Next Stage – The General Staff’s Targets After Putin’s Feint

Yves here. Below, John Helmer describes the General Staff’s and military bloggers’ frustration with Putin continuing to prosecute the Ukraine war in a measured way. He also provides ample detail on probable near-term Ukraine targets and the effects of destroying them.

In keeping, there seems to be annoyance in those circles with Putin signaling he’d be willing to settle only for the four oblasts that Russia regards as now part of Russia, oh, along with some other goodies like Ukraine neutrality. They seem to have forgotten that even this is a cheeky ask, with Russia fully occupying only one of the four oblasts, Lugansk.

It is no doubt true Russia could be much more aggressive. But let me play devil’s advocate a bit.

I saw the Putin speech where he made his peace proposal to be papering the record in classic lawyer style, and here for the sake of countries not hostile to Russia’s position. He went through the long record of Western bad faith regarding Putin’s efforts to resolve the conflict. That included new details, like Obama calling Putin to press him to support a negotiated solution to the Maidan Square protests. In less than 24 hours, the opposition broke the deal, with none of its supposed Western guarantors, the US, France, Germany, lifting a finger to get the coup-meisters to relent. Putin was clear that this was yet another Western deception.

Putin further fleshed out the long backstory to demonstrate that Russia is not merely in engaged in subduing Ukraine to assure that NATO does not get its grubby hands on it. Russia is prosecuting a war against the entire Collective West, which has kinetic, economic, geopolitical and domestic political elements. The fact that Russia has gotten the upper hand on the first three dimensions, despite having a much smaller economy than its combined opponents, and clearly having invaded Ukraine, is a testament to Putin’s skill at navigating highly complex, multidimensional problems. Continuing high approval ratings in Russia and his success in maintaining normal life are evidence that Putin is succeeding on the last front.

The conflict in Ukraine parallels the Cuban missile crisis. Some like Scott Ritter have argued the risks of nuclear war are worse now, with too many leaders talking up the idea of a tactical nuclear strike. Putin pointed out that the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were 20 kilotons of explosive force, while a tactical nuclear bomb is 75 kilotons (Internet sources suggest the minimum is more like 100 kilotons).

In the Cuban missile crisis, Kennedy reined in the armed forces. We’ve cited this incident occasionally, the first time in 2015:

After the US blockaded Cuba, Khrushchev sent ships on course to Cuba, presumably to break the cordon. Secretary of State Dean Rusk asked the Admiral in charge of the operation what the Navy would do when the Russian ships approached. He was told they’d first make a shot across the bow. Rusk said asked what would happen next if the Russians were not deterred. The Admiral got testy and told Rusk that the Navy had been running blockades since 1812 and it was basically none of his business.

I can’t locate the book readily [Jonathan Glover’s Humanity] to give the exact wording but this is the spirit of Rusk’s dressing down:

This is not about your pettifogging naval traditions. The stakes are much higher than that. This operation is a means for the President to communicate with Khrushchev. You will remain in constant contact. You will not take a single action unless it has been explicitly authorized by the President. Have I made myself clear?

Kennedy did have the better reading of the risk than his hotheaded defense team. As Rev Kev pointed out recently:

My favourite McNamara story is of how he was all in on invading Cuba during the missile crisis of ’62 when he was Secretary of Defense but was over-ruled by JFK. About thirty years later he happened to be sitting at a table next to the Russian in charge of their military in Cuba back then and they got to talking. McNamara nearly fell off his chair when the Russian told him that not only did he have strategic nukes but also tactical nukes and was fully authorized to use them in case of an American invasion.

Similarly, as you’ll see below, those who want a more aggressive campaign are arguing for Russia to go Houthi in the Black Sea, without considering how a full-bore war on naval vessels would have all sorts of collateral damage, particularly for Global South countries with large import/export sectors.

Helmer does describe, in detail, how Russia is ready and able to deliver a knockout blow to Ukraine’s ability to import electricity and fuel to run generators. The speed of unraveling in the face of a big further ratcheting down in energy supplies would presumably be comparatively fast, on the order of weeks rather than months.

But then how to provide humanitarian relief to civilians? Is Russia at all prepared to do so on the scale of what is left of Ukraine? And if Russia is failing to do so, would this not provide an excuse for NATO countries to enter, allegedly to help a suffering population? I don’t see any sign of scenarios for “What happens if we engineer a speedy collapse?” having been thought through, at least by the armchair generals.

Alexander Mercouris recently pointed out another reason for Russia still moving carefully: supply lines. Russia has so far had the luxury of operating almost in its own back yard. As it advances into Ukraine, its logistics will become much more daunting. Those ought to be reasonably well sorted out before making any concerted advances.

And finally, PlutoniumKun pointed out another major issue that will, or should, affect war planning: the probable need to take most of Western Ukraine. Mark Sleboda, who is cautious by temperament, has come around to the conclusion that as problematic as that option is, it’s worse to leave Western Ukraine unresolved so as to allow for continued US/NATO destabilization.

PlutoniumKun noted recently in comments:

I’m glad for once to see someone mention water and sewerage, something often overlooked in all the high level military/geostrategic theorising. Ukraine is topographically flat, which means that nearly all its water services require active pumping.

This has clear strategic implications (nevermind the hardships this will cause for millions of Ukrainians). There is a good reason why most uncontentious national boundaries follow watersheds, not the obvious boundary of rivers – because once a river is shared, you need intensive co-operation on a wide range of issues, from fishing to bridges and dams and flood controls and… water quality. This is obviously unlikely for many years after whatever resolves the war.

Since Russia needs to control the mouth of the Dnieper for strategic purposes, and needs to control the lower dams and canals for water supply, the obvious question is what happens if a rump Ukraine state is either unwilling or unable to maintain infrastructure upriver. Not just dams – what happens if they pump all of Kievs sewerage into the Dnieper? Russia can hardly complain if its crippled Ukraines infrastructure.

So Russia has three choices – seek complete control over most of the Dnieper watershed (which is most of Ukraine), or accept that it has no control over it becoming a sewer and construct alternative infrastructure, or it can try to ensure that whatever deal finally finishes the war includes a comprehensive watershed management. The latter seems very convoluted and unlikely, not least because Russia might then have no choice but to pay for a lot of Ukraines infrastructure repair. So this may well be a major factor in Russias calculations – maybe even more so than the more obvious military calculations. Water infrastructure is very, very expensive, its not something that can be overlooked.

In other words, with the cautious prosecution of the war minimizing Russian deaths, succeeding in vanquishing Ukraine and its NATO backers without Russia having to go on a total war footing, there is a strong argument for sticking with a winning approach until the acceleration of the unraveling of Ukraine argues for a change in operations.

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 Russian military bloggers haven’t been as quick as the Kiev regime and NATO allies to dismiss President Vladimir Putin’s peace terms speech to the Foreign Ministry as propaganda. But they did.

According to Boris Rozhin, the editor-in-chief of the Colonel Cassad military blog, Putin’s speech on Friday morning, June 14,  “was not announced in advance”. The Foreign Ministry audience who assembled “learned about it half an hour in advance, no more.” There is telltale vagueness in the  Kremlin communiqué introducing “a meeting with the senior officials of the Russian Foreign Ministry.”

In practical terms, Moscow’s leading independent military analyst concluded, the speech was a tactical feint and a strategic deception.

“[Putin’s terms] will obviously not be accepted by the West and their Ukrainian puppets,” wrote  Rozhin.  “Against the background of the ‘world summit’ [the Burgenstock, Switzerland, meeting on June 15-16] this will indicate that in fact the West is prolonging the war, so these statements [of Putin] are another torpedo in the summit. Russia is thus showing the countries of the Global South that it has offered a world that will be rejected by those who are broadcasting about ‘peaceful summits’…The war will continue. The goals of the SVO [Special Military Operation] will be achieved by military means.”

The distinction in the last line is between Kremlin political strategy and General Staff military strategy – this is a distinction which published Russian analyses of the president’s speech and the state propaganda organs avoid identifying. The semi-official Vzglyad quoted Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, as characterizing the reaction from the West as “of an unconstructive nature”.  No Russian official will say as little as this for the record.

Instead, Vzglyad has mobilized its official sources to patch over the differences between Kremlin strategy and General Staff strategy by emphasizing that Putin is following the latter. “According to [Putin], the West has received a specific condition – either Ukraine will be outside the NATO bloc, or there will be a bold and sharp onslaught that will leave no chance for the enemies. Putin is confident of victory not only over Ukraine, but also over the entire collective West. The proposal was made in order to recall this initiative after the defeat of Ukraine. But Western leaders did not understand Putin, and then they themselves will say that they want peace… But there will be no mercy, tougher conditions will be put forward.”

In a second report from academics on the Kremlin-financed Valdai Club roster,  Vzglyad claims “the essence of the Russian president’s speech is that the European security system no longer exists and will not be based on the same principles.”  “In addition, the Russian president managed to change the agenda of the Swiss summit…the president’s initiative is capable of transforming the security structures not only of Eurasia, but also in the perspective of the entire planet. In addition, Russia already has really working international institutions in this space: the CIS, SCO, EAEU, CSTO, BRICS, the Union State of Russia and Belarus. All these tools have proven their reliability and suitability in modern conditions.”

