It's Hard to Believe Russia Thought It Could Pull Off Its Invasion of Ukraine

It looked good on paper, anyway.
IMAGE SHUTTERSTOCK

Bob Farley, national security bench coach at the redoubtable Lawyers, Guns, and Money blog, pointed the shebeen toward this bathysphere of a deep dive at the Washington Post about the run-up to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the frantic international efforts to slow the inexorable momentum of the event. It’s mandatory reading for anyone following events there—and most recently in the Crimea—who is still unclear how the first major European land war since World War II broke out.

For months, Biden administration officials had watched warily as Putin massed tens of thousands of troops and lined up tanks and missiles along Ukraine’s borders. As summer waned, Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, had focused on the increasing volume of intelligence related to Russia and Ukraine. He had set up the Oval Office meeting after his own thinking had gone from uncertainty about Russia’s intentions, to concern he was being too skeptical about the prospects of military action, to alarm[…]

Tasked by Sullivan with putting together a comprehensive overview of Russia’s intentions, they told Biden that the intelligence on Putin’s operational plans, added to ongoing deployments along the border with Ukraine, showed that all the pieces were now in place for a massive assault.

Even if you believe that much of the sourcing behind this reporter is people who want to burnish their reputations (and wouldn’t that be unusual for Washington?), the level of detail adds considerable verisimilitude to the story, which proceeds in a very logical way. I also love this disclaimer: "The Kremlin did not respond to repeated requests for comment." (I have to know: Is there a number you dial?)

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The details of the Russian grand campaign are unsurprisingly, and yet terrifyingly, grand:

According to the intelligence, the Russians would come from the north, on either side of Kyiv. One force would move east of the capital through the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv, while the other would flank Kyiv on the west, pushing southward from Belarus through a natural gap between the “exclusion zone” at the abandoned Chernobyl nuclear plant and surrounding marshland. The attack would happen in the winter so that the hard earth would make the terrain easily passable for tanks. Forming a pincer around the capital, Russian troops planned to seize Kyiv in three to four days. The Spetsnaz, their special forces, would find and remove President Volodymyr Zelensky, killing him if necessary, and install a Kremlin-friendly puppet government. Separately, Russian forces would come from the east and drive through central Ukraine to the Dnieper River, while troops from Crimea took over the southeastern coast. Those actions could take several weeks, the Russian plans predicted.

After pausing to regroup and rearm, they would next push westward, toward a north-south line stretching from Moldova to western Belarus, leaving a rump Ukrainian state in the west — an area that in Putin’s calculus was populated by irredeemable neo-Nazi Russophobes.

And then they’re all, 'We're going to Nathan’s for a hot dog and an orange soda.' Read the whole thing, as the kidz say. Wars start in very predictable ways which, alas, only become clear when they end and the wreckage is being rucked away.

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About The Author
Charles P. Pierce
Charles P. Pierce, lead for Esquire Politics US, has been a working journalist since 1976. He is the author of four books, most recently 'Idiot America.' He lives near Boston with his wife but no longer his three children.
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