The West and the War in Ukraine: Selling and Buying Hopium

The kinetic war in Ukraine has gotten less attention over the summer than in past periods due to the much-previewed-and-hyped counteroffensive in the southern oblast of Zaporzhizhia being worse than a bust. Yet we’ll give some examples below of how the Western press, to a large degree, is applying unimaginable amounts of porcine maquillage to Ukraine’s deteriorating situation. At best, this is a desperate effort to keep the war going in the hope that somehow, someway, luck or divine intervention will shift the tide in the West’s favor. But the damage to Ukraine is catastrophic, and the cost to the European economy from sanctions blowback, to arms stocks in the US and NATO member states, and of the fiscal commitment distorting national priorities (guns over butter in societies already showing social decay and fracture) is not shabby either.

From time to time we’ve repeated the advice we first heard from the investment bankers at Lazard to their CEO clients, of the dangers of believing their own PR. Here we see this psychopathy as a mass phenomenon as too many individuals in or near positions of authority keep repeating things that are bunk and genuinely seem to believe them. And that is occurring even as more and more Administration-friendly outlets are signaling the counteroffensive is going badly.

Another sign of problems are the complaints from the US and NATO officials that Ukraine deviated from its orders training of “combined arms warfare” (gotta love those talismanic phrases) to small unit infantry attacks after its initial attempts fared badly against heavy Russian mining. It does not take a great deal of insight to recognize that this is pre-positioning the scapegoating of Ukraine. However, it goes unsaid that “combined arms warfare” US-style presupposes air supremacy, something Ukraine has never enjoyed in the conflict areas.

An optimistic view is the inconsistent messaging is a sign of divisions in policy-making circles, and specifically, of the realists (reported particularly to be military officials who know the West can’t win a land war against Russia) starting to get the upper hand.

But this apparent increase in “realism” still has a lot of fuzzy thinking. For instance, overwhelmingly, the op-eds that discuss peace talks or some other endgames, exhibit another pathology we’ve described: that the West is talking to itself about what Russia will accept as if that were true. Exhibit 1 is the frozen conflict idea, that Russia will agree to what amounts to a standstill. The wee problem with that is that Anthony Blinken stated in a Washington Post interview last fall, that the US would keep arming Ukraine after the war and planned to retake any territory Ukraine ceded to stop fighting now. From the Washington Post:

The Biden administration, convinced that Vladimir Putin has failed in his attempt to erase Ukraine, has begun planning for an eventual postwar military balance that will help Kyiv deter any repetition of Russia’s brutal invasion.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken outlined his strategy for the Ukrainian endgame and postwar deterrence…

Russia’s colossal failure to achieve its military goals, Blinken believes, should now spur the United States and its allies to begin thinking about the shape of postwar Ukraine — and how to create a just and durable peace that upholds Ukraine’s territorial integrity and allows it to deter and, if necessary, defend against any future aggression. In other words, Russia should not be able to rest, regroup and reattack.

Blinken’s deterrence framework is somewhat different from last year’s discussions with Kyiv about security guarantees similar to NATO’s Article 5. Rather than such a formal treaty pledge, some U.S. officials increasingly believe the key is to give Ukraine the tools it needs to defend itself. Security will be ensured by potent weapons systems — especially armor and air defense — along with a strong, noncorrupt economy and membership in the European Union.

The Pentagon’s current stress on providing Kyiv with weapons and training for maneuver warfare reflects this long-term goal of deterrence. “The importance of maneuver weapons isn’t just to give Ukraine strength now to regain territory but as a deterrent against future Russian attacks,” explained a State Department official familiar with Blinken’s thinking. “Maneuver is the future.”

In other words, Blinken saw the war as ending without any deal. The West would then pump Ukraine full of weapons again to rinse and repeat and somehow expect a better outcome.

Ukraine neutrality was and is a key Russian demand. And Russia has the big conundrum that after the Minsk Accords were revealed as a big France/German/Ukraine con, that Russia can’t trust any NATO/Ukraine pledge.1

Recall that Mark Milley had had the temerity to suggest that Ukraine consider peace talks after the much-bruited-about counteroffensive of course resulted in Ukraine territorial gains so it could then negotiate with Russia from a strong position. That was what precipitated the rejoinder-via-the-Washington Post from Blinken.

That optimistic belief appears to have been the basis for the recent Jeddah “peace plan talks” which did not include Russia. It appears a prime aim was to dent Global South tacit and explicit support for Russia after Russia was presumed to look weaker after the grand counteroffensive. Despite Ukraine trying to claim the summit was a success, other reports say participants questioned how anything could be accomplished with no Russian participation and did not back Ukraine’s maximalist peace terms.

So what we see are that two ideas from how the war would end, formulated before Russian mobilized forces were trained and deployed and started to show their stuff, appear to be on auto-pilot. Blinken and Biden both are still banging on about how Putin has already lost the war. There’s no sign of a meaningful change in position as the US/NATO plans are doing a big faceplant.

To state what should now seem obvious, the problem here is the dogged refusal to recognize facts on the ground, like no way, no how is Ukraine getting back Crimea or more than trivial amounts of territory Russia has taken, is that this is setting the stage, not for a Korea-style outcome, but the collapse of the Ukraine military and potentially much of what is left of Ukraine as a nation.2

It resulted in huge losses of men without Ukraine even getting to, much the less penetrating, Russia’s first of three fortified lines. Douglas Macgregor, who has good contacts, puts the deaths (not wounded, deaths) from this operation that started in early June at approaching 40,000. There’s informal corroboration via graveyards all over Ukraine being reported as out of space, overflowing hospitals near the combat area, and blood shortages. Oh, and more evidence of manpower strains come via Zelensky announcing another mobilization3 and making a show of stopping bribery to evade service….when anyone who had the dough to do so has almost assuredly already done so.

As the Ukraine counteroffensive in the South has failed, Ukraine has also been contesting Bakhmut4 at high cost and not much to show for it. In the last few weeks, Russia been pushing in a measured manner into Kharkiv. The Hill has just declared this campaign to be an offensive, but the level of manpower and materiel deployed is well below what Russia could commit if it chose to.5

Russia may simply have intended to apply enough pressure to create yet another meat grinder snd force Ukraine to commit more forces, either by redeploying from the south or by drawing upon its reserves. Alexander Mercouris has said (IIRC two days ago) that Ukraine was sending its last remaining reserves to this front. He also speculated (yesterday) that Russia may be taking its sweet time about re-taking Kupiansk, a city it had abandoned when it pulled out of Kharkiv last year, so as to better attrit Ukraine. Regardless, if Russia retakes the territory in Kharkiv that it ceded last year, this would be a big psychological blow to Ukraine and its supporters.

With that long-winded into, let’s look at a sampling of news reports. This screenshot is from the front page of the Wall Street Journal on Sunday:

Now admittedly, the third headline clearly signposts shortcomings of Ukraine operations.6 But let’s look at the first. Its opening paragraphs:

Ukraine’s current campaign to retake territory occupied by Russian forces could still have many months to run. But military strategists and policy makers across the West are already starting to think about next year’s spring offensive.

The shift reflects a deepening appreciation that, barring a major breakthrough, Ukraine’s fight to eject Russia’s invasion forces is likely to take a long time.

