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Monday, December 09, 2019

Tag: ukraine war

Latest Strikes On Civilian Targets In Ukraine Show Russia Is A Terrorist State

With news breaking on Tuesday afternoon that two Russian missiles may have struck a grain processing plant in Poland near its border with Ukraine, killing two Polish civilians, one question immediately arises: Why would Russia be firing missiles at targets within Ukraine that are close enough to the Polish border that a misfired, or off course, missile might land within the territory of Poland, a NATO ally?

All the facts are not in yet, but military experts interviewed on MSNBC, including General Barry McCaffrey and Admiral James Stavridis, the former Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, seem confident that two Russian missiles apparently struck Polish soil. The town where the grain processing facility is located, Przewodow, is four miles from the border with Ukraine and is about 60 miles north of the Ukrainian city of Lviv, which was the target of a major Russian missile attack today.

Both Lviv and Przewodow are within the range of a Russian Iskander SS-26 missile fired from within the territory of Belarus, directly north of both Lviv and Eastern Poland. The Iskander missile, launched from a mobile platform on a truck chassis, has been used repeatedly by Russia against civilian and military targets inside Ukraine. It is thought to be one of the missiles being used to target Ukrainian energy facilities which are within its reach if fired from either Russian or Belarussian soil.


Everyone, including former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, agrees that the Russian missile strikes on Monday night and early Tuesday against civilian targets in Ukraine were made in retaliation for Ukraine’s recent victory in Kherson, when several days ago they ran Russian forces out of the important Ukrainian port on the Black Sea.

But, wait a minute! If you are a great power with a large army, a strong navy, and a powerful air force that has long range bombers and the latest up-to-date fighter jets, aren’t you supposed to respond to an enemy assault on the ground militarily? Shouldn’t Russia be marshaling its forces in the south of Ukraine for a major counterattack with the aim of re-taking the territory it lost around Kherson?

That would be the case if Russia was indeed a great power with a powerful army, navy, and air force, including, it must be noted, nuclear weapons. But nine months after its abortive invasion of Ukraine, Russia has shown itself to be a second or even third-rate military power that has suffered defeat after defeat since its invasion of Ukraine in February.

Russia’s forces are holding onto a sliver of territory taken in the early months of the war along Ukraine’s eastern border, and in its south along the Sea of Azoz and the Black Sea, at least until Ukraine re-took Kherson last week. Instead of assembling a military force in the south capable of re-taking Kherson and launching a counterattack, Vladimir Putin has struck back at Ukrainian civilians and its energy infrastructure.

This is what terrorist states and terrorist actors do when they perceive that they are weaker than their enemies. It’s what al Qaeda did in 2001, when lacking an air force and a well-equipped army, they launched their now infamous attack on America by hijacking airliners and flying them into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington D.C.

Putin isn’t that weak. He didn’t have to resort to hijackings and hostage taking. Instead, he launched missiles against civilians in Ukraine, and it now appears, in Poland as well. It is not known at this time which missiles were launched against Ukraine, although reports from Ukraine say a “mass launch of KH-101 cruise missiles” took place from the Vologograd-Astrakhan Region in Russia earlier today.

It is thought that the Iskander SS-26 missile could also have been used against targets in Ukraine, as it was earlier in the war. It is a short-range semi -ballistic missile, which is to say, after launch, the missile is unpowered, following a trajectory programmed by the ground launch system. The missile is maneuverable with small fins and has a relatively flat trajectory, staying within the earth’s atmosphere. The Iskander is equipped with an optical guidance system which is employed as the missile nears its target. Aerial photographs of a target can be programmed into the missile which the missile is supposed to lock onto in flight and follow as its trajectory descends toward the target. The KH-101 cruise missiles also have an optical guidance system used as the missile nears its target.

But the Russian missile is “guided” only in a very basic sense, and it is not very accurate. Its optical homing system used by both the Iskander and the KH-101 is vulnerable to low-lying clouds, heavy rain, and other bad weather. The Russian missiles which apparently struck the grain facility in Poland may have been set to hit targets in and around Lviv, which took a heavy missile barrage around the time of the strikes in Poland. The Russian missiles may have been caused to go off-target by either weather or anti-missile battery fire. All of this is, at this point, unknown.

What is known by the strikes on Kyiv, Kharkiv, and other population centers earlier today, is that the missiles were sent to hit civilian targets. Several civilian apartment buildings were hit in Kyiv and Lviv. Ukrainian energy infrastructure also came under missile attack.

This is not the military behavior of a great power that has gone to war against a weaker enemy. It is the behavior of a desperate dictator striking out wildly against a country he has made his enemy by fiat and against which he is losing the war he launched. Ukraine didn’t perceive itself to be an enemy of Russia before it was invaded. The perception of Ukraine as an enemy of Russia was entirely Vladimir Putin’s, just as the perception of the U.S. as an enemy was entirely Osama bin Laden’s. Ukraine didn’t ask for the Russian attack on its soil any more than the U.S. asked for the attack by al Qaeda against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Terrorists carried out those attacks, and terrorists carried out the attacks on civilian targets in Ukraine today and every other day since the war was started by Russia on February 24. Poland being struck by Russian missiles was avoidable by Putin any time before he launched his invasion of Ukraine nine months ago.

Military leaders of NATO nations are meeting under Article Four of the NATO treaty. This is the article NATO follows before engaging Article Five, which famously pledges that an attack on any NATO nation is an attack against all of them.

The situation now,, after the Russian missiles apparently landed on Polish soil, is unstable. By attacking Ukraine, Putin thought he could keep his neighbor country out of NATO. Now he has driven Ukraine into an even tighter military alliance with NATO than existed before February 24. Ukraine has become a NATO member country in all but name. It is Putin’s nightmare. Whether it will turn into Europe’s nightmare as well, only time and careful military analysis will tell.

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.

Reprinted with permission from Lucian Truscott Newsletter

Kremlin Still Claims Kherson Even As Russian Troops Abandon Major Port City

The Russian army pulled out of the region around the city of Kherson overnight on Thursday, leaving behind army uniforms, stockpiles of ammunition, and a local populace cheering the arrival of Ukrainian forces in the street. The New York Times reported from the front lines yesterday that the Russian military has left the small village of Blahodatne, located on the strategic M14 main highway leading to Mykolaiv, another port city on the Pivdennnyi Buh about 60 miles west of Kherson. Ukraine has held Mykolaiv for some time but has not held Blahodatne or any of the other villages to the west and north of Kherson.

The Russian defense ministry announced in Moscow this morning that the retreat of all Russian troops on the west bank of the Dnipro River was complete. The Times, which has a photographer and at least two reporters on the scene, reported that the Russians are setting up new defensive positions on the east bank of the Dnipro and were beginning to shell Ukrainian military units advancing on Kherson on the west bank of the river.

