The Voices of War

64. John Spencer - On Ukraine, Urban Warfare And Lessons Learnt

VOW 64 | Urban Warfare


Today, I spoke with John Spencer, an award-winning scholar, professor, author, combat veteran, an internationally recognised expert, and advisor on Urban Warfare and other military-related topics. John currently serves as the Chair of Urban Warfare Studies with the Madison Policy Forum and was, until recently, the Chair of Urban Warfare Studies at the Modern War Institute at West Point. He is also the Co-Director of the Urban Warfare Project and host of the Urban Warfare Project podcast. John is also the author of the ‘Mini-Manual for the Urban Defender,’ a short compilation of John’s vast experience. There are currently over 100,000 copies of the manual in Ukraine, where it’s being used daily by the defenders.


Some of the topics we discussed are:

  • John’s background in Urban Warfare
  • Why Urban Warfare is the hardest
  • Explanation of a possible shift in initiative
  • The strategic importance of Kherson
  • Likelihood of Putin seeking a ‘frozen’ conflict
  • The ‘Battle of Kyiv’ and why Ukraine succeeded
  • Why understanding the ‘human domain’ is critical
  • Information and connectivity as weapons of war
  • Birth of ‘The Mini-Manual for the Urban Defender’ and its ongoing usage in Ukraine
  • Conditions necessary for success of ‘Total Defence’
  • Reminder why Urban Warfare is critical and here to stay
  • Why training for the conduct of area defence is essential
  • Reminder of why terrain is important
  • The ‘rule book’ of a nuclear-armed state
  • Importance of a Ukrainian victor to broader geopolitical tensions

During the chat, I referred to Carl Miller about Russian influence operations in the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) countries. You can find that interview here.


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John Spencer – On Ukraine, Urban Warfare And Lessons Learnt

Before we get to this next episode with the incredible John Spencer, a few short remarks. I’ve reached out to John to speak with him about the ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Given this extensive experience, especially in understanding the complexities of Urban Warfare, coupled with his daily engagement with people on the ground, I can think of no better person than John to shed some light on both the situation as well as how we got to where we are. Some of the key questions that John answers firstly are his assessment of the state of affairs. We then delve into why Urban Warfare is so difficult, and to make his point, John uses the Battle of Kyiv that occurred during the first days of the invasion.

John visited Ukraine in June. His insights are as contemporary as they can be. This led to a broader discussion about the reasons why Ukraine was able to withstand the initial Russian assault. It is not an exaggeration to say that everyday citizens, and not just the military saved Ukraine in those first few days. There’s a key lesson here that we discuss at length, and that is the importance of understanding the human terrain. In other words, understanding how a population within a given context is likely to respond to aggression is absolutely critical. We also talked extensively about the power of narrative and how when infused with modern communications, it can have a decisive impact.

We discussed how the Ukrainian ability to connect to the citizens instantaneously help galvanise resistance. We also discussed the birth and impact of John’s Mini-Manual for the Urban War Fighter. Towards the end, we talked about a number of key lessons to be taken away, possible directions of this war, as well as its impact on broader geopolitical tensions. All in all, as you will hear, this was a wide-ranging discussion, and you’ll be left in no doubt of John’s credibility and depth of knowledge. As always, I encourage you to share the episode and discuss any points of interest, either publicly or by reaching out directly. Without any further delay, I hope you enjoyed this important discussion.

My guest is John Spencer, and if you haven’t heard of this man, you’ve probably been living under a rock. He’s an award-winning scholar, professor, author, combat veteran, and internationally recognised expert and advisor on Urban Warfare and other military-related topics. He has served as an advisor to the top four-star General and other senior leaders in the US Army as part of strategic research groups from the Pentagon to the United States Military Academy. John also has over 25 years in the active Army as an infantry soldier and has held ranks from private to major. He has conducted two combat deployments to Iraq as an infantry platoon leader and a company commander.

John serves as the Chair of Urban Warfare Studies with the Madison Policy Forum and was the Chair of Urban Warfare Studies at the Modern War Institute at West Point. He’s also the Codirector of the Urban Warfare Project and host of the Urban Warfare Project Podcast. John is also the author of the Mini-Manual for the Urban Defender, which is a short compilation of John’s fast experience, and there are over 100,000 copies of the manual in Ukraine where it’s being used daily by the defenders. John has been a prominent commentator on the ongoing invasion of Ukraine and features daily in mainstream and social media. John joins me to talk about all things Ukraine, the realities of Urban Warfare, as well as lessons we can draw from this war. John, it’s a pleasure to host you on the show.

Thank you. It’s an honour to be on it.

I know our time is short, but I do have to ask a little about your background. How did you end up being the Urban Warfare expert that you are and what path led to this?

Thanks. I’ll try to be brief on that question. I joined the Army, what seems like a long time ago as a private straight out of our high school. I started off enlisted and went to first class switched over to become an officer.

You came over to the dockside.

I did. As soon as I did that, within months, I was jumping into Iraq, a part of the 2003 invasion with the paratroopers. Most of that tour was urban so we moved our way down to Kirkuk and then spent an amazing year with the formations. I came back, went to college, and was a ranger instructor, which was pivotal in my career for our Ranger school. I went from being a Ranger instructor at a Ranger school to back into combat, into Baghdad this time in 2008, where I was a company commander. In Baghdad in all urban during a big battle called the Battle of Sadr City, at the height of the insurgencies. A lot of tough fights and tough problem sets that were mostly urban. I’ve written about some of those moments.

I came back and I went into a fellowship program where I went to Georgetown to get my Master’s but I also spent two years in the Pentagon one year on the Joint Staff, one of the Army staff, and then had an amazing opportunity where urban started, although there’s urban experience in combat. Academically, in 2014, I was assigned to the Chief of Staff of the Army Strategic Studies Group. Twenty people were hand selected to be a think tank for the warhead general. For over a year, we studied one thing, how the US Army was prepared to fight and operate in megacities. Cities with over 10 million people. I learned a lot about research, but I learned a lot about gaps in preparing for urban operations because I try to cover the whole gamut.

I did that year an amazing report. I was a part of looking at how you design armies for urban operations. Moved to West Point as an assignment to be an instructor of tactics, and then eventually strategy. I was asked to help stand up a research centre, the Modern War Institute. That’s when I started writing about it. I wrote one article about how we use concrete in Iraq, which most probably a lot of your audience understands that we use concrete to achieve a great variety of objectives to include offensively in the battle outside our city. That article went viral. I was hooked.

VOW 64 | Urban Warfare
Urban Warfare: We use concrete to achieve a great variety of objectives to include offensively in the battle for the outside city.


