I Should Be Charging You For This
But I'm not ... yet
This thing has happened a few times lately. While reading a mainstream media take on the current state of the war in Ukraine, I spot something with uncanny similarity to a thing I recently wrote on Substack, and that (according to Substack) thousands of people have read.
For instance, here is a recent Bloomberg piece on what smaller nations like Taiwan are learning from watching Russia fail.
From Taiwan in the Pacific to Moldova in Eastern Europe, small states need to make themselves so prickly that they’re extremely painful to swallow.
Get that? If you are a small country facing a larger one, be “prickly.” Like one of those Ukrainian thornbushes in the folk song. Just be so “prickly” that you can trap an army trying to march through your country and cut it into pieces and bleed it to death. Like I have been writing about for months. Just be like what I have described here for months, now. Be that.
To be clear, I am not saying that I came up with this stuff. On the contrary, as I noted in my “thornbush” post linked there, doctrinal ideas about “pricklyness” emerged in the military planning of Baltic states after the first Russian invasion wave in 2014. The people with the most to fear from Vladimir Putin have done the most thinking on how to defeat him.
Moreover, the bulk of that post is about electronic warfare, a subject of academic historical interest to me, as evidenced in almost all my writing on conflicts since 1914. Any number of mainstream outlets have covered the electronic battlespace in Ukraine, but most of that coverage came after I began writing about it. Which, again, is not to say that these outlets are reading and copying me. It just means that I was ahead of the trend because I know the history and fulsome meaning of electronic warfare.
Also, I claim no special prescience. I am not psychic. I analyze military realities and read what other people say about military realities. My brain thinks in mobilization curves and logistical limits. From 50,000 feet, you can see the edge of the storm.
For example, at the end of April I speculated that Russia was running out of resources after the failures of the initial attacks. My forecast of diminishing Russian ambitions has become a fact on the ground.
Whatever the grand strategic picture, the situation at the narrow front of Russia’s current offensive looks grim. As Frederick Kagan writes in TIME, however, “the fight for Severodonetsk is a Russian information operation in the form of a battle.” This explains why pro-Russia voices have been so active in the last week or so, for example crawling through my posts to heckle and speckle. Such activity should peak in the next two weeks.
It doesn’t bother me so much as bore me. If your claims of triumph in an ongoing artillery battle stand on a changing series of block-by-block maps of Severodonetsk, where no accurate survey could happen, you are not fooling anyone but yourself. Ukraine will fall back again, probably, and then counterattack over the same ground, because unlike Russia they are not a spent moral or material force.
The proverbial tide is turning. Kagan writes that “the current Russian offensive will almost certainly stall at a certain point, probably before it has secured the rest of Donetsk Oblast—Putin’s stated objective in this phase of the war.”
When it does the Russian military will likely have expended the last of its available effective offensive maneuver capability for now. There is no vast mobilization of Russian troops preparing to enter the war, no untapped reserves of combat-ready troops to send, no more areas of the front from which to draw fresh troops for another drive. Even if Putin ordered general mobilization tomorrow, fresh troops would not start streaming into Ukraine for many months…
All of this echoes what I have been saying here for the last hundred days. I’m not accusing Kagan at all — on the contrary, his work has been essential reading for a long time.
And if I have a personal bone to pick with Putin, it is that he has distracted me from my studies. Unlike some lucky people, I am not paid to present my OSINT (open source intelligence) reports to the public. Not yet, anyway. I said weeks ago that the map in southern Ukraine would start to look like this by now. What should that be worth? Because right now it is worth nothing.
My subscriber numbers have never occupied me. However, as one of the conditions of creating this Substack, I promised myself that I would monetize it once a certain number of people had signed up. We are almost there.
The price will not be high because this move is not about money, but time. If I am going to put up with people spouting Russian propaganda in comments under my analysis, I want them to pay for the privilege, and this Substack has started to reach the critical mass which attracts that kind of attention.
Meanwhile, the purpose of this column was never daily updates from the front. Hot takes on hot wars are boring and usually wrong. The biggest recent bump in subscribers came from my post about John Fowke, a key figure in English Civil War London. I am happy to report that a published professor called it “brilliant” in an email to me this week, which was quite gratifying.
But success also changes things. In the weeks to come, I have to take a terrifying new step into podcasting. I am planning a series of conversations about John Fowke and then other military history topics. I have videos to produce as well. Needless to say, all of this involves a little expense. At a certain point, the cost of not monetizing becomes unjustifiable, whereas by biting that bullet, this Substack can be much more than it is now.
Most of the content will remain free. The best content will be paywalled. Because I genuinely don’t care about money, the oldest subscribers will be the ones who get the best deals and the most freebies. So if you are reading regularly and haven’t subscribed yet (which Substack says a lot of you are doing,) join my email list today. You will lose nothing and get the most access.
Changes are coming, be ready.
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