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Post Putin's Call for Mobilization: Desperation or Determination?
Created by John Eipper on 09/21/22 4:32 PM

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Putin's Call for Mobilization: Desperation or Determination? (Cameron Sawyer, USA, 09/21/22 4:32 pm)

Today Russia announced a "partial mobilization."

Thus the war in Ukraine is gradually escalated into an ever bigger and more horrible war--this is just the latest step in a process which has been gathering speed for a long time.

In the Economist today, there is an article entitled "Vladimir Putin's Situation Looks Ever More Desperate: Talk of Mobilization and Referendums in Occupied Ukraine are Both Signs of Weakness," https://www.economist.com/europe/2022/09/20/vladimir-putins-situation-looks-ever-more-desperate , just one more in a long and consistent series of spectacular misinterpretations of the Ukraine War in the Western press. It is not, of course, desperation at all, driving the Russian escalation.  It is, rather, determination--determination not to lose this war, at literally any cost. Not understanding this plays into the hands of the evil people who designed this war, and their narratives. Not understanding this, failing to understand the Russian perception of this as an existential struggle, failing to understand how much force they can bring to bear in this conflict once they realize it is necessary, is an ironic mirror image of the Russians' own arrogant underestimation of Ukrainian resistance.  We arrogantly underestimate the determination, and willingness to suffer, of the Russians, just like the Russians arrogantly underestimated the Ukrainians' will to resist, a collision of epic proportions.

The only people, apparently, who actually understand that this war will eventually lead to the total destruction of Ukraine, and understood from the very beginning, are the same warmongering ghouls in the West, a tiny clique with astonishing influence over our foreign policy, who intentionally provoked this conflict for the purpose of building up their sick idea of our "Benevolent Global Hegemony." Which doesn't lead to any kind of hegemony at all.  We can see the results in the shambles of our geopolitical position in the Middle East after 20-odd years of an amazing number of wars designed by the very same people--Wolfowitz, the Kagan brothers, Victoria Nuland, Richard Perle, Elliot Abrams, etc., the shambles which we bought with trillions of dollars of US taxpayer money and more than a million deaths. The Ukraine War is a continuation of the same approach, and the results will be equally unfavorable to our interests, not to speak of the inconceivable destruction in Ukraine.

The other evil and utterly miscalculated force behind the Ukraine War is, of course, the Russians themselves, who may end up destroying their own country as well as Ukraine before this is all over, or even the whole world if the situation slides or sleepwalks into WWIII. When they launched the initial invasion on 24 February, the Russians thought that they would walk over the Ukrainian military and waltz into Kiev in a few days. They arrogantly underestimated the Ukrainian will to fight--and ability to fight. The invasion was carried out with far too few personnel and was not designed to deal with determined resistance, in the face of which an attacker needs local superiority of at least 3:1 according to classical military doctrine. Another spectacular military failure of the Russians was the failure to suppress Ukrainian air defense systems at the beginning of the conflict, which meant they never achieved air superiority, despite their overwhelming advantage in those forces. After large losses of personnel and equipment in the first weeks of the war, the Russians regrouped in the East and the South, and started slowly conquering the remaining parts of the Donbas, carefully preserving their personnel by avoiding frontal attacks and pitched battles, instead using their immense superiority in firepower to attrite the Ukrainians and eliminate resistance before slowly advancing over scorched earth.

That was a good tactic, under the circumstances, considering that even after all these initial failures, the Russians were unwilling to mobilize and commit adequate forces to the task of overwhelming the Ukrainian military. I wrote about this a few months ago on WAIS. But relying on their immense superiority in firepower was not enough. Despite their great losses in the Donbas Arc operation, which ran 3:1 or more compared to Russian losses, with most casualties caused by artillery (just like in WWI and in WWII on the Eastern Front), the Ukrainians still retain at least a 2.5:1 advantage in manpower over the Russians, which even with severe problems with equipment, gave them the ability to concentrate forces against the Russians to a dangerous degree, and on more than one front at a time to boot. In their second big arrogant failure of this war, the Russians failed to anticipate, and Russian intelligence failed to detect, a very large concentration of Ukrainian forces in Kharkov Oblast' arrayed against thinly held Russian lines, a local superiority of 5:1 or more. The attack there by the Ukrainians was well conceived and executed, and took the Russians, who were preoccupied by defending Kherson in the South, almost completely by surprise. The Russians avoided a rout only by a lightning withdrawal, but that cost them the whole of the conquered territory of Kharkov Oblast West of the Oskol' River. Amounting to only 2.5% or so of the total conquered territory, but having great strategic significance, not in the Russians' favor.

