be truer than anything else was the aphorism that anything which can go wrong will go wrong. That is especially true when the lack of preparedness, readiness, and awareness are stark factors in an undertaking. To bend, to retreat back away from the matter of Ukraine is impossible.

Some questions do not have available answers, and one must learn to live with that. Through this essay, greatcharlie has sought to briefly consider the thinking within, and actions directed from, the top floors of the headquarters of the Russian Federation intelligence services and the general staff of the armed forces before the invasion and somewhat during. It highlights a few of the points at which leaders of those national security bureaucracies served Putin poorly. It hopefully provides readers with insights on what may be the tone within the meeting rooms of those bureaucracies and thinking somewhere deep inside top officials. Many of the latest public sources on prewar thinking in Moscow have been utilized for the discussion. However, much within the essay has been conceptualized in the abstract. In public statements, optimism, the best and most available elixir for defeatism, has been employed liberally. Yet, presumably, senior commanders of Russia’s armed forces and executives in the intelligence services concerned may be feeling a bit stuck and stagmating, clutching at straws, and listening to the wind. Given all that has transpired, perhaps those feelings are well-earned. Some current and former military commanders and military analysts in the West observing Russia’s situation must be able to appreciate the predicament of Russian officials given the experience their armies and national security bureaucracies recently in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. Omnia præsumuntur rite et solenniter esse acta. (All things are presumed to have been done duly and in the usual manner.)

Putin (above) in the Kremlin attending a meeting with his advisers. Putin, the final authority on all matters that concerned the invasion, the ultimate decisionmaker, believed assessments on conditions in Ukraine produced by the Russian intelligence services, Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR, Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye Generalnovo Shtaba (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff-Military Intelligence) or GRU, and Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Russian Federation Federal Security Service) or FSB augured well with regard to taking military action. Perchance, he never thought that much of it was faulty, perhaps even rubbish.

Blindness Bordering on Madness

In The Civil War, Book III, 68, the Roman Emperor Gaius Julius Caesar writes: Sed fortuna, quae plurimum potest cum in reliquis rebus tum praecipue in bello, parvis momentis magnas rerum commutationes efficit; ut tum accidit. (Fortune, which has a great deal of power in other matters but especially in war, can bring about great changes in a situation through very slight forces.) The undeniably disastrous initial results of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine appear to stem from challenges faced in the planning of the “special military operation.” As noted earlier, Putin, the final authority on all matters that concerned the invasion, the ultimate decisionmaker, believed assessments on conditions in Ukraine produced by the Russian intelligence services, Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR, Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye Generalnovo Shtaba (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff-Military Intelligence) or GRU, and Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Russian Federation Federal Security Service) or FSB augured well with regard to taking military action. He never thought that much of it was faulty, perhaps even rubbish. As he should have been aware, in the intelligence industry, the only truth unfortunately is that which those at the top declare it to be.

As for his military forces, Putin surely felt they were well-trained and well-equipped to bring vistory. To be fair, even to Putin, in practical terms, he mainly had the well-choreographed Zapad military and naval exercises to use as a measure of the Russian Federation armed forces effectiveness. The scenarios rehearsed in those exercises were apparently poor preparation for the invasion at hand. The scenarios rehearsed in those exercises were apparently poor preparation for the invasion at hand. There is also the issue that the Zapad exercises were not exactly all that they were made to appear to be in terms of demonstrating their true strength and capabilities of the Russian armed forces, as well as the possibilities for their use. The truth was likely concealed from Putin.

For his own part, he indubitably sought to glean as much as he could about Western actions and intentions by interacting with foreign leaders and officials, and applying that to calculations on probable responses to an invasion of Ukraine. (Without any intention of finger pointing, greatcharlie can only imagine what may have been said in camera and hope nothing uttered off-handedly had no influence in the wrong direction.) Putin was able to not only learn more about but confirm his understanding of what cards the West was holding to use against Russia in case he moved ahead with the invasion. He likely believed at that time that his intelligence services had provided him with a picture of Ukraine that indicated he could proceed with confidence and some assurance. The variable of intelligence seems to have been the weakest link of the chain given ceratin revelations, some discussed here.

The indications and implications of it all for Putin were that he could get all that he wanted. Putin could deal a devastating blow to what he perceived to be the expansionist plans of the US and West.  As important perchance would be having the opportunity to act as a sort of avenging angel of ethnic Russians in Ukraine, a protector of the Russian Orthodox church–a holy warrior, a defender the Russian people and all that is Russian. It is possible that Putin genuinely believes he serves in that role. Putin was so comfortable with the whole matter to the extent he left it to the world to see who he is and what he is doing, and how others might feel or respond was either of no concern or of little real interest to him.

Assumedly, the compounded impact of the intelligence failures and military blunders has doubtlessly had a chilling effect on the thinking of Gospodin Vladimir Vladimirovich with respect to political stimmung at home beyond the Ukraine matter. That likely in turn has added to Western anxieties concerning his mental state.

Putin (left) observes Zapad Exercise alongside Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov (right). As for Russia’s military and naval forces, Putin surely felt they were well-trained and well-equipped to bring vistory. To be fair to Putin, in practical terms, he mainly had the well-choreographed Zapad military and naval exercises to use as a measure of the Russian Federation armed forces’ effectiveness. The scenarios rehearsed in those exercises were apparently poor preparation for the invasion at hand. There is also the issue that the Zapad exercises were not exactly all that they were made to appear to be in terms of demonstrating their true strength and capabilities of the Russian armed forces, as well as the possibilities for their use.

The Intelligence Services

Qui ipse si sapiens prodesse non quit, nequiquam sapit. (A wise man whose wisdom does not serve him is wise in vain.) Perhaps Putin would been better of seeking assistance from an intuitive empath, who, allegedly with confidence bolstered by assistance from spirits, likely would have been better able to predict the response of the Ukrainians to a Russian invasion. Putin is far more than just familiar with the workings of Russian’s intelligence services. It is well-known that he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the in the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) or KGB. Some commentators and analysts prefer to emphasize that his behavior is reflective of the nature of that erstwhile organization’s cold-blooded reputation, brutish methods, and the sinister mindset of its leadership. He was appointed by President Boris Yeltsin as director of the FSB, during which time he reorganized it and dismissed several top personnel. Yet, knowing that problems can exist not only with the behavior of personnel as well as the leadership of the intelligence services, and knowing that reporting from them should be examined with a fine-tooth comb, especially concerning a matter of utmost importance as Ukraine, he seemed to proceed, accepting whatever was handed to him with a blindness that bordered on madness. Whatever his inner voice may have saying, he closed his ear to it. 

Of course, there is the possibility that Putin, knowing what he knows, experienced as he is, wanted to be deceived because he so badly wanted to invade Ukraine and needed to show his decision could not be viewed as wreckless, but rather based in reason that would be generally accepted. Conceivably, Putin may have recognized that there would be no need for him to potentially light the fuse of a figurative political bomb by trying to explain why he took the risk of invading Ukraine knowing Russian forces might face considerable challenges where there were self-crafted patsys in the intelligence services that he could “learn” to be the cause for his “miscalculation.” A most trusted aviser could serve to uncover the malfeasance and identify the patsys involved and present the wrongdoer and the report of their crimes to Putin all tied with a neat bow. The many aspects that could potentially be part of such a line of analysis that cannot be broached in this brief essay. Indeed, greatcharlie is not absolutely certain it possesses the faculty to properly parse out, in the abstract, all of intricacies and psychological angles involved in the round. (Sometimes that sort of tricky approach suggested here works, sometimes it does not. Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronte, KB, also known simply as Admiral Nelson, the renowned 18th century British flag officer in the Royal Navy is best known for his victory at the Battle of the Trafalgar in 1805. However, he became a national hero long before then due to his prowess as a naval tactician. In 1801, Nelson destroyed the Danish Navy at the Battle of Copenhagen. During the battle he was sent a signal to break off action by the Admiral Sir Hyde Parker. Nelson supposedly put his telescope to his blind eye and told to his Flag Lieutenant, “You know Foley I have only one eye. I have a right to be blind sometimes. I really do not see the signal.” It is unlikely Nelson had a plan for covering himself in case his bit of jiggery-pokery failed.)

When directed by Putin to place greater emphasis on Ukraine, it may very well have been the case that intelligence collected prior to the capture of Crimea in March 2014 was recycled and used as a yardstick to parse out falsehoods on Ukraine. It would not be the first time that a sophisticated intelligence service of an advanced industrialized power engaged in such behavior and subsequently led to a large-scale military action that might have be averted otherwise. That is a hard saying. Perchance many other top officials in the Russian intelligence services never imagined Putin would invade Ukraine full-scale. As is the case, such ignorance often dissolves into tragedy.

Je m’en fiche! When asked to provide assessments on the situation there, they apparently sought to simply placate Putin, responding to his sentiments on Ukraine. The benefit of taking such a risk would be to stay in his good graces. Thus, they substituted what they understood he believed to be true feeling Putin would brook anything else. It is possible that some took this step not out of delicacy toward him but rather due to contempt. To reach a position of such influence in Putin’s government, one would image such a flaw in character would have been twinkled out much earlier. Apparently, none of the intelligence services presented anything to contradict that information to the extent that it caused Putin any pause. Their assessments were illusions without substance, appearances only. The result was a catastrophe for all involved. The problem can by no means eased out of the way. There was no possibility to put the toothpaste back into the ttube. Those left at the top of their respective intelligence services know they serve at the pleasure of Putin and his whims. The best way for them to survive at this point is to look good, focus on the US, find moles, leaks, and seek help that might make a difference from allies as the Chinese. They know that it would be a mistake to show up at any National Security Council meeting in the Kremlin with nothing to say.

