Putin will order the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine before the the end of October. Allow me to lay out the case for why it happens.
How did we get here, Big Red Car?
The time line looks like this:
1. Putin began to move troops onto the border of Ukraine on 21 February 2021, less than a month after Joe Biden’s Inauguration Day. Putin said these soldiers, airborne troopers, were there to “conduct exercises.”
2. On 30 August 2021, the United States conducted its incompetent withdrawal from Afghanistan exposing its feckless leadership and dwindling resolve.
Russia watched carefully and Putin rubbed his hands in glee sensing the Americans (and by association, NATO) were vulnerable.
3. Putin continued to diligently build up his invasion force to more than 100,000 troops whilst the US and NATO “warned” Russia there would be consequences.
Keen observers began to note that Russian units included specific capabilities — combat engineers for river crossings, medical units, blood supply, supply units, ammo dumps — that would not normally be deployed so far forward for “maneuvers.”
The world missed an opportunity to forestall the Russian invasion if they had acted prior to the invasion.
4. Russia continued to cuck the world — as it built a force approaching 200,000 troops now tactically deployed along the likely avenues of advance — that it had no intention to invade their peaceful neighbor from whom they had seized Crimea and undertaken a faux rebellion in the Donbas region in 2014.
5. On 24 February 2022, Russia unleashed an invading force of approximately 200,000 with more than 2,500 tanks. Russia simultaneously maintained a border security force of more than 40,000 on the Ukrainian border in addition.
The active duty Russian army ground forces are about 400,000 men with the entire military being 1,000,000 regulars and 2,000,000 reservists.
The Russians are a conscript army with about 35% being regulars/contract/professional soldiers and the balance being conscripts.
Conscripts are taken in at the rate of 120,000 twice per year and serve for a single year,whereafter they are “reservists” for life.
All of this is to say that the invasion force was a substantial commitment and had Russia’s best forces contained therein.
6. Putin expected a quick four day drive toward Kyiv, the decapitation of the Ukrainian government, and to take control of all of Ukraine.
He was expecting a Crimean style capitulation.
Huge, gross miscalculation and he took heads in the Russian intel racket in response. Putin was not happy with this miscue.
7. American intelligence and military experts gave the Ukrainians a week, but no more.
The US condemned the attack, but did nothing substantive to counter it other than braying that it would defend every square inch of NATO territory. Of course, Putin hadn’t attacked NATO, had he?
8. Interesting side note: Ukraine applied for NATO membership in 2008 and was denied when vetoed by two NATO member countries citing pervasive corruption.
9. Immediately the Russians faced setbacks starting with a bold attempt — a classic coup de main — by airborne forces to seize an airport north of Kyiv.
The Ukrainians were not surprised and wiped out these paratroopers which was the first indication there was some “fight” in the Ukrainian army, an army that had improved substantially since 2014.
10. In the armored push from the border to Kyiv, the Russians immediately encountered equipment failures, self-inflicted logistics failures and the Ukrainians displayed the effectiveness of shoulder fired anti-tank weapons.
Nobody thought the Ukrainians would do anything but prolong the inevitable, but the Russians were stung.
One unreported fact I find interesting is the Ukrainians knocked out every fuel truck they could find which accounts for the long lines of stranded vehicles on the road to Kyiv. A dead tank is a dead tank.
11. Russia unleashed a torrential downpour of missiles on Ukrainian cities killing civilians indiscriminately and providing the world with pictures unseen since World War II (well, except for Chechnya and Grozny).
This action alone disqualifies Russia from ever rejoining the society of civilized nations. They are a barbaric, horrific, medieval country led by a mad man.
12. The Russians began to circle Kyiv, but the Ukrainians were putting up a grand fight and began to go over tentatively to the offensive forcing the Russians to go to ground.
By this time, the American Javelin and other shoulder fired anti-tank weapons had begun to show the lie of invincible Russian armor.
13. One month into the war on 25 March 2022, the Russians began to retreat from their closest encirclement of Kyiv as the Ukrainians took a deadly toll on retreating Russian armor and vehicles.
Simultaneously, the Russians doubled down in the south and east shifting forces. There was still a lot of cockiness and arrogance in the Russian mindset.
14. At this one month point, the world marveled at the defiant and scrappy Ukrainians and the first meaningful American and NATO logistical support began to arrive.
This moment was the turning point in Ukrainian expectations.
15. The Russian missile onslaught was merciless as they attacked civilian targets as part of a terror campaign to break Ukrainian will, but they misjudged the Ukrainian people, free people fighting for their homeland.
16. Unable to take Kyiv, the Russians attacked in the south trying to build what is clearly seen now as a land bridge from Russia through the Donbas, along the coast, and finally to Crimea.
17. As part of this effort, the Russians literally levelled Mariupol — a major city of 500,000 — as they had done with Grozny in the Second Chechnyan War.
The attack on the Azov Sea port began on 24 February devolving into a medieval siege that would last until the end of May during which the Ukrainians tied down substantial Russian forces whilst inflicting meaningful casualties, but losing many soldiers themselves.
The city was destroyed, as many as 20,000 civilians died, Russia lost more than 5,000 KIA and the Ukrainian units were destroyed, surrendered, and suffered massive casualties, but the time they bought and the inability of the Russians to re-deploy their attacking forces was a great assist for the overall Ukrainian war effort.
18. It was in the aftermath of Mariupol that the magnitude of Russian war crimes became apparent. The Russians are just bastards who murder, rape, and torture under the supervision of their officers. Barbarians.
19. During the balance of that summer, the Russians made numerous efforts to drive the Ukrainians from the battlefield in the east and south with very little to show for their efforts as the Ukrainians rounded into battle shape and the Arsenal of Democracy began to supply them with weapons of equal or superior quality to the Russians.
The Russians proved particularly inept at river crossings, essential in that terrain.
20. Russian casualties began to mount — they have lost half of the invading force to casualties (KIA, WIA, MIA, POW)– and it became abundantly apparent that the Russian military was not an effective and competent fighting force.
21. Russia began to counter their battlefield losses by using their normal flow of conscripts (120,000 draftees twice a year), recruiting from less than desirable sources like prisons, moving other troops from distant parts of Russia to Ukraine, and hiring mercenaries such as the Wagner Group.
This would not stem the tide of Ukrainian success nor fill the voids created by combat losses.
Today, Putin has enacted a program to tap into as many as 1,200,000 “reservists” of which 300,000 are underway right now via mandatory levy. These are lousy soldiers and are all former conscripts with no more than a year of experience.
Too little, too late, ineffective.
22. Ukraine began to train more soldiers from a pool of more than 1,000,000 volunteers and began to assimilate the American and NATO equipment with certain pieces of gear such as the HIMARS rocket system proving decisive on the battlefield.
Ukraine has won the manpower war and Russia has hopelessly lost it though this will continue to play out.
23. Several things became apparent:
a. The Russians were not very good and their fearsome army was not very competent. Their leaders were not experienced or tactically creative.
b. The Ukrainians were far better than anybody ever imagined and their general staff was talented and competent (coached by the US and NATO, mind you).
A classmate of mine from VMI whose opinion I value and respect who had fought with Ukrainian units in Iraq said from the beginning that the Ukrainians were solid soldiers.
c. Shoulder fired weapons and drones changed the calculus completely and negated the traditional advantages of Russian armor. A man with a Javelin could take out a tank from 1-2,000 meters and then disappear.
The Ukrainians proved to be excellent when using these weapon systems.
d. Drones provided incredible recon and battlefield management advantages and the Ukrainians were quick to recognize and exploit this.
e. The Ukrainian motivation to defend their homeland far outstripped the Russian motivation which was non-existent.
f. The greatest surprise is that the Russians failed to achieve air superiority. This astounds me.
24. Somewhere along the beginning of August momentum began to shift as the Ukrainians stopped multiple Russian river crossings and began to push back.
In September, the Ukrainians launched an effective counterattack in Kherson followed by liberating Kharkiv and the region around it.
The Russians were caught with long supply lines and insufficient troops with which to counter the two prong attack — many saw the Kherson effort as a feint, but it seems to be the real thing.
25. As this was going on, Putin’s thugs conducted a sham referendum in four districts from which puked a 99% majority vote in favor of becoming part of Russia. [Never saw that coming, eh?]
26. Putin then conducted a huuuuuuge accession ceremony just as the Ukrainians captured one of the most strategic cities, Lyman, in the accessed regions.
