In English, the Ukrainian national anthem is known as “Ukraine Has Not Perished.” Indeed, it has not perished, even as the unprovoked Russian invasion of its territory continues. The initial invasion took place in February 2014 and the Russians invaded again in February 2022. Over seven months ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin went all in on his long-standing desire to annex all of Ukraine, not just Crimea or the eastern part known as the Donbas. After seven long months of warfare, massive casualties continue to mount on both sides of the conflict. Recently, however, the Ukrainians have shown themselves to be the superior force on the ground — both in terms of their fighting ability and in terms of their will to destroy the Russian troops invading their country. There does not appear to be any comparable will to fight in any of the Russian units engaged in combat and thus the tide is starting to slowly turn in the Ukrainians’ favor.
Perhaps surprisingly so, the Ukrainian successes create an ever more dangerous situation. The last few weeks have shown that President Putin is not willing to back off of his stated goal to crush the Ukrainian people, overthrow its government, and install a puppet regime that is controlled by Moscow. Indeed, he is doubling down despite his gross miscalculation that he could take Ukraine in a matter of days with a quick strike into Kyiv. To show his resolve to control Ukraine, earlier this month he formally annexed the regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia in eastern Ukraine. That part of the country is where the fighting on the ground continues and the Russian and pro-Russian forces are concentrated there. The annexation was announced despite one important thing — the Russians do not control all of that territory. In fact, Ukrainian forces have the Russians in retreat in several parts of the annexed areas. This is where things get dicey.
President Putin declared that those four regions were now a part of Russia proper (just as he claimed Crimea in 2014) and that an attack on them would be considered an attack on the homeland. In a late September speech, President Putin declared that he was willing to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia’s “territorial integrity.” Since then he has reiterated that he is willing to use “all means necessary” to protect the newly acquired territory, which is a euphemism for threatening to use Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) to prevent Ukraine from retaking their own territory. (WMD are chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.) Bluff? Bluster? Empty threats? Warning? No one is sure, and that is the problem. Mr. Putin backed himself into a corner that now threatens the stability of Russia as a country and threatens his own iron grip on the population. He considers the current state of affairs to be “an existential threat” to Russia and to himself. Is it possible that if he sees his own safety and power threatened that he would lash out? Possibly, but let’s look a little closer.
The past few days have given us some ideas as to how Mr. Putin might respond to an expanded war. When the twelve mile long Kerch Strait Bridge from Crimea to Russia was partially damaged on Sunday, the Russians retaliated by launching massive air strikes using approximately one hundred cruise missiles and suicide drones in one morning to attack Ukrainian infrastructure and civilian neighborhoods. (So far, no one has claimed responsibility for the attack on the bridge, but Russia assumes it was Ukrainian special forces.) The Russian supply of such weapons is not endless, but air strikes are probably the primary method that the Russians will use to continue to disrupt daily life in Ukraine and to inflict serious damage. The intent is to break the will of the civilian population and force the Ukrainian government to seek a settlement of some kind. It will not work.
The Russian style of warfare is based on raw brutality. Massive numbers of people and weapons are used against every aspect of an opponent’s military and civilian systems, capabilities, support and people. The term “collateral damage” does not exist for Russia. Killing civilians and destroying playgrounds, hospitals, apartment buildings, and any other area of a city is the point. Torture is a tool to be used. Indiscriminate bombing is a tool to be used. Everything is on the table. If brutality is the point, then that adds credibility to any threat to use WMD. So does that include nuclear weapons?
In my opinion, no. Not because Mr. Putin considers them to be off the table. Rather, so far, he calculates that he has other means at his disposal to achieve his war aims. In my many years in the military, I never seriously believed that we, or anyone else, would use nuclear weapons. The deterrent impact of sufficient numbers of weapons on both sides made it highly improbable. But now, for the first time in my adult life (I was around for the Cuban Missile Crisis, but that is a different situation), the chances are not zero. I still think that the probability of Mr. Putin using a nuclear weapon, even as a “demonstration,” is incredibly low, but no one knows for certain what he may be capable of doing. Probably more likely is the use of chemical weapons. The Russians used them, or at least abetted their use, in Syria. It may be as the Russian army withdraws from yet another town or village that the incoming Ukrainian forces may be subject to a chemical attack. If so, it is likely to be on a small scale and intended to be a deterrent to a continuing Ukrainian offensive and a warning to the rest of the world that the Russians are not bluffing when they threaten to defend themselves using “any means necessary.”
More likely, the Russians will expand their use of asymmetric attacks such as cyberwarfare, economic warfare such as limiting or stopping the export of oil or natural gas, or halting the shipment of goods (especially grain) from the Black Sea. A clear sign of such efforts occurred in late September this year when Swedish and Danish sensors detected explosions in the Baltic Sea. It was soon discovered that the Nord Stream pipelines running from Russia to Europe were experiencing massive leaks, thus stopping the flow of natural gas to Europe. To date, there is no official blame or explanation for the leaks. It is widely believed, however, that Russian special forces are to blame. The Russians, and other nations including the United States, have the capability to operate from submarines near the seabed to disrupt the wide array of modern infrastructure that crosses great bodies of water such as gas and oil lines and fiber optic cables. As winter approaches, Mr. Putin may be pushing European nations, especially Germany, to give up their support of Ukraine by disrupting their economies and signaling that other elements of infrastructure could be at risk if their support to Ukraine continues. It may be a long, cold winter in much of Europe. In the short run, it actually hurts Russia as the gas it sells to Europe is a major element of support to the Russian economy. The side effect is to again signal that Mr. Putin is willing to do “anything,” even if it hurts his own people, to achieve his goals. I would expect to see more of these moves from the Russians, as long as they can plausibly (or in some cases implausibly) deny their involvement.
The war in Ukraine will drag on for months to come, possibly years. Mr. Putin knows that he is in trouble on the ground and his army is being destroyed. Recent attempts to mobilize 300,000 additional troops to fight in the war have gone badly. Russian men are leaving the country in droves. Reportedly, over 200,000 have fled to Kazakhstan alone. Another 100,000 are said to have left for other countries surrounding Russia in order to avoid conscription. Even if he raises an additional 300,000 troops, they will be poorly trained and equipped based on what we see with his allegedly “elite” forces that have already been decimated on the battlefield. They will only be cannon fodder, which is yet another indicator that the Russian army and Mr. Putin in particular have no concerns about the lives and well-being of their soldiers or their civilians. It is worth noting that Mr. Putin’s retaliatory strikes this week and his threats to use “any means necessary” are not aimed at the Ukrainian soldiers on the front. Rather, they are all aimed at the Ukrainian civilian population. It is terrifying for them, but as has happened throughout history, his terror tactics only increase the resolve of those under attack.
Mr. Putin has many options left in his bag of tricks. However, even he must recognize that he does not want to go toe-to-toe with NATO. He must also recognize that as his attacks on Ukrainian cities escalates, he runs the risk of NATO and other friendly nations increasing the number and sophistication of the weapons they are sending to Ukraine.
It is hard to know how this conflict ends, but it is increasingly less likely that there will be a negotiated settlement.
In what should be more than a war of words, the term “genocide” is being tossed around in the wake of the fighting during Putin’s War. Russian President Vladimir Putin used the term prior to his invasion of Ukraine, claiming that the Ukrainians were committing genocide against the Russian speaking population of Donbas in the eastern part of Ukraine. Indeed, it is part of his disinformation campaign to justify his invasion and he connects it to his declaration that the Ukrainian government is run by “Nazis.” There is a long history of this sort of talk from Mr. Putin. In short, the Soviet Union’s war against Nazi Germany in World War II is glorified in Russian history beyond any level that we in the United States may understand. He is trying to build support for his war by tying it to the success of the Soviet army against the Nazis. Forgotten in that telling, of course, is that in 1939 the Soviet Union was allied with Germany via a non-aggression pact and they divided Poland between them. Also conveniently forgotten is that in April and May of 1940 the Soviets executed about 22,000 Polish military officers and intelligentsia in the Katyn forest.
In 2022 we face a difficult situation. President Joe Biden called Mr. Putin a “war criminal” for the atrocities taking place in Ukrainian areas occupied or under siege by Russian troops. At last count, Ukrainian government prosecutors were investigating about 5,800 cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity, with more uncovered everyday. These are facts which, unfortunately, many of us can see for ourselves each night on the national news. Last week Mr. Biden took it a step further during an event in Iowa by saying that Mr. Putin is “a dictator that commits genocide.” Later, he doubled down on his statement saying, “Yes. I called it genocide. It’s become clearer and clearer that Putin is trying to wipe out the idea of being Ukrainian.” Which has a basis in fact, as Mr. Putin repeatedly claims that Ukraine should cease to exist as a sovereign nation. He believes it should be Russian with only Russian speakers living there.
War crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide are all legal terms under international law. Each is the result of ever more horrifying actions of one people against others. Genocide, however, has usually been reserved for the most heinous of crimes and gives another level of importance to the events in Ukraine. As if they were not already of utmost importance. The moral stakes are as high as they can be.
The 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (often called the Genocide Convention) codified the United Nations resolution of 1946 that made genocide a crime under international law. In Article II, the Convention document defines genocide as meaning “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group as such: Killing members of the group; Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
I will leave it to the international law experts to define what “in whole or in part” means, but it would seem that actions by one nation attempting to eliminate another does not have to succeed in entirely wiping them out. Merely trying to do so is a crime. In fact, the Convention states that conspiracy or incitement to commit genocide is itself a crime. Certainly it is easy from what we know in open source reporting that the Russians have violated at least four of the five genocidal actions under the Convention.
Sadly, whether brought up on war crime charges or for genocide, it is unlikely that Mr. Putin or any of those in his inner circle or those carrying out his orders will be brought to trial. Under the Convention the investigation and trial of such crimes are to be undertaken by the nation in which they occurred or in international court.
The real issue here is a moral one. It raises new questions about how NATO should support Ukraine and how this conflict will end. If we in the West truly believe in the slogan “Never Again!” — meaning we will never again sit by and watch the slaughter of thousands or millions of our fellow human beings as occurred in the Nazi death camps — then now is the time to step up. This is a major test of the world order and a test that will have consequences for decades to come. Russians are deliberately torturing, killing, beheading, raping, and desecrating civilians in Ukraine. I’ll repeat that. Deliberately. Even though I cannot understand how human beings can be so cruel to others — and yes, I know my history from around the world including here in the U.S. — it is none-the-less happening. It is an instrument of planned terror. It also provides a look into the psyche of the average Russian. Only by dehumanizing an opponent — thinking of them as “scum” (Putin’s word) and other than human — can people be so cruel.
These actions also impact how the war will end. How can Ukraine reach a negotiated settlement with Russia if the Russians are attempting to wipe out the very meaning of what it means to be Ukrainian? How can the West broker a settlement with a country accused of genocide? Is anything short of a complete defeat of Russia rewarding their genocidal policy? Does giving up Ukrainian territory — rewarding Russia for committing genocide — even make sense? Such questions have a significant impact on the course of the war, who gets involved, and its outcome.
My thoughts on NATO and with that, U.S. support to Ukraine have evolved over the course of the last few weeks. I think we need to go all in. Not with troops in Ukraine — at least not yet — but with every offensive and defensive weapon we can reasonably give to Ukraine. I am sure that we are providing valuable intelligence data to the Ukrainians (surprise Russian flagship Moskva!) to help them with their targeting but we should take that a step further to allow them to attack into Russian territory to hit supply, fuel and military targets. Continue to put our best military minds to work with imaginative, but deniable, actions that hinder the Russian military. Sanctions are the public face of such efforts — and they are beginning to work — but there is much more to do. Our covert capabilities are excellent. There is more to do without directly fighting the Russians.
The moral imperative is there now. I have come to understand what Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is saying about how this is a fight for the future of western democracies. It may sound like hyperbole, or over-dramatization on their part, but as we see the ruthless brutality of the Russians such statements take on more meaning. Importantly, remember why Mr. Putin started this war. Once the propaganda is removed it is for one major reason. He saw a direct challenge to his totalitarian regime. If Ukraine — where many Russians have family members as do Ukrainians in Russia — becomes a full fledged western democracy sitting fully on his border, he will soon have internal domestic problems as more and more Russians clamor for a similar assimilation into Europe. As it is, many of his troops are seeing a way of life that they could not imagine. In addition to the subjugation of a nation, there is a reason Russian troops are carrying away washing machines, laptops, televisions and other consumer goods. They cannot get them in many parts of Russia and certainly, many average Russians cannot afford them.
Mr. Putin is desperate to maintain his way of life and to rule Russia with an iron fist. That is why Ukraine is such a threat. He must destroy it in order to show that the western democracies of NATO cannot succeed in protecting it, therefore no nation should think that democracy is a way of governing that succeeds. How far he is willing to go in this scorched earth policy we can only guess. This is the first time in my experience that sober, knowledgeable people are talking about the use of nuclear weapons. Many surmise that Mr. Putin thinks such weapons are a viable option if needed to succeed in Ukraine. That should give all of us pause and emphasize once again how serious this war is and how much more serious it can become.
We get easily distracted by such things as “The Slap” at the Academy Awards show, or whether we now have to wear masks on airplanes. Life goes on, yes, but the stakes are higher in Ukraine than many believe. Five million people to date have left Ukraine for other countries. This in its self is a humanitarian crisis. It is also part of the Russian plan to destabilize western Europe by disrupting the ability of democratic governments to care for their own people and the refugees.
Genocide is underway. There is a massive humanitarian crisis underway. Terror is raining down on the civilians in many Ukrainian cities, killing tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children. Russia is reportedly deporting women and children from occupied areas to camps in Russia. More atrocities will be uncovered. Mr. Putin is trying to destroy the ideals of western democracy. The list will grow longer.
If we mean “Never Again!” we need to act on it.
As we approach the end of four weeks of fighting in Ukraine (or more accurately, 8 years, three weeks and three days since the first Russian invasion), pundits, analysts and government officials from around the world are surprised at the continued and valiant resistance from the Ukrainian military and the resilience of its civilian population. It is genuinely inspiring.
Most of those observers are equally surprised (including me) at the utter incompetence of the Russian military. Make no mistake, the Russians can overwhelm the Ukrainians with sheer numbers of troops and weapons, but they have shown a shocking lack of understanding about combined arms attack (integrating combat air, sea, and land forces in a concentrated and mutually supportive way), basic tactical operations, logistics and combat leadership. They are not the modern, effective military machine that Russian President Vladimir Putin thought he spent the last twenty years and billions of dollars building. It appears that they have a limited number of “smart” weapons to precisely hit military targets and have thus used ballistic missiles and “dumb” bombs to terrorize the civilian populations of major cities. Likewise, their tactical aircraft are mostly grounded since the early days of the invasion because they have not gained air supremacy (Ukrainian air defenses have destroyed a large number of low flying aircraft) and the Russians are afraid of losing aircraft and pilots in unsuccessful attacks. Without low level tactical aircraft coordinating with armored columns, the tanks and personnel carriers are left in the open to be ambushed by Ukrainians armed with anti-tank missiles and other weapons.
All of this means between 7,000 (US estimates) and 14,000 (Ukrainian estimates) dead Russian soldiers. Probably there are at least twice that number wounded or captured. That is a lot given the preponderance of force the Russians should have and that the war is only about four weeks old. The Russian military is not the mighty twenty-first century fighting machine that they pretended to be.
That is of only small consolation to the Ukrainians under attack. In fact, it may actually be to their detriment. As the battle lines become more static and Mr. Putin more frustrated, he may increase the attacks on non-military targets to terrorize civilians and break the will of the government to continue to resist. It could lead to more casualties over the long run than a quick, effective strike might have caused.
The scenes are heartbreaking and the cry to help the Ukrainians is getting louder and more insistent. So what should the West do?
Just as nearly everyone overestimated the Russians’ strength, nearly as many people underestimated the ability of NATO to stand together. After the “former guy” nearly destroyed NATO, Mr. Putin calculated that the alliance would not band together against him. He was wrong. The Biden Administration has done a remarkable job in bringing all thirty member countries into a united front to work to isolate Russia and inhibit their ability to fight Putin’s War. Beyond NATO, the Biden Administration has lined up most of our friends and allies around the world to impose sanctions on Russia and to put their economy in extremis. No one thought it possible even three months ago. It is the result of basic hard work, diplomacy and the world’s desire to see the United States as the strong leader needed to bring others into the fold.
Is it enough? Only time and patience will tell. Most likely it will make Russia a pariah for years, if not generations, to come. Except for its nuclear weapons (admittedly, a major element), Russia is a third rate country. Its fate as such will be sealed for a long time to come. Unfortunately, none of that helps the Ukrainians today,
President Biden has the unenviable task of walking the fine line of keeping NATO together, giving lethal and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, and not instigating World War III. His Republican critics in Congress and the Senate have criticized his efforts. While legitimate policy discussions are warranted, many Republicans are pushing to “do more” without much specification as to what. And, oh yeah, the recent omnibus spending bill that President Biden signed into law last week had $13.6 billion in aid to Ukraine. Thirty-one Republican Senators voted against it, including many of those most vociferous about the president needing to do more. In addition, other Republicans are from the Putin Wing of the party and are saying unbelievable things. The words spewing from their lips continue to support Mr. Putin and they refer to the Ukrainian president as a “thug.” They and their propaganda wing of a certain cable channel use Putin talking points verbatim in their commentary and are despicable (as a result, they are a part of daily news broadcasts in Russia showing that the “American people” support the Russian “Special Military Operation”).
Talk of a “no fly zone” is just that, talk. Not every American understands what a no fly zone means, but most of those in the Senate pushing for one do know. It would mean declaring war on Belarus and Russia. This is not Iraq. When they talk of a no fly zone they mean stopping aircraft, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles. To do that would mean destroying the bases ashore and the ships at sea that are launching the weapons, eliminating Russian anti-air defense missile launchers and shooting down Russian aircraft. Most of those are on Russian soil. The ships at sea fly Russian flags. It would be a direct attack on Russia itself. That would be World War III. If the Senate wants to do that, they should use their Constitutional powers and declare war on Russia. They won’t do that, of course. The Congress long ago abdicated their responsibilities regarding war. Their real purpose is to use the continued suffering of the Ukrainian people as a domestic political weapon against the president.
Everyone should also remember that the the leader of the Republican Party was impeached for withholding military aid to Ukraine for his own political gain. All Republican Senators voted not to remove him from office save one (Senator Mitt Romney of Utah). He also threatened to withdraw from NATO and did everything in his power to weaken the alliance — to Mr. Putin’s advantage. Please do not tell me that you now really care.
There are some additional actions that the president can take that should be done quickly. So far, Mr. Putin is setting all of the “red lines.” Those are the actions he says will escalate the conflict and he even cavalierly reminds the world of his nuclear arsenal. President Biden should be setting red lines for the Russians, something that has not yet really happened. Put Mr. Putin on notice that we are not afraid of his hollow Army and will not allow him to continue to act recklessly.
First on the list should be chemical weapons. Mr. Putin and a major personality on a Fox cable channel are spreading the false narrative that the U.S. has secretly been helping Ukraine build chemical and biological weapons. This is a bald face lie. Unfortunately, it is entirely possible that Mr. Putin will conduct a chemical or biological attack on a major Ukrainian city as he gets ever more frustrated by Ukrainian military resistance. He will then blame the attack on the U.S. and Ukraine. The Biden Administration has been working overtime to debunk this abominable lie. They should go further and make it clear (not vague statements) that any use of chemical weapons will be met with a harsh military response. The what and where are our choice, but their will be a military response.
Likewise, Mr. Biden and our NATO allies have repeatedly assured the world that they will not give up a single square inch of NATO territory to a Russian attack. This also needs to be clarified. Mr. Putin has repeatedly stated that the resupply of Ukrainian forces with weapons killing Russians is an act of war. He stated that resupply lines and bases are legitimate military targets. It is easy to envision a scenario where Mr. Putin tests NATO resolve. A single cruise missile, for instance, that hits a supply warehouse just across the border in Poland. No territory taken, but it was clearly an attack on NATO. Would we go to war over a single missile or bomb, especially if no one was killed? It should be clearly stated that the West will not tolerate any kind of attack, regardless of scope. It is easy to sense that Mr. Putin might try to pull something to embarrass the West or to test the “how much is too much” theory of tolerance.
It is hard to imagine a modern European city under attack by the Russians. It is even harder to watch the gut wrenching videos on TV and to hear the horrible stories from survivors. Most of us want to do something concrete to help them out, especially with a superior force represented by NATO that is not coming to their aid to stop the bombing. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy argues that those worried in the West that current events may lead to World War III are naive. He and others believe World War III has already begun. It is only a matter of time before NATO is involved and meanwhile many hundreds or thousands of people are losing their lives waiting for the West to act. He may be right.
As we all know, we cannot predict the future even if some things seem inevitable. Putin’s War is going to become a long drawn out affair with many, many casualties on both sides and the resultant destruction of a modern European country. The impact will be felt world-wide as oil and agricultural prices increase because of the loss of Russian and Ukrainian exports. It will get even more ugly.
Our leaders need to do everything in their power to end this needless slaughter. If it was easy, we would have ended it already. The western democracies need to lead the way and to keep up the pressure.
Ukraine has not yet perished, nor its glory and freedom,
Luck will still smile on us brother Ukrainians.
Our enemies will die, as the dew does on the sunshine,
and we too, brothers, will live happily in our land.
We’ll not spare either our souls or bodies to get freedom
and we’ll prove that we are brothers of Kozak kin.
— English translation of the Ukrainian National Anthem adopted in 1992.
Roughly seventy-two hours ago, the Russian military attacked and invaded Ukraine from the air, land and sea. It was expected that the Russians would swiftly roll over the Ukrainian countryside and capture key cities, especially the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. So far, that is not happening. The Ukrainian military is fighting hard and inflicting severe casualties on the Russian invaders. Although accurate information is difficult to come by, especially since Russia has released no casualty figures, the Ukrainians are believed to have captured, killed or wounded thousands of Russians. At the same time, the Ukrainian government is mobilizing the population, arming them — over 18,000 weapons were issued to civilians in Kyiv alone — and teaching them how to make Molotov cocktails (gas filled bottles with a fuse thrown at vehicles — ironically named after a Soviet era Foreign Minister) and other improvised explosive devices (IEDs). None-the-less, the world does not expect Ukraine to defeat Russia or even to hold them off forever. Ukraine is getting moral support and supplies, but under the current conditions, there is no expectation that outside forces will come to their support by fighting inside Ukraine. Instead, countries around the world are imposing the “Mother of All Sanctions” on Russia. Realistically, this will not stop Russian President Vladimir Putin from destroying Ukraine, but it will make it much more painful for his country’s citizens than they may be prepared to experience.
The biggest concern to the rest of Europe and to the United States is that purposefully, or through an accident, the war will spread outside of Ukraine. In particular, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are worried that Mr. Putin will take the opportunity to reimpose the outlines of the former Soviet Union. Likewise, Romania is concerned about the integrity of its border. All are NATO countries. (Norway is also a member of NATO and borders Russia, but has fewer concerns about an attack.) I am neither a psychologist nor a psychiatrist but the speeches that Mr. Putin has given the last few days are bordering on the psychopathic. He sounds delusional, fundamentally unsound, and oblivious to any criticism inside or outside of his inner circle. In short, he sounds like a madman, even insinuating that anyone that thwarts his plans could be subject to a nuclear attack. Last Thursday he referred to the fact that “Russia remains one of the most powerful nuclear states” and went on to say that “there should be no doubt for anyone that any potential aggressor will face defeat and ominous consequences should it directly attack our country.”
As the fighting continues, for the first time in NATO history in response to war on the European continent, the NATO Response Force (NRF) is being activated. The NRF includes 40,000 military personnel from countries throughout NATO, and in past exercises included forces from non-NATO members Finland and Sweden — both of which border Russia. Their governments are now considering joining NATO in response to the Russian aggression in Ukraine. The force includes aircraft and naval forces in addition to land troops. The president order the deployment of about 7,000 more troops from the United States for the NRF, which is in addition to the thousands already deployed from home in response to Russia’s attack.
What are the chances of war spilling over into other areas of Europe? As I often do, let’s take a look at history to see if there are any parallels. There are two that jump out in my mind. One is the events leading up to World War II. The other is the Cuban Missile Crisis. (I am of the generation that in elementary school, we practiced hiding under our desks or assembling in the hallways should there be a nuclear attack. No joke. When we assembled in the hallways, we would press up against the walls in two rows. I always wondered about the kids in the outer row who in my mind would take the majority of the blow from an explosion. Of course, we were too young to appreciate that none of us had a chance in the case of an actual attack.)
The Cuban Missile Crisis reflects the dangers of miscalculation and sheer brinksmanship between two nuclear powers. We are not there, but a chance encounter could put us into this category.
So far, this is a conventional war so let’s use the run-up to World War II.
- Following the end of World War I, the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 formally ended hostilities and completely reshaped the geographic boundaries of many central and eastern European nations, in some cases creating or recreating nations that had “disappeared.” CHECK. Following the dissolution of the former Soviet Union, newly independent countries emerged such as the Baltic States and Ukraine. Mr. Putin calls this the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century” and is the basis for his claim that Ukraine does not exist as an independent country.
- In 1938 Germany annexed the Sudetenland (part of Czechoslovakia) as a result of the Munich Agreement between Germany, United Kingdom, France and Italy to bring “peace in our time.” CHECK. In 2014 Russia annexed Crimea, part of the territory of Ukraine. The world scolded Russia but made no meaningful effort to stop or reverse the first such annexation in Europe of one country’s territory by another using force since World War II.
- Throughout the spring and summer of 1939 Germany annexed parts of countries throughout central and eastern Europe claiming that that they were ethnically, culturally, and traditionally a part of Germany. CHECK. Mr. Putin claims that Ukraine is actually part of Russia and points to the large number of ethnic, cultural and linguistic similarities between the two countries. He claims that he must move into Ukraine to protect Russians.
