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    Decisive Point Podcast – Ep 3-38 – Dr. Jeffrey McCausland – Putin Chooses between a Series of Bad Options

    Decisive Point Podcast – Ep 3-38 – Dr. Jeffrey McCausland – Putin Chooses between a Series of Bad Options

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    Audio by Kristen Taylor 

    U.S. Army War College Public Affairs

    Now that Vladimir Putin has chosen a path of escalation in his unnecessary war of aggression against Ukraine, it is imperative Western policymakers know the consequences and how he might escalate further. This podcast examines recent events on the battlefield; the implications of the announced annexation of territory, mobilization of forces, and threats to employ “all means” to defend Russian territory; the domestic ramifications and Russian thinking on “hybrid warfare”; and the possible weaponization of food and energy as Putin determines future escalatory steps. It will assist American and European leaders in determining policies to deal with the ongoing crisis at this moment and prepare for an uncertain future.

    Read the article:

    Episode transcript: “Putin Chooses between a Series of Bad Options”
    Stephanie Crider (Host)

    You’re listening to Decisive Point, a US Army War College Press production focused on national security affairs.

    The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Department of the Army, the US Army War College, or any other agency of the US government, Decisive Point welcomes doctor Jeffrey McCausland, author of “Putin Chooses between a Series of Bad Options,” which was featured in the winter 2022–23 issue of Parameters.

    McCausland is a visiting professor at Dickinson College and a retired US Army Colonel, a national security consultant for CBS Radio and television. He’s the founder and CEO of Diamond 6 leadership and strategy and the author of Battle Tested! Gettysburg Leadership Lessons for 21st-century Leaders, published by Post Hill Press in 2020.

    Welcome to Decisive Point.

    I’m really glad you’re here.

    Dr. Jeffrey McCausland

    Stephanie, it’s great to be with you.


    Your article, “Putin Chooses between a Series of Bad Options” addresses Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent escalation in his war against Ukraine. In what three ways did Putin escalate the war?


    We have to consider, Stephanie, that escalation occurs vertically as well as horizontally, and he’s actually done or threatened to do both. You know vertically it’s the use of more and more sophisticated military equipment. As the war progressed to use thermobaric weapons, he attacked civilian population as his situation on the battlefield deteriorated, he’s threatened to use nuclear weapons, and he’s mobilized additional military forces, as well as the economy. But then there’s also a horizontal explanation. Moving, if you will, in that direction, and here we see the Russians using hybrid warfare. And, therefore, using the food weapon, shutting off the export of grain to around the world.

    I’m fully convinced the Russians were behind the attack on the Nord Stream pipeline and effort to intimidate Europeans about the possible use of energy and the use of overall energy as a weapon as he has done that to manipulate particularly Western Europ ean public opinion potential. Potential threats and nuclear power plants like around Zaporizhya, which he can kind of press or not as he sees fit. And if he were to cause a major disaster there, he could have similar effects to a nuclear weapon with, perhaps, not exactly as much international backlash. He could try to blame it on the Ukrainians. And recently, he’s made threats to go after US and European satellites. So he’s escalated both vertically with more weaponry as well as horizontally.


    So, given all this, what are his options now?


    Those options are to, again, further process horizontally or as well as vertically–the recent suspension of the food export was an example of that. It now seems to be back online. There is some suggestion he may try to expand the war to Belarus. Move Russian military forces into Belarus and use that as a geographic location to attack Ukraine. Even threatening to do that has already forced the Ukrainians to a degree to move some military forces to the north to, in fact, prepare for that. Should that aggression, in fact, occur.

    Sure, he could strike NATO territory, particularly those points that are key to the importation of military hardware coming from the United States or our European Allies in an effort to restrict that. Or they can do is think as most likely right now, which is hunker down as winter progresses, hoping to stabilize the battlefield as the ground freezes as snow arrives. And by depriving Europeans of a lot of energy, hope that the European population in the West will become more and more disenchanted with the war, causing social unrest, and they’ll force their leadership to put pressure on the Ukrainians. Furthermore, of course, his ongoing campaign to strike Ukrainian energy infrastructure may have a similar effect in Ukraine, forcing more refugees as people in the eastern part of the country, in particular, are now faced with a long winter with the possibility of no energy.


    In your opinion, what’s the probability of Putin using nuclear weapons?


    I think the probability is low, but it certainly isn’t zero, and we need to keep that in mind and be clear-eyed about it. You know it’s sort of ironic that we are experiencing what I would argue is the greatest nuclear confrontation we’ve had since the Cuban missile crisis, which was almost exactly 60 years ago this past October.

    He could use a strategic nuclear weapon. He has a large arsenal. There’s no two ways about that. But obviously that would have, I don’t think it necessarily military effect. It would make him a global pariah. Make him, in essence, North Korea. Even the Chinese would not support that. He could use a tactical nuclear weapon, a smaller nuclear weapon, on the battlefield. And there are reports out even today that the Russian military has considered that. But again, I find that doubtful he would do that. Russian military doctrine has always talked about using such weapons for two reasons.

