Ukraine Flails as Proxy/Coalition War Scheme Comes Apart

Yours truly plans to write a broader post about the increasingly sorry state of the Ukraine conflict, at least from the Western perspective. Within a very short period of time, the messaging has changed from exhortations about the inevitability of Ukraine success to tight media focuses on itty bitty parts of the conflict to depict Ukraine as gaining ground, to now admissions not only that the great Ukraine counteroffensive failed, but that Ukraine itself will have to go on the defensive.

We’ll give a very short recap of the state of events, and then turn to a question that, as far as I can tell, has gotten just about no attention.

I am no military expert, but from what I can tell, the proxy war + coalition backers approach to the Ukraine conflict seems unique, certainly in large-ish wars between major powers. And it has worked to Ukraine’s disadvantage and is almost certainly continuing to make its bad situation worse.

As various stories in today’s Links described (Simplicius the Thinker provided good one-stop shopping), Zelensky’s last-ditch effort to win a $60 billion Ukraine funding package this year is coming a cropper. Even diehard hawk Lindsay Graham has finally found a war he does not like much. The Republicans are refusing to retreat from demand for border control funding, more accountability for Ukraine spending, and a plausible Ukraine plan for how it was going to prevail. It seems vanishingly unlikely that the Ukraine monies will be approved before Congress goes into recess, which means the question won’t be taken up again until a bit into the New Year. And having said “no” twice, why should Ukraine expect a “yes”, or more than a much smaller allocation?

The EU is also rushing to get a Ukraine funding package approved, in this case 50 billion euros. Hungary’s president Viktor Orban has been the big holdout. Politico claimed Orban would be willing to trade his approval for the EU releasing all of Hungary’s funds it has withheld. But as of this morning Europe time, Orban is still acting as if he is playing hard to get.

And even if the EU succeeds in goading Orban into line, various EU officials have said the Europe can’t’ fund Ukraine alone. So how will voters react to see the EU keeping the money spigot open wide while the US (who was the lead actor in Project Ukraine) looks to have turned the tap all the way off?

As the New York Times reports (Simplicius again has a good recap), the US can’t even come up with new wishful thinking.

It seems to believe that if Ukraine can last long enough, Russia will ease up or be depleted and Ukraine can then somehow score gains so it can come to the negotiating table in a better position in late 2024/2025. This is a bad rerun of the Mark Milley proposal as of November 2022, then roundly shouted down, that Ukraine should try one more offensive (what was supposed to be a spring counteroffensive) and then negotiate from a supposed position of strength. Remember how that turned out:

The updated version is “hold and build.” From the Times:

Some in the U.S. military want Ukraine to pursue a “hold and build” strategy — to focus on holding the territory it has and building its ability to produce weapons over 2024. The United States believes the strategy will improve Ukraine’s self-sufficiency and ensure Kyiv is in a position to repel any new Russian drive.

The goal would be to create enough of a credible threat that Russia might consider engaging in meaningful negotiations at the end of next year or in 2025.

In most wars, the limiting factor is military capability. The military is defeated, or its leaders surrender, or the two sides decide the costs have become too high (or one side has achieved enough success) so that they negotiate a peace, or dial back hostilities to the skirmish level.

Here, more like a dying patient, Ukraine is having multiple systems break down, and armed capability may not turn out to be the one that drives the timetable. Mark Sleboda has pointed out that if Ukraine goes on the defensive, it could hold out for a very long time without horrific resource expenditure. Douglas Macgregor, who has regularly taken to depicting Ukraine as having lost the war, is almost always quick to add that World War II was over as of the Battle of Kursk, but it took another two years to vanquish the German army.

Sleboda has also pointed out that political upheaval in Ukraine could accelerate the end, particularly since he depicted the Ukraine forces as still fighting very hard, meaning they still hold out hope of some sort of success. Sleboda thinks a leadership breakdown or regime change could greatly weaken Ukraine morale and its already-flagging recruitment.

Other systems breaking down are government funding and the domestic economy. The loss of foreign welfare will turn Ukraine’s budget hole into a yawning chasm. The IMF is (amusingly or pathetically) urging Ukraine to raise taxes. It is more likely to curtail spending as best it can and deficit spend. Ukraine is already suffering 30% inflation. That will rise much further and the currency will fall, increasing the cost and difficulty of buying imports.

The economy was similarly in immediate and long-term dire shape. Many companies have been hollowed out by conscription. Many fields are similarly reportedly grown over. Citizens have fled to Europe and are not coming back. Money to repair Russia’s damage to the electrical grid last winter was largely looted.

Ukraine’s status as a proxy pf big rich countries meant by some measures it was bulked up to unsustainable levels, much like a steroid dependent bodybuilder or a science fiction figure kitted out in an exoskeleton. Remember that depending on how you count it, the US and NATO constituted three or even four Ukraine armies. So it is not hard to think that the military hypertrophy did even more societal damage than you’d normally see in a war (save the Carthage/Gaza salt-the-earth type), as illustrated by the intensification of Ukraine’s demographic disaster. So a sudden reduction of support from this super-high level is likely to produce cliff effects, including unexpected ones.

Yes, there are many cases of states forming coalitions to defeat a foe. European countries and Russia v. Napoleon. The Allies v. Axis in World War II. But these were cases of armed forces formed and funded by states sent, with their own commanders, to join the conflict, hopefully with a sensible plan and allocation of responsibilities among the major forces.1

The US and NATO set up the largest country in Europe, Ukraine (ex Russia itself), to act as a proxy in fighting Russia. Because the West assumed Russia to be weak and incompetent, it further believed that Russia could be cowed or further depleted so that Putin would be turfed out and replaced with a more compliant leader.

Again, as far as I can tell, Washington and friends did not seriously entertain the idea of hot war in Ukraine at a much bigger scale than the Donbass militia bulked up with some Russian forces and more materiel (which Russia was believed to be supplying2). An indicator is the size of the Ukraine forces massing in Donbass in February 2022, widely believed to be readying a big campaign to finally subdue the pesky rebels If my memory is accurate, the troop level was expected to be the order of 100,000 to 150,000. Recall Russia has assembled troops near the border, as it had in March-April 2021. In 2022, the US thought it was serious and a prelude to an invasion, while Ukraine regarded it as an 2021 as threat display. Ukraine also had reserves, so say it could have beefed up the manning level probably by another 50% without much difficulty. They may also have believed in the superiority of their weaponry and training.

Nevertheless, if you go by the conventional rule of thumb, that the attacker should have 3x as many forces as the defender, Ukraine’s numbers suggested it expected Donbass defenders to be at most 100,000. So it also looks like a baseline assumption of the US/NATO/Ukraine forces was (at least in terms of manpower) that Russia would not meaningfully send troops to augment the militia men. Or put it another way, Russia was not willing to enter into direct confrontation and would be limited practically and appearance-wise as to how much stealthy backing they could provide.

The short version is the US and NATO got much more than they bargained for. And because this was a war where they weren’t risking their own men or territory, they could walk away when things got to be untenable.

But how does the coalition part play into this conflict in a bad way?

Consider some examples: Alex Vershinin of RUSI pointed out in passing that the Ukraine conflict being a coalition war meant Ukraine (and the US) had to keep the coalition on board. That resulted in even more distortedly upbeat accounts of how things were going than seems normal in war, not just to the great unwashed public, but also to coalition officials and leaders who normally ought to know better. I am reminded of a scene in the Daniel Ellsberg book Secrets, where Ellsberg has a shor meeting with Bob McNamara, I believe on a helicopter. Ellsberg basically tells him things are going to crap. McNamara says that’s what he expected, then gets out of the chopper and immediately gives an upbeat speech.

As bad as that sounds, that is more functional fabrication, officials knowing the score but covering it up for political reasons, rather than decision makers operating off wildly false information. At least in the former they have some dim appreciation of the risks they are running.

