Putin’s Strategy Echoing Hitler’s Mistakes on the Eastern Front

James Thornton Harris is editor of the History News Network. For more information, see www.JamesThorntonHarris.com.

Red Army soldiers in Stalingrad, February 1943

In one of the ironies of history, while Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to call Ukraine’s leaders “Nazis”, it is his own flawed military strategy that closely matches Hitler’s during the invasion. disaster of Russia in 1941.

Here are five mistakes in military strategy made by Putin and Hitler:

● Their decision-making was based on an ignorant and paranoid worldview in which both believed that their nations were being deliberately turned into “slave states” by a hostile West.

● Based on a combination of poor intelligence and wishful thinking, they both assumed that their armies could quickly break through a weak and disorganized enemy army and force surrender.

● The two dictators surrounded themselves with yes men and obsequious generals who lacked critical thinking and only told their bosses what they wanted to hear.

● They both believed that the United States did not have the will to fight, and that if they got involved, their forces (or weapons) would arrive too little or too late to make a difference.

paranoid worldview

Both Hitler and Putin shared a bitter, grievance-filled view based on the belief that their nation was deliberately surrounded and weakened by “hegemonic” Western nations. They both based their diplomatic and military strategy on the principle that they must be allowed to expand and that the Western nations (or “Anglo-Saxon nations”) must withdraw and accept a “new reality”.

In their 2021 book, Hitler’s American Bethistorians Brendan Simms and Charlie Laderman describe Hitler’s distorted outlook:

He blamed the defeat of Germany (during the First World War) on a plot between the British, Americans and the Jewish plutocracy… According to him, the Germans were then (economically strangled) and reduced to the status of “slaves” in a plantation.

In a September 30 speech in the Kremlin, Putin accused the United States and NATO of creating a “neo-colonial system” aimed specifically at destroying Russia. He railed against the “undisguised wickedness of these Western elites towards Russia”, caused by his nation’s refusal to be “robbed during the period of colonial conquest”.

The fantasy of easy victory

In making the decision to launch a massive invasion of a neighboring country, Hitler and Putin relied on faulty intelligence. In both cases, they had shaped their intelligence services to tell them what they wanted to hear and eliminated any independent voices that would question their judgement.

Hitler predicted that his invasion of Russia, Operation Barbarossa, would take no more than four months. He told his confidants that the Russian people were racially inferior and that the communist leadership was inept. He assured those around him that “just kick down the door and the whole rotten structure will crumble!”

Hitler’s fantasy that Stalin’s army would be child’s play was shared by German military leaders. In 1941 he distributed a “Handbook on the Military Forces of the USSR” which assured soldiers that the Red Army was “unfit for modern warfare and incapable of decisive resistance”.

Putin’s belief, which his intelligence services endorsed, was that the Ukrainian leadership was weak and that he would flee Kyiv once Russian tanks approached. He also publicly proclaimed that the Ukrainian people wanted to be part of Russia and would welcome its invading forces.

Arun Iyer, a senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy, noted in a recent report that “the Russian intelligence apparatus miscalculated both the resolve and capability (of Ukraine) as well as the level of support from the International community”.

Obsequious Generals

Both Hitler and Putin insisted on personally directing the military strategy of the invasion and appointed “yes men” as army commanders to carry out their plans.

When Hitler launched his invasion of Russia in June 1942, the German army was commanded by General Wilhelm Keitel, a man chosen for his willingness to carry out the Führer’s orders without question. Other generals distrusted him and called him “Lakeitel”, a pun derived from lakai (“lackey” in German).

Sergei Shoigu, who has no military experience, was appointed defense minister by Putin in 2012. The son of a Communist Party boss in a remote Soviet region, he held a low-level government post under Boris Yeltsin. He gained Putin’s trust and quickly became a close friend, even going on vacation with him.

Role of the United States

Both Hitler and Putin viewed democracies in the United States and Europe as inherently weaker than their authoritarian regimes.

According to Timothy Snyder, a Yale history professor and author of the books on tyranny and blood lands, Putin, and other dictators generally believe that democracies are inherently weak: “Authoritarian regimes seem efficient and attractive because they can make quick decisions. But they often make bad decisions quickly.

Snyder added that “Trump’s attempt to overturn the January 6, 2021 election has left the American system fragile.” By invading Ukraine, Putin thought he would “make Biden weak”.

In Blood and ruins, historian Richard Overy notes that Hitler had “disparaging opinions about the ability or willingness of the United States to fight a major war given its lack of military preparedness” in 1940 and its “long history of isolationism “. At one point, Hitler said that American officers would crumble in battle because they were “just businessmen in uniform, not real soldiers.”

Putin, according to US Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, made a similar mistake. Kendall said the dictator ‘overestimated the capability of his own military’ while he ‘seriously underestimated the global reaction that invading Ukraine would provoke’, as well as ‘the will and courage of the Ukrainian people “.

How will the war end?

Hitler’s Operation Barbarossa lasted four years, cost at least 20 million dead (civilian and military), and only ended when the Red Army captured Berlin and approached within a few blocks of the Fuehrer’s bunker.

Why did Hitler fight to the end when virtually all of his remaining defense personnel told him defeat was inevitable?

Hitler insisted that “history teaches us that all coalitions break, but you must wait for the moment…we will continue this struggle until, as Frederick the Great said, ‘l ‘one of our accursed enemies gives up in despair'”.

Hitler believed that President Franklin Roosevelt was controlled by the “Jewish plutocracy”. When FDR died suddenly on April 12, 1945, Hitler celebrated in his bunker, saying the United States would now sue for peace. But President Harry Truman was quick to assure the nation that he would press “full speed” to win the war.

Many pundits believe Putin is prolonging the war – hoping, like Hitler – that the US and European coalition will crumble and Ukraine will be forced to sue for peace.

Again, this is probably the fantasy of an isolated dictator. Rafael Behr, columnist on European affairs for The Guardian diary, observed,

Dictators underestimate the strength of democracies because they see only the weakness of leaders who submit to the risk of regime change in free elections. They see strong opposition and a free press as vulnerabilities in the system, making it harder to control from above. They fail to realize that it is the qualities behind resilience and adaptability that have made liberal democracy the most successful model of organizing society in the history of human civilization.

So far, the democracies are winning. We can only hope it stays that way.

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