One robin does not make a spring, but two just might. Curiously right on the heels of Congressional approval of an unseemly $40 billion aid package to
US arms merchants and NGOs Ukraine, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the New York Times both took a much less bullish tone on the prospects for Ukraine than had been the official and the media norm. If this post does not get overly long, I’ll also make some comments on what the new Defense Intelligence Agency Worldwide Threat Assessment, embedded at the end of this post, says and does not say about China.
As we’ve recounted for some time, after Russia’s initial miscalculation that a series of troop movements deep into Ukraine that encountered some stiff resistance would still bring Ukraine to the negotiating table (well actually it did, and even got significant concessions too until the US and UK made Ukraine walk them back), Russia reoriented its operations to focus on destroying Ukraine’s best forces in the east, first by neutering the Azov Battalion stronghold in Mariupol and second by grinding down a large concentration of troops in Donbass. They were in a not fully enclosed cauldron (but departure across open fields to the west was hazardous given Russian control of the sky).
Russia has been proceeding slowly and systematically, destroying resupply by taking out fuel depots, refineries, equipment repair factories, and arms depots and more recently, electrical train substations and bridges. Russia also isolate smaller groups and pounds them with artillery to get them to surrender or wipe them out. This approach is not just to lower Russian casualties and increase the odds of Ukraine surrender/capitulation. It also is meant to undercut the supposed Ukraine advantage of extensive and well fortified bunkers in Donbass. If you are short on ammo, food, and water, those bunkers start looking less like protection and more like a possible coffin.
Since this isn’t how the US does war, of course the Russians had to be losing, had to be resorting to this method out of weakness. But non-mainstream analysts with actual military experience, like Scott Ritter, Bernhard at Moon of Alabama, Andrei Martyanov, the eccentric but knowledgeable Jacob Dreizen, Daniel Davis, and Douglas Macgregor all have taken issue with the West’s dismissiveness, usually backed with specifics. And the counter was typically not to rebut them substantively, but to go ad hominem and charge them with being too Russia friendly. Even the admitted non-expert Alexander Mercouris yesterday said it was striking to see the sharp contrast between what both Russian and Ukrainian sources were saying about how the battle was going for Ukraine (not well), versus continued Western media cheerleading.
Anyone seriously interested in how the US defense establishment views the world should carefully read yesterdays’ 70 page, Defense Intelligence Agency Report to the Armed Services Committee of the US senate: https://www.armed-services.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Berrier%20Statement%20to%20SASC.pdf. Some important nuggets of new information are buried in there and two major international actors are not even mentioned, an indication of how complex the situation really is. Can you spot the two omissions?
Of more immediate short-term interest, this mornings’ NYT on-line edition has suddenly changed its tune and is trying to downplay the economic crisis and turning much more cautions on the Ukraine war.
First, this strange economics headline for the lead story (top left):
“Inflation Pressures Remain Strong; Consumer Prices Rise Sharply (subheading) Inflation slowed last month, with an 8.3 percent annual increase in the Consumer Price Index, but a monthly price measure continued to climb briskly. It continues: “It was a slight deceleration from March’s pace of 8.5%”. Briskly?
On the Ukraine, the top-left headlines are suddenly leading the readers toward caution:
First headline: “German inflation sets a second consecutive record, driven by high food and energy prices driven by the Ukraine war”
Second headline: “E.U. Falters in Bid for Russian Oil Embargo, Showing Risks of Prolonged War” European Union ambassadors ended talks for the day, having failed to persuade Hungary, which could act as a possible spoiler to European unity. Follow updates.”
Third headline: “Congress has provided more than $50 billion to Ukraine in two months of war, with few questions asked.”
And the lead opinion piece also questions our long-term goals: “Opinion Tom Stevenson America and Its Allies Want to Bleed Russia. They Really Shouldn’t.”
Note that the usual NYT “You should be thinking about women, abortion and LGTBA+ rights” articles are conspicuously absent. You need to scroll-down to the 17th headline to get one of those subjects.