The US knew Ukraine had a massive PR operation and was also fabulously corrupt. Well into the war the US and NATO took all of its information from Ukraine without question, even though we had the capability to sanity check at least a fair bit and ask questions. But everyone seemed high on the idea that plucky Ukraine would trounce the evil Putin, and the behaviors around them became habitual.

Another is the way coalition plans were telegraphed in public. The Ukraine side make clear what it intended to achieve with its Great Counteroffensive. It even presented its strategy, that it intended to puncture Russian defense lines in the south, which would so terrorize Russian forces that they would drop their weapons and run away. Remember this?

This line of thinking ws so comical the Russians may have assumed it was a big disinformation campaign (hence the construction of the massive defense lines, as in they were not about to be lulled into slacking off) but the shambolic Ukraine performance during the offensive strongly suggests the too-public presentation was more or less right.

Similarly, the big arguments among coalition members about how would send which weapons and how many again gave Russia a lot more easy intel about US/NATO plans and materiel than it ought to have had.

Now in world of ISR, perhaps I am over-estimating the importance of information visibility. But Russia has been and continues to be pretty tight lipped as a matter of military discipline, as was regularly criticized within Russia for the cost of being bad at, or at best, indifferent to, PR. But it is hard to see how all of the squabbling about how the war was to be conducted and equipped didn’t help Russia, at least at the margin. And now that Project Ukraine is going pear-shaped, again the very public nature of the disputes gives Russia a good deal of insight into the widening fault lines.

1 Aside from issues like prima-donna general squabbles (at least in World War II there was a Supreme Command, and so someone set to arbitrate), there were cases of casual decisions about which national force did what causing serious problems. Big Serge described how who landed where at Normandy was an afterthought, with the result that the heavily mechanized US forces wound up facing French hedgerows, where they were boxed in, while the British forces wound up in much more open terrain where the American vehicles would have been enormously effective.

2 At least in 2014 and 2015, the level of Russian support for the militias appears to have been exaggerated by the Western press. UN small weapons inspector Jacques Baud was tasked to find Russian small arms in Ukraine in 2014 and came up empty. There was a lot of Soviet gear in Donbass…but at the start of the war, many Ukraine regular forces refused to shoot on countrymen and abandoned their posts and gear, and on top of that, the militias also captured equipment in battle. So how much Soviet gear actually came from Russia is hard to determine.

Many Ukrainians of Russian extraction no doubt have relative in Russia. I have thought the Russian armed forces could easily have allowed services members to go to Ukraine on a voluntary basis for periods of time. There were also likely many little green men giving advice to the militias. But Putin repeatedly rejected requests from militia leaders to have their republics join Russia; Minsk was to be the way to end the persecution without getting into a row about territory.

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  1. John

    Did the US/NATO plan on the back of an envelope during an afternoon of drinking beer at the pool hall? One more time I recall the immortal words of Bugs Bunny, “What a maroon.”

    1. Robert Hahl

      If the boss won’t take no for an answer, the job becomes simply to pretend that what e wants to do can be done, in time and within budget. If the enemy is apt to run away, any battle plan will seem strong enough, and any fool can run it.

      This is a perfect example of our management-by-consultant approach egich you can see everywhere.

      1. Glen

        I actually sorta wished John could be right, but we all know that the MIC probably spent millions, maybe much more to develop the US/NATO plans, and if we include the standing funding for the DoD and black budget, it’s not unfair to say billions have been spent in intelligence, planning, and reporting.

        And what you describe, cannot take no for an answer, is exactly what we see in all the reporting on the decisions that lead to this mess. I have run into this exact dynamic in play where I work. If you dare to try to present information which does not support the predefined solution, you are quite literally kicked out of the meeting, and are labeled “not a team player”, and kicked off the team. Now, you have to understand, this is NOT about dissenting opinions, it’s about facts they did not want to hear.I did not run into this when I was actually in the USN, but that was forty years ago.

        But what I think is even worse than how our elites have misjudged the situation in Ukraine, how Russia would and could respond, is how completely, wildly out of touch our elites are with the situation and capabilities in their own country. (The one example that comes to mind is going to the grocery store, spending way, way more for a bag of groceries, and then wondering just how out of touch you have to be to call that “Bidenomics” and think people are going to vote for you.) They have spent multiple decades de-industrializing, wrecking education, undermining public health, fighting endless stupid wars. They do not even understand what they have done to their own country. And there is no recognition that it would require a serious, focused effort over at least a decade to repair our own country. The CHIPS Act is not such an effort, it is a bail out of the exact same companies and leaders that created this mess.

  2. The Rev Kev

    For the EU, they may be wise holding onto that $50 billion and using it to pay for a border fence ringing off the Ukraine. Why you ask? Because when the Ukraine finally collapses, you are going to see a massive wave of refugees fleeing to what they consider the good life in the EU. They may be met with border guards and razor wire instead. Apparently the whole of the EU is heading into a long recession and having to support a new wave of a coupla million Ukrainian refugees will not be welcome – nor tolerated. Even before the Ukraine collapses that country will seek to send everyone to the front lines – aged men, teenagers with acne, girls, older women and in fact anyone they can find. If it gets bad enough, they might actually have to start rounding up all the men in Kiev as that is one region that they have not really tapped. They have tried to keep Kiev looking like a normal city and a city without men would look a bit on the nose. But that’s OK because Zelensky and his wife already have British passports so am pretty sure that they will quickly have American ones as well. Hey, maybe when he moves into his Florida mansion he can run for the head of the local County.

    1. Alan Roxdale

      Kiev as that is one region that they have not really tapped.

      Is there any evidence for this? How could Ukraine afford such a luxury?

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        There is strong evidence that Ukraine conscripted very heavily from ethnic Russian and ethnic Hungarian areas. Orban even complained about it. There are also reports on Twitter that conscription was heavier in the countryside. I can’t recall which of the Duran duo said it, but in the last week (and recall both read Russian), but one said they thought a reason Zelensky would not announce a general conscription was that Kiev had been largely exempt, and part of the reason had been and it would be even more acute now, would be a big local uprising that could be used to support a coup.

    2. Feral Finster

      I believe that Zelenskii is already threatening Congress with a wave of millions of refugees if he doesn’t get his money real soon.

      1. hk

        Which would serve to reinforce the Republicans’ argument, I would think. It’s not like the 400 billion or 4 trillion or whatever would prevent the refugee flow.

        1. Feral Finster

          Those who want to give more money will claim that the next aid package will prevent the refugee flow.

          Those who don’t want to will argue that no amount is sufficient.

          The facts on the ground are irrelevant, except as they provide material for spin.

  3. ilsm

    Maidan coup, no matter who ran it, instigated a civil war in rump Ukraine (it never existed before Lenin).

    One side was going to ethnic cleanse Russia and the influence of the Moscow Orthodox church.

    The other would resist. That faction was mainly in the east and connected south up to Crimea. Russia has always had Crimea, see Tennyson on the Light Brigade!

    Project of New American Century or whatever began mixing kool-aid!

    Did they really believe what they believed after Russia pulled Syria out of that neocon fire?

    Russia rightly sees neocon Maidan project as Hitler arming up Rhineland, and Putin is no Deladier!

    Then there is the surprise about western wunderwaffen not being so wunder.

    And that logistics and shell manufacture mater!

    I sold all my US war bonds it may be time to short Locjkheed!

    1. Val

      The wunderwaffen not being so wunder’d,

      Sends cokehead abroad seeking more funder’d,

      The overclass obscure who now as then blunder’d.

      The tedious schemes of Polish Levantine dunderds.

  4. MicaT

    Follow the money. I watched on Daniel Davis’s deep dive about the end of the Afghanistan government. The reason it failed in 6 days was when Biden committed to leaving all of the money stopped getting to the police and military on the ground. The usual upper level graft, they took it all. After months of not getting paid they all quit. I had never heard that and it makes so much sense.
    I think Ukraine will be the same. All the Money will not be getting to the people at the bottom and they will go home quit. More military parts will be stolen and sold further making the lack of hardware worse.

    As to Biden. Who knows what he believes vs what he knows. But given his state of mind I think he would have made more gaffes if it was all a front. I tend to think he really believes what he’s saying. Same about Israel and his business dealings with hunter. It’s so normal how they do business that to him it’s not illegal.

    1. The Rev Kev

      Remember when the President of Afghanistan fled the country aboard a jet in the final days? He and his team had so many bags and cases of money that there was too much weight for the aircraft and so a lot of it had to be left on the runway.

    2. Tom67

      There is real Ukrainian nationalism and the West of Ukraine will never give up. They fought a guerilla war ageinst the Soviets well into the Fifties. There´s a reason why Western Ukrainians and the Balts were always considered security risks and never allowed to rise in the “power ministries.” You can also read the third part of Soshenyzins Arkhipel Gulag about the risings there after the Western Ukrainians arrived. There´s real Ukrainian nationalism and the West used it successfully. If Putin is smart he will not go for an occupation of all of Ukraine. Neutrality will be quite enough. Then there will be hell to pay for the people in Kiev (and the US) responsible for preventing an outcome that was clear from the start.

    3. Acacia

      I tend to think he really believes what he’s saying.

      Indeed, when only a few brain cells are left, conviction is a simple matter.

  5. Brian Wilder

    Ukraine was the second largest country in Europe at the beginning of the SMO, and very quickly became the third largest in territorial extent.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The largest country in Europe is Russia but due to it spanning continents, quite a few journalistic accounts refer to Ukraine the as largest.

      1. Boomheist

        I actually think a lot of people in the West, rabid neocons among them, believe Russia is not part of Europe, but is instead a Slavic-Eurasian people who have been trying to be accepted as “real” Europeans for centuries. I think you can make an argument that the root of the anti-Russia complex, which has existed in various forms since the Middle Ages, extends all the way back to ancestral memory of the great invasions from the steppes – the Mongol hordes….

        1. Polar Socialist

          Except the mongol hordes mostly invaded Russia, and never, ever got even close to the central Europe. The propaganda, though, easily made the jump.

          Of course linguistically and genetically Russians are closer to Germans and Swedes than the Balts (especially Estonians) are. Basically the same folk (as are Poles and Czechs), if you ask us non-Germanic of the Northern Europe… :-)

          1. Daniil Adamov

            Hmm, they did get into Poland and Hungary, though I suppose it is contentious as to whether that’s Central or Eastern Europe. (For that matter, I remember Poles sometimes arguing that they’re in Western Europe, which would put Central Europe in Belarus.)

            1. hk

              To me, Western vs Eastern Europe divide is between religions: Catholic/Protestant West vs Orthodox East. I suppose this means that the only real “Central” Europe is the Uniate Western Ukraine….

              1. Polar Socialist

                One my divisions in Europe is indeed religious, but I put Catholics on one side and Protestant/Orthodox/Muslims on the other.

                That follows more closely the other dividing factors, me thinks. Though it’s not really West-East divide, but South-West North-East divide.

            2. Polar Socialist

              They certainly did, and I was kinda playing with words: Orda (the base for horde) never ruled or even collected tributes from Hungary or Poland, and on the other hand the Mongol troops venturing all the way to Hungary and especially to Poland were mere detachments from the actual Mongol army – so nothing in size the Europeans weren’t accustomed to. Often the European “hordes” were bigger than the Mongol one (and still got soundly beaten).

              A couple of books I have point out that the military technology between 900 and 1300 or so was on a much higher level in Central Asia than in Europe, and a lot of it was transferred to Europe by Slavic tribes (according to archeologists).

        2. Feral Finster

          This is also a popular trope among Ukrainian nationalists and the regime in Kiev. Some have even divided Ukraine into “classes” with the Highest And Purest Ukrainians resident in Galicia, etc.. Russians, of course, were “mongrels”, not “Slavs” at all but possibly “Finno-Ugric Mongols” or similar. Straight-up Nazi “race science”.

          Speaking of, from 1941-45, the Ukrainian and Croatian line was that they were “Aryans” who had by some confusing process obtained Slavic languages, names place-names. That one quickly became an embarrassment and was quietly dropped.

      2. jrkrideau

        I was looking at Ukraine’s Black Sea grain exports under the Ankara agreement a day or so ago and wanted to divide them into simple “Europe”, “Africa”, “Asia” categories. Arrgh, what do I do with Turkey? I, finally, assigned them a special category.

  6. JW

    The Empire strikes back, I understand Austria is saying the same as Hungary about the 60bn. Probably Slovakia as well. They are all still getting Russian gas after all.
    US/Ukraine/Nato talking to each other again, not to Russia, who have already made it clear they will not stop where they are on the present front lines. Replacing one Z with another Z is probably the last thing Russia wants as the new Z will defend a lot better.

    1. The Rev Kev

      Austria is having it’s own issues with the Ukraine. ‘Vienna is objecting to Ukraine’s designation of its Raiffeisen Bank as a “sponsor of terrorism” for doing business in Russia ‘ They are not happy about that and the Ukraine is doing the same for a major bank in Hungary. But in both cases the Ukrainians are not budging but expect both countries to green light all those billions to the Ukraine.

      Austria seems to be an odd duck at the moment. They were also one of the 10 countries to vote against the UN resolution on Gaza.

      1. Feral Finster

        This is basically done so that Ukraine has a bargaining chip to force Austria and Hungary to give in.

        Taking hostages, so to speak Doesn’t matter, as nobody in Europe or Washington will do anything about it.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      I beg to differ. Ukraine cannot get enough of an army or equipment to prevail or even hold out all that long. Two years is my guesstimate of the limit.

      Russia wants to comprehensively defeat Ukraine. That means, up to a certain point, a continuation of the conflict which fully bleeds Ukraine out and eats as much as possible into US and NATO stocks is optimal.

      If it goes from government to government in quick succession, what is left of the military might survive as militias which could become somewhat effective terrorist units that take longer to root out. If the second keeps the military together, that helps Russia in its aim of ultimately destroying it.

      Also Zaluzhny would be running what amounts to a military junta, which will be harder for the West to pretty up, as will be dethroning or killing the once sainted Zelensky. And Zaluzhny is a stone Nazi. Two Bandera busts in his office. Unlike Zelensky, where there is political utility in not killing him, the Russians would have no compunctions with Zaluzhny when the right time came.

      1. Tom67

        I don´t think so. The Russians would be quite happy with any kind of strong man who delivers. Kinda Nixon going to China. Ukrainian nationalism is for real. Chaos in Ukraine is not in the Kremlins interest. But drive the point home that the war was for nothing except US interests but the Russians let us be Ukrainians and the ire of the population might be directed West. That is also the opinion of a very good friend of mine, an oppositional Russian journalist who reported from Ukraine for various Russian exile publications. I might add they don´t publish him anymore as their Wester backers don´t like what he writes.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          You assume Zaluzhny would be a strong man. What evidence do you have? Zelensky has some backers or else he would not still be alive (he’s just been criticized in Parliament). Zaluzhny did not do a great job in leading the military which has had a horrific casualty rate and has reportedly had to use anti-retreat units, as in killers who would shoot retreaters,, so I would not assume a lot of loyalty among the armed forces. Another general is seen as a rival.

          1. Tom67

            All I say is if Zalushny manages to hold the place together and fulfil Russia´s most important demands, they will be fine with him. No matter his supposed nearness to Bandera types. The Russians dread chaos in Ukraine almost more than anything.

      2. Willow

        Ukrainian militias will end up being hardcore organised crime groups as opposed to terrorists and will be just as much a pain for Europe as for Russia. There will be serious black market money moving guns, contraband and women between Europe, Middle East & Russia that they will likely avoid serious ‘contract work’ offered by the West to avoid losing the spoils. Amount of weaponry already flowing into Europe is scary. After Ukrainian government collapses flow of high grade weapons into Europe will accelerate strengthening local mafias and radical groups. Internal security issues could push some governments to the edge requiring them to swallow pride and ask Russia for help. There’s no winning end game for Europe over Ukraine except siding with Russia. Russia has positive geopolitical & economic convexity, no matter what the West does to Russia pain for the West is always greater.

    3. Feral Finster

      Since all the real decisions are made in Washington, it doesn’t really matter which Z is the local satrap, except for PR purposes.

      Anyway, there are reports that the US has sent General Agudo to take direct control of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. If and to the extent this is true, it appears that the Biden Administration has come down on the side of Zelenskii in the Zelenskii-Zaluzhnyii Dispute.

  7. animalogic

    I tend to agree with Scott Ritter. Russia has won this war. His parallel is January 1945. By then even the Germans {mostly} knew it was basically over. Still there was a lot of fighting and dying to be done before it was truly over.
    I don’t believe that NATO ever thought that the Ukraine could militarily beat Russia.
    The goal from the outset was to cause regime change in Russia.
    Between military onslaught and a vicious sanctions onslaught, they believed that Putin would -surely- have been overthrown.
    However Russia still has a monumental task to find peace. While Zelensky is still president, {crowded round with banderites} , even as a political ghost he presents a ludicrous, but immovable barrier.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I like Ritter but his timing calls have been poor. He repeatedly said the war would be over by the end of summer/early fall due to Ukraine running out of shells. That still has yet to happen.

    2. Polar Socialist

      I don’t believe that NATO ever thought that the Ukraine could militarily beat Russia.

      And yet there are even western media reports that the big assumption the Ukrainian counter offensive was based on was that the Russians would run when the Leopards rolled over the battlefield.

      So it’s plausible that NATO really was that presumptuous.

      1. jrkrideau

        I still have trouble grasping it but I have come to the conclusion that the West, particularly the USA and UK, believed their own propaganda about Russia as a totally corrupt and incompetent “Gas Station”.

        After the collapse of the USSR, the Russian Federation probably became an intelligence backwater as Iran, Iraq, Syria and so on became the priorities. The West, operating on early 1990’s intelligence probably really did think Russia was a house of cards.

  8. Socal Rhino

    I remember the disconnect I witnessed between the coverage first of the war in Syria and Russia’s intervention, then the early war in Ukraine, on Pat Lang’s blog. On the former, skepticism about narratives and pretty accurate predictions of outcomes. On the latter, an embrace of official portrayals of a bumbling, underfed, undersupplied, poorly led army that was going to collapse. Still find it baffling.

    1. Feral Finster

      I also found Pat’s about-face to be baffling, as well as his sudden embrace of all the crudest stereotypes about Russia and Russians and predictions of imminent total Ukrainian victory.

      1. Texas Nate

        I think it was a case of Col. Lang having had decades of hands-on experience in the ME so he could see through US bullshit but not having been directly involved with the Russians, his patriotic instincts kicked in and he pushed Larry Johnson off his site and went into la la land.

      2. Janeway

        My understanding is that Pat was in the final stages of his battle with cancer about the time of the SMO. Contributor TTG had taken over (and continues) the daily content control of the blog. I question how much Pat wrote directly and how much was subsumed by his long hospital stay and ultimate death.

        Larry Johnson used to post there regularly until he started his own blog, which may have impacted his relationship with Pat. Larry and TTG never got along from what I can tell. Contributor Walrus occasionally chimes in with something against the echo chamber that site has become.

        1. johnt

          Thanks for the information from each of you on this thread. I had followed Colonel Lang for 12 years, and was suddenly supposed to forget much of what I had learned.
          I wish his shade well; I haven’t forgotten.

  9. iang

    Big Serge described how who landed where at Normandy was an afterthought…

    It wasn’t an afterthought at all, it was a decision: the Americans were to land on allied right flank and the Brits/Canadians on the left, so that the American shipping would not snarl with the Brit shipping…

    In contrast, nobody much was expecting the hedgerows.

  10. Camelotkidd

    The PR war was always the US/NATO’s one success. Old Americans like Pat Lange and soldiers of my generation never stopped hating the Russian/Soviets from their indoctrination during the first Cold War, while young liberals were added to the club thanks to the Russia-gate psy-op.

  11. HH

    Blinken, Sullivan, and Nuland will go off to think tank sinecures, and the next Trump administration will again fail to shut down the Washington Blob. Until the poison of militarism is fully drained from American society, we will keep fighting stupid wars until we run out of money or are destroyed by nuclear weapons. There is an outside chance that the plutocracy will wake up and stop the coming war with China, but they will probably sleepwalk into another national debacle. Places like NC are the last outposts of rational thought in the USA. The official media is a bizarre mixture of magical thinking and amnesia.

    1. Feral Finster

      Accurate. The Nulands and Blinkens will slink off to their think tanks and academic posts, biding their time and writing bloviating op-eds until the political situation changes and they can resurface. For if the neocons are good at nothing else, they are very good at bureaucratic infighting, and they can count on the sponsorship of a grateful MIC. Ten million to endow the “Ronald Reagan Visiting Peace Studies Fellowship” is chump change for a Lockheed-Martin.

      Cue up “This War Is Different!“, coming soon.

  12. Camelotkidd

    The article by Simplicius is delicious, especially this description of American financial capitalism:

    “The fundamental motivation of the market is financial speculation.

    Arms companies show growth in capitalization, but never show growth in production (because there is practically none).

    If production grows, it does so extremely slowly, so as not to break capitalization schemes.

    Their task is to increase the value of shares, and not to create new equipment.

    Tens of billions are being invested, but there is no growth in production.

    And it won’t, for this it is necessary to change the entire paradigm, all the schemes that ensure his well-being.

    I looked at the annual and quarterly reports of Ratheon, Lockheed, Boeing – the same thing everywhere.”

    1. chris

      Yeah, myself and several others who comment on here frequently have mentioned several times how hard it will be to get anything going in the US to support our needs for materiel. It’s not even money or will anymore, it’s people and capability and all the barriers we’ve put up to prevent people from building anything quickly. There still doesn’t seem to be the right kind of expenditures and commitments to get decent munitions factories spun up this coming year. If the US really decided to do something next year, by the end of the year you might get plans for a new factory completed. Then it might take several years after that before you break ground. And the arms coming out of whatever factory gets built won’t be cheap or simple parts. They’re going to be overly expensive trumped up wonder weapons that don’t work and are a pain to maintain. That’s all part of why I’m really asking what the hell are we doing here?

      Because if we want war, we’re not doing anything to support it. If we want peace, we’re doing everything we can to destroy. If we want to increase efficiency and redevelop our manufacturing capabilities for wartime efforts we’re not doing that either. If we want cheap, effective weapons to support the strategy we’ve committed to, we’re not doing anything to achieve that goal either. All we’re doing is wasting lives, time, resources, and money, so a few people around the world get fabulously wealthy. It would be better and cheaper if ww simply paid these fools to stay quiet. We might get a strike fighter concept that works or vehicles that aren’t death traps for our troops.

      1. Dave Hansell

        The key point being made in the Simplicus quote from Arestovich is being lost by over focusing on the example of arms production.

        The fact is that what Arestovich identifies in the specific example of the US arms ‘industry’ – via the factory in Arizona – of a system geared towards what he refers to as ‘capitalisation’ and ‘speculation’ rather than production is, as Arestovich implies, not limited to the arms industry. As Micheal Hudson et al keep reminding us, such finacialisation is a pure rent seeking generic feature of the system paradigm across the entire collective West in every activity.

        Part of which has involved the managing out of all competence (expertise, skill, knowledge and experience) across the entire system over several generations. What industrial capacity existed in the West has been decimated by sub-contracting it outside of the West. What has been lost is not just the industrial capacity but the skills, expertise, knowledge and experience vital to recreate and resurrect that capacity.

