The Perverse Calls for More Russian Aggression in the Face of Its Methodical Operation in Ukraine

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Since the Russia-Ukraine conflict has given unprecedented prominence to propaganda, it is easy to fall prey to being unduly interested in the messaging, since that’s far more visible than what is happening on the ground. The surrender of the Mariupol holdouts in the Azovstal factory is classic: rather than getting much in the way of the numbers leaving and their composition, the spin dominates. Yesterday’s depiction of them as “evacuees” today morphed into Russia-blaming: Russia Uses Surrender in Mariupol to Portray Ukrainians as Terrorists. And the Times presents Russia’s intent, announced from the get-go, to hold war crimes trials, as in response to Ukraine announcing it was prosecuting Russian soldiers. So yet another diversion.

One thing that seems to have fried brains on all sides, the pro-Ukraine camp, some of the pro-Russia camp, and even some of the itty bitty cohort that tries to be realists and is too often treated as pro-Russian for not buying the shameless pro-Ukraine spin, is that Russia has been prosecuting its campaign at a measured pace…and to some, it’s been getting long in tooth. That’s not how the US likes to prosecute its wars, nor how Hollywood presents them. The US has also been trying to present Russia as behind schedule, when Russia hasn’t said if it has one, and since it doesn’t seem to be having any supply issues (contrary to Western claims), it’s not as if there is a need for urgency.

Admittedly, Russia’s initial lightening runs and then its stationing of a 40km line of tanks led many to assume Russia would move quickly, particularly those of us who relied on Scott Ritter’s repeated predictions that Russia was within days or at most a couple of weeks of winning. Unfortunately, it does not appear that Ritter has experience in calling a war in real time, particularly one where the US does not have boots on the ground.

Ritter’s propensity to paint in bright colors has led him to repeatedly walk back his aggressive estimates of Russian success. It sadly also appears to be the proximate cause of his Twitter ban. Recall that Ritter’s tweet disputing the official narrative called Joe Biden as a war criminal for aiding and abetting what were actually Ukraine killings. That may have been great for eyeballs, but it took the focus off why the party line on Bucha could not be accurate, and Ritter didn’t publish a tweetstorm to back up his assessment.

Since at least April, there’s been some criticism of the war, it appears mainly at the top echelons of the government and society. One is of the botched opening days, which appears to be the result of poor intelligence (Russia had allegedly gotten some officials to agree to permit Russian forces to pass through. Two mayors who tried that were shot. The other collaborators either lost their nerve or always planned to betray Russia). Others think Russia should be more aggressive. From a Gilbert Doctorow post on Russian political talk shows, which he makes a point of watching regularly, on April 26:

As is now the rule, the very best discussion of these issues was on the political talk show “The Great Game,”….And yet even here it was clear that the mood of panelists is for more decisive action against Ukraine right now, meaning the bombing of the ‘decision making institutions’ in Kiev, as the Russian Ministry of Defense proposed to do a week ago in response to Ukrainian missile and artillery attacks across the border with Russia. This was made all the more topical by the statements of the British delegation in Rammstein encouraging the Ukrainians to do precisely that, and by the corresponding offer to ship appropriate missiles to Kiev now. The panelists also want the transportation infrastructure of Ukraine to be destroyed without delay in order to prevent the new heavy weaponry being shipped to Kiev from ever reaching the Ukrainian forces at the front.

Surely the bombing of central Kiev will come, effectively removing the Ukrainian regime. But it will come at the moment of choosing of Vladimir Vladimirovich and will signal the Russian decision to break up Ukraine into several states, as the Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation Nikolai Patrushev yesterday said might be in the cards if the war drags on due to Western intervention and cheerleading.

With respect to Lloyd Austin’s statement yesterday that the United States’ objective is to greatly weaken Russian armed forces over an extended period of time, the panelists on The Great Game offered an interpretation that is well worth repeating here. The Russians view this as an admission by Washington that the Ukrainians’ position on the battlefield is hopeless. The Americans now seek to redefine their objectives so as to turn a defeat into an apparent victory. Whatever happens on the front lines in the coming days and weeks, Washington will be able to say that it forced Russia to dip deeply into its store of missiles and other high tech gear, that it forced Russia to lose a substantial part of its professional soldiers. The objective is now intentionally vague and stands independently of the possible loss of Ukrainian’s main army forces adjacent to the Donbas in a ‘cauldron’ of confinement where they will be killed like herrings in a barrel.

Before we continue, note that the attacks by Ukraine on Russia have been pinpick level, although blowing up two of 17 storage units at a Belgorod refinery was a bold move.

Russia has since started to attack transportation infrastructure in the west of Ukraine, by taking out electrical substations in rail hubs there (but not in the east) and destroying some bridges (I wish I had a map that showed how many and how important the bridges Russia were destroyed compared to the ones Ukraine had taken out). Note that the destruction of transportation networks works both ways; it would make it harder for Russia to go into western Ukraine were that an objective.

It’s also worth noting that as the US is insistently presenting Russia as less capable and well equipped as it is (and greatly overplaying Ukraine’s competence and effectiveness), the panelists above over-interpreted Austin’s remarks. Even if this is a moving of the goalposts in anticipation of a Ukraine defeat, that does not mean that the US is not serious about pursuing a Plan B, of somehow bleeding the bear.

Of course, war = uncertainty and uncertainty is bad for business. But in contrast to the talk show bristling, Doctorow found his neighbors and contacts in a town near St. Petersburg to be on board with how the war is going and not keen about escalation. From his latest post:

The quiet discussion of the war which we have had with locals closest to us shows unquestioning confidence that it was necessary to preempt an attack on Donbas and Crimea by Ukrainian forces planned for the first week of March and that it is being properly prosecuted. Yes, soldiers are dying, but that is in the nature of wars. Should there be a mobilization? Absolutely not! One professional special forces contract soldier is worth 100 recruits says our friend and handyman Sergei.

Despite the regular Western press braying about Russia’s terrible military, developments on the ground appear to be going Russia’s way. The much ballyhooed Ukraine offensives near Kharkiv and Izyum were nothingburgers. The one real Russian setback was a failed pontoon bridge crossing where they may have lost as many as 150 men, but most estimates say fewer…when Ukraine was attempting a crossing at another point on the same river that did not go well either.

Most important, Russia is systematically and seriously degrading the operations in the east, where Ukraine has the bulk of its best troops. Multiple independent sources estimate daily Ukraine losses (death, injury, capture, surrender) to be 400 to 700 men. That is simply not sustainable. The notion that Ukraine is losing headcount is confirmed by surrender videos over the last three weeks regularly including quite a few middle aged men. This strongly suggests that Ukraine was already having to infill with recent conscripts who can’t be all that well trained.

Similarly, many videos show Ukraine forces moving on foot or in passenger cars, a sign they are low on armored vehicles. Ukraine country-wide is low on fuel and Russia has taken out its refineries. Russia has been blowing up ammo dumps. Recall that Ukraine started the war supposedly well endowed with equipment. It’s now gone through much of that. The replacements, aside from generally being old and not well functioning, are mainly not getting to the front between being destroyed en route or being sold on the black market.

So if all these things are going Russia’s way, why isn’t it making faster progress on the ground? First, Ukraine is the biggest country in Europe, bigger than France. Russia already has control of an area larger than England. The Ukraine forces in Donbass have extensive, deep, and well hardened bunkers, claimed to be second only to the bunkers in North Korea. Trying to storm they would result in lots of Russia losses for little gain. The strategy here is similar to that of the Azovstal factory: pound them with artillery (which is apparently extremely unnerving) and starve them out. They may not run out of food soon, but they will run out of ammo and fuel. And when that happens, they know they can’t win.

Second, Russia actually is making faster progress of late, but not in the sort of putting-up-the-Russian-flag-over-Kiev dramatic way that the West would be unable to deny. It’s been picking up the pace in Donbass. The Lugansk militia announced they’d encircled a big force, initially estimated at 13,000 to 15,000 men. That was a couple of days ago. Some independent commentators questioned whether the Ukraine forces were fully kettled but agreed they would be very shortly. It will take a while to capture/kill them bit by bit, but the outcome looks inevitable. Per yesterday’s update by Alexander Mercouris, the pace of capture of settlement and surrenders has also accelerated.

This course of action minimizes Russian deaths and should maximize Ukraine surrenders. It may eat up a lot of shells but I haven’t seen any non-West-connected expert express concern that Russia is in danger of running out (it was assumed to be well stockpiled and also now producing at top speed. Long range missiles might be another story if the combat drags on).

Scott Ritter has recently flip-flopped on Russia. He now argues Russia has been too leisurely, allowing the Ukraine-NATO-US time to arm and mobilize in the west. Ritter now contends Russia will have to fight Finland before it becomes part of NATO.

The other independent military commentators I follow have not changed their view of Russia’s prospects or a change in the West’s ability to respond effectively, although Ritter’s shift has stirred some discussion in that cohort and other Ukraine-skeptic presenters.

I don’t understand Ritter’s analysis. First, (I confess to not having tracked them down due to time constraints but I am relying on Alexander Mercouris here), Putin has been misrepresented. The press first depicted him as making a hostile reaction, then walking it back. Mercouris, who read Putin’s remarks, said in effect he didn’t understand why Finland thought this was necessary or helpful, they’d had good relations and Russia had no territorial disputes with Finland. Mercouris and others also observed that nevertheless Finland was closer to Europe than Russia and was presumed NATO-friendly despite its official posture of neutrality.

And as we know, Turkey is seeking a very big bribe to agree to let Sweden and Finland join, and Croatia is also making unhappy noises. So while a deal is still likely to get done, it is also likely to drag on rather than be a fast triumphalist affair, and will expose that NATO is not a happy family.

Second, many assume that once Russia and its allies in the militias have gotten the Donbass conflict down to a mopping up operation, if Ukraine has not relented (or its army has not collapsed), the next target would be the Black Sea coast. Russia might go slowly in taking Odessa, since it’s a historically important city and Russia would be keen to minimize damage.

If and when Russia has accomplished that, it’s hard to fathom what the point would be in trying to take the western part of Ukraine (as opposed to, um, liberating other ethnic-Russian dominated areas in the east). Unlike much of the east, the natives in the west are firmly anti-Russia. Taking hostile terrain is much more difficult; holding it is costly and corrosive to the occupier.

Russia has also taken the position that any NATO or foreign troops or materiel is fair game for attack, and Russia has repeatedly blown up ammo caches and troop training facilities near Lvov. So if Russia has enough in the way of long-range precision missiles, it can hit any forces that try to enter Ukraine.

Moreover, once Russia controls the east and Black Sea coast, the Ukraine rump is poor… and will be saddled with Lend-Lease debt. How it survives economically is beyond me.

Third, the West has been drinking its own Kool Aid in big slugs, which means it won’t be quick to move to a Plan B of finding a way to do more than send equipment and maybe some advisers. The reality is that Ukraine has not made a single significant attack since the war started. Some armchair pundits argued that Russia would become overstretched if Ukraine tried to take Transnistria, but no such campaign took place. In other words, if Ukraine were capable of making a meaningful offensive, it would have done so by now, and it’s only becoming less capable as time drags on.

Yet the West keeps selling itself the idea that the plucky Ukrainians can still best the Russian meanies, so a big course change would amount to admitting Ukraine is in serious trouble. On top of that, Ukraine is now touting the idea that they can mount a big counter-offensive in August…which of course charitably assumes they still have an army by then. But this new story line means no major change, particularly no search for meaningful manpower to supplement Ukraine forces, is likely to be contemplated before late summer (oh, and let us also remember that Europe goes on holiday in August, so no new plans by late July means no new plans until September).

