Some Implications of the UN’s Ukraine Grain and Russia Fertilizer/Food Agreements

Since the battlefield action in Ukraine has slowed down a tad as Russia has been rotating troops and allegedly moving in more materiel, the big news story has been the UN success in consummating two deals. The one much talked about is coming up with a process for getting grain supposedly stuck in the Ukraine ports shipped out. The text for “Initiative for the Safe Transportation of Grain and Food Products from Ukrainian Ports” is embedded at the end of this post.

The second agreement, which has gotten very little attention, is that of the UN committing to “facilitate the unimpeded exports to world markets of Russian food and fertilizer.” This goes well beyond the process established for transport of grain out of Ukraine. To work, several elements of the current sanctions against Russia and Belarus would need to be unwound. Since as we will explain, we doubt this will happen to the degree needed. If so, Russia will have succeeded in firmly establishing that blame for hunger resulting from reduced shipments of its fertilizer and food will lay squarely with the so-called Collective West.

More generally, these two agreements illustrate the fix that the US, Europe, and their Asian allies have gotten themselves into, by throwing massive economic sanctions at a country that is a major player in way too many commodities they can’t live without, from oil and gas to aluminum, titanium, neon, wheat…to nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium fertilizers. They believed they could break Russia’s economy and use the resulting chaos to resume 1990s-style looting, either by splitting up the country or installing Yeltsin 2.0.

Instead, Russia is recovering from the sanctions body blow, although some sectors like auto parts are still in a great deal of pain, while the difficulties the West is experiencing, particularly politically destabilizing inflation in food and fuel, and potentially even shortages, are set to get worse.

So far, the sanctions bosses have been unwilling to roll back their programs, no matter how clear it becomes that they are hurting the US and its allies more than Russia. Instead, the West remains firmly committed to trying to increase the Russia punishments, even when they’ve run out of measures that have any teeth, as the EU’s new, seventh round of sanctions shows.

And the sanctions cheating they’ve allowed hasn’t done much to mitigate the damage. For instance, Europe playing along with Poland’s posturing that it isn’t buying Russian gas has just hurt Europe. Poland is buying Russian gas, laundered through Germany, backflowed through the Yamal-Europe pipeline. But Russia reduced Europe’s supply to reflect Poland no longer making direct purchases, so Europe is having to make do with less gas. Similarly, who is kidding whom with Russia selling discounted oil to India, which then makes its way back to buyers in Europe that pretend they are on a Russian oil fast?

One of the big issues is that the US and its allies have made the anti-Russia programming so loud and pervasive that they are now caught in their own narrative. They would perceive it as too much of a loss of face to roll back sanctions, even counterproductive ones. And they’ve made companies correctly afraid of being seen as giving succor to the enemy. They worry that they are exposed not just to secondary sanctions but also to reputational damage. That is why, for instance, so many Western companies pulled out of Russia right after the special military operation started even though most weren’t required by sanctions to do so.

Ukraine Grain and Odessa

Ukraine may have outfoxed itself on its “dastardly Russians are starving the world by blockading Ukraine ports” falsehood. As we reminded readers repeatedly, Russia was never blockading Ukraine ports. It had established humanitarian corridors. But those did not extend into Ukraine territorial waters, particularly the ports, so ships could not leave. Ukraine had mined the ports, and badly, so that some mines had broken free and floated into Turkish waters. More detail from Moon of Alabama in May (emphasis original):

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has published reports about the Maritime Security and Safety in the Black Sea and Sea of Azov:

…The Russian Federation has informed IMO that it had established a humanitarian corridor, to provide for the safe evacuation of ships once outside the territorial waters of the Ukraine. Despite this initiative, there remain many safety and security issues which hamper access to the corridor and the ability for ships to depart from their berth in Ukrainian ports.Ukraine’s ports are at MARSEC (maritime security) level 3 and remain closed for entry and exit. Sea mines have been laid in port approaches and some port exits are blocked by sunken barges and cranes. Many ships no longer have sufficient crew onboard to sail.

Ukraine also provided their preconditions for the safe evacuation of ships from their ports. These include an end to hostilities, the withdrawal of troops and ensuring the freedom of navigation in the Black Sea and Sea of Azov, including carrying out mine-sweeping activities with the involvement of Black Sea littoral states.

The MARSEC level of a port is determined by the local authorities. Ukraine is simply prohibiting ships from entering or leaving the ports it controls. It has taken these hostage and makes unreasonable demands for their release.

So this blockade was Ukrainian blockade. Ukraine kept insisting it didn’t want the ports demined since Russia could then attack Odessa by sea.

However, as Putin repeatedly pointed out, the Ukraine grain could easily have been shipped out by rail (Putin listed the avenues) and in any event, it was not a hugely consequential amount in world terms. However, and predictably, the New York Times told a bunch of howlers, such as greatly exaggerating the amount of grain at issue, as Moon of Alabama described in a post over the weekend.

So if Ukraine wanted to feed the world and keep the Odessa port mined, it should have arranged to transport the wheat by rail. But Ukraine preferred to keep harping on about the phony Russian blockade. So now the ports (Odessa, Chernomorsk, and Yuzhny) will be cleared sufficiently so that commercial ships can operate safely. Ukraine may have won the PR battle but at the cost of having these ports at least partly demined…with a deal that is on only 120 days, albeit subject to renewal. Since military ships, aircraft, and drones are all required to stay a certain distance away from the shipping corridors, Ukraine won’t have time to remine at the end of the 120 days, if Russia decides to let the pact expire, without risking a port battle.

Moreover, Russia took Mariupol, which also had a mined port and the supposedly most hardened Ukrainian fighters, the Azov Battalion, holed up in what so far has been Ukraine’s most formidable bunker, the Azovstal steel works. So while Russia would no doubt like maximum flexibility in how it decided to take Odessa, the Mariupol precedent suggests Russia does not need to land forces from the sea to prevail.

As you can see below, the ships will be checked for “unauthorized cargoes and personnel”. I have to confess it had not occurred to me that the vessels could serve to smuggle Right Sector goons out or CIA/NATO operatives in.

The Western media had another round of aghastitude Sunday morning when Russia shelled Odessa, as if it had immediately violated the pact. Russia said it hit military targets, including a cache of Harpoon missiles.1 And this is entirely kosher. From the first page of the text, under C:

The Parties will not undertake any attacks against merchant vessels and other civilian vessels and port facilities engaged in this Initiative.

From FNA:

The Russian Navy’s strike on the port in Odessa destroyed a docked Ukrainian warship, as well as a warehouse where naval Harpoon missiles, supplied by the US, were stored, the Russian Defense Ministry stated.

The ministry added that ship-based long-range precision missiles were used to strike these targets, Sputnik reported.

In addition to destroying the unspecified military vessel and the warehouse, the Russian strike destroyed a plant located at the port, which Ukraine used to modify and repair its warships, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

While the Defense Ministry did not elaborate on the type of warship that had been destroyed by the strike, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova specified that it was a fast attack craft.

The Harpoon missiles stored in the warehouse levelled by the Russian strike are manufactured by the US defense industry giant Boeing, and were supplied by Washington along with other weaponry.

Maritime sites point out that continued shelling in the Odessa port may make it difficult to get insurance coverage. The net effect may be that the ~70 ships in the Odessa port leave but no new ones come in.

In the meantime, what does the grain deal mean for the future of the war? I suspect less than many assume. First, Ukraine may be itching for an excuse to cancel the deal and not have the Odessa port demined. So despite Russia so far sticking to the letter of the deal, it making clear that it won’t allow Ukraine war operations to hide behind it may be more than the US will countenance.

Second, some speculated that Russia will wait until after the 120 days of the grain deal before it attacks Odessa. It looks instead like Russia will make its assault when Russia is ready. Russia first has to clear Donbass. Most commentators think it will take a big push to clear first the Izyum-Bahmut areas, and then Slaviansk and Kramatorsk. Russia will also need to rout the areas where the Ukraine operations that are shelling Donetsk (the city) are located, if they are still in place after Donetsk (the oblast) is cleared.

After that, to the east, there are no major fortified positions till the Dnieper. The Military Summary channel and other have reported that Russia has formed an “Odessa battalion” of Ukraine nationals from Kherson and other Russian-occupied territory. Yesterday, Military Summary claimed (see starting at 2:54) that 16 additional volunteer battalions are in the process of being formed, and trained to work with Iranian drones. The last detail seems odd and potentially diversionary.

It appears that the point of these units is to blunt the appearance that Russia is an occupying force. Presumably, Russia would screen for anyone with military or police experience, and use them in a more advanced capacity than raw recruits. The last thing Russia would want to do is treat these men the way Ukraine has its Territorial Defense forces, as cannon fodder. Thus I am not sure, contrary to the implicit assumption in Military Summary’s talk, that they would serve as front line fighters. There are plenty of important roles in the military, such as logistics and medics, that don’t entail using a gun.

So for the next phase of the war, it seems reasonable to assume Russia will put off dealing with Kiev as long as possible. It’s a big sprawling city. Better to wait and see if the government collapses as Russia takes more of the east and secures the Black Sea coast.2

As far as Odessa is concerned, there’s no reason to think this pact would stop Russia from starting its operations against the city if it were otherwise ready. Russia would simply need to hold back from the grain-related operations and docks.

Getting Russian Fertilizer and Food to Market

The UN commitment to Russia to help resume deliveries of its fertilizers and food, particularly to the Global South, has the potential to cause trouble for the US and EU, since they will need to loosen their sanctions to facilitate this trade. Of course, the Western press is likely to under-report any such failure, but it would solidify the emerging Russia-China-India-Global South alliance versus the developed North.

From the UN:

An agreement was also reached with the Russian Federation on the scope of engagement of the United Nations to facilitate the unimpeded exports to world markets of Russian food and fertilizer – including the raw materials required to produce fertilizers. This agreement is based on the principle that measures imposed on the Russian Federation do not apply to these products.

Simultaneously, the Russian Federation has committed to facilitate the unimpeded export of food, sunflower oil and fertilizers from Ukrainian controlled Black Sea ports…

And to assist in reversing the turmoil in the global fertilizer market that is now threatening next season’s crops – including rice, the most widely consumed staple in the world.

The comprehensive agreements secured today in Istanbul are a big step forward in tackling the global food crisis now gripping the world.

They will provide much-needed relief to the most vulnerable people and countries.

The big problem, as far as the US and EU are concerned, is that their sanctions on Russian banks and ships have thrown a spanner in the works of Russian fertilizer and food trade. As All About Feed reported in June, after reciting how the sanctions prevented the fertilizer industry from importig equipment they needed to increase capacity:

Western restrictions have severely hampered the Russian and Belarusian fertilisers export, [Andrey] Guryev [head of the Russian Fertilizer Producers Association] said, suggesting that fertilisers must be recognised as humanitarian goods in order to mitigate a global food crisis.

“The problems that we, fertiliser producers in Russia, have faced are actually [come from] sectoral sanctions. The 4 largest companies operating in Russia, plus [Belarus fertilisers producer] Belaruskali, cannot fully supply their products to developing countries,” Guryev said, explaining that among other things Russian exporters experience problems with collecting payments for delivered goods stemming from the sanctions against the Russian banking sector.

If Russian and Belarussian fertilisers do not reach their customers, the 2022/23 grain harvest is likely to be in trouble, Guriev said. This would spark a tremendous food crisis, he added.

The lack of Russian fertilisers on the global market has not only caused a spike in prices but has also resulted in their shortage in some places around the world. Guriev estimated that sanctions have nearly halved Russian fertilisers export….

Russian fertiliser producers have been struggling to rebuild logistics, re-directing trade to the railway and small ships, as large sea cargo carriers have suspended calling the Russian sea ports.

In an early June meeting with Putin, African Union Chairperson, President of Senegal Macky Sall cited the sanctions against Russia as wreaking havoc with food and fertilizer imports:

I have arrived today to say that the countries that are so far away from the hotbed of the conflict are still experiencing its consequences.

Anti-Russia sanctions have made this situation worse and now we do not have access to grain from Russia, primarily to wheat. And, most importantly, we do not have access to fertiliser. The situation was bad and now it has become worse, creating a threat to food security in Africa.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in a speech before the Arab League over the weekend, discussed how sanctions had restricted Russia’s food and fertilizer exports:

One fake story, which I would like to mention here, which is important to this region is the so-called world food crisis, which is being blamed bluntly unconditionally on Russia as if the food crisis started on the day when we launched our special military operation in Ukraine. If anybody wants to be objective, they could read statistics from the World Food Program, from the Food and Agriculture Organization, which describes the difficulties in the food market beginning with coronavirus pandemic…

And yes, the crisis was aggravated by the illegal Western sanctions against the Russian Federation. They were trying to pretend that sanctions do not cover grain food and fertilizers. If you just take a look at the list of sanctions, you will see that, yes, food was exempted, but what was not exempted was the possibility for the Russian ships to call on the Mediterranean ports as well as the possibility of foreign ships to call on the Russian ports to take grain and other food cargos. What was not exempted, either, was the insurance of the Russian supplies of grain and what was not exempted was the payment mechanisms, which were under sanctions. And this lie has been repeated again and gain only to culminate in a deal which was eventually signed in Istanbul on the 22nd of July. It obliged the Secretary General of the United Nations, who initiated the process, to persuade and to get the decision from the Western countries to lift all those limitations, which I listed, and to stop preventing the Russian grain from being delivered to the buyers.

The Treasury issued a fact sheet dated July 14, OFAC Food Security Fact Sheet: Russia Sanctions and Agricultural Trade. I read it as consistent with Lavrov’s contention that all the US has done is handwave. The US and EU have refused to lift sanctions on any sanctioned Russian bank to engage in food, fertilizer, or medical trade. The US claims it has not barred insurance on the transport of agricultural commodities, but that language applies to the cargoes, not the ships (Lavrov may also be stating that Russian growers now have trouble buying commodities hedges for their crops….).

Regardless, as we stated early on, the intense and persistent demonization of Russia means that pretty much no commercial operator is going to take a chance with what the sanctions do or do not mean. They got the message: “Russia bad, very very bad!”

The only exceptions are likely to be businesses substantially dependent on Russia, so they have to make it work, or one that find dealing with Russia in their niche has become so lucrative that they are willing to risk getting in trouble.

Treasury merely saying, “Oh, no, you can trade with Russia in these categories” is going to change very few minds. The US would need to roll back sanctions, most visibly on Russian banks for the purpose of food-related trade, to start freeing up Russian fertilizer and food exports. I wouldn’t bet on that happening any time soon.


1 Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar initially said Russia denied the attack, when Russia had not made any statement. So did Russia tell a big fib, did Turkey make a bad assumption, or was something lost in translation?

2 Moon of Alabama pointed out that Russia will want to secure the Kryvyi Rih, a mineral-heavy area in the south and west of the Dnieper.

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  1. meddle

    > and trained to work with Iranian drones.
    > The last detail seems odd and potentially diversionary.
    The logic would be that there is no problem if Iranian drones fall into US/NATO hands, as they are reverse-engineered US tech. Russian military reportedly wants to keep its own high-tech out of US hands.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      It’s bizarre, as in implausible to state the only thing you are training 16 battalions of new recruits on is Iranian drones. It’s nonsensical. Ukraine has officially gotten a total of 37 Bayraktar drones. These are supposedly super magical game changing drones. In fact, they had no discernible impact. The last I heard, the Russian MoD claimed 48 Bayraktar drone kills, which suggests NATO or the UK sent a few in on the sly.

      There is no way that there will be enough new Iranian drones to busy 16 battalions.

      Having said this, I understand this was all gossip on Russian Telegram, no original source named. So this could also be the old game “telephone” in effect, that in the passing around/retelling, an original valid nugget got considerably distorted.

      Military Summary took the drone detail to = these troops will get a lot of training, it will be a while before they can be deployed.

      I think the reverse, Russia is going to put as many as they can in low-skill roles. The question is how and how many could be deployed that way. I look for those who know Russian military ops to opine. Russia has been very successful in horses for courses with very different units: its regularly military, the LPR and DPR forces, the Chechens, the Wagner group.

