The late Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was known for making controversial and sometimes nonsensical comments that caused listeners to reflect upon the intended meaning.
During a briefing in February 2002 concerning Iraq and whether it could have given terrorists weapons of mass destruction despite no evidence it did so, he famously said the following:
“As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
While the quote may sound a bit confusing, the message is this: In making any decision to act, and particularly when the impact involves foreign actors, while there will always be questions with answers known and unknown, there may well be questions unanticipated arising as well that, as such, were never asked nor answered. No amount of prior planning identifies unknown unknowns, which, upon occurring, potentially can disrupt a planned result.
During the past several days, Russian President Vladimir Putin has discovered firsthand two major unknown unknowns that have come back to haunt him during the Ukraine invasion.
The first of these really should not have qualified as an unknown unknown but, probably due to Russian overconfidence, did so. The second, however, clearly qualifies as an unknown unknown for the impossibility it could have been foreseen.
As to the first, confident they would sweep through Ukraine like a hot knife through butter, the Russians were caught flat-footed by the stiff resistance encountered. Communication intercepts among Russian units revealed confusion on the battlefield. They also reveal low morale not only due to Ukrainian resistance but also due to supply lines leaving Russians without food, fuel and ammo.
Stiff resistance on the battlefield is always a concern – and, therefore, a known unknown. It is irresponsible the Russians failed to recognize it as such, to be factored in ahead of time, instead choosing to simply dismiss it, based on what they believed would be a blitzkrieg operation, as an unknown unknown.
Within the last few days, however, it is the second unknown unknown that undoubtedly has caught Putin completely off guard.
Putin sent mercenaries out from the Russian-backed Wagner group as well as Chechen special forces teams to assassinate Ukraine’s charismatic President Volodymyr Zelensky, whose Churchillian style keeps his people fighting on. Three attempts on his life have thus far ended in failure – two by the former and one by the latter.
However, an unknown unknown contributed to the interception and elimination of the assassins. Unbelievably, intelligence concerning these attempts was shared in advance with the Ukrainians by Putin’s own Federal Security Service (FSB) – the KGB’s successor agency. As confirmed by Ukrainian Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Oleksiy Danilov, “I can say that we have received information from the FSB who today do not want to take part in this bloody war. And thanks to this, I can say that [Chechen leader Ramzan] Kadyrov’s elite group was destroyed directly, which came here to eliminate our president.”
In time of war, unknown unknowns can easily sound a death knell for those impacted accordingly on the battlefield. In Zelensky’s case, it came into play with the reverse impact of saving his life three times. Just as importantly, it demonstrates even the FSB considers Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine an ego trip in no way benefiting the plight of the Russian people.
Unfiltered news about issues plaguing the Ukraine invasion are educating the Russian people on what is occurring there. This is despite the tight rein Putin has maintained over the media for years. While his control over print, radio and television is secure, internet outlets are undermining the propagandist facade Putin’s mainstream media portray. Undoubtedly, he regrets his failure to erect a firewall as China did.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., recently opined someone in Russia should assassinate Putin, justifying it in the same sense as Brutus assassinated Caesar and Col. Claus von Stauffenberg attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Graham tweeted, “The only way this (invasion) ends is for somebody in Russia to take this guy out. You would be doing your country – and the world – a great service.”
Ex-pat tech entrepreneur Alex Konanykhin, who fled Russia to the U.S. after a failed kidnap attempt by rogue KGB agents, offered a $1 million dollar bounty to any Russian officer who, “complying with their constitutional duty,” arrests Putin as a war criminal.
FSB opposition to Putin’s invasion plan may be just the start of an effort to unravel the dictator’s power base. Should he remain committed to piecing together again the puzzle that once was the Soviet Union – at great cost to his country economically and militarily – he would be well advised to keep looking behind his back.
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This article was originally published by the WND News Center.