Fourth, there’s a case to be made that a slower-tempo campaign favors Russia. It keeps draining the West of funds and equipment. Russia’s economy is stabilizing slightly ahead of its planner’s schedule, while thing are getting worse in the US and Europe. Fuel prices keep hitting new highs. Food shortages and major price hikes are expected to start to bite in a serious way by August and September (and the West keeps depicting Russia as blockading the Black Sea, when it is Ukraine that mined the harbors, and commercial cargo ships can’t get insurance until the mines are cleared).

And Europe is now proposing to throw massive amounts of money at getting off Russian energy. It’s not likely to happen to a meaningful enough degree by winter to prevent oil laundering (buying Russian oil though cutouts at hefty markups; there’s no way there’s enough LNG that can be shipped to Europe to make up for Russian supply any time soon). But all that spending is going to cut into funding for further Ukraine military adventures. And remember budget hawkery is built into Maastrict rules, even before inflation also curbing any enthusiasm for deficit spending. From CNN:

The European Union has unveiled a €210 billion ($221 billion) plan to wean itself off Russian oil and gas.

Presenting its “REPowerEU” plan on Wednesday, the European Commission said it would attempt to slash consumption of Russian gas across the bloc by 66% by the end of this year — and break its dependence completely before 2027 — by saving energy, finding alternate sources and speeding up the transition to renewables….

The European Commission has also set up a platform to enable countries to jointly purchase energy, with the aim of helping to bring down rocketing prices.
“When Europe acts together, it has more clout,” von der Leyen said of the joint procurement program. “This way we can secure energy imports we need without the competition between our member states.”

The plan also emphasizes energy-saving tactics as the “quickest and cheapest way” to address the crisis. Europe will encourage citizens and businesses to curtail their energy use — such as by switching off lights and using less air conditioning — and believes these steps could reduce its demand for oil and gas by 5% in the short term.

Longer term, the European Union will lift its target of having at least 40% of its energy coming from renewable sources to 45%. The bloc plans to dramatically cut down the amount of time it takes to get permits for new renewable energy projects.
Von der Leyen said that the package would “speedcharge” the bloc’s transition to renewables, and include plans to double the bloc’s capacity for solar power by 2025. The additional solar energy produced could replace the consumption of 9 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually by 2027, the Commission said in a press release.

It will double the rate of uptake of heat pumps — devices which funnel heat from the ground or air into buildings, and which can run on renewable energy.

Of course, this plan may not be approved at its planned scale. But even so, spending on the economic war against Russia cuts into the monies available to spend on a ground war.

Admittedly, the West could still do something stupid, as in again impose high costs on itself to hurt Russia. But the impetus for that is fading; the EU failed to agree on a sixth sanctions package against Russia, although some hope to revive it.

In addition. Russia’s intel is good enough that it ought to get wind well in advance of a real mobilization and respond accordingly. Anything short of that is unlikely to prevent the dismemberment of Ukraine. And it’s also hard to see how an energy-short and hungry Europe, also having to contend with the socially divisive issue of supporting Ukraine refugees, will have the bandwidth and unanimity to even engage in meaningful harassment of Russia.

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  1. Louis Fyne

    here is a possible answer to why Russians are not bombing arms shipments, or wiping out entire railyards, those shipments are intermixed with passenger trains.

    which is presumably why russians are bombing the electrical substations and grid infrastructure of UA railways. UA trains mostly use electricity.

    alleged video from UA social media. not long, 36 sec.

    (standard disclaimer, not verified, but easily can be.)

    1. Tor User

      A simple reason why the Russians aren’t hitting these trains is that they have limited ability to see them. They are not flying long range reconnaissance over western Ukraine with on call strike capability. The reason for that is that Ukraine is believed to still have an air defense capability beyond MANPADS. And while the Russians could penetrate it the cost may be judged as not worth it.

      The Russians have satellites that provide intermittent coverage. But between the time the satellite sees something and they get a cruise missile to the location, the train could easily have moved.

      The railroad infrastructure doesn’t move. And destroying that stops the passenger looking trains that might easily be loaded with military forces.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Please provide links. You keep making claims that require backup.

        Russia has invested in long-range missiles over air power for long distance action. But your claims about limited surveillance go beyond that. Ukraine is believed to have most if not all of its fixed wing aircraft taken out and its helicopter supply has also been seriously reduced. Russia had air superiority from early on, witness its unmolested 40 km tank/armored vehicle line not far from Kiev.

        If Ukraine is interspersing military train carriages with passenger cars, it’s a risky operation to take them out even if Russia were to have gone for a US style military, with long-distance strikes deployed by plane. You hit one moving car, you get a train wreck that kills civilian passengers. You blow up a stationary car, if it has any munitions, you get secondary explosions that will at least kill train system employees and any passengers that happened to be in the area. It causes unnecessary deaths, alienates the public, and allows the international community to accuse Russia of war crimes.

        In other words, targeting individual cars has a poor risk/return ratio and plays into the Ukraine pattern of using civilian infrastructure and human shields.

        And taking out train station equipment is far more efficient in the use of Russian missiles.

        You don’t need to posit inferior Russian surveillance. Russia presumably has drones but trying to target individual train cars is not a sound idea.

  2. Louis Fyne

    [ Ritter now contends Russia will have to fight Finland before it becomes part of NATO.]

    I think the main worries were (a) UA being a springboard/resource for a color revolution. (b) UA had 40 mil which was being militarized by NATO since 2003.

    1. Finland has about the same population as Minnesota. 2. any attack via Finland into Russia will take months staging and quite isolated from continental NATO. 3. Expect “Gogland Island,” an obscure Russian nature preseve between Helsinki and St Petersburg (40 km from the Finnish coast), to be militarized with weapons.

    1. Louis Fyne

      and Russia’s main oil ocean export terminal is at Vyborg, literally next to the Finnish border.

      Russians probably would rather keep that site out of a war zone

      If there is ever war in the Baltic Sea, it would be just like the US invading Iran with respect to oil prices soaring

    2. PlutoniumKun

      Yes, its a strange argument to make to say that Finland is a threat to Russia – only St. Petersburg is vulnerable in that sense. Russia of course has historical designs on Finland (how much those historic claims chime in Moscow these days is something I don’t know), but its not because of a threat, its because Russia has always valued a bigger foothold in the Baltic. And if it wanted to do that, it would make more sense to attack the Baltic States to link up with Kalingrad. In political terms, I doubt if there would be much difference in attacking Finland or Lithuania in terms of whether Nato decided to declare a full war.

      1. Jacob Hatch

        Putin/Kremlin has made it clear they are focused on military infrastructure. If Finland just joins NATO, then no sweat, it de-facto already is. If Finland is forced via NATO treaty commitments and if Finnish politicians are afraid Uncle Sam might leak their corruptions/padded retirements to NATO/World Bank, etc if they don’t follow NATO dictates, so then place American controlled ultra sonic short / medium range nuclear missiles, then Russia put Finland on the first launch target list. This is because they will be only 2 to 5 minutes from Russia’s North Sea Fleet. Note That means launch on detection, even if it’s not real of, as there is no time to check. this will be a launch of everything, mostly aimed at USA, then UK, France, Pakistan, and possibly India (depending on how they view the likelihood of Mody/India’s attempt to take advantage).

        Professor Scott Sagan’s The Limits of Safety, Organizations, Accidents and Nuclear Weapons should scare anyone silly who thinks this Obama/Trump/Biden policy shift is a great way to bully Russia.

        This proximity to Russia’s Northern Fleet is why Uncle Joe was only going to let Finland go with a treaty of strict neutrality.

        A first strike on Saint Petersburg is less, likely, or rather if it was any nation but the USA, I’d say would not happen. However, Uncle Sam holds Olympic gold in war crimes and genocide and is always looking to set new records, that’s why Germany and Japan get along so well with him.

        1. Carolinian

          I think your scenario is far fetched. What NATO/USA want is regime change in Russia, not WW3.

          1. Jacob Hatch

            What they want is to die rich, and creating an arms race is one way powerful idiots do it. Anyone who’s read Prof. Scott D. Sagan’s The Limits of Safety, Organizations, Accidents and Nuclear Weapons, would not be so glib. You must understand this isn’t the first time the USA has played with fire. Assume you know your history, then you must know what started the Cuban Missile Crisis, and it wasn’t in Cuba. Able Archer, does that ring a bell? It put the scare up Ronald Reagan, and all the things he put in place to make sure it didn’t happen again were undone by Bush Jr, Obama, Trump, and Joe Biden. So here we are.

            1. Carolinian

              I’m quite aware of the atomic history, having grown up with it. I have just been reading a history of the post WW2 US navy and one admiral had a serious plan to help the French by using carrier planes to nuke Dien Bien Phu. Eisenhower nixed the idea.

              But I would suggest that for the Pentagon the use of nuclear weapons was a lot more thinkable back in the ’50s–not so long after the actual use. So while various current neocons may be casual about a war with Russia I don’t believe the Pentagon would go along. It is now about rice bowls rather than mutual annihilation. In truth the Soviets getting the bomb may have saved us all or at least many countries not named the United States.

              1. Jacob Hatch

                Dr Sagan’s book is about near accidents, but I respect your right to hold to your beliefs, as far fetched as they may sound. :-)

          2. digi_owl

            The line between the two are razor thin. In particular as NATO keep taking advice from descendants of soviet “refugees” and nazi collaborators, and thus blind themselves to the actual politics of Russia.

      2. The Rev Kev

        Well, St. Petersburg wasn’t always St. Petersburg. Once upon a time it was called Leningrad and since they lost about a million civilians who were killed or starved to death during the siege, they may be sensitive about this city and it’s safety. Putin’s family was from there too and he lost family, including a brother, during that siege.

        1. Brian (another one they call)

          The west wants their citizens to forget history and listen to the latest banter. They have to reconstruct the narrative quite often to align it with the failures to get past the last crisis before the next one. Propaganda is everything when you don’t have enough to back up the claims.

          Yves; a very good round up of what is happening. We have a notable information blackout from Russia which prevents the propaganda machine from having meat to grind. It is making heads spin. Going to slow, well that is a matter of opinion. Scott knows things we don’t. He originally gave all the reasons why the campaign was so balanced and effective, and moving slow. I wonder if that has really changed. It is hard to imagine Russia starting this knowing that nato was going to try to have a field day. So far the west has been vary cooperative in promoting crimes against humanity, direct war on a NSC member by proxy, mass murder, and the most striking aspect is the rejuvenation of the nazi ideals, and the uptake of nazi values in the nations of the west. I expect the rest of the world has made a lot of interesting decisions watching this manure spreading media. To deny the Ukrainians are run by nazi’s is unrealistic, but that is what they are shouting loud. We like Nazi’s and we are going to do everything we can to protect them as long as they are trying to kill Russians.
          Insanity runs deep in those folks. We approach 4th world status.

      3. Jacob Hatch

        algo ate my earlier post, so I’ll see if simple one gets past it.
        Look at location of Russia’s Northern Fleet Home Port.

      4. digi_owl

        Yes, its a strange argument to make to say that Finland is a threat to Russia – only St. Petersburg is vulnerable in that sense

        On that note, a casual glance at a map shows only one major road from the Baltics that go directly to Moscow. And that is from Latvia. The rest go either via St. Petersburg or through Belarus. From Ukraine on the other hand there is a road both from Kiev and from Kharkov (the latter passing through Kursk, that should be familiar to anyone with interest in WW2).

