The Tricky Question for Russia of How Far to Go

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Big red flag warning! Yours truly is not trying to predict outcomes, since Russia, Ukraine and its US/NATO backers are now in the midst of what Lambert likes to call an overly dynamic situation. But what we’ll attempt to do here is identify boundary conditions for how Russia will conduct its campaign in Ukraine and when it might call it quits.

Remember that Russia generally follows Clausewitz, and Clausewitz sees war as an extension of politics and a means to achieve political aims. That is why, as some commentators pointed out early on, it made perfect sense for Russia to negotiate with Ukraine even as fighting was underway. Thus the breakdown in negotiations and Zelenksy’s outrageous requirements for resuming them1 constrains Russia’s options for achieving a favorable resolution.

But, but, but…you might say if you have a keen appreciation of the military situation. The Russian forces are slowly grinding down the Ukraine forces in Donbass without deploying overwhelming forces, despite the fact that Ukraine has heavily bunkers and its best troops there. And Ukraine has been repeatedly caught out trying to depict as best small and typically fleeting tactical wins as big successful counteroffensives. The latest was just this week, when Serhiy Haidai, governor of Luhansk, claimed Ukraine was ousting Russia from Severodonetsk, just as Zelensky was visiting (cynics thought to prevent desertions). That within days turned into mumble mumble shuffle shuffle that it would be too costly to retake the city. Alexander Mercouris reported that this volte face was widely seen in Ukraine as an admission that the story of the offensive was a fabrication and the reaction on social media was harsh. It appears that the citizenry is increasingly critical of his conduct of the war.

Another part of the big picture is that it’s clear that the weapons deliveries are too slow in coming and too small to make any difference. In many cases, the Western resupply won’t even come close to restoring Ukraine to where it was at the start of the conflict. And even then, with fresh (and more) troops, it has not been able to stop Russian advances.

Many experts also think that the when Russia has taken Lugansk, particularly if it also captures a lot of Ukraine troops in the process, that it will deliver a crippling blow to Ukraine’s morale and potentially also to its battlefield effectiveness. And when Russia no longer has to deal with extended and well defended positions, it could also capture terrain much more quickly. Mind you, Russia’s aim is not to control territory but to destroy Ukraine’s army. However, map-oriented Ukrainians and Western pols would find Russia eating up Ukraine even faster to be disconcerting.

But we warned from the very outset that Russia could win the war and lose the peace. Recall Putin’s objectives:

Securing the independence of Lugansk and Donetsk

Demilitarizing Ukraine

Denazifying Ukraine

Putin also has a bigger aim of creating a new European security order.

It’s not hard to think that Putin hoped to achieve demilitarization (as in an agreement to neutrality) and denazification politically. That’s why it’s short-sighted to view the first phase of the war, when Russia spread itself thinly by sending troops to Chernobyl, Kiev, Kharviv, the South, and Donbass, as a big fail. It may have been executed in a manner that cost too many soldiers’ lives, but it was a convincing enough show of force to bring Ukraine to the negotiating table pronto. Ukraine had made important concessions at the March 30-31 round in Istanbul. A deal was on its way to getting done until the UK and US aggressively intervened.

So unless something significant changes (more on that soon), Russia has what looks to be a high class problem, but what is a potential trap. Russia is going to determine when the war is over. That means it is going to have to decide how much territory to conquer, to hold, and what to do with them administratively. For instance, I suspect from a “try not to annoy the neighbors any more than absolutely necessary” perspective, Russia would rather have had freed parts of Ukraine that were Russia-friendly become a quasi-independent Novorossia. But Russia is having to stabilize the parts of Ukraine that it occupies, and that includes paying salaries to local government officials and pensions, which means converting banks to roubles. That sort of move sets strong expectations that the territory is joining Russia, whether or not that was the original plan.

Why is this a problem? Recall what created this mess in the first place, the stoking of hostilities between ethnic Europeans and ethnic Russians. Putin acknowledged this issue at the start of the special military operation, by saying something to the effect of, “We won’t stay where we aren’t wanted.”

Russia can’t place overmuch hope in those who loathe Russian over-lordship fleeing and never returning. At least in western Ukraine, many refugees have come back or are coming and going. From NPR at the end of May:

In February and March, refugees waited for hours or days there to cross into Poland. Now, the flow has reversed. The long lines are on the Polish side of the border filled with people waiting to cross into Ukraine.

Anna Kobernyk and her friends have been waiting in a van for six hours, parked in a line of vehicles almost 10 miles long….

Weeks after the war began, the Medyka border crossing was filled with refugees leaving Ukraine. People wept, afraid that they were departing their country forever, not knowing if they would even have a country to return to.

Now, even though there is still death and fighting in Ukraine’s south and east, the scene here at the Polish border has lost the panic and fear it once had….

Violetta Naboka and her 14-year-old daughter have spent the last two months living with Polish strangers who, she says, treated them like family.

“These people really love Ukraine,” she says. “I’m very happy because I really want to [return] to my house, to my husband, to my mother, to my dog Brooklyn.”…

On the vehicle path of the border, double-decker buses idle bumper to bumper, waiting for the border guard to signal when it’s their turn to cross the border.

The signs on their dashboards say they’ve begun their journeys in Poland, Germany, Italy, and places even farther west.

Some of the destination cities are Kyiv, Lviv, and Ivano-Frankivsk — all in Ukraine.

A second complicating factor is for Russia to widen the war beyond the Special Military Operation would require the approval of the Duma. I am not sure of how Putin conceptualized the justification for some of the occupations outside Donbass, like in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. Given that Zelensky threatened to acquire and use nuclear weapons, Russia could justify securing nuclear plants (Zaporizhzhia has a large one). An argument for Kherson was to blow up the dam that was denying Crimea its fresh water supply and retain the area until some sort of lasting arrangement was made. But if you are looking to the niceties of Russia invoking UN Article 51 to defend its new besties, the independent republics of Lugansk and Donetsk, this is pushing the envelope.

Getting the needed authorization to expand the war is tricky because it is guaranteed to inflame opinion in the West. And Putin would need a real reason, not so much for them but to give China, India, Turkey, and the Saudis a strong basis for continuing to defy the West and not criticize or sanction Russia. It can’t be “Wellie, we need to take more of Ukraine because they aren’t trustworthy.”

Even if Russia didn’t have to contend with the politically charged dynamics of widening the war beyond Donbass, there’s also the practical argument of where to stop. If Russia wants to convert areas that are pretty likely to be natively friendly, one strategy regularly discussed would be to take the entire Black Sea coast. That would have the advantage of placating the more hawkish factions in Russia that see taking Odessa as important. Even though this would still leave a lot of Ukraine to its own devices, it would be hostage to Russia for sea access, which might give Russia enough of the upper hand.2

Ukraine repeatedly trumping up charges against Russia with respect to those supposedly blockaded ports (actually blockaded by Ukraine) might conceivably be used by Russia as a pretext to take Odessa, that the only way to clear that port and prevent it from being remined is to take the city.

Others of a more maximalist view suggest taking Ukraine up to the Dnieper, which has a certain logic except that Kiev straddles the river. I personally see taking the West of Ukraine as exactly the sort of mess the West hopes Russia will walk into. I can’t imagine the locals would be happy. Subduing a resentful population (even absent actual insurgency) is toxic to the occupier.

John Helmer reports that Russia is working really hard to put the partition cat among the pigeons:

And what if the war ends in the US and NATO alliance retreat to Lvov; after which the Polish government will notify NATO HQ it is reviving its treaty claim to the Galician territory of the Ukraine; the chancellery in Berlin will then inform Brussels it requires the return of the ancient Danzig Corridor and Breslau, Polish territories currently called Gdansk, Wroclaw, and the Ziemie Odzyskane; and the Hungarian government will follow suit with the announcement of the recovery of historical Kárpátalja (Transcarpathia), the Zarkarpatska oblast of the Ukraine?

These were the spoils of the World War II settlement between the US and the Soviet Union in 1945-46. The territorial reversion claims aren’t new. What is new is that the US and the NATO alliance, plus the Galician regime still ruling between Kiev and Lvov, also in Ottawa, have aimed to change the terms of the post-war settlement by continuing the war eastward on to the territory of Russia itself, all the way to regime change in Moscow.

That is what Russia says it is fighting now to defend itself against. As Russian officials have been hinting in recent days, the foreign and defence ministries and the intelligence services are currently discussing in the Kremlin Security Council whether Russia’s long-term security on its western front may be best served by terms of a Ukrainian settlement in which the German, Polish, and Hungarian territorial claims are recognised.

Despite Zelensky’s intransigence and the US and EU unwillingness to even consider concessions, some important things are breaking Russia’s way. The first is the fact that Ukraine is losing is becoming harder and harder to cover up, and more and more media outlets are staring to report on its poor prospects, not just not winning but even preventing further territorial losses.

Second is that the sanctions blowback is already imperiling governments. Boris Johnson’s days are numbered. The proximate cause is the dramatic fall in living standards in the UK. Some of that is due to Brexit, although the British press is loath to admit it. Some is due to global supply chain woes. But UK business leaders were surprisingly noisy about warning of food and fuel price jumps and shortages underway and getting even worse this winter. The Estonian government fell, and they so hate Russia that no one there would acknowledge sanctions blowback played a role. Estonia’s annual inflation rate in May was 20%.

Macron is worried about losing his party’s majority in parliament in next month’s elections. Scholz’s leadership looked wobbly even before Germany’s inflation numbers got scary (producer price index increases of over 30%) as industrial production fell. And as we’ve discussed, Italy hasn’t been all that keen about backing Ukraine.

But the biggest break has come from Turkey. Russia looked to have worsened its long-term position with Sweden and Finland wanting to join NATO and having been expected to be approved this June. But that’s gone off the rails. NATO entry requires unanimous approval of all members. Turkey is arguably the most important NATO member by virtue of location and having the second biggest NATO army.

NATO completely dissed Turkey by not pre-consulting them. Turkey objects vigorously to Sweden and Finland entering because both, mainly Sweden, are too friendly to Kurds. Sweden has a representative office in Kurdistan. Turkey has said it wants a Swedish parliament member, Amineh Kakabaveh, who was a former guerrilla and is now a key swing vote, to be extradited. And Turkey has hardened its position when there’s no indication that that NATO or the EU have offered Turkey any bribes to get it to climb down. So NATO looks set to suffer a big embarrassment, and Sweden and Finland will have given up their vaunted neutrality and not gotten anything in return.

A final, and odd piece of the equation. It appears there are negotiations of some sort happening between Ukraine and Russia. I can’t find the original story in Izvestia, but it was reported by Alex Christaforu yesterday and also mentioned by Stratfor. Izvestia reported that Russia and Ukraine had agreed to terms of a peace deal in March but Boris Johnson scuttled them (some colorful detail on that).

Mind you, I don’t think the March deal would have gotten done because the US and NATO would not have given the needed security guarantees, but the US and UK were pretty pissy about their rejections.

