Ukraine Latest: More Shortages; Misunderstanding Russian Strategy?

Even though we aspire to give a decent overview of the Ukraine-Russia state of play in Links, I thought to highlight some topics here. I’m being a bit terse today.

Shortages Starting to Bite

The Financial Times alone provides two new stories on shortages. One, which just broke, is Vitol chief warns of diesel rationing following Russian supply disruption:

The head of Vitol, the world’s largest independent oil trader, has warned of a “systemic” shortage of diesel in Europe stemming from potential disruption to Russian supplies, which could lead to fuel rationing.

Speaking at the FT Commodities Global Summit on Tuesday, Russell Hardy said that the shift to more diesel consumption over petrol on the continent had helped to create shortages of the fuel.

“The thing that everybody’s concerned about will be diesel supplies. Europe imports about half of its diesel from Russia and about half of its diesel from the Middle East,” said the chief of Switzerland-based Vitol. “That systemic shortfall of diesel is there.”

Note that we have been warning of diesel shortages. The rest of the story suggests refineries could produce more diesel at the cost of lowering the amount of other products generated; shipbrokers remain optimistic that other refiners will fill the gap. But that does not fully solve the problem of diesel demand, when filling that need is effectively diverting supply from other uses.

The Financial Times also warns of food shortages in the Middle East. These if anything seem to be coming faster than expected:

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made life even harder for Fadia Hamieh, a Lebanese university lecturer who was already struggling to make ends meet in a country with a failing economy.

Since the start of March, flour has disappeared from the shops and the price of bread has increased by 70 per cent. “Supermarkets are hoarding basic goods, then selling them at higher prices,” said Hamieh.

Even before the Ukraine crisis, Lebanon was in the grip of a financial meltdown; its currency has lost more than 90 per cent of its value since 2019. With more than 70 per cent of its wheat imports coming from Ukraine, consumers have been dealt a further blow.

As a discerning reader can tell, Lebanon is such a train wreck that it can’t serve as a poster child for the Middle East as a whole; I’ve heard horror stories from a Lebanese friend. And Ukraine separately was the most exposed:

But distress is on the march in the region. Again from the Financial Times:

The UN International Fund for Agricultural Development said the impact of rising food prices and crop shortages was already being felt in the Middle East and north Africa….

With the exception of the oil-exporting Gulf states, most Arab countries have weak economies, wide budget deficits and rely on subsidised food and energy….

Governments across the region have sought to contain the knock-on effect by attempting to procure more food supplies from other producers in Europe, rationing and imposing export bans on staples including flour, pasta and lentils. Lebanon has allocated all its flour supplies to bread production, and the government has also increased the price.

Grain and energy importers such as Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco will find their budgets under bigger strain as they spend more on imports and subsidies, say economists.

Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the IMF, warned earlier this month that countries in the Middle East and north Africa that relied on energy and food imports would feel the effects of the war “quite severely”.

Another potential issue is steel. The southeast area of Ukraine is industrialized. Reader Dave in Austin pointed out that steel production in particular was more important than many might assume:

Just east of the river is the Azov Steel plant now owned by Arcelor Mittel. Before the revolution Mariupol was a village. The city grew up around the Azovstal steel plant built in the 1930s, apparently the first such plant in the USSR. The plant took iron billets from further north in the Donetsk, remelted them in one of six coal-fired blast furnaces, and produced steel plate and sheet. The Kalmius River provided the water. Arcelor Mittel purchased the plant after the Soviet era. The company website, Wikipedia and the Google space pictures suggest that the plant was small, old and produced things like rebar. See Google:‘,+Zaporizhia+Oblast,+Ukraine,+72300/@47.1286284,37.4898779,24519m/data=!3m1!1e3 .

I’m no expert on the steel industry, but this looks like the Pittsburgh plants along the Monongahela or River Rouge near the end; old-style coal-fired reheat blast furnaces outmoded by modern electrical melting systems. The NYT headline that the plant was “Destroyed” seems to be the usual Uk-Hysteria.

The big news is buried in the company’s website. The Ukraine produces 34% of the iron slab and 50% of the iron billet remelted in western Europe to make EU steel. How much of that is Russian raw material processed in the Ukraine I don’t know. The prices have skyrocketed. See: associated pages.

One of the major hurdles holding-up a ceasefire is the Russian demand that the embargoes be eased along with the steps ending the conflict. The US says “No way”; western Europe is more amenable. So if Russia holds on to the gains during a protracted post-ceasefire period leading to the end of the trade embargo, a serious fault line will develop between the US and Western Europe and the iron and steel exports of the old USSR may become more integrated- and more Russian. Also the chances of a Russian advance to the Don [actually Dnieper] River before a cease fire to take control of the whole, largely Russian-speaking, iron and steel region post-Mariupol becomes more likely.

Dave considered the idea that if the US refused to relent and relax sanctions on Russia, that it holding these steel operations could become another pain point for Europe and add to the tensions between the two camps.

But as we pointed out in Links, per BNE, one of the steel operations in Mariupol has become damaged. The article quoted Ukrainians blaming the Russians….which by itself is not dispositive, since Russia hasn’t taken out much more accessible and strategically important infrastructure that also supports civilians, such as the electrical grid. But Louis Frye in comments below reports that the Azov Battalion was using the plant as a base of operations, and Lex (in comments to Links) says that footage of the blast suggests it was hit by a TOS-1, a Russian thermobaric rocket.

However, the story appears to discuss the oldest plant, the Azovstal plant proper, and not the newer plants around it. So the situation may not be as dire as the only sources claiming to depict the scale of damage, Twitter and Facebook accounts by two Ukrainian “lawmakers” indicate.

Misunderstanding Russian Strategy?

Alexander Mercouris got excited by a Financial Times story, Military briefing: Russian losses mask Ukraine’s vulnerabilities, which he read as the UK press beginning to sow the ground for Ukraine losing the war. I’d hazard that most readers would see that as going a bit far, but this piece, despite its headline, does have some admissions of the sort we haven’t seen so far. Note that Mercouris objected strenuously to the framing, saying that the he knows the history of the “winter war” against Finland in the 1940s well, and the popular understanding of it is all wet. So skip over that section if you read the story at the pink paper.

One striking bit is that about halfway into the piece, experts admit that they’ve relied completely, as in over-much, on what passes as intel from Ukraine. It seems to be occurring to then only now that they should have treated it as a hermeneutic, given Ukraine’s need to present itself as winning, both to win Western support and to prevent troop desertions. From the Financial Times:

Ukraine’s information dominance has masked its losses: thousands of open-source images of exploded Russian armour have been taken by Ukrainian civilians, who are unlikely to post similar pictures of their own side’s losses. This has led to a natural bias in the online content being scrutinised by many analysts.

Ahem. My understanding is that the validity of these images is questionable. There are claims, at least some backed by actual supporting images, that purported kills of Russian equipment are often if not mainly shots from earlier in the Donbass conflict that have been recycled, or more important, Ukraine equipment losses depicted as Russian (remember most Ukrainian armaments are of Russian origin).

To put it more bluntly, this is the worst sort of visual evidence and too questionable to serve as a source for reaching conclusions about operational results….yet the Financial Times suggests it was not vetted.

Yet before that came a discussion of Russian versus Ukrainian military losses. The Financial Times makes clear the Ukrainians have considerably understated their losses:

Kyiv says it has lost 1,300 troops compared with an estimated 7,000 killed, wounded or imprisoned for Russia, according to US estimates. But western officials and analysts said the Ukrainian losses were probably far higher: most agreed that an equivalent loss rate to Russia was plausible, equating to about 10 per cent of Ukraine’s troops.

Keep in mind there is a bit of an apples and oranges issue when taking about losses; in the Scott Ritter video yesterday, he meant deaths. We’ll return to that in a bit.

Per Ritter, Ukraine has over 260,000 regular forces and 310,000 reservists, plus additional specialized teams. Even if you assume 10% fo 260,000, that’s 26,000.

Ritter from the outset has estimated Ukrainian losses as a large multiple of those of Russia, with losses for him being the death count. Ritter has maintained based on his work for years with the Russian military that they do not understate their own fatalities. And so far they are not much over 1000. Admittedly, in a modern war injuries are now more common than deaths. But the Financial Times and Western sources take the Ukrainian estimates of Russian losses at face value, when it’s well known in war that combatants routinely and greatly overstate the harm they are doing to their opponent.

