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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ladder of Escalation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With the foreign and national security policy bureaucracies of 30 NATO Member States plus the staff at NATO Headquarters working night and day to formulate favorable moves that would allow the West considerable advantage over his country, Putin also might find it too risky to get locked into a back and forth struggle, attempting to stay ahead in the action reaction cycle against the aggregate of their capabilities. Naturally, Putin would not be inclined to slow walk himself into any of that. There would just be too many possibilities to consider. The playing field would be a bit too level or even feel a bit one-sided toward the West, despite its positively Wagnerian proportions. He would want to retain, at least in his mind, his position above all of that. Equally naturally, while all of that was happening, Putin would need to keep a very close eye on what was happening politically in Moscow and around Russia and the reactions to each step he would take. Looking at matter from another angle, but still from Putin’s lens, despite the excellent assessments of former and current expert military practitioners, in the grander scheme of Putin’s world, using nuclear weapons on the battlefields of Ukraine would relatively amount to “bad behavior” and not the appropriate response. 

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

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

Taking Putin’s Words Seriously

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Implications of Russian Losses in Ukraine

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

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

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

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

Putin as Epic Hero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Way Forward

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

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

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

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

Putin the Protector of the Russian People or the Despoiler of Ukrainian Resources: A Look at War Causation and Russian Military Priorities in Ukraine

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin could be viewed as a true black box if ever a national leader could be viewed as one. Given that, finding ways to deal effectively with Putin has been made far more challenging. Doing so has been made more difficult by the fact that Putin, while generally in the West as rebarbaritive, even murderous route, is recognizably a calculating and calibrated thinker. Regarding Ukraine, he has seemingly been acting well-off the mark. Taking on the persona of the defender of Russian people everywhere and scourge of fascism, he insists that his cause in Ukraine was pure and just in his address announcing Russia’s special military operation on February 24, 2022. However, the basis for Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine may very likely been founded on some plan of far greater conception than the rescue of, and retribution on behalf of ethnic-Russians as he announced.

Long after its end, the war in Ukraine will likely persist in the collective memory of the world as a tragic waste of human lives and the shape of things to come, future challenges and horrors countries should expect to face, now that lower, cost high tech tools can be employed copiously on the battlefield. Machine guns, grenades, mortars, tanks, mechanized vehicles, heavy artillery and rockets are joined on the one hand by a set of small remotely piloted drones that keep watch over the battlefield while another set delivers heavy blows with their accurately targeted deployable ordinance. If an army does not have them or cannot counter them, its troops and equipment will face grave problems when sent to war. In the initial weeks of the Russian invasion, Ukrainian forces left the Russians sitting down hard at the door steps of their cities. The Ukrainians have fought the Russians with strength, endurance, and bitterness. How long the Ukrainians will remain favored by Tyche is unknown. As the war progresses, Russian efforts, now focused in East and southeast Ukraine appear to have met with some success despite fierce resistance by determined defenders.

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin could be viewed as a true black box if ever a national leader could be viewed as one. Given that, finding ways to deal effectively with Putin has been made far more challenging. Doing so has been made more difficult by the fact that Putin, while viewed generally in the West as often taking a rebarbaritive, even murderous route on matter, is recognizably a calculating and calibrated thinker. However, with regard to Ukraine, he has seemingly been acting well-off the mark. Taking on the persona of the defender of Russian people everywhere and scourge of fascism, he insists that his cause in Ukraine was pure and just in his address announcing Russia’s special military operation on February 24, 2022. Nevertheless, the basis for Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine may very likely been founded on some plan of far greater conception than the rescue of, and retribution on behalf of ethnic-Russians as he announced. In pursuit of what may have been some Delphian objective, Russia’s military and naval commanders, instruments of the Kremlin’s hypocrisy, nearly poured a quarter of Russia’s forces down the drain.

In each attempt to tackle the subject of Ukraine’s invasion, greatcharlie has sought to dive a bit deeper into Putin’s mind to better understand how he thinks and additionally offer not just insight on decisions he has made but foresight on decisions he might make in the immediate future and shape of future events. While it may be difficult for some in the West to accept Putin feels he has achieved great gains in Ukraine, looking at the situation from his perspective creates some clarity concerning that. Putin may also have reason to hope the situation on the battlefield may turn considerably in Russia’s favor. This essay is relatively brief and could hardly squeeze the issue dry so to speak, in order to put one in the full picture of Putin’s thinking. The hope, however, is to present some new ideas and insights that may lead readers, hopefully 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 this pressing issue. Duc In Altum! (Put out into the deep!)

Few officials, analysts, or news media commentators in the West would comfortably contend with the suggestion that Putin’s special military operation was less about protecting the Russian people and denazification than asserting his power against–at least in terms of size–his smaller neighbor. Nevertheless, in his national broadcast on Russian television on February 24, 2022 announcing his special military operation against Ukraine, Putin did his best to at least create the impression that the former was true. Still, it was certainly unreasonable for Putin to think Ukrainian forces were so weak that they could not even figuratively brush a harassing fly off their nose. Allowing Russia to walk into Ukraine the first time in 2014 has doubtlessly tormented leaders in Kyiv since, believing it was a gross error. For Kyiv to allow Russia to walk into Ukraine a second time would surely have been an historical act of gross negligence.

Revisiting Putin’s February 24, 2022 Speech

In two preceding post, greatcharlie has examined Putin’s February 24, 2022 televised speech on Ukraine, in which laid out the reasoning behind his decision to invade Ukraine. February 24, 2022 broadcast speech on the special military operation in Ukraine. Working under the aphorism that “there is always a good soup in an old chicken,” greatcharlie looks at it again with the aim of highlighting additional pertinent points, with the hope shedding additional light upon patterns in Putin’s decision-making. At the crux of his reasoning for starting the war is Putin statement that he acted “to protect people who, for eight years now, have been facing humiliation and genocide perpetrated by the Kiev regime. To this end, we will seek to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine, as well as bring to trial those who perpetrated numerous bloody crimes against civilians, including against citizens of the Russian Federation.” Putin surely wanted that “rescue and retributive” aspect of his speech to reverberate among listeners both at home and abroad. Yet, rather than a rescue operation, the indications and implications of his speech likely remained uncertain among those aware of patterns in his thinking. On the one hand, he may have thinly veiled his intention to conquer Ukraine entirely. French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte is quoted as saying: “We should always go before our enemies with confidence, otherwise our apparent uneasiness inspires them with greater boldness.” On the other hand, rather than the whole ball game, he might of had some yet to be revealed objective which was in his view, worthy of the sacrifice of the men and women of the Russian Federation Armed Forces. There were too many missing pieces to allow one to be certain.

Quite prescient in Putin’s mind, as expressed in his February 24, 2022 address, appeared to be the Soviet ties between the Russian and Ukrainian people during World War II. At least outwardly, Putin convincingly gave the impression that he was 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. 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. 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. Still, 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, that it apparently was made a feature of his war plan. 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.” 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.” Il a une araignée au plafond.

The Combat of Saint-Cast and Putin’s Delusion

What Putin seemed to expect in February 2022, having surprisingly announced the “surprise” invasion–the special military operation–was being launched, was to shape and ensure through his words a situation similar to 2014 when Russian troops, dubbed the “green men”, moved without warning and somewhat stealthily into Crimea and the Donbas. To that extent, in his mind, the result of his address, particularly the points of which he spoke directly to the Ukrainian armed forces, should have been something akin to the legend of “The Combat of Saint-Cast”. The legend, judged by some historians to be a “Victorian confabulation,” is admirably discussed in Lewis Spence, Legends and Romances of Brittany (Pinnacle Press, 2017), As the story goes, In 1758 a British army was landed upon the shores of Brittany with the object of securing for British merchant ships safety in the navigation of the Channel and of creating a diversion in favor of the German forces, then our allies. A company of men from Lower Brittany, from the towns of Tréguier and Saint-Pol-de-Léon, says Villemarqué, were marching against a detachment of Scottish Highlanders. When at a distance of about a mile the Bretons could hear their enemies singing a national song which resembled “The Garb Of Old Gaul”.  “The Garb Of Old Gaul” (also known as Auld Gaul) is an 18th-century patriotic Scottish march. The title “Garb of Old Gaul” refers to the traditional Highland dress, ancient Gaul being thought of at the time as the heartland of the Celtic peoples. “The Garb Of Old Gaul” begins: In the garb of old Gaul with the fire of old Rome, / From the heath cover’d mountains of Scotia we come, / Where the Roman’s endeavour’d our country to gain, / But our ancestors fought, and they fought not in vain.

