Since the start of the illegal Russian invasion of its neighbor, the Proto-democracy of Ukraine, Western intelligence “analysts”, foreign policy “experts”, and “news” reporters have insisted that the Russian military has lost the conflict before it even began. Of course, these proclamations are less objective assessments of Russian military capabilities, intentions, and strength as they are the wishful thinking of neoliberal hacks, neoconservative hawks, and greedy corporate media types just looking to ensure that “if it bleeds, it ledes.”
Certainly, the Ukrainians have fought gallantly. And every Westerner–notably conservatives who feared that the West was irreparably broken–should take heart at how the West has done its best to unite behind the Ukrainians righteous cause.
Yet, none of this substitutes for actual facts on the ground.
First, an understanding between you and I must be reached: I am a student of Russian history and military doctrine (Russian as well as its Soviet predecessor). While I am a student of Russia, I am not a fan of Vladimir Putin or his regime. For those reading my work assuming that I must be one of those strange people in the West who thinks Mr. Putin is the savior of Western civilization (ha!), I can assure you that I am not. Sadly, I must make such disclaimers because we are not living in an age where objectivity and reason are valued.
Second, as for the consistent (and inaccurate) Western claims that Russia is losing the war. Well, that’s pretty amazing considering that since the war started a few weeks ago, Russian forces have steadily massed and taken more ground–however slowly–each day. Western analysts appear to be simultaneously upset that Russia invaded at all (as am I, by the way) but they also seem to be castigating Russia’s Armed Forces for not having fought exactly as Western, specifically American, forces wage war.
As a friend from Boston used to yell: “What a thing!”
The Russians have always held to a unique way of war (as all countries do) that is both reflective of their geography and history–as well as their economic and political situation. Traditionally, Russia’s war fighting style has been slow, lumbering, brutal, and unforgiving.
From the world wars to the Soviet-Afghan War to the conflict in Chechnya to the Russian assault on Georgia in 2008 to the Russian intervention in the Syrian Civil War to the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the seemingly endless Russian belligerence in Eastern Ukraine to today’s full-throated Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Russians have utilized uniquely brutal–barbaric–forms of war.
Russia in WW1
Remember the First World War played out the way it did largely because the German High Command miscalculated how quickly the Russians could mobilize their forces on the Eastern Front.
Using history as a guide, Berlin had assumed that their great enemies in neighboring France would mobilize faster than their Russian rivals to the east, so as per the dictates of the Schlieffen Plan, Germany rushed their forces into France (through Belgium) with the intention of knocking France out of the war early so that they could then surge those German forces out of conquered France, back through Germany, and then arrive on Germany’s exposed border with the Russian Empire just as–if not before–the lumbering Russian Army was mobilizing.
It did not work according to plan but the German assessments were made on long-standing history of Russian mobilization patterns and capabilities.
The Eastern Front in WW2
Similarly, Russia in the Second World War waged a brutal war of attrition against their Nazi rivals who had invaded the USSR in the Spring of 1941. Initially, the Russians lost much ground and people to the Wehrmacht blitzkrieg. Then, using both strategic depth (Russia is a huge country that no, single army can likely cross in a quick manner) to draw the Germans into the USSR while relying on General Winter (once that snow starts falling Russia, woe betide any invader from outside that climate zone) to stunt, stymie, and bleed the invaders over time, the Russians drained the militarily superior Germans over time.
The Red Army counteroffensive against Hitler was brutal. And the Russians not only lost upwards of 27 million people but, specifically, the Red Army is believed to have lost as many as 11.4 million troops during the war.
The brutality that Russian forces inflicted upon their great German rivals was not isolated only to the international fighting. Instead, grave human rights abuses were visited upon Red Army troops by political commissars and their commanding officers. In some cases, such as during the Battle of Stalingrad–which saw that once great city (along with many other formerly great Russian cities) obliterated by the gruesome fighting–Soviet logistics were so bad that one soldier would be given a gun with no ammunition and would be partnered with another soldier who had ammunition but no gun.