However, the interesting bit is the claim that there were negotiations on now. Dimitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s press officer, gave an ambiguous denial. Per Christaforu, starting at 1:10, there are talks underway now that would set a ceasefire with Ukraine to be neutral with various states would serve as guarantors. But the big new change would be that Ukraine would accept the status quo, in terms of Russian areas of control, as ceded territory. That means Ukraine would give up parts of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts.

Christaforu discussed that Peskov issued a muddy denial.

And from Stratfor:

What Happened: Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov denied a report by Russian state-owned daily Izvestia suggesting that if paused Russian-Ukrainian negotiations resumed, Russia would not discuss returning the Russian-occupied Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions to Ukraine, RBC reported June 8. Pro-Russia authorities in the regions have proposed holding referendums on joining Russia by the end of 2022.

Why It Matters: Peskov’s statement leaves open the possibility that newly seized areas of Ukraine, which create a corridor between the Donbas and Crimea, could be returned to Ukraine in negotiations, but Russia has critical strategic reasons not to do so, making the region’s inclusion in a future deal unlikely. Moscow will leave open the option of doing so in hopes of getting Kyiv to agree to a Minsk-style agreement on Russia’s terms. But Ukraine is unlikely to agree to this because it would involve significant Russian control over Kyiv’s foreign and domestic policy. Declaring an intent to annex would also reduce the Kremlin’s ability to maneuver in negotiations with the West and Ukraine on issues like sanctions removal.

Apparently a lot of Russians weren’t happy at the idea of Russia stopping its campaign before it had captured Odessa, when as you can see from Stratfor, even the idea of Russia keeping Kherson and Zaporizhzhia is too hot for Ukraine and some of its Western allies to handle right now.

In other words, this means there is no bargaining overlap since Putin would be unlikely to stick his neck out that far beyond what men and women in the street would accept. But the flip side is that this suggests that Ukraine privately is making significant suggestions, in stark contrast to Zelensky taking such an extreme posture as to make talks impossible. So what gives?

We may know in due course, but this development, even if these talks are more at the feeler stage, is proof that Zelensky is losing power. Recall that there has already been some chatter about a possible military coup. And it is hardly uncommon for the senior officials of a leader on the ropes to start negotiating with the other side, both out of the best interests of their country and to improve their odds of survival. One of the most famous historical examples was Talleyrand. Talleyrand had resigned as Foreign Minister in 1807 over his opposition to Napoleon’s continued conquests and treatment of some of the subdued territories, but retained a senior post in Napoleon’s government. Talleyrand started working as much with France’s opponents Russia and Austria as for France, but even when Napoleon got wind of Talleyrand’s duplicity, he gave Talleyrand a spectacular public dressing down rather than removing him from government or incarcerating him. The trust Talleyrand had built with Tsar Alexander and Metternich was instrumental in Talleyrand succeeding in negotiating that France be allowed to keep its pre-war borders.

Even though some historians depict Talleyrand as a traitor, he anticipated their reaction: “I never betrayed a government before it betrayed itself.”

So that is a long winded way of saying that Zelensky may not have altered his stance, but that instead he is no longer driving the train. And it may also be that some in the Ukraine government are also trying to get the UK’s and US’s hands off the wheel. It may be too early for that to happen, but if they keep trying to shore up Zelensky when his own senior staff (and the military) are turning against him, they could find they bet on the wrong horse. Again, I’m not saying this is a likely outcome, but the fact that it is even conceivable is a big change in the state of play.

1 Zelensky not only asked for a ceasefire but for Russia to remove all troops and turn Crimea back over to Ukraine.

2 I don’t have time to look, but another territorial problem are the oil and gas pipelines that transit Ukraine. Ukraine has demonstrated it can’t be trusted with them…but what to do about that?

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  1. Louis Fyne

    Ukraine has the same red state-blue state divide as nearly every country. see the 2010 election results.

    The blue in that map (ethnic Russians or at least neutral) is , IMO barring some drastic change of circumstances, the maximum extent of the advance.

    The big question is does Russia go all the way to Odessa-Transnistria?

    IMO, given that 1. the West is agreement incapable, and 2. post-war US-NATO still will try to destabilize Russia, 3. Russia has more escalation options than the US, 4. NATO is a paper conventional tiger, 5. Russian sanctions will not be lifted even post-war, barring a big shake-up in DC.

    Russia will go all the way to Transnistria-Odessa.

    1. korual

      They can’t justify the occupation of territory beyond Crimea, Donbass, and possibly “pushing the envelope” to the land in between, under article 51. Wouldn’t they have to declare war? The special military operation would become null and void if we’re looking at territorial conquest.

      Russia needs to play by the UN book in order to establish a multipolar, laws-based security arrangement. It’s not about what NATO wants; NATO has already lost. Russia will increase mana long term, if they are generous in victory, in the eyes of the non-NATO world.

      What they could do however, is to insist, during negotiations, that oblasts such as Odessa and Kharkiv be granted self-determination referenda so they could indeed choose to join the RF peacefully. The Kherson referendum will be presented as a fait accompli by then.

      1. Samuel Conner

        > What they could do however, is to insist, during negotiations, that oblasts such as Odessa and Kharkiv be granted self-determination referenda so they could indeed choose to join the RF peacefully. The Kherson referendum will be presented as a fait accompli by then.

        This appears to be the path to an international-law-compliant outcome that accomplishes the R objectives.

        Gilbert Doctorow thinks that these regions will vote for independence from Ukraine, but that Russia will prefer not to absorb them, so they will become R-oriented independent buffer states.

        Hard to see how the West can object to this, after Kosovo.

        1. The Rev Kev

          Too late for that. For some time now Kherson has swapped Ukrainian money for Russian Rubles and the Russians are offering Russian passports to the locals. They are dug in and are not leaving in other words.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            See the post.

            Ukraine pulled out and stop paying officials and pensions. Russia can argue it could only pay in roubles, it had to keep things going and the banks needed to process roubles. If we got Clive here, I am sure he could tell you no way no how could they code to handle 2 currencies in less than 3 years, so a dirty swap was the only option.

            As to the passports, that could be defended too as a hedge for any locals afraid of reprisals if the territory went back to Ukraine. They’d need to be assured a safe and fast exit.

            1. The Rev Kev

              Granted that the currency swap-over may have been for operational reasons. It is my understanding though that the possession of Kherson means that the Ukrainians will never more be able to block water flowing to Crimea which was a priority task for the Russians. And possesing the Kherson region gives them defensive depth for their naval base in the Crimea as well-


            2. Skip Intro

              I always felt part of the passport thing was at least partly to give a kind of paper cover to civilians under attack. Instead of the Ukrainian army shelling Ukrainian citizens, they are shelling Russian citizens.

          2. Samuel Conner

            IIRC, the Donetsk and Lugansk republics ruble-ized years ago, but have not politically integrated with the currency issuer. Doctorow thinks it is in Russia’s interest that they not become part of Russia.

            It’s an uncomfortable place to be from the perspective of fiscal policy, but those are already small open economies with little policy space. They could become small independent countries, in analogy to the Baltic states, but with the twist that they use an external currency. That’s not unprecedented in Europe.

          3. Polar Socialist

            Kherson oblast is already preparing a referendum to join Russia. Zaporozhe is only partially “liberated” so they say it will take “a couple of months, even if many people would want it to happen sooner”.

            Another thing already settled in Zaporozhe is that it will be bilingual oblast, just like Luhansk and Donetsk. People can use either Ukrainian or Russian everywhere as they wish, unlike on the “occupied” areas of Zaporozhe.

            I assume that after a vague and slow start there’s now a massive hearts and minds campaign going on – it helps that Ukraine treats these areas as enemy territory.

            1. Amfortas the hippie

              please remind us again the difference between ukrainian and russian languages?
              i grew up listening to ancient czech relatives talk about us kids in the yard in that weird series of throatclearings and coughs, but have never grokked slavic languages, at all.(to those relatives, the kids learning the language of the old country was counter to their americanised ideals…much like my wife’s generation and spanish)
              is it a dialect difference(new york vs east texas) or something more?

              1. Polar Socialist

                It’s a dialect difference. There’s no linguistical border between Ukrainian and Russian languages.

                People in Sumy, Ukraine, speak the same dialect as people in Voronesh, Russia (which is also spoken in Donbass). It’s a mixture of both Russian and Ukrainian and at least used to be the lingo most Ukrainians knew how to speak.

                The official, literal Ukrainian is the Middle Dniestrian dialect spoken in Kiev, Poltava, Cherkasy area (the original Hetmanate).

                Then there’s Upper Dniestrian dialect, spoken in Galicia borrowing vocabulary from German and Polish, and Podolian-Volhynian dialects spoken from Odessa to Rivne.

                People in Kherson, Zaporozhe and southern Donbass (like Mariupol) speak generally Russian.

                Also a lot of smaller dialects along the borders mixing Ukrainian with Polish, Hungarian or Romanian influence.

                1. Amfortas the hippie

                  thank you…that’s helpful.
                  with effort, my latin gives me access to (reading) spanish and italian(pretty well), french(less so(too many extra letters)) and even catalan (badly)if i squint one eye.
                  that’s kind of how i’ve thought of R/U.
                  and i’ve inferred from sundry sources that the Uk Ru division is largely political and artificial…which makes sense, given peoples like the Kievan Rus and all that history….which i’m only cursorily aware of(which still puts me miles ahead of my neighbors)

                2. Balakirev

                  Complete agreement. Ukrainia has long had a very mixed linguistic history. For example, my great-grandparents on one side of my family came from a pair of small suburbs around K’iv that had Polish and Ukrainian names. My K’iv grandparents on the other side spoke Ukrainian as their primary tongue, but also Russian, Polish, German, and Lithuanian to varying degrees. And their last names, before they started their two-year journey to the US, were in German.

              2. johnherbiehancock

                there’s also an alphabetical difference.

                You can tell it’s Ukrainian if you see the letter “i”

                In Russian, it’s the backwards N… “и”

                Since 1991 or so, and especially since 2014, they’ve been emphasizing Ukrainian spelling over Russian spelling. Zaporozhia, I believe, would be Russian.

                The Ukrainians spell it “Zaporizhia”

                “Lwow” or “Lvov” were older spellings of the western city now seen as the heart of an Ethnic Ukrainian identity, under Polish or Russian control, respectively; the Ukrainians spell it “Lviv” now

                1. Irrational

                  Ah yes, and Lemberg to German speakers. Threw me for a loop when I saw it in a news article.

          4. hk

            Rumania is, as far as I know, offering Romanian passports to any Moldovan who wants it, but there hadn’t been any serious talk of Romanian-Moldovan “reunification” for about 2-3 decades (although reopening the trans-Dniestrian question will open this up again.) So I don’t think that is necessarily a complete impediment to nominal “sovereignty” for future Russian aligned former Ukrainian states.

        2. Jessica

          The West will object to this despite the hypocrisy given what they did in Kosovo. The Kosovo precedent would have applied to the Donbas republics but that didn’t stop the West from objecting (and aiding Ukraine to kill Donbas republic citizens).

          1. Bob of Newton

            Often the creation of Kosovo is cited as proof of NATO perfidy. The breakup of Yugoslavia resulted in several independent nations. Russia is asserting its right to take another nation’s territory and make it part of Russia. This is very different. What is to stop other nations (Africa? Asia?, Latin America?} from asserting the same rights that the current Russian government claims to have? BTW, does Kaliningrad belong to Russia or Germany?

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              Russia has NEVER NEVER NEVER said it is taking Donbass. Did you manage to miss that the fight there is still being waged substantially by the DNR and LPR militias?

              See KD below for details. A problem for Russia is some officials in the areas occupied by Russia are talking about referenda to join Russia, which I am highly confident Putin does not want even though a lot of Russian voters would like that too. Putin was very unhappy about the separatist movement in Donbass, and in the Minsk negotiations, had to press them very hard to accept a deal of mere improved autonomy within Ukraine rather than leaving it.

              Crimea joined Russia after a both legislative approval and a referendum, with >90% voter participating and 83% approval, while in Kosovo, NATO regarded it as all good based only on a vote by the legislature.

      2. KD

        Any territory leaving Ukraine will only happen after a vote in favor of independence, and Russia will then acknowledge the vote and recognize the new nation, and pledge to defend their Slavic brothers from the Ukro-Nazi oppressors.

        As far as whether the vote will be rigged, the Russians will say it is not rigged, the West will say it was rigged. Optics of the vote will be important to some degree in international opinion, but probably outweighed by national interest and regional security blocs. Depending on how much of Ukraine falls under the Russians, it may take creativity to get the right vote count in certain places, but not exactly a taxing exercise for the Kremlin.

        Russia is highly unlikely to annex any parts of Ukraine, but that won’t prevent them from forming mutual defense treaties and basing Russian troops and armaments in New Republics, and there will be significant cooperation between the Russian national security apparatus and those in the New Republics: there will not be another Color Revolution, unless it is Red and involves a Hammer and Sickle.

        1. Polar Socialist

          Dunno about the unlikelihood – yesterday Donetsk People’s Republic nominated a new prime minister*, Vitaliy Khotsenko, straight from the Russian ministry of Industry and Trade. Supposed to be some kind of a rising star in Russian adminstration, groomed for a guvernorship.

          Today Luhansk People’s Republic nominated a new prime minister*, Vladislav Kuznetsov, vice-guvernor of Kurgan oblast, Russia.

          So, high level Russian administrators are being brought in as we speak. I also heard that Poland has offered to help Ukraine in many administrative tasks now that the government is busy telling troops to stand fast.

          * neither republic has a cabinet of ministers, so the position is technically a head of some council or the other, but prime minister is probably the best translation.

          1. ambrit

            And since the Ukraine already approved Polish persons holding administrative positions in the Ukraine, I’d say that the de-facto partition of the Ukraine is already underway.
            If Hungary, Slovakia, Moldova and Roumania also start agitating for such extraterritorial “rights,” I’d say the partition train has well and truly left the station.

          2. hk

            Brining in Americans of suitable ethnicities as leading political figures was not uncommon in parts of Eastern Europe (eg the Baltics) last 2-3 decades.

      3. timbers

        IMO any suggestions Russia should or needs to do what it will post war Ukraine by UN rules is not realistic. Anything and everything Russia does will be opposed and denounced by the outlaw West. Therefore Russia’s number one and only consideration in this particular case must be and only be what benefits her and her people and their security the most against the absolute certainly of continued Western aggression. Because that continued aggression is absolutely certain.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          No no no.

          On Feb 4, China and Russia issued a 5000 word document that among other things strongly objected to the US rules based order (which the paper more or less said amount to “make things up as we go along to favor US interests) in favor of a law based order run out of the UN.

          Russia very much cares about observing forms because:

          1. Russia needs things to look kosher for China, India, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the Global South, This is very important since Russia needs them to stand with Russia in defying/cheating on Western sanctions

          2. Russia is very legalistic so if nothing else Making Shit Up offends Putin’s sensibilities.

          1. KD

            Russia is on the security council and has veto power over resolutions. They would be insane to let that power go.

    2. NotTimothyGeithner

      Besides occupation costs, I don’t think Ankara would approve of going there, and Turkey makes sense as a long term partner. It’s worth more than a relatively distant colony.

      Also, Poland would be pushed into taking parts of Ukraine, putting areas Moscow essentially promised to denazify under NATO. NATO may not be able to enforce a no fly zone where the combat is, I’m not sure this the West of Ukraine is out of the realm of possibility.

      As bad as Ukraine is, it needs Odessa to remain viable, and Moscow hasn’t wrecked infrastructure the way they could.

      I’m not sure about Beijing either.

      1. KD

        As bad as Ukraine is, it needs Odessa to remain viable. . .

        Yes, you would think that the Ukrainian Government and their international advisors would consider that when they came to the negotiating table and try to freeze the status quo and pledge neutrality, but in actual practice, the longer the war goes on, the weaker the Ukrainian bargaining position, and the more political blow-back to Biden and the Eurocrats for “caving” to Russian demands in negotiations, so Russia doesn’t have much choice except to keep grinding the UA and establishing more control over Ukrainian territories, until Ukraine loses the ability to field a ground army and Russia declares victory and establishes a DMZ.

        This is probably less satisfying to the Russians due to the expense of propping up part of Ukraine as well as casualties and loss of materials, but internationally it will only improve their standing and credibility, as it will be David defeating the US/NATO Goliath at their own game.

        1. juno mas

          …and the start of the “New World Order”. (excerpted from HW Bush.)

          There is much in play here. My guess is that the Russians have the determination and savvy to encourage/implement a new multi-polar world. With the dollar weakening, inflation will be the new normal for the West.

          1. ndk

            The dollar weakening? About the only thing it has weakened against since the war began is the ruble, ironically. Check out the DXY. One could dismiss it as temporary safe haven flows, but…

            Let us proceed in your presumed new multi-polar world.

            Due to the inexplicable SWIFT move, the US’ status as reserve currency and destination for a lot of price-insensitive investment is at risk. The USD bloc will have to offer competitive returns on investment with any CNY(etc.) bloc. That means higher real interest rates, which can mean higher currency valuation even with a stumbling economy.

            The US has been a particular beneficiary of the USD bloc. Risk premium on about everything except maybe corporate CDS is too low, and they’re mostly indexed to Treasuries as the “risk-free rate”. Strategic default could very well make sense at some point. We already took Russia’s money, for all intents and purposes and forced them to technically default on some USD-denominated bonds they issued to boot.

    3. ebear

      That map is useful for describing the conditions that led to the conflict, but it has little relevance anymore. Present Ukrainian society is divided into three basic groups: Ethnic Russians, Banderistas, and normal Ukrainians who are terrified of them. Denazification, as described by Russia, consists of ridding the country of the Banderistas. This can only be achieved by liberating the entire country. The reason is that Banderista ideology has taken over every institution of Ukrainian society, so these need to be rebuilt from the ground up, and that can only be achieved once the threat of violence, the Banderistas stock in trade, has been entirely removed. Whether this is done by a reformed Ukrainian military with Russian assistance, or by Russia itself remains to be seen, but notions of some sort of rump Ukraine under Banderista control are off the table, as is any form of post-settlement government that contains the possibility of their return.

      What will change the political environment in the weeks and months ahead is not so much a Russian victory, which is already a fait accompli, but well-documented revelations of the horrific abuses suffered by both normal Ukrainians and Russians under Bandersita control. These are comparable to the atrocities committed under the Pinochet regime in Chile, or the dirty war in Argentina. I say this without exaggeration and with personal knowledge from that era, having dealt with said victims via the human rights organization my ex-wife worked for in the late 70s. What has happened in Ukraine over the last 8 years is just as bad, or worse, especially as it relates to the abuse of women. In short, Ukraine no longer has any legitimacy as a state under its current leadership, but unlike Chile or Argentina, there is an outside force both willing and able to correct the situation.

      Russia has stated many times now that it believes the Collective West (NATO + satraps) is incapable of agreement and cannot be trusted. That leaves only force as a diplomatic tool, and as desired by NATO, they will soon share a much longer frontier with Russia, although not in the location they assumed. This will take the form of advanced missile batteries incapable of being intercepted (as has already been demonstrated) targeting all potential threats. To sum it up, NATO will be in the position of the former USSR – forced into an arms race that its economy cannot support. Meanwhile, Russia, well on her way to full autarky, and with all the resources needed to conduct equitable foreign trade, gathers around it a growing number of allies who can see more clearly than the EU or USA which way the wind blows.

      In effect, what you’re seeing is the consolidation of the Greater Eurasian land mass under a new economic and political order that excludes western hegemony. Western analysts and other pundits who view Ukraine as a regional conflict resolvable via conventional diplomacy have entirely missed the mark. What you’re seeing is nothing less than the end of Anglo-Zionist world hegemony, and the emergence of the multi-polar world so often described by Russia and China.

      What remains for rational people in the West is to align themselves with their own political entities that recognize and accept that reality, OR, start learning Russian or Mandarin, because if we fail, emigration will be our only remaining option as the West devolves into the authoritarian nightmare that it’s already well on the way to becoming.

    4. lance ringquist

      they must. otherwise it will be a historic blunder, held up as a example over and over again through out history.

  2. Joe B

    Helmer’s concern of partition of West Ukraine would expand Russia westward to NATO, just what they do not want NATO to do by moving eastward. Russia wants most of Ukraine to be a neutral buffer state, as it would remain but for the anti-Russian “nazis” and Zelensky’s goal of weakening Russia in Syria to permit more land theft there by Israel. So Russia may take Odessa to landlock Ukraine, but will avoid the US/Israel quagmire trap.

    If troublemaker US/Israel continues to arm Ukraine and shell Donbass, Russia would have to find a counterattack to stop that, or exploit enemies of US/Israel create a quagmire on their borders.

    Russia and China really ought to buy US political parties as Israel has, the cheapest counteroffensive.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The view of Helmer and some other commentators is the reverse, by having different EU countries take bits of Ukraine would pit the resentment of any unhappy locals at their new EU overlords, not Russia, so any insurgency would be directed at them. Gonzalo Lira has pointed out often that Poland lusts for the old Galacia, which includes Lvov. Lvov is the central outpost for the Nazi Banderites…who cut their teeth as Pole-killers in the 1920s. Much better to have the remaining neo-Nazis fighting Poland than Russia.

      Also the school of thought is letting these EU countries partition western Ukraine makes them winners out of the war and thus much more willing to accept Russia keeping the parts it “liberated” in its orbit. It thus pits their interest against that of the US.

