Rostislav Ishchenko: The Choice of Strategy in War

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


Wars have accompanied mankind for all the time of its existence. People study the battles of bygone eras in order not to repeat the errors of those who lost these battles and to adopt the experience of the winner. However, qualitative military analysts appear even less often than great Commanders. That’s why we regularly read as an explanation that one army defeated another because, for example, it was completed using heavy infantry that, acting in a close formation, trampled on archers and dispersed cavalry (as it happened during the Marathon and in many other fights of antiquity).

However, already on the following page we can read that the defeat of the triumvir Marcus Licinius Crassus at Carrhae was caused by the fact that Parthian horse archers (absolutely similar to those in Achaemenid’s army, which suffered defeats by the Greek and Macedonian phalanxes) fired at the heavy infantry moving in close formation.

By the way, insufficiently competent researchers declare one of the advantages of the Romans over Macedonians as the shorter throwing spear that was in the arsenal of the army, which didn’t impede soldiers in close combat. The same researches also declare that the advantage of Greeks and Macedonians in front of Persians was the long pike (sarissa), which struck the Persians armed with short throwing arrows beyond their grasp.

Practically all researchers agree that tactics was the main advantage of the Roman legions over the Hellenistic armies. But they don’t explain in any way why Hannibal, who commanded the classical Hellenistic army, intimidated the Romans so much by catastrophic defeats that Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus forbade his troops from engaging in fighting with him, exhausting the Carthaginians by maneuvering on communications.

As we see, a universal incantation allowing to always score victories doesn’t exist. By the way, the Germans in 1940-1942 scored brilliant victories, operating with fewer numbers and less technically equipped forces than their opponents. And then this same army, led by the same Generals, started suffering crushing defeats. Moreover, it was like that on all fronts, and not just on the Soviet-German one.

The only knowledge that can be called universal, but which can’t be taught, is the talent of a Commander. It is precisely talent that allows a Commander to truly evaluate the strong and weak sides of their troops and those of the opponent, and to impose a battle at that time and those localities where the strong sides of their troops will be used the most successfully, and where the weaknesses of the enemy will be most vulnerable. That’s why when talent faces mediocrity, victories are reached by forces that are in an absolute numerical minority and are many times more qualitatively inferior to the enemy. Thus, Jan Žižka on Vitkov Hill with a hodgepodge of 4000 Hussites crushed the 30,000 professional knightly crusading army of the emperor Sigismund going to take Prague.

If two mediocre commanders face each other (and such is the majority), then the destiny of battle and war is decided by “big battalions” (numerical, technical, and qualitative superiority of one army over another). But when two military geniuses meet, situations appear that are so non-standard, interesting, and double-edged as a game of chess between two great grand masters, observing which ordinary chess players aren’t always able to understand the depth of the plan even after the game has already ended.

Such, for example, was Napoleon and Kutuzov’s collision in 1812. Napoleon created sufficient numerical superiority to win the war, his army was perfectly prepared, it had a rich fighting experience, the best at that time Commanders of Europe commanded it. Napoleon’s marshals were a constellation of military talents, quite mature independent commanders that achieved magnificent success. Napoleon’s army, which before this repeatedly met Russian troops, knew that the adversary was difficult, but not invincible. Napoleon, who was well familiar with Alexander I, repeatedly had the chance to evaluate his actions in critical situations. And he developed a plan.

The plan was based on all preceding experience of the fighting of Napoleon against Russians. He even faced Kutuzov and had the opportunity to be convinced that Mikhail Illarionovich Kutuzov surpasses him in the art of maneuver. But wars aren’t won by retreats, and Napoleon was confident in his opportunities. He considered that the occupation of the most populated, moreover the most rooted regions of Russia, will strike the Petersburg authorities with the most terrifying psychological blow, and will submerge the emperor in prostration, and the Tsar’s Court in depression. He was sure that the loss by noblemen of their manors in great Russian regions will cause the strongest opposition towards the government and powerful pressure on it with the demand of peace at any price. He didn’t doubt that in such conditions, with general moderation of the demands of Bonaparte, Alexander won’t resist and will sign peace, on conditions suiting the French emperor.

