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Ukraine Flips The Russian Script, Catches Moscow Flat-Footed
The comeuppance for 'little green men'
I have so many questions. We all have questions right now. No clear answers are available just yet.
What started with a surprise foray a few miles over the border, as far as a town called Gora-Podol, may have been only the first of as many as four similar advances taking place today. Patterns emerging in the fog of war can be deceptive, however, so it pays to avoid hot takes.
Still. The intent here is obvious. So obvious that it hurts. The “mystery” at the moment is entirely the point. We are all supposed to be wondering what just happened, or maybe even is still happening, in Belgorod Oblast. Russia is supposed to be wondering. Vladimir Putin is supposed to be wondering. More to the point, Putin and Russia are supposed to be responding right now, and they are.
This is no mystery. It is smoke. Belgorod is a diversionary attack carried out with a revised version of the “hybrid warfare” that Putin used to capture Crimea and occupy the east of Ukraine in 2014. It is working. To what extent it will work remains unclear, but it is definitely working.
I say again: the Belgorod Oblast raid, or raids, are working.
“Working” because Russians are talking about it. Their own territory has enemies on it now, so they cannot not talk about it. Russians have been tuning out the war for months, as their fake news is just bad news in disguise and they know it. Russians would rather not know what is really going on. Russians want to nod their heads to glowing official reports that the invading Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK) and Freedom of Russia Legion (LSR) have been destroyed and expelled already. They will keep nodding along as this same reassuring story gets told, again and again, with jets screaming over Russian cities, because again, the operation is working.
“Working” because the unit seen creating havoc in Glotovo yesterday was roughly a mechanized company, as far as I can discern from reports, while the Russian countermove has already drawn off superior-sized elements in response. Bearing in mind that 97 percent of Russian combat strength is currently located inside Ukraine, reports of further RDK attacks today seem likely to draw off an even larger portion from the battlefields where Ukraine intends to attack Russian defenders themselves, soon enough. If the RDK withdraws under fire in a day or two or three, and the Russian force behind them is larger than they are, the operation will have served its purpose. If RDK forces build up and deep strikes inside Russia escalate this weekend and Russians engage in pitched battle, the operation will have served its purpose. If every RDK fighter inside Russia dies today, while requiring the Russian Armed Forces (RuAF) to dislodge an equal number of fighters from inside Ukraine, the operation will have served its purpose.
I do not know where this is going but I see where it leads, because by any road we take, it is already working. “Working” because Putin has been hoist on his own doctrinal petard. Upon information and belief, I conclude the RDK seems to consist of Russians, likely using whatever Ukraine, master nation of hand-me-down weapons, has handed down to them. Where did these Russians come from? Some of them probably escaped over a border with Z Patriot signs on their car windows, or on last-minute flights to Turkmenistan, or by surrendering to Ukrainian troops. No mysteries here. They got to Ukraine, somehow, and they have returned from Ukraine, “somehow.”
“Not us,” says former(?) comedian Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
“Not us,” say Ukrainian officials with straight faces.
“Not us,” say the Ukrainian Armed Forces with shit-eating grins from ear to ear.
I believe them.
I “believe” them because what the Ukrainians are clearly doing here is exactly what Putin would do.
“Plausible deniability” only lasts a while, but it has real battlefield utility, just like concealing smoke, and they have learned from their enemy. This is mirroring behavior.
Ukraine learned it from watching you, Valery Gerasimov. They learned it from watching you.
Belgorod has been hit by long-range Ukrainian attacks before. Moreover, Ukraine has been able to get armed drones inside of Russia in order to strike targets as far away as Siberia. I strongly suspect the recent Kremlin strike was carried out this way and it may also explain the Kerch Bridge strike last year. (I will have more to say about this last point next week.)
The exact future of the siloviki is unknowable. The exact mind of Putin, or Yevgeny Prigozhin, is inscrutable. Withdrawing from “conquered Bakhmut” with his Potemkin victory acknowledged by Putin and the RuAF, Prigozhin is cashing out of a losing gamble in the nick of time holding everything he had wanted in order to establish his own power in Russia. Ukraine did not contest the last inches of Bakhmut in strength. Whether we consider a Ukrainian defending the city limits sign of Bakhmut as “BAKHMUT HOLDS” or not is irrelevant. More glaring, I think, is the so very lucky escape of a dangerous rival to Putin, with his force somewhat intact, on the eve of the long-anticipated counteroffensive.
I have been asked where and when that much-ballyhooed counteroffensive is happening. Ukraine has established a pattern of telegraphing in one, or many, directions, then attacking in an unexpected place. Whereas the opera curtain parted in Bakhmut, the counteroffensive arc lights are now focused on Belgorod. The scene is hazy, like a stage effect. Speculation had abounded in recent days: would Ukraine cross the Dnipro in force? Or attack through the south? Or the east? No one expected this, though, so whatever the RDK is, it has achieved surprise. The LSR has a flag and a cause. Perhaps they will be annihilated. Maybe they will leave. Maybe they will stay and enlarge their forces and settle in for a fight. Whatever happens there now is already working.
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