      1. David

        I can see that argument, but it’s a very complex solution with a lot of moving parts. It would require the EU countries concerned to agree partition among themselves, and with the US, it would require the active consent of NATO and the EU, a lot of redrafting of treaties and agreements, a lot of detailed discussion about boundaries, and, I suspect, an agreement that the larger Poland, for example, would not station troops on its new borders with Russia. I think the Russians would regard that as just too complicated a solution, compared to a quiescent, demilitarised Ukraine. Of course from their point of view, once that situation is established, meddling by NATO states is not necessarily a bad thing, so long as it’s competitive, and not directed against them.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          There is such a thing as facts on the ground. If (more likely when) the Ukraine army collapses, Poland could well move troops in as peacekeepers if it were reasonably confident that Russia would not blast them to smithereens as it has promised up to now. Hungary could follow. Dunno about the rest.

          Poland is the most likely to act precipitously given that it is already on the EU shit list and the US looked to be trying to gin up Polish aggression (recall that Biden’s last stop during the EU summit week that Putin derailed with his gas for roubles gambit was Poland and it looked to be to bribe them/stiffen their spines).

          1. David

            I wouldn’t rule out something like that, although it has the potential to get out of control unless it’s carefully managed. But I don’t see any formal attempts to change borders: for obvious reasons, that’s an incredibly sensitive topic in Europe, and once you start there’s no stopping. It’s often forgotten how sensitive German reunification in 1990 actually was, not to mention Hungarian throat-clearing during the Kosovo crisis about the Hungarian minority in the Vojvodina in Serbia.

            There are also some purely technical issues. Polish or Hungarian troops would have to deploy under national command, rather than NATO, and I’m not sure whether either has a national HQ capable of commanding external operations. Not to mention problems of coordination and deconfliction.

            1. tegnost

              But I don’t see any formal attempts to change borders: for obvious reasons,

              Yes, that is definitely one of those things that once said, can’t be unsaid.

            2. Irrational

              Thanks for your always insightful posts. Carefully managed does not seem to have been a concern so far and I think we should not assume it.

      2. voteforno6

        I’m not sure if any of those countries would take the bait, but maybe…Poland seems to be a little bit on the crazy side. If any of those countries did make moves to partition Ukraine, it could lead to strains within NATO. As I recall, per NATO’s own charter, they’re not allowed to admit any members that have outstanding territorial disputes. I’m not sure how that would apply to existing members, but it would at the very least take quite a fig leaf for the U.S. to accept it, and I don’t know if any of the Baltics would look too kindly at a partition.

        1. hk

          As Czechs have never forgotten, Poles in 1938-9 were happy to take Teschen in tacit alliance with the Nazis. Only 6-12months later, I hear that some bad things happened to them.

      3. KD

        It is also important to look at the history of groups like the IRA: after the troubles, they become drug dealers. It is highly likely that the Azov types will turn to running drugs and guns in Europe after the Patriotic Cause has been lost. They already have a leg up on the competition with respect to inventory.

      4. Carolinian

        MOA–who is of course German–did a post on this whole “how does it end?” question and said it only ultimately ends with end of NATO. That would of course require lots of heads exploding in DC and the EU baby states that seem so keen on a protective Big Brother.

        In other words NATO was never ever about being “neutral.”

        Perhaps a worldwide recession/depression will “concentrate the minds” of our overlords. At the moment that sure looks more likely than peace of any kind.

        1. johnherbiehancock

          If things are really getting much worse in Europe sooner than in the US (as many articles I read here seem to indicate), I could see a lot of unrest among the “European 99%” due to shortages and high inflation spooking their 1% into demanding the U.S. either backs down against Russia, or they find a way out of NATO.

          Presumably we’d quietly back down, while loudly claiming it as a victory over Russia, and insisting NATO is still alive and well, and as powerful as ever.

      5. hemeantwell

        I wonder if it might be in US interests, i.e. those of the Biden administration, to make it appear as though a territorial pinata moment driven by “European greed” sabotaged what otherwise would have been a successful NATO operation. And then there’s also “Ukrainian greed,” including ginned up unit figures, that can be thrown in.

        There’s a curious parallel between the argument that continuing to conceal the extent of the UKA’s failure only prolongs the conflict and a potential argument that if the Biden admin doesn’t give up on trying to hold on to Congress it will be severely limited in its policy options. Apparatchiks at the State department must be in full “domestic politics be damned” mode.

      6. Kouros

        I am puzzled why is everyone accepting so lightly the idea of Poland getting back Galicia on historical grounds. There are not that many Poles there to support the idea from a demographic perspective, while Ukrainians in Galicia, as much as they might hate Russians as overlords, do not have a good track record of getting along with Poles either. Banderites started as a resistance to Polish oppression and “occupation”, after all…

        1. Greg

          I think it might be a popular idea with supporters of Russia specifically *because* it is likely to go so badly for Poland. And what is bad for Poland is bad for NATO, and good for Russia. Something along those lines.

  3. Polar Socialist

    Talking about dissing, yesterday muscovites voted to name a square next to US Embassy in Moscow as “Donetsk People’s Republic Square”.

    1. Oh

      I wonder f they could follow it up with naming street where the US Embassy is located?

      My suggestion: Fidel Castro Drive

  4. marcel

    I think we all are mightily being had with this discussion. At the end of the day, whether Russia stops at the Luhansk/Donetsk oblasts or goes all the way to Kiev and Lvov, there will be an enemy beyond the territory it controls.
    As Yves said, Putin (or Russia, as ‘Putin’ is not alone) wants a new security order, and that is a political undertaking. Now look at what is happening: US and Europe going from bad to worse, Central Asia ‘tightly fit’ to Russia & China, Latin America making ‘unAmerican’ noise, the head of the African Union paying a visit to Moscow: we are looking at the end of the unipolar world order, and Russia takes all its time in Donbass to let the rest of the world come to a boiling point.
    Turkey has understood the message long time ago. Japan is learning.
    When things start going dark and cold in Europe, they might get their senses back (we must never forget that the interests of a politician are almost never aligned with those of the people that put the politician where he or she is).
    “Bringing Nato back to its 1997 borders” (a key demand from Russia) becomes easy once everybody agrees it would save tons of money if all Americans left Europe, taking their stuff with them.

  5. fairleft

    Alex Christoforou and Alexander Mercouris of the Duran are or should be the new superstars of Ukraine #realnews. Good to see them providing much of the real reality that underlies your piece.

    Putin will need to respect the citizens back home and the sentiment in Kharkov and Odessa and take those two regions. Beyond that, temporary or permanent annexations will continue till Ukraine decides to negotiate seriously. Russia may even take northeast Ukraine as a bargaining chip.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Mercouris in particular has been very useful in that he reads Russian (and Ukrainian at least some level) and makes a solid effort at making sense of often conflicting reports. He’s also pretty transparent about his degree of uncertainty. Christaforu isn’t as deep in his coverage but still regularly uncovers good informational nuggets like that Izvestia piece. Usually you can find a footprint of something like that on TASS or Interfax or the Kremlin site or (which I run though a translator)….but nada except for Stratfor!

      1. LeftRussia25YearsAgo is a bunch of semi-literate paranoid drunks sharing far-fetched interpretations. They defected from higher-quality to start their website. Source: years of following both.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          I do not use Aftershock directly but to track down MSM stories/official data mentioned there. And they regularly cite things like how much producer prices have gone up in Germany, when it’t not been reported on Bloomberg, the FT or the WSJ and (typically) not prominently on Reuters. I then find the info on an MSM source and link to it. Sometimes it’s only in what the Western reader would not normally find, like AlArabya or Anadalou Agency (the latter usually but not always about a Turkish or ‘Stans story)

          So for my uses, it’s been accurate. I have been always been able to validate the tidbits of interest. I don’t read any of the entries that are reader-submitted speculations.

    2. JayJay

      Gonazalo Lira, in a video posted on the Saker Blog, essentially agrees with your take on Russia’s predicament. He expects the solution to be a miltary coup, the creation of a government Russia will negotiate with, and which will rule, under Russia’s control, what’s left of Ukraine once the south and east have been secured.

    3. John k

      Yes, but imo it’s more than that. Odessa is obviously a key to Black Sea control, if Ukraine keeps it nato will think it’s an available port. But imo the Russian pop is well aware of how the 2014 vote went, and that all of the 9 oblasts that majority voted for and helped elect the Russian leaning guy are Filled with ethnic Russians. The pop would be hugely disappointed to settle for less when they don’t think they have to.
      I remember how long n Vietnam fussed over the shape of the table – they were winning, why be hasty? The loser sues for peace, that hasn’t happened.
      My spec is they won’t stop until all 9 are liberated, and they will hold 9 plebiscites with or without Ukraine agreement. Nyt/kissinger and others beginning to argue for negotiations before Russia has time to liberate all they want to, but z might be shot if he does. And Russia will want end to all sanctions, the west is at least months away from that… likely will take Russia cutting all exports to unfriendlies just to get eu to drop theirs given us oppo.
      Re the legal justification: kosovo alone might justify all 9 plebiscites. Or, whatever they take might be argued to be just to dislodge ukraine from Donbas and keep them from coming back pending agreement – which will be very slow even when both sides want to if Ukraine constitution must be changed.

  6. David

    The logical (but not very helpful) answer is “as far as necessary to achieve the strategic objectives.” The three objectives listed by Yves don’t actually require the occupation of much territory beyond the area where fighting is taking place now. However, the “demilitarisation” and “denazification” points are not territory-dependent, so the Russians must have at least some idea of how to define an end-state in each case, and how to evaluate progress towards it. The first objective means the effective destruction of Ukraine’s military capability, in such a way that Russia can prevent it being rebuilt in any unacceptable timescale. This doesn’t mean killing lots of soldiers, or combing the country for automatic weapons. It means preventing Ukraine from having forces which could be useful or threatening in modern armoured and aerial warfare. So the question arises of whether that can be accomplished without occupying further territory. In particular, if the UA manages to keep several mechanised brigades and some aircraft and helicopters back in the West of the country, does that still count as mission accomplished? (I rather expect the Russians are quite happy for the UA to continue at a low level of capability, since that will stabilise the situation). The same applies to “denazification”, although more so. If we mean regime change in Kiev and permanent exclusion of the nationalists from government, then strictly speaking they would have to control Kiev and run the country themselves, which is highly unlikely. So I suspect some non-territorial solution will have to be found.

    The real joker is indeed the new European security order. That is in part already created, in the sense that both the EU, and more importantly NATO, have been shown to be powerless to affect the outcome. Weapons deliveries, it’s agreed, may prolong the war but cannot change the result. The absence of a military response to the invasion tells you everything you need to know about the capability of NATO compared to that of the Russians. More than that, attempting to match Russian capability would require enormous investment in equipment and infrastructure over perhaps a decade, and the return of compulsory military service. Which is not going to happen. So in a sense, the realities underpinning a new European security order – a dominant Russia, a weak Europe and a weak NATO – are already starting to be put in place. What we don’t yet know is how these new realities will be formalised. From the Russian point of view, I think, the point is not whether they do decide to try to advance towards Kiev so much as the ability to demonstrate that they could do if they wanted to. That may be all that’s needed.

