April 12, 2024


Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
Brutal incompetence
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
          WASHINGTON — Ukrainians are mounting a strong fight against the invading Russian Army, forcing aggressor, Vladimir Putin, to rethink and recalculate what he thought would be an easy invasion and occupation. There are several reasons in addition to the extraordinary resolve of the Ukrainian people for Putin’s failure to achieve a quick victory.
          First, the 40-mile-long convoy lumbering its way to Kyiv, and pictured on social media, represents a military that is inexperienced and unwieldy. Not having been in any large-scale combat since World War II when millions died or its far smaller conflict in Afghanistan that ended 32 years ago with fewer than 15,000 losses, it has few combat veterans. Even their inexperienced generals seem incompetent, dividing their limited forces into seven different fronts. And their armor-based tactics of deploying tanks in urban warfare is a tricky business requiring ample infantry support and intelligent tactics. Otherwise, they are simply large vulnerable targets, and when they enter city streets, not only Javelin missiles knock them out, but Ukrainian grandmothers can toss Molotov cocktails (those sand- and gasoline-filled bottles) at them as well.
          Second, Russian soldiers do not want to wage war against their neighbors with whom they have cultural and family ties, with whom even Putin describes as brothers. The invasion was sprung on them, and they don’t want to fight. Morale is low, Covid has taken its toll, and Russia for now does not have enough infantry to even protect the convoy as it nears Kyiv, the capital and largest city in Ukraine. However, Putin may be reverting his attention back to a long-standing desire to conquer Novorussiya (New Russia), that Russian-speaking southern region of Ukraine stretching from the Donbas on the Russian border to the port of Odessa. (As described in World War 4: Nine Scenarios) Here, especially, Putin expected little resistance, not unlike his 2014 experience in taking Crimea without firing a shot. He was wrong.
          Third, it’s the wrong weather for Putin’s invasion. Climate change has taken its toll, and temperatures that in the past were well below freezing this time of year have been more moderate in recent weeks. That forced the tanks and the convoy with heavy artillery to stick to paved roads or find themselves stuck in the mud. Also, China’s President Xi Jinping reportedly asked Putin to delay his invasion until after the Winter Olympics were over, so war wouldn’t steal the spotlight. In short, the campaign began late.
          Fourth, poor planning has slowed what Putin assumed would be a quick takeover. As President Biden said in the opening of his State of the Union address. “He thought he could roll into Ukraine and the world would roll over. Instead, he met with a wall, a wall of strength he never anticipated or imagined—he met the Ukrainian people.” Putin “badly miscalculated,” Biden said, and his army is paying the price for the absence of supply lines for everything from food to fuel. It takes a gallon of petrol for one tank to move one mile, and troops who have been hunkered in the mud and hungry are no match for the fervent nationalism of the Ukrainian military and their civilian counterparts who are taking up arms many for the first time to defend their country.
          Lastly, the Russians have not been able to establish air superiority over Ukraine, which most analysts expected they would do within days. It appears that U.S. and NATO weapons are keeping the battlefield more even in the skies, bolstering the Ukrainians in their David and Goliath battle.
          Even so, amid all these mistakes, Putin remains in a dominant position to work his will over Ukraine, at least in the short term. In this effort, he has shifted tactics, which means a more brutal attempt to force Ukraine into submission through increased bombing and targeting of civilians. It’s the way Putin put down the uprising in Chechnya by relentlessly bombing its capital city, Grozny, without sparing civilian life, including women and children.
          He did the same thing in Aleppo, Syria, with indiscriminate bombing that handed control of that battered city, once the country’s center of economic and social life, back to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
          Adding to the madness, Putin has put his nuclear forces on high alert. When asked if Putin’s threat worried him, Biden said “No.” And so far, Biden has been right about Putin and what he was likely to do. However, Ukraine, a non-NATO country, was not protected with sufficient weapons or deterrent forces that could have been prepositioned there. Not wanting to make that mistake again, the president just met with President Sauli Niinisto of non-NATO Finland, perhaps finally recognizing that NATO’s castle mentality was leaving nations outside the castle vulnerable and tempting to the likes of Putin.
          See Eleanor Clift’s latest book ”Selecting a President,” and Douglas Cohn’s latest books The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency and World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers).
          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn
          © 2021 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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