Things I Don’t Know About the Russian Invasion of Ukraine
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Categories: Modern, Not an expert

Things I Don’t Know About the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

Canadian journalists can’t be bothered to find and print maps of the war but this one on Wikimedia Commons is in the public domain https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2022_Russian_invasion_of_Ukraine.jpg updated 26 February 2022

Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked, criminal, and mistaken invasion of Ukraine on 24 February surprised me. The most important things to know about it are that so far Ukrainian forces are holding out and that people in neighbouring countries are helping refugees while the world begins to punish the Russian government. Refugees Welcome Polska, https://berlin-hilft.com/ukraine/, and the Kyiv Independent seem like three worthwhile projects; a replica armourer in Ukraine shared the Telegram channel by a former co-worker https://t.me/s/saveukrainestoprussia; the index of demonstrations against this war at https://www.stopputin.net/ is at least more useful than being angry on social media. If you don’t mind American spooks and think tanks, the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, DC has daily situation reports at https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/ukraine-conflict-updates Because this attack was so surprising, and because I am so ignorant about the region, I decided to write this post about all the things I know I do not know, and then expand the jargon in one of the reports I have seen. But my ignorance is not at all important compared to the people who are fighting or fleeing for their lives!

I do not know what Putin imagined he could gain from a war which would terrify the Atlantic world and the eastern members of NATO. Ukraine is a large, populous country and its hard for anyone to take a government seriously if it was sworn in under the muzzles of foreign soldiers. So even if he took Kyiv and killed or captured the government, the most likely outcome would be a long conventional war or a long insurgency, while foreign sanctions ruin the Russian economy and NATO buys more weapons and holds more exercises in Poland and the Baltic states. Putin saw how invading Iraq with a small army weakened and humiliated the US and UK, so why is he starting his own war of choice with a small army on a flimsy pretext?

I do not know why the destruction in the first four days of the war was relatively light. Russia has weapons which can destroy whole blocks, but the photos I see show damage to individual buildings (photos of Ukrainian military bases might be harrowing). It was not until the fourth day of the war when Ukranians started to share photos of destroyed apartment buildings alongside the damage to individual shops, schoolrooms, and apartments. If the Russian army try to storm defended cities, those cities will be destroyed like Grozny, like Mosul, and like Aleppo. The Ukrainian government claims to have suffered only 137 dead on the first day of the war (24 February, I think this includes soldiers and civilians).

I do not have any direct knowledge of the Russian or Ukrainian militaries. Russia has been fighting in Syria and the Don Basin for years so presumably has many veteran soldiers. Their assault does not feel like I would expect an invasion by well-equipped veteran troops to feel. The Ukrainian military is said to have expanded and improved in skill since the 2013-2015 war on the Don. Russia has an expensive airforce and satellite network. Many commentators assume that their readers have recent military experience so throw around jargon which they never explain.

I do not understand why the numbers of invaders who crossed into Ukraine seem far smaller than the 150,000 or 190,000 who supposedly gathered in Russia and Belarus. I have seen one estimate of 30,000 to 60,000 soldiers by 25 February.

I do not understand the nature of the offensive from Belarus towards Kyiv which seems to be the only one which has penetrated deep into Ukrainian territory. It opened with an airborne assault on Hostomel airport near Kyiv (which artillery in Kyiv could presumably shell if it fell, modern howitzers and Grad rocket launchers can reach 20-40 km – so just what did the Russians think they could do with it?) and what seemed like a diffuse ground assault on the 25th. Meanwhile the ground forces which approached from near Chernobyl seem to be arriving more slowly. Kyiv is a city of 3 million people, and taking a city like that with even a few thousand defenders would be a slow, bloody, and destructive task.

A map of the logistics of the war in Ukraine (which in post-1850 Europe means railroads) by @SukDukDong1, 13 March 2022. As you can see, Russian forces have been unsuccessful in cutting off rail access to cities or the concentrations of Ukrainian troops in the Don basin, so ammunition, equipment, and fresh troops can keep flowing in.

I do not know anyone who I trust and who is competent to comment on a war in a Slavic country. I know a few Estonians, Poles, and Russians and one or two Ukrainians on the fediverse. Edit: I also know some Ukrainian and Crimean armourers, like Armstreet who are building steel barricades in Kyiv.

I am not sure that I know anyone who I trust and who is competent to point me to someone competent to comment on a war in a Slavic country. My gentle readers might not know that Canadian journalists are so hopeless at overseas news that their reports on the wars in Syria and post-2011 Iraq were regurgitated press releases. They just do not have people on staff who speak Slavic languages, understand military matters, and can ask blunt questions, and they don’t know how to find those people. US and UK intelligence agencies have as much credibility on Russia, China, or Iran as Bernie Madoff has on investment opportunities. Most think tanks and institutes are linked to Russian or NATO intelligence agencies and militaries. I could ask one of my old professors and one of the Estonians.

I chose to find and rely upon a few sources (mostly Ukrainian), but people who like corporate social media sometimes browse it and look for things which feel truthy. Wayne E. Lee, a military historian in the United States, shared the following essay by a ‘Stanimir Dobrev’ on birdsite (Nitter https://nitter.net/delfoo/status/1497498201527521281#m). Because it is written for people with recent military or intelligence experience, I have expanded or glossed the acronyms and linked to some Wikipedia pages. I have also fixed some typos and standardized punctuation.

I am going to try to explain the irrational Russian Armed Forces behavior towards strategy, common thought, or even the chances repatriated SSO (special operations force) that are now prisoners of war try to murder a bunch of men with stars.

Here’s where I will start from. The Russian armed forces have never attempted anything like this. This isn’t about what kind of war they’re fighting it’s about what they’re capable of mustering.

Secondly it seems the decision making structures have low opinion in general of Ukraine and their fighting abilities and sort of an ideal that there’s a willing subservience in Ukrainians if they get to be part of Russia. Pure racism informing their decision making process.

Thirdly battalion tactical groups (combined-armed forces of infantry, armour, and artillery about 600 to 800 soldiers strong which post-Soviet Russia frequently uses) are terrible units to support operations. They have overload the commander, lack support, and might not properly integrate with air or do adequate scouting as signals and recon are missing along with liaisons with them.

Fourthly without standing down even if parts of the Ukrainian Nat Guard, Police, Border Guard, Territorials and Army are defeated, UA regional commands can be autonomous for days and are vast structures, short of ordering their demobilization their removal is way too costly for RuMoD.

And there’s a lot of hidden corruption and misreporting that gets baked in into calculations but the higher you go up the chain as in a corporation, the more dismissive management is that it will be an issue. AKA Putin doesn’t even remotely grasp how bad it is.

Based on those 5 (points) let me try to explain the situation now. Russian units aren’t stopping fire or limiting use of their kalibrs (a type of cruise missile) and stand off strikes. This is all they could muster south. Kalibrs are limited by launch tubes, a bit over a hundred is what they had ready. We saw constant trains and movement over time moving Russian equipment and lots of aircraft being moved over to mustering points and at the end people. By then the supply was at its limit just keeping them warm and fed. They found out the hard way that this was their logistical limit. What people saw wasn’t that troops packed spare tanks for long drives. They were carrying their fuel reserves on them. The few organic refueling trucks were not enough to make up an actual reserve or depot (ie. a fuel dump). They had one full compliment, some spares in one truck, that’s it. This didn’t seem that crazy in the Kremlin because the prevailing thought in the higher echelons and Putin’s inner circle and the FSB (a Russian intelligence agency) was one highly dismissive of Ukraine highly hyped up by Russian army propaganda reporting. They missed that they were buying their own bullshit.

The release of the information (about Putin’s plans to create a pretext to invade Ukraine) paralyzed them in terms of decision making. But the inherent bias remained and Ukraine delayed mobilising so it didn’t dissuade them. For 7 days they ate away supplies rather than actively trying to build them further, they were waiting for a go order. The limited supply meant it had to be a mad dash. BTGs (battalion tactical groups) were split into smaller sub units traveling on multiple roads to avoid congestion. When they met something they’d wait to coalesce or get into a fight. If the Ukraine was suprised it would work.

Were the Russian troops quality ones they’d do better with just surprise on their side. But they were mostly poorly trained as full units were never called up before. Usually a brigade would send only a company and could hand pick. Now it’s either confess the lies about readiness or be creative. Because the corruption had created such a rot, brigade commanders chose “creative” (criminal). Conscripts were added to the build up (the Russian army is a mix of conscripts and volunteer “contract soldiers”). Ghost soldiers on the roster were hidden. That meant BTGs were far greener. When these hit a city or made contact they’d deploy in unideal formations of platoon to company size. Not their fault all that much, this is what they knew. Then if a Ukrainian unit knew in advance where they were and was careful, it would annihilate the BTG splinter formation.

Because the timetable had to be kept, supplies were already short with the delay Russian troops would go a step further. They’d keep one sub unit to block and redirect subsequent units, the rest would continue on parallel roads. Again timetable meant usually more major roads. After a couple of road blocks, BTG’d be diluted, lost a bunch of units and fighting to standstill. You’d expect that there would be air or artillerys support. But BTGs aren’t suited for that, when they move in chunks in parallel the artillery spotters could be in another group. As we said also there was a problem stocking supplies but still CAS (close air support) should probably not be as limited? Yes but Russian SSO (special operations force) more used to directing it had other tasks and Russia doesn’t have a platform like the US surveillance planes and drones that can operate in contested air. And the air was contested because of the limited early strikes due to the small build up + limited recon of where Ukrainian air force & air defense were prior to this. Satelites take pics at known times, moving equipment often can dissuede strikes as it’s uncertain anything will be in place. What then was struck were major stationary objects, depots in main areas, radars, major command and control but again limited by number of reloads.

So then Russian MoD (Ministry of Defense) started rolling the columns with heavy support of helicopters and planes ahead. This works on day 1 when you know where your guys start & can track where they are easily and you know beyond that point it’s all enemy. Once you land and refuel, it’s less easy especially because as we mentioned, a BTG splitinter lacks a signals unit, just has a few officers.

Then comes the air assault (airborne assault on Hostomel Airport). Because you have to be quick you also have to do risky stuff. The problem of course is that because your helicopters are parked in fields, ready for one load with some trucks and one set of ammo, you can do it once a day with each group. That’s why you wait till the end of the assault attempt to see if it works. If you have to refuel and prep for a second go, your trucks have to go to a depot and reload and then come back. And only then try again. You still have to try to take the airport fast and get guys in because if the operation takes too long and you haven’t kept them (the Ukrainians) on the back foot your green troops are still moving piecemeal on roads, don’t have much with them, any small village could be their end.

So the air assault fails, part of the pincer moves fail, you can’t budge most of the Ukrainian troops what do you do? You go for broke, hope you win the race between entrenchment in Kyiv and you just throwing all you have and hope if you decapitate Ukraine, regional commands lose faith. Otherwise because what remains of your force is split in small groups moving on main roads Ukraine can mobilize move via back roads and just recapture most of the towns as you have few troops for actual 24/7 duties and to even spot them moving back into the town.

Can it work? I don’t know. Is it a good plan. Hell no. Could they execute anything else, without the entire structure confessing the army has corruption, which yes the boss expected, but it’s such a rot it might cost him his throne, yeah not when he’s in this mood. So the spineless bunch decided to throw away 18-19 year old conscripts and veterans and pray they get lucky. Also that Putin hasn’t noticed how nuts this is shows that he’s either delusional or is completely inept when it comes to military affairs.

A lot of the commentary prior missed the readiness of the Russian forces and the poor state of affairs. Overreliance on official statements and major military pages missed tons of low level testimonials and regional investigative pieces on how big the rot was. Aggregation of Zvezda (a miniatures wargame company and the Russian military TV channel) and VK (VKontakte) mil (military) informing pages and MAKS (a military miniatures company?) show sales pitches should be tempered by what we can find on the ground and regional and smaller outlets, forums and blogs where servicemembers (who) were pissed were abundant to the point they shouldn’t have been dismissed.

PPPS. We saw lots of evidence for that and even then a part of the community of analysts dismissed it assuming once it’s about having a war footing RU structures will take it serious. But that’s not how bad habits work.

PPPPS. And in the minds of the Kremlin they have been continuously on a war footing. So if during that time they left arms companies bankrupt sometimes even more than once, the habit was not going to break most likely. To quote Nemtsov (perhaps Boris Nemtsov, a Russian dissident who was murdered in Moscow in 2015) here: <<Он ёбнутый… чтоб вы поняли?>> (He is green … so that you understand?)

Stanimir Dobrev @delfoo https://nitter.net/delfoo

(scheduled 26 February 2022)

Edit 2022-03-02: Added reference to Armstreet. A ‘Nathan Ruser’ on birdsite has been making maps of Russian advances as columns and not territorial control which is more realistic since Russia lacks the troops to garrison them and the officials to impose a new administration (Nitter https://nitter.net/Nrg8000/status/1499041856772276230#m)

Edit 2022-03-04: See also Stijn Mitzer (ed.), “Attack On Europe: Documenting Equipment Losses During The 2022 Russian Invasion Of Ukraine.” Oryx https://www.oryxspioenkop.com/2022/02/attack-on-europe-documenting-equipment.html

Alex Vershinin, “Feeding the Bear: A Closer Look at Russian Army Logistics and the Fait Accompli,” War on the Rocks, 23 November 2021 https://warontherocks.com/2021/11/feeding-the-bear-a-closer-look-at-russian-army-logistics/

Edit 2022-03-05: a ‘Trent Telenko’ on birdsite has not seen any sign that the Russians have stockpiled or are stockpiling gravel, concrete, asphalt, culvert sections, and the other things they would need to keep the roads in northern Ukraine functional during mechanized warfare and under airstrikes and burning tanks https://nitter.net/TrentTelenko/status/1500157600863817728#m Ukraine has opened the floodgates of the Kyiv Reservoir north of the city. The Royal United Services Journal (UK) is now publishing mini-articles such as Justin Bronk, “Is the Russian Air Force Actually Incapable of Complex Air Operations?” RUSI Defence Systems, Volume 24 (4 March 2022) (link)

Edit 2022-03-07: For an example of what Russian intellectuals in the security/defense world outside of Russia are writing in English, see Kamil Galeev “Let’s discuss what’s happening in Russia. To put it simply, it’s going full fascist.” 6 March 2022 https://nitter.net/kamilkazani/status/1500495309595725831#m (but remember that exiled political advocates and writers have a certain perspective and network and reasons to say what they think will spark foreign intervention! Jeremy Morris, “Spooks and the Haunting of Russian Area Studies,” had a few warnings about this before the war) Many of the Anglo military / foreign policy commentators who see Russia as dangerous and aggressive are invested in seeing the Russian military, or any modern European style military, as powerful and effective so have trouble accepting the evidence that the Russian military is not capable of fighting this war. See also Anders Åslund, “Retired Russian Generals Criticize Putin Over Ukraine, Renew Call for His Resignation,” Just Security, 9 February 2022 https://www.justsecurity.org/80149/retired-russian-generals-criticize-putin-over-ukraine-renew-call-for-his-resignation/

Edit 2022-03-10: See also Sam Cranny-Evans and Thomas Withington, “Russian Comms in Ukraine: A World of Hertz,” RUSI Commentary, 9 March 2022 https://rusi.org/explore-our-research/publications/commentary/russian-comms-ukraine-world-hertz/ and the interview with Putin’s biographer in Steve Burgess, “Vlad Instincts,” TheTyee.ca 7 Mar 2022 https://thetyee.ca/Analysis/2022/03/07/Vlad-Instincts/

Edit 2022-03-14: For the supposed “translated letter from a FSB agent” published by Bellingcat, see https://www.emptywheel.net/2022/03/14/another-report-from-an-unidentified-russian-operative/ In the year 2022 we still have to work with possibly apocyphical letters like an Alexander historian!