The Times reporters, Andrew E. Kramer and Marc Santora, wrote that they had spoken by phone to residents of Kherson this morning who told them that “While there was no visible Russian military presence in the city on Friday, four residents described seeing Russian soldiers dressed in civilian clothes — some armed — moving about parts of the city.”

“Kherson is returning under the control of Ukraine. Units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine are entering the city,” the intelligence directorate of Ukraine’s defense ministry said in a statement released in Kyiv on Friday morning.

Meanwhile, in Moscow, Putin’s government appeared to still be laying claim to Kherson. “Kherson region is a subject of the Russian Federation. This status is fixed,” Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, announced. “There can be no changes here.”

Reports from the front lines in Kherson indicate that Peskov should probably consult the local residents, who continued to greet advancing Ukrainian troops waving the distinctive blue and yellow national flag of Ukraine. The Russian defense ministry spokesman in Moscow appeared just as deluded. “Not a single piece of military equipment and weaponry was left … and there were no losses of personnel, weapons, equipment,” a defense ministry spokesman said.

Below is a photograph of a warehouse in Blahodatne that was part of a Russian military base there. The photo was taken by Lynsey Addario of the New York Times on Friday morning. It shows stacks of ammunition boxes and rows of what appear to be 82 mm mortar rounds lying on the ground. That is Russian ammunition. Those are Ukrainian troops walking through the warehouse examining their find.

Ukrainian soldiers in weapons depot captured from Russians in Blahodatne, Ukraine on November 11, 2022Photo by Lynsey Addario/New York Times


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.

Reprinted with permission from Lucian Truscott Newsletter

After Losing Kherson, How Will Putin Hold Russian Line In Ukraine?

Okay, let’s first dispense with what they call the strategic implications of Russia's retreat from Kherson: It's a defeat. In fact, it is Putin’s third defeat since the beginning of the war. There was the retreat of Russian forces from their positions around Kyiv in late March and early April, and then in September, there was the Ukrainian offensive in the Kharkiv region in the northeast, when Ukraine re-took 7,200 square miles of territory it had lost to the Russians early in the war.

To put it bluntly, it’s not a good look for Vlad the bare-chested macho man, who began the war in February thinking his forces would roll into Kyiv and take a surrender from the Ukrainian government in a matter of weeks. Didn’t happen.

Russia began the war holding a small piece of the Donbas territory in the east, including the regional capitals of Donetsk and Luhansk. Invading from Russian territory in the east and from the Russian-held Crimean peninsula, Russian forces over the first several months of the war managed to spread their holdings west from the Donbas, taking most of the Luhansk region, more of the Donetsk region to the south, finally connecting with Russian forces that had invaded from Crimea and had seized most of the Zaporizka region along the sea of Azoz, including the port city of Mariupol. They seized Kherson and connected with their forces in Zaporiska until Russia controlled a corridor stretching from the Russian border in the north and south through Donbas to the Sea of Azoz and the Black Sea at Kherson.

That is where things stand, with Ukraine having retaken a good deal of its territory east of Kharkiv. In the north, Ukraine’s front lines now threaten the city of Donetsk and are moving steadily east toward the city of Luhansk. In the south, of course, Russia has announced its pull-out from the city of Kherson, leaving its forces still holding the corridor through Mariupol and north into the Donbas.

What are they going to do now? They’re going to set up a front line east of Kherson so they can hold the two land-bridges that lead from Ukraine to Crimea and their essential supply lines for their forces in the south of Ukraine. They won’t hold the port of Kherson anymore, but they will still control all of the coast of Ukraine east of there, including the city of Melitopol in the south of the Zaporiska region.

It's useful here to pause for a moment and recall that it was just over a month ago that Russia held its so-called annexation referendums across its entire holdings, including the Kherson, Zaporiska, Donetsk, and Luhansk regions. Now Russia is fighting fierce battles to hold its lines across the entire front of the regions it said it had annexed.

With the strategic stuff out of the way, let’s talk about what the retreat from Kherson means to the Russian army. In military terms, a retreat is called a retrograde operation. At the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York; at the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia; at the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; and at the Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania – all places where U.S. soldiers learn tactics and strategy -- they teach that a retrograde operation is the most difficult and dangerous thing an army can undertake on the battlefield. There is a simple reason why that is so. You’re going backwards. You’re looking over your shoulder at the enemy, rather than looking at him straight on.

When an army is in retreat, it’s under attack by the enemy. It’s not like the enemy army just stops for a while, so you can pick up your stuff and put your army in reverse. While you’re going backwards, they’re shooting at you. This can cause panic and lead to all kinds of irrational stuff, like leaving your weapons and ammunition behind as you flee backwards.

We saw lots of this in the Kharkiv region in September when Ukrainian forces pushed the Russian army out of the cities of Izyum and Lyman, which had been Russian strongholds and important points where Russian forces had been resupplied and reinforced with additional soldiers. The Russian army abandoned tanks, armored personnel carriers, howitzers, and massive stocks of ammunition as they retreated east further into Luhansk and away from Kharkiv. This will probably also be the case in the Kherson region. The Russian army has been dug into positions to the west and north of Kherson on the west side of the Dnipro River since they took that area in March. They’re being forced to abandon headquarters, bunkers, trenches, and other defensive positions they have held for months.

When they get where they’re going, further east of Kherson where their new front lines will (presumably) be established, they’re going to have to do it all over again. Dig more trenches. Reinforce more bunkers. Find new places where company and battalion headquarters can be established so they are not vulnerable to Ukrainian artillery and rockets.

A retreat on the scale of Russia’s movement out of Kherson will be a big fat mess.

It’s not just physical stuff like weapons and equipment and ammunition and defensive positions. It’s a loss. It’s depressing. If you are an enlisted soldier in the Russian army, all the land you fought so hard to take from the Ukrainians, you’re now giving up. If you are one of the 300,000 Russian recruits who are said to be just now reaching their assignments on the Russian front lines in Ukraine, the first thing you’re told to do is pick up all your stuff and get the hell out of there! It’s like you’re a player who has just been put into the football game, and your quarterback is sacked and you’re going backwards. You’re not moving down the field and scoring. You’re losing to the other team. People back in Russia are watching, they’re effectively sitting up in the stands holding up those signs reading “DEFENSE,” and you’re losing yardage rather than gaining it.

It's known that the war in Ukraine, shall we say, is somewhat lacking in support among the Russian people. Seven hundred thousand men were said to have fled into Georgia and Kazakhstan to escape Putin’s draft. They were helped by friends and family. Flights out of Russia, the ones that could leave and have a place to land in a friendly country, were said to be packed.

And now the losers in that equation, the young Russian men who were in many cases rounded up by Russian police and forced to get on buses to Russian recruitment and training centers, they’re just now getting off trucks somewhere down in south Ukraine near Kherson, and the guys in the units they’re joining aren’t drinking beer and celebrating a big victory. They’re in retreat.

It's never a good sign for a soldier when the first thing he’s told to do is pack up and move out and the direction he’s going is backwards.

If I were to put my finger on the most important meaning of the Russian retreat from Kherson, it’s the effect such a retreat has on soldiers. They are giving up land they fought hard to get and hold, and now they’re being told they are going to have to do what they already did before, which is dig trenches and do all of the defensive shit work armies have to do when they establish new front lines, and this time they are going to have to do it under enemy fire. Because if you’re winning and moving forward and taking land from the enemy, you have the enemy on the run, and they don’t have much time to set up howitzers and shell you and run patrols against you. But if you’re losing, it’s your enemy that is moving forward, and they’ve got plenty of time to bombard you with everything they’ve got.

These days, the Ukrainians have precision M777 155 mm howitzers and HIMARS precision rocket launchers, and over the past four or five months they’ve gotten very good at putting them to use. In fact, that’s why the Russian army is in retreat: They were taking too many casualties on the west bank of the Dnipro River and in their other defensive positions around Kherson. That is why Putin had to impose his draft in the first place. Russia is losing too many soldiers on its front lines. Ukraine has gotten better and better at killing them.

That is the final meaning of the Russian retreat from Kherson. Putin cannot afford to have his forces constantly in retreat, taking casualties and losing land and men and weapons and ammunition. He has to keep his supply lines from Crimea open. The new defensive line the Russian army establishes to protect them must be the last one they establish and hold in the south.

It's either that, or Putin’s hold on Crimea means nothing. If he can’t move men and equipment and supplies from Russia through Crimea to his forces in the south of Ukraine, he will lose Melitopol, and then he’ll lose Mariupol, and then his forces will essentially be pushed back into the scrap of land they held in the Donbas before the war began.

If that happens, Putin will have only two choices: sue for peace or start launching nuclear weapons. With his forces in retreat from Kherson, that is where Putin finds himself. It’s not a good place for a macho man at all.

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.

Reprinted with permission from Lucian Truscott Newsletter

Ukraine Isn't One Big War -- It's A Hundred Little Wars

The way the war in Ukraine is covered in the news makes it seem like a singular thing – the attack Russia launched against its neighbor country eight months ago that is still ongoing. We get reports of missile and drone strikes on cities like Kyiv and Kharkiv; the same kinds of strikes on power plants and other crucial infrastructure; movement of Ukrainian forces near Kherson; the big offensive when Ukraine took back nearly 3,500 square miles of its territory in the northeast which had been lost in the early weeks of the war.

No war is a single thing, a gigantic battle that one side wins and the other loses, or even a series of a few major battles, even if, as has happened so far in Ukraine, the two sides fight each other for nearly a year.

I make this mistake myself all the time. Recently, I wrote a column that said British defense officials believe that Russia has suffered 90,000 casualties since the war began. That is a terrible figure, and it does reflect serious damage to the Russian war effort, but it is not of much use in describing what is going on over there. Each casualty on either side, Ukraine or Russia, is an individual tragedy for the family that loses a soldier who has died or been seriously wounded, even crippled for life. It's a loss to the unit in which the soldier serves. It doesn’t take heavy losses in a unit for morale to flag, for the unit’s discipline and cohesion to be damaged enough to render it ineffective as a fighting unit.

This happens because the guys who get killed or wounded are the friends of the soldiers who survive. The survivors are damaged by the loss of their buddies. They can begin to lose confidence in their leaders if they come to blame the loss of their friends on incompetence by platoon leaders or company commanders or higher commanders like colonels and generals.

It's almost unknowably hard for a unit to lose soldiers in combat. I’ll give you one rather small example from the time I spent with the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq in 2003. I was embedded, as it was said, with a company that held a small base camp in downtown Mosul. The day I arrived, a two-vehicle convoy had been hit by machine gun fire, killing a sergeant major and his driver, who was a private first class from the company I was with. It was just two soldiers, but you could feel the strange mix of depression and anger in the air that accompanies such a loss. The sergeant major was popular with everyone in the battalion. The PFC from our company was a kid from Illinois who was fond of practical jokes and was really good at the video games the troops played during their downtime. Everybody liked him. There was a box containing his personal effects in the hallway just outside the company command center. Within hours of his death, soldiers had already left notes and cards that would be sent with the man’s effects back to his family in the States.

That night, two of the company’s platoons were dispatched on a patrol to either kill or take prisoner the insurgents responsible for the attack. They had been located in a neighborhood on the south side of Mosul some distance from the company’s basecamp in town. One platoon was given the task of approaching the house where the killers were thought to be hiding. The platoon I was with was held in reserve a short distance away in case fighting broke out that the other platoon couldn’t handle by itself.

I was astounded when the compound where we were held in reserve turned out to be occupied by another company in a different battalion. Their basecamp was literally just down the street from where the insurgents were hiding, and yet they were not dispatched to bring them in or kill them. Two platoons from the company of one of the men who were killed were sent.

It was obviously a revenge mission. The guys who lost their friend wanted to get the Iraqis who killed him. The mission succeeded without a fight. Three Iraqi insurgents were taken prisoner and driven to the brigade base camp where they would be held. When we returned to the barracks late that night, the soldiers were jubilant.

That’s just one little story about a loss suffered in combat in another war nearly 20 years ago, but it is illustrative of how the bigger war we caused by invading Iraq was really a series of little wars fought by units as small as a platoon of 25 or 30 men against an enemy that consisted in this case of three insurgents. The company in the 101st had nothing to show for their victory except the satisfaction of bringing the killers to some sort of justice. No land was taken and occupied. There was no retreat by enemy forces. No surrender was offered or taken.

The situation in Ukraine is different, because they are fighting to retake land that was theirs to begin with, land that is now occupied by an invading army. The front lines in the war stretch from the border with Russia in the north to the Black Sea in the south. Because it’s not a straight line, it is at least several hundred miles long. There is fighting along nearly its entire distance. That means a company of Ukrainian soldiers and their artillery may be fighting in a section along the Dnipro River in the south less than five miles from where a platoon is holding territory it took from Russians a few days ago. And so on.

