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

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

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

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

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

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

Revisiting Putin’s February 24, 2022 Speech

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

Quite prescient in Putin’s mind, as expressed in his February 24, 2022 address, appeared to be the Soviet ties between the Russian and Ukrainian people during World War II. At least outwardly, Putin convincingly gave the impression that he was hooked on the idea that among the officers, men, and women of the Ukrainian armed forces there was a lingering sense of Soviet unity equal to his own. Putin would go as far as to implore the Ukrainian armed forces to submit to his will and allow Russian troops to again simply march into their country. Putin can surely tell the difference between real and unreal. He has not managed to stay in power since 2000 by engaging in Quixotic pursuits. Still, there appeared to be a singular emotional commitment on his part to the ideas of Russian-Ukrainian unity and the fealty of the officers, men, and women of the Ukrainian armed forces to Moscow, to him, that it apparently was made a feature of his war plan. Putin “appealed” to members of the Ukrainian armed forces as follows: “I would also like to address the military personnel of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Comrade officers! Your fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers did not fight the Nazi occupiers and did not defend our common Motherland to allow today’s neo-Nazis to seize power in Ukraine. You swore the oath of allegiance to the Ukrainian people and not to the junta, the people’s adversary which is plundering Ukraine and humiliating the Ukrainian people.” Putin continued: “I urge you to refuse to carry out their criminal orders. I urge you to immediately lay down arms and go home. I will explain what this means: the military personnel of the Ukrainian army who do this will be able to freely leave the zone of hostilities and return to their families.” Lastly, he stated: “I want to emphasize again that all responsibility for the possible bloodshed will lie fully and wholly with the ruling Ukrainian regime.” Il a une araignée au plafond.

The Combat of Saint-Cast and Putin’s Delusion

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

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

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

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

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

It was discovered a few weeks into its special military operation in Ukraine that a good amount of what one organization among the Russian intelligence services had provided Putin was pure fabrication. That was revealed to the world by the Russian government itself. Yet, that revelation had no impact on the prosecution of the war. No troops were withdrawn. No discernable urgency was placed on reaching a negotiated peace. In greatcharlie’s April 30, 2022 post entitled, “Brief Meditations on the Role of Deception, Deceit, and Delinquency in the Planning, Preparations, and Prosecution of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine”, it was discussed that there is the possibility that Putin, knowing what he knows, experienced as he is, wanted to be deceived because he so badly wanted to invade Ukraine and needed to show his decision could not be viewed as reckless, but rather based in reason that would be generally accepted.

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

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

A Second Look at the Ukraine War’s Causation

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

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

The 2013 plan was developed in response to Moscow’s concerns with NATO expansion and Putin’s sense that Russia stands vulnerable to the US “tricks.” In greatcharlie’s November 16, 2016 post entitled, “Belarus Allows Small Demonstrations Outside KGB Headquarters: As Belarus Curries Favor with the West, Can It Help Russia, Too?”. That 2016 post noted that on February 14, 2013 at a conference called “Russia’s Military Security in the 21st Century,” the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov, provided a glimpse of Russia’s official assessment of future wars it may face as outlined in the top secret Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation. The impact of Putin’s thinking on the Western threat to Russia is apparent. The Russian Federation General Staff believes future conflicts will be “Resource Wars.” Indeed, they conclude the depletion of energy resources will soon become an ultimate world crisis and overtake regions. Severe shortages of oil, gas and other natural resources would cause their prices to steeply rise. Russia’s senior military leaders believe outside powers, primarily the US and its allies, may invade their country from several directions to physically grab territory and its resources. The Kremlin has accepted the threat assessment of the Russian Federation General Staff. Putin signed the Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation into law on January 29, 2013. The plan guided Russia’s defense spending in 2016 which exceeded 6 percent of Russia’s GDP, along with national security and federal law enforcement budgets totaling an additional 3 percent. The plan guided the Russian military build-up in the Arctic, the Pacific, the Baltic, in Crimea and on the Ukrainian border. The Syria expedition was also part of that picture. Russian Federation Defense Minister, General of the Army Sergei Shoigu, when announcing the massive strategic military exercises, Zapad 2017, explained on November 2, 2016: “The US and NATO are actively increasing their offensive potential, building new bases and developing military infrastructure, undermining international stability, and attempting to impose their will by economic sanctions and use of military force. A propaganda information war is raging.” Shoigu further stated that Russian borders were being threatened and adequate defensive measures are being taken.” All of these ideas based on defending against Russia’s main opponent, the US and the West, run contrary to notions in the Western governments on the need to combat climate change, the move away from fossil fuels via public policy. One might presume, however, that in Moscow, such notions emanating from the West are beside the point.

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

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

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

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

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

Putin the Mineralogist

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

Putin the Despoiler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have the Russian Federation Armed Forces Recovered after Earlier Failures?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Problems Rest at the Commander’s Doorstep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Way Forward

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

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

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

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

Ukraine, Rebels Reach Preliminary Deal to Broaden Weapons Withdrawal; No Progress in Repairing US, EU Relations with Russia

Two pro-Russia, separatist fighters in Eastern Ukraine (above) hold their position in a gun battle. Ukraine is a main source of tension between the West and Russia. The US and EU accuse Russia of arming the separatists and sending troops to Ukraine. Russia says the US engineered a coup which led to the conflict. The US and EU placed restrictions on Russia’s trade and economic activities in reaction. Russia took “retaliatory, protective measures.”

According to a July 21, 2015 Reuters article entitled “Ukraine, Rebels Reach Preliminary Deal to Broaden Weapons Withdrawal,” the Contact Group involving Ukraine, Russia, and the pro-Russia separatist of the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions agreed to extend the pull back of weapons in East Ukraine to include tanks and smaller weapons systems. The meeting was held in Minsk, Belarus under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). More than 6,500 people have been killed in fighting which began in April 2014 between Ukrainian government forces and the pro-Russia separatists. Under the Minsk Ceasefire Plan of February 12, 2015, weapons under 100mm should have been withdrawn already. However, both sides accuse the other of continually using heavy artillery fire and report causalities almost daily. The Minsk Ceasefire Plan requires in part: an immediate ceasefire; a buffer zone separating heavy weapons of both sides, with a minimum buffer zone of 50km for 100mm artillery and up to 140km for rockets; effective verification by the OSCE; amnesty and release of all hostages and illegally detained people; restoration of government pensions and other welfare payments for civilians in the east; and, full Ukrainian control over the eastern border, after local elections under Ukrainian law and a constitutional deal on the future of Donetsk and Luhansk by the end of 2015.

Ukraine is a main source of tension between Russia and the West. The West has criticized Russia for annexing the Crimean peninsula and has accused Russia of arming rebels in eastern Ukraine. Russian opposition activists published a report, originally compiled by slain Russian statesman and politician, Boris Nemtsov, alleging that 220 Russian soldiers had died in two key battles in eastern Ukraine. However, Russia denies arming the rebels or sending troops there. Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin holds the US responsible for the conflict. He remarked, “They [the US] should not have supported the anti-constitutionalists’ armed coup that in the end led to a violent confrontation in Ukraine, a civil war in fact.” It was also seen as an effort to isolate Russia. As discussed in the July 16, 2015 greatcharlie post entitled “Russia Is Top US National Security Threat Says General Dunford; That Should Make It the Top Priority for US Diplomacy,” some European leaders made efforts to resolve issues with Putin. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President François Hollande, and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko worked with Putin to devise the February 12, 2015 Minsk Ceasefire Plan. Yet, they have made little significant progress otherwise regarding Europe. There have been intermittent contacts between US President Barack Obama and Putin, but relations seem best handled by their chief diplomats, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

On May 12, 2015, Kerry spent four hours with Putin for what Kerry characterized as a “frank meeting” at the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi. Kerry also spoke four hours with Lavrov. It was Kerry’s first visit to Russia since May 2013. Both sides, face to face, fully presented their positions. Lavrov said Russia was ready to co-operate with the US but only on an “equal basis” and without coercion. He commented on the Russian Foreign Ministry website that attempts to pressure Russia through sanctions would only lead to a “dead end.” Kerry said it was critically important that the Minsk Ceasefire Plan be fully implemented in eastern Ukraine. He stated that US and EU sanctions against Russia could only be scaled down “if and when” that happens.