        As the example of the Arizona factory demonstrates, the situation is such that even using immigrant labour with the necessary competence is beyond the system because, as Arestovich has twigged/cottoned onto, the financilisation/rentier paradigm which is the only game permitted across the collective West/’Garden’ won’t allow it. As this observation outlines…..

        ….there is no longer any coherent organising principle operating. And this is by design rather than accident. The only thing keeping the collective West afloat right now is the ‘tribute’ the ‘Garden’ forcibly extracts via the Mafia US controlled IMF and World Bank which exports surplus capital to the Global South ‘Jungle’ in order to extract surplus value from the resources of the rest of the World for the benefit of a small Western based Oligarchy which allows a few crumbs to trickle down to the plebeian masses it regards as deplorables.

        Once that tap is turned off and no longer available we will be facing the same kind of systemic collapse described in Michael Hudson’s most recent tome ‘The Collapse of Antiquity.

        The key question is for how long will the ‘deplorable’ majority go along with having the wool pulled over their eyes before they, if ever, force the necessary paradigm shift which Arestovich implies is required to prevent that collapse?

  13. Feral Finster

    Ukraine will get some funding, not right away and not as much they want or need (and Ukraine can’t mass-produce healthy military age men, which is what are really needed). Right now, Team R is basically negotiating the price. And Hungary will be strong-armed into compliance.

    Of course, Team R wants Ukraine to fail shortly before the elections, so as to cause maximum embarrassment to Team D in general and Biden in particular. Nobody cares what the europublic wants and nobody will ask.

    All this begs the question of just why Ukraine is such an overriding all-consuming priority for Biden. For europe, of course, they want to show what good little lackeys they are, and are terrified of the prospect of having play toady to a Trump administration.

    So tacky, so gauche!

    1. ChrisFromGA

      There is something that doesn’t add up about Biden, and his team, really.

      The GOP has been consistent in messaging that they were willing to give more dough to Z but only if a good-faith negotiation on asylum policy changes along with other border security items accompanied it.

      The Biden WH response seems to have been burying its head in sand and saying “LALALALA!” we don’t hear you.

      I can’t tell whether it’s incompetence or a deliberate strategy, but they wasted weeks pretending that Johnson was “muh Kevin” i.e. an easily-rolled stooge.

      Now they even have war hawk Sen. Graham saying this has to be a quid-pro-quo deal, money for Ukraine in exchange for border security.

      Mercouris picked up on this yesterday in his video, noting that Johnson seems much cannier than the turfed-out Kev. That’s certainly something that the Biden admin’s sharper tools in the shed must know by now.

      Basic politics says you have to negotiate in good faith, and so far, team Biden is acting as if they are immune to the laws of politics.

      We haven’t even gotten to the stage of an initial offer from team Blue – i.e. mo’ money for the wall, but no asylum policy changes.

      Did they really think rolling the Z-man into town in his GI Joe get-up would just miraculously solve everything?

        1. chris

          But it’s more than that. Unless they decide on things today and move to vote tomorrow, it’s done. Ukraine won’t get what it needs in 2024 until maybe June. It’s telling that the Biden Admin violated it’s own rules to give tank shells to Israel withiut review but didn’t do that for Ukraine.

          Ukraine is done. Even with US generals involved, what is it going to do without soldiers, without supplies, without resources, without defenses? The best thing I can think of that explains Biden’s approach to this is if he let’s this die now he’ll go into an election year blaming the Republicans for the failure in Ukraine.

          1. Feral Finster

            Not arguing that, unless Ukraine somehow finds a way to mass produce vast numbers of healthy military age men.

            Maybe the plan is Send In The Poles! (sung to the tune of “Send In The Clowns!”)

          2. juno mas

            With US generals on the ground in Ukraine, you can bet Russia will locate and liquidate soon thereafter.

      1. Feral Finster

        Axtually, on second thought, I wonder how much role the impeachment inquiry is playing into this….

  14. Aurelien

    There isn’t really any precedent for this kind of war: the closest I can think of is the German/Italian support for the Nationalists In Spain, which was probably decisive, but did involve small numbers of troops from both countries, and the US support of Britain from 1939-41, which extended up to (but not including) direct US military involvement. But in neither case was the outside power directing affairs.

    A number of us, I think, have become convinced that the West fundamentally believed its own propaganda: less that Ukraine would be able to win the war, than that the Russians would fail, and that the inevitable failure would bring down Putin’s government, and … something. Because the only examples that the West vaguely knew about had to do with Afghanistan and Iraq, it was assumed that this war would follow that model. No matter how blood-freezingly stupid that may sound, I believe it’s actually true. Thus, the belief that keeping Ukraine fighting was an end in itself, since the longer the war went on, the more likely it was that Putin would fall. Now, with the boot on the other wounded foot, the West has literally no idea what to do. Ukraine should have been on the defensive since the beginning, but here we have a classic example of the political need to to accept huge risks to inflict unlikely but potentially valuable defeats on the enemy. It hasn’t worked, and I question whether Ukraine now has enough fighting power to mount a real defence, as opposed to just holding individual towns and cities.

    On comparison with WW2, we have to be careful, because there’s a whole literature on how and at what point it could be said that the Germans “lost.” I think the consensus is something like (1) by October 1941 it was clear that the Germans could not achieve their original war aims (2) After Kursk, at the latest, it was clear that henceforth it was the Russians who would be attacking (3) in early 1945 the war was for all practical purposes over, but the Russians still had to get to Berlin. On that latter point, there are lots of differences between Germany then and Ukraine now. First, the Germans still had an arms industry and were still producing equipment, just not enough of it. Second, the Wehrmacht had generally fought an intelligent defensive campaign, and had been able to preserve more of its capability than might have been expected. Figures of up to eight million personnel available in January 1945 have been put forward, although the number in combat units will have been much smaller. Still, it’s accepted that Germany had at a minimum several million men in formed combat units with equipment, and led by a still formidable officer and NCO cadre. Third, the German Army and population was highly motivated to resist the Red Army, mainly through fear of reprisals. Finally, there were still hundreds of thousands of foreigners, both serving in the Waffen SS and in national continents such as the Italians. A lot of these people has nowhere to go and decided to fight to the end. So comparisons as hazardous.

    1. hk

      I’ve always thought there is a curious (although somewhat superficial–a lot of analogies don’t quite hold if you think too much about it.) between Ukraine today and North Korea in 1950, especially if one were to take the North Korean viewpoint at that time more seriously. One of the analogies, of course, is that, now that the prospects of “success” have vanished, there is much eagerness to “freeze” the war–it’s worth remembering that it was USSR that first proposed an armistice in Korea. But, to get that armistice, USSR and PRC had to put in thousands of aviators (who weren’t there) flying the latest jets and a million man “volunteer” army, while the NATO won’t (and can’t–due to lack of resources) and Ukraine is not a faraway land with limited significance to Russia the way Korea was to the US….

      Maybe Ukraine as the modern incarnation of the Second Mexican Empire?

    2. Polar Socialist

      For what it’s worth, it has been well established that in Finland, right after the battle of Stalingrad, the military informed the politicians in several occasions on February 1943 that Germany has lost the war and the Finnish government should begin to figure out a way to get Finland out of the war.

    3. Not Qualified to Comment

      Yves comments above that “Ukraine conscripted very heavily from ethnic Russian and ethnic Hungarian areas”, yet from the beginning I don’t think there’s any doubt that these front-line troops fought the Russian Army ferociously, the famous “lions led by donkeys” and its similes might apply here. But I do wonder if a) the Ukrainian High command at least in the early days, might not have been too concerned about casualties among these troops while b) the Russians would have been aware they were facing ‘brothers’ and perhaps held back from applying the sledgehammer. There was also talk about Ukrainian front-line attacks having the Azov and similar rabid regiments behind them to ‘encourage’ them to go forward like the stories of Russian troops at Stalingrad being shot by their own officers if they faltered in their charge, and an army can have mixed feelings about facing an enemy they know doesn’t want to fight them or even be there.

      Too, the Russian Army is in the uncomfortable position of having to destroy the infrastructure and flatten towns in the country it is supposed to be liberating – destroying it in order to save it, as it were – which is something defenders might be forced to do as a desperate last resort while the attacking force is usually steamrollering over someone else’s landscape and so needn’t be too concerned about the damage

      Whatever, this ethnic complication also adds an unusual element to this war, where the enemy usually speaks a different language even if a “yellow peril” distinction can’t be drawn, and in some ways is perhaps closer to the dynamics of a civil war.

      1. Polar Socialist

        We must not forget that the Donbass militias started full mobilization in February, when the Ukrainian artillery fire was forcing several hundred thousand civilians to evacuate to Russia – this was even before Russia acknowledged the runaway republics. Estimates are that the Donbass manpower rose from 30-40,000 men to 70-80,000 men during those days. Also many veterans of the civil war returned from Russia to fight for Donbass again.

        So it’s quite likely that until the Russian mobiki started to arrive on the front last winter, around half of the ground forces on Russian side were actually ‘Ukrainian’. So, very much the dynamics of the civil war. Although Ukrainian government banned any reference to a civil war early on.

        I think I’ve told here earlier that one explanation offered for the fast collapse of the Ukrainian front north of Mariupol was the defenders removing all road signs – and then getting constantly lost and delayed since they were from Rivne area (close to Polish-Belarusian border) whereas the “invaders” were mostly natives (driven away in 2014) inherently familiar with the road network and the topology.

      2. Yves Smith Post author

        Ukraine has anti-retreat forces as in Azov units stationed behind the front lines to shoot forces that retreated. There are even some drone videos of shootings of small Ukraine groups. So going forward was the only path to survival. Men also tend to develop loyalty to others in their unit.

        1. juno mas

          …and the stark and brutal reality of the close-quarter combat of this war makes personal survival paramount. I cannot imagine a day in the life of any of these men. (Well, of course, I don’t have to. There are thousands of up-close videos of the blood and guts.)

    4. redleg

      I think a better WW2 comparison for the US is Japan:
      + fierce military culture
      + technologically advanced, especially regarding weapons, but late to adopt new technology.
      + weak government controlled by the military
      + lacking critical natural resources
      + limits to industrial capacity
      + unable or unwilling to adapt tactics and strategy to changed situations, especially when the tactics and strategy were successful at one time.

      If this analogy holds, the US analogue to Kamikaze tactics would be using nukes.

  15. chris

    On a different note, is there a non-cynical steel man type argument for Project Ukraine? I keep trying to understand why US leaders are so committed to this insanity. Is it really just money or because Russia is the last convenient enemy? Is it possible that Ms. Nuland and the other regime change advocates have a good reason besides future Raytheon board sinecures to want Ukraine in the EU and Putin stopped? Is it possible that Biden has reasons for pushing continuing aid to Ukraine besides a duty for past bribes? I don’t like thinking the people in charge of my country are stupid and evil. But I really can’t come up with a different explanation. I also can’t see why anyone would want such a thoroughly corrupt state in the EU. So, all the people on here who are so much smarter than me, is there a reasonable explanation for Project Ukraine that is positive?

    1. elissa3

      Because I like to formulate simplistic explanations in groups of three, I would propose:

      corruption and/or incompetence and/or stupidity

      Take your pick of one, two, or all for the Ukraine “project”. And perhaps apply this explanation to nearly all of the disastrous actions of the Empire, both abroad and at home. (The motivations of individuals may vary.)

      1. chris

        It’s easy for me to retreat into cynicism and accuse the demonstratively incompetent, corrupt, and stupid people leading my country for being what they are. Remember, one of the reasons why people publicly discount that the US could have been behind the Nordstream sabotage is because it assumes the Biden administration was spectacularly competent! But is there really no positive explanation? And I’m looking for honesty here. I’m sure the Kagans and the Applebaums of the world can get plenty of column inches in the Atlantic writing about the currently poor starving children or the bright future for Ukraine once its in the EU.

        The best set of explanations I can come up with which doesn’t rely on the US being full of stupid people in the State Department, CIA, and Department of Endless War, are:

        (1) NATO’s budgetary existence can’t be justified without an enemy on the scale of Russia.
        (2) US and NATO countries functionally cannot cut off ties to China, India, or their EU neighbors.
        (3) If US/NATO wants to prepare for military engagement with China in the future, then, it needs resources and it needs to isolate China.
        (4) Attacking Russia through a proxy will weaken Russia.
        (5) A weak Russia can be pillaged for resources and used to stage attacks against China when the time comes.
        (6) Funding those activities will generate a lot profitable of military contracts.
        (7) If the US leads the charge against Russia, it will control the energy resources once Russia has been defeated, thus maintaining US control over Europe, the Near East, and Western Asia.

        That’s the best case I can make for the reasons behind the current beliefs from these people. It’s obvious there’s a lot of flawed thinking there. It’s obvious Russia was not weakened and will not be sold for parts anytime soon. It’s obvious that the complete collapse of Ukraine won’t stop the Vicky Nulands of the world from trying something else. What isn’t obvious to me is if there are no other motivations in play here. Like, there’s nothing else to say? No positive framing? It’s just a bunch of venal fools happily slaughtering Slavs to goose mil stocks for Christmas?

        I actually hope not. I hope there’s some honest fools involved who actually believed the hype and thought they were doing good. The worldwide shock of the alleged “Putin Price Hike” makes me think we’ve created such a great echo chamber that many of the people in DC do not have any idea what is going on in the world. They don’t even have access to good information to correct their false impressions. While that’s another scary thought, it means there’s a modicum of hope because perhaps these people can learn. And upon learning more about our shared reality they can make different decisions.

        But, if what we are seeing is driven by decisions that will be made regardless of reality, regardless of reason, regardless of the price others have to pay, then there is no hope. Then we can look for the next hot one to erupt after Ukraine crumbles. Because they will never stop until something stops them. I’m as terrified about what it would take to stop a creature like Nuland as I am thinking about what happens if her kind is allowed to continue.

        1. c_heale

          I think it may have been caused by the desperation of those running the US/NATO to keep the party going a little longer, because they are running on empty – less resources, including oil – they also know there is a massive recession/depression around the corner due to the financialization of the world’s economic system. Western society was (and is) going to become relatively less important in the world and loss of status is the one thing powerful people can’t stand.

          I agree with the commentators who say that the US/NATO thought Russia was the weak power of the 1990’s and could be exploited as it was then. Add to this complacency in their military prowess (how many times have I heard the US has the best fighting force in the world, and when I was young, similar nonsense about the UK’s military), and we have the situation we have now.

        2. i just dont like the gravy

          > But, if what we are seeing is driven by decisions that will be made regardless of reality, regardless of reason, regardless of the price others have to pay, then there is no hope. Then we can look for the next hot one to erupt after Ukraine crumbles. Because they will never stop until something stops them. I’m as terrified about what it would take to stop a creature like Nuland as I am thinking about what happens if her kind is allowed to continue.

          Alas, a similar conclusion to what Amfortas and I came to the other day. That the meat grinder will continue even if it has to run on fumes. The horrible machine will never stop its death march until enough Luddites take bats to it.

        3. Kouros

          A badly defeated Russia could be more easily “persuaded” to relinquish its nuclear arsenal, puting the US in an unparalleled position, that did not exist even at the end of WWII, given the massive “conventional” Red Army.

    2. HH

      I will go with straight evil. What else can you call causing the deaths of tens of thousands of people to gain and keep power and privileges? The incompetence of this bunch of D.C. gangsters is the byproduct of U.S. societal decay, but the evil and ambitious have always been with us. A nation willing to be led by these people is sick at its core.