The Financial Times also admits that Ukraine is having supply issues, but they aren’t admitting to the potential biggie, the way Russia has been destroying fuel depots:

Hundreds of Ukrainian tanks and vehicles had also been destroyed, said one Nato official. “I can tell you that western arms supplies to Ukraine are absolutely critical at this point,” he said….

Even the level of supply may be insufficient.

“Senior [Ukrainian] officials have told me that supplies of anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons have slowed to a trickle and stocks are running low,” said Paul Grod, head of the Ukrainian World Congress, a non-governmental organisation. “This needs to be addressed as soon as possible — otherwise Ukrainian fighters will be confronting Russian tanks with just machine guns.”

Recent air strikes have hit the Antonov aircraft works and Artem arms factory near Kyiv and an aircraft repair plant near Lviv, indicating that Russia intends to cripple Ukraine’s munitions manufacturing capacity.

Finally, the article admits Russia is pursuing the same battle plan as it has from the outset, that it has not regrouped or fallen back to a Plan B:

The Kremlin has nevertheless repeatedly insisted its operations are going to plan. “I have seen no evidence that its overall intent has changed,” said one western defence official.

Why is this potentially significant? US commentators have depicted that the campaign has gone slowly because Russia didn’t bomb Ukraine into the stone age as we would have done on the first day. Another template being applied is map based: gee, there is a lot of open territory and cities not captured, so the Russians must not have gotten far. The press, for instance, depicts the Russian failure to capture Kiev as a sign of weakness, and does not pay much attention to Russia’s operations in the east (save for upset about allegations as to what is happening to civilians in Mariupol).

But again that assumes the objective is to take terrain. That was never a Russian goal. They wanted to destroy Ukraine’s warmaking capability, “denazify” and secure a commitment to no NATO and neutrality.

As Mercouris has maintained, and the Financial Times also mentions, Russian military uses Clasewitz as its strategy guru. Clausewitz argues the shortest path to success in combat was to subdue armies, not cities.

And Russia has, for instance, pointedly not been interested in taking Kiev. It’s parked enough troops around it that it could encircle and isolate Kiev if the Ukrainian soldiers were to abandon it to support the campaign in the east. It’s become clear for at least a week that the Russian intent for Kiev is to keep the Ukrainian troops there pinned down.

As the Financial Times mentions late in its story:

Perhaps Ukraine’s biggest tactical vulnerability is its Joint Forces Operation (JFO), where the bulk of Ukraine’s military assets are deployed just west of Donetsk and Luhansk. Russia was seeking to encircle Ukraine’s troops, western officials said, cutting them off from Kyiv and drawing them into open combined-arms combat, which plays to its battle groups’ superiority.

Crushing Ukraine’s forces in such a way would be as much of a victory as capturing Kyiv, some analysts said, invoking Carl von Clausewitz, the military theorist who saw the destruction of armies rather than the capture of cities as the fastest route to victory.

The Western press seems regularly to be painting happy faces on how Ukraine is doing in the east. Mariupol is lost, it’s just a mopping up operation now. The other main forces in Donbass are sufficiently well encircled that they can’t retreat and they are being divided into smaller cauldrons. Some sources claim they are also low on supplies; there’s no way to know but by all appearances, they are pretty well cut off.

Yet the press keep obsessing over cities, as a new over the fold story at the Financial Times attests: Military briefing: how the battle for Ukraine became a battle for its cities.

This vantage, which is not flattering to Russia, increasingly looks off base. Avoiding cities reduces civilian costs. If Russians can eliminate the Ukrainian army with Mariupol the only significant city it had to contest, that will serve the aim of sparing civilians.

It will be instructive to see what happens as Russia tightens the noose in the east. A win there would be hard for the West to dismiss, since it would represent at least half of Ukraine’s active forces and likely the majority of its seasoned ones.

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  1. jackiebass63

    I’m amused by how uninformed most of the population is concerning energy production. They don’t realize it is a complicated process that takes a long time to change. Many think we can solve the problem by more drilling and building more pipelines. They think a well can be drilled over night. The same with a new pipeline. These things can take decades and don’t happen over night. I believe the biggest problem we face is a long term energy policy.We tend to be reactive instead of proactive.Things don’t seem to happen until there is a crises instead of planning to avert a crises.It’s a good example of the effect of dumbing down the population.As a retired teacher the dumbing down of the population started after the Sputnik scare forced the upgrading of our educational system. The gains were slowly eroded over decades leaving us where we now are.

      1. Tom Bradford

        Free to be dumb.

        Some men are born dumb,
        Some achieve dumbness,
        And some have dumbness thrust upon them.

    1. BeliTsari

      Plate from Azovstal slabs: We had 2,800 48″ 40′ joints awaiting re-expansion, with repeat UT, fluoroscopy, end XR and dimensional inspection/ physical testing and eventually PHMSA called in at an Indian owned API monogram pipe mill in Texas. This was a period, I’d mentioned previously, where many 3rd Party Inspection firms, the mills, and certainly the gas transmission conglomerates were ALL using 1099 temps, half or untrained, frequently undocumented people, in four new and 7-8 reopened mills, formerly staffed by fastidious, experienced and conscientious union employees, forced into early retirement or contract buy-out. It was almost amusing at first (this was the 84hr/week job where three tragic, totally unnecessary fatalities occured in a singal week). We’d 3-4 installed large diameter pipelines, where $10M or more worth of linepipe was dug up and replaced, due to expansion or weld discontinuities during operation or during field hydrotest. Azovstal slab plate was laminated, had gnarly inclusions & centerline segregation (we’d a number of very competent replacement manual UT inspectors brought over from India, who’d no familiarity with API 5L or applicable cited documents, let alone additional customer specifications. We threw away well over 30% during girth welding. The rest, I can’t discuss. But, this was around the time of TransCanada’s Keystone suffering similar “low yield strength” issues at mills in Arkansas & Canada, so it was plate and skelp fron a number of other suppliers owned by a handful of VERY well known Russian, Indian & Ukranian oligarchs.

    2. eg

      All of this stuff looks fungible from 30,000 feet on a spreadsheet, eh? Until the PMC discovers to considerable embarrassment that their map is NOT the territory …

    3. Adam Eran

      Congressman Bill Pascrell Jr. wrote “Why is Congress So Dumb?

      Apparently, the ignorance is self-inflicted, and not just the province of the nation’s teenagers Starting with Newt Gingrich, congress fired about a third of their staff, their office of technology assessment…and the D’s haven’t reversed that course.

  2. Lex

    This link is fascinating. It’s the fabled GRU assessment of the 2003 Iraq invasion. It is not official, but the line between public and private in 2003 Russia was pretty blurred. If it’s a disinformation operation, it’s an uncommonly good one. And it’s probably best not to take it all as the absolute truth:

    What’s particularly interesting is reading this in the context of the US military assessment of the Ukraine Conflict. It’s almost as if DoD took all the “lessons learned” from Iraq and not only assumed Russian strategy going into Ukraine would be similar to US strategy going into Iraq, with similar objectives and means/methods/operational strategy but that it must be experiencing the same issues. It’s got it all, running out of fuel, not enough supplies, not enough troops, miscalculations of the enemies strength and resolve, and lack of flexibility in operations. In Iraq there ended up being orders that objectives had to be taken in a certain time frame at all costs, which partially led to more “strategic bombing”. And then finally a race to Baghdad; going into the city center to capture several (empty) government buildings; and declaring “victory” while most of the Iraqi military was still physically/potentially active. And we all know how the next two decades have gone.

    The assessment of US military personnel is generally high, though it notes that early on there were morale problems because the troops were expecting an easy victory and flowers thrown by grateful Iraqis. In the assessment, the failures and near catastrophic failures are not the result of field level military personnel but the high level planners and political actors. There is lots of space dedicated to the failures of the high-tech US military in real world conditions. The overall assessment suggests that the US might have lost if Iraqi command allowed more tactical flexibility; however, the complete air superiority of the US limited operational movement by Iraq unless there was a sandstorm.

    There’s a lot more in it that speaks to right now, but I don’t want to clog the page up with an even larger comment. It appears that the diamond path of analyzing US foreign/military policy – projection – remains a valid method.

