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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blindness Bordering on Madness

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Intelligence Services

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

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

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

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

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

Carelessness or Conspiracy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking Good Rather Than Being Good: Finding Work To Do

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Dealing With Beijing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mea culpa

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

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

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

Delinquency Upon Delinquency

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

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

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

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

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

Calamity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resurrection?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Way Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Military Leaders Discuss Plans to Counter ISIS Beyond the Battlefield: While the West Plans, Russia Conquers ISIS in Syria

A Russian-built BM-30 Smerch multiple rocket launcher (above) fires on ISIS’ positions in Syria. Despite airstrikes from a US-led anti-ISIS coalition, the impact of Western countries on the ISIS fight has been limited. Since September 2015, Russia, Iran, and Syria have been driving the true ISIS fight on the ground. Given their progress, many capitals have sought to get in on the planning for the creation of political, social, and economic conditions in Syria that will allow for its rebuilding. Yet, before broaching those matters, ISIS still must be defeated militarily.

According to a July 20, 2016 New York Times article entitled “Military Leaders Discuss Plans to Counter ISIS Beyond the Battlefield,” officials from the US and its’ coalition allies in the ISIS fight hammered out details in how to stabilize and govern the cities of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, strongholds of ISIS, in the event that Iraqi and Syrian fighters retake the cities in the coming months. The French Defense Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, who was present at the meeting at Joint Base Andrews in the US state of Maryland, noted the many setbacks ISIS had suffered, pointing to its losses in Iraq as well as its loss of Qaiyara and Manbij in Syria. US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter stated, “We need to destroy the fact and the idea that there can be a state,” adding that battlefield success in Iraq as well as Syria was “necessary.” After those statements, US General Joseph Votel, the commander of the US Central Command, explained that discussion at the meeting mostly centered on how to stabilize Mosul in Iraq, assuming Iraqi forces can take it back from ISIS. Focusing on Iraq at the Joint Base Andrews meeting was reasonable given the efforts of the US and its allies there. The need to resolve struggles for power among Sunni, Shi’a, and Kurdish groups is pressing. However, focusing on what might be done in Syria is somewhat surprising given that the US and its allies, despite US-led coalition airstrikes, are not playing the main role in the ISIS fight there. The fight in Syria is being driven by a Russian-led coalition.

Since September 2015, Russia, along with its Iranian and Syrian allies, have destroyed ISIS units, material, and command, control, communication and intelligence and training facilities and has return Syrian territory back to the hands of Syrian Arab Republic President Bashar al-Assad. True, there are many foreign military forces operating in Syria, but the effort of Russia and its allies is a very visible, full-scale, multidimensional military operation. As its main objective, Russia seeks to shape events on the ground in Syria in order to “stabilize the legitimate authority” of Assad. Russia also seeks to defeat ISIS by annihilating its military formations in the field, eliminating its leaderhip, and eviscerating its so-called Islamic Caliphate to the extent that the organization will never be able to resurrect itself. Western complaints and commentary on Russia’s combat operations in Syria have been nonstop since its’ first sorties in country. The US and United Kingdom have constantly accused Russia of attacking mainly “moderate” anti-Assad groups, rather than ISIS. The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, called Russia’s role a “game changer” and said “It has some very worrying elements.” Putin has ignored such insistent voices from the West. He would likely prefer Western governments saved their ministrations for their own operations on the margins in Syria.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has engaged in multiple talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry on Syria. They have discussed the possibility of acting jointly against ISIS. However, on the ground in Syria, Putin has decided to get on with the matter rather than allow it to languish in the halls of inaction. Russia has been on the move, propelling Iranian, Iranian-led, and Syrian forces forward rapidly. Yet, most recently, Russian Federation commanders and planners have noticed that their allies have faced difficulties in responding to new challenges from ISIS on the ground. Russia must resolve that problem. Much as officials at Joint Base Andrews acknowledged, the end of the war in Syria has begun to take on defined features. Questions exist over what type of peace will take shape in Syria. Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin said that he fully grasps the challenges that lie ahead regarding the rebuilding of Syria. Putin explained, “We must act carefully, step by step, aiming to establish trust between all sides to the conflict.” He also explained that a new and effective government could be formed in Syria once such trust is finally built. Putin said that a political process is the only way to reach peace, and he claimed Assad “also agrees to such a process.” However, the war has not been won yet. Before fully broaching those matters, ISIS still must be defeated via the military operation and peace must be secured. Only then can the focus become creating political, social, and economic conditions that will allow for Syria’s rebuilding. Festinare nocet, nocet et cunctatio saepe; tempore quaeque suo qui facit, ille sapit.  (It is bad to hurry and delay is often as bad; the wise person is the one who does everything in its proper time.)

Disconcerting Breakdowns Among the Allies

Following the Battle of Palmyra, Russian, Iranian, Iranian-led and Syrian Arab Army units, were at a point of high morale on the battlefield. The scent of victory was in the air. However, in that positive atmosphere, there was the danger for troops among the allies to feel too strong, lose their heads, become undisciplined, and fail to perform in a military fashion. ISIS seemed to have found an advantage in this situation. Indeed, ISIS units have displayed a surprising new capability to organize effective counterattacks. Iranian, Iranian-led and Syrian Arab Army units were often unable to protect their forces.

Following the Battle of Palmyra, Russian, Iranian, Iranian-led and Syrian Arab Army units were at a point of high morale on the battlefield. The scent of victory was in the air. However, in that positive atmosphere, there was the danger that troops among the allies would begin to feel too strong, become undisciplined, and fail to perform in a military fashion in combat. ISIS seemed to find an advantage in this situation. ISIS began to display the capability to organize effective counterattacks which the allies were unable to beat them back.

In tranquillo esse quisque gubernator potest. (Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.) The situation stood in great contrast to that in the days immediately after Russian, Iranian, Iranian-led, and Syrian forces captured Palmyra. The allies appeared to have coalesced as a team and it seemed possible that they would soon rush into Raqqa and Deir Ezzor. ISIS engagements units of the allies repeatedly developed into routs. ISIS showed no signs of having contingency plans for the loss of cities, towns, and villages in its so-called Islamic Caliphate. The allies did observe ISIS laying mines and setting booby traps on avenues of approach to their battle positions. However, counterattacks, which would be expected from a professional fighting force to regain territory or cover its’ withdrawal, were not seen. Since that time though, ISIS has learned how to retreat, and has repeatedly generated difficult situations for the allies.