I started studying and presenting. That was 2014 until I retired in 2018. I’d already started publishing lots on Urban Warfare at that point. In 2018, I retired from the military but then stayed on with the Modern War Institute as the Chair of Urban Warfare Studies, and I still am the Chair of Urban Warfare Studies. If I’m talking about Ukraine, there’s some distance that has to be done with a government institution I have to make. That’s why you’ve seen the Chair of Urban Warfare Studies.

I stayed on and then I had a dream job now. I travelled the world. I go into combat zones. I got back from Ukraine in June 2022. In 2021, I went to Nagorno-Karabakh to study the Battle of Shusha. I travelled the world looking at battles, talking to militaries, and teaching militaries. We even put together a course in California to teach all militaries how to plan for urban operations. I consider myself a student of urban operations because I learned something every day. Learning is living.

Now I have this dream job to only focus on one aspect of war. I know you know. You’re talking about war, it’s such a big arena. I get to focus on fighting in urban areas. Not just fighting, but planning, operations, everything from understanding cities, from global cities to feral cities, smart cities down to how you take down a building with a mix of civilians and enemies inside of it. I have the dream job.

It is a dream job for somebody that’s military-minded like yourself. I can see that. Many of my audience would freak out at the thought of studying the urban environment, which is perhaps a good pivot to talk about before we launch into Ukraine about Urban Warfare as a concept. You’ve publicly said that you consider it to be one of the hardest, if not the hardest environments that we fight in. Why do you say that?

I have a lecture I give on why it’s the hardest. I’ve had to argue against other academics that fighting in high mountain terrain is hard. Fighting in jungles was my first duty station. I was a private in the jungle of Panama. It was hard but hard is in the definition of trying to achieve a military objective. 1) We have to define Urban Warfare. Urban Warfare along this scale full of military operations, can be urban policing up to high-intensity urban combat. I cover the full gamut. I interview police chiefs and I talk about major battles of World War II and do case studies on World War II. Why is it the hardest?

Unlike any other terrain on the planet, by definition, urban means that there is a lot of physical build-ups, your concrete and buildings that are the physical three-dimensional terrain. Underground surface and super surface. Rooftops and all these things that make a scene in the environment hard. If you’re attacking into urban terrain, the one element of physical terrain makes it hard. Especially the way that militaries are designed now with the use of fires and superior ISR or Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance. The urban terrain, unlike other terrains, you can’t see through concrete. It makes it hard.

2) By definition, urban means that there’s a population there, lots of people. If you empty a city and have a lot of buildings, it’s not urban terrain, but it’s not urban. Once you have the presence of people, a military terrain is harder than in any other environment. There are no people in the jungle, although there are some, but where that people are a prominent part of the environment. That means under laws of war, you’re going to have restrictions on the use of force. You’re not going to do whatever you want.

The presence of people trying to achieve military terrain is harder than in any other environment. Click To Tweet

Depends on who, which we’ll get to.

There are going to be restrictions on the use of force. Protected populations, protected places, things you shouldn’t shoot at, the intermixing of bad and protected. It makes it the hardest to fight in because of these types of environments you’re going in there and the infrastructure. The 2nd and 3rd-world effects of military operations are easier to determine in other environments. In all other environments, I don’t care if it’s space to arctic but civilian infrastructure, 2nd and 3rd-order effects, but also the global connectedness of that infrastructure. Economic or commodities, most major cities are connected either locally, regionally, or globally. When you do a military operation there, calculating that second-order effect is very hard to determine.

3) Information. You mentioned information operations. If it’s truly urban terrain and you have this globally connected environment with millions of people in it, cell phones, cameras and sensors, the implications on the other populations that are at war. War means that there are three populations. There’s the military fighting the war, the politicians or the political governments that sent them to do the job, then you have the populations which support both entities. In information, environments can impact all three of those. We’ve seen that in the war. You think you’re going to go in there and blow everything.

Now the politicians say, stop. Now your population say, stop altogether. Why are you even there? That information domain within the urban environment is unlike any other terrain. We’ve seen that now on the modern battlefield. It’s even more than I can predict that the implications of the information domain in urban environments are going to impact tactical to strategic operations, making it the hardest place on the planet, you could ask militaries to conduct operations.

We’ll get to a couple of those points in some more detail because they’re so spot on. Maybe we can pivot now to Ukraine to get us to that point because Ukraine is a horrible real current case study of everything you’re talking about. Firstly, given how tapped in you are into daily commentary or the state of the war, what is happening at the moment? Where are we in this war at the moment, and how do you see it? You’ve made some comments and many other prominent commentators are making comments that we might be seeing a possible shift in momentum. Do you agree with that? Where are you seeing this?

I agree with that. When we say initiative or a term in military speaking who has the initiative and matter of fact, from the operational down to tactical, you’re always trying to gain and maintain the initiative. I agree momentum is what it is. As we’re talking in the Ukraine, we’re in this second phase of the war. Russia was defeated back in April of 2022 in achieving its strategic goals. Always judge a battle or war based on the strategic goals of both sides. Russia had a stated goal of regime change in Ukraine and wanted to do away with Ukraine as a country. It had to take out the government, put it in a public government and call it Russia. They failed in the battle of Kyiv. We’ll talk about that.

In this new phase, Russia’s stated goal is to secure the Donbas, and you can add Southern Ukraine to that. At the onset of this shift in the April to May 2022 timeframe, it seemed that Russia had momentum. It had shifted all its forces and reconstituted, reorganises a lot of the forces and pushed hard in Donbas and had mass because they do outnumber the Ukrainians. In June 2022, we start to see big battles like the Battle of Severodonetsk where Russia is taking ground and can’t be stopped.

Although they were stopped from taking a key which was a pivotal battle, this is where we’re at. We’re in the second phase of this major war for Ukraine, but now for stopping Russia from achieving its goal of rapidly taking the Donbas in Southern Ukraine. What we’ve seen for months is that because of the flow of Western weapons, because of the smart fighting the Ukraine has done, which is pull back when needed to, take advantage of your enemy’s mistakes.

Trade space for time, as we’ve seen.

US estimates are now up to 80,000 Russian casualties. Nobody has the exact number of Ukrainians, but it’s much less. Now you see Ukrainians possibly conducting their first offensive operation against the southern city of Kherson where they’ve worked for weeks to isolate the city. This is Urban Warfare. Isolate the city from possible reinforcement resupply by taking out the major logistical supplies. What’s interesting about Ukraine is that it proves what I’ve had to argue in debates that Urban Warfare is important.

All roads lead to urban but to achieve either of the US stated strategic objectives, they had to take and control urban terrain. Either had to take Kyiv, had to penetrate it, or now they have to take the major cities in the Donbas. As soon as the Donbas offensive happened, “If you want to take the Donbas, you got to take the urban areas because they are the logistical hubs and the centres of all forms of power. There are four forms of power.

All roads lead to urban, but you had to take and control urban terrain to achieve your strategic objectives. Click To Tweet

This feels like an important lesson to take notes. What are the four forms of power that you’re talking about?

We teach from a nation-state, there are four forms of power. It’s called DIME, Diplomatic, Information, Military, and Economic. Cities are the economic engines of nations. They’re also the seat of political power. They’re the source of informational reach. This idea that armies collide in the folded gap in the open areas is gone. Some people that I respect, like Antony Beevor, say, “The idea of massive manoeuvre warfare on the open plane is dead.” That’s dumb on the modern battlefield.

To fight like that on giant fronts in the open is dumb because we have enough technology that I’ll erase you from the battlefield. When Ukraine was kicked out, there are people who are still stuck in that manoeuvre’s enemy-centric mindset who said, “Go out and meet the Russian Army on the field of battle and destroy the Russian military.” That would’ve been the dumbest thing a Ukrainian could have done. Ukraine smartly defended their urban terrain and let the Russians defeat themselves by smashing up against defences.

VOW 64 | Urban Warfare
Urban Warfare: Ukraine smartly defended its urban terrain and let the Russians defeat themselves by smashing up defenses.


It’s also the only reasonable defence mechanism to have. We’ve seen even Gulf War I is a perfect example of what happens if a military hits a military. The more technologically advanced and the better-connected military, the advantage is decisive.

Even in the Second Gulf Operation Iraqi Freedom, the military didn’t fend off the urban terrain. They allowed themselves to be targeted, I’m not saying that joint combined arms manoeuvre is not the most powerful form of battle. It is, arguably. It all matters on what the mission is. When people get over offence and over enemy-focused, use the case study. Case studies are the best. Take Ukraine, Ukraine needed to prevent Russia from achieving its goals. You don’t go out and fight a bigger military if you’re smaller, or if you know that your enemy’s strategy is terrain based, it has to get to the terrain and take it and hold it. You want to know about it now.

Now we are in this transition where you can’t let Russia stay where it’s at and hold what it’s got. The Ukrainian stated its objective was survival. Now it’s kicking all Russian military forces out of Ukraine. That doesn’t mean you have to destroy them all. You can get the Russian military to culminate in Ukraine and can no longer go on the offence, and they can no longer hold the positions they have. If this is true, what’s about to happen in Kherson and Ukrainians are able to achieve their first offensive win, as in they went on the offence and took back terrain that had been seized, they would then have the initiative, at least in that area.

There are two fronts. There is the eastern front and the southern front clearly in this war. That’s where we stand. It’s touch or go at this point on because your enemy always gets a bolt. Ukraine was achieving some important setting conditions in Kherson, like taking out the bridges, the logistical lines, and the ammunition dumps, but your enemy gets a vote. Russia does have the ability to reinforce the southern front. Which could be the goal that we don’t know if you feared losing all of the Donbas rapidly.

One way to stop that from happening, like Mariupol defending until the end caused the Russian military not to be able to advance on places like Zaporizhzhia and other multiple fronts. This is war. It’s hard to know without knowing the operational plans of both sides. When there’s a battlefield victory, we should call it that. The Battle of Kyiv was a massive historic victory for a smaller force achieving a big victory on the second largest military in the world.

Before we get to Kyiv, which is an important piece, why is Kherson so important? There are specific reasons, and even in the past, I’ve spoken to people like Mike Martin about the potential that it was almost a fame to give the world the impression that Ukraine is fighting for the Donbas. It was almost a false narrative, it was a false expectation of its importance but compared to southern front. What’s your view on the importance of Kherson?

Kherson is important at the strategic level more than it is at the tactical level. Tactically, like the Donbas, every inch of Ukrainian land is important to Ukraine. This gets to the diplomatic form of power. How has Ukraine mobilised 50 nations in support of its goals? They had to prove themselves as a democracy, and that they were willing to fight for their country. Had the government fled in the first week, had they not fought, they wouldn’t have 50 nations in their support. This is three-dimensional chess and diplomatic terms. Every country making a decision on joining Ukraine and providing Ukraine with whatever it is even if it’s backing.

Kherson is a very important moment where, again, Ukraine tactically want to regain ground to make an impact on Russia’s narrative of its successes in Ukraine. Also, show the value of the support they have gotten to this point. Their victories have been strongly wedded to the technologies. They’re asking for arms, not actual troops helping them. You have to be able to show all these 50 nations and maintain this arsenal, this coalition of democracies. If Kherson works, you gain the initiative that support continues and that support may grow.

As you have to look at every country’s goal in this war, this is a war for Ukraine but this is a war about weakening Russia in all its forms of power, which it is. Every day it stays in the country, it gets weaker. If you can hit it at their military strength because militarily after they lost that battle, in this new state of goal, they looked very strong.

You can take Kherson, you put a big crack in that narrative as they’re in a bit of chaos mode on manpower reinforcement on getting people so that every win is great for Ukraine, but it’s also a loss for Russia in all forms of those powers as they get weaker and weaker to say that this is their goal. If the southern front starts to crumble, then you could see another phase having to be started by Russia.

They control the information in Russia, we’ve always said, this is about the Donbas. This is about regaining the initiative after April of 2022 when the war started. The war had been won for Ukraine. The Ukrainians started to lose initiative though. They started to lose ground. They started to very rapidly lose some tactical fights trading space for time. If you were to turn that now with this MLRSs, increase in all the munitions, you’re regaining the initiative. If you can get the enemy to make enough mistakes, that initiative will continue to build, the momentum you’re talking about. Do you see Zaporizhzhia falling? Do you see the encirclement of Russian forces start happening? We’re a long way from that, but every win matters. Each one builds up.

VOW 64 | Urban Warfare
Urban Warfare: Every win matters, so each one builds up.


You say we’re a long way away from that. What are your thoughts on the European winter? It’s effectively around the corner. We’re talking three months before the cold weather starts sitting in at least. That’s going to have a change in operations for both Ukraine and Russia.

That’s what we saw even in the beginning. One, urban terrain matters, but weather matters. The weather has an impact on all weapons systems, troop morale, and everything. I would say it’ll impact both sides clearly. it’ll impact Russians more based on what they’ve shown about their maintenance and logistical capabilities. Every day that this continues to go on, Ukrainians get stronger in the formations they feel, the training they’ve received, and the weapons they are able to get to the front lines. Russia gets weaker. Winter will weaken Russia. The fear is that if you let winter come, could the momentum of Ukraine slow down? That is a real fear.

I have been adamant, and maybe nobody can tell you for sure. This is not the way war works. You can’t predict things happening that, “This war is in months, not years.” Other people have argued, this is a long war. As long as Putin’s in power, he’s going to fight for Ukraine, but the military that he has fielded in Ukraine can only do so much. It can be pushed to culmination because can’t mobilise all of Russia for a fight that’s not an existential threat.

What are your thoughts on the idea that Putin’s working towards a frozen conflict? This is a strategic success for him in many ways that he’s taken a fair bit of territory East and South. He joined East and South and still is connected to freeze it effectively, which is something he’s done in the past where he’d take a bit of ground make it contested and then over time start building, Russianising the entire population, which we know he is doing in the Donbas, is installing people that are favourable to Russia. We know about Crimea. We’ve heard the same already happening in Mariupol. What are your thoughts on that as a strategy?

With every strategic assessment, Russia has lost all its forms of power. DIME is lost significantly on every level. Insert any country in Ukraine, especially since the world saw that his military is weaker than we all believed it was. Not to take too many assessments from it, but having visited Ukraine, Ukraine’s not the Ukraine of 2014. It isn’t the Ukraine that lost Crimea and then the war was frozen for a little while. My assessment of Ukraine is that they won’t stop fighting anytime soon. This sue for peace thing is not an option. The things that have been done to Ukrainian people and not in Bucha, but across Ukraine, they’re going to fight every day. They’re not going to stop fighting.

All war ends with a political settlement. There’s no political government or population or generation of people in Ukraine at this moment after what’s happened, who’s going to say, “I agree with you. We should sue for peace.” I don’t see that as any variable. If you were to talk to me in 2013, maybe. Ukraine, much like any starting country of democracies, its generations and its populations are different because of this war. Putin miscalculated Ukrainians, for sure. Russia has to fight the military. Ukraine has hundreds of thousands of fighters that aren’t trained yet, but they’re getting trained.

Even where we think they’re weaker, they’re growing in power, fighting capability, morale, motivation, and weapons. Tens of thousands of people are being trained by other countries outside of Ukraine. Ukraine now is not the Ukraine of a couple of years ago. I honestly believe that Putin will go down as the worst nation-state leader in the modern era because of the strategic blunders he’s caused for his nation as a nation.

Ukraine today was not Ukraine even two years ago. Putin will go down as the worst nation-state leader in the modern era because of the strategic blunders he caused for his nation. Click To Tweet

Let alone what he is doing to Ukraine but as a nation. If you put Russia on the table, he has made so many strategic blunders. He’s going to go down to history which has the dumbest decisions. He can make a decision at any moment. It’s not like he needs to save face. I don’t like that narrative either that Putin needs to save face. He controls all information he’s built for decades. The ability that anything he says is true. If he says that we won in Ukraine and we’ve ended our special military operation, he could do it.

That’s the dangerous path. There’s a contest of narratives. Ultimately, narratives are also part of the information war and information war is part of the battle which we can’t forget. You made the point that you had been to Ukraine months ago, and you made a strong point about what you saw on the ground from the people. As an ethnic Bosnian born in Husarivka, I can relate to this.

One of the things that we need to recognise is you can’t kill people. That’s what we’ve seen here. We’ve seen truly the birth of the Ukrainian identity, and Ukraine as a nation-state. From your perspective, what you saw on the ground, what was the morale like, and how important is that? Not in this war, but just in war in general, and what does it show us about the actual human component or the importance of the human component in war?

People need a reminder that war has an enduring nature and an ever-changing character. The enduring nature is that it’s humans at the forefront. It’s not weapons, technologies, and killing. War is a political act by humans. I like your idea about killing people. I pushed that it’s hard to kill an idea. It’s hard to kill a form of government. If you understand the history of Ukraine, the idea of the people, the values and all that. I went to Ukraine in June 2022, but as a researcher to study the Battle of Kyiv because it was, in my opinion, the most decisive battle in modern history with the strategic result. It made Russia fail in regime change. It was the defence of the city. I went to see how that city was defended and defeated Russian attackers.

If you want to zero in on that now, then we’ll come back to the human piece, because this Battle of Kyiv will set the scene as well. Given how intimately you’re familiar with it, it’s important. What was it about the Battle of Kyiv that makes it as unique as you describe it?

It’s almost counter-narrative to what is success in war. One of the common narratives now is that if you’re offensively based combined arms manoeuvre, that’s the surest path to victory all around the world. That’s ridiculous because Ukraine needed to defend its terrain from an invading force. It needed to prevent Russia from getting inside Kyiv and taking the form of government, to take out Zelenskyy and his government. It didn’t need to encircle the city or clear the city of 3 million people, it needed to get inside of it and raise the Russian flag on top of the government and say, “Ukraine is now Russia. Ukraine doesn’t exist.” Even if you would’ve forced the government into exile, it didn’t matter.

You held the ground. You were in the capital of now this Russian territory. The only way you did that was to successfully defend the terrain. What’s interesting about the Battle of Kyiv and how, as I continue to write about it, is that it was an area of defence and it’s about terrain. They wanted to prevent Russia from getting inside of it.

Russia came. Some people argue with a false belief that they could do a Market Garden, Operation Iraqi Freedom type of rapid invasion relying on speed and air power to take down cognitively your enemy. There are some misconceptions. We’re trying not to stick the whole interview up, but what Ukraine did, there’s a political decision for the Ukrainian military not to be in the defensive positions. There’s some history to that.

Ukraine had most of its military in Eastern Ukraine in the Donbas where they’d been fighting for a long time, and they had formations in all the cities, but it wasn’t a massive amount of forces. They had one brigade and some other forces, but one brigade in the city who is told you cannot be out in defensive positions, which might have arguably saved them. If you’re invading a country and a city, you’ll strike anything you can see well before you get there with air power, with all range munitions. The Ukrainian military wasn’t out on February 24th, 2022 so there was nothing to hit.

If we combine that with the narrative of even Zelenskyy up until D-Day, at least that’s part of the narrative. Even screaming at the West, “Stop building this up. We’re not about to get invaded.” History will undoubtedly show us that there was a master stroke strategically.

Even though they weren’t in defensive positions, clearly there had been a lot of planning probably with Western help, but let’s give them full credit. If it came down, worst case scenario, how could we defend Kyiv? What I saw was the Russian military did create what’s called a joint forcible entry. It did insert over twenty helicopters into Hostomel Airfield which is classic rapid city taking. You take an airfield. You build an airbridge. Russians executed that. They got twenty-plus of VDV, the Airborne Special Forces, and they got in there. CNN’s interviewing them on the 25th of February, 2022.