    1. cocomaan

      This makes a lot of sense. The decapitation/occupy strategy of the USA in Iraq meant that the occupiers became responsible for the conduct of the enemy army as well as any side effects of dismantling the government. The USA could install a puppet government, but were seen as the responsible party for the continued operation of Iraqi society.

      By refusing to capitulate in what is clearly a grinding war of attrition, army against army, Zelensky will increasingly look like he’s responsible for the endless war. A leader like him looks great at the start of such a war, but it’s all downhill from there. The Russians will just grind down the Ukrainian forces until they start turning on Zelensky.

      Everyone talks about Churchill’s wartime leadership, but don’t talk about how he and the Conservatives were ousted after being victorious.

    2. redleg

      Thanks for that link.

      I’m surprised that the various media “experts” haven’t noticed how similar this operation is to 1943. Some of that similarity is related to terrain, but the multiple envelopments that the Russians have apparently accomplished is how they dissected and defeated the Axis in WW2. Once surrounded, even the most elite Ukrainian units are combat ineffective- no fuel, ammo, food, etc. It’s effectively over for the Ukrainian army.

  3. Louis Fyne

    another reason why NATO would be insane to intervene in Ukraine (whether by air or ground), all that fuel that a modern military needs would have to be trucked from Poland into Ukraine for hundreds of kilometers-miles.

    Day 1 of a NATO no-fly zone, every military jet fuel depot in eastern Europe is destroyed by Russian missiles. Day 2, ball is in NATO’s court as to whether someone is insane enough to nuke Russian airfields

    1. Carolinian

      Right. This was all talked about months ago (Biden threatened to gin up a conflict last year) and the experts said that NATO wouldn’t battle Russia because Russia would win for all the usual military reasons such as short supply lines.

      It’s Biden and the EU who don’t seem to have a plan B or a plan at all. What will they do when reality sets in with their publics?

      1. timotheus

        One disturbing possibility of an EU Plan B: gin up talk of a Russian chemical weapons attack and preclude any hint of blame on the Ukrainians by yelling FALSE FLAG every few hours. By convincing westerners that the Russian offensive is failing, they prepare the ground for people to believe the Russians would use banned weapons in desperation.

        Though it would still be hard to see what NATO could do in retaliation, at least they could demand that the Chinese break with Putin at last and score points in the next confrontation.

      1. William Quick

        Trust you when you say that a global nuclear WWIII would be inevitable?

        Thanks, but I think I’ll pass.

  4. ambrit

    I have yet to see any American “movers and shakers” suggest that America send some of it’s diesel production to Europe to “help our valiant allies weather the storms of today’s economic warfare.”
    America uses over the road trucking a lot in the distribution of goods. Europe has a reasonably well designed rail network. How much of the slack induced by diesel shortages affecting over the road trucking there can be taken up by rail in europe? From what I have seen, America has little if any rail capacity to spare, especially in the lesser ‘ranked’ transport corridors. Will America hoard all of it’s diesel for domestic distribution uses? (Ha, ha. Silly question.) The longer term effects of this display of ‘National Level Narcissism’ will not be lost on the Europeans.
    At this point, I expext there to be a ‘de facto’ partition of the Ukraine.
    So far, the Ukraine Adventure looks to be a whole lot of “own goals” by Washington.

    1. Polar Socialist

      How much of the slack induced by diesel shortages affecting over the road trucking there can be taken up by rail in europe?

      It’s hard to find proper statistics quickly, but it looks like (per country basis) 60-70% of the railway engines in Europe use diesel. Only about 56% of the track network is electrified. So not much.

      1. jefemt

        Remember when T Boone Pickens was both talking his book and advocating for Nat Gas a bridge fuel for our commercial fleets?

        1. JTMcPhee

          Nat gas a “bridge fuel” on the way to what? Tesla Trucks(tm)? Powered by electric to be generated just how? Even the beloved thorium-nukes scenario is years away from potential (let alone realistic) realization. Present consumption and distribution chains are vulnerable to all kinds of swans, and will be increasingly so. All the proposed Bandaids ™ and sticking plasters ain’t going to do anything more than extend the Looting Period of the Anthropocene by a bit.

          Davos Man (c) has railed against downsizing and autarky for generations. How about those 80 degree arctic and Antarctic days now, hey? As one tiny index of how close we humans are skating out over the ever thinner ice?

          1. John Zelnicker

            A clarification, JT.

            Those temps aren’t 80 degrees on the thermometer at the poles, they are 80 degrees above normal. When normal is -50 to -70 degrees that means the temp is still below freezing.

            It’s very bad, but there’s no sunbathing going on.

      2. Dave in Austin

        Most days here in Austin I get to see 100 car freight trains being pulled by three 10,000 horspower Sante Fe engines- all diesels. The diesel are just part of the problem

    2. marku52

      It’s really amazing. DC took a fairly strong hand (well, at least middling) and doubled down and down and down to complete disaster. They will have ended the US empire by the time this all plays out.

      Good for the rest of the world, going to be a hard swallow for the American self image, not to mention standard of living.

      Just imagine these same clowns sanctioning China. Dude, walk into any store, *everything* came from China…..Not to even mention non-obvious things like pharma products.

      1. ambrit

        I, for one, do not relish the prospect of America becoming the northernmost Banana Republic in the New World.
        I believe it was Frederick Pohl who had a later book based on China being the ‘Occupying Power’ in America after some calamity or other. Then some aliens show up and want to talk to the President of the United States. The USA, what’s that? Hilarity ensues. He based the locale of his plot around New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. An interesting premise, hopefully, not prophetic.
        Turnabout being fair play, why not have China eventually treat America as it’s ‘offshore’ cheap production zone.

  5. Randy

    >US commentators have depicted that the campaign has gone slowly because Russia didn’t bomb Ukraine into the stone age as we would have done on the first day.

    I do wonder how much western accounts expose the expectation and acceptance of the idea that every Ukrainian city would look like Fallujah by now if the war was waged by the US instead of Russia…

    1. Ignacio

      We can count on the idea that the relationship and mutual knowledge between Russia and Ukraine is at a totally different level compared with the same between US and Iraq. Half brothers vs alien conflicts we are comparing here.

      I think the most important lesson to learn here is that of Clausewitz’s tactics looking very different to US’s approaches to Iraq. Sooner better than later some should realise that winning the war on Twitter is not exactly the same as winning the real war. The other important question is then the economic war: will the west proceed with this expecting Russia will kneel down to the west and go back to pre-war situation? Will we accept a new situation in which Ukraine remains as a neutral buffer to NATO resuming relationships to a ‘new normal’? Think twice… We have cornered ourselves in a situation with little to win and a lot to loose. Not a clever move looks retrospectively to forcefully push Ukraine into NATO. What a mess of a situation we have painted ourselves in without any necessity to do so. Éramos pocos y parió la abuela.

    2. Donald

      Judging from idiots I see on Twitter who act like they know what they are talking about (and don’t), many Americans think we took great care in Iraq not to destroy cities. We fight our wars cleanly, including Iraq, and Russia is always barbaric.

      In the real world Fallujah was leveled. In the past several years in the fight against ISIS, Raqqa (in Syria) was leveled and so was Mosul. No time to look right now, but Raqqa was somewhere described as the city that was most heavily destroyed in all of Syria, despite the fact that Westerners usually claim that was Aleppo.

      I tend to think that all sides in all wars tell constant lies, as many lies as they think they need to tell to make themselves look good and the enemy look bad, but Americans and Westerners in general still seem uniquely naive about this regarding their own side. Maybe this is just the people who consume too much media. The funny thing is that if you very closely read the MSM you can find some genuinely honest and fairminded journalism, but that is the exception to the general rule.

  6. begob

    Thanks. I believe Dave corrected the Don River reference to Dnieper.

    There was a video doing the rounds last week of destruction of Russian helicopters on the ground by multiple rocket strikes. Any news on the authenticity of that? Doesn’t seem to have been addressed by the Russia-winning sources.

    1. The Rev Kev

      There was talk that either the Ukrainians got really, really lucky aiming their weapons to hit those targets or that they were using real-time intelligence from NATO satellites. Since the Ukrainians have been hooked into NATO for several years now, I am going with the later idea.

    2. Tor User

      The Russians have a lot of fairly modern helicopters so even if the numbers given early on were true, it would not be all that material.

      Other sources knocked the number down and a second strike that did more damage was verified by satellite photos.


