The following article is written by Helmholtz Smith. You don’t know him. I do. This is a pen name. Enjoy.
All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near… Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.
Sun Tzu, Chapter 1
Most of the opinions aired in the Western media take for granted that the Russian operation in Ukraine is bogged down. Usually when we see someone confidently assert this, we find the assumption “I think everyone assumed that they were going to set Kyiv as their primary objective and their main effort…” That quotation is from Larry’s piece here and quotes one Joel Rayburn but can be found everywhere. The failure to take Kiev was a “defeat for the ages“, it led to casualties, bad morale and so on. It is the fundamental assumption – Moscow wanted to take Kiev quickly, failed to do so and has had to reconsider. It failed through overoptimism, incompetence, poor planning, bad logistics – just poor behavior altogether. “Overestimated” is the word.
That’s what the Americans do when they go to war. Lots of bombing, seize the capital, declare victory. Worked against flea-sized enemies in Panama City or St George’s but failed in Baghdad and Kabul. But the great strategists have always known that the principal object in war is “To conquer and destroy the armed power of the enemy… For only after defeating these can we pursue the other two objects [sources of strength, and public opinion].” Possession of territory does not give victory and the generals pontificating on the cable shows should have learned this after twenty years in Iraq and Afghanistan.
To make the point in another way, let us imagine that the Ukrainian government had declared Kiev an “open city” and that no resistance would be offered. Would the Russians have occupied the city? Metropolitan Kiev had a population of two to three million in an area of about 300 square miles and the government had just handed out thousands of assault rifles and founded a cottage industry making Molotov cocktails. How many soldiers would Moscow have had to put into the city to keep it reasonably quiet? Certainly thousands, maybe tens of thousands and they would have faced continual attacks. And what would that have gained Moscow?
So, then, there are two reasons to suspect that conquering Kiev was not the Russian priority – destruction of the enemy’s forces was the real aim (“de-militarization” Putin would call it) and the occupation of a large and hostile city would have taken too many resources away from the main aim.
So what really was the purpose of the Kiev operation? What was the movement, the threat, the “40-mile column” and all the other things the “experts” obsessed about? I invite the reader to listen to this section of Jonathon Houses’ outstanding lecture on The Three Alibis.
Deception. The Soviets were probably the greatest masters of battlefield deception that there has ever been. I recommend David Glantz’s book for those who want to make a real study of it and for those who want a shorter introduction I suggest this essay (“one is awed by the magician’s illusions of objects disappearing and appearing”). Some in the West may remember D-Day’s ghost army but, as far as I know, this was the only time the Western Allies did deception on this scale. As the references above make clear, the Soviets did deception operations on this scale all the time – dummy vehicles, faked tank tracks, silent movement, lights moving at night, loudspeakers making engine noises, feint attacks, radio traffic, carefully encouraging the enemy to see what he wanted to see; as House says, they almost always fooled the Germans. And not just then – the 1939 attack at Khalkhin Gol stunned the Japanese – “we had no prior clue“. One may be certain that the Russian Army has inherited this talent.
Knowing this, what does the activity around Kiev look like now? An attempt to capture something that would not have advanced the stated aims of de-militarization and de-Nazification and, by soaking up large numbers of troops, actually retarded them? Or a deception tailor-made to fool Ukraine’s US/NATO puppet masters? One hand of the magician threatening Kiev to compel Ukrainian troops to guard it while the other degrades their ability to move to face the real threat. The magician knew how the US and NATO do war and revealed the shiny object sure to distract them. The Russian flank was secured by the threat (the other flank was secured by the threat of a seaborne invasion). This legerdemain kept the enemy from noticing what was really happening – the systematic destruction of Ukraine’s fuel and ammunition stocks, military organization and transportation ensuring that the main force stayed in place for its methodical destruction in phase 2.
Yes, there was the possibility that the threat to Kiev would make the Ukrainian government see reason. After all, there has never been a more preventable war than this one – had Kiev retained the neutrality provision of its July 1990 declaration of state sovereignty and adhered to the Minsk agreements, all would be quiet today. But a quick end was just a possibility – worth a try but not essential.
Putin’s stated aims are de-Nazification and de-militarization; Azov is trapped in a catacomb and the immobile Donbass-positioned force is being ground to bits by relentless artillery strikes (so much for the logistics deficiencies the “experts” went on about). No battle proceeds exactly as planned, but this one is moving in the intended direction.
The Kiev operation was a deception operation and a very successful one. And it continues to deceive.