Name Calling – The Ukraine-Russia War In Five Words Or Less (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #256)

There is no way of knowing what future historians will call the Ukraine-Russia War, but it could say a great deal about how the war is understood. What’s in a name? When it comes to wars more than often meets the eye. Naming a war after its main combatants can render it relatively uninteresting to future generations. This is a chronic problem in military history. For instance, the War of 1812 just might be the worst name for a war ever conceived. The name tells you nothing about the war except its date and that is only partly correct. The war lasted from 1812 – 1815, not that anyone is asking. The War of 1812 as a name has relegated that conflict to anonymity, if not irrelevancy.

Another name for a war much closer in size and scale to the current Ukraine-Russia conflict is the Russo-Japanese War. The war could use a more descriptive name that would express its importance. It was the first very large conflict of the 20th century, with a great power and a country soon to be one facing each other in battle. The name does nothing to express what the war was about, nor its importance. The Russo-Japanese War dealt a major blow to the Tsar and Russian Army’s prestige, set off a revolution in Russia that led to political reforms including the creation of the Duma (Russian Parliament), dealt a shocking blow to racial theorists who believed Asians were no match for Europeans in warfare and signaled the rise of Japan. This does not come across in the war’s name which is just as bland as most history textbooks that use the name.

Raising the Flag – The War of Complete Independence

Name That War – Rising From Obscurity
Accurately naming a war with world historical consequences in just a few words is an extremely difficult task. Some wars have done better than others by their names. World Wars I and II come to mind. These simple, yet effective names, express the global scale of the fighting. Even if many nations did not participate, every nation was affected in some form or fashion. The Thirty Years’ War is also a name illustrating a central aspect of that conflict. “Thirty Years” speaks of a seemingly unending war that wreaked havoc for a lengthy time period. It might even be said that the name of a war can make or break historical interest in a conflict. The War of Jenkins’ Ear comes to mind in this regard. Anyone who hears that name feels an uncontrollable temptation to learn whether the war really was fought over someone’s ear. The reasons for that war were much more than Jenkins losing his ear, but the name ensures it a certain amount of fame. This also demonstrate the power of a war’s name to stimulate interest in obscure conflicts.

Giving a more provocative name to the Ukraine-Russia War would go a long way towards greater recognition of the conflict and its historical ramifications, many of which will only become apparent after the war ends. The war’s name may seem esoteric, but this is a war that must not be forgotten. It should be remembered as the conflict that ended a long period of peace and relative prosperity for Eastern Europe. Other than the Yugoslav Wars, there had been lots of tyranny and very few military actions in Eastern Europe since 1945 with only a couple of notable exceptions (Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Prague Spring in 1968).  The Ukraine-Russia War will likely be given different names by each of the main combatants. This will be done for patriotic and propaganda purposes. Historians in countries that are not directly involved in the war will likely stick with blander names. The war given to the war will speak volumes about how one side or the other interprets it.

Russian retreat – Scene from the Russo-Japanese War after the Battle of Mukden (Credit: PF Collier & Son)

Putin’s Folly – The Special Military Operation
There will be a great deal of interest in the name Russia gives the conflict. That is because the Russians have been the inheritor and enabler of perhaps the biggest misnomer for a war in recorded history. World War II is not known as such in Russia. Instead, the Soviet name for it was the Great Patriotic War. This arose from a Stalinist rebranding of the war while it was ongoing. The name boosted morale by stimulating defense of the homeland. It also recalled a theme in Russian history, where invaders of the country are defeated. The Great Patriotic War’s name put communism on the backburner and nationalism at the forefront in the effort to win the war. Yet there was nothing very patriotic about the Soviet invasion of Finland and occupation of eastern Poland in 1939. Those events were as much part of World War II as was the Great Patriotic War. The Soviets sidestepped this inconvenient truth.

The Putin regime coopted The Great Patriotic War, misusing history for their own interests. The regime has also played the name game to obscure the nature and virulence of the war in Ukraine. Hence, the regime’s insistence on calling the current conflict a “special military operation” rather than a war.  The Kremlin is in the business of trying to write history before it happens. Unfortunately for them, they have not been any more successful in this regard than they have while fighting the war. It is doubtful if Russian historians in the future will refer to the war as the “Special Military Operation in Ukraine” or the “Denazification of Ukraine” or the “War on NATO” though the Kremlin would certainly prefer one of those. “Putin’s Debacle” or “Putin’s Folly” would be much more appropriate.

Malevolence in Mariupol – The War of Russian Aggression

Breaking Free – The War of Complete Independence
From the Ukrainian perspective, naming the conflict could mean placing the blame squarely on the Russians. Thus, it would not be surprising if they named it, “The War of Russian Aggression.” Depending on how the war plays out and if Ukraine can achieve something close to a complete victory (expelling Russia from all Ukrainian territory except for Crimea seems possible), the war might be given a more patriotic name. The War of Liberation would be a popular choice. The name implies a noble war, fought for a higher cause then independence which Ukraine already had. The war has been branded as one to uphold democratic values. Less popular, but no less true would be “The War of Complete Independence.”

Ever since the Soviet Union collapsed Ukraine has been at the mercy of Russian meddling in their internal affairs. The Russians have used puppet rulers, collaborationists, energy resources, spies, proxy forces, disinformation and every other form of fifth columnists imaginable to undermine Ukraine’s shifts towards the west and away from Russia. The unprovoked invasion of Ukraine ordered by Putin was the last in a long line of attempts at subversion. If Ukraine can continue their victorious ways, then they would achieve complete independence from Russia. That would be a great victory and a worthy name for the war.

Escape Act – Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant & the Illusion of Safety (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #255)

Humanity has been dodging nuclear bullets since 1945. With a couple of notable exceptions, catastrophic nuclear accidents or nuclear detonations have been avoided. This has been as much by luck, as by design. Nuclear energy and nuclear weapons are still at risk of human error. In a field that demands perfection or at least something close to it, there have been numerous instances of near meltdowns and accidental detonations. Luck as much as planning has been a long-term strategy the world has come to rely upon for avoiding nuclear catastrophe. While careful planning can mitigate the risk of disaster, luck is notoriously fickle. It will eventually run out. Witness the accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. There have been many other accidents regarding nuclear materials that never get reported.

Anyone who wants to understand how close civilization has come to a self-induced apocalypse should read Eric Schlosser’s alarming investigation of nuclear weapons accidents, “Command and Control, Nuclear Weapons, The Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety.” The book makes for a terrifying read, delineating in great narrative detail the numerous near misses where luck played a prominent role in staving off nuclear weapons disasters. The general public has little knowledge of these incidents, whether that is because of state secretiveness, ignorance, fear or a combination of all three. The subject of nuclear accidents has become more than an abstraction. The Ukraine-Russia war has consistently threatened to unleash the destructive power of the atomic age on a world that naively believes that since the Cold War ended, there is little reason for concern.