      After that there was video of Russia trucking away a couple of helicopters that had been damaged enough that they could not fly but where judged to be fixable.

  7. Mikerw0

    Point of clarification on steel. Blast furnaces produce iron, not steel, and are not used as remelt furnaces. Billets and slabs are intermediate products that get rolled into final products after they are re-heated (not melted). There are two options for their use. One is Arcelor-Mittal ships them to one of their rolling mills, the other being sell them in the merchant market. It is likely that these are easier to make products, with less complex chemistries, and likely find their way into products that are gray and sink in water (e.g., the billets are rolled into rebar for construction). Either way, given other current shipping constraints this will push up prices for steel in Europe where are likely used.

    1. BeliTsari

      Arcelor-Mittal, Jindal, Welspun, PSL Limited, Severstal, Evraz Group TMK & Novolipetsk were running around building horrendous SAWH (helical SAW) or reopening hundred year old SAWL (longitudinal DSAW) mills at the beginning of the fracking boom. The old Bethlehem Steel plants WERE pretty close to Azovstal, quality-wise. But, though I’d got threatened & thrown-out of one mill in 1997, they’d recognized the issues (now, I work beside some of the same folks, though only after retirement.) The (mostly new) Indian plants & (mostly ANCIENT) Russian-owned plants source slabs, plate, skelp (or round billets, for seamless) from whomever, and we’re still surprised, occasionally, at the variability in quality and who’s doing stuff like cutting hundreds of test coupons from other mills pipe, or duplicate end x-rays from other’s welds. The reduction in quality began in the late 90s, worsened during Cheney/ Shrub, but hit bottom during Obama’s administration. Don’t live in a holler!

      1. Greg

        Thanks for these comments. I really appreciate the inside knowledge on the crapification of metals.

        1. BeliTsari

          It’s spooky, that we’d all frequently be doing our considered best, under crazy circumstances, difficult to describe to folks unable to picture: working well after retirement, with 105° fever , I’d caught from mill workers’ a third our age kids, maskless; ice flakes blowing through a mill Charles Dickens toured in 1842, with the epitome of 1930’s technology with supervisors reminiscent of Los Pollos Hermanos, never stopping 90-120 dB, with HUGE coworkers, just terrified to leave the office to do their bogus jobs on the icy mill floor with sick, pissed-off, SERIOUSLY fucked-over indentured workers (who’ll shortly vote for ANYSOMENAZI not DNC™ LLC

          It used to be a GREAT pleasure to go & hang out with self-motivated QA/ QC folks, production, testing, NDE & mill managers, up through the ranks. I’d not once given a thought to their “being on the other side,” politics, background (we WOULD joke with each other about our wildly disparate perspectives, but, it was generally to pas the time and learn from each other?) Now, seriously: this is ALL a total wreck-down!

    2. Dave in Austin

      Dave in Austin, the original poster here:

      You are correct. The slabs are reheated, not melted. My error. Thanks for the correction. Since I made the original post the recent bombing of the sheds at the mill have been shown and they also show the reheat units and smokestacks. They look like River Rouge when I saw it in 1973, only with more rust.

  8. Polar donkey

    Besides framing Presidents and spying on Congress, isn’t it the basic job of the CIA to know and understand economic output of a country and who it trades with. Then brief congress and President about this inform so the country knows what it is getting into? Every couple days I read another industry grinding to a halt because of a commodity out of Ukraine and Russia.
    Oil, wheat, neon, sapphires, diamonds, sunflower oil, barly, oats, titanium, palladium, uranium, mail order brides, and now iron. Did no one in the US government do a cost benefits analysis and say “maybe we should stop and think about all this before it escalates out of control.” Anthony Blinked may be the worst Secretary of State the US has ever had. Expectations are so low for me now, if we don’t get annihilated in nuclear war, that’s a win. American elites are total trash.

    1. JTMcPhee

      Neocons hold the whip, and are madly driving the dying horse of globalism in the expectation (not hope) of achieving and maintaining hegemony before the fat lady named Mother Nature sings…

      1. cocomaan

        You’re not kidding about 13 year olds. I did a report on the CIA Factbook in grade school. It was fascinating to me.

      2. Greg

        That’s your problem right there – ain’t noone in DC got time for a book. They should get it into a tweet format, or ideally a tiktok dance.

    2. christofay

      We have to drop the use of the word elites in reference to who rules in Washington and start referring to them as insiders. Nancy Pelosi is good at stock picking and timing as she’s an insider.

    3. Donald

      I just told a friend of mine that my standards for politicians have now hit rock bottom. I want the ones less likely to start a nuclear war. We can’t seem to get anyone truly decent anywhere near the White House, so that’s my new political ideal.

      1. Tom Doak

        But in the last election, the guy less likely to start a nuclear war was Trump, instead of Biden. And nobody would believe it.

  9. Harry

    I agree with this analysis (for what little its worth). However there are two open questions. One is whether the Russians will move into the West. A very hostile area, and where they would suffer extended supply lines. But if they want to “denazi” thats where they have to go. Perhaps they understand they cant do it.

    The other observation is whether Europe will ever split with the US as its interests diverge. Europe has already announced the divorce from Russia. But custody arrangements (for the energy) still need to be litigated. Its a mess and a mess caused by Europeans actively cooperating with the US to weaken RF. Did they never consider the possibility of unforeseen consequences?

    1. albrt

      From what I have read, the Russians are mostly interested in denazifying the regions where the ethnic Russians live. Chasing the leftover nazis into western Ukraine and leaving them there to bother the EU seems like a legit strategy, so long as the rump Ukraine does not have the economic and industrial wherewithal to rebuild its military.

      1. russell1200

        The native Nazi element in Ukraine is primarily from the Western Ukraine. It is the ortho-catholic portion that was taken from Poland during the Nazi-Stalin partition. Stalin cleansed all of those occupied areas, and was still doing it in 1941 when the Nazis invaded. It was an easy flip for the region to go pro-Nazi. You would think it would be Eastern Ukraine, where Stalin’s collectivizing the farms and mass confiscation of food was most devastating, would have been the most pro Nazi. But its not the case.

        There are of course, people from other areas of the Ukraine: with a not surprising increase with the Russian occupations in 2014. But the logic of chasing off the Azoth Battalion (which is only a battalion) is foolish in principal and a clear pretext.

      2. Soredemos

        They’ll probably repeat the Idlib strategy. Western Ukraine will become a holding pen for radicals.

        1. The Rev Kev

          That wasn’t a Syrian strategy that. The US, the UK and France threatened to attack Syria if they went into clean out Al-Qaeda from Idlib. No wonder some American pilots jokingly refer to themselves sometimes as the Al-Qaeda Air Force.

    2. Darthbobber

      While the pro-nazis MAY hail largely from the west, the bulk of their armed groups were concentrated in the Donbas, Odessa, and Kharkov.

      1. juno mas

        …and specifically in Mariupol. It appears the Chechen fighters will hunt the Azov’s door to door.

          1. Polar Socialist

            Because over 10,000 Chechens specialized in fighting terrorists in urban environment came to help Russian and Donetsk forces.

            Many men of the Russian contingent in Syria are from the muslim states of the federation. They seem to be good at interfacing with the locals. And they seem to be tough on house to house fighting.

            But in this also because Russian and DNR troops follow a strict information discipline (they don’t have their phones with them), whereas the Chechens are free to show their deeds (except enemy bodies).

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              One theory is the reason for bringing them in because Chechens hate hate hate Nazis, and yes, they did think they might have to take their stronghold Mariupol the hard way. And the freedom from formation discipline gives the Russians a thin veneer of deniability in executing Ukrainian soldiers where there’s evidence of them being Nazis.

          2. Greg

            Putin declared that the separatist regions need to free themselves (with supplies from mother Russia, but not men).
            This means the DPR (Ukrainian ethnic Russians) is doing most of the fighting in Mariupol, but they have been reinforced with a battalion of Chechens (still technically not “Russian”).

            I’ve also seen hints that Russian marines may be active in the area (which makes sense as it’s a port and there’s that navy sitting offshore), so I think “freeing themselves” is more metaphor than explicit rule now.

            1. jrkrideau

              The last I checked Chechnya was a Republic of Russia, just as is the Republic of Tatarstan (see Kazan). They are Russian (российский).

