Ruminations on the Russian Federation’s Failure To Close the Door in Western Ukraine to Foreign Military Assistance as Part of Its Invasion Plan

US airmen and marines (above) load M777 artillery pieces marked for delivery to the Ukrainian Armed Forces on an US Air Force transport plane. Many weapon systems sent into Ukraine have had a multiplier effect on the battlefield. Firepower in the form of multiple launch rocket systems, self-propelled artillery, and heavy caliber guns, transported possibly along the now heavily traveled supply lines from both Poland and Romania enabled the Ukrainian Armed Forces to launch two highly-successful counteroffensives. Presented here are some ruminations on Russia’s failure to initially shut the door to the massive levels of military assistance to the Ukrainian Armed Forces from the US, other NATO Member States and the EU via Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania. Emphasis is placed on the likely reasons why Russia went into Ukraine militarily without addressing the potential impact of Western resupply of Ukrainian forces. To that extent, issues considered include: whether the Russian Federation General Staff was responsible for this considerable delinquency or was the Kremlin near criminally remiss for not heeding likely recommendations of the military chiefs and their war planners.

Intriguingly, Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin launched the Ukraine War lacking a strategy that took into consideration of what Vooruzhonnije Síly Rossíyskoj Federátsii (the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, hereinafter referred to as the Russian Federation Armed Forces) would come up against. What was seemingly completely missed or misunderstood was the degree of support from the US and NATO Member States that Kyiv would receive. No effort, that was apparent, was made to obviate the ability of the US and its NATO allies to supply Ukraine at will as part of the military strategy. From the start, conquering Kyiv was the focus as if Putin, his foreign and national security policy team at the Kremlin, and his senior commanders in the Russian Federation Armed Forces. Perhaps, for Putin, the conquest of Ukraine was a dream on which he could feast his imagination. That was at least until the matter was reduced to reality. If one might think of Putin at all as a rational actor, it would seem Putin has painted himself into a corner. That is quite unlike Putin. Some might say that after all the years of accomplishments and successes, and all the experience, he was bound to make one big mistake. It is a real head rubber.

Presented here are some ruminations on Russia’s failure to initially shut the door to the massive levels of military assistance to the Ukrainian Armed Forces from the US, other NATO Member States and the EU via Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania. Emphasis is placed on the likely reasons why Russia went into Ukraine militarily without addressing the potential impact of Western resupply of Ukrainian forces. To that extent, issues considered include: whether the Russian Federation General Staff was responsible for this considerable delinquency or was the Kremlin near criminally remiss for not heeding the recommendations of the military chiefs and their war planners; whether the door was left wide open between Poland Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania with Ukraine because they were hamstrung by Putin’s concept that a successful “lighting strike in Ukraine” could be achieved even though the idea was apparently developed in the abstract; and, whether they had little choice but to acquiesce to the manifestations of Putin’s sense of vulnerability over Ukraine’s close ties to the US, the EU, and NATO. Unless one was actually behind closed doors of conference rooms in the Kremlin and the national security bureaucracies in Moscow, or “reading someone’s mail,” one cannot know for certain how the decision concerning resupply from western Ukraine was made or maybe not made. The best informed guess would inevitably be an interpretation. While “ruminating”, greatcharlie sought to stay grounded within the realm of what would actually be possible in Putin’s regime given what is known about it. Insights offered here are occasionally supported with historical examples of timeless relevance that immediately came to mind or actually helped to generate ruminations. Causa latet, vis est notification. (The cause is hidden, the result is obvious.)

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff US Army General Colin Powell (above) at press conference at the Pentagon on January 23, 1991. When a military campaign is launched, often an objective becomes separating an opposing army from what gives it support and what allows it to continue to generate combat power. Acting in this manner against an opponent is referred to as acting decisively. During the Persian Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm, the concept of separating Iraqi forces in Kuwait from resupply as well as command and control from the Iraqi military and political leadership was expressed without ambiguity by then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff US Army General Colin Powell during a press conference at the Pentagon on January 23, 1991. He famously stated: “Our strategy to go after this army is very, very simple. First, we’re going to cut it off, and then we’re going to kill it.”

Why Is Resupply an Issue?

When sent to war, the purpose of an army is to use its trained troops to deliver calculated lethal violence in protection of their country and its values wherever they are ordered to go. Not to be forgotten, is the necessity that the army’s troops place their very lives on the line in that pursuit. Equally important to note, not all countries have the same values. The values of the Russian Federation, particularly those that compelled the invasion of Ukraine, are quite different, for example, from those of the United Kingdom, France, or Germany. As professionals, army commanders act to the best of their knowledge and experience, use their troop in accordance with their army’s doctrine and in obedience to the concept and intent laid out by the army’s senior leadership. When it is the case, the army leadership acts in fol)owing with the concept and intent of their country’s political leadership. Such was the case when the Russian Federation Armed Forces were directed by Putin and ordered by the Russian Federation General Staff to invade Ukraine.

Today, armies can deploy with a considerable amount of supplies, but supplies begin to deplete as soon as the fight is underway. Nevertheless, to keep the army going, long before it becomes engaged, considerations and arrangements are made by planners and logistical (supply) officers to transport supplies wherever they are needed. Losing the ability to be resupplied means an army can fight only until the point when it metaphorically and literally, as one element of resupply, runs out of gas. To that extent, the most extreme of human endeavors becomes an even greater challenge for troops in that army. Whether resupply is possible can more often mean the difference between victory and defeat. 

To be a useful, effective fighting force on the battlefield, critical items such as bullets, grenades, rifles, other small arms, Kevlar vests, phones, petroleum, oil lubricants, and all and elements as replacement troops, and troop medical evacuation must get up to where the fight is. As shortages become problematic, commanders must begin to economize, their ability to act will be reduced, and subsequently their army becomes far less effective. The commander of the opposing army, if a capable commander, will discern the change, recognize the advantage presented and seek to exploit it as best as possible. The decision would need to be made on whether the army with dwindling supplies should be withdrawn. If the situation reaches the point when the commander can no longer act to alter the army’s situation, his army is being battered, or his army is cut off and has no available means of egress, he may be forced to surrender. While this description is somewhat oversimplified, it lends support for the idea that when a military campaign is launched, often an objective becomes separating an opposing army from what gives it support and what allows it to continue to generate combat power. Acting in this manner against an opponent is referred to as acting decisively.

During the Persian Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm, the concept of separating Iraqi forces in Kuwait from resupply as well as command and control from the Iraqi military and political leadership was expressed without ambiguity by then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff US Army General Colin Powell during a press conference at the Pentagon on January 23, 1991 alongside the US Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney. In the hour-long briefing, which detailed the first week of operations of the 28-nation coalition against Iraq, Powell famously stated: “Our strategy to go after this army is very, very simple. First, we’re going to cut it off, and then we’re going to kill it. To cut it off, that began last week when we started to go after the nerve center, the brains of the operation, the command and control of the operation, and the lines of communication that come out of Baghdad and other places in the country.”

One might have expected that Russian Federation Armed Forces top commanders and planners, in a similar vein, might have taken a similar tack toward the Ukraine Armed Forces. It might have been expected that they would have recognized that resupply not so much from Ukrainian arsenals but from those of US, other NATO Member States, and other countries in the EU would need to be blocked, cut off in some way. Yet, nothing remotely similar to what Powell expressed in 1991 was heard from the Russian Federation Ministry of Defense, the Russian Federation General Staff, or from Putin, himself, about cutting the Ukrainian Armed Forces off from resupply. There were no feigned movements such as moving Russian Federation forces to points outside Ukraine from which a blocking operation could best be launched in order to signal the intention to cut the Ukrainian Armed Forces off from resupply. Nothing was done sufficiently enough to cause supporters of the government of Kyiv to second guess any planned efforts to resupply the Ukrainian Armed Forces. In view of the potential decisive impact from contributions by the 30 countries in NATO,  particularly the US with its military largess, it would seem some Russian Federation Armed Forces commanders and planners thinking logically would urge the Russian Federation General Staff to suggest scrapping the operation until the problem of the Western resupply threat was resolved. 

A near endless list of situations during wars in which resupply determined the outcome of battle or even the war, itself. For example, armies have often encountered difficulties in cutting off resupply on a strategic level when fighting a determined opponent. Occasionally political leaders and army commanders have been slow in recognizing the opportunity to act decisively to mitigate resupply efforts on a strategic level. Armies have faced difficulties on the tactical level against a smaller force of well-trained, well-organized, and well-led opposing troops, even during a siege, when sufficient resupply has been made available to them

Ho Chi Minh Trail

The Ho Chi Minh Trail (Đường mòn Hồ Chí Minh) was a supply system that provided support, in the form of manpower and materiel, to the Communist insurgency, Viet Cong, and the People’s Army of Vietnam (North Vietnamese Army) during the Vietnam War. It comprised a logistical network of roads and trails that ran from North Vietnam to South Vietnam through the kingdoms of Laos and Cambodia during the Vietnam War. Initially troops, pushing heavily laden bicycles, driving oxcarts, or carrying supplies on their backs, moved hundreds of tons of supplies along it. However, trucks would become the primary means of moving supplies and troops. By 1969, tgere was even a pipeline crossed the Lao frontier through the Mu Gia Pass and, by 1970, it reached the approaches to the A Shau Valley in South Vietnam. The plastic pipeline, equipped with numerous small pumping stations, managed to transfer diesel fuel, gasoline, and kerosene all through the same pipe. By the end of 1970, the number of pipelines entering Laos increased to six that year. As a whole, supply efforts through trail were quite effective, which no mean feat given US efforts to thwart effort through trail included attacks from a CIA-raised clandestine army and the most intense air interdiction campaign in history. Mitigating the effects of US operations to destroy the trail was an existential effort. One might say the Ho Chi Minh Trail was the “center of gravity” for the Communists. Its loss probably would have led to their defeat in the war. As long as supplies could get to the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army, their war effort could continue with vigor which complicated US-led efforts to secure South Vietnam for the government in Saigon. South Vietnam would eventually surrender to North Vietnam.

Battle of the Atlantic 1939-1945

During World War II, Germany acted robustly to prevent merchant ships from carrying food, raw materials, troops and their equipment from North America to the United Kingdom. If they had succeeded, the outcome of war might have been radically different. The United Kingdom might have been starved into submission, which would have been complete strain on the morale. Its forces and those of its allies worldwide likely would have been deeply impacted. The supply line from the US was essentially the beating heart, the center of gravity, of the United Kingdom’s war effort. The threat to the movement of ships across the Atlantic came in the form of German submarines, the “Unterseeboot” or U-boat. United Kingdom Prime Minister Winston Churchill once wrote that, “The only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril.”

At the start of World War II, the Befehlshaber der Unterseeboote (Commander of the Submarines) was Konteradmiral (Rear Admiral) Karl Dōnitz. Dönitz pushed for a German fleet that consisted almost entirely of U-boats, claiming that depriving Germany’s enemies of vital supplies such as food and oil would be the most effective way to achieve victory. He claimed that given 300 U-Boats of the latest design, the Type VII, he could defeat the entire Royal Navy. He would utilize them in tactical formations that would later be called “wolfpacks”. Dőnitz’s  superior, Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine (Commander-in-Chief of the Navy) and Großadmiral, Oberkommando der Marine (the Naval High Command) Erich Raeder, was uninterested in his theories. Raeder was a traditionalist whose focus was surface warfare. Raeder also judged that Germany could not contest the Royal Navy for control of the sea. Even more, Raeder believed submarine warfare was cowardly. By 1941, although relatively small in number, U-boats under then Vizeadmiral (Vice Admiral) Dőnitz were threatening Allied shipping as far as the US east coast. By the end of 1942, U-boat “wolfpacks” were achieving considerable success in sinking merchant ships. By early 1943, the United Kingdom’s resources, especially oil, were running out, and it became a question of whether Allied shipyards could build merchant ships fast enough to replace the tonnage that was being sunk. 

Finally recognizing the value of then Admiral Dönitz concepts on the effective conduct of submarine warfare, in January 1943, German Führer und Reichskanzler Adolf Hitler saw to it that he was advanced to the rank of Großadmiral (Grand Admiral) and replaced Großadmiral Erich Raeder as Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine and Großadmiral, Oberkommando der Marine. Interestingly, he retained his post as Befehlshaber der Unterseeboote. Dőnitz was given the authority to act as he saw fit with German naval forces too late. At that juncture, Dőnitz had 200 operational U-boats. By April 1943, his U-boats were clearly struggling to make an impact. The Allies were sinking German submarines in greater numbers, with 45 being destroyed in the months of April and May. Aggressive Allied anti-submarine tactics were aided by the introduction of new technology. Long-range aircraft were equipped with centimetric radar and directed based on Ultra intelligence from intercepts of Kriegsmarine Enigma code communications. The mass production of Liberty Ships in US shipyards would ensure that the Allies would overcome attrition rates and win the Battle of the Atlantic. Without the victory, the Allies would not have been able to land forces ashore in the Mediterranean Theater or at Normandy.

In Operation Sonnenblume, in 1941, the German Afrika Korps‘ first offensive in North Africa, it sought to advance on Alexandria and Suez. In that advance, the capture of Tobruk was a priority as it was the only deep water port in Eastern Libya and would have provided the Germans with the closest supply port to the Egypt–Libya border. Of some significance is the fact that the one the renowned military commanders to emerge from the war led the attack on Tobruk: Generalleutnant (Lieutenant-General) Erwin Rommel. In 1940, Rommel commanded the 7th Panzer Division during the invasion of France where he demonstrated skill in the new tactic of blitzkrieg. He was a military officer who knew his business. When Rommel struck, he achieved complete surprise against British Army units in Libya’s eastern coastal region. The British Army was forced to retreat several hundred miles across the desert toward Tobruk. At Tobruk, the British Army and its allies held on. The Germans frequently bombarded the port. A blockade had been organized to thwart British resupply and reinforcement efforts. However, ships of the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Station ran the blockade, and provided Tobruk’s defenders gunfire support, supplies, fresh troops and by ferrying out the wounded. The defenders of Tobruk received enough resources to keep up the fight. Rommel was stopped and the siege was lifted in December 1941.

Tobruk Siege 1941

In Operation Sonnenblume, from February 6, 1941 to May 25,1941, its first offensive in North Africa, the German Afrika Korps sought to advance on Alexandria and Suez in that advance, the capture of Tobruk was a main objective. Tobruk was the only deep water port in Eastern Libya and would have provided Rommel a supply port closer to the Egypt–Libya border than Benghazi, 900 kilometers or 560 miles west of the Egyptian frontier, which was within the range of Royal Air Force bombers; Tripoli was 1,500 kilometers or 930 miles to the west in Tripolitania. Of some significance is the fact that the one the renowned military commanders to emerge from the war led the attack on Tobruk: Generalleutnant (Lieutenant-General) Erwin Rommel. A veteran of World War I, from 1929 through 1933, Rommel served as an instructor at the Dresden Infantry School and from 1935 at the Kriegsakademie (German War Academy) at Potsdam. In 1940, Rommel commanded the 7th Panzer Division during the invasion of France where he demonstrated skill in the new tactic of blitzkrieg. He was a military officer who knew his business. When Rommel struck, his Afrika Korps achieved complete surprise against British Army units in Libya’s eastern coastal region of Cyrenaica. The British Army was forced to retreat several hundred miles across the desert towards Tobruk.

Recognizing that he had the opportunity to capture Tobruk before the British Army and its Allies had time to organize an effective defense, Rommel advanced aggressively to exploit it. The 9th Australian Division, dubbed “The Rats of Tobruk”, supported by British Army armor and artillery, repulsed initial German assaults on April 10, 1941 to April 14, 1941, and even when the fresh 15th Panzer Division was committed to the attack on April 30, 1941, the defenders held on. The Germans frequently bombarded the port with artillery and Luftwaffe (German Air Force) dive-bombers and medium bombers. A blockade had been organized to thwart British resupply and reinforcement efforts. However, ships of the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Station–to include the Inshore Squadron–ran the blockade. Indeed, known as the “Tobruk Ferry Service”, Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy warships provided gunfire support, supplies, fresh troops and by ferrying out the wounded. The defenders of Tobruk were provided enough resources to keep up the fight. The Royal Air Force flew defensive sorties from airfields far away in Egypt. The siege of Tobruk was the first occasion in the war that German Panzer units had been stopped. The siege was lifted in December 1941. It must be noted that via Operation Crusader, launched on November 27, 1941, Tobruk was relieved by the British Eighth Army which after September 1941, controlled British Army and other Allied ground forces in the Western Desert. It seems worthwhile to note the Fall of Tobruk occurred when Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel  commanding Panzerarmee Afrika (Panzer Army Africa) which controlled the Afrika Korps and additional German units deployed to Africa as the 90th Light Infantry Division), as well as the Italian X Corps and XX Corps, attacked  on June 20, 1942 with massed air support, broke through a weak point on the eastern defensive perimeter, and captured the port. Although the garrison on the western perimeter had not been attacked, it was cut off from supplies and transport. Lacking the means to escape, the majority had to surrender; 33,000 prisoners were taken. Rommel had indeed learned lessons during the 1941 siege.

