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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ladder of Escalation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With the foreign and national security policy bureaucracies of at least 27 countries plus the staff at NATO Headquarters working night and day to formulate favorable moves that would allow the West considerable advantage over his country, Putin also might find it too risky to get locked into a back and forth struggle, attempting to stay ahead in the action reaction cycle against the aggregate of their capabilities. Naturally, Putin would not be inclined to slow walk himself into any of that. There would just be too many possibilities to consider. The playing field would be a bit too level or even feel a bit one-sided toward the West, despite its positively Wagnerian proportions. He would want to retain, at least in his mind, his position above all of that. Equally naturally, while all of that was happening, Putin would need to keep a very close eye on what was happening politically in Moscow and around Russia and the reactions to each step he would take. Looking at matter from another angle, but still from Putin’s lens, despite the excellent assessments of former and current expert military practitioners, in the grander scheme of Putin’s world, using nuclear weapons on the battlefields of Ukraine would relatively amount to “bad behavior” and not the appropriate response. 

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

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

Taking Putin’s Words Seriously

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Implications of Russian Losses in Ukraine

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

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

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

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

Putin as Epic Hero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Way Forward

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

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

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

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

Why Putin Laments the Soviet Union’s Demise and His Renewed “Struggle” with the US: A Response to an Inquiry from Students

When Putin occasionally grieves publicly over the Soviet Union’s demise and expresses pro-Soviet sentiments, some confusion usually ensues among listeners worldwide. Putin, just being himself, certainly does not make it easy for anyone to understand him. Still, he is not beyond human knowledge, comprehension, and speech. A group of university students in the US inquired with greatcharlie on Putin’s expressions concerning the Soviet Union following a lively seminar debate. It was decided that this post would be used to provide a response to their inquiry. Hopefully, what is at the root of Putin’s stance on the Soviet Union has been figuratively dug up for them to see.

In late-May 2019, greatcharlie received an intriguing message from some undergraduate students of a university in the US concerning recurrent comments of Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin, lamenting the Soviet Union’s demise. There had apparently been a very lively debate in their political science seminar on Putin’s “often public lamentations over the dissolution of the Soviet Union, his insistence that it had many positive attributes and that as a superpower, it played a valuable role globally.” The students’ solicitation of greatcharlie’s thoughts on the matter was flattering. It was even more stirring to see them express great interest in international affairs and Russian politics in particular. Another subject was selected for greatcharlie’s June post.  However, rather than simply suggest a few books and journal articles to supplement their seminar debate, it was decided that this post would be used to provide a response to the students’ inquiry. Undergraduate and graduate students represent a significant portion of greatcharlie’s audience. The hope of greatcharlie is that by responding in this way, these intrepid students and others reading the blog will be encouraged to further pursue their international affairs studies and to continue reaching out beyond their classroom lessons to augment their knowledge base.

Confusion over one’s thinking can often issue from imprudently offering enthusiasms on a subject. When Putin occasionally offers pro-Soviet sentiments, some confusion usually ensues among listeners. Putin, just being himself, does not make it easy for anyone to understand him. Yet, Putin is not beyond human knowledge, comprehension, and speech. It would be counterintuitive not to accept that when Putin acts at any level, he does so with purpose and that purpose can be uncovered. What is at the root of Putin’s nostalgic, pro-Soviet position is figuratively dug up for them to see from this somewhat informal, multidirectional examination. Hopefully, it discusses a few valuable points perhaps not covered in the inquiring students’ seminar. Further, from this examination, insights were generated on the Russian Federation President’s intentions and actions that will contribute to the foreign policy debate internationally. Nulla tenaci invia est via. (For the tenacious no road is impassable.)

What has been striking about those occasions when Putin spoke so fondly of the Soviet Union and lamented its collapse was the very public nature of his expressions. Even in those dire initial days in office, Putin rarely offered comments off the cuff that could possibly produce a marked impression. True, expressions of sentimentality as they related to feelings of patriotism were heard from him before. Still, he avoided uttering sentiments that stemmed from truly personal feelings. If Putin was at all comfortable with publicly bemoaning the demise of the Soviet Union, it was because he thought it was the best thing to do on each occasion.

Putin Has Said Some Interesting Things about the Soviet Union

When Putin first began publicly discussing his feelings about the Soviet Union, he provided a rare glimpse of how thoughts coalesced in his consciousness. Only a few years earlier Putin had become a full-fledged political man, a deputy mayor of St Petersburg, and then suddenly found himself at the very top, learning his way through the Kremlin jungle, domestic politics, and the larger world of global international affairs. Prior to his statements about the Soviet Union, Putin left no doubt that the essence of his thinking was akin to a “Russia First” concept. On August 16, 1999, the members of the State Duma, the Russian Federation’s Parliament, met to approve Putin’s candidacy of a prime minister. He was President Boris Yeltsin’s fifth premier in 16 months. In his speech to the Duma, Putin stated with spirit: “Russia has been a great power for centuries, and remains so. It has always had and still has legitimate zones of interest . . . We should not drop our guard in this respect, neither should we allow our opinion to be ignored.” Being Yeltsin’s choice, Putin was dutifully confirmed as prime minister without much been made in support of, or against, his nationalistic stance. His strong patriotic tone was heard again in a statement made in Part 5, “The Spy” of Putin’s memoir First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia’s President (Public Affairs, 2000) page 80. One of the interviewers preparing the book, notes that she asked him, “Did you suffer when the Berlin Wall fell?”, he explained: “Actually, I thought the whole thing was inevitable. I only really regretted that the Soviet Union had lost its position in Europe, although intellectually I understood that a position built on walls and dividers cannot last. But I wanted something different to rise in its place. And nothing different was proposed. That’s what hurt. They just dropped everything and went away.”

Even so, only after a few short months as acting president and as the elected president, Putin, with the apparent aim of keeping the Russian Federation a welcomed player on the international stage, began taking a nuanced approach in issuing statements. When Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin departed in 1999, he left his young, hand-picked successor, Putin, with a rather dire situation economically, socially, and politically. Through strenuous efforts, Putin managed to halt what was once the country’s downward spiral toward abject ruin. Yet, after leveling things off, he hoped to move forward with plans and programs to improve living standards for average Russians and conditions around the country as a whole. At Kremlin press conferences, official government meetings and events, political rallies,  presentations at universities, policy think tanks, scholarly journals, and other institutions, Putin expressed his desire to create something better for the Russian people. Reading through Putin’s December 31, 1999 essay, “Russia at the Turn of the Millenium”, that appeared on the website of the Russian Federation on December 31, 1999, he clearly believed, boiled down to the bones, that the key to Russia’s progress would be a successful effort to maximize the performance potential of the Russian people. That became his stated aim. He would focus on those factors that have brought some level of success and advancement, and attempt to amplify them to create some change.

Putin also was interested in acquiring Western investment into his economically troubled country to provide the people with the support they needed. For a while, he seemed to stoke Western approval of the Russian Federation with his words. However, he also made a number of half-turns away from a pro-Western position that really evinced there was a duality in thinking. As an example, on March 5, 2000, Putin made a statement to the effect that he did not rule out having the Russian Federation join NATO. However, he stressed that it would only do so “when Russia’s views are taken into account as those of an equal partner.” After stating that he could not imagine Russia being isolated from Europe, Putin went further on NATO to state: “it is hard for me to visualize NATO as an enemy.” Putin’s nuanced language was apparent, too, when very publicly broaching the issue of the Soviet Union’s fall. He remarked: “Whoever does not miss the Soviet Union has no heart, whoever wants it back has no brain.” Putin’s efforts were successful to the extent that statements as these caused the West, if not to drop its guard, certainly to take a more relaxed view of him and his intentions. It would seem even then, that his true feelings and intentions would have readily identified him as a Russian nationalist. In that same vein, those pro-Western statements ran counter to the strong nature of his later statements of near adoration of the Soviet Union.

Soon enough, that nuanced bit of his statements that provided a touch of goodwill to the West was dropped. The collapse of the Soviet Union was publicly discussed by Russian Federation officials with the apparent goal of amplifying the message to world of how badly Russian people suffered as a result and that consideration might be given to increasing any efforts to invest in and generally assist their country. It also had the purpose of letting the Russian people know that their government was aware of their plight. No deception was being used then to hide deficiencies in the system which was the practice under Soviet rule. On April 25, 2005, Putin stated: “Above all, we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century. As for the Russian nation, it became a genuine drama. Tens of millions of our co-citizens and co-patriots found themselves outside Russian territory. Moreover, the epidemic of disintegration infected Russia itself.” In process of repairing things, however, Putin encountered significant obstacles that primarily concerned the capabilities and capacity of the Russian people to get beyond only making changes here and there for the better, and get behind efforts at making real progress. The product of his efforts could be characterized as rather anemic. There was still an uneasiness in Russia when Putin began as president. Morale was low, fruitful activity was sparse, and new, useful ideas were absent. One might posit that faced with disappointment and discontent over immediate results of his own efforts over the years, he has been able to manage his greatest concern which is not to allow the country to roll backward. That was probably a nightmare that likely nearly suffocated him many nights at the time. In order to stabilize the situation, he apparently decided to turn toward something that felt familiar and safe. Eventually, Putin’s goal became to develop some simulacrum of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or the Soviet Union. Sustainability was less likely a concern given the exigent circumstance of a need for immediate answers. On March 2, 2018, Putin issued his most direct comment to date about the Soviet collapse. Taking questions from supporters in Russia’s European exclave of Kaliningrad, Putin was asked what Russian historical event he would like to change. Putin immediately answered, “The collapse of the Soviet Union.”

What has been striking about those occasions when Putin spoke so fondly of the Soviet Union and lamented its collapse was its very public nature. Putin has never been anything akin to some wandering preacher, expressing his convictions about matters. Even in those dire early days in office, Putin, who emerged from the secret world of Soviet intelligence, rarely offered comments off the cuff that could produce a marked impression. True, expressions of sentimentality as it related to feelings of patriotism were certainly heard from Putin before. Still, Putin is a man who has typically avoided uttering sentiments genuinely stemming from personal feelings, which in this case was his grief over loss of the Soviet Union. If he ever slipped up and revealed blithely his inner feelings on a matter, he would have moved quickly to preserve the confidentiality of such statements. If Putin was at all comfortable with publicly bemoaning the demise of the Soviet Union, it was clearly because he thought it was the best thing to do on each occasion.

Typically after hearing Putin’s worldview was shaped by his service in the KGB, the imagination runs wild among many in the West. Putin is more likely visualized as being still on the beat, working in the exotic and mysterious segment of the organization that engaged in kidnappings, harsh interrogations, relocations of citizens to prisons and internment camps, paramilitary operations, and assassinations. With tongue in cheek, Putin has fueled exaggerated Western characterizations of himself by posing in photos as a stern man of action, training his sights on targets with pistols, sniper rifles, and other weapons.

The KGB Factor

An immediate impression of Putin’s words might reasonably be that he and most likely many others who were part of the Soviet apparat continued to adhere to their “unique reality” about the Soviet Union. Indeed, his statements were true to life with respect to the commitment to the Soviet system by hardline, old guard, former apparatchiks, which includes Communist Party functionaries or government bureaucrats, nomenklatura or high ranking management, and dead-enders among former rank and file Soviet citizens. For all those from the same water in which Putin swam, each time anyone referenced the Soviet Union in such a positive manner, there would doubtlessly be agreement that it was the full version. For them, such words from Putin likely ring patriotic bells. It strikes greatcharlie as hopelessly derivative to remind readers that Putin’s decisions and actions have been influenced by his life in the Soviet Union’s Committee for State Security, initialized from Russian and better known as the KGB. It was Soviet agency responsible for intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security. Nonetheless, it is a reality and an important factor that should be examined first.

A seemingly infinite number of primary and secondary sources exist on the KGB. However, an intriguing Cold War era description of the KGB that greatcharlie has referred to often is a concise November 13, 1982 New York Times article entitled, “KGB Praised By Some Feared By Many”. The article explained that the KGB was the most widely feared instrument of the Soviet Government. It measured the strength of the KGB at 90,000 or so staff officers inside the Soviet Union to guard against internal security threats and run the political prisons. Along the country’s borders, 175,000 of border troops patrol its 41,800 miles of frontiers. Outside of the country, the article noted that its scientific-technical operatives sweep Western countries seeking the latest secret inventions, while its ”illegals” try to penetrate foreign intelligence operations. The article explains further that the first Communist secret service, the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combatting Counterrevolution, Speculation and Sabotage, mainly referred to under the acronym Cheka, virtually copied the Czarist secret police organization and even co-opted some of its more capable officers. The Cheka’s founder, Feliks Dzerzhinsky, was quoted as saying, ”Trust is good, but control is better,” and, in 1918, ”We stand for organized terror.” In its earlier years, the article states, the Soviet secret police acquired a reputation as an instrument of mass terror: beginning in the 1920s as the organizer and supplier at home of huge concentration camps where millions perished; in the 1930s as Soviet Premier Josef Stalin’s executor of huge purges of the party and the Red Army officer corps; and, in the late 1940s and 1950s, as the perpetrator of assassinations of opponents abroad. The latter killings were performed by a group specialized in what Soviet intelligence reportedly  called ”wet affairs”. In the immediate aftermath of Stalin’s death on March 5,1953, the KGB was accused of trying a coup in the Kremlin, using secret police troops. Its chief, Lavrenti P. Beria, was seized by his party comrades and executed. The article notes that it was not until 20 years later that the KGB recapture the degree of respect it once held in the Soviet Union when its director, Yuri Andropov, was elected to the Communist Party’s ruling Politburo.

Citing a common perspective of Western intelligence specialists then, the article states that the KGB, while retaining excellent abilities in traditional espionage was devoting greater resources to acquiring Western military and industrial technology. In fact, in the decade before the article was written, the KGB has acquired the plans of American spy satellites, advanced radar, computer source codes and conventional weapon innovations. It posits that those acquisitions could have been attributed to former KGB Chairman Yuri Andropov. It was under his supervision the KGB became a type of office for technology transfer from the West, in addition to its conventional tasks, such as penetrating the coderooms of the NATO alliance. The article further explains that the KGB, to the envy of foreign intelligence services, was able to retain key personnel for many decades, providing a kind of continuity particularly valuable in counterintelligence. The article quoted an assessment of the KGB by James J. Angleton, retired head of the CIA’s counterintelligence branch, a controversial figure, yet sacred cow US intelligence. Angleton simply stated: “I wish we had their continuity.”

Interestingly, the New York Times article’s treatment of the KGB had an almost prosecutorial tone. Still, there should not be any misunderstanding that among those who were or potentially could have been victims of the KGB in the Soviet Union and abroad, the organization was not by any means viewed as the “good guys”. its actions were not misunderstood. However, while it is a bit one-sided, the article manifests prevailing Western impressions of the KGB at the time, It hopefully allows one to gain a sense of the tension and tenor of the geopolitical struggle between East and West during the Cold War as late as the 1980s.

In First Person, Putin, himself, left little doubt that his service in the KGB was a crucial feature of his life. Having had a rather successful career in the renowned security organization, Putin certainly has memories of an existence quite different from most Russians in the Soviet Union. Indications are that members of the KGB managed to skirt many of tribulations most Soviet citizens endured as a result of his service. Moreover, they were able to enjoy certain privileges. Putin found great value in what the Soviet Union was able to provide for him in terms of a livelihood and in terms of self-respect. He has great reason to be thankful to it.

On Putin’s KGB Perspective

Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem. (Into the truth through shadows and images.) Typically after hearing Putin’s worldview was shaped by his service in the KGB, the imagination runs wild among many in the West. Putin is more likely visualized as being still on the beat, working in the exotic and mysterious segment of the organization that engaged in kidnappings, harsh interrogations, relocations of citizens to prisons and internment camps, paramilitary operations, and assassinations. While embellished to a considerable degree, that remains the “commercialized”, Hollywood version of the KGB officer, popular in the West during the Cold War. It was certainly a great departure from reality. Essentially, for Putin, they paint a portrait of someone who does not exist. Some appear so satisfied seeing Putin as such, they do not seem interested in getting the picture straight. With tongue in cheek, Putin has fueled exaggerated characterizations of himself by posing in photos as a stern man of action, training his sights on targets with pistols, sniper rifles, and other weapons. A fair appraisal of Putin’s career would be that he was good at his work and that he well-impressed his colleagues and superiors alike. Certainly, he could be dashing and audacious when necessary, but moreover he was honorable and discreet, using his wits and memory. He progressed gradually and fruitfully with agents he recruited. As a result of his many successes, he received promotions up to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Similar to most of his young colleagues, the KGB offered Putin a solid basis for believing that the Soviet system could be protected and sustained. The KGB, as a central organ of the government, ostensibly had the know-how and the resources to prevent the Soviet Union, and the contiguous countries of the Eastern bloc that it led, from falling into a chaotic condition.

Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher and theologian noted: “Our life always expresses the result of our dominant thoughts.”  In his bildungsroman, First Person. Putin, himself, left little doubt that his service in the KGB was a crucial feature of his life. The officers of the KGB were the tried and true protectors of the Soviet Union. The organization was praised by the Communist leadership as the country’s ”sword and shield”. The KGB certainly had the trust of its customers. At the same time, the KGB, was an indispensable instrumentality of the government to the extent it was the means through which it subjected the Russian people to terrible conditions believing that there was little chance that those conditions would fully effect its members. Indications are that KGB officers managed to skirt many of the tribulations most Soviet citizens endured as a result of his service. Moreover, they were able to enjoy certain privileges. Having had a rather successful career in the renowned security organization, Putin certainly has memories of an existence quite different from most Russians in the Soviet Union. Putin found great value in what the Soviet Union was able to provide for him in terms of a livelihood and in terms of self-respect. For those reasons alone, he has great reason to be thankful to it. In Part 3, “The University Student” of First Person, Putin states about himself: “I was a pure and utterly successful product of Soviet patriotic education.” Ubi bene, ibi patria.  (Homeland is where your life is good.)

It must be mentioned that Karen Dawisha, in Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? (Simon & Shuster, 2014), insists that there was more than an emotional connection between former KGB officers and the Soviet Union. Dawisha explains that in the period after the collapse of the Soviet Union that the Chekists were asked to take control of the currency that the Communist Party had accumulated. There were Central Committee decrees ordering such activity. Dawisha cites an August 23, 1990 decree which authorized: “urgent measures on the organization of commercial and foreign economic activities of the party” and laying out the need for an autonomous channel into the Party cash box . . . the final objective is to build a structure of invisible party economics . . . a very narrow circle of people have been allowed access to this structure . . . .”  Dawisha makes the connection between this period when KGB officers heard the clarion call of the Communist Party to loot state coffers and Putin’s start in politics at the local level in his hometown of St. Petersburg. As head of the St. Petersburg Committee for Foreign Liaison, a job he received through KGB patronage, Putin began working with a tight knit circle of Chekists.  Grabbing money became their métier, and they worked hard at it. In St. Petersburg, Putin obeyed his patrons and proved himself to be reliable.  He also gained a solid understanding of the linkages between organized crime, which is of a special breed in Russia, bureaucrats, and former KGB officials. (While in St. Petersburg, he befriended an attorney named Dmitry Medvedev.) When his boss, Alexander Sobchak lost his bid for reelection as St. Petersburg’s mayor, Putin was out of a job. Yet, in the course of less than two years though, Putin rose from being an out-of-work deputy mayor to head of the FSB. A year later, Putin was the prime minister. Six months after that, he was Russian Federation President. On April 2, 2015, greatcharlie posted a review of Putin’s Kleptocracy. There is far too much to follow along that argument to unpack here. However, Dawisha does an excellent job of providing evidence to support her thesis. It could very well be an important part of the larger picture of Putin, the KGB, and governance in the Russian Federation.

Why a KGB Veteran Is Likely to Follow His Former Institution’s Line of Thinking

Surely, those who joined the KGB would say that they had answered the call to serve their nation in the security service. Some likely found a home, that offered employment security, a steady salary a place to belong to, a place where they will be taken care of, and an ordered life. That would not be considered irregular. The same could be said of those who have sought military careers or foreign service careers. Yet, as a result of more than a “collective consciousness” about defending the homeland, and given the unique nature of their work, a bond would form among KGB personnel and their families to the extent that a sort of mini society existed in the service. There may be some evidence that KGB officers, having an innate sense for being discreet, were mainly repressed people. Unable to express love within family or in close circles, the repressed have a habit of investing emotionally into larger organizations. Their love can be put into an institution, which in the case of Putin and his colleagues, was the KGB. The intelligence service, that closed off part of the intelligence officer’s life, becomes his family. For some, it becomes their raison d’etre. That type of linkage can lead to difficulties upon retirement and separation from organization. That makes associations of retired intelligence professional all the more important by creating links to the organization in which they served. The more contentment officers found in the KGB, the more settled and satisfied they became with their lives. Through the KGB, they got the picture of their lives straight.

Putin rose meteorically through the newly formed Russian Federation Government under Yeltsin almost as if his life had been mapped out by providence. He found support and guidance from former KGB colleagues from St. Petersburg which is both his hometown and where got his start in politics at the local level. Many have since become officials in Putin’s government, political leaders, and key business leaders with whom Putin remains in close contact. In the KGB, these former officers are affectionately referred to as Chekists. They come from a community of families whose “roots” go back to the beginnings of the Communist Party and its first political police known as the Cheka. Among the aforementioned cadre of government officials, political leaders, and business leaders with whom Putin has surrounded himself are men who came from Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg were mostly Cheka. Putin’s own Cheka heritage includes both a father and grandfather who served in the security service. He was in fact raised in the Chekisty (Chekists) community, attending schools and a university Chekists’ progeny typically attended. With a loyal and effective team, Putin could stay ahead of troublesome political and business leaders that would disrupt his plans more often than not to the extent they would enable themselves to achieve their own self-aggrandizing, short term goals. However, by surrounding himself with like-minded Chekists of his “KGB family”, retaining his prevailing Chekist beliefs that aspects of the Soviet Union provides a good model for Russia to itself build upon has been made easier for Putin.

While it might be viewed as daylight madness in the West, some former Soviet citizens in Russia imagine the Soviet Union as a better place than it was. Moreover, these Russians, who miss the past, even crave it, warts and all, were not all from among those who were privileged in the Soviet system. Those who were not privileged seem to discount just how shabby the majority of their lives were under that system. According to a December 19, 2018 Levada Center poll, more Russians regretted the breakup of the Soviet Union then than at any other time since 2004.

Is Putin in Touch with His Fellow Russians Regarding the Soviet Union?

His KGB life aside, Putin must be able recall that the Soviet Union was not satisfying for all Russians. Even in First Person, Putin admits that housing conditions for his family in St. Petersburg were far less than perfect, nevertheless, they still lived better than many. For those not so enthusiastic with the Soviet system, Putin’s pro-Soviet sentiments likely reminded of the ugliness of a not so distant past. The majority of Russians were unable to obtain positions equivalent in prominence and power as Putin held. Surely, they did enjoy the relatively staid and secure life that came with it. While it was more “democratic” to claim that Soviet citizens had equal access to education, opportunity, housing, sustenance, health care, social welfare, and other programs, efforts by the Soviet system in that direction were more cosmetic than consequential in establishing the type of society to which they made claim. All of those services, while satisfying when made available and were of appropriate quality, hardly reflected an effort by the Soviet government to respond to the will of the people.

Under the authorized description of the Soviet system, it was a so-called classless society. However, it assuredly was economically stratified, and could be visualized in terms of concentric circles. The quality of life for citizens in the society would degrade sharply as one looks outward from the center all the way to those circles at the end where citizens struggled daily to survive. Those who occupied the center circle were the nomenklatura, the country’s leaders and power elites at the top. Those moguls lived in luxury relative to other citizens, and enjoyed the best things that Russia had to offer. Outside of the nomenklatura, the standard of living was passable for Soviet citizens from what would approximate “middle-class”. Those were usually the apparatchiks of the Soviet system, full-size functionaries of the Communist Party or the Soviet government apparat (apparatus). Apparatchiks were also those who worked in any bureaucratic  position or position of political responsibility. In many cases, they were lucky enough to be employed under the “self-management” concept positions, which required employees to evaluate the quality of their own productivity. However, that virtual middle-class was never completely comfortable for they , too, could suffer the effects of housing shortages, rationing, corruption, and other inconveniences. In some cases, they had to pay their superiors in order to keep their positions. This was even true in some parts of the military

Russian citizens living under a lower standard encountered those same problems and more with far greater intensity. They often suffered periods of rationing and privation. Some fell into a state of penury, a reality that the Soviet system desperately sought to conceal. They were forced to make the most of nothing. Those citizens emerged from the Soviet system holding a worldview, infiltrated by pessimism. They fully experienced the self-serving, self-enriching, behavior of national leaders for whom they were simply statistics.

Of the many Russians émigrés who escaped the Soviet Union during the Cold War, some who were activists or associated with activist organizations, were labelled anti-social elements when they lived there, and the Soviet government was likely happy to rid the country of them. There were some defectors, and some who managed to immigrate in order to take advantage of Western educational and professional training programs, getting away from the Soviet Union. What these groups typically had in common though, was the manner in which they spoke with disdain about of the Soviet system once they arrived overseas. They generally told stories with unmitigated rancor of an abominable government security apparatus that abused power, had neighbors spy on neighbors, obliterated all aspects of privacy, and made freedom something that could only be enjoyed in dreams. They could vividly recount their difficult lives in a manner that would bring the walls down. Very often, Soviet intelligence services would troll émigré communities in the West, to recruit and develop agents abroad using the threat of harming family members still living in the Soviet Union if cooperation was not provided.

Immediately after the Soviet Union’s collapse, tens of thousands of detailed facts, intriguing anecdotes, and classified debriefings collected on furtive actions taken by the KGB were collected from the archives (vaults) of what was once called 2 Fellx Dzerzhinsky Square Moscow, the headquarters and prison of the KGB. With that information, and insights such those discussed here, there is enough to assess today, as it had been at the time of the Soviet Union’s demise, that the inability of the government to find an efficacious way to meet its all important responsibility to provide for and ensure the well-being of its citizenry, that led to the country’s downfall. Despite all of the alleged promise and dogma uttered about the “great socialist system”, the results confirmed that the Soviet concept was never viable. Despite all appearances, the country for years was slowly being strangled by many ills from within. While not easily stirred by the transfer from one national leader to another, at some level, Russians surely had expected that the rather shrewd, worldly-wise young ex-KGB man, Putin, might be the elixir their country needed. Many may have hoped that he would be able to present a concept for change to overcome what was before. It certainly would not have expected that Putin main focus would be to use Russia as a platform from which the supposed splendor and the power of the Soviet Union could be reestablished

As Putin, himself, acknowledged, the average Russian citizen had little idea beyond the US and the European Union to find examples of what they quietly wanted to be after the Soviet Union collapsed. Even in that case, they had absolutely no idea what it would really take to reach such heights. They also had little knowledge of how to discern what would indicate a political leader has the qualifications or capabilities to put the country on a path to advance there successfully. Steps in that direction were made. Russia was made a member of what became the G8 and G20. It would become the key member of NATO’s Partnership-for-Peace and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. It participated in UN peacekeeping and peace-enforcement missions mandated by resolutions. After the 1990s, there was the image of Russia acquiring a place at the main table with the top industrialized countries despite its precarious situation economically, socially, politically, and militarily. As a policy, Russia sought to incorporate itself into the international system of regulating foreign economic operations, particularly the World Trade Organization. However, paying careful attention to Putin’s words when he was acting President, the impression is created that finding a true path toward comity with the West was not actually on his mind. Putin explained in his very revealing essay, “Russia at the Turn of the Millenium”: “Russia will not become a second edition of say the US or Britain, where liberal values have deep historic traditions. Our state and its institutions and structures have always played an exceptionally important role in the life of the country and its people. For Russians a strong state is not an anomaly to be gotten rid of. Quite the contrary, it is a source of order and the main driving force of any change.”

Do Russians Want to Go Back to Soviet Days?

In the West, one might expect that concerns or fears would be so universal among all Russian citizens over any wording that would even hint some form of the Soviet Union would be reanimated in Russia. That uneasiness clearly would not be based on unreason and paranoia, but rather upon the experience of having lived so shabbily under its system. Conceivably as a result of the experience many Russians had enduring dissatisfaction in the Soviet Union and living with the limitations and inconveniences of daily life in the Russian Federation, they had become expert in keeping a sense of proportion. The follow-on to the Soviet system was supposed to be the great Russian liberalization. However, that was not the case.

There are occasionally some significant grumblings about Putin’s governance. Protest rallies become considerably more intense than perambulating demonstrators near election dates. Flaps of clashes with police and the security services by more politically active segments of the population have been predicted by Western experts, and reported in the Western media, as spelling the beginning of the end for Putin. Nevertheless, Putin remains. Interestingly, Putin has been ridiculed and denounced in the news media. Further, there has been television programming in the Russian Federation that has lampooned Putin much to his dissatisfaction. However, he hardly dealt with any problems of considerable intensity from his core constituency or, relatively, from the majority of Russians countrywide. They have not really exhorted Putin to try harder. They keep within the margins. Perhaps the old adage “go with what you know” could be applied, for it best suits the situation for the Russian people regarding their country’s path and its leadership. To the extent that they will continue have any order in their country, average Russians believe that they can at best rely upon Putin. That begrudging sense of being somewhat satisfied has been just enough to bring Putin victory in election after election. One might say therein lies a sort of duplicity on their part. Still, in an even bigger way, the Russian people are really gambling on Putin’s mortality. The possibilities of who might come to power from other powerful political forces in Russia is hair raising. Via trita, via tuta. (Beaten path, safe path.)

While it might be viewed as daylight madness in the West, some former Soviet citizens in Russia imagine the Soviet Union as a better place than it was. Moreover, these Russians, who miss the past, even crave it, warts and all, typically are not all from among those who were privileged in the Soviet system. That is quite intriguing because those who were not privileged seemingly discount just how shabby the majority of their lives were under that system. They are the dead-enders. It is posited here that in some cases, such pro-Soviet elements apparently focus upon and magnify aspects of Soviet life that they may have enjoyed from the totality of their experiences and then determined that it was as a result of the benefits of being Soviet. To be more precise, it appears that as a result of some psychological transference, what defined their private existence somehow became what universally defined their existence under the Soviet system. Those positive, pleasant aspects of Soviet life may actually have been things such as good times had among family, friends and colleagues that in reality are common to people all over the world, transcending citizenship or nationality. Perhaps in Soviet terms, it could be chalked up to humanism. While being a Soviet citizen may have been a common experience, what they had even more in common was their humanity. It was the US philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer, John Dewey, who stated: “Time and memory are true artists; they remould reality nearer to the heart’s desire.”

Statistical evidence of such pro-Soviet thinking among former rank and file Soviet citizens was provided by a poll published on December 19, 2019 by the Levada Center, a Russian independent, nongovernmental polling and sociological research organization. According to that poll, more Russians regret the breakup of the Soviet Union at that moment in time more so than any other since 2004. The poll was conducted between November 18, 2018 and November 28, 2018, surveyed 1,600 people nationwide. When asked whether they regret the 1991 Soviet collapse, 66 percent of respondents answered “yes”. That represented an increase of 58 percent from 2017, and is the highest proportion since 2004, the last year of Putin’s first term. Reportedly, 25 percent of respondents said they did not regret the Soviet breakup, the lowest proportion since 2005, and 9 percent said they could not answer. Interestingly, Levada found that Russians’ concerns about their economic security today were among the main reasons for the increase in the number voicing regret. Indeed, a Levada pollster explained that 52 percent of respondents named the collapse of the Soviet Union’s “single economic system” as the main thing they regretted. The peak of regret over the Soviet collapse came in 2000, when 75 percent of Russian polled by Levada answered “yes” to the same question. At the same time, 36 percent said they miss the “feeling of belonging to a great power,” and 31 percent lamented mistrust and cruelty in society.

US and Soviet armor units face-off at Checkpoint Charlie on the Friedrichstrasse in Berlin October 27-28, 1961 (above) For nearly 50 years, the West struggled against efforts by the Soviet Union and the Soviet Bloc countries to spread the Communist philosophy that underpinned their governments. An almost universal belief in the West was that the way of life on its side was elevated well-above the Communist world. The West always emphasized its moral superiority, but that never needed to be done in a sententious way. The tragic nature of the situation for the people in the East, revealed widely in West through newsmedia stories, spoke for itself.

The World Does Not Miss the Soviet Union

An examination of the Soviet Union’s position in the world cannot be made by only weighing how the government administered the domestic affairs of the country against the preferences of quondam citizens. Those who speak nostalgically before the world about their own positive version of the Soviet Union, such as Putin, typically engage in an act of omission by airbrushing its realities. The impression is given that its collapse was the result of some benign decision among its republics to succeed to pursue their own aims. They omit, albeit intentionally, that the failed country not only posed problems for its own citizenry, but particularly after World War II, it posed a threat to the world. To be frank, the history of Soviet behavior is atrocious. The people of countries that stand just outside of its sphere of influence but close enough to feel threatened, and the people of border countries that are former Soviet republics, many of which in some way have been victimized by Russian Federation transgression, would unlikely ever think or say anything positive about the Soviet Union. The haunting spectre of the departed Soviet Union has helped to form negative impressions of the Russian Federation. Surely, one should not, using a broad brush, condemn the people of a country for the acts of their government. It was the Soviet government that ruled by fear and terror and was the anathema. As for the Soviet people, they were most often appreciated around the world. Many significant contributions were made by the Soviet people to the arts, mathematics, sciences, engineering, philosophy,  that were remarkable. Some space could reasonably be granted for former Soviet citizens to wax about the loss of a homeland and those good days that existed. Still, looking at the pertinent facts, the greater realities about the Soviet Union cannot be denied.

Running through the basics of the Cold War, one would learn that in the postwar period, the Soviet Union essentially replaced Germany as occupiers large areas of Eastern Europe, to include Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. In a very powerful speech in Fulton, Missouri in March 5,1946, the then former United Kingdom Prime Minister Winston Churchill would say that those countries were locked behind an “Iron Curtain.” In those countries, a process of “Sovietization” began. Soviets operatives worked behind the scenes to establish puppet governments that would serve as an extension of Moscow’s rule. These governments had the initial appearance of being democratic but in reality were not. Local Communists were gathered into a coalition party then handed power, usually after coups or rigged elections. All political parties, other than the Communist Party, were dissolved. Leaders of the Soviet-dominated countries would lie about or deny realities about what was occuring in their societies. As a result of Soviet efforts, an “Eastern Bloc” and “Soviet Bloc” had been established. US officials agreed that the best defense against the Soviet threat was a strategy called “Containment” formulated by the US diplomat George Kennan. In his famous February 22, 1946 “Long Telegram” from Moscow outlining the policy, Kennan explained that the Soviet Union was “a political force committed fanatically to the belief that with the US there can be no permanent modus vivendi [agreement between parties that disagree]”; as a result, the only choice for the US was the “long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies.” US President Harry Truman agreed with Kennan and stated before the US  Congress on March 12,1947, “It [Containment] must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation . . . by outside pressures.” In his speech, Truman also asked Congress for $400 million in military and economic assistance for Greece and Turkey to counter Soviet meddling in those countries. The Containment Policy would shape US foreign policy for the next four decades.

Direct confrontation came when the Soviet Union cut all road and rail links to West Berlin, allegedly in response to a decision by the US, the United Kingdom, and France to merge their occupation sectors of the city. With no access to any sustenance, the US and United Kingdom flew in tons of food and supplies by air transports in what was known as the Berlin Airlift. Elsewhere in the world, North Korean forces, trained, equipped, and supported by the Soviet Union, invaded South Korea. Led by the US, UN forces collectively responded. The fighting was halted on July 27, 1953. Pro-Soviet Russians, might point to the fact that actions taken by Russia in the period capsulated here were the result of Stalin, who many Russians decry as a corrupt despot who sullied the grand ideals of the revolution. However, in the years that followed his death in 1953, the commitment of Moscow to the revolutionary and expansionist paradigm continued. Under Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Union, despite calls for peaceful coexistence and desire to reopen ties with the West, firmed the Soviet Union’s grip over its empire and increased its support of Third World Communist movements. On May 14, 1955, the Soviet Union and seven of its European satellites sign a treaty establishing the Warsaw Pact, a mutual defense organization that put the Soviets in command of the armed forces of the member states. The military alliance was named the Warsaw Pact because the treaty was signed in Warsaw. Warsaw Pact countries included the Soviet Union, Albania, Poland, Romania, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria as members. Similar to NATO, by treaty, Warsaw Pact members were required to come to the defense of any member attacked by an outside force. The force was initially set up a unified military command under Soviet Army Marshal Ivan Konev.

Soviet efforts to maintain a tight grip over its empire were highlighted by the quelling of protests against Communist rule in 1956 culminating with Soviet tanks successfully taking control of Budapest on November 10, 1956. On August 15, 1961, the Soviet Union initiated the construction of a wall between East Berlin under Soviet control and West Berlin under US, United Kingdom, and French control. The border between East and West Germany were also sealed by fencing. A decision by Khrushchev to construct a Soviet intermediate range nuclear armed missile base in Cuba, led to a blockade of the island country and strenuous demands from US President John Kennedy that the missile be removed. As the US prepared to invade Cuba, negotiations between Khrushchev and Kennedy, initially through back channels, led to an October 28, 1962 agreement to remove the weapons.

Khrushchev’s legacy was not one of diplomacy, but rather brinkmanship the nearly led more than once to nuclear war. On October 15, 1964, Khrushchev was removed from office. His successor Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev led the Soviet Union for nearly two decades. Brezhnev also wanted to launch a new era of negotiation with the West, labeled détente by US Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger in the administration of US President Richard Nixon. However, under his leadership, the Soviet Union never ceased its military buildup and pressed its efforts to expand Communism into Africa, Asia, and Latin America. From July 1965 to April 1975, the Soviet Union supplied North Vietnam and the Communist Viet Cong in South Vietnam with everything from rifles to fighter jets in war against the South Vietnamese government which the US and its Southeast Asia Treaty Organization allies supported with troops and materiél. The result was the intensification of fighting and prolonging the wreckage of human lives. On August 20, 1968, the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia and crushed efforts by Czech President Alexander Dubcek to initiate reform programs, known as the “Prague Spring”. Dubcek was arrested when he refused to halt his efforts. On December 24, 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. On December 30, 1980, the Solidarność (Solidarity) Movement in Poland was crushed with the imposition of Martial Law. It was finally under Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, who in attempting to reform the Soviet Union under perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness), destabilized it to the point of collapse.

For nearly 50 years, the West struggled against the Soviet Union and the Soviet Bloc countries to spread the Communist philosophy that underpinned their governments. Its defense against those Soviet ideals was simply referred to as anti-Communism. Societies in the West were somewhat disparate, with loosely associated forms of freedom, and democracy in most of its countries must have appeared disorderly from the East, with up roars over government decisions and actions, demands for justice and social progress, and political rivalries that played out publicly. Yet, they still took on an amiable form. Moreover, it was well-accepted by those in the West that their world and way of life was worthy of protecting. Militarily, the means was collective defense. Those who were part of that struggle, using the white hat black hat symbolism of the Western film genre of the 20th century, saw themselves as the white hats representing all that was good, admirable, and honorable and viewed the Soviet and Soviet Bloc operators as the black hats, the villains. One was either on the right side or the wrong side. Using familiar terms of today concerning human interactions in societies to explain Communism, it posed a threat to individual freedom, inclusiveness, and tolerance. An almost universal belief in the West was that the way of life on its side was elevated well-above the Communist world. The West’s moral superiority was always emphasized, but it never needed to be presented in a sententious way. The tragic nature of the situation for the people in the East, revealed widely in West when occasional newmedia stories told what was happening there, really spoke for itself. US President Ronald Reagan, getting to the root of the differences between East and West in his renowned June 12, 1987 “Remarks at the Brandenburg Gate” explained: “The totalitarian world produces backwardness because it does such violence to the spirit, thwarting the human impulse to create, to enjoy, to worship. The totalitarian world finds even symbols of love and of worship and affront.” (Attempting to boil down to the bones the Cold War to provide an accurate, comprehensive summary of ideas and events felt a bit Sisyphean. Too much occurred. There were too many episodes, too many flaps of diplomacy and periods of aggression and war, to synthesize. If a sense for the monumental geopolitical struggle was created, this synopsis has served its purpose. Hopefully, the information has also provided some factual counterbalance to pro-Soviet statements recounted here.)

Primarily through the state run media, Putin has created a public persona of being a caring and empathetic leader, a friend to animals, but more importantly, the tough and virile vanguard of the Russian people, land, and culture.  He established that image brilliantly through televised conversations with Russian citizens. Putin appears attuned to the concerns of average Russians especially through televised conversations. There is an art to being a man that one is not. Perhaps Putin has mastered that. Russians have never seen the coming of a new day, but rather an ongoing dark night, a black void they have stared into for decades.

What Has Putin Established in Russia?

Primarily through the state run media, Putin has created a public persona of being a caring and empathetic leader, a friend to animals, but more importantly, the tough and virile vanguard of the Russian people, land, and culture.  He established that image brilliantly through televised conversations with Russian citizens countrywide. Putin appears attuned to the concerns of average Russians especially through televised conversations. There is an art to being a man that one is not. Perhaps Putin has mastered that. Indeed, it would not be out of court to say that despite what one might perceive at first blush, Putin seems, in practice, oblivious to the economic realities those conversations revealed. If the Russian people were to take a careful look over their shoulders today, they undoubtedly might recognize that nothing spectacular has been accomplished at home on their behalf by his government. There is no interest in disparaging any of Putin’s exertions, but many Western analysts and other observers would agree that Russians never seen the coming of a new day in their country, but rather just the ongoing dark night, a black void which they have stared into for decades. It might be stated with confidence that in a general sense they are not content. The reality that their lives have hovered in an endless limbo seems to be suppressed by most.

It may very well be that by the time Putin reached the top of the power pyramid, such people skills, his ability to understand others he is not associated with became a bit seared. Perhaps proper focus has not been placed on the people’s thinking and the ability to perceive their needs. Even his intuition regarding experiences of other Russians and where many were at a given moment seem darkened from disuse. A gentleman must always adapt to his circumstances. To a great degree, what has emerged in the Russian Federation is indeed Putin’s version of the Soviet Union. Although the struggle to establish global Communism is absent, Putin certainly has included imagery from the Soviet Union in his new Russia. It would seem that some methods well-used during the Soviet era to maintain social order and population control, were implemented by Putin in response to the fragility of the society and that the Russian Federation remains vulnerable to collapse. It is also assured that many of Putin’s former KGB colleagues would find ample opportunities to make use of their dark and unusual skill sets.

Once again, the old adage “go with what you know” seems to fit well, in this case with the Putin’s thinking. Of course, such explanations do not provide an excuse or a defense for his actions. The following list includes only a few of those elements: utilization of prison camps, “gulags”, in Eastern Russia, to detain reactionaries and other undesirable elements; the suppression of political opposition; assassinations of political opposition leaders; assassinations of journalists; the padlocking of media houses, newspapers the broadcast, publish, and post stories exposing what they perceive as questionable or even corrupt activities of Putin’s administration; and, the expulsion of “undesirable organizations” such as foreign and international religious, human rights, and civil society organizations and termination of their programs. There are also: massive military parades before the Russian Federation’s leadership; fiery anti-Western speeches at rallies; military deployments into other countries (e.g., Ukraine, Syria, Venezuela, Moldova, Georgia, and Belarus) the occupation and annexation of the territories of sovereign neighboring countries; the sudden death, murders, suicides of senior diplomats, senior military officers, senior intelligence officials, senior law enforcement officials, and senior officials of other security related services; the arrest and prosecution of Russians who are international business elites, known better as oligarchs, who have fallen into disfavor with the Kremlin; regularly renaming and repeating policy conferences, trade shows, and exhibitions of technology created to highlight Russian intellect, ingenuity, and advancements; the hosting international amateur sporting tournaments in Russia as a means to showcase the country; and, reported violations by Russian Federation national sports teams of rules and regulations of international sporting associations, including the International Olympic Committee. Ad mores natura recurrit damnatos fixa et mutari nescia. (Human nature ever reverts to its depraved courses, fixed and immutable)

Being the solitary decider in Russia, and being in the harness leadership for so long, one might theorize that speaking so nostalgically of the Soviet Union might be part of the process of Putin imagining an easier existence. Surely, searching for an efficacious way to meet the needs of all Russians has doubtlessly been a considerable psychic drain along with the stresses and anxieties of other matters in which he has been engaged daily. He may never have publicly exhibited strong emotions when looking at the unappealing conditions in which many Russians live, yet as Russian Federation President, he must maintain his balance in spite of them.

Putin Knows How Much Progress Is Really Possible in the Russian Federation

There is rarely a single reason for anything, and that certainly applies to Putin’s claims about the Soviet Union. With no intention of being whimsical, it might be worthwhile to consider that theories on what may have influenced Putin other than his KGB background, can also be joined by others built on his additional dimensions. It should not be thought that analysis from another direction might even compromise theories already proffered on Putin’s pro-Soviet comments. After all, the hope and primary goal of this examination remains reaching the actual state of the matter. Putin may not necessarily be so dedicated to other foreign and domestic matters that he has not tried to develop a clearer vision for Russia and has not sought to respond at all to the echoes of those suffering economically in his country. It might be reasonable to doubt that Putin would be completely unable to see the world through the prism of average Russians. That would run counter to expectations of what should be among the suite of skills possessed by a KGB officer in the field. Interestingly, in Part 3, “The University Student”, a close friend notes that he once asked Putin about his work in the KGB. Putin cleverly replied, “I’m a specialist in human relations.”