    Reason number one. In an effort to break through a stalemate on the battlefield and then exploit those opportunities with large scale mechanized advance. He doesn’t have the mechanized forces left to do that. And #2, if in fact, the very existence of the Russian Federation was at risk. That’s certainly not the case right now, though he could say the territories he had next, which are Russia are, in fact, being invaded by the Ukrainians now, which is sort of an odd turn of events. But I think he would, again, lose a lot of international support. He would not have the battlefield effect, and he also has to understand, of course, that nuclear weapons, once used, raise the possibility of escalation with the United States, which he doesn’t want either. And finally, of course, even localized effects like radiation affects his forces as well. As it turns out, most wind in that particular portion of eastern Ukraine blows from west to east, so the large-scale radiation patterns would endanger not only his own forces, but perhaps even Russian territory.


    You note that it’s critical the West adopt policies to deter or respond to potential future escalation by Moscow. What would that look like?


    Well, it looks like is unity of effort, of course is key and this year Putin made the assumption of the very onset of this war that two things would happen.

    One, the war would be over quickly, the Ukrainians would collapse. That didn’t happen. Second of all, the West, NATO, and the United States would not get their act together. They would be complaints, but we would basically accept this like we did in 2014. That has been untrue. And NATO is a lot more powerful today than, I would argue, it was back in February. As somebody pointed out, you know in a matter of a couple of weeks, Mr. Putin managed to undermine about two centuries of Swedish neutrality and about four decades of German pacifism in one fell swoop. So that unity of effort in the West is key. Now Putin has got to be comforted by social unrest he see sees in France, a new government in the United Kingdom, a new government in Italy, perceived as quiet even in Germany on the nature of this war going for a long period of time. And even recent comments here in the United States by senior Republicans about, we can’t give retrain a blank check and progressive Democrats sending a letter to Mr. Biden urging negotiation, which they subsequently, by the way withdrew.

    I think the second thing we gotta do is we gotta continue to emphasize that Putin is committing war crimes. The attacks on civilians, the attacks on civilian infrastructures, are by any definition, war crimes. We cannot allow him, in essence, to use the same tactics the Russians and the Syrians did against Syrian civilians in the Ukraine. We’ve got to continue not only to provide military assistance, which will change and has evolved from stingers and javelins to longer range artillery to high Mars and now more sophisticated air defense, as this relentless attack by the Russians continues. But we also have to provide humanitarian assistance and economic assistance to the Ukrainians. And I fear this winter may see a second refugee crisis.

    And last but not least, I say we need to continue to tailor our military assistance and coordinate it with our European Allies to make sure we have maximum effect and consider, I think doing things much more bold. For example, I think we need to consider, if not direct military assistance in Ukraine, at least contractor support in Ukraine to train Ukrainian forces on their territory and repair equipment on their territory that can more quickly then be returned to the battlefield.


    Unfortunately, we’re running out of time here, give us your final thoughts though, please before we go.


    My final thoughts would be these. First of all, Putin’s lost. By any measure, he’s lost. I mean, consider the effect on the economy. He has lost highly skilled young people. Perhaps as many as 750,000 have fled the country following the initiation of the war and the mobilization. He’s had over 100,000 casualties. Some estimate as many as 40,000 dead. The long-term effect on your Russian economy is inestimable, and people estimate, who follow economies, that it will drop by 5% this year and 10 to 15% next year. If you were an extraction economy, which Russia is, the one thing you don’t want to be described as is unreliable. The second thing we need to keep in mind is he still thinks he can win.

    And he thinks he must because he knows only two Soviet leaders left office still standing up. That was Khrushchev and Gorbachev. The rest of them all were carried out the front door of the of the Kremlin. Defeat, therefore, for him may be existential. So he has to think about the 3 variables that will make that possible. One is, does his army continue to fight? That, I think, may be increasingly problematic.

    Second of all, will the Russian people put up with this as the economy constricts?

    And thirdly, what does the economy actually do in Russia, and how precipitous does that in fact happen?

    Finally, I think when you keep in mind that this is not a war between Ukraine and Russia per se.

    The stakes here are far, far larger. I think we all agree that democracy around the world is threatened. Therefore, it’s more than just a war between Ukraine and Russia, and we cannot afford to lose this. To do so would encourage every desperate from Iran to North Korea to China, seeking to take over Taiwan, et cetera, that the international norms established at the end of World War II, whereby territory was not seized by military aggression, are no longer in place and they can do willy nilly what they think is necessary and the opportunities they think now present themselves.


    Thanks for sharing your insights on this topic. It was a real treat to talk with you.


    My pleasure, Stephanie.


    To read the article, look for volume 52, issue 4.

    If you enjoyed this episode of Decisive Point and would like to hear more, you can find us on any major podcast platform.

    Author Information: Dr. Jeffrey McCausland is a visiting professor at Dickinson College and retired US Army colonel. During his military career, he served as the dean of academics at the US Army War College, a combat battalion commander during the Gulf War, and a member of the National Security Council staff in the White House during the Kosovo crisis. A national security consultant for CBS radio and television, he is regularly interviewed on US national security policy issues. He is the founder and CEO of Diamond6 Leadership and Strategy and author of Battle Tested! Gettysburg Leadership Lessons for 21st Century Leaders (Post Hill Press, 2020).



    Date Taken: 11.04.2022
    Date Posted: 06.20.2023 15:08
    Category: Newscasts
    Audio ID: 74952
    Filename: 2306/DOD_109718214.mp3
    Length: 00:10:35
    Artist US Army War College Press
    Album Decisive Point – Season 3
    Track # 38
    Year 2022
    Genre Podcast
    Location: US

    Web Views: 11
    Downloads: 1
    High-Res. Downloads: 1