Spence reports in Legends and Romances of Brittany: “at once they halted, stupefied, for the air was one well known to them, which they were accustomed to hear almost every day of their lives. Electrified by the music, which spoke to their hearts, they arose in their enthusiasm and themselves sang the patriotic refrain. It was the Highlanders’ turn to be silent. All this time the two companies were nearing one another, and when at a suitable distance their respective officers commanded them to fire; but the orders were given, says the tradition, ‘in the same language,’ and the soldiers on both sides stood stock-still. Their inaction, however, lasted but a moment, for emotion carried away all discipline, the arms fell from their hands, and the descendants of the ancient Celts renewed on the field of battle those ties of brotherhood which had once united their fathers.” Unlike the Scots and Bretons nearly 265 years ago at Saint-Cast,  Russian and Ukrainian troops had no problem firing upon each other. The ties of brotherhood were not renewed on the battlefields of Ukraine.  Perhaps, the first verse edited for present circumstances might be altered to the following: “When the Russians sic [Romans] endeavored our country to gain, / Our ancestors fought, and they fought not in vain.”

Soldiers of the Soviet Union (above), likely from a mix of the then 16 union republics, on the attack during World War II, armed with PPSh-41 “burp guns”. Most prescient in Putin’s mind during his February 24, 2022 address appeared to be the Soviet ties between the Russian and Ukrainian people during World War II. At least that seemed to be his strongest selling point. Putin put much into his perception of an unwavering sense of comradeship between the Russian and Ukrainian people’s as former Soviet citizens. Putin convincingly gave the impression that he was 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, Putin would go as far as to implore the Ukrainian armed forces to submit to his will and allow Russian troops to once again simply march into their country.

Putin surely appeared quite confident about his assessments of the situation and forecasts of how events would unfold. Yet, one should always expect the unexpected. It would have been daylight madness for Putin to think Ukrainian forces were so weak that they could not even figuratively brush a harassing fly off their nose. Passivity should hardly have been expected of Kyiv the second time by anyone thinking clearly in the Kremlin. Allowing Russia to walk into Ukraine the first time in 2014 has doubtlessly tormented leaders in Kyiv since, believing it was a gross error. For Kyiv to allow Russia to walk into Ukraine a second time would surely have been an historical act of gross negligence. Herodutus of Halicarnassus (c. 484 B.C.-c. 425 B.C.), was a renowned Greek historian of the Hellenic period, referred to as “the father of history” and known as for The Histories, his masterwork which mainly discusses the struggles between Greece and Persia. In Book 7, Chapter. 226 of The Histories, Herodotus provides an anecdote about Dianeces, who he describes as the bravest Spartan, pertinent to Putin’s likely reaction to reports indicating the Ukrainians were better prepared than he imagined. He writes: “Before battle was joined they say that someone from Trachis warned him [Dianeces] how many Persians there were by saying that when they fired their bows, they hid the sun with the mass of arrows. Dianeces, so the story goes, was so dismissive of the Persian numbers that he calmly replied, “All to the good, my friend from Trachis. If the Persians hide the sun, the battle will be in shade rather than sunlight.”

There may have been those in the Russian Federation Armed Forces who did not agree that Ukraine would rollover for Russia much as it had in 2014. However, once that fantastic position was generally accepted by Putin and his chief advisers, there was no room left to contradict it. François-Marie Arouet (November 21, 1694–May 30, 1778), most famous under his pen name Voltaire, was a French writer, philosopher, and leading writer of the enlightenment. Voltaire was recorded as stating in “Catalogue pour la plupart des écrivains français qui ont paru dans Le Siècle de Louis XIV, pour servir à l’histoire littéraire de ce temps,” Le Siècle de Louis XIV (1752): “Il est dangereux d’avoir raison dans des choses où des hommes accrédités ont tort.” (It is dangerous to be right in matters where established men are wrong.)

It was discovered a few weeks into its special military operation in Ukraine that a good amount of what one organization among the Russian intelligence services had provided Putin was pure fabrication. That was revealed to the world by the Russian government itself. Yet, that revelation had no impact on the prosecution of the war. No troops were withdrawn. No discernable urgency was placed on reaching a negotiated peace. In 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”, it was discussed that there is the possibility that Putin, knowing what he knows, experienced as he is, wanted to be deceived because he so badly wanted to invade Ukraine and needed to show his decision could not be viewed as reckless, but rather based in reason that would be generally accepted.

Putin also expressed in his February 24, 2022 address what might have posed a conscious or subconscious snag in his confidence over success in Ukraine. That was his concern over the West’s level of assistance to, and influence upon Kyiv since the collapse of the government led by his stern ally former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Putin indeed discovered after the invasion that the assistance that the West had been providing Ukraine, to include training and equipping its forces to meet Russian aggression on which former US President Donald Trump was impeached, turned out to be far greater in degree and quality than Putin likely ever imagined.

Putin reflecting (above). One might suggest Putin’s military priority Ukraine aligns with his spoken political goal, the elimination of Ukraine as a military, economic, and political ally of the West and the reduction of Ukraine as a military ally and obviation of the country from as a potential military threat to Russia. Yet, one cannot possibly be absolutely certain of Putin’s priority with any genuine expression from him to confirm the idea as true. It was stated by the aforementioned Polybius in The Histories that “true policy does not regard only the immediate necessities of the hour, but must ever look still more keenly to the future.” To that extent, one might also suggest that with Putin and his advisers having a mind to the future, precepts of economic warfare, which have shaped Russian military doctrine, played a considerable role in decisionmaking in the Kremlin on Ukraine.

A Second Look at the Ukraine War’s Causation

In his Dialogue xiv, Le Chapon et la Poularde (1763); reported in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919), Voltaire states: “Ils ne se servent de la pensée que pour autoriser leurs injustices, et n’emploient les paroles que pour déguiser leurs pensées.” (Men use thought only as authority for their injustice, and employ speech only to conceal their thoughts.) As the situation has developed in Ukraine, it would seem that has been a goal. However, at least in terms of conquering territory in Ukraine, to the degree that Moscow can, it is possible that Russian aims were of far greater yet at the same time, very traditional in nature. Theorizing on the possibility of war during the period now realized as the run up to invasion, greatcharlie indicated in its January 25, 2022 post entitled,Resolving the Ukraine Crisis: How Better Understanding Putin and the Subtle and Profound Undercurrent Influencing His Thinking on the West Might Help”: “the main objective of the deployment of Russian forces would be to create a sufficient buffer in Ukraine between Russian and ‘ever expanding NATO forces.’ In performing this task, Russian forces would ensure territory and forces that might remain in Kyiv’s control would be of less utility to NATO as potential a launching pad for a ground attack on Russia and could not be used as part of a larger strategy to contain Russia at its own border. Since then, Putin has doubled down regarding such rhetoric. During the Victory Day parade in Moscow on May 9, 2022, Putin claimed that Kyiv was seeking to acquire nuclear weapons. He asserted there were parallels between the Soviet Union’s struggle against Nazi Germany and Russia’s current confrontation with Ukraine, the west and NATO. Further, with words somewhat more acerbic and accusatory than in his February 24, 2022 address, Putin stated US was assisting forces with historic links to the Nazis, who were planning to terrorise the Donbas and invade Crimea. As Russian soldiers were defending historical territory that belonged to the motherland, Putin exclaimed they were “fighting for the same thing their fathers and grandfathers did”.