He was mistaken. The reaction of Russian society towards the invasion of Russia was not the same as its reaction to defeats suffered in Europe. The Battles of Austerlitz and Friedland caused the immediate beginning of peace talks. Neither the Battle of Borodino, nor the occupation of Moscow brought Napoleon to peace by a milimeter. And without a peace treaty and Kutuzov constantly hanging over his communications, the emperor was doomed. His army thawed without battles.

In the modern world nuclear superstates, in the event of a direct military collision, are capable of simply erasing each other from the political map. That’s why the art of war moved to the sphere of politics. There is a need to win war before war and without war. The army is only a guarantor that the opponent won’t brush away the pieces in the middle of a game and won’t hit you over your head with the board. Respectively, before the nuclear era the art of the head of State (who even not always acted as the Supreme Commander) consisted in providing the army with everything necessary, organising the regular supply of replenishments, transporting provisions, ammunition, regimentals (on the season), and the evacuation and treatment of the wounded. In fact, it was the organization of the rear that was his responsibility, without which no army can fight.

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Today the head of State is practically always the Supreme Commander and he constantly conducts military operations, but only in the political space. Nevertheless, they are organized according to all rules of military art. It is precisely for this reason that since the second half of the 20th century, with a transition of traditional politics from a condition of being “between wars” to a condition of permanent war (without military operations), the open lie in politics ceased to be condemned. A hundred years ago the test tube with white powder that Colin Powell shook as evidence of the existence of Iraqi bacteriological weapons, which still haven’t been shown to the world, would have made the US a pariah in international relations. While today the Americans continue to lie. The whole world knows that they lie and, nevertheless, everyone pretends that they believe it.

Everything is right. War is the art of deception. War welcomes and awards everything that in peace time is considered criminal. And if war is transferred to the political space, it simply means that the immorality of war became the base of politics.

However there are different immoralities. War is immoral in principle, but, for example, for the Russian Army (in difference from the German or Japanese) it practically wasn’t necessary to spend forces for a fight against guerrilla warfare in the rear, because their attitude towards the population of the occupied regions was always human. Moreover, as Russia practically was always the defending side, when its troops entered the territory of the defeated opponent, this opponent, as a rule, was already so tired from the war and the related losses that it was ready to meet the foreign army with flowers as the liberator from its own government.

It isn’t surprising that when war passed into the space of politics, every nation transferred to this same space their traditional approaches to conducting usual military operations. The Americans, as they already distributed to Indians blankets infected with smallpox or the plague, are still engaged in the same thing in the modern world, only on a bigger scale. And Russians also, as they already deployed field kitchens on the streets of defeated Berlin, they also continue to deploy them [Syria – ed].

And of course, respectively, the results that are reached are similar. I recall that American “humanists” solved the problem of Indians, having exterminated the latter practically at the roots. Similarly the US suggested to solve the German problem after World War II. The form of genocide of the German people should have been different – it should have led to a much faster disappearance of the 70-million nation than the time needed by the Americans vis-a-vis the Indians, but what is important is that it is exactly genocide that was considered as the only way to solve the problem.

It happens because the American military strategy in principle doesn’t assume the minimum care about the civilian population of the opponent. That’s why everywhere where the Americans appear (in Afghanistan, Iraq) the local population starts to drop like flies. This naturally leads to a hardened resistance by those who are still alive, which chains down the forces and resources of the US. Therefore, the faster and the more the population is exterminated (all the population, and not just the troops of the enemy), the quicker the US can achieve the ultimate goal of war.

Is it worth being surprised that in the 90’s decimation swept across the Post-Soviet territories. Moreover, depopulation was stopped and reduced only in those States that fell into the Russian sphere of influence. The reduction of population is stopped not everywhere. Even for Russia it has been only five years since it was possible to enter into a regime of small and unstable growth. But, when compared to Ukraine, which remains in the American sphere of influence, losing its population by the millions (moreover, depopulation continues with exponential acceleration) or with the half died-out Baltic States, the demographic situation in the countries of the Eurasian Economic Union will seem to be absolutely benevolent.

Russia also preserved its traditional approach. There, where it arises, care about providing a normal standard of living to the local population becomes a priority. This, of course, demands considerably more expenses and limits the possibility of power decisions. But such a strategy forces to calculate resources more scrupulously and not to hope for brute force, as for a universal remedy of a solution for all problems.

The Americans try to kill their enemies. Russia tries to make friends from them or to neutralize the action of their hostility, leaving them to cook in their own juice. Nobody has yet managed to kill everybody, while the American strategy of permanent violence forces the US to provide a projection of force in every corner of the planet. I.e., in fact, relations between the US and the people of the Earth are being reduced to already-launched or still-postponed genocide.

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Other options for non-Americans aren’t provided simply because the stability of the US is built on the fact that they consume more resources than they produce. Thus, someone somewhere has to die constantly so that Americans can support an habitual way of life. Consequently, American hegemony with inevitability leads not only to economic collapse, but also to the self-liquidation of mankind. The fact is that sooner or later the possibility of injecting the US with resources from the outside will end. Moreover, the more reliably they will be able to control the world, the quicker these resources will expire. The history of the past few decades testifies that the people who are the most controlled by the US die out at the fastest rates.

Sooner or later the US anyway will be obliged to transfer the politics of genocide to their own territory, dividing the people into consumed and consumer. But, because of the inability of the US to uphold their claim to world hegemony in a direct military-political standoff with Russia and China, and the progressing reduction of the resource base available for Washington’s control, the need for a reduction of the quantity of consumers in the US itself became so obvious that since the very beginning of the last presidential election campaign America moved towards civil war. And meanwhile this movement has only accelerated.

And what is civil war? This is the determination inside this same society what part of it will control and distribute the national resources and which one will be obliged to submit, perish, or emigrate, because the available resources are insufficient to provide to all of society a desirable standard of living whilst it doesn’t want to reduce its requirements.

Of course, feeling the need to plunder already even their own compatriots, Americans treat the countries under their control even more rigidly. If it is possible to squeeze out of them the resources necessary for the US, they are squeezed out with all thoroughness. And for the maintenance of statehood, for which there is a need to spend resources, those who aren’t able to give anything more are left to the mercy of fate. “The mustang can’t carry two people at once”.

Some of the American allies still preserved their ability to fight for the future. They (Germany, France, the “old EU” in general) as a whole resist. At a different time their resistance would be doomed. But now the US too quickly surrenders its positions, and the internal instability in the US increases too quickly. There is a chance to hold on until the moment when Washington won’t be able anymore to intimidate Europe.

Young-European nations, which without the US and its geopolitical ambitions aren’t necessary to “old Europe” as equal partners, try to help Washington to hold on to the continent. But their weight in the EU was determined by US support. With a sharp reduction of American opportunities, “old Europe”, especially Germany, began to simply ignore the wishes of young-European nations, and if they appear to be especially persistent (like the Poles on the question about “Nord Stream-2”), they are put in their place via sanctions.

Well, and such countries as Ukraine, which is a full American protectorate, find themselves in the worst situation. The national elite legitimated its power due to the support of Washington. If there is no support — there is no legitimacy. At this time, in the mad hope that the Americans will eternally maintain Ukraine as a counterbalance against Russia, its own economy is destroyed. Ukraine can’t feed its own population any more and maintain its State. The Ministry of Finance demands to stop paying contributions to international organizations (it is possible to save a hundred million dollars per year, which on the scale of Ukraine is no money at all). This is the brightest proof of how empty the Ukrainian treasury is.

The refusal of Washington to interfere in Ukrainian affairs, as paradoxical as it can appear, will lead only to a deterioration of the situation in general. The local elite isn’t able to govern the State. As of now it has been engaged only in the redistribution of the resources that it inherited from the USSR. I.e., in order for them to “effectively govern”, someone must provide them with an inexhaustible resource stream.

Russia won’t be able to quickly replace the emptiness in Ukraine that was left by America, because, as was said above, there are simply no local adequate governors, and in order to appoint their own (by the way, where to find experts for one more State if even for Crimea there aren’t enough?) it is necessary to occupy the territory and in an armed way to overthrow authorities in power. This, of course, isn’t difficult to do. But this decision drops out of the traditions of Russian politics.