The rate of attrition in that battle was so high that Red Army strategists assumed that one of the two soldiers would be killed, allowing for the other to pick up the part of the weapon they needed to advance onward to “victory.”
As I recount in my first book, Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower, it was the Soviet Union which, along with the Nazis, became pioneers of rocket technology as an offensive weapon. As the Reds slashed hard against the Nazis in their counteroffensive, the Soviet Union blasted Wehrmacht lines with Katyusha rockets.
Russian strategists became masters of the bloody art of massive bombardment…without much thought or care of collateral damage. (Hence the term “King Rocket” or “King Artillery” when referencing Soviet, and later, Russian, strategic doctrine). In fact, as the Red Army advanced into Europe, Soviet planners began to favor collateral damage so as to reduce the resistance quotient of dug-in German defenders. This methodology would come to define not only the Soviet way of war but also the Russian style of fighting.
The Soviet offensive pressed onward against stiff Wehrmacht resistance. Despite the losses; despite the campaign of political terror visited upon recalcitrant Red Army troops by Stalin’s political commissars, the Red Army eventually breached German territory and inevitably took Berlin in a cacophony of blood, rubble, and steel.
For those interested in a 45-minute tutorial on just how vicious the Soviet conquest of Berlin in 1945 was–how indiscriminate and destructive the Red Army was as it lumbered throughout the continent–see here:
Finland 1939 has been a favorite example of many Western analysts encouraging Ukraine to fight on until every part of their country is destroyed by Russia’s indiscriminate fury. It is true that the Fins provided a textbook case study in how to wage an effective insurgency against a superior invading force. In 1939, Stalin’s Soviet Union launched an invasion of Finland. Moscow assumed this would be a cakewalk. Instead, they ended up kicking over a hornet’s nest and being made to endure a humiliating military defeat there (in fact, it is believed that the poor showing of Soviet military power in Finland inspired Hitler to ultimately turn on his Soviet “frenemy” and seek to conquer the Soviet Union in 1941).
But this example is misleading. Because while the Fins did fend off the Soviets, they could not keep Soviet power out of their territory forever. The Russians were still next door and smarting over their humiliating defeat in Finland. Eventually, Stalin and the Reds came back. Ultimately, the fear of another round of fighting with Moscow prompted Helsinki to negotiate with Moscow. These negotiations resulted in a process known as “Finlandization.”
Essentially, Finnish leaders recognized that they could not put their country through another costly insurgency war with their Russian neighbors and ,at the same time, Moscow did not seek to repeat its disaster in Finland, 1939. So, the two sides agreed to allow for Finland to remain neutral in Europe during the Cold War. As long as Helsinki coordinate its foreign policy with Moscow and hewed closer to the Kremlin’s preferences than those of the West, the Soviets would not invade and the Fins could manage their domestic affairs relatively in peace. This situation understandably upset the cold warriors in the West, but it did keep the peace and it protected the Fins for the most part.
The conclusion of the Soviet-Finnish War is often glossed over by hawks in the West, who believe that Ukraine’s present resistance to Russia will end in a decisive Western victory over the Russian invaders. While Ukraine has replicated the battlefield successes (somewhat) of the Fins in 1939, Ukraine has not had the same level of success that the Finnish resistance enjoyed. Plus, even the more effective Finnish resistance ended in the political neutralization of their country to very same force that they supposedly defeated in the war.
I’m not quite certain what Western supporters of endless Ukrainian resistance to Russia’s illegal invasion hope to achieve when they use the Finnish example. The political end of the conflict was still more conducive to Moscow’s interests than Washington’s!
Soviet-Afghan War: Long, Brutal, and Unforgiving
Flash forward to the Soviet experience in Afghanistan. Just as with Ukraine today, many in the West understandably feared that the Red Army invasion of Afghanistan was not an isolated event. It was, as people like Paul Wolfowitz at the time serving in the Carter Administration, feared was part of a larger Soviet strategy to break out of their containment and connect Soviet power through Afghanistan into Iran, which had at that time recently endured a caustic Islamist revolution that had weakened that country, isolated it away from the West, and overthrown a strong leader, the Shāh.
Whether the Soviets did plan on a lightning strike through Afghanistan into oil-rich Iran with its open access to vital warm water ports, the fact was that the Red Army got bogged down in a terrible counterinsurgency campaign against intractable Western-backed Mujahideen resistance in Afghanistan for a decade…eventuating in the Soviet forces being defeated and, ultimately, contributing to the collapse of the USSR.
Still, the Red Army was brutal. Moscow lost that war. But not before leaving Afghanistan in tatters. Whereas Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion had some infrastructure (and certainly under the old Afghan monarchy, the country was more advanced than it is today), by the time the fighting ended and the Reds withdrew, the nation was ruined. It had been gutted which set the stage for the terrible civil war that followed in the 1990s that eventuated in the rise of the Taliban (and set the stage for al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan and the 9/11 attacks…but that is another story for another day).
Even in defeat, the Russians extracted a heavy price that mollified any potential threat that an Islamist-ruled Afghanistan could have posed Russia.
Russia Attacks Chechnya & Decimates Grozny
Similarly, the Russian Federation, the successor state to the collapsed Soviet Union, during Vladimir Putin’s first year in office, initiated a horrific war against the predominantly Muslim region of Chechnya. Claiming that Islamic terrorism had spread from Chechnya and that Chechnya, which had long been part of the Russian Empire and then the Soviet Union, was attempting to break away from the newfound–though weaker–Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin initiated a bloody invasion of the Russian “breakaway” province.
The hunt for Islamic terrorists in Chechnya did not go well for the dilapidated Russian military. Using holdover equipment from the Red Army that had been poorly maintained; relying on conscripts who rarely wanted to go fight the Islamic radicals and fanatical nationalists of Chechnya, Russian forces could rarely effect the kind of strategic victory over the rag-tag Chechens.
At a time of severe weakness for Russia, the conflict in Chechnya drained Russia’s economy, depleted its already strained military, exposed the true limits of Russian military power in the post-Soviet period, killed many young Russian men who otherwise were needed to rebuild the ailing civilian economy and society, and risked undermining Putin’s political power at the very beginning of what would become his seemingly interminable reign over Russia.
Despite the tactical setbacks the Russian suffered at the hands of Chechens, Russian military power continued slamming the region. Over time, the rag-tag insurgents were unable to resist as effectively as they did at the start of the conflict. And each time it seemed that the Russians were spent, Moscow had the Russian Air Force pummel Chechnya until it broke their resistance quotient.
As the Russian war machine plodded along in Chechnya, taking having losses, the Kremlin maintained diplomatic talks with the players in Chechnya–all while grinding down Chechen resistance and infrastructure.
Ultimately, Grozny was leveled in hellish fighting.
It is true that the Russians had to sue for a negotiated settlement in Chechnya. Some analysts, like Edward N. Luttwak, constantly claim that Russia “lost” the Chechen war. This is hardly so. After all, while the Russian may have militarily fought to essentially a stalemate, the damage they had inflicted upon Chechnya was so great that the ultimate political solution of that conflict was to see the region become ruled by a regime that is amenable to Moscow.
If war, as Clausewitz long ago argued, is an extension of politics through other means…and the Russian negotiated settlement with Chechnya saw Chechnya effectively become ruled by a Moscow-friendly regime, then one could make the argument that Russia actually won that conflict.
And one could then add that the slow, vicious, and indiscriminate Russian way of war achieved a win for Russia…even if it took far longer than it would have for most Western militaries to have achieved (although, given that the Americans remained mired in an inconclusive counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq for a decade and in Afghanistan for 20 years, it’s hard to see the difference outside of the body counts).
Tragically, something similar is occurring in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine today.
Russia Invades Georgia in 2008
As the controversial George W. Bush presidency was winding down and the historic Beijing Olympics were underway, Vladimir Putin ordered an attack into Georgia. Claiming that Moscow was merely protecting the ethnic Russian enclaves of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Russian tanks and troops rolled into the tiny Proto-democracy, under the flag of “de-Nazifying” and “de-militarizing” the US and NATO-backed Georgia (sound familiar to Ukraine today?)