Être Voué à L’échec dès le Début

Even if everything else had been planned and arranged in the correct manner in every other aspect for the invasion, the viability of the entire plan would still rest on the ability of the Russian Federation Armed Forces to at best destroy, acceptably disrupt, or at the absolute minimum, delay resupply from the US, EU, and NATO. Without being able to control the movement of resupply in the West, the plan for the invasion should have been scrapped or the attack should have been postponed until that was nailed down. The reasoning behind such a decision has already been made abundantly clear looking at the circumstances of the handful of examples presented here already. As it was, the “special military operation” was launched, half-baked, and billions of dollars in military assistance has reached the Ukrainian Armed Forces via their country’s western border. Many weapon systems sent into Ukraine have had a multiplier effect on the battlefield. Firepower in the form of multiple launch rocket systems, self-propelled artillery, and heavy caliber guns, transported possibly along the now heavily traveled supply lines from both Poland and Romania enabled the Ukrainian Armed Forces to launch two highly-successful counteroffensives. On August 29, 2022, a counteroffensive was launched to eject Russian forces occupying the Kherson and Mykolaiv oblasts (provinces). On September 6, 2022, a counteroffensive was launched to eject Russian forces occupying the Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Luhansk oblasts. Given the unsatisfactory nature in which the Russian invasion was arranged and indeed, has been prosecuted, the decision to go into Ukraine was the sort that if made during an instance of saber rattling and war fever in a highly-industrialized democracy, would very likely lead to the impeachment of a national leader.

Ruminations

To set the record straight from the outset, greatcharlie believes that if Russian Federation forces were selectively positioned in Western Ukraine, the Ukrainian Armed Forces would have likely used their formidable and quite impressive drone arsenal to bombard them. They might have achieved the same relative success that they have achieved with Russian Federation forces in the east and south and around Kyiv. Once aptly prepared, Ukrainian special forces would likely do their part to hunt down and displace and destroy any Russian Federation troops settled in their country’s Western region. 

Commanders and planners in the Russian Federation Armed Forces would unlikely have known or believed any of that would have been possible before the invasion. One would need to consider other reasons for the omission of a mission to thwart, to an extent blockade resupply to the Ukrainian Armed Forces from the West.The Romania-Ukraine border is 649 kilometers or around 403 miles, but it is discontinuous. The. Moldova-Ukraine border is 1,222 kilometers or 759 miles. However, along the Dniester River, between Moldova and Ukraine, is the autonomous Republic of Transnistria.  Thereby, 454 kilometers or 282 miles of the Moldova-Ukraine border stand as the de factor border between Transnistria and Ukraine.

To the left of the above map are all countries situated on Ukraine’s western border. As Ukraine is looked upon in Europe as a very large country, perchance the area in western Ukraine that would need to be covered was judged by military commanders and planners in the Russian Federation General Staff as too large and deemed too difficult to control or monitor, surveil, and launch successful interdiction attacks and raids from. The Polish–Ukrainian border has a total length of 529 kilometers or 329 miles to 535 kilometers or 332 miles according to different sources. The Romania-Ukraine border is 649 kilometers or around 403 miles, but it is discontinuous. The Slovakia-Ukraine border is 97 kilometers or a bit over 60 miles. The Hungary-Ukraine border is roughly 103 kilometers or 60 miles long. It its located in Hungary’s Tisza river valley of its northeast. The Moldova-Ukraine border is 1,222 kilometers or 759 miles. However, along the Dniester River, between Moldova and Ukraine, is the autonomous Republic of Transnistria.  Thereby, 454 kilometers or 282 miles of the Moldova-Ukraine border stand as the de factor border between Transnistria and Ukraine.

Omission or De-emphasis?

Negligentia sempre habet infortunam comitem. (Negligence always has misfortune for a companion.) Imaginably, there is a moderately rational reason behind the decision to attack the second largest country in Europe, 603,500 square kilometers or 233,000 square miles, without being fully prepared. Ukraine is second largest in size to Russia, which is 17,098,246 square kilometers or 6,601,670 square miles. As Ukraine is looked upon in Europe as a very large country, perchance the area in Western Ukraine that would need to be covered was judged as too large by military commanders  and planners in the Glavnoe operativnoe upravlenie General’nogo štaba Vooružёnnyh sil Rossijskoj Federacii (the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Federation) and commanders and planners at the lower level in Yuzhnyy Voyennyy Okrug (the Southern Military District) and the Zapadnyy Voyennyy Okrug (the Western Military District) and deemed too difficult to control or monitor, surveil, and launch successful interdiction attacks and raids into. The Polish–Ukrainian border is the state border between Poland and Ukraine. It has a total length of 529 kilometers or 329 miles to 535 kilometers or 332 miles according to different sources.

Concisely and admirably described by the Mission Opérationnelle Transfrontalière (Transfrontier Operational Mission), an association that was set up in 1997 by the government of France to resolve issues for entities concerned with cross border issues, the Poland-Ukraine border begins at the tripoint formed by the Ukrainian, Polish and Slovak borders, in the middle of the Eastern Carpathian mountains. The demarcation runs initially towards the east, arriving at the Ushok Pass and the source of the San River, whereupon it turns north-west to follow the river for around 50 kilometers or 31 miles. It subsequently leaves the river to take a north-easterly direction, crossing the region known as the “Przemyśl Gate”, where mountains meet lowlands. The border then crosses large swathes of agricultural land, to reach the Bug River, which forms the last third of its demarcation. It ends at the tripoint formed by the borders of Poland, Ukraine and Belarus. Poland is a NATO Member State and an EU border state.

The Romania-Ukraine border is 649 kilometers or around 403 miles, but it is discontinuous. Again using a description from the Mission Opérationnelle TransfrontalièreThe Republic of Moldova separates the border into two segments. The first in the west, at the tripoint between the Hungarian-Romanian and Hungarian-Ukrainian borders. That segment then continues across the East Carpathian mountains and terminates at the tripoint formed by the Moldovan, Romanian and Ukrainian borders. The second segment begins at the second tripoint between the Moldovan, Romanian and Ukrainian borders, on the north bank of the Danube River, and terminates as it reaches the Black Sea. Romania is a NATO Member State and an EU border state. The Slovakia-Ukraine border is 97 kilometers or a but over 60 miles long. Slovakia is also a NATO Member State and an EU border state. The Hungary-Ukraine border is roughly 103 kilometers or 60 miles long. It is located in Hungary’s Tisza River Valley in the country’s northeast. As with the preceding three countries discussed, Hungary is a NATO Member State and an EU borderstate. The. Moldova-Ukraine border is 1,222 kilometers or 759 miles. However, along the Dniester River, between Moldova and Ukraine, is the autonomous Republic of Transnistria.  Thereby, 454 kilometers or 282 miles of the Moldova-Ukraine border stand as the de factor border between Transnistria and Ukraine. Transnistria is an autonomous republic aligned since 1992 with the Russian Federation. Russian Federation Armed Forces units have also been garrisoned there since 1992. To that extent, anyone providing military assistance to Ukraine would hardly choose to move anything through Moldova as Russian Federation intelligence services posted in Transnistria would likely be able to position themselves to monitor such resupply activities. Moving through Moldova would very likely be deemed too risky, unsafe. To an extent, one might say any effort by Russian Federation Armed Forces to monitor resupply efforts for Ukraine would indicate commanders and planners were covering the matter. Perhaps the Russian Federation General Staff sold that notion to Putin. However, while a few things could be done from Transnistria, given the sheer size of its border with Ukraine, and its position south and toward the east with respect other bordering countries, it would unlikely be enough to make a real difference. It would seem Putin did not want to stir trouble over Transnistria issue. The Russian Federation Armed Forces there have remained relatively quiet, and the West has more or less left the autonomous republic alone. If covert monitoring has been transpiring along or across the Transnistria border, it is apparently not having an impact. Thus, the focus here is on resupply from Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania.

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (center), Russian Federation Defense Minister General Sergei Shoigu (right), and Chief of Staff of the Russian Federation Armed Forces General Valery Gerasimov (left). Commanders and planners in the Russian Federation Armed Forces apparently “wholeheartedly” accepted the idea that the Ukrainians would acquiesce as in 2014. Despite losses inflicted upon Ukrainian defenders and territorial gains, in eastern and southern Ukraine as well as Kyiv, the mission to completely snuff out the combat power and resolve of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and force a sort of mass capitulation was not achieved. The losses of the Russian Federation Armed Forces have been exponentially higher. It seems most apparent that the Russian Federation General Staff had moved forward without a satisfactory long-term plan for the invasion. Indeed, by results alone, one might infer that there were actually no contingency plans to draw upon for the invasion of Ukraine.

Folly, Doctor-Like, Controlled Skill

Commanders and planners in the Russian Federation Armed Forces apparently “wholeheartedly” accepted the idea–fiction–that the Ukrainians would roll over and play nice doggie à la 2014. Tomaten auf den augen haben. Despite losses inflicted upon the Ukrainian defenders and territorial gains, in eastern and southern Ukraine, the mission to completely snuff out the combat power and resolve of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and force a sort of mass capitulation was not achieved. In the end, the losses of the Russian Federation Armed Forces have been exponentially higher. It seems most apparent that the Russian Federation General Staff had moved forward without a satisfactory long-term plan for the invasion. Indeed, by results alone, one might infer that there were actually no contingency plans to draw upon for the invasion of Ukraine, with solutions for all conceivable challenges. Doing the “what-ifs” beforehand was probably viewed as walking out on thin ice “politically”. While the idea might be difficult for the reasonable to reconcile, it appears the massive enterprise was  truly undertaken by Moscow on the fly. 

Allowing the Russian Federation Armed Forces to perform in such a way would be very much unlike Putin given the record of his past behavior. True, over the past two decades, he has dropped some clangers. Even the most knowledgeable and experienced can make mistakes they learned to avoid long ago. That is human nature; the human element. Still, Putin’s actions are usually thoughtful, calibrated, well calculated, with the use of resources in a measured way to achieve the most favorable outcomes. Putin can surely tell the difference between real and unreal. He has not managed to stay in power since 2000 by engaging in Quixotic pursuits. This is something new. One wonders what could possibly come next for Ukraine and for the world.

Putin was oddly hooked on the idea that among the officers, men, and women of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, there was a lingering sense of Soviet unity equal to his own. This in itself was quite interesting as Putin was hardly known for truly displaying brotherly love toward former Soviet republics. He would create an environment of fear in his relationship with their respective leaders. After Euromaidan, the Ukrainians did not want any part of that. In his invasion day television broadcast of February 24, 2022, Putin would go as far as to implore the Ukrainian Armed Forces to submit to his will and allow Russian troops to again simply march into their country. There appeared to be a singular emotional commitment on his part to the ideas of Russian-Ukrainian unity and the fealty of the officers, men, and women of the Ukrainian Armed Forces to Moscow, to him. Putin “appealed” to members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces as follows: “I would also like to address the military personnel of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Comrade officers! Your fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers did not fight the Nazi occupiers and did not defend our common Motherland to allow today’s neo-Nazis to seize power in Ukraine. You swore the oath of allegiance to the Ukrainian people and not to the junta, the people’s adversary which is plundering Ukraine and humiliating the Ukrainian people.” Putin continued: “I urge you to refuse to carry out their criminal orders. I urge you to immediately lay down arms and go home. I will explain what this means: the military personnel of the Ukrainian army who do this will be able to freely leave the zone of hostilities and return to their families.” If the matter were not so grave, his words might be looked upon as comical.

Putin seemed forgetful of, or totally oblivious to, the fact that he was responsible for the greatest humiliation of the Ukrainian Armed Forces when he ordered the “green men” of the Russian Federation Armed Forces into Crimea to seize Ukraine’s sovereign territory. Further, without firing a shot, the green men first corralled members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces much as sheep in their own garrison and then herded them out of Crimea. Knowing the Ukrainians as well as he claimed he did in the February 24, 2022 broadcast, Putin should have known the Ukrainians are not sheep. He should have been well-aware that there would be payback for what happened in 2014 and everything that has happened since. He surely knows that now.

In its ill-designed aspects influenced by the political leadership, the Russian Federation’s special military operation on a macro-level much resembles the failed German campaign, Operation Barbarossa, launched on June 21, 1941. Hitler provided empty assurances resulting from his baseless analyses to Oberkommando des Heeres (High Command of the Army) to the effect that “We have only to kick in the front door and the whole rotten edifice will come tumbling down.” Oberkommando des Heeres went along with Hitler’s concept that the campaign would be a short one, and that the Soviets would give in after suffering the shock of massive initial defeats. As a result, it did not develop a satisfactory long-term plan for the invasion.  The shock and awe of the initial Blitzkrieg was dissipated by the vast distances, Supply challenges could not be overcome. There was a lack of sufficient manpower resources. German losses could not be sustained. After initial contact, there was stiff resistance from Soviet forces. Despite the serious losses inflicted on the Soviet Army the mission to completely destroy Soviet fighting power and force a capitulation was not achieved by January 7, 1942, and the operation was terminated 20 kilometers short of Moscow. Interestingly enough,a number er of fitting comparisons between Putin and a national leader whose blunders came as a result of being closed to the recommendations and entreaties of his or her top advisers, are those made with Hitler.

Delinquency

There is the real possibility that commanders and planners in the Russian Federation Armed Forces, attempting to hastily organize the massive special military operation, were not even aware that the opportunity to destroy and disrupt the resupply effort for Ukraine was missed. Everything truly started off on the wrong foot from the get-go. By logic, at first glance this would seem unlikely. After all, the well-trained senior officers and planners of the Russian Federation Armed Forces would not be aware of the danger posed by Ukraine’s open western border. Perhaps there may have been some understanding among military planners that the situation there would be played-down in order to line up with thinking from the Kremlin. In the realm of conjecture, anything becomes possible. If such was the case, from that point onward, they could only hope nothing bad would come of that considerable  omission.

The US educator and organizational theorist, Russell Ackoff was a pioneer in the field of operations research, systems thinking, and management science. In a research article entitled “A Major Mistake That Managers Make” in Handbook of Business Strategy, volume 7, number 1, January 2006, pages. 225-227, Ackoff wrote: “Errors of omission, lost  opportunities, are generally more critical than errors of commission. Organizations fail or decline more frequently because of what they did not do than because of what they did.” Although the December 7, 1941 surprise attack of the Imperial Japanese Navy on Pearl Harbor was a tactical victory, it was also a strategic blunder, as the Japanese failed one of their most critical objectives: destroy the US aircraft carriers. Even worse, the Japanese failed to destroy the strategic oil reserves at Oahu, and the damage to docks and yards was slight. That oil reserve fueled the US Navy through the remainder of the war against Japan.

A well-intervaled column of German vehicles moves through the Ardennes Forest in 1940 (above). At the top of the list of historical causes for military blunders has been insufficient intelligence analyses as well as the failure of consumers to include valuable forecasts in their appraisals of situations. Consider for example how the military high command of France failed their government three times in 70 years by minimizing warnings about the intentions of Prussian and German Governments. In 1870, the Supreme Command of the French Imperial Army, with its attitude of debrouillez-vous (“We’ll muddle through somehow”), did not heed signaling that the Prussian Army would move via the Ardennes Forest through Belgium into France. In 1914, the French Grand Quartier Général (General Headquarters) did not heed indicia signaling that the Imperial German Army, to avoid French defenses on the Franco-German border, would move via the Ardennes Forest through Belgium into France. In 1940, the Anglo-French Supreme War Council, relying on the defenses of the Maginot Line, did not heed indicia signaling that the German Army would move via the Ardennes Forest through Belgium into France. Even with this history, in 1944, the Supreme Headquarters of Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe ignored idicia signaling that the German Army might attempt to move via the Ardennes Forest into Belgium in an attempt to reach Antwerp and cut Allied Forces into two pieces. The result was the Battle of the Bulge in which US forces suffered an estimated 75,000 casualties.

Was Faulty Intelligence to Blame?

Quis, quid, ubi, quibus, auxiliis, cur, quomodo, quando? (Who, what, where, with what, why, how, when?) Very pertinent here is the attendant influence of faulty intelligence in understanding the situation of an opponent, strengths and weaknesses, capabilities and possibilities in the development of the concept and intent of an operation in terms of supply. It becomes a factor of some magnitude in planning support operations. It is imprudent for political leaders and top military commanders to ignore information from intelligence services that confirms some action by an adversary is very likely, imminent, or has been taken. Well at the top of historical causes for military missteps has been insufficient intelligence analyses as well as the failure of consumers to include valuable forecasts in their appraisals of situations. 

Consider for example how the military high command of France failed their government three times in 70 years by minimizing warnings about the intentions of Prussian and German Governments. In 1870, the Supreme Command of the French Imperial Army, with its attitude of debrouillez-vous (“We’ll muddle through somehow”), did not heed signaling that the Prussian Army would move via the Ardennes Forest through Belgium into France. In 1914, the French Grand Quartier Général (General Headquarters) did not heed indicia signaling that the Imperial German Army, to avoid French defenses on the Franco-German border, would move via the Ardennes Forest through Belgium into France. In 1940, the Anglo-French Supreme War Council, relying on the defenses of the Maginot Line, did not heed indicia signaling that the German Army would move via the Ardennes Forest through Belgium into France. Even with this history, in 1944, the Supreme Headquarters of Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe ignored idicia signaling that the German Army might attempt to move via the Ardennes Forest into Belgium in an attempt to reach Antwerp and cut Allied Forces into two pieces. The result was the Battle of the Bulge in which US forces suffered an estimated 75,000 casualties.

