Saturday, June 18, 2022

Musings on Shifting Strategies Against Russian Aggression in Ukraine

           By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

The center of gravity has shifted in Ukraine.  Optimism that Russia’s aggression can be stopped with arms and indirect aid provided by American and NATO forces now seems wishful thinking.  Putin has acknowledged that his objective is to restore the Russian empire, beginning with Ukraine.  A new strategy is needed to counter Putin’s might makes right megalomania.

Without a diplomatic solution, Russia will likely annex much of Eastern Ukraine, as it did Crimea in 2014.  If so, Putin will likely resettle the annexed area with Russians loyal to Putin to prevent a restoration of the status quo ante.  The war would then transition from conventional conflict to partisan unconventional warfare (UW), with public support the primary objective.  

Partisan UW is the flipside of counterinsurgency (COIN).  In both UW and COIN, legitimacy and public support determine the strategic political objectives that define mission success, rather than overwhelming military force.  If Putin can resettle annexed areas in Ukraine with Russians loyal to him, it would be difficult to end any Russian occupation.


In annexed areas strategic emphasis would shift from conventional conflict to political UW operations; and the diplomat-warriors of US Special Operations Forces (SOF) have the unique skills to advise, assist and support UW.  But so long as Putin continues his aggression in Ukraine, conventional arms, training and assistance from the US and NATO will still be needed.   

Ukraine can invite other nations to assist in its defense against Russian aggression so long as it retains its sovereignty; but if and when Russia occupies and annexes an area in Ukraine, the situation would  change.  Any intervention in an area annexed by Russia would be a belligerent act of war against Russia, and would increase the risk of a nuclear response.

America’s failures in Viet Nam and Afghanistan were due to a lack of legitimacy and public support; but there should be no lack of public support opposing Russian annexation of any part of Ukraine and replacing Ukranians with Russians loyal to Putin.  Should that happen, it would be difficult to achieve the public support needed to restore Ukrainian sovereignty.

With Putin’s revelation that he’s committed to restore the Russian empire of Peter the Great, his threat to democracy and world peace extends well beyond Ukraine.  His unrelenting aggression and vastly superior military power over that of Ukraine requires outside support to counter Putin’s aggression.  The alternative is to capitulate to Putin’s conquest of Ukraine.

There’s nothing new about partisan UW.  It has traditionally been the means of the weak to oppose the aggression of the strong and aggressive.  Putin’s aggression threatens the sovereignty of every nation.  The U.S. and NATO must not let the risk of nuclear retaliation intimidate them.  Putin must be denied his illusions of grandeur to restore the Russian empire.     



“Ukrainian partisans in occupied areas of the country are increasing attacks and sabotage efforts on Russian forces and their local collaborators, with organized underground efforts appearing to spread.  ‘It’s clear that the plan for partisan warfare was long and well prepared. …Ukrainian partisan forces started being trained after Russia’s intervention in 2014 but they became part of Ukraine’s state structures last summer, according to Serhii Kuzan, head of the Ukrainian Center for Security and Cooperation, a Ukrainian thinktank that specialises in military analysis. …Partisan forces, along with Ukraine’s territorial army, were part of new self-defence measures introduced across the country, said Kuzan. ‘The idea is for the occupier to always feel the presence of the partisans and for them never to feel safe,’ said Kuzan. “Recently, the partisan forces in Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions carried out a coordinated sticker and flyer campaign against the so-called Russian world.See

Anticipating a Russian occupation of Ukraine, the U.S. and its allies are quietly preparing for a Ukrainian government-in-exile and  a long insurgency.  See

“As Russian President Vladimir Putin ramps up his brutal attack on Ukraine, he’s likened himself to Tsar Peter the Great, who waged war on Sweden in the 18th-century, claiming that like his predecessor, he too is reclaiming Russian land. “Peter the Great waged the Great Northern War for 21 years. [...] He did not take anything from them, he returned [what was Russia's],”Putin said, after visiting an exhibition on the 350th birthday of the 18th century leader. “Apparently, it also fell to us to return [what is Russia's] and strengthen [the country]”, he added, in televised comments. Where Putin had earlier pushed the narrative that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a “special military operation” aimed at deposing a government he deemed a threat for wanting to join Nato, his recent comments imply that the war is also about expanding Russia’s territory.”  See also, Putin links war to Russia’s imperial past, at

“Fighting remains fierce in Severodonetsk, the epicenter of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, and now the city appears to be fully cut off after its last remaining bridge was destroyed. A top military official with the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic said Ukrainian fighters in the city should now “surrender, or die.”  Russian and Ukrainian forces in the city — the last stronghold of Ukraine in the Luhansk province — are fighting for “literally every meter,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said. Russian troops have tried to encircle and seize Severodonetsk for some time and losing control of the city would be a major blow to Ukraine. Zelenskyy said last night that his country is dealing with “absolute evil” and that Ukraine’s forces must “knock out the occupiers from all our areas.”  See

Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared the end of “the era of the unipolar world” in a combative speech that lambasted Western countries at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on Friday.  “When they won the Cold War, the US declared themselves God’s own representatives on earth, people who have no responsibilities – only interests. They have declared those interests sacred. Now it’s one-way traffic, which makes the world unstable,” Putin told the audience. The Russian president has long framed his decision to launch an invasion of Ukraine as a response to Kyiv’s growing diplomatic and security ties with the West. Last week, he hinted that his aim in Ukraine is the restoration of Russia as an imperial power.” See

With scant options in Ukraine, U.S. and allies prepare for a long war.  See

References to military legitimacy and public support in unconventional operations before 9/11 are in Military Legitimacy: Might and Right in the New Millennium, by Rudolph C. Barnes, Jr., Frank Cass (1996).  In chapter 2, military legitimacy is described as “a derivative of political legitimacy, which has been defined as the willing acceptance of the right of a government to govern or of a group or agency to make and enforce decisions ...[and] is the central concern of all parties involved in a conflict. The willing acceptance required to establish the legitimacy of military operations and activities must come from a nation's people. Public support represents that acceptance; and in a democracy public support is both a requirement and measure of military legitimacy. A manuscript of Military Legitimacy is posted at or at

For a perspective of legitimacy and public support in the SOF training and advisory mission and the role of the SOF diplomat warrior in Africa, see Back to the Future, in Special Warfare, at

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