It’s nearly impossible for commanders to keep track of it all. When I was in Iraq, I attended multiple BUP’s, or Battle Update Briefings, of different sizes: I attended one in the division headquarters outside of Mosul when General Petraeus sat in front of three flat screen televisions as brigade and battalion commanders reported the situation in their areas. Behind Petraeus was a kind of bleachers, where staff officers sat with laptop computers linked to the screens showing their reports on supplies, operations, intelligence, casualties, unit locations and movements. It was an impressive aggregation of a whole lot of very complicated information. Similar BUP’s were held daily at brigade, battalion, and company levels throughout the division. It’s the way the various commanders kept up with what was going on in their units of varying sizes and their areas of operations.

To give you an idea of what’s going on in Ukraine in just one section of the front, the Kharkiv and Luhansk regions, I’ll turn to a report filed yesterday by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), the Washington think-tank which has been excellent in the way it has followed the war. Here is the text of the report; the bracketed numbers indicate the source for the information in the report, when available:

Russian sources claimed that Ukrainian troops continued counteroffensive actions along the Svatove-Kreminna line on November 5. Russian sources, including the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD), reported that Ukrainian troops conducted an assault in the direction of Kuzemivka, 13km northwest of Svatove.[16] A Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian troops crossed the Zherebets River west of Svatove and are probing Russian positions along the Kuzemivka-Kolomyichykha line.[17] Geolocated footage shows Ukrainian troops conducting strikes on Russian armored vehicles about 30km northwest of Svatove, indicating that Russian troops maintain positions in the Yahidne-Orlianka area.[18] A Russian milblogger claimed that Ukrainian forces are regrouping in this area after a failed assault on Yahidne.[19] A Russian milblogger reported that Ukrainian troops continued attempted attacks towards Kreminna.[20] The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian troops repelled a Russian attack on Bilohorivka, 10km south of Kreminna.[21] Russian sources also claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted a HIMARS strike on Russian positions in Svatove and Kreminna and shelled Russian positions along the Svatove-Kreminna line.[22]

That report contains information about at least seven separate actions along a front that is approximately 250 km, or 150 miles long. You can see in the individual pieces of information that some of the reported attacks or artillery strikes are within 30 miles of one another. The Svatove-Kreminna line, for example, is about 15 miles long, according to the map below. One of the reports says a Russian attack 10 km or six miles south of Kreminna was repelled by Ukrainian troops. It’s unknown how large the Russian or Ukrainian forces were, but they could have been as large as a battalion of 250 men or as small as a platoon of 25. Here is a map of that region, showing areas of recent combat circles in green and black:


Another report by ISW about the front lines around Kherson described no less than five major actions along a front of about 80 km, or 48 miles. A third report about the Donetsk region described nine separate incidents of combat along a border about 250 km, or 150 miles long. The combat included Russian attempts to cut off a highway, separate attacks on two villages south of Bakhmut, a center of intense fighting over the past week, and Ukrainian counterattacks around five villages surrounding Bakhmut in preparation for an attempt to take the town itself. Here is a map of the region showing recent areas of combat circled in green and black:


A more general report by ISW described Russian artillery, drone and missile strikes on nine separate cities in Ukraine, with Ukrainian air defenses shooting down at least eight Russian drones.

All of this happened on one day.

It would be inaccurate to say some wars are not as intense as the war in Ukraine. The wars that have been reported on in Africa, the battles still raging in Syria, the internecine battles in Iraq – they’re all like this.

Every war in this way is war only more so – a greater hell on earth comprised of a lot of little hells on earth, with civilians perishing along with soldiers. All of them die from bullets, from fragments of artillery rounds and rockets, from explosions caused by drones and missiles, and by war crimes committed one by one, sometimes in multiples.

We can only hope that such hell is not visited upon us and that all we have to do is read about it and see photographs of the destruction and sometimes the dead. It’s a fragile hope, but it’s all we’ve got.

Russian Commanders Fleeing Kherson? Deserting Soldiers Shot? Probably

The British Defense Ministry reported on Friday that the Russian military has likely begun deploying so-called barrier troops behind front lines in Ukraine with orders to shoot deserters. “Due to low morale and reluctance to fight, Russian forces have probably started deploying ‘barrier troops’ or ‘locking units’” the ministry said on its Twitter feed where they report intelligence gathered about the war in Ukraine.

The Defense Ministry regularly couches its reports in language using “probably” and “likely” to reflect the uncertainty of intelligence about Russian intentions, and to acknowledge the rapidly shifting situation for both the Russian and Ukrainian armies engaged in the conflict, which is now in its 255th day.

“These units threaten to shoot their own retreating soldiers in order to compel offensives and have been used in previous conflicts by Russian forces. Recently, Russian generals likely wanted their commanders to use weapons against deserters, including possibly authorizing shooting to kill such defaulters after a warning had been given. Generals also likely wanted to maintain defensive positions to the death.”

The British Defense Ministry has been one of the most accurate sources of reporting on the war since Russia first invaded Ukraine on February 24. They have predicted sharp turns in the war, such as the Russian retreat from the area around Kyiv and were correct in their assessment that Ukraine would re-take vast swaths of its eastern flank recently.

Reports of Russian blocking units and problems with deserters come at a time when the Russian army has suffered continual defeats in the region west of Kherson, the port city in Ukraine’s south which Russia has occupied since early in the war. Vladimir Putin himself warned today that civilians in Kherson should leave the area. In a Moscow meeting with pro-war right-wing political allies, Putin said, “Now, of course, those who live in Kherson should be removed from the zone of the most dangerous actions, because the civilian population should not suffer.” Putin’s statement is particularly ominous, given his previous threats to employ battlefield, or tactical, nuclear weapons in the conflict with Ukraine.

Reports that the Russians were pulling out of Kherson were confirmed yesterday when Kirill Stremousov, the Russian-installed deputy civilian administrator of the Kherson region, gave an interview to the state-owned television network RT. “We have to take some very difficult decisions now, whatever our strategy might be. And some people might be afraid to recognize things. But for me it is very important to try to say at the moment, people, please go over to the east bank. You will be in a far safer position.”

Stremousov was referring to the east bank of the Dnipro River, which divides a large area of the Kherson region from the city itself. The Russian-appointed administrator also appeared to predict a retreat by Russian units from the positions they have long held on the west bank of the Dnipro River, “Most likely our units, our soldiers, will leave for the left (eastern) bank,” Stremousov said.

A report in The Times of London this morning also seemed to confirm Kherson’s Russian-appointed administrator’s grim assessment: “Russian commanders have fled the city, captured during the early days of the invasion, leaving ‘demoralized and leaderless’ conscripts to face a Ukrainian advance,” the paper reported.

Previously, Kremlin spokesmen have denied reports that there would be a retreat from Russian positions currently held on the west bank of the Dnipro. There were no comments from the Kremlin about Stremousov’s remarks in the interview on the RT network.