There is rarely a single reason for anything, and that certainly applies to Putin’s claims about the Soviet Union. With no intention of being whimsical, it might be worthwhile to consider that theories on what may have influenced Putin other than his KGB background, can also be joined by others built on his additional dimensions. It should not be thought that analysis from another direction might even compromise theories already proffered on Putin’s pro-Soviet comments. After all, the hope and primary goal of this examination remains reaching the actual state of the matter. Putin may not necessarily be so dedicated to other foreign and domestic matters that he has not tried to develop a clearer vision for Russia and has not sought to respond at all to the echoes of those suffering economically in his country. It might be reasonable to doubt that Putin would be completely unable to see the world through the prism of average Russians. That would run counter to expectations of what should be among the suite of skills possessed by a KGB officer in the field. Interestingly, in Part 3, “The University Student”, a close friend notes that he once asked Putin about his work in the KGB. Putin cleverly replied, “I’m a specialist in human relations.” Putin would likely reject the idea that serving in the KGB seared his conscience and left him indifferent toward the situation of fellow Russians or caused him to disregard their well-known plight. Moreover, he would likely reject the idea that members of the KGB thought to help the Soviet government subject the Russian people to “unappealing conditions.” It may very well be that a heartbreaking value judgment was made. 

Putin may view it as unconstructive to turn his attention fully in the direction of the troubled state of affairs of the Russian people because his ability to be fruitful is simply too limited. From the start, he knew that the job of Russian Federation President involved achieving monumental tasks. So much wrong had to be made right. Being a solitary, main decisionmaker in Russia, and being in the harness of leadership for so long, Putin might often imagine an easier existence. Surely, the search for an efficacious way to meet the needs of all Russians has been perchance beyond a considerable psychic drain in tandem with the stresses and anxieties caused by other matters in which he has been engaged daily. Psychologically, the aggregate disappointment and agony could easily have become so magnified in his mind and everything would become unmanageable. Being the true professional that he is, Putin knew from day one of his presidency that he must stay focused on the larger picture. He has to avoid losing himself in the labyrinth. He must never allow himself to be over matched by difficulties. He has never publicly exhibited strong emotions when looking at the unappealing conditions in which many Russians live. When visiting the neighborhoods of average Russians, he has maintained his balance in spite of them

The Russian Federation government’s limited capabilities and capacity to resolve those domestic problems for some time is not the result of Putin being remiss. Certain inadequacies that have hampered output, seem to be intrinsic to the Russian system. Among them are: unreliable governance at the republic, krai, and oblast levels, poor execution of economic policies, banking and financial disarray, low morale in the workplace, alcoholism, drug abuse, mismanagement, corruption, and criminality. While focus has been placed on Putin’s efforts to extol cherry picked “virtues” of the Soviet Union, little attention is given to other comments that he made during his first months of service as a national leader. He often spoke the truth about the ills of collapsed superpower, and often explained that lingering problems from the Soviet era made getting the Russian Federation moving forward very difficult, if not impossible. A statement to this effect from Putin can also be found in his December 31, 1999 essay, “Russia at the Turn of the Millenium”. He stated: “We had to pay for the Soviet economy’s excessive focus on the development of the raw materials and defence industries, which negatively affected the development of consumer production and services. We are paying for the Soviet neglect of such key sectors as information science, electronics and communications. We are paying for the absence of competition between producers and industries, which hindered scientific and technological progress and prevented the Russian economy from being competitive in the world markets. This is the cost of the brakes and the bans put on Russian initiatives and enterprises and their personnel. Today we are reaping the bitter fruit, both material and mental, of the past decades.” It is hypothesized in a January 31, 2018 greatcharlie post entitled, “Trump Wants Good Relations with Russia, But if New Options on Ukraine Develop, He May Use One”, that the type of success Putin really wants for Russia out of his reach, not by some fault of his own, but rather because it’s problems are so heavy, and may run too deep. He may have run out of real answers to put the Russian Federation on real upward trajectory given the capabilities and possibilities of the country using all tools available to him.

Even militarily, Russian Federation efforts to create an aura of technological modernity have fallen short. Its latest high tech, 5th generation fighters and hypersonic missile reflect the measure up only to the latest developments in the West nearly two decades past. The US move to lasers, 6th generation fighters that hardly resemble anything the world has seen before, and hypersonic systems that it has already has been developing almost the point of deployment, ensure that the Russian arsenal will pale in comparison with the US for some time to come.

Given all of that, it is very likely that Putin arrived at the conclusion that he had little choice but to simply do things as he saw fit with available resources to create the best circumstances possible. Unable to move steadily and safely in a new direction, Putin apparently saw the best option as creating a copy of the old order, mutants mutandis, with all of its power and prestige. As aforementioned, sustainability was not at issue. He likely took this step originally as a temporary measure, to allow him time to construct something better. That would certainly be in accordance with Putin’s modus operandi. However, in the end, in spite of many improvements, the conditions that would support change did exist and the country moved so much in the direction of the old order, the familiar for the Russian people, that it became difficult to transition from without creating chaos and instability, and worst of all, insecurity. One thing P surely utin learned during his service in the KGB was that sacrifice is required in nearly every important endeavor. Putin knows many Russians have failed to benefit from his efforts. They surely feel that they have been left twisting in the wind. Indeed, there is a tendency for some to suffer while others benefit plenty. Yet, those who continually fail to benefit have unlikely been forgotten by him. Imputing the best intentions on Putin, he may one day use his full powers as president to make amends to them at some point, if time and opportunity will allow. Si sapis, alterum alteri misce: nec speraveris sine desperatione nec desperaveris sine spe. (If you are wise, mingle these two elements: do not hope without despair, or despair without hope.)

US President Donald Trump (left) and Putin (right) in Helsinki, July 16, 2018. The vengeful thinking which prevailed during Russia’s struggles with the Obama administration likely initially insinuated itself into the Kremlin’s planning and actions concerning the Trump administration. However, the situation had clearly changed. Trump explained that he wanted to work with Putin to achieve things globally that could best be done jointly. In response, Putin has insisted upon playing a version of the great power game with the US mirroring the geopolitical struggle between it and the Soviet Union. He has promoted what greatcharlie has labeled un grand défi, a grand challenge against the Trump administration.

Troubling Manifestations

It is important here to point out a unique aspect of Putin’s KGB world. Enlarging on a point made earlier about Chekists, they 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 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. As heard in Putin’s public statements, Chekists consider the collapse of the Soviet Union, under Western pressure, as the worst geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th Century. Fully xenophobe and suspicious, Putin was determined to save Russia from disintegration, and frustrate those he saw as enemies that might weaken it. In many respects, Putin has conformed to what might be expected of a Chekist. Although he would seem to be much more than average, he appeared to have been poured into same mold as all the others. Putin has actually stated publicly that the greatest danger to Russia comes from the West. While on his way to the top of the political heap in the new Russian Federation, Putin saw how mesmerising “reforms” recommended to Yeltsin’s government by Western experts unmistakably negatively impacted Russia’s economy in a way referred to somewhat euphemistically by those experts as “shock treatment.” Yeltsin was unaware that Western experts were essentially “experimenting” with approaches to Russia’s economic problems. His rationale for opening Russia up to the resulting painful consequences was not only to fix Russia’s problems but ostensibly to establish comity with the West. The deleterious effects of reform recommended by Western experts’ could be seen not only economically, but socially.  In another statement made while he was acting President in 1999, Putin diplomatically explained the consequences of relying upon foreign experts for assistance. He stated: “The experience of the 90s demonstrates vividly that merely experimenting with abstract models and schemes taken from foreign textbooks cannot assure that our country will achieve genuine renewal without any excessive costs. The mechanical copying of other nations’ experience will not guarantee success, either.”

Some Have Said Putin’s US Policy Manifests His Revanchist Mindset

When character and behavior are brought together, one uncovers motivation. In the summer of 2013, the EU Council sharply condemned Russia’s mounting pressure on members of the EU Eastern Partnership, countries with association agreements with the EU. In 2012, the EU accounted for 52 percent of Russia’s exports, 68 percent of which consisted of fuel and energy. Following the annexation of Crimea in March 2014, the EU suspended virtually all cooperation. Still, Putin’s thinking on the EU was not positive even before the Ukraine crisis. Putin saw the EU as a project of deepening integration based on norms of business, law, and administration at variance from those emerging in Russia. Putin was also concerned that EU enlargement would become a means of excluding Russia from its “zones of traditional influence.” Certain Russian actions, to include election meddling, indicate Moscow actively seeks to encourage members to withdraw from the EU sphere and discourage countries joining it. Joint projects with European countries reportedly allowed Russia to exploit their differences on political, economic and commercial issues creating a discordant harmony in the EU. As much as making money, a goal of such efforts has been to undermine EU unity on sanctions. The Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline, for instance, has provided Putin with the means to disrupt, and potentially weaken, European unity. A murmur exists in Europe that solidarity ends at the frontiers of some countries.

Regarding NATO, in an interview published on January 11, 2016 in Bild, Putin provided insight into his thinking then and now. During the interview, Putin quoted West German Parliamentarian Egon Bahr who stated in 1990: “If we do not now undertake clear steps to prevent a division of Europe, this will lead to Russia’s isolation.” Putin then quoted what he considered an edifying suggestion from Bahr on how to avert a future problem in Europe. According to Putin, Bahr proffered: “the USA, the then Soviet Union and the concerned states themselves should redefine a zone in Central Europe that would not be accessible to NATO with its military structure.” Putin claimed that the former NATO Secretary General Manfred Worner had guaranteed NATO would not expand eastwards after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Putin perceives the US and EU as having acquitted themselves of ties to promises to avoid expanding further eastward, and arrogating for themselves the right to divine what would be in the best interest of all countries. He feels historians have ignored the machinations and struggles of people involved. Putin further stated: “NATO and the USA wanted a complete victory over the Soviet Union. They wanted to sit on the throne in Europe alone. But they are sitting there, and we are talking about all these crises we would otherwise not have. You can also see this striving for an absolute triumph in the American missile defense plans.” Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas. (Fortunate is he who understands the causes of things.)

Putin did not stand by while the EU and NATO expanded. One might agree with the supposition that Putin has a revanchist mindset, his decision to attempt to pull independent countries that were once part of the Soviet Union back into Russia’s orbit would surely support that idea. To accomplish that, Putin had to create something that did not preexist in most near abroad countries: ethnic-Russian communities forcefully demanding secession and sovereignty. That process usually began with contemptuous murmurs against home country’s identity, language, and national symbols and then becomes a “rebel yell” for secession. It was seen in Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan, South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia, Transnistria in Moldova, and more recently in Crimea, the Luhansk and Donetsk in Ukraine. Each time an ethnic-Russian space is carved out of a country, Putin gains a base from which he can exert his influence in that country.

A greater part of the foreign policy matters upon which Putin, seemingly in revanchist mode, felt cause to be laser focused was the geostrategic competition with the US. By the time his third term as Russian Federation President began, Putin left little doubt that the Russian Federation would assert itself in the world and he would ensure that Russia would never fall victim to business and financial experts and multinational corporations. Hostile feelings toward the US seemingly came to a head during the administration of US President Barack Obama. The details that contentious period are too sizable to unpack here (The most recent posts in which greatcharlie has outlined those many episodes in detail include: “Commentary: Trump and Putin: A Brief Look at the Relationship after Two Years”; Building Relations between Trump and Putin: Getting beyond the “Getting to Know You” Stage; “Trump Achieved More at Helsinki than Most Noticed: Putin Is Not a Challenge for Him”; and “Ties Fraying, Obama Drops Putin Meeting; Cui Bono?”.) Crimea was likely just the first step among what would likely have been far worse actions leading even to war had the interregnum between Democrat and Republican administrations had not occurred in 2016.

