Some Thoughts on the Russian End Game in Ukraine

Ever since the start of the war in Ukraine, pundits, armchair generals, and other members of the chattering classes have attempted to forecast its trajectory. While that is human nature, the propensity to try to read tea leaves may be even higher than usual due to the unprecedented amount of day to day battlefield information, the intense and too-often-visible Western efforts at narrative control, and the way this conflict has become a hegemony-breaking struggle of the US and NATO with a Russia that in the eyes of much of the rest of the world is midwifing the birth of a multi-polar order. In other words, the stakes have become disproportionate to the size of even this moderately big conflict.

Sme of the most stalwart supporters of the notion that Russia will prevail against the Collective West have recently sounded cautionary notes about timing. Recall that not just war mavens like Brian Berletic but even the Discord leaks showed Ukraine running critically short of weapons, particularly offensive and air defense missiles, over the summer and early fall. So what gives?

As we’ll explain, independent of reasons on the military front to think the end-game might not be as near as some experts had once thought, there may also be political/geopolitical reasons for Russia to continue to go slowly, including being deliberate about the acquisition of terrain.

One key issue is that it became clear in the NATO meeting in Vilnius that most of the NATO European members have soured on Project Ukraine. That leaves the US holding the bag even more so than before. Of course, with Biden having just promoted the Russia-hater-in-chief Victoria Nuland to the #2 slot at the Department of State, there’s no sign of Administration commitment softening any time soon.

But as economist Herbert Stein famously said, “If something can’t go on forever, it will stop.” And the West is scraping the bottom of its barrels to keep supplying Ukraine with weapons. Tellingly, despite recognizing that it can’t keep up with Russian production, it still has not even attempted to initiate a reindustrialization/rearming program (I am old enough to remember the post-Sputnik panic; the US quickly resolved to catch up and threw resources at the problem). A few more contracts with the usual suspects is not a remotely adequate response.

None other than the EU’s Josep Borell said in May that the war would be over in days without Western military support. And let us not forget that the Ukraine government is entirely on the US/EU drip feed. Its population level per Douglas Macgregor has fallen from a pre-war 40 million-ish to 19 to 22 million. Its GDP fell by over 30% in 2022. And how, pray tell, will it rebuild? The idea of BlackRock-led public-private partnerships is silly (recall investors turned up their noses as much less basket-casey Greece in 2015). Ukraine needs a Marshall Plan, including state-led direction of what infrastructure gets rebuilt first and why. But the West does not do big dirigiste schemes any more. And let us not forget that Russia would have to supply electrical grid equipment1…how is that supposed to work?

So why with little reason to be cheery about Ukraine’s prospects are Gilbert Doctorow and Scott Ritter making cautionary noises? For Doctorow, it’s about what he sees as too much optimism; Ritter has started thinking about the demands of possible occupation.

Some readers flagged the Doctorow piece but it’s not clear it got the attention it warrants. From Russian military experts on the current state of the war:

There is a lot of cheerleading for Russian military successes on the Western alternative news portals. There is also a fair amount of cheerleading coming from front line Russian war correspondents on Russian state television. But, as I have indicated in past essays, the more serious Russian news programs such as Sixty Minutes and Evening with Vladimir Solovyov also give the microphone to military experts from among Duma committee chairmen and others who actually bear responsibility and accountability for the war effort and are not just talking heads. These speakers are much more restrained in their remarks on the war’s progress and I use this opportunity to share with readers what I hear from such sources. I will be drawing in particular on what was said on the Solovyov show two days ago.

The most sober remark was that it is a mistake to gloat over reports that the Ukrainians have run out of reserves and that their soldiers at the front are now just old men and youths, who are demoralized and surrendering to Russians when they can. Saying that is to diminish our respect for the heroism of Russian soldiers who are facing, in fact, peer equals in the Ukrainian forces. This is a tough war.

Moreover, the Ukrainian reserves are not yet exhausted. Out of the approximately 60,000 elite troops that received training in NATO countries only 30 – 40% were killed or wounded in the battle for Bakhmut and subsequent Ukrainian counter-attack after 4 June. The Russians will not begin their own massive offensive to knock out the Ukrainian military until they are confident that most of the Ukrainian reserves have been depleted in the ongoing war of attrition.

Accordingly, what we are witnessing these days is localized attacks that have tactical, not strategic importance. Yes, the Ukrainians make advances here and there of a few meters at great cost in lost lives of the soldiers. Yes, the Russians make advances of three or four kilometers here or there, at significantly lower cost. The Russians are biding their time. This is not a stale-mate as Western media keep telling their audiences.

Next to Ritter’s concerns. He states in a new interview with Garland Nixon (starting at 46:55) that Russia has reserves of 180,000 and that’s not enough to take Kharkiv or Odessa.2 Ritter also argues that these two targets have become much less attractive by virtue of most ethnic Russians having left and thus those remaining no longer being Russian-leaning.

In contrast with Ritter’s reservations, we also have signs of Russia taking a harder line with respect to Western Ukraine. Before, deputy Security Council chief Dmitry Medvedev had signaled that Russia might welcome the rest of Europe taking the Western Ukraine problem off Russia’s hands by having Poland, Hungary and Romania carve it up. But Putin in a recent Security Council meeting, and then reinforced in a staged talk with Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko, made clear that Russia would act against any Polish incursion.

As we’ve pointed out, Russia’s leadership seems attentive to the fact that this is a multi-fronted engagement, with the kinetic war only one element.3 And domestic politics are a very big part of the equation

Let’s float a new hypothesis, and this is only a hypothesis, not a prediction.

The Ukraine army is approaching the point of exhaustion and collapse. Maybe that will happen on Ritter’s earlier timetable, of late summer/ fall, when artillery supplies were projected to become fatally low (the US supply of cluster bombs has extended Ukraine’s sell by date a bit but I have not seen any revised estimates). But Ukraine may carry on until mud season, and hope that the slowed tempo of the war will enable it to resupply a bit. Regardless, it seems not conceivable that Ukraine can carry on at its current tempo for as long as a year.

Even the more conservative commentators, like Doctorow, warn that Russia won’t make any big moves until Ukraine forces look kaput.

Given the complexity of the domestic and international political situation, big moves may not be immediately forthcoming even then.

First, from the domestic standpoint, Russia will have a lot of unfinished business. It must first of all secure and clear Donbass. It must stop shelling and terrorist action against Donetsk. Even assuming the Ukraine army starts to break up, there’s a lot of potential for rearguard action, as well as mines to clear.

Second, it still will have the crazy and very much in denial West to deal with. Some of what is logical to do next will be very much path dependent and is hard to forecast now. For instance, the promotion of Victoria Nuland makes the poor prospects for a negotiated outcome even worse. But it is possible, if Biden’s approval ratings have fallen by next spring or he has had a Mitch-McConnell-level-visible health crisis, that Biden will be in lame duck territory and it will behoove Russia not to do anything too definitive until it has a better reading on possible outcomes.

That is a long winded way of saying if and when military events break decisively Russia’s way, it may still see fit only to take comparatively low risk moves that might (finally) get the attention of the West. Recall that once Russia clears the final line of Ukraine defense in the Donbass, it then has a pretty clear run to the Dnieper. Marching up to its bank might focus a few minds.

Third, if, as in when the US abandons Ukraine, the government funding will end or be considerably reduced. The already very bad conditions in the parts of Ukraine still under Ukraine control will go from not great to terrible. This will be an end of Soviet Union level collapse with war damage and casualties thrown in.

Most commentators have assumed Russia will take territory when it has the chance. But Russia is committed only to securing the four oblasts that it now regards as part of Russia (which does entail some additional ground-taking). It may want to take Kharkiv to better secure its borders, or Odessa to control the Black Sea coast and assure that rump Ukraine is weak and poor. But per Ritter, those are cost-benefit exercises, and that equation looks to be in flux right now.

Russia is already going to have a lot on its plate with clearing, securing, and rebuilding its new Russian territory in the former Ukraine. Could it go into wait and see mode as the rest of Ukraine becomes a failed state? Russia may decide to act only selectively and opportunistically, entering areas that seem receptive to Russian “help,” taking action as needed to pursue denazification aims. It may seem nervous-making and unduly fluid to wait and watch as events unfold. But taking a lot of territory would be a huge commitment and Russia does not seem to be manning up for that yet.4

To put this another way: in decision science, an important concept is the cost of information. Decisions are always made under uncertainty, but often it is worth the time and expenditure to get better intelligence before acting.

As maddening as it likely is to many Russian citizens and others with stakes in the outcome of the war, it looks to be entirely rational for Russia to persist in going comparatively slowly in the prosecution of this war,5 not just to save lives and husband resources, but also to see how events play out so as to plot the most promising path in a very high risk game. So this war may well drag on, due not to Russian failure but to prudence.

1 Ukraine runs on Soviet spec gear that the West does not make and is not about set up just for the purpose of fixing Ukraine. Redoing the grid for Western equipment is not a realistic alternative.