              Sergei Shoigu was born in the Tuvan Autonomous Oblast. He is not Russian?

              1. Greg

                Of course it is. The Chechens are apparently considered a more expendable sort of Russian.

                I was trying to explain how Putin’s statement came to explain the forces deployed in Mariupol, and am not in anyway claiming to be an expert in Russian ethnicity and beliefs.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        This may be as much a warning to Poland as an actual drive into Ukraine. Poland can attack Ukraine on its own, not in a NATO capacity. This rumor is sufficiently advanced that Hungary has said it won’t help Poland on Article 5 grounds if Poland gets its tit in a wringer this way (sorry for being crude but that’s how unlikely this is to succeed, even on a PR basis, although I’m sure well find a way to glorify noble blond Polish cannon fodder). The fact that Biden is bothering to go to Poland is seen as a plan to offer support for this sort of operation.

  10. Safety First

    Couple of things.

    1. My favourite “fake news” bit from Ukrainian news sites of the past few days is posting up a photo of the burning USS Bonhomme Richard in San Diego and claiming this to be a Russian ship hit by VSU gunfire. Because, you know, the Russians, they weren’t just in the White House, they were in San Diego as well. [There is some way to connect this with the Chargers moving to LA, but I haven’t the energy to try…]

    Point is, Russian websites are now posting entire lists of these sorts of fakes, which just tells you that at least SOME of the public info coming out of Ukraine government and media sources has the quality, consistency and taste of a fresh batch of male cow manure. You might say this is to be expected – they have to portray themselves as winning, after all. Hell, Goebbels was still doing victory messaging in 1945, when only the dimmest of the dim couldn’t see the writing on the wall. The problem, however, is that thus far Western News Media (capital letters) has apparently decided to just reprint this stuff uncritically. Because…I guess the thinking is, it’s the only way we can get people onboard with sending Ukraine more weapons? I don’t even know anymore.

    2. One of these days I am going to go through Youtube looking for news coverage clips of the whole Serbia-Kosovo thing in 1999. I especially want to find that report from Kosovo by CNN, from just after the US bombing campaign had ended and the Serbian army began to pull out. Because that’s when CNN’s on the ground crew realised, with much astonishment, that all those daily figures of Serbian tanks and vehicles and guns and troops destroyed they’d been faithfully relaying from the Pentagon for weeks and weeks, aren’t quite right, as most of the Serbian armoured formations were driving out with their weapons and vehicles very much intact, right in front of CNN cameras…

    My point is that in any war you cannot know the true extent of the losses until either a) you see unit and HQ documents detailing such, which we will not in this case, or b) one or the other side wins and physically counts the bodies and burnt-out hulks left on the battlefield. Until then, it’s claims made by side A vs. losses disclosed to the public by side B, and while you may choose to believe or not believe reported losses, you should never, ever, ever, ever, ever take claims as a 100% accurate representation of the situation on the ground…unless you have a political axe to grind, of course.

    3. As I keep saying, there is a third side to this – LDNR, which reports its own losses, and claims, separately from the Russian Defence Ministry, and has its own whole sector of the front to manage. So if you are trying to figure out what the real numbers are like, you need to take into account the fact that the Russians may report claims but not losses from LDNR, LDNR may report only their own claims and losses, and the Ukrainians may not distinguish in their claims between Russian and LDNR forces. As well, Russia itself has, in addition to the Army, both National Guard (Rosgvardia) units and may also be using some “colonial” units outside of the regular chain of command, while the Ukrainians have formed “territorial militia” units in many a city and, separately, may not count their “volunteer battalions” such as the Azov (though Azov is now formally a regiment, not a battalion) as part of their armed forces losses.

    In other words, the accounting in all of this, even if we had all the documentation, is a little bit nightmarish, and we haven’t any documentation, and so each side’s losses at this point are basically what you want to believe them to be. Historically (meaning, going back a decade), Ukrainian sources have lied a lot more than the Russian Defence Ministry, with LDNR somewhere in-between, but that may not mean much in the context of the current conflict.

    1. digi_owl

      If my respect for Reuters and AP was not already rock bottom, this conflict has not done it any favors.

    2. GF

      NPR this morning had a short statement about Russian troop losses. I was listening to it before I read Yves post so didn’t pay that much attention and I cannot find it online yet. The report stated that the official Russian soldier deaths were inadvertently released by the Russian DoD at over 10,000. I was quickly removed from online but a reported got a screen shot while it was up.

      1. Louis Fyne

        The counter-narrative was that a local Russian news website was hacked and that’s the screenshot that went viral.

        The truth? Don’t ask me. I’m just the messenger. But 10,000 bodies and funerals in one month would be impossible to hide and equals WWII level daily losses.

        US had 400,000 dead over four years.

        1. Kouros

          You have to consider when the actual, ground troop fighting started though, not aerial and navy types of skirmishes…

      2. OnceWereVirologist

        As far as I can tell, what actually happened was that the figure was published on the website of a Russian newspaper not the Ministry of Defense. But how could they have gotten the correct figures ? The Russian MoD isn’t just handing them out to anyone who asks.

  11. Thuto

    I do wonder whether Biden coming out and admitting that the Russian hypersonic missile “is a consequential missile” that can penetrate any US/Nato air defense system, when paired with the realization happening right now in the cold light of day that the damage inflicted by sanctions is a two way street together signal a potential change in the US/EU calculus re: fanning or dousing the flames of war. It’s highly unusual for a US president to puncture the oft repeated notion that the Russians are technologically backward and its various offshoots like “their missiles have probably fallen into disrepair”, this is tantamount to a narrative breach at a time when the incentive is highest to project Russia as weak and ineffectual.

    1. Louis Fyne

      It feels like Biden’s speechwriter of the day is determined by rolling dice. Who is really running the show?

    2. Greg

      You’ve always had competing narratives from the DC elite on the technical capabilities of designated “enemies”.
      One narrative has the enemy as always inferior (rah rah yankee number one!).
      The second narrative has the enemy always developing scary new weapons that the US needs to counter (defense spending).
      You can see for yourself why both these narratives are important to different wealthy lobbies.

  12. Andy

    I’ve been following this war since the invasion began and my sense is, with the caveat that I am not a military strategist and only have access to limited information, the Russians did not expect their “special military operation” to turn into the gruelling, indefinite slog it is now becoming. Going into a war and expecting a quick and easy victory is a classic mistake and one that is so common it has become a cliché. What happens if this initial phase of raining artillery shells, rockets and missiles down onto cities doesn’t compel the Ukrainians to surrender or push them toward a ceasefire? Are they willing to go full Grozny on Mariupol, Kiev and other population centers?

    Waking up on February 22nd to news of the invasion I’m petty sure even people in traditionally pro-Russian eastern Ukraine didn’t expect this level of escalation. Will they accept a city like Mariupol being pounded into rubble by Russian artillery and street fighting, and the high number of civilian casualties that will result, as an acceptable price to run the Azov goons out of town? There had been fighting in the city and across the Donbas region since 2014 but there were no active clashes in Mariupol in the time leading up to the Russian invasion. So people will associate the arrival of the Russian army with a massive escalation in violence and their homes being destroyed, their lives getting uprooted and their loved ones being killed and wounded.

    Footage of dazed civilians wandering through the wasteland and rubble of destroyed vehicles and the blackened husks of shell and rocket damaged multistory apartment buildings, as in Patrick Lancaster’s report from Mariupol, speaks for itself. (Lancaster asking civvies “who is the enemy here?” while he’s being escorted by soldiers with their weapons drawn is a cringe moment and very unprofessional on his part.)

    Russia’s security concerns around NATO’s encroachment on its borders are legitimate and Washington’s blasé and condescending attitude (remember Bush Jr. telling Moscow that missile launchers in Poland and Romania were installed to fend of an Iranian attack?) while rebuffing Russia’s repeated attempts at dialogue contributed greatly to the current situation.

    That said unless the Russians can pull off something resembling a face saving victory and halting the fighting before cities are razed, civilian casualties climb into the multiple thousands and men and materiel losses become insurmountable, this invasion will go down in history as a game changing own goal that set Russia back decades. I doubt the Russians expected such fierce resistance from the Ukrainians and for the Western political backlash to be so all consuming.

