Ukraine War at a Turning Point?

There's plenty of reason for optimism.

Shane Harris and Ellen Nakashima reporting for WaPo (“Intelligence points to potential turning point in Ukraine war“):

A Ukrainian counteroffensive that has sent Russian forces into a hasty retreat could mark a turning point in the war and raise pressure on Moscow to call up additional forces if it hopes to prevent further Ukrainian advances, U.S. and Western officials said Monday.

Whether the gains are permanent depends on Russia’s next moves, especially whether President Vladimir Putin implements a military draft or orders reinforcements from elsewhere to offset heavy losses in Ukraine, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share recent intelligence analyses.

In mere days, Ukrainian military forces have retaken nearly all of the Kharkiv region that Russian forces occupied since the opening of the war. The rapidity of the pullback appears to have stunned Russian military troops and commanders, officials said.

“The Russians are in trouble,” one U.S. official said bluntly. “The question will be how the Russians will react, but their weaknesses have been exposed and they don’t have great manpower reserves or equipment reserves.”

Ukrainian forces appeared to be moving ahead carefully and consolidating their gains, another official said, noting that Russian forces seem to have recognized that they lacked the weapons and manpower to hold newly liberated towns and villages in the northeast of the country. Some Russian forces abandoned tanks, armored vehicles and ammunition as they fled.

The officials were skeptical that Putin, who has resisted calling up additional forces, would resort to extreme tactics such as the use of chemical or tactical nuclear weapons. For all their shortcomings, the Russians still have the capability to regroup and hit back hard, some officials cautioned.

As off-the-record intelligence assessments go, this is rather tepid. It could be a big deal if a number of things go right and depending on what Putin does. Still, this certainly appears to be a turning point in the conflict.

Putin has already suffered major losses and he’s essentially exhausted his table stakes. Is he willing to double down or cut his losses? Neither option is a good one.

There have also been numerous reports of mid-level officials openly defying Putin and demanding that he end the war. Some are even calling for him to resign. We’ll see if that escalates to more powerful figures.

But the recent gains have fueled a new sense of optimism that Ukrainian forces could recapture more territory in the coming weeks and potentially force the Russians out of the land that they have held since the war began in February. Ukrainian military and intelligence officials have long been confident of their eventual victory, often in the face of skepticism from U.S. and Western allies.

“Certainly it’s a military setback. I don’t know if I could call it a major strategic loss at this point,” the U.S. official said, echoing others who said that it was too soon to say if the momentum had fully shifted in Kyiv’s favor and that heavy fighting was likely to continue.

Russia holds large amounts of territory in the east and in southern Ukraine, including the strategically important cities of Mariupol and Kherson. Ukrainian breakthroughs there would be more significant than those of recent days, officials said. But fighting in those regions has taken a heavy toll on Ukrainian forces, who say they lack the artillery needed to dislodge better equipped and entrenched Russian forces.

In an ideal world, Ukraine would completely reverse the losses going back to the first invasion in 2014. Indeed, Zelensky and company have essentially made that the victory condition. That seems a lot less likely than getting back to the status quo ante of the current escalation.

FILED UNDER: World Politics, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Tony W says:

    In an ideal world, Zelensky would force Putin to defend Moscow – and would relent only when pre-2014 borders were implemented and Putin resigned.

    Sadly, we don’t live in that world.

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  2. drj says:

    Putin has already suffered major losses and he’s essentially exhausted his table stakes. Is he willing to double down […]?

    With what?

    Even if a general mobilization is declared, who is going to train these new troops? Where are they going to be housed? How are they going to be fed? Russia’s manpower problems are structural and cannot be easily remedied.

    Of course, war is highly contingent and there is a risk of nuclear escalation (in which case all bets are off), but, apart from that, Russia is done.

    They have lost the initiative (which is particularly bad for an invasion force) and have no realistic chance of regaining it. Worse, Russia’s remaining force is far too small for the frontage they must hold. They will be methodically isolated and carved up.

    Perhaps if Russia withdraws to Crimea (or at least east of the Dnipro) and the Donbas they can consolidate and hold the line. But will Russia be willing to fight and continue to suffer for such an outcome?

    In the meantime, their budget surplus is evaporating as energy revenues shrink. And there is no coming back from this.

    They are out of options.

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  3. Kathy says:

    @drj:

    Even if a general mobilization is declared, who is going to train these new troops?

    The Russian Olympic track and field team. They can train them in the best way to run from the front lines to safety.

