As I've noted before, and surely will again, I find the courage and determination of the Ukrainian people deeply inspiring.
Vladimir Putin, the Russian tyrant, thought he could send his forces into Ukraine and enjoy an easy victory.
President Zelensky would flee the country. Russian tanks would roll into Kyiv after minimal resistance. A puppet government would be installed, making Ukraine part of the Russian sphere of influence.
Thankfully, Putin was very much wrong.
He underestimated the Ukrainian military. He underestimated the will of the Ukrainian people to keep their country independent. He underestimated the willingness of the United States and our allies to back Ukraine in its fight against Russia's unprovoked invasion.
Yesterday The Atlantic published a story, "Ukraine's Three to One Advantage: It’s not technology or tactics that has given Ukrainian fighters their greatest edge."
Before sharing what does give Ukrainian fighters their greatest edge, the story's author, Elliott Ackerman, discusses other reasons they're doing so well. I see some parallels here with religious fundamentalism versus open-minded inquiry.
First, Ackerman talks about the benefits of an anti-platform-centric military. Meaning, instead of basing a battle plan around gigantic tanks and ships like an aircraft carrier, small portable missiles can demolish much larger weapon systems.
A single Ukrainian solider can carry a Javelin missile capable of destroying an armored Russian vehicle like a tank. So bigger doesn't always mean better.
Second, Ukrainian tactics rely much more on individual initiative. Top-down control, which is how most religions are organized, lacks creativity and flexibility.
Russian doctrine relies on centralized command and control, while mission-style command and control—as the name suggests—relies on the individual initiative of every soldier, from the private to the general, not only to understand the mission but then to use their initiative to adapt to the exigencies of a chaotic and ever-changing battlefield in order to accomplish that mission.
...“The Russians don’t empower their soldiers,” Zagorodnyuk explained. “They tell their soldiers to go from Point A to Point B, and only when they get to Point B will they be told where to go next, and junior soldiers are rarely told the reason they are performing any task. This centralized command and control can work, but only when events go according to plan. When the plan doesn’t hold together, their centralized method collapses. No one can adapt, and you get things like 40-mile-long traffic jams outside Kyiv.”
So thinking for yourself as a situation changes is better than sticking to a rigid plan of attack. This fits with my long-held commitment to spiritual independence, rather than obeying the dictates of a religious leader, guru, holy book, or such.
Then there's the Three to One Advantage -- the most important of all.
When someone is fighting a righteous battle against a malevolent aggressor who has invaded their homeland, the advantage goes to the defender, who holds the moral high ground.
The longer we talked, the more the conversation veered away from the tangible, technical variables of Ukraine’s military capacity and toward the psychology of Ukraine’s military. Napoleon, who fought many battles in this part of the world, observed that “the moral is to the physical as three is to one.” I was thinking of this maxim as Jed and I finished our tea.
In Ukraine—at least in this first chapter of the war—Napoleon’s words have held true, proving in many ways decisive.
In my earlier conversation with Zagorodnyuk, as he and I went through the many reforms and technologies that had given the Ukrainian military its edge, he was quick to point out the one variable he believed trumped all others.
“Our motivation—it is the most important factor, more important than anything. We’re fighting for the lives of our families, for our people, and for our homes. The Russians don’t have any of that, and there’s nowhere they can go to get it.”
This also explains why most of the world, aside from a few autocracies like China who support Putin's authoritarianism, is backing Ukraine. As Zelensky frequently observes, Ukraine isn't fighting just for itself. Ukraine is fighting for democracies everywhere.
If Ukraine can be invaded by Russia for no good reason, then other large countries will be emboldened to do the same.
And to those who may be thinking, What about the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq?, I'd respond that those situations are quite different from Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Afghanistan harbored those responsible for 9/11 and was dominated by the repressive Taliban. Iraq was ruled by a cruel tyrant, Saddam Hussein.
True, Iraq didn't have weapons of mass destruction, as the Bush administration wrongly alleged. But the United States set a goal of making Iraq into a democracy, which was to our credit. Putin has no interest in democracy. He only cares about the raw exercise of power and re-establishing the old Soviet Union to the greatest possible extent.
How exactly does one define success? Between the tragic loss of life, millions of displaced people and a country that has been leveled to the ground, you start to wonder if just saying, “Fine, we won’t join NATO” might have been a better option at the time.
Posted by: Devil’s Advocate | March 26, 2022 at 02:51 AM
The NATO irony isn’t lost on anyone. Sweden and Finland are like, we better sign up quick.
Posted by: Sonya | March 26, 2022 at 02:26 PM
"...the United States set a goal of making Iraq into a democracy, which was to our credit. Putin has no interest in democracy."
..........Don't want to make a thing of this potentially contentious issue, so I'll limit myself to just one comment and to just one small part of the whole host of arguments that come to mind in response! If only, Brian. If only the world were made of such beautifully stark blacks and whites, I mean the larger world as it is as opposed to our own personal world where our own personal values do have far wider play. I'm a firm believer in the liberal democratic principles that the US is supposed to embody, and that is such a fragile precious thing in this brutal brutish world, but I can see no way to agree with such a rose-tinted view of things.
