“You can’t always get what you want”
I thought I was finished blogging about the war in Ukraine, but here I am again. And when writing this post, the lyrics of an old Rolling Stones song came to mind, “You can’t always get what you want” (in this case, Ukraine). These are followed by, “but if you try sometimes, you get what you need” (democracy, a free media, rule of law, free speech in Russia). I’m sure Putin doesn’t want these things, but they are exactly what Russia needs. Just when the Rogue diplomat thought Putin couldn’t sink any lower, his poorly trained, poorly equipped and poorly motivated military continued to bomb non-military targets, such as a large cathedral with the words “children” spelled out in Russian in giant bold letters on the ground. Mad Vlad is doing what he does best – killing women, children, the elderly and any civilians he can find. Yet this is the “masculine warrior” who shows off his hockey and Judo skills, rides horses bare-chested and considers himself to be a general badass. Seriously? Putin’s justifications for invading Ukraine are as ridiculous as the photo accompanying this post. What does a tyrant do when his best-laid plans go belly up?
It’s everybody’s fault but mine
He starts looking for scapegoats anywhere he can. He also lashes out at the courageous Russians who dare to protest the war. Raging at his own citizens like a Viking “beserker” (no disrespect intended to Vikings or berserkers) on a mushroom-induced rant, Putin called those who opposed the war (special operation, of course) “traitors and scum to be spit out like a gnat that accidentally flew into their mouths – spit them out on the pavement.” It’s in moments like that television address to the nation that Putin is revealing his true self – a brutal dictator and a cold-hearted thug. Since Putin and his lackey foreign minister Lavrov claim they aren’t targeting civilians, it must be an unfortunate coincidence that so many Ukrainian non-combatants have died, and so much civilian infrastructure has been hit. But wait a minute. Doesn’t this pattern seem familiar? Haven’t we seen these tactics used before? And if so, where? They’re taken directly from Putin’s old playbook for conducting war.
Putin’s old playbook
This is what Putin did in Chechnya in 1999 and in Syria in 2015. In both campaigns, Putin used his military might to raze cities, target previously agreed-upon humanitarian corridors, pound residential areas, drop cluster bombs, violate cease-fires, level hospitals, schools and brutally pummel civilians to starve and terrorize defenders into surrendering. Since it worked there, Putin is dusting off his old playbook to use in Ukraine. “Violations of the Geneva protocols or violations of laws of armed conflict have certainly been prevalent in their operations not only in Syria, Chechnya, Georgia but now also in Ukraine,” said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, who was in charge of aerial operations in Iraq in 1991 and Afghanistan in 2001. “Nevertheless, the human suffering from Russia’s military actions is undeniable, and rights groups have produced countless reports detailing how Russia and Syria indiscriminately bombed hospitals, schools and homes,” he continued. “One of the elements of the Russian way of war that is common to all of these conflicts is a disregard for civilian life,” according to Deptula. These are more than violations of the laws of war. They are violations of human decency. So, what happened to Putin’s plan to rumble into Kyiv and remove the government with little opposition while suffering few casualties and losing little equipment? It’s become a strategic flop.
A strategic flop
Who would have thought? Certainly not me. The much-feared, highly touted (by Putin) Russian army has turned out to be a bunch of amateurs who’re only good at killing civilians and bullying (sometimes shooting) Russian draftees. And what of the Russian air force? That’s a good question. Why didn’t the Russians first bomb and disable Ukrainian runways to keep aircraft from taking off? The Russian air force has not even come close to living up to expectations. Back on the ground, Russian conscripts are reportedly surrendering, abandoning vehicles when they run out of fuel, breaking into grocery stores to find food and bartering with the locals just to get by. Maybe logistics isn’t included in the Russian military doctrine. What’s a poor dictator to do when he’s failing on the battlefield and the body count is growing quickly?
Lock them up and put on a show
Putin is locking up protestors by the thousands, hamstringing the media, suffocating dissent, passing laws that criminalize referring to this as a war, purging some of his top spies and generals all while watching the sanctions noose tighten about the Russian economy’s neck. But he’s also putting on a show with all the bells and whistles for the world, complete with stadiums filled with people waving Russian flags and singing the praises of Putin for reuniting the Crimea with the “motherland.” (18 March was the eighth anniversary of the takeover.) Putin put on quite a spectacle on television the other night, too, as I mentioned earlier. He raged away on Russian TV against wealthy Russians living abroad “who cannot live without foie gras” and who have now become “traitors and bastards” because they are “mentally” against Russia. However, he failed to mention that many of those wealthy Russians living abroad are the offspring and lovers of Putin’s closest allies, cronies and inner circle.
Putin’s losses are piling up. And not just on the battlefield. He has unleashed forces he can’t control. He’s dismantling nearly three decades of Russian political, diplomatic, economic and military development. He’s being defeated by an army that he thought he could dominate and quickly annihilate. He’s got no offramp. The ruble is in free fall. He’s scrambling to replace and replenish his troops. The Russia we know is finished, no matter the outcome in Ukraine. It has become an isolated pariah that the world disdains. It will come out of this weaker and poorer than the Russia that thought it could waltz into Ukraine and easily topple the country a scant month ago. Putin and Russia face international condemnation for their war crimes and atrocities. They may even face legal actions for them in the future. But perhaps worst of all for Putin and Russia, he has made NATO stronger and united the EU. Neutral Swedes and Finns are discussing the pros and cons of joining NATO. Yes, Putin, you can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you get what you need. I bet Putin never factored that into his equation.