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  4. Scott says:

    Of course, we have borscht sipping surrender monkeys here in the US that will attempt to snatch defeat in support of authoritarians like Putin. Or is it to prevent a Biden foreign policy win?

    Conservative Groups Urging Lawmakers To Vote ‘No’ On More Ukraine Aid

    Conservative groups are lobbying members of Congress to vote against the White House’s request for additional money for Ukraine, arguing that the administration is asking for a blank check with no long-term plan to end the war.

    The White House announced Friday that it would request an additional $13.7 billion to help Ukraine between October and December, including $11.7 for security and economic assistance and $2 billion to reduce energy costs that have increased during the war. Congress has already approved two supplemental funding packages, for $13.6 billion in March and $40 billion in May.

    Conservative groups, including Heritage Action and Concerned Veterans for America, quickly urged lawmakers to reject the plea for additional aid.

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  5. Michael Reynolds says:

    I’m straining to find historical examples to rival the incompetence, the idiocy of this invasion. This is Gallipoli level stupid. It’s Market Garden stupid. It’s Bay of Pigs stupid.

    A nation with a much bigger population, much bigger economy, much bigger military half-asses it against a smaller, poorer, less well-armed population that is utterly committed to victory and well, there’s this long black wall in Washington with too many names on it that tells the tale of that war.

    The crucial difference is that it took us a decade to lose 50,000 men, the Russians have done it in seven months. And the US is what the USSR and now Russia never really were: a superpower. We are rich. We are the billionaires of planet earth, the ones who have it all, and to put it simply, we can spend our way out of bad times. Wealth is the ultimate survival tool. Short of nuclear war, we are impossible to destroy from without.

    Sweden and Finland in NATO, snuggled right up against Murmansk and St. Petersburg. Russian technological progress delayed by years, maybe decades due to sanctions and the brain drain. The permanent loss of energy markets in Europe and a very uncertain ability to locate new markets in India and China. The humiliation of the Russian military and Russian intelligence. The Russian arms industry unmasked as backward and incompetent.

    Russia is not the US. Russia is not rich. Russia is not geographically secure. Russia does not control the world’s reserve currency. Russia’s population is falling and, unlike the US, they can’t make up the difference just by opening their doors. 145 million Russians now, 125 million by the end of the century, and they will be ooold. In 2100 we are projected to have a population of ~430 million.

    Our allies? All the rich countries in the world. Russia’s allies? Big ol’ China with its big ol’ population sitting right there next to empty, mineral rich Siberia. With friends like that. . .

    Putin is committing Russia to slow-motion suicide. He may survive, but he’ll rule a nation that’s a basket case.

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  6. Kylopod says:

    @Scott: It is striking to me how much Putin apologia has taken over the right over the past decade. It wasn’t always this way. Anyone remember one of Sarah Palin’s most notorious moments in 2008, when she made a threatening but nonsensical remark about what would happen if “Putin rears his head” in Alaskan airspace? That was before Putin became the right’s best bud.

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  7. Modulo Myself says:

    @Kylopod:

    They have hit a baffling pitch in which the idea of an ‘invading country’ has been mired in quizzical double-standards and thought experiments. But I’ve noticed a dead silence from these people. Feel like this retreat has done them in, and they’re waiting for marching orders to come, but no one is telling them what to say.

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  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    There have also been numerous reports of mid-level officials openly defying Putin and demanding that he end the war. Some are even calling for him to resign. We’ll see if that escalates to more powerful figures.

    If Putin is smart, he’ll stay away from windows.

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  9. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Conservative groups, including Heritage Action and Concerned Veterans for America, quickly urged lawmakers to reject the plea for additional aid.

    Fortunately, OUR Congressional Republicans are loyal to the concepts of democracy, self-determination, and aid for freedom loving people the world over and will not move in this direction to the goal of making Biden seem weak and helpless on the international front in advance of 2024 when they take control of Congress next year.

    […]

    Somebody give me an “amen.”

    […]

    Amen?

    […]

    Amen?… Bueler? Bueler?

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  10. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Kylopod: I know. It’s breathtaking. I recall Republicans decrying Obama’s “weak” response to the offensive of 2014. Now, the Ukranians have been working non-stop since then. Meanwhile, something has happened to Republicans. I hesitate to blame it all on Trump, who seems more a symptom.

    I hope that I will live long enough to read a Rick Perlstein-like book on how this all went down.

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  11. Jay L Gischer says:

    It seems to me that Ukraine’s military success is based more on supply shortages among the Russians rather than manpower shortages. Obviously, advances mean captures and desertions and that affects manpower. But they will have their regular conscription, and they viewed most of those soldiers as expendable anyway.

    So I doubt that “full mobilization” in terms of the number of soldiers is likely to happen. But the logistical problems are pretty severe, and likely to be similar to the issues we saw last winter.

    From what I can tell, I would describe this as “The Russians went for the head fake”. I’m glad to hear it, but that doesn’t make it sustainable. It doesn’t mean they can’t do it again, but it’s likely to be more difficult to pull off.

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  12. Scott says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: And he should pay attention to who is keeping the polonium around.

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  13. drj says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    But they will have their regular conscription

    Although there are exceptions, Russian conscripts can’t (and don’t) serve in Ukraine.

    Russia has been trying to plug the gap with “national volunteer battalions,” mostly ethnic non-Russians. These haven’t been particularly successful so far. They have also recruited prisoners, which also didn’t work out great.

    Latest rumors are that all the oligarchs must fund private military companies. Still, the potential number of capable soldiers will not suddenly increase.

    Also, it might not be the smartest idea to recruit non-Russian battallions and to give oligarchs their own private armies…

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  14. Scott says:

    @Jay L Gischer: Actually, the Republicans are reverting to a pre-WWII position of isolationism and authoritarianism. Pre Pearl Harbor, they were dead set against getting involved. In the 30s, they toyed with Fascism (funded by our own oligarchs (Ford, DuPont, etc.) and anti-Semitism. There were Nazi rallies in Madison Square Garden. There were KKK rallies galore.

    If it weren’t for Roosevelt and WWII, I believe we would’ve become a near Fascist country. WWII reset everything for the next 70 years.

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  15. Andy says:

    As off-the-record intelligence assessments go, this is rather tepid. It could be a big deal if a number of things go right and depending on what Putin does. Still, this certainly appears to be a turning point in the conflict.

    That’s because there are no firm conclusions to be had at this point. The course of any war is inherently contingent, and one shouldn’t bet the farm on the outcome of a single operation.

    Putin has already suffered major losses and he’s essentially exhausted his table stakes. Is he willing to double down or cut his losses? Neither option is a good one.

    Yes, this has been discussed extensively. Russia has not even implemented stop-loss policies – something the US did during the Iraq war. Putin and Russia have tapped out their manpower sources and have done everything they can to avoid stop loss, the general utilization of conscripts, and any kind of open mobilization for domestic political reasons.

    There have also been numerous reports of mid-level officials openly defying Putin and demanding that he end the war. Some are even calling for him to resign. We’ll see if that escalates to more powerful figures.

    There are also hard-liners that believe Putin has been too weak and are openly calling for escalation a mobilization.

    There seems to be this conceit among many in the west that Putin’s primary opposition would be more liberal and accommodating to the desires of the west. This is a foolish assumption, but is in line with several decades of western ignorance and misjudgments about Russia.

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  16. Kylopod says:

    @Jay L Gischer: @Modulo Myself: Here at OTB, back in 2013 the late Doug Mataconis did a couple of posts about what he called “The Cultural Conservative Love Affair with Vladimir Putin.” This received pushback from some of the commenters (including me) who felt it was based on scant evidence–all he cited at first was Rod Dreher and Pat Buchanan making a few approving comments about Putin’s anti-gay stance. In retrospect, these posts come off somewhat prescient.

    I think there were a number of factors coming together. Putin’s social conservatism (i.e. persecution of LGBT people) and Christian nationalism were part of it, no doubt. But it also seems to have coincided with a shift in the American right against the neocon interventionism that dominated the GOP in the early years of the 21st century, and a rediscovery of Old Right isolationism. Actually, none of what I said is quite accurate; these are lazy labels. And it’s weird talking about support for a dictator trying to rebuild his country’s old empire as an example of anti-interventionism. But this is how a lot of it tends to get framed, and I think beneath the labels lies a true realignment in the right’s foreign-policy vision.

    To some extent it required a final abandonment of the Cold War mentality that would cause rightists to view even post-USSR Russia with suspicion if not hostility. One of Putin’s accomplishments was rebranding the country to seem more right-wing authoritarian, to leave behind all the last traces of a communist aesthetic. Apart from the anti-LGBT stuff, the first sign of Putin love among Republicans came in the form of attacking Obama’s weakness against Putin’s strength. That’s one of the giveaways for fascist tendencies: claiming to disavow a dictator’s moral actions while speaking in admiring terms of their supposed strength and power. It’s like back in the ’90s when Pat Buchanan described Hitler as an “individual of great courage.”