They drove with rapid force, multiple mechanised formations driving in from Belarus on two avenues of reproach but then you had other formations driving on Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, and other places. They spread themselves thin, but in the main attack of Kyiv, they tried to seize this airfield, and they did. A little luck for the Ukrainians was that there was also a National Guard Unit stationed at the airfield that wasn’t there but a lot of their forces were to include their artillery. The Russians get these twenty helicopters and seize the air lodgement, but they didn’t bring enough to seize it with what. The airbridge is set up, and you have air coming in with more reinforcements.

Once you can contest the air with MANPADS like Stingers and other capabilities, it’s going to be hard to bring in, even if you got your helicopters in low-level altitudes and things like using surprise. What happens is that the airfield gets attacked by Artillery and Ukrainian Special Forces, and the initial people that came in get eliminated. There’s a little bit of luck here, but those forces that were dropped into this airfield, and it wasn’t the only airfield that basically struck or tried to use. It was the main one. The forces that landed get eliminated, and then the airfield becomes unusable.

When the mechanised forces show up, about ten hours too late, they re-occupy the airfield, but it can still not be used as an air lodgement. What you have is these mounted formations not encircling the city, but trying to find a way in, who are the backups. The mechanised pushed the penetration. They had to penetrate Kyiv. This is the beauty again of the Ukrainian planning they blew all their bridges, all of them, hundreds of them. They raised the water level of three rivers. They used the urban infrastructure to build a porcupine defence.

A moat effectively around the castle.

They closed the castle gates which is an ancient fortress city if you understand why cities are built. I was fascinated by that. This is a heavy mechanised Russian formation that’s coming your way. Now most of the routes are gone that they thought they were going to use. They had old maps. The Ukrainians spray painted or took down all signs which I had heard about until I saw it. Now you have Russian formation driving in. All the bridges are blocked. The rivers have been raised through all the marshy lands. There’s rivers in your way and then there’s only a few ways left in, and it is the Ukrainian civilians that come out to fight.

If people have this idea about Red Dawn, this is beyond Red Dawn. Ukrainian civilians, many of whom had prior military service from 2014 on said, “Russians are here?” They grabbed either weapon in their communities, again, this goes to planning 18,000 to 20,000 AK-47s were distributed in the Kyiv region by the government. They were handing out 1 AK-47 and 2 magazines telling people to go out and fight. Now you had a few roads left over, and this is what happened, like in Bucha. There’s one bridge leading from Bucha to Irpin that is left open on purpose, Russian formation dries into it and gets decimated.

Tons of vehicles were decimated within the first couple of days. They created what’s called a defence in depth. The battles are happening on the peri-urban by Ukrainian civilians because the military is using their limited resources like artillery on Hostomel. Like artillery in that ambush in Bucha, or when they try to push into Moshchun or when they push into Brovary so that you almost have this command cell deep in the city, likely underground because there’s a lot of undergrounds in Kyiv, who are allocating a few resources they have to create this massive block. The thing about defences is people in my community say, “Urban defences never win.” Usually, the defender loses historically, but I say bullocks. It’s, “How long do you want somebody to defend for?”

Kyiv didn’t have to defend indefinitely. Kyiv had to defend long enough for what was sent at it to be destroyed or to culminate. That’s what happened. Russian forces attacking Kyiv culminated when they couldn’t get in because they thought they were going to do a rapid takedown. It would only last three days. I honestly believe that they thought it would only last three days. Now you have their logistical supplies being hit, railroad heads being hit, and logistical convoys getting stuck.

The formations that didn’t make it into the Kyiv Oblast are starting to get cut off. Running out of supplies, running out of their camo, they can’t talk to each other, running out of gas. It becomes a nightmare for them. Eventually, because there are all these other battles going on all around Ukraine, there’s no reinforcement to be sent.

No path to send them through because you haven’t secured either the airbridge or the land bridge.

There is one. This is a breakthrough in the east in Brovary where these forces that are stuck get ordered. You will push and you will drive down the main road. This is this famous column in parade that we see in Brovary and Sky Burn. It comes down the road and runs into a complex anti-armour ambush of the Ukrainian military and then hundreds of civilians. On paper, it was one brigade. In reality, it was tens of thousands of Ukrainians.

In reality, it was a nation.

This is the point of the nation rose up. You have stories of grandpas and father-son RPG teams. The other aspect is about the weapons. When Russia inserted itself in Ukraine, like in the urban environment, as soon as you touch it, you change it. They changed Ukraine as soon as they inserted themselves into it, even militarily. The first thing that the Ukrainians did when they destroyed something is they ran up and took everything they could. I ran into all kinds of Ukrainian civilians with high-speed or sophisticated Russian weapons.

There are a lot of farmers with tanks.

This is this amazing defence that happens. A classic area defence using the infrastructure and then capitalizing on the civilians. I don’t like civilians in combat. Nobody does. In which a civilian picks up a weapon is no longer a civilian. These are the decisions that Ukraine made in 24 hours. They instituted martial law. Any adult male from 18 to 60 had to stay in the country and was told to go out and resist and they did. They created the territorial defence of Ukraine.

The foreign legion is where any foreign volunteer could come into Ukraine and legally have a legal framework in which to join the fight under the Ukrainian army which makes it some of the things that Russia’s done. They made these massive decisions within 24 hours that are part of the story of how they defeated Russia in achieving its goal of overtaking Ukraine.

Again, as someone from Yugoslavia, my heart starts beating faster because I remember the stories of the defenders of the city, and it was people, students, men and women who have some understanding of the military because of the compulsory military service throughout Yugoslavia at the time. That’s this idea of territorial defence. You’re running up against tanks with Molotov cocktails, etc. in the case of Ukraine in no small part due to your manual as well which is interesting, and I do want to get to it, but this is where we can zero in on this idea of humans. I want to double-tap that. You can’t kill a people because we’ve seen a nation born, a people born.

Is this something that we in the Western militaries at least, don’t necessarily pay enough attention to? I say this because we talk about this all multi-domain warfare. We’ve got air, sea, land, cyber, and space domains, which is where we fight within and through, but we don’t have a human domain, at least not doctrinally. I don’t want to say study because many people do, but we don’t have it as our building blocks in how we conduct warfare. We are very technological or technical, at least in my humble view in how we approach warfare. We’re seeing time and time again that Ukraine proves it, the human domain, the human mind has shifted all of that. On paper, Russia had this sewn up, no question. How big is Kyiv, 3 million?


For anybody who understands scale, that’s nothing. The city of 3 million has so many access points that you cannot shift your forces fast enough if a threat large enough is coming. What are your thoughts on this idea of the human domain and that becoming more of an embedded thinking principle in how war is conducted?

It’s a great question. I don’t always like to quote Clausewitz.

He’s everywhere.

People quote it. Don’t read it.

There’s probably a reason for that though, as well.

Yes. People want simple things to understand complex things. One of the things he used to say was, “You have to understand the war you’re in.” The human domain has always been a part of war, even of modern war. You have to understand on the war we’re fighting. These are existential wars for survival. There is a little bit of counterinsurgency hangover. We know in counterinsurgencies, the people are the objective. You can only survive in an insurgency by hiding within the population. There has been older research and lots of lines of research in what’s called total resistance or total defence. As you know from places in history, this ideal that the nation is going to fight hasn’t always played out in history.

VOW 64 | Urban Warfare
Urban Warfare: You have to understand the war you’re in. The human domain has always been a part of the war, but you have to understand that the war we’re fighting is an existential war for survival.


There is usually a military component to it. This is the military analysis that people do on militaries on paper that shouldn’t do well. Discounting the urban nature, but also urban is people, is what is the people factor in wars that are going to prevent or change the strategic outcomes. It all gets back to me. Tell me the war we’re talking about. Tell me the strategic goals of both sides, because it could be a limited objective war, not a low-intensity conflict, but a limited objective.

Where was the human element rate on the overall achievement of the objectives? The human element could be in the cognitive domain. Russia miscalculated the cognitive domain. They thought that they would be welcomed as liberators of fellow cousin Russians. That’s completely either hubris ignorance not understanding what Ukraine had become, and all this stuff.

That’s important what Ukraine has become. History had taught Putin that this can be done. Donbas, Crimea, the West stood by, but it wasn’t until what Ukraine had become. That’s part of that human piece.

This is why we teach this in war colleges and place like that. This stuff is hard, strategic studies. You have to have an understanding of people, economics, infrastructure, and terrain. The disciplines you have to study to understand war are very large. To understand Ukraine’s population is generational aspects of who’s doing the fighting. If you understand the Orange Revolution in the Maidan, you get to a different picture. If you were a Ukrainian expert, sitting in the United States, sometimes war is the greatest test of what you think you can do, but also in the idea. That’s why Ukraine had to show that it wanted democracy. It had to show that it was going to fight for its way of life.

It’s hard to kill people, but these are ideals. This is an ideal within a culture and a generation. Some people say you’re like, “These are stronger warrior class or stronger fighting people.” Yes. I can see where you could lead yourself to a very quick war if you’re Russia if you didn’t understand the possibility of a complete citizen defence, a complete citizen uprising that now your small military turned into a much bigger military. As we’ve been talking about, that was one small piece of the pie. Ukrainians had to fight and show they wanted to fight for this global idea of democracies living free, human rights, all these things to gain the support of 50 other nations.

We even forget this in American history, if we Americans had not revolted against British rule, we would not have gotten France to help us. We forget the France part about somebody coming to our aid. We would not be here now had we not won, showing that we were willing to fight for our idea, what we wanted to live in, but then to gain that external help by showing that we’re willing to fight and die for it.

That’s an interesting piece because we’ve seen something very opposite, or at least we’ve judged it as that in Afghanistan. Very recently only it was the first anniversary of the Fall of Afghanistan when Afghans were accused of not standing up for their nation. That comes down to not understanding the human domain because what we thought was Afghanistan or what the idea of Afghanistan was vastly different to what many Afghans thought or had the opportunity to think outside of Kabul at least. That’s an interesting comparison between how the concept of a nation is not as strong everywhere as it is in Ukraine.

Now, this takes me to a point that we’ve touched on earlier, and that’s the power of information. I’m sure PhDs and textbooks will be written on the execution. In your view, and especially given your book Connected Soldiers, where you talk about this idea of connectivity between a fighting force and its cohesion, how have you seen this reflected in Ukraine, especially, maybe even at the start of the Battle of Kyiv and now more in a more enduring nature?

VOW 64 | Urban Warfare
Connected Soldiers: Life, Leadership, and Social Connections in Modern War

Information warfare and the information domain always have to look through the prism of the objective. War is a battle of will. Now, Clausewitz said, “It was the will posing your will on the enemy.” I argue that it’s a battle of wills which means in multiple populations and that battle of will, the will of your enemy. You can achieve a cognitive win and they surrender. That can be through force or through the threat of force, or from the situation around them. We’ve been talking about, you have the will of the globe in this case, to support one fighting force with whatever it is that they’re willing to support. This is the will of the three populations, the military, the politics, and the populations.

Where did modern technology or the connected soldier come into places that there’s unlike at any other time in human history when we’re more connected than every aspect that matters in war? From tactics from being able to tap into a cell phone camera or fly a little commercial drone and I can see you. The enemy’s ability to surprise, which Sun Tzu said was the most important element of warfare’s intelligence and the ability to surprise somebody. How do you do that on the modern battlefield when I can see everything from the sky and millions of eyes from satellites to highway cameras? In the information domain is this ability to see into it.

I don’t have to listen to what somebody’s telling me. I can watch war happening in real-time. I can see videos of battles being won. I can see videos of atrocities happening, and then that influences people’s will either to continue fighting, to support a fight, or to stop fighting. When you understand the human element is more important than any weapon, then the morale, cohesion, and motivation of people to fight. Not soldiers, but people like we’re talking about, citizens. If you can now talk to them directly en masse, unlike you’ve ever been able to in history, then you can influence their will to fight.

When you understand that the human element is more important than any weapon, than the morale, cohesion, and motivation of people to fight, you can influence their will to fight. Click To Tweet

This does get to President Zelenskyy’s stories that some of these stories like Snake Island or quotes by Zelenskyy’s, “I need ammo. I don’t need a ride.” Those are more powerful than any bullet that’s ever been created because it’s hitting the mind. It’s hitting the will of people to fight. When you lose it like Russia has, then there’s no more fighting, which is when people lose the will to fight.

It’s one example of some of the short snippets. There are soundbites that captured the world. I had Carl Miller on the show as well not long ago who looked at the Russian narratives in the bricks countries, which is, it’s not as clear as to who’s winning the information war in some of the non-Western nations. That’s still a contested space, but certainly in the West which for Ukraine mattered because the weapons reinforcements are coming from the West which is to its West.

It played into this, and you could see it on social media in particular, the international support for Ukraine’s resistance was growing by the minute, and Zelenskyy at the front with some of those quotes had a huge role to play. Also, your manual plays a part in this because this is where we’re talking about technology and connectivity and the information age or the internet. If I’m correct, The Mini-Manual for the Urban Defender was born on Twitter. Tell us a little bit about how that happened and its impact as well. It is used on the battlefield right now.