    3. Carolinian

      Finland has about the same population as South Carolina. I doubt we’d pose much of a threat to anybody if you leave aside Lindsey Graham.

      Here’s Martyanov’s response to Ritter

      His argument is that Russia has the satellites and intelligence to be completely aware of everything that is going on in Ukraine and the missiles to blow things up. Therefore Ritter is overestimating the threat of American equipment.

      As for Putin, we’ve already done our worst against him–and regime change didn’t happen–whereas the longer this drags out the greater the harm to his opponents including those USians who have to buy food and gasoline.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        In the interview with Ray McGovern by Garland Nixon (link below), Ritter’s argument doesn’t deny Russian intelligence capability but rather that for what ever reason, they are not using it and instead have allowed American/Nato equipment to enter Ukraine (several batteries of 155 mm Howitzers, for instance) and that due to this the Ukraine forces are suddenly having “meaningful impact” on the battle field (though not in areas Russia is primarily interested in right now) and that demilitarization is not taking place in a way that will allow Russia to easily mop up later without full on war. He makes these points at approx: 48:00 in the YouTube interview mentioned above here. The link was in comments a couple of days ago but I forget who offered it and can’t seem to find the comment now.

        1. Brooklin Bridge

          Meant to say, “In the interview with Ray mcGovern and Ritter by Garland Nixon…”

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          Please tell me where Ukraine is having “meaningful effect”.

          The Kharkiv offensive was a joke. Ukraine troops moving into an area vacated by Russian troops does not an offensive make.

          The Izyum offensive amounted to just as little. Both were also strategically unimportant.

          I have not seen any mention of howitzer use in the failed pontoon bridge crossing. Jacob Dreizen explained why those are extremely risk operations and very vulnerable to attack.

          Mercouris discussed yesterday that there is zero evidence that howitzers have made a difference. Many are believed to have been blown up or sold in the black market (Russia keeps having major arms depot strikes).

          It’s weird to see Ritter suddenly becoming a big gun enthusiast when before he was all gung ho about the difficulty of suddenly trying to introduce even moderately complex weapons systems: assembling/using them (takes training), maintaining them (takes training + tools/supplies) plus poses logistical challenges (you need to get enough shells).

          Russia did capture two (photos) in the last few days in Donbass, so some are getting through. But the US/allies sent only 100, which is fewer than Ukraine had at the start of the war, and they weren’t game changers then. Mercouris speculates that the rush to ship them meant they came with not the best and not enough shells.

          1. Brooklin Bridge

            I hope that, “Please tell me where Ukraine is having “meaningful effect”’ is rhetorical; these are Ritters words, thus quoted, and not mine.
            My point was that Ritter’s argument did not rest on Russian intelligence, which Martyanov argues is what Ritter is missing, but on his assumption about American support and Russia ignoring it at their own peril. Ritter also pointed out this is what made him change his mind (somewhat belatedly) about Russia winning an early victory. His excuse, as it were, for getting it so wrong.

  3. ali

    “what the point would be in trying to take the eastern part of Ukraine” – you mean the “western” part ??

  4. Practical Reason

    Wonderful analysis, Yves! Thank you.

    Regarding Scott RItter: one thing he has been clear with all the time is that he does not have access to the Russian military plan, meaning he does not know how to judge the SMO relative to the plan. This goes for most people outside of Russian leadership too, I would assume.

    1. hk

      One thing that has to enter into Russian calculations (that they historically hadn’t) is the long term value of professional soldiers and how costly it is to replace them, esp given their likely long term commitments. In Iraq and Afghanistan, fairly small casualties (several thousand killed and several tens of thousands wounded, spread out over years) were enough to badly degrade US Army, enough to cause concerns over its ability to operate effectively should other crises arise, and required deployment of reserves (national guards) in situations where they were not well suited. Now, even by official accounting, Russian losses have reached a few thousand killed and a couple of tens of thousands wounded, presumably mostly among professional combat troops (and combat troops in a modern army make up fairly small proportion of the whole). Probably not enough to cripple it, but certainly enough to cause concerns over the Russian army’s ability to operate generally (esp given other commitments) in the medium term at least.

      While the ability of the Ukrainian “military/people” to sustain the war for long is limited, is the ability of the Zelensky regime similarly limited? I’m not sure if that is the case. The only things that can constrain them, it seems to me, are Russians nabbing them in some fashion or the West cutting them off (or the tired Ukrainian military/people overthrowing it) At least in the medium term, neither seems likely. Possibility of a coup against Zelensky just seems implausible at the gut level, for now.

      So it won’t be a situation, I wonder, where anyone “loses” in the medium term. To preserve their valuable military professionals, especially given their overall requirements, Russians will not attack too boldly. This, coupled with continued Western aid, will allow the Zelensky regime to continue fighting. Political and social inertia would lead to the West staying the course. So a long term morass, Verdun like, seems likely, in which everyone pays a heavy cost but no one can, or wants to, get out because they don’t want to take the risks. I don’t see the kind of expanded fighting that Ritter suggests: if Russians will not take bold but risky moves to smash Zelensky regime quickly, why should expect them to make a bolder and riskier move to take out Finland? But a resolution in Ukraine does seem potentially years away, with attendant socioeconomic repercussions.

      1. j

        The regime change that may be most important is not in Ukraine, but in the US. (“It’s the Economy Stupid!” may just be Russia’s best weapon against the US come November.)

        As for Finland? These folks are dumber than grunt! Do they not comprehend that their citizens will die BEFORE Americans—the pattern is right in front of them.

      2. DJ Forestree

        Question to
        hk (May 19, 2022 at 10:39 am)

        Do you have a link you can share to the source of information, regarding the number of Russian troops killed and wounded that you mention?

        1. Sausage Factory

          Russian MoD (website in english) you may need a VPN proxy connection – is the only ‘official’ evidence you will find, Russian MFA also issue information. Much discussion elsewhere but little evidence other than circumstantial and local from servicemen, families etc. Casualties will only be known after the war. Russia is at around 5000 give or take a few hundred, Donbass Army (figures are counted separately) was 1675, so total around 7000. Figures for Ukies around 40 to 50k. All these figures are KIA. Both sides will be under/over estimating. Ukies are losing about 400 per day KIA at the moment (almost 1000 on Tuesday) 10 – 1 ratio, likely to get worse as cauldrons become fully formed and closed. I follow many telegram channels Russian, Ukrainian and French, some english channels too, I spent a couple of weeks counting stats on dead, always taking lowest figure, especially when there is overlap of sources about a particular action, plus say overnight actions (kalibr attacks on mercenary training camps for example) initial morning figures may be 100 but later in the day that could double as rubble is sifted.
          The Ukies often refuse to collect or exchange dead after engagement thus having them listed as ‘missing’ as opposed to KIA but RF have hacked hospital records and internal memos of the military which show large losses. Those two weeks I collected and sorted info Ukies were definitely at 400 daily absolute minimum. Russian losses are simply impossible to guess as MoD dont release figures often but I suppose we could say between 7 and 10,000 maximum for the operation thus far. But the steady grind is to avoid both civilian and troop casualties (civilian deaths are less than 4000 which shows you that this plan is working – and I would say that maybe as many as 40% will have been killed by the Ukies themselves if the horror stories of Mariupol and other places that are now surfacing from survivors are anything to go by not to mention the constant shelling of places like Donetsk)
          So, its hard to get anything more than a decent drift. The Russian telegram channels are very good, (telegram has an internal translate button if you dont read Russian) but again some will be compromised or run by ‘only good news here’ type of content. If you have the time to devote to it and find the right channels it can be like a 24 hour running commentary with almost instant uploads of videos from hot spots but its pretty gruelling, brutal and draining, hence I’m having a rest from it. Its a fascinating medium though, Russian govt use it to issue warnings and also to let people who have been holed up in Ukie held territory know when and where humanitarian corridors are open and what to avoid (mines, snipers) if you wish to attempt to leave. This was very prevalent in Mariupol, so ignore any bs from the press about Russians not complying with arrangements for extraction, they where at it practically every day until they took the City.

  5. Thuto

    The analyst class have a natural preference and a dogmatic reverence for dramatic, fast paced wars because they provide rich pickings for battlefield developments to be analyzed for their transfixed audiences, as such it’s not surprising that they doth project too much re: their frustration at the pace of developments . Wars of attrition, characterized as they are by methodical and incremental progress (what said analysts define as “slow progress”), by their nature provide none of the drama and excitement, hence the recent calls for Putin to amp up the intensity.

  6. Alan Roxdale

    I’m personally concluding that no-one has any idea what the big picture really is in this Ukraine war, including the belligerents themselves. I’m reminded of Vietnam which was in effect in a permanent state of chaos and flux for over a decade.

    We are accustomed to the idea of WWII era grand armies moving across continents according to sophisticated strategic plans. Whatever conditions allow that type of warfare seem to be rare in the 20th century as a whole. I think we’re looking at something closer to the Iran-Iraq war, itself closer to WWI than WWII. Not that I know much about either.

    I’m willing to believe that there might be experienced insider US and/or Russian analysts who might actually have a grasp of the situation. But especially on the US side, they are likely to be surrounded by apparatchiks and careerists and their insight is as likely to be lost as transmitted up the chain of command, let alone out to the public.

    1. hk

      WW2 on the Eastern Front, especially in the northern half, was a more of a drawn out slugging match somewhat similar to WW1, fwiw. (And while there were maneuver operations in the southern half, they were also more drawn out than in the post D Day western front…)

        1. Polar Socialist

          If you look at the map you’ll notice that Ukraine from east to west is about the same as from Normandy to Berlin. The East is a big place.

          1. The Rev Kev

            Gonzales Lira said it took him three and a half days to go from one side if the Ukraine to the other by motorcycle. It’s a big country.

    2. Jacob Hatch

      I think the West is use to Russia and China having tied up 70% of Germany’s and 85% of Japan’s most elite fighting units in long bloody slugfests respectively, so that our heros could beat up on mostly under equipped units operating on long lines subject to massive interdiction by airpower after much of their material wealth had already been expended. This isn’t the game the USA will be playing with Russia and China directly.

      1. JBird4049

        World War Two could be described as multiple wars. The war between Japan and the Americans in the Pacific was a naval war. One of large fleets and campaigns in island chains over thousands of miles. A very different war. Then again, when a large warship went down 500, 600, even a thousand people could be lost.

        In Europe, the Americans and especially the British used machines to fight while the Soviets and the Germans were less worried, much like the Japanese, about casualties. Not unworried, just not as important, maybe. Also, for much of the war the fighting in the West was either in the air or in the Atlantic. Although, as the veteran father of one friend said, (paraphrasing) yes the British lost “only” 200 tanks in one battle, but that means 200 crews. Or when a heavy bomber or u-boat was lost… 4, 8, 50 each respectively and roughly. So when the USAAF would lose a few dozen bombers in a raid, they lost killed, injured, or captured around 200 men.

        Each country or empire fought differently, each had different abilities and weaknesses, and everyone was at war with at least two other enemies at the same time. One can suggest that the Soviet Union and China won due to the British and Americans supplying them with all the equipment that they were not making and diverting at least 15% of the manpower and other resources from their opponents’ war with them. Considering that the bulk of the Soviet’s tucks were American and one cannot fight a war without it, or that much of the Chinese supplies were American made and for both it was done using often lost British and American shipping and aircraft, well deciding who won what is more difficult than it look like.

        1. Jacob Hatch

          The idea that any nation won is ridiculous. However it seems the NAZI ideology managed to live on and re-envigorate in it’s original homeland that Hitler praised in Mein Kampf. so much for the victory of democracy.