2 Ritter has always been cool on the idea of Russia taking Odessa. He posited that Russia would use it as a bargaining chip, that letting Odessa remain in Ukraine’s hands would assure it some measure of economic viability. But as I recall, Ritter, who reads everything Putin says, was also reacting to a throwaway remark by Putin at a Valdai Club talk, where a journalist in what was presumed to be a planted question asked if he would need a Russian or Ukrainian visa to visit Odessa in two years. Putin in ducking the question, said:

Odessa can be an apple of discord, a symbol of conflict resolution, and a symbol of finding some kind of solution to everything that is happening now. It is not a question of Russia. We have said many times that we are ready to negotiate, and I recently mentioned this publicly once again speaking in the Kremlin. But the leaders of the Kiev regime have decided not to continue negotiations with the Russian Federation. It is true that the final word belongs to those who implement this policy in Washington. It is very easy for them to solve this problem: to send the appropriate signal to Kiev that they should change their position and seek a peaceful solution to these problems. And that will do it.

At a minimum, that looked like a signal that Odessa was not necessarily on the menu. But that was last October. Russia’s positions have hardened since then.

3 Witness, for instance, Russia being measured in exiting the so-called grain deal, which was supposed to be a “get Ukraine grain and Russian fertilizer to market” but of course the West failed to deliver on the Russian bennies. And that’s before getting to wee issues like Ukraine using the deal as cover for war materiels movements and storage.

Russia took the time to ‘splain to the so-called Global South that the West was hogging the Ukraine grains and that Russia, which was always a much bigger cereals producer than Ukraine and has been having bumper harvests of late, would supply the poorest countries with grain for free and would assure supply at fair prices to the rest.

That does not mean all Russian decisions have been great. Letting Prigozhin get too big for his britches was unwise, even if (to mix metaphors), the Russian leadership was able to make lemonade from the lemon of his revolt. And there’s been gears-grinding as Russia has scaled up from what it envisaged as a limited engagement to a much bigger war.

4 Some readers have argued the reverse, looking at an increase in Russia’s conscription rates. But that was pre-planned before the war and is at least partly due to the 1990s-early 2000s economic implosion in Russia leading to low birth rates then and thus comparatively low numbers of conscription-age adult men.

5 Russia just fired a bunch of generals. Scuttlebutt has it that included some seen as effective and liked by their men but also loudly advocating much more aggressive operations. If that is correct, the Ministry of Defense looks to be sending a message that boldness and opportunism are not in favor, that following battle plans and orders, even if they seem unduly restrictive, is paramount.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Bemildred

    I agree. In addition to your arguments, I think Putin has a long history of being parsimonious about committing his resources. He is not a plunger, not one to go for the quick fix.

    1. Ignacio

      He looks like a man with a long term vision. Difficult to see that in Western leaderships focused on PR.

  2. The Rev Kev

    I might just add two small points to this post. The first is where Putin has stated that Russia will not allow the western countries to cleave of chunks of the Ukraine, especially Galicia going to the Poles. I had thought that it was just to make sure that Belarus is not flanked to the south by a hostile Poland if it goes to the Poles but perhaps there is another reason. So what if Putin is setting up a split in opinion for this hostile region. If you are a patriotic Ukrainian, you certainly do not want a big chunk of your country being taken over by the Poles, especially when both countries have a “history.” The ultra-nationalists, on the other and, may demand this to save their necks from the Russians. So I could see a brawl between these two factions developing.

    The second point is about the Ukraine’s grain. Just watched a brief video where this guy was pointing out that as the Russians have gone all Gonzilla on all bar one of the grain ports and related infrastructure, the only viable way of getting grain out is by much more expensive land routes. Even grain barges are limited in size in what they can load. So if Ukrainian farmers can’t really get their grain to market in bulk, they may not be able to sell it at all. This being the case, how are they going to get the finance to grow next year’s crops? And what if those framers are being shanghaied to become Bradley drivers at the front? So the Ukraine may end up becoming a net importer of grain rather than a net exporter. Surely some people in Kiev are trying to game that one out.

    1. Feral Finster

      “So the Ukraine may end up becoming a net importer of grain rather than a net exporter. Surely some people in Kiev are trying to game that one out.”

      Nobody on Bankovskaya cares, as long as they personally don’t starve.

    2. BLP

      back when Sikorski was Sec of State in Poland, Putin offered him Galicia, both of them walking into the TV cameras.
      Sikorski didn’t even smile.

  3. marcel

    Russia can use the Kosovo precedent to claim Crimea and the 4 oblasts as Russian, and nobody outside the ‘garden’ will protest too much. But going to Kharkiv or Odessa would be naked agression and real invasion outside any text of the UN Charter. That is, Russia would stoop as low as the US, and would loose tons of credibility for no gains.
    If the people in Odessa or Kharkiv would raise up, ask for piece and trying to get out of Ukraine, like the other oblasts, things might change. But as Yves said, most pro-Russians already left, so that looks like a non-starter.
    I think what Russia wants is peace inside its borders, and non-hostile non-terrorist neighbours. Whatever proposal that brings those outcomes, will be accepted.
    But no such proposal is currently forthcoming. So Russia is biding its time: US is cooking, UK is sinking, Germany is keeling and France, Italy & Greece are on fire.
    One can see pawns moving in the Middle East, Turkey, Latin America or India. These are interesting times.

    1. KD

      My guess that Russia needs to bite the bullet and begin a large mobilization campaign and put in wage and price controls in civilian sectors to offset inflation from war spending. Another 500,000 troops to operate as peace keepers in liberated areas in the flank of the frontline storm troopers. I think the Kremlin is dithering because they are afraid of the economic, e.g., domestic consequences of increasing mobilization.

      I don’t see how they can stay out of Odessa and Kharkiv at this time, because Lavrov is on record that they need something like 150km corridor to protect the liberated oblasts from artillery strikes. If they stick with the 4 oblasts, the Ukrainians will just shell the civilians like Donetsk and the domestic politics will be terrible for Putin.

      Making Odessa and Kharkiv part of a “demilitarized” zone without electricity or basic service would be killing those cities. I don’t see how any Russian patriot would settle for their destruction given their history for Russia. Granted, I have limited experience and am not Russian, but Catherine the Great founded Odessa, and Kharkiv was founded by the Russian Empire and is the second largest city in Ukraine. It would be like putting NYC in a de-electrified DMZ for an American (although NYC was founded by the Dutch). I have to assume that if there is any residual humanity anywhere inside Putin, such a fate for Odessa and Kharkiv would make him physically ill.

      The Russians have overpromised given their capabilities, they have not made the necessary changes economically and politically to carry out their promises, and Putin is in danger of trying to have his cake and eat it too, which usually means he’ll neither have his cake or eat it.

      I agree with the war of attrition thesis, and that the Russians are waiting to grind down the Ukrainians before doing something big, but it doesn’t seem like they have the ground forces for an occupation, or that they have a plan. Izium happened because of a lack of ground forces on the part of the Russians, and it foiled the great plan to encircle Bakhmut per WWII “Great Patriotic War” strategy. If the Kremlin doesn’t get serious, they are sure to have a similar f.u.

      It is easy to focus on NATO stupidity, but plenty of Russian stupidity in this war, mostly due to politicians seeking to have their cake and eat it. Russia has a demographic problem, people’s children are dying in Ukraine, the economic effects will slowly grow and impact lives, and the longer the war goes, the more they will expect something in return for the sacrifices made.

      1. timbers

        I agree, Putin is cutting much too thin a thread, and has repeatedly held back when it was not necessary thus slowing things down and giving the West time to escalate. The Russians are losing a considerable amount of lives and equipment to regain key areas they lost and would now be benefiting greatly from had they planned properly to hold them. Russia needs fight to win, no holds barred.

        For example, what if the Pentagon is over ruled regarding the article Lambert posted of CNN saying these weapons we must not send to Ukraine as we need them for ourselves? It wouldn’t be the first time.

        And the Lavrov 150km buffer zone?…problematic at best. Ukraine is already successfully striking Crimea at much greater than 150km distances.

      2. spud

        if russia does not take the whole coastline, we see romania is just across the river on the navigable Danube.

        southern moldova and the Transnistria would be under constant bombardment, as well as the four new oblasts.

        odessa will be reactivated, and all sorts of trouble will ensue.

        russia needs to bone up on color revolutions, and start the process a.s.a.p. other wise fascism never sleeps.

      3. Detroit Dan

        I disagree with this (KD’s post) and rather agree with Polar Socialist below.

        Russia is actually doing quite well economically at the present, and Putin not under pressure to end the war. That could change if the war escalates and wage and price controls are implemented.

        All these choices involve trade-offs and KD’s recommendation for another big mobilization would come with greatly increased expectations. Realistically, Russia will not defeat NATO once and for all. Rather, NATO will grow weary of the war before Russians give up on it. Russia is playing it smart by not putting all of their hopes in military victory, but rather playing for world opinion and limited military objectives.

        Russia risks becoming a military only state if it is not careful. We’ve seen with the U.S. empire how that becomes cancerous.

        1. KD

          Just so I am clear, I am not saying Russia needs a large mobilization effort because the need to win the war fast, they need a large mobilization effort to be able to exploit the opportunities created by the attrition of Ukrainian forces, and to win finally and decisively.

        2. agnieszka gill

          I believe that the feeling in Russia is that finishing taking of 4 oblasts is a must. As far as Odessa and Kharkiv, these are Russian cities, but I believe that Russia would like to be “invited” to move in their direction. I also think that some sort of “in between” solution re Odessa especially, akin Sevastopol or Danzing [Gdansk] or more recently West Berlin, “free city” is possible, since it is Russian speaking city with hostile Ukrainians in change [ Just removed Catherine the Great statue !]

      4. WJ

        I think this is a very good analysis. It is similar to the analysis offered by the Marx-Engles Institute podcast. The central issue is that winning the war requires that Russia turn its back on several tenets of neoliberalism and a broader liberal politics that Putin and other Russian bureaucrats are strongly committed to.

      5. Polar Socialist

        While past behavior is not necessarily a good predictor of the future behavior, the history tells us that it took about 50,000 NKVD and Red Army soldiers to “pacify” the OUN (with some actual SS veterans in the ranks and funding from the OSS). Back then the population of Ukraine was bigger than it is now.

        Donbass militias had some 80,000 men, which is more than enough “Ukrainians” to pacify (and get some payback) the most ardent ethno-nationalist elements surviving the war.

        I’m not saying that’s what will happen, or that’s what should happen, I’m just trying to point our that we do have historical precedents, with actual numbers to build on, of Ukraine being rid of the Banderistas.

        1. KD

          There is an issue of temptation for actors like Poland, and deterrence/force capabilities to prevent or decisively smash any attempts at further escalation.

          The Russians have made their ask clear from the beginning, and the US/NATO isn’t interested. I do not think that the US wants a direct conflict, but they would be perfectly happy to bleed Russia to the last Pole and Romanian. Further, you are going to have opportunities created by failed involvement by Poland/Romania/Balts.

    2. Polar Socialist

      The Kosovo precedent doesn’t really cover Kherson, Zaporozhe or Crimea – each of which had to have Russian military presence so the locals could arrange a referendum on the matter.

      IIRC, Lavrov has said last year that it is indeed for the people in Kharkov and/or Odessa “to decide their future”. Which would apparently require Russian military occupation as least for the duration of the referendums.

      Personally I used to assume that Russia will have to at some point do at least medium sized arrow operation to crush the Ukrainian resistance, but now I can see them merely waiting for USA to dump Ukraine and then roll them up like Taliban rolled up the Afghan security forces.

      1. Pookah Harvey

        A recent Guardian article on the Ukrainianization of Odessa had an interesting statement from Oleksandr Babich, a local Odessa historian .

        -Babich said it was important to remember that while Odesa’s roots might be formally Russian, it has always been an international city. “Even in imperial Russia, it was the most anti-imperial city; cosmopolitan, open to the world and largely run by foreigners,…It was never fully imperial, never fully Soviet and of course it has long been resistant to becoming just another Ukrainian city too,” said Babich. “But that is changing now,” he added.-

      2. Kouros

        Kosovo could have organized a referendum only after Serbian troops were pulled out due to NATO intervention and Russian pressure. Kosovo was able to declare independence only Camp Bondsteel in full function there. So I don’t understand where is the difference between Kosovo and the four Ukrainian oblasts + Crimea. If anything, the Serbs didn’t start the killing, the Albanians did, while in Crimea and Novorosia, the Ukrainians started killing the Russians. See the Odessa Massacre.

    3. korual

      Agreed, marcel, that the legal aspects are important. On the diplomatic level, this conflict is between international law and the rules based order. As the vanguard of the former, Russia has to be seen to be acting legally to a reasonable degree, at least. To make territorial conquest, there would have to be a justified declaration of war, which has not been suggested so far. Any negotiated settlement will have to achieve the aims of the SMO, so military conquest is not necessary outside Russia.

      One could posit a Plan A for Russia as having a neutral Ukraine, post an internal collapse. For that to be viable, Ukraine would require Odessa, Kharkiv and Dnipro as electorally balancing factors against the North-West.

      NATO at Vilnius gave up on their military option. Belarus opposes dismemberment. My guess is that we are now waiting for the Kiev regime to implode – it has been told that the ammo is out soon and by the end of the year the money is going to stop as well. Istanbul 2.0 around new year?

    4. GM

      It doesn’t really matter how it looks.

      As long as there is any independent Ukraine, there will be daily drone attacks on Russian cities and constant shelling of border regions.

      How do you live with that if you are the Kremlin?

      There is already a whole lot of rumbling about the current situation on the ground in Donetsk, Belgorod, Kursk and Bryansk, but now the Ukrainians are extending the range of the terror campaign.

      Just from the last few days — first, on Friday a market in Taganrog got hit at 20 people got injured, and another rocket aiming at Rostov was shot down over an empty field, then today a drone hit a high-rise office building in Moscow. Shelling of Donetsk has been a daily event that nobody pays much attention to. Shebekino is half destroyed and it is not clear when it will be safe for habitation again.


      It’s only going to get worse.

      The Kremlin has been shrugging this off as no big deal and instead of doing something about it has gone after the patriotic internal opposition with the arrests of Kvachkov, Strelkov, and Dubarev, but that is simply not a sustainable situation — eventually either the Kremlin will have to act to fulfil its constitutional duties of protecting Russian citizens and territory, or internal dissent will grow to the point where someone else will take power.

      The current behavior is just unacceptable — back during the Chechen wars it was understood by society that there will be more terrorist acts to endure while the problem was being taken care of, but there was a clear end game, and the message from the Kremlin was very firm and unambiguous on that matter.

      Right now it is nothing of the sort — yesterday Putin had his midnight presser and was still talking astonishing nonsense about respecting Ukraine’s sovereignty. Seriously, WTF? What kind of message are you sending internally with such talk? That you are perfectly willing to have a dozen kamikaze drones hitting Moscow and other cities daily? Because it will only ramp up from here as long as there is a Ukraine to launch them from.

  4. Paul Damascene

    The failure to even talk-up, let alone devise and develop a business case for massive Western rearmament, is worthy of its own analysis.

    Most commentators assign a large if not exclusive role in fomenting this conflict to the gimlet-eyed war racketeers of the military-industrial complex. Why is it that some subset of ghouls has not launched an all-media blitz in favor of a US re-armament ‘moon-shot’?

    Is it that the very business model is now lacking for doing such a thing? Is there an understanding that the US is tapped out as a *potential* manufacturing power without China? Or an understanding that the West *cannot afford* to keep up with the DragonBear in industrial warfare?

    1. NN Cassandra

      Well, they launched all-media blitz in favor of spending more money on rearmament. Which is obviously better than actually doing the rearmament (at least from their POV). I guess the problems come when they are too successful in convincing others they really are doing the rearmament, and these others then act as if they have army on hand.

    2. Benny Profane

      That will need a Pearl Harbor or 9/11. An attack here. The faraway proxy war suits the lawn sign liberal just fine right now, because their kids are never going away to die, shops are full if a bit pricey, and maybe they’re doing well in the portfolio with a few defense stocks. Their TV tells them it’s morally correct to root for the Nazis this time against the evil Putin.

      1. ChrisFromGA

        Tellingly, despite recognizing that it can’t keep up with Russian production, it still has not even attempted to initiate a reindustrialization/rearming program

        My thoughts are that it is all connected to “The bezzle” or the “Financialization of everything.”

        Lawn sign liberals aren’t going to send their kids to train at a vocational school to work in a tank factory. That’s hard, back-breaking work. And so …declasse.
        Johnny and Jane are instead being told to go to college, study STEM, or maybe business, and get a job at a way-cool startup, and cash in on the IPO after a few years in the workforce. Retire at 30, FIRE, become a social media influencer, yadda, yadda, yadda.

        Just look at the stupid AI-led rally. Re-industrializing would require that comes to an end. Capital would need to be redirected into making THINGS vs. abstract ideas.

        Channeling Dana Carvey: Not … gonna … happen … wouldn’t be prudent!

        1. chris

          Fellow Chris, I wonder if that level of understanding exists anywhere among the Spreadsheet class. These people really don’t understand that you can’t just change a value in a model and get the result you want.

          Regardless of whether they can manufacture the materiel, who is going to use it? All of our branches are failing with recruitment goals. They’ve had a stealth draft by calling up reservists for back office roles. So who do they think is going to use the ammunition if we can make it?

      2. jsn

        A central part of the First New Deal, almost a decade before Pearl Harbor, was Roosevelt re-booting US industry from collapse under Hoover to either defense production or capabilities easily converted to defense production.

        Logistics and planning for WW2 began with the turn over in administrations in 32 so that Lend Lease capacity was already in place when GB needed it. That setup experience was leveraged to shift to full wartime productions when Hitler invaded Poland.

        It’s been 20 years since I looked at this history, but IIRC from the start, right after the attempted assassination and Smedly Butler putting down the Capital Putsch (including Prescott Bush incidentally), Roosevelt was flirting with various industrial Capitalists to engage them in a re-industrialization and modernization for war production.

    3. Henry Moon Pie

      Is this how somebody in Germany feels? A video, titled “Heil Zelensky!,” of as yet uncertain origin, but tied by some to the AfD. It’s pretty well done and funny. Catch it while it’s still on Youtube.

      1. polar donkey

        That is a good ad. I searched for it and it was hard to find. I had to type in the exact title for it to come up.

  5. Michael Fiorillo

    Given the 2014 Ukro-Nazi massacre of coup opponents at the Trade Union Hall in Odessa, it’s not surprising that opponents of the regime have fled, and are thus not present as a fifth column if the Russians attack. That makes re-taking Odessa (a historicallyRussian city) far more difficult, but in the end doesn’t Odessa have to come under Russian control?

