Friday, June 24, 2022
Thursday, April 7, 2022
If Putin's rule could survive Russians learning what its government was doing at Putin's instructions, Putin would not have suddenly changed the law to prevent Russians calling his invading Ukraine a "war" and closed all the independent news outlets in Russia. He knows his rule depends on misleading Russians. It's a lesson he learned while in the KGB, helping to mislead Russian and East German workers whose output was captured for the benefit of the regimes' political elites. Putin may have been deceived by Soviet propaganda about Russia's history, but he certainly understood his government employers did not try in any way to deliver Russians communism – ordinary Russians didn't control the means of production in Russia, did not choose how Russian resources would be allocated, and were prevented from achieving reform by farce elections that existed only for propaganda purposes (anyone operating a reform party was killed or incarcerated). Putin knew Russia's government existed for the benefit of its political elite, and he's worked to become the head of that political elite and to restore what he regards as the tragically lost glory of Stalin's Soviet empire.
Putin's miserly grip on true facts is killing Russians. Consider the soldiers who had no knowledge of the history of Chernobyl – why would Putin-authorized schools and media allow information about Russians causing the world's most notorious and nasty nuclear disaster? Ordered to seize Chernobyl with no forewarning of its dangers, soldiers not only stirred up radioactive dust driving vehicles through danger zones but dug trenches in areas so toxic facility oversight workers were forbidden even to go there. The deaths aren't all over-the-horizon horrors of dying slowly at home in a later year: in the first month Putin has gotten as much as 25% of his entire invasion force killed. This is a direct result of what onlookers have noted as a surprising inability to execute combined arms: Putin's armor has advanced without infantry support so armored elements could be picked off and destroyed by anti-armor infantry weapons like the NLAW and Javelin (or mines) which have been delivered to Ukraine in quantities that significantly outnumber Putin's entire inventory of tanks; advancing infantry has consistently lacked close air support; artillery hasn't supported armor; in essence, each of Putin's infantry, armor, artillery, and air units have been acting in relative isolation, and without the coordination required to execute military maneuvers at the skill and effectiveness NATO forces have trained to achieve. Putin's police state, apparently assuming that its information campaigns and not its huge numbers of troops have allowed it to swallow tiny opponents, grievously misunderstood the nature of the conflict it started in Ukraine.
The death toll isn't a diversion from the discussion of information, but a consequence of Putin's iron-fisted control over the distribution of facts. A Western military conducting a ground assault would empower a local officer to receive intelligence from every available source so that commands could be given across all military branches to achieve a joint mission intelligently integrating armor, artillery, bombing operations, infantry, close air support, and intelligence. Imagine for a moment how long Putin would last in office if some office other than his own had such broad access to information and military command. Would he last a week? The fact Western militaries do this all the time without governments collapsing in a coup shows that Western governments have the support of their people: they possess what in a democracy passes for legitimacy, which is broad popular support. Putin does not. In a Putinesque government, legitimacy is the fact of rule as maintained by bribe or threat and nothing more.
Putin can't let local commanders coordinate or he'd be out of a job and he knows it. Putin can't give his commanders the ability to perform like Western forces. This isn't something Putin can learn from: this is a fundamental flaw in Putin's entire style of government.
From the outset, Ukrainian civilians have opposed Russian invaders, refusing to collaborate with invaders (for which some were murdered), and poisoning occupiers. The crimes committed against Ukrainians have galvanized them against Russia. The enormous catalog of photos available online of Russian armor standing in a derelict shambles in Ukraine proves Ukraine is willing to engage Russia's armor, and the fact Ukraine has retaken towns Russia formerly occupied proves that it is capable of succeeding in offense against Russian infantry. The scores of Russian aircraft lost so far demonstrate it can do what Afghans did for more than nine years of occupation and make air operations a sphincter-puckering experience for Russians.
