I often wonder what he is feeling
Has he ever heard a word I’ve said?
Look at him in the mirror dreaming
What is happening in his head?
-Smash the Mirror
Peter Drucker was one of the most influential business thinkers and he was blessed with a powerful mind that he cultivated through lifelong learning. What I loved about him was his utter rationality and fearlessness in dealing with reality. This is what he had to say about why he was so successful at seeing around corners. I think you will see how this applies to the situation today in Ukraine and Russia and, particularly, when it comes to analyzing Vladimir Putin.
Peter Drucker How He Could See the Future
When asked how he could “see the future,” Drucker is reported to have said that he didn’t see the future; he simply saw what already existed today that others could not and would not see.
While attending university in Germany, Peter Drucker worked as a journalist. Adolf Hitler had already clearly outlined his vision of the world he wanted to create in his book, Mein Kampf, and Drucker had read every word.
As soon as Hitler took office as Chancellor of Germany in 1933, Drucker left Germany because he “saw the future.”
Instead of wishing and hoping that Hitler would not be as bad as his book indicated he would be, Drucker dispassionately evaluated the situation as it was. By acting unemotionally on the facts at hand, not what he hoped the facts would be, Drucker escaped the fate of 12 million people who later died in German concentration camps.
Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and ensuing war has been all-consuming for me not only for its horrific humanitarian impact, but because of the profound social, political, military, and economic ramifications that it will have as well. Given how Drucker read what Hitler wrote, took what he said seriously, and acted accordingly, made me want to go back and read some of what Putin has written as well as the analysis of others to help gain greater insight into Putin and how this may all play out. And while my thoughts are still muddled when it comes to the end game, I can’t foresee many positive outcomes for Ukraine, Russia, and the world at large.
My Twitter Obsession: Valuable Insight on Putin
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, I have never used Twitter so much. I have gained such valuable insights regarding military strategy and the incredible importance of logistics and preventive maintenance of vehicles and equipment. It’s astonishing how poorly prepared the Russians have been for this war and what a disastrous situation Putin has gotten the country into.
From time to time there will be great articles linked to some of the tweets I read. I’m going to discuss two of those that I read recently as well as another one I found outside of Twitter. One is related to the disastrously faulty assumptions Putin used in terms of prosecuting the war and the other is how the siege of Leningrad was one of the most seminal events in Vladimir Putin’s life. The third relates to Putin’s worldview and how it impacts his and Russia’s foreign policy. I say he and Russia because they’re indistinguishable. What Putin wants is what Russia will get in terms of policy, resource allocation, and consequential decisions.
The first article was published by the Modern War Institute at West Point. It’s entitled Miscalculation and Myopia in Moscow: Understanding Russia’s Regime Change Folly. The author has studied numerous military campaigns that were initiated to bring about regime change. What is striking is the incredible and costly disconnect between expectations and reality. And because the expectations are for regime change to be rather swift and with minimal costs, the planning is based on these assumptions. As a result, when the reality turns out to be very different, then the aggressor finds itself wholly ill-prepared for this set of circumstances and ends up in a quagmire. Sound familiar? It’s happening to Russia right now. Here is what the author said.
But Putin has appeared to have fallen into a common regime change folly where, in deciding to engage in regime change, he did not consider that a military occupation would most likely be required to prop up the newly imposed regime. Like many other would-be regime changers in history, he has underestimated the costs his regime change plan will require.
This error is common throughout history. Sadly, the mistaken belief in the low cost of this option makes aggressors more likely to launch a war in the first place, only realizing after they invade that they created a quagmire.
The following Catch-22 can also have some application to investors who only look at the upside and rely on multiple assumptions all having to work out for investments to succeed. This is rarely the case because the odds of all of the assumptions playing out are quite small. As a result, there is no planning for alternative scenarios that are not as rosy. The cost in this situation is losing money or disappointing investors while in the case of a situation like Ukraine it’s the terrible loss of life, the destruction of property, the sowing of hate, destroying societal bonds, and making enemies for life.
Aaron Rapport has shown that those who most desire regime change often overlook what such an operation will actually require in the long run. He finds that leaders who seek regime change focus overly on the desirability of that outcome and not on all the steps it will take to get there. Moreover, those who are most wary of engaging in regime change take the most time in planning for what occupation to install a regime will entail, making them less likely to decide to try it in the first place. In this case, Putin’s desire to topple the regime in Kyiv seemingly contributed to his overlooking the costs required to achieve that goal.
