Kherson, Cognitive Dissonance, and the Under-the-Radar Electrical War

Even though Russian officials seemed to have calmed the nerves of their public over the unexpected but well-executed Kherson withdrawal, there’s a surprisingly high level of upset among Western commentators. That may in part be due to use of the emotion-multiplier known as Russian Telegram. But is it particularly striking given the muted reaction from Ukraine, which had apparently lost an opportunity to push Russia out and claim a clear military victory

And as I’ll get to shortly, all of the tearing of hair and rending of sackcloth about Kherson ignores the way the electrical grid damage is festering and set to become gangrenous.

Some commentators have been explicit that they are upset with the Russian military for going too slowly and therefore deem it to incompetent.

But the peanut gallery does not get to set the pace of this conflict. Russia has maintained from the get-go that they do not have a timetable. We’ve pointed out that Russia is running a multi-fronted war: geopolitical (where Russia has done extremely well in securing the tacit and even overt support of China, India, Saudi Arabia, and much of the Global South), economic, political, information, and of course military.

According to critics, Russia has been too leisurely and the Kherson retreat is one of the consequences. But Russia trying to conduct a limited campaign and spare civilians as the West piled on innocent-bystander-punishing sanctions helped win over much of the world. These quiet allies are critical from an economic perspective as Russia reorients away from the West.

Those shock and awe sanctions also constrained Russia early on. Its public was rattled, concerned about whether the war was necessary, where it was going, and whether jobs and even basic services would be gutted. An early large call-up of forces could have been seen as an admission that the Kremlin had miscalculated, on top of the miscalculation of the massive economic sanctions. Even in June, I doubt there would have been enough public support. It took time for the US/EU hatred of Russia to sink in, that Putin had been right about the inevitability of the conflict and the need for Russia to turn its back on Europe.

Time was also on Russia’s side. The sanctions were doing ever-growing damage to the West, particularly Europe, while Russia was recovering. A slow, grinding war would conserve Russian forces as it ate through Western weapons stocks and increasingly, seasoned fighters. A longer conflict also drains US and European coffers directly now that the Ukraine economy has collapsed and is now needing billions a month to stay afloat, on top of the cost of the war effort.

Having said all that, both Western and some high-profile Russia-friendly commetators early on pumped the idea that Russia could or should be moving quickly. Those costly “big arrow” moves across Ukraine set expectations. And Dmitry Medvedev, former President and Deputy Chairman of the Security Council, didn’t help by cheekily publishing his proposal for the end-game way back in July:

I will confess I did not appreciate how hard it would be to crack the layered fortifications constructed over eight years in Donbass. Brian Berletic gives a good explanation below, staring at 1:15:40:

Berletic says the way to speed up the process is, if possible, cutting supply lines. It’s not apparent from his discussion that throwing more men at a bunkered area would necessarily clear it faster. There is likely a point of diminishing returns in a concentrated area. Some on Russian Telegram have claimed that most of the Russian casualties in Mariupol were from friendly fire!

Recall also that before the “liberated” territories were formally made part of Russia in the first week of October, Russia had a kludgey command structure: DPR and LPR militias as key coalition partners, Chechens and the Wagner group adding to on-the-ground muscle, Russian artillery and air support in the Donbass, and mainly Russian BTGs holding the line in the south. Until then, Russia was somewhat hostage to the wishes of the DPR and LPR. Recall defense chief Sergei Shoigu paid a visit to their political leaders and as a result, Russia moved more forces opposite Donetsk city, despite that being an exceptionally well-fortified area, and away from the campaign to retake the Sloviansk-Kramatorsk area.

So why did so many commentators, including yours truly, wrong-foot Kherson despite newly-appointed theater commander Sergey Surovkin mentioning the possible need to make “difficult decisions” and most analysts taking that to mean a possible Kherson pullout?

On a high level, an issue is cognitive dissonance. Even though Putin described one of the three objectives of the Special Military Operation as demilitarization plus Russia having a long history of being willing to cede territory if it better enables them to hurt the enemy (whether via encirclement, falling back to a better position, or merely not wasting manpower in a poor spot to fight), that’s not how wars are reported. They are about who owns what on a map and who is hoisting their flag over a captured government building. You can’t very readily tell which side is inflicting more deaths and casualties. However, we can see that a mere nine months into the conflict, that Russia is severely depleting not just Ukraine but even US/NATO weapons caches, as attested by the lower and lower resupply numbers of everything from tanks and armored vehicles to 155 mm shells.

I accepted the logic of the Kharkiv withdrawal, that it was strategically unimportant and not worth keeping, maybe because it too clearly resembled the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

I didn’t examine the situation in Kherson carefully enough till after the retreat. Despite accepting the “military necessities take priority over politics,” and “if you destroy the army, the terrain will follow,” I didn’t look at the military necessity part other than casually. Kherson is a Black Sea port, albeit not a big one. Kherson is on a rail line going to Nickolaev, then Odessa. Presumably roads run that way too. Seems mighty important!

But it turned out with the Antonovsky Bridge being largely disabled, supplying even a Kherson force of 20,000ish using pontoon bridges and ferries was almost untenably hard. That meant building up the fighting force needed to move further west of 3 to 5 times that size was a non-starter. Surovkin points that out in passing in his staged conversation with Shoigu:

Note Surovkin mentioning that the Kherson city troops were in a “restricted” area, hinting that offensive operations would be difficult. In addition, even if Russia could have staged an attack force in Kherson, it would have been vulnerable to attacks on its flank as it moved parallel to the Black Sea coast.

Finally, I had accepted the views of some commentators who had argued that dams and bridges are hard to destroy. However, the Russian seemed mighty worried about the possibility of Ukraine eventually succeeding in blowing up the Nova Kakhovka dam, which would then flood Kherson city, killing civilians and making Russian troops sitting ducks for a Urkaine attack. Taleb warned against this sort of thing:

Finally, Russia is very carefully playing a trump card, which is the destruction of big sections of Ukraine’s electrical grid. Russia has been framing this campaign as taking out dual use infrastructure, which means “It’s OK if it serves civilians if it also has a meaningful military use.” So far, Russia has been focusing on transmission lines, junctions, and transformers, and sparing generating capacity. However, if Russia continues to balkanize the grid, some areas near major power plants will be more or less OK while others will become desperate.

Russia has been saying very little about it. The Ministry of Defense does not include these attacks in its daily “clobber list”. For the most part, these attacks get only a passing mention from regular commentators and sites like Rybar. But there was a round of strikes last Wednesday morning and overnight Saturday into Sunday, so they seem to be proceeding at a pace of at least twice a week. And if Ukraine pulls a stunt like its attack on Sevastopol, whether successful or not, Russia is sure to use that as an excuse for a big set of strikes on the grid, with license to be not so sparing of civilian-ish targets.

Thus given the relative silence about this campaign, it’s hard to see what Russia’s aims are. Will these 2x a week attacks keep the Ukraine grid at a reduction of 40% of capacity, or is it intended to keep degrading it from there? Note that General Winter is also effectively taking out even more juice. From Kiev Novyny on the 13th, via machine translation:

In Kyiv, they may start turning off electricity for a longer period of time. The reason is a decrease in air temperature.

This was announced by the executive director of DTEK Dmytro Sakharuk during the telethon

“When the temperature drops in our country, consumption will increase. Every 5-7 degrees of temperature decrease is 10% of consumption on the territory of Ukraine on average,” Sakharuk said.

According to him, if specialists do not have time to repair and increase the amount of electricity that can be supplied to the capital, the periods of power outages may increase.

Mathematically guesstimating, if Ukraine is at 60% of regular output, if we generously take 10% of that level (as opposed to 10% of the original 100%), that would mean 54% effective output at colder temperatures. And it’s only going to get colder.

In addition, there’s been remarkably little discussion of the impact on Ukraine businesses. How many can function with frequent blackouts? Ukraine’s economy is already in desperate shape. The power shortages will only intensify its crisis. That also means the West will have to provide even more dough if it hopes to stave off collapse.

Ukraine and the West are oddly quiet too, which seems odd given that mothers and babies shivering in the dark is great grist for yet more Russia demonization. However, the Ukraine paper Stana reports that some officials are encouraging Kiev residents to leave:

If the people of Kiev have the opportunity to spend the winter “in more comfortable conditions,” “then it can be done,” said Andriy Vitrenko, a member of the Kyiv City Council, referring to the problems with energy that many predict in winter.

That is, he hinted that it was better to leave the capital if possible.

There is the wee question of where they go, particularly given that Kiev has (or had) about 3 million residents. It’s not likely that nearby areas will be all that much better situated. That means, as John Helmer pointed out early on, Russia has enormous leverage via its ability to trigger a mass exodus of refugees, with Poland likely the biggest recipient.

So is the Russia “go slowly” approach to have plausible deniability? Or in hope that the West recognizes this source of leverage and reacts accordingly as more Ukrainians cross the borders?

The problem is, of course, that the US is driving this train and has perilous concern for the costs inflicted on Europe, as we can infer from its almost certain endorsement of/participation in the Nord Stream pipeline attacks.

Like those half a million dead Iraqi babies, millions of suffering Europeans is not too high a price for achieving US ends, since we aren’t the ones who pay.

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118 comments

  1. YY

    Listening to the two guys at Duran, while reminded that the dam being blown up would be a significant thing, they then keep forgetting that this might have been the crucial reason for the pull back. The irony is that Russians are sitting on the dam which in theory they could blow up and wash away the now occupying NATO army, the big difference is that they will not do so. Not because the Russians are nice but because the dam has utility in non-weaponized sense. NATO is playing a game of suicide in exchange for political advantage, whereas Russia has some notion of having to make the place live-able again. The only strange part of the exercise was the blowing up of bridges as they left. Why bother? The bridges are better blown up underneath a crossing NATO army than immediately after the Russians left. This struck me as a demonstration for the sake of it.

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Russia took the dam to help secure water supplies to Crimea via the North Crimean canal. I can’t find a good enough map, but I have to assume blowing the dam and greatly reducing the water level in the reservoir would also reduce water supplies to Crimea. See for instance, the Financial Times described how Ukraine dammed the canal, which originates in Nova Kakhovka on the Dnieper, so right above or below the hydroelectric dam.

      So this is not charity. Having the Ukrainians have an incentive not to blow up the dam (by parking themselves in Kherson) is important for Crimea.

      As for explosives on the bridges, if I were Ukraine, that would be one of the first places I’d check (they were looking for mines and booby-traps as the entered the city). And dams are so sturdy, I doubt you could hide charges big enough to do the job.

      Reply
      1. Raymond Sim

        I think charges for blowing a dam would likely be placed underwater. Also, it wouldn’t suprise me if Soviet bridge and dam designs incorporated demolition chambers where feasible.

        Reply
        1. Yves Smith Post author

          There has been speculation about underwater drones as well as possible human placement.

          And I don’t have full detail, but there’s been a lot of worry about damage to the locks, which suggests more of the same could produce a big surge.

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          1. Paul Jurczak

            According to a reliable Polish source, the locks are filled with solid material, e.g. rocks and gravel. Not possible to open in practice.

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        2. Polar Socialist

          It’s very likely there are some spots designed for explosives, yes. But for a huge amount of explosives. The dam is not that high, 10 meters max. and most of it is concrete enforced earth bank. The sluices are the weakest spot, but even they apparently have each an emergency gate that can be closed if the actual gate doesn’t work properly.

          Currently Ukrainians don’t have weapons that could destroy the dam. They might be able to destroy a sluice gate or two, but that would still require multiple hits by very big amounts of HE. This would no catastrophically flood the downstream, but it would raise the water level and likely cause all kinds of problems, say, if you wanted to supply 150-200k people over the river.

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      2. Lex

        Yes. The canal is fed from the resevoir behind the Nova Kakhovka dam which means it’s at least somewhat dependent on reservoir levels. It’s primarily for irrigation, but the canal was and is a primary, strategic goal of Russia from day one of this conflict. I agree with you, this is mostly about taking away all of Ukraine’s reasons to destroy the dam (whether via explosives or overtopping it via upstream releases).

        It’s my opinion that the dam was the primary reason for the withdrawal. Resupply over the river wasn’t easy because of Ukrainian standoff weaponry range. But it wasn’t impossible. However, if a serious offensive started, Ukraine almost certainly does everything in its power to destroy the dam. At that point, Russia faces a tactical, operational and strategic problem of significant proportions with a large number of troops trapped and unable to be resupplied (days to weeks), nowhere to retreat to, and the canal likely lost until well after the conclusion of hostilities given the difficulty of building/repairing a dam, especially when you don’t fully control the river.

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      3. Willow

        Nothing stopping Russia from discharging the dam to make life hell for Ukrainians in Kherson and bogging down their forces while Russians go on (winter) offensive elsewhere. Taleb’s ruin is now flipped to being a Ukrainian problem. Water to Crimea is gravity fed, no reason it can’t be pumped short term.

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      1. elkern

        Dropping the bridges over the Inhulets (esp Rt E58 bridge at Dar’ivka) broke the easiest route for movement and supply of any Ukrainian attack on the Russian bridgehead at the North end of the Nova Kakhovka Dam, an obvious next target for Ukraine/NATO. Russia will not readily retreat from there, though I’d bet that territory gets ceded to Ukraine in negotiations that will eventually end this war. Russia may then also be willing to let Ukraine have all the electricity produced by the dam, so Ukraine has incentive to cooperate in keeping the dam in place and running safely (after the war).

        Reply
    2. elkern

      IMO, blowing the Antonovskiy bridge *now* sends the message that the Dnieper *is* the new border. Russia is digging in on the South/East bank, and any Ukrainian attempt to cross the river will fail miserably. OTOH, it implies that Russia will not try to cross the river either; they will not attack Westward toward Odessa.

      To me, this is a very hopeful sign that this war will be ended via negotiations within a few months.

      Russia can’t trust USA/NATO, but if they set new borders on defensible lines, that matters less.

      That (good defensive lines) will be harder further to the East. The next phase for Russia will be to clear Donetsk Oblast and retake the NW corner of Luhansk Oblast. Losing territory there would give Ukraine (& US Media) an excuse to admit that they aren’t gonna “win” this war by pushing Russia out of the areas it now controls.

      If Ukraine/NATO still refuse to negotiate at that point, Russia would have two reasonable options:
      (1) Push further on the ground; maybe take the rest of Zaporizhzhia Oblast, maybe Kharkov.
      (2) Settle in, build defensive lines, and ratchet up the air war.

      I view Russia as risk-averse, so I expect them to take option #2.

      Reply
      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Discussion of peace talks is fantasy after the West got Kiev to renege on its commitments in the talks in Istanbul. There would be at at the very most be hand-wavey pro-forma talks with low level people from Russia, not Lavrov-level. Russia signaled it was concerned about Western bona fides even in the Istanbul talks. It sent a secondary person, IIRC the culture minister.

        All indications are the necons are emboldened and reading an offensive on Zapaorozhzhia

        Both sides have no bargaining overlap.

        Ukraine wants Russia to give up everything, including Crimea.

        Russia wants NATO to pull back to its 1997 membership. Oh, and removal of sanctions.

        Oh, and the US would have to negotiate with Russia, not Kiev. Russia knows the regime is a pawn.

        And Russia knows the West is not agreement capable. What happens if the two sides agree, Russia demobilizes and then the West breaks the deal? What does Russia do then?

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        1. JustTheFacts

          Unfortunately it seems that peace will only really be possible once the Ukrainians’ will to fight has been broken. Hence Sulovikin’s grinding down of conscripted Ukrainian men sent to the front… and the destruction of the electricity infrastructure (and therefore also water supplies in their tall buildings).

          Perhaps that explains why Russia has not interdicted Ukraine from receiving Western weapons by blowing up its border infrastructure. Leaving it standing also means Ukrainians can flee to Western Europe causing mayhem there.

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        2. The Rev Kev

          ‘Oh, and removal of sanctions.’

          Yellen has already signaled that when the war is finally over, that sanctions against Russia will continue-

          “We would probably feel, given what’s happened, that probably some sanctions should stay in place,” US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on Sunday in an interview on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Indonesia. She claimed that Russia hasn’t made any effort to seek peace talks “on any terms that are acceptable to Ukraine.”

          https://www.rt.com/news/566464-us-russia-sanctions-may-extend-beyond-ukraine-conflict/

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          1. Polar Socialist

            Somebody should tell Yellen that Minsk II was the absolute maximum of common ground, and anyone interested in peace and stability should have labored hard to make it work.

            And also that we can learn from history that whenever someone thinks they can “control the Nazis”, there will be a war in Europe. QED.

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  2. bwilli123

    Kherson was a benefit of the initial Russian ‘rushing’ strategy, captured in less than a week. The loss of only 300 Ukrainians (in a city of 280,000) suggests that Ukrainians did not fight very hard to defend it after the initial engagement.
    It would seem that it was only defensible in the longer term if the Russians had decided to pursue further the southern push (to Mykolaiv etc) This though required many more troops, and when there were higher priorities.
    However, it was necessary to hold Kherson until the referendum so that the maximum number of voters in the Oblast could be said to have participated in wanting a return to the Federation.
    The subsequent ratification by Russia declares their intention of returning, and the evacuation of civilians means that they will not have to be quite so restrained next time.

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  3. Roland

    Not everything in war is symmetrical. Izyum, for example, was a minor loss for Russia, but a big win for Ukraine. The pinning or diversionary attacks toward Kiev, while not meant by RF to capture ground, were nevertheless a big win for UKR when the Russians retired from the UKR capital.

    Territorial control might not be a concern for the RF high command, but it is probably important to the UKR public, and to their troops (who need every favourable auspice they can get). Morale is a major factor in war, and to be left in possession of the battlefield is one of the measures of victory. Fluid operations can have the unintended effect of encouraging the enemy. Is that the best operational method to use in conjunction with a grand strategy of material and moral attrition?

    Over the course of the war to date, a Ukrainian can say, “we can make them move, when we want to make them move. Let the Russians say they didn’t want the place. If so, why did they come there at all? Besides, whether or not they wanted it, who cares? We wanted it, and we took it!”

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      It isn’t going to matter what Ukraine can say to themselves if they are out of ammo and have depleted force levels. Russia has repulsed every attack on the Kherson line for weeks, even a few aimed at Kherson city before they exited, often with high casualties to the Ukraine side. But the map watchers don’t give points for inflicting serious costs just by letting the enemy throw himself at your lines.

      And I don’t see anyone depicting Izyum as a big win. It was only a mid-sized city, 45,000 before the war, and down to <20,000. The taking of all that Kharkiv real estate was the much sexier PR point.

      Reply
      1. tom67

        You asked why Russia isn´t talking about its destruction of the Ukraine grid. I talked to some people in Ste. Pete by phone the other day and people were very upset about the destruction of the grid. Don´t forget, Ukraine and Russia are as or even more entertwined than the US and Canada. The suffering of Ukrainian civilians is acutely felt by millions of their Russian relatives. As to why in the West nobody talks about it: opposition to the war is growing in Europe and one big reason is the flood of refugees. It´s a no brainer that the number of fleeing Ukrainians is set to multiply. In Berlin the other day some city officials have started to talk about forceful requistioning of living space. I don´t know how long our goverment (I am German) can continue in the face of growing opposition and I am sure they don´t want to find out. who is stronger: Uncle Sam or their own citizens

        Reply
        1. The Rev Kev

          I can guess how this will go down. Back in 2015 you had a million refugees pour into Germany who were unidentified and unvetted. There was one tiny village of 102 people called Sumte in Lower Saxony whose mayor was informed by the district government to expect the arrival of 1,000 refugees to take care of. After a bit of back and forth, the number was reduced to a mere 750 refugees. I would expect similar things to happen if there was a flood of Ukrainians and if you protest, Annalena Baerbock will call you out as being despicable-

          https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/01/world/europe/german-village-of-102-braces-for-750-asylum-seekers.html

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        2. Otis B Driftwood

          I have a close in-law with family in Germany. While he has bought the western propaganda hook, line and sinker he told me he was disturbed to hear from his German cousins that they are tired of supporting Ukraine.

