I have an op-ed out in the New York Times today arguing that we must intentionally ground our response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in careful, cost-benefit calculation instead of emotional reaction or moral fervor. The piece is given the unfortunate title “Ukraine’s Cause is Righteous. That Shouldn’t Shape Policy.” My argument is not that the rightness of the Ukrainian cause does not matter, but that in moments of crisis it is easy to do things that feel right even if they do not help us achieve the right outcomes. The righteous demand to do the right thing—now!—unnaturally speeds the tempo of decision making and warps the policy review process. The end result are statesmen rushing into policies whose consequences they have not fully gamed out.
These points are not new to you all: I made them all at greater length in an essay published on this website two weeks ago. Like that essay, today’s New York Times piece hearkens back to the poor policy planning process that preceded the invasion of Iraq. This comparison is not playing well on Twitter. This is partially because the idea that Iraq was a problem of moral imperatives gone wrong is not intuitive to folks who have not studied the origins of that war in close detail (e.g. see here, here, and here), and there was no space to provide those details in the column. But a lot of what is riling people up is the implicit moral comparison they think is being made between the neocons of Bush ’43 and Western leaders today. But that is not my argument! The comparison is necessary not because an invasion and a stand against invasion are moral equivalents, but because in both situations we find American statesmen working outside of the normal policy process in the immediate aftermath of an emotionally charged attack on innocent people.
In moments like these it is the job of the op-ed writer to slow the policy process down, not speed it up. Our role is to center the conversation on long term consequences. Leaders careening from event to event often lack the breathing space to think about ultimate outcomes and second order consequences of the policy options presented to them.
So what is the realistic range of long term scenarios here? If we are honest about the pace of Russian gains, two outcomes strike me as the most likely. The first is an unjust negotiated settlement:
To cease hostilities, the Russians have already demanded that Ukraine recognize the independence of Donetsk and Lugansk, acknowledge Russian sovereignty over Crimea and amend its Constitution to ensure future neutrality. These demands will grow more onerous as the Russian advance creeps forward. Left unspoken in these negotiations is the matter of Western sanctions. Mr. Putin will require at least a partial face-saving victory to end this war. A promise to decrease sanctions might meet this need. This outcome would not be just, but it would hold the best potential for saving the most Ukrainian lives.
But there is a second option, and were I forecasting instead of counseling, I would describe it as the most likely. Call it “Cold War 2.0:”
Refusal to settle on the part of the Ukrainians or their Western backers will likely lead the Russians to commit to the permanent occupation of the territory they’ve taken. This is the most probable outcome of any policy predicated on inflexible Western ultimatums. In this scenario, sanctions would stay in place for decades. A new iron curtain would fall across Europe, separating Belarus, Russia and occupied Ukraine from the West. Though terrible for the Russian and Ukrainian peoples, this may be a strategically stable and even strategically advantageous state for the United States and its NATO allies.
A Russian economy stalled by sanctions will have trouble funding the expansion and modernization of the Russian military. This diminished Russia, forced to carry the military and economic costs of occupying and pacifying a resistant Ukraine, will find it difficult to repeat its aggression against other recalcitrant parts of the traditional Russian imperium, like Finland and the Baltic States. Maybe the West is willing to accept this outcome, but it carries its own risks.
This future is not too different from what Brian Balkus predicts for the future in his most recent piece for Palladium. Russian military modernization will be set back a generation by sanctions and war; European rearmament will allow the United States to shift more of its focus and forces towards the Pacific. This may be a grand outcome—but is it intentional?
Read the full piece at the New York Times.
(Just a heads up “Here, here, and here” links aren’t there.)
Great and thoughtful piece, thank you for including the Palladium piece as well. Very interesting and sobering all around.
The war is now entering the Donbass meatgrinder stage. While miltwitter is high fiving over the Russians halting their offensives around Kyiv 45,000 of the Ukrainians previously best equipped and most JFO combat experienced soldiers are trapped in the biggest cauldron Europe has seen since 1945. On Telegram there are some gruesome images of the Chechens and Donbass native Russian allies in Mariupol stacking bodies of Azov battalion members killed while fleeing to the Azovstahl plant underground four or five deep.
Take care of your mental health people because this war is far from over.
I think the Russian errors in this war have been tactical and operational such as grossly insufficient manpower beyond the more Russia-friendly southeast compared to the hostile northern regions of Ukraine, and underestimating the maneuverability and situational awareness drastically boosted by NATO ISR of Moscow’s Ukrainian adversary
I fear the combined triumphalist West’s Napoleonic errors are more at the strategic level of underestimating the Russo-Chinese alliance share of real industrial/material global GDP, as well as their capabilities to economically if not militarily and ideologically dial up the pain and cognitive dissonance (why are we supporting the Azov Battalion or those who torture enemy POWs are we the baddies?) dials for Western countries. Particularly Europe and friendly to US/UK comprador elite countries (Pakistan anyone? Egypt?) which are about to get hammered hardest by rising energy and related fertilizer/food costs.
In contrast to promises made and largely kept after the darkest years of 1941-47 of postwar prosperity during and after WW2, ‘you will nothing and be happy’ when the lights go on again all over the world and the ships will sail again is not a slogan anyone in Europe is ready to bleed and die for on Ukrainian battlefields…
It’s still of course early in this long war, where both alliance blocs underestimated the other as in 1914. But here’s a glimpse of ordinary Russians greeting their troops — many of the same who retreated from the suburbs of Kyiv — in the streets of Oryol oblast as they reposition for the assaults on the Ukrainian forces trapped in the Donbass cauldron and perhaps Kharkov outskirts as well:
The heart of the problem as I see it with an increasingly decadent West’s way of war is twofold:
1) The combined West does not understand why the other side fights…it’s more PC thanks to wokeness creeping into the ranks for miltwitterers and natsec types who are very online to discuss why people join the Islamic State than why 40,000+ Donbass natives are fighting for the legend of their Great Patriotic War grandfathers, Mother Russia and the Russian world
2) US/NATO are good at dishing out sanctions/battlefield proxy war punishments, but not so good at taking them (shades of Turkey’s pleading with Russia to hold back the Iranian/Hezbollah missile counterstrikes after the Turks last Bayrektar offensive in Syria)
‘you will own nothing and be happy’ the Klaus Schwab / World Economic Forum (aka the late Sam Huntington’s ‘Davos Men’) slogan
Related to the topic of decadence, inability of mil/natsec twitter to process or even see information that makes the Kyiv government look bad or dishonest about casualties, and how during the last Cold War we didn’t feel any need to jam Radio Moscow — the fact that the Soviets jammed RFE/RL was among many proofs of their system’s inferiority…
Of course I can hear ‘but Russian Internet disinformation is different now’ than Radio Moscow. But the fact that normie Western publics without VPN or strong alt media affinity by and large have been effectively walled off from any Russian perspective, particularly in the EU, is good proof of how ludicrously overhyped for Woke CIA / Democratic partisan purposes the ‘Russian disinformation’ threat from the dreaded St Petersburg Troll Farms were back in 2016.
The Russian Black Sea Fleet flagship Moskva reportedly caught fire and most of the crew were evacuated overnight. Unclear yet if the Ukrainian claim of a successful Neptune ASM truck launched missile strike from Odessa outskirts is true, or if the vessel struck a Ukrainian naval mine, or maybe even Ukrainian frogmen trained by Navy SEALS without any direct help from NATO whatsoever wink wink attacked it by planting a limpet mine (a very hard method of attack btw).
A good morale booster for the Ukrainian side after the largest single surrender of the war 1,000 Ukrainian Marines including a British volunteer at the Azovstahl plant complex in Mariupol and the looming Donbass area weapon meatgrinder of 45-60,000 semi-encircled Ukrainian troops in the JFO zone. Milt/natsec Twitter doesn’t appear to know Telegram exists much less that it’s full of UAF dead piled high.