Similarly, my research on all cases of occupation since 1898 shows that only roughly 15 percent of the militaries who eventually did set up military occupation actually planned for it ahead of time. Almost all thought they could install a new leader and withdraw, not necessitating investing in civil affairs or occupation forces that they ended up needing for the occupation. In most cases, the leader conceived a regime change mission as a short operation that the military could carry out quickly, which would not require a lengthy presence. Instead, occupiers in most cases are like Gilligan and the Skipper: planning for a three-hour tour turns into a years-long venture. As Russia is learning, however, the failure to plan for what occupation will require will only make the occupation phase even more costly. Russia failed to learn the lesson that the only way to ensure you will not be occupying another country is to not try to topple its government in the first place.
I have to think that Putin must have looked back on the West doing very little after Russia took over Georgia and Crimea and felt he had a relatively free hand to do what he wanted in Ukraine. Add to this all of the other factors I wrote about after the invasion and Putin must have believed he had the upper hand in terms of financial reserves, alliances methodically built over many years, and Russia’s huge quantities of natural resources that Europe has hungrily needed. I also touched on the psychology of Putin and how he viewed it as his life’s mission to re-establish the glory, power, and geography of the Russian empire.
Let’s return to Putin’s psyche for a bit.
On the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, Vladimir Putin penned an article discussing what he saw as the real lessons from what is known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War. If you were to read this article you can see what an incredible student of history Putin was related to World War II. It is without question the most seminal event of his life even though he was born in 1952, seven years after it ended. And if World War II was the most important event to shape his worldview on a macro level, then nothing compares with the Siege of Leningrad to have shaped him personally.
“For my parents, the war meant the terrible ordeals of the Siege of Leningrad where my two-year-old brother Vitya died. It was the place where my mother miraculously managed to survive. My father, despite being exempt from active duty, volunteered to defend his hometown. He made the same decision as millions of Soviet citizens. He fought at the Nevsky Pyatachok bridgehead and was severely wounded. And the more years pass, the more I feel the need to talk to my parents and learn more about the war period of their lives. However, I no longer have the opportunity to do so. This is the reason why I treasure in my heart those conversations I had with my father and mother on this subject, as well as the little emotion they showed.”
Notice how personal it was for him and how heroic his parents were in his eyes, along with millions of others defending his great city. And while he wished he could have spoken more to them about their experiences he was profoundly impacted by how little emotion they showed about what they went through. One does whatever one has to do to defend the Motherland. You don’t complain, whine, or cry. You do whatever is necessary to survive. One can see when Putin talks about the invasion, which of course he doesn’t call it that, he is as cool as a cucumber. Steely-eyed, calculating, methodical, analytical. No emotion whatsoever.
I know I’m looking at what he wrote through the prism of the Ukraine war and 20-20 hindsight but it’s almost as if since he couldn’t live through that seminal event and no longer could talk to his parents about their experiences and sacrifices they made, that he felt the incredible need to create a situation that would require modern-day heroic sacrifices for himself and the Russian people. This is what he says about how important he sees it for younger generations to not only understand the sacrifices made by the World War II generation but to “feel” it as well. Note how he discusses the “sacrificial fight against the Nazis.”
People of my age and I believe it is important that our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren understand the torment and hardships their ancestors had to endure. They need to understand how their ancestors managed to persevere and win. Where did their sheer, unbending willpower that amazed and fascinated the whole world come from? Sure, they were defending their home, their children, loved ones, and families. However, what they shared was the love for their homeland, their Motherland. That deep-seated, intimate feeling is fully reflected in the very essence of our nation and became one of the decisive factors in its heroic, sacrificial fight against the Nazis.
And here is where the rubber meets the road. What would this generation do when faced with a crisis? Is this something he feels compelled to put to the test?
I often wonder: What would today’s generation do? How will it act when faced with a crisis situation? I see young doctors, nurses, sometimes fresh graduates that go to the “red zone” to save lives. I see our servicemen that fight international terrorism in the Northern Caucasus and fought to the bitter end in Syria. They are so young. Many servicemen who were part of the legendary, immortal 6th Paratroop Company were 19-20 years old. But all of them proved that they deserved to inherit the feat of the warriors of our homeland that defended it during the Great Patriotic War.
And notice how he talks about how important it is to do one’s duty without feeling sorry for oneself.
This is why I am confident that one of the characteristic features of the peoples of Russia is to fulfill their duty without feeling sorry for themselves when the circumstances so demand. Such values as selflessness, patriotism, love for their home, their family, and Motherland remain fundamental and integral to Russian society to this day. These values are, to a large extent, the backbone of our country’s sovereignty.
Putin was intent on making sure that the leaders of Eastern Europe understood and accepted and agreed to pass on to future generations that the Nazis were defeated by the Soviet people and were joined in the existential battle by all republics of the Soviet Union.