Britain’s Evening Standard weighed in this morning with a different sort of report about Russian intentions in Kherson: “Speculation swirled over whether Russia was indeed pulling out, after photos circulated on the Internet showing the main administrative building in Kherson city with Russia’s flag no longer flying atop it. Ukraine said those images could be Russian disinformation.”

A spokesman for the southern command of the Ukrainian army told the Standard that Ukraine was looking at the images on the Internet as a Russian trap. “This could be a manifestation of a particular provocation, in order to create the impression that the settlements are abandoned, that it is safe to enter them, while they are preparing for street battles,” said Natalia Humeniuk, the Ukrainian military spokesman.

It's never a good sign when the Russian army starts moving its so-called blocking forces into position behind its frontline units. The last time blocking units were deployed was during the battle for Stalingrad in World War II, when the infamous Order Number 227 was given to the Soviet army fighting the Germans there: “Not a step back.” Military historians disagree about how many Soviet soldiers were either arrested or shot by NKVD blocking units or SMERSH counterintelligence operatives.

Some historians contend that over the course of the war, hundreds of thousands of Soviet soldiers were either arrested or shot for desertion. One report by a Russian historian contends that 140,755 Russian soldiers were detained as they fled the battlefields around Stalingrad. As many as 1,000 were executed and 3,000 were arrested and sentenced to so-called penalty units. The rest of those detained were either sent back to their units or more likely used as replacements for other Russian army forces.

It is known that Stalin ordered all documents from the Soviet military during the war, including diaries and personal notebooks, to be turned over to the NKVD, the so-called People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs, a quasi-police force that built and administered forced labor camps that became known as the GULAG. The NKVD also carried out mass-executions of Soviet citizens considered disloyal to the Kremlin under Stalin.

During the last 24 hours, Russian forces launched three missile attacks on civilian targets, as well as 16 air-attacks and 40 episodes of artillery shelling on Ukrainian cities, according to the Ukrainian defense ministry. Ukrainian aircraft made 12 strikes on Russian areas where soldiers and equipment were concentrated, according to Ukraine’s government.

Meanwhile Netflix talk show host David Letterman was in Kyiv last night interviewing President Volodymyr Zelensky for an upcoming episode of his show, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction. With so much uncertainty surrounding reports about the war, it is more than probable that at least that much can be confirmed as fact.

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.

Reprinted with permission from Lucian Truscott Newsletter

Is There A Diplomatic Exit From Ukraine -- Or Is It Another 'Forever War'?

Ukraine is obviously a powder keg. With each passing day, in fact, the war there poses new threats to the world order. Only recently, Vladimir Putin’s Russia intensified its attacks on civilian targets in that beleaguered land, while threatening to use tactical nuclear weapons and adding Ukraine’s neighbor Belarus to its side on the battlefield. And don’t forget the Russian president’s decision to draft hundreds of thousands of additional civilians into his military, not to speak of the sham referendums he conducted to annex parts of Ukraine and the suspected cyberattack by a pro-Russian group that disrupted airline websites at hubs across the United States.

President Joe Biden has repeatedly pledged not to enter the war. As he wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times last May (and has continued to signal): “So long as the United States or our allies are not attacked, we will not be directly engaged in this conflict, either by sending American troops to fight in Ukraine or by attacking Russian forces.” Washington has instead carved out a cautious but decidedly engaged response to the war there.

So far, that conflict has not posed a threat to this country and the Biden administration has held fast to the president’s commitment not to engage directly in that fight. But the war does continue to escalate, as do the taunts of an increasingly desperate Putin. To date, the U.S. has pledged $15.2 billion in military assistance to Ukraine and its neighbors, an investment that has included arms, munitions, equipment, and training. The Biden administration had also imposed sanctions against more than 800 Russians as of June with additional ones announced in late September, while blocking oil and gas imports from that country.

At such a moment of ever-increasing international tension, however, it seems worthwhile to recall what lessons the United States learned (or at least should have learned) from its own wars of this century that fell under the rubric of the Global War on Terror, or GWOT.

Lessons Learned?

We certainly should have learned a great deal about ourselves over the course of the war on terror, the global conflicts that followed al-Qaeda’s devastating attacks of September 11, 2001.

We should have learned, for instance, that once a war starts, as the war on terror did when the administration of George W. Bush decided to invade Afghanistan, it can spread in a remarkable fashion — often without, at least initially, even being noticed — to areas far beyond the original battlefield. In the end, the war on terror would, in its own fashion, spread across the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa, with domestic versions of it lodging in both European countries and the United States in the form of aggressive terrorism prosecutions, anti-Muslim policing efforts, and, during the Trump administration, a “Muslim ban” against those trying to enter the U.S. from many largely Muslim countries.

In the process, we learned, or at least should have learned, that our government was willing to trade rights, liberties, and the law for a grim version of safety and security. The trade-off would, in the end, involve the indefinite detention of individuals (some to this very day) at that offshore prison of injustice, Guantánamo; torturing captives at CIA black sites around the world; launching “signature drone strikes” which regularly made no distinction between civilians and combatants; not to mention the warrentless surveillance that targeted the calls of staggering numbers of Americans. And all of this was done in the name of keeping ourselves safe, even if, in the end, it would help create an America in which ever less, including democracy, seems safe anymore.

Finally, we should have learned that once a major conflict begins, its end can be — to put the matter politely — elusive. In this way, it was no mistake that the war on terror, with us to this day in numerous ways, informally became known as our “forever war,” given the fact that, even today we’re not quite done with it. (U.S. troops are, for instance, still in Iraq and Syria.) According to the Costs of War Project at Brown University, that conflict has cost this country at least $8 trillion — with an additional estimated $2.2-$2.5 trillion needed to care for the veterans of the war between now and 2050.

Given all of this, there are, at least, three lessons to be taken from the war on terror, each sending a strong signal about how to reckon with Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

Beware Mission Creep

The war on terror was in large part defined by mission creep. What started as an incursion into Afghanistan to rout al-Qaeda and the perpetrators of 9/11 grew exponentially into a global set of conflicts, including a full-scale invasion of Iraq and the use (largely) of air power in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and other countries across Africa and the Middle East. This was all deemed possible thanks to a single joint resolution passed by Congress a week after the attacks of September 11th, the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which included neither geographical areas nor specific adversaries other than those who conspired to bring about (or supported in some fashion) the 9/11 attacks. It was, in other words, so vague as to allow administration after administration to choose its enemies without again consulting Congress. (A separate 2002 authorization would launch the invasion of Iraq.)

The war in Ukraine similarly continues to widen. The 30 nations in NATO are largely lined up alongside that country against Russia. On October 11, the Group of Seven, or G7, including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, pledged “financial, humanitarian, military, diplomatic, and legal support… for as long as it takes.” On that same day, the U.N. met to consider responses to Russia’s escalating missile and drone attacks on Ukrainian cities as well as its claim to have won a referendum supposedly greenlighting its annexation of four Ukrainian regions.