Again as it relates to the host’s Indo-Pacific concerns:
Instant wartime censorship falls once China finally moves on Taiwan
Twitter and Internet are flooded with feel good bullshit about the F16 pilot Ghost of Taipei shooting down a half dozen PLAAF planes in one sortie (who knows maybe that would be even half true 3 J10s in one go seems possible but unlikely)
US/5Eyes media can’t acknowledge any pro-Beijing 5th column or Taiwanese Army colonel defections just as any pro-Russian Ukrainians including the now iconic on RU net babushka with the Soviet Victory Banner must not exist — for the undisturbed by cognitive dissonance Narrative’s sake
The censorship is punctuated by rumors that the US bases in Japan, Okinawa, and Anderson AFB on Guam have been hammered by Chinese missile strikes but China’s learning lesson from painful Russian setbacks in Ukraine that you take down or blind the American satellites on day one lest Uncle Sam give your enemy on the ground realtime intel means comms with the Land Where America’s Day Begins Are Scrambled
Unable or poorly conditioned by wokeness and triumphalism over a post bloodbath truce in Ukraine that covers up the extent of Ukrainian losses and Western ‘volunteer’ deaths alike, the public and much of a more Kinzingerian Congress demand we nuke not only the bloodied but still operating PLAN/PLA invasion fleet, but also incinerate the Three Gorges Dam the day after we find out most of the US surface fleet west of Midway has been annhilated by Russian-sat aided Chinese hypersonic missile and long range underwater drone strikes
There’s going to be an East Ukraine (Novorossiya/Kharkov/Kherson People’s Republics) and a West Ukraine (Ukraine). What sort of barriers will be put up along the Dnieper between them to prevent insurgents from crossing from the western side into the eastern side and targeting Russia’s Donbass proxies and Eurasian foreign legion who will be handling much of the occupation duties remains to be seen. The collective West principally the EU while having badly hurt Russia’s economy is going to be stuck with a massive refugee and maintenance bill to keep a rump Ukraine government going for years to come.
No amount of mil twitter cope and perhaps the most impressive social media wartime propaganda campaign ever can change the fact that Kyiv has admitted to losing control over its Azov Sea coastline with the fall of Mariupol this week. Kyiv is also in danger of losing its entire Black Sea coast if Mykolaiv and Odessa fall or are encircled. Once Russia’s Donbass proxies are freed up from the Mariupol fighting to clean up Slavyansk and Kramatorsk where the war in Donbass began in April/May 2014, the Ukrainian state is also about to lose its second city of Kharkov, which has an important history for the Russians as the initial capitol of the Soviet Ukrainian SSR in the 1920s.
While the majority of Ukrainians clearly view the Russians as occupiers, that does not change the fact that in the far southeast especially in Mariupol the Ukrainian state and its Azov battalion SS rune wearing enforcers is hated by a large share of the population. A sufficient amount for Russia to pacify most of the coastal cities including Berdyansk and have its land bridge and water canal to Crimea.
As for articles like this, about how a Ukraine occupation will necessarily lead to the triumph of the West thanks to a reinvigorated NATO — given Indian rebuffs to Washington’s sanctions demands and how key India is to the Quad and a containment strategy vs China (even assuming Congress and our increasingly woke natsec bureaucracy have the maturity to disentangle Indian Russophilia from Delhi’s fear of China), I wouldn’t bet on it. The US has just demonstrated that it can make 100s of billions in sovereign assets freeze if not disappear at a keystroke. Is that a recipe for say Saudi confidence in USD as a sovereign vehicle of wealth?
America doesn’t need the Indians to cooperate on Russia–they are less than 2% of their imports and exports. America needs Indian cooperation on China, and realpolitick will work find for that. India won’t be punished for its relations with Moscow; these relations will not strain our ability to do quad stuff. Not worried on this count at all.
Given that #NeverTrump er Congressman Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) is tweet-threatening our most sacred ally Israel with some sort of repercussions for not condemning or sanctioning Russia’s invasion it’s hard to see that the India Lobby and mainline natsec can keep the WorldWarWokeists from screwing up relations with India over their USD free reliance on Russian arms, wheat and oil.
Very different. Israel is dependent on the U.S. in a way India is not and has never been. We give $3 bil to Israel, and get nothing but feels in return; India has much to give us, and we have given little.
To bring the subject back to the host’s primary concern, which is the Ukraine War’s impact on US grand strategy and position in the Indo-Pacific…
If the Ukrainians keep torturing and shooting Russian POWs and gleefully posting videos of their handiwork online that even the Bellingcat British intel sock moppets can’t deny, that’s going to become a problem for the US/NATO’s image outside the 5Eyes/EU information bubble. The existence of which for most of natsec/miltwitter is like explaining water is wet to a fish. People particulary inside the Beltway who consider themselves quite sophisticated are somewhat to very provincial in regards to imagining that any soft power still exists for Russia outside of Serbia at all…especially in China AND India.
Picture a USAF officer going to the next Cope India exercise being asked if the US/NATO by directly feeding Ukrainian units real-time battlefield intel to fight Russians assumes any command responsibility for the Ukrainians violations of the laws of war. Would be a fun conversation I’m sure.
Aside from the recovery of the ruble, India adopting a de facto but not de jure pro-Russian neutrality may be the biggest US/UK fail of this war so far. Resentment of the British Empire and any perceived US policies that echo it run deep on the Subcontinent. The soft coup attempt currently underway in Pakistan vs Khan is likely to backfire as well. CIA and ISI have left their Afghan War bygones be bygones just a few months after the humiliating rout in Kabul? I don’t think so. I think Baba Beijing intel for their ‘Iron Brothers’ helped the Talibs roll up our outposts a hell of a lot faster than Langley or DoD was expecting.
Regarding Russian and Chinese GDP (and especially the latter’s military spending which might approach at its maximum one third of the Pentagon’s level of spending) being undercounted in PPP aka the popularly known Big Mac Index terms…https://twitter.com/GrayConnolly/status/1513304101186314241
This is a good thread for Australian Catholic conservative commentator Gray Connolly, for whom I have a lot of respect as a voice of realism and restraint. But Gray’s ‘China needs to earn USD to buy food and hydrocarbons’ point is now increasingly with every yuan or RMB-local currency swap deal…false.
Seems like a lot of unwarranted confidence here. Russia has given up on Mykolaiv and Odesa for the time being. Barring a major change in the direction of the war it seems unlikely they will be threatened. In fact Russia’s control over Kherson may be threatened by Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the area.
I also don’t see how Kharkiv falls anytime soon even with Mariupol’s fall which may take a while. How are the troops from Mariupol even going to get to Kharkiv? How long is that going to take?
The Russians have internal lines of communication to move troops north to Kharkov from Mariupol — where some of the last pockets of the Azov battalion have been incinerated with thermobaric strikes on the Azovstahl works. The reduction of heavily tunneled and fortified positions in Donbass is still proceeding but Ukrainian forces there are running out of food and artillery shells under round the clock arty and aerial bombardment.