One might suggest Putin’s military priority Ukraine aligns well with his spoken political goal, the elimination of Ukraine as a military, economic, and political ally of the West and the reduction of Ukraine as a military ally and obviation of the country from as a potential military threat to Russia. Yet, one cannot possibly be absolutely certain of Putin’s priority with any genuine expression from him to confirm the idea as true. In his work also entitled The Histories, Polybius (c. 200 B.C.-c. 118 B.C.), the renowned Greek “pragmatic historian” and intriguingly an eyewitness to the siege and destruction of Carthage accompanying none other than Cornelius Scipio Aficanus as one of his commanders, well-covers the Punic Wars. In it, Polybius states that “true policy does not regard only the immediate necessities of the hour, but must ever look still more keenly to the future.” To that extent, one might also suggest that with Putin and his advisers having a mind to the future, precepts of economic warfare, which have shaped Russian military doctrine, played a considerable role in decisionmaking in the Kremlin on Ukraine. While there are other documents, expressions that are reveal how such ideas have had an impact, the one in which greatcharlie is best familiar with is what was called the “Top Secret” 2013 Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation.

The 2013 plan was developed in response to Moscow’s concerns with NATO expansion and Putin’s sense that the Russian Federation stands vulnerable to the US “tricks” and noted 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?”. That 2016 post noted that on February 14, 2013 at a conference called “Russia’s Military Security in the 21st Century,” the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov, provided a glimpse of Russia’s official assessment of future wars it may face as outlined in the top secret Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation. He explained that the Russian Federation General Staff believed future conflicts will be “Resource Wars.” Indeed, he further explained that they concluded 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. The senior military leaders also foresaw outside powers, primarily the US and its allies, may invade their country from several directions to physically grab territory and its resources. The Kremlin has accepted the threat assessment of the Russian Federation General Staff. Putin signed the Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation into law on January 29, 2013. The plan apparently guided Russia’s defense spending in 2016 which exceeded 6 percent of Russia’s GDP, along with national security and federal law enforcement budgets totaling an additional 3 percent. The plan has also guided the Russian military build-up in the Arctic, the Pacific, the Baltic, in Crimea and on the Ukrainian border. The Syria expedition was also part of that picture. Russian Federation Defense Minister, General of the Army Sergei Shoigu, when announcing the massive strategic military exercises, Zapad 2017, explained on November 2, 2016: “The US and NATO are actively increasing their offensive potential, building new bases and developing military infrastructure, undermining international stability, and attempting to impose their will by economic sanctions and use of military force. A propaganda information war is raging.” Shoigu further stated that Russian borders were being threatened and adequate defensive measures are being taken.” All of these ideas based on defending against Russia’s main opponent, the US and the West, run contrary to notions in the Western governments on the need to combat climate change, the move away from fossil fuels via public policy. One might presume, however, that in Moscow, such notions emanating from the West are beside the point.

Praeterea qui alium sequitur nihil invenit, immo nec quaerit. (Besides, he who follows another not only discovers nothing but is not even investigating.) Admittedly, on matters concerning economics, greatcharlie, not being steeped in them, figuratively goes out into a darkness in the midst of which it “does walk with an assured step.” Economists and historians alike hopefully might charitably read this bit with an open mind and aqua vitae on hand.

In the 19th century, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote that the main source of instability in the international system would be capitalist globalization, more specifically the conflict between two classes: the “national bourgeoisie” and the “cosmopolitan proletariat.” Historical materialism would be Marxism’s guideline in understanding the processes both in domestic and international affairs. Thereby, from the perspective of Marx, human history amounted to a struggle to satisfy material needs and to resist class domination and exploitation. Surely greatcharlie dates itself by relying on Bernard Brodie for support in this portion of its discussion as it has relied upon his work over the last 40 years. However, in his War and Politics (Macmillan, 1978), the renowned military strategist and proponent of the strategy of deterrence, known affectionately as “the American Clausewitz”, explained the Marxian theory of war causation has an explicit historical limitation. One might read into the Marxian philosophy a general emphasis on the economic interpretation of history that would seem to favor the notion that all wars are due primarily to economic causes. Marx’s main theoretical preoccupations were with the period of history marked by fully developed capitalism. Marx was uninterested in what were the respective causes of wars before that period of history. Nevertheless, his claims concerning the application of his ideas within that period were all-embracing. According to Marx, all important wars and important international conflict during that period resulted from the existence of the capitalist form of society. One might discern a theoretical weakness from the outset, as one sees no conspicuous increas,e in frequency of wars historically following the emergence of what Marx would call fully developed capitalism. On the other hand, Brodie concluded, there is no obvious reason why wars should not have distinctively different causes at different phases of world history. Intriguingly, such dialectic disagreements concerning old Soviet Marxism and Western capitalism have hardly been amplified in the West as a major cause for the dysfunctional relationship between it and Putin’s Russia. Nevertheless, when one hears from Putin, those disagreements are made more apparent. In less promoted, lesser known tracts and speeches, Putin stated as much beginning as early his first year as Russian Federation President. (Please see Putin’s December 31, 1999 essay, “Russia at the Turn of the Millenium”, that appeared on the website of the Russian Federation government. Putin’s expression as this type are discussed in greater detail in greatcharlie’s June 18, 2019 post entitled, “Why Putin Laments the Soviet Union’s Demise and His Renewed “Struggle” with the US: A Response to an Inquiry from Students”.)

To delve further with regard to Marx and war causation, in later years, a school of advocates, quite different from him and his Orthodox followers, even to the extent that they did not regard themselves as Communists, furthered Marxian theory, with what was dubbed neo-Marxian theory. They theorized that neither stupidity nor chauvinism or individual psychological quirks or wrong-headed ideologies among substantial numbers of people may have accounted for most of the wars of the modern era. Instead they have put the blame entirely on one emotion, that of personal greed, and have shifted primary guilt from the institution of capitalism to the individual capitalist. The latter has to be rich enough to be extremely influential politically and corrupt enough to use his political influence to advance his own profit at whatever cost to the nation. To that extent, it is worth noting that in a December 24, 1946 an address at the lighting of the National Community Christmas Tree at the White House, US President Harry S. Truman stated: “Selfishness and greed, individual or national, cause most of our troubles.”

In greatcharlie’s February 4, 2022 post entitled, “Recherché Pieces of the Putin Puzzle That May Serve To Better Enable Engagement with Him as Either an Adversary or a Partner Regarding Ukraine”, it is noted that Putin has stated more than once that he believes the US is run by unseen power brokers, individuals with unmatched business interests. These individuals, who would likely be categorized by Putin as the aforementioned “independent capitalist”, Putin would likely submit, have accounted for most US wars and others in the modern era. They have a singular degree of political influence and use their political influence to advance their own profit at whatever cost to the country. On the official website of the Kremlin is the transcript of a May 29, 2017 interview Putin provided the French publication Le Figaro. In it, Putin depicts those who, in his view, pull the strings of US presidents. He states: “I have already spoken to three US Presidents. They come and go, but politics stay the same at all times. Do you know why? Because of the powerful bureaucracy. When a person is elected, they may have some ideas. Then people with briefcases arrive, well dressed, wearing dark suits, just like mine, except for the red tie, since they wear black or dark blue ones. These people start explaining how things are done. And instantly, everything changes. This is what happens with every administration.” Putin went on to say concerning US presidents: “Changing things is not easy, and I say this without any irony. It is not that someone does not want to, but because it is a hard thing to do.” During a June 11, 2022 interview in Moscow with NBC News, Putin was told Biden viewed him as a leader of autocrats, who is determined to undermine the liberal democratic order. The interviewer asked Putin if it was true. In response, Putin vaguely referenced unknown parties who he believes are iInfluencing perspectives of Russia’s bilateral relationships and himself. Putin stated: “Well, I don’t know. Somebody presents it from a certain perspective. Somebody looks at the development of this situation and at yours truly (THROAT CLEARING) in a different manner. All of this is being offered to the public in a way that is found to be expedient for the ruling circles of a certain country.”

Putin (above) holds a doctorate in Economics from Leningrad State University. Long before he became the legendary Russian President that he is today, Putin was a doctoral candidate at Leningrad State University (now the University of St. Petersburg). Putin’s 1997 thesis was titled “Strategic Planning of the Reproduction of the Mineral Resource Base of a Region Under Conditions of the Formation of Market Relations.” Putin’s research made him quite knowledgeable about the resources of countries that were formerly republics of the erstwhile Soviet Union. He would be very aware of Ukraine’s wealth in minerals, particularly in the eastern and southeastern regions. Ukraine in fact holds approximately 5 percent of the world’s mineral resources. Perhaps in his mind he imagined how future generations of Russians could benefit greatly through the possession of such resources. That would be one more piece of his legacy, the legacy of Putin’s Russia.

Putin the Mineralogist

Long before he became the legendary Russian President that he is today, Putin was a doctoral candidate at Leningrad State University (now the University of St. Petersburg). (A fuller discussion of that period of Putin’s life can be found in greatcharlie’s March 31, 2017 post entitled “Book Review: Vladimir Putin, First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia’s President (Public Affairs, 2000)). The rector at the St. Petersburg State Mining University as of this writing, Vladimir Litvinenko, chaired the committee that awarded Russian President Vladimir Putin his doctorate in Economics in 1997. He recently stated that Putin’s thesis was titled “Strategic Planning of the Reproduction of the Mineral Resource Base of a Region Under Conditions of the Formation of Market Relations.” Putin’s economic studies, at what was then Leningrad State University, were most likely heavily doused in Marxian theory. Even more pertinent here, his research made him quite knowledgeable about the resources of countries that were formerly republics of the erstwhile Soviet Union. He would be very aware of Ukraine’s wealth in minerals, particularly in the eastern and southeastern regions. Indeed, Ukraine has a large supply of many valuable mineral and raw material resources. Ukraine in fact holds approximately 5 percent of the world’s mineral resources. Its significant mineral resources include: iron ore, coal, manganese, uranium ore, natural gas, oil, salt, sulfur, graphite, titanium, magnesium, kaolin, nickel, mercury. As for stocks of iron, manganese, titanium and uranium ore Ukraine is ranked first among European countries. As for mercury ore reserves, it is second only to Spain. It seems, Putin wants it all for Russia. Perhaps in his mind he imagined how future generations of Russians could benefit greatly through the possession of such resources. That would be one more piece of his legacy, the legacy of Putin’s Russia.

Putin the Despoiler

As for the amounts of these resources that have fallen into Russia’s hands, coal, the main fossil fuel of Ukraine, is mined in the Donetsk and Lviv-Volyn basins. The Donetsk Basin is the largest in Ukraine. It is located within the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts–provinces. At the time of this writing Luhansk oblast has essentially fallen to Russian troops and their attacks in the Donetsk oblast have intensified. A titanium ore deposit exists in Dnipropetrovsk oblast which reportedly has virtually unlimited reserves. Titanium is used in constructing rockets, submarines, making synthetic rubber,artificial rubies, sapphires, and products of that nature. Dnipropetrovsk oblast borders Donetsk oblast to the west, and its capture may be a likely follow-on objective of the Russian drive into Ukraine. Raw materials for aluminum production include nephelines in the Azov Sea area and boxites in the Vysokopillya deposit in the Dnipropetrovsk oblast. These areas are mainly under Russian control or, as aforementioned, may soon be. 

Ukraine reportedly has modest recoverable resources of uranium, recorded to be 225.000 tU in IAEA Red Book 2011. Uranium mining began in 1948 at Pervomayskoye in the Crimea, and 65.000 tU have been produced. Records indicate production reached about 1.000 tU/yr. Records indicate that it reached 960 tU in 2012 and 922 tU in 2013. Production was forecasted to increase by 2014-2015. 

There are oil and gas deposits in Ukraine, however, their reserves are not significant. Reportedly, reserves of these fossil fuels were depleted during the Soviet period. Ukraine has Europe’s third-largest shale gas reserves at 1.2 trillion cubic meters. There have been two potentially large shale gas fields. One is the Yuzivska gas field located in the Donetsk oblast and Kharkiv oblast. In 2013 the government of Ukraine reached a sharing agreement on shale gas produced at Yuzivska and Oleska with Dutch Shell and US Chevron. That in itself would be enough to convince Putin that there has been a longstanding interest within the US in Ukraine’s shale gas resources.

When it annexed Crimea in 2014, Russia managed to capture a considerable portion of Ukraine’s energy resources, to include the complete loss of its Black Sea gas fields. By Ukraine’s own statistics collected before the February 24, 2022 invasion, resources in the northwestern part of the Black Sea shelf were estimated at 495.7 billion cubic meters of natural gas and 50.4 million tons of oil and condensate. In the Kerch area, resources were estimated at 321.2 billion cubic meters of gas and 126.8 million tons of oil and condensate. In the continental slope, resources were estimated at 766.6 billion cubic meters of natural gas and 232 million tons of oil and condensate. The total gas potential of the Black Sea shelf was estimated at 2.3 billion tons of fuel. It is approximately 40 percent of total gas deposits in Ukraine. Though the industry requires large investments, the development of The Black Sea deposits was viewed as a possible means by which Ukraine could effectively reduce its dependence on gas supplies from Russia.

Besides having them is keeping them from others, another considerable benefit of capturing the natural resources in eastern and southeastern Ukraine was keeping the West from having access to them. Thereby, by securing Ukraine’s oil and gas resources, its mineral mines, and large ports, Putin likely feels he has taken a huge step in the direction of making Ukraine undesirable to the West. Only in ground combat, extracting Russian forces from Ukraine by force of arms, would the situation be potentially altered. It is very likely Putin postulated a while back that there is in fact nothing so special, so endearing about the Ukrainians that would cause Western powers to take such an interest in them. He likely felt certain that it is Ukraine’s proximity to Russia, making an ideal potential base for attack against it, its natural resources and its ports on the Black Sea and the Azov Sea which makes it so attractive.

In “Master of the Secret World: John Le Carré on Deception, Storytelling and American Hubris” by Andrew Ross, in Salon (21 October 1996), a quote is provided from the great British spy novelist John Lé Carre that is most apposite to what is discussed here. Le Carré stated: “In every war zone that I’ve been in, there has been a reality and then there has been the public perception of why the war was being fought. In every crisis, in every confrontation that has come my way, the issues have been far more complex than the public has been allowed to know.”

A map of Ukraine’s east and southeast (above), displaying the resource rich Donetsk, Luhansk, and Dnipropetrovsk oblasts and the Azov Sea. A great amount of Ukraine’s natural these resources that have fallen into Russia’s hands, coal, the main fossil fuel of Ukraine, is mined in the Donetsk and Lviv-Volyn basins. The Donetsk Basin is the largest in Ukraine. It is located within the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts–provinces. At the time of this writing Luhansk oblast has essentially fallen completely to Russian forces and their attacks in the Donetsk oblast have intensified. A titanium ore deposit exists in Dnipropetrovsk oblast which reportedly has virtually unlimited reserves. Titanium is used in constructing rockets, submarines, making synthetic rubber, artificial rubies, sapphires, and products of that nature. Dnipropetrovsk oblast borders Donetsk oblast to the west, and its capture may likely be a follow-on objective of the Russian drive into Ukraine. Raw materials for aluminum production include nefelines in the Azov Sea area and boxites in the Vysokopillya deposit in the Dnipropetrovsk oblast. These areas are under Russian control or, as aforementioned, may soon be.

Have the Russian Federation Armed Forces Recovered after Earlier Failures?

Prewar in the West, the Russian invasion of Ukraine was speculated upon by many commentators to be something akin to a one act drama with an early curtain. Many were seemingly married to the idea that the Russian armed forces were ten feet tall. The danger ostensibly posed by Russian forces was worthy of a 2 percent expenditure on military articles pertinent for battle and training and maintaining their armed forces every year by NATO Members. Despite all that transpired, on February 24, 2023 the walls came down on what was supposed to be a Russian military juggernaut. So rapidly did Ukrainian forces discover and exploit the weakness of Russian forces wherever they could find them. Aux innocents les mains pleines. To be frank, the Russian Ground Force was very plainly outmatched by the Ukrainian fighters and lost in cities such as Kyiv and Kharkiv. The General Staff of the Russian Federation Armed Forces were left with few good options but to pull back from the Kyiv as well as the Chernihiv regions regroup elsewhere. That elsewhere has been inside Ukraine, across the east, southeast and southern borders. Those forces and their movements have been aggregated and have formed a solid front. 

As expressed in greatcharlie’s April 30, 2022 post, anyone trying to paint a picture of what was happening in the Russian command over the Ukrainian security operation would accurately produce an ugly daub. What has been discovered since the invasion began is that Russia had been running its military campaign against Ukraine out of Moscow, with no central commander on the ground to coordinate air, ground and sea units. Reportedly, that tack assists in explaining why the invasion struggled against an unexpectedly stiff Ukrainian resistance, and was plagued by poor logistics and flagging morale. In situations that require flexibility, innovation, thinking through problems, unit commanders at the squad, platoon, company, and even battalion levels in advanced armies are instructed to improvise and adapt. Since that is not taught and trained into the officers and noncommissioned officers of the Russian Army, once in contact with an opponent, units up to the battalion level–the battalion being the main tactical formation of the a Russian Army–tended to suffer greatly. Often commanders of many units handled their troops and equipment as if they were participating in an exercise–parking companies and battalions of T-90 tanks and BMP armored personnel carriers on open roads without air cover or organic antiaircraft systems providing security–rather than moving in strength behind enemy lines in a shooting war. Disorganized assaults reportedly also contributed to the deaths of several Russian generals, as high-ranking officers were pushed to the front lines to untangle tactical problems that Western militaries would have left to more junior officers or senior enlisted personnel.

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

The annual, immense Zapad exercises of the Russian Federation armed forces, much touted by Moscow, clearly were not exactly all that they were made to appear to be in terms of demonstrating their true strength and capabilities of the Russian armed forces, as well as the possibilities for their use. Putin, himself, had regularly observed the Zapad exercises and everything seemed fine enough, but it was not. Military commanders simply went through the motions with elaborate displays of firepower and mobility with little to no concern about how it would all come together in real world situations. This aspect is discussed in greater detail in greatcharlie’s April 30, 2022 post. In the end, the Russian armed forces fought the way they practiced. Commanders were left with no other way to do things. All the illusions created by the well-choreographed military drills were disintegrated in the light of reality.

The deficiencies and delinquencies of a commander or a group of commanders can become consistent enough to become predictable. Such shortcomings, when left uncorrected, can be well-exploited by a discerning opponent and can serve to determine the outcome of a campaign.

Discussing, in The Histories, the deficiencies and delinquencies of Hannibal, the great Carthaginian commander of the Second Punic War, whom he refers to as “Hanno,” Polybius notes that the Carthaginian commander had achieved regular success in defense. In fact, he states “duly he showed considerable ability, but he was quite a different man at the head of a sally in force: he was not sagacious in his use of opportunities, and managed the whole business with neither skill nor promptitude.” Polybius supports his view reviewing Hannibal’s failed first expedition to relieve Utica, during which he claims Hannibal very nearly brought the besieged, as well as himself, to utter destruction. He brought from Carthage catapults and darts, and in fact all the apparatus for a siege; and having encamped outside Utica undertook an assault upon the enemy’s entrenchment. Polybius notes “The number of his elephants, of which he had as many as a hundred, struck terror into the enemy.” He reports: “The elephants forced their way into the camp, and the enemy, unable to withstand their weight and the fury of their attack, entirely evacuated the position. They lost a large number from wounds inflicted by the elephants’ tusks; while the survivors made their way to a certain hill, which was a kind of natural fortification thickly covered with trees, and there halted, relying upon the strength of the position.” However, having achieved all of that Polybius says Hannibal made poor a use of the advantage he created. 

Polybius determined that Hannibal, “accustomed to fight with Numidians and Libyans, who, once turned, never stay their flight till they are two days removed from the scene of the action, imagined that he had already put an end to the war and had gained a complete victory.” He then was remiss, and gave little attention afterward to his men, or about the camp generally, but “went inside the town and occupied himself with his own personal comfort.” However, mercenaries among his opposition, who had fled in a body on to a hill within close proximity to Hannibal’s camp, had been trained in the daring tactics of the Barcas according to Polybius. (Barca was Hannibal’s family name. His father Hamilcar commanded the Carthaginians during the First Punic War.). Polybius suggests those mercenaries were also accustomed from “their experience in the Sicilian warfare to retreat and return again to the attack many times in the same day.” Once they discovered Hannibal “had left his army and went into the town, and that the soldiers, owing to their victory, were behaving carelessly, and in fact slipping out of the camp in various directions: they accordingly got themselves into order and made an assault upon the camp; killed a large number of the men; forced the rest to fly ignominiously to the protection of the city walls and gates; and possessed themselves of all the baggage and apparatus belonging to the besieged, which Hanno had brought outside the town in addition to his own, and thus put into the hands of the enemy.” Polybius notes that “this was not the only instance of his incompetence.”

A woman (above) walks amid destroyed Russian tanks in Bucha, outside Kyiv, in April  2022. As expressed in greatcharlie’s April 30, 2022 post, anyone trying to paint a picture of what was happening in the Russian command over the Ukrainian security operation would accurately produce an ugly daub. What has been discovered since the invasion began is that Russia had been running its military campaign against Ukraine out of Moscow, with no central commander on the ground to coordinate air, ground and sea units. Reportedly, that tack assists in explaining why the invasion struggled against an unexpectedly stiff Ukrainian resistance, and was plagued by poor logistics and flagging morale. In situations that require flexibility, innovation, thinking through problems, unit commanders at the squad, platoon, company, and even battalion levels in advanced armies are instructed to improvise and adapt. Since that is not taught and trained into the officers and noncommissioned officers of the Russian Army, once in contact with an opponent, units up to the battalion level–the battalion being the main tactical formation of the a Russian Army–tended to suffer greatly.

Problems Rest at the Commander’s Doorstep

Moscow could not hide the fact that Russian forces were in trouble in Ukraine. With much fanfare,, by March 29, 2022, it was announced by the Russian Federation Ministry of Defense that it was shifting its focus to expanding the territory held by pro-Russia separatists in the eastern Donbas region. The Russian Federation Defense Minister, General of the Army Sergei Shoigu stated hours before the talks the “main goal” was now the “liberation” of Donbas. This shift left little doubt in the minds of observers outside of Russia that an apparent initial plan to move rapidly to capture major cities in Ukraine and replace the national government had failed or at least had not gone as planned. That surely signaled that big problems might lie ahead for them. There was an attempt to spin the matter as a success. As aforementioned, a big part of that was to omit any discussion of the terrible costs in troops, materiél, and treasure for the military’s blunders. As the matter was laid out by the Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation Colonel General Sergei Rudskoy, head of the General Staff’s main operations administration stated “The main tasks of the first stage of the operation have been carried out.” He further stated: The combat capabilities of the Ukrainian armed forces have been substantially reduced, which allows us to concentrate our main efforts on achieving the main goal: the liberation of Donbas.” Clearly, the focus of Rudskoy’s spin was an effort to convince that efforts to encircle key Ukrainian cities as Kyiv and making them subjecting them the multiple airstrikes and artillery onslaught was to pin down Ukrainian forces elsewhere in the country in order to allow Russian forces to focus on the east. Thinking reasonably, one might imagine that Putin would unlikely be willing to begin a new adventure for greater gains eastward. Still, casting reason aside, there remains the chance that he still wishes to capture Kyiv and Kharkiv, and add to that Odesa. He may be insisting upon those actions and engaged in the process of planning them with his generals.

At first blush, many Western military analysts generally foresaw the shift in Russia’s approach as an effort by the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation might have in mind trapping Ukrainian forces situated in eastern Ukraine roughly between the Donbas and the Dnieper River. Executing a two pronged attack, with one force moving north to south, the other moving south to north, Russian forces could potentially move to cut those forces off from the rest of Ukraine and their comrades defending larger cities and new units being trained in the western part of the country. Once the Ukrainian forces were cut off, the Russians would then seek to kill it.

It is still unclear whether Russian forces have recovered from the theater of errors in the first phase of the special military operation. It would be difficult enough to change tactics, techniques and procedures broadly for a force in constant contact with an opponent at multiple points, especially when initiative and independent thinking is not emphasized. Having a good portion of those forces somewhat battered and tattered would make carrying out such adjustments far more difficult. Indeed, turning the corner would be a terribly hard thing to do, not only in terms of reshaping and executing a better plan, tactics, and performing better, but in terms of motivating the troops to fight and win despite what had already transpired in the disastrous drives against Kyiv and Kharkiv. Russian Federation commanders and planners were surely clear eyed about all that. It is likely that there was likely an unspoken, private fear within the forces fighting in Ukraine that victory was out of reach. The early phases had gone too poorly to dismiss, just shrug off. Interestingly, if one lives with failure too long, one sometimes forgets what success is or how to achieve it.

The Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus was quoted as saying: “Because your own strength is unequal to the task, do not assume that it is beyond the powers of man; but if anything is within the powers and province of man, believe that it is within your own compass also.” On April 9, 2022, Russian Federation General of the Army Aleksandr Dvornikov was appointed commander of the special military operation in Ukraine. The sort of leader, thinker, manager, and commander that Dvornikov is mostly known from what Russia’s Ministry of Defense has released, all of it being very positive. On April 10, 2022, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) dispassionately described Dvornikov with the following: “Dvornikov, 60, served in Chechnya in the 1990s and in 2015 became the first Russian commander to lead military operations in Syria. Since 2016, he has overseen the southern military district, which includes Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula seized by Russia in 2014.” RFE/RL continues by stating: “Dvornikov has a notorious reputation for his conduct of the war in Syria, where Russia bombed civilian districts. Putin awarded Dvornikov the Hero of Russia medal, one of the country’s highest awards, for his work in Syria.” It was likely hoped that Dvornikov’s presence at the helm of the special military operation would have a steadying effect throughout the armed forces. Dvornikov has become quite a figurehead for the Russian Army cutting a tough as nails image, captivating Russian soldiers and officers alike, raising morale to some degree, albeit modest perhaps, by his presence. The big question is whether he can make a difference.

If Russian forces can manage to completely dislocate Ukrainian forces in the Donbas and push them out of and away from the region and more importantly away from the Russian border, it would be an enormous relief for Shoigu, Gerasimov and Dvornikov. However, their problems would hardly be over. A well-armed, well-trained, and well-experienced Ukrainian military staring down at Russia for years to come, if that hypothetically would be the outcome of a negotiated peace, would be the last thing that they would want to leave in place. More than that, it would surely be the last thing that the Russian Federation President would want to leave behind. That may turn out to be a problem that the world will need to contend with.

As it is discussed in greatcharlie’s April 30, 2022 post, Russian Federation commanders and planners are aware that in the fights for urban centers, the ground forces of allies could do more than simply chisel away at enemy lines. Numerical advantages are not rare on the frontlines, yet Russian forces, if they choose to economize in less active areas, could develop superiority at points of their main efforts. An attacker, after concentrating quickly, can normally strike hard at an unexpected place and time to throw the defender off balance. Once the attack is underway, the attackers’ chance of success can be improved if he moves fast, aggressively pressing every advantage, and if the attacker capitalizes on opportunities to destroy the enemy’s forces and the overall coherence of his defense. Russian forces have appeared either too sluggish or to wreck less to accomplish any of this.

Russian Federation commanders and planners also know air power can greatly impact enemy moves in urban centers. If forced to move quickly in the face of Russian air power, an enemy commander would be allowed less time to ensure his unit’s concealment. It could cause him to move when conditions would not impede aircrews’ search of his unit. Rapid movement could also decrease the effectiveness of his air defense systems, allowing aircrews greater freedom to search for his unit, increasing the chance for it to be spotted. So far in Ukraine,  over 95 percent of the Russian Federation Aerospace Force flies 200 sorties a day, and according to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, 57 Russian aircraft and 7 Russian drones [unverified] have been downed. However, in response to the Ukrainian air defense threat, Russian aircraft are not evading by flying sorties at 15,000 to 20,000 feet as they had over Syria. Russian aircraft are remaining above Russian airspace and firing air launched cruise missiles into Ukraine. Since aircrews cannot identify targets across the border, airstrikes are made in areas where air intelligence reports the enemy is located. In attacking urban centers, that will always result in collateral damage in the form of civilian deaths and injury and the destruction of nonmilitary structures.

Les portes de l’avenir sont ouvertes à deux qui savent les pousser. Of course, Ukrainian forces will try to have some say in how things turn out for Russian forces in their country. Before Russian forces can do any of that the Ukrainian armed forces would surely like to launch a counteroffensive to drive them out of their country. Given the need for speed to play a role–Ukrainian forces have an uncanny ability to stay a step ahead in the action reaction cycle despite the small amount of experience maneuvering significant sized units on the battlefield that any Ukrainian commanders have had over recent years. One would need to go back to the invasion of Afghanistan decades ago, to point to such an opportunity. A huge issue for the Ukrainian armed forces at this point is fatigue. So much has been asked of so few for so long who were truly fighting, and albeit achieving success, against an opponent well above their weight class. The spirit may be willing to go on but the flesh may not be. Occasio non facile praebetur sed facile ac repente amittitur. (Opportunity is not easily offered, but it is easily and suddenly lost.)

Russian Federation General of the Army Aleksandr Dvornikov (above). On April 9, 2022, Russian Federation General of the Army Aleksandr Dvornikov was appointed commander of the special military operation in Ukraine. The sort of leader, thinker, manager, and commander that Dvornikov is mostly known from what Russia’s Ministry of Defense has released, all of it being very positive. It was likely hoped that Dvornikov’s presence at the helm of special military operation would have a steadying effect throughout the armed forces. Dvornikov has become quite a figurehead for the Russian Army cutting a tough as nails image, captivating Russian soldiers and officers alike, raising morale to some degree, albeit modest perhaps, by his presence. The big question was what to do.

Can a Hastily Deployed Force Recover from Initial Errors and Win a Campaign?

With the intent not to oversimplify, the conundrum Russian commanders face in Ukraine at first glance reminded greatcharlie of the circumstances British forces dealt with during the Boer War. If readers will allow greatcharlie to provide a short overview of the conflict’s genesis, the war began as two Boer Republics the South African Free Republic and the Orange Free State wanted to stemmed British expansion and influence in Southern Africa, especially in the Boer Republic in which large gold deposits were discovered. British citizens from the Cape Colony were denied rights, such as the right to vote and treated as invaders by the Boers. British citizens protested to British authorities in the Cape Colony who in response sought to negotiate with the Boers, but those talks failed. The Boers then began attacking British outposts. British battalions and regiments were hastily mustered and sent to South Africa. Indeed, the British force sent to cope with it was a force acutely less advanced technologically, militarily, intellectually and had drastically less opportunity to organize for military action than the Russian armed forces that invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

Once British forces landed in South Africa, a large portion of it concentrated at the garrison town of Ladysmith. On October 30, 1899, a seizable force sallied out to engage Boer armies which were slowly surrounding the town. The result was a disaster for the British. Summarizing what occurred, omitting a discussion on the maneuvers, it is pointed out here how singular deficiencies of artillery and infantry in terms of tactics, techniques, and procedures caused British forces to face severe challenges. 

Regarding British artillery, Its role was somewhat marginalized in the fight. The fire of British guns was not as productive as that of the Boer StaatsartillerieBritish artillery came under accurate and effective fire from the Boers’ field guns, which were fought as individual gun detachments, and were quickly moved between emplacements before British guns could find their range. British field guns did occasionally hit their mark, silencing Boer guns, but not often enough to be called effective. Due to poor reporting on their opponent’s whereabouts, the fire of British guns was often wasted. British guns were deployed as they had been drilled to do, in neat rows of six without using cover from artillery or even rifle fire. Thereby, British gun batteries were regularly incurring casualties.

