Tag: russian army
Prigozhin's Revolt: Kremlin In Panic As 'Putin's Chief' Turns On Putin

Prigozhin's Revolt: Kremlin In Panic As 'Putin's Chief' Turns On Putin

Things are turning more and more sour between Yevgeny Prigohzin, head of the mercenary Russian outfit Wagner Group, and his one-time patron in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin. Prigohzin, who can date his economic rise in Russia to the state of oligarch to the time he served as “Putin’s chef,” has now been targeted for arrest by Russia’s Federal Security Service for “incitement to armed rebellion.”

Apparently fearing open conflict with his former friend and the victor in Russia’s nearly year long attempt to take the small Ukrainian town of Bakhmut, Putin has ordered that armed military vehicles be deployed in both Moscow and in the Russian city of Rostov on Don, just east of the border with Ukraine and not far from the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, first destroyed and then occupied by Russia early in the war.

Prigozhin announced on his Telegram channel late on Friday that he and his Wagner Group soldiers were heading for Rostov on Don. He said he believed that the Russian Minister of Defense, Sergei K. Shoigu, ordered a deadly attack on his Wagner forces from Rostov on Don. Prigozhin had earlier posted a video on Telegram accusing the Russian Ministry of Defense of corruption in the war effort and orchestrating the attack on Wagner soldiers under his command. “We are going farther [than Rostov on Don]. We will go to the end,” Prigozhin threatened, an apparent reference to Moscow itself.

In response, Kremlin spokesman Dimitri Peskov issued a rare after-midnight Saturday statement from Moscow about the brewing tensions between the Russian Defense Ministry and Prigozhin: “Special services and law enforcement agencies, namely the Defense Ministry, Federal Security Service, Interior Ministry and the Russian Guard, constantly report to the president in a round-the-clock mode on the measures taken in the context of the implementation of his earlier instructions,” Peskov said, apparently referring to his statement earlier in the day that under the orders of Putin, “all measures are being taken.”

It is of course an understatement to say that it is never a good sign when your army is going to war against itself in the middle of a war on foreign soil. This feud between Prigozhin and Russia’s Ministry of Defense has been brewing for nearly six months. Prigozhin accused the defense ministry of not supplying his Wagner Group soldiers with enough ammunition when they were attempting to take Bakhmut. After he had taken the town, Prigozhin announced he was withdrawing his soldiers and dared the Defense Ministry to hold the town, an apparent reference to his previous criticism of regular Russian forces as incompetent and ill-led.

But it wasn’t until Friday that Prigozhin went as far as he has this time, criticizing not only those close to Putin, but Putin himself in all but name. “Our holy war with those who offend the Russian people, with those who are trying to humiliate them, has turned into a racket,” Prigozhin said on his Telegram channel earlier today. “The war wasn’t needed to return Russian citizens to our bosom, nor to demilitarize or denazify Ukraine,” Prigozhin continued, making what can only be described as a specific allusion to Putin’s announced justification for the war from its outset. “The war was needed so that a bunch of animals could simply exult in glory.”

Just between you and me, you don’t lump Vladimir Putin in with “a bunch of animals” and get away with it in today’s Russia. With Prigozhin openly taking a walk from committing his troops in the fight against Ukraine, it’s anybody’s guess what will happen next, not only to the man they call “Putin’s chef,” but to Russia’s war effort itself.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

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In The 'Wilderness Of Mirrors,' Who Leaked (And Changed) Ukraine Intelligence?

In The 'Wilderness Of Mirrors,' Who Leaked (And Changed) Ukraine Intelligence?

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The old saying “confusion reigns” is appropriate to describe the mood in Washington D.C. on the fifth day after top-secret Pentagon documents began appearing on social media sites like Twitter, Telegram, and 4chan last week. Nobody knows who the leaker is, and there are only hints as to what the purpose of the leaks might be.

Usually leaks of sensitive information have an agenda: the leaker wants to expose programs or information which the leaker opposes or believes to be illegal. Edward Snowden’s disclosure of highly classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA) was such a leak. Sometimes the leak has to do with a grudge – a national political leader wants to embarrass a nation with which he or she is at odds. Sometimes leaks are purely political, as were the leaks by Russian intelligence of emails from the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta in order to help the campaign of a politician Russia considered friendly, Donald Trump.