Meanwhile, the U.S. commitment to support Ukraine has grown ever more geographically extensive. As Secretary of State Antony Blinken explained during a visit to Kyiv in September, the American mission encompasses an effort “to bolster the security of Ukraine and 17 of its neighbors; including many of our NATO Allies, as well as other regional security partners potentially at risk of future Russian aggression.” Moreover, the United States has acted on an ever more global scale in its efforts to levy sanctions against Russia’s oligarchs, while warning of retribution (of an undefined sort) against any nation that provides a haven for them, as did China when it allowed a superyacht owned by a Russian oligarch to dock in Hong Kong’s harbor.

When it comes to Ukraine, the imperative of defining and limiting the scope of American involvement — whether in the areas of funding, weapons supplied, training, or even the deployment of U.S. troops near Ukraine or secret operatives in that country — couldn’t (in the light of GWOT) be more important. So far, Biden has at least kept his promise not to send U.S. troops to Ukraine. (In fact, just before the Russian invasion, he actually removed national guardsmen who had been stationed there in the late fall of 2021.)

It is perhaps a sign of restraint that the Biden administration has so publicly specified just what weaponry it’s providing to that country and which other countries it’s offering assistance to in the name of security concerns over the war. And in making decisions about which munitions and armaments to offer, the administration has insisted on deliberation and process rather than quick, ad-hoc acts. Still, as the GWOT taught us, mission creep is a danger and, as Putin’s Russia continues to expand its war in Ukraine, it’s important to keep a watchful eye on our expanding involvement, too.

Honor the Law

Notably, the war has been defined by Russia’s escalating abuses of international law and human rights. To begin with, that country violated international law with its unprovoked invasion, an act of straightforward aggression. Since then, reports of atrocities have mounted. An Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine issued a report last month to the U.N.’s Commissioner for Human Rights citing the use of explosives in civilian areas; evidence of torture, rape, and brutal executions; and the intentionally cruel treatment of those in custody. The massacre of civilians in the Ukrainian towns of Bucha and Izyum signaled Russia’s intent to continue its gruesome violations of the laws of war despite Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s appeal to the U.N. for accountability.

That this is the road to lasting problems and an escalating threat environment is a lesson this country should have learned from its own war on terror in this century. The atrocities carried out by terrorist groups, including 9/11, led top officials in the Bush administration to calculate that, given the threat facing the country, it would be legitimate, even imperative, to ignore both domestic and international legal restraints. The greatest but hardly the only example of this was the willingness of the Central Intelligence Agency to use torture, which it relabeled “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including waterboarding, exposure to extreme cold, sleep deprivation, and painful, prolonged forms of shackling at CIA black sites scattered around the world. That brutal program was finally laid out in 2014 in a nearly 600-page executive summary of a Senate investigation. Other illegal actions taken during the war on terror included setting up Guantánamo offshore of American justice and the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq based on a lie: that autocrat Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.

When it comes to Ukraine, the war-on-terror experience should remind us of the importance of restraint and lawfulness, no matter the nature of the Russian threat or the cruel acts Putin has countenanced. “Russian forces were likely responsible for most casualties, but so too Ukrainian troops — albeit to a far lesser extent,” the U.N. commissioner for human rights said in a video message last spring. In August, Amnesty International issued a report which held that “Ukrainian forces have put civilians in harm’s way by establishing bases and operating weapons systems in populated residential areas, including in schools and hospitals.”

Plan for an Ending

Despite Vladimir Putin’s predictions that the war would end quickly with a Russian triumph and despite his continuing escalation of it, there has been no dearth of scenarios for such an ending. Early on, observers saw the possibility of a negotiated peace in which Ukraine would agree not to seek future membership in NATO, while Russia withdrew its troops and dropped its claims to Ukrainian territory (Crimea excepted). Soon thereafter, another scenario forecast “a new iron curtain” after Russian gains in eastern and southern Ukraine left “two antagonistic blocs staring each other down over a lengthy militarized border.” Others have predicted endless further escalation, including a possible Russian tactical nuclear strike in that country causing the West to retreat — or counter with its own nuclear gesture.

Only recently, almost eight months into the war, 66 nations at the U.N. General Assembly called for its end, while even retired American Admiral Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, “I think we need to back off [the war] a little bit and do everything we possibly can to try to get to the table to resolve this thing.” Others agree that the conflict should be ended sooner rather than later.

And for good reason! This country’s war on terror should be an apt reminder that planning for an ending is imperative, sooner rather than later. From the beginning, you might say, the forever war had no sense of an ending, since Congress’s authorization for the use of force lacked not only geographical but temporal limits of any sort. There was, in fact, no sense of what an end to hostilities might involve. Not even the killing of Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda, in 2011 was seen as ending anything, nor was the death of autocrat Saddam Hussein imagined as a conclusion of that American war. To this day, that 2001 authorization for war remains in place and one of the main symbols of the excesses of the war — Guantánamo Bay — remains open.

Right now, despite any calls by former warriors like Mullen or diplomats for an end to the war in Ukraine, it’s proving a distinctly elusive proposition not just for Vladimir Putin but for the U.S. and its NATO allies as well. As a senior administration official told the Washington Post recently, speaking of Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons and his draft of new Russian conscripts, “It’s definitely a sign that he’s doubling down, that we’re not close to the end, and not close to negotiations.”

In a speech delivered at the U.N. in late September, Secretary of State Antony Blinken caught the forever-war mood of the moment on all sides by expressing doubts about diplomacy as a cure-all for such a war. “As President Zelensky has said repeatedly,” Blinken told the Security Council, “diplomacy is the only way to end this war. But diplomacy cannot and must not be used as a cudgel to impose on Ukraine a settlement that cuts against the U.N. Charter, or rewards Russia for violating it.”

Given the lessons of the war on terror, casting doubt on the viability of future negotiations risks setting the stage for never-ending warfare of a distinctly unpredictable sort.

The Stakes

Though the war in Ukraine is taking place in a different context than the war on terror, with a different set of interests at stake and without the non-state actors of that American conflict, the reality is that it should have yielded instructive lessons for both sides. After all, America’s forever war harmed the fabric of our political life in ways almost too numerous to name, many of them related to the ever-expansive, extralegal, never-ending nature of that conflict. So imagine what this war could do to Russia, to Ukraine, and to our world.

The war in Ukraine offers Washington an opportunity to push the international community to choose a new scenario rather than one that will expand into a frighteningly unknown future. It gives the Biden administration a chance to choose law over lawlessness and emphasize a diplomatic resolution to that still-escalating crisis.