A good summary of Russian assessments of their own failures in the war so far from John Helmer, an Aussie and the longest tenured Western journalist in Moscow who supposedly has decent sources on the periphery of the Ru MOD. Yes the Ukrainians fought harder and with greater mobility especially in the north than the Russians likely anticipated, including in their planning to prevent cross border raids into Belgorod region. But the main failure of Russian MoD planning according to Helmer’s sources was not anticipating the Ukrainians dexterous use of real-time encrypted Internet delivered to tablets battlefield intel. It probably bought the Ukrainian SAM crews doing their best Serb air defense in 1999 impersonation and air forces many days of survival by keeping them on the move between launch sites and aerodromes. Unfortunately for the Ukrainians the Russians still shot down almost all of their jets and the vaunted Bayrektar drones while killing their BUK and S300 SAMs that NATO doesn’t have ready replacements for (Starstreak is the world’s most formidable MANPAD but it only goes up to max 23,000 feet so the Russians can bomb from above it or use drones to bait or locate its operators). Supposedly the French took the lead on the Ukrainians air forces while the British led on the naval build up such as it was and the Americans together with Balts and Swedes trained the ground forces. However Helmer also points to a big almost inexplicable NATO command over their Ukrainian proxies failure in the south which was the Russian seizure of Kherson with very little resistance. Perhaps after the war we’ll find out a key Ukrainian general defected or family ties to pro Russian relatives in Crimea played some role in the collapse and half assed attempt at imitating Fedayeen Saddam tactics cerca 2003 (that Ukrainian tactic had the fingerprints of a US colonel or general who invaded Iraq all over it) to harass some Russian supply convoys that otherwise did little to stop the seizure of Kherson (the relevance of this for PLA dossier building on Taiwanese forces right down to the junior officers who may have relatives on the Mainland should be obvious). The biggest failure of imagination on the American side is the degree that they are indoctrinated to not see any pro-Russian sentiment on the ground at all or recognize that the Bandera/UPA state building ideology while motivating fanatical resistance can also be a major liability for Kyiv maintaining loyalties, especially outside of the Donbass.
You could say that the Russians are blaming their setbacks on the Americans basically puppeteering the Ukrainians in the field, which probably is exagerrated (outside of Kyiv where mobile Internet is hard to come by and there probably aren’t many sat phones or Starlink routers either). But the fact that the level of coordination for a proxy force is likely unprecedented — even Soviet Army and Air Force commanders embedded with Arab forces in 1969-71 couldn’t hope to achieve such levels of situational awareness for their proxies — does explain a lot. Too bad for the Pentagon and NATO real time intel can’t teleport tanker loads of diesel from the Polish border to the Donbass front. Nor overcome critical shortages of food, fuel and ammo for encircled Ukrainian forces. Holding out and launching skilled guerrilla attacks from cities is much easier than combined arms counterattacks with what little armor you can muster across open steppe without civilians to hide behind from vastly superior airpower and drone guided enemy artillery.
>> we find American statesmen working outside of the normal policy process in the immediate aftermath of an emotionally charged attack on innocent people.
It’s true that there is an emotional charge. But its sources can be incompetence and professional unpreparedness, as this thread presents a formidable array of major strategic thinkers over the years whose insights today’s politicians have disregarded, only to act surprised as the warnings they ignored have been realised :
The time evil has been unleashed in Ukraine can be best determined by its basic demographic and economic data : e.g. the fact that the population of this resource-rich country has been decimated, since the inception of its parliamentary democracy.
That democracy started after disrespecting the results of its nation-wide referendum :
And this is the current evil unleashed on Ukraine: https://postimg.cc/xcVbq1wF
The case of the American public intellectual class may be… ‘Youth to itself rebels, though none else near.’
The Russians first combat use of a Mach 10 capable Khinzal aeroballistic missile today was certainly a message to NATO, and to the Pentagon to cool off Washington’s advocates for a no fly zone over Ukraine. This article by an Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) neocon think tank fellow and USMC veteran is the first of several ‘actually maybe the Russians aren’t so comically inept after all’ pieces to prepare mil/natsec Twitter to face reality with the fall of Mariupol and the looming grind up of the encircled Ukrainian forces in the Donbass and Kharkov.
I concur with Bill Roggio that Russia has demonstrated its Army is not at the point where it could, as the RAND Corporation surmised, easily seize the Baltic states in a fait accompli and then withstand massive NATO cruise missile and ground counterattacks. Why should we expect this to be the case when in nominal GDP (not purchasing power parity) terms Russia’s entire military budget is ten times less than that of the US and twelve to fourteen times less than that of NATO combined? Only combining Russia and China’s military budgets perhaps presents about a third of what the US spends annually on mil + natsec even accounting for the personnel salaries and benefits differential in rubles/yuan.
The Russians have clearly not built and never have had the budget to build an Army capable of taking on all of NATO at once. At the same time, I think such a scenario was never realistic and tended toward the asinine to begin with — the only reason Russia would have to attack the Baltics particularly through the so-called Suwalki Gap from the Belarussian border is if the US and Poland were trying or preparing to use them to blockade Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave, with all the attendant risks massed forces could be incinerated with thermobaric weapons or tactical nukes. And it is clear despite the hype over the Turks shooting down one Russian warplane in 2015 and allegedly getting away with it Turkey is opting out of the sanctions and wants no part of direct military confrontation with Moscow after 55 Turkish soldiers were killed in a single double tap air strike in Syria, and Erdogan’s dread of Iranian and Hezbollah missile strikes on his vulnerable troops was clearly also part of his quick agreement with Putin for a ceasefire. Meanwhile NATO’s own hype about Bayrektar drones as wunderwaffen has died down considerably now that the Russians have demonstrated as the Emiratis surely would have in summer 2020 over Libyan skies without American / British interference on the Turks behalf that a modern military with both integrated air defenses and fighter jets can easily shoot TB2s down and perhaps more importantly destroy them on the ground (even given Ukrainian efforts to disperse them and perhaps even operate TB2s from highways in western Ukraine).
>> Russia has demonstrated its Army is not at the point where it could, as the RAND Corporation surmised, easily seize the Baltic states in a fait accompli and then withstand massive NATO cruise missile and ground counterattacks. Why should we expect this to be the case when in nominal GDP (not purchasing power parity) terms Russia’s entire military budget is ten times less than that of the US and twelve to fourteen times less than that of NATO combined?
The US military budget is mismanaged massively.
It’s dubious whether we should have expected Russia, with its comparatively tiny military budget, to develop technologies like Khinzal and Sarmat.
In any case, agreed that it’s unlikely that Russia would try to occupy the Baltic states. At the same time, they and want NATO’s military infrastructure to be removed from there, and are likely to position hypersonic weapons, including nuclear-tipped ones, near them.
All of this discussion is based in the interest in defending human freedoms, and it looks to me that while the gods of Washington, Beijing and Kremlin clash and intrigue between each other, the lights of freedom begin to flicker, and weaken everywhere. Allusion to Wagner’s Twilight of the Gods, a potential global fate.
Agreed. Russia is sliding into a full wartime censorship regime, but the US ever since the Russian collusion hoax that was intended to psychologically prepare Americans for a hot proxy war in Ukraine has been rolling out Big Tech gloved censorship in lieu of direct hamfisted government restrictions on 1A. While a social conservative or even a conservatarian can celebrate Pornhub being blocked in Russia, Moscow is now firmly in the Huawei 5G and Sinosphere as far as mass surveillance tech goes.
From Churchill’s eulogy fro Chamberlain, one of my all time favorite pieces of writing. Only to point out that we should prepare to be surprised by whatever happens.
“It is not given to human beings, happily for them, for otherwise life would be intolerable, to foresee or to predict to any large extent the unfolding course of events. In one phase men seem to have been right, in another they seem to have been wrong. Then again, a few years later, when the perspective of time has lengthened, all stands in a different setting.”
Tanner — Great piece as always. While I think your central thesis here is worth considering, you haven’t convinced me on a few key points:
1) It’s not clear that, particularly in the White House, decisions are in fact being made on the basis of “logic of appropriateness”. POTUS has made clear repeatedly that he is working up a ladder of reactions based on Russian actions, a ladder that appears to be pretty well designed, calibrated, coordinated, and even partially communicated, in advance, and its primary objects appear to be reducing Russia’s comprehensive state power, deterrence (and not just of escalation in Ukraine but particularly of other escalation—e.g. into NATO territory—Putin knows we’re serious here), and seeking to position Putin (in the eyes of the world) as the marginal aggressor (ref. UNGA vote). Yes these are largely near-term goals, but they involve a lot more than moral condemnation and are clearly not being made off the cuff.
