Just because Russia has been slow and methodical about grinding up Ukraine’s army and materiel in Donbass does not mean that there’s reason to think Ukraine can turn its losses around with generous applications of Western funding, weapons, and hopium. And on the economic war front, even though Russia has taken a hit, it seems to be making surprisingly solid progress in adjusting, while conditions in the US and Europe look to be worsening, and at an accelerating rate.
Admittedly, the press, presumably reflecting the readings of military experts, has greatly reduced coverage of the conflict now that even generous applications of porcine maquillage can no longer hide that things are going from bad to worse for Ukraine. A very long established contact forwarded this message from a former senior US military official:
Just in from an Army Colonel in the building:
“Spoke to someone today who said that the Ukie basic training is 10 days and then off to the front. 65% casualty rates. At least double or more the losses of the Russians but you don’t hear anything about it.”
Recall that Scott Ritter, early on in his many detailed analysis, said that if one side was consistently inflicting casualties at a higher rate than the other, even at a ratio of say 1:1.2, the side with the lower losses would prevail.
Recall also that Ukraine has not made a single significant offensive since the war began. The most it has been able to achieve are small tactical gains that don’t amount to anything over time.
And more recently, its efforts have ranged from misguided to desperate. Its “offensive” near Kharkiv amounted to taking terrain where Russia didn’t have many troops to begin with and Russia pulled back. Russia has since gotten within shelling range of Kharkiv, which is a more important advance. In Kherson, the most significant of three little advances was disaster, resulting in over 200 men dead and Russia taking out a command center in Mykolaiv to boot, which killed officers and (according to Russia) even some generals. Russia let Ukraine keep two other wee spots in Kherson it captured that on a map look like they consist of 12-16 blocks with a few buildings. In other words, tactically as well as strategically unimportant.
In a post earlier this week, Moon of Alabama argued that there was evidence that Ukraine was having to resort to Kampfgruppen:
During the last years of World War II the German Wehrmacht often used Kampfgruppen (combat groups). These were a mix of remnants of mostly destroyed regular units put together under the command of one officer and often formed for a specific task. The subunits came from different command cultures and localities and would often not know each other. They were not trained to the same level. To coordinate them was difficult.
There are signs that the Ukraine is now using such a Kampfgruppen concept. Several recent reports of this or that operation or town lost or gained by Ukrainian forces named three or four involved brigades. However, when one looked at the size of those places or operations there was no way that so many full fledged units were involved.
That is another sign of a fraying and increasingly ineffective fighting force.
Some former members of the military have made even more forceful criticisms. Larry Johnson, in the early part of an interview with Eva Bartlett, contends that the Ukraine military early on revealed itself to be weak in its failure to even attempt to molest Russia’s 40km line of sitting duck tanks. Jacob Dreizen, in his first video on June 1, explains the logistical demands of various advanced weapons systems (high to daunting) and that the Pentagon has recognized that there isn’t a good reason to give more than symbolic numbers of them now. For instance, starting at 8:28:
[Discussing a videotaped altercation between Ukraine officers] If you’re a US military intelligence analyst, let’s say, in the Defense Intelligence Agency, in the DoD, you’re looking at this and you’re saying, “You know what? These guys are gone. These people are now playing in a sandbox.” To give them at this stage, some of the heaviest, most sophisticated weapons systems in the US Army arsenal just so these things can get destroyed by Russia or taken as war trophies and paraded on Red Square like it’s 1945, that’s just crazy. I mean, these guys are clearly on a steep, steep downslope. And at this late stage, to give them sophisticated weapons systems like the HIMARS, it’s like giving a grenade to a monkey.
Truth be told, Western officials and the media are increasingly acknowledging that Ukraine can’t win this war, and therefore the two sides need to negotiate a peace. But to invoke a saying I heard in Venezuela, “They have changed their minds, but they have not changed their hearts.” The US and NATO have consumed so much Ukraine Kool-Aide that they are light-year away from what a realistic settlement would have to include. And that’s because they still can’t admit to themselves that Russia is wining, and at this rate, will have taken Odessa before Zelensky will even be willing to cede Donbass. For instance, look at this key statement from Joe Biden’s New York Times op-ed earlier this week:
We have moved quickly to send Ukraine a significant amount of weaponry and ammunition so it can fight on the battlefield and be in the strongest possible position at the negotiating table
Why should Ukraine keep fighting and losing more men and suffering more damage? Why not sue for peace now? Biden’s unstated assumption is that if the US pumps enough air into the leaking Ukraine balloon, it will be in a better position than it is now. That can come about only by taking territory back or by inflicting huge losses on the Russian side. In what universe is that a likely outcome?