      1. Strontium-90

        The provision of Iranian drones in the active theatre of Ukraine is less about arming Russia than it is about providing Iran with the depth of combat and signals intelligence that would be required for a potential regional conflict.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Thanks for the clarification, but what I was reacting to was the claim that a full 16 battalions of brand new volunteers would be trained on them.

          1. ambrit

            Taking the standard Russian battalion strength as a guide, (600-800 personnel with 200 being infantrymen,) 16 battalions would end up as roughly 9,600 to 12,800 persons in all, or nearly a division’s worth of troops. That is fairly large for today, but not impossible. The Donbass had a population of roughly 6,300,000 as of 2021. Add in the Donbass Diaspors in neighbouring Russian oblasts and you can see that 16 battalions is doable. The main holdback, as you mentioned, is training time. I would suggest that “worn out” LPR and DPR units could be refit and renamed, but the Russians said “new” troops, so, who knows.
            As for the “drone training” aspect of all this, I observe that the Russians are using drones in both observational and offensive capacities. This might be an acknowledgement of a shift in Russian battle doctrine. Drones are now becoming the advance scouts of the main body of the troops, plus a long range striking group for same. For this, the Iranians are a natural choice for trainers. They reverse engineered American drones that they “took over” and landed at Iranian airbases a few years ago. This suggests a long term and sustained effort to master the use of drone technology. Also, Iran must still have some “institutional memory” of the Iran-Irak war of the 1980’s. That was, by all accounts, an extremely bloody exercise in positional warfare. Avoiding such a situation in future would be a natural desire for the Iranian High Command, thus, drone warfare. Keep the hand to hand fighting to a minimum and preserve your troops for better uses. “War at arm’s-length.”
            All the above goes to show that training in drone warfare is now an integral part of military training.
            I suspect that this was highlighted by the Russians as a sly propaganda dig at the West. “See, the Persians are now our buddies. Put that in your crack pipe and smoke it!”
            Stay safe.
            Russian battalion, see:

            1. Polar Socialist

              Minor correction: Russian battalion strength is 400 to 500 men, depending on the type of battalion. A Battalion Tactical Group would be 600 to 800 personnel, depending on the type of battalion and the attached supporting units.

              Given that 1,200 Crimean volunteers (many originally from Odessa region) are already participating in fights, 8,200 would be plausible number for 16 battalions.

              Not a huge force by itself, by if it’s strengthened by Russian special forces (marines and paratroopers) and especially artillery and aviation, it can probably match the performance of the LDNR militias – the front is much narrower in NIkolaev-Odessa direction.

              1. ambrit

                Ah, a semantic mistake. True that the Russians would be nuanced in their statements and say “Battalion Tactical Group” if that is what they meant. A BTG is considered a combined arms unit. What sub-units are dropped off to form a simple battalion? The armour, or engineers, perhaps the artillery?
                This will be interesting to watch. [Which is a chilling thing to say. It implies a Circus Maximus atmosphere where living breathing people are killed for the amusement of the crowd. *Sigh*]
                From ‘Gladiator,’ “Are you not entertained?” :

                1. The Rev Kev

                  Maybe those units are not dropped off. In the same way that every US Marine is supposed to be a rifleman (or was), maybe each soldier of a Battalion Tactical Group is supposed to be a rifleman as well.

                2. Polar Socialist

                  Well, it works something like this: a brigade has three battalions of infantry, an artillery battalion, an anti-tank company, an anti-aircraft company, an engineer company and signals company.

                  The brigade commander can then form three independent Battalion Tactical Groups by assigning each infantry battalion a relevant part of each of the artillery, anti-something and engineer units.

                  The next day the brigade may have a different task, and the commander changes the composition according to the requirements. A BTG is not a constant formation, and it’s never deployed separate from it’s “mother” brigade or division.

                  That’s pretty much Russian army has been training since the second Chechen war – a brigade has three maneuver elements capable of limited independent actions, but usually supporting each other under the shared plan of the brigade or division commander.

                  The actual point in this system is that all battalions in the Russian army train according to this system, and thus they can be subordinated to operate under any brigade or division with very little friction.

    2. begob

      I believe Mercouris’s view is that it’s more likely the Russians have arranged for drone warfare training by the Iranians, who apparently are more experienced in that area.

        1. Reaville

          The symbolism of Iran providing the Russians arms while also signing and executing trade and rail agreements is a pretty devastating reply to the US destruction of the nuclear agreement. In one stroke, a lot of US imperial bluff is laid bare and the GCC states will take note.

          So easy to break something like a treaty (if you like breaking things). So hard to build something. The BRICS are building an alternative to the US and its economic power. The tricky thing for the US is that the alternative cannot grow into a credible, practicing alternative. The main necessity of being the global super-power is “that there is no alternative.”

          Iran is the pin pricking the bubble. Only fast and clever footwork by the US will contain the damage. Not likely to happen with the talent level in our State Department, let alone in the executive. Strategy is a failed art in the US.

          1. Science Officer Smirnoff

            It would be useful for the Trump-Netanyahu foreign policy payoff (in breaking the nuclear deal) finds all its consequences in general publicity. And Biden’s non-restoration of the deal is comparably depicted.

      1. podcastkid

        “The Iranian drones that were imaged by U.S. satellites at Kashan air base — the Shahid-129 and Shahid-191 — are both derivatives of U.S. UAV technology, and do not in any way, shape, or form advance Russia’s demonstrated UAV prowess. The Russian drones are newer and more advanced than the drones alleged to have been demonstrated by Iran.”

        It’s a little off topic, but thought I was reading something about Russian drones that jam the other day. Now I can’t find it, and can only find this

        I picture HIMARS rockets getting GPS coordinates uploaded at the last minute, but I’m wondering if they’re capable of “re-checking” in flight after they get through an area where there’s a heavy jamming signal.

  2. Stephen

    Thank you. It seriously had not occurred to me that the part of the deal relating to Russian food and fertiliser may have very real little effect.

    But your argument as to how commercial operators will respond feels spot on. Very few players will want to run the risk of being accused of aiding Russia by a US / EU that may even be itching to go after “sanctions evaders” as a projection for their inability to get their way. I would want a signed letter or indemnity of some form from the Foreign Office for whatever I was doing. Case by case. As cover. Cannot see too many of these being issued.

    I guess you are aware of the latest Gonzalo Lira Round Table last night with Pepe Escobar, Alex Christoforou and iEarl Grey. As you have commented before, videos are quite a slow way to consume content. This one though made some interesting points on the wider context and the apparently joined up diplomacy that Russia is now practising with Iran and other neighbours.

    Of course, the dice that Russia is rolling were not all part of some predesigned master plan but Lavrov et al do seem to be moving adroitly. Instead, western leaders such as Johnson seem keener to play at being soldiers in combat fatigues. Dealing with the mess they have created is probably just too taxing. Gonzalo Lira did use the description “adults” I recall. He was not referring to western leaders.

    Much of the interaction was entertaining too! Had not seen Pepe Escobar on screen before, only his writings. It was definitely a lively session!

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Look at how Gazprom insisted on that sort of paperwork in getting its globe-trotting compressor back:

      Siemens Energy handed over Canadian documentation to Russian gas giant Gazprom on Sunday which would allow the transport of turbines for the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline, Russia’s Kommersant newspaper reported….

      Gazprom said on Friday that it still had not obtained necessary documentation from Siemens Energy confirming the exemption from European Union and Canadian sanctions for a key turbine for the pipeline to be returned to Nord Stream’s Portovaya compressor station. The turbine had been sent to Canada for repairs.

      I don’t think they were trying to foot-drag, since Russia had offered repeatedly to open up Nord Stream 2 to assure EU supply while the part was being repaired. It appeared Gazprom thought there was a possibility someone could use the return of the part as an excuse for yet more mischief v. Gazprom.

      1. Stephen

        Thanks for the response. Fully agree. If I were Gazprom I would have done the same. The way that the west tried to spin all this as Russia playing games with energy just summed up the unwillingness of corporate media to question anything they are being told.

