Streetwise Professor

April 12, 2014

Putin Loops the West’s OODA Loop

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 6:35 pm

Russia has commenced its invasion of eastern Ukraine. No, tanks have not rolled over the border, and Sukhois are not dropping bombs on Kharkov or Donetsk. But the invasion has begun, with the seizure of government buildings in several eastern cities by armed men. Men dressed in combat garb carrying advanced automatic weapons (including AK-100s with grenade launchers).

No, these troops have not declared that they are Russian soldiers. But that just adds to the outrageousness. What’s more, this is exactly the Crimea MO. Exactly. Recall that the Russians swore up and down that those who took over Crimea weren’t theirs. Until Putin let the cat out of the bag and bragged how the Crimean operation had demonstrated the tremendous progress that had been made in reforming the Russian military.

Post-Crimea, Occam’s Razor tells you that Little Green Men popping up anywhere in the Near Abroad are taking orders from Putin. This is an invasion.

And why shouldn’t he take another slice of Ukraine? The US and EU have said that they might maybe could ramp up sanctions a little bit if Putin’s tanks roll into Kyiv. But they let him take a slice-Crimea-with virtually no consequence. So why shouldn’t he take another slice? And once he digests this one, another? And another?

It is beyond obvious that the US and EU are desperate to avoid facing hard realities. They don’t want to confront Putin. The bleat about diplomacy and off-ramps and de-escalation, which Putin translates into “surrender.” And rightly so. So he will advance inexorably.

The Ukrainian government is paralyzed. It realizes that if it exercises force against the intruders that Putin will use that as a pretext to unleash the forces massed on the border. It knows that it is unlikely that the US/Nato will provide any meaningful assistance in that event. So it goes fetal.

These are the wages of fecklessness. Yet again.

We are governed by-I will not say led by-craven midgets. Obama played golf today. He spent last week making scurrilous charges of racism against his real enemies: the Republicans. That’s when he wasn’t hyping Obamacare while defenestrating the cabinet secretary charged with its implementation. Biden will be traveling to Ukraine Tuesday. Not this Tuesday, silly:  next Tuesday, the 22d.  Joe is probably still working on his taxes, and has plenty of fundraisers to attend to in the interim. So first things first. It’s the weekend, so Europe is, um, unavailable.

Clausewitz called “the offensive” the first principle of warfare. By this, he meant that the combatant with the initiative has a decisive advantage. He can choose the time and place to attack, and do so in a way that exploits his advantages and his enemy’s disadvantages.

Putin has the initiative. In part this is due to the fact that his adversary-Nato-is a coalition, and decision making in coalitions is inherently slow, and its councils divided. (I recall a story of Napoleon rejoicing to learn that another country had joined a coalition against him.)

But the United States in particular has the ability to act unilaterally, and drag Nato along with it. The US could unilaterally impose crippling costs on Russia, by effectively cutting off its access to the world banking system. Yes, this would cause the Germans and the Brits to squeal. But so be it. Leadership must sometimes be exercised with the flat of the sword laid to the backs of necks.

Putin has the initiative because Obama has conceded it to him.

The western OODA loop-observe, orient, decide, act-is pitifully slow. It is slow because of an intense desire to avoid conflict and to deny the reality of Putin’s behavior. It is slow because of a conscious choice of the US to abdicate leadership, and to defer to countries like Germany that have a deeply compromised relationship with Russia.

This means that Putin can easily keep the initiative because the US has deliberately chosen to cede the initiative to him. He can get inside our OODA loop over and over again. He can present us with faits accompli.

Until Obama-and no one else-bestirs himself to confront Putin, the Russians will continue to take slice after slice of Ukraine. Perhaps some parts will be incorporated into Russia, and other parts set up as formally independent Russian satrapies. But the formalities are irrelevant. Unless Putin is confronted, before long all of Ukraine will be subordinate to Russia.

And once that is accomplished, why should you think that Putin’s thirst to restore the USSR will be slaked? And it is not just about Putin and Russia. Once the idea that irredentism and revanchism will not be confronted takes hold, it will not be limited to the FSU. Obama is sowing the wind. His successors-and you and me-will reap the whirlwind.


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  1. Yup, if the goverment buildings in eastern Ukraine are being taken over by angry locals, you’d at last have thought they’d get the right buildings.

    Comment by Tim Newman — April 13, 2014 @ 12:32 am

  2. Not so sure whether it’s a good or a bad thing that Biden won’t be around at the most crucial moment: yes, he does represent the US, but on the other hand he is Biden for chrissakes.

    The political class is ripe with talk that Tymoshenko’s de facto governing party has cut a covert deal with Putin and now giving him all he wants and would that be all sir.

    That said, looks like Kharkiv has withstood the attack and the front line has moved to Donetsk region. The interior minister has announced “anti-terrorist operation” on Facebook. Let’s see if he backs it up with some Instagram content.

    Comment by Ivan — April 13, 2014 @ 12:44 am

  3. @Tim, the funny thing about the Kharkiv theater is that it is a very standard-looking Soviet theater structure, which should have been easily recognized as such from far away. But not by the sort of crowd Putin recruits his thugs from apparently.

    Comment by Ivan — April 13, 2014 @ 1:56 am

  4. Another funny little incident happened today in town of Kramatorsk, where one of the reputedly local self-defence men was calling on crowd using a peculiar Russian word specific to the inhabitants of Saint-Petersburg.

    Comment by LL — April 13, 2014 @ 5:11 am

  5. Think of a guy who claims to be a native-born Minnesotan while addressing everyone “y’all”.

    Comment by LL — April 13, 2014 @ 5:12 am

  6. No question that the Kremlinoids are slithering into Ukraine like snakes – the same “little green men” who were in Crimea are now in various cities of eastern Ukraine. All while Lavrov and Putler are claiming that there are no troops in Ukraine or on its borders.

    Here is a map of why they went to the small town of Sloviank:

    SWP provides great analysis and insight.

    More info here:

    from a Stanford grad and former US military (served in the Middle East) now living in Lviv

    also here:

    and here:

    a Chatham House chap

    and here on the Twitter side:

    Comment by elmer — April 13, 2014 @ 8:50 am

  7. video of the Kremlinoid snakes invading Ukraine is banned from YouTube

    Comment by elmer — April 13, 2014 @ 8:57 am

  8. This piss-weak behaviour from the US is extremely dangerous, as it increases the likelihood of a serious miscalculation by either the Russians or somebody else. Again, I refer to Bush who everyone thought was the most dangerous president ever, but his consistency and predictability made him less so than the current lot of buffoons. Putin could end up taking a step which would leave the west with no choice but to respond militarily, thus dragging us into a war nobody wants. Dubya would have at least said that the next step means war, and meant it, thus giving Putin a clear picture of the consequences of his actions.

    Comment by Tim Newman — April 13, 2014 @ 10:38 am

  9. @Tim. I agree totally. The odds of an eventual confrontation are greater if there is greater uncertainty about how rigorously the US will react. And to make it even worse, delay means that when a confrontation does come it will not be where we choose, and we will be in a weaker strategic position. It would have been easier to confront Hitler in the Sudetenland or Czechoslovakia than in Poland or the Ardennes.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — April 13, 2014 @ 11:24 am

  10. Short term wins for Putin, long term defeat for Russia.

    Comment by aaa — April 13, 2014 @ 2:15 pm

  11. As far as I’m concerned, the frantic avoidance of war will just lead to a bigger one later. Somehow, Obama is going to try to slick his way out of his presidency with a hugely phony interpretation of his success. Most of us know that if he left now, the damage to the world would be obvious. It would be completely unnoticeable to his inexplicably large group of sycophants, though. If he lost Ukraine, he should be mocked for eternity even more than he already deserves.

    And BTW SWP, you’re missing the whole point about Russia. Obviously, the answer to all their problems and the reason why they are struggling so much now is that they don’t have enough land! I’m sure if they get a large chunk of Ukraine, the future will be bright. If that’s still not enough, I’m sure we’ll need to fork over more for them since we can’t be accused of blocking their prosperity.

    Comment by Howard Roark — April 13, 2014 @ 2:43 pm

  12. And why would we want to have the “flat of the sword laid to the backs of necks” on behalf of a country that show no raison d’etre except to allow its resources to stolen by oligarchs? Half of the population speaks Russian and another half a bastardized version of Russian. A country that never really was. Warmongering is all very nice from far away.

    Comment by Stan Ho — April 13, 2014 @ 3:32 pm

  13. +++And why would we want to have the “flat of the sword laid to the backs of necks” on behalf of a country that show no raison d’etre +++

    Because there are rules. And we have been chosen to enforce them.

    Comment by LL — April 13, 2014 @ 5:03 pm

  14. You do have to laugh at the hypocrisy of Russians. They are calling the Ukrainian decision to authorise force against separatist (armed) protestors a criminal order. So how soon will we see Putin arrested for his criminal orders in the north Caucasus. I presume the Russian government will now immediately push for the removal of Assad and his trial?

    Comment by Andrew — April 13, 2014 @ 10:42 pm

  15. You do have to laugh at the hypocrisy of Russians. They are calling the Ukrainian decision to authorise force against separatist (armed) protestors a criminal order. So how soon will we see Putin arrested for his criminal orders in the north Caucasus.

    Quite. The two things which make Russians dangerous are 1) they genuinely think they are smarter than anyone else, and 2) they believe their own bullshit. So although Putin’s grab of Crimea was smart on some levels in that he achieved a long-sought goal and the west only whimpered, he now believes he is some sort of Machevellian genius and that he is actually capable of achieving more than a cynical land grab which the rest of the world thought didn’t happen any more and so was caught off-guard. I’m sure the Russians genuinely think Putin is some sort of strategic genius and are egging him on to do more.

    Secondly, the Russians genuinely believe the original protestors were American/western plants and so think sticking their own soldiers into Ukraine without insignia is all above board. Whereas when the US sends soldiers into a place where deniability is required, it’s at least thought through to some extent in areas where half the world’s TV cameras are focussed. But the Russians think they’re just doing what the Americans do, without any consideration of how this could escalate beyond their control. What happens if one of these soldiers is captured, roughed up, and confesses to being from a particular Russian army unit? Or if one of them is killed, or a whole load of them killed? Putin will be under pressure from the morons who back him to retaliate, probably forgetting in the process that the whole operation was supposed to come with deniability. Putin is a man who has observed the west operate, not fully understood it, but is attempting to emulate it in pursuit of his own goals. And the whole country is backing him. As I said, the potential for a miscalculation is enormous.

    Comment by Tim Newman — April 14, 2014 @ 12:26 am

  16. There is always the tendency to interpret Putin and his actions assuming he shares Western liberal values. He doesn’t and sees these only as a vilified weakness to be exploited. When his actions are interpreted in the context of liberal thought it is to his advantage. He understands power.

    I know it is embedded deeply in the English language but Putin is the embodiment of the Motherland and so should be referred to by feminine personal pronouns like “she” and “her”. These masculine personal pronouns are fundamentally sexist and contribute to an overly aggressive discourse. 🙂

    Comment by pahoben — April 14, 2014 @ 1:50 am

  17. “It would have been easier to confront Hitler in the Sudetenland or Czechoslovakia than in Poland or the Ardennes.”

    Not at all. Neville openly feared that the Bolshies would take over if his friend Adolf was defeated in a war vs Czechoslovakia.

    Europe would then have lost her main ‘bulwark against Bolshevism’

    Hence the necessity at Munich to pressure France then Czechoslovakia to abandon the alliance they had with the USSR.