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        3. ComradePuff

          I talked to some people in Ste. Pete by phone the other day and people were very upset about the destruction of the grid.

          Generally, St. Petersburg is far more westernized than the rest of Russia. The fact that you, as a German, were having the conversation with them, says a lot about their milieu.

          I’m American but I emigrated to Russia almost a decade ago. I also tend to associate with the more cosmopolitan milieu in Moscow, but my in-laws are Ukrainian and they live in the western part of Ukraine, while we all live in Moscow. I also know of some people who were drafted and I talk to their friends. I even know of a few who draft dodged, but it seems they’ve returned.

          Absolutely nobody is happy about the war, but I think it is incorrect to say that Russian hearts are bleeding for the citizens of Ukraine beyond the Donbass at this point. There was more sympathy in the beginning, but now that Russian’s have seen the willingness of Ukrainian’s to fight them, the goodwill is dying and there is a wider sense of treachery now. What seems to have people more upset here is the perceived failure to protect the Russian people in the Donbass.

          My western Ukrainian relatives still want to get to Moscow and the problem for them has always been about how to get past the Ukrainian authorities at the borders and the very advanced age of the grandparents, who themselves lived under Nazi occupation in WW2, and who lost family fighting Nazis. We are probably going to drive to the border of Belarus to try and pick them up, now that the grid is going down.

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      2. Roland

        Izyum is a strategically important bridgehead on the Donets, no matter the size of the city itself. Its recapture forced the RF to fall back on the Oskol, and reduced the threat faced by UKR troops in other sectors. As I said, it wasn’t a big loss for RF, but it was a big win for UKR.

        In a war of attrition, it’s not just a question of how much is lost, but also a question of how much people are willing to lose. The former is a material question, the latter a moral question. The outcome of a war of attrition is, therefore, dependent to some degree on morale.

        To hold and gain ground can raise morale, especially for the people who are fighting on what they think is their own ground. Possession of the battlefield is a factor that cannot be dismissed, even in the context of an attritional strategy.

        Another consideration is the wartime logic of sunk costs. Perversely, the more people sacrifice, the more the sacred the god, the more hallowed the ground. Again, this complicates the calculation of attrition, for even when disproportionate losses are inflicted, an unexpected resilience on the part of the enemy might be the result.

        Short form: if you want to wear down the enemy, whatever you do, don’t give them heart. If you want to reason with the enemy, better avoid attrition.

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        1. The Rev Kev

          I think that I read a Chinese strategist talk about giving your enemy false hope and let them believe that they have won – and then snatch it away and deny them the prize which devastates their moral.

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        2. Yves Smith Post author

          You are not up on the state of play.

          Russia initially though Izyum would be valuable strategically. It proved not to be because Russia was unable to advance to the south due to the presence of a dense “Sherwood forest” to the south which Urkaine had bunkered very well.

          Russia also found and developed other approaches to accomplish what it planned to do from Izyum, as in cut key supply lines.

          So like Kherson, Izyum was thought when it was taken to be the linchpin of an advance and came to be an albatross.

          As for your view of land, that it not Russia’s take, based on centuries of running land wars. Land is secondary to defeating the enemy. Again remember the retreat from and burning of Moscow.

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  4. timbers

    Many are wondering if Russia has been too slow. Alexander Mercouris and Alex Christofer asked each other why haven’t the Dnieper bridges been taken out? Doing so would see Ukraine troops in Donbass quickly run out of supplies and force a retreat or surrender. They said they assumed this action would logically be among first to be done to hobble the enemy. They even discussed the idea that Putin may not be an appropriate war time leader because he has been slow at doing what must be done to conclude the war successfully. Mercouris expanded on this later by saying that in his opinion the new Russian military guy in charge should take a look at Backhmut and the overall Donbass offensive because he thinks it needs the attention of the top Russian command so that it can be brought to a conclusion. And of course the very long delay in calling up more troops as months went by seeing depleted Russian ranks from expiring contracts, which later showed up dramatically on the battlefield.

    Brian Berletic has made similar comments regarding the Dnieper bridges in a gentler manner.

    Reply
    1. The Rev Kev

      I heard Alexander Mercouris say that but he is way off base here. Don’t forget, Putin is not just playing to his own people but is seeking to justify his actions to the non-western world to get there backing. The result? Just take a look at all the nations in South America, Asia and Africa who are backing Russia, even if unofficially. Whenever Lavrov goes to an international conference, he is treated as a rock star. And you see the results in things like United nations votes too.

      Is the Russian advance slow? Yes, of course it is. The Russians could ‘go over the top’ and have thousands of them killed in battle charging Ukrainian positions or they can hold the line and have the Ukrainians wipe themselves charging them instead. Which would you pick? More importantly, not only is the equipment inventory of the Ukraine severely depleted but so is the inventories of the NATO nations as well as others. NATO now does not have the gear to go into battle against Russia until next decade sometime. And the Russian did it in only nine months with minimal casualties.

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      1. Jess K

        Is there any evidence to support the thesis that the continual withdrawals and soft touch to the Kiev regime have been a deciding factor in securing a favorable alignment of the global South? The latter is clearly driven by the interests of their national bourgeoisie, not who occupies the moral high ground in the global propaganda war.

        Even if it were, fence-sitters would hardly be convinced to abandon the US-run world order by continued demonstrations of the limits of Russian power (to the extent they are forced by military necessity to retreat from their own national borders!) and NATO-fascist resilience.

        Russia has a number of options between suicidal assaults and holding the line. They are plainly opting not to use them. Notably absent in the defenses of the Kherson withdrawal I’ve seen is mention of the long-running perfidy of the Russian bourgeoisie (which still includes a comprador element) in Ukraine and the broader ambiguous/inconsistent (if not incoherent) objectives of the SMO.

        The “ultra-nationalist” Ukrainians know exactly what they are fighting for and are using every available method to achieve their aims. It seems the Russian leadership still, even now, has no comparable unity of purpose.

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        1. Yves Smith Post author

          That is a complete straw man. It was the initial civilian-sparing approach and slow prosecution of the war that critically moved China from careful even-handedness to clear support of Russia. Ditto India.

          And it’s also a fabrication to depict Russia as proposing to act as some sort of new boss. Putin has repeatedly, since 2007, talked about a multi-polar order.

          If you had Nazi goons running your country, you’d probably do everything you could to keep your head down until a war was over, if you were unable to flee.

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          1. Catchymango

            I was inclined to agree that the moral high ground argument was meaningless, but you bring up an important point here Yves which I failed to consider.

            While the west has certainly tried very hard to push China (and others) into an uncomfortable position vis-a-vis its positions on respect for sovereignty and neutrality, Russia not going full Bombs over Baghdad probably helped ensure that global south countries especially would be far more horrified by how easily the US seized the RF’s foreign reserves, than by the invasion itself. I’ve even begun to notice how as of late our media are more interested in misleadingly portraying Xi as ready to turn on Russia. Adam Tooze’s G20 roundup being one recent example of this.

            this war might end up not being decided on the battlefield, but in the geoeconomic realm. If the problem here is NATO on Russia’s doorstep, the fracturing of NATO and/or isolation of the West is a much more comprehensive, permanent solution than some 100km exclusion zone on the west bank of the Dnieper. Especially with Finland and Sweden joining NATO.

            Not saying that’s easily accomplished, but Canadian and US officials said months back that the goal was to weaken russia permanently. Hard to see what a durable peace agreement looks like in such circumstances, short of Russia being admitted into NATO. While this war has always been an existential question for russia, increasingly seems like it is for the west as well in terms of their hegemony.

            For an American oriented intl system built to advance monopoly and rentier interests, I can imagine that genuine multipolarity might eventually prove fatal. Not sure how long the present military-industrial complex could survive beyond such a point.

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            1. Yves Smith Post author

              I agree with the geopolitical points and Russia’s need to permanently cripple NATO. Putin as I am sure you know has been calling for a new security order since 2007. But the West can’t stand to give that to him. And even if by some miracle the US were to agree to that, a successor regime could undo that, witness the “not one inch further east” commitment. So Russia needs to impose a solution.

              The reason a DMZ might be part of that is to force the people in that area to leave, as in go to Europe. A refugee crisis will strain the EU and therefore NATO. So I don’t think it is a remedy in and of itself but part of how Russia dictates terms in a way that superficially looks like it is about protecting Russia and its “liberated” territories but is significantly designed to weaken NATO.

              And I think Russia would need a DMZ of at least 300 KM wide given HIMARS.

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    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Peskov and apparently others have said Russia is going to retake Kherson. So they likely want some of those bridges.

      Russia has taken out the electrical transformers for the train system and more recently additional power lines, so Ukraine has been reduced to using its very small number of diesel trains. Moving supplies by truck is vasty less efficient.

      This is not being nice, this is leaving options open. Surovikin is not a nice man, he initiated the unpopular strikes on the Ukraine grid (see the comment above) yet he has not called for the other bridges to go.

      As I indicated in the post, too many people are forgetting that this is a multi-level operation. And this obsession with winning the war quickly is sorely misplaced.

      Now that NATO has decided to man up, albeit in a fake covert manner, the attritional game and letting the sanctions blowback inflict pain and divide Europe is even more important. Why lose men when scarce power, hunger, budget crises and domestic dissent will do a lot of the work for you?

      And the West will never back out of those sanctions, which is an eventual Russian aim, until they have become destructively costly.

