Smoke rises over Kyiv

Smoke rises over the part of Ukraine's capital situated on the right bank of the Dnipro River in the morning on Sunday, Kyiv, capital of Ukraine. (Photo: Evgen Kotenko/ Ukrinform/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

Putin's Foolish War, Poorly Waged

This much we know: All wars are a crime against mankind.

A blitzkrieg Russian invasion of Ukraine it was not. Marshall Zhukov, the Soviet Union's famed tank general, must be rolling in his grave. Had Stalin still been in the Kremlin, Russia's generals and defense minister would have by now been shot. At that time, the Red Army and its 50,000 tanks were believed able to burst through Germany's Fulda Gap and central Austria and reach the key US supply base at Rotterdam in a week.

After three months of desultory fighting, the Russian army has managed to occupy some border areas in Ukraine and the key communications hub of Mariupol, cutting off Ukraine from its access to the Black Sea. Ukraine's very important exports of grains have been blocked, undermining its economy but not proving a decisive move to end the war between self-proclaimed independent Ukraine and its western allies on one side and Russia and neighboring Belarus on the other. The proposed joining of Finland and Sweden to NATO is a political backfire for the Kremlin, but means little from a military viewpoint since both nations have long been covert NATO allies. 'Neutral' Switzerland has also been another not-so-secret member of the alliance.

But in fact, the US and its NATO allies have been locked in a nasty, covert war against Russia that threatens to erupt at any time into a conventional, then nuclear conflict. This quasi-war is the result of the refusal by the US and NATO to exclude their alliance from formerly Soviet-ruled Eastern Europe and pushing it to Russia's very borders. The conflict has re-awakened dangerous problems that date back to the end of World War I when the victorious British and French, along with the credulous Americans, sought to alter Europe's map. Vast swathes of territory were torn away from Germany, Austro-Hungary and Russia leaving dangerous disputes active to this day.

What's wrong today with Russia's current army, once the terror of Europe? First, it's too small. Early on, President Vlad Putin ordered serious reductions in the size of Russia's then huge armed forces. China did the same. That was fine for peace-time, but not for waging war. Russia sent only 100,000 men to occupy and subjugate Ukraine, a vast territory the size of Western Europe. I suspect that Putin's goal was to annex key border regions, then leave independence-minded Ukraine isolated and in grave economic distress. The expected western economic war against Russia would be partially mitigated by the economic/financial distress caused to the west and its vassal states like Egypt.

A Russian airborne attack on capital Kiev failed miserably due to Western special forces and a new supply of top-attack anti-tank weapons. Usually reliable Russian military intelligence was ignored. Civilian intelligence was allowed to design the military campaign which as we have seen turned into a stalemate. It is no coincidence that Putin was a civilian KGB intelligence officer and his powerful defense minister Sergei Shoigu was never a military officer. Russia's forces also suffered from logistical problems. This was surprising since during WWII Soviet forces became masters of fast-moving supply support. This was a fascinating subject that I studied in depth while serving in the US Army - where I also taught military strategy and history. War is too important to be left to civilians.

What about air power, vaunted as the Queen of Battle? It's not been much in evidence in Ukraine. NATO dares not openly intervene in Ukraine for the very good reason that Russia will likely riposte with tactical missiles against NATO air bases and major arms depots. Welcome WWIII. Convoys of tanks, armored vehicles, supply trucks, fuel and soldiers are legitimate targets for Russia's tactical missiles, notably the accurate Iskander missiles. Cash-strapped Russia has kept its air strikes to a modest level for fear of losing valuable warplanes that it cannot afford to replace, a problem I also witnessed in Afghanistan where the deadly US Stinger missile held the Red Air Force at bay.

We have so far been very lucky that a full-scale clash has not yet occurred between the US and Russia over Ukraine, a land of no importance at all to the United States but of fundamental importance to Russia. Amid the blizzard of anti-Russian propaganda, it's easy to forget that in 1990 Ukraine was still an integral part of the Soviet Union. Or that the US staged a coup d'etat in Ukraine that brought a pro-US regime to power that shakes its fist today at Moscow. But US intelligence agencies and NATO had moved uncommonly fast to arm Ukraine with state the art anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons as well as huge amounts of ammunition. US military and economic aid to Ukraine alone exceeded $40 billion.

There's no doubt that Russia has lost the information war in Ukraine. The massed western media has been acting as an amen chorus for the Kiev regime. Ukraine has become another 'brave, little Belgium' of World War I renown. Biden just ordered $40 billion more US military and economic aid on top of the $25 billion or so spent by Washington to prop up the government in Kiev. Billions more will without doubt be needed.

Meanwhile, US, British and Canadian TV are accusing Russia of massive war crimes in Ukraine. There was little such reporting when the US invaded and destroyed important parts of Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen or Somalia. Afghanistan was ravaged for nearly 20 years, with B-52 heavy bombers used to raze villages and towns. All wars are a crime against mankind. There are no 'good' wars.

© 2023 Eric Margolis