Alexander Bortnikov director of the Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Russian Federation Federal Security Service) or FSB. Although it is not parsed out here, there is the possibility that Putin, knowing what he knows, experienced as he is, wanted to be deceived because he so badly wanted to invade Ukraine and needed to show his decision could not be viewed as wreckless, but rather based in reason that would be generally accepted. Conceivably, Putin may have recognized that there would be no need for him to potentially light the fuse of a figurative political bomb by trying to explain why he took the risk of invading Ukraine knowing Russian forces might face considerable challenges where there were self-crafted patsys in the intelligence services that he could “learn” to be the cause for his “miscalculation.” A most trusted aviser could serve to uncover the malfeasance and identify the patsys involved and present the wrongdoer and the report of their crimes to Putin all tied with a neat bow.

Carelessness or Conspiracy?

Some intelligence services apparently did more in the direction of providing fabrications than others.. From what can be gathered by newsmedia reports about its findings, the FSB foreign intelligence service seemed to have laid it on thick. There were allegedly many unproven torrid statements on the nature of Ukrainian society made concerning the destructive impact of the West on the culture, morality, spiritually, self-image of the people, ultranationalists, and the leadership in Kyiv, and the Ukrainian people’s willingness to stand fast against an invasion. 

According to Western newsmedia reports, the head of FSB foreign intelligence service, the organization’s 5th service, Sergey Beseda, was been placed under house arrest. Arrested with Beseda was his deputy and head of the operational information department, Anatoly Bolyukh. The 5th Service is a division that was established in 1998, when Putin was director of the FSB, to carry out operations in the countries that were formerly republics of the erstwhile Soviet Union. Its mission was to help ensure those countries remained within Russia’s orbit. Western commentators initially alleged the accusations were made against officers because there was a search on in Moscow to find scapegoats to blame  for the “poor progress” of the Ukraine invasion. However, as the FSB is under the control of one of Putin’s most faithful and most dangerous officials, Alexander Bortnikov, it is more likely that the FSB head, himself, had determined that there were problems with the intelligence official’s actions. Indeed, firstly, Beseda and Bolyuhk had been charged with the embezzlement of funds allocated for subversive and undercover work in Ukraine, as well as false information. Embezzlement is an ill that can plague even the most esteemed intelligence service at all levels. Some sardonically call it “creating a second retirement fund.” It was reported secondly that Beseda and Boyuhk had cooked up intelligence suggesting that Ukraine was weak, riddled with neo-Nazi groups, and would give up easily if attacked. Beseda and Boyuhk were apparently among those in the intelligence services who gambled that there would not be an invasion and lost. The criminal actions by the two intelligence officers were acts of madness. ather than allowing Bortnikov to handle the matter in his usual fashion, Putin initially chose to have the officials placed under house arrest and allow for a fuller investigation of the matter. He likely wanted to determine the depth of the disloyalty and infidelity of Beseda and Bolyuhk and discover whether were acting on behalf of another country’s foreign intelligence service.

It could have reasonably be expected that within the FSB, some investigation was likely launched to identify any possible intelligence leaks that occurred before the invasion began. Some proposal surely would be made for the broader exploitation of whatever they might have discovered. Such an investigation would very likely start with a discrete look at those who who may have put a foot wrong in the intelligence services. Presumably, there was no penetration by the West of a kind that any standard counterintelligence investigation might have the slightest potential to uncover immediately or identify clearly. Nevertheless, if some potential activity might have been discovered under such a hypothetical probe suggested here, it could potentially have been of enough significance to convince Moscow that it had some influence the initial outcome of the invasion and influence follow-on efforts by Russian forces in the field against Ukraine. 

To go a step further, delving into the realm of conjecture, there is the possibility that plans for the Russian invasion were captured by Western intelligence. However, Given the performance of Russian forces so far, was clearly a strategy and resources mismatch. Results in the field have spoken volumes about what Russian forces can and cannot do. The conquest of Ukraine was something Russian forces could not have accomplished, factoring in the tenacity and will of Ukrainian forces, even on their best day or should have even contemplated. Of course, the successes and movements of Ukrainian forces will have greater influence on how Russia forces proceed.

In the end regarding the FSB scandal, Putin engaged in the process of elimination in the truest sense of the term. Nearly 150 FSB officers were reportedly dismissed from the service, including Beseda and Bolyuhk who were already under arrest. The head of the department responsible for Ukraine was sent to prison. Gravis ira regum [est] semper. (The wrath of kings is always severe.)

Sergey Beseda, head of FSB foreign intelligence service, the organization’s 5th Service. The 5th Service is a division that was established in 1998 to carry out operations in the countries that were formerly republics of the erstwhile Soviet Union. Beseda and his deputy Anatoly Bolyuhk had been charged with the embezzlement of funds allocated for subversive and undercover work in Ukraine, as well as false information. It was also reported that Beseda and Bolyukh had cooked up intelligence suggesting that Ukraine was weak, riddled with neo-Nazi groups, and would give up easily if attacked. Beseda and Boyuhk were apparently among those in the intelligence services who gambled that there would not be an invasion and lost.

Looking Good Rather Than Being Good: Finding Work To Do

Leading up to the invasion, Washington supposedly plucked a spate of information from classified intelligence on the actions and intentions of Russian forces deployed near the border with Ukraine and inside Belarus and provided to newsmadia houses from reporting and offered in official government statements. By the time the invasion began, real-time reports of movements of Russian forces were being reported daily. The purpose of this step, among others, was to indicate to the world that an invasion was around the corner, Putin was acting aggressively, and the world needed to unite concerning sanctions and all other economic measures to make any action by Putin unprofitable. This schema of using real-time intelligence from exquisite technical collection capabilities of the US Intelligence services to forewarn of what was coming next was declared as a unique and skillful approach to information warfare by US newsmedia commentators friendly to the administration of US President Joe Biden. It ostensibly would serve to stymie the Kremlin’s ability to effectively calculate and establish plans, and stripped Putin of any chance of acting with surprise. The outcome of that effort is now quite clear for all to see.

Tanto est accusare quam defendere, quanto facere quam sanare vulnere, facilius. (It is just so much easier to accuse than to defend, as it is easier to inflict than to heal a wound.) Readers are asked to indulge greatcharlie as it moves further on this point. Surely, if that US effort had continued, as well as the relative peace, it is likely that the SVR and GRU, much as the FSB, among other things, would have tried to dress-up false pieces of information, chicken feed of a sort, moved it back and forth through channels of communication, through encrypted signals, to determine, off of a long list questions, what the US Intelligence Community and its Western partners are listening to, their preferred source, and what US cryptologists had broken into. Nonetheless, an investigation was doubtlessly launched.

More than that, the Russian intelligence services might look for and discover other secure channels were being monitored from the outside and the encrypted messages of their services were being read. If foreign penetration was not discovered authentically, it might even be fabricated. As alluded to earlier, other Russian intelligence services were apparently reporting nothing prewar that definitively contradicted what the FSB was reporting. Going further down the path of deception might appear counterintuitive. Surely, it is not a proscribed practice. However, despite the risk, continuing to please Putin would possibly be seen as the best chance for survival. The hope of greatcharlie at this point is that its readers will remain willing to follow along, even stumble along, with its cautious discussion of this novel idea.

The discovery of some penetration, or a bit of fabrication about a penetration, would create the requirement to dig further. Imaginably, the alleged compromised channel or channels would not be shut down immediately. Chicken feed would likely be sent along the channel. Specific movements in the field might be ordered to confirm information was being pick-up on the outside or sent from within. To ensure they would grab attention, the movements ordered would be those of some importance to the overall Russian operation in Ukraine As things have gone, reports of Russian plans to move might appear in the Western newsmedia before they have even begun or have been completed. SVR and GRU counterintelligence services would likely also look at all communications made on particular channels and codes use, and among several Western actions, match them up with Western movements, statements, urgent communications between allies outside of normally scheduled ones, and if the capability actually exists, monitor collection requirements of Western intelligence officers in the field by exploiting counterespionage and counterintelligence successes. Any move by Ukrainian forces which SVR and GRU counterintelligence might discern was likely impacted by an awareness of Russian Federation plans and intentions would also be heavily reviewed. Russian intelligence services would not have been enabled to possibly take such steps if the West had not taken the tack of releasing publicly, freshly collected information and intelligence assessments that normally would have been marked classified. As suggested earlier, perhaps, something disturbing was found. 

On its face, at the full distance of the journeys of exploration by SVR, GRU, and FSB counterintelligence, for Putin it would be unpleasant and disappointing to find that US. Intelligence Community had successfully managed to penetrate the Russian intelligence services at such a high level. However, if SVR, GRU, and FSB counterintelligence hypothetically ran through all the intelligence dumps from the West on Russia’s plans for Ukraine and reviewed the aggregate of past communications sent and actions taken and some network or group of disassociated individuals providing information or making it accessible was uncovered, Putin, himself, would want to roll it up, hide and hair, as well as furtively exploit it for the maximum counterintelligence gain.

More than troubling technical defeat for Russian intelligence services, for Putin, the political implications of the possibility of a US operation to mislead Moscow about Ukraine would be considerable and perhaps work in Russia’s favor. Any US effort to convince the Kremlin that Ukraine was vulnerable to attack would  reveal the intention of the US to dangle the country as low hanging fruit for Russia to grab militarily. Kyiv might be reviled by the idea that the Ukrainian people were used as a goat tethered to a tree along the riverside as the lure for a blood-thirsty Russian tiger. To that extent, Kyiv might conclude that was calculated well-beforehand that if war came, the Ukrainian people would be intentionally used as fodder to wear Russian forces down. As it turned out, the Ukrainians fought admirably as the well-armed, well-trained proxies of the West. They have gnawed voraciously at Russian forces. Still, at the nub of the matter for Putin would be showing the Ukrainian that the war could have been avoided, he would insist that the war was sought by the US, and that there was no true intention by the West to pursue peace. Looking at all the devastation and destruction in the country, Kyiv would hardly be open to much that Putin might say. However, Putin might hope despite everything to a score political warfare victory and convince Kyiv not to stand so closely on the side of West. (Readers should note this partial analysis of the Ukraine war’s causation is not compatible with greatcharlie’s belief at all. The theory was certainly not offered with the intention by greatcharlie to speak against the national interest.)