    I do think the blob in DC despite its “outrage” is actually quite pleased that Russia is in this situation. They are doing everything they can to escalate the conflict and make things even worse for Russia and for the Ukrainian civilians they pretend to care about. If the US and its Euro poodles really wanted this war to end they would not be adding fuel to the fire and would be encouraging China to mediate between Russian and Ukraine as the Chinese have good relations with both nations. I am not holding my breath. Anyway, here’s hoping and praying this disastrous situation gets resolved soon.

    1. tegnost

      They are doing everything they can to escalate the conflict and make things even worse

      They continue to do everything they can to make things worse…
      There, fixed it..Maybe the problem is that you started following it on feb 22, when you should have benn following it since Victory Nuland said “F@ck the EU”

      pounded into rubble by Russian artillery and street fighting

      Turn off your TV…

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      I am more and more thinking the “quick and easy victory” was a straw man. As I have repeatedly said, denazifiction at a minimum was not going to be fast. The Russians knew that and that they did not have local support in the west of Ukraine. Putin never once said anything to suggest his campaign would be fast. He effectively said it was intended to be surgical, and surgery is not as fast as crash and burn.

      The West, because we like shock and awe, which entails rapid destruction, has a predisposition to see anything other than that a flop.

      I will admit that Russia watchers, who are not military experts, thought the Russians could win quickly, but them wanting to punch Ukraine’s Nazis in the nose got the better of them. Or to put it another way, hoping for a fast victory is not the same as expecting one, but it looks like they conflated the two, and I thought they had better insight than they actually did.

      Their initial “lightning runs” or whatever they were called were portrayed in the West as a precursor to a fast attempt to take Kiev.. But now I think that was entirely Western projection. If the Russians intended merely to pin down Ukraine troops near Kiev so as to prevent them from going east, where the Russians also had to know taking Mariupol would not be easy, the lightening runs were just, as par for the Russian order of battle, intel-gathering to refine troop movements and manning.

      I did not follow Syria, but Mercouris claims the way the Russians are operating in Ukraine is close to identical to their approach in Syria.

      You really need to watch Gonzola Lira, who is in Kharkov. He makes very clear, from personal contacts and independent sources, like Greeks formerly in Mariupol now in Greece who have no reason to lie either for Ukraine or Russia, that it really is true that the Ukrainians are using non-combatants as human shields, and putting tanks and armaments in residential areas so the Russians have to take out civilian infrastructure to disarm the city. And the MSM has confirmed it, with ABC showing Ukrainians (I forget the city but Lira named it so you could track down the segment) using a school as an arms depot.

      1. Maxwell Johnston

        Re prediction of quick and easy victory (east of the Dnieper anyway), I plead guilty. I did not expect this much resistance from the Ukrainian military (didn’t expect a war this soon either). That said, I’m not sure what the Ukrainians gain in practical terms from resisting their inevitable defeat. Glory? Honor? Forlorn hopes that NATO will come to their rescue? At this point, it’s just more body bags. A very depressing failure of diplomacy, reminiscent of The Sleepwalkers 100+ years ago. Sigh.

      2. Rob Dunford

        “Putin never once said anything to suggest his campaign would be fast”
        There is alleged evidence that Putin said to José Manuel Barroso, in 2014, that he could take Kiev in two weeks.

    3. Thuto

      I’m still waiting for someone to point out the segment in Putin’s speech announcing the invasion where he explicitly stated that he/Russia expected this to be a cakewalk, or explicitly stated timelines for the mission to be completed. As Yves points out, you’re using Western msm&government projection as a baselayer to anchor your argument. Putin said Russian forces will stay until the mission is complete, if you want to put forward the argument that they could potentially be bogged down in a protracted war, fair enough, but you can do that without ascribing to the Russians something they haven’t said.

    4. KD

      The Russian ground forces are at about parity with the Ukrainian ground forces, and probably significantly out-numbered if you include militias/informals. Their might here is in the quantity of tanks, missiles, jets, armored personnel carriers, etc.

      The Russians have been surrounding cities instead of trying to capture them to preserve manpower as urban combat is lethal. They have been attempting to envelope the Ukrainian army, to cut off supplies of food, gas, ammunition and reinforcements. Eventually, the UA will degrade to the point where they will either have to surrender or fight with sticks and stones.

      In other words, the Russians are sacrificing the element of time in favor of reducing the level of casualties to ground forces. Further, they can afford to wait as the Ukrainian’s force effectiveness continues to diminish daily. Now, if the Ukrainians hold out 15 years, the Russians will have to pull out, but they can easily do 6 months, especially as you will (likely) witness the gradual collapse of the Ukrainian army, starting in the Southeast.

    5. redleg

      As my moniker indicates, I’m a former Army artillery officer. The Russians are not pounding cities with artillery. They are going easy on them, as a true pounding produces reults that look like Stalingrad, Warsaw, or Berlin from WW2, or Falujah in Iraq; meaning nothing left but burning piles of rubble. There’s artillery being used, but to my eyes the damage looks light and limited in cities based on the images and video I’ve seen.

      People (including soldiers) who have not experienced a shelling have no concept of what artillery can do, or even what artillery consists of.

  13. Cat Burglar

    Still no reporting I can find on the fate of the JFO — when there is no news on the fate of the largest concentration of Ukrainian troops, you know something is up.

  14. The Rev Kev

    That article was saying ‘Clausewitz argues the shortest path to success in combat was to subdue armies, not cities’ and this happened during WW2. There was argument between Hodges US 1st Army and Patton’s US 3rd Army which was more successful. The 1st Army argued that they had liberated more land and cities whereas the 3rd Army said that destroyed more of the Wehrmacht so those cities would fall to them in any case. From what Scott Ritter has said, the Russians are going with the later viewpoint and are zeroing out the Ukrainian military. Slow work but when the Ukrainian army in the east has been defeated, that is basically lights out.

    So I was wondering about something. If it was only the older parts of that steel plant that got destroyed, they may make a comeback. The coal for that place would have come originally from the Donbass but after 2014, the Ukraine refuse to buy any from them and were hunting around the world for replacement coal, including from the US and even if it was the wrong type. Even now they must still be short of coal as Australia was just sent 70,000 tonnes of thermal coal by boat that “will help keep the country’s coal-fired power generators operating and supplying electricity to country’s power grid, supporting the Ukrainian people by keeping lights on, homes heated, and factories running at this very difficult time.” Considering it will take weeks to get there and they have lost control of their coastline, I have no idea how they will get that coal. Tran-shipped by Polish trains perhaps? Point is, of this factory can be quickly rebuilt, it may once again have access to Donbass coal and so will be more financially viable to recommence operations.

    1. WhoaMolly

      The Ritter interview recently posted by Yves is important. For some reason, it’s almost impossible to find by searching.

      Ritter interview on YouTube:

      Yves analyzes the video and links to it in this post:
      Ukraine Updates and Scott Ritter on Russia Military Strategy and Progress
      Posted on March 21, 2022 by Yves Smith

  15. M Quinlan

    As a byproduct of steel production two of the worlds biggest Neon producers are in Ukraine, one Cryoin is based in Odessa (but I cannot find where its production facilities are), the other Ingas in Mariupol.

    1. Louis Fyne

      Those facilities refine crude neon that is imported from Russia. Neon is a byproduct of making metal

  16. Mikel

    “Russia hasn’t taken out much more accessible and strategically important infrastructure that also supports civilians, such as the electrical grid…”

    As they move through the country, the Russians could find the grid useful.

  17. Boshko

    The chart of Ukrainian wheat exports reads like a handy list of next season’s emigrants. Something tells me that on top of diesel rationing and extreme price hikes, the EU’s tolerance for immigrants, and willingness to help Ukrainian war refugees thus far, will not be extended to these poor folks.

      1. RobertC

        Molly — in line with its Clean Your Plate, Waste No Food – China’s Anti Food Waste Campaign Is Sweeping the Nation and other food security initiatives, I’m inclined to describe China’s wheat storage to feed its 1.4B people as a strategic reserve (51% of world supply) rather than hoarding. I believe China deeply fears the effects of rapid climate change and is aggressively taking measures to address them, including a “better than an alliance” relationship with the wheat farms of Russia.

        Like me, it may surprise you that Column: Top producer China adds to global wheat jitters with poor crop health is the world’s largest wheat producer by far. But next year looks bad

        China’s agriculture minister said over the weekend that the country’s wheat crop conditions could be the worst in history after heavy rainfall delayed planting last fall. The harvest will provide supplies for the upcoming marketing year that lasts through mid-2023.

