by Austin Bay
September 2, 2014
Events in Ukraine since mid-August demonstrate that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin knows how to create operational and tactical options in order to achieve long-range, history-shaping strategic goals. Russian tanks "flattening" the tiny Ukrainian border town of Novosvitlivka (on Aug. 30) is the most demonstrative operation. As for the tank troops' tactics, Ukrainian defense ministry spokesman, Andriy Lysenko said the tanks fired on every building in town. "We have information that virtually every house has been destroyed," Lysenko added.
Tactics: what soldiers do on the battleground and diplomats do when they buy a chump a drink. Operations: putting the capabilities on the field to use tactics to achieve an interim objective.
As for strategy? Barack Obama says he doesn't have one for dealing with the Islamic State.
Vladimir Putin, however, has strategic goals for Ukraine and beyond Ukraine. He also has a strategy to achieve them and operations to forward the strategy.
The versatile KGB colonel and Kremlin propagandist has actually been rather honest about his strategic perspective, and his perspective provides insight on his goals: Putin bewails, repeatedly, the USSR's collapse as a historic tragedy.
He does not accept the tragedy (defeat!) as a permanent condition. Since the Russo-Georgia War of 2008, Putin has insistently seized opportunities to launch new military and political operations that describe an ominous pattern: the calculated reconstruction of a Greater Russia which directly controls global power resources.
For the record -- and when it comes to strategic perception, the long record matters -- during the Cold War numerous security analysts (including myself) argued that the USSR was simply Greater Russia with a "red herring" Communist-egalitarian propaganda line. Communist promotion of Workers Paradise replaced the Czar's claim to be the Protector of Christendom. But try and tell that in a soundbite to the West's "useful idiots" of 1983 who claimed that Ronald Reagan planned to nuke Russia and destroy the world as his administration fulfilled Carter administration pledges to counter Russia's Europe-based nuclear theater ballistic missiles by deploying U.S. equivalent missiles.
Old history? Not if you follow the tactical intricacies and strategic trajectory of Putin's Ukraine propaganda.
What does a Great Russia with global power resources look like? The RUBK -- pronounced "rubik" as in in the puzzle Rubik's Cube. RUBK is Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Khazakstan. With its demographics and natural resources, RUBK is a geo-strategic formula for a global power
I filch RUBK from a Creators Syndicate column I wrote in 2004. That column pinched a 1991 analysis James F. Dunnigan and I conducted as we prepared a second edition of "A Quick And Dirty Guide To War." Dunnigan and I concluded (and we were writing before the USSR officially collapsed in December 1991) that the Russians would try to keep or link the Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan core of their empire.
Sometimes books generate fascinating feedback. Analytic simulations conducted inside the Pentagon in the early 1990s reached a strikingly similar conclusion. A mid-level Pentagon official told me that after he read the book.
So here is the big point: this is old news -- for strategists.
For the sake of old news, here is a direct quote from the 2004 column: "Super-power status takes money, and a large number of people (how large is arguable, but 200 million is a plausible figure). The common economic interests linking Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan were a potential post-Cold War positive. Russia needed Ukraine's immense agricultural productivity."
That old-news column finished with this positive note: "A democratic Ukraine could do for Russia what Poland did for Ukraine -- provide a next-door, you-can-do-it-too example of the benefits of the rule of law and economic liberalization. Ultimately, another organization, the E.U., provides more stability and prosperity than an antiquated, authoritarian and corrupt RUBK ever could."
However, joining the E.U., in Putin's view, would not correct the historic tragedy. In 2014, Putin and his tanks are changing history. The "new news" is that the E.U., NATO, and yes, the Obama administration, are letting Putin get away with it.