        I can also just see the scenario in any company where an executive is now thinking of working with Russia to help facilitate exports of food.

        “Let’s ask our internal legal counsel for advice.” Answer: not clear.

        “Now let’s engage external counsel”. Lots of fees incurred but the answer will end up the same.

        “Now let’s seek a legal letter from whatever government department we think is relevant”. They will hedge, then consult with other departments, allies, more lawyers. Avoid responding.

        Even if they give definitive guidance is it sufficiently case specific and, of course, it is really only one country’s view.

        Will the US or EU then still apply extra territorial jurisdiction and will my government defend me?

        Am sure I missed some steps but hard to see any in house counsel in any form of corporate entity signing off. Or any executive who has other revenue streams even starting down this path.

        Perhaps there is an opportunity for some risk seeking buccaneer network to make money here. But at some point any transaction will interact with established corporates in one form or another with potential for it to fall apart with legal risk and a high chance of losing lots of money

        1. ChrisRUEcon

          > the unwillingness of corporate media to question anything they are being told

          I would posit that they’re not there to question … ;-) They are there to disseminate disinformation.

        2. Lambert Strether

          > some risk seeking buccaneer network to make money here.

          “We’re going to Greece!”

          “And swim the English Channel?” <-- to where the underwriters are....

  3. Egidijus

    By the fact, Russia and Turkey have divided the whole Black Sea between themselves. No more sea room for Ukraine, literally. Which means, NATO influence is also limited now.

    1. Roland

      But Turkey is NATO.

      Erdogan may be the sole rational actor in the Western bloc, but Turkey is not Russia’s friend. Remember the two countries nearly went to war over Idlib a couple of years ago. The incident of March 2020 was perhaps the only deliberate, acknowledged, exchange of hostile fire that has ever taken place between the regular ground forces of Russia and a NATO country.

      What the hour’s Russo-Turkish cooperation shows is nothing more than the old art of diplomacy. That something so normal should seem so unusual is evidence of how dangerous the world situation has become.

      Western elites hate Erdogan, just less than they hate Putin. Our elites, obsessed with their hatreds, might the wreck the world, sooner than see reason. They wouldn’t be the first elites in history to do something like that.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Turkey needs Russian wheat and fertilizer. The county is already suffering destabilizing high inflation bordering on hyperinflation.

        And Erdogan is mad at NATO for trying to string him along on letting Finland and Sweden. Finland and Sweden made promises about extraditing Kurdish militants that they’ve already made cleare they don’t intend to honor, and ditto re the US and aircraft parts (the F-16?). For them to join, Turkey’s parliament would have to approve. Erdogan has made clear that he won’t put the question to parliament unless he gets his goodies.

        So if Erdogan is in power, I expect him to be somewhat helpful to Russia for a whole bunch of reasons, even if they are at odds over Syria.

  4. JohnA

    One other possible advantage for Russia is that it may help refute Zelensky’s hysterical claims/lies that the grain being shipped by Russia has been stolen from Ukraine.

    1. Lex

      It won’t because Zelensky’s statements refer to grain from Crimea, Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, etc. He considers that to be Ukraine’s grain.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        That is another bit of PR spin that is accepted uncritically.

        Since when did contemporary Ukraine have collective farms?

        This is not and never was “Ukraine’s grain”.

        It is the grain of farmers.

        If Russia is making sure the farmers are being paid properly when their grain goes to market, it is not being stolen. I have yet to hear anyone allege that farmers have been cheated.

        1. Michael Ismoe

          Are you sure about who owns this grain? I have read – who the hell knows where anymore – that the revenue for the grain will be used to purchase more weapons from Europe. Small farmers don’t need arms, governments do. I assume the Russians just don’t care anymore. They are on their own internal clock and seem to be impervious to whatever these guys cook up.

          1. Grebo

            The farmers (or middlemen) will get paid in dollars or euros. They will exchange them for hryvnias at the central bank (ultimately). Those dollars/euros are then available for the Kiev government to buy weapons with. But not if the farmers exchange them for rubles instead.

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              The central government is not buying any weapons.

              The US government is funding the Ukraine budget in full, as we did in Afghanistan. That’s why the support package numbers are so big. Not much for new weapons, most for replenishing the stocks of NATO members who gave weapons + budget funding + $ to friendly NGOs, as in other operatives.

              Oh, and Ukraine is supposedly “buying” weapons via Lend Lease too. Not sure how that interacts with $6 billion of weapons in the $40 billion package.

              So the idea the grain sales would support Ukraine warmaking is yet another canard. That operation is 100% on the US tab.

        2. Lex

          Exactly. And as long as the Ukrainian farmers are getting paid (hopefully Russia finds a way to pay them for all the fields the Ukrainians have been purposefully burning) then no grain is stolen.

          1. Polar Socialist

            In Ukraine under Russian control (not LNR or DNR, they have their own system) the temporary administration is allegedly trying to cut trough all possible legalese to get the harvest going and to enable the farmers to sell their stores in Rostov-on-Don wholesale agriculture markets to domestic and foreign grain import companies. Also Russian military is clearing mines from the fields and distributing diesel oil to the farmers.

            Probably not a perfect system, since they are winging it, and I’m sure there are many willing/unneeded intermediaries taking their unfair share. On the other hand, Kherson area does have working irrigation system again, and in general the price for fuel and fertilizer have gone down to Russian levels instead of Ukrainian hyper-inflated prices.

            1. Brunches with Cats

              Thanks for this info, PS. Didn’t see it before leaving fuel-related comment below, was furiously trying to wrap up longer posts. Did try later to leave you a TY, and of course that’s the one that got zapped into oblivion (maybe Skynet will burp it up at some point). Anyway, if you have any links, I sure could use them for my fact files.

        3. Brunches with Cats

          > It is the grain of farmers.

          In all the reading I’ve done on this topic, I’ve come across very few accusations that the Russians are stealing grain out of the fields. They are taking it from storage facilities, whether regional or at the point of shipping. By then, the farmer has been paid, whether “fairly” or not, and is out of the loop. So who does it belong to? I concede to not knowing enough about grain contracts, in Ukraine or elsewhere, to know whether it’s bought and paid for before it leaves port or by whom — in other words, who owns it until it gets to its ultimate destination.

          I did come across a claim by an agribusiness with 92,000 hectares near Marioupol that Russians stole its grain and seized equipment. It’s one of Akhmetov’s companies, so hard to know how much is true, but here’s what the CEO said (grammatical errors presumably due to translation):

          … “My fields are occupied by a Russian, and they started to steal everything. And in this territory, we lost all machinery, grain. I’m not sure if they want to work in this area, but I’m pretty sure that this area cannot produce any grain for quite a long time. … ~ Dmitry Skornyakov, CEO HarvEast.

          Given the land ownership situation in Ukraine, even grain grown on their land might not ever have belonged to the farmers. Those with acreage beyond mere subsistence can make more money leasing it to large agribusinesses, who manage the planting, harvesting, and storage.

          There also are state-owned lands and community-owned lands in Ukraine. How much of it is leased for agriculture is another question I haven’t researched. We do know that the government stockpiles grain, in which case it fits your literal definition of “Ukraine’s grain,” and presumably some of it is in Russian occupied territories. If the Russians seized any of it for export, then pro-Ukrainian factions naturally would regard it as theft, while Russia would consider it theirs.

          1. Polar Socialist

            I saw a claim that most Ukrainian farmers either rent the machines, or pay companies with machines, to do the harvest – and since the harvest starts from south and ends in the north, most of the equipment is in the Sumy-Kiev region and unavailable in Russian occupied regions.

            So they have leased harvesters from Rostov oblast in Russia, and are getting spares for old Soviet era harvesters to make them running again.

            In a situation like this, both cases can be true at the same time, though.

            I do doubt there’s any state or community fields left in Ukraine after rampant looting and neoliberalism. But I’m willing to be proven wrong.

              1. Polar Socialist

                Thank you, I stand corrected.

                I did read the presidential declaration about this, and it was very vague about the 750,000 ha being agricultural land – it did mention state parks, prison patches and university plots, though.

