A few updates on Ukraine before turning to the main course of Scott Ritter’s latest take on how Russia is prosecuting its campaign. His bottom line is, as he says near the top of a two hour-talk:
The Russians are grinding down the Ukrainians and they are doing it with flipped math. 200,000 guys are grinding down 600,000 guys. It’s one of the most amazing things. When this story is finally told, people are going to be stunned. All these people now are saying, “Oh, the Russians, they are doing so poorly, the Russians this…”. Maybe they are. Maybe I’m getting this all wrong. But you know, I’ve studied military history, I think I know how to read a map, I think I know how to look at the balance of forces, I think I know how to study logistics and stuff, and I think I’m reading this right….This war is closer to being over than many people think.
Ritter also argues, interestingly, that it is of paramount importance that Zelensky surrenders to Russia, or the functional equivalent by signing a peace on Russian terms. Ritter argues that at this juncture, that means Russians cannot win too quickly. Ukraine has to look like it has exhausted its options.
Not that this is factoring into how Russia proceeds on the field, but a slower tempo favors Russia politically. Whether Zelensky accedes to Russia’s demands is ultimately a US call, unless he has found a way to go rogue. The West is at present unprepared to accept that, given that they believe their own/Ukraine’s propaganda that Russia is losing the war and that Russia’s economy is collapsing under the sanctions.
Western leaders and pundits appear not to have worked out that the rouble falling (so far much less than in the 1998 crisis) is not the same as a domestic economic seize-up. Aside from Western goods being hoovered up after the sanctions hit, we have yet to hear of domestic shortages. Admittedly, new hardships could kick in starting in a few months as important speciality items from the West like car parts become unattainable.
But the US and Europe are about to see energy price pain kick in in April, and that may soften them up with respect to a Ukraine settlement. We linked to this story on Saturday, but it’s important to keep in mind. From the Financial Times, IEA calls for driving restrictions and air travel curbs to reduce oil demand:
The International Energy Agency has called for member countries to adopt “emergency measures” to cut oil demand in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including driving restrictions, lower speed limits and curbs on air travel…
As much as 2.5mn barrels a day of Russian oil exports could cease from next month due to the impact of the war and consumer boycotts of Russian crude, he said. Russia is one of the world’s largest oil producers.
The IEA has proposed 10 measures to reduce oil demand by 2.7m b/d within the next four months, which it said would help balance potential loss from the Russian market.
I don’t see the US as willing or able to adopt any of these measures to enough of a degree to make a difference. And I see the US as politically and practically fragile to another leg up of gas price increases, even more so if and when they add to our food price inflation (which is also set to get worse due to Russian fertilizer and Russian and Ukrainian wheat going missing in action).
The Wall Street Journal has just published an odd story, Russia, Failing to Achieve Early Victory in Ukraine, Is Seen Shifting to ‘Plan B’, that it deemed important to be a News Alert, as in deserving of an e-mail. ReaderChigal’s reaction was similar to ours:
World’s dumbest article. Putin having failed to take Kiev is falling back on “Plan B”–demanding Ukranian neutrality. Forgive me, but isn’t that what he said he wanted from the start?
Upon further reflection, this article is a very good thing. It depicts conceding to one of Russia’s central demands as somehow a partial failure by Russia. That look like the West trying to face save when it has to relent. It does so by depicting Russia as wanting to take Kiev and not succeeding, when as Scott Ritter explains, that was never one of Russia’s aims.
As readers likely know, Biden is going to Europe this week, meeting first in Brussels and then in Poland to discuss how to make things even more painful for Russia as well as how to provide humanitarian relief to refugees.
I can’t verify the accuracy of this translated snippet from Aftershock,news, a Russian language newsfeed of sorts focused on the war, but this would fall in the category of “making things more painful for Russia”:
Now to Scott Ritter. Ritter is a Marine who spent substantial time on the ground in Russia (as a weapons controller) and in Iraq. Keep in mind that in the early phases of the war in Ukraine, Ritter over-estimated how quickly Russia would be able to wind up the conflict. He is still very firmly of the view not only that Russia is winning but makes the strong-form claim that Russia will succeed in getting NATO to withdraw to its fall of the USSR boundaries, based on some moves Russia is making with Belarus (more on that shortly).
As you’ll also see through the key points highlighted below, and even more so if you watch the entire video, Ritter stresses that the “Russia is bogged down” assertions are based on either miscomprehension or misrepresentation of how Russia is conducting its campaign. For instance, it has not taken Kiev because it does not intend to take Kiev.
I strongly urge you to listen to the entire video…but I still took the liberty of identifying key points.
I’ll parse out “conduct of the war” from “where this may wind up” issues.
Conduct of the War
Ritter argues that the Ukrainians can’t win, that it’s only a matter of time and he thinks the time is at most a month. Russian has pinned down the Ukrainian forces around Kiev and in the east, there in what are becoming multiple cauldrons. Russia has been systematically destroying Ukrainian fuel depots and munitions caches. They are running out of supplies, including food and water. He describes this process as “grinding them down”.