- On 23 August 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Treaty providing for a secret plan for the two countries to divide Poland and “giving” the Baltic States and Finland to the Soviet Union. CHECK. Prior to the Beijing Olympics this year, Mr. Putin and China’s President XI Jinping met. Although the details of any agreement is not known publicly, it is assumed that some sort of deal was reached that at a minimum, China would not interfere with Russia’s ambitions in Europe.
- On 1 September 1939 Germany invaded Poland. France and the United Kingdom had promised to protect the territorial integrity of Poland. World War II began. CHECK? No guarantees were given to Ukraine that its territorial integrity would be protected by NATO or any country. However, NATO is implementing the NRF to protect NATO states from Russian aggression. NATO and non-NATO nations are supplying Ukraine with significant weapons and materiel to fight the Russians. To keep those supply lines open under the current conditions could easily result in a Russian attack on the supply lines into Ukraine.
- In September 1940 the America First Committee was formed to pressure Congress to keep the United States out of foreign wars. Although its aim was to promote American isolationism, it was also antisemitic and largely pro-fascist. Charles Lindbergh (yes, that Charles Lindbergh) was the face of the organization that eventually reached about 800,000 dues paying members in 450 chapters around the country. The goal was to put, surprise, America First by not getting involved in World War II and by protecting “American” culture, which did not, in their view, include taking in immigrant Jews from Europe. The committee disbanded on 10 December 1941. CHECK. Our own American useful idiots for Russian propaganda want to put America First and raise many of the same questions that the original brand raised. DJ Trump, M. Pompeo, T. Carlson, and many others in the MAGA crowd question why we don’t support Russia (after all, they are just protecting their borders) or openly admire Mr. Putin (“genius”, “savvy”, “talented”, “enormous respect”, “capable statesman”, etc.) Indeed, Russian state television is running verbatim clips of a certain Fox evening celebrity defending Mr. Putin and asking “Why do I hate Putin so much? Has Putin ever called me a racist? Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him? So why does permanent Washington hate him so much?” (There’s more but I can’t stomach any more of this unpatriotic nonsense.)
There are many parallels. There are areas where there are no parallels. The point is that history often has serious lessons to be learned. I have no idea if the war in Ukraine will spread, but I think that every American should be paying attention to it because there are indications and warnings that it could, in fact, spread to a NATO country and then the world is at war. Even without war, there will be hardship in the United States. Nowhere near the hardship the Ukrainians are going through, or even the families of those young Russians sent out to die for Putin, but the American populace should be ready for economic sacrifice as the world’s economy is impacted by sanctions on Russia and their reciprocal actions. We in the United States have not really had to sacrifice in any real way in a long time. The “Greatest Generation” knew sacrifice. We do not. Shoot. We as a nation could not even be bothered to wear a mask during the greatest pandemic in the world in a hundred years without whining about it and claiming that health professionals were fascists and dictators. No wonder Mr. Putin and those like him think he can get away with an unprovoked attack on a neighbor.
I hope that President Biden and his administration do a better job explaining to our fellow citizens why it is important to help Ukraine defeat Russian aggression. We have seen time and time again that ruthless dictators are never satisfied. Mr. Putin’s stated objective is to restore the Russian empire and to regroup those nations that were once Soviet Republics. Like so many despots and autocrats, he is telling us what he plans to do. Believe him.
I am gobsmacked that many Americans do not know that Russia is a dictatorship and Ukraine is a real, no kidding, democracy. The Ukrainians have some problems. They are working on those issues. So, when did we stop supporting democracy in order to cheer on a dictator? A dictator that works aggressively to undermine everything that we stand for in this country? I really do not get it.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainians hunker down in a real fight to the death. The very survival of their country is at stake.
“Ukraine has not yet perished.”
As I write this piece, the world is on the brink of the biggest combat operations in Europe since World War II. Approximately 190,000 Russian troops threaten Ukraine’s borders on three sides supported by air and naval units in position to attack targets inside Ukraine. In military intelligence terms, all of the Indicators and Warnings (I&W) point to an invasion within days or even hours. Most telling is that the Russians have moved perishables, such as blood and plasma supplies, to positions near the border. Those types of logistics cannot sit in storage at the front for long.
Yesterday President Biden made a rare revelation in a speech to the nation addressing the impending crisis. When asked if Russian President Vladimir Putin had decided on his course of action, the president responded, “As of this moment, I am convinced he’s made the decision.” By that, he meant that Mr. Putin had decided to invade. When asked how he could know, he responded that the U.S. has a “significant intelligence capability.” This is important on several levels. One is that he is telling the world that the full weight of American capabilities indicates that the attack will happen and we should be prepared. On another level he is giving Mr. Putin an indication of our skill and capability in using our intelligence assets to keep a much closer eye on him and his activities than he might know. Finally, if we have this level of granularity into the Kremlin’s thinking, we may yet deter him from taking military action.
Personally, I have thought for quite awhile that the Russians would attack Ukraine. The only questions were when, and how strongly. He is going to do it. Mr. Putin clearly stated on numerous occasions that he considers Ukraine to be part of Russia. He will not be deterred. How far he goes depends on the Ukrainians. Mr. Putin’s goal is to depose the current Ukrainian government and to replace them with one that is more “friendly” to Russia. How far he goes militarily most likely will depend on the depth and degree of resistance from the Ukrainians and whether the current government stays in place.
This afternoon the artillery and Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) attacks from the separatist regions of Ukraine have dramatically increased. At the same time, they are evacuating civilians from cities in the Donbas region, specifically the Donetsk People’s Republic — one of the break away regions in southeastern Ukraine — to Russia. The Russians and their proxies in the occupied region are trying to provoke a response from the Ukrainians as a pretext to attack. So far, the Ukrainian military has exercised remarkable restraint by not taking the bait. As the Biden Administration has warned over the last several weeks, there is likely to be a major “false flag” incident (Russian agents attack their own people, or buildings or otherwise make it look like an atrocity occurred) to further the lie that Ukraine is the instigator of hostilities. There are numerous misinformation campaigns underway on the internet claiming that the Ukrainians are conducting genocide against the separatists or that chemical weapons attacks have occurred there. It is likely that some major manufactured incident will give the Russians their excuse to invade.
The Biden Administration has put steel into the spine of our NATO and EU allies. After weeks of diligent diplomatic efforts, the vast majority of the world’s leaders are condemning the impending attack and are onboard with sanctions aimed at crippling the Russian economy and going after Mr. Putin and his pals directly. Questions remain as to whether those sanctions should be used before or after the invasion. Many diplomats argue that invoking sanctions now may give Mr. Putin an excuse to attack. Others, such as Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky argue that they should be put in play immediately. At a security summit in Munich today, Mr. Zelensky addressed the assembled diplomats, including Vice President Kamala Harris, and bitterly chastised the western powers for waiting. He argued that sanctions need to be implemented now, not after the attack when Ukraine’s economy will have collapsed and “parts of our country will be occupied.”
Further, Mr. Zelensky decried the absence of support promised in a 1994 agreement known as the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. Put together by the United States, United Kingdom, and the Russian Federation, the Memorandum gave security assurances to Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan against threats or use of force to change the territorial integrity or political independence of those states in return for their relinquishing all nuclear weapons. Following the break up of the Soviet Union, those three countries had large stockpiles of former Soviet nuclear weapons. Indeed, in 1994 Ukraine had the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal. While the Russians retained operational control of the weapons due to controls required to utilize them, the Ukrainians had physical control of them. Arms control experts around the world worried about those three states’ ability to protect the weapons from falling into the wrong hands, especially terrorist hands. Mr. Zelensky today pointed out that in 2014 Ukraine got no help from anyone when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea. He wants it now.
Post World War II history teaches us that our enemies, competitors and adversaries often grossly under estimate American resolve. They view our very public domestic political fights as signs that we are distracted or weak. Currently, the incorrect view that we “ran away” in Afghanistan solidified the narrative that the U.S. was no longer a player on the world stage. Wrong. Over the last year, the Biden Administration worked hard to repair the damage done by the former guy to our relationships with our allies and especially within NATO. In my view, Mr. Putin did not expect the strong, and most importantly, unified stand that the West is taking to support Ukraine. He miscalculated. The effort to deter him permanently will probably fail, but it appears he is at least thinking twice before proceeding. In the end he probably will calculate that he can survive the sanctions and other non-military measures from the West. He is on a vision quest to restore the Russian Empire and Ukraine is the key to his ambitions. At this point, he cannot totally turn away. Deflect, delay, or otherwise play games with the timing or methods of attack, but in the end he will not leave Ukraine as it is.
