I Saw This War Could Be Putin’s Undoing All the Way Back in Early March

Revisiting my coverage from early in Putin’s escalation campaign and a new excerpt

(Russian/Русский переводBy Brian E. Frydenborg (Twitter @bfry1981, LinkedIn, Facebook), September 16, 2022; with an excerpt from his article The Beginning of the End of Putin? Why the Russian Army May (and Should) Revolt published by Small Wars Journal March 8, 2022, which was featured on March 9 by Real Clear DefenseThe National Endowment for Democracy’s (NED) Democracy Digest, and SOF Newssee related RCN articles excerpted and slightly adapted from that piece:

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Putin is in a precarious position-Valery Sharifulin/Getty Images

SILVER SPRING—Going back through some of my earlier work from just before Russian President Vladimir Putin’s February 24 escalation against Ukraine, I am struck by how little has changed and how much of my work from then explains what is happening now.

My coverage began with two long articles for Small Wars Journal, one published on February 21 (three days before Putin launched his massive escalation of the war) as The Utter Banality of Putin’s Kabuki Campaign in Ukraine and the other on March 8 (less than two weeks into this escalation) as The Beginning of the End of Putin? Why the Russian Army May (and Should) Revolt.

I broke the first piece from February 21 into four separate articles for my own site here, going into the reasons behind Putin’s timing and how much he miscalculated in thinking U.S. President Joe Biden and the West would not be up to the challenge of supporting Ukraine robustly with a united front; explaining how Russia has no one to blame but itself for why Eastern Europe was so eager to move away from Russia and towards the West; refuting Putin’s whole NATO narrative as nonsense; and about the utter banality of the centuries-old Russian imperialism and colonialism that were the main motivating drivers behind Russia’s military aggression and war crimes against Ukraine.  These themes keep coming up over and over again in the discourses around this war, and these pieces can be considered evergreen as some of the strongest explanations or arguments on these fronts.

When I wrote the first piece, I was dreading the war on behalf of Ukraine, and while I thought they would put up a hell of a fight, I, like many, thought the Russian military would overcome Ukrainian resistance take over Kyiv, with slaughter to follow.

But that was not what happened, and writing my March 8 Small Wars Journal piece was one of the most thrilling pieces I’ve ever written, one I certainly did not expect to be writing as I watched Putin’s escalation first unfold.  But certain things were just so clear from what happened in the first few weeks, even weeks before Russian forces were pushed back from Kyiv and other fronts, that have defined the entirety of the war then and still do now.  This article was highlighted by Real Clear Defense and discussed by The National Endowment for Democracy’s (NED) Democracy Digest.  Though my perspective highlighted therein is now becoming increasingly popular to have now, at the time my article was criticized by the In the Thick of It blog of Russia Matters (a project of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs) and in a report from the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft; the latter was written by George Beebe, now the “Grand Strategy Director” at Quincy and years ago an advisor to then-Vice President Dick Cheney and a top Russia person at the CIA (seriously, I am available for hire…).

I broke that second piece into four separate articles for my site here, noting how barbaric and disgraceful the Russian leadership’s treatment of its own soldiers was; remarking on how insanely high Russia’s casualties were and why we could mostly take Ukrainian estimates of Russian casualties as credible while ignoring the lies of the Kremlin; explaining that sending Russian soldiers home in body bags would be the most effective way to penetrate Putin’s propaganda ceaselessly inflicted upon his own people and reveal how he and his war are failures, destroying the social contract Putin has with his supporters; and how all this could unite the Russian people and military with much of the rest of the world in being against Putin, setting the stage for a revolt and a revolution or coup that would overthrow him.

But it was not until now that I realized I never adapted my substantial introduction in this piece for Real Context News.  So, below is that excerpt, which I feel has aged quite well as a frame for the war and still holds up today:

(excerpt from March 8)

After well over a year of isolation induced by the COVD-19 pandemic, it seems Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin has become so detached from reality with his wild Ukraine gamble that he may finally have adventured too far, stumbling into a trap entirely of his own making.  Surprising as it is, this time it is distinctly possible his aggression, ultimately, will not provide him with any way to save face: no “offramp,” as the media seems to love to refer to a possible endgame that leaves him comfortable and not in a weak and unstable position at best (for him) or ousted at worst (obviously, the latter would be ideal for us).

I’m not going to speculate on Vladimir Vladimirovich’s health and mental state to the degree that far too many others have (I heard him referred to as “puffy Putin” recently on CNN—amusing—but I’d be remiss in not pointing out I myself have gained fifteen pounds during the pandemic and have certainly had my own mental struggles as a single man essentially living alone the past few years and covering COVIDTrump, and other horrors).