Sometimes secrets are leaked for unknown reasons by persons unknown, which appears to be the case with the Pentagon secrets that started showing up on social media last week. There are indications, some of them not so subtle, that the recent leaks were connected to or at least inspired by Russian intelligence. Some of the leaked documents are so-called slides that had been used to brief members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Others appear to be pages from briefing books that were seen by the Joint Chiefs. According to the New York Times, some of the documents appear to have come from the CIA’s operations center.

The U.S. gathers intelligence in a number of ways. The NSA picks up what they call “signals” intelligence from satellites, radio communications, cellphones, even scrambled conversations on wired telephone lines, which they de-scramble and interpret. The CIA gathers so-called human intelligence from agents on the ground and from open sources like news reports. One of the CIA’s main purposes is to analyze the material it has gathered, as well as help to understand information coming from the NSA and military intelligence sources. The Pentagon gathers its own intelligence using the Defense Intelligence Agency. The Office of National Intelligence, established after 9/11showed that communications among the various intelligence agencies was severely lacking, is supposed to oversee the whole web of data and intelligence gathering.

A number of the leaked documents were altered to show reduced Russian casualty figures in the war in Ukraine, while the Ukrainian casualties were higher than the figures originally on the documents. Who altered the documents is unknown, as is the motive. The fact that the figures favor Russia would appear to be a rather large clue until you consider that there could be ulterior motives behind the altered figures.

It could be one of those intelligence “wilderness of mirrors” mysteries. If the Russians penetrated U.S. intelligence and somehow got hold of the documents, they could have altered the casualty figures for propaganda purposes to show they were doing better in the war than the media has reported. The Russians may hope that because the documents come from an intelligence leak, they might be taken more seriously than official casualty figures released or leaked from the Pentagon.

Or the leaker may have altered the casualty figures to point the finger at Russia and away from him or her. The Times reported today that the leaked documents “look like hastily taken photographs of pieces of paper sitting atop what appears to be a hunting magazine. Former officials who have reviewed the material say it appears that a classified briefing was folded up, placed in a pocket and then taken out of a secure area to be photographed.” If the leak came from a person who works in the Pentagon and who has access to the papers circulating around the “E-Ring” where offices of top officials such as the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff are, the leaker would certainly want to conceal his or her identity by the use of misdirection like the altered casualty figures.

The leaked information “includes sensitive briefing material on Canada, China, Israel and South Korea, in addition to the Indo-Pacific military theater and the Middle East,” which could be another way of pointing fingers away from the real purpose of the leaks, which appears to be influencing the war in Ukraine, according to experts interviewed by the Times.

Some of the documents show resupply data for the Ukrainian military, including amounts of ammunition, the shipment of new war materiel such as tanks and armored personnel carriers, and the schedules showing estimated arrival times in Ukraine. Other documents reveal that the Ukrainian military is running low on missiles for its air defense system. “Without a huge influx of munitions, Ukraine’s entire air defense network, weakened by repeated barrages from Russian drones and missiles, could fracture, according to U.S. officials and newly leaked Pentagon documents,” the Times reported this morning.

If the documents are accurate, and Ukraine’s air defenses have been seriously weakened, that would open to door to Russia making more use of its air force to attack Ukrainian artillery batteries. At this point, the battle fought along the 600-mile front lines of the conflict is an artillery war. With reports that Ukraine is already rationing artillery shells in its battle for Bakhmut, if Russia could strike directly at Ukrainian artillery batteries with its jets, that would be a serious blow to Ukraine’s war effort.

There were big reports in the Times and Washington Post about how the documents reveal the extent to which U.S. intelligence has penetrated the Russian military and intelligence services with so-called signals intelligence – that is, vacuuming up Russian communications on the battlefield, including those from the battlefield back to command and control centers in Moscow. In fact, both papers have reported that the leaked documents show the U.S. knows more about Russia’s strengths and weaknesses than it does about Ukraine’s.

Or maybe in the wilderness of mirrors from which the leaked documents emerged, it’s the other way around. If at least some of the top-secret documents were leaked intentionally by the U.S., that might be misdirection, intended to make the Russian military and intelligence services believe the U.S. has more information than it really does.

The truth could be somewhere in between. We may never know the truth of who leaked the documents and why, which is much more likely, and that may be part of the intention of the leaks to begin with.

