Although Russian officials appeared to calm their public’s nerves about the unexpected but well-executed Kherson withdrawal, there is a surprisingly high level of alarm among Western commentators. This may partly be due to the use of an emote multiplier known as Russian Telegram. But is it particularly remarkable given the muted reaction from Ukraine, which has apparently missed an opportunity to push Russia out and claim a clear military victory?
And as I shall soon arrive, all the hair-raising and sackcloth-shredding around Kherson ignores the way the electric grid damage vomits and turns into gangrene.
Some commentators have made it clear that they resent the Russian military for being too slow and therefore incompetent.
But The Peanuts Show does not set the tone for this struggle. Russia maintained from the start that it had no timetable. We have pointed out that Russia is fighting a multi-front war: geopolitical (in which Russia has done very well in securing tacit and even explicit support from China, India, Saudi Arabia, and much of the global south), economic and political. information and, of course, military.
According to critics, Russia was too tolerant and Kherson’s withdrawal is one of the consequences. But Russia’s attempt to launch a limited campaign and spare civilians while the West was piling up punishments for innocent people who punished bystanders helped win over many countries in the world. These quiet allies are important from an economic perspective as Russia reorients away from the West.
This terrible shock and punishment also shackled Russia early on. Its audience shook, worrying about whether war was necessary, where it was headed, and whether jobs and even basic services would be destroyed. A major call-up early on could have been seen as an admission that the Kremlin had miscalculated, as well as a miscalculation of the massive economic sanctions. Even in June, I doubt there will be enough public support. It took time for the US and EU’s antipathy to Russia to sink in, and Putin was right about the inevitability of conflict and the need for Russia to turn its back on Europe.
Time was also on Russia’s side. Sanctions were increasingly hurting the West, especially Europe, while Russia was recovering. A slow, grinding war would sustain Russian forces as they eat through Western weapons stocks and increasingly seasoned fighters. The long conflict is also directly draining US and European treasuries now that Ukraine’s economy has collapsed and now needs billions a month to stay afloat, in addition to the cost of the war effort.
Having said all that, both the West and some prominent Russian-friendly figures injected early on the idea that Russia could or should move quickly. The “big arrow” costly movements across Ukraine set expectations. And Dmitry Medvedev, the former president and vice president of the Security Council, didn’t help brazenly publicize his proposal for an end-game method in July:
I will admit that I did not appreciate how difficult it was to break the layered fortifications built over eight years in the Donbass. Brian Berletic gives a good explanation below, staring at 1:15:40:
A way to speed up the process, Berlitic says, is to cut off supply lines if possible. It is not clear from his discussion that throwing more men into a fortified area will necessarily lead to its quicker removal. There is likely to be a point of diminishing returns in a concentrated area. Some in Russia’s Telegram claimed that most of the Russian casualties in Mariupol were from friendly fire!
Remember also that before officially making the “liberated” territories part of Russia in the first week of October, Russia had a hardline command structure: DRC militia and LPR as main coalition partners, and Chechnya and the Wagner Group adding on the ground Russian muscle, artillery, and air support in the Donbass. , mainly Russian BTGs holding the line in the south. Until then, Russia was somewhat hostage to the wishes of the DRC and the LPR. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu attributed a visit to their political leaders and, as a result, Russia moved more forces in exchange for the city of Donetsk, despite it being an exceptionally fortified area, and farther from the campaign to retake the Sloviansk-Kramatorsk region.
So why did so many commentators, including you really, do Kherson even though the newly appointed theater commander Sergei Surovkin mentioned the possible need for “difficult decisions” and most analysts took that to mean a possible withdrawal from Kherson?
At a high level, a problem is cognitive dissonance. Although Putin has described one of the three aims of the military special operation as disarmament plus Russia has a long history of being willing to give up territory if it better enables them to hurt the enemy (whether by encircling, returning to a better position, or simply not Waste of manpower in a poor place to fight), this is not how wars are reported. They’re about who owns what on the map and who’s flying their flag over a captured government building. You can’t easily tell which side causes more dead and wounded. However, we can see that after just nine months of conflict, Russia is severely depleting not only Ukraine but even US/NATO weapons caches, as evidenced by declining resupply numbers of everything from tanks and armored vehicles to 155mm rounds. .
I accepted the logic of Kharkiv’s withdrawal, which was strategically insignificant and not worth keeping, perhaps because it so distinctly resembled Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Only after the retreat did I examine the situation in Kherson carefully enough. Despite accepting “military necessities take priority over politics,” and “if you destroy the army, the land will follow,” I have only looked at the military necessity part casually. Kherson is a port on the Black Sea, although not a big one. Kherson on the railway heading to Nikolaev, then Odessa. Roads supposedly work that way, too. It seems very important!