Edit 2022-03-15: And the Azov Battalion have allegedly scrounged up a postwar copy of a MG-42, because of course they have https://nitter.net/Freedom_Slips/status/1503762000379273224#m or https://nitter.eu/arisroussinos/status/1503732063396114438 (this photo is mostly being shared in public by people playing up the Neo-Nazi elements in Ukraine, not sure of its ultimate source)

Edit 2022-03-18: added link to Zvedza the TV channel

Edit 2022-03-24: I am also seeing claims that Russian troops are stripped of their military IDs and dog tags before they are sent into battle, and buried in unmarked pits if they are killed. Feasts for the dogs and birds … Kyiv Independent and random volunteer in Ukraine on social media

Edit 2022-04-01: apparently there was a school of Anglo analysts who thought Russia would not invade but could easily win

Phillips Payson O’Brien, “How the West Got Russia’s Military So, So Wrong,” The Atlantic 31 March 2022 https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2022/03/russia-ukraine-invasion-military-predictions/629418/ or Wayback Machine (if you want to avoid their scripts and nagging popups)

But see eg. Gwynne Dyer before 24 February or https://news.postimees.ee/7455996/russia-has-not-enough-forces-to-occupy-ukraine-estonian-intelligence-says “a full-scale invasion nevertheless would not be a walk to the Ukrainian capital. It has to be reminded that Ukraine has been at war in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions for eight years already and its military have combat experience. Ukraine possesses considerable ground, air and missile forces.”

12 thoughts on “Things I Don’t Know About the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

  1. russell1200 says:

    Very interesting. To add a point or so. A brigade, which I tend to think of as ~5,000 troops (some put it as low as 3,000) is generally seen as the smallest unit that can fight in a sustained fashion independently. Brigades are the typical deployment unit of the USA. So a combat unit of 600 to 800 people is way too small to sustain any kind of push. That’s a few companies and a handful of artillery.

    As I read elsewhere, a brigade, stretched out on a road, on the march, might easily be 3 miles in length.

    The Russians had a lot of urban combat in Chechnya. It was particularly brutal. I am not sure how much of their learning is transportable to the current situation.

    A good source using open source information : http://www.dupuyinstitute.org/blog/2022/03/01/the-russo-ukrainian-war-of-2022-day-6-ground-actions/

    1. Sean says:

      I remember Dupuy! I did not know there was an institute named after him. I will check out that link.

      If I understand correctly, when Russia decided to retake Chechnia in 1994, they found that large formations were often not functional or mobilizing them would require calling up reservists and disrupting civil life, so they built these battalion tactical groups out of the least ineffective soldiers and kit they could scrounge together. And rebuilding larger fighting formations has been one of those ideas which comes up and is shouted down by people who profit from the current system.

    2. Sean says:

      Back in the 1930s, Bavarian General Robert von Fischer said he had been brought up to assume that a division of 15,000 heads and 700 wagons takes 21 km of road. So 64 km of road is a lot, but you need a lot of troops to blockade or storm a city of 3 million people.

      I have seen one estimate that the Donbas war has killed 13,000 people. And that was about two provinces not all of Ukraine.

  2. Pavel Vaverka says:

    First casualty of war is truth. Plato

    I’m not sure, if some Western media made analysis like Czech economist Karel Kříž who sees this conflict as long-term (20 years in making) domination economic contest between USA-Germany, Russia. https://www.reflex.cz/clanek/valka-na-ukrajine/111902/polemika-americane-mohou-za-dnesni-ukrajinu-vic-nez-rusove-evropa-bude-platit.html It’s big medium https://cs.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reflex_(%C4%8Dasopis) not something marginal. EU is gonna pay a lot, practically a crippling blow to the economy. China and USA get economical windfall from this situation, that’s in the shortcut.

    I know it’s embarrassing to bring into debate long dureé concept here between academics, but according to my opinion, this crisis has reminiscent in year 1962. How would like USA, or Canada government and people, Chinese or Russian ally on their very land borders? Strangely media in Russia are not using this card. Russia said, they don’t want to Ukraine in NATO many times. https://english.news.cn/20220224/8bc0a9f8a2a1490c9a307aa1d90b05e9/c.html

    Jelcin accepted Poland in NATO 1994, but nevertheless mouths of Western governments said no broadening to the East in 1991 https://www.spiegel.de/ausland/nato-osterweiterung-aktenfund-stuetzt-russische-version-a-1613d467-bd72-4f02-8e16-2cd6d3285295 Gorbačov was promised the same thing despite Western amnesia… In 1999 Russia protested, that Czech Republic and other are going to be new members of NATO.

    Atomic chess never stopped, so the cold war… I don’t approve Russian steps (some Russian bases in Cuba or Latin America would solved this problem quickly). I didn’t expect war either. Despite fact, that in 2003 member of Russian duma (second highest position after chairman) wrote book with opinion, if the West is taking Ukraine, we are going to take Crimea and lands to Dněpr… But it seems nobody is reading Russian last decades… My fellow (Eastern European Studies) read this book long ago before war 2014 as student.