Some reports say the leaked documents may sow discord among NATO allies by revealing the extent the U.S. spies on its friends. That seems unlikely to me, because Great Britain, France, Germany, and other allies have known for decades that the U.S. hoovers up intelligence from its allies and enemies alike with the massive capabilities of the National Security Agency. So when analysis of the leaked documents tends to show discord among NATO allies engaged in supplying Ukraine, that could be even more misdirection, meant to conceal the fact that there is no discord whatsoever, and everything with NATO and the Ukraine war effort is on track, well-coordinated, and working just fine.

The leak of one document dated March 1 about the training of Ukrainian units by NATO troops when General Mark Milley was in Germany to observe combined arms training of a Ukrainian battalion, would seem to be more of such misdirection. The leak may be pointing the finger at that specific Ukrainian battalion being observed quite publicly by Milley – there were stories and even photographs in the press at the time – in order to conceal the training of even more Ukrainian battalions elsewhere, such as Poland or Lithuania or even Finland, which had not yet finalized its membership in NATO but could have already been cooperating as a U.S. and NATO ally-in-waiting.

That the leaked documents raise more questions than they answer could be the real intent of the leaks. Keeping the Russians guessing about U.S. intelligence abilities is one of the main aims of the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA. The same goes for the leaked documents which appear to show that Ukraine is low on missiles for its air-defense system. That could be a complete lie, intended to lure Russia into using its air force jets so the Ukrainians can shoot them out of the sky with air defenses that were never weak to begin with.

Sometimes intelligence agencies will penetrate an enemy’s intelligence and leak secrets just to see what the enemy will do about it. Documents recently leaked on social media sites like Twitter, Telegram, and 4chan appear to show that the U.S. has penetrated Russian intelligence and security agencies far deeper than previously known. According to the Times, the documents show that “American intelligence has been able to obtain daily real-time warnings on the timing of Moscow’s strikes and even its specific targets.”

See what I mean about misdirection, confusion, and secrets? That’s the nature of the war-making beast. Keep the enemy off guard. Fill the enemy’s ears and eyes with lies. Having the lies come from leaks could be another way of ensuring that Russia takes disinformation more seriously than they would if the information came from elsewhere. The Pentagon and the CIA know that Russia’s satellite intelligence, both photographic and signals intelligence, is weak. The point is, Russia doesn’t know what it doesn’t know. Confusion is good, because it gives the U.S. and NATO the opportunity to turn the wilderness of mirrors into a carnival funhouse with the leaked documents as free tickets for the ride.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV..

Please consider subscribing to Lucian Truscott Newsletter, from which this is reprinted with permission.

Ukraine Or Vietnam: This Is What Losing A War Looks Like

Ukraine Or Vietnam: This Is What Losing A War Looks Like

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Writing about the madness of war reminded me of my first months as a second lieutenant in the Army. I was stationed at Fort Benning, the “Home of the Infantry,” to attend the Infantry School, a beginner course for lieutenants destined for platoon commands.

If you drove onto the post, located on the edge of Columbus, Georgia, you wouldn’t know anything was wrong. The first thing you saw was a gigantic wooden thermometer with its red indicator almost to the top, indicating 99 percent participation in the United Way fund drive on the post. Then came immaculately groomed grass along the sides of the road and sidewalks lined with white painted rocks and headquarters buildings with American flags flapping atop white flagpoles and platoons of trainees in fatigues and spit-shined combat boots marching in formation along the roadsides.

Looking at Fort Benning’s obsessive neatness and the discipline of the troops and the neatly lined-up vehicles in the motor pools, you would be forgiven if you forgot that the war in Vietnam was raging thousands of miles away across half a continent and the Pacific Ocean.

Beneath the placid surface of things at Fort Benning and outside its gates, however, things were coming apart. In June, Life magazine had published its ground-breaking cover story, “The Faces of the American Dead in Vietnam: One Week’s Toll.” Inside were 10 pages of the photographs and names of 242 American soldiers who had been killed in a single week in Vietnam. Local papers around the country had been publishing photos of the boys from the small towns who had been killed as the deaths were announced, but this was the first time photographs of the war dead had been collected in a single place, and it was stunning.

It was as if the editors at Time-Life in New York City had finally decided to take a stand against the war. The dead were 19 years old, or 25, a few were in their 30’s, but their faces looked impossibly young. In the coming months and years, the Life cover with the faces of the dead would mark a turning point in support for the war. Richard Nixon, who had run for president saying he had a “secret plan” to end the war, had been in office only a few months, but even by then it was obvious there was no plan. We were losing the war in Vietnam, and more people were realizing that nearly every day.