Russian claims about its destruction of Ukrainian personnel and equipment are pretty easily debunked: had Putin's forces obliterated more than 50% of Ukraine's inventory of tanks or artillery, Ukraine's military would no longer be an effective fighting force. Yet, it's Russian forces in retreat. While Russia has managed to capture several small military watercraft, it's lost a landing craft and suffered damage to another landing craft and a patrol boat. Out of the water, the tables are turned: Ukraine has destroyed at least 62 Russian aircraft, the number Oryx has been independently able to verify through photographic evidence, while losing 30. Oryx has confirmed Russia's loss of 2608 ground vehicles including 448 tanks, of which 182 have been captured by Ukraine and turned against Putin; Oryx has confirmed Ukraine has lost 697 vehicles, including 95 tanks. This means Ukraine's tank count may have actually increased since the start of the invasion as its forces have captured from Putin more tanks than it has lost in battle. Other sources make Russia's losses to Ukraine look much grimmer: since Russia is unable to field precision munitions, the only way its aircraft can hit anything on the ground is to make a bombing run that is low enough for visual targeting, which drives planes directly into the teeth of the air defense Russians have no hope to suppress – man-portable anti-air rockets of the kind NATO countries have been showering Ukraine. Three weeks into the war Ukraine was claiming 77 aircraft kills, and the New York Times radio intercepts included numerous ignored pleas by a Russian armor radioman for close air support that never came. Russians can't do what they want with air.
Russians may be able to murder Ukrainian civilians at will, but they've been unable to defeat Ukraine's military forces anywhere. Citing Ukrainian sources, Pravda reports Ukraine has killed 16,600 invading Russian soldiers, a number greater than Russia's losses over several years in Chechnya or even its nine-plus-year campaign in Afghanistan.
Anyone who has been watching understood Putin planned to take the rest of Ukraine after he ordered it partially seized in 2014. His blatant invasion lacks the middle-of-the-night quietness of salami-slicing border encroachment committed by prior regimes, by China into India, or even by Putin into Georgia. Aggression hasn't worked out for Putin in the 2022 invasion of Ukraine: within the first two weeks Putin lost up to 10% of his combat forces – the very definition of "decimation."
Since Putin committed Russia's entire deployable force, there's nothing with which he can quickly reinforce troops he sacrificed to wood chipper that is Ukraine. Accordingly, Putin has been scraping to find soldiers he can re-allocate from occupation of Georgia (which Putin invaded in 2008), mercenaries from Syria and Putin's advertising campaigns targeted at Russians who have previously murdered civilians abroad, and a tyrant enthusiasts from war-ridden places like Chechnya. Putin's pleas for Belarusian soldiers have not met with success: Belarus' dictator owes his office to Putin's intervention, but Belarusians are dissatisfied with his sham elections, and Belarusians are undermining their dictator's effort to support Putin's war in Ukraine. Putin's work to keep Belarus under the boot of a puppet dictator has, in fact, made Belarusians enter Ukraine to kill Russians. Foreign volunteers motivated to defend against Putin for free might not actually reach the reported 20,000, but even so may dwarf the number Russia has been able to hire or import. One of the major foreign fighter groups in Ukraine is the Georgian Legion, which since 2014 has been striking back at the dictator who invaded their homeland; they're training other foreigners (including many from English-speaking countries). Since 2016 the legion has swelled from about one hundred fighters to hundreds of applications per day.
