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The one thing that the US and allies... must not do to help Ukraine
And... we must do everything except that!
Putin desperately needs Russian patriotic fervor. The only way he’ll get it is if the US and NATO are involved in the conflict directly, and/ or on Russian soil.
Over the past couple of months, Putin’s desperation to inflame patriotism among Russian citizens, has and continues to fail. He needs a homerun but continues to strike out. In this same period of time, he is also using words and provocative acts to draw NATO into war. These two issues are directly connected but the US and many allied national security communities fail to understand the connection well. Therefore, they are unable to impact what could potentially be, a dramatic escalation of “Putin’s War,” if Putin makes the connection first.
It takes a deep and working knowledge of narrative to understand his intent and why it could be a catastrophic mistake to not seize the initiative, regarding influence. I will try and offer a succinct overview in order to raise awareness in the US national security, influence community, hopefully spurring some activity to address this issue effectively.
I will begin by walking us into this topic, point-by-point.
2. Like all commanders, when things go badly, they must “rally the troops,” including the Homefront.
3. When attempting to rally support, patriotism is a critical and effective tool of influence. Every single thing about war or conflict involves influence, even the shooting part or what the miliary calls, “kinetic actions.”
a. Since all war is influence, everything about “Putin’s War,” is called Narrative Warfare, or as my colleague, Dr. Ajit Maan would say, “we’re not in a war over information but in a war over the meaning of information.”
b. How warriors, civilians, the home front, the world see things, make critical differences in how they prosecute a war. Control the influence and you have far more control over the war itself. In narrative terms, this means controlling the meta narrative.
c. In fact, narrative underpins every bit of influence attempted. Without it, influence is at best, a semi-educated guess.
4. For those who actually understand narrative, unlike the US national security community, there are serious principles regarding, how to “effectively trigger audiences” based on their narrative identity.
a. NI or narrative identity is a long and complex discussion so I will be brief, focusing rather, on defining the problem succinctly.
5. Identity, worldwide is a very different thing to all groups, movements, states, organizations, countries and individuals.
6. Identity, properly analyzed and understood can be triggered easily and predictably, via narrative-centric influence campaigning.
a. I often use the example of how, we all know how to “push buttons” in regard to those we know well, like family, spouses, partners, siblings or very close friends. We can do this because we have an intimate understanding of “who they are.” In these cases, it’s also because we share a great many, “layers of their identity.”
7. In Putin’s case, he now needs a patriotic fervor in order to restock the ranks of his severely depleted military, with troops willing to sacrifice for the motherland. This isn’t going well, with Russian men fleeing the country in droves.
8. In Russia, like other nations there are deep layers of patriotic identity. Triggering it predicably so far has been out of Putin’s reach. Dumb luck though, may offer him some success if we don’t interrupt the process. Remember, “even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes.”
a. Russia’s modern and somewhat historical identity in regard to patriotism revolves around a deeply ingrained paranoia of being conquered, in modern times by the West and revolting against oppressive leaders using Russians as cannon-fodder. This is a delicate balance.
b. Putin, in his own way is poking NATO and other support for Ukraine in order to get them to take an action that Putin can convince Russians, is an attack on Mother Russia.
c. This has failed so far. Case in point, Eastern Ukraine where Putin tried since 2014 but failed to trigger a patriotic response, by claiming that the east was actually Russian. Even Russian speaking eastern Ukrainians rejected this rallying cry because their identity is actually Ukrainian. This paints a picture of failure regarding Putin’s understanding of a subjugated east’s identity.
d. He is actually attempting the same in Crimea where Russia also illegally annexed Ukrainian turf in 2014. Even though he booted resident Tatars out of Crimea, those who remained have never believed that they were anything but Ukrainian… yes, again based on their unique identity.
e. If Putin can somehow get NATO and others to attack the actual Russian homeland or posture such, I can nearly guarantee that he will not fail to rally the patriotic fervor of Russians now disgraced by his war on fellow Slavs in Ukraine.
f. At the moment, Russians are understandably shamed by Putin’s actions. One way to mitigate some of that shame would be to defend their homeland from a foe that they are already paranoid about.
g. We cannot allow Putin to maneuver us into such a posture… under any circumstances. Our fight is not with the Russian people, but their corrupt, thuggish leadership.
9. These points and deep identity analysis of the Russian identity clearly indicate that we must, at all costs stay out of the actual fighting and never cross the line onto Russian soil. If we do, we give Putin the one thing that he must have in order to survive his grave miscalculations.
10. Finally, we must work together with the other nations supporting Ukraine, to stay the course with our brothers and sisters in Ukraine, fighting to save their nation. Freedom is a shared layer of identity between Ukrainians, the US and our allies.
11. Putin cannot be negotiated with because he doesn’t respect or adhere to agreements, treaties etc.
12. If he is not defeated in Ukraine, his immoral penchant for aggression will only increase.
The point of laying this out point-by-point, is to make the problem crystal clear. With a clear understanding of the problem, hopefully the US national security community can campaign globally to ensure commitment to Ukraine until they recover their illegally annexed land and hopefully attain reparations from Russia for the grievous damage inflicted on Ukraine’s people, her infrastructure and her culture.
Like the proverbial pebble tossed into a pond, leading in effective and ethical influence pays dividends completely unrelated to Russia. Putin’s friends like Xi in China and Modi in India must see that when the world stands together against aggression by despots, emperor wannabes, authoritarians, populists and thugs, it is the aggressor who loses. Both have global ambitions, especially Xi. China’s strategy under Xi is to attain regional hegemony by 2035 and global domination by 2049, their centennial celebration.
The core narrative of our NSS is to work together with other law-abiding nations, often called the “rules-based, international order” to protect and maintain an equitable, secure and prosperous global order. Xi wants the opposite. His dream puts China at the middle of the world with every other nation supporting China as a tributary state. The single most important tool to achieve a better rules-based world is collective enforcement of international law, rules and norms. Nothing scares Xi more than a world unified by the rule of law.
Putin has forced the world to deal with his and Xi’s threats sooner and in a different manner than expected. No problem… if we campaign effectively in ethical influence. Missteps, like allowing Putin to rally the Russian people to his illegal/ immoral war would herald a severe setback and send the wrong message to China and others.
In order to build a more equitable and sustainable future, stopping Putin now, is essential. Stopping Putin by empowering Ukraine, even more so. The dramatically dangerous misstep of going to war directly with Russia, puts it all at risk. Either we face up to what secures our future now, or risk losing it entirely later. It’s truly that simple.
My best for the upcoming week,