A stunning video has been circulating in the previous few days that seems to point out a Ukrainian prisoner of war being gunned down by his Russian captors as he utters what he is aware of are the final phrases he’ll ever say: “Slava Ukraini” – glory to Ukraine. This picture of heroic defiance towards appalling brutality ought to ship a chilling message to Vladimir Putin after a yr of butchery in Ukraine: you’ll be able to homicide and torture us all you want, however you can’t defeat our will to struggle.
This defiance is the other of what Putin anticipated when his forces rolled into Ukraine final February. His “particular army operation” was not deliberate as a struggle in any respect: it was an armed, psychological motion meant to instil concern, set up a puppet regime, and convey the nation again to heel. That’s why he attacked with too few forces to defeat a decided opponent.
Putin’s intelligence companies, led by the FSB, successors to his personal KGB, informed him that Russian-speaking Ukrainians would welcome the invaders with open arms. Russia’s safety companies had been paid huge sums over a few years to make sure that this could occur, and to place collaborators to take over the federal government and whip opponents into line (or put off them).
Earlier than the invasion, the FSB knew that they had been on shaky floor, with sources giving them a really completely different image. However how had been they to elucidate that to the Kremlin after all of the assets that had been ploughed into subverting Ukraine?
Certainly, it turned out Russia’s intelligence businesses had been incorrect on all counts. Collaborators in Kyiv and elsewhere didn’t ship the products. Woefully ill-prepared Russian forces encountered a level of resistance that took them without warning, together with subsequently in Russian-speaking areas the place partisans have been preventing towards them. And it was not solely Russia that was left humbled by its preliminary intelligence failures. The evaluation of US businesses, in an inversion of their over-confident predictions about Afghan forces’ skill to carry out towards the Taliban, was that Ukraine would shortly collapse.
How did the Ukrainians show each the Russians and the People so incorrect? The reply to that query takes us again to the homicide of the unknown soldier within the Ukrainian woods. Morale, which he symbolised even on the level of dying, is the linchpin of success in struggle.
Shaun Pinner, a former British infantryman who fought at Mariupol as a Ukrainian contract marine, says no amount of cash, threats or cajoling can drive a person to struggle, understanding he would possibly die. Morale is achieved by robust management, workforce cohesion that makes you threat your life for the person to your left and your proper, data that your loved ones and your nation depend upon the struggle you place up, and the assumption that what you might be doing is correct. Pinner witnessed the infectiousness of excessive morale. It led him and his comrades to fiercely maintain out at Mariupol for thus lengthy.
The incompetently led Russian troops, a lot of whom don’t know what they’re preventing for regardless of the propaganda they’re fed, lack any such benefit. There are tales of some being compelled into battle at gunpoint.
Excessive morale and preventing spirit, nevertheless, usually are not sufficient on their very own, because the French discovered to their value in 1940. Their collapse was due above all to intelligence failure, poor strategic management, and operational and tactical inferiority to the Wehrmacht.
Fortunately Ukraine doesn’t have these failings. One of the essential causes Putin’s plans had been pissed off final February was Zelensky’s management, remaining in Kyiv and rallying the nation by his personal instance. His military, skilled by the West, has the operational and tactical higher hand over the sclerotic Russians. Ukrainian army intelligence has proved exceptionally profitable, thanks partly to direct enter from Britain and the US.
After all, Ukraine has additionally been stored within the struggle by Western cash and arms. This assist, which once more Putin did not anticipate, doesn’t simply equip troops to struggle however can also be basically essential for morale. On that, Afghanistan offers a salutary lesson for Ukraine right now. Having fought laborious for years, in 2021 the Afghan forces disintegrated the minute that the People pulled out.
Colonel Richard Kemp is a former infantry commander