This time around, the need to exercise restraint, caution, and a deep respect for the law, while envisioning how the hostilities might actually end, could not be more important. The world of our children lies in the balance.

Karen J. Greenberg, a TomDispatch regular, is the director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law and author most recently of Subtle Tools: The Dismantling of Democracy from the War on Terror to Donald Trump (Princeton University Press). Julia Tedesco conducted research for this article.

Copyright 2022 Karen J. Greenberg

Reprinted with permission from TomDispatch

Putin Wastes Massive Sums To Strike Ukraine Civilians While His Army Flops

Four hundred to seven hundred million dollars: That is how much Russia’s missile attack on Ukraine cost on a single day, October 10. The Ukraine defense ministry announced that Russia launched 84 missiles on that day largely against civilian targets – apartment buildings, offices, shopping areas – they even hit a children’s playground in Kyiv.

According to Forbes magazine, the Russian attack included its KH-101 air-launched cruise missile, which costs $13 million; the 3M54 Kalibr cruise missile, $6.5 million; the Iskander ground-to-ground missile, $3 million, the P-800 Oniks air-launched missile, $1.25 million; the KH-22 air-launched missile, $1 million; and the OTR-21 Tochka ground transporter-launched missile, $300,000.

Russia also reportedly fired 24 Iranian-made Shahed-136 kamikaze drones, which cost only $20,000 apiece and carry a 100-pound warhead. According to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, Russia has ordered 2,400 Shahed-136 drones from Iran.

The online political news outlet Ukrainska Pravda previously reported that on the evening of October 2, Russia had launched eight cruise missiles at Ukrainian cities. Ukraine’s government reported that seven of the Russian missiles were shot down, which probably explains why its attack eight days later involved 84 missiles, some of which were intended to overwhelm Ukraine’s air defenses so more missiles could reach their targets. Ukraine shot down 41 of the cruise missiles fired by Russia on October 10.

Today, Ukraine reported that Kyiv was struck by “successive waves of 28 kamikaze drones.” The attack struck what the government called “energy facilities” and at least one apartment building, killing four civilians.

While Putin can buy more drones from Iran, replacing his stock of cruise missiles is not going to be so easy. The KH-101 cruise missile employs a contour-matching guidance system that uses radar to match images stored in an onboard computer. Later versions of the missile are equipped with an electro-optical system for correcting the missile’s direction while in flight and a TV guidance system used when the missile is at the end of its flight for its final approach to the target. All this stuff takes computer motherboards and chips that Russia is now banned from importing by American sanctions.

The fact that at least some of the later versions of the KH-101 have the TV guidance system that enables identification of specific targets means that the missiles fired at apartment buildings and civilian targets in Kyiv and other population centers in Ukraine are hitting exactly what they were aimed at. Putin wants to knock out city-centers and kill civilians, and the KH-101 is doing just that.

What’s going on with the Russian missile and drone attacks on Ukrainian cities? Putin is a desperate dictator who is losing his war against Ukraine.

As Ukraine’s military continues to make gains in the country’s northeast and the south around Kherson, Putin ordered the launch of almost a billion dollars-worth of missiles and drones against civilian targets in urban areas of Ukraine. I have not read even one report of any members of Ukraine’s military forces being killed in the recent missile strikes. Putin is wasting hundreds of millions of his country’s rapidly depleting defense budget trying to intimidate the Ukrainian government and its citizens into submission. All he has ended up doing is redoubling their resolve.

Putin, like a certain other wannabe authoritarian leader of a nation with a huge military, has apparently not spent much time reading history or he would have stumbled upon the story of the London Blitz, when the German Luftwaffe systematically bombed London for 57 days and nights. During the entire Nazi bombing campaign of Great Britain, which lasted from June 1940 until March 1941, Germany lost 2,655 combat aircraft, including bombers and fighters. The Luftwaffe lost at least 3,363 fliers; 2,641 were recorded missing, and 2,117 returned from bombing flights wounded.

Hitler launched the Blitz to cripple the British government and create terror and a willingness to surrender in the British public. He failed miserably at both. Winston Churchill remained in London and the capital's citizens spent nights and some days (before the bombing went to night-missions only) in subways and other bomb shelters and emerged victorious over the Luftwaffe when it was over.

The New York Times reported yesterday that Russian recruits are being shipped to an “area of intense fighting in eastern Ukraine just 11 days after their mobilization.” One recruit was quoted saying that his entire weapons training consisted of firing three magazines of ammunition on a firing range. In central Russia, recruits are being trained in civilian street clothes. The Times quoted one observer saying that there are, “no machine guns, nothing, no clothes [uniforms], no shoes [boots].” The Times also picked up a report from a news outlet called Samara Online saying, “Elsewhere, scores of relatives of freshly drafted Russian soldiers crowd outside a training center, passing items through its fence to the recruits — boots, berets, bulletproof vests, backpacks, sleeping bags, camping mats, medicine, bandages and food.”

The Times reported that “Police and military officers swooped down on a Moscow business center this past week unannounced. They were looking for men to fight in Ukraine — and they seized nearly everyone they saw,” including musicians, a “very drunk” man in his 50’s with “a walking disability,” and men delivering packages. Moscow police and what the Times called “military press-gangs” are grabbing men passing through metro stations, they’re going into restaurants and bars looking for men, they’re “lurking in apartment lobbies” waiting for men to come home from work.

Listen to this, also from the Times: “At a predawn sweep on the [Mipstroy1 construction company dormitories on Thursday, they took more than 200 men. On October 9, they rounded up dozens at a Moscow shelter for the homeless.”

Drunks. Men needed for construction jobs building who knows what. The homeless, bringing into the army all the problems known to be associated with living on the streets.

This is what Putin’s draft looks like after a reported 700,000 men have successfully fled the country to avoid conscription. Suffering massive military casualties and repeated defeats in Ukraine, Russia has begun cannibalizing its male population,” the Times reported.

At the same time Russian missiles and drones were striking in Kyiv and other population centers, Ukraine’s army re-took five villages to the west of Kherson as it comes closer and closer to cutting off Russian forces in the east from supply lines coming from Crimea. In Russia there are now days-long lines of trucks, many carrying supplies for the Russian military, waiting to cross the crippled Kersh bridge from Russia to Crimea.

Ukraine is taking the fight into Russia itself, hitting ammunition depots and other military targets with artillery in the area of Belgorod, just across the border from Kharkiv. With the U.S. talking about sending longer-range missiles to Ukraine, one of which has a range of 300-plus miles, Ukraine will soon have the ability to strike deep into Crimea, the furthest eastern region of occupied Ukraine, and into Russia itself.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think-tank that has done excellent analysis of the status of the war in both Ukraine and Russia, on Thursday published a report on Russia’s current situation: “The Kremlin continues to struggle to message itself out of the reality of mobilization and military failures.".