There are also complicating factors on the Russian side. One is that the Russian population regards Putin as too dovish and would much rather have the Ukraine matter be as settled as it can be via this war. That argues for taking more territory, certainly the entire Black Sea coast, probably Kharkiv and perhaps even securing the Dneiper save perhaps hard by Kiev.
A second matter is that many of the “liberated” or expecting to be liberated territories seem to want to join Russia, and not be independent friendlies or part of a Novorossiya (this may be realism as well as romanticism; they are too small to go it alone). One reason for this expectation is that at least some members of the Donbass militias are continuing to fight for the Russian cause in neighboring oblasts, here Kherson. See this June 2 segment from Patrick Lancaster:
Recall that Putin was not happy when the two breakaway republics declared independence in 2014, and he had to push them in the Minsk Accord negotiations to accept staying in Ukraine, albeit with adequate protections against further abuse.
But the Kremlin is now not saying no….although as I read it, the official statement isn’t terribly enthusiastic. From TASS dated June 3:
There is no understanding regarding the dates of possible referendums in Donbass and a number of liberated regions of Ukraine, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the media on Friday.
“No, there is no understanding yet regarding the time frame,” he said, while answering a question about the Kremlin’s position on when possible referendums on these territories’ admission to Russia might take place.
He remarked that “this is a very important issue and as the corresponding conditions take shape, the situation in this field will get clearer”.
Of course, the coolness may instead be to manage down domestic talk of annexation. In either his February 21 or his February 24 speech (forgive me for not checking which one), Putin made a point of saying that Russia would not go where it was not wanted. He’s also repeatedly stressed that the residents of Crimea chose to join Russia. Its referendum had over 90% turnout and 83% approval.
Contrast that with this section of Gilbert Doctorow’s latest post:
I mention all of the foregoing as background to what I see now going on in Russian political life, namely open and lively discussion of whether the country should annex the territories of Ukraine newly ‘liberated’ by forces of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics with decisive assistance of the Russian military. By admission of President Zelensky yesterday, these territories now amount to 20% of the Ukrainian state as it was configured in 2014.
In the past several weeks, when Russia concentrated its men and materiel on the Donbas and began to score decisive victories, most notably following the taking of Mariupol and capitulation of the nationalist fighters in the Azovstal complex, leading public officials in the DPR, the LPR and the Kherson oblast have called for quick accession of their lands to the Russian Federation with or without referendums. In Moscow, politicians, including Duma members, have called for the same, claiming that a fait accompli could be achieved already in July….
To be specific, from the very beginning the number one issue for Moscow as it entered upon its military adventure in Ukraine was geopolitical: to ensure that Ukraine will never again be used as a platform to threaten Russian state security, that Ukraine will never become a NATO member. We may safely assume that internationally guaranteed and supervised neutrality of Ukraine will be part of any peace settlement. It would be nicely supported by a new reality on the ground: namely by carving out several Russia-friendly and Russia-dependent mini-states on the former territory of East and South Ukraine. At the same time this solution removes from the international political agenda many of the accusations that have been made against Russia which support the vicious sanctions now being applied to the RF at great cost to Europe and to the world at large: there will be no territorial acquisitions.
If Kiev is compelled to acknowledge the independence of these two, three or more former oblasts as demanded by their populations, that is a situation fully compatible with the United Nations Charter. In a word, a decision by the Kremlin not to annex parts of Ukraine beyond the Crimea, which has long been quietly accepted by many in Europe, would prepare the way for a gradual return of civilized relations within Europe and even, eventually, with the United States
In other words, the liberated territories may also have unrealistic expectations, but theirs will hopefully be easier to manage down than those of the US and, say, Robert Habeck.