The Kremlin’s American camp followers have repeated the semi-official line by scratching the difference between tactics and strategy, between feint and purpose.  “Notice he’s [Putin] not making a demand about Odessa,” said one. “So Odessa is still off the table…So this is a prelude to the next ramp-up in Russian military operations.”

Russian skeptics,  as well as non-Russian military analysts,  point out that Putin has repeatedly refused to follow the General Staff’s advice, restricting their proposed military operations to an extent that there is open questioning about his reasons. One source says Putin’s June 14 exposition is “only half-right in blaming the Western ‘globalist liberal elites’ [Putin’s speech] for the current ‘extremely dangerous state of affairs’ [Putin’s speech].  Ultimately, the ideology of liberalism, inferiority complex, and corruption which dominate the oligarch-backed elite in Moscow has played a major role.”

This is a reference to the role Putin invited the oil and minerals oligarch Roman Abramovich to play in the negotiations of March-April 2022 in Istanbul; in the negotiations with the Ukrainian delegation, Abramovich was Putin’s personal delegate and he outranked the official Russian negotiators.    There was strong domestic military and political opposition to this at the time in Moscow; there remains suspicion of an attempt to repeat by Putin’s Kremlin staff, represented by Peskov, even now.

“He [Putin] cannot be so influenced still as to think the war against Russia via the Kiev regime will stop under the conditions he laid out, nor can he think there are any terms which the US and NATO can be trusted by the Russians to sign. That’s why the Russian Foreign Ministry tabled the terms of a non-aggression and security in Europe requiring the roll-back of NATO’s borders to 1997. That was in December 2021. To think anyone on the other side is trustworthy, or capable of agreement, after all Putin recounted of US aggression, lying, double-dealing,  and Ukrainian Nazism, is impossible.”

In Putin’s June 14 retelling of the Istanbul agreement, “everything” — he said of  the documents  initialed by Russian and Ukrainian negotiators — “was written on paper.”   Then on March 30 [2022], Putin went on, after “the Russian troops were withdrawn from Kiev, the Ukrainian leadership suspended its participation in the negotiations staging the infamous provocation in Bucha, and rejected the prepared version of the agreements. I think today it is clear why that ugly provocation was necessary: to explain why the results that had been achieved during the negotiations were rejected. The path to peace was rejected again. As we know now, it was done on orders from Western curators, including the former UK Prime Minister who said directly during his visit to Kiev – no agreements; Russia must be defeated on the battlefield to achieve its strategic defeat.”

Note that the US newspaper report is based on terms drafted between March 16 and 17, 2022, two weeks before the draft documents were initialed in Turkey.  Subsequent reporting by the newspaper of the negotiations, which continued after the Istanbul meetings, concluded: “On April 15, five days after Mr. Abramovich told the Ukrainians about his meeting with Mr. Putin, the Russian negotiators sent a 17-page draft treaty to their president’s desk. Similar to the month-earlier version, the April 15 draft includes text in red highlighting issues in dispute. But such markings are almost entirely absent from the treaty’s first pages, where points of agreement emerged.”  

In fact, Putin had been unable to convince Russian military and intelligence chiefs that the terms  he had authorized for initialing would be enforceable and would not betray countrywide public support of the announced goals of the Special Military Operation.

Confirmation that Putin had been “micro-managing” the negotiations in Istanbul through Abramovich appears in the New York Times report of the process from Ukrainian and other sources. “ ‘Colleagues, I spoke to RA,’ Ukraine’s lead negotiator, Davyd Arakhamia, wrote on April 10 [2022] in a WhatsApp message to the Ukrainian team. ‘He spoke yesterday for an hour and a half with his boss.’ RA was Roman Abramovich, the Russian billionaire who played a behind-the-scenes role in the talks. His ‘boss,’ Mr. Putin, was urging the negotiators to concentrate on the key issues and work through them quickly, Mr. Arakhamia wrote. (A member of the WhatsApp group showed that message and others to reporters for The Times.).”

In the New York Times version, based on a March 17 draft of terms, no Russian source acknowledges the backlash Putin faced from the General Staff and the Security Council after the full extent of Abramovich’s role became clear from the terms Putin had told his negotiators to sign in Istanbul. After two weeks of internal debate, Putin was forced to back down, and the terms he and Abramovich had conceded on March 31 were revised. The Ukrainian sources feeding the New York Times reporters told them “we had no interest in continuing the talks.”

What is missing from this Ukrainian and American narrative, as well as from the public Russian versions, is that Putin retreated from the terms he had agreed with Abramovich. The role played by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the published narrative, repeated to the press by Israelis and others, had been a minor one.

Last Friday, Putin hinted that the General Staff has opposed his concession terms. “I haven’t spoken about this publicly either but some of those present here know about it. After the Russian army seized part of the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions, many Western politicians offered their mediation in a peaceful settlement of the conflict. One of them was on a working visit to Moscow on March 5, 2022. We accepted his mediation efforts, especially since he said during the conversation that he had secured the support of the leaders of Germany and France, as well as high-ranking US representatives.”

“In course of our conversation our foreign guest wondered – an interesting moment – saying if you are assisting Donbass, then why Russian troops are in the south of Ukraine, including in the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions? We responded to the effect that it was our General Staff ‘s decision [sic] on planning the operation. And I will add today that the idea was to bypass some fortified areas built in Donbass over the eight years by Ukrainian authorities, primarily for liberating Mariupol.”

“Then our foreign colleague specified – a professional man, to be fair to him: are Russian troops going to stay in the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions? And what will happen to these regions after the Special Military Operation has attained its goals? I answered to this that in general I do not rule out preservation of the Ukrainian sovereignty over these territories, provided Russia has a stable land bridge to Crimea.”

It had been clear to the president then, and it is clearer now, that Putin’s “stable land bridge to Crimea” was politically incompatible with “Ukrainian sovereignty” because, as the General Staff kept repeating to Putin, it was militarily impossible.

On Friday Putin kept the identity of the mediator secret on Friday. But it is already well known from the mediator himself. It was the Israeli, former prime minister Naftali Bennett.  He has confirmed his meeting in Moscow with Putin on March 5, 2022.   For Putin to authorize Abramovich and Bennett, two Jewish Israelis, to negotiate Russia’s end-of-war war terms with the Kiev regime remains a highly sensitive issue in Moscow.

Russian public opinion has been clearer on the end-of-war objectives and on terms of negotiations than Putin has admitted himself to have been. For the poll evidence, click to read.


What now, what next?

According to the President on Friday, “a verbatim return to the security proposals that we put forward twenty-five, fifteen, or even two years ago is impossible, as too much has happened and the conditions have changed. However, the basic principles and, most importantly, the very subject of dialogue remain unchanged.” From Putin’s new statement of end-of-war terms, he says the “parameters were broadly agreed upon during the Istanbul negotiations in 2022, including specific details on demilitarisation such as the agreed numbers of tanks and other military equipment. We reached consensus on all points.”

Now, however, with the new long-range artillery, drones, missiles, and F-16s supplied by NATO to the Kiev regime, the depth of “demilitarisation” is more than ten times beyond the “25 mile” (40 kiliometre) range which was one of the Russian parameters in the Istanbul agreement drafts of March 2022.  Read the backfile on what Putin has been calling this “sanitary zone”.

Denazification, the second strategic goal of the Special Military Operation, means regime change in Kiev, but Putin implied last Friday that he means no more than the replacement of Vladimir Zelensky because “the presidential term of the previously elected head of Ukraine has expired along with his legitimacy, which cannot be reinstated by any tricks”. That, he added, leaves only one constitutional authority in the country: “unlike the executive branch, the Verkhovnaya Rada is a legitimate body now. Ukraine is not a presidential republic, but a parliamentary and presidential republic. This is the point.”

Russian sources believe this is beside the point. As Rozhin has written, “the goals of the SVO will be achieved by military means.”

Asked to list what they believe will now be the military targets in the General Staff’s strategy,  the emphasis, the sources say, will continue to be energy generation plants and distribution hubs and networks, especially those through which the replacement electricity is entering the Ukraine from its neighbours – the Chervonograd substation (from Poland); the Mukacheve substation (Slovakia, Hungary,  Romania); the Usatove and Primorska substations (Moldova, Romania); and the Khmelnitsky, Dobrotvirka and Pivendennoukrainska generating hubs. .





The total capacity of these electricity lines is shown as just under 3,890 kV.  On June 10, the Ukrainian state utility Ukrenergo reported  that “almost 25,000 MWh of electricity were imported into the country from Romania, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, and Moldova during the day”. A NATO military engineer  estimates that although Russian raids have forced some of the lines into what is reported publicly as maintenance, the import volume is still running “at or near capacity. But they are struggling. Watch for renewed attacks on the substations connecting the Ukrainian grid to Poland and Romania.” For more technical details on the situation from US engineers, read the comments here.

“If these are knocked out,” a NATO military engineer says, “it’s all over.”

