There is something very odd going on with Putin and his war with Ukraine. Success in the battlefield requires planning, strategy and logistics combined with a professional military. Russia does not have a professional military but relies on conscripts and mercenaries. Putin has demonstrated that there are major problems with Russia’s military technology and capability, and this includes the all-important role logistics plays in warfare.
Perhaps, targeting Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure is the only option left for Putin in his failing Ukrainian war… this targeting is a crime against humanity, a climate crime. and a war crime. Now is the time for all responsible nations to stand up and support Ukraine and to work to force Vladimir Putin to accept that he can never win his Ukrainian special operation, and in fact he has already lost.”John R. Bryson, Professor of Enterprise & Economic Geography, Birmingham Business School
Effective warfare is about the strategic use of scarce resources, and these include personnel and weapons. This then raises the question of why Putin continues to target Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure rather than critical military targets. Perhaps, targeting Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure is the only option left for Putin in his failing Ukrainian war. Russia has been extremely ineffective in finding and hitting critical Ukrainian military assets. This reflects a failure in Russian intelligence combined with the limitations of Russia’s military capability.
On Tuesday 15 November, Russia launched over 90 missiles targeting Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure. This targeting is a crime against humanity, a climate crime. and a war crime. Now is the time for all responsible nations to stand up and support Ukraine and to work to force Vladimir Putin to accept that he can never win his Ukrainian special operation, and in fact he has already lost.
The current news report is that two Russian missiles have landed on Polish soil. Russia has declared that such reports are a ‘deliberate provocation’, however, analysis of the weapons will rapidly determine their origins. In NATO terms these two missiles would not necessarily represent an attack on NATO soil. Russia has perhaps no interest in targeting Polish farms but deploying Russian missiles close to NATO borders is the act of either a fool or a madman. There was always going to be the possibility of a technical failure – remember this is Russian military equipment - or of some accident that would result in missiles released by Russia landing on NATO territory. NATO needs to make a rapid assessment and decide on a suitable course of action. Putin and the Kremlin will do what they always do – deny and Putin will bluster.
It is important that NATO provides the Kremlin with an opportunity to explain what happened. This might have been an accident, another example of Russian incompetence or poorly maintained military technology. It may represent poorly trained Russian military. Imagine if a NATO missile were to accidently land on Russian soil and kill two Russians. What would Putin do and how would he react? Who knows, as such an event is unlikely. In any case, Putin has now instigated the creation of a new precedent and it is one that will be set not by the Kremlin but by NATO. To use a tennis analogy – the ball is now in NATO’s court.
Under Putin’s leadership one should not expect any sensible reaction from the Kremlin; Putin’s responses are less about strategy and more about emotion. Putin is providing us with an excellent lesson in poor leadership. A leader should make informed strategic decisions and should never respond rapidly or in anger. Rapid and non-strategic emotional responses have become Putin’s modus operandi. One consequence is that many tens of thousands of Russians, and Ukrainians, have died and to what end or purpose? These are pointless deaths.
NATO should wait to assess the situation and Russia should wait before making any unsupported statements, but Russia has already begun to deny and bluster. The wise leader would have held off with the bluster and would also hold off from launching any more missiles. But Putin is an unwise leader. If Russian missiles have hit Poland, then Putin has three options. First, he could ignore this incident and continue with his illegal war and the outcome will be that more Russians will die. However, there will be a NATO reaction. Second, he could declare this to be fake news and proclaim that the missiles were launched by Ukraine, or by a NATO member. Alternatively, he could apologise and make some gesture. Well, Russia, under Putin’s so-called leadership, will never apologise for anything.
For NATO there are many options. The first should be to demand an explanation from Russia and to wait for a response. If the response is denial, then there are many alternatives. The best option is to increase sanctions on Russia and provide Ukraine with the weapons that they desire, and this would include weapons with the capability of destroying the Crimean bridge. At the same time, there should be a discussion to transform the G20 into the G19 and to remove Russia from the UN Security Council on the grounds that Russia has persistently violated the principles contained in the UN charter.
Russia’s first response to the Polish missiles strike was predictable as it is the Kremlin’s standard approach – it was not us and, in any case, it was a Ukrainian missile. This is the playground politics of denial. Nevertheless, it does not matter if the missiles were Ukrainian or Russian as Russia is still responsible. These missiles might have been launched by Russia and aimed at a Ukrainian target and then have been deflected by a Ukrainian surface-to-air missile system. They might also have experienced a technical malfunction. It does not matter what occurred, because Russia must be held to account as any missiles that have landed on NATO territory are a direct result of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.
Tuesday 15 November represents another of Putin’s failures. This is one of his worst nightmares and his response will be predictable. The key, however, is NATO’s response and that of countries like India and China. For the US and all NATO members now is the time to provide more funding and military hardware to Ukraine and to project a united front. The extent of this funding and military hardware should be such that Russia appreciates that there is no possibility that they can win the war with Ukraine. China and India are beginning to distance themselves from Russia, but it is time for both these countries to tell Putin that enough is enough. All responsible nations must declare that Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine is a crime against humanity and a climate crime and must work against Putin’s attempt to weaponize energy and food.