I really wish I was not doing this, but after having written about Putin’s strategies and tactics in Creating Chaos over five years ago – and making some projections, of which the worse case ones have proven correct – I feel compelled to comment on the tragedy (for both Ukraine and Russia) that continues unabated.
As I’ve mentioned previously, Putin’s apparent abandonment of tactics that were working extremely well as recently as the fall of 2021 (in Syria, Libya, Central Africa and most recently Belarus) is shockingly hard to understand – and appears to be largely driven by his fundamental misunderstanding of Ukraine and its post Soviet legacy, as well as his lack of experience in strategic, conventional warfare. Both are eerily reminiscent of Hitler’s WWII invasion of Russia and illustrate that neither former infantry corporals or KGB covert action field officers are exempt from making huge geopolitical mistakes. The following article illustrates that point far better than I could here:
As far as what comes next, it certainly appears that the fall back Russian strategy is to proceed to secure additional separatist territory for the break away enclaves in the southeast and fragment Ukraine, establishing a base for future political warfare and ongoing fragmentation and destabilization against an independent Ukraine. Given Russia’s seemingly immense military advantage that would seem likely.
However, its important to recall that in the first major Russian conventional warfare in the east, back in 2014, Ukraine were defeated due to Russian equipment and tactics (including advanced artillery bombardment from inside Russia) which the Ukrainian Army was not prepared to combat. This time, with the advanced anti-tank and anti-air weapons which Ukraine has, its going to be much tougher and bloodier for the Russians in the East. Which does not mean they won’t take territory, but its going to cost them a lot more (including costs to the Russian separatist enclaves). Ukraine is going to fight it like a real war, and Russian bases on the border will not be exempt.
I’ve added the following link as this military blog story gives a very accurate picture of the brutality of the Russian invasion – their looting on the retreat to Belarus is particularly odious – and in particular the impact of an in depth defense with anti-armor weapons which is something new to the battlefield that Russia did not face in its first invasions of eastern Ukraine in prior years.
In fact if the shift to provide heavier weapons from the West (note – the UK and EU members are moving much more quickly in that regards than the US, which appears to have become overcautious and mired in indecision) happens quickly enough its very possible Russia will literally lose – if not territory in the east, certainly a large part of its standing Army and its missile and ground warfare assets. That is going to be really hard to replace given the sanctions (recall that Ukraine itself was the major technology vendor and advanced equipment supplier back in the Soviet era).
Another key element in this would be whether or not the UK (and the US) provide missiles of the harpoon class capable of taking out Russian warships – which have become key to their ongoing, brutal bombardment tactics.
Of course its simply speculation but one possible outcome of a war in eastern Ukraine is that “enabled” Ukrainian combat could end with Russia as something of a second tier geopolitical player (Putin has already been forced to recalled garrison forces from Georgia and Syria) , perhaps simply an ally to China as Italy was to Germany in the late 1930s. If that occurs,, Putin’s gambit will have resulted in a major resurgence for the EU and perhaps equally uncomfortably for Russia, for Turkey as well.
Anyone interested in more dialog on the Ukrainian situation might also tune in on the second half of the following session with Chuck Ochelli, which we recorded last Thursday.