Ukraine: Bleeding Out

Posted on by

Even for well-reported 20th century wars, decades later, historians are still seeking to improve our understanding of them. With the Ukraine conflict, we’re in the midst of the unprecedented experience of being able to discern a remarkably high proportion of what is afoot, albeit with a great deal of noise in the signal between aggressive propagandizing and issues of sourcing with various purported close-to-the-action accounts.

But the war has gone at a seemingly slow pace, due to Russia shifting strategy to attrition (rather than trying to force negotiations), the time required to break extremely well-fortified lines (without incurring huge and unnecessary human costs), and Russia choosing to grind down other elements of Ukraine’s military, notably its air defenses. That’s lead commentators to focus on battles and even hot spots on the line of contact, in part because that’s where the action has been, in part because close observers hope they’ll be able to find clues of when and where the fighting might shift into bigger, more decisive-looking campaigns.

However, the ongoing focus on comparatively local contests, and even the watch for the start of the Great Overanticipated Ukraine Counteroffensive appears to have distracted commentators from what will drive the broad timing of the resolution of the conflict, absent a nuclear escalation.

It’s the stuff, as in how much, or more accurately, how little Ukraine has. A tacit assumption has been, since attritional wars (per John Mearsheimer in his latest talk) are artillery wars, that artillery will serve as the limiting reagent. From LibreTexts:

When there is not enough of one reactant in a chemical reaction, the reaction stops abruptly. To figure out the amount of product produced, it must be determined which reactant will limit the chemical reaction (the limiting reagent).

The assumption that lack of artillery will constrain Ukraine sooner rather than later is probably still valid but bears monitoring.

The Discord leaks, for instance, showed Ukraine running critically low on ammunition in the March time frame and its air defenses on a trajectory to be fatally depleted by end of May. Admittedly, that sort of forecast would serve as a call to action to round up more supplies. But we know the West was already scraping the bottom of the barrel even as of then. It’s been sending disparate weapons systems that create a huge training/manning problems as well as logistical messes. Many have been hauled out of mothballs and don’t work properly. And some are not fit for purpose, witness Moon of Alabama’s discussion of the F-16, which can take off and land only on golf greens.

Recall that Scott Ritter had predicted the war would be over by the end of summer-early fall. That may seem ludicrous in light of all the Western noisemaking until you remember that Ukraine really is running out of ammo. Even worse, the firepower gap seems to have widened. Earlier, Ukraine was reportedly firing 3,000 to 4,000 rounds a day to a typical Russian day of 20,000 rounds.

There have been more recent reports of Ukraine rationing ammo. For instance, from a fresh New Yorker story:

The major in charge of artillery for Pavlo’s battalion told me that in Kherson his mortar teams had fired about three hundred shells a day; now they were rationed to five a day. The Russians averaged ten times that rate.

The article tries to suggest this unit isn’t as well provided as some others. Regardless, if anything, Russian shelling has increased. Russia used to surge to an occasional 50,000 to 60,000 rounds a day. Some reports suggest the former surge levels are coming closer to being a new normal.

Remember, as Alexander Mercouris has reported, based on (among other things) Medvedev being put in charge of arms production and regularly shown touring factories, Russia is clearly making a big push to further increase output on an urgent basis and looks to be succeeding, as shown not just in increased shelling but more frequent missile and drone strikes. In the last two days, Russia engaged in what is widely agreed was its most fierce and sustained drone and missile attack so far, with Kiev a major target. A result was a shock that registered on the Richter scale (2.8 to 3.4, depending on the source), which had to result from hitting explosives, possibly a big underground ammunitions cache. The drone attack was widely described as a swarm, and some believe it heavily featured newly produced Garan 2 drones.

Admittedly, due to the difficulty of reaching firm conclusions from conflicting claims, it’s hard to know how much more damage Russia has done with the intensification of these drone and missile strikes, but it sure seems like a lot. Russia had some weeks back been focusing on taking out counter-battery systems. It has also been targeting ammo dumps, with some impressive hits. And now

Note also that the heavy use of drones, including during the day, suggests that Russia judged Ukraine’s air defenses to be so depleted that it could use them as offensive weapons, and not merely to get Ukraine to waste yet more expensive and scarce air defense missiles to take down cheap and easily replaced drones.

Dima and others say Russian has now impaired not just one but two of the Patriot systems the US sent. That’s before getting to the fact, as Simplicius the Thinker suggested in his latest sitrep, that Ukraine has fired so many Patriot missiles that it’s running through supplies:

Ukraine is said to have already fired off, in only a month or two of time, upwards of 40% of U.S.’s annual production. Think that’s sustainable?

Mind you, that annual production is meant to supply quite a few countries, including the US, not just Ukraine. And keep in mind that even though the West is making noises about needing to manufacture more weapons, all it has done is throw some more contracts at current pork-y US arms merchants, with the result that there will be more supply… about 3 years. At the rate of Russian output increases, the gap will only be greater by then. I’m old enough to have heard of Sputnik. Even as a grade-schooler, I was aware of the sense of urgency about the need of the US to respond, and even some of the measures, like beefed up engineering and science programs.

One wonders why Russia is firing so far behind the front. Part of this may be a sort of pinning operation, to force Ukraine to tie up more resources defending Kiev. But recall Russia has also been shelling Dnipro and other spots believed to be staging/supply locations closer to the anticipated location of the overdue counteroffensive.

Simplicius contends that Russia has been taking out not just supplies but supply lines. Keep in mind Russia has been sparing in taking out bridges (in fairness, Dima did point out one in southern Ukraine and showed how its removal blunted an expected attack route). Nevertheless:

Also, countless reports of Russian strikes now hitting not only AFU staging areas but railroad junctures and train stations where materiel is being offloaded for the war. These are not just speculative rumors but in fact some photos have emerged showing several of these…

It isn’t as if Ukraine is doing nothing in response, but its propaganda-oriented attacks confirm its weak position. Ukraine (or if we are to believe it, Ukraine-friendly Russians who just happened to be using US equipment like Hummers) made an incursion into Belgorod that was made to look like it covered much more terrain due to some outlier drone strikes. As Lambert noted, that lasted about a news cycle. Today, some drones targeted Moscow and apparently 2 or 3 hit a residential area, killing no one but damaging some pretty buildings. From some wits on Twitter:

Perhaps Ukraine will still manage a big terrorist strike. It is clearly very keen to cause Russia and its liberated oblasts a world of hurt by triggering a nuclear incident at the Zaporzhizhia nuclear power plant. But so far, despite the focus on name recognition (strike on the Kerch Bridge! the Kremlin! Russian territory, and now Moscow!), the IRA in its heyday was much better at actual terrorism without the benefit of NATO backing and weapons.

Ukraine may be pinning its hopes on dragging NATO into the conflict. But unless Russia attacks a NATO member (recall that was why Ukraine was so eager to depict its errant S300 missile as a Russian strike into Poland), it’s hard to see Russia going there. And the most belligerent potential belligerents (as in willing not to look to hard at a false flag), meaning Poland, is already cool on the idea. Its military has signaled it know it’s not up for the fight, and more and more of the public is unhappy about the massive influx of Ukraine refugees, and sees a prolongation of the war as worsening that problem.

But the current trajectory still is that the West runs so critically low on materiel that it decides it needs to find a mumble shuffle way to leave Ukraine to its own devices while pretending otherwise. Blinken in his interview with David Ignatius actually signaled that he expected Ukraine to be stalemated or lose when he talked of continuing to arm Ukraine after the war was over. That was months ago and Ukraine’s prospects have not improved.

There is also a timing issue. It is hard to see how the collective West keeps pumping enough air into the Ukraine leaky balloon so as to not have it become apparent that it is totally deflated before the 2024 elections. Maybe the Biden Administration thinks it can keep up enough cheerleading and amplification of pinpricks so as to keep up the illusion of non-defeat that long. Maybe it will heat things up so much with China as to distract the memory-of-goldfish public from Ukraine.

But regardless, my betting is on critical limits in supplies causing the crisis in military operations in Ukraine, as opposed to a major battlefield win. Or more accurately, here a highly visible success, like an encirclement of of Odessa or Dnipro or a march to another point on the Dnieper, will be proof of the fatally weakened state of Ukraine’s forces, and not a cause.

Mind you, even then, Russia will still have the very big problem of what to do about Western Ukraine. But the degree of remaining Western commitment to Project Ukraine will be more evident and will help inform Russia’s next steps.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. John R Moffett

    I think it is driving The Blob crazy that Russia is cheating by not engaging in large mobile attacks along with air superiority, as the US military would do. Russia isn’t playing fair because the US and NATO have no counter strategy to beat a slow artillery and missile grind with incremental taking of ground. There is no counter tactic they can use other than longer range artillery and missiles, which the West is unable to provide enough of to make a difference. The West also knows that Ukraine can’t accomplish any major breakthrough of the Russian lines of defense, so they really are in a pickle. The best they can do is keep sending missiles that can strike rear positions of the Russians and cause a bit of pain, but that isn’t going to get them anywhere in the long run. The end will be determined on the ground, by Russia, unless of course The Blob wants to try another escalation, which will force Russia to escalate as well. We know where that will lead if they keep pushing it.

    1. JTMcPhee

      Will the Nulandites and Blinkeneers run out of influence inside the Empire before they work the Blob up to first (well, second, module Hiroshima/Nagasaki) use of nukes?

      Russia, after all, needs to be dismembered and looted to satisfy their fantasies and the greed of the Supranationals. It’s all in the Bug Plan, after all.

      Never thought I would ever be rooting for the Rooskies. But the monsters running the Empire seem a whole lot more dangerous and deranged now. Clear and present danger.

      1. Rip Van Winkle

        Your last paragraph, to me, is how ‘Cujo’ ended, which I’m fine with.

      2. The Rev Kev

        ‘Never thought I would ever be rooting for the Rooskies.’

        I never thought I would be agreeing with the idea that Erdogan is the most stable, reasonable choice as President for Türkiye and yet here I am.

        1. Bsn

          Yes, lots of “never thoughts”. Never though I’d doubt a vaccine, never thought I’d listen to Fox news with interest, never thought my friends would accuse me of being a Trump shill, Never thought I’d refuse to play taps on Memorial Day, never thought I’d consider a Republican, never thought I’d consider not voting. OK, I’ll stop. Maybe that’s what the blob wants …… us to stop thinking.

        2. Jorge

          My impression of Türkiye is that of two countries: a large, cosmopolitan, powerful European port city (Istanbul, not Constantinople!) surrounded by a Southwest Asian rural zone. How do you govern this?