Regarding British infantry, establishing fire discipline through fusilade by command and movement as a team, no matter how trying the situation, were practices driven into British soldiers through excellence of drill. However, that product of excellence in the drill square and a practice that was effective and successful in battle for the British Army around the world in the 18th and 19th centuries, was liability against the Boers. (In a few short years ahead, on battlefields in Belgium and France, that practice will have no place whatsoever among British troops.) The Boers, although attacking in organized groups, moved independently, rapidly sought cover where they could find it, and fired at targets where they saw them. Since the British infantry relied on drill, they were firing volleys on the command of an officer. By the time the order had been given, the intended target was safe behind cover, while the British soldiers were exposed to fire. Unable to maneuver against or attrite the Boer’s in any effective way combining fire and movement, most often British troops fought their static, fighting in place, suffering heavy casualties, running low on ammunition and supplies, and facing exhaustion. In the end, the British fell back into Ladysmith. An isolated detachment of 800 men was forced to surrender.The day was subsequently termed “Mournful Monday”. The Boers, however, did not immediately take advantage of their victory by proceeding towards the strategically important port of Durban. Instead, they began a siege of Ladysmith. Following a near unrelenting, ferocious struggle to break through to Ladysmith by British regiments and battalions, it was relieved after 118 of that siege. In the end, the overwhelming power of the regiments and battalions of professional military officers and soldiers of the British Army quelled a brutally waged guerilla warfare campaign and overcame all other incumbrances–as aforementioned, some unknowingly self-inflicted–and defeated the rebellious Boers.

It is highly unlikely that Russian commanders studied the British Army’s experience during the Boer War before crossing into Ukraine. However, in a similar way to the ultimately victorious British forces, they likely hope now that overwhelming force and firepower applied effectively and rapidly can achieve immediate results that cannot be so easily responded to or countered by Ukrainian forces. In terms of creating opportunities and options for their political leadership, great gains by Russian forces might support any demands made for compromise from Ukrainian representatives at the negotiation table. Perhaps they may have created opportunities and options for something else.

Dvornikov at war (above). Dvornikov likely hopes now that overwhelming force and firepower applied effectively and rapidly can achieve immediate results that cannot be so easily responded to or countered by Ukrainian forces. In terms of creating opportunities and options for their political leadership, great gains by Russian forces might support any demands made for compromise from Ukrainian representatives at the negotiation table. Perhaps they may have created opportunities and options for something else.

What Will Putin Do with Russia’s Ill-gotten Gains in Eastern Ukraine?

Ukrainian cities and towns have drawn the brunt of Russian forces’ destructive capabilities. It was forecasted in greatcharlie’s February 10, 2022 post entitled, “Commentary: The Choice of War or Peace Between Russia and Ukraine Rests on the Ability of Parties to View Each Other Differently”, in captured Ukrainian cities and towns. Ukrainian civilians, as well as any insurgents mixed among them, might be hemmed into zones by Russian forces. In a horrific twist, the more difficult zones would be better defined as killing zones, in which “cooperative Ukrainians would be separated from more difficult ones. Insurgents in those zones would be required to punch above their weight, likely against the Federal’naya sluzhba bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsii (Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation) or FSB as well as the Vozdushno Desantnye Voyska (Russian Airborne Forces) or VDV, battered and tattered after fights in the initial stages of the invasion, and other well-suited Russian Federation Army units. They would perhaps need to do that long past the point when reasonably the towel might be thrown. Russian forces could be best informed of how to effectively use such a method by its allies in Beijing. Paramilitary police units of the People’s Republic of China Ministry of Public Security have developed an expertise in this sort of thing. To that extent, an arrangement might be made with Beijing to provide “a sufficient number of advisers” under the control of the Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye Generalnovo Shtaba (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff-Military Intelligence) or GRU, to assist in the prospective zones. (Putin would likely love to have the Chinese involved in some fashion. He would prefer to share claim to such villainy with China.) It all may seem fanciful, too imaginative, but one must consider the absolute madness of the current circumstance itself, and judge this possibility in that context.

Ideally for Putin, inhabitants of Ukrainian cities and towns will be displaced at such a level that the cities and towns themselves would more or less resemble the southern portion of the city of Famagusta in Cyprus or the village of Oradour-sur-Glane in France. (Given results, it almost seems as if Russian engineering officers, artillery officers, air power officers, and ordnance officers, it would seem, are regularly drawing up plans for the systematic demolition of Ukrainian cities and towns, district by district, block by block, using ordnance fired from a variety of weapon systems.) The intermittent attacks on populated areas may indeed have some psychological warfare, punitive, or perhaps even a tactical purpose. Yet, something of far greater conception may be behind them. Perchance Russian commanders, as part of a preconceived plan, seek to displace Ukrainians from their homes, out of the cities and town through “massive evacuations” to make them easier to “manage,” easier to control. Surely, Putin would appreciate having the West finance and supply for their care on the other side of the Dnieper River. Destroying certain parts of cities and towns would also make them far less desirable. At the time of this writing, UN estimates are that over 4.1 million Ukrainians have moved into other countries. When Ukrainians move west, the better things become concerning Putin’s likely plans for Ukraine. 

There might be the chance that citizens of the Russian homeland would be “invited” to relocate and settle in those cities and towns to participate in their reconstruction and, particularly in the southeast, reside in cities and towns in order to reconstruct and work at ports on the Azov Sea and in the many mineral mines. Veterans of the military operation who so inclined could be invited to relocate to the cities and towns they “liberated,” in effect to enjoy the spoils of the war. (Putin must hope that future world events, fate and fortune, will cause sanctions to be lifted just enough that international markets will be open again to Russian products. Not such a fanciful notion, noting again that the current US administration reportedly has turned to Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and others to increase production of oil for markets after heavily sanctioning the regimes and industries of those countries, in some cases for years. Some may even be allowed to develop nuclear power plants and reap benefits from uranium production.) In the same vein, Kyiv, if eventually captured–as of the time of this writing that seems doubtful–would imaginably be transformed into a center of Russian Othodox theological study. The return of displaced Ukrainians, an ineluctable issue of any peace negotiations, will likely be difficult to sort out with Moscow. If parts of Ukraine unavoidably must remain in control of Russia at the time of ceasefire or peace talks, how the issue of returnees is settled will doubtlessly influence the speed of reconstruction in certain districts of cities and result in limited numbers of displaced being accepted. Imaginably for Moscow, ethnic-Russians would perhaps be given priority for what it might tacitly consider to be “naturalization.” 

Returning to Polybius, in The Histories, he describes the Roman invasion of Africa in 256-55 BC during the First Punic War, commanded by the ruthless and vengeful M. Atilius Regulus, which resulted in a singular disaster. As the story goes, Carthage lost over 90% of its forces as the Romans achieved a string of successes. The Carthaginian commander was taken prisoner by Regulus. Polybius explained that Regulus had the opportunity to end the war on very favorable terms, however, in 256, the Roman commander pushed his luck and demanded overly harsh terms of surrender. This drove the Carthaginians to fight him again in a battle that ended in a complete Punic victory. The situation on the battlefield was reversed, and the Roman army was nearly annihilated. The outcome was that Africa was freed from the constraints of occupation. Regulus was severely punished, but Rome from that point was put on the defensive. Polybius ends his account of Regulus there. Modern historians report that the First Punic War was fought for another 14 years, wearing down both sides. Rome eventually forced Carthage to surrender after the Battle of Aegates Islands in March 241 BC, on terms lighter than those Regulus had proposed.

Polybius offers a lesson that both Russia and Ukraine might learn from the ill-considered and brash actions of Regulus in the The Histories. He states: “This event conveys many useful lessons to a thoughtful observer. Above all, the disaster of Regulus gives the clearest possible warning that no one should feel too confident of the favors of Fortune, especially in the hour of success.”

Novotoshkivka (above), a small village about 16 miles southeast of Severodonetsk, in Luhansk. Ideally for Putin, inhabitants of Ukrainian cities and towns will be displaced at such a level that the cities and towns themselves would more or less resemble the southern portion of the city of Famagusta on Cyprus or the village of Oradour-sur-Glane in France. The regular attacks on populated areas may indeed have some psychological warfare, punitive, or perhaps even a tactical purpose. Perchance Russian commanders, as part of a preconceived plan, seek to displace Ukrainians from their homes, out of the cities and town through “massive evacuations” to make them easier to “manage,” easier to control. Surely, Putin would appreciate having the West finance and supply for their care on the other side of the Dnieper River. When Ukrainians move west, the better things become concerning Putin’s likely plans for Ukraine.