Putin's biggest enemy may be the shocking incompetence of his own regime. His army can't manage to get a column of vehicles to Kyiv on a paved road. The missiles he's firing into Ukraine have a fail rate approaching 60%. And he's not going to make it up in volume: he seems to be running out of inventory (other arguments here). The fact he wasn't ready for the war he started has been something of a shock to observers. Forces sent to capture Kyiv included elite Russian units like the now-decimated 331st Guards Parachute Regiment. Decisions to staff logistical roles with conscripts who haven't been on job even a single year hasn't helped keep Russian invaders supplied with food or armaments. Although Putin has just ordered another 134,500 men to be conscripted into the Russian army, they won't be of much help until trained. Also, deploying conscripts in a foreign war violates Russian law, and Putin's own claims, though he has been contradicted by Russian military sources who confirm Russia indeed ordered conscripts deployed
to war to Putin's "special military operation" in Ukraine. The domestic effect of this news is severe enough that Putin made a public announcement ordering military prosecutors to identify and bring charges against those who sent conscripts into Ukraine in his invasion's first phase. Putin claims that these conscripts won't be sent to Ukraine, but time will prove him a liar as the vanishing Russian soldiers begin contradicting Putin's propaganda that everything is going to plan.
Apparently, part of the plan is shoddy equipment. Instead of military-grade communications with encryption, Russian soldiers have been found using unencrypted off-the shelf handheld walkie-talkies from budget Chinese manufacturers. Accordingly, their disorganization and panic can be heard on open channels, as captured by The New York Times. Russians' discussion of their own war crimes can be captured by German intelligence services.
Considering the huge trove of photographs showing Russian armored personnel carriers and tanks destroyed in every corner of Ukraine, it's hard to see how Russia can sustain war while it can't build more military equipment. Check out this image, showing Russia removing from Ukraine the scrapped husks of destroyed Russian armor:
Looking at this photo casts in a new light all the photos shown of Russian armor rusting by a roadside or laying upside down or standing in a roadway with the turret blown free of the body: how many more of those we'd see if Russia had been able to spirit away more of the physical evidence.
Speaking of evidence, Putin's propaganda that Russians are carefully targeting exclusively military targets while providing humanitarian assistance to locals has been undermined by drone and satellite footage showing Russian forces slaughtering fleeing motorists, murdering bicyclists, shooting civilians in a bread line, and Russians killed civilians and left their corpses on the street before Ukrainians could possibly have created a staged scene. Russians killed and wounded civilians indiscriminately while committing an airstrike against a maternity hospital in Mariupol, which is not an isolated incident: Putin's forces have destroyed every single hospital in Chernihiv. By March 26, 2022, Russians had launched more than 70 separate attacks on Ukraine's hospitals and the World Health Organization said the number grew daily. The fact Russian soldiers are robbing civilians during their invasion is proved by the fact Ukrainian survivors can track their robbers' movements as they retreat with stolen Apple devices trackable by their owners.
Looting expensive consumer tech isn't necessary to Russia's advance, but with Russian logistics in the toilet Russian soldiers have been looting grocery stores and living out of civilian houses and committing other criminal acts against civilians while driven to otherwise avoidable contact. Russia can't supply soldiers. So, it's little wonder all the evil Putin can order has failed to take Ukraine. It has, instead, galvanized against Russia virtually everyone capable of receiving uncensored news. Germans, who long disdained active military activity beyond their borders and resisted spending on defense what NATO encourages its members to spend, have escalated from sending Ukraine non-lethal aid like helmets to sending antitank and antiaircraft missiles while bumping defense spending above NATO's recommended 2% threshold. Putin's effort to strangle democracy in neighboring nations – Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus – has driven democracies together.
Sanctions have halted Putin's ability to restore lost force-projection capacity. For example, the two principal factories that make and rebuild Russia's tanks and armored personnel carriers have been shuttered for lack of parts formerly imported from Europe, which is Russia's most leading trading partner. Putin's aircraft lost their source for repair parts. Russia may have the ability to manufacture small arms, but vehicles? Putin had a hard enough time moving soldiers away from a railway when his ability to amass war matériel stood unobstructed. Now his power to project force is gone.
International condemnation isn't mere words: substantial changes in international trade posture has created a long-term and growing problem for Russia, the impact of which is already contracting the Russian economy. To prop up the Rouble with deposits in Russian banks, Putin had Russian banks more than double the interest rate to 20% – but inflation was forecast at 24%, but the White House Economic Council reported April 5 that current inflation in Russia stood at 2% per week or 200% per year.
