At a compound in an undisclosed location in Western Ukraine, trainers with codenames like “Charon” and “Prophet” try to psychologically prepare young Ukrainians for the horrors of war.

By Mihir Melwani

June 7, 2022

Vice World News

Lviv, Ukraine – “I’ll put a bag over your head, lead you into the basement, and leave you there. It’s flooded and full of obstacles… and rats,” says a large Ukrainian trainer who goes by the callsign “Charon.” “It’ll also be pitch-black. Your objective is to make it out. Be ready for me to throw simulated grenades at you.”

VICE World News is at “Everest,” a compound at an undisclosed location on the outskirts of Lviv in the west of the country, where Ukrainian Territorial Defence recruits are preparing to be bound and blinded to see if they are ready for war.

Charon, who was given his moniker after the mythical Greek ferryman of the dead, leads recruits individually into the pitch-black basement of a derelict building to see whether they are psychologically resilient enough to be sent to war. Aging remnants of the Soviet-era factory – wires, splintered wood and plastic – litter the uneven ground, while old desks and sharp grates obstruct the maze of corridors and rooms.

Charon – who along with all the recruits and trainers at Everest VICE World News is not naming for security reasons – pushes his cadets, blinded by black bags, through the narrow and obstacle-filled hallway of the basement. “Believe me, the Russians are not gonna be that polite to you,” he jokes. I have also been bound at the wrists with zip ties and blindfolded with a bag over my head to try out the so-called “stress test” that hundreds of Ukrainian volunteers are being put through. After being led through dark passages, I am left on the ground with my hands bound and legs tied. A knife is thrown nearby, the lights are shut off, and the bag comes off my head. The mission: cut myself free and find a way out.

But it doesn’t end there. Without warning, instructors begin tossing practice grenades into the hallway. About 1 second after you hear the pinging sound of a practice grenade bouncing off of the floor, there’s a loud bang and a flash of light. As an instructor throws one into the pitch-black hallway of the basement, the right move is to crouch, cover your ears, and look away. If you don’t, your eardrums start to ring painfully.

The aim of all of this is to simulate the stresses of war, testing the mental capacity of the recruits. The training is based on US specialised military training prep, says Charon, who trains dozens of cadets a month. This psychological test is unique to Everest, and was implemented in response to a lack of mental resilience prep in the standard training regimen.

It’s been over three months since Russian forces began their invasion of Ukraine, and as each day passes, more troops are needed to defend their homeland. Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian president, says up to 100 of his soldiers are being killed every day as fighting intensifies around Donbas in eastern Ukraine, with hundreds more wounded. But the many people who have been psychologically damaged are not counted in this number. As the military is being forced to draft untested fighters to the frontline, a generation of Ukrainians is being scarred by the trauma of battle. With limited time and resources, military boot-camps and training centres are rushing to train civilians on how to handle an AK-47, but few explain how to handle the horrors of war. The new volunteer-run training centre that VICE World News trained at, which is sending troops to both the Ukrainian Army and Territorial Defence Forces, has introduced a stress-test as part of its training to filter out those who are unfit for battle.

And, as VICE World News discovered, blindfolded and unable to find a knife thrown on the floor among shards of glass, the test isn’t easy. “Some of our cadets start singing, some shout, others get violent and start throwing the obstacles out of the way,” Charon explains. It can take hours for some to make it out, but instructors aren’t just interested in whether they succeed. Instead, they’re watching to see whether recruits can keep their composure during the test. Not all are able to.

“We had an example of a person who had a panic attack in there, and we had to stop it,” Charon says.

“[The failure of the test] shows us that in the middle of the battle, when the mines and the missiles are going to be firing and exploding, that the person is going to get too much fear and they’re just gonna get stressed out and panic,” Charon says. And in battle, panic leads to failure.

Newbie soldiers at Everest are put through an 18-day intensive training programme before being sent to fight. Advanced soldiers are sent to the Ukrainian Army, while others are sent to the Territorial Defence Force. But during the three weeks of training, instructors keep an eye out for those showing potential for greatness – they’re placed into an “elite” group, and stay behind at Everest to be trained in specialised tactics and skills.

Everest is sanctioned by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence, but it’s run by a purely volunteer staff. Nazar, who ran a construction firm before the war, developed the operation in collaboration with two friends. Soon enough, they had former troops with significant combat experience onboard, keen to pass their wisdom on to new soldiers. One of Everest’s senior instructors, known as “Prophet”, injured his spine in combat, and can’t fight on the frontline anymore.

The necessity of psychological preparation is clear when examining what actually happens to young and inexperienced troops in combat. VICE World News spoke with Mykyta , a soldier currently on the frontline in Donetsk. He told us that six of the 30 men in his squad just couldn’t handle the stress.

He says they were “young guys, 22 to 25 years old, who just know about war by watching movies.”

Mykyta, who VICE World News is not naming in full for security reasons, said they were incapable of fighting. “In the time when everything was fine, they [were] fine. When someone was dying nearby, they [were] afraid they would die too, so they [were] just stuck,” Mykyta explained, from his battle position over a shaky phone line. “They [did] nothing when the battle [was] going on.”

Mykyta’s commander, an ex-Soviet officer, sent the six soldiers to the rear lines, away from the trauma of the front. “On the frontline, these guys are a little bit useless,” Mykyta said. “We had to spend some of our attention not on the enemy, but on these guys. So it’s better for all of us that the squad is without.”

At Everest, cadets go through hundreds of drills, from shooting practice to mine-clearance. Cadets even get “snake-training,” where they are taught how to deal with Ukraine’s venomous snakes, which are supposedly common in the forests where much of the fighting is happening, and to care for their habitats.

A young recruit, codenamed “Miley”, is one of these elite trainees. She was chosen to be a sniper.

“I want to know how to kill,” she says. Before joining, Miley contributed to the war effort volunteering by making camouflage netting and molotov cocktails with a friend, who she says describes her as aggressive. “I’m aggressive because they [the Russians] made me aggressive,” she says.

She’s 23, with no combat experience. When she’s not training, Miley works in a beauty call-centre part time. Her dream is to make music – like Miley Cyrus, her favourite singer. But that comes after the war.

“I feel like after this work, I need to go to the psychologist. So yeah, so I’m worried about that,” Miley explains, “but still, I have to do it, because I’ll regret it all my life if I do not.”

And while Everest places an unusually strong emphasis on the mental preparation required to fight before deployment, there are also serious consequences to ignoring soldier’s psychological needs after they come home. Andriy Sadoyvi, Lviv’s mayor, understands the shortfalls of how Ukraine faced combat trauma in soldiers who fought in Donbas in 2014.

Physical wounds were treated, but psychological wounds were not. “We are aware of some examples of [veterans] dating back to 2015, when wounded people received prosthesis,” Sadoyvi told VICE World News. “But they were not really offered any psychological support, and so quite a few of them committed suicide.”

Sadovyi is planning a rehabilitation centre for victims of Russia’s war on Ukraine.

“Vivaldi” is a more recent case of battlefield trauma. He was critically injured in March when a mortar landed at his feet while he was fighting in Donetsk. VICE World News spoke with him at a military hospital in Lviv, where he is being treated for injuries suffered in the blast.

“I was afraid that an infantry attack would follow the [mortar] attack,” he said. “I urged my unit to leave me with grenades and fall back.”

His squad refused to leave him. They applied four tourniquets to him – one on each limb – and carried him to safety.

For a month after his injury, he was unable to sleep.

At night, he was stuck in ‘military mode’, hypervigilant to threat. Vivaldi’s doctors continue to prescribe him medication, which he can’t sleep without.

Vivaldi refused the optional psychological consultations offered by the military hospitals, as did two other injured soldiers who spoke with VICE World News about their trauma.

At this time, the typical Ukrainian army training regimen does not emphasise mental health. Beyond an outdated written character assessment, there is little in the way of preparation for the horrors of the battlefield – or the ghosts that inevitably haunt those after the fight.

“I go to the big mountains a lot and I know how difficult it is to prepare and climb to the top,” Nazar says. “I know how it feels when you climb to the top and come back to your family alive.”


Additional reporting by Jeremy Chan, Alicia Chen and Vlad Fisun.



Boris Johnson reaffirms commitment to provide long-term ‘strategic resilience’ to help expel Russian troops

Tom Ambrose

18 Jun 2022

The Guardian

Boris Johnson has reaffirmed Britain’s support for Ukraine, cautioning against “Ukraine fatigue” as Russia’s invasion enters its fifth month. Speaking to reporters on his arrival at RAF Brize Norton after his trip to Kyiv, the prime minister said: “When Ukraine fatigue is setting in, it is very important to show that we are with them for the long haul and we are giving them the strategic resilience that they need.  The Russians are grinding forward inch by inch and it is vital for us to show what we know to be true, which is that Ukraine can win and will win.”

Johnson made an unannounced trip to Ukraine on Friday – his third since the Russian invasion began – to meet the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.  During the visit he announced that the UK would oversee a three-week training programme for Ukrainian soldiers. The visit was not without controversy, with critics accusing him of showing “total contempt” for the north of England after pulling out of a conference in Doncaster at the last minute.

Tory MPs in the Northern Research Group (NRG) were promised that Johnson would be the headline speaker at their event for hundreds of activists, but heard of the cancellation just hours before he was due to speak.

One source told the Guardian that the meeting with Zelenskiy had been scheduled in the “government grid” for at least a week.

Discussing the prospect of a Russian victory in the war, Johnson stressed that Zelenskiy should not be pressured into accepting a “bad peace”. He said: “It would a catastrophe if Putin won. He’d love nothing more than to say: ‘Let’s freeze this conflict, let’s have a ceasefire like we had back in 2014.’ For him, that would be a tremendous victory. You’d have a situation in which Putin was able to consolidate his gains and then to launch another attack.

“We’ve got to make it clear that we are supporting the Ukrainians in their ambitions to expel the Russians, expel Putin’s armies from everything that he has obtained since 24 February and make sure the Ukrainians are not encouraged to go for a bad peace, something that simply wouldn’t endure.”




By Dmytro Kuleba

June 17, 2022

Foreign Affairs

As Russia’s all-out war of aggression in Ukraine drags on for a fourth consecutive month, calls for dangerous deals are getting louder. As fatigue grows and attention wanders, more and more Kremlin-leaning commentators are proposing to sell out Ukraine for the sake of peace and economic stability in their own countries. Although they may pose as pacifists or realists, they are better understood as enablers of Russian imperialism and war crimes.

It is only natural that people and governments lose interest in conflicts as they drag on. It’s a process that has played out many times throughout history. The world stopped paying attention to the war in Libya after former leader Muammar al-Qaddafi was toppled from power, in 2011. It disengaged from Syria, Yemen, and other ongoing conflicts that once generated front-page news. And as I know well, the rest of the world lost interest in Ukraine after 2015, even as we continued to fight Russian forces for control over the eastern part of the country.