It's true that Saddam was a tyrant, but that tyranny, as well as the democracy thing, were no less than fig leaves that the US used to cover its actual motives (not that the fig leaves did much good, those motives were very clear right from the get-go, and such cynicism was fully validated afterwards by what actually followed on the ground). That was, frankly, no different than Putin's claim that he's doing this thing in Ukraine in order to purge the Nazi threat. The latter is disinformation pure and simple, and the former was, no less, disinformation pure and simple.
Isn't this obvious? Just look at Saudi Arabia. Far from ousting that murderous regime, they're actually being coddled and supported and supplied arms to. Why even go to Saudi, look at Iraq itself. That same Saddam, that same tyrant, had also been supported (although less so than Saudi). Had those lands not been awash in oil, then the Kuwait invasion would have merited no more than some platitudes mumbled out, if that, most certainly not the devastation of the aggressor country that followed.
There are plenty in Russia who, as the news feeds make clear, are buying into Putin's disinformation campaign about the Nazism thing. I don't see that as any different from the democracy and tyranny fig leaf donned in that other, earlier war in Iraq.
Which is not, for a minute, to support Putin in any shape or form, or to downplay the Ukrainian's heroic struggle against such massive odds. That is, indeed, a black and white situation. Putin is squarely in the wrong, squarely. Ukraine, as a sovereign country, has every right to make its own decisions, regardless of how that affects Russian interests. The war there is an abomination, as is the dictator who's unleashed this unnecessary carnage just to feed his megalomania. Absolutely, this is no time to take emphasis away from that horror by engaging in whataboutisms about other atrocities at other places and at other times.
Except: Let us not delude ourselves that "they" are the amoral monsters, and "we" the scrupulously ethical and moral good guys. Biden keeps calling Putin a war criminal, and rightly so; but the irony is he's able to do nothing about the war criminal sitting right at home who'd authored the Iraq carnage.
Afraid there's no good guys in this sorry world, not in the real world, and not at that level (that is, at the level of nations powerful enough to really matter). But still, bad guys may still, in their own self interest, get their act together and prevent this present bad guy from doing this present round of bad things.
But agreed, absolutely, with the larger thrust of your post. Ukrainians have proven themselves to be true heroes. Let's hope their heroism wins out in this brutally unevenly-matched war that has been forced on them by Putin.
Posted by: Appreciative Reader | March 26, 2022 at 11:36 PM
Taking sides makes sense only if it helps one find a realistic solution.
Offering to withdraw NATO is the solution, but by taking sides, by demonizing Putin and lionizing the people of Ukraine, this makes diplomacy all but impossible.
Zelensky hasn't offered to withdraw NATO in exchange for an end to the killing and full sovereignty.
Of course, every mature leader knows they must be respectful of their bordering neighbors if they seek to have those borders respected. No one is entirely free to do whatever they please.
But the killings could end tomorrow if this offer were made. And if the offer is made and nothing changes, then prove me wrong.
But lacking that offer, Zelensky has not done all he could do to stop the killing. Perhaps he needs Biden's permission first. But doesn't that say much?
Making these deaths heroic, romanticizing war is not the way to end it.
Personally I don't believe one single death can be justified by romanticizing war, on either side. It interferes with Diplomacy.
War is a nightmare, a disaster, a collapse of humanity on an epic proportion. There is nothing to praise except all efforts to end it diplomatically. No one can win this war through force. It is a fools errand to think so, and to perpetuate escalating violence when the obvious diplomacy has been avoided for personal reasons we may never understand, but which cannot hold candle ethically to peace.
Posted by: spence tepper | March 31, 2022 at 01:44 PM
💯 💯 💯
I concur. A leader should put the safety and well-being of his people first. That isn’t happening.
Posted by: Sonya | March 31, 2022 at 04:12 PM
@ Spence : [ Zelensky hasn't offered to withdraw NATO in exchange for an end to the killing and full sovereignty... But the killings could end tomorrow if this offer were made. And if the offer is made and
nothing changes, then prove me wrong. ]
IMO that would depend on what's meant by "withdraw NATO". Ukraine has
already floated an offer to never join NATO:
Do you mean perhaps Ukraine's acceptance of weaponry or technical
assistance from NATO members in response to the current invasion ?
Again, IMO, and, as a result of Russia's earlier unprovoked illegal 2014
Crimean invasion, NATO's cautionary measured actions in support of
Ukraine were entirely prudent and warranted.
Finally, this isn't about demonizing Putin but rather recognizing a clear
existential threat to Ukraine and Europe. Putin has an abysmal history
of deceit and aggression against others including the Russian people.
His paranoia about NATO's menace to Russia is a red herring... a
bargaining chip in advancement of his ambition to restore the USSR.
By his actions, you will know him.
Posted by: Dungeness | March 31, 2022 at 07:06 PM
If you read more closely you will see the Ukrainian ambassador wants a modified version of NATO Article 5. This means NATO nations agree to come to Ukraine's defense if attacked by Russia, and that means more NATO weapons in Ukraine pointed to Russia. It isn't exactly a real offer to withdraw from NATO.