Putin wanted to live in the Soviet Union again … and now he does. He'll better understand how the Soviet Union he served through the '80s collapsed in the early '90s by making it happen again under his watch.
Wednesday, March 16, 2022
Back in the '80s Americans regarded the enormous Soviet block military forces as a genuine terror, even without the ever-present and unavoidable threat of overhanging nuclear launch. Moscow's dictators weren't elected, but they had respect internationally because they were regarded as controlling a real and powerful threat to anyone in the world.
Fast forward through the Soviet debacle in Afghanistan, in which an American special forces retiree managed a multi-year multibillion-dollar multinational logistical project to ensure local Afghans had weapons that prevented Soviets from feeling safe in any vehicle anywhere on the land or in the air.
Putin has made no secret that he regards losing the Soviet empire to a pro-democracy wave as a great tragedy, and his speeches make clear that he hopes to restore what Stalin controlled as an international terror from whom civilized people recoiled in fear and disgust. Accordingly, Putin has escalated his effort to restore despotism behind the former Iron Curtain from seizing the Crimean peninsula, consulting with Belarus' dictator (after his 80% landslide loss in a popular election to install honest government) how best to suppress liberty and ensure democracy remains beyond the reach of his own countrymen, and ultimately invading his innocently bystanding neighbor.
Since Ukraine didn't immediately fold at the approach of
Soviet Putin's troops, he ordered more and more Russian personnel and materiel across the border into Ukraine. Let me describe how Putin slowly sinks without noticing he's being swallowed by a tar pit. Over the first days of the war, American military sources occasionally opined on the fraction of Putin's preposition forces had actually been commanded into Ukraine. On February 25, U.S. officials estimated only a third of Putin's amassed forces had entered Ukraine. By February 27, U.S. officials estimated two thirds of Putin's pre-positioned force had entered Ukraine. Already, observers noticed the attack had slowed, undermined by logistical problems even as it faced Ukrainian opposition that surprised Russian youths who'd expected to be greeted with flowers. By March 1, Putin's force had been 80% deployed to Ukraine. By March 3, 90% of Putin's pre-prepared resources – tanks, trucks, self-propelled and towed artillery, armored personnel carriers, anti-air systems, and infantry – had actually entered Ukraine. The 40-mile column of vehicles headed from Belarus to Kyiv on a paved road had "stalled" under the weight of logistical failures and Ukrainian attack. By March 7, "nearly 100%" of Putin's prepositioned invasion resources had been deployed. The forces Putin had arrayed about Ukraine to intimidate and overrun it included "up to 190,000 personnel" according to some sources, though U.S. estimates stood at about 150,000 troops, including 120 battalion tactical groups.
The astute observer will note that this doesn't leave Putin a reserve. This is a problem, because they're not obtaining a Ukrainian capitulation.
