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, RBC, reported 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.)