The U.S. deployed about 5,000 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division to Poland. Accompanying them is a headquarters element from the XVIII Airborne Corps to form Joint Task Force (JTF) Dragon. Their deployment is designed to strengthen our ties to NATO and probably to help with the influx of refugees into Poland when the fighting starts. Additionally, about 2,000 troops are redeploying from Germany to Romania for the same reasons. Both Poland and Romania border Ukraine. There are about 80,000 members of the U.S. military in Europe including forces from every branch. Some of those are rotating forces that come in and out of various countries based on the threat and/or exercises. Less well known is the fact that the U.S. has elements of the U.S. Navy ashore in Poland and Romania. The Navy’s Aegis Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) System that is the main battery on our cruisers and destroyers is now in ground based installations in those two countries. Known as Aegis Ashore they are placed there to protect our NATO allies from “rogue” ballistic missiles — most likely from Iran or North Korea. They are purely defensive in nature, but you will sometimes hear Mr. Putin reference them when he talks about Russian security threats from NATO.
When the invasion begins, it is unlikely to start with Russian troops blasting their way across the border. The fighting will come in stages, perhaps with operational pauses to negotiate before the next attack. Cyber attacks will be followed by an onslaught from the air from the Russian air forces and from cruise missiles from Russian ships in the Black Sea. Ukraine has little in the way of air forces or air defense capabilities. The Russians will own the air space which will allow them to move forces with impunity and attack at will. Russia does not have to occupy the entire country. Decapitating the government and holding key positions in key cities will give them the “victory” that they need to control Ukraine’s future. Russia has been fighting in Syria for years. They made a point of rotating all of their key combat units through that battle space so that they are now all battle tested. Both in terms of individual units, and in terms of command and control of combat forces spread over a wide area — two things that they did not previously possess or do well. They have learned a lot of lessons and have applied them.
The Ukrainians have the will to resist but little in the way of organized military forces once they have been decimated from the air. Their plan is to conduct a guerilla war and to inflict as many Russian casualties as possible to undermine the will of the Russian people when their sons and daughters are killed or maimed.
Make no mistake about it. This is going to be ugly. Barring a Ukrainian surrender or collapse at the start, there will be tens of thousands of casualties and as many as a million refugees fleeing the country. This will have world impact, economically and politically. We will all suffer. As is often the case, once war begins, no one can predict whether it will spread or how it will play out in the end. A few “mistakes” could lead Europe into another war. Kyiv is a modern city with about 2.5 million residents. Once electricity is knocked out and water is unavailable living conditions in the city will deteriorate rapidly. In addition to war casualties, it will be a humanitarian disaster.
As President Biden and his cabinet have been warning us, events in Ukraine will not be about some far off place nobody has ever heard of or people we do not care about. Even if one thinks that now, a war in eastern Europe will impact all of us.
As we are all undoubtedly aware, over the last two months Russia has increased the size, lethality, and capability of its combat and logistics forces along its border with Ukraine. Ukraine is now surrounded by Russian troops in Crimea (stolen from Ukraine), Russia, and Belarus, placing them under threat from the North, East and South.
There is much speculation as to what will unfold and as to Russia’s intent. There is only one person who knows whether Russia will attack and that is Russian President Vladimir Putin. It is entirely possible that even he does not know at this moment in time as to what he will do, but he has himself in a position of strength that gives him many plausible opportunities to achieve his goals.
We are at a moment in time where Mr. Putin sees his opportunity. The leading nations within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are facing domestic issues that help him with his plans. The United States is facing Congressional mid-term elections, France has national elections coming up, there is a new government in Germany that is still trying to find its way, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom is under considerable political pressure at home.
Negotiations are under way in Europe, with the US taking a leading role, to try and defuse the situation without abandoning Ukraine. To date, the Russians are making outrageous claims and are putting forward proposals that they must know are totally unacceptable to the West. Foremost among Mr. Putin’s demands is that Ukraine never be allowed to join NATO — a condition that cannot be accepted if nations are to be sovereign, independent and allowed to find their own destinies. He is also demanding that NATO revert to its 1997 boundaries. This means withdrawing all troops and weapons in Eastern Europe deployed since then which leaves Eastern European and Baltic States dangling as current members of NATO. On its face this is totally unacceptable, which Mr. Putin must know.
Mr. Putin does not want any western or western leaning countries on his border. In his public pronouncements he likens it to our reaction if Russian forces were in Cuba or Venezuela — which he made vague threats to do if he does not get his way. He believes that all former Soviet Socialist Republics as a minimum should be in his sphere of influence and that no former member of the Warsaw Pact should be in NATO. The world has moved on, but he has not.
What motivates his undivided attention on Ukraine? Traditionally and culturally the area of Eastern Europe that is now known as Ukraine was part of Russia. Kyiv was the first capital of the Rus people in the 10th to 12th centuries. Following WWI a Republic was born which resulted in civil unrest and battles with the Red Army. These continued until the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was established in 1922, making it one of the three original members of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Ukraine reclaimed its independence in August, 1991. Their independence became official when Ukraine, Belarus and Russia (the original founders) officially dissolved the USSR in December.
Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukraine stayed closely aligned with Russia. Starting in 2014, with considerable internal unrest, Ukraine began to move more towards western Europe. In that same year, Russia invaded Crimea (with stealth forces and special operations forces — the infamous “little green men” that Russia claimed were not theirs) and subsequently annexed it into Russia. Meddling in Ukraine continued as Russian operatives supported a civil war in southeastern Ukraine in a region known as Donbass. Fighting there continues to this day and has claimed about 15,000 lives.
Understanding the ethnicity and culture of Ukraine helps to explain some of the developments and may indicate where fighting could erupt, at least in the opening stages of military operations. Crimea is mostly populated with ethnic Russians, and large portions of eastern Ukraine (such as the Donbass) are heavily ethnic Russian. Central, northern and western Ukraine, including around its capital in Kyiv, are predominantly ethnic Ukrainians. There is a smattering of other nationalities throughout the country, especially Poles.
It is impossible for me to know his intentions but it would seem that Mr. Putin’s aim is to replace the current western leaning government with one within his sphere of influence. It would be a de facto puppet government, or at least one totally aligned with Russian interests. He is looking to dominate Ukraine as he does Belarus. Although Belarus is independent, their government makes no moves without at least tacit Russian approval.
Why do we care here in the United States? After all, we have plenty to worry about with the state of the pandemic and thwarting attempted coups. One reason is that there is the potential for the largest land war in Europe since WWII. Our lesson learned from the twentieth century is that our political and economic interests in Europe will inevitably pull us in to the conflict. NATO was formed as a deterrent to the USSR but also to bring together the fractious nations of Europe into a common cause. Further, we claim to honor the rule of law, the right for each nation to determine its own destiny, courses of action and affiliations, and to protect democracy.
It is unlikely that Mr. Putin will stop with Ukraine should he be successful. He has similar claims for the need to “protect” ethnic Russians in the Baltic States, Poland, and parts of other Eastern European nations. If successful in Ukraine, he will meddle elsewhere. If one thinks that a Putinesque leader is satisfied with “only” Ukraine, take a look at the developments in Europe in the 1930s leading up to WWII. Adolf Hitler was “just” protecting ethnic Germans in Poland, Czechoslovakia and elsewhere. There is no end.
There are many, many scenarios for Mr. Putin to achieve his ends. He does not necessarily have to invade with ground troops to achieve his goal, although the roughly 130,000 Russian troops from all over Russia that now nearly surround Ukraine certainly raises that possibility. His goal is simple, topple the current government and replace it. In recent days, public US and UK intelligence reports indicate that there are Russian operatives in Ukraine prepared to carry out “false flag” operations and other sabotage and that there are individuals in Ukraine or nearby that are set to take the reins of government. One scenario is that Mr. Putin gradually ups the ante. First comes crippling cyber attacks. Next, or simultaneously, take out energy and water supplies. If those actions are not sufficient to bring Ukraine to heel, then selected or even massive aerial attacks could ensue that take out culturally significant buildings and monuments and also aims to decapitate the existing government. These might be similar to the US “shock and awe” campaign in Iraq prior to the ground war. Sending troops across the border could be the last resort. As part of his plan Mr. Putin may even threaten Estonia, Latvia and/or Lithuanian or parts of Poland in order to take assets away from NATO that might otherwise provide support to Ukraine.
I do not envision that NATO will fight in Ukraine, but the member states can provide significant support. NATO is preparing to activate the NRF (NATO Response Force) designed to respond to threats to NATO members under the auspices of Article Five of the NATO charter where an “attack on one is an attack on all.”