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      To me, the issue is the divides in the “ultra nationalist”. The Brown Shirts versus the one who are more interested in the power and grift. When Zelensky and his pals try to flee, what is going to be the myth? If there is a myth, Zelensky and the West betrayed them, Azov becomes a Euro problem. Ukrainian refugees are all over Europe now.

      Russian propaganda isn’t as dumbening…deafening as the West, but they are pushing videos of parties in western cities. They want the guys on the front to be angry at the “recruiters” of the regime.

    2. nippersdad

      That is my opinion as well.

      The fastest way to economically bleed the Nazi regime in Kiev is to deprive it of their ability to engage in the relatively inexpensive sea routes bolstering their economy by taking Odessa. Barge traffic on the Danube and rail through Poland have proven how dependent they are on those grain ships. I don’t think that is something that the Russians will ignore, even before you get to the tempting opportunity to link up with Transnistria and avoid the ongoing Kaliningrad problem.

      In a related issue, I have also been wondering about the water levels in the Danube this year. One is hearing a lot about the heat, but they had that last year along with low river levels across Europe as well. The Danube may not be sufficient even for barge traffic for long. With Eastern Europe not wanting the cheap grain undercutting their own farmers bottom lines, rail may not be sufficient to their needs, either.

  6. timbers

    I go back to my default view, which is for Russia to assume the worst and act accordingly:

    1). Secure the 4 Oblasts and fortify them. Maybe include Kharkiv for logistical reasons as Kharkiv should allow improved logistics to the 4 Oblasts. Remain open to taking middle Ukraine all the way to Dnieper especially securing it such that what remains of Ukraine can not impede water usage for the other Oblasts.

    2). Take for granted the West will never negotiate, never back down, never stop demonizing Russia, never stop funding terrorism in Ukraine to be aimed at Russian civilians to the north and east, assume a constant state of belligerence and funding of destruction aimed at Russia, a USA maximalist effort to constantly destroy Russia via Ukraine. Expect this to last decades if not forever.

    3). Russia then adopts an Israel like policy/response to what at that point is basically Western funded terrorism aimed at Russia: Target the enemy decision centers relentlessly (this is essential), decapitate Ukraine leadership including Zelensky and his successors and any form of military leadership, at the very moment any replacement appears and re-appears, including Presidential and legislative buildings and legislative members, all forms of Ukraine government buildings, any transportation or ports that can be used to build it’s economy and military.

    I expect in response, those in Ukraine will leave, maybe towards Europe.

    1. EssC etera

      Not quite. Israel has been trying to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians, drive them out, since the creation of the state and they’re not going anywhere. Having said that, yes, Donbass is similar in that its civilian population is under constant rocket attack and this seems likely to continue, so something like what you described plus a Russian Iron Dome seems the most likely long term outcome.

      When Zelensky tried to persuade the Knesset that Ukraine’s plight had much in common with Israel he probably didn’t imagine just true that was.

      1. timbers

        Yes you are right. But..I should have been more specific, meaning I was referring to Israel’s policy of overwhelming hash retaliation of attacks upon her, and as you mention Russia IMO should absolutely prevent any possibility of a State in Ukraine. Hence she must relentlessly target and destroy any and all Ukraine decision centers…Russia must NEVER allow a functional govt in Ukraine because the West will simply use it as a terrorist spring board against her….Welcome to the World of Mad Max in Ukraine without exception. And isn’t that precisely what so many here have predicted for Ukraine? That it becomes a dysfunctional waste zone?

        1. Rob

          An anarchic Ukraine may provide even more fertile soil for terrorists. It’s one of those “be careful what you wish for” moments.

      2. sharonsj

        Israel (which is 20% Arab) has not been trying to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians. In the last 75 years the Palestinian population has only grown larger. In 1948 about 400,000 Palestinians lived in the West Bank; now there are almost three million. On the other hand, nearly every Middle Eastern country has driven out all it’s Jewish citizens. Some examples: Algeria, 140,000; Egypt, 75,000; Iraq, 135,000; Morocco, 265,000; Tunisia, 105,000. Total number of Jews driven out amounts to about one million.

        1. Monosynapsis

          With all respect, but this is pure revisionism: I don’t know about the other countries you mention but I know Morocco and its (historically very important) jewish community very well. Starting in the 60ies Israel sent out swarms of recruiters convincing thousands of families to come to Israel, blatantly lying and overpromising, only for the sephardic migrants to be the victim of overt ashkenazi racism in the ‘holy land’. Some even returned to Morocco after decades of disapointment and frustration. Many, many jewish moroccans complain about this hollowing out of their once vibrant communities by *Israel*.
          Morocco never ‘drove out its jews’, quite the contrary as they formed a substantial part of its economical elite. Many left with the prospects of a better, more prosperous life. A lot moved to France. Same as the millions of muslim Moroccans who migrated during the last 60 years.

    2. Kouros

      The goal is to first and foremost to destroy the Ukrainian Army. Russia doesn’t need to conquer that much territory to destroy the military capabilities of ukraine, ahem, the West. When they are destroyed, then Russia could move anywhere. Will they?

      Let’s first see their main objective crossed off the list.

  7. John R Moffett

    Russia is going to have to deal with the fallout from this conflict for quite some time. The mine clearing and infrastructure rebuilding will take many years, and there is no telling how much they will have to deal with Ukrainian terrorist attacks after the war. But western Ukraine’s problems are much larger, as they will not have the gravy train to count on, and no easy way to rebuild, repopulate and figure out how to get along with their much larger and more powerful neighbor whom they have just spent a lot of effort pissing off. In the end, the west will have gotten some of their objectives in the sense that Russia will have lots of growing pains over the coming years, but they will be growing in power and influence, which is not what the west wanted.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I disagree with the claim about terrorist acts. The IRA in its heyday ran rings around Ukraine and they didn’t have all sorts of Western weapons that had made their way to the black market to serve as force multipliers. If this were going to amount to much, it would already have amounted to much.

      1. John R Moffett

        Let’s hope you are right. I am thinking about the remaining Nazi types in western Ukraine and how they will respond to Russia’s increased presence to their east. I am fairly certain that Russia will not be able to de-Nazify Ukraine once hostilities have ended, because that would require expulsion of a significant chunk of the remaining population.

        1. ChrisFromGA

          I’m a bit more worried about a different sort of terrorist scenario.

          Remember, it took about 10-15 years for the CIA funding of the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan (early 80’s) to “blow-back” to the formation of Al Qaeda, and the late 90’s/early 00’s culmination in big-time attacks like 9/11 and the subsequent “war on terror” (oh, how lovely a thing. I’m sure we all pine for the days of Rumsfeld/Cheney and civil liberties being shredded like incriminating documents at Enron in 2002.)

          Presuming no glorious victory for Zelensky’s Azov pals, and maybe at best a partitioned Ukraine with a rump state of disgruntled Nazi types in the western part, it is not unreasonable to foresee they figure out that they were sold out by the West, and used as disposable cannon fodder. With western Ukraine so close to the EU, it would be inevitable that these Nazi types could scatter to the four winds, and launch terror attacks on targets in Europe and the US in retribution.

          For bonus points, they”ll have lots of Western training including NATO military protocols, and can use that to their advantage. Given the timing of the Azov brigades being funded and egged on since at least 2014, this could happen any day now.

          1. John R Moffett

            That’s the thing with blowback, you never can be sure where, who or how it will come back on you. But on the bright side, blowback is always a great excuse for increasing CIA/military funding and passing draconian laws.

        2. wilroncanada

          I’m more concerned about the “Nazi types” now getting preferred treatment as “refugees”, including landing jobs, throughout the EU, thee British Isles, the US, Canada, Central America, and probably Australia and New Zealand too. Another Operation Paperclip.

        3. GM

          There are cheap kamikaze drones with 2,000-mile range.

          You can reach all the way to the Urals with those from Lvov.

          That is how the remaining Nazis in Western Ukraine will react if Moscow does not occupy the whole territory.

          For some reason the Kremlin refuses to face that reality.

      2. Random

        Difficult to say given that Russia hasn’t taken any territory where most of the population is hostile.
        Central/Western Ukraine would be much more difficult to deal with.
        Also there have been plenty of terrorist attacks inside Russia. Attacks on former/current officers, writers, railroads, power stations, etc. Most are likely stopped because the security services are fairly competent.
        I suspect that you would hear about it much more if there wasn’t a war.

      3. Rob

        Would-be terrorists are presently occupied serving as cannon fodder. After the war, they will have time for other activities.

    2. Feral Finster

      One thing that every successful insurgency (e.g. Vietnam, Zimbabwe, Yemen, Afghanistan) has in common is a young population. Guerilla war is a young man’s game.

      The median age in Yemen is around 19 years old. The median age in Ukraine was over 40, and that before the war.

  8. Chas

    After the USA invades a country it leaves that country a shithole mess — Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Vietnam. Russia is indicating it won’t treat the Ukraine like that. For instance, it is very careful how it destroys infrastructure, only taking out what is absolutely necessary so as to minimize rebuilding problems. Also Russia tries to minimize casualties of its slavic brothers and sisters. So Russia is positioning itself to rebuild the Ukraine into a prosperous country by re-developing its manufacturing, agricultural and mining potential. Ukrainian refugees will want to move back for the cheaper energy, food, and jobs. However, if Russia decides it doesn’t want to be responsible for western Ukraine, it behooves Russia to take possession first and then sell whatever it wants to Poland or others. That way it can prevent Poland et al. from militarizing it. Install missiles and the sale is null and Russia retakes possession. Russia will not follow the USA’s lead in nation rebuilding.