      As for Putin, Berletic pointed out that Putin was much criticized during the Syria campaign for repeatedly opening humanitarian corridors, which the insurgents sometimes used. Yet Berletic said that proved to be the smart move. It enabled Russia to maintain and eventually rebuild relations with Turkiye, which has proven to be absolutely crucial now. I did not follow that war, but Berletic contends that if Putin had pursued it the way the Russia public wanted (again faster), it would have led to an irreparable rupture with Turkiye.

      Russia prosecuting the war carefully is why the rest of the world has been willing to explicitly or tacitly side with Russia. If Russia has pursued a maximalist or merely aggressive war, it would be a pariah. It’s amazing so many countries are willing to passively or actively oppose the US despite Russia clearly being the invader, albeit facing a major and ever increasing security threat from the US and NATO. It’s Russia making evident that it was forced to fight this war and is not doing so out of acquisitiveness that has won it such considerable backing.

      Russia would be toast without that. Recall even China was cautious initially despite Russia and China having inked a major “bestie friends” alliance in early Feb 2022. And contrary to Innertubes rumors, Putin didn’t get approval from Xi. He might have given him a coded head’s up. I don’t think Putin decided until right before the SMO launch.

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      1. midget

        Yves, the entire argument that ‘Russia needs the bridges intact in order to cross the Dnieper themselves’ is far-fetched, given that the Ukrainians would almost certainly rig the bridges to explode after retreating across them (as they had constantly done in the early months of the war, and as Russia itself had just done in Kherson).
        Furthermore, Russia has been very disinclined to pursue costly ‘Lighning assaults” since the opening salvos of the war, so the possbility of a brdge being seized to quickly to rig for demolition is, again, unrealistic.
        Whatever the rationale for not targeting the bridges in say, Dnepropetrovsk, is, needing to conserve them for Russia’s own use isn’t one of them, unless the General Staff are morons (which they don’t seem to be).

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        1. Yves Smith Post author

          They didn’t with the Antonovsky or the Nova Karkhovka dam bridge….

          The fact that Russia evacuated 20,000 men in 2 days, contrary to all expectations in Ukraine and the West, and got all equipment out save apparently a damaged tank, strongly suggests they were having trouble moving heavy equipment in over the pontoon bridges, since it would presumably be impossible to move a lot of heavy equipment out so quickly. That’s also consistent with Surovikin being unhappy that elite paratroopers were stuck there (they were presumably to help secure the city until it was deemed properly manned up and defended).

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      2. Greg

        Looking at the way those bridges were taken down, I wondered if Russia took them out to ensure they were destroyed in a way that was easily repaired later down the track. They knocked even spans off with carefully controlled detonations, while a Ukrainian destruction would probably be from afar with artillery or missiles, much messier.
        Those bridges are likely to stay in the same cleanly-disabled state now until Russia needs them, rather than being targeted for further damage.

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          1. Yves Smith Post author

            As I read it was the earthworks under the very long on-ramp to the Antonovsky bridge that were destroyed earlier. That sound like a real construction job to fix, as in requiring earth movers and other equipment not generally at hand in a war zone.

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            1. Polar Socialist

              Talking about construction jobs, all lanes of the Crimean bridge will apparently open for traffic on 20th December, says the news. They are already installing two spans, third is awaiting to be transferred to the bridge and fourth is having it’s metal parts going trough anti-corrosion treatment.

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    3. JustTheFacts

      Despite Western caricatures, it seems to me that Russia tries to minimize costs in lives and materiel, which is very different from the West’s goals of appearing invincible and greasing various contractors’ hands, costs and dead soldiers be damned. In Russia, war evokes very bad memories, which are maintained as vivid by the victory day parades where everyone walks holding a photo of their dead ancestors, and by Russian war movies. The US, never having been invaded, doesn’t have the same visceral disgust for war. Instead, Hollywood glorifies it.

      As Rev Kev says, going slowly wins friends in the rest of the world. But I think, also at home. It is better for the Russian government to be following the will of the people than being way out in front of it (where the Russian military might like it to be). I understand that 20% of Russians do not want this war, particularly in Moscow and St Petersburg which did not fill their conscription targets easily. And many Russians have Ukrainian family members. Russia is a vast land. That means it can trade space for time, as it has repeatedly done in war. But it also means that every Russian government now and during the time of the Tsars fears the people revolting: Moscow is very far away from whereever dissent might be growing. Which is why the Neocons’ dreams of splitting Russia up are truly going for Russia’s jugular, and cannot be tolerated or ignored.

      I am glad Russia is trying to avoid escalation, since this is a war that is existential for it, which ultimately means they could use nuclear weapons according to their nuclear doctrine. If it were more aggressive things could go wrong very quickly, particularly given the dimwits who don’t get hints that seem to populate Western governments these days.

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    4. ArvidMartensen

      The other side to the equation is what is the US doing. And from Martyanov in his usual colorful way, there are reports of increasing, perhaps frantic, back-channel communications initiated by the US. https://smoothiex12.blogspot.com/
      I said two months ago that when the US thinks it is going to lose, it will rush to negotiate, and use its massive propaganda machine to start bleating about the cruel Russians freezing the widows and orphans.
      So maybe although it looks to us that the Russians have weakened and left Kherson, it might look to US intelligence as something far different: that Russia is moving to a position of strategic dominance due to its taking out Ukrainian infrastructure and recruiting and re-training a very large number of already seasoned personnel.
      And oh, gathering a lot of bffs on the world stage. That UN resolution against nazism got over 100 votes for and the US suffered a rare diplomatic defeat. Maybe becoming less rare.

      Reply
      1. Yves Smith Post author

        I have the impression that the frantic calls are NOT for peace talks but angry bluster.

        The US is still in denial and therefore making threats. Douglas Macgregor said based on his careful reading of the leaks and more important, word from insiders, was that the Jake Sullivan presumed calls to Russian contacts (Macgregor pointed out it was NOT clear what the mode of communication was, they could even have been written exchanges) was that Sullivan was threatening escalation, and most decidedly not making nice.

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  5. PlutoniumKun

    I think a key thing this signals is that Nikolaev/Odessa is not a key target for the Russians, which seems a significant step back from previous hints. Russia essentially had three options for Kherson – hold, retreat, or push on to secure a wider area. So a decision was either made that they could not take Nikolayev with existing supply lines, or that it was simply not a high priority compared to the fronts to the north. I suspect the first is the main reason, but its also possible that the Russians are far less ambitious in territorial terms than we’ve assumed.

    If it is still a core strategic objective to take Odessa, this retreat makes things far harder. The big weakness of the Russian military so far has been river crossings. Now that the bridges are blown out, retaking Kherson will be very difficult, even against a very weak Ukrainian defence. The only alternative would be either an amphibious assault on Odessa (very risky), or to attack from the north once Russia has taken some major bridges.

    I can’t help thinking that this is a tactically sensible decision which could turn out to be strategically inept. It’s traditional to praise on the ground military commanders as being more sensible than desk bound politicians (historians heaping opprobrium on Hitlers decision making in 1943/4 while praising his generals is a case in point). But sometimes the latter do have a bigger picture. It’s very rare for a military leader to be both strategically and tactically skilled.

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    1. Yves Smith Post author

      As indicated in the post, the original line of thought, of using the path from Nickolaev to Odessa, is now recognized as massively risky due to having exposed flanks and extended supply lines. I am guesstimating but it would easily take a half a million men and still be costly in lives. So I don’t think this is the loss everyone assumes it was.

      Alexander Mercouris pointed out that the last time Odessa was captured, it was from the north. Once Russia cracks the bunker in Donbass, it has virtually not obstacles across the center of the country to the Dnieper. It can park itself there, perhaps retake Kharkiv, and decide based on how weak Ukraine is by then how to proceed.

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      1. MILLER

        I don’t recall where I saw it, but a look at the map shows that advancing along the Black Sea littoral from Kherson toward Nikolaev/Odessa would have required at least five crossings of rivers draining south into the Black Sea. Granted, these are not as wide as the Dniepr, but still present real complications for the attacking force. As noted below, an attack from the north might seem more advisable,

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      2. PlutoniumKun

        The problem for the Russians is that as soon as they get to the Dneiper, they are facing an enormous fight to get over it, if thats what they want. And if they want Odessa, they will have to cross over, there is no other way.

        I find it very hard to believe that its considered easier to approach Odessa from the north, given that it would mean something close to a 1000km supply line from Russia via what would be very vulnerable crossings over the river, plus the construction of new railway bridges. Plus it means crossing large areas that are much less sympathetic to Russia than the areas east of the Dnieper.

        And while the land around Kherson is difficult for combat, the city and area around it is linked by transport by river, sea, and a short land crossing to the Crimea. It is by far the shortest supply line link for attacking the coastal cities. For as long as warfare has existed, moving armies along the coast has always been preferred by generals due to it giving them more options for supply.

        So while I can accept the short to mid term tactical logic behind the withdrawal, I cannot see any strategic sense whatever, unless Russia has abandoned the idea of taking any lands west of the Dnieper, which seems unlikely to me.

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        1. hk

          Or, Russians decided to think bigger, with Kiev, Lwow, or even Warsaw (I’m adding in the last to humor claims about large numbers of Polish troops in Ukraine–granted, I actually do think it is fairly plausible) is a higher priority than taking the Black Sea coast, which will just continue the war, with a much longer frontline to defend.

          In the end, Russians want to win the war, for the foreseeable future, not just capture territory. Odessa certainly would not be enough.

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        2. bwilli123

          I think the strategic sense is that it gives a ‘win’ to Ukraine, and therefore encouragement for the US & NATO & EU to keep self-attriting in every other respect.

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    2. The Rev Kev

      Not so sure here as the Russian western flank now is solid as it rests on the Dnieper river. No Ukrainians will be able to advance from there. As for the difficulty of getting to Odessa, a little story from “Dad’s Army”. Captain Mannering hears that the Germans are advancing into France but he demurs and asks how that can be with the Maginot Line in their way. He is told that they didn’t get through it. They went around it through Belgium! So here, if the Ukrainian forces eventually collapse, the Russians may then be able to go through central Ukraine – flat, cow country mostly – and then after linking up with Transnistria, then swinging south to Odessa and other cities.