Many of the top commanders and planners in ISIS are former officers of Saddam Hussein’s military or security services. In 2014, those Iraqis were behind the impressive capability of ISIS to move its units with a professional acumen. Their skills were seemingly brought to bear again when ISIS units came out of their battle positions all around Syria to push the allies back. There were even clashes with ISIS units around the main Jazal Field near Palmyra. Intense Russian Federation airstrikes were required to push ISIS back. Unexpected difficulties, friction, should be expected in any military operation. Yet, the problems that beset the allies to a large extent resulted from bad decisions and inadequate military moves. Syrian Arab Army commanders have been unable to avail themselves of Russian Federation air support and artillery. Iranian, and Iranian-led forces, specifically, continued to take a one-dimensional approach to ground maneuver in Syria much as it has in Iraq. Both forces had the ability to request support from Russian surveillance technologies, air power, and artillery, but those resources were not utilized to pound attacking ISIS units.

ISIS fighters (above) organize for an attack. As Russian, Iranian, Iranian-led, and Syrian forces began to take territory from ISIS, it seemed at first that the terrorist group had no contingency plans for losing territory in its so-called Islamic Caliphate. However, ISIS appears to have learned how to retreat. Many commanders and planners behind the movement of its’ forces across Iraq and Syria in 2014 were former officers of Saddam Hussein’s military or security services. Their acumen was brought to bear again when ISIS units came out of their defenses around Syria and pushed the allies back.

Shoigu Investigates

Experto credite. (Trust in one who has experience.) Russian Federation Defense Minister, General of the Army Sergei Shoigu arrived in Syria on June 18, 2016 to meet Assad and surely to examine the problem of increased ISIS infiltration and counterattacks. The added significance of Shoigu’s arrival was the fact that he is known as Putin’s “Do It” man. His ability to achieve success in almost any undertaking is the basis for what greatcharlie.com calls the “Shoigu factor.”  Once Shoigu allayed Assad’s concerns over ISIS’ new moves and Russia’s military cooperation with Syria, Shoigu likely discussed the problem in granular detail with the commander of the Russian Federation’s Military Expeditionary Group in Syria, Russian Federation Army Colonel General Aleksandr Dvornikov, and his air and ground commanders. Shoigu was concerned. He was well-aware that the allies would not be able to limp into Raqqa and Deir Ezzor while ISIS clawed their units to pieces with counterattacks.

Volo, non valeo. (I am willing but unable.) At first look,  Shoigu likely recognized how difficult it was for the three main allies perform with assorted forces under their control, each possessing varied degrees of size, strength, military capabilities, experience, and leadership. Regarding leadership, Shoigu likely discovered how much the acumen of militatry commanders among Russia’s allies differed. Those rdisparities and others should have been underscored and factored into planning, and when possible, compensated for. Instead, perhaps to promote goodwill and unity among the allies, they seemed to have been played down.   Indeed, there was probably plenty of head nodding in agreement in meetings between Russian, Iranian, and Syrian military officials when there was discussion on topics as how to win the war, the need to maximize advantages resulting from the inoperability of Russian-built weapons systems all of the allies used, the integration of ground and air capabilities, and the coordination of action against ISIS.

When Russian Federation military advisers and instructors began trainnig Syrian Arab Army troops in September 2015, they discovered that regular army units needed to be retrained from the squad, platoon, company, and battalion level. Shortages of competent officers and noncommissioned existed throughout the Syrian forces. Advisers and instructors did their best. However, deficiencies that were present before the Russians arrived, managed to resurface as ISIS began to put pressure on the allies via counterattacks.

Shoigu, himself, was likely part of a number of meetings of that type. As recently as June 9, 2016, Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General (Sartip-e Yekom) Hossein Dehghan welcomed Shoigu, and Syrian Arab Republic Defense Minister and Chief of the General Staff of the Army and the Armed Forces Colonel General Fahd Jassem al-Freij for a meeting in Tehran. Shoigu stated prior to the meeting that topics discussed would include “priority measures in reinforcing the cooperation between the defense ministries of the three countries in the fight with the Islamic State” and Jabhat Al-Nusra. Yet, when ISIS applied pressure, infiltrating into areas retaken by the allies and by launching counterattacks, it was revealed that what was being proffered in theory at senior military meetings was not being translated into practice. Iranian, Iranian-led and Syrian Arab Army units could not act fully in a unified, coordinated way with Russian Federation forces in response to unexpected and creative maneuvers by ISIS. Effectively working alongside very sophisticated Russian Federation forces required an agility and flexibility in thinking that Syrian Arab Army commanders and paramilitary unit commanders did not possess. Unable to respond otherwise, they held fast to their own ideas for the command and control of their forces and their own plans and timetables for moving their forces against ISIS.

Interestingly when Russian Federation military advisers and instructors set out to train Syrian Arab Army troops in September 2015, they immediately discovered that regular army units, despite having a good amount of discipline and combat experience, needed to be retrained from the squad, platoon, company, and battalion level. Shortages of competent officers and noncommissioned officers existed throughout the Syrian Arab Army due to battle casualties and a large number of defections to both the Syrian Opposition forces and Islamic militant groups such as ISIS and Jabhat Al-Nusra. Platoons that supposedly held 20 to 30 troops held around 5 to 10 troops, the commander included. Even before the war, signalmen, gunners, engineers, and other military specialist for the most part were only assigned on paper. Russian Federation military advisers and instructors also discovered that there was the need to instruct Syrian Arab Army commanders on better coordinating actions at the brigade and division levels and among higher military authorities. Before Russian military advisers and instructors arrived, “maneuver” in Syrian Arab Army amounted to chaotic movements of companies, battalions, and paramilitary units. No single commander’s concept or operational plan guided them. Artillery and air units acted independently, ignorant of the positions or movements of friendly ground troops.

Troops of the pro-Assad paramilitary group, the Desert Falcons (above), are being addressed by their commanders. Military advisers and instructors not only trained Syria forces, but also distributed new field uniforms, flak vests, and protective helmets from their inventories. Before Russian military advisers and instructors arrived, “maneuver” in Syrian Arab Army amounted to chaotic movements of companies, battalions, and paramilitary units. Artillery and air units acted independently, ignorant of the positions or movements of friendly ground troops.

Regarding paramilitary units (shahibas) loyal to the Assad regime, it was observed that all of them needed to be retrained. That was a difficult task. Despite the fact that many troops in the paramilitary units had seen several years of war, few were aware of how to properly shoot and move on the battlefield. Few had any worthwhile physical training. Volunteer commanders were typically appointed by paramilitary unit members despite the fact that they had no training or experience in leading troops in battle, properly making appropriate decisions in complex military situations, as well as making decisions in everyday situations on the frontline. The discipline of paramilitary troops was a problem that reared its head when the paramilitary units manned checkpoints. A further problem was the unwillingness of paramilitary units to defend areas other than their hometowns. Paramilitary unit volunteers had to be provided basic training then instruction on fighting as part of part of a squad, platoon, company, and then the battalion. Iran, itself, had already deployed Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)-Quds Force (special forces) officers and advisers to Syria. They have mobilized pro-Assad paramilitary units into the 70,000 strong National Defense Forces to fight alongside the Syrian Arab Army, brought in Shi’a volunteer brigades from Iraq and Afghanistan, and Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon.  Only Republican Guard and Special Forces units and a few mechanized brigades possessed satisfactory levels of readiness. Republican Guard units were well-equipped and staffed with professional soldiers and stood practically self-sufficient with organic artillery, airborne, and special purpose forces. Still, its units were only 70 percent manned at best.

Russian Federation military advisers and instructors, as well as those of the IRGC, and IRGC-Quds Force, were unlikely delinquent in their duty. They likely did their best to prepare Syrian Arab Army units for the fight to eject ISIS from their country given the troops and time available. Their solicitude extended to the distribution of new field uniforms, flak vests, and protective helmets from Russian inventories among the newly trained Syrian Arab Army units. Those units were also provided with new Russian vehicles to enhance their mobility. However, deficiencies that were present before the Russians arrived, resurfaced despite those efforts

Russian Federation Air Force Tu-22M3 bombers (above) strike ISIS targets in Syria. Russian Federation air power can hit ISIS hard, destroy its units, and delay and disrupt their movement. Iranian and Syrian forces must be able to fully avail themselves of that Russian military resource if the allies hope to defeat ISIS. When air power is synchronized with, compliments, and reinforces friendly ground movement, it can help drive friendly units forward.

Effects of the failure of Russia’s allies to avail themselves of Russian military resources included a decrease in the tempo of the allies’ offensive action and near loss of the initiative. It resulted in a need for more sorties during air support missions and increased firefights with ISIS, creating the potential for greater friendly casualties. Robust Russian Federation air power should have been used liberally all around Syria to delay and disrupt movement by ISIS units and when possible destroy them. Russian Federation air power should have been synchronized with, complimented, and reinforced movement by friendly ground forces.

Russian Federation commanders and planners are aware that in the fights for Aleppo, Idlib, and other urban centers, the ground forces of allies could do more than simply chisel away at enemy lines. Numerical advantages are rare on the frontlines in Syria, yet an attacker can economize in less active areas in order to develop local superiority at the point of his main effort. The attacker, after concentrating quickly, can 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 he capitalizes on opportunities to destroy the enemy’s forces and the overall coherence of his defense.

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 Syria over 95 percent of Russian Federation Air Force sorties are flown at 15,000 to 20,000 feet primarily to evade enemy air defenses. When aircews cannot identify targets, airstrikes are made in areas where air intelligence reports the enemy is located. In attacking urban centers, that can result in collateral damage in the form of civilian deaths and injuring and the destruction of nonmilitary structures.

Russian Federation Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (above) arrived in Syria on June 18, 2016 to address the problems of increased ISIS infiltration and damaging counterattacks. In meetings with Russian Federation military commanders and planners, Shoigu surely explained that it was not feasible to wait for their Iranian and Syrian counterparts to communicate with them when they are on the attack or facing counterattacks. He undoubtedly directed them to better coordinate with their allies.

Shoigu’s Diagnosis

In his meetings with Russian Federation military commanders, Shoigu surely emphasized that it was not enough to simply stay in communication with Iranian and Syrian Arab Army commanders while they are on the attack or when they are facing counterattacks. Shoigu likely stressed that they had to maintain situational awareness, and authentically coordinate their actions with their allies and help them exploit opportunities created. There was also a shake up in the Russian Federation’s military command structure in Syria. Russian Federation Lieutenant General Aleksandr Zhuravlev replaced Dvornikov. Zhuravlev is known best for helping to plan the Palmyra offensive.

Chief of the Armed Forces General Staff of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov on March 28, 2016 stated Palmyra was “liberated thanks to the support of Russia’s air force and special operations forces.” It seems Russian Federation air power and spetsnaz will also be relied on to underpin the allies’ ultimate victory in Syria. Responding to the problem with resources available, Shoigu ordered increased air strikes and the increased deployment of Russian spetsnaz advisers among Syrian Arab Army units. The goal would be to improve the direction of artillery fires against ISIS counterattacks along the Syrian Arab Army’s axis of advance toward Raqqa and Deir Ezzor and in support of battle positions of allies all around Syria. Russia had already supplied Russian-built heavy artillery and multiple launch rocket systems to its allies, to include: 152-milimeter MTSA-B guns, BM-27 Uragan and BM-30 Smerch rocket launchers, and TOS-1A Solnitsa rocket launchers. Spetsnaz units could assist Syrian Arab Army units in coordinating ground assaults with air support and artillery fire, in building hasty defenses, and in improving unit security. By degrading enemy forces with fire in support of assaults, the goal is not to create attrition battles but to enable the successful, rapid maneuver of friendly forces.