When Kyiv’s counteroffensive began in spring, optimists hoped Ukrainian troops could replicate their success last year in routing Russian forces. But an initial attempt to use newly supplied Western tanks and armored vehicles to punch through fortified Russian lines stalled.

Since then, progress has been slow and painful, relying on small-unit tactics. A renewed push could still be in the offing. But military leaders and policy makers already are grappling with the question of what can be achieved in the next few months and how to prepare for a protracted conflict.

A nagging concern in Kyiv and Western capitals is that politicians and voters may come to see the war as a quagmire and sour on supporting Ukraine. Even if Kyiv’s Western backers stay resolute, clocks are ticking as Ukrainian forces burn through munitions, manpower and stamina for a grueling fight.

All military campaigns end at some point—even in wars that grind on for years—at what tacticians call a culmination, or the point when advancing forces can go no further due to success, impediments or lack of supplies.

Kyiv’s goal now is for its current offensive to culminate with sufficient gains to show Ukrainian citizens and backers in Washington, Berlin and elsewhere that their support hasn’t been misplaced—and should continue.

There is so much misdirection by omission that it is hard to know where to begin. For starters, there’s no indication of how badly the offensive has underperformed expectations. It was supposed to puncture Russian fortified lines in three weeks. Now well into the third month, it has not even gotten up to them.

On top of that, Ukraine does not have months left for this push. Mud season is expected to start in mid-late September. And if there is another warm winter, the ground will not harden enough for a winter campaign.

And we have the bogus claim that Ukraine defeated Russian forces, when Russia made tactical withdrawals before it had beefed up its forces via its partial mobilization, preserving men and materiel. So not only did Russia not suffer a battlefield defeat, but the Russian army now is not the Russian army as of then.

Now arguably Ukraine could regroup and refit during a fall-winter slowdown. But the fights can continue readily in urban areas….like Kupiansk in Kharkiv. Russia can also keep up missile strikes. So there is no great reason to think Ukraine will emerge next spring in better shape than it is now, even with more mobilization efforts apace. Recall Ukraine, out of desperation, has thrown these new troops into the front lines with barely any training, almost assuring their combat life will be very short.

Due to this post getting lengthy, I will spare readers more from this article or the companion Wall Street Journal articles, although I encourage readers to carry on about them in comments.

In a bit of synchonicity, reader Userfriendly sent along an even more disconnected piece: The Ukraine War might really break up the Russian Federation from The Hill. To give you a flavor:

It’s time to start taking the potential disintegration of Russia seriously.

A number of analysts see the shattering of the Russian Federation as a possible aftermath of Vladimir Putin’s catastrophic war in Ukraine.

Although the world would be better off with a much weakened Russia, its fall may not go smoothly…

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Tatiana Stanovaya occupies a middle ground, while leaning toward Ignatius. She writes that, on the one hand, “the Kremlin will be wrestling simultaneously with…a deepening crisis of Putin’s leadership, a growing lack of political accountability, increasingly ineffective responses by the authorities to new challenges, an intensifying fragmentation among elites, and a society that is growing more antiestablishment.”

Huh? Putin’s approval rating remains around 80%. People in Russia like Mark Sleboda and Gilbert Doctorow, and visitors like Alex Christaforu, report that stores are full, life in proceeds very much like normal despite the war, and economic activity is accelerating. And despite Western mythology (and Putin’s high competence, particularly as a bureaucrat), Russia has bench depth in its leadership, so it’s not as if the state depends on Putin.7 And Putin is far and away the least bellicose member at the top of Russia. The idea that Putin gone would mean a less fierce Russia is lunacy.

As Userfriendly remarked,

I just do not understand how the entire US press core can be so utterly oblivious to the facts on the ground, and so confident of how right they are. Seriously, when dawn breaks I am genuinely worried what they will do. It wouldn’t be the first time we got led into a war purely based on the obstinate ignorance of the stenographer class.

Again, there are way too many possible paths for the future of this conflict. If I were Russia, I would be thinking hard about a big offensive in the spring or summer of next year, both due to Ukraine’s likely decay path and to discomfit Biden. But the latter also risks reckless action by the US. So perhaps Russian just keeps grinding, albeit at a harder pace, and waits for Ukraine to start visibly falling apart before it acts.


1 That may be why Zelensky was so quick to agree to Ukraine not joining NATO in the failed March 2022 negotiations in Istanbul. He anticipated Ukraine would not have to live up to it. Recall that the revelation that Ukraine was just playing Russia did not come till June 2022, and even then from Petro Poroshenko, who could be depicted as an unreliable reporter. But in December, his account was soon confirmed by the two key European leaders who were party to the deal: Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande.

2 That is not to say that a Western defeat was baked in, but it most certainly is on that trajectory and there is no evidence of any plan to change course. Russia has increased its production of artillery, missiles and drones over the course of this war. The West kinda sorta plans to, through existing manufacturers and programs. Not only was Russia ahead in arm production capability when the war started but if anything it appears to have widened the output gap. Russia is also ahead of the West in missiles, air defense, and signal jamming. Russia reorganized its military, it seems successfully, for large-scale war and incorporating new in combat, such as the Penicillin counter-battery system and the Lancet and Geran drone. There is some controversy over the Geran drone. Russia appears to have been making it from kits from Iran since there are certain modules, particulars the analogue to GPS, that would have to come from Russia. It nows seems to be making largely or entirely domestically. one assumes under license.

The Lancet was first presented at a military show in 2019, which I take to mean it was neither produced in large scale or yet integrated into training or logistics. It was used in Syria in 2020 in what Wikipedia describes as a test and in some attacks in April 2021. And even then, Syria is an insurgent war and so the limited experience there would need to be translated to the Ukraine operation.

3 Ukraine defenders argue that this is not a total mobilization. Zelensky already has authority for a “general” mobilization via a decree signed February 24, 2022, so he does not appear to need to do anything formally to intensify recruitment. However, it is pretty clear that Zelensky is scraping the bottom of the barrel, manpower-wise.

4 It should be called by its Russia name of Artyomovsk since the Russians captured it in early May, but we’ll stick with Bakhmut for reader convenience.

5 Admittedly it is not clear how large the Russian commitment to this effort is. From Asia Times today:

Information about Russian operations, particularly in the Kupyansk direction, is hard to find. The Russians are not calling their operations an offensive, although unconfirmed reports say that Russia has mustered 100,000 or more troops for their operation in this area, and have moved in a lot of heavy equipment.

6 Cynics will note this is just another pitch to extend the war: Ukraine would be winning if it had more and better Western weapons.

7 Admittedly succession could be messy but the point is that there are not big dissenting factions at the top.

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  1. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, Yves.

    Mum reports another and larger wave of refugees after two waves in May, a pause over June and July, and the children being rushed into schools for the new year / term from next month. Some of the children are nearing the end of secondary / high schooling, so may be getting out before being drafted.

    Some have family here, so are being helped to escape. Those associated with well off Ukrainians here since well before the war are more likely to be of or soon to reach draft age.

    It has not gone unnoticed that mothers with young families may have a husband in Germany, not at home and fighting.

