Streetwise Professor

December 22, 2022

Vova Has Issues

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia,Ukraine — cpirrong @ 5:13 pm

I haven’t written much about the Ukraine war for months because not much has happened for months, since the major Ukrainian advances in August. Zelenskyy’s visit to the US nudges me to providing an update.

Since the major Ukrainian gains, the war has reverted into another stalemate, a la Korea 1951-1953 (an analogy I used before) or the Western Front 1914-1918. The culmination of the Ukrainian advances was predictable, and the logic of warfare means that the marginal cost of additional gains rises rapidly. The advancing force’s logistics become more stretched, and the defender’s more compact. Moreover, the most strategically important advance, in the south around Kherson, means that now the Ukrainians are the ones who must fight with a major river to their backs, and supply their forces over tenuous river crossings.

On the Kharkiv front, there are see-saw battles around Kreminna. Again, very Korea/Western Front-esque.

The Russians are concentrating their efforts on the taking of Bakhmut. The accounts are again redolent of the accounts of battles like Pork Chop Hill or Verdun, where massive casualties are incurred to take, and then sometimes lose, mere yards of territory. Literally yards.

Interestingly, apparently due to the wrecking of their armored and mechanized forces, Russian attacks are carried out by mass infantry attacks, a la Chinese human waves in Korea, with little or no armored support. Moreover, the attacks are evidently primarily carried out by Wagner troops, rather than regular Russian formations, and many of the Wagner “troops” are convicts who apparently decided that it was better to play the odds in Ukraine than stay in Russian prisons.

The Russians sometimes gain a few yards here and there. Reading the accounts is fascinating. It is accounted as a major victory if they take this street or that. At the cost of great slaughter.

Accounts suggest that the tactics that worked for the Russians over the summer in Luhansk are not feasible here. Specifically, the tried-and-true method of saturation bombardment followed by infantry advance is infeasible because the Russians lack sufficient munitions to execute the bombardments. So it’s modest bombardment, or no bombardment, followed by waves of Ivans advancing on entrenched positions, hoping to win by weight of numbers.

It’s all so pointless. Even if the Russians “win” in Bakhmut–so what? Lacking mechanized forces they have no hope of a breakout even if they do achieve a penetration. So the front will move a few meters or kilometers with no fundamental change in the military situation.

In this respect, they are engaged in as futile a struggle as the British and French were in 1915-1917. Even when they broke through the first couple of lines of trenches, they had no ability to exploit the gains. Same with the Russians today.

The futility has not penetrated the skulls of Putin and his slouching acolytes, though he has made some hilarious statements recently. In an oblique attempt to rationalize failure, has described the campaign in Ukraine as “complicated,” and said the Russians are facing “issues.”

What’s the over under on when he says the situation is “problematic”?

Lapsing even further into delusion, Putin and his sad sack defense minister Shoigu announced plans to expand the Russian military from 1.15 million personnel to 1.5 million.

Let me get this straight. Russia has suffered casualties numbering probably around 200,000. It is not able to replace the wastage at the front even by throwing almost completely untrained mobiliks into the meat grinder. It has lost most of its best equipment, and cannot supply even the most basic kit to its soldiers. Around 300,000 military aged men have fled the country.

But Putin is going to increase the armed forces by 40 percent. Uhm-kay! Whatever, dude!

In other news, Rogozin the Ridiculous took some Ukrainian shrapnel in the shoulder. Could be serious. If it had hit him in the head, not so much.

But Vova won’t give up. In fact, he can’t give up. It’s far better (for him!) that numberless orcs get fed into the meat grinder than for him to admit defeat–and thereby risk getting fed into the meat grinder himself.

Meaning that there is no end in sight. Not just because Putin won’t accept defeat, but because Zelenskyy won’t accept anything but total victory, and indeed Russian failure and Ukrainian success has fed Zelenskyy’s ambitions. As I said probably 9 months ago, the core is empty: there is no mutually acceptable set of terms to end the conflict, even a limited end such as a cease fire or an armistice.

That said, part of the reason that the core is empty is that the US (and Europe) are encouraging Zelenskyy. Or at least, they are afraid to put him in his place, apparently never having learned who pays the piper calls the tune.

I get that giving Putin even the simulacrum of victory presents dangers for the future. But in my mind those are outweighed by the dangers of the present, not least to Ukrainians, but to the world economy, and potentially to the world–for who knows what a desperate Putin will resort to.

Logic says he will not use nukes, or escalate dangerously in some other way. Well, as I wrote immediately before the invasion, logic said he shouldn’t invade. But here we are.

Macron beclowned himself at the World Cup. But Biden beclowns himself on a daily basis. And when choosing between clowns, Macron’s proposals for an ugly peace–or at least, an ugly cessation of hostilities–is far preferable to Biden’s (and alas, the Senate Republicans’) blank check policy.

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  1. The 1918 armistice arrived only because German soldiers had started to surrender in droves. Earlier attempts at a negotiated peace got nowhere – according to one account the sticking point was that Germany insisted that she keep Belgium. I’d think that it would be easier to agree to Russia keeping the Crimea than Germany keeping Belgium.

    Comment by dearieme — December 22, 2022 @ 5:42 pm

  2. Just becasue the Russians are not using Shock & Awe doesn’t mean they are losing, they are killing soldiers at a higher rate than the Ukrainians are killing Russians,grinding it out, the Russians are not trying to take land, they are trying to dismantle the army.

    Comment by JayWalk — December 22, 2022 @ 8:08 pm

  3. Can you tell me how a peace treaty would look like? What would convince the Ukrainian side that Russia won’t resume attacking in two years?

    Comment by tegla — December 22, 2022 @ 11:47 pm

  4. “…Russia has suffered casualties numbering probably around 200,000…”

    where do you have that number from?

    Have a hard time believing this figure, given that around 150k-200k troops were deployed initially (this figure is cited consistently from both sides)…

    at least we definitely DO know that they did not run out of missiles at the beginning of march…

    Comment by viennacapitalist — December 23, 2022 @ 3:39 am

  5. “they are killing soldiers at a higher rate than the Ukrainians are killing Russians” – actually, it is another way around. A huge way around, at that.

    “the US (and Europe) are encouraging Zelenskyy. Or at least, they are afraid to put him in his place, apparently never having learned who pays the piper calls the tune.”

    That is nonsense. No matter how it ends, Russia shall not be allowed to keep an inch of the land that does not belong to it. Or, for that matter, any other country. The law is the law, there is no bypassing it.

    Any cease-fire or armistice or whatever means a respite for Russia and a chance to rearm and resupply. This is just passing the problem down the timeline, not solving it. Maybe Biden hopes to pass away first, maybe he hopes Putin dies… this is not helping at all.

    Comment by LL — December 23, 2022 @ 1:25 pm

  6. According to multiple reports, Rogozin was also wounded in the buttocks. Or, as the Russian General Staff likes to say, his “decision-making center”

    Comment by LL — December 23, 2022 @ 1:30 pm

  7. Where does anyone commenting in this war get numbers from?

    Peace: does anyone in the west really care if Russia keeps the Crimea? The Donbas? If the answer is “no” then there could be a peace based on the West strong-arming Ukraine into abandoning its claim to those territories. In return, what? Putin commits hara-kiri? Entertaining but hardly strategic.

    Comment by dearieme — December 23, 2022 @ 1:42 pm

  8. On the peace,you sound like Henry Kissinger(which is not a recommendation).
    However, you correctly observe that neither side will concede anything-so there is no point in anyone else trying.
    What we have to do is learn to live without them.
    Peace will only come when Putin or Zelensky or both are removed.Zelensky is fighting for his country, so his stand is quite rational.

    Comment by Sabena — December 24, 2022 @ 12:55 am

  9. The Russians could use the guidance of some veterans of Stalingrad about now.

    Comment by Andrew Stanton — December 24, 2022 @ 8:42 am

  10. Whatever you thought of the Zelensky speech to Congress, it was not Churchillian. He also should have shown up in a suit and tie instead of looking like a crypto bro. Respect for the institution……even if it often doesn’t deserve respect.

    Comment by Jeff Carter (@pointsnfigures1) — December 24, 2022 @ 10:55 am

  11. “Where does anyone commenting in this war get numbers from?”

    Fog of war, innit? Propaganda/psych war is enuff to befuddle the most impartial of minds.

    Only thing sure is that there is a ton of loss and suffering on all sides.

    Comment by Simple Simon — December 25, 2022 @ 12:00 pm

  12. NUTS!

    Comment by elmer — December 26, 2022 @ 10:32 am

  13. The key strategic prizes in this war, as I understand it, are the gas fields of eastern Ukraine and the naval base in Sevastopol. Ukraine has come a long way toward re-capturing the former, which, if those gains can be secured enough to permit drilling and build-out of pipelines, can boost the Ukrainian economy and undercut Russia’s pricing power for its gas exports. My guess is that would be as destabilizing the the Putin regime as anything that happens on the battlefield.

    Sevastopol, on the near-island of Crimea, seems a tougher nut to crack. If Ukraine can cut off land access from the north (e.g., re-taking Mariupol) and somehow keep the Kerch Strait bridge all blown-up, we have the makings of a siege.

    It is hard to see the Ukes settling for a peace deal that lets the Russians project naval power from Sevastopol, but hard to see how the Ukes can re-take it on a time-frame measured in anything less than years. So the war grinds on.

    Comment by M. Rad. — December 26, 2022 @ 11:44 am

  14. Russia’s illegitimacy at the UN

    from Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs

    who is supposed to negotiate?????

    Comment by elmer — December 26, 2022 @ 3:03 pm

  15. @10: my thought exactly. I do understand that pseudo military, hands-on/in-trenches kinda sweater became his marketing brand, but the stance became old by now.

    Comment by Tatyana — December 28, 2022 @ 2:18 pm

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