Looming threat – Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant

Nuclear Terrorism – Fear Factors
The other day I was doing a search for articles on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons in The Economist archives. I was looking to refresh my memory about Pakistan’s entry into the nuclear age. Prior to the present situation in Ukraine, Pakistan’s ascension into the ranks of nuclear armed states was one of the few times since the Cold War ended that the risk of a nuclear weapon being detonated in warfare was not an abstraction. Along with India, which also went nuclear, the risk of a nuclear exchange heightened considerably. I was drawn by the title of one article, “The Most Dangerous Place on Earth” which was written in 1999. It concerned the threat of a nuclear conflict between Pakistan and India. Reading the article, I was struck by the potential for disaster, but these were just hypotheticals at the time. Thankfully, they still are today.

If another such article was written with the same title today, “The Most Dangerous Place on Earth” would be the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in southern Ukraine. Russia’s occupation of the plant has given new meaning to the term, “nuclear terrorism.” Such a phrase was defined as terrorists getting a dirty bomb or some other kind of primitive nuclear device and detonating it. Post 9/11 the fear of this occurring was palpable. Those days now seem like ancient history. Rather than wargaming hypothetical situations, the world has been dealing with a real nuclear terrorism situation since March. The Russian forces occupying the Zaporizhzhia have taken key Ukrainian personnel and/or their family members hostage, tortured workers and taken some of them away. Several of them have not been seen since they were detained. The Russian have also parked vehicles in turbine rooms, situated military equipment all around the facility, and shelled the plant on numerous occasions. This has left Zaporizhzhia in dire condition which increasing the odds of a catastrophic incident to an unprecedented level.

Keeping watch – Image showing Russian military equipment beside Reactor Five at Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (Credit: Defence Intelligence)

Tinder Box – An Explosive Story
Ironically, for media that is always seeks news coverage of the next disaster, the newest “Most Dangerous Place on Earth” has become something of an afterthought as the war has continued. The shelling of Zaporizhzhia is now so common that rather than a headline, it warrants a mere mention. Only in cases where the shelling is particularly intense are concerns heightened. This happened nine days ago when ten explosions shook the facility. These were targeted blasts aimed at infrastructure for electricity production. This raised awareness and did nothing to change the situation. This is not only lamentable, but also understates seriousness of the issue. An explosion or meltdown at Zaporizhzhia would have consequences far beyond Ukraine. People living in eastern and central Europe, the near east and Russia would all be threatened with exposure to high doses of radiation. The area in and around the facility could be turned into Ukraine’s second exclusion zone (Chernobyl is the first). This would produce new waves of refugees, rock the world economy, and provide a terrifying precedent for the future.

Consequences for the release of radiation at Zaporizhzhia are so dire that they cannot be overstated. Diplomacy and International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors have not been able to convince the Russians to stop shelling the facility or vacated it. Instead, they blame the Ukrainians. Only in the upside-down world of Kremlin logic would it make any sense for the Ukrainians to attack their own nuclear power plant. The Kremlin seeks to distract from the real issue. Namely, that Russian forces are sitting on a tinder box with a book of matches If humanity manages to sidestep disaster at Zaporizhzhia it will be a minor miracle. The situation has been worsening for months. Fortunately, there may be reason for optimism due to recent developments.

End game – Russian soldiers at Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant

A Grip on Power — Defensible Positions
Russia has been in retreat for the past several months in eastern and southern Ukraine. This may also be the case in Zaporizhzhia very soon. Ukrainian officials spoke this week about reports from locals that the Russians are packing up their equipment and stealing anything of value from the facility. Furthermore, highly influential Russian military bloggers have been discussing a potential retreat from Zaporizhzhia. This could be disinformation, or it could be just what the Kremlin has ordered. The retreat from Kherson city a couple of weeks ago led to Russian forces narrowing their front in southern Ukraine. They have been moving into more defensible positions that will be easier to hold throughout the winter. Consolidating forces in a smaller area is necessary for an army that has consistently underperformed on the battlefield. Terror tactics such as those used at Zaporizhzhia have been the Russian military’s modus operandi for far too long. Their occupation of Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant might or might not be coming to an end. If so, humanity has dodged another bullet. That is until the next time.

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Hard Target – Vladimir Putin’s Personal & Professional Security (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #254)

Every day without fail for the past two weeks there have been various iterations of the same headline on my web browser’s homepage. Put simply, Vladimir Putin is said to be fearing for his life. I find this to be both surprising and amusing. Let’s start with the surprising. How could anyone think Putin would not be fearing for his life? His fingerprints are all over the disastrous performance of the Russian military in Ukraine. The Kremlin’s mismanagement of the war continues to proceed at a calamitous pace. The person most responsible for what can only be described as terrible mess is Putin. Despite attempts by the Kremlin’s propagandists to deflect responsibility, or perhaps because of them, the blame ultimately lies with Putin. Many are now beginning to wonder if something other than fingers will soon be pointed at Putin. Perhaps the barrel of a gun.

The collapse of Russian forces on the Kharkiv front, followed by the retreat from Kherson city is the latest evidence that the Kremlin is not only losing the war, but is in danger of losing their grip on power. Putin stands at the pinnacle of the hierarchical pyramid that rules over Russia. Those charged with deflecting blame would have everyone believe that the pyramid has been inverted. Anyone – military commanders, cowardly soldiers, lying and/or corrupt securocrats – other than Putin is supposedly to blame for the succession of military debacles. It could not possibly be the Russian President’s fault even though he was the one who made the decision to invade. Putin even went so far as to announce the invasion in a televised address on February 24th. All evidence points back to Putin, Kremlin, and his inner circle of cronies.

Keeping his distance – Vladimir Putin speaks at the Kremlin

Power Politics – Fighting for Putin’s Life
I find it amusing that a headline such as, “Putin fears for his life” is thought to be newsworthy. This shows a lack of knowledge regarding Putin’s rule over Russia. The one trait Putin has exhibited during his twenty-two years in power is paranoia. Ever since Putin connived his way into the presidency, he has been obsessed with destroying any rivals who might try to loosen his grip on power. Put another way, Putin fears not only losing power, but also his life. These fears led him to use the state security apparatus to attack the oligarchs. Some like Boris Berezovsky fled abroad and then died under mysterious circumstances. Others such as Mikhail Khodorkovsky were divested of their wealth, imprisoned on false charges, and then thrown out of the country. Khodorkovsky was lucky to make it out of the country alive. His sin, like all the other oligarchs Putin targeted, was being perceived as a threat.

The regime has no room for criticism or alternate power bases. At least that was true prior to the invasion of Ukraine. Now criticism is starting to be aired in public and Putin cronies such as Yevgeny Prigozhin and Ramzan Kadyrov are cultivating alternate power bases. Putin has been weakened to the extent that he has little choice, but to allow these men to run their own personal military fiefdoms. He can ill afford to alienate supporters, even if they threaten to undermine his rule. While it is certainly true that Putin has reason to fear for his life, more so now than ever before, it is not as though this is anything new. We will never know the number of attempts that have been made on Putin’s life. There have been various reports through the years involving a wide range of shadowy characters.

Projecting power – Vladimir Putin

Vested Interests – The Price of Loyalty
These include Russian emigres in Britain, an Iraqi man in Azerbaijan, and a Chechen in Odessa, all arrested for trying to carry out plots to kill Putin. In May, General Kyrylo Budanov who is the Chief of Defense Intelligence for Ukraine, went so far as to speak on the record about an unsuccessful attempt on Putin’s life by people from the Caucasus region. This reputedly occurred just after the invasion of Ukraine began. Budanov stated that this information would never be made public. Whether this attempt on Putin’s life happened is open to question, but we can be sure that many such incidents have happened through the years and everyone of them up to this point has failed.

The chances that Putin’s presidency will end with his assassination are extremely slim. The Kremlin is aware of this possibility and have taken whatever measures necessary to protect Putin. It is difficult to ascertain the precautions that have been taken, but anecdotal evidence suggests these are extensive. Putin is said to have an elite sniper team tracking his every move. Their only job is to eliminate any real or perceived threat to him. Since these snipers, like everyone else surrounding Putin rely on the Kremlin for their own well-being, they are sure to be loyalists. Putin is known to provide vast rewards for those loyal to him. This is understandable because his life largely depends on a small circle of trusted advisors and guns for hire. They have a vested interest in keeping Putin safe, since they cannot be sure what might come after him.  

Marked man – Vladimir Putin

Planning & Plotting – A Matter of Self-Preservation
Much more likely than a lone gunman or group of conspirators carrying out an assassination attempt on Putin, would be an internal palace coup to remove him from power. In the shadowy world of the Kremlin and Russian elites, there is no way of knowing who might be plotting against Putin. More likely than plotting is planning for a post-Putin Russia. Those close to the Kremlin who want to hold onto their powerful positions and wealth need to ensure they are on the right side of whatever regime comes next. This is more than a Kremlin parlor game. For those involved in Russian power politics it is a matter of self-preservation. While self-preservation has always been at the heart of Putin’s regime, events in Ukraine have proven beyond the Kremlin’s control. This has created the greatest threat to Putin, both personally and professionally, that he has faced. There is no doubt that he will do everything possible to cling to power. Whether that will be enough to save Putin’s regime and his life is a question that could soon be answered.

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Act of Desperation – Russian Attacks on Ukraine Infrastructure (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #253)

One way of measuring the desperation of the Kremlin is by the ferocity of the war against Ukrainian civilians. Vladimir Putin and his handpicked commander of Russian military forces, Sergei Surovkin – known as General Armageddon – have hit on what they believe will be a successful strategy, destroy Ukraine’s critical infrastructure. Leave millions of Ukrainians without heat, water and electricity in the dead of winter and they will scream for mercy. In turn, this will force their leaders to the negotiating table. And if that does not work, it might still force another wave of Ukrainian refugees on the rest of Europe. Ukraine’s allies might then then force the Ukrainian leadership to negotiate a ceasefire or better yet, an uneasy peace that locks in Russia’s territorial gains in the four Ukrainian provinces it absurdly annexed.

Smoking ruins – Aftermath of Russian missile strike on Ukrainian infrastructure

Striking Back – Attacking the Innocent
The volume and vileness of the latest Russian missile strikes illustrate a larger point. It is no coincidence that their ultimate targets are civilians rather than soldiers. That is because the Russian military realizes that they cannot defeat the Ukrainian Army. This is a simple and provocative point that the Kremlin makes by focusing their newest strategy not against Ukrainian forces which threaten to destroy their own, but against innocents. No matter what Russian forces have tried, thermobaric bombs, massive artillery bombardments, human wave attacks, the result has been the same, Russian forces in retreat. The Russians have lost 55% of the territory they once occupied in Ukraine. Their forces are stretched thin across the frontlines. Raw conscripts feel many of the gaps created in their lines by the loss of over 80,000 soldiers killed and counting. What does it say about the current state of the Russian military that they target the defenseless, rather than the defenders.

The interesting thing is that the Russian missiles strikes show little sign of eroding the Ukrainian population’s will to resist. If anything, it seems to be reinforcing resistance. Meanwhile, the Kremlin has resorted to conscripting whomever they can as cannon fodder in a desperate bid to patch up their frontlines. The chance of the Russian Army suffering a decisive defeat. not just in separate battles or campaigns, but in the entire war is greater than ever. Thus, Putin has ordered Surovkin to use extreme measures. The upshot is a no holds barred attack on Ukrainian civilians. The goal is to make them feel pain and suffering. Cold, thirst, lack of light, these uncomfortable conditions are supposed to break the will of the Ukrainian people. If they give in, even worse will come. The campaign is relentless. The Russians have launched massive attacks multiple times over the past few weeks and will continue to do so until they run out of missiles. Thus far, this has been the most successful tactic the Russians have employed during the war.

The hits keep on coming – Smoke rises from Russian missile strike on Ukraine

Futile Attempts – Failure to Execute
Only time will tell if the missile attacks are successful in weakening Ukrainian resolve. If they is not, Putin will be searching for yet another tactic in what has been up to this point, one futile attempt after another to achieve something that can be called a victory. Most likely, the next idea will be a long-rumored mass mobilization. The Kremlin continues to come up with bad ideas, whose execution is even worse. Putin and those whose livelihoods are reliant upon his regime, must be extremely concerned for their future. With each passing month, the likelihood of instability inside Russia increases. Putin wanted to cause chaos and calamity to keep Ukraine weak and from turning to the western world. Oddly, that is what his mismanagement of the war has done to Russia. In his twenty-two years in power, Putin’s Russia has never looked so weak. It is hard to see how he can extricate his regime from Ukraine without causing internal upheaval.  

The Kremlin is running low on ammo, and not just the kind that goes in guns. Putin is not yet down to his proverbial last bullet, but he has emptied several chambers over the past nine months. How many more botched miliary operations can the Kremlin mismanage before the sheer number of failures finally backfires? One of the most ironic aspects of Putin’s prosecution of the war is that everything he tries ends up hurting Russia as much or more than it does Ukraine. For instance, the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine made Russia’s closest neighbors much more wary of the Kremlin. They are now likelier to increase military spending to protect themselves. Holding Europe hostage to Russian oil and gas has now led Europeans, particularly the Germans, to diversify energy supplies away from Russia. At the same time, Russia has lost pricing leverage over the oil and gas they sell to China and India. War crimes have ruined Russia’s reputation in much of the civilized world, consequentially their prestige on the international stage has taken a terrible blow. Russia closest allies now are Iran, North Korea, and Syria. Ukraine’s are the United States, the European Union and Great Britain. Russia is now much more isolated and poorer than it has been at since Stalinist times, but at least the Soviet Union had victory in World War II to fall back on. The Kremlin has nothing to fall back on except its battered reputation.

In the dark – Kyiv without electricity

Firing Away – Sources of Frustration
If all the above was not bad enough, Ukrainians were supposed to be the ones who would be plead by now for negotiations. The opposite has occurred. The Russians are now the ones doing the pleading, not by words, but through actions. Hence the missile strikes on civilian infrastructure. Anything to get Ukraine into negotiations. Putin is trying to signal that Russia is far from done in the war. A more realistic assessment would be that Putin is signaling that he is far from done with the war. It is debatable whether Russians are done with the war, if they were ever really for it to begin with. Desperation and frustration are not viable strategies for winning a war against a well-trained and highly motivated opponent. That has not stopped the Kremlin from trying. The missile barrages will continue, but so will the failures to break the will of Ukrainians.

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Expect The Unexpected – Predictions & the Ukraine-Russia War (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #252)

One thing about the Ukraine-Russia War that everyone should know by now is to expect the unexpected. Trying to predict what will happen next in the war has been a guessing game since it began nine months ago. Early predictions of Ukraine’s imminent defeat turned out to be off the mark, but failure has never stopped the so-called experts from trying to predict the future. The same logic applies to the Ukraine-Russia War. Many analysts have refined their predictive process to approximate an outcome, rather than make sweeping declarations. A good example of this occurred with the Russian withdrawal from Kherson. For weeks, there were reports that a lesser version of Stalingrad was about to occur on the banks of the Dnipro River as 30,000 Russian soldiers were slowly being surrounded in and around Kherson city. The predicted urban combat never materialized.

Predictions were recalibrated on several occasions to make an expected Ukrainian victory a fait accompli. Speculation was reserved for how much fighting would occur before this happened. Even when it became apparent that the Russians were going to withdrawal from the city to new positions east of the Dnipro, predictions continued to be circumspect until it was known for sure. This ambiguity is a welcome change in the predictive process. While less exciting and more excruciating, ambiguity allows for less wild speculations. Predictions have become more guarded and thus more accurate. This is a byproduct of experience. The longer the war has lasted, the more reasonable predictions have become. Expectations have been tempered as reality takes hold.  Now is as good a time as any to look back at some of the predictions that were made about the war. It also time for another round of speculation as to where the war might be headed in the coming months.

Expect the unexpected – Female Ukrainian soldier

Differences of Opinion – Past & Present Performance
The most notable prediction that proved true about the war was ironically one made before it even began. American intelligence assessments of the Russian military posture regarding Ukraine proved to be spot on. The Biden administration provided information that a Russian invasion was imminent. At the time, many thought this was fear mongering, including Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky. Then in the early hours of February 24th, all hell broke loose over Ukraine. The American’s accurate prediction of the invasion has now been mostly forgotten, but it shows that combining human and electronic intelligence can correctly predict outcomes. Unfortunately, most predictions are little more than speculation. Predictions are supposed to be based on fact, whereas speculation is little more than opinion. It is not hard to understand why. Even the most well-connected analysts and reporters often lack credible information. That means relying on past performance to predict future outcomes.

Many analysts fell back on the Russian army’s reputation in predicting its eventual victory. The problem was that the Russians had not been involved in a war of this size or scale since 1945. The Ukrainian Army did not have much of a reputation at all. That influenced opinions of their fighting ability. The upshot was an overestimation of the Russian’s capabilities and an underestimation of the Ukrainians. After Russia lost the Battle of Kyiv, most should have been disabused of their assumptions that the Russian Army was a juggernaut that would steamroll the Ukrainians. The Russian military’s poor performance in the Battle of Kyiv was a harbinger of more problems to come. This did not stop analysts from once again predicting Russian victory as they made gains in their Donbas Offensive. For many, the mighty Russian steamroller had finally arrived. They were going to defeat the Ukrainians with artillery bombardments and missile strikes. This assumed the Russians had an infinite number of men and weaponry available, or at least enough to grind the Ukrainians down. It turned out they did not. The result was that while the Russians did make progress, the campaign came at great cost.

The war grinds on – Electrical transformer in Ukraine hit by Russian missile

Guesswork – Forecasting The Future
The predictions about Ukrainian performance have been wrong on too many occasions to enumerate. Most of these assumed that Ukrainian forces were so outnumbered and outgunned that they could not possibly hold out for very long. The reality is that they have done much better than that, and by doing so won several surprise victories. While the Ukrainian Army’s ability to defy predictions has been highly publicized, less has been said about those times when the Ukrainians fail to exceed expectations. This is what occurred in the aftermath of their breakthrough in the Kharkiv counteroffensive. Predictions of further breakthroughs were made, some even believed that this would be the Russian Army’s breaking point.

When that did not happen, the predictions of a stalemate resurfaced. This has been aided by observations that the weather will prove too detrimental for either the Ukrainians or Russians to do much about. Campaigns were supposed to ebb with the onset of winter. A more realistic assessment is that operations are slowing down. Nevertheless, ferocious fighting is still taking place. This is especially true in the Donbas region where the Russians have been launching wave after wave of attacks on Ukrainian positions in Bakhmut. For their part, the Ukrainians are making a push for Svatoe. Both actions are proof that trying to forecast the future is guesswork.

Trying to predict what will happen in the coming months is extremely difficult. Perhaps more so than at other times in the war because weather will play an outsized role in the fighting. Weather forecasts are notoriously unreliable, particularly so in a land such as Ukraine that is given to extreme climatic conditions. One thing that can be said with some assurance is that the war is nowhere close to over. It will last at least through the winter and into the spring. Both sides will be reconstituting troops and weaponry. Most analysts believe this will be for spring offensives, but winter might just be the time for a surprise attack that has a greater chance of a breakthrough. This is truer for the Ukrainians than the Russians. The Ukrainians have the momentum on their side from the victories in Kherson and Kharkiv. Furthermore, the Russians are filling gaps in their ranks with raw recruits that have been reportedly undersupplied. If so, they may be vulnerable to an offensive.

The battle has just begun – Ukrainian soldiers ready for winter warfare

Great Expectations – Fantasy & Reality
Trying to predict what will happen in the coming months is extremely difficult. Perhaps more so than at other times in the war because weather will play an outsized role in the fighting. Weather forecasts are notoriously unreliable, particularly so in a land such as Ukraine that is given to extreme climatic conditions. One thing that can be said with some assurance is that the war is nowhere close to over. It will last at least through the winter and into the spring. Both sides will be reconstituting troops and weaponry. Most analysts believe this will be for spring offensives, but winter might just be the time for a surprise attack that has a greater chance of a breakthrough. This is truer for the Ukrainians than the Russians. The Ukrainians have the momentum on their side from the victories in Kherson and Kharkiv. Furthermore, the Russians are filling gaps in their ranks with raw recruits that have been reportedly undersupplied. If so, they may be vulnerable to an offensive.

As for the Russians, they will continue attacks on civilian infrastructure, the one aspect of the war where they have been successful this autumn. Russian forces are also likely to try some sort of ground offensive if for no other reason than the best defense is a good offense. Leaving raw recruits in the trenches and rickety barracks for months on end is a risky venture. Getting them on the move, even if in very limited offensive actions could alleviate concerns about low morale and the possibility of localized mutinies. Whatever happens on either side, we should be prepared for more of the unexpected. The only thing certain is that the war will continue to astonish and confound those who try to predict its ultimate outcomes.

Click here for: Act of Desperation – Russian Attacks on Ukraine Infrastructure (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #253)

Lucky Loser – Sergiy Stakhovsky Fights for Ukraine (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #251)

He earned five and a half million dollars in his chosen profession, garnered numerous accolades and arena’s full of applause. He was well known throughout his country and represented it with professionalism and integrity the world over. By any reasonable standard, Sergiy Stakhovsky was a sporting success. He achieved what no other sportsman in his homeland had ever managed before. Stakhovsky, one of the two greatest men’s professional tennis players in Ukrainian history, gave hope to those in his homeland who might dream that one day they too could play at the highest levels of international tennis. In a nation where oligarchy and corruption had been rampant for far too long, where who you knew was often the ticket to riches, Stakhovsky carved out a career path in the ultimate meritocracy. No one lasts long in the cutthroat world of men’s professional tennis unless they are supremely talented and blessed with an incredible work ethic. Stakhovsky was up to the challenge. He managed to thrive in that world for 19 years. Then at the age of 38, ancient by the standards of men’s professional tennis, Stakhovsky decided to call it a career and move on to the next phase of his life.

Career move – Sergiy Stakhovsky being honored at the 2022 ATP finals in London

The Journeyman – To the Ends of the Earth
Retirement from professional tennis meant that Stakhovsky would finally be able to enjoy a respite from the jet set lifestyle of the touring pro. A way of life that looks glamorous to outsiders, is anything but to those who must endure it. Stakhovsky knew the reality of that lonely life. Years spent on an exhausting odyssey of travel to the ends of the earth in search of coveted ranking points, prize money, and sponsorships. Much of Stakhovsky’s tennis career was spent far from the maddening crowds that circle center courts at Grand Slam events. To keep his career afloat, Stakhovsky became a journeyman pro. He had no choice but to ply his tennis trade in locales that only the most fervent fans of the sport have ever heard of. Those places were now just memories in the rearview mirror of his tennis career. There would be no more tepid applause and half empty bleachers, nor would there be the thrill of striding onto center court at Wimbledon.

Stakhovsky said thanks for the memories, but it was now time to start living a normal life. He was going to settle down to a life of leisure and relaxation, no more sprints at the break of dawn, strict dietary requirements, or endless hours on the court pounding serves. No more missed flights, sleeping in airports, and late check-ins to hotels multiple time zones away from home. Stakhovsky would now be able to enjoy a second career that had already begun. He was the proud owner of a winery in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains not far from the Ukraine-Hungary border. The property was but a four-hour drive from Budapest, where he lived with his wife and kids. Finally, he would be in his chosen home and near enough to visit the winery anytime he pleased. 2022 would be a new beginning. And so it was, but not in the way Sergey Stakhovsky had imagined. On February 24th, everything changed for Stakhovsky when Russia launched an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Stakhovsky could have stayed safely abroad, he had a family to help raise and the means to live a comfortable lifestyle. Instead, he chose to fight for his nation.

Lucky loser – Sergiy Stakhovsky holding court

A Far Cry – Tour of Duty
The first time I heard of Sergiy Stakhovsky was in March 2008, when he rose to prominence as what is known in professional tennis parlance a “lucky loser.” At the time, Stakhovsky was ranked #209 in the world and trying to fight his way up through the rankings to get into events on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) World Tour. To that end, Stakhovsky tried to qualify for the Zagreb Indoors in Croatia, but he lost in the final round of qualifying. Fortune was on Stakhovsky’s side when a player withdrew from the main draw. This allowed Stakhovsky a place in the main draw. He went on to win the event, one of only nine players to ever win an ATP tour event as a lucky loser. Two years later, Stakhovsky peaked at #31 in the world rankings. Besides winning four ATP tour level titles, the highlight of Stakhovsky’s career came at Wimbledon in 2013. That was where he defeated one of the greatest players of all time, Roger Federer in the second round. This would be the greatest victory of Stakhovsky’s tennis career. That glory is a far cry from where he has been for most of this year.

Only a week after the Russian invasion of his homeland began, Stakhovsky volunteered for the Ukrainian Army. He was sent to eastern Ukraine to help patrol and secure cities that have been recently recaptured. Last week, Stakhovsky managed to get away from the front and travel to the ATP Finals in London where he was honored as one of the pros who retired from the tour this year. Stakhovsky’s last match was at the Australian Open in January. The burning heat and cheering crowds in Melbourne are a far cry from the life-threatening dangers that Stakhovsky and his fellow Ukrainian soldiers endure every day. Stakhovsky’s sense of duty to his country is admirable, but not out of the ordinary as an overwhelming majority of Ukrainian men have answered the call to fight for their country’s independence.

Another struggle – Sergiy Stakhovsky in Ukrainian Army fatigues

Speaking Up – The Right Side of History
Stakhovsky is in a unique situation because of his previous career as one of the top tennis players in the world. He has won doubles titles with Russian partners, his wife is Russian, and Stakhovsky won a tour level event at St. Petersburg in 2010. Nevertheless, Stakhovsky is a Ukrainian patriot through and through. He has little time for Russian players who do not speak out against the war. He recently said that history will be the judge of their silence. As for Stakhovsky, history will have a very different verdict on his service to Ukraine. He answered the call when his nation needed it most. By doing so, Stakhovsky has put himself on the right side of history.

Click here Expect The Unexpected – Predictions & the Ukraine-Russia War (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #252)

Mass Mobilization – The Kremlin’s Next Call For Cannon Fodder (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #250)

The war in Ukraine is turning into a test of chauvinism for the Kremlin. The self-conscious toughness and power persona that Vladimir Putin has spent the past twenty-two years cultivating, cannot be allowed to suffer defeat. An all-out effort must be made to salvage something from the war. To this end, the Kremlin is believed to be taking another step into the abyss. The latest chatter is that full scale mobilization has been in the works for quite some time. The conscription of unwilling office and factory workers is imminent. No longer will only working-class Russian men and downtrodden minorities living in Siberian backwaters be conscripted for the war. The Kremlin’s insatiable appetite for conscripts can only be satisfied by coopting a larger proportion of the population. What the Putin regime wants in Russia it always gets. An inverse corollary to that exists in Ukraine.