It is uncertain whether full compliance will be reached. It seems almost equally uncertain resolution can be found soon to revive soured relations between Russia and the West. Making the best military preparations possible through NATO is necessary. Still, it may not be useful for the US and EU to pressure Russia militarily as options available to NATO fail to provide real advantages. Many Western political leaders seem unwilling to commit to a costly, long term, concerted military build-up to deter what NATO alleges are Russian plans to push westward. That almost assures limitations will exist in NATO ability to use its collective military power. Putin is aware of those limitations. The US and EU should place even greater emphasis on resolving problems with Russia through diplomacy. Pushing toward military action may create conditions for matters to escalate beyond any rationale actors’ liking. Ducunt volentem fata, no lentem trahunt. (Fate leads the willing soul, but drags along the unwilling one.)

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin is seen here with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. European leaders have sought to resolve issues with Putin. Merkel, French President François Hollande, and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko forged the Minsk Ceasefire Plan with him, but little else has been achieved regarding Europe. Pressuring Russia militarily may not be useful. More emphasis must be placed on resolving issues diplomatically.

Causality for the Dispute Between the West and Russia

The Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus said, “We are too much accustomed to attribute to a single cause that which is the product of several, and the majority of our controversies come from that.” It may be mistaken causality to find some great plan in all that has occurred between Russia and the West. As explained, Putin insists that he is only acting in response to Western behavior toward Russia. Speaking at a conference in Moscow on April 16, 2015, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu explained: “The United States and its allies have crossed all possible lines in their drive to bring Kiev into their orbit. That could not have failed to trigger our reaction.” The Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General Valery Gerasimov stated at the same conference, “Considering themselves the winners of the Cold War, the United States decided to reshape the world to fit its needs.” He further explained, “It’s clear that measures taken by NATO to strengthen the bloc and increase its military capabilities are far from being defensive.” Nonetheless, nothing Russian officials might say could dissuade most in the US and EU from believing Putin is driving events forward.

After studying Putin’s actions in Ukraine, including his seizure of Crimea, the National Defense Academy of Latvia concluded that Russia’s ultimate aim is to introduce “a state of permanent war as the natural condition in national life.” The governor of Odessa, Ukraine, Mikheil Saakashvili, who was appointed by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, has proffered: “There is no way that they [Russia] will not go into the Baltics next. There is no way they will not revisit Georgia or Azerbaijan. Putin is obsessed with the idea of testing NATO—this was clear in my long conversations with him.” NATO Supreme Allied Commander US Air Force General Philip Breedlove explained “there must still be a dialogue with Russia, but conversations with the country must be done from a position of strength.” In his view, Russia broke with a policy two decades long of cooperation and embarked on what he called “a far different course.” He described that course as one “that shifts the relationship between Russia and the West from strategic cooperation to one of strategic competition. This is not a temporary aberration, but the new norm, according to Breedlove. US Air Force Secretary Deborah James, in addressing Russian actions, said “The biggest threat on my mind is what’s happening with Russia and the activities of Russia.” She further stated, “It’s extremely worrisome on what’s going on in the Ukraine.”

While trying to formulate and implement approaches to the situation with Russia, US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter also decried Putin’s actions. Carter said, “One of [Putin’s] stated views is a longing for the past and that’s where we have a different perspective on the world and even on Russia’s future.” Carter declared, “The United States will not let Russia drag us back to the past.” Carter accused Moscow of trying to re-create a Soviet-era sphere of influence. He went on to state, “We’d like to see us all moving forward, Europe moving forward, and that does not seem to be his stated perspective.” Carter encouraged Europe to keep up the sanctions—which he called the best tool—for as long as it takes to change Russia’s calculations. Commune periculum concordian parit. (Common danger begets unity.)

Carter insisted that NATO “will not rely on the Cold War playbook,” citing instead a combination of military and non-military tools, including sanctions. Indeed, US officials say Ukraine has illustrated the importance of being able to counter “hybrid warfare”, the blend of unidentified troops, propaganda and economic pressure that the West says Russia has used there. In June 2015, Carter confirmed that the US would contribute special operations forces, intelligence and other high-end military assets to a new NATO Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) as part of the 40,000 troop strong NATO Response Force (NRF). The VJTF will be a multinational brigade with up to five battalions, about 5,000 troops, supported by air, maritime, and special operations assets. Some elements will be able to move in 2 to 3 days based on warnings and indicators of a potential threat. The VJTF’s purpose, in part, is to deter any future actions by Russia. The US support would include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets—which can include drones or manned aircraft—as well as special operations forces, logistical expertise and high-end US military assets. Carter also said it would include airlift and precision joint fire capabilities, which could include anything from land-based artillery to air support or naval firepower.

In an ordered universe, one expects every action to have an equal and opposite reaction. Using life experience or empirical testing, one might predict reactions from certain actions. One expects to see patterns. Yet this is a world that is also bit off kilter. After alienating Putin by preventing him from further participation in the G-8, and hitting many of his close associates, their business interests, and Russian industries with sanctions, the US and EU expected him to back off of Ukraine and Eastern European states. Yet, those who believed sanctions and other coercive means, and deploying small sets of US forces to the Baltic States and Poland would modify Putin’s behavior are in the cradle intellectually. On the world stage, Putin will never allow Russia to be perceived as wilting before what he views as Washington’s effort to establish total dominance. He will resist and counter pressures. He wants the US and EU to take into account Russia’s interests on Ukraine and other issues. Soothing Putin’s ego cannot be the goal of talks. However, reestablishing normative behavior and positive relations by surmounting contentious issues must be. For talks to work, all issues must be tabled and hashed out.

On May 15, 2015, the Telegraph published a map of Russian incursions in NATO airspace and waters since September 2014. The map indicates Russia probed every approach to Western targets. NATO jets scrambled and warships sped to meet the intruders. The incursions are partly Putin’s response to support the US and EU has given Kiev, especially military assistance, and NATO’s deployment of forces in the Baltic States and Poland.

Hybrid Warfare and Other Russian Military Options

US officials say Ukraine has illustrated the importance of being able to counter “hybrid warfare,” the blend of unidentified troops, propaganda and economic pressure that the West says Russia has used there. Yet, it would be somewhat unlikely that Shoigu, Gerasimov, or senior officers of security organizations such as the Director of the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate, Lieutenant General Igor Sergun, in considering how to cope with the NRF and smaller VJTF, would again use the tactics seen in South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia, and in Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk in Ukraine. It would be counter-intuitive for them to use the tactic which NATO is best organized to oppose. If instead of a hybrid attack, Putin ordered a Russian force, overwhelming in size and combat power, to quickly engage the VJTF on the ground, it might be futile for the VJTF or NRF to attempt to handle it, even if the absolute maximum amount of pre-positioned weapon systems and ordinance were made available.

In the best case scenario for NATO, Russia could rush into a neighboring country using with heavy armored and mechanized units, highly mobile infantry, combat service units, and combat service support units painstakingly massed along their mutual border. That approach would provide NATO with warning and sufficient time to react. Indeed, using time available, the VJTF could deploy to a NATO ally in advance of any significant Russian movement. The VJTF would be able to set up its defenses, making use of prepositioned systems and ordinance. Air power would be made available to support dynamic defensive actions and negate opportunities for Russian forces to overwhelm units. Preparations to move the NRF and reinforcements from all NATO allies would get underway. Putin would need to choose whether to clash with the VJTF or retreat unable to secure its objectives without displacing the NATO force. Perhaps his decision would rest on how soon the NRF and reinforcements would arrive to support the force before the Russians inflicted catastrophic losses upon it. Establishing surprise and minimizing resistance are among the main advantages of using hybrid warfare. To achieve those advantages again, Russia may not engage in a large, very visible build-up at its border and transport troops by truck. Instead, it might rapidly deploy forces from bases well inside Russia, prepped under the guise of military exercises, and fly them into a neighboring state, massing at key points.

Before NATO deployed the VJTF or NRF, political leaders among the Allies would need to decide in advance whether those forces would fire the shot to likely start World War III. Sending the VJTF into an ally’s territory to link up with local forces already engaged with Russian forces would guarantee NATO and Russian forces would clash. If the objective is to independently displace Russian forces from key points or to expel it, the VJTF will again be required to fight Russian forces. To get in country, the VJTF and NRF would need to hope Russian forces would not destroy air bases and other facilities upon which NATO fighter support and jet and helicopter transports deliver reinforcements and materiel. If the VJTF cannot get to the targeted ally’s territory first, Russia would likely try to destroy or displace the ally’s forces by massing numerically superior forces and firepower, quickly securing key points. Air cover and close air support for Russian troops could be flown in from the Russia. Russian reserve units and logistical support could also be brought in quickly from Russia.

Regarding NATO’s reinforcement of the VJTF and NRF or efforts to retake territory, Russia would most likely create a non-permissive environment for that. It would be impossible for NATO to execute landings in Europe similar to those at Normandy during Operation Overlord in 1944. Although NATO air power might be used to destroy the Russian force, the Russians might also use air power and powerful conventional weapons to destroy the VJTF and follow-on NRF and interdict reinforcement from neighboring states. If NATO forces proved unable to halt and expel the Russian force, options other than retreat would be needed. As in the Cold War, the use of tactical nuclear weapons to destroy the Russian force—which is not being advocated here—might be considered. The VJTF could be publicly declared a trip wire to trigger their use. Protocols on using the weapons would need to be drawn up and approved by the Allies. Europe would again face the prospect of becoming a nuclear battlefield.

In pace, ut sapiens, aptarit idonea bello. (In peace, like a wise man, he appropriately prepares for war.) Since Washington has decided to cut 40,000 troops from the US Army’s ranks by 2017, the US will not be able to cover any gaps in NATO’s strength without earmarking a sizeable portion of its forces primarily for that task. There are 65,000 US military personnel from all branches of the armed forces in Europe; 38,000 are stationed in Germany. Those numbers continually drop. For the US Army, a drawdown of forces has already meant cutting 10,000 soldiers—including two brigade combat teams—from Europe. Another 1,700 soldiers will be cut over the next three years as part of the latest round of reductions, leaving about 30,000 soldiers forward stationed in Europe. US Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno has noted the deleterious effect that the new cuts will have on US forces in Europe which are already being reduced. Working apparently within parameters of what is politically feasible, Odierno developed plans to position an additional stockpile of heavy equipment in Germany large enough to supply one combat brigade. It would include tanks and infantry fighting vehicles. It would facilitate the deployment of US units in a crisis. The new stockpile would supplement the smaller sets of armored and mechanized equipment, self-propelled howitzers, and other gear—enough to arm one combat brigade also—that the US Defense Secretary pledged to position in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria, Romania and Poland. Carter said that equipment will be moved around Europe for training and exercises. Odierno also expressed the intent to designate the entire US 4th Infantry Division as a regionally aligned force for Europe. That would mean the division’s combat, combat support, and combat service support units would regularly deploy to Europe to engage in military exercises. The division’s intelligence officers would be able to focus on the actions and intentions and the relative strengths and weaknesses of Russian forces. The division’s planners would become more familiar with allied capabilities. Only one brigade, the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team of the US 3rd Infantry Division is aligned to Europe.

Western military planners of a few decades past could have hardly imagined that against a potentially aggressive Russian force, sufficient armored and mechanized forces would not be based in Europe to meet it. During the Cold War, the US and its NATO allies stood ready to halt a Soviet and Warsaw Pact attack across the Inter-German border dividing the Federal Republic of Germany, the German Democratic Republic and Czechoslovakia.

In the 1980s, the NATO Alliance fielded 750,000 troops of which 200,000 were from the US Army. At that same time, the US AirLand Battle doctrine, emphasizing maneuver and mobility, air-ground coordination, and the attack in depth was introduced. To defeat Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces, new weapons were deployed in Europe to enhance US combat power and have a multiplier effect on the battlefield. NATO would fight to win.

Commitments from NATO Allies Remain Uncertain

As noted in a September 19, 2014 greatcharlie post, Western military planners of a few decades past could have hardly imagined that against a potentially aggressive Russian force, sufficient armored and mechanized NATO forces would not be robustly deployed in Europe to meet it. Throughout the Cold War, the US and its NATO allies stood ready to repel a Soviet and Warsaw Pact attack across the Inter-German border dividing the Federal Republic of Germany, the German Democratic Republic and Czechoslovakia. The US Army reached an all-time high in troop strength in Europe since the postwar period of 277,342 in 1962. Yet, the Soviets and their Warsaw Pact comrades held a constant numerical advantage over NATO in conventional forces, particularly in heavy armored and mechanized units. Under a long-held attrition-oriented forward defense strategy, NATO would fight with units based in Europe, and reinforcements from the US, to keep advancing Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces from driving west beyond Germany, perhaps forcing a stalemate. If NATO failed to halt that force, which was a likely scenario given their adversary’s size, power, and mobility, tactical nuclear weapons would be employed to prevent a breakthrough. The threatened use of strategic nuclear forces also purportedly served to dissuade Soviet and Warsaw Pact leaders from believing any successful advance would at all be tolerated and the US was fully committed to Western Europe’s defense. In the 1980s, the NATO Alliance fielded 750,000 troops of which 200,000 were from the US Army. In those years, the US AirLand Battle Strategy was introduced. It had an emphasis on greater mobility and maneuver, the use of attacks in depth, and use of new weapons systems as the Abrams tank, the Bradley infantry fighting vehicle, the Multiple Launch Rocket System, the Blackhawk helicopter, the Apache attack helicopter, and the A-10 and F-15 fighter jets. They served as combat multipliers, greatly enhancing NATO’s mobility, combat power and chances for success against its likely opponent. The battle would no longer be confined to the Inter-German border, but deep within Soviet and Warsaw Pact territory. Although Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty eliminated nuclear and conventional, ground launched, intermediate range ballistic missiles and cruise missiles from Europe in the same period, tactical nuclear weapons could still be employed by other means to halt a possible breakthrough of advancing Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces. (Soviet and Warsaw Pact doctrine called for using chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons to support their conventional forces.)

The 19th century author, poet, and playwright, Oscar Wilde, said “A cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” Some European political leaders appear skeptical about the threat Russia poses or at least a bit ambivalent about committing themselves to the costly and dangerous requirements of collective security. Despite the “Crimea-grab,” the alleged covert invasion of Ukraine, the looming threat to the Baltic States, threats made to use nuclear weapons, and Russian military air and naval incursions from Britain to Estonia, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg explained in a speech reported by the Atlantic Council, overall defense spending among NATO allies declined in 2014. He explained that 5 allies were expected to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense and these allies are Estonia, Greece, Poland, the United Kingdom and the US. Of NATO’s 28 allies, 18 are expected to increase their defense spending in real terms, but even that is arguable. In the United Kingdom for example, The Times (of London) reports that while United Kingdom’s Defense Secretary Michael Fallon noted his country’s commitment was “comfortably over 2 percent,” a change in the way spending is calculated was the cause for some of that ‘comfortable’ margin. Stoltenberg admitted that overall, it was expected that total NATO defense expenditure would decrease in 2015 by 1.5 percent, which follows years of steady decline in defense spending especially among European NATO Allies. Although the NRF is now 40,000 strong, and the VJTF will field around 5,000 troops, if NATO Allies lack the political will to meet their spending commitments, perhaps it is possible they may lack the will to use the VJTF to block or engage Russian forces when the hour arrives. A Baltic state or Ukraine may face eminent threat of a Russian attack, but the VJTF and NRF may only be poised for “sitzkrieg,” making no effort against Russian moves. Sitzkrieg was a term that marked the period at the start of World War II when there was no military action by the United Kingdom and France in support of their ally, Poland, while Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union overran it. Putin could hardly do more to divide NATO as some allies, worried over military risks, budgets, and domestic political considerations, are quietly doing themselves. Cito enim arescit lacrima, praesertim in alienis malis. (A tear is quickly dried when shed for the misfortunes of others.)