Referring again to the attack on Pearl Harbor, a newly discovered official US Government memorandum has revealed that intelligence collected about the activities of the Imperial Japanese Navy, led to assessments that Japan might attack the US on the West coast, the Panama Canal, and the US naval and military bases in Hawaii some time in December 1941. The Japanese Imperial Navy would eventually execute a devastating surprise, aircraft carrier-based, aerial attack and submarine attack on the US Naval Base and Headquarters of the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, and aerial attacks against the US Army Base at Schofield Barracks and the US Army Air Corps Base at Hickam Field. Most US military commanders were bewildered by the successful attack which they never would have believed Japan could execute before it actually happened. By leaning into those beliefs, they were caught flat-footed by the attack. Their immediate responses were meager and ineffective.

In the case of Ukraine, it would seem Putin was provided faulty information. Some intelligence services apparently did more in the direction of providing fabrications than others.. From what can be gathered by newsmedia reports about its findings, the foreign intelligence service of Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsii (Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation) or FSB, known as the organization’s 5th service. The 5th Service is a division that was established in 1998, when Putin was director of the FSB, to carry out operations in the countries that were formerly republics of the erstwhile Soviet Union. Its mission was to help ensure those countries remained within Russia’s orbit. Apparently, the 5th Service laid it on thick. There were allegedly many unproven, torrid statements on the nature of Ukrainian society made concerning the destructive impact of the West on the culture, morality, spiritually, self-image of the people, ultranationalists, and the leadership in Kyiv, and the Ukrainian people’s willingness to stand fast against an invasion. 

Are Russian Federation Satellites Functioning?

One might imagine that there was a chance that intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities by Russian Federation satellites could have assisted in covering the space and monitor and act against assistance efforts by supporting calibrated attacks on supply trains, especially readily observable ones  traveling along roads and rails. Intriguingly, only a few short years ago, there was great concern expressed in the US about formidable Russian Federation satellites that were interfering with US satellites. As discussed in greatcharlie’s July 6, 2017 post entitled, “Trump to Meet With Putin at G-20 Gathering: Trump Seeks an Authentic Relationship with Russia”, there was the belief that Russia was developing the ability to approach, inspect, and potentially sabotage or destroy US satellites while they orbited the Earth. 

Now, it seems, Russian Federation satellites must be able to provide a picture of the situation in Ukraine. True, as stated here, Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe, but, if many will pardon this expression, in greater terms, it is smaller than the State of Texas in the US, which has been regularly, intensely surveilled by the Russian Federation as it was before by the Soviet Union due mainly to the many massive US military and NASA bases and other facilities there. De quoi s’agit-il ici? It appears that a breakdown in Russian ISR capabilities from space much as its military, naval, and intelligence capabilities generally, had occurred long before the special military operation was launched.

Having been responsible for the preparedness of the Russian Federation Armed Forces, the Russian Federation General Staff had to have known something was awry. it had to have known whether they were up to the job in Ukraine. While the Russian Federation Armed Forces’ Zapad and Vostock exercises perhaps indicated that they were ready for war, surely the Russian Federation General Staff was fully aware of how numbers of troops, actions, reports were, to be frank, falsified. The most senior commanders may not have been sure themselves what the true capabilities of the Russian Federation Armed Forces were. If they were living in an illusion about how mighty their forces were, that  Illusion was destroyed in the face of reality.

Snapshot of the initial wave of Ukrainian refugees (above). There is the possibility the commanders and planners in the Russian Federation Armed Forces may have believed there was more to gain by having a great flow of refugees pouring out of Ukraine to create problems, chaos and confusion, hostile reactions from populations of countries inconvenienced by overflows of Ukrainian refugees, and frustration among NATO, EU Member State capitals. Conceivably, the thinking from the Kremlin and subsequently the Russian Federation Armed Forces that if the roads out of Ukraine to Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Moldova were clogged, potentially military assistance could not get through, at least not efficiently. By weaponizing refugee flows an invasion would cause, it may have been believed a way found to split the seam between two possibilities. However, even in the best case scenario, the refugee exodus would be a temporary problem. If Western powers could not resolve the matter, they would at least be able to mitigate its immediate effects. Once the invasion began, humanitarian and refugee organizations of almost every kind jumped in feet first. The West could do more with assistance to stem the crisis than the Russian Federation could do by creating a refugee overflow crisis. As it turned out, the refugee crisis as the Kremlin might have envisioned and hoped did not materialize.

The Pitfalls of Creative Thinking

There is the possibility the commanders and planners in the Russian Federation Armed Forces may have believed there was more to gain by having a great flow of refugees pouring out of Ukraine to create problems, chaos and confusion, hostile reactions from populations of countries inconvenienced by overflows of Ukrainian refugees, and frustration among NATO, EU Member State capitals. That belief would very likely have been in following with the concept and intent disseminated from the Kremlin. The impact of a refugee surge was witnessed while war raged in Syria. During the 2015 Syrian Refugee Crisis, an estimated 1.3 million refugees seeking asylum literally jammed roads leading to Europe. European countries, especially the first ones along the refugees route that encountered them, were unable to handle their numbers immediately. Some capitals panicked. Many political, social, financial, and security issues subsequently arose. The refugee flow eventually subsided. 

The Weaponization of Refugees

Conceivably, the thinking from the Kremlin and subsequently the Russian Federation Armed Forces that if the roads out of Ukraine to Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Moldova were clogged, potentially military assistance could not get through, at least not efficiently. By weaponizing refugee flows an invasion would cause, it may have been believed a way found to split the seam between two possibilities. Zwei fliegen mit einer klappe schlagen. However, even in the best case scenario, the refugee exodus would be a temporary problem. If Western powers could not resolve the matter, they would at least be able to mitigate its immediate effects. Once the invasion began, the UN with its many aid organizations as well as and other international and regional intergovernmental humanitarian and refugee organizations jumped in feet first. The US would work with capitals in Europe, especially Warsaw, and encourage through diplomacy and support with its wherewithal, a multilateral effort by government aid agencies. The EU acted in a similar way. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, CARE and other international and regional nongovernmental humanitarian and refugee organizations. Nongovernmental refugee and displaced persons organizations, and a variety of humanitarian organizations from around the world made their way to Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Moldova to get a handle on the problem. 

As things went, the Russi­an Federation’s special military operation triggered a “regional forced displacement crisis.” By September 30, 2022, seven months after the invasion began, 7,536,433 Ukrainian refugees were registered outside of Ukraine. Reportedly, Poland and Germany received the most refugees; more than a million each. The Czech Republic took in the next highest number 438,926, followed by the US, the United Kingdom, France, Turkey, Italy, and Spain, each of which accepted from 100,000 to 300,000 refugees. Smaller numbers escaped to Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Moldova. 

Interestingly, and doubtlessly to the consternation of the Kremlin and Russian Federation Armed Forces, not only is military assistance flowing freely into Ukraine from Poland but so are “returnees”. Clear data that documents how many of the 7.5 million Ukrainian refugees have returned home permanently, reportedly is unavailable. However as of September 20, 2022, over 6 million cross-border movements were made back into the country. Border crossing points in Poland as well as Romania are said to be receiving most of the returnees, with nearly 4.5 million crossings from Poland and nearly 1 million from Romania. In the aggregate, one might conclude that the West could do more with assistance than Russia could do by creating a refugee overflow crisis. In the end, the refugee crisis that the Kremlin may likely have envisioned and hoped for did not materialize. Vide et credere. (See and believe.)

Where Was the GRU?

As a military matter, intelligence on the situation in Ukraine to the extent it would impact the special military operation had to be of great interest specifically to Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye Generalnovo Shtaba (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff-Military Intelligence) or GRU  The GRU could not have missed the potential problem of resupply routes into Ukraine from Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania being set up. Perhaps the GRU was unable to convince the Russian Federation General Staff of the necessity to close the door to assistance from the West. Maybe there was at first a thought to use the same act twice with “green men” in the Western Ukraine. However, GRU planners may have been concerned about being unable to redeploy or evacuate troops placed perhaps at border crossings, highways, train junctions, road intersections, bridges, heights, airports, military airfields, and so on deep in Ukraine in large numbers if a major problem was encountered.

It was suggested in greatcharlie’s January 25, 2022 post, one could conceive that concerning Western military assistance, a special task force has been organized and assigned in advance, among other things: monitor the delivery, stockpiling of stinger, javelin, and other weapons systems to Ukrainian forces; maintain real-time knowledge of the distribution and location of those weapons; destroy those weapons systems; and, destroy or support actions by other Russian military units to destroy Ukrainian military units to which those weapons were distributed. That hypothetical task force would also likely be tasked to monitor–covertly monitor the intelligence activities and military operations of–Western countries as they relate to supplying Ukraine with special military capabilities. It would seem that suggestion made by greatcharlie then was well-off the mark. Maybe they were concerned about potential for great casualties and huge losses of materiel.

Where Was Spetsnaz?

Voyská spetsiálnogo naznachéniya (‘Special Purpose Military Units) or spetsnaz, a carry over from the days of the Soviet Union, are trained, and tasked as special forces units and fielded in wartime as part of the GRU. As is the case with special forces in most countries, the primary missions of spetsnaz are power projection (direct action), intelligence (reconnaissance), foreign internal defense (military assistance), and counterinsurgency. The GRU may have been unable to conjure up a viable plan to use spetsnaz in western Ukraine. Again, GRU planners may have been concerned about being unable to deploy or evacuate troops placed even on raids so deep without a solid means of egress. Even if it had been possible to monitor and act in the Western region from Belarus, again, distances that needed to be traversed may have been too great.

One might wonder whether the GRU had been aware that there was someone else in Western Ukraine, covert foreign forces from governments very friendly with Kyiv, already holding the most useful entrances and exits to and from Poland, Slovakia,, Hungary,, and Romania open in case of an attack. It is the sort of thing US Special Operations Units, the Special Activities Division of the US Central Intelligence Agency, the British Army’s Special Air Service, and the United Kingdom’s Secret Intelligence Service would be very capable of doing and would likely do, covertly. Surely, this idea is drawn from the realm of conjecture, however, it would be a smart move and their hypothetical presence would hardly be reported in the Western newsmedia. If, hypothetically, such forces had been there covertly since 2014, they may have been well-engaged in successful clandestine and covert activities in the region.

Perhaps what happened in Syria may have been an issue at all in GRU Headquarters. A battle between US Special Forces and Russian private military contractors from the infamous Gruppa Vagnera (Wagner Group) may have had a long-lasting educational effect in Yasenevo. Present in Syria as part of the campaign to destroy the so-called Islamic Caliphate created by the Islamic jihadist terrorist organization, the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) that cut across iraq and Syria, US Special Forces, in self-defense at their own base, decimated a formation of Gruppa Vagnera that attacked them. Memores acti prudentes futuri. (Mindful of what has been done, aware of what will be.)

Even if commanders and military planners had been certain that spetsnaz could well-handle any foreign forces that hypothetically might have detected in the Western region of Ukraine, there imaginably would have been a wish in the Kremlin to avoid being seen as, and being accused of, attacking those foreign troops. In dubio abstinence. (When in doubt, sustain.)

Where Were the Russian Airborne Forces?

As for the Vozdushno Desantnye Voyska (Russian Airborne Forces) or VDV, surely the Ukrainians might have expected missions launched by them to hold territory in-depth. Yet, as with the GRU, commanders and planners in the VDV may have been concerned about being unable to redeploy or evacuate troops placed perhaps at border crossings, highways, train junctions, road intersections, bridges, heights, airports, military airfields, and so on deep in Ukraine in large numbers if a major problem was encountered. Maybe they were concerned about potential for great casualties and huge losses of materiel. That happened without an operation to block Western assistance coming in from the West: 50,000+ killed. 

Surely, they were made more certain that the VDV would unlikely have been able successfully operate in the Western region of Ukraine after what transpired when its units attacked Hostomel Airport in the first days of the special military operation. The VDV faced considerable troubles there. One might view the capture of an airport a sort of bread and butter target for airborne units in armies worldwide

Russian Airborne Forces landing at Hostomel Airport (above). Russian Federation Armed Forces commanders and planners may have been concerned about the potential for huge losses if a blocking operation in the West were attempted. Surely, they were made more certain that the VDV would unlikely have been able successfully operate in the Western region of Ukraine after what transpired when its units attacked Hostomel Airport in the first days of the special military operation. After securing Hostomel Airport to the extent possible, the Russian Federation Army and VDV there tried to push into the nearby town and then  advance to Bucha and Irpin. Their poorly organized movement encountered ambushes in Hostomel and Bucha which resulted in significant losses of personnel and equipment. Those in command of the Russian Federation Army and VDV troops, decided to hold their positions, digging in on the roadsides to defend themselves against Ukrainian artillery and drone strikes. They also suffered heavy casualties from night attacks by special forces units of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. On March 29, 2022, the order was given for the Russian Federation forces at Hostomel to withdraw from the Kyiv oblast. Under continuous artillery fire from Ukrainian forces, the Russians damaged equipment that had to be abandoned and made a hasty retreat.

According to reports based on what was observed, the Russian Federation Armed Forces plan of attack against Hostomel Airport included its rapid occupation, with the intention of using it as an assembly area for Kyiv’s encirclement and capture. The airport is a bit over 6 miles north of Kyiv. The Initial February 24, 2022 assault on Hostomel Airport was a success, catching its Ukrainian defenders by surprise apparently due its speed. Mi-35 and Ka-52 attack helicopters operating out of Belarus struck the airport’s defenses and opened a way for helicopter-borne VDV units in Mi-8 transport helicopters that followed. However, despite being caught off guard by the initial assault by the attack helicopters, the attack itself was ineffective as the Ukrainian defenses were left largely intact.  Without any meaningful air support–it was very likely not included in formulation of the attack plan, VDV units on the ground faced counterattacks by Ukrainian forces almost immediately.

Luckily for the VDV troops struggling with Ukrainian forces for control of the airport, Russian Federation Army units originating in Belarus broke through Ukrainian defenses near Ivankiv and rapidly drove toward Hostomel. Although the advancing Russian Federation troops faced attrition from several Ukrainian ambushes en route, they reached Hostomel Airport and assisted the VDV in securing it on February 25, 2022. The Russian Federation Army units and the VDV sought to establish Hostomel into a forward operating base from which the larger push on Kyiv could be initiated. However, it was at this juncture that the special military operation began facing fierce resistance from the Ukrainians and became stalled. Logistical problems impacted operational tempo. The most visible sign was well-televised coverage of a 40-mile-long convoy that halted due to lack of fuel. Securing Hostomel Airport to the extent possible, the Russian Federation Army and VDV there tried to push into the nearby town and then  advance to Bucha and Irpin. Their poorly organized movement encountered ambushes in Hostomel and Bucha which resulted in significant losses of personnel and equipment. Those in command of the Russian Federation Army and VDV troops, decided to hold their positions, digging in on the roadsides to defend themselves against Ukrainian artillery and drone strikes. They also suffered heavy casualties from night attacks by special forces units of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. On March 29, 2022, the order was given for the Russian Federation forces at Hostomel to withdraw from the Kyiv oblast. Under continuous artillery fire from Ukrainian forces, the Russians damaged equipment that had to be abandoned and made a hasty retreat.

A Matter of Military Science

To the extent of everything mentioned here, perhaps a hypothetical concern over sending a relatively large sized force into Western Ukraine was a matter of Russian Federation commanders and military planners remembering what they learned while studying in military educational institutions. To that extent, they wanted to avoid the circumstance faced by Allied troops during Operation Market Garden during World War II.

The story of the Battle of Arnhem, part of Operation Market Garden, a massive Airborne ground assault in from from September 17, 1944 to September 26, 1944 during World War II. remains fairly well-known, however greatcharlie will humbly seek to recount it to the extent that is pertinent here. Under the plan proposed by British Army Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery, the Airborne assault would support a single drive north over the branches of the Lower Rhine River,which would  permit the British Second Army to bypass the Siegfried Line and attack the industrial Ruhr. US Airborne troops were dropped in the Netherlands to secure bridges and towns along the line of the Allied advance. Farthest north, the British 1st Airborne Division was dropped at Arnhem to capture bridges across the Nederrijn (Lower Rhine). Their assault was supported by the Glider Pilot Regiment and the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade. The British XXX Corps were assigned to reach the British-led contingent in two to three days. The division was told to expect only limited resistance from German reserve forces. However, information collected by the British Army’s 21st Army Group in Belgium and Dutch resistance that German armor units were present around Arnhem. That intelligence was supported by aerial reconnaissance. However, the commanding officer of 21st Army Group, dismissed the information. The Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force was made aware that almost certainly two Panzer divisions were situated at Arnhem but received the information from Ultra intercepts so close to the Operation Market Garden’s launch that it chose to ignore it. Intriguingly, the First Allied Airborne Army was not made privy to information from Ultra.

The information was very accurate. German Army Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model, the commander of Army Group B, had moved his headquarters to Arnhem and was re-establishing defenses in the area and co-ordinating the reorganization of the scattered units. Thus, at the time of Operation Market Garden’s launch, several units would be present in the vicinity of Arnhem to oppose them. Most threatening among them were the II SS Panzer Corps comprising the remains of the 9th SS Panzer Division “Hohenstaufen” and  the 10th SS Panzer Division “Frundsberg”. It was the bad luck of the airborne force that both German SS divisions, during their formation, had undergone month-long anti-airborne exercises and had also spent the last 15 months studying how best to act against a parachute assault in classroom and field exercises.

The 1st Airborne Division was dropped a distance from its objectives and encountered unexpected resistance, mainly from elements of the 9th SS Panzer Division and the 10th SS Panzer Division. A small force managed to reach the Arnhem road bridge, but the advance of the main body of the division was halted on the outskirts of the town. As for XXX Corps, it was forced into a struggle at Nijmegen, and advance north was delayed. As a result, the British airborne troops were not relieved as scheduled. After four days, the small British force at the bridge was overwhelmed and the rest of the division trapped in a small pocket north of the river. Lacking reinforcement and resupply, remnants of the 1st Airborne Division, after nine days of fighting, were withdrawn in Operation Berlin. Without secure bridges over the Nederrijn and the front line stabilized south of Arnhem, the Allies were unable to advance further. The 1st Airborne Division lost almost three quarters of its strength. Battered and tattered, the division was not sent into combat again.

Concern over a Potential Panicked Response by Ukraine’s Neighbors

The Kremlin may have been uneasy about how the US, its NATO allies, and the EU would respond militarily if Russian troops landed in Western Ukraine, “danger close” to the Polish border. Even more, it may have been the case that  they were concerned political leaders in Poland, potentially panicked at observing Russian forces landing practically on its border, might have responded first by ordering Polish Armed Forces to unilaterally drive inside Ukraine border, take positions inside its Western region, and then refer the matter to NATO. Such hypothetical unilateral action might have included an armored and mechanized drive into Ukraine to create a buffer, and landing troops on border crossings, highways, train junctions, road intersections, bridges, heights, airports, military airfields, and so on before they would all fall completely into Russian Federation hands. To that extent, they would likely go after the same targets in Ukraine that the Russian Federation Armed Forces would likely want. In the worst case scenario, Polish troops could have fired heavy artillery and launched missile attacks on targets to deter air landings by the Russian Federation Armed Forces.

Where Was the Russian Air Force?

Concerning Voyska Vozdushno-Kosmicheskoy Oborony, Rossijskoj Federacii (the Russian Federation Aerospace Defense Forces, hereinafter referred to as the Russian Federation Aerospace Forces), particularly the Voenno-Vozdushnye Sily Rossii, (the Russian Air Force) element, one might have presumed commanders and planners of the Russian Federation Aerospace Forces would have organized air power assets of the force to strike strategically and tactically to make a positive difference in the war effort. Strategically, disrupting its supply of weapons from external sources and destroying Ukraine’s ability to construct weapons would likely be a priority. Tactically, a priority would likely be coordinating efforts by Russian Air Force assets with ground forces as they advanced. One might have expected that with the support of the Russian Federation’s ISR capabilities, a plan would have been in prepared for the Russian Air Force to shut the door on the transport of supplies through Ukraine, interdicting supply lines as fast as they were organized. However, that has not been the case. As the situation stands in the Ukraine campaign, the Russian Air Force has been near nonexistent relative to its size, supposed power, and the expectations of military analysts worldwide. Its best fighters and fighter-bombers have been regularly blasted out of the skies by the Ukrainian Armed Forces using both pricey sophisticated air defense weapons systems provided to Kyiv by Western powers as well as javelins and stingers, shoulder fired rockets operated by individual soldiers in the field. In response to the Ukrainian air defense threat, Russian Federation warplanes are not evading by flying sorties at 15,000 to 20,000 feet as they had over Syria. Russian aircraft are often remaining above Russian airspace and firing air launched cruise missiles into Ukraine. Since aircrews cannot identify targets across the border, airstrikes are made in areas where air intelligence reports the enemy is located. In attacking urban centers, that will always result in collateral damage in the form of civilian deaths and injury and the destruction of nonmilitary structures.

The Unwillingness to Speak Truth to Power

Commanders in all branches of the Russian Federation Armed Forces are surely unwilling to speak truth to power and inform Putin of what needed to be done in the West and that they were uncertain that their forces could achieve such an objective. One might imagine that suffering Putin’s coup de gueule would be the least of their worries. It has been a symptom common among those in service of authoritarian regimes throughout history. Skilled commanders are eventually bled dry of their strength to speak out about ill-laid military plans conjured in the minds of tyrannical leaders who are convinced of the certitude of their ideas. Many have been willing to bring reprisals against those commanders, even their best, who, for the sake of the forces they command and country, might step forward to disagree with them. It causes greatcharlie to cast its mind back to the 1981 pop song Der Kommisar“, essentially a scare story originally performed in both German and English by the Austrian artist Falco (Johann Hölzel). In the penultimate chorus of the English version, are the lyrics: “Don’t turn around, wa-uh-oh (yeah-yeah) / Der Kommissar’s in town, wa-uh-oh / He’s got the power and you’re so weak / And your frustration will not let you speak / La la la la la la.”

Commanders in all branches of the Russian Federation Armed Forces were surely unwilling to speak truth to power and inform Putin of what needed to be done in Western Ukraine and that they were uncertain that their forces could achieve such an objective. One might imagine that suffering Putin’s coup de gueule would be the least of their worries. This has been a symptom common among those in service of authoritarian regimes throughout history. Skilled commanders are eventually bled dry of their strength to speak out about ill-laid military plans conjured in the minds of tyrannical leaders who are convinced of the certitude of their ideas. Many of those leadsrs have been willing to bring reprisals against those commanders, even their best, who, for the sake of the forces they command and country, have stepped forward to disagree with them.

The Military Assistance Misread

On a more political level, perhaps Putin, his Security Council, and the Russian Federation General Staff were certainly completely wrong in their most likely conclusions about the degree of assistance the West would provide, what type of weapons and the impact they would have on the battlefield. The US has committed billions of dollars in security assistance to Ukraine since February 24, 2022. Relative to what the Ukrainians would eventually receive, what they had been provided to that point would hardly have been viewed as impressive by the Russian Federation General Staff.

Much as it had been planned by the US during the days of the Cold War, much of what would be used to repel a Warsaw Pact rampage through Western Europe would be taken from prepositioned stocks of supplies or they would be flown in and shipped in. During the Cold War, from 1969 to 1993, the annual REFORGER (Return of Forces to Germany) Exercises rehearsed that reinforcement and resupply to a great degree. It seems apparent now that thinking along the same vein in the Pentagon may have driven planning for the support of Ukraine in event of an attack. This idea would very likely be a kick-in-the-head to Russian Federation Armed Forces commanders and planners who had not have recognized the parallels as yet, never foresaw the possibility that the US and its NATO allies would essentially come at them, via the Ukrainians, in a similar way.. How obvious it all might seem now.

A Miscalculation on the Political Will of the West

Perchance Putin, his Security Council, and the Russian Federation General Staff miscalculated with regard to the degree of political will in the administration of US President Joe Biden and the US Congress to support Ukraine. Mixed messages regarding US commitment. The “No US boots on the ground” talk came a tad too early perhaps. It probably was music to ears in Moscow. It may have very well created the impression the US was pulling away or could potentially abandon Kyiv if Russia invaded. It may reasonably seem a bit of an overreach to impute to Putin and his acolytes, but one would only need to look at the varying degrees of overreach they have demonstrated with regard to the Ukraine matter.

Maybe Putin and his advisers concluded that European countries could become rankled enough to lend military support to Ukraine but perhaps they were a bit better than less concerned with the quality and quantity of their potential assistance and financial giving. They would expect the US to have the matter well-covered.

Perhaps they considered that Western European resolve to be engaged robustly, wholeheartedly in Ukraine would hinge on the resolve of the US to back its NATO allies. As for the US, much as alluded to earlier, its resolve would hinge on the success or failure of Russian forces in Ukraine, which really meant the capabilities demonstrated by the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Thereby, as long as the Russian Federation Armed Forces performed well, robust military assistance beyond javelins and stingers would not be sent into Ukraine. (Based on that suspected line of thought, one might compare how that situation for Ukraine as the invasion got underway to a degree paralleled, mutatis mutandis, the situation of the fledgling US in 1777. The decisive Battle of Saratoga in which the Continental Army defeated the British Army gave the French government the confidence to sign treaties of alliance and trade with the US government and joined its war against Great Britain.  Both countries agreed to fight the war until the US was truly independent, and neither would agree to a separate peace.)

As the efforts of the Russian Federation Armed Forces became desultory, ineffective, and proved surprisingly lacking at Kyiv and Kharkiv, it became easier for the US to give more to an Ukrainian cause with the real potential for victory and convince other NATO Allies to do the same albeit to far lesser degree. Panicked efforts by Kyiv to muster support and acquire weapons were practically wasteful as they clearly had the matter covered.

Misperceptions on Zelensky: A Force To Be Reckoned With

Of likely concern for Putin’s advisers, if not Putin, was surely Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky who in the months before the invasion was already burning a bit brighter than the Kremlin expected. There were hints that he potentially could display all the qualities ascribed to great leaders. Doubtlessly, it was hoped in the Kremlin that Zelensky would find himself cutting a figure not unlike Felicia Hemans’ “Casabianca” (1826), crying out for an answer, in Zelensky’s case from Washington, that would never come and his world would go up in flames. As it was, Zelensky proved to be a lion of a man, stalwart of the Ukrainian cause, and a force to be reckoned with once the Russian Federation’s special military operation began. Western government officials and news media commentators alike would view Zelensky as having galvanized the Ukrainian people to resist Russia’s effort to swallow up their country. Zelensky also impressed with his entreaties to the world to come to the aid of his fellow countrymen in the best ways that they could. One might safely assume that his efforts influenced how countries with the wherewithal to respond to the Ukraine in its time of need, worked with him, and rapidly developed and implemented plans to provide considerable support for his country. Indeed, such positive perceptions of Zelensky, his impact, helped to attract aid groups, humanitarian volunteers, foreign fighters, helpful weapons, and financial resources to support Ukraine’s cause.

Ukrainian artillerymen fire US made and gifted M142 HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) (above) at Russian Federation forces holding Ukrainian territory. On a more political level, perhaps Putin, his Security Council, and the Russian Federation General Staff were certainly completely wrong in their most likely conclusions about the degree of assistance the West would provide, what type of weapons and the impact they would have on the battlefield. The US has committed billions of dollars in security assistance to Ukraine since February 24, 2022. Relative to what the Ukrainians would eventually receive, what they had been provided to that point could hardly have been perceived as impressive by the Russian Federation General Staff. Much as it had been planned by the US during the days of the Cold War, much of what would be used to repel a Warsaw Pact rampage through Western Europe would be taken from prepositioned stocks of supplies or would be flown in and shipped in. The annual Reforger (Return of Forces to Germany) Exercises rehearsed that reinforcement and resupply to some degree. It seems apparent now that thinking along the same vein in the Pentagon may have driven planning for the support of Ukraine in event of an attack.

The Distorting impact of Putin’s Kyiv Obsession

Surely, Putin’s singular emotional wants and wishes beyond what was militarily and strategically logical what drove the planning of the operation or was it formulated to the best of the abilities of trained, experienced, informed military officers in the Russian Federation Armed Forces. To Putin, everything about the government in Kyiv was anathema. Recall as aforementioned that in a very perplexing way, Putin stated in his appeal to the Ukrainian Armed Forces in his February 24, 2022 broadcast: “You swore the oath of allegiance to the Ukrainian people and not to the junta, the people’s adversary which is plundering Ukraine and humiliating the Ukrainian people.” He would go on to say: “I want to emphasize again that all responsibility for the possible bloodshed will lie fully and wholly with the ruling Ukrainian regime.” The indication s and implications of such statement are that Kyiv was indeed an obsession. To that extent, among those wants and wishes was toppling the government in Kyiv. Accomplishing that apparently became a priority with Kyiv in the planning of the invasion or whatever sufficed for its planning that distorted the picture Putin, his Security Council, and the Russian Federation General Staff of the battlespace. When examined in the context of this situation, how apposite the second quatrain of William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 becomes: “What wretched errors hath my heart commited, / Whilst it had thought itself so blessed never! / How hath mine eyes out of their spheres been fitted / In the distraction of this madding fever!”

If one might imagine Putin was a bit more pragmatic in his thinking and approach on Kyiv, it might be believed Putin may have thought the quickest road to victory was to cut off the head, the government in Kyiv and the command and control Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff, from their forces in the field. If that could be achieved, Putin likely believed the mass surrender of Ukrainian troops in the field would come next. If that was the case, and what has transpired in Ukraine evinces to some degree that it was, then quite a bit of creative thinking was clearly involved in the invasion’s planning. 

However, by the time of the invasion, the government in Kyiv under Zelensky was well-tied in with its Western supporters. Thorough plans to provide escalating levels of military and financial assistance were surely already in place. Even though Zelensky initially displayed a great degree of uneasiness concerning the way in which the needs of Ukraine in the crisis would be met, it might be the case that what has come Ukraine’s way has far exceeded what he might have been reasonably expected. The shortsightedness apparent in thinking that the Kyiv government could be decapitated is stark. An informed guess is that the Ukraine enterprise was not hashed out with the best foreign and national security thinkers in Russia. One would get the idea it all was the result of the thinking of one man, certain of its roundness. Such impetuous schemes and boldness are at first sight alluring, but are difficult to handle, and in the end result in disaster.

Perhaps the real problem for Putin was not just that he relied on fortune, but was driven by blind rage and to a further extent blind ambition. Ukraine was one the bigger pieces he needed to pull together a respectable number of former republics into some simulacrum of the Soviet Union. While it may seem daylight madness for the reasonable to attempt that, for Putin, it makes perfect sense.

The Distraction of Covetous Thoughts?

As discussed in greatcharlie’s May 30, 2022 post entitled, “Putin the Protector of the Russian People or the Despoiler of Ukrainian Resources: A Look at War Causation and Russian Military Priorities in Ukraine”, long before he became the legendary Russian President that he is today, Putin was a doctoral candidate at Leningrad State University (now the University of St. Petersburg.) it was at the very end of his KGB service. (A fuller discussion of that period of Putin’s life can be found in greatcharlie’s March 31, 2017 post entitled “Book Review: Vladimir Putin, First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia’s President (Public Affairs, 2000)). The rector at the St. Petersburg State Mining University as of this writing, Vladimir Litvinenko, chaired the committee that awarded Russian President Vladimir Putin his doctorate in Economics in 1997. He recently stated that Putin’s thesis was titled “Strategic Planning of the Reproduction of the Mineral Resource Base of a Region Under Conditions of the Formation of Market Relations.” Putin’s economic studies, at what was then Leningrad State University, were most likely heavily doused in Marxian theory. Even more pertinent here, his research made him quite knowledgeable about the resources of countries that were formerly republics of the erstwhile Soviet Union. He would be very aware of Ukraine’s wealth in minerals, particularly in the eastern and southeastern regions. Indeed, Ukraine has a large supply of many valuable mineral and raw material resources. Ukraine in fact holds approximately 5 percent of the world’s mineral resources. Its significant mineral resources include: iron ore, coal, manganese, uranium ore, natural gas, oil, salt, sulfur, graphite, titanium, magnesium, kaolin, nickel, mercury. As for stocks of iron, manganese, titanium and uranium ore Ukraine is ranked first among European countries. As for mercury ore reserves, it is second only to Spain. Attendant to capturing sovereign territory in Ukraine, much as he grabbed Crimea eight year before, Putin may have wanted possession of its supply of many valuable mineral and raw material resources. Thinking in that direction may also have distorted his picture of what would be most important in invading Ukraine successfully. 

If this was Putin’s thinking and actions on this matter, at a more detailed level than discussed earlier, it would very much mirror that of Hitler during Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union. As explained by the Imperial War Museum, industrialists in Germany most likely influenced Hitler’s decision to seize the Southern Caucasus in the Soviet Union and Stalingrad despite the concerns and entreaties of Oberkommando des Heeres with undertaking an operation of such distance from where the German Army was situated. As aforementioned, Operation Barbarossa, launched in June 1941, failed to achieve Hitler’s objective of decisively defeating the Soviet Union in a single campaign. German forces managed to occupy vast swathes of Soviet territory and industry. However, the audacious invasion finally ground to a halt in December 1941 on the forested outskirts of Moscow, the exhausted German Army stabilized its winter front in a line running roughly from Leningrad in the north to Rostov in the south. The strain of the harsh winter campaign upon the ill-prepared Wehrmacht, as well as the severe strain placed on the Luftwaffe in its prolonged efforts to air-supply the army’s string of city-bastions along the front, was tremendous. The Germans suffered a staggering 850,000 casualties. Interestingly, despite such considerable setbacks, the Germans believed the war was still going fairly well.

However, the following year, Hitler decided to go on the offensive. A decision by Hitler to launch a campaign in the Southern Caucasus region, south of the German front was spurred on by flawed information provided to him by economic advisers. They told Hitler that Germany would be incapable of sustaining the war without the resources in the Caucasus. North of the mountains was a center of agricultural production, which also held significant coal and metal reserves; to the south, was the region of Transcaucasia, a densely populated industrial center which produced some eighty percent of the Soviet Union’s annual oil production.Responsive to the wishes of the political leadership, by February 1942, the Oberkommando des Heeres was planning an offensive in the Caucasus region. 

