Russia Sitrep of Sorts

Your humble blogger felt the need to Say Something about the Ukraine conflict, in light o the very much touted Zelensky speech to Congress and a much less widely discussed series of meetings on the Russian side. The text below was intended to be an aside at the start of the completely unrelated post on the US weather-bomb, but wound up being more or less a post….and ignored due to where I first stuck it.

So if you encountered this discussion in the earlier post, apologies, but this hoisting makes more sense. This is an admittedly short take in light of current events because, as Lambert is wont to say, the situation is overly dynamic despite the limited motion at the surface.

* * *

Despite the big flurry of activity, Zelensky supposedly at the front in Bakhmut, then in Washington to see Biden and speak before Congress, as Russia’s top officials trek to Belarus for lotsa meetings and Security Council Deputy Chairman Medvedev goes to China to meet with Xi (an interesting deviation from normal protocol, and then Putin having a big meeting with military personnel, we still seem to be in waiting-for-other-shoes-to- drop mode.

Specifically, Russia is presumed to be just about ready to do whatever it intends to do with its recently-mobilized forces. However, it also seems as a precondition for launching any big or even deliberately moderate offensive that Russia needs to stop the shelling of Donetsk and take Bakhmut, and better yet, then take Slaviansk and Kramatorsk, believed to be less well bunkered than Bakhmut, on the last major Ukraine defense line before the Dnieper.

Although Russian can and will pursue its operation any way it pleases, it would seem both politically important as well as militarily advantageous to have gotten far enough with clearing Lugansk and Donetsk (and land within missile strike range of Donetsk City) so that what remains is mopping up and Russian forces can shift focus.

As Zelensky made clear with his visit to Bakhmut and then his speech to Congress, despite recent press efforts to minimize the strategic value of Bakhmut, Zelensky is doubling down on the importance of holding it, both from a PR and a troop commitment perspective. This suits Russia just fine. Having Ukraine send men into a battle where it has become uncontroversial to admit that Ukraine is losing soldiers at a massively higher rate than Russia is a very economical way for Russia to attrit Ukraine troops and materiel.

As most readers know, the reason Bakhmut is key is that it sits at or near key routes, so that for Russia to break the Ukraine defenses here will in comparatively short order produce the collapse of that defense line (see Brian Berletic for a more detailed discussion). While Russian fighters, led by the Wagnerites, are having to engage in intense urban fighting in Bakhmut, Russia is also creating a pincer around the city, with some commentators saying that Russia already has fire or actual control of all supply routes. Some go even further to assert that Ukraine forces are almost at or even past the point where they could withdraw from Bakhmut. In other words, the end game looks like Mariupol, except with potentially a lot more troops captured and no well fortified and supplied hang-out like the Azovstal Steel works where they could hunker down and vainly hope for rescue.

In other words, it was jarring to hear about the Zelensky victory-gasm in DC when events on the ground show it to be the wildest of fantasies. And those who are paying attention will also know that the Patriot missiles being sent to Ukraine are about to join the “Hall of Hollow Mandate” wunderwaffen. The number of systems and missiles being sent are too small to turn the tide. And the Patriot is a “jack of all trades, master of none” missile, intended to take down manned aircraft, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles. By contrast, the Russian air defense systems are designed to shoot different types of missiles to intercept different types of threats.

Plus the Patriot launcher is stationary. Once Russia is confident the Patriots are in Ukraine, it might launch a very decoy and drone heavy set of attacks on Ukraine targets to identify where the platform is to facilitate destroying it.

So Russia can and will continue to hit military and dual-use targets, particularly the electrical grid. Despite the Western press not taking much note, the last set of attacks again reduced capacity in a meaningful way.

This is a long-winded way of saying Russia seems able to handle the likely events of the coming weeks. Ukraine’s most potentially damaging moves would be more terrorist attacks, which can rattle the Russian public short term but don’t deter combat operations.

And Putin continued to have a grueling schedule of meetings where he again seemed focused and cool-headed. Some of the important tidbits were Putin’s exchanges with Acting Head of Donetsk People’s Republic Denis Pushilin, where they discussed progress of infrastructure rebuilding and new construction (apartments, schools, hospitals) along with the struggle to keep water running in cities still being shelled. The next day, Putin had four meetings, one of them a long session with what the Kremlin translated as the Defense Ministry Board, but might more accurately be called a collective or collegium.

Many sections stood at stark odds with how we do business in the US. These statements were from Putin:

The job of the Defence Ministry and the General Staff, as I mentioned, is to carefully analyse this experience [against NATO in the special military operation], systematise it as quickly as possible and include it in the programmes and plans for personnel training, training troops in general and supplying the troops with the necessary equipment….

I also expect our designers and engineers to continue the practice of visiting the frontline. I would like to express my gratitude to them for making regular trips and making the necessary adjustments to the equipment. I hope that they will continue the practice of checking the tactical and technical characteristics of weapons and equipment in real combat situations and, as I have already said, of improving them.

Now it is easy to dismiss this as aspirational blather. But if you read his remarks, Putin sets high and specific objectives, and many are operational, as in methods and structures for improving results. Even if only 1/3 were to get done, it would still be a lot. Consider further:

I would like to ask the Defence Ministry to pay attention to all civil initiatives, which includes considering criticism and offering an adequate and timely response. Obviously, the reaction of people who see problems – and problems are inevitable in such a big and difficult undertaking – their reaction may be emotional as well. There is no doubt that it is necessary to listen to those who are not hushing up existing problems but are trying to contribute to their resolution.

And if they are to believed, the military has improved its performance on key metrics. Illustrative factoids from Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu. This bit came well into his report

We are paying considerable attention to the development of military medicine. Thanks to prevention care measures taken in the armed forces, the incidence of medical conditions has decreased by more than 30 percent over the past 10 years. The number of military medical facilities that provide high-quality medical assistance has tripled and the range of services they offer has doubled. Over 28,000 patients have received this type of medical assistance.

Our combat medics have proved their worth during the special military operation. First aid is provided within 10 minutes. The wounded are delivered to medical units within an hour and to military hospitals within 24 hours.

They have decreased the fatality rate during evacuation stages. The fatality rate in hospitals has gone down to less than 0.5 percent, which is the lowest figure in the history of military medicine.

In other words, one gets the sense that the Russians have a relentless operational focus. Even if they don’t meet objectives, and one assumes they often fall short, it does not appear that they kid themselves about progress but either keep pushing or try to revise their approach.

This attitude may explain how Russia was able to adapt quickly and with considerable success to the shock and awe economic sanctions. It also underscores that those who underestimate Russia do so at their own risk.

Having said that, Alexander Mercouris on Wednesday mentioned a rumor that Poland was going to mobilize 300,000 men by May. While this is a potential wild card, Poland gave half their tanks to Ukraine and IIRC now have only 200. And Western ammo and missile stocks would be even more depleted by then on current trajectories. But this bears watching.

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  1. Louis Fyne

    ..Bakhmut is key is that it sits at or near key routes, …

    Bakhmut also sits on the regional high ground. An old-fashioned terrain map helps put everything in context.

    Google Maps “terrain map” is awful, and I imagine most western pundits are not bothering to find a decent terrain map to frame events.

    Map-reading has become a dead art. Rand and McNally are rolling in their graves

    1. Paradan

      Google earth used to be great for getting a feel for terrain since you could exaggerate it in the 3d view, but the new google earth doesn’t have that feature cause anything that is useful and beneficial to society will be improved into uselessness by our glorious PMC.

    2. dean 1000

      Topographic maps w/contour lines and elevations show just how high the high ground is, the lay of the land, the ups & downs of roads & RR tracks, etc. I haven’t large scale seen maps like that since i downloaded 1980’s Russian Maps of Afghanistan from the University of Texas online on 9/11. Can’t find em now or the link.

    3. Dan

      If someone is looking for a nice topographic map with contour lines, I like CalTopo with the ThunderForest Outdoors or MapBuilder Topo layers. Here, for instance, is Bakhmut.

      1. ambrit

        Curious this. The CalTopo site would not allow me to ‘back out’ back to NC. I had to close the screen and re-enter NC from zero.

      1. Joe Renter

        I don’t think so. Before the event some things need to be set in order. The list includes basics attitudes/actions of peace and sharing, and trying to save the planet. Seems like a tall order for the powers to be and lack of clear thinking by the masses.
        All in good time. Fingers crossed.

  2. Lex

    Thanks, Yves. I think you raise two very important points that get missed in a lot of summaries/sitreps of the conflict. Russia is iterating. An under discussed facet is that the now is not the conflict that started on 2/24. That was a regional, civil war in which a large, neighboring power intervened. This is now almost NATO vs. Russia and the sort of mobilization over months that the US did before Iraq ’03 has been implemented by Russia during active hostilities. In the course of the mobilization, Russia has been iterating and developing. There’s been no throwing troops and equipment at the front either to stop losses or try to make a decisive victory. This summary actually gets to that situation.

    The other one is related and its the panic factor. Zelensky going to DC and the Patriots are both indications that things on the west’s side are getting desperate. Biden essentially said that if the US goes much further in arming Ukraine that it will cause significant divisions in NATO. Zaluzhny is asking for more tanks than either Germany or the UK have in total. If Biden’s 2,000 supplied tanks is accurate and added to the 2,400 Ukraine possessed before the war, Ukraine has probably already lost more than the active component of the US Abrams stocks. (Obviously not all of the 4,400 are gone) NASAMS, hawks and Iris-T are already in Ukraine and haven’t made a difference. The only thing left are Patriots.

    As you point out, there appears to be no sign of panic on the Russian side. Aside from the Doomers of Russian social media. The Kremlin could be pretending, but if it were I would expect much more rushing of mobilized troops into combat. Not necessarily to storm Bakhmut but to fill holes and try to gain operational advantage/momentum/etc. On the other hand, it has to do something about Adeviika sooner rather than later; the displayed patience on that does begin to look like impotence.

    1. Tom Hickey

      Reuters: “A newly produced single Patriot battery costs over $1 billion, with $400 million for the system and $690 million for the missiles in a battery, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.”

      What will it cost Russia to destroy one? Certainly nowhere near 1B. I sense a disproportion here giving rise to a PR opportunity. Putin has already said as much. Not to mention when the Patriot system is shown to be not as effective as advertised.

      One the location is determined as soon as the radar is switched on, either an Iskander — which exceeds the capability of the Patriot system to protect against — or a decoy and salvo attack — which overwhelms the system, will take it down very publicly. A drone swarm could probably do the job too, on the cheap. Surely, the US military must realize this.

      1. jan

        Not sure who mentioned it, maybe one of the Duran guys? But why not leave the patriot intact, and send ample cheap drones and let Ukraine burn through patriot missiles, which are already in short supply it seems. Then let them send in another $690m missile package. Rinse. Repeat.

        1. Expat2Uruguay

          Yes, this exactly. Last night while I was listening to a recent episode from Mercouris, it struck me the irony that: this is a trap!!