    What you need to understand is that Chamberlain was a Russia-hating Cold Warrior, just like yourselves.

    Comment by PailiP — April 14, 2014 @ 8:24 am


    Next step little green men on the bridge?

    Comment by Ivan — April 14, 2014 @ 12:20 pm

  19. Not really PailiP. Not that Russia doesn’t give enough reasons for any normal person to hate the place.

    In the 30s the red terror would have been more than enough to induce distrust and revulsion in any normal person.

    There is a great deal of evidence the communists (red fascists) were even worse than the nazis (brown communists).

    Russia has always been an expansionist mass murdering nation.

    Not wanting communism and Russia in all it’s evil to overrun Europe is a pretty normal response. The French were also terrified of a communist takeover of Europe

    Comment by Andrew — April 14, 2014 @ 12:24 pm

  20. Andrew, please provide references for this statement:

    > Furthermore, Tsitelashvili has been living in Russia since the 90s.

    – See more at:

    Comment by vladislav — April 14, 2014 @ 11:05 pm

  21. He has been in Moscow since around 2004, not the 90s, that was Kitiovani and Ioseliani. Sorry about that Vladislav.

    Tsitelashvili was fired after the rose revolution for, among other things, arms trafficking.

    He apparently harbors a strong hatred for Saakashvili for deposing his protector Sheverdnadze.

    One piece of evidence about his activities is here

    I’ll try and get you links about his dismissal but they might be hard to find. Georgia didn’t really have much of an online presence before 2004.

    Comment by Andrew — April 15, 2014 @ 12:08 pm

  22. He was in the first war in South Ossetia, not 2008. After that he was in the war in Abkhazia.

    Comment by Andrew — April 15, 2014 @ 12:31 pm

  23. Andrew> Furthermore, Tsitelashvili has been living in Russia since the 90s.

    The problem, Andrew, is that Tsitelashvili was still in the Georgian army during the August 2008 war:—–l———-r——-&catid=37%3Ainterviu1#axzz2z7rdG6fu

    Грузия, 9 апреля, ГРУЗИНФОРМ. В гостях у ГРУЗИНФОРМ – генерал Тристан Цителашвили, ветеран абхазской войны, командир боевого подразделения «Аваза», участник августовской войны и бывший политзаключенный «Нацдвижения».


    So, you lied again. Right after you tried to explain your previous lies!

    Comment by vladislav — April 17, 2014 @ 1:22 am

  24. Not according to Georgian mainstream media he wasn’t, but I stand corrected.

    Comment by Andrew — April 18, 2014 @ 4:41 am

  25. > Not according to Georgian mainstream media

    You didn’t invent that “Tsitelashvili has been living in Russia since the 90s”? Then give me a link to a Georgian “mainstream media” that says that.

    Although, come to think of it, if it’s a pro-Saakashvili medium, it can easily have told a lie…

    Comment by vladislav — April 18, 2014 @ 5:00 am

  26. Yes indeed it could have Vladislav.

    Comment by Andrew — April 18, 2014 @ 6:57 am

  27. Though it is no different to Russian media in that regard

    Comment by Andrew — April 18, 2014 @ 6:58 am

  28. > Yes indeed it could have Vladislav.

    Then give me a link to a Georgian “mainstream media” that says that “Tsitelashvili has been living in Russia since the 90s”.

    Did you invent this claim yourself?

    Comment by vladislav — April 18, 2014 @ 2:41 pm

  29. > Yes indeed it could have Vladislav.

    Wait. Have you abandoned your latest hero Saakashvili?! I seem to recall (correct me if I am wrong) how whenever somebody in LaRussophobe criticized Georgia’s mistreatment of Abkhazians, Ossetians and other minorities, as well as corruption, you replied: “That was under terrible leaders Gamsakhurdia and Shevardnadze. Now we have a great man: Saakashvili!”

    When did you lose your love for Saaka? The day he lost power?

    Comment by vladislav — April 18, 2014 @ 2:46 pm

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