In the meantime, according to this Spanish newspaper report, the billed charge for electricity is rising so fast and so high, at least a quarter of the Ukrainian population cannot afford it. “The electricity tariff from June has increased by 64%, from 2.64 hryvnas per kilowatt-hour (kWh) to 4.32 hryvnas (between $0.064 and $0.11). Days before the Ukrainian Cabinet met on May 30, it was leaked that the increase would be 80%. But the reaction in the media and on social networks made it clear that the measure was highly unpopular at a time when the authorities must also deal with enormous unease over the compulsory conscription process to incorporate hundreds of thousands of civilians into the army.”

“Dixi informs this newspaper that its estimates in 2023 indicated the average monthly consumption per household in Ukraine was 155Kwh. In this average scenario, the monthly household bill would rise from $10 to $16.6. The Ukrainian Statistics Service indicates that the average monthly salary in Ukraine was equivalent to $471 at the end of last year. The World Bank estimated that in 2022 alone, the year in which Russia launched its invasion, the poverty rate in Ukraine rose from 5.5% to 24% of the population. There is no alternative to raising tariffs, say the government and companies in the sector.”

This means that the multi-billion dollar cash transfers to the Kiev regime from the US and European Union for non-military budget support are being diverted, and failing to reach the population.

To run emergency generating sets powered by diesel and to fuel the Ukrainian military movements requires fuel storages. The Russian Defense Ministry’s daily operations bulletin is reporting daily strikes at these throughout the country.

On the border there are a series of targets which Russian sources expect to be hit in the coming days. The lead image map shows their locations and functions (red for rail, orange for road,   blue for bridge and ferry). Rozhin has reprinted this analysis of these targets.  “Since sending military aid by air is not available, most of the cargo is delivered by rail, heavy trucks, or, much more risky, by sea. Either way, all cargoes go through customs and checkpoints. In the west and south-west of Ukraine there are about 87 sea, pedestrian, rail, and road border crossings…Taking into account the checkpoints that Ukraine received from the USSR, this number can be increased by almost half, but a significant part of such crossings is either destroyed, looted in previous decades, or abandoned under the USSR. However, most of the border crossings are on the border with Moldova. There are 34 of them, but they are not used as intensively as the checkpoints for transit to and from the territory of NATO countries. The state of some of them is far from ideal.”

Rozhin’s purpose in mapping the targets is to ask the question publicly: “If all border crossings are known, why not intercept military cargo there?”

“In the west and south-west, Ukraine borders Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova. The total length of the border in these areas is 777 km. The long-range weapons of the Russian Federation — for example, X-101 missiles with cluster and high-explosive warheads —   are sufficient to destroy military cargo directly on the border. All the coordinates of the border crossings are almost certainly known to the Russian military. But the main problem in the matter of the destruction of military cargo at these points is reconnaissance and obtaining reliable data on the time of shipments of cargo columns. The determining parameter in this case is the precise time for the crossing of the cargo on to the territory of Ukraine.” The original military blog source can be followed here.

In similar fashion, Rozhin and other military bloggers are asking publicly why there are Kremlin restrictions on targets which the US, NATO and the Ukrainians are using for drone and missile attacks on Crimea, as well as deeper into the Russian heartland. Putin addressed this question in his press conference with international reporters on June 5.

“What can the Ukrainian military – not the ones who are just sitting there and pressing buttons – but the higher-ranking ones do when it comes to target assignment? They can identify a target that is a priority for them. But they are not the ones who decide whether a particular target should be hit, because, to reiterate, a WTA (weapon target assignment) is formed and effectively entered only by those who supply the weapons. If we are talking about ATACMS, then the Pentagon is doing it. If it is Storm Shadow, then the British are. It is even more straightforward in the case of Storm Shadow, because the target assignment is entered automatically, without the involvement of the military personnel on the ground. The British do it, that is all there is to it.”

“And when the Bundeswehr military were pondering an attack on the Crimean Bridge or other targets, they were thinking for themselves.  No one was doing it for them, right? They were going to do it. The same goes for the French specialists. Western specialists do it. We have no illusions about this. How are we supposed to respond?”

“First, we will, of course, improve our air defence systems. We will be destroying their missiles. Second, we believe that if someone is thinking that it is possible to supply such weapons to a war zone in order to deliver strikes at our territory and to create problems for us, why can we not supply our weapons of the same class to those regions around the world where they will target sensitive facilities of the countries that are doing this to Russia? The response could be symmetrical. We will give it a thought.”

“Third, sure enough, such actions will wreck international relations, which have already hit rock bottom, and undermine international security. Ultimately, if we see that these countries are being embroiled into a war against us, and this constitutes their direct involvement in the war against the Russian Federation, we reserve the right to respond in kind. Generally speaking, this path may lead to serious problems. I think that covers it all. If you have any leading questions, please go ahead. But I do not think I can add anything to what I just said.”

Several days later, after a fresh series of missile attacks on Crimea were launched, the Russian military bloggers responded with this leading question – why are the US, French and British systems operating in the Black Sea not targeted when their role in the Russian attacks is certain?

Mikhail Zvinchuk, principal of the Rybar military blog, has reported that on the eve of the June 10-11 missile attacks on the Peninsula, “it is worth noting that… NATO satellites were again active. The target reconnaissance alternately depended on which areas were planned [for missile attack] — on June 8-9, the northwestern part of the Crimea was filmed, and on June 10 and 11, Sevastopol and the centre of the Peninsula. In addition, yesterday and the day before yesterday, special attention of the satellites was paid to the eastern part of the Crimea. Filming was conducted of Theodossia, Kirovsky, Kerch, and of course, the Crimean Bridge… Also, during today’s attack [June 12] in the western part of the Black Sea, the American RQ-4B drone was operating…After the strikes, it moved to the eastern part of the sea area closer to the Crimean Bridge, where, unhindered, it was operating until the morning. This fact,  together with the active work of the satellites, as well as consecutive strikes on the air defence positions, first in the northwest, then in the south, allow us to conclude that the next goal may be the east of the Peninsula.”


Source: the map indicates the tracking paths of the RQ-4B on May 29.  This Italian source regularly maps and reports on US and NATO operations in the Black Sea region, usually with a time lag of several days.

In parallel, according to the Rybar report, there appeared “for the first time in a month and a half,  south of Feodosia,  the French long-range radar detection aircraft, the E-3F, and the French Navy aircraft [Bréguet] Atlantique 2 [based at Souday Bay, Crete]. In the west of the sea also flew the RC-135V of the British Air Force. That is a lot for one day, isn’t it?  As noted repeatedly, the main goal of the West is the Crimean Bridge, and for this it is necessary to reduce the combat potential of the air defence in the Crimea.”

The Russian Air Force has downed a USAF drone operating against the Crimea in March 2023.  Since last October the Houthis, assisted by Iran and possibly by Russia, have downed several USAF drones operating in the Red Sea to assist Anglo-American attacks on targets in Yemen.

What the military bloggers like Rozhin and Zvinchuk are saying is why not strike at these targets now?

“What we have in the end,” Zvinchuk has written on June 12, is that “the air defence strikes are aimed at weakening the protection near the Crimean Bridge, which must be taken into account and measures taken to modify the available means of missile defence – the missiles are shot down, but not all of them. The enemy is clearly preparing for a new attack. We’ve already identified two false starts – they can be called the harbinger of massive strikes; it is possible they will be aimed at the bridge. In the future, the lack of opposition, the reluctance to accept reality and learn from mistakes can affect the potential of the air defence of the Crimea. Already this will play a key role when the F-16 fighters will make their appearance.”

“Reluctance to accept reality and learn from mistakes” – this criticism is aimed, not at the General Staff, but at the Kremlin.


Map of Ukrainian missile strikes on Crimea, June 10-12 – posted by Rybar, June 21 at 20:29h.

On June 14 Zvinchuk returned to the targeting of the USAF drones. “For the first time, the American Triton [MQ-4C] appeared on the Crimean shores right before a massed blow on the Crimea.  The question of what you can expect from its presence in the Black Sea region begs itself. Especially when the curators of the Ukrainian military will not miss such an opportunity to attack. And if this happens, it will again be possible to raise the question of the advisability of a more radical counteraction to American aviation near the Russian borders. Someday, maybe, we will come to the same measures as the Houthis.”

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  1. zagonostra

    …there is a strong argument for sticking with a winning approach until the acceleration of the unraveling of Ukraine argues for a change in operations.

    And that unraveling for Ukraine will only manifest in Ukraine as the “West” itself unravels. However, it seems to be sputtering on as usual with its decrepit leadership, foundering financial system, and ever deepening disillusionment of its population.

  2. Chris Cosmos

    This is about as “meaty” a story as I’ve seen on this site. There are many moving parts here and clearly internal opposition within Moscow. We also need to better understand the US/NATO leadership struggle more clearly. So I want to offer some thoughts on this.