Russian officials say they are retaliating against the US engineered coup in Kiev which helped ignite the separatist rebellion in Donbass, and the US-led eastward expansion of NATO that ignored Russian interests. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (above) stated: “The United States and its allies have crossed all possible lines in their drive to bring Kiev into their orbit. That could not have failed to trigger our reaction.”

The Way Forward

Putin is a shrewd, seasoned national leader, who, though his actions, both good and bad, has evinced significant capabilities. Putin seems to direct Russia effortlessly, even though nothing Putin does is simple. Experts at anything, including national leadership, typically provide little indication of labor. After all, the greatest art is to appear to have no art. Conversely, the amateur displays great agony when attempting anything. Breedlove recently said NATO must challenge Russia’s current policies and demonstrate that Putin’s current approach will not be allowed to damage security. He further stated the alliance must also deter Russia “by carefully shaping Moscow’s choices and managing Putin’s confidence.” Breedlove was undoubtedly expressing his genuine view. However, while his words may soothe political leaders in European capitals, Putin may believe sufficient evidence exists to contradict them.

Committing to collective defense by deeds, not words, has been an agonizing process for some NATO Allies. Additionally agonizing has been Obama’s decision making on using US military power. Too many speeches and statements have been made by Obama on why US military power should be withheld in other situations. Putin likely doubts Obama would be willing to engage Russia militarily, particularly in nuclear exchange that would result in millions deaths and incalculable destruction. Putin could calculate that if he pushes hard enough, Obama might eventually back away from further tough talk and harsh economic actions. Yet, Putin also knows he would later need to interact with a new US administration in 2017. Its response to Russian moves may be more assertive. A Kremlin adviser once said Putin has a fundamental interest in trying to resume normal relations with the US. Perhaps the best answer for all sides is to find a diplomatic resolution to the dispute now. If not, all that is being done now may only be the run up to the nuclear holocaust that capable leaders have avoided for several decades.

Kerry Says Iran, World Powers Closer than Ever to Historic Nuclear Deal: Putin Has Learned Much from This Process

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (center) with Russian Federation Defense Minister and General of the Army Sergei Shoigu (left) and the commander of the Western Military District Colonel General Anatoly Sidorov (right). Through Russia’s participation in the Iran Talks, Putin learned much about decision making among the Western powers from the inside and likely feels better able to deal with them diplomatically and militarily.

According to an April 27, 2015 Reuters article entitled, “Kerry Says Iran, World Powers Closer than ever to Historic Nuclear Deal,” US Secretary of State John Kerry told the 191 parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty at conference at the UN that the P5+1 was very near to a deal with Iran that would end a 12-year-old stand-off.   Kerry was quoted as saying on April 27th, “We are, in fact, closer than ever to the good, comprehensive deal that we have been seeking, and if we can get there, the entire world will be safer.” He stated further, “If finalized and implemented, [an agreement] will close off all of Iran’s possible pathways to the nuclear material required for a nuclear weapon and give the international community the confidence that it needs to know that Iran’s nuclear program is indeed exclusively peaceful.” Yet, despite progress made, Kerry emphasized “the hard work is far from over and some key issues remain unresolved.”

Such sober comments underlining the considerable amount of negotiating still required to reach a final nuclear deal have come as a reality check for many following the April 2, 2015 announcements by parties to the talks, with flourish, that parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action regarding Iran’s nuclear program were agreed upon. The appearance of reaching a nuclear deal was as potent as actually reaching a final concordance for some. This was particularly true in Iran where ordinary citizens celebrated in the streets after the framework nuclear deal was reached. Public reaction within P5+1 nations was imperceptible. However, there was a significant reaction among foreign and defense policy analysts and others interested in the talks. Their comments were kind of lush, a bit soupy. Daryl Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control Association declared, “The parameters agreed upon by the United States, the other permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany with the Islamic Republic of Iran promises to lead to one of the most consequential and far reaching nuclear nonproliferation achievements in recent decades.” Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies affirmed, “[T]he proposed parameters and framework in the Proposed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action has the potential to meet every test in creating a valid agreement over time . . . It can block both an Iranian nuclear threat and a nuclear arms race in the region, and it is a powerful beginning to creating a full agreement, and creating the prospect for broader stability in other areas.” Joe Cirincione, President of Ploughshares Fund proclaimed, “The agreement does three things. It blocks all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear bomb. It imposes tough inspections to catch Iran should it try to break out, sneak out or creep out of the deal. And it keeps our coalition united to enforce the deal. Under this deal, Iran has agreed to rip out two-thirds of its centrifuges and cut its stockpile of uranium gas by 97 percent. It will not be able to make any uranium or plutonium for a bomb. Many of the restrictions in the agreement continue for 25 years and some . . . last forever.”

Etiam sapientibus cupido gloriae novissima exuitur. (The desire for glory is the last infirmity to be cast off even by the wise.) Every step toward a final deal has brought US President Barack Obama closer to the legacy-defining foreign policy achievement he has sought. Obama’s desire to establish his legacy during his second term office has been a subject regularly discussed among White House officials and US political pundits. Yet, it is uncertain whether a final agreement can be reached and whether it would hold. The notion of how the P5+1, particularly the US, would likely respond to a violation of the treaty by Iran has gone through a transformation process during the negotiations. It was once understood that the US would inevitably decide to stop Iran from moving closer to developing a nuclear warhead by force of arms. Senior Obama administration foreign and defense policy officials made it clear that military intervention was “on the table.” Threats of regime change and of imposing a US form of democracy on Iran by the administration of US President George W. Bush were still ringing in Iranian leaders’ ears when the Iran Talks began. The idea of being attacked by the US became engrained in the psyche of Iran’s leadership, offsetting any idea Obama lacked the will to take military action following the Syria gas attacks debacle. Tehran’s views have changed since then.

Fas est et ab hoste doceri. (It is right to learn even from an enemy.) The P5+1 has served to present a united front to cope with the common danger of a nuclear armed Iran. However, the coalition has not been truly united. Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin has actually exploited the comity between Russia and its P5+1 partners to protect Russian interests. (The other P5+1 partners may very likely be aware of this.) Putin did not want the P5+1 to take military action against Iran, Russia’s strongest Middle East partner. During the Iran Talks, Russia and Iran made unilateral deals on matters from agriculture to weapon systems. The talks have helped Moscow better understand how Western powers approach issues as Iran’s nuclear program, making Russia better able to handle the West on issues as Ukraine. Russia, as Iran, is coping with Western economic sanctions. Putin has heard many threats to use force against Russia, albeit defensively, through NATO. However, Putin responds to such threats with an enigmatic face. Putin has Russia on the march, seizing territory in a piecemeal fashion, but he undoubtedly has a sense of how far he can go. Observing the decision making of Western powers up close on Iran, Putin likely believes military action against a capable opponent is the last thing Western political leaders want. (It is the last thing he wants, too!) To that extent, he also likely believes that after he has acquired enough, he will be able to legitimize Russia’s acquisitions through talks.