            1. Brunches with Cats

              As for getting harvesting equipment from Russia, that’s all well and good, but they still have to pay for the diesel — if they can get it at all. Accusations that the Russians are forcing farmers to accept lower-than-market prices for their crops — and I’ve see a few — are countered with arguments that it’s not the Russians, but conditions created by Western sanctions that are forcing farmers to take whatever they can get, just to keep their crops from rotting in the fields. Besides that, there’s apparently a significant grain surplus from last year’s harvest that hasn’t been able to reach export markets.

              OK, I’ve really got to bail now — taking care of a sick kitty, have to get to the vet before they close, and somehow find time for a shower.

          2. Brunches with Cats

            BTW, the land market in Ukraine is something we really need to be watching. There’s a huge shakeup happening right under our noses while we wade through prop–a and count HIMAR hits. Many owners of small family farms could be dispossessed of their lands, while wealthy agribusiness owners will consolidate their holdings, with backing by the EU development banks, US government, and PE. Zelensky has played a central role, receiving his marching orders and following them to the letter — in the process starting a war with the thuggish oligarch who bankrolled his election (and who will be among my top suspects if Z is taken out).

            A land reform package that Zelensky pushed through the Verkhovna RADA in March 2020 includes provisions for lessees of farmland to get first dibs on purchase if and when the owners decide to sell. It also sets out a timeframe for who can buy land and how much. To date, the law limits purchase of farm land to Ukrainians and businesses owned by Ukrainians. Zelensky left foreign ownership for a future referendum — and we can guess how that’s going to go, despite opposition by 80% of the public. So, more than likely, the multinational ag conglomerates will be able to buy up Ukraine farmland — some of the most fertile in the world — starting in 2024.

            Further complicating matters, Ukraine is operating under martial law, decreed by Zelensky on Feb. 24, which allows for localized temporary military administrations that can seize property. The process for getting it back after martial law is lifted sounds like a nightmare — going to court, paying a lawyer, hoping the judge hasn’t been bribed (good luck with that).

            As if that’s not enough, there’s a question of who owns some of the lands. Sources on all sides of the issue estimate that less than 75 percent of Ukraine’s farm land is registered in the national cadastre. This was on the reform to-do list before the Russian invasion, but it’s been suspended under martial law.

            1. Lex

              One of the major issues with the original EU package was that it opened Ukrainian agriculture to both oligarch and foreign purchasers. Ukraine had a law about maximum holdings of farmlands. As late as Jan/Feb of 22, the Ukrainian nationalists parties were still strongly opposed to changing that law. The limit on land holdings also creates a situation where no one person is going to be able to manage the large ag machinery. Russia’s buildout of its ag sector is partially based on having a national corporation that owns and maintains the large equipment. This really is a good thing, because it doesn’t force farmers into get massive or go home. It appears that Ukraine may have handled it similarly, though from your link those harvesting/processing groups may have been private concerns (and in Ukraine that means oligarch concerns). Unless the big ag concern didn’t pay Ukrainian farmers for harvests until after they sold the grain on, the Russians “stole” it from a private company rather than Ukrainian farmers.

              1. Brunches with Cats

                The nationalists can protest all they want. The law is a done deal. It took effect on July 1, 2021, and land sales have proceeded according to the timetable set out in the law.

                Currently, Ukrainians — individuals only — can buy up to 100 hectares (about 250 acres). In January 2024, the limit goes up to 10,000 hectares — close to 25,000 acres — and businesses owned by Ukrainian nationals also will be able to buy that much. Sure, it’s “limited,” but that’s a lot of land for one person or company, and there are multiple ways to get around it. The debate is ongoing about whether to open the market to foreign companies. Do we have any doubt how that’s going to turn out?

                Meanwhile, large agribusinesses, both Ukrainian and foreign, have gotten around the moratorium by leasing the land. There’s no limit on how much they can lease, so if they want to plant 100,000 acres in a given area, they can access it via multiple leases. And since there’s no equivalent limits on industrial real estate, they can buy nearby land for their storage and shipping facilities, processing plants, warehouses, etc. Meanwhile, the law gives them first dibs when the leased land goes up for sale. If I’m not mistaken, it also requires new owners to honor existing leases. So, while making a big deal about how this new law favors family farms, blahblahblah, it puts small farmers at a clear disadvantage. And that was even before martial law was declared.

                On a related note, I just read that the grain elevators and a port “near Odessa” is majority owned by Cargill. Yep. And Cargill was one of several ag companies that didn’t leave Russia following U.S. sanctions (for reasons Yves explains toward the end of her post). That raises all kinds of interesting questions, don’t you think?

                1. Sibiryak

                  FWIW I was just watching Russia’s pro-government Channel 1–they were discussing this article and similar reports:

                  Three Large American Multinationals Bought 17 Million Hectares of Ukrainian Agricultural Land

                  These are Cargill, Dupont and Monsanto (which is officially German-Australian but with American capital). Five percent of Ukrainian agricultural land was subsequently purchased by the Chinese state. For comparison, the whole of Italy has 16.7 million hectares of agricultural land.

                  In short, three American companies bought more useful agricultural land in Ukraine than the whole of Italy.

                  Among the main shareholders of these three companies are Vanguard, Blackrock, Blackstone.

                  1. Brunches with Cats

                    Thanks for the link. Wasn’t able to read the whole article due to the paywall, but don’t think this is right, even though I’ve seen other articles making the same claim. I could be wrong — this is a huge and convoluted topic — but I think they’re confusing purchase with leasing. As far as I’ve been able to tell, there have been no open markets for farmland in Ukraine until last year. That said, due to the size of these companies, they are able to exert undue influence and to intimidate the farmers whose land they are leasing. More importantly, they are in a position to buy up all of those lands when the market is opened to foreigners, which it most likely will.

                    Otherwise, there’s speculation that some of the oligarchs got farm land illegally, likely through corrupt government officials who transferred state-owned lands to them, as significant acreage has mysteriously disappeared from the state-owned land register. Whether they were able to sell any of it to foreigners under the table, I don’t know. You’d think someone would have noticed by now if they had, but this being Ukraine …

                2. Sibiryak

                  Corporate Takeover of Ukrainian Agriculture December 2014 (pdf)


                  In Walking on The West Side: The World Bank and the IMF in the Ukraine Conflict , a report released in July 2014 , the Oakland Institute exposed how international financial institutions swooped in on the heels of the political upheaval in Ukraine to deregulate and throw open the nation’s vast agricultural sector to foreign corporations.

                  This fact sheet provides details on the transnational agribusinesses that are increasingly investing in Ukraine, including Monsanto, Cargill, And Dupont, and how corporations are taking over all aspects of Ukraine’s agricultural system. This includes circumventing land moratoriums, investing in seed and input production facilities, and acquiring commodity production, processing, and transportation facilities.

                  * * * *


                  On October 9, 2014, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) announced that it had ten private agri-businesses willing to invest $1 billion in the coming year in Ukrainian agriculture as part of a newly created Private Sector Action Plan.52 The EBRD’s press release noted that these investments would require several changes to regulation relating to taxes, import and export laws, and land sales.53

                  Calls for such regulatory changes have been made before by many other investors. In January 2014, a meeting took place between Ukrainian officials and representatives from twenty large German agribusinesses. News reports noted that these companies felt it was “necessary to simplify doing business in Ukraine.”54 This specifically referred to issues such as taxation, VAT refunds, the ongoing land moratorium, and genetic modification.

                  Likewise, in June 2011, Cargill CEO Greg Page stated that Ukraine is a “great place for the world to grow more food. But all the gifts that nature provides can be undone with bad policies.”55

                  The EBRD and other international financial institutions argue that regulatory changes and tax breaks for agribusinesses will increase investments and stimulate economic growth.

                  However, it is unclear how foreign investments in agriculture aided by such measures will improve Ukraine’s economy and people’s standard of living and not just the interests of large-scale agribusinesses abroad.

            2. Lambert Strether

              > more than likely, the multinational ag conglomerates will be able to buy up Ukraine farmland — some of the most fertile in the world — starting in 2024.

              One more reason to go all the way to the Dneiper.