On April 5, 1942, Hitler issued  Führerbefehle Nr. 41 (Fűhrer Directive No. 41), laying out the basic plan for the new offensive in the Soviet Union. The new plan would become known as Fall Blau (Case Blue). The main objectives were the major oilfields in the Caucasus and Transcaucasia: Maikop, Grozny and Baku. Senior German commanders were concerned about undertaking such a deep thrust into the opponent’s territory, fearing for the safety of their flank. Hitler’s remedy was to include in the plan the occupation of Stalingrad by Germany’s Italian, Hungarian and Romanian allies. The city would initially be taken by Germans. They would also establish a defensive line along the Don River and Volga River, which would be taken over by allies, too. Capturing Stalingrad would have the additional benefit of blocking all enemy traffic on the Volga, a crucial transport artery. To Hitler, the operation, which he deemed to be “of limited scope,” made perfect sense. Events proved otherwise.

A postage stamp from the erstwhile Deutsche Democratische Republik (German Democratic Republic, also known as the GDR or East Germany) circa 1963, that includes portraits of the Prussian military leader August Neidhardt von Gneisenau (left), Prussian field marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher (right). In war, the value of a reliable, knowledgeable, skilled, and open-minded adviser who truly understands the concept and intent of his commander, cannot be underestimated. A model for interaction between a political leader or military commander with his advisers was the one between the renowned 18th century Prussian Army Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher with his chief of staff General August Neidhardt von Gneisenau. In Clausewitz: (Scarborough, 1979), author Roger Parkinson quotes von Blücher with regard to his relationship with his brilliant chief of staff as follows: “Gneisenau, being my chief of staff and very reliable, reports to me on the manoeuvres that are to be executed and the marches that are to be performed. Once convinced that he is right, I drive my troops through hell towards the goal and never stop until the desire goal has been accomplished–yes, even though the officers trained in the old school may pout and complain and all but mutiny.” Regarding an offer for von Blücher to receive an honorary degree at Oxford University following the Napoleonic War, Parkinson quotes him as saying: “Well, if I am to become a doctor, you must at least make Gneisenau an apothecary, for we two belong together always.”

Eyes Wide Shut

“A lion does not lose sleep over the opinion of sheep. ” is a quote often attributed to others, but it is very likely the words of Abū ʿAbdullāh Muhammad ibn Idrīs al-Shāfiʿī (28 August 767 — 19 January 820) was a Palestinian-Arab Muslim theologian, writer, and scholar, who was the first contributor of the principles of Islamic jurisprudence (Uṣūl al-fiqh). Often referred to as ‘Shaykh al-Islām’, al-Shāfi‘ī was one of the four great Imams, whose legacy on juridical matters and teaching eventually led to the Shafi’i school of fiqh (or Madh’hab). In his thoughts, Putin is surely completely alone. He appears indifferent to whether the rest of the world sees him as a bit out of touch or strange, apart from everything else. Outside of his super fans in Russia–many of whom have been unfortunate enough to meet their end, so very young, on fields, hills, and woods in Ukraine as questionably trained conscripts–certainly does not appear gallant or chivalrous. Putin is holding the course on Ukraine, not yielding in any way that might allow for authentic and substantive negotiations to end the conflict to begin. There still does not appear to be a line of talk available to even his closest advisers that could put a different complexion on the matter.

In war, the value of a reliable, knowledgeable, skilled, and open-minded adviser who truly understands the concept and intent of his commander, cannot be underestimated. A model for interaction between a political leader or military commander with advisers was the one between the renowned 18th century Prussian Army Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher with his chief of staff Prussian Army General August Neidhardt von Gneisenau. In Clausewitz: (Scarborough, 1979), author Roger Parkinson quotes von Blücher with regard to his relationship with his brilliant chief of staff as follows: “Gneisenau, being my chief of staff and very reliable, reports to me on the manoeuvres that are to be executed and the marches that are to be performed. Once convinced that he is right, I drive my troops through hell towards the goal and never stop until the desire goal has been accomplished–yes, even though the officers trained in the old school may pout and complain and all but mutiny.” Regarding an offer for von Blücher to receive an honorary degree at Oxford University following the Napoleonic War, Parkinson quotes him as saying: “Well, if I am to become a doctor, you must at least make Gneisenau an apothecary, for we two belong together always.”

An informed guess by greatcharlie is what has likely been a reliable intuition that had served him well along the way and allowed him a leg-up in giving subjects light were darkened with regarding parsing out the many aspects of this massive enterprise in Ukraine. Imagining Putin with his mind set on invading Ukraine come hell or high-water and refusing hear any suggestion that he delay until Russian forces were fully prepared to act, maximize every advantage and exploit the liabilities of Ukrainian forces to the fullest extent, and cope with all contingencies, if one might dare discuss such with him as noted earlier. 

One can only imagine Putin’s outward attitude and behavior at that time. The thought of it all curiously reminds greatcharlie a song sung by the renowned comic, Groucho Marx in the comedy film “Horse Feathers” (1932), not that there is anything remotely humorous about any aspect of the Ukraine War. When Marx’s  character, Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff, is made the new head of Huxley College, and asked to offer some suggestions for his administration, the first verse of his musical response was: “I don’t know what they have to say / It makes no difference anyway / Whatever it is, I’m against it / No matter what it is or who commenced it / I’m against it.”

Putin Was Blinded by Rage

A dislike of Biden administration members inflamed the ardor of Putin and closest acolytes and they became determined to hurt Kyiv for siding with them. Imagining Putin’s mindset, he likely firmly believed before the invasion of Ukraine that he had a good understanding of the way many senior foreign and national security policy officials in the administration of US President Joe Biden, many of whom had held senior posts in the Obama administration, would respond to a move toward Ukraine. As discussed in greatcharlie’s January 25, 2022 post, Putin had experienced considerable dissatisfaction and disappointment in his dealing with Obama administration officials, particularly on Ukraine. As he may have perceived their actions in the past, they found it rather piquant to interact with him as if he were a lesser party, and given his positions and concerns no consideration. He likely believed they saw him as undeserving of respect. Communications were condescending, actions were often insulting. In an explosion of aggression, in part a response to his treatment, he grabbed Crimea with military force and fomented civil war in the Donbas. He engaged in other destabilizing efforts. Apparently, he was not completely satisfied with those actions, and held in his mind the idea of doing more. Seeing the appointment of many of those same officials in even higher posts in the Biden administration, most likely inflamed his sense with ardor to lash out violently. Everything those officials did in the Biden administration, Putin surely viewed with their past actions firmly in mind.

One might theorize that although he could not conventionally strike directly at those officials, Putin could reach the Zelensky government, members of which he may view as something worse than traitorous. He could well imagine the the fall of the Zelensky government would beset the Biden administration officials that he despised with a sense of loss and failure. Secondly, he would hope to cause torment and anguish among their “Ukrainian followers”. To that extent, perhaps it is not too fanciful to imagine that given current attitudes and behaviors of Putin, the invasion of Ukraine may also have been in part an opportunity for Putin to have a return engagement, a rematch, with former senior Obama administration officials serving in the Biden administration and settle an old score. 

Putin (seated left) during a Russian Federation Security Council meeting just days before the special military operation was launched. A dislike of senior members of the administration of US President Joe Biden likely inflamed the ardor of Putin and closest acolytes and they became determined to hurt Kyiv for siding with them. Imagining Putin’s mindset, he likely firmly believed before the invasion of Ukraine that he had a good understanding of the way many senior foreign and national security policy officials in the Biden administration, many of whom had held senior posts in the administration of US President Barack Obama, would respond to a move toward Ukraine. One might theorize that although Putin could not conventionally strike directly at those officials, he could reach the Zelensky’s government, members of which he may view as something akin to “traitorous”. He knew what anguish and loss the fall of Zelensky’s government would cause those US officials and secondly, their “Ukrainian followers”. To that extent, perhaps it is not too fanciful to imagine that given current attitudes and behaviors of Putin, the invasion of Ukraine may also have been in part an opportunity for Putin to have a return engagement, a rematch, with former senior Obama administration officials in the Biden administration and settle a score.

The Way Forward

It certainly appears to many reasonable people around the world since the Ukraine War began that currently there is a dearth of rational thinkers in the Kremlin. As is so often the case in the history of warfare, perception, better still, misperception, and not reality, drove the decisionmaking of Russian Federation Armed Forces commanders and war planners. Intriguingly, in parsing out the possibilities of this pivotal moment in the war’s planning, it would seem Putin’s special military operation did not necessarily have to turn out as it has.

Too many human lives have been lost in this war. The common wisdom is that the war never should have transpired, and no one should have died. No amount of gain in Ukraine would match the degree of loss in the cold terms of blood and treasure by Russia which started the war. Nevertheless, it will likely go on and plenty more dying will be done.

Conforming to the concept and intent of their political leader, Putin, senior commanders of the Russian Federation Armed Forces mistakenly thought that the campaign would be a short one, and that the Ukrainians would give in after suffering the shock of massive initial defeats. Being responsive to the concept and intent of their political leadership was, by their training and oath, the correct thing to do, but the very wrong thing to do at the same time. Res ipsa loquitur! Perhaps the only real hope for its end on the battlefield is Ukraine’s capture of every bit of sovereign territory, to include Crimea. As mentioned here, that is within the realm of possibility. Yet, Putin would hardly find that outcome satisfactory. If a satisfactory solution cannot be found for both sides on Ukraine, there will be good reason for the world to fear the worst from him. In the cavernous assembly halls of the Kremlin where Putin speaks before top officials of his government, the Russian Federation Duma, other key political leaders at the federal provincial and local levels–nationalists, ultranationalists, and Communists–prominent supporters of the United Russia Party, and business leaders, one will not spy happy faces, filled with optimism over the future ahead. There are mainly the morose visages of people who likely whisper among themselves that the genuine end to everything may be near. Perhaps Putin is equal to his rhetoric, and Russian Federation ICBM’s will make their way out of their kennels. His supporters would likely believe that. A solution to the Ukraine War must be found soon. Utere, non numera. (Use the hours, do not count them.)

US and Allies Extend Iran Nuclear Talks by 7 Months: A Deal May Be Reached with Trust, But Not with Certainty

Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Commander General (Sarlashkar) Mohammad Ali Jafari (right) stands close to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (left), at a ceremony. For hard-liners as Jafari, the failure to reach a deal by November 24th proved the West only wants Iran to surrender its nuclear program. Fears of US military action are gone. Hard-liners have gained even more of Khamenei’s attention on foreign policy.

According to a November 25, 2014 New York Times article entitled “U.S. and Allies Extend Iran Nuclear Talks by 7 Months”, the US and partners in the P5+1 (the Permanent Five Members of the UN Security Council—the US, United Kingdom, France Russia, and China—plus Germany), to declare an extension for talks with Iran on its nuclear program until June 30, 2015. The extension came after a yearlong effort to reach a sustainable agreement with Iran to dismantle large parts of its nuclear infrastructure. There was no indication of why negotiators felt they could overcome political obstacles blocking a deal. Until very recently, negotiators from all sides insisted that the November 24, 2014 deadline for a deal was hard and fast.

The November 25th New York Times article explained the already extended high-level diplomacy over the Iranian nuclear program was arguably US President Barack Obama’s top foreign policy priority. The results on November 24th had to be a disappointment for him. Negotiators did not even agree on the framework for a comprehensive deal. In expressing hope that a deal could still be reached, US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters that a series of “new ideas surfaced” in the last several days of talks. He further stated “we would be fools to walk away,” because a temporary agreement curbing Iran’s program would remain in place while negotiations continued. Indeed, it has been reported that Iran has actually kept its end of the deal under the November 24, 2013 interim agreement, named the Joint Plan of Action, by reducing its stock of 20 percent enriched uranium, not enriching uranium above a purity of 5 percent and not installing more centrifuges in addition to other things. In extending the interim agreement, Iran has ensured itself sanctions relief, bringing it $700 million a month in money formerly frozen abroad. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani appeared on Iranian national television with a message of both reassurance and resistance. He told Iranians that a deal would end sanctions, but also said “the centrifuges are spinning and will never stop.” The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has rejected US demands for the deep reductions in Iran’s enrichment capability. His view may not change before a March 1, 2015 deadline for reaching a political agreement, the first phase in the seven-month extension.

For the hard-liners in Iran, the failure to reach an agreement proved the US and its allies were not negotiating honestly and simply wanted to take away Iran’s nuclear program. Iranian moderates however, seem to realize an authentic agreement that includes the removal of sanctions and an acceptable modification of Iran’s nuclear activities can be reached. Yet, they likely also worry that the failure to reach an agreement coupled with the lackluster US reaction over events in Iraq and Syria has strengthened hard-liners’ resolve, and worse, strengthened their position and influence with Khamenei. Threats made by the Obama administration to take military action if negotiations fail now ring hollow. Western negotiators remain concerned over how Iran will proceed with or without a deal. A deal would need to be made with the prayer that Tehran will not announce one day that it has a weapon.

Zarif Wants An Agreement to Resolve the Nuclear Issue in Tehran

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, was upbeat before reporters at a press conference on November 25, 2014 in Vienna saying with a broad smile that he was optimistic that in the next few months a solution would be found. He was quoted as saying “We don’t need seven months.” Zarif directed his words at the US Congress saying Iran would not be ending all of its nuclear activities. He explained “If you are looking for a zero sum game in nuclear negotiations, you are doomed to failure.” He also revealed that the step by step removal of sanctions was a stumbling block in the talks. Zarif apparently argued to the end in the talks that the sanctions must be lifted permanently and almost immediately. For both Rouhani and Obama, the next seven months may be difficult to manage. Opponents of concessions of any kind have been gaining strength in both countries. It seems time has quickly passed since the summer of 2013 when considerable enthusiasm was created in Washington and other Western capitals over the potential of negotiations with Iran. Rouhani made an eloquent case for opening a dialogue with the US before and after his inauguration.  Skepticism expressed in the US came mainly from Kerry.  He made it clear that the warming a relations between the US and Iran did not mean that the US would back off its demands on Iran’s nuclear program.  Kerry was also unequivocal about his willingness to shut down any talks if he discerned an effort to stall, misdirect, or deceive through the process. However, as the process got underway, there was a perceptible shift in the US position.  US negotiators seemed to fall over themselves just to reach a nuclear deal with Iran.  Talk of military action against Iran’s nuclear program has become a distant memory.  Obama administration officials pleaded with Congress not to levy new sanctions against Iran because sanctions would not convince the Iranians to accede to US wishes.  Simply put, the White House wanted to reach a deal, and US officials did not really hide that fact. Zarif apparently recognized the change in US attitude.  He told the Iranian media, “There are indicators that John Kerry is inclined [to advance the nuclear matter in Iran’s interests].”

By that point, Zarif saw the real possibility of reaching an agreement with the P5+1 that Tehran could live with. He argued with hard-line elements in Tehran, including the leadership of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and hard-line political and religious leaders, that a deal would be beneficial to Iran. The hard-liners did not desire to engage in negotiations, particularly with the West and remained reluctant, but, in obedience to Khamenei, they did not oppose his efforts. Zarif assures that Iran neither needs nor simply wants a nuclear weapons capability. That is to the best of his knowledge. Zarif believes Iran’s size and strength and level of technological development makes it unnecessary to augment its power with nuclear weapons. Zarif believes the goal of Iran’s nuclear program was to produce fuel for its nuclear reactor. That argument has remained at the root of his efforts during the entire negotiation process.  In a US television interview in July 17, 2014, he explained that nuclear weapons would likely reduce Iran’s security and influence in its region.  He said “It doesn’t help anybody.”  He went on to state “The fact that everybody in the international community believes that mutual assured destruction, that is the way the United States, Russia and others, get, seek, peace and security, through having the possibility of destroying each other 100 times over, is simply mad.” Zarif argued: “Have they [nuclear weapons] made Pakistan safe? Have they made Israel safe? Have they made Russia safe? All these countries are susceptible. Now you have proof that nuclear weapons or no amount of military power makes you safe. So we need to live in a different paradigm. And that’s what we are calling for.” To prove Western claims about Iran’s nuclear program untrue, Zarif has proposed confidence-building measures and responded to proposals from the P5+1. However, firm limits to what he could commit to were set by Khamenei. As the November 24th deadline approached, Tehran apparently pulled the reign on Zarif tighter. Zarif undoubtedly recognized that other events in the region were having an impact on Khamenei’s thoughts on the negotiations. Threats of US military action had already dissipated. However, once the Obama administration displayed great reluctance to act militarily in Iraq in the face of monstrous actions by Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), fears were mitigated within all quarters in Tehran that the US would act militarily against Iran.  Obama’s October 2014 letter to Khamenei may have further substantiated that view. With less worry that failed negotiations would lead to war, leaders in Tehran, particularly Khamenei and the hard-liners, saw no need to deal away any more of Iran’s nuclear program.

