Scorching the Earth Westward — What Comes Next as the Ukraine Army Collapses*

Yves here. For those who follow Alexander Mercouris, the post further down from John Helmer may seem a tad redundant, since Mercouris read from it at some length in his Thursday presentation. Nevertheless, I am adding some additional commentary on the Helmer piece.

The overarching issue is what Russia does about the US’ and NATO’s professed undying enmity for Russia. Russia cannot rely on hope, as in that Donald Trump will win in the US this fall, or that there will be enough regime change in European capitals to fracture European unity. Putin has commented repeatedly about how different US presidents have made commitments to him, only to have them be walked balk. He has attributed that to the existence of a permanent US bureaucracy which follows its aims irrespective of whoever is in the White House.1

And even if most European capitals eventually settle into what Aurelien has called “epic sulking,” Poland and the Baltic states look determined to keep whipping up anti-Russian fervor at every turn.

In other words, one of Russia’s aims had been a neutral Ukraine. Russia was determined to stop NATO perched on its borders. That had been agreed in the draft terms in the negotiations between Ukraine and Russia in March 2022.

But now whatever is left of Ukraine will be smaller than the Ukraine that almost agreed to terms in 2022. And Russia is still faced with the question of how to secure the neutrality of a rump Ukraine, as in the parts of Ukraine that Russia does not occupy and eventually succeed in having join the Russia Federation. Recall that the process used with the Crimea and the four newly adopted oblasts was a referendum. Having gone that route twice, any other way would look illegitimate. Putin also said at the very start of the SMO that Russia did not want to go where it was not welcome. He and likely the rest of the Russian leadership does not intend to garrison hostile territory; it’s costly and corrupting.

So how does Russia secure the neutrality of what will be left of Ukraine, which is presently in the hands of an acutely hostile government and still has Europe and the US keen to support it any way they can? Even if NATO is militarily impotent in terms of ground attack,2 it could still install boatloads of long-range launchers that could conceivably throw nuclear weapons.3 And closer to the Russian border in this context is clearly less desirable.

I have some quibbles with the Helmer post below. He makes it clear that substantial portions come straight from a single source. Single sources are problematic unless you can verify what they said (and even if they provide documents, those may not be complete enough to tell the full story).

Helmer does take issue with armchair generals who don’t read or speak Russian and are trying to provide combat assessments on a current basis. Here I suspect he is taking aim at Simplicius the Thinker, who Russia-fluent readers have criticized for drawing incorrect inferences from machine-translated material. I have separately found him to be iffy when he gets out of his lane of military analysis and speculates about politics.

Nevertheless, Helmer’s source is generally on the same page as Simplicius on the current Russian approach, which is to press into Ukraine forces at many points on the extended front line. Simplicius depicts Russia as shifting the intensity of attack to force Ukraine into a “plugging holes in the dyke” scrambling. That may be true but recall that Ukraine would be limited to arial
forces in that approach; infantry can’t be repositioned that rapidly.

This post opens with Ukraine’s failure any serious defensive lines behind the ones Russia is in the process of breaching, and the impossibility of constructing anything that would meaningfully impede Russian forces, both given time limits and Russian ability to make long-distance strikes. That allegedly (and very credibly) has Ukraine and US/NATO leaders in a lather. The US has publicized that Ukraine will run out of air defense missiles by the end of March and is projected to deplete its artillery by sometime in June. The loss of air defenses seems particularly critical, since that means Ukraine will be open to attack even in formerly supposedly pretty-well protected areas such as Kiev.

The part I take issue with is how Helmer’s source depicts Russia as having baited the West by pulling out of Kherson and Kharkiv as a great deceptive ruse. There has been an outbreak of revisionist history in depicting Russian shortcomings, such as its failure to counter the Western propaganda narrative of how across-the-board terrible Russia is (no good military, falling apart economy, pervasive corruption, demoralized citizens) as deliberate, so as to further dupe the West. In fact, Russian citizens complained about how Russia seemed to be doing nothing in the fact of the continuing barrage of denigration of Russia, when in fact there was realistically nothing Russia could do to penetrate the Western media bulwark. And keep in mind the Collective West was also strategically motivated to keep touting the inevitable Ukraine victory. Alexander Vershinin (of the famed Return of Industrial Warfare paper at RUSI) stressed how the fact that the West was running a coalition war mean that managing the coalition, as in the politics of participating states, was key element of the project. Hence the seemingly bizarre Western fixation on narrative management was the result of a design constraint.

Similarly, Putin has described how the West dominates the information space, as if that is something Russia has to endure, at least for now.

In fact, Russia has done something more far impressive than these revisionists suggest, which is demonstrate remarkable bureaucratic adaptability in the face of adverse developments. The highest profile display was the way Russia responded to the gut-punch of the shock and awe economic sanctions. It was stunning to see Russia contend to the loss of SWIFT and limited access to the Mastercard/Visa network, the loss of many EU and US retail establishment operators (even if arguably not essential to the economy, the potential job loss would be significant) and the loss of many Western suppliers. Western economists have refused to acknowledge that Russia was able to improvise on this scale and with such success, shifting its trade focus from the West to China and the Global South, having local operators step up to fill the gaping chasms left by the loss of US and European suppliers, and turning to China, India, Turkiye and other countries where that was a better sourcing option.

With the Kherson/Kharkiv pullouts, Russia clearly never intended to become as overextended along the line of contact as it became. The strategy was to send in a force clearly too small to threaten Ukraine but big enough to turn the tide in the Donbass, so as to force Ukraine to negotiate. That happened with impressive speed.

But when the West kicked over that table, Russia dithered. It did not legally have a ready way to beef up its forces in Ukraine (Russian law limits the use of force outside Russia; I will skip over the particulars). It had a complicated and arguably unwieldy command structure. And it hadn’t expected the Ukraine response, backed by the US and NATO, would be as determined as it proved to be.

Even though the Kherson and Kharkiv retreats were military sound and well executed, they were politically costly. They created extreme alarm in the Donbass, in that citizens in the abandoned areas, particularly officials, were subject to reprisals. How could they be sure Russia would not abandon them too? Russian citizens also worried that these setbacks could be a harbinger of worse to come.

So Russia was effectively forced to quickly recognize the four oblasts that Russia had entered as Russian territory, launch its partial mobilization, qnd make even more concerted efforts to ramp up military production and improve its weaponry.

Here Russia got lucky. The West simply refused to believe, despite clear Russian plans, that Russia could meaningfully strengthen its military. Russia wound up having ample time to retrain reservists and bring new enlistees up to combat capability. But the fact that Russia succeeded in increasing its combat capability as rapidly as it has is still very impressive.

By John Helmer, the longest continuously serving foreign correspondent in Russia, and the only western journalist to direct his own bureau independent of single national or commercial ties. Helmer has also been a professor of political science, and an advisor to government heads in Greece, the United States, and Asia. He is the first and only member of a US presidential administration (Jimmy Carter) to establish himself in Russia. Originally published at Dances with Bears

The collapse of the Ukrainian army following the battle of Avdeyevka, and its disorganized retreat, have accelerated Russian military thinking of how far westward the NATO allies will decide that the Ukrainian statelet can be defended against the expected Russian advance – and how fast new NATO defences can be created without the protection of ground-to-air missile batteries like Patriot, long-range artillery like the M777, and mobile armour like the Abrams, Bradley, and Caesar: all of them  have already been defeated in the east.

In short, there is no longer a NATO-command line of fortification east of the Polish border which deters the Russian General Staff. Also, no bunker for the Zelensky government and its NATO advisors to feel secure.

Cutting and pasting from the Russian military bloggers and the Moscow analytical media, as a handful of US podcasters and substackers are doing as often as their subscribers require, is the Comfy-Armchair method for getting at the truth.   Reading the Russian sources directly, with the understanding that they are reporting what their military and intelligence sources are saying off the record, is still armchair generalship, but less comfy,  more credible.

Offence is now the order of the day up and down the contact line. The daily bulletin from the Ministry of Defense in Moscow calls this “improving the tactical situation” and “taking more advantageous positions”. In the past three days, Monday through Wednesday, the Defense Ministry also reported the daily casualty rate of the Ukrainian forces at 1,175, 1,065, and 695, respectively; three M777 howitzer hits; and the first Abrams tank to be destroyed.  Because this source is blocked in several of the NATO states, the Russian military bloggers, which reproduce the bulletins along with videoclips and maps, may be more accessible; also more swiftly than the US-based podcasters and substackers can keep up.

Moscow sources confirm the obvious:  the operational objective is to apply more and more pressure at more and more points along the line, in as many sectors or salients (“directions” is the Russian term) as possible simultaneously.  At the same time, air attack, plus missiles and drones, are striking all rear Ukrainian and NATO airfield, road, and rail nodes, ammunition storages, vehicle parks, drone manufactories, fuel dumps, and other supply infrastructure, so as make reinforcement and redeployment more difficult and perilous.