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  17. gVOR08 says:

    @Scott:

    And he should pay attention to who is keeping the polonium around.

    He wasn’t sitting at the end of that long table out of fear of just COVID. And I would guess there’s quite an elaborate process for “food tasting”, more sophisticated than TFG sending out for burgers from random McDonalds. From what I read he’s put big resources into personal security and coup proofing.

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  18. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Andy:
    People intone ‘full mobilization’ like it’s Putin’s magic wand. Is he planning human wave attacks? Because if not he’s going to need weapons he does not appear to have. I don’t care how many tubes you’ve got if all you’re firing is 152 mm dumb shells, you’re not going to win against a western-armed Ukraine. We have microprocessors, they don’t.

    He’s in a spending battle against all the richest nations on earth, even as his already weak economy dwindles. Next Spring, what’s he do? Relaunch the war with draftees to retake ground he barely managed to take the first time around?

    As for whatever forces he raises by mobilizing: Winter is coming, during which time arms shipments across the Polish border will continue. And an experienced and apparently rather good UKR officer and NCO corps will have time to train up more troops, while the Russians bully and abuse unmotivated draftees who, by then, will have grasped that they are dying for Putin’s big dick fantasies.

    He uses nukes or he loses. And if he uses nukes even China won’t touch him. He’ll be Kim Jong Un.

    I don’t care how belligerent his replacement sounds, Russia will still be Italy with nukes. They can commit suicide or they can join the world.

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  19. gVOR08 says:

    @Kylopod: A good analysis.

    I largely dropped reading TAC now that they’re subscription. It’s frustrating when you can’t occasionally leave a drive-by comment on the dumbest or most irritating stuff. Mostly I haven’t been reading because most of their articles lately seem irrelevant, just rants about random stuff. But they were, as you note, sometimes a preview of coming attractions. I had been seeing a drift toward anti-corporatism. Mostly driven by perceived “woke” and lack of loyalty to the conservative cause. I may decide it’s worth the 60 bucks or whatever to subscribe.

    In a way, conservative acceptance of Russia is logical. They opposed godless communism. Russia is now Orthodox and capitalist. Also, we liberals see it as autocracy v democracy, and they’ve grown hostile to democracy as it continues to fail to deliver the results they want. What they missed is the answer to George Kennan’s question – Is Russia hostile and expansionist because they’re commies or because they’re Russia? Turns out it’s because they’re Russia. They are our enemy not because we choose so, but because they insist on it.

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  20. Modulo Myself says:

    I suspect that a draft in Russia will go as well as the last days of the draft in the US. No matter what the apologists say, this was a war of choice for Russia, and even 24/7 Russian propaganda can’t make people want to go off and die in Putin’s vanity project.

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  21. MarkedMan says:

    I have no expertise on war and so offer no predictions. But I speculate that if there are any actions that will bring him down, it is his decision to use gas deliveries as a weapon. He is forcing Europe to find other sources and some of those alternatives will decrease demand on a permanent basis. That in turn could devalue the Russian gas reserves by many billions of dollars. He can cost peasants their lives indefinitely. But costing wealthy people money is a whole different matter.

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  22. Andy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    You sound like a typical Wehrmacht officer circa 1941 or Fred Barnes circa early 2003. Remind me who is in charge of Afghanistan right now and how many microprocessors they have?

    Microprocessors, economic asymmetry, and foreign support are factors to consider in a conflict but aren’t decisive in winning wars. You poo-poo the ideal of mobilizing additional personnel, yet this is exactly what Ukraine did, which has now given them the manpower advantage that allowed them to conduct two offensives simultaneously.

    The northern front that Ukraine easily rolled back was weak primarily from this manpower disadvantage. The Ukrainians faced very thin lines composed primarily of Rosvagardia and LNR troops – not exactly the creme of the crop – and they had almost no reserve forces available.

    The Russian military is not a mass mobilization force like the Soviets were, but they can (and will have to) increase manpower, and they have a lot of tools available to do that short of a full mobilization and the reasons they have done that so far are entirely due to domestic political factors which could, and probably will, change.

    And yes, winter is coming. Despite sanctions, Russia will have plenty of gas and electricity to heat homes and keep industry running, unlike Europe and Ukraine, which will face severe shortages. The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is now both shut down and disconnected from the Ukrainian grid. That plant accounted for 20% of Ukraine’s electricity. Is that going to ensure a Russian victory? Of course not, but the other side of that coin is that “winter is coming” is not detrimental to Russia’s position. If the fighting subsides, that gives Russia a chance to reconstitute forces.

    Anyway, the point is that it’s much too early to make any conclusions, especially ones based on rosy assumptions. The idea that Ukraine has an enduring and decisive advantage that will roll the Russians back to the pre-2014 status quo is, at this point, highly speculative at best.

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  23. charon says:

    This morning:

    https://twitter.com/ChuckPfarrer/status/1569683217766031360

    IZIUM/1330 UTC 13 SEP/ UK Intel discloses that the prestigious Russian 1st Guards’ Tank Army has been destroyed. This top-teir force is the largest single unit lost by Russia since World War II. Information is evolving, but captured RU troops may number in 10s of thousands.

    NOTE: The exact number of Russian prisoners taken in the Kharkiv-Izium offensive is not being revealed by UKR– likely to curtail Putin’s use of ‘a reversal’ to rally support for the “Special Military Operation”. This defeat, however, will certainly result in a military purge.

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  24. Kathy says:

    Wars usually end either by a total defeat or conquest of the enemy, or by negotiated settlement.

    The problem here is that Ukraine cannot do the first. They may be able to drive Russian troops off all the territory they’ve occupied since February 2022, and maybe some of the separatist areas, but they can’t drive all troops back to Russia nor take back Crimea. At least not without sustained western help for many more months or even years.

    On the other hand, Russia has demonstrated it cannot defeat or conquer Ukraine. At least not without resorting to nuclear weapons. They made this plain when their drive to Kyiv was stopped.

    What’s left is for Ukraine to bleed Russia enough to make Putin settle. That won’t be easy, quick, nor cheap in blood.

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  25. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Andy:

    The idea that Ukraine has an enduring and decisive advantage that will roll the Russians back to the pre-2014 status quo is, at this point, highly speculative at best.

    I’m not declaring victory. But Ukraine does have a potentially decisive edge: they know what they’re fighting for. And they have very rich, very well-armed friends. And the advantage of interior lines. And a much more flexible command structure.

    There’s a pretty good chance that the Russians on the west side of the Dniepro will surrender and in the process give Ukraine all the tanks it needs. How good will Russian morale be then, when they know they’re being shelled with their own guns?

    If you want to take territory, you need motivated, professional soldiers, with useful weapons. Can the Russians squat for months or years in a defensive crouch in territory they already had before the war? Probably. Can they take new ground? Doubtful.

    IMO a stalemate is the most likely next stage. Russians hold on to their satrapies while their economy gets weaker and weaker and Putin’s propaganda becomes ever more threadbare. They’re going to be where the US was after Tet, with the difference that we actually won Tet, in military terms at least. They know at this point that they are no longer looking at victory, just managing the loss.

    @MarkedMan:
    I have a suspicion that Russia’s oligarchs are weak and pretty well intimidated. Their wealth is a product of a corrupt system. I don’t think people like that are capable of decisive action against the cow at whose teats they suckle.

    If anything takes Putin down, I’m looking to the Russian army and intelligence services. Humiliated people look for a way to lash out at the cause of their humiliation. If anyone puts a gun to Vlad’s head my money’s on a GRU agent.

    More likely Ukraine becomes a stalemate and Putin continues talking shit about Russian greatness as this notion becomes nothing more than a typically mordant Russian joke. I mean, unless he happens to walk too close to an open window. . .

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  26. Modulo Myself says:

    You sound like a typical Wehrmacht officer circa 1941 or Fred Barnes circa early 2003. Remind me who is in charge of Afghanistan right now and how many microprocessors they have?

    Lol, no he doesn’t. What are you even getting at? Russia created this quagmire via their own neocons who thought they were going to take Kiev in weeks and now they have to get out of it. Let’s at least have some object permanence here…

    @Kathy:

    To use Andy’s neocon analogy, the west has had a tendency to overemphasize Russian strength. It was the neocons who formed Team B and thought the CIA was dead wrong about the failing strength of the Soviet Union in the early 80s. (Luckily, Douglas Feith and co. never got close to power again.) It’s possible that Putin’s supposed iron-grip on the psyches of Russian citizens is in fact very feeble. That said: Putin’s authority collapsing and an ensuing fight for power is not a good thing to imagine.

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  27. Michael Reynolds says:

    @charon:
    Wow. Seriously, wow.

    “The Russian First Guards Tank Army has been broken and scattered. [..] It does not exist anymore as a fighting unit.”

    Those were presumably actual soldiers, not raw recruits.

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  28. dazedandconfused says:

    I strongly suspect the Russian strategic objective, now, is maintaining access to the Black Sea. If they can fight that’s where they will. I also imagine the Ukrainians also view taking Crimea back as a primary objective, as if they can do that the two separatist oblasts may fall as dominoes to the terrible morale the loss of Crimea, and the loss of Russian access to the Black Sea, something they’ve been proud as hell about since the time of Catherine the Great, would present. Seems unlikely Putin could survive that. So I suspect the Ukrainians next move will be there.

    If they can cut if by moving on Mariople, if they can get access to the Zaporizhian shore, they will be in HIMARs range of the Kerch bridge, and with that there is no way to supply their people in Kherson….or to withdraw them. Game over.

    My WAG as to where this war will be won or lost.

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  29. JohnSF says:

    Looks like Ukraine has achieved a major, but not war-ending victory in the NE.

    Ukraine has wrecked the Russian position in this area as much as the Kyiv debacle did there; irrecoverable short of a major new operation, which they are currently unable to mount.

    Some talk that this was a “planned fallback” once frontal defence was breached.
    Highly unlikely.
    Scale of undamaged material loss indicate disorderly retreat bordering on rout.
    And abandonment of Kupyansk: this was the keystone of the entire NE as a railway hub.
    Its loss renders Izyum depots untenable.
    Loss of Izyum depots and routes make much of the former Luhansk front untenable.

    There is potential for large trapped pocket of Russian forces in the Izyum-Lyman area.

    The Russian forces in Kherson NW of the Dnipro remain cut off, under increasing artillery bombardment, and continuing attacks on their front line.
    Possibly around 20,000 troops with the scale of equipment that entails.

    Ukraine now has multiple options for further actions
    If the remaining rear area of the NE is as undermanned, move into N Luhansk and/or roll up the front; or push on the Donetsk area (not v. likely); or full on offensive on Kerson (also unlikely); or try to interdict the coastal salient, and drive south (or threaten to) at some point.
    Probably the most likely.
    But mixed with threats to other points.

    Lots of opportunities to keep on playing rope-a-Russian.

    Even if Russia stands strong in one are, it likely means opportunity to punish them elsewhere.
    eg best Ukr move is probably “chop the arm off” in the south.
    But working back down from Luhansk might serve .
    The Russians have jammed their silly selves into a mincing machine, and now have little chance of getting unjammed.

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  30. Stormy Dragon says:

    I forget who said it, but to paraphrase, “battles are won by tactics, wars are won by logistics”

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  31. JohnSF says:

    Short summary of my opinion:
    The question was not really about tactics, or even the questions of supply.
    But of basic operational decison making; and behind that the economic and state-organisational fundamentals.

    The consistent Russian pattern has been of leaving things too late, failure to choose, lack of will to take a accept a short term hit for a strategic advantage

    From the outset.
    I have a mental picture of the generals presenting Putin with the options, and him being asked to [pick and replying
    “ALL of them!”
    – attack on all fronts
    – failure to concenrate on Kyiv
    – failure to shut down fully in N and concentrate on either Dobnas or south coast
    – failure to abandon Kherson when clear Odesa was off
    – failure to mobilize in spring; now cadres and stockpiles are depleted
    – failure to cut gas to Europe in spring

    German gas storage now near 90%.
    Prices down by half on peak (though still 4 times last year, and will climb again in winter)

    As I said yesterday, on gas prices and supplies:
    Putin f’cked up: he was greedy (again) and failed to decide (again).
    He should have mobilized and cut the gas in Spring.
    Train done gone, Vlad.

    A lot of the cadres that could have trained and organised and expanded army have been pissed away.
    Russian high-tech manufacturing economy is as much a wasting asset as the Russian Army.
    Stocks of weapons and munitions are massively depleted.
    And China shows no inclination to ride to the rescue.

    And if indications from last February are anything to go by, the Russian army will be at a massive disadvantage in winter conditions.

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  32. charon says:

    @Kathy:

    Predictions are hard, especially about the future.

    https://twitter.com/Acyn/status/1564408136378843136

    On Aug. 29 Tucker Carlson of Fox News attacked President Biden’s policy on Ukraine, asserting among other things: “By any actual reality-based measure, Vladimir Putin is not losing the war in Ukraine. He is winning the war in Ukraine.” Carlson went on, by the way, to assert that Biden is supporting Ukraine only because he wants to destroy the West.

