Common Grounds

Our Friday News Analysis | In Search of a Nation's Soul (Part 3)

September 16, 2022
Our Friday News Analysis | In Search of a Nation's Soul (Part 3)


               “What’s Happening is Bizarre,” Moan my Friends in Berlin


What is the Side of the Story that is Not Yet Decisive?


By Abraham A. van Kempen, featuring: Guest Editor Scott Ritter’s Military Analysis, ‘Russia Will Win Anyway,’ with 1) German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's 90-minute Telephone Call with President Vladimir Putin, 2) Ursula von der Leyen’s Pilgrimage to Kyiv Playing Russian Roulette with Our Lives, 3) ‘Xi and Putin meet and pledge to ‘inject stability in the world,’


Berlin, Germany, 16 September 2022 | If you know of any story that is decisive, tell the world. We're still searching.


Breaking News | Putin’s No-Way-Jose Rebuff to Scholz 90-minute Phone Telephone Conversation... “withdraw Russian troops, (we won’t)!”


In Berlin, everyone is praising Chancellor Scholz for proposing peace and scorning Ursula von der Leyen for adding fuel to a wildfire while visiting President Volodymyr Zelensky. My friends in Germany tell me:


               “Most Germans loathe being at the center stage of any potential world war.”


In the 90-minute telephone conversation on Tuesday, Scholz insisted that a diplomatic solution to the Russian war in Ukraine be found as soon as possible, based on a ceasefire, a complete withdrawal of Russian troops, and respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country Ukraine. [Editor’s note: What about NATO troops?]


               “Russia must withdraw, must withdraw its troops so that peace has a chance in the region," he said Wednesday.


UN Secretary-General António Guterres says:


               "It would be naïve to believe that we are close to the possibility of a peace agreement," Guterres said in New York on Wednesday.


Guterres said he spoke to the Russian president on the phone on Wednesday.


Send in the Clowns!

EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen is in Kyiv discussing EU rapprochement with Zelensky. It is her third trip to Ukraine since the beginning of the war.


This time she discussed with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal how the economies of the EU and Ukraine could get closer.


Von der Leyen had announced the visit to Kyiv the day before. Despite the theatrics and Von der Leyen’s attire, a suit designed with the yellow and blue colors of the Ukrainian flag, it is improbable that all EU member states will vote to accept Ukraine into the EU. My friends in Berlin say:


               “How disgusting! Ursula looks like a flagpole, Zelensky’s flagpole draped in the Ukrainian flag.”


All Europeans don’t want another world war. Most cannot explain why we’re meddling with the internal affairs of Ukraine in civil war with itself. Forty-five percent of Europeans feel that the EU should get out of the quagmire now. Ukraine should not be viewed as a de-facto NATO member. “The EU,” they say, “has no business taking the side of the nationalists at the expense of the separatists. It’s their civil war, not ours... why are we risking World War III for a country that never cared about us, one that is more corrupt than most other countries on earth. “ Starting in 2023, when most Europeans will feel the pinch of the sanctions, boomeranged against them, paying 50-80 percent more to heat their homes, more than 51 percent of all Europeans will turn against such clowns as Ursula von der Leyen and the others in Brussels.


               “We should hail Russia for wanting to liberate Ukrainian-Russians from Ukrainian extremists.”


               “Russia is doing for the Russians in Ukraine what the Arabs should have done for the Palestinians in Israel-Palestine.”


A Military Analysis: Why Russia Will Still Win, Despite Ukraine’s Gains


12 September 2022

By Scott Ritter

Special to Consortium News

Russia is no longer fighting a Ukrainian army equipped by NATO but a NATO army manned by Ukrainians. Yet, Russia still holds the upper hand despite its Kharkiv setback.


The Ukrainian army began a major offensive against Russian forces deployed in the region north of the southern city of Kherson on 1 September. Ten days later, the Ukrainians had expanded the scope and the scale of their offensive operations to include the region around the northern city of Kharkiv.

While the Kherson offensive was thrown back by the Russians, with the Ukrainian forces suffering heavy losses in both men and material, the Kharkiv offensive turned out to be a significant success, with thousands of square kilometers of territory previously occupied by Russian troops placed back under Ukrainian governmental control.