At the summit of CIS leaders held at the end of last year, we all agreed on one thing: it is essential to pass on to future generations the memory of the fact that the Nazis were defeated first and foremost by the Soviet people and that representatives of all republics of the Soviet Union fought side by side together in that heroic battle, both on the frontlines and in the rear.
When Putin says that one of his main goals is to de-Nazify the Ukrainian regime now you know where this is coming from. To me, it seems that Putin is so consumed by creating a monumental sacrifice for Russia to defeat Nazis like his parents and their generation did that he has manufactured a complete myth and total fabrication about Ukraine and its leaders and culture. And, yet, with that being said, he truly believes that Ukraine and Russia are one and the same and the only reason they’re not is because of the Nazi regime that is a puppet of the West and was installed by them, especially the United States.
I will end this by going a little more macro to quote from another article that was written in 2018 to illuminate Putin’s ideological beliefs.
Putin’s brand of conservative nationalism rests on two core assumptions particular to Russia. The first is its spetsifika, a term connoting uniqueness and ‘specialness’. In the context of foreign policy, this translates into a firm belief that Russia is not some ordinary nation, but a civilization unto itself as well as an integral part of European civilization. As such, it cannot be a mere rule-taker, especially when other great powers, principally the United States, have themselves adopted an exceptionalist attitude towards ‘universal’ rules and norms. Putin believes Russia is entitled to no less. Related to this is a second basic assumption: Russia is a great power by virtue of historical destiny. It is of secondary importance that its economy is heavily dependent on natural resources and that growth is sluggish, or that by a number of metrics Russia ranks poorly in world terms. It is a great power nonetheless. The criteria of economic performance and technological sophistication are seen here as less relevant than the innate sense of being a great power, historical tradition, geographical extent, permanent membership of the UN Security Council, formidable nuclear and conventional military capabilities, and a singularity of purpose. Such assets may not be very ‘twenty-first century’, but the Kremlin — and the Russian public — could hardly care less.
To Putin, Russia has always been a great and exceptional country and this has earned it the right to have its own sphere of influence and to be one of the rule-makers of the world order and not a rule-taker. We’re great because we have a great history, we are great, and we act great. It’s not because we are a great economic power and mobilizer of human capital to create goods and services the world needs, other than commodities. And because countries remain powerful because they look at the world realistically and without illusions, we have developed a powerful military that no one will dare mess with as we have proven in Crimea, Georgia, and Syria. And we will use it to instill fear and respect, the world be damned. Especially in Ukraine as it holds incredible importance for Putin as the author pointed out in 2018.
The Kremlin’s post-modern version of imperialism is evident in its approach towards Ukraine. Putin has no interest in annexing the Donbas region in the southeast of the country since this would be both unpopular in Russia and hugely expensive. Instead, he has sought to leverage the conflict for wider purposes, exploiting the volatility and uncertain status of the region to pressure Kyiv and undermine support for it in the West. Putin is partly motivated here by geopolitical and security considerations — Ukraine occupies a strategic position on the European continent — but the ideological component is central. In insisting that Russia and Ukraine are one people and one civilization, he refuses to acknowledge the existence of a distinct Ukrainian identity, let alone Kyiv’s right to pursue a sovereign foreign policy.
All of this background and analysis is only valuable if we can predict how all of this will unfold. I must say that I’m not optimistic. I don’t see how Putin withdraws when so much of what he has done was to prepare for bringing Ukraine back into the fold of the Russian orbit. It’s his Great Patriotic War, his fight against the Nazis, and what Russia is up against in terms of military support for Ukraine from the West and unprecedented economic sanctions that have set up a situation that will require more Russian sacrifice than at any time since World War II.
The difference, however, is that this war has nothing to do with defending the Motherland and for this reason, I am hard-pressed to see how he can get out of this alive. There is no way Russia can occupy the country so if he withdraws he may lose his life and power and if the costs become so high and life becomes so unbearable then he may lose his life to have it come to an end. Of course, the big fear is that nuclear weapons are introduced into the equation. It would seem like there would have to back-channel communications to establish firm red lines that will lead to an overwhelming NATO response and ways of de-escalating so that it remains a brutal war of attrition with horrific humanitarian and global consequences.
Remember what President Zelensky said about Russia. If you want to know what they’re going to do next then listen to what they accuse Ukraine and the West of doing. Watch out for Chernobyl having an “accident” and they have already bombed Belarus to make it look like Ukraine did it to get them to enter the war.
It’s one big mess. I’m not optimistic and there is still a lot to ponder.