    I have mentioned the discontent felt by parents and pupils when places at the schools of their choice were withdrawn at the last minute to accommodate refugee children. Dad’s younger sister lives and teaches near Duesseldorf. She reports the same. She adds the number of young men and women, Ukraine’s future, wandering around the streets. My aunt also remarked the difference in treatment given to refugees from Syria and Ukraine.


    I am expecting the slow burn failure of the proxy war in Ukraine, combined with a rising Covid wave (that nobody cares about), rising energy costs, heightening political circus, and economic pressure from misguided Fed policy to catapult us from our current purgatory into a recession. The AI hype bubble will gradually fade as the realities of this earnings season sets in, leading us into exciting territory come Q4 2023 and beyond when Americans begin to see no light at the end of the tunnel in any part of their life.

  3. Vit5o

    Although it is evident that Ukraine has no way to win (by any sane stardard), I believe that Russia might still suffer losses that could allow for the discourse that it has become “weakened”.

    I say that because while Ukraine will run out of most resources soon, it seems that their army will remain capable to present one big threat to Russian soldiers and vehicles: drone attacks.

    So, if they stop pushing for this doomed counter-offensive and start defending their territory while using a huge number of drones, they may cause heavy damage to Russian advancing forces.

    I know that the Russians have great Electronic Warfare measures. But my impression is that EW solutions are never permanent, they have to be updated frequently. Germany just announced that it will send a new drone system and many other countries will keep providing this cheap weapon.

    Drones will keep hammering at the Kerch bridge, Russian ships, tanks, facilities, ammo depots, etc.

    To conclude: while Russian victory seems inescapable in the long term, they might still fall prey to heavy losses in equipment and troops. I believe that they will have to find a window to close this war quickly, if they want to avoid unforseen risks that may arise in a long conflict.

    Maybe that window will be identified by a conjunction of factors such as an analysis of Ukrainian reserves and Russia’s election schedule (also the election in the US of A). I don’t think that the Russians are keen on keep fighting beyond 2024, and I worry if they do.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You seem to be following Western overhyping of drone attacks. The fresh salvo at the Kerch bridge didn’t score any hits. The attacks (on a small number of not very large vessels) damaged a handful. The much touted hit on August 5 was of an amphibious landing ship, FFS, technically a warship but not a major craft.

      As for ammo dumps, Russia has hit vastly more than Ukraine has, so even if Ukraine is able to improve its success ratio a bit, it has a very long way to go to reach Russian success levels. And let us not forget Russia still seems able to launch large scale strikes across Ukraine at will. Ukraine lacks and will not attain anything remotely similar in strike power. The fact that they keep shelling civilian targets in Donetsk City is an admission of weakness.

      Russia has now taken to inspecting commercial vessels to reduce the level of mischief in the Black Sea.

      That is not to say Ukraine drone attacks won’t selectively score some impressive hits, but none of them have made any difference in any battle front, let alone the war. And I don’t see any reason for that to change.

      1. Greg

        I have been thinking that one change resulting from the drone strikes on shipping is forcing Russia to persevere until they secure the entire coast line.

        We’ve all discussed how this would be a desirable outcome for Russia, but given the progress this year and how difficult a task it looks to breach the Dnieper and secure Odessa, I’d previously put the balance of odds on Russia not risking the manpower needed.

        If Ukraine possessing any coastline means a continued threat to shipping, no matter how trivial a military threat, it might change the political calculus of the war and force Russia to push through. Doesn’t seem optimal for Ukraine.

  4. Mikel

    “So perhaps Russian just keeps grinding, albeit at a harder pace, and waits for Ukraine to start visibly falling apart before it acts.”

    It’s not visible already? A lot of what was described would be very visible.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      We indicated Russia has picked up the intensity of its effort by advancing on the Kharkiv frontline. Experts are divided on whether and when Russia will make the sort of big offensive that map watcher lust for. The fact that Russia looks to be grinding harder does not establish if more aggressive action is coming.

      Also the point of the post was not to forecast the trajectory of the kinetic war, but to look at messaging and that as a big contributor to the stasis in Western positions (there are flavors of options being noised about, but none of them looks to have changed in approaching a year despite Ukraine looking more and more battered).

  5. Ignacio

    Well… Blinken talking about Russia’s colossal failure marked the unhappy destiny of my mid-morning coffee. What a moron.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      2024. This isn’t meant for reality but domestic election consumption. Like Bidenomics and China’s economy always being ready to collapse, its gibberish cooked up by Clintonistas to make Regine Change Karens feel good. Neera Tanden has Susan Rice’s job in the Biden WH. It’s all about promoting Mother at this point.

      Besides if Russia has already lost, then the actual outcome can be ignored.

      Guys like Blinken are coming off the deranged predictions presented in the article. Every prediction of a Kiev victory more or less called for Russia to just give up or be overwhelmed by Ukrainian supermen. No one in the Western msm has offered up the idea that a Kiev win or stalemate would be anything other than devastating. It was just memes about tanks designed in the 70s designed to counter Soviets rushing through the Fulda gap, not the war in question. My favorite was assurances the US Airforce could crush the Russian airforce if they ever met. This might be true, but the difficulty of actually meeting means those scenarios will never happen. Missiles will destroy the planes as they get brought up.

      1. Polar Socialist

        I think Blinken’s “colossal Russian failure” slogan refers to Finland joining NATO. At least that was the gist of his speech in Helsinki a few months ago.

        And if you totally disregard how Global South is rejecting the Western leadership, how the international trade and collaboration are being re-organized towards multipolar world, how Ukrainian loss is likely to cause immeasurable damage to NATO and how Finland’s membership actually makes NATO more insecure, he would be correct.

        1. nippersdad

          Re: Blinken and Finland. One has to wonder what Blinken was thinking about the addition of Finland to NATO being a good thing. He just made it possible for us to have to go to war to protect five and a half million people and an eight hundred mile border up in the Arctic backed up by a largely deindustrialized and demilitarized Europe. In what world is that a rational action? Finland doesn’t even have access to the Arctic ocean, and it would be very easy for Russia to close access through the Baltic. How are we supposed to even get there?

          I saw something the other day about Germany building bases on the Arctic ocean. Again, how do they expect to supply them were a war to break out?

          Sweden is not yet even a member of NATO, probably never will be once they conveniently remember that they have traditionally been a neutral country, and Norway is not exactly set up to fight off the Mongol Hordes until we get our ducks in a row. It would all be over before anyone knew it.

          I agree, if anything the addition of Finland to NATO only makes them weaker. These people belong in an asylum.

  6. JohnA

    Swedish media are still full on the hopium trail. Putin is a crazy imperialist who will soon get what’s coming to him. Mostly based on Ukraine sources. Typical headlines this morning
    Svenska Dagbladet = The Times/Telegraph
    Putin did not count on a strengthened Europe – Russian president’s picture is a fatal fiasco
    Drone attack on Odessa repelled – three injured
    The battle that can turn the war – Crimea is the key, new weapons give Kiev an advantage
    Denmark stopped Russian military jet, unclear what it was doing over the North Sea

    While in Dagens Nyheter = The Guardian
    Ukraine can free Europe from its colonial heritage – if the west betrays the tiny nations in the east Russian imperialism will win
    Norwegian fishing boats refuse to give way to major Russian military exercise
    The tabloids are equally if not more lurid
    Russian nuclear submarines equipped with new terror weapons
    Russian soldiers flee in boats – chased by drones
    Wagner boss set for new coup attempt – unless he dies first (this is based on a Bellingcat source)

  7. DJG, Reality Czar

    Yves Smith. Many thanks for this dissection of Western (Anglo-American) “strategy,” which doesn’t exist. Is the strategy to dismantle the Russian Federation? Is the strategy to put Vladimir Putin in the stocks? Is the strategy to reclaim the Donbass? (And what of the inhabitants in the Donbass?)

    The media workers are too distracted and too much the lightweights to do their duty by the public.

    This assessment, which I pull from the Washington Post article above, deserves to be in bold because it shows that strategy isn’t on the minds of the Anglo-American geniuses: Security will be ensured by potent weapons systems — especially armor and air defense — along with a strong, noncorrupt economy and membership in the European Union.

    First, noncorrupt economy? Yes, and I am the czar of all the Russias. How many in the Ukrainian government would have to go out the window? And how many Monsantos and other Western companies now looting Ukraine would have to be sent home? One “nonstarter.”

    Potent weapons systems? So Ukraine is to be a garrison state with its raison d’être an endless confrontation with the Russian Federation. Kinduva nonstarter.

    Which leads to (forced) membership in the European Union. As what? A garrison state involved in endless conflicts? The third nonstarter in conflict with the other two.

    The unfortunate aspect of the whole Ukraine Project is that it resembles Anglo-American office politics writ large. It’s a fight with Madison and Tiffany in the Branding and Product Extension Department over square footage of offices (with views).

    Meanwhile, I calculate dead Ukrainian soldiers at 300,000 — given some info at Simplicius the Thinker plus several weeks of trench warfare plus Yves Smith’s latest estimate. Real people are being killed, mainly young men.

    And in the Anglo-American world, it seems to be the Dianne Feinstein State, clueless and pointless, desperately clinging to power. Power slipping away.

    1. Polar Socialist

      How many in the Ukrainian government would have to go out the window?

      I saw recently a claim, that after annexing Crimea, Russian had to change the leadership three times to find people corrupted only to the Russian standards.

    2. Ignacio

      DJG, that paragraph in bold… It doesn’t apply the phrase and the song “You Are Innocent When You Dream” when the dream is passed as real objective. Aren’t we confusing supposedly desired outcomes with strategic objectives? On the other hand, if the objective is to finalize the task of destroying the EU, Ukraine would be the perfect Trojan horse. Even the current EC team, the most €diotic ever, might notice though suicidal thinkings by their part cannot be ruled out.

      1. britzklieg

        OT but great to see your reference to Tom Waits – “Innocent When You Dream” (I am unaware of another song with the same title and assume you mean Waits). Great song by a great and unique talent. “The bats are in the belfry, the dew is on the grass…”

        Bernstein wrote a song of similar meaning, although it’s not well known anymore: ‘Everybody Loves you When You’re Asleep” written, I believe, for Betty Comden and Adolph Green.

        1. Ignacio

          Of course Tom Waits. There is a theme also is the same vein by a Spanish author who only left a great LP because he died too young. His group’s name was Jarabe de palo.

          1. britzklieg

            Thanks Ignacio, I will try to find Jarabe de Palo!

            But I messed up the lyric, my aging brain has lost some of its agility. Second line is:

            “the dew is on the moor

      2. Anon

        This. As far as ‘the US’ is concerned, (this phase of) the war was fought and won on the floor of the Baltic Sea.

  8. John R Moffett

    I think about this phenomenon all the time. When you listen to people in the government, you assume they are just lying for the cameras, but their policies are directly in line with their unhinged rhetoric. In Daniel Ellsberg’s book “Secrets” he discusses this at one point. He claims that the people, especially at the top of the various government departments, do actually believe their own lies. Some of their underlings know the score, but can’t get a word in edgewise. If true, it explains why government policy goes counter to logic and the facts on the ground. It is dangerous in the extreme.

    1. barefoot charley

      I happen to have just read Secrets (which I recommend to all) and saw something different. Yes, all underlings repeated the party line to their superiors, which is a terrible way to inform them, but MacNamara and top generals also knew the war was a pretermined failure. They too happy-talked their superior, the President, who himself knew the truth too, and just wanted to postpone it to the next President, who did the same to the next one. It was turtles all the way up.

  9. Adam

    To me the most horrific part is how many dead and wounded Ukrainians will it take to finally shock the west into stopping this madness. Reading this article it seems so bloodless but it is anything but that. Or, are we now at the point where the western and Ukrainian elite really don’t care if they kill off the country’s entire working adult population? If so, this is a wake-up call for the rest of us 99 percenters in the west, and their likely plans for us. (Likely not war but full on poverty, starvation, and disease)

    1. JW

      They don’t give a damn about us, we are sacrificial ‘human resource units’ to be tolerated whilst useful, discarded when not. Its all happening far faster than I feared. I once thought , in my 71st year, that my wife and I would escape the worst, but now I am not sure. Euthanasia is round the corner. Returning to almost medieval society for much of the west is now almost baked in.
      And the worst is, the psyop is so complete, so built into the fabric of society, most don’t see it coming, and seem to want to embrace it when it pops its head above the parapet.

    2. Paleobotanist

      Good comment. Yes, I agree that us 99% should watch out. There is only a very short step from “Deplorables” to “Disposables”.

      1. Steve H.

        FALSTAFF Tut, tut, good enough to toss; food for powder,
        food for powder. They’ll fill a pit as well as
        better. Tush, man, mortal men, mortal men.

      2. nippersdad

        Wasn’t it Jay Gould who said that he could hire one half of the working class to kill the other half? If that is their thinking then they need to look at the numbers. Even if you used the entire western working class to kill off half of the other side you would still be billions in arrears.

        Their estates might get larger, but who would be there to defend them?

    3. Feral Finster

      Hell, the West doesn’t care about its own citizens except as consumers to buy the tchotchkes and bodies to man the ranks, so why should anyone care about Ukrainians press-ganged into human wave attacks?

    4. redleg

      Better hold that thought, as I’m convinced that the D echo chamber thinks the US can flat-out win a nuclear war mostly intact, and that the R echo chamber cheerleads that idea because a critical mass of them thinks that nuclear war = The Rapture.

      1. bryan

        I don’t think the average person fully appreciates the degree to which Christian evangelicals are flat out crazy. My whole family believes Jesus is returning in their lifetimes and the best way to make that happen sooner than later is a nuclear war.

    5. Kouros

      No amount of Ukrainian dead would shook the West and the USUK from their pursuit of “weakening” Russia. Only Ukrainians can decide to change course, or capitulate. Either case, Ukraine will be treated as a pariah, undemocratic, corrupt, vassal to Russia, and become heavilly sanctioned, maybe like Syria, in order to become Russia’s problem…

      1. agnieszka gill

        Correct. The only feasible future for Ukraine is to defect from the West. Sooner they realize that there will be no reward for their sacrifice the better.