    1. mrsyk

      “For instance, it is very careful how it destroys infrastructure, only taking out what is absolutely necessary so as to minimize rebuilding problems.”
      Avoiding committing “war crimes” as defined by certain international standards, and developing and maintaining a reputation for playing fair would seem to be important motivational elements behind a strategy focusing on preserving civil infrastructure and civilians.

      1. vao

        it is very careful how it destroys infrastructure, only taking out what is absolutely necessary so as to minimize rebuilding problems.

        My impression is that the way the conflict unfolded, those good resolutions went out of the window quite a while ago because of the practical necessities of combat.

        Videos shot by drones over the contested areas (e.g. Bakhmut, Soledar, countless Ukrainian villages) show endless heaps of urban ruins, fields pock-marked with shell holes, and devastated woods. Russia will inherit a ravaged land.

        1. Chas

          Yes, Russia has had to flatten fortified areas of the Donbas but, as best I can tell, Russia is minimizing destruction in western Ukraine. The electricity is still on for civilians, the internet is working, roads are still passable, railroads have mostly been spared, and food and necessities are reaching the population. Russia is using restraint and I think it is because it intends to be the one rebuilding all of the Ukraine. Even if its intentions of minimizing destruction are just aspirational that still is indicative of a desire to make the rebuilding of the Ukraine easier that if they had used the American invasion model.

          1. Arkady Bogdanov

            I think this is also one of the big unstated reasons for not pushing the line of contact forward. Active battle lines, in addition to destroying military equipment and personnel, are effectively bulldozers to infrastructure. Much of the area currently being fought upon was already fought upon post 2014 during the first and second Donbas wars. Much of the infrastructure there has already been significantly destroyed. It seems far better, given the costs of reconstruction, to chew up the Ukrainian military in one static location, as long as the west and Ukrainian military are stupid enough to keep feeding the Ukrainian military and mercs into that location.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Disagree. It won’t leave the parts of Ukraine it integrates into Russia that way. The parts that they don’t take will be left to their own devices. And I don’t see how you can make statements about carefully taking things out when you see how they’ve had to flatten a lot of fortified parts of Donbass. Aspiration and necessities are two different things.

      1. Not Qualified to Comment

        Taking the Dnieper bridges down would greatly hinder the AFU now and draw a very clear line as to where Russia intends to stop, but they’re still standing. (Tho’ no doubt the Ukrainians will blow them if/when they have to withdraw over them.)

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Russia would need them to go to Odessa. And leaving them up allows Ukraine to bring its men and material to the line of contact in Donbass, the better for Russia to destroy them.

    3. ChrisFromGA

      I’m surprised myself at how Russia has left certain targets alone. The Kiev airport comes to mind – clearly it could be used for F16 or other military flights, although I have not heard that the Zelensky crowd have tried this trick, yet.

      It is basically sitting there empty, with all civilian flights canceled. The CEO of RyanAir (a known knucklehead) recently boasted that he was pushing to resume flights. Not sure how many Westerners are that brave/stupid. Remember that video of a Patriot missile system frantically shooting off missiles like roman candle at an Arab wedding celebration, then getting flattened by a Kinzhal? Not the best advertising for Ryan Air.

  9. Bill Malcolm

    A balanced perspective and good summary, as usual. Consistently the best, in my view, and issued when there has been some time for decent reflection and not before.

    At the moment, Ukraine, we are informed by the Pentagon, is just now really getting into its full counteroffensive high gear. Who knew without being told? I’m sure the Russians are quaking in their boots.

    Quite why Ukraine is bothering to continue military operations is of course a wonderment. Both Biden and Blinken have already informed the world last week that Russia has lost the war, so we are waiting for the appropriate Russian emissaries to be nominated to meekly come forward to agree to NATO’s terms. /sarc

    Not that it likely matters a whit, but there is absolutely no reason why Western electrical manufacturers couldn’t make replacement EHV transformers and switchgear for the Ukrainian equipment Russia has destroyed. It’s not rocket science in any way at all, no magic Russian elixir required. So the voltage is a bit different, so what? That requires no special knowledge whatsover — ask any electrical utility system planning engineer or manufacturer. That argument that only Russia can make replacements is a complete red herring. However, making huge transformers takes literally years from design through assembly, then transport, installation and commissioning.
    Indeed, much of the equipment used in Ukraine, Russia and worldwide, including specialty items for the US, used to be made by the largest transformer manufacturer in “Europe”, Zaporozhe: ZTR of Ukraine. Unsurprisingly, it closed in March last year:

    Somehow, they managed to make equipment for worldwide voltage and frequency use, much as any competent Western manufacturer could do to replace so-called Russian stuff. But ZTR’s stuff likely was much cheaper for the same quality, given Ukraines devalued currency even before the SMO. As I said, not rocket science. However, in the complete unlikelihood of Ukraine emerging as anything but a discarded rump state after being used up by the US, no doubt it’ll be Russian or new oblast manufacturers who manufacture the replacement gear eventually. No money in it for Western manufacturers.

    1. FUBAR111111

      “but there is absolutely no reason why Western electrical manufacturers couldn’t make replacement EHV transformers and switchgear for the Ukrainian equipment Russia has destroyed”


      The cost to fix the Ukrainian grid has been estimated at $1 Trillion+ USD, and is rising as more pieces get destroyed. Russia is not currently targeting the remaining grid, but that will likely change, and even if the present condition remains as is, who in “The West” will pony up the Trillion, exactly, for Ukraine? Answer: nobody. The grid in Texas would be a higher priority for the USA, for example, though vthe utilities in Texas don’t seem to be upgrading it much, even though they warn of “failure” due to sudden demand spikes, like the curent heat wave – fixing the grid would hurt profits, so it is not likely.

      “Western electrical manufacturers” have moved almost all manufacturing to China, from my understanding. An electrician friend tells me the lead time for a new or replacment transformer is 18-24+ months now, and it is probably not being manufactured in the West. For instance, I know a local manufacturer, I have personally been on-site, and their capacity seems to be 1 or 2 of the large units at a time, and they take weeks or months to build., and I think they are about the only one in the region, if they are even still in business now, it was a while ago.

      In the event of a large scale disaster somewhere in the West, there will be little or no equipment on hand, or able to be manufactured quickly, and production in China will likely be over-whelmed by the sudden demand, leading to a probable lead-time of 24-36 months or more for delivery.

      While Russia probably has stocks on hand of many transformers, due to the legacy of the Soviet era, and would have to gear up for much greater production, and get help from Chinese suppliers (thus making lead-times longer for the West). So it will be Russian replacement in Ukraine, or nothing.

      The bottom partf of your own commment refutes the top portion.

    2. jrkrideau

      Not that it likely matters a whit, but there is absolutely no reason why Western electrical manufacturers couldn’t make replacement EHV transformers and switchgear for the Ukrainian equipment Russia has destroyed.

      However, making huge transformers takes literally years from design through assembly, then transport, installation and commissioning.

      This is a major part of the answer. Western countries do not have the capacity to handle rebuilding the electrical infrastructure especially if they are suddenly working to Soviet specifications. I don’t know but would it mean retooling in some cases?

      Certainly given time and capital investment Western manufacturing could do it but how long and who guarantees the payments? Whatever is left of Ukraine will be a basket case.

      On the other hand the Zaporizhzhia plant, assuming it survives should be up and running in no time but presumably in the Russian Federation not Ukraine.

  10. Jack

    You can invade territory without taking possession of it. My feeling is Russia will go all the way to the border in order to ensure the elimination of any war material and as many Nazis as possible. They can then pull back and make a show of being magnanimous by returning the governance of those territories to Ukraine. I also believe they will do this if the current Ukraine government looks like it is going to stay in power. I don’t think that is acceptable to the Russians. Another factor is air power. Russia could level Ukraine from the air now if it wanted to, but at a huge cost. That’s because Ukraine still has some viable air defense though they are running out of missiles. Russia is systematically destroying those systems. They could be doing that as part of one of their main goals of the SMO, to destroy the Ukraine military. Or, it is a necessary elimination prior to invading the territory.

    1. redleg

      By advancing, the area behind the front has to be secured, i.e. occupied, even if it is to be abandoned at some later date. The temporary occupation requires the same resources.

    2. juliania

      “You can invade territory without taking possession of it. My feeling is Russia will go all the way to the border in order to ensure the elimination of any war material and as many Nazis as possible. They can then pull back and make a show of being magnanimous by returning the governance of those territories to Ukraine…”

      You may be correct in this, time will tell. I would only disagree with the ‘make a show of being magnanimous’. As easternmost cities become ‘invaded’, there is most certainly magnanimity – of the sort that Russia has been talking about in Petersburg at the African summit there, That is, there is already reconstruction occurring in places such as had been under heavy bombardment due to the presence or close proximity of the forces of the regime. Russia is not seeking to occupy Ukraine. It will leave Ukraine to the Ukrainians, and in far better shape than it was before. That is how order will be maintained. Putin has stated in previous speeches that historically Ukraine’s people have never had the decision of with which of its neighbors it wished to align itself; that decision was always chosen by others. He will leave it to the people to decide, when all of this is over.

      Help them, yes; but only if they ask for help.