  7. The Rev Kev

    There is a possibility on what is going on and I base this on something that Gonzales Lira said in a throwaway line. What if the Russians are keeping this war boring. No, really. They do this war in a slow, methodical, professional way and every day they chew up a battalion’s worth of Ukrainian soldiers. They waste no Russian lives in heroic charges but let their firepower do the heavy lifting and then use their manpower after to do the mopping up. So you have no sweeping movements of tanks but every now and then you have the fall of a position like Mariupol or the surrender of a unit who have realized that they have been hung out to dry. So, mostly boring.

    Now flip this and look how it looks in the west. Because the war just grinds on, the Blue Check Brigade can only keep up their enthusiasm for so long and then they get bored. After a while, all this preening on how you support the Ukraine has earned you all the social points that you will ever get on social media. But more immediate concern crop up. Inflation keeps rising as do your bills. People keep on falling sick even though you have spread the canard that the pandemic is over. The midterms are looming and you worry that Trump will get himself involved.

    So, sooner or later you remove your Ukrainian flag emoji from your social media account and get involved with “the next thing”. You take down the faded Ukrainian flag from your lawn too and don’t bother with the latest Ukrainian fundraiser. And all the while Russia keeps working to their final objectives but the Blue Check Brigade no longer care and politicians see that there is no more to be gained by taking a knee for the Ukraine and abandon them. The End.

    1. Alyosha

      Add to that the fact that Russia has consistently asked the regular Ukrainian army to surrender because it has no issue with them. The longer this goes on, the more word filters out from Ukrainian POWs that in fact you won’t be tortured or executed on the spot. You’ll be fed and treated with common decency. Though you may be forced to help clean up liberated areas or (saw this yesterday) be assigned to crews collecting and burying Ukrainian military dead that are left on the battlefield.

      Or the video published yesterday of Ukrainian wives confronted the commander of their husbands’ unit who was back in Lvov while they are on the Eastern Front.

      1. Polar Socialist

        I read that they are not forced, but they themselves asked to be allowed to help in the task after they realized that DNR and LNR care more about returning the dead to their families than Kiev does. It makes more sense to them to help in this task than whistle time away in a POW camp.

        They do try to identify all corpses and take DNA samples for later verification. The bodies are either stored or buried in a way that makes it possible to return them when all this is over.

    2. eg

      Yeah, and where Europe is concerned, slow and boring means always creeping ever closer to darker, colder, and hungrier absent Russian fossil fuels, fertilizer and wheat …

    3. Richard

      Agreed, Rev Kev. I think you’re on to something.

      Have the Russians refused to enter a media war because they don’t want to provide the western media with free new material?

      Is the Russians’ relaxed attitude toward old NATO equipment entering Ukraine because they know the US is going to do something, and think trucking in old equipment is less threatening to Russia than any alternative and keeps NATO busy? Are they encouraging substitute accomplishment?

      Could be.

  8. PlutoniumKun

    I don’t think Russia has anywhere near the manpower a rapid advance would require. It would mean having to garrison hostile urban areas and risk being very vulnerable to mobile Ukrainian units behind their lines. Ukrainian territory is not favourable for guerrilla warfare, but its still very big with plenty of forests, so with the correct weaponry they could still make life very difficult.

    Another issue thats often overlooked is that its always better to fight an enemy on your own ‘home’ ground than on their ground. The Donbass is essentially home ground for the Russians – the longer the war goes on there the easier it is to just grind up Ukrainian offensives as they arrive. Its looking increasingly likely that, for example, the recent northern ‘successes’ by Ukraine were very simple traps by the Russians. They lured the Ukrainians into open ground where they were easy meat for directed artillery and airstrikes as they have not had enough time to dig in (even a simple foxhole takes a soldier about a day to construct).

    Its also notable that a huge amount of hardware supplied recently by Nato is already turning up in the Donbass. This is directly contrary to the western narrative that the Ukraine is building up a second army in the west which will strike back as soon as the Russians have run out of steam. In reality, it looks like everything they can get their hands on is being rushed to the front as quickly as possible, and just as quickly lost (huge amounts of it is being repaired and re-used by the local militia). This indicates that the Ukrainians have no meaningful reserves, they are throwing everything into the fight. They are rapidly looking like Germany, October 1918.

    Time is on Russia’s side. There is no advantage to them in ending the war quickly. They will get no relief from sanctions, and there is no possibility of Kiev agreeing to a deal. The autumn mud season is the only limitation, and by then the issue of gas to Germany will come to a head. The Russians are fully aware that Europe will be in a food/energy crisis by then. And with air superiority, they can move on the road system, so the mud season may well favour them more than any Ukraine/Nato army in the west.

    The Ukrainians are in a strategic bind. They can’t fall back to a more sensible defensive line, because they know full well that they will not get back any territory they abandon, at least not with paying a very heavy price in negotiations. They also have to maintain the illusion of possible progress in order to keep western money and arms flowing inward. Not least because no doubt many are profiting from this big time if rumours are correct about the amount of cash being diverted. So they have little choice but to keep feeding in weaponry to the south-east and maintaining a fiction of local tactical victories.

    The problem for the Ukrainians – and this is something that does not seem to have sunk in with the western brain trust – is that the Russians are now fighting a war of attrition. The western/Ukie strategy was to lure Russia into a quagmire, sucking in men and money into a black hole that would cause the Russian military/economy to collapse. The Russians have turned the tables. Its now Kiev, and by extension the rest of Europe and the US, which now faces itself with an endless east Ukraine shaped black hole for men, machinery, and money, which will never disappear until they do a deal. And if the Russians completely conquer the south-east they can move on to link up with Transnistria and do similar with Odessa and the cities on the Dnieper. I don’t think reality has hit the various capitals yet, but I suspect that facing a winter of inflation and food/energy shortages might well do the trick.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Yes, I have not looked carefully at where the ethnic mix breaks or what the population levels are like (a sparely populated area that is 60% European Ukrainian/40% ethnic Russian might still be manageable if the Russians throw some extra goodies at the locals) but if not too costly, the maximalist position would be to take the east side of the Dnieper, save maybe right around Kiev.

      Or they may need to do that as a threat to preserve the water flow to the North Crimean Canal and pull back after making clear they’ll take out any attempt to dam the Dnieper to again cut its supply. If anyone knows more about this situation, please pipe up!

      1. The Rev Kev

        I don’t think that the Russians will have to make any threats. They have taken the city of Kherson and intend to keep it. Already they are turning it into Russian territory and one example is where they have replaced Ukrainian money with Russian Rubles. With this city in their possession, it will no longer be possible to block water running through that canal anymore. Anything west of there which the Russians will be holding and the Dnipro river is to wide for the Ukrainians to dam. And as a side benefit, it gives the Crimea strategic depth so no worries about the Ukrainians parking rocket batteries on the other side of the border.

      2. Steve H.

        It’s clear Lvov is Ukrainian, but between muddled maps and mixed populations, a careful look yields diminishing returns.

        For territory, the question is, is the Dnieper a border or a resource? If it’s a resource, it must be protected with a buffer. I’ll maintain Russia is behaving in a way to maintain internal cohesion as it decouples.

        : The largest land mass in the #Arctic is #Russian — without their science colleagues in Russia as collaborators researchers are garnering less than half the story of #climate impact & #biodiversity loss across the melting region.

        Climate data is becoming inside information.

        I’m glad to say my bloodier prognostications were wrong, in the short-term. Russia is clearly staying within some legal boundaries, doing nothing that US/NATO/Israel hasn’t done. Nobody’s chucking in their elite forces, neither:

        Tut, tut, good enough to toss : food for Powder, food for Powder : they’ll fill a Pit, as well as better : tush man, mortal men, mortal men.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          Over time, Lvov may look less Ukrainian than Polish (at least to the Poles).

          The Dnieper is navigable up to Kiev, and is an important transportation corridor. It has five big dams, all with hydroelectric facilities and water supply canals. Control of it and its main tributaries is therefore very important, although realistically it may be a case of both sides sharing a bank (historically, this can be a good thing, it forces countries who don’t like each other to co-operate).

          I suspect that for the Russians, the lower reservoir (Kakhovka) is the most important. If they control that, they control water for Crimea and the agricultural/industrial areas along the coast. Kiev would have to do a deal if they wanted to maintain navigation up to the capital. Bear in mind that if the Ukrainians decided to play silly games with water flow to the south, they will quickly discover that their own water largely originates in Belorussia and the Valdai hills of Russia.

          1. The Rev Kev

            Maybe taking Kherson is like when the Union forces took Vicksberg back in 1863 – it gave then control of the river and what could move down it.

          2. BradN

            Your comment provoked an idea.
            I wonder if the disintegration of Ukraine will provoke a land grab from the Polish side since a Ukrainian rump state would likely be a basket case anyway and unable to offer its’ citizenry anything practical.
            I have no information that could validate that idea but it seems a not impossible thought to me.

      3. Polar Socialist

        There really is no ethnic break, at least not linguistically. The dialects flow without boundaries from Arkhangelsk or Orenburg to Ivano-Frankivsk. Furthermore, the 8 years of Ukrainization have done their thing with the language statistic, as well as the the current war – threat of being tied to a pole and flogged (or worse) if you pronounce a bread the wrong way may make people rethink pretty fast the strength of their their passion for their ethnic roots.

        Historically, Ukraine can be divided to the area that was part of Austria-Hungary and the area that wasn’t. Or with equal reason to the Ukraine identifying with Odessa and Ukraine identifying with Lviv, neither of which kinda concern the eastern parts that were never really that Ukrainian to begin with.

        Or, you can divide it into the Ukrainians that are for the generic concept of Slavs (as a big happy family) and to those who have much narrower idea of a Slav (real Slavs vs. wanna-be degenerates).

        Either way, one tends to end up with at least three categories in Ukraine: West is Austro-Hungarian ethno-Slavic, East identifies more with Russia and is general-Slavic and the Center is somewhere in between, kinda generic Slavic but with an Ukrainian identity.

        Then, of course, there are areas where people identify as Russians, Tatars, Romanians, Hungarians or Poles not really bothering with this Ukrainian thing (except after 2014 when it became kinda mandatory).

        1. liam

          I wonder to what extent, the current level of emigration will change the ethnic balance/mix of Ukraine? Assuming that refugees skew young/middle aged, unless they return after the war, a demographic collapse is built in. It raises issues about the capacities and viability of the state in whatever form it takes once the war is over. I also think it might well be overlooked to what extent European countries accepting a flood of refugees as they have, and so early on at that, have reduced the Ukrainian ability to wage the type of war they clearly had planned. Which leads to how that also might affect the calculus for the Russians.

        2. deplorado

          Add about 300,000 Bulgarians in Bessarabia (spread over Moldova as well), who have been living there for centuries, and 150,000 Pontic Greeks (who’ve been there probably for millennia)

          1. Mikeyjoe

            After Russia annexes parts of the Ukraine they will have more ethnic Russians to use as Canon fodder for their endless wars.

    2. flora

      Thanks for this comment. The last para is important and reminds me that’s what the US did to the old USSR in Afghanistan in the 1980s. That worked to undermine the old Soviet govt then. That was then, and I’d expect RU officials and historians learned something from that decade long war. They may have turned the tables, as you say, on the EU and US plans.