Instead of launching its counteroffensive against the Ukrainians operating in the Kharkiv region, the Russian Ministry of Defense (MOD) made an announcement many people found shocking:


               “To achieve the stated goals of a special military operation to liberate the Donbas,” the Russians announced via Telegram, “it was decided to regroup Russian troops…to increase efforts in the Donetsk direction.”

Downplaying the notion of a retreat, the Russian MOD declared that “to this end, within three days, an operation was carried out to curtail and organize the transfer of [Russian] troops to the territory of the Donetsk People’s Republic. During this operation,” the report said, “

               “Several distractions and demonstration measures were carried out, indicating the real actions of the troops,” which the Russians declared, resulted in:

               “more than two thousand Ukrainian and foreign fighters [being] destroyed, as well as more than a hundred units of armored vehicles and artillery.”

To quote the immortal Yogi Berra, it was “déjà vu all over again.”

Phases of the War


Russian bombardment of telecommunications antennas in Kyiv, 1 March 2022. (Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine/Wikimedia Commons)

On 25 March, the head of the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, Colonel General Sergei Rudskoy, gave a briefing in which he announced the end of what he called Phase One of Russia’s “special military operation” (SMO) in Ukraine.

The goals of the operation, which had begun on 24 February when Russian troops crossed the border with Ukraine, were to cause “such damage to military infrastructure, equipment, personnel of the Armed Forces of Ukraine” to pin them down and prevent any significant reinforcement of the Ukrainian forces deployed in the Donbas region.

Rudskoy then announced that Russian troops would be withdrawing and regrouping so that they would be able to “concentrate on the main thing — the complete liberation of Donbas.”

Thus began Phase Two.

On 30 May, I published an article in Consortium News discussing the necessity of Phase Three. I noted that

               “Phase One and Phase Two of Russia’s operation were explicitly tailored to the military requirements necessary to eliminate the threat posed to Lugansk and Donetsk by the buildup of Ukrainian military power in eastern Ukraine. …

               [A]t some point soon, Russia will announce that it has defeated the Ukrainian military forces arrayed in the east and, in doing so, end the notion of the imminent threat that gave Russia the legal justification to undertake its operation.”

Such an outcome, I wrote, would:

               “leave Russia with several unfulfilled political objectives, including denazification, demilitarization, permanent Ukrainian neutrality, and NATO concurrence with a new European security framework along the lines drawn up by Russia in its December 2021 treaty proposals.

               If Russia were to halt its military operation at this juncture,” I declared, “it would be ceding political victory to Ukraine, which ‘wins’ by not losing.”

This line of thinking was predicated on my belief that:

               “[w]hile one could have previously argued that an imminent threat would continue to exist so long as the Ukrainian forces possessed sufficient combat power to retake Donbas region, such an argument cannot be made today.

In short, I believed that the impetus for Russia expanding into a third phase would arise only after it completed its mission of liberating the Donbas in Phase Two.

               “Ukraine,” I said, “even with the massive infusion of military assistance from NATO, would never again be in a position to threaten a Russian conquest of the Donbas region.”

I was wrong.

Anne Applebaum, a neoconservative staff writer for The Atlanticrecently interviewed Lieutenant General Yevhen Moisiuk, the deputy commander in chief of the Ukrainian armed forces, about the successful Ukrainian offensive operation.


               “What surprises us,” Moisiuk said, “is that the Russian troops are not fighting back.”

Applebaum put her spin on the general’s word.

               “Offered the choice of fighting or fleeing,” she wrote of the Russian soldiers, “many of them appear to be escaping as fast as they can.”

According to Applebaum, the Ukrainian success on the battlefield has created a new reality, where the Ukrainians, she concludes, “could win this war” and, in doing so, bring “about the end of Putin’s regime.”

I wasn’t that wrong.

Soviet and NATO Doctrine


Russian military vehicles were bombed by Ukrainian forces on 8 March 2022. (Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine/Wikimedia Commons)

War is a complicated business. Applebaum seems ignorant of this.


The Ukrainian and Russian militaries are large, professional organizations backed by institutions designed to produce qualified warriors. Both militaries are well led, equipped, and prepared to undertake the missions. They are among the most prominent military organizations in Europe.

The Russian military, moreover, is staffed by officers of the highest caliber who have undergone extensive training in the military arts. They are experts in strategy, operations, and tactics. They know their business.