But clearly, Putin is more agitated and emotional than we have been used to seeing him in his more than two decades in power.  As for whether he is suffering from some sort of (terminal?) disease or is literally going through insanity, let’s all take a step back from such diagnoses, as anyone so powerful and cooped up for so long like Putin was bound to exhibit some level of eccentricity mixed with not many (insert a certain curse word in the plural form) to give.

What is clear is that Putin is letting out some long-held frustrations and perceived grievances like we have never heard or seen before, and that does give reason to worry, aside from the actual Ukraine invasion/war itself.  That this behavior has been coupled with his reckless use of force in launching the largest war on European soil since World War II is even more troubling.

And yet, I’m optimistic like never before that Putin’s end is coming and coming soon even as that optimism is surrounded by the dread of an increasingly bloody and lawless conflict.  I truly think this is the last gasp for a very long time of the Great Power conflicts on European soil, of the major wars that have been constant on the continent since the ancient Greco-Persian wars through today, with the two main exceptions being the Pax Romana and the Pax Americana; this war in Ukraine will either be the end of the Pax Americana in Europe or the one great interruption of it for some time to come. 

(end excerpt)

It turns out my optimism was well-founded, well-founded indeed, with the Russian war effort and Putin’s position and domestic support only worsening.  And my record since then has also been one of the most accurate: I predicted the sinking of the Moskva, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, several days before that happened (possibly the only person to do so in an article) in a piece anticipating the near-irrelevance of the Russian Navy, and, later that month of April, I made a strong case that Crimea could very much be retaken by the Ukrainian military (one praised as a “perfect understanding of the situation” by an advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky himself, one Mykhailo Podolyak.

After, I outlined key and deeply illuminating similarities and lessons between the 1939-1940 Soviet-Finnish Winter War and summarized the long history of Russian and Soviet atrocities in Ukraine, as well as some of the complicated history of Ukrainian resistance against the Soviet Union.  I took on the myopic arguments that arming Ukraine is somehow “escalation.”  More recently, I have explained in detail the dynamics that have Ukraine winning handily and Russia losing badly, that the Ukrainian counteroffensive in the south could create opportunities for counterattacks in the east (over a month before Ukraine’s Kharkiv breakthrough now being celebrated). 

Throughout, I have been indebted to some excellent analysis from a number of individuals, the five best of whom—Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling (Ret.), Trent Telenko, Illia Ponomarenkno, Dr. Phillips O’Brien, and Rob Lee—I highlighted here and all of whom you can follow (along with me) on Twitter.

Stay tuned, there is more to come, and while the war will be won by Ukraine and Russia has already lost, the fighting continues and could drag on for some time; there may, sadly, be much more death and destruction to come.  I just met yesterday with Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois—a stalwart member of the January 6 Committee and one of the only sane Republicans left when it comes to stopping the slow-moving coup attempt by Trump and his cultist followers to overthrow the Constitution, undo a lawful and legitimate presidential election, and replace American democracy with Trumpist fascism (my words and not necessarily his, to be clear)—and he made it clear that he believed it is crucial to continue supporting and to increase support for Ukraine, as the fight may be far from over.  Rep. Kinzinger is fighting to save democracy both here at home in the U.S. and in Ukraine, and we must follow his example, as I have noted for years that Putin’s efforts in Ukraine are just one front in a global war prosecuted by him and his ilk to destroy Western democracy: the fight of Ukraine against Russia and the fight to preserve democracy in America are, thus, one and the same.

Author’s note: I challenge readers to compare my work to the work of other analysts out there; some exceed my work, to be sure, but that is not the case for the bulk of journalistic and “expert” analysis you will find, against which I am confident you, dear readers, will see my work stacks up rather well.

If I come off as rather non-humble, I can understand that impression, but as a one-man show here, I have to promote my own work and achievements since few others do: I do not have the marketing and reach of a major television station, magazine, newspaper, or think tank, and without support from people like you, dear readers—including donations—I would not be able to produce this level of quality work; as it is, I am trying very hard to highlight my work that it may also land me a long-term position with just such a prestigious outlet or institution so that I do not constantly have to (as they say) “toot my own horn” just to get by.

See all Brian’s Ukraine coverage here

© 2022 Brian E. Frydenborg all rights reserved, permission required for republication, attributed quotations welcome

Also see Brian’s eBook, A Song of Gas and Politics: How Ukraine Is at the Center of Trump-Russia, or, Ukrainegate: A “New” Phase in the Trump-Russia Saga Made from Recycled Materials, available for Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook (preview here).

eBook cover

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