 

People’s Republic of China Minister of State Security, Chen Wenqing (above). On a closely associated intelligence issue, there is the matter of Washington’s decision to share intelligence with Beijing on preparations by Russian forces for the attack on Ukraine and evidence supporting the likelihood of an attack which Washington shared with Beijing prior to the actual invasion. Washington was clearly groping for alternatives, given it was unable to see any good options. The Chinese would hardly have done anything to influence Russia’s position on the Ukraine as the US wished. The entire schema likely revealed to the Chinese the level of desperation in Washington to find answers to the Russian invasion threat. It may have been the case that Washington’s very apparent pre-invasion fears that Russian forces would rapidly overpower Ukraine stoked Putin’s unwarranted confidence.

Dealing With Beijing

On a closely associated intelligence issue, there is the matter of Washington’s decision to share intelligence with Beijing on preparations by Russian forces for the attack on Ukraine and evidence supporting the likelihood of an attack which Washington shared with Beijing prior to the actual invasion. Washington was clearly groping for alternatives, given it was unable to see any good options. It may have been the case that Washington’s very apparent pre-invasion US fears that Russian forces would rapidly overpower Ukraine stoked Putin’s unwarranted confidence. 

Washington should have understood that leaders of the Communist Party of China and People’s Republic of China Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials did not come in with yesterday’s rain and would vigorously review the information before doing anything with it. To confirm that the US was truly sharing valuable information–one cannot be so sure that Beijing was not already in possession of it, the Communist Party of China would  involve the best counterintelligence capabilities of the People’s Republic of China PLA Central Military Commission (CMC) Joint Staff Department Intelligence Bureau and Ministry of State Security. The head of MSS foreign counterintelligence, Dong Jingwei, a favorite of Xi, was once the subject of what his organization likely presumed to be an apparent US counterintelligence effort in which reports were leaked to the newsmedia that he had defected to the US along with his daughter. (See greatcharlie’s June 30, 2021 post entitled The Defection That Never Was: Meditations on the Dong Jingwei Defection Hoax.”) Imaginably, to the MSS foreign counterintelligence service, the potential benefits of the US Intelligence Community from promulgating false information on Dong would be clear. Top officials and managers in Beijing likely would have concluded that a goal could have been the breaking of morale among the alleged 25,000+ Chinese intelligence officers and operatives in the US. Hearing the false report of the MSS counterintelligence head’s defection might have stirred some disgruntled or disillusioned Chinese civilian or military intelligence officers and operatives to do the same. There might have been the presumption that the information was designed to unnerve a specific Chinese intelligence officer or operative that was being targeted by US counterintelligence services. Surely, the use his “good name”, putting his loyalty to China, to the Communist Party of China, and his comrades at MSS in question, enraged the infamous Dong. When the US presented its intelligence information on the build up and activities of Russian forces near Ukraine, Dong surely viewed it with skepticism and viewed the gesture as some ploy. His position on the matter would surely help shape the position the Communist Party of China’s leadership on the matter. The Chinese would hardly have done anything to influence Russia’s position on the Ukraine as the US wished. The entire schema likely revealed to the Chinese the level of desperation felt in Washington to find answers to the Russian invasion threat. 

Additionally, hardline Communist Party of China officials may have viewed the gesture as an effort to impress Beijing with the prowess of US intelligence capabilities, and to that extent issue a subtle warning. In the end, both PLA Major General Chen Guangjun, Chief of CMC Joint Staff Department Intelligence Bureau and Minister of State Security Chen Wenqing likely recognized the easiest and beneficial way to confirm the validity of the intelligence and enable China to better understand US intelligence human and electronic collection capabilities would be to share the information with their counterparts in Russia’s SVR, GRU, and FSB. Evidently, after the gifted US intelligence moved up through appropriate Communist Party of China channel, People’s Republic of China President Xi Jinping green-lit presentation of the information to Moscow. Getting Russian confirmation on the validity of the information would be important. 

Conceivably, Moscow believes that whatever China might have about the US is likely genuine. One might presume, there is some history of intelligence sharing has been established. Perhaps the greatest caveat for the Russians concerning what Beijing had to share would be the knowledge that officials in Communist Chinese foreign and national security bureaucracies absolutely detest the US and conclusions of Chinese intelligence services might very well be colored at certain points by such strong feelings. Yet, as important would be using the opportunity to strengthen China’s position at the intelligence table with its ostensible ally Russia, garner appreciation directly from the Kremlin, and perhaps encourage Moscow to provide a regular stream of information from its human and electronic intelligence sources concerning US military plans and activities in China’s area of interest. It would satisfying for Chinese intelligence to acquire information from Russia that could significantly add to what China already knows and is trying to keep track of. The Chinese also would not mind having the Russians eating out of their hands and the Russians would not put themselves in that position.

The Chinese, knowing what they seem to just know in some way about the daily inner workings of the US Intelligence services– the result of which their intelligence services seemingly operate with impunity and comfortably in the US supposedly in the tens of thousands–would presumably see the Russian intelligence service as just one big leaky ship. Surely, the respective headquarters of the MSS and the PLA’s Joint Staff Department Intelligence Bureau in Beijing would be hesitant to share anything with headquarters of the SVR Russian civilian foreign intelligence and GRU military intelligence services both based in Yasenevo that might be of the utmost importance to China’s security. One might safely wager that the Chinese were somewhat aware of the deficiencies of foreign intelligence service of the FSB Russia’s domestic security organization given any experiences with it. Beijing, knowing how tense the situation was regarding Ukraine, particularly as it concerned Putin, would have recognized that it would have been counterintuitive to do anything that might stir the pot, muddy the waters with regard to what the Kremlin understood about what the US was doing. Surely, Beijing has strived to avoid playing a part in bringing the world closer the nuclear Armageddon. That would be the rational choice.

The Wagner Group was first called into action on behalf of the Russian Federation government in March 2014 during Russia’s annexation of Crimea. They were among the “green men” who marched in the region unopposed. Nearly 1,000 members of the Wagner Group also supported ethnic-Russian separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces of Ukraine which have have since declared themselves the independent Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic. Experts in Russian military affairs suggest that the Wagner Group is funded and directed by the GRU. The organization’s base is located in Mol’kino, in Southern Russia, within close proximity to a Russian Army base, perhaps to allow for better control and oversight.

Deflecting: An Possible Effort To Feed Into Kremlin Paranoia About the US

Additionally, it is very likely that some in the Kremlin, perhaps only in private thoughts, may have concluded by now that the Ukrainians could hardly have been so lucky against Russian forces on their own. They may have had intimations, that much of their success was really due to assistance from, and the “handiwork” of, the same well-trained folks who have done among many things, lent significant support to the forces of the late General Ahmad Shah Massoud of the Northern Alliance in their fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan, swept away the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan immediately after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US, drove the campaign that destroyed the so-called Islamic Caliphate that cut across Syria and Iraq that was created by the ISIS terrorist organization, and while in that fight destroyed in self-defense, a formation of Russian private military contractors from the infamous Gruppa Vagnera (Wagner Group) in Syria as well. Without direct evidence, however, such imaginings, even in the Kremlin, can only have life in the realm of conjecture. Perchance the Russian Federation General Staff has the GRU investigating that foreign military advisers are covertly on the ground assisting Ukrainian forces, planning operations, controlling maneuvers and supporting attacks. The SVR would also likely reach out to its sources world wide to discover if any evidence or hints exist that such covert operations are underway. If the GRU and SVR are actually studying the matter, their conclusions, either confirming or refuting the possibility, would surely be startle consumers of the information.

The Wagner Group was first called into action on behalf of the Russian Federation government in March 2014 during Russia’s annexation of Crimea. They were among the “green men” who marched in the region unopposed. Nearly 1,000 members of the Wagner Group also supported ethnic-Russian separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces of Ukraine which have have since declared themselves the independent Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic. Experts in Russian military affairs suggest that the Wagner Group is funded and directed by the GRU. The organization’s base is located in Mol’kino, in Southern Russia, within close proximity to a Russian Army base, perhaps to allow for better control and oversight. Reportedly, just before the invasion of Ukraine, the GRU directed the Wagner Group to conduct false flag operations in Eastern Ukraine to ensure such provocations would be available should Putin want to use one or more as a pretext for an attack on Ukraine. (To the extent that reports concerning an engagement between the Wagner Group and US special operations forces are true, the private military organization may be rushing to get to Ukraine not only for financial gain but with the hope of getting a possible rematch ostensibly with US operators defeated their units in Syria and leveled a severe blow to their egos given any real belief on their part that such US operators are indeed present on the ground. If there is a chance that conditions exist for a clash, it may very well turn out even worse than the first for the Wagner Group.)

“Kamerad, ich komm ja gleich!” On March 31, 2022, several hundred Syrian mercenaries arrived in the country, including soldiers from an army division that worked with Russian officers supporting the Assad regime. Russia has previously deployed Syrian fighters in Ukraine but in smaller numbers. In March 2022, Russian Federation Defense Minister, General of the Army Sergei Shoigu, announced that approximately 16,000 volunteers from the Middle East had signed up to fight on behalf of Russia in Ukraine. The same month, the Kyiv Independent reported that Ukrainian intelligence learned Russia had reached an agreement the Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar to recruit mercenaries. Official European sources have gone further to report that along with members of the Wagner Group.fighting in the Donbas, Russia has deployed as many as 20,000 Syrian and Libyan fighters there.