Initially, Russian forces attempted to utilize more sophisticated war fighting methods. The Russian Air Force began their attacks on Georgian military facilities by employing precision-guided munitions. Although, because the Russian Air Force was dependent on GPS downlinks (the Global Positioning System being an American system), Washington was able to cut Russia off from access to the GPS as a form of protesting Russia’s illegal invasion of Georgia.
Plus, despite having some precision-guided munitions in their arsenal, Russia in 2008 had nowhere near enough to rely solely on those expensive systems. Between having lost access to the GPS and having an insufficient number of precision-guided munitions available in their arsenal, the Russians reverted to their standard method of bleeding their rival dry long enough to break their resistance quotient.
Human rights violations. Brutish thuggery. Slow, plodding movements throughout Georgia. A political settlement that effectively neutralized Georgia as a potential threat (and NATO member). All of these were classic Russian maneuvers that Moscow today is happily replicating in Ukraine.
Did Russia “win” in Georgia?
Well, technically, it, like Chechnya, was a negotiated settlement. But Russia’s brutal way of war–which Western analysts both mocked and were critical of–did eventuate in a regime change in Tbilisi, did ensure the quasi-independence of the Russia enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and did result in the permanent loss of Georgia as a potential NATO member from that point onward.
So, Russia’s military efficacy may not look anything like the precise, “clean”, and nimble American way of war.
But, is that the standard for judgement? And what is it with Western–specifically, American–analysts not understanding that not everyone is like us? We speak often about “mirror-imaging” but consistently fail to practice actually avoiding this terrible pitfall!
Especially considering that Russian brute force tends to, if not defeat their foes, to make those foes so weak that they cease being a perceived threat to Moscow. Think of that classic internet meme: in terms of tactical efficacy and strategic success, Russian Armed Forces are “not great, not terrible.”
They get the job done–no matter how bloody and messy and how long it may take.
Propping Up Bashar al-Assad
For decades, the Assad Regime of Syria has been a client of Moscow. First, the Soviet Union and then the Russian Federation. As one of the few parts of the world where Russia has access to the Mediterranean Sea through their Tartarus naval base and an extensive power projection capability, thanks to Russia’s Latakia Air Base, Moscow viewed Syria as a critical strategic partner.
Once the winds of revolution began blowing hard in Syria during the Arab Spring, and it became increasingly apparent that former US President Barack Obama supported the uprising against Bashar Assad, Moscow chafed. Finally, after having witnessed Iraq collapse into chaos, Afghanistan become a potential base again for Islamists, and Muammar Gaddafi of Libya give way to al Qaeda, thanks to US AirPower, Moscow intervened.
Using their allies in Iran as a proxy, Russia’s Air Force and their elite ground units began filtering into Syria and conducting increasingly destructive campaigns against rebel positions throughout the country. Thanks to the combined efforts of Russia and Iran, Assad’s regime turned the tide of the bloody civil war.
Western analysts at the time mocked the Russians (much as they do today about Russian forces in Ukraine) and claimed that Moscow could not maintain its posture in Syria indefinitely. Sadly, these Western prognostications were wildly inaccurate. Not only has Moscow maintained its strategic foothold in Syria and helped the Assad Regime to survive what would have surely been its defeat at the hands of (Islamist) US-backed Syrian rebels, but Russia has enhanced its stranglehold on Syria.
And how did Russia accomplish such a feat?
For starters, they leveled entire cities, such as Aleppo. Russian forces utilized criminal weapons, such as Thermobaric Bombs to destroy entire city blocks where there may or may not have been a handful of Syrian rebels holed up alongside thousands of civilians. Rather than attempt to surgically attack these rebels, partly because, just as in Georgia in 2008 and partly because Moscow doesn’t care about such niceties, Russian forces pummeled them with devastating weapons of war. Meanwhile, Russian and Syrian forces, it is believed, obliterated “soft” targets in Syria with chemical weapons.
In fact, had it not been for an eleventh-hour intervention with copious amounts of US Airpower in 2018, US Army DELTA Force operators and Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters holding a critical oil processing facility in Deir ez-Zor may have been overrun by 400 raging Russian mercenaries and their Iranian and Syrian allies. And the fighting continues today with Russia becoming increasingly dug in and combat effective–despite years now of Western “intelligence” claims that Russia’s role in Syria was ending and had not been decisive.
Indeed, Russia’s role there was decisive and exceedingly brutal. Further, Russia’s involvement in the ongoing Syrian Civil War may not have decisively won the conflict for their proxy, Assad, it most assuredly has prevented Assad’s ultimate overthrow–which would have come quickly had Russia never intervened years ago.
So, once more, a brutal and imprecise, slow Russian military operation in a foreign land may not have yielded decisive battlefield results but it has helped to ensure a political solution that Moscow seeks: the preservation of its client, Assad’s, power in Syria.
Are you sensing a pattern yet, dear reader?
Little Green Men
When 2014 rolled around and the Euromaidan Revolution occurred in Ukraine–at a time when Vladimir Putin believed his client, Viktor Yanukovych, were riding high–Putin believed that he and his scheme to expand Russian power into Eastern Europe were the victims of a vast, Western conspiracy. Whether it was or not is not the point of this essay.
What is important for this writing is to understand that Moscow was not going to allow for Ukraine to fully break from Russia’s orbit. Fearing that the 2014 Euromaidan Revolution was but the start of a larger push to get Ukraine into NATO, Moscow deployed its military into Ukraine.
At the time, the lease for the ancient Russian Navy base in Sevastopol, a Ukrainian port town on the Crimean peninsula along the Black Sea, was up for renewal. Since Catherine the Great’s invasion of Eastern Ukraine and Crimea in the nineteenth century, that the Sevastopol base would remain Russian had been accepted as a fait accompli by Moscow.
Even in the darkest days of the post-Soviet collapse era in Moscow, Sevastopol had remained an inviolate component of Russia’s grand strategy. With the revolution in Kiev which elevated pro-Western factions to power, it looked as though Russia might have been denied access to Sevastopol. If that had happened, Russian power would have been pushed out of the Black Sea.
Thus, looking out the window of the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin, a legendary paranoiac, saw a vast conspiracy by the West to push Russian power totally out of Europe and to surround the country with a NATO alliance that was clearly hostile to Russia’s continued existence. In the intervening years since the destruction of Grozny, the invasion of Georgia, and the devastation of Aleppo in Syria, Mr. Putin presided over a major modernization campaign of Russia’s military.
He, along with his military elite, men like General Valery Gerasimov, crafted a rather potent strategic doctrine of unconventional warfare to effect President Putin’s ambitious (and otherwise unobtainable) strategic goals (namely restoring the lost Soviet power by reclaiming Eastern Europe, parts of the Middle East, the South Caucasus, and Central Asia as an exclusive Russian sphere of influence).
In the dead of night, what clearly were Russian troops not wearing any insignia or any other identifying marks–all masked–entered Crimea and proceeded to preside over a plebiscite which cleaved the strategically vital peninsula away from Ukrainian control and made it a part of Russia. As that happened, Russian forces began supporting vicious Russian-speaking rebels in Eastern Ukraine who sought to move the resource-rich, predominantly Russian-speaking region of Ukraine away from Kiev’s control and back into Russia.
For almost a decade, the Russians supported a vicious insurgency against Kiev there. Not only did this insurgency drain critical resources away from Ukraine but it also ensured that Ukraine could not join NATO. After all, NATO’s own bylaws clearly state that no nation may join the collective security alliance if there are any active conflicts occurring within that potential member’s borders. Russia had ensured an active and ceaseless conflict would rage there indefinitely.
Finally, the killing stroke came to Ukraine. Russia threw everything and its kitchen sink at Ukraine. Few analysts in the West (with the exception of this author) dared to believe that Russia would actually invade Ukraine. And, of those few who did concede the point, most refused to think that Putin would go beyond the bits of Ukraine (the Eastern portion) that had already basically been under Russian control since 2014.
They were wrong. Sadly, I was not.
