Commentary: Will the Ukraine War’s Course Stir Putin to Alter His Thinking and Seek Novel Ways Either to Win or to Reach a Peace Deal?

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (center), takes a moment to gather himself while seated between Ministr Oborony Rossijskoj Federacii (Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation) General Sergei Shoigu (left) and Glavnokomanduyushchiy Voyenno-morskoy Flot Rossiyskoy Federatsii (Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Federation Naval Force or Russian Navy) Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov (right). The situation in Ukraine has hardly developed as expected by Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin’s way; in fact, things have gone terribly bad for him. Events may have had their impact upon his thinking. Putin, after all, is only human. To that extent, Putin should not be looked upon as the same individua he was at the start of the Spetsial’noy Voyennoy Operatsii (Special Military Operation). For instance, a lack of good solutions, options for action when trouble began was likely unexpected. He has surely learned to put far less faith in the words of advisers. He has likely turned to his own faculty and what may be the most reliable part of his intuition. It is possible that his ways of thinking on many matters, his willingness to try novel ideas that make sense, may have changed. Along that line, a reasonable change might be a decision to seek out advice from alternative sources at home that are outside of the Russian Federation foreign and national security policy bureaucracies for insights and options and could lead to an alteration in his thinking and approaches. That possibility is discussed here.

The situation in Ukraine has hardly developed as expected by Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin; in fact, things have gone terribly bad for him. Events may have even had a profound impact upon his thinking. Putin, after all, is only human. To that extent, Putin should not be looked upon as the same individual he was at the start of the Spetsial’noy Voyennoy Operatsii (Special Military Operation). For instance, when trouble began, a lack of good solutions, viable options for alternative actions, was likely unexpected. He has surely learned to put far less faith in the words of advisers. He has likely turned to his own faculty and what may be the most reliable part of his intuition to develop better answers. It is possible that his ways of thinking on many matters may have changed, and there might be a willingness, not to go off the rails, but to try novel ideas that make sense. Along that line, a reasonable change might be a decision to seek out advice from alternative sources at home that are outside of the Russian Federation foreign and national security policy bureaucracies to garner ideas, insights and options that could lead to an alteration in his thinking and approaches unexpected in Western capitals. That possibility is discussed here. In Western foreign and national security policy bureaucracies one might expect some well-accepted and well-used approaches to understanding Putin’s decisionmaking and rationalizing Russian Federation action based on what is known about its tactics, techniques, procedures and methods of doing things. Due to this, unexpected changes in his thinking might throw the West off-track to some degree, depending on what on-going approaches he hypothetically might change and how. The implications could be enormous. There remains a place for the bog standard analyses of Putin on some matters. However, with regard to Ukraine,  it is essential to get beyond thinking along well-worn lines and the expected and consider all possible eventualities.

For a over a decade, some of officials of the US foreign and national security policy apparatus have made their intense dislike greatcharlie and disapproval of its plainly innocuous scribblings well known to it. Nevertheless, for others, greatcharlie hopes its efforts here are not value neutral, particularly with regard to students. Although greatcharlie would be satisfied enough to have this commentary stand alone as one of its many posts on foreign and national security policy, it would be humbled to see it take its place among ideas being exchanged internationally on Ukraine and Putin through which it may eventually become part of the greater policy debate. Malim equidem indisertam prudentiam quam stultitiam loquacem. (I should prefer ineloquent good sense to loquacious folly.)

A confident Putin (above) at the February 21, 2023 Security Council meeting regarding Ukraine. Although most would be willing to dutifully make the effort, surely among the  Western political leaders and diplomats who have failed so far to get a handle on effectively negotiating with Putin, expectations for future fruitful talks would be far lower now than they were a year ago. Indeed, a year of frustration may have led many to close their minds to investigation of his thinking to find or construct inroads to him and rather settle on defining Putin with obloquy, viewing him as a prodigy of wickedness, a far less than advanced route taken long ago by many of their journalist counterparts. Facing such trying circumstances daily, Western leaders and diplomats might want to consider that there has likely been some transformation in Putin’s thinking with regard to his country’s prowess and its true image and place in the world since February 24, 2022. Putin has most likely been enlightened particularly with regard to the more or less substandard foreign and national security apparatus that he, if not blithely, surely fortuitously, was able to stake so much upon, while miraculously avoiding disaster, at least until now. His luck seemed to rest much on good use of the services of a shrewd and adept senior diplomat, Ministr inostrannykh del Rossiyskoy Federatsii (Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation) Sergei Lavrov. He has displayed a talent for being able to successfully promote his policies on just about everything,

A New Putin?: Transformed by His Circumstances

Although most would be willing to dutifully make the effort, surely among the  Western political leaders and diplomats who have failed so far to get a handle on effectively negotiating with Putin. there would be far lower expectations of future fruitful talks now than they were a year ago. Indeed, a year of frustration may have led many to close their minds to investigation of his thinking to find or construct inroads to him and rather settle on defining Putin with obloquy, viewing him as a prodigy of wickedness, a far less than advanced route taken long ago by many of their journalist counterparts. They might find words from the play Henry the VIII. a collaborative effort between William Shakespeare and John Fletcher  might find most apposite concerning him. In Act IV, scene iii, Katherine, Henry VIII’s ex-wife, reduced to princess dowager, converses to her attendants about the death of Cardinal Wolsey. Wolsey, a once trusted advisor to the king, having failed to secure an annulment of Henry VIII’s first marriage, was removed from government, arrested for treason, grew ill, and died a broken man. Katharine though saying she will speak of him with charity proceeds to characterize him in the following negative way, saying: “His own opinion was his law: i’ the presence / He would say untruths; and be ever double / Both in his words and meaning: he was never, / But where he meant to ruin, pitiful.”

Western leaders and diplomats might want to consider that there has likely been some transformation in Putin’s thinking with regard to his country’s prowess and its true image and place in the world since February 2022. He has most likely been enlightened particularly with regard to the more or less substandard foreign and national security apparatus that for, if not blithely, surely fortuitously, was able to stake so much upon, while miraculously avoiding disaster until now. His luck seemed to rest much on good use of the services of a shrewd and adept senior diplomat,Ministr inostrannykh del Rossiyskoy Federatsii (Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation) Sergei Lavrov. He has displayed a talent for being able to successfully promote his policies on just about everything,

It is very likely that even Putin as much as anyone else was surprised by the limited level of control he could exercise over his use of the Russian Federation Armed Forces especially once they were placed on the battlefield in great numbers. Indeed, events have been so far off from anything Putin most likely wanted or foresaw in Ukraine, that one could hardly believe genuinely that he ever had full control of the situation and reasonably make only an attenuated argument in support of that belief. The poor thinking of Russian Federation commanders and the positively horrible outcomes of their actions was most likely another eye-opener for Putin.

Periclum ex aliis facito tibi quod ex usu siet. (Draw from others the lesson that may profit yourself.) In its preceding post, greatcharlie stated that the Russian Federation would unlikely win the Ukraine War based on the record of performance of Russian Federation commanders to date. However, it must be explained further that the situation they face is not impossible to crack. Military commanders of other countries, such as the US for instance, would more than likely readily see the correct course of action to “breakout” of the Western and Southern fronts. One might hypothesize that a zealous emphasis on Russian military history in the course of studies in the 30 schools of Voyenny uchebno-nauchny tsentr Sukhoputnykh voysk “Obshchevoyskovaya ordenov Lenina i Oktyabr’skoy revolyutsii, Krasnoznamennaya, ordena Suvorova” (The Combined Academies Order of Lenin Order of the October Revolution Red Bannered Order of Suvorov of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation-Military Educational and Scientific Center of the Russian Ground Forces), the equivalent of Western command and general staff schools and Voyennaya akademiya General’nogo shtaba Vooruzhennykh Sil Rossiyskoy Federatsii (The Military Academy of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation), what suffices for Western war colleges, and an apparent failure to encourage student officers to examine in the round the strategy, tactics, and the operational art displayed by other countries armed forces in other wars, has left Russian Federation commanders without the slightest idea of how closely their current situation in Ukraine parallels that of a number of commanders in other larger conflicts of the past. Case studies of such done by student officers that would have familiarized them with those past foreign commanders’ successful combined arms actions that allowed them to maneuver their forces out of trouble and gain and retain the initiative would have likely changed the course of the current war.

Spectemur agendo. (Let us be judged by our acts.) Still, even if Russian Federation commanders hypothetically came upon an historical or novel way to storm through the frontlines of Zbrojni syly Ukrayiny (the Ukrainian Armed Forces) and put themselves in a position to do some “open field running,” it is hard to conceive of what would be their follow through to exploit success. Given their aberrant moves from the first day of the special military operation, it is difficult to imagine what for them would be priority objectives they would have in mind and why, whether they would intend to conquer all of Ukraine or limit themselves to securing certain useful territory. They surely would know by experience–disco inferno–or at least intimate that the Ukrainians would never tolerate any additional territorial gains in their country and in response to such a loss, build up stronger with the support of their allies, and strike back harder than ever before. Another rapid “dagger thrust” at Kyiv would be counterintuitive. One would expect Putin would have the most say in what to do next. Under this hypothetical situation, he would likely publicly or through classified orders, express his objectives for the next phase of the war, and from that, the concept and intent for the Russian Federation Armed Forces would be established. 

Equally difficult to imagine in this hypothetical circumstance is what could potentially be planned under Putin’s concept and intent, given the likely remaining strength of units in contact with the Ukrainians, shortages in weapons systems, ammunition, other supplies, and authentic forecasts of future casualties and expenditures of military resources. All of that would likely preclude plans to do anything big. To that extent, it is hard to see even under the most favorable circumstances where this whole enterprise is going for Putin. (Discernibly, greatcharlie to a great degree here mimics the worst sort of strict (toxic) instructor. However, no lessons are being offered.)

Assuredly, Putin had influenced some decisions in the field such as the move against Kyiv early on in the invasion. In preceding posts, greatcharlie previously discussed what it felt was his likely role in that fiasco. However, Putin more than likely had no idea what in actual fact needed to be done to succeed, and worse, was completely unaware of how unprepared the Russian Federation Armed Forces were to successfully perform the mission he gave them. Likely believing everything else had been planned in a proper manner and prepared in the appropriate way, he doubtlessly could not have imagined that any “minimal input” from him on taking Kyiv could have so negatively shaped the entire picture of the operation.

To gnaw a bit further, if Putin had some idea of what the genuine situation in Ukraine was and had been aware of how unprepared the Russian Federation Armed Forces really were, he would very likely have realized there was a “strategy resources mismatch.” Possessing the ability to use an iron fist to compel his commanders to perform and even possessing a better than average level skill in the operational art, would not have had an impact on the outcome. It is greatcharlie’s contention that if Putin could have recognized right off all of the deficiencies, delinquencies, and. negligence of Russian Federation commanders and there is a chance that he would have acted rapidly to correct the situation before rolling his troops into Ukraine. Perchance Putin may not have gone into Ukraine at all if he had knowledge of all the realities.

Maybe Putin could have micromanaged the military if he had earnestly made the effort after becoming Russian Federation President to develop the acumen to act as a quasi strategist and tactician, at least at a level greater than Shoigu and at a proficiency somewhat better than Gerasimov. Perhaps he could have accomplished this in the model of the guerilla fighters, Mao Tse-tung or Ho Chi-Minh, or resemblant of US President Franklin Roosevelt, a former deputy secretary and secretary of the Navy, or United Kingdom Prime Minister Winston Churchill, albeit he was a graduate of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, a decorated British Army officer and twice First Lord of the Admiralty Churchill. However, none of that happened. (Goodness, greatcharlie can only imagine what the backlash of some readers would have been if it had suggested there was some firm comparison of Roosevelt and Churchill with Putin. Á la Berezina!)

Although it is not discussed in this manner much in the newsmedia, it possibly could have been a terrible emotional blow for Putin to hear at this stage when he has circled the political wagons to better manage impressions at home as well as abroad concerning Ukraine to hear that an insider, his fidus Achates Prigozhin, was ready to take his Gruppa Vagnera (the Wagner Group) out of Ukraine. The Wagner Group, Putin’s ride or die–as the young people say–private military contractor, has always been there for him since 2012. As described briefly in greatcharlie’s May 15, 2023 post entitled, “Commentary: Ruminations on Putin’s Control of the Russian Federation Armed Forces, His Arrest Warrant, and Diplomacy with Moscow”, the Wagner Group is a private military contractor based in the Russian Federation. Although private military companies are not permitted under law in the Russian Federation, they were endorsed in April 2012 by none other than Putin, then Russian Federation Prime Minister, during an address to the State Duma. The Wagner Group is owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin is  an intriguing figure in his own right, and holds a level of standing with Putin which speaks volumes on its own. Prigozhin is widely known by the sobriquet “Putin’s chef” because of his catering businesses that hosted dinners which Putin attended with foreign dignitaries. The Wagner Group has engaged in action externally in support of the Russian Federation’s overt and covert foreign and national security objectives. The Wagner Group is known to have deployed its units in the War in Donbas (2014–2022); Syrian Civil War, (2015–2016); the South Sudanese Civil War (2013-2020); the Central African Republic Civil War (2013-2014); the Second Libyan Civil War (2014-2020); the Sudanese Revolution (2018-2019); Venezuelan presidential crisis (2019-2023); and the Mali War (2012-present). Prigozhin expressed a desire to leave Ukraine not due to disloyalty or defeatism, but due to the attitudes and actions of the same Russian Federation Armed Forces senior commanders whose Forces it jumped into Ukraine to support–or as Prigozhin would say, “rescue.” Wagner Group units were not receiving the military resources they needed to fight in a manner they preferred.

A screenshot from a video published on May 5, 2023 depicting Wagner Group owner Yevgeny Prigozhin (above) announcing the organization’s planned exit from the fierce struggle in Bakhmut, Ukraine. Although it has not been parsed in the round in the international newsmedia, it surely must have been an emotional blow for Putin to hear at this stage when has circled the political wagons to better manage impressions at home as well as abroad concerning Ukraine that Gruppa Vagnera (the Wagner Group) was ready to leave Ukraine. The Wagner Group–Putin’s “ride or die”, as the young people say–private military contractor, has always been there for him since 2012. The organization expressed a desire to leave Ukraine not due to disloyalty or defeatism, but due to the attitudes and actions of the same Russian Federation Armed Forces senior commanders whose Forces it jumped into Ukraine to support–or as Prigozhin would surely say, “rescue.” Wagner Group units were not receiving the military resources they needed to fight in a manner they preferred.

Where Is the Good Advice?

Important to note is the actuality that despite an awareness of the monumental hardships an individual may be facing, often the presumption from the outside is that everything is fine because of the individual’s poker face or what could be characterized as his “trauma smile” does its job of hiding what is going inside.. Satisfied with appearances, few would investigate further into the matter with vigor, especially if what might result from that exploration would not “harmonize” with recognized perceptions of said individual at high-levels of management. Perhaps that is the accepted nature of human behavior in 2023. For a deeper dive, one would only need to consider in real terms what the inner conversation must be for the individual in question. In its October 30, 2022 post entitled “Brief Meditations on the Selection of Surovikin as Russia’s Overall Commander in Ukraine, His Capabilities, and Possibilities for His Success”, greatcharlie took a look at what Putin’s inner conversation might have been at the time examining an historical example from Antiquity. (Usually, the potency of works from Antiquity is immediately apparent.) In Book VII, Chapter 234, section 1-3 of The Histories, Herotodus of Halicarnassus (c. 484 B.C.-c. 425 B.C.), the renowned Greek historian of the Hellenic period reconstructs a hypothetical conversation between the Persian King Xerxes, and his general and uncle, Demaratus. 

Herotodus writes: “Xerxes then sent for Demaratus and questioned him, saying first, “Demaratus you are a good man. I hold that proven by the plain truth, for things have turned out no differently than you foretold. Now, tell me this: how many Lacedaemonians are left, and how many of them are warriors like these? or is it so with them all?” “My king,” said Demaratus, “the number of the Lacedaemonians is great, and so too the number of their cities. But what you would like to know, I will tell you: there is in Lacedaemon a city called Sparta, a city of about eight thousand men, all of them equal to those who have fought here; the rest of the Lacedaemonians are not equal to these, yet they are valiant men.” “And how, Demaratus,” answered Xerxes, “can we overcome those men with the least trouble to ourselves?” Come, disclose that to me, for you have been their king and know the plan and order of their counsels.” This passage of The Histories underscores the reality that even in a past age when leaders were viewed as something just short of gods, or actually as gods, there was the recognition that no matter how wise, there were things they could not know, things they could not control. 

The Ukraine matter cannot be easily remedied. Putin watched his predecessors mismanage, breakdown, and lose control over the Soviet Union while he was both inside and outside the system. Despite his best efforts, he was unable to repair the Russian Federation by replicating a stronger, greater version of the Soviet Union as he seems to have hoped. To be fair, he has produced, at least within the borders of the Russian Federation, a reasonable facsimile of what came before it. In the extreme, one might suggest he may have already decided to figuratively burn down the whole tattered simulacrum of what came before. The course of the invasion of Ukraine, the result of which he was certain of, may have left less doubt, if any, on the correctness of this hypothetical hope of his. 

True, Putin could choose to stumble forward against all the odds and eke-out whatever existence life presents after the Ukraine War at great personal loss for himself and the Russian Federation. However, that appears unlikely. If the records can serve as evidence, he will likely continue on the reckless and destructive path upon which he set his country on February 24, 2022. That may mean triggering the most undesirable statistical probability his predecessors foresaw the most likely outcome: a perpetuation of the struggle long-term would be between East and West–that began during the Cold War between the US and the erstwhile Soviet Union, the death of which he mourned with considerable grief.

Putin (above) attends the Collective Security Treaty Organization Leaders Meeting in Yerevan, Armenia on November 23, 2022. If Putin had some idea of what the genuine situation in Ukraine was and had been aware of how unprepared the Russian Federation Armed Forces really were, he would very likely have realized there was a “strategy resources mismatch.” Possessing the ability to use an iron fist to compel his commanders to perform and even possessing a better than average level skill in the operational art, would not have had an impact on the outcome. It is greatcharlie’s contention that if Putin could have fully recognized right off all of the deficiencies, delinquencies, and. negligence of Russian Federation commanders and there is a chance that he would have acted rapidly to correct the situation before rolling his troops into Ukraine. Perchance Putin may not have gone into Ukraine at all if he had knowledge of all the realities.

Unlike the aforementioned Xerxes of Persia, for Putin there is no uncle and general as Demaratus, to put him in the full, genuine picture of what he faces and authentic possibilities for action. Perhaps even more, someone to stimulate genius. Holding its focus upon the Ancient World, greatcharlie is unaware of any equivalents of the Ephors of Sparta to whom Putin can turn. An Ephor (Overseer) discussed in intermittently–yet too often to properly cite here–in the Hellenica (c. 362 BC) by the Ancient Greek military leader, philosopher, and historian, Xenophon of Athens (c. 430 BC–354 BC), was a member of a board of five magistrates in Sparta, annually elected by the body of eligible voting citizens. They were experienced and wise individuals whose advice was worth a king’s ransom. Ephors had an extensive range of judicial, religious, legislative, and military powers, and could shape Sparta’s domestic and foreign affairs. Their primary responsibility, however, was to oversee the actions of Spartan kings. They could critique a ruler’s plans for war,use their extra powers to reel in a ruler, and reproach them for the unsound actions. This had greater necessity and meaning due to the fact that Sparta was ruled by two hereditary kings of the Agiad and Eurypontid families, both supposedly descendants of Heracles and equal in authority, so that one could not act against the power and political enactments of his colleague. In concept, the Ephors’ purpose was akin to that of a US Congressional Oversight Committee, mutatis mutandis, for executives of foreign and national security bureaucracies who must often face withering inquiries on their policy plans or ongoing initiatives, among many other issues. In greatcharlie’s May 15. 2023 post entitled “Commentary: Ruminations on Putin’s Control of the Russian Federation Armed Forces, His Arrest Warrant, and Diplomacy with Moscow”, it was briefly mentioned that the US Congress established the War Powers Act of 1973 in the wake of the Vietnam War to gain a better handle on the ability of the US President to intervene with the armed forces. In the Congress, stronger action toward chief executives whose actions were deemed out of bounds by the majority of Representatives has included impeachment proceedings. (Recognizably, Congress unfortunately in more recent times has overreached on simple matters as simple as phone calls preferring to react upon impressions, presumptions, and political and public pressure, than actualities. Perhaps it could be chalked up to human nature, human fallibility.)

The situations presented in the two examples from past and present noted here are quite different from that of Putin. In accord with the Constitution of the Russian Federation, the President is elected directly by popular vote, is head of state, and chief of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government, headed by the Prime Minister, who is appointed by the President with a legislature’s approval. Legislative power is vested in the two houses of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, the Federation Council, an upper house of appointed representatives from each of Russia’s administrative divisions, and the State Duma, a 450-member popularly elected lower house. Still, it is the President’s office and the government ministries which issue numerous legally binding by-laws. 

All of this being stated, the common wisdom is that Putin is an autocrat who holds near limitless power under the system he created. On foreign and national security policy, he faces no obstructions concerning his decisionmaking on diplomacy and war. Putin has no need to end-run the Federal Assembly, no need to heed advice as precious as that of the Ephors from Senators of the Federal Council of Representatives of the State Duma. He runs the whole show. Managing the internal affairs of the Russian Federation on its own is a colossal task, and surely as a one man show, Putin has made his share of mistakes and is bound to make more mistakes into future. He is not a deity; as aforementioned, he is only human. Taking on not only Ukraine militarily but the wherewithal of nearly every Western country and others, without relinquishing on scintilla of responsibility for normal duties, there would be the likelihood that he would drop an almighty clanger. Perhaps the Ukraine venture could best be described as a blunder of a lifetime.

Beneath the Surface

Alios ego vidi ventos, alias prospexi animo procellas. (I have seen other winds and faced other storms.) Putin may secretly worry that good answers may never be found, not even mere acceptable ones to his problems regarding Ukraine. As already hinted, everything he has, his hopes, his future, the future he has planned for his country, are under the real threat of dissolution. His imagination would not be at work overtime on these points. Indeed, such thoughts may be unfixed, moving about freely in his mind, perhaps billowing up at inconvenient moments. Among ordinary individuals, such thoughts can break through the strongest defense the mind can raise against them. Putin is not outwardly despondent, although there have been public moments when he was not exactly his usual self.

Surely, it would be one thing if Putin had brought disaster and suffering upon himself alone by his actions. That would pain him, but he would almost certainly be able to carry it well.  Casualty lists from Ukraine are likely far more difficult for him to carry. Unless one has faced similar circumstances, one might safely say it is hard to imagine–surely impossible for greatcharlie to imagine–how it all must feel. Perhaps the situation would be made far worse if the Russian people had decided to light on him over the war’s progress, but that has not happened. 

In a poll of Russian Federation citizens on the direct question of whether they supported the war conducted by the independent and well-known research group in the country, the Levade Center, it was found that respondents who said yes fluctuated between 74 and 76 percent in April 2022 and August 2022, declined to 71–74 percent in September 2022 and December 2022, and climbed back to 75–77 percent in January 2023 and February 2023. The Levada Center utilizes face-to-face polling. In a poll on support for the war conducted by The Chronicle, a one year-old polling group, it was found that support rose in the first months of the war from 59 to 66 percent. Support then declined to 51 percent, its lowest point, at the end of September 2022. Yet, by February 2023, support rose upward again to 59 percent. The Chronicle conducted its polling by telephone. The Chronicle also offered respondents the option “I do not want to answer” in addition to the usual “undecided” option, which reduced the share of both war supporters and war opponents. The recent polling start-up, The Russian Field, conducted a survey which indicated support for the war rose to nearly 60 percent at its start and then stabilized at about 66–68 percent.  The Russian Field also used the telephone survey method.

Clearly, support for the war is nowhere near overwhelming, yet given its progress it still appears rather high. Any external effort to create the impression that there is no support for the war among Russian Federation citizens or an effort to stir sentiment against Putin would most likely fall flat. There is likely no greater priority for Borrnikov than to make certain that is the case. While considering Putin’s effort to get a hold of his thinking on all that has transpired and what he must do next, the lyrics of singer-songwriter James Taylor’s 1970 hit “Fire and Rain” were brought to mind. The apposite lines are: “Been walking my mind to an easy time / My back turned towards the sun / Lord knows, when the cold wind blows / It’ll turn your head around / Well, there’s hours of time on the telephone line / To talk about things to come / Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground.”

A somber Putin (above) attending a wreath-laying ceremony at the eternal flame in the Hall of Military Glory at the Battle of Stalingrad Museum, Volgograd, February 2, 2023. Important to note is the actuality that despite an awareness of the monumental hardships an individual has been facing, it is often the presumption from the outside that everything is fine because of the individual’s poker face or what could be characterized as his trauma smile does its job of hiding what is going inside them. Satisfied with appearances, few would invest much more into the matter. Perhaps that is the accepted nature of human behavior in 2023. The Ukraine matter cannot be easily remedied. Putin watched his predecessors mismanage, breakdown, and lose control over the Soviet Union while he was both inside and outside of the system. Despite his best efforts, he was unable to repair the Russian Federation by replicating a stronger, greater version of the Soviet Union as he seems to have hoped. To be fair, he has produced, at least within the borders of the Russian Federation, a reasonable facsimile of what came before it. In the extreme, one might suggest he may have already decided to figuratively burn down the whole tattered simulacrum of what came before.

Throwing a Curveball at the West

As briefly mentioned earlier, a firm understanding of how foreign and national security bureaucracies within the Russian Federation “think” on issues as well as information collected via exquisite surveillance technologies of Western intelligence services, has given the Kremlin’s Western “opponents” a leg up on what is likely being recommended in situations whether heeded by the Kremlin or not. At the same time, individuals as Putin can often have unique reasons for singular choices. In a possible scenario, the paucity of good, useful answers and insights emanating from the Russian Federation foreign and national security bureaucracies might cause him to consider soliciting thinking from outside of them. Such may be the state of Putin’s anxiety over this grave matter that he might seek an unorthodox path to power out of the huge mess he is ultimately responsible for. Application of an inventive line of thinking, if of real value, might throw an intriguing but nevertheless distressing curveball at the West. 

If only out of academic interest, greatcharlie considers how seeking answers from outside the Russian Federation foreign and national security policy bureaucracies could potentially be useful to Putin, and what the potential outcome of quietly taking such an unexpected course might assist in fostering new ideas and approaches in the Kremlin. No matter how unorthodox, disagreeable, or round the bend as they might seem, it might behoove some managers in US foreign and national security policy bureaucracies to consider it and other possible, albeit recherché, eventualities and apply them in analyzing Putin’s decisionmaking process. Doing so might serve to improve the chances at accurately predicting any “unexpected” moves. (In previous posts concerning the conundrum of the very successful and unhindered Chinese intelligence operations within the US, greatcharlie benignly made the suggestion that US foreign and national security policy bureaucracies make use of those capable of performing analyses of the situation from outside the box.)

Over the years of Putin’s leadership, a small number of organizations in the Russian Federation have been invited to share their views through studies and presentations with the government on foreign and national security policy issues. At the top of the heap are: the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, the Valdai Discussion Club, the Russian International Affairs Council, and the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies. Given their size, political contacts, and financial means, these organizations are able to dominate the think tank scene in the Russian Federation. As aptly put by the Atlantic Council in a November 12, 2019 report, they represent albeit from different ideological angles, the rather volatile mainstream. If novel ideas and insights are being developed those organizations, it would seem they are being put forward at glacial speed. Indeed, the indications and implications of what Moscow continues to do are that nothing Putin has received so far from what might suffice for “outside the bureaucracies advice” has had the power to moved events forward Moscow’s way in a manner befitting a power of the size, strength, and prominence in the world–at least from Putin’s lens.

Putin signing documents, including a decree recognizing two Russian-backed breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent entities, during a ceremony in Moscow, Russia, February 21, 2022. As briefly mentioned earlier, a firm understanding of how foreign and national security bureaucracies within the Russian Federation “think” on issues as well as information collected via exquisite surveillance technologies of Western intelligence services, has given their Western “opponents” a leg up on what is likely being recommended in situations whether heeded by the Kremlin or not. In a possible scenario, the paucity of good, useful answers and insights emanating from the Russian Federation foreign and national security bureaucracies might lead Putin to consider soliciting thinking from outside of them. Such may be Putin’s anxiety over this grave matter that he might seek an unorthodox path to power out of the huge mess he is ultimately responsible for. Application of an inventive line of thinking, if of real value, might throw an intriguing, but nevertheless distressing, curveball at the West.

As aforementioned, greatcharlie, without pretension, states that it doubts anyone at the Kremlin is aware of, or would  have the slightest interest in, its scribblings. However, there is very likely a need at this point to remind some readers that greatcharlie does not seek to offer anything that might in the slightest way support or provide advice for Putin concerning the prosecution of the Russian Federation’s intervention in Ukraine. If any readers feel that anything as such is being offered to Putin, then it would surely be unreasonable for them in particular to continue reviewing this commentary with such colored perspective. Again, the purpose of this commentary is to suggest to any Western foreign and national security policymakers and decisionmakers ways to take a broader view on Putin’s decisionmaking regarding the Ukraine issue to create opportunities for fruitful diplomacy with the Russian Federation leader despite the challenging circumstances that exist presently.

A reality about analytical departments of foreign and national security bureaucracies worldwide is that certain dogma insinuates itself in work produced within them, and it can color the thinking of consumers of that product. Supervisors in the analytical departments, knowingly and occasionally unknowingly because it would only be human, may place limitations on what paths, albeit even reasonable and logical ones, that analyses can move along. By using perspectives from outside of the foreign and national security bureaucracies, one could possibly garner a fresh look at issues from other angles. New thinking might rejuvenate the analytical process, effectively serving to unearth directions and areas for examination and offer hypotheses, good ones, that otherwise would be ignored. In effect, surface layers could be peeled off to reveal what may have been missed for a long time. Condescendingly, some from the inside Russian Federation foreign and national security policy bureaucracies might characterize observations and hypotheses offered by outside of the bureaucracies thinkers as mere shots in the dark, guesswork, and suppositions, from those perceived as lacking the necessary depth of understanding that long time analysts bring to the Ukraine issue. With no intent to offend, one might assess responses of that type would be defensive and emotional, and least likely learned. 

One looking for fresh, viable solutions would expect and perhaps want “outside of the bureaucracies” thinking to move away from the usual track, the derivative, the predictable, especially in singular cases such as Ukraine that may be hard to crack. What the outside of the bureaucracies thinker brings to the analysis of an issue, through the examination of people and events and interpretation of data, is the application of different sensibilities founded on knowledge acquired after having passed through a multitude experiences that might very well have thwarted the recruitment of the outside of the foreign and national security policy bureaucracies thinker. One might suppose the length and breadth of the outside of the bureaucracies thinkers’ distinctive knowledge and unique life lessons are what found their alternative understanding of humanity. Such an understanding also could have been acquired through personal study. Of course, bog-standard thinking would still have its place in other simpler issues.

Each reason shared here concerning a hypothetical decision by Putin to seek assistance for ideas and insights outside of the foreign and national security policy bureaucracies is suggestive of itself. Together they have a cumulative force. At the same time, one could also conjure more than one reason to doubt this outcome. As mentioned, Putin has not as yet taken any unorthodox approaches in his handling of the Ukraine matter or any other foreign or national security policy matters. Some observers might argue that there are distinct patterns in his decisionmaking. Deviations from his standard course would be as shockingly noticeable, to steal a phrase from one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories, “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans” (1917): “as if you met a tram-car coming down a country lane.” (One could easily imagine seeing such in a film created by Austrian director Marie Kreutzer.) To double-dunk on Doyle’s work, one might say that Putin has his rails and he runs on them, so to speak. However, perhaps one disappointment after another in Ukraine may not have derailed him, but may have stirred some interest in possibly switching at the points to an alternative rail untravelled by him before. What is being considered here is not just Putin’s attitudes and behaviors in spite of his experiences with Ukraine, but the possibility of some alterations in such because of those experiences. To that extent, one might also argue that the record of his two decades of leadership in the Russian Federation actually shows that Putin’s mind has its quirks, and in that respect it is as individual and curious as any other. As Maurice de Saxe (October 28, 1696-November 20, 1750) the famed military commander of the 18th century stated in the preface of his Mes Rêveries (My Reveries) (1757), “routine and prejudices are . . . a natural consequence of ignorance.”

At a time of national emergency, which the Ukraine War represents for the Russian Federation, its citizens may likely feel compelled to step forward to support their homeland. Since work as a foreign and national security policy analyst of a kind ostensibly would not include being shot at, it would seem safe enough for some to volunteer to serve. Yet, with all of that being stated, one must remain conscious of the fact that in the Russian Federation, individuals can face very difficult circumstances following even the innocuous contact with the federal government. This reality is at great variance with the general experience of individuals living in Western democracies after contact with respective governments. (Of course, in some cases, Western governments, too, can find limitless ways to betray the expectations, faith, and trust of their citizens. On this point, greatcharlie writes from experience.) 

To that extent, perhaps scholars and analysts outside of the foreign and national security policy bureaucracies would not be quick to provide any reports or interviews. There might be a morbid fear among many scholars and analysts outside of those organizations to offer insights and options in such a hypothetical situation believing it is possible that the failure to bring forth favorable outcomes, even if their concepts were obviously misunderstood or misapplied might only antagonize those who they earnestly sought to assist. There would be reason to fear they would be held accountable for the result and some severe punishment would be leveled against them. 

Punishment might especially be a concern if Putin himself were to take direct interest in their efforts. If he were somehow personally disappointed by how information received negatively impacted an outcome, there would be good reason for those who supplied that information to worry. Many outside of the foreign and national security policy bureaucracies might feel that the whole issue of Ukraine is such an emotionally charged issue among Putin and his advisers that, perchance, nothing offered would likely be deemed satisfactory. In the end, it would be enough of a tragedy to find themselves and those close to them under the radar of hostile individuals with whom anyone living in relative peace would loathe to be in contact. Given all the imaginable pitfalls, based stories of the experiences of others, in this hypothetical situation, those who might have something of real value to contribute may decide or their respective families and friends might insist it would be far better and safer not to get involved.

File photo of Putin as a young KGB officer (above). At an early age, Putin revealed to his parents that he wanted to work in the security services. The genesis of the idea were books and spy movies. Putin says his mother and father, with the help of his martial arts coaches, tried to dissuade him from his career choice given the nature of the work and people within such organizations, but to no avail. A few years later, his dream became a reality. Perhaps today scholars and analysts outside of the foreign and national security policy bureaucracies would not be quick to provide any reports or interviews. There might be a morbid fear among many scholars and analysts outside those organizations to offer insights and options in such a hypothetical situation believing its possible that the failure to bring forth favorable outcomes, even if their concepts were obviously misunderstood or misapplied might only antagonize those who they earnestly sought to assist. There would be reason to fear they would be held accountable for the result and some severe punishment would be leveled against them.  Given all the imaginable pitfalls, based stories of the experiences of others, in this hypothetical situation, those who might have something of real value to contribute may decide or their respective families and friends might insist, that it would be far better and safer not to get involved.

In Part 2, of his biography/memoir First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia’s President (Public Affairs, 2000), Putin explains that at an early age, he wanted to serve in intelligence. His family was dismayed, but not shattered by his decision. His father, given his experience in the Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del (People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs) or NKVD, was painfully aware of the grave nature of work in that field. However, once they became fully apprised of the extreme nature of his ambition to join the intelligence service, his parents sought to discourage him as best they could. When Putin’s martial arts coach, Anatoly Rakhlin, who he fondly called “Semyonovich”, went to see them to say that as an athlete, their son could get into an Institute practically without passing exams, that led his parents to pressure the coach to encourage him to go into an Institute. Putin, however, disagreed with the idea. Semyonovich could not fathom why Putin resisted. Another coach from Putin’s martial arts club, Leonid Ionovich, came to visit, fully informed of his decision to join the intelligence service. As Putin explained it, “He was a clever guy.” Recounting the exchange with Ionovich over his career choice, Putin said the following: “‘Well,’ he [Ionovich] said to me, ‘Where are you going?’ Of course he already knew. He was just acting sly. I said, ‘To university.’ ‘Oh, that’s great, good for you,’ he said. In what department?'” Putin says he only replied, “The law school.” Then, Ionovich roared: “What? To catch people? What are you doing? You’ll be a cop. Do you understand?” Insulted, Putin yelled back, “I’m not going to be a cop.” (In its March 31, 2017 post entitled, “Book Review: Vladimir Putin, First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia’s President (Public Affairs, 2000)”, greatcharlie provides a review of Putin’s memoir/biography.) Putin would hardly be surprised if very few who truly had much to offer would come forward knowing they were hearing similar things about serving his government that those who cared deeply about him said concerning his interest in getting anywhere near the Soviet intelligence service

Quomodo in perpetua pace salvi et liberi esse poterimus? (How (in what way) will we be able to be safe and free in everlasting (an enduring) peace?) Returning to the idea of seeking answers from analysts and scholars from outside of the foreign and national security policy bureaucracies, on the face of it,  surely it would  be unwise for Putin not to avail himself of their services if they could be of assistance. Additionally mentioned in Book 2, Chapter 4, Section 31, Book 3, Chapter 4, Section 11, and  Book 4, Chapter 5, Section 6 of Xenophon’s Hellenica are the embassies. (The role of the embassies is also discussed in Herodotus (c. 484 – c. 425 BC) The Histories (c. 426 BCE-c. 415 BCE) in Book 5, Chapter 49-51 and in Thucydides (c. 460 BC–400 BC) The History of the Peloponnesian War (c. 430 BC) Book 2, Chapter 12, Section I and Book 8, Chapter 5, Section I.)

As noted earlier, Putin has formidable diplomatic capability which resides in Lavrov. Perhaps the Ministerstvo inostrannykh del Rossiyskoy Federatsii (Russian Federation Ministry of Foreign Affairs) with the assistance of some outside of the bureaucracies thinking, might be able to give birth to something far greater than a mouse and as solid as Stonehenge. In Lavrov’s organization under this hypothetical, ideas and insights provided by analysts and scholars from outside of the foreign and national security policy bureaucracies would hardly serve to compete with or replace existing analyses within the organization. They would likely serve as a much needed supplement, a burst of energy and breath of fresh air in the effort to find the best solutions with the ultimate aim of promoting the Kremlin’s goals. 

Under Lavrov’s direction, one might expect veteran analysts within his ministry would be tasked with adding conceptual rigor and clarity to the work of the outsiders without discernibly altering it or weakening it. That effort would surely improve the validity and utility of what is produced from this novel approach. Lavrov, himself, would be the best judge of the quality and acceptability of what is developed and determine whether any product  should be advanced to the prime consumer in the Kremlin’s Senate Building.

Again, this is all hypothetical. It is possible that defeating any hypothetical outside of the foreign and national security policy bureaucracies approaches potentially taken by Moscow would only require the energetic preparation for such a possibility by repeatedly considering and working through all of the “what-ifs”, the possible eventualities, on an appropriate schedule.

Russian Federation Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov (above). As noted earlier, Putin has formidable diplomatic capability which resides in Lavrov. Perhaps the Ministerstvo inostrannykh del Rossiyskoy Federatsii (Russian Federation Ministry of Foreign Affairs) with the assistance of some outside of the bureaucracy thinking, might be able to give birth to something far greater than mouse and as solid as Stonehenge, that may help resolve the Ukraine conundrum. In Lavrov’s organization under this hypothetical, insights provided by analysts and scholars from outside of the foreign and national security policy bureaucracies would hardly serve to compete with or replace existing analyses within the organization. They would likely serve as a much needed supplement, a burst of energy and breath of fresh air in the effort to find the best solutions with the ultimate aim of promoting the Kremlin’s goals. Under Lavrov’s direction, one might expect veteran analysts within his ministry would be tasked with adding conceptual rigor and clarity to the work of the outsiders without discernibly altering it or weakening it. That effort would surely improve the validity and utility of what is produced from this novel approach. Lavrov, himself, would be the best judge of the quality and acceptability of what is developed and determine whether any product  should be advanced to the prime consumer in the Kremlin’s Senate Building.

The Way Forward

It remains to be seen what will come next. In Act II, scene iii of William Shakespeare’s play, All’s Well That Ends Well (1623), standing in the King’s Palace, Lafeu, an old lord at the court of France, opens the scene with the comment regard the king’s miraculous recovery: “They say miracles are past; and we have our / philosophical persons, to make modern and familiar, / things supernatural and causeless. Hence is it that / we make trifles of terrors, ensconcing ourselves / into seeming knowledge, when we should submit / ourselves to an unknown fear.” While greatcharlie has not come across a cogent argument proving that events in Ukraine represent something supernatural or that one should submit to fears of the unknown, there is pertinence in the statement that trifles should not be made of terrors, especially as they regard nuclear war or that feel assured at all about Putin’s next moves. 

What stands near certain is whatever measurable degree of peace and security existed before the invasion of Ukraine will unlikely be restored. Each side in this conflict seems bent upon ensuring the other will not find satisfaction with any agreement that would obviate complete victory. An authentic forecast for the situation could only project a situation worse than before or the worst thing imaginable. When things are very wrong, one must remember they can always be worse. One only needs to imagine the possibilities. At least, there is a clear choice for both sides: take an albeit uncomfortable step toward peace; or, let things play out as they are moving now. Neque porro quisquam est, qui dolorem ipsum, quia dolor sit, amet, consectetur, adipisci velit, sed quit non numquam eius modi tempora incidunt, ut labore et dolore magnam aliquam quaerat voluptatem. (There is no one who loves pain itself, who seeks it and wants to have it, simply because it is pain, but because sometimes circumstances arise in such a way that with effort and pain they can obtain some great pleasure.)

Commentary: Ruminations on Putin’s Control of the Russian Federation Armed Forces, His Arrest Warrant, and Diplomacy with Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a concert dedicated to Russian servicemen taking part in the military operation in Ukraine on the eve of Defender of Fatherland Day at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, February 22, 2023. There was surely great contrast between the ebullience displayed by Putin at the patriotic event and his thoughts and feelings behind the scenes about what his military commanders are doing in Ukraine and what he can expect from them as the war continues. Many decisions and actions made by Russian Federation commanders in Ukraine have taken the special military operation in a direction in considerable variance with Putin’s albeit misconceived original concept of taking control of the country without stirring much resistance. In examining this issue, greatcharlie seeks to reinforce somewhat likely conclusions by foreign and national security policy bureaucracies in the US and around the world not just concerning Putin’s control of Russian Federation Armed Forces, and to some degree, his security services as well, but also his culpability for crimes committed against innocent Ukrainian civilians as well as soldiers. Lessons he has likely learned from the Ukrainian experience are hypothsized and through exploring those lessons a discussion on why that raises the bar in terms of the requirements for “safely” managing diplomacy with him and shaping the overall outcome of the Ukraine tragedy.

Many decisions and actions taken by Russian Federation commanders in Ukraine have taken the special military operation in a direction in considerable variance with Putin’s albeit misconceived original concept of taking control of the country without stirring much resistance, a perspective put in plain view during his February 24, 2022 address, broadcasted just as the Spetsial’noy Voyennoy Operatsii (Special Military Operation) began. With no pretension intended, greatcharlie states the Russian Federation’s handling of its wrongful invasion at all levels has been deplorable. What arouses an interest at this juncture has been Putin’s lack of control over many “big things” during the massive enterprise. Within the boundaries of its faculty, here greatcharlie humbly provides a few insights on how many things have gone wrong for Putin, the colossal issues that now beset him concerning the war, how he might seek to gain firmer control of the situation, and what that might mean going forward. Hopefully, greatcharlie provides new perspectives not just concerning Putin’s control of the Vooruzhonnije Síly Rossíyskoj Federátsii (the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, hereinafter referred to as the Russian Federation Armed Forces), and to some degree, his security services, but also his culpability for heinous crimes committed against innocent Ukrainian civilians as well as unarmed soldiers. An historic parallel to his lack of control over events in the field is presented. Lessons he has likely learned from the Ukrainian experience are hypothsized and through exploring those lessons a discussion on why that raises the bar in terms of the requirements for “safely” managing diplomacy with him and shaping the overall outcome of the Ukraine tragedy.

Xenophon of Athens (c. 430 BC–354 BC) was an Ancient Greek military leader, philosopher, and historian, born in Athens. At the age of 30, Xenophon led one of the largest Greek mercenary armies of the Achaemenid Empire, the Ten Thousand, that famously attempted to seize Babylon but failed in 401 BC. As a writer, one of his works was Cynegeticus, usually translated as On Hunting or Hunting with Dogs. In discussing his wish that readers would find value in his treatise, Xenophon writes a passage which interestingly parallels greatcharlie’s desires regarding this essay. He states: ψέγουσι δὲ καὶ ἄλλοι πολλοὶ τοὺς νῦν σοφιστὰς καὶ οὐ τοὺς φιλοσόφους, ὅτι ἐν τοῖς ὀνόμασι σοφίζονται, οὐκ ἐν τοῖς νοήμασιν. οὐ λανθάνει δέ με ὅτι τὰ μὴ καλῶς καὶ ἑξῆς γεγραμμένα φήσει τις ἴσως τῶν τοιούτων οὐ καλῶς οὐδ᾽ ἑξῆς γεγράφθαι: ῥᾴδιον γὰρ ἔσται αὐτοῖς τὸ ταχὺ μὴ ὀρθῶς μέμψασθαι:καίτοι γέγραπταί γε οὕτως, ἵνα ὀρθῶς ἔχῃ, καὶ μὴ σοφιστικοὺς ποιῇ ἀλλὰ σοφοὺς καὶ ἀγαθούς: οὐ γὰρ δοκεῖν αὐτὰ βούλομαι μᾶλλον ἢ εἶναι χρήσιμα, ἵνα ἀνεξέλεγκτα ᾖ εἰς ἀεί. (Many others besides myself blame the sophists of our generation—philosophers I will not call them —because the wisdom they profess consists of words and not of thoughts. I am well aware that someone, perhaps one of this set, will say that what is well and methodically written is not well and methodically written—for hasty and false censure will come easily to them. But my aim in writing has been to produce sound work that will make men not wiseacres, but wise and good. For I wish my work not to seem useful, but to be so, that it may stand for all time unrefuted.) (Regarding the presentation of the Greek text, greatcharlie asks its readers to kindly pardon its indulgence. It is presented here in “private” acknowledgement and celebration of someone of the utmost importance who will begin her undergraduate studies in the Classics in the Fall of 2023!)

I. The Magnitude of the Ukraine Disaster Begins to Take Form within Putin 

Stepping into the realm of conjecture, greatcharlie can imagine Putin, at the time of his decision to launch the special military operation was girded by the belief that his extreme action was necessary to secure a spiritual victory for mankind over the ugly evil of Nazism. However, Putin at the time of this writing may see the situation a bit differently. Clearly, he has plunged his country and the world in a challenging situation by acting on what he doubtlessly would likely still call “certainties” concerning Ukraine, NATO Expansion, and Western threat to the Russian Federation.

Putin has a history of putting himself and the Russian Federation in controversial situations on the international scene. As a political leader who has been an actor on the world stage longer than most, he has managed to use his skill at manipulating others and many a dodge to extricate himself and the Russian Federation in time and go at the world again on another day. Now it really appears that he has worked himself into a square corner. Despite a number of generous analyses made public in the West that suggest the Russian Federation can turn things around, winning the Ukraine War given the current level of thinking among commanders of the Russian Federation Armed Forces appears impossible. There may very well be authentic solutions, but they will unlikely see them.

Putin attending a wreath-laying ceremony at the eternal flame in the Hall of Military Glory at the Battle of Stalingrad Museum, Volgograd, February 2, 2023. Putin has a history of putting himself and the Russian Federation in controversial situations on the international scene. As a political leader who has been an actor on the world stage longer than most, he has managed to use his skill at manipulating others and many a dodge to extricate himself and the Russian Federation in time and go at the world again on another day. Now it really appears that he has worked himself into a square corner. Despite a number of generous analyses made public in the West that suggest the Russian Federation can turn things around, winning the Ukraine War given the current level of thinking among commanders of the Russian Federation Armed Forces appears impossible. There may very well be authentic solutions, but they will unlikely see them..

II. Putin’s Actual Control of the Russian Federation Armed Forces

When there are missing pieces among facts collected in an investigation, a reliable imagination can be very useful. One can imagine what might be happening with another party. That supposition could become a working hypothesis. One then can act upon it, and if lucky, the investment in time and energy will prove justifiable. As alluded to earlier, the received wisdom among many Western military analysts and Russia scholars is that The Kremlin runs the Russian Federation Armed Forces, and in their view “today the Kremlin means Putin.” His military advisers are Ministr Oborony Rossijskoj Federacii (Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation) Russian Army General Sergei Shoigu and Chief of General’nyy shtab Vooruzhonnykh sil Rossiyskoy Federatsii (General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation), Russian Army General Valery Gerasimov. Evidence offered of his control of the armed forces is the fact that “both generals serve “entirely at the pleasure of Putin” and “the respective predecessor of each was summarily dismissed.” One steps out on an attenuated thread when standing behind such evidence to support arguments regarding Putin’s control of the military. What may be perceived as simple truth, in reality is not so simple.

Over the two plus decades of Putin’s leadership, the record shows that unethical and outright criminal behavior can surely be well concealed under the Russian Federation government system. Certainly long before, in the erstwhile Soviet system, corruption in the armed forces was endemic and lucrative enough for those senior commanders engaged in such who would quietly “grease the palms” of superiors and who were not caught. The sales of military equipment to black marketers was the commonplace betrayal of some commanders. Another example that remains in greatcharlie’s memory from the days of the Cold War was learning that fighter pilots would pay commanders in order to serve in certain top tier squadrons. The military is not the only foreign and national security bureaucracy ham-strung and suffering from corruption. Unimaginable but true, even the chief of the Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Russian Federation Federal Security Service) or FSB Alexander Borrnikov, an irreplaceable member of Putin’s piratical crew, was shrewdly deceived by subordinates in the FSB 5th Department foreign intelligence service before the special military operation began. (The matter is discussed in further detail later in this essay. SEE greatcharlie’s April 30, 2022 post entitled “Brief Meditations on the Role of Deception, Deceit, and Delinquency in the Planning, Preparations, and Prosecution of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine” for other insights shared on the matter.)

If one It has been suggested by some experrs that in Ukraine, Putin by his own hand destroyed the armed forces that built up over two decades. Looking at this supposition open-mindedly, one might added that if that is so, he certainly did not do it deliberately. However,,it is greatcharlie’s postulation, delicately put, that long before Ukraine was invaded, the real harm done to Russian Federation Armed Forces was at the hands of his trusted chief military advisers, Shoigu and Gerasimov. Shoigu and Gerasimov became a team in November 2012. They did a superb job of making the Russian Federation Armed Forces look good but had to know they were not really good at all. Thus, their claims for years that the Russian Federation Armed Forces conventional forces were a hard-hitting, highly-mobile, terrifying, sort of juggernaut, were more hyperbole than anything else. They seemed to have been quite willing to live with that. If the Russian Federation Armed Forces were called into action on some large scale–something they probably believed was unlikely–the two commanders likely decided long ago to just play it out. Dereliction of duty is a phrase that comes to mind. On February 24, 2022, they rolled the dice and poured their troops into Ukraine as ordered, hoping somehow that things might fall into place. Things did not go their way. Putin most likely had no idea how much damage was being done by Shoigu and Gerasimov. He could hardly admit even now that he did not know. If he did not need them now as a buffer between himself all the many failures militarily, and all the political drama, and if he had anyone else tied as closely to him that he knew as well and could turn, Putin would have likely sent them to higher service already, as is the pattern. If the Ukraine War were to end in the Russian Federation’s favor, an unlikely outcome, perhaps the two general might face trying times. Putin does not forget or forgive such betrayals. He is not the understanding type.

If one might suggest that it was all a deliberate act of subversion by one or both of the generals, the question would be to what end: cui bono? The most likely immediate guess of those eager to see regime change of any kind in the Russian Federation might be that the plan was to set up Putin in order to foster his overthrow or elimination and their rise to power. Yet, both Shoigu and Gerasimov, given all of the supportive evidence publicly available on their respective atrocious management of two huge organizations, would have a better chance of achieving a decisive victory over Ukraine than controlling the Russian Federation with a modicum of competence. Unless megalomania and self-deception are controlling elements to an enormous degree in the respective thinking of both generals, they are surely aware that ruling the Russian people would be out of their sphere, beyond their faculties.

Readers must pardon greatcharlie’s frankness, but given that Shoigu and Gerasimov are psychologically able to remain standing flat-footed on the ground and stare calmly at a military disaster of such magnitude for their country’s armed forces, another possibility not to consider lightly is that either one or both may be psychologically unstable. This averment shall be left for mental health professionals and behavioral scientists to parse out in the round.

Ministr Oborony Rossijskoj Federacii (Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation) Russian Army General Sergei Shoigu (left) and Chief of General’nyy shtab Vooruzhonnykh sil Rossiyskoy Federatsii (General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation), Russian Army General Valery Gerasimov (right). It is greatcharlie’s postulation, delicately put, that long before Ukraine was invaded, the real harm done to Russian Federation Armed Forces was atbthe hands of his trusted chief military advisers, Shoigu and Gerasimov. Shoigu and Gerasimov became a team in November 2012. They did an superb job of making the Russian Federation Armed Forces look good but had to know they were not really good at all. Thus, their claims for years that the Russian Federation Armed Forces conventional forces were a hard-hitting, highly-mobile, terrifying, sort of juggernaut, were more hyperbole than anything else. They seemed to have been quite willing to live with that. If the Russian Federation Armed Forces were called into action on some large scale–something they probably believed was unlikely–the two commanders likely decided long ago to just play it out. Dereliction of duty is a phrase that comes to mind.

A. Delegation and Disappointment

Further to the preceding point, what did not serve Putin well was any thought that he could delegate matters concerning the special military operation that he typically would have overburdened himself with in the past. It appears to have been a matter of misplaced trust, which is very unusual for Putin. As an executive he made the proper management decision, but given the nature of his regime and its players, it was the wrong choice, at the wrong time, anc the wrong issue to do any delegating over. If Putin had been truly In control of the facts and the moving pieces, greatcharlie goes out on a limb to say he probably would have never gone into Ukraine and as it was, encountered considerable, unexpected resistance or just bad luck. However, if he would have still decided to go in knowing what he knows now, he would very likely have done his homework and to the very best of his ability developed real answers to resolve prospective problems having imagined more than enough possible failures and mishaps that could derail his plans and having most likely rehearsed over and over in his mind more than one way to resolve them. The situation for the Russian Federation Armed Forces would doubtlessly look a lot different than it does now. Of course, none of that happened.

Power and control are often limited for political authorities, even autocrats, during conventional military operations. That lack of control–along with US experience in Vietnam– is what in part inspired the US Congress to pass the War Powers Act in 1973. Surely, laid bare in Ukraine for Putin is his own lack of control  Certainly many may disagree with this assessment, but those who insist that Putin directly controlled events in Ukraine, even war crimes committed, should look more directly at just how poorly he has controlled aspects of his special military operation. On the four occasions presented here, Putin’s lack of control was self-evident.

1. The First Big Let Down: Russian Federation Intelligence on Ukraine

Putin is perhaps the most prominent Russian intelligence doyen in the Russian Federation. Far more than just being familiar with the workings of Russian’s intelligence services, in the in the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) or KGB, and achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. (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.) In 1998, President Boris Yeltsin appointed him as director of the FSB, during which time he reorganized it and dismissed several top personnel. Before becoming Russian Federation President, Putin served as Yeltsin’s Secretary of Sovet bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsii (the Security Council of the Russian Federation) or national security adviser. Having those experiences, knowing that problems can exist not only with the behavior of personnel as well as the leadership of the intelligence services, he should known that reporting from them should be examined closely. In a very perplexing way, Putin felt confident enough to appeal to the Ukrainian Armed Forces in his February 24, 2022 broadcast announcing the start of the special military operation. Putin said: “I would also like to address the military personnel of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Comrade officers! Your fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers did not fight the Nazi occupiers and did not defend our common Motherland to allow today’s neo-Nazis to seize power in Ukraine. You swore the oath of allegiance to the Ukrainian people and not to the junta, the people’s adversary which is plundering Ukraine and humiliating the Ukrainian people.” Putin continued: “I urge you to refuse to carry out their criminal orders. I urge you to immediately lay down arms and go home. I will explain what this means: the military personnel of the Ukrainian army who do this will be able to freely leave the zone of hostilities and return to their families.” Lastly, he stated: “I want to emphasize again that all responsibility for the possible bloodshed will lie fully and wholly with the ruling Ukrainian regime.”

 As the story goes, the now former head of FSB foreign intelligence service, the organization’s 5th service, Sergey Beseda and his deputy as well as head of the operational information department, Anatoly Bolyukh, reportedly had cooked up intelligence suggesting that Ukraine was weak, riddled with neo-Nazi groups, and would give up easily if attacked. 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. Beseda and Boyuhk were apparently among those in the intelligence services who gambled that there would not be an invasion and lost. Whatever Putin’s inner voice might have been saying about what he was being told about Ukraine, he closed his ear to it. Putin was apparently so convinced by reporting that Ukrainians were so dissatisfied with the leadership in Kyiv ready to welcome regime change, he attempted to appeal to members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces to acquiesce to invading Russian Federation forces. Putin seemed to proceed, accepting whatever was handed to him with a blindness that bordered on madness to self-interest and to the interest of the Russian Federation. Considering how Putin spoke so boldly in his broadcast to the Zbrojni syly Ukrayiny (Armed Forces of Ukraine, hereinafter referred to as the Ukrainian Armed Forces) audaciously suggesting they turn on their government, If whole matter were not so grave, it could viewed as Armed Forces comical.

Putin (center) Shoigu (left) and Gerasimov (right) at military exercises 2022. Through Zapad, Vostok, and other large scale military exercises by the Russian Federation Armed Forces, observers as Putin, himself, might have witnessed how its commanders emphasizing the use of superior firepower, would be able to capture large swaths of territory and massing on decisive points, to include some large cities, in a formidable manner. Being a bit more specific, through the exercises, Russian Federation commanders displayed an amazing awareness of what was occurring in their battle space, foresight, and agility. They could rapidly maneuver their units to block in one place, counterattack in another, and withdraw their units when conditions were most favorable. Moreover, through the exercises, one would have been led to believe that Russian Federation commanders could act fast and soundly through their system of command, control, and communications. The choice to organize combat forces under the concept of the Combined Arms Army, comprised of brigades, divisions, and supporting units that are assigned by the Military District, was essentially recognized as a master stroke of military genius. No one could possibly doubt, at least in the Russian Federation, Thanks to the appropriation of superb military hardware by the Russian Federation Ministry of Defense and the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, Russian Federation forces would be able to relentlessly gain ground and retain the initiative in the face of whatever the US and its NATO allies might throw at them.

2. A Study in Contrasts: Acumen Displayed in Zapad, Vostok, and Other Military Exercises and Poor Performance on the Battlefield

Through Zapad, Vostok, and other large scale military exercises by the Russian Federation Armed Forces, observers as Putin might have witnessed how its commanders emphasizing the use of superior firepower, would be able to capture large swaths of territory and massing on decisive points, to include some large cities, in a formidable manner. Being a bit more specific, through the exercises, Russian Federation commanders displayed an amazing awareness of what was occurring in their battle space, foresight, and agility. They could rapidly maneuver their units to block in one place, counterattack in another, and withdraw their units when conditions were most favorable. Moreover, through the exercises, one would have been led to believe that Russian Federation commanders could act fast and soundly through their system of command, control, and communications. The choice to organize combat forces under the concept of the Combined Arms Army, comprised of brigades, divisions, and supporting units that are assigned by the Military District, was a master stroke. No one could possibly doubt, at least in the Russian Federation, Thanks to the appropriation of superb military hardware by the Russian Federation Ministry of Defense and the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, Russian Federation forces would be able to relentlessly gain ground and retain the initiative in the face of whatever the US and its NATO allies might throw at them. 

Despite what may have been choreographed to display a well-trained, well-equipped war machine for Putin’s unknowing eyes, the walls fell down in Ukraine. A poor strategy, faulty planning of the military operation, leaving the door open to supply and resupply of arms, equipment and sustenance, failure to decisively conquer by moving up the River Dneiper to cut off the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the East, reinforcing the failed operations in the Donbas, in part resulted in a stalled invasion and the epic slaughter of a modern army. Putin counted upon commanders with limited combat experience and no experience who more than anything else displayed negligence, inattentiveness to details large and small, delinquencies, and deficiencies. 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. As for the concept of the Combined Arms Army, the formations raised and operated under it were as empty with troops as the concept was with promise.

3, Putin’s Faith in Spetsnaz: “A Weapon Is Only as the Man Who Wields It”

Putin has never hidden his admiration for Russian Federation Special Operations Forces. In foreign and national security policy approaches taken by the Russian Federation, special operations forces have been the go-to hammer to swing when the application of force was deemed required by the Kremlin. Such has also been the case with regard to domestic threats, particularly emanating from the Caucasus. Outside of government structures, Putin’s admiration for commando-type formations has likely played a role in his full acceptance and regular utilization of professional military contractors as the Wagner Group which are teaming with erstwhile spetsnaz members. In the opening days of the special military operation, Putin put his appreciation for the Russian Federation’s special operations forces on display by taking time on  February 27, 2022 to broadcast a message congratulating active military personnel and veterans of their formations on their professional holiday, “Special Operations Forces Day”. More than just a canned speech, Putin laid his heart out bare by stating: “You have demonstrated many times that you are prepared to act with the utmost efficiency and under the harshest conditions to precisely and professionally complete the most difficult and demanding missions. You always perform your military duty to protect your native country and citizens with honor and protect Russia’s national interests. The heroic traditions of the special forces find their roots in the centuries-long history of our army. They were fortified during the Great Patriotic War, matured and grew even stronger in Afghanistan and many hotbeds, as well as during the elimination of terrorists gangs both in the North Caucasus and in Syria. Putin said further: “I know that you undergo exactly this kind of training -comprehensive, all-encompassing and intensive, a real school of warfare. You strive to follow the best paragons of courage and bravery, true patriotism, and you set an example for new generations of defenders of the Fatherland and pass on your experience to young servicemen.” Very likely with reference to former spetsnaz serving in the Wagner Group, Putin remarked: “I want to thank the command and the personnel of the special operations forces as well as special forces veterans for their loyalty to the oath, for their impeccable service to the people of Russia and our great Motherland. My special appreciation goes to those who are performing their duty in the special operation to render assistance to the people’s republics of Donbass.”

Putin’s faith in the spetsnaz to carry out their duties to their utmost abilities was warranted, but aa is the same with special operations soldiers in every country, they were only human and could only do so much. Placing them with their exquisite military capabilities in stealthy hit-and-run direct actions, special reconnaissance, counterterrorism, and covert operations, under the control of Russian Federation commanders who were killing off their own conventional troops due a lack of so many necessary attributes for competent, military command on the present-day battlefield, did not help. Among the classified US national security materials leaked online through the messaging platform in March 2023 were assessments of officials within the foreign and national security bureaucracies on the strength and capabilities of Russian Federation spetsnaz forces. According to those findings, there was such an overreliance on the specialized units on the frontlines that their consequently suffered heavy losses. The decision the use spetsnaz in such a role was purportedly due to skepticism among Russian Federation commanders that their conventional forces’ abilities to achieve objectives set in the invasion plans. Leaked documents also reportedly indicate US officials believe the high casualties of these units should render them less effective not only in Ukraine but also in other parts of the world where Russian forces operate. Evidence of the losses in the spetsnaz units was apparently provided by satellite imagery featured among the leaked materials. Before-and-after imagery of the 22nd Separate Spetsnaz Brigade’s base in southern Russia allegedly revealed that “all but one of five Russian Separate Spetsnaz Brigades that returned from combat operations in Ukraine in late summer 2022 suffered significant losses.” Materials citing intelligence intercepts, assess the 346th brigade “lost nearly the entire brigade with only 125 personnel active out of 900 deployed.” US intelligence analysts, who monitored the return of spetsnaz units to their respective bases, believe that extremely high losses in the 25th Spetsnaz Regiment “could explain why there is no clear [intelligence] signature of their return to garrison.” The loss of so many among the spetsnaz very likely came as a shock to Putin.

4. Hoping the Wagner Group Will Shift the Fight Moscow’s Way

As aforementioned, the Wagner Group is a private military contractor based in the Russian Federation. Although private military companies are not permitted under law in the Russian Federation, they were endorsed in April 2012 by none other than Putin, then Russian Federation Prime Minister during an address to the State Duma. The Wagner Group is owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin is  an intriguing figure in his own right, and holds a level of standing with Putin which speaks volumes on its own. Prigozhin is widely known by the sobriquet “Putin’s chef” because of his catering businesses that hosted dinners which Putin attended with foreign dignitaries, The Wagner Group has engaged in action externally in support of the Russian Federation’s overt and covert foreign and national security objectives. The Wagner Group is known to have deployed its units in the War in Donbas (2014–2022); Syrian Civil War, (2015–2016); the South Sudanese Civil War (2013-2020); the Central African Republic Civil War (2013-2014); the Second Libyan Civil War (2014-2020); the Sudanese Revolution (2018-2019); Venezuelan presidential crisis (2019-2023); and the Mali War (2012-present). Mentioned earlier was also that fact that Wagner Group fighters are typically retired regular Russian Federation Armed Forces servicemen–veterans. They are aged between 35 and 55. Many served in the Russian Federation’s spetsnaz units, which as noted earlier, are near and dear to Putin’s heart. From the moment the situation went sour in Ukraine, Russian Federation commanders surely recognized that they would either need to find a way to save themselves or hope against hope an ally might come to their rescue. The Wagner Group, already in Ukraine, went in with greater numbers, providing additional strength and combat power on the battlefield that the Russian Federation Armed Forces could not muster. It is widely known that since July 2022, Prigozhin, has been recruiting inmates from Russian Federation prisons to increase the organization’s strength. To an extent, Wagner Group troops were supposed to be the saving grace of the Russian Federation Armed Forces. 

However, it was not long before everyone realized that the Wagner Group’s troops were caught in that same circumstance as their Russian Federation Armed Forces “comrades”. That could only have been expected as the same senior Russian Federation commanders that put their troops in a predicament, controlled the placement and movements of Wagner Group troops. According to the best statistics available to greatcharlie, since April 2022 an estimated 10,000 and 20,000 mercenaries were deployed to Ukraine by the Russian Federation Armed Force, to include the Wagner Group troops in the offensive in the Donbas. As alluded to earlier, to increase the organization’s strength even further, new Wagner Group units composed mainly with violent convicts from prisons–gangsters, murderers, and rapists, were formed. However, it is those Wagner Group “penal units” in particular that have suffered high-profile casualties. According to the US, out of an initial force of nearly 50,000 Wagner troops, including 40,000 recruited convicts, more than 4,100 have been killed in action, and 10,000 have been wounded, including over 1,000 killed between late November and early December 2022 near Bakhmut.

In a February 17, 2023 briefing White House National Security Council (NSC) spokesman John Kirby told reporters that the Wagner Group has suffered more than 30,000 casualties since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with about 9,000 of those fighters killed in action. He further explained the US estimates that 90% of Wagner Group troops killed in Ukraine since December were convict recruits. Prigozhin has expressed concern that his troops’ display of courage, obedience to authority and acts of sacrifice have been looked upon with indifference by Russian Army commanders. Given the backgrounds of the Wagner Group prison recruits, the common wisdom is that they are desensitized to violence. They are depicted as fighting as if they have nothing left to lose. From the lens of the Kremlin, things certainly did not work out the way they were supposed to. Surely, Putin maybe somewhat concerned that the Wagner Group’s loses may eventually so great that the organization would not be available to handle other foreign and national security policy matters for some time to come. In a pinch, perhaps Wagner could recruit from among special operations veterans who served in the FSB and Ministestvo po Delam Grazhdanskoy Oborony, Chrezvychainym Situatsiyam i Likvidtsil Posledstviy Bedstviy (Ministry of the Russian Federation for Affairs for Civil Defense, Emergencies and Elimination of Consequences of Natural Disasters Emergency Situations also known as the Ministry for Emergency Situations) or EMERCOM, but those former operators would for the most part lack the same level of battlefield experience spetsnaz from the Russian Federation Armed Forces lost in Ukraine possessed.

The full list of disappointments for Putin of or pertaining to the Ukraine enterprise is frightfully long and would overload and overwhelm this essay if included. Though, as aforementioned, theories of Putin’s control over the Russian Federation Armed Forces are accepted, it appears that nearly every theory confirming his alleged control cannot figuratively hold water.

Putin (left) and Gerasimov (right) holding a press conference following announcement that Gerasimov had become overall Russian Federation commander in Ukraine. Even if military analysts and Russia scholars in the West are not aware of it, Putin surely is aware that not even the threat or dismissal or assassination can coax brilliance on the battlefield from Russian Federation commanders who simply lack the faculty to do anything that could dramatically change the situation in Ukraine in Russia’s favor. Being able to fire generals that disappoint him may have confirmed that he has authority over the Russian Federation Armed Forces, but it hardly confirmed that he had absolute control of its commanders actions. Autocrats have limitations, too!

B. The Power to Hire and Fire Generals: What is It Worth?

Even if military analysts and Russia scholars in the West are not aware of it, Putin surely is aware that not even the threat or dismissal or assassination can coax brilliance on the battlefield from Russian Federation commanders who simply lack the faculty to do anything that could dramatically change the situation in Ukraine in Russia’s favor. Being able to fire generals that disappoint him may have confirmed that he has authority over the Russian Federation Armed Forces, but it hardly confirmed that he had absolute control of its commanders actions. Autocrats have limitations, too!

1. Putin Sacked a Slew of Generals in May 2022

Based on information made public by the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence, on May 19, 2022, Putin fired two senior commanders Lieutenant General Serhiy Kisel, who had commanded the 1st Guards Tank Army, and Vice Admiral Igor Osipov of the Black Sea Fleet. Osipov was reportedly fired following the sinking of the Russian flagship Moskva, which was a major embarrassment to the Russian Federation Armed Forces. The Moscow-based media group, RBCreported on June 1, 2022, that on May 30, 2022, Putin issued a decree dismissing senior commanders of the security services. The list of those removed from their posts included: Major General of Police Vasily Kukushkin, who was head of the Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs for the Vladimir region; Major General Alexander Laas, deputy head of the Main Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs for the Altai Territory; and, Major General Andrey Lipilin, head of the Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs for the Yaroslavl Region. Major General Alexander Udovenko of the Directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Major General Yuri Instrankin, deputy head of the Department for Logistics and Medical Support of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, were also among the dismissed. Additionally, Putin reportedly fired Police Colonel Emil Musin, who was the first deputy head of the Forensic Center of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

2. Putin Fired 22 Russian Army Generals in August 2022

The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence reported that General-Colonel Aleksandr Zhuravlev, who headed Russia’s Western Military District since 2018 had been sacked. it was at that time there were the rather quiet, yet widely suspected firings of General Aleksandr Dvornikov, who was the senior but not overall command of all of Russian Federation’s operations in Ukraine and General Gennady Valeryevich Zhidko, who commanded the Southern forces fighting in Ukraine. US officials estimated at the time of these dismissals that more than 75,000 Russian soldiers have been killed or injured, which represented more than 50% of the number of troops Russia initially deployed in  the special military operation. According to the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence, at least 10 generals were among those killed.

3. Putin Fires Russian Army Generals for Failed Response to the Ukrainian Counteroffensive in September 2022

Based on information from Ukrainian Defense Intelligence, the Telegraph reported on September 12, 2022 that Putin fired Lieutenant General Roman Berdnikov, who commanded Russian Federation forces in the Donbas or Western Grouping. Berdnikov was held responsible for the chaos that ensued within Russian lines after Ukrainian troops recaptured swathes of territory in a recent offensive in the east.

4. Putin Replaces Overall Commander in Ukraine in January 2023 and Fires Russian Army General for Vuhledar Fiasco in March 2023

A shift in command well-known among those following events in the Ukraine War was the replacement of Russian Air Force General Sergei Surovikin by Gerasimov as overall commander of the Russian Federation’s intervention in Ukraine. In a January 11, 2023 statement from the Russian Federation Defense Ministry, it was explained that Gerasimov’s appointment constituted a “raising of the status of the leadership” of the military force in Ukraine and was implemented to “improve the quality . . . and effectiveness of the management of Russian forces”. On or just before March 26, 2023, Colonel General Rustam Muradov, who commanded Russia’s Eastern Military District, and was placed in charge of leading an offensive in the Ukrainian city of Vuhledar, in the eastern Donbas region, had been removed from his post. Muradov had previously come under criticism for his failure in Vuhledar from Prigozhin who believed its capture was possible and may have had the effect of turning the war in Moscow’s favor. The Moscow Times, described as an independent English- and Russian-language online newspaper with offices in Amsterdam that is currently outlawed in Russia, also reported that Muradov had been suspended, One of the Moscow Times’ sources told the online daily, “Muradov was suspended because he was a crazy idiot who could command soldiers to die. Many complained about him.”

In February 2023, Muradov attacked Vuhledar by sending his soldiers into minefields, right under the artillery fire of the Ukrainians. As a consequence of his actions, reportedly two elite Russian Naval Infantry brigades, one presumed to be the 155th Naval Infantry Brigade, and 103 pieces of equipment were reportedly lost in just three days. Interestingly, the Institute for the Study of War, a think tank based in Washington, D.C. reported in a March 9, 2023 assessment of the Ukraine War that Shoigu ordered Muradov to take Vuhledar “at any cost” in order “to settle widespread criticism within the Russian Ministry of Defense about the lack of progress and significant losses in the area.”

As the record indicates, on every occasion when Putin, usually via his Defense Minister, sacked a group of generals who underperformed, a month or a couple of months later, he was dismissing another group for similar, if not parallel failures. Sacking a general, more than just a punishment, is a very strong form of public embarrassment. By now, everyone interested in Putin has recognized that he rarely reverses his own decisions. (If that were the case, he surely would have reversed his decision to invade Ukraine. Declaring success early on and offering purported measurables among other things would have been the most likely off ramp.) Firing generals from commands whose records he doubtlessly reviewed and gave ultimate approval for top assignments unlikely came easy for him. Perhaps Putin may even be concerned that it reveals that he is not the best judge of people, that he has lost his touch, and worst of all, it confirms for some that he is not infallible. His mistakes with the military have very noticeably begun to pile up. Interestingly, despite being punished, the generals who were sacked will at least live to see another day. The soldiers, some incredibly young, whose lives they carelessly wasted in Ukraine will not have that chance.

There is very likely a need at this point to remind some readers that greatcharlie does not seek to offer anything that might in the slightest way support or provide an apology, legal advice, or worst, a legal defense, for Putin over war crimes committed by the Russian Federation in Ukraine. Thoee among greatcharlie’s readers who may feel anything of the kind is being offered here to Putin, then it is respectfully suggested they stop reading the commentary at this point for it would surely be unreasonable, unconstructuve to continue with such colored perspective. Again, the purpose of this commentary is to suggest to any Western foreign and national security policymakers and decisionmakers ways to take a broader view on Putin’s decisionmaking regarding the Ukraine issue to create opportunities for fruitful diplomacy with the Russian Federation leader despite the challenging circumstances that exist presently.

Alexander Gardiner’s famous photograph of US President Abraham Lincoln, and Union Army Major General George McClellan, Commander of the Army of the Potomac (right) and Allan Pinkerton (left) at Antietam, Maryland, October 3, 1862. Although many readers, particularly in the US, both technically and perhaps more so emotionally, may be unwilling to accept the following as a firm point of comparison, greatcharlie suggests that they consider Putin’s difficulties with the Russian Federation Armed Forces and how US President Abraham Lincoln tried earnestly to place strictures on the behavior of Union Army forces and struggled to control Union Army commanders during the US Civil War (April 12, 1861 to April 9, 1865). On April 24, 1863, Lincoln signed General Orders No. 100: Instructions for the Government of the Armies of the United States in the Field which was more famously known as the Lieber Code. The order, more specifically governed the wartime conduct of the Union Army by defining and describing command responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity; and the military responsibilities of the Union Army soldier fighting against the Confederate States of America.

C. Another Leader Who Struggled To Control His Commanders During Wartime

Although many readers, particularly in the US both technically, and more so emotionally, may be unwilling to accept the following as a firm point of comparison, greatcharlie suggests that they consider Putin’s difficulties with the Russian Federation Armed Forces and how US President Abraham Lincoln tried earnestly to place strictures on the behavior of Union Army forces and struggled to control Union Army commanders during the US Civil War (April 12, 1861 to April 9, 1865). On April 24, 1863, Lincoln signed General Orders No. 100: Instructions for the Government of the Armies of the United States in the Field which was more famously known as the Lieber Code. The order, more specifically governed the wartime conduct of the Union Army by defining and describing command responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity; and the military responsibilities of the Union Army soldier fighting against the Confederate States of America. The author of the military law was jurist Franz Lieber, a German lawyer, political philosopher, and combat veteran of the Napoleonic Wars. Lieber essentially modernized the military law of the 1806 Articles of War to ensure Union Army could prosecute its war against the Confederate States of America with legitimacy.

However, despite signing this well-crafted code of conduct, Lincoln had little control of how Union Army soldiers, as well as their commanders, would behave on the battlefield. For example, under the Lieber Code called for the #humane and ethical treatment of populations residing in occupied areas, however, the document clearly had little impact during Union Army Major General William Tecumseh Sherman’s infamous March to the Sea (November 15, 1864 to December 21, 1864), a scorched earth campaign through Georgia. After seizing Atlanta, Sherman, green-lit by his superiors, marched 60,000 troops from three armies under his command–the Army of the Cumberland, the Army of the Tennessee, and the Army of the Ohio–285 miles (458 km) east from Atlanta to the coastal town of Savannah during which they successfully disrupted the economic and industrial base of the Confederate States, particularly its war-making capacity and crushed the morale of those sympathetic to the Confederacy. 

In fairness to Sherman, it must be noted that he acted in accord with the concept and intent of Lincoln’s Lieber Code when he gave explicit instructions to his troops regarding their conduct while on their march through Georgia, but there were a few deviations. In his Special Field Order No. 120, Sherman out of necessity encouraged foraging and the confiscation of livestock as he left his Army Group’s supply lines behind to travel so deep, so fast, and so furiously into Georgia. Home invasions were off limits. However, if antagonized by Confederate Army soldiers, Union Army officers were granted permission to destroy private and industrial property. Additionally, the field order permitted able-bodied Black laborers to join the march, but commanding officers were instructed to prioritize the distribution of supplies for soldiers of their Army Group. The majority of Union Army soldiers complied with Field Order No. 120, but some dubbed “bummers” roamed the countryside intentionally terrorizing civilians and looting. Although bummers were technically engaging in forbidden activities, the overall psychological impact of their actions on the local population was in sync with the purpose of the march. The greatest damage done by Sherman’s troops was the destruction of Georgia’s railroad lines, both a conveyor for industries and military transportation. Union Army soldiers would rip up and melt down tracks in full view of the demoralized populace.

Union Army troops tearing up railroad tracks in Georgia as Confederate civilians watched in horror (above). Despite signing this well-crafted code of conduct, Lincoln had little control of how Union Army soldiers, as well as their commanders, would behave on the battlefield. For example, under the Lieber Code called for the humane and ethical treatment of populations residing in occupied areas, however, the document clearly had little impact during Union Army Major General General William Tecumseh Sherman’s infamous March to the Sea (November 15, 1864 to December 21, 1864), a scorched earth campaign through Georgia. After seizing Atlanta, Sherman, green-lit by his superiors, marched 60,000 troops from three armies under his command–the Army of the Cumberland, the Army of the Tennessee, and the Army of the Ohio–285 miles (458 km) east from Atlanta to the coastal town of Savannah during which they successfully disrupted the economic and industrial base of the Confederate States, particularly its war-making capacity and crushed the morale of those sympathetic to the Confederacy. 

The text of the Lieber Code was arranged to create concordance with the Emancipation Proclamation (January 1, 1863) and prohibited racist discrimination against Black soldiers of the Union Army, specifically by Confederate Army troops who denied them the rights and privileges of prisoners of war. The military law clearly had little impact on the treatment of racially segregated Black soldiers of the US Colored Troops (USCT) by their White Union Army comrades in arms. At the Battle of the Crater (July 30, 1864), incredulously yet painfully true, White soldiers of the Union Army’s 1st Division essentially assisted soldiers of the Confederate States Army massacre Black soldiers of the 4th Division (USCT) in the midst of the fighting. (SEE the February 28, 2023 greatcharlie post entitled “Reflections on the Battle of the Crater in Relation to Russian Federation Casualties in Ukraine: Where Did All the Leaders Go?”.

On top of that, a succession of commanders failed to meet Lincoln’s expectations during the war. He could insist upon regular consultations on their battle plans, but he could not control what they actually did on the battlefield. He could only remove them. or allow them to resign, but he could not repair the damage they had done to the Union effort, or do anything about the wastage of Union Army soldiers. Very briefly, Brigadier General Irvin McDowell, having previously functioned as Commander of the Army and Department of Northeastern Virginia from May 27, 1861 to July 25, 1861, served as a general in the Army of the Potomac until after the Second Battle of Bull Run when he was relieved of command at his own request on September 6, 1862. Major General George “Little Mac” McClellan was appointed Commander of the Military Division of the Potomac, and later, the Army of the Potomac (July 26, 1861 to November 9, 1862). In 1862, McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign unraveled after the Seven Days Battles, and he also failed to decisively defeat the forces of General in Chief of Armies of the Confederate States General Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Antietam. Frustrated by McClellan’s cautious tactics, Lincoln removed him from command. Major General Ambrose E. Burnside served as Commander of the Army of the Potomac from November 9, 1862 to January 26, 1863. Following his infamous “Mud March”.and the senseless slaughter of his troops during the Union Army’s defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg, Burnside was replaced as commander of the Army of the Potomac. Major General Joseph Hooker served as Commander of the Army and Department of the Potomac from January 26, 1863 to June 28, 1863. Concerned about Hooker were first raised when reports were made that his headquarters doubled as a combination of bar and brothel. Hooker’s timid command performance and grave defects as a commander–he lost mental control of his command in battle–were exposed at the Battle of Chancellorsville. Ostensibly recognizing “faults” in his behavior and performance and reportedly sensing the distrust of Lincoln and Union Army General in Chief Major General Henry Halleck, Hooker resigned his command on June 28, 1863, on the eve of battle. Major General George Meade jumped in as Commander of the Army of the Potomac from June 28, 1863 to June 28, 1865. Meade repulsed the forces of the General in Chief of Armies of the Confederate States General Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg from July 1, 1863 to July 3, 1863 with tactical adroitness; however, he was castigated by some for failing to hotly pursue the remainder of Lee’s forces. He instead allowed them to escape from his immediate reach. Lincoln in duress penned a letter to Meade dated July 14, 1863, relieving him of his command but never sent it. Success was not assured at Gettysburg, but Meade had apparently failed to keep any preconceived follow through firmly in mind in the event of victory.. Although Meade retained command of the Army of the Potomac until the end of the war, his independence of action was sharply curtailed after March 9, 1864, when General Ulysses S. Grant took control of Union  forces from Halleck and was named Commanding General of the US Army. 

Despite keeping a close eye on them to the point that he nearly micromanaged the war, Lincoln could only possess marginal control over the actions of his most senior commanders. He surely had even less of a chance to control the actions of subordinates well beneath them in the chain of command on the battlefield. A law such as theLieber Code could ar best signal intent. In the end, what was done was done. If unlawful or unethical acts were witnessed, they could at best be reported and adjudicated within the system of military justice, or if egregious enough, reviewed in Congressional hearings. 

Painting of the representatives of 12 countries at the conference held in the Alabama room at Geneva’s Hotel de Ville August 22, 1864 where they adopted the first Geneva Convention “for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field” (above). The International Committee of the Red Cross while recognising that it is “primarily the duty and responsibility of a nation to safeguard the health and physical well-being of its own people,” knew there would always, especially in times of war, be a “need for voluntary agencies to supplement . . . the official agencies charged with these responsibilities in every country.” To ensure that its mission was widely accepted, it required a body of rules to govern its own activities and those of the involved belligerent parties. A year later, the Swiss government invited the governments of all European countries, as well as the US Brazil, and Mexico, to attend an official diplomatic conference. A total of twenty-six delegates from 16 countries came to Geneva. The meeting was presided over by Swiss General Guillaume Henri Dufour. The conference adopted the first Geneva Convention “for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field.” Representatives of 12 countries signed the convention at that time.

IV. Under the Geneva Convention Military Commanders Are Responsible for What Happens in Field

To the extent the political authorities cannot control events in the field, commanders take on greater responsibility for their actions and those of their subordinates. Under Geneva Convention I , Article 49; Geneva Convention II, Article 50; Geneva Convention III, Art. 129; Geneva Convention  IV, Article 146; Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property, Article 28; and, Geneva Protocol I, Articles 86 and 87, it is clear that commanders shalll be held criminally responsible under the law if they knew or should have known that subordinates were going to violate the law by committing a war crime, yet failed to take steps to prevent it. Further, commanders would be held liable for failing to punish or report subordinates who have already committed a war crime. To that extent, commanders are viewed as being in control of their troops and being responsible for all that transpires within their commands at all times. That rationale gains support in the following way. When the commander develops a plan of action, necessary is the requirement to assess all factors relevant at the time, such as ground and enemy forces, your own forces, logistics, courses open. (In greatcharlie’s day, it was referred to as the METT+T analysis (Mission, Enemy, Terrain, Time, and Troops Available. Yes, greatcharlie’s editor is that old!) Once the plan is decided, the commander issues orders to subordinates. The next aspect of control is the direction of the engagement,, during which it is expected that the commander take into account the law of armed conflict. 

V. Likely Big Lesson Learned by Putin Concerning Control of the Russian Federation Armed Forces 

Having learned a very painful lesson with his conventional forces during the special military operation, Putin will ensure that he fully controls the “crown jewels” of the Russian Federation Armed Forces: the nuclear triad. That effort to establish that control has been mostly revealed with each public move he has made with regard to the supply, continual redeployments, and drilling of those forces. With regard to to those who command the nuclear forces, as explained in greatcharlie’s March 30, 2023 post entitled, “Commentary: What Comes Next for Putin at Home and in Ukraine?: An Assessment One Year After the Start of His Special Military Operation”, just as Russian Army generals and colonels were ready and willing to advance their troops into the tragedy that is the Ukraine War–some generals and colonels went as far as to sacrifice themselves on the battlefield, the commanders of the Raketnye Voyska Strategicheskogo Naznacheniya Rossiyskoy Federatsii (Strategic Rocket Forces of the Russian Federation, literally Strategic Purpose Rocketry Troops) which control land-based ICBMs, the strategic bombers and other nuclear capable airframes of the Voenno-vozdushnye sily Rossii (Russian Air Force), and satellites of the Voyska Vozdushno-Kosmicheskoy Oborony (Russian Aerospace Defense Forces) without a shadow of doubt would go into action. In addition, commanders of the strategic submarines of the Voyenno-morskoy Flot (Russian Naval Force) in both the Northern Fleet and the Pacific Fleet would execute their missions. Indeed, commanders who are in control of the Russian Federation’s strategic nuclear triad would act without question in the manner prescribed by political authorities. It would be a mistake for anyone to believe otherwise. Surely, there are more than enough members of the Russian Federation Armed Forces hurting over the nightmare that has befallen their comrades in Ukraine. They more than likely want to dish out some “payback” against those countries that they likely perceive–based on what they surely have been told–created circumstances there, and many can deliver payback in the extreme.

At the Battle of Camarón, an important episode of the Second French Intervention in Mexico (December 8, 1861 to June 27, 1867), the 3rd company of 62 Legionnaires and three Legion officers, led by Captain Jean Danjou was sent to reinforce a French military convoy, transporting 3 million francs in gold bullion, siege guns, and sixty wagons of ammunition. Information was received that the convoy would be ambushed. Before Danjou could reach the convoy, the led elements of a force of 3,000 Mexican Army infantry and cavalry made contact with his unit and he was forced to make a defensive stand at the Hacienda Cameron, in Camarón de Tejeda, Veracruz, Mexico. At the point when he recognized that victory would be absolutely impossible to achieve against the larger Mexican force massed around their defenses, Danjou urged his soldiers to take an oath to fight to the death rather than surrender. He made them swear their fealty on his wooden hand. Danjou then shared his bottle of wine and encouraged his men with has been called  “those noble words that warm one’s heart and makes the final sacrifice less difficult to face.”  When the French Foreign Legion moved to France, Capitain Danjou’s wooden hand was taken to Aubagne, where it remains in the Legion Museum of Memory.  The hand is the most cherished artifact in Legion history.  April 30th is celebrated as “Camerone Day,” an important day for the Legionnaires, when the wooden prosthetic hand of Capitaine Danjou is brought out for display. In 1892, a monument commemorating the battle was erected on the battlefield containing a plaque with the following inscription in French: Ils furent ici moins de soixante / Opposés a toute une armée / Sa masse les écrasa / La vie plutôt que le courage / Abandonna ces soldats Français / Le 30 Avril 1863 / A leur mémoire la patrie éleva ce monument. (Here there were less than sixty opposed to a whole army. Its numbers crushed them. Life rather than courage abandoned these French soldiers on April 30, 1863.  In their memory, the fatherland has erected this monument”) The railing from the Legion grave at Camarone can now be found at the village of Puyloubier near Aix-en-Provence. (The importance of the Battle of Camarón with regard to the history and culture of the French Foreign Legion is discussed in greatcharlie’s February 28, 2023 post entitled “Commentary: The Utilization of Wagner Group Penal Units as Suicide Squads: A Callous Go-to Solution for Regimes Facing Intractable Military Situations.”

Although perhaps willing to accept that Putin is the quintessential “bad actor”, it appears almost impossible for many to believe Putin could decide for the Russian people that as a country the Russian Federation would accept a similar fate, mutantis mutandis, rather accept what he ostensibly would perceive and envision as the nightmare of life under the thumb of Western powers and the near certain invasion of their country in the near future. Indeed, observers might try to consider a scenario in which Putin after observing the Russian Federation Armed Forces lose one decisive battle after another in rapid succession and all had unraveled in Ukraine, would make a nationwide broadcast one evening explaining to the Russian people that the Russian Federation was about to be invaded by the proxy forces of the Western powers, that the special military operation, meant as a pre-emptive action has lifted the curtain on the true nature of the Western powers’ objectives and operations in Ukraine and based on all that has been revealed concerning the actions of the Western powers and the astronomical support of the offensive military activities of their partner in Kyiv, despite repeated warnings from the Kremlin for them not to continue their aggressive activities in the Russian Federation’s near abroad, a state of total war existed between the Russian Federation and the US, its NATO allies, and the EU. He would tell the Russian people that their support, prayers, and courage were needed as his government took its next steps. Putin would likely display sangfroid and equanimity, and speak with the tone of a leader in complete command of a situation.(Readers might cast their minds back to Nazi German Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels’ February 18, 1943 address at the Berlin Sportpalast following the Wehrmacht’s epic loss at Stalingrad to the Soviet Army, in which he zealously implored the German people to commit anew to an all-out war effort: Totaler Krieg–Kürzester Krieg! (Total War–Shortest War!) From the point of that hypothetical broadcast, it would most likely just be a matter of time before the worst possibility would materialize.

It is greatcharlie’s contention, without pretense, some absurd desire to establish some greater sense of importance, or a ridiculous effort to claim of greater sapience, that Western diplomats would do well to reflect on this assessment and consider how responding to what they might deem as Putin’s misperceptions to open the door to great possibilities.)

The Russian Federation’s Sarmat Intercontinental ballistic missile (above) is a 115 feet (35-meters) tall and has a range of 11,185 miles (18,000km)(). Some estimate this to be higher. It can carry at least 10 multiple targetable re-entry vehicles – each with a nuclear warhead – which can each be aimed at a different target. It can also deliver hypersonic Avangard glide vehicles that can travel further and faster, flying in a variable path to overcome missile defenses. Just as Russian Army generals and colonels were ready and willing to advance their troops into the tragedy that is the Ukraine War–some generals and colonels went as far as to sacrifice themselves on the battlefield, the commanders in control of the Russian Federation’s strategic nuclear triad and supporting organizations would act without question in the manner prescribed by political authorities. It would be a mistake for anyone to believe otherwise.

VI. The Arrest Warrant for Putin

In Paragraph 6 of  the First Oration of his Catalonia Orations, Marcus Tulius Cicero, an excoriation of rival senator Lucius Sergius Catiline, who he alleged sought to overthrow the Roman Senate, he writes: Quamdiu quisquam erit, qui te defendere audea, vives, et vives ita, ut nunc vivis, multis meis et firms praesidiis obsessed, ne commovere te contra rem publicam possis. Multorum te etiam oculi et aures non sentience, sicut adhuc fecerunt, speculabuntur atque custodient. (As long as one person exists who can dare to defend you, you shall live, but you shall live as you do now, surrounded by my many and trusty guards, so that you shall not be able to.stir one finger against the republic: many eyes and ears shall still observe and watch you, as they have hitherto done, though you shall perceive them.) Doubtlessly, with the necessary adjustments, surely this is the fate many in Western governments hope will befall Putin and he would be left in such a depleted state. However, greatcharlie suggests the satisfaction that they seek will unlikely manifest and the cost of any attempt to get their hands on Putin would be far worse than steep. Such attempts to create such a circumstance would inflame Putin’s ardor to a degree one could only reasonably expect the worst.

On March 17, 2023, the Pre-Trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued a warrant of arrest for Putin in the context of the situation in Ukraine. (Indicted along with Putin on that day was Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, the Children’s Rights Commissioner for the President of the Russian Federation since 2021.) As Russian Federation President, Putin has been declared allegedly responsible for “the war crime of unlawful deportation of population (children) and that of unlawful transfer of population (children) from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation (under articles 8(2)(a)(vii) and 8(2)(b)(viii) of the Rome Statute).” The Pre-Trial Chamber II also stated that “the crimes were allegedly committed in Ukrainian occupied territory at least from February 24, 2022.” The Pre-Trial Chamber II further explained that it has reasonable grounds to believe that Putin bears individual criminal responsibility “(i) for having committed the acts directly, jointly with others and/or through others (article 25(3)(a) of the Rome Statute), and (ii) for his failure to exercise control properly over civilian and military subordinates who committed the acts, or allowed for their commission, and who were under his effective authority and control, pursuant to superior responsibility (article 28(b) of the Rome Statute).” The alleged war crime as outlined by the Pre-Trial Chamber II is horrendous. At the nub of the matter is the issue of Putin’s level of control over the actions of all Russian Federation elements in Ukraine.

So often it has been the case with Putin’s presidency, legal action in response to his behavior on the world stage may have been warranted, but not necessarily required given the context of situations. Prioritizing the furtherance of international peace and security, the leader of Russian Federation with an enormous nuclear arsenal under his control, and members of his coterie, were hit with tongue lashings, finger-wagging, and sanctions. National governments, regional organizations, and international organizations would level economic sanctions against the Russian Federation and national legislatures would pass punishing business and financial laws designed to stifle the ability of the Russian Federation business community, particularly the country’s elite, to maintain and generate within advanced industrialized systems. The Magnitsky Law passed in the US created a considerable degree of pain and aggravation for Putin. Other than that, and a few other other coercive measures, Putin was repeatedly extended a degree of latitude. Putin was surely smart enough to recognize that. (One might posit that he flaunted that latitude allowed to him in the faces of Western powers by invading Ukraine.) In an environment in the West in which political leaders, especially among NATO and EU countries were being hounded over not doing enough to support Ukraine and not enough to decouple and lash out against Putin, the choice of the US-led international community became to exercise legal power over the Russian Federation President. Urging the International Criminal Court in The Hague to issue a warrant for Putin’s arrest, though significant, was seemingly rather trivial in comparison with the greater task of assisting Ukraine in defeating the Russian Federation. Nonetheless, it helped set a path toward what may be a future of even more trying diplomatic efforts with Putin, which to great extent–unless the international community makes another choice, the unthinkable choice of granting Putin whatever he wishes–has put the outcome somewhat out of its rational hands.)

A. Putin Still Minimized as an “Oppositional Adolescent” by the West?

As touched upon in greatcharlie’s March 30, 2023 post, it is difficult to see exactly what end was hoped for when the decision was made to indict Putin. There was likely some ego stroke scored as a result of sticking it to Putin, but not much more was accomplished than that. (How horrifying and disappointing it would be to discover the intent was to goad Putin to react adversely and make mistakes. If such is even remotely accurate, perhaps those who hypothetically were impelled by that thought might not have considered a big mistake Putin might have immediately made–and could still make–could have been to start a nuclear war. “Wishful thinking” is not a form of optimism, it is a euphemistic term for denial.)

Whether it was not thought through or was actually a subconscious aspect of the choice, the most likely connotation within the Kremlin of the West’s support for the issuance of an arrest warrant for Putin was a demonstration of the many levers of power at its disposal, to hurt him on the world stage. It was an exhibition of its power relative to his. A dynamic poorly concealed throughout the years of Putin’s interaction with Western powers was the need of its national leaders to remind him of his subordinate status and his struggle to make them accept him as an equal. That dynamic was readily apparent when the Russian Federation was a member of the erstwhile “G-8”, now the G-7 Interestingly, at one point, that membership was of considerable importance to him. Surely, that is no longer the case. Perhaps he brands himself an ass now for ever thinking he or the Russian Federation would ever really receive acceptance within it.

Maybe it would have been far more reasonable and practical to demand Putin confess irresponsibility over leading his country into war with so many criminally minded senior officials and military men unaware that he would not have genuine control of those who would eventually perpetrate heinous acts in Ukraine under orders from unstable authorities far beneath those in the Senate Building at the Kremlin as well as some sort of diabolical control from Hell. The chance of Putin cooperating in either case would doubtlessly be the same: zero! One might wonder what would be the plan of the International Criminal Court to successfully and safely take him into custody. 

Under Article 58 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court of July 17, 1998, an arrest warrant can be issued publicly or under seal when the arrest of the person appears necessary to ensure a person’s appearance at trial. Under Article 89 of the Rome Statute, the court may request the cooperation in the arrest and surrender from any State on the territory of which the person may be found. The court has no internal enforcement mechanism which would allow it to arrest persons subject to arrest warrants. In the interest of promoting good interstate relations, diplomacy, and peace and security and simply in the planetary interest, under such trying circumstances, discretion in taking such actions–at least refraining from declaring as criminal a party essential to establishing peace–would be the best choice, the better part of valor. Putin’s accountability and culpability for war crimes committed in Ukraine by Russian Federation forces was something which could have been dealt with later. The priority now is ending the war if possible.

B. Actualities Concerning Intelligence and Making Claims against Putin

With regard to providing evidence of Putin’s crimes, one would need to be dismissive of the fact that the intelligence and security services of the Russian Federation have sophisticated capabilities. One cannot say for certain what would happen if the Kremlin produced its own classified information confirming Putin plainly stated he would brook no behavior by Russian Federation forces in the field of the kind for which he is accused of having some responsibility. Hypothetically, the Kremlin might be able to produce transcripts of communications between errant commanders demonstrating their deliberate effort to conceal their actions from superiors, making false any suggestion that Putin controlled or ordered their illegal actions. To that extent, it might be proven with a sea of declassified official internal documents by the Kremlin that generally Putin did not impose too much on his commanders and within reason, relied on their reports and advice on the special military operation. Of course, one could expect it to possess a profusion of redactions to give them that ultra official feel and if any documents are authentic, to hide any nitty-gritty. With such evidence at hand, the Kremlin would surely insist it has no need to respond to baseless accusations about the Russian Federation President. 

One could unlikely insist as part of any fair and balanced legal process that Russian Federation classified intelligence is of less veracity and should be distrusted outrightly. Turning to the intelligence of one country–for instance the US, the United Kingdom, or Germany–that can provide information collected through electronic eavesdropping externally on the internal communications of the armed forces and security organizations of another country–for example the Russian Federation–with the aim to refute and discredit said monitored country’s own intelligence on what was being discussed among its military and security officials, would be something better than an act of bias and stand the idea of objective justice on its head. The International Criminal Court is supposed to be an objective tool for the world. Readers must pardon greatcharlie’s frankness but having stated the former, it believes that such a chauvinistic step and in the end finding Putin “unhesitatingly and with utter conviction” guilty, perhaps even in absentia, rationally imaginable given how predisposed so many that serve in regional and international bodies are to think unfavorably about him. The thinking of the court is certainly not to be judged by greatcharlie. It is only outlining what it perceives as a likely possibility. (This statement is not intended as apophasis.) If one might take into account anything about Putin’s arrest warrant written here could even remotely have some influence, it would at best be as a cautionary assessment for Western foreign and national security bureaucracies to consider before pursuing the arrest warrant matter any further.

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (above) at the Kremlin on March 8, 2023. Whether the action was not thought through or was actually a subconscious aspect of the choice among powers of great influence in the West, the most likely connotation within the Kremlin of the West’s support for the issuance of an arrest warrant for Putin was a demonstration of the many levers of power at its disposal, to hurt him on the world stage. It was an exhibition of its power relative to his. A dynamic poorly concealed throughout the years of Putin’s interaction with Western powers was the need of its national leaders to remind him of his subordinate status and his struggle to make them accept him as an equal. That dynamic was readily apparent when the Russian Federation was a member of the erstwhile “G-8”, now the G-7 Interestingly, at one point, that membership was of considerable importance to him. Surely, that is no longer the case. Perhaps he brands himself an ass now for ever thinking he or the Russian Federation would ever really receive acceptance within it.

VII. Energetic Diplomacy: The Best Chance of Stemming Catastrophe

In the aftermath of everything, historians would likely be forced to choose whether there really was something so peculiar about Putin that makes energetic efforts at diplomacy at this stage so taxing. It may actually be the case that the fault for ineffective diplomatic efforts with lies with the foreign and national security policy officials and political leaders of the many countries that had to deal with him. Perchance it was the fault of both parties for failing to see a true middle ground in things satisfactory to both sides. Nevertheless, it is greatcharlie’s conviction that at the present the West is in grave danger. The source of that danger in the Russian Federation. Ending the Ukraine War on favorable or acceptable terms for all parties is of the utmost importance. However, the priority is to ease the world back from an apparent slow spiral to armageddon.

In its March 30th post, greatcharlie suggeeted that at this point, diplomacy with the Russian Federation on Ukraine has figuratively been knocked off the rails. True, indicting Putin was a step that practically ensured his refusal to negotiate with Kyiv unless he had attained some considerable advantage in Ukraine and his negotiating position would be very strong. However, rather than draw a line there as in March and succumb to despair, here greatcharlie pulls back from the statement that the opportunity for diplomacy has been lost. 

A  Having the Right Answers

Doubtlessly, there are more than a few Western diplomats ready and able to work on the problem and await directions for the next move by the West. Yet alas, that is hardly enough on its own to inspire confidence that the situation will be resolved. What would be crucial in launching a new diplomatic offensive would be employing an envoy who would have sufficient standing for such an errand, given Putin’s animus toward, one might imagine, all things of or pertaining to the West. The selected envoy could travel to Moscow to speak with Putin about his thinking and intentions. Rather than guess at what is on his mind, it would be better to hear it firsthand and definitively. If the kernel for negotiations with Moscow can be found, then there may be a chance for further positive exchanges. If Putin makes it clear that he will not brook any talk about the withdrawal of Russian Federation troops from Ukraine or reasonable terms for peace negotiations, and ratchets up threats to use nuclear weapons, at least there would be greater certainty over where things stand and what preparations must be made. Putin shall not countenance what he may perceive as a diminution of the great dignity of the Russian Federation. 

Although all countries with an immediate stake in the Ukraine matter should be made aware of the diplomatic effort to achieve an entente with Putin, the new contact may need to be performed discreetly. Perhaps this is best that can be done at this juncture. Hope can be the only thing that comforts people in misery. For Russian people, who are the ones who will decide whether there is a need for change in the direction their country has been moving, hope for that change could be founded through contact between their president and the outside world. Paradoxically, while Putin may indeed enhance his standing among many as they will see the Russian Federation still acting as an important player on the world stage, many others may perceive such diplomacy as proof that the Russian people are viewed as far more than just potential targets for retaliatory nuclear strikes from the the US, the United Kingdom, and France, and written off as nothing to signify. It is suggested by greatcharlie in an opaque way that such a diplomatic effort could even mean far more to the right number of them. In public discussions of the new diplomacy, Western diplomats would do well to emphasize the effort has been undertaken with consideration of the well-being of the Russian people and make other statements of that nature.

There are for certain countless pitfalls that could disrupt or even destroy a new, robust diplomatic effort. What may be most important for Western capitals to recognize are the right answers that will bring a negotiated settlement and peace. There is also the issue of time available. Again, Putin has a large say in how things will turn out and surely has his own timeliness for action. To that extent, until some acceptable path to peace is found, perhaps the greatest danger will remain a decision already made by him to act in some ghastly way.

B. In the Meantime, Will the West Lose Control of Its Junior Partner in Kyiv?

The indications and implications of multiple reporting, to include the Washington Post, of alleged swift action by US foreign and national security policy officials to halt a plan by Ukraine to launch mass strikes against Moscow may be that at least the White House is aware of just how close the world in to a potential nuclear war, it does not want that, and that it now has the extra burden of monitoring the behavior of its “junior partners” in Kyiv. It is uncertain whether the Ukrainian leadership was led to take such a course as result of a lack of wisdom and experience or a complete absorption in self-interest or both. However, if newsmedia stories of this episode are accurate, it would appear that they were blind as beetles to the possibility that their planned assault could have triggered a catastrophic response from the Kremlin to the great detriment of Ukraine, but the whole wide world

If Putin already has a mind and the will to take the most drastic step possible against the West, Kyiv in planning an attack on Moscow could have supplied him with a reason better than anything he could have conjured up. The world moves closer and closer to the edge of the precipice with every errant move as this. It is wonder if there were any other planned Ukrainian actions halted by Western powers that would have brought the world the worst. One wonders how long can this balancing act without a safety net go on without catastrophe.

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin, (left) and U.S President Joe Biden (right) shake hands during their meeting at the ‘Villa la Grange’ in Geneva, Switzerland in Geneva, Switzerland, June 16, 2021. Doubtlessly, there are more than a few Western diplomats ready and able to work on the problem and await directions for the next move by the West. Yet alas, that is hardly enough on its own to inspire confidence that the situation will be resolved. What would be crucial in launching a new diplomatic offensive would be employing an envoy who would have sufficient standing for such an errand given Putin’s animus toward, one might imagine, all things of or pertaining to the West. The selected envoy could travel to Moscow to speak with Putin about his thinking and intentions. Rather than guess at what is on his mind, it would be better to hear it firsthand and definitively. If the kernel for negotiations with Moscow can be found, then there may be a chance for further positive exchanges. If Putin makes it clear that he will not brook any talk about the withdrawal of Russian Federation troops from Ukraine or reasonable terms for peace negotiations, and ratchets up threats to use nuclear weapons, at least there would be greater certainty over where things stand and what preparations must be made.

The Way Forward

Putin watched his predecessors mismanage,  breakdown, and lose control over the Soviet Union while he was both inside and outside the system. Unable to repair the Russian Federation by replicating not even a simulacrum of what came before it, despite his best efforts, one might suggest he may have already decided to figuratively burn down “the wide-world and its fading sweets.” It is a wonder Putin has not gone mad given the extraordinary pressures that have relentlessly squeezed him since the special military operation began and even beforehand. Standing on the precipice of losing everything, it would best for the wide world if Putin can continue to retain his balance. The clear choice for him is either to continue forward or abandon at great personal loss, the reckless and destructive path upon which he set his country on February 24, 2022, and triggering the most undesirable statistical probability his predecessors foresaw the most likely outcome: a perpetuation of the struggle long-term would be between East and West, begun during the Cold War between the US and the erstwhile Soviet Union. Putin has mourned its collapse with considerable grief and disappointment.

Among those who use wisdom and logic, imagination can have value in an investigation. Imagination is a quality many lack, but many also lack wisdom and logic. Often it is the case that a lack of maturity inhibits one ability to reason matters out correctly. Just having an answer, right or wrong, based on some chain of thinking is enough for some. Smart, confident people can find a constructive solution to any problem. There is in reality nothing so mysterious about Putin that should lead any national leader to throw the possibility of acceptable relations with the Russian Federation out of the window. Welling up with the type of anger and disappointment that might cause them to find affinity with Putin’s worst critics will destroy any opportunity for a fruitful course to develop. As noted greatcharlie here ad nauseum, those leaders must consider what their respective countries’ relationships with the Russian Federation mean not only with regard to Ukraine, but in the bigger picture. When leaders lose sight of the multifaceted nature of their respective countries’ relationships with the RussianFederation, they create the danger of driving those relationships down to lower points. They should think about current so-called challenges as opportunities. Meditating on the matter, they may discover possibilities for getting many things done by just doing things a bit differently. Leaders should not let bad words, negative choices flashover all issues regarding the Russian Federation and become civilization’s dénouement. positive changes on one issue can often result in great benefits on another. Respice finem (Have regard for the end.)

A Proposal for the Ukrainian Armed Forces Concerning Russian Federation Prisoners of War That Supports Military Objectives while Sowing Seeds for Peace

A Russian Federation BMP-3 crew signals surrender to Ukrainian troops by placing a white flag in the vehicle’s gun barrel (above). Despite any gains that may be emphasized by Moscow, the slaughter of Russian Federation troops continues in Ukraine. Most Russian Federation units that have taken the field in Ukraine have been battered and tattered to degrees well-beyond what most modern armed forces around the world would find acceptable. One might proffer that Russian Federation commanders do not see anything so odd in what they are doing, but their troops indubitably have vastly disparate views from them concerning the bloodshed. From all of this, the Ukrainian Armed Forces early on recognized an opportunity to exploit the situation in a non-lethal way. That effort actually got underway in 2023 in a very public manner through the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ Prisoner of War/Psychological Operations program managed by the Coordinating Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War. The program has had its share of successes. However, with a thought to enhance ongoing work, greatcharlie suggests an additional approach be developed within the existing program. Russian Federation troops are currently required to be proactive in the effort to become prisoners of war, but to that extent the process is somewhat one-sided. Under a program proposed here, Russian Federation troops would find some greater comfort and more confidence in following through on any plans they may have to escape the war knowing the Ukrainian Armed Forces, an enemy who can also serve as a rescuer, would be proactively trying to save them amidst the fighting.

If one the top commanders of Vooruzhonnije Síly Rossíyskoj Federátsii (the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, hereinafter referred to as the Russian Federation Armed Forces) were to give an honest assessment of the prospects for Russian forces in Ukraine he would likely reply average, meaning they were worse than the year before but likely better than the year to come. Once much vaunted as a titanic war machine, the Russian Federation Armed Forces hardly lived up with their billing. Showing themselves as something less than an authentic 21st century fighting force, they unexpectedly collided with two obstructions in Ukraine: reality and Zbrojni syly Ukrayiny (Armed Forces of Ukraine, hereinafter referred to as the Ukrainian Armed Forces) well-assisted by the US, other NATO countries, as well as countries from around the world. Clearly Russian Federation forces were sent into Ukraine with hardly any idea of what they would face or how they could effectively fight a war, and consequently members of the Russian Federation Armed Forces have suffered immensely. There has been little evidence of an awareness among Russian Federation commanders of how to effectively organize forces and what minimum-essential control measures should be in place; as well as the general planning, preparation, and execution considerations for offensive and defensive operations. One is left to wonder what most Russian Federation commanders actually know about the art and science of tactics. As in previous posts, greatcharlie does not feel it can overemphasize just how below average the military acumen of Russian Federation commanders really is. Given the way in which the Spetsial’noy Voyennoy Operatsii (Special Military Operation) was designed, greatcharlie will go out on limb and state the task of rolling Russian Federation military formations into Ukraine could have been performed by logistical managers of a large-sized transport or delivery service company with albeit a modicum of military advice but no military experience as effectively or better than Russian Federation commanders. Amoto quaeramus seria ludo. (Jokes aside, let us turn to serious matters.)

One of the most intriguing and horrifying aspects of Russian Federation commanders’ prosecution of the war, is the manner in which they figuratively slam their troops against the wall of Ukrainian defenders with the hope that if they pound hard enough they will break through. The continued slaughter of their troops may have allowed for not much more than the ego stroke of conquest of less than significant objectives relative to the bigger picture. An implication of this tact is that the Russian Federation’s Armed Forces have practically guaranteed they will not have enough experienced troops left to accomplish anything on a larger scale in Ukraine. There are no indications that there is anything Russian Federation commanders plan to do to reduce casualties among their units. Most Russian Federation units that have taken the field in Ukraine have been battered and tattered to degrees well-beyond what most modern armed forces around the world would find acceptable. One might proffer that Russian Federation commanders do not see anything so odd in what they are doing, but their troops indubitably have vastly disparate views from them concerning the bloodshed. From all of this, the Ukrainian Armed Forces early on recognized an opportunity to exploit the situation in a non-lethal way. That effort actually got underway in 2023 in a very public manner through the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ Prisoner of War/Psychological Operations program managed by the Coordinating Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War. The program has had its share of successes. The noble program has saved the lives of a number of Russian Federation troops who were able to reason things out and recognize the realities of their overall situation.

However, with a thought to enhance ongoing work in this province, greatcharlie would suggest an additional approach be considered for use by the Coordinating Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War, Similar in some way to the “I want to Live” 24-hour hotline, it creates a path for the surrender of Russian Federation troops. The existing program was very publicly announced and advertised. As part of the program, a rationale was provided online for why Russian Federation troops should surrender to survive, and a telephone was provided for them to call to arrange their surrender with staff of the Coordinating Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War. However, under the existing program, Russian soldiers are required to be proactive in the effort to become prisoners of war. To that extent, the process is rather one-sided. Under a program proposed here, Russian Federation troops would find some greater comfort and more confidence in following through on any plans they may have to escape the war with all of its ills and absurdities knowing the Ukrainian Armed Forces, an enemy who can also serve as a rescuer, would be proactively trying to save them. What is proposed is a concrete plan of action that would give Russian Federation troops the choice of whether to stay and somewhat likely lose their lives for a lost cause or go and live a full life with the help of Ukraine. Perhaps it could be said that greatcharlie has maintained perspective but at the same time has done quite a bit of what some of its readers have characterized as whining about the Ukraine War since it began. Admittedly, only on a handful of occasions has it “deigned” to offer possible solutions. (Rather than just point out problems, it is more constructive to offer ways to defeat them.) Hopefully, the proposed plan is of sufficient potency to have some immediate value to officials in Ukraine and those of other countries who may advise them on the war. Quid ergo? non ibo per priorum vestigia? ego vero utar via vetere, sed si propiorem planioremque invenero, hanc muniam. Qui ante nos ista moverunt non domini nostri sed duces sunt. Patet omnibus veritas; nondum est occupata; multum ex illa etiam futuris relictum est. (What then? Shall I not follow in the footsteps of my predecessors? I shall indeed use the old road, but if I find one that makes a shorter cut and is smoother to travel, I shall open the new road. Men who have made these discoveries before us are not our masters, but our guides. Truth lies open for all; it has not yet been monopolized. And there is plenty of it left even for posterity to discover.)

Recruits listen to a Russian Army instructor showing mobilized troops how to use a man-portable missile during a military training at a firing range in the Rostov-on-Don region in the Russian Federation on October 4, 2022. The Russian Federation called up over 200,000 reservists as part of a partial mobilization. The mobilized troops–Mobiks, as the Ukrainians call them–depicted here are very likely in a mental fog as they assemble in their camp. Their uncertainty and fear is palpable even through the photo. Many upon donning their green uniforms for the first time likely wondered if the countdown to their end had begun at that moment. The Scottish psychiatrist, James A.C. Brown, assessed the use of propaganda by the United Kingdom during World War II with the following observation: “Propaganda is successful only when directed at those who are willing to listen, absorb the information, and if possible, act on it, and this happens only when the other side is in a condition of lowered morale and is already losing the campaign.”

Dire Circumstances of Russian Federation Troops 

To address the dire circumstances of Russian Federation troops, some background on just how bad things have been for them on the battlefield in Ukraine. On November 10, 2022, the US Department of Defense announced an official assessment that over 100,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in action or wounded in Ukraine. Thus, the US Department of Defense figures indicated that during 260 days of fighting to that point, an average of 385 Russian soldiers had been killed or injured each day. The official figure issued by the Russian Federation Ministry of Defense in September 2022 put the number of Russian troops killed at 5,937, a figure Western officials said grossly underestimated the country’s losses. Further, the US Department of Defense figure suggested that the daily fighting along the 1000-mile front line that winds around the eastern edges of Ukraine is very intense. A significant part of the struggle is being fought from World War I-style trenches in which soldiers dug into muddy fortifications suffer relentless artillery onslaughts until their units are destroyed or displaced. So apparently horrible is the situation for Russian Federation troops on the frontlines that Ukrainian soldiers have expressed empathy for them. They have witnessed firsthand how Russian Federation troops–invaders in their country–have been forced to sacrifice themselves when ordered to advance on their lines. A word often heard from Ukrainian frontline soldiers commenting on how Russian Federation troops were handled by their commanders is “cruel.” Ineffective frontal assault tactics are endlessly repeated. Ukrainian troops typically remark that “Russian soldiers advance, Ukrainian artillery destroys them, then more come the next day. Captured Russians say their comrades face execution on desertion charges if they don’t keep moving.” Reportedly, some Ukrainian soldiers have gone as far as to describe Russian Federation troops as being “like zombies.” The Kyiv Post, citing an Agence France-Presse interview of a Ukrainian soldier, provided the quote: “You shoot them and more come.” The indications and implications of what they say is that even incremental advances achieved through localized attacks have come at a high price for the Russian Federation troops. As explained to the Guardian by a United Kingdom intelligence service, the “unprofessional” military practices of the Russian Federation Armed Forces were likely partly to blame for the high casualties.

As discussed in greatcharlie’s January 31, 2023 post entitled “Reflections on the Battle of the Crater in Relation to Russian Federation Casualties in Ukraine: Where Did All the Leaders Go?”, when soldiers are: uncertain of mission if the overall concept of a military action is unjust, invalid by law; uncertain of the purpose of a military action: the political authority’s concept and intent for the action is unclear and their commander’s concept and intent are unclear; uncertain their leadership is dysfunctional: commanders are hamstrung by superiors and confined to parameters of action by political systems or they are simply delinquent and negligent; uncertain of their capabilities versus the opponent–soldiers are provided poor equipment, their force has readily observable vulnerabilities, their opponent possess superior, seemingly invincible, and unlimited supplies of weapon systems; and, uncertain of victory–on a daily basis, soldiers experience heavy losses in equipment, exceedingly high casualties in their ranks, the regular loss of comrades, the influx of untrained replacements, and they sense their sacrifices will prove to be meaningless. Such strains and trauma placed upon soldiers could prove to be irreparable. 

Reportedly, no figures are publicly available that tally the number of Russian Federation troops that have simply deserted since the start of the Special military operation. In a November 2022 report based on newsmedia stories from the Russian Federation that was published by analysts from the Institute for the Study of War, it was suggested that hundreds of Russian Federation troops had left their units and were evading capture in no less than 7 locations in Donetsk and Luhansk. The report stated: “The morale and psychological state of Russian forces in the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts are exceedingly low.” It further explained: “Significant losses on the battlefield, mobilization to the front lines without proper training, and poor supplies have led to cases of desertion.” The Scottish psychiatrist, James A.C. Brown, assessed the use of propaganda by the United Kingdom during World War II with the following observation: “Propaganda is successful only when directed at those who are willing to listen, absorb the information, and if possible, act on it, and this happens only when the other side is in a condition of lowered morale and is already losing the campaign.”

Igne natura renovatur integra. (Through fire, nature is reborn whole.) Despite the terrifying and intolerable circumstances they have faced Russian Federation troops, an opportunity has been created for both the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the beleaguered Russian Federation troops to bring their situations somewhat closer to a favorable end. As alluded to earlier, an ongoing Prisoner of War/Psychological Operations program, the “I want to Live” 24-hour hotline of the Coordinating Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War has been established for Russian Federation military personnel who wish to exit the war by surrender and perhaps by defection. For Russian Federation troops, the move would mean violating federal law, which likely conjures in their minds all of the frightening prospects of being caught in the act. Nevertheless, the Ukrainian Armed Forces seem quite willing to help them do that. In addition to Russian Federation troops using the hotline, their relatives can also access the program. To reach the hotlines by Telegram and WhatsApp, they have been told to contact: +380 95 68 86 888; +380 93 68 86 888; and, +380 97 68 86 888. To reach the holiness by phone, contact: +380 44 35 08 917. From Ukrainian phone numbers, one would only need to dial: 688. Reportedly, information is also available in the chatbot in Telegram. The program goes as far as to instruct Russian Federation troops on how to surrender. To surrender as a group or an entire unit, they are told to: stack all weapons in front of you at a distant distance; stand directly in front of the military equipment. Silence it; it should not be in a fighting position; and, choose a negotiator to notify the Ukrainian military of their desire to surrender. This should be an officer or the most senior in rank. With a white flag and no weapons. To surrender individually, they are told to: unbuckle the magazine and hang the weapon on your left shoulder with the barrel down; raise and show your empty hands; hold up the white cloth; shout loudly, “Zdayusʹ!”; approach on command, and comply with the demands of Ukrainian Armed Forces troops and other Ukrainian military formations such as the Territorial Defense Forces, the National Police, the National Guard, and the Security Service of Ukraine.

It is apparent that the title of the “I want to Live” 24-hour hotline has an acidulous tone from the get-go, which also seems to manifest a deep antipathy. Further, the program was really targeted at the psyche of Russian Federation troops on an individual level. Despite the fact that nearly everyone on the frontline, both Russians and Ukrainians, are aware of the “I Want To Live” program’s existence, activities under it are nevertheless performed in a somewhat clandestine way. There are opportunities to exploit with regard to garnering greater numbers of Russian Federation troops to surrender as well as defect. It would appear that far more could be done in that province. 

It is greatcharlie’s suggestion that perhaps at this point the Ukrainian Armed Forces should go step further than its current effort by standing up new military Teams within the Coordinating Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War with a mission to greatly enhance the effort to encourage–lure–greater numbers of Russian Federation to surrender and defect using a mix of tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods. Rather than hoping to bring over one or two soldiers at a time or perhaps even a squad, the objective of the proposed Teams would be to trigger surrenders and defections en masse along the frontline, particularly among Mobiks, the Ukrainian term for Russian Federation citizens hastily mobilized in 2022 for the Ukraine War.

Through the suggested program, the Ukrainian Armed Forces might be able to accomplish reductions of enemy opposition that could only be achieved through high intensity fighting with Russian Federation units during which it, too, would likely suffer losses in precious troops and materiel of which it is reliant upon foreign largess. To the extent that might possible, the proposed program could have a multiplier effect on the battlefield and beyond. 

The Provost Teams would act under the direct authority of the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff. These teams, formed with officers, noncommissioned officers, and enlisted men called Provosts, could operate along active points on the frontline particularly where Mobiks have been tossed into the line and suffering inordinate numbers of casualties. Sections of the frontline where platoons of Provosts would be deployed would come under the command of a Provost Marshal or company commander. As envisioned, the Provosts deployed along the forward edge of the battle area should not tally in excess of a battalion in strength, and led by a battalion commander, the Coordinating Provost Marshal. (Of course, these titles are mere suggestions and the Ukrainian Armed Forces would know best how to designate troops with the Provost Teams’ table of organization.) As shortages in personnel in the Ukrainian Armed Forces cannot be overstated, the staffing of personnel in the Provost Teams must be economizedi. However, the proposed Provost Teams must be sufficiently staffed ti do their intensive work rapidly, efficiently and successfully. In their mission, time is of the essence.

What follows is a kernel of the proposed program. A variety of tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods are suggested for Provosts to use are outlined. Readers may detect that some suggestions appear repetitive, especially as the discussion covers the implementation of the proposed program during both defensive and offensive operations. As all aspects of the proposed program are harmonized to create a synergistic effect, naturally some overlap exists. However, more importantly, where such repetition appears to occur, there are actually subtle, necessary changes in the text. Equally important, by writing in a seemingly repetitive way, readers are enabled to consider all or individual segments of the proposed program without requiring them to move back and forth to recall elements of the tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods mentioned in the preceding segments–much as with a legal brief.

The Neptune, employed on September 23, 1870, was first balloon used by the French government during the Siege of Paris in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871). The Franco-Prussian War of 1870 saw the first documented use of manned balloons as carriers of propaganda leaflets, as well as the mail. As Prussian forces surrounded the city of Paris, the Neptune, a balloon deployed from the city dropped French government proclamations of defiance and indomitability over Prussian troops. During World War I, the British Royal Flying Corps initiated the use of leaflets, dropping them over Imperial German trenches and territory in an attempt to induce German troops to surrender. Messages printed on various leaflets included reports of the humane conditions in the British prisoners of war camps, surrender notices, and anti-Kaiser Wilhelm II material. During World War II, efforts with them were made more effective with disillusioned opposition troops when leaflets also served as safe conduct passes and provided instructions on how to feign illness to avoid frontline service. Leaflets were used in wars afterward to include the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Using this tried and true method of communicating with opposition troops, leaflets with nuanced messages printed on them that encourage Russian Federation troops to surrender or defect could be dropped on them via aircraft, drones, or artillery.

I. Reaching Ukrainian Lines to Surrender 

A.  During Defensive Operations

One can be assured that learning how ro surrender is not a segment of the brief training program in which Mobiks participate before heading to the frontlines with their units. That instruction must come from the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Instructions on how to surrender provided by a variety of means, should essentially mirror, mutantis mutandis, those provided online through the aforementioned “I Want To Live” program should be printed on the initial iterations of leaflets. The nuance would be that instead of surrendering to Ukrainian Armed Forces troops and other Ukrainian military formations such as the Territorial Defense Forces, the National Police, the National Guard, and the Security Service of Ukraine, Russian Federation troops would be surrendering to Provosts. Russian Federation troops should still be directed to drop their weapons, unlatch their utility belts, and other gear and dash toward large trenches or earthworks created in a clandestine way during the 3rd or 4th watch. The trenches must be concealed to the greatest degree possible from Russian Federation lines but open as much as possible to observation by Ukrainian troops both day and night. From the trenches and earthworks, a concealed path, something akin to a long drainage ditch, should be built for the surrendering Russian Federation troops to crawl along in single file, toward awaiting armed Provosts. More than one crawl could be created from the trench. That would depend on time available ultimately shaped by the assault timetable of Russian Federation commanders. Both the prisoner of war trenches, earthworks, and crawl paths should be covered at all times by sharpshooter and machine guns to both protect them, prevent infiltration through their use, and thwart the efforts of those assigned to harm them. The Russian Federation troops could be processed one by one as prisoners of war right off the crawl paths, and moved out of the forward edge of the battle area through separate and concealed lines of communication. Provosts must closely coordinate with Ukrainian commanders in their sector to ensure the prisoner of war operations would in no way interfere with their defensive operations

B. During Offensive Operations

Different from defensive operations, Russian Federation troops facing eminent attack by Ukrainian troops will at least typically be hunkered down in concealed positions. Soon enough, many will run for their lives lacking the wherewithal to resist and motivation to fight. During a previous Ukrainian counteroffensive, A member of a Ukrainian intelligence unit on the front line told The Telegraph that his unit saw the Russian Federation chain of command collapse before their eyes and troops flee without putting up a fight. The panicked Russian Federation troops reportedly abandoned their tanks, weapons and even clothes amid the chaos  as they “literally” ran from their positions. Indeed, it was alleged that many of them rapidly changed into civilian clothes ostensibly to avoid detection by their superiors. A drone operator returning from the front line told The Telegraph during the Ukrainian Armed Forces counteroffensive in September 2022, that the tempo of the operation had even caught Ukrainian troops by surprise. He stated that he observed Ukrainian troops struggling to recover the mountains of abandoned Russian Federation armored vehicles and ammunition. Monitoring Ukrainian assaults from above, the drone operators reportedly watched engagements and heard communications between Russian Federation troops as their units were being destroyed before they had time to identify their enemy.

Convincing Russian Federation troops to leave their trenches and foxholes to run toward Ukrainian troops to surrender would be very difficult. They know doing so would leave them open to extra judicial execution for voluntary surrender and desertion by fire from their own lines. Additionally, it might prove difficult for them to know where to run as Ukrainian units preparing to advance would do everything possible to avoid revealing the locations of their lines of departure. Certainly, there would not be the opportunity or ability to prepare anything similar to earthworks or trenches for surrendering and deserting Russian Federation troops to make a break for and secrete themselves as would hypothetically be the case during defensive operations under the proposed program. Given such, Provost Teams would be required to make efficient use of a combination of leaflets, online messages, and loudspeakers to communicate with Russian Federation troops desiring to surrender or defect. Proper timing in the use of all three approaches would be critical to the survival of Russian Federation troops and the ability of Provosts to provide for their safe conduct in the midst of what to them would most likely be the very confusing circumstances of a high-intensity,  highly-mobile, and very violent Ukrainian Armed Forces’ assault. As during defensive operations, Provosts must coordinate with Ukrainian commanders in their sector to ensure the prisoner of war operations would in no way interfere with their assault.

Becoming a prisoner of war is ordinarily undesirable. Yet, for these Russian Federation troops the fighting is over. They were not killed or gravely wounded on the frontline. They will live to see another day (above). Using a tried and true method of communicating with opposition troops, leaflets with nuanced messages printed on them that encourage Russian Federation troops to surrender or defect could be dropped on them via aircraft, drones, or artillery. The messages on leaflets could go as far as to suggest Russian Federation troops abandon their frontline positions or use advances ordered by their commanders to run toward Ukrainian lines. Leaflets could explain, with the aim of connecting with the inner thinking of the Russian Federation troops, that the frontline key offers death. In following, they should be explained that rather than waiting to see if they will make it through unscathed, be gravely wounded or be killed, the best alternative would be to surrender or defect. The leaflets should explain that their rights as prisoners of war will be fully recognized and respected, and that once they surrendered, they would be treated with dignity. Additionally, the leaflets must tell them that they will moved away from the frontlines, out of harm’s way, immediately after they surrender.

Ii. Leaflets

A. During Defensive Operations

The Franco-Prussian War of 1870 saw the first documented use of manned balloons as carriers of propaganda leaflets, as well as the mail. As Prussian forces surrounded the city of Paris, the Neptune, a balloon deployed from the city dropped leaflets baring forceful French government proclamations of defiance and indomitability over Prussian troops. During World War I, the British Royal Flying Corps initiated the use of leaflets, dropping them over Imperial German trenches and territory in an attempt to induce German troops to surrender. Messages printed on various leaflets included reports of the humane conditions in the British prisoners of war camps, surrender notices, and anti-Kaiser Wilhelm II material. During World War II, efforts with them were made more effective with disillusioned opposition troops when leaflets also served as safe conduct passes and provided instructions on how to feign illness to avoid frontline service. Leaflets were used in wars afterward to include the Korean War and the Vietnam War. In the present Ukraine War, leaflets with nuanced messages printed on them that encourage Russian Federation troops to surrender or defect could be dropped on them via aircraft, drones, or artillery. The messages on leaflets could go as far as to suggest Russian Federation troops abandon their frontline positions or use advances ordered by their commanders to run toward Ukrainian lines. Leaflets could explain, with the aim of connecting with the inner thinking of the Russian Federation troops, that the frontline key offers death. In following, they should be told that rather than waiting to see if they will make it through unscathed, be gravely wounded or be killed, the best alternative would be to surrender or defect. The leaflets should explain that their rights as prisoners of war will be fully recognized and respected, and that once they surrendered, they would be treated with dignity. Additionally, the leaflets must tell them that they will be transported away from the frontlines, out of harm’s way, immediately after they surrender. The leaflets should explain that the surrendering and defecting troops received clean water to drink, hot food, warm blankets, and coffee or tea.

Important to add on each leaflet, in type that would stand out, should be the promise to protect Russian Federation troops from unstable commanders who have recklessly thrown them across no man’s land without regard for their lives. They must be told that the whole world knows about their plight. It must be explained that if they so choose, they will be allowed to safely return to the Russian Federation via prisoner of war exchanges negotiated During the war or prisoner of war exchanges after the war. If any Russian Federation troops make the choice to defect, they should be informed in the leaflets that they will be allowed to remain in Ukraine via immigration or be assisted in efforts to immigrate to countries in the West that may be willing to accept them 

As for how to surrender, the leaflets should provide instructions that closely parallel those provided online through the aforementioned “I Want To Live” program. This is especially true with regard to the handling of their weapons. The nuance would be that instead of surrendering to Ukrainian Armed Forces troops and other Ukrainian military formations such as the Territorial Defense Forces, the National Police, the National Guard, and the Security Service of Ukraine, Russian Federation troops would be surrendering to Provosts. (Perhaps Provosts could affix an embroidered badge to their uniforms with Provost Team title on it in both Ukrainian and Russian so that Russian Federation troops could readily identify who they were once in contact. Of course, Russian Federation troops should not be discouraged from surrendering or defecting on any occasion. All military formations and security services would be open to receive them. Those formations should be issued orders to turn all captive Russian Federation troops over to the custody of the Provosts.)

Russian Federation troops must be instructed to retain and present leaflets essentially as a memorandum of understanding between them and the Ukrainian Armed Forces. The success of the proposed program would rely in great part on the credibility of the Provost Teams. Their credibility would be best established with Russian Federation troops by their actions. To that extent, the effort must be made to follow through on promises printed on the leaflets without fail. Russian Federation troops must be moved away from the forward edge of the battle area, out of harm’s way immediately after capture. They must be provided with clean water, hot food, warm blankets, and coffee and tea. More than one design of leaflet should be produced. The message akin to a memorandum of understanding concerning safe conduct discussed earlier as a requirement should be printed on every leaflet and perhaps could even be titled as such on the leaflets.

Drones could be used as a way to reconnoiter and surveil Russian Federation positions upon which leaflets could be dropped. Drones could be modified to deliver leaflets upon Russian Federation troops. An organic capability to perform that function would facilitate operations. If creating an organic capability to identify Russian Federation positions might prove to be unfeasible, the military intelligence services of the Ukrainian Armed Forces could support Provost Teams by providing intelligence on confirmed and suspected locations. This method of leaflet delivery may not provide the capacity of distribution artillery shells or delivery from aircraft. However, given shortage in pilots and shortages of airframe in the Ukrainian Armed Forces, using aircraft to deliver leaflets may be determined to be too risky given the low priority of the mission versus combat air support and transport operations.

Leaflets dropped on Russian Federation troops could also serve a purpose similar to infrared reflective patches, chemlights, VS-17 panels or signal panel markers, and colored smoke typically used by military organizations to mark friendly personnel and locations. Leaflets should provide instructions on what to do in order to facilitate a safe surrender or defection before their lives are ended or they are gravely wounded as a result of being wastefully slammed against the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Online, Russian Federation troops could be told that every effort would be made to spare them from the firepower that would surely be used to halt their respective unit’s assault.

Russian Federation troops must be instructed within the leaflets’ message to collect at least one from among the thousands strewn across their lines and secrete it on themselves or keep it close at hand. As leaflets, dropped in astronomical numbers, would likely be drifting all about Russian Federation lines in great numbers and landing just about everywhere, Russian Federation troops seeking to surrender or defect would be afforded a plausible reason to have leaflets in or near their positions. As a guise, Russian Federation troops could stack the leaflets nearby or in their positions in preparation for their use, yet claim they have done so with the purpose of policing their areas

If not possible during the daytime, at night, Russian Federation troops should place as many leaflets as possible in front of their positions. Russian Federation troops should be instructed even in mild weather conditions to weigh leaflets down with rocks, stones, or branches, or any combination of those materials as made available on the terrain. The objects used to weigh the leaflets down must be placed on the corners of the leaflets

In inclement weather, Leaflets could be weighted down in a crossing pattern on the leaflets with rocks, stones, tree branches, mud, and dirt the terrain provides or with pieces of their military gear. What would be most important for the Russian Federation troops to avoid is obscuring the leaflets with whatever they might use to weigh them down in front of their positions. It would be critical not to obscure the observation of their piles of leaflets from above. Ukrainian sharpshooters along the rapidly shifting frontlines would need to be informed that Russian Federation’s troops might be seen placing piles of leaflets In front of their positions as instructed by Provosts via leaflets online messages and loudspeakers. and they must not be be fired upon. Paradoxically Ukrainian sharpshooters should be directed to provide overwatch for the Russian Federation troops engaged in that activity with the leaflet by firing upon Russian Federation sharpshooters who may be ordered to fire upon their own comrades engaged in placing leaflets in front of their positions as instructed by Provosts.

Russian Federation troops must be told not to be concerned about leaflets gathered coincidentally in clumps in their lines that resemble their own manufactured piles. Such occurrences would be expected if hypothetical leaflets are dropped upon their positions almost daily. It will be important for Provosts or members of the military intelligence services of the Ukrainian Armed Forces to correctly distinguish between piles of leaflets created from the pollution of paper in Russian Federation lines and the piles constructed by Russian Federation troops.

B.. During Offensive Operations

Using leaflets during offensive operations would likely be a bit trickier for Provosts, but certainly possible. Drones could be used as means to reconnoiter and surveil far forward of Ukrainian frontlines to identify Russian Federation defensive positions upon leaflet could be dropped. Drones could be modified to deliver leaflets upon Russian Federation troops. As suggested earlier, an organic capability to perform that function would facilitate operations. If creating an organic capability to identify Russian Federation positions might prove to be unfeasible, the military intelligence services of the Ukrainian Armed Forces could support Provost Teams by providing intelligence on confirmed and suspected locations. 

As noted with regard to defensive operations, this method of leaflet delivery may not provide the capacity of distribution artillery shells or delivery from aircraft. Yet again, given shortage in pilots and shortages of airframes in the Ukrainian Armed Forces inventory, using aircraft to deliver leaflets may be determined to be too risky given the low priority of the mission versus combat air support and transport operations.

Leaflets should be used by Russian Federation troops during offensive operations launched in their direction in a similar way to their proposed use in defensive operations. The concept for the use of leaflets in both cases should parallel the concept behind marker panels. Leaflets should be piled up in front of Russian Federation troops’ defensive positions. Russian Federation troops should be instructed to collect as many leaflets as possible to make certain they will be able to create a visible pile. Leaflets dropped should explain to the greatest extent possible given space available on the sheet made of paper or some other more durable material, how Russian Federation troops could best protect their piles of them from being dismantled or destroyed by weather conditions. Russian Federation troops must be told that every effort would be made to identify their positions through piled up leaflets. It also must be explained that Russian Federation troops emerging from positions marked with leaflets that they will be given every opportunity to surrender or defect safely

Since the frontlines will likely shift constantly with every bound by advancing Ukrainian units during offensive operations, Ukrainian troops will surely come across various iterations of them. To avoid adverse reactions to seeing images they might perceive on leaflets as Russian Federation troops which they are fighting and being killed and injured by, practically being treated as honored guests. In advance of Ukrainian assaults, commanders must explain to their troops on the march about the leaflets they will surely encounter and what they as well as Provosts’ loudspeaker announcements they will hear are all about. Ukrainian troops should be told that it is all part of an important program under the Coordinating Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War, why there are so many leaflets, and their possible role in helping bring a faster, favorable end to the war. (It is very likely that while Ukrainian units are in defensive operations, leaflets may drift over to their positions in large numbers. Russian Federation lines will be polluted with leaflets. Winds should be expected to occasionally carry the leaflets in the Ukrainian’s direction. Ukrainian commanders should explain on such occasions what the purpose of the leaflets and loudspeaker announcements are and how they work to their troops advantage.)

A sort of “online leaflet” posted for Russian Federation troops by the Association of Lawyers in Ukraine urging them to surrender and explaining how to do so (above). In conjunction with the production and distribution of leaflets, Provosts could post messages on multiple online sites, perhaps creating new ones each week–perhaps sooner if necessary–to thwart Russian counterintelligence efforts to block access to information that must be provided to support the surrender and defection of Russian Federation troops. To ensure Russian Federation troops would receive the messages or at least make certain the messages were available to them could be supported by the capabilities of the military intelligence services of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. As with leaflets, online messages should provide information on alternative ways Russian Federation troops must act and tasks they must perform to ensure their survival and safe conduct to and through Ukrainian lines. Online messages must explain that Russian Federation troops’ rights as prisoners of war will be fully observed once they surrender and that they will be treated with respect. 

III. The Enhancement of Online Efforts

A. During Defensive Operations

In conjunction with the production and distribution of leaflets, Provosts could post messages on multiple online sites, perhaps creating new ones each week–perhaps sooner if necessary–to thwart Russian counterintelligence efforts to block access to information that must be provided to support the surrender and defection of Russian Federation troops. To ensure Russian Federation troops would receive the messages or at least make certain the messages were available to them could be supported by the capabilities of the military intelligence services of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. As with leaflets, online messages should provide information on alternative ways Russian Federation troops must act and tasks they must perform to ensure their survival and safe conduct to and through Ukrainian lines. Online messages must explain that Russian Federation troops’ rights as prisoners of war will be fully observed once they surrender and that they will be treated with respect. They must be assured that they will receive clean water, hot food, coffee and tea, and warm blankets. They should be told that immediately after surrender–unless conditions prevent such movement, they will be extracted from the forward edge of the battle area and out of harm’s way well to the rear. They must also be told that they will be protected from the wrath of unstable commanders who have willingly sacrificed their fallen comrades for a questionable military invasion. As with leaflets, online messages should inform the Russian Federation troops that they will be allowed to return to their homeland via prisoner exchanges negotiation during the war or at the end of the war, if they desire to return on the occasion of either. They should also be informed that if they seek to defect, they would be allowed to remain in Ukraine through the process of immigration or be assisted in immigrating to countries in the West that would be willing to accept them either during or after the war. The Ukrainians promise to assist with these matters must be a solemn pledge. All important is the requirement that Russian Federation troops be instructed online to try as best as possible to collect at least one leaflet dropped on their lines. They must be told to retain leaflets and present them as a memorandum of understanding between them and the Ukrainian Armed Forces. To facilitate the collection of leaflets by Russian Federation troops, a regular deluge of leaflets should be dropped on Russian Federation positions 

As the proposed prisoner of war program develops, and within the strictures of the Geneva Convention, attendant with online messages on the sites should be videos and photographs of Russian Federation troops who have surrendered. Not just for the photo opportunity, Actual Russian Federation prisoners of war could be depicted wearing clean and neat clothes, in safe, hygienic detention centers.. Appropriate videos and photos should depict the Russian Federation prisoners of war engaged in daily activities at detention centers. To that extent, some videos and photos of Russian Federation troops who have surrendered should be posted after their capture, depicting them drinking clean water, tea, and coffee, and wearing clean dry clothes and covered in warm blankets. Authentic videos and photos of those who surrendered in inclement conditions, should also display them a few short hours after capture being held clean dry spaces, well-protected from cold, wind, rain and snow.

Within a couple of weeks after the proposed program might be launched, it might be useful for Provosts to include images of a handful of Russian Federation prisoners of war, with their consent, with vetting, and within the strictures of the Geneva Convention, might be flown with selected Provosts to European capitals for tours with the support of the respective host countries. The Geneva Convention forbids the public display of prisoners of war. However, foreign travel for tourism could be declared to be recreational and intended to have a therapeutic effect upon war weary Mobiks and as an effort. In genuine travel videos and photographs, the prisoners of war could be shown wearing civilian clothes, uniform in style and color–for example they could all be seen wearing black pants and lavender shirts, sweaters, and gray plaid trench coats–calmly enjoying tourist attractions, museums, and cafes in the daytime, and a bit of the nightlife available. In all videos and photographs,  the faces of the prisoners of war must be obscured. During these tours, the prisoners of war will be under guard of elements of the Coordinating Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War. They should coordinate with, and hopefully receive the support of, national, provincial, and local police forces, and the host countries’ security services. True videos and photographs of Russian Federation prisoners of war in such positive circumstances should have an overwhelmingly positive impact on Russian Federation troops still serving under dreadful circumstances on the frontlines.

All online messages, videos, and photos must be produced by Provosts as part of their duties. To that extent, the need to fulfill that task should be taken into account during staffing. Videos and photographs of Prisoners of war at detention centers or traveling to Western capitals, would likely need to be produced by other elements of the Coordinating Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War.

With regard to communicating messages to Russian Federation troops who want to surrender and defect, a greater amount of space to present information would certainly be available online. Through the websites of the Provosts, more thorough online instructions on what to do in order to facilitate a safe surrender or defection before their lives are ended or they are gravely wounded as a result of being wastefully slammed against the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Russian Federation troops should be told online that every effort would be made to spare them from the firepower that would surely be used to halt their respective unit’s assault.

Online messages could additionally provide illustrations of where and how Russian Federation troops should place leaflets before their positions. Illustrations posted with online messages could explain how to place leaflets before their position in inclement weather. Further, illustrations could be posted that would explain the necessity of placing leaflets before their positions so that they are visible from the air and how to do so. The message that every effort would be made to identify the positions of Russian Federation troops desiring to surrender and defect should be reinforced online. Added to that, it must be emphasized in messages that Russian Federation troops emerging from positions marked with piles of leaflets shall be given every opportunity to come toward Ukrainian lines and surrender and defect  safely.

B. During Offensive Operations

During offensive operations by Ukrainian units, in one instance, Russian Federation troops should be instructed online to try as best as possible to collect at least one leaflet dropped on their lines. They must be told to retain and present leaflets essentially as a memorandum of understanding between them and the Ukrainian Armed Forces. In another instance, in a way paralleling their use during defensive operations, leaflets dropped on Russian Federation troops could be used by them to indicate their intentions to either surrender or defect. Again, given the greater amount of space to present information online, through the websites of the Provosts, more thorough instructions could be provided on what to do in order to facilitate a safe surrender or defection in the face of a counteroffensive by the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Online, Russian Federation troops could be told that every effort would be made to spare them from the onslaught of firepower that would surely be part of an assault.

As during defensive operations of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, illustrations could be posted online demonstrating for Russian Federation troops where to best place aggregated leaflets in a pile in front of their positions  Illustrations could be posted on multiple websites of the Provost Teams explaining how exactly to aggregate leaflets before their positions. Illustrations on how Russian Federation troops should place leaflets before their positions during inclement weather could be posted. Additionally, illustrations on how Russian Federation troops can ensure that the leaflets in front of their positions can be seen by air should be posted. Positions built up in wooded areas would present some difficulties in creating visible piles of leaflets, but that problem could likely be overcome with ingenuity. By creating enormous patterns collections of leaflets at night only that would not escape detection. If it becomes most apparent to Provosts that the Ukrainian advance would bring units before Russian Federation positions in wooded terrain, leaflets could be modified to bear a reflective material on one side and messages concerning surrender, defection, and using leaflets on the other. The illustrations mentioned should be published only when an assault will soon be launched by Ukrainian forces. Of course, no specified date should be offered.

Instructions for Russian Federation troops on what to do should be reinforced in the field with loudspeakers. It must be explained in the leaflets, online, and through loudspeakers–discussed here later–that every effort will be made to identify the positions of Russian Federation troops no matter how trying the circumstance. It should emphasized the Russian Federation troops who have marked their position will be tracked by observers and given every opportunity to surrender or defect when the Provost move forward to place them in custody

During offensive operations by Ukrainian units, identification of the positions of Russian Federation troops ready to come over to the Ukrainian lines would be critical in order to avoid a tragedy of erroneously placing devastating fire on them and killing and injuring individuals that only wanted to get out of the war and survive. Marked positions must be well-reconnoitered before an attack is launched toward Russian Federation lines. To accomplish that, positions of Russian Federation troops that want to surrender and defect must at a minimum position leaflets to ensure they could be observed clearly from the air. Daytime identification of the positions of such troops would allow Provosts to mark them out and inform commanders of units about to advance that resistance would unlikely come from their point along the Russian Federation and the Provosts would move on foot or in their vehicles to make contact with them and process them as prisoners of war. However, it would also much safer for Russian Federation troops desiring to surrender and defect to place leaflets as markers before their positions and facing Ukrainian lines at night during the 3rd or 4th watch, than put piles of leaflets out in the daytime and risk detection by their commanders, counterintelligence, and by Russian Federation intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets flying above the frontlines or any Russian Federation military aircraft operating in their vicinity.

As aforementioned in the segment on leaflets, drones could be used as means to reconnoiter and surveil Russian Federation defensive positions forward of Ukrainian frontlines to identify locations upon which leaflet could be dropped. (This process of identifying locations and dropping leaflets upon Russian Federation positions should have an unnerving and sound educational effect on the troops within them as it would inform them the Ukrainians knew where they were and could actually strike at them whenever they wished.) Drones could be modified to deliver leaflets upon Russian Federation troops. An organic capability to perform that task would facilitate operations. If any drones hypothetically operated by Provosts could be provided with a night vision capability, it will facilitate their operations. They would be able more confidently to provide evidence to Ukrainian commanders of the desire of those Russian Federation troops to surrender and formulate plans to move forward to detain those Russian Federation troops.

Again, as noted in the segment on leaflets, if creating an organic capability to identify Russian Federation positions might prove to be unfeasible, the military intelligence services of the Ukrainian Armed Forces could support Provost Teams by providing intelligence on confirmed and suspected locations. This method of leaflet delivery may not provide the capacity of distribution artillery shells or delivery from aircraft. Yet, given shortages in pilots and shortages of airframe in the Ukrainian Armed Forces, using aircraft to deliver leaflets may be determined to be a drain of resources and too risky given the low priority of the mission versus combat air support and transport operations.

Russian Federation troops in custody immediately after capture. Depicting Russian Federation troops being held in this manner may have value domestically but such images.certainly would not serve the purposes of the proposed program (above). Another aspect of the Provosts duties could be to use loudspeakers to communicate announcements and positive messages to Russian Federation troops along the forward edge of the battle area. Loudspeaker announcements encouraging Russian Federation troops to surrender should be used in coordination with the distribution of leaflets and online messaging. Loudspeaker announcements allow greater flexibility with regard to altering messages to fit an immediate circumstance. Loudspeaker announcements may best serve Provosts’ efforts to encourage the surrender and defection of Russian Federation troops when made at night, perhaps most effective at the top of fthe 3rd watch. Other times at which such announcements may be very effective might be holiday celebrations, in the aftermath of artillery fire missions and after Russian Federation advances that have been repulsed. Provosts should exploit information volunteered by Russian Federation prisoners of war such as names of unit commanders and noncommissioned officers. That information should be incorporated in a pertinent way as quickly as possible in loudspeaker messages.

IV. Loudspeakers

A. During Defensive Operations

Another aspect of the Provosts duties could be to use loudspeakers to communicate announcements and positive messages to Russian Federation troops along the forward edge of the battle area. Loudspeaker announcements encouraging Russian Federation troops to surrender should be used in coordination with the distribution of leaflets and online messaging. Loudspeaker announcements allow greater flexibility with regard to altering messages to fit an immediate circumstance. Loudspeaker announcements may best serve Provosts’ efforts to encourage the surrender and defection of Russian Federation troops when made at night, perhaps most effective at the top of the 3rd watch. Other times at which such announcements may be very effective might be holiday celebrations, in the aftermath of artillery fire missions and after Russian Federation advances that have been repulsed. Provosts should exploit information volunteered by Russian Federation prisoners of war such as names of unit commanders and noncommissioned officers. That information should be incorporated in a pertinent way as quickly as possible in loudspeaker messages.

Concerning the positioning of loudspeakers, they should be placed away from positions of Ukrainian troops but toward Russian Federation lines. (It is likely a manual has been published by the Ukrainian Armed Forces that provides guidance on the placement of loudspeakers for psychological warfare operations.) If possible, to assist in communicating with Russian Federation troops, actors, both male and female, could be contracted for their talents. The actors would hopefully be able to successfully deliver messages in the correct tone and most effectively to induce weary or newly arrived, terror stricken Russian Federation troops to surrender. If feasible, actors among troops already serving in the Ukrainian Armed Forces could be sought out. They could be considered for transfer to the Provost Teams on a voluntary basis or, out of absolute necessity, under orders.

Just as drones could be utilized to reconnoiter and surveil Russian Federation positions to discover the locations of Russian Federation units upon which leaflets could be delivered, drones could potentially be modified to carry loudspeakers that at variable altitudes could effectively broadcast audible messages to Russian Federation troops below them. An organic capability to perform that function would facilitate operations. To greatcharlie’s knowledge, the utilization of loudspeaker drones is a technique that has not been practiced before. If creating an organic capability to communicate with Russian Federation troops with drones might prove to be unfeasible, the military intelligence services of the Ukrainian Armed Forces could support Provost Teams by providing that capability, but that may repeatedly delay urgent action.

B. During Offensive Operations

Placing loudspeakers near Russian Federation positions to enable troops to receive audible messages from the Provost pertaining to their possible surrender or defection would indeed be a dangerous undertaking during offensive operations. Ostensibly, if time were available, Provists could move forward of Ukrainian positions to stealthily place loudspeakers before Russian Federation defenses. Provost would need to do this following every advance of Ukrainian troops that displaced Russian Federation units and soon enough before the next assault. Given how fluid the situation has become on the battlefield during previous counteroffensives, being able to act fast enough might become problematic. To that extent, Provosts may only be able to act when adequate opportunities present themselves. Again, this would be dangerous work. For that reason it understandably may not be authorized. If Provosts are detected, Russian Federation commanders may assess that an advance was coming in their direction and in some way stiffen resistance at those points. Given the devastating impact the work of the Provosts might have upon Russian Federation operations, if they are captured they may face reprisals. This is especially true as the Provosts’ duties require them to encourage Russian Federation troops to violate their country’s federal laws. Show trials should be expected if they are captured. Additionally, as the work of the Provosts requires highly skilled operators, even slight losses of Provosts may have a devastating impact on the Teams’ operations.

With the aim of minimizing the chance for losses among Provosts during challenging infiltration missions, drones could be used as an alternate and safer means to get loudspeaker messages to Russian Federation troops. Albeit with perhaps a somewhat greater chance of loss, drones could move well-forward of Ukrainian frontlines to Russian Federation positions and broadcast messages on surrender and defection. These would be the same hypothetical drones modified to carry loudspeakers and operate at variable altitudes could provide audible messages to Russian Federation troops below them. Again, as in defensive operations, the “loudspeaker drones” would be flown forward only after other drones have reconnoitered and surveilled Russian Federation positions and dropped leaflets upon them. As mentioned earlier, an organic capability to perform that function would facilitate operations. Again, if creating an organic capability to identify Russian Federation positions might prove to be unfeasible, the military intelligence services of the Ukrainian Armed Forces could support Provost Teams by providing intelligence on confirmed and suspected locations.

Loudspeaker drones flown above the positions of Russian Federation troops who have indicated the desire to surrender or defect could be used to issue instructions on how to behave as Ukrainian units move forward. That would surely facilitate their capture for processing. Everything would need to be done rather rapidly but in calibrated ways before the frontlines are overcome by the fog of war and in the worst case scenario no one is able to determine “who is who and what is what.”

Again, it would be much safer for Russian Federation troops desiring to surrender and defect to place leaflets as markers before their positions and facing Ukrainian lines at night, than put piles of leaflets out in the daytime and risk detection by their commanders and by Russian Federation intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets flying above the frontlines or any Russian Federation military aircraft operating in their vicinity.

Working with Ukrainian commanders and having the best information available, Provost could also more confidently formulate plans to move forward to detain those Russian Federation troops. As aforementioned, if any drones hypothetically operated by Provosts can be provided with night vision optics, it will facilitate their operations. They would truly be better informed of what is happening within Russian Federation lines in real-time much as the commanders, be better enable able to act swiftly, and be enabled to more confidently provide evidence to Ukrainian commanders of the desire of those Russian Federation troops to surrender as those commanders are in the process of planning their assaults. Once Ukrainian commanders have developed their plans, issued orders, and positioned units for an assault it is unlikely that they would willingly alter their plans in response to the Provosts. Ukrainian commanders certainly are focused on fighting to win the war. That is their priority. In that same vein, it would be both expected and prudent for Ukrainian commanders to target Russian Federation positions that Provost may report are holding Russian Federation troops who seek to surrender and defect, and level a devastating blow against them if any aggressive behavior is observed from them. On the other hand, if after coordinating with commanders, leaflets have already been dropped on Russian Federation positions, and Russian Federation troops have begun piling leaflets as instructed, a commander who has developed a plan of attack must take steps to alter it by creating an opportunity for Provosts to bring them in. Any attack on Russian Federation troops who tried to surrender and defect in accord with instructions from the Ukrainian Armed Forces would send a very negative message along Russian Federation frontlines that the Ukrainians cannot be trusted and no faith should be placed in their promises. That could potentially destroy the proposed program no matter how fruitful or far along it might get.

This photograph purports to depict Russian Federation troops in rather neat condition surrendering to Ukrainian troops who are dressed quite immaculately during the wet, muddy, and cold winter fighting (above). Russian Federation troops desiring to surrender and defect must know exactly what to do in the midst of an assault by Ukrainian units. Leaflets could be delivered to Russian Federation troops via artillery canisters and aircraft and loudspeakers stealthily placed nearby and the direction of Russian Federation positions. Most important would be to move rapidly and act effectively. If drones are used to communicate with Russian Federation troops, leaflets should be dropped first. Loudspeaker drones should next be flown above the positions of Russian Federation troops who with leaflets have indicated the desire to surrender or defect.  The loudspeaker drones could broadcast messages with instructions on how to behave as Ukrainian units move forward.

V. Protecting Surrendering and Defecting Russian Federation Troops

A. During Defensive Operations

Russian Federation troops desiring to surrender and defect must know exactly what to do in the midst of an assault by Ukrainian units. Leaflets could be delivered to Russian Federation troops via artillery canisters and aircraft and loudspeakers stealthily placed nearby and the direction of Russian Federation positions. Most important would be to move rapidly and act effectively. If drones are used to communicate with Russian Federation troops, leaflets should be dropped first. Loudspeaker drones should next be flown above the positions of Russian Federation troops who with leaflets have indicated the desire to surrender or defect.  The loudspeaker drones could broadcast messages with instructions on how to behave as Ukrainian units move forward.

Russian Federation troops coming over to the Ukrainians must be told by the Provosts through leaflets, online posts, and loudspeakers that they will do their very best to cover their movements toward Ukrainian lines with firepower if their commander might decide to open fire on them. To provide such protection, Provosts should be provided with written authority to direct Ukrainian artillery units and counterbattery systems, not already engaged in fire support missions, to launch artillery and rockets onslaughts to suppress fire directed at surrendering Russian Federation troops or Russian Federation batteries that might be used for that purpose. When processing Russian Federation troops who have surrendered and defected, Provosts should ask each: “How can we improve our program to rescue more guys such as you?” (Sardonically, a few may likely say: “Offer big cash payments in US dollars!”) A more important query inquiry would concern information they might possess on Russian Federation mortars, artillery, and rockets, and heavy machine gun emplacements that could be used to punish surrendering troops. Positions that those troops might identify could be targeted with fire missions by Ukrainian artillery and rocket batteries. 

As noted earlier, drones could also be used during offensive operations by Provosts as means to reconnoiter and surveil Russian Federation positions to confirm reported locations of Russian Federation mortars, artillery, and rockets that earmarked for use against surrendering and defecting Russian Federation troops. As suggested with regard to leaflets and loudspeakers, if creating an organic capability to identify Russian Federation mortars, artillery, and rockets might prove to be unfeasible, the military intelligence services of the Ukrainian Armed Forces could support Provost Teams by providing intelligence on confirmed and suspected locations of mortars, artillery, rockets and heavy machine gun emplacement that might by used the thwart the surrender of Russian Federation troops. If Russian Federation mortars, artillery, and rockets and machine gun emplacements are identified only after striking at surrendering and defecting Russian Federation troops, marshals among the Provost Teams at the company and battalion levels must have the immediate, unencumbered ability to call for fire against them. 

If the suppression and destruction of Russian Federation mortars, artillery, rockets and machine gun emplacements could be performed frequently enough along the frontlines, particularly where Mobiks are being slaughtered, it would very likely have a marked, or perhaps even a very considerable impact on Russian Federation troop discipline, unit cohesion, offensive movement, and overall combat operations in Ukraine. The more intense the effort to halt surrenders and defections might become, the greater the Provosts efforts to disrupt and destroy them must become. The response of the Provosts should be of such intensity to the extent that efforts to thwart surrender and defection might very well become so unfruitful and costly that mission itself might be obviated.

B. During Offensive Operations

In addition to dealing with retributive fire from Russian Federation lines directed at punishing, but destroying any surrendering Russian Federation troops, it may be the case that blocking units have been regularly positioned to prevent Russian Federation troops from escaping their ominous fate by retreating. There may be military counterintelligence units operating in the frontlines to monitor the movements of Russian Federation troops. Similarly with Russian Federation firepower assets that might be directed at surrendering and defecting Russian Federation troops, once in custody, some might be able to provide detailed, credible information concerning blocking units positioned to prevent Russian Federation troops from retreating, their assistance should be accepted and rewarded.

If Russian Federation blocking units can be identified before a Ukrainian Armed Forces advance, officers among the Provost Teams must be enabled to call for fire against them. If that proves not feasible, the military intelligence services of the Ukrainian Armed Forces could be directed to support Provost Teams by providing intelligence on confirmed and suspected locations of blocking units placed in the rear of advancing Russian Federation troops or those holding defensive positions. Accordingly, officers among the Provost Teams must be enabled to call for fire against them.

In a twist, loudspeaker announcements as well as leaflets could also be used to warn Russian Federation commanders not to try in any way to halt efforts by their troops to surrender and defect. Such announcements should fix in the minds of the Mobiks and any other Russian Federation troops on the frontline that the Ukrainian Armed Forces are the dominant force on the battlefield. It may even have a sound educational effect on those Russian Federation troops, who for a variety of reasons to include patriotism, a sense of duty, and fidelity, at that particular moment, would be unwilling  Popular Western music could also be played toward Russian Federation on loudspeakers to remind them that life for the rest of the world goes on while they are trapped on the frontlines of an absolutely atrocious war.

Loudspeaker announcements as well as leaflets must never reveal the names of Russian Federation prisoners of war.  This will help minimize the possibility that reprisals will be carried out against their family members by the Russian Federation security services under the direction of the Kremlin. There would remain the possibility that Russian Federation troops who might decide to return to their homeland would face reprisals after the war. That situation would be out of the control of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. However, it is something the Provost Teams proposed here and existing elements of the Coordinating Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War might urge Russian Federation prisoners of war to consider. After World War II ended, reprisals against reprisals against Soviet Army troops for conduct on the battlefield was a practice among the Soviet security services.

A Russian Federation self-propelled 152.4 mm howitzer firing during combat at an undisclosed location in Donetsk region, Ukraine (above). Russian Federation troops coming over to the Ukrainians must be told by the Provosts through leaflets, online posts, and loudspeakers that they will do their very best to cover their movements toward Ukrainian lines with firepower if their commander might decide to open fire on them. To provide such protection, Provosts should be provided with written authority to direct Ukrainian artillery units and counterbattery systems, not already engaged in fire support missions, to launch artillery and rockets onslaughts to suppress fire directed at surrendering Russian Federation troops or Russian Federation batteries that might be used for that purpose. When processing Russian Federation troops who have surrendered and defected, Provosts should ask if they possess information on Russian Federation mortars, artillery, and rockets, and heavy machine gun emplacements that could be used to punish surrendering troops. They do not need to answer under the Geneva Convention. Positions that those troops might identify could be targeted with fire missions by Ukrainian artillery and rocket batteries.

VI. Defeating Likely Russian Federation Countermeasures

The successful implementation of the proposed program would become a profound cause for alarm in Moscow. The ability to favorably impact the will of Russian soldiers to fight would be crucial to the larger objective of causing the Russian Federation to halt its invasion and withdraw its troops from Ukraine. It is greatcharlie’s contention that great numbers of Russian troops may very well be susceptible to an outside force able to suspend the control commanders have over them. The Kremlin seems quite aware of the situation. To that extent, in September 24, 2022, Putin signed the federal law “On Amendments to the Code of the Russian Federation on Administrative Offenses” which greatly enhanced that penalties for desertion during mobilization or wartime. Offenders could face as much as ten years in prison. Conscientious objectors could be subject to 3 years imprisonment. The law signed on September 24th additionally criminalized “voluntary” surrender, making it punishable by sentences up to 15 years. However, law has not deterred Russian Federation troops willing to risk the possibility of criminal charges in order to survive. Among possible stronger actions, already mentioned was retributive mortar, artillery, rocket, and heavy machine gun fire from Russian Federation lines directed at destroying any surrendering Russian Federation troops and blocking units positioned to the rear of Russian Federation units to prevent troops from escaping their ominous fate by retreating. Here are further examples of sort of actions to expect and some hint on how defeat them.

A. Infiltration

Among possible schemes to thwart efforts to cause Russian Federation troops to surrender and defect would almost certainly be implemented by Moscow. One very ordinary approach might be to seed counterintelligence troops within units on the frontlines to collect information on who is planning to surrender or defect and detain those troops. Russian Federation counterintelligence troops,  indeed at great risk, could potentially advance with units and fire on whoever moves toward the Ukrainian lines with their hands up. Russian Federation troops could be directed by loudspeakers to move forward rapidly toward trenches concealed to the greatest degree possible from Russian Federation lines. From there, they could one by one, crawl along a concealed path, something akin to a long drainage ditch, toward awaiting provosts. Both the prisoner of war trenches and paths discussed earlier could be covered at all times by sharpshooter and machine guns to both protect them, prevent infiltration through their use, and thwart the efforts of those assigned to harm them. The Russian Federation troops could be processed one by one as prisoners of war right off the crawl paths, and sent toward the rear through separate and concealed lines of communication.

With the purpose of protecting them from retaliation by their commanders or harm from infiltrators, Russian Federation troops that have surrendered or defected should be asked to assist the Ukrainian troops in protecting them.by identifying those who are newly arrived to their units or not part of their units at all. Captured Russian Federation troops could be asked to assist in monitoring those troops who were not part of their units–not as a job, but to avoid any unpleasant surprises from infiltrators–without becoming aggressive or engaging in physical violence. Provosts should be prepared to respond to any situation that may arise among the prisoners of war by positioning armed guards around the clock by their holding pens in the rear

B. The Potential Weaponization of Prisoner Exchanges and Repatriations

It would never be suggested by greatcharlie that the opportunity to repatriate captured troops of the Ukrainian Armed Forces should ever be passed up. The impact on morale would surely be deleterious. For Ukrainian commanders it would be anathema. Yet even more, as the promise sent to Russian Federation troops was that they would be protected if they surrendered or defected, it would be counterproductive and counterintuitive to send them back to their better than disappointed commanders and very likely the Russian Federation’s security services. Just as the message of the positive treatment of Russian Federation troops would most likely reverberate back in their homeland, the message sent by their return would most likely be shattering, confirming the worst impression of the Russian people about the Ukrainians. If not imprisoned or executed for desertion, the Russian Federation would face the prospect of being sent back to whatever was left of their former units and driven into “no man’s land” toward Ukrainian frontlines. Unless there was a unit deployed at that point on the frontline, they would surely be driven through mortar, rocket, and artillery fire, and withering high-rate machine gun fire. Some effort must be made to hold them safer in some judicious way.

