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Russia’s Campaign in Ukraine and the West’s Response: The End of the Beginning?

Published: April 21, 2022 | Print Friendly and PDF
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While it’s impossible to predict how the war in Ukraine, which is now undeniably a proxy war between the US/NATO and Russia, will wind up, some boundary conditions for both the military and economic battle are emerging. And their implications do not look too good for the West.

Let’s make a couple of overarching observations:

Russia has to and will win the immediate military contest. Russia cannot tolerate an armed and hostile bordering country any more than the US would accept China sending troops and weapons to Canada. Russia wants a neutral Ukraine. If the only way the West will accept that is by prostrating Ukraine, so be it. Note that Russia launched its invasion with clearly stated objectives of demilitarizaton and denazification which most assuredly did not amount to conquering or occupying Ukraine. Putin also said something to the effect of “We won’t stay where we aren’t wanted” which did signal a willingness to entertain Crimea-type referenda, using the precedent the US set in Kosovo.

The US and many European countries have taken such extreme positions about the Russian invasion that it’s hard to see how they back down if [when] Russia wins. Had they not turned the dial up to 11, they would have had an easy out in depicting the Russian “failure” to take the western part of Ukraine, which Russia seems highly unlikely to attempt, as a Russian loss and a way for the US and Europe to save face.

But by having bought their own propaganda about the fundamental evil of Putin and all things Russian, including cats and Russia losing the war, the US and NATO will have no where to go when the Ukraine military collapses, which is inevitable. The Western press, by virtue of laziness and/or capture, keeps projecting a US style approach onto Russia, when by now they should know better. Russia is prosecuting a methodical grinding up of Ukraine’s military capacity and by quite a lot of measures is doing very well. Looking at territorial acquisition was and is the wrong way to assess progress.

Mind you, the West will try to look like is is Doing Something, like saber-rattling, admitting Finland and Sweden to NATO, and making promised to arm Europe. The latter project will take years and is unlike to amount to much in the light of Europe’s own deteriorating economic situation.

The US had already made clear it was not going to give up on its economic sanctions of Russia, even when its “Russia is losing” story seemed more plausible than it does now. The US justification for again looting Russia (the hoped-for outcome) even if it were defeated in Ukraine, was that it would be necessary to force the overthrow of Putin and/or the breakup of Russia (a pet idea of Zbigniew Brzezinski).

So if Russia achieves its objectives in the next month or two (mind you, cleaning up operations can have a long tail) and the Western press can’t finesse that the Ukraine military is kaput, the PR fallback might be that the Western sanctions are eating at the foundations of the Russian economy and it won’t be too long before it collapses.

The wee problem with relying on the economic barrage to succeed where a military one failed is that the sanctions and sanctions blowback/countersanctions are shaping up to be trench warfare. As Michael Hudson and others have explained, Europe and the US are more fragile than they appear. Unequal societies dependent on the labor of lowly workers who are already economically stressed are vulnerable to political upheaval when they are hit with additional fuel and food price shocks.

Russia will suffer too, but it is in a completely different position than the West. First, it was on its way to being an autarky. Second, it was warned that sanctions were coming, both directly and by how the US has gone after Iran. Its handling of the financial sanctions shows Russia had made some preparations on the banking front; we’ll see in the coming months if it made adequate provisions on the real economy front. Third, many reports from Russia confirm that Russians on a widespread regard the continued advance of NATO into Ukraine as an existential threat and will accept necessary sacrifices. Fourth, Russia came through the crucible of its 1990s collapse and was still able to regroup and recover. It seems very unlikely that Russian lifespans and living standards will fall as far as they did then. And this time, Europe will be taking body blows, so even though Russia’s absolute economic conditions will fall, its relative position might not.

Let’s look at some recent developments and see how they fit in.

The Weakening Condition of the Ukraine Armed Forces

The battle for Mariupol is not the war, but Russia has taken control of the city save technically for the remaining Ukraine forces holed up in the Azovstal factory, which the Russian Ministry of Defense recently estimated as at most 2100. Keep in mind that even though it seems as if the Mariupol clearing operation has gone on for a while, it took ten months to subdue Mosul, which had a roughly similar number of defenders (the MoD recently put the former Ukraine forces in Mariupol at 8,100 when earlier estimates by other parties were much higher; the ISIS forces holding Mosul have been pegged at anywhere between 3,000 and 12,000).

The Azovstal factory forces were clearly doomed, cut off from food, water, and fresh weapons. Russia repeatedly promised their survival if they surrendered. Russian sources claim that radio chatter revealed soldiers asking for permission to turn themselves over to Russia but Kiev refused and ordered commanders to shoot any deserters or even anyone who mentioned surrender. The Ukraine government has not commented on these accounts.

However, my understanding is both Ukraine and Russia have effectively confirmed the authenticity of the video below. The only dispute is who the speaker is. Both sides put him in the same unit; Russia also claims he is a member of the Azov Battalion:

Although this is a grim picture, it’s more or less where all the units in Donbass are headed if they don’t surrender or escape. There are numerous videos showing Ukraine soldiers using passenger vehicles. That means they are pretty much out of tanks and military vehicles.

Note this odd video Jerri flagged a few days ago in Links (sorry we can’t embed it):
“SPASIBA JOE BIDEN FOR THE HUMMERS!”

This is from the Illych factory in Mariupol, another of the Azov Battalion last stands, which the Chechens captured last week.

One wonders, or maybe not, why so many Hummers are sitting around. The arms-savvy likely know that the Hummer was a failed experiment. It was a Jeep on steroids, which a higher wheelbase and independent suspension so it could handle even rougher terrain. But like the Jeep, it was not clad. In the Middle East, they kept being blown up by mines, to the degree that the Pentagon had to be persuaded to retrofit their bottoms. History Hit drily comments that Hummers were not well suited for urban combat. They made for easy targets.

The ones in the factory do look dusty, as if they were put in service. But how did they get there in the first place? Were they US castoffs that Ukraine concluded weren’t fit for purpose for them either?

The plural of anecdote is not data, but this segment is even more puzzling:

CHECHENS ENTER FIRST PART OF AZOVSTAL FACTORY – FIND GOODIES

What are three tanks doing sitting around, particularly since the only one you can see well looks way too clean, as if it has been little used? Perhaps PlutonimKun had the answer:

The Ukie tanks will never go one on one with Russian tanks for a simple reason – their ammunition is out of date and can’t penetrate modern Russian armour. This is a very well known limitation of their standard gun. Nato can’t help as it doesn’t make armour piercing shells of the right calibre for the Ukie tanks.

Let’s widen the lens. The Ukraine army is pretty much out of gas. We linked to a Ukraine business site saying more than a week ago that only 1/3 of the gas stations were open. As Louis Frye confirmed:

UA no longer has any functional refineries…supplies have to be trucked in from somewhere. No diesel, no mechanized warfare.

and those tanker trucks in transit are impossible to hide and make easy targets

The West Can’t Resupply Ukraine

Louis Frye pointed out that getting more fuel in is practically impossible. The same problem applies to any large weapons systems: they’d need to be moved in on train and Russia could take them out en route, assuming Russia didn’t get them earlier. Russia has been having a good run of taking out weapons as soon as they get to depots in Lvov. This account is from Nightvision at the Saker, so take it with a large dose of salt as to how much in materiel was actually destroyed. But as you can see from the magnitude of the blasts, the missiles look to have hit something or things that were pretty explosive:

A stockpile of American, German and British anti-tank missiles was destroyed at a military depot in Lvov. According to our source in the SBU, the attack on the logistics base in Lvov was a complete surprise. Several tens of tons of various anti-tank weapons were destroyed at the facility, including German PanzerFausts, British NLAWs and American Javelins. It was expected that these funds should be enough for a month of active hostilities against Russian troops. According to our source, the plant was carried out secretly on commercial and civilian vehicles. Therefore, an investigation is now underway as to why the Russians were able to figure out all three storage sites.

Note the “our source in the SBU” isn’t crazy; Scott Ritter said it’s well infiltrated by Russia.

Bitchute is a bit triumphalist: Awesome Angle Of Russian Kalibers Rocking NATO Weapons Storage In Lyvov

Even if you discount these examples, it’s clear that Ukraine has become a black hole for weapons. Pentagon sources recently admitted to Bloomberg and CNN that Ukraine is consuming weapons in a week that the US thought would last a month.

Some of that appears to be because our wonder weapons aren’t working so well in the field. Russian tanks typically appear able to withstand several Javelin hits before needing repair. Russia appears often able to jam Switchblade drones.

Other gaps result from Ukraine mainly using Russian weaponry and the West not having the right sized shells.

Yet another problem is Russia has taken out most Ukraine repair factories, so damaged tanks and trucks have to go to the Czech Republic for a fix-up.

And that’s before getting to the high odds that many of the weapons shipments are being diverted and sold on the black market. Again from Louis Frye:

Modern western weapons are produced at a snail’s pace. In less than two months Ukraine has used up years’ worth of arms production via

1. destruction-capture by RU whether by air or ground,
2. UA forces using more weapons than western planners assumed (fighting the last war, RU ain’t the Taliban or Republican Guard);
3. UA social media rumours-accusations that certain local authorities, particularly in western UA, are hoarding-skimming weapons shipments meant for the frontlines

#3 is how you turn UA into Libya or 1980’s Lebanon and have Z thrown out in a coup and have UA run by overt ultranationalists.

Louis Frye indirectly raises another point: who is being attritted here? The West’s assumption was that they’d quickly deplete Russia’s warmaking capacity. But it’s the US/NATO cupboards that are being drained. Now the West defenders argue that they are giving up old Soviet stuff that Ukraine can use. That’s true only to a point. They’ve also sent in Javelins, manpads, and Switchblades, to not much effect.

By contrast, Russia is picking up the tempo in Donbass, but still sticking to Russian doctrine of chewing pieces out of enemy cauldrons and grinding them down. Over the last week, they’ve been advancing slowly, it appears with the main intent to get Ukraine units to try to attack, which is leading to very bad outcomes for them. I read a report which I cannot locate again, citing the Pentagon, which indicated that Russia had just markedly increased the number of battalion tactical groups in the Izyum area, presumably as part of the program to whittle down and finish off the cauldron.

Given the West’s intent to keep Ukraine fighting to the last Ukrainian, the eventual collapse of this cauldron may still not lead to a cessation of resistance. Lambert and I have been of the view that Alexander Mercourius put forth yesterday: if Ukraine won’t then accept terms, the next logical area to target is the Black Sea coast.

Ukraine Is Running Out of Fighting Men

Weapons are not of much use if you don’t have enough troops to use them. Weeks ago, Gonzalo Lira said his Ukraine contacts were reporting massive flights of young men to the border to escape being conscripted (men 18 to 65 were being required to serve). A Forbes story found by OnceWereVirologist provided indirect confirmation, by depicting the desperate-sounding calling up of taxi drivers, ump, tank reservists, as heroic.

Who Will Suffer More in the Sanctions War?

Due to the hour and the length of this post, I am sorry to give this point short shrift and most certainly will elaborate in future offerings.

The West clearly did not anticipate that Russia would weather the initial financial shock and awe of the sanctions. It is still assuming that Russia will be hit hard for the real economy effects, which will take longer to manifest. But the failure to game out Russia not imploding as expected means they are now suffering unanticipated blowback.

The next level of US/EU hopium is that Russia will start suffering badly by the fall, well before winter cold and higher energy demand starts imposing a high political and human cost.

But it is not clear that the West is not just as exposed to downside risk before the winter. Biden has been sending some of the US strategic petroleum reserve releases to Europe. That drawdown is expected to end by October, when the US fantasizes that it will be able to produce and deliver enough LNG to largely compensate for the loss of Russian fuel. That’s possible but far from probable. The US and Europe are getting an energy break now due to Chinese Covid lockdowns, so we don’t have an accurate picture as how stressed energy supply would be under normal spring/summer conditions.

Germany is expecting very large food price increases soon. That is going to be destabilizing, to put it mildly. High food and energy prices may also eat into the current warm welcome for Ukraine refugees, who compete for housing stock, food, energy, and place other demands on government.

Another wild card is the impact of hunger and starvation outside Europe, which is likely to come into play before the winter. Famine leads to migration. Where will hungry people from the Middle East and Africa go? They are sure to try to come to Europe. What happens next is over my pay grade.

And the euro is already looking wobbly. From Bloomberg in The ECB Must Act Soon to Avoid a Currency Crisis (hat tip furzy):

The remorseless strength of the U.S. dollar as the global haven is starting to cause problems — and not just in emerging markets…The eurozone, however, is where the most discomfort is felt because it is exacerbating inflation, in part because imports become more expensive. The common currency anchors the European Project so a precipitous drop risks becoming existential for continental unity in a way that yen weakness doesn’t.

The euro has declined steadily for the past year from above 1.22 per dollar to within close range of the 1.0640 low of March 2020, when the pandemic first hit. A test of parity to the dollar later this year is no longer a low-probability risk. A currency crisis of confidence is the last thing the European Central Bank needs. It already faces an almost impossible choice between counteracting soaring imported inflation or risking a renewed recession. But doing nothing is rapidly ceasing to be an option.

Imported inflation is exacerbated by the war in Ukraine because much of Europe’s energy purchases are priced in dollars. A weaker euro just magnifies the short-term problem.

The author argues for a 50 basis point rate increase to defend the euro. At super low rate levels, interest rate increases have a disproportionately large impact on asset prices, particularly bonds.

The bigger point is that Europe has another economic plate spinning on the top of a pole that is in danger of crashing. And the cure will cause damage of its own.

In other words, the US and Europe may still be able to muddle through the fall into the winter, but their economic course is more fraught than most experts and pols appear to recognize

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