On the post at Fort Benning, life went on as normal. At the Infantry School, we marched to and from classrooms and training areas with student platoon leaders marching alongside their platoons calling out the defiant cadence of the young and the doomed:

If I die in a combat zone

Box me up and ship me home

Tell my girl I done my best!

Lay my medals across my chest

Lay my body six foot down

Until you hear it touch the ground!

We rode in deuce-and-a-half trucks to the firing range; we spent rainy nights soaked to the skin on training maneuvers; we studied how to formulate mission statements and ops orders in classrooms in old World War II-era wooden buildings; we ate C-rations in the field and cold sandwiches and Cokes from food trucks on the post. Nobody talked about Vietnam. Nobody had orders yet; soldiers would be sent to brief stateside assignments, and then they’d get orders. It was far away in the future, the war, months away at least.

We read in the papers that in May, a great victory had been won at Hamburger Hill in Vietnam. A battalion from the 101st Airborne Division had driven a large unit of the North Vietnamese Army from a hilltop in the A Sau Valley near the border with Laos. The battle was part of the famed, or infamous, “search and destroy” tactics in the war, where U.S. army units basically went out into the boonies until they encountered the enemy and fought them. The battle of Hamburger Hill was supposed to interdict North Vietnamese supply routes into Vietnam from the Ho Chi Minh trail.

Back home, there were hints, rumblings that all was not well. Just before we graduated West Point in June, the Academy administration did something it had never done before. They brought a group of young officers back from the war, straight to West Point, and put on a panel in an auditorium to talk to my entire class about what it was like to be a young officer in combat.

During questions after their presentation, which could charitably be described as dispirited, someone I was sitting near asked about stories in the paper about drug use among soldiers over there. One of the older officers, I think he was a captain or a major, said the stories were false, liberal propaganda against the war. When the panel was over, one of the second lieutenants came down the steps from the stage straight over to where the questioner was sitting. A bunch of us gathered around as he said they had been ordered to deny stories of drug use, but it was a lie. Drug use was rampant in Vietnam he told us, sotto voce. Believe the papers, not the army.

One day at Fort Benning, I ran into a classmate at the PX and we stopped to talk. He told me something strange had happened recently. He was sharing an apartment off-post with another lieutenant he had found advertising for a roommate on a bulletin board somewhere. A few days before as he and his roommate were getting ready to drive onto the post, his roommate had been arrested by the MP’s and taken away. He didn’t know what for, and he hadn’t seen his roommate since. I asked him what the guy's name was. “Rusty Calley,” he answered. I forgot about it, writing it off as some goof who was probably picked up for coming on to a colonel’s wife at a bar and run out of the army.

It wouldn’t be until November that Seymour Hersh’s stories about the massacre at My Lai hit the press. We were gone from Fort Benning by then.

There were rumblings in my student company at the Infantry School as well. A few weeks into the course, they started putting pressure on us to contribute to the United Fund drive. The battalion commander was demanding 100 percent participation. Just for the hell of it, a friend and I drove down to the United Fund offices after getting off that afternoon. We asked to see something that told us how the United Fund money was being used in the Columbus community. They gave us a list of organizations – Boys and Girls Clubs, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, a small community theater group, that sort of thing.

We checked the United Fund documents we were given and saw that four Boy Scout troops were getting funds, a thousand dollars or something like that. We found the number for the local Boy Scouts office and learned that there were eight scout troops in the town. We went back to the United Fund and asked why four Boy Scout troops were getting United Fund money, but four weren’t. Unabashed, they told us those were the Black scout troops. We looked a little further into what the United Fund supported and what it didn’t and found that no Black organizations in Columbus received United Fund support.

The next day, we got our student company commander, who was Black, to announce to the whole company at morning formation that no money from the United Fund was going to Black organizations in Columbus. The United Fund was nakedly racist. He said he wasn’t contributing to the United Fund. We spread the word that we weren’t either. A few days later, the battalion commander came down and said only one guy in the company had contributed to the United Fund. Our lunch hour was canceled and we were marched over to an old World War II-era movie theater.

