Monday 19 December 2022

Why did Putin invade the Ukraine?

The most interesting question about the Ukrainian war is why did Putin invade the Ukraine?

Actually it's two questions. 

What led him to invade and what did he intend to do, having invaded? 

The first one I've discussed. But the second was mysterious to me, until today.

To conquer the county and instal a puppet government, to annex it (hard to believe) or simply to create a land bridge to the Crimea? 

(Putin would reach Paris if not stopped, Tim, a normally very intelligent and sensible American friend of mine, suggested. That, of course, was absurd but derives from the commonly held idea that Hitler was always bent on conquering Europe and so was the Kaiser.)

The answer is that the Russians had a puppet government prepared. 

This is according to some very interesting revelations in the New York Times yesterday.

I was prompted, despite my principles, to take out a very cheap subscription to read them. 

I know that paper is untrustworthy and propagandistic when it covers American politics or Britain, but I don't think it invents quotations. It quotes lots of Russian sources.

Putin thought that a Russian puppet government and the Russian army could rule the Ukraine.

It worked in Chechnya, after Grozny was razed. 

60,000 died in the Second Chechen War. I think more than three times that number have died in the Ukrainian war.

The NYT has obtained the Russian invasion plans: the army expected to capture Ukraine within days. Officers were told to pack their dress uniforms and medals in anticipation of a victory parade in Kiev. 

I had forgotten about the dress uniforms. They answered my question about Putin's plan.

I had not heard of General Ivashov, who is a very wise man.

'As far back as January, with the United States warning that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was imminent, a retired Russian general named Leonid Ivashov saw disaster on the horizon. In a rare open letter, he warned that using force against Ukraine would threaten “the very existence of Russia as a state.”

'In a recent phone interview, General Ivashov said that his warnings before the war echoed what he had been hearing from nervous Russian military officials at the time. Though the Kremlin insisted an invasion was not on the table, some could tell otherwise. Service members told him that “victory in such a situation is impossible,” he said, but their superiors told them not to worry. A war would be a “walk in the park,” they were told.

'The last 10 months, he went on, have turned out to be “even more tragic” than predicted. Nimble Ukrainian generals and soldiers have outmaneuvered a much bigger, more lethal foe. The West, cheered by Ukraine’s successes, has provided ever more powerful weapons to drive the Russians back.

“Never in its history has Russia made such stupid decisions,” General Ivashov said. “Alas, today stupidity has triumphed — stupidity, greed, a kind of vengefulness and even a kind of malice.”'

That is certainly true.

General Mark Milley, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told an astonished Ukrainian Foreign Minister on 22 February:

“They’re going to roll into Kiev in a few days. They’re coming in with tanks and columns of formations. You need to be ready for that. You need to be prepared. If you’re not, it’s going to be a slaughter.”

Here is Anton Troianovski, the Russo-American Moscow bureau chief for The New York Times, yesterday.

'It was a cascade of failures, and at the top is Putin’s own misguidedness, his own isolation and his own conviction that he knew what was best. The Russian military was unprepared all the way down to a tactical level, like using Soviet-era maps. Like using their cellphones to call home, which gave away their positions and allowed them to be ambushed or attacked. There wasn’t enough food to feed the soldiers.

'We got hold of actual copies of some of the invasion plans that some of the Russian military units had, which showed them expecting to race toward Kyiv within hours of invading. Russian military leaders didn’t think they’d need any reinforcements.

'I talked to many people who knew Putin personally, and they told me that the decision to go to war was based on his gut feeling. Putin didn’t seem to think he needed advice on the wisdom of this invasion. Putin was convinced that he knew best, that he understood Ukraine and its place in history as well as his own.'

'Why were the predictions about the war so wrong?'

'It’s because this war was something that nobody could really imagine. It wasn’t just Putin who miscalculated. The Russian elite largely thought there’d be no way that Putin would actually go to war. Many Ukrainians also didn’t think Putin was actually going to invade, nor did the Europeans. The U.S. did expect Russia to invade, but thought it could win in days. The war was so different from anything that has happened in recent decades that it was impossible to make informed predictions.'

A reminder that experts extrapolate from the (recent) past to predict the future, whereas, as Disraeli said, the unexpected always happens.


  1. The NY Times is Foggy Bottom propaganda. Take what it says with a grain of salt.

    The war in the Ukraine (particularly in the Dombass region) has been going on since 2014. Putin just turned up the volume in February of this year. The aim is to curtail NATO encroachment into the underbelly of Russia. To date, mission accomplished.

    1. I am well aware that the NYT, the CIA and the deep state are contiguous but this does not mean that the report is inaccurate. It answers many questions of mine. As for NATO encroachment, the invasion has been very counter-productive. Former Soviet republics, such as Kazakhstan are now very hostile to Moscow. Finland and Sweden want to join NATO. Ukraine and Georgia probably will too.

