No, we’re not departing from the general theme of the Just Third Way of Economic Personalism on this blog. Today, however, we’re going to look objectively as possible at the situation in Ukraine, and what has gone wrong with Putin’s grand strategy.
|Putin's Hometown Sentiment|
First, of course, it is evident that Putin’s biggest problem is that he is clearly insane. He has been compared to Hitler, but — arguably — Der Führer didn’t start losing his marbles until the war went against him. He had made careful plans for conquest and made certain he had a sound economy and a secure power base before taking action. Putin’s insanity is the cause, not the result, of his war.
As a result of Putin’s living in a blood-drenched fantasy, his plan has not survived contact with reality. The idea was clearly to duplicate the coup in Crimea that led to its annexation into the Russian Federation. Had Putin limited his demands to the so-called disputed areas, it is very likely he would have succeeded in occupying them, then tied Ukraine down for years in talks to resolve the issue without a large-scale military operation.
In the meantime, Putin would have started supplying separatists in other areas, slowly expanding the territory “liberated” by the Russians to be reincorporated back into the Russian Federation. This is what virtually everyone, very likely including Putin’s own advisors, expected him to do. More than a few were prepared to let him get away with it in the hope of avoiding a large-scale conflict.
The 190,000 or so Russian troops positioned at Ukraine’s borders were certainly intimidating. Military experts, however, were pointing out that Putin’s threats about keeping Ukraine out of NATO and the European Union appeared to be a diversionary tactic; his real goal had to be the occupation of the separatist regions.
The idea that NATO is threatening Russia is ludicrous, as getting members to agree even on adequate defensive measures has, for years, been a sore point with the U.S. that feels (with some justification) that it has been bearing most of the burden for Europe’s defense. To get the members of NATO to threaten Russia militarily was logically only a pretext — presumably to justify annexation of Ukraine’s separatist regions.
Military experts were also pointing out that, even for an occupation of the separatist regions on any pretext, Russia would need at least twice the number of troops it already had. Something on the order of half a million soldiers would be needed to ensure that the takeover was as bloodless as possible to maintain the fiction of liberation and to intimidate the Ukrainian military and political leadership. There was also the issue that the military units “on maneuver” were not adequately supplied for an actual campaign if they anticipated any real resistance.
No, all the experts agreed that Putin would have to be completely insane if he tried to do anything more than duplicate his previous success in Crimea. Unfortunately, Putin is insane. His probable fantasy was that threats against the rest of the world would keep NATO off his back. The mere presence of so many divisions of the immense Russian armed forces would keep the Ukrainian military at bay. Special forces assassination squads would take out the Ukrainian government. Then the Russian tanks would roll in to be greeted with bouquets of flowers and Russian flags in the hands of adorable little cherubs, welcoming their liberators while the soldiers received big kisses and champagne from beautiful maidens as did the Americans when Paris was liberated in World War II.
While the situation is desperate, however, it has not gone according to plan. Anyone except a deranged lunatic would order an immediate withdrawal, coming up with some more or less plausible, albeit flimsy excuse in an effort to save face and try and avoid prosecution for crimes against humanity, perhaps even offer reparations to pay for the “mistake.”
|Yes, and there were Jews for Hitler, too.|
Strategically, Putin has failed. Instead of cheering throngs of liberated Ukrainians, the Russian military has encountered stubborn resistance from people who refuse to be liberated. In Putin’s eyes, it’s as if the slaves in the American South during the Civil War joined the Confederate ranks instead of running away in droves and into the arms of the Union forces.
Tactically the operation is also a total failure. The idea was to neutralize the Ukrainian military by sabotaging key installations, have special forces assassination squads take out high ranking government figures, then march in to the major cities to restore order with the gratitude of the entire country now freed from the gangster military and Nazi overlords. As of this writing, only one major city has been taken by the would-be conquerors, although others may fall within hours.
|Napoléon lost more than half a million men in Russia|
Putin’s problem here is that of necessity he has left the surrounding countryside unpacified, and is also forced to leave cities under siege in the rear of the Russian advance. If the war continues very much longer, even if Putin takes every city in Ukraine, he cannot hold the country. Napoléon Buonaparte made two major mistakes in his career. One was invading Russia. The previous one that led to that disastrous invasion was the conquest of Spain. The French held the cities, but hardly dared stir out of them without heavy armed escort. It was the Spanish guerilla fighters (where we get the term) who demoralized the French and laid the groundwork for Wellington’s victories.