But Russia’s current invasion is graver than its past one, and the world cannot afford to turn away. That’s because Russian President Vladimir Putin does not simply want to take more Ukrainian territory. His ambitions don’t even stop at seizing control of the entire country. He wants to eviscerate Ukrainian nationhood and wipe our people off the map, both by slaughtering us and by destroying the hallmarks of our identity. He is, in other words, engaged in a campaign of genocide.

To avoid growing weary of the war and falling for misleading narratives, the West needs to understand exactly how Ukraine can win, and then support us accordingly. This war is existential, and we are motivated to fight. Properly armed, our forces can stretch Putin’s troops—which are already exhausted—past the breaking point. We can counterattack Russian forces in both Ukraine’s south and Ukraine’s east, pressuring Putin to decide which of his gains to protect. To succeed, however, the United States and its European allies must swiftly supply our country with appropriate numbers of advanced heavy weapons. They must also maintain and increase sanctions against Russia. And, critically, they need to ignore calls for diplomatic settlements that would help Putin before he makes serious concessions.

Compromising with Russia may seem tempting to some abroad, especially as the costs of the war grow, but bowing to Putin’s aggression will help him destroy more of our nation, embolden his government to carry out attacks elsewhere in the world, and allow him to rewrite the rules of the global order. His approach to talks could change; if we succeed in pushing back Russian troops far enough, Putin may be compelled to come to the table and deal in good faith. But getting there will require that the West exercise patient dedication to one outcome: a complete and total Ukrainian victory.


From the minute Russian forces poured across Ukraine’s borders, some Western commentators have called for a compromise with Moscow. We are used to these kinds of suggestions and heard them many times between 2014 and 2022. But today’s war is different from the war that raged before February, and in recent weeks these calls have started coming from prominent foreign policy elites. In early June, French President Emmanuel Macron told journalists that the West “must not humiliate Russia” so that it can “build an exit ramp” for the country to end the war. Speaking to the World Economic Forum in May, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger went further, arguing that Ukraine should cede territory to Russia in exchange for peace.

These declarations are premised on the idea that Ukrainians, no matter how well they fight, cannot defeat Moscow’s forces. But that notion is wrong. Ukraine has proved its mettle by achieving important victories in the battles of Chernihiv, Kharkiv, Kyiv, and Sumy, causing Putin’s blitzkrieg to fail spectacularly. Winning these fights has come at a huge price for Ukrainians, but we understood that the price of losing them would have been far, far higher. We know what Russian victory means for our villages and towns. Look no further than Bucha, where hundreds of Ukrainians were brutally slaughtered by occupying Russian troops in March.

Unfortunately, Putin’s sick imperialism means that Moscow also remains committed to the war despite the shockingly high costs. Russia has already lost three times as many soldiers as the Soviet Union did during ten years in Afghanistan, but it is continuing to sacrifice its troops in an attempt to seize the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk (together known as the Donbas) and to maintain control over the south of Ukraine. The death count may soon extend beyond just Russia, Ukraine, and even Europe. By blockading Ukrainian grain to try to force sanctions relief, Putin could provoke famines across the developing world.

Despite the carnage, Russia’s president appears to be in a good mood. According to leaders who have recently spoken to Putin, he is sure that his “special operation” will, as we heard he told one European leader, “achieve its goals.” It isn’t hard to see why: Russian invaders have been able to crawl forward in the Donbas by resorting to total artillery terror. Putin has begun comparing himself to Peter the Great—perhaps the Russian empire’s most famous conqueror. It’s an ominous declaration, one that suggests that Putin will not settle for control over the Donbas or for control over Ukraine as a whole.

The most effective way to end Putin’s expansionism, of course, is to stop it in eastern Ukraine, before he can go further, and to kick his occupying forces out of southern Ukraine, which he plans to annex. This fact requires helping Ukraine defeat Putin on its own battlefield. U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has made some groundbreaking decisions that can help us accomplish this task, including a historic new lend-lease program that makes it easier for the United States to supply Ukraine with weapons. Answering Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s call, the United States decided in May to also provide us with four multiple-launch rocket systems. My counterpart and friend U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been closely engaged in crafting these steps, and Ukraine’s military leaders have been in active

contact with U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. General Mark Milley, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, has also been very supportive of our cause.

This assistance has been a crucial first step, for which we are grateful. Yet we wish it had been provided much earlier, and it is still too little. Now it is time to turn political decisions into real game-changing actions. Russian artillery outguns ours by one to 15 at the most crucial parts of the frontline, so a few U.S. rocket systems will not be nearly enough for us to gain the upper hand. We urgently need more heavy weapons from various sources to turn the tide in our favor and save lives. Our most pressing needs are for hundreds of multiple-launch rocket systems and various 155-mm artillery pieces. These weapons would allow us to suppress Russia’s artillery barrage. But stopping artillery is not Ukraine’s only concern. We also need antiship missiles, tanks, armored vehicles, air defense, and combat aircraft to be able to launch effective counterattacks.

In short, we need weapons that prove that the West is committed to helping us actually win—rather than to just not letting us lose.


Since the invasion began, Ukraine has repeatedly tried to find a diplomatic settlement with Russia. But Putin has rejected any meaningful talks because he expects that Western support for Ukraine will wane as the war grinds on. It’s natural to feel worn out by months of full-scale war. But Russia’s war is driven by genocidal intent, and so Ukraine and the whole of the West simply cannot agree to Russia’s demands. As Putin declared two days before the invasion, Ukraine’s very existence is a mistake—the Soviet Union, he said, “created” Ukraine by casually drawing boundaries on a map—and our country must be erased. In his view, Ukrainians can either become Russians or die.

Putin has made good on this promise. After taking territory, Russian forces have looked through kill lists drawn up by the Federal Security Service and knocked on doors. They have tortured and executed people who teach Ukraine’s language and history, civil society activists, human rights defenders, former Ukrainian soldiers, local authorities, and plenty of others. They have changed road signs from Ukrainian to Russian, destroyed Ukrainian monuments, banned Ukrainian television, and prohibited the Ukrainian language from being used in schools.

We in Ukraine are not surprised by this brutal campaign. We have a deep knowledge of Russia and have watched for centuries as Russian intellectuals and state-controlled media incited hatred toward our nation. We have also seen how Moscow’s animosity extends beyond our borders. Russian media routinely condemns other neighboring states, the West more broadly, and a variety of minority groups—including Jews and LGBTQ people. The Russian political elite has a generalized, deep-seated loathing of others.

This hatred is yet another reason why the West cannot afford to wave the white flag. A Russian military victory would not just enable the torture, rape, and murder of many more thousands of innocent Ukrainians. It would undermine liberal values. It would free up Russia to menace

central Europe. Indeed, it would allow Russia to threaten the Western world at large. There is nothing more dangerous for the European Union and NATO than having an emboldened Russia or pro-Russian proxy across more of its eastern borders.

Thankfully for Europe and the United States, Ukraine is fighting this dark force, and it is motivated to keep doing so until it wins. But we cannot succeed alone, and the West must understand the stakes and consequences of our failure. If we lose, there will not just be no more Ukraine; there will be no prosperity or security in Europe.


It is unrealistic to suggest that Ukraine sacrifice its people, territory, and sovereignty in exchange for nominal peace, and these recent calls for compromise are merely a byproduct of a growing fatigue. I have spoken with a number of decision-makers in African, Arab, and Asian states. Some of them started our conversations by affirming their support for our cause before making a hard pivot, politely proposing that we simply stop resisting. It’s an unthinkable proposition, but their reasoning is simple: they want the grain trapped in our ports by Russia’s naval blockade, and they are willing to sacrifice Ukrainian independence to get it. Other policymakers peddling concessions have expressed concerns about similar Russian-provoked economic crises, including spiraling inflation and energy prices.

But although rising food and energy costs are serious problems, giving in to Moscow is no solution—and not only because of what it will mean for Ukrainians. Russia is a revanchist country bent on remaking the entire world through force. It actively works to destabilize African, Arab, and Asian states both through its own military and through proxies. These conflicts have created their own humanitarian crises, and if Ukraine loses they will only grow worse. In victory, Putin would be emboldened to stir up more unrest and create more disasters across the developing world.

Putin’s increased aggression wouldn’t be limited to the developing world. He would meddle with more vigor in U.S. and European politics. If he succeeds in conquering Ukraine’s south, he may march deeper into the continent by invading Moldova, where Russian proxies already control a slice of territory. He could even trigger a new war in the western Balkans, where increasingly antagonistic Serbian elites have looked to Russia for inspiration and support.

The West must therefore not suggest peace initiatives with unacceptable terms and instead help Ukraine win. That means not just providing Ukraine with the heavy weaponry it needs to fight off Moscow’s forces; it also means maintaining and increasing sanctions against Russia. Critically, the West must kill Russian exports by imposing a full energy embargo and cutting off Russian access to the international maritime shipping industry. The latter step may seem difficult to carry out, but it is, in fact, highly achievable: Russia’s export-oriented economy relies heavily on foreign fleets to deliver its goods abroad, and the fleets could stop serving the country.

These economic measures are key. Sanctions have undermined the Russian economy and impeded its ability to continue the war. But Moscow still feels confident about its decision, and so the West cannot afford any sanctions fatigue—regardless of the broader economic costs.


Despite Ukraine’s early successes, it may be hard for Western policymakers to envision how we can defeat Russia’s larger and better-equipped forces. But we have a pathway to victory. With sufficient support, Ukraine can both halt Russia’s advance and take back more of its territories.

In the east, Ukraine can gain the upper hand with more advanced heavy weapons, allowing us to gradually stall Moscow’s crumbling invasion in the Donbas. (The Kremlin’s gains in this region may make headlines, but it is important to remember that they are limited and have resulted in extremely high Russian casualties.) The pivotal moment will come when our armed forces use Western-provided multiple launch rocket systems to destroy Russia’s artillery, turning the tide in Ukraine’s favor along the entire frontline. Afterward, our troops will aim to take back pieces of land, forcing Russians to retreat here and there.

On the battlefront in the south, the armed forces of Ukraine are already carrying out counterattacks, and we will use advanced weapons to further cut through enemy defenses. We will aim to put the Russians on the edge of needing to abandon Kherson—a city that is key to the strategic stability of Ukraine. If we advance in both the south and the east, we can force Putin to choose between abandoning southern cities, including Kherson and Melitopol, in order to cling onto the Donbas, and abandoning newly occupied territories in Donetsk and Luhansk so he can hold the south.