But the Antonovsky Bridge turned out to be so out of order that even the supply of the Kherson force of 20,000 shekels using pontoon bridges and ferries was almost a hassle. That is, building the fighting force needed to move westward 3 to 5 times that size was not a start. Surovkin notes in passing in his conversation with Shoigu:
Note that Surovkin mentions that the troops of the city of Kherson were in a “no-go” zone, hinting that offensive operations would be difficult. In addition, even if Russia had launched an offensive force in Kherson, it would have been vulnerable to attacks on its flank as it moved parallel to the Black Sea coast.
Finally, I accepted the views of some commentators who argued that dams and bridges are difficult to destroy. However, the Russians seemed deeply concerned that Ukraine might eventually succeed in blowing up the Nova Kakhovka Dam, which would then flood the city of Kherson, killing civilians and making Russian forces head towards the Orkin offensive. A student cautioned against such a thing:
Best summary of my central idea. https://t.co/HmcqsuWNcs
– Nassim Nicholas Taleb (@nntaleb) November 11, 2018
Finally, Russia is very cautiously playing the trump card, which is the destruction of large parts of the electrical grid in Ukraine. Russia has been framing this campaign as the removal of dual-use infrastructure, meaning “it’s okay if it serves civilians if it also has a useful military use.” So far, Russia is focusing on transmission lines, connections, transformers and spare generation power. However, if Russia continues to balkanize the grid, some areas near major power plants will be more or less okay while others will become desperate.
Russia says very little about it. The Department of Defense does not include these attacks in its daily Attacker List. For the most part, these attacks only get a passing mention from casual commenters and sites like Rybar. But there was a round of strikes last Wednesday morning and Saturday night through Sunday, so it seems to be going at a pace at least twice a week. And if Ukraine pulls off a ploy like its attack on Sevastopol, successful or not, Russia will almost certainly use that as a pretext for a slew of network strikes, with license not to spare civilian targets.
Thus, given the relative silence on this campaign, it is difficult to see Russia’s goals. Will these twice-weekly attacks keep the Ukrainian grid down 40% of capacity, or are they intended to keep deteriorating from there? Note that General Winter also effectively squeezes out more juice. From Kyiv Novyen on the 13th, via machine translation:
In Kyiv, they may start cutting off electricity for a longer period of time. The reason is the low air temperature.
This was announced by DTEK CEO Dmytro Sakharuk during the telethon
When the temperature drops in our country, consumption will increase. Every 5-7 degrees drop in temperature accounts for 10% of consumption on Ukrainian territory on average.
According to him, if the specialists do not have time to repair and increase the amount of electricity that can be supplied to the capital, the periods of power outages may increase.
Mathematical guesses, if Ukraine is at 60% of regular production, if we generously take 10% of that level (versus 10% of the original 100%), that’s 54% effective production at cooler temperatures. And it will get colder.
Additionally, there has been remarkably little discussion about the impact on businesses in Ukraine. How many people can work with frequent power outages? The Ukrainian economy is already in a desperate state. The lack of energy will only exacerbate her crisis. It also means that the West will have to serve up more dough if it hopes to avoid a crash.
Ukraine and the West are also strangely quiet, which seems strange given mothers and children shivering in the dark is a big reason for the further demonization of Russia. However, the Ukrainian newspaper Stana reports that some officials are encouraging Kyiv residents to leave:
“It can be done,” said Andrey Vitrenko, a member of the Kyiv City Council, referring to energy problems that many expect in winter. .
That is, he hinted that it would be better if possible to leave the capital.
There is the first question of where to go, especially given that Kyiv has (or has had) about 3 million inhabitants. Neighboring areas are not likely to be much better. This means, as John Helmer pointed out early on, that Russia wields enormous leverage through its ability to cause an exodus of refugees, with Poland likely to be the biggest beneficiary.
So, is the Russian approach to “going slow” to obtaining plausible deniability? Or in the hope that the West will recognize this source of influence and react accordingly as more Ukrainians cross the border?
The problem, of course, is that the US is leading that train and has serious concerns about the costs to Europe, as we can infer from its almost certain endorsement/participation in the Nord Stream pipeline attacks.
Like those half a million Iraqi children who died, the millions of Europeans who suffer are not a heavy price to achieve the ends of the United States, because we are not the ones to pay.