    3. Thuto

      Given the “Ukraine is winning” narrative cul de sac the west has worked itself into, if inflation and looming food/energy shortages together manage pound the idea of a retreat and hoisting of white flags above Kiev, Washington and Brussels, the propaganda to spin this as anything but a retreat/defeat will be as massive as what we saw at the peak of the war (and as comical as describing the Azov surrender as an evacuation)

      1. Steve B

        After Russian invasion, Ukrainian government banned men aged 18 to 60 from leaving country. The idea presumably to have a last line of conscripts to throw into the east after military reservists used up. Echoes (as Saker indicated somewhere) of the Volkssturm, the conscript army of boys and old men mobilized by the Nazis at the end of WWII.

        Features of the Volkssturm which may be reduplicated in Ukraine – minimal training, irregular armament, poor discipline, tendency to commit atrocities. Wikipedia says Volkssturm extended war by some months and led to over 1 million pointless German deaths. Presumably something like this is meant by ‘fighting to the last Ukrainian’.

    4. hk

      The same unwillingness of the Russians to advance boldly and risky also gives the Zelensky regime a break: they are in no danger of being toppled, at least not by Russians. They can keep going unless the Ukrainian populace gets too tired of their act. But you are right that drawing out the war is not really a disadvantage for the Russians, if they can keep their losses low–whoch they seem to be. Ukrainians have nothing that can change that situation. I do wonder if the West can be expected to be so reasonable, though–if the Allied command was nuts enough in 1939-40 to consider using the Winter War as pretext to start a shooting war with USSR, averted mostly because Finland wisely chose to give up and cut their losses i…

      1. digi_owl

        Supporting Finland during the Winter war was as much a pretext for sending troops to take the iron mine at Kiruna that was supplying Hitler’s rearmament.

        1. Polar Socialist

          And the Finns knew that. At the time the Finns also figured that having UK and France to wage war with on Finnish territory was very, very bad idea. Especially when it would not be up to Finland to make the peace anymore.

          Oh, how the times have changed!

          1. digi_owl

            The continuation war was even more “hilarious”.

            First you have Finland initiate a invasion of USSR in support of operation Barbarossa. That goes to shit so Germany sends forces to assist Finland. But then Finland has had enough and surrenders to USSR (setting the stage for “Finlandization”, giving USSR a big say in Finnish politics).

            As part of that surrender, German forces in Finland has to pack up and leave. That process stalls, so Finland ends up fighting German forces in the north that is retreating to occupied Norway.

            After that the reorganized German forces tries one last assault against USSR from Norway, in an attempt to capture Murmansk. It fails. And soviet forces end up pushing into Norway, while German forces employ scorched earth tactics (burning whole towns and villages, just as winter is setting in no less!).

            Come the German surrender, USSR pulls back to the old pre-winter war border between Norway and Russia and has remained there to this day. And even before that they allowed the crown prince and Norwegian soldiers to enter Norway via Murmansk and retake control in the north.

            1. Polar Socialist

              A couple of comments:
              – Finland was extremely careful to join the war only after Soviet Union had bombed Finnish cities. Whatever they were after with it, that is what they did.
              – One of the demands of the armistice was that Finnish army fights the Germans as soon as possible – to destroy any sentiment of camaraderie of arms in the post war world. And it worked. Finns remained very bitter for a long time toward the Germans after they burned most of the Lapland. Finns did delay the offensive for a few weeks to evacuate the population to Sweden, which kinda gave the game away to the Germans.

      2. Yves Smith Post author

        Scott Ritter argued early on that Russia absolutely wants Zelensky to stay. They need someone to sign a settlement. The West having built up Zelensky to such a degree means they can’t repudiate him later.

        1. BradN

          I think that point is sound.
          It does occur to me that Zelensky performs a secondary benefit as well with regards to his prosecution of the war.
          I am no expert but it does seem to me as though Zelensky has spent his time preening, coming up with slogans, and rallying international support.
          I fail to see anything coherent in his military stratagems.
          If I were in Russian ballet slippers that is exactly the kind of dancing partner I should prefer.

    5. Failed Intellectual (Emeritus)

      I think your point that “Time is on Russia’s side” is key here, and that Russia has a lot of incentives to move slowly. Like you say, the sanctions won’t be ending anytime soon, even were the war to end tomorrow, nor can Russia expect it’s foreign reserves that were stolen from them to be returned anytime soon either (if ever). So they don’t get much on this front if the war winds up quickly.

      Furthermore, Russia’s land army is very heavily tilted towards artillery, notoriously so even, which means they can take their time and blast the Ukrainians from afar and take relatively light casualties in return. So no great rush on this point from the Russian perspective, with the kink in this plan being taking cities, but as we’ve seen Russia has mostly avoided urban combat outside of Mariupol so far.

      The next point (and I think the most important) is that it is in the Russian’s interest (especially if they plan on keeping their territorial gains) that most of the population that would be hostile to them leaves Ukraine. Perversely, the slow grindy war ‘incentivizes’ Ukrainian civilians not in the immediate combat area to leave the country and head to Europe, something that suits Russia just fine. This is their chance to escape for good, and once they leave, it’s unlikely many of them will want to return, especially so if those areas stay occupied by Russia or its proxies. If the war drags on, Europe can’t send them back, and the best part is that feeding and caring for these people will be Europe’s problem, which also suits Russia just fine.

      There are probably other good points to a slow war that others here can think of, but the main point is that there are lots of incentives for Russia to keep the war moving slow and steady.

    6. Jacob Hatch

      I have held a similar view as put in my comment to “Russia Cannot Be Allowed to Say It Has Won This War”

      I’ll add here that it’s a huge benefit to Russia’s military if they can drain NATO of advanced weapons in a location that favors them (vis interior lines). ie: Easy to demolish them in eastern Ukraine with easy shipment of ammo, versus having to face them as a fleet in being, just beyond the border in Poland, etc.

      This is one reason I expect Russia will push just beyond Russian ethnic majority enclaves, and no more, hunker down just over those lines where the Banderite/NSDAP true believers recruit most of their followers. There they can use short range dumb rockets at lower cost to range most of the balance of Ukraine, to allow the devastation of a larger war of attrition to take place. One way to de-Nazify Ukraine is just like in USSR did from 1945 to 1958, kill them or make them move Canada/USA/UK.

      The longer this later stage of the war goes on, the more bankrupt the EU becomes, and the more rapid the de-dollarization starts hurting USA’s ability to consume raw materials, making USA’s own population a destabilizing factor.

  9. pebird

    “It will double the rate of uptake of heat pumps — devices which funnel heat from the ground or air into buildings, and which can run on renewable energy.”

    I thought heat pumps only ran on non-renewable energy, made up of dirty electrons. Good to be corrected by CNN.

    1. joeC100

      And as many here in Maine found out last winter, when it gets really cold these heat pumps revert to electric resistance heating. And given that electricity rates in much of Maine recently doubled, this gets painful…

    2. ambrit

      Hah! “Dirty electrons” can be spun any way you want. I thouroughly enjoy the “back and forth” these discussions potentiate.
      Plus, isn’t “energy,” especially the electrical variety, a fungible resource?
      I still cannot ‘amp up’ a joke or pun involving “scale.”
      Stay safe, safe, safe!

  10. David

    There’s a lot of complexity here, as Yves’s article and the comments of PK and others make clear. But there’s also one relatively simple point that cannot be emphasised enough, and it concerns the various levels of the conflict.

    There’s a war on: that’s an unfamiliar concept for the West, but essentially there is a mammoth politic-military-economic struggle underway between Russia and the West about strategic dominance, and to either preserve, or change, the current economic and political order. Simplifying, we can say that the conflict in Ukraine is one Campaign in this war, with its own objectives which, for both sides, also have military, economic and political components. The Campaign has a military dimension, therefore, which consists of a number of operational-level Battles, lasting often weeks or months, and each battle has a series of Engagements at the tactical level. (It’s more complicated than that, but you get the idea).

    Behind all of this, up to the level of War is, or should be, an overriding political objective; what strategists (real ones) call the End-State. The End-State is what matters, and it’s always expressed in political terms. Put simply, the Campaign under way has its own End-State, which has to contribute in turn to (or not undermine, at a minimum) the End-State for the war as a whole. And every engagement, in turn, should have an End-State which supports the larger one. Thus, the only question to ask of a military engagement, an attack, of whatever is, does it bring the desired End-State closer? If so, then it is a success, if not it is a failure.

    So the way to judge “success” in the Russian operation is progress towards the End-State. Now Putin has laid that out, but what we don’t know is how the General Staff has decided to implement it through an operational-level plan. In the absence of such knowledge, much of the writing about the campaign is simply guesswork. The one thing we can say is that it is unlikely that the campaign plan includes the need to take and hold terrain except where it contributes to a higher-level objective. Obviously, possession of transport hubs, control of roads and rivers etc. is useful, but only insofar as it helps with the destruction of the Ukraine’s military capability. Likewise, it may be necessary to take and hold towns for political reasons. But it doesn’t matter, in the end, who controls a thousand square miles of wheat-fields.

    Now, I’m not just making this up. This is what Russian officers study, while US officers are studying political science degrees. This is how they see things: Andrei Martynov has explained it quite well. And the only thing that really counts is the End-State: the rest is detail.

    1. ambrit

      Excellent summary, but, doesn’t the ‘control’ of a thousand square miles of wheat fields matter in an existential manner? Foodstuffs are a strategic commodity for Nation States. Hungry populations are notoriously fractious. Plus, exportable foodstuffs are a major foreign policy tool.
      Imperial Rome depended on the grain harvests of Egypt to feed the urban masses of Rome proper. Control of Egypt became a strategic goal in plots of all sorts back then. Starving plebs rioted, and thus endangered the rule of the elites of the day.
      If Russia pulls off the deconstruction of the Ukraine and manages to have control, even at second hand, of the primary grain growing areas of said former country, how much of the world grain production will Russia control? That by itself will be a strategic coup.
      According to various “experts,” Russia and the Ukraine combined export a quarter of the world’s wheat. That is a major foreign policy tool right there.
      See, from before the war:
      Stay safe.

      1. David

        Oh, indeed, but it comes back to the question of sequencing. My point was that at the moment, control of a thousand square miles of wheat-field doesn’t help to achieve the next series of objectives. Now in the larger campaign plan you may very well be right, but that would be a later stage in the operation, once the UA forces had been eliminated, and the Russians were free to deploy as they wished.

        1. ambrit

          True. I forgot the maxim: “One step at a time.”
          That we do not know what the Russian General Staff is proposing simply means that they are doing their security right.
          Also, the Russians have been training their field officers and some troops in Syria for years now. Add to this the Chechins, and you begin to see the workings of a practical military.

    2. Thuto

      In the absence of insider information, pseudo-analysts engage in a deliberate conflation of tactics with strategy, while real analysts attempt to infer strategy from known tactics (and acknowledge that this is an extrapolated attempt). The reason we are seeing such low resolution, intellectually middling analysis is because the End-State for western governments is a Russian defeat across political-economic-military dimensions, no matter what, and analysts, along with journalists and the social media swarm, have been enlisted as surrogates to birth it into reality. Even formerly respected western analysts are aware of the punitive social and financial/career costs of breaching the approved narrative by providing real analysis that acknowledges the primacy of the End-State above all else, and thus pretend that strategy is superfluous and tactics are all that matter. Focusing on tactics, which, either by definition or necessity, are subject to ongoing review and adjustments based on on-the-ground realities, provides a steady stream of “developing news” for analysts to lurch onto to reinforce the narrative (e.g. calling tactical retreats from territories assesed to provide no strategic value “losses”). The End-State typically lends itself to after-the-fact analysis and is therefore avoided, or completely ignored, by the analyst class.

      1. The Historian

        Yes! This exactly! I’ve been trying to stay away from war porn (the daily outrages) and focusing on the big picture, but it is hard to avoid the obvious attempts by so many to project their preferred narratives/outcomes on what may be actually happening between Russia, Ukraine, and the rest of Europe and the US.

    3. Dan Berg

      Fully agree; my question: what is the End-state for the West? Regime change and the dismemberment of Russia (and China). Is the West succeeding? i.e. is this campaign succeeding? I don’t think so. And then?

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        It’s always 1995. Putin is a paper tiger who will fold without McDonald’s.

        Western leaders bought the myth Putin owned half the oligarchs’ fortunes and don’t grasp how unimportant oligarchs are or can be more accurately. Seizing Russian oligarchs foreign assets doesn’t hurt Russia, the nation state. If anything it makes it harder for the oligarchs to bribe.

        The oligarchs were supposed to restore order, but they failed to realize the oligarchs aren’t so much the “employers” but parasites. They aren’t even part of the national defense like the were in earlier centuries.

        The Western elites who run these operations think there would be no Internet ordering without Bezos. Russia not falling apart with the oligarchs exiled is simply baffling.

        1. David in Santa Cruz

          Well, Blinken and Yellen’s silly notion that asset seizures would motivate the Russian oligarchs to quickly bring President Putin into line must have made perfect sense as a projection of their political reality in Washington DC.

    4. lyman alpha blob

      And the end-state here is the completion of the Belt and Road Initiative, the massive trade route linking all of Eurasia.

      That is why the US was trying to stop Nordstream2 before Russia even went into Ukraine – that was a US-led Western campaign to stop the end-state desired by China, Russia and a good portion of Europe from what I can tell. When diplomatic arm twisting didn’t work, the US supplied Ukrainian rightwingers upped the attacks in Donbass to provoke the Russians, and that stopped Nordstream2, temporarily at least.

      I don’t think it will last. The European elites may have no problem taking bags of cash to do the US bidding, but the people aren’t going to sit by and have their quality of life eroded just so the US can claim to be #1 again. And China is surely not going to let its whole Belt and Road Initiative be disrupted long term by the US throwing a tantrum.

    5. Jacob Hatch

      I suspect West Point/Colorado graduates are first well educated in off-shore banking, particularly those from the right families. At least they are more competent in drugs smuggling and weapons sales than in political science ala every war since WW2.

    6. HotFlash

      Thank you, David, for this lesson. I tend to agree, but never knew what I was looking at. I am thinking of a boa constrictor; no fancy strikes, no poison fangs, not even any fangs at all, just hold, hold tighter when they move, and and never, ever let go. Until they suffocate.

      My own ‘experience’ of tactics, let alone strategy, consists of Gilbert & Sullivan (you’ll say a better Major-General has never sat-egy), a few video games, some chess, and one (1) shot of paintball. Now that was an eye-opener, that was!

      Thank you again, Ms Yves, for your salon of commentators whose knowledge is deep and braod.

  11. russell1200

    I think more use of links from knowledgeable but dispassionate observers would be helpful. IMOP Ritter is a mess. His personal problems aside, I found his assessments to be both bold and vague on details. Vague on details is understandable when nobody has any details, but a little less boldness might be called for.

    An example of more dispassionate assessment (bold is the part that was updated from previous day)

    I have been reading 7 Seconds to Die: A Military Analysis of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War and the Future of Warfighting by John Antal (US Army Col. Ret.) . The author is refreshingly free of the frequent anti-Muslim bias you see and is rather admiring of their efforts. In any case, you won’t get far in before you realize just how 20th Century much of the fighting in the Ukraine has been. And why, with their tiny toe-hold on the 21st century, the Ukrainians occasionally give the Russians a bloody nose.

    Interestingly, the US is planning to look into why our intelligence community keeps screwing up its assessments. Only one obscure unit in the State Department got the Ukrainian resistance to invasion correct. Interestingly, as reported, part of their logic came from polling that was done in the Ukraine that showed a much greater desire by the populous (including Russian speakers) to resist a Russian invasion. Something that the talk here about the Russians “liberating” areas of the Ukraine might want to think about.

    1. wolfepenguin

      A lot of NATO assessments on Ukraine and subsequent analyses are pretty flawed because they were using evaluations based on war games of potential Russian invasion of the Baltic states (see So, this analysis assumes that Russia had to conquer and occupy cities otherwise they would not be able to advance via their railways. I believed this analysis when I read it at the time, but it’s pretty clear now that this assessment was wrong because it assumed a NATO approach to war that the Russians did not have to worry about. I bring that up because the dupuy institute has similar problems in that it is still western-centric, which isn’t to say that it is a decent source to reference but almost all of the military analyses are going to have some bias given the uncertainty involved.

      As for those surveys, two things: first, they do not include the occupied separatist areas (so you’re getting only the portions under control of Ukraine at the time they were fielded) and second, the general view at NC (at least from my reading) is not so much liberation as dismemberment of Ukraine. Whether Donbas ultimately views Russia as a liberator or not, the separatist governments should be able to control those areas and reduce any of the guerilla warfare. So, in effect, Russia would have “liberated” those territories from Ukrainian control. Russia moreover would have an easier time supplying that area compared to Ukrainian and NATO attempts to fostering some type of insurgency.

    2. Polar Socialist

      Troops “liberating” areas in Ukraine are actually not Russians, but the same Ukrainian militias that Ukrainian offensive drove away in 2014-5 after all those areas had voted for autonomy. For them it is indeed a liberation from an occupation. Many of them are seeing their families for the first time in 8 years.

      Elsewhere in Ukraine the Russian occupiers have been criticized for being too slow to replace the Ukrainian administration, or too vague about the future of the area. But when Kiev cuts electricity, bank and mobile services and stops paying pensions and salaries and activates it’s terror groups, people usually come around to support the Russians who provide all that plus security against the terror and cluster munitions lobbed on them (see: Kharkov oblast).

          1. Polar Socialist

            And now some Cossack volunteers are entering Ukraine, on the Russian side.

  12. Chris

    The EU bright lights are counting on their wonderful non-Russian energy plan to sway the sceptics. But what will it cost? From what I have read It Will price Europe industry out of business. The war Will not be son on the Battlefield, but rather when the looming económic collapse is tío big to ignore. That may be why Russia is taking its time, giving things to became so obvious even the self deluded high muckert mucks in Brussels can see them

  13. Alyosha

    PK brings a strong addition to Yves’ post. I think that the west’s plans were based on some assumptions about how Russia would act within Ukraine, which turned out to be wrong. I don’t doubt that the Ukrainian forces could have been used to launch an attack on Donbas but I surmise that the US planners assumed Russia would race to Kiev and other centers to try and secure a political victory as quickly as possible. The entrenched forces would have to be left to achieve that goal, and those forces were well-positioned and appropriately armed to run an Iraq like insurgency against Russia. It’s also why the Kiev feint worked very well, because it was what the US expected Russia to do. Instead we have Russia methodically crushing Ukrainian forces that have essentially locked themselves in place and are ordered to never retreat.

    Not being privy to the Russian general staff’s plans and goals we can’t really know how things are going, but I would expect that if they weren’t going well, then we’d see some evidence of it such as obvious reinforcement of Russian numbers, more missile attacks on infrastructure and much more threat of retaliation against the west, whether that’s cutting off gas or threatening to attack arms shipments outside of Ukraine. We do know it’s about demilitarizing and de-nazifying, both of those seem to be going pretty well.

    I’m also starting to wonder how many Russian troops are really there. The 150K number is never clear on whether that’s Russian with additional national guard (Chechen) and Donbas Militias or whether it’s the total number and the contingent of actual Russian’s is more like 80K. Some of the “slow” pace would be explained by such small numbers. It turns out that there were significantly more Ukrainian troops in Avostal than there were Russian/DPR troops holding them in place.

  14. scarnoc

    In regards to the ‘western Ukraine’ question: the political goals of the SMO are the demilitarization, denazification, and decommunization of Ukraine, not part of the Ukraine. Therefore, the west of Ukraine will be occupied by RF and allies at some future point so that they can be demilitarized, denazified, and decommunized. This does not mean that the western part of Ukraine will be absorbed into RF, but it will not be allowed to stand as a nazified, pro-NATO rump. The goals of the SMO should always be viewed in the wider context of the new strategic security architecture that the Russians announced late last year. The SMO is happening in order to begin the creation of architecture. The decision by Finland to attempt to join NATO is not in itself a threat to that security architecture. However, when NATO military assets are stationed in Finland, that will be considered a threat, and Russia will respond with a military technical solution. This was Putin’s message to the Finns. This war will not remain contained in Ukraine so long as the west refuses to accede to Russian demands on strategic security. It is guaranteed to escalate, based on the Russian position and the American position.

      1. scarnoc

        Putin himself has used that term several times. ‘Decommunization’ in this somewhat ironic usage refers to the end of the mostly Soviet-era assemblage that constitutes the present state of Ukraine, as well as the end of the oligarchic control of the national resources of Ukraine.

        1. José Freitas

          I think (may be wrong) he meant this ironically, as a criticism of the fury of destruction of WW2 monuments, Soviet era statues, etc… and general anticommunism turned russophobia, he actually said it as something like, you want decommunization, you should do well to remember most of your infrastructure is from the communist era, so if you want decommunization, we will show you want decommunization REALLY looks like (ie. we will destroy your country).

    1. Old Sovietologist

      I’m not convinced that the RF will occupy the west of Ukraine. They will still hope that the Ukrainians carry out the denazification process,themselves. That may prove to be wishful thinking but that will be the goal.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        As the post argued, there is no need to occupy the west of Ukraine. Putin said in his Feb 21 or Feb 24 speech something very much like “We won’t go where we aren’t wanted.”

        Holding the west of Ukraine would be costly and would accomplish what, exactly?

        Russia is in the process of destroying Ukraine’s army and military infrastructure and selectively civilian infrastructure critical to military operations. It has said any entering troops or equipment are subject to attack. Russia has the missiles to hit any entering forces. It’s no safer holding west Ukraine than simply keeping the US/NATO from using it as a staging ground, and the latter can be accomplished at much lower cost.

  15. DGL

    Excellent summary Yves, and excellent comments.

    I have pondered this war for some time. The big picture for me is:

    1. WWIII has started.
    2. The front is no stranger to a WWI veteran – trench warfare. So little movement. The Russia tactic with artillery is similar to the USA during Desert Storm. The US bombed for 40 days before moving troops forward. Studies have shown bombardment for 40 days incapacitates the opposing force.
    3. The USA is acting like the South Caroline elites of 1825-1861. South Carolina was the richest state in the USA. The elites were some of the richest individuals in the world. To protect their wealth, created via chattel slavery, they were willing to rick total destruction.

    Our fearless leaders continue to demonstrate the state of hubris in which they exist. After hollowing out the wealth of the USA for 45 years, they still think they are in control. This is a very scary time with no light at the end of the tunnel.

    1. scarnoc

      Your comparison of our elites with the SC slaveholding elites is very good. I agree that we are in fact living through the opening of WW3 and that the mechanisms for de-escalation seem to be absent. Prepare accordingly.

      1. Starry Gordon

        A possible mechanism for deescalation might be regime change in the US. I got the idea, before the Russian invasion, that Putin and company had started talking tougher than usual because they had come to the conclusion that the US had serious problems and might come out badly in a (foreign) war of attrition, should the US leadership choose to go that route. Most of the commentary I now see seems to skip over this point. There is already beginning to be significant grumbling out among the folk that given the pandemic, inflation, and shortages, 40 billion was a bit much to throw at a pointless (and probably losing) war. Ukrainian flag emojis are not going to cure the problems.

        1. José Freitas

          And literally on the same week a 40B$ aid package to small business was shot down…

  16. The Rev Kev

    When this war is over and it comes time to work out what happened, the subject of those artillery pieces may end up becoming emblematic. Here is an inventory of towed artillery that the Ukraine has/had with the western imports listed at the bottom-

    You will notice that that the western imports have a completely different caliber to the Soviet-era artillery. Furthermore, the west has brought in five different systems. So that means that not only do the Ukrainians have to train on five different systems, but they have to have to have spare parts and other gear for these five systems. And the 155mm rounds will have to be supplied as well as the Ukrainians never used them so would not have the stocks for them. And you will need hundreds of trucks moving all those rounds across the huge expanse of the Ukraine each and every day that those pieces are in use – while under attack. Provided that the Ukrainians have the gas for the trucks that is. And since the Ukrainians had something like about 2,000 pieces before the war, what difference will these 100-odd sparkly pony howitzers make? And so not only will the Russians hunt down those pieces but they will kill those crews too as they are trained for them. In short, the west really screwed the Ukrainians with supplies and those pieces are emblematic of this mess and are death traps for the Ukrainian crews- (23 secs)

    1. Stephen T Johnson

      Functioning as intended, no?

      ISTM that we’re seeing a general clearance of junk out of the NATO attics (German Gepards being a sterling example, along with those Polish T-72s, etc.) plus some dusty kit (like the near / actually expired NLAWs with the dead batteries) and a few supposed Wunderwaffe (Javelins, Starstreaks) which mostly don’t seem to be working out so well.
      I can’t even imagine how these supplies, mostly fairly few in number (Ok, except the 200+ T-72, about 1/3 of the starting count, AFAIK, but, again, those sound like junkers with no reactive armour, modern electronics, yadda yadda yadda) will make a big difference, even if most end up on the front line and not sold off to some third parties or incinerated en route.
      Again, ISTM that there’s going to be a huge narrative gap soon as resistance in the Donbass crumbles.

      What then? Admit defeat? Inconceivable! Polish liberation of …ahem..Lemberg, followed by a partition of Ukraine and some kind of explanation of how this is not a huge climbdown? Just cut to WWIII?

      1. Polar Socialist

        …those sound like junkers with no reactive armour, modern electronics…

        They are actually the exactly same type of tanks that Iraq’s Revolutionary Guard used in the Desert Storm. Poland was a major supplier of Saddam’s army. Unlike those, though, these have likely been in storage for many years. I doubt they all can even travel under their own power, and the Ukrainians probably have to cannibalize many to get spares for the rest of them.

  17. LadyXoc

    I really appreciate the level-headed conversation here. First, I am struck by news reports from Donbass that highlight the actions of native Ukrainian Donbass defenders, i.e., the Russians are not positioning themselves as aggressors but as support troops for Donbass resistance troops, which have been fighting the Ukrainian Army since 2015. Second, I do agree that Kiev was a “feint,” and was done to fulfill Western expectations that Russia would prosecute a typical old-fashioned war where you capture the castle and call it a victory. I also anticipate that Russia will continue to pursue its stated goals of demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine. The total news blackout in MSM (to the point where even the president is being fed pablum) is the only way the Ukrainian war can continue. I very much fear the Manichean positions being taken by the West. That this is a contest between barbarism and civilization, capitalism vs. socialism, democracy vs. authoritarianism. Bottom line: I oppose sending troops with no hope of victory (Ukrainian Army) into the maw of battle. Continuing to “support Ukraine” is bloodthirsty and cynical.

  18. Raymond Sim

    I’ve been wondering why anybody would think we’ve been seeing anything other than more of the same of the same old same thing we’ve been seeing in Ukraine for weeks. Some things I haven’t seen discussed much:

    Defense in Depth – It works! And in my opinion technological advances have favored it more heavily than they have offense. Overcoming a modern network of defenses calls for careful scouting and reconnaisance, highly professional and trained personnel at all levels, and a methodical approach that takes care to minimize ones own casualties and munitions expenditures.

    Air Supremacy – The Russians have it! And nobody else is even remotely in position to take it away.

    Russian Reserves – Credulous acceptance of Ukrainian kill claims induces a kind of automaskirovka. It seems likely that very powerful Russian forces, including a lot of airpower, remain essentially uncommited, with the fighting to date serving as training. Eff around and find out, as the young people say.

  19. Magic Sam

    Enjoyed the alternative perspective.

    As I understand it, Ritter’s main contention with Finland is not that an invasion might happen from there or that Finland itself is somehow threatening or dangerous.

    Rather, he argued that NATOization means NATO managed militarization. That would eventually mean strategic missiles installed in Finland as they have been in Poland. Missiles fired from Finland could strike major Russian cities in something like five minutes.

    Ritter thinks it is this threat that Russian policymakers will find absolutely unacceptable. The purpose of a Russian invasion of Finland in response to their efforts to join NATO would be to pre-empt NATO stationing missiles there.

    This is related to the red herring involving whether Ukraine is admitted to NATO or not. Ukrainian defenses were NATOized starting around 2014. It was already a done deed. Not having a signed agreement recognizing what had already been done strategically distracts from the already accomplished NATOization of Ukrainian defenses, from the facts on the ground.

  20. Thom Finn

    A much appreciated analysis and commentary response which in all of which I find only one glaring omission (admittedly nearly missing it myself).
    These are human beings all, dying and experiencing the inhumanity that is war.
    Take a moment…

  21. steven

    So far I’ve seen little discussion about the staggering incompetence of US/Western ‘Great Game’ players like Victorian Nuland. Staring with ignoring the advice of people like George Kennan, who actually understood ‘the game’, and ignoring realities on and under the ground like the importance of Ukraine and Russian natural resources for the global economy, the US has consistently failed to walk back its failed attempts to rob them of those resources by a combination of military intimidation and attempts to impose puppet governments like Yeltsin’s (and Volenzski’s?)

    Then there is the failure of Western propaganda and the music of the CIA’s Mighty Wurlitzer. Anyone older than 50 should remember a revered US president who threatened to blow up the world if the Russians didn’t remove missles 90 miles from the US. In comparison, Russia’s patience in waiting 7 years for the West and Ukraine to fulfill their promises with respect to Ukraine seems like a model of restraint.

    If Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine was a mistake, it is well past time to acknowledge the aggressive expansion of NATO that gave them an excuse was an even larger one – and one that must be stopped if not reversed.

    1. JustTheFacts

      Indeed. I was astounded that Sweden and Finland did not to clear their entry into NATO with Erdogan before abandoning their neutrality. I doubt such a blunder would have been made during the times of the Soviet Union.

      1. steven

        Double indeed. US success in getting its European vassals to tow the party line about Russian aggression casts doubt on an expression that appears more and more to be an oxymoron – ‘Western Civilization’. The PTB may have been successful to date in ‘managing consent’. But what is going to happen when people start going hungry or freezing/boiling to death? Blaming the Russkies only goes so far – and mainly among people who (think they) have enough money to weather the storm – as Biden and the Democrats are discovering.

        Time for somebody / anybody to stop playing politics and start leading. As the leader of the fascist party in the PBS drama Ridley Road proclaimed, “people are sick of parties”. Marx got it wrong. History doesn’t just repeat itself as farce. It repeats as tragic farce.

    2. Gavin

      As well, note that if the above is posted on basically any other site [aside from your saker/moa places] the poster is within minutes rejected as a tankie. Because, you know, those dirty Russians couldn’t possibly have a point to consider.
      I’m guessing CIA keeps stumbling into these traps bc similarly they don’t actually consider opposing / other views. In more aggressive terms, they’ve been smelling their own farts.

    3. DMC

      Yes. Something is missing. We (the US) did nothing to stop this war and seem to have actually provoked it. What have we gotten? Thousands of Ukrainians killed, millions on the run and homeless, countless losses to infrastructure, billions in aid lost, ridiculous worldwide inflation, weakened alliances, impending famine, and risk of nuclear war. All of which could easily have been avoided. And for what? More cash for the defense industry can’t explain it. Long-lasting ethnic grudges can’t explain it. Hyperopia at the thinktanks can’t explain it. Sheer ignorance at the highest levels of government can’t explain it, not really. We can’t really be that stupid. There must be some deliberate long-term strategy that rationalizes this mess. If so, what is it? Destabilizing Russia (a country with nuclear weapons) and taking their resources? Some kind of chess game with the Chinese? Or, more broadly, the knee-jerk need to control ever-expanding markets? There is no need for me or anyone else to speculate… for this strategy to have endured over 5 administrations, someone in DC must have written it down. Out with it!

      1. Polar Socialist

        A though occurred to me today, remembering Arestovich’s ramblings from 2019 that Ukraine has to have a war with Russia to be accepted to join the NATO: what if the Ukrainians and their handlers indeed wanted this war and made it happen, but seriously miscalculated their capability to wage it. What it they were baiting Russia to attack but were taken completely by surprise by the effectiveness (even with some serious missteps) Russian showed by taking out the Ukrainian command structure and capability to maneuver.
        Maybe they even thought that they really can win the war in twitter and nightly news and not in the bloody fields of Donbass. Maybe they thought Russia would come to the help of the rebellious republics but it would be beaten back by the sanctions and NATO trained Ukrainian forces.

        Maybe. Who knows.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          I regret some of the comments I made back in December/January here (its fortunate its hard to find old comments) which I made on the assumption that the Ukraine army was quite small. I actually had no idea how big it was or how deeply it had dug in around the Donbass. By any standards, its a huge army, albeit one with very variable levels of equipment. So on a surface level analysis of raw numbers, it wouldn’t be impossible to think that it could defeat the Russians on its own soil.

          Reading through various US military experts going back a few months there are a few common threads – a key one being the Russia lack of deep logistics. We now know this simply isn’t true. I do think that there is a strong possibility that a combination of faulty analysis and groupthink persuaded US (and probably European) planners that Russia was incapable of maintaining a major army in the field outside its own borders for any length of time. The obvious extrapolation of this is that if they could be lured out from the motherland, they would suffer another Afghanistan – and it is a deep article of faith among neo cons that Afghanistan killed the Soviet Union (whether this is true or not is another question).

          If you add in this mix of faulty strategy into the chronic disfunction of Ukrainian public life, its possible to see a scenario where the Ukrainian high command convinced themselves that they could inflict a humiliation on the Russians and be the heroes in the eyes of the US and Europeans (a little like the Finns in 1938 perhaps). It would not be the first time in history that a leadership class persuaded themselves that up is down and the sky is pink. Its even conceivable that elements of Russian intelligence actively encouraged this idea.

          1. David in Santa Cruz

            I’d take this analysis a step further: the “Ukrainians” bribed the American leadership into believing that they could liquidate the separatist eastern republics if only they could obtain a steady re-supply of NATO weaponry.

            They sold the notion that the Russian Federation would be unable to project a defense and if they tried would be humiliated in the field by the numerous “Ukrainians” fighting on their “own” ground utilizing “superior” NATO weaponry, and that the fervent nationalist ideology of “Ukrainian” fascists would allow them to easily prevail over the purely mercenary and ideologically bankrupt Russians, whose fear of provoking a nuclear confrontation would deter them from blocking NATO re-supply of weapons.

            The American leadership had been conned into projecting their own worldview onto the Russian leadership.

      2. Foy

        DMC, I think I would start with the Wolfowitz Doctrine, first written down in 1992:

        “Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union. This is a dominant consideration underlying the new regional defense strategy and requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power.”

        That would seem to explain a lot of what is going on. It is the ‘first’ objective after all, everything is subordinate to that apparently.

        And those disaffected irredentist descendents of Eastern Europeans with a hatred of Russia do seem still to be in charge of the decision making, hence it’s implementation continues at the expense of everything else.

        1. DMC

          Thanks. Yes, I had heard of it, in pieces. If we get out of this mess in one piece it will be time for a strategic review. My country (the US) needs an alternative to unipolarity.

      3. Yves Smith Post author

        Thousands had been killed, 14,000 in Donbass since 2014, plus somewhere between 1.5 and 2.5 million refugees fleeing to Russian and Bulgaria. But no one cared because they weren’t Team US.

        1. steven

          Do you or does anyone have links to documental all this that can’t be dismissed as simply Russian propaganda? I don’t have anything to pass along to people who only get their news from the NT Times & PBS.

  22. DJG, Reality Czar

    Yves Smith: Many thanks for this course correction.

    You and Lambert Strether have pointed out repeatedly that supporters of Ukraine think that winning on Twitter is winning the war. We are seeing how weak social media are in giving context and how much they amount to outlets for propaganda. (One would think that after years of Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Heather Cox Richardson on social media pumping the detritus, Americans would exercise caution.)

    The use of social media has produced endless blabbing. Whatever happened to Lose Lips Sinks Ships? Once the elites of the U S of A signaled their wish to overthrow Putin (“regime change,” the current groovy term), it caused cracks in the Italian governing coalition.

    Italians, in general, are opposed to the war and even to sending weaponry to Ukraine. More specifically, big groups within the Left parties, Five Stars, the League (even the League), and Fratelli d’Italia oppose the war. Overthrowing Putin is not on the agenda here.

    This has led to active opposition to Draghi. It also has led to a high-profile public debate about the value of NATO to Italy and the importance of U.S. interests to Italy. To paraphrase Marco Travaglio, one can talk about Atlanticism and the North Atlantic, but Italy is in the Mediterranean. For people on the right, the constant genuflections to Washington, with very little in return, are getting unseemly.

    And Italy was badly burned by “regime change” in Libya. You know, that great résumé-builder for Hillary Clinton.

    Meanwhile, the energy biggie, ENI, has opened its accounts in rubles. The Italians are also, errrrrr, perplexed as to why they are expected to make an instant energy transition—a country with very few of its own energy resources—along with the Germans.

    And, oh, the first estimates are coming out: “negative growth” here, after record growth in 2021. That estimate, too, places great strain on the Draghi government.

    1. Ignacio

      Thank you DJG, for your insights from Italy. Which I extend to other commenters here with always interesting insigths on France, Ireland etc.

      You all make me feel ‘guilty’ by not doing the same about Spain which is now immersed in internal political battles that have overcome Ukraine in the media by much. I hate to follow the political bluff so I disconnect. As an exception yesterday I paid some attention to the news and one of the things they were discussing is about the, how would I call it, the exception the EU is doing now “for emergency reasons” on its hawkish fiscal rules and how Spain is spending at a pace that would exceed by much EU guidelines… errr… fiscal mandates.

      This made me think about when and if the EU wants to go back to its fiscal hawkishness this will very much problematic and connecting with the End-state theory finely put by David that if this somehow resolves one day in a situation without emergency measures it will be very, very hard to go back to where we were before. One of the lessons being that when there is Will, fiscal austerity cedes pre-eminence. Austerity is as simple as a self-imposed constraint that serves… whose interests if someone could remind me?

      There is some stuff which I would like to pay attention to: the only positive I see from this conflict would be if there is a real push to reduce dependence from fossil fuels which really accelerates the pace of change towards more “earth-friendly” alternatives. My current opinion is that so far nothing is progressing so far beyond official declarations of interest and there are still many factors and inertias putting brakes to this. But it is something to follow, isnt it?

  23. brian wilder

    Is Ukraine larger than metropolitan France?

    CIA World Factbook says, 549,970 sq km is the land area of metropolitan France.

    Ukraine, 579,330 sq km – 43,133 sq km (Crimea ~ 27,000 sq km, plus the separtist Donbass republics before the SMO)

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      France = 210,00 square miles or 212,000 if you accept the oddball “metropolitan France” notion.

      Ukraine = 233,000 square miles.

      Crimea = 10,425 square miles, so its exclusion (assuming the 233,000 square mile figure does include Crimea) does not change Ukraine>France.

      The size comparison is germane for those who like to say Russia has not done much.

      Treating the separatist republics as not part of Ukraine is not a view anyone holds except for the Republics and Russia.

  24. JustTheFacts

    Russia has since started to attack transportation infrastructure in the west of Ukraine, by taking out electrical substations in rail hubs there (but not in the east) and destroying some bridges […] Note that the destruction of transportation networks works both ways; it would make it harder for Russia to go into western Ukraine were that an objective.

    My understanding is that Ukraine relies mostly on electric locomotives, and has very few diesel locomotives, which makes taking out substations effective. Ukraine cannot use Western locomotives since it uses the Soviet rail gauge like Russia. However Russia has diesel locomotives, which could still use the tracks, if left undamaged.

    1. Jacob Hatch

      Exactly, if they are blowing bridges, it’s going to be mostly the ones deep in Western Ukraine, in areas beyond redemption that they probably will lay waste to from a distance, and hence won’t be needing logistics to supply close up combat. Ukraine has diesel locomotives too, and funny enough they are easy to spot, but guess what using them does to the diesel supply for the army. If the Russian army is fighting you and leaves something untouched, it’s because they want you to keep on cutting your own throat.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Russia has also now taken out key bridges too. I can’t confirm but I think nearly all the ones that cross the Dnieper.

      1. José Freitas

        They have hit the bridge in Odessa FIVE times with missiles. The Ukrainians are finally giving up on attempting to repair it.

  25. Dave in Austin

    Some random notes:

    Yves wrote: “The strategy here is similar to that of the Azovstal factory: pound them with artillery (which is apparently extremely unnerving)” That’s putting it mildly. I once had a large artillery shell go off with no warning 50-75 yards away (an idiot destroying unexploded ordinance). It was like having your Volkswagen blindsided at a stoplight be an SUV going 50 mph. And having that happen for weeks at a time in a game of: “Three shells/hour in your square mile”? PTSD to the third power.

    One of the ~100 sources I follow once a week (sorry, I can’t remember which one right now) is doing some interesting calculations on Russian artillery shell resupply by truck. The bottom line is that of the 125 Russian battle groups, only about five can attack with a serious curtain of artillery fire each day, so the Russians rotate the Donbas attacks based on that reality. Save bodies; expend shells. In that and many other ways the Russians seem to be doing what they did in the fall and winter of 1941-42; learning on the job.

    Turkey is not the only problem the Finns have. Yesterday somebody in Finland woke up and said: “Of course we can’t allow nuclear weapons on our territory”. Please read the NATO rules before applying.

    Burying the bodies. During the first week of the war the Ukrainians were leaving the Russians to rot. Bad form. During Vietnam one US battalion commander had the bright idea of taking the 100 mangled NVA corpses from the last fight, slinging them under helicopters in nets and dropping them off on the NVA retreat route so the NVA could bury them themselves. Equally bad form. Cooler- and older- heads prevailed. Peace often comes for the armies involved when after the wars they help each other find, identify and properly bury the dead. The Americans and Japanese on Iwo Jima, the American and NVA in Vietnam, the German-USSR effort that marked 350,000 German graves in the East… the survivors share with each other something that the rest of us can barely understand.

    About Yves’ question on the North Crimea Canal. The Russians will keep the canal but not the river. You can dam the Dnieper just as you can dam the Mississippi, but the water will still go to the sea and before that into the side canal to the Crimea. And the barges from both sides will still need to use the river. Like the Elbe from the North Sea to Prague, the Danube from Regensberg, Germany to the Black Sea and the St. Lawrence-Niagara to the Great Lakes, some rivers are by their nature international and duty free. The riparian states may not like each other but they will always work it out.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I suggest you read Andrei Matryanov. I am sure Russia is quite aware of the logistical needs af a BTG, one of its basic formations. He shows how operational planning is based on extremely detailed checklists and protocols.

    2. Jacob Hatch

      Further to Yves Smith’s comment, I can only add that munitions deliveries to front line are usually through dedicated logistics vehicles such as TZM-T re-supply vehicle for the TOS-1A MLRS, etc. Trucks are used more for basic logistical items such as fuel, food, civilian aid. Ukraine is ideal for them because Russia is able to deliver over existing rail into most of the safer occupied areas in Eastern Ukraine though they are able to lay temporary track at an amazing rate. Probably based on their painful experiences with logistics in WW2, they are in many areas superior to NATO in use of specialized hardened logistics vehicles in tight coordination with rail. They even have dedicated mobile railyards so they can set up depots at any point on a rail line.

  26. Susan the other

    Thanks for this summary. I’m not too concerned that Ritter’s about face changed anything. The war takes on a life of its own. I do think it is a given that Russia will own eastern Ukraine and the Black Sea coast. But it is impossible to second guess what the Russians think the West is trying to do. Certainly the Russians know their southern oil is a target so those resources will be very well protected long into the future. If we really were dumb enough to think we could just dance on in and take the oil, that is a serious cause for concern. That, as well as thinking there is any possibility of winning a nuclear war with Russia or actually taking a large chunk of Russia proper and then trying to govern it. That’s just nuts. I find it hard to believe we are that goofy. Bleeding Russia into poverty and civil unrest will happen simultaneously with bleeding ourselves into the same problems. And we have bigger things to worry about, like global finance not exactly going our way any more. That’s a big one. Plus, how long will it take for NATO to fall apart? I personally think, at this point, that we do not know what we are doing. I don’t think we even have a play to make.

  27. PHLDenizen

    I wager that one good reason for Russia’s leisurely pace (entirely my supposition with zero evidence or deep knowledge of wartime economics) is that it creates slack in the supply chain for the manufacture of weapons and munitions. The more time you can hold a defensive posture without drawing down your arsenal, the easier it is to resupply and restock.

    Also has the benefit of employment for citizens to compensate for sanctions related economic dislocations.

  28. GH Hunt

    The not funny version of Dr Strangelove.

    “In today’s much different world, a comparable book—Strategy of Denial: American Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict by Elbridge A. Colby—was published in fall 2021 by Yale University Press, whose director, John Donatich, is a longtime CFR member. Colby was admitted as a member of the CFR in 2016 and was a top Defense Department official in the Donald Trump administration.3 He is well connected to the U.S. capitalist ruling class and recognized as an up-and-coming strategic and military intellectual. His book offers us a window into the strategic policy ideas, discussions, and debates now happening among politically and economically powerful circles in the United States, both inside and outside the CFR.”

    1. RobertC

      David Goldman at AsiaTimes review Ex-Pentagon strategist Elbridge Colby bells the dragon Colby’s heralded new book asserts the US can fight a limited war with China but gives the reader little reason to believe him

      Elbridge Colby’s much-heralded and widely-praised book “The Strategy of Denial: American Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict” is a disappointment – not only a disappointment, but a dangerous amalgam of dodges that points down the slippery slope towards war.

      This is a shortened version of a review that first appeared on the website of Law&Liberty. The original can be found here.

  29. Irrational

    Late to this thread too.
    Count me among the itty-bitty cohort, so thank you for the analysis, Yves, and for the insights of the commentariat.
    I especially hope Yves is right about the last couple of paragraphs, since our EU leadership seems hell-bent on economic suicide.
    Weird times when you depend on Orban and Erdogan to be the sane people in the room.

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