So it seems to me that either the NYT is having its “Walter Cronkite on Vietnam” moment on the Ukraine crisis or the Grey Lady is sensing that the war and the inflation could lead to a Democratic 2022 Congressional electoral disaster six months from now.
Let’s turn briefly to the Threat Assessment report. Some wags speculate that this might be the reason the New York Times is dialing down its war enthusiasm. I have to point out that some bits are still reality-challenged. This is from the opener of the section on Russia:
Russia’s military strength allows Moscow to challenge U.S. global standing and undermine our democracy as it seeks to shape a new world order that is more favorable to its interests and consistent with its authoritarian model.
Even if the “undermine our democracy” is a nod to Russiagate, what exactly do Russia’s troops have to do with 2016?
And Russia does not want a new world order, although Putin has pointed out that the world is becoming multipolar (and China most assuredly does not like the US insisting on playing top banana). Russia did want security guarantees with respect to Ukraine, and when that was blown off repeatedly by the US, as recently as last December, Putin escalated that to wanting a new European security order when he felt he was left with no options other than to invade. If anything, it’s the economic sanctions blowback and our refusal to back down that is undermining US hegemony.
If you read the document, it is also fixated on Russia’s nuclear program, and appears to seriously understate the importance and extent of Russia’s hypersonic missile capabilities. Experts are welcome to correct me if I have this wrong, but I believe that hypersonic missiles can do as much damage as tactical nukes, without the evil fallout (which would blow back on Russia anyhow). Unfortunately, even if this is true, the West may respond to hypersonic missile strikes outside a recognized Russian theater of battle as if they were a nuclear first strike and respond accordingly.
But what is noteworthy is the lack of any positive statement about Ukraine or its capabilities. The best the document could do was depict Russia as initially wanting to capture Kiev, a thesis debunked by Scott Ritter and others, and now making do with lesser combat aims. Note the conclusion:
Russia’s brutal aggression in Ukraine is reviving fears of a more imperial and militaristic Russia, prompting requests from NATO allies for assurances that U.S. security guarantees will be honored. U.S. partners in the former Soviet Union will also look to the United States for signs that they are not being abandoned while adjusting their policies to coexist with a stronger and more emboldened Russia. Russian military modernization efforts will progress even as initial timelines for some programs may have to adjust to likely new economic realities, and Moscow will continue to blend traditional displays of military might with other coercive political, economic, cyber, and information confrontation measures to achieve its geopolitical interests, delineate its redlines, and compel the United States to take its concerns more seriously. Moreover, U.S. efforts to undermine Russia’s goals in Ukraine, combined with its perception that the United States is a nation in decline, could prompt Russia to engage in more aggressive actions not only in Ukraine itself, but also more broadly in its perceived confrontation with the West.
On China, unfortunately I can’t find the clip, but in a long-ish Scott Ritter interview in the last month, he had an important aside about China. He said that the sinking of the Moskva was a big reminder of how large naval ships were vulnerable to attacks from the shore. He then pointed out that China had fortified its real and fake islands on the nine-dash line to the degree that the Seventh Fleet was no longer all that safe operating the area, and he got mighty exercised as to how we had let that happen. Ritter continued by saying that give that fact, plus that Taiwan has a crappy military, that a successful invasion by China was not as big a stretch as Western armchair generals liked to think. He thought that China had no interest in taking over Taiwan unless it made a further move towards independence. The big obstacle to occupation is damaging infrastructure which China values. China would rather hollow out Taiwan over time by creating better career opportunities on the mainland. Despite having lower GDP per capita, some jobs in China already pay more than comparable ones in Taiwan, and that tendency should increase over time.
Sadly, as Lambert noted, we’re already engaging in yet more dangerous China eyepoking:
Very worrying sign of the direction the US is taking.
The State Dpt removed from their website the fact they recognize that Taiwan is part of China (under PRC gvt) and that they don't support Taiwan independence.
— Arnaud Bertrand (@RnaudBertrand) May 8, 2022
We can only hope that the US stops trying to escalate on two fronts. But neocons are constitutionally incapable of going into reverse.00 Defense Intelligence Agency Threat Assessment