You can have a lot of honorary titles and a wall papered with academic credentials and still expose yourself as inept analyst. Meet Sir Lawrence David Freedman, KCMG, CBE, PC, FBA. Wikipedia describes him as, ” a British academic, historian and author specialising in foreign policy, international relations and strategy. He has been described as the “dean of British strategic studies” and was a member of the Iraq Inquiry.”
A “Dean”? Made me think of Dean Wurmser from the comic classic, Animal House.
Sorry, but the latest work from Sir Lawrence smacks more of comedy than serious scholarship. Let me give you a taste:
Russian forces have failed to take complete control of any of the four oblasts, or administrative regions—Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia—that Putin claimed for Russia in September 2022. Much of the ground initially seized after the full-scale invasion has been relinquished, and more is being lost, albeit slowly, during the current Ukrainian offensive. Before February 2022, Russia could be confident that Ukraine would not be able to challenge the illegal annexation of Crimea, but now even Russia’s hold of the peninsula is no longer certain.
Normally a person with the pedigree of Sir Lawrence would proffer some kind of evidence to buttress his assertion that Russia’s control of Crimea is tenuous. Nope. Nothing. Freedman simply repeats the nonsensical claim of Biden and Blinken that Russia is “losing” territory. Simply not true. I guess he has not heard of Bakhmut or what Russia is now doing up north as it crosses the Oskol River and is driving Ukrainian troops backwards.
Putin is not close to achieving any of his war aims while the price of his gambit grows ever steeper. He may, of course, believe that at least some of his original objectives are still possible, or take some comfort from those analysts in the West who are convinced that the best Ukraine can hope for is a military stalemate.
Putin and the Russians have a pretty remarkable achievement with respect to one of their stated objectives at the outset of the Special Military Operation — demilitarize Ukraine. The catastrophic losses of manpower and equipment have left Zelensky and the Ukrainian Generals totally dependent on the flow of aid from NATO members. The situation for Ukraine is made even more dire because the United States and its NATO partners admit that they have drawn down their arsenal of weapons, ammunition and combat vehicles to dangerous levels. That is just on the military side of the equation.
You also have to take into account the political success Putin has achieved by forming a de facto alliance with China and defeating the economic sanctions imposed by the West. Russia’s robust military industry is churning out artillery shells, tanks, armored vehicles, artillery and drones while Joe Biden has admitted that the United States can no longer supply Ukraine with conventional 155 mm shells.
All trends—military, economic, diplomatic—continue to point in the wrong direction, and Putin has no convincing explanation for how the situation can be salvaged. The Russian president finds himself boxed in with no good options. He may indeed already be aware that the reckoning has begun. . . .
It is on the frontlines that the extent of the blunder has become inescapable and where there is the most evidence of dissent. The brief mutiny of the Wagner mercenary group had much to do with the desire of its leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, to protect his business model from the Defense Ministry. But Prigozhin also tapped into a wider dissatisfaction with Russia’s high command and its unimaginative strategy, wasteful tactics, and corrupt practices.
Corrupt practices? Last I checked it is not Russian weapons that are being sold on the international black market. Ukrainian military leaders, especially those responsible for logistics, are guilty of grabbing gobs of weapons and ammunition and spiriting them out of the country in exchange for bags of cash. I guess Freedman never saw the 60 Minutes piece from last year that describe this theft.
Sir Lawrence engages enthusiastically in psychological projection — i.e., he insists that Putin and Russia are isolated and wracked by low morale when the reality is that Ukraine, with its lack of air power, mobile air defense and declining stocks of artillery shells, is faltering and has no discernible path to stalemate, much less victory.
One way out of such a dilemma might be for Putin to get his propagandists to concoct a story to explain why, despite the appearance of loss, Russia has in fact won. The simplest story he can tell is that Russia’s war is not with Ukraine, but with NATO. The Kremlin has already told this story to explain Russian setbacks and show how Ukraine is acting as an agent of the West. The narrative could be turned into a heroic one about how, against all odds, Russia survived the wrath of world’s mightiest alliance. But this story is also, from a Russian perspective, suboptimal because if Russia were truly at war with NATO, it would have no chance of victory.
It is Freedman who is concocting a narrative of an illusionary victory by Ukraine. I think Sir Lawrence is miffed that Russia is not launching human wave attacks against heavily defended Ukrainian positions. The esteemed “Dean” gives the game away towards the end of his article — a Russian victory represents a massive defeat for NATO.
Ukraine is united and effective in its fighting. Furthermore, a Russian victory would be a geopolitical catastrophe for NATO, posing the far greater risk of an all-out war between the alliance and Russia. Better that Russia is pushed back by Ukraine, with its army degraded in the process.
Freedman is not completely delusional. His admission that a Russian victory will be a “geopolitical catastrophe for NATO” is not hyperbole. Kudos to Sir Lawrence — he got something right. But his incompetence as an analyst or prognosticator is illustrated by his ridiculous, groundless claim that Ukraine is “united and effective in its fighting.” It is not. The following graphic is harrowing and underscores that Russia is bleeding Ukraine: