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Post Tactical Update; Is Prigozhin Emerging as a Rival to Putin?
Created by John Eipper on 01/24/23 3:47 AM

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Tactical Update; Is Prigozhin Emerging as a Rival to Putin? (Cameron Sawyer, USA, 01/24/23 3:47 am)

JE asked, in response to my post of January 21st: "Cameron, please clarify: you believe Bakhmut is strategically vital, correct? Twice above you say it's not, but I believe there was some irony intended (especially given your gloss of the Spiegel piece). Ah, the power of quotation marks...

"One aspect of this horrific war you've never discussed. What about the reports of Wagner sending human wave punitive-suicide battalions on the attack? It's powerful PR for the good side, but how would this work in practice? Have the Russians freed and 'gifted' these convicts to the private mercenary group? And if these are hardened criminals, with guns to boot, how are they so easily controlled and sent to their deaths? Or is the whole thing an exaggeration?"

My reference to Bakhmut as "strategically meaningless" is, indeed, an ironic dig at one of the Western media's silliest propaganda tropes. You really cannot gather any useful information about the military situation from, say, the New York Times--the Russian forces always lose, or if they somehow advance or capture something, it's either strategically meaningless or was captured at such high cost, that it's a pyrrhic victory. Or both. Just a few days ago, an article in the NYT was even still referencing Russia's "darkening military prospects." At the same time as the Russians are advancing across almost the entire front and threatening a large force of Ukrainians almost encircled in Bakhmut with annihilation.

I'm not sure what this means. Are the journalists consciously following the propaganda lines, which are intended to keep up support for the war, and prevent any questioning of our policies? Or do they say this kind of thing because they think it is what readers want to hear? Something which makes the readers feel better, and helps them avoid being discouraged by bad news from the front? Or is it just cognitive bias on the part of the journalists, combined with lack of curiosity and failure to inform themselves about what is really happening? If so, how can they so much lack self-awareness? I really don't know.

What concerns Wagner Group's alleged "human wave" attacks--I did actually write about that a few days ago. The NYT recently wrote that Wagner has lost 2/3 (!!) of their forces this way. When I mentioned this before on WAIS I said I don't know what's really going on, and I still don't. More serious sources of information, both Ukrainian and Russian, don't talk about "human waves" (think the Chinese Army in Korea), but rather, about small groups of prisoners sent to attack Ukrainian positions to test their strength. If the probing force is all wiped out, they say, then the Wagnerians move on to the next Ukrainian position and try again with a new group of prisoners. When someone survives one of these attacks, then they send in the main force, assuming they've found a weak spot.

If that's what's really happening, then this is not all that an unusual tactic--a form of recon in combat or "recon in force." In classical recon in combat, you don't aim to get your probing groups wiped out; you try to save your probing force, or at least some of it. I suspect the Wagnerians are not actually allowing their groups of prisoners to get completely wiped out.  My guess is that they are doing something similar to classical recon in combat, which often produces high casualties.

In general, notwithstanding some media reports to the contrary, the Russians are exceedingly careful with their personnel, leaving off an attack rather than losing soldiers, and not attacking at all without extensive artillery preparation, and using firepower lavishly. And retreating rather than give battle against locally superior forces, even at great cost in territory. This is because until recently, the Russians were seriously outnumbered by the Ukrainian forces, and after suffering heavy losses in the failed attack on Kiev, decided at that point that they could not afford any more big losses in personnel, or they would lose. That's "metal vs. meat." This is the opposite of the Ukrainian "meat vs. metal" approach--both sides are using their own advantages and compensating their own disadvantages, which is logical. The lavish use of manpower brought successes for Ukraine during a certain period of the war despite taking big losses, which the Ukrainians were able to afford during that period. The only problem is that Russia has now eliminated the Ukrainian "meat" advantage, so the dynamics of battle are likely to be quite different in the coming months despite new enhancements to Ukrainian "metal" provided by NATO countries. The Ukrainians will have to change their tactics.

Ukrainian soldiers report a horrifying relentlessness in the Wagner attacks at Bakhmut--I'll try to find the video and post it later.  The Ukrainian says something like, they just keep coming and coming, they never stop. If we shoot one, two are sent to replace him. It's horrible--they are like orcs. They kill everyone, destroy everything; we can't stop them.

Whatever the Wagnerians are doing, as I wrote, it's working. One Ukrainian military blogger posted not long ago an analysis concluding that the Wagner Group is by far the most effective force fighting now on either side; that both Russian and Ukrainian regular forces suffer from old-fashioned Soviet ideas about command structures and the use of NCOs (despite NATO training of some of the Ukrainians). Among the military leaders of Wagner are various soldiers dismissed from the regular Russian Army for insubordination, and Wagner emphasizes that they strongly encourage initiative in the lower ranks. They even pay bounties for individual soldiers for the destruction of enemy equipment or manpower.

So the head of the Wagner Group, Prigozhin, is the man of the hour in Russia. This is worrying. He is feeling strong enough to openly criticize the Russian Army and even Putin. There was even a public tussle over taking credit for the capture of Soledar--Russian Army official briefings at first didn't even mention Wagner Group, although the Wagnerians did more or less all of the urban fighting in Soledar. Could Prigozhin end up as a rival to Putin? The thought is frightening, as Prigozhin is certainly more brutal and less strategic and less restrained in his thinking, and in general, any political instability in a nuclear-armed country like Russia is dangerous for the world.

Concerning new Ukrainian "metal"--the talk today is about the supply of main battle tanks. The US doesn't want to give M1A1 Abrams tanks because the logistic train required to operate them.  They are powered by gas turbine engines, like the Soviet T80, and cannot be supported by the Ukrainian military. The Germans don't want to supply their much more practical, diesel-powered Leopards, because of the ugly symbolism of German tanks rolling towards the Russian border (to boot with Maltese Crosses painted on them--the IFF symbol the Ukrainians inadvisably chose for their equipment). But all of this talk about main battle tanks is about nothing.  Main battle tanks are far down the list of what the Ukrainians need most, as they still have more than 1000 of their own tanks, and tanks aren't playing that big a role in the war in any case, in a war where both sides are lavishly supplied with man-portable anti-tank weapons.

What the Ukrainians need most of all is simply artillery shells, which we can't supply in adequate numbers.  The entire US production capacity of 155mm shells is only 20,000 a month--about what the Russians fire in a day, down from 60,000 a day in the summer--three months of US production. We are increasing that, at great effort, to 40,000 a month--two days of Russian artillery fires. Whoopee! After artillery shells, what the Ukrainians need most is armored vehicles for troop transport, which they are nearly out of. Here the news is better--we are giving them Bradley IFVs, Marders, and Strykers. In far less numbers than what is needed, but at least something.

But all of this will not change the outcome of the war, merely delay it. I ask again--what is our plan? Just keeping it going until Ukraine is not half destroyed, but completely destroyed? For whom is that outcome beneficial?

I have enjoyed Anthony Candil's knowledgeable posts these days on the situation with tanks in this war. As far as I know, everything he has said is correct. However, in his post yesterday, he catalogued Ukrainian tanks without mentioning the T-84, quite an interesting tank which the Ukrainians themselves developed from the jet-powered Soviet T-80, which itself was a much more expensive and elaborate tank than the Volkswagen-like mass produced T-72 or the T-90 developed from it (the T-90M, however, a yet further modernization of the old T-72, is a very capable tank). The American M1A1 Abrams gas turbine propulsion system was a response to the earlier Soviet T-80, but I'm not sure--maybe Anthony has some insight--whether it has turned out that there is any advantage to this system compared to ordinary diesel propulsion. Disadvantages include huge fuel consumption, requirement for a different type of fuel on the battlefield, and uneconomical idling of the main engine to provide power when not moving, which necessitates the use of an APU like on an aircraft. Advantages? I don't know of any. So as far as I know, the T-84 is an improvement on the T-80, and has been used to good effect by the Ukrainians.

Anthony also didn't mention the Polish PT-91 Twardy tank, which has been used in some numbers by the Ukrainians. This is a deep modernization of the T-72, so in many ways similar to the T-90. Another foreign-provided tank the Ukrainians are using are the Slovenian T-55Ss--an ancient Soviet tank upgraded and modernized by the Slovenians, with, among other features, a stabilized 105mm gun.

Besides the question of training mentioned by Anthony*, I think that most analysts think that the Ukrainians have enough tanks in any case. What the Ukrainians need, desperately, as I've been saying, is armored troop transport. It is heart-breaking to watch the Ukrainian troops being brought up to battle in completely unarmored pickup trucks, often destroyed together with the troops by ordinary RPGs before they can even dismount. The Russians have thousands or tens of thousands of BMPs and BTRs, so are lavishly provided with armored troop transport, an immense advantage. The Bradleys will help, but the Ukrainians need thousands of them, not dozens. As Anthony correctly stated, the Bradleys, which are heavily armored (much better than the Soviet BMPs) if not heavily armed (much worse than the Soviet BMP-3), fulfill most of the functions of a MBT anyway, besides carrying troops, and can even go toe-to-toe with a T-72, at least while the missiles last (the main gun of the Bradley is a 25mm chain gun which can't normally penetrate the armor of a MBT, but the two TOW missiles they carry can).

*In support of, and continuation of, what Anthony wrote, numerous commentators have noted that in tank warfare, training and skill of the crews is far more important than the hardware. There is an axiom in armored combat that tank battles are always won by whoever fires first, and scores a hit. During the wars in Iraq, we faced Iraqi tankers who were very poorly trained, and who had hardly even practice-fired their guns. For this reason, more than any difference in the quality of the hardware (although of course an Abrams is more capable than an unmodernized T-72 like what the Iraqis had), which allowed our tankers to destroy Iraqi tanks like shooting fish in a barrel, and one should not draw the wrong conclusions, such as the one Anthony warned us against--that just giving the Ukrainians Western tanks will, by itself, make any difference. A real war is not, as one commentator noted, like the computer game "Call of Duty," where acquiring a particular item of hardware instantly provides all the capability connected with it--that having Leopards or Abrams will instantly make the Ukrainian tankers as effective as the American tankers in Iraq.

JE comments:  Cameron, what additional insight can you give us on Prigozhin?  After spending most of the 1980s in prison, he made his first fortune selling hot dogs.  I tremble to think what was in those hot dogs--you know what they say about sausage and politics.  Prigozhin is living proof that any "successor" to Putin may be far worse.  Not to endorse Putin staying, but the devil you know...


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  • Is Russia Employing "Barrier Troops" in Ukraine? (Henry Levin, USA 01/25/23 2:31 AM)
    I don't understand Cameron Sawyer's argument that it is ridiculous to charge Wagner with conducting "punitive-suicide" attacks.

    Many years ago I did a study of the Russian strategies used to wage their victorious WWII battles. There was a common theme that the Russians stationed a second company directed to shoot in the back any Russian soldiers who were "malingers," and I thought that this was common knowledge among those who studied the Russian front.


    I have a serious health situation now and cannot look up these sources, but I would appreciate your understanding of this issue.


    JE comments: Hank, we're all sending good energy your way.  Stay strong!


    The Soviet use of "barrier troops" in WWII is one of the cruelest tactics ever employed in warfare:  advance and you may survive, or retreat and you definitely will not.  Forbes among other sources has reported that the Russians "might be" doing the same thing in Ukraine, although it's unclear if they are shooting the malingerers or merely detaining them.


    For Cameron Sawyer:  have you seen any mention of barrier troops in the Russian Telegram posts?



    The Soviet Army Once Shot Its Own Troops For Retreating. The Russian Army Might Do The Same. (forbes.com)


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    • Are "Barrier Troops" Being Used in Ukraine War? (Cameron Sawyer, USA 01/25/23 6:24 AM)
      Henry Levin wrote today: "I don't understand Cameron Sawyer's argument that it is ridiculous to charge Wagner with conducting ‘punitive-suicide' attacks."

      I never said that! On the contrary, I wrote that I don't know what's really happening. We do know that the mobilized prisoners are being used for dangerous work, including probing Ukrainian defenses. Whether they are doing outright suicide attacks as has been claimed, we don't know.  There's not enough information. It could be, but I wrote that it would make more sense for the Wagnerians to try to conserve even this resource. So use them for aggressive recon in combat, rather than outright suicide attacks.


      Whatever is happening, the Wagnerians are recruiting prisoners by suggesting that they can "redeem their debt to society in blood." This seems to resonate; they are not having any difficulty recruiting prisoners, who sign up for a six-month stint, and get a pardon and good pay after six months if they survive. And despite the lack of military background, the mobilized prisoners seem to be effective at the tasks the Wagnerians are setting for them.


      The prisoners are the only raw recruits being used at the moment by the Russians, contrary to what is implied in our press, which refers all the time to "conscripts," who are not actually present in the Russian forces (Russian law forbids using conscripts for combat except in case of war, which the Ukraine war is not according to the Russian legal definition). The newly mobilized Russian troops are not conscripts.  They are activated ready reserves--military personnel who have been in active service within the last five years, and reportedly they are about to call up another 500,000 of those. I guess hardly anyone writing for the NYT or other Western media even knows the difference between conscripts and reservists.


      As to "barrier troops" as used by the Soviets in WWII--yes, I have seen this discussed by both Ukrainians and Russians, both claiming that the other side are doing this. Again, I don't have enough information to say definitively what is going on, but I have seen no credible evidence that either side is actually using barrier troops. On the contrary, there are credible reports of entire units fleeing their positions against orders, and running away, on both sides (a reasonable human response in my opinion). There were several documented cases of this by Russian units during the Ukrainian offensive in Kharkov region, and there have been documented cases of Ukrainian units doing this throughout the conflict, including during the recent capture of Soledar by the Russians, most involving Volkssturm-type units of armed civilians, or units with raw recruits (the Ukrainians have used up their ready reserves, and are using large numbers of raw recruits, often after very little "accelerated" training).


      Units fleeing their positions against orders would not happen if barrier troops were being used, so my own opinion is that probably neither side is using barrier troops. Which, I agree with JE, is really barbaric even by the low standards of this barbaric war.


      JE comments:  Barbaric yes, but effective in the cruel calculus of warfare.  Cameron, you've studied the Eastern Front of WWII more than anyone in WAISdom.  Has the use of Soviet barrier troops been exaggerated by Western historians?  (A similar outrage:  human waves used to "clean" minefields.) I am thinking of the Stalingrad scenes from Enemy at the Gates.

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      • Russian, Ukrainian Strategic Thought: Tukhachevsky, Svechin, Gerasimov (Cameron Sawyer, USA 01/26/23 4:01 AM)
        JE asked, in response to my post of January 25th: "Cameron, you've studied the Eastern Front of WWII more than anyone in WAISdom. Has the use of Soviet barrier troops been exaggerated by Western historians? (A similar outrage: human waves used to ‘clean' minefields.) I am thinking of the Stalingrad scenes from Enemy at the Gates."

        Enemy at the Gates was entertaining, but not even vaguely realistic.


        The use of NKVD barrier troops by the Soviets is documented and attested, especially when dealing with penal batallions ("shtrafbats"). The barrier troops normally arrested, and only rarely shot, panicking troops, and they were also responsible for rounding up spies and agitators. According to reports, out of 657,000 people detained by barrier troops by the end of 1941, only 26,000 were arrested, of which 10,000 were shot after court martial. The Wiki article on barrier troops in WWII is good, and corresponds to what I know: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barrier_troops


        The clearing of minefields by having troops walk over them has been proven to be a myth, originating with one tall story told by Eisenhower (see e.g.: https://qr.ae/proiDw ). We discussed this before on WAIS some years ago.


        As for "human waves," we have to define what we mean by that. There were no "human wave" attacks in WWII like what the Chinese did in Korea--large groups of lightly armed or unarmed troops sent to overwhelm a German position with "meat" (in the grisly language of the Ukraine War). There were mass frontal attacks on occasion, but the Germans did this as well. In WWII, the Soviets mostly carried out frontal attacks the way the Russians are doing it now in Ukraine--after massive artillery attacks, and then infantry go in together with tanks and other armored vehicles. They also practiced "Deep Battle" as developed by Tukhachevsky, which involved carrying out a limited local breakthrough followed up by an attack through the gap deep into the enemy's rear to disrupt his logistics and order of battle. The Soviets had more and better mechanized transport than the largely horse-drawn German forces, and they exploited their better mobility with Deep Battle tactics. A development of Tukhachevsky's Deep Battle is the basis of US operational doctrine today.


        Critics call Tukhachevsky's ideas a "cult of the offensive," and point out that the Soviet Army achieved its greatest successes against the Germans when on the defensive, and when counterattacking, such as at Stalingrad or Kursk, and that Soviet "Deep Battle" operations were often failures, but they did practice these tactics.


        Nevertheless, considering how Tukhachevsky's ideas dominate modern military thinking around the world, it is curious that we don't see Deep Battle tactics in the Ukraine war, which is being conducted more along the lines of Alexander Svechin's more Clausewitzian principles outlined in his classic manual "Strategy" (still in print). Svechin, who hailed from Odessa, believed in flexibility of doctrine (as Clausewitz did and unlike Tukhachevsky, who favored constant movement and constant aggressiveness under all circumstances), that there is no inherent advantage in offensive operations; that offense and defense both have their places and times. Although Svechin's ideas are usually stereotyped as advocating wars of attrition, Svechin in fact advocated attrition as only one option, to be weighed against the other different objects such as smashing the enemy--so Ermattungsstrategie vs. Niederwerfungsstrategie, in the terminology of the Prussian classics. We've seen the Russians pursuing both of these at various times, which looks pretty Svechinian. A great introductory resource on Svechin's thought: https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/10652862.pdf


        It is true, however, that the Ukrainians joke about un-Svechinian tactics with jokes like--"Let a couple of Russians into your house, and next thing you know, they are looking for something to surround." They do love their pincer movements.


        Gerasimov, the Russian Chief of Staff, is known as an admirer of Svechin. Incidentally, Zaluzhny, the head of the Ukrainian military, is known as a great admirer of--Gerasimov*.


        I guess the answer may be that Svechin is simply more relevant to this conflict than Tukhachevsky, considering the high effectiveness of today's defensive weapons, particularly man-portable anti-tank weapons, which makes tanks nearly unusable without accompanying infantry, and which significantly complicates Deep Battle. Which begs the question whether US military doctrine, well suited to dealing quickly and boldly with armies which can't really fight back, like Iraq's, is actually well suited to a big war with a peer competitor like China or Russia. Imagine the US Army fighting a country bristling with S-300 air defense systems, like Ukraine, so without air superiority, and bristling with artillery and man-portable anti-tank weapons, and with highly trained crews manning thousands of tanks and IFVs. It would be a very different fight from what we are accustomed to.


        * "In his office, [Zaluzhny] keeps the collected works of General Valery Gerasimov, the head of the Russian armed forces, who is 17 years his senior. ‘I was raised on Russian military doctrine, and I still think that the science of war is all located in Russia,' Zaluzhny says. ‘I learned from Gerasimov. I read everything he ever wrote ... He is the smartest of men, and my expectations of him were enormous.'" https://time.com/6216213/ukraine-military-valeriy-zaluzhny/


        PS:  A touching, not to say, heartbreaking, moment from the front today: Advancing Russian troops found a Claymore mine rigged by some Ukrainian--backwards, so that it could harm no one. Written on it was: "May God grant demobilization both to you, and to us. It is not good, to fight each other." https://t.me/ZA_FROHT/12361


        JE comments:  Amen; it's time to put flowers in the barrels of the AKs, as in the famous image from Portugal, 1974.


        Regarding strategy in the present war, it's remarkable that both sides are working from the same playbook, quite literally.  There are distinct advantages--and disadvantages--to this reality.  For starters, wouldn't the defense always know what to expect?  If the Russians love their pincer movements, you can plan accordingly by beefing up your flanks and leaving the center comparatively weak.


        Enough armchair generalship from Ol' JE.  How about carnations for all those AKs?


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    • Desertion and Decimation (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 01/26/23 3:32 AM)
      The severe punishment of army personnel escaping before the enemy, or who desert or even worse rebel, has always been a common practice in warfare.

      The Roman historian Titus Livius wrote about decimation as a collective punishment for cowardice from 471 BCE.


      During WWI General Cadorna, supreme commander of the Italian Army, ordered the decimation of groups of deserters in cases of collective guilt, when the specific culprits could not be identified.


      In WWII the tender-hearted Mussolini forbade such a savage practice, but the death penalty theoretically remained in force for individual cases.


      However, since October 1994, the death penalty has been abolished from the Italian military code.


      In 1943/45 the RSI with an armed force of about 800,000, had some 15 to 18 thousand deserters. British statistics give an unbelievable figure of 40,000 for their 8th Corps.  The Germans had a few thousand (in total during all of WWII, the German forces had only 30,000 deserters, most of them Germanized foreign elements). The US 5th Corps had a few thousand, but the peculiar thing was desertion at the end of the war, when some 1000 soldiers (mostly African Americans, but not only) deserted in the region of Tuscany. They were accompanied by prostitutes and engaged in robberies and selling food and military supplies on the black market. Several films were made about the "Hell of Tombolo."


      The Italian cobelligerent army with a force of 47,000 men as per AMGOT orders, had only 750 volunteers and 20,0000 draft dodgers.


      In Libya when an Italian position was under attack from British forces, two soldiers threw their guns into the sand and ran towards the enemy to surrender. The local commander, generally considered a competent leader, jumped on a machine gun and fired on them. From then until the official surrender in Tunisia at Cape Bon, no one else attempted to surrender.


      In another attack by the British, a young Italian lieutenant panicked, leaving his gun and running for shelter. The same commander tied him to the pole flying the national flag and remained standing alongside him to direct the response to the attack.


      It seems also that some WAISers are concerned about the use of common criminals in war. Frankly, I believe that this is not so scandalous. This practice has been used by many "good" and "bad" states. Consider the French Legion and the Spanish Tercio de Extranjeros. And who would forget the US film Dirty Dozen (1967) which had so much success and the bestseller book Filthy Thirteen by E.M. Nathanson?


      Recon operations are the most dangerous, many of which are potentially suicide missions.


      I would like to remember a recon operation almost 80 years ago that probably very few know about.


      On 30 January 1944. in front of Cisterna di Littoria, South of Rome, the US 1st and 3rd Ranger Battalions plus 43 men of the 3rd Reconnaissance Troops in a recon operation sent a request for help. Then there was silence. The 3rd Infantry Division immediately attacked but was repulsed. The day after, there was a meeting of six generals including Clark and Lucas ordering Lieutenant Coronel Jack Toffey to keep attacking, but the attack was again repulsed. Of the 767 men in the recon operation, only 6 came back. Immediately and for many years the episode was remembered in Allied propaganda as one of the highest acts of heroism, with the great achievement of killing 400 enemies with the destruction of 17 tanks.


      Yet according to later reports, the US losses were 12 dead, 36 injured, and 713 prisoners, while the entire German Goering Division in the whole area, not only Cisterna, had a total loss of 94 men and no tanks at all.


      In reality, the Rangers had been encircled by German tanks and almost immediately (wisely) surrendered. Colonel Darby on the radio is reported to have said to Major Sergeant Robert E. Ehalt that they should not surrender, and that officers should shoot whoever was doing so.


      Also fighting successfully in this same area were the first new troops of the RSI Battalion parà "Nembo," as well as the Group "Barbarigo" of the Decima Mas and the Italian SS "Vendetta." Both Nembo (later called "Nettuno") and Vendetta lost 75% of their members, but until ordered to withdraw north of Rome they were never defeated. Should we thank Kesserling for not fighting inside Rome?


      A curiosity: the RSI enrolled women as auxiliary members of the Armed Forces officially on 18 April 1944, but the Decima Mas already had them from 1 March 1944.


      JE comments:  I am still struck by Cameron Sawyer's parenthetical remark from yesterday:  deserting the field of battle is a perfectly reasonable human response.  It's the survival instinct at the most basic level.  Yet how can you "give a war" and have nobody show up?  It takes a lot of indoctrination to make dying for your country an attractive thing to do.