On March 2, by which time CNN already reported on a 40-mile convoy failing to make progress toward Kyiv, Russian losses were estimated by U.S. sources at 2,000-3,000 soldiers. Last week the US estimated Putin's invasion force had already lost up to 10% of its military assets. Videos circulate online of Russian warplanes, helicopters and armored vehicles being obliterated with high-tech weapons sent to Ukraine by its allies. Due perhaps to Ukraine's access to anti-air technology, Russian air power has been judged a disappointment: it hasn't been willing to expose its best aircraft and hasn't achieved air supremacy. Tank losses according to U.S. estimates on March 8 stood at 204 tanks and 406 other armored vehicles,
Putin's strategy to use foreign trade income to fund domestic suppression of democracy has hit its first serious setback. Before Putin's invasion of Ukraine few could have imagined the international reaction. Germany, which had avoided foreign military involvement and had never in the history of NATO met America's expectation that NATO members invest 2% of their GDP in defense, switched from sending Ukraine kevlar helmets to delivering Stinger anti-air missiles and Javelin antitank weapons and boosting defense spending to €100,000 and exceeding NATO's spending goal for Germany. Unity against Putin's aggression has led to extensive sanctions that, because they're coming from so many directions, isolate Putin's political allies while killing their revenues. Foreign businesses have announced halt of operations in Russia in fields including internet service, retail coffee sales, passenger air service, banking and financial services, beverage supply, consumer electronics, auto manufacture, and more. Russian airlines are forbidden the airspace of, apparently, every democracy on the planet. Russian sports teams and Russian athletes woke to find no international teams will play in Russia and their own teams aren't invited anyplace they want to go. Russian television continues to lie to Russians, but they'll notice the sports has disappeared and there's no Coke and McDonald's closed and they can't buy iPhones and Western films have come to a halt and Netflix doesn't work and on and on. Russia faces product bans and is losing its Most Favored Nation status in international trade. The EU, Russia's largest trading partner, is developing plans to slash dependence on Russian gas exports and Germany has refused to certify Russia's new gas transmission pipeline. Putin can't hide the shame of being an international pariah any more than he can hide that Russians everywhere have lost contact with relatives in the military and Russia is losing troops and equipment orders of magnitude faster than while fighting in vain to control Afghanistan.
Soviets lost some 15,000 soldiers in more than 9 years in Afghanistan and about 50% of that number in less than one month in Ukraine. During the entire Afghanistan campaign Russians lost 147 tanks and 1,314 other vehicles, whereas in Ukraine Putin has cost Russia 374 tanks and 1,226 other armored vehicles just through March 3. Without any reserves to send in, Putin is asking China for help and leaning on tyrants like Assad to send mercenaries recruited from the Syrian army. But do these countries really have enough projectable power to occupy a nation of tens of millions, in the face of a sustained insurgency? Does China want to risk its trade relationships on something that's already proven to attract global condemnation at the very moment it's struggling with the economic impact of COVID-19 variant resurgence?
Ukrainians have won the battle for hearts and minds, and they've achieved more tactically than many expected. Putin has arranged the shelling of civilian residences, hospitals, and civilian infrastructure, even if by FSB officers or Chechen gangs instead of Russian Army regulars; but this will only solidify the conviction Putin's rule is too brutal to consider submitting and ensure the world keeps providing Ukrainian freedom fighters beans and bullets forever.
Putin won't get that equipment back, and the money that he will need to replace the equipment has been shut off. The ruble plummeted at the start of the invasion, and Putin's answer to the collapsing Russian stock market was to close markets: nobody can sell shares now. Onlookers will remember this when the war is over, and understand Russia isn't a safe place to do business. Only the oligarchs who run the companies can profit from Russian firms on closed exchanges. Warren Buffett has experienced Russia's lack of the rule of law, which is why Buffett refuses to do business in Russia: it's unsafe. Now that Russia is announcing seizure of foreign assets, everybody with resources to invest will understand what a disaster investment in Russia can be, and avoid exposure to Russian political risk. (If they do business with Russians it will not be on the basis of credit not secured by assets outside Russia, and it won't involve investment in assets physically in Russia where Russian "justice" and Russian courts would arbitrate disputes.)
Putin has single-handedly mended the fault lines within NATO that Trump formed insulting the alliance and its purpose; he's unified the EU as never before and he's proven the necessity of NATO and driven more nations to consider applying. Putin has cost Russia considerable prestige – if it can't take on Ukraine, who exactly can it beat? – and the fact that its domestic relations campaign is based entirely on lies places public support for his regime on an increasingly brittle foundation. Playing chicken with the international trading community isn't going to help Putin's cronies maintain the domestic resource advantage they need to keep from the fate of the Tsars.
Tuesday, August 17, 2021
COVID-19 Vaccine "critic" Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke has been placed on a ventilator by professionals who believe in the value of human life.