          First it was a trap that the US set for Russia so that they could impose the “debilitating economic sanctions”. That trap was sprung and it didn’t do as much damage as was hoped for by the US.

          Over the course of the next 6 months Russia discovered that they could create a trap in which The West would keep sending weapons, and Ukraine would keep spending weapons out of all proportion (while of course diverting some for weapons trafficking opportunities). This has become a trap for the collective West to burn up an excessive amount of weapons, thereby weakening their ability to threaten China and Iran.

          It is a beautiful trap!!! Zelinsky and his Azov brethren are the perfect vehicle to maximize the amount of waste of weapon systems in the collective West. It really is amazing to behold!!

          1. kam

            Patriot Missiles are today’s Maginot Line. Like nailing a Duck’s feet to the porch and shooting it.
            The Biden, Zelensky, Graham, McConnell and Austin families are getting dirty rich on the deaths of Ukrainian youth.
            And where is the vaunted and historic Canadian Diplomacy and Peace-keeping? Nowhere to be found, just another tiny belligerent me-too tribe.

    2. Ben Gunn's Cheese

      I wonder if Russian leader’s “slow roll” of pressing the attack with the newly trained recruits has something to do with waiting for NATO to tip its hand a bit, showing their next move, especially if Russia suspects a much larger NATO involvement. I really hope NATO doesn’t step up its involvement, but what I hope isn’t relevant. I feel like I’m living in the wrong branch of an alternate timeline, starting somewhere back 20-30 years ago.

    3. Willow

      There’s been a misconception about Russian failures from the beginning. Russia has been taking an approach of ‘failing fast to learn fast’ (evolving). West’s been gloating about series of Russian failures at the beginning of the war. The story being that Russia tried to take Ukraine in a few days and failed and yet clearly as indicated above Russia has be preparing for a long war. These have been relatively small losses from which a lot has been learnt. Particularly problems of omnipresent Western surveillance and electronic intel, widespread use of drones, and how to counter Western training & resourcing of Ukrainian forces (meat grinder approach has proven very effective). And by drawing Western resources into Ukraine, Russia (and China) has learnt a lot about weaknesses in West’s supply chains and lead times.

      1. hk

        In some sense, exactly the opposite of Western war planning: “win” fast and lose slow, by not having long term plans (say, for occupying and administering conquered territory), per Iraq and Afghanistan, or, Libya, by proxy.

  3. Boomheist

    This is a great summary and an accurate one, too, I believe. The absolute cognitive dissonance of, on the one hand, a neocon/PMC orgasm over Zelensky addressing Congress and then Biden basically telling him to his face, uh, no, you aren’t getting either troops or weapons, has been entirely missed or avoided by MSM outlets, just as the flurry of Russian meetings have been ignored and cancelled. It is starting to look as if a NATO/US strike against Russia, possibly with tactical nukes, remains the only option remaining to somehow find a way to declare victory, as opposed to continuing as now with the slow incremental advance by Russian forces irregardless of what Ukraine and the West do. Russia keeps saying they will negotiate, and the West keeps saying, no negotiations unless and until you withdraw to pre Feb 2022 lines. Wouldn’t surprise me to see the Russians sweep through all of Ukraine and into the Baltics as well, then when talks start, as they ultimately will, withdrawing to the lines they meant to establish when the SMO began nearly a year ago.

    I fear this will become the Winter of Mental Adjustment, as the West suddenly sees that, but for the nukes, they have nothing in the cupboard to stand against the Russian forces. The West had built over nearly two generations a Shock and Awe system relying utterly on air power and speed, which only works if the air power is there and the strikes occur very fast. The traditional military structure built on terrain control, attrition, and imposed suffering, which seems to be the Russian way today as it has been for over two centuries, is demonstrating before our very eyes the hollow nature of NATO’s response. This is an Emperor Has No Clothing Moment, before our very eyes, which more and more of us are being forced to confront.

    It is going to get very ugly, I fear.

    1. KD

      Its hard to see any advantage to further escalation by NATO/USA. Perhaps the Poles are mobilizing as part of a plan for greater NATO allies to jump into the combat to save the Ukrainian army if it collapses, but it could also be intended as a deterrent, to either expansion into Western Ukraine/Odessa (if Ukraine becomes land-locked it will be hopeless as a Nation-State), or to deter expansion further into Europe, like the Balts or Poland. In addition, the Galacia concept has been floated by the Russians, and perhaps Poland wants to be in a position to capitalize (if UA collapses, maybe there could be a back channel deal concerning Polish occupation).

      First, Germany has committed to destroying its economy, and NS2 is no longer a factor, so there is no way out for Germany or Europe. Second, all the weapons are gone, the future orders rolling in are guaranteed for US Defense Industry, profits are locked in. Third, the West doesn’t want a nuclear war, and they don’t want to take casualties, not at the level they will against the Russians. All benefits of the war have been milked dry, all that remains is the cost: the issue now is managing the politics, timing and optics of Ukraine’s defeat, as far as its domestic political consequences.

      1. Polar Socialist

        The most obvious explanation, to me, for the Polish mobilization would be to both tie up Belarusian forces (there are rumors in the western media about “covert” mobilization in Belarus) so that Belarus can’t participate in any Russian offensive and also keep the Polish people invested in the war now that it’s impossible to hide that Ukraine has lost any momentum it may have had. Or maybe not invested, but escalate the situation enough to keep people not opposing the current government in the time of crisis.

        Also, if Russia can mobilize 300k men in few months, I gather NATO would like to know how fast it can expand it’s manpower – and only way is to test with members that have reserves.

  4. John R Moffett

    I think a very under-discussed aspect of all of this is how poor the Biden foreign policy team is and how egregiously they miscalculated just about everything, from their sanctions regime to their arming and training of Ukrainian troops. It is beyond comprehension that they did not anticipate the loss of the electric grid, and had no alternate plan to deal with that. Shocking that they thought that the sanctions would crush Russia in a matter of months. Bizarre that they thought that just sending weapons to Ukraine would be sufficient to stop Russia from taking and holding the eastern part of the country. It is also astounding that they thought, and still think, that bad-mouthing and ridiculing Russia will somehow help make Russia fail. It all makes the Keystone Cops look competent. This will be Biden’s lasting legacy.

    1. MichaelSF

      “It is beyond comprehension that they did not anticipate the loss of the electric grid”

      Especially since the US/NATO use of graphite bombs in Iraq and Serbia:

      “The graphite bomb was first used against Iraq in the Gulf War (1990–1991), knocking out 85% of the electrical supply. Similarly, the BLU-114/B “Soft-Bomb” graphite bomb was used by NATO against Serbia in May 1999, disabling 70% of that country’s power grid.”

      I guess it isn’t fair for other countries to use US/NATO tactics.

    2. chris

      I think it’s worth discussing some of what you said in that reply. Was the Biden Administration deficient in not anticipating the destruction of the electrical grid in Ukraine? Maybe. Were they deficient in completely underestimating the difficulty in restoring a grid based on equipment and distribution standards different from the US and most of Europe? Absolutely. Much like they either didn’t anticipate, or didn’t care, that cutting off access to Russian petroleum supplies would wreck diesel supplies world wide. You’d think these very smart people would have secured stores of diesel prior to doing that…

      This is another example of the revenge of the material economy. I’m not sure we have any politicians or their staffs prepared to talk about real economy concerns. Steel, roads, power generation…those are the big factors in any war. We don’t speak that language anymore. The best case for that being our summaries of Russia’s economy prior to the war, which suggested that Russia was about the same as Italy in terms of global impact and GDP. But in reality, in the real economy, deciding to cut off access to Russian exports has been a disaster many orders of magnitude beyond losing access to another Italy.

      I think it’s also important to understand the nature of the mania these Administrative creatures have. They believe that they’re right. They believe that Russia is wrong. They haven’t considered that other countries could have legitimate security concerns contrary our interests. This lines up with their need to extract resources and capital from every place on earth to fund their commitment to finance capitalism. That’s why even if Francis Fukuyama were to completely disavow McWorld and the “end of history” they’d never change. They have to believe that everyone wants to be an American. That everyone wants our type of business and society. And by extension, everyone will let our oligarchs extract whatever they want without any financial friction. Our politicians can’t consider the real economy, can’t conceive that Russia won’t be beaten with their usual tricks, can’t accept that continuing as we are will destroy most of the western world. They’re the good people. They make all the money because they’re the good people. So why should they change?

      1. digi_owl

        Because USA has not been in a slugging war in almost a century. And even the last of those didn’t affect US logistics directly.

        Its recent wars have been “shock and awe” followed by attempts to quell guerrillas.

        Also, that last part is basically calvinist prosperity gospel…

        1. hk

          The only “real” war, as in it brought home what it means to be at war firsthand, that US (after we became a real country) has ever been in was the Civil War, I think.

            1. hk

              Notwithstanding the British/Canadians burning Washington, there was no “big” fight on American soil, that really brought home what “war” meant. This is what I mean by a “real war,” something that levels entire cities, makes whole towns devoid of most young men, and so forth. War of 1812 was a small affair, which most people didn’t know too much about.

              1. Paleobotanist

                Native Americans have known what war really means actually over the last 400 years. I’d watch that blanket statement.

                1. BlakeFelix

                  Hardly a peer conflict though, our diseases pretty well wiped them out before we got our killing machine in gear. Not to absolve us or anything, we were dicks, but they were pretty much doomed to be at our mercy when 90% of their population died before the wars really got started. Some of the survivors fought amazingly, but it was like 100 badasses against the US Army most of the time.

      2. hk

        Then, it begs the question: what is this “American” that they think people want to be? Plenty of actual Americans don’t want to be the kind of people they want to create.

        1. chris

          I don’t know. When I listen to people like Nancy Pelosi, I think our leaders are people who hate most of the people I know. Maybe they envision some kind of gender less, class based caste system where no one dares to question their betters, and everyone is glad to have whatever job they’re permitted? It’s certain that they don’t want anyone questioning stock purchases or freezers full of boutique ice cream while others are freezing and starving.

          1. digi_owl

            That brings me to a tangent that has been itching at me of late.

            I suspect that much of that gets referred to as “class” these days would better be referred to as “caste” in order to properly capture is societal status nature.

      3. eg

        This is what happens when spreadsheet land meets reality and discovers that its map doesn’t match the territory.

      4. Victor Moses

        Excellent reply. The hubris and the self righteousness is at extraordinary levels particularly in this extreme virtue signaling time we live in. I wonder how the American elites will face the end of empire moment when Ukraine falls.

        1. SocalJimObjects

          Why would it be the end of empire if and when Ukraine falls? AFAIK, there’s no vaccines, etc that can cure ultimate delusion.

    3. Lex

      Almost all of his team goes all the way back to the second Clinton admin. These are people who’ve only known “full spectrum dominance” and take it as a given. Many have worked at high level (appointed) for both GOP and Dem admins. In the old days of blogging we all called them “the Blob” but it was still relatively early days for the concept. Now it’s fully mature. They are divorced from domestic politics and the reality of global politics. Their entire careers have been a perpetual motion machine of abject failures for which there has never been even the punishment of losing a job.

      And this is their crowning achievement. Many of them have been working on it for two decades. These names (besides their involvement in Iraq) go back to the Orange Revolution. Nobody stumbled into this in Ukraine. It was supposed to be the crowning achievement of their brilliant careers. Perhaps the biggest problem facing us now is that they simply can’t let go and readjust. That includes Biden. Failure is not an option because it would hurt their PMC status and self worth. So they’ll keep doubling down on failure in hopes that the luck they know they deserve comes around. Foreign policy as gambling addiction …

  5. David in Santa Cruz

    I agree that the Russian intervention in the civil war in the “Ukrainian” SSR that developed in the wake of the disorderly break-up of the USSR changed after the collapse of talks mediated by Erdogan and the blatant NATO arms intervention. The Russian leadership have embarked on a transformation of Russian society now that they they and the majority of Russian citizens have realized that this crisis is existential.

    The Russian leadership do not appear to be in any hurry to strike a “decisive blow” against the “Ukrainian” government, who are in fact the “secessionists” since 1991 and who have never established a functioning state or constitution since that time. Rather, the Russians are strengthening their own economy and military for the long haul. They can continue to use stand-off artillery and missiles to bleed the “Ukrainians” until their inevitable collapse. The Russian leadership appears to have no intention killing-off their officer caste as occurred during the World Wars of the 20th century.

    Meanwhile the American and European citizenry will become ever more frustrated with the demonstrated impotence and incompetence of their Political Classes.

    1. hk

      In some sense, the people who really want to see this big Russian blow are American “realists.” (I suppose I’m one of them myself) We think Ukraine is a lost cause, both morally (because their leadership is both evil and extremely corrupt) and materially (because we can’t afford the price of the conflict in myriad dimensions in the medium to long term). So we want to see the crisis end as soon as possible. But is this how the Russians think? Or even the Ukrainian leadership? I think Russians want to see us twist in the wind as long as possible, exhausting ourselves along the way. Ukrainian leaders, likewise, want to drag this out as long as they can, milking us for as long as they can dupe us with their ridiculous posturing.

      1. digi_owl

        Not sure. I suspect Putin wanted it to end quickly, with the fighting bringing Zelensky to the negotiation table for a proper orderly settlement regarding Donbass and NATO. But then a couple of bumpkins interfered, and things have slowly been escalating since.

        At this point the issue needs to be settled between USA, UK and Russia, but the former two will keep pointing back to Ukraine while repeating “sovereignty” again and again. Thus leaving Russia stuck at an impasse.

        1. Lex

          Agree. Putin wanted a short, sharp regional war and some recognition of reality on the ground by the US. He got the opposite. So now it is a matter of making us twist. Globally it’s a matter of careful overstretching of the empire. See, China letting Kim shoot missiles towards Japan at an unprecedented rate and not even trying to calm the waters around Taiwan. It’s a dangerous game but the rest of the world seems to accept that it’s the only game left to play.

  6. Cat Burglar

    Early analyses of the Russian missile attacks on the Ukraine power grid emphasized the intent to destroy the power to the rail network supplying the front. Press reports since then have — understandably perhaps — had almost no information on the subject. Attacks described as “massive” and “colossal” are attributed to only three or four missiles reaching their targets, so there are many dogs not barking.

  7. Bosko

    I am one of the Americans who find it absolutely amazing that Zelensky is able to go in front of Congress and be treated with this kind of adoration (and cash). I’m not surprised by the drooling on the part of our politicians, even the bipartisan aspect of it, because I consider these people mostly old and entirely corrupt. But it really does amaze me that the average American isn’t sickened by the whole display. I live in Maine, and if you read the comments under any article on Ukraine in the local daily, the dialogue is mostly pro-proxy war, which I take to be evidence of the Liberal class/cultural background of its readership; it really does seem as if the Democratic base is fully on board with this disgusting war. Among the Republican base, independents, and the leftier of the Left, that’s clearly much less true. Still, I’m surprised that there aren’t more cracks showing in the facade.

    How is Biden managing to manufacture consent for this war? Well, one thing is that I think they’re being careful about playing down the financial aspect. The last thing they want is for Americans to start connecting the dots, to start thinking, Why are we spending all this money, when so many are suffering here? On the propaganda front, they’re going to keep addressing this point. They will say, as Zelensky did, Sure, you’re sending money, but at least you’re not sending soldiers. They will release more oil from the strategic reserves in order to keep prices down. They will trot out penny-ante fringe social programs so the war hawks in the Biden admin can say, You may not like these weapons giveaways, but look at all we’re doing for you! The Republican failure in the midterms, much as I hate to say it, did a lot to relieve the pressure on the financial front.

    1. chris

      How is Biden manufacturing consent for this war? The US electorate is financially strapped, distracted, and has no confidence in their institutions. They’re not involved in any consenting. They’re ignored.

      As for the donor class and others in the Davos set, they’re excited about the opportunity to loot another country. As well as all the funny money sloshing around from all our defense contractors.

        1. Expat2Uruguay

          It’s probably a better analysis to look at how they manufacture passivity rather than how they manufacture consent. I’m sure the two are linked.

          1. chris

            That is an excellent point. I would assert based on observations from working in the government contractor ecosystem previously and by consuming news over the last 30 years that they manufacture passive consent by:

            Identity politics (no large opposition coalitions)
            Wage Stagnation (no one can afford to say no to their bosses and leaders)
            Money in politics (no one can afford to resist the bribes)
            Reduced Education Funding (most can’t find these countries on maps)

            The end result is a large population of tired, confused, frustrated people who don’t know how to resist and can’t afford to do more than work two jobs and hope they don’t fall farther behind.

            1. Rolf

              I think you’re right. Most Americans are strapped, worried about their next paycheck, debts, their health, their children, their future. Their only leverage is withholding their labor, but they can’t afford the risk of losing their job, so they’re powerless. And of course, Biden, Pelosi, Schumer will always claim they’re “fighting for Americans”, while safely extinguishing any real reform amid performative displays of virtue before a passive media.

      1. digi_owl

        In the end both parties are major investors in the MIC, and so see dollar signs.

        And while as you say the working poor are distracted by disease and economics, the PMCs are hell bent on making Putin (and by extension Russians for keeping him in power) pay for Mrs Clinton losing to Trump.

        In particular as they have little reason to fear being sent to die in some Ukrainian trench, should the whole thing escalate into a direct NATO conflict. After all, USA has not conscripted PMCs since the 60s.

    2. Lex

      By being extra careful to not let it slip that by all definitions under international law, the US is a co-belligerent. That is, the US is in direct war with Russia. If it had to be put that way to the American people, opinions likely shift.

      While true that those international law definitions, statutes and precedents could be applied to many (if not most) proxy wars to get co-belligerency status, the openness of this one is orders of magnitude beyond what we’ve ever seen before. One of the hallmarks of co-belligerent as opposed to proxy sponsor is where troops are trained. If we sent Americans to train Ukrainians in Ukraine, that’s classic proxy war. But when Ukrainians are sent to other nations to openly train, that’s co-belligerent. Apparently Ukrainians will come to Oklahoma to train on the Patriots we’re sending. We’re at war with Russia.

      If you asked most americans “Do you support supporting Ukraine?” versus “Do you support the US fighting a war with Russia, which happens to be occurring in Ukraine?” I think you get pretty different responses. So it will be extra problematic when all of a sudden the US population has to cope with the realization that it is at war with Russia.

      1. anon in so cal

        The information that the US is legally a co-belligerent and that the US is at war with Russia, using Ukraine, has been out there since spring. War promoters dominate social media and corporate media, however, so that message has been buried.

        “US involvement goes deeper than arms sales and intelligence sharing”
        Pentagon official: it is “likely we have a limited footprint on the ground in Ukraine, but under Title 50, not Title 10.” “US a ‘co-belligerent’ in Ukraine war, legal expert says. US and allies warned on ‘violations of a neutral’s duties of impartiality and non-participation in the conflict’.”

        “Bruce Fein, a constitutional expert and former associate attorney general in the Ronald Reagan administration, told me this week that in his view, “the United States and several NATO members have become co-belligerents with Ukraine against Russia by systematic and massive assistance to its military forces to defeat Russia.”

        “Under the Declare War Clause of the constitution, co-belligerency, which displaces the status of the United States as neutral, requires a declaration of war by Congress,” said Fein. But instead of fulfilling its constitutional duties, Congress has been aggressively pushing the administration to deepen its involvement in what is clearly now a US-Russian proxy war.

    3. Tom Pfotzer

      It amazes me, too. When I saw Zelensky up there, I thought “there’s the circus barker for the next shake-down of the Rubes.”

      Chris – above – is right, most people are over-run by events, and not paying attention, etc. and of course the politicos are experts at taking advantage of that fact.

      But it is particularly repugnant to watch the brazen acting – the Show – and no one has thrown any tomatoes, yet.

      That reminds me…there’s a scene, I think it’s in Huck Finn, where the Royal NoneSuch* sucker almost the whole of a tiny river-side town into paying admission to their ridiculous scam-show of Hamlet.

      The townspeople that went to the first show told the other townspeople what a great show it was, in order to snooker them into the bezzle, and thereby defuse any ridicule they would otherwise have faced when word got out that the “show” was a con, and the NoneSuch were frauds.

      So the rest of the town attended the show on the second night.

      But on the third night, the townspeople came ready to do battle. Many a well-provisioned overcoat was worn, and the aroma of well-ripened fruit and other putrescent delicacies scented the air.

      The house was packed.

      I’ll not spoil the rest of the story. Mark Twain never disappoints.

      Wouldn’t it be great to pelt the NeoCons and the Zelenskys and all the other horrors with rotten vegetables?

      And get it on film?

      Do you think a chamber-pot would get past Capital Security?


      * The NoneSuch were two busted-down con-men into whose clutches Huck and Jim innocently blundered during their raft trip down the Mississippi

    4. anon in so cal

      Zelensky’s visit was a psyop / stunt to gin up support for Biden’s next $45 billion to prolong/escalate. Costume was part of the performance.

      Biden, State, and the rest of the neocon establishment orchestrated the performance to whip up pro-war fervor. If Twitter is any indication, it was a success. I think censorship will increase. There are intensified attempts to ID and impugn war critics. As many have noted, Biden bet the house on this war and has no off-ramp, so to speak.

    1. Not This Again

      Well, according to the CIA world factbook, Poland has an active military of 120,000 and was planning to increase its active military by 300k over a decade anyway.

      I don’t think it is believable that the country can almost triple the size of its force over six months, but maybe with the 200k reservists and an inability to access actual equipment it may b possible.

      Color me skeptical, though…

  8. Alice X

    Democracy Now reported today that in a recent speech, Putin, for the first time, used the word war in place of the SMO.

    Sorry if I’ve missed anyone else having observed this.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I don’t trust anything from the Western media. I searched Putin’s recent speeches and find nothing of the kind. Mercouris and Martyanov and others would be all over it.

      Did she try to twist this? This is the only thing I could find when I searched on “war”. It’s an abject misrepresentation to say Putin was talking about the SMO. He used “war” to describe Western action v. the Donbass and Russia:

      But a war was unleashed on them in 2014. I mean a war. This is what it was about. What was it when the centres of million-strong cities were struck from the air? What was it when troops with armour were deployed against them? It was a war, combat operations. We endured all this, endured and endured, in the hope of some peace agreement. Now it turns out that we were simply fooled. So, a country like the United States has been involved in this for a long time. A long time…

      You know, I have already spoken about this. The situation actually started developing – this was less perceptible here, while the West preferred not to speak or notice anything – way back in 2014, after the coup d’état that was instigated by the United States, when cookies were handed out on Maidan. I have spoken about this many times.

      But our goal is not to whip up the military conflict but to end this war. This is what we want, and this is what we will try to do.

      1. Alice X

        Her clip is apparently of the last two sentences, with differences in translation. Using only the two sentences certainly tends to muddy the interpretation, to put it mildly. I’ve been skeptical of their Ukraine coverage since early on.

        Democracy Now 12/23/22

        In headlines


        Amy Goodman:

        In Moscow President Vladimir Putin Thursday used the word “war” to describe Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it’s the first time he has strayed from publicly calling the conflict a special military operation [9.03]

        9:04 – Putin in Russian

        9:08 – voice of translator:

        our goal is not to spin this flywheel of a military conflict, but on the contrary to end this war. This is what we are striving for…clip ends

        9:16 Amy Goodman:

        Putin’s remarks follow the arrests of anti-war Russians who face fines and up to ten years in prison for calling the conflict a war instead of a military op… a special military operation.

        segment ends

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          In context., Putin was clearly talking about the civil war that started in 2014, not the SMO. The Western press plays this trick all time, of taking single words out of Putin remarks and twisting their meaning.

          Alexander Mercouris (who is at least moderately fluent in Russian,) stresses that there are lots of subtleties in Russian and is cautious about relying on anything other than the official Kremlin translation.

      2. Divadab

        I used to listen to Democracy Now regularly. No more. They presented abjectly false information about the Syrian situation and now this fakery. What a disgrace.

          1. Michael Fiorillo

            They also maintained uniformly maximalist coverage of Russiagate, with their go-to person, Marcy Wheeler, being totally unhinged in her coverage of the story. Refusing to ever broadcast sa skeptical view until Mueller popped the #McResistance media’s Russiagate bubble, Democracy Now was as bad or worse as MSNBC.

      3. synoia

        It appears to me that the US has been at war without interruptiion a since WW II..

        N Korea
        Parts of Africa

  9. fresno dan

    I think this post is so important. Its like our MSM is in a delusion field. Its like our congress and president is in a bad version of Invasion of the Ukrainian Body Snatchers
    Even though I despair, one can only hope that 1 candle can shed enough light for other candles to be lit, and eventually enough light shines for reality to be visible.
    Why after such disasters in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya are we sooooo axious to do it again???

    1. chris

      I’d like to quote fictional President and villain in chief Lex Luthor here: “Free speech is a wonderful thing as long as no one is listening.”

      The reaction to the Twitter Files releases shows that to be true.

      We’re also living with the corollary…freedom of speech isn’t freedom from consequences, and those in power make sure people who speak freely face consequences.

      No one in authority, in the respected media, or in local politics, is speaking out against our involvement in this conflict. It seems like only yesterday when accusing this conflict of being a proxy war was conspiracy talk. Now it’s taken for granted as true. So there is no basis for normal citizens to even consider pushing back.

      As for Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. being disasters, disasters for whom? Who lost their job? Who went to jail? Who was socially and financially ostracized? The answer that’s obvious to the Victoria Nulands of the world is: no one. No one who matters.

      1. Starry Gordon

        As an abnormal citizen, I do not push back because I have no idea what to push. The government does not need me to fight, or save tinfoil, or start a victory garden. Great SUVs hog the roads and the oil, but it just happens to happen, and when enough citizens protest, the gobmutt or ruling class just produces more from its sleeve. When money is needed it prints the stuff. Given the ubiquity and marvelous effectiveness of the Propaganda Model, there might not even be a war (except of course on the emoji front.)

        I am convinced that there is some truth to the let ’em die conspiracy theory about COVID, however, because I saw and see that happening in front of me. Take off your mask and breathe deep.

        The only way of accessing the truth seems to be absolute, uncompromising, bottomless radicalism.

    2. The Rev Kev

      Yeah, about those Ukrainian Body Snatchers. Turns out that there is a lucrative industry in the organ trade on the eastern front with so many young men dying. I read somewhere that the Ukraine eased the laws to do with organ donation last year so that it may be up to a local commander to give permission or not for a soldier to have his organs donated. No way that a Ukrainian officer would ever abuse that power.

    3. Young

      Why? Pelosi.

      If Pelosi impeached Bush and Cheney for Iraq (remember “impeachment off tha table”), Libya, Suriya, Ukraine would be a much better place now.

      Even Pentagon would make do with about half a $T per year.

  10. Not This Again

    Having said that, Alexander Mercouris on Wednesday mentioned a rumor that Poland was going to mobilize 300,000 men by May. While this is a potential wild card, Poland gave half their tanks to Ukraine and IIRC now have only 200. And Western ammo and missile stocks would be even more depleted by then on current trajectories. But this bears watching.

    I suppose that is on way to prevent 300,000 Polish citizens from protesting lack of food and power.
    Or to take over Western Ukraine, which by May will have 200 fewer tanks than Poland.

    1. ambrit

      Or be ‘invited in’ as UN Peacekeepers to patrol the Ukraine/Russia DMZ.
      Think, not the Koreas but the Golan Heights.

  11. polar donkey

    TVA can’t keep up with energy demand here in Tennessee, so we have rolling black outs from the cold. But the US has spent $100 billion on Ukraine this year? Maybe we
    PS-Joe Biden owes me $600

  12. Lex

    Re: Poland,
    While I’m sure the Poles can theoretically mobilize, they’re ability to arm and provide equipment for more than the current 150,000 strong army is questionable. Most of their stock of armor, armored vehicles and artillery are theoretical at this point. Poland has a huge amount of gear ordered from multiple sources but it does not exist yet.

    I’d also question its ability to effectively utilize the extra manpower. Defending Poland is one thing, but it seems really unlikely that Russia is going to try and conquer Poland anytime soon. If the numbers are even close to correct about mercenaries operating in Ukraine, a not insignificant portion of Poland’s current army (particularly frontline combat) is already fighting and it is highly likely that these are some of the best and most trained forces.

  13. La Peruse

    I’m a little surprised that no one has mentioned ArtWinery and “50 million bottles of sparkling wine rest beneath the surface of the earth in Artwinery’s historic gypsum caves in Bakhmut, Donbas”

    1. Foy

      Wow, good pick up La Peruse, hadn’t heard of that. 60 acres of underground cave wine storage!

      “There’s a circle around the winery – a bomb-free zone.” Nathalie tells me in our weekly telephone call. “The bastards are coming for the wine, but we are deciding whether or not to destroy it.”

      Will the Ukrainians go scorched earth I wonder.

      1. LawnDart

        Now that’s something worth fighting for!

        What is life without simple pleasures?

        You have to be the friggin Taliban to destroy a treasure like that.

  14. John

    Global Times referred toMedvedev’ s visit as the meeting of the heads of their respective political parties thus preserving the protocol fig leaf. I found that quite in keeping with Confucian propriety.

  15. Paul Collis

    Good to see so many people seeing the US involvement in Ukraine/Russia conflict for what it really is, a distraction !
    One of the biggest points of distraction, and there are many, is the recent confirmation of the end of the American Dream.
    Why is it not the greatest point of interest, or topic for discussion, that almost incomprehensibly, life expectancy is falling in the US !
    This is just staggering fact.
    With all that America stands for, yells at the rest of the world its greatness, its ideal, life expectancy is year on year falling.
    Pretty much confirms the American Dream is really lost.

    A foot note, from my first visit I adored the US, I’ve visited many times and travelled extensively across the beautiful land, met amazing warm hearted kind people. Had the great privilege to live in rural Colorado for a while.
    But my last two visits before the pandemic really saddened me, such disharmony, such loss of welcoming, so much stepping over of homeless and their plight, so much drug addiction.
    I do really hope and pray the once great country finds its true way again, and the once abundant kindness and hospitality is refound.

    A good start would be to choose better leaders, decision makers.
    We are all determined by who we choose to teach our children, and choose to speak for us and govern us.

    Many many millions of people have given their greatest gift to us, their lives, for us to have democracy, the Vote.
    Why do we not really take this great gift more seriously.
    We can’t complain about our leaders when we have voted for them.

    1. tegnost

      Funny (well, not really funny) story…
      I was stuck next to a tv with pbs on and it’s all what are these poor migrants to do?It’s cold outside!
      Resources! They need care!
      followed by a story how if you are deperessed like so many americans we have a suicide hotline you can call!
      I wonder if those migrants listen to the news hour(probably not, which is good for them as they don’t really need to know that the american dream is a nightmare).
      And then universal z worship from capehart and brooks…it’s sickening.

  16. begob

    The ruble has taken a tumble recently. Mercouris reckons it’s a controlled devaluation, pointing out that it took effect against the yuan as well. Bond yields don’t seem to have suffered a spike. Any views?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      When the ruble went higher than 60 to the dollar, experts said the Russian central bank saw it as too high, it would damage exports. 70 was the level they liked.

      It’s now 69. There’s no problem

      The high ruble was seen as proof of the strength of Russia among the public at large. And inflation was still high so the central bank couldn’t address it directly.

      The rest of the world has been increasing interest rates, which makes their currencies look more attractive on a short term trading basis.

      Russia has been cutting interest rates because its inflation is falling.

  17. aremarf

    Hello everyone, I’m usually just an appreciative lurker from Asia, but I came across a post about some academics criticising German mainstream media coverage about the conflict on the Ukrainian telegram channel Zerada:

    When I tried to find English language reporting on this, I couldn’t turn anything up, and thought some folks here might be interested.

    The German-language source:

    1. Jack

      Thanks for the link. Mark Sleboda is a favorite commentator of mine. Of course, as a former US Navy submariner I am predisposed to others who served in subs like Mark. He is a very smart guy. One of the most interesting interviews he ever did (for me) was when he discussed his association with Alexander Durgin, whose daughter was assassinated by Ukrainian operatives in Moscow. Mark knew and worked with Durgin at Moscow State Univ I believe it was.

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