For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind: it hath no stalk; the bud shall yield no meal: if so be it yield, the strangers shall swallow it up. – Hosea 8:7
The war has gotten me feeling Biblical today. But that is what Vladdy Putin has done.
I was a soldier once and I was young. My hitch was up just before Desert Storm and I didn’t re-up because I had a newborn baby girl. Missed that party.
But even as old as I have grown, I could easily see myself several stories up a tall building with a Javelin or an RPG waiting for a Russian tank to come by. Shoot and scoot is the tactic. Height advantage means you hit the top armor where it is thinner. Or maybe quietly radioing in enemy movements from a place of deep concealment. I had been in combat communications, after all. Possibly spotting for artillery or drone strikes.
Neither of these requires a lot of strength or speed or endurance, but rather just the cold patience of the old and steady nerves.
I feel for them. But I am glad I’m not in Ukraine right now. Because that’s exactly what I’d be doing. I’m probably a bit shaky for a sniper these days.
It is a scary time. Putin has ordered his strategic nuclear forces to their maximum alert. Just a few days ago he had a full readiness drill. It is like loading a firearm, taking off the safety, cocking it, and pointing it at someone right after spending a day at the range to prep for it. Belarus will now host Russian nukes.
He’s doing this because NATO has called up their response force, about 40K multinational troops. They aren’t fully deployed yet, that will take time. NATO has not exactly been on red alert, more like sleepwalking through the last several years. Pres. Trump in his infinitesimal wisdom was actually pushing to abolish it as no longer relevant.
Ordinarily, even that force would be no threat but Putin is acting a little deranged lately, making wild demands that surely he knows won’t be met. Like demanding that NATO boot all the former Soviet republics and satellite states out and limiting NATO exercises in what remains. He’s pissed off the world to the point there will be massive traffic jams of vehicles delivering weapons to Ukraine faster than they can be absorbed. It will still be mostly defensive stuff. Bullets and rifles and machine guns and anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. The hope is to slow the Russian advance until they are so bogged down in asymmetric warfare that the “front line” will be anywhere you can’t directly observe. Afghanistan redux.
But those plucky Ukrainians stopped the Russian advance far more effectively than anyone thought. Most military experts thought it would be 72 hours at the most before surrender and then it would be all guerilla action. Yet the Russians have yet to encircle a major city, let alone take one. Kyiv still stands. So do Karkhov and Odessa. Russian prisoners of war say they had no idea they were going to war. One minute they were on maneuvers in Belorus and the next they found themselves in a meat grinder. Many had no food and not enough fuel to reach their objectives.
Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. – Ecclesiastes 9:11
Putin vastly overplayed his hand. He truly believed that Ukrainian resistance would crumble and the people would welcome him.
I do not doubt that if he were to throw his reserves in he could probably overrun the cities near the border. But he’s still running under the pretense that Ukraine is really a friendly part of Russia that has been taken over by a neoNazi dictator – who ironically happens to be Jewish. If the cities are reduced to burning piles of rubble with the corpses of the people rotting in the ruins, he gains nothing. He needs Ukraine’s productive capacity to prop up Russia, not the charred wreckage of a country. (OTOH, that is what he did in Syria where he doesn’t care if anything is left.)
Even if he manages to take the border cities, Ukraine has a vast interior. A quarter-million square miles and tens of millions of people. Many small villages might never see a Russian soldier. Forests full of hostile partisans. You cannot occupy and pacify that large an area with a couple hundred thousand troops. The soldiers would have to hole up in a few defensive urban redoubts while the countryside would still be beyond all control. Hundreds of miles of unsecured border with some very nervous NATO members and small arms flooding in.
What I don’t understand is why any Ukrainian city still has electricity. If you want a city to surrender, you at least knock out the utilities. Power and phone lines are easy to knock out. Generation facilities are big soft targets. So are water treatment facilities. Russian electronic warfare assets are supposed to be the best in the world. Cyber-attacks should have eliminated internet access. Yet I see lights and cell phone access and running water. The president is still able to communicate with his people and the outside world.
None of this makes sense unless Putin really believed the Russian troops would be welcomed. I guess that’s just life in an intellectual bubble. Occupational hazard of being a czar. Nobody dares to tell you you’re full of shit and you never go out on the street to check for yourself. Still, he has to be aware of the growing waves of protests across his country and of the extremely negative reaction of Russians overseas.
Wonder if this will topple him. Wonder if he’ll do a “Samson” and try to pull everything down with him. Wonder what he’ll be replaced with if that happens. Wonder whether it’s less a matter of “if” and more a matter of “when.”
Putin has changed. He’s gotten more aggressive and more reckless. Less of a chess player and more of a gambler. He’s 69 now and I know what he’s thinking. He’s thinking “do or die.” This is his last chance for empire; to restore some small sense of glory to Russia. Russia is failing. The population and economy are both shrinking and its military capabilities are as well. Doesn’t want to become a Chinese client state or just another country of many in Europe. It is a kind of late-midlife crisis for a nuclear-armed dictator.
What has he really accomplished? Reignited NATO’s fire and ruined his own future economy? Lost thousands of men, billions of rubles, and gotten stuck in a swamp? Become an international pariah? Even if Ukraine eventually falls in some way, that’s at best a Pyrrhic victory.
If I fear anything it is that a frightened, hungry, and wounded bear is by far the most dangerous kind.
If I put aside the destruction and undoubtedly thousands of deaths, I feel a connection to him. He feels the same thing I feel when I see a beautiful long trail and then contemplate my own failing body. Too bad he’s focused on winning territory and subservience, not on building prosperity and freedom. He could have left a shining legacy and gone down in history as the man who led Russia into a golden age.