      Reply
      1. Polar Socialist

        Well, that’s how Red Army did it in a series of operations in 1943. Cross Dniepr around Kiev, push south to Vinnitsa, turn east and take Kirovograd and then roll south.

        Considering that Germans had control of Romania (+ Moldova) at the time, but Ukrainians don’t, the issue would be pretty much settled by the time Vinnitsa falls. Should Russia come from north, that is.

        Anyway, with Russian forces dug in in Luhansk-Kharkov border and Dniepr now separating the armies, the front line is rapidly shortening which I assume will be to the Russian advantage when the mobilized forces are ready to join the war. As the Russians have had the advantage in firepower even when outmanned, what will happen when they have the numbers, too. And superior mobility. And still the command of the air.

        While Ukrainian logistic lines, I hear, are coming all the way from South Korea.

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      2. PlutoniumKun

        It wasn’t long ago that we were told that the Russians were in control around Kherson, and it was a perfect situation for attriting the Ukrainians as they tried to attack. Somehow, this seems to have changed. either the Ukrainians proved far stronger than suspected, or Russia is far more stretched than we’ve guessed.

        The Russians may now be ‘safe’ behind the Dneiper, but there is no way around that river unless you want to visit via Belarus. At some stage, they need to cross it. And not just cross it, but completely rebuild the bridges that the Ukrainians will no doubt destroy if they are threatened. This will be enormously costly in lives and will leave whatever assault vulnerable to attacks on their supply lines – and supply lines via a more northerly crossing will be very long if it is then to swing down to Odessa. I find it very hard to believe that Kherson was useless and irrelevant to any such attack.

        I find it very hard to believe any commander looked at the situation and thought to themselves that Kherson is irrelevant as its easier to go the long way. Thats a hell of a long detour to get to Odessa.

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        1. spud farmer

          I think it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the Russian military is struggling to maintain momentum and meet the goals set out for it at the beginning of the SMO. I have little doubt that in a straight up Russia versus Ukraine fight the Russian military would prevail but with NATO strongly supporting the Ukrainians the dynamics have shifted. AWACS aircraft and spy drones from the US, UK, Germany and Canada are in the air 24/7 in the airspace surrounding the battlefield and up and down Russia’s borders and along with US military satellites provide the Ukrainian military with real time intelligence. Russia has spy satellites and AWACS aircraft too, yes, but it can’t match NATO here and this alone gives a huge advantage to the Ukrainians. Another major factor is that much of Ukraine’s industrial rear isn’t actually in Ukraine which might be why repeated cruise missile strikes have failed to halt the flow of weapons to the front.

          I’ve also been reading posts from very nationalistic Russian telegram channels and the tone is quite pessimistic and exasperated. Two complaints that appear over and over again are that Russia should have mobilized months ago and that the troops that are fighting aren’t receiving the tools and training they need to do their job. There are credible accounts of men being sent to the front without even proper first aid kits. The picture one gets is of a Russian military that is sluggish and disorganized.

          Wars are of course notorious for not playing out as predicted. I wouldn’t say that Russia is definitely going to lose this war but right now they are clearly not winning it.

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          1. Yves Smith Post author

            The “very nationalistic” as in super hawkish Telegram channels have been hysterics for months. Look at the freakout and blanket acceptance of bad intel re Pavlovka, and treating an obviously fake letter depicted as from a solider (apparently non-native grammar) as bona fide, or the meltdown over the Russian flag being taken down from an administrative building (it turns out because the building was not longer being used by the Russian government), or the total panty-wetting over a mere three helicopters being blown up with IEDs. They make money by selling FUD. And they often wind up amplifying Ukraine propaganda.

            And if Russia has such a lousy military, how has it been able to repel every attack made on the Kherson front for months, when Kherson is at the tail end of supply lines?

            And BTW is it Ukraine that is showing an appalling level of deaths v. casualties, way worse than the normal 1:3. That suggest that it is Ukraine that is doing a terrible job in the field medicine category.

            Having said that, Rybar is more sober.

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          2. Polar Socialist

            Neither NATO AWACS nor spy drones can actually directly observe the battlefield, Ukraine is so darn huge country.

            In other words, Ukrainians had to read the news to notice that Russians had left the right bank completely. And even then approach Kherson carefully and with small, light forces.

            I believe NATO’s help only alleviates some of the disadvantages Ukraine has but does not really her give any advantages.

            Russians, on the other hand, are testing every current and future sensor system they have under development right there inside Ukraine, on the front line. Like sonic sensors and passive UHF (cellular network) radars and stuff.

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    3. Tet Vet

      “The only alternative would be either an amphibious assault on Odessa (very risky), or to attack from the north once Russia has taken some major bridges.”

      The latter is what I believe is in the works.

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      1. PlutoniumKun

        That may very well be the plan – its the logical conclusion from what seems to be their new battle order. But it seems to me to be a very risky alternative given that it requires a very long supply line and the establishment/capture of railway crossings of the Dneiper. And the withdrawal also makes establishing a pincer movement on Kryvyi Ri impossible – I always assumed that this was the logical move if they wanted a stranglehold over the coastal cities. and they could establish a crossing on or near Dnipro.

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  6. Stephen

    I listened to The Duran video last night that Timbers discusses above. Alexander Mercouris does seem to be getting impatient. He has been ill with some form of flu recently it seems so that may be impacting his thinking! Both Alexes have had a slightly different tone recently but they do ask fair questions. I actually think though that Putin is a very effective war time leader. He is thinking in a truly strategic way.

    Russia’s prime war aim seems to be security: basically to be left alone without the US fomenting colour revolution, sticking missiles around her and destabilizing the overall former USSR region. Achieving that needs far more than just capturing territory in Ukraine.

    The question for people who think Russia ought to go faster is probably to think about what they have lost by going slowly. Other than western propaganda portraying them as incompetent (why should they care about that) I cannot think of so much. As Yves notes, they have ground down the Ukrainian army, depleted NATO inventories and tipped Europe into recession plus possibly started the de-industrialization of Germany. A faster, Blitzkrieg style operation would have been far more costly in terms of Russian casualties, may have created more revulsion in the Global South and would still not have achieved the real war aim of getting the US / NATO to pack up and stay at home.

    None of this is to claim Russian (or Putin’s) omnipotence either. At the start, Putin clearly did hope that a demonstration of force would suffice. It nearly did but then the collective west got involved big time and have successfully convinced him and the Russian people through deeds and words that they really do want to destroy her. Nice work. Given where we are, a long term conflict waged on multiple dimensions seems the likely outcome. Kherson is purely a footnote in that.

    Russia is waging this war in a way that consistent with all the prior existential threats going back to the Great Northern War and the Napoleonic War. Cede territory, go slowly, fight an attritional campaign, build alliances and bring Russia’s natural resource rich advantages to bear.

    The US / west seems to be waging war in the way that it has become accustomed to as well. Make sure everything happens a long way from home, moralize like crazy that this is all about “democracy” and peace, get other people to do most of the the dying, send awesome high tech weapons and bully everyone else in the world to be your ally. Create support by throwing money at local “client” leaders, enable the US MIC to get even richer from juicy contracts and provide new career opportunities for the officer corps, think tank community and politicians. Then let the whole thing go on for ever until you are ready to move on to the next pork barrel opportunity. The announcement of a 300 strong HQ in Germany sums it up: just think of the career enhancement and the amount of PowerPoint such a group will be able to generate.

    The prime difference is that this time the stakes are for real. The enemy can fight back.

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    1. Rob

      The planned NATO headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany could well bring about an uninvited nocturnal visit by Mr. Kinzahl. However, Russia might hold back Mr. K as long as Germany does not become directly involved in the war, a prospect that is becoming more likely by the day.

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    2. Paula

      “Russia’s prime war aim seems to be security: basically to be left alone without the US fomenting colour revolution, sticking missiles around her and destabilizing the overall former USSR region. Achieving that needs far more than just capturing territory in Ukraine.” Russia knows full well the long history of salivation and planning to occupy their country and slice it up like the Ottoman Empire. It is life or death for them against the failing but nevertheless insistent hegemony of the US regime. If ever a regime change was needed, the US is a first rate candidate. Russia is the Heartland of Europe and if she goes, US and NATO, who should not exist, controls the world. I don’t want a war based economy controlling the world, one that thinks sacrificing children and torturing six year olds by using a drill on their bodies is an okay thing to do in times of war. I’m all for Russia ending this American sickness and evil.

      Reply
  7. Jeremy Grimm

    I hope some COLs at the u.s. War College will make a careful study of the Russian actions in the Ukraine War. I believe the Russian tactics and strategies offer many lessons the u.s. military and political Elites would be foolish to ignore. The procurement officers at TRADOC might benefit from careful study of Russian weaponry and comparisons of that weaponry with u.s counterparts — if there are counterpart weapons and weapons systems.

    The u.s. metaphors for warfare largely derive from u.s. football. I believe the Russian metaphors for warfare largely derive from chess.

    Reply
  8. redleg

    Keep in mind that pontoon bridges and boats are useless to cross a river when there’s (moving) ice present. Once the river surface is frozen solid there’s no need for a boat or bridge at all.

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    1. Polar Socialist

      Even a record ice thickness of Dniepr would not support a modern Russian tank. Ice can be, of course, enforced with all kinds of means, but an ice bridge would still be much more vulnerable to artillery fire than any pontoon bridge or a military ferry.

      Doesn’t prevent anyone from using IFVs to take bridgeheads (or bridges), though.

      Reply
      1. redleg

        It doesn’t matter what might work best when conditions in the field dictate what’s possible.

