For the last six months, Putin has been learning to “embrace the suck” of defeat. After thinking that he was going to steamroll Ukraine in 2022, like he did to Grozny in 2000, Putin is seeing that the world has changed.
Russia, the iron-clawed bear, fights to win. They are used to using a scorched earth strategy whereby they destroy everything in their path, so that cities are literally flattened. In 2003, the UN declared Grozny the most destroyed city on earth after Russia got through pummeling it! In February 2022, Russia attempted to enter Ukraine with endless columns of tanks and armored fighting vehicles and a barrage of artillery, mortars, and missiles to try to do the same to them.
But this time, Putin has made every mistake in the war-fighting book.
- Never underestimate the adversary.
After chomping on Crimea and part of the Donbas in Eastern Ukraine in a blitzkrieg in 2014, Putin thought this time he could go for the rest of the country, no problem! Unfortunately, like most megalomaniac dictators, he overplayed his hand, running into the U.S. and NATO, who quickly committed to making Putin pay with economic warfare (sanctions) and a steady stream of military supplies and economic aid to Ukraine. Additionally, with Ukraine under President Zelenskyy, Putin is confronting a very smart Jewish adversary, who knows how to not only unite and inspire his people to fight bravely against a much larger and stronger adversary, but also who can rally the world to supply Ukraine, train them, provide intelligence, and cut Russia’s economic, energy, and technological umbilical ties to the West.
- Never bring a knife to a gunfight.
Putin made the classic mistake of bringing a knife to a gunfight. With stockpiles of aging tanks and artillery, Putin thought he could continue to fight like it was still World War II, but with smart weapons like the U.S.’s supplied High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) that can strike Russia’s command and control and ammunition depots with pinpoint accuracy, as well as supply Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. This left Putin outgunned by the West’s smart weapons, and he hasn’t seen anything yet from America’s and NATO’s real advanced weaponry.
- Never be a Sucker for Deception and Misinformation.
Putin, the former notorious KGB agent of 16 years, should be well-versed in deception and misinformation. G-d only knows that he used it to suppress his own people in Russia from knowing how corrupt and fallen their regime is. When Ukraine recently was telegraphing to Putin that they were getting ready to mount a huge counter-attack in the south around Kherson, I said to my wife, “They’re just feinting, no one can be dumb enough to believe that.” Successful warfighting means knowing how to work quietly, secretly, and to surprise the enemy. Why would Ukraine tell Russia where they were going to attack and give them time to reinforce their troops and defensive positions. Seriously, no one could possibly believe it, right? Well, Putin fell for it hook, line, and sinker, and actually redeployed his troops to the south, while Ukraine attacked in force to the north around their second largest city, Kharkiv, and they recaptured 3,400 square miles in the process.
- Never pull out a weapon unless you seriously intend to use it.
At the very beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russian troops surrounded Ukraine from three directions, including using Belarus as a staging ground to attack Kyiv. Moreover, Russia put its nuclear forces on high alert, threatening not only Ukraine but also the world or anyone who would attempt to resist. However, these turned out to be more empty threats and rhetoric to scare his adversaries, but it didn’t work out that way. Yes, people were scared, but they also reacted to mitigate the threat. The U.S. and NATO stepped up their investment in the defense of Ukraine. Furthermore, they increased troops and weapons on the eastern borders, and best of all, Sweden and Finland are now primed to become new members of NATO, adding another 830 miles to the border with Russia. Rather than Russia’s threats bringing the West to its knees, they brought us up to our fighting posture. Even now, Putin’s implied threat of using tactical nuclear and/or chemical weapons is either more bluster or another serious miscalculation of the West’s resolve to stop him. If Russia tries a deadly escalatory stunt like this for real, their army will be mincemeat!
Could Russia still win in Ukraine?
Of course, Russia is still a formidable adversary as the largest country in the world with the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons. If Russia calls up the troops en masse via a draft, brings in their most advanced weapons, and commits to the fight “no matter what,” then there probably won’t be much left of Ukraine to salvage. At the same time, Russia’s military leadership and strategists have shown incredible ineptness thus far, with low morale of their troops (many now from the mercenary Wagoner Group, ruthless Chechen soldiers, and those being taken to fight from the Russian Gulags), the dysfunction of many of their weapon systems (e.g., see pictures of Russian tank turrets blown off almost every day), and their inability, after 6 months of fighting, to gain air superiority. On the other hand, the US and NATO appear content to let this tit for tat fighting bleed Russia on the Ukrainian battlefield for as long as possible, similar to how the world armed both sides in the Iran-Iraq War so that these terrorist regimes could destroy each other for eight years while the world looked on with amusement.
Facing defeat and humiliation with his back against the wall, what will Putin do next?
Even though no one can know what is going to happen, based on Putin’s dark and dangerous geopolitical gamesmanship, I believe that there is a fairly good chance that there is going to be some sort of big “accident,” perhaps at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station, which is the largest in Europe. So far, Russia and Ukraine have traded fire and accusations about the nuclear plant being put in danger, and IAEA inspectors have been onsite but unable to do virtually anything to protect it. Thus, despite all Putin’s folly so far, he may be setting this up so that he gets one final laugh, and that will be ugly for Ukraine and the world. His thinking: if Russia can’t have Ukraine, then no one will. Unfortunately, if Putin goes through with this murderous plan, it will make the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 look like child’s play. At the same time, it will be “high noon” for the U.S. and Israel to finally go in and destroy Iran’s nukes before they get any big and destructive ideas too. May G-d have mercy.