Soon after Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made improvements in Syria, desired results seemed visible on the frontlines. The 60th Brigade of the Syrian Arab Army’s 11th Tank Division (above) supported by the 67th Brigade of the 18th Tank Division and the National Defense Forces were liberating points along the International Highway en route to the besieged city of Deir Ezzor. As they push forward, commanders of these Syrian units will be better able to coordinate with their Russian Federation counterparts and to avail themselves of Russian military resources.

Soon after Shoigu’s visit to Syria, improvements seemed visible on the frontlines. The 60th Brigade of the Syrian Arab Army’s 11th Tank Division supported by the 67th Brigade of the 18th Tank Division and the National Defense Forces were liberating towns and villages along the International Highway en route to the besieged city of Deir Ezzor. In Deir Ezzor’s Industrial District, the Syria Arab Army’s Special Task Force “Al Qassem Group” undertook the task of clearing the remaining ISIS fighters from the district’s streets. They joined the Republican Guard’s 104th Airborne Brigade and 137th Artillery Brigade of the 17th Reserve Division in the fight for Deir Ezzor. The Syrian Arab Army High Command also ordered a change in command of the 17th Reserve Division from Syrian Arab Army Major General Mohammed Khaddour to Syrian Arab Army Major General Hassan Mohammed.

Regarding fights in urban centers, it was reported from southern Aleppo that a mix of Iranian-led units, primarily Iraqi Shi’a militias such as Harakat An Nujba, Katayb Hezbollah, and Assaib Ahl Al Haqq — two of which are operating Russian-made T-90 main battle tanks acquired by the IRGC in early 2016 —launched repeated counterattacks against the Jaysh Al-Fateh coalition, and Free Syrian Army units. Allies loyal to the Assad regime to include private military companies such as Liwa Suqour As Sahra and Liwa Dir As Sahel, Shi’a militias such as Liwa Nussr Az Zawba’a and Quwwat Al Galilee as well as a Lebanese Hezbollah unit, have launched attacks in southern Aleppo. Meanwhile, the Russian Federation Air Force is engaged in a campaign in western Aleppo and targeting the towns of Hayyan, Anadan, Hreitan, Kfar Hamra and Ma’arat Al Artiq positioned along avenues of approach into northern and eastern parts of Aleppo city. Most recently, Russian Federation Air Force airstrikes have targeted Castello Road, the last route out of the Syrian opposition-held eastern part of the city. As for the Syrian Arab Air Force, it continues to hit targets in Idlib city, Ma’arat An Nauman and eastern Aleppo.

Russian Federation Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu led to questions about the progress of the Russian Federation Military Expeditionary Group in Syria. After his visit with Russian Federation commanders and planners, the decision was made to replace Russian Federation Colonel General Aleksandr Dvornikov with Russian Federation Lieutenant General Aleksandr Zhuravlev. Zhuravlev will oversee the allies’ capture of Raqqa and Deir Ezzor and the final destrustion of ISIS in Syria.

Retaining the Initiative to the End

In the April 6, 2016 greatcharlie.com post entitled, “How Russian Special Forces Are Shaping the Fight in Syria: Can the US Policy Failure on Syria Be Gauged by Their Success?,” it was stated that ISIS could potentially establish a redoubt east of Deir Ezzor along the Khabur and Euphrates Rivers, and Syria’s border with Iraq. The goal of that theoretical defensive line would be to forestall the ultimate collapse of the Islamic Caliphate in Syria and to inflict as many casualties among attacking forces as possible with a suicide defense. However, well-planned offensive action by Russia and its allies might serve to obviate that possibility. The military principle of offense prescribes that maintaining the initiative is the most effective and decisive way to dominate the battlefield. On the offensive, there must be an emphasis on the commander’s skilled combination of the elements of maneuver, firepower, protection, and intelligent leadership in a sound operational plan. The initiative must be retained. Moving forward, firepower, the allies’ greatest strength, must be used to its’ maximum advantage. Firepower can serve maneuver by creating openings in enemy defenses, but also destroy an enemy’s vital cohesion, his ability to fight, and effectively act. Indeed, one of the most important targets is the enemy’s mind. The allies should engage in actions that will sway moves by ISIS to enhance the opportunities to destroy it.

The drive against Raqqa and Deir Ezzor in a way resembles the circumstances in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. The Israelis, after defeating the Syrians, pushed up to the Golan Heights at its northern border, and then executed an economy of force operation. Israel kept a portion of its forces on its border with Jordan, even though hostilities did not break-out between the two countries. Israeli forces in the Golan Heights conducted artillery attacks on Damascus with long range guns to give the impression that they were going to seize that city while sizeable Israeli forces were concentrated south against Egyptian forces in the Sinai Peninsula to their southwest. After concentrating against Egyptian forces in the Sinai, Israeli forces threw their strength at Egyptian weakness, the gap between the Egyptian Second and Third Armies. The Israelis subsequently encircled the Third Army eliminating it as a threat to Israeli territory,

Before the final push against them begins, Russian military spetsnaz units could be positioned in the gap between Raqqa and Deir Ezzor to perform the task of detecting and thwarting efforts by ISIS to establish lines of communication between the two cities. They could also be positioned to block ISIS infiltration into Syria from Iraq and territory now controlled by the Assad regime. Spetsnaz units could conduct raids, set up ambushes, and establish kill zones. They could operate vigorously at night when ISIS units might try to conceal their movement.