The US and Europe are threatening very strong sanctions against Russia. However, there is little agreement as to exactly what those sanctions should be and should they apply before or after an attack? Does NATO deter or respond to Russian aggression? The biggest threat to Russia would be to cut off their petroleum exports. Unfortunately, the main source of heat in much of Europe is Russian natural gas and it is, after all, winter. To cut off those exports would devastate the Russian economy but it would also severely impact Europe’s economy and it would have a real impact on the rest of the world as well. No politician going into elections (which are coming up in the US, UK, and France) wants gas prices to go up just before an election.
One proposal is to block Russia from SWIFT. (The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications — the Belgian based intermediary for all bank transactions world wide.) This would essentially cut off Russia from any international commerce — they would be unable to sell or buy on the international market. Economically, it is a “nuclear option” with unknown consequences.
The US already has about 70,000 military personnel in Europe with about 6,000 of those in Poland and the Baltic states on short term unit rotations. Yesterday, the US announced that an additional 8,500 troops were put on heightened alert (meaning able to deploy within five days of getting the word to go) in order to bolster the NRF or to respond to other NATO nation’s requests for additional forces. In military terms, 8,500 troops in Europe is a symbolic gesture, but in strategic terms, it sends a clear signal to Mr. Putin that the US is serious about protecting our allies and that we would respond, thus upping the ante for Mr. Putin. There are not significant troops (roughly less than a hundred for training of Ukrainian forces) in Ukraine and there is no intent to put any combat troops in Ukraine.
Mr. Putin holds all the cards. He does not care much about sanctions as it will not impact him personally. To be honest, he probably thinks that any severe sanctions would be temporary and he would still have been successful in Ukraine. He probably feels that he has already raised his stature in Russia by making it appear that Russia is a great power that all the other countries in the world must respect and come to him to meet on his terms. In military terms, because of the common border, he has internal lines of communication and can quickly move forces as needed. Additionally, he already occupies some of their territory.
It is possible that he is waiting for the right time to strike, including waiting for the right weather conditions. There is a window fast approaching where the ground will be frozen hard enough to support large tracked vehicles such as tanks and mobile missile launchers. If he waits too long, the spring thaw will make much of the ground too marshy to effectively use until late spring or summer.
I am out of the prediction game, but at this point, I do not see Mr. Putin backing off. The only thing that will change his mind about attacking Ukraine, in whatever form, is the total capitulation of the Ukrainian government. To date, the Ukrainians swear that they will not fold. As a result, some sort of physical action will be required on Russia’s part to subjugate the Ukrainians.
It is equally unclear how far the US and Europe are willing to go to help Ukraine. Particularly weak in the knees right now are the French and German governments, the heart of any coordinated European response to Russian aggression. A secondary Putin goal is to weaken NATO and if possible, to create the conditions to render it meaningless as a toothless organization. To that end he may have already failed as both Finland and Sweden, not currently members of NATO, have expressed interest in exploring the chance to join. Both border Russia.
The coming weeks will be tough ones for Europe and the world. History tells us that to unleash the hounds of war often leads to perverse and unintended consequences and hostilities can easily spread. In the end, Mr. Putin may decide that in his risk/benefit calculation a direct assault on Ukraine will be counterproductive. History also shows that once nations mobilize for war, they are hard pressed to back down. There is a certain “use it or lose it” mentality. Let’s hope that clearer heads prevail.
Regardless, the next several weeks are fraught with danger.
While many of us are focused on the internal threats created by actors within one of the two major parties in our country, developments overseas may create long and short term threats to our national interests. The chaos created by an ex-president ranting about stolen elections and defending insurrections, coupled with Members of Congress that threaten other Members with death, and the general unrest fomented by self-declared revolutionaries, draws attention away from other developments.
In the long term, China provides a real threat to many of our established interests. In the short term, Russia is under increasing internal pressure to improve the quality of life for its citizens, a challenge that President Vladimir Putin may not be able to meet. Thus, he increasingly turns his focus outward. In both cases, a tried and true tactic of autocrats is to quell internal unrest by creating outside enemies that focus citizens’ attention outward.
Looking long term first, China is vying to be the biggest economic, political, and military competitor to the U.S. Chinese legislators recently removed term limits for their presidency, making President Xi Jinping the de-facto President-for-Life. He has now amassed power on the scale of the late Mao Zedong. Indeed, in December 2019 the Chinese Politburo gave him the official title of the “People’s Leader.” That title was only used once before — for Mao. Since assuming power, President Xi has taken a hard line nationalist position on national security and foreign affairs. As part of this strengthened position, Xi has consolidated Chinese control of Macau and Hong Kong. Especially in the case of Hong Kong, this enhanced control led to the loss of most of the freedoms its residents previously took for granted. The Hong Kong of pre-2019 is no more.
All of which leads to the long term threat. China seems to be intent on gaining control of Taiwan, much as it did with Hong Kong. The U.S. walks a fine line in its relationship with Taiwan. In adhering to the “One China Policy” the U.S. recognizes the government in Beijing as the “true” government for China, rather than any government in Taiwan. The Chinese view is that Taiwan is a break-away province of China and must be reunited with the rest of the country. In order to have diplomatic relations with Beijing, there can be no official recognition or official relations with the Taiwanese government. Complicating the issue is that Taiwan considers itself to be the Republic of China — an independent country. The U.S. encourages the re-unification of the two, but only under peaceful, negotiated conditions and has vowed to support Taiwan against any coercion or military actions to force the situation.
The threat is one of war in the Pacific. Over the last few weeks, China has become increasingly bellicose in its statements concerning Taiwan and has sent ships and aircraft in the direction of the island nation — drills according to the Chinese, tests of Taiwanese defenses according to the view of those on the island. As many as 56 aircraft at a time have flown into Taiwan’s ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone — airspace controlled by a particular nation to enhance national security but outside its territorial boundaries). The United States and Australia in particular, but including other countries with interests in the Pacific, have warned China about its provocative actions and that they will respond to any Chinese military attack or other coercive measures against Taiwan.
Stay tuned as this crisis will continue to build. It is unlikely in the near term that China will directly attack Taiwan or any other forces in the region, but we can expect China to continue to ratchet up the pressure and to increase the level of provocations. There is always the danger in such conditions for an error or inadvertent action that results in shots fired. More ominously, it is likely that China is taking the long view — as in years. They will continue to enhance their economic and military strength to the point that their threats and provocations will have real teeth. They are probably not there yet, but under Xi, they clearly intend for Taiwan (formerly Formosa) to rejoin mainland China for the first time since 1949.
Russia is a different case. Since 2014 when Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea, an uneasy truce prevails along the border, even as active fighting occasionally occurs in some areas. In recent weeks, Russia moved 80-100,000 troops to the Ukraine border region. U.S. and NATO officials are worried that such movements may be a precursor to an invasion to reassert the Russian control that they lost with the 1991 break up of the Soviet Union, of which Ukraine was a part.
Western sanctions against Russia are having an economic impact, as well as the fact that Russia is experiencing a devastating fourth wave of COVID infections. Things are not good in Russia these days. Additionally, it is believed that President Putin believes the West is in disarray and that this may be his best opportunity to enact his vision of a “Greater Russia.” Mr. Putin never accepted the breakup of the Soviet Union and once said that “the breakup of the Soviet Union was the greatest geo-political tragedy of the 20th century.” He sees that the U.S. is focused on internal dissent and domestic turmoil as well as China and Asia in general. Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany is stepping down. The French have elections in a few months. Ukraine appears weak and fractious. The U.S. is absent its ambassadors pretty much throughout the world, including to the E.U. and NATO and is missing high level political appointees in the Department of Defense (DOD) and State Department weakening our diplomatic clout. (Senator Ted Cruz (Tr-TX) primarily, with an assist from Senator Josh Hawley (Tr-MO) are holding the nominations hostage for their own purposes. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) for some reason is not playing hard ball and is letting them get away with it. How about keeping the Senate in session day and night right through Thanksgiving until all nominations are approved? But I digress.)
The situation is ripe for Mr. Putin to take action. We may be seeing the early stages of the drama play out in Belarus and Poland. In brief, Belarus is “importing” “refugees” from the Middle East and Africa and sending them to the Lithuanian and Polish borders. The Belarus military is reported to be aiding the refugees in trying to enter those nations, and at the moment, particularly in Poland. Poland refuses to take them. Besides a looming humanitarian crisis, the aim of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko (referred to as “Europe’s Last Dictator”) is to create a political crisis and to destabilize the western nations by overwhelming them with poor refugees. President Lukashenko is angry over western sanctions against his country following their imposition in response to a totally corrupt and illegal “election” last fall that allowed him to stay in power. Mr. Lukashenko never would do anything to upset the stability of the region without at least tacit permission from Mr. Putin. Many speculate that it is direct Russian permission and support.
There are two possible reasons to create this crisis. One is to take more attention away from activities along the Ukrainian border. The other is to provide an excuse for Russian western expansion.