  2. The chessboard pieces are moving around. War is messy. The first casualty of war is truth (and that's on all sides).

    Putin's move wasn't a miscalculation. He's challenging Anglo-American hegemony. He's crossed the Rubicon. The thug in Moscow is saying up-yours to globo-homo (global homogenization). What we are witnessing is a return to realpolitik.

    I don't think a KGB trained agent necessarily thinks in terms of quick fixes. A quick victory may have been the best of several possible outcomes but I highly doubt it if the boys in the Kremlin were counting on it.

    Western sanctions haven't exactly proven to be any kind of quick fix either. And we in the west are saddled with a demoralized and fragmented civilization that is no longer capable of producing an adequate military response to a major challenger. All we got left is sanctions and deep state subterfuge.

    The four horsemen of the apocalypse are a feature hegemonic decline and they are barely out of the starter's gate. It will be interesting (in the Chinese sense of 'may you live in interesting times') to see how this will play out. But I'm highly skeptical of how much insight the NY Times may have on the inside track of Russian thinking. Equally, however, I am skeptical of how much anybody will ever be ever able to understand Russian thinking. As Churchill once described another leader in Russia, he is a 'mystery wrapped inside an enigma.' The great lesson of history so far, however, has been don't poke the bear and we've gone and poked the bear. That's the answer to the question as to why Putin invaded Ukraine.

    1. It was if he expected a quick victory and conquest of the whole of the Ukraine, something Nato countries expected. Why not? Someone who certainly does is Farida Rustamova.

  3. If the US wantonly poked the bear
    The bear fell short when it came to prepare.

  4. Pelle Neroth Taylor: The NWT article is a construction. It tells it doesn't show....always bad journalism. Not objective, It was the same with their coverage of Trump and Russiagate….
    Yes, the Ukies have lost far more people I believe and even if they had they lost the same amount which actually is the pentagon position Ru can afford to absorb the losses
    Ru was forced into this by western provocation and they made the less bad choice
    Losing is relative. Ukies have been destroyed and will never constitute a threat to Russia again. Europe's economies are destroyed. US is the strategic winner for now but long term there is move away from dollar as reserve currency and Russia now sits at the head of a global coalition against the west, the global billion
    Not to be outdone, of course, is London's The Economist--a collection of pompous imbeciles, "consulted" by MI-6 and "byproducts" of Sandhurst--who continue to spread utter pseudo-military BS and propaganda and quote today... Zaluzhny.
    Ukraine has enough men under arms—more than 700,000 in uniform, in one form or another, of whom more than 200,000 are trained for combat. But materiel is in short supply. Ammunition is crucial, says General Syrsky. “Artillery plays a decisive role in this war,” he notes. “Therefore, everything really depends on the amount of supplies, and this determines the success of the battle in many cases.” General Zaluzhny, who is raising a new army corps, reels off a wishlist. “I know that I can beat this enemy,” he says. “But I need resources. I need 300 tanks, 600-700 IFVs [infantry fighting vehicles], 500 Howitzers.” The incremental arsenal he is seeking is bigger than the total armoured forces of most European armies. Ukraine’s partners are speeding up efforts to repair and refurbish old and damaged equipment to return it to the field faster, in part by teaching Ukraine to fix it as close to the front lines as possible. They are also accelerating the manufacture of weapons to meet growing demand from Ukraine and their own armed forces.

  5. From what Yanks call The London Times yesterday:

    Russia also sent national guard officers in ordinary police lorries on the assumption they would be needed to control crowds after Kyiv was taken.

    “Our guys couldn’t believe it,” a source close to the Ukrainian military said. “They just picked them off as they were driving towards Kyiv. This is when we realised the Russians might not be so hard to beat after all.”
    With the Kremlin expecting a quick victory, Russian state media was told to prepare triumphant articles in advance. One of them, entitled The New World Order, was published by mistake by the RIA Novosti state news agency on the third day of the war. “Ukraine has returned to Russia,” it read. “Western global domination can be considered completely and finally over.” It was quickly removed from the website.

  6. Realpolitik, if it means anything, should include not just a willingness to use force, but a sound estimate of the force available to one. What do the Chinese make of Russian power now?

  7. Europe's economies are vulnerable, but not destroyed. If Ukraine is destroyed, why is it taking so long for Russia to complete its coup de grace? A new development is Ukraine bombing targets in Russia. If this development expands it may change the equation quite a lot.

  8. Oh, and Russia only has one real consistent partner against the West -- Iran. The rest are unenthusiastically sitting on the sidelines and not especially impressed with Russia's current trajectory.