Thoughts from Kyiv — April 12, 2022

Sting was wrong. The Russians don’t love their children (too). That is not only a fact, it’s consequences are frightening.

Let me remind you of the final verse of Sting’s famous song “The Russians”:

We share the same biology, regardless of ideology

But what might save us, me and you

Is if the Russians love their children too

Well, what if they don’t? What if the Russians really don’t care about their children?

Russia’s children are dying in Ukraine. In large numbers. Needlessly. Dying. Right now.

Meanwhile, according to formalized opinion polls and journalists’ ad hoc street interviews in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Saratov, Novosibirsk and other cities, the Russian population overwhelmingly supports war in Ukraine. We can explain this away by citing rampant propaganda that brainwashes the population (which it does), and excuse the Russians’ lack of opposition to Putin as justified by fear of arrest (or worse), but the fact remains: the Russians seem prepared to send their children (husbands, brothers, boyfriends, fathers sons…) to die in Ukraine.

According to Ukrainian officials, the death toll of the Russian army in Ukraine is now approaching 20 000 KIA. Even if this number is inflated, real Russian losses (including killed, wounded, captured) are enormous — probably over 50 000 troops. Not surprisingly, despite publicly voicing support for Putin’s “special military operation” few Russians are volunteering to join it.

Russian commanders are doing everything possible to recruit new reinforcements for the coming push into the Donbas. They are offering “carte blanche” to rape and pillage the Ukrainian population. They are offering increased pensions to veterans, high salaries and generous family benefits while in action… But the efforts are clearly insufficient. There are simply not enough qualified reservists in Russia that are willing to enter the killing fields of Ukraine.

The reason Russia cannot find sufficient numbers of motivated reinforcements is that this war is seen by potential recruits as another Afghanistan: a war on foreign soil, waged in the interests of the political elite rather than the Russian people. Commanders tasked with filing the ranks of the Russian army are faced with a fundamental problem: Putin’s “special military operation” is being waged in Ukraine.

Now imagine what would happen if the population could be convinced that Russia itself is under threat. This seems to be the purpose of recent “anti-terrorist” alerts in the Russian regions adjacent to Ukraine’s borders. There, conscripts have begun digging defensive trenches on Russian soil — hundreds of kilometres from the closest Ukrainian army position, and well east of Ukraine’s border with the Russian Federation.

Imagine a terrorist attack on Moscow that could be blamed on “Ukrainian nationalists claiming to avenge Bucha”. There is ample evidence today that this was exactly the staged sscenario used by Putin to justify his army’s obliteration of Chechnya in 1999. Russians supported that war because their heartland was threatened. Defending Russia is radically different from invading Ukraine.

Russian recruiters need to reposition this war from one aimed at “de-nazifying” Ukraine (a “brotherly” but nevertheless foreign country) into a defensive conflict: Ukrainians must be shown as directly threatening the Russian heartland. If such repositioning can be done quickly, the war in Ukraine will become “patriotic”. Recruits may not flock, but certainly more cannon-fodder will become available.

Russian commanders know how to fight “patriotic” wars. Their “patriotic” strategy involves insertion of massive amounts of poorly trained and poorly equipped personnel into battle with little regard for potential losses. Victory is achieved with numbers. An excellent illustration of how this works can be drawn from the battle for Kyiv in 1943: in 10 days German forces lost a total of 17 thousand (KIA, WIA, MIA) vs. over 118 thousand on the Soviet side. Some victory…

The Russians don’t love their children (too).

Finally, make no mistake: if by the May 9 Victory Day holiday the Russian “push” on the Donbas is not successful (and I have no doubt it will fail), Putin will have no other avenue but to escalate his war beyond Ukraine. I stand by my prediction of a tactical nuclear strike. Nothing else will be left.

His rocket may not necessarily fall on a NATO target, but nevertheless the message will be clear: unless Russia is allowed free reign in Ukraine, the next launch will be on an EU capital…

That’s called blackmail, and I really don’t know how NATO leaders will respond.

“Surely Putin understands that if he fires a nuke at NATO, that will be suicide!” claim the pundits. Indeed, the Cold War era MAD doctrine (“mutually assured destruction”) was specifically designed to deter the use of nuclear weapons by either superpower.

But it only works if both sides value their own people. What if the Russians don’t?

It is high time to understand a simple fact. For Russia, people don’t matter. Not even their own. I’m sorry Sting, but the Russians don’t love their children (too).

They love “victory”. At all costs. That is the horror that we must face.

God help us!

Author: Mychailo Wynnyckyj, Ukrainian Social Scientist, Public Intellectual, Academic Development Officer, Professor at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy

Illustration by Christina Katrakis. Short Lived. Oil on canvas, 2004 

Program Directors: