UKRAINE WAR GAMES
9th May 2022: Vladimir Putin’s very own D-day
May 9th brings a ride up the escalator as Russian President Putin contemplates his choices.
The date 9th May holds a special place in the Russian civic calendar – as it has since 1945. In the closing days of World War 2, as American and Soviet forces were linking up at the town of Torgau and then along a broad front in eastern Germany close to Berlin, the famous photographic images of that moment recorded the joining up of forces for posterity. By that point, the Third Reich was a nearly extinguished, virtually spent force, even if its disastrous reign had delivered horrific results all across Europe. By 8 May, with the battle for Berlin over, what was left of Nazi Germany finally surrendered unconditionally – even though the last remnants of German forces only laid down their arms a few days later.
By the end of the war, major parts of the Soviet Union lay in ruins – a significant portion of it would eventually become the nations of Belarus and Ukraine after the breakup of the USSR. Tens of millions of Soviet citizens were dead in battle, from forced service in German slave labour camps, in concentration and death camps strung all across Europe, or from the inevitable hunger, disease and injuries that came in the wake of battles that had been fought. The celebrations that came after the end of the fighting – the Great Patriotic War, the Russians call it – did not erase horrific memories for millions, nor could it ease the pain that the struggle had required of them.
As a result, 9 May has become a great national day of celebration of the defeat of Germany by the Soviet Union, as this remembrance has been carried forward into the years of the Russian Federation. The anniversary helps keep alive a memory of that history even as it instils pride in the nation’s military prowess by succeeding generations. In Vladimir Putin’s time, this holiday has been an element in his goal of re-establishing a sense of national pride — even as such commemorations have also helped nurture a sense of grievance about how the West generally, and the US in particular, has blocked the path of Russia’s return to its predestined greatness.
This year, however, the celebration has become much more complex for Russian President Putin, given that his so-far-unfinished, and notably unsuccessful, elective war of choice in Ukraine coincides with his nation’s great secular holiday. Over the past several years, Putin has announced that Ukraine had actually been an artificially conceived (courtesy of his forebear, Vladimir Lenin) illegitimately created, independent state. It was ruled by a cabal of Jewish thugs, neo-Nazis, drug dealers, bent on carrying out a mini-genocide in the Donbas, and operating in a coalition with the West determined to keep Ukraine from reuniting with mother Russia. It was Russia’s (and his) mission, therefore, before it was too late, to set right this historical wrong.
But of course, things have not gone according to that plan. Despite some heavy-duty, wishful thinking, Russia’s armoured columns were not greeted by beaming Ukrainians bearing flowers, chocolates, salt and bread. Rather, they encountered those deadly Stinger and Javelin handheld missiles. Russia’s military had been forced into an unseemly retreat from the landscape near Kyiv, instead of arresting Ukraine’s rogue government. While devastating artillery, cruise missiles and other aerial attacks have turned stretches of Ukraine’s urban landscapes into blasted ruins and charnel houses, the country’s people fight back with increasing success, especially as more Western weaponry reaches Ukrainian military forces.
For Russia, and Putin, the result is becoming an embarrassing military stalemate playing out in the international media, even as the appalling treatment of civilians gains attention as raw material for potential war crimes charges. The Western nations have come together over Russia, applying increasingly strict financial and economic sanctions.
As a result, Russia’s economy is stuttering, its leaders’ travels anywhere are now circumscribed and their yachts and fortunes seized and placed in escrow, and, worst of all, two formerly neutral nations – Sweden and Finland – seem poised to join that Western alliance. For Putin, these outcomes simply must not be fair. Running this film backwards in his mind, Putin must be trying to ascertain where it first went off the rails, and what must now be done to undo the damage before it’s too late.
And so on the day of this great national holiday, the Russian president is standing, like so many of his forebears, together with other trusted leaders, on that reviewing stand in Red Square in front of the ancient Kremlin walls, the massive building that has been the seat of Russian secular and emotional power for hundreds of years. But his heart cannot be at ease.
Meanwhile, in the streets and boulevards leading to Red Square, thousands of well-drilled troops are massed in serried ranks, ready for their commands to begin the march-past. The missile carriers, tanks, armoured personnel carriers and other vehicles are also lined up with their motors idling, as their drivers similarly await the command to move into their assigned positions and begin the parade.
Crowds have already gathered to watch this event, in its role as a tangible demonstration of Russian military strength. Older veterans are sprinkled throughout the crowds, often wearing their military decorations and even, for some, in jackets and caps from their old uniforms. Patriotic band music blares from speaker systems all across Red Square and in adjoining streets, while television camera crews make last-minute adjustments to their video equipment to make certain it is able to deliver the parade to viewers throughout the Russian Federation.
But Putin, with his stern, sphinx-like physiognomy outside, is not so calm inside, despite the fact that today should be a joyous one, mingling the heroics of memory and power in the modern world. He is still contemplating his next steps for bringing to an end that special military operation in Ukraine. Perhaps he may have a brief moment of recall about the turmoil of his last days in East Germany when the old regime came crashing down around him.
Running through his mind, now, are choices and options and the initial staff work for them has already been carried out. But each still requires a series of command decisions and orders that will need to be executed by underlings. Could he trust them all to carry out all of the parts of whichever plan he decided upon? He wonders about that, perhaps.
His hands are in his coat pockets; he is not wearing gloves but the weather has a distinct chill to it still. In the right pocket of his coat is a list of options set out in a sequence. Meanwhile, in his inner coat pocket, there is a tidy sheaf of official declarations, each keyed to a notation on the list. He pats that pocket to make sure he has not forgotten them.
Putin’s list of options
On his list, the first option is simply to declare a victorious end to the fighting because, with the effective fall of Mariupol, the real objective, the ending of Ukraine’s tenuous hold over the Donbas region and its mines, industries and ethnic Russians, has become fact. The region is now back in the embrace of Russia, and with it, the corridor from there on to Crimea has become secure as well.
Explaining the fuller meaning of the sacrifices of his military in northern and eastern Ukraine will need to wait for another time, but it will be enough for now to say the victory is Russia’s and the country’s honour has been assuaged successfully.
At this point, too, Russia would press forward in its efforts to reclaim its financial reserves and other properties, now held illegally by various Western nations. Unless progress on that front happens quickly, Russia would be forced to declare an embargo of all exports of oil and natural gas and other valuable commodities to all Russia’s enemies.
The second option on Putin’s list would be to issue a call for the Russian parliament to declare that a state of war exists with the outlaw regime in Kyiv, and thus to mobilise the full weight of Russian military power to bring to an end this fighting. Russian military reserve units would be recalled to active duty; the newest tranche of conscript soldiers would be assigned supporting roles for the main forces; the current tranche of conscripted, enlisted men would remain on active duty for a further half-year; and, going forward, there would be no mercy shown to Kyiv regime forces carrying out hostile acts.
In tandem with these measures, there would be a need to end the illegal flow of weaponry and supplies from Nato nations into Ukraine. Henceforth, any movement of supplies crossing the Polish frontier or any other nations adjacent to Ukraine would be considered targets for air interdiction, regardless of any costs to other nations’ forces.
A third option would be to make good on previous, carefully modulated warnings from Russia that if all military-related activity by the West and Ukraine does not cease immediately, this would leave Russia no choice but to demonstrate to the world that Russia is unafraid of using all elements in its arsenal in order to protect its freedom of action, security and national integrity.
An order to the country’s strategic forces to deploy several low-yield, battlefield nuclear weapons as a firm demonstration of resolve. All civilians near those locations would receive warning in advance to evacuate the area to minimise innocent casualties. Nato and the regime in Ukraine would be responsible for this action. Targets selected would be as close as possible to Ukraine’s borders with Poland or Romania, but outside major cities to minimise civilian casualties.
A fourth option would be to declare that all restraints are released on Russia’s heretofore limited efforts to render useless cyber networks in Western nations, especially those for social media, telecommunications, electric power grids, government services, private business networks, and water reticulation and sewage networks. This would be preceded by a very specific, but time-limited warning to the West to end interference in what must be understood to be Russian internal affairs.
A fifth option, assuming Nato interference does not end as a result of the previous four options, would be to deliver a low-yield, battlefield nuclear warhead to a Nato command centre in an as yet unspecified Eastern European nation. Concurrently, this option would remove any restraints on Russian armed forces to interdict any Nato aircraft, even those beyond the Ukrainian theatre and operating in international air space, if they are engaged in monitoring battlefield conditions, or if they are providing surveillance data or guidance to Ukrainian forces.
A sixth and final option would be to declare that a state of hostilities has been forced upon Russia by Nato forces. Henceforth, no restrictions will be placed on Russia’s military in dealing with Nato forces. If this should result in expanding large-scale hostilities with Nato, then so it must be, to ensure Russia can protect itself from further provocations and injuries.
Putin fingers his list of options as he notices the parade has begun. The others on the reviewing stand have snapped to attention. He pats his inner jacket pocket where the six declarations are. He catches the eyes of two of his senior security detail members and a senior aide. Then he pulls the declaration he chose in the final moment and starts reading… DM