In August I have been trying to think of anything worth saying about the Russian war in Ukraine. The only things I can come up with this August are Perun’s lectures, the odd talk by the Chieftain, some long-form reporting in the Kyiv Independent, and the BBC-Meduza estimate of Russian dead. In July Russia ended the agreement not to attack ships exporting Ukrainian grain. They hoped to reduce Ukraine’s income in foreign currency, and starve people in Africa and Southwest Asia whose UN representatives might push for a ceasefire to get the grain flowing again. Every so often the Ukrainians launch a new attack on Crimea (in September they used cruise missiles and unmanned surface vessels to sink ships in Sevastopol, other times they have attacked supply dumps and the Kerch Strait bridge). The drone attacks on Moscow and the mutiny of Wagner Group certainly show that the Russian government has limited military power everywhere other than the front. The Ukrainians have quietly resumed conscription, which could mean a lot of their soldiers are dead or wounded, or could mean they have trained up all their volunteers and have room in the training courses for conscripts again.Read more
In the past I have talked about how civilians in Syria see themselves as peasants in Game of Thrones, and soldiers in Ukraine want to be as excellent as characters in first-person shooter Call of Duty. This year I want to record that college-edited commentators like Max Boot are comparing the assassination of condottiere Yevgeniy Prigozhin to their favourite scenes from crime dramas in formal published prose:
The most fitting epitaph for Wagner Group founder Yevgeniy Prigozhin was delivered by the shotgun-wielding hit man Omar Little on “The Wire”: “You come at the king, you best not miss.” There’s still much we don’t know for certain (and might never know), but that pearl of wisdom was confirmed by Prigozhin’s apparent death Wednesday after a private plane he was on reportedly crashed north of Moscow.Max Boot, “Opinion: Prigozhin appears to be dead — and Putin’s grip on power is stronger than ever,” The Washington Post, 23 August 2023 https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2023/08/23/prigozhin-death-plane-putin-russia-ukraine/
In my post we the people I pointed out that until the First World War, “the people” normally means free men who can act politically and militarily. It excluded women, children, the poor, and those who were denied political rights such as resident aliens and serfs. On 5 October the Russian media organization TASS showed a remarkable video:
Funds for payments to the mobilized are not enough, admitted authorities in the Omsk region. The authorities of the region agreed with the military registration and enlistment offices to give time to those mobilized to re-register the business (without specifying to whom), TASS reports. The authorities’ statement is related to the public appeal of the mobilized residents of the Omsk region, who complained about the lack of lump-sum payments.https://nitter.ca/Sota_Vision/status/1577366830272106496#m
You can find a version of the soldier’s speech with English subtitles on YouTube (I do not know the channel which hosts it, so danger danger Will Robinson!)
If I understand correctly, this video shows a committee of soldiers demanding that the regional government honour its promises to pay their wives and children an allowance so they can eat. I might be wrong, or this video might be a fake, but this week I want to say the same thing I said in that post another way.Read more
The war in Ukraine has changed since spring. I thought that some of my readers might be interested in the resources I am currently using to follow it. Since I don’t know Russian or Ukrainian, and since many people have agendas, sorting things out is tricky for me. People following the war like corporate social media with feeds, and on those sites quotes and images float around without attribution. People who like them imply that they hear all kinds of rumours. And because so much is at stake (the future of 200 million people, the energy supply to Europe and grain for the Mediterranean) many people slip into boosting their side rather than provide dispassionate analysis.
Now that Ukraine has much larger armies, and weapons to counter Russian artillery, I expect Ukraine to keep driving Russian forces back until at least spring 2023. The most likely things which could change the situation would be a complete collapse of Russian forces and Russian use of nuclear weapons (which would probably end very badly for Russia, but Putin keeps making stupid decisions and does not live in the same world we live in). Turning recruits into an army takes 3 to 12 months if you have systems for gathering, training, and arming them, and those trainers and vehicles are dead or destroyed in Ukraine. Putin is scared of mass popular movements like the original levée en masse. So until 2023, the main effect of Russian mobilization will be a lot of dead Dagestanis and Buriyats and a lot of rich landlords in Tbilisi and Istanbul.Read more
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine stalled in early March, I see some people on old and social media who are latching onto the fact that Russia still occasionally takes a new village in eastern Ukraine. Isn’t winning a war all about advancing?Read more
Back in February, as the evidence grew that Putin was about to commit the great mistake, journalists were sharing stories like this:
Dmytro Skatrovsky said he had not been notified by text but had turned up anyway outside the Svyatoshynskyi recruitment centre, in western Kyiv. He spent three years in the army and took part in the 2014 battle to evict separatists from the port city of Mariupol, he said.
“I’ve bought two sniper complexes with good optics,” he added. “I’ve also ordered a drone on Amazon. It hasn’t turned up yet.” Skatrovsky said a group of friends had chipped in to get the rifles – at a cost of $10,000 (£7,370). US contacts had paid $2,300 for the drone, he said.https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/23/business-brisk-at-kyiv-gun-shops-as-ukrainians-rush-to-buy-arms
Over on corporate social media, I see some people who are amazed and offended to see a wide range of kit in photos from the war in Ukraine, ranging from the latest and most fashionable rifles to Maxim guns on steel carriages and – well, I have not personally seen the 1903 Springfield rifles, and the WW II vintage Panzerfaust may have been stolen from a museum. I am not sure if that is as unusual as they think: the German army which invaded the USSR in 1941 has been described as a military museum on wheels, one of the machine guns in the Citadel at Halifax was removed from the museum collection circa 1991 because the Army needed it again, and an American National Guard veteran claims that his unit invaded Iraq in 2003 with old M3 grease guns last produced in 1945. In fact, if you looked at a random army sometime in the past few thousand years, I think you would see just such a diversity of arms, some bought from private sources, others made in rough workshops, others donated, and yet others purchased by the state.Read more
Warfare between two powers with airforces and armoured divisions is complicated and technical, and many of the people who talk about it have ulterior motives. Some want to keep their audience by talking about the latest topic, others want to sell something, and a third kind are propagandizing for a state or a movement. Here are two links I found helpful¸and one topic which I wish I had a link on.Read more
I added this map to my previous post on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and it is worth studying. War in Ukraine has to be supplied by rail. One reason why many people much more knowledgeable than me did not believe Putin would actually invade was that the Russians had plenty of tanks and aircraft but not the trucks they would need to supply such an attack:Read more
I feel like I am not clever or wise enough to understand what Herodotus was doing, but every so often, he reminds me that he could tell a kind of truth which was different than truth about the exact size of the Persian army or what day two armies fought.
What is it that you say they relate, that the soldier’s is more pleasant than the scribe’s (profession)? Come, let me tell you the condition of the soldier, that much castigated one. He is brought while a child to be confined in the camp. A /searing\ beating is given his body, an open wound inflicted on his eyebrows. His head is split open with a wound. He is laid down and he is beaten like papyrus. He is struck with torments. Come, /let me relate\ to you his journey to Khor (Syria) and his marching upon the hills. His rations and his water are upon his shoulder like the load of an ass, while his neck has been made a backbone like that of an ass. The vertebrae of his back are broken, while he drinks of foul water. He stops work (only) to keep watch.P. Anastasi IV, 9, 4–10, 1 in William Kelly Simpson (ed.), The Literature of Ancient Egypt. Third edition (Yale University Press: New Haven and London, 2003) p. 441