The ‘New Europe’ is Beating Putin

There is an American military saying: “Professionals think of logistics. Amateurs think of strategy.” To that you can add, “And Russians think of neither.”

Historically, Russia has been really bad at warfare. Czars and Communist dictators feared both a professional army and a well-armed citizen militia. So, they relied on conscript armies, shoved thoughtlessly into human wave attacks. When they did manage to win, it was as part of a coalition, where someone else actually won the big battles. In the Napoleonic Wars, it was Wellington's coalition forces. In WWII, America provided everything to Stalin through Lend-Lease, and then annihilated the best of the Axis land, air, and sea forces. By mid-1942, the Soviets faced only inferior German armies, allies like Romania, or auxiliary units, like the Hiwi.  The Russians even managed to be the big losers of WWI, though they were technically on the winning side the entire war.

But Nicholas II and Rasputin must be chuckling now, somewhere in eternity, as the current Putin fiasco has exceeded them all. Putin’s strategy last February, to the extent he had one, was to land some men at the Kiev airport, have a bunch more drive to Kiev by road, then hold a giant victory parade. Apparently, he expected Ukraine to just roll over, as it did in 2014, when he took Crimea without a shot.

He also expected America and NATO to acquiesce, like Obama did in 2014, refusing lethal aid to Ukraine. Pres. Trump, of course, agreed to send weapons during his time in office, but also wanted some info on Biden corruption, which got him impeached for his trouble. Biden, of course, went back to Obama’s policy, holding up weapons shipments in 2021. Funny how this was not cause for his impeachment.

So, you can’t fully blame Putin, especially after seeing Biden’s disgraceful exit from Afghanistan, from thinking he had an easy mark. What he didn’t count on, though, was what Don Rumsfeld called “New Europe.”

After the Cold War, NATO countries were happy to demobilize. The Germans especially, as one of their two major parties, the Social Democrats had long been compromised by the KGB, while the pro-American Christian Democrats came under the leadership of Angela Merkel, aka “Frau Dummkopf,” who was a likely Soviet asset. Germany’s military was left to decay.

But the Poles and their neighbors, the Baltic countries, saw things quite differently. The relative weakness of Russia the last few decades was an opportunity to join NATO, modernize their military, and prepare for the day when the Russians started being Russians again.

Poland is truly formidable now. Their military is superbly trained and equipped, having been blooded in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The transfer of Soviet military equipment to Ukraine was a two-way deal. As the Ukrainians get the easier-to-operate old stuff from Poland and other Eastern Europeans, the best new American equipment goes into Polish arsenals.

Poland is now rapidly expanding the size of its army. So are its neighbors in the Baltics, new NATO member Finland, and soon Sweden.

Of all the surprises of this war Putin has suffered, the biggest one must be that it didn’t matter that the American President was an incompetent jerk. The guy he really had to worry about was somebody named Mateusz Morawiecki. Thanks to Polish help over the last eight years, Ukraine was ready when the Russians attacked.

In hindsight, one can probably say Putin had only the first few weeks in February 2022 to win the war -- to get his soldiers around the western side of Kiev, or to the Polish border, and cut off the supply lines when there was little resistance. Instead, that time was wasted while Ukraine rallied its forces and dug in.

The last 15 months have been a brutal slugfest, as modern western weapons carried out target practice on the Russians. Russian tank losses may now include all of what might be remotely described as their “modern” armored forces. Artillery supplies are running low. And the Iranian Shahed drones are the remaining precision strike weapon, as conventional missile supplies and strike aircraft become scarce. The ordinary Russian conscripts want no part in this fight. Most of the battle the last five months has been carried on by better-paid and equipped mercenaries -- Prigozhin’s Wagner Group. Now Prigozhin admits to having lost 20,000 men in the recent fight to take Bakhmut and his force is hors de combat.

(Ukraine was strongly advised to abandon Bakhmut earlier this year by the same dunderheads responsible for our Afghanistan retreat fiasco – Lloyd Austin and Mark Milley. Instead, Ukraine killed off the best Russian troops. Even Col. Blowhard, as I like to call Douglas MacGregor, has shut up about the impending Russian blitzkrieg -- when the mud freezes over, or bakes dry. Or whatever. He is now calling Bakhmut a Stalingrad-like defensive victory. Sure.)

By all honest accounts, the Russian army is spent; Putin has no more motivated soldiers nor the modern weapons with which to equip them. The recent cross-border raid at Belgorod showed there are very few Russian troops left north of the “line of contact,” which starts around Kharkiv. 

Ukraine has been husbanding resources for one big push this summer, hoping to achieve a decisive result, before they too, exhaust their men and supplies. When that happens, there might be a total Russian defeat, or at least, a reversal of such a magnitude, to effect a ceasefire along the status quo ante. That’s also why the Russians mined the Kakhovka Dam last October, thinking they would be pushed out, which is now very likely.

A lot of American conservatives don’t trust Mr. Zelensky, and with good reason. He is a former comedian, who is less the Winston Churchill of Ukraine than the Pauly Shore of Ukraine. Nor do they trust the corrupt foreign-policy characters in Washington and Europe who cheer on the conflict.

But keep in mind, the overwhelming number of Ukraine men and women are fighting their hearts out every day to beat back Putin’s invaders. They believe in what they are doing, no matter the crooked politicians. If only we had such brave friends in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

Furthermore, the anti-Russian coalition is fundamentally a project of Eastern Europe. Countries with stalwart democratic and Christian societies, led by serious adults. Ukraine is also going to need more money and arms from America. House Republicans finally have the power to audit the Zelensky government and see where our money is really going by attaching congressional oversight provisions to the supplemental bill coming in the next months.  

After the Ukraine offensive is fought this summer comes the really tricky part. Diplomats will have to find a face-saving way to convince Putin to throw in the towel and not drag things on for years in a low-intensity conflict. Or do something worse, like using tactical nukes or blowing up Ukraine nuclear power plants as the Russians fall back. Nobody in the Biden White House, of course, is going to pull that off, but luckily, that's not who is in charge on our side. It's Mr. Morawiecki and his neighbors, and they have been way ahead of this game right from the start. 

Frank Friday is an attorney in Louisville, KY.

Image: Defense Visual Information Distribution Service

If you experience technical problems, please write to