Note Kaliningrad. Part of Russia. To get there, Russia needs to cross into Poland, and/or Lithuania. The Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) were once part of the Soviet Union and still have large ethnic Russian populations. As does Ukraine. If Mr. Putin is serious about his Greater Russia, there is no better place to begin his expansion. (I’m sure everyone remembers what happened in the Sudetenland with Germany in 1938.) As those familiar with European wars know, the terrain between Russia’s mainland and the Baltic is mostly flat, open space. In military terms, there is little defense in depth nor are there many geographic features to use to mount a strong defense against armor columns. Indeed, the U.S. keeps a military presence in the Baltic states in order to deter Russian meddling.
Am I predicting another theater-wide war in Europe? No. I do not predict much of anything anymore. It just seems that Mr. Putin may assess that if he is ever going to start building his vision of a restored Russian Empire, the time is now to start somewhere. “Reuniting” Kaliningrad and the Russians in northern Poland and the Baltics with the motherland may be on his mind. A crisis on the border with Ukraine or Belarus may give him the pretext.
The point is that these are dangerous times. There is a lot going on in the world outside of our obsession with an ex-president and his corrupt political party. We must be on guard against “all enemies foreign and domestic.” While we are focused inward, our enemies and competitors will take advantage of it.
These are, indeed, interesting times.
If you have not yet heard about the article in The Atlantic by Jeffrey Goldberg then you may think that this piece is about someone or something else other than the United States military. Unfortunately, the title comes from the mouth of Mr. Donald J. Trump and he was referring to our military, especially to those killed, wounded or missing in action. In accordance with the over 20,000 documented lies that the president has uttered since taking office, no one is surprised that Mr. Trump denied saying anything like that and trotted out a series of sycophants and Trump associates to deny that he ever said it.
Believe what you want, but I’ll go with The Atlantic and the corroboration of the essence of the article as confirmed by the Washington Post, New York Times, Associated Press, and Fox News. It also fits a long pattern of actions on his part that indicate his prime interest in the military is the trappings of office and banana republic style parades and displays of military equipment. For example, in 2018 his personal attorney Michael Cohen testified that Mr. Trump told him that he would never have gone to Vietnam. “You think I’m stupid? I wasn’t going to Vietnam.”
To me, it is easy to believe. It fits a pattern of behavior and conduct in office that fully supports his belief that nothing, absolutely nothing, is worth doing unless there is some personal monetary or other reward involved. He simply cannot comprehend that anybody would put their lives at risk for a concept such as democracy or the Constitution. His world view is that everyone is out to get whatever they can, and to get it they will lie, cheat or steal. If you do not do that then you are a loser or a sucker. You are there to be had.
Apparently in his world view, no one gets rich in the military so to join makes you either stupid — literally, you couldn’t do anything else — or a sucker. He is reported to have said to aides after a briefing by the then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joe Dunford; “That guy is smart. Why did he join the military?”
This latest revelation of the superficiality of everything associated with Mr. Trump is not surprising. A quick look at some of his greatest hits shows that his language about the military is nothing new. I still find it depressing. Apparently he is not just totally transactional, but also ill-informed and basically ignorant about anything that does not involve his personal interests.
- In 1997 Mr. Trump said during the Howard Stern Show that his “personal Vietnam” was avoiding Sexually Transmitted Diseases. “I feel like a great and very brave soldier.”
- Starting in 1999 he continually attacked Senator John McCain and called him a loser. Mr. Trump denies this but his own Tweet from 18 July 2015 says exactly that. The then Chief of Staff at the Department of Homeland Security Mr. Miles Taylor attested to the fact that Mr. Trump did not want to take any honorific actions following the Senator’s death. Indeed, Mr. Trump was outraged that action was taken.
- Following the 2016 Democratic Convention he relentlessly attacked Khizr and Ghazala Khan after they spoke about the sacrifice of their son Army Captain Khan who was killed in action in 2004.
- In a botched condolence call in 2017 to the widow of Army Sergeant La David Johnson she said that Mr. Trump could not remember her husband’s name (he told her he read it after stumbling over it) and said to her “He knew what he signed up for.” When she expressed her pain over the call, Mr. Trump spent the next eight days attacking her via his Twitter account.
- In 2017 during a meeting in the Pentagon with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other senior administration officials, he angrily told them they were all “losers.” “I wouldn’t go to war with you people. You’re a bunch of dopes and babies.”
- In 2019 he interfered in the military justice system by overturning the war crimes convictions of a Navy SEAL and an Army Special Forces officer and another Army officer about to go on trial for war crimes. Special interests used the medium of Fox News to get him to intervene. He thought it was good for him to do so because it would be popular. He said, “We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill.” Such statements show that he has no clue about the military, its honor, or its code of conduct.
- Against the advice of his senior military and civilian advisers Mr. Trump precipitously withdrew U.S. support to the Kurds in Syria leading to a near massacre as Turkish forces poured across the border. He left a staunch ally in the lurch in order to impress the thugish leader of Turkey.
- This summer Mr. Trump threatened to deploy U.S. combat troops against American citizens. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Mark Milley had to make two separate public statements affirming the military is not in the business of acting against our own citizens and that the non-partisan nature of the military precludes support for any candidate for public office.
- In July of this year Mr. Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw about a third of our deployed forces in Europe to support NATO. This is a move that certainly delights Russian president Vladimir Putin. His stated reason for doing so was “We don’t want to be the suckers anymore. We’re reducing the force because they’re not paying their bills. It’s that simple.” (Not surprisingly, his statement on bill paying is not accurate and shows his ignorance of how NATO defense spending works. But hey, remember the 20,000 lies.)
- It is well known in and out of government through published reports that Russian agents in Afghanistan put bounties on the heads of U.S. military personnel. Taliban fighters would be paid for each American killed. This is perhaps the greatest sign the Mr. Trump cares not one iota for American military personnel as he makes countless excuses for inaction. Claiming ignorance, to this day he has not confronted the Russians over this outrage. Preventing the needless loss of life for the troops and doing all in his power to keep them safe is the greatest responsibility of the Commander-in-Chief and he refuses to take action.
There are many more examples of his callous disregard for the American military. He seems to think that all he has to do is mouth a few words at some rally and he’s done.
Do I believe that Mr. Trump is capable of calling our dead and wounded losers and suckers? You bet I do. His track record is abysmal. To paraphrase another president, Mr. Trump does not ask what he can do for the country, he asks what the country can do for him.
As Mr. Donald J. Trump continues to work hard over the last week to cement his status as the Worst President Ever, there are numerous examples of his total failure as a leader and as a person. Whether it is continuing to espouse that COVID-19 will “sort of disappear”; promoting “white power”; holding thinly disguised rallies at national monuments; or running for president of the Confederacy, there are large numbers of occasions when one can only shake your head and hope that the election gets here soon.
And then it gets worse.
There may be no part of the job of President as important as that of Commander-in-Chief. People die when the president gets it wrong. For that matter, people sometimes die even when everything goes as planned. It is a tough world and it is part of the pact between the military and the American people that service men and women will go in harms way to protect and defend the Constitution and our way of life in exchange for the promise that their lives, talent and American treasure will not be wasted in futile exploits and that those in charge — all the way to the president — will do all that they can to keep them safe in an inherently dangerous profession. In the military it is known as force protection.
As a country, we can be reasonably certain that the recent revelations that Russian operatives worked with the Taliban in Afghanistan to put a bounty on the lives of US and coalition service members are true. The evidence is startlingly clear. The price for an American death was as much as 100,000 dollars.
Within a normal administration this would have caused one of several, or multiple, courses of action to kick in immediately upon learning of this threat. The Russians would be warned at the highest level of government that this was a dangerous game that must stop immediately. Likely, sanctions would be leveled against all involved. Probably, especially if further evidence was uncovered, those involved in Afghanistan would have been on the receiving end of a capture or kill operation.
As we know, sadly this is not a normal administration. The official announcement was that no action will be taken against Russia.
And then it gets worse.
Mr. Trump says, “I think it’s a hoax by the newspapers and the Democrats.” These remarks came on 1 July after several days of credible reporting that Mr. Trump continuously decried and belittled.
The excuses for inaction have come fast and furious. Among those floated were the assertion that Mr. Trump was never briefed on the situation. When that was reported to be inaccurate, the excuse was that it may have been in a written intelligence document but no one verbally briefed him. When that did not quite pass the smell test, the reason given was that the intelligence reports were not “verifiable.” Well now. That is not an intelligence term. Most intelligence reports in this vein are not verifiable. The terms of art are “credible” or “not credible.” When there is credible evidence of a terrorist attack, it is not verified that an attack is actually going to happen until it does. The country does not — or at least did not — wait for an attack before acting. The killing of Osama bin Laden was based on credible intelligence — they did not know for sure that he was in that villa at that time — it was verified when they got a DNA match from the dead body. The terms that Mr. Trump and his enablers use are just gobbledygook designed to deflect from Mr. Trump’s dereliction of duty as Commander-in-Chief.
