Yves here. Helmer gives interlocking updates, one of what can be inferred about the state of the war in Ukraine, the other on the prospects for Team Dem come November. Recall that Helmer was part of the Carter Administration, as so has some perspective.
A couple of additions: Helmer provides evidence that Ukraine is regrouping and forming new units that are meant to attack the Russian forces. However, so far, Ukraine aggressions have either been playing into Russian tactical withdrawals (which are sometimes followed by planned counter-strikes) or what amount to pinprick-level advances. There are occasional exceptions; for instance, one Russian advance south from Izyum is being slowed by Ukraine surprise attacks in forested terrain.
Even though Helmer describes Western arms as going into the east, as readers have pointed out, weapons carried and deployed by single users are not all that effective except when deployed as part of a bigger unit with tanks, armored vehicles and large weapons systems. Confirmation of sorts comes from the latest sitrep at the Russia-friendly The Saker (hat tip Chuck L):
A few important words on tactics. We’ve spoke before about how the conflict in Ukraine is becoming Syrianized in the tactics of the AFU who, having most of their heavy weapons/armor destroyed, are mostly now relying on small bandit groups/DRG’s riding around on tacticals (small pickup trucks with larger caliber machine guns in the back) in the manner of ISIS. Like this:
But the hunter is fast becoming the hunted because Russia’s own saboteur groups are now increasingly ambushing these small, roving bandit teams:
Keep in mind, the AFU does have some armor and heavy weapons left, but most of them are tied to the strategically important cities they are defending, and they do not have the fuel or logistical capabilities to utilize their armor in any sort of maneuvering force action or real military operations/advances. They are hidden mostly in and around cities like Kharkov, Nikolayev, etc. Any armor that roams outward is very quickly destroyed by RF forces. And even still, in the urban agglomerations there is not a lot of it relatively speaking.
As for US politics, keep in mind that the earlier Biden war bump in the polls was teeny compared to the ones for Bush the Senior in Desert Storm and W for the Iraq War.
By John Helmer who has been the longest continuously serving foreign correspondent in Russia, and the only western journalist to have directed his own bureau independent of single national or commercial ties. Helmer has also been a professor of political science, and advisor to government heads in Greece, the United States, and Asia. Originally published at Dances with Bears
If you understand the war in the Ukraine as the US operation to fight to the last Ukrainian for as long as required to save the Democrats at the November election and conceal the most incapacitated president since Woodrow Wilson’s stroke in October 1919, how well is it going?
And if you understand the war as the Russian operation to defeat the NATO attack against Russia through the Ukraine, and its neighbours, what is the parallel answer?
In Washington, the war has steadied President Joseph Biden’s falling approval rating. If not for the war, Biden’s job approval on inflation and jobs, the direction of the country, and immigration would be crushing the small hope remaining that the Democrats can stave off the loss of both the House of Representatives and the Senate on November 8, and preserve their defence against the rising approval for Donald Trump’s re-run for the presidency in 2024. Biden is desperate for Ukrainian and Russian blood to keep flowing; and European too, if need be.
Score the war the best the Americans can hope for right now — but they have only six months left.
In Moscow, President Vladimir Putin and the Stavka have completed their reassessment of Phase-1 of the campaign. As Putin told Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu in his report on the Battle of Mariupol on Thursday, “we have to prioritize preserving the lives and health of our soldiers and officers…. There is no need to penetrate these [Azovstal] catacombs and crawl under these industrial facilities. Seal off the industrial zone completely.” Putin explicitly identified the same territorial objectives as he had announced them on February 24 — “our people in Donbass [to] live in peace and to enable Russia, our country, to live in peace.”
Score the war according to the Russian plan — also according to the clock.
Putin has just stretched the time for the American, Canadian and other NATO officers directing the war from their Azovstal bunker to take Marshal Friedrich Paulus’s way out of Stalingrad – surrender, not suicide; then on trial testify to the war crimes of their commanders-in-chief.
The General Staff’s reassessment preceded Shoigu’s report by two days, appearing in an April 19 report from GRU sources in Vzglyad (“Viewpoint”) by Yevgeny Krutikov.
“During the operational pause, the Ukrainian Armed Forces were able to transfer all available forces east of Dniepropetrovsk from near Kiev and Chernogov. As a result, a group of 20-25 thousand people was formed with full ammunition and the possibility of constant supply. It is this grouping of the Armed Forces of Ukraine that is going to unblock the Donetsk contingent if it is still surrounded… Additionally, the ongoing supply of a new grouping of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (up to four newly formed from mobilized and volunteer brigades) raises questions. Despite the consistent destruction of the infrastructure of Ukraine and the military supply system, Kiev is successfully restoring the destroyed at least to the size that it would be possible to pass echelons to Pavlograd and further to Lozovaya. The need to interrupt the supply of the Ukrainian group in the Donbass still remains a problem.”
This disclosure of extensive resupply from west to east was calculated for public effect, but to what end? Was the General Staff telling the Kremlin that orders not to strike at bridges, rail lines, and roads moving US and NATO supplies and troops from the Polish, Slovakian and Romanian borders should be reversed?
A leading political figure in the Donbass said privately: “The fact that in the first days of the operation they tried to spare the soldiers of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and beat only on their equipment, was a mistake unless it was fitting into some kind of plan. However, it is now clear what we have got ourselves into. Having air supremacy, we do not destroy their military command, and most importantly, we do not try to paralyze their supply. War is logistics, logistics and logistics. But all the bridges across the Dnieper are intact, all the railway stations are intact. All major highways are intact. The enemy receives weapons from the west in a stream, and calmly carries them to their destination. The groups near Kharkov and in the Donbass do not have any problems with ammunition. The talk about how they will run out of fuel tomorrow remains just talk.” He said this at the beginning of this week.
A Canadian military veteran with NATO warfighting expertise cautions against taking what the GRU is saying at face value. He sees the strategic plan as a trap – “the Ukrainians, European and North American ‘volunteers’, are being allowed everything they need to march, ride, drive, or fly to their ultimate destruction east and southwest of the Dniepr. And when they are surrounded in various pockets/cauldrons, hungry, thirsty, miserable, and dying under non-stop shelling and bombing, no one will be coming to save them.”
“The new formations moved east to check the Russians do not represent high-quality units such as the airmobile/airborne brigades which have been engaging them along the Donetsk line of contact. They instead represent much lower quality conscripts bolstered with Freiwillegen outfits consisting of European and North American mercenaries, Nazis, white supremacists, and, possibly, tiny NATO special operations contingents performing recon and intelligence-gathering or acting as advisors.”
“In the fighting east of the Dnieper River, what we are seeing, besides the diminishing Ukrainized Soviet-era kit, are the same hodgepodge of US/NATO-supplied weaponry, communications gear, and drones. Judging by the April 18 Russian missile strike on a weapons storage depot in Lvov, as well as renewed strikes on railways in the Pavlograd region on the same date, and the subsequent howling from Zelensky to get weapons from the U.S./NATO, the situation in terms of attrition and re-supply of any of those items is getting worse, not better. All of this comes after reports regarding the April 10 destruction of the Slovakian-donated S300 SAM systems in the Nikolaev region by Russian Kalibr missiles.”
“The transfer of spare aircraft parts to allow Ukraine to repair and refurbish its jets was the latest instance of a growing openness by the US and its allies to send heavier weaponry to Ukraine. It also came as Russia began an assault in the east and south of the country, having failed to conquer Kyiv. Last week, President Joe Biden announced an additional $800mn in lethal aid to Ukraine, including expanding US assistance to include heavy artillery. The US is expected to announce a further $800mn in aid this week. Source: https://www.ft.com/
The Canadian source responds: “There is no reason to believe that the same fate that befell the kit in Lvov or the S300s, or destruction in the field, does not await the much-ballyhooed deliveries of obsolete Warsaw Pact era T72 tanks, BMP-1, and other armoured fighting vehicles. Besides that, where are the trained personnel to operate this equipment — let alone operate it correctly — going to come from? It is not as if every Ukrainian conscript or foreign volunteer is a tank crewman. As Ukrainian service and repair facilities have been largely knocked out by Russian missiles, how will the logistics, and logic, of sending the equipment to Poland or Czech republic — another western media-promoted scheme — pan out? A quick look at what Ukrainian units are getting around in — mainly re-purposed civilian vehicles, with increasing numbers of ‘technicals’, pick-up trucks mounting machine-guns (so far) — provides a more accurate assessment of where things have been, and are, headed. All of this strikes me as an ‘everything except the kitchen sink’ approach in terms of personnel and equipment thrown at the Russians. It also strikes me as, once again, playing straight into Stavka’s hands.”