    Finally, the Russians will be attentive to the forms of international law and diplomacy, because they want the political support of non-western states. But Marxism always did draw a clear distinction between form and content, and they won’t hesitate, it seems to me, to do in practice what they think is necessary. After all, what are international lawyers for, if not to justify what you have decided to do? And don’t forget the Russians really do study, and practice, the principles of Clausewitz, and in a way that the West largely only pretends to do. They have a clear set of political objectives, and they will use violence to the extent, and in a way, that brings those objectives closer. But as Clausewitz was fond of emphasising, violence without a political purpose is just aimless thrashing around, so they will certainly use other means as well.

    1. nippersdad

      I think an underappreciated element of Russian soft power was the extent of its’ economic projection within Ukraine prior to the outbreak of war. IIRC, around forty percent of Ukraine’s economy was Russia dependent, and the EU/US are already having difficulties making payroll for the Ukraine government.

      Take away Ukraine’s industrial heartland, its’ Black Dirt agricultural centers and access to the Black Sea and there is little else to prop up that economy other than trade with Russia. The EU is already on the brink of a depression, so they may not be able to honor the obligations they have made already. Economic realities may soon intrude upon the debate as to how this plays out.

    2. Kouros

      De-nazification mostly involves the replacement in the security/military apparatus of all the people that were vetted by the US HR paymaster. Plus those nutcases in the Ukrainian presidential wing… They are all unelected officials. Zelensky was after all, elected to bring peace. As such, the popular mandate could be considered to have been forfeited by all these unelected officials, who deserve to be sacked.

  7. GM

    It has to be remembered that Finland and Sweden represent a military threat to the Russians, but Ukraine represents both a military and civilizational threat.

    If such a big chunk of the Russian world could be successfully torn off it and turned into something militantly anti-Russian, on a most basic racial level (it doesn’t get reported anymore for obvious reasons, though there were such articles even in the Western media in prior years, but Ukrainian nationalism is quite literally painting Russians as subhuman, mongoloids, etc.) even though they are largely the same people, then where does that stop? Russia has some 200 nationalities and a huge territory where regional separatism has historically developed even along non-ethnic lines. The history of the Civil War is not well known in the West, but is worth looking at a map from 1918-19 or so and noting how many separatist republics appeared once the empire collapsed.

    The only three places that had a real history of being independent entities were Poland, Georgia and Armenia.

    But out of that chaos as independent countries also emerged Finland (never existed previously), and the Baltics (kind of did exist previously, but not in the same form; it’s quite complex there).

    Ukraine emerged out of that too, with substantial Western help, and so did Belarus and Azerbaijan.

    Those were eventually reabsorbed into the USSR, after spilling a lot of blood, but Finland, Poland and the Baltics were lost, and the reabsorption was at the price of a federal structure that set the stage for the eventual dissolution of the USSR.

    Also, Moldavia broke off, then was re-annexed in WWII, then was lost again after the USSR collapse (as were the Baltics).

    But then there were totally forgotten stories like the Far Eastern Republic, which was Russian and declared on non-ethnic lines, and was supported by Japan, another non-ethnic Siberian Republic, in the South a Don Cossack republic was declared (again non-ethnic), and another non-ethnic Kuban republic.

    Of course there were also many republics and rebellions on ethnic lines — Central Asia took forever to pacify, although we can kind of ignore that story because it had been only recently incorporated into the Russian Empire, but there was also a Turkic Crimean republic, the Tatars, Chuvash an Bashkirs declared independence (and they had been part of Russia for 400 years), the Yakuts revolted in Eastern Siberia, separate Finnish North Ingria and East Karelia republics existed, the various mountain tribes in the Caucasus declared independence, the Buryats declared independence, etc., this is probably not the full list.

    On top of that, there were invasions by Western powers, Japan, etc. from all directions.

    Then separatism reemerged in Russia after the USSR dissolution (everyone knows about Chechnya, but it wasn’t just that).

    The point is that once the empire collapsed, it never actually reconstituted fully, and where the Soviets managed to regather the land, it was at the price of concessions to regionalism that eventually still resulted in the loss of those territories.

    Today we kind of see what happened as inevitable (because it is what happened so it’s ingrained in our minds as the historical reality), but that is not how it was in real life, it could have gone differently, and what emerged out of the Civil war as central authority could have been much smaller, weaker and ready to fragment further. And where the divisions were not by ethnic lines, new ethnic lines could have developed.

    That is what happened with Ukraine.

    And it’s what the wet dream of many in the West today is — you see all sorts of maps of how Russia will be partitioned floating around these days.

    From the point of view of the Russian state any processes of further fragmentation have to be nipped in the bud. But how can you be safe and secure when you have what Ukraine had turned into right at the border, with tens of millions of your own people having friends and family in Ukraine?

    The only real solution is de-Ukrainization, not just “denazification and “demilitarization”.

    It doesn’t have to be all done by the Russians, the Polish might be given Galicia back to deal with it however they want, but long term that is the only stable outcome.

    That doesn’t answer how far the SMO will go, but it does answer how far it needs to go

    1. nippersdad

      It is amazing how consistently the same struggles have played out in Ukraine, the nexus of the Slavic cultures, over the past thousand years; it is just a constantly moving line of contact. The three different lines of Slavs have been playing this out forever in different forms. In this case one can connect the dots between the Great Schism in 1054, between the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox churches, straight to those between the Banderites and the Russians, the same fault lines show up in seemingly every generation regardless of who is actually in charge there.

      At this point their fights look not so much political as (almost) genetic in origin; an eternal battle between the Hatfields and the McCoys. This doesn’t look like a fight that will ever be definitively won, just one that can be managed as best one can.

      1. digi_owl

        To borrow a iffy concept, it may not be genetic but memetic.

        Some years back i ran into the claim that Somali immigrants to Norway would adopt or ignore Norwegian social norms depending on how much contact hey had with their grandparents back home. More contact, less adoption of Norwegian norms.

        And if one hang out on say Reddit’s /r/europe, you will notice a constant stream of people posting about various Balkan events. Usually related to the advance and then retreat of Ottoman military. These are all events that are some 500+ years old. Yet kept fresh year after year, decade after decade, by successive generations.

    2. JohnA

      Sweden and Finland are no threat to Russia per se. The threat is US bases and/or becoming nuclear armed and such a short distance from St P and Moscow etc.
      The Swedes were due to sign a non nuclear proliferation treaty in 2017 until Mattis called and ‘disuaded them’. The reason they then gave for not signing was that the wording was cloudy. Which is odd as Sweden was involved in drafting the treaty. Now Magdalena Andersson is saying while they want to join Nato, they don’t want foreign (read US) bases or nuclear weapons based there. A forlorn hope. Norway, that post WW2 constitutionally forbade foreign bases in the country, have now backtracked and agreed US bases in the south and north. A similar scenario will likely play out in Sweden and Finland, sadly.

      1. digi_owl

        Yeah, you got to love the verbal dancing Norwegian politicians are doing to not be in breach of the base policy. The facilities will be extensions of Norwegian bases, and have no “permanent” US staff (only ones rotated every X months, so that there will always be some but not the same ones). Oh, and Pentagon will have first refusal on charging any US soldier breaking a law.

        The fact is that the Norwegian military, since the USSR dissolved, have been reduced to little more than a mercenary force for US adventurism. This to the point that soldiers are now responsible for their own laundry, while the barracks lacking enough washing machines to keep up with demand. End result was the downright embarassing news that the military was dealing with the spread of scabies of all things.

    3. Kouros

      The Soviets made concessions to the nationalist sentiment in the 1918-1920s and as Mike Duncan keeps repeating in his Revolutions podcast, while the reds were as bad and corrupted as the whites, at least their message had more promise, while everyone knew what the whites wanted politically.

      The fact is Russia can promise now increased prosperity for its population, and, from what Gilbert Doctorow is describing from the ground, and what I have seen just recently in Romania, who doesn’t have Russian economic potential this is an achievable goal in a more integrated Eurasian continent…

      Ukrainians going for Poland do look to me, on medium and long term perspective, as the losers here. And well being matters, just look at Romania and Moldova, how they didn’t unite, and mostly due to perceptions of wealth and poverty in both sides… the national feelings be damned…

    4. Polar Socialist

      There once was a time, when US president traveled to Kiev and said:

      Americans will not support those who seek independence in order to replace a far-off tyranny with a local depotism. They will not aid those who promote a suicidal nationalism based upon ethnic hatred.

      G.H.W. Bush on August 1st, 1991. Almost as if the warning lights were already flashing back then.

      1. GM

        Well, a big part of what is happening in the West right now with respect to the war stems from the fact that for the vast majority of people it all started three months ago.

        And they look at a map and see Ukraine and Russia and think that the relationship is the same as that between e.g. China and Korea, i.e. totally different ethnicities and cultures.

        In reality this is a civil war (pro-Russian separatists against the central Ukrainian government) within a civil war (Ukrainian separatists against central Russian rule).

        Once you see it that way it looks very different.

        On a grand historical scale those 30 years during which Ukraine has been independent are not that significant — Putin commented today about how Russia lost territories to Sweden and Poland in the 17th century after the Time of Troubles, then Peter The Great recovered some of it and he was fully in his right to take what had been previously theirs. A whole century later. And that is how they see the current situation in modern Russia too.

        The other analogy is the reconstitution of the empire in the form of the USSR. It’s just that back then independence of the various separatist republics lasted only for a brief period.

        But again, we have a very serious problem here with the average Westerner being a complete ignoramus about history and geography, and looking at a map and thinking the lines on it were drawn by God, have always existed in their current form, and neatly divide people into distinct homogeneous entities.

        Bush I, for all the evil he did, belonged to the last generation for which that wasn’t the case. Now those people are gone, and the current crop is driving us fast towards the apocalypse with the brakes off…

        1. digi_owl

          It is really sad that more people likely devote their life to learn the history of Klingons or elves, than fellow real life humans.

          And one part of that is that TV has failed in its “task” to inform. History Channel these days spend more time talking about UFOs and big foot than historical events.

          Even national channels that should know better, and do not need the ad revenue from broadcasting the equivalent of fast food, fill their outlets with appeals to emotions rather than talk in detail about why events occurred.

  8. The Rev Kev

    At the beginning of the war, I think that the Russians would have settled for recognition of Russian ownership of Crimea and recognition that the two Donbass Republics were now independent of the Ukraine as the Ukraine had failed to undertake the Minsk reforms for the past eight years. Those days are long gone. The Ukraine has lost Kherson, which now gives a free flow of water to the Crimea as well as Zaporizhia Oblast too. This gives Russia clear access from Russia itself, transit through the Donbass republics, through Zaporizhia and all the way to Crimea in the south and Kherson further on. The Russians have reformed the roads and the rail lines which will allow them to ship men and heavy material along those route. Probably they will go all the way to the Transnistrian border and take Odessa along the way. By the time it is all over, Russia will likely take over all Russian-speaking areas in the Ukraine.

    Even Kissinger is telling the Ukraine that they should negotiate and accept losing territory but the Zelensky regime is refusing and say that the Russians must retreat from the entire of the Ukraine before negotiations can even start. Sounds legit. But Russia cannot afford to leave a Ukraine that NATO will once more seek to turn into a threatening military force. If they do not de-militarize, the Russians may seek to go the Israeli method and just bomb the place from time to time. But it all depends on who takes over from the Zelensky regime who no doubt will flee west to their waiting mansions and bank accounts as a ‘government in exile.’ There should be peacekeepers in that country and so far, the countries that want to do that are all in NATO which is a non-starter. Maybe Chinese and Indian troops would be more mutually acceptable. But the Ukraine as a country may no longer be viable anymore. Consider.

    As it stands, the Ukraine has lost most of its bread basket, its coal and a lot of their heavy industry. Likely they will lose their entire coastline but at least they no longer need to pay for a navy then. That would be bad enough but it is the demographics that will be crushing the Ukraine. About 6 million people have fled the country with one million heading to Russia and the other five million to the west. And a lot of them were female too. So how many will want to return to the Ukraine when the war is over? Maybe twenty to thirty percent? Maybe? All those refugees that fled are already building new lives, getting jobs, partners, friends, etc. And those host countries can use them as a cheap workforce. That tells me that the population of the Ukraine is going to rapidly age out over the next generation or two. Think that the west will care or even want to know the Ukraine in the coming years?

    One final fun thing. NATO has had a good hard look at what the Russians are capable of and realize that they are out-classed. So NATO may spend hundreds of billions of dollars and decades of time to catch up but maybe they can’t. I was reading that the Russian in their equipment alone made over 600 improvements based on their experiences in Syria. You can bet that the Russians, using their new experiences, will be making thousands of changes to their doctrine, tactics, techniques, equipment, logistics as time goes by so will be an even more superior force with masses of troops now having battle experience in combined operations.

    1. KD

      Ukraine had a 1.2 tfr before the war started. It makes Japan seem fecund at 1.36. If Russia wins a war of attrition and knocks out enough of the fighting age males, Ukraine won’t be able to field a comparable ground army for 50 years. This is why Poland and Hungary will have no choice as whatever remains of “Ukraine” will be incapable of defending itself.

    2. Lex

      Indeed. This is the fact of negotiating with Russia. The first offer is almost always going to be the best offer and each subsequent offer will be less pleasant for you. This is why I don’t think Russia has decided what its end point is. I don’t think Russia will over-extend to take the western oblasts regardless, or even Kiev. But what happens with Odessa is probably still on the board. If Ukraine surrendered tomorrow and declared neutrality with promises of no foreign basing at Odessa, they might be able to keep it. Keeping doing what they’re doing and Russia will deny direct Ukrainian access to the Black Sea forever.

      Remember Putin’s threat “If you want decommunization, we’ll show you real decommunization”. I take that to be losing all the territory that the USSR designated as part of Ukraine and that would include Odessa.

    3. digi_owl

      Russia likely wants to take Odessa off Ukrainian hands anyways, as USA was building a maritime operations center there right before shit hit the fan.

      And that is practically across the bay from the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s home base, a base that was likely a big reason for Russia grabbing Crimea after the color putsch.

  9. orlbucfan

    I wish/hope the Russians deliver the knock-out punch that brings Ukraine to the peace table. No nukes, please! And, as far as partitioning goes, the U.S. is getting closer and closer to a split between the nutcase FRightwingnut corrupt states like TX and FL, and the more civilized “blue” ones like VT.

    1. Amfortas the hippie

      “..split between the nutcase FRightwingnut corrupt states like TX and FL, and the more civilized “blue” ones like VT…”
      it’s helpful…if sometimes difficult…to keep in mind that “Texas”, Florida, Vermont, New York….and “Galicia”, “transistria” and any other oblast, province or state you can name…are not monolithic…can’t be reliably essentialised in such a manner.
      sure, demographics, including those of ideologies, can be parsed…but i’m a new dealer=> zapatista in the wilds of the texas hill country.
      i know everything from pseudolumpenfascists to wollyminded woke anarchismists within 30 miles of me.
      russia would do well to have as free and open elections in those oblasts as possible…and invite the un and a basket of disparate observers to watch.

      all that said, when texas secedes from the Union, I’m seceding my 20 acres from texas.

      1. lyman alpha blob

        To your point, there are a lot of similarities between VT and TX – one being that both have been making noises about seceding from the US for years. And when I went to grab a link about secession votes in VT, I found that one of the more recent charges was led by none other than the curmudgeonly James Howard Kunstler! –

      2. ambrit

        Don’t forget to consider that “The Union” might hold on to Texas, Oklahoma, various parts of the Old South, and ‘secedes’ from the rest of the “nations.”

  10. DJG, Reality Czar

    Whether or not negotiations going on.

    Craig Murray, in this excellent piece, which I read here at Naked Capitalism a day or so ago, mentions being in Turkey as part of something that he is not yet willing to describe in detail and not seeing Western journalists. So there likely are some continuing negotiations going on in the background–if anything, to ship the wheat that Ukraine has self-blockaded.

    My guess is that the Russians will complete taking the oblasts that they already have troops in. These oblasts, which are more or less ethnically Russia, will be absorbed. Novorossiya doesn’t look economically viable to me, and the Russians don’t want another failed state on their borders.

    The problem for the Russians is that the borders between Berlin and the Donbass, Tirana and Helsinki, are remnants of WWI and WWII. They don’t–some never have–reflect who lives in the countries or the histories of the nations. But the Russians don’t want to blow up the powderkeg next door. That’s something the U.S. and U.K. want to do, since the wars, the many wars, will be in little countries, far away, with too many consonants, and Divine Liturgy that lasts too long.

    It seems to me that the Russians are unlikely to give a slice of Ukraine to Hungary, knowing that the result may be the Hungarian army driving to Cluj in Romania.

    The Lithuanians are upset because some Russian nationalist in trying to revoke their charter of independence from the USSR. But the Lithuanians aren’t likely to see Russians showing up in Vilnius. Not when the Poles would rather do so.

    All in all, the Russians have to detach the rebellious oblasts from Ukraine without causing the explosion of Poland, Hungary, and Romania. NATO, being clueless, doesn’t understand that it has lit the wick.

    1. Kouros

      “Hungarian army driving to Cluj in Romania”. I am preety, preety sure that is never going to happen. In fact, last century, the Romanian army drove twice to Budapest and occupied it (once all on its own and the other time as Robin to USSR Batman)…

  11. Stephen T Johnson

    It seems to me that the central question around any kind of negotiated settlement is: Who, exactly, does Russia negotiate with? and behind that, who has agency? who is agreement capable?
    Looking around, the US is, I think, disinclined to own this, NATO and the EU are obviously not capable of independent decisions, and Ukraine has no agency and is, in any case, completely agreement incapable in its own unique way.
    I think one of the reasons that we’re hearing coup talk is that some “New” Ukrainian regime might have some ability to cut a deal, but I have a lot of difficulty believing that can actually happen.
    A big part of this whole scenario is the collective west frantically trying to avoid taking a huge humiliating loss, but facing the fact that the only other choice is some kind of escalation – likely some combination of Poland, UK and the baltics riding to the rescue – that’s sure to work well -, with a 30:1 longshot of some weird “Romania eats Moldova and attacks Transdneistria” scenario in the fringes.
    Really, it’s enough to make your head hurt, eh?

    1. Kouros

      Nobody in Romania would want Transnistria and everyone in Romania would understand that a military solution in Transnistria means fighting Russia (for the US) to the last Romanian, and that is not going to happen.

      Romanians were already dragged into a war against Russia by Nazi Germany (who allowed USSR to take Basarabia aka Rep of Moldova only to convince Romania to go alongside against USSR in 1941 to retake its lost territory, lost due to the secret annex of the Ribbentrop-Molotov non-aggression pact). Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice…

  12. Tom Stone

    It doesn’t matter how many weapons the West sends Ukraine if they are sitting in ships waiting to be unloaded or in marshalling yards at the ports if they can not be delivered to the troops.
    And there’s another problem, corrupt puppet regimes seldom have effective armies because loyalty in such regimes is a one way street and that becomes brutally clear when the shit hits the fan.
    Not only do you have to get the beans and bullets to the troops, the troops have to have faith in their leaders or they will not fight well.
    And Zelensky’s move toward Poland will not sit well with a lot of Ukrainians.
    I do not mourn the end of the American Empire, it has been embarassingly incompetent and senselessly cruel.
    A Law based multipolar World may allow the Human race to survive climate change with some degree of civilization remaining.

    1. KD

      Clearly, Ukraine has been hampered by spending the last 8 years creating extensive, multi-layered defensive fortifications with supplies in the Donbas region, and will fight much more effectively in the rest of Ukraine where no such fortifications exist, not to mention most of the troops dying or being captured in Donbas are their best. Because the Ukrainians won’t have good troops or good fortifications, the Russians are sure to underestimate them and then the Ukrainians will hit them decisively with their bad troops in bad positions and knock the Russians out of the war.

    2. KD

      Korfman reads like one of those reports to the Japanese Emperor as to how the Japanese could defeat America if they attacked Pearl Harbor and won the war of attrition, except it looks like the Ukranians are much less willing to fight to the death than the Japanese. Obviously, this lower morale shows the Ukrainians greater mental flexibility and their superiority to the Kamikaze in fighting a total war to the death.

    3. jrkrideau

      His doctor needs to adjust his drugs

      The Helmer quote Yves provided above comes from a book review where Helmer discusses data sources and points out the lack of actual knowledge of present-day Russia in Russian “analysts”.

      Highly reccomended.

  13. eg

    Assuming that the Russian motivations are rational, isn’t a primary determinant of “where to stop” the place/places that make sense from a subsequent defensive posture? I don’t know enough about the geography nor the relevant weapons systems to draw any conclusions, but presumably such a place or places exist and it is the job of the Russian military to know them?

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      But “Russia” like anything is tricky to pin down. To a certain extent, there is always the Moscow based empire, but Putin is President. An unpredictable political coalition is what supports Putin, not so much a leader of a political party but a singular individual. Then there is the street perception. Outside of Navalny, the usual opposition types outside of the Communists are definitely speaking in a new manner in regards to nationalism. They aren’t jingoists, but they know the US is trouble.

      Putin is unlikely to be there in 5 years. So where are the Democrats and Republicans to take his place? Everyone knows a new order is coming. The place in the new order is on the minds of all the actors, and Putin is synonymous with Russia now. He’s not bigger than Russia. Its likely he cares about life after him.

    2. nippersdad

      My bet is on the Dneiper and the Black Sea coast oblasts all the way to Transnistria. Maybe a carve-out for Kiev if they are feeling generous.

      As RevKev says above, they are likely to let the EU deal with the rest, and bomb them into submission in the event of any problems arising as Israel routinely does with Syria and Lebanon. The oldest rule of war, the UN notwithstanding, is that the winner gets to make the rules.

  14. Jessica

    For Russia, if Hungary and Romania were to wind up at each other’s throats (Transylvania), there would be the downside of turmoil, but on the other hand, it would eliminate another angle from which NATO might try to pressure Russia and would keep NATO too busy to mess with Russia.
    Not sure how the Russian leadership would balance the downside and upside and I wouldn’t wish this on either Hungary or Romania.

    1. Kouros

      I do not foresee Hungary and Romania going against each-other. There is no evidence of that on the ground.

  15. Lex

    Excellent summation, Yves. I think you raise an important, and perhaps pivotal, point about Russia’s decision making process after the liberation of the LDNR territories. The rest of the world is watching and avoiding “new boss same as the old boss” is key for Russia. The minute it starts looking like a war of conquest, Russia’s diplomatic position elsewhere faces some threat of being undermined. I find what appears to be a part of Russia’s solution elegant. The action of issuing passports to anyone who wants one is a facts on the ground being established. Not only Kherson, but the announcement included anyone in Ukraine being granted a Russian passport by applying through the Kherson administrative offices. Better than a referendum that can be claimed fraudulent. Russia can’t leave Russians in Ukraine unprotected, right?

    My take:
    Phase I – deep operations to develop the contours of Phase II along with pinning the bulk of the Ukrainian army in Donbas. “Unsuccessful” in Kiev and Kharkov but wildly successful in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, along with significant success in Mariupol.

    Phase II – liberation of Donbas and wearing down AFU. The pace is primarily affected by most of the heavy lifting being done by the militias to liberate their own land and the heavily built defenses. But now we’ll start seeing cascading failures of the AFU as they withdraw to less well-developed defensive emplacements (see, Svyatogorsk).

    Phase III – undecided and dependent on local/international context but probably relatively fast and a return to maneuver warfare (and why so much material is being moved towards Ukraine now). I assume it must include Odessa Oblast to deny NATO a good base in the Black Sea but I also think that Odessa city will wait until nearly last. Completing Nikolaiv, Zaporizhzhia and Kharkov oblasts seems a given. Gaining Dnipropetrovsk in addition to those might enough. Anything more could push active conflict well into 2023 and I think Russia will want to avoid that. Maybe they’ll take more if resistance collapses. I assume Sumy and Poltava would be appreciated for strategic depth. Anything more than that is likely more trouble than it’s worth in the short/medium term.

  16. Susan the other

    One major objective of NATO/US/UK is to block China from easy trade access to the EU. Or at least that’s what NATO claims. It could be a red herring to distract everyone from the real objective which might be to prevent China from access to too much Mid East oil-Caspian oil – while at the same time we maneuver to control it. If the objective is to isolate EU markets from China it would make sense that the peace settlement establish a hard border for NATO and a DMZ for Russian interests east of the Dnieper. It would also make NATO-sense to give Odessa to Russia and eliminate international trade access into Ukraine from the Black Sea. China already owns the Port of Piraeus, right? Because the EU was so foolish as to impoverish Greece. So eliminating too much free trade with China really poses a problem for the Neoliberal EU – they’ll have to trade with us and it will be very expensive for them. Especially if and when we regain control over Mid East oil. It doesn’t seem to be planned out very well. Which is probably why the US and UK are against any Ukrainian give-aways. It’s like a war of opportunists at this point. The objectives will emerge.

    1. Susan the other

      What happens in international finance if/when dollar-based Mid East oil commingles with Russian multipolar-ruble-based oil?

  17. Leroy R

    Anybody else hoping Zelenskyy gets a comedy special on HBO or Showtime when it is time for a new career? Hmmm, didn’t think so…

  18. scarnoc

    I’m a maximalist on what Russia is gonna do until shown otherwise. I remain convinced that 1. Russia will eventually occupy all of present day Ukraine, either directly or through some puppet client and 2. The whole coast through Transnistria will be incorporated directly into RF and 3. That the war will escalate out of Ukraine and involve direct military confrontation between NATO and RF. I think the statements of Russian officials and Duma members make 1 and 2 very clear. 3 is an extrapolation from the demands Russia made before the beginning of the SMO. NATO must return to 1997 borders. That’s still the medium term goal. Medvedev said the four horsemen are riding. Naryshkin (head of Foreign Intel Service) just said again that Moscow expects Poland to invade western Ukraine, and I think that will be the initial justification for Russian escalation. I don’t know what the legal justifications for the annexation of territory by Russia will be. Time will tell. The Duran boys are wicked smart, particularly Mr. Mercouris. But, I think they and many others misunderstand the nature of this war. The die was cast when the SMO began. This is a war between the USA and Russia. Russia knows there will be no quarter from the empire, and they expect none. This ends with one side’s boot on the other side’s neck.

    1. KD

      I think neither the Russians nor NATO want to get in a direct ground war because it won’t end with anyone’s boot on anyone’s neck, it will end in a mushroom cloud. Both Russia and NATO are trying to push the envelope as far as they can without triggering something that leads inexorably to a nuclear confrontation.

      1. scarnoc

        That nuclear confrontation is highly probable at this point. Not inexorable, just yet. Maybe the US government falls apart before we get to that point. Maybe, before the nukes fly, rational people will take control of the USA. But this much is clear: Neither Russia nor PRC are prepared to continue to live in a unipolar world, while USA is not prepared to live in a multipolar world. This is not a field where compromise is possible. There can be only one outcome. And, Russia will not abide those Aegis installations in Poland and Romania, no matter what. Do not rely on a hope that the blatantly incompetent, stupid and brutal elites who run the USA will lose their empire with grace and bowed heads. Prepare accordingly.

        1. Irrational

          I guess that means for us lucky Europeans prepare to die because our leaders are stupid. That’s wonderful

          1. Scarnoc

            The Duran boys had a good discussion about the no confidence vote for Boris Strawhead. In that discussion they note that it is possible that European governments will begin to fall by the Autumn, as blowback from the sanctions heightens prices and shortages. The current government could be replaced by governments that are willing to stand up to the USA and look after European interests. So maybe that will be an offramp from war for Europe. If things do go badly as I cynically predict, then the Russian nuke strike zones on the continent might be held to USA military installations to minimize fallout which would blow back over Russia. The UK would probably get the full radiation treatment, however. If people can stay indoors for 21 days with food and water stocks prepared, then those outside of strike zones are likely to survive.

  19. russell1200

    Attritional warfare is very difficult to predict in real time if the opponents are reasonably well matched. Often the apparent winning side – particularly if it is on the offensive – ends up the loser.

    Using WW1 (the Mother of all attritional wars) as an example. You have three major offensives, two of which do very well, which are primary causes of the collapse of the side that was strong enough to go on the offensive. Oddly enough, the one near-collapse was the by the country that did the worst in it’s offensive: aka France.

    Russia Brusilov Offensive 1916 – Initially very successful. Russia hammers the Austrian-Hungarian Army. Germans step in to slow it up. Russian continuations offenses grind on causing continued casualties. It is often called a Russian victory, but it is also felt by most that it is a near proximate cause for the Russian Collapse the next year.

    France Nivelle offensive 1917 – Utter disaster. Go nowhere. Having been promised war winning offenses, Troops mutiny. Large holes are left in the French lines which fortunately (for them) the Germans don’t learn about.

    German Offensives (multiple) 1918 – With the collapse of Russia the previous year the Germans stage numerous offensives on the Western Front. Using the storm trooper tactics they developed in 1917 they blast huge chunks out of the Allied lines. The Germans take lots of territory, but there is a reason that the less heavily defended parts of the allied lines they attacked were easier to rupture. They weren’t in any place terribly important. The Germans continue them too long, and run out of steam. When the allies take the initiative, the demoralized German army, that had been promised a war winning offensive starts to fall apart.

    So in attritional warfare, it is not always relevant who seems to be winning. The successes themselves are not enough to win the war. The very hype and hubris that gets the troops charging into these deadly conflicts works against long term success.

    Obviously, the warning is at the moment more relevant to the Russians than the Ukrainians. But the Ukrainians often seem to get a bit ahead of themselves with their counter attacks and their general bluster. And if your going to say “but my side is winning”, well that is pretty much what the various Generals in WW1 thought when they launched their attacks.

    1. KD

      Germany in all likelihood would have won if they had not targeted US ships and brought the US into the conflict. Further, in terms of men and resources, Central Powers v. Allies were relatively evenly matched (in favor of the Central Powers until US involvement). They were also supposed to get Italy but then the King or the President died and the Italians went back on their treaty.

      Russia is 145 million population, Ukraine supposedly 43 million, but reports are on the order of 5 million refugees, plus how much of that is in Donbas/Kherson area? But 3.5 to 1 conservatively.

      Economically, 155.6 B USD before the war for Ukraine, 1.483 T USD for Russia. They at least 5 to 1 or 10 to 1 on significant battle materials. Yes, US/NATO can help on the materials front, but its almost 10 to 1.

      In comparison, Japan had 44 million people in 1942 and 169 billion GDP in 1990 dollars versus 135 million for USA and 800 billion in 1990 dollars.

      The Ukrainians are fighting hard, but we aren’t seeing the Kamikazis.

      So the comparison really is Japan v. the USA, and remember Japan also had help from the Axis, and Ukraine is on the Russian border, not 1/2 way around the world as far as logistics.

      1. KD

        If you look at the numbers, the sole purpose of this operation from the US/NATO side can only be to bleed the Russians and damage them economically, and all the PR is about trying to rally public support with fairy tales about how Ukraine is winning or can still win, so we can keep fighting the Russians to the last Ukrainian, glory to America’s human speedbump. That’s why the pro-Western elites in Russia are so bitter, because this is what their “friends” did to them.

      2. russell1200

        A strange analogy. I could buy a Japan-China in WW2 analogy. That at least was a land war. And the Chinese were helped to stay in the fight by their allies: which at various times included the Soviets, the United States and even a little German help (early model He111 bombers flew for the Nationalists). The Japanese got a miniscule amount of help from the Germans. It is notable that the Japanese last major offensive was rather successful in an operation sense, but did little to help their situation in China. It of course made no difference at all in the greater scheme of things.

        As to the Germans in WW1. They reopened the war on shipping because they thought they would lose without it. They were willing to risk the Americans. The Americans (in spite of what some American historians will tell you) were just beginning to help at the end of the war. This wasn’t WW2, the French had to supply airplanes and tanks for them to fight with. The American entrance accelerated the perceived time table in which the Germans had to act. In reality the German’s allies had already started collapsing prior to the German collapse. The German assessment about their chances without the U-boat campaign was correct. They weren’t going to win the war without major success in the West. It should be noted that the French also supplied the British with critically important aircraft engines. In this war, it was the French that were the dynamo of the allies.

        1. KD

          The Germans thought that a blockage of England would starve the English and lead to victory in a couple months. Instead, it failed and they pulled America into the conflict. They got a peace with Soviets in 1917. The French had begun to break when the Americans arrived. If they could have kept America out, France would have broken and England would have had to do something, as they couldn’t win on the Continent and the Germans couldn’t invade.

          No, the Pacific War is not analogous in terms of the fighting, but the relative military capabilities of the US vs. Japan at the time are similar to Russia/Ukraine. Obviously, the US had to concentrate on Europe and was distracted from prosecuting the war against Japan, and it was heavily dependent on Blue Water Navy.

          A good parallel would also be the Civil War, where the Union had 23 million versus 9 million for the Confederacy, which is more favorable than the Ukrainian/Russia Conflict. It is also not clear about the GDP differential, but per capita income was about double in the North. However, the Russians can be said to have a superior capability than the Union possessed in the Civil War, which ended in a lose for the Confederacy despite better generals.

          There is just no way the Ukrainians can win unless the Russians give up, and its too close to the Motherland to realistically expect the Russians to give up. Anything else is just b.s.

          Its the dumbest waste of life and property since Iraq.

      3. drumlin woodchuckles

        I am only going on memory here, but didn’t the British Government and President Wilson co-conspire together to put a shipment of rifles for the British Army on the Lusitania and make sure that the German government knew about those rifles in order to bait Germany into sinking the Lusitania . . . in order to fake the case of German “aggression” and create the fake issue of ” Freedom of the Seas” ?

        If my memory is correct, that is part of what I refer to when I speak of Wilson and Britain conspiring to bring America into World War One.

        1. David

          This is one of those nice stories that won’t die because it’s too emotionally satisfying. The Lusitania was indeed carrying ammunition (this was on the manifest), but there’s no evidence at all that the Germans knew that, and certainly none that the Allies told them. The Germans were already sinking merchant shipping at that point anyway. The British were sufficiently worried about the threat to merchant shipping that the Captain of the Lusitania was actually warned to avoid an area south of Ireland where U-Boats were known to be operating, as well as too change course frequently, but he did neither. In any case, this was in May 1915, and, though the incident proved an official protest by the US, they didn’t join the war until two years later.

  20. danpaco

    Great discussion.
    To me its the economic war against Russia that is whats driving the slow pace by the Russians on the ground and all to their benefit. They need to prolong this war (SMO) as long as necessary to set up a truly viable international alternative to SWIFT and US dollar hegemony. All it would take is a few countries to sign on and it would then cause a flood of others to join. This could take months and or years.
    The West gave the Russians a “forking” opportunity in Ukraine and as a result, complete control of the pace of both spheres of this war (SMO). Hence the West now suddenly finding that a quick end to this conflict and Kissenger delivering the bad news at Davos, would be in its best interest.
    So much for the Afghanistan 2.0 strategy of bogging down the Russians!!!

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Russia’s electricity use in May was the highest ever for a May, which means their real economy is doing just fine. Similarly, a Levada (most pro-Western pollster in Russia) survey in May found that 83% of Russias felt no or little impact from the sanctions. Russia’s government revenues are way ahead of plan due to high oil prices.

      So Russia isn’t suffering as a result of the sanctions and they provide no reason to slow its pace.

      A former general said that Russia had enough materiel (ammo, tanks, missile launchers) stockpiled to wage a three year full on war, and this ain’t remotely that.

      1. Tony Wright

        But, but….. they can’t buy McDonalds any more – surely they must be feeling utterly devastated?

  21. Grebo

    Zelensky was never driving the train. Ever see the video of him trying, and failing, to get an Azov type to respect his authority?

    It seems to me that demilitarisation and denazification of Ukraine require control of Ukraine. All of it. Once that is accomplished I expect that each oblast will be allowed a referendum on joining Novorus or staying in Ukraine. Rump Ukraine will adopt a constitution guaranteeing neutrality and pacivity, then Russia will withdraw.

    Russia will not look for a fist fight with NATO but will turn the economic and political screws until its desired security architecture is finally agreed to.

  22. dftbs

    An observation I think may be interesting, it’s from conversations I’ve had through the past few weeks and into this morning on the trading desk. Obviously the most glaring impact the war has had on market activity is the heightened inflation. Without discussing whether this perception is right or wrong, one thing that stands out is the conviction that this process can be reversed once hostilities cease. I think this sentiment is shared by consumers and decision makers in the US and Europe.

    This may be why some of the messaging over the past week has been about Ukrainian incompetence and duplicity and bracing for Ukrainian defeat. For my part, this is all wishfully thinking. All these people are lying to themselves if they think it will be BAU after the Russians are done in Ukraine. Of course on a Wall st trading desk where the only pursuit is for dollars; it’s hard to get people to believe the Russians don’t them want any more.

    1. John k

      This is a real blind spot. Russia might be pleasantly surprised that they don’t much need $ or euros, but sanctions mean they have nothing they can spend them on anyway other than Turkish holidays. So why sell the west anything?
      People I talk to appreciate Russia is making more euros than ever because of high prices, but can’t grasp the idea russia has little use for west money anyway and therefore no need to sell us stuff.
      I watched a video of a tour thru a St. Petersburg supermarket by a Belgium who had been in Russia for 5 years and was about to return home. Totally stocked with fresh fruit, cheeses etc from around the world.
      It’s the west, especially eu, that’s suffering, not Russia. And what if Russia cuts off the gas?

      1. Wobblie

        Saw that video. When converted from rubbles to USD prices seemed reasonable. The problem is the “relative cost”. For the average Russian who’s annual median income is half what the US median income is, it is worse than living in California while earning illegal immigrant wages—/So much winning—when you are a plutocrat you don’t much care about the daily life’s of the serfs.

  23. Savita

    On the comments about renaming of places and streets in Moscow.
    Identical situation occurring here in Sydney, Australia. One of the wealthier inner city councils voted to rename the street the Russian Consulate is on, to Ukraine Streeet. The locals are (mostly) furious.

    When I read that Salisbury supermarket in England was renaming its Chicken Kyiv product my first thought was ‘ this is the end of western civilisation’ (really!)

  24. Darthbobber

    To the extent that there are difficult decisions, I doubt that they involve legalities around the SMO.
    Firstly, because the stated objectives of demilitarization and denazification, which were part of the SMO stated objectives in addition to protecting the Donbass republics, are about as elastic as could be desired.

    Secondly, because statements from Lavrov and Medvedev among others seem to basically say that whatever they take prior to serious negotiations is unlikely to be given back.

    And thirdly, because the mood of the Duma seems more, not less, expansionist and bellicose than Putin’s own, and is becoming more so with the passage of time. At this point it’s difficult to imagine a posture too aggressive to obtain the Duma’s assent.

    The only real questions are the practical ones. How much is desirable. How much is digestible. Where is the best defensive line for what’s absorbed.

    And if and when the grinding battles for the entrenched areas come to a close, what is the Ukrainian army still capable of at that point.

    The prognosis is different if the loss of the remaining Donbass positions presages a more general collapse of the Ukrainian defense (I lean that way), than if it does not.

  25. XXYY

    There is much talk of “negotiations” between Russia and the US and NATO, but for negotiations to take place, there has to be trust between the two parties that whatever is negotiated will in fact be carried out.

    The fact is that the US and NATO have abrogated or ignored virtually every treaty and agreement made with the USSR/Russia since World War II. The Russians now widely consider the United States to be “non-agreement capable”, that is, they cannot be trusted to do what they say they are going to do. In this situation, negotiations have no point or meaning, and are at best a waste of time. The Russians came to this realization about 15 years ago, and have focused on improving their military technology since then in the belief that it’s the only thing the US will respect.

    I assume in this situation, Russia will do more or less whatever it wants to or feels it has to, and will not worry about I negotiated solution, and in fact there can be no such thing.

  26. ks

    Someone – Gonzalo Lira in a Duran chat? – mentioned the website, Military Summary and Analysis, which follows military strategy in Ukraine using maps and satellite images. I’ve found it enormously helpful, not for political analysis but for a sense of the physical nature of the battles – objectives, locations, terrains, obstacles, etc.. As some other Someone said, the West is fighting an information war while Russia is fighting a real war.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      We’ve already referred and linked to it at least 2x in Links. It’s very good but its focus is narrow, on day to day fighting, with a perspective at most a week out on what might happen next. But it’s great for cross-checking MSM v. Russia-friendly claims on the state of play.

  27. CheckyChubber

    I thought the reason that Odessa is getting the kid gloves is because it is where The Mob has their holiday homes, rather than restraint from mission creep.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      First, Russia doesn’t even have land forces there save as a pinning operation. So you are positing a scenario that is not operative.

      Second, as various Russian friendly sites, particularly the aforementioned Alexander Mercouris and Alex Christoforu (as in both Greeks, both brought up in Greece and therefore know from their early childhoods of the extensive historical ties between Greece and the Slavic populations on the Black Sea coast, hence names like Mariupol and Odessa and almost certainly know Greeks engaged in commerce there now) point out, Odessa is a historically important city with many beautiful buildings and Russia will not want to damage it unduly. The flip side is Ukraine loves scorched earth/blame the Rooskies and is likely to break as much as it can on its way out.

  28. Martin

    What’s the difference between our excuse to invade Iraq and Russia’s excuse to invade Ukraine?

    About 5,000 miles.
    Also, there was no community of Iraqis being shelled for speaking English.

  29. Wobblie

    The US strategy was articulated right at the beginning. Enmesh Russia into a long war. US planners expected the Russian military to achieve its stated objectives quickly, and that a long insurgent anti-Russian war would be fought against an occupation army with Poland and Romania providing strategic depth.
    The Russian failure in March was unanticipated, but in the nature of a bonus allowing real analysis of battlefield weapons and tactics.
    Fantasies of Poland returning to its 1939 borders are ludicrous. More likely is a Polish-Ukraine Commonwealth at war against Russia.
    The US strategy is the same as 1937 China. Keep Ukraine fighting for years while the US rearms and rebuilds alliances.
    Putin is counting on the EU collapsing. Denmark deciding by popular referendum to join the EU military is the exact opposite of Putins expectations.
    Until Putin abandons his objectives as presented in his December ultimatums, Poland, Finland and the Baltic Republics along with Romania will lose their national sovereignty. Putin will have to send his armies to Berlin.

  30. Tenn

    I just wanted to add the “ethnic Europeans and ethnic Russians” part is technically wrong, as Russians are an European ethnicity. Amazing article

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Thanks for the kind words, but Slavs are seen by many as non-white. And Russia extends to Asia and includes many ethnicities, like Muslims who’ve been there for generations. Our scientist GM said this in connection with evidence that the Ukraine biolabs were looking for “Slavic DNA”:

      Russians are Indo-Europeans just as Westerners are, and the split dates back a mere 3,000 years. Russians are also much more mixed than the typical European (not true about Americans).

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