War is drawing nearer to Moscow and the Atlantic allies are resolutely united. Two powerful heads of state resolve to meet to discuss a “New Order.’ Armored trains are prepared to deliver them. Both strongmen are confident of ultimate victory, and they are determined to dominate Europe and the West economically and militarily.
Conquering Ukraine, however, is first, and maps of gains are already laid out for review upon arrival at their wartime conclave.
While this may seem like a scenario playing out today, the two dictators are not Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. Not yet. That meeting is soon to come.
Rather, the two men are Nazi Chancellor Adolf Hitler and Italian Duce Benito Mussolini – and the year is 1941.
That August, Hitler met with Mussolini near the small village of Strzyżów in southern Poland, where his “Anlage Süd” bunker, replete with a hardened train bunker, was located. During the conference, Hitler’s armored train, paradoxically named “Amerika,” was parked there, while Mussolini’s train was in a tunnel near Stępina.
Ukraine, they know, is key to controlling Europe, and the news is encouraging as they walk the battlefields of the “Battle of Uman,” where Joseph Stalin’s army met a decisive defeat. First central Ukraine, next the rest of the country.
Then, as today, Ukraine is fundamental to the security of Europe and the West. Now, 82 years later Putin and Kim Jong-un are set to meet to ensure the nation’s destruction. Not as a premature victory lap as Hitler and Mussolini did in Uman. However, out of a growing wartime exigency given Kyiv’s Multi-Domain Operation strategy, Ukraine is taking the fight to Russia, and perilously drawing closer to putting a decisive end to Putin’s ‘special military operation.’
Nonetheless, it is essential to understand Putin is not conceding. His summoning of Kim Jong-un to travel to Vladivostok or Moscow to discuss supplying weapons and ammunition, makes it abundantly clear Putin has no desire to give up on his war in Ukraine. Conditions for the meeting were set in July when Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu traveled to Pyongyang to attend the celebration of North Korea’s 70th anniversary of "Victory Day."
What the Kremlin lacks in supplies, military equipment, weapons and ammunition must be outsourced from what we coined a year ago as his “arsenals of evil,” and North Korea alongside Iran is at the top of that list.
Finding bodies to fill Russian uniforms and trenches does not seem to be an issue either. But they will not come from Moscow or St. Petersburg; rather, through the mobilization of reservists, compulsory military service and foreign fighters.
On July 18th, the Russian Duma made more reservists available for mobilization when it “extended the maximum age at which men can be mobilized to serve in the military by five years, meaning that some as old as 70 can now be called up to fight.” In addition, beginning January 1st, 2024, the upper age limit for men to be called up for compulsory military service will increase from 27 to 30, and a law was passed that “prohibits conscripts from leaving the country once the enlistment office has sent them their draft notice.”
Hitler turned to his so-called “Hitler Youth” and old men as Nazi Germany began to lose – and now so too must Putin.
Putin is also outsourcing his fight internationally. Fighters from Cuba, Syria, and Chechnya are being recruited, while ads target ethnic Russians in Kazakhstan and Armenia, along with migrants from Central Asia working in Russia and Russian-occupied Ukraine. According to United Kingdom intelligence, signing bonuses of up to “approximately £4,000 [$5002] as well as a monthly salary of around £1,500 [$1875]” are being used to lure recruits.
Putin’s calculus is clear. Call it what it is – a war of attrition or “never-ending war.” The U.S. Presidential Election is 14 months away, and polls are trending towards cutting funding for the war in Ukraine, and Putin is banking he can ride out the storm. Until he does, he has little regard for the lives of his soldiers, but he needs equipment, weapons, ammunition, and supplies to sustain them and freeze the war.
Kim Jong-un will support Putin for a price. Specifically, technology that could advance its military satellite and nuclear-powered submarine capabilities, along with its nuclear and missile programs. He might also renew his August 2022 offer to provide the Kremlin upwards to 100,000 volunteers to fight in Ukraine.
Dealing with Russia would validate Kim Jong-un and make North Korea a Mussolini-like player in Moscow and Beijing’s vision of a Multipolar World. He would take center stage, and as Lee Byong-chul, a North Korean expert at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University in Seoul stated, achieving “a win-win situation for both sides.”