2) Assessing longer-term outcomes is, as always, subject to far greater uncertainty, but even for these it’s not clear why the scenarios you have outlined are less desirable than those we would expect with a softer approach here. If the Biden were reacting now similarly to how Obama did in 2014, how much damage would the deterrent (and, yes, moral!) posture and global standing of the U.S./NATO/west suffer? Would Putin have miscalculated the West’s response this time (as it seems he has) if the response last time had been stronger (when, had our response been stronger, similar arguments to yours could easily have been made)? What does this imply about how our actions now may impact the next time (if there is one)? If we had not be working for months to align with Europe and other allies and partners in this strong response, how much of a mistake would be be to miss this opportunity for geopolitical re-alignment around a liberal core so important to longer term threats? It is not at all clear that the world would be a safer place or the risk of nuclear war lower in the future with appeased and aggrandized authoritarians now.
3) My impression is your concerns are actually animated by the nuclear limit case—and you are minimaxing yourself away from anything leaning toward that scenario. Fair enough, almost no one wants a global nuclear war. But if you believe as I do that authoritarian aggressors very often aggress of their own accord, not just in reaction to pressure from the outside, the best thing to do is to responsibly diminish their power when the opportunity presents itself. Because we can’t count on the liberal side winning! Yes nuclear war would be bad, but so would the liberal world losing the overall upper hand in the global competition with authoritarian powers. We have to bear that risk in mind too and take justifiable risks to minimize it.
4) If there’s one thing that essentially no one seems to have predicted about the course of the war so far it is the balance of power on the ground so far. You may or may not be right that Russia has what it takes to ultimately prevail, but you seem too confident in this assessment, and more importantly too reluctant to smell the blood in the water here and be willing to take advantage of it!
” But if you believe as I do that authoritarian aggressors very often aggress of their own accord, not just in reaction to pressure from the outside, the best thing to do is to responsibly diminish their power when the opportunity presents itself.”
This is not true in this case, but it was absolutely true in the case of Armenia v. Azerbaijan. Question: would it have made sense for Russia to have followed a hostile policy towards Azerbaijan in 2020 (and, BTW, unlike in the case of the West and Russia, Russia could have easily forced Azerbaijan to capitulate)? I think not. Russia’s core interests were not threatened in Karabakh, and its foreign policy paved the way for a sensible compromise acceptable to the winning side -something that was, in my view, clearly advantageous to Russia.
You are right on the nuclear case. Lets say there is only a 10% of that sort of problem–too high, given costs.
1) All of this has actually restored my confidence in the Biden team. They are one of the players that is not just reacting–as the British government seems to be. Unlike everyone else in the Western world, they saw this invasion coming for three or four months. They had time to plan what the response would be. Their ability to get the entire West united around a shared sanctions regime points to how thoughtfully they put that package together. I am less sure they have fully gamed out the long game. I would like all decision making to be done with a 5-10 year frame in mind. People who question these things are being shouted out; this is bad. We need all of our assumptions closely checked.
2) I am not sure I want a softer approach. I could even be argued into a harder one, provided that we don’t react to the kind of scenario Dominic Cummings imagines here with proportionate escalation.
3) In terms of assumptions unexamined: In particular, I worry that Ukrainian fed OSINT strongly underplays the extent of Ukrainian losses. We are not shipping IFVs or tanks to the Ukrainian armed forces; when they lose those, they lose them permanently. The Russians can replace what they lose with more ease. The real question I think is this: just what level of sacrifice are Russians willing to make for this war? How will they react if civilian vehicles are requisitioned? If conscripts are put on the battlefront? I do not trust reports of low morale among the Russian populace–it seems very cherry pickish. If the Russian people are behind this, and not just Putin, as many Westerners hope, I believe that (at worst) they can hold what they already got. That is the essential question I think: *can* they fully mobilize their society, or not? I feel like there is a lot of motivated reasoning on this question at the moment.
Tanner your hunch that I suspect Roggio more than hinted at in the Daily Mail is that UAF casualties are being downplayed by the US/UK media to the point of lying by omission to prop up Ukrainian morale is correct. They’ve certainly done it before on a smaller scale after Kyiv lost the Ilovaisk, Donetsk Airport and Debaltseve battles.
The amount of rocket artillery including thermobaric weapons and aerial / drone bombing of UAF forces in the Donbass and Kharkov pockets this week will increasingly make the contrast between a Twitter that mostly shows knocked out Russian vehicles around Kyiv and the pro Russian Telegram channels the aftermath of annihilated UAF battalions as being on two different planets.
Coda: Last time I was in Moscow I was having a dinner at Cafe Jhivago with excess vodka and I pressed the Soviet-born, Western educated, Putin-returned senior economist on the basics, what is the strategy here? You have asked the wrong question, he said. There is no strategy. Only tactics. Soviet Union ≠ Putin’s Russia. Can we assume, now, essentially only Putin would be the one to launch a nuclear strike? If so, should we not focus hard on him? Nuclear use as tactic. When is that trigger pulled?
” Russian military modernization will be set back a generation by sanctions and war”
Here I must disagree. Vegetius was not always right about long years of peace leading to military stagnation and a new war leading to military strengthening -he was wrong for his time- but he is definitely correct in the case of the Russo-Ukrainian war. The Russian ground military has not suffered any credible large-scale test of combat since the Georgia war (the 2014-15 Ukrainian assaults were minor engagements), and the harder this war is to win, the greater the changes the Russian military will make to prevent a fiasco like this from happening again.
Russia’s economy will not be sufficiently weakened by sanctions to substantially hurt its military preparations (the exception is in the case of energy sanctions, which are unlikely). Sanctions will have an effect on the sourcing of critical parts for military equipment -but that problem will more likely than not be resolved in the long run, especially given China, India, and Vietnam’s neutrality in the conflict.
And while it is true the costs of invading Finland (the Baltics are irrelevant) do rise if Russia annexes all of Ukraine, the benefits of doing so -Finland’s growing comfort with an entry into NATO and its potential arming of a Ukrainian insurgency -might rise to an even greater degree.
In NatSec circles, the word “modernization” has a mores specific meaning–in essence, developing the next generation of war fighting technology. I wrote more about this here: https://scholars-stage.org/welcome-to-the-decade-of-concern/
The semiconductors restrictions, in particular, will make it hard going for the next generation of fighters, etc.
How many Russian weapons systems really need the most recent generation of chips as opposed to ‘good enough’ Chinese models though?
As a disclaimer, forecasting an outcome is not the same thing as rooting for it. My rooting interest as an American and human being is that this conflict ends in a ceasefire as soon as possible so spring planting can proceed in Ukraine’s heartland without being disrupted by farmer manpower being drained or fuel shortages. Otherwise hunger will be a real crisis across the Mideast and North Africa and the global grain price spike will be felt here in the US as well.
If I’m wrong in my contrarian analysis of the conventional military correlation of forces massively favoring Russia in the absence of direct NATO intervention (and anti tank / MANPAD weapons and intelligence alone being unable to fill the air and artillery firepower disadvantage the Ukrainians face), then the legacy media and some anonymous military men sources of theirs should be vindicated by a Russian semi rout in days, because no modern army since WW2 has ever sustained such losses in barely a month of hard fighting and not suffered partial collapse (think of the Republic of Artsakh’s army if you count a force with no airpower but a few SU25s as modern).
But God help the cognitive dissonance of natsec and miltwitter ers woke and non woke if NATO at least anonymously is going full Baghdad or Bogdan Bob.
I see the editors changed the title they were using for your op-ed. The new one is a little better but not entirely.
Your New York Times article is VERY valuable. Thank you for it. Sobering but necessary. HOWEVER, you did not not address what might well be the greatest “sticking point” in any possible negotiated settlement: Whether Ukraine can join the EU.
To the extent that Putin fears Ukraine being a Western oriented Slavic democratic model that could threaten, by its example, his regime — as many observers have suggested — he will be dead set against Ukraine joining the EU (even if Ukraine is not in NATO). Yet President Zelenskyy has expressed many times his determination to join the EU, even if Ukraine was not in NATO and was otherwise “neutral”. (Finland, of course, is “neutral” AND in the EU.)
(I note, in this regard, that in his New Yorker interview John Mearsheimer stated explicitly that Putin might allow Ukraine to retain self governance IF it gave up joining both NATO AND the EU. But is this something that Zelenskyy is willing to do?)
And there is a related point that relates to the Times article: Many American commentators (e.g., Anne Applebaum, Fareed Zakaria) have stressed that this conflict must end in a victory for Ukrainian sovereignty. Would Ukraine have given up its sovereignty if, in exchange for peace, it gave up its EU dreams? I hope that would not be the conclusion, because I cannot imagine Putin agreeing to a settlement that would sufficiently “save face” for him if Ukraine could join the EU.
Might it be the case that President Zelenskyy — and Ukraine — will have to face the fact (if it is a fact) that they will have to give up their (totally understandable!) dreams of joining the EU not just for the sake of peace for Ukraine, but — to prevent this conflict from possibly escalating in horrible ways — for the sake of peace for the world?
I hope you will directly address these issues and questions in another article. In the meantime, thank you again for your Times article.
Maybe I’m too much a lawyer but I can imagine a situation where Ukraine promises not to join the EU and in fact doesn’t. But in a series of steps, it develops a “special economic relation” with the nations of the EU. As long as everyone is willing to accept form over substance, it’s a win-win. Putin gets Ukraine’s public commitment not to join NATO or the EU. Ukraine gets much of the value of an opening to the west.
I don’t know if the EU would go for this. An “a la carte” model of patchy relationships where those outside the union get the majority of the benefits of being in it, except in name and certain parts, is strongly disfavoured, and would be a headache for managing political developments in Hungary and Poland.
“These demands will grow more onerous as the Russian advance creeps forward”
I think there’s a real argument that the Russian advance isn’t looking like it will get meaningfully farther forward. https://www.understandingwar.org/publications
Options for Putin are
A) bring conscripts to Ukraine (against Rus constitution, may provoke protest/desertion/selfwounding)
B) find new contract soldiers (Russians may be in favor of the war, that doesn’t mean Russians want to sign themselves up to go into Ukraine)
Putin’s last major reserves of contract soldiers, naval infantry, number only 12000 and are already partially engaged EG in mariupol (more of the 12000 are on the way to Ukraine from the East).
Yes, Ukraine is short of combat vehicles, but if Ukrainian morale is high enough (it seems to be, I could be wrong), they don’t need combat vehicles to slow Russian advances and guerilla the Russian rear (2000 kilometer long frontline for 200000 Russian troops means guerillas can get through some parts of the frontline).
In my opinion the main reason to pursue a settlement is to protect civilians and the main reason not to pursue a settlement is that Putin isn’t trustworthy (and his successor is unlikely to be trustworthy either).
I hope Zelenskyy isn’t afraid of domestic political attitudes. Human lives are more important than his reelection. However, it’s possible continuing to fight is the correct decision.
There are reserves of manpower yet to be tapped by the Russians, not only Syrian militiamen who picked up Russian or IRGC Shia volunteers from Russia friendly and rock solidly pro-Chinese Pakistan who can pull counter sabotage guard duty in the rear areas. No one has considered the possibility of Russian speaking Mongols, veterans of the Mongolian Army, being recruited into the Army of Novorossiya aka the Eurasian Foreign Legion. And while I don’t expect to see Russian speaking Chinese volunteers from Heilongjiang appearing in Ukraine, the US IC warning that China has received a request for arms from Russia almost certainly is a hint of things to come.
I also think the Russian high command is holding back their best crack units in Belarus in case of a NATO country incursion (almost certainly Polish with the US ‘leading from behind’) into western Ukraine. There is historical precedent for this too. Many of the units that the Finns chewed up during the 1940 Winter War were second line or logistics formations while Zhukov’s best troops with the new T34s and Katyushas were shifted from the Japanese frontier to the Moscow counteroffensive in late November 1941, once German born spy Richard Sorge informed Soviet intelligence that Tokyo had decided to attack the Western Allies in the Pacific.
Miltwitter loves to cite the Winter War. Everyone loves to root for the underdog. They don’t dwell on whether the Finns contributed to the siege of Leningrad that starved hundreds of thousands including Putin’s relatives or the annihilation of the Mannerheim Line’s defenders with saturated US Lend Lease truck towed artillery and Katyusha mounted launchers in the summer of 1944.
The Russians view themselves as the underdog in this war, because they perceive Ukraine to be a NATO member in all but name. Given the billions of dollars in NATO weapons and training that Kyiv has been lavished with over the past eight years as well as real time intel that has helped the Ukrainians punch above their weight (particularly helping Ukraine’s SAM crews survive a bit longer by turning on their radars at the last possible moment to engage), they’re not entirely wrong.
The next few weeks are going to be rough on miltwitterers particularly the more woke ones. Be kind and take care of the mental health of your people is my advice to servicemen watching this conflict from afar.
No evidence “inter-agency process” would produce better outcomes than doing the exact opposite of whatever the recommendations worked out to be. Design-by-committee and whatnot. But I guess it’s nice to have faith in something … or is the call for more “process” here just to hide a call for doing basically nothing?
I have to disagree with you as well with your idea Putin was driven by “the logic of appropriateness”, rather than the logic of consequences: the consequences of inaction were a hostile and increasingly well-armed Ukraine that was increasingly closer to the West, as well as increasing Western sanctions on Russia. The common Machiavellian insight that it is better to kill a man than to steal his property applies here. The “frozen conflict” strategy had failed at bringing the West to the negotiating table, it was, therefore, time to engage in escalation to create conditions for future deescalation. Is the West going to be continuing its sanctions spiral on Russia once Ukraine is part of Russia? Unlikely. Even if Russia does not succeed in full annexation, is it better off with a militarily defanged Ukraine that acknowledges Russian claims in Crimea and Donbass or a militarily strong Ukraine that doesn’t? Clearly the latter is more likely to create conditions for peace and the advancement of Russian interests. No doubt there were intense debates in the Kremlin about whether Ukraine should be invaded.
For the reasons above, I’m not seeing any strategic miscalculation on Putin’s part in ordering the invasion -though there were many on the part of the generals in planning it. There is a world in which the potential economic consequences of Western sanctions in the aftermath of the invasion would make the costs of the invasion greater than the benefits -but that world does not exist any longer. The rich countries form a smaller share of global GDP than at any point during the twentieth century. A successful Russian invasion creates the preconditions for the lifting of sanctions and reduces the chances of NATO expansion. If there is anything the past eight years have demonstrated, it is that under status quo conditions Western sanctions will never be lifted, and will continue increasing regardless of if Russia decides to resolve the Ukrainian question on its own. The Trump presidency and the Zelensky presidency both demonstrated this.
As a Mearsheimerian realist I agree with ‘rules based international order’ mainstream in so far as the taboo against territorial conquest — including its indirect violation by NATO when the alliance cited R2P as justification to violently separate Kosovo from Yugoslavia in 1999 — cannot be dissolved. Otherwise direct conflict between nuclear powers becomes much more likely if not inevitable.