      Francisco Wong-Díaz also wrote in to remind us that "barrier troops" of one form or another have been used since the dawn of warfare.  "Decimation" is a sadistic corollary to the concept of barrier troops.  One could ask if historically it has been an effective motivator for the nine lucky survivors.


      Eugenio:  in all your writings over the years, I don't think you've given an appraisal of Italy's supreme commander at the beginning of WWI, Luigi Cadorna.  Most historians consider him a plodding butcher and a martinet, in a war with way too many butchers and martinets.  Italy didn't perform well on the battlefield until Cadorna was replaced by Armando Diaz.  What is your take?


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      • Russia Declares "War" (Cameron Sawyer, USA 01/27/23 3:38 AM)
        John E asked,

        "How can you 'give a war' and have nobody show up?"


        What a great day that will be! When that finally starts to happen, when young men are finally able to separate war propaganda from truth, and so refuse to kill other young men as innocent as themselves, for the perverted geopolitical delusions of the Robert Kagans, Donald Rumsfields, Victoria Nulands and Vladimir Putins of the world, which have nothing to do with their own interests or the true interests of their communities, we will have finally reached a state of civilization worthy of the human race. Net voine!


        Consoly León Arias wrote on January 26th, concerning the escalatory consequences of supplying main battle tanks to Ukraine by NATO countries:


        "The Germans, for their part, look with suspicion at the rest of Europe and their demands to send the Leopards in the same direction that took them to the Soviet Union during the Second World War.


        "Unfortunately, the war in the heart of Europe is moving towards an increasingly imminent confrontation between NATO and Russia. This is what Sergei Lavrov, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, indicated last Monday, pointing out that the confrontation between Russia and the West over Ukraine is already closer to a ‘real war' than to a ‘hybrid war,' due to the massive shipment of weapons to Ukraine."


        A very perceptive post by Consoly. She is right on all counts. The Russians are making a propaganda bonanza out of the entry of German tanks into the conflict. The Ukrainians are obliging by putting Maltese crosses on them, their ill-chosen IFF symbol! This completes the picture of Holy Russia re-fighting the war against the Nazis in WWII.


        Yesterday in the Duma (Russia's parliament), a motion was made to upgrade the "Special Military Operation" into a "War." Western journalists sneer at the "Special Military Operation" label for the conflict, clueless as to the legal significance of how the war is called--this is no mere euphemism. According to Russian law, a "special military operation" does not trigger any of the constitutional provisions concerning war.  There can be no martial law, no requisition of privately owned vehicles, requisition of industries for conversion to military purpose. Once an actual war is declared, all these gloves come off, and Putin has the power to commit the entire country and all of its resources to war.


        Russia has a lot of rungs left on the escalation ladder. The more weapons we pour in, the more effort they will make, and the less restraint they will have. Ultimately, if we don't come to our senses and start seriously working on de-escalation and peace, this will spill over into a larger European war. If the proxy war turns into an open war between NATO and Russia--the greater the escalation, the greater the probability of this--it will inevitably go nuclear. God help us.


        JE comments:  Cameron, do you have an update on what the Duma decided?  Is it finally a "war"? I cannot find any quick confirmation via Google.


        As I understand it, the Ukrainians mark their vehicles with a white cross, not exactly Germanic.  But the Russians will still have a field day.  The German reluctance to send tanks was spot-on.  German tanks anywhere in the East = very bad "optics."

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        • Dulce et Decorum Est (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 01/29/23 10:58 AM)
          With reference to Cameron Sawyer's post of January 27th, I am probably misunderstanding both Cameron and our esteemed editor who wrote:

          "How can you give a war and have nobody show up?" to which Cameron replied, "What a great day that will be! When that finally starts to happen, when young men are finally able to separate war propaganda from truth..."


          Probably the catch is in the last seven words from CS. But it is not necessarily a matter of separating war propaganda from truth. Quite often the matter is to wage war to defend one's brethren from oppression.


          The Roman poet Horace wrote, Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori/It is sweet and proper to die for one's country--no matter which country it is. Or in the translation of the British poet John Connington, "What joy, for fatherland to die."


          Fatherland means the land of the Father, the land of our family, or better our own family. Who is not ready to defend his/her family even risking his/her own life? Therefore Horace was right, even if wars should be only defensive. But sometimes in order to defend our brethren we may have to fire the first shot. Some countries have a long history of pushing other nations against the wall until they react.


          Any reference to Donbas and Palestine is intentional.


          Of course, I may be wrong, but since I was a kid under continuous bombing and famine caused by a terrible war, I believe(d) in and was ready to follow Horace's verse.


          JE comments: Wilfred Owen's response to Horace is one of the transitional moments of human thought: the putrid trenches of the Great War proved once and for all that dying for your country is not so glorious. Die for your country?  As Patton said in the next war, the point is to make "some other dumb bastard die for his country."


          Yet--and there is always a yet--Eugenio Battaglia is correct that countless millions have made the ultimate sacrifice for their countries since Owen penned these verses.  Starting with Owen himself.  And they deserve our respect.



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  • In Defense of the New York Times' Coverage of Ukraine War (Istvan Simon, USA 01/27/23 3:13 AM)
    I always read Cameron Sawyer's very interesting and informative analyses of the Russia-Ukraine war with great care. Yet I am very disturbed by his tendency to dismiss Western media accounts on the war as propaganda. This repeated contention of Cameron Sawyer is in my opinion absurd.

    I quote from Cameron's post of January 24th:


    "You really cannot gather any useful information about the military situation [in Ukraine] from, say, the New York Times--the Russian forces always lose, or if they somehow advance or capture something, it's either strategically meaningless or was captured at such high cost, that it's a pyrrhic victory. Or both. Just a few days ago, an article in the NYT was even still referencing Russia's 'darkening military prospects.' At the same time as the Russians are advancing across almost the entire front and threatening a large force of Ukrainians almost encircled in Bakhmut with annihilation.


    "I'm not sure what this means. Are the journalists consciously following the propaganda lines, which are intended to keep up support for the war, and prevent any questioning of our policies? Or do they say this kind of thing because they think it is what readers want to hear? Something which makes the readers feel better, and helps them avoid being discouraged by bad news from the front? Or is it just cognitive bias on the part of the journalists, combined with lack of curiosity and failure to inform themselves about what is really happening? If so, how can they so much lack self-awareness? I really don't know."


    I am a personal friend of Cameron Sawyer, whom I admire in so many ways. He was very helpful to me repeatedly, and most gracious when we met on several occasions in Moscow. So I oppose him on the above quote with regret and reluctance.


    In my opinion, the New York Times is an excellent newspaper. It has a long tradition of exposing government lies and malfeasance. It was the NYT that published the Pentagon Papers, for example. Why on earth would such a great paper publish pro-Ukranian propaganda, as Cameron alleges in the above quote?


    Western media does not publish propaganda. It just publishes tidbits of truth that strangely seem to irritate Cameron.


    It is hardly believable that journalists follow "propaganda lines." They do not. Most journalists are honest and perform a great service to inform us of the truth. The truth, especially in a war, consists of many stories, that confirm and contradict each other. The soldiers Cameron follows on Telegram are a valuable source in this mosaic of truth and present one aspect of this conflict. But they are not the only truth, and it does not follow that what Western media publishes is any less truthful than Cameron's soldiers' accounts. Russia's military suffered several crucial defeats in this war. Its prospects may very well be darkened, just as the NYT said. Russia may be advancing in all fronts, as Cameron says, yet this still does not invalidate what the NYT said.


    Nor does the Times publish "what is expected by its readers." In my opinion Cameron should not reject what the Times publishes, and most certainly should not dismiss it as "propaganda."


    JE comments:  I've always respected the NYT, but no media outlet is immune from having a "perspective."  For example, the NYT is famously reluctant to criticize Israel for anything.  Regarding Ukraine, the "Western" mind sees this war in Manichean terms, Good vs Evil, and it's not unreasonable to do so:  Putin is the guy who started it (but yes, I have a Western mind).


    The biggest news is Russia's official "upgrading" of this Special Military Operation into what it always was:  a war.  Cameron Sawyer explains, next.

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