Talk about awkward. This ruined the garden party and left Putin in a wildly belligerent mood.
What now, Big Red Car?
Ahh, the noose is tightening and Putin is running out of options. Here are the cards he holds:
1. His army sucks and his generals are second rate. He had taken to speaking directly to field commanders — a horrifically amateurish thing to do.
2. The Ukrainians are kicking his ass and he knows it though there is some sense that his lick spittle generals are not telling him the truth.
3. The Ukrainians are not going to come to the negotiating table whilst they are winning and while they enjoy virtually unlimited US and NATO support.
4. The sanctions against Russia are working and anything with a chip in it is dead — manufacturing is non-existent.
5. The Russian mobilization is wildly unpopular — as many as 500,000 Russians have fled Russia — and has created the first meaningful political unrest and opposition.
Not that Putin has any problem killing however many protestors need to be killed to put down the unrest.
6. The mobilization is too late and the quality of the conscripts is for shit.
7. This will end on the battlefield by December, by Christmas, with a Ukrainian victory and Russia pushed back to its 24 February 2022 border positions.
Can Putin accept this?
No, dear reader, therein lies the problem with Putin — reality is not something he embraces. He suffers from massive delusions of grandeur running a country whose economy is 25% smaller than Italy.
This is a man who thought his vaunted army would vanquish the Ukrainians in four days, the Russian speaking Ukrainians would rally to him, and who thought he could weather any western sanctions handily.
Vlad got that wrong.
How does it happen?
Putin and Russia have gone to a lot of trouble with this faux referendum as it sets up the fairy tale that continued fighting in these regions — which the Ukrainians control in part already — is an attack on the “Russian homeland” and an attack on the homeland — with all of its WWII, Nazi, Hitler connotations — can be repulsed with any means at their disposal — meaning nuclear weapons.
Silly logic, sophomoric reasoning, I know, but, still, this is the fog of war filling that meathead’s cranium.
Tactical nukes fall into the 1-100 KT range. As a frame of reference, the US bombed Hiroshima with a 15KT bomber and Nagasaki with a 10KT bomb. These were not tactical weapons.
So, I see Putin doing one of the following:
1. Putin may conduct a demonstration by dropping a nuke in the Artic or in a body of water like the Black Sea to show his manly, bare chested resolve.
2. Putin may use a smallish nuke inside Ukraine to destroy a concentration of Ukrainian forces.
I see this happening before the end of October.
Then what happens, Big Red Car?
Hard to say, but here is what I think.
1. The entire world turns against Putin including China and India — though in a timid and tepid way.
2. NATO enters the fray with air support to drive the Russians out of Ukraine that will take less than a week. The US and NATO can seize air supremacy within a day.
The Russian Black Sea fleet is sunk.
3. Additional sanctions include a complete embargo of all Russian energy — no pipelines and no ships.
Aside — it is not a given that the Russian army will comply with that Putin nuke order.
Really, Big Red Car?
Yes, dear reader.
1. Tactical nukes are the only card still remaining in Putin’s deck. He is desperate and trapped.
2. The use of tactical nukes in this situation — an enemy pushing into the homeland — is in Russian doctrine.
They have a huge arsenal of tactical weapons at the field level. Huge.
3. Keep your eyes on former Russian President and Putin sauna buddy Dmitry Medvedev.
He is often Putin’s mouthpiece and he has been bloviating about the absolute right of Russia ” . . . to use nuclear weapons if necessary . . . ” to “. . . protect the homeland.”
Medvedev has also said the US and NATO will not retaliate with a nuclear response as it would trigger the end of mankind.
There is no question the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine by Russian forces is on the minds of the Russian bag guys.
4. Putin himself continues to give one dopey speech after another with unveiled references to using nuclear weapons.
He has also broadened his rhetoric to the entire Satanic West rather than just neo-Nazi Ukraine.
Bottom line it, Big Red Car
I believe Russia will use a tactical weapon in Ukraine before the end of October.
Putin is out of tricks. He knows the world is never going to welcome him or Russia back to the pre-invasion world.
The weapon itself, while mind shattering in its power, will not have a meaningful impact on the outcome of the war and will trigger NATO and the US to finish the job in Ukraine.
The challenge is going to be to contain it to Ukraine and to keep the response conventional in nature rather than going nuclear even further.
But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car.