  11. ISL

    Odessa could be traded (Kiev for Odessa) – taking Kiev would require taking the entire country, which would require an even larger mobilization, which would require (as we just saw) 6 months to a year. Alternatively, given its importance to Ukraine’s economy, perhaps a Bakhmut-like attritional battle could be set up.

    In any case, NATO demilitarization argues for go slow, which also provides more options.

    1. James


      You wrote: “… taking Kiev would require taking the entire country”.

      What the heck are you talking about? To take Kiev – all Russia has to do is take everything east of the Dneiper plus the small bit of Kiev on the west bank of the Dnieper.

  12. Alan Roxdale

    This will go on for years. Most of a decade. When the Ukrainians are all dead and the ammunition is gone, the Pole will be dragged in, and after them the rest of Eastern Europe. The neocon strategy will shift to feeding 3 generations of their youth into the maw of the Russian war machine on the off-chance that it chokes on their corpses.

  13. JW

    I think we should just start with what Putin says are the Russian aims and only deviate from that if there is good evidence. At the moment there isn’t any.
    His aims are presumably consistent with those that he knows Xi will be comfortable with.
    No attempt to incorporate land beyond those voting to be part of Russia.
    Create the pressure required to bring about a new government in Ukraine that does not threaten its neighbour. I think this could include EU membership ( albeit that would be decades away) , but not NATO or any association with NATO.
    I don’t believe Putin has said anything else. Others may have, but they should be ignored at this stage.
    I have to say that short of driving into Kiev and deposing Z and his crew I have no idea how he satisfies the second of those at least before November 2024 if there is a new US President.
    So I agree this will take time, and the best way he has of moving towards the second objective is to continually destroy Ukrainian capability which means NATO capability whilst minimising his losses. Present tactics seem to reflect that. And its not easy!

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      First, Russia is not conducting this war subject to Xi’s approval. And Xi has taken moves that are pretty certain to have irked Putin, like his peace scheme napkin doodle. All that was was an effort by Xi to use the war as an excuse to talk to some national leaders when no way no how would the US evah allow China to be an interlocutor. But since this gimmick was clearly going nowhere, Putin merely had to look unruffled and let it die a natural death.

      Second, as the conflict has much more clearly become a proxy war between the UN/NATO and Russia, the difficulty of Russia achieving its stated aims of demilitarization, denazification, and no NATO in Ukraine have increased. NATO leaders have said Ukraine will join NATO once the war is over. So how does Russia prevent that, short of finding a way to install a puppet regime?

      In other words, there could be a difference between occupying territory as a necessary step in achieving a regime change (recall the US did that with Germany and Japan) versus incorporating terrain into Russia.

  14. Brian Wilder

    Excuse me for my deficient geography, but doesn’t “going to the Dneiper” seem to miss the important point that Russia has to eventually secure the lower Dneiper to its territory, taking Kherson City and Zaporizhzhia? Those conquests will be exceedingly difficult until such time as the Ukrainian military are in a state of collapse. It is not just a political imperative to secure all of those oblasts, but an economic imperative to control the hydraulic infrastructure. Rebuilding there will require significant Russian resources as well; dams ain’t cheap. Economically, it is in Russia’s interest that central Ukraine have an economic interest in trade and cooperation with Russia, even a dependency.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You are missing the point of the argument. I suggest you look at a map, specifically the terrain to the west of Lugansk and the northern part of Donetsk oblast. This is about what comparatively low risk measure Russia could take to get the attention of the West and also appease some of the hawks in Russia. Moreover, given Ukraine’s demonstrated fondness for dam stunts, Russia might find it in its interest to take some of the dams upstream from Kherson City.

      In addition, if you look at a rail map (scroll way down in this post: you’ll see that there are promising rail routes to Odessa from the center-northeast of Ukraine.

  15. LawnDart

    “Удары по Одессе стали шагом к освобождению города. Украина потеряет выход к Черному морю”

    (“The strikes on Odessa were a step towards the liberation of the city. Ukraine will lose access to the Black Sea”)

    Story by 360tv, Russia, posted July 19. I’d link, but I think that skynet might object.

    The assoff BBQ there back in ’14 made an indelible impression upon the Russian public. Is it even politically possible not to take Odessa? I think that the hardliners in the wings would absolutely lose their minds– it’d be like democrats in USA trying for whatever reason to cede Texas back to Mexico without a care what Texans or anyone else thought of it.

    Odessa is a Russian city, and I don’t think they will give it up.

    1. James

      But it is on the west side of the Dnieper and the Dnieper is a very effective natural defensive barrier.

      1. Kouros

        How long it would take to fill Khakovka dam? If Russians make inroads on the western banks around that dam, fix it and then stop any flow downstream until the lake is filled, they would have plenty of time to just have some roads built accross the bottom of the Dniepr.

  16. Geoffrey

    Anybody give credence to Luongo/Mercouris/(Crooke, by inference) who paint on a wider canvas still and factor in capital markets and Central Bank policies? To their credit they advertise this as a hunch and a ‘maybe’ that may never be conclusively ‘proved’. BTW China is party to this conflict too and playing a far from straightforward hand (but possibly the strongest one?). To wit, Luongo postulates that Yellen’s trip to Beijing was possibly the US’s ‘Suez moment’, when Xi possibly agreed to ease dollar’s high exchange rate, help fund US ballooning deficit, (as a knock-on ease ECB and EU bank problems) (ie prevent another Western banking crisis), in return for US preventing escalation around Ukr, ratcheting down the NATO war on Russia, as per Vilnius summit’s indefinite postponement of Ukr’s NATO membership, Ukr should be ‘grateful not demanding’ (Wallace) etc….Certainly is one explanation as to why Vilnius turned out to be a damp squib when a few weeks beforehand it seemed to promise some sort of an escalation, possibly, even an ‘out-of-area’ one…

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I like Mercouris generally but he is a libertarian and not sound on banking and macroeconomic policy. And I have seen absolutely no one reputable talking about the disruption Lugano asserts happened. All sorts of market commentators love to go nut over that sort of thing, even when it is totally misunderstood (like the repo panic, which WAY too many people treated as a sign some bank was in trouble, when it was simply the Fed making massive mistakes in how it handled repo rates when it was draining reserves in an era of using paying interest rates on reserves as its primary interest rate management tool).

      The US does not need China or anyone to fund its deficit. It is a sovereign currency issuer and can always pay its debts on its own. Its risk is not being unable to fund but generating too much inflation. And we’ve published papers that show this inflation is, again contrary to libertarians, not meaningfully the result of government spending. There has been very high inflation in certain sectors, like used cars, as a result of supply chain issues during Covid that took time to work out. The current rise in wages is similarly due significantly to Covid workplace absences (like Long Covid).

      Using bonds as a part of “funding” net Federal spending is an artifact of outdated political processes from the gold standard era. The way the Treasury spends it is debits its account at the Fed, then goes and sells bonds to tidy things up legally later.

      In addition, the idea that NATO membership was even a possibility at Vilnius was all wet. Top NATO and EU officials have repeatedly said membership is not imminent, including right before Vilnius. It was Ukraine that kept trying to talk it up it the hope that making noise would make a difference. It didn’t.

      1. tegnost

        fwiw I’d say mercouris is the sanest libertarian of the lot and didn’t stick his neck out on the brics currency in a recent video. That said, I don’t know where to find his writing so maybe there is more there, I just watch the videos.

        1. tegnost

          of course it could be my own bias at work, I can talk to (non techie) libertarians about most things, I can talk to republicans about some things, and all i can talk to democrats about is the weather.

      2. eg

        Your middle two paragraphs cannot be emphasized nor repeated often enough, Yves — so much mischief depends upon the widespread misunderstanding of these fundamental facts.

  17. nippersdad

    In the absence of yesterday’s NAFO trolls, I will do my best to make up for the sad loss of their input:

    “With the dynamic duo of Victoria Nuland managing the war and Elliott Abrams managing the diplomacy, I don’t see how this latest in our series of glorious neocon projects won’t work out. Fourteenth time is the charm, right?…..USA! USA! Booyah!”

    (Ducks head)

    In other news, thanks, Yves, for these updates. You are doing an excellent job of keeping up with the many hours of reportage from the multiplicity of sources out there so that we don’t have to. Even speeded up, all those videos and reading all of this stuff must become wearing, and I appreciate it.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      I thought they were using the old DNC chat pattern, bemoan a current issue, whine about the decline of the platform, have a couple of sock puppets chime in saying “i agree”. b over at MoA doesn’t get that kind of set up, so I think this is out of the DNC trying to get ahead of the collapse. It will be the fault of people not clapping loud enough, not Saint Biden.

      Much of the war was sold on promises “of America has the greatest military in the history of evah!” when a cursory examination of NATO deployment and potential means events would go nuclear or NATO forces would get wiped out as they are brought into theatre. A “no fly zone” was always a practical impossibility but was pushed by pundits and politicians and repeated by loyal cable news viewers. Why didn’t Biden save Zelensky will be asked? They need to get ahead of it because the truth is the Western foreign policy establishment has little understanding of foreign relations and military capacity but happily will make absurd promises. My guess is the “OMG Russia” believers will blame Biden for leaving unless Team Blue elites get out ahead of this.

      1. nippersdad

        Re “not clapping loud enough”: I agree, third parties will be the choke point this time for the DNC types.

        “If only Jill Stein and Susan Sarandon had not prevented Hillary from winning in ’16 she could have beaten the Russians before they had time to prepare themselves………………OMG, Cornell West.!!”