For its part, the Ukrainian military has undergone a radical transformation since 2014, where Soviet-era doctrine has been replaced by a hybrid one that incorporates NATO doctrine and methodologies.

This transformation has been accelerated dramatically since the Russian invasion, with the Ukrainian military virtually transitioning from older, Soviet-era heavy equipment to an arsenal that more closely mirrors the organization and equipment of NATO nations, which are providing billions of dollars of equipment and training.

The Ukrainians are, like their Russian counterparts, military professionals adept at the necessity of adapting to battlefield realities. The Ukrainian experience, however, is complicated by trying to meld two disparate doctrinal approaches to war (Soviet-era and modern NATO) under combat conditions. This complexity creates opportunities for mistakes, and mistakes on the battlefield often result in significant casualties.


Russia has fought three wars in the six months since it entered Ukraine. The first was a war of maneuver, designed to seize as much territory as possible to shape the battlefield militarily and politically.

The operation was conducted with approximately 200,000 Russian and allied forces, who were up against an active-duty Ukrainian military of some 260,000 troops backed by up to 600,000 reservists. The standard 3:1 attacker-defender ratio did not apply — the Russians sought to use speed, surprise, and audacity to minimize Ukraine’s numerical advantage and, in the process, hoped for a rapid political collapse in Ukraine that would prevent any significant fighting between the Russian and Ukrainian armed forces.

This plan succeeded in some areas (in the south, for instance, around Kherson), fixed Ukrainian troops in place, and caused the diversion of reinforcements away from critical zones of operation. But it failed strategically — the Ukrainians did not collapse but rather solidified — ensuring a long, hard fight ahead.

The second phase of the Russian operation had the Russians regroup to focus on the liberation of Donbas. Here, Russia adapted its operational methodology, using its superiority in firepower to conduct a slow, deliberate advance against Ukrainian forces dug into extensive defensive networks and, in doing so, achieving unheard of casualty ratios that had ten or more Ukrainians being killed or wounded for every Russian casualty.

While Russia was slowly advancing against dug-in Ukrainian forces, the US and NATO provided Ukraine with billions of dollars of military equipment, including the equivalent of several armored divisions (tanks, armored fighting vehicles, artillery, and support vehicles), along with extensive operational training on this equipment at military installations outside Ukraine.

In short, while Russia was busy destroying the Ukrainian military on the battlefield, Ukraine was reconstituting that army, replacing destroyed units with new, well-equipped, well-trained, and well-led forces.

The second phase of the conflict saw Russia destroy the old Ukrainian army. In its stead, Russia faced mobilized territorial and national units, supported by reconstituted NATO-trained forces. But the bulk of the NATO-trained troops was held in reserve.

The Third Phase – A NATO versus Russia Conflict


Russian withdrawal from Kharkiv on Sunday. (Russian Ministry of Defense)


These are the forces that have been committed to the current fighting. Russia finds itself in a full-fledged proxy war with NATO, facing a NATO-style military force logistically sustained by NATO, trained by NATO, provided with NATO intelligence, and working in harmony with NATO military planners.

This means that the current Ukrainian counteroffensive should not be viewed as an extension of the phase two battle but rather the initiation of a new third phase which is not a Ukrainian-Russian conflict but a NATO-Russian conflict.

The Ukrainian battle plan has “Made in Brussels” stamped all over it. The force composition was determined by NATO, as was the timing of the attacks and the direction of the attacks. NATO intelligence carefully located seams in the Russian defenses and identified critical command and control, logistics, and reserve concentration nodes targeted by Ukrainian artillery, which operates on a fire control plan created by NATO.

In short, the Ukrainian army Russia faced in Kherson and around Kharkiv was unlike any Ukrainian opponent it had previously encountered. Russia was no longer fighting a Ukrainian army equipped by NATO but a NATO army manned by Ukrainians.

Ukraine continues receiving billions of dollars of military assistance and has tens of thousands of troops undergoing extensive training in NATO nations.

There will be a fourth phase and a fifth phase … as many stages as necessary before Ukraine either exhausts its will to fight and die, NATO drains its ability to continue supplying the Ukrainian military, or Russia exhausts its willingness to fight an inconclusive conflict in Ukraine. Back in May, I called the decision by the US to provide billions of dollars of military assistance to Ukraine “a game changer.”

