Ukraine Can Build Back Better And Faster Than Russia
On mobilization and battle momentum
Kyiv is returning to life. Street artists like Sasha Korban (see above, link) are patronizing reopened cafés, an early indicator that Ukraine can recover from the massive hit to their economy as long as they are still able to access global distribution chains.
Defeated in his initial plan to invade everywhere and win quickly, Vladimir Putin embarked on a strategy of blockade. Taking Odessa and annexing the entire Black Sea coastline would have given Russia a permanent economic chokehold over a diminished Ukraine. Breaking that strategic encirclement thus became a key objective for Kyiv — one that required defeating the Russian Navy.
Ukraine’s Neptune system is an improved, native version of a Russian anti-ship missile that is itself a copy of the American Harpoon design. At least one of them struck the missile cruiser Moskva, starting an ammunition fire and killing an unknown number of the crew. Radio watchers say the ship signaled distress by Morse code for roughly an hour before going silent.
Official Russian sources reported that the vessel sank in a storm while under tow, but new photos of the scene tell a very different story. I am no naval expert, but to me this looks like an uncontrolled fire burning down through an evacuated and abandoned ship that is all but sunk. The Neptune appears to have struck right on top of the missile defense system next to the bridge superstructure. The main radar is still pointed away from the direction of attack, frozen in place by death or disconnection while tracking the Ukrainian drone that distracted them from incoming missiles.
Opinions on the impact of the sinking differ. Some observers, even those sympathetic with the Ukrainian cause, see the loss of Moskva as a significant propaganda victory and a blow to Russian pride, but little else. Odessa is still closed to export. Grain, coal, and other raw materials must be rerouted to their foreign destinations by rails, highways, and even river barges. Much of the country remains occupied by Russian forces. Just like the latest drone video of a Russian column being ambushed, the sinking of the Moskva is a spectacle that gains Ukraine very little in material terms.
But this view misses the mark. Moskva was a Cold War relic built in Odessa. Russia has no shipyard capable of building a new cruiser of her class on the Black Sea. Nor can they sail a replacement through the Dardanelles, as Turkey has closed the strait under the 1936 Montreux Convention. Surviving Russian vessels are now avoiding risk by respecting the Ukrainian missile envelope and staying away from shore. The close blockade is over and the threat of amphibious landings is risible.
More to the point, a stung beast is a terrible tactician. The loss of the Moskva portends a real national mobilization in Russia. Reactions to this event are unlike what followed the sinking of the Kursk, for example, when Russian families demanded answers from Putin. Surprised by bad news — for there has been no bad news before this to prepare their minds against such shocks — Russian public opinion supports retributive escalation. Whereas Putin had wanted to declare some sort of victory on May 9th, the anniversary of the end of the Second World War, he may very well decree a mass mobilization instead.
Meanwhile, the Russian Army seems determined to help Ukraine kill as many Russians as possible.
Tactics have not improved. Russian troops seem aware of the overhead threat from smaller drones now sometimes, but their response has been to dismount and scatter. In the video below, Ukrainian artillery spotters find Russian targets hidden in the foliage by picking out the white Vs and Zs painted on them. No one on the ground bothers to move any vehicles once the shelling starts, as though everyone is frozen in place and waiting for someone to tell them what to do, but nobody takes charge. Litter is everywhere. Camouflage discipline is nonexistent.
Russia shows no sign of any major improvement or success in any domain — air, land, sea, or even cyberspace. Pilots are still unable to fly close air support or interdict Ukrainians on the ground. As destructive as the Russian Army has been, displays of firepower achieve no operational goal. No unit is safe from counterattack. No Russian element seems to actually ‘control’ the territory around it. Quite the opposite, really. We were told to expect new Russian attacks in the Donbass, but every assault in the last 48 hours far has been thrown back, and Russian forces are retreating near Kharkiv.
Now imagine what Ukrainians might accomplish with military-grade American drones and heavy artillery, because that is all coming soon. Against Predators and Reapers working with howitzers and helicopters, this Russian Army does not stand a chance.
Any new Russian army will take at least six months to build, and it will closely resemble the one that has already failed, whereas a new Ukrainian army built in the same time frame will have even more pronounced technological advantages over their enemy.
Suppose Putin does announce a national mobilization, drafting and/or recruiting 250,000 Russian men into this fail army before the end of the year. If he then sends those new, half-trained soldiers headlong into the woodchipper of a western-armed and equipped Ukraine, the current 7-1 casualty ratio will get even more lopsided for Ukraine. Maybe Ukraine can build a new border barrier out of shattered Russian tanks.
Direct intervention would be welcome, of course, but it is unnecessary as long as Ukrainians can come to the west, train on new equipment, and return to fight with it at home.
Analysts are talking of a long war now, but this was already a long war. As Ukrainians take pains to remind us in the forgetful west, Putin first invaded back in 2014. One more year of war that ends in victorious, lasting peace for them is not so bad in that context. In fact, make it two years. Or eight more. Whatever. President Zelenskyy says his country is in it to win it no matter how long that takes.
This war only ends when enough Russians have died in Ukraine. Vladimir Putin will not let it end any other way. He will default on sovereign debt and see Russia become a Chinese vassal state first. To that end, discussion of a ‘Marshall Plan’ to rebuild Ukraine is not premature. It is exactly the thing most needed now, girding confidence in a free and independent future for Ukraine.