Initial Russian Concerns about Possible US Military Strikes in Iran

As a Member of the Permanent Five Members of the UN Security Council, Russia’s role as a party to the nuclear negotiation was essential, but it was also rather extraordinary given its ties to Iran. Russia had a very positive, congenial relationship with Iran unlike Western states in the P5+1. Iran’s Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan stated “Iran and Russia are able to confront the expansionist intervention and greed of the US through cooperation, synergy and actuating strategic potential capacities.” When the Iran Talks began, Russia was actually working closely with Iran in support of its longtime ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who Western members of the P5+1 opposed. However, despite Iran’s close business and economic ties or ongoing military cooperation with Russia, albeit limited, could not guarantee the US would refrain from moving against its strongest partner in the Middle East. For that reason, Putin likely had genuine concern that Iran would become a target of massive US military action if the Iran Talks did not succeed when they began. Putin had not forgotten that close cooperation between Russia and authorities in Tripoli and Damascus did not deter the Obama administration from promoting and supporting insurrection against them. Under UN Security Council Resolution 1973, multinational forces under NATO command went beyond imposing a no-fly zone and destroyed government forces loyal to Gaddafi as part of Operation Unified Protector. Gaddafi’s regime fell and he was killed. In Syria, the Obama administration responded in support of the Syria Opposition Movement which bloomed during the so-called Arab Spring. The removal of Assad and his regime was the Obama administration’s goal.

Moreover, before the Iran Talks began and during the negotiations, Obama and officials in his administration were unambiguous about plans to act militarily against Iran over its nuclear program. According to a March 14, 2013 article in the Times of Israel, Obama explained that Iran could produce a nuclear weapon in just over a year and diplomatic efforts have just less than that to halt Iran’s drive to the bomb. The Times of Israel determined Obama was intimating that if diplomatic efforts failed this year or early next year, the US would be forced to carry out military action against Iran. Obama also reportedly explained that he had been “crystal clear” that a nuclear-armed Iran was a “red-line,” and that the US was committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon with which it could threaten Israel or trigger a regional arms race. In a September 15, 2013 article in the Guardian, Obama sought to shore up the potency of US deterrence against Iran warning that he was still prepared to take military action against the Iranian nuclear program, which he described as “much closer to our core interests” than Syria’s chemical weapons. A February 26, 2014, Reuters article reported Kerry told a group of reporters that the US has an obligation to pursue nuclear negotiations with Iran before attempting to force Tehran to give up its nuclear activities with military action. Kerry also left no doubt that the US would seriously consider a strike on Iran if the diplomatic talks broke down. The Reuters article further explained that when Obama stated all options are on the table with regard to Iran’s nuclear program, he was using diplomatic code for the possibility of military action.

During the talks, urgency was placed on having Iran allow rigorous monitoring measures to remain in place to ensure any movement toward a nuclear weapon would be detected and the West could intervene. If Iran could be kept from moving close to a nuclear weapon, Western leaders could avoid facing the decision to respond militarily to its existence.

Western Allies Prefer Sanctions Over US-Led Military Action

As the nuclear negotiations progressed, it became more apparent to Putin and Russian foreign and defense policy officials that despite their insecurities about US intentions, the threat of military action was a fiction. Russia’s European counterparts in the P5+1 coalition began expressing doubts about the willingness of the US to use military force against Iran. The French were perhaps the first to publicly appraise Obama as unwilling to use military action to respond to Iran’s nuclear program. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius tried to outline what he thought were the reasons for Obama’s tack in a 2013 speech. He stated: “The United States seems no longer to wish to become absorbed by crises that do not align with its new vision of its national interest.” He suggested this explained “the non-response by strikes to the use of chemical weapons by the Damascus regime, whatever the red lines set a year earlier.” Fabius stated further that a redirection of US interests may be a manifestation of the “heavy trauma of the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan” and what he perceived as the current “rather isolationist tendency” in American public opinion. Fabius lamented that without US engagement, the world would find “major crises left to themselves,” and “a strategic void could be created in the Middle East,” with widespread perception of “Western indecision” in a world less multipolar than “zero-polar.” According to a May 2, 2014 Reuters article German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program must be given a chance, but she also said “If Iran does not meet its obligations, or does not meet them adequately, we remain ready to take back the current limited suspension of sanctions.” Merkel’s statement diverged considerably from those of Obama and Kerry who indicated a US readiness to act militarily if negotiations failed. The reluctance of Germany to support US military action sent a message to Russia that there was no unity in the West on it. Sanctions remain the greatest threat European leaders alone can pose to Iran if the talks failed. Only the US can effectively act with force against a nuclear capable Iran, but Obama would never want to go it alone against Iran.

In sessions leading to April 2, 2015, urgency was placed on having Iran agree to keep rigorous monitoring measures to remain in place not just throughout the long duration of the agreement but even after the core limits of the agreement expire. That would ensure any movement toward nuclear weapons will be detected and providing the opportunity to intervene decisively to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. There was an apparent belief that if Iran was kept from moving secretly toward a nuclear bomb, Western leaders could avoid facing the decision to respond to its existence. As long as Obama was uncertain military action would achieve all objectives based on his concepts, Putin could imagine Obama refusing to go to war.

Israeli F-16 jets flying in formation. US Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman told Israel’s diplomatic reporters that a military operation against Iran would not stop its nuclear program. She explained “the best option is a diplomatic negotiated solution.” For Putin, Sherman’s words ended all guessing on US intentions with Iran.

Military Action Is Sidelined

Ultra vires! (Beyond ones powers!) Guessing over US intentions ended when Putin and his foreign and defense policy officials heard US officials confirm that in which Moscow could not be certain. On April 13, 2015, Haaretz reported US Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman told Israeli reporters that a military operation against Iran would not stop its nuclear program. She stated, “A military strike by Israel or the US would only set back the nuclear program by two years.” She said further, “You can’t bomb their nuclear know-how, and they will rebuild everything. The alternatives are there but the best option is a diplomatic negotiated solution.” She noted, “There is no difference [between the US and Israel] on the concern about the Iranian nuclear program but on the way to deal with it.” Despite fears expressed in 2013 that Iran would soon have a nuclear weapons, Sherman explained that the US and Israeli intelligence communities agree Iran is not close to producing one and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has made no decision to produce one. Sherman said, “They don’t have enough fissile material and don’t have delivery system or weapon per se.” She proffered, “It would take them a considerable period of time to get all that.”

Even the tone in the US Congress softened. Congress drafted a bill that would require that the administration send the text of a final accord, along with classified material, to Congress as soon as it is completed. Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner stated “Congress absolutely should have the opportunity to review this deal.” He explained further, “We shouldn’t just count on the administration, which appears to want a deal at any cost.” The focus of most observers was the fact that the bill would halt the lifting of sanctions pending a thirty day Congressional review, and culminates in a possible vote to allow or forbid the lifting of sanctions imposed by Congress in exchange for the dismantling of much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. Actually, if Congress rejects the final agreement, Obama could still veto its legislation. It would take only 34 senators to sustain the veto, meaning Obama could lose upward of a dozen Democratic senators and still prevail. However, what was most important about the bill for Putin was that Congress accepted more sanctions as means to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, not war.

Putin operates within a practically all-male, nationalist, power-oriented environment in the Kremlin. He sees Obama is confident in the better side of human nature, and likely views that as a weakness. Putin undoubtedly wants to find ways to exploit the benign, less aggressive side of Obama to the greatest degree possible before the end of his second term.