    It is important to remember that Europe, even after 911, was not gung-ho on US imperialism during the Afghan and, in particular, the Iraq wars–they did not trust the aggressive nature of the Bush/Cheney administration–yet something happened between 2006 and now that changed the views of European leaders. What was that? I think it was the willingness of Washington to do “whatever it takes” to dominate the world (“full-spectrum dominance”) and that Euro leaders had better take note of US power within Euro countries through covert ops and NGOs that the leadership was vulnerable to. There’s no other possible motivation for the NATO countries to meekly follow Washington. Case and point, is that after the US led coup in Ukraine in 2014 France and Germany negotiated, with obviously fraudulent intent, to swindle the Russians out of a peace deal. By then Europe had somehow agreed that a full out war against Russia was necessary including the cutting of trade and Germany willing to harm its (and Euroipe’s) economy in order to further the war objec tives which included taking orders from Washington.

    Besides this Washington managed to convince the Europeans that the real danger lay with China which was the real target of all this craziness. The mantra in Washington among foreign policy professionals was “it’s either us or the Chinese and it better be us.” Only a few “realists” dissented which is why the foreign-policy community in the West is so united. They see it as a crusade and that the people who live in the USA and Europe are relevant only in the sense that they must be forced to bite the bullet and be convinced to support this crusad against the East so to speak. The dream of the leadership within the West is to recreate the Roman Empire with Washington at the center. They believe they have the winning strategy–by keeping up military pressure on “the bad guys” (yes foreign policy types really think in terms of good-guys against bad-guys graduate degrees notwithstanding) while, more importantly, spreading Hollywood/Silicon Valley cultural norms using movies, music, and social media to spread the materialism/hedonism that has soured the US national mood. There is still, within leadership circles, this notion that the “American Way of Life would spread and “flourish” everywhere in the world as historically inevitable. You can plug-in the whole “end of history” BS into all this.

    As for Russia/China, they had better get it together and understand that there is no alternative to war if this US/EU alliance holds. The best thing they can do is hope that economic conditions for the West deteriorate. I don’t see that happening any time soon, but who knows?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The financial crisis happened too.

      Europe needed dollar swap lines to bail out EU banks for all the bad US cooking they ate (the swap lines allowed the ECB to convert the euros it could create to dollars to fund dollar assets when dollar lending had dried up). The US performed way better in the “rescue the banksters” category, while Europe lurched from emergency to emergency thought at least 2015.

      So as bad as the US performance looked to us, it was a paragon of competence compared to what went on in the EU.

      And there has been weakening in leadership across the board, in the US and Europe. It is not clear to me why things degenerated in Europe. In the US, “talent” first went into finance, then into adminsphere looting via bloat (particularly higher education and health care) while public sector work was seen as useful only to generate connections, rather than contribute to society. Curious as to what the drivers were in Europe.

  3. Jams O'Donnell

    I always thought Paul Craig Roberts was very much over the top in his complaints about Russian timidity, but I’ve come to the conclusion that he does have a point. Putin’s caution in not deterring obvious western targeting flights over the Black Sea merely leads the west to be even more brazen in their participation in the war, and an accumulation of such behaviour may eventually lead to disaster.

    The destruction of one drone was obviously not enough. I imagine that Russia could prove that information was being relayed to Ukrainian missile sites from these planes, and that would amount to a clear involvement in the war. Logically, a warning should be issued, followed by the shooting down of drones and if necessary manned flights. The USSR did this quite readily (and sometimes mistakenly) during the Cold War, without any serious consequences. (Although western leaders were arguably much saner – or at least wiser – in those days).

    1. JonnyJames

      I stopped paying attention to ol’ PCR years ago, when his opinion regarding the DT became disconnected with reality, and full of wishful thinking and hypocrisy. He did a great job criticizing the Obama regime though.

      I do think he is over-the-top in his armchair generalship. I tend to follow the more realistic assessments of Mercouris, Ritter, Helmer, McGovern and and others.

      And the nuclear elephant in the room is hard not to notice as well. Playing nuclear “chicken” is not a good policy, unless we believe Nuclear Winter will ameliorate Global Warming

    2. Chris Cosmos

      As I have mentioned before on this site, PCR has a point but the situation is faaar more complex than he lets on. Putin is a master at playing complex political games which makes him ideally suited for this situation. He is dealing with factions within his own country and within his military that means he has to be very careful. But, more importantly, he is playing the multi-polarity game which means not just handling the needs and wants of China but also countries like India and Turkey who, in turn, have their own complicated politics. Putin is also dealing with aligning with factions within the EU that aren’t all singing every single note from the Washington hymn book.

      As for his relations with the USA, at the moment there are no real FP factions only various grades of neocons. The real movers and shakers are the finance oligarchs in the USA and, to a lesser degree, in the City of London (which is almost its own country). To start throwing missiles around and cause a major humanitarian crisis in Ukraine would be a mistake this year at least and “testing” the West would only uplift factions that are balls-to-the-wall imperialists whose hold on Europe is not as strong as it was just last year.

      1. JonnyJames

        Ok, but I’m not sure “balls-to-the-wall” is an apt expression. Los imperialistas no tiene cojones.
        Pathetic, pencil-necked, coddled, cowardly wannabe “tough guys/gals” full of imperial hubris, or something like that might be more accurate. It’s the sfuff of parody and satire. One positive thing about current events is that the tragic humor just keeps coming, no need for comedy writers.

        1. Chris Cosmos

          Well, certainly you have a point and you may be right on some of the types that navigate careers in the bureaucracy but send out people who are about as brutal as you can imagine and will carry out any atrocity you can possibly imagine–I’ve know a few of these guys.

  4. ilsm

    Let the Houthi, and maybe Helzbolah shoot Reapers, Global Hawks, and Tritons. Leave US their headlines and no outcome strikes!

    Russia is stressing two important parts of the U.S.’ supply chain: distance and stock/restock.

    Distance bleeds resources and pipeline fill. That is variable cost overhead, excess baggage so to speak.

    Stock/restock is stressed, since 1991 the west’s industrial infrastructure has left the small arsenal system with no industry to convert to surge war materiel production. While the expenditure of expensive low performing missiles stress the potential of those selling low quality new versions.

    Lots of profit!

    1. viscaelpaviscaelvi

      Very often, Yves’ introductions are much better and illuminating than the article itself.

  5. sarmaT

    (Internet sources suggest the minimum is more like 100 kilotons).

    The link is not about tactical nuclear devices, but about nuclear weapons in general. Tactical nukes are intentionally made with smaller yield in order to limit damage (and it can be really low, like in M-28 Davy Crockett).

    Putin mentioned Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and all those kilotons, in order to scare people. It has more effect than saying “we have 152mm artillery shells with power of four Davy Crocketts”.

    1. hk

      I always got the impression that what Russians call “tactical” (I think it’s actually “non strategic”) nuclear weapons are fundamentally different from that of the West: if it stays in Europe, it’s not “strategic,” or something like that. So, London, Paris, and Berlin are “non strategic” targets and so on.

      1. sarmaT

        Yes. They say non-strategic, intentionally. In international agreements, strategic nukes are defined is some ways. For example, Sarmat missiles are strategic. Iskander system is operational-tactical, and a nuke on it is not necessarily tactical, but it is non-strategic.

        London and Paris are strategic targets, but Warsaw just might not be. :)

        P.S. Operational level is between strategic and tactical, and Russians are known for their operational art.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      So far as I know, the only tactical nukes the US still has in stock is the B61 range, which have variable yields from less than 1 to 400 or so kilotons. These are the bombs maintained for use for tactical strikes by cruise missile or dumb bomb drops. I don’t think the US still has any medium range rockets with nuclear warheads since the Lance and Pershings were taken out of service in the 1990’s.

      1. Aurelien

        That’s my understanding too. They are intended to be gravity dropped from aircraft flying directly over the target, and are a relic of the Cold War, when it was thought that desperate attempts could be made to use them to stop massive concentrations of Soviet forces breaking through. There are generally thought to be about a hundred of them in Europe, and the ubiquitous F-16 (which might one day actually appear in Ukraine) is able to carry them. The problem is that it’s almost impossible to imagine a real use for them on a target which would be within the range of F-16s, even if they could survive Russian air defences. In this war, forces are very spread out, and there are simply no massive troops concentrations to strike. The effectiveness of nuclear weapons falls off sharply with distance, but of course their use would kill civilians, destroy towns and make parts of Ukraine uninhabitable. That may not quite be what NATO wants.

        The US may (it’s not clear from open sources) still have some AGM-86 cruise missiles with a variant of the B61 warhead, although they are now very elderly. They would be launched from B-52s, and would require that aircraft to be deployed to Europe and flown by US crews. At that point, the US is at war with Russia.

        Terminology is a problem here, and differs even between western states let alone with Russia. Broadly, tactical is what happens on the battlefield, and a tactical nuclear weapon is one that could affect the outcome of a battle. The orchestrated use of nuclear weapons against a number of battlefield targets to achieve a higher-level effect would be an example of operational use. Strategic nuclear weapons are by convention those directed against strategic targets: cities, command centres, the nuclear forces of the enemy etc. But like I said, it’s complicated.

        1. wendigo

          It is not correct to say that tactical nuclear weapons would make the impacted areas uninhabitable.

          Lots of information available on the internet about the timelines of the reconstruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

          Unfortunately it is a question of morality preventing the use of nuclear weapons, not the question of becoming uninhabitable or the spread of fallout.