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  33. charon says:

    A thread:

    https://twitter.com/RALee85/status/1569597927588503552

    There are different explanations for why these mistakes are being made, but they indicate a very fundamental problem with Russian military leadership. The Russian military’s decision-making is still very centralized but it also just makes poor decisions (or doesn’t make them).

    Another thread:

    https://twitter.com/Mortis_Banned/status/1569632347057803268

    I think the biggest issue is a Russian military (really, any government agency) culture that can be summed up with “You report a problem, congratulations, you are now personally responsible for the problem arising and are expected to fix it or else”

    IOW, big incentive to conceal problems, not report them and get blamed.

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  34. charon says:

    Russia is not really a normal nation, it is a colonial empire structured much like the old Roman empire.

    Moscow’s control of the provinces may weaken as they may become increasingly restive.

    https://twitter.com/Blue_Sauron/status/1569770975868211203

    It is *claimed* that prior to the escalation outbreak Russian peacekeepers withdrew from their positions on the Armenian-Azerbaijani borders in Zangezur region.

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  35. gVOR08 says:

    @charon: Holy spit. WIKI notes this isn’t the late WWII 1st Guards Tank Army, which was disbanded, but a successor unit formed in 2014. WIKI doesn’t give a personnel count, but says “Size: 500-800 tanks. They list a composition of three divisions and eight brigades or regiments. I don’t know the nominal or actual size of Russian units but that’s gotta be 30,000 troops minimum. Only a fraction may have been deployed around Izium, but Pfarrer didn’t say “elements of” or “a portion of”, he said “Army”.

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  36. charon says:

    @charon:

    More Krugman:

    https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/12/opinion/ukraine-deflates-maga-macho-myths.html

    To be fair to Carlson and other right-wing cheerleaders for Putin, they aren’t the only people clinging to delusions of Russian success. There’s a whole school of self-styled “realists” who considered Ukrainian resistance to Russia futile and who, despite the failure of Putin’s initial assault, have spent the past six months calling on Ukraine to make big concessions to supposedly superior Russian power.

    But there’s something special about the MAGA embrace of the mystique of Russian might: a worldview that equates tough-guy swagger with effectiveness. This worldview has warped the right’s perception not just of the Russian Army but also of how to deal with many other issues. And it’s worth asking where it comes from.

    Many Republicans have admired Putin for a long time — even before Donald Trump took over the G.O.P. Back in 2014, for example, Rudy Giuliani said of Putin, “That’s what you call a leader.” And Trump continued to praise Putin even after he invaded Ukraine.

    So it’s not hard to see where the MAGA right’s admiration for Putinism comes from. After all, Putin’s Russia is autocratic, brutal and homophobic, with a personality cult built around its ruler. What’s not to like?

    snip

    On the right, however, approval of authoritarian regimes is all bound up with assertions about their military prowess. For example, last year Ted Cruz tweeted about a video comparing scenes of a tough-looking Russian soldier with a shaved head with a U.S. Army recruiting video featuring a female corporal raised by two mothers. “Perhaps a woke, emasculated military is not the best idea,” opined Cruz.

    Actually, the U.S. military is sort of woke, in the sense that it is highly diverse and inclusive, encourages independent thinking and initiative on the part of junior officers and is, at the higher levels, quite intellectual.

    The Russian Army, on the other hand, definitely isn’t woke. Conscripts face brutal hazing. According to Mark Hertling, a former commander of U.S. forces in Europe, it’s riddled with “mafialike” corruption and its officers are terrible.

    The broader point is that modern wars aren’t won by looking tough. Courage — which the Ukrainians have shown in almost inconceivable abundance — is essential, but it doesn’t have much to do with bulging biceps. And bravery must go hand in hand with being smart and flexible, qualities the Russian Army evidently lacks.

    That’s Trump’s big appeal too, lots of tough trash talking.

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  37. gVOR08 says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    “battles are won by tactics, wars are won by logistics”

    I think it was Thomas Ricks who said something like “Amateurs talk about tactics, generals talk about logistics, real experts talk about personnel policy.” Russia doesn’t seem very good at that either.

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  38. JohnSF says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    “battles are won by tactics, wars are won by logistics”
    And are lost by pig-headed refusal to acknowledge operational realities.

    While, arguably, wars can be lost by failing to recognize strategic economic reality.

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  39. Andy says:

    @charon:

    Chuck tends to be a bit hyperbolic.

    One major reason the Ukrainians broke through so quickly is that the frontline here was minimally manned by third-rate forces (Rosgvardia and LNR primarily). How much of the 1 GTA was actually there beyond the 4th Guards Tank Division is uncertain. The 1 GTA, like most Russian front-line units, was severely understrength at the beginning of the war, was decimated early on, and has not been reconstituted since because of Russia’s severe manpower problems.