Packing their bags – Russian solder headed to the war in Ukraine

Waging Fear – Commandeered as Cannon Fodder
After the mirthless cheer and cynical tidings of the forthcoming holiday season in Russia come to an end, the Kremlin will crank up their war machine another notch. Whereas partial mobilization was doubling down, full mobilization triples down on a dangerous idea that Putin’s propagandists will make sound sensible. The Kremlin is playing an insidious game of Russian roulette, hoping to cheat the odds, if not death. This, despite adding another bullet to the chamber. The odds of success in Putin’s war have dwindled. The Kremlin is desperate for a victory. For some strange reason they believe feeding more men into a meat grinder might work. This is contrary to all evidence in the war thus far. The Russian people will once again be forced to absolve their leader’s original sin of an unprovoked, ill-advised, and colossally mismanaged invasion of Ukraine with their own flesh and blood.

Putin has put Russia in a hole and is co-opting the people to dig it even deeper. This is expropriation, rather than extrication from a war effort that was met with a massive shrug of the shoulders from the Russian public. That was up until the point they noticed the gun barrels were pointing back at them. The rumors of mobilization could be dismissed as mere gossip, the usual disinformation that the Kremlin churns out on a regular basis to wage fear and loathing in the western world. Except the latest missives from murky sources have the ring of truth. The regime managed to push through partial mobilization despite countless acts of passive resistance, the shirkers and traitors were allowed to leave. Now those who stayed behind will be commandeered as cannon fodder. 

Winter war – Russia will be mobilizing more conscripts to fight in Ukraine

Neo-Novorossiya – The Making of a Mockery
Now the main mobilization is being readied. For those who care to believe otherwise, consider that no less a source than the Institute for the Study of War considers the chatter reputable. And why not? What does the Kremlin have to lose other than another 80,000 more men. Loss of life is a given with this leadership, a necessary evil on a scale unfathomable to the rest of the civilized world. When waging what amounts to a proxy war against the West, every resource must be at the state’s disposal. If that means taking sons from their mothers in Russia and fathers from their families, then so be it. If that means draining the economy of productive workers and nation of future generations, the sacrifice will have to be made. The Kremlin cannot afford to be seen as losers. Saving face comes at the highest cost. 

Putin will not stomach being tarnished with the brush of failure. That would make a mockery of his supposed role as the restorer of Russian greatness. This belief is reliant on victory, if not on the battlefield than in the court of public opinion. Putin is prepared to force Russians to make the ultimate sacrifice of their lives and livelihoods to prop up his Potemkin empire. Never mind that the Russian military torched the territory that was to make this sinister dream into a sublime reality. The would-be towns and cities of neo-Novorossiya have been blown apart. The soil is saturated with blood and the inhabitants traumatized for generations. This is nation building on a nightmarish scale and a prime example of just how far Russia has fallen in just nine months.

The reasons why Russians will fight for this fallacy are difficult to discern and even harder to fathom. The Russian people understand that Putin is a representation of their pride, their latent imperialism, their belief that they are a great people and if that means conniving, murdering and stealing to prove it, then the ends justify the means. The Russians have been married to mad ideas before and those of the Putin regime are part of a long lineage that leads from Ivan the Terrible to the Great Terror to one blood-soaked battlefield after another in Ukraine. There is an aspect of self-destruction that lurks in the heart of every Russian. Putin is now its leading exponent and the Russian people his half-willing accomplices.

Readying for war – Equipment for mobilized Russian soldiers

Rallying Cry – Solutions to an Unsolvable Problem
Russia is at its worst and best when the war is total. Witness their victories over the forces of Napoleon and Hitler. Anything less than total commitment will not cut it. Case in point, Afghanistan in the 1980’s and the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-05. Russia cannot fight with one hand tied behind its back; they must come out swinging. The masses must be mobilized, this is the only way for Russia to carry out Putin’s self-appointed historical mission, which by extension has also become that of the Russian people. An effort from every stratum of society is demanded. The rallying cry will be that the homeland is threatened by Ukrainian forces and their puppet masters in the western world. At least according to that most dubious of sources, Russian state media. Crimea has been given a bloody nose on several occasions and the recurrent blasts in Belgorod can be offered up as evidence that nefarious forces are knocking on Russia’s door. The reality is that these examples are proof of nothing, except the regime’s inability to properly fight the war. This is what has led to mass mobilization and martial law. The supposed solutions to an unsolvable problem.

Click here for: Lucky Loser – Sergiy Stakhovsky Fights for Ukraine (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #252)

The War Has Already Spread – Russia’s Domestic Dissension (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #249)

There is a great deal of worry among the international community that the Ukraine-Russia War could spread into a wider conflict. One that could pull NATO into a war with Russia. This concern is not to be taken lightly. For NATO, it would mean direct confrontation with an opponent that might use nuclear weapons. In fact, if NATO forces fought on the side of Ukraine, it would mean almost certain defeat for Russia, such is the qualitative advantage that NATO has in weaponry. For Russia, a wider war is just as worrisome because it would further strain logistical and supply capabilities that are already reeling due to Ukrainian attacks. Faced with imminent defeat, Russia might go nuclear. That would lead to unpredictable and possibly catastrophic consequences for all involved. This is the main reason why both sides want to limit the war from spreading. Nevertheless, the war has already spread far beyond what anyone would have believed when it first began nine months ago. For an excellent illustration of this look no further than Russia. 

Goodbye to all that – Russian mother hugs her son at a military recruitment office in Volgograd

Truth & Consequences – A Show of Dissent
For Russia, the war has spread like a wildfire, one on which the Putin regime continues to pour gasoline. Geopolitical observers and military analysts often remark upon how the Kremlin believed the war would only last three days. Minor difficulties might stretch that estimate to a week. The scary thing for Russia is that the Kremlin acted on such estimates and failed to plan for any contingencies. Thus, the Russian military was unprepared for a prolonged conflict. This became apparent in the first month of the war when Russian forces were involved in a colossal traffic jam north of Kyiv. Without proper clothing, supplies and weaponry, they suffered a decisive defeat. The Russian Army never believed it would find themselves in such a position. This was an ominous sign of more problems to come. At that point, Vladimir Putin could have stomached the loss and stopped the war. Instead, he decided that it would continue. Rather than retreat and end his so called “special military operation”, the Kremlin ordered a new offensive in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. The die was now cast for a much longer conflict with a wide variety of unintended consequences.