The offer needs to be to withdraw NATO and US-led involvement in Ukraine.
Unfortunately NATO weapons have been coming into Ukraine long before Russia's invasion. They are on a pathway to join NATO already and would need to offer to withdraw from that process.
As for Putin, any suggestion that he is so crazy only more warfare is the answer is simply escalating the problem. But it does, conveniently, grow the business of the military industrial complex.
A real, full and complete offer to withdraw from NATO has not been made, and therefore we have not exhausted the option necessary to change the scenario.
"His paranoia about NATO's menace to Russia is a red herring"
No it isn't. You need to understand how NATO, a military alliance, and nuclear weapons have been proliferating to understand this is a legitimate concern.
Claiming to bring peace, yet the nuclear missile count, and weapons sales have been growing for years.
Ignoring this, dismissing this, simply plays into the hands of arms manufacturing and sales, and adds fuel to the conflict, and lives lost.
Posted by: Spence Tepper | April 01, 2022 at 06:17 AM
NATO adding weapons and training in Ukraine started years ago, and no surprise, aimed at Russia, had become a source of threat.
"This built on NATO’s long-standing assistance for Ukraine’s forces and institutions.
" Over the years, Allies have trained tens of thousands of Ukrainian troops.
Provided modern equipment.
And supported reforms.
"The Ukrainian forces are now bigger, better-equipped, better-trained, and better-led than ever before.
And they are putting their training and their equipment to use on the front lines, with courage that has inspired the world."
NATO's activity has been aimed for years, precisely at Russia..
" In recent years, we have implemented the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence in a generation.
With particular focus on the eastern flank.
"We also developed new military plans for our deterrence and defence."
And NATO has also become more directly linked to the United States..
"In 2021, NATO’s two newest joint headquarters also became fully operational.
" Our Joint Force Command in Norfolk, Virginia, focused on securing transatlantic sea lines of communications.
"And our Joint Support and Enabling Command in Ulm, Germany, supporting the rapid movement of troops and equipment into and across Europe."
None of this changes what Putin is. But if you have a crazy dictator, diplomacy requires removing sources of threat first.
Posted by: Spence Tepper | April 01, 2022 at 06:31 AM
@ Spence : [ None of this changes what Putin is. But if you have a crazy dictator, diplomacy requires removing sources of threat first. ]
I disagree vehemently. In the presence of a bully who's invaded and annexed
portions of Ukraine twice since 2014 and signaled that he intends to persevere
with biol./chem./nuclear weapons if needed, the escalatory actions of NATO
are appropriate. They are measured and proportionate to the threat initiated
and posed by Russia already.
History has shown appeasement doesn't work. Nor can Putin's criminal acts
be blamed on arms merchants, however greedy. Trying to parse how deeply
crazy Putin is and eliminating each of his perceived "threats" is folly. Monitor-
ing what he actually does and protecting yourself from it isn't.
Posted by: Dungeness | April 01, 2022 at 10:18 AM
The real "Proof of the pudding" is what happens.
Escalation is guaranteed to cost more human lives, heroes and villains aside.
If it is the only way to peace, then you are right, and I am wrong.
But I believe in this particular situation, Putin has indicated quite clearly what he is all about and what scares him, motivates him.
Sure, he wants to be king of the universe. But this exaggeration comes mixed with fear. And that fear is driving him onward far more than ambition.
If I"m right about this, provoking him further will only lead to escalated murder, death and destruction, and further from any agreement or end to hostilities.
If you are right, same thing. All the claims in the press that Ukraine is winning and Russia is losing won't go one step to ending this conflict.
More bombs, more killing isn't the answer, Dungeness.
But time and history will prove who is right about this.
If I'm right, the agreement that is finally settled upon, the one that allows Ukraine sovereignty and and end to the war, will be exactly what I have stated above, which could have been offered within days of the conflict, because it is precisely what Putin has asked for.
I'm wrong, that won't be the final agreement. Something else, perhaps the fall of Russia .
Do you really think we can risk pushing things that far? Do you really believe Putin, under any circumstances, will back off unless he gets what he has asked for years before this war began?
No military leader has ever succeeded without an end game. And that is where we are headed with escalation. Escalation isn't new, Dungeness.
NATO has been doing it for years.
Posted by: spence tepper | April 01, 2022 at 11:07 AM
@spence : [ But I believe in this particular situation, Putin has indicated quite clearly what he is all about and what scares him, motivates him. Sure, he wants to be king of the universe. But this exaggeration comes mixed with fear. And that fear is driving him onward far more than ambition. ]
Hi again, Spence,
I commend your faith in a new diplomatic approach. It's worth pursuing too
but with a way to pivot rapidly if Putin's ambition, not his fear, is "king of the
universe". Otherwise, it runs the real risk of becoming a blind date with Putin
without a chaperone.
Posted by: Dungeness | April 01, 2022 at 04:11 PM