Ukraine's War of Independence, Vol. I
Annotated link post Feb-Sep 2022
This is a compendium of my open source analysis of the ongoing war in Ukraine from the first day of the renewed invasion to the point of Russian general mobilization.
24 February: For all his power as an autocrat, Putin senses his opportunity to reclaim Ukraine in the name of Russian nationalism slipping away. Perhaps he really has a wasting disease, as rumored. Or perhaps he really is messianic about his Orthodox zeal to reunite the Ukrainian church with the Russian one, a kind of holy divorce of churches that has gone under the radar of most western observers. Putin probably would love to be a hallowed saint and icon. His strategic vision has more in common with the Tsars than the Soviets, who stuffed their saints and put them on gruesome display. To be clear, I don’t think that Putin has quite become an irrational actor. His rationale is merely obscure to everyone not named Vladimir Putin; he keeps his own counsel.
26 February: Ukraine claimed Saturday morning that their forces have already destroyed the equivalent of a Russian mechanized brigade’s worth of tanks and other armored vehicles. At even half that rate of attrition, Putin will break his army quickly, and at that rate he will have no army at all in a matter of weeks. This is not sustainable.
27 February: How is life in the Kremlin bunker, now? How many officers are exchanging anxious glances in the Russian strategic nuclear command system? What steps are they taking to walk back their supreme leader from the brink? Is anyone making up a Plan B, or hastily arranging backup plans of any kind? We have to ask ourselves these questions now. That is the new world that Ukraine’s brave defense has made. On Day Four of Putin’s offensive, he had to arrange a cease-fire because his army can’t seem to fight anymore.
2 March: It didn’t have to be this way, of course. Putin could have made better choices in the last 23 years. Here are FIVE changes that might have saved thousands of Russian lives and reduced the length of this war.
4 March: Now, one may argue that all military equipment is built by the lowest bidder, and that is exactly my point: someone in Russia lined their own pockets by purchasing dubious discount tires with the aid of a Russian general, in fact several generals. Putin’s mafia state is corrupt to the core because there is no check on corruption. It is corruption. Russia has no Congressional committees to meet and urgently discuss tire procurement, no free press to raise alarms and spur action, no accountability for fraud, waste, or abuse. It shows.
5 March: Although they operate at a standoff distance, well away from harm, American E-2D Hawkeyes can still “see” over the borders into Russia and Belarus. Keep this in mind, because it is what makes this perhaps the most powerful warplane you know nothing about. It is like a superpower. Just one of these airplanes can potentially destroy whole Russian air regiments.
6 March: “Territory” is not progress. The capture of Kyiv after a massive battle will not make Ukrainians stop fighting. Ukraine will not be defeated as long as they have the will to fight. Russia has failed to break their will, indeed the Ukrainian people are more defiant than ever.
8 March: Concerns that NATO intervention actually might bring on global thermonuclear war are not entirely irrational. If the chances of that result are even one in a thousand, would you risk it? Be glad that Russian nuclear force control is a distributed responsibility, unlike the American system.
12 March. Open source analysts are reporting that Ukraine has successfully trapped a Russian army northwest of Kyiv. Made possible by deft use of regional flood controls, this would be the greatest defeat of Russian arms in over a century, if true.
17 March. Until Russians are allowed to think of themselves as a nation instead of an empire, violence will always emanate from the Russian center, and it will continue to be a problem for the whole world.
18 March. Viewed as an electromagnetic event, the war in Ukraine has been one-sided and unfair, which is exactly the point of electronic attack. This invisible force multiplier is playing a key role in the ongoing defeat of Russian formations.
20 March. Putin is not insane. Nuclear or chemical weapons would absolutely provoke NATO intervention, which would be insane. As long as the west reclines, performing the Cold War rather than waging it directly, Putin’s worst threats remain hollow. Each time Ukraine destroys another Russian division and Putin doesn’t use a nuke, the threat loses its power to terrify anyone.
25 March. Ukrainians cannot be allowed to think of themselves as Ukrainians instead of Russians. It hurts Putin too much. But this is a problematic goal for a Russian army. To paraphrase Alan Moore’s antihero V, the idea of Ukraine cannot be destroyed by bullets or bombs or rockets or shells. As long as the idea of Ukraine exists, every city and town is an anthill of resistance.
3 April. Putin calls the mass graves “de-Nazification.” International law calls them “war crimes.” Europe will call it an emergency. Breaking Russian armies is now a moral imperative.
18 April: 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.
25 April: If Ukraine was saved in the first four days, it now stands to reason that Ukraine might win the whole war in four months. Events suggest an accelerated strategic momentum in Kyiv. Proverbial tides are turning.