To that extent, prisoners of war who were promoted to surrender or defect due the efforts of the proposed program would be asked whether they wanted to participate in a prisoner exchange. Those who might choose to return, despite the risks, would be included on the list of prisoners of war for exchange. It is presumed by greatcharlie the number of Russian Federation prisoners of war willing to return might be small, although that ,at not be the case. Hoping readers will pardon greatcharlie’s frankness or any perceived indelicacy, it seems appropriate to suggest that to ensure sufficient numbers of Russian Federation troops are available for exchanges, soldiers of the Russian Army and Russian Naval Troops, and regular Wagner Group troops should be held in separate prisoner of war camps and that all negotiated changes should limited to them. To that extent, a dedicated effort should be made by the proposed Provosts to recover wounded and abandoned Wagner Group and professional Russian Federation troops from the battlefield. That will help ensure that there would be sufficient numbers of Russian Federation assets to exchange. Performing that task may entail having the Provosts take risks that may in the end be deemed too dangerous, if not unwarranted. However, given the potential benefits this aspect of the proposed program may bring with regard to the bigger picture of diplomacy and postwar relations between the two countries, some consideration of how such duties could be performed at reduced risk should be given. Hopefully, the war will not drag on for so long that prisoner of war exchanges will need to be chalked out into the foreseeable future. That potentiality nevertheless must be planned for.

These captured Russian Federation troops, dressed in layers and lacking any military insignia or patches, are likely mercenaries or contract fighters from the Wagner Group (above). It would never be suggested by greatcharlie that the opportunity to repatriate captured troops of the Ukrainian Armed Forces should ever be passed up. The impact on morale would surely be deleterious. For Ukrainian commanders it would be anathema. Yet even more, as the promise sent to Russian Federation troops in hypothetical communications under the proposed program would be that they will be protected if they surrendered or defected, it would be counterproductive and counterintuitive to send them back to their better than disappointed commanders and very likely the Russian Federation’s security services. Just as the message of the positive treatment of Russian Federation troops would be expected to reverberate back in their homeland, the message sent by handing them over to angered Russian Federation authorities would most likely be shattering, confirming the worst impression of the Russian people about the Ukrainians. If not imprisoned or executed for desertion, the Russian Federation would face the prospect of being sent back to whatever was left of their former units and driven into “no man’s land” toward Ukrainian frontlines.

C. Deceptive Use of Leaflets

One of the oldest tricks one might expect to see is Russian Federation military counterintelligence units feigning as Russian Federation troops who want to surrender or defect. They could closely follow the instructions on leaflets, online, and heard over loudspeakers on how to indicate their desire to come across lines to Ukrainians. However, when Provosts approach their position in offensive operations, the counterintelligence units operating in such a manner would surely attempt to destroy the Provost team. Given this possibility, Provosts, working alongside Ukrainian commanders, must be willing to target all Russian Federation positions with troops expressing the desire to surrender and be willing to destroy their positions if aggressive action is observed. Nothing should be considered settled until the Russian Federation troops are placed themselves in the Provosts’ custody.

To additionally help protect Provosts and advancing Ukrainian troops, any Russian Federation position that via images collected from aerial reconnaissance and surveillance that appear  to have leaflets piled in front of them but also appear to inordinately conceal heavy machine guns or inordinate numbers of shoulder fired rockets or anti tank guns within them images of such positions must be closely analyzed and targeted for attack when the battlefield is being prepared for Ukrainian advances or whenever Ukrainian commanders may deem fit.

As alluded to prior, it may be prudent to direct Ukrainian sharpshooters to provide overwatch for the Russian Federation troops engaged in placing piles of leaflets before their positions  by firing upon Russian Federation sharpshooters who may very likely be ordered  to fire at their own comrades engaged in placing leaflets in front of their positions as instructed by Provosts.

D. Other “What-ifs” Regarding Likely Countermeasures

Those in the Ukrainian Armed Forces who have acquired relatively considerable experience in the management of matters pertaining to prisoners of war would be best able to do the “what ifs” and figuratively billow up with a ladle more potential pitfalls and countermeasures that could be faced in the implementation of the proposed program. At the same time, those same members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces might be best able to plot ways to avoid those pitfalls and defeat any countermeasures that may be applied. Interestingly, if the Russian Federation commanders could be caused to get thoroughly involved in applying countermeasures against efforts made under the proposed program, the disruptive impact of doing so upon its military operations could potentially have a deleterious effect sufficient enough to create more favorable conditions for the Ukrainian Armed Forces on the battlefield. Omnia conando docilis solertia vincit. (By application a docile shrewdness conquers every difficulty.)

Again, not all Russian Federation troops facing the Ukrainian Armed Forces will respond to efforts under the proposed program. However, if enough do so, the Ukrainian Armed Forces, through mostly non-lethal means, might be able to make their mark in ending the war on mostly better terms and with less negative sentiment of both sides than could be expected in the current environment.  Ironically, Russian Federation troops may in effect be able to assist in ending a war in which they are among those who have suffered most.

Russian Federation prisoners of war being held in dreary cells at a detention center (above). With regard to detention center conditions, every effort must be made to create hygienic, well-maintained centers. Prisoners should be supplied with clean clothes, the opportunity to bath, recreation, and healthy meals. Having reviewed countless videos and photographs made public by the Ukrainian government for the writing of this essay, it became very clear that some Russian Federation prisoners of war are being kept in conditions that are unacceptable. (Ukrainian prisoners of war are probably being held in far worse conditions, but with the hope of promoting higher thinking behind the proposed program, the notion of responding “tit-for-tat” with regard to the treatment of Mobiks is anathema. Any notion of treating Russian Federation prisoners of war with respect and dignity hypothetically promised in messages and advanced in the handling of their capture will simply be washed away. If improvements in conditions at detention centers for Russian Federation prisoners of war are determined to be unwarranted, then the Ukrainian government, right before the world will display its disinterest in an opportunity to improve, in some part, the environment for a sustainable peace with its neighbor. Peace will be reached at some point between Ukraine and the Russian Federation. Efforts must be made to hasten that day and ensure that peace will be one all parties can live with

VII. Suggestions for Adjustments in Current Methods of Detention

To touch briefly on what is likely a delicate subject, reportedly, Russian Federation prisoners of war held in 500 detention centers in Ukraine. Russian Federation prisoners of war appear to be lumped together regardless of whether they are Mobiks, professional soldiers of the Russian Army and Russian Naval Troops, regular Wagner Group troops, Wagner Group penal troops, and mercenaries This practice must end. It is quite deleterious with regard to the proposed program. To a great degree, Mobiks are victims of the unjustified war in Ukraine, too. They should not be held with Russian Federation troops that have volunteered to fight in Ukraine to include the professional Russian Federation troops, the regular Wagner Group troops, and mercenaries apparently from all over the world.

The suggestion was already made here that Mobiks who surrender under the proposed program should not be held with soldiers of the Russian Army and Russian Naval Troops and regular Wagner Group troops with regard to facilitating the aggregation of prisoners for exchanges. In the Russian Federation, Russian Federation troops that voluntarily surrender are deemed as criminals. Even more so, Mobiks among Russian Federation prisoners of war certainly should not be held in cells with confirmed hardened criminals from Wagner Group penal units. True, some Wagner Group penal troops sought to overcome the ills of prison life by going to war in Ukraine. However, there are likely hardened convicts from the depths of Russian Federation prisons among the Wagner Group troops who, when aggregated in detention centers, could make life far worse for Mobiks, the overwhelming majority of whom were literally torn from lives of peace and thrown into an unjustified war which many unlikely supported. The hardened criminals could surely reproduce in detention center cells all of the ills of prison life in the Russian Federation. If the purpose of handling Russian Federation prisoners of war in this manner has been was to intentionally create the potential for some prisoners of war, such as the Mobiks, to be subjected to such ugliness, it must be made clear that such thinking and practices under the proposed program is forbidden, will be tolerated, and must be halted immediately under the threat of punishment. 

With regard to detention center conditions, every effort must be made to create hygienic, well-maintained centers. Prisoners should be supplied with clean clothes, the opportunity to bath, recreation, and healthy meals. Having reviewed countless videos and photographs made public by the Ukrainian government for the writing of this essay, it became very clear that some Russian Federation prisoners of war are being kept in conditions that are unacceptable. (It may very well be the case that Ukrainian prisoners of war are being held in far worse conditions, but with the hope of promoting higher thinking behind the proposed program, the notion of responding “tit-for-tat” with regard to the treatment of Mobiks is anathema. Any notion of treating Russian Federation prisoners of war with respect and dignity hypothetically promised in messages and advanced in the handling of their capture will simply be washed away. If improvements in conditions at detention centers for Russian Federation prisoners of war are determined to be unwarranted, then the Ukrainian government, starkly before the whole wide world, will display its disinterest in a genuine opportunity to improve, in some part, the environment for a sustainable peace with its neighbor. Peace will be reached at some point between Ukraine and the Russian Federation. Efforts must be made to hasten that day and ensure that peace will be one all parties can live with.

The owner of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin (right), at Russian Federation prison recruiting civilian inmates for combat service with his organization in Ukraine. To touch briefly on what is likely a delicate subject, reportedly, Russian Federation prisoners of war held in 500 detention centers in Ukraine. Russian Federation prisoners of war appear to be lumped together regardless of whether they are Mobiks, professional soldiers of the Russian Army and Russian Naval Troops, regular Wagner Group troops, Wagner Group penal troops, and mercenaries This practice must end. It is quite deleterious with regard to the proposed program. To a great degree, Mobiks are victims of the unjustified war in Ukraine, too. They should not be held with Russian Federation troops that have volunteered to fight in Ukraine to include the professional Russian Federation troops, the regular Wagner Group troops, and mercenaries apparently from all over the world.

VIII. Funding the Proposed Program: A Shot in the Dark

This segment of funding of this proposed program is quite naturally the most brief as, greatcharlie freely admits to knowing less than nothing about the budget of the Ministerstva Oborony Ukrainy (Ukrainian Ministry of Defense) or the budget of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Still, as the program would need a line of support, it has a suggestion that might prove useful or worthless. There may understandably be considerable reluctance in the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense and the Ukrainian Armed Forces to divert appropriated resources, that could be used more confidently to support all of the requirements of Ukraine’s Defense in the field right now and keeping Ukrainian troops alive, to a proposed program that would save the lives of Russian Federation troops in the name of peace and stability. That being the likely case, perchance through some singular arrangements made by the national authorities in Kyiv and the Ministry of Defense some hybrid line of funding and supply of special equipment needed by Provosts in the field, such as modified drones, could be provided by friendly foreign governments, foreign businesses, and foreign nongovernmental organizations. Drones might be easier to get a hold of than tanks and fighter jets and could very likely be secured much faster, from completely different sources. Again, this recherché hybrid funding idea is just a shot in the dark and may be completely off the mark.

IX. Pro Mundi Beneficio

Les chefs-d’oeuvre ne sont jamais que des tentatively heureuses. If implemented, at least in some very close form, the program proposed here would figuratively represent an offensive by the Ukrainian Armed Forces of a different kind, aimed at supporting military success by saving lives and dampening the spirit of evil that supported aggressive action. It would further serve as an additional footing for the foundation upon which a sustainable peace between Ukraine and the Russian Federation could be established. The proposal is neither pie in the sky, nor worse, delusion. It has a real chance of promoting peace. This is only a proposal based on evidence available to greatcharlie.  It is not presumed that the Ukrainian Armed Forces or any other government organizations  would have an interest in greatcharlie’s meditations on the subject of prisoners of war. Yet, it is hoped, if anything, that the proposal might serve as a basis for the Ukrainians to further advance their efforts on the matter.

If through the implementation of the proposed program, the Ukrainian Armed Forces might be able achieve some success even in one area of the battlefield, the actions of one unit of troops might influence those of others, creating a cascading effect. There might be a real chance of collecting a huge bag of Prisoners of War before Russian Federation commanders could respond to the situation. Even then, whatever they might decide to do to halt the mass surrenders would be unlikely by thoughtful and surely be heavy-handed. Despite reservations of taking such action, Ukrainian Armed Forces commanders must keep perspective and remember the priority cannot simply be to kill the enemy but winning the war by getting the Russian Federation Armed Forces out of their country through forceful ejection or a withdrawal using every means possible. Everything reasonable that might support that cause should at least be considered, or better, given a try. Difficilius est sarcire concordiam quam rumpere. (It is more difficult to restore harmony than sow dissension.)

As alluded to earlier, this propitious option is not a hodge-podge of novel suggestions, but rather a more effective program of a tried and true methods at drawing in Russian Federation troops who are disposed to surrender and defect. Given that, one might read about this proposed program and respond that it is all very interesting but nothing new. That would be exactly the point. Some of the approaches suggested here are well-known, well-trodden in the history of contemporary warfare. The fact that some of what is proposed was practiced in the past does not obviate their use in the present. The tacit, popular belief that all new approaches must be rooted in high-tech might be characterized as the hobgoblin of the rigid and parochial.

Among those in the Ukrainian Armed Forces who have worked on prisoner of war matters, surely some have demonstrated intrinsic capabilities in the field. Their talents have by now have become well-harnessed by their knowledge and experience. Their use of the tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods suggested here should prove to be very fruitful. As noted, implemented with nuance injected by members of the existing Ukrainian Armed Forces prisoner of war program, it may support the achievement of military objectives that would have likely come at considerable cost in terms of troops and materiel while paradoxically sowing seeds for peace. The possibility of manifesting those outcomes alone, should be enough to warrant giving it a try. Those who would implement this proposed plan would surely see very difficult days often and deal with very trying moments. However, the rewards may be great enough to overcome those troubling occasions. Their role in creating the opportunity for better ending of the war would potentially be enormous.

Russian prisoners of war constructing garden furniture at a workshop in a Ukrainian Armed Forces detention center. The BBC reportd that the prisoners of war earn some money for their labor which they spend on cigarettes and sweets (above). As the proposed prisoner of war program develops, and within the strictures of the Geneva Convention, attendant with online messages on the sites should be videos and photographs of Russian Federation troops who have surrendered not just for the photo opportunity, Actual Russian Federation prisoners of war could be depicted wearing clean and neat clothes in safe, hygienic detention centers. Appropriate videos and photos should depict the Russian Federation prisoners of war engaged in daily activities at detention centers. To that extent, some videos and photos of Russian Federation troops who have surrendered should depict them drinking clean water, tea, and coffee, and wearing clean dry clothes and covered in warm blankets should be posted as soon as possible online. Authentic videos and photos of those who surrendered in inclement conditions, should also display them a few short hours later being held clean dry spaces, well-protected from cold, wind, rain and snow.

The Way Forward

There should be little question about the practicality of what is proposed here. Still, given omnidirectional calls for revenge still heard within Ukraine, any effort to enhance the existing prisoner of war program in a way that could potentially save the lives of additional of Russian Federation troops perhaps in the hundreds, even thousands, would hardly be well-received at first blush or after a superficial examination of it. Yet, amidst the anger and rage, the light of reason must be allowed shine through if a path out of this disaster is to be found After the war, if it can come to a rational end, it appears that Ukraine will find itself “leap-frogged” to a place among top tier powers in the world. Its economic, social, political, and military advancements will continue to be nurtured by allies and friends. However, despite all of the sacrifices made during the war there will likely be some further costs, consideration, in terms of engaging in the efforts to promote a lasting peace. Those efforts do not always need to be prompted by allies and friends

If as a result of some reasoning voiced in Kyiv, an operation to encourage the surrender of Russian soldiers cannot be implemented closely resembling the plan proposed here, as alluded to earlier, perhaps what is proposed could still serve as a basis for the development of their own impressions and plans for a similar tact. Non enim tam auctoritatis in disputando, quam rationis momenta quærenda sunt. (In every disputation, we should look more to the weight of reason than to the weight of authorities.)

Commentary: What Comes Next for Putin at Home and in Ukraine?: An Assessment One Year After the Start of His Special Military Operation

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (center right), Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation General Sergei Shoigu (bottom left) and Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Federation Naval Force or Russian Navy Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov (top). In preceding posts on the Russian Federation’s special military operation in Ukraine, greatcharlie sought to dive a bit deeper on each occasion into Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin’s mind. The aim was to better understand how Putin–the one who started the Ukraine War–thinks and offer not just insight on decisions he has made but foresight on decisions he might make in the near future. Given how the situation has progressed in Ukraine so negatively for Putin and the Russian Federation, he will need to reach some conclusions on the outcome of what he has started while he can still have a real say in events. This essay offers some new ideas and insights that may assist readers in developing their own lines of thought on how to best proceed with regard to Putin and relations with the Russian Federation.

In its attempts to parse the subject of the Russian Federation’s Spetsial’noy Voyennoy Operatsii (Special Military Operation) in preceding posts, greatcharlie regularly sought to dive a bit deeper into the mind of Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin. The objective was to better understand how Putin thinks and additionally offer not just insight on decisions he has made but foresight on decisions he might make in the near future. The purpose of this essay is to offer some new ideas and insights that may assist readers, hopefully to include some practitioners in the field of foreign and national security policy analysis and decisionmaking, to develop new lines of thought on how to proceed concerning Putin and relations with the Russian Federation. 

Noticeably, some analysts who publish essays have appeared fixated emotionally upon the idea of Putin being a beast and it has colored their analyses. They have been unwilling to ascribe any premium qualities to any aspects of his leadership even when an objective examination would surely warrant such. Students among greatcharlie’s readership must guard against mimicking such analyses. This commentary may disappoint some because at points here and there, greatcharlie has noted ways in which Putin has displayed better than average qualities. The goal here is to take an objective look at the individual and his record, not prepare a popular piece. Aude sapere. (Dare to know.)

At first glance, one would likely discern the same aggregation of elements and the characteristics similar to those of many other leaders of authoritarian regimes throughout history.  As this is 2023, one might reasonably have hoped to find something better, believing mankind had advanced beyond such base impulses. Still, with Putin there is more. From what can.be gathered by greatcharlie, in the mind of Putin, what some might reluctantly call genius seems to coexist with madness. (The invasion of Ukraine was certainly an act of daylight madness, and has brought greatcharlie to this position. Surely, his appalling choice was impelled by something far greater than some abhorrent eccentricity. ) Some of his harshest critics might go as far as to conclude some form of hallucinatory insanity appears to be married with megalomania with regard to his case. This is stated without the intention of identifying everything he has done of recent as unbalanced and no effort should be exerted on finding correct reasoning and wisdom in his decisions.

In The Republic, Plato quotes Socrates as saying “Be as you wish to seem.” The record of Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin indicaties that he has displayed a logic superior to those who surround him, unquestionably a superior knowledge of the Russian Federation’s political environs, and an greater expertise in the workings of the Russian Federation’s system, that has allowed him to make it work for him. To help describe Putin, greatcharlie feels compelled to quote an apposite phrase from one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories, “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans” (1917): “All other men are specialists, his specialism is omniscience.” His power in the Russian Federation practically knows no bounds. To that extent, one can confidently call him an autocrat.

A self-declared, dyed in the wool, Russian patriot, Putin would never in his addresses harp on the dilapidated state of his country and poor material in terms of personnel with which he had to work when President Boris Yeltsin essentially left the Russian Federation. Murders, mysterious deaths, disappearances, embezzlement and all other forms of corruption were commonplace then and for some while afterward. Putin used what could arguably be called his charisma to create an illusion of advancement by highlighting occasional economic achievements, technological breakthroughs, and international successes and used those bright spots to distract watching eyes as best as possible away from a political system under his iron grip, an authoritarian security network, social band-aids that were usually inadequate or ineffectively implemented, and endless propaganda, among other things. It has helped him carry the country to this point without collapse. Fluctuat nec mergitur. (It is tossed by waves but does not sink.) 

Three decades ago Putin was as far away from being Russian Federation President as one could imagine and that he had never expressed any interest in being such publicly or within his private circle, yet he took the responsibility head-on from day one and has maintained his balance in spite of the near limitless pressures and stressors that have beset him. Perchance his mentality is the only type that could ever survive service in such a position for so long in the environment the Russian Federation has provided.

Ethno-religious nationalist and ultranationalist precepts as well as criminal thoughts that colored Putin’s thinking both girded and impelled his actions at home. On the world stage, Putin’s thinking has orbited around the same political “ideals” and thinking. Those extreme ideas. He proved that he could wield an iron fist in Chechnya and demonstrated the willingness to project Russian Federation military power in former Soviet republics–all of which have been sovereign countries for over three decades and together he has dubbed the Russian Federation’s “near abroad”–and as far beyond his country’s borders as the Middle East and Africa. However, Putin’s aforementioned hardline political ideals and thinking have been most apposite for the West due to the manner in which they have couched his persistent desire to retaliate against the West over ways he perceives it has wronged his country. Perhaps now he is more so directed at destroying it than ever before. For quite some time, Putin has been tormented by what many in the West would call groundless suspicions about US, EU, and NATO motives in countries within the Russian Federation’s periphery, its near abroad.

To that extent, in his speeches Putin has regularly expressed a hodge-podge of thoughts manifesting his belief that the US is an opponent, the Russian Federation stands vulnerable to the US “tricks”, and that former Soviet republics and Eastern bloc countries still have obligations to Moscow. It will likely take some time for historians to fully decipher it all. A good example of such expressions is the February 24, 2022 address he gave just before the special military operation was launched. A positively ominous suggestion that Putin and his acolytes have repeatedly made for over a decade is that the US seeks to conquer Russia for its abundant resources. The Western newsmedia has given scant attention to a singular document prepared in 2013 by Russian Army General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of General’nyy shtab Vooruzhonnykh sil Rossiyskoy Federatsii (General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, hereinafter referred to as the Russian Federation General Staff) that manifested thinking in the Russian Federation on the US intentions. The document was discussed in greatcharlie’s November 16, 2016 post entitled, “Belarus Allows Small Demonstrations Outside KGB Headquarters: As Belarus Curries Favor with the West, Can It Help Russia, Too?”. 

Far more than an ordinary military assessment on NATO expansion, the document, known initially as the top secret Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation, declared that future conflicts will be “Resource Wars.” The basis of that assessment was that the depletion of energy resources will soon become an ultimate world crisis and overtake regions. Severe shortages of oil, gas and other natural resources would cause their prices to steeply rise. Russia’s senior military leaders believed outside powers, primarily the US and its allies, could possibly invade their country from several directions to physically grab territory and resources. Putin accepted the threat assessment of the Russian Federation General Staff which essentially paralleled his own thinking, and signed the Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation into law on January 29, 2013. The notion that Russian Federation borders were being threatened by the US and NATO and that defensive measures needed to be taken has nearly controlled Russian military thinking since the plan was developed. Such paranoid delusion should have been addressed diplomatically. Instead, more pressure was poured on especially with Western activity in the Baltic States–Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania–and Ukraine. It would be interesting to know whether assessments were done in Western governments on how Putin would react to these moves and whether those assessments, if they advised caution, were taken seriously. One might suggest that Putin’s suspicions about the US and NATO surely factored into his decision to invade Ukraine.

If one would choose to call it bad luck, Putin has certainly had more than his share of disappointments in recent years. He has surely come to the realization concerning the weakness of his country’s conventional military, economic, diplomatic, and political power in the world particularly as a result of the outcome of the Ukraine special military operation. The Russian Federation’s limited conventional war in Ukraine which has resulted in no clear achievements to match the dreadful cost in Russian troops and materiel as well as astronomical expenditures has simply been a net negative in practical terms and politically. 

Putin views the support that the West, as well as many other countries around the world have  provided Ukraine, as aggressive, provocative, and unacceptable. Along with many of his top advisers, particularly Russian Federation Vice President Dmitry Medvedev, he has responded by making repeated threats to the effect that the Russian Federation is ready to use nuclear weapons. To give weight to such promises, Putin has ordered redeployments of nuclear devices, multiple drills of Russia’s force of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and cut off communications with the US regarding the movement of those weapons and drills with them.

The West has made it clear to Moscow that it would not entertain his accusations or be terrorized by his threats. Still, there does appear to be a bit extra to Putin’s actions on this occasion than simply strengthening his position for diplomacy or politically at home. As with the invasion of Ukraine, his moves in that direction could easily become something more than a bluff.

Acta non verba. (Deeds not words!) On the matter of assistance from other countries who are the Russian Federation friends and partners, there has been a lot of talk but hardly any action to make a real difference in Ukraine. Putin did not make it this far relying on help from others. He is smarter than that. He got into his situation alone and he knows very well that he alone must find the way out of it, if he can. More important to Putin concerning his friends and partners would be knowing with some certainty that none of them have betrayed him or have plans to do so. Eventually, Putin will need to reach a hard decision on the outcome he wants for the big picture while he still can have some say.

Putin could potentially go on leading the Russian Federation for a time after some hypothetical peace deal was reached. While in power though, Putin would surely appear seriously hobbled by any outcome of the special military operation that would be less than a clear victory for the Russian Federation. No matter how he might arrange things so that he could remain in office, he would be seen as just hanging on to power as opposed to being thoroughly in charge as he has been. Once the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued an arrest warrant for Putin on March 17, 2023 over war crimes committed in Ukraine, he could scarcely travel anywhere without facing the real threat of arrest or at least an attempt to detain him. It is difficult to see how anyone would believe he would be open to talk with a leader of any country supportive of that arrest warrant. He most likely viewed that move as a declaration of war by external powers set against him.

Omnia prius experiri, quam armis, sapientem decet. (It becomes a wise man to try all methods before having recourse to arms.) It is likely that some readers may disagree with this segment of greatcharlie’s assessment, but issuing an arrest warrant for Putin was a step that practically ensured his refusal to negotiate with Kyiv unless he has attained some considerable advantage in Ukraine and his negotiating position would be very strong. That situation will unlikely arise if the Ukrainians have a say in the matter; and, they do! In the interest of promoting good interstate relations, diplomacy, and peace and security under such trying circumstances, discretion in taking such actions–at least refraining from declaring a party essential to establishing peace as criminal–would be the best choice, the better part of valor. Putin’s accountability and culpability for war crimes committed in Ukraine by Russian Federation forces was something which could have been dealt with later. The priority now is ending the war if possible. At this point, diplomacy with the Russian Federation on Ukraine has figuratively been knocked off the rails. There is no well-defined, well-trodden path to take toward diplomacy given the circumstance created. Everything is up in the air so to speak.

Postea noli rogare quod inpetrare nolueris. (Don’t ask for what you’ll wish you hadn’t got.) It is difficult to see exactly what end was hoped for when the decision was made to indict Putin. There was likely some ego stroke scored as a result of sticking it to Putin, but not much more was accomplished than that. It is far too late to suggest Western leaders come to their senses on the matter. The opportunity very likely lost was both enormous and crucial. (Note: All of that said, there remains the possibility that Putin would still accept a king’s ransom and something akin to immunity worldwide concerning his arrest warrant just to halt military operations in Ukraine and withdraw Russian Federation forces from the country in a limited way,. Numerous pitfalls would be associated with the payment option.)

Intimations formed from facts have led greatcharlie to postulate that Putin was very likely hoping to get a peace deal that was not perfect but at least not draconian in its terms through diplomacy with a new administration in Washington. However, the prospects for that, at least the time of this writing, appear to have changed dramatically for the worse. If he cannot get a peace deal, defeat would become a real possibility for his country if significant international support for Ukraine’s war effort continues.

As for the Russian Federation, it would no longer be looked upon as anything to be reckoned with. The somewhat shiny veneer of a superpower, an image of Moscow from the days of the erstwhile Soviet Union and the Cold War in which the follow-on national government in Moscow rejoiced, was promoted and well-polished by Putin for years. Although he successfully managed to present the Russian Federation in that way to the world in the past, he would no longer be in a position to do that with any impact following a hypothetical defeat. For certain, Putin would still make the case that Moscow achieved its goals in this scenario, but most likely few in the world, not even his friends in Belarus, China or North Korea, would accept that. The loss of the Russian Federation’s image of greatness, as he for so long sought to project it, would be the thing that would gravely wound him psychologically and perhaps physically.

The thought that he might face the same, suffice it to say “karmic fate” of Nlazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler, Iraq’s Saddam Hussain, Libya’s Muammar el-Quadafy, or the other leaders of authoritarian regimes is doubtlessly anathema to Putin. He most likely believes the West is trying to drive him in that direction. However, unlike those leaders who have ignominiously fallen to democratic forces or invading armies, Putin would not need to run into a bunker, left only with his reasons, and await his fate. He can still act, and act ferociously. Putin does not have to dream hopelessly of developing wonder weapons in time to strike back at his foes with vengeance. As alluded to earlier, he controls a massive arsenal of thermonuclear weapons and ICBMs, many of which are quite advanced technologically. In August 2022, the issue of Putin’s potential use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine initially gained traction in the newsmedia. The issue is now discussed far less. In greatcharlie’s August 31, 2022 post entitled “Would the Ejection of Russian Forces from Ukraine Lead to a  Thermonuclear Response by Moscow?: Some Meditations on Putin’s Likely Thinking”, the matter is discussed in some detail.

Omnia iam fient fieri quae posse negabam. (All the things which I denied could happen are now happening.) Attacking the West with thermonuclear weapons would be the ultimate form of punitive action. To be frank, there would be a considerable imbalance with regard to infrastructure and environmental destruction, institutions and businesses ruined, and lives lost. Perhaps greatcharlie may be oversimplifying the matter by stating in a thermonuclear exchange, the Western world has far more to lose, in terms of an exciting future of endless positive possibilities than the Russian Federation. The ability to destroy that bright future, would surely outweigh concerns over the destructive capacity of the retaliatory capability some Western countries possess. Perchance it would even be the case in such an instance that the people of the Russian Federation would not know Putin launched against the West first. Conceivably, the Kremlin could make certain before the attack that in its aftermath the messaging would be that their country was viciously attacked by the US and its nuclear armed allies. (Despite how off-kilter as it may sound, a Russian Federation devastated by a thermonuclear attack would ironically be a safer country for Putin to rule. He expectedly would still be in control of all the levers of power–the security services, the armed forces, and the country’s financial resources. There would also be a lot to keep everyone who would survive in the country very busy. It is unlikely that the Russian people at that time would be interested in anything that anyone in the West would have to say.)

Putin would very likely feel an odd sense of satisfaction even with a Cadmean victory resulting from a thermonuclear exchange with the West. This time he could be somewhat more assured that he would get the results he wanted. He would get the sense of satisfaction he very likely had hoped to feel when he launched the special military operation against Ukraine. (This is where the part about madness takes on greater meaning.)

Just as Russian Army generals and colonels were ready and willing to advance their troops into the tragedy that is the Ukraine War–some generals and colonels went as far as to sacrifice themselves on the battlefield, the commanders of the Raketnye Voyska Strategicheskogo Naznacheniya Rossiyskoy Federatsii (Strategic Rocket Forces of the Russian Federation, literally Strategic Purpose Rocketry Troops) which control land-based ICBMs, the strategic bombers and other nuclear capable airframes of the Voenno-vozdushnye sily Rossii (Russian Air Force), and satellites of the Voyska Vozdushno-kosmicheskoy Oborony (Russian Aerospace Defense Forces) would go into action. In addition, commanders of the strategic submarines of the Voyenno-morskoy Flot (Russian Naval Force) in both the Northern Fleet and the Pacific Fleet would execute their missions. Indeed, commanders who are in control of the Russian Federation’s strategic nuclear triad would act without question in the manner prescribed by political authorities. It would be a mistake for anyone to believe otherwise. Surely, there are more than enough members of the Russian Federation Armed Forces hurting over the nightmare that has befallen their comrades in Ukraine. They more than likely want to dish out some “payback” against those countries that they likely perceive–based on what they surely have been told–created circumstances there, and many can deliver payback in the extreme. Libens-Volens-Potens. (Ready-Willing-Potent.)

As noted, a Cadmean victory or at best a Pyrrhic victory would be the most that he could possibly hope to attain in Ukraine at this point. Ever aggressive, Putin perhaps even now has trouble reigning in his ardor to destroy those “who put him and the Russian Federation in their current bad position” even if it is the last thing he does. Such was the choice of the Russian folklore hero Ural-batyr against the Devs. (That would certainly have meaning for the Rodnovers in his circle and throughout the Russian Federation. SEE greatcharlie’s aforementioned August 31, 2022 post for more on that story.) If the Western leaders truly believe Putin will not set off a thermonuclear exchange despite already facing challenges in Ukraine that could certainly lead to his demise, then it would make sense for them to accelerate its timing by pushing the edge of the envelope in terms of their support for Ukraine’s victory. It would seem most are still uncertain about what he will do. (Retaliatory thermonuclear strikes would surely be the thing to get Putin into a bunker.)

In the chain of insights regarding Putin discussed here, each link rings true.. As stated prior, Putin most likely knows that he will need to reach some conclusions on the outcome of what he has started while he can still have a real say in events. Sufficient evidence exists to postulate that he feels a bit boxed in and reasonably so. Most human beings do not like the feeling of being boxed in and will react aggressively to extricate themselves from the situation even if the odds are against success. As expressed earlier, placidity should hardly be expected of Putin. Thereby, Putin’s response to his situation and that of the Russian Federation, as with nearly every other response he has offered so far, is unlikely to be positive and will most likely be final. Saepe ne utile quidem est scire quid futurum sit. (Often it is not even advantageous to know what will be.)

Commentary: The Utilization of Wagner Group Penal Units as Suicide Squads: A Callous Go-to Solution for Regimes Facing Intractable Military Situations

Wagner Group troops filmed in action from a Ukrainian Armed Forces drone in the town of Popansa on May 4, 2022 (above). In the image, a Wagner Group squad is involved in intense street fighting with Ukrainian troops. The Wagner Group is a private military contractor based in the Russian Federation whose units have been deployed to bolster the number of Russian Federation Armed Forces in Ukraine. From the start of the special military operation, Moscow has used paid fighters to bolster its forces. However, Russian Federation commanders, displaying a remarkable lack of military acumen across the board, have used Wagner Group troops, and some of their own, essentially as “suicide squads” or “cannon fodder” to achieve less than important objectives. This is especially true with regard to Wagner Group “penal units” which have suffered high-profile casualties. The use of this tact is hardly novel. Here, greatcharlie discusses four military formations which in fairly recent history were created and utilized by their respective governments on the battlefield much as the Wagner Group in Ukraine, mutantis mutandis. In each case, military commanders could provide what they believed were clear, logical, and plausible explanations for their respective choices.

As alluded to in greatcharlie’s preceding January 31, 2023 post entitled “Reflections on the Battle of the Crater in Relation to Russian Federation Casualties in Ukraine: Where Did All the Leaders Go?”, there is a strange buoyancy and caustic ebullience that seems to have overcome some in the Western newsmedia concerning videos recorded of the daily slaughter of members of Vooruzhonnije Síly Rossíyskoj Federátsii (the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, hereinafter referred to as the Russian Federation Armed Forces) by the hundreds in Ukraine. Those videos are broadcasted and streamed online by several newsmedia houses without end: cui bono? On immediate impression, one might presume its is the product of newsmedia managers possessing a seemingly seared conscience or spliced moral cord, who perchance, mutatis mutandis, are not too different in their callous thinking from those who started the war. Yet, despite how disagreeable such reporting may be to greatcharlie, recognizably, it has been considerably helpful in shining a spotlight upon the positively callous and diabolical practice of Russian Federation commanders to force their troops to waste their lives for meager gains. This is especially true as some military experts have already judged to be a lost cause in Ukraine. Many of the newsmedia stories on the slaughter of Russian Federation troops have focused on the abysmal losses of Gruppa Vagnera (the Wagner Group).

The Wagner Group is a private military contractor based in the Russian Federation whose units have been deployed to bolster the number of Russian Federation Armed Forces in Ukraine. From the start of the special military operation, Russia has used paid fighters to bolster its forces. In April 2022, it was estimated to have initially deployed between 10,000 and 20,000 mercenaries, including Wagner Group troops in the offensive in the Donbas. To increase the organization’s strength even further, new Wagner Group units composed mainly with violent convicts from prisons–gangsters, murderers, and rapists, were formed. However, it is those Wagner Group “penal units” in particular that have suffered high-profile casualties. According to the US, out of an initial force of nearly 50,000 Wagner troops, including 40,000 recruited convicts, more than 4,100 have been killed in action, and 10,000 have been wounded, including over 1,000 killed between late November and early December 2022 near Bakhmut. It is most apparent that misperception, and not reality, had driven top Russian Federation commanders’ decisionmaking on the battlefield in Ukraine. Coping with the situation as it actually stands presently has been better than challenging for them. Some aspects of their struggle such as the wasteful expenditure of their own troops but especially the lives of Wagner Group troops, believing that tact will somehow serve to bring forth victory, seems to escaped any alteration.

The use of the ugly and unnerving tact of essentially throwing troops at an opponent is hardly novel. In modern times, the remarkable idea of using one’s own their own troops essentially as “suicide squads” or “cannon fodder” to achieve less the important objectives was given birth in many countries. Casting one’s mind back again to its preceding January 31, 2023 post, there, greatcharlie considered the line of thought that resides in the minds of commanders of Russian Federation Armed Forces on the battlefield that would allow them to use their troops so carelessly and callously, centering its examination on parallels in Union Army and Russian Federation commanders’ thinking and behavior respectively at the Battle of the Crater, a calamitous episode of the US Civil War and present-day in Ukraine. It was noted that there are countless cases in military history when frightfully high casualties have been suffered in actions on the battlefield that never held hope of accomplishing anything except the destruction of the units sent out to fight. The main focus of the discussion here are four military formations which in fairly recent history were created and utilized by their respective governments on the battlefield much as the Wagner Group in Ukraine. There was little to no regard for their troops’ well-being. In nearly every case, though, those who sent them out to futile fights could provide what they believed were clear, logical, and plausible explanations for their respective choices. Omnia mala exempla ex rebus bonis orta sunt. (Every bad precedent originated as a justifiable measure.)

Wagner Group troops in Ukraine pose for photo (above). Although private military companies are not permitted under law in the Russian Federation, over a decade ago, the Wagner Group were endorsed in April 2012 by none other than Vladimir Putin while Russian Federation Prime Minister in an address to the State Duma. The Wagner Group has engaged in action externally in support of the Russian Federation’s overt and covert foreign and national security objectives. The Wagner Group is known to have deployed its units in the War in Donbas (2014–2022); Syrian Civil War, (2015–2016); the South Sudanese Civil War (2013-2020); the Central African Republic Civil War (2013-2014); the Second Libyan Civil War (2014-2020); the Sudanese Revolution (2018-2019); Venezuelan presidential crisis (2019-2023); and the Mali War (2012-present). The Wagner Group first appeared in Ukraine in 2014, where it participated in the annexation of Crimea.

More on the Wagner Group

While publications and online Information regarding Wagner Group is readily available and the organization is well-known and been well-studied among military analysts, greatcharlie believes it is necessary to at least offer some baseline of facts about it. The hope is to some degree help equalize among readers as to what it is all about, particularly undergraduate and graduate students who constitute the largest portion of greatcharlie’s readership. (The discussion could possibly serve as a basis for their own discoveries.) As aforementioned, the Wagner Group is a private military contractor based in the Russian Federation. Although private military companies are not permitted under law in the Russian Federation, they were endorsed in April 2012 by none other than Putin, then Russian Federation Prime Minister during an address to the State Duma. The Wagner Group has engaged in action externally in support of the Russian Federation’s overt and covert foreign and national security objectives. The Wagner Group is known to have deployed its units in the War in Donbas (2014–2022); Syrian Civil War, (2015–2016); the South Sudanese Civil War (2013-2020); the Central African Republic Civil War (2013-2014); the Second Libyan Civil War (2014-2020); the Sudanese Revolution (2018-2019); Venezuelan presidential crisis (2019-2023); and the Mali War (2012-present). 

It is alleged by some that the Wagner Group was founded by Dmitriy Utkin, a veteran of the First and Second Chechen Wars. Until 2013, Utkin served as lieutenant colonel and brigade commander of the 700th Independent Voyská spetsiálnogo naznachéniya (‘Special Purpose Military Detachment) of the 2nd Independent Brigade, a special forces unit of Glavnoe operativnoe upravlenie General’nogo štaba Vooružёnnyh sil Rossijskoj Federacii (the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Federation). Much speculation exists over the choice of Wagner as the organization’s name. On dit, the group’s name comes from Utkin’s own call sign “Wagner”, reportedly after the 19th century German composer Richard Wagner. Utkin–a member of Putin’s ethno-religious nationalist circle–supposedly picked Wagner due to his alleged infatuation with the Third Reich (Note that Nazi Germany’s Reichskanzler Adolf Hitler’s favorite composer was Wagner). Additionally, some have presumed Utkin is a full-blown  neo-Nazi because, as reported by the Economist, he has several Nazi tattoos. It is further alleged that some members of the Wagner Group have been linked to white supremacist and neo-Nazi far-right extremists. This allegation is particularly directed at members of Wagner’s openly far-right and supposedly neo-Nazi Task Force Rusich, simply reference Rusich within the organization. Other circumstantial evidence to support such theories is the fact that Wagner members have left neo-Nazi graffiti on the battlefield.

Conclusions about members of the Wagner Group and neo-Nazism are juxtaposed with their role in promoting the ethno-religious nationalism espoused by the Russian Federation’s present leadership. To the extent that Wagner Group members are understood by the regime to be dedicated solely to the values and interests of Putin’s Russia, the Russian President–a self-declared fervent anti-Nazi–awarded Utkin and three other Wagner Group’s senior commanders, Alexander Kuznetsov, Andrey Bogatov and Andrei Troshev, with the Order of Courage and the title Hero of the Russian Federation at Kremlin reception to mark the Day of Heroes of the Fatherland. (Kuznetsov is alleged to be the commander of Wagner’s 1st Reconnaissance and Assault Company, Bogatov was identified as the commander of the 4th Reconnaissance and Assault Company, and allegedly, Troshev was identified as the Wagner Group’s “executive director”.) One would suppose that Putin would hardly award a group of neo-Nazis with such honors. Putin surely would know if they were neo-Nazis.

Gnawing a bit further at the neo-Nazi issue, those analyzing Wagner Group members might consider that in the case of the Wagner Group, any Nazi symbols may not be used by members as a sign of their adherence to a depraved, well-worn political expression, but a readily available means to express that there was a desire to be harmfully malicious in their undertakings. If anything, their reported use of Nazi symbols would more likely manifest their wish to somehow express the evil, the homicidal ideation and ill-will that exists within them and around which the thoughts of senior commanders of Wagner very likely circle. Certainly, through the use of such symbols, the likely aim is to induce and instill terror among opponents and observers alike. For most individuals, the sight of a swastika is far more disturbing than the sight of a pentagram. None this is meant to suggest the members of the Wagner Group are simply tearaways making nuisances of themselves. They are indeed very dangerous men, and it takes a lot to deal with them. Laisser s’établir des amalgames primaires, assimilant immaturité masculine toxique et néo-nazisme.

The indications and implications of all that has been observed about the organization by various journalists may alternatively be that the Wagner Group is actually demonic in nature. Surely, its members by their action have shown a hatred mankind and the whole wide world, and an intent is to disrupt, or better destroy, in order to sow chaos and conflict. None of this is to suggest that the Wagner Group is some Satanic cult. However, the Wagner Group’s activities have never been aimed at improving the lives of people anywhere. Intriguingly, it is very apparent that often tragic consequences have beset those who have chosen to join, associate with, or briefly come in contact with, the organization. That has certainly been the case for the organization’s usual volunteers as well all those who have formed its penal units who have been sent into Ukraine. What contact the Wagner Group has meant, or will mean, for Putin and the Russian Federation Armed Forces is open to debate. Having stated all of this, the organization, surely is not supernatural, and can be and has been defeated on the battlefield. In Syria, February 2018, there was the singular case of a large unit Wagner Group troops encountered a small detachment of US Special Forces soldiers at their base at a refinery in the town of Khasham. The US Special Forces defenders, making effective use of air support and artillery, dealt a devastating blow to the Wagner Group troops. (For more on that event, see greatcharlie’s April 30, 2022 post entitled “Brief Meditations on the Role of Deception, Deceit, and Delinquency in the Planning, Preparations, and Prosecution of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine”.)

From another albeit “spiritual” angle, reportedly some closely associated with the Wagner Group leadership claim many are followers of the Slavic Native Faith, Rodnover. Indeed, along that vein, reportedly, anonymous members of Wagner Group have insisted that Utkin is a Rodnover. In the Routledge International Handbook of Religion in Global Society (Routledge, 2020), it is stated that Wagner Group members insist that Utkin is a ssuredly a Rodnover. Under Rodnover  theology, there is the belief in an absolute, supreme God (Rod) who begets the universe, lives as the universe, and is present in all its phenomena. Among Rodnovers, there is the belief that their religion is a faithful continuation of the ancient beliefs of the Slavs that survived as a folk religion following their Christianization during the Middle Ages.

The owner of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin (center), poses for a nighttime photo with his troops on the frontlines in Ukraine. In August 2017, a Turkish newspaper Yeni Şafak made the suggestion that Yevgeny Prigozhin was owner of the Wagner Group, a role he had constantly denied. At the time, Prigozhin was already recognized as a member of Putin’s coterie. An intriguing figure in his own right, Prigozhin holds considerable standing with Putin which speaks volumes on its own. He is affectionately called “Putin’s chef” because of his catering businesses that hosted dinners which Putin attended with foreign dignitaries. Prigozhin became heavily involved in matters concerning the special military operation in Ukraine especially since massive numbers of troops from his organization were operating there. Prigozhin has made his judgments concerning the incompetence and fidelity of Russian Federation Armed Force’s top commanders as Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation Russian Army General Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, Russian Army General Valery Gerasimov very clear and very public.

Wer ist dein mysteriöser Chef? It was in August 2017, Yeni Şafak, a Turkish newspaper, made the suggestion that Utkin was only a figurehead for the company. The individual later revealed to be the owner of the Wagner Group was the Yevgeny Prigozhin. Now well-recognized as a pivotal player in the Russian Federation war effort in Ukraine, as well as an intriguing figure in his own right, Prigozhin holds a level of standing with Putin which speaks volumes on its own. Prigozhin, called “Putin’s chef”, because of his catering businesses that hosted dinners which Putin attended with foreign dignitaries, was known to have ties with the Wagner Group and Utkin personally. For quite a while, Prigozhin even denied any communication with the Wagner Group. Prigozhin actually sued Bellingcat, Meduza, and Echo of Moscow for claiming he had links to the organization. In an interview in December 2018, Putin also denied allegations that Prigozhin had been directing the Wagner Group’s activities. However, in September 2022, Prigozhin relented and admitted having created the group. Prigozhin claimed, “I cleaned the old weapons myself, sorted out the bulletproof vests myself and found specialists who could help me with this. From that moment, on May 1, 2014, a group of patriots was born, which later came to be called the Wagner Battalion.”

Prigozhin has made his judgments well-known to Putin concerning the incompetence and fidelity of Russian Federation Armed Force’s top commanders as Ministr Oborony Rossijskoj Federacii (Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation) Russian Army General Sergei Shoigu and Chief of General’nyy shtab Vooruzhonnykh sil Rossiyskoy Federatsii (General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation), Russian Army General Valery Gerasimov. He has also made his views on the matter very public. Et monere at moneri proprium est verae amitcitiae. (It is a characteristic of friendship to give advice and to receive it.)

Among standing units of the Wagner Group is the aforementioned Rusich. It is referred to as a “sabotage and assault reconnaissance group”, which has been fighting as part of the Russian separatist forces in eastern Ukraine. The Wagner Group is believed to have a Serb unit, which was, until at least April 2016, under the command of Davor Savičić, a Bosnian Serb.  Savičić reportedly was a member of the Serb Volunteer Guard, known as “Arkan’s Tigers” during the Bosnian War and the Special Operations Unit (JSO) during the Kosovo War. A new unit in the Wagner Group consists of citizens of Scandinavian countries, in particular, from Norway. It has participated in the firefights on the Bakhmut front. The unit is referred to as the Níðhöggr“, sometimes also known as Nidhogg. Níðhöggr is one of the great serpents (dragons) in Norse mythology. The snake gnaws at the roots of the Yggdrasil tree (the world tree symbolizing the universe), and also devours sinners. Dragons have been seen upon various patches of this unit in the field.

Typically, Wagner Group fighters are retired regular Russian Fedrration Armed Forces servicemen aged between 35 and 55. Their pay was once alleged to be between 80,000 and 250,000 Russian rubles a month which the rough equivalent of $667 to $2,083. It was recently suggested by one source that their pay was as substantial as 277,200 Russian rubles or US$3,500. Nulla salus bello. (There is no security in war.) It is widely known that since July 2022, the Wagner Group’s chief, Prigozhin, has been recruiting inmates from Russian Federation prisons to increase the organization’s strength. Prigozhin possesses the authority to promise prison inmates that in return for agreeing to fight in Ukraine, are promised the termination of their prison sentences and a salary for six months. Indeed, the Wagner Group offers 200,000 rubles ($2,700 approximately) and amnesty for six months of “voluntary” service in Ukraine. Reportedly, a death benefit of 5 million rubles is provided to their relatives if they were killed in action. The recruitment of prison inmates for service in the Wagner Group is nothing new. The organization reportedly recruited imprisoned UPC rebels in the Central African Republic to fight in Mali and Ukraine. They are reportedly nicknamed the “Black Russians”. However, as noted earlier, it is these newly raised penal units that Russian Army commanders typically send to attack Ukrainian positions in frontal assaults, allowing them to identify defenses for the artillery to bombard. The tactic has proven marginally effective, but nonetheless it is a most apparent display of archaic wartime callousness. The troops’ display of courage, obedience to authority and acts of sacrifice have been looked upon with indifference by Russian Army commanders. Given the backgrounds of the Wagner Group prison recruits, the common wisdom is that they are desensitized to violence. They are depicted as fighting as if they have nothing left to lose.

Curiously, a possible way to look at the conundrum Russian Federation Armed Forces face might be that they are essentially shipwrecked in Ukraine. Since retreat was never an option, from the moment the situation went sour, Russian Federation commanders surely recognized that they would either need to find a way to save themselves or hope against hope an ally might come to their rescue. The Wagner Group, already in Ukraine, went in with greater numbers, providing additional strength and combat power on the battlefield that the Russian Federation Armed Forces could not muster. To that extent, Wagner Group troops were supposed to be their saving grace–Prigozhin might say the rescuers–of the Russian Federation Armed Forces. However, it was not long before everyone realized that they were caught in that same circumstance as their Russian Federation Armed Forces “comrades”. That could only have been expected as the same senior Russian Federation commanders that put their troops in a predicament, controlled the placement and movements of Wagner Group troops.

 

Prigozhin in conversation with Russian Federation prison inmates about service in Ukraine with the Wagner Group. is widely known that since July 2022, the Wagner Group’s chief, Prigozhin, has been recruiting inmates from Russian Federation prisons to increase the organization’s strength. Prigozhin possessed the authority to promise prison inmates that in return for agreeing to fight in Ukraine, are promised the termination of their prison sentences and a salary for six months. of “voluntary service”, and a death benefit for their relatives if they were killed in action. It is these newly raised penal units that Russian Army commanders typically send to attack Ukrainian positions in frontal assaults, allowing them to identify defenses for the artillery to bombard. The tactic has proven effective, but nonetheless it is a most apparent display of archaic wartime callousness. The troops’ display of courage, obedience to authority and acts of sacrifice have been looked upon with indifference by Russian Army commanders. Given the backgrounds of the Wagner prison recruits, the common wisdom is that they are desensitized to violence. They are depicted as fighting as if they have nothing left to lose.

The Image of Penal Units and Suicide Squads Created by Hollywood

What many of a certain generation commonly know about prisoner volunteering for special units in wartime perhaps is perhaps drawn from Hollywood through films as the iconic 1967 hit, “The Dirty Dozen.” The film, directed by Robert Aldrich and produced during the Vietnam War era, was a representation of Pop Culture of the 1960s. It told the fictional story of OSS Major Reisman, who is an insubordinate US Army officer facing a court-martial, when he is allowed one last chance for a reprieve. He was given the mission to  select 12 Army prisoners from a maximum-security detention center, train them for a top-secret mission behind the German lines, and then lead them into battle. If they succeed in the mission, they will be released. Throughout the film the higher levels of the US military are depicted as deeply flawed, and nearly every effort was made by the military bureaucracy to thwart his efforts. Riesman succeeded by breaking through red tape and turned those characters representing the riffraff of the military into the heroes.

Interestingly enough, the screenplay was based on author E. M. Nathanson’s 1965 bestseller which was founded on the story of an actual unit of demolition specialists of the 101st Airborne Division that operated behind enemy lines during World War II dubbed the “Filthy Thirteen”. It has been suggested that another inspiration for the screenplay was the story of an unusual public offer to US President Franklin Roosevelt by 44 prisoners serving life sentences at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary to serve in the Pacific on suicide missions against imperial Japan. A number of special units were created by the US during World War II to take on very dangerous and challenging missions against Nazi German and Imperial Japanese forces. They were not penal units or suicide squads.They were essentially what would today be called special operations units, highly trained for such missions. Among the more commonly known were: the US Army Rangers; the US 6th Army Special Reconnaissance Unit (Alamo Scouts); the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), (Merrill’s Marauders); the Marine Raiders (Carlson’s Raiders); the US Navy Underwater Demolition Teams/Frogmen; Doolitle’s Tokyo Raiders of the US Army Air Force; and, the US-Canadian 1st Special Service Force. During World War II, penal units and suicide squads were more popular within the totalitarian regimes of both the Allied and Axis sides.

These men have been alleged to be members of a Shtrafbat standing stripped of their ranks, medals and orders, awaiting instructions (above). The individual in the foreground appears to be a political officer.. The Shtrafbat were military penal battalions in the Soviet Union. The Soviet Army suffered one catastrophic defeat after another, at the hands of the Nazi German Army. It had been driven all the way back to Stalingrad and the Caucasus. The leadership of the Soviet Union was unsure of how to reestablish military discipline and the motivation among troops to stand and fight. Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin issued Order No. 227 in the summer of 1942 increased the number of Strafbats and expecting of them. Order No. 227, known popularly as “Ni shagu nazad!” (Not one step back!) required harsh punishments, including summary execution, for unauthorized retreats. Troops thrown into the Shtrafbats, known as Shtrafniki.

The Shtrafbat

Shtrafbats were military penal battalions in the Soviet Union. Dire circumstances on the Soviet Union’s Western Front in World War II, would lead to their use as suicide units against the Nazi German Army. Almost immediately upon the launch of the Nazi German Army’s Operation Barbarossa, the Soviet Army suffered one catastrophic defeat after another. The Soviet Army had been driven all the way back to Stalingrad and the Caucasus. The leadership of the Soviet Union was unsure of how to reestablish military discipline and the motivation among troops to stand and fight. Supposedly after learning of the Nazi German Army’s effective use of penal units, best known during the war as the Strafbatalllon–also discussed here–in combat, Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin issued Order No. 227 in the summer of 1942 increased the number of Strafbats and expecting of them. Order No. 227, known popularly as “Ni shagu nazad!” (Not one step back!) required harsh punishments, including summary execution, for unauthorized retreats. Troops thrown into the Shtrafbats, known as Shtrafniki, were stripped of their ranks, medals and orders. Although Shtrafniki were able to serve as junior commanders in their units, senior commanders were drawn from regular units, and often the best ones at that. Among the list of offenses that could result in assignment to a penal unit as a Shtrafnik included: cowardice in combat, desertion, neglect of military equipment, sabotage,and drunkenness.The maximum term of service in a penal unit for a convicted soldier was three months. After that, Shtrafniki were promised that their ranks and awards would be reinstated, and they would be returned to a conventional Soviet Army unit. Unlike the Shtrafniki, staff officers, company commanders, platoon leaders, political officers, and most junior commanders were assigned to the battalions on a permanent basis.

Some Shtrafniki were ordered to service in the Soviet Air Force and the Soviet Navteq, however, their most common use was in infantry roles. In infantry service, penal companies were allotted an authorized strength under Order No. 227 of 150 to 200 men. The strength authorized at the battalion level was originally set at 800. Shtrafbats initially served under the control of commanders of Armies. Later, Shtrafbats would be raised within Fronts (the equivalent of Army Groups). Infantry service was recognized by many Soviet prisoners as the equivalent of a death sentence. Theoretically, Shtrafniki could receive military decorations for outstanding service. However, there was also the possibility that Shtrafniki would be placed under suspicion for being politically disloyal. Those Shtrafniki who faced that fate would become targets of political officers and in many cases thay were persecuted even after the war ended. 