Warnings from White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan that North Korea will “pay a price” for any arms deal with Russia will go unheeded. “Pay a price” implies economic sanctions, and thus far, as “deterrence,” they did not stop Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, nor Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.
“Pay a price” is a hollow threat. Tough talk sans the punch. Sullivan’s declaration, "[This] is not going to reflect well on North Korea” is not going to deter Kim Jong-un. Neither did State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel vaguely declaring the U.S. would “take appropriate steps as necessary” in coordination with Washington’s partners when pressed about “potential consequences.”
All Kim Jong-un likely heard was “yada, yada, yada,” and he will not lose any sleep traveling on his armored train to Russia.
Nor will Putin, if several reports earlier this week prove to be accurate. According to BILD, a German publication, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres sent a “confidential letter” dated August 28th to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov proposing in exchange for renewing the Black Sea grain deal, Russian banks would return to SWIFT, Lloyd’s of London would insure Russia vessels against Ukrainian attacks, and Russian oligarch assets would be unfrozen.
In another potentially damning report, Andrei Piontkovsky and Frederick Starr in the Kyiv Post claimed there has been back-channel discussions led by Thomas Graham, former senior director for Russia on the National Security Council staff, and Lavrov – and all designed to ensure Russia does not lose the war.
According to Piontkovsky and Starr, Sullivan denied responsibility and his press spokesperson issued a statement saying, “The United States has not requested any official or former officials to open a back channel and is not seeking such a channel. Nor are we passing any messages through others. When we say nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine, we mean it.” Nonetheless, Piontkovsky and Starr maintain Sullivan “lied.”
The Biden Administration’s red lights are interpreted as green lights by Putin and Kim Jong-un. Further, the White House’s permissive environment on national security undermines its messaging to Russia and North Korea. Nor will Cold War era tactics demonstrating military capabilities or show of force – B52 flyover and Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile testing – intimidate let alone deter Putin and Kim Jong-un.
Kim Jong-un’s North Korea is already one of the most isolated countries on the planet. Additional hardships incurred by Western economic sanctions will likely be offset by Russia and China – and responded to by North Korean missile tests in the Sea of Japan.
Before Putin and Kim Jong-un meet in a modern day “Anlage Süd” summit, Washington and Brussels must stop making policy decisions that will only result in turning Kyiv’s fight for independence into a “forever war.” Kim Jong-un already knows that game. North Korea’s corrupt regime has survived playing the “forever war” game with South Korea, Japan and the U.S. – and now Putin is betting he can play the same “forever war” game with the Biden Administration and NATO.
Ukraine is approaching the 19th month in a war of survival. The U.S. and NATO chose to ‘stand with’ Ukraine and support their defense of sovereignty, territorial integrity, and democracy – to defend against Russian aggression. Against all odds, Kyiv turned back Putin’s onslaught, and are now in position to win the war.
For Ukraine the best solution is to win now. Not to wait for Russia to receive military assistance from North Korea. Zelensky and his generals know how to win, but they need the tools necessary to take down the Russian Bear.
As M1 Abrams main battle tanks roll into Ukraine, reports that the U.S. is once again considering sending ATACMS is encouraging, but waiting months to receive the precision deep fire missiles is the cost – unless the Biden Administration authorizes Poland and Romania to contribute from their stockpiles.
Last week, an unnamed senior State Department official told reporters, “It’s very important that Ukraine win this war. And by ‘win,’ I mean as President [Joe] Biden said, Russians leave all of Ukraine.” Winning, however, takes resolve.
Franklin Roosevelt was determined to defeat Hitler and Mussolini’s “New Order.” The Biden Administration must follow suit and vanquish Putin, Kim Jong-un and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s vision of a “Multi-Polar” world. Russia cannot be allowed to win the war, nor freeze the conflict.
Neither can Putin be given a ‘soft landing’ via third party negotiations “about Ukraine without Ukraine.” Biden got it right in Warsaw back in March 2022 when he said, "For God's sake, this man cannot remain in power."
Mr. President, if Putin wins in Ukraine, he will remain in power.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the authors and not necessarily of Kyiv Post.
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