Thought Leadership

Retired Lt. General, Crummer EDBA Graduate Mark Hertling Shares Thoughts on Ukraine-Russia Conflict

In an exclusive in-person session to the Crummer community, the retired Lieutenant General and CNN analyst spent an afternoon discussing the conflict with Crummer students and alumni.

Dr. Mark Hertling, a fixture in the Crummer community, is quickly becoming a fixture on the TV screens in millions of homes across America as well.

Over the past couple of months, he has been a leading voice on the Russia-Ukraine conflict, sharing his perspective as CNN’s leading military analyst.

The Crummer EDBA graduate and adjunct professor served 38 years in the U.S. Army as a tanker and cavalryman – commanding at every level from tank platoon to Field Army and ultimately serving as the Commanding General of US Army Europe in 2012. His nearly four decades of military experience and specifically his experience in Europe has given him a unique and highly-educated perspective on the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

It’s a big reason CNN has had Hertling featured on their programming frequently as the conflict has been unfolding in Ukraine. Hertling has been asked to give his insights on a variety of related issues, including Russian convoy challenges, Russia’s shift in strategy, and Russia’s appointment of a new war commander. He recently wrote an op-ed for The Bulwark, outlining his military experience in Europe and the differences he sees in the Ukrainian vs. the Russian armies.

He’s also grown a large following on Twitter, where he’s amassed over 326,000 followers and is known for frequently posting threads to share insights on topics such as his confidence in Ukraine’s army.

On Saturday, April 9th, Hertling hosted a special session for those in the Crummer community where he gave a presentation outlining his thoughts on the conflict and what is next going forward.

“One of my desires is to help people understand not only what is happening in the military, but what is happening in Europe because I spent a good part of my life there,” said Hertling, who had five military assignments spanning over 12 years in Europe.

Strategy is Everything

While on assignment in Europe, Hertling had the opportunity to spend considerable amounts of time with Ukrainian forces. He also spent time watching the Russian army in up-close training events and engagements.

While the Russian army is larger, and the Russians have more resources at their disposal, Hertling surprised many people at the beginning of the conflict when he said the “patriotism and zeal” in the Ukraine army would be enough to fend off and eventually win the conflict. Roughly six weeks later, the Ukrainians still hold many of the key cities in the country, including the capital city, Kyiv.

Dr. Mark Hertling

Hertling compared the current events in the conflict to the Nine Principles of War, which are taught throughout military academies across the world:

1. Objective
2. Offensive
3. Mass
4. Economy of Force
5. Maneuver
6. Unity of Command
7. Surprise
8. Security
9. Simplicity


Hertling says that those nine principles should be considered in every operation, and they need to be executed from a strategic perspective. From his point of view, Russia has thus far failed on all of them. Some examples of Hertling’s reasoning for that include the following:

· Timing. Rasputitsa is a Russian word used to describe the period between winter and spring when all the snow melts and everything turns to mud. It just so happened the Russian invasion occurred during that exact time in Northern Ukraine. The mud had a significant effect on the Russian invasion, as many of the tanks and armored vehicles were stuck in the mud, literally. Hertling says the Russian tanks did not have enough ground clearance to make it through the mud, and it was a poor strategic decision to try and invade from that angle during that time of the year.

· Willpower. Hertling teaches the Science and Art of War. He says that a force has power based on their resources multiplied by their willpower (P = R/W). Multiple reports from captured Russian soldiers have shown that many soldiers did not know what they were doing in Ukraine or what they were invading for. Hertling says this greatly diminishes a forces power if they do not have the will to fight.

· Leadership. Hertling says that the Russians haven’t had a unified command since the beginning of the invasion. “You have about six or seven commanders in different areas, but no unified structure of movement,” he said. He says that’s why you see forces stalled in places like Mykolaiv and across cities in Ukraine. “The Russian army forgot logistics,” he said.

· The Opposition. One important thing that is taught in the military academy is that personalities matter, Hertling said. When Russia tried to attack the City of Mykolaiv they did not meet an Army, but an organized civilian force that was willing to desperately fight to not give up their city. The civilians blew out the only bridge in the middle of town, and it has since stalled the Russian offensive. “The Russian force is stalled there and cannot move into Odesa (a port city located on the Black Sea in Southern Ukraine),” said Hertling.

What’s Next?

Hertling made it clear that this conflict is far from over.

He says to expect both sides to start shifting their aims, strategy and tactics in the coming weeks.

“There must be adaptation in each force,” he said.

Hertling brought the conversation back to logistics, which he says are more important than ever at this stage. “If you forget logistics, you lose,” he said.

He says if the Russians want to commit to a second offensive, they need to be resupplied in key areas. That is also more difficult now that troops are spread out across Ukraine with no easy way to deliver supplies, and certain forces are becoming depleted. The Ukrainian forces face similar problems, although they must continue to take into account the citizens as well as the armed forces.

“If I am a commander in Ukraine, I have a dilemma of how many resources are going to my military force and how much is going to my citizens,” said Hertling.

For more on Hertling’s thoughts on the conflict, you can find all of his CNN features on this page.