What cannot be seen are the Russian concentrations of forces aimed in the north, centre and south of the battlefield. Instead, there is what one source calls “an educated guess is that when the main blow comes, it will be North,  Chernigov, Sumy, Kharkov, Poltava,  or Centre,  Dniepropetrovsk, Zaporozhye,  or both simultaneously.” For timing, the source adds, “after the Russian election.”

That is now less than three weeks away, on March 17. President Vladimir Putin will then reform his new government within four to six weeks for announcement by early May. Ministerial appointments sensitive to the General Staff’s planning are the Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who is expected to remain in place; and the Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who may retire.

Following the call of French President Emmanuel Macron for the “possibility” of French ground force deployment to the Ukraine battlefield, and the subsequent clarification by French Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu, the Russian assessment has been derisory. “As for Emmanuel Macron’s statements about the possibility of sending NATO troops to Ukraine,” replied Foreign Ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova,  “I would like to remind you that just a month ago, the French Foreign Minister denied Paris’s involvement in recruiting mercenaries for the Kiev regime, and called direct evidence ‘crude Russian propaganda.’  There is a strong impression that the French President is, in principle, not aware of what his subordinates say, or what he says himself.  And now I want to remind Macron of the history of France. That is different. In April 1945, Berlin was defended by the French SS division known as Charlemagne, and a number of others. They also directly defended the Fuhrerbunker — Hitler’s bunker. They were among the last to be awarded the Nazi Order of the Knight’s Cross in the Third Reich. The French SS men from Charlemagne became the last defenders of the Reichstag and the Reich Chancellery. Emmanuel, have you decided to organize the Charlemagne II division to defend Zelensky’s bunker?”

The view in Moscow is that there is now as much indecision, vacillation,  and chaos between  the Elysée and the Hexagon Balard  in Paris as there is in Washington between the White House and the Pentagon, over what last stand NATO can make in the Ukraine, and where to position it —  east of Kiev, or east of Lvov and the Polish border region.

The Moscow source again: “the NATO fortress and bunker plan for the Ukraine is proving a failure, and the Ukrainians are falling back on the old Wehrmacht tactic of ad hoc battlegroups with  increasing percentages of unit leftovers and low-quality conscripts acting as fire brigades to plug holes in the lines so as to delay the Russian advances. But what is the bunker fallback plan along what lines – is the plan to wait until the Americans, French, Germans or Poles show up? This is the stuff of Nazi dreams. It’s too late.”

A western military source comments: “I’m not so sure, as some of the Russian milbloggers are, that the broad front approach [Russian General Valery] Gerasimov is taking heralds a new approach to modern warfare – or operational art, if you like. The push at different points, conserving men and materiel in favour of firepower is being done as much, or more out of political considerations, which include those of a domestic character (Putin’s public support, domestic stability);  and also the military objective since Day One of the Special Military Operation — to draw in and destroy as many and as much of the US-NATO manpower and equipment in the Ukraine as possible.”

“The Russian ‘retreat’ conducted in Fall of 2022 was part of the plan and struck me as being inspired by the Mongol tactic of attacking, making a big show of running away, only to turn to pursue and then destroy the enemy. The Ukrainians and their NATO handlers fell for it hook, line and sinker. Now they don’t have the forces needed to maintain their fortress strategy, let alone conduct much in the way of counter-attacks. It was in this fashion that Gerasimov gained the upper hand in the two-front war – the one on the Ukrainian battlefield and the one on the Russian home front.”

“Deep battle is still the Russian doctrine. Its form and components may change, but the concept remains the same. The art is in figuring out where and when the holes drilled in the other side’s military, economic, and political structures will line up, and present the path to be exploited by Gerasimov. We can bet he’s known for quite some time.”

Two translations follow of current Russian military analyses. The first is by Boris Rozhin, whose Colonel Cassad Telegram platform is one of the leading military blogs in Moscow. The second is by Yevgeny Krutikov  who publishes long pieces in Vzglyad, the semi-official security analysis medium in Moscow, and short pieces in his Telegram account, Mudraya Ptitsa (“Wise Bird”).

The translation is verbatim and unedited. Maps and illustrations have been added.

Source: -- posted on February 27, 2024 – 20:25.  Part II has not been published yet.

February 27, 2024
The operational crisis of the Armed Forces of the Ukraine – Part 1
By Boris Rozhin (“Colonel Cassad”)

The successes of our troops strengthen faith in a collective victory. However, it is necessary to soberly assess the three factors that make up the operational situation at the front:

— our forces and materiel – the forces and materiel of the enemy;

— the ratio between them;

— the operational environment.

The situation in which the enemy is now on the defensive can be called an operational crisis. For four months, the Armed Forces of the Ukraine [VSU is the Russian acronym] command concentrated their reserves in Avdeyevka and Chas Yar, weakening other sectors of the front (in particular, Kupyansk and Zaporozhye). Having failed to ensure a crucial preponderance of forces, against the background of an increase in the media importance of Avdeyevka,  the enemy lost the operational initiative and is now forced to withdraw to reserve linesof defence. But they are not fully operational.

The transfer of reserves of the VSU is carried out under the increasing attacks of our aviation and high-precision attacks on key railway nodes (for example, Pokrovsk and Konstantinovka). Many VSU units need to be withdrawn for reformation, which is currently impossible. Therefore, they are equipped at the expense of mobilized citizens with low motivation and combat training.


Source: Rybar. Click on original to enlarge view: -- February 29 00:42.

By developing an offensive initiative west of Avdeyevka, our units have deprived the enemy of the opportunity to gain a foothold there. According to the Bakhmut scenario in the summer of 2023, when attacking near Kleshcheyevka and Berkhovka, the VSU  created a hotbed of tension, forcing us to hold large forces in position. Today, the Armed Forces of Ukraine do not have the opportunity to fully regroup, so they are withdrawing troops in key operational areas: Zaporozhye (Orekhov) and Slavyansk-Kramatorsk (taking into account our positions in the Avdeyevka and Bakhmut initial areas).

The new [VSU] commander-in-chief, [General Alexander] Syrsky, is confused about exactly where to concentrate his forces. In conditions of simultaneous movement of our formations along the entire front line: in the Zaporozhye,  Donetsk, Lugansk (the Svatovo-Kremennaya line) and Kupyansk operational directions, the concentration of forces and materiel in a particular area will inevitably create conditions for a breakthrough of the Ukrainian defence.

The advance of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation in the Maryinsk-Ugledar operational and tactical direction and in the area of Novomikhailovka creates conditions for squeezing the enemy west of the Marinka-Ugledar highway and in the direction of Kurakhovo, which in the foreseeable future will become a key node in the VSU defence  in this area. The situation is developing in a similar way in the Konstantinovsky direction, where our troops are having success at Chas Yar, advancing at the moment with coverage to Ivanovskoye, the largest defensive line in front of the Chas–Yar fortress area.


Source: Rybar.  Click on the original to enlarge view:

Steady pressure is recorded in the area of Yampolovka and Ternov, the Serebryansky forest, as well as on the left bank of the Seversky Donets, where an offensive is underway against Belogorovka in order to reach Seversk. Positional battles continue south of Seversk in the Razdolovka–Veseloe strip. Our units are moving along the railway line, although the tactical conditions of the terrain are not conducive to a rapid offensive there. The situation is more complicated in the Kupyansk direction. However, despite the difficulties of advancing and the altitude differences, we are managing to contain large enemy forces on both banks of the Oskol.

A likely scenario for the development of the situation is that during the coming month the VSU will continue the gradual withdrawal of troops to new lines along a rear echelon from 15 to 20 kilometres back,  while simultaneously trying to engage us in battles in areas where terrain conditions and defensive fortifications will allow us to hold positions: these are  Chas Yar–Konstantinovka, the southern approaches to Seversk (Rayaleksandrovsky fortress area), the Marinka– Kurakhovo–Ugledar line (Donetsk direction), and Rabodino–Orekhov (Zaporozhye).

At the moment of withdrawal from a particular area, the enemy will transfer his forces from site to site in order to inflict maximum damage to our advancing group. The VSU does not consider any other option, for example, to counterattack, since the concentration of troops required for that risks taking the shape of the Avdeyevka scenario, with the real prospect of falling into a котёл [trap].

 Left, Boris Rozhin; right, Yevgeny Krutikov. 


February 28, 2024
How Russian troops are shifting Ukrainian defenses after
By Yevgeny Krutikov

The advance of Russian troops to the West after the liberation of Avdeyevka has not been stopped at all. The Armed Forces of Ukraine have not been able to gain a foothold on any defensive line for many days, and moreover, this applies not only to the Avdeyevka direction. What is happening on the line of contact in the special operation zone and what will be the target of the Russian army in the coming weeks?

After the liberation of Avdeyevka the units of the Russian Armed Forces maintained a high rate of advance in this section of the line of contact. The enemy hastily tried to create new lines of defence to the west of the city along the Stepovoye–Berdych-Orlovka–Lastochkino–Tonenkoe–Severnoye line. But by Tuesday, February 27, Russian assault units had occupied the first line (Stepovoye, Lastochkino, Severnoye) and began operations to occupy the second line.