Hard-liners Strengthen Their Position with Khamenei

From the prism of hard-line elements in Tehran, the negotiation process has been a contest of wills. IRGC Commander General (Sarlashkar) Mohammad Ali Jafari stated: “All must help the negotiations team of our country and the foreign policy apparatus in order to create consensus and public unity at the current time in order to help them demand the fundamental rights of the nation of Iran in the nuclear field and stand against Arrogant [US] blackmail and greed during negotiations and meetings.” Yet, as the eagerness of the Obama administration to reach a deal became even apparent to them, the hard-liners watched, anticipating that the US would acquiesce to Iran’s demands. Previously, Iran contended with the administration of US President George W. Bush who threatened regime change and, hinted at a possible ground attack from Iraq. However, the Obama administration seemed less threatening and somewhat pliant to hard-liners. That perception was apparent iin the reaction of Jafari to the negotiations latest outcome. He explained “The Americans’ surrender to the authority of Iran is apparent by their behavior in the region and in the [nuclear] negotiations, and the issues of the enemy in combat with Iran were fully felt. Of course, their excesses in some cases are due to their fierce temper.” Jafari still expressed no genuine interest in reaching a deal with the P5+1. He stated, “The main elements of our power are in the hands of God and country. We should not seek our dignity and authority from the foreigners.”  He waxed on Iran’s potential to become a global power, and the need for a strategy to promote its interests and the Revolution worldwide. Jafari proffered, “Our problem is that we don’t have a broader outlook; the Supreme has also stressed this issue . . . If we don’t have a comprehensive and broader outlook, we will go wrong in all fields and decision-making, even the negotiations and nuclear issues.”

IRGC senior commanders have always looked with a bad eye at the size, power, and capabilities of the US military, and have wanted to surpass it in the Middle East and beyond. The IRGC and Iranian Armed Forces regularly declare their willingness to defend Iranian territory to the end and display Iran’s military capabilities. Jafari stated: “[The US and Israel] know well that they have been unable to take any military action against the Islamic Republic of Iran, and if they make any foolish move of this sort, there are many options on the table for Iran and deadly responses will be received.” Senior Military Adviser to the Supreme Leader, General (Sarlashkar) Yahya Rahim Safavi, stated, “With God’s grace, Iran’s army has transformed into a strong, experienced, and capable army twenty-five years after the [Iran-Iraq] war’s end, and is now considered a powerful army in Western Asia.” On Syria, the US has not interfered with Iran’s military forces on the ground and efforts to shape events there. Despite declaring red-lines on the use of chemical weapons in Syria and publicly accusing the Assad regime of using chemical weapons, the Obama administration expressed fears over placing “boots on the ground” and eventually declined to act.  That led IRGC commanders in particular to publicly deride the US as being indecisive and predict it would be pliant to Iran’s demands. IRGC Quds Force Commander, General (Sarlashkar) Qassem Suleimani said of the US, “There was a day when the US used three options: political, economic, military.  Today they lie and say ‘we have forced Iran to negotiate with sanctions’ or the Islamic system is weaker.’  Really, today, the US has the most debt of any country in the world.  The US has also failed everywhere they have interfered militarily.  From a political perspective, they are not accepted anywhere in the world.  In a situation in which the US is considered the world’s greatest power, they are ruined in every dimension.”

In one of his early public statements on the Iraq, Khamenei said, “The Dominant System [US], using the remnants of Saddam’s regime as the primary pawns and the prejudiced takfiri elements as the infantry, is seeking to disrupt Iraq’s peace and stability and threaten its territorial integrity.” Hard-liners apparently had to convince Khamenei that the Obama administration did not have the situation under control and was not moving with an assured step. Much as Zarif seemingly recognized, hard-line military and security officials apparently concluded uniformly that the US has no intention of attacking Iran if the nuclear talks fail. The hard-liners appear to have convinced Khamenei that Obama’s reluctance to fight ISIS showed he would be even more reluctant to face the IRGC, Iranian Armed Forces, and other security elements globally if the US attacked Iran’s nuclear program.  The hard-liners also likely inferred from Obama’s reluctance he would not want to concurrently fight Iran and ISIS. Khamenei was able to see Iran was in, what Jafari would characterize as, a stronger position versus the US, even on the nuclear issue.

Jafari has always looked with a bad eye at the US military. He believes the US is in decline and wants Iran to acquire a broader outlook regarding its role in world affairs.

A maturing public relations apparatus in Khamenei’s office shaped official quotes from the Supreme Leader in response to the talks’ result. On Thursday November 27, 2014, Khamenei made it clear that he backed the extension of nuclear negotiations with the P5+1, and praised the negotiating team for its efforts. Khamenei expressed on his website, “For the same reasons I wasn’t against negotiations, I’m also not against the extension.” He characterized Iran’s negotiators as “hard-working and serious . . . [They] justly and honestly stood against words of force and bullying of the other side, and unlike the other side, they did not change their words every day.” In another message on his Twitter account, Khamenei stated “We accept fair and reasonable agreements. Where there’s bullying and excessive demands, all of Iran, people and officials, will not accept.”

However, in a more genuine manifestation of his feelings on the negotiations, Khamenei, in a November 25, 2014 meeting with Muslim clerics in Tehran, dismissed the diplomatic and economic pressure that world powers had brought to bear on his country over its nuclear ambitions. Khamenei said that the West had failed to bring Iran “to its knees.” On his website, he further stated that “In the nuclear issue, America and colonial European countries got together and did their best to bring the Islamic Republic to its knees, but they could not do so—and they will not be able to do so.” Several Twitter posts from an account used by Khamenei’s office, accused the West of meddling in the Middle East and using Sunni militant groups to thwart the Arab Spring uprisings with intra-Muslim infighting, “in line with arrogant [US] goals.” Some of Khamenei’s November 27th statements actually lapsed into the same aggressive tone. Khamenei said the US would be the biggest loser if the extended talks failed. He remarked “Know that whether or not we reach a nuclear agreement, Israel becomes more insecure day by day.” He then proclaimed, “Our people are willing to maintain their authority and values, and will bear the economic pressure.” Khamenei has stated repeatedly that Iran does not want a nuclear weapon. However, his statement likely came with caveats. If Khamenei, as the steward of Iran’s national security, felt a weapon was necessary for Iran’s security, he would build it and expect the Iranian people to faithfully overcome any Western efforts in response.

The Danger That Lurks: Real or Imagined?

Before the nuclear talks began, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) obtained information suggesting Iranian leaders are not completely opposed to developing a nuclear weapon. In an internal 2009 IAEA document, most of which was published by Institute for Science and International Security, is a section titled “Statements made by Iranian officials.”  It states: “The Agency [IAEA] was informed that in April 1984 the then President of Iran, H.E. Ayatollah Khamenei declared, during a meeting of top-echelon political and security officials at the Presidential Palace in Tehran, that the spiritual leader Imam Khomeini had decided to reactivate the nuclear programme. According to Ayatollah Khamenei this was the only way to secure the very essence of the Islamic Revolution from the schemes of its enemies, especially the United States and Israel, and to prepare it for the emergence of Imam Mehdi. Ayatollah Khamenei further declared during the meeting, that a nuclear arsenal would serve Iran as a deterrent in the hands of God’s soldiers.” The November 2011 IAEA Safeguards Report described the emergence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program that peaked in 2002 and 2003, and then was abruptly halted. The IAEA report also presented information from UN Member States indicating aspects of this program continued or restarted after 2003 and may be on-going.

The concern among US and European negotiators is that hard-liners in Tehran are using the on-going nuclear talks to misdirect them, enabling elements of the Iranian government to pursue the covert weaponization of the nuclear program.  Continued progress with the nuclear program has been a feature of Iran’s negotiations with the West since such talks began with the Bush administration. Iran may have the capability to engage in a dual-track approach to resolve problems over the nuclear issue with the West within the parameters of Khamenei’s concept of heroic flexibility.  Rouhani and Zarif would take a path toward diplomacy to acquire concessions from the P5+1while the IRGC, the Ministry of Defense, and other government elements secretly develop the ability to create a nuclear weapon. According to a May 27, 2014 Wall Street Journal article, Western intelligence agencies discovered Iran’s efforts to develop a nuclear device dated back to the late 1980s, at a Defense Ministry-linked physics research center in Tehran.  According to the IAEA, Iran consolidated its weaponization researchers in the 1990s under an initiative called “AMAD Plan,” headed by Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a nuclear engineer and senior member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).  The mission of AMAD Plan was to procure dual-use technologies, developing nuclear detonators and conducting high-explosive experiments associated with compressing fissile material, according to Western intelligence agencies.  AMAD Plan’s most intense period of activity was in 2002-2003, according to the IAEA, when Rouhani was Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.  The May 27th article asserted Fakhrizadeh has continued to oversee these disparate and highly compartmentalized activities under the auspices of Iran’s Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research, known by its Persian acronym, SPND. Nulla tenaci, invia est via! (For the tenacious, no road is impossible!)

The Way Forward

While stumbling blocks are addressed, new approaches to ameliorate US concerns are being explored such as ways to provide the US with at least a year to discover if Iran was racing for a weapon, a standard that the US has set. Such steps could involve a combination of Iranian commitments to ship some of its nuclear stockpile to Russia, efforts to disconnect some of the country’s centrifuges in ways that would take considerable time to reverse, and limits on output that could be verified by international inspectors.   However, efforts in that direction may not amount to much in the current political environment, particularly in Iran and the US. When it was announced that no deal was reached and negotiations would be extended, lawmakers inthe Iranian Parliament erupted in chants “Death to America” after a lawmaker commenting on the deadline extension spoke of “the U.S.’s sabotaging efforts and its unreliability.” The lawmaker, Mohammad-Hassan Aboutorabi-Fard, who is the deputy speaker of the Parliament, said Iran had learned from the nuclear negotiations that it had a strong hand to play. “Today, we can speak to the U.S. and its allies with the tone of power,” he said in remarks quoted by the Fars News Agency. “A lesson can be taken from the recent nuclear talks that, for various reasons, the U.S. is not reliable.” The Republican controlled Congress really has no interest in restoring or improving relations with Iran while it has a nuclear program. Congressional Republicans have threatened to impose new sanctions on Iran regardless of whether such action interfered with the nuclear talks. Obama will no longer be able to rely on Democratic leaders in the Senate to bottle up legislation that would require new sanctions. Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the New York Times, “I don’t think Congress is going to sit still.” He further stated, “There is a fear the administration is being played for time, and there will be a desire to express that in some form of a sanctions bill.” Disapproval over the renewed sanctions relief that had brought Iran $700 million a month in money formerly frozen abroad may very well compel Congress to levy new sanctions. If the nuclear negotiations failed, any outrage expressed after such an occurrence would simply amount to lip service.  The use of military force would be unlikely given current circumstances in the Middle East and Obama’s disposition on it. There would be sanctions, but it is likely Tehran has already calculated what the consequences of such measures would be and how it could best mitigate their effects. Khamenei has assured that, if the extended talks fail, “the sky won’t fall to the ground.”

Evidence that the Iranian nuclear program has been militarized does not exist. Yet, despite what Zarif has argued, Khamenei and hard-line Iranian leaders may believe a nuclear weapon would make Iran more secure. At a minimum, they might seek the option to weaponize. Proceeding in that way would be very dangerous for Iran in the long-term. Iranian leaders know that when dealing with the US, ultimately, issues do not center on whoever occupies the Oval Office at any given time. Term-limits set by the US Constitution prevent Obama for serving a third term. As greatcharlie.com has cautioned more than once, striking a balance between demands for relief from economic sanctions and the gradual cessation of the nuclear program may not be at issue for the next US president. To the extent the US is a staunch ally of Israel and to a similar extent, Saudi Arabia, the next US president might decide to ameliorate the US approach, requiring new concessions from Iran, to include an immediate halt of its nuclear activities. A new demand might be made for Iran to surrender its nuclear program or face military action.  If the current global perception that US leaders lack the will and power to act militarily still prevails in 2016, the next administration may not be able to compel outcomes on many issues with diplomacy or threats to use force. Favorable outcomes may result only from robust use of US military force.

An above average understanding of human nature and faith will be required to formulate a final decision on a deal under current circumstances. Clearly, some reasonable doubt exists, at least among Western partners in the P5+1, over whether the terms of a deal would be observed. With circumstances in the world seeming off-balance, George William Rutler, pastor of Saint Michael’s Church in New York City and author of Cloud of Witnesses, recently reminded greatcharlie.com of a live radio message by King George VI on New Year’s 1939, offering reassurance to his people. It would have an important effect on the listening public as they moved closer to war. King George VI acknowledged that there was uncertainty over what the new year would bring. He explained, “If it brings peace, how thankful we shall all be. If it brings us continued struggle we shall remain undaunted.”   He went on to quote a poem from Minnie Haskins of the London School of Economics entitled “The Gate of the Year” (The Dessert 1908). It seems apropos to present that quote here at the end of 2014, given the situation the leaders of the P5+1 nations will face in 2015 over the nuclear negotiations.

“I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year:

‘Give me a light, that I may tread safely into the unknown!’

And he replied: ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.

That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way’.”

Iran Readies Plant Needed to Fulfill Nuclear Pact with Powers; Despite All That Has Been Achieved, a Final Deal Remains Uncertain

Above are Basiji (paramilitary volunteer militia) attending a meeting with Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, in November 2013.  Devoted to Shi’a Islam, dedicated to the Islamic Revolution, and adoring of Khamanei, the Basij are among hard line elements in Iran who have little interest in a nuclear deal.  Khamanei will have the final say.

According to a May 27, 2014 Reuters article entitled “Iran Readies Plant Needed to Fulfill Nuclear Pact with Powers,” a report from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) shows Iran appears to be finalizing a plant to convert a large amount of low-enriched uranium gas into an oxide form following months of delays. In oxide form, the low enriched uranium gas would be less suitable for processing into nuclear bomb material.  Under the interim deal it with the P5+1 (the Permanent Five Member States of the UN Security Council—US, Britain, France, Russia, and China—plus Germany), Iran needs to take action to limit its stockpile of uranium gas refined to a fissile concentration of up to 5 percent by late July.  To be able to meet this particular term of the interim deal, Iran has been building a facility, named Enriched UO2 Powder Plant (EUPP), near the central city of Isfahan for turning the gas into powder.  The IAEA report explained the facility’s commissioning had now begun. In addition, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran had transferred 4.3 tons of low-grade uranium gas to the site from its Natanz enrichment plant.  The report did not say when conversion into oxide would get under way. While it was expected that Iran would have completed this process by late last year, satisfaction is found among world powers that the IAEA is reporting that Iran is meeting this requirement, and has also met all other requirements under the interim agreement.  Ostensibly, the P5+1 negotiated the six-month deal with Iran to garner more time for talks on a final settlement that would remove the risk of a new Middle East war over Iran’s nuclear aspirations.  Those talks began in February. The next round of talks between Iran and the P5+1 will be held in Vienna from June 16th to 20th.

However, there have been a few snags.  The IAEA also reports that the conversion facility’s delay, the low-grade uranium stockpile has grown to nearly 8.5 tons in May from 7.6 tons in February.  The longer it takes to launch EUPP, the more Iran will have to process to meet the target by the deadline in less than two months’ time.  The P5+1 wants to significantly scale back Iran’s capacity to produce low-enriched uranium in order to further lengthen the time required to produce enough material for a bomb.  Iran has fired back saying it needs to expand its enrichment capacity to make fuel for future atomic energy plants.  Experts believe Iran potentially has enough uranium gas for a few nuclear weapons if refined much further.  Limiting Iran’s overall enrichment capacity is expected be one of the thorniest issues in the negotiations for a long-term deal.  Other issues include gaining an agreement from Iran to scale back other proliferation-prone nuclear activity and to accept tougher UN inspections to deny it any capability of quickly producing atomic bombs, in exchange for an end to economic sanctions.

During the process, there have been expressions of disagreement and disappointment by parties to the negotiations in the news media and certain parties seemingly insisted on negotiating publicly, but until recently the process has been characterized as fruitful.  Compromises have been made and deals have been reached at the negotiating table and through backchannel talks by officials.  However, the process has reached a new stage.    What is negotiated now matters most. In the capitals of the negotiating parties, commitments must be made that will result in a sustainable, satisfactory agreement or possibly war.  New issues have surfaced that warrant thorough deliberation by negotiators.  Those issues could become real impediments to the talks’ completion. Mutual suspicions have risen again.  The leader of each country has the free will to choose continued negotiation or withdrawal.  The final choice will be determined by the way in which they govern that free will.

Terms Iran Might Not Be Able To Live With

Recently, Seyed Hossein Naghavi Hosseini, spokeman for the Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee—a right-wing body that has taken a hard line on the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1—discussed the progress of the latest nuclear talks with the Tasmin News Agency.  He explained that there were several points of contention concerning the talks.  Among those enumerated by Hosseini included the following: 1) the West discussed our defense systems and our missiles, while from the beginning we said that this is not negotiable, but they are still insisting on this point; 2) the West has “issues with the number and quality of our centrifuges and even has issues with the number of centrifuges at each site. . . .;” 3) the West even has problems with our research and development; 4) the West did not want to immediately lift the sanctions but wanted to do so gradually after the final agreement was signed. (Hosseini said, “They say that after the agreement, we have to prove our goodwill. They will then remove sanctions one by one. Their position is that if their demands are guaranteed, and the Islamic Republic lifts its hands from its red lines, Iran will be turned into a normal country.”); 5) the West even presented a plan that would lift the sanctions gradually over a 10-year process; 6) the West said that not all of the sanctions are related to the nuclear program and that they must first distinguish which sanctions are for that issue and which are over human rights, the missile program, terrorism or regional issues. (Hosseini Naghavi Hosseini said that Iran expects all of the sanctions to be lifted upon signing the agreement. He called this segmentation of the sanctions “a dangerous game” and “part of the intense disagreements” between the two sides.); 7) the West would not accept 20% enrichment for Iran, but added that the West would be willing to sell Iran 20% enriched fuel for the Tehran reactor; the West demands other enrichment sites in Iran would be allowed only 3.5% enrichment; 8) the West also wants to determine the amount of enriched fuel that is reserved, a red line for Iran that would limit its research and development capacities; 9) there were also differences over “who would determine Iran’s [enrichment] needs; and, 10) the West wants to determine whether the West would they allow the Islamic Republic to produce, or would others produce it for them; and, the West did not see the Arak heavy water reactor as being necessary for Iran. (When asked if the issue is a heavy water reactor or the production of plutonium, Hosseini responded that it was the latter.). Hosseini made it clear that these terms were against “all of Iran’s achievements.”

