Ukraine: When Will It Reach the End of Its Propaganda Line?

I had intended to look at some of the likely boundary conditions in the evolving Russia-Ukraine conflict. But the Western media-gasm over Ukraine successfully (and presumably with US/NATO help) landing a reported 4 out of 6 HIMARS missiles on a Russian deployment center in Makiivka in Donetsk oblast and killing a bunch of Russian soldiers is a vivid reminder of how Ukraine’s ability to keep prosecuting the war more and more depends on preserving an illusion of success, or at least continued viability.

It ought to be pedestrian to believe that telling tall tales isn’t viable in the long run. Ponzis and bubbles, which also run on hype and hope, eventually do collapse. But the dot-com mania had formerly rational investment professionals adopting the view that companies which were clearly never going to be cash flow positive were nevertheless highly valuable because eyeballs. The intensity of conviction in deeply unsound ideas enabled the dot-crazy to become more manic and last longer than any dull conventional person dreamed was remotely possible.

As we’ll discuss in due course, despite the continued media cheerleading, which includes running patently false claims from Ukraine officials, this propaganda process is self-limiting. And there are also signs it may be getting to the end of the line.1

Admittedly, this is a slow news day, but it is nevertheless noteworthy to see the BBC, New York Times and Financial Times running news of this successful strike as a lead story. Let us turn to Anadolu Agency to get the two sides:

A Ukrainian rocket strike killed at least 63 Russian soldiers at a Russian deployment area in eastern Ukraine, Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Monday…

“All necessary assistance and support will be provided to the relatives and friends of the fallen servicemen,” the statement further said.

Late on Sunday, the Ukrainian army’s strategic communications department claimed that nearly 400 Russian soldiers were killed in strikes in Makiivka.

The statement also noted that an additional 300 Russian soldiers were wounded at varying levels of severity.

Let’s say the Ministry of Defense is bad at counting plus some of the now wounded die. 100 dead would still be in line with initial estimates. Ukraine claims 400.

Even using Ukraine’s figures, this is front page news? There have been many days, particularly in recent weeks, when Ukraine’s losses are one to two battalions a day. But we are to believe that the West should be chuffed by Ukraine and the West effectively admitting that a very bad day for Russia rises only the the level of routine losses for Ukraine?

Now admittedly, there is reason for Russians to be upset about this outcome. This loss was not due valiant sacrifice but incompetence. Why were troops, and per some reports, recent recruits not yet done with training, housed within missile range of Ukraine lines? But it’s not due to the magnitude of the losses but the fact that they look to have been completely preventable and may have been made much worse by storing ammo near the barracks.

Nevertheless, those who have been watching Russian reporting closely will note that this Reuters article makes much of the upset among Russian military bloggers…when they are chronically angry at the Russian armed forces with not being aggressive enough and get bent out of shape over comparatively minor Bad Shit Happening, like a recent incident where three helicopters were lost. So I would wait to see the tone of reactions in Russian mainstream media before jumping to conclusions. Nevertheless, from Reuters, Anger in Russia as scores of troops killed in one of war’s deadliest strikes:

Russia acknowledged on Monday that scores of its troops were killed in one of the Ukraine war’s deadliest strikes, drawing demands from nationalist bloggers for commanders to be punished for housing soldiers alongside an ammunition dump….

Igor Girkin, a former commander of pro-Russian troops in east Ukraine who has emerged as one of the highest profile Russian nationalist military bloggers, said the death toll was in the hundreds, later editing his post to include wounded in that figure. Ammunition had been stored at the site and Russian military equipment there was uncamouflaged, he said.

Another nationalist blogger, Rybar, said around 70 soldiers were confirmed dead and more than 100 wounded.

Given that co-locating ammo with barracks is inexcusable, one would also assume that Reuters inclusion of Rybar would mean Rybar was also outraged about the incident.

This is all I could find on Rybar:

🇷🇺🇺🇦🎞 Chronicle of a special military operation: events of December 31, 2022 – January 2, 2023

▪️On December 31, the Russian army launched a massive missile attack on military and industrial facilities on the territory of Ukraine.

At least eight targets were hit in Kiev , including a hotel where foreign advisers were located and CHP-5…

▪️Unfortunately, not without tragedy. On New Year’s Eve, the Armed Forces of Ukraine launched a strike from the HIMARS MLRS on the location of Russian troops in Makeevka .

Air defense destroyed only part of the missiles. As a result of the hit, about 70 Russian servicemen were killed, more than 100 people were injured.

To underscore: This strike was an impressive stunt. Either by virtue of Western surveillance or loose-lipped cleaning women tipping off Ukraine authorities, Ukraine killed a not-consequential number of men and disproportionately embarrassed the Ministry of Defense. It has no strategic impact and will not change the direction of the conflict.

In fact, it is consistent with what your humble blogger predicted weeks ago: as Ukraine is increasingly incapable of scoring meaningful victories on the battlefield, will increasingly resort to terrorism as a way of looking like it can still cause meaningful pain to Russia. Technically this attack was not terrorism but spending 6 of Ukraine’s scarce HIMARS to achieve a mere PR blip looks an awful lot like desperation to score any type of “win” appearance, as opposed to strategy.

In fact, Alex Vershinin, known to many readers as the author of the seminal Royal United Services paper, The Return of Industrial Warfare, recently provided an updated take on the strategies of the two sides. Vershinin sets forth Ukraine’s two key elements, and the second one in such a matter of fact manner that it is easy to miss its importance:

The Ukrainians’ terrain-focused war of maneuver is constrained by two factors: limited artillery ammunition and equipment production, and coalition considerations. Ukraine started the war with 1,800 artillery pieces of Soviet caliber. These allowed firing rates of 6,000 to 7,000 rounds a day against 40,000 to 50,000 Russian daily rounds. By now this artillery is mostly out of ammunition, and in its place Ukraine is using 350 Western caliber artillery pieces, many of which are destroyed or breaking down from overuse. Meanwhile, Western nations are themselves running out of ammunition; the U.S. is estimated to produce only 15,000 155mm shells a month. This constraint has forced Ukraine to adopt mass infantry formations focused on regaining territory at any cost. Ukraine simply cannot go toe to toe with Russia in artillery battles…

Ukraine’s second constraint is the coalition nature of its warfare. Since running out of its own stocks, Ukraine is increasingly reliant on Western weaponry. Maintaining the Western coalition is crucial to the Ukrainian war effort. Without a constant string of victories, domestic economic concern may cause coalition members to defect. If Western support dries up due to depletion of stock or of political will, Ukraine’s war effort collapses for lack of supplies. In some ways, Ukraine has no choice but to launch attacks no matter the human and material cost…

The Achilles heel of this strategy is manpower. Ukraine started the war with 43 million citizens and 5 million military-aged males, but according to the U.N., 14.3 million Ukrainians have fled the war, and a further 9 million are in Crimea or other Russian-occupied territories. This means Ukraine is down to about 20 to 27 million people. At this ratio, it has less than 3 million draftable men. A million have been drafted already, and many of the rest are either not physically fit to serve or occupy a vital position in the nation’s economy. In short, Ukraine might be running out of men, in my view.

Look again at this sentence: “Without a constant string of victories, domestic economic concern may cause coalition members to defect.”

Vershinin may be correct that in the end manpower will be the limiting factor for Ukraine. But its last “victories,” the attacks on the Engels airbase (which satellite photos have shown did no damage, although some staff on the base did die, supposedly due to fallout rather than a direct hit) and now in Makiivka, were not due to Ukraine beating Russia in house-to-house fighting or successful human wave tactics, but targeted missile strikes against sexy targets. Russia has elevated the importance of preventing those attacks and has in the last week been targeting HIMARS and howitzer platforms, reportedly with a high success rate due to shortening the time between detecting the source of a shot and firing back. Russia also claims to have destroyed a (the?) center that was modifying older rockets into jet drones to hit targets like the Engels airbase.

In other words, the West’s limited ability to keep Ukraine supplied with materiel will constrain its ability to keep ginning up its recent sort of “victories”. Brian Berletic has been dutifully recording, for months, how US and NATO weapons deliveries to Ukraine keep shrinking.

And on top of that, Vershinin ignores the considerable and growing cost of keeping Ukraine afloat. Ukraine is dependent on the West to fund its government, giving new meaning to the expression “client state”. Ukraine’s GDP contraction is estimated to be on the order of 35-40% for 2022. Ukraine in November projected its 2023 budget deficit to be $38 billion. Mind you, that is for essential services and is likely to underestimate the cost and knock-on effects of dealing with Russia’s attacks on its electrical grid. Again, before the grid strikes, the IMF had estimated Ukraine’s budget needs at $3 to $4 billion a month. It’s an easy bet that that $38 billion funding gap will easily come in at more than $50 billion.

And paying for teachers’ salaries, pensions, road repair, hospitals, are not the sort of thing that enriches the military-industrial complex. This is a huge amount for the West. Euronews, in discussing the then estimated $38 billion hole, strongly hinted Ukraine would come up short:

The country is now scrambling to find sources of revenues to sustain its 2023 budget, which includes a record-breaking deficit of $38 billion (€36.9 billion).

The funding is supposed to ensure the most basic services, such as healthcare and education, remain available to citizens as the war rages on….

But in the midst of a global recession, what country is willing to foot such hefty bill?…

Together, the EU and the US could fill a significant portion of Ukraine’s enormous budgetary hole, but it will not be enough to close it entirely.

Other Western countries, together with financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, are expected to contribute to the effort.

But the IMF broke its policies in extending its initial loans to Ukraine (lending to countries at war is a no no) and has not extended new credit since the SMO started. Amusingly, new US support would go to pay IMF loan surcharges, and Congress wants to go beat up the IMF over that. Even if that narrowly succeeds, dream if the agency will provide more than at best token support going forward. From CNBC:

A provision in the recently signed defense spending bill mandates that the United States work to ease Ukraine’s debt burden at the International Monetary Fund, which could create tensions at the world’s lender-of-last-resort over one of its biggest borrowers.

The National Defense Authorization Act requires American representatives to each global development bank, including the IMF, where the U.S. is the largest stakeholder, to use ” the voice, vote, and influence ” of the U.S. in seeking to assemble a voting bloc of countries that would change each institution’s debt service relief policy regarding Ukraine.

Among other things, the U.S. is tasked with forcing the IMF to reexamine and potentially end its surcharge policy on Ukrainian loans…

Inevitably, some U.S. grant money is spent servicing IMF loans…

The effort to wrangle the IMF’s 24 directors, who are elected by member countries or by groups of countries, to end the surcharges may not be so easy.

Just before Christmas, the directors decided to maintain the surcharge policy. They said in a Dec. 20 statement that most directors “were open to exploring possible options for providing temporary surcharge relief,” but others “noted that the average cost of borrowing from the Fund remains significantly below market rates.”

Note the US vote share at the IMF is 17.8%.

Last and not at all least, the success of Ukraine propaganda seems to be falling despite the media and politicians doing their best to create the impression otherwise. Lambert and I were both very much surprised to read that a recent poll of likely US voters (as in presumably politically engaged) found fewer than 1/3 thought Ukraine was winning the war.

Similarly, the half life of pro-Ukraine propaganda pushes seems to be collapsing. In the second half of December, the New York Times published an extravaganza intended to revive the Bucha narrative. It died almost immediately. There was another bizarre press boomlet, in which a Putin TV interview, coming after a run of important public meetings, was uniformly depicted by the Western press as seeking to negotiate as proof of Russian desperation. In fact, Putin had given a series of very forceful speeches in which he expressed his regret for falling for Merkel and Hollande’s duplicity over the Minsk accords, stressing his frustration at the lack of anyone trustworthy on the other side of the table. Putin’s TV recap amounted to “Well we are always willing to talk [if there is actually anyone we can talk to]”.

That breathless angle also died in a new cycle.

So let’s watch how long the frisson over this terrible Russian mistake lasts. If again not long, it’s a sign that Ukraine is losing its hold over public attention.


1 It turned out that securitizing subprime debt, at least with all the greedy intermediaries getting enough fees to make it worth their time, wound up with one tranche, or slice of the risk layer-cake, being not attractively priced and therefore hard to sell. That was the BBB or BBB- tranches. That tranche was mainly or even entirely rolled up with the same tranches from other deals, with supposedly some better debt thrown in to make a risk sausage called a CDO.

But the BBB- tranche of a CDO was similarly unloved. Sometimes it was put into other CDOs (!!!) or used to make a yet more speculative risk sausage called a CDO squared.

There were even CDO to the thirds and a very few CDOs to the fourth. In a mathematical joke over my pay grade, there was a tiny CDO to the fourth series called Octonions. Octonions are the end of the line for normed division algebras over the real numbers.

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      1. Revenant

        Octonions are the step beyond quaternions, which were invented by William Hamilton, Ireland’s 19th century maths colossus and maybe relative of my wife (it is complicated, WH appears to have been adopted but may simply have been born on the wrong side of the sheets and thus legitimised). There is a bridge over a canal in Dublin where, struck by the insight that geometric properties and relations could be algebraicised, he grafittied the key statements of quaternion algebra. People (well, mathmo’s, so people-adjacent) still trek to the bridge to see the scratched grafitti.

        Quaternions are an evolution of vectors, with a formalism for operations of division, multiplication etc. They are very elegant, enabling operations such as rotation to be handled very simply, but they are less intuitive than vectors and, more lately, Clifford algebra.

        The wider field of geometric algebra, of which quaternions and Clifford algebra are a part, has become very important in computer graphics and scientific simulations and there are startups developing optimised computer arithmetic libraries and chips for implementing. Despite the power if geometric algebra, it is still not taught in school, when the concept mights sink in!

        1. PlutoniumKun

          Its on Broom Bridge, in Cabra on the Royal Canal – a popular place of pilgrimage for math nerds (its not exactly a popular spot for much else). Eamon DeValera had a plaque inserted into the bridge – he was something of a math obsessive, not the usual hobby of a politician, apart from tallymen perhaps.

        2. Donald

          Vectors are more an evolution of quaternions. Gibbs took quaternions and sliced off the real part and what was left is the three dimensional vector all math and math adjacent people learn about.

          You probably know more about it than me. I have started a book on geometric algebra, but have been too lazy to get past chapter 3.

          1. chrimbus

            there is a great dramatization of the theoretical struggle between the vectorists and quaternionists in Pynchon’s Against the Day

  1. Alan Roxdale

    This means Ukraine is down to about 20 to 27 million people. At this ratio, it has less than 3 million draftable men.

    Is anyone suggesting that the US/Nato will go to the negotiating table before Ukrainian women get drafted?

    In other words, the West’s limited ability to keep Ukraine supplied with materiel will constrain its ability to keep ginning up its recent sort of “victories”.

    For the types of propaganda victories being suggested, isn’t this the very field where the modern high-tech weapons sector excels? Million dollar drones that can fly into windows with grenades? In the event of a front stalemate, Ukraine could be supplied with such weapons indefinitely, allowing a steady drip of “Doolittle-raids” if required.
    In any case, is the propaganda needed? The war in Syria continues to this day without even reaching the newspapers.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Ukraine was planning to draft women but has waffled

      The Ukrainian military, like many former Soviet Republics, has traditionally obligated men to register with the military should a national draft be called. Earlier this week it was announced that young women would also need to register with the Ministry of Defense as of this Fall. However, on Tuesday, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov signed a decree moving the registration of women back one year to October 1, 2023.

      Registration with the military, not to be confused with general mobilization, is a practice which Ukraine hopes will allow it to identify women who have special skills or talents for which the military may have a need. Though most women would not be in any way directly affected, other than needing to go through the process of signing-up, one immediate effect for all women within the targeted age demographic is that they would no longer be able to travel outside of Ukraine, during wartime, unless special permission was given.

      And with men being barred from leaving the country, accounts in countries receiving Ukraine refugees say they skew strongly to women and children.

      And I don’t mean to sound harsh, but you seem to be behind the state of play. You are falling for the Wunderwaffen fallacy. All our Wunderwaffen have failed. The Javelins. The Bayrakters. The manpads. The M-777 Howitzers. The HIMARS have been less disappointing but have not even remotely been game changers.

      The one gamer-changer-ish weapon has come from the Russians side, the allegedly Iranian drones, which most believe are Russian drones made from an Iranian design (they have to be at least partly Russian; Russia has its own GPS). They cost $20,000 and are great at hitting fixed targets and getting the opponent to waste expensive air defense missiles trying to bring them down.

      Russia is a full generation ahead of the US on missiles, air defense, and signal jamming. We build overengineered fussy weapons for profit. They build them in a horses for courses manner, to win wars.

      For example, the Patriot is not a very good weapons platform. Each missile is very expensive, and in cousin of F-35, is expected to shoot down ballistic missile, cruise missiles, and drones. The Russian S-300 platform, as I understand it, instead shoots multiple missiles designed for particular targets. The Patriot also takes 90 men to set it up and operate it, while the S-300 takes way fewer.

      On top of that, the US can produce only 250 Patriot missiles in a year. It normally take more than one missile to intercept an incoming missile. The US is supplying only one Patriot platform to Ukraine and is having to scrounge for its missiles too.

      Do the math. 250 missiles a year is about 20 a month. Assume it takes 2 to bring down 1 cruise missile. So the total supply of US Patriots could intercept 10 Russian cruise missiles a month. Russia has been firing 70-120 every two weeks. And that’s before you get to all those drones.

      Oh, and Russia is now on to the S-400.

      1. Thuto

        Alexander Karp, once the object of msm disdain and a shadowy figure running a secretive startup, has seen his star rise and is now a media darling with anchors on CNBC and other establishment media outlets hanging by his every word on his regular interviews. The Palantir CEO, known for firing regular broadsides at Silicon Valley CEOs for their reluctance to commit engineering talent to developing cutting edge software for military applications, fancies himself the man to fix all this and give the US an unassailable lead in all things military tech. His breathless assertions about his company’s software being the single determinant that’s going to help the US show its “adversaries” (a word he sprinkles liberally on every talk/interview he gives) a clean pair of heels technologically are leaving DC politicians and the media transfixed while putting enormous political and financial dry powder under his command. His snarky, dismissive attitude towards the capabilities of peer adversaries should have everyone worried, but alas, western exceptionalism precludes the possibility of an antidote to the hype being served to all aboard the hype train.

          1. Thuto

            Lol I catch your drift. He certainly matches those two for salesmanship and in the neocon circles he moves in, is now spoken of in the same reverential terms as Miss Holmes and Mr Neumann during their heydays. I do think Palantir has built an actual, working, and perhaps even impressive product, and isn’t just hawking vapourware the way Theranos was. It’s the way he waxes lyrical about it being “the best software in the world, no one even comes close” at the slightest prompting and his habit of dismissing the capabilities of rivals that should have people worried.

      2. begob

        I came across an assessment (MacGregor, I think) that the one clear success among western-supplied weapons is the NLAW (Next generation Light Anti-tank Weapon), designed by Sweden and produced in the UK.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Yes but the S-500 is not a replacement for the S-400 (while as I understand it, the S-400 is a replacement system for the S-300) but a complement.

          1. Polar Socialist

            Indeed, the main target of the S-500 system are satellites and ICBMs.

            There’s also S-350, which is basically a light weight S-300 using S-400 generation short and medium range missiles.

            Anyway, the primary advantage of the Russian air defenses are not any single system but the fact that all of them can be connected into an integrated, two-way, ad-hoc network. All the Tunguskas, Pantsirs, Buks, Tors, S-*00s and even PVO* fighters can share targeting info between them in real time and operate either distributed or under single command.

            * Russian aviation has dedicated air-defense fighters operating under Air And Missile Defense Forces (PVO). So basically any S-3/400 command unit can see what sensors of a Mig-29s operating in it’s area can see, and respectively assign targets for that Mig.

            1. hk

              PVO was diseatablished in 1998 and absorbed into the air force. Not sure how that affected the chain of command and/or structure of air defenses, though.

              1. Polar Socialist

                It’s still kinda there, even after several merges and/or reorganizations: Войска противовозду́шной и противораке́тной оборо́ны (VPO-VRO).

                But yes, it certainly is today a branch of Air and Space Defense Forces. Army Air Defense remains a separate branch. I’m not absolutely sure, but it’s my understanding that AA batteries of army units not only can but are expected to communicate with and operate together with VPO-VRO units in their area of operations.

            2. Greg

              One other important AD note that may not be clear to people used to western model number progression. I’ve seen the S-550 and S-500 get conflated a lot in reporting.

              The S-550 is a completely different beast from the S-400 and S-500.
              It’s a huge single missile dedicated to taking out space targets, so purely ICBMs and satellites, mostly satellites.

              It is also incredibly fast off the ground. Compare this launch to say, a space rocket taking off, or any other AD system including the S-500. It’s crazy fast.

              On the flip side, this will be as slow to load as a silo, and it’s one shot per launcher. Way more limited combat utility. Very much a strategic weapon only.

              ETA: I suspect we’ll know if SpaceX really has succeeded in building a new rocket engine instead of re-using old Russian tech when the US air defense steps up a gear. The connection between the high end air defense systems and space launch systems is really obvious when you look at the S-550.

              1. EquitableEqual

                This does make me wonder how feasible it is to even use nuclear weapons against Russia anymore. Looks like it’s mostly intended to intercept icbms at high altitude.

                1. Greg

                  Feasible, you just need more to get through the effective defense. It’s very similar to the missile war currently underway in Ukraine in that regard.

                  Fortunately? the only credible instigator has an abundance and could no doubt saturate the S-550s if they were dead set on ending the world.

            3. Paul Damascene

              The SU-57, with powerful air detection systems, builds heavily on this network integration.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            I was actually being unduly polite. I do understand that, but lacked the time or energy to provide a tutorial in comments way after my normal “go to bed” time, which seemed obligatory otherwise.

      3. Karl

        They [Iranian drones] cost $20,000 and are great at hitting fixed targets and getting the opponent to waste expensive air defense missiles trying to bring them down.

        This very economical role to exhaust the enemy’s air defenses would justify its use right there.

        This drone warfare benefits from scale and has major implications for our own air defense systems and doctrines. E.g. we’ll probably need much more inventory (e.g. on board ships) to defeat incoming drone swarms than is probably being stored now.

        Perhaps cheap sea drone-torpedoes will someday be game-changers for our Navy.

        Coming up: more anti-drone contracts for our MIC!

        1. Scylla

          There was a war game back in the early 80’s (I forget the name of it, I’m sorry) where the US, UK, and France wargamed a saturation attack against fleet air defense. They had Standard missiles, Sparrow missiles, and Phalanx CIWS in the inventory at the time along with the AEGIS system. It did not go well. If you want to read a very entertaining take on it, Larry Bond and Tom Clancy dramatized the attack, and Tom Clancy put it in his book Red Storm Rising. In typical fashion, the US pretty much ignored the result- I think the only change was to the design of the launch system for the Standard AD missiles. (vertical launch cells replaced autoloading twin launch mounts). This problem has been well known for a very long time.

      4. Greg

        Directionally correct, a few notes on the detail –

        Brian Berletic updated his data on Patriot missile production in a later video; he said Lockheed production was meant to have doubled from the initial 250 per year, some time between 2018 and 2024 That has probably been accelerated with the outbreak of war, but not beyond the 500 targeted. Having 500 per year doesn’t change the calculus at all, it’s still thousands short of what would be needed in a serious conflict.

        Secondly, there has been multiple reports that since the Iran attack on the US base in Iraq (Soleimani revenge 2020), Russia has provided Iran with GLONASS access
        e.g. and mentioned in along with application to a HIMARS-equivalent MLRS system. This includes GLONASS for Shahed-136, meaning the initial design purchased by Russia may have been useable without modification.

        That said, Russia has clearly made several changes to the designs over the last few months in their usual iterative post-combat-use approach. We’ve seen evidence in the last month or so of versions with heavier warheads, and earlier we saw a smaller (cheaper) 2-cylinder engine being used in some. Both these changes would presumably shorten the range, but the Russians don’t need a thousand kilometres to get from Belarus or Donbass to most of their targets.

        Really appreciate the new Ukraine post, it’s very useful to get the pulse of the informed commentariat every week or two on this topic.

          1. Greg

            Fair enough. I am being generous and allowing that Lockheed may have managed to fit out their new facility (needed to double production) a year earlier than planned, as a response to the Ukraine war demands.

    2. tevhatch

      USA papers. You are right that the “war” in Syria continues to this day, though it is mostly an economic war by this time. It will probably continue until the USA is so down the tubes that it need to beg Syria for oil and wheat instead of stealing it. As to the once hot war, it looks like Turkey, Russia, Iran and the Arab League are all about to come together to help Syria make life very difficult for the USA occupation.

      The problem with those grenades is two can play that game, and when it comes to cranking out cheap stuff cheaply, no one beats China, and Russia seems set to come a close second. As to power, water, sewage and other infrastructure at risk to domestic violence, thy name is USA. Russia, China, and others have practice dealing with this sort of problem for 70 or so years.

    3. WJ

      This point about the dwindling force capacity of Ukraine is in part why Macgregor fears the mobilization of between 200-300,000 Polish reservists. If the goal of the State Department is to extend the war as long as possible within constraints presumably set by the Pentagon–meaning no sustained or acknowledged live combat involving US troops–then a spring invasion of Western Ukraine by a “peacekeeping” force of Polish soldiers is an obvious way to achieve this. The Polish force would be operating with US/NATO permission, but not under US/NATO guarantees, giving Washington plenty of room to escalate, and plenty of room to back down, depending upon how things go and how much they think they can get away with.

      1. redleg

        The number of soldiers is irrelevant if they don’t have ammunition.

        Where is the ammunition coming from? There used to be two enormous munitions plants in the MSP area- TCAAP which made small arms, 50-cal rounds, and artillery fuses (gradually closed after the Vietnam war ended) that was 3+ square miles in size, and the Gopher Ordinance Works that made nitrocellulose propellant for small arms and artillery, and for conversion into other explosives, that was 15+ square miles in size. Further, the FMC plant, which made artillery and missile launchers for the Navy, was so big that full scale mock-ups of warships were constructed inside the building so entire weapons systems, from magazine to firing, could be tested before delivery to the shipyards. These were just three of many facilities distributed around the country. Nearly all of these old plants are now superfund sites, with no weapons production facilities left standing.

        My point is that it takes an astonishing amount of resources to produce ammunition and artillery in bulk, like what is being used in the SMO. Ammunition in particular needs to be ready before a battle starts, which means stockpiling it. That not only goes against the “just-in-time” supply chain paradigm that is sacred in the US, but someone has to fund the production of these low-tech munitions, for which production facilities must be rebuilt. The US does not currently have the basic production capacity to wage industrial warfare.

        I hope there are sane people left in the US executive branch and military, because if there is a war, and there aren’t enough bullets to fire, nukes are the only remaining weapon in the magazine.

        1. Rip Van Winkle

          “old plants are now Superfund sites”

          Count the old Joliet Arsenal (Illinois, Honeywell last contractor-operator) in that group. Now a commercial logistics center, nature preserve and veterans cemetery.

        2. truly

          I have two friends who have worked in the MSP supply chain. One as a gov employee, DOD? doing oversight, contracts, and inspection “stuff”. And the other just a grunt working the line making stuff he has no idea what it does. Both of these friends are smart enough to not tell me anything important. But both have shared with me that there appears to be no uptick in production quantities in late 2022. Nobody working extra hours. In fact lay offs in some facilities. Just some anecdata here, but it tells me USA is not serious about this conflict.

      2. Paul Damascene

        Coalition of the Willing (CoW) entering from Poland seemed far-fetched not long ago. Now it’s hard to be so sure.

        CoW has the advantage of escalating while allowing NATO to continue to deny that it’s a direct combatant, and wants to avoid a direct clash.

        However, the US seems unlikely to send large numbers of troops into a CoW, because I think it is more serious than NATO is about avoiding direct clashes with Russia, primarily as an exercise in reputation management. Having companies and brigades ground up would be an intolerable humiliation.

        SuperMozart / Blackwater / Academi? A troubling alternative to the CoW, would be a Wagner-style sheep dipping of forces that would operate at an arm’s length from NATO governments. 80k sheep-dipped troops operating *Western* heavy equipment (tanks, artillery, choppers, jets) would greatly increase the range of armaments that the West could feed into this conflict.

  2. The Rev Kev

    A hard day for the Russian army and somebody is going to be keel-hauled for allowing that celebration to go ahead where it did. It won’t change the course of the war though and we are now approaching the endgame. Question is, was this attack a pure Ukrainian attack or did NATO give the time and exact location of this new year’s celebration? I think that the Russian communiques are making it a point to note that these were American supplied weapons that killed those guys. Think that the Russians will forget that? When this war is over, there will be payback for this and not just the US here.

    All those stories that I see in the media talk about this war as if it was going to go on for years and that maybe that it will end in a stalemate leading to an armistice – followed by Putin being deposed for not winning. I really don’t know how the media is going to spin it when the Ukraine starts to collapse. I don’t think that the media even believe this possible. And if the Russians decide to move ahead and take control of all the Russian-speaking regions, how long will the EU be happy to pick up all the bills for the Ukraine. I saw a tweet by Ursula von der Leyen saying that the EU was ready to start delivering tranches of this multi-billion dollar package but by my own reckoning, it was not enough for a financial quarter.

    Of course when the Russians go on the move, the danger is that the western media will start to panic and demand that NATO does something. Maybe try to establish a no-fly zone over the Ukraine or send in a force of NATO troops – read, US, Polish & Romanian – to try to occupy places like Odessa before the Russians get there. Sort of like Pristina airport but writ large. But the media will merely reflect all those people that we know who are convinced that the Russians are losing badly and the Ukrainians are winning and refuse to listen otherwise. They forget that reality always bats last-

    1. Keith Newman

      @The Rev @ 8:28 am;
      I am more sanguine than you regarding the media and the public’s reaction. There’s always a new story to cover: a new hot spot (Serbia?), a new celebrity issue (Scarlett Johansson’s child, etc,, into infinity). Since no (official) NATO troops are being killed, who really cares?
      The story will be we always knew the Russians were nasty killers but the valiant Ukrainians stopped them from marching to Paris so it’s really a victory for the West, and Putin is about to be deposed any day now anyway. Maybe we were too optimistic given the size of the two countries and sure Ukraine lost big pieces of its country but where the heck is Ukraine anyway?

      1. Thomas Wallace

        Exactly. Previous US losses were first the biggest, most important thing ever. Then when we gave up, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan … it was simply on to the next biggest thing ever. Ukraine itself is a multi-generational neocon project. Kagen, Nuland, and now the next gen is running ISW, propaganda mouthpiece. Not that the earlier generations are gone…they are still shilling. The US is ok with moving on from failures. As long as everyone still gets paid.
        Not to mention that we didn’t exactly lose since we were never at war. Plus, Ukrainians punched above their weight, we weakened Russia, etc.
        We are still making excuses for Vietnam … we should have used out proven counter insurgency tactics, and it was Westmorland’s fault.

    2. Karl

      I really don’t know how the media is going to spin it when the Ukraine starts to collapse. I don’t think that the media even believe this possible.

      I’ve been thinking that Russia’s incrementalism right now might be intended precisely to exhaust the enemy just slowly enough to delay a sudden collapse until a more ripe time. “NATO as frog in slowly warming pot” could be part of what Scott Ritter calls “escalation management”. If so, when the collapse comes it is apt to be very sudden, and Russia may have no choice but to fill the vacuum completely.

      As Russia has lots of fight left in it yet, the collapse may be worse than the Western front in 1918. “Filling the vacuum” may mean taking all of Ukraine. The Russian people may demand no less for their sacrifices.

      I would think Ukraine would be concerned to start engaging in “collapse management” but I see no evidence of this. They seem to be running on a treadmill and just setting its speed faster and faster.

      1. Karl

        The implication to the above, is that by the time the collapse comes, it comes so quickly that NATO and US have too little time to double down in a meaningful way. Yes, the MSM may panic but it will be essentially a fait accompli by the time reality fully sinks in.

        I also wonder if massing Polish troops is a precaution by Poland against this possibility. Gonzalo Lira has speculated that if Poland sees Russian troops advancing toward its border, it may want to seize Western Ukrainian territory and create its own “DMZ”. Russia may well say “you’re welcome to it.”

        Given the fog of war, there are lots of scenarios on how this will play out.

        1. Rip Van Winkle

          A couple of great Gonzalo Lira webcasts in past week, both with Larry Johnson and one with Brian Berletic on the topic.

    3. Greg

      The new Russian MoD line is that mobile phone use was the cause of this attack. Given the recent integration of the DPR and LHR troops into the main ru military, and the importance of the new year celebration across the region, this is entirely plausible.
      DPR/LHR troops had absolutely no mobile phone discipline, so I imagine it is being beaten into them but will still be patchy.
      Zeroing in on mobile phones and hitting them with precision strikes is the sort of tactic US troops are very good at, so it’s plausible from that angle too.

  3. Stephen

    A fair article. One does wonder how long these isolated incidents can continue to be used to create support and to hypnotise western masses who fail to seek broader context and do not question how meaningful these things are.

    Mistakes do happen in war. It is sad and people die as a result but it is reality. Sometimes, Ukraine’s hit and run attacks will get through. This incident reminds me a little of the Slapton Sands incident in 1944 when US soldiers were training for D Day off the coast of Devon in England by simulating a beach landing. “Friendly” artillery fire first killed 400. There had apparently been a schedule change that had not been communicated to everyone involved so the live fire being used to reflect real conditions landed where the men were landing. Then to make matters worse, a German E Boat somehow got through the Royal Navy cordon and at least another 300 or so were killed as landing craft were now torpedoed. The E Boat was even spotted by a Royal Navy ship but various radio errors meant that the alert was not raised properly.

    This incident was hushed up at the time. As were many others. In fact, the friendly fire element has only become public knowledge very recently. Did not change anything though. The allies still had total air and sea superiority and they still launched D Day. A lot of brave men died who should not have done. This strike by Ukraine is the same type of thing. The Russians made some errors either in failure to intercept, in security and in insufficient dispersal. They will learn in the future. It’s what happens. Does not mean they are any more or less effective than any other military in history.

    Of course, none of this perspective will appear in any mainstream western media or be mentioned by a serving military officer.

    1. Carolinian

      hypnotise western masses

      How hypnotised are they? Yves quotes that poll which indicates considerable disbelief toward MSM reporting. In my town I can count the number of Ukrainian flags on the fingers of one hand. Our Senator Graham is gung ho for the war and claims SC voters agree but without much evidence.

      Perhaps it’s different in the Russophobic UK where even an experienced foreign correspondent like Patrick Cockburn talks as though the Russians have already been militarily defeated. Presumably to say otherwise in Britain would get you cast into the outer darkness.

      The reality is that if Biden and America are the ones keeping this war going then they are doing so on a shallow base of popular–as opposed to elite–support. So for them it’s extremely important to keep what just happened to the Russians from happening to us. Gilbert Doctorow reports that the Russian public are now moving toward a total war mentality. In current America by contrast our wars have to be kept far away and little talked about. It’s really the Biden adminstration that has thrust its foot in the bear trap.

      1. Stephen

        Fair point. To be honest, I think true popular support in the UK is limited. I have not seen a Ukrainian flag for months. My next door neighbour sees the whole thing as a game by the US to sell arms. Johnson’s request to turn off festive lights for an hour was ignored in this corner of Surrey too.

        It might be that “elites” are the people who are truly hypnotized, or pretending to be. A casual glance at Linked In (a platform I seriously hate because it is full of virtue signaling but membership of which is essential in the corporate world today) still brings up a pretty one sided perspective and various Ukraine flags. So unfortunately does a glance at most “comments” sections in newspaper sites. Neither is a very meaningful barometer of true opinion though. Nor are opinion surveys, given that the questions are framed to create the response that is desired.

        Agree too that no one is expecting personal hardship as a price to pay for supporting Ukraine. It is at best an exercise in “feel good”. Easy to be a Twitter or comments section warrior.

        Perhaps I should have written “attempt to hypnotize’’…..

        1. dandyandy

          The Establishment is still flogging this dead horse.

          Our dear Ferris Wheel (“London Eye”) turned blue-and-yellow for the customary 20 seconds at New Year’s fireworks. Would have been a nice sight looking from Parliament just acros the Thames.

      2. nippersdad

        The talking points about “having a hundred billion to spend on Ukraine but nothing to secure our borders” is going to be incredibly potent once the R’s take the House in January. I suspect that is one of the reasons why the House leadership position is being so hard fought between populist R’s and corporatist ones; there is blood in the water, and everyone has some skin in the game. Trump is going to have a field day with this.

        Support for the Ukraine war may be miles wide, but it is about a millimeter thick. Until the hawks like Graham can come up with a rationale for why we should continue to bleed ourselves for countries few can find on a map they are going to be very vulnerable. Something which will make for a nice change.

      3. Rip Van Winkle

        I’d be cautious about flying various flags simply because of how dumbed-down the general public is. Didn’t some household in US. a couple of years ago fly the Norwegian flag for a sporting event celebration and then received death threats because the local wokesters thought it was the Confederate flag?

  4. .Tom

    I’d like to better understand the western financing of UA. (Understand it at all, actually.) For example, the “billions” that US congress approved, is that a grant transferred to UA treasury, loans, or loan guarantees? How much of western money flows into UA is ultimately coming from private western banks? Is it guaranteed by governments, or EU or IMF or what? I am entirely ignorant regarding the overall configuration of this stuff.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Western banks are not lending to the Ukraine government. Some of the US $ is grants = gifts. Most is loans from US, EU, maybe World Bank, not IMF.

      This will be amusing if Ukraine ceases to exist or is reduced, per the Medvedev trolling map, to Greater Kiev. The West does not like doing writedowns but I don’t see how that can be avoided if Ukraine emerges from this war with <1/2 of its former GDP. This sort of thing is precisely why the IMF has a policy v. lending to countries at war.

      1. JohnA

        Could there even be a case for calling this ‘odious debt’ and loading it all onto Zelensky and his oligarch chums? According to the Panama Papers, they have billions stashed away that could at least chip away at any repayments.

        1. nippersdad

          There have been several bills passed over the past few months, a couple of them just a few days ago, that amount to a Bill of Attainder that can be used at the discretion of the Executive Branch.* Ironically, they have been pushed by Ukrainian lobbyists, but I can easily see how they could be turned against anyone who has profited off of this war.

          I could see the embarrassing political aftermath of a loss of the war including the seizure of assets from such as Zelensky for PR purposes. “it wasn’t us who lost the war! It was those war profiteers over in Ukraine!”…..And so the money laundry could have a second life.

          *Two sets of seizure bills, one last Spring and another two in the recent NDAA. They come up pretty easily in a Google search.

  5. Lex

    The population total of 41M+ is highly dubious. There hasn’t been a real census in Ukraine in a long time and between an aging population and emigration outlfow long before the war, the real number is probably significantly less. Which makes every other number in manpower potential calculations significantly lower too.

    But the online census from 2019 (not including Crimea or Donbas controlled by LDNR) was 37.3M and 21M were women. As reported by the Kiev Post at the time. The Wilson Center argued this was too low because it didn’t include the 6N in Donetsk and Lugansk or the 2M in Crimea. Anyone claiming 43M is clearly assuming those 8M people in LDNR and Crimea are still “Ukrainian”. The 2019 census probably wasn’t super accurate since it was “electronic”. Moreover, some of the most populated oblasts of Ukraine are where the bulk of the conflict has occurred.

      1. Lex

        I can’t because all of the population statistics are unreliable, they were unreliable before the war and they’re blown up completely now. As of 2021 the World Bank said there were ~15M males between 15 and 64 in Ukraine, but that appears to be statistical modeling based on the assumed 43M population. I’m not necessarily arguing with the block quote or the 3M draftable males, though I’d guess that it is probably high for the current moment. I wouldn’t be surprised if the realistic number is 2M possible.

        Just a bit ago one of the “insider” TG channels out of Ukraine (Kartel) said that the current push for mobilization is 150-200,000 but that seems like it might be unrealistic. Of course we don’t have any real data on the previous rounds of mobilization. If that’s the case, 3M seems too high. Of course Ukraine hasn’t been mobilizing consistently. The ethnic Ukrainian population in the west gets drafted at lower rates than minorities or “Russians” in the center/east. I’d guess that Kiev will save the western ukrainians for last to defend the ethnic homeland.

        None of the guess change the quoted text’s conclusion though. It’s an unsustainable strategy. The question isn’t whether Ukraine breaks under this strategy but when. And it’s an unsustainable strategy for the post-war economic front situation too.

    1. nippersdad

      “There hasn’t been a real census in Ukraine in a long time and between an aging population and emigration outlfow long before the war, the real number is probably significantly less. Which makes every other number in manpower potential calculations significantly lower too.”

      I have been wondering about that as well. This…

      “This means Ukraine is down to about 20 to 27 million people. At this ratio, it has less than 3 million draftable men.”

      …just sounds wrong to me. In the run-up to the war there were reports that many of the youth cohort had already left Ukraine for greener economic pastures, so much so that jokes were being made that one could find most of the potential Ukraine military waiting tables in Paris. Ukraine was an economic basket case before the war started, and concerns about their demographic destiny were already in the news long before the SMO started.

      IIRC, just after Ukraine made it illegal for military aged men to leave the country they also appealed to the EU to repatriate those they had. That story line died long before we got any numbers as to how many young men returned to fight.

      But, anyway, if there are still close to three million draftable men left in Ukraine, why would they be sending teen-agers and older men to the front? Though I have nothing to back it up. those ratios just sound off to me as well.

    2. Cetra Ess

      What with the UA’s Stalinist “not one step back” policy, plus the recent bill 7351, the UA is setting up conditions for UA forces to *want* to surrender.

      And the Russians, for their part, don’t hate Ukrainians, still consider them family, are inclined to receive them. And meanwhile, the collective west hates Russians on a seriously primal level bordering on racism, secretly considers Ukrainians to be Russians. If you were Ukrainian hearing all that rabid Russophobia there must be a part of you feeling you may be more welcome on the Russia side of things.

      So I expect we should factor in a certain percentage of manpower loss due to West/UA self-inficted attrition. Plus considerable friendly fire… Plus losses due to 7351…. Whatever number is on the board we should deduct some not insignifcant amount.

      Sometimes I think Zelenskyy is secretly playing for the other team.

  6. Maxine

    This article has me thinking about the other major problems that the Western MSM are trying to hush up or at least downplay as much as possible.

    1) The economic situation. High inflation and high prices are concerning on their own, yet coupled with well known companies Kappus that survived both World Wars and the Great Depression having filed bankrupcy due to energy prices, the alarm bells should have been shrilling a long time ago. Much of the PMC seems to have forgotten that we were in lockdown not long ago and that the economies have various countries hadn’t yet recovered by the 24 of Feb. Indeed, the current situation seems to only have amplified pre-existing problems to add to that.

    2) The cracks in the political foundations. Of course, all is not well in the garden, as the rising tensions between the US and the EU, and EU internal show. Historical baggage was never addressed in many a case, and now those problems are bubbling back to the surface. And then there are the internal problems, such as the dissonance in believes between government in populace such as demonstrated in the case of Slovakia. So if one EU member (aside from Hungary) would cut loose from the anti-Russia narrative, what would happen? What would happen if said nation would be one of the founders?

    Aside from the EU, the US is being increasingly polarised, i.e divided along party lines. If push comes to shove what then?

    3. The reputation destruction. Defacing in the past has largely been caried out by the opposition, yet in the present day it has become fashionable for the ruling class to do it onto themselves. You have Biden’s brainlessness, Bärbock’s tactlessness and von der Leyen’s PR stupidity. Not to mention the disregard for the Minsk agreements and the public musings of confiscating frozen Russian assetts – not a recipe for a good reputation, and the West is already beginning to feel not, regardless of how skillfully it is being ignored by the upper class.

    4) The refugees. From a blood relative that works in social services, I’ve gathered that in Central Europe at least they are at a lose on what to do with additional Ukrainian refugees. They know there will be another wave sooner or later but they don’t where to put them, nor where the money is supposed to come from. Not to mention that the ability to play host is also dependant on the good will of society at large and that has been drying up steadily.

    5) Ukraine’s future. Even if Ukraine would be some miracle win, it would still have to pay off massive loans, with interest. So the country will probably end up becoming a cash cow, milked for resources like India was under the British Raj. Not to mention that there could be a repetition of Iraq, where the West openly acknowledges that Ukraine isn’t a democracy and decides to bring down the hammer, and hard. Of cource, since Ukraine has most of the West’s weapons, such a situation would be cataclymic in it’s very own fashion.

    Which brings me to the next topic – Ukraine was already a black market hub before the start of the conflict. With the country all but destroyed, it is/will be the perfect breeding ground for organised crime and international terrorism, even if the country doesn’t collapse.

    And all this is discounting what Russia, and by extention the BRICS+, will decide to do in the aftermath (as in, what their peace conditions will be and how it will effect the West. Something tells me they won’t be inclined to be benevolent.)

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I share what I believe concerns you. There is something creepy about how the extensions to NATO and the war in the Ukraine materialized and assumed primacy in what passes for the news. Although they can be readily understood in terms of their beneficence to the MIC and to impulses of some elements of the dying u.s. Empire — even so — they appear most strange both in their occurrence and in the magnitude of their near total command over the media and public attention.

      You indicate several little explored consequences of the war “…that the Western MSM are trying to hush up or at least downplay as much as possible.” I would add what I believe are bigger concerns that have been deprecated as the news presence of war in Ukraine waxes full — Climate Chaos, Resource Depletion, Globalization with the associated ascendance of global Cartels extorting ever greater profit margins, the degradations of Freedom and Liberty under growing state control. What poisons lurk in the mud waiting to hatch out beneath the cover of so much indirection.

  7. David

    I think this illustrates the fact that journalists and pundits can only describe what they can understand. The scale and scope of the operations in Ukraine, the intellectual complexity and detail of the Russian plans and the size of the forces involved may not be of WW2 standards, but they are still beyond the ability of most of these people to understand and analyse. (It’s instructive to compare the level of discussion and debate here, led by Yves, with the drivel that you find in most parts of the MSM.) So the media seek out examples, like this one, which are easy for them to understand and describe, and which fit into a coherent narrative of brave underdog landing punch on powerful aggressor. The wider strategic picture is simply too complex and difficult to understand, let alone describe.

    I’ve suggested elsewhere that Anglo-Saxon culture finds large-scale industrial warfare impossible to understand, and falls back on popular tropes from films and books about World War 2. (And I’d add, films like Star Wars, which recycle the same ideas.) So this episode, for the western media, is essentially The Dam Busters, Heroes of Telemark, or for that matter the destruction of the Death Star in Star Wars In other words, it’s a human level incident of manageable and understandable proportions with a strong story-line, and does, as suggested above, play to Anglo-Saxon concepts of what war is about, and how to decide who’s winning, as a way of keeping political and financial support.

    On the manpower point, I think we may be getting to the end of the stage where sheer numbers of bodies will do the Ukrainians much good. The new combatants seem to have anything between a few weeks and a few months’ training: Berletic and others are quite clear that that’s useless for serious operations. So long as you put them in trenches or behind fortifications, they will survive for a while, but once the Russians are through the fortifications, it’s hard to see them having much value. I’ve seen suggestions that the only training they have received is at platoon and company level, and seems based on experiences in Afghanistan. This is logical, when you consider that no western army has actually fought at anything above battalion level since the earlier days of Iraq 2.0, and anyone who commanded then, is certainly long retired now. Finally, consider experiences over the same terrain in WW2. By late July 1941, the German Panzer Divisions were so depleted that Infantry Divisions were being used in both defence and attack, without mechanised support or much artillery. Whether attacking or defending, they were pretty much wiped out by the Red Army, in spite of being well-trained, well-led and many being veterans of 1940. In general (think of the French Resistance in 1944) sending poorly trained infantry against armoured units is just suicide.

    1. Stephen

      Yes, whenever I hear that the British Army or some other European army is “training” Ukrainian soldiers, I always wonder how relevant this can be. The Ukrainian Army must be far more experienced in fighting large scale warfare than the British and could no doubt train our army. However, we like to have the warm fuzzy feeling that our army is “The Best”. Somehow, when it comes to relevance for Ukraine I suspect too that it is not. It simply lacks the experience that requires. Yet, to my knowledge and as you say, corporate media never raises the points that you and Yves make.

      My father was an RAF radar operator at the very end of WW2. Never expected to fight in an infantry role and never did, of course. Yet even in his role he did more than six weeks of pure basic non specialist military training that included how to use a rifle and so forth. Before going anywhere near a radar set. The “training” being talked about for Ukrainian soldiers is just performative “Do Something” activity.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        I wonder if part of the reason is Ukraine has been eating its seed corn. It is so short of seasoned men that it has been sending trainers to the front lines.

        1. Stephen

          That thought is probably right too. My recollection of the history of the Vietnam War is that the decline of the US Army partly began with the deaths early on of many experienced NCOs who had served in Korea and even WW2. Suspect your seed corn comment is right. Either way, it is not a promising position to be in.

        2. Greg

          This seems like a good guess.

          As tangential support, we’ve recently seen the nationalist battalions much closer to the front than they like, and taking heavy losses (Tornado springs to mind). These were kept in reserve for the entirety of the war up until the last couple of months, no doubt due to their political influence.

    2. Thuto

      Objectivity, critical thinking and willingness to follow the truth wherever it may lead are qualities that must be checked at the door to enter the field of mainstream journalism. Since the msm is a prism that refracts reality for the masses, it’s important that journalists hoping to make a life (and a name) for themselves are told in no uncertain terms that peddling the establishment line by rote is how one gets ahead in this profession. One hopes the liability for the horrors of this war will be jointly and severally distributed among the warmongers in western capitals and the stenographer journalists who carry water for them.

  8. Matthew G. Saroff

    While there has been a lot of discussions regarding the limited inventory and production of howitzer rounds, has anyone done an analysis of howitzer tubes? (The barrel)

    According to the Wiki, barrels need to be replaced every 2,500 rounds or so, though this can be extended, either through chrome plating or as would be more likely in the Ukrain, using the tube past this number with a reduction in accuracy.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      One of the serious military commentators, IIRC Ritter or more likely Macgregor, has snarked more than once about equipment sent to Ukraine starting to fall apart.

  9. Boomheist

    This morning (Tacoma time) Google reports that temperatures in Kiev are 47. The forecast says this will drop to the 20s in a couple days, but overall this seems to have been a warm winter (so far) and this has had the effect of keeping the ground and fields soft and muddy. The weather, then, has refused to establish a frozen base for any Russian attacks – assuming the Russians plan to attack. It also seems – reading the media I can find – that Ukraine has been relentless in sending waves of troops to their death, and just as the MSM has been predicting Russia will run out of rockets so surely some are wondering when Ukraine will run out of troops. Whatever else one might say, Ukraine’s soldiers have great courage and conviction. The MSM has been arguying since February 25th that Russia is about to lose, and fall. Those few voices on the other side – MacGregor, for example, and Ritter – have been arguing since February 25th that Russia is going to win, easily and fast.

    The fog of war. What IS true, and beyond doubt, is that this type of slow motion, slogging, in the trenches industrial warfare has not been seen by Western (US, Canada, Europe, etc) soldiers since Korea, and those veterans are dying away now as fast as the very few WW2 veterans who remain among us. Direct memory is gone. Gone. It surely seems that Russia, adjacent to Ukraine, and much larger, with energy, an industrial base, and an educated workforce, will prevail in Ukraine, and maybe beyond if they choose to go there, but as of today, nearly a year after the SMO started, Ukraine continues to resist.

    I continue to think that once the cold comes (if it comes?) and a flood of refugees sweeps into Europe the balance will tilt and Ukraine as a nation will collapse, or the US and NATO will escalate with tactical nukes. For the moment, though, things grind on. And on. Yet, while this war’s impacts are surely being felt in Europe, there seem to be none felt in the United States. In fact, much of that 100 billion sent to Ukraine went right to American weapons makers, making the war a good thing to certain powerful interests in the United States.

    I think this video popped up in an earlier NC thread, but it is worth presenting again, a fascinating speculation suggesting that ideology derives from family structure, and there are in fact only a few basic human family structures on earth. It would be interesting to overlay this thesis with the current Ukraine situation, among others.

    1. Kouros

      The very slow slog of Russian forces in Donbas, where the actual war is happening, is likely due to the Russian side being very careful to not waste people’s lives unnecessarily. They should have same care with other aspects of soldiers’ actions, like New Year’s parties…

      1. hk

        One nagging suspicion that I have is that Russia is and has always been suffering from a shortage of “combat capable” troops. Not because of “heavy casualties,” but because they never had “enough” of them to begin with. Russia has always been, since World War 2, contra Western beliefs, lean on manpower and heavy on firepower (Soviet tank and motor rifle divisions, I’ve learned, had about 1/2 to 2/3 the manpower of their Western counterparts, but equal or superior firepower. The debacles of the Chechen conflicts made them very wary of relying on poorly trained conscripts and their decision to rely on professionals worked out very well in Georgia and Syria, but there are only so many professionals and training them takes too much time. So any serious Russian offensive will have to wait, I should think, until Ukrainian forces are on the verge of route, and fwiw, they don’t seem to be there yet.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Russia has been serious about training its reservists, which = time. The latest report from Putin was there were still plenty not yet sent to the front lines, beyond those being held back. Latest guesstimates from Macgregor et al is Russia won’t be at full strength until end of Jan.

          Putin and others keep stressing this mobilization will be enough to complete the SMO.

          1. hk

            Yes, and recalled reservists are not conscripts. Still, shortage of reliably trained troops (at least for their purposes) does seem to be taking time for Russians to address.

    2. David

      I’ve given up arguing with people who think that “Ukraine is winning” because Russia hasn’t “won” yet. I think there is a psychological blockage in some people that means they just don’t “get” or “see” what has been happening since February. I can’t think of an accurate metaphor, but for example no matter how often people have tried, nobody has ever been able to explain electricity to me. I just don’t “get” it, and can’t visualise it.

      In reality, you have on one side a much larger state with much larger resources, an army which is essentially intact, millions of trained reservists, a large armaments industry, short lines of communication and effectively unlimited natural resources, and on the other a much smaller, weaker, poorer country, which has limited supplies of trained manpower, few pieces of modern equipment left, a declining inventory of artillery, reserves of shells and missiles that are diminishing daily with little prospect of replenishing them and long and difficult lines of communication. This is an attrition war, and in such a war the side with the most resources mathematically inevitably wins. It’s not a question of probabilities, assuming that the Russians don’t do something stupid, it’s a certainty. One day the Ukrainians will run out of artillery and ammunition. That’s it.

    3. Michaelmas

      Boomheist: This morning (Tacoma time) Google reports that temperatures in Kiev are 47. The forecast says this will drop to the 20s in a couple days, but overall this seems to have been a warm winter

      Yes. Since you mention it —

      Extreme Temperatures Around The World @extremetemps
      Climatologist & Weather Historian.
      Weather news. Climatic statistics and records.
      2022 in #Germany with correct figures and 2 decimals is the warmest year on records:
      10.52C vs 10.45 in 2018
      2 January was another record day in Europe but less than the previous 2 days.
      Records were set in Austria with 18.9C at Bludenz,
      many records in Russia and Ukraine.
      On 1 January #Croatia also had its share of records:
      18.0C at both Bjelovar and Krizevci .

  10. Tertium Squid

    The propaganda won’t wear thin as long as Ukraine has an army in the field. The fact that they still do suggests to me that Russia’s artillery war is not denuding their enemy’s forces as they hoped, and Ukrainian losses are lower than current estimates.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      That is simply counterfactual on all fronts. See David’s comments immediately above.

      Germany was essentially defeated in WWII in the Battle of Kursk. But it took 2 more years to get to unconditional surrender. Even when a war is won, the mopping-up phase can take a while.

      And did you miss the US most certainly had armies in the field in Vietnam and Afghanistan when we threw in the towel? As indicated in the post above, the West can’t afford the cost of pay the Ukraine government budget on top of war costs for all that long.

      Ukraine is no Germany in WWII. Ukraine is already having to press 13 year olds and 60 year olds into service.

      1. Tertium Squid

        This is about propaganda wearing thin, not who is winning. Maybe Ukraine is destined to lose same as Germany in WWII and US in Vietnam, but until they cannot resist their enemy exerting its will on them, they will have room to operate their propaganda war. It hasn’t been invalidated by the facts on the ground. Same as US in Vietnam, and Germany in Russia (though by the time of Kursk they’d already been retreating for ages). The propaganda was only a cruel joke after the collapse, not before.

        Do you really think this conflict is in the “mopping-up phase”? I don’t want to put words in your mouth but it seems like that’s what you’re saying. I don’t think it’s in that phase at all. Until such time as Ukraine’s bankrollers give up, in order to win the war, Russia will have to win the war.

        1. tevhatch

          …Ukraine’s bankrollers give up run out/deplete their stores.

          If the Fed can finally learn how to take electron spin on a hard disk plater or ic and directly kill with it, then they may solve this problem of nothing to be had at any price.

      2. Tertium Squid

        I think you meant a stage of conflict where the outcome is predetermined, and not “The liquidation of remnants of enemy resistance in an area that has been surrounded or isolated, or through which other units have passed without eliminating all active resistance.”

        …though even after Kursk the Soviet Union had to endure > ten million more casualties, so “predetermined” is kind of stretching it in their case.

  11. Michael Hudson

    The important red flag in the possibility of the IMF “forgiving” Ukraine’s debt to the IMF is that other Global South countries can use the same logic to get their own debts to the IMF annulled – and perhaps other dollar debt as well – given that the NATO sanctions against Russia have created a balance-of-payments crisis for them.
    So IF the US grant to Ukraine is simply kept within the dollar sphere by paying the IMF and World Bank, how is Ukraine going to get by – except by cutting all domestic services?
    That is what the IMF demands of its own debtor countries following its “stabilization plans.”

    1. Ignacio

      I wouldn’t be very much surprised if in this context the remaining credibility of the institution, an important part of these “rules based order”, is thrown to the toilette.

    2. Greg

      If I were the IMF and it’s backers, Ukraine would ensure “access” to services by privatising them all and letting them be snapped up on the cheap by Western conglomerates.

      This way the propaganda can claim services continue to be available, while actual availability to the bulk of the population is drastically throttled back in line with the constrained incomes of the country.

  12. Ignacio

    Very good analysis as usual that leaves little to add except for experts. I had trouble trying to understand some Ukraine actions that look suicidal but Vershinin’s explanations do the job nicely. Yet this leaves the West in a position that at some point, after Ukrainians have already fought to the very last of them, will probably show in all its awful entirety our collective hypocrisy.

  13. doug

    There are a lot of folks in US who remember ‘winning’ for years in Vietnam, and even more who recall ‘winning’ for 20 years in Afghanistan. I think(hope?) it is harder to deceive someone a second or third time, despite increasing sophistication in methods.

  14. Altandmain

    It’s going to keep on going until the final collapse of the Ukrainian military occurs.

    At that point, it will be impossible to conceal the final collapse. An example of how this could happen is the collapse that occurred in Afghanistan when the Taliban inevitably took over the nation. The puppet regime in Kabul had been showing cracks for years and did not truly have the kind of organic support that would be necessary for its continued control over the nation.

    The same will be occurring in Ukraine. At that point, the Russians will be in a position where they are going to be setting the terms of Ukrainian surrender and the future of the nation.

    Then there will be a lot of recriminations by neocons about how the Western world underspent on Ukraine. What will be missing is any critical self reflection of the war. Any discussion on the issue of NATO expansion, the Maidan coup, and the failure to uphold the Minsk Accords will not be examined at all. It’s like on Iran where no discussion about the CIA backed 1953 coup is made in popular discourse.

    One thing that they may try is the old “stabbed in the back” hypothesis that nations regularly push when they lose. Then there is going to be a push for more military spending. Another more dangerous possibility is a new war afterwards.

    Domestically, if the economy worsens, that it won’t be possible to use Ukraine to act as a distraction from the increased hardships that the general public is facing. The Biden administration really has no solution to the problem of rising inflation and won’t try to actually help ordinary people.

  15. Detroit Dan

    What occurs to me is that Russia is being strengthened, instead of weakened, by this whole affair. Their war machine is in high gear and they are winning, not only in military terms but also on civilizational terms. As Doctorow said yesterday, Wars Make Nations:

    the consolidation of Russian society is noteworthy not so much for the dross that it has expelled as it is for the closer bonds that it is forging in the population at large based on new self-confidence and support for the war effort in Ukraine.

    Single handedly defeating the empire is an impressive achievement, and other countries are taking note. The war is having the exact oppostite effect of Western objectives.

  16. Ignacio

    A point made at The Duran which I think is important to bear in mind is that this attack may serve as another step in the escalation of Ukraine’s war. The Russians underscore the fact that this attack was made with Western weaponry and neocons will use the incident as proof that more aid is needed and this could derail Putin’s regime.

      1. Ignacio

        Yet I totally agree. When news show HIMARS systems, provided by the west even if they are running out of systems and ammunitions are causing events like this, and it has been highly publicized by the Russian MoD and other institutions It looks like Russians are already fed up with the nonsense that the West is not directly implicated in the war and are signalling this to everyone in and outside Russia. And this, IMO is sign of potential escalation. They have also publicized the attack on a building in Kiev occupied with foreign military or intelligence. This might not look very noticeable but Russians may feel less restraints now to attack Western facilities in Ukraine, and who knows, may be they at some point become interested in other locations in the vicinity of Ukraine if they note weaponry and man power accumulation.

  17. .Tom

    10 minute interview with Aaron Maté and Scott Ritter, who’s assessment is in line with Yves. He also quotes Zaluzhnyi (start around 7:30) from an interview with the Economist saying that given 300 tanks, 500 armored fighting vehicles, 500 artillery systems, and unlimited ammunition he can win, otherwise not.

  18. Cat Burglar

    The date of this strike is not given, but, if true, retribution was swift.

    I recall reports of a strike on international legion barracks in Donetsk region between Christmas and the New Year’s, but only found this report.

  19. Victor Moses

    The Ukrainian war represents the birth pangs of a new multipolar world once Russia prevails. Elite opinion in the west is in for a serious shock if a country derided as having the GDP of Italy has defeated a hysterical and all out Nato effort at making it lose. This can’t be easily dismissed like the debacle in Afghanistan. It will be a fatal wound to the hegemonic so called rules based order imposed by the US.

  20. anon in so cal

    The MoD seems to be saying one cause of the tragedy of the HIMARS attack was illicit use of personal cellphones. This has elicited some criticism in some channels.

  21. Curious Russian

    It might be correct to ignore economic cost to Ukraine and countries supplying Ukraine. Please don’t forget that a significant amount of Russia-related assets (CBR, “oligarchs” etc) are frozen. If a clever way to use them will be found (not necessary expropriate, e.g. block forever and issue claims on them), the financing problem can be solved.

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