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By Kris Osborn, President - Center for Military Modernization

One former high-level intelligence official suspects that part of the problem with the attacking Russian force may relate to the fact that Putin may be getting incomplete or inaccurate information regarding developments in the war. This could be one reason why Russia appears to have made few adjustments to their failed strategies and is instead largely adhering to its straightforward, linear mechanized assault against Ukraine, a technique which has yielded few effective results.

“My theory was that the FSB, the old KGB, was reporting good news and reporting what the leader wanted to hear. And they've all by the way, they've always done that since the 1950s, and embassies abroad. They always give the leader what they want to hear. Well, as a result, if you had that information, it'd be logical to assume the Ukrainian government would collapse in two days,” Mike Mears, Former Director of Human Capital, CIA, told Warrior in an interview.

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It would make sense, given Putin’s known terror tactics and willingness to imprison or detain many of his own people, that his subordinates may simply operate out of a sense of fear. This fear of Putin, one could easily imagine, may lead them to distort war developments, minimize losses or embellish Russian successes, something which could mis-inform Putin and lead him to continue making the same mistakes.

Ruling or governing by fear is certainly a well-documented tactic used by dictators and autocrats throughout history, some recent examples of which might include Stalin’s reign of terror, Saddam Hussein in Iraq and many others. 

Machiavellian Leadership

Such leadership styles are often described as distinctly Machiavellian, referring to Italian philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli’s text “The Prince” written in the 1500s. Intended as a guide or manual instructing new young Princes how to achieve and sustain power or rule over a Principality, the text is famous for advancing a classic “ends justifies the means” kind of argument. “If a Prince maintains his principality, regardless of outcome or effect, the means will always be judged honorably,” is an often-cited famous excerpt from the Prince. Machiavelli even specifies a need for “cruelty well used,” as he called it, a method of employing terrorizing or punitive methods to subordinate, control or subdue would-be detractors.

Part of Machiavelli's roadmap for maintaining Power includes the specific use of “fear” as a tactic. Machiavelli famously explains that, as a Prince, he would rather be feared than loved, saying “men love at their own convenience.” If you are the dictator, however, men “fear” at your convenience.

Throughout the centuries, some have praised Machiavelli while others reviled or rejected his thoughts on political leadership. Saddam Hussein was reported to keep a copy of The Prince in his bedroom, and others throughout human history have embraced what is now known as a Machiavellian tactic to scare subjects into submission. In the case of Putin regarding Ukraine, should Mears and other top experts be correct, his Machiavellian approach ultimately did not serve him well, as he was led into making critical war decisions based upon false information

Kris Osborn is the President of Warrior Maven - Center for Military Modernization and the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President, Center for Military Modernization