In a further development, Ismail Kowsari, a Member of the Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee (NSFP), spoke to the Tasnim News Agency on May 22nd about the latest developments in the negotiations.  Kowsari revealed after the [interim] agreement, the file returned back to the Supreme National Security Council, and the chairman of the NSFP, Alaeddin Borujerdi, was added to the nuclear negotiation team. Kowsari’s statements would indicate that although Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will lead the negotiations on behalf of Iran, there will be more supervision and coordination with different bodies in Tehran.  Kowsari also added that Borujerdi was added to the nuclear negotiation team at the request of parliament speaker Ali Larijani.

Has An Iranian Weaponization Program Been Uncovered?

In a joint statement with the IAEA, Iran pledged to apprise the agency of what wss allegedly the most secretive dimension of its nuclear program: “the initiation of high explosives, including the conduct of large scale high explosives experimentation in Iran.” This is a reference to weaponization.  According to a May 27, 2014 Wall Street Journal article, the fact that the IAEA and the Western powers are now turning to the weaponization question is a sign of how far the Iranian nuclear-weapons program has progressed.  Henry Sokolski of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center was quoted in the May 27th article as saying, “a concern about weaponization followed by testing and use is the moral hazard when you don’t pay attention to fissile-material production.”  The article explained this meant once Iran was granted the right to enrich and was permitted to develop an advanced enrichment capability, the West was left with preventing weaponization as the final barrier against a nuclear-capable Iran.

The article further stated Western intelligence agencies discovered Iran’s efforts to develop a nuclear device dated back to the late 1980s at a Defense Ministry-linked physics research center in Tehran.  According to the IAEA, Iran consolidated its weaponization researchers in the 1990s under an initiative called the “AMAD Plan,” headed by Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a Ph.D. nuclear engineer and senior member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).  The AMAD Plan was charged with procuring dual-use technologies, developing nuclear detonators and conducting high-explosive experiments associated with compressing fissile material, according to Western intelligence agencies.  The AMAD Plan’s most intense period of activity was in 2002-03, according to the IAEA, when Rouhani was Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.  The May 27th article asserts Fakhrizadeh has continued to oversee these disparate and highly compartmentalized activities, now under the auspices of Iran’s new Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research, known by its Persian acronym, SPND.

The May 27th article confirms much of what greatcharlie.com had stated in a September 26, 2013 post entitled “Hossein Dehghan’s Concealed Hand in Iran’s Foreign and Defense Policy Efforts.”  Dehghan’s descent to the Rouhani’s cabinet after serving as a committee secretary on the Expediency Council did not occur because his administration skills were sorely needed in the Defense Ministry.  Rather, Dehghan was selected to take command of the day to day activities of Iran’s fighting forces and to manage projects of such importance to Iran’s security that only someone with his experience, capabilities, and reliability could be counted upon to direct.  Dehghan, who spent his career in the IRGC, is inextricably tied to that organization.  It was asserted by hreatcharlie.com that given his decades of devotion to the IRGC, there can be no doubt that precious little difference between Dehghan’s views and those espoused by the organization.  A key concept proclaimed by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei on the conduct of Iran’s foreign and defense policy is “heroic flexibility.”  The phrase was coined by Khamenei, himself, when translating a book on Imam Hassan.  As understood by his close compatriots in the IRGC, heroic flexibility allows for diplomacy with the US and its Western allies, but requires the protection of Iran’s right pursue and nuclear energy program.  In the words of the Deputy Commander of the IRGC, Brigadier General Hossein Salami, (translated into English and published by Arash Karami on the blog, Iran Pulse) “heroic inflexibility is an exalted and invaluable concept fully within the goals of the Islamic Republic.”  He further explained the concept meant “in no way would Iran retreat from fundamental lines and national and vital interests and this right is something that without [sic] concessions can be exchanged.”  That essentially means that only on issues in which Iran had an interest but no rights, could Iranian concessions be negotiated.  He went on to state: “Our fundamental framework is permanent and it is inflexible and our ideal goals will never be reduced.”  Specifically on the nuclear issue, Salami explained: “For instance, the right to have peaceful nuclear energy according to the criteria that has been secured for us, and this right cannot be modified and there is no flexibility on it, however, within this framework a political flexibility as a tactic is acceptable because we do not want to create a dead end in solving the political issue.”  Therefore, for the IRGC on the nuclear issue, there was never any possibility of Iranian concessions, however, there was a possibility that the US and its Western allies might be willing make concessions to reach a compromise.  The talks would give them a chance to do so.

Using the IRGC’s interpretation of heroic flexibility, it appears that Iran seeks to engage in a dual-track approach to resolve problems over the nuclear issue with the US and its Western partners.  Under that approach, Rouhani and the Iranian Foreign Ministry would take the path of diplomacy to acquire concessions, while Dehghan and elements of the IRGC would take a path to accomplish the goals set for Iran’s nuclear energy program.  Placing the development of Iran’s nuclear energy program in Dehghan’s purview would seem reasonable given the credible military threat posed to it by the US and Israel.  Moreover, as Defense Minister, his responsibilities have included promoting Iran’s defense industry capabilities in meeting strategic requirements, placing an emphasis on passive defense in compliance with the requirements of development projects and land use planning, and linking knowledge, power, and strategy in industry and in Defense Ministry missions.  As greatcharlie.com concluded, if Dehghan and his IRGC compatriots remained obedient to Khamenei’s concept of heroic flexibility, as the IRGC interprets it, then they would very likely engaged in a dual-track approach guided by that concept. A statement provided by the IRGC back in mid-2013 provided a rationale for the dual-track approach.  It declared: “Historical experiences make it necessary for the diplomatic apparatus of our country to carefully and skeptically monitor the behavior of WH officials so that the righteous demands of our nation are recognized and respected by those who favor interaction.”  This indicated that thinking with the IRGC was influenced by Iran’s past negative interactions with the West, and a bicameral approach would assure the protection of Iran’s rights.

The Way Forward

Leaders of Iran and the P5+1 face hard choices regarding the nuclear negotiations.  The success or failure of the effort will fall squarely on their shoulders. Neither side wants to absolve the other of past transgressions.  Suggesting that would be a platitudinous appeal to those who feel they have been harmed.  The decision has not been made easier given positions recently established in the West.  They have been accompanied by public statements by officials in the administration of US President Barack Obama that imply the US decision to negotiate rather than take military action against Iran was an act of mercy which can be reversed.  Sanctions relief promised in return for a deal almost appears superficial.  While Iran has called allegations of Iranian weaponization efforts fabrications, if such allegations are true, any possibility of creating a deal based on mutual trust has likely been lost.  It would serve to confirm the West’s worst fears that the negotiation process was an opportunity for Iran to exploit Western generosity. It gives credence to early declarations of Iran’s hard line elements suggesting its diplomats were engaged in a counterfeit negotiation effort.

As a practical matter, decision making on a final nuclear deal must be guided by political positions and national security directives, along with revolutionary ideals in Iran’s case. IRGC Commander, General (Sarlashkar) Mohammad Ali Jafari, has been quoted as saying, “Anti-Westernism is the principle characteristic of the Islamic Republic.” Yet, when these old and seductive courses have been taken in the past, the results for those desiring an agreement have been unsatisfactory.  Unfortunately, it is far easier to unleash anger and treachery than unleash approbation and goodwill. A final choice can also be based on free will, effectively governed by moral accountability.  In the stewardship of their countries’ national security, particularly on this tricky nuclear issue, moral accountability must also guide leaders’ assessments and decision making.  Moral accountability is dependent upon the moral character of the leadership.  With political and other pressures at work at the same time as considerations of the moral implications of a decision, deliberations on how to proceed would become a delicate dance between virtue and vice.  Leaders must recognize what would be in their citizens’ interest and the national interest for the long-term and determining what would be the best course to take to secure those interests.  For Iran, going to war would hardly meet that criterion. For the West, accepting an agreement that could lead to disastrous consequences for themselves and their its allies would be a mistake.  Perspective must be maintained.  As a concept, parties must think of themselves as taking a gamble by casting a wide net, beyond the horizon, via the nuclear negotiations.  They must gather from their catch what is good and workable, then sift out the bad. In the end, what will be in their basket hopefully will be enough to develop suitable agreement.

US Must Pursue Iran Talks Before Considering Going to War, But If Talks Fail, Iran Will Be Attacked, Eventually!

Pictured above are two of Iran’s most senior leaders, President Hassan Rouhani (right) and IRGC Commander (Sarlashkar) Mohammad Ali Jafari (left), in an impromptu discussion of security issues.

According to a February 26, 2014, Reuters article entitled, “Kerry: US Must Pursue Iran Talks Before Considering Going to War,” by Lesley Wroughton and Arshad Mohammed, US Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly told a group of reporters that the US has an obligation to pursue nuclear negotiations with Iran before attempting to force Tehran to give up its nuclear activities with military action.  Kerry further explained, “We took the initiative and led the effort to try to figure out if before we go to war there actually might be a peaceful solution.”  On November 12, 2013, Iran reached a landmark preliminary agreement with the P5+1 (US, Britain, France, Russia China, and Germany) to halt what were alleged to be its most sensitive nuclear operations in exchange for some relief from economic sanctions.  The interim deal was completed on January 12th, and the parties set forth to continue negotiations for six months after which, it is hoped, a final accord will be signed.  However, a positive outcome is not guaranteed.  The Reuters article’s authors explained that when he states all options are on the table with regard to Iran’s nuclear program, US President Barack Obama is using diplomatic code for the possibility of military action.  His predecessors and a long line of US officials have held out that same threat.  Yet, when Kerry spoke to the reporters, he apparently left no doubt that the US would seriously consider a strike on Iran if the diplomatic talks breakdown.

Kerry’s public comments concerning the Geneva talks were uncharacteristic of him. Kerry is an extremely capable Secretary of State, and he has a genuine interest in improving relations with Iran.  He is a discreet person who would hardly want to do anything to derail the Geneva process.  The Reuters article’s authors asserted that Kerry’s statements were in reaction to pressure placed on the Obama administration by Congressional Republicans who threatened to revive a bill that would impose new sanctions on Iran.  The Obama administration has cautioned Congress that such action could interfere with delicate nuclear talks to find a lasting agreement.  The article’s authors also assert that pressure from Republican lawmakers will likely increase with signs that the easing of sanctions is allowing for the boost in Iran’s oil exports.  However, Kerry’s comments on going to war with Iran were doubtlessly also heard in Tehran.  As Iranian Foreign Minister and lead Iranian negotiator for the Geneva talks, Mohammad Javad Zarif, stated in December 2013, “When Secretary Kerry talks to the US Congress, the most conservative constituencies in Iran also hear him and interpret his remarks. So it’s important for everyone to be careful what they say to their constituencies because others are listening and others are drawing their own conclusions.”  Kerry’s comments were very threatening in nature.  Yet, at this point, it is that the leadership in Tehran probably did not become too concerned about US military action.  Indeed, they feel that such action is unlikely.

Among the key power centers in Iran, to include the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, President Hassan Rouhani, the leadership of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and hard-line political and religious leaders, there was an understanding that Iran would be negotiating in Geneva from a position of strength as a military power.  Such power was in part the basis of their belief that the US needed to negotiate with Iran as an equal.  Iranian leaders likely reached this conclusion as a result of an assessment of the “capabilities and possibilities” for likely US military action.  Certainly, Iranian leaders regularly receive a wealth of detailed reports from official and unofficial sources, including the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, on information such as US approaches to the nuclear negotiations, policy and decision making and statements made by senior US political, diplomatic, and military officials on Iran.  Yet, the consideration of capabilities and possibilities is a standard procedure and favored methodology for foreign affairs, defense, and intelligence organizations in Iran to assess, in the abstract, capability to effectively perform a proposed action and the real possibility for success.  It also allows for an assessment of an opponent’s capability to respond to that action and possible decision making and reaction to it.  By wrongly giving higher meaning to certain facts and assumptions and incorrectly weighing relative strengths and weaknesses of Iran’s military power versus the US, it becomes clear how Iranian policy analysts and decision makers would reach the conclusion that they would not face a military response if talks failed or if they took the step to develop a nuclear weapon.  Based on one member’s experience working with Iranian officials on the nuclear issue, a truncated assessment of capabilities and possibilities, comparable to those done in Tehran, is presented here by greatcharlie.com in order to demonstrate how the Iranian leaders most likely acquired certain views, and why they have taken certain approaches toward the US.  If Iranian leaders decide to drop the Geneva talks and actually develop a nuclear weapon, its decision will be based on a flawed understanding of US capabilities.  There is a real possibility the US will attack Iran.  However, there is also the possibility that as the Geneva talks advance, and greater contacts occur among US and Iranian officials and diplomats, some prevailing views in Tehran on US military capabilities may be modified.  Those contacts may also create interest among Iranian leaders to seek a sustainable final agreement on economic sanctions and their nuclear program, if a final decision on how to proceed on the nuclear issue has not already been made.

“Capabilities”

The IRGC and Iranian Armed Forces have declared their willingness to defend Iranian territory with military power, and are convinced that they have such capabilities.  IRGC Commander General (Sarlashkar) Mohammad Ali Jafari has explained: “[The US and Israel] know well that they have been unable to take any military action against the Islamic Republic of Iran, and if they make any foolish move of this sort, there are many options on the table for Iran and deadly responses will be received.”  Regular displays of military strength through exercises and parades, along with hubristic declarations regarding Iran’s power, serve to assure the Iranian people that their government has the capability to defend them, and are also intended to serve as a deterrent to potential aggressors. Although the impact of US directed international sanctions on Iran’s economy has been considerable, Iranian leaders have vowed not to allow US sanctions prevent Iran from pursuing a nuclear program.  Concerning sanctions, Jafari explained: “Today, Americans and Westerners have understood that pressure on Iran not only does not lead to the advancement of their desires but also has the opposite effect.  Iran has progressed day by day.”  Jafari’s statement is indeed accurate.  Regardless of the state of negotiations between the US and its Western partners and Iran over the years, and the ferocity of the US threats, advances would continue to be made on the nuclear energy program.  Iranian leaders have also appreciated the deterrent effect created by Western intelligence assessments that Iran is close to breakout capacity with its nuclear program; some estimates are that Iran is only six months away from having the technology to develop a bomb.

Iranian leaders feel Rouhani can capture the imagination of the US and its European partners making them more pliant to compromise.  Regarding negotiations, there is a sense among Iranian leaders that Zarif has capabilities as a diplomat and advocate that are superior to his Western counterparts and is capable of driving them toward compromise on sanctions without surrendering nuclear rights.  While rifts between hard-line elements in Iran with Rouhani and Zarif over the Geneva talks have been highlighted in the West, there is actually an understanding among Iranian leaders of the need to support the negotiations team.  Indeed, concerning Zarif and the negotiations team, Jafari stated: “All must help the negotiations team of our country and the foreign policy apparatus in order to create consensus and public unity at the current time in order to help them demand the fundamental rights of the nation of Iran in the nuclear field and stand against Arrogant [US] blackmail and greed during negotiations and meetings.”

On regime change, a threat posed by the administration of US President George W. Bush against Iran, Iranian leaders are certain their security apparatus is too strong for the US to ever defeat and the US has backed away from that effort.  Addressing the issue of regime change, IRGC Quds Force Commander General (Sarlashkar) Qassem Suleimani stated: “the important side of your [US] attempts today have been to confront the Islamic Republic.  Your [Obama] statement [at the UN] that ‘We are not seeking the Islamic system’s overthrow’ is not a statement of kindness, but rather an announcement of incapability.  You have been and will remain unable to be successful in overthrowing the Republic’s system.”

There is a sense among Iranian leaders that Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan’s efforts to revamp and enhance Iran’s advanced defense research programs and strengthen Iranian defense industrial base will greatly enhance Iran’s warfighting capabilities at the present and in the future.  Iran has already made great strides in satellite technology, drone, and stealth technology.   Iran has successfully used a base in Venezuela as a test bed for new technologies.  Regarding application of those new technologies, in the Gulf, Iran believes it can establish dominance with the advent of new anti-ship system and naval technologies.  Ali Shamkani, the new Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council directed the IRGC attempts to realize Iranian dominance in the Gulf while serving as IRGC Commander.  He retains a strong interest in that effort.