8 May. This is how the Putin clique loses a war to Ukraine and remains in power: by hyping the Ukrainian threat in order to militarize society and the state without invoking the wartime measures of real conscription and economic centralization.
22 May. At some indeterminate hour in the coming days, an armada of small and large drones will buzz over Russian positions. Ukrainian tanks and troops will not be far behind the accurate, withering artillery fire directed by these drones … Putin is at least as aware of what is coming as any Substack writer. At this point, he may even be counting on it.
7 June: No country is an island. All wars that have ever been fought in Ukraine disrupted the existing global food system. The first step in restoring Ukraine’s links to the world economy and reducing worldwide inflation in grain prices is to reopen their Black Sea ports.
2 July: Every time Vladimir Putin changes tactics, it heralds a change in his approach brought on by battlefield reversal. When the initial invasion stalled north of Kyiv, he started blasting cities, and the army retreated behind a hail of artillery fire. When the second attempt at cutting off the whole of eastern Ukraine failed, he bombed their cities harder and Mariupol hardest of all. When Ukraine sank the Moskva, he retaliated with missiles. And so on.
23 July: At some point, our living war correspondents will take time away from Donetsk battlefields to read into the historiography and literature of the First World War, find a million parallels, and dazzle us with their reporting. One thing they will discover in consulting the timeline of news back then is that abstraction helps. Paying too much attention to the 24-hour news cycle during an artillery war, or getting too excited about every lost or gained acre of ground, day after day, in a relatively static war of position, only inspires anxiety and depression while offering little insight into the underlying rhythms of battle.
8 August: Western long-range weapons designed to defeat and destroy Russian armies have turned the tide of battle in Ukraine. Russian leadership has reacted to Ukrainian signalling of a counteroffensive in Kherson province by moving combat power from other points in the line. As will be evidenced by subsequent events, this has been a strategic mistake.
12 August: Under these conditions, the possibility of sudden local Russian collapses, or units surrendering after days or weeks of hunger, bombardment, disconnection, and psychological pressure, is contrarily high. Civilians in occupied Kherson will suffer accordingly. Nevertheless, the turning point is past.
17 August: The motley collection of units inside the Kherson pocket includes most of Russia’s best remaining troop formations. Losing them would be a genuine disaster. No significant offensive operations would be possible for Moscow anywhere, any time soon. Any defeat here will be a devastating blow.
26 August: Although many western airplanes and crews were required to accomplish air supremacy over free Ukraine, it was achieved without the imposition of a NATO “no-fly zone” or a direct east-west confrontation of any kind.
31 August. On the first day of the battle, there was talk of “shaping operations.” The “shape” of the Kherson fire sack is flexible, like a canvas duffel bag with a VDV paratrooper stuffed inside it, and the idea is to beat him with a stick until he stops struggling.
5 September. The pace is picking up, little by little, while Moscow continues to deny that Russians are even fighting a real war at all. Without a major correction, including a real wartime mobilization in Russian cities, these trend lines will end at a very real, and historic, defeat for Russian arms.
7 September. If Ukraine surrounds Kupyansk, the most important logistical artery in Russian-held east Ukraine will be cut. As we have seen, the Russian Army lacks enough truck support to replace railroads as a means of getting all that artilery ammunition to the front. At the very least, if this offensive succeeds, sham referenda for Russian annexation in Donetsk and Luhansk will be impossible.
9 September. We know the Kharkiv offensive has succeeded because of a remarkable information environment. Military bloggers with Telegram channels are just about the only “free press” of any kind in Russia. They describe a woeful defense and a frantic retreat north of Izyum during the previous 72 hours. Only one Russian milblogger has denied that Ukrainians hold Kupyansk today, and he had to do it from a city limits sign posted several miles east of the city. Retreat is general and reinforcements are tardy.
10 September. Things are falling apart everywhere, all at once, for the Russian Army. Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin, the man who set it all in motion, making every strategic call that brought this disaster into being, appeared in Moscow today to open a ferris wheel and martial arts center. Placid, making no remarks on the unfolding defeat, Putin will perform the role of supreme leader until the curtain comes down. This is no way to run a war.
12 September. Defeat is the hardest test of military organizations. Doctrine and training matter most when the direction of the battle is at its worst. An army cannot assume they will always win a victory all the time — local defeat is inevitable in war, especially a war of attrition.
20 September. That Russian politics remains unable to commit to full war mobilization at this late date is emblematic of Putinism, the absolute culmination of his career. But like the supposed bombing of Putin’s limousine, it is all pointless drama at this point, anyway. The mobilization debate no longer matters. Decisive action has been delayed for too long.
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