Michael Vickers: What Putin’s Top Aides Need to Tell Him

From a Washington Post column by Michael Vickers headlined “What Putin’s top aides need to tell him today”:

Michael Vickers, a former CIA officer, played a key role in supporting the Afghan resistance during the 1980s. He was undersecretary of defense for intelligence from 2011 to 2015.

Imagine yourself today in the unenviable shoes of Vladimir Putin’s national security aides, charged with briefing the Russian president on his options roughly one week into his disastrous Ukraine invasion.

The Putin briefing, if it is an honest one, ought to go something like this:

Here is the situation, Mr. President: Our rapid-strike plan was supposed to have caused the Zelensky government to quickly capitulate, enabling us to install a puppet regime in Kyiv and incorporate Ukraine into the Russian Federation. Instead, it has unified the West, kindled in the Ukrainian people a fierce resistance, and led the NATO alliance and the European Union to boost their military support for Ukraine and impose economy-destroying sanctions on Russia.

We have suffered thousands of casualties and have been forced to disclose the names of at least some of them to the Russian people. We have lost hundreds of combat vehicles. Our main invasion force spent days stalled in what looks more like a traffic jam than an attack column.

Our economy is being squeezed by sanctions that have targeted our central bank, limiting our access to the $630 billion in foreign exchange reserves that we have carefully built up, causing the ruble to collapseand forcing us to suspend all trading on our stock market. Protests are breaking out in several Russian cities, despite the fact that we have arrested thousands of demonstrators.

Our options now are not great: We could double down in Ukraine by leveling Kyiv, Kharkiv and other major cities with artillery, missiles and airstrikes, killing large numbers of civilians. We could use chemical weapons, as Assad did in Syria, to terrorize the population further.

But the costs of taking these steps would be high and are unlikely to compel the Ukrainian people to give up. Even if we find and eliminate President Zelensky, he will be replaced by another leader, even in exile, and the war will go on. The longer it does, the more casualties we will suffer; and the more our military will be degraded.

We were driven out of Afghanistan in 1989 after we suffered 26,000 war dead over nine years. But Ukraine will be far worse for us. The size of our armed forces is a fraction of what it was during the 1980s. We can’t sustain such losses.

A resistance movement needs favorable terrain, a population willing to fight, neighboring states that can provide sanctuary, and an external sponsor willing to supply it with weapons, training, intelligence and political support.

Ukraine has all of these elements going for it.

Its active military and reserves number some 400,000 to 500,000.Many of them will survive to join the resistance. We have nowhere near the forces required to occupy and conquer a country of more than 40 million people the size of France. If we withdraw, any puppet regime we install will be in mortal danger.

The Ukrainian resistance will be equipped with many times more Stinger antiaircraft missiles and far more lethal antitank weapons than fighters had in Afghanistan. Were Turkey to supply more of the drones that are destroying our combat vehicles, we will be in even more trouble.

In short, Ukraine will be the mother of all insurgencies.

Meanwhile, our economy is swooning. Many foreign companies are refusing to do business with us. The West is already denying us the semiconductors and other advanced technology on which our armed forces and economy depend. We might soon be cut off entirely from SWIFT, the global financial messaging system. And the more we escalate, the faster the West will place crippling sanctions on our energy sector, which provides more than 40 percent of our government revenue. Sanctions on the energy sector will crater the Russian economy.

Escalation is not attractive for other reasons.

We could hit the West with cyberattacks to damage their economy, but the West will respond in kind. We can strike the NATO front-line states whose territory is being used to supply the Ukrainian resistance, but that could well lead to a war with NATO that will only make our position much worse. Killing large numbers of Ukrainian civilians might even lead the United States to use its air power to stop the bloodshed. The Americans would make short work of us.

We could again threaten to use nuclear weapons, but the West will realize that this is an empty threat. Even the most limited use would provoke the indirect destruction of Russia, and massive use would lead to our rapid and complete destruction.

In sum, every day this war goes on, more of our economy and military power will be destroyed. We risk our people rising up against us. Instead of ending Ukrainian democracy, this war might end our rule.

If we are rational, we should find a way to declare victory and extricate ourselves from this no-win war right away.

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