Much as with the Egyptian Second and Third Armies in the Sinai in 1973, ISIS units in Raqqa and Deir Ezzor, albeit in a limited way, could move units into territory controlled by the Assad regime. They could also become hubs for the reestablishment of lines of communication between ISIS in Iraq and Syria. By hunkering down in Raqqa and Deir Ezzor in the face of an onslaught from Russia and its allies, ISIS can claim that it held on to the capital of its Islamic Caliphate. Raqqa, in particular, would likely become a symbol of resistance and power for ISIS to a greater extent than it is now and its narrative on the city’s defense would become an invaluable recruiting tool for the organization. For Assad to claim that he has retaken control of Syria, he must control urban centers and the surrounding areas of Raqqa, Deir Ezzor and other cities such as Aleppo, Idlib, Latakia, Homs, Palmyra, Darra and certainly Damascus. For Putin to claim that it stabilizes the legitimate authority of Assad. Putin must destroy ISIS in Syria or, at a minimum, leave it scattered and tattered, reduced to a size and strength incapable of forcing Assad from power and unable to resurrect itself. If Raqqa and Deir Ezzor cannot be taken rapidly, Russia and its allies must encircle the cities. After assembling overwhelming force to direct against ISIS units, both cities could be attacked. Before that fight would get underway, spetsnaz units could be positioned in the gap between Raqqa and Deir Ezzor to perform the task of detecting and thwarting efforts by ISIS to establish lines of communication between the two cities. Spetnaz could also be positioned on known and suspected ISIS infiltration lanes into Syria from Iraq and lanes into territory now controlled by the Assad regime. They could block those lanes coconducting raids, setting up ambushes, and establishing kill zones for air strikes and artillery fire. Spetsnaz could operate vigorously at night when ISIS units might try to conceal their movement.

The loss rate of ISIS could be increased by having aerial platforms capable of stand-off attacks continuously engage ISIS defenses, and by stationing fighter jets and bombers in orbit 24-hours a day above ISIS locations identified by spetsnaz to engage in continuous strikes. They could also hit targets of opportunity identified by aircrews whenever they might be authorized to fly at lower altitudes.

The Way Forward

According to the Alexandrian Life of Aeschylus, as they walked on stage during the first performance of Eumenides, the chorus of furies was so hideous and frightening in appearance that “they caused young children to faint, patriarchs to urinate, and pregnant women to go into labor.” ISIS, during its grand entry on the world stage, in Syria and Iraq, put on full display its very bloody, murderous side. ISIS mercilessly murdered hundreds of military prisoners, foreign hostages, and innocent civilians. ISIS left no doubt that it is not only a terrorist organization, but a pagan death cult. While concerned about the rise of ISIS, Putin was never impressed with the group. In a speech on his deployment of Russian Federation forces to Syria, Putin remarked on ISIS’ behavior in a disdainful tone, saying, “We know how they do such things; how they kill people; how they destroy cultural monuments. . . .” In that same speech, Putin explained that in the ISIS fight, Russia would provide Assad and other allies “the necessary military and technical support.” Russia has done that and ISIS may soon be defeated in Syria.

Omne initium difficile est. (Every beginning is difficult.) Once Russia and its allies squeeze the life out of ISIS in Syria, they must not allow ISIS to resurrect itself. A capable military presence must be set up in Syria to keep ISIS out or at least under control. The success of the joint military efforts of Russia and its allies may provide the foundation for a peace enforcement mission in Syria and an eventual reconstruction effort. With reconstruction costs in mind, the possibility exists that Russia and its allies would cooperate with the US over what remains of the ISIS fight in Syria and the US-led fight against ISIS in Iraq. Among other possibilities, Iranian and Iranian-led forces, in support of the Assad regime and their Syrian Arab Army allies, could coordinate actions with units of their comrades in Iraq. Both forces fall under the command of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force Commander General (Sarlashkar) Qassem Suleimani. Locking down the border will collaterally support the ISIS fight in Iraq. It was hypothesized in 2015 by the Middle East Institute that Syrian Kurds’People’s Protection Units (YPG) might be co-opted to help establish a security zone incorporating their own territory and some more along the border with Iraq to help keep ISIS out of the area and help maintain a sustainable peace. How Putin will proceed is uncertain, but right now, Russia is playing a central in Syria and he is free to decide as he pleases.

After Five Years of War in Syria, UN Passes Resolution on Talks: Can Russia Shape Those Talks on the Ground?

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin remains confident about Russia’s intervention in Syria. He has outlined Russia’s objectives there and is providing the Russian Federation Armed Forces what they need to achieve them. UN Security Council Resolution on Syria 2254 calls for talks, but leaves the matter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s presidency open and allows for continued action against ISIS and other Islamic militants. That leaves Putin able to use the forces of Russia and its allies in Syria to help Assad remain in power.

According to a December 18, 2015 New York Times article entitled “After Five Years of War in Syria, UN Passes Resolution on Talks,” the UN Security Council, by a vote of 15-0, adopted a resolution calling for a cease-fire and a peace process that holds the distant prospect of ending the Syrian civil war. It was reportedly the result of a long term effort of the US and Russia to find common interests to stop the violence in the war-torn country. However, although a plan was agreed upon unanimously on December 18th, sharp differences remain between the US and Russian positions. Russia’s key demand is that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad be allowed to remain in power. It is a position also supported by China and Iran. For the US, removing Assad from power in Damascus is a requirement. The resolution makes no mention of whether Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would be able to remain in power or run in any future elections. In truth, what the plan will mean on the ground is uncertain. As US Secretary of State John Kerry stated with humility on December 18th at the UN Security Council, “No one is sitting here today suggesting to anybody that the road ahead is a gilded path. It is complicated. It will remain complicated. But this at least demands that the parties come to the table.”

UN Security Council Resolution on Syria 2254 essentially calls for the following: a ceasefire must be established and formal talks on a political transition must start in early January 2016; groups seen as “terrorists,” including the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) and the Jabhat al-Nusra, are excluded; “offensive and defensive actions” against such groups, referring to US-led and Russia airstrikes, can continue; UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon should report by January 18, 2016 on how to monitor the ceasefire; “credible, inclusive, and non-sectarian governance “ should be established within 6 months; free and fair elections” under US supervision to be held within 18 months; and, the political transition should be Syrian led. As a Member of the Permanent Five Members of the UN Security Council, Russia’s role as a party to November 18th Syria meeting was essential, but hardly prosaic given its ties to Syria. As a matter of fact, Russia has a congenial relationship with the Assad regime unlike other Permanent Five Members. Russia has been working closely with Iran to provide the Syrian Government with military support. Indeed, Putin went into Syria both to “stabilize the legitimate authority” of Assad and to fight ISIS. While the administration of US President Barack Obama has been engaged in a desultory effort to remove Assad since 2012, Putin recognized the US would keep working against Assad regime until it fell or ISIS, too strong for the Syrian Opposition to contend with, took control in Syria. Putin has not forgotten the results of the Obama administration’s support of rebels in opposition to Libyan President Muammar el-Gaddafi, a friend of Moscow. Multinational forces under NATO command, mandated to impose a no-fly zone under UN Security Council Resolution 1973, exceeded their mission, destroying pro-Gaddafi forces as part of Operation Unified Protector. Gaddafi’s regime fell; he was killed. To Putin, it was a cunning deceit and dark tragedy. He does not want anything similar to occur in Syria.