          1. Aurelien

            The situations are quite different. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were airbursts with little fallout, over cities where most buildings were made of wood. TNWs are designed to cause the maximum destruction and would be set for ground-burst, probably leading to massive fall-out and widespread fires. There are simulations of this kind of thing going back seventy years. My point is that dropping nuclear weapons on a country you claim to be liberating may not be the wisest strategy.

      2. hk

        .5-50kt, I think, for the variable yield type. The 400kt is a separate subtype of B61 that is not variable.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          Yes, sorry, I didn’t write that as clearly as I should have – only some B61 variants have variable yields.

    3. ilsm

      I am so old…

      I remember, vaguely an Army TV show the Big picture, one installment had a subject of tactical nuclear detonations.

      At the time both sides had atomic cannon. Years later I knew a retired Army ordnance officer who had run a supply point with atomic shells.

      Those days were before ICBM’s!

      ICBM, SLBM, etc make mutual assured destruction (MAD) so possible as to raise the fear of an “August 1914”.

      I have suspicion that Russia may have a few rounds laying about.

      By the Cuban crisis nukes became frightening beyond the 1950 when they were small in number,…

      My personal experiences make me worry about the sanity of this crowd tilting MAD for the chance to sunder Russia.

      The huge immorality, risking civilization!

      The maximum regret approaches infinity

    4. GM

      The distinction between tactical and strategic nukes is one of delivery systems and use, not yield.

      ICBMs and SLBMs are strategic nukes, that fly around the globe. You would not use them tactically, also because the mere act of firing them is supposed to be a laucnh-on-warning trigger for the other side. But in terms of yield, they are actually not even that big these days, because of MIRVs. Each MIRV is around 300 kt. I think only the Chinese still have a lot of megaton-sized warheads.

      Tactical nukes are put on short-ranged delivery platforms, and yes, they do include the lower-yield warheads, but they can be used for strategic purposes too. Putin mentioned something about 70-75 kt warheads on Russian Iskanders recently. In reality they likely have different warheads for different purposes, as well a dial-a-yield warheads. But let’s say it’s 75-kt. What can you do with that? Well, that will take out not just the airbase in Rzezhow (where NATO logistics for Ukraine are centered), but also the city itself. And a salvo of 50 of these will basically end Poland’s exists if aimed at their major cities (there will probably be 5-10M survivors in the villages in between, but they would have to evacuate immediately if they are to survive long term). Is that a tactical or strategic use?

      However, there are tactical targets for which you do indeed need tens of kilotones. Large airfields, deep underground bunkers, etc.

      Finally, the Kremlin has an obvious use for tactical nukes so solve a problem that can really only be solved with tactical nukes, that urgently must be solved, and that is mentioned in the article quite a bit too. And that is to seal the border crossings. Think about the practicalities here. In principle the Kremlin should have been by now firing hundreds of autonomous, or satellite-linked Shahed drones with cameras to loiter over the border and shut it down by hitting military cargo. In practice, they don’t have these, and it’s not really going to work out anyway, because the military cargo is entering in small batches and using civilian cargo trucks that are indistinguishable from true civilian cargo. So you need to destroy the actual border crossings. That means roads and railways. How do you do that though? You can send some heavy missiles, and sure, you will dig holes big enough to block the road and cut off the railway, but with 1000-kg warheads all you can do is dig holes big enough for repairs to last a week at most. Then the connection will be back up and running. But what can you do with a tactical nuke? That will actually do it, but with a bit of an unusual targeting. Airbursts may melt the railway tracks and glass the asphalt, but what you really want is to physically disrupt and radiologically contaminate an area of a couple kilometers in radius so that repairs are impossible for months without complete rerouting, which will also take a long time. Which you can do by firing missiles that bury deep in the ground (Kinzhals are ideal for that), then the explosions happens 40-50 meters underground, and you get massive soil liquefaction and total destruction of all surface structures in a rather large radius (watch the Sedan explosion on YouTube, and other footage of underground tests from back in the days, and you will see what I am talking about). By doing that the Kremlin would achieve:

      1) Physically isolate Ukraine and stop the flow of weapons
      2) Show the world, and especially NATO how serious the situation is
      3) Not kill almost anyone (airbursts would kill tens of thousands around the border crossings, including quite likely on NATO territory, which will be a problem; underground explosions will not)
      4) Buy a couple months of time to make serious advances. Although, of course, if the Poles and Romanians still don’t get the message even after that, and try to reeastblish road and rail connections, you repeat the administration of the medicine.

      Given where we are in the escalation sequence now, this should have arguably been done quite some time ago. “We will consider (when?) providing weapons (what kind of weapons) to hostile to the West groups (which groups and where, and what are they going to actually fire those against?)” is just pathetic weakness when the HIMARS and ATACMS missiles are already flying at Belgorod and Kursk.

      1. sarmaT

        …just pathetic weakness…

        Also rude, for not following detailed instructions on how to run-a-county-and-win-wars carefully formulized by armchair generals that can’t run their own country, or win a war. It’s almost like those pesky Ruskies don’t care about opinions of intelectually superior Tom Clancymen. Preposterous, I say.

      2. TMR

        It’s worth noting that 10 300 kt warheads in a honeycomb pattern are far more destructive than a single 3 MT warhead, owing to the inverse square and square-cube laws.

  6. bwilli123

    A clarification of Yves’s quote. It was from McNamara not Rusk.

    “…One lesson some of the Kennedy administration had learnt from The
    Guns of August was not to allow military drift. Kennedy himself was
    worried about the use of nuclear weapons by American forces in Turkey
    and Italy. He ordered that specific orders were to be sent underlining the
    need for presidential authorization.
    The Defence Secretary, Robert McNamara, insisted on controlling the
    way the navy carried out the blockade. He saw Admiral Anderson the day
    before the first Soviet ship was due to reach the quarantine line. He asked
    how the ship was to be stopped, and the Admiral said they would hail it.
    McNamara asked whether this would be in English or Russian, and what
    would happen if they did not understand or did not stop.
    He later recounted the Admiral’s response:
    ‘We’ll send a shot across the bow,’ he said.
    ‘Then what, if that doesn’t work?’
    ‘Then we’ll fire into the rudder,’ he replied, by now clearly very annoyed.
    ‘What kind of ship is it?’ I asked.
    ‘A tanker, Mr Secretary,’ he said.

    ‘You’re not going to fire a single shot at anything without my express
    permission, is that clear?’ I said. That’s when he made his famous remark
    about how the Navy had been running blockades since the days of John Paul
    Jones, and if I would leave them alone they would run this one successfully as
    well. I rose from my chair and walked out of the room, saying this was not a
    blockade but a means of communication between Kennedy and Khrushchev;
    no force would be applied without my permission; and that would not be given
    without discussion with the President. ‘Was that understood?’ I asked. The
    tight-lipped response was ‘Yes’….”

    Ch. 22 Sliding Out of the Trap: 1962 (page 215)
    HUMANITY A Moral History of the Twentieth Century

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Thank you!! I will use the correct quote going forward,

      I must have gotten in my head that it was Rusk because I recall Kennedy really not trusting the military to behave (as confirmed by this interaction). Even though McNamara represents the proper chain of command, State then was seen as the most senior of all agencies, so one could conceivably deliver orders though its Secretary. .

    2. CA

      “One lesson some of the Kennedy administration had learnt from The Guns of August was not to allow military drift.”

      Superb comment.

      1. Alex Cox

        Kennedy distrusted his generals, yet he was highly reckless regarding the possibility of starting a nuclear war. He threatened this twice, not only over Cuba but also over Berlin.

        Nixon subscribed to Kissinger’s madman theory but his threats were so frequent that the Russians stopped believing them. Whereas Kennedy seemed to mean it. In that sense he was the most dangerous US president till Biden came along.

    3. AG

      Being the last to concede anything to JFK he did also take back command over WMDs in Europe. Eisenhower for whatever crazy reason had granted local generals in command authority over their use. Which was nuts.

      And yes, pretty good piece by Mrs. Smith.
      As to Helmer as our source in Moscow.

      I have no idea. But this entire topic is so important and contrived as to who says what why, other sources from there might be helpful, too.
      But in any case Helmer is a good starting point to look “beyond the curtain” as the first comment here suggests.

      As Germany is concerned, except the site “Anti-Spiegel”, even indie media have zilch competence on what is going on in Moscow re: Istanbul.

      p.s. Craig Murray in one of his latest campaign videos confirms that he was there as an advisor to the Turkish government. From his short-hand its the US/GB who sabotaged it. If asked more closely about what Helmer suggested above I do not know what he would say. Murray stated that he used to have sources close to Putin until the war broke out. So he is cut off from that.

  7. Socal Rhino

    I think leadership in Russia has been exercising discipline to ensure they act at the time of their choosing, and not letting themselves be provoked into reaction. The longer game benefits Russia (and China). Their biggest risk, I think, is the US going nuclear, and the slow path of relentless attrition minimizes that risk. They are managing escalation.

    To Yves point about papering: Lot of Dune lovers here, I’ll mention that Martyanov’s take on Putin’s speech was a clip from Lynch’s movie. Informed that Paul’s father had refused his peace proposal, the Harkonnen cackled and said the forms of kanly (vendetta) had been observed because he’d -offered-

  8. The Rev Kev

    When asked about a lost battle, Churchill replied that he did not watch the battles but the trends. So what are the trends here? Ukrainian manpower is being depleted at the rate of what, 30,000 a months? They are turning to their jails for new recruits who may do a runner when released. Those guys remaining must be exhausted by now and are stretched thin. Next. Artillery rounds are way short in supply and the Russians can swamp them with their own plentiful supplies. Next. The guys at the Duran report that there are fewer and fewer tanks and APCs to be seen in use by the Ukrainians as the Russians are methodically taking them out one after another. Next. The Russians have taken out the bulk majority of the Ukrainian electricity supplies leaving the Ukrainians in short supply. Next. The remaining population in the Ukraine may be only 20 million in total and the workforce from it is being depleted as more and more men are snatched away to be sent to the front. Next. There is basically no real Ukrainian economy and they are only propped up by western payments. Next. The only countries that really support them are those of the Collective West with the Global majority mostly showing them no interest at all. Next. In spite of all those western missiles directed and aimed by the west, they make no difference in the fighting at all. Fact. Support in the Ukraine for the war is fragmentating while in Russia they are determined to so see it through to the end. Sooner or later there will be a collapse of the Ukrainian military as all these trends overwhelm them. When will that be? Don’t know. But one day the Ukrainians will be holding the line and the next they will be collapsing and trying to flee. And that is when the panic will hit in the west.

    1. ChrisFromGA

      And add to the mix, a default on Ukraine’s sovereign debt in August. From Reuters:

      Ukraine failed to reach an agreement with a group of bondholders to restructure about $20B of international debt during formal negotiations, a report said.

      An agreement with international bondholders that allowed Ukraine to suspend payments in 2022 ends in August.

      Couple of thoughts:

      1. Suspending payments on debt is a technical default. Just because the creditors agree to it doesn’t change the fact. Because entire countries can’t file for bankruptcy as a corp can, creditors really have no choice but to accept the default and try to negotiate.

      2. Another “can kick” is probably coming, as it is the go-to move of financial criminals like Yellen. Perhaps some of the $61B that was meant to go to the battlefield will get diverted to pay BlackRock, Vanguard, and other creditors. Anything to paper the rot over and live to fight another day.

    2. CA

      “When asked about a lost battle, Churchill replied that he did not watch the battles but the trends.”

      Superb comment

    3. Ignacio

      Panic in the West.

      How will the different parties react here in panic? How will react the US Dpt. of State? How the European Chihuahuas? How the larger European Chihuahuas? Will the West keep united or will begin a blaming game?
      Tis a mistery because very little of what I have read, from for instance Spanish think tanks, considers the possibility of an Ukrainian collapse as a more or less near outcome. They believe the war will go on for years to come.

      1. ChrisFromGA

        If the Baltic states are Chihauhuas what do we call Argentina, now that Millei is kissing the glove of Z-man?

        A pet rat? Or how about a parrot? As in “Brrrrawk! Do whatever my Yanqui master says!”

        1. Ignacio

          I call the Europeans Chihuahuas because they bark a lot but they haven’t real teeth to show in the conflict. With regards to Milei, whose objective is to destroy any semblance of a civil society in Argentina (an accelerated experiment of Neoliberalism). What he is trying with his position regarding Ukraine is to shift the attention far away form his actions in Argentine. He is not barking. He is applying his venom mercilessly. A viper Milei is.

      2. vao

        How the larger European Chihuahuas?

        The term “poodle” is well-established to describe those.

        1. JonnyJames

          But poodles get a bad rap: they are very intelligent and not all are small. To use a anthropomorphic metaphor, I like “lapdog” better.

      3. Chris Cosmos

        I have no idea how Europe would react to a collapse but I know that the US would just shrug its shoulders and declare “mission accomplished” by asserting that the war cost Russia a lot and, most importantly by far, is that US arms manufacturers got a nice hefty bit money out of the whole thing–we have to remember that the USA is all about making money and US officials are happy to lose all wars. The Afghan and Vietnam wars are the ideal war for Washington–the main thing is that they lasted a long time and I think the same goes for this war.

        1. The Rev Kev

          In addition. the EU will have been wrecked as an economic competitor to the US and will be far more dependent on them. Mission accomplished indeed.

      4. GramSci

        The war in Afghanistan went on for years with only the facade of a government. The US political parties and the US Department of State will react with a yawn. As Michael Hudson said at the outset, the principle immediate objective has been achieved. Germany and Europe have been conquered, and there’s nothing they can do about it except ally with Russia and China. US think tanks aren’t worried about that happening.

    4. GM

      When asked about a lost battle, Churchill replied that he did not watch the battles but the trends. So what are the trends here?

      The trend is that Russians are dying (on both sides — always remember that most Ukrainians are Russians too) and Russian infrastructure (on both sides — always remember that everything in Ukraine was built by the USSR and will have to be rebuilt by Russia, regardless of who wins the war, either through reparations or after annexation), and that NATO is striking increasingly deep into Russia, now at strategic systems too, with Russian AD being gradually depleted.

      Meanwhile nobody is striking directly at NATO and NATO is suffering no depletion of strategic assets.

      What does that trend look like extrapolated into the medium-term future unless something drastically changes?

      Furthermore, Ukraine wasn’t turned into an anti-Russian platform from which to strike at Russia overnight. It took many years. What did the trend look like back in 2014. Back in 2004?

      And who was in power in the Kremlin then and allowed that trend to develop?

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        There is no evidence of Russia AD being degraded or more than pinprick attacks into Russia. You need to stop these fabrications. Russia is becoming more, not less, effective in stopping Western missiles like HIMARS and ATACMS as it get more experience with them. It is the West that is running out of weapons stocks and has no serious plans to scale up to produce more.

        1. Polar Socialist

          There is no evidence of Russia AD being degraded

          There’s evidence that before the war Russia was producing between 36 and 48 S-400 launchers per year. Assuming S-400 production has also gone to second gear since the hostilities began, it’s very likely Russia has now much more of them than before the invasion.

          There’s also news (from Russian sources) that first S-500 battery has been deployed in the Krasnodar area to protect the Crimean bridge (and probably Crimea, too. It can hit targets all the way to Mikolaev and Dnipro). More and better indeed doesn’t sound like degradation.

        2. sarmaT

          It’s not about evidence, but about emotions. Fabrications are needed to validate emotions.

          He is pissed that Russians are not doing what he wants them to. For reasons unbeknownst to me, bunch of people in the West actually think that they know how-to-be-Russian better than Russians themselves. Maybe it’s the good ol’ Western exceptionalism.

      2. Pearl Rangefinder

        There may be a lot of blame for Putin’s inaction. It will certainly be one for the historybooks to figure out what exactly was the thinking going on behind the scenes back in 2014. I still vividly recall the arguments with my father who wrote Putin off as a softie in 2014 because, as he put it, “he should be invading the whole damn country. WTF is he waiting for?”. And more along those types of lines. I wish I knew more people from Russia back then to get a feel for what public opinion was regarding the beginnings of this whole mess.

        Putin certainly has a reputation for cautiousness, which is immensely amusing to me given the media caricature we have of him in the Western press. I’ve noticed that in pro-Russian online circles there’s an almost palpable sense of fear that Putin will “cuck out” and sign a terribly unfavourable peace deal with the West because this is in his nature (apparently). The involvement of Abramovic and Bennet only raises even more suspicions (those Israeli’s sure do get around don’t they?). ‘Lucky’ for them that the West is currently living through a Captain Ahab moment and would rather seemingly destroy itself than make any concessions to Putler.

    5. TMR

      Churchill was also responsible for Gallipoli, the Italian campaign, and the unraveling of the Empire. He had many bons mots, but he was a far better self-promoter and politician than military observer and strategist.

  9. zach

    Yet another missed opportunity. Pure speculation, but based on Mr. Putin’s dealmaking nature, Ukraine – whoever can credibly negotiate there currently – likely could have negotiated retaining the cross-river areas of Kherson and Zaporozhye in exchange for vacating Lugansk. That would be Ukraine taking into account “the realities on the ground.”

    But then, that would also involve swearing off the hard stuff imported from the west, as the Dude would say, gotta feed the monkey.

    Very interesting new info about the scuttled Istanbul negotiations. Seems Mr. Putin is getting squeezed between his military and the revenant western leadership, both itching for a showdown. More speculation, but I’d guess the military people weren’t too thrilled at Mr. Putin’s idea of supplying the far flung western bloc oppositionists – their job is to protect Russia, not further inflame hot spots around the world.

    1. ChrisFromGA

      Russia controls something like 94% of Lugansk and the rest is a grey zone of fields and tiny villages that will become Russian given nothing else but extrapolation and the passage of a short amount of time. So that would be a bad trade.

      A better trade would be those cross-river areas of Kherson and Zap agreeing to pass a law forbidding foreign ownership of land, limiting it to Ukrainian and Russians. That would be the bitterest of pills for the West to swallow, as it would ruin the plans of Monsanto and Blackrock to swallow up Ukrainian fertile agricultural lands post-war. And it would make entry of Ukraine into the EU more difficult, although not impossible as I am sure an exception could always be made to EU rules on the freedom of capital and other neoliberal shibboleths.

      However, it would clearly be in the interest of a sovereign Ukraine that doesn’t just curtsey to its suzerain, so politically it would serve to clarify who is running the show in terms of negotiations. A rejection of that term by furious overlords in Brussels and DC would be likely, but be a way to show Ukrainians that Russia still has their longer-term interests in mind.

      It may be that Putin just doesn’t think along these lines and clever negotiating ploys aren’t his style.

      1. Retired Carpenter

        re:“clever negotiating ploys aren’t his style”
        Clever? Whatever does that mean? Perhaps, in your opinion, Putin is not “clever”, but can you, really, discount his intelligence? IMO, Putin would make a hell of a union boss.
        Retired Carpenter

        1. ChrisFromGA

          “Clever” can be a negative thing, as in “too clever for their own good.” I am certain that Putin is extremely intelligent as evidenced by his interview with Carlson where he spoke extemporaneously for hours on Russian history.

          My idea of trading land for legally forbidding parts of Ukraine from selling their land to foreigners was just a suggestion. If the Kremlin had a “suggestion box” I might drop it in there, of course under a different alias and while surfing off the coffee shop Wi-Fi in full costume and on a VPN.

    2. zach

      Russia controls something like 94% of Lugansk and the rest is a grey zone of fields and tiny villages that will become Russian given nothing else but extrapolation and the passage of a short amount of time. So that would be a bad trade.

      You’re absolutely correct – I meant Donetsk. Slow going through there by all accounts.

  10. JW

    Leave it to ‘the west’ to escalate, and counter it. That’s what will win. The strategy of slow strangulation is the wisest course. The day will come when the Ukrainians move against their leadership…..

  11. Bill R

    I wonder if there is a way – a sort of creeping barrage – to ‘encourage’ the Banderite Nazi in Western Ukraine to move out to their supporting countries in Western Europe. This would make it far easier for Russia in the long run as the Banderites would not be able to use their poisonous ways to further harm Ukraine and with the Banderites moving into Western Europe, Europe would see these Nazis for what they are.

    1. Grebo

      The Banderites were forced out after World War 2. The British shipped them off to Canada where they were allowed to fester, while Bandera himself conducted a terror campaign in Ukraine backed by MI6. Bandera was eliminated in 1954 but his accolytes are still safely festering in Canada, occasionally getting standing ovations in parliament.

      I think Russia will want to prevent any escapes if it can.

  12. JonnyJames

    “…Some like Scott Ritter have argued the risks of nuclear war are worse now, with too many leaders talking up the idea of a tactical nuclear strike…”

    Ritter is not alone, and one would think it an important issue for public discourse.
    Rather than dismiss this sort of thing as hyperbole, more should look into the reasons and risk.

    1. AG

      1,5 years ago I wrote a letter to a German daily bitterly complaining about the stupidity of one of their commentators. The item had been a hymn to Baerbock because 1 day after the Doomsday Clock had been set again even closer to midnight, she had given one of her dumb comments, in EU Parliament, this time about EU being at war with RU. And that imbecile of a journalist regarded that as an act of heroism by Baerbock. And as icing he mocked the Doomsday Clock obviously knowing shit about this topic. And Germany is full of these incompetent rich assholes who control public opinion and have zero knowledge or understanding. Above all behaving incredibly rude and arrogant. Were I a RU diplomat I would have punched their faces at press conferences long ago.

  13. JonnyJames

    Yves’ conclusion sums it all up quite nicely:

    “In other words, with the cautious prosecution of the war minimizing Russian deaths, succeeding in vanquishing Ukraine and its NATO backers without Russia having to go on a total war footing, there is a strong argument for sticking with a winning approach until the acceleration of the unraveling of Ukraine argues for a change in operations.”

    Of course Russia was/is aware of the US and vassals’ plans as numerous policy papers and statements outlined: Foreign Affairs/ CFR, Atlantic Council, Rand etc. spelled it out if it was not clear already.

    From 2019, notice the editors note a the top.

    Contrast that one with this one from Feb. 2024.

    Also, the late prof. Stephen Cohen predicted the war in 2014, shortly after the coup. Very few listened to him, but he turned out to be 100% correct

    1. AG

      yes the comparison between 2019-2024 is a good thought. Albeit hardly any reporter would be capable of that.
      p.s. there was a second RAND report in cooperation with the German foundation Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung, which was the one by the doves, suggesting a peaceful approach. I don´t know if that ever reached anyone beyond the printer at RAND.
      p.p.s. Martyanov rightly points out that these RAND people understand very little about RU and RU capabilities. So as much as I was considering those reports when this war started I realize how limited and useless they in fact are.
      Among the few valuable thoughts might be their singeling out Crimea and the Black Sea as a target if one wishes to escalate. But on the other hand you have to be no genius to conclude that.

      1. JonnyJames

        Yes, it looks like the Rand folks are locked into circular group think, like most in the US and NATOstan. Most “reporters” and so-called journalists nowadays are little more than sycophant-stenographers and courtiers. And if not, they end up like Gary Webb, or Julian Assange, or simply censored from MassMedia like Chris Hedges

      2. JonnyJames

        “Albeit hardly any reporter would be capable of that”. True, but that’s not saying too much: most “reporters” and so-called journalists are little more than sycophant-stenographers. If not, they will end up like Julian Assange, or Gary Webb. Chris Hedges has been censored from the MassMedia for his transgressions.

        Of course, Martyanov is right: the RAND folks, like most foreign policy “experts”, are stuck in circular group-think, and yes it does not take a genius, but hubris is not about human intelligence. Also, they get paid to produce this stuff. They, like the sycophant-stenographers who pose as “journalists”, want to please their paymasters and get a promotion. .

      3. JonnyJames

        “Albeit hardly any reporter would be capable of that”. True, but that’s not saying too much: most “reporters” and so-called journalists are little more than sycophant-stenographers.

        Of course, Martyanov is right: the RAND folks, like most foreign policy “experts”, are stuck in circular group-think, and yes it does not take a genius, but hubris is not about human intelligence. Also, they get paid to produce this stuff. They, like the sycophant-stenographers who pose as “journalists”, want to please their paymasters and get a promotion. .

          1. AG

            to describe RAND think as “circular” is fitting them very well

            p.s. Only since Dec. 2021 have I really understood that the stuff US and British intelligence cooked up as wisdom about RU as a state and a society since 1945 in fact embodied and still does the substance of what our Western intellectual / academic cultures display as research and scholarship about RU. I used to think that cloak & dagger was confined to entertainment fare a la “Hunt for Red October”. But how naive. It is actually what governments and scholars and legacy media in fact believe to be true.

  14. Alex Cox

    Surely VVP’s proposal was intended as a demonstration of reasonableness for the benefit if the non-alligned world. He isn’t daft, and knew it would be rejected out of hand. As the Duran boys said, the west rejected it within minutes – in other words, without reading it.
    So Russia has shown its willingness to compromise, been turned down, and can move on to Odessa.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Yes but Putin being Putin, he’s not going to let an opportunity to send a message go to waste. There was a lot in that speech that was important to many audiences.

  15. Yaiyen

    I think Putin approuch is much more dangerous for two reason he look weak in western leaders eye and he don’t have a B plan. Putin think west will come to the table ,so he dont have to take whole Ukraine but the thing is he cant take whole Ukraine with that troop level. He should have mobilize 3 million men army as back up if the invasion failed but he dint. It take about 1 year to train battle ready ground troop. So now Russia deterrence is nukes not couple million of troops he would have ready, for these reason NATO is ready to play nuclear chicken, they bet Russia will not use nukes because Ukraine is shelling inside Russia and i think they are right. Many people dont understand how cruel west leaders can be to their enemy if they look weak

  16. Susan the other

    I’m assuming that the only reason Zelensky’s peace fiasco had any traction at all is because it was effectively a big auction and deal summit to make economic alliances. That might explain why Lindsay Graham was allowed to hold a news briefing just a week before claiming that Ukraine was incredibly rich in various resources and that to partner with them would make us all rich. Etc. Which might be true. It might be also true that the proximity to Russia’s southern resources and the Caspian and the Black Sea are the most prized. That Russia is the actual treasure chest. And also why China is building a port in the eastern Black Sea for Georgia. It is not just a tectonic shift in hegemonic power based on currencies and exchange rates in turn based on national economic health because we have reached the point where every nation is achieving economic stability. Now all that ideology of the 20 C is taking a backseat to practicality and sustainability. And economic synergy is taking on a certain chaos. My point being that it is an archaic idea to hold that anybody wins a war and collects the spoils simply because it is now all so entwined. And of course nobody wants to kill us because we are still a big lynchpin, but by the same logic nobody wants us to take their resources and exploit them. I think Russia and China are both very sophisticated players. And we are showing our desperation because we are caught in our own trap with a very powerful but still oil dependent military and an economy growing weaker. And tragically, war just makes it worse.

  17. drive-by commenter

    I mentioned this before, Putin is making the right moves (for Putin, but also for Russia). As Yves points out, there’s no sense in further antagonizing with the population (particularly if you’re going to occupy their land), he’s already winning anyway. Besides, to legitimize a major advance he’d probably have to wait first for a major provocation, like a major military incursion attempt, or more terrorism etc.

    The Cuban missile story is about Castro. In the Fog of War “documentary” (a biopic intended to rehabilitate McNamara) he says he met Castro and told him the military wanted to strike Cuba, Castro then said he’d launch the nukes. One should take Castro’s (and Khrushchev’s) bravados with a grain of salt. But there were occasions on both the US and USSR sides that some officer was supposed to launch a nuke given an instrument malfunction that announced an impending attack, but they didn’t. The most famous one is the USSR nuclear sub where 2 ppl authorized it, but the 3rd refused, and it needed all 3 authorizations. What would our AI overlords do? We should ask Palantir

    I found the Fog of War clip on youtube:

  18. Willow

    Crimea Bridge is a focal point for all those fancy European missiles that can’t be replaced, either due to lead times or finances. It’s to Russia’s advantage to leave the bridge a focus of attention until the depletion of these European missiles is complete. Which means for now leaving the ISR in place so that Europeans have some ‘hope’ of success. There is a cost of Russia doing this in the short term but the upside is that once the front starts moving forward away from Russia’s borders, critical Russia supply lines will be significantly less vulnerable to devastating attacks. And Europe seems to be intent on squandering valuable tech on high profile media ‘wins’ than saving for more productive attacks later in the game. When Russia starts taking out the ISR, it will be when Europe is all of the fancy missiles.

  19. spud

    i never really fell for that size of the economy thingy. we are a very large economy, only because we have lots and lots of money, just as banana countries have lots and lots of bananas.

    but a protectionist/new deal type of economy, that makes for powerful countries, with big buying power of its citizens and innovation.

    so any idiots can engineer a massive bubble and call it a dynamic large economy, and that is what happened to america from 1993 till today.

    but like america from 1933-1976, is what its starting to look like in russia.

    “It took the complete and embarrassing failure of the West’s economic sanctions on Russia for the West to recognize that the actual size of Russia’s economy is about that of Germany, if not larger, and that Russia was defining herself in terms of enclosed technological cycles, localization and manufacturing long before she was forced to engage in the war in Georgia in 2008.

    Very few people realistically care about Russia’s Stock Market; the financial markets of Germany are on an order of magnitude larger. But Germany, not to speak of South Korea, cannot design and build from scratch a state of the art fighter jet, and Russia can. Germany doesn’t have a space industry, and Russia does. The same argumentation goes for Russia’s microelectronics industry and her military-industrial complex, which dwarfs that of any “economic” competitor to which Western “economists” consistently try to compare Russia, with the exception of US and China, and then on bulk only, not quality.

    As was stated earlier, and is worth reiterating, third or second world economies do not produce such weapons as Borey-class strategic missile submarines or SU-35 fighter jets, or stealth SU-57 fighters, for that matter. They also do not build space-stations and operate the only global alternative to US GPS, the GLONASS system.”

    “Somewhere deep in their deep state, America knows that they can’t take on Russia. The Russian Army has now been rebuilt to the point that it’s stronger than America’s. America’s vaunted military budget is just a measure of corruption and it literally cannot manufacture enough artillery anymore. Just like in World War II, the Russian military has better matériel, more experienced men, and more ability to muster both on the battlefield. America has not moved physically closer to Asia, and their military-industrial complex has depreciated into dust. The American military has been bombing weddings for so long that they’ve missed their own funeral.”

  20. rowlf


    Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions following President Vladimir Putin’s meeting with senior Foreign Ministry officials, Moscow, June 14, 2024

    Question: If, say, Ukraine does meet these conditions, what’s to say Russia stops there? Why should the West trust you?

    Sergey Lavrov: You know, we do not ask the West to trust us. Trust is not something illustrating the Western positions, the Western action. Today, there were many examples – I do not want to recite all these failures to deliver on promises, these failures to deliver on legal obligations.

    Frankly, I do not care whether the West trusts us or not. The West must understand the real situation. They do not understand anything, except realpolitik. Let them go to the people. You are democracies, right? Ask the people what the West should do in response to Putin’s proposals.

  21. Roland

    Quoting Putin:

    Once Kiev agrees to… the full withdrawal of its troops from the DPR, LPR, the Zaporozhye and Kherson regions, and begins this process earnestly, we are prepared to commence negotiations promptly without delay.

    Russia demands large permanent territorial cessions by Ukraine, not as a final or maximum demand, but merely as a condition for talks. Demanding at the table what you haven’t been able to take or hold on the battlefield is not much of a peace proposal. It’s more of a call for escalation. This sort of thing might play well among hawks in Russia, but it will no less probably consolidate support for Zelensky, both in Ukraine and throughout the Western Bloc.

    I consider myself to be objectively pro-Russian, regarding the overall power-political scene, but I cannot approve of this approach. It only means more war, and more danger for everybody around the world.

    Further says Putin:

    I repeat our firm stance: Ukraine should adopt a neutral, non-aligned status, be nuclear-free, and undergo demilitarisation and denazification…

    To be sure, these were Russian demands from the start of the present war, but “demilitarization and denazification” have never been other than vague and subjective things which, even if agreed at one time, nevertheless would serve only as occasion for further disputes. Are Ukrainian voters supposed to be forever obliged to submit their electoral candidates to Russian vetting? In a world where Donald Trump gets called a fascist, how could any country ever get denazified to another’s satisfaction?

    If Putin were hoping for a political change in Ukraine to help him end the war, then why does he demand things that would remind Ukrainians of everything they have long resented about Russian encroachment, and interference?

    (The tragedies of this war run in parallel, for Russians are being reminded of everything they have suffered from, or suspected of, the ever-vaunting Western imperialists.)

    Now, it is true that states have been able to successfully and enduringly embrace the principles of neutrality and non-alignment. However, this has almost always been predicated on the significant fighting strength, and absolute internal autonomy, of the neutral states concerned, e.g. Sweden, Switzerland, Indonesia. An exception would be Costa Rica, whose circumstances differ entirely from Ukraine’s.

    What I mean is that “demilitarization” and “non-alignment,” in the case of a country like Ukraine, would be mutually contradictory. If Ukraine lacks belligerent capacity, then it cannot be neutral; it must be a satellite, or at best a client.

    It is a sad tendency in war that, even as costs and frustrations mount, the belligerents’ demands keep mounting higher along with them, making compromise harder and harder. The war ends up being fought for purposes far removed from its first cause. Instead of the war’s consequences being justified by its purpose, it becomes the other way around: the staggering toll goes in search of an epic gloss.

    I do not see how fewer than a million people will die in this war. Seven digits, sign the certificates, fine job everybody.

    Now comes the question: do you want to count your war in eight digits, or nine? Or to ask, how new do you want your normal?

    To think that all of the societies taking part in this struggle have aging, shrinking populations. Is this war about the future? Vanity of vanities!

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      If you read Dune, you may recall the ending of the book hinges on the notion that “He who can destroy a thing, controls a thing.” And Paul is able to install himself as Emperor even though he hadn’t even seized the city of Arrakeen because it was quickly apparent he could destroy the entire supply of spice, essential for interstellar travel.

      That fictional example does make a key general point.

      Russia is well on the way to destroying Ukraine via eliminating its generating capacity and its ability to transport power in from Europe. Helmer in this very post described how close Russia is to dropping the final blow. That is before getting to the fact that Ukraine is performing badly in the kinetic war, now losing >1500 men a day on average, when Russia hasn’t even kicked into high gear in its offensive operations. So Russia is also able to subdue Ukraine the harder way as well, through ground combat.

      As for Zelensky, he long ago eliminated the opposition press and opposition parties. He has also been getting rid of senior officials perceived to be close to the US (Zaluzhny and Nayyem are the highest profile cases but I understand there are many others) to impede a US ouster. Poll ratings are not reliable since polls are conducted by phone and the lines are known to be monitored. Zelensky is being the very unpopular conscription (it has hit the point when people on the street will fight with the officials trying to throw men into trucks to take them to the front lines). If he thought he had public support, he would be willing to have elections, as opposed to being a constitutionally illegal holdover.

      There is already close to no Ukraine left, in terms of capacity to wage war. It can’t go on very long even before considering Russia taking out its power. Its time as a viable fighting force is measured in months, not years. NATO weapons stocks have been bled dry and NATO doctrine is designed for regional combats with insurgents, not with peers, and even worse, with its doctrine not having been updated for the world of ISR.

      So the deal may not look very nice to you but it is generous given the givens.

  22. Frank

    I’d just like to echo others here that Yves’ (and Plutonium Kim’s) comments are much more valuable than the Helmer article. He has always been weak on Russian domestic politics, and here he seems entirely ignorant of the function of Russia’s general staff and the Russian approach to war, in general. In short, Russia takes a holistic approach to war, it involves all domains, not just military, and they are all considered by the general staff. So there is a broad agreement on the overall strategy involved. Furthermore, all manner of escalations, and responses to them, have been modeled into the overall strategy. This idea that the general staff only answers for military matters, and is advocating for strictly military means to win the war, is just wrong on a fundamental level.

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