  5. David

    As regards the sixteen battalions and the drones, there are a couple of practical advantages. One is that among the volunteer battalions there may be natives of particular towns and cities on the Russian line of advance. It’s one thing to use drone imagery to target military assets, but another to orient yourself, as you’ll know if you’ve ever looked out of an aircraft window down at a city you thought you were familiar with. I can see a useful, if minor, role for native Ukrainians there.
    The other, of course, is propaganda. You’d have Ukrainian forces, commanded by Ukrainians, ready to take over control and administration of captured towns – ultimately, perhaps, taking the surrender in Odessa. This would be derided by the West, but would be impressive in the eyes of much of the rest of the planet.

    1. The Rev Kev

      I thought that I heard a figure of about 7,000 of the new Odessa formations have been serving in the Donbass militias the past eight years where they became battle-hardened veterans. So of course they will serve alongside the Russians in their advance west but more to the point, after the war they will become the new armed forces of the newly liberated areas. And as they are from there and know the people, they should be able to help keep those territories secure from Ukrainian assassins and saboteurs.

  6. Lex

    Thank you, Yves. Excellent summation. The Russian ag products part of the deal is the real deal, and I wonder if the Odessa portion is mostly cover for the west. The real question is whether the US/UKUkraine can go that long without trying to smuggle weapons. The axis of incompetence makes bad decisions.

    Lot of homecomings shown on Russian telegram channels which suggests that the rotation is about complete. Some unverified rumors that there was an offer from Russia which expires (expired) right about now.

    Originally I thought phases would be pretty strictly sequenced and nothing would happen before the full liberation of DPR/LPR. Now I’m not so sure. All the Ukrainian talk about a big counteroffensive in Kherson may hint at Russian offensive, as does Ukraine’s significant attempts at destroying major bridges (usually you don’t blow up bridges in front of you unless the River they span is your final goal).

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      One of Ukraine’s regular spokescritters claimed 2 days ago that Ukraine had succeeded in capturing 2000 Russian soldiers in Kherson. He walked it back the next day.

      IMHO the talk of the Kherson offensive is necessary because it’s been promised for so long. They can keep this spin up through August. Then they need a new story. This is all hopium to keep Western weapons, and even more important, US funding of the Ukraine government going.

      As Jacob Dreizen said, Ukraine has never had a successful offensive. Ever. As in back to 2014. The most they have done is make small tactical gains they then give up.

      1. Tom Stone

        Those weapons have a cash value and the “Experimental” and Prototype weapons Zelensky specifically asked for will have a higher price.
        Of course they want more.

  7. The Rev Kev

    I think that we have to look at these agreements in a larger context so I am going to say it here. Russia has won. And I don’t mean just these wonky ports. So let’s look further afield. Norway had to back off from trying to get rid of that Russian settlement in Svalbard. The EU ordered Lithuania to back off in their attempt to cut off Kaliningrad. Biden is letting Russian food and fertilizers into the US on the quite the past coupla weeks. The three-port agreement will now put lie to how Russia is trying to starve the world – which none of the developing world believed for a moment. And more importantly, the separate agreement sounds like that it will remove restrictions on the exportation of Russian & Belarus food and fertilizer to the world – which also includes the EU. And I have heard the the west will allow aircraft parts to go to Russia for their aircraft. Maybe the Russians said that if the west did not do that, then no more titanium for them which you can’t build aircraft without.

    Militarily, it is the beginning of the end. The Russians will soon be breaking through the last lines of defence in the Donbass and after that, it is all cow country. And that means that we will probably see a war of maneuver as we see them strike other regions. I asked the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation where that would be but all they replied back was ‘Nyet!’ August, I think that we will find, will be a very, ahem, kinetic month. Then maybe this war can finally be wound down before too many more lives be lost. Those wonder weapons never changed the equation and just led to more Ukrainians getting killed. And now some examples of those western weapons systems are now in Russia being examined minutely.

    Of course I would guess that the EU has the date Friday, 23rd September on their calendar noted in red. Why that date? Because that is the first official day of autumn in Europe and they can’t stop the clock on that one. So the Ukraine project has failed and spectacularly. Unless the EU can find a way out, they will essentially de-industrialize themselves through their own sanctions thus rendering Europe as an irrelevant peninsular attached to the world mainland. Governments have already started to fall because they bolted themselves to the Ukraine Project and Boris was the most noted one (he is apparently planning to visit his buddy big Z on the Ukraine in his last few days in power). The EU thinks that they can do whatever they want but I think that they will be in for a rude awakening in the coming months.

    As for the west, they have come up with a new idea to attack Russia. They are demanding that other countries not sign documents or have their photos taken with Russian diplomats. That is so pathetic that when Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with the Secretary General of the Arab League, he told photographers: “Guys, I’ve heard you shouldn’t take pictures of me.”

    1. Stephen

      The Russians are adults doing realpolitik.

      Western “leaders” are juveniles doing fakepolitik.

      The photo thing sums it up.

    2. elkern

      I’m skeptical of Russia’s ability to fight (and win) a “war of maneuver”.

      In the first month, they tried that: tank columns advanced pretty far in several directions, paratroopers took airports around Kiev, etc, but they soon abandoned most of those areas. Perhaps those were all feints, maskirova designed to draw Ukranian forces away from the “real” battlefield in the East, but it’s also quite possible that Ukraine was prepared for those kinds of attacks and destroyed enough tanks to convince Russia to give up on any idea of quickly surrounding Kiev. I’d bet that the training & weapons Ukraine got from US & NATO were largely focused on repelling Russian mobile forces, because that’s what NATO was built to fight (remember the Fulda Gap?).

      Since then, Russia offensives have been slow & grinding. Artillery pounds Ukranian/Azov defensive positions, Infantry and Armor roll in to secure the new ground, then the Artillery moves up, rinse, repeat. That’s working just fine, but it’s slow.

      Russia’s next objective has to be clearing out the Donetsk Oblast, which is still mostly in Ukranian hands. If they stick with The Grind, that will take a while. It would make sense for them to try a more Blitz style attack – armored columns coming down from Izium & up from Polohy (or such) surrounding all Ukranian (& Azov) troops in Donetsk area in one big bite. But the defenders will prepare defenses against this, and they prolly still have plenty of [US/NATO] weapons capable of knocking out tanks.

      The next few weeks in Donetsk Oblast will show whether Russia can make the switch to a more mobile Wehrmacht-style warfare.

      1. Maxwell Johnston

        No, they won’t switch to Blitzkrieg. This is the first big war between two armies equipped with drones. What’s become clear is that drones, employed together w modern antitank and AA weapons (Javelins and Stingers) make Blitzkrieg impossible; the attacker simply takes too many losses. To their credit, RU learned this hard lesson and changed tactics. Now it’s back to slow but steady attrition warfare, with massive EW jamming the enemy’s drones, but necessitating your own troops staying under the protective umbrella of your EW. Race ahead of it a la Guderian or Rommel and you get droned. They will take their time, and there’s no hurry anyway as very day brings the EU one step closer to a very cold winter.

        But how RU handles western UKR (as well as Kiev and Dnipro which both sprawl inconveniently across the Dnieper)…..this I’m not ready to predict.

          1. Tom Stone

            Drones have just begun to change warfare, wait ’til a swarm turns a Ford class aircraft carrier into an uncomfortable cruise ship.
            Take out the elevators and that’s what you have,and that’s doable with tech that’s been covered in “Popular Mechanics” magazine.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          You are not up on what is happening.

          The reason for the grinding is the bunkering, not magical wunderwaffern.

          Russia has done very little signal jamming because the Ukrainians aren’t using much in the way of GPS dependent devices. This was reported by Andrei Martyanov a couple of days ago.

          Drones have yet to take out a single tank in this war. The Bayrakters were touted as able to do that and failed.

          It’s been repeatedly discussed that the Javelins were overhyped. Massive Javelin caches have been captured by the Russians because they have been virtually useless. Even when they work (many have bad battery packs), they jam a lot, plus it takes multiple dead on, like >4, to take out a tank. Apparently a lot of complaining about them on Ukraine Telegram.