Long before factions of the Syrian Opposition might establish among themselves common facts, presuppositions, and policies for the UN Talks, and before the first vote is cast in UN monitored elections, Russia and its allies may take steps to lengthen Assad’s tenure as president. Russia, is a very capable military superpower. Indeed, Russia could shape the situation on the ground by supporting the Syrian Armed Forces along with forces Iran has brought to, or organized in, Syria. Deliberate progress is being made toward that goal. A large military offensive, purportedly being organized, may allow Syrian, Iranian, and Iranian-led forces to regain control of a large portion of Syrian territory. The Syrian Government might work to “ensure” the political perspectives of local political leaders, administrators, and the civilian population, in reclaimed territory were supportive of Assad. Diplomatic efforts at the UN Talks by Russia and Iran would be conducted in conjunction with the military activity. Perhaps UN Security Council vote, rather than create an agreement for Assad’s removal and transition to a government favorable to the US, EU and some Arab States, may have instead convinced Russia and Iran that shaping events on the ground militarily in Syria is the best way to secure their interests. Principiis obsta (et respice finem). Resist the beginnings (and consider the end). Putin’s decision to go into Syria was not made overnight. Since 2012, he has watched the international community fumble and Syria crumble. He has long considered Russia’s military capabilities and the possibility for their successful use in Syria. He knows what he wants to do and how to do it. He will not become subsumed by Syria. If Russia were to act with more force and increase the pace of its operations in Syria, the Russian Federation Armed Forces would become a decisive factor in Syria and, correlatively, in the UN Talks.

Russia on the Ground in Syria

Gaius Seutonius Tranquillus, a Roman historian who wrote during the early Imperial era of the Roman Empire, wrote in De Vita Caesarum that Rome’s first emperor, Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus (Augustus Caesar) abhorred haste and rashness in a military commander.  He preferred that actions be taken with an appropriate balance of urgency and diligence. Rushing through to execute tasks often led to mistakes and sustained results are not achieved. Accordingly, one of his favorite sayings was festina lente (hasten slowly). Many in the West complained from the start of operations by the Russian Federation Armed Forces in Syria that they were ill-fated, immediately bogged down, or inappropriately conducted. On September 30, 2015, US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter stated about Moscow’s military involvement in Syria, “The Russian approach here is doomed to fail.” Obama stated on October 2, 2015: “An attempt by Russia and Iran to prop up Assad and try to pacify the population is just going to get them stuck in a quagmire and it won’t work.” At a December 18, 2015 news conference, Kerry stated in an effusion of sentiment that 80 percent of Russian airstrikes were hitting Syrian Opposition groups fighting Assad’s forces and not hitting ISIS forces. Putin’s decision to go into Syria was not made overnight. Since 2012, he has watched international community fumble and Syria crumble. He has long considered Russia’s military capabilities and possibilities for their successful use in Syria. He knows what he wants to do and how to do it. Putin in no way wants support Syrian Opposition forces in their effort against Assad so it would make sense for Putin to pace Russia’s actions against ISIS, to learn the landscape and ensure the Syrian Opposition gained no advantages. To that extent, it should have been expected that he would not hesitate to disrupt the Syrian Opposition’s activities where he could. Regarding costs for the Syria operation, so far, Putin has well-managed them. Vasily Kashin, an analyst at the Center for Analyses of Strategies and Technologies in Moscow, explained: “All available data show us that the current level of military effort is completely insignificant for the Russian economy and Russian budget.” Senior administration and intelligence officials in the US, in anonymity, agree with that assessment.

Once in Syria, Russia began using many of its latest weapons systems. New systems used have included: the sea-based Kalibr 3M-14 cruise missile, launched from surface ships and submarines from as far as 900 miles away from their targets; the air launched KH-101 cruise missile; and, the Sukhoi Su-34 strike fighter. On December 19, 2015, Reuters quoted Putin as saying: “We see how efficiently our pilots and intelligence agents coordinate their efforts with various kinds of forces—the army, navy, and aviation; how they use the most modern weapons.” However, Putin continued, “I want to stress that these are by far not all of our capabilities,” adding, “We have more military means. And, we will use them—if need be.” Putin seemed to imply that Russia may ramp up the size and speed of its operations in Syria. By acting more robustly and increasing the tempo of its operations, the Russian Federation Armed Forces would certainly be the decisive factor on the ground in Syria and, correlatively, in the UN Talks. Both the ISIS and the Syrian Opposition would find it difficult to hold territory in the face of a superpower-sized onslaught organized by Russia and its allies. Seizing the maximum amount of land possible may very well enable the Syrian Government to influence the political landscape thus furthering Putin’s goal of keeping Assad in power. Heartened by the Syrian Armed Forces ability to fight back, some Syrians living in towns and cities reclaimed by their government might find cause to support Assad, lessening the possibility of his removal a bit more. Protectio trahit subjectionem, et subjectio protectionem. (Protection draws allegiance, and allegiance draws protection.)  A Russian Federation Air Force Tupolev Tu-95 Bear H Bomber (above) fires a KH-101 air launched cruise missile at a target in Ildib, Syria. By supporting the Syrian Armed Forces along with forces Iran has brought to, or organized in, Syria, Russia might shape the situation on the ground there. If a massive offensive is eventually conducted by Syrian, Iranian, and Iranian-led forces, in territory taken, the Assad regime may try to “ensure” local political leaders and administrators, and local residents were supportive of Assad.