A longer war was not just bad for an unprepared Russian military, it also came as a shock to an unprepared Russian public. The Kremlin banned Russians from referring to the war as anything other than a “special military operation.” The restriction on calling the war a war, belies the deep-rooted insecurity and paranoia at the heart of Putin’s regime. The war was never sold to the masses. Instead, it was imposed. No wonder the public was surprised to learn that the war was going to last much longer than anyone expected. If the lengthening of the war raised suspicions from the Russian public as to their military’s performance, then the announcement of “partial mobilization” sent shockwaves through the Russian public. While domestic dissent towards mobilization was not expressed in public spaces due to the threat of arrest and imprisonment, potential draftees voted with their feet. At least three times as many Russian men fled abroad as the regime managed to commandeer into military service. This was a show of dissension that spoke volumes about the Russian public’s trust in the regime.

Stopping the spread – Woman laying down in front of a bus taking conscripts away for the war in Ukraine

Looming Storms – In For A Fight
The mobilization was necessary for the Kremlin to continue the war, but at the same time it has spread the toxin of dissent throughout Russian society. The war now touches multiple social strata. Even in Moscow, where it was thought that the middle-class male population was untouchable, males were conspicuous by their absence in public spaces until the mobilization ended. Post-mobilization, silence no longer equals complicity. Now it can mean seething resentment that simmers beneath the surface as loved ones wait to see what happens to their husbands, sons, and brothers on the battlefield. If they were unlucky enough to be conscripted, many of them may never come home. The lucky ones who fled the country will not be back until the war ends. This has knock on effects for the economy.

The Russian economy has held up rather well to this point, but in 2023, costs associated with the war will continue to rise as economic growth is predicted to decline by 4.5%. This will spread pain to pocketbooks as consumer purchasing power dwindles. The economy has thus far been propped up by rising energy prices and revenues. That is not likely to last. Europe has been forced to wean itself off Russian energy meaning that markets for Russia’s oil and gas are narrowing. The Kremlin has lost valuable leverage over trade partners. China, India, and Turkey can now demand deep discounts for Russian oil and gas. The Russian economy is inordinately dependent on natural resource revenues. A lack of diversification is detrimental to growth. The Kremlin rushed into the war without considering the problems it would cause the economy. In the coming year, they will be managing a faltering economy, as well as a failing war effort.

Internal Problems – Vladimir Putin has a multitude of domestic problems

Internal Problems – Getting Political
The spread of the war across Russian society and the economy will have profound consequences for national politics. A closer look shows it already has. Just because Vladimir Putin and his inner circle have tightened their grip on power, does not mean that the domestic political situation is stable. On the contrary, the war has exposed internal tensions and political fault lines among Russian elites. While most internal machinations of the Kremlin are kept out of the public eye, it is hard for even the most casual observer not to notice the number of elites who have suffered “accidental” deaths. These deaths have happened with enough frequency that they are more than the usual score settling. Dissent, mistrust, and paranoia have been exacerbated by the war. They will continue to spread. As will the war’s effects throughout every political, economic and social class in Russia. The question is whether Vladimir Putin and his cronies in the Kremlin can stop or at least contain the war’s effects on Russian society. As long as the war continues, do not count on it.

Click here for: Mass Mobilization – The Kremlin’s Next Call For Cannon Fodder (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #250)

Altered Lives & Lines– Przewodow & The Poland-Ukraine Geopolitical Fault Line (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #248)

In another world that existed not so long ago, the missile that landed in Przewodow, Poland would have struck a predominantly Ukrainian community. If the history that informed the redrawing of Poland’s eastern border after World War II had been different, the location of Przewodow might not have been in Poland at all. Instead, it could have been in Ukraine. That is because back then, Przedonow stood on a geopolitical fault line. One that put it on a collision course with the forces of imperialism, nationalism, fascism, and communism. Many of those same forces still exist today. Przewodow might be remote, but it still cannot escape the forces of history. Neither can Poland or Ukraine.

Visible proof – Poland and Ukraine border markers (Credit: Oblomov2)

Stopgap Measure – The Westward Movement
Today, Przewodow is on another fault line, one between western and eastern values. It is only ten kilometers from where the European Union and non-European Union world divide. The same goes for the separation of NATO and non-NATO territory. The forces that have cultivated peace and prosperity in western Europe have been shifting eastward since 1989. They reached their limit not far beyond Przewodow. These forces are temporarily stalled at the Ukrainian border. The Ukraine-Russia War will decide whether the eastward movement of western values and institutions continues across Ukraine. In the meantime, the war between east and west threatens to spread beyond Ukraine, as it did for one dangerous moment when a missile slammed into the ground at a grain storage facility in Przewodow.

In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, Przewodow was overwhelmingly populated by Ukrainians and occupied by the Soviet Union. It could just as easily have become part of Soviet territory. From an ethnic standpoint that would have made sense, but those redrawing the lines on maps decided to set the border a little bit further to the east. This meant the Przewodow reverted to Poland, where it had been located prior to the war. At the same time, the ethnic composition of the village was radically altered to separate Poles and Ukrainians. This was how Przewodow came to exist in its present form. No one could have imagined at the time that a border adjustment would have geopolitical ramifications seventy-five years later.

Into the abyss – Still images from the missile strike in Przewodow

Nothing Lasts Forever – Bordering On Change
Borders are very strange things. They call to mind the saying that “nothing lasts forever.” Borders sometimes do not last longer than it takes the ink on the treaties which created them to dry. No matter what nation you live in right now, you can be sure that its borders are not permanent. There are thing constants in life, death, taxes, and the malleability of borders. Whether it takes a decade, a century or a millennium, the borders of any polity will eventually and inevitably change. One of the reasons borders constantly shift is because many of them make very little sense. One of the strangest things about borders is how hard they are to distinguish. Most are not demarcated by anything as substantial as walls. Sometimes they are markers set in stone, other times they are virtually invisible. Treaties may delineate borders, but often this does nothing to differentiate between two sides.

I recall the first time I set foot outside the United States, driving across the border into Canada, specifically from the state of Montana into the province of Alberta. The trees looked the same, the road looked the same, even the signage looked familiar. From my perspective, one side of the border looked just like the other. I imagined that there would be something to distinguish between the two countries. If it had not been for border control, I would not have known one side from the other. I thought of that experience while reading news reports of the missile that hit in Przewodow. Looking for images of the village, I noticed the landscape surrounding it was agricultural and monotonous. One of the photos from the village showed farm fields stretching into the distance. The landscape looks much the same on the Ukrainian side of the border. How would a person be able to tell the difference between Poland and Ukraine when the landscape looked the same on either side of the border? This reminded me that the Poland-Ukraine border is just as much a political boundary, as it is a geographical boundary.

A place in time – Road entering Przewodow (Credit: Jakub Kruczek)

Identity Crisis – On The Wrong Side
The border between Poland and Ukraine is like many of the borders in Eastern Europe, a product of recent rather than distant history. The first half of the 20th century in eastern Poland and western Ukraine was marked by a succession of catastrophes. A fine illustration of the turmoil that plagued the region is how often Przewodow changed sides. This innocuous village found itself part of Austria-Hungary, Interwar Poland, Communist Poland and post-communist Poland. There were also occupations by Tsarist Russia, the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and another one by the Soviet Union. Armies that fought the two most violent wars in human history swept through the area on multiple occasions. With such a tumultuous history, it is a wonder that Przewodow managed to survive at all. The village made it through the whirlwind, but it is much different today than it was a hundred years ago.

Present-day Przewodow is ethnically Polish. A century ago, the situation could not have been more different. Of the village’s 737 inhabitants, 658 were ethnic Ukrainians, another 34 were Jewish. In other words, 95% of the population was not Polish. During World War II, the village was a hotbed of sentiment for the Ukrainian Insurgent Army as Polish and Ukrainian nationalists fought an ultraviolent war within a larger war. After the World War II war ended, facts on the ground were established to fit the dictates of a new border. This meant shifting the border of Poland to fit the preferences of Stalin’s Soviet Union.

Poland’s border was moved westward, and the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic’s border was also shifted westward. Forcible population exchanges of ethnic Poles and Ukrainians took place. Przewodow’s Ukrainian population moved to the Soviet Union. Poles moved into Przewodow. That is the way things have stayed since then. Thus, when the missile hit Przewodow it landed on Polish soil. At that moment, the border between Poland and Ukraine mattered more than it has in years. It is no longer just a line on a map, it is the difference between peace and the potential for a more widespread war.

Click here for: The War Has Already Spread – Russia’s Domestic Dissension (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #249)

The End Is Just Beginning – Przewodow & The Next World War (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #247)

I never imagined that the end of the world could start in a remote corner of eastern Poland or that the possibility of a nuclear apocalypse might be centered around a grain storage facility in a place called Przewodow. For several hours the darkest of possibilities arose from a smoldering crater, the product of a missile that landed in the village. What a way it would have been for the apocalypse to begin. On a sleepy afternoon, at the beginning of winter, in a village that few have ever heard of. What did Przewodow and its 413 inhabitants ever do to deserve such infamy. Fortunately, Armageddon was averted as Poland and its fellow NATO member states discovered that the missile was not fired from Russia, but instead came from Ukraine’s air defenses. This was a near miss of world historical proportions. A what if warning to the world that the danger of the Ukraine-Russia war spreading is clear and present. That at any moment the potential for escalation can rise from the obscure places.

Humanity can exhale for now, as life in Przewodow and life on earth will go on much as before. Most of us are either blissfully ignorant, willingly indifferent or vaguely aware of the storm which continues to gather on the warzone’s periphery. It threatens to explode outward beyond the borders of Ukraine at any moment. The incident at Przedonow was an excellent example of this ominous trend that continues to grow. The specter of nuclear war will continue to hang over Eastern Europe, if not the world. One good thing has come from this close call, at least Przewodow will not have its name etched in historical infamy forever. Instead, the village will go back to being as obscure as it always has been. The incident that occurred there will soon be all but forgotten. Thankfully, the village will once again fade from memory until it is a paragraph or two in history books on the Ukraine-Russia War. Przewodow, the place that played a leading role for less than a day, can return to anonymity.

Close call – Poland’s President Andrzej Duda speaks about the missile that hit Przewodow

Close Call – Armageddon Averted
A close friend once told me that it was always better to be lucky, than good. Make of that advice what you will, judging by what occurred in the more obscure reaches of eastern Poland, the world was extremely lucky. Nothing about what happened at Przewodow was good. Two innocent famers lost their lives, NATO members were forced into an emergency meeting, no one wanted to accept responsibility for what occurred, and the international community was reminded how quickly the war could escalate with potentially dire consequences far beyond the battlefield. What happened at Przewodow was the byproduct of over a hundred Russian missiles launched at infrastructure across Ukraine. An overwhelming majority of them were destroyed before they struck their targets. A deadly few made it past Ukrainian air defenses which by the standards of the western world are antiquated.

Just as the Russians are forced to rely on less than smart technology at this point in the war, so too are the Ukrainians forced into using old Soviet missiles to defend themselves. More rather than less incidents like the one at Przewodow are likely to occur. One of Ukraine’s air defense missiles was off target and took no heed of the border. There is no such thing as border control anywhere above ground level, thus the missile fell to earth ten kilometers west of the Poland-Ukraine border in Przedonow. Those farmers who lost their lives to the missile were collateral damage in a war often marked by that. Because the missile turned out to be Ukrainian rather than Russian, there was no need for NATO to invoke Article 5 and there was also no need for the rest of us to clutch articles of faith. Armageddon was averted, for now.

Digging a deeper hole – Investigators at site of the missile strike in Przewodow

Warning Signs – A Matter of If, Not When
The threat of conflict between NATO and Russia passed in a matter of hours. A near miss mainly due to luck. That is not a strategy that any nation wanting to avoid war, especially the nuclear kind, ever wants to rely upon. Nonetheless, that is where the international community finds itself due to the inherent danger of the Ukraine-Russia war. Just how dangerous the situation has become is illustrated by this seemingly random incident. What otherwise will have little bearing on the outcome of the war, almost led to an international crisis the likes of which has not been seen since the height of the Cold War. The situation that just occurred can best be regarded as sinisterly sublime. Here we had an anonymous spot on the map – one that does even rise to the level of a backwater – that could have triggered World War Three.

What ifs, near misses, and narrow escapes rarely focus the mind on a way that leads to course correction. In a world that suffers from attention deficit disorder, moments of reflection are few. That is why Przewodow will go back to being forgotten, the proverbial wide spot in the road, a blink and you miss it village. The obscurity of Przewodow will lead to the incident being downplayed. If the missile had landed in Warsaw, Krakow or even Lublin, the outcry would have been much louder, the warning likely to be heeded. Instead, the incident at Przedonow seems like a one off. A coincidence rather than a trend. Failure to recognize warning signs may lead to a worse outcome the next time. Luck will eventually run out. It is not a matter of if, but when. This is a very dangerous game to be playing.

Look of concern – Western leaders discussing the missile that hit Przewodow at the G7 meeting in Bali

A False Sense of Security – The Next News Cycle
If ever there was a false sense of security than it exists post-Przewodow. Sure, there will be politicians proclaiming that everyone needs to be more careful, but that thought will not last much longer than the next news cycle. Ensuring that an incident like the one at Przewodow does not happen again would need action that is extremely unlikely to be forthcoming. The Ukrainians need the most advanced air defense systems the west can provide. Until those are forthcoming, the Russian missile barrages will continue. Along with them will come the risk of another missile landing where it should not. Przewodow could have been the end, now it looks like the beginning.

Click here for: Altered Lives & Lines– Przewodow & The Poland-Ukraine Geopolitical Fault Line (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #248)