Ostensibly all Russian paramilitary units and foreign fighters operating in Ukraine or anywhere on behalf of the Russian Federation would be the province of the GRU. Indeed, the GRU would likely be responsible for their control, would be their link to Russian commanders and would be responsible for their oversight. much as with the Wagner Group. Handling the Wagner Group and foreign fighters would certainly provide plenty for GRU intelligence chief to report to Putin beyond counterintelligence efforts. Most of the reporting from the field about the Wagner Group and the foreign fighters would be good news, too. The GRU, of course, falls directly under the control of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.

The headquarters of the Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye Generalnovo Shtaba (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff-Military Intelligence) or GRU in Yasenevo. On March 31, 2022, several hundred Syrian mercenaries arrived in the country, including soldiers from an army division that worked with Russian officers supporting the Assad regime. Russia has previously deployed Syrian fighters in Ukraine but in smaller numbers. In March 2022, Russian Federation Defense Minister, General of the Army Sergei Shoigu, announced that approximately 16,000 volunteers from the Middle East had signed up to fight on behalf of Russia in Ukraine. Ostensibly all Russian paramilitary units and foreign fighters operating in Ukraine or anywhere on behalf of the Russian Federation would be the province of the GRU. Indeed, the GRU would likely be responsible for their control, would be their link to Russian commanders and would be responsible for their oversight much as with the Wagner Group.

The Armed Forces of the Russian Federation: Expectations Versus Realities in Ukraine

On the eve of war, Russia’s invasion force was still considered formidable. Reportedly, this belief was based on the assumption that Russia had undertaken the same sort of root-and-branch military reform that America underwent in the 18-year period between its defeat in Vietnam and its victory in the first Gulf War. Prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, many analysts in the West speculated that the Russian operation would be something akin to a one act drama with an early curtain. The US Intelligence Community concluded that Kyiv would fall in days. Some European officials thought it might just hold out for a few weeks. 

However, starting on the first day of the of the invasion of Ukraine, all of the walls came down on the Russian Federation armed forces. Based on their overall performance in Ukraine, the forces that Russia sent into battle seemed almost counterfeit, poorly imitating what was expected by reputation. One could reasonably suggest  that in recent years their capabilities have been subject to hyperbole. Most wide-eyed observers might conclude that the General’nyy shtab Vooruzhonnykh sil Rossiyskoy Federatsii (General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation) is fortunate that they are not facing US forces. Copious amounts of supporting evidence for that argument has been presented on the battlefield daily in Ukraine. How the mighty have fallen. 

Mea culpa

From what greatcharlie could gather about the situation before the February 24, 2022 invasion, the US Intelligence Community has concluded that the Kremlin could be planning a multifront offensive involving up to 175,000 troops. An estimated 100,000 Russian troops have already been deployed near the Russia-Ukraine border. Satellite imagery has revealed a buildup of Russian tanks and artillery as well as other gear near the border, too. Reportedly, online disinformation activity regarding Ukraine also has increased in the way it did in the run-up to Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea. According to the New York Times, the most evident scenario given the scale of troop movements on the ground is a Russian invasion of Ukraine may not be to conquer the entire country but to rush forces into the breakaway regions around the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, or to drive all the way to the Dnieper River. Purportedly at the Pentagon, “five or six different options” for the extent of a Russian invasion are being examined. Suffice it to say, Moscow calls such assessments of Russia’s intentions slanderous ravings. Russia denies it is planning an invasion and, in turn, accused the West of plotting “provocations” in Ukraine. Russian Federation Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, who unfortunately does not exactly have a watertight record for tying her statements to reality, laid it on thick in the newsmedia, alleging Western and Ukrainian talk of an imminent Russian attack was a “cover for staging large-scale provocations of their own, including those of military character.” It is really disempowering to put out such a message. 

In the abstract, greatcharlie also had assessed that If Putin decides to go in, firepower, astronomically massed, from ground, air, and possibly the sea assets, would most likely be used to destroy Ukrainian forces in the field, and in depth as far back as units held in reserve or even on training bases. Relentless fire from air and ground would be utilized to support the movement of forces inside Ukraine. What might have been identified as the front line of Ukraine’s defense would figuratively become a map reference for Hell. Russian forces would most likely be deployed in a way to prevent the resurrection of Ukrainian forces in areas which Russian forces have captured. As for reinforcements or reserves, the rest of Russia’s armed forces would be right across the border in Russia. Imaginably, the main objective of the deployment of Russian forces would be to create a sufficient buffer in Ukraine between Russia and “ever expanding NATO forces.” In performing this task, Russian forces would ensure territory and forces that might remain in Kyiv’s control would be of less utility to NATO as potential a launching pad for a ground attack on Russia and could not be used as part of a larger strategy to contain Russia at its own border.

Highly motivated Ukrainian troops riding a BMP push forward against Russian forces in the Donbas. Starting on the first day of the of the invasion of Ukraine, all of the walls came down on the Russian Federation armed forces. Based on their overall performance in Ukraine, the forces that Russia sent into battle seemed almost counterfeit, poorly imitating what was expected by reputation. One could reasonably suggest  that in recent years their capabilities have been subject to hyperbole. Most wide-eyed observers might conclude that the General’nyy shtab Vooruzhonnykh sil Rossiyskoy Federatsii (General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation) is fortunate that they are not facing US forces. Copious amounts of supporting evidence for that argument has been presented on the battlefield daily in Ukraine. How the mighty have fallen. 

Delinquency Upon Delinquency

The renowned 19th century Irish poet and playwrite Oscar Wilde explained: “To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect.” Yet, during the Russia’s invasion hardly anything that might have been expected was seen. Russian forces moved oddly. Russian information warfare, technological strengths nowhere. Russian air power was not present where it should have been, for example, flying, over Ukraine preparing the battlefield, providing cover for mobile forces, attacking the opponent in depth. 

Russian forces were not organized for war with precision. Units were not ready for battle. Soldiers had no idea of what to expect. Ukraine was allowed use its strengths against Russian weaknesses. Ukraine’s smaller units was able to achieve relative superiority force on force initially in the field. One might have expected that occasionally good fortune would shine upon the relatively lightly-armed Ukrainian forces, and a Russian Army or Russian Naval Troops patrol rolling around or crossing into a danger zone might face ambush, a well-organized ambush, and losses would be suffered. With so many patrol ordered in the different avenues of attack by Russian forces, the greater the chance there would be losses. However, Ukrainian forces outrightly routed Russian units over and over on the battlefield and that line of successes would force Russia to adjust its strategy was more far more than most imagined. The possibility of endsieg, victory against the odds, has become all the more real.

Some observers looking through the lens of history might reason that incurring high losses in attack are an aspect of Russian warfighting. Perhaps they might cite as statement allegedly made by Soviet Army Marshall Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov to US General Dwight Eisenhiwer in 1945 as cited on page 207 in Robert Kaiser, Russia: The People and the Power (Atheneum, 1976): “If we come to a minefield, our infantry attacks exactly as it were not there.” Some might recall how Russian forces in the 2008 a war with Georgia had faced difficulties against the rather diminutive Georgian forces. True, Russia had achieved the goal of securing Georgia’s sovereign territory to pass on to the breakaway states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The many deficiencies of the Russia Army exposed during the fighting were stark. Russia troops utilized obsolete equipment, struggled to direct counterbattery fire at Georgian artillery, and the command and control of forces was inept. Still, in 2022, expectedly, everything would be done by commanders sending troops out to obviate that possibility, or mitigate it as best as possible by taking every reasonable precaution. The numbers and regularity of successful attacks on Russian troops would rationally lead one to think commanders have been careless.

The concept of fighting in three dimensionally, with ground forces receiving support from the air and ground receiving support from artillery fires and air and artillery, cross-communicating in real time, coordinating attacks to mass fires and airstrike with the objective of maximizing their impact, did not appear to be part of Russian Army battlefield tactics, at least not in practice. Somewhere on paper, something may be written. In modern armies, a those of the US and its allies, a synchronization matrix enables understanding of what everyone is doing at a particular time and which assets will be supporting which unit. Mission analysis identifies gaps in information required for further planning and decision making during preparation and execution. During mission analysis, the staff develops information requirements. Russian commanders forces clearly did none of this before they attacked. Amat victoria curam. (Victory loves preparation. [Victory favors those who take pains.])

Russian Federation Minister of Defense, General of the Army Sergey Shoigu conducts meeting with commanders of the armed forces. What has been discovered since the invasion began is that Russia had been running its military campaign against Ukraine out of Moscow, with no central commander on the ground to coordinate air, ground and sea units. Reportedly, that tack assists in explaining why the invasion struggled against an unexpectedly stiff Ukrainian resistance, and was plagued by poor logistics and flagging morale. In situations that require fexibility, improvisation, thinking through problems, armies whose unit commanders at the squad, platoon, company, and even battalion levels, advanced armies tend avoid being as unbending as the Russians. The failure and inability to effectively adapt in unfavorable situation once in contact will suffer considerably.

Calamity

Anyone trying to paint a picture of what was happening in the Russian command over the Ukrainian security operation would accurately produce an ugly daub. What has been discovered since the invasion began is that Russia had been running its military campaign against Ukraine out of Moscow, with no central commander on the ground to coordinate air, ground and sea units. Reportedly, that tack assists in explaining why the invasion struggled against an unexpectedly stiff Ukrainian resistance, and was plagued by poor logistics and flagging morale. In situations that require fexibility, improvisation, thinking through problems, armies whose unit commanders at the squad, platoon, company, and even battalion levels–the battalion being the main tactical formation of the a Russian Army–advanced armies tend avoid being as unbending as the Russians. The failure and inability of Russian forces to effectively adapt in unfavorable situation once in contact–since it is not taught and trained into Russian officers and nonconmissioned officers–would result in them suffering considerably. Often commanders of many units handled their troops and equipment as if they were participating in an exercise–parking companies and battalions of T-90 tanks and BMP armored personnel carriers on open roads without air cover or organic antiaircraft systems providing security–rather than moving in strength behind enemy lines in a shooting war. Disorganized assaults reportedly also contributed to the deaths of several Russian generals, as high-ranking officers were pushed to the front lines to untangle tactical problems that Western militaries would have left to more junior officers or senior enlisted personnel.