In some instances the enemy simply abandoned their positions, unable to withstand the blows of bombs and assault actions. The open spaces (fields, forests, and gullies) west of Avdeyevka came under the control of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation almost without a fight.

There is an explanation for this. First of all, the organization of defence on new frontlines is extremely costly and time–consuming; it requires a huge amount of equipment and specialists, and most importantly, time. It is precisely this time which the Russian troops are seizing to consolidate their positions, denying them to the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and constantly putting pressure on them, primarily with long-range weapons.

The VSU, as it now turns out, were not prepared at all for the rapid abandonment of Avdeyevka. In addition, it seems that the enemy cannot withstand a direct clash with Russian troops outside of positions they have fortified in advance.  The VSU can cling to long-term fortified areas which have been prepared for a long time, but with the constant pace of the Russian offensive, they are forced to withdraw even from these positions.

Behind the new line of defence of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, which has developed in the Avdeyevka area at the moment (provisionally around Orlovka), an empty space has opened up in which there are no natural obstacles capable of supporting new defensive fortifications. There is nothing like this up to the next major settlements of the Donbass, primarily Krasnoarmeysk (Pokrovsky). The enemy has not strengthened the small villages there in any way, thinking it wouldn’t be necessary.


Source: Rybar. Click on original to enlarge view: 

The only limitation on the Russian forces for moving forward in this direction may be the old positions of the VSU on the flanks. For example, Kurakhovo is planned to be another “fortress”, which by the very fact of its existence creates a flank threat to the advance of the Avdeyevka grouping of the Russian forces.

The situation in another section of the contact line, west of Artemovsk, is indicative in this regard. The enemy’s positions in front of Chasov Yar in the villages of Krasnoe (Ivanovskoye) and Bogdanovka have looked to be very strong. But the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation began to move there not head-on, but from the north, pushing through and bypassing the fortified areas of the VSU.  As a result, by Tuesday, the assault groups had advanced almost to the centre of the village. At the same time, several heights were occupied, opening the way further to the west.

This manoeuvre is clearly visible on satellite images of the area where the lines of the enemy’s trenches south of Krasnoe are visible. Apparently, the VSU was afraid of the movement of Russian attack aircraft from this direction, from Kleshcheyevka. The ruins of Kleshcheyevka themselves are practically surrounded at the moment, but this direction has become secondary to movement on Chasov Yar.

The first districts of Chasov Yar – east of the canal, where the VSU units are located – are now being constantly shelled by Russian artillery and bombs [ФАБ],  which make it impossible for the enemy to manoeuvre their reserves and rotate.

The enemy transferred most of the reserves available at the beginning of February to Kupyansk. In Kiev this stabilization of the front near Kupyansk is considered a great achievement. The Kiev command is motivated to hang stubbornly on to the zone around Kupyansk by the realization that if they lose this node,  that would lead to the redeployment of parts of the Russian forces all the way up to Kharkov.

But the most important thing that the intelligence and leadership of the VSU are currently doing is trying to determine where the new main blow of the Russian offensive will occur after Avdeyevka.  The fact is that the Russian armed forces are now maintaining an operational pace along the entire line of contact. There is no section of the front line where successful assault operations would not be noted. This “multiple bites” [множества укусов] strategy currently being undertaken by the Russian forces has led to the disorganization of enemy behaviour and the dispersion of its resources.

For example, the first assault detachments of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation on Tuesday night already entered the settlement of Terny in the Limansky direction and gained a foothold in it. The movement to Terny had not halted even for a day over several weeks, remaining in the shadow of the larger-scale events in the Avdeyevka direction and around Rabocino. But all of a sudden now it has turned out that in this area, units of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation have entered completely new positions, threatening to move further west to the Liman and looming over the enemy’s Seversk grouping.

In Kiev, there is a well-founded fear that these new landmark breakthroughs by Russian units may generally lead to the collapse of Ukrainian defence and the transition of military operations to the more western regions of Ukraine.

Moreover, almost the entire line of contact, except for the Chasov Yar area, is now so fragmented that the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation have the opportunity to enter the operational space in several directions at once. Even the western press is now actively writing that the Russian forces are capable of providing assault operations simultaneously in two or three areas. No one knows which one of them will end up being the main one.

It is possible that there will be no “main” direction of impact, at least in the classical understanding of this concept. The new military reality also offered by the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation is a novel tactic: the movement of small assault groups with powerful support from artillery and heavy aerial bombs. Thus, the occupation of enemy strongholds is ensured, and only then are large open spaces cleared with the help of tanks.

In other words, relatively large settlements, turned into strongholds by the enemy, become something like a general direction, a vector of movement. For example, Pokrovskoye (Krasnoarmeysk) is located 40 kilometres west of Avdeyevka. This is clearly the next target for Russian troops. But the movement towards this goal need not be direct, but may be guided by the requirement to bypass and destroy the enemy’s defence lines.

At Chasov Yar, movement that was not in a straight line turned out to be effective for the Russian forces,  bypassing from the flanks the enemy’s fortified areas south of Krasny. Operations to hold down the enemy are conducted in Kupyansk in a straight line, while unexpected assault actions on the outskirts of this section of the front (the same Terny) lead to new threats of the encirclement of the defending units of the VSU.

Perhaps in the coming days we will see the next offensive operations of the Russian forces according to a linear scheme: the encirclement of Kurakhovo through the occupation of Krasnogorovka, access to the heights south of Chasov Yar, movement to Seversk, access to the supply lines of Ugledar, forcing the channel in Terny, breaking the enemy’s defences west of Avdeyevka, and much more.

None of these areas will be the “chief” or “main” one, but each of them will create the preconditions for the further liberation of the Donbass.

 [*] The lead picture is reproduced by Boris Rozhin to illustrate his battlefield report of February 28, at 19:17, indicating the disorganized retreat of Ukrainian forces west and south along the Berdych-Orlovka-Tonenkoe line in the central sector. “Today, the enemy has actually lost this line. Orlovka is in the process of coming under the control of Russian troops. In the next 24 hours, we should expect the appearance of videos with flags in Orlovka. Berdych is next.  An advantageous and prepared line of defence did not last long. The enemy will retreat to the west with subsequent attempts to use natural water barriers and terrain to compensate for the lack of prepared engineering structures.”   


1 Putin described this phenomenon in his interviews with Oliver Stone; he more recently has depicted the “deep state” or Blob as a strength, which is an acknowledgement that America sticks to the same policies irrespective of changes in the political weather. I took that further to mean that it makes America a resolute opponent.

2 Special forces are not a substitute for an army. Douglas Macgregor has repeatedly described how weak NATO militaries are. The US is unable to meet recruitment targets and its army is already smaller than at the time of Desert Storm. Russian submarines can prevent the US sending troops and supporting supplies. The UK’s army is so small it won’t fill a stadium. France’s is only fit, as Macgregor put it, for safari. Poland’s is the best but it could not begin to stand up to the Russians.

3 Forgive me for having less than full recall of details (and this is the problem with commentators preferring YouTube to print), but former CIA analyst Ray McGovern has described more than once how the West’s recent installations feature launchers that are designed to hide the type of missle loaded in. He depicted that as one of the reasons for increased Russian anxiety.

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  1. ilsm

    Put Russian leadership in the same mind as JFK/RFK in Oct 1962.

    The Aegis ashore (Obama’s European Phased Adaptive Approach-EPAA) vertical launch systems at Poland and Rumania can load Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAM, are nuke capable) as easily as SM 2 interceptors.

    I think we will see a grind rather than maneuver war from here. I also suspect Russia has no interest in anything but causing damage to Ukraine forces and materiel prior to Nov 2024. Evacuating Kherson and Kharkov show their small preference for territory.

    I speculate that RF military equivalent of the JCS is looking at Eisenhower’s preference for coordinating advances and maintaining a [somewhat] linear front, keeps ugly bulges from inviting trouble. That said a lot of probing by fires and exploitation with a view to flanks and always blowing things made in the west up!

    If Ukraine emulates German WW II defensive operations and use counter attack as means of response the RF will cover them with artillery and cause attrition.

    Ukraine’s weakness is two coordinated fold: logistics and no airpower.

    Even if US and EU have things to send they are at the end of a long line of communication, a large part stuck to ground transport, and the headline super weapons need a lot of in place technical support, we won’t call those western techs soldiers!

    A few dozen F-16’s taken away from being mothballed is headline pap! What Ukraine needs is a tactical air force with hundreds of aircraft! That could cover at this late time their too limited defenses.

    The tactical air force would be a huge logistics burden. The infrastructure to “generate” a huge number of strike missions is manpower intensive, as well as relies on large, weighty delivery.

    On US sealift: a major limiting factor. Even of they could activate military ports in Hamburg. Not enough ships! CDRSalamander runs a navy oriented blog (I rarely go there being USAF), did a rant on how poorly resourced US sealift has become.