At the end of February, after months of building up its forces, Russia blitzed into Ukraine. Immediately, somehow, the same Western pundits and analysts who’d insisted that Russia would never–could never–invade Ukraine were saying within 24 hours of the invasion that the Russian war effort had failed. Certainly, the Ukrainians (thanks to the support of the Western alliance) put up one helluva fight.
And they continue to fight with honor in defense of their homeland to this day against the Russian invader. Yet, since the start of the war until this very day, Russian forces, no matter how slow and plodding, continue to gain ground.
They continue to inflict massive casualties on the Ukrainians (while sustaining casualties that you and I as Americans would deem unacceptable if this were an American war) and are increasing the tempo and scope of their operations against Ukraine–recently striking deep into the supposedly “safe” part of Western Ukraine in an attempt to blast the NATO supply lines delivering weapons, food, water, and medicines to Ukrainian fighters.
As this occurs, the same analysts who’ve been mostly wrong and have therefore done a poor job of presenting the facts on the ground in Ukraine to Western audiences continue insisting that Putin’s war is over before it even really gets going.
And it is true, according to the new preferences of Russia’s “Gerasimov Doctrine”, coupled with the modernization program that Putin embarked upon for his military after the Georgia war in 2008, Russia has performed poorly in Ukraine.
Where Western analysts are likely correct is that a) Putin assumed he could walk all over Ukraine and b) he had planned for a lightning, modern war as opposed to a typical Russian-style campaign of terror and mass casualties. Yet, rarely does one’s plan survive the first contact with the enemy. Much to Ukraine’s credit, their resistance has been fierce. Once fully committed (and the Russians went all-in on this war), Putin was not just going to quit at the first sign of effective resistance.
So, Putin changed tactics. Gone were the days of asymmetrical warfare and yearning for Western-style quick, precise wars of dominance. Returned from the ashes of Russian military history yet again was the traditional style of Russian warfare.
In the process of the war, Kharkiv has been decimated. Mariupol, a pivotal port city, is currently surrounded by Russian forces. It has been given until Monday, March 21, to surrender lest it be totally annihilated. Russian forces now surround the nation’s capital of Kiev with intentions to slowly strangle and kill the nascent democratic state in its womb. Slowly, but surely, Russia tightens its noose around the gallant-but-doomed Ukraine. So, no, Moscow isn’t necessarily losing this war–not yet, at least.
Where Western analysts may be correct, though, is in the longevity of the Russian military operation. There is, after all, a limit to what a nation can do in war–even Russia–if its conventional forces have been bled on the field; if large numbers of its military equipment and vehicles have been rendered combat-ineffective, and if Russian forces have failed to adequately capture the targets they must take in order to defeat their adversary.
This explains why Moscow has kept the diplomatic track open with Kiev. But, the talks have gone nowhere fast. What’s more, Turkish officials monitoring the diplomatic channel between Kiev and Moscow say that “Putin isn’t ready” for diplomacy to prevail. Why’s that? It’s not because he’s losing. Or, if he is losing, he doesn’t recognize that and will continue to chew up Ukraine under his wrath. Multiple meetings between Ukrainian and Russian officials have occurred. Still, no headway. This, as Russian forces continued to encircle and strangle Ukraine.
Shortly before the war began, Putin stated his objectives in Ukraine: to “demilitarize” and “de-Nazify” Ukraine. In effect, Putin plans to destroy the Western-backed Ukrainian military and to, if all goes well, overthrow the Zelensky regime. Whether Putin’s forces can overthrow Zelensky remains to be seen.
Although, Russian forces, despite their massive losses, have not only continued advancing into Ukraine but they’ve drained Ukrainian resistance elements of personnel, resources, and capabilities. Russia is slowly wearing down Ukraine’s resistance quotient. Russia’s war plan has morphed from a lightning, American-style blitz into an Anaconda-like plan of slowly strangling and then devouring Ukraine over time.