        Speaking from experience, its surprising what ice can support and how it holds up under bombardment, especially in 0F and colder temps, and also how snow reduces the effectiveness of artillery. However, the benefit of snow does not extend to hard structures such as bridges, or to moving soft targets.

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        1. Polar Socialist

          I used to have an ice road visible from my window, but the ice ain’t the same anymore. It was one lane, reinforced by laying branches of spruce on ice and then pouring water over them. And sticking bigger branches upright on each side as guides during snowfall. Only for cars and small vans, like ambulances.

          Anyway, according to Finnish artillery testing in 1942-44, 8-12 hits per acre is enough to make ice too weak for passing.

          Finns also developed ice mines, a.k.a. ARSA bottles, which were half filled HE and a pressure fuse and pushed under the ice from a hole, being anchored by a line. The last bottle had electric fuse and when the ignited, pressure wave then triggered the bottles in sequence creating a long, 5-10 meters wide fault, that stopped infantry for 24 hours and tanks for 5 days minimum.

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    2. Louis Fyne

      happy to be corrected, my understanding is that the area round Kherson is relatively warm by Ukraine/Russia standards.

      Kherson gets a real winter, but not enough to freeze the Dniper to even allow a car to get across

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      1. redleg

        The bigger question is how much ice flows downstream. Any is too much for a floating bridge, and would complicate if not stop boat traffic.

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  9. The Rev Kev

    I’ll be the first to admit that I was wrong saying in February that Russia wouldn’t invade and was wrong about how the Russians would fight for Kherson. But one thing that I think I will be proven right on eventually is how as far as the Ukrainians are concerned, this will be as good as it gets for them. A side note. There is a stone wall at Gettysburg which marks where Picket’s Charge was able to reach. That stone wall is now acknowledged to be the high-water mark of the Confederacy-

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-water_mark_of_the_Confederacy

    And so I will say that the Dnieper river will eventually be called the high water mark for the Ukrainians. From now on, things will get much worse for them. Setting aside the military movements, the trends are all bad for the Ukrainians and are only getting worse. Here are just a few of these trends-

    -The Ukrainians are running out of manpower and are hard put to replace casualties.
    -Most of their military inventory has been destroyed. Same with what the west has sent them.
    -Half of the electricity has been knocked out and you can’t run a modern country without energy.
    -As they print more money, hyperinflation is starting to rear its ugly head.
    -Winter is coming and the country may not be able to cope.
    -Ukraine fatigue is a real factor in the west and there are more and more demonstrations protesting the sanctions.
    -The west is sending less and less gear and money. Weapons are now older, obsolete systems.
    -The Russian economy is doing fine and can send any amount of weaponry to the war.
    -The EU/NATO economies are going into recession and cannot afford to support the war much longer.

    I am sure that there are more trends but you get the gist. There are suggestions to freeze this conflict or call for a cease fire but that is as likely as the Union agreeing to a cease-fire and freezing of the conflict after the Battle of Gettysburg.

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    1. Greg

      I need to see more videos, but I think there’s a trend building in food supply for Ukrainian troops. The more recent videos of captured troops I’ve seen, the troops have been notably skinny. Haven’t been fed right for several weeks skinny. Not yet starving to death skinny.

      I consider that an important sign, since food is one of the few things the western allied nations still produce in quantity. If it’s not getting to the troops, then supplies from the west must really be tapering off.

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      1. Lex

        I saw a video recently where Ukrainian troops got a Russian dry ration pack. At first they joked about feeding it to stray dogs. Then they opened it and we’re openly amazed. Things are not good for Ukrainian troops in the field and they’re only getting worse. It’s a serious tragedy and almost entirely for the pride of Biden and Zelensky. I saw a vid today of a Ukrainian tank driver. He was crying uncontrollably and talking about how of the 30 tanks they used to have there were only 7 or 8 left, how those didn’t work right and how his command called them nameless meat, and how so many of his friends were dead.

        I wish I was surprised by the callousness of the US populace. When the aid is stopped it won’t be because it’s wrong and terrible what we’ve done to Ukraine but because we’re bored and don’t want to spend the money anymore.

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        1. Greg

          Yeah I saw that ration pack vid. Seemed too on the nose, I wrote it off as probably a set propaganda piece. Could be true though.

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          1. Lex

            Absolutely possible. But having also seen vids of how Ukrainians survive in the field normally I give it at least a little credence. I’ve never seen a Ukrainian dry ration packet, only odds and ends collections of canned goods from grocery stores.

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  10. David

    I wonder whether we aren’t seeing something quite new here: I’d describe it as reverse asymmetric warfare.
    In the past, asymmetric warfare was the recourse of the weaker side, usually a resistance movement, a separatist or independence movement, or something similar. The idea was less to capture terrain (though see next sentence) than to harass and wear down the government/invader/occupying power, such that they would decide that the struggle wasn’t worth it, and that the casualties and the political and economic costs were out of all proportion to the benefits of continuing the war. Terrain was not usually “captured” unless it was possible to set up a “provisional government” of some sort, but it could be effectively denied to the government/invading forces., by ambushes and booby-traps. This frequently happened in colonial wars: it even happened to the British in Northern Ireland, in parts of Londonderry and in Armagh, where they could only move around by helicopter.

    Transfer that to Ukraine, and you see two things. One is that the Russians are not fighting a conventional military campaign. Their tactics are essentially asymmetric: attacking supply and communications lines, striking with the high-tech equivalent of car bombs and IEDs, and adopting highly mobile tactics. (“When the enemy advances, we withdraw” said Mao). And don’t forget that the Liberation movements of the 1940s onwards were all advised and assisted by the Soviet Union. And the Russians have long memories.

    The second is that the Russians have clearly identified the key objective here (what Clausewitz called the Centre of Gravity) as the willingness of western governments to continue the war. In this sense, western governments now play the role of the French in Algeria, the Americans in Vietnam or, for that matter, the Russians in Afghanistan. The struggle is not primarily on the battlefield, but in the capitals of the West. As it becomes clearer and clearer that the West cannot win, argue the Russians, then support for Kiev will fall off, and, after a certain point, the regime will simply fall apart as in Vietnam in 1975, or for that matter in Afghanistan last year.

    If that analysis is right, then conventional measures of military victory are of only limited importance. Indeed, from the Russian point of view, a lengthy war in which the Ukrainians are always on the point of defeat, and always rescued one more time by more and more desperate western expedients, would actually suit the Russians quite well, since it would progressively weaken the West, with militarily and economically, far more than a quick victory would have done.

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    1. Lex

      I think this line of thought is important. But I’m not sure I’d call it reverse asymmetric warfare. It would be if this was Russia vs. Ukraine with a little bit of help from the west. At this point Russia is facing the full weight of US/NATO intelligence, command and control, and their armories. It just happens to be in Ukraine. Of course Russia cannot directly attack many of the assets the US aids Ukraine with, like the AWACs planes. Perhaps it’s just asymmetric played out with lots of conventional material rather than the traditional national liberation army type equipment.

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    2. hk

      Yes, that’s exactly why I thought early on that the best thing that could happen for the West is a quick and decisive Russian victory. Too bad that’s a pipedream now.

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    3. PlutoniumKun

      I was wondering about the application of some of the lessons of the Syrian War. The Syrians had adopted a very successful strategy before the Russian intervention of simply giving up urban areas to the rebels and then cutting off infrastructure. They reasoned that the rebel groups were incapable of running areas of a large population and this would stress their organisational abilities to the limit, and they seem to have been right. It has occurred to me that the Russians have reasoned that contrary to the usual rules of war, the more land Ukraine controls, the weaker it is.

      But I certainly think you are correct that to at least some degree, the Russians are very content to keep Ukraine tipping on an edge, without pushing it over. It seems almost certain that international political conditions will be better for the Russians early in 2023, so they have no need to press for a conclusion to the conflict.

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    4. midget

      David, why do you assume that the US/NATO will not support Ukraine to the bitter end if the alternative is, to paraphrase Stoltenberg, ‘a defeat for the West and the entire Rules-Based Order’? If our metaphorical Akela misses his mark, he is finished; thus, he CANNOT allow Russia to militarily defeat Ukraine.

      Given this, the assumed center of gravity becomes the ability of the West to support and supply Ukraine, which is nowhere near exhausted (for example, even if the US has supplied 40% of its entire HIMARS missile stocks to Ukraine, it can still supply 1.5 times what it already has, in order to prevent a defeat for the Rules-Based Order. The US military may kvetch about falling inventory, the people may b*tch about inflation and cost-of-living, but no price is too great for the preservation of US hegemony).

      As such, I suspect that the real way to win the war is to degrade the Ukrainian military/state to such an extent that it simply cannot absorb the aid the West provides. This involves taking out the railway power system, and making Ukraine’s bridges unsuitable for use (as Ukraine did to Russia in Kherson). For whatever reason, Putin is unwilling to do so.

      As an aside, one of the great problems of trading space for time is the possibility of a collapse in support for Putin and Putinism (domestically and internationally) if too much space is traded. After all, if Ukraine militarily imposes its will on the Russians enough – and it did in Kherson, by making supplying the right bank untenable – then it becomes more and more likely that Russian pullbacks are less a result of a grand strategy, and more a cutting of losses due to insufficient capacity/will to wage war. In either case, Russia is shown to be a Loser, and it is irrational to support a Loser’s lost cause.

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      1. JustTheFacts

        I disagree that the West has an unexhausted ability to support Ukraine: the US has other threats to worry about. Saudi Arabia going rogue and China threatening Taiwan, to name but two. These seem far more important to me to US hegemony than whether Ukraine loses a couple of provinces filled with people who would be happier in Russia.

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      2. David

        I don’t know what will happen, but it’s worth pointing out that in most cases the groups I was talking about did not win military victories. The French beat the FLN in Algeria, and had the resources to continue the war indefinitely. The US was certainly not losing in Vietnam, and could have continued the war for decades if need be. The Portuguese were actually winning in Angola in 1975. What was decisive was the economic cost of the war and the political divisions back home. In France it led to a coup d’état in 1958, and another attempted one in 1961. In Portugal it provoked an actual coup d’état by junior officers in 1974. The US experience is well known. But if you look at the rhetoric of the time in all these cases (or that of the apartheid regime in the 1980s, for example) it was very similar to what we are hearing now, and even more apocalyptic in the context of the Cold War.

        The added complications here are that an alliance of some 30-odd countries, including NATO, has to be kept together, and its populations obliged to suffer severe economic pain, with no prospect of the situation actually improving. This is an order of magnitude more difficult as a problem than anything faced in any of these other examples.

        The US, and the West in general, could continue the war, just as the US could have in Vietnam. But the difference is the enemy, which is why I think asymmetric concepts are important. Arms deliveries could continue, but I’m really not sure now that the Ukrainians still have the infrastructure and the trained personnel to use them, or that the Russians will allow either to be rebuilt. Apart from anything else, revived Ukrainian capability would have to come from western equipment and munitions, since the Soviet/Russian ones are pretty much all used up. But even under the best assumptions, it would probably take a decade to get back to where they were in February, even if the Russians didn’t try to stop them. I think, once again, the Russians are playing different kind of war. As I like to say, we are playing soccer and they are playing rugby, except that we only see a small part of the field.

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      3. Lex

        The problem is imperial stretching. So while the US can supply more material, there comes a point where it cannot do so without taking from somewhere else. That gets tricky. IMO, some of the other things we’re seeing such as the DPRK firing off lots more missiles than China usually condones is part of this stretching exercise. It reminds DoD that if they want to defend Korea, Japan and Taiwan while fighting a large scale proxy war in Ukraine, they’ll need to make choices.

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        1. hk

          I still think the key is whether Ukrainians can keep up with supply of properly trained manpower, without which modern maneuver operations of any reasonable size is impossible and, I think, is irreplaceable for any country in medium term. Despite the lack of affirmative evidence, I remain suspicious that Ukraine, by itself, can still seemingly maintain several brigades of maneuver capable troops. As a historical analogy, after the Tet offensive, Vietcong was broken due to heavy losses and could only be maintained only by transferring entire regiments of North Vietnamese regulars. So unless an “American People’s Volunteer Army” crosses the Yalu, I mean the Ukrainian frontier from the West, it seems implausible that Ukraine could keep up.

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    5. MILLER

      I also think that this is why we are suddenly hearing rumors about negotiations (Naryshkin and Burns in Ankara). That and the 300,000 man hammer Surovikin is assembling, for which the West will have no immediate answer, unless it wants to go “all in”.

      Reply
  11. Insousiant Iowan

    Regarding the Kherson withdrawal by the Russians: the completed mobilization Russian forces has not been fully trained much less fully deployed. Ukraine was eager to take by back Kherson no matter the costs to them. My guess is that Surovikin saw no need to have his force chewed up on a Ukraine timetable, but choose to withdraw and wait for a battle of his own choosing after full deployment of mobilized forces.
    As for the European disarray: were one to follow Michael Hudson’s analysis this is collateral damage intended by the US in order to remove German competition and tighten its grip on European vassals.

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  12. Raymond Sim

    The military ramifications of first the Covid pandemic, and now the current multi-pathogen pandemic. seem to me to have been given very short shrift in discussions of the war in Ukraine. In fact I can’t recall any kind of in-depth discussion of it. I think this is a matter of ideological bias, as epidemic disease, however mild, is always likely to be relevant to military operations. Disease associated with widespread labor shortages could scarcely fail to have serious effects.

    Taken with the rather awkward timing of the partial mobilization, the various developments not necessarily to the Russians’ advantage (in particular the way they found themselves dangling uncomfortably across the Dnieper at Kherson) make it plausible to me that their ground forces have been inadequate to the tasks they were intended for, presumably being less potent than Russian leadership had anticipated. If this were due to Covid then that would merely mean that Russian elite stupidity mirrors elite stupidity worldwide.

    If this is so then, absent stringent disease control measures the mobilization is likely to also prove inadequate, and there’s a very real possibility that it could make things worse.

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    1. Basil Pesto

      It’s a fair point, although my assumption to date has been to the extent that it’s had any effect, that it probably would have affected both sides equally. Russia has handled the pandemic disgracefully but I doubt Ukraine has done any better. That’s probably overly simplistic in terms of how it impacts the war though – waves at different times affecting different operations differently etc.

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  13. Tom Stone

    The Russians have pursued a measured escalation of force since day one, offering an opportunity to negotiate at every step.
    Which is impressive.
    And NO ONE in their right mind expected the “Western Elites” to impose the kind of sanctions
    “Biden” has tried to enforce.
    As many here have pointed out, those sanctions and the attack on the Nordstream pipeline have guaranteed the immiseration of Western European populations for generations to come as well as, in the case of the Nordstream attacks a betrayal of trust that will not be forgotten.
    And as far as going slow reducing the mutually supporting fortified positions in the Donbass, that’s an expensive proposition no matter how you go about it.
    It takes good troops and overwhelming firepower, go fast and it costs a LOT of lives, Go at a measured pace and it still ain’t cheap in trained troops.
    There’s a science to it that goes back further than Vauban, pin the defenders in place attritng them with exhaustion death and wounds, reduce or eliminate their supplies and when sufficiently weakened attack relentlessly with everything you have.
    And back to logistics, the UK Forces currently investing Kherson City lost men and materiel advancing to the attack, during the repeated attacks and will continue to suffer losses as they hold the city and its outskirts.
    I suspect Kiev used pretty much all of their available transport to get those men to the front with the supplies needed to make a show before the mid terms, the Ukraine rail network is largely electrified and it has been severely degraded over the last few weeks.
    The good news for the UKE commander in Kherson is that every dead soldier is one less mouth to feed, the bad news is that it is going to get harder to feed the remaining troops by the day.
    I see this as both a resource war and a war between Neoliberal Globalism and Nationalism with the Nationalists offering some hope that the Human species will survive the next few thousand years.

    Maybe ponies are the answer?

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  14. EquitableEqual

    Jens Stoltenberg has begun to include the concept of negotiations in his announcements as of today – I don’t think the Russians really need to announce anything as winter makes itself known. They are just letting the game come to them, no need for big offensive moves.
    On the other side, much of Europe has suffered from a labour shortage for some years now, which is being alleviated by the arrival of ukranian refugees. I’d expect the distribution to roughly equal the labour shortfall country by country

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  15. diptherio

    Remember when Victoria Nuland told that US ambassador — when he presented her with concerns about how continuing to stoke the conflict in Ukraine would lead to a massive flow of refugees into Western Europe — “f*** the EU!”? Seems relevant right about now.

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    1. diptherio

      Fact checking myself here. Darn it. I have a distinct memory of that being the context of the call, but I must have crossed some wires somewhere. Actually, she was pissed the EU was backing the Ukraine PM candidate she didn’t like. Apologies for polluting the steam with my faulty memory.

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      1. James

        I think your broader point about the US attitude being “f*** the EU” is spot on.

        Some commentators around here seem a bit more optimistic about Russia’s prospects than I am – it seems to me that the US has European political elites on a leash and they are fully prepared to fight Russia to the last European.

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  16. nippersdad

    An interesting factoid that I saw come up last night: Apparently the Ukrainian propaganda news minister took away the credentials of both CNN and Sky News.* Today it is being reported that they had been filming troops wearing Nazi paraphernalia when the Ukrainian soldiers were investing Kherson city.** Which is only interesting insofar as those journalists on the ground seem to have ignored the longstanding memo that there are no Nazis in Ukraine.

    * https://www.yahoo.com/now/journalists-stripped-accreditation-reporting-kherson-103531280.html

    ** https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M804I8rFG_k

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    1. The Rev Kev

      And as Kherson is back in the Ukraine, they have taken to plastic-wrapping people to poles just like in Kiev and other places. The Ukraine yanking the credentials of those reporters was to probably stopping them seeing how they are retaliating against civilians or stumbling across the latest “Russian massacre” being manufactured.

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        1. nippersdad

          That tweet has already been taken down by Twitter. No doubt they were worried about losing their Ukrainian accreditation./s Speaking of manufacturing Russian massacres, Yahoo was reporting yesterday that Zelensky has already found evidence of four hundred war crimes having been committed in Kherson since they wandered in.

          https://finance.yahoo.com/news/zelensky-says-400-war-crimes-014307354.html

          Busy people. Other than their inability to keep the trains running on time, their efficiency is really quite astounding.

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  17. Greg

    Mathematically guesstimating, if Ukraine is at 60% of regular output, if we generously take 10% of that level (as opposed to 10% of the original 100%), that would mean 54% effective output at colder temperatures. And it’s only going to get colder.

    I believe the Helmer post mentioned it a little, but there’s a fairly complicated engineering discussion to be had about how degraded capacity plays out. It’s not about gradually reducing the grid by subtracting percentages, it’s about keeping it continually stressed below the point at which load balancing becomes impossible. The destruction of the central balancing facility in Kiev during the attacks immediately after the Crimea bridge bombing is part of this.
    So what we’re likely to see is that the continued degradation of the grid keeps it around 60% generation capacity, because the nukes provide a big chunk of generation. But the ability to supply that 60% generation to consumers is going to collapse because the fluctuating frequencies around the grid combined with the inability to step supply down to local needs will cause destructive load imbalances at the remaining facilities.
    It seems likely that the onset of truly cold weather will trigger this load-imbalance collapse, because of the increase in demand (although caveated that a large amount of heating in Ukraine is provided by the power plants, so winter energy increases aren’t as big as in more electrically-dependent countries).

    We’ve seen at least one report already of a facility that wasn’t targeted by Russians catching fire, indicating load problems.

    Of course your general point about continued subtractive reductions in the available generation is true as well, at least until we hit the hard floor of the untouchable nuke plant outputs.

    Reply
    1. Greg

      On rereading this post I realised I used way too many words to say “attacks on the grid are about tipping points”.

      It’s similar to what we saw with ports a few years back – you might still have 80% of your capacity but everything grinds to a halt because its about a relatively fragile balance of throughput.

      As to where the tipping points are? No clue, not my expertise. I don’t know if its even possible to know if you aren’t a Ukrainian or Russian grid management engineer with access to the grid specifics.

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      1. Greg

        I think you’re unkind to yourself – I’m pretty sure I originally picked up this nuance from a post on NC, although I have a friend who nerds out on power grids so I got it explained more there.

        As a more complex explanation of how the grid works with tricky ideas like frequency and load balancing, it seems to fall out of our (non-engineer) heads easier than a simple model like “electrons go from generators to consumers”. At least, that’s my excuse!

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  18. LawnDart

    “F the EU”? Well, the EU is F’ed.

    Europeans oblivious to unfolding dynamics — The price will be horrific

    The Moscow-Berlin alliance had to be sabotaged to prevent further economic integration that would have drawn the continents closer together to form the world’s biggest free trade zone. Washington had to stop that in order to preserve its economic stranglehold on Europe, and what remains of dollar ‘privilege’.

    https://english.almayadeen.net/articles/analysis/europeans-oblivious-to-unfolding-dynamics—-the-price-will

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  19. fresno dan

    Its hard not to look at the other post today about SBF and crypto, and the whole get rich quick mentality, and not see that the very poor analysis of what is happening in the world by the western media is the obvious consequence of a money grubbing, get rich fast view of everything that occurs…

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  20. Mike

    “The problem is, of course, that the US is driving this train and has perilous concern for the costs inflicted on Europe, as we can infer from its almost certain endorsement of/participation in the Nord Stream pipeline attacks.”

    So Russia is not culpable in this conflict at all anymore? Was it not someones else’s borders they crossed? Russia and NATO can both be condemned in this bloodbath.

    Also one counter I could make to this new optic of a “slow grind” approach is I am sure there are Russians concerned that long term Ukraine will be a threat the more the country is torn down. Reference Somalia, Libya, Syria/Iraq for what happens when millions of well armed men are sitting around with no work. Doesn’t have to be that way considering you could make the same argument about the entire eastern bloc in the 90s and it didn’t happen but it’s still a risk worth considering.

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    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Sorry, not buying this at all. The US would have invaded Mexico years ago if China had made Mexico a military ally, had Mexico ginned up to join a security alliance, started oppressing Americans living in border areas to the degree it stoked a civil war targeting Americans, leading to a big refugee flood, and was training troops and placing missiles in Mexico.

      Russia was negotiating with the US late fall 2021. The US treated Russia with enormous disrespect, refused to respond to written proposals, and then lied in the press about Russian willingness to negotiate.

      Critically, on December 31, Biden withdrew his former verbal pledge to move no more Western missile systems into Ukraine. That was crossing a massive Russian red line.

      Macron tried reviving Minsk. That fell apart on Feb 15 when Zelensky rejected it. On Feb 17, at the Munich Security Conference, Zelensky said he wanted nukes. Russia’s security guarantee to Ukraine is based on not having nukes. No one walked that back.

      Oh, and speaking of Minsk, our stooge Poroshenko has recently admitted the US/West entered into that deal in complete bad faith, never intended to implement it, was just using it to buy time while it armed and trained Ukraine.

      The US owns this war morally after scuppering the peace talks, which has made substantial progress a mere 5 weeks after Russia entered Donbass and parked troops outside Kiev.

      And the US has admitted this is a proxy war and its aim is to break up Russia or force regime change.

      This is 100% our fault. It’s too bad you are not willing to see that.

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      1. Raymond Sim

        Oh, and speaking of Minsk, our stooge Poroshenko has recently admitted the US/West entered into that deal in complete bad faith, never intended to implement it, was just using it to buy time while it armed and trained Ukraine.

        Did he? It scarcely seemed otherwise, but I wonder what got him so chatty.

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    2. Lex

      None of those places were actually rebuilt. Russian occupied areas of Ukraine are already being heavily rebuilt. Now whatever is left of Ukraine that’s not under Russian control is different but while a danger to Russia it would be just as much a danger to Europe in ways that those other places cannot be.

      One solution would be to let Russia have most of Ukraine and split the rest among its western neighbors who have eyes on it anyhow. There will be a long term problem with the super nationalists, but they’re mostly native to western oblasts. Any way you cut it there’s potential for destabilization. It really becomes a matter of who gets the worst of that. But in the end, most people in these situation just want to get on with life. As long as territories are rebuilt and function the bulk of the population is unlikely to be terribly ideological.

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      1. Polar Socialist

        But in the end, most people in these situation just want to get on with life. As long as territories are rebuilt and function the bulk of the population is unlikely to be terribly ideological.

        Exactly. This is how the first wave of Ukrainian exclusive ethno-nationalism was fought in 1920’s and how the second wave was fought in the late 1940s. In both cases Ukrainians eventually chose peace and progress instead of terror and mayhem.

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  21. Lex

    I think it’s worth pointing out that the talks in Istanbul are between intelligence chiefs and that burns is both a Russian speaker and a former ambassador (he’s also pretty realistic on Russia). Maybe threats, maybe keeping escalation potential to a minimum. Probably not peace per se.

    One long shot possibility that might be in play is that the US is done and wants to extricate itself. That’s a tricky spot. Zelensky is not a full puppet and the US overthrowing him would be unpredictable. It could start cutting off aid, but I would assume that it would want some sort of assurances from Russia about what happens in that scenario. Yep, it’s against all public statements and it is far fetched. But the only thing sure about being a US proxy is that you’ll be abandoned. Abandoning Zelensky is about the only way out for the US. Corruption and FTX might be a decent excuse.

    Ukrainian telegram channels are starting to howl that there is a deal and they’re not even invited to listen in much less participate. The US managing a deal and forcing it on the current government in Kiev would be extra tricky.

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    1. Yves Smith Post author

      These are not peace talks, widely denied lest anyone get the wrong idea. The US is saber rattling at Russia with the prisoner swap as a supposedly less thorny issue. But the US keeps insisting to swap 2 Americans, including Greiner, for one Russian.

      This is a rerun of what Sullivan per Colonel Macgregor’s inside contacts recently did with his Russian interlocutors: make threats v. Russian escalation.

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      1. Lex

        Another interesting facet is that the Russian delegation immediately went to Tehran from Istanbul. (According to flight trackers) So it may have had nothing at all to do with Ukraine. I think Burns is an odd choice for delivering threats both by position and career/personality. Positioning to ditch Zelensky isn’t about peace but directing the contours of the conflict after that.

        The US can’t complete peace talks because the proxy is not under full control. It’s only real leverage is military support. But if it wants out it cannot just cut the support openly because that looks like it lost. I don’t think Biden, Blinken and Sullivan want out. But I do think there may be contradictory assessments of the situation within the USG. Burns would be the right guy to start a feeling out process.

        He would also be the right guy to make threats of a less traditional nature or those not directly connected to conflict in Ukraine. The Iranian protests are fresh and ongoing, a terrorist attacking in Istanbul kicked off the meeting. But regardless, Ukrainian sources seem to be fairly unanimous in their belief that these were peace talks and Ukraine is being sold out. Perhaps they do understand that the US is never loyal to its proxies and/or Zelensky as prime proxy is replaceable.

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  22. fairleft

    The intriguing idea is that Putin and Xi from the beginning have wanted a longer, two winters war. Under this supposition, the goal has always been the Fair World Order and not what Putin announced at the war’s start. To securely establish the FWO, China/Russia need to bring at least a significant piece of the EU over to their side. And to be sure that happens, two energy-starved winters bring much more certainty than one.

    Under the above supposition, the settlement Russia negotiated with Ukraine in March that was canceled by the US was entirely a Russia PR move, to advance the FWO by showing the rest of the world that the US is agreement incapable. The conventional explanation of the early part of the war, that Putin’s military swooped in on Kiev in order to scare Ukraine into serious negotiations that would conclude the war, as if they would be ‘real’ and have a chance of being successful, doesn’t seem plausible for someone as experienced, smart and well-informed as Putin.

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Oh, come on. Do not fabricate or you will not be welcome here.

      Ukraine reneged at the instigation of Boris Johnson, who said no security guarantee, then reaffirmed by the US. Johnson flew to Kiev to deliver the message.

      Confirmed by Fiona Hill in her book.

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  23. Altandmain

    From a strictly military standpoint, the Kherson withdrawal makes a lot of sense. The Russians have formed a defensive line. They do not need as many troops to hold a defensive position.

    The Russians are trying to minimize their casualties. Holding land is not as important. It’s mostly political optics. To their credit, the Russians have tried to evacuate the civilians to the best of their ability and have tried to minimize the casualties of the Ukrainians.

    There’s another matter that Scott Ritter has pointed out.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8GxxEdB3dAw

    Surovkin and the Russian military are still in the process of training up the 300,000 + reservists. Right now they are forming a defensive position while building up their forces. Once the forces that the Russians are training are ready, they can launch offensives, likely in winter of 2023.

    Ritter believes that this is one of the last off ramps that Ukraine has, especially if they want to keep Odessa and not be a landlocked nation. Otherwise, the Russians will be able to bring a lot of manpower and firepower on their offensive.

    Another good video to watch is from Douglas MacGregor.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8EVMSqbvzU

    He also points out that territory isn’t important and one thing he emphasizes is how little capability the West has in terms of being able to counter the Russians in a conventional war. Both videos are worth watching.

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  24. Redolent

    Zbigniew Brzezinski, US Statesman, and author of “The Grand Chessboard”, said: “Without Ukraine,…..Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire”. The Black Sea their gateway to the Mediterranean, and perhaps to them, the world. Centuries of history here, Russia’s Black Sea fleet notwithstanding.

    Reply

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