And that's where we are now. What will happen next?

The Ukrainians will try another offensive. They have no choice, as the grinding positional warfare of the summer under superior Russian firepower would eventually destroy them. A new offensive likely to occur in the direction of Mariupol, aimed at severing the land bridge. The offensive on Kherson, which is bogged down at the moment, but which is still promising for the Ukrainians due to the Russians' vulnerability on the wrong side of the Dnieper, may be renewed as well. But at the moment the Ukrainians are concerned with gaining a foothold in Lugansk Oblast' by conquering Liman, and with defending against the continuing Russian "Donbas Arc" operation, which will establish control over all of Donetsk Oblast' (or the DNR, depending on your point of view) if it succeeds. At the moment, the Russians are making progress, and a battle is now going on over the key city of Bakhmut, led my mercenaries of the Wagner Group, with the Ukrainians severely pressed there.

It's hard to say how the next military operations will turn out.  We don't really know how much strength does each side retain. And we don't know whether or not Russian intelligence has woken up and is now better evaluating concentrations of Ukrainian forces. It's possible the Ukrainians will have another breakthrough and will take back another large chunk of territory somewhere, maybe cutting the land bridge, or even retaking vulnerable Kherson and the rest of right bank Dnieper. Or it's possible, on the other hand, that the Ukrainians are exhausted to such an extent, that the Russians will be able to mount a significant counteroffensive of their own somewhere, maybe in the direction of Mikolaev and Odessa. The information we would need to have, to evaluate these possibilities, is highly classified and is something we, the general public, have no access to. So we can't know, and will have to see.

But in the medium to long term, what we are now going to see is a significant escalation by the Russians, who as the popular Western press fails to understand, retain a lot of rungs on the escalation ladder. This is the most important dynamic of the war at this point. What are those rungs?

First of all, the Russians are now taking the gloves off with regard to the destruction of critical infrastructure in Ukraine. It is odd that they didn't do this at the very beginning.  I guess they assumed they would be in control of the country very quickly, and didn't want to have to rebuild it--hubris? What the Russians did is very different from the way the US does our invasions.  We obliterate all the civilian infrastructure the very first days, before boots hit the ground, everything--power plants, transformer stations (we have special graphite-filled bombs for that very purpose), telecommunications, bridges, dams, rail facilities, even television stations complete with killing all of the broadcast personnel--everything. A brief review of the histories of the beginnings of the Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yugoslavia wars will show what the US playbook on enemy civilian infrastructure looks like. This is cruel, but actually effective, and so I expected the Russians, who have certainly studied our wars, to do the same in Ukraine, but they never did. But now, the day after the successful Ukrainian offensive in Kharkov Oblast', the Russians launched a large cruise missile attack on power plants across Ukraine, creating severe problems with electrical power which hamper the Ukrainian war effort as well as creating misery for the local population, attacks which have been followed up periodically to keep the power offline. Then a couple of days later, another cruise missile attack (what of the reports back in March that the Russians had already then "run out of" cruise missiles, and other reports which come out periodically that Russian cruise missiles "don't work"?) was carried out on dams across the Ingulets River in Krivoy Rog, causing severe flooding and washing out most of the crossings the Ukrainians had built to support their assault towards Kherson, severely impacting that campaign.

This can go much, much further. Russian hawks complain about why Kiev is intact, and why no one has touched the "centers of decision making" in Kiev, when Russia has a large fleet of supersonic strategic bombers and all kinds of conventional weapons not yet used in the war, including among others the "Father of All Bombs" (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Father_of_All_Bombs ), a conventional bomb with the power of a small nuclear weapon, about 4 times the power of our own "Mother of all Bombs" or MOAB. Well, stay tuned. Why the gloves stayed on this long, I don't know, but they're off now. Why wouldn't the Russians drop the FOAB on the central military headquarters in Kiev? Wait for it. And for even much worse than that. There are many levels of horror left, short of nuclear weapons, available to the Russians.

As to personnel, I never understood, and wrote about that here in WAIS, how the Russians thought they could conquer Ukraine, which now claims to have a million men under arms, and who certainly can field at least 450,000, with 150,000 or at the very most 200,000 troops, and the whole Russian military on a peacetime footing, whatever the advantage in equipment was. Classical military doctrine says the attacker needs a local advantage of 3:1 for reasonable assurance of success. How do you achieve that against an enemy which has 2.5:1 or even more advantage across the whole theatre? It doesn't make sense. Russian hubris? It looks like it.

And why have they waited this long to mobilize, after the initial failures of March, likewise makes no sense to me. Russia has 3.5:1 advantage in population compared to prewar Ukraine; and probably 5:1 now, and has at least half a million reservists. The Russians can put at least 300,000 more men in the field without even implementing any kind of draft, just by calling up reservists, and that is what they have finally announced this morning. This is very, very bad news. In a few months, the Ukrainian advantage in manpower could entirely disappear, and the Ukrainians have been fully mobilized since the beginning of the conflict and can't take mobilization much further, and won't be able to match it.

This is happening at the same time as referendums are being organized in the conquered territories. The significance of this is also completely misunderstood in the Western press, which gets carried away with emotional infotainment aspects of this, reveling in the use of words like "sham," "rigged," "false claims," etc. etc., even the Economist in the first cited article.

Are these referendums "shams" in fact? Well, as we've often discussed over the years in WAIS, international law does not recognize the right of self-determination of individual peoples who are the subjects of legitimate states (like Ukraine). So a referendum on independence, or joining Russia, is not valid under international law, and shouldn't be done. But does that make such a referendum a "sham"? That word implies that it's fake, meaningless, just for show. And that, these referendums will not be--legitimate or not in whatever sense, they will have great practical significance. Throwing around these indignant infotainment buzz words, as the Economist and most other Western news outlets do, obscures this important fact.

The significance of these referendums is actually quite chilling. Russian law doesn't care about international law, just like US law does not. And under Russian law, such referendums will be legally valid. When the conquered territories are legally incorporated into Russia, this unleashes a host of legal consequences. The most significant of these is that defending the conquered territories gains equal legal status to defending the Russian motherland. This makes general mobilization legal under Russian law--not just calling up reserves, like Russia is doing now--but a general mobilization, with military draft of all suitable men, like what Ukraine did at the beginning of the war, which could take the Russian military up to several million people, at least after a certain amount of time to train and equip them has gone by. This is hugely significant. But that is not all. In defense of the Russian motherland, all means are legal under Russian law--including the use of nuclear weapons. Do we doubt that Russia would refrain from using nuclear weapons to defend, say, Crimea, if it came down to it? Really? I, for one, don't have the slightest doubt. A tactical nuke used against military targets, not dropped on civilians? Biden has already stated today that the US response to this will be even more tut-tutting, in fact maybe even the clucking of tongues--"Don't. Don't. Don't. . . They'll become more of a pariah in the world than they ever have been."  https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/biden-warns-putin-not-to-use-nuclear-weapons-dont-dont-dont/ar-AA11V8C3 . "More of a pariah"? Really? Is this an escalation compared to the earlier round of sanctions, the sanctions to end all sanctions, "the ruble is rubble," which backfired and filled the Russian war-coffers to overflowing while beggaring Europe, and the original round of tongue-lashing, such that Putin would be deterred? We can imagine Putin quaking in his boots. Not!

Russia has already been at maximum "pariah status," with nothing more to lose in that regard; Biden is a ridiculous figure to the Russians (as well as to many of us). And do any of the millions of people in the West cheering on the Ukrainian military as if it were a football match, reckon with a possible nuclear denouement of the conflict? If not, they should engage in some sober thought for once. This is not indeed a football match, and there is no scenario for a good end to this conflict, and there is almost no limit to how bad those scenarios can be, and meanwhile hundreds or thousands of young men are slaughtered on both sides with every day which goes by. And the grimness of the outlook increases, the longer this goes on. After the referendums, it will not be only Crimea which might be defended with nuclear weapons, if the much greater conventional forces which the Russians are gradually applying, do not prove to be sufficient.

Another thing being said about the referenda is that they will be "rigged." Is that so? It is possible--the Russians have done rigged elections before (notably in their own elections in 2011). We shall see. But I doubt that these referenda even need to be rigged, whether or not they actually are in the event. The mostly Russian-speaking people of these territories, regardless of their natural sympathies for one regime or the other, mostly fear being liberated by Ukrainian forces, who are carrying out terrible reprisals against "collaborators," defined as any Ukrainian citizen who as so much as accepted humanitarian aid packages from the Russian forces. In these territories, the war looks more and more like a civil war, and no civilian wants to be on the wrong side of it--that is, aligned with the losers, whoever the losers are. Based on my information, which includes some first-hand testimony of people in my household, few people in this region wanted the 2014 war for "independence," and even fewer people wanted the Russian invasion. But at the same time, very few people in these regions ever supported the post-Maidan Kiev regime other than for a brief period of enchantment with their fellow Russian-speaker Zelensky and his promises to make peace with Russia. So even people who are not inherently enthusiastic about being annexed by Russia, may nonetheless very much want to be under the protection of some strong party who will get the war as far away as possible from their village--and in a pinch, Russia is a perfectly acceptable candidate for many of these people, probably for most of them. And don't forget also that more than 30% of the soldiers fighting on the Russian side are Ukrainians, mostly from these regions. The Russian press, by the way, refers to their side as the "Allied Forces," not the Russian Army.

So I guess that a majority of people in these regions, whatever their inherent sympathies, would vote "yes" in a completely fair and free referendum to be annexed by Russia, should such ever be held. The appeal to people wracked by a war of such appalling violence and destruction, of being safely behind the Russian border and under the Russian nuclear umbrella, must be overwhelming to a large number of people, I'm sure a large majority in the conquered territories. Economics also plays a role.  Remember that Russian GDP per capita is more than 3x higher than Ukraine's even prewar economy (which is set to contract by at least 45% this year, while Russia's economic decline has been successively downgraded to about 4.5%), with pensions and salaries to match. This economic appeal wouldn't be enough for many people, to want to go through war to obtain, but once you've already got the war, higher pensions and salaries are not something one would readily refuse. "Khot' eto"--at least that. The Russians are stoking these feelings by pouring money into the conquered territories.  A gleaming new hospital, the likes of which had never before been seen by the locals, has already been completed in Mariupol (a publicity stunt, of course, but a pretty strong one--see: https://vk.com/wall71912402_8311 ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PW9i7BFJ29Y ), and new apartment buildings are already going up. Hearts and minds. Following the narrative of much of the Western press, we would think that everywhere the Russians go, there is another grisly massacre of civilians like what happened in Bucha, but that is no more the case, than that the American forces in Vietnam did a My Lai Massacre in every Vietnamese town. The press tried hard to find Bucha 2.0 in the recently liberated city of Izyum, but in fact, although there is apparently real evidence of some cases of torture and execution by the Russians (which is absolutely reprehensible, of course), the more than 1000 civilians killed there during the war, turn out to have been killed almost entirely by months of Ukrainian random shelling of the city. Even the Ukrainian press has reported the anger of Izyum citizens towards the Ukrainian forces for this shelling and these civilian deaths. A large percentage of local citizens fled ahead of the liberation of these towns, fearing reprisals, as reported in the Ukrainian press, e.g. https://ukrainetoday.org/2022/09/10/traitors-from-kupyansk-balakleya-and-izyum-flee-en-masse-to-russia-video/ . This is, I say again, a civil war besides everything else, and if we fail to understand this, we will never understand the dynamics of the war.

So again, what will happen next? No one knows, and if someone claims to, don't believe him or her. All we can say is--nothing good. Neither side is going to just give up. All we can say is--a lot more violence and death and destruction, and for a long time, is what is going to happen. Both sides accumulate sunk costs, their negotiating positions get further and further apart. By the way, it is reported that the parties actually agreed on the outline of a deal in April, whereby Ukraine would give up Donbas and Crimea, and renounce any future NATO aspirations, in exchange for peace and international security guarantees. The deal was so horrifying to those who are interested in a continuation of the war, that Boris Johnson himself flew to Kiev and talked Zelensky out of it. Reported here in the Ukrainian press: https://www.pravda.com.ua/eng/news/2022/05/5/7344206/ and here: https://www.pravda.com.ua/rus/articles/2022/05/5/7344096/

So, that's it. That was the last chance to save Ukraine, and probably Russia, from utter destruction. The whole Western arms industry, together with the fellows of the American Enterprise Institute, who are still dreaming of Benevolent Global Hegemony despite an unbroken line of failures in all their wars for the last several decades, are rubbing their hands with glee. The rest of us, but especially, tragically, the Ukrainians, are the dupes here, as our world will never be the same, and in ways we don't even know yet, and possibly can't even imagine.

JE comments:  There is almost no limit to how bad this can get.  The only limit is on hope, and Cameron Sawyer certainly offers us none.  Putin's mobilization is backed up by harsh new punishments on dodgers, deserters and shirkers.  This smells of desperation.  But will Russia's allegedly demoralized forces become reinvigorated?  In a historical parallel, is Ukraine's latest offensive running out of steam, as did the Germans after their Hail Mary offensive of March 1918?

Regardless, my thanks to Cameron for this very sobering analysis.

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