I sympathize with any soldier honorably defending his country, particularly the ‘territorials’ who have taken up arms in defense of their hometowns, rather than going to enforce a government writ on a population of suspected or hostile loyalties in the Donbass. But that being said, it’s telling that the more Americans find out about the Ukrainian government and corruption beyond Zelensky, the less inclined they are to keep pumping money and weapons into it, hence the media campaign of memory holing their own negative stories about Ukraine under wartime self and Administration demanded censorship pressure. CNN putting the Azov Battalion on this week in my opinion was a shameful attempt to normalize a group that openly wears Nazi insignia, including (especially for ‘woke’ miltwitterers to ponder) the Wolfsangel symbol worn by Hitler’s Das Reich division that fought and killed Americans during WW2’s battles of Normandy and the Bulge.
There is no doubt that the Ukrainian government is exaggerating Russian casualties while lying about its own terrible losses. Since many units deserted or surrendered arms to separatists in April 2014 it has sprinkled hardcore nationalists in its armed forces to prevent them from surrendering en masse, as many did in the border battles of 2014-15. Many of its units use civilians as cover against an enemy who dominates the skies and has artillery superiority. There is overwhelming eyewitness and testimonial evidence that Azov committed war crimes by refusing to let civilians flee Mariupol through the humanitarian corridors of the past two weeks and the ‘Russians are deporting people against their will to Russian territory’ is almost certainly a Ukrainian lie to cover the embarrassment that many Mariupol ans sought refuge on the territory of the aggressor country. And Ukrainians calling for the castration of Russian soldiers, or the shooting of civilian buses going to Russian controlled territory are calling for war crimes.
Rep Adam Kinzinger’s frustration that Israel is not decisively taking a side is not just a matter of his expecting every US ally or partner like India to put aside its interests in service to an all consuming struggle with Russia. It also reflects his ignorance that quite a few Israelis dislike the shotgun marriage between the cult of Galician Nazi collaborators that murdered their great aunts and uncles during the Holocaust and gay pride parades that passes for Kyiv’s ideology. For now the pressure and government censorship is overwhelming in Poland, but I expect before too long young Ukrainian men in Poland will be asked on the street why aren’t they fighting for their country and, if it’s late at night after heavy drinking by soccer fans, their opinions of Bandera and the Volyn genocide.
Regarding the numbers that have been thrown around in the US media and on mil/natsec Twitter:
The latest unnamed official brief says Russia has lost 10% of the forces it committed to the Ukraine invasion in just about three weeks. The previous rate cited was 1-1.5% casualties for the total force per day. Of course back of the envelope calculations can vary to explain the apparent inconsistency, and certainly the Russians have emphasized standoff artillery and missile strikes since mostly halting their advances around Kyiv while bypassing Sumy in the north and Nykolaiv in the south.
That being said, such an attrition rate at the start of the war would approach or exceed the US casualty rate from the storming of the Normandy beaches and the bocage fighting with the Wehrmacht in the June-July 1944 period of WW2. Again, not impossible if we compare to the WW2 level casualties on both sides in the recent Ngorno-Karabakh War, but highly likely to be exaggerated to bolster Ukrainian morale and make many mil/IC types feel better about a US ally Washington has poured billions of dollars worth in arms and millions of man training hours into getting militarily eviscerated.
I thank Tanner for having a forum were harsh reality can be expressed by realists without fear of cancellation. Social media has brought unprecedented amounts of information (as well as propaganda) into natsec circles, but it can also produce conformity and overemotional analysis. This could have potentially disastrous consequences should China move on Taiwan, because after the ‘ghost of Taipei’ euphoria would come the grim awareness of catastrophic fleet losses followed by Congressional demands for the destruction of the Three Gorges Dam or US use of tactical nuclear weapons (at least at against PLAN targets or islands in the SCS). The relationship between wokeness seeping into the ranks and the inability or unwillingness to process painful information is one that needs to be carefully observed in the coming months.
Congratulations on getting published in the NYT. This topic is far from my expertise, so I have no substantive comments. But I’m glad the editors recognize the value in your writing; the NYT’s audience misses out in not seeing your regular work here.
Greer, for a dissident take on the American people, you should honestly read my
Were I to write it again today, I would write it in a much more sneering tone, playing to the worst leftwing caricatures of Americans (which, coincidentally, happen to be correct), with reference to the “Team America: World Police” theme song.
I was not even slightly surprised by the level of support Ukraine got from the American public. The fact support from non-college Whites was a tad higher than from college Whites was a bit surprising, but easily explained by the fact those with lower intellectual capability are less likely to be capable of thinking for themselves. Remember, the average American believes Russia is either socialist or Communist. It is those who believe it is capitalist which are by far most likely to stand with Russia.
You have to understand that what is written in Compact is pure propaganda (toward views I favor), never analysis. It has as little relation to reality as liberal propaganda. Propaganda has its place, but it must never be confused with analysis.
It’s dissident but not novel. The idea that America was a libertarian country is flatly contradicted by historical laws that stood for centuries uncontested, and cases such as Barron v. Baltimore and the slaughterhouse cases are hard pills to swallow for any libertarian who wants to claim an ideological pedigree with the founders. The federal government has been the champion of individual liberty against the dastardly state governments for over a century. The libertarian railing against the overreaching feds doesn’t comport with the historical ratchet being a transfer of power to Washington at the expense of the states, in exchange for individuals within those states getting more liberty in consideration.
The contemporary interpretation libertarians have with regard to the 1st Amendment would be deemed close to the communist party line in the 1920s. Blue laws date to the colonial period. The Comstock Act existed. The public school system (created by a Unitarian) was hailed as the glory of America.
The only hope libertarians have for the state to wither away (and at root, to get back at dad, and God) is for them to play the antithesis role in the controlled dialectic moving forward, which they already do, with gusto.
The parallel to Vietnam from this war isn’t coffins coming back (though a handful of US/UK volunteers and NATO French Foreign Legionnaires embedded with Azov or based at cruise missile struck Yavoriv are probably KIA) but the stagflationary shocks in commodities and pain at the pump / grocery stores. As well as pending surge of anti American feeling in Europe this time coming from the Right not just the Left.
Re the Bucha massacre I left a comment on a previous thread here:
The film crews filming without noticing or hearing from anyone about bodies being left lying in the streets for 48 hours is akin to the Maidan massacre executioners of the ‘Heavenly Hundred’ all slipping away without a single casualty (despite the presence of heavily armed with pistols, rifles and shotguns ‘Maidan Self Defense’ street fighters nearby) for the killers on February 20, 2014.
In other words, Ukraine is a country where false flag atrocities happen early and often. The victims of Bucha may very well have been murdered by Right Sector/Azov Battalion members shooting suspected ‘collaborators’ for the high crime and treason of being hungry and wearing white bandage armbands when accepting food packages from Russian soldiers.
What we do know for sure at this hour is that Azov was in Bucha. The NYT photographed them. And they must be quite angry if not enraged that Russia via its LDPR proxies and Chechen fighters have slaughtered their comrades trapped in Mariupol.
It’s always best to reserve judgement until all the facts are in. But the possibility that a notorious Ukrainian volunteer battalion (actually a highly reinforced brigade that became part of a state within a state — you can see Azov members threatening President Zelensky to his face in 2019 below):
So my opinion of President Zelensky is largely irrelevant, as is yours. Zelensky basically decides nothing and couldn’t order units to comply with the Minsk Accords back in 2019 even if he had wanted to do so.
blue check mark miltwitter memories of Fallujah
Bayrektar TB2 vs a real modern military with airpower = overrated Turkish junk
One feels that a gradual incursion of NATO into previous Warsaw Pact countries, with weapons pointed towards Russia, has stimulated the Russians into this horrible aggression. Why didn’t NATO ask Russia to join NATO? This might have shifted a balance towards a more reasonable relationship. Russia should not be the enemy, but it has become so.
I will cease posting here for a good while as I’m merely a guest commenter here and do not wish to create a monologue nor annoy our respected host. Even where I disagree with Tanner on many things I do respect his scholarship and willingness to admit painful for triumphalist realities (such as the general joke that is Taiwanese reservist training, for example).
However, I would like to make one last comment as Kyiv now declares the major Russian offensive is underway in the Donbass, with the Russians pushing ahead from Izyum alongside Russia’s local Donetsk Lugansk militia allies attacking to close the pincers around 45,000-60,000 low mobility low on fuel and artillery ammo Ukrainian troops from the south:
It has occurred to me that the reason some in the Pentagon and even the sharpest tools in the shed on ‘mil/natsec Twitter’ have gone along with Kyiv and the cable news generals exaggerating Ukraine’s combat successes and grossly downplaying of its irreplaceable losses in manpower and equipment like S300/BUK SAMs NATO cannot easily replace is not just euphoria over the Russians pulling back from their grossly undermanned Kyiv operation, nor career expediency. No, I would invite the astute commenters here to entertain a deeper explanation, and indeed I personally prefer a more noble and charitable theory: that some of the smartest officers who actually do know their shit about Russia particularly those in DIA and Stratcom who know things about the Russians alleged ‘escalate to de escalate’ nuclear doctrine are playing along because they DO NOT WANT AMERICAN PILOTS AND TROOPS ACTIVELY PARTICIPATING IN COMBAT vs the Russians in Ukraine and then swiftly in a matter of days if not hours climb the escalation spiral staircase to nuclear weapons use (including AMERICAN FIRST USE OF TACTICAL NUKES against an alleged non Russian homeland Belarussian target to avenge multiple Khinzal hypersonic missiles wiping out most of an American carrier battle group in the Med and killing/wounding thousands of sailors in one night or slaughtering the American occupation garrison in southeastern Syria aka things moron Congressmen like Adam Kinzinger think could never happen because magical NATO force fields). Thus the ‘why bother sending more than arms including ‘volunteer’ advisors on the ground when the Ukrainians are winning so hard?’ rhetoric from old hands I won’t name but I still respect. (Nevermind the data counterpoints of thousands who’ve surrendered in Mariupol and now the Donbass, or the increasingly old and baby-faced faces of the Ukrainian POWs faces on pro-Russian Telegram accounts — the Twitter / Telegram wars as I’ve said might as well be on different planets).
Perhaps it really is a reverse psychology mind game to humor our insane politicians and clown world World War Woke ist TV generals alongside the armchair Twitter warriors.
Charlie, looking over your comments over the span of the last month I find myself straining a bit. Have your views changed at all between March 20th and April 20th? In that time the Russians faced several serious, even debilitating setbacks. I can go with you halfway: twitter world presents one half a story, and Ukrainian losses do not feature there. But it is not clear to me that your views have changed at all over the last month, even though the situation on the ground has changed in major ways. Kyiv was not just a pull back: it was a defeat. Your refusal to describe Russians with such words, but only the Ukrainians, leads me to question how even handed your assessments are.
Feel free to clarify what I misread in your comments. But that is my impression
The Russians easily shooting down all of Ukraine’s vaunted TB2s in the first week of the war or destroying them with Kalibr cruise missiles before they could be used for SAM crew target practice is a silver lining from this fratricidal war between two predominantly Orthodox Christian armies. As does disappearance of even recycled 2020 war of Azerbaijan ethnic cleansing against Artsakh Armenians TB2 drone strike footage from Ukrainian social networks and hence, gullible and impressionable American miltwitter accounts. This is indeed a hopeful sign for Greece and Armenia. That means the Turks are less likely to get high off their own Bayrektar wunderwaffen propaganda supply, even if @oryxspionkop deserves a bonus from whatever Bayrektar PR firm is paying him.
Speaking of Turkey, a NATO member bombed and invaded a supposedly sovereign country this week in Iraqi Kurdistan — and no one gives a crap. Certainly haven’t noticed even perfunctory expressions of concern in Brussels, London, Washington, Kyiv or Moscow.
Thank you for your reply. I’ll leave your commenters with this thought regarding even handedness — it’s the Ukrainians country they’re fighting for, but it’s our taxpayer dollars (and the Brits pounds and the Germans euros) paying for those weapons. So those commanders who purport to be fighting for our freedoms have the right to say to the Ukrainian generals: for Christ’s sake tell your soldiers to stop shooting and torturing Russian POWs — if they do without anyone seeing a brig awaiting court martial, the weapons deliveries may stop. To those who say like Jed said in Red Dawn ‘but they live there’ I would remind them that 40,000+ Donbass native militiamen are fighting for Russia. They ‘live here’ or ‘lived here’ in Popasna, Avdeevka and Marinka. And they don’t lack motivation to drive the Ukrainian Army that has shelled the Donbass for eight years back to the greater Galicia where they (mentally if not physically) came from…
Per Aussie journo John Helmer who’s been in Moscow since 1990 the phase 4 or 5 Russian plan is Make Galicia aka the Ukrainian Nationalist heartland howl with a Gen Sherman style march to Lviv. The 100,000+ troops of the Belarussian Army and the best Russian formations that have been kept in reserve for this purpose and for deterring a US/UK-backed Polish heavy ‘peacekeeping’ force rolling all the way to Kyiv.
Personally I have my doubts in this case Helmer’s sources even if they’re good could be feeding him disinformation. I also doubt such Russian plans will survive contact with NATO’s own. Regardless of the Moldovans fearful rebuff of Kyiv’s Transnistria invasion trial balloon, I think the Pentagon and Whitehall have designs to push the Romanian Army on Moldova to force the Russians to save their landlocked PMR exclave and to expose any Black Sea Fleet amphibious force landing on Moldova’s coastline to NATO-shipped/NATO fired ‘Ukrainian’ ASMs. Whether the Romanian Army is up for going anywhere past Chisinau or settling down in the Moldovan capitol as a ‘brotherly’ force in being for a US/UK/NATO/EU blessed greater Romania is another question.
While the Donbass meatgrinder continues and there is some seesaw battles on the outskirts of Kharkov Kyiv is claiming as major peremogas — as usual without asking themselves exactly how deep their forces can dig in if they get closer to the RU border and get hammered by arty/air strikes without dense civilian housing around for protection — the vaunted Turkish Bayraketars are still being shot down daily.
Tallying up credible Ru MoD claimed shootdowns already adds up into the scores of downed TB2s or approximately 2 1/2 times Ukraine’s estimated prewar complement of 20. It looks like the Turks with the help of their propagandists including Dutch-Turkish Orxy really bamboozled the Poles and Balts as to the combat effectiveness of these slow as Cessna 172s systems against any adversary with an actual air force. Oryx lists its authors on the website as Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans, both of whom have signed their names to pieces bashing Turkey and Bayraktar’s critics in the U.S. Congress especially Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey. I for one would like to see an enterprising Greek or Greek American reporter dig into these young men’s identities, their links as contributors to Bellingcat, and whether Bayraktar PR firms paid for their trip to Turkish air shows/accomodations in Istanbul. Regardless Oryx has as a con artist has certainly earned my grudging respect for his successful Turkish grift/psyop run on American mil/natsec twitterers who falsely extrapolated from Ngorno Karabakh War where the Artsakh Armenians practically had no air cover at all, as well as Libya where the Emiratis hesitated (no doubt under behind the scenes Anglo-American pressure) at handing the Turks a well deserved aerial arse kicking that would’ve bombed the TB2s on the ground.
Ukrainians are still fighting hard in Donbass trying to contest the river crossings that Russians intend to use for cutting off Sievierodonetsk, their last big stronghold before Slavyansk/Kramatorsk. AFP as usual leading the legacy media pack in terms of doubts creeping in about UAF’s ability to hold off the Russians indefinitely and Ukraine’s manpower well being inexhaustible (the latter view of most natsec/miltwitter with the exception of a few contrarians).