War’s all about timing. Since I was able to watch the war in real time. I could watch Live Feed in Kyiv. The CNN guy interviewing a Russian paratrooper on the day of the invasion. There’s been television wars in the past. There’s even been some people who would argue TikTok wars or Twitter wars, but this is the first full-out social media war in history. My small vignette is an example of that. Me, having studied Urban Warfare for a little while, watching the war unfold on February 24th 2022, I started to see things like Russians rushing through urban areas, uncontested. I was hearing Ukrainian government officials on a radio broadcast saying, “Go out and resist.” That was the message, “Go out and resist.”

There is another message saying, “Make Molotov cocktails. Go out and resist.” Through Twitter, I was seeing this, so I said, “Let me put out one long earth-threaded tweet.” John Spencer, a private citizen who had studied warfare, “If I was in any of these cities, here are the things that I would do.” I put out a tweet saying, “I would block all roads. I would park trucks on the roads.” Sometimes words literally stopping from somebody from going where they want to go. In the invasion, it was a lot about that. I would never be standing in the open because you could be bombed. I would use concrete. I would attack from the second-story floors, and I would build tank ditches. I put out a list of things that I would do to defend. Defence is a very specific thing.

That one tweet went viral and got seen by millions of people and a great majority in Ukraine. As I watched the war unfold, I started seeing more things like people filling sandbags. I started putting out images through tweets of a, “Do this, not that.” It’s my history too, as a soldier. I know that people under stress who know nothing about the military need very clear instructions. Rather than go out and resist, go out and block every road that you physically can and then be in groups because you need it. I started putting out a series of tweets. Eventually, the way that Twitter works, people started, “I can’t see your tweet anymore because of the thread.”

The first version of the Mini-Manual for the Urban Defender was a series of twenty tweets put into a PDF and posted online. Every day as I was watching and getting feedback from being able to watch the war, be able to watch the fighting, I was able to put more in there. At one point, the Ukrainian military somehow watched my tweets, the government took my tweets and put them out on their website for resistors. They started printing off my manual as I put up version 2 and version 3.

The Ukrainian Department of Defence is printing off versions of my manuals, and you start seeing it everywhere. The culmination was a Ukrainian publisher because of course it was translated into Ukrainian and asked for my permission to print off 100,000 copies of it. I said, “Of course, I don’t make any money off of it.” It was in Mariupol. It was a humbling experience because even military people, this is the switch like it was four civilians who were being told to resist. You did see the environment start to change. You start to see buses parked on the road, people not standing in the open, and people attacking from higher levels of the urban terrain and creating the meat grinder and the porcupine.

Even military people don’t study Urban Warfare. There are elements of historical urban analysis that I’ve studied and I’ve even published like Tactics to Defend the City, snipers, obstacles, and underground, these elements that people don’t know even if you’re in the military. I started evolving it so then the military like I have all these pictures of the Ukrainian army on the frontline reading through my manual so it’s humbling. Back to your question, this is how a guy who’s not in the war, thousands of miles away can go, “I got a few ideas that might help you.” Somebody not only listened, but then it is circulated, and it went viral. That’s the impact of the world’s ability to help in a war.

Traditionally, it was known as the CNN factor. When I first joined the military, we studied the CNN factor. It was Gulf I where it was the first time we had war live in our living rooms. This is an evolution. This is no longer on receive. This is now actively participating in our living rooms. In your case, it’s to a pretty high extent, but also everybody else who’s merely commentating, sharing, or retweeting.

All of those people that retweeted your tweets became part of the war in many ways from their lounge rooms or while they’re on the bus checking their Twitter feed. Now we’re talking about global people that are fighting this war, which is something rather unique for Ukraine. What are some of the principle lessons, even from this point of information warfare that you think we need to take away from this?

What’s interesting about the manual is now have been translated into fourteen different languages, from Arabic to Chinese. There have been other attempts at creating a total defence manual. Manuals for civilians, this ideal of territorial defences, which will come out of Ukraine. If your plan for a smaller country is total defence, everybody’s going to go out and resist then you can do things, create products, and create training that will help that person you want to go out and to fight. There are plenty of places around the world that will face this existential threat from what seems like a massive military force. It’s not about defending indefinitely. It’s about defending for a certain amount of time for the world to respond. We’re a global community.

This is what happened in Ukraine. They held long enough for the world to come help, not save them. They’re still fighting for themselves. There’s an old Swedish one, especially coming out of World War II and there were these ideals about total defence which is different than some people have forgotten about. Total resistance is where you have occupied areas and there are people within the occupied areas resisting. In a lot of special communities work that in that, the big lesson here is that total defence can work but you have to set the conditions beforehand. Telling people to go out and resist without a weapon, veterans, training, instructional manuals, or connection, you can’t discount the connectivity that has happened in Ukraine.

Thank Elon Musk for that. The fact that the Azovstal Defenders could communicate until the end is revolutionary. If that’s the idea about total defence, you can set the conditions beforehand. This is huge to me, and now is becoming a passion with more time, if you could give somebody one thing that would help and have an impact, what would be the things you would provide to them? It’s not about how much time you have, but if you were to have to implement total defence, what’s in place to support that?

The other aspect of the course is urban. The world is more urban. This isn’t the battlefield of World War II. Russia’s shown that you’re not going to bypass and avoid any urban area. You’re going to have to be able to fight through it, at least secure your logistical lines and it most likely will be the tactical operational strategic objective. You’re not going to win any war by bombing something. If you want to take it, you got to put people on the ground, take it, and hold it. That’s historical but people since somehow have gotten these fallacies of air dominance and cognitive, you win so you can bomb your way.

Urban is the future. The world is more urban. Countries are more urban. You’re going to have to pass through urban, you’re going to fight for it, and you’re probably going to have to take or defend it. Hopefully, Ukraine helps emphasise that point. Lastly, so if there’s a number three is that the defence is important. Look at NATO. If everybody in NATO is training for the offence, who’s preparing to defend?

That’s part of a question that I had for you. Please elaborate on that point because it’s an important

Now it’s the most powerful, but some people were questioning its worth, but it’s a defensive alliance. Somebody should be preparing to defend while at least buying time. The way to take a country is to rapidly overwhelm it. In all war, there is both offence and defence but because of the evolutions of the character of warfare, people have emphasised offence. That’s the right thing to be doing, attacking. All war has offence and defence and if you’re unprepared for the defence, it’s going to go bad for you.

The way to take a country is to overwhelm it rapidly. Click To Tweet

Culturally, from a military perspective, certainly, for the Western militaries, we’ve been expeditionary militaries for a very long time now. We don’t have conscript armies, we don’t have compulsory military service by and large. You’ve mentioned Sweden. I’ve lived in Sweden for three and a half years. It’s incredible. It’s compulsory, but it’s voluntary which is very Swedish, which I like. There is an idea of preparedness. We were there in Sweden in 2019 when the call came out to make sure you have at least 72 hours of food and water supplies. Everybody needs to have that in their house.

