The other day a friend commented on the fact that I haven’t posted anything about Ukraine lately. That’s true, I’ve been busy. And I’ve been paying careful attention. But for those of you who have asked, here is a brief assessment of where things stand, from a particular angle. I’m assuming you know at least the broad strokes of what is going on, and why it is important to each person who values life, liberty, national sovereignty, and democratic institutions. So here is a lengthy post, summarizing only certain aspects of the situation right now as I see it.
Putin Desperately Needs a Ceasefire
(And he will resort to savagery to get it.)
Russia is throwing everything it can at Ukraine’s people. Since the Russians can’t do much about the Ukrainian army, it strikes civilian targets. (Part of this is simply because to strike Ukrainian forces, the Russians would need tactical intelligence, aerial recon, and so forth, which they lack. But to strike civilian targets, it only needs a copy of an old map.) Putin fears that he will not be able to mobilize his troops for an offensive before his forces are overrun. He needs time to rearm and resupply, and especially to mobilize new troops into front-line positions. He needs time to get his tank production on track, his aircraft working again, to obtain more foreign weapons, to squash domestic resistance.
Russia is doing everything it can to force us to pressure Ukraine to negotiate a ceasefire. Cyber attacks, misinformation, fomenting and encouraging unrest in Bosnia, Africa, the U.S., France, Italy, Germany Ireland, etc., etc.
Putin’s Desperation Grows
Escalate to deescalate is an oft-used phrase that describes a Russian strategic policy to use various means and maneuvers to force a ceasefire, a stalemate, or even a peace treaty (normally in the context of nuclear weapons). In Putin’s case, his war continues to fail. He grows desperate. He needs more time. Under current conditions, he will not have time to reorganize a new and effective offensive to militarily take or destroy Ukraine. He has only so much weaponry left in his stockpiles. So, in a desperate bid to buy time, he throws it all at Ukraine. It has already begun. To force a ceasefire, he must escalate.
By my count, yesterday (Friday) Russia launched over 91 drones and missiles (40 of them at Kyiv), and fired about 20,000 artillery shells (about the daily average). News agencies have reported that Putin has used about 300 of the 1,500 drones obtained from Iran. His supplies of Kalibr and Oniks missiles are also running low. He is rumored to be purchasing artillery shells from North Korea. Meanwhile he has already lost nearly 3,000 battle tanks, nearly 2,000 artillery pieces, and almost 6,000 armored vehicles. 300-400 Russian soldiers die every day. That’s almost 100,000 casualties since February 24th Putin is certainly contemptuous of his own people’s blood.
Of course, Ukrainian losses are also very high, perhaps equal to Russian troop losses if you include Ukrainian civilians (which Russia considers as targets). But Putin must be maddened and enraged that the Ukrainians continue to out-fight, out-maneuver, and out-smart the Russian invaders. And Putin is equally enraged at us for helping Ukraine. (I love the image of Putin beating his head on his desk every time a new weapons shipment for Ukraine is announced.)
Putin now seeks to redeploy military assets into Belarus and along Ukraine’s northern border (He already has some assets there, but not enough.). He announced he will be visiting Belarus on Monday to meet with Belarusian dictator Lukashenko “with the stated aim of deepening the relationship between the two states through integration in economic and defense policy.” Likely Putin will tell Lukashenko to back a new offensive against Ukraine by committing Belarusian troops to Russia’s efforts. Putin obviously hopes that a second front, or even the threat of one, will force Ukraine to deplete its forces in order to face the threat.
Escalate to de-escalate. So we should expect diplomatic moves on the part of Russia and China to pressure the West and Zelensky to accept a ceasefire. We should also expect terrible suffering on the part of Ukrainian civilians as more shells, rockets, drones, missiles, and bombs fall on them.
And, if all goes well for Putin, he will be in a position to begin a new ground offensive against Kyiv by January or late February. The ground will be frozen, and tanks can roll. However, even if he succeeds in this, it may well be the last vicious organized throes of a doomed regime (think Battle of the Bulge). Unless Putin unleashes weapons of mass destruction, it is difficult to imagine how he can muster the competent forces and leadership necessary to carry out a successful offensive. And he runs the credible risk of fomenting an armed uprising in Belarus, with the brewing discontent against Lukashenko potentially exploding into a full-scale revolution.
Putin probably sees this as a calculated risk.
