Is Putin involved in strategic decisions on the battlefield during the invasion of Ukraine? | Vladimir Poutine

This is Vladimir Putin’s war – or at least that’s how the West characterizes it. Not only was the decision to invade Ukraine made by the Russian president, but Western military officials now say that Putin is engaged in battlefield decision-making “at the level of a colonel or a brigadier” as the Donbass offensive in eastern Ukraine unfolds.

In part, the finding is not very surprising. Any idea that the Russian president – ​​as commander-in-chief – would not be involved in the battle plans, especially once the war in Ukraine started to go wrong, would be impossible to believe. Autocratic regimes tend not to favor military decentralization.

But it also comes at an embarrassing military point of failure. An attempt to surround Ukrainian forces last week left nearly 500 dead and the loss of more than 70 armored vehicles in a disastrous attempt to cross the Siversky Donets River, which took place, according to Western sources, not under the cover of darkness but in broad daylight.

So, if the Western claim is to be believed, Putin approved the battle plan. Decision-making at the “colonel or brigadier level” involves a brigade-level command of two or more battalions, the movement of 1,500 or more troops: precisely the kind of force that has tried and failed to cross the strategic river.

Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman of King’s College London, said he found the military statement about Putin’s level of involvement plausible: “Putin went ahead with the military operation, at first giving very little notice that he would launch an attack, then pushing hard for quick wins. . This was particularly the problem with the second stage of the war, in the Donbass.

Yet the claims about Putin go even further. It is reminiscent of the idea of ​​a political leader impatient or no longer trusting his generals – notably the downfall of Adolf Hitler, who in the closing stages of World War II, as described by biographer Ian Kershawrefuses to heed his generals’ calls for tactical retreats to the east and instead insists on overly optimistic counter-offensives, as in the Ardennes in the winter of 1944/5.

But other examples abound. At the start of the Vietnam War, US President Lyndon Johnson and his administration launched a bombing campaign targeting communist North Vietnam in 1965. called Rolling Thunder, which defined targets that could be attacked to avoid offending China or Soviet Russia. The confused strategy was an attempt to shatter Hanoi’s resolve by bombing lesser targets from the air, and a step in an escalating war that the United States would ultimately lose.

In the run-up to the final war in Iraq, the country’s dictator, Saddam Hussein, decided that the country’s air force should play no role in the war, with its planes “in the palm groves or burying them in the sand” according to an account at Foreign Affairs written three years after the war. The belief was that the Iraqi Air Force would be no match for the Western invaders – and best saved for a post-war future under his leadership which never materialized after the capture of Baghdad.

But despite all the stories of interference, the relationship between political leadership and military command has always been complex and sometimes strained. Freedman, also the author of a forthcoming book on the subject titled Command, says military decisions in wartime are “intensely political” and that it is up to political leaders to “set goals, push senior commanders , to ask questions.

The goal, according to Freedman, is to ensure that there is “a dialogue between politicians and the military” and that leaders do not dismiss legitimate objections or try to micromanage battle plans at a when they should be focusing on broader diplomatic or political issues. strategies.

For Putin, as the war in Ukraine approaches its twelfth week, the question arises whether the Russian leader has time to focus on all that lies ahead if he is drawn into tactical decision-making in a stalling Donbass offensive – and the impact that further military failures would have on its reputation.

In recent days, some Russian military bloggers and experts have begun to question the strategy. A popular Russian blogger who uses the pseudonym Vladlen Tatarzky on his Telegram channel wrote: “Until we know the name of the ‘military genius’ who put a battalion tactical group on the river bank and he not answer for it publicly, then there will be there will never be reforms in the army.

It turns out that the writer could have criticized Putin himself.

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