It is possible that Putin’s overcommitment coupled with the slow and plodding nature of the advance could drain Russia’s military before it can decisively defeat Ukraine. However, that does not mean Ukraine walks away from this thing in good condition. The best case scenario is a restoration of the much-maligned Minsk II Agreement wherein Ukraine is neutralized, Russia gets Eastern Ukraine, and Western Ukraine, led by the government in Kiev, remains in the Euro-American orbit.
My colleague and friend, David P. Goldman (a.k.a. Spengler) at the Asia Times has long maintained that Russia is not losing:
How does this thing end and what does that end look like?
If Russian military history is any example: it’s not going to be pretty. Russia will blast Ukraine’s infrastructure, bleed Ukraine’s military, smash Ukraine’s economy, and render the country completely broken before it finally concedes to diplomatic talks and makes peace.
And to totally demoralize and reduce any future Ukrainian threat to Moscow, the Kremlin just might significantly escalate in Ukraine before trying to end hostilities. Just as in Grozny, Russia might level Kiev. As in Aleppo, Russian forces might deploy chemical, biological, or God-forbid nuclear weapons.
This is where most Western analysts pooh-pooh my theories and assessments. But, they clearly do not understand Putin’s mindset. He wants to make Ukraine suffer before he finally walks away from this bloodbath.
Putin wants to be seen as the silnaya ruka.
What’s more, he wants to humiliate the West (and Ukraine for, in his eyes, allowing itself to be made into a tool of the West) in the way that Putin has long believed the West humiliated Russia after the Cold War. And Putin enjoys being viewed as some sort of Svengali or Rasputin figure of fear and loathing in the Western press.
Lastly, in terms of escalation, Russian forces have already actively targeted NATO supply chains coming in from Poland into Lviv, Ukraine. Most recently, Russian warplanes successfully launched a hypersonic missile at NATO suppliers coming out of Lviv. NATO forces could be killed in these operations.
This could lead to direct NATO military involvement in the Russo-Ukraine War–and Putin doesn’t seem to care much about that prospect. In fact, Russia has been moving nuclear forces into the Kaliningrad, the Russian-controlled enclave separating Poland from Germany that Moscow clung onto after the Cold War ended.
So, even if these blinkered Western analysts end of up getting their claims of Russian military exhaustion coming to the forefront of this conflict in a few weeks correct, those analysts might be very wrong in how bad things get before that point. Alternatively, if the Russian offensive does stall, given how committed to the conflict Putin is, don’t be surprised if escalation either in Ukraine with WMDs occur or if, God forbid, Russia decides to directly escalate against NATO targets in Europe, Canada, and the United States.
**AND IT IS IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER THAT, WHILE SLOW, THE RUSSIAN OFFENSIVE HAS NOT ACTUALLY BEEN STOPPED OR EVEN DEFEATED.** See here:
Just as in Chechnya, the Russian offensive may end in a negotiated settlement (after a severe and disgusting bloodbath) but that settlement will likely result in an overall political victory for Moscow.
After all, Russia’s overall objectives in Ukraine have been 1) destroy the Western-backed military there, 2) weaken or overthrow the pro-Western government in Kiev, 3) neutralize Ukraine as a potential NATO member, 4) obliterate Ukraine’s economy, and 5) keep at least Eastern Ukraine for Russia. All of these things are more than likely to occur on some level either through combat and/or at the negotiating table. Already, President Zelensky of Ukraine has repeatedly indicated his willingness to table NATO membership and cede Eastern Ukraine to Russia.
Mainstream American analysts have been wrong from the start on the war in Ukraine. Even if they have gotten some details correct, they are missing the picture: there is no rolling Russian power back in Ukraine and should Russia exhaust itself militarily, there is no guarantee that Putin will not attempt to escalate into a wider regional war–with WMDs having been deployed–nor is there a guarantee that any diplomatic settlement will be conducive to Washington or Kiev.
As I wrote at the Asia Times earlier this year, Russia outplayed the West on Ukraine. Whether the conflict ends in a stalemate or total defeat of Ukraine; whether it happens in three weeks or three years, Russia is going to get its pound of flesh in Ukraine.
The greater question is: how much longer will the West refuse to recalibrate its policy and act accordingly?
For more on this matter, see my recent podcast…