Long before I had any formal intelligence training I was studying Russian Martial Arts under a Vietnam veteran who had studied under a former member of Soviet Spetsnaz, sort of the Russian equivalent of a Green Beret. He was the kind of veteran who never really left it behind. Military history and memorabilia was his only hobby. His only real friends were former soldiers from various backgrounds. Teaching and studying hand-to-hand combat was his only source of income. His Russian martial arts classes were his least popular.
This is probably due to the combination of the grueling (and often unsafe) nature of how he taught it and partially due to the odd environment he created. He was an eccentric (to put it politely) older gentleman of Eastern European descent who was fascinated by the tactics of Russia. He would often play Russian folk music as we practiced throws, locks, strikes, and defended ourselves against rubberized knives and clubs. He would often “graduate” his students to actual knives and wooden indian clubs when he believed they were ready. The dropout rate of this class was very nearly 100%.
I stuck it out for a few years longer than most, which was rewarded with almost undivided attention. Not only would he teach the martial arts, but would tell stories of military operations that the Russians had undertaken. They were both brutal and methodical. The tactics were different than I had seen in the news, watched on the movie screen, and read about in the history books. The Russian way was patient and methodical. More tolerant of sacrificing human life. Russians would move at a slower pace, encircle their enemy, and destroy all hope of resistance. They may even lose some battles, but this would be seen as a natural part of winning the war.
I left that class just before war broke out between Russia and Georgia. Like many people in young adults, I could care less what was happening in some country that was half a world away. However, what I had learned about Russian tactics had fascinated me. More than a decade later, I would be paying attention while those tactics were being deployed in Ukraine.
The Russian way of thinking is different. Western media either doesn't care to understand it or refuses to. From many accounts, Ukraine has done much better at defending against the Russian invaders than would have been thought possible. Russia has been slow to progress, and they have failed to consider the supply line problems that they would be facing. Ukrainian civilians have been standing up against the Russian military in a way Vladimir Putin would never have anticipated. The American media is marveling at the David and Goliath story unfolding before our eyes. It's like the Miracle on Ice or Rocky.
However, there’s a reason David defeating Goliath is considered a biblical miracle. Underdogs actually triumphing is a historical anomaly. The Miracle on Ice was turned into a movie because it was a rare event in history. Chuck Wepner, who inspired the movie Rocky, almost lasted fifteen rounds against Muhammad Ali, but he did eventually get knocked out. Muhammad Ali may be the best known name in boxing history, but most people have never heard of Chuck Wepner. We love to see the little guy win, but it hardly ever happens. It's very unlikely to happen in Ukraine. You don't need to be a military tactician to understand history. Hitler committed suicide in a bunker because the Russian military had encircled Berlin. It's a tactic that Russia uses again and again. Whether it be in another country or law enforcement activity inside Russia, the tactic is the same. Encirclement. Like an anaconda, after the Russian forces have wrapped themselves around the opposition, they slowly begin squeezing. The squeeze is consistent and unstoppable. Eventually all the air is forced out of the lungs of anyone caught in the trap.
That's the most likely scenario in Ukraine. Encirclement and destruction. When the squeeze is released, the Zelensky government will be dead. Russia doesn't have the forces to occupy Ukraine, especially if the Ukrainian people continue to resist. Russia has been a historically successful conqueror, but they haven't typically favored well when dealing with a local insurgent population. In fact, most nations don't fair well against homegrown insurgency. Even if Russia could occupy Ukraine, Western intelligence agencies would likely support local insurgence and the occupation would quickly prove too costly for Putin. He would most likely face embarrassment that his regime would never recover from. Moscow will likely look to install a client state in Ukraine rather than occupy it outright.
Vladimir Putin is under pressure to look strong, not only to the world, but also to those inside his own government. Russia's security service, the FSB, has been full of Putin loyalists left over from the time that he served as the agency’s head. The FSB has enjoyed immense power within Putin’s Russia but has recently come under fire for providing bad intelligence on Ukraine. Russia’s Federal Protection Service, who are responsible for Putin's personal security recently conducted a raid on the FSB 5th Directorate, in charge of foreign intelligence. Documents recovered include four letters critical of Putin and a psychological profile detailing Putin’s narcissism and secrecy. Vladimir Putin must now save face within the ranks of his own inner circle and demonstrate his strength as a leader. He may be more aggressive than he would have been otherwise.
The best outcome for the current Ukrainian government is one in which concessions can be made that will secure peace. However, Putin has recently shown that he is unwilling to accept concessions and demands complete surrender from Kyiv.
Two unlikely scenarios are ones that see Putin's regime replaced in Russia or a military defeat for Russia in Ukraine. Putin has surrounded himself with a massive security apparatus that makes him virtually impossible to topple. As far as military defeat goes, recent events have shown that when Putin is in a position of weakness, he will react with nuclear threats. A military embarrassment may be the catalyst for Putin to fall back on his nuclear arsenal. As unlikely as this is, it can not be completely ruled out. In the meantime, Russia wraps itself around Kyiv, and the squeeze is coming.
by PJ Agness of @ArchangelIntelligence