          1. ilpalazzo

            Don’t confuse map with the territory. Both port city and rural area has been there since well, forever.

      3. Eclair

        JT, re: ‘rooting for the Rooskies.’

        Yeah, I am getting flashbacks to 2002-03 and the Iraq pre-invasion feeding frenzy, when I had to limit our conversation with bicycling buddies and neighbors to ‘how’s that new gearing working out for ya?’ and ‘how’s your lawn doing?’

        My spouse, the rocket engineer, a realist who has spent his career looking at the data, in the midst of the Nordstream revelations a few months ago, told me piteously that he simply could not believe Sy Hirsch’s reporting. Not that he doubted Hirsch’s credibility or his sources, but, as he put it, he did not want to know that his country had committed such a criminal act. It was too upsetting.

        I suspect that a lot of people feel this way.

        1. juno mas

          Nordstream? The US lies about weapons of mass destruction and the invasion of Iraq should have confirmed the criminality of the US.

          1. Wildsilver

            Feel and Heal
            The only way to grow personally
            Alternatively, stay immature, stuff the fears down & suffer health consequences like anxiety, depression….
            Get meds….
            Make it all way worse

      4. Pavel

        Here is Kunstler on the possible dangers of a probably-inevitable US/UK/NATO failure in Ukraine and the collateral damage of this little frolic:

        As for our money, it looks like most of the rest of the world — the nations that still produce things of value — are so turned-off by American pathocracy that they are seeking every way possible to stop using our money in international trade settlements. That money, our dollar, became the world’s reserve currency because our country ended up on top in the previous world war and for the better part of a century afterward dominated the planet militarily. Naturally, as our leadership turned more pathological and pathocratic, so did our military endeavors — until lately they amount to little more than just smashing up other countries to show we can do it.

        These other countries must wonder which is the next place that America will try to smash up? Two of these other countries, Russia and China, are coming around to the realization that they are possibly better equipped to do the smashing than America is. There is no indication that our pathocracy recognizes that the next smash-up may be World War Three, and that we may not emerge from it victorious.

        Hence, our anxiety this Memorial Day as we reflect on America’s military exploits generally, and must perforce contemplate our less-than-glorious prospects ahead. How will our pathocrat neo-con strategists greet the debacle of our failure in Ukraine? Denial and spin, for sure. But will they scramble to dream up yet another misadventure as reckless and absurd? You have good reason to be concerned.

        James Kunstler: Memorial Service

        Given the combined ineptitude and senility and warmonger instincts of the Biden administration — the worst I have known in 50+ years of following US politics — the prospects for peace and economic stability are scary indeed.

        1. Rubicon

          There is no “ineptitude, senility” with the key members in The State Dept and the Secretary of State folks. Do you know their names? Most of them bear a nearly violent ethnic hatred against Russia. Their grandparents, grand uncles/aunts left Russia, blaming that government for, supposedly, picking on them because they were Jewish.

          As Kunstler says, those grandchildren are now adults in those key positions of great power with their sociopathic hatreds against Russia. Sociopaths are often related to murderers, but the ones who are the most dangerous are those in key political or financial positions where they spend their lives, behind public viewing, manipulating people; they lie, and work covertly via subterfuge to get their way. They are the “George Soros’ Kind of People”, and we all know he’s an evil, pathological sociopath.

      5. ilsm

        the puppeteers ‘advising’ zelenski mirror bomber Harris, and shun anyone who brings up the ‘minority’ opinions from the us’ review of cost benefit of ww ii strategic.bombing….

        while russia is doing some unlike harris the targets are less civilian, than the ukraine strikes….

    2. Pavel

      Contrast the Russians’ strategy — which in fact has (by design, I believe) minimised actual civilian injuries and death with the USA’s “shock and awe” tactics in Iraq under GWB, which in a matter of weeks destroyed critical infrastructure in the capital city and elsewhere. (Not to mention destruction of priceless antiquities and heritage sites.) And Fallujah was razed to the ground after a handful of US soldiers were killed there. The US and UK used depleted uranium — a war crime — in Iraq and are now doing the same in the Ukraine.

      This is not to excuse Russian militarism and in any war there are atrocities on both sides. But it seems to me they have done more to protect civilians than the USA does in its far more frequent military “interventions”. Agent Orange, anyone?

    3. redleg

      The US and NATO do have a counter strategy for a war of attrition- nuclear (and chemical) weapons.

      As far as I can tell, one of the reasons for Ivan moving slowly is to minimize escalation. By doing so Russia maintains the strategic initiative and provides NATO with a way out (a Sun Tzu tenet).

  2. ambrit

    The Russians are sending S-400 air defense systems into Belarus, preparatory to moving tactical nukes into the same territory. This brings “Maximum Hurt” right up to Poland, which is a bellicose member of NATO. Then there is the matter of the Kaliningrad enclave. Lots of potential “flashpoints.”

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      There was an attempt by cray cray Baltic member Lithuania to cause trouble with Kaliningrad by blocking rail shipments. There was a lot of EU browbeating and Lithuania did back down. Perhaps someone pointed out that all of the Balts depend on Russia for electricity.

      1. upstater

        Disconnecting from Russia’s grid has been in the works for a long time. There are DC cables to Sweden and converter stations with Poland. Synchronization with the European grid is being studied, but a lot of import capacity would need to be built. It is very challenging for operation, because it turns the Baltics into an “island” connected to Europe. But I’m sure it will happen; it is like the construction of the Klaipeda LNG terminal which opened in 2014, years before the current mess.