        It will be interesting if China donates a portion of its strategic reserve to the UN World Food Program to feed the MENA millions starving due to Biden’s sanctions.

  18. Boshko

    On the steel plant in Mariupol, the article references steel price increases of 14% in the first week of the war. However, I think this is a lot of financial market volatility before actual resource constraints hit the real economy. Currently, steel is up only 1.1% in the last month and iron ore 5.5%.

    In contrast, heating oil, coal, uranium and nickel are all up at least 25% in the last month.

    Of course this could just be the smart money rearranging themselves before the actual supply chains buckle and the real effects take hold.

  19. Jung

    Everything you’ve summarized rings true to me. The dubious nature of visual evidence in the 21st is very annoying. I’ve been operating under the assumption that while not definitive images are likely true. I also fell in part for the trap of using currency exchange rate as an indicator of the economy. Together these have led me to overestimate the cost of the war for Russia, even though I was previously uncertain anyway.

  20. Charlie Sheldon

    Great report, Yves. If I had only one news source to read NC would be it, as both the selection of articles and then the comments give me the sense that I have as good a picture of what’s going on as I can find anywhere, balanced, thoughtful, and nuanced. For sure, your coverage of the Ukrainian situation is excellent.

    1. Art_DogCT

      I heartily concur, Mr. Sheldon.

      I had a look at both links our friend #Amfortas posted in a comment in today’s Links. The one about NewsGuard is chilling in the blithe way mind-manipulating narrative control is being sold. Their pitch seems to be aimed at all the major demographics, but I found the section directed at K-12 teachers and parents fully dystopian. High on the list of their “partners” in so-called fact checking websites are Bellingcat, the US Department of Defense, and the US Department of State. They are really excited about their collaboration with Microsoft, the better to censor and deplatform. NewsGuard is really regurgitated Empire propaganda laundered by this supposedly 3rd party NGO. Check out their report on Russia-Ukraine:

      I immediately wondered where I’d find their USian Disinformation Tracking Center. /s

      Amfortas’ second link, Pool yourself together: Sufficiency and interdependence in the wake of a degrowth future is also very worth reading, and altogether more uplifting than the NewsGuard Ministry-of-Truth-in-all-but-name horror.

  21. David

    Two quick points. First, Clausewitz. In my experience, US officers do dutifully study Clausewitz, but the actual effect on operations is very small, because US forces have always had the advantage of overwhelming logistics, equipment quality and firepower. They can just blast their way through.

    But consider what Clausewitz said. War is a political instrument, the continuation of state policy with the addition of other means. The political objective therefore dominates: war is simply a way to achieve it. This means not only that the final objective is a political (rather than purely military) one, but also that the means of achieving the objective has to be such that military action doesn’t undermine that objective – what strategy calls the “end state.” Here, the end state is that set out by Putin: a neutral denazified Ukraine. As a good Clausewitzian, he did not try to specify what military situation would produce that effect. Now, said Clausewitz, how do we use the military to achieve this political end-state? We identify what he called the “centre of gravity” of the opponent, the single thing on which all else depends. In this case, the centre of gravity is the willingness of the Ukrainian government to accede to Russian demands, or if you prefer their ability to continue to resist them. Military success is, ultimately, irrelevant as a factor in itself. If on the first morning of the invasion the Ukrainians had agreed to the Russian terms, that would have been it. Military victories, death, destruction, even taking cities and towns, are secondary considerations to the state of mind of the government in Kiev. The war will go on until this political end-state is reached. Obviously, the Russians would have hoped (if not necessarily expected) that it would have been reached before now

    On casualties, don’t forget that in high-intensity warfare (which we haven’t really had since Korea), most of the killing is done by artillery. Seventy per cent of WW1 casualties were from artillery and nearly as much on the Eastern Front in WW2. The Russians have always been very keen on artillery. Since they have control of the air, and the freedom to use missiles and air-launched weaponry as they like, I strongly suspect that most of the Ukrainian casualties have been from indirect rather than direct fire, and from a distance rather than from hand to hand fighting. This would, if true, produce a sharp disparity between the casualties of the two sides.

  22. Tom Pfotzer

    Some interesting facts about Coal, Steel, Russia, Ukraine, and Mariupol:

    Russia is the fifth largest steel producer worldwide, following China, India, Japan, and U.S.

    Russian steel production is trending upwards over the past decade at about 1% per year increase.

    25% of Russia’s extensive iron ore sales ($2.1Bil per annum) went to Ukraine last year. Note that figure is for iron ore, the raw material input, rather than finished steel.

    Russia has extensive iron and coal deposits. Only the U.S. has greater coal deposits

    The steel facilities at Mariupol used to source coal from Donbass, but no longer. Now the facilities have to import coal from far-elsewhere. Donbass is likely to end up under Russia’s control.

    Loss of Donbass coal puts the Mariupol facilities at a production-cost disadvantage.

    The iron for at least one of the Mariupol facilities comes from Krivbas, Ukraine, about 150 miles northwest from Mariupol. See the ilyich link below.

    The steel production at Mariupol includes a lot of really useful stuff. Structural steel, rail for railroads, hardened steel for chains, mining equipment, as well rolled steel like plate, rod, channel, pipe…used for everything from factories, trucks, railroad cars, factory apparatus. A very broad product line of highly useful materials. A lot of the factory complex is fairly modern, some of it is quite old, and needs updating.

    Ilyich Steel Works

    Azovstal Iron and Steel Works

  23. RobertC

    Biden’s Ukraine-related actions are foreign policy but Putin’s are existential.

    Putin has set Russians and Russia on a new course: Eastwards.

    As Yves has stated repeatedly:

    But again [Biden] assumes the objective is to take terrain. That was never a Russian goal. [Putin] wanted to destroy Ukraine’s warmaking capability, “denazify” and secure a commitment to no NATO and neutrality.

    Biden thinks he can reward Putin with some sanctions removal if Putin leaves Ukraine on Biden’s terms.

    Putin has already factored Biden’s sanctions into Russia’s future and will survive them thanks both to Russian’s love of their history and country and to China’s welcoming arms.

    Biden’s sanctions are an “own goal” helping Putin achieve his repeatedly stated but rarely heard objectives. Think of Putin using Ukraine to build one side of the rampart against the West’s intrusions and Biden building the other side using sanctions.

    There are two outcomes:

    1. Putin achieves and the West accepts his objectives.

    2. Biden makes his Fourth Mistake RobertC March 15, 2022 at 9:27 am

  24. David in Santa Cruz

    Please let’s keep in mind that the Russian leadership’s stated objective is to “demilitarizeand to “denazify” the territory of “Ukraine.”

    If you read the online summaries provided by the TASS news agency, President Putin has been very clear about his view the 1991 borders of “Ukraine” were the product of the Bolshevik revolution and in particular of the incorporation by Stalin and Khruschev of people and territory that had historically been part of Russia, Poland, Romania, and Hungary into the “Ukrainian” SSR.

    If we view the Russian “Special Operation” in light of their stated objectives, pinning-down the “Ukrainian” army in “cauldrons” and waiting for them to run out of supplies makes perfect sense. This “Special Operation” was never intended as a “shock-and-awe” American-style campaign. It will continue for months, and the EU can look forward to a very cold winter

  25. Tom Stone

    Thank you for this, the measured and thoughtful approach you take is as welcome as it is rare.
    FYI, I have been listening to Woody Guthrie’s “Little Miss Pavlichenko” as an accompaniment.

  26. RobertC

    At TheHill John Marks, currently the managing director of Confluence International, a peacebuilding group based in Amsterdam, offers A realistic path towards peace for Ukraine and Russia that recognizes Putin’s objectives but Zelensky won’t (can’t) accept. However the rapidly evolving shortages in the EU and MENA may force Biden to accept it.

    Marks includes this

    Assuming that both sides have agreed to a ceasefire that includes Russian withdrawal, international sanctions and other economic measures that have been imposed on Russia would be removed.

    but I think Putin’s objectives are much more important to him than sanctions.

    Marks noted this

    Henry Kissinger anticipated this when he wrote in 2014 that “if Ukraine is to survive and thrive, it must not be either side’s outpost against the other — it should function as a bridge between them.”

    And eight years later it’s apparent Ukraine will function as the rampart between them.