The economic war is also not going well for the West, although it is on a different decay path. Here they shot their big wunderwaffe right away but it didn’t prostrate Russia as they assumed. We were among the few commentators to warn that the blowback would be severe….and that’s actually been worse than we anticipated in the absence of Russia imposing countersanctions, like cutting the collective West off from key materials like aluminum, tungsten, and copper. The West’s own formal and informal sanctions have done tons of damage in a setting of existing food scarcity and supply chain breakage.
And conditions in the US and Europe are only getting worse. Industrial producer prices in the EU rose 37% year to year. In the US, Lambert pointed out earlier this week that strippers, a leading economic indicator, are warning of a recession. That’s been confirmed by sagging new car sales. From Bloomberg:
Slumping US new car sales in May on continued high prices and low inventories have some analysts worried those lower-than-expected results could be a harbinger of a broader economic downturn.
Sales of new cars last month fell to 12.8 million vehicles at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate, representing an 11% drop from April, according to data compiled by Wards Intelligence. That is the lowest level since December and reflects shrunken inventories amid a persistent shortage of semiconductors and near record-high vehicle prices….
“The market appears increasingly concerned about the economy, inflation, rising interest rates and a recession,” Joseph Spak, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, said in a research note to clients published Thursday.
By contrast, Russia had the highest level of electricity consumption this May compared to past years. And Russia has not yet withheld supplies of commodities but has insisted that gas be paid for via its gas for roubles scheme. But that’s also starting to change. When Putin received three calls last week from EU leaders about grain supplies, he had to disabuse them, with data, of the idea that the current wheat shortage was Russia’s fault. He did point out that Russia was having a bumper harvest and would be happy to help…if some of the economic sanctions were revoked.
Russia is also starting to engage in tit for tat. As Rev Kev pointed out yesterday:
Russia is starting to play hard ball. You don’t pay, you get nothing. I think that they call that capitalism. And I see that they are extending this into other fields now. So, ‘In April, the EU banned exports of semiconductors, machinery and other equipment worth €10 billion to Russia as part of the fifth package of sanctions.’ Russia has now said that they will be restricting the export of noble and other gases which will be subject to government approval, based on the recommendation of the Ministry of Industry and Trade. As a reminder-
‘Noble or inert gases, such as neon, argon, xenon, and others, are crucial to the semiconductor manufacturing process. Semiconductors are used to make the microchips needed to make gadgets, cars, and household appliances.’
So expect the chip shortage to get much worse.
Needless to say, most observers who don’t suffer from Putin Derangement Syndrome (and even some who do) expect food shortages and energy prices to get much worse come the fall and winter. Many in the Global South and some in Europe will go hungry.
So the Guardian get credit for admitting that Russia is winning the economic war – and Putin is no closer to withdrawing troops. However, economic editor Larry Elliott’s contains a lot of hand wringing and falsehoods, like the claim that Putin “weaponized” food. But notice that his closing section calls only for “a deal” not a rollback of sanctions. And it’s the sanctions that are hurting the collective West:
If proof were needed that sanctions are not working, then President Joe Biden’s decision to supply Ukraine with advanced rocket systems provides it. The hope is that modern military technology from the US will achieve what energy bans and the seizure of Russian assets have so far failed to do: force Putin to withdraw his troops.
Complete defeat for Putin on the battlefield is one way the war could end, although as things stand that doesn’t appear all that likely. There are other possible outcomes. One is that the economic blockade eventually works, with ever-tougher sanctions forcing Russia to back down. Another is a negotiated settlement.
Putin is not going to surrender unconditionally, and the potential for severe collateral damage from the economic war is obvious: falling living standards in developed countries; famine, food riots and a debt crisis in the developing world.
The atrocities committed by Russian troops mean compromising with the Kremlin is currently hard to swallow, but economic reality suggests only one thing: sooner or later a deal will be struck.
Perhaps Elliott didn’t want to stick his neck out too far by saying ending at least some of the sanctions would be necessary. But the failure to call for that means that politicians with no skin in the game like Ursuala von der Leyen will continue trying to escalate. It doesn’t matter that it isn’t working. These officials have convinced themselves that eyepoking the evil Putin will bring down Russia. They need to heed the oracle’s warning to to Croesus: that if he attacked the Persians, he would destroy a great empire. That empire was his own.