The situation has gotten so bad that just over a week ago, Putin met with President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus in St. Petersburg and tried to pressure him into joining his war against Ukraine by lending his own forces to Russia. Belarus has already allowed the Russian military to use its territory as a staging ground for its initial invasion of Ukraine in February. Lukashenko made a weak attempt to send a message to Putin by complaining to his own military officials back in Belarus that it wasn’t Russia, but NATO, Ukraine, and his neighbor Poland who are “trying to drag us into a fight. We must not let them drag us into a war.”

Riiiight, Aleksandr. Got it.

The ISW also reported that “The Kremlin continued its general pattern of temporarily appeasing the nationalist communities by conducting retaliatory missile strikes.” What they’re talking about here is the fact that Putin has become increasingly squeezed between what amounts to a Russian anti-war movement that essentially consists of men dodging the draft and families helping them, and the Russian hard right which wants him to bomb Ukraine back to the stone age, as the old saying goes.

It's a trap of his own making, and the squeeze on Putin is not just political. His war in Ukraine is now in such trouble that from here on out, he’s going to have to make one difficult economic decision after another. Every ruble Putin spends creating craters in the middle of children’s playgrounds in Kyiv is not being spent on his soldiers fighting against a well-trained, highly motivated Ukrainian military that is kicking his ass from Kharkiv to Kherson and not letting up.

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.

Reprinted with permission from Lucian Truscott Newsletter

This ATACMS Missile Is The New Weapon We Should Send To Ukraine Now

There are a whole bunch of letters in the name of this weapon, but what they mean is important: They stand for Army Tactical Missile System. It’s an upgrade from the HIMARS system – the High Mobility Multiple Artillery Rocket System that fires multiple rockets from a single launcher. The ATACMS fires a single rocket, but it will reach targets up to 190 miles away from the launcher, whereas the HIMARS will hit targets from about 10 to 50 miles away. All of these weapons systems use solid-,fuel rocket propulsion and GPS-aided guidance systems, meaning they are precision weapons, much more likely to hit what they are aimed at than conventional artillery or non-guided surface-to-surface rockets.

The Ukrainian army has been using the HIMARS systems for several months and its multiple-missile launchers have been credited with aiding the breakthroughs being made in the Kherson area, driving Russian forces back to the banks of the Dnipro River and, in some cases, across the river. The HIMARS system as well as the improved M777 155 mm howitzers that can fire long-range GPS-guided shells, have been extremely effective at hitting Russian forces, including knocking out armored vehicles and troop concentrations on the ground.

The Russian army, by contrast, has no precision-guided rockets and its large artillery pieces do not fire guided munitions. Reports from Ukraine say the Russians are expending more than 10 times the amount of ammunition the Ukrainian army uses. Because of the inaccuracy of the Russian artillery, they tend to blanket entire areas of the battlefront, basically hoping they hit something.

There is a problem with the ATACMS rocket system, however. Production of the weapon stopped in 2007, meaning there is a discrete number of the missiles in the U.S. inventory we can supply to Ukraine. Once the ATACMS missiles are fired, they cannot be replaced. A new army rocket system is being developed by Lockheed, the PRSM long range missile, a guided munition which is accurate to more than 300 miles. It is being tested by the army right now, but won’t come online until next year at the earliest. Four of the new PRSM rockets will be able to be fired from the same M270 rocket launcher used for the ATACMS, which carried only two. The HIMARS system will also be adapted for the new missile, firing two PRSMs rather than one. The new PRSM systems have more sophisticated rocket motors than anything currently in our army inventory and will carry a new high-explosive warhead that has a dud-rate lower than the current weapons.

The question remains, why haven’t we supplied Ukraine’s army with the long-range ATACMS rocket system by now? I raised the same question about the HIMARS system and the improved-accuracy M777 155 howitzers back in March in this column, and at the time asked my friend, former Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor, why we weren’t shipping these highly accurate and deadly weapons to Ukraine. His answer was, nobody knows, and the answer for the ATACMS rockets today is the same. I don’t know why we haven’t supplied Ukraine with this longer-range missile system. I don’t know why we haven’t supplied them with top-of-the-line M-1 Abrams tanks, either.

There probably is an answer, however, and it’s the same one that explained why American soldiers were not supplied with the most up to date equipment earlier in other wars like Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The people who make decisions about what gets sent to armies in the field, including the Ukrainian army currently fighting Russians on its own soil, are not on the ground in the fight. They are back in Washington, D.C., in heated and air-conditioned offices, and of course, politics comes into play. I am sure there was copious hand-wringing in the Pentagon in the early weeks and months of the war about what would happen if we sent the new M777 howitzers and HIMARS rockets to Ukraine.

The answer, of course, is that they have been used to great effect against the Russian army and have been responsible for most of the gains made by Ukraine on the battlefield, including the recent advances in northeastern Ukraine and the re-taking of towns and villages west of Kherson in the south. Putin, all the while, has saber-rattled about U.S. and NATO military support of Ukraine and made threats to use tactical nuclear weapons if the parts of Ukraine he annexed are attacked. It has already happened. Ukraine has taken back lands in eastern Ukraine that Putin claimed as part of Russia, and no nuclear weapons have been fired.

Meanwhile, retired General Barry McCaffrey was on MSNBC this morning talking about what terrible shape the Russian army is in. He said Putin has “sacked” eight of his generals and 10 more have been killed on the battlefield. The new general Putin put in command of Russian forces in Ukraine, Gen. Sergei Surovikin, led Russian forces in their brutal suppression of rebels in northern Syria. He has a reputation for corruption and was charged with illegal arms trafficking in 1995 but never tried. In other words, he is the kind of Putin crony you would expect.

Surovikin is, I think, the second or third army general Putin has appointed to lead his illegal war in Ukraine. One of the others was killed in a Ukrainian attack on a Russian headquarters, and the other was presumably “sacked,” to use McCaffrey’s old but excellent description for firing commanders in the military.

In general, no pun intended, the United States has treated the Ukrainian army the same way the U.S. army was treated by Washington in Iraq and Afghanistan. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was famously quoted in the early days of the Iraq war saying, “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you want,” when he answered a question from a young soldier about why the army had not been supplied with more armored personnel carriers rather than the canvas-sided Humvees they drove into Iraq.

In the case of Ukraine, however, the war they are fighting wasn’t the war of choice that Iraq was for us, and we could have been supplying Ukraine’s army with more powerful and accurate weapons right from the start if the Pentagon and political leaders in Washington had had their heads screwed on more tightly.

That’s going to change, according to what I have heard, and it’s about time.

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.

Reprinted with permission from Lucian Truscott Newsletter