Soviet Army troops in the assault (above). To ensure Shtrafniki would advance as ordered, “zagraditel’nye otriady” (anti-retreat) detachments of the Soviet special organization known as Smert Shpionam (Death to spies) or SMERSH. When positioned as barrier troops, regular Soviet Army troops  could not be relied upon to carry out their orders with regard to retreating Shtrafniki. SMERSH blocking detachments positioned at the rear would aggressively respond to Shtrafniki who retreated. More significant punishments would befall Shtrafniki that were arrested and faced court martial on the drumhead. With no means to escape their fate, Shtrafniki would advance with reckless-abandon toward Nazi German lines until they were killed by mines, heavy machine-gun fire, or artillery. If any Shtrafniki managed to reach their objective or simply survive, they would be reassembled among fresh units and sent forward again. Occasionally, some Shtrafbat battalions executed their missions even when barrier troops were not positioned to their rear.

To ensure Shtrafniki would advance as ordered, ‘zagraditel’nye otriady’ (anti-retreat) detachments of the Soviet special organization known as Smert Shpionam (Death to spies) or SMERSH. When positioned as barrier troops, regular Soviet Army troops  could not be relied upon to carry out their orders with regard to retreating Shtrafniki. SMERSH blocking detachments positioned at the rear would aggressively respond to Shtrafniki who retreated. More significant punishments would befall Shtrafniki that were arrested and faced court martial on the drumhead. With no way or means to escape their fate, Shtrafniki would advance with reckless-abandon toward Nazi German lines until they were killed by mines, heavy machine-gun fire, or artillery. If any Shtrafniki managed to reach their objective or simply survive, they would be reassembled among fresh units and sent forward again. Occasionally, some Shtrafbat battalions faithfully executed their missions even without barrier troops positioned to their rear.

All of this sounds quite familiar with regard to the use of Wagner Group troops in Ukraine. The indications and implications are that there may actually be nothing that Russian Federation Armed Forces commanders plan to do to reduce the Wagner Group’s casualties as they may not see anything unorthodox or callous in the manner they use them. Perhaps, without any alteration, Russian Federation Armed Force will insist upon the continued slaughter of Wagner Group troops. There is much available for Zbroyni Syly Ukrayiny (the Ukrainian Armed Forces) to exploit in a non-lethal way from this situation,  allowing it radically change the course of events concerning the war beyond the battlefield.

Members of a Nazi German Strafbataillon engaging in dangerous urban combat on thee Eastern Front (above). Strafbataillon (Penal Battalion) was the term used for penal units created with prisoners in all branches of Nazi Germany’s armed forces (Wehrmacht) that were held for both criminal and political offenses. It was in 1942, long after the war began, that the term Strafbataillon was widely used. The pre-war program for segregating soldiers deemed troublesome from others was known as Sonderabteilungen (Special Departments). Government policy then was to rebuild the armed forces by keeping “potential troublemakers” away from other troops, thereby preventing any “destructive elements” from interferring with their dutiful military service. Once World War II began, the role of the Strafbataillon was altered. Hitler conceived of a new way to effectively manage incarcerated members of the Wehrmacht as well as so-called subversives. To give them greater purpose, he issued an order stating any first-time convicted soldier could return to his unit after he had served a portion of his sentence in a special probation corps before the enemy. 

The Strafbataillon

Strafbataillon (Penal Battalion) was the term used for penal units created with prisoners in all branches of Nazi Germany’s armed forces (Wehrmacht) that were held for both criminal and political offenses. It was in 1942, long after the war began, that the term Strafbataillon was widely used. The pre-war program for segregating soldiers deemed troublesome from others was known as Sonderabteilungen (Special Departments). Government policy then was to rebuild the armed forces by keeping “potential troublemakers” away from other troops, thereby preventing any “destructive elements” from interferring with their dutiful military service. The number of Sonderabteilungen grew on May 21,1935, Nazi Germany’s Reichskanzler (Reich Chancellor) Adolf Hitler decreed that under the new Nazi Defense Act, any conscript who was deemed “unfit for military service because of subversive activity” would be arrested. Soldiers who were marked as disruptive to military discipline, yet “worthy of service”, would also be sent to military Sonderabteilungen. The objective of the penal units then became to change attitudes toward state and national policy while instilling a sense of duty, honor, and purpose. That was, however, achieved through harsh discipline and punishments, extensive indoctrination programs, and restrictions on home leave. Troops who conformed were eventually transferred to regular units. Those who remained undisciplined or continued to oppose the military were transferred to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. Before World War II, there were nine Sonderabteilungen within the Wehrmacht in Nazi Germany. According to estimates, between 3000 and 6000 Wehrmacht personnel passed through those special departments. A total of 320 dubbed “incorrigible rogues” were transported to concentration camps.

Once World War II began, the role of the Sonderabteilungen was altered again. Hitler conceived of a new way to effectively manage incarcerated members of the Wehrmacht as well as so-called subversives, and give them greater purpose. He issued an order stating any first-time convicted soldier could return to his unit after he had served a portion of his sentence in a special probation corps before the enemy. Eventually, the Sonderabteilungen were disbanded and a new formation, the Feld-Sonder Battalion (Special Field Battalion), was created and placed under the command of the Feldgendarmerie, the military police of the Wehrmacht that performed tasks as traffic control and population control behind the frontline as well as the suppression and execution of partisans and the apprehension of enemy stragglers. However, as the war continued, the need for more military personnel grew. To drive more military personnel to the battalions, military tribunals were directed by the Oberkommando Wehrmacht (the Nazi German Armed Forces High Command) to send incarcerated members of the Wehrmacht, as well as “subversives”, to what were named Bewährungsbataillone (Probation battalions). During World War II, more than 27,000 soldiers served a probation period in a Bewährungsbataillon. The initial unit was Bewährungsbataillon 500.  Service in Bewährungsbataillon 500 was intended to be unpleasant. The unit fought across the Eastern Front, and casualties were quite high. Troops assigned to the Bewährungsbataillone were expected to undertake dangerous operations at the front. Refusal entailed enforcement of the original sentence in Strafgefangenelager (punishment camps) in which conditions were scarcely better than in some concentration camps. Most convicted soldiers desired to regain their rights as citizens and lost honor. Thus, there was actually incentive among them to serve a probation period in Bewährungsbataillone despite the high battle losses suffered within those units, and morale within them was reportedly high. They were observed, evaluated, and commanded by selected officers, non-commissioned officers, and assigned enlisted men. Beginning in April 1941, convicted soldiers—even those sentenced to death—who had shown exceptional bravery or meritorious service were actually allowed to rejoin their original units. 

It was in 1943 that the penal units were more widely referred to as Strafbataillon, as noted earlier. The Strafbataillone were still serving under the control of the Feldgendarmerie, but were redeployed to conduct not only dangerous, but what were essentially suicide missions for the Heer (German Army) to include clearing minefields, assaulting difficult objectives and defending positions against overwhelming attacking forces. They were also made to do hard manual labor in positions under enemy observation and fire, building and repairing military structures such as bunkers and pillboxes as well as military infrastructure. A specially-formed military police force, Feldjägerkorps, would by its disciplinary actions help maintain the flow of troops to the Strafbataillone. The Feldjägerkorps was given the responsibility to maintain control and discipline throughout all the Wehrmacht as well as the Schutzstaffel (Protection Squadron) or SS. Feldjägerkorps units were formed from combat-decorated officers and noncommissioned officers. The force received its authority directly from Oberkommando Wehrmacht. The Feldjägerkorps units in the field could summarily execute officers or enlisted men for any breach of military discipline, order or duty. By September 1944, all soldiers and recruits who received a sentence of deferred execution in a drumhead court-martial from the Feldjägerkorps were sent directly to Strafbatallione which greatly increased their strength right up to the end of the war.

Strafbataillon troops of the Nazi German 999th Light Africa Division troops advance through town toward Allied positions (above). Major operations conducted by Strafbataillione on the Eastern Front included Kamianka, Ukraine, as well as at Gruzino and Sinyavino, near Leningrad. In October 1942, the 999. leichte Afrika-Division (999th Light Africa Division) was formed in Tunisia from civilian criminals and prison inmates who had been deemed “unfit for military service.” Indeed, a third of the 28,000 troops who joined the division were political prisoners from the concentration camps at Baumholder and Heuberg. They were encouraged to volunteer on the promise that all past crimes would be wiped out by exemplary bravery in combat. The 999th Light Africa Division initially fought in North Africa and later in the Soviet Union. Some units were also used as garrison troops in Greece and in the anti-partisan campaign, in the Balkans. 

Infanteriebataillone 500, 540, 550, 560, 561, and 609 were Strafbatallione engaged in major operations conducted on the Eastern Front including Kamianka, Ukraine, as well as at Gruzino and Sinyavino, near Leningrad. These units were supplied and treated nearly as normal units, but, as noted, were used for special dangerous missions. Presumably due to the fact that troop shortages were ubiquitous in units on the frontlines, often soldiers were allowed to fulfill their probation in their field unit. However, when their respective units were not at the front or did not engage in actions in which the soldiers could stand the test, they were transferred to one of these Infanteriebataillone. In October 1942, the 999. leichte Afrika-Division (999th Light Africa Division) was formed in Tunisia ffroma hodge-podge of civilian criminals and military prison inmates who had been deemed Wehrunwürdig (unfit for military service). A third of the 28,000 troops who joined the division were political prisoners from the concentration camps at Baumholder and Heuberg. They were encouraged to volunteer on the promise that all past crimes would be wiped out by exemplary bravery in combat. Although the 999th Light Africa Division fought in North Africa, the fighting in there was largely over by the time it took the field. The unit would additionally serve in the Soviet Union. Some of its units were detailed as garrison troops in Greece and other were deployed to the Balkans to engage in the Bandenbekämpfung, or anti-partisan campaign there. 

The Waffen-SS also raised probation units. They included: SS-Fallschirmjäger-Btl 500 (SS Parachute Battalion 500); SS-Sturm-Btl 500 ( SS Assault Battalion 500); and, the notorious SS-Brigade Dirlewanger, a unit discussed later in this post. They were generally manned with troops Straflager und Wehrstraflager (punishment camp and defense discipline camp) In the Straflager and Wehrstraflager, extremely  hard labor had to be performed without the availability of appropriate supplies. Those who survived were said to be “endangered” for transfer into one of these units.

Notable here is the fact that as the course of the war had turned against Nazi Germany, military losses and the need to maintain discipline by example led the Oberkommando Wehrmacht to order the formation of additional punishment units from the thousands of Wehrmacht military prisoners that were held in its military prisons. Hopefully, the discussion of such here will not appear as a sort of suggestion to Putin on how the increase the strength of his forces in Ukraine. (In all honesty, greatcharlie hardly believes Putin or anyone in the Russian Federation government would have even a remote interest in its scribblings.) Prigozhin has at least deigned to ask prison inmates to serve in Wagner Group units. If the right occasion arises, all of that may quietly change for both military and civilian prison inmates. The hypothetical move might be announced publicly, couched in some plausible excuse of exigence or perhaps, prison inmates might be taken from penal institutions en masse and covertly sent to Ukraine. It might be said then: Unbewusst, war vielleicht Reichskanzler Adolf Hitler das Vorbild. 

The Dirlewangers move through the streets of a town on the Eastern Front (above).The SS Dirlewanger organization was a rather unorthodox Nazi German military organization of anti-partisan fighters. As the Wehrmacht rolled through Europe at the start of World War II, it faced increased resistance from partisan insurgents. To manage the problem, in 1940, the SS began an experiment. An initial 55 convicted poachers from prisons and concentration camps that it believed possessed the necessary skills, were put in service through impressment for the purpose of hunting down and capturing partisan fighters in their camps in the forests of the Eastern Front. A conditional pardon was promised to prison inmates who served in the recherché unit. They were placed under the command of Oskar Dirlewanger. Dirlewanger’s troops could do almost anything they pleased: loot, rape and pillage. There were often no repercussions for the most heinous actions. In Poland, Dirlewanger and his men would commit their most horrible war crimes. First, it was the Wola Massacre or Wola Slaughter (August 5, 1944 to August 12, 1944) in which 40,000 to 50,000 Poles in the Wola neighborhood of Warsaw were systematically slaughtered. Then, given its reputation, the Dirlewangers were called upon to assist in the quelling of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. (August 1, 1944 to October 2, 1944). 

The Dirlewangers

During World War II, a rather unorthodox military formation of anti-partisan fighters was fielded by Nazi Germany known infamously as the Dirlewangers. As the Wehrmacht rolled through Europe at the start of war, it faced increased resistance from partisan insurgents. To manage the problem, in 1940, the SS began an experiment. It organized 55 convicted poachers from prisons and concentration camps, that it believed possessed the necessary skills to hunt down and capture partisan fighters in their camps in the forests of the Eastern Front, were put in service through impressment in an organization named Wilddiebkommando Oranienburg (Oranienburg Poacher’s Unit). As noted earlier, such anti-partisan campaigns were referred to as Bandenbekämpfung. A conditional pardon was promised to prison inmates who served in the recherché unit. Orders were passed down to train the unit’s members in marksmanship and placed them under the command of four SS officers. The unit was placed under the command of SS Obersturmführer Oskar Dirlewanger, an alcoholic, convicted of illegal arms possession and embezzlement and imprisoned twice for the rape of a 14 year old girl and sexual assault. Subsequently, the unit was named after him, Sonderkommando Dr. Dirlewanger. Dirlewanger found a patron in a comrade from World War I, SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen SS Gottlob Berger. It was arranged for Dirlewanger to report directly to the Reichführer-SS (Reich Leader of the SS) Heinrich Himmler, a most senior leader of the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers Party or the Nazi Party), and a member of Hitler’s inner circle. It was not long before the number of poachers in the Dirlewangers dwindled and the unit began to take any men it could get. The strength of the unit was increased with additional prison inmates who had been convicted of burglary, assault, murder, and rape. The unit grew further when it took on deserters, punished soldiers and even concentration camp survivors. At that point, the unit was designated SS-Sonderbataillon Dirlewanger, 

Despite being subordinated to large military organizations in the field, Dirlewanger’s troops could do almost anything they pleased: loot, rape and pillage. There were often no repercussions for the most heinous actions. It is said that other Nazi German units, even some from the Waffen SS oddly enough, detested Dirlewanger and his men. However, any efforts to remove them from the battlefield and prosecute the soldiers for their atrocities were quietly knocked down in Berlin. To prevent any loss of control of his troops, Dirlewanger well-maintained unit discipline through beatings and shootings. Reportedly, if a civilian or soldier displeased him, Dirlewanger shot them in the hand. If one of his men grabbed any items that he wanted, he would execute him on the spot.  Given the conditions that existed in the unit, desertion became commonplace. 

Anti-partisan warfare was intense and casualties in Dirlewanger’s unit were high. On January 29, 1942, the battalion received authorization to recruit foreign volunteers to supplement its strength. On August 20, 1942, Hitler further authorized the expansion of the unit to two battalions. The added strength would come from additional poachers, Russians and Ukrainians recruited in the field, and military delinquents. This latter source of recruits was approved on October 15, 1942. The term “military delinquents” referred to men from all branches of the Wehrmacht, including the Waffen-SS, who had been convicted of felony offenses while in service. As the Soviet Army drove West and German forces retreated, the Dirlewanger organization was raised to the level of brigade as SS-Sturmbrigade Dirlewanger (SS Assault Brigade Dirlewanger).

Oskar Dirlewanger was an alcoholic, convicted of rape and sexual assault among other crimes. Dirlewanger reported directly to the Reichführer-SS (Reich Leader of the SS) Heinrich Himmler, a most senior leader of the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers Party or the Nazi Party), and a member of Hitler’s inner circle. Dirlewanger would eventually receive the rank of SS-Oberführer. It is said that other German units, particularly from the Waffen SS oddly enough, detested Dirlewanger and his men. However, any efforts to remove them from the battlefield and prosecute the soldiers for their atrocities were knocked down in Berlin. To prevent any loss of control of his troops, Dirlewanger maintained unit discipline through beatings and shootings. Reportedly, if a civilian or soldier displeased him, Dirlewanger shot them in the hand. If one of his men grabbed any items that he wanted, he would execute him on the spot.  Given the conditions that existed in the unit, desertion became commonplace. 

With the help of his friends in Berlin, the ranks of the unit would grow even further, and In May 1943, the unit officially became a regiment, designated SS-Regiment Dirlewanger (SS Regiment Dirlewanger). The unit would next receive the designation, SS-Sonderregiment Dirlewanger (SS Special Regiment Dirlewanger) with the addition of a third bataillon, approved in August 1943. However, before that battalion could be formed, the regiment was sent into the frontline on an emergency basis with Army Groups Center and North, beginning on November 14, 1943. Both poorly equipped or trained for that purpose, the unit consequently suffered extremely high casualties and was reduced to a reported strength of 259 troops. Hundreds of military and concentration camp convicts were forwarded to Dirlewanger to allow him to rebuild the regiment, and by February 19, 1944, its strength had reached 1200 men. On April 15th, the unit was enabled to establish its own replacement company to facilitate replacing casualties. Soviet citizens were no longer recruited, and future recruits for the regiment would be selected exclusively from military prison inmates and volunteers from the concentration camps. These latter were not only convicts but also political prisoners. It was then that Dirlewanger reportedly would go as far as to accept the criminally insane into his unit’s ranks.

In Poland, Dirlewanger and his men would commit their most abominable war crimes. First, it was the Wola Massacre or Wola Slaughter (August 5, 1944 to August 12, 1944) in which 40,000 to 50,000 Poles in the Wola neighborhood of Warsaw were systematically slaughtered. Then, given its reputation, the Dirlewangers were called upon to assist in the quelling of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. (August 1, 1944 to October 2, 1944). The Dirlewangers killed an estimated 35,000 men, women, and children in one day. A fairly well-known story associated with the tragedy is that a witness in the Warsaw Ghetto at the time observed Dirlewanger ordering his men to execute 500 young children. Dirlewanger reportedly insisted that his troops save their bullets and execute the task with rifle butts and bayonets. Nearly 80 percent of Warsaw was practically razed to the ground by the unit.. The complaints against the Dirlewangers continued to mount. That led the SS to move the unit from Poland to the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (now Belarus) to allay the fears of field commanders. Still, Dirlewanger was rewarded for Warsaw with the promotion to SS-Oberführer on August 15, 1944. On its first deployment to Byelorussia in 1942, Dirlewanger’s unit would kill 30,000 people. Apparently, Dirlewanger’s favorite method of suppression was to round Byelorussians up in a barn, set it on fire, and machine gun anyone who fled. In October 1944, the unit was given the mission to quell the Slovak National Uprising. On February 20th, 1945 while at the Oder River in Silesia, the Dirlewanger Brigade along with parts of a number of Nazi German Army units were formed into the 36.Waffen-Grenadier-Division der SS Dirlewanger (36th Waffen SS Grenadier-Division Dirlewanger). While the unit rejoiced in becoming a division, it was only such in name only as it lacked the required strength.

It has been more than alleged that the Wagner Group’s actions in the Eastern Ukrainian town of Bucha fairly mirrored the horrors committed by the Dirlewangers during World WarII.  After Russian forces had retreated from Bucha on March 31, 2022 following a near month-long occupation of the town, the bodies of 419 unarmed civilians, many found with their hands bound behind their backs. Local Ukrainian authorities reported that nine children were among those killed. The Bundesnachrichtendienst, Germany’s foreign-intelligence service, later intercepted secret messages confirming Russian mercenaries known as the Wagner Group played a leading role in the massacre.

Members of the Foreign Legion engaged in counterinsurgency operations in Algeria (above). The Foreign Legion is a carry-over from the 19th century–perhaps some might say it is an anachronism. The military formation was established by King Louis-Philippe on March 9, 1831, as a unit to support the conquest of Algeria, which the French had invaded in 1830. To fill its ranks, focus was placed on collecting the foreign deserters and criminals who had drifted to France in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars. It was discovered that these men, viewed by the French government as a potential threat to civil society, could be induced to become professional soldiers at minimal cost. Indeed, the Foreign Legion attracted many refugees who migrated to France as well as unemployed soldiers from all points in Europe. It was especially popular among members of the Swiss regiments who had served the unpopular Bourbon regime before to the July Revolution of 1830. The Legion under-performed in the French struggle for conquest in Algeria, the conflict for which the formation was raised. Among the variety of factors. Before the Algerian campaign ended, 844 legionnaires died. Sadly, heavy losses among legionnaires from that point on were considered acceptabl, and perhaps expected in the many military interventions on foreign soil by France that followed.

The French Foreign Legion, 

The French Foreign Legion, in purpose and task, could be characterized as a throwback to the 19th century–perhaps some might say it is an anachronism. The military formation was established by King Louis-Philippe on March 9, 1831, as a unit to support the conquest of Algeria, which the French had invaded in 1830. To fill its ranks, focus was placed on collecting the foreign deserters and criminals who had drifted to France in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars. It was discovered that these men, viewed by the French government as a potential threat to civil society, could be induced to become professional soldiers at minimal cost. Indeed, the Foreign Legion attracted many refugees who migrated to France as well as unemployed soldiers from all points in Europe. It was especially popular among members of the Swiss regiments who had served the unpopular Bourbon regime before the July Revolution of 1830. The Legion under-performed in the French struggle for conquest in Algeria, the conflict for which the formation was raised: its raison d’être. Among the variety of factors the led to such result were the mismanagement of troops, problems with instilling military discipline and enforcing regulations among its homogeneous battalions of Algerians, desertion, and the staffing of its formations with the least qualified officers in the French Army. In the Legion’s initial engagement there, a unit of 27 legionnaires was overrun after being abandoned by a French officer and the cavalry under his command. By the time the Algerian campaign ended, 844 legionnaires were killed. Sadly, heavy losses among legionnaires from that point on were considered acceptable, marked their many military interventions on foreign soil, and perhaps to some degree were expected. 

During France’s intervention in Spain from 1833 to 1839, around 9,000 died or deserted. The death toll of legionnaires in the Crimean War from 1853 to 1856 was 444. From 1861 to 1865, France intervened in Mexico with the aim of overthrowing the reformist government of Mexican President Benito Juárez and establishing a European satellite state under the authority of the Austrian Prince Maximilian. Of the 4,000 legionnaires sent into Mexico, half were lost. Mexico emerged victorious and Maximilian was killed. However, an important piece of legionnaire history was actually established in the Mexico debacle at farm compound near a village called Camarón, in Vera Cruz. There, 62 legionnaires barricaded themselves and fought to the last man against superior Mexican forces. In the 1930s, the story of the engagement was transformed into an officially cherished legend of “Camerone!”  The story assisted in propagating the notion that the Foreign Legion faithfully carried out orders regardless of the sacrifice required. Performing honorably in battle was an obligation that required dismissing thoughts or feelings about self-preservation. On va faire Camerone!

Between 1870 and 1871 during 1he Franco-Prussian War, more than 900 legionnaires died while reinforcing the French Army. It brought the Foreign Legion from their bases in Algeria to France. Once the fighting ended, the Foreign Legion was used by the French government to violently reduce the Paris Commune. Legionnaires were ordered to kill French citizens and did so sometimes by summary execution in the street. In the aftermath, After order was restored, the legionnaires were quickly returned to their bases in Algeria.

French paratroopers very likely of the 6ème Bataillon de Parachutistes Coloniaux (6 BPC)–(even the French officials do not know who exactly is in the image–during a counter-attack against the Viet Minh at Dien Bien Phu in March 1954. The Foreign Legion’s unorthodox composition, isolation in Algeria, and the absence of patriotic purpose purportedly assisted in shaping it into a resolute fighting force in the years following its inception. Over those same years within the Foreign Legion, the notion that meaningless sacrifice is itself a virtue took hold. That sentiment was manifested in an 1883 address by French General François de Négrier to an element of legionnaires who were being deployed to Indochina to fight the Chinese. He reportedly stated: “You! Legionnaires! You are soldiers meant to die, and I am sending you to the place where you can do it!”  Many legionnaires would die in Indochina as well as in some of France’s many African colonies.  The Foreign Legion was called to France again to fight in World War I. The record indicates that 5,931 legionnaires were killed in action. Between the wars, the Foreign Legion again returned to its bases in North Africa. When World War II began, legionnaires could only monitor the fight from there. No time was available or no was any effort made to deploy them to the homeland given the short span of the Battle of France from May 10, 1940 to June 25, 1940. The Foreign Legion did not see heavy combat again until the postwar period in Indochina as part of the French Union’s Far East Expeditionary Corps.

The Foreign Legion’s unorthodox composition, isolation in Algeria, and the absence of patriotic purpose purportedly assisted in shaping it into a resolute fighting force in the years following its inception. Over those same years within the Foreign Legion, the notion that meaningless sacrifice is itself a virtue took hold. That sentiment was manifested in an 1883 address by French General François de Négrier to an element of legionnaires who were being deployed to Indochina to fight the Chinese. He reportedly stated: “You! Legionnaires! You are soldiers meant to die, and I am sending you to the place where you can do it!”  Many legionnaires would die in Indochina as well as in some of France’s many African colonies.  The Foreign Legion was called to France again to fight in World War I. The record indicates that 5,931 legionnaires were killed in action. Between the wars, the Foreign Legion again returned to its bases in North Africa. When World War II began, legionnaires could only monitor the fight from there. No time was available or no was any effort made to deploy them to the homeland given the short span of the Battle of France from May 10, 1940 to June 25, 1940. The Foreign Legion did not see heavy combat again until the postwar period in Indochina as part of the French Union’s Far East Expeditionary Corps. There, 9,017 legionnaires were killed in action in the failed attempt by France to hold on to its Southeast Asian territory from December 19, 1946 to July 20, 1954. The final engagement was the decisive Battle of Điện Biên Phủ. French defensive positions were overrun by the Viet Minh on May 7, 1954 following a two-month siege, Although a few French troops escaped to Loas, 11,000 were captured. A mere 3,300 survived imprisonment. Ce fut une défaite écrasante, une déroute complète

The Foreign Legion would return to Algeria after the Indochina debacle. Many of its officers were embittered, feeling they had been betrayed by bureaucrats in Paris. Eager to prove they had the moral fiber to defend the integrity of France, they zealously took on a new struggle to quell an Algerian independence movement. The fight was reportedly characterized by the use of torture, retributive killings, and atrocities committed by both sides. It is estimated that a million people died in the struggle. The Foreign Legion lost 1,976 men. Today, the Foreign Legion ihas a strength of nearly 9,000 men which represents 11% of the operational strength of the French Army.

Camerone Day 2017 in Aubagne, France, the Headquarters of the Foreign Legion. On Camerone Day, the doors of the Legion are open for public as part of the commemoration of the Bataille de Camerone (Battle of Camarón), a crucial moment in the history of the French Foreign Legion. It is portrayed as a pure example of bravery and the determination to fight to the finish, an example to be followed by every legionnaire. The phrase “On va faire Camerone!” (Let’s make Camerone) became popular among legionnaires, clearly expressing their will to fight to the last bullet. The date April 30, 1931 was designated as both the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Foreign Legion’s creation (although it should be March 10th), and the first official public commemoration of the epic Battle of Camarón. It is proudly commemorated even by the smallest Legion unit stationed in the most isolated place on the planet. The Recit de Camerone (Narration of Camerone), the telling of the story, is inseparable from the ceremony.

Perhaps what has been presented here is enough for readers to draw in their own mind’s the shape of the Foreign Legion. Crucial to understanding the Foreign Legion is understanding the “heart” of the legionnaire and his dedication to the organization’s proud history of sacrifice for France. From the outside, however, the organization would reasonably be assessed as one that manifests its government’s desire to exploit the misfortune of those from the lower rungs of the social strata, training them and then throwing them into often questionable military operations overseas with little regard for their well-being are they viewed dismissively as being expendable. Clear, logical, and plausible arguments could surely be made on that side of the matter, too!

Interestingly, the Foreign Legion and the Wagner Group diverge with other penal units and suicide squads of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, two among the worst regimes conceived in the 20th century, that were also discussed here to the extent that their respective ranks are not filled through impressment or emergency laws, but rather through volunteerism. Nevertheless, their troops have been used essentially in the same harsh ways. The Wagner Group is a fairly young organization, having existed for less than a decade. Although its role in the foreign and national security affairs and support from the Russian Federation is not established under existing laws, there remains the real chance that the Wagner Group, now with veil lifted on its operations given its massive presence in Ukraine and strength that it has reached so far, may be established within the Russian Federation government as a military formation more in the vein of the Foreign Legion at the time of its establishment in 1831. This may be a possibility at least during the prospective life span of the current government under Putin. Overarching is the possibility that his regime may not survive the Ukraine War which it started.

The Way Forward

Generally, the objectives for which the Wagner Group have been used by Russian Federation government have been better than controversial, often at odds with the established international order and transnational interest to maintain peace and stability around the world. However, those objectives have always been in line with the values and interests of the government in which the organization serves. Its troops are presently being used in negligent and wasteful ways in Ukraine. However, one would not have to look too far to find military formations in advanced industrial countries, such as France with its Foreign Legion, that serve similar purposes for their respective governments and have a history of being used in similar, questionable ways. It would seem the story of Wagner Group in Ukraine is not so outré after all.

Reflections on the Battle of the Crater in Relation to Russian Federation Casualties in Ukraine: Where Did All the Leaders Go?

A small unit of young Russian Army soldiers being transported to the frontlines in Ukraine (above). While greatcharlie has spoken against the Russian Federation’s wrongful invasion of its once peaceful neighbor, it does not look stony-hearted at the reality that Russian conscripts, dubbed Mobiks, rushed into Ukraine’s frontlines, are victims of the Kremlin’s caprice, too. Using soldiers repeatedly in ways that guarantee massive losses with little gain on the battlefield, as commanders of Russian Federation Armed Forces have, is the worst sort of negligence and points to possible incompetence. If poor acumen is not the case, one is left to imagine what sort of odd line of thought resides in the minds of Russian Federation commanders that would allow them to use their troops so carelessly and callously. Despite the nearly 160 year span that exists between the two circumstances, by briefly examining the Battle of the Crater alongside the Russian Federation’s special military operation in Ukraine, aspects are revealed from which some perspective might be gained.

As a result of the wrongful decision of the Kremlin to invade Ukraine, members of the Vooruzhonnije Síly Rossíyskoj Federátsii (the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, hereinafter referred to as the Russian Federation Armed Forces) have suffered immensely. Interestingly, there is a strange buoyancy and caustic ebullience that seems to have overcome some in the Western newsmedia over the video recorded slaughter of members of the Russian Federation Armed Forces in Ukraine. It broadcasted and streamed online by several newsmedia houses without end. (At the time of this writing, one would need to make a serious effort to evade news about Ukraine in the US.) The fact that greatcharlie’s sympathies are with the people of Ukraine has not been concealed. Still, while greatcharlie has spoken against the Russian Federation’s wrongful invasion of its once peaceful neighbor, and wants the war and all its attendant ills to end, it does not look stony-hearted at the reality that Russian conscripts, dubbed Mobiks by the Ukrainians, who have been imprudently, ruthlessly and reportedly in some cases, illegally rushed into Ukraine’s frontlines, are victims of the Kremlin’s caprice, too. Through its often morbid coverage, the newsmedia has done well to cast light on just how bizarrely Russian Federation forces are being handled in the war. Using soldiers repeatedly in ways that guarantee massive losses, estimated at 100,000 by the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, US Army General Mark Milley in November 2022, with little gain on the battlefield is the worst sort of negligence and possibly points to incompetence. If the absence of acumen is not the case, one is left to imagine that some odd line of thought resides in the minds of commanders of Russian Federation Armed Forces on the battlefield that would allow them to use their troops so carelessly and callously.

On first blush, the comparison of wastage of human lives in war that initially comes to mind for greatcharlie is the Battle of the Crater (July 30, 1864), a calamitous episode of the US Civil War (April 12, 1861 to April 9, 1865), remembered for over 150 years, and well-trodden by historians. So horrifying is the story that for many years it was labeled as fiction by some. Surely, there are countless cases in military history when frightfully high casualties have been suffered in actions on the battlefield that never held hope of accomplishing anything except the destruction of the units sent out to fight. However, the Battle of the Crater stands out as an epic display of a commander’s negligence and inexplicable disregard for his soldiers’ well-being. Despite the nearly 160 year span that exists between the two circumstances, by briefly examining the Battle of the Crater alongside the Russian Federation’s Spetsial’noy Voyennoy Operatsii (Special Military Operation) in Ukraine, aspects are revealed from which an image emerges of what it is that leads to such.

Covering this subject, greatcharlie understands there is a thin line between parsing the problem and suggesting a better way forward and subsequently providing advice to the Russian Federation Armed Forces in its effort in Ukraine. Although greatcharlie does not believe that anyone in Moscow would be interested in its scribblings, it nonetheless states unequivocally that nothing which could possibly provide advice or solutions, is offered here. What is provided are a few brief reflections resulting in all truth from greatcharlie’s near daily, unintended contemplations on the Ukraine War. The hope of greatcharlie is that its readers will remain willing to follow along, even stumble along, with its cautious discussion on this subject.

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin with the Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Federation General Valery Gerasimov. Putin’s singular emotional wants and wishes were the cause of the war. Pursuit of his much desired objective of eliminating the government in Kyiv, repeatedly expressed before the February 24, 2022 invasion and afterward, caused obedient military commanders to put their forces in impossible situations and on occasion at the mercy of their Ukrainian opponents. Well-understood now by most is the fact that everything was organized in a dimidium gluteus maximus way! Much of what was done initially by his top commanders was beyond what was strategically logical and apparently militarily unachievable for the Russian Federation Armed Forces despite their size, strength, and given its quality.

Overview of the Situation of the Russian Federation Armed Forces in Ukraine

No easy answers are available to Moscow that would allow it to repair or reverse its situation in Ukraine. There is no possibility to put the toothpaste back in the tube. It seems necessary to note, without the intention of delving too deeply on the matter, that Putin’s singular emotional wants and wishes were the cause of the war. Pursuit of his much desired objective of eliminating the government in Kyiv, repeatedly expressed before the February 24, 2022 invasion and afterward, caused obedient military commanders to put their forces in impossible situations and on occasion at the mercy of their Ukrainian opponents. Well-understood now by most is the fact that the Spetsial’noy Voyennoy Operatsii (Special Military Operation) was organized in a dimidium gluteus maximus way! Much of what was done initially by his top commanders was beyond what was strategically logical and was apparently militarily unachievable for the Russian Federation Armed Forces despite their size, strength, and given its quality. Much vaunted once as a titanic war machine, the Russian Federation Armed Forces hardly lived up to that billing. Showing itself as something less than an authentic 21st century fighting force, it unexpectedly collided with two obstructions in Ukraine: reality and Zbrojni syly Ukrayiny (Armed Forces of Ukraine, hereinafter referred to as the Ukrainian Armed Forces), well-assisted by the US, other NATO countries, as well as countries from around the world.

Omnia inconsulti impetus cœpta, initiis valida, spatio languescunt. (All enterprises that are entered into with hasty zeal may be pursued with great vigor at first, but are sure to languish in the end ) Planning the invasion of Ukraine may have actually been beyond the faculty of those deemed to be the best trained, experienced, and informed senior officers in the Russian Federation Armed Forces today. Though inconceivable, It is apparent that there were no contingency plans drawn up by senior officers for the invasion of Ukraine, that would have made available a variety of good solutions for possible challenges, all of the what-ifs. Such contingency should have been thoughtful, calibrated, well-calculated for redirecting military resources in a measured way, and possibly creative ways, to achieve more favorable outcomes. Apparently, nothing of the kind was likely kept close at hand by the Russian Federation General Staff. Perchance, the possibility of failure and the need for contingency plans were subjects that could not be openly expressed within the likely tense and certainly authoritarian political environment in which the original plans were developed. (The thought occurs, given what has been observed since the withdrawal from Kyiv; is that some contingency plans have been implemented, but they were all worthless. If one always does what one always did, one will always get what one always got.) Once the poor performance of Russian Federation Armed Forces became undeniable, even Putin was compelled to address the matter of its deficiencies in a December 21, 2022 video message to Russia’s security services. Referring to unspecified problems in the military, Putin said that constructive criticism should be given attention. He stated: “I ask the Ministry of Defense to be attentive to all civilian initiatives, including taking into account criticism and responding correctly, in a timely manner.”

As explained to the Guardian by a United Kingdom intelligence service, Russia’s unprofessional military practices were likely in part to blame for the high casualties.. It is understood by commanders in US Armed Forces, the key to achieving success is the integration of combined arms warfare with air power, electronic warfare, deception, speed, maneuver, and concentration of power. Armored and mechanized systems remain essential tools on today’s battlefield, despite the threat that armed drones can pose to them proven in Ukraine. In a primitive way, Russian Federation commanders continually attempt to overrun Ukrainian positions through the use of masses of troops, ensuring huge losses of troops daily. Yet, in addition to the failed, near criminally incompetent utilization of troops and weapon systems by commanders of Armiya Rossii (Russian Army, hereinafter referred to as such) and Morskaya Pekhota Rossii (Russian Naval Infantry, hereinafter referred to as Russian Naval Troops) in Ukraine, too many other pieces appear to be missing from the Russian Federation Armed Forces prosecution of the war and may likely prevent it from ever being effective. Assuredly, Russian Federation failures on the battlefield have not come merely as a result of some string of miscalculations and mistakes or persistent unfortuitous coincidences in the conduct of a war. When denuded of all political aims, strategy, tactics, science, and so on, at its nub, war amounts to the wastage of human life. As a reality, men and women are certain to die unnaturally during war. Still, it is difficult to comprehend how in the Russian Federation, an ostensibly advanced industrialized country with, to all intents and purposes, a civilized society, apparent profligate decisions concerning the use of soldiers could be made. Moreover, it is hard to imagine that any of it could at all be deemed permissible by top military commanders and, on the face of it, be sanctioned by national authorities. Contra naturam. (Against nature.)

When Russian Federation General of the Army Sergei Surovikin was promoted to overall commander of the special military operation, he began to make moves that brought some positive results and good news for the Russian Federation Armed Forces. Surovikin surely understood that leveling everything and starting from scratch is certainly not the answer, although he may have wanted to do so in many areas. Despite shortcomings of his forces in the field and accepting the situation as it actually was, Surovikin sought to solidify the position of the Russian Federation Armed Forces in Ukraine. His defensive moves reportedly raised worries among US military officials and officials in the administration of US President Joe Biden that Russia Federation troops might be able to withstand renewed Ukrainian offensives. Perhaps his efforts, which were bearing fruit, were not enough to satisfy his superior, or maybe his apparent ability to establish order from chaos, convinced others they could grab glory from his success, claim his success as their own. Either way, Surovikin was replaced on January 11, 2023 after only three months as overall commander in Ukraine by none other than the Chief of General’nyy shtab Vooruzhonnykh sil Rossiyskoy Federatsii (General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, hereinafter referred to as the Russian Federation General Staff) Russian Federation General of the Army Valery Gerasimov. When Gerasimov arrived to take command of the special military operation from him, Surovikin, now one of three deputies to Gerasimov, had begun the process of stepping up better organized localized attacks to have a cumulative effect and push back on recent advances by the Ukrainian Armed Forces. While that tactic continues, it would seem the valve has again been shut on the flow of big ideas from commanders of the Russian Federation Armed Forces. One should at best expect a return to the idea of overrunning Ukrainian frontline positions with masses of troops with predictable results in terms of killed and wounded.

Destroyed Russian Federation military vehicles and casualties strewn across a Ukrainian street in 2022 (above). In a primitive way, Russian Federation commanders continually attempt to overrun Ukrainian positions through the use of masses of troops, ensuring huge losses of troops daily. Still, in addition to the failed, near criminally incompetent utilization of troops and weapon systems by Russian Federation Army and Naval Ground Force commanders in Ukraine, too many other pieces appear to be missing from the Russian Federation Armed Forces prosecution of the war and may likely prevent it from ever being effective. Assuredly, Russian Federation failures on the battlefield have not come merely as a result of some string of miscalculations and mistakes or persistent unfortuitous coincidences in the conduct of a war. 

The Battle of the Crater

Military actions of decades ago are often difficult for one to fully understand with certainty when one is so far away from where and when those decisions were made, and how it all fit into the way of life of the period. Examining much of the material concerning the Battle of the Crater in preparation for this work, greatcharlie was astounded by how stirring, nuanced, edifying, illuminating, and instructive the bulk of the work is on that tragic battle and that dreadful war in general. So impressive were the impeccably researched and elegantly written works of Douglas Freeman, Shelby Foote, James McPherson, William Marvel, Drew Faust and lots of others reviewed that greatcharlie at one point was convinced it should halt its attempt to cover the battle, feeling unable to meet their standard. However, as its aspects so readily offered an apposite measure to examine the wasteful use of Russian Federation troops in the Ukraine War, the choice was made to carry on. With that being stated, without pretension, greatcharlie asks that those Civil War scholars among its readers look upon this effort with sympathy. (A few superb academic and state government online sources were used here to ensure readers could quickly follow-up on information provided and would have easily accessible points from they could start their own research on the battle. )

The Plan of Attack

In May 1864, an offensively-minded Lieutenant General Ulysses Grant, who US President Abraham Lincoln had appointed the commander of all Union Armies in March, launched a series of costly battles in an effort to move his forces south. Though little was attained by those battles, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, North Anna River, and, especially, Cold Harbor (collectively known as the Overland Campaign), they would be given greater meaning if Grant could find a way maneuver his forces to cut the Confederate supply and communication lines through Petersburg. If Petersburg fell, so would Richmond. However, Grant was apprehensive about mounting a frontal attack against 9,500 Confederate troops in well-fortified positions even though by late June, he had successfully covered most of the eastern approaches to Petersburg with the 16,500 troops he had available. Interestingly enough, in a rather prescient June 21, 1864 Richmond Examiner commentary, it was suggested that Grant “plunge with his whole force into the crater of the volcano and make an end of it—Let not the campaign linger. All parties are tired of this monotonous slaughter of Yankees.”

Grant was open to suggestions, and came across a recherché proposal from Lieutenant Colonel Henry Pleasants of the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry, in the Union Army’s IX Corps Major General Ambrose Burnside. Pleasants’ regiment was composed of anthracite miners from Schuylkill County. One of his men looked out at the Confederate position from his trench and declared, “We could blow that damned fort out of existence if we could run a mine shaft under it.”  Pleasants’ proposal was passed up the chain of command to Burnside, who (on June 25, 1864, enthusiastically recommended it to Major General George Meade, Commander of the Army of the Potomac. Meade reacted with austerity upon learning of Pleasant’s proposal. It was hardly conventional and perhaps the use of the was too alien for Meade’s ears. He already had little faith in Burnside’s military judgment or ability to manage a complex operation. (Burnside’s reputation as a commander had suffered from his 1862 defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg and his under performance earlier in 1864 at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House.) On top of that, Meade and Burnside, as commander and subordinate, had a toxic relationship. Burnside had seniority, and had previously commanded the Army of the Potomac, but lost his command, and Meade had it. Meade’s chief engineer, Major James Duane, dismissed the project as “claptrap and nonsense.” He believed it was impossible to dig a military mine of the proposed length—more than 500 feet from the mine-head behind the front line to the salient opposite. At the same time, even if a breach were created at that point, the ground would remain in the sights of Confederate artillery batteries located north and south of the salient. Yet, still eager to do something, Grant apparently viewed Pleasants’ project as being clear, logical, and plausible, and green-lit it. Aware of the nature of their relationship, Grant issued separate orders to the two commanders in order not to avoid having Burnside receive direct commands from Meade. On Meade’s orders, the miners would receive no support from Army headquarters. Thus, on June 25, 1864, without the help of the Union Army’s professional engineers, his troops began digging, using improvised tools. 

The Picture As Seen From The Top

Despite his ambivalence about the plan, Meade began creating a battle plan with Burnside once orders were given. As Burnside envisioned the attack, on  July 30, 1864, it would be led by his freshest soldiers, the 4th Division USCT, “United States Colored Troops”–Black Union Army soldiers–in two segregated brigades with a strength of 4,300, under Brigadier General Edward Ferrero. (Interestingly, Ferrero was a ballroom dance instructor who, as Meade, was born in Spain.) The 4th Division USCT  would have to pass through or around the crater and the large debris field left by the mine; re-form for attack on the far side; then advance to seize the high ground along the Jerusalem Plank Road against whatever reserves of infantry and artillery the Confederate force might have at that point. Burnside consulted with the 4th Division USCT ’s brigade commanders in planning the assault, and arranged for the regiments that would lead the attack to receive special training in maneuvers required to pass the breach such as using ladders and by fighting around it and storming the high ground. Meade did not think Black soldiers were good enough soldiers, and he feared political repercussions if he gave them such an important and dangerous task. If they failed with heavy casualties, expectedly Radical Republicans in the US Congress would condemn his use of Black soldiers as cannon fodder. Democratic politicians would likely find fault with him no matter what happened. Democrats opposed the recruitment and use of Blacks in combat; the more extreme demanded that those already in service be dismissed. They reportedly sought to stir racial hatred as an aspect of the 1864 US Presidential Campaign. The Democratic Party’s platform, as described by one of its partisans, was “the Constitution as it is, the Union as it was, and the niggers where they are.” Meade consulted with Grant about the 4th Divisions role in the plan of attack. Grant conceded to his wishes, and the day before that attack, he overruled Burnside’s plan to have the 4rh Division lead the assault.

There were three other understrength divisions in the IX Corps. Three other divisions consisted of White troops; but these divisions had been exhausted and demoralized by months of combat and heavy losses. In compliance with his new orders, Burnside asked for one of his three other divisional commanders—James Ledlie of the 1st Division, Robert Potter of the 2nd Division, and Orlando Willcox of the 3rd Division–to step forward and accept the mission. None would volunteer for it, thus the commanders were ordered to draw straws. The short straw went to Ledlie. Ledlie, a New York railroad engineer, was considered the least competent of IX Corps four divisional commanders. He had been accused by some of being drunk during the Battle of North Anna, fought from May 23, 1864 to May 26, 1864. Burnside ordered Ledlie’s 1st Division to charge through the breach made by the detonation, and take the high ground along the Jerusalem Plank Road. By achieving that, they would split the Confederate Army, and Union Army guns would command Petersburg. However, Ledlie never sent such orders to his brigade commanders. He simply instructed them to take and hold the ground around the breach, and wait for the 4th Division USCT to assault the heights. Apparently in the confusion of changing arrangements, Burnside and his staff also failed to detail engineers to accompany the assault troops, to assist them by fortifying the high ground once they had seized it, and to make pathways through the trench lines so that artillery could be sent forward. Absent those arrangements, holding the high ground if reached, would be made more challenging.

Likely presuming all else was being done correctly, Grant sought to assist and exploit the attack following the detonation by negating an apparent Confederate advantage with a tactical ploy. Grant ordered 25,000 infantry and cavalry under his most aggressive commanders, Major General Winfield Hancock and Major General Phillip Sheridan, to attack north of the James River to Deep Bottom on July 28, 1864 and July 29, 1864. Hancock and Sheridan attacked with such strength that General Robert E. Lee, Commander of the Confederate States Army, believed Richmond was in danger, and sent his entire reserve north of the James to defend it. That left the trenches directly opposite Burnside’s 16,000 infantry (IX Corps and a division from X Corps) held by 4,400 soldiers in Confederate States Army Major General Bushrod Johnson’s Division. The only available reserves were three brigades of Confederate States Army Brigadier General William Mahone (approximately 2,300 men), who would need an hour or more to reach Johnson’s front. Once Union Army Intelligence reported that Lee’s reserve had gone north of the James, Grant issued orders for the mine to be blown and for Burnside to launch his attack.

An inset from Alfred Waud’s pencil sketch of the Battle of the Crater (above). The image courtesy of the Library of Congress–shows Union Army soldiers advancing into the breach created when four tons of gunpowder exploded beneath the Confederate lines. Most likely as a result of last minute changes by Union Army Major General George Meade, Commander of the Army of the Potomac. to a well-planned operation by Union Army’s IX Corps commander, Major General Ambrose Burnside, the attack was doomed from the start.

The Engagement

After a delay of an hour and thirty-five minutes from when the fuse in the mine was lit, at 4:44AM on July 30, 1864. the earth below Confederate States Army Brigadier General Stephen Elliott’s South Carolina brigade reportedly bulged and broke, and an enormous mushroom cloud rose up. As one Union soldier described the scene, the sky was filled with “Earth, stones, timbers, arms, legs, guns unlimbered and bodies unlimbed.” The explosion blasted a crater 130 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 30 feet deep, with sheer walls of jagged clay. The bottom was ‘filled with dust, great blocks of clay, guns, broken carriages, projecting timbers, and men buried in various ways . . . some with their legs kicking in the air, some with the arms only exposed, and some with every bone in their bodies apparently broken.”

An estimated 278 Confederates troops were killed instantly. At the same time, 110 Union Army guns and 54 mortars all opened fire. The delay had actually been to the artillerymen’s benefit; as the dawn allowed them to see what they were firing at. This is the moment when Ledlie’s men were supposed to advance, but just as the surviving Confederate troops, they were briefly paralyzed by the force of the blast. Still, despite creating the breach and inflicting losses upon the Confederate defenders, the effect of the explosion was not what Burnside hoped. The Crater itself was an impassable barrier, and the debris-clogged trenches to either side did not permit swift forward movement. When Ledlie’s soldiers finally reached it, they discovered that the earth that had fallen back into the Crater had become a mash that trapped the men who attempted to march through it. One New Hampshire soldier described his struggling comrades as “a mass of worms crawling over each other.” Ledlle’s soldiers also spent time attempting to rescue Confederate defenders buried in the dirt. 

Although a third of Elliott’s South Carolina brigade, which manned the strongpoint, was destroyed in the blast, behind the main line, Confederate troops rallied in the communication trenches and the ravine half-way up the slope. To reinforce them, Lee ordered the three brigades of Mahone’s Division forward. On the north side of the breach, Elliott’s survivors were joined by units of Confederate States Army Brigadier General Matt Ransom’s North Carolina Brigade, and on the south side by elements of the Virginia Brigade led by Confederate States Army Colonel David Weisinger. Confederate artillery batteries placed heavy cross-fire of canister and case shot that pinned Ledlie’s division in the breach. The Confederate troops fully capitalized on Ledlie’s mistake of advancing the 1st Division through the Crater and his soldiers slow movement.

What had previously been mere glimmers of problems within the Union Army’s command structure began to shine effulgently as the battle commenced. Once the situation began to break down with Union Army troops charging directly into the Crater, there was a need for authentic leadership and necessary corrections. However, the commanding officer of the imperiled soldiers of the 1st Division, Ledlie was well to the rear of the frontlines in a sandbagged bunker, sharing a bottle of rum with Ferrero, commanding officer of the 4th Division USCT. As the situation worsened, Meade and Burnside began trading angry telegrams, with Meade implying that Burnside was not telling him the truth and Burnside accusing Meade of insulting his honor.

At 7:30AM, in an effort to get a handle on the situation, Burnside ordered the 4th Division USCT to charge and carry out its original mission. In order to attack they were required to cross what became a no-man’s-land under fire, then force their way forward through the mass of demoralized 1st Division troops around the Crater. Nevertheless, the assault of the 4th Division USCT accomplished that and far more. Lieutenant Colonel Seymour Hall and Colonel Delavan Bates, commanding the two leading regiments in Lieutenant Colonel Joshua Sigfried’s first brigade, improvised a pincer attack that drove the Confederate troops back, capturing 150 prisoners. The regiments in Colonel Henry Thomas’ second brigade also worked their way through the maul and under heavy artillery fire and tried to advance in conjunction with some 1st Division regiments. Small groups of soldiers from both divisions managed to rally, side-by-side, in the trenches,

The Battle of the Crater was the first combat experience of soldiers of the 4th Division USCT , and reportedly some of them cried as they sensed triumph, “Remember Fort Pillow!”, in reference to an April 1864 battle in Tennessee during which USCT soldiers had been murdered by their Confederate captors. That cheer seemed to almost “summon demons on to the scene” and manifest far greater monstrous behavior during their own battle. US President Jimmy Carter, during a Nobel Lecture, in Oslo, Norway, on December 10, 2002, explained: “War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good. We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other’s children.” As events unfolded in the battle, Carter’s words, uttered nearly 150 years later, stand most apposite regarding the Battle of the Crater.

Once two of the three Confederate brigades from Mahone’s Division established themselves at the Crater, they counter-attacked. Though at first, in the morning,, the Union Army soldiers holding the outer berm of the Crater and the trenches around it checked Mahone’s charge, they lacked the strength to mitigate a stronger Confederate push in the afternoon. The Confederate troops displaced the soldiers of the 1st Division and 4th Division USCT. The Union Army soldiers pulled away from the trench line and down towards the Crater with Confederate troops in hot pursuit. With the aid of Confederate artillery, Mahone’s troops kept the Crater under fire. They fired down into the Crater and reportedly in some instances even hurled their muskets with bayonets-fixed at the Union Army soldiers. Except for those soldiers of the 1st Division and 4th Division USCT who at that point were falling back, between 800 and 1,000 soldiers had remained packed at the bottom of the Crater. Most were demoralized, having been trapped in an indefensible position, without food or water, in oven-like heat, unable to fight but vulnerable to mortar-fire. 

Grant, himself, visited the front in the morning, observed and evaluated the situation, and then ordered Burnside to pull everyone back. Grant supposedly stated: “It is slaughter to leave them here.” Amazingly, for whatever reason, Burnside ignored the commanding general’s order. Refusing to admit his attack had failed despite the overwhelming evidence of routed troops and broken organizations, Burnside rode to Meade’s headquarters to demand reinforcements. It was then that the two generals got into a furious argument over the need to retreat and Burnside’s honor. Meade being Burnside’s superior, gave the peremptory order for Union Army units to withdraw in order to avoid further losses. Reportedly, at 10:30AM, Grant and Meade just packed up and left the scene. Instead of developing a plan for withdrawal, Burnside left the matter to his officers struggling in the Crater.

As the battered and tattered Union force retreated, many of the wounded or surrendering Black soldiers of the 4th Division USCT were singled out for murder by Confederate troops wherever they found them. Based on its research of near impeccable sources, Encyclopedia Virginia states that the Confederate troops viewed the deployment of Black soldiers of the 4th Division USCT as an ugly provocation. Reportedly one Virginia officer stated as the Confederate troops charged: “Boys, you have hot work ahead; they are negroes and show no quarter.” At 2:30PM, the Confederates launched their final assault, during which the attackers chanted, “Spare the white man, kill the nigger.” Encyclopedia Virginia further revealed Major Matthew Love of the 25th North Carolina wrote, “such Slaughter I have not witnessed upon any battlefield anywhere. Their men were principally negroes and we shot them down until we got near enough and then run them through with the bayonet . . . we was not very particular whether we captured or killed them, the only thing we did not like to be pestered berrying[sic] the Heathens.” Additionally Encyclopedia Virginia cites Major John Haskell of the Branch Battery (North Carolina) observed, “Our men, who were always made wild by having negroes sent against them . . . were utterly frenzied with rage. Nothing in the war could have exceeded the horrors that followed. No quarter was given, and for what seemed a long time, fearful butchery was carried on.” Some of the officers tried to stop the killing, “but [the men] kept on until they finished up.” Reportedly, 1st Division soldiers witnessed Confederate troops killing wounded or surrendering 4th Division USCT soldiers as they retreated from the berm of the Crater. At the moment the defense at the berm and in the trenches completely collapsed, a number of 1st Division soldiers astoundingly turned against their comrades-in-arms in the 4th Division USCT , shooting or bayonetting them, ostensibly believing, as explained by Encyclopedia Virginia, that Confederate troops would not grant quarter to Blacks in arms, or to White troops serving with them. As one Union Army soldier reportedly stated, “we was not about to be taken prisoner amongst them niggers.” Records indicate the killing went far beyond the excesses that occur in the heat of battle. Many wounded and prisoners of war from the 4th USCT soldiers under escort were shot, bayoneted or clubbed to death as they were moved to the rear. The Confederates would eventually sweep the Union Army units from man-made gully moving from the right side by late afternoon. N’importe qui trouverait cela cruel et sauvage. Peut-être Alexis de Tocqueville ne trouverait guère surprenant. Certains en Amérique diraient: “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!” Quel dommage!

The Battle of the Crater was a demoralizing defeat. After eight and a half hours of fighting, Union Army casualties were 3,798 (504 killed, 1,881 wounded, 1,413 missing or captured). Confederate casualties were 1,491 (361 killed, 727 wounded, 403 missing or captured). The 1st Division was engaged for the entire eight and a half hours and suffered 18% casualties. The 4th Division USCT  was engaged for less than half that time, but lost 31%. Since many of its wounded were murdered, the ratio of killed to wounded was more than double that of any Union Army unit. Meade brought charges against Burnside, and a subsequent court of inquiry censured Burnside along with Ledlie, Ferrero, Willcox, and Colonel Zenas Bliss. Burnside was never again assigned to duty. Although he was as responsible for the defeat as Burnside, Meade escaped immediate censure. However, in early 1865, the US Congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War exonerated Burnside and condemned Meade. Although Meade was against the operation, it was recognized by. Congress that he very likely sabotaged it by disturbing carefully laid plans Burnside formulated for it,

What began as a well-planned military operation devolved into a haphazard manifestation of a feud between Meade and Burnside with the soldiers being used as pawns. Burnside lost his head in his struggle with Meade. If he had kept his head, he more likely would have selected his best divisional commander for the assault, ensured that commander understood the concept and intent of the operation and issued him clear orders for the mission. On top of that he could have counseled the divisional commander and his subordinates with suggestions on how to tackle challenges. Ledlie proved to be a worse commander than originally thought. He had little concern for the well-being of the soldiers of his 1st Division or the terrible predicament in which they found themselves. The notion of inspirational leadership in battle was clearly alien to him. The lack of discipline and fratricidal behavior displayed by Ledlie troops also spoke volumes about Ledlie’s leadership. One cannot say Ledlie never gave a thought to his mission as he knew when the fighting would be underway, stationed himself safely away from the shooting, and made the effort to pay no heed to events. Ferrero, never having led his 4th Division USCT in combat, seemed to follow Ledlie’s lead. He, too, remained safe from bullets, bombs, and any sudden shock in Ledlie’s bunker while his soldiers suffered immensely and needed him the most. If Ferrero had observed their advance, he could have made the necessary adjustments. If he had observed what the soldiers of the 1st Division were doing to his men, he may have been able to resolve the matter. The errors are too many to recount in this essay, and one might imagine a possible list of likely and possible challenges the attacking forces would face and solutions for them. However, most may agree that the central problem during actual battle was the failure of those in charge to be leaders and do their jobs.

Photo of the Crater battleground taken in 1864 (above). The Battle of the Crater was a demoralizing defeat. After eight and a half hours of fighting, Union Army casualties were 3,798 (504 killed, 1,881 wounded, 1,413 missing or captured). Confederate casualties were 1,491 (361 killed, 727 wounded, 403 missing or captured). The 1st Division was engaged for the entire eight and a half hours and suffered 18% casualties. The 4th Division USCT was engaged for less than half that time, lost 31%. Since many of its wounded were murdered, the ratio of killed to wounded was more than double that of any Union Army unit.

Preempting Likely Reactions to the Aforementioned Discussion

True, as alluded to earlier here, throughout history, there have been battles in which losses were far greater than that of the Crater. Attention would very likely be called to the battles of annihilation, usually part of the course of study of the military academic institutions. Among those usually examined are the following.

The Battle of Cannae

At the Battle of Cannae during Second Punic War, a force of Carthaginians and their Libyan, Numidian, Spaniard and Celt mercenaries, all under the command of Hannibal, faced off against a larger Roman and Italian force along the River Aufidus on August 2, 216 B.C., near Cannae in Apulia, Italy. The Roman force was led by both Lucius Aemilius Paulus and Giaus Terentius Varro, who exchanged overall command of the force daily. When Hannibal discovered Varro was the more aggressive commander, he moved his force of 40,000 infantry and 10,000 cavalry into position against the Romans while he was in command. Upon engaging the Romans’ 80,000 troops and 6,000 cavalry, Hannibal had his force feign collapse, anticipating the more aggressive Varro would rush his troops forward. When the Romans reached the appropriate depth Hannibal’s forces proceeded to double-envelop and annihilate the Roman force. An estimated 60,000 to 70,000 Romans were lost.

The Battle of Tannenberg

At the Battle of Tannenberg in World War I, the Imperial German Army and the Russian Army clashed between August 23, 1914 and August 30, 2014. Exploiting the ability to transport troops by rail and their opponent’s poor communications security, German Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg rapidly fielded the German Eighth Army at Olzytyn in East Prussia and well-deployed troops in superior position to delay the oncoming Russian First Army and concentrate upon the Russian Second Army. The large Russian force found itself in a meat grinder and was completely destroyed. The Russian Army suffered between 122,000 to 170,000 casualties. The commander of the Russian Second Army, General Alexander Samsonov committed suicide. A follow-on battle known as the Masurian Lakes resulted in the destruction of the First Army as well. Consequently, the Russians were essentially knocked out of World War I until the Spring of 1915.

The Minsk-Smolensk Pockets

As the story of the Minsk-Smolensk Pockets during World War II goes, immediately following the launch of Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941, the German 2nd Panzer Group under Colonel General Heinz Guderian and the 3rd Panzer Group under Colonel General Hermann Hoth destroyed Soviet frontier defenses, received and defeated Soviet attempts to counterattack, and subsequently encircled four Soviet Armies near Bialystock and Minsk by June 30, 1941. By July 9, 1941, Soviet forces within the pocket were decimated, resulting in the loss of 420, 000 troops. Between July 10, 1941 and September 10, 1941, during the second phase of Operation Barbarossa, the German 2nd Panzer Group and the 3rd Panzer Group rapidly advanced on Smolensk. In a pincer movement, mirroring their action at Minsk, encircled the Soviet 16th, 19th and 20th Soviet Armies. Though many troops of the 19th and 20th Soviet Armies exfiltrated the German encirclement successfully, the battle left the Soviet Union’s defenses in the West in tatters a lá Tannenberg.

The Falaise Gap

At the Falaise Gap in World War II, the Allied Armies developed a multi-phase plan to break out of Normandy following their successful landings in France on June 6, 1944. On July 18, 1944, under Operation Goodwood, British and Canadian Armies would attack along the eastern line around Caen. On July 25, 1944, under Operation Cobra, US forces would drive forward into a corridor created by thousands of US heavy and medium bombers on the western end of the German lines around Saint-Lô. Against Goodwood, the German Army responded by committing a large portion of its armored reserves to the defense. Against Cobra, disoriented German defenders could not establish an organized defense. Seizing the opportunity created, the Ground Forces commander of Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe British Army Field Marshal Bernard Mongomery ordered Allied armies in the vicinity of Goodwood to converge on the Falaise–Chambois area to envelop the German 7th Army and 5th Panzer Army of Army Group B. The Germans began to withdraw on August 17, 1944 but the Allied Armies completed the encirclement two days later at Chambois. Although the Germans managed to force through gaps in Allied lines via counterattacks, by the evening of 1 August 21, 1944, the gap was closed. An estimated 50,000 Germans were sealed inside the “Falaise Pocket.”. Remnants of Army Group B outside of the pocket retreated across the Seine.

A portion of the “Corridor of Death” in the Falaise Pocket (above). Seizing the opportunity created while breaking out of Normandy two months after the June 1944 landings, the Ground Forces commander of Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe British Army Field Marshal Bernard Mongomery ordered Allied armies in the vicinity of Goodwood to converge on the Falaise–Chambois area to envelop large elements of the German’s Army Group B. The Germans began to withdraw on August 17, 1944 but the Allied Armies completed the encirclement two days later at Chambois. Although the Germans managed to force through gaps in Allied lines via counterattacks, by the evening of August 21, 1944, the pocket was closed. An estimated 50,000 Germans were trapped inside. Remnants of Army Group B outside of the pocket retreated across the Seine.

Among the commonalities of these battles beyond the successful enveloping of opponent by the victorious commanders, their outcomes were mainly shaped mainly by the well laid plans of the commander on one side allowing for the proper use of resources, information, communication, speed, mobility, terrain, time available, superior maneuver, well-placed fires, decisive action, the exploitation of opponent’s confusion resulting from the fog of war, the friction of battle, and the opponents failure to expect the unexpected and to act accordingly in response to what was unforeseen and unpredictable. More apt parallels to the Battle of the Crater and the Russian Federation special military operation in Ukraine, mutatis mutandis, are battles in which losses are self-inflicted as a result of poor and very often rash decisions made by those in charge of units in a battle. A seemingly never-ending list of battles blaze on the pages of history in which such behavior was at the crux of their tragic outcomes for one side. Among those that come to greatcharlie’s mind most immediately are the following. 

The Charge of the Light Brigade

The Charge of the Light Brigade on October 25, 1854, at the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War was a tragic attack by the cavalrymen of charge was made by the Light Brigade of the British Army cavalry, which consisted of the 4th and 13th Light Dragoons, the 17th Lancers, and the 8th and 11th Hussars commanded by Major General James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan

against an estimated 20 battalions of infantry supported by over 50 artillery pieces under the Russian commander, General Pavel Liprandi. Obedient to orders–ex post facto called a miscommunication–from the overall commander of the British Army Cavalry,General George Bingham, 3rd Earl of Lucan, with whom he had a toxic relationship, Cardigan led a frontal assault with his 670 troops against a Russian force organized in a semi-horseshoe defense of the Russians who enjoyed excellent line of sight over a mile in length and supported on the left and right side sides of the Horseshoe by artillery batteries providing enfilading fire from elevated ground. Although Cardigan’s troops scattered some of the defenders, they were too badly battered and tattered to complete their mission and retreated without any decisive gain at the cost of 110 killed and approximately 161 wounded.

The Battle of the Little Big Horn

The Battle of the Little Big Horn on June 25, 1875, was an engagement of what was known as the “American Indian Wars” during which US Army Colonel George Armstrong Custer of the US 7th Cavalry led his battalion in an attack on the main Sioux Tribe encampment at Little Bighorn. Ignoring the advice of scouts, dividing his force into three parts, and expecting the Sioux to scatter at his approach, Custer, at the head of one element of his divided force, was surprised to encounter a Native American force of 3000 warriors from Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho Tribes under the dual command of Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull. Custer’s element was destroyed, suffering 268 killed and 55 severely wounded, with Custer, himself, among the dead. Native American losses were reported to be 18 killed.

The Second Battle of Ypres

The Second Battle of Ypres fought from April 22, 1915 to May 25, 1915 during World War I was ignited by an diversionary attack by the German Fourth Army against British Second Army, several French divisions and the Belgian Army, planned an attack towards Ypres, not to capture the city, but merely to cover the transfer of German troops to the Eastern Front where Germany had achieved great success in the aforementioned Battle of Tannenberg and Battle of Masurian Lakes. Notably, the diversionary attack was used to test a deadly chlorine gas weapon,secretly installed in chemical tanks across their front line and did so with great effect, collapsing unprotected Allied forces before the German advance. The success of the chemical attack was unexpected, and no reinforcements were made available to exploit it, and the battle ended after only minor territorial gain with 35,000 German troops lost and 60,000 Allied forces lost primarily due to the chlorine gas.

The Battle of the Somme

The Battle of the Somme fought from July 1, 1916 to November 18, 1916 during World War I by the armies of the United Kingdom and France against the Germany was initiated on the upper reaches of the River Somme in France. as a means to reduce Intense German pressure being placed on the French at Verdun. The advance of a force of 11 divisions of the British 4th Army advanced along a 15-mile front north of the River Somme, while five French divisions advanced on an eight-mile front to the south, was preceding by a week-long heavy artillery bombardment, using some 1.75 million shells, which aimed to cut the barbed wire guarding German’s trench defenses and destroy the enemy’s positions. Although German positions, many of which were in trenches deep underground, proved to be stronger than anticipated, and the barbed wire remained intact at many points, British Army Field Marshal Douglas Haig decided to press on with the attack. Along the line, German machine gun and rifle fire cut down thousands of the attacking British troops, many of them caught in “no man’s land” between the two sides, British casualties on the first day numbered over 57,000, of which 19,240 were killed. Over the next 141 days, the British advanced a maximum of seven miles, even after an attack on September 15, 1916 of 12 divisions accompanied by 48 Mark I tanks which made their first-ever appearance on the battlefield. More than three million men fought in the battle, of whom one million were either wounded or killed.

The Schweinfurt Raids

The First Schweinfurt–Regensburg raid on August 17, 1943 was a “double-strike mission” strategic bombing mission during World War II carried out by 376 B-17 heavy bombers of the US Army’s 8th Air Force to cripple German ball bearing production and the German aircraft industry. Without fighter escort for force protection, two large forces of bombers attacked Schweinfurt and Regensburg respectively in order to disperse fighter reaction by the Luftwaffe, but subsequently 60 B-17s out of 376, each crewed with 10 airmen at a minimum, were lost over German-controlled territory, in Switzerland, or ditched at sea, and despite some success at Regensburg, the commander of the 8th Air Force, General Ira Eaker assessed the Schweinfurt raid was a failure. On October 14, 1943, a second long-range unescorted raid on Schweinfurt was launched despite the fact that everyone who flew the mission stressed the importance of the escorts, which were not available, in reducing losses. Another 60 B-17s, this time out of 291, were lost during the attack, resulting in the suspension of deep raids for five months.

Japanese Banzi Attack on Saipan

There were countless wasteful Banzi attacks of the Imperial Japanese Army and Imperial Japanese Marines in the Pacific Theater during World War II. After the third week of fighting on Saipan, the 2nd Marine Division, the US Army 27th Infantry Division, and the 4th Marine Division had put the Japanese defenders backs against the wall, driving them into the northern corner of the island. For Imperial Japanese Army Lieutenant General Yoshitsugu Saito, the overall commander of Japanese forces on Saipan, the only choice was to order his remaining 4,000-plus troops and all civilians to participate in a final Banzai attack before daybreak on July 7, 1944. The Banzi attack continued for some 12 hours before the Japanese were wiped out. The Japanese had advanced over 1,000 yards before they were stopped. By the evening of July 7th, the soldiers and Marines had regained all of the ground lost during the Japanese attack. A total of 4,311 Japanese troops were killed. US losses were high, too. The first and second battalions of the 105th Regiment od the 27th Division suffered 406 killed and an additional 512 wounded.

The Battle of Arnhem

The Battle of Arnhem fought from September 17, 1944 to September 26, 1944 during World War II was the result of a plan proposed by British Army Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery, that an airborne assault would support a single drive north over the branches of the Lower Rhine River,which would  permit the British Second Army to bypass the Siegfried Line and attack the industrial Ruhr. Before the airborne assault, planned as Operation Market Garden, was launched, it was discovered that would likely land on top of two German divisions, the remains of the 9th SS Panzer Division “Hohenstaufen” and  the 10th SS Panzer Division “Frundsberg” from the Eastern Front as well as several smaller German units. However, the commanding officer of 21st Army Group dismissed the information. The Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force upon receiving the information via Ultra intercepts choose to ignore it as well. The mission failed as planned and Allied losses were approximately 1,984 killed, 6,854 captured, while German losses were approx 1,300 killed and 2,000 wounded. (The Battle of Arnhem was recently discussed briefly in greatcharlie’s November 30, 2022 post entitled, “Ruminations on the Russian Federation’s Failure To Close the Door in Western Ukraine to Foreign Military Assistance as Part of Its Invasion Plan”.)

Russian Federation troops in Ukraine appear to have experienced many of the worst aspects of not only the Crater, but every example here, except contending with chlorine gas as in the second Battle of the Somme. Yet, looking over this relatively short list of abysmal actions that compounded tragedies of war in which they occurred, greatcharlie believes that in selecting the Battle of the Crater to focus upon in order to find parallels with the situation of Russian Federation troops in Ukraine given the many choices, it may very well have selected the ugliest of the lot given the blue-on-blue hen house racial murder spree that was part of it.

German troops positioning themselves to engage Allied airborne units at Arnhem in September 1944 (above). Before the Allied airborne assault, planned as Operation Market Garden, was launched on September17, 1944, it was discovered that would likely land on top of two German divisions, the remains of the 9th SS Panzer Division “Hohenstaufen” and  the 10th SS Panzer Division “Frundsberg” from the Eastern Front as well as several smaller German units. However, the commanding officer of 21st Army Group dismissed the information. The Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force upon receiving the information via Ultra intercepts choose to ignore it as well. The mission failed as planned. By September 26, 1944, Allied losses were approximately 1,984 killed, 6,854 captured, while German losses were approx 1,300 killed and 2,000 wounded.

Poor Circumstances of Russian Troops in Ukraine

Negligentia sempre habet infortunam comitem. (Negligence always has misfortune for a companion.) Delinquent, seemingly feckless Russian commanders who failed to properly train their troops to face conditions on today’s battlefield for months have looked with shock and awe at the environment in which their soldiers are being slaughtered. Any blame and shame concerning their overall performance falls squarely on the commanders at the top rungs of the Russian Federation Armed Forces. So unaware was the Chief of Staff of the Russian Federation Armed Forces of the situation that Russian Federation troops were thrown into since February 24, 2022, that Ukrayinska Pravda, on January 23, 2023, that Gerasimov, seeing for himself how intense the hostilities were, and “being immersed in the newness of it all,” complained the special military operation has put Russian troops in conditions that they have never encountered in the history of modern Russia. Gersaimov was sent down from his perch as Chief of Staff of the Russian Federation Armed Forces by Putin on January 23 2023. Rather examine one of the Russian Federation Armed Forces’ many catastrophic engagements with Ukrainian troops, as done with the Battle of the Crater, a measured picture of the désastre de trés grande ampleur is presented.

Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide

As aforementioned, on November 10, 2022, the US Department of Defense announced an official assessment that over 100,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in action or wounded in Ukraine. Thus, the US Department of Defense figures indicated that during 260 days of fighting to that point, an average of 385 Russian soldiers had been killed or injured each day. The official figure issued by the Russian Federation Ministry of Defense in September 2022 put the number of Russian troops killed at 5,937, a figure Western officials said grossly underestimated the country’s losses. Further, the US Department of Defense figure suggested that the daily fighting along the 1000-mile front line that winds around the eastern edges of Ukraine is very intense. A significant part of the struggle is being fought from World War I-style trenches in which soldiers dug into muddy fortifications suffer relentless artillery onslaughts until their units are destroyed or displaced. So apparently horrible is the situation for Russian Federation troops on the frontlines that Ukrainian soldiers have expressed empathy for them. They have witnessed firsthand how Russian Federation troops–invaders in their country–have been forced to sacrifice themselves when ordered to advance on their lines. A word often heard from Ukrainian frontline soldiers commenting on how Russian Federation troops were handled by their commanders is “cruel.” Ineffective frontal assault tactics are endlessly repeated. Ukrainian troops typically remark that “Russian soldiers advance, Ukrainian artillery destroys them, then more come the next day. Captured Russians say their comrades face execution on desertion charges if they don’t keep moving.” Reportedly, some Ukrainian soldiers have gone as far as to describe Russian Federation troops as being “like zombies.” The Kyiv Post, citing an Agence France-Presse interview of a Ukrainian soldier, provided the quote: “You shoot them and more come.” The indications and implications of what they say is that even incremental advances achieved through localized attacks begun by Surovikin have come at a high price for the Russian Federation troops.

Disco inferno. (I learn by suffering.) According to Michael Kofman, director of the Russia Studies Program at Center for Naval Analyses and a fellow at the Center for New American Security, and Rob Lee, a senior fellow in the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Eurasia Program, in the Russian Federation Armed Forces, conscripts receive most of their training from the units to which they are sent rather than centralized training bases. (The Mobiks are offered only the most basic lessons during a reported short two weeks at their initial training bases.) However, given exigent circumstances, officers and non-commissioned officers that would provide that training in units have mostly been redeployed and in some cases they have likely been used to form additional battalions. Thereby, Russian Army regiments and brigades have unlikely had the personnel in their remain-behind elements available to properly train newly arrived Mobiks. There is apparently no crawl, walk, run training for the Mobiks. Such methods of training that could be used even under the very challenging circumstances they face appear to be alien to Russian unit commanders. It seems that even lessons on what to expect and what not to do are rarely applied in the Mobiks training in their units. At least Burnside initially had a viable plan for the Crater attack and well-prepared the troops that he originally planned to use in the assault for their specific task.

One might imagine that when casualty figures presented by the West reached the ears of those 300,000 Russians mobilized for the Ukraine War surely created a greater sense of uncertainty among troops being mobilized for the Ukraine War long before reaching the battlefield. En tremblant! The likely indications and implications of the figures to most Mobiks were that they would have a small chance of surviving the war unscathed. Once on the battlefield and seeing the realities of the situation, the sense of uncertainty and fear surely increased exponentially and appears by accounts to have put a good number of them in a state of shock. Poorly trained, unable to escape their circumstance, they have only had their commanders with whom to turn. To the misfortune of the Mobiks, that better enabled their commanders to exert influence on them that was strong enough to compel them to charge into death in an instant. For those who have refused to do so, reportedly death threats would serve to coerce them to advance, a positively nightmarish Sylla and Charybdis scenario. Peior est bello timor ipse belli. (Worse than war is the very fear of war.

Mobiks during their brief training at a Russian Army base (above). So horrible is the situation for Russian Federation troops on the frontlines that Ukrainian soldiers have expressed empathy for them. They have witnessed firsthand how Russian Federation troops–invaders in their country–have been forced to sacrifice themselves when ordered to advance on their lines. A word often heard from Ukrainian frontline soldiers commenting on how Russian Federation troops were handled by their commanders is “cruel.” Ineffective frontal assault tactics are endlessly repeated. Ukrainian troops typically remark that “Russian soldiers advance, Ukrainian artillery destroys them, then more come the next day. Some Ukrainian soldiers have gone as far as to describe Russian Federation troops as being “like zombies.” 

The Professionals Saw Trouble Coming

Memores acti prudentes futuri. (Mindful of what has been done, aware of what will be.) The received wisdom often heard from military analysts in the West is that what is being observed is the way “Russia conducts a lot of its warfare — by overwhelming the enemy with volume, with people.” Moreover, it is accepted that “The Kremlin view, unfortunately, is that soldiers’ lives are expendable.” In a report from the Institute for the Study of War assessed that Moscow is not properly utilizing the reservists it began calling up last September. As for the cause, it was explained that “Systemic failures in Russia’s force generation apparatus continue to plague personnel capabilities to the detriment of Russian operational capacity in Ukraine.”

Yet, professional members of the Russian Federation Armed Forces would likely disagree that there has been anything standard or normal about the manner Russian Federation Armed Forces have handled their soldier Marines, airmen, and sailors in Ukraine. As the war reached the 100-day mark, there was evidence that high-level casualties were growing. Professional soldiers in the Russian Army were making public appeals to Putin to investigate battlefield conditions. Units have faced exhausting tours on the frontlines. In a June 7, 2022 article, the Guardian cited two videos, fighters from Russian Federation-controlled east Ukraine complaining about poor conditions and long terms of duty at the front leading to exhaustion. the Guardian quoted one soldier from the Russian-controlled 113th regiment from Donetsk from one of the videos as commenting: “Our personnel have faced hunger and cold,” The soldier was quoted further as saying: “For a significant period, we were without any material, medical or food support.” The soldier reportedly went on to state: “Given our continuous presence and the fact that amongst our personnel there are people with chronic medical issues, people with mental issues, many questions arise that are ignored by the higher-ups at headquarters.”

Another Russian Federation soldier who had fought near Kyiv, Kharkiv, and was now in eastern Ukraine in an interview complained of exhaustion, saying he had even contacted a lawyer and complained that he had not seen his wife for months. He was quoted as saying: “I have been fighting in Ukraine since the start of the war, it has been over three months now.” A soldier from the 37th Separate Guards Motor Rifle Brigade headquartered in Buryatia in Siberia, told the Guardian. “It is exhausting, my whole unit wants a break, but our leadership said they can’t replace us right now.” The soldier continued: “The three months of fighting already feel longer than the four years I spent serving in the army during peacetime.” The soldier boldly admitted: “I have already contacted a lawyer online who told me that by law the general can keep us here until our contract runs out so there isn’t much we can do.” Russian Federation Armed Forces do not have sufficient numbers of troops available to adjust or to rotate forces. Once units became heavily engaged with the Ukrainians, they were usually left in contact with them. 

Meanwhile, casualties among Russian Federation  officers keep mounting. Western officials have said that the Russian Federation’s mid and junior ranking officers have also taken heavy casualties “because they are held to an uncompromising level of responsibility for their units’ performance.” Company grade officers, lieutenants and captains, have had to lead the lowest level tactical actions, as the Russian Army does not staff units with highly trained and empowered noncommissioned officers. Western armies typically have such senior leaders staffed in units who can fulfill that role. At the time those interviews were made, four Russian Army generals were reportedly killed in combat. Professional Russian Army units have been more fortunate than others, particularly those soldiers recruited from the Russian Federation-controlled republics in Donetsk and Luhansk. They say their units were thrown into battle with little training at all. Videos have shown that some fighters have lacked basic gear for combat Kevlar vests and they are armed with older rifles. A soldier allegedly serving in Donetsk’s 107th Regiment complained to the Guardian: “Our mobilization was done unlawfully, without medical certification.” Another soldier from Donetsk said: “Over 70% of those here were previously decommissioned because they physically can’t fight. Over 90% have never fought before and saw a Kalashnikov for the first time. We were thrown on to the frontlines.”

When weary and weakened, mistakes become more commonplace among  commanders and soldiers in the Russian Federation Armed Forces, and that has become a significant part of Russia’s problems in Ukraine. Ukrainian commanders have often capitalized on those mistakes, creating even greater losses among Russian Federation troops. At the turn of the new year, on January 4, 2023, Ukrainian Armed Forces claimed a strike upon a vocational school building in Makiivka where hundreds of Russian Federation troops were reportedly clustered carelessly in a building close to the frontline. The Ukrainians claimed that around 400 Russian soldiers of one regiment were killed and around 300 more were wounded. The Russian Federation Armed Forces sought to blame the soldiers for their own deaths. Russian Army Lieutenant General Sergei Sevryukov said in a statement that their phone signals allowed Kyiv’s forces to “determine the coordinates of the location of military personnel” and launch a strike. The Russian Federation Defense Ministry, in a rare admission of losses, initially said the strike killed 63 troops. However, as emergency crews searched the ruins, the death toll mounted. The deputy commander of the regiment struck was among the dead. The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence revealed on Twitter: “Given the extent of the damage, there is a realistic possibility that ammunition was being stored near to troop accommodation, which detonated during the strike, creating secondary explosions,” United Kingdom intelligence officials said: “The Russian military has a record of unsafe ammunition storage from well before the current war, but this incident highlights how unprofessional practices contribute to Russia’s high casualty rate.” It would seem that many Russian commanders are made with the same substance as Leslie and Ferrero

In their analysis of the Russian Federation Armed Forces capabilities mentioned earlier, Kofman and Lee also explained that the Russian military is well suited to short, high-intensity campaigns defined by a heavy use of artillery.” They explained further that “By contrast, it is poorly designed for a sustained occupation, or a grinding war of attrition, that would require a large share of Russia’s ground forces, which is exactly the conflict it has found itself in.” Yet, even troops trained for short, high-intensity actions as the Vozdushno Desantnye Voyska (Russian Airborne Forces) or VDV, have faced great challenges against the Ukrainian Armed Forces while performing that role. According to reports based on what was observed, the Russian Federation Armed Forces plan of attack against Hostomel Airport included its rapid occupation, with the intention of using it as an assembly area for Kyiv’s encirclement and capture. The airport is a bit over 6 miles north of Kyiv. The Initial February 24, 2022 assault on Hostomel Airport was a success, catching its Ukrainian defenders by surprise apparently due its speed. Mi-35 and Ka-52 attack helicopters operating out of Belarus struck the airport’s defenses and opened a way for helicopter-borne VDV units in Mi-8 transport helicopters that followed. However, despite being caught off guard by the initial assault by the attack helicopters, the attack itself was ineffective as the Ukrainian defenses were left largely intact.  Without any meaningful air support–it was very likely not included in formulation of the attack plan, VDV units on the ground faced counterattacks by Ukrainian forces almost immediately. 

Having secured Hostomel Airport to the extent possible on February 25, 2022, the VDV and Russian Army unit that linked up with them, proceeded to push into the nearby town and then  advance to Bucha and Irpin. Their poorly organized movement encountered ambushes in Hostomel and Bucha which resulted in significant losses of personnel and equipment. When those in command decided to hold their positions, digging in on the roadsides, they became sitting ducks to night attacks by special forces units of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and  suffered heavy casualties. On March 29, 2022, the order was given for the Russian Federation forces at Hostomel to withdraw from the Kyiv oblast, but they did so under continuous artillery fire from Ukrainian forces. Left with little choice if they were to survive, Russian Federation troops damaged equipment that had to be abandoned and made a break for it. What was supposed to be an organized withdrawal became a hasty retreat.

Russian Federation Airborne Ttroops during their verticle assault on Hostomel Airport (above). The received wisdom expressed is that Russian military is well suited to short, high-intensity campaigns defined by a heavy use of artillery, and is poorly designed for a sustained occupation, or a grinding war of attrition, that would require a large share of Russia’s ground forces as in Ukraine. Yet, even troops trained for short, high-intensity actions as the Vozdushno Desantnye Voyska (Russian Airborne Forces) or VDV, have faced great challenges against the Ukrainian Armed Forces while performing that role. The Russian Federation Armed Forces plan of attack against Hostomel Airport, a bit over 6 miles north of Kyiv, nearly became a complete disaster. Professional members of the Russian Federation Armed Forces would likely say that there has been anything standard or normal about the manner Russian Federation Armed Forces have handled their soldier Marines, airmen, and sailors in Ukraine. 

The Wagner Group

A most apparent act of archaic wartime callousness is the Russian Federation’s tactic of throwing units from Gruppa Vagnera (Wagner Group) against Ukrainian positions. The Wagner Group is a private military contractor owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a millionaire restaurateur and entrepreneur, nicknamed “Putin’s chef” due to his close ties with the Russian Federation President. Wagner Group units have been deployed to bolster the number of Russian Federation forces in Ukraine. Moscow has used paid fighters to bolster its forces since the start of the special military operation. It was estimated in April 2022 to have initially deployed between 10,000 and 20,000 mercenaries, including Wagner Group troops in the offensive in the Donbas.

To increase the organization’s strength even further, Prigozhin began to create new Wagner Group units composed mainly with violent convicts from prisons–gangsters, murderers, and rapists. However, it is those Wagner Group “penal units” in particular that have suffered high-profile casualties. Much as the Union Army soldiers at the Crater, typically, the penal units are rushed into withering fire by Russian Army commanders perfunctorily without real the goal of attaining true military objectives or even success against their opponents most of the time. To that extent, the Wagner Group troops can rightfully be characterized as mere cannon fodder rather than trained and organized assault units. If there is any “worthwhile” purpose in sending the Wagner Group units to attack Ukrainian positions in such a manner, it is to allow them to identify defenses for Russian Army artillery to bombard. To a degree, this tactic has proven effective, but nonetheless it is a most apparent display of archaic wartime callousness. The Wagner Group troops’ display remarkable courage and obedience to authority, but their acts of sacrifice have been looked upon with indifference by Russian Army commanders. Given the backgrounds of the Wagner Group prison recruits, the common wisdom is that they are desensitized to violence. They are depicted as fighting hard because they have nothing left to lose. According to the US, out of an initial force of nearly 50,000 Wagner troops, including 40,000 recruited convicts, More than 4,100 have been killed in action, and 10,000 have been wounded, including over 1,000 killed between late November and early December near Bakhmut. There have been no reported incidents of members of different Russian units murdering each other on the battlefield. However, it would seem joining Wagner Group troops with Russian Army troops would create an elevated risk for a blue-on-blue attacks, as Russian Federation Armed Forces commanders may be willing to do anything to thwart Wagner Group troops from showing-up their own.

Special Problems of Winter

Weather conditions in eastern and southern Ukraine have been unfriendly to Russian Federation troops since the start of the special military operation. However, in the winter, “troops on the frontlines moved from being cold and wet to frozen and drenched.” They reportedly have inadequate sleeping bags, inadequate clothing and suffering from the cold. but they are kept in fight. Citing an interview of security expert in the United Kingdom, Robert Fox in the Daily Express, FoxNews reported “For the Russian troops, there is now quite significant evidence of ill-equipped, particularly recruits getting . . . even in the training camps, dying of hypothermia.” Fox commented further to the Daily Express: “That is really quite something. Inadequate sleeping bags, inadequate clothing and suffering from the cold. They find it difficult fighting in the cold but the fighting is going on.” Quoting Rebekah Koffler, a former DIA intelligence officer, FoxNews reported: “Russian soldiers dying from hyperthermia in winter is nothing new.” Koffler continued: “This is what happens when you have a fashion designer, such as Valentin Yudashkin [designer for former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s wife Raisa Gorbacheva], develop Russian military uniforms.” Koffler further stated: “Unlike the Soviet Army uniforms that were designed for severe Russian winters, modern Russian military uniform is not optimized for freezing temperatures.” Koffler additionally remarked: “Instead of using natural textiles like cotton, linen, and heavy and coarse wool, synthetic materials were used, which kept the soldiers cold in winter and hot in summer,” and “Bulky and baggy style was replaced with fitted styles.” When Shoigu was appointed Russian Federation Minister of Defense, he halted use of the traditional Russian footwear made of felt, valenki, which was worn by military and civilians for hundreds of years.

Gruppa Vagnera (Wagner Group) fighters pose before rode sign at Bakhmut (above). The Wagner Group is a private military contractor operating in Ukraine that is owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, nicknamed “Putin’s chef” due to his close ties with the Russian Federation President. In a clear act of archaic wartime callousness, Russian Army commanders often send the Wagner Group units to attack Ukrainian positions in frontal assaults, allowing them to identify defenses for the artillery to bombard. Wagner Group units have suffered high-profile casualties. According to the US, out of an initial force of nearly 50,000 Wagner troops, including 40,000 recruited convicts, More than 4,100 have been killed in action, and 10,000 have been wounded, including over 1,000 killed between late November and early December near Bakhmut.

Leadership Attributes Seemingly Absent among Russian Federation Commanders 

An important feature that top Russian Federation commanders by all appearances repeatedly walked past in every training exercise, either as vast as Zapad and Vostock or in independent training exercises at the division, brigade, regiment, and battalion levels, prior to February 24, 2022: was the lack of authentic military leadership displayed by officers at the field and company levels. While de rigueur as it may have been for decade, the absolute dependence upon the direction of superiors and voiding officers any freedom to be agile in thinking and flexible in action, to name only two impactful ills from a long list that beset the Russian Federation Armed Forces, would assure the death of fighting force on today’s battlefield. Such ways doubtlessly manifest the overly controlling and strict authoritarian government for which the Russian Federation Armed Forces serve and reflective of the nature of the country’s despotic political leadership.

To outline the attributes and expectations of military officers in a 21st century fighting force, on its face it would seem most efficacious to examine US Army leadership manuals online. (Seeking up-to-date expressions on military leadership, greatcharlie has refrained from using the leadership guides it retained after it military service far more than three decades ago! Wie die Zeit vergeht!). In reviewing materials available, an essay entitled “Eight Essential Characteristics of Officership” posted on a positively enlightening military blog, The Field Grade Leader, caught greatcharlie’s attention as it provides a superb, concise explanation of the pertinent attributes and expectations. Much of the information presented in the essay would very likely be alien to the ears of commanders in the Russian Federation Armed Forces. Presumably, there would also unlikely be a point of reference upon which officers in the Union Army or Confederate Army in the US Civil War, would have been able hypothetically to fully comprehend much of it. 

The eight characteristics are paraphrased here: 1) Lead: Being a leader and being in charge are often conflated, but they are really two different things. Beyond knowing where you are, where you want to go, and how you are going to get there, officers must inspire soldiers to take the journey with you. Officers must be prepared to make decisions, move the mission forward, and lead by example, never ordering a subordinate to make a sacrifice that he or she is unwilling to make. All officers no matter what their assignment must be leaders; 2) Listen: As nearly every team will have a resource of experienced senior leaders, officers should listen to their insights and suggestions wi/h an open mind and at times seek their advice. members that are an extremely valuable resource. Stories of their experiences in situations can provide examples of decisionmaking from which one can learn, be guided, and possibly mimic. To that extent, subordinates should not feel they are walking on a knife’s edge when approaching the leader with their ideas, but instead should feel comfortable doing so; 3) Support Your Commander: A leader must have clarity concerning the commander’s concept and intent for a mission. Once a legal and lawful order is issued, it must be executed within the parameters of the authority given. Commanders make decisions and assume the risks. Orders for action from commanders must not be questioned, or worse be disobeyed, but it should be permissible for officers to advise or make recommendations to superiors; 4) Learn and Improve: Officers must be acutely aware of their own strengths and weaknesses. To that extent, they must work hard to build on their strengths and correct their weaknesses. Goals for improvement should be realistic and achievable. Officers should never find comfort in remaining stagnant. Complacency is a fatal leadership flaw in the profession of arms; 5) Require Minimum Supervision: High operational tempo organizations that perform in complex environments suffer when officers within them require constant supervision. Officers in such organizations must understand their responsibilities and execute them without continual oversight. Commanders should not be overly burdened with questions from subordinates that should be able to answer themselves. The time for asking questions about performing tasks is the classroom and training exercises, not the actual battlefield; 6) Counsel Subordinates: Officers must well-communicate expectations and standards to subordinates for doing so provides a baseline for measuring performance and ensures that both the rater and rated officer understand what they should be doing. The most important tool that leaders have at their disposal to accomplish that is counseling; 7) Serve Those You Lead: Officers who take a genuine interest in their subordinates will see their teams achieve exceptional feats. Empathetically listen to what others are saying. Taking such interest must be attendant to counseling. Officers should circulate and be in contact with their soldiers. Getting to know one’s soldiers includes being ready to assist them not only professionally, but personally. Once an officer discovers a soldier’s goals, it is advisable to assist them in developing a course of action to reach them. Taking care of your soldiers leads to them taking care of the mission; and, 8) Be a Student of History: Professional officers must immerse themselves in their profession. Military history is replete with episodes that will relate to nearly every situation in which an officer may be in and offer much for them to learn from. By taking the opportunity in the present to learn from the past, officers can better prepare themselves to respond to situations, expected and unexpected, when they arise in the future. These characteristics must be worked at.

Russian Army commander prepares Mobiks to move to the frontlines (above). The visage of the young commander (center) says it all. There must be a true purpose for the sacrifices soldiers make on the battlefield. Soldiers should know what that purpose is. Any sort of logic that would cause a commander to so absolutely toss aside the sacred duty to care for the welfare of the troops they command, to violate the trust their soldiers have put in them,and throw them without purpose into the terror of the battlefield, is not faulty, but rather daylight madness. Committing them cavalierly to hopeless and meaningless offensives, localized attacks, and counterattacks could at best be attributed to delinquency and incompetence, and at worse, brutality, something very wrong up top, or telepathy from Hell, the despotic intrusion of Satan’s will.

Likely Professional Thinking Behind the Respective Commanders’ Choices at the Crater and in Ukraine

Omnia mala exempla ex rebus bonis orta sunt. (Also, omnia mala exempla orta sunt ex bonis initiis.) (Every bad precedent originated as a justifiable measure.) Available to officers of both the Union Army and Confederate Army before the Battle of the Crater was The Officer’s Manual Napoleon’s Maxims of War. The book provides a translation of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s maxims by Sir George Charles D’Aguilar, British Army officer serving as the Lieutenant Governor of Hong Kong, The entire manual reflects the received wisdom on the conduct of warfare at the time of its publication. The book’s “Recommendation”, included in the text’s first published in the US in 1861, was written by none other than Winfield Scott. Known as the Grand Old Man of the Army for his many years of service, US Army Major General Winfield Scott’s military talent was highly regarded by contemporaries, and viewed by historians as one of the most accomplished generals in US history. In 1855, he received a brevet promotion to the rank of lieutenant general, becoming the first US Army officer to hold that rank since US President George Washington. Scott was popular not only as a soldier among the public, but also as a statesman–in 1859 he resolved the Pig War, peacefully halting the last of a long series of US-United Kingdom border conflicts–and as a politician–a 4-time presidential candidate for the Whig Party. When the Civil War began, Scott, a Virginia native, stayed loyal to the Union, and served as an important adviser to US President Abraham Lincoln during the opening stages of the war. He developed a strategy known as the Anaconda Plan, but retired in late 1861 after Lincoln increasingly relied on General George McClellan for military advice and leadership. In his comments on Napoleon’s Maxim’s of War, Scott wrote: “After refreshing my memory by looking over again, ‘Re Officer’s Manual,’ or ‘Maxims of Napoleon,’ I think I may safely recommend republication, in America, of the work in English, as likely to be called for by many officers, regular and volunteer. It contains a circle of maxims deduced from the highest source of military science and experience, with practical illustrations of the principles taken from the most celebrated campaigns of modern times. The study of the book can not fail to set all young officers on a course of inquiry and reflection greatly to their improvement.”

Among the maxims in the work, most apposite to the discussion here is Maxim XV which states: “The first consideration with a general who offers battle, should be the glory and honor of his arms; the safety and preservation of his men is only the second; but it is in the enterprise and courage resulting from the former, that the latter will most assuredly be found. In a retreat, besides the honor of the army, the loss of life is often greater than in two battles. For this reason, we should never despair, while brave men are to be found with their colors. It is by the means we obtain victory, and deserve to obtain it.” Napoleon expressed similar sentiments earlier in the book in Maxim VI in which Napoleon states: At the commencement of a campaign, to advance or not to advance, is a matter for grave consideration; but when once the offensive has been assumed, it must be sustained to the last extremity. However skillful the manœuvers in a retreat, it will always weaken the morale of an army, because in losing the chances of success, these last are transferred to the enemy. Besides, retreats always cost more men and material than the most bloody engagements; with this difference, that in a battle, the enemy’s loss is nearly equal to your own–whereas in a retreat, the loss is on your side only.” Napoleon left no doubt in his writings that he believed war was governed by principles. Yet, as with the principles in other fields, no matter how rare they may be, circumstances can arise in war which may pose challenges to strictures developed from its accepted principles.

Fallacies non causae it causae. (Fallacy to accept something as fundamental when it is not.) There are often situations that require more than just barreling ahead regardless of losses. To crack on en masse into oblivion is just madness. In modern armies in 2023, one would imagine commanders in modern armies have trained and fully grasp the need to rely upon one’s training and studies in military philosophy but also one’s talents, practicality, flexibility, creativity, and ingenuity. As discussed in greatcharlie’s  August 31, 2022 post entitled “Would the Ejection of Russian Forces from Ukraine Lead to a Thermonuclear Response by Moscow?: Some Meditations on Putin’s Likely Thinking”, Ukrainian commanders have proven themselves to be formidable opponents by displaying amazing knowledge of their battle space, foresight and agility acumen, managing to block in one place, counterattack in another. Most relevant here is the fact that Ukrainian commanders fully comprehend the benefits of  withdrawing their units when conditions are most unfavorable instead of demanding troops hold on to untenable positions until they were forced to retreat in order to survive or surrender.

Remaining dedicated to the unit’s mission and the overall mission of the team as a priority is an idea driven into the minds of all soldiers, noncommissioned officers and officers in basic training and throughout their careers. For officers,, in terms of priority, first comes the mission, next the soldiers come, then themselves. It is true a mission can only be achieved through high morale, aggressive action and perseverance. The spirit must be indomitable. Through great displays of such tenacity, battles are won. Fortis est non pertussis in revise asperis. (The strong do not falter in adversity.)

Reputation and honor have also been motivating factors among officers. To display audacity, gallantry before peers has typically been an objective of utmost importance. In accounts of battles in the lyrics military marches, it is most often expressed that the indications and implications of such qualities are of utmost importance. The Régiment de Sambre et Meuse (1870), for example, is a song about a French regiment that fought against the Austrians in 1794 to defend the fledgling Republic. It was written in 1870 to try and boost French patriotic feelings after the rather ignominious defeat against Germany that would deprive France of the Alsace and Lorraine provinces until the end of WWI. Sambre et Meuse is the name of a former French province that is currently part of Belgium. The poignant, pertinent third verse of the march is as follows: “Le choc fut semblable à la foudre / Ce fut un combat de géants / Ivres de gloire, ivres de poudre / Pour mourir, ils serraient les rangs ! / Le régiment par la mitraille / Était assailli de partout, / Pourtant, la vivante muraille / Impassible, restait debout.” (The clash was like a lightning strike, / it was a struggle of giants. / Drunk with glory, drunk with gunpowder, / they closed ranks to perish together! / The regiment was assailed / by a hail of bullets from all sides. / And yet the living wall, / impervious, remained standing.) It seems apropos to make note of a more renowned piece about patriotism, war, and glory also from France, composed by Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle in 1792,  that begins as follows: Allons enfant de la patrie / Le jour de gloire est arrivé! (Let’s go children of the fatherland, / The day of glory has arrived!)

Attendant to the preceding, often political leaders and senior commanders have insisted upon the continued astonishing sacrifices of soldiers in a battle, believing the reputation and honor of their armed forces and their country was at stake.

All of that having been stated, at the Crater, Grant saw the horror of it all and ordered Burnside to retreat, but oddly he disobeyed his command. Meade also saw the futility of the attack and refused to reinforce failure by agreeing to Burnside’s request to commit additional troops to it. In one episode in October 2022 in Ukraine, Surovikin made the unpopular decision to pull Russian troops away from Kherson to more stable positions on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River. According to Reuters, Surovikin explained: “I understand that this is a very difficult decision, but at the same time we will preserve the most important thing – the lives of our servicemen and, in general, the combat effectiveness of the group of troops, which it is futile to keep on the right bank in a limited area.” Despite his honorable and noble intentions, Surovikin was at first denigrated by conservative political leaders and by conservative newsmedia outlets as being defeatist and unnecessarily ceding captured territory to the Ukrainians.

There must be a true purpose for the sacrifices soldiers make on the battlefield. Soldiers should know what that purpose is. Any sort of logic that would cause a commander to so absolutely toss aside the sacred duty to care for the welfare of the troops they command, to violate the trust their soldiers have put in them,and throw them without purpose into the terror of the battlefield, is not faulty, but rather daylight madness. Committing them cavalierly to hopeless and meaningless offensives, localized attacks, and counterattacks could at best be attributed to delinquency and incompetence, and at worse, brutality, something very wrong up top, or telepathy from Hell, a despotic intrusion of Satan’s will.

Recognizably, Russian Army commanders are known, expected, and applauded in their organization for displaying sternness or severity of manner or attitude. A feature of Surovikin’s record as he rose as a commander was his behavior in that regard. Some might point to the fact that several Russian Army generals and colonels have lost their lives while serving as inspirational leaders in attacks against Ukrainian positions. However, such efforts, though impressive and admittedly valorous, seemed to be less acts of committed leaders, and more acts of desperation as responsibility for the success or failure of their units’ actions rested on their shoulders. It would appear such actions by generals and level commanders ever did much to change outcomes on the battlefield. The situations of the respective units were rarely made much better after the sacrifices. It would seem fortunate enough for them if the situation remained essentially the same. After their tragic loss, the situation for those units for the most have deteriorated in their absence. The Ukrainian advance has not been effectively slowed or stalled following their actions..The indications and implications of results on the battlefield are that Russian Army commanders reeled in 2022  from effects of their dereliction concerning training and preparing their units. While they may not have expended fuel and petroleum oil lubricants and other resources to training not ordered from above, they could have regularly scheduled sand table and map exercises with officers and noncommissioned officers in their respective units in case something akin to he “special military operation” were launched. Noncommissioned officers could have counseled soldiers on movement technique in the field and reviewed as many “what ifs” as time allowed. The idea of the Russian Federation invading Ukraine was hanging in the air in January and February of 2022. It would be a charitable assumption to say Russian commanders were unaware that action was possible and they needed to begin thinking “even more” about the soldiers’ well-being.

Mobiks in Crimea receiving blessings from a Russian Orthodox priest as part of a departure ceremony In November 2022 (above). In 2023, a young man or woman who volunteers, is conscripted, or is pressed into service via conscription to serve in the armed forces of their country in war has much to reasonably expect from their faithful service. Soldiers of every country should be able to believe their political leaders have concluded that some objective of great value, that is just, will be attained by the selective application of their fighting skills. They should be able to believe when they are sent into harm’s way that the decision was founded on the best advice of senior military leaders. Soldiers must believe they are being utilized by senior commanders in the best possible way to achieve victory in battle. Further, soldiers must feel assured that their commanders, in planning military action, will attempt to increase their chances of survival and minimize, to the greatest degree possible, to potential loss of life.

On Soldiers

As has been the case for centuries, citizens have chosen to serve their countries when at war due to a variety of motivations. Surely, greatcharlie is not breaking any new ground in explaining that. The following list offers a mere handful of 14 likely motivations based on empirical evidence: 1) Exigence circumstance: seeing understanding actual need to protect their families and communities and country; 2) Allegiance: Duty respond to their country’s call, perhaps while uncertain and fearful of outcome; 3) Honor: refusal to avoid the call to serve their country in war regardless of whether most citizens view find the need to fight reasonable and just or based on disagreeable political objectives of their government; 4) Patriotism: a love of country in general and willingness to protect it; 5) Romanticism: rushing off to war with a romanticized view of serving ones country in war based on stories of the past deeds of others on the battlefield; 6) Escape from unpleasant circumstances; the opportunity to serve one’s country at war provides reason to escape an environment or undesirable circumstances an individual may be in; 7) Venal: impelled by monetary gain or promises of other gains no matter how meager; 8) Insecurity: going to war impelled by the feeling one have something to prove to family, community,, or the world, desperately seeking validation in other people’s approval; 9) Excitement: Seeking some personal thrill from wartime experience and the chance to engage in daredevil activities; 10) Obedience to authority: obeying the demand of government to report for service in war due to a fear of reprisal; 11) Nationalism: an excessive or prejudicial support of country’s interests or historic enmity toward another country or other countries, that may lead to the support of expansionist actions as much as, as dictated by political leadership that are to exclusion or detriment of other countries interests; 12) Ethno-religious nationalism an excessive or prejudicial support of country’s interests or historic enmity toward citizens of another country or other countries based primarily on respective ethnic, racial, religious differences that would cause one serve in an expansionist military action against the other country, or support for one’s own ethnic, racial, religious group to the extent that one would be willing to go war to defend or support the expansionist aims of those of one’s group in other countries against an opposing ethnic racial or religious group; 13) Revolutionary zeal: being impelled by a country central revolutionary philosophy to serve in war to defend one’s country thus ensuring the survival of the ideals of one’s country or support one country’s expansionist aims to ensure the propagation of the central revolutionary philosophy of one’s country or group, being certain of the philosophy’s correctness; and, 14) Recherché or outré reasoning, philosophy, or ideate: to welcome the chance to fight in war for anomalous, eccentric, perhaps even unsound, personal reasons.

Whatever the underlying motivation or rationale for their choice, even those of whom reasonable individuals could hardly call noble, those choosing to serve in war are placed under the authority of their respective country’s political leadership, under the control of the military chain of command from the country’s top generals and admirals down to the commanders of their respective organizations and units, and under the complete direction of their immediate organization and unit officers. However, they were not born with an intrinsic purpose to have their lives extinguished, bodies torn to pieces, at their officers’ whims and megrims. In his renowned work New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, trans. by W. J. R. Sproutt (W. W. Norton & Company, 1933), Sigmund Freud, the 20th century Moravian born neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis, explains: “It is asking a great deal of a man, who has learnt to regulate his everyday affairs in accordance with the rules of experience and with due regard to reality, that he should entrust precisely what affects him most nearly to the care of an authority which claims as its prerogative freedom from all the rules of rational thought.” Nevertheless, Herr Doktor, near complete submission to the control of superiors has been an essential, immutable requirement of military service throughout the ages.

In 2023, a young man or woman who volunteers, is conscripted, or is pressed into service via conscription to serve in the armed forces of their country in war has much to reasonably expect from their faithful service. Soldiers of every country should be able to believe their political leaders have concluded that some objective of great value, that is just, will be attained by the selective application of their fighting skills. They should be able to believe when they are sent into harm’s way that the decision was founded on the best advice of senior military leaders. Soldiers must believe they are being utilized by their commanders in the best possible way to achieve victory in battle. Further, soldiers must feel assured that their commanders, in planning military action, will attempt to increase their chances of survival and minimize, to the greatest degree possible, to potential loss of life. Of course, big mistakes can be made even by the most experienced and best prepared commanders in prosecuting a war. Additionally, no commander can possibly promise that none of their soldiers will not be wounded, captured, or killed in war.

Not only will morale suffer, but performance will surely degrade when soldiers are: uncertain of mission if the overall concept of a military action is unjust, invalid by law; uncertain of the purpose of a military action: the political authority’s concept and intent for the action is unclear and their commander’s concept and intent are unclear; uncertain their leadership is dysfunctional: commanders are hamstrung by superiors and confined to parameters of action by political systems or they are simply delinquent and negligent; uncertain of their capabilities versus the opponent–soldiers are provided poor equipment, their force has readily observable vulnerabilities, their opponent possess superior, seemingly invincible, and unlimited supplies of weapon systems; and, uncertain of victory–on a daily basis, soldiers experience heavy losses in equipment, exceedingly high casualties in their ranks, the regular loss of comrades, the influx of untrained replacements, and they sense their sacrifices will prove to be meaningless. Such strains and trauma placed upon soldiers could prove to be irreparable.

One can only imagine thoughts churning within the minds of so many young conscripts, nel massimo dolore, most having barely discovered what life has to offer. Many young soldiers at the Crater and in during other battle in other wars have surely felt the same. What comes to mind are the words of the character Floria Tosca in Act II of Giacomo Puccini’s opera, “Tosca” (1899). The Chief of the secret police, Scarpia, has thrown Tosca’s beloved into prison for treason and tortures him. She vehemently protests. Scarpia tells her she could save him by submitting completely to his ugly amorous advances. Tosca sings “Vissi d’Arte” after avoiding dodging him repeatedly she asks God why has He abandoned her during this terrible time. A portion of the haunting soprano aria is as follows: Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore, / non feci mai male ad anima viva!… / Con man furtiva / quante miserie conobbi, aiutai… / Sempre con fe’ sincera, / la mia preghiera / ai santi tabernacoli salì. / Sempre con fe’ sincera / diedi fiori agli altar. / alzandosi / Nell’ora del dolore / perché, perché Signore, / perché me ne rimuneri così? (I lived for art. I lived for love: / Never did I harm a living creature! … / Whatever misfortunes I encountered / I sought with secret hand to succour … / Ever in pure faith, / My prayers rose / In the holy chapels. / Ever in pure faith, / I brought flowers to the altars. / In this hour of pain, why, / Why, oh Lord, why / Dost Thou repay me thus?)

The Way Forward

For the Russian Federation, the Ukraine War is a war of conquest. The tissue of lies leaders tell their citizens, and tell themselves about the war, has become further attenuated. With the Russian Federation Armed Forces being exposed for the inefficient forces they truly are conventionally, little is left in the way of words alone for the country’s political leadership to sway any listeners, much less their armed forces. Nevertheless, as they now despotically control their soldiers through threats of reprisals, promise to destroy the whole wide world if the war in Ukraine is lost, they have also turned those techniques upon the global audience, threatening thermonuclear war and encouraging fear mongering, while insisting the Russian Federation is the victim, the country threatened. 