When we reach this moment, Putin will likely become more serious about cease-fire negotiations. Our goal will still be to get Russian forces out of Ukraine, and keeping up the pressure may push Putin to accept a negotiated solution that entails Russian troops withdrawing from all occupied territories. Putin, after all, pulled Russian troops from the areas around Kyiv after encountering enough setbacks at the hands of our forces. If our military grows stronger and more successful, he will have good reasons to do so again. For example, it will be easier to present a retreat as an act of goodwill before further negotiations, instead of as an act of embarrassing necessity, if it is organized rather than hasty. Putin could even claim that the “special operation” has successfully achieved its goals of demilitarizing and denazifying Ukraine, whatever this means for him. By publishing images of destroyed Ukrainian units and equipment, Putin’s propaganda machine will reinforce a message of success. Propaganda can also help Putin present the withdrawal as a sign of his humane treatment of Russian soldiers and as a wise step toward peace in general.

But if Putin remains intransigent, Ukraine can proceed farther into Luhansk and Donetsk until he is willing to negotiate in good faith or until our army reaches and secures Ukraine’s internationally recognized border. And whether Russian troops choose to retreat or are forced to, Ukraine will be able to speak with Russia from a position of strength. We can seek a fair diplomatic settlement with a weakened and more constructive Russia. It ultimately means that Putin will be forced to accept Ukrainian terms, even if he denies it publicly.


Some Western decision-makers are also wary of doing too much to help Ukraine because they are scared of what Putin might do if he is roundly defeated on the battlefield. In their view, an angry, isolated Russian president might start new campaigns of international aggression. They worry that he will generally become more dangerous and difficult to deal with. Some fear that he might even use his country’s formidable nuclear arsenal.

But Putin is not suicidal; a Ukrainian victory will not lead to nuclear warfare. Such fears may be deliberately fueled by the Kremlin itself for strategic purposes. Putin is a master of gaslighting, and I am sure that Russians themselves are peddling worries of a cornered Putin in order to weaken Western support for Ukraine.

The United States and Europe shouldn’t fall for it. Actual experience shows that whenever Putin faces a failure he opts to downplay and conceal it, not to double down. Finland and Sweden’s applications for NATO membership, for example, were a clear political defeat for Putin, who claimed that he launched his invasion of Ukraine to prevent further NATO enlargement. But it wasn’t followed by any escalation. Instead, Russian propaganda minimized its significance. The Kremlin claimed that the withdrawal from Kyiv, another clear failure, was a gesture of “goodwill” to facilitate negotiations. The same pattern will apply to a broader battleground defeat. (The strength of his propaganda apparatus will help minimize the domestic backlash Putin faces for losing in Ukraine.)

Instead of focusing on Putin’s feelings, the United States and Europe should focus on practical steps to help Ukraine prevail. They should remember that a Ukrainian victory would make the world more secure. It would deplete Russian forces, making it harder for Moscow to meddle in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the western Balkans. It would promote global stability more broadly by strengthening international law and demonstrating to other would-be aggressors that barbarism ends poorly. The West, then, must give Kyiv what it needs to push Russian invaders back.

Committing to Ukraine’s victory will have one final advantage: it will eliminate the uncertainty in the long-term strategies of the United States and Europe toward Russia, girding them for the long haul and helping them no longer be plagued by war fatigue. They will see that our mission—substantially weakening Russia—will enable them, and the rest of the world, to seriously negotiate with a humbled and more constructive Moscow.

We look forward to this day; any war ends with diplomacy. But that moment has not yet come. Right now, it is clear that Putin’s path to the negotiating table lies solely through battleground defeats.


DMYTRO KULEBA is Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine.



The president appeared on ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live!’ and didn’t mention Russia’s war against Ukraine in a 23-minute interview.

By Garry Kasparov

June 17, 2022

The Wall Street Journal

Earlier this month President Biden addressed the nation. Rather than do so from behind the Resolute Desk, he went on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” In a 23-minute interview, Russia’s war on Ukraine wasn’t mentioned once. With domestic issues such as inflation, the Jan. 6 hearings, abortion and gun control on the president’s plate, the war in Ukraine may seem less of a priority. But it isn’t. Providing Ukraine with everything it needs to fight the Russians is the right—and popular—thing to do.

Yet Mr. Biden seems as if he’d rather pass the buck than act. During remarks at a Democratic fundraiser two days after the Kimmel interview, he said that President Volodymyr Zelensky “didn’t want to hear it” when warned about Russia’s imminent invasion. The Ukrainians deny this, but even if it were true, what of the U.S. ignoring its own warnings? No sanctions or aid was deployed to deter Mr. Putin’s invasion. Mr. Zelensky was surely skeptical that any U.S. support would be forthcoming after the fighting started.

Now we know the high cost of that failure to act—the slaughter, destruction and war crimes in Ukraine, and the food and fuel crises around the world. Instead of working to contain Mr. Putin in the eight years since he first invaded Ukraine, instead of insulating themselves against blackmail by becoming less dependent on Russian exports, American and European governments kicked the can down the road.

They also kept the door open to Mr. Putin, giving him confidence along with the hundreds of billions of dollars in oil and gas revenues he used to arm his war machine. Mr. Biden had a summit and several calls with Mr. Putin, and for what? Mr. Putin has stayed in power for 22 years by ignoring what weak Western leaders say and watching what they do. He took note as U.S. intelligence correctly predicted his long-planned invasion but did nothing to stop it. He watched as the first U.S. offer of help to Ukraine was to evacuate Mr. Zelensky under the assumption that Kyiv would fall within hours. Ukrainian courage and skill proved that assumption wrong.

Mr. Biden may be besieged politically, but Mr. Zelensky is besieged literally, as Ukraine suffers great loss of life in its defense of the eastern Donbas region. The only way to end the war is by helping Ukraine regain its territory and sovereignty and destroying Mr. Putin’s war machine. Anything less would allow Russia to consolidate and rearm, while Ukrainians under occupation suffer.

Mr. Putin made his intentions clear in a televised appearance on June 9, birthday of Peter the Great. Like Peter, Mr. Putin said he plans to “reclaim” lost lands. Unlike Peter, who modernized

Russia and brought it closer to Europe, Mr. Putin is isolating Russia and moving it into a dark age. While dictators usually lie about everything they do, they are often candid about what they would like to do. Mr. Putin has long talked about rebuilding his beloved Soviet Empire. This week’s St. Petersburg International Economic Forum featured the presentation of a map of “former Ukraine,” from Kyiv to Odessa. Colonialism is not a Western European invention, despite what some progressives seem to think.

The escalation Mr. Biden and other Western leaders say they fear if they take stronger action to support Ukraine is guaranteed by their caution. Ukraine is the frontline now, but if Mr. Putin succeeds, he won’t stop there. A direct confrontation with North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces will become inevitable. If the goal is Ukrainian victory, the White House must say so clearly and everything Ukraine needs must be sent now.

During World War II, the American lend-lease program delivered millions of tons of materiel to the Soviet Union. I refuse to believe that it’s harder to get a few hundred howitzers into Ukraine today than it was to ship trucks and tanks past Nazi U-boats. Ukraine is running out of everything, even bullets. The U.S. has the way but not the will.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced another formidable Ukrainian military aid program at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Wednesday. The package includes some of the longer-range weapons Ukraine desperately needs. That’s good, but more is needed. Stop talking about negotiated outcomes that will only give Mr. Putin time to prepare his next attack. Helping Ukraine isn’t charity. Democracy can’t be defended on the cheap. The high cost of inflation will be nothing compared with the price Vladimir Putin will exact if he isn’t stopped now.


Mr. Kasparov is chairman of the Renew Democracy Initiative.




June 16, 2022

Today’s situation report from the UK’s Ministry of Defence (UK) assesses the current state of the Russian reduction of Sieverodonetsk. “All of the main bridges over the Siverskyy Donets River, which link the contested town of Sieverodonetsk and Ukrainian-held territory, have now highly likely been destroyed. Ukraine has probably managed to withdraw a large proportion of its combat troops, who were originally holding the town. The situation continues to be extremely difficult for the Ukrainian forces and civilians remaining east of the river. With the bridges highly likely destroyed, Russia will now likely need to either conduct a contested river crossing or advance on its currently stalled flanks to turn tactical gain into operational advantage. As claimed by the Ukrainian authorities, some Russian Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs) – typically established at around 600 to 800 personnel – have been able to muster as few as 30 soldiers. For both sides fighting in contested towns, front line combat is likely increasingly devolving to small groups of troops typically operating on foot. Some of Russia’s strengths, such as its advantage in numbers of tanks, become less relevant in this environment. This is likely contributing to its continued slow rate of advance.”

Troop shortages have prompted Russia to intensify its recruiting efforts, the Washington Post reports. An alternative to more vigorous and successful recruiting, full mobilization with more extensive conscription, is problematic for Moscow, since adopting that policy would give the lie to the narrative of restraint and success that the Kremlin has pushed domestically. In the short-term at least, the Telegraph writes, that some of the manpower shortages are being made up with conscripts from nominally sympathetic Russophone enclaves in the Donbas. The soldiers acquired that way can’t be receiving any effective training.

Pravda reports a major explosion and fire at Gazprom’s Urengoyskoye field in Russia. It may have been an accident, and Pravda reports the incident neutrally, but there’s speculation in social media that the damage might be the result of a Ukrainian special operation.

Belarus continues to maintain its forces at the high state of alert on which they’ve recently been placed. President Lukashenka, the Atlantic Council says, has explained the alert as a response to the threat of Belarus being “chopped off,” that is, isolated, by NATO. But the Atlantic Council sees the heightened readiness as a response to pressure from Moscow to show that Belarus is solidly behind Russia’s cause. Opposition leaders claim that Mr. Lukashenka’s regime has grown increasingly unpopular, and that indigenous guerrilla actions have sought to disrupt Minsk’s support for Moscow’s war. Belarusian mobilization functions, effectively, as a Russian economy of force measure, since Ukraine must, out of prudence, consider the possibility of invasion from the northwest, and deploy its forces accordingly.

The leaders of France, Germany, Romania, and Italy have just visited Ukraine, for talks with President Zelenskyy, expressions of support, and visits to sites of Russian atrocities. Messrs.

Scholz, Macron, Iohannis, and Draghi all condemned Russian “brutality.” They also, the AP reports, committed to delivering arms to Ukrainian forces and to working to smooth Ukraine’s path to membership in the European Union.

The US has committed to delivering an additional $1 billion in weapons to Ukraine. Defense News reports that “The U.S. aid will include two Harpoon launchers and an unspecified number of Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System, or GMLRS, rockets for previously committed M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced in Brussels. Also included are 18 M777 howitzers, 36,000 rounds of 155mm ammunition and thousands of secure radios.” Canada is sending Ukraine replacement barrels for M777 155mm howitzers.

Reflections on the first large-scale hybrid war

The Atlantic Council has an essay by Yurii Shchyhol, head of Ukraine’s State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection. Mr. Shchyhol discusses Russia’s war against Ukraine as the first cyber war, that is, the first major war in which cyber operations have been integrated fully into planning and operations. One of its conclusions is that the war has rendered obvious what’s long been known by close observers of cyber gangs: the place the Russian cyber underworld occupies in Moscow’s order of battle. “The current war has confirmed that while Russian hackers often exist outside of official state structures, they are highly integrated into the country’s security apparatus and their work is closely coordinated with other military operations. Much as mercenary military forces such as the Wagner Group are used by the Kremlin to blur the lines between state and non-state actors, hackers form an unofficial but important branch of modern Russia’s offensive capabilities.” Shchyhol also notes that the war has revealed Russian limitations as well as Russian capabilities. Ukraine’s infrastructure has shown significant resilience under Russian cyberattack.

Computing has an essay arguing that in wartime nations now have as much to fear from cyberattacks as they do from kinetic attacks. At first look this seems to be overstated–after all, cyberattacks become lethal only when they have kinetic effects. A ransomware attack, for example, as such is very far from being an artillery barrage, and a corrupted database isn’t the same thing, IRL, as an artillery preparation. Unless we’ve become gnostics who believe the physical world is less real than the information space, few would go that far. But reading past the headline, that’s not the essay’s point. Its argument, rather, is that modern infrastructure is now so inextricably intertwined with and dependent on information technology that cyberattacks can and do have physical, kinetic effects. Computing quotes Ian Hill, director of cyber security at BGL Insurance, who said, at the magazine’s conference last week, “The real world and the virtual world have become so interdependent. Our physical world, certainly in the context of Western society, has pretty much got to the point of no return, where our dependency on technology – and technology’s dependence on the internet – is such that the economy cannot exist without them. If anything happens to the internet, or some connected technology, we’ve got a real problem.”

The possibility of cyber escalation

The Cyber Peace Institute has published a useful overview of operations in the fifth domain during Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Observers continue to debate why Russian cyberattacks haven’t been more widespread and more destructive than they’ve proved so far to be. If Shchyhol is correct, as he seems to be, that Russian cyber operators are about as concerned with abiding by the norms of proportionality and discrimination embodied in international laws of armed conflict as Russian infantry and artillery have shown themselves to be, then the apparent restraint Moscow has exhibited seems to require explanation. An essay in Cyber Security Hub concludes that a partial explanation can be found in deterrence. President Putin doesn’t want a full war with NATO, and has been concerned to avoid attacks on critical infrastructure that would provoke a kinetic response from the Atlantic Alliance.

If Russia has maintained the complete conquest of Ukraine as its objective, as many observers think it has, can deterrence be expected to hold in cyberspace as the war inevitably escalates on the ground? An assessment in GIS concludes that it may not. “Russia’s red lines and escalation strategy could further change in the weeks and months ahead. How the military, political and economic aspects evolve, and war aims change, will influence how the Kremlin decides to use its cyber capabilities in the conflict.” Defense One reports that some US officials agree. They see the indiscriminate effects of NotPetya as foreshadowing the probable course of Russian escalation. “I do think there is a risk that the deeper you get into this conflict, the Russians will be pressed to resort to more aggressive operations,” Neal Higgins, the deputy national cyber director for national cybersecurity at the White House’s Office of the National Cyber Director, said this week at Defense One’s Tech Summit. “If you’re acting quickly and desiring a large impact, there is a risk that you lose control and that that did occur. It certainly is a risk that we continue to monitor across the government.”




Walter Zaryckyj

June 13, 2022

During the first hours of the Russo-Ukrainian War, when it became clear that Vladimir Putin was mounting a full scale ‘invasion’ rather than any one of the smaller anticipated ‘incursions’ into Ukraine, most – though not all – of the leading players in Euro-Atlantic’ political, military, think tank and media circles (for the Russians, the euphemistic ‘West’) took to the airwaves to make some rather dire forecasts and dispense some rather dire advice to the Ukrainians. It was predicted that border cities in the north and east as well as coastal cities in the south might fall within a day or two and that the capital Kyiv  would be forced to surrender within a week. President Zelensky was advised to move the seat of government to Ukraine’s westernmost large city, Lviv, or better (worse) yet, set up shop in exile. The Ukrainian armed forces, in turn, were told to head for the Carpathian mountains and convert to insurgency-style warfare.


As the hours turned into days, it became apparent that the dire predictions of swift failure might be off base and that the grim advice given to the Ukrainian government to evacuate was premature. Of the northern and eastern cities (oblast centers) like Kharkiv, Sumy, Chernihiv, Zhitomir or Black/Azov Sea port-towns like Odesa, Mykolayiv, Kherson and Mariupil, only Kherson had been occupied and its occupation was proving to be no certain fact, given that thousands of Ukrainians in the coastal city were staging protests against the Russian invaders. Meanwhile the dreaded quick drive into Kyiv seemed stalled after preparatory air assaults on the airports of the capital had not worked out as planned. With this in mind, President Zelensky not only decided to stay in Kyiv, but opted to use his office on Bankova (in central Kyiv) to give daily/nightly briefings to the Ukrainian nation as a gesture of defiance.


As the days turned into weeks, the dire predictions were proving to be shockingly wrong and the advice to abandon Kyiv truly ill conceived. In the south, a fierce battle in Mykolayiv had not only held up any advance to Odesa, but had thrown the Russian forces back upon Kherson. In the east, the attack on Kharkiv had gone badly enough to warrant a decision by Russian forces to bypass it. And in the north, Russians had begun a ‘grand re-positioning’ in city after city – including Kyiv itself – in what looked like a ‘not so grand withdrawal’. Meanwhile, Zelensky was proving audacious enough to turn his briefings to the nation into walking tours of Kyiv and took to using zoom webinars with various friendly governments to drum up support/assistance for Ukraine’s defense needs and to assure them that his government was firmly in control of matters in Kyiv.


The unfolding of the mentioned cascade of events initially elicited disbelief (”can we verify the reports?’), followed by a period of cautious skepticism (‘Russians may not be fully committed yet’) and finally a full throated admission of astonishment (when the Russians actually began leaving the northern cities). Once ‘astonishment’ and ‘amazement’ entered the picture, an inevitable moment of self reflection occurred. The Western media turned back to its pundits as well as to the ‘myriad experts’ from the political, military, think-tank and academic circles in the Euro-Atlantic community (indeed, in the ‘global democratic’ community generally) and asked them a thoroughly blunt question: “How could all of you have gotten the whole matter so wrong?”


The question launched a veritable tsunami of ‘mea culpas’. Media outlet after media outlet witnessed a gnashing of the teeth followed by a lot of swallowing of pride; a whole series of graphics that showed the ‘glorious Russian army’ advancing along the entire ‘Northern Front’ were suddenly pulled off countless screens accompanied by apologies from various analysts who had kept ‘ceding the territory’. The only voices that were exempted from the self flagellation were those few ‘doubting Thomases’ – essentially American generals with actual experience in commanding US or NATO troops in Europe during the last three decades – who from the beginning posited their own query: “Does Putin really think that he can take all of Ukraine with 200 thousand troops when it would take 300 thousand just to capture and hold Kyiv?”


As it happened to work out, once the self-flagellation subsided (or the Western media got tired of simply beating ‘its own’), the self same commanders were allowed to ask a follow up set of questions: Were the Russians really this bad? Was it possible that the Russian army was only suited for parades on Red Square to celebrate World War II Victory Days? The new queries coincided with news that Russia’s ‘repositioning gambit’ was turning into an open, headlong retreat from all points north in Ukraine (leaving a set of atrocities on full display to be judged in the future as war crimes). At that moment, the ‘Russia has proved to be weaker than expected’ narrative leapt into the lead by a wide margin.


While the ‘weak Russia’ storyline firmly took hold of the air waves, another narrative quietly and tenuously appeared alongside. The parallel narrative took to shifting the center of attention from Russia’s foibles in the war to the astounding resourcefulness/resilience the Ukrainians were exhibiting – an intriguing minor miracle, given that Ukraine until that point had been treated as an object rather than as a subject capable of having an impact of its own on matters. Equally intriguing/important, the most impressive version of the new storyline was one that placed the do-or-die tenacity of the Ukrainian armed forces (in contrast to the undisciplined childlike behavior of the Russian military) in a firmly historical context, citing a seminal experience: the Mongol invasions of 1239-1241. Unlike the Eastern Slav city-states (best way to describe them) of the north – including the newly minted Moscovy, all of whom submitted to the yoke of the Khans for the next two hundred years, Kyivans fought to the bitter end and endured a Carthage-like destruction of their beloved city state nestled on shores of the northern Dnipro only to emerge an identical two centuries later in the southern Dnipro river basin as the Zaporizhian ‘Kozaky’ (the Turkish word for ‘freemen’).


Though clearly an insightful construct, the ‘Ukrainian resilience/tenacity’ narrative was unable to gain altitude because in a matter of days, the Russians indicated that they were no longer interested in the northern cities or northern eastern cities (and for that matter, by omission, the southern cities beyond Kherson); their objective had always been and remained the Donbas -ie- attaching the Ukrainian-held territories in the region to the now recognized ‘sovereign’ DNR and LNR. There was no admission of any errors or flaws in the mission. Rather, the Kremlin, in a matter of fact tone, explained that in the ‘first phase of the war’, the task was to exhaust the Ukrainian forces thoroughly throughout Ukraine; in ‘phase two’ (the second mouth), Russian forces would break through the Ukrainian defenses in Izyum in northern Donbas, do the same in Mariupil in southern Donbas, proceed to encircle the Ukrainian forces in central Donbas, fight a classic tank-on tank-battle in a category they excel and ultimately seize control of the entire area in the aftermath. As the Western media quaintly summarized the emerging headline of the war: “The Russians are finally getting down to business!”


If for a time, Russian bravado prevailed and recaptured the headlines, the war, presently in its fourth month, has seen the sheen off Russia’s blustering pronouncements of its ‘phase two’ war aims dramatically fade – severely eroded by the sinking of the Russian Black sea flagship Moskva, continuing reports of Russian generals getting killed as well as Russian command posts being turned into rubble and very uneven or ‘tepid’ progress in Donbas despite all the hype about Russia’s vaunted artillery. In its stead, interestingly enough, a tweaked version of the ‘Ukrainian resilience’ theme has quietly reappeared as a serious nightly news talking point – with the critical issue being whether the Ukrainians possess the reserve fortitude to do a repeat of their ‘victory in Kyiv’ in Donbas. Equally interesting, Western media has focused once more on a historical perspective in attempting to measure the capacity of Ukrainians for  ‘sustained tenacity’. In a particularly poignant case in point, a recent interview has featured a Donbas farmer working in an armored tractor with his combat class helmet on, trying to get his seeds planted despite all the devastation around him – beaming with pride at doing his duty to the homeland and professing that his Kozak ancestors would have expected no less.


The noted phenomenon deserves to be heartily lauded and energetically pursued. In fact, the approach should be recognized as offering real hope for finally reaching beyond ‘flavor of the week’ discussion cues and getting a handle on the general direction of a conflict that is already defining the early 21st century and may end up determining much more. For one, few observers of the struggle (including the Russians themselves) would now deny that a reprise by the Ukrainians of their ‘victory in Kyiv’ (constituting a confirmation of their capacity for ‘sustained resilience’) would effectively change the parameters/nature of the war; at that point, even DNR, LNR and Crimea (all still considered by most of the world as Ukrainian territory) would be in play from a military point of view. And the blowback into Russia could equal that generated in the aftermath of the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 (where, incidentally, a perceived weaker power also bested a perceived stronger power). Two, Ukrainian history is precisely the place where one would explore the ‘reprise’ matter; it possesses a very rich record with regard to the issue of a ‘national predilection for persistent perseverance in the face of frightening odds’ – actually, much too rich. For purposes of example, four key episodes in the ‘story of Ukraine’ would probably suffice.


The first episode would involve those descendants of Kyiv’s survivors who found shelter in Zaporizhia and whom the contemporary Ukrainian farmer deemed worth mentioning as his spiritual mentors the Kozaks (‘Kozaky’). The Zaporizhian ‘Host’, as the Kozaks came to be known collectively, developed, in the 15th and 16th century,  into a free-wheeling, land owning elite military caste on the frontier of Europe that eventually helped create the second iteration of the Ukrainian state (the Kyiv principality being the first) known as the Hetmanate (1647) and then withdrew back to their home region to let the Hetmanate find its own firm ground without their interference. Lo and behold, in 1683, the Ottoman Empire decided to make a major move on Europe – conquer its very heartland – and arrived at the gates of Vienna, seat of the Holy Roman Empire, the responsibility of the Habsburgs at the time. The Habsburgs wisely put the defense in the able hands of the head of another powerful European state, Polish-Lithuanian Confederation ruler Jan Sobieski. He, in turn, turned to the Zaporizhians for help (having engaged them earlier in friendly and less than friendly circumstances).


The Zaporizhans arrived in Vienna too late to make an impact on lifting the siege that Sobieski and the Polish cavalry brilliantly managed, but they were given the task of rooting out the Ottoman forces in Hungary, which they did to tremendous effect. After the double defeat, the Ottomans never ventured back to Europe in a serious way. As a wonderfully anecdotally token of appreciation, one of the Zaporizhians (actually, a Western Ukrainian accomplice), Mykhailo Kulchytsky, was awarded the entire supply of coffee the Turks left behind and ended up opening Vienna’s first coffeehouse.


The second episode would bring back the Ukrainians and Poles, once again working in tandem working against an existential threat from the ‘East’ – this time, Russian imperialism in its various stripes. In early 1919, Simon Petliura, head of the third iteration of the Ukrainian state (the Ukrainian National Republic), having lost control of Kyiv as a result of attacks by both ‘White Guardist’ and ‘Red Guardist’ Russian armies, turned to fellow European Social Democrat, Polish leader Josef Pilsudski, to beat back the forces of Russian imperium whatever the color and regain control of the Ukrainian capital. The two went to work quickly and did precisely what Petliura intended; they took back Kyiv in mid May. However, the Reds (Bolsheviks), having defeated the Whites and having received reinforcements from Siberia began a new offensive in the summer, first driving Petliura and Pilsudski out of Kyiv and then heading for Warsaw.


Petliura and his army had the possibility of remaining in Ukraine and turning into an insurgent force, but instead decided to stay with Pilsudski and prepare for the defense of Warsaw. The Ukrainians under the generalship of Marko Bezruchko took the southern (or ‘right’) front and deftly kept Bolshevik army from turning the said Polish flank at a critical point in the Battle of Warsaw (also known as the ‘Miracle on the Vistula’). The ensuing victory kept Poland and, for that matter, a large number of newly minted central and eastern European nation states, from Bolshevik domination for another two decades – allowing them to more strongly develop their national identities. The Ukrainians, unfortunately, did not benefit from the ‘Miracle’, being splintered by 1920 into four parts. Worse still, the largest splinter was taken by the Bolsheviks (with all the consequences that fact entailed, including the genocidal Holomodor).


The third episode would continue with a Bolshevik component but add another another genocidal regime, Nazi Germany, into the mix – with the Ukrainians stuck in the middle. For all of Russia’s present day talk of chasing Nazis away from Ukraine, it was one of Putin’s predecessors in the Kremlin, Josef Stalin, who made a ‘Pact of Steel’ deal in 1939 with his maniacal Nazi counterpart, Adolph Hitler, to pick up real estate that Moscow had not managed to pick up in 1920 (after the ‘Miracle’). Within two years, Hitler, having used Stalin’s steel and wheat (taken from Ukraine) to conquer European lands north, west and south, decided to betray his naive buddy and head east; the ‘Great Patriotic War’ ensued.


The Ukrainians from the three western splinters – unencumbered by the trappings of a Bolshevik mindset – took to opposing both totalitarian systems equally (despite the Cold War Soviet dezinform ops that claimed otherwise) An armed underground resistance movement that morphed into a more formally structured Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) emerged to do battle, first with the Nazis in 1943-1944 and then the Bolsheviks from 1944 until 1952; the valiant struggle received no outside aid – no Lend Lease. When captured and sent to either Nazi KZs or the Gulag camps, the Ukrainians were reputed to be among the ‘toughest nuts to crack’. The Ukrainians from the eastern splinter, trapped in a Bolshevik framework of reality, chose to do battle with only the brown version of totalitarianism. But here too, the Ukrainians shined. After June 1944, Ukrainians made up 40% of the ‘Soviet’ forces plowing through East Europe and it was the 1st Ukrainian Front armies that took Berlin from Hitler in 1945.


The final episode would begin in the aftermath of the mentioned Ukrainian struggles of the 40s and early 50s. While Nazism was extinguished, Bolshevism lingered – expanding its grip for four decades to all of eastern Europe; in the process; it took all of Ukraine’s splintered pieces and glued them together. By doing so, the red brand of Russian imperium made a terrible mistake. ‘Western’ Ukrainians, finally able to live together and embrace their ‘eastern’ brothers and sisters, slowly but with great purpose, brought home (using the dissident movement in 60s & 70s) the idea of ending the ‘last prison of nations’. Once an opportunity presented itself with the Kremlin’s crisis of faith (concerning Bolshevism) in the 1989-1991 period, the Ukrainians bolted for the door. In a referendum in December 1991, they voted 91% in the affirmative to leave the USSR  and live in an independent Ukrainian polity. In the 2004 Orange Revolution and 2014 Revolution of Dignity, an additional message was sent to the northern neighbor, increasingly sporting a (KGB) blue version of Russian imperium: the fourth iteration of the Ukrainian state intended to get as far away from a ‘Russkie Myr’ of whatever stripe as it possibly could.


The reigning ruler in the Kremlin – a self styled ‘Restorer of the Glory of the USSR’ – got the message and struck back with an invasion of Crimea and a hybrid war in Donbas. The move caught Ukrainians short handed in as much as the pro-Putin Yanukovych regime ousted in 2014 had reduced the actual number of regular troops available for defense of the homeland to less than 10000. Undeterred, the new Ukrainian government turned to the veterans of the Revolution of Dignity and organized them into volunteer battalions. These battalions, eventually organized as a ‘National Guard’, stepped into breach and stopped Putin’s incursion cold in its tracks. Donbas devolved into a ‘trench war’ – a terribly frustrating result for ‘Vlad the Restorer’. More frustrating still, contemporary Ukrainian heroes were born in the Donbas fight; the story of the vastly outnumbered and outgunned ‘Ukie Cyborgs’ defending Donetsk airport for several months filled many Ukrainian 13 year olds with pride and desire to emulate.


Armed with insights culled from the just elaborated episodes of Ukrainian history, it would not be difficult to envision a credible construct for forecasting the end result of the war – ‘a final narrative’, if you will. It is clear from the evidence that Ukrainians are capable of fighting above – often well above – their ‘weight class’. It is also abundantly clear that they have always possessed that capacity. Staying with the boxing imagery, the Ukrainians can be said to be a lot like their great featherweight champion Lomachenko, who, because of his speed, dexterity and fight-smarts, has been able to conquer the junior lightweight and lightweight classes. Now add two more items to the stated thought process. First, note the latest news indicating that the US is presently (after some earlier ‘mistaken’ hesitation) pouring a large number of weapons into Ukraine. And then switch back to more boxing imagery. Just think of Lomachenko acquiring the arms and fists of a Ukrainian heavyweight champion – whether Vitaly or Volodymyr Klitchko. At that moment, a likely outcome of Russia’s gambit in Donbas should begin to emerge distinctively into view. Oh and yes – so should the fate of DNR, LNR and Crimea. Oh and yes again, so should the analogous relationship between the Russo-Japanese War and Russo-Ukrainian War.


As promised in the title of this contemplation, give credit where credit is due, and all else will follow. (That is, if Vlad the Bad does not try to become Vlad the Mad.)


[About the Author: Walter Zaryckyj is Executive Director of the Center for US-Ukrainian Relations. The Center provides “informational platforms” or venues for senior-level representatives of the political, economic, security, diplomatic and cultural/academic establishments of the United States and Ukraine to exchange views on a wide range of issues of mutual interest, and to showcase what has been referred to as a “burgeoning relationship of notable geopolitical import” between the two nations. Dr. Zaryckyj completed his undergraduate and graduate work at Columbia University; he taught political science at NYU for nearly three decades before moving on in recent years to do postdoctoral research work on Eastern Europe.]




Why is there no Royal Canadian Navy task force heading in to keep the sealanes in the international waters of the Black Sea open?

June 17, 2022

By: Sean M. Maloney

The world is confronted with the possibility of a famine that could affect the lives of a billion people all over the world as a direct result of the actions of the Putin regime. Yes, that is billion with a “b.” Deliberate military operations conducted by Russian forces, from theft of farming equipment to cruise missile attacks against storage facilities, are targeted against Ukraine’s ability to grow and export grain. These operations are backed up with a blockade in the Black Sea and what amounts to piracy of Ukrainian shipping. The lethargic response in the West, and especially Canada, to this state of affairs is shocking, given the stakes: a famine combined with a collapse of Ukraine will completely destroy the already tottering world order that Canada places so much faith in and has since the 1940s.

It is shocking particularly when this crisis is compared with others in the past. Canadians take great pride, or at least they used to, in our participation in the Battle of the Atlantic, which was specifically designed to break the U-Boat blockade of Great Britain. That campaign was itself conducted under the umbrella of the Atlantic Charter, which had as its basis the meeting of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill off Argentia, Newfoundland in August 1941.

The Atlantic Charter, which underpinned the creation of the United Nations in 1945, has passages that remain important in our time: all people have the right of self-determination; the participants would work for a world free from want and fear; there would be global economic co-operation and advancement of social welfare; and, important here, the participants agreed that freedom of the seas was paramount in the accomplishment of the other objectives.

Have we somehow repudiated all of this now in 2022? Is this no longer part of Canada’s values? A lot of people died to establish this system and it is being eroded in front of us, day by day.