    Ukraine is worst place to decide to hold Russia! At a time when the cold war is a distant memory and industrial level war materiel has been at best an after thought. If considered at all!

    Why not let Russia have the logistic issues?

    1. AG

      Being more an expert than me, how do you assess the issue of the US not sending in their Air Force?

      I understood this better after Simplicius´ Substack, where he argued 1 year ago that the level of how seriously the US does take the war or not, could be judged by the fact that they have left virtually untouched their Air Force. Even if they sent in e.g. 1000 planes that would leave them still 90%. (of course there is the issue of pilots flying them.)

      (sry if my breaking down is too much of a layman´s talk. But I find it important. I still don´t think Pentagon is 1000% serious with this UKR “adventure” in military terms, only as an economic gem instead. The only thing they take seriously is China as any diplomat returning from Washington to Berlin will tell you, however only unofficially.)

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Above all, the US has wanted to avoid a direct conflict with Russia. That is why the US has not allowed Ukraine to target undisputed Russian territory with US weapons, like Moscow or even Belgorod. To the extent that has happened, Ukraine has pretended it was Russian saboteurs or other green men.

        The US airforce going in = war with Russia. The next move is Russia hits US command centers with hypersonic missiles. The next move is the US fires nukes at Russia and Russia fires nukes back, as in end of the world.

        Even Victoria Nuland is not crazy enough to want that.

        Scott Ritter goes though a similar scenario if Poland were to attack Russia here:

        1. AG


          But I wonder: How far is the US willing to go with their intention of “weakening RU” to quote that RAND term. And how far would RU permit them to go.

          In the case of the Black Sea e.g. Mark Sleboda (who so far has not diappointed me) argues that UKR/GB successfully neutralized the RU Navy which has retreated to a certain extent from that theater.

          Perhaps the US could provoke something similiar e.g. regarding RU air defense, taking those out.

          On Pavel Podvig´s TWITTER (specialist on RU WMDs for the UN) there was discussion a few months back when Medvedev warned of WMD response in case UKR would carry out conventional attacks on RU silos.

          Almost everyone on that TWITTER thread, of course almost all totally crazy and Anti-Russian, claimed Medvedev was wrong. And thus confirmed UKR´s de facto right to attack RU silos (!). And those tweeting were people with credentials. Their views had representative significance. Which is pretty scary.

          So there is a huge gap between what one group considers “red line” and what the other does. So far the back channels have saved us. But that gap is widening.

          Especially due to the dirty trick to use “asymmetrical” means of attack to justify drastic threat. E.g. conventional weapons against non-conventional targets. Or: the nuclear power plant schemes, which even people like Dan Ellsberg had been falling for back in 2022.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            Most analysts disagree with Sleboda on that. And as much as he has good detail, he tends to be pessimistic. As I recall, he has maintained the war will continue in 2025, which does not seem to be the case.

            The line on navies generally is that there are two types: submarines and targets. Russia has succeeded in checking Ukraine grain shipments, so how much does where its fleet harbors really matter?

            See for instance:

            The war has shifted Ukraine export patterns, particularly for wheat. Disruptions to Black Sea shipping routes have resulted in more exports going to Europe and less to regions such as sub-Saharan Africa or Asia.


            1. AG

              Here a quick link which just came in a few hours ago, Sleboda and Martyanov discussing:

              “How the Ukraine War Changed the World | Syriana Analysis w/ ANDREI MARTYANOV & MARK SLEBODA”

              80 min. long, a bit bloated, the 2nd half more substance.

              But Sleboda (over-pessimist or not, I don´t know) at min. 72 does make an important point:

              He argues NATO troops – (the US 101st Airborne has been waiting in Romania since 2022) – will move into Odessa e.g., not as a fighting force. But as “trip-wire” force.

              An then again NATO will repeat the 2022 scheme: Set Putin a trap.

              In order to gain control RU must attack NATO which would put NATO into the only endgame they know as I said before and as Martyanov in the same video confirms – nukes.

              1. Yves Smith Post author

                It has been repeatedly discussed that that US Airborne is pretty useless in isolation, it’s very effective only as a part of a combined arms operation.

                Frankly, so what if it moves into Odessa, except to provoke Russia into direct attacks on US operations outside Ukraine? I don’t see what the value of putting forces in Ukraine illegally is. Putin has already said if the US hits Russian targets, Russia will strike US decision centers, which will almost immediately lead to nuclear exchanges and the end of the world.

        2. ilsm

          Such a ‘serious’ commitment would go nuclear sooner than later.

          I was “just in” when Vietnam ended. I have knowledge of how US would have run the air war in a NATO-USSR war. Also was privy to some of the deployment actions for Desert Shield/Storm.

          To be “serious” USAF would deploy large numbers (packages of “units”) of all the types of combat, transport and refueling aircraft, as well as command and control assets. The needed infrastructure would be sizable and unlike Vietnam building it would be checked.

          The beans, bullets, blood and a small sea of jet fuel would be “interdictable”, and hard because the ships do not exist if they were allowed into the Black Sea untouched.

          The air base support to regenerate armed sorties is labor, equipment and materiel intensive! Also more than runways, “facilities” are required.

          It took most of 6 months to accumulate the “iron mountain” needed for Desert Storm (33 years ago!), and no one was trying to stop it.

      2. NotTimothyGeithner

        The allies had over 2700 planes to deal with Iraq in 1991 and had air bases and carriers out at less than 1/3 the combat range. Then unlike Iraq, the Russians can see everything. There wouldn’t be a way to bring up the planes that wouldn’t invite missile strikes. The Russian airforce may be smaller, but they moved 800 planes from the Far Eart to be closer to the combat zone at one point to add to what is already there.

        I think the Amazon Prime member leaders who thought 1991 was magic due to some innate quality assumed a no-fly zone could simply come from willing it into existence. Even without the threat of going nuclear, the idea the US could simply intervene in this part of the world is an absurdity.

        Why not let Russia have the logistic issues?

        In the deranged minds of Cold War warriors, the whole defense scheme of World War III without nukes was to basically chew up a Russian invasion and then go. Advancing would be insane.

        As far as China, the threat of China isn’t Taiwan. Its China’s trade shifts and preventing the US from overthrowing a local government when we wish.

  2. Paul Damascene

    Yves, I’d agree that to claim the Kherson & Kharkiv withdrawals were to “bait” the enemy is going too far. That said, it wouldn’t be going too far to posit that the fact that they’d ever occupied either was owing to the remarkable success of their initial war of maneuver pitting a much smaller attacking force against a very large & well equipped UKR military.

    And if, as you say, the aim of the initial dramatic entry was to force a negotiation, it succeeded. I think RF intel can be forgiven for not anticipating the degree to which France & Germany, especially, would be willing to sacrifice Europe’s economy and strategic autonomy. I think most of us are *still* struggling to understand it two years later. Indeed these policies just keep looking more self-harming with the passage of time.

    And I do think there were a couple of months of indecision–or at least a massive return to the drawing board–in April/May/June of 2022 that were politically damaging to Russia, and certainly to the openly pro-Russian populations in locations that Russia would eventually decide to pull back from.

    Overall I’ve considered the Russian conduct of this multi-dimensional conflict to be quite brilliant–and I very much agree that the capacity of the Russian leadership, bureaucracy & business sector to pull together and adapt is deserving of a great deal of praise and study.

    Still, it will seem a lot less brilliant if, in spite of everything, the Western Oligarchy opts for a war, whose chances of winning it likely greatly over-rates, over the prospect of a colossal humiliation an fatal damage to its 500-year reign. Then, people like Paul Craig Roberts who called for a quick, massive effort to conquer UKR before the West could stake out positions that would prove humiliating, may in the end prove right, even if Russia knew that the (Russian) Afghanistan 2.0, where Moscow would be bogged down and bled out in a disastrous occupation & even be exposed to NATO attack, was the plan and came up with their own plan to have events turn out differently.

    Which brings us to today, and as calculating as Russia has been, we may be reaching that moment where they may decide that a larger war is unavoidable because through hubris, incompetence, folly and hatred, the West has brought itself to a precipice from which it can’t back down.

    1. digi_owl

      Germany in particular is the big surprise, with their direct reliance on Russian NG for their industry. France at least could get away with it somewhat.

      But in the end it comes down to whatever BJ said during that visit to Kiev, to put such an abrupt and effective end to negotiations.

    2. Anon

      That, or Russia has to justify all its defense spending. Either way its war. If NATO surrendered tomorrow, what would Russia do then?

  3. Revenant

    The weak point of the West is its coalition nature.

    If Russia can persuade Hungary to take Ukrainian territory (and Poland and Romania will then want theirs…) and force through a “sectors” approach to an occupied Ukraine, Ukraine will not be neutral but it will be neutralised (by lack of agreement on any future action…).

    If Russia cannot sabotage rump Ukraine structurally, her only option is to trade Ukrainian neutrality for something the US really, really wants. I do not see Russia acting against China or Iran so at the moment, Russian neutrality in the Israeli war on Palestine looks the best candidate.

    Hamas maybe sacrificed. Or perhaps the Houthis will be brought to heel. A Russian-US freedom of navigation exercise, to pacify the Red sea and the Black Sea….

    1. Tom K-ski

      Please allow me to disagree. Russia is not in business to gift the historic Russian lands to her enemies.
      As mentioned above ” dupe the west ” is the name of the game and an epic military victory is needed.

    2. Arkady Bogdanov

      I’ve long thought that Russia will end up with a huge bargaining chip with Ukrainian territory it does not really want. There are pieces of Ukraine that are ethnically Belorussian, Hungarian, Polish, and Romanian. Giving the Belorussian areas to Belorus seems a given, and this will create a cascade of envy. Poland in particular has been salivating at the idea of territorial acquisition from the get-go of this conflict. I can see the Russians exchanging territory for goodwill and legal treaty agreements/obligations. As rabid as Poland has been, they have to see the end of the empire and NATO out beyond the horizon, and given this singular opportunity to acquire a big chunk of territory, they may well agree not to allow NATO infrastructure or personnel on their territory in exchange, or who knows- if they were smart, they might even do a reversal and integrate into the Russian/BRICS sphere. Polish population seems like they might be open to this, given there lack of support for the Ukraine project. I’d say Hungary would be very open to such an idea, and the Romanian populace has openly demonstrated against NATO. I guess time will tell.

      1. henry

        You clearly know nothing about Poland, we had 45 yrs of Russian communism and a brutal Tzarist Empire before that, Poles hate Russians for very good reasons and will never ally themselves with the enemy.

  4. Lefty Godot

    I wonder how much a pro-Russia partisan effort behind Ukraine’s back lines could speed up the military advance at the front. Obviously they have Ukrainian citizens giving them tips on where to strike ammo storage and places where foreign mercenaries are holed up. And there has been some sabotage. Getting a bigger underground movement to work for them would both increase the problems of the Kiev regime and potentially give Russia someone to negotiate for in a post-conflict rump state government. Russia also needs someone to start negotiations with, and it’s not clear who that will shake out to be. Zaluzhny has apparently not chosen to decamp to the UK, which was supposedly what Zelensky proposed to him, so there is still a potential for a coup from him and his faction, but they don’t seem like the types that Russia could make much headway with, diplomatically.

    Russia is pushing on a number of fronts, so the next major breakthrough could come anywhere from Orikhiv to Ugledar to Chasiv Yar to Kupyansk, and most likely one of those will happen before the end of this month. The more broken the Ukrainian defense line gets, the more their units could be prone to encirclement, so I would bet the number of surrenders starts going up appreciably. But it still feels like there could be a big move of Russian troops now being held in reserve somewhere that Ukraine’s attention is being drawn away from, maybe in the April-June timeframe. Then the situation will get really dire for Kiev.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I do not agree that Russia need to start negotiations or ever negotiate. Many wars end without a peace treaty.

      Russia needs to comprehensively defeat Ukraine.

      I am also do not buy that Russia needs a big arrow move. It is operating on Clausewitz. to destroy the enemy’s military as the means to get the opponent to submit to your will. Any big arrows will be with the aim of the final destruction of Ukraine forces, not taking territory. Were it not for the problem of an angry NATO, Russia would prefer to take less rather than more.

      1. Jams O'Donnell

        As for the remaining Ukrainian territory, presumably two can play at ‘Maidan’ing.

        Also, Poland has a credible claim to quite a large chunk of western Ukraine. This could be handed to them in exchange for a non-aggression treaty – they might bite, in the light of the growing evidence of senile decay in the US empire. I imagine the Polish population would be supportive even if the government was not.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          The current government is very hostile to Russia. And giving territory to any NATO member puts NATO closer to Russia, which is precisely what Russia does not want. Any non-aggression treaty arguably would conflict with Article 5 obligations.

          And in general, I cannot see any NATO member cooperating with what Russia wants. Among other things, they would risk the Hungary treatment, of having the EU withhold EU funds, which are a considerable chunk of national budgets.

          If Ukraine offered that as a last ditch defensive measure, as a back-door way to have that territory become part of NATO, that might work precisely because it would not be advantageous to Russia.

      2. Lefty Godot

        I guess I’m thinking a big arrow move could be dual purpose: achieve some strategic objective and overburden the Ukraine forces to the point that there is a general collapse. Strategic objectives might be driving the rats out of Kiev, which would disrupt their further coordination of military activities, or maybe cutting Odessa off from points north in Ukraine. Although maybe the rumors of a big arrow attack are just disinformation to spook Ukraine and keep their forces spread too thin trying to cover all bets. It doesn’t take much to fool me, but someone in Ukraine’s leadership may have a cooler head and see through this gambit.

        Right now Russia doesn’t even have control over its own territory, so they have to at least take that. They are very close to having all of Luhansk, but the other three oblasts that joined the RF are each almost half under control of Ukraine forces. How much more they will take beyond that probably depends on whether they think conflict with Western Europe is so likely that having forward bases to mount attacks from is desirable. NATO should be backing away from this mess posthaste, but it doesn’t seem like the caliber of the national leaders is good enough that rational behavior can be counted on.

  5. ISL

    On the initial Russian invasion, one aspect that seems to have been memory holed is the issue of capturing and neutralizing the biowarfare labs in Ukraine and also capturing the nuclear power plants before the west/bad actors could destroy all evidence or worse, release something nasty nasty nasty. IMO, this is why Russian forces were willing to tolerate a high casualty rate in this first phase.

  6. Feral Finster

    Would to God. However, once you read that a decision is “under consideration”, it means that the decision has already been made. The “consideration, debate and ratification” parts are just a carefully stage-managed show for public consumption, one we all know how it ends.

    Witness the red line after red line ignored, starting with weapons in general, then intelligence, ex-Soviet equipment, ex-Soviet aircraft, armored vehicles but not tanks, then tanks, F-16, long-range missiles, etc..

    The leak yesterday about UK forces already in Ukraine merely confirms what has long been an open secret. This will be used to goad Scholz, that since WWIII hasn’t happened yet, he needs to get off the fence and send troops.

    For that matter, Bundeswehr generals have discussed sending Taurus missiles, supposedly behind Scholz’s back, but fooling nobody.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Please see Scott Ritter and Douglas Macgregor. NATO can’t even begin to send adequate forces to Ukraine. The idea would be a sick joke except it could lead Russia to attack the decision centers of any belligerents. And as I indicated, special forces can’t do all that much on their own.

      1. Feral Finster

        I’ve heard the theory. I’ve also heard the insistences that NATO cannot/will not send tanks’/artillery/etc. to Ukraine but they did.

        I’ve also heard Scott Ritter insist that you can’t retrain a fighter pilot to fly an F-16, which is errant nonsense and wishful thinking.

        1. Dandyandy

          General relativity theory (h/t A Einstein) would have it that numerous probabilities can coexist in the same universe, for example it would be possible to train a hedgehog to fly a F16, but this would take about 2 billion years. In the alternative an American F22 pilot could be retrained to fly a F16 in about a couple months and a Filipino A10 pilot retrained to fly that same F16 in about eight months. Ukrainian pilot to move from the old USSR SU24 into the Danish the F16? Anybody’s guess, say 6 months?

          1. Albe Vado

            It’s not about the technical ability to operate the plane. It’s about how much of what makes an effective fighter pilot is long engrained reflexes. And those can’t be quickly unlearned and relearned.

            Also it doesn’t matter. Send a hundred F-16s; all that will happened is they get shot down over the course of a month or two. Wonder weapons don’t exist. Wars are fought far beyond the scale of individual pieces of equipment.

            1. Feral Finster

              And then it will be the next escalation, ad nauseam, until Russia either decides to get serious or WWIII.

          2. Not Bob

            That is very much not what relativity (special or general) says. You’d be closer with quantum physics, but even then your arms would have to be freakishly long to draw that bow

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          Ritter is correct. He was speaking not from theory but what actually happens when you try to retrain pilots who have flown Soviet fighters. Soviet planes have very different cockpits and instrumentation layouts. You default to your initial training when any quick decision event comes up. Unless they have spent years flying the F-16 in a non-demanding setting, they will very quickly be dead pilots.

          1. rowlf

            If I remember correctly the attitude displays work opposite in Eastern versus Western flight displays. 400 degree compass versus 360 degree compass is a smaller issue. There are probably all manner of flight deck management practices that are different or opposite. Consider there was a western airliner crash in the 1990s due to the flight crew misinterpreting just a setting and display on an autopilot control panel.

            I’ll try to find digital references later today.

    2. Martin Oline

      I and possibly others here would very much like to see the sources for these “red Lines” that you talk about here and on Moon Over Alabama. Failing that, you remind me of my classmates in sixth grade who, with the help of a Risk game board, plotted conquering the world during lunch break. They are all gone now but their attitudes seem to live on.

      1. samm

        I don’t actually want to involve myself in this dispute, but I don’t like to see someone picked on so much for holding an innocuously different opinion, and also think the “red lines” you seem worked up over are only invisible if you don’t want to see them.

        F-16s, just as one example:

        And to underscore the F-16 was considered a “red line” for Russia:

        Or consider a Russian source:

        1. Grebo

          Red-lines and ultimatums are foolish—childish—challenges, bluffs begging to be called. I have not seen Russia paint itself into any corners with them. It says certain things would be unwise or unwelcome, consequences can be expected, but attaches no specific threats. That Tass report is saying a German politician called something a red-line, not Russia.

          1. Feral Finster

            So it’s not really a red line if you don’t use that specific word, even if those unspoken consequences never happen?

              1. Feral Finster

                So Russian warnings of consequences that never happen are just idle threats which the West has been ignoring for two years now?

                If the words “red line” cause allergies.

                1. Grebo

                  You seem to think that once Russia has conquered Ukraine they will have ‘won’ and everyone can go home. So what are they waiting for? All they have to do is let the West lead them by the nose in a cycle of tit-for-tatting and eventually Kiev will cry uncle and Washington will forget all about ruling the world.

                  No. Tit-for-tatting leads to nuclear war and going home too soon will have Washington on another Russian doorstep next year. Round we go again.

                    1. Grebo

                      No there would not. And Russia is not dithering, it is grinding. The outcome will be the same just with fewer Russian casualties, more international respect, and a gradual undermining of US credibility and NATO cohesion.

        2. Martin Oline

          I asked for the sources of “red line after red line ignored” and have not seen any yet. The F-16s are not in Ukraine and will likely only make their appearance there in a flaming impact into the Ukrainian soil when they are trying to return to the NATO country they left minutes earlier. That country will then be a participant in this conflict. Whether that air base is struck in return will be a decision made by Putin, not armchair generals who have not won a war against a peer in 79 years. Will this satisfy the West’s blood lust?

          I thought I met a man who said he knew a man
          Who knew what was going on.
          I was mistaken, only another stranger that I knew.

          And I thought that I’d found the light
          To guide me through my night and all its darkness.
          I was mistaken, only reflections of a shadow that I saw.

          And I thought I’d seen someone who seemed at last
          To know the truth. I was mistaken, only a very small child.
          And he was laughing in the sun, ahhh, in the sun.

          1. Feral Finster

            Samm already provided you wish examples and I don’t have the time to provide additional links.

            Anyway, we keep hearing that Russia has “escalation dominance” but it is ever always only the West that escalates. The problem with letting the West escalate is that with each escalation, with each hysterical accusation, the sunk cost for the West goes and so they choice but to keep doubling down. If old F-16s with Ukrainian pilots don’t prove to be the panacea, then it will have to be new F-16s with sheep-dipped NATO pilots, etc..

      2. Feral Finster

        Axtually, I am probably the last to think of the world as a game of Risk!, but if you are going to fight, then fight to win.

  7. QABubba

    Whether or not Deep battle is still the Russian doctrine, the war is being fought with 24/7 surveillance. Amassing troops and material is a problem. The Russians seem to be dealing with this problem by not amassing for an offensive, but striking all along the front line like a concert pianist, making the Ukrainians wonder which note will be struck next.
    As an aside, the Dnieper keeps being referred to as a natural barrier. It is not in Belarus, which is outside the box.

  8. Susan the other

    I think NATO’s current hostility, talking all out war between NATO and Russia is evidence of NATO’s inability to coordinate its collective anger. Macron seems to be in an indignant meltdown ever since Russia blew up a large group of French Legionaires with a kinzhal surprise. The question is why France was surprised at all. Scholz wasn’t and he made clear that he disagreed. Propaganda has probably reached its limits. Both France and Germany, and also the UK, have signed separate pacts with Ukraine. Sort of a last ditch effort before everyone agrees that Ukraine no longer exists and therefore has no sovereignty – much like post war Germany. . There must exist some threshold of conflicting national interests that paralyzes any coherence for idiotic, imperious aggression. I wonder if that’s what Kissinger had in mind when he said the best way to prevent this war was to admit Ukraine into NATO. I could see a similar resolution to Ukraine as to Nazi Germany – the “Allies” (same old cast of characters) will divide up western Ukraine (a bunch of terrorist Nazis organized to defeat Russia) and administer it collectively. Russia will take eastern Ukraine. Kiev, like Berlin or Vienna, will become a divided city of ongoing intrigue, and etc. Establishing a new iron curtain with “Cold” once again meaning no nuclear exchange. With separate financial protocols. Really, at this point, what else is there? Just my take.

    1. digi_owl

      That this time round the west is the lesser industrial power, and USA in particular is spoiling for another fight in Asia like some has been prize fighter trying to prove it still has the mojo.

  9. AG


    A minor momentary scandal popped up via TG today:
    German army officers were apparently discussing an attack on Kerch Bridge.

    “Transcript of a conversation between high-ranking Bundeswehr officers dated 02/19/2024”

    via German language source Anti-Spiegel:
    “Russia demands an explanation from Germany about the Bundeswehr’s planned attack on the Crimean Bridge”


      1. Feral Finster

        Göring: Why, of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.
        Gilbert: There is one difference. In a democracy, the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.
        Göring: Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.
        • In an interview with Gilbert in Göring’s jail cell during the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials (18 April 1946)

        1. JonnyJames

          Classic Goering quote. To their credit, the majority of Germans aren’t falling for that old trick anymore.

            1. OnceWere

              Unless you think that the German leadership is going to follow Ukraine’s example, by which I mean close the borders to military age men and start dragging people off the streets to military training camps, then they can’t afford not to care.

        2. AG

          thx for that.
          Göring I think was the only one at Nuremburg who admitted everything. And he stood by all the crimes he committed.

          At the same time one should remember Göring had a younger brother who he saved several times, after being involved with Czech sabotage in factories and most likely knowledge of armed resistance and killings.

          So on all levels pure madness.

  10. V V Gerasimov

    Overlooked in all the discussion about Russia and Ukraine is the fact that Ukraine is also a threat to Belarus. Last year Ukraine was increasing its forces along its border with Belarus, as was Poland at the same time. President Lukashenko of Belarus met with President Putin during this period, and he talked about the importance of securing and protecting Belarus’ southern border in any final peace settlement.

    Wars take on a life of their own as they proceed, often taking participants in far different directions than they intended to go at the outset. After two years of combat, initial conditions and aims of the SMO have evolved. The March 2022 draft peace terms were very lenient for Ukraine. Their rejection has led to the current annexation of four oblasts into Russia, with President Putin and other leaders now openly stating that at least several others of the historic Novorossiya will also be incorporated. Each new territory will have to be defended from continued attacks by any rump Ukrainian state, however….

    For Russia, the shortest (and thus optimal) defense line with the West runs along the present border with Poland between Belarus and the Carpathian Mountains. In the past, President Putin has stated that he had no desire to advance that far, but conditions have evolved, perhaps forcing his hand. As far as fears and fantasies of a Galician “guerilla warfare”, people should remember that it was Putin who resolved the Chechen War when he first came into office. The flat terrain of western Ukraine is not the rugged mountains of Chechnya, and its inhabitants are not remotely Chechen warriors.

    President Putin (and other Russian leaders) have talked about the importance of resolving this eternal threat from the West now, once and for all, and not leaving it for their grandchildren and succeeding generations to struggle with. If they are serious about doing that — and it certainly appears that they are — then totally erasing Ukraine from the map of Europe would seem to be a requisite first step.

    1. Feral Finster

      “For Russia, the shortest (and thus optimal) defense line with the West runs along the present border with Poland between Belarus and the Carpathian Mountains. In the past, President Putin has stated that he had no desire to advance that far, but conditions have evolved, perhaps forcing his hand. As far as fears and fantasies of a Galician “guerilla warfare”, people should remember that it was Putin who resolved the Chechen War when he first came into office. The flat terrain of western Ukraine is not the rugged mountains of Chechnya, and its inhabitants are not remotely Chechen warriors.”

      Moreover, one thing that all successful insurgencies have in common is a young population. Chechnya in 1998 is not Ukraine in 2024, even before the war.

      1. digi_owl

        That depends on Russia actually wanting to stomp into the neo-nazi heartland around Lviv.

        1. V V Gerasimov

          Indeed. Hence the caveat about whether the Russians are serious about their stated goal of de-nazification. It’s elementary logic: if you want to eradicate wolves, then you have to venture into the forest to kill them. Galicia is the neo-nazi heartland; therefore….

  11. JonnyJames

    One small nitpick on the political front: During DT’s time as pres, he maintained sanctions on Russia and Russia’s allies. He attacked Syria, and supported Israeli attacks on Syria (Russia ally). The US continued to support the coup regime in Ukraine, sanctions on China, bellicose, provocative accusations and rhetoric about China etc. (Also Russia ally).

    He seemingly tried to provoke a war with Iran (also Russia ally) by assassinating Gen. Qasem Soleimani. He backed out of the JCPOA and imposed more sanctions on Iran. The DT regime also moved the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, in defiance of intl law and the global majority. He, like JB, has repeatedly demonstrated his unconditional support for Israel. His son-in-law is Jared Kushner ffs.

    Despite the rhetoric, I don’t see much of a significant difference in US foreign policy and I don’t see how he was friendly towards Russia. That all seems to fit with the phony Russiagate BS.

    (With bipartisan support, he also imposed siege warfare on Venezuela, resulting in the deaths and displacement of hundreds of thousands of innocent people.)

    So, even if DT is “elected” again, we may not see any significant change in long-term policy

    1. Piotr Berman

      I would rather have Trump winning this year, but only because I think that our politicians etc. believe that glorious adventures abroad can be an elixir of power, popularity in spite of unresolved problems at home. Biden, youthful beyond his age and charismatic, lopping two heads of anti-American/anti-Western forces, Russia and Hamas, could well repeat FDR in political success. While various parts of this optimistic scenario are patently false, political success that breeds lucrative opportunities to all human actors that are engaged in it is still within the realm of possibility.

      So I hope that healthy aversion to military adventures, be them direct or by proxy, may develop. Trump is a highly imperfect agent of change, but failure may be such an agent, so we need the current Administration to fail.

      1. JonnyJames

        Sure, but aversion to military adventures? I don’t see any evidence of that, as I outlined above. It simply won’t matter who “wins” in the sham Democracy Inc. The interests of the oligarchy will prevail, as usual. There is no meaningful choice, and both SCOTUS and Congress are clearly institutionally corrupt. Sorry I can’t be more optimistic, but the evidence seems clear

    2. Es s Ce tera

      Biden, as puppet, will move arms and legs, mouth the words, blink the eyes and swivel the head, but will otherwise create a new two or three front war (Middle East, Russia, possibly China) just as he’s told and then the election issue will become which of these two, JB or DT, is fit to lead that war. I expect by then whether DT is averse to military adventure will be irrelevant.

    3. Oh

      DT is another piece of trash. Our so called leaders are under the thumb of the rich who pull the strings. If we want real change we need to find a way to de-fang them. Only fools will pick DT because they don’t like JB.

      1. Expat2uruguay

        What a strange framing, because the whole reason to vote for JB it’s because you don’t want DT…
        Were you missing a snark tag?

  12. Who Cares

    The overarching issue is what Russia does about the US’ and NATO’s professed undying enmity for Russia. Russia cannot rely on hope, as in that Donald Trump will win in the US this fall, or that there will be enough regime change in European capitals to fracture European unity.

    Trump wouldn’t help either. While the man has expressed his admiration for Putin the Autocrat (the childish notion that no one can tell Putin what to do, Putin can do anything he wants, and everyone in Russia has to blindly obey Putin) that has never been expressed in deed. This to he point that the anti-Russia, and pro-Ukraine, measures rejected by the previous administrations were enacted, sometimes with a vengeance, during the Trump administration.

    The part I take issue with is how Helmer’s source depicts Russia as having baited the West by pulling out of Kherson and Kharkiv as a great deceptive ruse.

    Ugh. Kherson was a result of overconfidence and misjudging the hurt that the Ukraine could put on the supply line across the Dnipro/Dnjepr. Kharkiv a result of a manpower shortage and at that point a choice of where to give up land to shorten the defensive line, the south won by virtue of having the highway to Crimea there.

    So Russia was effectively forced to quickly recognize the four oblasts that Russia had entered as Russian territory, launch its partial mobilization, qnd make even more concerted efforts to ramp up military production and improve its weaponry.

    Don’t forget that there was also noise coming from these oblasts that they would go independent if Russia did not annex them after seeing that Russia had no problems giving up non-Russian ground during the Kharkiv retreat. That would have resulted in the same reaction by the West with the added headache of having to negotiate with two nominally independent entities with conflicting goals as compared to what Russia was trying to achieve.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      NATO does not agree with your first comment at all. They are freaked out that Trump is not keen about the alliance and wants members budget-wise to carry more of their own weight.

      I do not like Trump, but your comment is also a bad characterization in that Trump has never depicted himself as someone who can push other leaders around but can get deals done, as in is a good negotiator. Looking at Trump’s dealings with Kim Jon Un, sober minded analysts point out Trump’s effort did not succeed, but what we were doing was not working either, and a big problem with Trump seemed to be declaring victory after a photo op:

      Talking with Putin would be a big improvement from where we are and Putin is a better negotiator than Kim Jong Un, so soemthing could get done while nothing is getting done now.

      Your last paragraph is nonsensical. Russia already recognized both oblasts, meaning they were already independent per the Duma and Russia law, as of Feb 21, 2022.

      1. Who Cares

        The spend 2% or else threat is seen more as an attempt at blackmailing Europe into spending more on US equipment. As is typical of Trump he only sees the big ticket items sales like the F-35 and Patriot but not that a lot of the normal gear is more or less locally sourced (the the absolute horrendous mix of NATO material is fighting with now). The reason is that NATO uses other benchmarks and generally speaking the US is one of the worst performing members on those benchmarks. Which might be another reason for Trump to issue that threat, being last is not being a winner but in terms of military spending the US is at the top.
        Anyhow the issue is moot, there would have to be an article 5 situation during his second term that would allow him to do the obligatory tuttutting at the offender and not spend anything else on NATO as per article 5.

        I do not like Trump, but your comment is also a bad characterization in that Trump has never depicted himself as someone who can push other leaders around but can get deals done

        This is a strawman of my argument. I never said that Trump depicted himself as such. He admires people he think can do what I wrote in their own country. Which one of the major reasons why he thought he had productive talks with Kim Jong Un (another autocrat) and then had the talks fall apart when the real diplomats took over.

        I do agree that talking with Putin instead of the maximalist “We require total unconditional surrender by Russia before we can even talk” line that Biden is sticking to now would have been way better. And not just after the invasion but earlier, years earlier. There won’t be any results on Trumps watch though. Trump might traipse to Moscow and have a great get together with Putin but then things will go nowhere when the real diplomats takeover. The difference between Trump and Biden is that Biden is seemingly fixated on getting Russia to submit and thus won’t bother with talks other then surrender talks. Where Trump would go in, come back saying I had a good talk, present himself to be better then Biden, and be done.

        As for my last paragraph. There is a difference between legal fiction needed to not having to declare a war (and get the warmongers in Russia up in arms for not sending the entire army) and the areas in question going independent.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          NATO members are not required to buy American kit to meet the 2% target. Trump cannot rewrite the NATO treaties.

          Your last statement is still nonsensical. The Donbass is now part of Russia. Before that, Russia had recognized it!!! How could it “go independent”? Do you not understand what Russia having recognized the breakaway republics on Feb 21, 2022 means? And with NATO supplying Ukraine, they could not operationally turn their backs on the military support Russia was providing via its security pact with them.

          And the Donbass was regularly petitioning Russia to join since 2014 and Putin kept rebuffing them.

  13. NotThePilot

    Not really something that comes up in the Helmer piece, but to your point, Yves, about how Russia could secure territory that doesn’t voluntarily secede from Ukraine in a referendum, there is a way.

    It’s definitely not kind or humanitarian, and it’s not quick, but it’s one of the oldest ways of doing exactly that: chase out the most recalcitrant people and settle those that like you more. People rightfully recoil at full-on Nazi forms of ethnic cleansing, forced famines like you saw in Ireland, or what you see in Gaza now. And the people on the ground rightfully resist it (and often manage to endure and win).

    But much of human history consists of more drawn-out migrations, where a whole gradient of subtler, relatively less-violent changes do lead to a demographic shift. One tragic irony about Ukraine is that it’s NATO and the Ukrainian government depopulating their own country. The catch in this case is that Russia probably has zero interest in settling ethnic Russians in Ukraine for a bunch of reasons (legal, moral, historical, they already have a sparse enough population, etc.)

    That’s why I find the Russian government’s emphasis on a multi-ethnic character and international support interesting. It’s perfectly possible, if they really wanted to, that just like the US swamped the continent with immigrants from all over, they could colonize Ukraine with loosely Russified refugees.

    1. Dandyandy

      Back of a napkin calculation, Ethiopia should have about 70-80m of orthodox Christians in their population of around 130m. Hard working proud and decent people, but looking forward to better opportunities. Maybe Russia could negotiate transfer of some 10m of them to what is currently regarded as Ukrainian lands, to travel via Israel, as a contribution to the general BRICS thing.

      1. Felix_47

        Palestinians would be another option or do a coin flip and make it Jews with Palestinians taking over Israel. Over a hundred years says Jews and Muslims cannot live together in Palestine. And Jews have a long history of living there. And maybe make a peace deal with Germany and take a few million Muslim young male migrants who are unemployed and unlikely to ever be employed as jobs melt away. And make peace with the EU by taking all the new Mediterranean migrants from Africa. In this way they could create an entire new ethnic mix and build a new society that would be organically multi kulti. From what I see it sure beats living in Palestine or sub Saharan Africa. And see if the US could muscle Saudi Arabia to pay for it.

    2. Daniil Adamov

      “It’s perfectly possible, if they really wanted to, that just like the US swamped the continent with immigrants from all over, they could colonize Ukraine with loosely Russified refugees.”

      I’m not sure if we actually can do it (at least subjectively, in terms of what the government considers possible and worthwhile), but it’d be sort of funny if that happened. After all, that is how much of Novorossiya was settled in the first place – with Orthodox immigrants from the Balkans who then assimilated.

  14. ADB

    Thanks for this, Yves.
    As you say, “The highest profile display was the way Russia responded to the gut-punch of the shock and awe economic sanctions.” Like you, I have been singularly impressed by the masterful rejiggering of the domestic economy, plus re-orienting trade and financial linkages, with practically nary a shock to the real economy. Thereby hangs a tale, and I wish someone would write about this soon in a substantive manner…e.g. Who were the key people in charge? How was the coordination done? So many questions…. Even the fabled miraculous feat pulled off by the Soviet Union in the immediate aftermath of the Nazi invasion by transferring more or less the entire productive capacity of the European part of the country to the Ural mountains and beyond pales in comparison. After all, here both domestic and foreign supply chains were impacted; financial flows were severely curtailed etc etc. In that WWII case we know who was in charge… Kosygin, who later became Prime Minister, and a technocrat par excellence. Who were the key personnel this time around? We do hear the names of some Ministers, CBR Head etc…. But no overarching personality?

  15. ChrisPacific

    This is potentially a very dangerous time for Russia and the world. We don’t really know what NATO and the US will do once they can no longer pretend that they are winning (or as it’s doing now, the current failures are just temporary setbacks en route to long term victory).

    Russia may well be correct that the right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing, but that doesn’t make things any less dangerous. There is likely to be some stupidity by elements of NATO, and if any of it kills Russians in sufficient numbers there will be pressure to escalate. Russia will need to walk a fine line militarily and diplomatically and carefully judge the scale of any response to avoid catastrophic consequences.

    Theoretically the same applies to NATO – I just have little confidence that any of them will actually do it. Being reliant on our nominal enemy to react sensibly and rationally so our crazy allies don’t trigger planet-destroying consequences is far from a comforting situation.

  16. Kouros

    Gritain and France declared war on Germany after the Polish invasion, but then sat on their hands until germany started going after DK, HOL, NOR…

    Now all these threats seem to me like a lot of hot air.

    Russia, re-building all these new military regions demonstrated that the war that they were preparing for was not the present SMO but a full war with NATO.

    As for Ukraine, if more deaths, destruction, and loss comes, we might start seeing a civil war erupting. Kiev might keep Odessa, but Galicia will be small, landlocked, and surrounded by enemies in all sides, and, and, if not neutral, with a cnstant barage of missiles and drones and bombs falling all over the place. They will not be treated as Ukrainians.

  17. Felix_47

    I agree with you. While the Ukrainians are currently starting to fold if the financing bill passes and perhaps even if it does not and Biden is reelected it seems the US will continue to support the war. And Biden’s challenger is crippled by legal issues and his own dyslexia and persona. I am betting Biden will win. The US was able to sustain an expensive war in Iraq and another in Afghanistan for 20 years costing over a trillion dollars. The US economy combined with the EU is orders of magnitude greater than Russia’s. A long grinding war, perhaps with more mercenaries that lasts another five or ten years will weaken any country, At some point the Russians might feel backed into a corner and see tactical nukes as a way out or vice versa. The Russians have taken some territory but this last two years was the easiest part. Ukraine is huge and the western part seems quite hostile to Russia, Putin must rebuild the east and provide the inhabitants with a substantial improvement in living standards so the remaining areas consider the advantages of joining Russia. But If Putin faces a ten year US financed and supplied guerrilla war in the west (as the US leadership has proposed) who kinows what will happen. It is frightening.

  18. David in Friday Harbor

    Am I the only one to mourn the news that the always entertaining Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov may retire after the March election?

    The way that Lavrov pwnd Kerry and Obama over Syria back in September of 2013, thereby preventing another Libya-style humanitarian disaster, was masterful. Always the adult at negotiating tables full of children…

  19. Socal Rhino

    Andrej Martyanov had an interesting conversation with Jacques Baud, retired Swiss/Nato intelligence analyst. One of Baud’s points was about how wars are fought to achieve objectives, not fighting just to fight. He thought Russia has had two specific, achievable objectives (demilitarization and denazification, both defined in Potsdam treaty after WW2), but that recent calls for Nato escalation have no objective beyond “fighting Putin”, which is not an objective at all.

    I suspect Professor Hudson was correct at the start in saying that the US objective was to drive a wedge between Germany and Russia. That has been achieved, so there is no reason for the US to push in all the chips by escalating further, and some path to disengagement makes more sense, leaving propaganda and color revolutions to keep things simmering.

  20. DG

    The Ukraine Special Military Operation reminds me of the General Scott’s Anaconda Plan against the Confederacy. Ultimately, the Plan was perfectly implemented by Grant, Thomas, Sherman and Sheridan. Supported by the steady hand of Lincoln.

  21. Willow

    > Russian shortcomings, such as its failure to counter the Western propaganda narrative

    Trying to counter misinformation is costly and usually counterproductive. A lot of research on cults shows that countering misinformation actually reinforces the misbeliefs. Russia instead did the smart thing and played a straight bat open misère knowing that with time the West will be seen as a hysterical Henny Penny. Interestingly though Russia from the very onset focused a huge amount of social media effort on Muslim populations rather than the West (which was left to the mil-bloggers). Something that seemed to be of marginal value at the time – until now..

    Wholly agree with Yves > Kherson and Kharkiv as a great deceptive ruse -not!
    Russia’s first priority was buying time. Time to build up forces and industrial capacity. And more critically time to learn & evolve military in what has become a new phase of warfare. Which means significantly reducing your own attrition rates & risk by consolidating frontlines. Kherson more so than Kharkiv. Problem with Kharkiv is that it would never have been as successful a meat grinder as Bakhmut. There is also the issue that Kharkiv being a Russian city, Putin is unlikely to have wanted it destroyed by necessitating a counter offensive.

  22. Susan the other

    What comes next as the Ukraine army collapses? Imo, this war has been such a debacle, including all the obvious propaganda, and all the impromptu lies that are quickly exposed via the internet, and the dreadful body count, and the devastation of both cities and countryside – not to mention blatant corruption with both sides going black market and stuffing bribes in their pockets, and recently we’ve tossed the hysterical propaganda out the window, mostly because it isn’t working and it is really pissing people off, and just admitted we want a perpetual war against Russia because it is good for our MICC economy… that there is no honor in any of it. So convincing populations it is their duty to pay for and fight for nothing but disgrace just won’t work. To call it war fatigue is a massive understatement. Because it is utterly meaningless. If one good thing comes from this existential mess let it be a new resolve by the human race to end war. Make it a maximum crime for anyone to promote war or insurrection. Because it is cold eyed murder to send anyone to fight in a war. Let that be legislated into every constitution worldwide.

  23. zach

    “Putin also said at the very start of the SMO that Russia did not want to go where it was not welcome. He and likely the rest of the Russian leadership does not intend to garrison hostile territory; it’s costly and corrupting.”

    Well remembered, I couldn’t recall where I had picked that up.

    Mr. Bhadrakumar has a good write up on the political situation between Russia, Europe, and the US, and how China (among unnamed others) is stepping in on the diplomatic front.

    The NATO bloc doesn’t have another play to get the Russian gov’t off its maximalist position. The French position staked by Macron recently, in contrast to the vocalizations from Germany and US (minus Lloyd Austin), serves to maintain the position of “strategic ambiguity” of the NATO bloc towards Russia. Couple that with clear and reckless disregard for the rules of engagement set out by the Russian gov’t, and the hope is the Russian gov’t takes a minute to consider its position. Similar to how the Russian military made a habit of providing secure avenues of retreat to anyone who wished to leave (provided no one brought weapons along) as well as opportunities to surrender unharmed, the Russian gov’t needs to find some similar political mechanism to offer… whoever there is to offer it to on the other side.

    When I still gave the Duran guys my time, they were quick to point out that “they” do not have a reverse gear, and only ever “double down” and “escalate.” It’s important to remember that the Russian gov’t has staked out a similarly difficult position to come down from – casting this conflict as an existential crisis to both the domestic audience and the world doesn’t leave much room for maneuver, and if the grievance is truly with the US, NATO, and the “rules based order,” that war will not be won in Ukraine. That war can be won only one way, and whoever remains to write the history books at its conclusion would likely have to redefine “pyrrhic.”

    Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak. The NATO bloc cannot take the fight to Russia – neither can Russia take the fight to NATO. Demand referenda in the remaining Ukrainian oblasts in exchange for immediate cessation of hostilities. Rebuild the electrical grid in exchange for the remaining “nazis.” Idk kids. Get creative.

    1. zach

      St. T raised pretty much all the same points a couple hours before I tapped out the above. Goes back to what I was saying about ideas not being all that unique…

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