Prof. Dima Adamsky is one of the world’s leading authorities on Russian strategic thinking, explained an analysis at Haaretz. So, as Ukraine has come under attack by the Russians, Adamsky has been "stunned" and "unusually emotional."
In The New Statesman, he explained that Ukraine is the medium, not the message from Vladimir Putin itself.
"Because the Russian build-up before the offensive was so large, it can’t end with a whimper," he explained "Putin perceives himself in historical terms. He identifies totally with Russia’s destiny and greatness. There is nothing in his life that interests him more than that. After all, he’s not apprehensive that he won’t be re-elected."
“When he talks about the West’s attempt to impose on Russia a way of life that does not suit it, he sounds almost messianic," Adamsky continued. "On the other hand, the Americans can’t allow themselves to buckle under and display weakness either. They are in the midst of a strategic competition with China. Accordingly, they too will be ready to escalate some of their moves. Russia and the United States will have to find a way to exit from this collision. It’s only Ukraine that no one is taking into account."
But this comes at a time that Russians are furious over the invasion. A petition from "Russians Against War with Ukraine" had more than a million signatures in just a few days.
Putin's message ahead of his invasion was the “distillation of everything Putin has projected in the past few years. I don’t tend to the dramatic, but I felt shivers as I listened to it. I recalled Stalin’s famous speech in November 1941, when the Germans neared Moscow," he said.
He explained to Haaretz that he had five major conclusions based on what he's observed in the early days of this new war.
The first is that it has nothing to do with Ukraine.
"Ukraine is from his perspective the most painful symptom of what’s bothering him," said Adamsky. "He is out to overhaul the rules of the international game that were formed at the end of the Cold War, contrary to Russia’s will."
He explained that this idea of bringing back the old Soviet Union is something Putin has been talking about for 15 years. After his speech at the Munich Conference, Putin invaded Georgia and began the cyber attacks on Ukraine.
"From Putin’s point of view, he issued warning after warning, but the world didn’t heed the Russian distress signals," said Adamsky. "When the West started to expand its influence in areas close to Russia, it thereby maximized its security at Moscow’s expense. For eight years Putin demanded a diplomatic solution, since the Russian invasion of Crimea. In his eyes, the government in Kyiv has no independent right of existence; it is only a tool in the hands of the West. He has now moved to address both the symptom and the big problem: the system of international relations."
Putin's goal is to be an equal partner at the table of great powers again. "For the Russians, this is not just propaganda – they really and truly believe in it," said Adamsky.
His second point is that what's now happening is "unfolding according to two central notions in Russian strategic thinking – levels of escalation and multidimensional coercion (or deterrence)."
The Putin plan will be military and non-military. Soft power and hard. Cyber attacks and traditional ground war.
“The third conclusion is that the Russian army isn’t what it used to be," Adamsky explained. While they might be armed with a hefty sum of nuclear weapons, the modern era of warfare is an all-inclusive effort as described in No. 2. The first time they were able to implement their modernized military was in 2015 in Syria.
"What we will see in the coming days is their attempt to reprise their successes in Syria, with double the might," he explained. "They will seek to demonstrate the advanced combat capabilities they have developed, this time on the global stage. This will involve as few boots on the ground as possible and as much precision fire as possible. And in contrast to what they did in Syria, they will try to reduce the harm to the civilian population – not because they suddenly care about questions of combat morality, but in order to show off their military excellence."
His fourth conclusion is that Putin clearly sees the two major Russian failures being the German invasion in 1941 and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Putin thinks that the lesson there is to act militarily not to appease.
His final conclusion goes to questions of how to end the war from Russia's point of view. Putin has mentioned nuclear weapons twice, though most don't believe he'd ever actually use them. When asked whether Americans should fear a nuclear war, President Joe Biden said frankly, "no."
But as Adamsky explained Putin "can’t end with a whimper" because he's trying to show his strength on the world stage.
"Russia is striving to demonstrate that it has improved its national security," he said. "Putin perceives himself in historical terms. He identifies totally with Russia’s destiny and greatness. There is nothing in his life that interests him more than that. After all, he’s not apprehensive that he won’t be reelected."