Graves with bodies of civilians, who according to local residents were killed by Russian soldiers in the town of Bucha, northwest of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, on April 4. Ukraine and Western nations accused Russian troops of war crimes after the discovery of the mass graves and civilians who were apparently executed near Kyiv. Photo by Vladyslav Musienko/UPI | License Photo
April 13 (UPI) -- What is driving Russian President Vladimir Putin and his unconscionable, barbaric invasion of Ukraine? Is Putin in control of his emotions or is he irrational? Here are some possible answers.
First, the West never fully comprehended the depth of Putin's resentment and animosity toward the United States, NATO and the European Union until it was too late. Both grew like a cancer that probably began during George W. Bush's first term.
As acting president in 2000, Putin wanted to align more closely with the West and the United States. But Bush made four decisions that proved to be strategically disastrous while also convincing Putin that America was untrustworthy. Bush cancelled the anti-ballistic missile treaty in 2001 and then deployed Aegis Ashore in Poland and Romania, overriding Putin's strong objections. His administration refused to listen to Putin after Sept. 11 on Afghanistan, rejecting Russian advice. He repeated this rejection of Putin's counsel before the 2003 Iraq invasion. And with his 2008 Bucharest casual comment about granting NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia, he ultimately metastasized this cancer.
Indeed, no one listened to Putin's outburst at the 2007 Munich Security Conference that, in retrospect, was a last warning.
Second, about Ukraine, Putin and his leadership have allowed this cancerous animosity toward the West and the United States to become the foundations for the "special military operation." The bulk of the Russian people accept this rationale at least for the time being. Ironically, while a five-year jail term for any Russian calling this operation a war is seen here as a sign of a country out of control, that practice is not confined to Russia. During WWI, America's Sedition and Espionage Acts detained citizens for merely criticizing Army uniforms.
Thus, from this perspective, Putin's actions, however despicable, should not be surprising. For example, a majority of Americans supported the 2003 Iraq invasion, believing that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. And how long did Americans also support the Afghan war? And we also need to understand that the Russian definition of "Nazi" is not Hitlerian. A "Nazi" is a non-Russian Ukrainian, or a Ukrainian who does not believe he or she is Russian.
Where is Putin headed and what can be done to stop him and end the war? Putin likely has concluded that this is a fight to the finish. Ultimately, he must wear down Ukraine by force of numbers unless the West begins the equivalent of a massive "lend lease" program to keep Ukraine in the fight. And however gruesome, the metric that failed in Vietnam, the body count, must apply here. Ukraine's killing as many Russians and their generals as possible must be the strategy to force a negotiation, in essence allowing Ukraine "to win" tactically.
While some past actions by the White House may have seemed self-deterring, that must change. Ukraine must have additional capacity to threaten Russia's Black Sea Fleet and even the Kerch bridge, which links both shores of the Sea of Azov. Further, the West must have contingency plans in the event that Russians use chemical weapons. The recent episode in Mariupol might have been a test. If so, what should be the response?
About NATO, it has no army; nations have armies. Hence, despite additional deployments of troops and headquarters to Eastern Europe, in reality, this is a tripwire defense. These are insufficient to stop a major attack and are present to reinforce deterrence and Article 5 -- an attack against one is an attack against all.
Putin, of course, has a vote. Suppose Putin needs a diversion or misdirection. Moldova would seem to be a prime candidate. Russian troops have been stationed there for nearly 30 years. And threatening Moldova's neighbor Romania from both land and sea would surely divert some of NATO's attention.
I have argued for a Porcupine Defense to deal with Russian aggression, making intensive use of drones, Stingers, Javelins, electronic and deception systems, huge improvised explosive devices, sea mines, long-range surface-to-surface and anti-ship missiles; aerostats (lighter-than-air vehicles) with long-range radars; local low-Earth orbiters to replace C4ISR space capabilities. maximum information warfare to attack the morale of Russian soldiers and a decapitation strategy to kill Russian generals and colonels. Clearly, Ukraine has proven the worth of this concept.
The Ukraine invasion may not prove to be a harbinger of 1914 or a combination of the Dec. 7 attack on Pearl Harbor and Sept. 11 that leads to a global war on terror or world war. Understanding Putin's motivations is only part of the solution. But only a coordinated and cohesive Western strategy that enables Ukraine to prevail will succeed.
Harlan Ullman is senior adviser at Washington's Atlantic Council, the prime author of "shock and awe" and author of "The Fifth Horseman and the New MAD: How Massive Attacks of Disruption Became the Looming Existential Danger to a Divided Nation and the World at Large." Follow him @harlankullman.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Priest Andrii Gavalin presides over the funeral of Eugene Bogdanov, 35, in Bucha, Ukraine, on May 10. Bogdanov went missing two months ago. His wife, Natalia Bogdanova, was searching for him throughout the Kyiv and Bucha regions when his body was found at a morgue in Belaya Tserkov on May 9. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo