Category Archive 'Russian Attack on Ukraine'
10 May 2022

Life Cycle of a Russian Tank

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08 May 2022

The Russians’ Attitude

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Vijai Maheshwari, in the World edition of the Spectator, finds ordinary Russians in Moscow full of belligerence and resentment and concludes that Westerners had better get out of Russia before it’s too late.

Most Russian men consider Ukrainian women to be more beautiful, feminine, and kind than Russian women. Ukraine’s embrace of America and hatred of Russia thus strikes them as supremely tragic, because in many respects warmer and romantic Ukraine represents the best of Russia. Putin has always channelled Russia’s dark subconscious, and his obsession with Ukraine springs from a shared yearning for a lost paradise.

Ukraine is his Helen of Troy, seduced by the cunning Americans; the military build-up on his country’s border in February was his Trojan Horse. He had been certain that he would overrun the weaker Ukrainians with his surprise attack and subdue them with the shock and awe of his sophisticated missiles, but things haven’t gone to plan. He might not even be able to capture the Donbass, given his failure to take over Mariupol after weeks of brutal shelling. His economy is tanking, and he might have to eventually settle for an unpopular peace deal.

But now that the beast inside Russians has been unleashed, it can’t be corked back again. Most Russians floundered under capitalism. The average salary outside Moscow was just a few hundred dollars a month. They could handle the poverty but missed the glory of being a superpower that dominated the world. Russia’s great poet Anna Akhmatova summed up their thinking this way: “If I can’t have love, if I can’t have peace, give me a bitter glory.”

Since the onset of war, Russians have given up on capitalism and are now braying for empire again. And as Western brands scramble for the exits and time runs backwards, many will welcome a return to the past. They will not stop now despite the mounting costs. They have been primed for victory and Putin must deliver.

Moscow’s Westernized women are horrified but helpless to stop their grandfathers from turning back time. By the time I left Moscow for Dubai, and eventually New York, sixteen days after the invasion, Russia already smelled like the Soviet Union of yore.

Moscow was eerily silent, like New York during the pandemic, and felt again like the city I remembered from the early 1990s, its restaurants and public spaces deserted as its people stayed home and pondered the future darkly. The cinemas had stopped showing Hollywood films, the city’s gleaming modern art museums had paused exhibitions, the Westerners had mostly fled, and the only foreigners were from “friendly” countries like China or India. It was back to “vodka and selyodka” (vodka and picked herring), and I knew by then that a majority preferred this reality to a Russia enthralled by Western consumerism. Even the jokes now had the self-deprecating irony of those from the late Soviet era.

“Do you know why we’re now going to be the healthiest nation on earth?” joked my taxi driver on the way to the airport. “That’s because we don’t eat American fast food anymore.”

I called my landlord in Moscow from New York two weeks later to inform him that I wouldn’t be renewing the lease on my pricey flat in central Moscow. He wasn’t pleased that I’d left Moscow on such short notice but answered without missing a beat.

“You’ll come back to Russia. Life is better here.”

His confidence sent a chill through me, and I realized that neither Ukraine nor the West will live in peace so long as Russia remains proud and defiant. It’s clear that sanctions won’t change Russia’s mind; they’ll just encourage a backlash against the West. The recent meme of Russian glamor girls cutting up their expensive Gucci bags in protest over the luxury brand’s “Russophobia” is a symptom of this angry pushback against the West and its desire to cancel Russia.

RTWT

28 Apr 2022

“Made in Russia; Recycled in Ukraine”

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Here’s a worthy fundraiser.

Drones for Ukraine has a unique fundraising tool: Donate $1,000 or more to their effort to procure modern drones to defend against the Russian invasion, get a genuine piece of aircraft skin from a downed Russian jet fighter.

“Have you always wanted a Su-34 ‘Fullback’ strike fighter?” the Twitter pitch goes. “But $50M is a little bit pricey?”

As a matter of fact, $50 million is a little pricey. I’ve got two boys, and you should see our monthly food bill.

But: “Just donate $1000+ to support Ukrainian army and we’ll send you this tag recycled from a downed Russian plane (it’s literally a piece of it with little engraving).”

“Made in Russia, Recycled in Ukraine” is a pretty gutsy tagline, too.

“Your donations will help us supply the defenders in Ukraine with modern drones and equipment to counter the invasion,” according to the website. So your donation in exchange for a piece of a shot-down Russian jet might just help Ukraine shoot down another one.

The Su-34 is Russia’s top-of-the-line fighter/bomber, a modernized and (very) upgraded strike version of the Su-27 Flanker. The Russian Air Force (VVS) took delivery of the first Flankers from Sukhoi in 2006, and they’ve seen combat in Syria, (probably) Georgia, and (of course) Ukraine.