        They will just blame it on the DFH’s again. You are right, their playbook is about one page thick. What is going to be fun to watch is what the Republicans make of it all. Someone here the other day posted this…

        …and I have been sending it to all of my PMC friends. It is going to be brutal.

  18. Louis Fyne

    my crude understanding is that Ukrainian-Russian spoken in Odessa and Kharkiv is noticeably different from the Ukrainian spoken in Kyiv and Lviv.

    While Odessa may not be wholly pro-Moscow, is it really pro-Kyiv or pro-EU?

    There isn’t going to be an armistice unless it is undeniable that Kyiv lost. And the Moscow occupation of Odessa would be one such sign

    1. Feral Finster

      Not really. The people who live in Kiev speak accented Russian, as do the people in Kharkov and Odessa. Odessa kind of has its own accent and vocabulary. Without beating the issue to death, at times, I had to explain the meanings of basic Ukrainian words to lifelong Kiev residents (I am neither Russian nor Ukrainian).

      People in Lvov largely speak Ukrainian, but pretty much everyone there understands Russian.

  19. Raymond Sim

    I haven’t been following the Ukraine story closely of late, but I wonder if there hasn’t, once again, been a general failure to give Putin’s statements the literal and lawerly reading they usually require.

    I also haven’t noticed any attention being paid to the fact that his recent pronouncements concern the right to self-determination of an East Slavic people. This is no small matter to Russians, even if it’s Galicians we’re talking about.

    And I think it’s time to spin up my broken record again: The expert observers of military events in Ukraine who aren’t Russophobes are almost universally Covid minimizers. It’s a gigantic collective blind spot, and that’s putting it kindly. Willful ignorance is at work.

    1. nippersdad

      Perhaps you have heard nothing about the right of Eastern Slavic populations to self determination because the President of Israel just got done playing that schtick in Congress to an uproar of applause. It is now official that we cannot criticize Israeli’s right to self determination unless we want to be called out as anti-semitic, but to do the same for Russians would be unthinkable in the present political climate.

    2. hk

      I don’t think any “expert” should be trusted or even listened to outside their core competency–if military experts comment on Covid, then they are as ignorant as any Joe Schmoe. If two people who are experts on the same topic aren’t on the same page on the topic that they are supposed to be expert in (e.g. military matters, with Russophobes and non-Russophobes on opposite sides), then we’d have to start thinking about biases affecting their judgment. I wouldn’t make too much of the non-Russophobe military experts being Covid deniers at least on military matters, until they start speaking plain nonsense (and to be fair, people like MacGregor have spoken enough nonsense on military matters, too–making too much of both Russian military capabilities and their supposed grand strategy–e.g. the “big” (arrow) Russian offensive that I don’t think will ever materialize.)

      1. Raymond Sim

        Epidemic disease is almost always militarily significant. Armies are pitifully vulnerable to it. Failure to even address the ramifications of Covid is grounds for calling the competence of military analysis into question.

        1. hk

          I am really curious how Covid affected military effectiveness generally. There are some anecdotes, like about that US carrier whose captain got sacked for commenting about the situation publicly, but I can’t think of much else, even in peacetime.

        2. Jeff

          I go to my local barista for advice on how to replace an oil filter housing gasket and ask the plumber in our neighborhood for how to best prepare carne asada.

          That’s how this reads.

  20. Feral Finster

    “Russia is already going to have a lot on its plate with clearing, securing, and rebuilding its new Russian territory in the former Ukraine.”

    Keep in mind that Russian access to international financing will be curtailed, and if Ukraine signs a deal that the US doesn’t like then expect visa-free travel and sweet benefits to be cut off, pronto.

    1. dandyandy

      Maybe China chips in a Yuan or two.?

      And as for visa free travel, well that pony is already dead, so no changes there.

      1. juno mas

        Yes, China has the chops(ticks) to fund, design, re-build, the New Russia (Ukraine).

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Russia does not need access to external funding. It is a sovereign currency issuer like the US. Infrastructure Keynesianism generates big time GDP growth (even the stealth neoliberal Larry Summers says up to 3x the level of spending).

    3. Kouros

      Keep in mind that there is a certain self sufficiency in Russia as well as the fact that Russia is creating its own currency.

  21. dandyandy

    A great analysis as always, thank you.

    You may be interested to know you are being cribbed rebating by this site in Ukraine;

    ..and this other one somewhere else;

    Only posting the links in light of yesterday’s troll attack on another article on this subject. Delete this post if necessary please.

    1. nippersdad

      Wow! That second one is stealing EVERYTHING….and they have a little copyright thingy down at the bottom.

  22. hk

    The basic challenge, as far as I can see, is that the end game of the “Ukraine conflict” is not going to be in Ukraine at all. I’ve kept saying that the only way the current conflict can be wrapped up for the near term is if France and Germany surrender in some form. That may happen some time in the future, but it will take a while. Even a total victory in Ukraine or even Poland and the Baltics will not win the real conflict, for security in the west, for Russia. They have to have at least friendly neutral regimes in Paris and Berlin, without too much US military presence in Europe, to achieve actual security and that will take a while. Ukraine, in this sense, is useful to Russia only as means of putting pressure on the Europeans and it will take some time before (enough) Europeans seriously start thinking about giving in to Russian terms.

    To be fair, I expect that Russian terms will be quite generous, at least in the medium term (who knows how things will change in the long term): for starters, Europeans will regain some access to cheap energy (not as plentiful as they had before, though), for no other requirement than they keep the Americans out, which, after the current experience, may not be too unpalatable for many of them.

    1. dandyandy

      The wilder members of the Garden Junta will have to change, simple as that. Normally you’d assume they be subjected the homemade colour revolutions.

      However the current bunch may require kicking out with baseball bats. It will take a much greater decline in Europe’ nations’ living standards for the numbed populace to force that one though.

  23. werther

    That essay quoted by Jan above, written by Aurelien, illustrates what I’ve been thinking lately. Just a few days ago I saw a Lynx helicopter ploughing its way above the landscape in southern Netherlands. It made me wonder whether our leaders and a lot of managers at the Min of Defence might have a completely obsolete understanding of what may be a military consequence of their political view concerning Russia, NATO and the position of the former Warschau-pact nations including Ukraine.
    Most of these Lynx heli’s are now some forty years old. To keep ‘m in the air costs a lot of maintenance. Their facilities are outdated. I’m afraid this goes for a lot of the remaining equipment over here.
    What concerns me even more is that these probably deluded decision-makers have an illusion that the combined force of NATO is as formidable as the PR/MIC-industry tells them (and the Lynx I described above hints at it being mostly not the case).
    The essay by Aurelien hints at two possible schemes of rearmament, in my opinion. The first is like what Aurelian calls ‘symbolic increases’ (that would have an attractive side over here, given the Dutch political history, which is mostly morally and ethically driven, leading to sad disappointments as experienced in Srebrenica…). The second would mean a sacrifice of a lot of environmental, social, international aid and cooperation programs to enable a relevant rearmament…
    I don’t know what are the objectives in Moscow or Beiijng. But it’s clear that the Russian leadership objected again and again against NATO expansion, which they concieved as a threat to stability and the future of the Russian Federation.
    I payed a visit to Fort Douaumont near Verdun during a holiday last week. And I saw the American Memorial at Montsec. I just hope and pray that we don’t get trapped in the same madness… And I feel sorry for the people that are now over there in Zaporizhia and Donbass.

    1. Kouros

      How far in time in the Dutch history are you going?

      I don’t see anything moral and ethical in the tulip craze, or in the way the Dutch handled their colonies. There is even a recent movie about that “The East”…

  24. eg

    What’s the rush? The Ukrainians are hauling men and equipment 100s of kilometres into the teeth of Russian artillery and local air superiority. This approach will only become more untenable as time goes on and Western support becomes more expensive both in munitions stockpiles and financial support for the wreckage of what used to be the Ukrainian economy.

    Meanwhile the pain associated with sanctions continue to be felt across Europe resulting in varying degrees of political unrest.

    Finally, the US is entering a presidential election cycle — why not keep the stinking albatross tied to the Ancient Mariner for as long as possible?

    Of course, these factors have to be balanced against Russian public impatience (something I’m not well equipped to measure) as well as territorial imperatives associated with controlling the river and canal systems required to water the otherwise desert-like Crimean region.

  25. Mickey Hickey

    Angela Merkel’s and Emmanuel Macron’s toying with Vladimir Putin in a most despicable manner means that the EU and USA (West) is now written off by Russia. Putin is now gaining more support within Russia than he had before Merkel and Macron disgraced themselves. Russians as I have observed directly are as nationalistic and patriotic as the Irish. It would not rock the world to its foundations to insult a country of 5 million but to do it to a nuclear armed country of 143 million certainly will have ramifications. The EU has now convinced this Irishman that the leadership of some EU countries are not fit to govern.

  26. Jackman

    It’s amazing how much tiny things happening far from the front will impact this entire picture. As was said up front, the minute Biden is lame duck, and thus Nuland is declawed, much of what is possible instantly changes. So even the little fracas around the Hunter Biden plea deal suddenly begins to have impacts on the global stage. I’m increasingly unsure that Biden will be the nominee, which I couldn’t have imagined even a month ago. Too many things closing in and the NYT and WAPO can only keep the lid on so many stories at once. Though the MSM have done an awfully good job so far keeping everything unpleasant from the eyes of their liberal base, I have to believe there is much behind the scenes chatter, and in the DNC basement they’re rapidly trying to figure out how to game this going forward. The Hunter Biden details are juicy, and increasingly, they’re just out there, for public consumption. And the Ukraine War is another, going nowhere quickly. Even McConnell having disabling senior moments is just a vivid reminder to everyone that he and Biden are essentially the same age. And those are just three little problems for Mr. Doddering Old Joe Sunglasses.

  27. elkern

    I’ve been saying for a while now that the eventual Armistice Line will be pretty close to the current front, with minor exceptions (Russia will get all of Donetsk & Luhansk Oblasts, and more of Zaporizhzhia Oblast. The Lower Dniepr is the safest border for both sides, so Kherson City will stay with Ukraine.

    Odessa *was* a Russian city, but through a combination of ethnic cleansing and semi-voluntary sorting, that’s probably not true now. Same is likely true in Kharkov/kiv. I wouldn’t be surprised if Russia surrounded Kharkiv, then “graciously” gives it back in the eventual negotiations.

    Maybe I’m giving Putin too much credit, but I figure he’s playing a long game and is confident that The West/USA is declining economically & politically (and therefore militarily), so Russia doesn’t have to smash NATO right now. Russia doesn’t need to smash Ukraine, or divide it up with Poland, etc – allowing The West to rebuild Ukraine will (1) drain The West and (2) make Ukraine a perfect example of NeoLiberal Dystopia, where all basic services are controlled by foreign-owned monopolies Maximizing Shareholder Value.

    Also, Russia already controls most of the industrial areas, so what’s left of Ukraine will be an agrarian nation, and therefore poor (as long as the Banksters make the Rules). Pretty areas will be “redeveloped” as vacation homes for Eurotrash; and of course, pretty Ukrainian women will be, uh, “fully employed”. This is not a recipe for a sustainable society. Spare weapons leftover from the current war will eventually make tourism rather dangerous…

    All this is inevitable because the concentration of wealth in the USA has corrupted our political system beyond repair. (This is presumably true for Europe, too?)

    Russia – and China – don’t have to smash NATO or the USA; we’re doing a fine job of that on our own. All they really need to do is avoid all-out nuclear war, and they will “win”. (Until whatever system they set up eventually crumbles under the weight of its own success…)

  28. Not Qualified to Comment

    Putin in a recent Security Council meeting, ….. made clear that Russia would act against any Polish incursion.

    I took this to refer only to a Polish military ‘incursion’. If ‘eastern’ Galicia in particular (‘western’ Galicia is already Polish) chooses to invite the Poles in rather than remain a devastated part of a mini-Ukraine rump state totally unable to rebuild it I don’t see how Putin could legitimately object given that this is pretty much his justification for the SMO vis-a-vis the Donbass etc. This with some sort of non-militarisation deal for what was western Ukraine would seem to be a pretty attractive way out for all concerned.

    1. nippersdad

      Would it be possible for a province like Galicia to invite anyone in without the consent of the state? Even were Ukraine to agree to something like that, they have no history of self governance that would even approximate the eight years of self rule in the Donbass. Who would Poland deal with?

      If they haven’t declared independence from Ukraine by now I’m not sure they will be given a chance in the future.

  29. Susan the other

    For all these decades the inflated dollar (liberated from the gold standard) as John Connolly put it in 1971 really was “their problem” (the problem of the rest of the trading world) and not our problem because we had a huge head start with various technologies and industries. That was true. But Lenin was right too, that capitalists would sell the rope to hang themselves. So now the Ukraine war is not really a war between opposing ideologies, it’s more a war of access to resources. If the veneer of war-blabber is scraped away all there is is a war for access to resources and geographical advantage. The West is running out of oil. So Russia is stuck with a wealth of petroleum resources and an equally large necessity to defend it. And the West has been pretending for the last two decades that it doesn’t have an energy problem, that everything is manageable. It’s hard to watch. Of course nobody’s fooling Russia. They have never had any doubts. So it’s almost beyond belief that Russia’s end game would be anything less than victory – meaning they plan to eliminate this threat, whatever it takes. We in the West need to ask ourselves what our end game is.

  30. James T.

    Very good discussions as always. In the end, Ukraine and its citizens are the big losers. Maybe the Russians gain some territory plus some prestige back but the main thing for them is not being in jeopardy of being invaded and destroyed which is rather important. The US loses some creditability but gets massive gains by destroying Europe which helps siphon off their industry to help rebuild our failing manufacturing and takes away EU wealth which damages both China and Russia. We may talk about the challenges in the US but the real truth that seems to be coming to the forefront is that the world cannot operate without the US. So yes maybe some US decline but just a bump in the road and unlikely any real collapse on the agenda for another 30 or so years. My prediction is Russia will secure the 4 oblasts and sign a deal for Ukraine not to join Nato and end the war then in about 2035 they will join Nato :)

  31. Lex

    I wouldn’t say that all the pro Russian people of Odessa and Kharkov have left, but they have learned to be very quiet. And at the end of the day, the majority of people are not ideological. They just want a normal, decent life.

    Russia is adjusting to the war as it is now, which is not the war Russia expected in the spring of 2022. It still lacks manpower, but manpower is useless if it cannot be properly supplied. Russia is approaching that ability.

    This leads me to conclude that the “plan” (I don’t think Russia has a plan but a suite of options.) is to let things continue as they are because overall the situation is generally favorable for Russia. It will defend and attrit in the south and advance where there’s weakness in the north. Another mobilization looks possible this fall and that suggests eyes on the spring for a serious advance. By then the Ukrainian military will likely be in very rough shape, DC swinging into election mode and the Russian forces at their strongest.

    I do not think the Kremlin is as touchy about global perception as it was. This is not the Ukraine conflict of 2022. But I do think Putin’s preference would still be for the Ukrainians to get rid of Zelensky rather than having to march on Kiev. I also think Kiev is much closer to collapse than it appears, so that’s a real possibility.

    Kharkov and Odessa need to remain on the table, especially the latter because unless Ukraine is completely disarmed Odessa threatens Russian Black Sea trade. But in my scenario, moves against these two cities are likely part of a Ukrainian collapse / rout rather than attacking them as defended territory.

  32. The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit

    I would note that Simplicius just dropped a discussion on another Russian mobilization.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Simplicius has sometimes gotten out over his skis with rumors. He was for a time flogging the idea that Shoigu and Gerasimov were in trouble, something I never bought for a second. That does not mean he is wrong here but is not as stringent, particularly with scuttlebutt, as would behoove him.

      1. Lex

        To be fair on this particular issue (and I agree on the general), he’s taking that from domestic politics movement in Russia. There does appear to at least be setting the stage for being able to mobilize more troops.

    2. Robert Gray

      Simplicius surprised me yesterday with a gratuitously dismissive-to-the-point-of-insulting comment about Dmitri Medvedev:

      > Not only is he not president, Medvedev is not even the prime minister anymore,
      > he’s now relegated to a lowly security council chairman post.

      Well, that ‘lowly’ security council post is actually deputy chairman … and since the chairman is Vladimir Vladimirovich one wonders how ‘lowly’ it actually is.

  33. Victor Sciamarelli

    Excellent post and I agree that it is, “Entirely rational for Russia to persist in going comparatively slowly in the prosecution of this war” because any plan Putin has in mind will imagine what Ukraine should look like 20-25 years from now.
    I would also add its very likely Russia will take more territory before the war stops. Though the US occupied Japan for 7-years and Germany for 11-years after WW2, Putin wants a settlement without a military occupation of western Ukraine.
    Nevertheless, Russia will impose military, political, economic, and social reforms in Ukraine. Zelensky and company, and most oligarchs, need to be put away in the storage closet. The UA military will be disarmed and military officers barred from any future government post. Putin should already have a list of reasonable Ukrainians who can form a transition government.
    Moreover, there is no need for Russia to do this alone. Russia could form a council of advisors and invite the EU, neighboring countries, some more reasonable Ukrainians, and even China; though Russia will be firmly in charge. The council should work on the details and assist Ukrainians who want to relocate to either the Russian or Ukrainian sector.
    No doubt, there will be a new constitution, and anti-Russian parties, news outlets, and Nazis will be banned, Ukraine will be neutral and prevented from manufacturing or importing military hardware, but local law enforcement done by Ukrainians.
    The economy will be kept on a very low simmer. However, it’s not in Russia’s interest to have riots break out every other week either. Thus, Russia will need to play some role stabilizing daily life: food distribution, schools, medicine, courts, etc., and depending on how much territory Russia annexes, Ukraine will need a source of energy.
    The foreseeable future of Ukraine will be as a country that functions but with little interest or value.

  34. Mickey Hickey

    Comments that the West is becoming tired of the war might not be true. The bodies piling up are by and large Eastern European and of little concern to the West. The Goal of the US is to weaken Russia and they will continue as long as there are Ukrainians willing to die for the West. By continue I mean arm, fund, supply intelligence and guidance. This is virtually bloodless for the West.

  35. Mickey Hickey

    Odessa has been a jewel in Russia’s crown since Catherine the Great founded the city. I do not believe that Russia bombed the Transfiguration Cathedral. That would be akin to Ireland bombing the Vatican, highly unlikely.

Comments are closed.