Rather than being bogged down in the weeds over who was briefed and to what level, etc. etc. etc. the real question should be what action would a president take once the story broke? The answer is easy. The president picks up the phone and calls for an immediate update and then works with his staff for appropriate responses to counter the Russians or to put out a credible explanation as to what actually happened should the facts have been misinterpreted.
So now we all know about it. Who knew about it when is not now important. What is Mr. Trump going to do? Apparently, whine about how it is unfair to him and that it is all designed to make him look bad and on and on with his usual “poor me” schtick. Despicable.
It seems that the lives of US service men and women fighting our nation’s wars are less valuable than whatever political ax Mr. Trump has to grind.
The signal to Mr. Putin? Do whatever you want Vlad because the USA is not going to hold you accountable. It is open season on Americans abroad and on our national security at home. Kill our folks. Interfere in our election. Conduct cyber attacks on our businesses and infrastructure. Do whatever you want because the stable genius in the White House will not do anything to upset his personal apple cart full of Russian money.
To me, that is the best and most plausible explanation as to why Mr. Trump refuses, time and time and time again, to do anything to upset his “friend” Vladimir Putin. My sense is not that Mr. Trump is protecting Mr. Putin. My strong belief is that Mr. Putin is protecting Mr. Trump’s secrets and Mr. Trump is afraid that if he says or does the wrong thing, the Russians will put it all out there. Putin is the name, blackmail the game.
No one with oversight responsibility has yet to see Mr. Trump’s taxes or the financial records of Trump, Inc. Mr. Trump has fought long and hard in court to keep those records secret. I am willing to bet that those records are full of illegal at the worst, unethical at the best, transactions. Mr. Trump and Trump, Inc. had multiple bankruptcies. US banks stopped lending him money for his far flung schemes. My bet is that Russian oligarchs, beholden to Mr. Putin, bailed him out and in return Mr. Trump and his businesses helped the Russian Mafia to launder money and to conduct other illegal schemes.
Have you ever seen the movie The Godfather? It’s all you need to know as to how Mr. Trump is entangled with the Russians. And believe me, Mr. Trump is not the Godfather. I don’t think he is even as smart or as skilled as Fredo.
We know that our values are totally corrupted when the Commander-in-Chief will take no action to protect our troops and the Party of Trump in the Congress stays silent. It is hard for me to decide which is more loathsome — a president that will not do his job or members of Congress that protect and defend a corrupt president rather than our troops.
It occurred to me as I watched the Impeachment Trial of Donald John Trump officially begin last Thursday, that like several banks and corporations during the Great Recession of the 2000’s, the amount of lying, conniving, lawbreaking, personal greed and damage to the dignity of the Office of the President of the United States is so much, that it becomes too big for him to fail. Or in this case, to be convicted. Republicans in the House and Senate, along with key Cabinet positions in his Administration, have bought into the Trump Cult to such a degree that they cannot afford for him to fail lest they expose their own weaknesses, misconduct, phoniness, fraudulent actions and other misdeeds.
As things now stand, the trial that begins in earnest next Tuesday will be a sham. The new developments coming out almost daily continue to show the depth and breadth of Mr. Trump’s efforts to rig the 2020 election. Those efforts are matched by the depth and breadth of involvement by members of his Administration and his supporters in Congress.
You want a good example? How about the fact the we are learning from written documents, including phone calls and text messages, that Representative Devin Nunes (R-CA) and his chief aide, Mr. Derek Harvey were in close contact with Mr. Lev Parnas, the chief “associate” (read thug) working with Mr. Rudy Giuliani. These are the guys on the ground involved in the Ukraine caper trying to find manufactured dirt on Mr. Trump’s probable election opponent Mr. Joe Biden. Mr. Nunes and Mr. Harvey were aiding and abetting the operation. This is the same Devin Nunes that is the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee that investigated Mr. Trump’s activities. He is one of those guys who shouted (literally) throughout the hearings that it was all made up, a hoax and a sham. Even as he was in on it. And even as he was supposed to help supervise the proceedings.
It is sometimes difficult to keep track of all the names and institutions that are normally outside the course of daily events. Sometimes I think that, like at the ball park, “you can’t tell the players without a score card!” But it is important to see what is going on in plain sight as well as behind closed doors.
One of those institutions is the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) (although Mr. Trump tweets it as GOA). This is the non-partisan group tasked by law to monitor government activities and to report its findings to Congress. The GAO determined last week that the president’s withholding of appropriated funds for Ukraine broke the law. Specifically, it broke the 1974 Impoundment Control Act (ICA) which was enacted in response to President Richard Nixon’s efforts to withhold appropriated funds to distract from his own Impeachment proceedings. Several emails among government officials had already surfaced that in the months that the funds were withheld, conscientious government officials cited the law as they sought to determine why the funds were not sent. It is not an obscure or non-relevant provision as some in the administration would like you to believe.
In the past week, Mr. Lev Parnas has been dropping some real bomb shells. While his testimony should not be taken as the absolute truth on its own merits, it does provide insight into the thinking going on and provides a road map for further investigation. While many impugn his character, keep in mind that criminals commit crimes and they often turn on their fellow criminals for purposes of their own. It does not mean that they aren’t factual. But don’t take him at his word. Look at the documents that he and his lawyers continue to turn over to Congress. People lie. Documents tend to lead to the truth.
In this busy week, revelations surfaced that the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch (the ambassador Mr. Giuliani wanted fired for interfering with his extortion scheme) may have been under physical surveillance by Americans and in danger from Americans. Not a peep from the Secretary of State defending his career Foreign Service Officers until cornered at a press conference yesterday. He announced no action to conduct an investigation. Days earlier, Ukraine began an investigation. On their own. As of today, Ukrainian officials asked the U.S. FBI to help them, but still no investigation initiated by any U.S. agency to protect our diplomats. Is it because this administration does not care about U.S. citizens and diplomats overseas or is it because they do not want to know the answer?
More news this week as Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Parnas and the third thug in the ring, Mr. Igor Furman were reportedly being paid by a Russian oligarch (under indictment in the US) with close ties to Vladimir Putin. (Why is it that all of Mr. Trump’s roads lead to Putin?)
As the evidence mounts, it is clear that this extortion scheme went far deeper than “just” a phone call between two presidents. To date, no Republican has seriously contested any of the evidence produced around the Impeachment. They have attacked witnesses, sources of information, process and other things that have nothing to do with the facts. The facts are not in dispute. For that matter, Mr. Trump himself admits to them.
As part of their scheme to white wash the Impeachment Trial, the Senate Republicans are setting up false equivalencies. This is especially true with respect to witnesses and additional evidence not available when the House did its investigation. The president continues to block key information and to prevent witnesses from testifying (in my view this just reinforces that they have no exculpatory evidence). The Republicans will claim that since they did not get, say, Mr. Hunter Biden to testify, then not having Mr. John Bolton testify means that it is “even” — no one got what they wanted, and thus that it is fair. Baloney. Hunter Biden has no material testimony as to what Mr. Trump did. Mr. Bolton has significant first hand knowledge. There are a multitude of similar arguments being put forward to prevent the truth from coming out. This sets up their ultimate defense.
The Republican defense argument is likely to be “so what?” “Yes, he did it. What’s it to ya?” Reasonable people may dispute whether the punishment, removal from office, fits the crime, extorting a foreign power to get them to interfere in a US election, but the facts remain. Indeed, the vast scope of the whole scheme is becoming clearer and clearer. It was a classic mob action. It also indicates a pattern of behavior by the president. It is clear that he will continue to act this way. It is his nature and, we now know, the way he operates in every aspect of his life, past and present. It is time to hold him accountable. His behavior is not going to get better, and without accountability it can get a lot worse.
It seems to me that Mr. Trump now has sufficient accomplices in his administration, and in the Congress, that he feels he can get away with anything. They do not think that anything is off limits to them in the pursuit of their self-interests and their own power, including criminal activity. Nothing. And that is not hyperbole as we continue to see for ourselves.
I have also come to understand that we will never know the real truth behind, or the extent of the corruption. The system is not geared for fraud and criminal activity on such a scale, especially when it is coordinated by the President of the United States. And most especially when the Attorney General of the United States does everything in or out of his power to protect the actions of the president. It’s just “too big.” Sadly, this includes whatever it is Vladimir Putin has on him. (My view is that has to do with money laundering and other illegal financial ties.)
As Timothy Egan put it more eloquently than I in a New York Times essay, evil attracts evil. In the absence of good people acting, evil triumphs. There is evil in the White House and it is spreading throughout our government.