Ritter contends that Russia has been running an extremely effective campaign with its narrow aims. He points out that in a conquest, the aggressor normally has to have at least 3x the forces of the defender. Russia has deployed about 200,000 troops, with more across the border, while Ritter counts all of the Ukrainian forces, including reservists, at roughly 600,000. (Ritter not having a full Ukraine manpower count may explain his initial over-estimation of how quickly Russia could wrap its incursion up).
Ritter explains that the Russians do not want or need to capture Kiev. They simply need to present enough of a threat to the city to keep the Kiev army tied down there. Had Russia intended to take Kiev, they would need over a million troops and would need to fight house to house, and they clearly have not and are not mobilizing to do that.
Ritter also contends that the Russians clearly have been avoiding civilian casualties. In war, the usual ratio of civilian casualties to military is 1:1. He uses the Ukrainian estimates of their military casualties at 6,000 and the Russian estimates of their own military deaths at about 1,000 (Ritter notes that armed forces tend to be accurate in estimates of their own deaths; the coffins go home).
The Ukraine estimates of civilian deaths are according to Ritter, only 800, less than 1/10th of total military losses.
Ritter similarly does not believe the Russians have targeted civilians. He dismisses the idea that they attacked the notorious theater in Mariupol. The Russians claim they specifically identified it as a building to be avoided, and that they had no aircraft over the city the day the theater blew up. Ritter effectively says NATO should provide the evidence of Russian overflight that day or shut up.
He thinks it is possible that the Russians hit the square on which the similarly-notorious maternity hospital in Kiev. Lavrov has made inconsistent statements, first saying no planes were nearby, then saying that Russia thought the hospital was empty. However, Ritter said the West is accusing Russia of committing a war crime here. NATO tracks every Russian plane flying in Ukraine. The onus is on NATO to substantiate the war crimes allegation.
How the West Helped Putin With Sanctions
Ritter is amped up on the topic of sanctions. He argues that Saddam Hussein would have been shot by his own generals after the loss of the 1991 war save for Western sanctions, which unified the country behind him.
As for Putin, Ritter contends that Putin, who was originally pro-Western, became convinced of the time of the need to distance Russia from Europe, but was hampered by the roughly 20% of Russians who are middle class, normally politically indifferent, but would turn on Putin if he threatened their access to European goods and vacations. Per Ritter:
The West just did Putin the greatest favor in the world. They don’t even realize how stupid they were. The West divorced itself from Russia. Putin said, “Thank you. Thanks you very much! You’ve now allowed me to do what I needed to do.”
Where the War Might Wind Up
Ritter unintentionally points how Russia can (and probably will) get trapped even if it succeeds in all of its military objectives. Ritter contends that the West made a huge mistake in letting Zelensky become the face of the Ukrainian government by speaking before Congress and parliaments around the world. Russia tried to negotiate with the West before but is no longer negotiating. It has certain demand that it wants met, and it warned that it will add to those demands if Ukraine does not agree to them (mind you, I am sure Russia would negotiate around the margin but it is not going to cede much ground).
Ritter describes at length how the Russians have gone fairly light to avoid civilian casualties, and until the last couple of days, were even avoiding hitting convoys and Ukrainian barracks. He said that the Russians had been waiting until convoys were unloaded before striking to take out the materiel only, but too much was leaking through and they’ve gotten tired of it. Ritter mentions an account I also heard from Gonzalo Lira, that Russia struck a barracks with over 200 soldiers in it near the Polish border. Lira said it was for officers and opined that Russia had to have inside intel to have targeted it.
By showcasing Zelensky as the legitimate head of the Ukrainian government, if Zelensky agrees to a deal with Russia, the West cannot depict it as illegitimate.
Therefore Russia has every reason to wand Zelensky alive.
What Ritter does not add is therefore every Banderite fascist and the US have every reason to want Zelensky dead if he looks to be coming to terms with Russia.
Ritter does say the worst thing for the Russia would be if Zelensky were killed and the US set up a government in exile in Poland to continue to destabilize Ukraine.
I have said in comments that if Zelensky wants to stay alive, the best thing for him would be to flee to Poland. It’s much harder to dispose of him there.
Ritter thinks Russia will obtain its ultimate aim of getting NATO to withdraw to its 1997. This strikes me as wildly optimistic. But Ritter argues (around 20 of his talk) that Russia is on its way to permanently deploying major offensive military formations combined with nuclear forces in Belarus. Ritter argues that this will completely change NATO dynamics and they will climb down to get Russia to climb down.
Ritter contends like Belarus, the West has ignored another important development. On February 4, Russia and China issued a joint statement about their friendship, which they depicted as closer than an alliance. Ritter described a key portion that the English language press ignored:
“We are done with the rules based international order.” That of course is the cornerstone of American foreign policy, NATO foreign policy…It put America at the top of the pyramid and was designed to keep America at the top of the pyramid. Russia and China have said, “We’re now part of the law-based international order and we’re leaning more toward the United Nations charter and the concept of a multi-polar world.”
Needless to say, the war has rapidly accelerated the move to a new world order, and one not of America’a making.