Thus far we’ve seen the wives and relatives of at least three ‘territorial’ units, two of them from Transcarpathia where some small % of the population hold Hungarian passports, protest on behalf of their menfolk. The Pentagon/Whitehall cooked up strategy of Kyiv holding the Donbass/Zaporozhe lines with forty and fiftysomething greybeards while building a new NATO equipped army in the West that can train in Poland avoiding Mr Kalibr is going to be sorely tested this summer. Unless the UAF can fall back to Pavlograd or another more defensible line east of Dnipro I think there’s going to be a breaking point in another six to eight weeks when Slavyansk/Kramatorsk are fire control encircled.
As for Kharkov, I think the Russians will pinch off the most advanced Ukrainian units and chew them up. This is the area where Manstein successfully (for a few months) counterattacked in the summer of 1943 after pulling his troops out of the Caucuses and reforming the German lines. I’m curious as to how many IFVs and tanks the Kharkov defenders have left and how many they diverted for a mostly symbolic morale builder counteroffensive. The online appeals for donated pick up trucks to make ATGM/machine gun technicals and minivans do not inspire confidence that the UAF have armored battlefield taxis left in abundance.
Regarding, in addition to the Oryx / Bayrektar wunderwaffen propaganda (I’m not going to get into the Russian propaganda claims that Ukrainian POWs are telling them only 1/4th of the Javelins and NLAWs fire, since that strikes me as highly improbable, particularly the ATGM launch failure due to dead batteries), whether the US/UK are creating their own information bubble about this war:
Where exactly are all of these Russian Iskanders and Kalibrs littering the fields of Ukraine after misfiring due to shoddy Chinese parts? Why is the photo accompanying this Yahoo story of a shot down Ukrainian Tochka ballistic missile of the type Russia no longer operates (I heard during the Kramatorsk Tochka massacre that Belarus still operates them).
Can the OSINT bros point these RU cruise missile misfires out to me? Because this smells like bs, but bs that Congressional staffers and their bosses actually believe. Meaning rather than demoralize the Russians by convincing them their equipment is trash, the post-West fools itself.
Ukraine’s remaining MiG29s are almost certainly Polish/Slovak AF inventory repainted in blue gold livery at this point. As for explaining the miraculous survival of those dozen MiGs (assuming they had to cannibalize some parts from the mothballed jets) alongside Ukraine’s handful of Su27s…I wonder how many in the past have been doing ‘touch and goes’ or refueling and loadout ‘pit stops’ at Ukrainian air bases to simulate operating from Ukrainian territory, when they are in fact based every night on NATO Article V protected Romanian territory to save them from getting Kalibr’d and are entering Ukrainian air space by flying low over Odessa region. Detecting such NATO de facto and likely de jure under international law (imagine Chinese jets taking off from Russian territory in Anadyr opposite Alaska to bomb Alaskan bases during a war over Taiwan) co belligerency flights may have been part of the Moskva’s mission in the NW Black Sea and put a big target on its back.
Again where are all the Iskander and Kalibr fails? Are we going to get a bunch of cope if China starts bombarding Taiwan and the US stands back that the PLA’s missiles don’t really work either?
A couple of points about this…
Western military observers particularly junior officers on ‘miltwitter’ are biased towards maneuver warfare over the kind of 21st century version of the British late summer 1918 offensives Russia is waging to grind up the UAF in the Donbass. They are also biased towards seeing only Russian rather than UAF casualties, and the fact that the former have dropped substantially while the latter have spiked means many miltwitterers have simply ceased tweeting about Ukraine as the triumphalism of the Kyiv and Kharkov pullbacks has been replaced by the Ukrainians themselves finally admitting to retreats and substantial losses after massively downplaying their casualties. It doesn’t change the reality that the post West has both a natsec establishment believing its own and its allies bs problem (see Orxyspionkop as a good example, there is no way officers back in the 1980s would have paid attention to the ‘OSINT’ of some Dutch-Turkish propagandist sitting in Europe) and that it lacks a framework for comprehending full scale short of nukes continental warfare.
This is rather obvious when you take a moment to recognize the collective West has never faced an enemy this lavishly equipped with MANPADs, RPGs and ATGMs in modern military history. The high rate of arms expenditure during the 1973 Yom Kippur War when the Soviets were arming the Arabs and the U.S. the Israelis is the only thing that comes even close. Of course the Ukrainians are also neither Afghan Pashtuns nor Iraqis. Of course if you measure this conflict as solely a Russia vs Ukraine Goliath vs David fight of course Russia’s performance would come across as poor. But if you recognize the reality that this is in fact an all out proxy war by NATO vs Russia wherein the Russians see themselves as the Davids fighting the collective post West and slowly winning, defeating the UAF as the most powerful proxy army the collective West has ever assembled (in ex-Soviet Navy officer Andrei Martyanov’s words), easily exceeding (at least in terms of $ thrown at the problem if not over time) the resources poured into the Army of the Republic of Vietnam from 1965-1975 or South Korean Army from 1950-53…then NATO’s performance by proxy becomes much much worse in comparison. And that is why even though I personally overshot in terms of seeing a potential UAF collapse in weeks rather than months, and it has taken months in no small part due to Western aid, what’s clear is the UAF is using civilian hatchback vehicles and Lada sedans to ferry troops around Sverodonetsk. Given the number of complaints to the high command and Zelensky about being used as cannon fodder videos flooding Ukrainian social networks, the UAF is rapidly approaching its morale breaking point, at least in the Donbass.
The cities of the north extending to the immediate suburbs of Kharkov where the Ukrainians still have suburban-or-urban terrain and large civilian populations to hide behind are a different story. It’s unclear once the Donbass is secured which direction the Kremlin’s STAVKA plans to go. But I don’t think Washington and London can allow Kyiv to even begin ceasefire talks, nor can the Russians afford either to leave a base in their northeast rear that can harass Belgorod or their Donbass flank using HIMARS, nor let the UAF continue massing troops and what Western MLRS/artillery they can muster to threaten Kherson oblast. HIMARS itself tho barely starts to replace the Smerch MLRS capability Ukraine has lost in this war. The U.S. would need to donate at least half its US Army/USMC inventory and start training the UAF on Abrams and F16s in Poland to put any meat on the bones of that hoped for and hyped August/September grand UAF counterattack. And I don’t think competent Viper or Abrams drivers can be trained even from former fighter or T64 jockeys in just twelve weeks…
My best guess as to what happens next? The UAF Kherson counter-offensives for lack of artillery support and sufficient IFVs will continue to fail miserably. The Kharkov salient will get pinched off slowly as the Russians will be in no hurry to roll the UAF back to the city limits so long as they’re willing to keep sortie ing precious tanks and IFVs into the countryside where they’re easier for Russian aviation to bomb. LNR/DNR units will get some but not much of a breather as the UAF falls back to the Pavlogrod line. Kramatorsk probably collapses much faster than the UAF command anticipated, judging by the semi-rout in Lischichansk-Sverodonetsk where the Ukrainians had 15,000 men.
Russian psyops (exploiting the history of Ukrainian nationalists idolized by the present regime having mercilessly slaughtered Poles in Volyn during WW2 to fuel inter-allied tensions) boosted rumors that the Polish Army is being trained and invited by Zelensky to go in and ‘protect’ western Ukraine will go into overdrive now. Ukrainian politicians will continue to accuse former President Petro Poroshenko and each other of zrada (treason) as the reality of humiliating defeat of Kyiv’s best most battle hardened forces in the Donbass sinks in.
The full 2016 Polish film Volyn (also titled ‘Hatred’) can be watched in its entireity here:
Viewer discretion is strongly advised the film contains many gruesome scenes based on true events: