Ukraine and Russia: Waiting for the Next Phase?

Because Russia made some big-arrow moves across Ukraine early in the war, and did quickly bring Ukraine to the negotiable, a lot of arm chair generals have become very impatient with the subsequent pace of the conflict. That sense of frustration and anticipation has only increased as Russia has called up and has been training its 300,000 reservists plus volunteers and installed the ferocious-looking General Surovikin as theater commander.

Even though from a map perspective, not much seems to have happened, save Russia giving up Kherson city, later revealed to have been a trap. But Ukraine has burned through most if not all of its initial weapons, despite it having been armed to take on Russia. And Russia has shown it is most assuredly not running out of missiles by methodically wrecking Ukraine’s electrical transmission and destroying military assets like drone conversion facilities, air strips, and even Starlink terminals.

And in a further taking stock, in a New Year’s update of sorts, former Colonel Douglas Macgregor, who maintains inside contacts, estimates total Ukraine casualties at 450,000 and dead at 150,000 (at 2:00):

Even with that level of carnage, Ukraine is still punching, even though, as Macgregor points out, there is evidence that Ukraine is getting desperate for men: pressing young teenagers into service and relying more and more on foreign “volunteers”.

Yet there is still pent-up anticipation that Russia will launch a big or at least biggish offensive once it has its recently mobilized troops in place and the ground freezes. That, again per Macgregor as well as Moon of Alabama, is in about two weeks.

Yours truly has no idea what will happen but I think the eagerness to see a decisive and more traditional battle is blinding commentators to other possibilities.

First, recall that Surovikin cautioned Russian citizens to expect a grinding war, and that he was taking that approach to conserve Russian lives.

Surovikin may have focused on human costs, but the fact is that seasoned fighters are vastly more effective than freshly trained recruits. His position is pragmatic: experienced soldiers are a scarce resource and he needs to operate conservatively in light of that. From the very outset, Russia heard the message from the West that it intended to bleed Russia.

Yesterday, Moon of Alabama responded to the idea of a “coming soon” big Russian offensive, by reacting to a scenario presented by Dima at Military Summary on Tuesday, in response to bleating by a Kharkiv about Russian force accumulations nearby. Dima suggested that Russia could trap the many Ukraine soldiers at the line of contact in Donbass by advancing in their rear in an offensiv north from Zaporzhizia and south from Kharvik, or could capture a smaller group by just striking south from Kharkiv.

MoA poured cold water on both schemes by arguing that the lack of rail lines from Kharkiv south along the envisaged line of attack made a big offensive there impractical. He pointed out a second issue: that the late winter freeze meant Russia could count only only eight weeks before the ground started to get soft again. Would there be enough time to achieve meaningful results? I’ll hoist the entire discussion since it is educational:

Dima of the Military Summary Channel discussed yesterday how two big moves, one up from the Mariupol area and one down west of Kharkiv, can cut all railroad lines that connect west Ukraine with the eastern frontline where some 80+% of the Ukrainian army is now deployed.

I agree that the move from the south will happen but I am less sure about the northern branch.

The Ukrainian army, just like the Russian one, depends on railroads for medium and long range transport. Neither has enough trucks to move the big amount of supplies that are needed to support the war.

Ukrainian railways


To be able to supply its forces any Russian move must follow the rail lines and create some safety corridor left and right of them….

Both are big 200 kilometer (120 miles) long moves that require significant amounts of forces. But after its mobilization and with volunteers Russia has 350,000 additional forces it can move in. 75 to 100,000 are sufficient for each push while the rest can keep the Ukrainian troops in the east very busy and fixed in their position.

Then comes the question of when.

Due to currently warmer than normal weather the ground in Ukraine is not yet frozen and the mud will return in March and April. That gives only a two months window to move forward. If I were the Russian commander I would probably wait and use the six dry months during the summer. But there are other criteria, like politics and economics, that will come into play and which may require an earlier move.

I note the lack of interest of timing questions on the Ukraine side. As we are seeing all along the line of contact, Russia and Ukraine can keep fighting at a pretty intense level, and at resulting high cost to Ukraine, during mud season. Can Ukraine realistically sustain that until summer?

It would seem that the further, considerable depletion of Ukraine forces would argue for Russia holding off if it can. The West will also wind up fighting over who will fund the yawning chasm of the Ukraine budget, and Republicans may also get traction in questioning the profligacy of war spending. If the US starts wobbling on “Everything for Ukraine,” that may make it harder to silence opposition voices in Europe.

Remember also that it is essential for Ukraine to keep up the illusion of success to keep funding and weapons flowing. But how long can this show go on?

Given its inability to make real progress on the battlefield, Ukraine will have to gin up more and more stunts like its attention grabbing strikes on the Makiivka barracks and terrorist acts like the serial drone flights to Engels airbase.1 Makiivka was a massive own goal due to serious lapses in discipline, but officials have also taken umbrage at the US role (it’s a certainty that the US helped with targeting and even possibly in launching the attack).2

Zelensky has also pre-committed himself to Do Something by February 24, the anniversary of the start of the Special Military Operation. He has announced he will present a Russian capitulation peace plan then. Recall that Western officials have repeatedly stressed that Ukraine should push for peace only after battlefield wins. That means as with the famed Kherson offensive of last year, Ukraine will be under pressure, optics-wise, to look as if it is advancing somewhere, anywhere, during the winter freeze.

Some Russia experts have worried that Ukraine will try to attack Belgorod, which is only 25 miles from the Ukraine border and has been hit occasionally. If Ukraine forces were to enter Russia proper, it would be a political disaster for Putin and the military leadership.

However, Ukraine is obsessed with Crimea and even people who should know better, like the Institute for the Study of War, apparently keep bringing it up. Zelensky insisted in his Congressional star turn that Ukraine would retake Crimea and the Biden Administration last month said it believed Ukraine had the ability to do so.

Experts who have looked at the terrain, supply lines, Russian manning and fortifications have said it would be suicidal for Ukraine forces to attempt to take Crimea or even cut its land bridge any time soon. But the Kherson offensive last fall was also suicidal, even though the Western press for the most part averted its eyes from the cost and lack of territorial gain. It is more likely that Ukraine will attempt more terrorist-type operations, like its attacks grain-corridor-exploiting drone attacks on Black Sea ship, and the Kerch bridge strike.

A final possibility is that a Ukraine stunt would be aimed at bringing NATO into the conflict. NATO becoming involved in a serious way is Ukraine’s last best hope for rescue.

Fortunately no one fell for the errant Ukraine S-300 missile that fell in Poland during the G-20. However, I am not inclined to see this as an accident. Scott Ritter, who has helped operate similar missile defense system, has said the only way a missile would have gone anywhere, particularly in such an odd direction, is if a radar signal sent it there. In other words, he contends the fire was deliberate, although it could have been executed by rogue members of the Ukraine military, even with assistance of misbehaving Poles.

Given the G-20 timing last time, I would be particularly concerned about action at or near the February 3 date of an EU-Ukraine summit, to be hosted in Kiev. I can’t see how anyone would fall for the idea of a Russian false flag attempt, although some Ukrainian nationalists might be desperate enough to try. If I were Russia, I would try to make it too unattractive to host the meeting there, although even if all the lights were out, I would anticipate Ursula von der Leyen making it a point of pride to meeting in a generator-powered facility. But what about heat in the hotel rooms? Less than the usual glam meals?

This is a long winded way of saying that Russia via its mobilization may have raised expectations that make it extremely difficult not to launch some sort of offensive during what is now anticipated to be a short winter freeze. I do not think the barracks attack will force Russia to change its big plans, but it might have to do some extra whackage, like more grid or military sites hits, to satisfy the public. But Russia will find it hard to ‘splain why it isn’t using all of its new troops soon if it doesn’t.

However, all things being equal, it would be best for Russia to continue its slow bleed out of Ukraine men and NATO weapons until the Ukraine forces were collapsing. One way for Ukraine to continue to play into Russia’s hand would be if it were to attempt an offense when the ground hardens. The more Ukraine keeps breaking its military on Russian lines, the better for Russia.


1 It does appear that Russia was truthful when it said it intercepted the drones and the deaths of airmen resulted from anti-aircraft fallout and not a Ukraine hit. Western arial photographs show no damage to the base or any equipment.

2 I am at a loss to understand why the US helping Ukraine hit bona fide military targets with HIMARS is worse than the ongoing war crime of aiming HIMARS, which again almost certainly require US help, at residential neighborhoods in Donetsk city.

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  1. Lex

    I’m not sure there will be any really big offensive. It takes a long time for ground to freeze in the way we’re talking about. It’s been below freezing for well over a month here and the frost line is only 6”. So if that is a requirement for an offensive as many state, a few weeks of hard freezes won’t cut it.

    Any big offensive would be far more costly now than in March given the depth of US involvement, especially on the intelligence and targeting side. And the whole area has significant civilian presence which complicates any Russian plan. Consider that the energy attacks may partially be about making life untenable for civilians in order to facilitate large military operations. I think it’s quite possible that the current level of pressure is simply maintained. Rumors are out there that again Zaluzhny is fighting with Zelensky about withdrawing from Bakhmut. We are likely reaching a point where a major crack along the current line could become a cascading failure for Ukraine.

    That said, I expect a concerted push from the south. There’s more strategic value to Russia in the south than north and probably more civilian support for Russia. And there’s still territory to incorporate for oblasts that are now Russian while it would pressure the Donetsk front line from the rear.

  2. PlutoniumKun

    One thing I’ve noticed so far about Russian tactics and strategy is that commanders on the ground have clearly been given scope to make decisions without too much reference to overall political needs or objectives. The two big retreats would never have been carried out if politicians (or indeed, many strategists) were making the decision. They were pragmatic tactical decisions made on the ground. Yes, they allowed the Russians to chew up yet more Ukrainian soldiers, but that ground will have to be won back at some stage, and that is most likely going to be painful.

    A key question is how long this will take place before Moscow starts clarifying its bigger strategic objectives (i.e. where the future border will be), and starts pressurising commanders to achieve those, even if there is a short term cost. At a guess – and this is purely a guess – Russia thinks it has more to gain by letting Europe suffer over a cold winter and then ratcheting up pressure over next summer. But it must be aware that ‘events’ have a habit of not always being predictable. For one thing, a very mild winter may mean that Europe dodges an energy bullet (I’ve already seen some analysts predict that everything is now fine as gas stocks are holding up well), giving additional confidence to the hardliners in Brussels, Warsaw, London and Washington. So there must surely be some voices at least urging the fastest possible resolution of facts on the ground – i.e. a rapid winter offensive in the available weather window. An offensive may not necessarily be aimed at creating another grinder – they may judge that the time is right to give the remaining Ukie forces a sufficient blow that it finally collapses – or they may think that its a reasonable gamble to do so. I think the answer is hidden away in meeting rooms in Moscow, the final decision is anyones guess. So far, nearly everyones guesses have been consistently wrong.

    1. marcel

      The Russian aim is to put NATO out of existence and create a new security architecture in Europe. The battle in Ukraine is (just) a means to that end: a big area is already demilitarized, and Nato has (mostly) run out of weapons. As long as Ukraine moves its (now foreign) troops in, Russia will sit pat and destroy them.
      I think Russia will just wait until the fault lines crack wide open. NC tells us how people are dying in droves in the US. UK is almost out of business and the lack of cheap energy is slowly killing the rest of Europe …
      I admit in having no clear view on the impact of all this across Asia, Africa or Latin America where other surprises may emerge.
      I also see signs of a ‘new world order’ with hostile nations anew talking to each other, and much less to the West. More surprises may emerge from that side as well.
      I still assume brace position, because we have not landed yet.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      I have to disagree. I think Russian generals are deferred to but that does not mean they don’t get approval for major actions. They get fired if they don’t perform, see General Lapin as a recent case. But if you look at the Surovikin speech, he was laying the groundwork for the Kherson retreat. He would not have discussed the problems in holding it on TV if that had not been pre-cleared….which means the retreat was already in the works or a highly-developed option.

      Putin mainly does not interfere but he has in the past. During the Syrian campaign, he pissed of a lot of people in Russia for repeatedly opening up humanitarian corridors. That helped the jihadists to a degree. But Brian Berletic has argued that that move enabled Putin to maintain and eventually rebuild relations with Erdogan, a critically important strategic objective.

      You are missing that Russia does not have territorial aims beyond securing the oblasts that voted to be part of Russia. All other actions are very likely to depend on upcoming developments. I would assume they would prefer take Kharkiv and Odessa, and likely all other territory east of the Dnieper. But taking all of those four oblasts is a must. Everything else is optional and depends on how it fits in with the bigger security/winning the peace puzzle.

      Russia’s big problem is that even fully prostrating the Ukraine army and being able to dictate terms to Ukraine does not solve its security problems with the US and NATO. Even seriously draining US and NATO weapons may only put them in the penalty box for a few years.

      However, I think you are gravely under-estimating two issues. The first is the energy situation in Europe. The EU looking kinda-sorta OK is due less to the warm winter and more to de-industrialization. European industry will leave. European workers who can leave will also in due course leave. The depopulation may not be as dramatic as what Ireland saw post crisis or Latvia has seen over the years, but it is baked in if Europe does not kiss and make up with Russia.

      Second, Ukraine is on Western life support. The US and EU can’t even manage to scrape up enough all together to fill its estimated 2023 budget hole of $38 billion (they are fighting and have a gap). That was estimated before the grid attacks, so the total will certainly be higher.

      The West can’t prop up Ukraine through all of 2024. It’s a political impossibility. Paying for teachers and hospitals and cops are all in country spend and don’t enrich NGOs, let along military-industrial complex grifters.

      Third, IMHO the best break for Russia would be if Poland invades, either to mess with Russia or try to grab some of Gallacia. Yes, fighting with Poland would come at some cost, but it isn’t anything approaching the Ukraine military in size or competence, and its men won’t be motivated by fighting for their homeland. And as Mercouris argued, and I agree, a move like that would terminally divide NATO and likely the EU too, where Poland was on the serious naughty list before the war.

      Poland fracturing NATO would be Russia’s fastest path to improving its security position v. the Collective West.

      1. Stephen

        Right. Hard for people such as Sunak (with his ultra technocratic, simplistic management consultant style, vision free, five point plan to fix the UK) to justify paying for Ukrainian police officers amidst an NHS that is literally disintegrating before our eyes, energy costs that most people cannot afford and transport strikes that mean nobody can get anywhere.

        As you say, Ukraine is just one component of a much broader jigsaw for Russia. How do they achieve their true goal of security. Ultimately, it feels like it needs to be defeat of the collective west. It also needs the US to have her equivalent of the Suez Canal and Retreat from East of Suez moments rolled into one. Getting to that will no doubt take time. Might even take a decade or more. But it feels the end game for Russia, and I guess even China.

      2. PlutoniumKun

        I don’t disagree that the Russians have been surprisingly open about how their tactics are applied – I just think its noticeable that the commanders were never contradicted as they went about their business which I assume means that they have been explicitly told that for now all key decisions are in their hands. I’m sure Putin is fully capable of interfering, but it seems to me that he has decided to throw the cards in the air and decide at an opportune time which ones to play. As an obvious example, I don’t think its clear at all whether Russia has decided whether it should take Odessa, or what it will do with Transnistria.

        I don’t disagree either about Europes dire straight, I just think that this hasn’t sunk into the skulls of many very important people in Europe. I think that the ground has been laid for Europe to consider itself has having ‘won’ the first round if it gets to early summer without major power disruptions or major recession. If the Europeans are willing to fight to the last Ukrainian conscript, they may also be willing to fight to the last German chemical plant. I don’t see any evidence yet that European politicians are seeing any electoral blowback to their policies, and they won’t change course until this process is well underway.

      3. Skip Intro

        I’ll go even more dire, the EU and NATO may come apart. With Germany calling for an end to individual EU states’ veto power, Poland is already getting a whiff of 4th Reich and calling BS. I think they won’t be alone. Meanwhile US is antagonizing Turkey, and has sabotaged the infrastructure of another NATO ‘ally’. I expect Germany will find a way to fund a budget deficit, and could even share the good will with other EU budgets, but it may just be a reminder of the fiscal colonialism of the EU bigs.
        Poland may need to adopt Galicia out of pity, and a need to keep as many Ukrainians on their side of the border as possible. As much as one hopes for nazi-on-nazi violence, it may be a peaceful humanitarian intervention.

      4. Alan Roxdale

        The West can’t prop up Ukraine through all of 2024. It’s a political impossibility. Paying for teachers and hospitals and cops are all in country spend and don’t enrich NGOs, let along military-industrial complex grifters.

        Not if they privatize teachers, hospitals and cops! But seriously I don’t think western leaders really care about minor details like millions of people suffering anyway. I mean, consider what happened in Syria.

        Third, IMHO the best break for Russia would be if Poland invades

        I don’t think the Russian’s are gearing for escalation. It seems to me that Russia’s strategy now is to slowly bleed Nato countries, militarily and economically. This is accomplished by maintaining low level attrition warfare on the front to chew up men and arms, destroying and re-destroying infrastructure throughout Ukraine to create costs and refugees, bleeding resources and making the Ukrainian state nonviable, and cutting supplies of raw material to choke at least the European economies and prevent their re-industrialization. Europe’s slow and ugly garroting while the US binds their hands from the front.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          I said “best break”. Poland has to initiate this action. Per Macgregor in the clip above and other commentators, they are mobilizing. It may be strictly defensive but one never knows.

          There is a category I call “what looks like bad luck is good luck,” that something that has immediate negative consequences with the passage of time turns out to be unexpectedly net positive. As I said, even if Russia completely prostrates Ukraine, it will not have solved its security problem with Europe. Fatal fissures within NATO as a result of Poland going rogue could do that.

          1. AG

            any involvement of NATO states, regardless of NATO being addressed or not is a deadly gamble.

            Least of all the Russians want this. After all they don´t seek a real war. War is a major setback.

            What you say above is the issue most commentary sections online are occupied with – how will the Russians be able to realize their strategic aims regarding NATO mid-range missiles in the cordon sanitaire touching at the Ukrainian border.

            Because that´s the only thing Russian military can´t control and which they are truly afraid of.

            Dark Eagle in Cologne is dangerous enough and those already being delivered.

            Russia has just invigorated NATO. I find it rather implausible to seriously ponder breaking the alliance just a year after this live-saving invasion has taken place.

            I might be completely off, but the most simple solution right now could be for the US getting control over Kiev personnel and freeze everything and make it de facto neutral in terms of strategic arms. For the time being.
            ´24 elections are on.

            Washington´s goal was to get Europe closer. that they have accomplished.
            Pushing the envelope in terms of Polish fanatcism would endanger that gain. And I don´t believe Polish belligerence is entirely genuine.

            But sure, who does know anything –

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              You are completely straw manning what I said.

              Poland invading Ukraine, which is what is under discussion here, would be to Russia’s long term advantage.

              Biden said when Zelensky was in DC that NATO has zero appetite for going to war with Russia. That is why NATO members came down on Ukraine like a ton of bricks during the G-20 for trying to whip the actually Ukrainian S-300 missile that landed in Poland as a Russian attack and use it as a casus belli.

              Two days ago, Alexander Mercouris gave a long-term discussion why any unilateral action by Poland would fracture NATO. I suggest you listen, starting at 55:40 (you can listen at 1.5x speed). He concludes definitively, and Mercouris is rarely definitive, that Polish action would almost certainly bring about the end of NATO:

              I also suggest you bone up on Article 5. It only obligates NATO members, individual state by individual state, to consider responding when another member is attacked:

              Similarly, Article 4 does not provide a foundation for getting other members to act. It merely can be an on-ramp to Article 5.

              NATO is set up as a collective defense organization. Its governing rules do not back adventurism by member states.

              You seem to forget that Poland was on the EU’s shit list for judiciary misconduct and other sins. They were forgiven thanks to the SMO.

              1. AG

                I never though it´s realistic to regard Poland and NATO as separate entities in terms of military action on European soil. To me that sounds like unpredictable chaos and a nightmare.

                I didn´t mean that NATO has the intention to get involved. But the risk would be immense with Poland getting in the arena. I fear.

                And to aim for a division within the alliance via such a Poland-gamble seems rather “un-Russian” to me because it´s so very speculative.

                Would such a break-up of NATO get the US out of Europe? I doubt it.

                After all, what does weakening NATO actually mean? In military terms that fulfill Russian security needs. Because in effect WMDs by NATO are US WMDs.

                Sry if I misread something.

              2. Olivier

                “NATO is set up as a collective defense organization. Its governing rules do not back adventurism by member states.” How can you say that and pooh-pooh Article 4 when all of NATO recent wars of choice except for Afghanistan took place under the cover of Article 4? It is a fiction that NATO is a defensive organization. Maybe on a willfully narrow and literal reading of the treaty but certainly not in practice!

      5. tevhatch

        Yes! Putin did not even want to take on the headache of bringing the two republics of the Donbas up to Russian standards, he’s going to be very happy to turn as much of Ukraine as possible into a Welfare case on the Western purse, with open borders for guns, drugs, and thugs to pass into Western Europe.

      6. jrkrideau

        I have to disagree. I think Russian generals are deferred to but that does not mean they don’t get approval for major actions.

        I agree. My guess is that the General Staff or the Field Commander in Ukraine formulates operational and tactical moves and then gets approval from Stavka as I believe Andrei Martinyov (sp?) is calling it to ensure that it meshes with larger strategic and political considerations.

        As Georges Clemenceau put it, “War is too important to be left to the generals”.

      7. Paul Damascene

        Yves, I have to say that I don’t find much daylight between your and Marcel’s respective posts.

        The one aspect I would foreground that is more implicit in yours is that questions of the war in Ukraine can only be effectively addressed by looking at:

        a. kinetic military activity in the context of multiple domains–geopolitical, geoeconomic, finance & currency, etc.–many not bounded by or within the borders of Ukraine. (Clausewitzean war as politics by other means.)

        b. Ukraine as a secondary battlefront at this point–Russia having already destroyed two armies there and about to defeat some version of another. Russia has repeatedly said the West is at war with it. One strong factor in the selection of a grinding, attritional, ‘economy of force’ approach, minimizing losses to personnel & equipment is that though Russia could obviously be more profligate of both against Ukraine alone, it would not do to smash Ukraine in 2 weeks, at the cost of 250,000 troops, hundreds of tanks, aircraft and helicopters. At which point, the US could send in the next sacrificial lamb, e.g., the Poles (or even attack outright)

        c. the peculiar judo / Art of War character of this among other Russian campaigns under Putin. NATO’s Plan A seems to have been a UKR invasion of Donbass, forcing Russia to play defense, crushing the economy, and settling in for a longish insurgency for so long as a Putin government could fend off a palace coup. Instead RF gave them: a preemptive, collective self-defense, ranging far outside the Donbas, a flash & dash operation to convince UKR & EU / NATO that Russia was now ready to fight, the offer of a quick political settlement. NATO said it would bleed Russia white, but it is Russia now bleeding NATO / EU and even US of geopolitical support, USD pre-eminence, etc, minimal RF losses and an absolute, um, Armageddon of manpower, material, financial, political and sociopolitical losses.

        I suspect you’re right that the attritional could go on for some time yet. Indeed, RF may decide to prolong this until, say, US Presidential election campaigning in 2024. In that time, UkroNATO may have lost another 250,000 troops, if not more, (and the attendant losses in material and other domains) while Russia will have cleared in slow motion the 4 new provinces, and perhaps the East bank of the Dneipr, patiently creating new meat grinders to exploit Kiev’s need for the next spectacular funding validation.

  3. sinbad66

    Now the elephant in the room: what about the Polish mobilization? Mercouris had some theories on this, but saying overall that if Poland intervenes, it would be a disaster all the way around. Hopefully, it would be more for defensive measures and cooler heads prevail.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      See my comment above.

      Poland intervening would be the best possible thing that could happen to Russia. It would be the fastest path to the end of NATO, which is what Russia needs for its security. Mercouris is right, just about no one NATO would support Poland adventurism.

      And Poland’s army is not battle tested, plus it has already sent a lot of its weapons to Ukraine. Poland is a vastly less formidably opponent than Ukraine.

      1. Willow

        If the ultimate objective is to provoke Poland into a stupid move and break NATO/Europe, any Russian move will need to put Galicia at risk. Which would mean something like a major offensive west of Kyiv along Zhytomyr to Vinnytsia line to Moldova (Transnistria). An offensive Kharkiv to Dnipro while more conservatively logical won’t trigger a direct Polish response. Zhytomyr to Vinnytsia is roughly same battle front length as Kharkiv to Dnipro, cuts off Western supply lines, makes it easier to capture Odesa from the north, and provides amply territory to ‘give up’ in some form of settlement when Europe folds (with Poland getting Galicia!).

        Risk of current warm weather in Europe is that the freezing cold weather period may just be delayed by a couple or more weeks, not shorter. Which would suit Russian preparations.

    2. Paul Damascene

      Key aspect of Poland incursion will be timing. As some point, it might be tolerated or even welcomed by Russia. Poland could even make a show of ‘taking a bite’ and Russia might indulge them. But only when it suits Russia.

      Suspecting that the build up of forces in Belarus is to keep Poland from going off half-cocked. Would they really risk 200,000 men and economic & sociopolitical catastrophe to fight for what Russia might have let them have?

      There are two additional variations beyond Poland alone:

      1. A Coalition of the Willing explicitly acting outside of NATO so as not force NATO into an Art. 5. Poland, Romania, Baltics, UK, with US still claiming not to want to fight RF directly to “stabilize” the situation. These forces would be heavily focussed on operating the heavy weapons platforms that UKR can’t be trained in time to use. Especially, air assets, and tanks. If they get crushed, the embarrassment is more NATO’s than US. This might follow a dirty bomb false flag. Concerned countries rushing in out of self-preservation / humanitarian concern.

      2. SuperMozart: this would be a supersized version of Mozart/Blackrock, etc., along the lines of the Wagner Foreign Legion–surprised they haven’t done it already–with 250,000 NATO troops & gear sheep-dipped as mercenaries. Again, reputational salve if they get their butts kicked; no Art. 5; leaving Russia to decide if it wants to deem the countries from which these mercenaries come (40 or 50 countries) co-belligerents with which it is now at war.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        You are a bit behind the state of play.

        Douglas Macgregor has said that Romania is not up for this gig and the UK army too small and unseasoned to amount to much.

        NATO can’t send troops. Only NATO member state can authorize use of their forces. So we are back to the same limited participation, just under a different structure.

        The Mozart Group appears to be attempting to limit its role and its founder has ratted out Ukraine more than once:

        During the podcast, Milburn stated that Ukraine is a “corrupt, f****d-up society.” While he stressed that continued Western support for the country was important and justified by the need to uphold “global norms,” he suggested that the whole point was “not about Ukraine.”

        “I have a Ukrainian flag tied to my bag, but I’m not like ‘oh my God, Ukraine is so awesome,’ because I understand that there are plenty of f****d up people running Ukraine,” Milburn said, admitting that he’s really “not a big fan” of the country.

        He also stated that “a number of things” that Kiev’s forces do with Russian POWs violate the Hague convention on the laws of armed conflict, especially when it comes to filming interrogations of captured Russian soldiers and posting them online.

        Milburn noted that the trainers from Mozart Group don’t condone such acts and have always tried to distance themselves from any unit that showed them videos of killing Russian POWs. “We’ve been shown those videos plenty of times,” he said, adding that “there were plenty” of atrocities being committed by Ukrainian forces and “all kinds of atrocities to go around.”

        He did stress, however, that most of the groups his trainers have dealt with were “very professional” and did not resort to such acts.

        While Milburn’s Mozart Group claims charity status, it is considered to be among the largest private military companies currently working in Ukraine and has been providing military training to Ukrainian soldiers since the early days of the conflict. However, it has also been the source of several damning reports on the dark underbelly of Kiev’s armed forces.

        Back in August, Milburn was quoted by CBS news in a since-deleted report that revealed how Western-supplied weapons were disappearing in Ukraine and popping up on the black market. Recently, he was also quoted by Newsweek in a report revealing that the Ukrainian military was seeing casualty rates of 70% or more, contrary to official Kiev’s claims.

        I don’t know what you are talking about re BlackRock, which is a fund manager. I assume you mean Blackwater.

        Blackwater has gone through two name changes since what looks to have been its peak during the Iraq War with estimated of anywhere from 20,000 to 160,000 troops then. Now Academi, the US would be loath to us it much due to prior scandals. But separately, and like most guns for hire, it suffers from the same limits as the US. It has participated only in insurgent wars. Many mercenaries who have fought in other theaters have quit or refused Ukraine orders. A noted recent account (obviously can’t be verified but a lot of credible sites repeated it, suggesting they regarded it as plausible) was when a group of Polish mercs was ordered by Ukraine to make a suicidal advance. They refused. Some Azov types (routinely located behind the front lines to shoot deserters) went to the refusniks to remind them of their orders. After some discussion, the Azov types were shot by the mercs.

        The fall the then Blackwater suffered was due to a massacre, where some of its men were found guilty, and allegations of arms running (have not tracked down how that wound up). It appears that Mozart founder Milburn recognizes the risks of getting smeared through what amounts to garden variety conduct in Ukraine and recognizes that could do tremendous damage to his franchise.

        This is dated but you’ll see most “private army” services are mainly in a sort of defense business, providing guard services in not nice areas:

        1. Stephen

          MacGregor’s comment that the French Army is designed for safaris in Africa and then his inference that the British Army is not even quite up to that level of activity was priceless!

      2. David

        Art 5 is essentially a special, collective case of Art 51 of the UN Charter, and relates only to self-defence against aggression. NATO deployments outside the NATO area (Bosnia, Afghanistan) are not under Art 5. In any event, if even one NATO country, let’s say Poland, were to have its territory attacked by Russia because of direct participation, that would trigger Art 5 anyway. You would also have to set up an entire operational HQ for such an operation, and it would have to be in Ukraine. So I think the whole Art 5 thing is a bit of a red herring.

        There are few heavy weapons that could actually be sent, and they are all different and largely incompatible. You’d need to set up supply and repair depots inside Ukraine, probably on a national basis. You’d also have to get your (very limited) western forces to the battlefield, a thousand kilometres from the Polish border. You can’t drive a Leopard II to Bakhmut: the roads and bridges won’t take it, even if the engine did. Everything would have to go by train or the lighter stuff loaded on lorries, which would be an epic in itself. (Have a look at accounts of the German advance in Russia in 1941, where much of their equipment broke down and their stores and logistics were exhausted.) Even then, the forces would be minimal in size and capability compared to those the Russians have destroyed already.

        Huge reserves of trained manpower and equipment don’t exist. PMCs largely do things like personal protection and guarding and some specialised tasks. Recruiting, training and equipping some postulated foreign legion would take years, even if the equipment was available.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          The scenario is SOLELY about Poland mobilizing on a scale that looks to have offensive, not defensive, intent.

          Please stop dignifying the straw man of Poland being attacked. I know you work around to a proper analysis, but this is NOT the issue at hand. It is Poland entering Ukraine either under some trumped up excuse to mess with Russia or explicitly to take territory.

          1. David

            Oh, I agree. I was just trying to clarify some of the Art 5 mistakes I have seen in the media recently. My point is that if Poland were to do as you suggest, and as I think is possible, to enter Ukraine and either take territory or get into combat with the Russians, there would be the risk of a state of war between the two countries arising, and in that case Russia would be legally justified in attacking Poland, and, irrespective of the difference between a CoW and NATO proper, the legal position would be the same. I don’t think that would actually happen, but I want to emphasise that what we are dealing with here is a treaty structure which was never designed for this kind of thing. It was entirely based on the idea of clear territorial aggression against member states. Given that no-one “declares war” any more, and that there is no agreed definition of an armed conflict, I worry that, for example, a clash between Russian and Polish aircraft over Ukraine could produce a very confused and dangerous situation, which could go off in uncontrollable directions, with different states and different governments having different assumptions.

            For what it’s worth, my own view is that the Poles are primarily interested in securing their frontier, and a buffer zone inside Ukraine. We’ll have a much better idea when we see what kinds of forces the Poles are deploying eastwards, and where.

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              I agree re the mobilization, particularly since this 200,000 to 300,000 seems to be gossip, admittedly from those with contacts. I have yet to see anyone link to an order or proper news story.

            2. Olivier

              “For what it’s worth, my own view is that the Poles are primarily interested in securing their frontier, and a buffer zone inside Ukraine.” Similar to what Turkey did in Syria, in other words. Yes, that sounds more plausible than a bona fide invasion, if only because — as the Turkey precedent shows — there might be ways to achieve that without crossing any Russian red lines.

  4. The Rev Kev

    I really think that all these maps are in a way very deceiving and at the very least, totally the wrong metric to judge this war by. The Russians seem to use a lot of military mathematics in their planning so perhaps the better metric is a military dashboard. So you would have a bar showing Ukrainian manpower availability which would include foreign “volunteers.” So maybe that bar is down to less than 190,000 troops by now, large portions of which are hardly qualified, and that bar would be decreasing at the rate of about 1,000 men a day. Another bar would be for tanks which would be also steadily decreasing. Same with armoured vehicles which the Ukrainians seem to be losing at the rate of about a dozen or two each day. Another for artillery and the Russians are picking them off at a steady rate. Those last three are important as without tanks or armour, you would have only an infantry army which can only get itself massacred trying to fight a combined arms army..

    So time is an important variant here as Ukrainian military capability is being steadily eroded on a daily basis. Certainly winter will be taking out Ukrainian troops by the hundred daily. And it should be mentioned that all that military equipment that the west has been sending is now being run down to the point that it is only being sent in dribs and drabs, I mean seriously, just one Patriot system? So here the Russian may not do a big arrow attack with would cost them a lot of their best people. All they have to do is keep the pressure on and maybe ramping it up sometime and before too long, the Ukrainians will be outa bullets, outa food, outa medical gear with no rounds for their artillery – those which are left. And then there would be the collapse. I saw this with the Falklands war where the British constantly applied pressure until a point was reached where the Argentinians just called it quits. And right now the Ukrainians are running on fumes.

    1. Ignacio

      I think what you say is correct though one cannot rule out some kind of offensive that turns all the remaining of Donetsk oblast into a very large cauldron and accelerates the process. I don’t know how many of the remaining Ukrainian soldiers and equipment are located there but I guess many. At some point the they might just surrender and that would be a big win in military terms and in optics for the Russians. So I think that the offensive from the South in the direction to Horlivka and then may be to Slaviansk is a possibility as long as the Russians feel sure that the remaining artillery cannot attack the trains with precision. This would be the biggest blowback to such offensive. Fortunately for the Russians General Ignacio is not in command.

  5. John R Moffett

    A large move by Russian forces would entail larger loses of troops and equipment, and Russia is most likely trying to avoid that. I think that any moves they make will be smaller, but there is strategic sense to leaking notions of large scale movements from the North and South to force Ukraine to redeploy in response. So my prediction is smaller moves to cut supply lines to segments of the front, followed by encirclement and capture. It will remain a slow and grinding war, because that favors Russia in every respect.

    1. Robert Gray

      > Dima at Military Summary on Tuesday … suggested that Russia could trap the many Ukraine soldiers
      > at the line of contact in Donbass by advancing in their rear in an offensive north from Zaporzhizia
      > and south from Kharvik …

      This sounds an awful lot like those ‘cauldrons’ that were much bruited last March and April, which were going to sweep up and capture / annihilate the vast majority of front-line Ukie forces. Look how that worked out.

  6. Jack

    One thing not mentioned so far here is the use of Russia’s air power, particularly its heavy bombers. I have often wondered at its absence and after research discovered that Ukraine had managed to maintain some anti-air defense. So no way would Russia risk or accept the inevitable loss of those aircraft. Recently Brian on New Atlas and I think also Mercouris brought up the subject, and postulated that now that Russia was using its missile attacks to target Ukraine anti-air installations, the use of Russia’s air force might follow. If the Russians start using heavy bombers, the whole character of this war will change. Heavy bombers can obliterate fortifications much, much faster than artillery. And the blast effect travels much farther in terms of killing humans than the actual physical destruction.

    1. WestCountry

      Not sure if this has come across your (or the editors at nakedcapitalism?) radar but there has been some noise on Russian telegram about Russian efforts to begin production of JDAM-like conversion kits for their heavy bombs. I saw a picture of a bomb with a kit actually on a airplane’s wing, so I guess they are ready to go.

      Honestly have no idea about the kind of time-frame involved in developing these kind of things, in one way they seem quite rudimentary (some fins and a guidance system) but we all know consistency is hard to achieve without alot of work. The timing may just be coincidence but may also not be

      1. James

        @RWApodcast had photos and discussion of these “Russian JDAMs” yesterday. I agree they are a big deal.

      2. hunkerdown

        Software defined radio* digitizes a significant part or all of a radio band and demodulates etc. one or more signals within it via software. Similarly, it’s pretty normal these days to compensate certain minor build variations and imperfections in software. Thus the alignment process can be more easily performed and automated, potentially even at launch or in flight. Russia historically prefers its technology robust, appropriate, and usable, like the AK-47.

        * For those who have seen reports of Roscosmos’ domestic production of quadrature modulators, those are key components in software-defined radio systems, including but not limited to radars, communications gear, and Earth sensing satellites. It’s a strategic capability.

    2. Paul Damascene

      There’s also some heavy lobbying at some of the Russian Telegram channels for a glide-bomb / JDAM approach, allowing a Tu-160 to release a glide bomb from 60k away, greatly reducing AD risk.

      Assume they will do this–they may use Iran’s JDAM kits–but don’t want to show their hand until and unless a big offensive comes. Don’t really need bombers as much if the goal is to go slow.

  7. WestCountry

    I have no idea what the point of nearly your entire comment is, but it’s worth pointing out that the BBC of all people (i.e. inbuilt relentless hatred of all things russian) has only actually been able to locate graves of Russian soldiers numbering in the thousands. Media is chock-full of endless military cemetaries in multiple cities across Ukraine and yet there is nearly a complete abscence of similar footage from Russian cemetaries.

    Even the Ukrainians themselves admit they are at anywhere from 5-1 to 9-1 disadvantage in terms of artillery fired. What exactly do you think is killing all these phantom Russian soldiers, bearing in mind that it seems like the vast majority of deaths on both sides are being caused by artillery?

  8. Tom Pfotzer

    Implicit in the “wait till it freezes, then attack” concept is the need to move across open fields with heavy equipment.

    Is that really a Russian requirement to fight the next leg of the war?

    Last year, Russia moved a great deal of equipment around from February through April. The timeline wasn’t dictated by the weather, it was dictated by Ukraine’s incipient attack on the Donbass.

    Why wasn’t the big freeze a factor, either to drive the attack, or to enable it throughout the frenetic, and highly mobile Russian maneuvers throughout the spring of 2022?

    I think Russia can handle the mud. I am heavily discounting the relevancy of the big freeze.

    Recall that Russia has plenty of artillery and munitions, has targeting and munitions-delivery drones, almost complete control of eastern Ukraine’s airspace, and whose stated objectives are not territorial acquisition but de-nazification and de-militarization of Ukraine, the breaking of NATO, and the rolling back of hostiles from its immediate borders.

    Ukraine is bringing their soldiers into range of Russian artillery. Why does Russia need to move lots of tanks across muddy fields?

    Russia needs to keep doing what it’s doing: grind down, look good to the Rest of the World (not-West), build its economy (apace) and build economic ties east and south, which it is doing.

    I don’t see any reason at all for Russia to hurry, or to go for theatrics. Russia simply needs to keep the embarrassing moments to a minimum, keep the pressure on, and let the Ukrainians go for hail-mary passes as they exhaust what remains of their international support.

    Meantime, keep the focus on the long game: Asian integration, economic development, and team-building (SCO, etc.).

    Here in the U.S., our counter to Russia, China et. al. is a shambles. What we should be doing is to redesign our economy for the next century, marshal all available resources to build that re-designed economy, and find a role to play on the world stage that is constructive, helpful, and actually desired by other countries.

    There’s a lot of daylight between what we are doing and what we should be doing.

    Why do we despise our leadership? Because it’s just plain terrible. Awful.

    It’s humiliating to be a loyal American and watch us be this bad, for so long.

    1. Polar Socialist

      Indeed. The mud (rasputitsa) is seasonal because of rains. A week without rains and the mud dries up. No need for freezing up or anything, just end of rainy season is all that is needed.

      And yes, Russians can deal with mud, since rasputitsa happens twice every year since the time began. Yes, it slows trucks and may cause some delays, but Russia has at the moment absolute superiority over Ukrainians in mobility due to a huge number of tracked vehicles it has.

      And the same with railroads. Everything closer to the front has to be dispersed anyway, so the last 30-40 miles of logistics will be handled by trucks in any case. And everywhere in Ukraine there’s a railroad within 60 miles. So we’re talking about extra 20-30 miles of logistics network as the worst case.

      So currently I’m thinking there will be a Russian offensive, but Surovikin will take his good time and keep everyone guessing where and when. Which is made more difficult with modern IRS methods, but probably doable with a long front and 400,000 men.

      And offensive will certainly cause more casualties for the Russians, but in the short run. If it’s well planned and executed, it can in the long run end the war much faster and with less casualties than the current slow grind. Less casualties for both sides, even.

      1. John k

        The west plan was to drain and weaken Russia. What is happening is eu/nato/us is being drained, of weapons, funds, popular support, and cohesion. Recession gives eu the chance to reflect on us blowing up the pipes, passing a law that discriminates against eu, lost jobs and cold homes.
        Why shorten a war that is is steadily boosting Russia wrt eu/nato/us? Plus maybe China likes the west’s distraction while they’re distracted with Covid. Imo the attitudes russia is worried about are Russian and row and not the west’s, so as long as z is patently unreasonable putin has carte Blanche on how slowly he conducts the war, and how many oblasts he incorporates.
        Plus, maybe row is thinking there might be a better option than west’s rules based order if Russia prevails, encouraging patience.
        The odd thing is the west’s obstinance in continuing a strategy that was apparently based on wishful thinking and is so clearly self-destructive. Milley offered logical advice, our neocons can’t accept it.

    2. Lex

      The mud got its reputation primarily in WWII. Since then Ukraine and Southern Russia have paved a lot more roads, but more importantly the huge problem with mud in WWII was significantly related to 1940’s vintage trucks and very narrow tires, as well as the massive use of horse and wagon by both sides.

      Western wheeled armored vehicles seem to be doing poorly in Ukrainian mud even though they have very large tires. Much of that is because they’re also very heavy. Russian design is based on using equipment in the area of Russia. It’s not just bridge weight limits but also terrain that keeps Russian tanks relatively light weight vs. western armor and wide tracks relative to weight. Same goes for wheeled armored vehicles being relatively light weight and eight-wheeled.

      Ground doesn’t freeze quickly, not to a depth that easily supports heavy equipment. A T-34 weighed 26.5 tonnes (up to 31 tonnes). A T-72 weighs 41.5, an M1 weighs 55 tonnes (or more) and a Leopard 2 weighs 62.3 tonnes. A Russian BMP weighs about 13-19 tonnes while a Bradley weighs almost 28. So frozen enough to support WWII era military equipment and frozen enough to support modern gear are two, very different things.

      Not to mention that the winters of 1941 was a 100 year winter in Russia; 1942 and 1943 were also very cold winters. Of course winters were generally colder everywhere as a baseline difference.

    3. Raymond Sim

      An offensive means lots of tactical operations by infantry. Even in non-combat conditions infantry units begin wearing out the minute they’re put in the field. Adverse conditions like rasputitsa accelerate this process, as well as degrading combat effectiveness directly.

      Whatever Russian commanders may be planning for summertime, they’ll get more bang for the buck from their infantry then. If there’s any question in their minds as to whether they have enough infantry for big operations now as well as later I would expect they’d prefer to wait.

  9. John B

    Regarding this: “Ukraine will have to gin up more and more stunts like its attention grabbing strikes on the Makiivka barracks and terrorist acts like the serial drone flights to Engels airbase.”

    What makes Ukraine’s drone attacks on an airbase “terrorist acts”? Does that apply equally to Russian drone attacks on military installations, or civilian infrastructure?

    1. ambrit

      I have wondered about that also. Attacks on civilians in the Donbass, and especially Russia can be properly characterized as “terrorism.” That sort of “terrorism” has been used by one and all over the years. (Fire bombing non-essential German cities like Dresden during WW-2, or the wholesale slaughter of Japanese civilians by the USAAF under Curtis LeMay. The Blitz of London and Antwerp, etc. etc.)
      Since the Ukraine and Russia are at war, the Ukraine’s attack on a Russian military facility inside of Russia is “fair game.” I suspect that the involvement of NATO and the US in carrying out that attack is the real problem. While the Ukraine and Russia are obviously at war, NATO and Russia “visibly,” “officially,” are not. Preserving that “deniability” is important to NATO especially so as to limit the destruction to the Ukraine and Russia proper. Imagine if those Kaliber and Iskander hypersonic missiles began hitting NATO facilities in Europe.
      The Western Neo-cons would s— enhanced uranium bricks.
      Then we’ll all sing along with Vera Lynn:

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      It’s an unserious attack on a base with nuclear bombs. Meant to get Western press attention and frighten civilians. It has scare value, not practical value.

      I concede “terrorism” there was hyperbolic and will revise the post.

      1. Paradan

        I’d like to throw in that a Russian General was supposed to have claimed that the attacks are (about NATO trying to get a civilian airliner shot down) using civilian air traffic for cover*. Given many past incidents of this kind happening to many different military’s, including ours, I’d say that it’s a reasonable claim. It wouldn’t be beyond the US/NATO to stash a deceptive jammer in the luggage of an airliner and then coordinate the time of attack so both drone and and airliner are in the same spot of sky/field of view.

        How do you line out a phrase?

  10. Tertium Squid

    We’ve been told that the Ukraine army has been ground down from the very start, but it does not appear to be degraded in its capabilities as time goes on.

    If they really have lost 450,000 casualties then the army they began with is gone and I’d love to know where the one they currently have came from, and how it has any operational effectiveness at all.

    My suspicion is that losses on both sides are much less dire than has been reported.

    1. Raymond Sim

      … it does not appear to be degraded in its capabilities as time goes on.

      Um, what do you imagine its original capabilities to have been?

      1. Tertium Squid

        Um, not as capable as they were during their summer & fall campaigning?

        I’m sorry, I’m not entirely sure where you want your question to lead. Rather than guess, I invite you to elucidate.

        1. juno mas

          Well, the loss of tanks, artillery, fuel, electricity, and experienced soldiers would be considered a degradation of force. What Ukraine (NATO) seems to be doing now is maintaining defensive positions in bunkers built over the past 8 years. Hard to tell what there actual fighting capability is.

          1. Tertium Squid

            That’s a very specific definition of “now”. Russia gave up Kherson 55 days ago, which isn’t ancient history. And as everyone keeps saying, we aren’t in campaigning season. So I’m not sure what you think the Ukrainians are supposed to be doing at the moment to prove they aren’t degraded.

            Maybe they’ve shot their bolt, I couldn’t say. All I can tell is that Russia is not currently mopping up a depleted and exhausted foe.

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              Did you miss that they only gave up Kherson city, and that has proven to be a trap? Ukraine has had to evacuate civilians and is getting constantly shelled, has no power, and is having trouble even getting food in, let alone materiel.

              1. Tertium Squid

                I’m sure you’ll agree Kherson City and environs were not the only reconquest of the fall.

                I also note that Russia held a plebiscite and announced that Kherson oblast’s voters supported annexation by an 87% – 13% margin. Then they abandoned the environs and, as you say, started bombing and starving what are now their own subjects. Sure puts Ukraine in a tough spot, but I have to assume that Russia would only do this out of dire military necessity. Not the sort of thing you do if you’re holding the whip hand.

        2. Raymond Sim

          It wasn’t a leading question, I was wondering initial state they could have had that their current state wouldn’t represent degradation. Still am.

          1. Tertium Squid

            Then the answer I gave applies to your question – whatever February AFU was capable of, it was lots less successful than November AFU.

            Maybe I’ve been imprecise about “degraded in its capabilities”. I should have added, “compared with its enemy.”

            Nations fighting modern wars have to get better all the time or they lose. Both Russia and Ukraine are getting better at fighting each other as the war continues and each tries to mitigate its losses and search for the asymmetrical advantage that can knock the other one out.

            1. Raymond Sim

              Even since November the Ukrainian logistics base has been severly degraded. Doesn’t that count?

              Your notions about ‘getting better strike me as badly misplaced. The fighting troops rarely get better for very long. They’re likely to get used up faster than they improve. ‘Getting better’ as you describe it is occasionally acheived – when the logistics system, recruit base, and tempo of operations permit sufficiently early rotation of experienced troops out into training systems where they can provide the nucleus of new, better units. Even when the necessary conditions are present, leadership is rarely sufficient to the task.

              1. Tertium Squid

                Even since November the Ukrainian logistics base has been severly degraded. Doesn’t that count?

                So it’s been argued. I hope you don’t find it churlish of me to await an actual battlefield result that demonstrates it.

                The fighting troops rarely get better for very long. They’re likely to get used up faster than they improve.

                Integrating new troops into the fight before they get themselves killed is indeed a vast problem, as far as I can tell for both these armies if their losses are anywhere near what’s been reported. I found Paul Fussell’s The Boy’s Crusade a very interesting account of the US army addressing this in World War II. Maybe you’ve already read it but if not I highly recommend.

                But I wasn’t talking about individual soldiers getting better, it’s the government and military apparatus that needs to get better at integration and a thousand other challenges thrown at them. Armies beating on each other respond effectively or they lose, I don’t think I’m saying anything controversial. Russia and Ukraine have been doing this very thing and they are still doing it and neither has knocked the other out.

                1. Greg

                  I think it’s reasonable to say that at the present, what is left of the Russian and Ukrainian armies are the most combat-hardened troops in the world (at least for conventional combined arms warfare, there are other troops more experienced at insurgent and infantry-only warfare).

                  Of course, it’s equally true to say that the Wehrmacht was one of the most experienced armies in the world in 1945. It’s not an entirely irrelevant argument, but it’s ignoring so much else that is important to a functional army that it gets pretty close.

  11. Brooklin Bridge

    However this works out, Winter or Spring, as far as US funding and assistance goes, it strikes me as being difficult for Republicans to slow down or reduce money, supplies, expertise and even manpower when possible to the “David and Goliath” war. The little Ukrainian tiger of democracy is too powerful an image and the US public has not suffered enough from sanctions backlash to pop that bubble. I could easily be wrong, but the propaganda imagery has been cast and Republicans have to live with it as much as the Democrats who largely created this mess.

    The blood of a prolonged war in Ukraine stains elite western hands at least as much and possibly far more than those of the Russians or Ukrainians and history will not wash that off.

    1. ambrit

      Fully agree, which made me muse that the Neo-cons “running” this war, generally from safely afar, really have not read their history nor understood what little they have read.
      It’s all ‘Magical Thinking,’ the sort of world view appropriate to very young children. It pains me to think that we are being “led” by clinical cases of arrested development.
      Stay safe up there in “The Big City.”

  12. Raymond Sim

    A couple thoughts:

    1) As someone mentioned in an earlier comment, the Russians employ a lot of mathematical analysis in planning and conducting military operations. Outcomes in modern firepower based combat (In this case ‘modern’ could include the 18th century) are highly dependent on intitial conditions, which in the real world are not necessarily easily evaluated. This is seen both in mathematical models and historically. It’s quite likely that the difference between a situation where Russian planners reckon the margin in their favor is sufficient, and one where they reckon it’s not, could be invisible to outside observers and participants on the ground alike.

    2) Has anyone seen any discussion at all of the effects of Covid-related manpower shortages on the Russian and Ukrainian war efforts? I haven’t. To me zero discussion of something that is almost certainly of practical importance flags it as a probable bfd.

  13. anon in so cal

    Not sure of the significance of Erdogan asking Russia to implement a unilateral cease fire.

    Meanwhile, France announced it will supply AMX-10s light tanks.

    The level of over-the-top daily MSM propaganda falsely alleging imminent Russian collapse suggests the US and the West have no intention of any moves toward de-escalation and people in the US and EU are brainwashed enough to continue supporting this.

    1. kam

      “France announced it will supply AMX-10s light tanks.”
      Rubber tired “tanks” designed and built 40 years ago. France is dumping their obsolete junk into the Ukraine, just like the U.S.
      Ukraine lost by picking her partners.

  14. James

    The NYTimes has an article on how Russia is trading $20,000 Shahed-136s for $500,000 air-to-air missiles. According to the article, because Russia is now firing its Shahed-136 volleys at night Ukraine has to rely on missiles rather than anti-aircraft guns to down them. To quote the article “when costly missiles take out cheap drones, the real winner over time may be the country that spends less”.

    Ukraine does not have unlimited supplies of anti-air missiles and either do their western backers. Furthermore, it is hard for the US to churn out AAMRAMs in the same quantities that the Russians can churn out Shaheds – the US doesn’t have the industrial capacity and even the US budget is going to have trouble financing the trading of $1.2 million AAMRAMs for $20,000 Shaheds. As Michael Kofman has observed, if Ukraine diverts SAM missiles from protecting its frontline to protecting its electrical grid then the Russians will be able to bomb Ukrainian troops at will.

    I think this is the key area where Russia can bleed Ukraine dry.

    1. jrkrideau

      According to the article, because Russia is now firing its Shahed-136 volleys at night Ukraine has to rely on missiles rather than anti-aircraft guns to down them.

      So Ukraine is relying on the good old Mark One eyeball to coordinate anti-aircraft gun fire? The NYT is outdoing itself.

      1. Greg

        Given Ukraine has recently released several propaganda films showing drone defense using 50cals on the back of pickups with a spotlight, yes, i think the NYT is being reasonable (for the NYT).

  15. marku52

    My worry is what happens when the neocons finally realize that waving money around won’t magically make tanks and shells appear? And their project to take over Russia is failing?

    Will they reach for the one powerful tool they do have? Who actually runs the US, anyway? President Dementia? Or someone else??

    That risk might make the Russians take risks, too.

    1. rowlf

      I’m pretty nervous about the neocons throwing their toys out of the pram. Their Wile E. Coyote supergenius act is about to achieve the classic result.

    2. hk

      The problem with this is that Russians at least match US with the Big Stick, too. The moment they try that, they (and the rest of us) will be glass. But I admit that I wonder if they really believe that whatever deity they believe in would protect them from being vaporized.

  16. Rob

    The Institute For the Study of War is, in effect, neocon central, run by the Kagans. Nothing that emanates from its halls should be taken as authoritative or truthful. For the most part, it is a propaganda mill.

  17. Alice X

    I went for a medical test today and thought about what someone like me in Ukraine must be facing for daily survival, let alone health care. One big humanitarian corridor. This war needs to end! Washington started it, they can end it!

  18. bwilli123

    One Russian ‘weapon’ not discussed in this thread is Europe being flooded with further millions of refugees. Poland is amassing an army, supposedly at least partially to deal with this potential on its borders, perhaps to forestall their crossing, or at least re-direct it. The question would be where do they go, and what does this entail for EU unity, or even stability?
    Does Galicia become a Polish managed (by necessity) safe haven, or way station?
    I think this gives Poland some sort of leverage over the rest of the EU, in the same way that Erdogan used Syrians.
    I don’t doubt for a second that the Russians haven’t gamed this out.

  19. Jessica, which shows all trackable flights, civilian and military, has shown a huge completely empty hole in air traffic covering all of Ukraine and a bit beyond since the war started. I don’t monitor constantly, but I have not seen a single civilian aircraft near Ukraine since last February.

    1. Greg

      The theory about using civilian traffic to hide drones was within Russia. IIRC the transponders were off before joining a corridor inside Russia.

      Haven’t actually seen good evidence of this theory.

  20. JustTheFacts

    Grinding down the Ukrainian army seems to be working for the Russian army: I see reports that Ukrainian embassies are to “draft” Ukrainians who fled (27 million of them, I believe), somehow forcing them to return and fight in Ukraine, and help some of the 16 year olds.

    However there may be civilian pressure on the Russian authorities to put an end to this, particularly to stop the Ukrainian shelling of the Donbass which started in 2014.

    I’m also not convinced this operation will end until Ukraine has been denazified. Unlike many, I believe the Russian government truly means this. And I don’t just think they mean extreme nationalists. From what Medvedev has been saying recently, it seems that they may also mean NATO/the West/the US.

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