    This theological language of US and Western media, epic fight between good and evil, false and lie is too familiar with Zoroastrianism, Bush speeches 2001 about Axis of Evil. It’s geopolitical fight, Germany would be economically destroyed (without Russian raw materials) like USA always wanted and we will be poor with good feeling, that we have fought till last man in Ukraine. But this is not the way how is the sound policy done (mean EU members), USA made brilliant moves and premediated the whole situation. There is possibility that China will push Russians to the peace. After all they have substitute system for SWIFT… China and RF made alliance some weeks ago, we don’t know all details. But it’s very strange cause in TV program Questions for president Putin said repeatedly year after year, we fear about loss of all lands to the Ural.

    But hey, why thinking about long-term fight, old problems… We are reguraly scared about might of Russian army, but reality is, that except atomic weapons, few types of air planes, submarines, helicopters, artillery pieces, they don’t have enough modern weapons, not to mention logistic system, tactical ability to use it swiftly and efficiently. Nobody is asking, why are we constantly fed by media with plans for Russian invasion from Ukraine border to Aš (last city beyond German border), when in WWII You have needed 750 000 soldiers for it, massive logistical support. Nothing of it is now available. How can we fear army, which can’t take Charkov against Militia? Russia said repeatedly, that they want to destroy military infrastructure. Noted, that maybe they don’t have enough equpiment, capacity for more, but we cannot know if it is a really intentional policy.

    China has biggest investments in Ukraine, I guess they wouldn’t be happy with massive destruction. So your intepretation is interesting, but my guess is Russians wanted not harm cities, civilians as most possible. They have expected just quick march. We still forgetting for scenario, that USA-Russians made secretly some deal long ago, or recently, we will see. Many are scaring Europeans for years with invasions and it’s ridiculous, such plans don’t exists. It’s just business for big players, spheres of influence. I have bad premonition about Russian strategy, maybe they aren’t so slow and incompetent. Maybe their strategy is to simply to siege cities and wait, people can’t eat concrete…

    I guess that’s my last post before lock up, censorship was enacted here https://casopisargument.cz/?p=41179 by government and state prosecutor. I don’t approve what’s happening from RF, yet there are new guide lines in Czech Republic, You can go to jail now, if you don’t approve US, EU policy https://www.parlamentnilisty.cz/zpravy/tiskovezpravy/Nejvyssi-statni-zastupitelstvi-Verejna-podpora-ruskeho-utoku-na-Ukrajinu-muze-byt-trestnym-cinem-694191 Seems harmless, but let’s see for practical use how far You can go with this provision. Because my guess there will be attempt to disguise this as hammer for opposition who wants peace. I personally prefer Macron approach for Europe https://www.ft.com/content/59439729-4f5d-4229-8fcd-4911726befc6 Try to say this now, and You are Putin’s agent…

    The atmosphere of Maccarthism is already here for the last years in ČR, and posts on social media are pure hate with themes like, I don’t treat Russians, your doctor… so you have idea, what’s wrong with my country and our media, some of our citizens. Mass hysteria is ruling now with raging power. Many educated people (and some ex-employees of government) aren’t last years invited to Radio or TV, because they have ” bad opinions”, last TV debate was with prime minister and nobody else, except moderator. You can’t see opposition here, and that was sometimes the case even before war in the East.

    Again the same thought as in the beginning, You don’t have the feeling, that US is trying to settle old and new scores with Russians? Look on the border 1991 and now (NATO). Who’s gonna be next member Georgia, Kazachstan? If You want to understand geopolitical context of this conflict read Z. Brzezinski https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Grand_Chessboard Ukraine is major concern, who’s got it has status of superpower (meant as task for EU, USA). So please think more about whole context, and this is not all. I can’t predict movements of Israel or Turkey, they have their interest there also.

    Most people accepted fairytale from 1990’s polarity, spheres of influence is gone. But they didn’t say B, only American, EU sphere of influence exists and can spread up. It’s just, it’s good, necessary evolution. And we have right to do it, those who are opposing us are belonging to the realm of evil and lie. Still no familiarity of current situation with Achaemenid studies?

    I have really bad feeling, that Eastern flank could be sold, if the price is right (analyst of MUNI university, not some “Pro-Russian web” ) https://www.parlamentnilisty.cz/arena/rozhovory/Zapad-by-nas-s-Ruskem-klidne-vymenil-kdyby-od-nej-neco-potreboval-Lekce-realpolitiiky-od-Lukase-Visingra-685726 I knew from beginning that broadening of NATO was always with one target in mind. Eastern Europe is better battlefield than Germany, Austria…

    1. Sean says:

      Pavel, I don’t have time or emotional energy for a full response for the next few days, but Mr. Putin has clearly stated what he intends for Belarus and Ukraine https://web.archive.org/web/20220222233712/http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/67828 https://www.think.cz/english/politics/ria-news-translated (well, he has not included a list of all the people he intends to disappear, but anyone familiar with his methods can be pretty sure it would not stop with the president and parliament).

      Putin: “modern Ukraine was entirely created by Russia or, to be more precise, by Bolshevik, Communist Russia … by separating, severing what is historically Russian land … It is now that radicals and nationalists, including and primarily those in Ukraine, are taking credit for having gained independence. As we can see, this is absolutely wrong. The disintegration of our united country was brought about by the historic, strategic mistakes on the part of the Bolshevik leaders and the CPSU leadership”

      Russian state media: “Ukraine has returned to Russia. This does not mean that its statehood will be liquidated, but it will be reorganized, re-established, and returned to its natural state as part of the Russian world. In what borders, in what form will the alliance with Russia be fixed (through the CSTO and the Eurasian Union or the Union State of Russia and Belarus)? This will be decided after the end is put in the history of Ukraine as anti-Russia.”

      I assumed that because Russia does not have the forces needed to end Ukraine’s existence as an independent state and put down the inevitable insurgency, it would not invade. I assumed wrong. (I saw one Ukrainian who said that if the invasion had happened under the previous president, she might have shrugged it off and gone on with her life, but her friends have just a bit of hope with Zelensky as president).

      NATO members have been very consistent that they were not willing to fight Russia for Ukraine (except for that one statement in 2008 that they might consider Ukraine as a potential member), and they have kept that policy. But of course Ukraine looked for help from its neighbours (who happen to be NATO members) during an eight-year undeclared war with Russia! And its hard to believe that Russia would have refrained from attacking an even weaker, more isolated Ukraine given Putin’s clear statements that Ukraine is not a legitimate state but part of Russia. It was the Putinist, pre-Maidan Ukraine which was unable to defend itself, and it was Putin (not NATO) which sent troops and fired weapons into Ukraine during the disorders from 2013 to 2015. Ukraine rearmed after Russia occupied its territory, sponsored a rebellion, and attacked the Donbas to keep that rebellion going.

    2. Sean says:

      In your post, I see imperial thinking, where small countries like your country and my country have no agency and are just poker chips which big countries pass around. You say “USA made brilliant moves and premediated the whole situation.” But it was Ukrainians hostile to the old president and the Russian government who won the Maidan. Foreigners certainly intervened on both sides, but it was Ukrainians who decided. And it was Vladimir Putin who decided around November or December 2021 to try to overthrow the government of Ukraine with Russian troops. It is NATO, not Russia, which finds itself incapable of fighting in eastern Europe today. It is the people like me who were sympathetic to Russia’s foreign policy who find themselves frozen, and the people who were unsympathetic who correctly predicted the Russian attack. In Iraq and Afghanistan we have seen just how little power the US has to achieve political outcomes it wants.

      I would expect that the Ukrainian army has at least a brigade in Kharkiv aside from the Landwehr. But the fact that nobody in Ukraine is sharing photos of their regular forces or street defenses, while thousands are sharing photos and videos and recordings of the invaders, says something about solidarity. (I have seen a plausible claim that if you share the wrong photo, it gets linked to your real-life identity and your neighbours knock on your door asking you to take it down right now and never post anything like that again, but organizing that still takes massive solidarity).

  3. Pavel Vaverka says:

    I don’t deny that Russian agression is a war, people are suffering, which was never something I have wanted. European states are helping with everything they can, even people with different political background or private companies. Yet I have to ask, would be war averted if was treaty signed that Ukraine stays neutral? I know that NATO airfield at Hostomel with transport planes wasn’t threat, but try to explain this to Russia. NATO is a military pact headed by USA, not some insignificant boy scouts organization. I know very well, that Budapest treaty https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budapest_Memorandum_on_Security_Assurances was breached by RF.

    But Zelensky recent claim, we should try to get atomic weapon wasn’t helpful either just before war. Do You really believe, that some state has desire to have military pact on his borders? Is this some kind of rare strategical advantage which Russians don’t understand? Do we know, that most Russian politicians, generals are ok with that? What normal people in Russia thinks? Good question, before removing Putin and his supporters. I never heard opinions from relevant sources. I’ll take this as crux of the matter, and not that babbling like Putin is crazy, or evil, or bully, etc. You say, that Ukraine would or could be member in some distant future, or never. Yet Russians don’t trust Western promises after 1990’s. They wanted written treaty, Biden said it’s not likely soon, but he won’t guarantee it, period. You call this diplomacy? Russia has NATO states closer to their borders every decade, this is not a coincidence. They see it as threat for possible war, You can disagree, but this is not policy which brings peace. There has to be new dividing line agreed by USA and RF, because EU resigned for geostrategical independence and superpower role.

    I’m very afraid, that this could be another blunder of foreign policy which we learn later like in previous cases. Economical crash of EU, Germany is undeniable (Russia is big problem, but I acknowledge also other difficulties). I have denied Serbian, Iraq operation from the beginning, because reasons were false. I have trusted in good intentions of the West in Afghanistan for many years, but we saw results, most shameful capitulation and defeat since France 1940. France is now ejected from Mali not by Russians, but by their own greed. I saw interview with Czech worker on the site. “Islamistic” groups simply offered better deal for locals, more money for them. Now I’m worried about those medieval manuscripts, which may contain lost knowledge of antiquity.

    I’m very sceptical that removing Putin would solve everything, like we hear every day. I don’t know how many Russian soldiers are forced to serve against their will. We saw that Russian logistic is incompetent, insufficient and their tactics is a mess… I’m trying to see future and next steps, because Ukraine already won politically and militarily too. Now it’s the most difficult part, what will be next as peace settlement? And I fear about new NATO adventures, because Europe act mostly as suicidal lemmings https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lemmings_(video_game) following USA without pursuing their own interest. Macron is evil for working French, but his vision for Europe is relevant, such leadership is needed, after UK loss, EU is weaker. I pray for return of UK, but that won’t happen (and France is partially to blame there).

    Who’s gonna be new Russian leader? Will there be an attempt to dissolve Russia like Yugoslavia? Current situation there is ripe for war or conflict, so much for the success of 90’s foreign policy. Can You imagine failed state with atomic arsenal like Russia? Now, that hawks from Pentagon (and Chinese too) saw how weak and incompetent Russian army is, not to mention their generals. They won’t sit idle. And I understand, that people now are full of emotions and anger, but geopolicy is a tricky business without emotions, full of pragmatism. No victory or defeat is eternal. I have serious doubts, because even if I can accept lot of your aguments, there is one thing which concerns me. The great game never ends.

    EU, followed US policy and intentionally stepped into Russian sphere of influence. Why Taiwan isn’t helped in the same way? Here I can understand, or I’m willing to support independence of the Scandinavian states anytime. It’s not like that, I agree with every Russian claim. USA knew from the beginning (and we too, if somebody would read relevant Russian books), that there could be a war (not just in 2014). Despite this everybody was ok with it as acceptable risk. You just can’t enter somebody sphere of influence with thinking, that state has no rights in the matter, except to acknowledge what we cooked. This is same attitude like Assyrians, Romans had with foreign states, mostly unilateral treaties. I don’t have feeling that USA tried their best to achieve peace but otherwise (Foreign Journal and other media said, preparation for war was in the run https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/ukraine/2022-02-25/coming-ukrainian-insurgency Yes You could claim, only after Russian attack, but somebody has decided we want Ukraine even for the costs of war and their lives. Nobody was telling this to people in EU! USA knew long ago what can happen and why. Maybe when Assange is freed, he can search for relevant documents. Ok Russia is bad, we won, but this was power conflict from the beginning, not just something noble quest for democracy.

    Now Russia will be more close ally of China, what will be the result for the world in economical, geopolitical terms? Can You see or imagine consequences? EU will be more close to Saudi and other medieval islamic states? Thank You, but no. What about international law? Crimea and East of Ukraine was illegal, also Podněstří, Abcházie, Osetie, but so does Kosovo (US started this forced policy of cutting lands, or say Catalanians, they can’t have state). Nothing changed, Thucydides logic still prevails in interstate relations. States don’t act just from love of liberty. Despite what happened, true goal was something else, than free Ukraine (broadening the sphere of influence and power, ejection of Russian fleet from Crimea = more play for Turkey). People now won’t realize it, but they will see it later. Ok Ukraine will be free from Russian influence. I have no desire for renewing of Warszava pact or anything like that. Even so I’m not naive to think this is gonna be the end. Or that somebody will not abuse the current situation for his own purpose. I would like to be wrong. There is more going on than Ukraine.

    1. Sean says:

      Hi Pavel,

      again, I don’t have time for a full reply, but you asked “would war be averted if was treaty signed that Ukraine stays neutral?” Counterfactuals are hard, but Mr. Putin seems to have decided to overthrow the government of Ukraine around November 2021 when he started to build up troops along the Ukrainian border and foreign intelligence agencies began to warn that he planned to invade. Ukrainian forces claim to have captured a war plan dated 18 January. And Putin had been at war with Ukraine for eight years, so if he wanted Ukraine to become neutral (neither allied with Russia nor NATO) Russia would have had to make peace too. Given what he has said about Ukraine not being a real state which achieved its own independence, just a Bolshevist creation granted independence by the USSR, and given what he threw away to make this war, its hard for me to believe that Ukraine could have offered anything short of total submission and avoided war.

      I would be careful of saying who has won militarily, Russian troops are still advancing in the south and we don’t get to see the situation of the Ukrainian army like we see the Landwehr with Kalashnikovs and Molotovs and the babies and grandmothers in bomb shelters. The Ukrainians have too good ‘message discipline.’ Even the 1939 conquest of Poland and the 2003 conquest of Iraq took a month each. The most recent siege of Mosul lasted nine months! But whatever happens its hard to see how Russia could get anything out which is worth the cost except to a hard-core romantic imperialist like Mr. Putin.

      If Russia reserves the right to undo the breakup of the USSR at gunpoint, then people in Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, the South Caucasus, and Central Asia have to make some hard choices right now. I really wish I could see another solution.

      I think a lot of very smart, very experienced people are working very hard right now to figure out how to convince Mr. Putin that he can’t incorporate Ukraine into Russia. If they can do that, they can work to find a way to help him end the war and retire somewhere without being killed or arrested by his fellow Russians. But right now I don’t think he is living in the same world they live in.

  4. Pavel Vaverka says:

    My point was, that US knew about possibility of war long ago than 2014 and 2021. Current situatiuon brings poorness to all except USA and China, again such coincidences don’t happen. In this article https://casopisargument.cz/?p=41307 which I can read as soundfile, if You don’t trust translator author thinks efforts for peace should be still priority. Assange is fugitive, but even older communication shows, that from 2008 American government knew, Russia is strongly against their plans with Ukraine and they will react strongly. Military powers usually don’t react with just TV speech, RF never had economical tools to fight USA, so what could strong reaction could be, ha? Just clicks on the red words, USA helped with overthrow of Janukovyč government (doesn’t matter it was unpopular and incompetent, people even Pro-Russian wanted Janukovyč away).

    George Kennan, Robert McNamara, Henry Kissinger were against Eastward NATO expansion. Those who are afraid from Slovakian language of the article:

    https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/08MOSCOW911_a.html

    https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/08MOSCOW265_a.html

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Friedman warned in 2015 before efforts to push NATO further Flashpoints: The Emerging Crisis in Europe (2015). Doubleday, ISBN 0-385-53633-X. Simply I don’t believe that several administrations and career diplomats, military experts didn’t tell about option, there could be a war. And yes, it is only my opinion, that it was intentional. Still this now doesn’t matter, we have to hope, that China (refusing spare parts for Russian airplanes might give a hint), Israel or Turkey can bring peace and stop the war. Also You don’t want another revolution and collapse in economically destroyed Russia. One year 1917 and one John Reed should be enough…

    1. Sean says:

      Hi Pavel,

      I think we are going around in circles, but there seems to be a lot of disagreement about what was promised about NATO expansion, and many people, including some senior diplomats from the early Russian Federation such as Andrei Kozyrev (I don’t know the site, here is their ‘about’ page), don’t think that anyone broke promises. I don’t think it would be a good use of my time to sort things out since the past can’t be changed and since I have no salaried job and have no pension unlike the understimulated older guys on birdsite. On 24 February the question whether former Soviet republics need powerful allies to be safe from Russia was settled empirically.

      Wasn’t Putin’s demand at the end of 2021 for the Baltic countries, Poland, former Czecheslovakia, Hungary, former Yugoslavia, Romania, and Bulgaria to all leave NATO? While NATO had reason to believe that he was preparing to invade another former Soviet republic? And he was doing whatever he was doing in Kazakhistan? (He used the same kind of language that the state media now uses about Ukraine about Kazakhistan in 2014 when it just expressed doubts about joining the Eurasian Economic Union).

      In Canada there was a lot of questioning of the need for NATO until 24 February; I am told that the Democratic Socialists of America wanted the US to leave NATO. Its possible that the outcome of this war will be a reinvigorated EU defensive alliance, but any bright political science student could have told Putin that invading Ukraine, overthrowing the government, and incorporating Ukraine and Belarus into Großrussland would inspire some form of military buildup in Europe.

      Its not obvious to me that preserving this miserable kleptocracy in Moscow would be in Canada’s interest. And Putin is trying to turn it into something much more authoritarian. Tens of thousands of Russians are leaving the country for anywhere that still accepts Russian flights. People who actually know something about Russia (not me) are doing some hard thinking as I speak.

      US intelligence agencies and the Biden administration seemed to do everything to dissuade Russia from attacking Ukraine which they could. I think a sinister Chinese or US conspiracy is a lot less plausible than a dictator hiding from COVID making a terrible decision based on ideology and on previous gambles (occupation of Crimea, Donbass war, military mission to Syria) which paid off. Apparently the reformist Russian Minister of Defense left office in 2012, which might explain why the Russian army seemed so much more effective in 2014 than 2022.

  5. Pavel Vaverka says:

    There are people on the West, quite intelligent who have different opinion, what was the catalyst and primal cause of Russian invasion (which is tragic from many sides, not just to humans, but also for the animals). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JrMiSQAGOS4 Prediction of today’s result 7 years ago.

    No one wants to defend the Russian war (even if it’s not jail for it like now in Czech Republic, Slovakia – You can’t say there it’s substitute conflict between USA-RF, welcome freedom…) Regime change isn’t solution unless we know, who’s gonna be substitute and what foreign policy he wants to do. Is it so hard to understand me? My questions aren’t targeted about Putin’s policy, but what change do we want. And difficult question to solve, if US foreign policy was well thought ahead, and I think this wasn’t the case.

    EU had a chance to gain Belaurus, ex-minister of foreign affairs Luboš Zaorálek https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7q9KyRx9XvY was in personal conversation with Lukašenko, who was asking for help, because otherwise RF will gain the upper hand. But he doesn’t disclose what went wrong. So there was time and opportunity for EU to be stronger. Maybe after that debacle in EU was an idea, now we can do the right with Ukraine (which is still oligarchy, Luboš Zaorálek knows their current system and situation). In Europe we don’t know, what will be for 6 months with gas for winter, oil is skyrocketing, grave bank, industry problems are ahead. Everybody wants a change here.

    1. Sean says:

      To this non-expert, it sure seems like Dr. Mearsheimer’s view has been falsified, although in an interview published 1 March he was not willing to admit it (he is 75 years old) https://www.newyorker.com/news/q-and-a/why-john-mearsheimer-blames-the-us-for-the-crisis-in-ukraine And right now, foreign policy experts need to devote their full attention to what to do next, not to what they might have done 20 differently years ago.

      For what it is worth, former Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev recommends that the formal sanctions remain until Russia allows a free press and holds free and fair elections. I really wish it was not necessary to think in this way about a nuclear power!

      To me, the key foreign policy goal of the EU is for Russia to renounce all claim to the former Soviet republics, including claim over their membership in supernational federations such as the Eurasian Economic Union. And they are working to ensure that Russia can never ever try to hold them for ransom by invading a European country and threatening to cut off gas shipments again. Because defense policy has to consider capability and not just intent. One of the biggest and hardest questions is whether the problem is Vladimir Putin, or whether he is just a figurehead and the Russian kleptocracy will keep throwing such ignorant and aggressive people into power and not put checks on them when they get foolish ideas in their heads.

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