Monday, February 28, 2022

Russia v Ukraine: Day 6

Western media guide to tanks.

   If you've been watching this conflict through the eyes of Western media, you would be forgiven for thinking that the plucky Ukrainian Army was holding its own or even winning this war and that the Russian Army was getting owned, making little progress or surprised at the level of resistance. I've got no dog in this fight except the truth itself; not something in high demand these days but still worth mentioning. For what it's worth and due to the Fog of War, media frenzy, hyperbole, fake footage, footage from years ago and footage from the ARMA 3 PC war simulator game, I agree it's all bad. It's just impossible for the average citizen to know what's really happening in the world or in the war.

   I will try here to paint a picture of what an invasion of a country the size of Ukraine should look like, seems to look like and what we can infer through the fog because in truth, most Ukrainians in Ukraine don't even know the condition of this war/invasion once they turn off their TV.

   Before I start, there are some very striking observations to be had from watching footage that can at least be verified and that is that the Russians seem to be using a lot of their older equipment in their initial attack. I mean we're talking T-72s both A and B (which at best is 1980s tech), most upgraded with add on reactive armor, side and rear mounter cages (to defeat shaped charged shells) and makeshift tank turret roof armor consisting of cages covered in sandbags to possibly defeat the Javelin anti-tank missile every NATO country seems to be sending to Ukraine. One thing is for sure, the Russians are holding their elite divisions in reserve. It seems in the initial attack; they're using up their vast collection of Cold War machinery which was gathering rust and not viable on the export market anymore. (Except maybe in Syria where the T-72's low-tech diesel engines make them remarkably easy to repair in the field for anyone useful with a wrench). But that's a whole other story

Looks like near encirclement of the main Ukrainian army facing Donbass
and Russian probing forces to the North and West of Kiev.

   1) The Kiev Attack. Russian forces are reported to be in control of the main highway North from Kiev and are conducting probing and reconnaissance attacks to the west to attempt to seal off the Western highway. Reports of Ukrainian civilians at the border of Poland (which are certain and measurable) indicate a 20-42 hour waiting time to be processed to cross the border for people in cars, and 12-18 hours for people on foot). That's certainly horrible and a humanitarian tragedy but there are no nice military invasions. Russian forces did enter Kiev on the Western bank of the Dnieper but retreated. (Obviously a probing attack to reveal local concentrations of Ukrainian Army hardpoints). 
    Remember, the Russians have spy satellites over the entire theater as do the US who are undoubtedly feeding this information to the Ukrainian high command, but its usefulness is peripheral for the defender. There is a curfew in Kiev which means nobody on the streets, but the Russians have not cut off power, water or even Internet to the city which they could easily do via bombing. It is quite clear that they have no interest in destroying the city. In fact, five days in, I can't remember such a large war with such a minimal civilian body count. When the Western Powers invaded Iraq, they began bombing Baghdad on the first night in a "shock and awe" campaign that killed one million people when it was all over. Ultimately, the Russians will be waiting for the rapidly advancing Crimean force from the South and the North Westerly force via Chernihiv to complete the encirclement of the city. This is probably hours away. Their plan is a peaceful surrender of Ukraine via gun to Zelensky's head which will look good in the modern-day PR/social media war.

   2) The Northeast Axis. The Russians here invaded on a broad front with the ultimate aim of capturing Kharkov, the second most populated city in Ukraine, the site of a legendary battle via Germany in WWII and mostly a Russian speaking city (although speaking Russian is officially banned in Ukraine by the central government as of the coup in 2014). Kharkov has been surrounded and Russian troops have reached the city center, have met fierce resistance and retreated. Kharkov it seems will just have to remain surrounded to release the main Russian forces to advance on Kiev. Taking Kharkov by military force, leveling the city with artillery is not the Russian goal. The Russians are selling this invasion to their own people as not a Slav-on-Slav war. And with 73% of Russians supporting the invasion (who knows if such stats are true) would it matter anyway? One million people demonstrated in London against the Iraq War and the people in power took no notice. And that was in a democracy which Russia certainly is not.
    Ukrainian Army reports have confirmed that the Russian 1st Guard Tank Army and the 20th Combined Arms Army make up the bulk of the Northeast attack and are moving westward toward Kiev. Ukrainian Army defenders did capture elements of the Russian 2nd Tank Division and 138th Motor Rifle Brigade during the probing attack into Kharkov. For now, I see the Russians content to lay siege and prevent Ukrainian Army units in Kharkov from threatening the flank or rear on the main thrust on Kiev.

When will we learn?

3) Donbass Axis: This isn't complicated. The Russians are content to pin Ukrainian forces here without attacking the Ukrainian well-fortified multi echeloned defense system here. The Russians are using their well supplied battle-hardened separatist militia to keep pressure here while the Russian Army attempts to encircle them from the North and South. Again, the sheer logistics of this encirclement is probably causing the Russians problems due to logistics, supply and fuel. I would not expect anything less. Rome did not fall in a day. Western media are making this out to be some kind of failure. The military part of this attack will take some time.

4) Crimea Axis: The attack from the South is undoubtably the Russian's most successful in terms of territory quickly gained. They encountered a thin line of resistance and then broke through into open ground following the Dnieper North and East and bridging it to the West but not seeming particularly interested in moving north on the west side of the great river. West of the Dnieper of course is where Ukrainian is spoken along with Polish and Bulgarian. Not friendly country. That is not to say that anywhere in Ukraine is necessarily friendly country outside of Donetsk and Luhansk but there are shades of grey and nuance that media tends to ignore.
   A break off force of mechanized infantry is rapidly advancing and will capture or has captured Mariupol (linking Crimea with the Russian mainland via land bridge). Also, Russian forces opened the canal the Ukrainians had blocked to deny Crimea fresh water after the Russian annexation in 2014 negating the desalination plant that was hurriedly built and grossly inefficient to provide Crimeans with drinking water.
   The main force will push north and attempt to finish the complete the encirclement of Kiev from the south. The Russians are obviously hoping for a surrender once this is completed. If the Ukrainians refuse, then war just becomes diplomacy by other means.
5) Belarus Attack: The Russians have amassed a force in Belarus which is directly north of Western Ukraine. This force would drive south and likely be used to cut off shipments of arms and supplies through Poland, Slovakia and Hungary. It would also attack the city of Lviv with little restraint if surrender does not come in the next two weeks.

   Things to note as you watch or read Western media is that the Russians have released only a fraction of their conventional forces to achieve the gains they have made. The civilian body count is miniscule in an invasion of this magnitude.

   Finally, I would like to address the West's hysterical response. Obviously, there would be sanctions. But Russia has been sanctioned since the Crimean Annexation, so they are used to it. But now, the US and the Europeans (under pressure from the US) has attacked the Russian Central Bank, seizing all Russian assets and reserves in foreign banks in Western countries. In the modern world and global economy, this is about as far as you can go without using military force. Even Russia's exclusion from the SWIFT interbank payment system can be weathered. But this action by the Biden administration borders on hysteria. Even the US Federal Reserve advised the White House not to do it.


    Because with the backing of China, Russia can probably weather it and the ongoing attack on the Russian Ruble which means it'll be worth pennies versus the dollar this week doesn't mean much for the average Russian. Russia is self-sufficient in oil and gas and food. Sure, the average Russian won't be able to holiday in Ibiza, but I hear Crimea has sun baked beaches in the summer. Western hysteria is throwing the kitchen sink diplomacy; this is betting your house on a two pair in poker. The West has already done this to Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea etc but never to a G20 country. It's new territory. Russia has already cut off all flights over its mainland by Western airlines in response but not Asian or Indian airlines. 

This kills European airlines.

  The biggest loser (apart from Ukraine) in all of this is the EU and especially Germany. The Nordstream II gas pipeline is gone as are all pipelines of natural gas through Ukraine to the EU (40% of which comes from Russia) and 25% of the EU's oil from Russia just went bust. In the massive inflationary environment post Covid, this war was played shrewdly but riskily by Putin as NATO crept up to his border. He attacked now or never. History will tell if it was a good move on the grand chessboard.

  The danger of the monetary attack on Russia is the signal it sends out to countries like China, Brazil and even India. "What if I don't play ball, can the West kill my economy?" That is why the Wall Street Bankers advised against this financial attack because it encourages the creation of a non-dollar-based world economy. It breaks the Bretton Woods post WWII neoliberal/globalist agreement.

 What the bankers fear is that such action encourages a parallel system of payments without the dollar. China will gladly buy Russian oil and gas. So will others. Sanctions have not crippled Iran; in fact, they've made the population rally around its dysfunctional theocratic government.

  A lot of people have asked me, "will China attack Taiwan now?" and I'll give a tentative no. Why would they? They are the biggest winners of this war by far. The EU are commiting suicide for ideology (wouldn't be the first time) killing their economy to kill Russia's, the US has revealed itself as a paper tiger, the withdrawal from Afghanistan and total failure in Iraq being the most obvious examples but also its internal strife, riots, wealth inequality and rule by oligarchs and corporations.

  In all war games, the best move is not to play right? But as of this writing, the best outcome is peace talks as the Ukrainians realize they have no stack left at the poker table and make a deal, giving up Eastern Russian speaking Ukraine and an accord not to join NATO in exchange for non-total annihilation. There are talks scheduled in Belarus hours after this writing. The fate of at least 50,000 military men surrounded in the Donbass pocket rests on the deliberations of modern diplomats who are a bureaucrat gang that has never seen or experienced war. The President of Ukraine is a former standup comedian. I wish I was joking.

  The West and NATO have played all their cards. To a serious extent, the Russians have too. 

  And like the casino the world has become, nobody knows where the chips will fall.