On its borders, Iran has demonstrated its capability to effectively combat narcotics traffickers and rogue Islamic militant groups such as al-Qaeda and Jundallah, as well as the Peoples’ Mujahedeen, a group some Western policy analysts suggest that the US use as a means to weaken the government in Tehran.  In Iraq, Iran has trained and equipped Iraqi Shi’a militiamen and sent them into Syria to support the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

In Syria, Iran has demonstrated its capability to project power beyond its borders, deploying significant numbers of IRGC, Quds Force and regular Army forces there in support of the Assad regime.  Iran has trained and equipped Syria’s shabiha (militiamen), and organized them into the National Defense Front.  It is known that Iran has sent at least 330 truckloads of arms and equipment through Iraq to support the Syrian Armed Forces in 2013.  An air corridor over Iraq has also emerged as a major supply route for Iran to send weapons, including rockets, anti-tank missiles, mortars, and rocket propelled grenades to Assad.  Iran has also armed, equipped, and enabled Hezbollah to join the fight in Syria.  Further, Iran has facilitated the deployment of Iraqi Shi’a militiamen trained by the Quds Force to Damascus.  To further supplement the Syrian Armed Forces, hundreds of Shi’a, among the Arabs in Yemen and Pashtun in Afghanistan, have been recruited for combat duty in Syria.  In Yemen, Iran’s Quds Force has supplied arms to Houthi rebels fighting government forces in the northern part of the country.  In Bahrain, Iran has capitalized on ties established with Shi’a groups back in the 1990s.  Calling themselves the Bahraini Rebellion Movement, some have carried out small-scale attacks on police.  Bahraini rebels are operationally controlled by Bahraini opposition leaders, but typically trained in Iran.  Iranian leaders feel they could utilize these diverse forces against the interests of the US and its friends and allies in retaliation for US military action.

As events and issues in the Middle East do not align with US President Barack Obama’s new vision of its national interest, some Iranian leaders feel the US has become disinterested in the region.  Most also recite the global mantra that the US has been traumatized by its interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan both in which Iran supported opponents of the US.  Obama, himself, appears to Iranian leaders as being skeptical about the use of the US military anywhere to create desired outcomes other than actions where participation by US personnel is very limited in scope as in Libya.  Iranian leaders observed the Obama administration’s decision to make steep reductions in US conventional forces, leaving them somewhat less able to project robust power, take and hold ground in a non-permissive environment or engage in sustained ground combat operations in defense of the interests of the US, its friends, and allies.  They have also observed Obama administration effort to make steep reductions in its nuclear forces, the crown jewels of its military power, only to be thwarted by Russian President Vladimir Putin.  Putin refused to negotiate on the matter concerned with the efficacy of taking such an audacious step.  Additionally, they were amused over the way in which the Obama administration buckled under pressure from academics, policy scholars, and activists over drone use.

Iranian leaders have noted the Obama administration’s insistence on deploying a European based missile defense system to defeat an imagined Iranian nuclear-tipped missile attack.  To Iranian leaders, the deployment of the missile defense system indicates that there is a willingness within the US to rely on defense and deterrence rather than offensive military action to cope with Iran’s nuclear program.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the Obama administration’s behavior has been perceived by Iranian leaders as being very awkward.  Regarding those military operations, Suleimani stated: “What achievements did the American army have with $700 billion budget . . . They expended approximately $3 trillion for the war in Iraq but the American army was unable to gain immunity in Iraq for [even] a single flight and exited Iraq with disgrace.  The result of all war in the region was the Iranian nation’s victory.”  In the view of some Iranian leaders, the Obama administration withdrew from Iraq as a result of a promise made during Obama’s first presidential campaign rather than strategic considerations.  Consequently, Iranian leaders surprisingly found themselves left with an opportunity to strengthen Iran’s position in Iraq.  However, the door was also opened for a growth of al-Qaeda’s presence there.  The initial increase in force in Afghanistan after a long, agonizing decision by Obama in 2009 was made with the goal to create the opportunity for the US and NATO to succeed there.  Iranian leaders have observed how that approach transformed into a decision to withdraw.  Indeed, the US has now declared its intention to withdraw from Afghanistan by December 2014 without a security agreement with the Afghan government.  Iranian leaders have been presented with an opportunity to further Iran’s dominance in the region, but recognize the US withdrawal may open the door to a growth in al-Qaeda’s presence there.

Among experts and advisers on foreign and defense policy in Tehran, the popular view espoused was that the Obama administration was forced into an aggressive stance against Iran with manipulation from Israel.  Senior Military Advisor to the Supreme Leader and Former IRGC Commander General (Sarlashkar) Yahya Rahim Safavi stated, “It is sad that the US President is under the influence of [Netanyahu’s] pressure and lies about Iran to such an extent, that he changed his tune and stance towards the Iranian issue. This leads to the US President’s weakness of independent thought and policy and has shown the power and influence of the Zionist lobby . . . .”  Jafari stated in September 2013, “We hope that the Americans let go of their intransigence with Iran and become less affected by the Zionist lobby.”  However, Iranian leaders now believe the US has retreated from its aggressive stance toward Iran fearing further military engagement in the Middle East.  Iranian leaders want to believe that the Obama administration has very negative relations with Israel, and has pursued the Geneva negotiation process, despite Israel’s objections.  They are convinced that uncongenial relations between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has served to stymie Israeli plans to take any action against Iran.

In Syria, the US has not interfered with Iran’s efforts to establish itself as the state with predominant military force on the ground and the complete capability to shape events, with the financial support from Russia and China.  Despite declaring red-lines on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, the Obama administration hesitated and backed away from military action after very publicly accusing the Assad regime of using chemical weapons.  Iranian leaders’ views of Obama’s unwillingness to take military action anywhere were confirmed when the Obama administration expressed “fears” over placing troops on the ground and was indecisive in choosing targets in Syria for military strikes before eventually declining to act altogether.  That actually compelled many Iranian officials, IRGC commanders in particular, to publicly deride the US government as being indecisive and predict it would be pliant to Iran’s demands.  Suleimani made the following statement about the US: “There was day when the US used three options: political, economic, military.  Today they lie and say ‘we have forced Iran to negotiate with sanctions’ or the Islamic system is weaker.’  Really, today, the US has the most debt of any country in the world.  The US has also failed everywhere they have interfered militarily.  From a political perspective, they are not accepted anywhere in the world.  In a situation in which the US is considered the world’s greatest power, they are ruined in every dimension.”

Iranian leaders watched as Democratic and Republican Members of the US Congress failed to support Obama’ s plan to take military action in Syria.  They recognized that as being indicative of a greater problem between Obama and Congress.  Iranian leaders feel the Congress would likely deny Obama support for military action elsewhere.  The willingness of opponents in Congress to inflict harm on the US military, the security apparatus, and the US public, through sequestration and a government shutdown, convinced to Iranian leaders that there is outright hostility from Congress toward the Obama administration akin to an animus toward an enemy.  The Iranian view of the Obama administration were supported by Russian President Vladimir Putin in his now infamous September 12, 2013, New York Times Op-Ed entitled, “A Plea for Caution from Russia.”  Putin’s negative perceptions of Obama’s motives and the US have very likely found their way into Russia’s dialogue with Iran and have had an impact. Russia’s most recent military action in Ukraine demonstrates to Iranian leaders that there is little reason to be concerned or intimidated by a possible response from the Obama administration.  Iranian leaders’ views on the role of the US in the world as a predominant power were also supported by China.  Chinese views were represented in an editorial by the Chinese official news agency, Xinhua, calling for a “de-Americanized” world.

“Possibilities”

On the Geneva talks, Khamenei from the beginning made statements such as: “We had announced previously that on certain issues, if we feel it is expedient, we would negotiate with the Satan [US] to deter its evil.”  Maintaining the nuclear program and the right to enrich were the main requirements that he gave to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani when releasing him to engage in a dialogue with the US and Western powers on economic sanctions, and Iran’s nuclear program.  Khamenei viewed the Geneva process primarily as an opportunity to counter economic sanctions while progressing in the area of nuclear technology.  Jafari has stated: “The people expect their officials to demand the complete nuclear rights of the nation of Iran, including the nuclear fuel cycle, complete and official recognition of the right to enrich, and the elimination of all unjust sanctions.”

Given the nature of relations between Obama and Netanyahu, Iranian leaders felt it was unlikely the US would agree to Israeli demands for Iran to cease all uranium enrichment and to remove all enriched uranium from its territory; dismantle its Fordow nuclear facility hidden in a mountain near Qum; dismantle its newest generation of centrifuges at Natanz; and, stop construction of a heavy water reactor at Arak.  They know that the US has engaged in an effort to quell very audible concerns expressed by Israel and other Middle East allies over concessions made to Iran, particularly on sanctions.  Iranian leaders truly believe Zarif is the best diplomat possible to promote the legitimacy of Iran’s positions.  The popular notion, that the Obama administration’s foreign policy was initially driven in great part by the White House’s desire to establish Obama’s legacy, signaled to Iranian leaders that the US may be willing to make concessions in talks to reach an agreement.  Zarif could deliver success at Geneva on Iran’s terms, exploiting the US desire to make a deal.

It may very well be that Iranian leaders want to use the Geneva talks to gain time to make greater advances in the nuclear program.  Continued progress in the program has been a feature of Iran’s nuclear negotiations with the US and its Western partners since such talks`began with the Bush administration despite the ferocity of threats of military intervention and the imposition of sanctions.  From a darker perspective, true conservatives among Iranian leaders may wish to use the diplomatic efforts of Rouhani and Zarif simply to misdirect the US and its European partners, enabling other elements of the Iranian government to pursue the covert weaponization of the nuclear program.  Iran has the possibility to engage in a dual-track approach to resolve problems over the nuclear issue with the US and its Western partners within the parameters of Khamenei’s concept of heroic flexibility.  Rouhani and the Iranian Foreign Ministry would take a path toward diplomacy to acquire concessions from the US while the IRGC, the Ministry of Defense, and other government elements take a path toward accomplishing the military goals of the nuclear program.

Whether through the current course of research or a covert program, Iranian leaders are aware that once a significant level of competence with nuclear technology is successfully acquired and tested, the genie will be out of the bottle and a new situation will immediately exist. Iranian leaders believe that threats of further sanctions or military action against Iran would unlikely be viewed as constructive internationally, other than by Israel.  Iranian leaders believe particularly that it would less likely face any consequences if it achieves nuclear weapons technology when US mid-term Congressional elections occur in 2014.  Democrats in the US Senate and House of Representatives, especially those seeking re-election, would not want to have to explain a new war in the Middle East declared by a president from their party.

What Has Occurred So Far

Under the agreed pause of its nuclear activities, Iran has suspended its nuclear program to the extent that enrichment of uranium would be halted beyond 5 percent, a level deemed sufficient for energy production but not for developing a nuclear device.  Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent, a step toward weapons grade fuel, would be diluted or converted to oxide, preventing it from standing prepared for military purposes.  Iran already produced more than 20,000 pounds of enriched uranium gas that is three quarters of the way to weapons grade material.  Iran also agreed not to install any new centrifuges, or start up any that were not already operating. Between 2009 and 2013, Iran’s inventory of installed centrifuges increased from 5,500 to 19,000.  Iran agreed not to build any new enrichment facilities.  An undeclared enrichment facility at Fordow, buried inside of a mountain and outfitted with centrifuges over the last several years, was exposed by US and allied intelligence efforts prior to the negotiations.  Iranian officials indicated that their program had not been curtailed at all. They claimed that Iran by its own volition, reached an interim agreement with the P5+1, but did not give up the right to enrich or the ability to return to enriching at any time.  To them, the interim agreement did not prevent Iran from enriching uranium above 3.5 percent or to dismantle any existing centrifuges.  Iranian deputy foreign minister for legal and international affairs as well as lead negotiator, Abbas Arachi, made it clear that while Iran would separate connections between centrifuges that have been used to enrich uranium to 20 percent, the interconnections could be reconnected in a day.  The entire feed stock for producing nuclear weapons fuel and infrastructure remains intact.  Additionally, the Iranians were able to retain achievements made through their development of a heavy water reactor in Arak which provides a plutonium pathway to producing nuclear weapons fuel.

However, the agreement, more importantly, has reversed the momentum of sanctions and provided some relief from the threat created by the notion of impenetrable sanctions.  Some US policy analysts may believe that Iran may be buying time in order to advance its nuclear program while giving key concessions on the sanctions front.   Yet, what may really be happening is that Iranian leaders are giving new consideration to the Geneva process.  Considering how to proceed against the US and its European partners in the abstract, is quite different from engaging with US officials in actual negotiations.  Information gleaned from US officials and diplomats should provide fresh information about US actions and intentions.  It is difficult to say whether such information from the talks might have an impact on thinking among Iranian leaders.  Nonetheless, while enduring Kerry threats of war, Iran has actually kept its end of the deal under the November 24th agreement by reducing its stock of 20 percent enriched uranium, not enriching uranium above a purity of 5 percent and not installing more centrifuges in addition to other things.  Kerry, himself, told reporters that “Generally speaking, they have done I think everything that they were required to do with respect to the reductions.”  Kerry further explained that “There’s no centrifuge challenge. They haven’t put any in. They … have reduced their 5 percent. They have reduced the 20 (percent),” he added. “They are in the middle of doing all the things that they are required to do.”

The Way Forward

Khamenei and other Iranian leaders believed an agreement favorable to Iran’s interests, particularly on sanctions and Iran’s nuclear rights, would be rapidly constructed.  As the negotiation process dragged on, they were recognized as a complicated and deliberate process, the outcome of which is uncertain.  Khamenei began expressing doubts that an agreement acceptable to Iran could be constructed.  Nevertheless, once an interim deal was reached, and Khamenei and Iran so far have adhered to it.  There is real hope among negotiators that a final agreement can be reached.  However, the talks could also fail, and that would not be a simple matter at all.  Iranian leaders may conclude the US will not attack, given the predilection of the Obama administration to shy away from military action, and speculation on the US included in some analysis of “capabilities and possibilities” developed in the abstract by policy experts in Tehran.  Yet, the US military, in reality, possesses the capability to successfully execute a decisive blow against the Iranian nuclear program and effectively deal with Iran in the aftermath of any strikes.

US military planners develop concepts for operations using their expertise based on a long career in their respective branches of the armed forces that includes continuous military education and training and considerable experience warfighting.  They would be the ones responsible for developing plans for military action against Iran for the Obama administration.  They know the capabilities of specific individuals and units, the effectiveness of their weapons systems, and what the real possibility for success of any given operation would be.  All tools, both conventional and nuclear, would be available to them.  If ordered by the president to present a plan for such an attack, senior US military planners will more than likely produce something that displays a high level of acumen and creativity, utilizing advanced technologies in a manner that neither analysts nor the potential opponent could foresee.  A plan to put the full panoply of security measures in place not just in the region but in the US and territories of friends and allies to thwart retaliation would also be produced and implemented.  The worst way for Iranian leaders to discover the US military’s capabilities would be through an attack.

Iranian leaders must realize that when dealing with the US, ultimately, issues do not center on whoever occupies the Oval Office at any given time.  Term-limits set by the US Constitution prevent Obama for serving a third term.  Striking a balance between demands for relief from economic sanctions and the gradual cessation of the nuclear program may not be at issue for the next US president.  To the extent that the US is a staunch ally of Israel and to a similar extent, Saudi Arabia, the next US president might decide to ameliorate the US approach, requiring new concessions from Iran, to include an immediate halt of all its nuclear activities.  The demand could possibly be made for Iran to surrender its nuclear program or face military action.

Another realization that must be reached is that rather than focus on comments that are meant for domestic political consumption in the US, Iranian leaders must stay focused on what is best for Iran and what can truly be achieved through the nuclear negotiations.  Relations between the US and Iran are at a new stage as are the nuclear negotiations. The P5+1 Talks have provided a unique opportunity for US officials and their Iranian counterparts, through close contact, to acquire a better understanding of various aspects of one another’s thinking.  Much of what has been learned since surely contradicts Iranian leaders’ prior assessments of capabilities and possibilities regarding the US.  For the US and Iran, the improved understanding of mutual positions was further strengthened by back channel talks, some conducted by officials from the US National Security Council.  Those talks also allowed very senior officials to “clear the air” regarding any personal concerns and relations between the two countries.  The new dialogue has built confidence, eliminated many ambiguities about positions, and lessened the guessing over actions, intentions, and motives.  Jafari has been quoted as saying, “Anti-Westernism is the principle characteristic of the Islamic Republic.”  However, Iranian leaders at this point may be able to see, even with such slogans in mind, the real possibilities of a final agreement.  Adhering to the interim deal, as Kerry himself has confirmed, is a good first step and serves as recognition by Iranian leaders that a peace agreement has promise.  Although it has been dogma among US policy analysts and think tank scholars to view Iran as determined to pursue nuclear weapons through its nuclear program, it may very well be that a final decision on how to proceed has not been made in Tehran.  Recall that Khamenei has stated repeatedly that Iran does not want a nuclear weapon.  If Iran were trying to develop a nuclear weapon, the effort could only be justified by Iranian leaders as a matter of absolute necessity for Iran’s security.  Evidence does not exist that the nuclear program has been militarized.  Whether Iranian leaders truly believe a nuclear weapon would make them more secure is not certain.  With great expenditure, Iranian leaders may be both creating a nuclear energy program, and simply creating the option to weaponize if it became necessary.

If a final decision truly has not been made on developing a nuclear weapon, it may still be possible, in Geneva and through back channel discussions, to convince Iranian leaders that pursuing a weapon would not be necessary.  Zarif, Kerry, and all parties to the negotiations may very well be able to deliver a deal that satisfies Tehran and all parties to the negotiations.  It is certainly worth the try.  If they fail, then a war will likely be declared, if not immediately, in the near future.