        Lithuania pressing Baltic neighbours for early disconnect from BRELL

        Disconnecting from BRELL surely creates a problem in Kaliningrad.

        1. jan

          Disconnecting from Russia’s grid has been in the works for a long time.

          How would that work out $$$ wise? Can’t imagine is as cheap as what the Russian grid provides.

          1. lyman alpha blob

            Probably similar to how it’s worked out in Texas – people being gouged on rates and freezing to death when the temps dip below normal. Yee haw.

        2. tevhatch

          It will be completed about the time the area is depopulated and hamsters in cages provide power to the sensors that turn out the lights.

      2. Jimmy A

        The reason Lithuania had second thoughts was that, according to the treaty of their own independence from the USSR/Russia, they ‘re obliged to keep the road for transit transport from mainland Russia to Kaliningrad enclave OPEN, under any circumstances. If the decide not to do so, Russia has the right to consider this action an annulation of the treaty itself, therefore trying to re-incorporate the breackaway country!

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          That is not what the action and the press at the time suggested. Lithuania held out for weeks in the face of EU pressure. Russia has no interest in taking any Baltic country. And they are not “breakaway”. Russia let the USSR dissolve, FFS.

    2. The Rev Kev

      Poland has been getting very bellicose lately about both Kaliningrad and Belarus with suggestions that the Poles may have to move into both and “return’ them to Polish “historical” control. But from now on whenever this happens, all Belarus and Russia have to do is to announce nuclear drills of those weapons in Belarus to put a lid on such talk.

      1. JohnnyGL

        As far most likely shots for Polish land-grabs, i’d figure western ukraine is most ripe for targeting. One can see poland arguing they need to ‘ensure stability’ by grabbing a buffer zone if the zelensky government falls.

        The germans would flip out, though. I bet the russians might like the idea of stirring up divisions within NATO, and plus, they don’t want to touch the areas from Kiev to Lviv.

        1. Ronny

          I have no doubt that there’s a sizable faction in the Polish regime who wants to annex parts of western Ukraine but I seriously doubt they would be allowed to do that by their American overlords.

          Since 2014 western propaganda has constantly talked about the sanctity of Ukraine’s 1991 borders and how changing them was wrong despite popular will in Crimea. I really doubt that they would be able to legitimise a Polish land grab.

          What is more likely to happen is that the remains of Ukraine is occupied by Polish “peace keepers” and the like. Ukraine will still have its own flag and president and everything but it will de facto be a protectorate of western powers with Poland playing an important part.

    3. Louis Fyne

      Russians are (reasonably cuz DC-Whitehall-Brussels are certifiably detached from reality) assuming that NATO will intervene.

      So essentially Russia is fighting Ukraine with its left hand and keeping its right hand free to fight NATO along the Belarus-Polish-western UA border.

      1. Skip Intro

        The fireworks are scheduled to coincide, according to tricky vicky, with NATO’s largest air power ‘exercises’ in a week or so. Lots of chances for distractions at least, and escalatory ‘accidents’ especially with rabid poles and brits straining at the US leash. I wonder if NATO jets getting missile lock signals from 150km away will help focus their minds.

  3. HH

    A country that can instantly forget the 20-year, trillion-dollar debacle in Afghanistan will have no trouble slinking away from Ukraine. The Blob will move on to its next debacle in Taiwan and nobody will mention Ukraine. The American war machine will keep chugging along until it becomes economically unsustainable. We will follow the same trajectory as the UK, ending up economically enfeebled while still intoxicated by memories of our military prowess.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Yes, I neglected to mention that despite the media attention and spending, on a practical level we are far less committed to Ukraine by not having sent troops. But Biden has put his manhood on the line, so that may be more than enough to prevent us from departing any time soon.

    2. Objective Ace

      The news reporting on that debacle stopped years (a decade plus?) before it was over. We didnt forget about it when we left–for the majority of the country we already had. Compare that to the Ukraine war which has been the talking point in the corporate media for the past year

      1. HH

        To the contrary, there was intense coverage of the humiliating final exit of US forces from Ukraine. But, hey presto! The American amnesia machine made it all disappear. The same will happen to the Ukraine disaster.

    3. tevhatch

      When you, your family, and most of your friends and acquaintances are in bonded slavery (or maybe they’ll restart chattel slavery, after all who gives two hoots for the Constitution), just about that time you might see a slight slowdown in inflating MIC-IMATT spending. The South Will Rise Again.

    4. playon

      I doubt the American military machine will ever become unsustainable — the USA is perfectly willing to beggar its citizenry while continually increasing funding to the pentagon.

      1. ilsm

        pentagon/mic is profitable but not sustainable wrt logistics and combat readiness.

        life cost and logistics support paid by the sustainment/annual operations and support budgets are at risk to deliver readiness at budget bc little things like reliability in design and manufacture were sold to fund cost overruns

        gao reports the sad state of us tactical aviation eg f-16 has failed to achieve budgeted combat readiness the past 11 fiscal years, the rest are as bad, with f-35requiring a new engine bc the current sole source engine runs so hot to do missions it’s reliability is very poor

        no matter dod can’t support even with expensive contract, the weak systems will be profitable.

        ukraine soldiers are complaining about break downs and waiting on parts and technicians

        while us promaxx (Mr ap) did poorly in Belgorod attack,and Stryker is broke too much.

        in terms of nato air exercises, watch for movements of entire squadron, large flow of c-17, and many deployed kc-135…..

        1. Cristobal

          A couple of weeks ago John Helmer ran a piece on the possibility/likelihood of the NATO exercises in June being a cover for an intervention such as this. Sometimes he is a little over enthusiastic, but I agree with the comment above that Russia is expecting such a thing.

          1. ambrit

            Hence, the S-400 air defense systems being sent to Belarus. Anti-air units to the north and east of the Ukraine. Most of the benighted country is thus easily interdicted. Any NATO actions inside the airspace of the Ukraine will be of short duration. From what I can see, any air launched NATO missile strikes on Eastern Ukraine, the Donbass or the Crimea will probably have to be initiated from over the Black Sea. The next step up would be IRBMs. At that point, all bets would be off.

            1. Greg

              Given how the much vaunted F22s have been interdicted easily by Russian air defense and aircraft, I wouldn’t want to be a pilot in any NATO attempt at intervention.

              I’m inclined to think Helmer is off his rocker on this one though, I can’t see there ever being enough commitment across the NATO countries involved in the exercise to go to war.

  4. ChrisFromGA

    The reliance on theatrical terror type of attacks seems to indicate that Ukraine is not currently capable of getting any military victories.

    Every day that Ye Olde Counteroffensive gets delayed means more attrition of men, material, and makes it less likely that said counteroffensive actually happens.

    So, we must endure more killing in the name of what? Another year of this and there really won’t be a Ukrainian country to rebuild. Just an emptied-out ruins stripped of young men. Perhaps to be repopulated with unwanted refugees from the ME?

    An experiment for the Blackstones of the world; destroy a country, depopulate, and rebuild it with the purpose of bezzling billions.

    All that stands between their dreams is Russia. Hard not to root for Russia, for sure.

    Erdogan winning re-election is another turd in the neocons punch bowl.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      No, it isn’t Blackstone but BlackRock, and it’s just in the asset sale business. We pointed out that didn’t go well in non-war-torn and vastly less corrupt Greece. This is just a rebuilding headfake.

      1. ChrisFromGA

        Thanks for the correction.

        I don’t think it will work out for them in Ukraine, either. But it is maddening to see how they keep trying.

      2. Brunches with Cats

        Apologies for coming in so late; under an avalanche of ongoing crises, chores, and projects, one of which is compiling info and links on the Ukraine land market in response to your reply to my comment on “Ice Melt.” Going through more than a year of saved articles and notes has proved challenging — all the more so, as I’m trying to boil it down to a few key points so as not to tax your time constraints.

        Also had to read up on Greece (didn’t follow that one much) to be able to explain why Ukraine’s ag market is entirely different — not so much apples to oranges as sunflowers to chickens. We’re talking about 70 percent of Ukraine, more than 41 million hectares of agricultural land (101 million acres) — equivalent to the entire state of California — of which three-fourths is arable cropland. Moreover, most of it is privately owned, so this isn’t about selling off state assets for a few pennies to pay back billions in international bailout loans (some of it is state/community owned, plus properties in Russian-occupied territory are off the market, est. 20% per GOU).

        The supposed benefit to the country is the contribution to GDP growth. Are those claims “head fakes?” Or just your garden-variety marketing hype?

        Decided to break up due to length; Pt. II below…

      3. Brunches with Cats

        The bur up the butts of Big Ag and the PE hyenas is that they haven’t been able to hoover up large swaths of this “under-productive” land to exploit to exhaustion, as there was a 20-year moratorium on the market for agricultural land until the IMF-mandated “land reform” law went into effect in July 2021. The market currently is in the first phase, open only to individual Ukrainians — “corporate people” need not apply — until Jan. 1, 2024, and limited to 100 hectares (a little under 250 acres). The idea was to give a head start to households, “peasant farmers,” and small and medium family farms (Ukr citizens only), without unfair competition by the Bid Dogs. For now, the foreign-ownership can is still being kicked down the road, but several market observers expect that it will be decided in 2024.

        Meanwhile, the larger enterprises have found ways around the rules — e.g., by directing employees to buy plots and sell them back to the company when the market opens to “legal entities.” However, the bigger concern by far is the ginormous loophole in the law (are we shocked?) — specifically spelled out in the legislative language – that while legal entities aren’t permitted to buy land during the first phase, nothing prevents them from buying companies that own the land or — the kicker — debt from financing of land purchases, improvements, equipment and seeds (evidently one of the biggest expenses of the large monocroppers), damage and losses from the war, etc. As most of the financing comes from foreign investors, one of the big questions being asked is, what happens when a business defaults on foreign loans? Say, for example, the EBRD, one of Ukraine’s largest foreign investors?

        That investors are actively taking advantage of the loophole is beyond a doubt. It’s not easy to track (especially PE), but there are a few watchdog groups who’ve been making a noble effort. The most comprehensive report to date is the latest by Frederic Mousseau of the Oakland Institute (February 2023). It’s long, but organized so that you can find the material you’re most interested in. Plus, there are lots of footnotes for additional sources, some of which already are on NC’s radar.

        1. tegnost

          Thanks for the refresher, I recall those land use things from a while back…

          So we can expect a peace deal on dec.30 2023 /s

          1. Brunches with Cats

            Not sure the /s tag is necessary. At least one podcaster I listened to a while back thought the land market triggered the war in the first place. Can’t say I hadn’t had that thought myself, especially as the “spring offensive” is now going to be the “summer offensive” or maybe the “autumn offensive.” Heck yeah, drag it out right up the the 11th hour. The more the land becomes uninhabitable, the better, and the longer those refugees stay gone, the more time there is to declare their land rights abandoned and sell them to the highest bidder. Oh, and mine-clearing teams are working around the clock , either volunteering or on someone else’s dime, ha ha. Hopefully they’ll have all the fields swept clean by New Year’s.

            Controlling the world oil supply, BTDT, boooooring. And anyway, it’s running out. Now, controlling the global food supply, there’s a real thrill — especially as climate change damages more and more crops.

            OK, better add the /s.

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          If Russia controls Ukraine’s Black Sea coast. that agricultural output will become less valuable because Russia will be able to restrict or impose transit costs on its distribution.

          And much of that land is not being used productively now. The EU is refusing to buy Ukraine grain because it is too low quality.

          1. Brunches with Cats

            Yves, the “EU ban” applies only to five Eastern European countries. The rest of Europe continues to import via import quarters, aka “Solidarity Lanes,” and in fact includes some of the top worldwide importers of Ukraine grain. And that’s the big issue for Ukraine, as none of the five countries seeking the ban are important end markets. In announcing the deal with the five Eastern members (Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia), the EU noted that the temporary wartime waiver of tariffs on Ukrainian grain continues. From the horse’s mouth:

            The temporary ban for those five countries evidently has just been extended past the initial June 5 expiration date. Will look for a link in a bit.

            You might recall that several EU countries have been top recipients under the Black Sea Grain Initiative — somewhat of a scandal, as the deal was billed as necessary to reduce food insecurity in the global south. Per UN data, the top five recipients to date of Ukrainian grain via the initiative are, in order: China, Spain, Turkiye, Italy, and the Netherlands. Of 30.5 million metric tons, only 625k went to poorer countries.

            As for the quality, there are differing explanations, depending on who you talk to. Your first link suggests that the grain had spent too long in storage, due to shipping bottlenecks and war-damaged elevators — in other words, nothing to do with farmland quality. Someone in Poland complained that a pesticide banned in the EU was detected in grain coming over the border. No idea whether it was applied in the fields or post-harvest to mitigate losses during overly long storage.

            Re: Russia controlling shipping, this is widely acknowledged in Ukraine, along with the simple reality that grain prices aren’t stable enough to rely on for long-term GDP growth. A bumper crop of wheat in Russia, for example, can depress prices worldwide. Whole conferences and other events are dedicated to alternative land uses that don’t rely on shipping, the latest Big New Thing being biomethane, as I noted below. Will have more about that in email.

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              We have pointed out that shipping to and from Ukraine is a problem due to the difference in rail gauges. Containers would have to be moved from Ukraine trains to the EU trains or the grain would need to be trucked. I don’t see the approach as all that viable.

              And my understanding is Ukraine is making mainly grain for animal consumption, which seems hardly the highest and best use given the quality of its soil.

              Both sides have also been mining fields:


              Relative to land area, more of the famed black soil is in the East.

              Ukraine farmers are also too broke to use much fertilizer, hurting yields. And this article does not acknowledge severe depopulation. ~50% of Ukraine’s population has left and Douglas Macgregor (who has contacts in Germany and Poland) says most will not return.

              War, rain and economic hardship have depressed Ukraine’s wheat plantings, depriving the nation of vital export earnings in 2023 and heralding another year of tight global supplies and potentially high prices for basic foodstuffs….

              Ukraine harvested around 19 million tonnes of wheat this year, down more than 40% from the previous season’s record of 33 million tonnes and a further sharp drop in production looks inevitable in 2023, analysts said.

              In a further blow to production prospects, cash-strapped farmers in Ukraine are also reducing use of vital crop inputs such as fertilisers. Less fertiliser means lower yields for the farmers that do plant.


              1. Brunches with Cats

                Yves, I have reference material on all of your points, largely inspired by your posts on this topic all along. I’m in a time crunch, though, will have to limit this response to what I can recall off the top of my head and defer details for the email work-in-progress …

                > And my understanding is Ukraine is making mainly grain for animal consumption, which seems hardly the highest and best use given the quality of its soil.

                It’s market demand. Europeans don’t eat much sweet corn, and when they do, it’s typically canned. Otherwise, they mill corn for polenta and such, but it’s a very small amount compared to livestock feed — e.g., Spain and Italy, two of the biggest markets for Ukraine grain, fatten their pigs with corn to produce all that yummy traditional ham, sausage, etc. Even in a good year, they don’t have enough land to meet that need; in drought years, it’s even worse. The availability of cheap corn from Ukraine can mean devoting limited irrigation to other crops that fetch a higher market price.

                The EU also needs corn for ethanol to meet fossil-fuel-reduction mandates. I read somewhere that the EU countries that rely on cheap grain from Ukraine were mightily pissed that the EU didn’t consult them before issuing an edict on the five-country ban.

                Unfortunately, I don’t have a link that explains all of this in 250 words or less. My source is an eye-glazing 44-page USDA EU Feed and Grain Annual Report for 2023. It covers all ex-im grains — a good reminder that “grain” in this context is a generic term for several grains and seeds, some with different grades. Definitely complicates any discussion of Ukraine grain exports.

                FWIW, USDA cites EC forecasts for increased production by member states, with a corresponding reduction in the imports, even taking into account the higher demand for food for the refugee population. The need for corn, however, is forecast to remain high, and much of it is expected to come from Ukraine, despite the dire forecasts for its overall grain production this year. The report also notes that imports are expected to continue via the Black Sea Grain Initiative, i.e., via the three ports approved in that deal.

                > Both sides have also been mining fields
                I have several links in my files to articles about mine-clearing programs, some of which are volunteer, some being funded by NGOs. The paid teams appear to be making good money. If I’m not mistaken, it’s a priority in the postwar recovery plan — which likely means more borrowing from the development banks, as well, but I’ll have to confirm.

                > Relative to land area, more of the famed black soil is in the East.
                Black soil isn’t critical for all of Ukraine’s export crops. Corn, in particular, doesn’t really need it. Ditto soybeans. Sunflowers, big yes. Also barley. Wheat, so-so. Also keep in mind that not all ag land is cropland. Ukraine is a major export of chicken meat, which I’m guessing doesn’t need the most fertile soil on the planet.

                In any case, as I mentioned previously, there’s a serious discussion taking place within Ukraine about rethinking land use for a better ROI.

                GAAAH, going on 6 pm! Out of time for today, will have to save the rest for email. Might be a few days …

      4. Brunches with Cats

        One last observation, then gotta go serve the Feline Overlord …

        There are multiple angles to this story, not the least of which is the devastation the land market will wreak on family farms — the people who actually grow the food on Ukrainian tables, instead of filling cargo holds destined for China and Saudi. Or planting massive tracts for carbon offsets. There’s also a lot of talk about biomethane — need lots of land for that, too. As I’m sure you know, the multinational behemoths plan 20-30-40 years out. They couldn’t care less about the current whinging by a few Eastern European counties about cheap grain from the plains of Ukraine.

        This 3-part comment addresses a lot of what’s in the draft email to you so far, but I’ll keep plugging away at it nonetheless, even though I doubt you’re waiting for it with baited breath. Meanwhile, I genuinely appreciate that you’ve taken the time to read and reply to comments.

  5. Lex

    Military collapse, like bankruptcy is always going to be a slowly at first and then all at once affair. Predicting the end, however, will also be nearly impossible. At least if the hope is to have an accurate prediction in terms of timing. In my opinion, we’re getting close though.

    Kiev’s control of information is admirable, but the bits that leak out are highly suggestive of things going from bad to worse. Russia is simply pounding so many points of accumulation, including in the deep rear, that the material needed for the demanded offensive is likely getting thin on the ground. The Ukrainian grid was experiencing failures today, suggesting that while grid attacks stopped for a long time, it likely wouldn’t take much finish it off. If Ukraine had launched a southern offensive and combined it with brand new use of the long range missiles it got, the border incursions, the drone attacks, etc. then it might have had the desired effect. But at this point it looks like between Bakhmut and the rear strikes the offensive is difficult to launch and so the other parts of the plan are being implemented ad hoc.

    Zelensky is in a very tight corner. If the offensive is launched and fails, that might well be the military breaking point. But he has to launch the offensive to keep his sponsors happy, not to mention that continuing on being ground down this way only prolongs the agony. It’s impossible to sort out fact from fiction with any reliability, but if Russian MoD is to believed the storm shadow missiles are being shot down pretty much en masse though a few sneak through.

    1. vao

      If the offensive is launched and fails, that might well be the military breaking point. But he has to launch the offensive to keep his sponsors happy, not to mention that continuing on being ground down this way only prolongs the agony.

      A hypothesis:
      1) Ukraine musters enough troops and equipment to launch its much expected offensive.
      2) The Russians let the Ukrainian army push forward into what ends up being an enormous cauldron.
      3) The Russian trap snaps shut and the Ukrainian forces in the cauldron start getting annihilated.
      4) NATO makes a huge ruckus about the Russians perpetrating an inhuman massacre, raise hell at the UNO to stop the slaughter, and demand the introduction of an immediate cease-fire. Other countries follow and pressure Russia to bring about an end to the military operations.
      5) What will Russia do under such circumstances? It would be a military disaster for Ukraine, but a diplomatic quandary for Russia.

      I suspect Russia prefers the steady, unobtrusive attrition of Ukrainian forces, and is actually wary of an offensive, which would inevitably lead to the physical end of the Ukrainian army — but in such a dramatic, bloody way that it would put off other countries on the sidelines, and potentially frustrate Russia from the spoils of victory.

      1. jan

        The Russian trap snaps shut and the Ukrainian forces in the cauldron start getting annihilated

        Ukrainians were being slaughtered in Bakhmut too though. But the west just kept saying otherwise, Russian are losing many men and use human wave tactics, etc
        Why would they be honest in this case?

      2. John k

        N Vietnam was in no hurry, argued about the shape of the table for several months as us position became ever less tenable. Russia can delay for a while… plus, one term is likely to be referendums in at least the other 4 russ speaking oblasts along with disbanding Ukraine army. I expect Russ will attain its objectives. Imo as a result more of the world, even eu, will realize multi polarity is here.

      3. Ignacio

        I very much agree and believe that this is exactly what Russians will be doing. Attrition and more attrition. Possibly, the Russians would like the Ukrainian army to collapse without, for instance needing to bring cities like Kramatorsk or Slaviansk to total destruction like Bakhmut/Artemivsk. They would rather attract Ukrainian troops to a few points where these are ground to exhaustion.

      4. Lex

        Point 4 is a real issue if it comes to that, but the flip side of playing that out would be an admission of defeat by both Ukraine and the US.

        It’s really hard to predict how that would play out. Would it be a fight to the death massacre of a surrounded army or only three sides with an unsafe avenue for retreat? Would the trapped troops actually fight to the death or mass surrender? Would it even happen quickly or much more slowly to the tune of 500-1000 KIA/day on the Ukrainian side so it could be hidden by Kiev.

        I agree that in a vacuum Russia likely prefers the current pace, at least at the highest political levels but the public seems to be getting a little bit antsy. I would also suspect that concurrent with the counter to the Ukrainian offensive might be a fairly large offensive elsewhere because Ukraine’s main troops and reserves would then be committed in a specific direction. In that scenario nobody’s talking until the Russian army stops moving. I also agree with others, Russia has said it’s more than willing to negotiation but there are ways to drag that out. The diplomatic quandary might be sweetened by what’s essentially the US suing for peace.

      5. JohnnyGL

        I think the flaw in your points above is 3).

        The Russians surrounded Mariupol in this manner and it was a long, painful slog as a lot of those soldiers really dug in and fought to the last man, though some did surrender.

        In Bakmut, they approached things differently. They did a kind of 21st Century version of what the Mongols used to do. They established fire-control and surrounded the small city on 3 sides. They never cut off access in/out. They just made anyone travelling in either direction run a gauntlet of artillery fire. There were plenty of videos of burnt-out vehicles littering the one road that remained open.

        I think the media whiplash on 4) would be an admission of defeat that the Biden admin isn’t mentally ready to confront. The public STILL is being told that Russia isn’t winning. We’re told there’s maybe, just maybe, a stalemate, but not that this is becoming a 1-sided slaughter. Considering that Russia has destroyed Ukraine’s old air defense, they’re now able to bring airpower to bear much more fully, it’s going to be MUCH more 1-sided.

        Even with Russia’s slow, methodical patience, it’s hard to see Ukraine lasting another 6 months with such a lop-sided firepower difference.

  6. tevhatch

    Ukraine is said to have already fired off, in only a month or two of time, upwards of 40% of U.S.’s annual production. Think that’s sustainable?

    US Crews in Saudi Arabia were doing much the same 2 + years ago against cheap Houthi / Iran drones, but back then it considered conducive to MIC profit margins, if embarrassing with the high failure rate. Imagine if both Yemen and Ukraine were burning them up now.

  7. Ignacio

    Mi main worry is, given the delusional state of the collective West leadership regarding Ukraine, who will exactly be the next objective of PMC’s psychosis. China suggested here but I wouldn’t rule out that we, the populace, are rapidly turning deplorables and for our sins we will be the next objective of the PMC.

    I think that everyone that has not aligned closely might be the subject for the mother of all witch hunts if and when Ukraine is left to its own devices.

    1. Bugs

      I think what you’re saying makes sense for any public personality in the West, or even those who didn’t glom onto the consensus in their professional lives. It will be brutal.

    2. vao

      What about something (supposedly) easier, and in the backyard of the USA? There are a few pesky Latin American countries that have been way too uppity for a while — first and foremost Venezuela.

      Russia, China, Iran — even Syria — appear to be such tough nuts to crack at this stage, and the military of the USA needs a bit of practice before dealing with the “real” tasks.

      1. SocalJimObjects

        What would be interesting if Venezuela were to ask for help from Russian and/or China. I also wonder what Brazil would do then?

  8. Cristobal

    Russia is going to subjugate Ukraine with or without NATO escalation. If NATO intervenes it may take longer and be more painful. They will win the war, but can they win the peace? The problem for them and the rest of the world is the russophobic, warlike, cleptocratic, and just plain evil United States regime: the political class, the financial class and the oligarchs of every stripe. What kind of a country maintains military bases and biological warfare labs all over the world? Vladamir Putin is smart enough to realize who his enemy is, and that it will never allow itself to be defeated militarily without taking down the rest of the world with it. It will continue to poison the world and what is left of Ukraine until it collapses from within. Economic pressurres, social pressures, who knows what will set it off. For Americans it will not be pretty. For the rest of the world it may reduce the risks of all out nuclear war for a few years, which counts as a plus.

  9. Louis Fyne

    Russia-friendly social reports that this weekend Russian airstrikes were unusually active.

    Nothing definitive (except Putin publicly declaring that the Ukrainian intelligence services were a target) but there is circumstantial evidence that a 2nd Patriot system was attacked, and that there was another very powerful underground explosion in the vicinity of Kyiv.

    Russian industry is hitting wartime production output….pretty soon there will be more Gerans coming off the assembly lines than actionable targets.

    1. James

      As long as Ukraine is shooting down $20,000 Gerans with $1,500,000 AMRAAMs – all of Ukraine is an actionable target.

  10. Matthew G. Saroff

    I do think that Russia would be insane to attempt to hold territory in northwest Ukraine (Black Sea coast is another matter), but I do believe that they would be more than willing to cede that region to the effective control of Poland.

    There are elements of the Polish body politic that still want that region back, and turning it into something resembling a maquiladora/vassal state would serve Russian purposes.

Comments are closed.