From what can be seen in broadcast and online videos albeit most provided by the Ukrainian Armed Forces and Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, no security was set up for units not in contact with their opposing forces in forward battle areas. There were visibly no pickets for armored and mechanized units while halting on roads, no moving pickets, no flank security, no air defense even watching the skies with heavy machine guns. This was the case despite foreknowledge that Ukrainian tank hunters with javelins and Turkish drones were lurking on the ground and in the air in their vicinities. Javelins and stingers provided to Ukraihian forces by the West were exploited to the point at which they had a multiplier effect on the battlefield. To that extent, a popular feature in the broadcast and online newsmedia on the Ukraine War are videos of formations of Russian T-90s and BMPs being identified and destroyed by Ukrainian drones or being hit by Ukrainian troops using javelins. Highways roads, and even trails were seemingly used as a means to locate Russian armored and mechanized units, which were naturally travelling in the direction toward Ukrainian lines on them. Suffice it to say, practically the whole world via the international newsmedia learned this was the situation in the field. No amount of spin by the Russian Federation Ministry of Defense could alter the truth of what was witnessed. Russian commanders at the company and battalion levels virtually sabotaged their units as a result of their repeated delinquencies. 

A term Russian armored and mechanized commanders seemed strangely unfamiliar with is “defilade.” Turning a tank into a static low caliber artillery piece, in a protected position while ostensbly awaiting new orders or resupply, is better than having whole companies travelling on roads much as a convoy of singing ice cream trucks. The lives of tank crewmen and mechanized troops were simply thrown away. There was just too much wrong going on for one even now to fully come to terms with the horror of it all. (Feeling dread over the circumstance of another human being should not be conflated with taking sides between warring parties. That is certainly not the case here. To conclude such about these comments would be wrong.)

Strangely, artillery fires have not been used, at least not effectively or robustly, to support movement by armor and infantry, it has not been used to divert, disrupt, and destroy targets on the axis of advancing units, or used for attacks in depth. Surely, these practices should have been rehearsed in military exercises and regular training. In a very archaic manner, artillery fires have at best been used whereas movement is concerned, to mitigate direct fire from opposing forces which was a regular practice during World War I. It would appear that artillery fires, if any are made available, have been lifted as armor and infantry made contact with the opponent allowing the opponent advantages in defense. Artillery has failed to play a dominant role in the field in Russia’s war. That is baffling. Apparently, Ukrainian forces are using artillery fires to support maneuver in their counterattacks and using them effectively to attack in depth. Counterbattery radar sets must have been left back in garrison by most Russian artillery units as Russian counterbattery fires have been ineffective, practically nonexistent.

To be forthright, greatcharlie senses that whatever was really going on at Zapad, the truth of the value of the exercises has come to the surface. In away not too different the director and deputy director of FSB foreign intelligence, military commanders simply went through the motions with elaborate displays of firepower and mobility with little to no concern about how it would all come together in real world situations. As alluded to earlier, it would seem the bigger and better Zapad exercises since 2017, lauded by the leadership of the Russian Federation armed forces, were simply full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Putin, himself, had regularly observed the Zapad exercises and everything seemed fine enough, but it was not. In a way not too different the director and deputy director of FSB foreign intelligence, military commanders simply went through the motions with elaborate displays of firepower and mobility with little to no concern about how it would all come together in real world situations. To onlookers at the Zapad exercises, as Putin had regularly been, everything seemed fine enough, but things certain were not.

One NATO commander caught on to what had been happening at Zapad and other Russian military and naval exercises before the invasion and could predict Russian military action in Ukraine might prove for Moscow to be catastrophic. When he was commander of American naval forces in Europe and Africa, US Navy Admiral James Foggo had the duty to plan US military exercises recognized that planning the huge Russian exercises were enormous undertakings. As Russia was planning the Vostok exercises in September 2021 in Siberia, Russian Federation Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, declared it would be the largest since the Soviet Union’s Zapad exercise of 1981. It would involve 300,000 troops, 1,000 aircraft and 80 warships. However, Foggo discovered there was quite a bit of deception involved. Rather than actually field large numbers of soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, a company of troops (150 at most) at Vostok, for example, was inflated and counted as a battalion or even a regiment (closer to 1,000). Single warships were passed off as whole squadrons. Negligentia sempre habet infortunam comitem. (Negligence always has misfortune for a companion.)

How spectacularly did the illusion created by Russian Ground Force commanders disintegrate when challenged by reality! It is a sad lesson for commanders in all armies to learn from. The Russian Army of 2022 appears to mimic, albeit unintentionally, much of the Soviet Army of the 1980s. Without pretension, greatcharlie states that after reviewing what has transpired concerning the failures of Russian forces, for at least a fleeting moment, one might get the impression that Russian commanders want to lose. (Intriguingly, despite all that has been witnessed since February 24, 2022, the US Department of Defense continues to regard Russian Federation Armed Forces as an acute threat the US and its interests.)

Russian Federation Minister of Defense, General of the Army Sergey Shoigu (center) and Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov (left), and Russian Federation General of the Army Aleksandr Dvornikov,  who took command of military operation in Ukraine in April 2022 (right) hold a meeting aboard an aircraft. As a part of what the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation called the shift from Plan A and Plan B, it was announced that Russian forces would focus its special security operation in Ukraine on “liberating” the east.” A very folksy aphorism that greatcharlie has come across recently is, “There is no education in the second kick of a mule.” Being aware of past thinking, capabilities, and and practices, it seems almost fallacious to expect any novel maneuvers by Russian forces that may be nuanced or special in such a way to make a great difference in their performance in Ukraine.

Resurrection?

An army can not change over night.What Russian military commanders can do is ensure that the many parts of the Ground Forces, Aerospace Forces, and Naval Forces to their utmost in harmony to achieve success is what will change the course of things. Once more, greatcharlie ingeminates a most apposite quote, an old chestnut, from the renowned theoretical physicist Albert Einstein said: “Probleme kann man niemals mit derselben Denkweise losen, durch die sie entstanden sind.” (We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them.)

As a part of a shift from “Plan A” to “Plan B”, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation announced on March 25, 2022 that Russian forces would focus its special security operation in Ukraine on “liberating” the east.” According to the Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation Colonel General Sergei Rudskoy, head of the General Staff’s main operations administration stated “The main tasks of the first stage of the operation have been carried out.” He further stated: The combat capabilities of the Ukrainian armed forces have been substantially reduced, which allows us to concentrate our main efforts on achieving the main goal: the liberation of Donbas.” On April 9, 2022, Russian Federation General of the Army Aleksandr Dvornikov was appointed commander of the special military operation in Ukraine.

This shift from “Plan A” to “Plan B” has left little doubt in the minds of observers outside of Russia that an apparent initial plan to move rapidly to capture major cities in Ukraine and replace the national government had failed or at least had not gone as planned. There was an attempt to spin the matter as a success. As aforementioned, a big part of that was to omit any discussion of the terrible costs in troops, materiél, and treasure for the military’s blunders. The focus of Rudskoy’s spin was an effort to convince that efforts to encircle key Ukrainian cities as Kyiv and making them subjecting them the multiple airstrikes and artillery onslaught was to pin down Ukrainian forces elsewhere in the country in order to allow Russian forces to focus on the east. 

Since the announcement of the new plan of attack was made, Russian forces have met with some greater success in southern Ukraine. Well reported have been itheir efforts to capture towns and cities such as Kherson, Mariupol, Kreminna, and making some gains in the east. Russian troops also displaced Ukrainian forces from Zarichne and Novotoshkivske in Donetsk as well as Velyka Komyshuvakha and Zavody in the Kharkiv region. Following the shift, Moscow announced that 93 percent of the Donbas region of Luhansk had come under the control of Russian-backed separatists. However, over 33.3 percent of the Donbas was already under the control of ethnic-Russian separatist control before the invasion. It is hard to determine just how well things are going for Russian forces by listening to Moscow’s reports. Only 54 percent of Donetsk province of the Donbas is actually under Russia’s control. While achieving some success in the Kharkiv region, Russia made little vigorous progress in capturing Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city. It was essentially the same story witnessed in Kyiv, huge losses and meager results. Ukrainian forces were fighting so well in the region that Russian forces were eventually forced to withdraw from Kharkiv, so close to their own border, in order to protect supply line and Russian territory as well. There was a US assessment in March the stated that Ukraine could recapture Kherson.

A very folksy aphorism that greatcharlie has come across recently is, “There is no education in the second kick of a mule.” Being aware of past thinking, capabilities, and and practices, it seems almost fallacious to expect any novel maneuvers by Russian forces that may be nuanced or special in such a way to make a great difference in their performance in Ukraine.

A test launch of Russia’s Satan-2 (above) on April 20, 2022 at the Kura Missile Test Range in the Russian Federation’s Kamchatka region. While the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) has been dubbed Satan 2 by NATO, it is officially known in the Russian armed forces as the RS-26 Sarmat.  The ICBM carries multiple warheads and has an estimated range of 6200 to 11,800 miles. Doubtlessly through Putin’s eyes, Russia, his world, would stand at the edge of doom if “the West” wins the war. If that occurred, in brief, he would be driven to consider the vulnerable position in which he would ostensibly leave Russia by allowing a well-trained, well-experienced, and well-equipped military force remain intact and powerful on its western border. Putin would surely choose to act as violently as possible now to protect Russia’s existence into the future. Additionally and importantly, all forms of conflict would be permissible in Russia’s defense, including the use of thermonuclear weapons. Putin has repeatedly expressed a willingness to use the crown jewels of his defense arsenal.

The Way Forward

As expressed in greatcharlie’s March 31, 2022 post entitled “The Russian Invasion of Ukraine: Brief Meditations on Putin and Small Suggestions That May Support Achieving Peace Through Diplomacy”, there are those who speak freely on taking on Russia in the nuclear dimension, and suggest mightily that Moscow be reminded that the US has a formidable thermonuclear arsenal and will respond fiercely with it if Russia uses its weapons. Such thoughts appear to have been expressed with a complete lack of regard for their own self-interests, the interest of the US. It is unlikely that those individuals have steeled themselves against the possible consequences. The possibility of a thermonuclear attack from Russia are actually more real, more likely, than they might imagine. Unusquisque mavult credere quam iudicare. (Everyone prefers to believe than to think.)

Additionally mentioned in greatcharlie’s March 31, 2022 post is the well-viewed exchange between Putin and Sergei Naryshkin, head of the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR. Naryshkin, an absolute Putin loyalist, known for his aggressive anti-western statements, became visibly uncomfortable as Putin interrogated him on Ukraine. Among his very top advisers, there was likely a palpable sense that a fiery sea of anger, rage, and hatred was churning violently inside of him. Perhaps Putin’s exchange with Naryshkin might be considered a new context. It is possible the exchange between Putin and Naryshkin may directly relate to a plan Putin may have of far greater conception what has publicly postulated in the West so far.

As the scene was set, Putin was seated at a desk in a grand, columned Kremlin room with his advisers, seemingly socially distanced from him and each other. Putin asked his advisers to step forward to a podium to offer their respective views on recognizing Luhansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic. Putin was being very sharp with his advisers. When Naryshkin was asked to present his views, he appeared uncomfortable even initially as Putin interrogated him. Naryshkin stumbled with his words. Surely noticing his discomfort, Putin exorts Naryshkin to speak more directly. To hear Naryshkin speak, some might immediately be left to believe the matter at hand is far more complicated than the challenging matter of that moment, recognizing the Luhansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic.

Putin, impatient and insistent, pushes Naryshkin even further. He tells Naryshkin twice, “Speak directly!” Eventually, when he was able to get the words out, When he spoke, Naryshkin uttered that he supported “the LNR and DNR becoming part of Russia.” Putin told him that wasn’t the subject of the discussion; it was only recognition being weighed up. Naryshkin then stated that he supported attempting negotiations first. Putin responded that the discussion was not about negotiations. Finally, Naryshkin was able to state that he supported Putin’s plans. According to newsmedia reports, some Russia experts have suggested that the whole scene might have been a carefully scripted artifice to demonstrate to the West that other options might be available. However, it is Naryshkin’s genuinely flustered expression that does the most to convince much more might have been involved.

The post of director of the SVR, is not for the faint hearted. Naryshkin is understood to be a srurdy individual and good at his job. He is a Putin loyalist and regularly expresses hardline anti-Western views. It is difficult to fathom why he would be so nervous, clearly under stress, when reporting to Putin. Perhaps he was uncertain how it would all play out. Perhaps as greatcharlie has suggested here, reporting from SVR concerning Ukraine has not been as accurate as it could have been as aforementioned due to delicacy toward Putin and is concerned he will be called out on the quality of his organization’s product. Indeed, maybe he thought that he was being burned by Putin. Perhaps the moment has been scripted to serve Putin’s purposes and Naryshkin is nevertheless concerned things may not pan out as planned. Perhaps he has seen that happen to others.

Rationale enim animal est homo. (Man is a reasoning animal.) At the risk of being obvious, greatcharlie suggests that is unlikely that Putin would not have approved the broadcast of the video of the security council meeting, and particularly “the Naryschkin moment” unless he intended to convey a message. Much as a good attorney in court, he would not ask a question of anyone testifying unless he already knew the answer. So much else, was edited out of the Russian newsmedia coverage. Surely, one might have expected much of that segment, a relative confrontation of the Russian President as compared to other exchanges, would have hit the cutting room floor. The video clip, itself, amounted to something akin to a chamber piece in which the theme–though the notion was brushed of by Putin during the meeting–was thermonuclear war. It was expressed via the subtle reference to it in the exchange between Putin and Naryschkin. Indeed, the message was that thermonuclear war is more than just a potentiality in the security council but a part of planning as it concerns halting NATO expansion and perceived Western plans to push into Russia’s sovereign territory to despoil its riches in natural resources.

To that extent, it might be worthwhile to revisit the notion of Putin’s awareness of the danger of setting unrealistic expectations as well as the notion of Plan A and Plan B as it relates to Russia’s special security operation. He has seen the Russian Federation armed forces in action and likely recognizes there is a real chance he could lose the conventional war with Ukraine. Putin, the central focus West, must consider the mass psychological implications of losing a ground war on its border. That would be the bitter end. Some newsmedia houses in Europe have been willing to promulgate the apocryphal rumor that Putin is suffering from pancreatic cancer. It would be difficult to imagine how those sources would have come upon such information as the US Intelligence Community has indicated that the Kremlin remains what intelligence officials call a “hard target”–incredibly difficult to penetrate through traditional espionage.” CNN reported, based on information from an official source, that there has not been any new comprehensive assessment by the US Intelligence Community that indicates a particular change to Putin’s overall health. That being stated, the follow-on thinking would be that if Putin finds himself in deep trouble in Ukraine, he might take the murder-suicide route on an Apocalyptic scale. However, more realistically, other considerations would likely be involved. 

Doubtlessly through Putin’s eyes, Russia, his world, would stand at the edge of doom if “the West” wins the war. If that occurred, in brief, he would be driven to consider the vulnerable position in which he would ostensibly leave Russia by allowing a well-trained, well-experienced, and well-equipped military force remain intact and powerful on its western border. Perhaps as discussed in the preceding March 31, 2022 post, Putin has indeed considered what will he will leave for future generations of Russians to contend with. Perhaps he believes now is the time to confront not just Ukraine, but the West. He has stated many times that he believes the West wants to destroy Russia and strip it of its natural resources. In greatcharlie’s preceding post, it was also suggested that the next generation of Russians will most likely want a future that reflects their own choices, their own desires, not those of a dark past. Russia never became das land des lächelns under his leadership despite his “best” efforts, and it seems that it will never become so. Critics in the West might say that Putin has achieved nothing except create new forms of the old misery. It could very well be that in Putin’s mind, everything that can be done must be done now to make certain future generations of Russians will not be left with the worst choice possible, to give in to Western demands, or worse, possibly surrender to conventional military threat or action. To that extent, and with a lot more factored in, Putin would surely choose to act as violently as possible now to protect Russia’s existence into the future. Additionally and importantly, all forms of conflict would be permissible in Russia’s defense, including the use of thermonuclear weapons. Putin has repeatedly expressed a willingness to use the crown jewels of his defense arsenal. 

Conceivably, the use of such weapons was considered and plotted out as a contingency by Putin long before the eve of invasion. Perhaps the knowledge of that was being telegraphed through Naryshkin’s body language at the National Security Council meeting before the invasion. A hardliner, yet a thinking man and shrewd individual, it may have troubled Naryshkin to think that the situation was drawing closer to such a dire outcome. Surely, in his possession, as the head of foreign intelligence, were true assessments of what might happen in Ukraine and that possible result may have troubled him greatly given the end state scripted by Putin.

Praemonitus, praemunitus. (Forewarned is forearmed.) It has always been up to the respective masters of thermonuclear weapons to maintain peace and stability or use them to their full terrifying potential as weapons of mass destruction. For Putin, the underlying thought for every step at the moment may very well be that it is now or never. Here, greatcharlie will go out on a slender thread to state that in his position taking everything into the round, that if defeated in a conventional struggle with Ukraine Putin would feel left with no choice but to destroy Russia’s opponent by whatever nonconventional means he might see fit. Everyone does not think the same. Things do not always turn out the way one might hope. It was by any reasonable standard daylight madness for Putin to invade Ukraine. Using thermonuclear weapons, although a far more monstrous transgression, would fit well within the mindset of one who do the former.

Everyone knows how the Cold War ended and who won. The history is clear. This critical episode between the West and Russia will likely be much shorter in duration. At the time of this writing, however, Its outcome is still unclear. Perhaps the legacy of the former struggle, thermonuclear weapons, will play a role and put an end to matters once and for all. If the US and rest of West should begin to threaten Russia with their weapons to reign Putin in it would would unlikely have that impact. As aforementioned, for Putin, the underlying thought for every step may be that it is now or never. He will most likely attack them. Omnia jam fient, fieri quæ posse negabam; et nihil est de quo non sit habenda fides. (All things will now come to pass that I used to think impossible; and there is nothing that we may not hope to see take place.)

Russia Is Top US National Security Threat Says General Dunford; That Should Make It the Top Priority for US Diplomacy

Pictured are Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (2nd right), Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu (left), Black Sea Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Aleksander Vitko (2nd left), and the Director of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) Alexander Bortnikov.  Putin, rejects any criticism over Russia’s actions in Ukraine or anything else. He says Russia was targeted by the West with sanctions and he had to respond with retaliatory, protective measures.

According to a July 9, 2015 Reuters article entitled, “Russia Is Top US National Security Threat: Gen. Dunford,” US Marine Corps Commandant General Joseph Dunford says Russia is at the top of the list of security concerns for the US. Dunford was speaking at his US Senate confirmation hearing to become the next US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Reuters quoted Dunford as saying, “If you want to talk about a nation that could pose an existential threat to the United States, I’d have to point to Russia. And if you look at their behavior, it is nothing short of alarming.” Relations between Russia and the West have taken a sharp turn downward since Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. Political leaders among the NATO Allies are uncertain of what Putin is trying to achieve with his actions in Ukraine, his moves in the Baltic States, positioning of Russian rocket forces near Poland, or his considerable military build-up. The Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (the military commander of NATO), US Air Force General Philip Breedlove, told a US Congressional Committee in April 2015, “We cannot fully grasp Putin’s intent.” Breedlove further stated, “What we can do is learn from his actions, and what we see suggests growing Russian capabilities, significant military modernization and an ambitious strategic intent.” NATO conducted several exercises to show Putin its intent to respond to aggression.

Sanctions from the US and Europeans have put relations between Russia and the West, built largely on economic cooperation, at considerable risk and pose a serious economic threat to Russia despite any heroic claims otherwise by Putin. Repetitive threats of further sanctions from the US and EU could prompt Putin to consider means to shift the power equation. He may eventually feel his back is against the wall and do more than put his forces on parade or use his forces covertly despite his denials of doing so. The escalating war of words between US and Russian officials is also problematic. Words of anger, mockery, hate, and aggression, do damage that can be difficult to repair. The world has witnessed the vicissitudes faced by the Obama administration in foreign policy. The administration often fails to acknowledge how dire problems really are. It tends to settle upon bromides, with a seductive kind of superficiality, to very challenging situations, which later prove to be shallow entrapments. Some resolution must be found to current problems in relations with Russia. In order to respond diplomatically to Putin, the genuine motivation for his actions must be uncovered. Formal diplomatic talks could be established between the US and EU with Russia not in an attempt to mollify him, but provide opportunities for all sides to “clear the air” on those issues and others and work together to mutually satisfy interests. Negotiations can be based on the relative strengths of the positions and capabilities of all sides. The peace that can be achieved must be the focus not how much each side can destroy through warfare. In the US and in the EU, all other elements of foreign and defense policy must serve to effectively support that diplomacy. Good use must be made of time available before situations change. The door to opportunity might remain open for a brief period. O si sic omnia! (Oh would that all had been done or said thus!)

Whenever Putin now hears NATO threaten to use force against Russia, albeit defensively, he responds with an enigmatic face. Even though NATO took steps such as maneuvers or force redeployments were taken in response to Crimea or ostensibly a perceived Russian threat to Eastern Ukraine, the Baltic States, and Poland, Putin likely expected NATO Allies to continue making steep military cuts and fail to meet their military commitments.

Putin’s Response to the West

Putin and his advisers have heard explanations from the US and EU that sanctions were a means to halt its annexation of Crimea, its activities in Ukraine, a response to the downing of Malaysian Airline Flight MH117, and as a means to push all parties to the negotiating table. Putin, however, rejects any criticism of Russia’s actions over Ukraine or anything else. He explains that the deterioration of relations with the West was “not our choice.” He has proffered. “It was not we who introduced restrictions on trade and economic activities. Rather we were the target and we had to respond with retaliatory, protective measures.”

Having been a P5+1 partner with China as well as the main Western powers that levied sanctions against it, the US, United Kingdom, France, and Germany during the nuclear negotiations with Iran, Putin and his advisers have undoubtedly learned how to more effectively handle the West on issues as Ukraine. Observing the decision making of Western powers up close on Iran, Putin can likely better predict Western responses in certain situations. Beyond what Russia gleaned from the Iran talks, Putin has looked deeply at the US and Europe, discerning many flaws, weaknesses in the transatlantic defense. He has watched it decay due to Western political leaders’ lack the will to maintain it. After the Soviet Union’s collapse, NATO members became weary of investing financial resources in a deterrent force that faced no threat. Putin tested NATO, acting unabashedly in the face of the alliance by moving against countries that are part of Russia’s “near abroad.” In 2008, Putin forced Armenia to break off its agreements with the EU, and Moldova was placed under similar pressure. That same year, Putin invaded Georgia. Russian troops still occupy the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions. Whenever NATO threatens to use force against Russia now, albeit defensively, Putin responds with an enigmatic face. Even though maneuvers and force redeployments were made and sanctions were imposed in response to Russian moves as in Crimea or a perceived threat to Eastern Ukraine, the Baltic States, and Poland, Putin expected Allies to continue making steep military cuts and fail to meet their NATO military commitments.

Tanquam ex ungue leonem! (From the claw we may judge a lion.) Since 2011, uniformed military manpower has declined in every Western nation, but Russian military manpower has increased by 25 percent to 850,000 between 2011 and mid-2014. Russia supposedly has about 2.5 million active reservists out of a total population of 143 million. It ranks second, behind the US, on the list of countries with conventional warfighting capabilities. Expenditures on defense, and the related category of national security and law enforcement, accounts for 34 percent of Russia’s budget which is more than twice in comparison with 2010. The US only spent 18 percent, or $615 billion of its budget in 2014 on defense and international security. Explaining his concept for achieving this growth, Putin told senior military commanders and defense industry executives at a meeting in Sochi on May 12, 2015, “We can and must do for the defense industry what we did for Sochi.” Putin was referring to the $50 billion spent in to host the 2014 Winter Olympics there. He went on to state, “All questions relating to adequate resource allocation have been resolved.” Putin has a penchant to display power. Most recently it has been lurid. With its conventional forces rejuvenated, Russia is on the march again, seizing territory in albeit a piecemeal fashion. Putin has likely assessed war with Russia is the last thing US and EU political leaders want. He has seemingly gauged his moves sensing just how far he can go with them. He may believe he can later legitimize acquisitions via talks with the West.

Putin emerged from the Communist system of the Soviet Union. Not to be impolitic, but those emerging from that system often hold a view, infiltrated by pessimism, that the world is filled with dangers and potential enemies. To Putin, only naiveté could cause one to believe relations with the West would always be congenial given the previous years of geopolitical struggle. Aspects surrounding his career in the Soviet Union’s KGB certainly reinforced that perspective.

Confabulating on Putin

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Putin has been the authentic face of the Russian government. Putin restored order in his country after the internal chaos of the 1990s, reestablishing the power of the state. Putin emerged from the Communist system of the Soviet Union. Not to be impolitic, but those emerging from that system often hold a view, infiltrated by pessimism, that the world is filled with dangers and potential enemies.  To Putin,  only naiveté could cause one to believe relations with the West would always be congenial given the previous years of geopolitical struggle. Given its approach to Putin, there is every indication that many in the West believed positive relations with Russia would endure despite pushing Western demands its leaders. Putin style of management was undoubtedly shaped by his initial career as an officer from 1975 to 1991 in the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) known better as the KGB—the agency responsible for intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security. He reached the rank of lieutenant colonel before retiring. However, his style was not shaped in terms of his use of KGB tradecraft. It was shaped as a result of his continued close association with a small group of men who served alongside him during his KGB career, particularly a few who served in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) with him. They are called siloviki (power men). Finding siloviki, particularly retirees of the KGB, and the present day security service, Federal’naya sluzhba bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Federal Security Service) or FSB, in high places in Russia is not unusual. At the pinnacle are men among them who came from Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg. These men come from a community of families whose “roots” go back to the beginnings of the Communist Party and its first political police known as the Cheka. Putin’s Cheka heritage includes both a father and grandfather who served in the security service. He was raised in the Chekisty (Chekist) community, attending schools and a university Chekists’ progeny typically attended. That left an imprint on him. Putin got his start in politics at the local level in his hometown of St. Petersburg. As head of the St. Petersburg Committee for Foreign Liaison, a post he received through KGB patronage, Putin began working with a tight knit circle of Chekists.  Putin rose to deputy-mayor, but his work in St. Petersburg was halted after six years when his boss lost his bid for reelection. Yet, in two years, he rose from being an out-of-work deputy mayor to head of the FSB. A year later, Putin was the prime minister. Six months later, he was Russian Federation President.

Chekists share a view that the greatest danger to Russia comes from the West. They believe Western governments are driven to weaken Russia, create disorder, and make their country dependent of Western technologies. They feel that under former President Boris Yeltsin, the Russian leadership made the mistake of believing Russia no longer had any enemies. As heard in Putin’s public statements, Chekists consider the collapse of the Soviet Union, under Western pressure, as the worst geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th Century. Putin says that he is determined to save Russia from disintegration, and frustrate those he perceives as enemies that might weaken it. He also wants to bring the independent states of the former Soviet Union back under Moscow’s political, economic, and military (security) influence. Putin does not hesitate to let the leaders of those states know his intentions either. Although Putin managed to restore order from turmoil in Russia, many would note that he accomplished this with little regard for human and political rights. There is a significant opposition movement to Putin in Russia, lead by individuals such as the slain statesman and politician, Boris Nemtsov. Yet, Putin’s words have also resonated with many Russians. Convinced Russia is in a struggle with the US, the Economist states 81 percent of Russians see the US as a threat. The EU is also viewed as such.

When Putin began his third term as Russian Federation President, the Obama administration responded to him as if he were the neophyte, not a seasoned leader. Old ills that were part of US-Russian relations resurfaced and news ones arose. A series of deliberate public rebuffs to Putin sullied ties further. Putin’s anger metastasized. Soon enough, regular intrusions by Russian military aircraft in NATO airspace and Russian warships in NATO waters began.