Reality Check Concerning Putin

Unlike the diverse group of cabinet-level officials and policy makers and analysts that advise Obama, Putin operates within a practically all-male, nationalist, power-oriented environment in the Kremlin. In thinking about Obama, Putin undoubtedly recognizes his US counterpart wants to be an honest broker. He sees Obama is confident in the better side of human nature, and operates under the notion that issues in foreign affairs can be resolved at the negotiating table. Given that, Putin and his advisers undoubtedly view Obama in a way akin to renowned United Kingdom Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s “boneless wonder.” Putin very likely hopes to exploit the benign, less aggressive side of Obama to the greatest degree possible before the end of his second term. Putin and Obama are very different men. After the Soviet Union’s collapse and internal chaos of the 1990s, Putin restored order in Russia by reestablishing the power of the state some might say with little regard for human and political rights. Putin’s style of management was shaped by his initial career as an officer in the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) known better as the KGB—the agency responsible for intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security. He reached the rank of lieutenant colonel before retiring. Putin has been assisted by a small group of men who served alongside him during his KGB career. These men are referred to as siloviki (power men). At the pinnacle were those who came from a community of families in Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg whose “roots” go back to first political police of the Communist Party known as the Cheka. Putin’s Cheka heritage includes a father and grandfather who served in the security service. He went to schools and a university Chekisty (Chekist) community progeny typically attended.

Chekists share a view that the greatest danger to Russia comes from the West. They believe Western governments are driven to weaken Russia, create disorder, and make their country dependent on Western technologies. They feel that under former President Boris Yeltsin, the Russian leadership made the mistake of believing Russia no longer had any enemies. As Putin has noted in public statements, Chekists consider the collapse of the Soviet Union, under Western pressure, as the worst geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th Century. In a March 18, 2014 speech, Putin enumerated some actions taken by the West that have fostered his contempt. He mentioned: Russia’s economic collapse, which many Russians recall was worsened by destructive advice from Western business and economic experts that did more to cripple their country; the expansion of NATO to include members of the Soviet Union’s own alliance, the Warsaw Pact; the erroneous Russian decision to agree to the treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe, which he refers to as the “colonial treaty”; the West’s dismissal of Russia’s interests in Serbia and elsewhere; attempts to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO and the EU; and, Western efforts to instruct Russia on how to conduct its affairs domestically and internationally.

Paradoxically, the aggressive behavior Putin attributes to the US has been displayed by him time and again. In 2008, Putin forced Armenia to break off its agreements with the EU, and Moldova was placed under similar pressure. That same year, Putin invaded Georgia. Russian troops still occupy the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions. In November 2014, Putin signed a Russia-Abkhazia Treaty of Alliance and Integration which meant in practice Moscow is responsible for the customs, defense, and security of the separatist republic. In March 2015, Putin signed the Russian-South Ossetian Treaty of Alliance and Integration which has similar terms. Georgia has no chance of regaining its territories. In November 2013, using economic influence and political power, he drove then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to abort a deal Ukraine had with the EU that would have pulled it toward the West. When the Ukrainian Parliament removed Yanukovych, Putin grabbed Crimea. Such moves legitimize NATO’s worries.

Putin’s uncongenial attitude toward the West was very apparent while the Iran Talks were still underway. Incursions by Russian Tu-95 Bear H bombers (as the one shown above) in US and European airspace prompted the scrambling of fighter jets. Russia also sold its S-300 anti-aircraft missile system to Iran.

Lessons Learned Through the Iran Talks Putin May Be Applying

This uncongenial attitude Putin has harbored toward the West was apparent during the Iran Talks. Perhaps he was testing his P5+1 partners. In August 2014, Russia signed a deal with Iran that undermined Western-led sanctions against the two countries. The memorandum of understanding between the two governments envisaged wider economic cooperation to include closer ties in the oil and gas sector, construction and rebuilding of generating capacity, development of a power supply network infrastructure, machinery, consumer goods, and agriculture. It laid the foundation for a multi-billion dollar deal between Moscow and Tehran, the so-called oil-for-goods contract. In addition to that contract, there was the sale of the S-300 anti-aircraft missile to Iran. The S-300 would neutralize any possibility that Israel could take unilateral action against Iran. That would remain the case until the Israeli Air Force receives F-35 fighters from the US. Only the US Air Force’s small fleet of B-2 stealth bombers would have a chance of hitting Iranian targets properly now. If the US and Europe repeatedly threaten and levy sanctions, Putin and his advisers may take audacious steps. Sensing his back is up against the wall, and unable to project strength otherwise, Putin might seek to deter further Western action by making extraordinary threats to use Russian military power. The Russian Ambassador to Denmark threatened that the Danes would become a target of Russian nuclear weapons if they participated in any missile defense program. Danish jets scrambled 58 times in 2014 to head off Russian aircraft. Russian strategic nuclear bombers also conducted numerous incursions into northwestern US air defense identification zones. Incursions by Russian Tu-95 Bear H bombers and intelligence-gathering jets in US and European airspace have prompted the scrambling of fighter jets. Russian military aircraft have been flying without transponders over Europe close to civilian aircraft. Putin warned Russia was developing new strategic nuclear weapons that would catch the West by surprise. Russia has moved Iskandar ballistic missiles to its Kaliningrad enclave between Lithuania and Poland and long-range, nuclear-capable bombers to Crimea.

An April 18, 2015 Reuters article stated Putin recently softened his anti-US rhetoric only a week after accusing the US of trying to dominate world affairs and saying what it wanted was “not allies, but vassals.” Putin reportedly said on April 18th, “We have disagreements on several issues on the international agenda. But at the same time there is something that unites us, that forces us to work together.” He then stated, “I mean general efforts directed at making the world economy more democratic, measured, and bilateral, so that the world order is more democratic. We have a common agenda.” Similarly, the BBC reported that on March 6, 2014, after seizing Crimea, Putin told Obama by telephone that US-Russian “relations should not be sacrificed due to disagreements over individual, albeit extremely significant, international problems.” Regarding Crimea, Putin said Russia could not “ignore calls for help and acts accordingly, in full compliance with international law.” Given Obama’s record on the use of force, and what Russia observed during the Iran Talks, Putin may have calculated he has pushed hard enough, and he now can reap a negotiated resolution from Obama. Perhaps Putin assessed that as with Iran, talks might provide him with the chance to achieve many objectives.

The Way Forward

Fene libenter homines id quod volunt credunt. (Men readily believe what they want to believe.) The decay of Europe’s defense came as a result of a lack of commitment of the European countries, and to an extent the US, to the stewardship of NATO, militarily. After the Soviet Union’s collapse, NATO members became weary of investing financial resources in a deterrent force that did not face an apparent threat. There was no change in thinking despite Putin’s aggressive stance and actions against countries that are part of Russia’s “near abroad.” To surmount the impact of what the Western capitals were seeing, they ignored what they saw, made massive military cuts, and failed to meet their military commitments to NATO.

Non mihi, non tibi, sed nobis! (Not for you, not for me, but for us!) Meetings between NATO allies can no longer simply amount to rhetorical conversations about collective security in Europe, pledges to do more, and proposals to rearrange the meager military resources currently available to face the vast, mobile, hard-hitting Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. Decisions must be made now on what will done in the face of a confrontation with Russia over future aggressive moves against Ukraine or any other sovereign state in Europe. Too many ambiguous political speeches and statements on US military power have already been made to create doubt over whether the US might respond at all. There must be clear discussions on a mutually acceptable political rationale for military action, despite its difficulties and horrors, must be established between the US and the Europe. US and European leaders must confirm now what they will commit and exactly how they will act together militarily. In a manner loud enough for Putin to hear, Obama, in particular, must continually confirm at the UN, in NATO, and in its members’ respective capitals that Europe can count on US support if a military confrontation becomes imminent.

“A Plea for Caution” One Year Later; The New York Times Op-Ed That Revealed Much about Putin

In his September 2013 New York Times op-ed, Russian President Vladimir Putin did not suggest any real steps to create opportunities for international cooperation or greater peace and security. He seemingly wanted to stir mistrust worldwide toward US efforts in foreign affairs. It would be disingenuous for US President Barack Obama’s administration to deny its behavior toward Putin likely influenced his decision to write it.

In a September 11, 2013 New York Times op-ed, Russian President Vladimir Putin provided a commentary on US-Russian relations that appeared to be a rebuttal to US President Barack Obama’s August 10, 2013 speech on the possible US military response to the chemical use by the President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. Putin’s objective with the op-ed was to reach the US public through the back channel of the news media. That was made clear when he stated, “Recent events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies.” Yet, Putin failed to realize that while he sought to promote Russia’s positions and arguments in the media, attempting to cope with policy analysts and popular pundits, hostile to his statements, on their “home court”, would be a mistake. Global media is still dominated by the West. Moreover, among those people interested in foreign and defense policy in the West and worldwide, very few would ever take the position that Russia was equal imilitarily, economically, or politically to the US and its Western partners. Far more people worldwide might accept negative perspectives of Russia given its human rights and civil rights history, and the authoritarian nature of the Soviet Union from which it had emerged. Changing such perceptions of Russia would be difficult to accomplish with one op-ed.

What made the op-ed even less likely to receive approval was the manner in which Putin presented his facts and arguments. He does not present a discussion based on Russia’s genuine concerns about the impact of military action. Putin displayed more tack than tact in his commentary. There was no romantic fuzziness in his words. There is no soft spot. It is not some lush, soupy appeal.  The op-ed lacks the moral eloquence of Obama’s speeches. Manifested in the text, however, was the fact that Putin is tough and has no time to be a sentimentalist. Putin was well-aware that he was communicating with citizens of an, albeit, adversarial government. Despite his best intentions, his recognition of the fact that he is not the best friend of the US public–and he likely does not care to be–managed to infiltrate his statements.

Putin accomplished very little with the op-ed. Since the time it was published, the atmosphere in international affairs has not improved, mutual trust has not been strengthened, and US-Russian relations have worsened. Putin has made major moves in Ukraine contrary to US wishes, and he has warned the West that Russia still has nuclear arms. If anything, his op-ed serves as a marker, indicating a genuine downturn in US-Russian relations had occurred. A look at events surrounding his decision to publish the commentary sheds light on how US-Russia relations fell to current levels, but also  seems to provide hope that a constructive dialogue between Obama and Putin could still develop.

Background: Putin and the US

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the authentic face of the Russian government has been Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin restored order in Russia after the internal chaos of the 1990s, reestablishing the power of the state. Many would note the record shows he accomplished this with little regard for human and political rights. Putin is conscientious about his work, and has become quite experienced in governance and wielding national power. His style of management is undoubtedly shaped by his initial career as an officer in the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) known better as the KGB—the agency responsible for intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security. He reached the rank of lieutenant colonel before retiring. Putin has been advised and assisted by a small group of men who served alongside him during his KGB career. These men are known as siloviki (power men). Finding siloviki, particularly retirees of the KGB, and the present day security service, Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Federal Security Service) or FSB, in high places in Russia is not unusual. A quarter of Russia’s senior bureaucrats, particularly in the armed forces and the security services, are siloviki. At the pinnacle are men who came from Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg. The “roots” of the families those men come from go back to the beginnings of the Communist Party and its first political police known as the Cheka. Putin’s Cheka heritage includes both a father and grandfather who served in the security service. Putin attended the schools and auniversity Chekisty (Chekist) progeny typically attended.

The Chekists share a view that the greatest danger to Russia comes from the West. They believe Western governments are driven to weaken their homeland, create disorder, and make it dependent of Western technologies. They feel that under former President Boris Yeltsin, the Russian leadership made the mistake of believing Russia no longer had any enemies. The Chekists are resentful of the West’s success over the Soviet Union in the Cold War. As Putin himself has publicly expressed, the Chekist consider the collapse of the Soviet Union, under Western pressure, as the worst geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th Century. That loss did not mean a loss of dignity or the will to act. Anti-Western sentiment became so strong that it has created a siege mentality among the Chekists. In his March 18, 2014 speech declaring Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Putin spoke not only as the voice of Russia, but the voice of the Chekists. He enumerated some of the actions taken by the West that have fostered contempt in Moscow. He mentioned: Russia’s economic collapse, which many Russians recall was worsened by destructive advice from Western business and economic experts that did more to cripple their country; the expansion of NATO to include members of the Soviet Union’s own alliance, the Warsaw Pact; the erroneous Russian decision to agree to the treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe, which he refers to as the “colonial treaty”; the West’s dismissal of Russia’s interests in Serbia and elsewhere; attempts to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO and the EU; and, Western efforts to instruct Russia on how to conduct its affairs domestically and internationally. Putin is determined to save Russia from disintegration, and frustrate those he perceives as enemies that might weaken it. He will not be satisfied until Russia’s global power and influence are restored and the independent states of the former Soviet Union are brought back under Moscow’s political, economic, and military (security) influence.

Even prior to the op-ed’s publishing, the downward spiral of Russia’s relations with the Obama administration was evinced  by: Putin’s decision to allow National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden to reside in Russia; ongoing espionage efforts between Russia and the US, including the activities of Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR officer Anna Chapman and other Russian “illegals” captured by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2010; counter allegations of US spying on Russia revealed by Snowden and Wikileaks; and the US admonishment of Russia on human rights issues. Despite these and other negative connections, the White House sent Putin proposals on a variety of issues, some in which he had already expressed disinterest. They insisted that he agree to reductions that would be made in both nations’ nuclear arsenals.

Putin rejected the nuclear arms proposals due mainly to his concerns over the efficacy of taking such an audacious step. To him, the proposals called for staggering reductions. He views nuclear weapons as a means to assure Russia’s survival. It is unlikely that a Chekist would ever reduce Russia’s nuclear arsenal to a level demanded by the White House. Perhaps positive signals from Obama’s discussions on nuclear arms reductions with the erstwhile Russian President Dmitry Medvedev gave administration officials and advisers the idea that Putin would follow-up by accepting proposals on it. Obama felt he had a strong relationship with Medvedev. Obama seemed to measure all possibilities on relations with Russia on his interactions with him. So comfortable was Obama with Medvedev that he went as far as to declare a new era between the two former Cold War adversaries existed. There were more than enough senior Russia analysts in the US government who could have confirmed Putin, who at the time was serving as Russia’s Prime Minister, was the real power in Moscow. However, Obama administration officials and advisers did not appear to give any deep consideration to this matter. Since Medvedev was Russia’s president, Obama saw him as the authority with whom he needed to be concerned. He treated Putin as “the other guy.” Obama did little to build a positive relationship with him. When he returned to the Russian presidency for a third term, what Obama knew about him was mostly in the abstract.

Summit Cancellation 2013: The Catalyst

Obama administration officials and advisers were clearly unprepared to hear or accept Putin’s final rejection of their nuclear arms reduction proposals and reacted poorly to it. They seemed driven to achieve objectives for their president without consideration of the efficacy of their approach. Whether they even thought Putin’s concerns over nuclear arms reduction proposals were genuine is not clear. However, Putin’s decision was viewed within the Obama administration as ending their president’s “signature effort to transform Russian-American relations and potentially dooming his aspirations for further nuclear arms cuts before leaving office.”   With the apparent goal of retaliating against Putin over his refusal to accept its nuclear proposals, on August 7, 2013, Obama cancelled a Moscow summit meeting with Putin set for September. It was an amateurish and dangerous response by the administration to Putin. Yet, the decision meant much more than blocking the meeting. For Putin, the summit with the US president would be an important part of his effort to show that under his leadership, Russia has returned to the world stage as a global power. As an outcome of the actual talks with Obama, Putin likely hoped to demonstrate that he is a strong leader who is able to respond effectively to the US on security issues. During the event in Moscow, Putin would also receive the chance to present his resurgent Russia in the best light possible. Obama administration officials and advisers knew the summit meeting would have been a proud occasion for Putin and the Russian people. However, they were out to prove that it was in control of the situation. They sought to bring to light what they believed was the reliance of Russian leaders on US standing and capabilities to elevate a country that was practically an economic basket case and a shadow of its former self as a military power. Boiled down, they felt Russia needed the US, but the US did not need Russia. So, they scrapped the summit. Publicly, Obama administration’s officials and advisers made things worse by publicly explaining that the meeting was cancelled because was not seen as an effective use of the president’s time. An August 8, 2013 New York Times article quoted US Deputy National Security Adviser Benjamin Rhodes as stating, “We weren’t going to have a summit for the sake of appearance, and there wasn’t an agenda that was ripe.” Officials and advisers tossed in comments about Putin’s rejection of the proposal. An unidentified source for the same August 8th article stated, “We just didn’t get traction with the Russians. They were not prepared to engage seriously or immediately on what we thought was the very important agenda before us.” That source went on to state, “this decision was rooted in a much broader assessment and deeper disappointment.” Yet, despite these thinly veiled excuses, it was generally understood that the cancellation appeared was a consequence of Putin’s refusal to consider the proposals for extreme nuclear reductions. From it, came seasons of disappointment. Memores acti prudentes future! (Mindful of what has been done, aware of what must be!)

The Op-Ed

By cancelling the summit, Obama administration officials and advisers played into the worst anti-Western strain of Chekist thought. Putin saw the US decision as a form of rejection, a personal affront, and an effort to humiliate him. In Moscow, the anger, bitterness, and hostility that grew in Putin over the cancellation, along with a lot of other things, was likely palpable. Putin had his own set of options. As Obama’s approval ratings on foreign policy had dropped precipitously during the year to a bit less than 39.8 percent by the end of August, Putin may have perceived that he had a shot of reaching a disappointed US public with a special message.  The Russian Federation government had a contract with the Ketchum public relations firm that included placing favorable news items about Russia in US newsmedia outlets. Putin used the firm to place his op-ed in the New York Times. In writing his editorial, Putin, in part, seemed to be utilizing a bit of old KGB tradecraft in writing the piece. (Tradecraft refers generally to skills used in clandestine service to include efforts to manipulate opponents.) Much of what he proffered was a distorted view of circumstances.

Putin began by offering a discussion of certain truths about the US-Russian relations as allies during World War II and adversaries during the Cold War. He recounts that the veto power given the Permanent Five Members of the UN Security Council was established to create consensus on issues of peace and war. He explained that if states were to bypass the UN Security Council and take military action without authorization, as the Obama administration indicated it was prepared to do in August 2013, that UN’s relevance would be placed in jeopardy. As a result the UN would suffer the fate of the League of Nations. However, in further discussion of the UN, Putin engages in something akin to introjection, claiming qualities typically identified with, and exemplified by, the US. Having been successful in constructing a peaceful solution on Syria’s chemical weapons issue, Putin portrays Russia as a beacon of light in international affairs, and promoter of transnationalism, multilateral solutions, and the maintenance of international peace and security. Putin explained, “From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law. We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos.” While he should be commended for expressing these sentiments, it has actually been the US, particularly the Obama administration, which, for the most part, has shown great reverence for international law. Obama, himself, would undoubtedly prefer to solve problems at the diplomatic table using reason and logic, due process, and rule of law. Putin, on the other hand, has what former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called “a zero-sum worldview.” Contrary to Obama’s belief in the importance of win-win relationships among nations, Putin sees all transactions as win-lose; if one party benefits, the other must lose. Gaining and retaining power is Putin’s goal.

Putin goes on to explain, “The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not. Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression.” Here, Putin provides a veiled reference to the Operation Unified Protector, when multinational forces under NATO command imposed a no-fly zone and destroyed government forces loyal to then-Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi under UN Security Council Resolution 1973. (The military operation to enforce the UN Security Council Resolution was initially led by the US under Operation Odyssey Dawn.) In Putin’s view, Western-led forces went beyond their mandate to aid anti-Gaddafi forces, and their actions led to his overthrow. Gaddafi had been a friend of the Soviet Union and Russia. Despite the fact that the action against him was taken under a UN Security Council resolution, to Putin, it represented one more instance of the West trampling on Russia’s interests. However, looking at Russia’s actions, Putin was not in a position to admonish anyone about international law and the use of force. In 2008, Putin invaded Georgia, and Russian troops still occupy the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions. He forced Armenia to break off its agreements with the EU, and Moldova is under similar pressure. In November 2013, using economic influence and political power, he drove then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to abort an agreement Ukraine had with the EU that would have pulled it toward the West. Once the Ukrainian Parliament removed Yanukovych, Putin grabbed Crimea.

In appraising the use of force by the US, Putin engages in a type of projection, imputing some of the dominant traits of his own handling of foreign policy on the Obama administration. He goes as far as to blame the US for efforts by some nations to acquire nuclear weapons. Putin explains: “It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.” The truth is that Obama has been averse to taking military action, contrary to former US President George W. Bush who was perceived as having the US take pre-emptive military action at the slightest whiff of aggression. Obama’s policy of restraint matches the public mood. Developing proposals for military action has been very difficult for administration officials and advisers.  In situations where the use of force is almost absolutely necessary, officials and advisers have presented options for action that are lightweight, very small in scale and calibrated precisely. Putin’s discussion of Obama as being interventionist is shear fantasy.   While obama has been involved in situations worldwide as a leader on the internation stage, its ill-advised action in Libya was its only authentic intervention. Note that it is Putin who now appears poised to move further into Ukraine.

Even if a US audience was not receptive to his message, Putin likely assumed the hyperbole in his commentary would serve to impress many people in other countries who are ill-disposed toward the US and its policies. appreciative of his efforts to admonish it. Undoutedly, his words were likely captivating and satisfying enough for those who choose not to look deeply and those who choose simple answers. Many realities are erased and the past is written off. He then writes on the past a new story, a substitute for reality. The op-ed seemed to be “sabotaged” by his comments concerning “American exceptionalism” that was rejected and much derided within all circles in the US; and, by his discouraging words concerning US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. If someone claiming to be a Chekist were ever to offer encouraging words about the spirit of US public or US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, he would most likely be an imposter! Creating even more discord, Putin explained that US action could place multilateral efforts on Iran and Israel-Palestine at risk.

The one part of Putin’s op-ed deserving real consideration was his discussion of the danger posed to international peace and security by Islamic militant groups in Syria. Putin succinctly analyzes the emerging threat. He reported, “There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations. This internal conflict, fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition, is one of the bloodiest in the world. Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria? After all, after fighting in Libya, extremists moved on to Mali. This threatens us all.” Putin again seemed to be using skills acquired during his KGB days to develop a strong report on the emerging threat of Islamic militant groups such as Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). Still, he also seemed to be providing a glimpse of what was being discussed in the Kremlin on developments in Syria, as well as Iraq. His prognostication about the growth of the Islamic militant groups has been on the mark to the extent that the ISIS threat has not reached the shore of the US or Europe. Yet, few in the US focused on Putin’s important comments on Islamic militant groups. His questionable discussion of other issues distracted US readers from anything constructive he had to state.

The Way Forward

In his op-ed, Putin does not suggest any real steps that would help create possibilities for international cooperation or greater peace and security.   Indeed, it was not constructed to improve things. Putin essay better served to stir mistrust worldwide toward US efforts in foreign affairs. It would be disingenuous for the Obama administration to deny that its approach to Putin, prior to the op-ed, played a likely role in his decision to write it. Put basely, the Obama administration officials and advisers treated Putin as if he was “their ball to play with.” They lashed out at Putin in a very public way on many occasions, and Putin saw the op-ed as a means to respond to those incidents “publicly.” Unfortunately, rather than use the op-ed to discuss his dissatisfaction and concerns about US actions, he prevaricated and made a number of remarks the US public would only find offensive. Once those points were highlighted in the US newsmedia by political pundits and policy analysts, few in the US public would read it or give it thought after “hearing” what was in it. Putin will unlikely write an op-ed again in a US newspaper given his experience with the first. However, it is likely, given the current course of US-Russian relations, Putin’s future communications with the US public will be far less “congenial.”