Even before the special military operation began, political leaders, newsmedia political commentators and bloggers touted the prowess of the Russian Federation Armed Forces pointing to the indomitable spirit and durability of its fighters while denying the Ukrainians had any real capabilities to prevent the Russian Federation’s inevitable victory. Yet, they now ironically point to the success of the Ukrainian Armed Forces against theirs to prove that the US and NATO are the engines behind the Ukraine threat, and prove it is all part of a longstanding US and NATO plan to encroach on Russian Federation with their sights trained on its natural resources, and eventually take full control their country. Hyperbolic to the end, political leaders in Moscow insist that Ukraine, the US, the  EU, and NATO will be destroyed. Flashing a bit of optimism, they view keeping the US directly out of the fight is in itself a victory, and a sign Washington fears the Russian Federation’s true power: its nuclear arsenal. It all seems to have real meaning for them, yet it all rings very hollow. Putin promises to replenish the arsenals of the Russian Federation Armed Forces and insists a new era of weapon systems development has been embarked upon during which the world will witness Russian Federation industries produce systems “decades ahead of their foreign counterparts.” To students and scholars familiar with the German Third Reich’s history, Putin’s rhetoric on superweapons–Wunderwaffe–surely sounds terribly familiar. It is all stupefying to the eyes and ears of the reasonable. It would have been “cheaper” for Putin to pay the full price of training and fully equipping his Russian Federation Armed Forces and ordering an orderly mobilization of an additional 100,000 conscripts and preparing them for war in a military fashion. Yet, Russian Federation commanders might even have been the wild card in all of that. It is hard to know if they are really capable of anything impressive or even average militarily, given the shortcomings they have put on display in Ukraine..

Soldiers cannot hold much hope to be treated fairly, for victory, or survival fighting for a country whose political leadership makes fantastic claims about unseen super-weapons and secret military capabilities and regularly makes false statements on the situation in war they are fighting. Naturally, a close eye must be kept on what Putin is saying and doing regarding Ukraine, to include expressions of that kind. Equally naturally, focus must be kept on what will most likely come next. In all honesty, it has become increasingly difficult for greatcharlie to see how this entire episode will end “peacefully” for any country involved.

Roosevelt’s December 29, 1940 Fireside Chat: Inferences from Its Text on Likely Meditations That Helped Him Create Hope for a Country on the Brink of War

US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt customarily delivered his famous Fireside Chats from the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House where he is seen (above) seated at a table before seven microphones and newsreel cameras to his front. Roosevelt began broadcasting Fireside Chats during his presidency on March 12, 1933. They initially served as a means for him to inform the public of what the government was doing to resolve the Great Depression. The December 29, 1940 Fireside Chat is famously known as the “Arsenal of Democracy Speech,” for it is recognized as being the moment Roosevelt declared the US “must be the great arsenal of democracy” for countries already fending off the Axis Powers–Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan. The story provides a fitting historical example of the trials and tribulations that can beset a President who must lead his country to war. As a bridge to our days, the situation for countries fighting the Axis Powers in 1940 mirrored that of Ukraine in 2022. The Ukrainians, desiring peace, were torn from it by the aggressive actions of the Russian Federation. Under US leadership, an array of support from Europe and worldwide in response to the pleas of Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky for help. It would be interesting not only to look at what Roosevelt sought to communicate in his address, but discern deeper meaning in what he said. Presented is greatcharlie’s interpretation of what his inner thoughts might have been.

On December 29, 1940,  Fireside Chat, the sixteenth in a series of presidential radio broadcasts in the US, as well as Europe and Japan, 32nd President of the US, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, informed the people of their government’s plans to keep the country safe and secure. This particular Fireside Chat is famously known as the “Arsenal of Democracy Speech,” for it is recognized as being the moment Roosevelt declared the US “must be the great arsenal of democracy” for countries already fending off efforts.by the Axis Powers–Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan–to conquer them. This vital part of Roosevelt’s story provides a fitting historical example of the trials and tribulations that can beset a President caused to lead his country to war, a task made more difficult when the priority of the people is maintaining the peace and avoiding overseas conflicts at almost all costs. New priorities had come to fore and had to be accepted. Dark days were ahead. Terrible challenges would need to be endured by the people. Their strength and fortitude would be tested. As a bridge to our days, the situation in 1940 mirrored that of Ukraine in 2022, mutatis mutandis. The Ukrainians, desiring peace, were torn from it by the aggressive actions of its neighbor, the Russian Federation. Under US leadership, an array of support from Europe and worldwide in response to the pleas of Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky for help. In Roosevelt’s case in 1940, he was relying principally on the United Kingdom to hold the line against the Axis Powers across its vast Empire and the Commonwealth. There was no country that the US to fall back on for support. The US was the final protective line of freedom, democracy, and civilization, itself.

Certainly, the December 29, 1940 Fireside Chat has been well trodden by historians and Roosevelt scholars for more than eight decades since its original broadcast. Still, greatcharlie thought it would be interesting not only to look at what Roosevelt sought to communicate in his address but what he, then age 57, pondered at the time when he was alone with his thoughts in an attempt to discern deeper meaning in what he said. In presenting its interpretation of what some of Roosevelt’s inner thoughts might have been, greatcharlie has stayed true to actual facts. Each consideration is informed by what was known to be the situation at the time in the US and rest of the world, particularly the United Kingdom. While sharing its impressions regarding Roosevelt’s complexity. greatcharlie has remained grounded in what was possible. Insights that historians and Roosevelt scholars have already presented are not regurgitated, yet support for its Inferences are drawn from historical examples provided in their works. Notions that have generally been discounted or dismissed in the context of the address are not included. Nothing is made too complex and greatcharlie does not pretend to have all of the answers. 

The text of the December 29, 1940 Fireside Chat is drawn from a transcript provided by The American Presidency Project of the University of California at Santa Barbara. Comparisons were made with the online typescript of the address published by the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum to confirm its accuracy. Here, the text is divided into 10 segments with headings to facilitate its examination.

Roosevelt’s December 29, 1940 Fireside Chat,

Roosevelt began broadcasting Fireside Chats during his presidency on March 12, 1933. The broadcasts initially served as a means for him to inform the public of what the government was doing to resolve the Great Depression. While Governor of New York State, Roosevelt had some success using Fireside Chats to inform state residents of the latest developments and steps being taken to provide some relief from the devastating effects of the crisis upon them. The first one he made as governor was on April 3, 1929. During the New Deal, Roosevelt gave a radio address around twice a year, informing the public one or two weeks beforehand with the hope of garnering a large audience. Typically, he would include in the address: aspects of government programs; criticisms of them and his responses; and, expressions of  optimism and encouragement. Roosevelt usually delivered his address from the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House. Reportedly, he would arrive 15 minutes before air time to greet members of the newsmedia, including radio and newsreel correspondents.

Despite the severe nature of the threat posed by the Axis Powers, in his December 29, 1940 Fireside Chat, Roosevelt remained a paragon of sangfroid and equanimity in the face of it all. He was a gentleman at all times publicly. One would expect by reputation that he would be on his game on that day, and show well of his presidency, his country, and his own scruple. While offering answers to the dangers he highlighted, he spoke in an informal and relaxed style, his aim being to create a tone of familiarity and sense of forthrightness among listeners. That evening, Roosevelt was speaking to everyone in the US, including officials with whom he worked and conversed daily. At 9:30PM, Roosevelt began his address. It lasted 36 minutes and 53 seconds.

1. Sentences 1 through 11: The Country Faces a New Crisis Unlike the One Discussed in the 1933 Fireside Chat: It Is a Matter of National Security

Inferences

Peior est bello timor ipse belli. (Worse than war is the very fear of war.) A primary purpose of the December 29, 1940 Fireside Chat naturally was to assuage apprehensions on the rise within the US public concerning ongoing violent events in the world. Equally naturally, more than just explaining that everything would be alright, Roosevelt sought to provide hard facts on what was exactly happening in the world and what his administration was doing in response. To the good fortune of the US, at a time of such great crisis, there was an intrepid president in office of great creativity particularly on matters concerning defense and the armed forces. Indeed, he was correct in every particular. Roosevelt did not exaggerate one jot.

The Roosevelt administration’s isolationist policy, then in effect, assured a considerable degree of non-entanglement in international politics, particularly non-involvement in ongoing and burgeoning conflicts in Europe and Asia. The US took measures to avoid political and military conflicts across the oceans, it continued to quietly manage economic interests in China and Southeast Asia and actually expanded its economic interests in Latin America.

Through the isolationist policy, US citizens who were still suffering the effects of the Great Depression, could sense it was okay to focus onward on family sustainability, employment, and community in some cases. Roosevelt’s administration worked feverishly to resolve the situation. The people needed a bit more time to heal from the Depression’s ills and the isolationist policy allowed them the psychic space to do that.

Many isolationists among political and business leaders, scholars, national and grassroots non-interventionist organizations in the US in1940 surely wanted their country to stand fast, dignified and proud, in the face of provocations by Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan. Aggressive external parties had a great say in how the US would act. The US could not just stand by as some impressive paragon, placid and imperturbable, while Hitler plotted its utter destruction and the enslavement of its people. Time was of the essence. By the end of 1940, for all intents and purposes, a war with the Axis Powers, for all intents and purposes, had essentially become unavoidable for the US. In 1940, that would have been a hard saying. It Is very likely that for the US, everything would have been lost if the US had failed to act as Roosevelt prescribed.

Roosevelt had to bring the people and many in the government, too, to understand not his truth but “the truth” about the situation the US was in. He had to do so realizing how difficult it was for people to unlearn what they have held true for a long time about their country being able to stay out of war abroad.

Sentences 1 through 11 of the Fireside Chat

“My friends:

This is not a fireside chat on war. It is a talk on national security; because the nub of the whole purpose of your President is to keep you, now, and your children later, and your grandchildren much later, out of a last-ditch war for the preservation of American independence and all the things that American independence means to you and to me and to ours.

Tonight, in the presence of a world crisis, my mind goes back eight years to a night in the midst of a domestic crisis. It was a time when the wheels of American industry were grinding to a full stop, when the whole banking system of our country had ceased to function.

I well remember that while I sat in my study in the White House, preparing to talk with the people of the United States, I had before my eyes the picture of all those Americans with whom I was talking. I saw the workmen in the mills, the mines, the factories; the girl behind the counter; the small shopkeeper; the farmer doing his spring plowing; the widows and the old men wondering about their life’s savings.

I tried to convey to the great mass of American people what the banking crisis meant to them in their daily lives.

Tonight, I want to do the same thing, with the same people, in this new crisis which faces America. We met the issue of 1933 with courage and realism.

We face this new crisis–this new threat to the security of our nation–with the same courage and realism.”

2. Sentences 11 through 21: The Threat

Inferences

Nazi Germany would serve as the best example to illustrate the clear and present danger the US faced. It was a danger that could not be ignored or avoided. Nazi Germany was on the rampage in the world abroad the most in the US knew or were from. It would need to be confronted. It would not be enough to dissuade or deter the Nazis. Nazi German Reichskanzler (Reich Chancellor) Adolf Hitler’s ability to make war had to be destroyed. There was no other option. No amount of coercive diplomacy would convince Hitler to dismantle his war machine. The time that idea might have had any validity as a suggestion had long since passed. France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Norway, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, all under the control of the Nazis had to be freed. Hitler could not be allowed to feed off their respective resources and manpower of those countries to further build Nazi Germany’s strength and military prowess. The United Kingdom had to be protected. Surely, Roosevelt considered every possibility.

However, the situation in Europe was positively fluid. Just the year before the United Kingdom, France seemed to have answers to blocking Hitler’s plan to conquer the Continent. In the Low Countries–Netherlands, Belgium and even Luxembourg–had no intention of being open doors for a westward drive by Nazi Germany and took defensive measures. Norway was under threat but still free. By December 1940, the United Kingdom was standing alone. It had already fended off Nazi Germany in its skies, and knowing conquest was foremost on Hitler’s mind, it girded itself for an invasion that nearly everyone expected to come. All of that and more was going on at home while its armed forces were fighting furiously against the Axis Powers.

On May 22, 1932, Roosevelt, then New York Governor of New York State, received a Doctor of Laws honorary degree from Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Georgia during a commencement ceremony. He gave a powerful address on the state of the country and the place of the youth in its future, the precepts of which founded his New Deal plan as US President. Roosevelt’s address also provides insight into his courageous approach to seemingly insurmountable problems. He explained: “The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something . . .We need enthusiasm, imagination and the ability to face facts, even unpleasant ones, bravely. . . .”

How the US could best take on the fight to defeat the respective Axis Powers while remaining neutral was the big question. In developing a concept for doing that Roosevelt seemed to find wisdom in the aphorism “an ounce of prevention would be worth a pound of cure.” Creating more time to prepare by keeping the aforementioned friendly countries, with which the US had not yet become formally allied, was the most appropriate course of action at that point. He would provide encouragement to countries fighting the Axis Powers to hold the line at all points in which the Axis Powers were active, but Roosevelt did not intend to stand by and wait to see how things would turn out. Rather than wait for what came next, he sought to influence what was transpiring to create favorable outcomes on those frontlines.

To the extent it could, the US responded to requests for weapons and resupply of equipment from “belligerents” at war with the Axis Powers. Time was of the essence. Action had to be swift. The window of opportunity to act as supportive as possible on multiple fronts while standing off from the fighting would remain open for only so long. Despite the assistance provided, many being assisted could still fall. That was the case with France.

Regarding the situation of United Kingdom specifically, in 1939, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in cooperation with his French Premier Edouard Daladier fell for a rather prosaic scheme organized by Hitler and his Nazi government, with Italian leader Benito Mussolini in tow, that evinced a frightfully transparent motive. The leaders negotiated to permit Hitler to take control of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. The government in Prague had no role in the talks. Hitler recognized how the Western powers were willing to surrender the peace and territory of others to protect their own peace and well-being. Chamberlain appeared truly naive to those within his own political party in Parliament, the Conservative Party, byname Tories, and within the loyal opposition, the Labour Party. Labour forced a vote of no confidence which ended Chamberlain’s days as Prime Minister.

Sentences 11 through 21 of the Fireside Chat

“Never before since Jamestown and Plymouth Rock has our American civilization been in such danger as now.

For, on September 27, 1940, this year, by an agreement signed in Berlin, three powerful nations, two in Europe and one in Asia, joined themselves together in the threat that if the United States of America interfered with or blocked the expansion program of these three nations–a program aimed at world control—they would unite in ultimate action against the United States.

The Nazi masters of Germany have made it clear that they intend not only to dominate all life and thought in their own country, but also to enslave the whole of Europe, and then to use the resources of Europe to dominate the rest of the world.

It was only three weeks ago that their leader stated this: “There are two worlds that stand opposed to each other.” And then in defiant reply to his opponents, he said this: “Others are correct when they say: With this world we cannot ever reconcile ourselves. . . . I can beat any other power in the world.” So said the leader of the Nazis.

In other words, the Axis not merely admits, but the Axis proclaims that there can be no ultimate peace between their philosophy, their philosophy of government and our philosophy of government.

In view of the nature of this undeniable threat, it can be asserted, properly and categorically, that the United States has no right or reason to encourage talk of peace, until the day shall come when there is a clear intention on the part of the aggressor nations to abandon all thought of dominating or conquering the world.

At this moment, the forces of the states that are leagued against all peoples who live in freedom, are being held away from our shores. The Germans and the Italians are being blocked on the other side of the Atlantic by the British, and by the Greeks, and by thousands of soldiers and sailors who were able to escape from subjugated countries. In Asia, the Japanese are being engaged by the Chinese nation in another great defense. In the Pacific Ocean is our fleet.”

United Kingdom Prime Minister Winston Churchill at his seat in the Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street, London, circa 1940.

3. Sentences 22 through 40: Hitler and the Axis Powers: What They Represent

Inferences

United Kingdom Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, was installed May 10, 1940. As Roosevelt correctly saw the United Kingdom as essentially the aegis of the US, he appeared to depend particularly upon Churchill to hold the line against Hitler as promised. In Churchill’s first speech before the House of Commons, three days after being installed on May 10, 1940 as Prime Minister, he powerfully stated regarding the war: “You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.”

Roosevelt learned that holding the line would not be a mean feat for the United Kingdom. In a May 15, 1940 cable, Churchill revealed the truth of the dire straits his country found itself in to Roosevelt. He wrote: “The scene has darkened swiftly. The enemy have a marked preponderance in the air, and their new technique is making a deep impression upon the French. I think myself the battle on land has only just begun . . . The small countries are simply smashed up, one by one, like matchwood. We must expect, though it is not yet certain, that Mussolini will hurry in to share the loot of civilization. We expect to be attacked here ourselves, both from the air and by parachute and air borne troops in the near future, and are getting ready from them. If necessary, we shall continue the war alone and we are not afraid of that. But I trust you realize, Mr. President, that the voice and force of the United States may count for nothing if they are withheld too long. You may have completely subjugated, Nazified Europe established with astonishing swiftness, and the weight may be more than we can bear.”

By providing weapons to the United Kingdom, the capabilities of its armed forces would be enhanced and the chances of it holding out would be increased. However, Churchill had to be depended upon to hold the line at home, too. Churchill determined that the United Kingdom would fight on, but there were Members in his War Cabinet willing to sign a peace agreement with Hitler. 

With the hope that three parties would work together with the common aim of defeating Nazi Germany, Churchill created a War Cabinet in which two out of five members were Labour politicians, one was National and two were Conservatives.  Yet, despite the crisis, domestic political fighting was not restrained. In the Parliament, a series of crucial, often heated, discussions and debates took place in late May 1940. If anything had suddenly happened to Churchill, politically or physically, there was the danger that those willing to strike a deal with Hitler would follow through with their wrongheaded ideas. As well as bolster the United Kingdom’s ability to fight, US military assistance would prove to Churchill and those shaky Members of Parliament that the US was standing fast with them. By working together, Roosevelt and Churchill forged a sort of entente cordiale.

Sentences 22 through 40 of the Fireside Chat

“Some of our people like to believe that wars in Europe and in Asia are of no concern to us. But it is a matter of most vital concern to us that European and Asiatic war-makers should not gain control of the oceans which lead to this hemisphere.

One hundred and seventeen years ago the Monroe Doctrine was conceived by our Government as a measure of defense in the face of a threat against this hemisphere by an alliance in Continental Europe. Thereafter, we stood guard in the Atlantic, with the British as neighbors. There was no treaty. There was no “unwritten agreement.”

And yet, there was the feeling, proven correct by history, that we as neighbors could settle any disputes in a peaceful fashion. The fact is that during the whole of this time the Western Hemisphere has remained free from aggression from Europe or from Asia.

Does anyone seriously believe that we need to fear attack anywhere in the Americas while a free Britain remains our most powerful naval neighbor in the Atlantic? Does anyone seriously believe, on the other hand, that we could rest easy if the Axis powers were our neighbors there?

If Great Britain goes down, the Axis powers will control the continents of Europe, Asia, Africa, Australasia, and the high seas–and they will be in a position to bring enormous military and naval resources against this hemisphere. It is no exaggeration to say that all of us, in all the Americas, would be living at the point of a gun—a gun loaded with explosive bullets, economic as well as military. [The source of the transcript of the Fireside Chat utilized here notes that although the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum online typescript of the address includes “Australia” and not “Australasia,” a close review of an authentic recording has confirmed Australasia is correct. Praeterea qui alium sequitur nihil invenit, immo nec quaerit. (Besides, he who follows another not only discovers nothing but is not even investigating.)]

We should enter upon a new and terrible era in which the whole world, our hemisphere included, would be run by threats of brute force. To survive in such a world, we would have to convert ourselves permanently into a militaristic power on the basis of war economy.

Some of us like to believe that even if Britain falls, we are still safe, because of the broad expanse of the Atlantic and of the Pacific.

But the width of those oceans is not what it was in the days of clipper ships. At one point between Africa and Brazil the distance is less from Washington that it is from Washington to Denver, Colorado–five hours for the latest type of bomber. And at the North end of the Pacific Ocean, America and Asia almost touch each other.

Why, even today we have planes that could fly from the British Isles to New England and back again without refueling. And remember that the range of the modern bomber is ever being increased.”

4. Sentences 42 through 71: What the Axis Powers Are Capable of and Plan To Do; How They Think; Areas They Threaten; The US Plan of Action

Inferences

Every step of the way, Roosevelt had to be thorough in his analysis of matters, very calculating in his choices, and very measured in his actions. Surely, he often had to show restraint, perhaps knowing that certain bold advances would likely be most helpful, yet prohibiting himself to limited moves that would be most effective. No one was allowed to get in the way of those efforts. In greatcharlie’s humble view. the following words of the renowned Irish novelist, short-story writer and poet in “Chapter 9: Scylla and Charybdis” of Ulysses (1922) are apposite to Roosevelt: “His own image to a man with that queer thing genius is the standard of all experience, material and moral.”

Roosevelt was well aware that everyone in Washington had an opinion on how to proceed with regard to Europe and Asia. Roosevelt however, had his own opinions and did not need to pollinate them with theirs. What he wanted most from others were good, solid suggestions for lines of action.

Officials in the government, business, academia, his own political party as well as the ever-present pestiferous critics who were hardly acquainted with the actual facts must have appeared truly counterintuitive to Roosevelt for believing that Hitler would somehow choose to work diplomatically with the US or ignore it on his path to world conquest. He appears to have concluded that given technological advances, the Atlantic could be easily overcome by the massive Nazi war machine whereas others still had not.

As an objective of Roosevelt’s Fireside Chat was not arouse fears within the country but rather put its people on an even keel in a time of trouble, he could hardly explain that the Axis Powers would not forever tolerate robust actions from the US to undermine their respective plans for conquest, even though he likely believed Hitler would strike with some bold violent move soon enough.

For the War Department, the US was the only priority. There, calculations were assuredly being done all the time in 1940, focusing particularly on depleted supplies, weapons and ammunition due to cash-and-carry, which in the department was seen as a virtually unlimited stream of military assistance flowing out of US arsenals and military production plants into the United Kingdom. Cash-and-Carry was a creative program implemented by Roosevelt. Under the program the US could sell countries such as the United Kingdom and France as long as they paid cash and carried the war materials on their own cargo ships. Roosevelt managed to persuade the US Congress to allow the US the flexibility to take such a step just before the passage of the Neutrality Act on August 15, 1935 which imposed strict limitations on US interactions with “belligerent” countries.

Imagining that military commanders and war planners in Roosevelt’s War Department had occasionally turned their focus to classified “map maneuvers and “chart maneuvers” concerning the situation in Europe from the position of the Nazi German Armed Forces, they may have judged that Nazi Germany would easily recognize the United Kingdom, the British Empire and its Commonwealth, stood in the way of their line of march. Churchill actually presented that position as a statement of fact in his June 4, 1940 speech before the House of Commons, saying: “The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war.” They may have concluded in the War Department that soon enough Hitler would want to mitigate that problem. Cutting the United Kingdom off from the US using U-Boats would very likely be Hitler’s solution.

Roosevelt was already keenly aware U-Boats could cause something close to insurmountable damage to merchant fleets operating in the Atlantic. Churchill once wrote that, “The only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril.” As Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Roosevelt observed how they successfully performed before the US entry into World War I. He would surely find that conclusion logical. Given what had been demonstrated by Hitler to that point, Roosevelt most likely presumed the dictator would eventually seize the opportunity before him. The question left was exactly how much longer Hitler would tolerate the resupply and support from the US that kept the United Kingdom in the fight. 

Undoubtedly concerned with the timing of such a possibility, Roosevelt appeared compelled to increase the tempo of action and do the most possible while conditions were moderately favorable on the Atlantic. As it so happened, by 1940, German U-Boats had already achieved considerable success in sinking merchant ships on the way to the United Kingdom. However, Nazi Germany had not vastly increased their U-Boat arsenal and formed a fleet in such a way to deliver a decisive blow. It is now known that Konteradmiral (Rear Admiral) Karl Dōnitz, who at the start of World War II, served as the Befehlshaber der Unterseeboote (Commander of the Submarines), pushed for a German fleet that consisted almost entirely of U-boats. He fully believed that depriving Germany’s enemies vital supplies such as food and oil would be more effective than sinking enemy ships with the risk of combat. He claimed that given 300 of the Type VII U-boats, he could defeat the entire Royal Navy utilizing tactics that would later be named “wolfpacks”. 

Luckily, Hitler was not so clever. He gave the jobs of both Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine (Commander-in-Chief of the Navy) and Großadmiral, Oberkommando der Marine (the Naval High Command) Erich Raeder. Raeder was uninterested in Dönitz’s theories. Raeder was a traditionalist whose focus was surface warfare. Raeder also judged that Germany could not contest the Royal Navy for control of the sea. Even more, Raeder believed submarine warfare was cowardly. By 1941, although relatively small in number, U-boats under then Vizeadmiral (Vice Admiral) Dőnitz were threatening Allied shipping as far as the US east coast. However, the U-Boats were never used at a level to knock the United Kingdom out of the war despite having the genuine capability to do so.

Sentences 42 through 71 of the Fireside Chat

“During the past week many people in all parts of the nation have told me what they wanted me to say tonight. Almost all of them expressed a courageous desire to hear the plain truth about the gravity of the situation. One telegram, however, expressed the attitude of the small minority who want to see no evil and hear no evil, even though they know in their hearts that evil exists. That telegram begged me not to tell again of the ease with which our American cities could be bombed by any hostile power which had gained bases in this Western Hemisphere. The gist of that telegram was: “Please, Mr. President, don’t frighten us by telling us the facts.”

Frankly and definitely there is danger ahead—danger against which we must prepare. But we well know that we cannot escape danger, or the fear of danger, by crawling into bed and pulling the covers over our heads.

Some nations of Europe were bound by solemn non-intervention pacts with Germany. Other nations were assured by Germany that they need never fear invasion. Non-intervention pact or not, the fact remains that they were attacked, overrun; thrown into modern slavery at an hour’s notice, or even without any notice at all. As an exiled leader of one of these nations said to me the other day—”The notice was a minus quantity. It was given to my Government two hours after German troops had poured into my country in a hundred places.”

The fate of these nations tells us what it means to live at the point of a Nazi gun.

The Nazis have justified such actions by various pious frauds. One of these frauds is the claim that they are occupying a nation for the purpose of “restoring order.” Another is that they are occupying or controlling a nation on the excuse that they are “protecting it” against the aggression of somebody else.

For example, Germany has said that she was occupying Belgium to save the Belgians from the British. Would she then hesitate to say to any South American country, “We are occupying you to protect you from aggression by the United States”?

Belgium today is being used as an invasion base against Britain, now fighting for its life. And any South American country, in Nazi hands, would always constitute a jumping-off place for German attack on any one of the other Republics of this hemisphere.

Analyze for yourselves the future of two other places even nearer to Germany if the Nazis won. Could Ireland hold out? Would Irish freedom be permitted as an amazing pet exception in an unfree world? Or the Islands of the Azores which still fly the flag of Portugal after five centuries? You and I think of Hawaii as an outpost of defense in the Pacific. And yet, the Azores are closer to our shores in the Atlantic than Hawaii is on the other side.

There are those who say that the Axis powers would never have any desire to attack the Western Hemisphere. That is the same dangerous form of wishful thinking which has destroyed the powers of resistance of so many conquered peoples. The plain facts are that the Nazis have proclaimed, time and again, that all other races are their inferiors and therefore subject to their orders. And most important of all, the vast resources and wealth of this American Hemisphere constitute the most tempting loot in all the round world.”

US M3 Grant tank being loaded onboard a cargo ship bound for a war zone overseas.

5. Sentences 72 through 108: Plans of Axis Powers to Overcome the US and Explaining Why Opponents to US Assistance Are Wrong; A Struggle for Human Liberty and Freedom Is Underway

Inferences

In Napoléon: Ses Opinions et Jugemens sur les Hommes et sur les Choses (1838) by Jean-Joseph-Stanislas-Albert Damas-Hinard, an entry under courage is Correspondance de Napoléon avec le Ministre de la Marine, Lettre du 25 Mai 1805 states: “Rien ne donne plus de courage et n’éclaircit plus les idées que de bien connaître la position de son ennemi.” (Nothing gives more courage or better clarifies ideas than knowing accurately the position of one’s enemy.) In the prewar years as well as during the war, Roosevelt seemed to have a reliable intuition which he appeared to use to its fullest. Concerning Hitler’s very likely determination to invade the US, Roosevelt did not need to read about that in an intelligence report, or rely upon his intuition. If one could forgive greatcharlie’s frankness, as Roosevelt was an experienced politician from New York State and a learned man, he understood just how monstrous and vile the thinking of individuals as Hitler could be.

Yet, Roosevelt knew the value of intelligence and surely wanted to get a leg up on the Axis Powers however he could. He wanted to know what they were doing abroad, particularly throughout the northern and southern continents, and especially in the US. Rather than wait for the veils to lift, he charged the somewhat meager intelligence resources the US had at the time to break through them.

It is uncertain whether what sufficed for foreign intelligence services for the US at that time–the Special Intelligence Service of the Federal Bureau, of Investigation (FBI), the Office of Naval Intelligence, and the Military Intelligence Division—would have been aware in 1940 of any high-tech research and development planned or underway in Germany such as long-range rocket and ballistic missile programs and jet-powered aircraft. The FBI had developed ties with the United Kingdom’s MI6 foreign intelligence service and MI5 internal security organization and learned much from them in order to work more effectively on common causes.

An Interdepartmental Information Conference in 1939 brought all elements of the burgeoning US intelligence community together for the first time, to discuss creating a structure to handle the espionage threat to the US.  Rather than fight like a sack of wildcats, new linkages were created between the FBI and the US military, and partnerships were established with foreign services such as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as well as Mexican and British intelligence officials.  The FBI’s General Intelligence Division was established to manage foreign counterintelligence and other intelligence investigations.  In 1940, US President Franklin Roosevelt signed a Presidential order allowing FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover, to begin wiretapping embassies and consulates.  Sizable failures, new initiatives, and the FBI’s education in managing the intricate details of counterespionage matters resulted in the surprise arrest of 33 German agents in 1941, effectively breaking the back of Abwehr (German military intelligence) in the US. To that extent, Roosevelt was made aware of Nazi Germany’s espionage activities in the US, and within certain parameters he could inform the US public of those efforts which were aimed at laying the groundwork for the conquest of their country.

Much as Churchill, Roosevelt seemed gripped by a strange fear about Hitler. He truly believed that it would be impossible to discuss anything with him. In Principalities and Powers: Spiritual Combat 1942-1943  (St. Augustine’s Press, 2013), reviewed in greatcharlie’s March 2, 2015 post, George Rutler explains that Roosevelt believed Hitler could very well have been the Devil Incarnate. Related to this Churchill recalled during a subsequent radio interview that before his discussion with Roosevelt began aboard the battleship HMS Prince of Wales at Placentia Bay off the coast of Newfoundland on Sunday, August 10, 1941, the two leaders attended a church service on the warship’s fantail. Churchill commented regarding the church service: “I felt that this was no vain presumption, but that we had the right to feel that we are serving a cause for the sake of which a trumpet has sounded from on high.”

Sentences 72 through 108 of the Fireside Chat

“Let us no longer blind ourselves to the undeniable fact that the evil forces which have crushed and undermined and corrupted so many others are already within our own gates. Your Government knows much about them and every day is ferreting them out.

Their secret emissaries are active in our own and in neighboring countries. They seek to stir up suspicion and dissension to cause internal strife. They try to turn capital against labor, and vice versa. They try to reawaken long slumbering racial and religious enmities which should have no place in this country. They are active in every group that promotes intolerance. They exploit for their own ends our own natural abhorrence of war. These trouble-breeders have but one purpose. It is to divide our people; to divide them into hostile groups and to destroy our unity and shatter our will to defend ourselves.

There are also American citizens, many of them in high places, who, unwittingly in most cases, are aiding and abetting the work of these agents. I do not charge these American citizens with being foreign agents. But I do charge them with doing exactly the kind of work that the dictators want done in the United States.

These people not only believe that we can save our own skins by shutting our eyes to the fate of other nations. Some of them go much further than that. They say that we can and should become the friends and even the partners of the Axis powers. Some of them even suggest that we should imitate the methods of the dictatorships. But Americans never can and never will do that.

The experience of the past two years has proven beyond doubt that no nation can appease the Nazis. No man can tame a tiger into a kitten by stroking it. There can be no appeasement with ruthlessness. There can be no reasoning with an incendiary bomb. We know now that a nation can have peace with the Nazis only at the price of total surrender.

Even the people of Italy have been forced to become accomplices of the Nazis; but at this moment they do not know how soon they will be embraced to death by their allies.

The American appeasers ignore the warning to be found in the fate of Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, and France. They tell you that the Axis powers are going to win anyway; that all of this bloodshed in the world could be saved; that the United States might just as well throw its influence into the scale of a dictated peace, and get the best out of it that we can.

They call it a “negotiated peace.” Nonsense! Is it a negotiated peace if a gang of outlaws surrounds your community and on threat of extermination makes you pay tribute to save your own skins?

Such a dictated peace would be no peace at all. It would be only another armistice, leading to the most gigantic armament race and the most devastating trade wars in all history. And in these contests the Americas would offer the only real resistance to the Axis powers.

With all their vaunted efficiency, with all their parade of pious purpose in this war, there are still in their background the concentration camp and the servants of God in chains.

The history of recent years proves that the shootings and the chains and the concentration camps are not simply the transient tools but the very altars of modern dictatorships. They may talk of a “new order” in the world, but what they have in mind is only a revival of the oldest and the worst tyranny. In that there is no liberty, no religion, no hope.

The proposed “new order” is the very opposite of a United States of Europe or a United States of Asia. It is not a Government based upon the consent of the governed. It is not a union of ordinary, self-respecting men and women to protect themselves and their freedom and their dignity from oppression. It is an unholy alliance of power and pelf to dominate and enslave the human race.”

Attendees of the August 22, 1940 Destroyer Conference at the White House. From left to right, US Attorney General Robert Jackson, US Secretary of War Henry Stimson, Acting US Secretary of State Sumner Welles and US Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox.

6. Sentences 109 through 123: The US Must Act; What the Failure to Support the United Kingdom Would Mean; Time Is of the Essence

Inferences

Given his objective of doing the most possible while conditions were moderately favorable on the Atlantic, Roosevelt likely reached the logical conclusion that many weapons still sitting in US arsenals, beyond what had already been sent abroad, would be put to far better use in the hands of the combat experienced fighting forces of countries already engaged in the struggle with the Axis Powers. He may have assessed that any additional weapons supplied to the United Kingdom and France while it was still in the fight, would have, what would decades later be dubbed, a “multiplier effect” on both the morale, capabilities, and possibilities of those forces. He clearly wanted the United Kingdom to have every chance of success.

In implementing his policy of assisting the United Kingdom with as much as the US could within safe parameters, Roosevelt had to cope with incessant virtual debates–virtual, as there was no room for a debating directly with the president on foreign and national security policy that he set in place and wanted action on–with top military officers and top bureaucrats in the War Department who believed they were presenting what could be characterized as “America First” arguments.

The US Armed Forces opposed the diversion of its military supplies to the United Kingdom. At the nub of that position was the pessimistic belief of the Chief of Staff of the US Army General George Marshall that the United Kingdom would not be able to fend off Nazi Germany. (That assessment was frightfully off the mark.) As was the case when France fell, Marshall anticipated that when the United Kingdom surrendered, all of the US war materials that were being rushed there would fall into Nazi German hands. Marshall and others argued that the US national defense would not be served by clearing out its arsenals for others’ lost causes, but rather by retaining military supplies for the protection of the Western Hemisphere.

Yet as alluded to earlier, Roosevelt understood that moment, such thinking was too pessimistic, very limited, even defeatist. It has often been the case that only after a crisis has crossed its tipping point that the great value of a creative approach is recognized. However, in this case, if Roosevelt had waited for anyone to have some epiphany, the chance to have a positive impact would likely have been lost forever. If the US failed to try all options with real potential still available, it would tragically have little say in the final outcome which likely would have been dark. To that extent, Roosevelt, the Commander-in-Chief of the US Armed Forces, insisted top military and naval officers and senior bureaucrats in the War Department fix themselves to the task of finding ways to immediately implement his plans, rather than wait to simply hope they would see things his way.

While administering the Navy and working somewhat closely with the Army as Assistant Secretary of Navy during World War I, Roosevelt may have detected a parochialism among senior military and naval officers that colored thinking in planning. He may have also detected that among top commanders and planners, there was a certain piquancy in knowing all the right boxes were ticked and everything that was planned was accepted as being done in the correct way. Roosevelt understood what a liability such thinking would be in the country’s circumstances in 1940. For Roosevelt, the usual practices and perfunctory work had no place.

As noted earlier, Roosevelt would not respond to his advisers in toxic, hostile ways. He remained well-beyond that. Still, at times, senior leaders in the War Department, appearing uncertain, even distrustful of Roosevelt’s thinking, in their own way put extra pressure on him. If he reacted at all, his words would be more sardonic than cutting. In an intriguing December 29, 2015 article in Politico written on the 75th Anniversary of the Fireside Chat discussed here, historian Josh Zeitz wrote, unfortunately without citations, that Roosevelt would often brace and threaten to expel those who were hesitant to comply with his orders. This behavior was most apparent when on June 1, 1940, weeks before France fell to Nazi Germany, Roosevelt unilaterally declared enormous caches of military equipment “surplus” and ordered that they be shipped immediately to the United Kingdom. When the US Secretary of War Harry Woodring, an ardent isolationist, fired off a strong memo to the President voicing concern about the legality of the order, Roosevelt ordered him to comply or resign. (Roosevelt eventually had to demand his resignation when refused to release B-17 “Flying Fortresses” to the United Kingdom. He replaced him with a Republican from the administration of US President Howard Taft, Henry Stimson.) General Henry Arnold, Chief of the US Army Air Corps repeatedly expressed concerns that the order would have a deleterious effect upon the country’s readiness for war, Roosevelt reportedly told an aide: “If Arnold won’t comply, maybe we’ll have to move him out of town.” When the US Navy’s Judge Advocate General balked at sanctioning the transfer, Roosevelt instructed the US Secretary of the Navy, Charles Edison, to send the “sea lawyer” on a protracted vacation. Zeitz explains Edison refused, to which Roosevelt replied: “Forget it and do what I told you to do.”

A national leader must have a well-considered idea of what the objectives of a country’s military action will be and how that action should be prosecuted. Those choices are political, established in the country’s foreign and national security policy long before any choices are made, but often in history the need to fight has been existential. Top military commanders must remain obedient to the concept and intent expressed by the national leader. To that extent, war becomes a continuation of politics with other means much as the 19th military theorist, Prussian General Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz, suggested in his renowned book Vom Kriege (On War) published posthumously in 1832: “Der Krieg ist eine bloße Fortsetzung der Politik mit anderen Mitteln.”

As a highly developed individual, Roosevelt seemingly was able to keep perspective on almost everything. He did not appear to truly despair or fault those in the foreign and national security bureaucracies for furnishing patent answers they were long trained to provide and patriotically as well as emotionally compelled to make. Yet, he was also likely aware, well-ahead of most, that the circumstances of war with the Axis Powers would demand that many unlearn lessons from the past and open their minds up to new thinking on a global scale, transcending anything they might have considered or dared to imagine before. Nothing said ever caused Roosevelt to halt or even slow down the export of US military resources. In truth, more often, Roosevelt would receive answers and rapid responses from advisers much as he desired.

When Churchill asked Roosevelt for the loan of “forty or fifty of your older destroyers,” and warned that without them the United Kingdom would be unable to fight the “Battle of the Atlantic” against Nazi Germany and Italy, what followed was three-and-a-half months of negotiations. There were significant issues to sort out. Roosevelt’s first response disappointed Churchill. Roosevelt truthfully responded, “a step of that kind could not be taken except with the specific authorization of Congress and I am not certain that it would be wise for that suggestion to be made to the Congress at this moment.” Still, Churchill continued to do his part with regard to holding the line. On July 3, 1940, the Royal Navy was dispatched to bomb the French Navy at its base in northwestern Algeria with the purpose of at best destroying or at least disabling the French fleet to prevent it from being used by Nazi Germany. If the United Kingdom had even largely fallen to Nazi Germany, the naval assets of the French fleet, aggregated with Germany’s Kriegsmarine and the Italian Regia Marina (Royal Navy), the US would be left to fight an enormous armada of naval and air power. By August, talks between the US and the United Kingdom shifted from a loan or sale of the surplus destroyers to an exchange of the surplus destroyers for bases on British Territories in the North Atlantic and the Caribbean. Though he was reportedly not open to thoughts from some advisers on what should be accomplished, he was presumably open to thoughts on the best way to accomplish the “Destroyer-Bases Exchange.”

First, Roosevelt met with US Attorney General Robert Jackson to discuss the legal situation regarding his authority to provide surplus US Navy destroyers on that basis with the United Kingdom without further authorization from Congress. 

Second, on August 13, 1940, US Secretary of State Henry Stimson, US Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, US Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles and US Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, met with Roosevelt to outline the essential points of an agreement. Third, on August 15, 1940, Jackson advised Roosevelt that the Department of Justice definitely believed he did have authority to act without the consent of Congress as the destroyers to be transferred fell in the classification of obsolescent materials. All he needed was certification from naval and military authorities that the warships were not needful for the defense of the US. On September 2, 1940, President Roosevelt signed the Destroyers for Bases Agreement.

Sentences 109 through 123 of the Fireside Chat 

“The British people and their allies today are conducting an active war against this unholy alliance. Our own future security is greatly dependent on the outcome of that fight. Our ability to “keep out of war” is going to be affected by that outcome.

Thinking in terms of today and tomorrow, I make the direct statement to the American people that there is far less chance of the United States getting into war, if we do all we can now to support the nations defending themselves against attack by the Axis than if we acquiesce in their defeat, submit tamely to an Axis victory, and wait our turn to be the object of attack in another war later on.

If we are to be completely honest with ourselves, we must admit that there is risk in any course we may take. But I deeply believe that the great majority of our people agree that the course that I advocate involves the least risk now and the greatest hope for world peace in the future.

The people of Europe who are defending themselves do not ask us to do their fighting. They ask us for the implements of war, the planes, the tanks, the guns, the freighters which will enable them to fight for their liberty and for our security. Emphatically we must get these weapons to them; get them to them in sufficient volume and quickly enough, so that we and our children will be saved the agony and suffering of war which others have had to endure.

Let not the defeatists tell us that it is too late. It will never be earlier. Tomorrow will be later than today. Certain facts are self-evident.

In a military sense Great Britain and the British Empire are today the spearhead of resistance to world conquest. And they are putting up a fight which will live forever in the story of human gallantry.”

Chief of Staff of the US Army General George Catlett Marshall (seated center) with members of his general staff in November 1941.

7. Sentences 124 through 130: A No US Boots on the Ground Pledge; Addressing Naysayers; Integrating the War Needs of US and the United Kingdom

Inferences

In July 1940, the Democratic Party nominated Roosevelt for an unprecedented third term in office. His opponent, Republican nominee Wendell Willkie, agreed with Roosevelt that the US should lend active assistance to the United Kingdom. Yet, as the election drew closer, Willkie began to give speeches warning that a vote for Roosevelt was a vote for entering the war. As polls narrowed, Roosevelt sought to assure voters, stating: “We will not participate in foreign wars and we will not send our army, naval or air forces to fight in foreign lands outside of the Americas except in case of attack.” Ultimately, Roosevelt won reelection, and with that behind him, he perhaps believed he had more flexibility to make more decisive moves to support countries fighting the Axis Powers and prepare the US for war

On September 16, 1940. the US Congress approved the Selective Service and Training Act. The majority of Members of Congress, despite resistance from isolationists in the body, could see the writing on the wall with regard to the Axis Powers and war. The act, which instituted the first peacetime military draft in US history, required men between the ages of 21 and 36 to register for the draft. The number of selected draftees was capped at 900,000 men, who would be enlisted for one year of training and service, and could only serve in the Western Hemisphere or in US territories. Though there were anti-draft protests on college campuses nationwide, in December 1940, 78% of US citizens polled favored the military draft. Once the Selective Service and Training Act went into effect, the requirements for more weapons and supplies in the US would sharply increase. With conscripts starting to arrive for training in the armed forces, the War Department became concerned that those conscripts would be fully equipped. 

While the situation in Europe worsened, Marshall would repeatedly convey the concerns of the uniformed services in the War Department over his foreign military assistance efforts in his meetings with Roosevelt. Surely, Marshall may have felt he was doing his job with fidelity, speaking truth to power. He, too, was part of the aforementioned “cabal” that questioned the legality and Roosevelt’s decision to declare swathes of war materials surplus and ship them off post haste to the United Kingdom. Expressing caution based on the best ways one knows how to handle a situation was logical, and somewhat understandable. The War Department did have war plans that were dependent on those military resources. Marshall’s intent was to stockpile resources for a coming fight. This certainly would have been the position of top military leaders generally as it is what they had been trained to do. Moreover, it would become nearly impossible to make adjustments and firm up war plans and strategies without knowing what would be available, or better, what would be left, after weapons, surplus and new, from US arsenals were shipped around the world.

Marshall’s reaction to the near non-stop movement of such high levels of military resources to the United Kingdom might have been expected by Roosevelt. According to an anecdote drawn from Forrest Pogue’s George C. Marshall, Vol. 2: Ordeal and Hope, 1939-1942 (Viking, 1966), in the fall of 1938, when the threat of war loomed in Europe, Roosevelt called a White House meeting with key members of his administration in order to discuss his proposed defense plan, which primarily consisted of a rapid and dramatic expansion of US airpower. Marshall had been the Deputy Chief of Staff of the US Army for less than one month. As a new brigadier–one-star–general, he was one of the lowest ranking attendees of the meeting. During the course of the discussion, Roosevelt asked each attendee if they agreed with his proposal. All voiced agreement except Marshall who tactfully disagreed with Roosevelt’s concept. The other attendees noted that Marshall’s disagreement visibly startled Roosevelt. After the meeting adjourned, many of those present made it clear that they believed Marshall had effectively ended his career. Five months later, in a move that stunned most of Washington, Roosevelt asked Marshall to serve as the next Chief of Staff of the US Army. 

In another instance, during a meeting at the White House with Roosevelt, Marshall presented a chart that reflected the arrangement for dividing planes coming off the assembly line, particularly the US Army’s prized B-17 “Flying Fortress”, mentioned earlier, with the United Kingdom, particularly exhibiting the wide difference between orders and deliveries. Marshall reportedly asked pointedly whether the United Kingdom’s consignment should be computed as half of the planes scheduled for delivery or as half of those actually delivered. Roosevelt’s response to Marshall allegedly was: “Don’t let me see that chart again.” As the leader of the US Army, certainly, Marshall was aware of the indications and implications of that statement for him personally.

Perhaps it is bitter this but Roosevelt likely understood Marshall could hardly provide him with a forecast of what the situation would be in another year that would hold any degree of certitude. In other words, Marshall could not be certain how the world for which his planners had organized military strategic objectives, military plans, and military resources would Iook in a year. Roosevelt knew that the time to act was now. In a calibrated way, he could supply the United Kingdom and many others who were fighting the Axis Powers what they needed when they needed it the most. The US would be the one through such efforts to aggregate all of the power available for the fight immediately.

It is possible that in Roosevelt’s eyes, perhaps even for fleeting moments, he might have been irked. Roosevelt, after all, was only human.. In those imagined moments, he might have felt the attitudes and behaviors  that Marshall and other senior officials in the War Department as well as other foreign and national security bureaucracies was more akin to the type of rural or urban shopkeeper who was more focused with the fullness of the stockroom, orderly shelves, and keeping his or her portion of the sidewalk swept than selling inventory, making profits, and best serving his or her community: the recipe for ruin.

When Marshall argued against efforts to elevate the United Kingdom’s military capabilities at the expense of those of the US, perhaps he may have actually managed to create some degree of doubt, no matter how small, that the general was not the best strategic thinker and would not, as Chief of Staff of the US Army, be able to make the whole challenging and unfortunate trek he saw the country on. The general’s attempts to tactfully lobby Roosevelt perhaps would lead many today to think that every so often an afflatus would strike him. To be more frank, Marshall acted as if he viewed his president’s choices as something closer to whims than thoughtful, strategically sound decisions. Roosevelt may have held in mind, perhaps even had nightmares over the fact, that Marshall’s line of thinking somewhat resembled that of the Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force in France, British Army General Lord Gort. He used his troops to construct the “Gort Line,” a 45 mile defensive line comprised of bunkers, pillboxes, and anti-tank traps along the France-Belgium border rather than build up mobility assets, firepower, and air power, and train his commanders and their units to integrate combined arms warfare with air power, and to use deception, speed, maneuver, and concentrate power. That approach, seemingly not too advanced for 1940, would have been more compatible with the British Army’s offensively-minded Dyle Plan, established as a response to a possible Nazi German invasion. When the invasion of France began in the Spring of 1940, Gort was unable to act decisively. While Churchill praised Gort in his June 4, 1940 speech before the House of Commons, his remarks about the disaster in France seemed to reveal that he felt Gort’s handling of the British Expeditionary Force may have hurt its chances of achieving greater success. 

Still, Roosevelt seemed to retain enough confidence and faith in Marshall and may have believed the general would come around to looking at things with a broader view that would parallel his own. To the extent that is accurate, it would mean Marshall was an exception. Roosevelt sympathies were always with members of the armed forces knowing how indispensable and difficult their work so often was yet very distant in the thoughts of most of those they defended. Marshall would serve as Chief of Staff of the US Army throughout World War II. Gloriosum est iniurias oblivisci. (It is glorious to forget the injustice.)

Sentences 124 through 130 of the Fireside Chat 

“There is no demand for sending an American Expeditionary Force outside our own borders. There is no intention by any member of your Government to send such a force. You can, therefore, nail, nail any talk about sending armies to Europe as deliberate untruth.

Our national policy is not directed toward war. Its sole purpose is to keep war away from our country and away from our people. Democracy’s fight against world conquest is being greatly aided, and must be more greatly aided, by the rearmament of the United States and by sending every ounce and every ton of munitions and supplies that we can possibly spare to help the defenders who are in the front lines. And it is no more unneutral for us to do that than it is for Sweden, Russia and other nations near Germany, to send steel and ore and oil and other war materials into Germany every day in the week.”

US Navy and Royal Navy sailors inspect depth charges aboard Wickes-class destroyers in 1940. In the background are USS Buchanan (DD-131) and USS Crownshield (DD-134). Both surplus warships were transferred to the Royal Navy on September 9, 1940.

8. Sentences 131 through 144: Replenishing US Arsenals; Building Greater Weapons for Defense; Taking Workers into Consideration; Expectations of Industry Leaders

Inferences

Looking back, one might suggest that rather than burden the president with his concern over stockpiles, Marshall should have developed for Roosevelt plans that would allow for the replenishment of what was old with new weapon systems with the latest capabilities and identified how that replenishment could have been performed rapidly with the existing US industrial base and a recommended expanded one.

When Roosevelt spoke of counsel from the military experts, he concealed the fact that he, himself, was such an expert. Roosevelt had acquired considerable experience maintaining the readiness of the US Armed Forces and preparing them for war long before becoming US President.

As only touched upon earlier, on March 12, 1913, Roosevelt, then a two-term state New York State Senator at age 31, received the nomination to become the US Assistant Secretary of the Navy in the administration of US President Woodrow Wilson. Confirmed unanimously by the US Senate, Roosevelt was the youngest Assistant Secretary of the Navy until that date. US President Theodore Roosevelt, his fifth cousin, had held the same post. It was more than fate that caused another Roosevelt to be selected for the same position. Roosevelt’s superior, US Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels focused on policy and Congressional matters, leaving him to handle personnel matters, operations, and contracting. Although new to naval affairs, Reportedly, Roosevelt had the energy Daniels required to get things done. Fortuitously for Roosevelt, Daniels was willing to serve as a mentor, which allowed him to learn valuable lessons in politics that would be useful to him for years to come.

Even before World War I began, Roosevelt worked to prepare the US Navy for his country’s entry into it. Then, much as in his future, many in government lacked his perspective. Some officials even dismissed the idea that the US would enter the war. Wilson’s doctrine of neutrality would actually thwart many of Roosevelt’s efforts to ready the Navy. Nevertheless, observing events in Europe Roosevelt kept pushing for the Navy’s preparation. Lessons learned on navigating through the administration, particularly with Daniels and Wilson, enabled him to eventually create some movement in the right direction. In late 1915, the US invested in a $600 million program to upgrade and expand the Navy. In the meantime, German U-boats began sinking hundreds of Allied ships. When they began unrestricted warfare on the oceans, Wilson went to Congress for a declaration of war. Congress obliged on April 6, 1917. In the meantime, during the war, Roosevelt placed great focus on mitigating the U-boat threat. He advocated for a plan to lay vast anti-submarine minefields in the North Sea. The mine project was an early sign of Roosevelt’s appreciation for creative solutions. Reportedly, by February 1918, 100,000 mines were prepared for deployment, but the war ended before the system could be fully tested, but the minefield is believed to have destroyed at least four U-boats

It was surely Roosevelt’s unequivocal concept and intent in 1940 to ensure commanders and planners in the US armed forces had as many advantages as possible and enhance the chance for victory, he wanted them to have a preponderance of weapons. It was a mistake for others to think anything otherwise. The war’s outcome bears that out. With an unrivaled wealth of newly minted military resources, their capabilities would be considerable and the possibilities for action would become nearly unlimited. How well US commanders and planners would use them remained to be seen.

Sentences 131 through 144 of the Fireside Chat

“We are planning our own defense with the utmost urgency; and in its vast scale we must integrate the war needs of Britain and the other free nations which are resisting aggression.

This is not a matter of sentiment or of controversial personal opinion. It is a matter of realistic, practical military policy, based on the advice of our military experts who are in close touch with existing warfare. These military and naval experts and the members of the Congress and the Administration have a single-minded purpose—the defense of the United States.

This nation is making a great effort to produce everything that is necessary in this emergency—and with all possible speed. And, this great effort requires great sacrifice.

I would ask no one to defend a democracy which in turn would not defend everyone in the nation against want and privation. The strength of this nation shall not be diluted by the failure of the Government to protect the economic well-being of its citizens.

If our capacity to produce is limited by machines, it must ever be remembered that these machines are operated by the skill and the stamina of the workers. As the Government is determined to protect the rights of the workers, so the nation has a right to expect that the men who man the machines will discharge their full responsibilities to the urgent needs of defense.

The worker possesses the same human dignity and is entitled to the same security of position as the engineer or the manager or the owner. For the workers provide the human power that turns out the destroyers, and the planes and the tanks.

The nation expects our defense industries to continue operation without interruption by strikes or lock-outs. It expects and insists that management and workers will reconcile their differences by voluntary or legal means, to continue to produce the supplies that are so sorely needed.”

9. Sentences 145 through 168: Refitting Manufacturing To Meet Growing Needs Now and Imagining the Future

Inferences

Roosevelt’s interest and emphasis on workers was well-established when he implemented the New Deal. In his addresses and public and private writings, he expressed a fondness for workers in his tone. He surely was glad his efforts had many back on their feet, but likely ambivalent over the fact that a further increase in employment would be the result of preparations for war. Roosevelt’s discussion of workers here, however, may have also been a manifestation of a concern over having sufficient manpower in the armed forces while also having enough manpower available for greatly increased industrial base. Meeting manpower requirements, based on War Department plans led to the aforementioned Selective Service and Training Act.

Considerations along those lines would likely require examining the degree to which isolationist zeal would cause many able workers to refrain from working in war plants. A sort of counterbalance might be the reality that hypothetical war plant jobs would draw those more concerned about steady work and providing for their families and themselves. Perchance when Roosevelt, not having foreknowledge of Pearl Harbor and its impact on the US psyche, contemplated the possibility of being forced by circumstance to declare war on Nazi Germany or Japan, he may have felt unsure of the public response to some degree. With some many US soldiers dying in 1918 alone and the deaths of troops due to influenza–Roosevelt, himself, caught influenza while returning to the US after a visit to the front lines–it is unclear how many able men would be willing to subject themselves possibly to the same for the sake of the Europeans or the Asians.

Surely Roosevelt wanted to duplicate, at a far greater capacity, the military production underway with urgency in the United Kingdom as Churchill described in his June 4, 1940 speech in the House of Commons. Churchill indicated that in such an emergency, industry and labor can find common ground. Churchill explained: “An effort the like of which has never been seen in our records is now being made. Work is proceeding everywhere, night and day, Sundays and week days. Capital and Labor have cast aside their interests, rights, and customs and put them into the common stock.” To that extent Roosevelt would mention that there was cooperation between the government, industry, and labor. He extolled industry and labor for their dedication to the effort to build up the “Arsenal of Democracy.” However, it was hardly close to the levels he understood would be needed to defeat the Axis Powers.