    6. Eshi

      In principle nothing has changed,nothing:
      -The current political elite same as their predecessors are comfortably sleeping in their beds,while
      -Their Slavs-Slavs used to be the number 1 type of slaves-are doing the dirty job.No snow-or desert-niggers,but mud-slavs this time.
      -One cannot blame our poor elite,surrounded&blinded by yes-men,lobbyists,excellent current enumerations as well as even better future sources of income,they are living in a kind of glass-palace.Cognitive dissonance is inevitable.
      For example our friend B.J.even as minister of foreign affairs already a total disaster in my opinion,but nevertheless he made it…The guy has blood on his well-manicured hands,a lot,coz of Istanbul 2022.He does not care,he only cares about his 2 W’s,a title(same or higher as MacMillan)and a prominent place in history-books.

      1. Eshi

        U can withdraw this reaction.Not interested anymore to write something.Just reading other comments

  10. The Rev Kev

    The only way that the west might pull off some sort of win is by freezing this conflict but Washington won’t hear of it. Even if they went for it, Russia would never go for it as it would amount to not only a defeat but would lock in a far more devastating war in a few more years time. And remember that for Russia, this is an existential war against not only the Ukraine but the Collective West. So no, ain’t going to happen.

    Say, do any of you guys remember reading how during the American Civil War after the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg and the fall of Vicksburg, that France and Britain got the Union to stop the war and leave it as a frozen conflict so that the Confederacy could be militarily built up again and strengthen their defenses? No, neither do I as the Union knew that it was either a fight to the end or it would be an existential defeat of the Union and a guaranteed more serious war in a few more years.

    The Russians are playing the long game and have extended out this war to exhaust the Ukraine, cripple the western countries supporting it – or rather, letting those countries cripple themselves – and have somehow leveraged the war itself to help reconfigure world politics and economies. And twenty years from now people like Nuland and Blinken will be writing books from their cozy think tanks about how they were right all along and it was just that the rest of the world that failed them by not supporting the Ukraine enough.

    1. jefemt

      Very tangential: 60 minutes had a feature on the apparently greatest busiest most travelled war/conflict photographer last night- worth a watch:

      In my 3 O’clock in the morning trouble-weave, I was taken back to his photos of Rwanda and Ukraine.

      That a fairly large amount of Americans are enthusiastic about the potential of a civil war is shockingly depressing.
      Looking forward to throwing bullets at the neighbor who coached your kid in sports, or the mom who baked goods to fundraise for the school. Very very neat-o. How do you hang on to your crucifix while taking a steading exhaling breath to draw a bead?
      Under The Banner of Heaven.
      Not to mention al the unfunded re-build of destroyed infrastructure- look at Ukraine….
      You think we are slow to fix bridges and fill potholes presently? Free Willy has left the building with Elvis- there will be no will, capital, or appetite to rebuild, Insurors will disappear like they are from Cali and Florida- acts of God and War are NOT covered. The final nail in the coffin of the American Empire Experiment- no BRIC money was forthcoming…

      We are in a warped alternative universe, thinking and accepting ridiculous thoughts. Truly frightening that the majority of us may have had Covid, and may have consequent diminishing cognitive ability.
      Lets add some guns, ammo, and antipathy.

      What gun would Woke Jesus prefer to take to The Slaughter?

    2. H. Alexander Ivey

       reading how during the American Civil War after the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg and the fall of Vicksburg, that France and Britain got the Union to stop the war and leave it as a frozen conflict so that the Confederacy could be militarily built up again and strengthen their defenses?

      An excellent analogy. It didn’t happened then and it won’t happen now.

  11. Rob Urie

    The inability of Biden / Blinken / Sullivan / Nuland to develop an informed and rational understanding of the Russian military strategy in Ukraine demonstrates why the Russians had little choice but to launch the SMO (Special Military Operation).

    If the Russian goal is to expel NATO from Ukraine, then its current strategy makes sense. If the Russian goal is to go full American and invade Europe, then it has the appearance of failure.

    To differentiate goals, the US could have negotiated an end of the threat of NATO in Ukraine and seen how the Russians responded.

    But the last thing the Americans wanted was a solvable problem.

    Quotes to the effect that Biden wanted to run as a ‘war president’ in 2024 were everywhere until the war started going south for the US.

    With 300,000 – 350,000 Ukrainian conscripts slaughtered to date in yet another US vanity war, the legitimacy of the entire DC political class now hangs in the balance.

    The risk is that the American political leadership would rather end the world than face the consequences of its actions.

    These are frighteningly stupid people making decisions that will have consequences for all of us.

  12. NL

    According to an article in today’s WSJ, which is based on the Russian Central Bank data, Russian oligarchs have moved abroad $1 billion since the revolt in June. The following is machine translation from one very popular pro-Russian source based in Crimea (Col Cassad):

    “question is socialism with the nationalization of key resources the best option for the development of russia?

    A: A mixed system (ala China) is quite an adequate way to transfer the state and society to a mobilized state. Market capitalism is badly designed for this, which we are now seeing in the example of our military-industrial complex, where the state is increasingly and more actively using non-market management methods. But this, of course, is not socialism, but state capitalism. Our ruling elites are not at all ready for socialism, although they are well aware that the experiment of going into Western market neoliberal capitalism has led the country to a dead end, from which we are now actually trying to get out.”

    The weakening ruble will be taken as evidence of the Russian economy finally cracking and will be used as an impetus to continue. While the Russian economy does need reforms, but the current leadership is unwilling to impinge on the interest of the wealthy.

    The same source also talks about the return of censorship in Russia:
    “question Does the arrest of Strelkov mean that he crossed the borders allowed in wartime? How does he justify his position?

    A: The state, with a delay of a year, is following the path of tightening the screws, including in the information space. Arrests and arrests will continue, and their number will increase. The ideological spectrum is not important – whoever the system considers a threat during the NWO period will fly in. Those who have not yet understood this will be explained in the coming months with specific examples. Landings or temporary arrests will set an example for the rest…”

    So, we have state capitalism + censorship… does not sound good for Russia. Something like that is happening in the West as well.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Um, you don’t seem to understand the significance of your factoid.

      $1 billion is couch lint in a roughly $2 trillion economy on a GDP basis. It is even more trivial when you measure Russia’s economy on a PPP basis, which is $5.3 trillion.

      In fact, the $1 billion figure actually shows Russian oligarchs are staying put ex perhaps some covert luxury buys abroad. Forbes says a 100 meter superyacht costs $275 million, for instance. A mere megayacht is more on the order of $75 million to $135 million.

    2. Maxwell Johnston

      “The weakening ruble will be taken as evidence of the Russian economy finally cracking…”

      A bit of perspective is called for here.

      If you take a step back and look at a 5-year chart of the ruble/USD x-rate, you see a steady depreciation from the mid-60s to the low 80s (just before 24.2.22), then a spike up to almost 120 (post-invasion panic), then a spike way down to the 50s (capital controls), and then a resumed steady depreciation passing through the 100 barrier today. Dismiss the two spikes as outliers and the ruble’s present value of about 100 to the USD looks like a reasonable continuation of its trajectory prior to 24.2.22.

      We shall see what happens next, but so far a depreciation from 80 to 100 over the course of 18 months (especially given the off-the-charts sanctions thrown against the Russian economy) is really no big deal. I recall vividly the events of August 1998, when the ruble went from 7 to 28 in a few weeks. That was painful.

      1. NL

        If this is why they did it, it will be at the cost of inflation, which will exacerbate the inflation from the huge spending on the contract military and war production. The WSJ article notes: “The government again turned to money printing during World War I, leading to a sharp drop in the value of the ruble and fueling anger in the population that led up to the Bolshevik Revolution.”

        1. Polar Socialist

          I don’t think it was on purpose. Naibullina announced an extra meeting on key rate for Tuesday, and the ruble rallied 4% almost immediately, recovering to what it was on Friday.

        2. Maxwell Johnston

          I’m not so sure. Russia is less import-dependent than the OECD average (roughly 20 % vs 26 % OECD average, though of course this doesn’t deal with PPP adjustments, and dropped to 15.6% post 24.2.22, USA is 14.6% by comparison):

          Ruble x-rate vs Chinese yuan and Indian rupee has held pretty steady. It’s fun to focus on the ruble x-rate vs USD/EUR (and it’s natural for me to do when I visit Moscow, when I’m shopping I automatically calculate what everything costs into USD/EUR), but I’m not sure how important it is anymore since Russia is drastically cutting its imports from the collective west.

          On my trips to Moscow, I haven’t noticed that the local inflation is worse than what I see in Tuscany.

          Ben Aris is a shrewd long-term observer of the Russian economy, and I respect his opinions though I don’t always agree with him.

          The Russian economy of 2023 is not at all like the Russian economy of 1914, just as the USA economy of those dates has also changed a wee tad, so I don’t think the WSJ’s historical reference has any relevance to today’s situation.

        3. Polar Socialist

          I’ve read rather convincing arguments that the inflation at the time was due to serious issues with distribution. Everything with wheels on it, including trains, was commandeered to support the field army.

          Russia was still producing everything the population needed, but it could not be delivered fast enough to consumers because lack of available transportation. Of course, there never is only one factor explaining everything – but this is more likely to explain the inflation and dissatisfied population than printing money.

          After all, the Granf Duchy of Finland had it’s own money and central bank (and very, very austere bankers), yet it also had shortages of everything and had it’s share of riots and revolutionaries.

          1. NL

            Germany has no sovereignty. If inflation in Germany needs to high to crack Russia, then it will be high.

  13. HH

    A curious byproduct of this terrible war is the emerging picture developing of the lines of influence between the U.S. government and the mainstream media. The elites who occupy the editorial positions that control what is reported as “news,” are not stupid. For them to steadily ignore disastrous facts means that there is a powerful force of gang loyalty at work causing them to relentlessly support the war machine. It appears that U.S. society, despite it’s notional claims to market efficiency and meritocracy, is actually run by a network of oligarchs and political gangsters who trade favors and share secrets like mafia crime families. Nothing else explains the rampant irrationality on display.

    1. Kouros

      This has been properly described by Zephyr Teachout in her book “Corruption in America From Benjamin Franklins Snuff Box to Citizens United”. Networks over networks of interests.

  14. Carolinian

    Russia can’t trust any NATO/Ukraine pledge

    Not to get all moralistic but doesn’t this illustrate the practical basis for honesty? Back in a previous century shakers and movers took their own reputation for honesty so seriously they would fight duels about it–sometimes to the death. Now the attitude is that everyone is lying and better get it in writing and let the lawyers sort it out if there’s a problem. This is good for the lawyer business but not for any other business as Yves has talked about in the past.

    So perhaps it’s not too much to say that thousands are dying in Ukraine because Biden and NATO are not to be trusted. In a logical world it wouldn’t be that hard to see where the problem lies. Our media and politicians, unfortunately, live in a storytelling world where the main thing is to get the marks to buy the pitch. We are the marks.

    Maybe the duelists had it right: Biden and Putin at fifty paces. Here’s betting Biden won’t show.

  15. Irrational

    With reference to Yves’ footnote 6 above, it looks like Mr. Bolton has written a piece in the WSJ (pay-walled, but quoted in TASS) that the Biden policy will only delay Ukraine’s defeat. Of course, his conclusion is more weapons now.

  16. TimH

    I am confused by the picture. How does the riflescope work with the front lens covered in camo cloth?

    1. DJG, Reality Czar

      TimH: Wow. You are correct. So what does the image mean? Anything? Considering that this has been a war fought by endless memes from Ukraine’s ministries of propaganda…

    2. Bart Hansen

      Since the trooper is hardly firing constantly, the scope gets covered to avoid causing a flash of reflected sunlight to the distant enemy.

    3. The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit

      Posed picture?

      Though it could be a light enough cloth to still get a view, without that pesky tell-tale reflection. Grab a cotton shirt and pull it tight across your eyes – you can still see through it.

      Been there, done that. ;)

  17. Aurelien

    This crisis is entering a particularly dangerous phase, because on the one hand the situation on the ground is approaching the endgame, but on the other NATO and Russia have completely different understandings about what the inevitable defeat of Ukraine would actually mean. The West risks a kind of collective nervous breakdown which could result in people in western capitals doing some very stupid things.

    Consider: western leaders do not think they misled the Russians about Minsk. Western governments said at the time, repeatedly, that they considered that the Russians were the aggressors in 2014, and that Moscow was behind the separatist movements in the East, as a first step in breaking up Ukraine and absorbing it, and perhaps other parts of the former Soviet Union, into Russia. The Minsk agreement, remember, was just about ceasefire and withdrawal of forces. France and Germany were not parties, and neither side made any commitments about the future. It’s possible that there were informal exchanges with the Russia, but we’ll probably never know. So western leaders genuinely believed that by negotiating Minsk, they had temporarily saved Ukraine from some very bad fate, maybe even invasion and occupation. What Merkel and Hollande said, and have repeated since, is that the next step was to build up Ukraine’s defences to stop Russia from threatening Ukraine again. Whether or not you think that was a realistic appreciation of the situation doesn’t matter in the end, because it’s what the West thought at the time and has thought since. Thus, western governments greeted the invasion as proof that they had been right to distrust the Russians and arm the Ukrainians. Needless to say, the Russians don’t accept this at all, and no doubt feel that the spirit, if not the letter, of Minsk has been violated. There is no point of contact between the two interpretations.

    That’s why the situation is so dangerous, because the two sides are talking past each other, in a way that has not been seen since the worst moments of the Cold War. If western policy were just made by nutcases who want to invade Russia, that would be less of a problem, because such people could, in the end, be wrestled to the ground. But it’s worse than that, because entire political classes in the West are convinced that Ukraine is the last barrier between Russia and domination of Western Europe, and so the line must be held at all costs. In this way of thinking, defeat of Ukraine would have apocalyptic consequences for the West, and, by emptying their own armouries to arm Ukraine, the West has, by its own foolishness, contrived to make Russia stronger and the West weaker than was the case in 2014. I actually believe that this way of thinking has now entered so deeply into the western political psyche – the ghost of Munich walks yet again – that its leaders are incapable of thinking any other way. Seen from major western capitals, the defeat of Ukraine is the first step towards Russian domination of Europe – a contingency that the West’s own actions have actually made more likely.

    So we are now in the kind of poisonous situation we faced at times in the Cold War, where the other side is simply and automatically assumed to be acting in bad faith. But at least in the Cold War we had reasonably competent leaders. There’s no knowing what this shower will do.

    1. nippersdad

      “France and Germany were not parties, and neither side made any commitments about the future.”

      This is not the case. France and Germany were guarantors of the Minsk Accords, and failed in their duties to make Ukraine abide by the agreement they had signed.

      “The Minsk agreement, remember, was just about ceasefire and withdrawal of forces.”

      How does this square with Merkel and Hollande saying that they were using the space provided by their not abiding by the Minsk Accords to build up Ukraine forces when they were supposed to be ensuring that both sides backed down? Russia did not pull out because there was no effort on the part of the guarantors to do so themselves. That is just a circular argument.

      1. Aurelien

        Oh indeed, and it’s legitimate to criticise the West for not putting pressure on the Ukrainians and the Ukrainians themselves for not adhering to the agreement. In an ideal world that would be the end of the argument. The point I am making is that we have gone past that stage. The western political elite is absolutely convinced that it was the Russians who were not serious about Minsk and nothing is going to convince them now. This is what I mean about talking past each other.

        1. nippersdad

          “The western political elite is absolutely convinced that it was the Russians who were not serious about Minsk and nothing is going to convince them now. This is what I mean about talking past each other.”

          I’m pretty sure we were at that point during the battle of Debaltsevo, when Merkel called up Putin and asked for the Minsk II process in order to save all of the Ukrainian forces that had been bottled up in a cauldron and were about to be decimated, but it certainly cannot be argued that they believe this now. That may be the argument for public consumption, but back then we were just talking about Wagner forces. Now we have a mobilized Russian force on the ground as a direct result of Germany and France refusing to uphold their self imposed responsibilities under Minsk II.

          Merkel had to beg for that ceasefire, and no one believes that it was the Russians who refused to provide it. Putin had to twist the arms of the Donetsk Republic forces to get it, understandably so, and that caused a lot of controversy and distrust between Russia and the breakaway provinces at the time. Just prior the SMO even the OSCE was admitting that it was the Ukrainians who were routinely violating the terms of the agreement, and it was one of the principal points made by Putin in his speech just after his recognition of Lugansk and Donetsk sovereignty and his offering to go in under Russia’s UN responsibility to protect (R2P) them.

          These western leaders don’t have a leg to stand on. Putin has the receipts.

          1. Aurelien

            What I am setting out is how the West understands the situation. Simply saying they are wrong is not going to convince them. The West will point to the fact that the two Annexes in the letter to the Security Council of 24 Feb 2015 contain only measures agreed by the Trilateral Contact Group (the belligerents plus the OSCE.) The original 2014 Protocol, signed by the same parties, was more extensive (it contained twelve points). The actual details, in this case, are not important, because the point I was making is that western leaders do not accept that they misled the Russians, they claim it was the Russians/separatists who violated the agreement, and they believe themselves to have been acting in a defensive mode. They are acting now in accordance with these beliefs. It doesn’t matter who’s “right” in some absolute sense, what matters is that the two sides have completely incompatible impressions of the situation, and that’s why it is dangerous.

    2. Polar Socialist

      Both Minsk agreements did include decentralization of power in Ukraine (a.k.a. federalization, which was supported most Ukrainians in 1991), constitutional changes, local elections in Donetsk and Luhansk and also implementing restructuring of Donetsk and Luhansk areas.

      Cease fire was merely a pretext for all that.

    3. Janie

      Robert Scheer, long-time Los Angeles Times foreign correspondent, interviewed Ray McGovern a few days ago. McGovern said he had never been more afraid if a nuclear war being initiated. For an 84 year old who gave morning briefings to three presidents, that is saying a lot.

    4. TimmyB

      You are incredibly wrong about the substance of the Minsk Accords. France and Germany were signatories. There were many commitments made about the future, including the withdrawal of heavy weapons and elections.

    5. Kouros

      Minsk agreement was more than a ceasfire and withdrawal of forces. Only 3 of the 13 points of Minsk 2 refer to ceasfire and withdrawal of military equipment.

    6. hk

      I think you are right about the way you characterize Western leaders’ thinking: a lot of people that I talked to who are aware of the events between 2014 and 2022 insist that Russia “invaded” in 2014 and had deployed 10s of thousands of troops clandestinely and can’t be persuaded out of it, unless Russia pulls its (nonexistent) troops out of Ukraine. I actually don’t doubt some people in highest echelons of power in the West could believe this (and maybe that included Merkel and Hollande, too). The most dangerous people are those who think they are good and just (nevermind if they actually are, or, indeed, even if they are in fact not) and their adversaries are evil. I know of one example that I can think of off the top of my head: Japan in 1930s. Hideki Tojo would fit right in at the head of NATO today (or maybe not–he was one of saner Japanese leaders back then–the stalwart of the more sober “control” faction, not the fanatical “imperial way” faction and all that.).

  18. Nikkikat

    I had to laugh yesterday when Zelensky said that the massive floods in Slovenia were so terrible and he pledged to help them with humanitarian aid. What !? While begging for the US to send him billions and he is going to give aid to Slovenia? Did no one tell this moron that he doesn’t actually have any money, except the millions in his own account?
    What a joke.

  19. EssC etera

    The reason for the media blitz is obvious to me.

    So there was an already simmering vein of Russophobia which this has tapped. And the US is nurturing that petri dish, the pre-existing burning hatred of Russia and Russians, and with the help of the media is attempting to multiply and spread it. We know this hate will be intergenerational. Regardless of any peace, now we’re left with large numbers who will hate for reasons they don’t even understand or know and they’ll likely pass the bias to their children and grandchildren. The original reasons long forgotten.

    Conditioning is the whole point.

  20. Lex

    On Gerans, I think we should assume that the earliest examples were Iranian kits (so as to straight face say that Iran was not supplying weapons). But there was a publication related to British intelligence that recently dissected a downed Geran and it is not the Iranian version in much but shape and basic design. Apparently the whole structure of construction is different, the guidance system has been upgraded and antennae internalized. There’s anecdotal evidence that the current Geran is much more capable in that it changes course partway through flight and even circles targets for relatively long periods of time before the final attack. The latter appears to be a method of forcing air defenses to open up. [apologies for no link to the British report]

    I get the concept of rearm Ukraine during a ceasefire but the practicality of that leaves a lot to be desired. Nobody knows what US artillery ammunition stocks were before the conflict, but we do know that the US has sent at least 2.5M shells (I suspect the number is >3M because the recent quotes only talk about the 500k from S. Korea and there was an announced 500k from Israel). Current production is at 24k/month and the goal of 84k/month has a target of 2028. So we’re talking 2-3 years of maximum production to just replace spent US stocks, when the US meets that 84k/month goal.

    The fundamental problem is that the US needs large, reserve stocks because it plans to fight Russia, Iran, N. Korea, China and a handful of smaller conflicts at any time. So the suggestion that it can indefinitely supply Ukraine at levels far exceeding its own production capability is either wishful thinking or strategic negligence. Maybe both, considering the quality of US leadership.