We were all seated when a major walked out on the stage and announced that Lt. Col. Weldon Honeycutt, the hero of Hamburger Hill, would be addressing us on why we should contribute to the United Fund. He was on some kind of tour giving speeches around the country to counter the bad reviews the battle of Hamburger Hill was getting in the press. With that, Honeycutt, a rather squat figure with a crewcut and thick neck in starched fatigues, strode across the stage into the spotlight. He made some short remarks about the big win at Hamburger Hill and then launched into a speech about discipline and morale and good order and how an army wasn’t an army unless everyone was on the same page, and on he went with boilerplate we had all heard a dozen times at West Point. And then he ended by banging on the podium and telling us that we wouldn’t be able to be good combat commanders unless we followed orders and gave to the United Fund!

The place erupted in applause. Honeycutt took it as applause for him and his speech, but the major who had introduced him got it that we were applauding for another reason. He signaled to Honeycutt from the wings to cut it short, but Honeycutt ignored the major and growled, “Questions, gentlemen?” There was a long silence, and then the guy sitting next to me, Strosher, got to his feet.

Strosher was a former sergeant who had been given a battlefield commission to first lieutenant two months previously in Vietnam because he had been the only guy in the 25th Infantry Division to blow an ambush in a year. Yes, that means exactly what you think it does. Soldiers had basically stopped fighting the war by the summer of 1969, and when they were sent out on night ambush patrols, they would just sit there. They wanted to stay alive more than they wanted to fight the VC.

Strosher said the ambush he commanded had been blown when one of his soldiers fell asleep and his head accidentally fell onto the trigger for a Claymore mine and set it off. A VC patrol happened to be walking past their position, and the rest of the patrol started firing and blowing their claymores and they killed a dozen enemy, and Strosher was a hero. He didn’t want to be promoted. He was happy as a sergeant, he told me, but the division commander insisted he take the commission, and he was sent back to the states to attend the Infantry School.

Strosher, who despite the silver bar on his collar, still looked and sounded like a sergeant and had the cocky attitude of a guy with 10 years in the service and two tours in Vietnam under his belt, knew the answer to the question he would ask Honeycutt before he asked it. He paused a moment and then introduced himself. “Sir, First Lieutenant Strosher. Can I ask where you were during the battle of Hamburger Hill?” He remained standing.

Honeycutt looked confused, as if he hadn’t been asked that question before. “Uh, I was in my C&C ship at my assigned altitude.” Honeycutt was referring to his command and control helicopter. Thinking to himself, doing a mental calculation, Honeycutt continued: “Uh, 2,500 feet as I recall.”

Strosher lifted a hand in a little wave and said, “Thank you, sir. That’s all I needed to know.” The place erupted in laughter. Honeycutt had done what we would today call saying the quiet part out loud. While 72 of his men were killed 2,500 feet below him, and 372 were wounded, he was circling the battlefield in a helicopter wearing a headset and microphone giving orders.

Wars aren’t lost on the battlefield alone. They’re lost in the countries that wage them with politics and posturing and lies and sending out puffed-up buffoons like Honeycutt to transform tragedy into heroism, loss into victory. Wars are lost by exercising racist policies and permitting, even rewarding, racist behavior and expecting no one to notice. Wars are lost by mistaking technology for genius, tactics for strategy, means for ends. If we take this hill and that town and kill that number of enemy soldiers and blow-up apartments and destroy hospitals and explode power stations and burn villages and kill civilians and damage and poison crops and call it a victory, then it will be, or so they think.

One year after I was at Fort Benning, I went back there to cover the trial of Lieutenant William Laws “Rusty” Calley for The Village Voice. He was charged with the premeditated murder of 109 civilians in the hamlet of My Lai in 1968. Calley put up the classic defense that he was just following orders. I was in the courtroom on the day that he testified. As I sat there, I heard whole paragraphs of the Infantry Manual come out of his mouth as he described the “standing assault” he and his platoon conducted that day.

Lieutenant Calley was a product of his times. He had been drafted into the army during Project 100,000, a program instituted by Robert McNamara to induct substandard men into the service at a time when they weren’t getting enough recruits and too many young men were dodging the draft. They lowered the IQ level necessary to serve, did away with the requirement for a high school diploma, and gave anyone serving less than two years in jail for minor offenses the opportunity to get out early if they would sign up for the army. Calley, who had dropped out of junior college, was one of the more stellar recruits and was sent to Officer Training School and became a second lieutenant in the Infantry.

This is what Calley told the jury in answer to a question from his own attorney on the day I was in the courtroom: “Well, I was ordered to go in there and destroy the enemy. That was my job on that day. That was the mission I was given. I did not sit down and think in terms of men, women, and children. They were all classified the same, and that was the classification that we dealt with, just as enemy soldiers. I felt then and I still do that I acted as I was directed, and I carried out the orders that I was given, and I do not feel wrong in doing so, sir.”

This is what losing looks like. This is Hamburger Hill. This is My Lai. This is Bucha. This is Mariupol. This is Kyiv. This is Odessa. This is Lviv.

This is the United States of America. This is the Russian Federation. This is war. There are no winners. Only the dead, and memory, if you can keep it.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

Please consider subscribing to Lucian Truscott Newsletter, from which this is reprinted with permission.

'What Madness Looks Like': How Ukraine Is Becoming Putin's Vietnam

'What Madness Looks Like': How Ukraine Is Becoming Putin's Vietnam

Here are some names for you: Svatore; Kreminna; Soledar. That’s where some of the most intense fighting is going on right now in Ukraine. All are towns in the Luhansk region near Bakmhut, the front-line town held by Ukraine where the heaviest fighting is. We’ll get to some of the rest of the fighting that’s taking place in Ukraine in a moment, especially the battles that have followed Ukraine’s victory in November which took the port city of Kherson in the south. But for right now, Russian forces are concentrating their heaviest, most brutal efforts around Bakhmut, south and east of the cities of Lyman and Izyum, which Ukraine took back from Russian forces in its September offensive in the northeastern Kharkiv region.

Why certain cities, or rivers, or even hilltops become strategic centers of military effort and end up as famous battles is one of the great mysteries of wars. In our own military history, the names of important battles roll easily off the tongue: Gettysburg; Hamburger Hill; the battle for Hue; the siege of Bastogne; the landing at Anzio; crossing the Rhine at Remagen; operation Anaconda in Afghanistan.

The reason some of the battles were strategically important is easy to understand. The landing at Anzio set up the assault that ended up with Allied forces taking Rome and led to the eventual defeat of the German army in Italy in April of 1945. The Union army defeated Confederate forces at Gettysburg in their only major offensive north of the Mason-Dixon line. Holding Bastogne was essential to victory in the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes forest in Belgium near the end of World War II.

Other battles made practically no strategic sense at all. The battle in Vietnam for Hamburger Hill lasted 10 days and cost 72 American lives, with 372 wounded. The hill was abandoned by the 101st Airborne Division days after it was taken from the North Vietnamese army. Like so much combat in Vietnam, the battle seemed pointless to begin with, pointless when it was over, and Hamburger Hill came to symbolize the futility of the entire war.

The Russian effort to take Bakhmut makes little strategic sense unless it’s looked at in the context of Russia’s entire war effort. The war in Ukraine is effectively a two-front war at this point: the combat front lines stretching from the Russian border east of Kharkiv to the Black Sea near Kherson in the south; and what might be called the rear lines in major population centers in the country’s central, southern, and western areas.

Much of the reporting nearly a year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine explains what’s going on in terms of Vladimir Putin’s pique. His army lost a huge swath of territory in Eastern Ukraine, thousands of square miles, so he got very, very mad and sent hundreds of guided cruise missiles and drones into Ukraine’s population centers like Kyiv, Kharkiv, Lviv, and Odessa, taking out apartment buildings, churches, museums, shopping areas, schools, and other civilian targets. He ordered an equal number of missiles and drones to target Ukraine’s energy infrastructure in an attempt to deny most of the country’s population electricity, heat and water over the winter.

Putin’s major problem after nearly 11 months of war is that he cannot just order his army to win its battles on the front lines in Ukraine’s east and south and take more territory. He set out last February wanting to take over the entire country. That was what the offensive against Kyiv was about. His generals and intelligence agencies told him that he could quickly take Ukraine’s capital and force the collapse of the government. President Zelensky would flee, Putin could install a puppet government, and Ukraine would be his.

Look at Putin now. The news is filled with reports of the brutal fighting around Bakhmut and Donetsk and the Russian army’s defense of its positions in Zaporizhia east of Kherson, trying to prevent Ukraine from cutting off Russia’s land-bridge to Crimea. Putin is sitting there in Moscow reduced to fighting for little towns in the middle of agriculture fields in eastern and southern Ukraine.

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is resembling more and more the United States invasion of Vietnam with regular army and Marine forces in the mid-1960’s. Putin had no good reason to invade Ukraine. He made a couple of stabs at strategic excuses before the war, giving unhinged speeches about the threat of NATO and how Ukraine was “historically” part of Russia. Nobody believed him. He just wanted to do it.

Similarly, Lyndon Johnson ordered hundreds of thousands of American soldiers to go to war in Vietnam with no reason any sane person accepted. There was the “domino theory,” of course. Johnson didn’t want to be blamed for “losing” Southeast Asia in the way that American leftists and “commies” were blamed for “losing” China after World War II. It was bunkum, all of it, from the very beginning right through to the Vietnam war’s ignominious end.

This week’s battle for Bakhmut seems to fall squarely into the Hamburger Hill analogy. Taking Hill 937, our army’s map designation for that piece of Vietnam real estate, had no strategic importance other than it was there, and it was occupied by an army we didn’t like, the army of North Vietnam – a false construct if there ever was one, like the DMZ dividing North and South Korea. Major General Melvin Zais, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, admitted as much after the battle was over and the dead were being packaged up to be shipped back home. “This is not a war of hills. That hill had no military value whatsoever,” said Zais. “We found the enemy on Hill 937 and that's where we fought him.” And then they left.

The American “victory” at Hamburger Hill caused a great debate in Congress over the war, and it led to a major change in tactics by the overall American military commander in Vietnam, General Creighton Abrams. The American effort in Vietnam went from something called “maximum engagement” with the enemy to “protective reaction,” which was essentially to defend American troops who came under attack by NVA or Vietcong forces. On June 10, 1969, five days after the 101st abandoned its positions on Hamburger Hill, President Richard Nixon announced the first troop withdrawals from Vietnam.

Putin hasn’t announced any troop withdrawals yet. Instead, he just did it, permitting his forces which failed to take Kyiv in the early weeks of the war to withdraw into Belarus and across the border into Russia. There, they were reconstituted and redeployed into other areas that Russia had taken but which already needed defending, like Kharkiv and Kherson. They proceeded to lose most of the Kharkiv region in northeastern Ukraine and Kherson in the south, and now Putin’s forces are hanging onto Donetsk by their fingernails and fighting one bloody engagement after another trying to take back Bakhmut and other small towns along the frontlines in Ukraine’s northeast that they lost in September. Sounds like our “protective reaction” in Vietnam, doesn’t it?

The other way Putin’s invasion of Ukraine compares with our invasion of Vietnam is that his soldiers are fighting on foreign ground against an army comprised of the people who live there. It’s their land, and that’s why Ukraine isn’t having any problems with discipline and the will to fight with its army. They want to be there. They are volunteers fighting for their country. Putin’s army, on the other hand, is today filled with ill-trained conscripts, at least some of whom had to be rounded up and forced to serve. Our army in Vietnam was full of draftees who didn’t want to be there who were fighting in a foreign land against people who knew the territory and fought fiercely to take it back from the American aggressors.

Russia is reported to be desperate for victories, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) and the British Defense Ministry, which have been very good at deciphering Russian intentions in the war. The ISW reported on Saturday that a White House source claimed last week that Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Russian billionaire who owns the mercenary operation The Wagner Group which is fighting in Ukraine for Russia, appears to be intent on exploiting part of eastern Ukraine for profit. Prigozhin is said to be planning to extract salt and gypsum from deep mines in the Bakhmut region. According to the ISW, in the south, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov is apparently trying to exploit industrial parts of Mariupol for his own business purposes.

Russian military bloggers, who have become hugely important in the war because they reflect Russian right-wing attitudes about the war, have been critical of Prigozhin and Russian commanders on the front lines because the battles to take Soledar and Bakhmut are causing such heavy Russian losses. And today Putin showed he’s listening to the military bloggers by announcing that he is replacing his top ground commander, Gen. Sergei Surovikin, with Gen. Valery Gerasimov, who was one of the key architects of the war. Good luck with your new fall-guy, Vladdy.

But beyond these hints about Russian intentions from bloggers and rumors from inside Russia, it's hard to know on a day-to-day basis how the battles being fought in Bakhmut and Soledar are going to go, or why Russia is fighting so hard to take these specific small towns, especially when so much damage has been done over the last 10 months of the war. “Everything is completely destroyed. There is almost no life left,” President Zelensky said of the fighting around Bakhmut yesterday. “The whole land near Soledar is covered with the corpses of the occupiers and scars from the strikes. This is what madness looks like.”

And yet the madness continues.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

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