“The seemingly irrepressible existence of Ukrainian artillery has more to do with US (and Canadian) support in terms of providing satellite imagery of Russian force dispositions to Ukrainian military intelligence. US-supplied counter battery radar, such as the AN/TPQ-48, which the Ukrainians have been equipped with and trained on since at least 2019, is even more helpful in this regard. Russian military analysts and bloggers have commented on the ability of Ukrainian artillery to fire volleys of highly accurate and destructive fire on Russian forces only to quickly displace to set up in another location in order to repeat the process.”
“Incidentally, some of the same experts have called upon the Russian Forces High Command to target the Ukrainian space intelligence-gathering nodes. I’ve yet to read any calls, official or otherwise, regarding retaliatory sanctions on the companies, or their officers, who provide these capabilities to the Ukrainians. Past that, how the US and Canada providing satellite imagery to the Ukrainians does not amount to interference, as apparently defined by President Putin at the opening of the Russian Special Military Operation, is a question worth asking.”
“Finally, is there a question of Russian reluctance to use their air superiority to its full potential and neutralize Ukrainian re-supply? Since Phase-2 of the Russian military operation began in the Donbass over this past weekend, various sources across Telegram and Youtube, as well as the Russian Defence Ministry, have reported at least four Ukrainian military ground-attack and air-superiority craft have been shot down over the area. Numerous Ukrainian drones, as well as helicopters, have been taken down as well. This stands in stark contrast to Russian air forces who are providing increasingly frequent and devastating tactical air support to Russian ground forces in the theatre with minimal losses. I am curious as to the true attrition rate of Ukrainian pilots and aircrews. Even if, as recently reported, the U.S./NATO can supply spare parts to resurrect previously inoperable air frames, who will fly them? Poles? Slovaks? Balts? Indeed, who, after they’ve lost numerous aircraft and (it can be assumed) pilots, are flying the machines the Ukrainian air force is managing to deploy these days? This, in my opinion, is the bigger question.”
Donbass military sources provide mixed assessments, and depending on the daily battlefield newsflow they are receiving, there is more impatience. “Yeah, I remember how they [US, NATO] trained the Afghan and Iraqi armies. Whatever they are building now is for the defence of the region beyond Donbass. I think the Russians will come to that when they come to that. A lot of this is Europeans offloading their junk which will need to be replenished. We are talking billions in fighter jets to replenish these numbers, and junk. I do not think they will make it to the operational theatres, and if they do, they will not make any difference at all. This is just business.”
There has been general satisfaction at the Kremlin’s report on the Battle of Mariupol.
Source, with videoclip and transcript: http://kremlin.ru/
“I think it is very important to put on the record all the many minute details of Azovstal and what exactly is happening,” comments a well-informed Moscow source. “Obviously, this segment is for the TV, for the public to know what and why is being done. Usually, the format for all ministers, governors or CEOs is that they bring two copies of presentations with a lot of pictures; Putin’s visitors then gos through them as they read their narrative. This one was designed for public consumption and an important signal that despite everything, there is no bloodlust. It’s for domestic consumption only.”
The day before Putin called in Shoigu, the domestic impact of the war in Washington required special amplification by President Biden in this 5-minute media display with General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, nodding visibly on his left, and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan prompting off-left.
President Biden holds briefing with US general staff, commanders, and Defence Secretary at the Cabinet Room, April 20.
The US polling agencies indicate that it’s already too late for Biden to celebrate “our standing with Ukraine against Putin’s brutal and unjustified war” because most American voters have stopped listening. According to the tracking of all poll reports by RealClearPolitics.com the war gave Biden’s overall job approval rating (average of polls) an upward bump between March 5 and March 14, when it rose by 1.4 points from 41.5 to 42.9. Since then it has turned down again.
PRESIDENT BIDEN’S JOB APPROVAL RATING SINCE FEBRUARY 24, 2022
RealClearPolitics (RCP) turns its poll averages for voter approval of the president’s performance on domestic issues and foreign policy into a composite. Source: https://www.realclearpolitics.com/
The relative flatness of the line on the chart or the stability in Biden’s rating is contributed by the war. Without it, Biden would be far worse off, as inflation and other domestic economic issues eat away at most American voters’ support for him.
The shortness of Biden’s time and his weakness in the meantime have also been capitalized on by his old Democratic Party rival, the 80-year old Senator Bernard Sanders. His disclosure, first reported on April 20, is that if Biden decides not to run for a second term, Sanders will bid for the party’s nomination again. This is a signal that the succession to Biden has already begun.
Neither the president nor the other Democratic candidates can afford too many more Battles of Mariupol to turn out the way Putin and Shoigu plan they will.