Massive Intelligence Failure

Russian military intelligence (GRU) headquarters, Moscow. (Hagidza/Wikimedia Commons)

What we are witnessing in Ukraine today is how this money has changed the game.

The result is more dead Ukrainian and Russian forces, more dead civilians, and more damaged equipment.

If Russia prevails, however, it will need to identify its many failings leading up to the successful Ukrainian offensive and adapt accordingly.

               First and foremost, the Ukrainian offensive around Kharkiv represents one of the most severe intelligence failures by a professional military force since the Israeli failure to predict the Egyptian assault on the Suez Canal that kicked off the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

               The Ukrainians had been signaling their intent to conduct an offensive in the Kherson region for many weeks. It appears that when Ukraine initiated its attacks along the Kherson line, Russia assumed this was the long-awaited offensive and rushed reserves and reinforcements to this front.

               The Ukrainians were repulsed with heavy losses, but not before Russia had committed its theater reserves. When the Ukrainian army attacked the Kharkiv region a few days later, Russia was surprised.

               And then there is the extent to which NATO had integrated itself into every aspect of Ukrainian military operations.

How could this happen?

               A failure of intelligence of this magnitude suggests deficiencies in Russia’s ability to collect intelligence data and an inability to produce timely and accurate assessments for the Russian leadership.

               This will require a top-to-bottom review to be adequately addressed. In short, heads will roll — and soon.

               This war isn’t stopping anytime soon, and Ukraine continues to prepare for future offensive actions.

Why Russia Will Still Win 

In the end, I still believe the end game remains the same — Russia will win. But the cost of extending this war has become much higher for all parties involved.

The successful Ukrainian counteroffensive needs to be put into a proper perspective. The casualties Ukraine suffered, and is still suffering, to achieve this victory are unsustainable. Ukraine has exhausted its strategic reserves, and they will have to be reconstituted if Ukraine were to have any aspirations of continuing an advance along these lines. This will take months.

               Russia, meanwhile, has lost nothing more than some indefensible space. Russian casualties were minimal, and equipment losses were readily replaced.

               Russia has strengthened its military posture by creating solid defensive lines in the north capable of withstanding any Ukrainian attack while increasing combat power available to complete the task of liberating the remainder of the Donetsk People’s Republic under Ukrainian control.

               Russia has far more strategic depth than Ukraine. Russia is beginning to strike critical infrastructure targets, such as power stations, that will cripple the Ukrainian economy and their ability to move large amounts of troops via train rapidly.

               Russia will learn from the lessons the Kharkiv defeat taught them and continue its stated mission objectives.

The bottom line – the Kharkiv offensive was as good as it will get for Ukraine, while Russia hasn’t come close to hitting rock bottom. Changes need to be made by Russia to fix the problems identified through the Kharkiv defeat. Winning a battle is one thing; winning a war is another.

For Ukraine, the enormous losses suffered by their forces, combined with the limited damage inflicted on Russia, means the Kharkiv offensive is, at best, a Pyrrhic victory, one that does not change the fundamental reality that Russia is winning, and will win, the conflict in Ukraine.

Scott Ritter is a former U.S. Marine Corps intelligence officer. He served in the former Soviet Union implementing arms control treaties in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm and Iraq, overseeing WMD disarmament. His most recent book, Disarmament in the Time of Perestroika, was published by Clarity Press.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of the Building the Bridge Foundation, The Hague.


Read more: ‘Xi and Putin meet and pledge to ‘inject stability in the world,’ by Lily Kuo and Robyn Dixon, Washington Post, 15 September 2022.


Read more: ‘Ukraine’s recent gains highlight the unpredictability of Russia’s war. The main challenge for Western governments, NATO, and the EU is to act in unison while adjusting to the evolving military dynamics,’ by Gwendolyn Sasse, Carnegie Europe, 13 September 2022.


Read More: ‘The Wrong Way to View the Xi-Putin Meeting’ by Evan A. Feigenbaum, Carnegie Europe, 13 September 2022




Next week we’re on vacation.




Related articles recently posted on


Our Friday News Analysis, ‘In Search of a Nation’s Soul (Part 2),’ 9 September 2022.


Our Wednesday News Analysis, ‘A soldier is not a civilian,’ 7 September 2022.


The Evangelical Pope, ‘If You Want Peace, TALK PEACE!,’ 12 September 2022.








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