Prepare for the Ultimate Military Collapse

Stalingrad Version 2.0

Written by Shankar Narayan and published in Medium.com 3/15/2022

Battle for Stalingrad: Photo by Wikipedia, Text by Author

The first time I heard Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has garrisoned in Kyiv, I thought he was bluffing the Russians.

Why would he stay in the one place where Russians would be forced to come? Why would he allow himself to be surrounded by enemies in all directions without a means of escape?

And then it dawned on me: Only a leader who stays in frontlines can inspire his country to fight against an army led by a ruthless dictator.

There is historical evidence:

Vasily Chuikov: Image by Wiki

Vasily Ivanovich Chuikov, the Soviet military commander who led the 62nd Army during the Battle of Stalingrad in the Second World War.

“After two years of decisive victories over France, Poland and others, Hitler and the German High Command were confident that the Soviet Union would fall within six weeks”. But Chuikov had other ideas. To inspire his troops, he “kept his headquarters in the city, less than 200 meters from the German front line”.

For more than five months, the Soviet 62nd Army, brought the Nazis’ sixth division to “a standstill on the banks of the Volga, always outnumbered by factors of up to 15 to one”.

Chuikov wrote the manual on urban warfare.

The Germans, used to fighting from a distance, didn’t know how to win the war of attrition in an urban setting. They reduced Stalingrad to rubble, but this only helped the Soviets mobilize against them.

The Soviets first stalled the German march. Then they kept squeezing the Nazis until they were worn out.

Stalingrad marked the shift of initiative to the Red Army on the Eastern Front. There were no more decisive victories for the Wehrmacht in the east. Despite the importance of the battles of Moscow, Kursk, and Operation Bagration, it was Stalingrad that would be immortalized around the world as the turning of the tide for the Allies in World War II.”

Today, the roles are completely reversed. Russia is seeking swift victory with superior airpower, better equipment, and strength in numbers. Ukraine is defending its cities, forcing Russians into close combat, gaining time, and hoping to drain the Russians of strength.

  • The Nazis lost because of Stalingrad.
  • Putin is going to lose because of Kyiv.
  • Russians will never take full control of Kyiv. Ever.

The Russian government is dumber than we thought

Just like the Nazis underestimated the Soviets during the second world war, the Russian military planners completely underestimated Ukraine’s resolve to fight.

Andrei Fedorov, former deputy Russian foreign minister, told Al Jazeera that President Vladimir Putin’s initial order was to “complete the military operation with a victory by March 2”.

The Russians had no plan whatsoever for a lengthy war.

In 2008, the Russians took just four days to take control of the situation in Georgia. They won the limited war because they had limited objectives. They wanted to break Georgia into three pieces. Two small regions for them. One big piece for Georgia.

Image Source: Warsaw Institute

“Russia used separatist violence as a convenient pretext to launch a full-scale multidomain invasion to annex territory.” Russians won because they had a clear understanding of what they wanted to do in Georgia and they laid the groundwork required to support their objective.

Military experts are still struggling to understand Russia’s objective in Ukraine. Are they trying to take the whole country or just a few cities, eliminate the Ukrainian leadership, or break the country into multiple pieces?

Russia’s highly centralized command structure, where all decisions are made by a small group of people including President Putin, is not helping Russian troops on the ground.

Ukrainians are smarter than we thought

The Ukrainians have one objective: Defend their territory.

To do that they only have to hold the cities, engage the enemy in urban warfare, stall them for time, deplete their resources and starve them out.

The Russian army is not equipped for urban warfare. Similar to the Nazis, they can reduce Kyiv to rubble. But the Nazis never managed to control the rubble. They lost everything in Stalingrad.

The United States took four weeks to enter Kabul in 2001 and three weeks to take Baghdad in 2003. The war in Ukraine has entered the fourth week. And yet, the Russians are still fighting in the suburbs of Kyiv.

Maj. Gen. Dmitry Marchenko, commander of Ukraine’s military forces in Mykolaiv, said that the Ukrainian strategy was to break morale through an unrelenting pounding of Russian positions. But there is another critical factor.

“We are defending our homes, our women, our families,” he said. “We don’t need their world. We don’t need their language. Let them build their own country and die in it and create whatever dictatorship they want there. We’re going to live like free people.”

Can Russia control Ukraine?

This still remains the biggest hole in Putin’s strategy. How are they going to control the second-largest country in Europe, which covers 603,700 square kilometers and is home to 40 million people?

More than three million Ukrainians have fled the country. That still leaves 37 million people to be taken care of, along with 146 million Russians.

The Russian economy was worth $1.71 trillion in 2021. The sanctions will forcefully reduce the size of the economy and the cash flowing into Russia.

Putin will not be in a position to handle his own countrymen, let alone feeding additional 37 million humans.

What will be the cost of the War?

In the first two weeks of the war, Russia lost 5,000 to 6000 soldiers, an equivalent of 400 lives per day.

Every day, Putin is losing an enormous amount of resources. If the war turns into months, Russia will not struggle to replace those resources, it will reach a point where it cannot replace them.

This explains why Putin may have asked China for military equipment and tried to recruit Syrian mercenaries. The first one will help him shore up fast depleting equipment, the second one will help him hide the loss of human resources.

It is possible for Russia to run out of weapons and ammunition very soon. We have no idea about their depletion rate. Ukraine has no need to worry about depletion, as the allies will keep supplying and they have millions ready to fight for the country.

Screenshot from Jerusalem Post

The United States spent more than $8 trillion for its twin wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Did they win?

Nope.

After the initial conflict, America only played a holding role in Afghanistan, a country with nearly the same population as Ukraine. Despite the bill and change of objectives, America was neither able to control the country, nor it was able to create an environment conducive to democracy.

The war in Afghanistan cost America $300 million every day. Russia does not have that kind of money. Neither does it have that kind of military.

Russia gets drained. Ukraine gets filled

There is a global stampede to help Ukraine. From humanitarian aid to hosting refugees to supplying arms and equipment, the world is rallying behind Ukraine.

The number of countries that expressed solidarity with Russia: Two. (Belarus and Syria)

As global money gets funneled towards Ukraine, there is a coordinated effort to drain money from the Russian government.

Ukraine has to defend itself. Russia has to occupy

Every additional day Russia fights Ukrainians, the Russian government will get one step closer to defeat.

  • To win, Ukraine must hold at least one city, they are looking good to hold multiple cities.
  • To win, Russia must win the people of Ukraine. (Ain’t gonna happen)

There were many locals who supported American forces in Afghanistan. The number of Afghans who wanted to flee the country when the US announced their withdrawal is evidence of local support.

In spite of the support, America miserably failed in Afghanistan, because they tried to manage it forever.

Within three weeks, Putin has turned every Ukrainian against Russia. Ukraine will always remain hostile to Russia. Forever.

The port city of Mykolaiv is being shelled by Russian forces every day. Bodies are piled at the morgue. But residents refuse to succumb. — NYT, March 15

“Kherson, in southern Ukraine, was the first major city to fall to Russian forces after the start of the invasion on Feb. 24. Although Kremlin officials had predicted that the Ukrainian people would welcome their “liberation” by Russian troops, the people of Kherson have been defiant, regularly gathering in the city’s central square to protest the Russian presence even when Russian troops fire in the air to disperse them”.

If this is what Ukrainians think, how is Mr. Putin going to convince them otherwise? He can’t. He has to fearmonger. The more he invokes fear, the stronger will be the defiance.

  • 190,000 troops to control a country with more than 37 million people.
  • 1 Russian soldier for 195 Ukrainians.
Image Source: BBC

As you can see from the image attached above, the Russian troops are advancing with an eye on their back. The ground troops must remain connected to their supply depots, preferably inside Russia.

As Russian forces spread out across the country, it will become increasingly difficult to supply the army.

Morale is key to winning the war

It is evident in the last three weeks that Ukraine has all the morale it needs to dig in. The same cannot be said about the Russian military.

For years, Putin told his countrymen that Ukrainians are Russians.

When Russian commanders ask their troops to bring down a hospital or kill a fleeing civilian, the soldiers will have one question — Why are they killing their own people?

They will kill. Because soldiers cannot defy orders. But during those crunch moments, when it becomes life and death, Russian troops will try to escape the fight they do not want, while Ukrainian troops will dig in.

Why Putin will struggle to back off

The same reason why Hitler refused to back off Stalingrad.

When days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months, Hitler knew he is not going to win Stalingrad. He could have cut his losses short and regrouped elsewhere. Good commanders know when to fight and when not to fight. Megalomaniacs don’t.

They rule with fear. They cannot afford to lose.

Hitler fought an ideological war. That it was only in his mind is another matter altogether. But he kept pouring resources into an unwinnable war, only to lose everything he had.

The Nazis never recovered from the mistake of committing their future to the battle of Stalingrad. Putin will never recover from the mistake of committing his future to the battle for Ukraine.

Putin has already lost the war. His off-ramp would be to ask for a small piece of Ukraine, declare victory and run back. I doubt he will have the courage to make such a decision. He will only make his loss as huge as possible.

Ukraine is Redefining America’s Interests

If this conflict is a new cold war, it’s one that the autocracies have been pursuing energetically and the democracies have been loath to accept.

Low key photography of grungy old Soviet Union and United States of America flags. USSR, CCCP, USA.

Written by George Packer and published by the Atlantic 2/28/2022

About the author: George Packer is a staff writer at The Atlantic. He is the author of Last Best Hope: America in Crisis and RenewalOur Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New Americaand The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq.

In the short six months between the fall of Kabul and the invasion of Ukraine, the triumph of one idea was eclipsed by the appearance of another. The wars that followed 9/11 ended for Americans on August 31, 2021. They ended with relief and bitterness and the sense that the United States would now have to learn restraint—that we lacked the ability, the will, and the means to involve ourselves in the affairs of other countries. Pax Americana was over, and so was the 20 Years’ War, and now it was time to turn inward and address our own considerable problems. After all, who were we, with our political rot, our social conflicts, and our COVID disaster, to act as a leader of anything to anyone?

This view was widespread across the political firmament. The progressive version leaned pacifist, the reactionary version was nationalist, and in the center a new “realism”—a hungover awareness of limits—prevailed. This realism reminded bruised, exhausted Americans that our national interests should be narrowly defined, and that other great powers, including Russia, have interests of their own that need to be respected.

The Biden administration embraced this realism before America had finished withdrawing from Afghanistan. It seemed to believe that the U.S. would leave nothing behind there except the debris of two decades of failure—and so it neglected to ensure that the Afghans who’d allied themselves with the American project in their country would have any kind of future anywhere. The relatively open, outward-looking society that had grown up during the American war among younger Afghans in the cities, with its lively press and civic activism and new freedoms for women and girls, was abandoned with barely a second thought.

The failure in Kabul showed that the new realists didn’t understand what our national interests actually were. It took Vladimir Putin to explain them.

In giving the order to invade Ukraine, Putin made nonsense of a raft of apologists who had, until the last hour, continued to believe that Russia could be satisfied with concessions, that it was acting out of “legitimate security concerns.” Putin didn’t start this war because of NATO expansion, or American imperialism, or Western weakness, or the defense of Christian civilization, or any other cause that directs blame away from the perpetrator. In 2014, Ukrainians staged what they called a “Revolution of Dignity” in Kyiv, and they’ve been struggling ever since to create a decent country, ruled by laws and not by thieves, free of Russia’s grip. That country was so intolerable to Putin that he decided to destroy it.

In 2016, in an interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, President Barack Obama took the realist view of the conflict in Ukraine: “The fact is that Ukraine, which is a non-NATO country, is going to be vulnerable to military domination by Russia no matter what we do.” He added, “This is an example of where we have to be very clear about what our core interests are and what we are willing to go to war for.” Obama was right not to go to war with Russia in 2014 when Putin annexed Crimea and invaded eastern Ukraine; and it would be equally disastrous for the U.S. to stumble into direct military conflict with Russia today. But if the front line between democracy and autocracy is a core interest of the United States, Obama should have concluded that the survival of Ukraine’s government was worth defending with American arms, harsh sanctions, and the international isolation of Russia’s rulers.

Obama’s successor took the Russian side of the conflict. President Donald Trump was willing to see pro-Russian kleptocrats return to power in Ukraine because they served his corrupt political ends, and because he and his followers despise liberal democracy and admire naked “strength,” especially when it’s exercised to break rules and heads. It was no accident that Trump’s first impeachment had its origins in Ukraine, with his attempt to blackmail President Volodymyr Zelensky to obtain political favors. The two countries are entangled, not just because of the war with Russia but because Ukraine is where the battle for democracy’s survival is most urgent. The fate of democracy here turns out to be connected to its fate there. Putin understands this far better than we do, which explains his dogged efforts to exploit the fractures in American society and further the institutional decay, and his use of Russian-backed corruption in Ukraine to corrupt politics in America. The West’s yearslong underestimation of his intentions and the stakes in Ukraine showed a failure of understanding and a weakening of liberal values.

Now Putin, along with his patron and enabler, Xi Jinping of China, has pushed into American and European faces a truth we didn’t want to see: that our core interests lie in the defense of those values. To be realist in our age is not to define American interests so narrowly that Ukraine becomes disposable but to understand that the world has broken up into democratic and autocratic spheres; that this division shapes everything from supply chains and competition for resources to state corruption and the influence of technology on human minds and societies; that the autocrats have gained the upper hand and know it. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, following its earlier efforts to stifle independence and democracy there, as well as in Georgia and Belarus, is the most dramatic but far from the last point of conflict between the two spheres.

If this conflict is a new cold war, it’s one that the autocracies have been pursuing energetically and the democracies have been loath to accept. Until the past few days, the West seemed unwilling to confront Putin in a way that would hurt enough to make him regret his aggression. While Russian troops massed along Ukraine’s borders, European leaders showed little enthusiasm for any sanctions against Russia that might cost their people in commodity prices and financial disruption, and themselves in popular support. Britain was reluctant to expose Russian oligarchs who launder their criminal wealth in its banks and mansions. Italy wanted to protect the value of its luxury goods, and Belgium its diamonds. Germany invoked its terrible history of war in pleading for a peace that kept its supply of gas and oil uninterrupted.

Since last Thursday, Ukrainian resistance to invasion has shamed and inspired much of the world. Protests that were absent during the Russian buildup throughout February now fill the streets in cities from Sydney and Tokyo to Berlin and Bern—even in St. Petersburg and Minsk. Over the weekend the European Union imposed devastating banking sanctions on Russia. Most remarkably, Germany ended its decades of nonintervention and declared that it will send military equipment to Ukraine. Even perpetually neutral Sweden is arming the Ukrainians. This sudden, energetic unity of the democracies shows the reserves of power that can be brought to bear against the autocracies without going to war.

While Joe Biden’s domestic political opponents look for any reason to criticize him, the president is handling the crisis with skill and imagination. Unlike Afghanistan, Europe and NATO have a special importance for him because of his long experience of the Cold War and its aftermath. For the first time in decades, an American president is showing that he, and only he, can lead the free world, including by allowing Europeans to be the public voice for policies that the Americans push in private. Biden is right to rule out sending troops—after two decades of fruitless death and destruction, some lessons of restraint are well worth learning, above all in a conflict with another nuclear power. But he should make clear to the Ukrainian people, who are fighting alone, that they can count on every other form of American support—weapons, training, humanitarian aid, intelligence, and sanctions that smother the Russian economy and sever Russia’s elites from all the benefits of the rich West. Biden should tell his own people that they will have to make sacrifices, and why they are worth making.

Putin may still win his bet on Western decadence and indifference. America is more insulated than Europe from the effects of punishing Russia, but nothing can protect us from ourselves. If this country fails to persevere in supporting Ukraine, the cynical opportunism of our political elites and the self-absorbed divisions of our people will be the reasons. Putin’s assault on Ukrainian democracy will test American democracy as well.

As I write, Russian troops are attacking Kyiv and Kharkiv. Young Ukrainians—journalists, students with no military training, counterparts of those Afghans who lost everything last summer in the effort to escape from Kabul—are leaving their families and volunteering for the Territorial Defense Forces to fight against a far superior enemy. Even if the Russians decapitate the Zelensky government and replace it with a puppet regime, the war will go on, perhaps for months, perhaps for years. Ukrainians are fighting with the ferocity of people who know exactly what they have to lose. As long as they keep on, we owe them every chance to survive and, ultimately, succeed. They’re fighting on our behalf too.