Sentences 145 through 168 of the Fireside Chat

“And on the economic side of our great defense program, we are, as you know, bending every effort to maintain stability of prices and with that the stability of the cost of living.

Nine days ago I announced the setting up of a more effective organization to direct our gigantic efforts to increase the production of munitions. The appropriation of vast sums of money and a well coordinated executive direction of our defense efforts are not in themselves enough. Guns, planes, ships and many other things have to be built in the factories and the arsenals of America. They have to be produced by workers and managers and engineers with the aid of machines which in turn have to be built by hundreds of thousands of workers throughout the land.

In this great work there has been splendid cooperation between the Government and industry and labor; and I am very thankful.

American industrial genius, unmatched throughout all the world in the solution of production problems, has been called upon to bring its resources and its talents into action. Manufacturers of watches, of farm implements, of linotypes and cash registers, of automobiles and sewing machines and lawn mowers and locomotives are now making fuses, and bomb packing crates, and telescope mounts, and shells, and pistols and tanks.

But all our present efforts are not enough. We must have more ships, more guns, more planes—more of everything. And this can be accomplished only if we discard the notion of “business as usual.” This job cannot be done merely by superimposing on the existing productive facilities the added requirements of the nation for defense.

Our defense efforts must not be blocked by those who fear the future consequences of surplus plant capacity. The possible consequences of failure of our defense efforts now are much more to be feared.

And after the present needs of our defenses are past, a proper handling of the country’s peace-time needs will require all of the new productive capacity—if not still more.

No pessimistic policy about the future of America shall delay the immediate expansion of those industries essential to defense. We need them.

I want to make it clear that it is the purpose of the nation to build now with all possible speed every machine, every arsenal, every factory that we need to manufacture our defense material. We have the men- the skill- the wealth- and above all, the will.

I am confident that if and when production of consumer or luxury goods in certain industries requires the use of machines and raw materials that are essential for defense purposes, then such production must yield, and will gladly yield, to our primary and compelling purpose.

So, I appeal to the owners of plants—to the managers—to the workers—to our own Government employees—to put every ounce of effort into producing these munitions swiftly and without stint. With this appeal I give you the pledge that all of us who are officers of your Government will devote ourselves to the same whole-hearted extent to the great task that lies ahead.

As planes and ships and guns and shells are produced, your Government, with its defense experts, can then determine how best to use them to defend this hemisphere. The decision as to how much shall be sent abroad and how much shall remain at home must be made on the basis of our over-all military necessities.”

10. Sentences 169 through 187: The Government Has the Matter Covered; It Is Taking Steps; and More Will Be Done

Inferences

Roosevelt committed the US in June 1940 to assisting belligerents in the fight against the Axis Powers with war material, he did so with the insistence, as required under US law, that recipients pay for purchases with cash. As aforementioned, in the summer of 1940, Churchill warned that his country would not be unable to continue paying cash for purchases. By December 1940, the worst had come to pass, and Churchill informed Roosevelt that the United Kingdom was no longer able to pay it for military supplies. Apparently prepared for such news, Roosevelt had ready a proposal for a new initiative that would be known as Lend-Lease. Under it, the US would provide or “lend” the United Kingdom with the war materials and other supplies it needed to fight Nazi Germany, and payments would be deferred. When payments were eventually made, the emphasis would not be on payment in dollars. Payments would primarily take the form of a “consideration” granted by the United Kingdom to the US.

Roosevelt reportedly garnered support for the lend-lease concept through use of the analogy of lending a neighbor your garden hose if his house was on fire and thereby keeping the fire from spreading to your own house. At a press conference held at the White House on December 17, 1940, at which he announced Lend-Lease, Roosevelt explained: “Suppose my neighbor’s home catches fire, and I have a length of garden hose four or five hundred feet away. If he can take my garden hose and connect it up with his hydrant, I may help him to put out his fire . . . I don’t say to him before that operation, ‘Neighbor, my garden hose cost me $15; you have to pay me $15 for it’ . . . I don’t want $15–I want my garden hose back after the fire is over. . . .”

On January 10, 1941, Roosevelt would introduce the lend-lease program to Congress. It would formally allow the US, via Congressional approval, to lend or lease war supplies to any nation deemed “vital to the defense” while keeping the country only indirectly involved in World War II. The Lend-Lease Act was passed on March 11, 1941. Roosevelt had more than sufficiently proved the concept and value of such an approach throughout 1940.

Sentences 169 through 187 of the Fireside Chat

“We must be the great arsenal of democracy. For us this is an emergency as serious as war itself. We must apply ourselves to our task with the same resolution, the same sense of urgency, the same spirit of patriotism and sacrifice as we would show were we at war.

We have furnished the British great material support and we will furnish far more in the future.

There will be no “bottlenecks” in our determination to aid Great Britain. No dictator, no combination of dictators, will weaken that determination by threats of how they will construe that determination.

The British have received invaluable military support from the heroic Greek army, and from the forces of all the governments in exile. Their strength is growing. It is the strength of men and women who value their freedom more highly than they value their lives.

I believe that the Axis powers are not going to win this war. I base that belief on the latest and best of information.

We have no excuse for defeatism. We have every good reason for hope—hope for peace, yes, and hope for the defense of our civilization and for the building of a better civilization in the future.

I have the profound conviction that the American people are now determined to put forth a mightier effort than they have ever yet made to increase our production of all the implements of defense, to meet the threat to our democratic faith.

As President of the United States I call for that national effort. I call for it in the name of this nation which we love and honor and which we are privileged and proud to serve. I call upon our people with absolute confidence that our common cause will greatly succeed.”

Roosevelt and Churchill meet face-to-face for the first time for a secret meeting aboard the battleship USS Augusta at Placentia Bay off the coast of Newfoundland August 9, 1941.

A Job Well Done

In 1940, Roosevelt and Churchill, although not having as yet met in-person, forged a personal bond, an entente cordiale, and more importantly, a bond between their countries that would further develop through the challenges of World War II into what would be called the special relationship. Such a union would have been deemed improbable 154 years before when the Founding Fathers of the US declared their country’s independence from the “United Kingdom of Great Britain”. While all things related to monarchy were surely anathema to Roosevelt given his firm adherence to the precepts of democracy and the US Constitution, yet it would seem the lyrics of George Frederick Handel’s coronation anthem “Let Thy Hand Be Strengthened” (1727) might have been quite an apropos felicitation for him as he led the US, the United Kingdom, and world forward against tyranny: “Let thy hand be strengthened and thy right hand be exalted. / Let justice and judgment be the preparation of thy seat! / Let mercy and truth go before thy face. / Let justice, judgment, mercy and truth go before thy face. / Allelujah.”

Roosevelt was a genius for his practicability, a talented leader superbly harnessed, and self-controlled. Still, taking all aspects of the crisis in daily, as he did, he must have occasionally felt a sense of vulnerability. Even if such intrusive thoughts were infrequent, they would likely have had some degree of influence on his work and his spirit. Alone in his thoughts, Roosevelt apparently was left to dig down deep and draw strength from within. He imparted that strength to the audience of his address in the US.

Roosevelt had an almost mystical, crystal clear perspective of what was happening in the world and what to do despite the atypical and overly generous appearance of his action. Too many advisors did not and seemingly could not gain that same perspective, and placed additional pressures on a President who had already been strained beyond the capacity of most around him. Fulfilling the work that he swore to do during two inaugurations, Roosevelt was faithfully executing the Office of President of the US, and will to the best of his ability, acting with the goal of preserving, protecting, and defending the Constitution of the US in the face of threat from the Axis Powers. The even harder work of leading a country engaged in what would be an horrendous and very costly war worldwide had yet to begin.

Roosevelt died during his fourth term in office on April 12,1945 and thereby did not see the results of his incredible efforts. The most important result was the unconditional surrender of the Axis Powers and total victory that back in 1940 Roosevelt said would come if war came. The Roman historian Titus Livius (59 B.C.-A.D. 17), known as Livy, provided in Greek, a history of Rome that begins with the earliest legends of Rome before the traditional founding in 753 B.C. through the reign of Emperor Caesar Augustus during his own lifetime. In the Preface of Book I of that history Ad Urbe Condita (From the Founding of the City) (c. 28 B.C.), Livy states about the study of history: “Hoc illud est praecipue in cognitione rerum salubre ac frugiferum, omnis te exempli documenta in inlustri posita monumento intueri; inde tibi tuaeque rei publicae quod imitere capias, inde foedum inceptu, foedum exitu, quod vites.” (What chiefly makes the study of history wholesome and profitable is this, that you behold the lessons of every kind of experience set forth as on a conspicuous monument; from these you may choose for yourself and for your own state what to imitate, from these mark for avoidance what is shameful in the conception and shameful in the result.)

Ruminations on the Russian Federation’s Failure To Close the Door in Western Ukraine to Foreign Military Assistance as Part of Its Invasion Plan

US airmen and marines (above) load M777 artillery pieces marked for delivery to the Ukrainian Armed Forces on an US Air Force transport plane. Many weapon systems sent into Ukraine have had a multiplier effect on the battlefield. Firepower in the form of multiple launch rocket systems, self-propelled artillery, and heavy caliber guns, transported possibly along the now heavily traveled supply lines from both Poland and Romania enabled the Ukrainian Armed Forces to launch two highly-successful counteroffensives. Presented here are some ruminations on Russia’s failure to initially shut the door to the massive levels of military assistance to the Ukrainian Armed Forces from the US, other NATO Member States and the EU via Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania. Emphasis is placed on the likely reasons why Russia went into Ukraine militarily without addressing the potential impact of Western resupply of Ukrainian forces. To that extent, issues considered include: whether the Russian Federation General Staff was responsible for this considerable delinquency or was the Kremlin near criminally remiss for not heeding likely recommendations of the military chiefs and their war planners.

Intriguingly, Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin launched the Ukraine War lacking a strategy that took into consideration of what Vooruzhonnije Síly Rossíyskoj Federátsii (the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, hereinafter referred to as the Russian Federation Armed Forces) would come up against. What was seemingly completely missed or misunderstood was the degree of support from the US and NATO Member States that Kyiv would receive. No effort, that was apparent, was made to obviate the ability of the US and its NATO allies to supply Ukraine at will as part of the military strategy. From the start, conquering Kyiv was the focus as if Putin, his foreign and national security policy team at the Kremlin, and his senior commanders in the Russian Federation Armed Forces. Perhaps, for Putin, the conquest of Ukraine was a dream on which he could feast his imagination. That was at least until the matter was reduced to reality. If one might think of Putin at all as a rational actor, it would seem Putin has painted himself into a corner. That is quite unlike Putin. Some might say that after all the years of accomplishments and successes, and all the experience, he was bound to make one big mistake. It is a real head rubber.

Presented here are some ruminations on Russia’s failure to initially shut the door to the massive levels of military assistance to the Ukrainian Armed Forces from the US, other NATO Member States and the EU via Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania. Emphasis is placed on the likely reasons why Russia went into Ukraine militarily without addressing the potential impact of Western resupply of Ukrainian forces. To that extent, issues considered include: whether the Russian Federation General Staff was responsible for this considerable delinquency or was the Kremlin near criminally remiss for not heeding the recommendations of the military chiefs and their war planners; whether the door was left wide open between Poland Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania with Ukraine because they were hamstrung by Putin’s concept that a successful “lighting strike in Ukraine” could be achieved even though the idea was apparently developed in the abstract; and, whether they had little choice but to acquiesce to the manifestations of Putin’s sense of vulnerability over Ukraine’s close ties to the US, the EU, and NATO. Unless one was actually behind closed doors of conference rooms in the Kremlin and the national security bureaucracies in Moscow, or “reading someone’s mail,” one cannot know for certain how the decision concerning resupply from western Ukraine was made or maybe not made. The best informed guess would inevitably be an interpretation. While “ruminating”, greatcharlie sought to stay grounded within the realm of what would actually be possible in Putin’s regime given what is known about it. Insights offered here are occasionally supported with historical examples of timeless relevance that immediately came to mind or actually helped to generate ruminations. Causa latet, vis est notification. (The cause is hidden, the result is obvious.)

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff US Army General Colin Powell (above) at press conference at the Pentagon on January 23, 1991. When a military campaign is launched, often an objective becomes separating an opposing army from what gives it support and what allows it to continue to generate combat power. Acting in this manner against an opponent is referred to as acting decisively. During the Persian Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm, the concept of separating Iraqi forces in Kuwait from resupply as well as command and control from the Iraqi military and political leadership was expressed without ambiguity by then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff US Army General Colin Powell during a press conference at the Pentagon on January 23, 1991. He famously stated: “Our strategy to go after this army is very, very simple. First, we’re going to cut it off, and then we’re going to kill it.”

Why Is Resupply an Issue?

When sent to war, the purpose of an army is to use its trained troops to deliver calculated lethal violence in protection of their country and its values wherever they are ordered to go. Not to be forgotten, is the necessity that the army’s troops place their very lives on the line in that pursuit. Equally important to note, not all countries have the same values. The values of the Russian Federation, particularly those that compelled the invasion of Ukraine, are quite different, for example, from those of the United Kingdom, France, or Germany. As professionals, army commanders act to the best of their knowledge and experience, use their troop in accordance with their army’s doctrine and in obedience to the concept and intent laid out by the army’s senior leadership. When it is the case, the army leadership acts in fol)owing with the concept and intent of their country’s political leadership. Such was the case when the Russian Federation Armed Forces were directed by Putin and ordered by the Russian Federation General Staff to invade Ukraine.

Today, armies can deploy with a considerable amount of supplies, but supplies begin to deplete as soon as the fight is underway. Nevertheless, to keep the army going, long before it becomes engaged, considerations and arrangements are made by planners and logistical (supply) officers to transport supplies wherever they are needed. Losing the ability to be resupplied means an army can fight only until the point when it metaphorically and literally, as one element of resupply, runs out of gas. To that extent, the most extreme of human endeavors becomes an even greater challenge for troops in that army. Whether resupply is possible can more often mean the difference between victory and defeat. 

To be a useful, effective fighting force on the battlefield, critical items such as bullets, grenades, rifles, other small arms, Kevlar vests, phones, petroleum, oil lubricants, and all and elements as replacement troops, and troop medical evacuation must get up to where the fight is. As shortages become problematic, commanders must begin to economize, their ability to act will be reduced, and subsequently their army becomes far less effective. The commander of the opposing army, if a capable commander, will discern the change, recognize the advantage presented and seek to exploit it as best as possible. The decision would need to be made on whether the army with dwindling supplies should be withdrawn. If the situation reaches the point when the commander can no longer act to alter the army’s situation, his army is being battered, or his army is cut off and has no available means of egress, he may be forced to surrender. While this description is somewhat oversimplified, it lends support for the idea that when a military campaign is launched, often an objective becomes separating an opposing army from what gives it support and what allows it to continue to generate combat power. Acting in this manner against an opponent is referred to as acting decisively.

During the Persian Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm, the concept of separating Iraqi forces in Kuwait from resupply as well as command and control from the Iraqi military and political leadership was expressed without ambiguity by then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff US Army General Colin Powell during a press conference at the Pentagon on January 23, 1991 alongside the US Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney. In the hour-long briefing, which detailed the first week of operations of the 28-nation coalition against Iraq, Powell famously stated: “Our strategy to go after this army is very, very simple. First, we’re going to cut it off, and then we’re going to kill it. To cut it off, that began last week when we started to go after the nerve center, the brains of the operation, the command and control of the operation, and the lines of communication that come out of Baghdad and other places in the country.”

One might have expected that Russian Federation Armed Forces top commanders and planners, in a similar vein, might have taken a similar tack toward the Ukraine Armed Forces. It might have been expected that they would have recognized that resupply not so much from Ukrainian arsenals but from those of US, other NATO Member States, and other countries in the EU would need to be blocked, cut off in some way. Yet, nothing remotely similar to what Powell expressed in 1991 was heard from theMinisterstva oborony Rossiyskoy Federatsii (Ministry of Defense Russian Federation) or General’nyy shtab Vooruzhonnykh sil Rossiyskoy Federatsii (General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation), or from Putin, himself, about cutting Zbrojni syly Ukrayiny (Armed Forces of Ukraine, hereinafter referred to as the Ukrainian Armed Forces) off from resupply. There were no feigned movements such as moving Russian Federation forces to points outside Ukraine from which a blocking operation could best be launched in order to signal the intention to cut the Ukrainian Armed Forces off from resupply. Nothing was done sufficiently enough to cause supporters of the government of Kyiv to second guess any planned efforts to resupply the Ukrainian Armed Forces. In view of the potential decisive impact from contributions by the 30 countries in NATO,  particularly the US with its military largess, it would seem some Russian Federation Armed Forces commanders and planners thinking logically would urge the Russian Federation General Staff to suggest scrapping the operation until the problem of the Western resupply threat was resolved. 

A near endless list of situations during wars in which resupply determined the outcome of battle or even the war, itself. For example, armies have often encountered difficulties in cutting off resupply on a strategic level when fighting a determined opponent. Occasionally political leaders and army commanders have been slow in recognizing the opportunity to act decisively to mitigate resupply efforts on a strategic level. Armies have faced difficulties on the tactical level against a smaller force of well-trained, well-organized, and well-led opposing troops, even during a siege, when sufficient resupply has been made available to them

Ho Chi Minh Trail

The Ho Chi Minh Trail (Đường mòn Hồ Chí Minh) was a supply system that provided support, in the form of manpower and materiel, to the Communist insurgency, Viet Cong, and the People’s Army of Vietnam (North Vietnamese Army) during the Vietnam War. It comprised a logistical network of roads and trails that ran from North Vietnam to South Vietnam through the kingdoms of Laos and Cambodia during the Vietnam War. Initially troops, pushing heavily laden bicycles, driving oxcarts, or carrying supplies on their backs, moved hundreds of tons of supplies along it. However, trucks would become the primary means of moving supplies and troops. By 1969, tgere was even a pipeline crossed the Lao frontier through the Mu Gia Pass and, by 1970, it reached the approaches to the A Shau Valley in South Vietnam. The plastic pipeline, equipped with numerous small pumping stations, managed to transfer diesel fuel, gasoline, and kerosene all through the same pipe. By the end of 1970, the number of pipelines entering Laos increased to six that year. As a whole, supply efforts through trail were quite effective, which no mean feat given US efforts to thwart effort through trail included attacks from a CIA-raised clandestine army and the most intense air interdiction campaign in history. Mitigating the effects of US operations to destroy the trail was an existential effort. One might say the Ho Chi Minh Trail was the “center of gravity” for the Communists. Its loss probably would have led to their defeat in the war. As long as supplies could get to the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army, their war effort could continue with vigor which complicated US-led efforts to secure South Vietnam for the government in Saigon. South Vietnam would eventually surrender to North Vietnam.

Battle of the Atlantic 1939-1945

During World War II, Germany acted robustly to prevent merchant ships from carrying food, raw materials, troops and their equipment from North America to the United Kingdom. If they had succeeded, the outcome of war might have been radically different. The United Kingdom might have been starved into submission, which would have been complete strain on the morale. Its forces and those of its allies worldwide likely would have been deeply impacted. The supply line from the US was essentially the beating heart, the center of gravity, of the United Kingdom’s war effort. The threat to the movement of ships across the Atlantic came in the form of German submarines, the “Unterseeboot” or U-boat. United Kingdom Prime Minister Winston Churchill once wrote that, “The only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril.”

At the start of World War II, the Befehlshaber der Unterseeboote (Commander of the Submarines) was Konteradmiral (Rear Admiral) Karl Dōnitz. Dönitz pushed for a German fleet that consisted almost entirely of U-boats, claiming that depriving Germany’s enemies of vital supplies such as food and oil would be the most effective way to achieve victory. He claimed that given 300 U-Boats of the latest design, the Type VII, he could defeat the entire Royal Navy. He would utilize them in tactical formations that would later be called “wolfpacks”. Dőnitz’s  superior, Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine (Commander-in-Chief of the Navy) and Großadmiral, Oberkommando der Marine (the Naval High Command) Erich Raeder, was uninterested in his theories. Raeder was a traditionalist whose focus was surface warfare. Raeder also judged that Germany could not contest the Royal Navy for control of the sea. Even more, Raeder believed submarine warfare was cowardly. By 1941, although relatively small in number, U-boats under then Vizeadmiral (Vice Admiral) Dőnitz were threatening Allied shipping as far as the US east coast. By the end of 1942, U-boat “wolfpacks” were achieving considerable success in sinking merchant ships. By early 1943, the United Kingdom’s resources, especially oil, were running out, and it became a question of whether Allied shipyards could build merchant ships fast enough to replace the tonnage that was being sunk. 

Finally recognizing the value of then Admiral Dönitz concepts on the effective conduct of submarine warfare, in January 1943, German Führer und Reichskanzler Adolf Hitler saw to it that he was advanced to the rank of Großadmiral (Grand Admiral) and replaced Großadmiral Erich Raeder as Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine and Großadmiral, Oberkommando der Marine. Interestingly, he retained his post as Befehlshaber der Unterseeboote. Dőnitz was given the authority to act as he saw fit with German naval forces too late. At that juncture, Dőnitz had 200 operational U-boats. By April 1943, his U-boats were clearly struggling to make an impact. The Allies were sinking German submarines in greater numbers, with 45 being destroyed in the months of April and May. Aggressive Allied anti-submarine tactics were aided by the introduction of new technology. Long-range aircraft were equipped with centimetric radar and directed based on Ultra intelligence from intercepts of Kriegsmarine Enigma code communications. The mass production of Liberty Ships in US shipyards would ensure that the Allies would overcome attrition rates and win the Battle of the Atlantic. Without the victory, the Allies would not have been able to land forces ashore in the Mediterranean Theater or at Normandy.

In Operation Sonnenblume, in 1941, the German Afrika Korps‘ first offensive in North Africa, it sought to advance on Alexandria and Suez. In that advance, the capture of Tobruk was a priority as it was the only deep water port in Eastern Libya and would have provided the Germans with the closest supply port to the Egypt–Libya border. Of some significance is the fact that the one the renowned military commanders to emerge from the war led the attack on Tobruk: Generalleutnant (Lieutenant-General) Erwin Rommel. In 1940, Rommel commanded the 7th Panzer Division during the invasion of France where he demonstrated skill in the new tactic of blitzkrieg. He was a military officer who knew his business. When Rommel struck, he achieved complete surprise against British Army units in Libya’s eastern coastal region. The British Army was forced to retreat several hundred miles across the desert toward Tobruk. At Tobruk, the British Army and its allies held on. The Germans frequently bombarded the port. A blockade had been organized to thwart British resupply and reinforcement efforts. However, ships of the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Station ran the blockade, and provided Tobruk’s defenders gunfire support, supplies, fresh troops and by ferrying out the wounded. The defenders of Tobruk received enough resources to keep up the fight. Rommel was stopped and the siege was lifted in December 1941.

Tobruk Siege 1941

In Operation Sonnenblume, from February 6, 1941 to May 25,1941, its first offensive in North Africa, the German Afrika Korps sought to advance on Alexandria and Suez in that advance, the capture of Tobruk was a main objective. Tobruk was the only deep water port in Eastern Libya and would have provided Rommel a supply port closer to the Egypt–Libya border than Benghazi, 900 kilometers or 560 miles west of the Egyptian frontier, which was within the range of Royal Air Force bombers; Tripoli was 1,500 kilometers or 930 miles to the west in Tripolitania. Of some significance is the fact that the one the renowned military commanders to emerge from the war led the attack on Tobruk: Generalleutnant (Lieutenant-General) Erwin Rommel. A veteran of World War I, from 1929 through 1933, Rommel served as an instructor at the Dresden Infantry School and from 1935 at the Kriegsakademie (German War Academy) at Potsdam. In 1940, Rommel commanded the 7th Panzer Division during the invasion of France where he demonstrated skill in the new tactic of blitzkrieg. He was a military officer who knew his business. When Rommel struck, his Afrika Korps achieved complete surprise against British Army units in Libya’s eastern coastal region of Cyrenaica. The British Army was forced to retreat several hundred miles across the desert towards Tobruk.

Recognizing that he had the opportunity to capture Tobruk before the British Army and its Allies had time to organize an effective defense, Rommel advanced aggressively to exploit it. The 9th Australian Division, dubbed “The Rats of Tobruk”, supported by British Army armor and artillery, repulsed initial German assaults on April 10, 1941 to April 14, 1941, and even when the fresh 15th Panzer Division was committed to the attack on April 30, 1941, the defenders held on. The Germans frequently bombarded the port with artillery and Luftwaffe (German Air Force) dive-bombers and medium bombers. A blockade had been organized to thwart British resupply and reinforcement efforts. However, ships of the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Station–to include the Inshore Squadron–ran the blockade. Indeed, known as the “Tobruk Ferry Service”, Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy warships provided gunfire support, supplies, fresh troops and by ferrying out the wounded. The defenders of Tobruk were provided enough resources to keep up the fight. The Royal Air Force flew defensive sorties from airfields far away in Egypt. The siege of Tobruk was the first occasion in the war that German Panzer units had been stopped. The siege was lifted in December 1941. It must be noted that via Operation Crusader, launched on November 27, 1941, Tobruk was relieved by the British Eighth Army which after September 1941, controlled British Army and other Allied ground forces in the Western Desert. It seems worthwhile to note the Fall of Tobruk occurred when Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel  commanding Panzerarmee Afrika (Panzer Army Africa) which controlled the Afrika Korps and additional German units deployed to Africa as the 90th Light Infantry Division), as well as the Italian X Corps and XX Corps, attacked  on June 20, 1942 with massed air support, broke through a weak point on the eastern defensive perimeter, and captured the port. Although the garrison on the western perimeter had not been attacked, it was cut off from supplies and transport. Lacking the means to escape, the majority had to surrender; 33,000 prisoners were taken. Rommel had indeed learned lessons during the 1941 siege.

Être Voué à L’échec dès le Début

Even if everything else had been planned and arranged in the correct manner in every other aspect for the invasion, the viability of the entire plan would still rest on the ability of the Russian Federation Armed Forces to at best destroy, acceptably disrupt, or at the absolute minimum, delay resupply from the US, EU, and NATO. Without being able to control the movement of resupply in the West, the plan for the invasion should have been scrapped or the attack should have been postponed until that was nailed down. The reasoning behind such a decision has already been made abundantly clear looking at the circumstances of the handful of examples presented here already. As it was, the “special military operation” was launched, half-baked, and billions of dollars in military assistance has reached the Ukrainian Armed Forces via their country’s western border. Many weapon systems sent into Ukraine have had a multiplier effect on the battlefield. Firepower in the form of multiple launch rocket systems, self-propelled artillery, and heavy caliber guns, transported possibly along the now heavily traveled supply lines from both Poland and Romania enabled the Ukrainian Armed Forces to launch two highly-successful counteroffensives. On August 29, 2022, a counteroffensive was launched to eject Russian forces occupying the Kherson and Mykolaiv oblasts (provinces). On September 6, 2022, a counteroffensive was launched to eject Russian forces occupying the Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Luhansk oblasts. Given the unsatisfactory nature in which the Russian invasion was arranged and indeed, has been prosecuted, the decision to go into Ukraine was the sort that if made during an instance of saber rattling and war fever in a highly-industrialized democracy, would very likely lead to the impeachment of a national leader.

Ruminations

To set the record straight from the outset, greatcharlie believes that if Russian Federation forces were selectively positioned in Western Ukraine, the Ukrainian Armed Forces would have likely used their formidable and quite impressive drone arsenal to bombard them. They might have achieved the same relative success that they have achieved with Russian Federation forces in the east and south and around Kyiv. Once aptly prepared, Ukrainian special forces would likely do their part to hunt down and displace and destroy any Russian Federation troops settled in their country’s Western region. 

Commanders and planners in the Russian Federation Armed Forces would unlikely have known or believed any of that would have been possible before the invasion. One would need to consider other reasons for the omission of a mission to thwart, to an extent blockade resupply to the Ukrainian Armed Forces from the West.The Romania-Ukraine border is 649 kilometers or around 403 miles, but it is discontinuous. The. Moldova-Ukraine border is 1,222 kilometers or 759 miles. However, along the Dniester River, between Moldova and Ukraine, is the autonomous Republic of Transnistria.  Thereby, 454 kilometers or 282 miles of the Moldova-Ukraine border stand as the de factor border between Transnistria and Ukraine.

To the left of the above map are all countries situated on Ukraine’s western border. As Ukraine is looked upon in Europe as a very large country, perchance the area in western Ukraine that would need to be covered was judged by military commanders and planners in the Russian Federation General Staff as too large and deemed too difficult to control or monitor, surveil, and launch successful interdiction attacks and raids from. The Polish–Ukrainian border has a total length of 529 kilometers or 329 miles to 535 kilometers or 332 miles according to different sources. The Romania-Ukraine border is 649 kilometers or around 403 miles, but it is discontinuous. The Slovakia-Ukraine border is 97 kilometers or a bit over 60 miles. The Hungary-Ukraine border is roughly 103 kilometers or 60 miles long. It its located in Hungary’s Tisza river valley of its northeast. The Moldova-Ukraine border is 1,222 kilometers or 759 miles. However, along the Dniester River, between Moldova and Ukraine, is the autonomous Republic of Transnistria.  Thereby, 454 kilometers or 282 miles of the Moldova-Ukraine border stand as the de factor border between Transnistria and Ukraine.

Omission or De-emphasis?

Negligentia sempre habet infortunam comitem. (Negligence always has misfortune for a companion.) Imaginably, there is a moderately rational reason behind the decision to attack the second largest country in Europe, 603,500 square kilometers or 233,000 square miles, without being fully prepared. Ukraine is second largest in size to Russia, which is 17,098,246 square kilometers or 6,601,670 square miles. As Ukraine is looked upon in Europe as a very large country, perchance the area in Western Ukraine that would need to be covered was judged as too large by military commanders  and planners in the Glavnoe operativnoe upravlenie General’nogo štaba Vooružёnnyh sil Rossijskoj Federacii (the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Federation) and commanders and planners at the lower level in Yuzhnyy Voyennyy Okrug (the Southern Military District) and the Zapadnyy Voyennyy Okrug (the Western Military District) and deemed too difficult to control or monitor, surveil, and launch successful interdiction attacks and raids into. The Polish–Ukrainian border is the state border between Poland and Ukraine. It has a total length of 529 kilometers or 329 miles to 535 kilometers or 332 miles according to different sources.

Concisely and admirably described by the Mission Opérationnelle Transfrontalière (Transfrontier Operational Mission), an association that was set up in 1997 by the government of France to resolve issues for entities concerned with cross border issues, the Poland-Ukraine border begins at the tripoint formed by the Ukrainian, Polish and Slovak borders, in the middle of the Eastern Carpathian mountains. The demarcation runs initially towards the east, arriving at the Ushok Pass and the source of the San River, whereupon it turns north-west to follow the river for around 50 kilometers or 31 miles. It subsequently leaves the river to take a north-easterly direction, crossing the region known as the “Przemyśl Gate”, where mountains meet lowlands. The border then crosses large swathes of agricultural land, to reach the Bug River, which forms the last third of its demarcation. It ends at the tripoint formed by the borders of Poland, Ukraine and Belarus. Poland is a NATO Member State and an EU border state.

The Romania-Ukraine border is 649 kilometers or around 403 miles, but it is discontinuous. Again using a description from the Mission Opérationnelle TransfrontalièreThe Republic of Moldova separates the border into two segments. The first in the west, at the tripoint between the Hungarian-Romanian and Hungarian-Ukrainian borders. That segment then continues across the East Carpathian mountains and terminates at the tripoint formed by the Moldovan, Romanian and Ukrainian borders. The second segment begins at the second tripoint between the Moldovan, Romanian and Ukrainian borders, on the north bank of the Danube River, and terminates as it reaches the Black Sea. Romania is a NATO Member State and an EU border state. The Slovakia-Ukraine border is 97 kilometers or a but over 60 miles long. Slovakia is also a NATO Member State and an EU border state. The Hungary-Ukraine border is roughly 103 kilometers or 60 miles long. It is located in Hungary’s Tisza River Valley in the country’s northeast. As with the preceding three countries discussed, Hungary is a NATO Member State and an EU borderstate. The. Moldova-Ukraine border is 1,222 kilometers or 759 miles. However, along the Dniester River, between Moldova and Ukraine, is the autonomous Republic of Transnistria.  Thereby, 454 kilometers or 282 miles of the Moldova-Ukraine border stand as the de factor border between Transnistria and Ukraine. Transnistria is an autonomous republic aligned since 1992 with the Russian Federation. Russian Federation Armed Forces units have also been garrisoned there since 1992. To that extent, anyone providing military assistance to Ukraine would hardly choose to move anything through Moldova as Russian Federation intelligence services posted in Transnistria would likely be able to position themselves to monitor such resupply activities. Moving through Moldova would very likely be deemed too risky, unsafe. To an extent, one might say any effort by Russian Federation Armed Forces to monitor resupply efforts for Ukraine would indicate commanders and planners were covering the matter. Perhaps the Russian Federation General Staff sold that notion to Putin. However, while a few things could be done from Transnistria, given the sheer size of its border with Ukraine, and its position south and toward the east with respect other bordering countries, it would unlikely be enough to make a real difference. It would seem Putin did not want to stir trouble over Transnistria issue. The Russian Federation Armed Forces there have remained relatively quiet, and the West has more or less left the autonomous republic alone. If covert monitoring has been transpiring along or across the Transnistria border, it is apparently not having an impact. Thus, the focus here is on resupply from Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania.

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (center), Russian Federation Defense Minister General Sergei Shoigu (right), and Chief of Staff of the Russian Federation Armed Forces General Valery Gerasimov (left). Commanders and planners in the Russian Federation Armed Forces apparently “wholeheartedly” accepted the idea that the Ukrainians would acquiesce as in 2014. Despite losses inflicted upon Ukrainian defenders and territorial gains, in eastern and southern Ukraine as well as Kyiv, the mission to completely snuff out the combat power and resolve of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and force a sort of mass capitulation was not achieved. The losses of the Russian Federation Armed Forces have been exponentially higher. It seems most apparent that the Russian Federation General Staff had moved forward without a satisfactory long-term plan for the invasion. Indeed, by results alone, one might infer that there were actually no contingency plans to draw upon for the invasion of Ukraine.

Folly, Doctor-Like, Controlled Skill

Commanders and planners in the Russian Federation Armed Forces apparently “wholeheartedly” accepted the idea–fiction–that the Ukrainians would roll over and play nice doggie à la 2014. Tomaten auf den augen haben. Despite losses inflicted upon the Ukrainian defenders and territorial gains, in eastern and southern Ukraine, the mission to completely snuff out the combat power and resolve of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and force a sort of mass capitulation was not achieved. In the end, the losses of the Russian Federation Armed Forces have been exponentially higher. It seems most apparent that the Russian Federation General Staff had moved forward without a satisfactory long-term plan for the invasion. Indeed, by results alone, one might infer that there were actually no contingency plans to draw upon for the invasion of Ukraine, with solutions for all conceivable challenges. Doing the “what-ifs” beforehand was probably viewed as walking out on thin ice “politically”. While the idea might be difficult for the reasonable to reconcile, it appears the massive enterprise was  truly undertaken by Moscow on the fly. 

Allowing the Russian Federation Armed Forces to perform in such a way would be very much unlike Putin given the record of his past behavior. True, over the past two decades, he has dropped some clangers. Even the most knowledgeable and experienced can make mistakes they learned to avoid long ago. That is human nature; the human element. Still, Putin’s actions are usually thoughtful, calibrated, well calculated, with the use of resources in a measured way to achieve the most favorable outcomes. Putin can surely tell the difference between real and unreal. He has not managed to stay in power since 2000 by engaging in Quixotic pursuits. This is something new. One wonders what could possibly come next for Ukraine and for the world.

Putin was oddly hooked on the idea that among the officers, men, and women of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, there was a lingering sense of Soviet unity equal to his own. This in itself was quite interesting as Putin was hardly known for truly displaying brotherly love toward former Soviet republics. He would create an environment of fear in his relationship with their respective leaders. After Euromaidan, the Ukrainians did not want any part of that. In his invasion day television broadcast of February 24, 2022, Putin would go as far as to implore the Ukrainian Armed Forces to submit to his will and allow Russian troops to again simply march into their country. There appeared to be a singular emotional commitment on his part to the ideas of Russian-Ukrainian unity and the fealty of the officers, men, and women of the Ukrainian Armed Forces to Moscow, to him. Putin “appealed” to members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces as follows: “I would also like to address the military personnel of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Comrade officers! Your fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers did not fight the Nazi occupiers and did not defend our common Motherland to allow today’s neo-Nazis to seize power in Ukraine. You swore the oath of allegiance to the Ukrainian people and not to the junta, the people’s adversary which is plundering Ukraine and humiliating the Ukrainian people.” Putin continued: “I urge you to refuse to carry out their criminal orders. I urge you to immediately lay down arms and go home. I will explain what this means: the military personnel of the Ukrainian army who do this will be able to freely leave the zone of hostilities and return to their families.” If the matter were not so grave, his words might be looked upon as comical.

Putin seemed forgetful of, or totally oblivious to, the fact that he was responsible for the greatest humiliation of the Ukrainian Armed Forces when he ordered the “green men” of the Russian Federation Armed Forces into Crimea to seize Ukraine’s sovereign territory. Further, without firing a shot, the green men first corralled members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces much as sheep in their own garrison and then herded them out of Crimea. Knowing the Ukrainians as well as he claimed he did in the February 24, 2022 broadcast, Putin should have known the Ukrainians are not sheep. He should have been well-aware that there would be payback for what happened in 2014 and everything that has happened since. He surely knows that now.

In its ill-designed aspects influenced by the political leadership, the Russian Federation’s special military operation on a macro-level much resembles the failed German campaign, Operation Barbarossa, launched on June 21, 1941. Hitler provided empty assurances resulting from his baseless analyses to Oberkommando des Heeres (High Command of the Army) to the effect that “We have only to kick in the front door and the whole rotten edifice will come tumbling down.” Oberkommando des Heeres went along with Hitler’s concept that the campaign would be a short one, and that the Soviets would give in after suffering the shock of massive initial defeats. As a result, it did not develop a satisfactory long-term plan for the invasion.  The shock and awe of the initial Blitzkrieg was dissipated by the vast distances, Supply challenges could not be overcome. There was a lack of sufficient manpower resources. German losses could not be sustained. After initial contact, there was stiff resistance from Soviet forces. Despite the serious losses inflicted on the Soviet Army the mission to completely destroy Soviet fighting power and force a capitulation was not achieved by January 7, 1942, and the operation was terminated 20 kilometers short of Moscow. Interestingly enough,a number er of fitting comparisons between Putin and a national leader whose blunders came as a result of being closed to the recommendations and entreaties of his or her top advisers, are those made with Hitler.

Delinquency

There is the real possibility that commanders and planners in the Russian Federation Armed Forces, attempting to hastily organize the massive Spetsial’noy Voyennoy Operatsii (Special Military Operation) were not even aware that the opportunity to destroy and disrupt the resupply effort for Ukraine was missed. Everything truly started off on the wrong foot from the get-go. By logic, at first glance this would seem unlikely. After all, the well-trained senior officers and planners of the Russian Federation Armed Forces would not be aware of the danger posed by Ukraine’s open western border. Perhaps there may have been some understanding among military planners that the situation there would be played-down in order to line up with thinking from the Kremlin. In the realm of conjecture, anything becomes possible. If such was the case, from that point onward, they could only hope nothing bad would come of that considerable  omission.

The US educator and organizational theorist, Russell Ackoff was a pioneer in the field of operations research, systems thinking, and management science. In a research article entitled “A Major Mistake That Managers Make” in Handbook of Business Strategy, volume 7, number 1, January 2006, pages. 225-227, Ackoff wrote: “Errors of omission, lost  opportunities, are generally more critical than errors of commission. Organizations fail or decline more frequently because of what they did not do than because of what they did.” Although the December 7, 1941 surprise attack of the Imperial Japanese Navy on Pearl Harbor was a tactical victory, it was also a strategic blunder, as the Japanese failed one of their most critical objectives: destroy the US aircraft carriers. Even worse, the Japanese failed to destroy the strategic oil reserves at Oahu, and the damage to docks and yards was slight. That oil reserve fueled the US Navy through the remainder of the war against Japan.

A well-intervaled column of German vehicles moves through the Ardennes Forest in 1940 (above). At the top of the list of historical causes for military blunders has been insufficient intelligence analyses as well as the failure of consumers to include valuable forecasts in their appraisals of situations. Consider for example how the military high command of France failed their government three times in 70 years by minimizing warnings about the intentions of Prussian and German Governments. In 1870, the Supreme Command of the French Imperial Army, with its attitude of debrouillez-vous (“We’ll muddle through somehow”), did not heed signaling that the Prussian Army would move via the Ardennes Forest through Belgium into France. In 1914, the French Grand Quartier Général (General Headquarters) did not heed indicia signaling that the Imperial German Army, to avoid French defenses on the Franco-German border, would move via the Ardennes Forest through Belgium into France. In 1940, the Anglo-French Supreme War Council, relying on the defenses of the Maginot Line, did not heed indicia signaling that the German Army would move via the Ardennes Forest through Belgium into France. Even with this history, in 1944, the Supreme Headquarters of Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe ignored idicia signaling that the German Army might attempt to move via the Ardennes Forest into Belgium in an attempt to reach Antwerp and cut Allied Forces into two pieces. The result was the Battle of the Bulge in which US forces suffered an estimated 75,000 casualties.

Was Faulty Intelligence to Blame?

Quis, quid, ubi, quibus, auxiliis, cur, quomodo, quando? (Who, what, where, with what, why, how, when?) Very pertinent here is the attendant influence of faulty intelligence in understanding the situation of an opponent, strengths and weaknesses, capabilities and possibilities in the development of the concept and intent of an operation in terms of supply. It becomes a factor of some magnitude in planning support operations. It is imprudent for political leaders and top military commanders to ignore information from intelligence services that confirms some action by an adversary is very likely, imminent, or has been taken. Well at the top of historical causes for military missteps has been insufficient intelligence analyses as well as the failure of consumers to include valuable forecasts in their appraisals of situations. 

Consider for example how the military high command of France failed their government three times in 70 years by minimizing warnings about the intentions of Prussian and German Governments. In 1870, the Supreme Command of the French Imperial Army, with its attitude of debrouillez-vous (“We’ll muddle through somehow”), did not heed signaling that the Prussian Army would move via the Ardennes Forest through Belgium into France. In 1914, the French Grand Quartier Général (General Headquarters) did not heed indicia signaling that the Imperial German Army, to avoid French defenses on the Franco-German border, would move via the Ardennes Forest through Belgium into France. In 1940, the Anglo-French Supreme War Council, relying on the defenses of the Maginot Line, did not heed indicia signaling that the German Army would move via the Ardennes Forest through Belgium into France. Even with this history, in 1944, the Supreme Headquarters of Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe ignored idicia signaling that the German Army might attempt to move via the Ardennes Forest into Belgium in an attempt to reach Antwerp and cut Allied Forces into two pieces. The result was the Battle of the Bulge in which US forces suffered an estimated 75,000 casualties.

Referring again to the attack on Pearl Harbor, a newly discovered official US Government memorandum has revealed that intelligence collected about the activities of the Imperial Japanese Navy, led to assessments that Japan might attack the US on the West coast, the Panama Canal, and the US naval and military bases in Hawaii some time in December 1941. The Japanese Imperial Navy would eventually execute a devastating surprise, aircraft carrier-based, aerial attack and submarine attack on the US Naval Base and Headquarters of the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, and aerial attacks against the US Army Base at Schofield Barracks and the US Army Air Corps Base at Hickam Field. Most US military commanders were bewildered by the successful attack which they never would have believed Japan could execute before it actually happened. By leaning into those beliefs, they were caught flat-footed by the attack. Their immediate responses were meager and ineffective.

In the case of Ukraine, it would seem Putin was provided faulty information. 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 foreign intelligence service of Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsii (Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation) or FSB, known as the organization’s 5th service. 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. Apparently, the 5th Service 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. 

Are Russian Federation Satellites Functioning?

One might imagine that there was a chance that intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities by Russian Federation satellites could have assisted in covering the space and monitor and act against assistance efforts by supporting calibrated attacks on supply trains, especially readily observable ones  traveling along roads and rails. Intriguingly, only a few short years ago, there was great concern expressed in the US about formidable Russian Federation satellites that were interfering with US satellites. As discussed in greatcharlie’s July 6, 2017 post entitled, “Trump to Meet With Putin at G-20 Gathering: Trump Seeks an Authentic Relationship with Russia”, there was the belief that Russia was developing the ability to approach, inspect, and potentially sabotage or destroy US satellites while they orbited the Earth. 

Now, it seems, Russian Federation satellites must be able to provide a picture of the situation in Ukraine. True, as stated here, Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe, but, if many will pardon this expression, in greater terms, it is smaller than the State of Texas in the US, which has been regularly, intensely surveilled by the Russian Federation as it was before by the Soviet Union due mainly to the many massive US military and NASA bases and other facilities there. De quoi s’agit-il ici? It appears that a breakdown in Russian ISR capabilities from space much as its military, naval, and intelligence capabilities generally, had occurred long before the special military operation was launched.

Having been responsible for the preparedness of the Russian Federation Armed Forces, the Russian Federation General Staff had to have known something was awry. it had to have known whether they were up to the job in Ukraine. While the Russian Federation Armed Forces’ Zapad and Vostock exercises perhaps indicated that they were ready for war, surely the Russian Federation General Staff was fully aware of how numbers of troops, actions, reports were, to be frank, falsified. The most senior commanders may not have been sure themselves what the true capabilities of the Russian Federation Armed Forces were. If they were living in an illusion about how mighty their forces were, that  Illusion was destroyed in the face of reality.

Snapshot of the initial wave of Ukrainian refugees (above). There is the possibility the commanders and planners in the Russian Federation Armed Forces may have believed there was more to gain by having a great flow of refugees pouring out of Ukraine to create problems, chaos and confusion, hostile reactions from populations of countries inconvenienced by overflows of Ukrainian refugees, and frustration among NATO, EU Member State capitals. Conceivably, the thinking from the Kremlin and subsequently the Russian Federation Armed Forces that if the roads out of Ukraine to Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Moldova were clogged, potentially military assistance could not get through, at least not efficiently. By weaponizing refugee flows an invasion would cause, it may have been believed a way found to split the seam between two possibilities. However, even in the best case scenario, the refugee exodus would be a temporary problem. If Western powers could not resolve the matter, they would at least be able to mitigate its immediate effects. Once the invasion began, humanitarian and refugee organizations of almost every kind jumped in feet first. The West could do more with assistance to stem the crisis than the Russian Federation could do by creating a refugee overflow crisis. As it turned out, the refugee crisis as the Kremlin might have envisioned and hoped did not materialize.

The Pitfalls of Creative Thinking

There is the possibility the commanders and planners in the Russian Federation Armed Forces may have believed there was more to gain by having a great flow of refugees pouring out of Ukraine to create problems, chaos and confusion, hostile reactions from populations of countries inconvenienced by overflows of Ukrainian refugees, and frustration among NATO, EU Member State capitals. That belief would very likely have been in following with the concept and intent disseminated from the Kremlin. The impact of a refugee surge was witnessed while war raged in Syria. During the 2015 Syrian Refugee Crisis, an estimated 1.3 million refugees seeking asylum literally jammed roads leading to Europe. European countries, especially the first ones along the refugees route that encountered them, were unable to handle their numbers immediately. Some capitals panicked. Many political, social, financial, and security issues subsequently arose. The refugee flow eventually subsided. 

The Weaponization of Refugees

Conceivably, the thinking from the Kremlin and subsequently the Russian Federation Armed Forces that if the roads out of Ukraine to Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Moldova were clogged, potentially military assistance could not get through, at least not efficiently. By weaponizing refugee flows an invasion would cause, it may have been believed a way found to split the seam between two possibilities. Zwei fliegen mit einer klappe schlagen. However, even in the best case scenario, the refugee exodus would be a temporary problem. If Western powers could not resolve the matter, they would at least be able to mitigate its immediate effects. Once the invasion began, the UN with its many aid organizations as well as and other international and regional intergovernmental humanitarian and refugee organizations jumped in feet first. The US would work with capitals in Europe, especially Warsaw, and encourage through diplomacy and support with its wherewithal, a multilateral effort by government aid agencies. The EU acted in a similar way. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, CARE and other international and regional nongovernmental humanitarian and refugee organizations. Nongovernmental refugee and displaced persons organizations, and a variety of humanitarian organizations from around the world made their way to Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Moldova to get a handle on the problem. 

As things went, the Russi­an Federation’s special military operation triggered a “regional forced displacement crisis.” By September 30, 2022, seven months after the invasion began, 7,536,433 Ukrainian refugees were registered outside of Ukraine. Reportedly, Poland and Germany received the most refugees; more than a million each. The Czech Republic took in the next highest number 438,926, followed by the US, the United Kingdom, France, Turkey, Italy, and Spain, each of which accepted from 100,000 to 300,000 refugees. Smaller numbers escaped to Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Moldova. 

Interestingly, and doubtlessly to the consternation of the Kremlin and Russian Federation Armed Forces, not only is military assistance flowing freely into Ukraine from Poland but so are “returnees”. Clear data that documents how many of the 7.5 million Ukrainian refugees have returned home permanently, reportedly is unavailable. However as of September 20, 2022, over 6 million cross-border movements were made back into the country. Border crossing points in Poland as well as Romania are said to be receiving most of the returnees, with nearly 4.5 million crossings from Poland and nearly 1 million from Romania. In the aggregate, one might conclude that the West could do more with assistance than Russia could do by creating a refugee overflow crisis. In the end, the refugee crisis that the Kremlin may likely have envisioned and hoped for did not materialize. Vide et credere. (See and believe.)

Where Was the GRU?

As a military matter, intelligence on the situation in Ukraine to the extent it would impact the special military operation had to be of great interest specifically to Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye Generalnovo Shtaba (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff-Military Intelligence) or GRU  The GRU could not have missed the potential problem of resupply routes into Ukraine from Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania being set up. Perhaps the GRU was unable to convince the Russian Federation General Staff of the necessity to close the door to assistance from the West. Maybe there was at first a thought to use the same act twice with “green men” in the Western Ukraine. However, GRU planners may have been concerned about being unable to redeploy or evacuate troops placed perhaps at border crossings, highways, train junctions, road intersections, bridges, heights, airports, military airfields, and so on deep in Ukraine in large numbers if a major problem was encountered.

It was suggested in greatcharlie’s January 25, 2022 post, one could conceive that concerning Western military assistance, a special task force has been organized and assigned in advance, among other things: monitor the delivery, stockpiling of stinger, javelin, and other weapons systems to Ukrainian forces; maintain real-time knowledge of the distribution and location of those weapons; destroy those weapons systems; and, destroy or support actions by other Russian military units to destroy Ukrainian military units to which those weapons were distributed. That hypothetical task force would also likely be tasked to monitor–covertly monitor the intelligence activities and military operations of–Western countries as they relate to supplying Ukraine with special military capabilities. It would seem that suggestion made by greatcharlie then was well-off the mark. Maybe they were concerned about potential for great casualties and huge losses of materiel.

Where Was Spetsnaz?

Voyská spetsiálnogo naznachéniya (‘Special Purpose Military Units) or spetsnaz, a carry over from the days of the Soviet Union, are trained, and tasked as special forces units and fielded in wartime as part of the GRU. As is the case with special forces in most countries, the primary missions of spetsnaz are power projection (direct action), intelligence (reconnaissance), foreign internal defense (military assistance), and counterinsurgency. The GRU may have been unable to conjure up a viable plan to use spetsnaz in western Ukraine. Again, GRU planners may have been concerned about being unable to deploy or evacuate troops placed even on raids so deep without a solid means of egress. Even if it had been possible to monitor and act in the Western region from Belarus, again, distances that needed to be traversed may have been too great.

One might wonder whether the GRU had been aware that there was someone else in Western Ukraine, covert foreign forces from governments very friendly with Kyiv, already holding the most useful entrances and exits to and from Poland, Slovakia,, Hungary,, and Romania open in case of an attack. It is the sort of thing US Special Operations Units, the Special Activities Division of the US Central Intelligence Agency, the British Army’s Special Air Service, and the United Kingdom’s Secret Intelligence Service would be very capable of doing and would likely do, covertly. Surely, this idea is drawn from the realm of conjecture, however, it would be a smart move and their hypothetical presence would hardly be reported in the Western newsmedia. If, hypothetically, such forces had been there covertly since 2014, they may have been well-engaged in successful clandestine and covert activities in the region.

Perhaps what happened in Syria may have been an issue at all in GRU Headquarters. A battle between US Special Forces and Russian private military contractors from the infamous Gruppa Vagnera (Wagner Group) may have had a long-lasting educational effect in Yasenevo. Present in Syria as part of the campaign to destroy the so-called Islamic Caliphate created by the Islamic jihadist terrorist organization, the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) that cut across iraq and Syria, US Special Forces, in self-defense at their own base, decimated a formation of Gruppa Vagnera that attacked them. Memores acti prudentes futuri. (Mindful of what has been done, aware of what will be.)

Even if commanders and military planners had been certain that spetsnaz could well-handle any foreign forces that hypothetically might have detected in the Western region of Ukraine, there imaginably would have been a wish in the Kremlin to avoid being seen as, and being accused of, attacking those foreign troops. In dubio abstinence. (When in doubt, sustain.)

Where Were the Russian Airborne Forces?

As for the Vozdushno Desantnye Voyska (Russian Airborne Forces) or VDV, surely the Ukrainians might have expected missions launched by them to hold territory in-depth. Yet, as with the GRU, commanders and planners in the VDV may have been concerned about being unable to redeploy or evacuate troops placed perhaps at border crossings, highways, train junctions, road intersections, bridges, heights, airports, military airfields, and so on deep in Ukraine in large numbers if a major problem was encountered. Maybe they were concerned about potential for great casualties and huge losses of materiel. That happened without an operation to block Western assistance coming in from the West: 50,000+ killed. 

Surely, they were made more certain that the VDV would unlikely have been able successfully operate in the Western region of Ukraine after what transpired when its units attacked Hostomel Airport in the first days of the special military operation. The VDV faced considerable troubles there. One might view the capture of an airport a sort of bread and butter target for airborne units in armies worldwide

Russian Airborne Forces landing at Hostomel Airport (above). Russian Federation Armed Forces commanders and planners may have been concerned about the potential for huge losses if a blocking operation in the West were attempted. Surely, they were made more certain that the VDV would unlikely have been able successfully operate in the Western region of Ukraine after what transpired when its units attacked Hostomel Airport in the first days of the special military operation. After securing Hostomel Airport to the extent possible, the Russian Federation Army and VDV there tried to push into the nearby town and then  advance to Bucha and Irpin. Their poorly organized movement encountered ambushes in Hostomel and Bucha which resulted in significant losses of personnel and equipment. Those in command of the Russian Federation Army and VDV troops, decided to hold their positions, digging in on the roadsides to defend themselves against Ukrainian artillery and drone strikes. They also suffered heavy casualties from night attacks by special forces units of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. On March 29, 2022, the order was given for the Russian Federation forces at Hostomel to withdraw from the Kyiv oblast. Under continuous artillery fire from Ukrainian forces, the Russians damaged equipment that had to be abandoned and made a hasty retreat.

According to reports based on what was observed, the Russian Federation Armed Forces plan of attack against Hostomel Airport included its rapid occupation, with the intention of using it as an assembly area for Kyiv’s encirclement and capture. The airport is a bit over 6 miles north of Kyiv. The Initial February 24, 2022 assault on Hostomel Airport was a success, catching its Ukrainian defenders by surprise apparently due its speed. Mi-35 and Ka-52 attack helicopters operating out of Belarus struck the airport’s defenses and opened a way for helicopter-borne VDV units in Mi-8 transport helicopters that followed. However, despite being caught off guard by the initial assault by the attack helicopters, the attack itself was ineffective as the Ukrainian defenses were left largely intact.  Without any meaningful air supportR