There is also the matter of neglecting to inform the Russian troops that something more than war games were planned, and the failure to begin with adequate supplies of food, fuel, and munitions. Yes, they have devastated the country, but the gains have not taken hours, but days, with the result that the Russian military is becoming demoralized. Targeting civilians and killing children also does not sit well with many of the Russian troops, and only increases the will of the people to resist.
Diplomatically, Putin’s “liberation” has unified the world as nothing since the Second World War. Volunteers are headed for Ukraine, some to provide humanitarian assistance, but many enlisting in the country’s military. Humanitarian aid and military supplies are pouring in. A crowdfunding effort has raised millions in cryptocurrency donations. Sweden and Finland are strongly considering joining NATO, while even Switzerland has taken a side in this — and it’s not Russia’s.
President Xi in China, no fool, has halted what was very likely intended as an invasion of Taiwan, and is taking a “wait and see” attitude so he can express shock, shock, that his new friend Putin would do such a thing — when Putin finally admits defeat, or the Russians remove him from office. Even Putin’s admirers are changing sides; former president Trump, who a few days ago was describing Putin’s move as “genius” and “wonderful,” is now taking credit for leading the international resistance to Russia through his (alleged) efforts as president to strengthen NATO.
Politically, thousands of Russians are publicly demonstrating against the war and are calling Putin an insane war criminal and murderer. And that’s just from the Russians foolhardy enough to risk arrest, ruin of their lives and careers, and possible torture and death. Only in a completely totalitarian system can Putin remain in power, and then only so long as he controls the police and the military.
Economically, sanctions have brought the Russian economy to its knees. The commercial banking system is nearing collapse and the central bank is facing outright disaster. Russia may default on its foreign-held debt in short order. With the Swiss permitting the freezing of Russian assets in that country, Putin’s war chest is dangerously low. One more step needs to be taken, however, and that is to stop Russia from selling oil and natural gas. If the other oil producing countries are smart, they will step into the breach and step up production, gaining market share at Russia’s expense and keeping prices down but without having to defy Russia openly, which they clearly wish to avoid.
Thus, while Ukraine’s situation is desperate, it is entirely caused by the insane fury and lust for power of one man, Vladimir Putin. He has created a catastrophe for Ukraine, a disaster for Russia, and a calamity for the world, already shaken by the pandemic and decades of economic folly.
It is a wonder, then, that some people are still insisting that Ukraine and NATO are at fault, and that Putin is heroically trying to liberate Ukraine from . . . what, it is not entirely clear, but he still has support. A series of articles and interviews of George Weigel on Catholic World Report have received comments that border on the delusional, as shown in the comments section of this article.
Admittedly, other commentators — those who give their real names — are not quite as bad, and some are actually consistent, at least to a degree. Rod Dreher, for example, is consistently an isolationist. His bestselling The Benedict Option advocates that people isolate themselves from the surrounding culture of evil as much as possible, where social justice would say that the proper response is to organize with others and correct the evil. Dreher says he opposes Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, but it’s none of America’s affair. He apparently forgets that the U.S. also has a border with Russia, and that Putin has declared that Alaska belongs by right to Russia. And those Russian colonies in California? Did they establish Russia’s claim to the U.S. west coast?
|Hitler guaranteeing Chamberlain peace in our time|
Somewhat more confusing is the response of the renowned Joseph Pearce, who has long admired Putin, albeit carefully qualified. We haven’t found anything Mr. Pearce has written recently on the subject, but he has been reposting articles from years ago, and making statements that come across as justifying Putin’s right to annex the separatist regions, having created and funded the separatist movement in order to do so. There was also an interview with Mr. Pearce that could be taken as justifying or at least acquiescing in Putin’s “liberation” of the separatist areas by conquering the entire country, but Mr. Pearce is a very careful writer and speaker, and you won’t pin him down until it is clear which way the wind is blowing. Unlike Putin, Mr. Pearce is careful not to overplay his hand and obviously attack or annoy anyone who might be stronger or smarter than he is.
That’s the situation as we see it as of this writing. When we take up this subject again, we will look at what can be done to repair the damage inflicted by Putin and what should be done to prevent Putin or anyone else from being able to do such a thing again.