    3. Tom67

      I lived in Mongolia for 7 years and am married to a Mongolian. I am also a journalist specialising in Russia. Once there came to Mongolia the head of the John Hopkins school of government (Washington) to hold a lecture at the National University. His topic was the geopolitical situation of Mongolia. Then Russia tried to build a railway from Oyuun Tolgoi, one of the biggest copper deposits in the world, to the transsib. The aim was of course to strenghten Mongolia as otherwise her only outlet for the mine would habe been thru China. The Russian interest was in keeping Mongolia as a buffer state and not let her fall under Chinese influence. Well, Russia never was able to build that railway as Western pressure forced her into Chinese arms. The interesting thing was that the man from Washington never said a word about this geopolitical reality. He blathered on about the goodness of the US and how everything would be great if one followed the US model. Not quite these words but the gist.
      When I got up after the talk and asked him about the railway and whether he didn´t think it was most important in order to strenghten Mongolia´s existence as an independent state he was deeply offended. He took it personally that anybody else but the US and especially Russia could have a beneficial role. I believe that is the imperial mindset in Washington and it explains a lot of what is happening in Ukraine.
      Mongolians came up afterwards to me and congratulated me for this question. They were as puzzled as me why the man from Washington reacted the way he did.
      By the way: I (I am German) have met some truly great people from the US in Mongolia with whom I am still friends with. But they started off in the Peace Corps and worked in Mongolia for local wages. They were (and are) as far way from these people as North Dakota (where my best US friend is from) is from Washington DC. I am rather confident that on the long run these idiots in Washington will be removed. Or maybe I am just a delusional optimist. Whatever.. At least I hope so.

    4. Feral Finster

      Because power is to sociopaths what catnip is to cats.

      If the Nulands, the Blinkens, the Sullivans of this world could annihlate 99% of life on earth but were assured unfettered dominion over whatever remnant is left, they’d Push The Button, utter The Deplorable Word, without a moment’s hesitation.

    5. Brian Westva

      From the rand report on weakening and extending Russia:

      Expanding U.S. assistance to Ukraine, including lethal military assistance, would likely increase the costs to Russia, in both blood and treasure, of holding the Donbass region. More Russian aid to the separatists and an additional Russian troop presence would likely be required, leading to larger expenditures, equipment losses, and Rus- sian casualties. The latter could become quite controversial at home, as it did when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.
      Two other somewhat more speculative benefits might flow from such an expanded U.S. commitment. Countries elsewhere that look to the United States for their security might be heartened. Some of those states might find new reasons to avoid developing their own nuclear weapons.
      In the December 1994 Budapest Memorandum, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia provided the newly sovereign Ukraine with security “assurances” in exchange for Ukraine giving up its 4,000-warhead nuclear arsenal.18 Action by the United States to make good on these assurances could enhance the credibility of formal and informal security guarantees that the United States has provided other partners around the world, and could reduce their perceived need for their own nuclear deterrents. These benefits, however, would only accrue if the additional U.S. assistance actually allowed Ukraine to prevail in its conflict with Russia. Moreover, some scholars doubt
      17 Marco Rubio, “My Vision for Europe,” Politico, February 17, 2015; “Ukraine’s Poroshenko Plans Referendum on NATO Membership: German Media,” Reuters, February 1, 2017.
      18 Russian Federation, United States of America, and United Kingdom, “Budapest Memo- randums on Security Assurances,” Budapest, 1994; David S. Yost, “The Budapest Memo- randum and Russia’s Intervention in Ukraine,” International Affairs, Vol. 91, No. 3, 2015, p. 514.
      Geopolitical Measures 99

      100 Extending Russia: Competing from Advantageous Ground
      whether doubling down on support for Ukraine would matter much regarding global nuclear nonproliferation based on the argument that countries’ decisions to develop nuclear weapons often are very localized and context-specific.19

      Other positives for US
      1. Maintain global hegemony as worlds only superpower
      2. Boost natural gas industry in US
      3. Lure European industry to US since energy is cheaper in US
      4. Create new generation of Russia hating sheeple in US
      5. Freedom and democracy?
      6. AlMost forgot to mention the jobs. There was a tweet shown a couple of days ago on how much of the 60 billion would flow into various states. Biden admin were promoting the economic benefit of the war machine.

    6. KD

      The normies really believe this b.s. about Ukraine being a democracy and Putin being the second-coming of Hitler. I was talking to a journalist who really drank the kool aid and had no idea about any of the diplomatic history or background of the conflict (other than to recite factually false “NATO” talking points) but writes shite on the Ukraine conflict with a large circulation. Not a stupid guy, just completely limbic on the issue, and caught up in group think. . . he has no idea that he is a useful idiot, completely sincere.

      I don’t do conversions, but I did push him because I wanted to understand what was driving his cognitive process, my conclusion is its all moonshine. I suspect a lot of the Western leadership is highly emotional, thinks in cartoons, believes their own b.s., and maintains an unexamined belief in American/NATO technological and military supremacy.

      On the other hand, the Neo-Cons. If you have flies in your kitchen that annoy you, you may apply yourself by following the flies around and swatting them. I think that for people like Nuland, they conceive of foreign policy as identifying who is most annoying to DC, and then swatting them. Putin’s a pain in the ass of the DC State Department, he won’t do what we want, interfering in Syria, so we need to knock him down a peg, and its doesn’t matter how many foreign people we kill or how much money we have to print to do it. I don’t think there is anything more subtle in the thinking process than that, except when it comes to questions of means.

  16. Patrick

    As a day to day watcher of the front lines, it seems that things have already started tipping. In the last couple weeks Russia has encircled avdiivka. They took Marinka. These are Donetsk suburbs that Russia has been unable to make any progress on for almost a decade. It suggests the Ukrainian defensive lines are on the verge of collapse.

    1. Feral Finster

      FWIW, the MSM articles I am seeing proclaim Adveevka to be a Ukrainian triumph. Just as we are duly assured that the Russian military is “87% depleted” so one big push should do the trick.

      In both cases, the timing of such reports is everything. The stage is being set for further doubling down, more adventurism.

  17. AMoney

    What is your source for the 100-200,000 Ukrainian troops in Donbas in Feb 2021? That last number would have been nearly the entirety of their active servicemen. And if the Russian claim of an imminent offensive against the rebels was true, one imagines Russia would have enveloped a huge number of those troops early on — which we of course know didn’t happen. Seems like a fishy claim to me, but I’d love to see sourcing.

    That said, there is little doubt that sooner or later Ukraine would have attempted a renewed offensive against the DNR/LNR. Zelensky’s ultimate pivot away from the Minsk process left little doubt about that as the most likely direction of the Donbas War.

    Funny thing about the whole Ukraine debacle is both Russia and the US badly messed up their initial planning for the war. Russia of course thought they were in for a cakewalk and terribly underestimated the willingness of the Ukrainian people to resist foreign aggression. Meanwhile, the US similarly underestimated Ukraine and overestimated Russia (which, militarily at least, did turn out to be shockingly weak and incompetent — unable to defeat a country with a defense budget only 1/10 of its own). The Americans assumed Zelensky would flee Kyiv. They were preparing for Operation Cyclone 2.0, assuming they could wage a proxy guerilla war on the cheap against Russia and whatever puppet regime Putin installed in Kyiv. The best laid plans of mice and men…

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The Wikipedia account is pretty wild and given the state of search, I can’t find it. Wikipedia does describe the Russian buildup but also claims a big increase in Russian shelling in second-third week of Feb when it was the reverse. I distinctly recall contemporary reports that Ukraine was assembling troops with the apparent intent to have forces in place by early-mid March. The tone of the Munich Security Conference, as recalled by Alexander Mercouris, was giddy because they were about to get the war they wanted. I could go and try to find it in Military Summary again, but I can ping Mercouris and see what he recalls.

      So I mispoke in suggesting the Ukraine troops were just about ready to go, versus being readied. But Ukraine had as I recall 260,000 active duty forces plus 50,000 or so territorial and other forces that could quickly be deployed as military forces, and then several hundred thousand reservists. So 100,000 to 150,000 is not a crazy number.

      1. AMoney

        Actually the shelling in early 2022 may be a little more complicated. If you look at the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission stats (which is where most claims about DNR/LNR/Ukrainian shelling are derived from) on the shelling at that time you’ll see that though most explosions are indeed recorded on the rebels’ side of the border, a large majority of them are listed as ‘outgoing’, i.e., in my understanding, shells/rockets/etc launched from rebel positions. I could be wrong in the way I read it, but this would of course make sense: the Russians were readying an imminent attack and a ‘softening up’ by artillery would accord with that.

        1. AMoney

          Granted, I should note that there were far more explosions listed as ‘undetermined’ by the OSCE smm in the crucial days before the invasion than there were either ‘incoming’ or ‘outgoing’.

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          I have just pinged Mecouris and I apologize in advance if I have this wrong.

          I may have gotten myself into a “false memory” state (embarrassing if so!!!) as a result of later hearing a very colorful account from Gonzalo Lira, who said he heard it from an insider (as in second-hand, not further removed than that).

          Gonzalo said Nuland had gone to the Kremlin in October 2021 and said in the most sailor-like Russian that Ukraine was going to make a big attack to subdue the Donbass militias. If Russia tried to stand in its way, the US would destroy its economy.

          This may account for the much-debated Russian troop massing near the Ukraine border in Jan-Feb 2022 and the US taking it seriously at the time when Ukraine, who you think would know better, didn’t (this was why I also discounted the idea that Russia would invade: it would be in Ukraine’s interest to get that right). Recall that Russia had engaged in a similar threat display in March-April 2021.

          Anyway, with the later idea that Russia expected Ukraine to be reading a big and intend-to-be-final blow to Donbass, it’s not hard to see (or re-assemble in your memory) the idea that troop movements in Ukraine were part of a buildup for that attack.

          I thought Ukraine was or was thought to be increasing manpower concentrations near the Donbass. I thought the belief/fear was Ukraine was planning to attack the Donbass in early-mid March, weather permitting. Indeed, my again perhaps tainted memory was that a reason for the SMO timing was for Russia to pre-empt that.

          Anyway we’ll see what Mercouris says.

          1. norbert

            Jacques Baud discusses this in his early articles. They are reprised in his book Operation Z. He discusses the build up by Ukraine on the Dombass line of contact and infers they were getting ready for an attack when the Russians invaded. He too cites the OSCE reports on heightened artillery across the line of contact, mainly initiated by Ukraine.

    2. Grebo

      I think Russia had a very good idea what it was facing and always expected to play a long game. They had intelligence that the Ukrainian attack would start on March 8 (Pushilin). Rather than counter it head on the Russians feinted an attack on Kiev to forestall it while they raced to capture nuclear power plants and biolabs.

      My recollection is that the OSCE clearly showed that Ukrainian shelling increased from 200 to 2000 shells per day in mid Feb. I also recall reports of troop increases though the numbers were all guesses.

  18. Joss Smith

    Say what you want about PUTIN . . . But the Guy seems to be a Master Chess Player . . . each time the WEST has upped the ante in Ukraine . . . its been Checkmate by the RUSSIANS . . . They have controlled this Conflict from Day One . . . They have basically bled the WEST dry of munitions, museum piece jets and armored vehicles . . . and now Money. Providing additional funds now to Ukraine will merely play further into the hands of the RUSSIANS because they there to stay for the long haul. They are stronger today than they were before the conflict. Its time the WEST gets out of Dodge even if it means losing face which they will because it doesn’t look like the RUSSIANS are going to give up much in a negotiated Peace deal since they know the WEST cannot be trusted. If this goes on much longer which it probably will because of stupid People . . . there won’t be much of a Ukraine to rebuild.

  19. TimD

    I take the point that the Germans knew the war was over but it still took 2 years for it to end. There are some interesting timelines in this war too. If Ukraine lasts until the end of November next year, Joe Biden can still look a little like a winner. If Ukraine’s military collapses in the next few months – maybe Americans will forget about it by next November. There are a number of messier scenarios that will reduce Biden’s election chances dramatically. There is also the factor of how well he can spin blame for the loss on Trumpites during the campaign. Spin can do a lot of things but nobody in America likes a loser or even backing one.

    The next trick is how Europe and NATO deal with their spoils from this war. I sense that we are just getting a taste of Europe’s political instability. Will their be a NATO 2.x with a new mandate? Will there be a NATO?

    Letting Ukraine be neutral and pivoting to Asia is starting to look like a shoulda, woulda coulda.

    1. KD

      Ukraine had the best army they’re going to get last summer, and they couldn’t achieve any meaningful territorial gains.

      Given their stated objective is to return to the 1991 lines, they have lost, because they are not going to get a better army than last summer, and they’re never going to have that many resources ever again. They are not capable of meaningfully re-taking lost territory. It is only a question of how much they lose, and how fast.

      Furthermore, if the only question of support is prolonging how long it takes them to collapse, what is the point of wasting another 60 billion dollars to forestall the inevitable? We’re going waste 60 billion dollars and kill another 100,000 Ukrainians so Biden doesn’t look bad running for re-election. Give me a break.

      1. TimD

        I don’t think it would be the first time that money and lives are wasted over winning an election.

        Nixon and Kissinger had Vietnam peace talks stalled to help them. Reagan’s people offered Iran a better deal that Carter to help Reagan get elected.

  20. Susan the other

    Ukraine is even more meaningless than Vietnam. All the possible reasons turn out to be empty: less than empty. Zelensky is wandering around from the Capitol to the White House doing stand-up tragedy. And still, after 50+ years, I compare it all to Vietnam and try to make sense of it, and fail every time; language fails me. Ukraine just lost half a million soldiers. And it’s totally meaningless. I’d think Russia has lost at least 100,000. NATO has been turned into an absurdity. And the EU is paralyzed. And what does the US do? We mobilize our entire navy in support of Israel’s Gaza genocide and act like it’s just another day for the indispensable nation. The silence of our PMC, especially Obama and Hilary, is unacceptable. I, for just one, do not like being orphaned like this. The social contract has become meaningless.

    1. The Rev Kev

      ‘The social contract has become meaningless.’

      With Neoliberalism, that was always the intent. We see that with how we are on our own. Atomization.

  21. VietnamVet

    This does feel like the Afghan collaborators beginning to run with their US dollars. Joe Biden is in worse shape than the earlier losers; Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.

    The endless wars fund the military-industrial-mercenary complex. The Western Empire has been good at exploiting ethnic conflict to sell weapons. It has just completely gotten out of hand because the Generals and Political Appointees must believe the propaganda and ignore reality. “The free movement of goods, people, services and capital is good.” Secular America could revolt against the tide of emigrants, the imposition of fundamental Christian beliefs by law, and collapse of the healthcare system. A second Secession of States is guaranteed if there are diesel and food shortages. The Neo-colonial, divide and rule, true believers who control Israel have extended WW3 to Gaza.

    Ukraine was never going to retake Crimea once Russia stated it would use tactical nuclear weapons to defend it. With funding cuts, Kiev will have a hard time defending itself but can survive if Russia does not do a total mobilization and Odessa and the Black Sea Coast remain part of Ukraine. Then the question becomes what concessions will the Kremlin demand? Keeping Ukraine out of NATO has to be one.

    This is much like Korea when the Chinese invasion was first stabilized on the 38th parallel. The only chance for peace and avoiding a nuclear holocaust is an armistice now and building a DMZ on the line of contact. The problem is that basically this will break too many rice bowls both in Northern Virginia and Moscow. The fate of the people in-country is of no concern.

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