  21. JoeC100

    Again for context:

    US WW 2 KIA – 407,300 (~300,000 Ukraine KIA ear to date estimate)

    US Vietnam KIA – 57,000 (~40,000 Ukraine KIA offensive estimate)

    How many Americans have “a clue” about these comparisons to Ukraine KIAs

    Total (from above)

      1. hk

        Even more context. The Confederacy had about 9 million people in 1861, more or less, of whom it was at war with about 1/3 (like the Ukrainians, in fact). It suffered about a quarter of million dead over 4 years of Civil War, so let’s figure about 90-100,000 over the first year and a half. Out of the “loyal population,” about 1.5%. That’s probably about the same rate for Ukraine, I think.

          1. hk

            Maybe, in terms of just military deaths. But there’s more. Soviet Union (and the Confederacy) were young countries in terms of population. Ukraine is not–in fact, it had a very bad demographic profile, with too few young people on whom a disproportionate share of the dead and maimed would have fallen. On top of that, it lost as many as 10-15 million (again, disproportionately young and skilled people) leaving for the West or Russia, depending on their allegiance. I don’t think there has been a demographic catastrophe like this on a large scale since the days of Genghis Khan (maybe Paraguay after the War of Triple Alliance or the Czechs after the Battle of the White Mountain–but both were far smaller countries than Ukraine).

  22. Feral Finster

    Anyway, The New Hotness is that we have to give Ukraine more weapons for the big Spring Counteroffensive.

    Ukraine can never fail! Ukraine can only be failed!

    1. Benny Profane

      What’s pretty remarkable is the first mention in the above articles of NEXT year’s Spring “counteroffensive”. (Counter to what?)
      Ukraine and most of Europe lucked out last year with a fairly mild winter. Lord help them if it’s the opposite come December.

    2. hk

      Who’s going to man these weapons? If we are talking Korea style stalemate, we shouldn’t forget that, when North Korea ran out of manpower and weapons in late 1950, it took a million man Chinese “volunteer” army and a fairly large Soviet air force in paper thin disguise to arrive at a stalemate. I think the minimum requirement to force a stalemate is the intervention by entire German, French, and Polish armies and the whole USAF in Europe in paper thin disguise next year, and that may not be enough, as the Ukraine is far more important to Russia than Korea was to United States.

  23. Benny Profane

    How many military age men are left to conscript? And now that this so called anti corruption/ full mobilization statement has been made, are there tens of thousands of men, and many women, trying to escape to anywhere else but Ukraine? I’ll bet there’s still a price for that, just a lot higher. Now that millions have put down roots elsewhere, albeit shallow, it may be easier to hook up with relatives and friends if the hard part is achieved, crossing the border.
    And, if Poland sends in troops, will they and other eastern Euro countries allow Ukranian men to use their countries as safe havens, or force them home to their deaths, maybe by conscripting them into their armies.
    Putin was right. Let Poland take historical land. There will be nothing left of Ukraine but impoverished Kiev.

  24. ChrisPacific

    I think even the people who swallow the Western line on Ukraine are starting to notice the contradictions piling up to the point where they can’t be ignored. I mentioned to one of them that barely a month ago, it was being taken as given that the Ukraine counteroffensive would liberate all of the captured territory, and the only outstanding question was whether they’d be able to recapture Crimea as well. I got no reply except a frown. They remember those articles perfectly well.

  25. Confused once again

    As a card holder of the prolo crowd, I depend on the sagacity of others to make sense of the world. By and large, I agree 99% of the time with this blog. But, I’m at a loss on the Ukrainian debacle. It’s clear, even to prolo children, that Ukraine will not win the war. But, it’s also not been a walk in the park that Putin seemingly anticipated through the use of the Wagner Group’s malcreants. The article underscores the deep bench of Putin acolytes as proof that he’s clever beyond the West’s understanding. Of course, he still has Patriarch Kirrill, the 16th patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church in his pocket. Putin’s doubles and food tasters mean nothing. Perhaps. Though, as with the US and EU press, some conclusions appear based on fantasy or hope for market manipulation.

    Ukraine’s Zelensky and his oligarchs in waiting, can’t be allowed to enrich themselves. As with Afghanistan, financial accountability seems a casualty of the war, an apparent reason for prolonging the conflict

    Having just finished reading Catherine Bolton’s book, “Putin’s People” and having read a couple of biographies on Putin, it’s difficult to fully understand why we want Putin to win? Concurrently, with so many Blinkens and Neulands in the Biden Administration, we don’t want them to get away with hanging on tax payers neck another unaffordable and unwinnable conflict that only benefits them financially either, hence my confusion. Appropriating other people’s land is not an option.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      We have never said Putin thought this would be a “walk in the park”. In fact, if you watch his speech announcing the start of the SMO, he is clearly anxious and unhappy that he feels he has no better option.

      Many military commentators (including some US officials), and initially your humble blogger followed their reading, was that Russia would wrap up the war quickly. And that was Putin’s plan, but not in the way they understood it. He sent in way way way too small a force to win a war (although this was big enough to break the Donbass offensive Ukraine was planning for March). This was a threat display + a pinning operation to tie down Ukraine forces near Kiev and keep them from sending reinforcements to the east.

      Putin wanted negotiations (Russia had been trying to negotiate with West through December 2021 and as Ray McGovern reports based on careful reading of relevant reports, said Biden offered a critically important concession to Russia in a phone call with Putin at year end….which he reneged on in the new year) and he got them quickly, in Istanbul at the end of March. Russia and Ukraine had agreed on the outlines of a deal. But then Boris Johnoon went to Kiev and told Zelensky to drop the deal (this was the rumor around then, confirmed by Fiona Hill).

      Putin also at the time did not want to kill Ukrainians (and Russia has done, for this intensity of combat, a very good job of minimizing casualties). Many Russians have Ukrainian relatives so there was also not full domestic support for a more intense war. Plus the government was also a bit distracted by dealing with the Western sanctions.

      But videos of Ukraine soldiers brutally torturing Russian soldiers (BTW the evidence is the government tried to suppress them, they did not want to inflame Russian opinion, but Russian Telegram is hard to control) and other events (later the assassination of Darya Dugina) hardened Russian opinion v. Ukraine. Putin still held off from intensifying the war until the army retreated from Kherson City and Kharkiv. That was not just a bad look in Russia but also made Ukrainians of Russian descent in Ukraine who had helped Russia when it took these areas worry they would be exposed to reprisals (Russia did evacuate anyone who wanted to leave from Kherson City, but Kharkiv was too big for that to happen on the needed scale fast enough). So Putin authorized the partial mobilization.

      The West greatly misrepresents Putin. He has consistently been the least belligerent senior official in Russia.

    2. JohnA

      Apropos Catherine Bolton’s book on Putin, I suggest you read John Helmer’s damning reviews and comments on her lack of objectivity or intelligence. Bolton also lost a libel case brought by Roman Abramovich concerning her writing about him.

      She is far from a reliable source.

  26. James T.

    Great post and an excellent discussion as always. In the end, there is no consideration for the final results but only being able to control the narrative. I do not think the vast majority of Americans or for that matter citizens of any country really care much anymore about the truth. My faith in the belief that everyone would wake up and demand changes has completely vanished. I only hope that these buffoons don´t get us all killed in the process of trying to control the narrative without considering the real consequences of their actions.

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