In the 1980s a valuable commodity necessary for the continuation of modern life came under threat from hostile elements that sought to block it for their purposes. Military forces were deployed to ensure that commodity was escorted safely through a combat zone. They took casualties. But that commodity continued to flow and the livelihoods of those who depended on it continued unabated. That commodity was oil and the effort to keep it flowing through the Persian Gulf by tanker was called Operation EARNEST WILL. The U.S. Navy and U.S. Army conducted defensive and offensive measures to protect the tankers, efforts which resulted in the sinking or disabling of most of the Iranian Navy in 1987. Nations were willing to conduct

military operations to keep the oil flowing in 1987, but are not willing to do so to keep grain flowing in 2022. Why?

Fear is one reason. Nations are afraid of what Russia might do, despite the fact that the Putin regime has thus far been deterred from weapons of mass destruction use and from expanding the Ukraine war elsewhere. Deception and active measures are another. Russian information operations continue to hammer away at the now buckling relationships within NATO in order to undermine support for Ukraine, using the spectre of famine to transfer blame to the West. “Get Ukraine to accept au fait accompli or else” is Putin’s unsubtle message. Who started this war in the first place is getting lost in the fog. It is blame the victim time: Stop resisting or I’ll hurt you more.

But what can Canada do? In 1967, we deployed an aircraft carrier task force to the Mediterranean to extract the Canadian contingent of the United Nations Emergency Force that was held hostage by the Nasser regime. Once the task force passed Gibraltar, Nasser relented and the Canadians were withdrawn. Canadian warships and their aircraft were “painted,” lazed, tracked and harassed in the Adriatic, Persian Gulf, and Indian Ocean during successful maritime interception operations against rogue states in the 1990s.

Is this nation, which is one-third larger in terms of population and significantly more prosperous than 1967 Canada was, capable of such activity today?

The answer is, no, it is not.

We do have a navy. We are going to give a few billion dollars to Irving Shipbuilding to get new ships for it. Why is there no Royal Canadian Navy task force heading in to keep the sea lanes in the international waters of the Black Sea open? Is it that we do not have enough ships? Then how are we supposed to handle the three oceans that abut Canada? Or is it that Canadian ships cannot protect themselves from Russian action? If they cannot do so, then why do we have them? Is the RCN a glorified coast guard or a navy capable of combat operations?

Maybe such a mission is just too violent for some Canadians to contemplate. So what else are we doing to offset this famine? We are one of the world’s largest grain exporters. India has already suspended exports. What steps have been taken to refurbish the Port of Churchill, which was originally constructed to move grain out of Canada’s west? As important is the status of the rail lines that terminate at Churchill. These should have been crash infrastructure projects once the larger implications of a Black Sea blockade were understood four months ago. They are not. Why?

Canada’s inability or even unwillingness to be agile during this unprecedented crisis puts us into the back row of reliable nations. It is a paralyzing combination of fear, bureaucratic stagnation, and a crippling lack of creativity that holds us back and forces us to watch our hard-won values system circle the drain.

You were upset about a single drowned child in the Mediterranean back in 2015. Hundreds of millions of people are at risk because of the Putin regime’s actions. What are you going to do about it? What do you want your country to be prepared to do?

Sean M. Maloney, PhD is a professor of history at Royal Military College. His views do not reflect those of the Department of National Defence.



Andrey Shirin

June 14, 2022

Washington Examiner

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, heretofore a part of the Russian Orthodox Church, declared its independence last month after expressing disagreement with Patriarch Kirill’s position on the Russian-Ukrainian war.

Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, had conveyed his support for what Russian President Vladimir Putin calls the “special military operation” on multiple occasions. Among other things, Kirill said that Russia has never attacked anyone. Rather, the current hostilities are about protecting the population of Donbas, an eastern region of Ukraine. This coincides with the official Russian line: Russian troops are deployed to protect the people living in Donbas, not to attack Ukrainians.

The stance of Metropolitan Onufriy, who is the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, has been dramatically different from the outset of military hostilities. Onufriy called on Putin to stop the “fratricidal war” immediately. He said that the war repeats the sin of Cain, who killed his brother Abel out of envy. Such a war, said Onufriy, has no justification, either with God or with the people.

In his recent phone conversation with Patriarch Kirill, Pope Francis warned him against following Putin’s line too closely. Francis called on Kirill not to be “Putin’s altar boy.” This admonition was not received by the Moscow Patriarchy particularly well.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church boasts more than 10,000 churches. Polls have shown that about 16% of the Ukrainian population are UOC adherents, though estimates vary. (The Ukrainian Orthodox Church is not to be confused with the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, whose recognition by the Patriarch of Constantinople three years ago triggered a visceral reaction by the Moscow Patriarchy.)

Patriarch Kirill expressed understanding of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s decision last month. His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufriy, said Kirill, and the bishops should act wisely and not make the lives of believers more complicated than necessary.

Apparently, Kirill is willing to recognize the reality of a separate Ukrainian Orthodox Church without antagonizing the Ukrainian church’s leadership. Perhaps he is hoping for reunification later, when conditions allow. Still, given that Russian media portray the conflict as an existential struggle for the survival of Russia, such an “understanding” stance is sure to earn Kirill some criticism.

That said, Kirill does not seem to have too many options. Trying to replace the leadership of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church now would probably backfire. Trying to set up still another Orthodox church in Ukraine fully under the Moscow patriarch’s control is simply not feasible.

In the meantime, Metropolitan Onufriy did not pray for Kirill as the head of the church during Sunday liturgy.

In his address prior to launching the “special military operation,” Putin cited the common Orthodox faith as an important sign that Russians and Ukrainians are one people. But the Ukrainian church, which had held the two peoples together, has now split away from the Russian Orthodox Church. This undermines the legitimacy of Putin’s argument.

During Putin’s reign, the Russian state has showered multiple favors upon the Russian Orthodox Church. Businesspeople were directed to donate to the church. Lavish cathedrals have been built. The religious landscape has been largely cleared of competition. The Western missionaries who had flooded Russia after the Soviet collapse are largely gone. The infamous Yarovaya law, which significantly restricted missionary activities in Russia, has ensured that leaders of other faiths do not have a noticeable presence in Russian public life.

In exchange, the Russian Orthodox Church gave legitimacy and support to Putin’s policies. Among other things, the Moscow Patriarchy controlled the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. This included personnel appointments. All hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, including Metropolitan Onufriy, were cleared with the Moscow Patriarch. And the Russian state had ample opportunity to influence Ukrainian Orthodox leaders through this and other means.

Now that the power to appoint and remove Ukrainian church leaders is gone, Kirill’s leverage over his Ukrainian brethren is significantly limited. By extension, Putin’s power to influence Ukrainian Orthodox hierarchs and their flock is limited. Ukrainian church leaders of various Orthodox bodies are united in opposition to what they see as a Russian invasion.

That was most definitely not the outcome Putin foresaw as he was launching his “special military operation.” Now, short of an outright Russian military victory and the capture of Kyiv, it is difficult to see how these churches will ever be unified again.


Andrey Shirin is an associate professor of divinity and director of transformational leadership at John Leland Center for Theological Studies in Arlington, Virginia, where he researches and teaches at the intersection of theology, leadership, and public life.




Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the limits of military power

By Lawrence Freedman

July/August 2022

Foreign Affairs

On February 27, a few days after Russia invaded Ukraine, Russian forces launched an operation to seize the Chornobaivka airfield near Kherson on the Black Sea coast. Kherson was the first Ukrainian city the Russians managed to occupy, and since it was also close to Russia’s Crimean stronghold, the airfield would be important for the next stage of the offensive. But things did not go according to plan. The same day the Russians took over the airfield, Ukrainian forces began counterattacking with armed drones and soon struck the helicopters that were flying in supplies from Crimea. In early March, according to Ukrainian defense sources, Ukrainian soldiers made a devastating night raid on the airstrip, destroying a fleet of 30 Russian military helicopters. About a week later, Ukrainian forces destroyed another seven. By May 2, Ukraine had made 18 separate attacks on the airfield, which, according to Kyiv, had eliminated not only dozens of helicopters but also ammunition depots, two Russian generals, and nearly an entire Russian battalion. Yet throughout these attacks, Russian forces continued to move in equipment and materiel with helicopters. Lacking both a coherent strategy for defending the airstrip and a viable alternative base, the Russians simply stuck to their original orders, with disastrous results.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has described the Chornobaivka battle as a symbol of the incompetence of Russia’s commanders, who were driving “their people to slaughter.” In fact, there were numerous similar examples from the first weeks of the invasion. Although Ukrainian forces were consistently outgunned, they used their initiative to great advantage, as Russian forces repeated the same mistakes and failed to change their tactics. From the start, the war has provided a remarkable contrast in approaches to command. And these contrasts may go a long way toward explaining why the Russian military has so underperformed expectations.

In the weeks leading up to the February 24 invasion, Western leaders and analysts and the international press were naturally fixated on the overwhelming forces that Russian President Vladimir Putin was amassing on Ukraine’s borders. As many as 190,000 Russian troops were poised to invade the country. Organized into as many as 120 battalion tactical groups, each had armor and artillery and was backed by superior air support. Few imagined that Ukrainian forces could hold out for very long against the Russian steamroller. The main question about the Russian plans was whether they included sufficient forces to occupy such a large country after the battle was won. But the estimates had failed to account for the many elements that factor into a true measure of military capabilities.

Military power is not only about a nation’s armaments and the skill with which they are used. It must take into account the resources of the enemy, as well as the contributions from allies and friends, whether in the form of practical assistance or direct interventions. And although military

strength is often measured in firepower, by counting inventories of arms and the size of armies, navies, and air forces, much depends on the quality of the equipment, how well it has been maintained, and on the training and motivation of the personnel using it. In any war, the ability of an economy to sustain the war effort, and the resilience of the logistical systems to ensure that supplies reach the front lines as needed, is of increasing importance as the conflict wears on. So is the degree to which a belligerent can mobilize and maintain support for its own cause, both domestically and externally, and undermine that of the enemy, tasks that require constructing compelling narratives that can rationalize setbacks as well as anticipate victories. Above all, however, military power depends on effective command. And that includes both a country’s political leaders, who act as supreme commanders, and those seeking to achieve their military goals as operational commanders.

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has underscored the crucial role of command in determining ultimate military success. The raw force of arms can only do so much for a state. As Western leaders discovered in Afghanistan and Iraq, superior military hardware and firepower may enable forces to gain control of territory, but they are far less effective in the successful administration of that territory. In Ukraine, Putin has struggled even to gain control of territory, and the way that his forces have waged war has already ensured that any attempt to govern, even in Ukraine’s supposedly pro-Russian east, will be met by animosity and resistance. For in launching the invasion, Putin made the familiar but catastrophic mistake of underestimating the enemy, assuming it to be weak at its core, while having excessive confidence in what his own forces could achieve.


Commands are authoritative orders, to be obeyed without question. Military organizations require strong chains of command because they commit disciplined and purposeful violence. At times of war, commanders face the special challenge of persuading subordinates to act against their own survival instincts and overcome the normal inhibitions about murdering their fellow humans. The stakes can be extremely high. Commanders may have the fate of their countries in their hands and must be deeply aware of the potential for national humiliation should they fail as well as for national glory if they succeed.

Military command is often described as a form of leadership, and as outlined in treatises on command, the qualities sought in military leaders are often those that would be admirable in almost any setting: deep professional knowledge, the ability to use resources efficiently, good communication skills, the ability to get on with others, a sense of moral purpose and responsibility, and a willingness to care for subordinates. But the high stakes of war and the stresses of combat impose their own demands. Here, the relevant qualities include an instinct for maintaining the initiative, an aptitude for seeing complex situations clearly, a capacity for building trust, and the ability to respond nimbly to changing or unexpected conditions. The historian Barbara Tuchman identified the need for a combination of resolution—“the determination to win through”—and judgment, or the capacity to use one’s experience to read situations. A commander who combines resolve with keen strategic intelligence can achieve impressive results, but resolve combined with stupidity can lead to ruin.

Not all subordinates will automatically follow commands. Sometimes orders are inappropriate, perhaps because they are based on dated and incomplete intelligence and may therefore be ignored by even the most diligent field officer. In other cases, their implementation might be possible but unwise, perhaps because there is a better way to achieve the same objectives. Faced with orders they dislike or distrust, subordinates can seek alternatives to outright disobedience. They can procrastinate, follow orders half-heartedly, or interpret them in a way that fits better with the situation that confronts them.

To avoid these tensions, however, the modern command philosophy followed in the West has increasingly sought to encourage subordinates to take the initiative to deal with the circumstances at hand; commanders trust those close to the action to make the vital decisions yet are ready to step in if events go awry. This is the approach Ukrainian forces have adopted. Russia’s command philosophy is more hierarchical. In principle, Russian doctrine allows for local initiative, but the command structures in place do not encourage subordinates to risk disobeying their orders. Inflexible command systems can lead to excessive caution, a fixation on certain tactics even when they are inappropriate, and a lack of “ground truth,” as subordinates dare not report problems and instead insist that all is well.

Russia’s problems with command in Ukraine are less a consequence of military philosophy than of current political leadership. In autocratic systems such as Russia’s, officials and officers must think twice before challenging superiors. Life is easiest when they act on the leader’s wishes without question. Dictators can certainly make bold decisions on war, but these are far more likely to be based on their own ill-informed assumptions and are unlikely to have been challenged in a careful decision-making process. Dictators tend to surround themselves with like-minded advisers and to prize loyalty above competence in their senior military commanders.


Putin’s readiness to trust his own judgment in Ukraine reflected the fact that his past decisions on the use of force had worked out well for him. The state of the Russian military in the 1990s before he took power was dire, as shown by Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s 1994–96 war in Chechnya. At the end of 1994, Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev reassured Yeltsin that he could end Chechnya’s effort to secede from the Russian Federation by moving Russian forces quickly into Grozny, the Chechen capital. The Kremlin viewed Chechnya as an artificial, gangster-infested state for which few of its citizens could be expected to sacrifice their lives, especially when confronted with the full blast of Russian military power—misguided assumptions somewhat similar to those made on a much larger scale in the current invasion of Ukraine. The Russian units included many conscripts with little training, and the Kremlin failed to appreciate how much the Chechen defenders would be able to take advantage of the urban terrain. The results were disastrous. On the first day of the attack, the Russian army lost over 100 armored vehicles, including tanks; Russian soldiers were soon being killed at the rate of 100 a day. In his memoirs, Yeltsin described the war as the moment when Russia “parted with one more exceptionally dubious but fond illusion—about the might of our army . . . about its indomitability.”

The first Chechen war concluded unsatisfactorily in 1996. A few years later, Vladimir Putin, who became the ailing Yeltsin’s prime minister in September 1999, decided to fight the war again, but this time he made sure that Russia was prepared. Putin had previously been head of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, the successor to the KGB, where he began his career. When apartment buildings in Moscow and elsewhere were bombed in September 1999, Putin blamed Chechen terrorists (although there was good reason to suspect the FSB was seeking to create a pretext for a new war) and ordered Russian troops to gain control of Chechnya by “all available means.” In this second Chechen war, Russia proceeded with more deliberation and ruthlessness until it succeeded in occupying Grozny. Although the war dragged on for some time, Putin’s visible commitment to ending the Chechen rebellion was sufficient to provide him with a decisive victory in the spring 2000 presidential election. As Putin was campaigning, journalists asked him which political leaders he found “most interesting.” After citing Napoleon—which the reporters took as a joke—he offered Charles de Gaulle, a natural choice perhaps for someone who wanted to restore the effectiveness of the state with a strong centralized authority.

By 2013, Putin had gone some way toward achieving that end. High commodity prices had given him a strong economy. He had also marginalized his political opposition at home, consolidating his power. Yet Russia’s relations with the West had worsened, particularly concerning Ukraine. Ever since the Orange Revolution of 2004–5, Putin had worried that a pro-Western government in Kyiv might seek to join NATO, a fear aggravated when the issue was broached at NATO’s 2008 Bucharest summit. The crisis, however, came in 2013, when Victor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s pro-Russian president, was about to sign an association agreement with the EU. Putin put intense pressure on Yanukovych until he agreed not to sign. But Yanukovych’s reversal led to exactly what Putin had feared, a popular uprising—the Maidan movement—that ultimately brought down Yanukovych and left Ukraine completely in the hands of pro-Western leaders. At this point, Putin resolved to annex Crimea.

In launching his plan, Putin had the advantages of a Russian naval base at Sevastopol and considerable support for Russia among the local population. Yet he still proceeded carefully. His strategy, which he has followed since, was to present any aggressive Russian move as no more than a response to pleas from people who needed protection. Deploying troops with standard uniforms and equipment but no markings, who came to be known as the “little green men,” the Kremlin successfully convinced the local parliament to call a referendum on incorporating Crimea into Russia. As these events unfolded, Putin was prepared to hold back should Ukraine or its Western allies put up a serious challenge. But Ukraine was in disarray—it had only an acting minister of defense and no decision-making authority in a position to respond—and the West took no action against Russia beyond limited sanctions. For Putin, the taking of Crimea, with hardly any casualties, and with the West largely standing on the sidelines, confirmed his status as a shrewd supreme commander.

But Putin was not content to walk away with this clear prize; instead, that spring and summer, he allowed Russia to be drawn into a far more intractable conflict in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. Here, he could not follow the formula that had worked so well in Crimea: pro-Russian

sentiment in the east was too feeble to imply widespread popular support for secession. Very quickly, the conflict became militarized, with Moscow claiming that separatist militias were acting independently of Russia. Nonetheless, by summer, when it looked like the separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk, the two pro-Russian enclaves in the Donbas, might be defeated by the Ukrainian army, the Kremlin sent in regular Russian forces. Although the Russians then had no trouble against the Ukrainian army, Putin was still cautious. He did not annex the enclaves, as the separatists wanted, but instead took the opportunity to get a deal in Minsk, intending to use the enclaves to influence Kyiv’s policies.

To some Western observers, Russia’s war in the Donbas looked like a potent new strategy of hybrid warfare. As analysts described it, Russia was able to put its adversaries on the back foot by bringing together regular and irregular forces and overt and covert activities and by combining established forms of military action with cyberattacks and information warfare. But this assessment overstated the coherence of the Russian approach. In practice, the Russians had set in motion events with unpredictable consequences, led by individuals they struggled to control, for objectives they did not wholly share. The Minsk agreement was never implemented, and the fighting never stopped. At most, Putin had made the best of a bad job, containing the conflict and, while disrupting Ukraine, deterring the West from getting too involved. Unlike in Crimea, Putin had shown an uncertain touch as a commander, with the Donbas enclaves left in limbo, belonging to no country, and Ukraine continuing to move closer to the West.


By the summer of 2021, the Donbas war had been at a stalemate for more than seven years, and Putin decided on a bold plan to bring matters to a head. Having failed to use the enclaves to influence Kyiv, he sought to use their plight to make the case for regime change in Kyiv, ensuring that it would reenter Moscow’s sphere of influence and never again contemplate joining either NATO or the EU. Thus, he would undertake a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Such an approach would require a huge commitment of armed forces and an audacious campaign. But Putin’s confidence had been boosted by Russia’s recent military intervention in Syria, which successfully propped up the regime of Bashar al-Assad, and by recent efforts to modernize Russia’s armed forces. Western analysts had largely accepted Russian claims about the country’s growing military strength, including new systems and armaments, such as “hypersonic weapons,” that at least sounded impressive. Moreover, healthy Russian financial reserves would limit the effect of any punitive sanctions. And the West appeared divided and unsettled after Donald Trump’s presidency, an impression that was confirmed by the botched U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021.

When Putin launched what he called the “special military operation” in Ukraine, many in the West feared that it might succeed. Western observers had watched Russia’s massive buildup of forces on the Ukrainian border for months, and when the invasion began, the minds of U.S. and European strategists raced ahead to the implications of a Russian victory that threatened to incorporate Ukraine into a revitalized Greater Russia. Although some NATO countries, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, had rushed military supplies to Ukraine, others,

following this pessimism, were more reluctant. Additional equipment, they concluded, was likely to arrive too late or even be captured by the Russians.

Less noted was that the Russian troop buildup—notwithstanding its formidable scale—was far from sufficient to take and hold all of Ukraine. Even many in or connected to the Russian military could see the risks. In early February 2022, Igor “Strelkov” Girkin, one of the original Russian separatist leaders in the 2014 campaign, observed that Ukraine’s military was better prepared than it had been eight years earlier and that “there aren’t nearly enough troops mobilized, or being mobilized.” Yet Putin did not consult experts on Ukraine, relying instead on his closest advisers—old comrades from the Russian security apparatus—who echoed his dismissive view that Ukraine could be easily taken.

As soon as the invasion got underway, the central weaknesses in the Russian campaign became apparent. The plan was for a short war, with decisive advances in several different parts of the country on the first day. But Putin and his advisers’ optimism meant that the plan was shaped largely around rapid operations by elite combat units. Little consideration was given to logistics and supply lines, which limited Russia’s ability to sustain the offensive once it stalled, and all the essentials of modern warfare, including food, fuel, and ammunition, began to be rapidly consumed. In effect, the number of axes of advance created a number of separate wars being fought at once, all presenting their own challenges, each with their own command structures and without an appropriate mechanism to coordinate their efforts and allocate resources among them.