The Downturn in Relations Began Well Before Ukraine

Dimitry Medvedev was Russian Federation President when Obama came to office. Obama seemed to measure all possibilities on relations with Russia on his interactions with him. So comfortable was Obama with Medvedev that he went as far as to declare a new era between the two former Cold War adversaries existed. Senior Russia analysts in the US government could have confirmed that Putin, who at the time was serving as Russia’s Prime Minister, was the real power in Moscow. Yet, that truth was given little consideration. Instead, Putin was treated by Obama as the “odd man out”. Little was done to build a relationship with him. When Putin began his third term as Russia’s president on May 7, 2012, the Obama administration responded to him as if he were a neophyte and not a seasoned national leader. Old ills that were part of US-Russian relations resurfaced, and new ones arose, to include: Putin’s decision to allow US National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden to reside in Russia; ongoing espionage efforts between Russia and the US, including the activities of Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR officer Anna Chapman and other Russian “illegals” captured by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2010, and the allegations of US spying on Russia revealed by Snowden and Wikileaks; and the US admonishment of Russia on human rights issues. Putin was still fuming over Operation Unified Protector, during which in 2011, multinational forces including the US, were placed under NATO command and imposed a no-fly zone and destroyed government forces loyal to then-Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi. Putin felt NATO-led forces went beyond UN Security Council Resolution 1973’s mandate by helping local forces overthrow Gaddafi. Gaddafi had been a friend of the Soviet Union and Russia. The world recognized how poor the relationship between Obama and Putin was after observing their body language during a June 17, 2013 meeting in Northern Ireland. A spate of public rebuffs to Putin sullied ties further.

Positive signals from Obama’s discussions on nuclear arms reductions with Medvedev likely gave administration officials the idea that Putin would also consider proposals on it. Putin firmly expressed disinterest, but administration officials smugly insisted that Putin agree to reductions in both nations’ nuclear arsenals. Putin then out rightly rejected their proposals. Obama administration officials were unprepared to receive Putin’s final rejection of the proposals and reacted poorly. Putin’s decision was viewed within the Obama administration as ending the president’s “signature effort to transform Russian-American relations and potentially dooming his aspirations for further nuclear arms cuts before leaving office.”   With the apparent goal of retaliating against Putin over his decision on its nuclear proposals, on August 7, 2013, the White House cancelled a September summit meeting in Moscow for Obama and Putin. It was a trite, and amateurish response. Administration’s officials explained their decision to cancel behind lightweight rhetoric regarding the effective use of the president’s time. An August 8, 2013 New York Times article quoted US Deputy National Security Adviser Benjamin J. Rhodes as stating, “We weren’t going to have a summit for the sake of appearance, and there wasn’t an agenda that was ripe.” Commenting on his rejection of the proposal, Putin was likened to l’enfant terrible. An unidentified source told for the same August 8th article stated, “We just didn’t get traction with the Russians. They were not prepared to engage seriously or immediately on what we thought was the very important agenda before us.” That source went on to state, “this decision was rooted in a much broader assessment and deeper disappointment.” Putin and his advisers were further convinced that the US and EU did not respect Russia as a power, even militarily. Aching to be taking seriously in the US public, among other reasons, Putin soon after wrote a September 11, 2013, op-ed in the New York Times entitled, “A Plea for Caution”. He challenged popular views on foreign policy and national-identity held in the US.

There were other public affronts. The next year, during preparation for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, there was a constant drum beat of doubt expressed by US security experts on the capability of the Russian security services to protect Sochi from terrorism. US officials were highly critical of security measures taken by the Russians for the Games and the level of cooperation officials from Russian security service officials showed toward counterparts from US security organizations. There were endless dalliances into clairvoyance evinced by predictions of terrorist attacks. It smacked more of fear mongering than anything else. Obama administration and other US officials knew the Winter Olympics would have been a proud occasion for Putin and the Russian people. Sochi provided Putin the chance to present his resurgent Russia in the best light possible. The Russian people would have the opportunity to tap into the power of Russia’s renewed greatness. Putin displayed great patience in the face of mordant criticisms leveled against the Games’ organization and even personal rebuffs to him. Putin achieved his objective, and Sochi was safe and secure. However, what occurred was not forgotten. Empta dolore experientia docet! (Experience teaches when bought with pain!)

By 2014, Putin’s anger toward the US as well as the Europeans metastasized. In his March 18, 2014 speech declaring Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Putin enumerated some Western actions that fostered contempt in Moscow. He mentioned: Russia’s economic collapse, which many Russians recall was worsened by destructive advice and false philanthropy of Western business and economic experts that did more to cripple their country; the expansion of NATO to include members of the Soviet Union’s own alliance, the Warsaw Pact; the erroneous Russian decision to agree to the treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe, which he refers to as the “colonial treaty”; the West’s dismissal of Russia’s interests in Serbia and elsewhere; attempts to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO and the EU; and, Western efforts to instruct Russia on how to conduct its affairs domestically and internationally. Soon, there were regular incursions of Russian bombers and fighters in NATO airspace and Russian warships in NATO waters.

No Immediate Military Solution

At the NATO Defense Ministers Meetings on June 24, 2015, participants decided on air, maritime, and special forces components of an enhanced 40,000 strong NATO Response Force (NRF). Ministers took measures to speed up political and military decision-making, including authority for NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, Europe to prepare troops for action as soon as a political decision is made. Ministers approved a new concept of advance planning. They also finalized details on the six small headquarters being set up in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, “They will each consist of around 40 people, and will play a key role in planning, exercises, and assisting potential reinforcement.” Ministers additionally decided to establish a new Joint Logistics Headquarters, to facilitate the rapid movement of forces when necessary.  Directly on Russia, Stoltenberg stated, “We are carefully assessing the implications of what Russia is doing, including its nuclear activities.” He added that NATO is working on how to deal with hybrid threats, including through close cooperation with the European Union. To avoid misperceptions of NATO’s actions, Stoltenberg explained, “We do not seek confrontation, and we do not want a new arms race.” He stressed, “we want to keep our countries safe… this is our job.”

However, despite promises, Allies must have the requisite political will to give meaning to those words and any plans. The reality is that US outlays on security are three times that of the other 27 partners combined, even though the US gross domestic product (GDP) is smaller than their total GDP. The disparity in burden threatens NATO’s integrity, cohesion and capability—and ultimately, both European and transatlantic security. Since Washington has decided to cut 40,000 troops from the US Army’s ranks by 2017, the US will not be able to cover any gaps in NATO’s strength without earmarking a sizeable portion of its forces primarily for that task. Although the NRF is now 40,000 strong, the political will of NATO Allies to use it to block or engage Russian forces must exist. While a Baltic state or Ukraine may face the eminent threat of a Russian attack, the NRF may only be poised for “sitzkrieg”, taking no aggressive action and making no effort to even deter potential Russian action. If instead of a hybrid attack, Putin ordered a Russian force, overwhelming in size and power to the NRF, to attack a target, it might be futile for the NRF to try to halt it, even with the maximum amount of pre-positioned weapon systems and ordinance available. The NRF might try to survive against the Russian leviathan until more NATO forces arrived to reinforce it and ideally expel Russia from the country under attack. However, Russia would not make reaching the NRF easy. A Normandy style landing to reinforce the NRF would hardly be possible. NATO air power might be able to stave off the Russian force, but air, land, and sea elements could mass from bases in Russia and use powerful conventional weapons to destroy forces engaged and reinforcements.

The path to the repair of US-Russian relations perhaps can be created by Kerry and Lavrov. Both men have the confidence of their respective presidents. Both have a strong interest in improving ties. Indications are that they have an ongoing dialogue on a variety of issues and have formed a good relationship. The US and the EU must continue work to directly with Russia, not shun it, to forge better ties and tackle hard issues.

The Way Forward

This is not greatcharlie’s first descant on Putin. Unlike other handschuhschneeballwerfer who have scrutinized Putin from a safe distance, the intent here is not to abuse. The goal has been to objectively examine thinking behind Putin’s actions to construct ways to engage with him. If what Putin says is true, and his continued aggressive moves have been spurred by Western responses, there may be room for the resolution of this dispute. Negotiating with Putin certainly would not be an indication of timidity, fear, or duplicity. Indeed, when speaking to Putin, the US and EU must demand respect for their positions and the rights of sovereign states. However, the views and rights of Russia must also be equally acknowledged and respected. Equity and some degree of equanimity among all sides to any talks must be promoted. There must be the will to act fairly and justly toward each other, to include an immediate cessation of hostile acts. That would mean halting Russian intrusions into NATO airspace, flyovers and buzzing by military jets, interceptions at sea and other harassing actions in NATO waters. Further deployments of NATO land forces must be paused. Negotiating requires setting aside anger over what has transpired, but does not obviate the need to discern one another’s actions to avoid deceit or trickery.

Some European leaders have made contact with Putin and tried to resolve some issues with him, but they have had little success. There have been intermittent congenial contacts between Obama and Putin. For example, on July 4, 2015, Putin called Obama to mark Independence Day and express his confidence in US-Russia relations. On June 25, 2015, Putin called Obama reportedly to discuss the P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran, but Obama also voiced concern over Russia’s support for separatists operating in eastern Ukraine. On February 10, 2015, Obama called Putin to urge him to accept a diplomatic peace plan for Ukraine presented by France and Germany in Belarus. Nevertheless, a more substantial contact between the US and Russia occurred on May 12, 2015 when US Secretary of State John Kerry held four hours of talks with Putin in addition to four hours talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the Black Sea resort of Sochi.  In what Kerry characterized as a “frank meeting” with Putin, the Russian president gave detailed explanations of Russia’s positions. Their talks covered Iran, Syria, Libya, and Yemen. The eight hours of talks were a welcome development. It was Kerry’s first visit to Russia since the Ukraine crisis began in early 2014. Kerry stated on Twitter, “it was important to keep the lines of communication open between the US and Russia as we address important global issues such as Syria and Iran.” Lavrov said the talks helped Russia and the US improve mutual understanding.  Perhaps a path to repairing relations can be created by Kerry and Lavrov. There is no intrinsic guarantee diplomacy will work. However, both men have the confidence of their respective presidents. Both have a strong interest in improving US-Russia relations, and Russia’s overall relationship with the West. Indications are that they have an ongoing dialogue on a variety of issues and have also formed a good relationship. The US and the EU must continue work to directly with Russia, not shun it, to forge better ties and tackle hard issues.