The Importance of Russian-Iranian Cooperation

Per sequar! (Do your part, I will do mine!) Concerning its diplomacy on Syria, Iran has decided to step up its coordination with Russia. The decision was made after a meeting in Tehran between Putin and Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on November 23, 2015. A senior Iranian official told Reuters, “What was agreed was Iran and Russia would pursue one policy which will benefit Tehran, Moscow, and Damascus.” Russian-Iranian military cooperation was decided upon much earlier. An agreement for a joint Russian-Iranian military effort in Syria came into effect in July 2015. Both countries agreed to inject support into the Syrian Armed Forces to counter Assad’s accelerating losses. Joint operations rooms have been set up to bring the allies together, along with the Iraqi Government, which is supportive of Iran’s actions in Syria. (One joint operations room is in Damascus and another is in Baghdad.) Iran, itself, had already deployed several thousand Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-Quds Force (special forces) officers and advisers to Syria. They have mobilized pro-Assad shabihas (militias) into the 70,000 strong National Defense Forces, to fight alongside the Syrian Armed Forces, brought in Shia volunteer brigades from Iraq and Afghanistan, and, of course, Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon. Many IRGC officers and advisers have been killed fighting alongside their allies in Syria to include: IRGC-Quds Force Brigadier General (Sartip-e Yekom) Hossein Hamadani; IRGC-Quds Force Brigadier General (Sartip-e Yekom) Hadi Kajbaf; IRGC-Quds Force Brigadier General (Sartip-e Dovom) Reza Khavari; IRGC-Quds Force Brigadier General (Sartip-e Dovom) Mohammad Ali Allahdadi; Brigadier General (Sartip-e Dovom) Hamid Mokhtarband; and, IRGC-Quds Force Colonel (Sarhang-e Yekom) Farshad Hasounizadeh.

On February 13, 2013, the initial IRGC commander in Syria, IRGC-Quds Force Brigadier General (Sartip-e Yekom) Hassan Shateri, was assassinated. Renowned IRGC-Quds Force Commander, General (Sarlashkar) Qassem Suleimani then took control of the Syria operation, flying often into Damascus. Once the decision on the joint Russian-Iranian effort was made, Suleimani visited Putin and Shoigu in Moscow in July 2015. He outlined the deteriorating situation in Syria for Assad’s forces, but also explained time remained to reclaim the initiative. Putin decided that it was time to act. Suleimani took on a central role in the coordination of Russian, Iranian, and Syrian activities on the ground. Reportedly, Suleimani was injured by a TOW missile fired by Syrian Opposition rebels on November 12, 2015. In diplomacy on Syria, Iran has decided to step up its coordination with Russia. The decision was made after a meeting in Tehran between Putin and Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on November 23, 2015 pictured above. Russia and Iran will pursue a singular policy designed to benefit Moscow, Tehran, and Damascus.

Military Action

According to Russian defense and military officials, Russia’s airstrikes have targeted leaders of ISIS—and other Islamic militant groups such as Al-Qaeda linked Jabhat al-Nusra—when identified. Command, control, and communications centers of ISIS have been struck throwing the process of directing ISIS units into confusion. Training centers have been destroyed. Fighting positions of ISIS positions in front of the Russian allies have been degraded with close air support as well as very heavy strikes by Russian ordinance. Presumably they will provide close air support for an eventual ground offensive by Russia and its allies. (Ground forces utilized would primarily be Syrian and Iranian though.) Since air operations began, Russian fighter jets have conducted almost as many strikes daily as the US-led, anti-ISIS coalition has been carrying out each month in 2015. Russia has also conducted night strikes with damage assessment by drones.

Reportedly, commanders of the Russian Federation Armed Forces believe the military objective of any ground operations in Syria should first be to create a regime stronghold in what is referred to as “Useful Syria” (Suriya al-Mufida) from Damascus up to Aleppo through Homs. That would require Russia and its allies to sweep up the Western part of Syria. It would take pressure off Latakia, a pro-Assad, Allawite heartland and locale of an important airfield and take pressure off Tartus, a long-time Soviet then Russian Federation Navy port that is important to naval operations in support of Syria. After reaching Latakia, Russia and its allies might turn toward Idlib. Part of the force could push farther north to gain control of the Syrian-Turkish border west of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party’s (PYD) territory, blocking the US coalition and ISIS from access to it. In an additional phase of their offensive, Russia and its allies may press eastward. A key objective would be to take Palmyra from ISIS and the oil and gas resources around it. Another key objective would be to push beyond Aleppo to retake the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, which is the official capital of the so-called Islamic State in Syria. Moving that far out, some believe Russia may seek to co-opt the Syrian Kurds’People’s Protection Units (YPG) to help assist in the offensive. Russia has begun to increase the intensity of its attacks in all of the locations mentioned. Su-34 and Su-24 fighter-bombers have primarily been used on command posts, stores of weapons, oil products, and workshops where weapons for suicide bombers are made that are situated along prospective axes of advance of Russia and its allies. Bunker busting BETAB-500 bombs have been dropped from Su-34s near Raqqa with the goal of eliminating command posts along with underground storage facilities for explosives and munitions. Large numbers of ISIS fighters have been eliminated due to such strikes. The above map from the renowned Institute for the Study of War reveals the general pattern of Russian airstrikes and cruise missile strikes in Syria. Both ISIS and the Syrian Opposition would find it difficult to hold territory in the face of a superpower-sized onslaught by Russia and its allies. Putin likely wants pro-Assad forces to take the maximum amount of land possible west and north in “Useful Syria” and eastward in Raqqa and Palmyra, to broaden the Assad regime’s area of control and political influence.

To enhance mobility and firepower for offensive action, Russia has transferred dozens of powerful, well-armored, T-90 tanks to the Syrian Army, particularly those fighting in Aleppo and near Damascus. The T-90s will also be used to enhance the combat power of the combined Syrian, Iranian, and Hezbollah forces poised to take Palmyra from ISIS. The T-90s were first delivered to the Syrian Republican Guards 4th Armored Division, commanded by Assad’s younger brother, General Ali Maher Assad. The T-90s will replace a large portion of the Syrian Army’s 500 tanks which are mostly Russian T-72s which are vulnerable to TOW missile systems provided by the US to Syrian Opposition fighters. The pace of the deliveries will be determined by the time needed for Russian instructors to train Syrian tank crews on the T-90. Large deliveries of Russian heavy artillery and multiple launch rocket systems have also had an impact on the frontlines of the Syrian Army, Hezbollah, and the Shia militias. That equipment includes: 152-milimeter MTSA-B guns, BM-27 Uragan and BM-30 Smerch rocket launchers, and TOS-1A Solnitsa rocket launchers. Russia and its allies have placed a steady onslaught of fire from those systems and from tanks on their opponents’ positions daily. If a major ground offensive gets underway, artillery attacks will surely intensify. Quae non prosunt singular multa iuvant. (What alone is not useful helps when accumulated.) To enhance mobility and firepower for offensive action, Russia has transferred dozens of powerful, well-armored, T-90 tanks to the Syrian Army, particularly those fighting in Aleppo and near Damascus. The T-90s will also be used to enhance the combat power of the combined Syrian, Iranian, and Hezbollah forces poised to take Palmyra from ISIS. The T-90s will replace a large portion of the Syrian Army’s 500 tanks which are vulnerable to TOW missile systems provided by the US to Syrian Opposition fighters.

A Future Syrian-Iranian Fretwork

With the intermeshing of Iranian forces with the Syrian Armed Forces and the National Defense Front, a picture emerges of what Syrian Armed Forces and what Syrian communities along the axis of the Iranian-Syrian ground attack might look like in a year. One might recall what occurred in Bosnia and Herzegovina once the war ended in 1995. Particularly after 1994, members of the IRGC, IRGC-Quds Force, Iranian Army and Ministry of Intelligence and Security, referred to as “volunteers,” were folded into the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Indeed, a few thousand Iranians became part of the 3rd Corps of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which greatly enhanced the force’s capabilities and the army’s overall combat power. The Iranian troops settled in many towns and cities in the Muslim-Croat Federation. The extraction of foreign fighters from the postwar Bosnian Federation Armija, and the Federation in general, was mandated by the national government in Sarajevo about a decade after the war due to international pressure. In Syria, the IRGC, IRGC-Quds Force, the Iranian Army, and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security will do much to influence the outcome on the battlefield but also will likely do much to help the Assad regime influence the result of elections despite UN monitors, by helping to “create support” for Assad and “coping” with regime opponents.

The Assad regime likely has a limited degree of influence within the Syrian diaspora worldwide, including among refugees in massive camps in Jordan and Turkey or on their own elsewhere. Kerry is said to have proposed allowing all Syrians, “including members of the diaspora” participate in the vote at a UN meeting in Vienna on November 14, 2015, betting that if Syrians around the world can participate in the vote, Assad will not be able to win. Russia and Iran would hardly allow the situation to slip from their hands so easily. They likely believe that they can cope with that issue in the coming UN Talks. If Assad’s presidency is not viewed as legitimate by the international community following an election, due to any administrative difficulties that may arise or due to actions by the Assad regime or its allies on the ground, the impact on Assad would be minimal. By now, Assad has become inured to the hardship caused by UN sanctions and isolation stemming from the international community’s scorn. Moreover, Assad is, albeit, the “ward” of Russia and Iran. If problems arise, they will cover him. If Russia and its allies can gain control of a good portion of Syria, future threats of an externally orchestrated regime change by force will be precluded. Amicus certus in re incerta. (A sure friend in an unsure matter.) Expectations for talks established under UN Security Council Resolution 2254 may not be based in reality. The picture painted at the UN Security Council was of a factionalized, difficult Syrian Opposition that has suddenly become homogenized. Putin anticipates nothing satisfying from the UN Talks. He sees there is a danger that Russia’s interests will not be served. Rather than wait to be disappointed, Putin will likely seize the opportunity to shape the situation Syria to meet Russia’s interests and those of Tehran and Damascus.

The Way Forward

Fantasies of a future that is desired can become a substitute for reality. Somehow, those on the UN Security Council have anesthetized their consciences to the realities, difficulties, of working with the Syrian Opposition Movement. Indeed, things antecedent have been forgotten. The Obama administration decided to provide the Syrian opposition its support with the hope that Assad could be pressured to the negotiating table by Free Syrian Army advances and eventually agree to step down under a settlement. However, very rapidly, Syrian Opposition leaders discovered the entire taking on the Syrian Armed Forces and their allies was enormous and they found themselves well out of their depth. Simply keeping the opposition together politically has proven very difficult. Foreign diplomats must regularly act as mediators to hold the Opposition’s diverse groups together. Opposition military leaders have not shown any greater ability to unify their forces. Now, new talks have been set up under UN Security Council Resolution 2254. The UN Security Council now paints a picture of a Syrian Opposition that has become homogenized and is ready for talks. One should anticipate a future that is reality based. Perhaps what the UN Security Council is waiting for regarding the talks will not be worth waiting for. Sero venientibus ossa! (Those who are late get the bones!)

The art that moves Putin’s mind is not easily deciphered. His intuition likely tells him there will be plenty of debate and confusion at the UN Talks. Yet, he is likely more concerned that the process will not serve Russia’s interests. Putin will not standby for that and will try in advance of UN monitored elections to shape the situation in Syria to secure Russia’s interests and those of Iran and the Assad regime. Under UN Security Council Resolution 2254, offensive and defensive actions by the US-led, anti-ISIS coalition and Russia can continue. For Putin, that means Russia and its allies will be able to act “unimpeded” on the ground. Russia’s moves in Syria will not bar it from working on the talks alongside the other Permanent Five Members of the UN Security Council. Rather, Russia will be involved fully. With matters such as Libya in mind, its’ diplomats will narrowly focus on what best suits Russia and its allies. If Putin gets his way, there will be little left in Syria for the US to be satisfied with. The drama of the Obama administration’s failed interaction with Putin is nearly played out as the end of its second term nears. Kremlin observers allege Putin feels the administration has been marked by weakness. He will try to take advantage of the situation while it lasts.