Terror Unleashed: The Russian Way of War
As we learn of the events in Bucha, Kherson, and other as yet unearthed horrors, it is worth remembering that this is not a new tactic of the Russian military. Indeed, it’s how they've waged war for the better part of 300 years; this is what they do.
The events in Ukraine are shaping up to be all too reminiscent of the Winter War and the Continuation War with Finland, the Soviet-Finnish wars fought in 1939-1940 and 1941-1944, respectively. A key point to remember: Finland lost both those wars. They gave up land, paid a war indemnity, and suffered 63,000 deaths in a population of 3.4 million. It’s easy to read some history, hear the legend of "The White Death" (Simo Häyhä; look him up), learn about the damage inflicted on the Soviets and think, “Wow, the Finns beat the shit out of them." Sure, they mounted a spirited defense, but they lost. The Russians took about 3,500 POWs, but only 60% made it back—which makes what the Russians did to the German POWs look like Covid mortality compared with Ebola mortality.
The Finns ultimately got what they were after: continued existence and significant, if impeded, sovereignty. But the Finns held closely to the Soviet line. So close, in fact, that when, during a discussion of ongoing hostilities with the West, the possibility of reigning in the Finns came up, Stalin is alleged to have replied, “Why would I do that when I have [Finnish Prime Minister] Mannerheim?”
All of which is to say the terror being unleashed in Ukraine is part of a systematic process. It is a feature, not a bug. There are photos of dead Finnish children. There are going to be a lot more photos of dead Ukrainians. The stories will only get more gruesome. Still, you can't let anger and rage get in the way of ending the war.
You may, as I do, find yourself stuck between the anti-totalitarian and the anti-war factions, and find both positions utterly devoid of sanity. The anti-war crowd initially insisted the Ukrainians would lose as fast as the Afghan National Army; any other assertion at the time was considered laughable. And now? Now the Ukrainians have a real chance to drive the Russians right out of their country by the end of the summer. To say that the Ukrainian people were doomed to lose a war without a shot fired, was the most cowardly thing the anti-war left could've said. Their basic line of argument – "Don't fight, it'll be bad, you won't gain, it's futile" – was borderline propaganda.
Conversely we have the utter madness that is the anti-totalitarians stance: “We need to expand the fight, give Ukraine real offensive capabilities, put NATO forces within striking distance to….” To what? Is the plan to conquer Russia? Because that’s worked well in the past. Every screw not already being turned by the West runs the real risk of nuclear war. Your anger is justified, your aim is poor.
What we can do now is try to push the peace table toward the people we need sitting at it. It appears as if we’ve told the Russians that after they cease hostilities, they’ll get their Crimea recognition and probably other territorial concessions. I think that’s a large part of why Russia appears to just be consolidating Black Sea real estate. Hopefully by July we can have a steady cease fire and the Ukrainians will have time to put their lives back together before winter. But they’ll need some help.
The Ukrainians will need money, labor, and a promise to rebuild. The U.S., Poland, Germany, and Japan should be ready to send the best large-scale private construction companies on the planet to ensure that Ukrainians don’t get into winter 2023 living in massive temporary housing or worse, destitute.
Imagine looking down from a distant hill, upon a Ukrainian town. The sun is up, but the heat of the day has yet to start. Rising from the town is a cacophony of saws, nail guns, welding torches, the scraping of metal on metal as old Soviet brutalist architecture is torn and replaced with Ukrainian-designed structures bringing the cities and towns back to life.
These commitments are sane and humane and within our power to enact now.
Ben Price was a US Army paratrooper from 2003-2008 with the 173rd. His specializations are defense policy, identifying fraud, and making great beer.