The first sign that things were not going according to Putin’s plan was what happened at the Hostomel airport, near Kyiv. Told that they would meet little resistance, the elite paratroopers who had been sent to hold the airport for incoming transport aircraft were instead repelled by a Ukrainian counterattack. Eventually, the Russians succeeded in taking the airport, but by then, it was too damaged to be of any value. Elsewhere, apparently formidable Russian tank units were stopped by far more lightly armed Ukrainian defenders. According to one account, a huge column of Russian tanks that was destined for Kyiv was initially stopped by a group of just 30 Ukrainian soldiers, who approached it at night on quad bikes and succeeded in destroying a few vehicles at the head of the column, leaving the rest stuck on a narrow roadway and open to further attack. The Ukrainians successfully repeated such ambushes in many other areas.

Ukrainian forces, with Western assistance, had undertaken energetic reforms and planned their defenses carefully. They were also highly motivated, unlike many of their Russian counterparts, who were unsure why they were there. Agile Ukrainian units, drawing first on antitank weapons and drones and then on artillery, caught Russian forces by surprise. In the end, then, the early course of the war was determined not by greater numbers and firepower but by superior tactics, commitment, and command.


From the outset of the invasion, the contrast between the Russian and Ukrainian approaches to command was stark. Putin’s original strategic error was to assume that Ukraine was both hostile enough to engage in anti-Russian activities and incapable of resisting Russian might. As the invasion stalled, Putin appeared unable to adapt to the new reality, insisting that the campaign

was on schedule and proceeding according to plan. Prevented from mentioning the high numbers of Russian casualties and numerous battlefield setbacks, the Russian media have relentlessly reinforced government propaganda about the war. By contrast, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the initial target of the Russian operation, refused offers from the United States and other Western powers to be taken to safety to form a government in exile. He not only survived but stayed in Kyiv, visible and voluble, rallying his people and pressing Western governments for more support, financial and military. By demonstrating the overwhelming commitment of the Ukrainian people to defend their country, he encouraged the West to impose far more severe sanctions on Russia than it might otherwise have done, as well as to get supplies of weapons and war materiel to Ukraine. While Putin stubbornly repeated himself as his “special military operation” faltered, Zelensky grew in confidence and political stature.

Putin’s baleful influence also hung over other key strategic decisions by Russia. The first, following the initial setbacks, was the Russian military’s decision to adopt the brutal tactics it had used in Chechnya and Syria: targeting civilian infrastructure, including hospitals and residential buildings. These attacks caused immense suffering and hardship and, as could have been predicted, only strengthened Ukrainian resolve. The tactics were also counterproductive in another sense. Combined with the revelations about possible war crimes by Russian troops in areas around Kyiv, such as Bucha, Russia’s attacks on nonmilitary targets convinced leaders in Washington and other Western capitals that it was pointless to try to broker a compromise settlement with Putin. Instead, Western governments accelerated the flow of weapons to Ukraine, with a growing emphasis on offensive as well as defensive systems. This was not the war between Russia and NATO claimed by Moscow propagandists, but it was rapidly becoming the next closest thing.

A second key strategic decision came on March 25, when Russia abandoned its maximalist goal of taking Kyiv and announced that it was concentrating instead on the “complete liberation” of the Donbas region. This new objective, although it promised to bring greater misery to the east, was more realistic, and it would have been yet more so if it had been the initial aim of the invasion. The Kremlin also now appointed an overall Russian commander to lead the war, a general whose approach would be more methodical and employ additional artillery to prepare the ground before armor and infantry moved forward. But the effect of these shifts was limited because Putin needed quick results and didn’t give the Russian forces time to recover and prepare for this second round of the war.

The momentum had already swung from Russia to Ukraine, and it could not be turned around quickly enough to meet Putin’s timetable. Some analysts speculated that Putin wanted something that he could call a victory on May 9, the Russian holiday marking the end of the Great Patriotic War, Russia’s victory over Nazi Germany. As likely, though, was his and his senior military commanders’ desire to make territorial gains in the east before Ukraine could absorb new weapons from the United States and Europe. As a result, Russian commanders sent units that had just been withdrawn from the north back into combat in the east; there was no time to replenish the troops or remedy the failings exhibited in the first phase of the war.

In the new offensive, which began in earnest in mid-April, Russian forces made few gains, while Ukrainian counterattacks nibbled away at their positions. To add to the embarrassment, Russia’s Black Sea flagship, the Moskva, was sunk in an audacious Ukrainian attack. By May 9, there was not a lot to celebrate in Moscow. Even the coastal city of Mariupol, which Russia had attacked mercilessly since the start of the war and battered into rubble, was not fully captured until a week later. By that time, Western estimates were suggesting that a third of the initial Russian combat force, both personnel and equipment, had been lost. Rumors had circulated that Putin would use the holiday to announce a general mobilization to meet the army’s need for manpower, but no such announcement was made. For one thing, such a move would have been deeply unpopular in Russia. But it would also have taken time to get conscripts and reservists to the front, and Russia would still face chronic equipment shortages.

After an unbroken string of poor command decisions, Putin was running out of options. As the offensive in Ukraine completed its third month, many observers began to note that Russia had become stuck in an unwinnable war that it dared not lose. Western governments and senior NATO officials began to talk of a conflict that could continue for months, and possibly years, to come. That would depend on the ability of the Russian commanders to keep a fight going with depleted forces of low morale and also on the ability of Ukraine to move from a defensive strategy to an offensive one. Perhaps Russia’s military could still salvage something out of the situation. Or perhaps Putin would see at some point that it might be prudent to call for a cease-fire so he could cash in the gains made early in the war before a Ukrainian counteroffensive took them away, even though that would mean admitting failure.


One must be careful when drawing large lessons from wars with their own special features, particularly from a war whose full consequences are not yet known. Analysts and military planners are certain to study the war in Ukraine for many years as an example of the limits to military power, looking for explanations as to why one of the strongest and largest armed forces in the world, with a formidable air force and navy and new equipment and with recent and successful combat experience, faltered so badly. Before the invasion, when Russia’s military was compared with Ukraine’s smaller and lesser-armed defense forces, few doubted which side would gain the upper hand. But actual war is determined by qualitative and human factors, and it was the Ukrainians who had sharper tactics, brought together by command structures, from the highest political level to the lowlier field commanders, that were fit for the purpose.

Putin’s war in Ukraine, then, is foremost a case study in a failure of supreme command. The way that objectives are set and wars launched by the commander in chief shapes what follows. Putin’s mistakes were not unique; they were typical of those made by autocratic leaders who come to believe their own propaganda. He did not test his optimistic assumptions about the ease with which he could achieve victory. He trusted his armed forces to deliver. He did not realize that Ukraine was a challenge on a completely different scale from earlier operations in Chechnya, Georgia, and Syria. But he also relied on a rigid and hierarchical command structure that was unable to absorb and adapt to information from the ground and, crucially, did not enable Russian units to respond rapidly to changing circumstances.

The value of delegated authority and local initiative will be one of the other key lessons from this war. But for these practices to be effective, the military in question must be able to satisfy four conditions. First, there must be mutual trust between those at the senior and most junior levels. Those at the highest level of command must have confidence that their subordinates have the intelligence and ability to do the right thing in demanding circumstances, while their subordinates must have confidence that the high command will provide what backing they can. Second, those doing the fighting must have access to the equipment and supplies they need to keep going. It helped the Ukrainians that they were using portable antitank and air-defense weapons and were fighting close to their home bases, but they still needed their logistical systems to work.

Third, those providing leadership at the most junior levels of command need to be of high quality. Under Western guidance, the Ukrainian army had been developing the sort of noncommissioned officer corps that can ensure that the basic demands of an army on the move will be met, from equipment maintenance to actual preparedness to fight. In practice, even more relevant was that many of those who returned to the ranks when Ukraine mobilized were experienced veterans and had a natural understanding of what needed to be done.

But this leads to the fourth condition. The ability to act effectively at any level of command requires a commitment to the mission and an understanding of its political purpose. These elements were lacking on the Russian side because of the way Putin launched his war: the enemy the Russian forces had been led to expect was not the one they faced, and the Ukrainian population was not, contrary to what they had been told, inclined to be liberated. The more futile the fight, the lower the morale and the weaker the discipline of those fighting. In these circumstances, local initiative can simply lead to desertion or looting. By contrast, the Ukrainians were defending their territory against an enemy intent on destroying their land. There was an asymmetry of motivation that influenced the fighting from the start. Which takes us back to the folly of Putin’s original decision. It is hard to command forces to act in support of a delusion.




June 13, 2022

LONDON – The Wikimedia Foundation, which owns Wikipedia, has filed an appeal against a Moscow court decision demanding that it remove information related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, arguing that people have a right to know the facts of the war.


A Moscow court fined the Wikimedia Foundation 5 million roubles ($88,000) for refusing to remove what it termed disinformation from Russian-language Wikipedia articles on the war including “The Russian Invasion of Ukraine”, “War Crimes during the Russian Invasion of Ukraine” and “Massacre in Bucha”.


“This decision implies that well-sourced, verified knowledge on Wikipedia that is inconsistent with Russian government accounts constitutes disinformation,” Stephen LaPorte, Associate General Counsel at the Wikimedia Foundation, said in a statement.

Wikipedia, which says it offers “the second draft of history”, is one of the few remaining major fact-checked Russian-language sources of information for Russians after a crackdown on media in Moscow.

“The government is targeting information that is vital to people’s lives in a time of crisis,” LaPorte said. “We urge the court to reconsider in favor of everyone’s rights to knowledge access and free expression.”

The Moscow court argued that what it cast as the disinformation on Wikipedia posed a risk to public order in Russia and that the Foundation, which is headquartered in San Francisco, California, was operating inside Russia.

The Foundation was prosecuted under a law about the failure to delete banned information. The case was brought by Russia’s communications regulator Roskomnadzor, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wikipedia.

The Wikipedia appeal, which was filed on June 6 with details released on Monday, argues that removing information is a violation of human rights. It said Russia had no jurisdiction over the Wikimedia Foundation, which was globally available in over 300 languages.

Wikipedia entries are written and edited by volunteers.

Narratives of the war, Europe’s biggest ground invasion since World War Two, vary drastically -and have become highly politicised with journalists in both Moscow and the West routinely accused of misreporting the war.

Ukraine says it is the victim of an unprovoked imperial-style land grab by Russia and that it will fight to the end to reclaim the territory that Russian forces have occupied. Kyiv has repeatedly asked the West for more help to fight Russia.

President Vladimir Putin and Russian officials do not use the words “war” or “invasion”. They cast it as a “special military operation” aimed at preventing the persecution of Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine.

Putin also says the conflict is a turning point in Russian history: a revolt by Moscow against the United States, which he says has humiliated Russia since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union and pushed to enlarge the NATO military alliance.

Ukraine and its Western backers deny Moscow’s claims that Russian speakers were persecuted. Kyiv says Russian forces have committed war crimes, including killings, torture and rape in places such as Bucha.

Russia says the alleged evidence of war crimes consists of carefully constructed fakes and that Ukraine and its Western backers have spread disinformation about Russian forces.