          1. Maxwell Johnston

            I respectfully disagree. Both sides are using drones extensively. How to integrate drones into tactics and battlefield doctrine is a subject that all serious militaries are scrambling to figure out. This article at Asia Times is a good summary of Russia’s EW and drone usage in the Ukraine war:


            The Javelin is by no means a wunderwaffe, but the fact that it’s fire-and-forget (unlike the TOW, which required constant tracking) and strikes its target from above (where armor is weaker) makes it useful. Tanks (and armored vehicles in general) are hard to destroy but surprisingly easy to knock out of action: break the track, smash the optics, damage the main gun, etc. The tank can eventually be repaired, but that tank won’t be advancing anymore. (Based on my own experience as a tank officer, long ago). RU has lost a lot of armored vehicles, but many if not most of these losses are merely damaged and not actually destroyed.

            The Stinger is not a wunderwaffe either; it has its limitations, and even in Afghanistan in the 1980s it wasn’t the game-changer that it’s portrayed to be in Hollywood. But the mere knowledge that your enemy has these weapons is enough to change the behavior of your pilots flying close air support: they will maintain higher altitude and spend more time looking out for incoming fire (and less time focusing on the ground support mission). Air Force pilots everywhere hate doing ground support missions “down in the weeds”, it’s dangerous and not glamorous, which is why the US army has its own huge fleet of helicopters (to avoid depending on the US Air Force for ground support missions).

            Once RU clears out the fortified areas of the Donbas, we will see if they advance rapidly. But I doubt it: partly because of what we’re discussing here, and partly because RU logistics aren’t sufficient to support a rapid advance across long distances. Time will tell.

        2. Lambert Strether

          > necessitating your own troops staying under the protective umbrella of your EW. Race ahead of it a la Guderian or Rommel and you get droned.

          Hmm. Why is the protective umbrella of EW slower-moving than tanks on the move? (One would also think this is something Russia would be working hard to rectify.)

          1. Maxwell Johnston

            The EW vehicles aren’t necessarily slower than tanks, but they’re lightly armored or truck-mounted, hence vulnerable targets (and easy to spot with their array of antennas). As units get spread out during mobile warfare, the EW coverage will become less robust (especially if the EW vehicles start being hit by enemy tanks and artillery), and once again enemy drones will become a danger. And as the article I linked pointed out, RU doesn’t seem to have a huge amount of EW equipment and doesn’t want to risk losing it.

            RU military seems to have developed a successful set of tactics that counter enemy drones and maximize its artillery advantage, while keeping its own casualties low. It’s slow going, but it works.

            1. Michaelmas

              Let’s see if we can make this plainer. To quote Andrei Martyanov (if quoting an informed pro-Russian source makes this easier to absorb): —

              “Classic truism of the 3rd Generation Wars (per Soviet Military thinkers) of stand off and SMART munitions and increasing accuracy of the targeting which is known since 1980s: If I see you, I can kill you.

              Drones are the front edge of this ‘If I see you, I can kill you.’

      2. Roland

        If RF is winning, they’re “winning ugly.”

        Nobody is on Plan A, or even Plan B, at this point. Not RF, not UKR, not NATO, nobody. But we all still want “The Suck.”

        If we all agreed to call it Glory, would it suck less? Is it all really just a state of mind? Am I a low-class clod of earth, meant to get trodden?

        Could anything be more absurd than a bourgeois, or a proletarian, trying to pretend they’re on some sort of Homeric aristeia?

        Clio could come along and say, “Um, like, hello, you guys ain’t warrior classes! When it comes to war, you guys neither distinguish yourselves, nor enjoy yourselves, so quit kidding yourselves!”

      3. Raymond Sim

        It wasn’t a failure, or a feint, it was a raid. By credibly threatening targets the Ukrainians were obliged to defend the Russians forced the Ukrainians into the same position they themselves were in, i.e. having to quickly move large forces across those limited northern road networks where they were exposed to air attack. The Russians were in a position to accept the resulting exchange rate.

        The relative dearth of boastful Russian videos showing Ukrainian armored columns getting wasted allowed Westerners to indulge themselves in a fantasy of Russian catastrophe, even as the battlefield was being shaped for the reduction and destruction of the positions Ukraine absolutely could not afford to lose and hope to retain control of its territory east of the Dnieper.

        That this reduction has taken time has provided ongoing encouragement to Western war-fappers in their fantasies, but reducing fortifications always takes time, and the Russians would have to be idiots to try and sweep westward leaving those enemy positions intact in their rear.

        As things stand now, what’s between the Russians and the rest of Ukraine?

        As for drones, drones are observation/light attack aircraft. They’ve been a part of warfare since before WWI and at various times have been a more or less big deal. The Focke-Wulf FW 189 Uhu was purpose-built and played a rather famous role in fighting in the very territory we’re discussing now. I think the Americans mostly used Piper Cubs, about as unprepossessing a warplane as one could imagine. But the US had air supremacy and employed an sophisticated combination of telecommunications and detailed mapping to make their artillery exceedingly effective. The Cubs were killers. The more sophisticated Uhus on the other hand had to be sent away to less dangerous theaters of batttle as the Soviets contested control of the air ever more vigorously.

        It’s the artillery stupid.

        1. Michaelmas

          It’s the artillery stupid.

          No, entirely too reductionist. It’s the whole package, comprehensively and smartly networked; satellites above, artillery, missiles, drones, EW, tanks, infantry.

          1. Raymond Sim

            And if both sides have those nice things to even roughly the same degree? Then it’s the tubes. And pretty soon somebody can’t have nice things anymore.

            I’m not being reductionist. The simple fact is that the fancy kit vastly extends the range over which the exchange rate resembles that of close quarters combat more than any other familiar scenaro.

            1. Michaelmas

              And if both sides have those nice things to even roughly the same degree?

              Wake up. They don’t have the same things to roughly the same degree. The Russians have clear technological superiority with their missiles.

              With their artillery they have logistical superiority, in that they have direct supply lines back to Russia and far more ordnance and munitions.

              BUT those artillery would be even more easily targetable than tanks now are — one of the lessons of this war — were it not that the Russians can (1) knock down NATO aircraft at any practical range and (2) apparently have higher intercept anti-missile missiles rates than we’ve seen before, with the result being that their artillery cannot be so targeted by NATO air power and missiles.

              The simple fact is that the fancy kit vastly extends the range over which the exchange rate resembles that of close quarters combat more than any other familiar scenaro.

              No, it really doesn’t look anything like close quarters combat. It actually looks a little like one of those imperial set-ups circa 1870-1914 where a European power would flatten an indigenous army from a safe distance with machine-guns and artillery, then move in to mop up.

              As Maxwell Johnson writes: “RU military seems to have developed a successful set of tactics that counter enemy drones and maximize its artillery advantage, while keeping its own casualties low. It’s slow going, but it works.”

              Because yes, the Russians have technological superiority, but technological superiority is fairly useless till the right strategy and tactics are developed.

              Two examples of two sides having the same kit, but one side having superior strategic and tactical doctrines: –

              [1] In the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, the French mounted their machine guns on railway cars to move them around; the Prussians mounted them on wheels like artillery and had horses pull them to the front lines. The French lost.

              [2] In early WWII, when the Germans invaded France, both the Germans and the French had tanks and radios. Interestingly, the French tanks had better armor than the Germans. HOWEVER, in French tank formations only the single command tank had a radio that could transmit and receive, communication between the other tanks and the commander was limited to flags and couriers, and the French saw the role of tanks as infantry support a la WWI, moving at infantry speeds — slowly. The Germans, conversely, had full communications both ways between every tank, and had developed the Blitzkrieg strategy of full inter-operability between their tanks and air power to strafe French forces. Again, the French lost.

              It’s the whole package.

  8. Raymond Sim

    I’m guessing the Russian Army’s Ukrainian recruits will largely be functioning in a civil affairs role, in which case they’ll be key players in de-nazification.

    Does anyone have a notion what the reported numbers of such troops might imply about Russian plans?

  9. Dave in Austin

    On moving Ukrainian grain by rail. The nearest NATO port is in near-by Romania. The port is small. The “where the ships are” sites show a long line of ships waiting to load or unload. I doubt that the Ukraine has the rail hopper cars and grain-to-hopper-car loading equipment to move the grain by rail and I’m fairly sure Romania is in the same spot. Grain by rail will not work in the short-run.

    On mines. There have not been floating mines sightings for three months. If there were floating mines they would be snarling-up freight from the Bosporus to Romania, Georgia and Russia. Those ports are doing fine. Floating mines are a distraction.

    My hunch is that the Harpoon missiles and other military cargoes are getting to Odessa by coastal barges from Romania. These are small, moving targets with shipping containers on the decks and not easy for the Russians to hit because the Ukrainian coastal anti-aircraft system is dense. I believe that’s why the Russians hit the Odessa container port this weekend. Note that the agreement for the transit corridor refers to “ships transiting the corridor” so Ukrainian costal barges coming from Romania to east of Odessa are covered- the Odessa port is as far as they can go.

    One big hold-ups on the grain deal was Russian insistence that the west not stop ships leaving Russian/Crimean ports based on a “stolen grain” theory and the use of neutral- or Greek-owned- ships. That is part of the deal and what I believe the second document Yves mentioned is about. It covers all cargoes including fertilizer, (I have not read the original document; I can’t find the text).

    About the coming winter. The Russians have throttled-back gas deliveries to western Europe to 40% of normal, enough to feed German industry and homeowners for the summer but not enough to refill the storage facilities needed for next winter. Summer ends in September and the first full winter of the War will find Germany gas storage facilities half-empty and the new offshore LNG terminals at Bremerhaven and Hamburg will probably not be ready until spring (If we have experts on this reading NC, please comment).

    Elections are coming in the US. The US political system will be frozen until November, roughly the time all of the east coast cities get the news that the LNG tankers which usually supply them are busy going to Rotterdam. If the winter is cold, the supply will be limited and the only form of rationing we have is by price. New England will not be happy.

    All the Ukrainian cities have centralized district heating systems to keep the big cities warn economically. They are fueled by Russian natural gas. And they are easy targets to either shut down or destroy with missiles. A potential war crime or atrocity? Unfortunately there is the NATO/US precedent set in Belgrade, where we shut down the electrical supply, the district heating and the water purification systems to boot. As a NATO planner reputedly said: “We left them freezing in the dark. And their toilets don’t work too”. If the heat goes off, how many cold locals will just pack up and leave for Poland?

    Meanwhile Russian Neon is still going from Russia to a Ukrainian plant near Odessa for purification and then being shipped out to feed the needs of the world’s chip-makers. Anybody reading NC know more about how that is working out?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Please stop Making Shit Up. You are already in moderation for prior violations and I am tired of having to debunk your comments.

      Russia is not “throttling back gas”. Putin repeatedly offered to maintain supply via Nord Stream2. He even spoke to Scholtz, who did not take it up.

      The reason for the reduction in supply is:

      Ukraine cutting off supply through one leg of Yamal-Europe

      Poland refusing delivery through the other leg and instead using backflow on the same pipeline to secure Russian gas from Germany

      The part that went to Canada still not being back in St. Petersburg. May get there this week. Russia still has to test it given past bad actions like Stuxnet sabotage in Iran.

      Russia could and under any normal prosecution of war would have taken out civilian infrastructure at the start of the war like the Internet, cell phones, TV and electricity. The US did that in every war we’ve pursued in the Middle East. Russia has hit refineries and fuel storage to cut military supply but some refineries are dual supply. To accuse Russia of possibly doing something v. civilians when it has refrained from doing so is yet more Making Shit Up.

      Putin described multiple routes for the grain getting to Europe, since the ultimate destination is not Romania. That included via Poland and Belarus. From Anadolu Agency, quoting Putin from a TV interview:

      The first. Please, it is possible to export through ports that are under the control of Ukraine, primarily in the Black Sea basin — Odesa and nearby ports. We didn’t mine the approaches to the port – Ukraine mined it.

      The second. There is another possibility, the ports of the Sea of Azov — Berdyansk, Mariupol. They are under our control, but we are ready to ensure trouble-free export, including the Ukrainian grain, through these ports.

      The third. It is possible to export grain from Ukraine through the Danube and through Romania.

      The fourth. It is possible through Hungary.

      The fifth. It is possible through Poland. Yes, there are certain technical problems there, because the railway is different, it is necessary to change the carts. But it’s just a matter of a few hours, and that’s it.

      And, finally, the simplest thing is the export through the territory of Belarus. The easiest and cheapest, because from there directly to the ports of the Baltic states, to the Baltic Sea and further — to anywhere in the world.

      So there is no problem with the export of grain from Ukraine.

      I spend too much time debunking Western propaganda carefully and in detail to have you continue to slap me and this site in the face by reinforcing inaccurate reporting and analysis. My time is much better spent on new posts than on cleaning up misinformation in the comment section.

      Because you write detailed and specific comments, like your false claims on grain export options, and you are an established commentor, readers would treat your remarks as credible even when they aren’t.

      I’ve warned you repeatedly and yet you persist. This conduct has now become willful. I can no longer see this as an accident.

      I trust you will find your happiness elsewhere on the Internet.

      1. BradN

        Hard but necessary.
        One of the reasons I count on NC is the quality of the commentariat which is head and shoulders above any other site I have seen.
        The key reason for that is Yves dedication.
        Sources of misinformation abound and constant vigilance is a tedious burden.
        Few are willing to take it on.

  10. Susan the other

    Interesting. The one question I can’t find an answer to is, Why? Why did the West indulge in this stupid war? Is it the only way we could finally establish boundaries with Russia? By losing our shirt? Not to even mention our integrity.

    1. Raymond Sim

      Israel’s survival in its current form is highly unlikely in anything other than an American Century. That’s what I think it largely comes down to. Not that what’s being done will have any efficacy in acheiving any such thing.

      If I’m right much of America’s extremely f-d up foreign policy is driven by something akin to the stages of grief.

    2. Tom Stone

      Because Bobby Kagan had the GREATEST PLAN EVER!, the PERFECT plan!!, The “Plan for a New American Century”.
      Parts of it haven’t worked out too well, because SOME PEOPLE haven’t tried hard enough.

    3. Lambert Strether

      > Why did the West indulge in this stupid war?

      We think we’re invincible. This applies both to our military (despite losing all our wars) and our finance sector (despite crashes and breathtaking corruption).

      We also think we are upholding universal moral values (a “benevolent hegemon” as Mearshimer puts it).

      Neither of those statements is true, but unlearning them will be hard for us as a country and even harder of our elites.

      “Experience keeps a dear school, but a fool will learn in no other.” –Benjamin Franklin

    4. BradN

      Bob Dylan, in God on our side, wrote “I’ve learned to hate the Russians, all through my whole life. If another war starts, it’s them we must fight”
      We have always been at war with Russia, and this was perceived as a perfect opportunity to turn the heat up further on an ever heating Cold War.

      We cannot envision being wrong.
      We cannot imagine losing.
      We do not contemplate consequences.
      Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.

  11. juno mas

    Another great discussion! What a fine morning read.

    Thanks to All: Yves for the clarifying assessment and the Commentariat for further insight.

  12. doug

    I saw on the local news two USofA folks who were ‘volunteering’ (I guess they did not want to say mercenaries?)in Uk had been killed. One was from near the station and the parents were interviewed. The Dad states clearly that his son had been telling him things were not going well for the Ukrainians, and that he kept trying to get him to come home.
    I doubt that quote makes it to national news. I also doubt the pay rate of those ‘volunteers’ will be discussed.

  13. lou strong

    AFAIK until now Russia has dealt with Kherson , Zaporizhye etc under the principle that locals , and especially civil servants and former territorial defense members, won’t be obliged to fight against their former fellow citizens.
    More in general , my impression is that until now Russia has been quite able and efficient with the management of all the issues of the future integration of these territories to Russia itself.
    So I tend to think that the interest of these battalions is much more political than military, I saw a short vid with the commander of a new volunteer battalion and some soldiers, and it was stressed that the chief was a (former ) Odessa citizen, and the guys too..

  14. Tom Stone

    It’s almost as though the Russians see War as a continuation of Politics by other means…

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