By WILLIAM ENYART
“Everybody’s got a plan until they get punched in the mouth,” world champion heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson said when he was asked how he planned to defeat Evander Holyfield’s fight plan. Tyson was infamously disqualified for biting off part of Holyfield’s ear in one of the two championship bouts they fought.
Vladimir Putin had a plan. Had a plan until he got punched in the face.
Putin’s plan was to do a “smash and grab.” Smash into Ukraine with his armor columns and grab the capital Kyiv from the north, depose the democratic government and install a puppet regime while seizing the southern portion of Ukraine with its Black Sea ports.
Putin was likely encouraged by his virtually bloodless 2014 seizure of Crimea from Ukraine and the West’s limited response to it. Not to mention the West’s failure to respond to his Georgia invasion, his Donbas adventure and his war crimes in Chechnya and Syria.
What his plan didn’t account for was the mouth-smash back from the Ukrainians who refused to go along with his plan. The seven years from the Crimean seizure provided Ukrainians time to prepare for Putin’s next swing. Time to bolster their cyber defenses, time to train their military and time to acquire modern weapons.
Thirty days into this phase of Putin’s failed roundhouse swing, we’ve seen the Ukrainians halt the advance on Kyiv and refuse to submit even as Russian artillery and air strikes have turned Ukrainian cities into rubble. Thus far anti-tank, anti-air weapons and the courage of Ukrainians defending their homes have thwarted Putin’s plan.
The Russian general staff announced they’re going to focus on the south and the Donbas region in the east, both of which are close to Russia and easier to supply and reinforce than the area around Kyiv. As the military maxim goes, “Reinforce success, not failure.” By moving the focus to the regions where they have had limited success, they are admitting failure in the north around Kyiv.
Putin is not a military guy nor a great strategist. He was a mid-level spy who, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, became the mayor of St. Petersburg’s fixer to the Russian mafia. What did those two early careers teach him? Always act tough. Never back down. Those traits worked well for him until he got punched in the mouth.
Before Putin invaded Ukraine, the U.S. had been distracted in Afghanistan and the Middle-East until President Biden disengaged us. The Germans and most other NATO nations were distracted by Russian oil and gas. Georgia was too far away and too hard to get to. Syria has always been a mess. And the Chechynans were just some lawless, ungovernable Muslim terrorists targeting innocent Russians, according to Putin.
In short, Putin’s previous smash and grabs were in a different neighborhood in town and the big boys, that is, the U.S., Germany and the U.K., were too otherwise occupied to get involved. The only folks sounding the warning were NATO countries previously dominated by Russia – Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. They’re just paranoid, the big boys muttered.
‘TOLD YOU SO’
Poland is now saying, “We told you so.” The big boys haven’t responded to that except by using Poland as a transit point for weapons headed to Ukraine and a reception hall for the refugees fleeing Putin’s bombs. Poland is glad to serve in both those roles as the Poles want the full support of the big boys in keeping Russian forces as far away from their borders as possible, which means keeping Ukraine as a free, independent and democratic nation.
Although the Russian army is five times the size of Ukraine’s and the Russian Air Force is even bigger, Russia cannot concentrate all its military power on Ukraine. Russia has a huge land mass and has in the recent past fought border conflicts with China and faced insurgencies in the south with Muslim minorities tired of Moscow’s domination.
Rather than pull more active-duty troops from other locations, weakening defenses in conflict prone border areas, it is more likely the Russian military would call up reservists or increase conscription. Either offers problems.
Conscription is never popular and requires time-consuming training to bring civilians draftees up to a minimal level of competence as soldiers. Casualties among conscripted soldiers will provoke the wrath of families whose support Putin needs. Calling up reservists can create manpower shortages in civilian employment, and reservists also require training to bring them up to full-time soldier standards.
FIGHTING FOR SURVIAL
Ukraine on the other hand is fighting for its survival as a nation. They are defending their homes and families, and as a result they are highly motivated. Nor do they have to be concerned with other borders as Russia does. Ukraine’s NATO neighbors are not going to invade.
Ukrainian soldiers are led by officers and NCOs who have served with NATO forces in Kosovo and Afghanistan. Those leaders are trained in individual battlefield initiative, like their American and NATO counterparts. The Russian military, on the other hand, is led in a top-down manner, which discourages individual initiative, which is why so many Russian generals have been killed on the battlefield.
How does this end? Every day that the Ukrainians continue to punch Putin in the mouth is a day closer to victory. President Zelensky should stop calling for Putin to negotiate and say, “We’re gonna keep punching you in the mouth until you leave. Leave now before we kill more of your soldiers, whose mothers you must answer to.” Putin understands and cares about only one thing. Strength. Zelensky and the Ukrainians have shown strength. The west is showing strength through pouring weapons and economic assistance to Ukraine and sanctioning Russia economically.
WILL CHINA HELP?
Putin has hopes that China will help him. China will buy his oil and gas, but other than that China will not help.
The U.S. buys more than four times as much from China as it does from Russia. China’s world-wide trade amounts to $2.5 trillion. The U.S. accounts for nearly 25 percent of that, Russia something less than five percent. Most of the world is allied with the U.S. and NATO against the Russian invasion. China has seen what that unity has meant in terms of economic sanctions. China will not endanger its economy to aid Russia beyond purchasing oil and gas.
Ukraine will fight because they must. Putin will fall because his plan failed. He’s bitten Ukraine’s ear off, but it’s proving pretty hard to chew.
(William Enyart is a former U.S. congressman for Illinois’ 12th District and retired two-star general with 35 years in the military serving in the U.S. Air Force, ultimately serving as Adjutant General of Illinois, commanding both the Illinois Army and Air National Guards. He started his working life as a member of UAW Local 145, Montgomery, Ill, where he and his father both worked for Caterpillar Tractor Co. The Enyarts live in Belleville, Ill. You can listen to his blog posts at https://www.buzzsprout.com/1089968.