It’s never a good sign when a president, following the progress of his war – or lack thereof – starts consulting maps and making decisions for the combat commanders on the ground. It’s happened before in this country, always with disastrous results: Lyndon Johnson picking bombing targets for the Air Force in North Vietnam, Richard Nixon doing the same thing for B-52 strikes in Cambodia and Laos, George W. Bush ordering front line units in Iraq to stop sending out patrols so he could reduce the casualty count in advance of the 2004 presidential election.
Putin suddenly decided he knew more about what was happening on the ground in Ukraine in the days after his army in the country’s northeast was pushed back into Russia with such decisive attacks and so rapidly that units abandoned tanks, ammunition, foodstuffs, armored personnel carriers, and mobile howitzers. You can almost see him in the Kremlin pacing a basement bunker with a clutch of frightened generals at one end of the room and his maps of Ukraine pinned to the wall at the other end.
His latest act of military genius – he must have taken Strategy 101 and 102 at the KGB academy as a young man – was to order troops to hold their positions near the port of Kherson on the Black Sea and not to retreat across the Dnipro River, even though this will mean a disastrous loss of equipment, stores, and severe casualties under heavy Ukrainian artillery and rocket attack.
In other news from the Putin bunker, he has been stage-managing “referendums” in areas of eastern Ukraine occupied by Russian forces, with predictable results: between 98 and 99 percent of Ukrainian citizens have “voted” to join the Russian Federation, which is doubtful for multiple reasons, among them the fact that many young and middle-aged Ukrainian males are in hiding or have fled their towns and villages in order to avoid the Russian draft, so it would be unlikely that they would show up at polling places manned by the Russian army.
Putin has also ordered that Ukrainian cities be hit with ballistic missiles, artillery and rocket attacks, because, you know, when you’re losing the war on the ground, why not kill civilians in their apartments hundreds of miles from the front lines? There’s a winning strategy for you! Worked in Kyiv and Kharkiv and Odessa, didn’t it?
Of course, the other big thing General Putin did was order 300,000-plus men drafted into his limping army, with plans to send some of them to the front in Ukraine with only 15 days training. There’s a solution never thought of by the leader of a country fighting a losing war! Cannon fodder! Let’s throw some warm young bodies into the fray and see what happens! Worked so well for Johnson and Nixon in Vietnam that Nixon finally abandoned the draft altogether and came up with the “All Volunteer Army” concept in 1973. Two years later, North Vietnam raised its flag over the American embassy in Saigon and renamed it Ho Chi Minh City.
Putin’s efforts with his draft are working just about as well. This week he ordered paramilitary forces in armored vehicles to Russia’s borders with Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia to round up men fleeing from the draft. The U.S. Embassy in Moscow warned people with dual U.S.-Russian citizenship to get out of Russia before they, too, are rounded up and drafted. Cars, trucks, and buses are lined up for miles at Russia’s border with Georgia, with reports of 48-hour waits just to reach the checkpoints.
Back in his bunker, Putin has been overseeing a series of threats to use nuclear weapons if Ukraine tries to attack the regions in the country’s east that Russia is set to annex. There’s another brilliant strategy! When you’re losing on the battlefield, remind the other side that you’ve got thousands of nukes and an itchy trigger finger! That’ll scare ‘em!
Ukraine has responded to all the nuclear saber-rattling by oligarchs, Putin aides, and even former Russian President Dimitry Medvedev by redoubling its attacks on Kherson and shoring up the gains it has made east and south of Kharkiv by destroying Russian resupply routes and laying on barrage after barrage of precision 155 mm artillery and HIMARS rocket attacks. The U.S. recently sent Ukraine $639 million to be used to buy updated military equipment and ammunition, and there has been no let-up in support by NATO and European Union nations.
Meanwhile, U.S. and NATO intelligence agencies have stepped-up their surveillance of moves by Russian military forces that might indicate Putin is getting ready to deploy or even use nuclear weapons. The State Department and Department of Defense have issued private, backchannel warnings to Putin of the consequences Russia would face if he decided to use nukes. In the public sphere, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan went on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday and said it “would be catastrophic if Russia went down the dark road of nuclear weapons use."
Losing the ground war in Ukraine, a good portion of his male workforce fleeing the country to avoid the draft, his defense industries and economy staggering under sanctions, ground commanders warning him that his recent strategic decisions could end up causing battlefield catastrophes, his own troops being told to use their wives’ tampons as first aid for wounds -- it can’t be fun to wake up in the morning if your name is Vladimir Putin.
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