The two-seat, twin-engine jet is roughly equivalent to an American F-15E Strike Eagle and is generally considered one of the more capable fourth-generation fighters.

Only 129 Fullbacks are known to have been built for the VVS, seven of which are believed to have been shot down or otherwise lost in Ukraine.

14 Apr 2022

Life Imitates Art

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Task and Purpose:

For recent proof of this centuries-old maxim, look no further than this photo of an abandoned Russian infantry fighting vehicle in Ukraine with the word “Wolverines” scrawled on the side in white spray paint in an apparent homage to the 1984 Cold War-era action flick “Red Dawn.”…

The photo was shared to Twitter on Thursday in response to a tweet by NPR’s White House correspondent, Scott Detrow, who wrote that “We were driving too fast to get a clear picture – but we just drove past a destroyed Russian tank with WOLVERINES spraypainted across it.” Fortunately, Oleg Tolmachev, the head of production for Ukrainian oil and gas company Naftogaz, had seen the exact same thing and snapped a photo of it.

RTWT

HT: Karen L. Myers.

13 Apr 2022

Cossacks, Than and Now

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12 Apr 2022

Better US Hegemony Than Dictatorial Aggression

Robert Kagan has an excellent essay in Foreign Affairs defending America’s World Policeman role and responsibilities.

[N]ow that Putin has made his mistakes, the question is whether the United States will continue to make its own mistakes or whether Americans will learn, once again, that it is better to contain aggressive autocracies early, before they have built up a head of steam and the price of stopping them rises. The challenge posed by Russia is neither unusual nor irrational. The rise and fall of nations is the warp and woof of international relations. National trajectories are changed by wars and the resulting establishment of new power structures, by shifts in the global economy that enrich some and impoverish others, and by beliefs and ideologies that lead people to prefer one power over another. If there is any blame to be cast on the United States for what is happening in Ukraine, it is not that Washington deliberately extended its influence in eastern Europe. It is that Washington failed to see that its influence had already increased and to anticipate that actors dissatisfied with the liberal order would look to overturn it.

For the 70-plus years since World War II, the United States has actively worked to keep revisionists at bay. But many Americans hoped that with the end of the Cold War, this task would be finished and that their country could become a “normal” nation with normal—which was to say, limited—global interests. But the global hegemon cannot tiptoe off the stage, as much as it might wish to. It especially cannot retreat when there are still major powers that, because of their history and sense of self, cannot give up old geopolitical ambitions—unless Americans are prepared to live in a world shaped and defined by those ambitions, as it was in the 1930s.

Americans are part of a never-ending power struggle, whether they wish to be or not.

The United States would be better served if it recognized both its position in the world and its true interest in preserving the liberal world order. In the case of Russia, this would have meant doing everything possible to integrate it into the liberal order politically and economically while deterring it from attempting to re-create its regional dominance by military means. The commitment to defend NATO allies was never meant to preclude helping others under attack in Europe, as the United States and its allies did in the case of the Balkans in the 1990s, and the United States and its allies could have resisted military efforts to control or seize land from Georgia and Ukraine. Imagine if the United States and the democratic world had responded in 2008 or 2014 as they have responded to Russia’s latest use of force, when Putin’s military was even weaker than it has proved to be now, even as they kept extending an outstretched hand in case Moscow wanted to grasp it. The United States ought to be following the same policy toward China: make clear that it is prepared to live with a China that seeks to fulfill its ambitions economically, politically, and culturally but that it will respond effectively to any Chinese military action against its neighbors.

It is true that acting firmly in 2008 or 2014 would have meant risking conflict. But Washington is risking conflict now; Russia’s ambitions have created an inherently dangerous situation. It is better for the United States to risk confrontation with belligerent powers when they are in the early stages of ambition and expansion, not after they have already consolidated substantial gains. Russia may possess a fearful nuclear arsenal, but the risk of Moscow using it is not higher now than it would have been in 2008 or 2014, if the West had intervened then. And it has always been extraordinarily small: Putin was never going to obtain his objectives by destroying himself and his country, along with much of the rest of the world. If the United States and its allies—with their combined economic, political, and military power—had collectively resisted Russian expansionism from the beginning, Putin would have found himself constantly unable to invade neighboring countries.

Unfortunately, it is very difficult for democracies to take action to prevent a future crisis. The risks of acting now are always clear and often exaggerated, whereas distant threats are just that: distant and so hard to calculate. It always seems better to hope for the best rather than try to forestall the worst. This common conundrum becomes even more debilitating when Americans and their leaders remain blissfully unconscious of the fact that they are part of a never-ending power struggle, whether they wish to be or not.

But Americans should not lament the role they play in the world. The reason the United States has often found itself entangled in Europe, after all, is because what it offers is genuinely attractive to much of the world—and certainly better when compared with any realistic alternative. If Americans learn anything from Russia’s brutalization of Ukraine, it should be that there really are worse things than U.S. hegemony.

RTWT

11 Apr 2022

Jomini of the West’s Latest Strategic Prognostications

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06 Apr 2022

Putin’s Next Move

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Lawrence Freedman has some thoughts on the war’s next stage.

This new stage of the war, however, promises to be much harder for Ukraine. Before considering Kyiv’s strategy we first need to consider Moscow’s options.

Russia’s forces have been badly depleted and so they must make choices about where to concentrate their efforts. Estimates vary about how many of the Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs), the main unit with which the Russian army organises its operations, they have left. Of those involved in the first wave of the invasion, often elite units, some half, maybe more, have either been damaged beyond repair or can be repaired but are not usuable in the near future. The casualties – wounded and captured as well as killed – perhaps represents about 20 percent of the original force of 190,000.

We know from assiduous work that Russian equipment losses have been heavy. For example 425 tanks are known to have been destroyed, damaged, abandoned or captured. There are reports that many of the replacement weapons being brought out of storage suffer from the effects of age and corruption, lacking key components and with ordnance that does not work. Aircraft and helicopters have shown themselves to be vulnerable to air defences, and many have been shot down. The inability of Russian airpower to impose itself remains one of the remarkable features of this campaign.

Russian personnel reserves are also not in a good state. Moscow has been casting about for extra bodies – whether Syrian volunteers or the mercenary Wagner group. As already noted the Belarusian army is no longer available, while troops from South Ossetia, the breakaway enclave in Georgia, have decided, when asked to go to Ukraine, to decline the invitation. There is a huge new cohort of conscripts about to join the army. Conscripts have already been used (Putin claimed without his knowledge) but there can only be risks in putting unwilling young men into battle without training.

Of course, even half the original Russian force is still substantial and it now has fewer and more manageable tasks to accomplish. But its position is not straightforward. Having decided to concentrate their effort, the Russian high command still has choices to make about priorities. They do not yet appear to have wholly given up on Kharkiv. Meanwhile they have been shelling Mykolaiv, on the southern coast, on the road to the important city of Odessa. For some time there has been speculation about an encirclement operation that would enable them to trap the considerable, and capable, Ukrainian forces in the Donbas region. But these objectives are easier to accomplish by drawing red arrows on a map than in practice. And they carry risks. Are they prepared to relinquish their gains in Kherson, where Ukrainian troops have bene pushing them back? If Ukrainian forces can take back Melitopol might Russian forces to the south get caught?

Simplifying somewhat the Russians must work out what offensive operations they wish to complete before they feel that they can then move into a largely defensive stance so that they can hold on to what they have. An analysis from the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War suggests that the most immediate Russian objective will be to take the city of Sloviansk, with a population of 110,000. There is some irony in this city taking a pivotal role because exactly eight years ago a small force led by Igor Girkin, the subject of my last post, took this city, marking the start of military actions in the Donbas, until he was forced out by Ukrainian forces.

Evidence of this intention can be found in a rare Russian military success at the start of April when they took Izyum (southeast of Kharkiv), inflicting heavy losses on the Ukrainian defenders, and they have now advanced beyond that. According to the ISW, they

    ‘have conducted active preparations to resume offensive operations for the past three days—stockpiling supplies, refitting damaged units, repairing the damaged bridge in Izyum, and conducting reconnaissance in force missions toward the southeast. Russian forces will likely begin offensive operations towards Slovyansk, 50km southeast of Izyum, in the coming days.’

Taking Slovyansk would be a first step to a more ambitious objective of cutting off Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine, but to encircle the Ukrainian forces they will still need to meet up with Russian forces advancing from the South. Slovyansk is preparing for the battle, and many of its civilians have been evacuated. As the ISW note:

If Russian forces are unable to take Slovyansk at all, Russian frontal assaults in Donbas are unlikely to independently breakthrough Ukrainian defences and Russia’s campaign to capture the entirety of Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts will likely fail.

If this analysis is correct this new stage of the war could be critical. Another Ukrainian victory will not see the Russians pushed out of Ukraine but will make their position more difficult for the stage after that. Ukrainian losses have also been significant, both in personnel and equipment, although with the country now mobilised for war they are not short of committed and reasonably well trained soldiers. Their problem is with equipment. Their successes up to this point have largely been with judicious use of portable, light equipment, including drones, anti-tank weapons, and air defence systems. They have a shopping list that has been discussed with Western donors to fill some of their gaps. This means keeping up supplies of the equipment they already use, but also providing the extra armour, aircraft, and artillery to raise their game for the coming operations. Here there has to be balance between taking in aged kit from the former Soviet Union, which could be put to use quickly, or getting more modern kit, which may require more training.

Yet even if Russia does acquire the territory it seeks in the Donbas and prepares for a climactic defensive battle, there still remains the perplexing question about the nature of Putin’s end game. From the start the most baffling aspect of this war has been the incoherence of Russian strategy. The gap between stated aims and available capabilities was wide enough when it started but it has now widened even further, especially after being defeated in the war’s first round.

RTWT

05 Apr 2022

More Bad News for Putin

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Strategy Page:

Ukrainian forces have captured a lot of modern Russian weapons and military equipment and made these discoveries available to Western countries that are supplying Ukraine with modern weapons and economic and diplomatic pressure on Russia.

This loot includes largely intact components of the Iskander short range ballistic missiles, new EW (Electronic Warfare) equipment that had proven effective in Syria and Ukraine, and new Azart combat radios and associated equipment. At least one defective Islander missile was recovered largely intact, which allowed close inspection of the missile design and the countermeasures Russia often spoke of but never provided details of. The countermeasures were, as expected, small decoys deployed as the Iskander came within range of the targets, as well as Western ABM (anti-ballistic missile) systems like Patriot, Thaad or the naval Standard missile defense system. Now that there were undamaged examples of these decoys available, Western ABM systems can be modified to defeat them.

RTWT

02 Apr 2022

Gilbert & Sullivan Updated

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31 Mar 2022

Latest Russian Technology

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30 Mar 2022

Could We Possibly Have It All Wrong?

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Western onlookers have marveled at plucky little Ukraine’s ability to hold at bay the Russian Military juggernaut and as the Russian advance has continued to stall and Russian casualties mount, we’ve come to suspect that Ukraine may actually be winning and we cannot avoid thinking that Vladimir Putin made a very serious mistake in overestimating Russian capabilities and launching a failed attempt to conquer all of Ukraine.

DNYUZ, however, proposes a completely different view of Putin’s goals and strategy, in the light of which, he comes off not as an incompetent loser, but as the superior player of the Great Game.

[W]hat if the conventional wisdom is wrong? What if the West is only playing into Putin’s hands once again?

The possibility is suggested in a powerful reminiscence from The Times’s Carlotta Gall of her experience covering Russia’s siege of Grozny, during the first Chechen war in the mid-1990s. In the early phases of the war, motivated Chechen fighters wiped out a Russian armored brigade, stunning Moscow. The Russians regrouped and wiped out Grozny from afar, using artillery and air power.

Russia’s operating from the same playbook today. When Western military analysts argue that Putin can’t win militarily in Ukraine, what they really mean is that he can’t win clean. Since when has Putin ever played clean?

“There is a whole next stage to the Putin playbook, which is well known to the Chechens,” Gall writes. “As Russian troops gained control on the ground in Chechnya, they crushed any further dissent with arrests and filtration camps and by turning and empowering local protégés and collaborators.”

Suppose for a moment that Putin never intended to conquer all of Ukraine: that, from the beginning, his real targets were the energy riches of Ukraine’s east, which contain Europe’s second-largest known reserves of natural gas (after Norway’s).

Combine that with Russia’s previous territorial seizures in Crimea (which has huge offshore energy fields) and the eastern provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk (which contain part of an enormous shale-gas field), as well as Putin’s bid to control most or all of Ukraine’s coastline, and the shape of Putin’s ambitions become clear. He’s less interested in reuniting the Russian-speaking world than he is in securing Russia’s energy dominance.

“Under the guise of an invasion, Putin is executing an enormous heist,” said Canadian energy expert David Knight Legg. As for what’s left of a mostly landlocked Ukraine, it will likely become a welfare case for the West, which will help pick up the tab for resettling Ukraine’s refugees to new homes outside of Russian control. In time, a Viktor Orban-like figure could take Ukraine’s presidency, imitating the strongman-style of politics that Putin prefers in his neighbors.

If this analysis is right, then Putin doesn’t seem like the miscalculating loser his critics make him out to be.

It also makes sense of his strategy of targeting civilians. More than simply a way of compensating for the incompetence of Russian troops, the mass killing of civilians puts immense pressure on Zelensky to agree to the very things Putin has demanded all along: territorial concessions and Ukrainian neutrality. The West will also look for any opportunity to de-escalate, especially as we convince ourselves that a mentally unstable Putin is prepared to use nuclear weapons.

RTWT

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