The Way Forward

Putin has created a national security emergency for Russia by invading Ukraine. He realizes Russian forces are performing poorly on the battlefield. He knows that he was not provided the opportunity to give a victory speech in Kyiv. He is aware of the immense drain his special military operation has placed on his military resources. The situation is far from satisfactory. It is a wonder if national leaders in the West, and the foreign and national security policymakers in their respective cabinets at all foresaw this outcome. If so, in all seriousness, they surely should have done more in response the urgent need to “save Putin from himself.” As the situation stands, Russia and Ukraine remain in conflict, and the West is remaining outside of the fighting, but supplying Kyiv with what it needs to handle and possibly completely defeat invading Russian forces. That has been forecast as being a long rather drawn out process in which casualties will continue to mount on both sides. However, in war, things do not always turn out the way one might expect. In viewing the situation in the way just described, from the outside of the policymaking and decisionmaking process of every Western country, it appears to greatcharlie that the West has engaged in a bit of self-deception. A blinddpot appears to have been created, fostered by the sense of security, comfort, due to the unity resulting from long-standing bilateral d multilateral ties, at least among the major industrialized powers, membership in NATO, of course, EU membership, and memberships in a variety of regional organizations. The fact is, as aforementioned, Russia is facing a national security emergency and that is a huge problem for the West because from the lens of Moscow, the West is at the center of its problems and has exacerbated them. 

As far as Moscow is concerned, things have not gone as they were supposed to for Russia in Ukraine. It is unlikely, but nonetheless possible that some genius for war in Russia may emerge and turn the situation on the ground immensely and Russia will move unstoppably to the Polish border. That would settle the matter in the most unfortunate way. However, if the situation collapses for Russia in a profound way his response will include retribution against the West. To that extent, the better Ukraine does on the battlefield offensively, the more dangerous the situation becomes for the West and the world. Just viewing a handful of video clips on the death and destruction levied on Ukraine, a country in relative peace–the Donbas excepted, should not leave anyone to think the one responsible would hesitate to bring worse to the rest of the world. It would seem enough to remind those who have forgotten that Russia is a nuclear superpower.

At the moment, again due to Putin’s choice to invade Ukraine, everyone is actually in the same bucket. Ensuring Putin is unable to worsen the situation certainly requires action, training and equipping and assisting Ukrainian forces with combat support so they can halt and push back Russian forces. Actively working to increase the degree of emergency Russia faces makes the world itself less secure. Again, all parties to the conflict, Ukraine, Russia, and the West are all the same bucket. No one will get out if there is no cooperation, some agreement. To be frank, without any intention to insult, greatcharlie states that to believe anything else would be to delude oneself. 

The idea that fighting in Ukraine can be allowed to go on until some stalemate, some situation on the ground will force the warring parties to negotiate is a lost proposiition. For Russia, its an emergency and perhaps for Putin, the last gasp of power. He cannot lose, he cannot turn back so easily. Ukraine, a country that was once a Soviet republic drew a bad card being so abundant  resources and bordering Russia. It wanted the freedom to decide to join NATO and the EU. It rejected terms that it declare its neutrality. All of that was reasonable, but its insistence on these matters facing Russia under its current leadership could only lead to problems to say the least. There must be a starting point for Ukraine to rebuild, rejuvenate itself. There must be a pot in which Putin must be enabled to stop fighting. The opportunity to forge the best possible peace before the killing began has been long since lost. However, there remains the opportunity to create the framework for an evolving peace that will allow both sides to end hostilities.A robust effort must be made in that direction for the sake of everyone. Potiusque sero quam numquam. (It is better to do something late than never.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blindness Bordering on Madness

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Intelligence Services

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

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

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

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

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

Carelessness or Conspiracy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking Good Rather Than Being Good: Finding Work To Do

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Dealing With Beijing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mea culpa

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

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

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

Delinquency Upon Delinquency

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

Russian forces were not organized for war with precision. Units were not ready for battle. Soldiers had no idea of what to expect. Ukraine was allowed use its strengths against Russian weaknesses. Ukraine’s smaller units was able to achieve relative superiority force on force initially in the field. One might have expected that occasionally good fortune would shine upon the relatively lightly-armed Ukrainian forces, and a Russian Army or Russian Naval Troops patrol rolling around or crossing into a danger zone might face ambush, a well-organized ambush, and losses would be suffered. With so many patrol ordered in the different avenues of attack by Russian forces, the greater the chance there would be losses. However, Ukrainian forces outrightly routed Russian units over and over on the battlefield and that line of successes would force Russia to adjust its strategy. This outcome was surely far greater than most military experts around the world could have imagined before February 24, 2022. The possibility of endsieg, victory against the odds, has become all the more real.

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

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

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

Calamity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resurrection?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Way Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Russian Invasion of Ukraine: Brief Meditations on Putin and Small Suggestions That May Support Achieving Peace Through Diplomacy

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (above). in preceding posts, greatcharlie attempted to plunge a little deeper into Putin’s mind to better understand how he thinks and offer not just insights on decisions that he has made, but foresight on decisions he might make in the immediate future and beyond concerning Ukraine. What Western decisionmakers require is some reliable foresight into Putin’s actions. This essay will be too brief to put one in the full picture, even if greatcharlie had that faculty. The hope instead is to present glimmers of light that may stimulate thinking among readers on new lines of thought and provide kernels of ideas on how to proceed for foreign and national security policy analysts and decisionmaking.

On February 24, 2022, frightful predictions of a Russian invasion were realized as Russian forces moved into the country from several points, to include attacks from the territory of Belarus. So many had hoped that the possibility of war would remain just a possibility, and good minds in Western capitals would find some solution and reach an agreement with Moscow by which Ukraine, Russia, and NATO, and the West in general would be satisfied. Evidently, in Ukraine, many wanted to avoid war to the extent they acted as if it were an unlikely possibility. With the surprise and shock barely worn off most Ukrainians at the time of this writing, some have scrambled to move West in order to escape the oncoming death and destruction, and others have joined the Ukrainian Armed Forces or have simply taken up arms in order to be part of a planned insurgency. They are ready and regularly giving all in defense of their homeland.

Not unexpectedly, at the center of it all is Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin and his mindset. Concerning the Ukraine crisis, the matter with Putin runs deeper, more subtle than it seems many might suppose. One might be aware of this given the multitude of reports on Putin attempting to see reason in his actions. With considerable discomposure, greatcharlie states that many one sided analyses of Putin and the current crisis continue to stifle the advancement of understanding about him. That in turn may be hampering effective action and keeping diplomacy stagnated. One sided analyses fail to genuinely consider the other party’s thoughts and needs. In preceding posts, greatcharlie attempted to plunge a little deeper into Putin’s mind to better understand how he thinks and offer not just insights on decisions he has made but foresight on decisions he might make in the immediate future and beyond. To be effective, top foreign and national security policy decisionmakers need to attain a full understanding of both Putin and new situations as they begin to develop. This essay will be too brief to put one in the full picture, even if greatcharlie had that faculty. The hope instead is to present glimmers of light that may stimulate the thinking of readers on new lines of thought and kernels of ideas on how to proceed mainly for US foreign and national security policy analysts and decisionmakers,  but those analysts and decisionmakers of other Western governments, too. The word heart-wrenching marginally describes scenes viewed worldwide on broadcast and online newsmedia of Ukrainians ruined by war. One cannot look without compassion at what is happening there. With emotions about Ukraine running high, greatcharlie approaches the subject of Ukraine with caution. What comes to mind are words of the 17th century French actor and master of comedy in Western literature, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known as Molière. In one of his best-known dramas, “The Misanthrope” or “Le Misanthrope ou l’Atrabilaire Amoureux”, Molière writes the sardonic advisory to which greatcharlie has always paid heed: “That any gentleman should always keep in stern control this writing itch we’re seized with; That he must hold in check the great impatience We feel to give the world these idle pastimes; For, through this eagerness to show our works, ‘Tis likely we shall cut a foolish figure’.”

Putin at press conference following bilateral meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban on February 1, 2022 (above). Putin insists that his government invaded Ukraine for the sake of the Russian people and ethnic-Russians in Ukraine. Surely, Putin doubtlessly believes that everything he does is for the sake of the Russian people. To go a step further, Putin very likely sees himself as a sort of avenger of ethnic-Russians in Ukraine, defender of the people of Russia, and protector of the Russian Orthodox Church and all else that is Russian.

Putin’s Explanation for the War

In his February 24, 2022 televised speech on Ukraine