That is something that we don’t think about, certainly not in Australia. It’s certainly not part of our day-to-day discourse in any sense, to think that we might have to defend on our home soil. I wonder whether that’s something that’s perhaps even lacking, as unlikely as it is that Australia much like the US is about to get invaded. We don’t have borders with hostile adversaries. Is this something that you think is perhaps needed almost as a deterrent as well as an actual defence, rather than investing as much as we both have militaries do in the offensive capabilities and the projectional force?

Terrain matters. If you’re surrounded by water, the likelihood of you having to defend urban terrain is not unlikely, but terrain matters. I like to prioritise. If you live anywhere in Europe, there’s a real reality at some point that you would have to defend cities in general. There are things that can be done, like you said, in planning. Even into the actual design of cities in physical infrastructure that can support defending for a certain amount of time, if you’re in places that are along the path to any reasonable expectations. As I said, in the United States, and Australia, there is an advantage to terrain in having water borders. Water is a very massive terrain. We used to have coastal guns and all that stuff.

I’m not there yet but I’m at a point where no matter what the battle or the war is and where it’s at, some people will have to defend for a while by themselves. Even when you have an alliance, it doesn’t mean that you’re not going to have to defend your terrain for a while conditions are getting set. Taiwan’s a great example of that. If Taiwan was to fall rapidly, there’s nothing that can be done to help. It has to defend for a certain amount of time before anybody in the international community can do anything, even if you’re on a ship close by. The evolution of war has caused some people to forget that. Hopefully, people get reminded of that.

No matter what the battle or war is and where it's at, some people will have to defend themselves for a while. Click To Tweet

There are a lot of communities thinking about it now. Thankfully, Ukraine will win this war, in my opinion. Hopefully, it will become a member of NATO soon. This doesn’t continue down this terrible path that Russia is attempting to do, because there is a new book being written about strategic deterrence and nuclear weapons. What does it mean if you’re a nuclear-armed country? Can you do whatever you want?

All the other rule books that were created before nuclear-armed nations were a big thing. All these rules were put in place before that. That’s why I’m going to do whatever I want. This is what we’re dealing with now. We’re dealing with the warfare aspect, but there’s a very big question that nation-states as a whole. The only reason that what’s happened in Ukraine has happened is mainly because you have a terrorist with a nuclear bomb.

What do you mean by the new rules?

We’re all playing by the rule book that was created for nation-states before nuclear weapons. Besides the United States at the end of World War II, books were being written on what was susceptible for the world, the invasions, the alliances, the United Nations, NATO, and the League of Nations. It was all before you had aggressors with nuclear weapons because that now changes the calculus on what any response will be and the global connections. A lot of people wrote these books about the global connections would prevent wars because of economic connectivity and everything. Some people got to go back to the drawing board there.

The strategic one is huge because where’s the line now in this new rule book of what countries with nuclear weapons can do and the rest of the world will not do anything about it before there are interventions? In Sarajevo, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, neither side had nuclear weapons. The rule book of when, who, and how would interventions happen were different. That’s why what Ukraine is doing is changing the global international order because you have a nuclear-armed country in some sense conducting genocide in a country, and there’s no international community willing to do anything because of the nuclear card. If it was happening between two not nuclear-armed countries, somebody would’ve done something by now.

As an ethnic Bosnian, I can push back on that a little bit because we’ve seen three and a half years of slaughter by the fifth mightiest military in the world against effective civilians. Many Bosnians are happy that Ukraine is getting the support that it’s getting. Bosnia certainly wasn’t getting this level of global support. Also when we talk about initiative, when Bosnia got the initiative and started retaking, recapturing territory, which is perhaps, hopefully where Ukraine is now that’s when the world came in and said, “Enough fighting.” Again, that’s a separate discussion, a separate show. The point stands that this is about the initiatives and maintenance momentum and morale.

We’re seeing a very different, and I do believe that it’s due a lot to the connectivity. If Bosnia had the same connectivity as Ukraine has right now, we’d see something very different. We would see the butchers of Bosnia. We’d see the bombing of Sarajevo. We’d seen the bombing of the maternity hospital in Sarajevo, of Tuzla going down, of various cities basically being choked to death. We’d see the carnage left by 155-millimetre howitzers. We’d see the people fleeing. I’ve made this comment on Twitter myself. One of the most emotional things for me was seeing an 8 or 9-year-old boy crying on a bus for his father who stayed behind.

It resonates with me even right now, it makes me emotional because I was that boy in 1992. Those kinds of things have an emotional impact, and they galvanise the movement of people globally. This is that idea of the human connecting, the human to human pain, which is why I keep talking about the human domain, which is so important.

You’ve hit the nail ahead time again, the connectivity and being able to reach into the battle space. As well to be reached by the battle space has changed the dynamic of modern battlefield. Maybe my last question, and it ties to your previous point. In your view, how important is Ukrainian victory in the grand scheme of the current geopolitical tensions?

I try to stay in my lane of the Urban Warfare. Sometimes I get you out of there because of my personal thoughts as a citizen. it’s vital from the geopolitical stance, even as our Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff said, “If Russia is able to succeed in Ukraine, it rewrites the global order where a nuclear-armed nation can invade and take whatever it wants of a nonnuclear-armed nation at will. It rewrites what is acceptable and not acceptable with nation-states.”

VOW 64 | Urban Warfare
Urban Warfare: If Russia succeeds in Ukraine, it will rewrite the global order where a nuclear-armed nation can invade and take whatever it wants from a non-nuclear-armed nation. It rewrites what is acceptable and not acceptable with nation-states. Ukraine needs to survive as a nation.


It’s vital for Ukraine to survive as a nation, but it needs to win overall for its new Ukraine. It needs to win for Europe because you have this aggressor who won’t stop at Ukraine. It needs to win for the world because all the luxuries that we have in the United States, the prosperity and all of this, are only made off the backbone of the global international order, from economic ties to diplomatic and information ties. If Russia succeeds, all of that changes. That’s why the Ukrainian victory is so critical.

I could agree more. I have to weave in my own views of war here. Putin has proven that war is not the answer here. You’re paying a much higher price than you thought. Hopefully, it could also serve as a deterrent for other global leaders who think that force, violence, and war might solve their geopolitical strategic goals. That’s more often than not a fallacy. On that note, John, I’m very humbled that you’ve agreed to speak. Thank you very much for giving me so much of your time and sharing your insights so candidly. I know your time is short and you are undoubtedly going to jump on another bunch of interviews. I’m grateful that you’ve spoken with me. I appreciate it. Thank you.

Thanks. It’s been a great pleasure.


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