  27. Bill

    Doesn’t get it all right, but still surprising to see this pushback in MSM: “I’m frustrated by the current narrative—that Russia is intentionally targeting civilians, that it is demolishing cities, and that Putin doesn’t care. Such a distorted view stands in the way of finding an end before true disaster hits or the war spreads to the rest of Europe,” the second U.S. Air Force officer says.

    “People are talking about Grozny [in Chechnya] and Aleppo [in Syria], and the razing of Ukrainian cities” a second retired U.S. Air Force senior officer tells Newsweek. “But even in the case of southern cities, where artillery and rockets are within range of populated centers, the strikes seem to be trying to target Ukrainian military units, many of which by necessity operating from inside urban areas.”

  28. Eustachedesaintpierre

    The Ukrainians are in a very uncomfortable position on the South Eastern front, with all hands on deck & what looks like a lack of reserves & supplies while being constantly hit from all sides both night & day from the air. Currently Marinka is under severe pressure from the Russian side out of Donetsk & if they were to succeed in forcing the enemy out, those moving out will suffer from increasingly less urban cover replaced by the rural, against a force with no need for concern over massed civilians. This within an area stretching roughly a 100 miles to the Dnieper. There are also R forces coming up from the South & the start of what looks like one arm of a pincer moving down from the North.

    I don’t think that the above will hold much longer & I hope that they give up rather than becoming toast.

  29. René

    No veo evidencia de holocausto en Ucrania, pienso los rusos desean una “operación quirúrgica militar” y pocas bajas civiles (están en Europa), no podrían poner a girar a Ucrania en su órbita sobre una base de miedo, odio y destrucción, no de forma estable.
    A pesar de los cuantiosos recursos de Ucrania, su PIB per cápita los coloca alrededor de la posición 119 en el mundo, como país exportador de materias primas (cereales incluídos), tienen centrales nucleares y pueden aspirar a más, es ahí donde los rusos pueden integra a Ucrania a corto y mediano plazo, incrementandoles el nivel de vida y la producción de manufacturas con destacado valor agregado para olvidar desavenencias y calamidades de la guerra, sepultando odios y construyendo un futuro común…por la fuerza nada es duradero, Rusia necesita Ucrania, Bielorrusia y Kaliningrado…el resto es en el pacífico

  30. Tom Stone

    Russians think in terms of decades,American leaders think in terms of the next election cycle at most.
    I am impressed by the way Russia is dealing with an extremely difficult situation

  31. Diogenes

    Stalingrad, 1941.
    Russia let the German 6th Army fight in building to building combat, exhausting themselves, sort of like what Ali did to Forman in the Rumble in the Jungle.

    Then Russia surrounded the 6th Army, starving 300,000 men for about 2 months, reducing the 6th Army to where Paulus, the field marshall, was hiding in a Stalingrad basement.

    Same plan. Russia will surround and starve the Ukrainian army in the east, destroy them, leaving Zelensky, armed to the teeth with CNN and the western media, to fight.

    Sorry, but it’s all going according to Russian Plan A.
    Plan B is a western invention.

  32. VietnamVet

    I admit I suffer from cognitive dissonance and propaganda overload.

    Russia handled the 2014 Ukraine Coup and the attempted regime change of their ally Bashar al-Assad well. The decline of the Western Empire is documented by the USA being “profoundly disappointed” by the Syrian President’s visit to the UAE.

    Wars of aggression are sold as an easy first strike of a quick campaign to capture the enemy’s capital and loot freely. If history rhymes, the strung out convoys and lying to the Russian troops, indicate that this was the Kremlin’s intention with the invasion of Ukraine. Seize Kiev and install a puppet government. MANPADS and Javelin missiles, Ukrainians fighting for their homeland, destroyed Plan A.

    An alternative scenario is that this is the intentional start of WWIII. The war on Russia border had gone on eight long years. The invasion was designed to demilitarize Ukraine and eliminate neo-Nazis by destroying Ukraine’s military; not to capture cities immediately. The present campaign copies the 1943 counter offensive that was the beginning of the end of the Third Reich.

    Securing water for Crimea and making the Sea of Azov Russian are sound tactical moves.

    April will tell. If Odessa falls, the cauldrons close, the war will degrade into a guerrilla conflict that will go on as long as the West supplies the resistance in Western Ukraine. As Russian troops approach Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, the risks of a nuclear war grow exponentially. Only God knows what happens next. But a Peace Treaty that partitions Ukraine along the Dnieper River DMZ would stop the slaughter.

  33. jimmy cc

    are there any opinions on why Russia didnt encircle Kiev with the 40 mile convoy that sat just North of the city for 2 weeks?

    if the Russian plan is to encircle kiev and starve it out, why were the Northern force not attempting an encirclement?

    that can’t be part of the plan, whatever it maybe.

    i am not as confident of the russian capability as many here. and again, just because i don’t believe things are going well for russia doesn’t mean i don’t think things will wont end badly for Ukraine.

    1. OnceWereVirologist

      Someone has to keep on feeding the city and I’m sure the Russians don’t have the excess logistics to do so. I think if they do surround Kiev and attempt to starve it out it will be the very last action of the war once all their other military goals have been satisfactorily accomplished.

    2. redleg

      The Russian’s stated objective is to destroy the Ukrainian military, not capture territory. To my eyes (I spent some of my Army time as a battalion and brigade staff officer) it looks like surrounding Kiev and assaulting the city is not the objective. Instead they are making it appear to be the objective to draw more UA resources into the city. This would allow 1) control of access to the city using air and artillery, and more importantly 2) draws UA resources into the city and away from the kettles in the east and south, simultaneously making the UA easier to isolate, less capable of resupply, and incapable of breaking out of the existing kettles. Isolated, undersupplied, immobile opponents are easier to subdue or destroy, especially if the attacker is at an overall numerical disadvantage like the Russians appear to be.
      If I’m right, it’s a simple and sound plan. I’ll bet they do the same thing to Odessa when they get to that point.

  34. Dave in Austin

    1) Three days ago Putin made a 15 minute appearance before 200,000 people at Moscow’s biggest soccer arena. They were celebrating the eighth anniversary of “the return” of the Crimea to Russia. Putin did something unexpected. He gave a short, measured speech praising the soldiers fighting in the Ukraine for their sacrifices… for each other. Not for Russia; for each other. Then he quoted John 15:13 from the Bible: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

    I went looking for the full video. Or at least the transcript. They are on Kremlin.Ru… which is blocked in the US. I suddenly need a VPN like curious Chinese kids do. The censorship is getting me down. I still have the old Hallicrafter S-38D shortwave I got in 1957 with the first money I ever earned at 13. In 1957 I listened to Sputnik go “Beep, beep, beep”. The BBC and Radio Moscow were fun. They told me more about Cuba than the US networks. The old shortwave sits on a shelf in my living room bookcase, too old to use. Maybe its time to get a new one.

    Based on the equipment and demeanor of the troops, the Russian casualties so far seem to have been from reserve and low-level, non-elite units… average Joes. I think it may be weighing on Putin, like it did on Johnson when he was reading the letters from the families of those killed in Vietnam. I found and read them in the LBJ Presidential Library. Sometimes I had to just walk out of the reading room. Powerful stuff.

    2) Maxar is the satellite company providing all the Ukraine satellite photos. Do the TV networks get to see all the photos and do some interpreting? If so, they know a lot more about who is where and who is winning than they are telling us. If not, then Maxar is producing a lot of data and the output is being censored, made unavailable. Anybody at NC know anything about Maxar and the other private satellite image companies?

    3) An NC comment said the Chechen leader Seregei Shoigu was born in Tuva. During WW II the Chechens were their usual rebellious selves. So Stalin picked up all one million of them, put them in boxcars, and sent them east to the interior as workers. Many died. So Shoigu was born in exile in Tuva, the oasis with the fabulous throat singers. Seregei; Russian first name. Remember, he’s the “liberal” Chechen, the one the Russians installed as a leader during the late unpleasantness.

    4) Clausewitz was a young officer in 1806 when Napoleon demolished the Prussian army. He and his unit surrendered. They were treated well. The battle taught him that once you took out the army, the war was over. That was before a kid in a ruined building with an AK-47 was a match for a professional soldier- at least for a while. Pray that the kids with their new AKs make it home safely. Soon.

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