Un Grand Défi

One might theorize that the sort of vengeful thinking which prevailed during the Russian Federation’s struggles with the Obama administration, initially insinuated itself into the Kremlin’s planning and actions concerning the Trump administration. However, the situation clearly changed with the arrival of the Trump administration. Putin and his aides and advisers should have recognized that. It was never the stated intention of the Trump administration to engage in a protracted, geostrategic competition with Russia. That is still the case despite the entreaties of some advisers. It was the expressed intention of candidate Trump during the 2016 Presidential Campaign to improve relations with Russia. As US President, Trump made it clear that he wanted to try to work with Putin and achieve things globally that could best be accomplished jointly. Trump has been graceful in his overtures to the Russian leader, focusing on finding ways to connect with Putin on issues, creating a unique positive connection as leaders of nuclear superpowers, and finding a chemistry between them.

Clearly, the Russian Federation has not been threatened by any unprovoked aggressive or outright hostile offensive actions on the geostrategic landscape by the Trump administration. In reality, with the current political environment in the US, sounding the alarm over what might be identified as revanchist behavior by Putin might have served Trump well in at least an attempt to mollify critics and detractors. Nonetheless, without such provocation, Putin, has insisted upon playing a version of the great power game with the US that would mirror the geopolitical struggle between it and the Soviet Union. Accordingly, he has propagated what greatcharlie is labeling un grand défi, a grand challenge against the Trump administration. The benefit from un grand défi that Putin stands to gain is that it helps him create the appearance that the Russia Federation is a world leader and superpower. Indeed, despite all of Putin’s other maneuverings, the Russian Federation is only able to seen as a superpower when it is interacting with the US or measured against it. Correspondingly, as long as the Russian Federation is competing geostrategically in a discernable form of rivalry with the US, it can retain a strong place for itself at the grand table of military superpowers, although it stands a far off second to the US. Further, from what is detectable, that military tie in Putin’s mind also allows the Russian Federation, by a slender thread, to set a place for itself among the world’s economic powers, although it is not one. (As a measure of goodwill from the West, Russia was once welcomed on the G7. Putin wrecked that by conquering Crimea.) Alas, any unvarnished assessment would confirm that without tying itself to the US, any claims by Moscow of being a true world leader would simply appear self-styled, and could not be substantiated. Unless there is something or someone who could change Putin’s mind otherwise, doubtlessly as a matter of policy, he will continue to create a competitive environment with the US, leaving US Presidents with little choice but to meet any challenges posed by the Russian Federation. Curiously, it may very well be that Putin, living the Judo Ichidai, likely appreciates being in a “struggle” with the US. Odimus accipitrem quia semper vivit in armis. (We hate the hawk because he always lives in arms.)

Thus far, Putin has shown himself to be very intelligent man. All of the factors pulling him away from positive relations with the US seem to have caused Putin to metaphorically miss his exit along the road of diplomacy. The truth about the Trump administration and its good intentions should have reached Putin and made an impression, if only subconsciously. It is difficult to believe that Putin genuinely does not understand what Trump has been doing and that he does not recognize the great opportunity that lies before him to let Russia do some good in the world. By now it should be clear to Putin that Trump will not rise to grab the bait and begun some contentious back and forth between Washington and Moscow. As a consequence of  un grand défi he purposefully designed and promoted to compete as a soi-disant “superpower” with the Trump administration, Putin must contend with the missed opportunities for progress and advancement of the Russian people by insisting the two countries remain essentially divorced from each other. Those realities seemingly make Putin’s own effort at keeping Russia on top both counterintuitive and somewhat Quixotic.

It does not appear possible to ascribe any basis for objectivity for Putin’s view that the collapse of the Soviet Union represented a great loss for him, the Russian people, and the world. His coruscating flashes of pro-Soviet sentiment have naturally confounded to the world given that the Soviet Union was a country that failed its people and its collapse was nothing less than fated. It may very well be that through such recurring statements about the Soviet Union, Putin is not revealing any deeply personal feelings. His statements appear to have served a purpose in terms of his leadership, governance, and national image.

The Way Forward

By approaching the matter of Putin’s nostalgia romanticising of the Soviet era from a couple different directions and arguing matters from varied angles, it is hoped that the undergraduates who contacted greatcharlie, it has provided an edifying journey of exploration on their inquiry. It is also hoped that this essay was also satisfying for greatcharlie’s other regular readers. The purpose of greatcharlie’s examination was to simply consider Putin’s reiterative statements of praise for the Soviet Union. It does not appear possible to ascribe any basis for objectivity for Putin’s view that the collapse of the Soviet Union represented a great loss for him, the Russian people, and the world. His coruscating flashes of pro-Soviet sentiment have naturally confounded to the world given that the Soviet Union was a country that failed its people and its collapse was nothing less than fated. It may very well be that through such recurring statements about the Soviet Union, Putin is not revealing any deeply personal feelings. His statements appear to have served a purpose in terms of his leadership, governance, and national image. Patriotism, national identity, national pride, history, and culture are powerful ideas to organize a country’s population around. Focus upon them, often allows tricky leaders to distract from the internal with external The argument is made that the cause of Russia’s problems is the outside world, not internal difficulties, lack of capabilities, mismanagement, corruption, criminality, and so on. Nemo mortalium omnibus horis sapit. (Of mortal men, none is wise at all times.)

For the past two decades, great wells of anger have stored up among Putin and senior Kremlin officials toward the US for a variety of reasons. That has made finding a moderate path more difficult.  At the same time, as a practical matter, the Russian Federation’s contentious interactions with the US create a tie to it that could imaginably support the claim that a superpower competition exists. As greatcharlie posits here, without interacting with the US or being measured against it on a geopolitical matter for example, the Russian Federation would simply appear as a self-styled superpower, unable to substantiate the title in any way except by ostensibly harkening back to historical examples of the superpower rivalry between the US and the Soviet Union. Indeed, the Russian Federation can only steal a modicum of the “superpower light” radiating from the US. It has precious little ability to generate any light of its own in that respect. Thereby, negative interactions need to be regularized and promoted by Putin. Under such circumstances, engaging positive interactions with the Russian Federation will prove very difficult for the Trump administration. However, Putin should not believe that he has found some sweet spot from which he can take on the US without any real consequences. There are also inherent dangers that stem from un grand défi Putin has inflicted upon the US. It could very well open the door to unmanageable disagreements and potential clashes. Fortunately, the Trump administration has shown little interest in rising to take Putin’s unappetizing bait. Whenever Trump feels he needs to act in response to Putin’s moves, it will be at a time, at a place, in a manner of his choosing, most likely with some degree of impunity, and when necessary covertly with plausible deniability. In that respect, although he has promoted un grand défi, Putin has in reality only established pas de problème, or no problem at all.

Things could certainly be better for the Russian people. The “golden mean”, a middle way, could very likely be found to create positive relations with the US that would bring real benefits to the Russian Federation. Moving in that direction would certainly mean doing more than just putting a toe in the water. Still, as long as the Russian people are satisfied, as a few polls and studies indicate, attempting to judge from the outside what would be best for them seems unmerited. Putin’s actions appear to illicit some uniquely Russian reactions. Putin does not need to turn back the clock and resurrect the Soviet Union because it has not really moved too far away from what was in a functional sense. Actions that have resulted in economic sanctions and have prevented the Russian economy from participating in competitive world markets, attendantly hinder genuine scientific and technological progress. The potential of Russian enterprises and people consequently remains locked in. It is almost assured that bitter fruit will be reaped in the future by moving forward in such a troubled way. Occasio aegre offertur, facile amittitur. (Opportunity is offered with difficulty, lost with ease.)

Book Review: Donald P. Gregg, Pot Shards: Fragments of a Life Lived in CIA, the White House, and the Two Koreas (Vellum, 2014)

Pot Shards presents the life and times of Ambassador Donald P. Gregg (above), an individual who contributed greatly to US foreign and national security policy. Readers are taken on a journey through Northeast and Southeast Asia and halls of power in Washington, DC. Readers will discover how much Gregg valued others and his value to humanity.

The Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training (ADST) is an independent, non-profit organization that advances the understanding of diplomacy and supports the training of foreign affairs personnel through a variety of programs and activities. As part of its Foreign Affairs Oral History Project, it has prepared thousands of transcripts of interviews recorded with US Foreign Service veterans.  These excellent oral histories present the realities of diplomacy to include thought provoking, sometimes absurd, and often horrifying stories from which valuable lessons can be drawn.  In April 2014, ADST graciously authorized greatcharlie.com to present the oral history of Ambassador Donald P. Gregg, an authentic intelligence professional and consummate diplomat.  In July 2014, Gregg published his extraordinary, must read memoirs entitled, Pot Shards: Fragments of a Life Lived in CIA, the White House, and the Two Koreas (Vellum, 2014).  It is part of ADST-DACOR’s Diplomats and Diplomacy Series. (DACOR is an organization of foreign affairs professionals.)

Donald Gregg was an employee of the US government for forty-three years, working in the fields of intelligence and diplomacy.  Gregg served in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for thirty-one years from 1951 to 1982.  Paramilitary trained and airborne trained, he spent most of his career in assignments overseas and advising the most senior leaders of the CIA.  He was assigned to Japan, Burma, Vietnam, and Korea.  He was special assistant to the Ambassador of Korea from 1973 to 1975.  Gregg also served as a member of the White House National Security Council staff from 1979 to 1982. Upon retirement from CIA, Gregg became National Security Adviser to US Vice President George H.W. Bush from 1982 to 1989, and US Ambassador to the Republic of Korea from 1989 to 1993.  Outside of government, Gregg served as a senior consultant to Goldman Sachs, the chairman and president of The Korea Society in New York, and he currently serves as the chairman of the Pacific Century Institute in Los Angeles.  Gregg was born in New York. He enlisted in the US Army upon graduation from high school in 1945.  He received training as a cryptanalyst and reached the rank of sergeant.  He went on to attend Williams College from 1947 to 1951, majoring in Philosophy.  Gregg has received numerous awards from CIA, the US Department of Defense and the South Korean government and five honorary degrees from American and foreign colleges.  Gregg has visited the North Korea several times and advocates for the normalization of relations between that country and the US.

On its face, Pot Shards is a significant contribution to the record of the US experience in the Far East written by a major player, an intelligence icon.  Pot Shards covers some weighty matters regarding intelligence, diplomacy, and defense policy.  Some of the issues and events discussed by Gregg have never been revealed in other texts. Gregg could have limited the book to the audience of policy scholars, analysts, historians, intelligence professionals and veterans and all those familiar with the subject matter.  However, he presents Pot Shards in a way that everyone can understand and enjoy at some level.  There is much in Pot Shards that would especially thrill those beguiled by spy novels and films and spy craft enthusiasts.  Yet, what makes Pot Shards most exciting is the story of the man: Donald Gregg.  With good humor, he recounts many satisfying exploits, but also reveals vicissitudes and trials he faced.

Individuals that Gregg mentions in Pot Shards are those with whom he had continuous contact as managers, mentors, and friends. Some of are well known, “foreign policy celebrities,” such as Robert McNamara, Henry Kissinger, Creighton Abrams, Richard Helms, William Colby,  Harold Brown, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Richard Holbrooke, and Richard Allen. Others may be remembered only by a few.  Gregg sheds light on their impact and exactly how their ideas ignited events from the inside. Moreover, Gregg indicates those individuals helped him develop a greater understanding of the world and other ways of thinking, allowing him to become something that he perhaps would not have been without them.

In Cloud of Witnesses, George Rutler examines sixty-six individuals, who have influenced his life, based on what Aristotle would refer to as their ethos (an honest use of talent), logos (an honest use of mind), and pathos (an honest involvement in the suffering of the world).  That would be the best way to examine Gregg’s presentation of his life and career.  At Williams College, Gregg was influenced by the thinking of Professor John William Miller, the head of the Philosophy Department, who taught him the simple definition of morality, “Never treat another human being as an object.”  Gregg explained that he has tried to live by that definition.  Gregg was also influenced by Miller’s interest in people taking action and being defined by, and held responsible for, the actions they took.  Miller taught him that “Man does not have a nature, he has a history,” Gregg recalled Miller urged his students to act upon what they believed in and to “cut behind appearance toward reality.”

It was clear from many anecdotes in Pot Shards that Gregg has had a genuine interest in people.  He has looked beyond differences, avoiding being caught up with race, ethnicity, or other things which had been used particularly in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s to determine how one should relate with another.  For example, when he first came to Washington, he would enjoy going to jazz clubs which catered to African-American patrons.  That was notable because Washington, DC at the time was a segregated city. Serving in the military at a young age, he learned about different men and different behaviors, and witnessed racial and ethnic prejudice which repulsed him.  In Kai Bird’s excellent work, The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames, it was indicated that racial and ethnic prejudice was apparent at CIA.  It was manifested in the casual and official discussions of some, and even worse, in decision making.  That was certainly not Gregg’s way.  His type of clearheaded, solid judgments resulting from giving situations and individuals a deeper look, was always needed.  Virtue shines in the presence of vice.

Having served as a cryptanalyst in the US Army, Gregg was sought by the National Security Agency in the middle of his senior year at Williams.  However, the recruiter rather than take Gregg suggested he join CIA.  Gregg knew little of the CIA and what it did.  However, the recruiter, with what Gregg now thinks was a bit of cynicism said, “Oh, they jump out of airplanes and are going to save the world!” That attracted Gregg, and initiated his thirty-one year career with the Agency.  Gregg has provided an incredibly intriguing discussion of his paramilitary training at CIA and the others he met during it. Gregg makes it clear in that discussion though, that so-called “good old days” in CIA were not always so good.  There were crazy events. Some people were not best serving the needs of CIA or their country. Managers who were very most often former OSS officers tried to recreate approaches taken by their former organization in German and Japanese held territory in Europe and Asia.   Often proposals for covert operations were based on questionable judgment and scant research.  Real possibilities for success were not fully considered by decision makers.  They were praised and approved by management as displaying a “Gung-Ho”, “Go Get ’em”, motivated attitude.  Yet, those operations more often resembled suicide missions.  Gregg found himself on such an assignment.

In March 1952, Gregg was assigned to fly to Bangkok, Thailand, where he would pick up a group of North Vietnamese whom he would train in sabotage and small unit tactics at a secret base. Following the completion of the training, Gregg and his team would be parachuted into North Vietnam.  Gregg spoke neither Vietnam nor French, and knew nothing of Vietnam or its history, and he was far from a veteran saboteur or guerilla leader. Gregg discovered an attractive post-debutante in her mid-thirties was the Vietnam plans officer and he had heard her say that her “Vietnam plan” had been accepted.  A cocktail party was given to celebrate the occasion, but Gregg was not invited.  When Gregg met his team, they turned out to be totally untrained Vietnamese with whom he had no way of communicating.  Gregg said they looked childlike.  Later he further learned that they were ethnic-Vietnamese from Thailand and had never set foot in Vietnam.  The potential for disaster was enormous. Gregg had no intention of backing out, but the truth behind the operation eventually revealed, and things worked out for the best. The operation was exposed as a fraud.  It turned out that a corrupt principal agent had hoodwinked CIA officers in Bangkok and had “taken the money and run.”  The mission was cancelled.

However, Pot Shards does not serve as some expression of some longstanding of primal doubt.  Gregg never moved about stating “Something is rotten in the Agency.”  Readers discover that through coping with those problems he learned not only what to do, but more importantly, “how not to do it.”  Gregg could recognize what was good, as good.  Gregg also worked with many in CIA who were true professionals.  He modeled his own management and decision making style in part from theirs. Gregg’s loyalty to his country and conviction toward duty was surpassed by no other.  He is proud of his years in CIA. So much of that experience was central to his personal life.  Through CIA, he met some life-long friends.  Through CIA, he met his wife.

Gregg makes it clear that his wife Margaret (“Meg”) has been central to his life.  A fortuitous encounter while hailing a taxi at Washington, DC’s Union Station set off of chain of interesting events that led to their life-long partnership.  Unbeknownst to Gregg, Meg, fluent in Russian, was actually Gregg’s superior in the Operations branch at CIA when they met.  However, as Gregg makes clear he was irresistibly taken by her combination of beauty, intellect, and charm, which made her something supreme to him.  Whether accompanying him in Japan, Korea, or Burma or remaining back in the US with their three children while Gregg served in Vietnam, she was the rock on which Gregg was able to build a career while raising a family. Relating the course of their marriage, Gregg leaves no doubt that meeting Meg was the best luck he ever had.

As Gregg rose through the ranks at CIA, he saw more clearly how many policies that drove CIA activities were not carefully considered and constructed. Gregg saw how euphonious policy speeches by political officials would often be based on captivating assessments of positive outcomes and capabilities of foreign partners not based in reality. He could see that near desperation on wanting a situation to be certain way led many, even the well-intentioned, to project their thinking on that of senior foreign counterpart, or worse, an adversary.  Only a negative outcome would reveal the error of a flawed approach for some.  In the early years of the US involvement in Vietnam Gregg witnessed this.  Gregg recalled accompanying US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara to Vietnam in 1963. McNamara was told by General Paul Harkins, who commanded the US Military Assistance Command in Vietnam (MACV) that “We will be out of here with a military victory in six months.”  McNamara was disturbed by the unrealistic reporting, and told US President Lyndon Johnson that things were really not as good as Harkins’ people seemed to think they were.  Gregg also recalled a war game in 1964 on the use of airpower in the North Vietnam.  He participated with: General Maxwell Taylor, US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; General Earl Wheeler, US Army Chief of Staff; General Curtis LeMay, US Air Force Chief of Staff; John McCone, CIA Director; and, in the presence of McGeorge Bundy, the National Security Adviser.  Gregg, as the CIA representative of the Blue Team, gave CIA’s analysis of the plan to bomb North Vietnam.  Gregg described the rationale of the plan and then proceeded to explain why it would fail.  The rest of that story will not be spoiled here.  One will have to read Pot Shards to discover what the response to Gregg was from the many powerful men in the room.  Gregg’s description of it all makes the moment palpable.

Writing about his second tour in Vietnam, Gregg provides good lessons on how to function effectively as a manager or leader under extremely adverse circumstances.  His lessons hold true for professions beyond intelligence for they primarily concern human nature and the wonders and realities of human interaction.  There were many difficult experiences that were a part of that period.  One evening Gregg received a frantic call from a member of his crew who he described as a gifted and committed paramilitary officer, with several tough tours under his belt.  The officer had married a Vietnamese war widow with children and lived in her Bien Hoa apartment.  He had just returned from a mission to find one of his children “desperately ill.”  Gregg rushed to the officer’s apartment with medical assistance in tow.  Yet, by the time he arrived, he found the tragic scene of a beautiful young girl, eight years old, lying silent and still, with her frightened siblings and anguished mother, who was being comforted by the officer.  The girl was confirmed dead and the officer asked Gregg to take her away.  Gregg picked up the child and walked out.  Doing so reminded him of carrying his own small daughters Lucy and Alison to bed after they had fallen asleep. He searched for an answer on how to handle the situation.  This was a CIA matter and had to be kept confidential.  Gregg eventually decided to bring the child to the emergency room of the US Army hospital at Long Binh, where US Army Military Police told him where to go to have the body cared for.

In this segment of Pot Shards, there are also fascinating stories of Gregg’s exploits in combat.  He was in the thick of things as CIA Regional Officer in Military Region 3 (War Zone D).  There are accounts of Gregg managing paramilitary operations and interrogations of his crew.  He flew with forward controllers, directing fire support for US and allied troops.  He described radio communications from battles, the descriptions of which bring the reader right to the scene.  Gregg’s efforts were appreciated by US and allied commanders he worked with such as: General James Hollingsworth (US);  General John McGiffert (US); General Nguyen Van Minh (South Vietnam); General Jangnai Sohn (Korea); and General Roh Tae-woo (Korea); Colonel Nguyen Cong Vinh (South Vietnam); and, Colonel Bach Van Hien (South Vietnam).

On his second tour, Gregg could still see how different ideas, among policy and decision makers, about what was truly happening in there impacted the decisions being made and the lessons the US military as well as other security organizations as CIA, were learning from the experience.  At the very end of his tour in Vietnam, General Creighton Abrams hosted a lunch for Gregg at his MACV Headquarters in Saigon, a place where he had been excoriated in the past.  At lunch, Gregg sat next to Abrams and six or eight of his subordinates.  He felt Abrams was the best of the three commanders the US sent to Vietnam.  Knowing Abrams had been in Vietnam for some time, Gregg asked him how long it had actually been.  Abrams proudly responded, “Six years.”  Gregg then asked him how he kept going, and Abrams stated, “Well, I keep learning things.”  Gregg then politely asked him what he had learned so far, and Abrams replied that just finished reading Bernard Fall’s Hell in a Very Small Place, an account of the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu. Abrams said that he “now” understood Fall’s reasoning as to why the French had failed to reestablish their colonial rule in Vietnam.  When Gregg asked “How did Fall explain it,” Abrams explained, “Fall said that the French lost because they failed to politically organize the terrain.  I think I understand that now, but I would not have understood that a year ago.”  Gregg had no response to that, but explained that when he later saw pictures of heavy US battle tanks, named after Abrams, crashing around Iraq and Afghanistan, he thought of Abrams’ answer.

Through his achievements in Vietnam, Gregg developed a reputation in CIA as a very wise and capable officer.  He knew how to present ideas and concepts to develop agreement or consensus on issues. Bringing his thoughts to precise declarations took skill.  This was one of the many skills that Gregg honed through interactions with a number of accomplished professionals.  One who helped Gregg elevate his capabilities while he served in his next overseas assignment as CIA Station Chief in Seoul, was US Ambassador Philip Habib.  Habib was gruff and outspoken.  However, by Gregg’s account, he understood people well and was an excellent diplomat for whom he developed tremendous respect.  Gregg indicates that it was Habib’s maneuvering that help to save the life of liberal South Korean politician, Kim Dae-jung, after he had been kidnapped from his Tokyo hotel room by the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA).  Habib never accused the Korean President Park Chung-hee of ordering the kidnapping but sent a message to him explaining that the US was aware of the action and hoped he could do everything to keep Kim alive.  This allowed Park a chance to avoid direct embarrassment and contrive a story in which he accused rogue elements of the Korean government had alone committed the act, and in which he took credit for saving Kim.  Gregg said Habib’s astute handling of the situation kept Kim alive and allowed Park to save face.  Gregg explained saving face was always a major concern in Asia.  Habib’s actions allowed Washington’s relations with Seoul to improve.

Gregg completed his career at CIA on a high note at the US National Security Council.  He had achieved success maintaining an ethic of his own, a moral code.  There was goodness living inside a good man.  He saw the greater good that would result from his actions against Communism.  Gregg was invited to join the administration of US President Ronald Reagan as the National Security Adviser to then Vice President George H.W. Bush.  His job made use of all of his skills and experience from CIA.  During those six years with Bush, Gregg traveled to 65 countries.  Along with those visits came his attendance at endless formal events.  Gregg recounts some of rather unusual happenings at such gatherings, providing readers with a gift bag of humorous stories.  Yet, while in the Reagan administration, his self-image was put to the test.  Gregg dedicates a chapter to a painful period of that service: IranContra, which was the purported attempt by the administration to sell surplus arms to Iran in exchange for it to ensure the release of US hostages being held in Lebanon.  Claims that Gregg was involved with that matter were invalidated.  Gregg’s account of it all is captivating.

As Ambassador to South Korea in the administration of President George H.W. Bush, Gregg successfully made use of his experience at CIA as well as the White House.  However, Gregg did not tap into his training as an intelligence officer to manipulate Korean officials or simulate closeness with Koreans he met.  There was no deception at all. Gregg was genuine, natural, in his interactions and that is what helped him gain their respect and confidence.  There was a type of communion between Gregg and many of his senior Korean counterparts.  One of the issues Gregg was determined to confront as ambassador was the continuing negative note in US-South Korean relations over the alleged US involvement in the Kwanju Uprising of 1980.  Then Korean President Chun Doo-hwan had brutally cracked down on protests in Kwanju in the wake of the arrest of Kim Dae-jung on charges of treason. At least two hundred Koreans were killed in the streets.  Chun claimed that the US had fully supported his actions.  That was not true, but by the time Gregg arrived in Korea as ambassador, hostility toward the US was still strong in the city.  The US Cultural Center in Kwangju was often attacked with fire bombs by rioters trying to drive the US out.  Gregg after consulting with others, including Kim Dae-jung, went to Kwangju in January 1990.  While there, Gregg met with six leaders of anti-US groups for over three hours.  Gregg explained that he came to Kwangju to lessen the hostility that the people in the city seemed to hold for the US.  Gregg explained to them that the US was not connected at all to the incident, and many of the actions by the US at that time, such as moving an aircraft carrier to Pusan were not a show of support for Chun. That particular move was meant to signal to North Korea not to intervene.  The anti-US protesters believed the US was close to Chun administration, but Gregg let it be known that there was general distaste for it.  In that vein, Gregg explained, that at the time, the Reagan administration had agreed to receive Chun at the White House if Chun agreed to lift the death sentence imposed on Kim Dae-jung, and to release him from prison.  Most important in the conversation was Gregg’s apology over the fact the US had remained silent for so long on the Kwangju issue.  Gregg diffused the hostility toward the US and attacks on the Cultural Center in Kwangju stopped.  Gregg explained his first visit to Kwangju was deeply valuable in showing him how Koreans can hold feelings of han (deep-seated resentment) when they are dealing with events caused by others and which they feel are unjustified, immoral, and unfair.  When Gregg made his first visit to Pyongyang in April 2002, he explains that he encountered the same feelings of han that he had encountered in Kwangju twelve years before.  However, he notes that lessons learned in Kwangju were helpful as he tried to establish a dialogue and some degree of trust between his North Korean hosts and himself.  Ambassador Philip Habib certainly would have been proud of Gregg’s performance.

There is much more in Pot Shards to enjoy!  It is a book one will want to read again and again.

Quam bene vivas referre, non quam diu!  (It is how well you live that matters, not how long!)  There have been a few stories written about Gregg in books, articles, in anecdotal form.  Many were written in the troubled time of the Iran-Contra Affair.  Pot Shards presents the true life and times of Gregg, an individual who contributed greatly to US foreign and national security policy. Readers are taken on a journey through Northeast and Southeast Asia and halls of power in Washington, DC.  Readers will also discover how much Gregg valued others and his value to humanity.  Gregg continues to make a valuable contribution to US foreign and defense policy efforts as a private citizen.  Pot Shards is an absolute pleasure to read.  Without reservation, greatcharlie.com highly recommends Pot Shards to everyone.

By Mark Edmond Clark

Who Has Contributed What in the Coalition Against ISIS?; The Obama Administration Must Place Success Against ISIS Ahead of Creating the Appearance of a Broad Multilateral Effort

Almost immediately after United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron received approval from Parliament to have the Royal Air Force join the US-led anti-ISIS coalition, Tornado bombers, as the one pictured above, began engaging in highly effective airstrikes in Iraq. While some nations as the United Kingdom have contributed significantly to the anti-ISIS air campaign, the efforts of many other partners in the 60 nation coalition have been negligible or nonexistent militarily.

According to an October 22. 2014 Foreign Policy article entitled, “Who Has Contributed What in the Coalition Against the Islamic State?”, as the administration of US President Barack Obama ramps up its campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), it is also trying to present itself as acting with the support of a broad range of partner nations. The article notes the US State Department lists more than 60 countries as members of the “global coalition” to degrade and defeat ISIS. However, the qualifications for inclusion in that coalition are nominal. While many countries have pledged military or humanitarian support, the State Department indicates that “simply exposing the true nature” of ISIS can qualify a nation for the coalition. Western coalition partners continue participating in airstrikes in Iraq, however, the Pentagon has not discussed the participation of Arab partners. To date, few countries have joined the US for airstrikes within Syria since October 14, 2014, following a week of apparently US-only strikes there. The US Central Command noted in its daily statement on October 21, 2014, that “out of respect for participating nations, US Central Command will defer to partner nations to publicly comment on their airstrikes” against ISIS.  Of the 60 countries participating in the anti-ISIS coalition, the vast majority are not contributing militarily. The October 22nd Foreign Policy article alleges that US claimed that there were even commitments from coalition partners of ground troops to fight ISIS, but those offers never materialized.

The Multilateral Gambit

It was in 2014 that the Obama administration really began insisting that the US would act only when multilateral approaches were available. The impression was given that this was a world in which once sufficient effort was made by the US to organize other nations, problems could be handled through cooperation. As it was explained in the greatcharlie.com post, ” Chechen in Syria a Rising Star in Extremist Group; US Must Act in Iraq Now to Eclipse Such Stars!”, organizing multinational efforts to resolve foreign and defense policy issues is not a new idea. Regional alliances such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, Central Treaty Organization, and the Organization of American States were created to bring resources of nations together to cope with the “Communist threat.” Even on terrorism, multilateral approaches were viewed as required when modern-era counterterrorism was established during the administration of former US President Ronald Reagan. Yet, the idea that the US can today rely upon multilateral solutions requiring joint action with allies and partners who themselves face drastic military cuts and economic difficulties is unwise.

Understanding the importance of the campaign against ISIS, United Kungdom Prime Minister gained approval from Parliament to have the Royal Air Force participate in the US-led anti-ISIS coalition. The Royal Air Force almost immediately engaged in airstrikes against ISIS. However, no Western state such as the United Kingdom, which is already fighting ISIS from the air and possesses a genuine capability to engage in land warfare, would willingly or robustly go into Iraq or Syria. Indeed, national leaders of Western states would not want to assume the risks of intervening with ground troops now, especially when most of those leaders truly feel that level of commitment would not “exactly” be within their nation’s interests. Despite the terrorist attack in Canada and thwarted attacks in Australia, in many capitals, the loyal opposition and many  policy experts have taken the position that their governments have overstated the international threat from ISIS. Those criticisms have also placed restraints on just how much national leaders can do.

Placing Partners under Pressure

Oddly, the Obama administration also appears to have requested Western allies and coalition partners commit their armed forces to military action in Iraq and Syria even though the administration would not make a similar commitment of US forces. That approach was unrealistic.  Obama publicly indicated a hesitancy to act militarily in both Iraq and Syria. As a rationale for its hesitancy to commit the US military, Pentagon officials  explained “the US military is taking a defensive, not offensive, approach” to ISIS. On October 22, 2014, The Washington Post reported that the US determined newly trained mainstream Syrian opposition fighters will not be able to capture strategically important towns from ISIS, without the support of forward-deployed US combat troops. Alternatively, those mainstream opposition fighters will only be assigned to defend already-controlled territory. According to Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby, the current train-and-equip program for the Syrian opposition would seek to strengthen appropriately vetted elements of its fighting force, Free Syrian Army, to enable them to counter ISIS; strengthen the moderate opposition so that they can better defend themselves and territory; and promote the conditions for a negotiated settlement to end the conflict in Syria.” One country the US has pressured for action against ISIS is Turkey. Although Turkey is a power in the Middle East region, the notion that Turkey, possessing far less capabilities than the US would subordinate their own concerns and interests, to support and defend others under US pressure is curious. Turkey likely reached the same  conclusions  as the US about conditions for engaging militarily in Iraq and Syria. There would hardly be a Syrian opposition force with which Turkish troops could work. If Turkey’s operations in Syria “creeped” beyond destroying ISIS and it effectively displaces the Assad regime, political leaders in Turkey would likely feel ambivalent about simply turning over a nation on its border, Syria, to the very dysfunctional Syrian opposition. Even if Turkey controlled or greatly influenced the Syrian opposition, it is hard to see how taking on what would be the political, economic, and social basket case as Syria would be to Turkey’s benefit now.

Given the diminutive size and inappreciable impact of contributions by many coalition partners, as outlined in the October 22nd Foreign Policy  article, it would seem as beneficial to the Obama administration not to publicize the relative efforts of coalition partners as it would be for the partners themselves. Such information may create doubt over just how much the world is really behind the US in the anti-ISIS effort. In any event, more will certainly need to be done by the Obama administration to defeat ISIS than simply promote the simulacrum of a broad multilateral effort. If coalition partners are not carrying as much of the burden as may have been hoped, but perhaps should have been expected, the US must step up its own efforts. That would mean allowing military planners not to simply devise the best plans feasible under constraints set by the Obama administration. Civilian control and political guidance without question is necessary. However, provided with everything they actually need, and working within well calibrated parameters established US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey–who is unquestionably honor bound, US military planners, using their expertise based on careers that include continuous professional education and training and considerable experience, would undoubtedly develop far more effective plans for the use of airpower. Hamstringing the US military by insisting it develop war plans based on some illusion within the Obama administration that some proportional level of multilateral cooperation will ever materialize, will practically ensure operations against ISIS, although  will not yield the desired outcome: the destruction of ISIS. The Obama administration appears to be attempting mulgere hircum! (To milk a male goat!; To attempt the impossible!)

Assessment

The comedian and late night talk show host in the US, David Letterman, said “every military operation has to have a name so people can get behind it and they now have a name for the war against ISIS: ‘Operation Hillary’s Problem’.” The US-led anti-ISIS operation’s true name is Operation Inherent Resolve. Ostensibly, the Obama administration is fully committed to defeating ISIS right now and not leaving the job to his predecessor. Yet, the fight against ISIS is more than just an operation. It is a war being fought against a barbaric adversary. Its leaders and fighters are deluded by the conceit that they are fighting for God. The decision to take action against ISIS was laudable and represented the heights of US foreign policy which in the Obama administration has at times seemed full of contradictions. Likewise, the insistence on presenting the veil of multilateral action when the US is doing the bulk of the heavy lifting in the US-led coalition against ISIS represents the depths of US foreign policy. It creates the impression that the US military effort is driven more by political expedience than the best military approach possible. Looking good is not as important as being good. Doing what is necessary to win this war must have priority over all other interests. The US and it coalition partners may be on the same team, but the Obama administration must accept that the US will need to both block and carry the ball over the goal line and not hide the fact it is doing so.