Putin will make certain that Lukashenko cracks down even harder on anti-Russian sentiment in Belarus. That Lukashenko mobilizes his military forces on Russia’s behalf. That Belarus tows the line, or else! Lukashenko will be gently reminded of the sudden and mysterious death of the late Vladimir Makei (the Minister of Foreign of Affairs of Belarus who suddenly—and conveniently for the Kremlin—died of “unknown causes.”). So Putin goes to see Lukashenko to make sure the dictator will faithfully dance to the strings that Putin pulls.
Putin is desperate. He is afraid. And he is losing his grip on power. Russian right-wingers are beginning to oppose him publicly. Secretive pro-democracy partisans within Russia are blowing up railways, pipelines, arms factories, and other war-related targets deep inside Russia. Putin’s old secure allies of the Russian Federation are inching away from him, and some are openly opposed to Putin’s war in Ukraine. Putin has no choice but to become increasingly severe. And he has been forced to bleed off valuable military assets to position them along the borders of Georgia and Kazakhstan and to far-flung locations in Russia to increase security (and root out opposition).
He has much to fear. And then there’s Crimea. If Ukrainians recapture and liberate Crimea, Putin’s regime would certainly be doomed.
On the Front
Putin’s troops are outwitted, out-classed, desperate, cold, ill-supplied, hungry, and frustrated. They’ve retreated and are digging in. They know that if the Ukrainians mount an all-out offensive, they cannot hold their positions. They also know that there are Russian units specifically ordered to shoot, on the spot, any Russian soldier who attempts to surrender, or who hesitates to carry out orders. And the Russian troops on the ground know that they cannot hide from the Ukrainians. The Ukrainians are very good at locating troop concentrations, and even single soldiers wandering around. Yet, the Russians remain essentially blind, severely lacking in surveillance and recon assets. So morale among the Russian soldiers is very low.
Putin knows this. And he know that the Russian military has a history of revolt and mutiny, some of which led to the overthrow of the nation. Yet he seeks to replenish the ranks with already disgruntled conscripts. He holds the reins of a monstrous beast, but he cannot fully control what it does. And he knows that as his beast continues to be kicked, wounded, and beaten by the Ukrainians, it will become even harder to control.
That’s Putin’s situation. He needs a ceasefire to regroup, reposition, and re-consolidate.
Ukrainian civilians continue to suffer terribly. Putin is trying his level best to sap their spirit, to torture them in any way he can, to freeze them, starve them, and kill them. Besides power stations, Putin continues to target schools and hospitals, churches and libraries. Teachers, pastors, doctors, rescue workers, book readers, children, and the elderly. And so the Ukrainian situation is dire. But they are not desperate. They are not afraid of Putin. They are angry and defiant and imaginative. And they will not give in. Ukrainians want their country back, their entire country. And they are determined to do what it takes to regain all that Putin has taken from them.
What Do I Think Will Happen? (personal speculation here)
I suspect Putin will unleash a massive aerial and, if possible, ground attack from the north, east, and south against major civilian targets, using up his remaining drones and equipment to wreak destruction on cities while his troops try to advance against Kyiv in the north and other cities in the east. Once this has begun, I think he will bid hard and coerce in every way for a negotiated ceasefire. There will be a flurry of diplomatic activity across Europe to pressure Ukraine to accept a ceasefire agreement.
But I think the Ukrainians will flatly reject any such negotiations. They’ve been there, done that. And this is what happened.
Eventually, or maybe while all of the above is taking place and shaping up, I expect more places within Russia will “accidentally” explode or catch on fire. Certain people will disappear or be shot or be blown up. Members of the various factions within the FSB and the Kremlin will begin disappearing, and they might begin shooting at each other. And Putin, fearing his own life, will eventually try to barricade himself within his Kremlin bunker.
At that point, who among his generals in Ukraine will obey orders from Moscow?
Right now, Putin needs a ceasefire. Desperately. If he doesn’t get one, I think he’ll go down in a convulsion of violence, a final spiteful gasp of savagery the likes of which the world has not seen since the final days of WW2.
I think the end is coming.
I might be wrong about a coming Russian offensive. I hope I am. I might be wrong about how much destruction will take place should such an offensive be launched. I hope I am wrong.
But I do think the end is coming. I do not think there will be a ceasefire or a stalemate. I do think that Ukraine will be victorious and that, one way or another, Russia will withdraw all of its troops from every part of Ukraine, including Crimea. Then, in many ways, Ukraine will have to start all over to rebuild their land, to heal their people, and to begin again their journey of liberty and democracy.
Consider: It is no accident that foreign fighters continue to flow to Ukraine. From East and West, and from North and South, they come. Over 20,000 men and women from at least 52 countries are fighting and dying for Ukraine. And thousands more have come to serve as civilian aid workers, doctors, nurses, cooks, care-package drivers, firefighters, rescue workers, and caretakers. They know that if they are captured by the Russians awful things will happen to them. Yet they come and they stay. And they know things will get worse before they get better.
Every day, the Ukrainian military becomes even more effective, more precise, more capable. From their command structure to the soldier in the field, they outclass the Russians. Putin’s military cannot stop them. His only hope for any victory is a ceasefire. But the Ukrainians know that until they have pushed the Russians out of the sovereign Ukrainian borders, out of Donbas and Crimea, a ceasefire would be a disaster.
Every day, Ukrainian civilians become more determined, more imaginative, and more capable of enduring through until victory and peace come. They know all about everything I have said here. They know Putin is desperate and that, like a cornered beast, he will try to do even more terrible things to Ukraine.
We who watch Ukraine should prepare our hearts for an awful few months. We ought not let the horrors that unfold each day prevent us from helping. We ought to pay attention. Ukraine, we must remember, is fighting for our own right to govern ourselves. This is not a metaphor. Putin has openly stated his goals of dismantling independent democracies. Putin’s vision is no less phantasmagorical than Hitler’s was. Domination of the world by any means. He has demonstrated his devotion to his vision by pouring money into extremist groups worldwide (including within the U.S.), by seeking to interfere with our elections, and by financing cyber attacks on our government, our hospitals, our schools, and our businesses.
No one is exempt from Putin’s contempt. Putin has been at war with us, with our way of life, and with our traditions for decades. The invasion of Ukraine was but the next chess move on his loathsome game board. But his is a little mind, perverted by a lifetime of self-deception. He cannot conceive that the game he plays is vastly more dangerous than he imagined. He miscalculated because he does not have the capacity of mind or depth of spirit to understand the power of goodness, honesty, friendship, honor, dignity, and freedom.
Ukraine has devoted itself to the ideals of democracy, freedom, and self-determination, ideals that are in stark opposition to Putin’s dark ambition. Ukraine welded itself to those aspirations. They want peace, security, equality, and liberty. They want their land restored to them and healed of its wounds. They did not want this war. They did not provoke this war. They do not want to die or to see their families suffer. And they have turned to us, as they did before the invasion, for help, for example, and for guidance to obtain and secure for its citizens the rights and freedoms that we often take for granted. They want to worship God in their own traditions, ancient and new. They want to read what they wish, elect their own officials, and raise their children in safety and health. They want to provide a decent living, a warm home, and food on the table for their families. The Ukrainians have shown us that we ought not take these things for granted. That we ought to be mindful of our own slow and painful progress toward securing “the Blessings of Liberty.”
So I think we ought to continue our support for Ukraine. Let us steel ourselves for the dark days to come, for the incomprehensible terror and destruction that may sweep across Ukraine in the coming months. Let us prepare ourselves and our families to withstand the storm of news that may come.
And let’s remember that there’s a lot that we, as individuals, can do to help. It isn’t all up to Biden, NATO, or the EU. It isn’t just up to the Red Cross or UNICEF or to the “big” charities with “big” donors to take care of things.
The Ukrainians will be grateful for your help. I do know they are already grateful. I’ve been told. I’ve been given heartfelt thanks even for the pittance of help that I have given.
So I say, if you have a dollar or two to spare, I encourage you think about sending them to Ukraine. It’s easy to do. And I urge you to keep your eyes on Ukraine. And if you see disturbing news from Ukraine, look soberly upon it and set your jaw with clear eyes. If you hear of any Ukrainian who needs help, give help.
You and I are Ukraine’s lifeline. My dime and your nickel. If you do not do it for Ukraine, do it for yourself. Because Putin has made Ukraine’s peril our own. Because if Ukraine falls to Putin’s toxic ambition, to the scheme that he seeks to impose upon the planet, how long thereafter could our own way of life survive?
Just think about it.