In Ukraine during the course of the civil war a big group of people formed who committed war crimes and who are fairly afraid of criminal prosecution, and even of spontaneous people’s revenge. This is both the volunteers from nazi battalions and the officers of the SBU, who turned the special service into a political secret police, the military, who gave and executed the orders for barbarous attacks and shelling of the cities of Donbass, the officials who massively violated the laws and the constitution, and gangs of “patriots”, which are engaged in the purely criminal seizure of enterprises and property. In total just the people who are active and are aware of their criminal actions in the country are more than 100,000. And all of them are concentrated in the structures of governance and the law enforcement bloc. There is also a passive biomass from the “heroes of the ATO” and “supporters of the European choice”. Here already the figures will go into the millions for those who don’t wait for Russia in Ukraine.

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I.e., it is impossible to impose rigid-enough repressions. But, as we remember, mass repressions cause resistance from the widest layers of the population and we enter into a vicious circle of mutual terror, from which there is no positive exit.

And here we haven’t yet factored in the calculation of the resources necessary for the restoration of normal life in Ukraine, and also the need to solve its further fate and to legalize this decision (whatever it is) in the international-legal plan.

To come into Ukraine now is an adventure in the style of the US, but not at all in a Russian style. Especially as nobody cancelled the more important from a geopolitical point of view Syrian crisis, the permanently breaking out Korean crisis, which is in fact a reflection of the crisis in the Asia-Pacific region caused by the accruing American-Chinese standoff. And also the internal political crisis in the US can’t but disturb Russia. And all of these crises attract to themselves huge resources, which simply can’t be unproductively tied down to Ukraine for years.

That’s why for the current moment, when the US already left and Russia still didn’t come, Ukraine finds itself more and more under the power of its own elite, which already started settling scores among themselves with enthusiasm. Such a situation opens a window of opportunities in front of the Republics of Donbass, for which the hope to return their territories and legalize themselves in the international-legal plan appears. But in general, the situation of the most part of the population of Ukraine will only worsen, and final degradation of State structures and the revelry of banditry can force neighboring countries to close the border with Ukraine, which will additionally worsen the situation of the wide masses.

Thus, the Russian geopolitical strategy, providing a victory with smaller forces due to a beautiful maneuver, appears to be much more effective than the American strategy of permanent power quelling. However, it is no less rigid concerning the population of hostile countries. The difference is that the US create conditions for genocide, while Russia, in order to preserve strategic efficiency, is often compelled not to interfere in situations where in the neighboring State the mechanism of bloody chaos was already started.

SOS-patriots often criticize Russia for “indifference toward the Russian people who found themselves abroad against their own will”. This emotional reaction can be understood. But the leaving of Moscow by Kutuzov caused a no less emotional reaction in society. Shaken by the news, General Bagration even tore off the bandages from his wounds and died. And war was won, although Moscow burned down [at that time all buildings were constructed from wood – ed].

In every war we are forced to sacrifice something. And this something is always human lives. Perhaps for the first time in its history, Russia now fights so that costs are incurred generally by the citizens of other States, and Russia gets the prizes. When the citizens of the countries incurring costs are indignant, their motivation is understandable for me. But when indignation takes a hold of Russian “patriots”, I start to suspect them of being fools or traitors. They actually demand from the country to replace the resource-saving strategy, which is more effective than the American one, with another one, which by its political inefficiency and expenditure of resources will surpass the American one manyfold.

Kutuzov in 1812 set the task of preserving the army, because only in this way could he provide a turn of the tide in war. In the present conditions Kutuzov’s preservation of the army means the preservation of the stability of the Russian State and the positive dynamics of growth of its economy. Only a rich and stable Russia attracts friends and allies. A Russia that is wallowed in the conflicts of others, ruined, incapable of gathering and concentrating in a decisive direction resources that are scattered on different minor crisis points will not be needed by many.

Liddell Hart wrote that the purpose of any war is peace, peace that is better than the pre-war one (at least in your own understanding). Respectively, if your peace became worse, then it is unimportant where your troops are and how many enemies you killed — you lost the war. The acting strategy of Russia unambiguously leads it to peace, a better peace than the pre-war one. Its domestic and external situation improved and became stronger even in the course of the not-yet-ended global standoff with the US. Moreover, not only the vector, but also the dynamics of the ongoing processes are positive for Russia.

This is an achievement that it is necessary if not to be proud of, then at least to cherish.

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