    @Michael Reynolds:

    IMO a stalemate is the most likely next stage.

    That’s my view as well.

    @Modulo Myself:

    What I’m “getting at” is to pour some cold water on rosy predictions based on one successful operation combined with questionable assumptions about the extent and duration of Russian weakness.

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  40. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Scott: I hope his food taster has good life insurance so his family will be taken care of.

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  41. charon says:

    https://twitter.com/apmassaro3/status/1569299732106969091

    “RAND experts are available.” Just in case anyone wants to talk with the guys who said western weapons were useless and Ukraine should give up without a fight

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  42. Andy says:

    @gVOR08:

    Yes, it was an Army on paper but was always understrength. Estimates vary how much. And they’ve suffered considerable losses since the spring. Again, estimates vary how much. The major armored unit in the 1 GTA, the 4th Guards Tank Division, abandoned many tanks in this latest rout. This is the same 4th Guards that was almost destroyed back in May and also lost most of its equipment.

    It’s telling the bulk of Russian forces in the Kharkiv Oblast were Rosgvardia and LNR – that tells me that only portions of the 1 GTA were there, or else the unit was mostly depleted already. So I’m skeptical of Parrar’s claims of tens of thousands captured. It’s questionable whether there were even tens of thousands in Kharkiv oblast to begin with. Maybe there were – good data is hard to come by.

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  43. JohnSF says:

    @Andy:
    Reliance on combat-ineffective forces to hold a critical position like Kupyansk would indicate that the Russian unit availability problems are really, really bad.

    Though validated reporting of Russian equipment destroyed/damaged/abandoned indicates that considerable elements of units a lot more heavily equipped than the militias or SOBR.

    Also interesting: this sort of mobile strikes by Ukraine into rear areas should have been textbook case for using air power (especially helicopters) to counter breaches, assuming Ukraine advancing beyond their established air defences.
    Not much sign of that.
    Russian air power seems to be underperforming massively, continually.

    And how much of Russians best forces are now on the wrong side of the Dnipro, with no easy way back, and being hammered to a pulp?

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  44. Jay L Gischer says:

    @charon: More now than at any other time in the history of humanity, the raw size and strength of a soldier matters very little. As does their “toughness”, which generally means how big and intimidating they are. Fighting is very rarely hand-to-hand, after all. It’s about mastering the details of your weapon, using it effectively, staying aware of your surroundings and taking advantage.

    I think it was Norman Schwarzkopf that said the following: “Generals don’t win wars. Soldiers win wars. The job of a general is to put those soldiers in a position where, if they do their job as they have been trained, they will win the war.”

    There is nothing at all in that about being male, or big, or scary looking. What’s more scary, after all? Rambo, or someone with coms and binoculars and drone-sourced GPS calling down artillery strikes or airstrikes? (I recall some folks referring to special forces in Afghanistan who did this as “not real soldiers” I had to laugh at that one.)

    I am more than just tired of this nonsense, it’s the the point where it actually appears to threaten the capability and effectiveness of our own military, just as it has done so for certain other militaries.

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  45. charon says:

    Slightly OT but –

    https://twitter.com/JuliaDavisNews/status/1569786833453850624

    Russia has secretly funneled at least $300 million to foreign political parties and candidates in more than two dozen countries since 2014 in an attempt to shape political events beyond its borders, according to a new U.S. intelligence review.

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  46. a country lawyer says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Omar Bradley-Amateurs talk stategy, professionals talk logistics”

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  47. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I’m not an expert, but it seems to me that both Russian and Ukraine suffer from manpower shortages. Putin is deliberately not declaring this a war which would enable him to conscript a much larger pool of Russians. Andy acknowledges this fact but then downplays it by insisting that it is an option available to Putin.

    It seems to me that Putin disagrees with you Andy, otherwise he’d do it.

    Michael seems to think… Exactly what pool of recruits do you think the Ukrainian army can pull from, Michael?

    I still think this winter will tell the tale. Where I differ with Andy is I think Putin screwed the pooch. Europe is looking pretty good right now. Perfect? No, but easily survivable if the politicians do what needs to be done. Russia on the other hand… Yeah they will be warm this winter, unfortunately one does not live on gas and oil alone. *Bread and water* are needed too.

    ** and veggies and meat and dairy and… and all the while they are paying out the ass for that, guess what they aren’t paying for?

    Yeah, missiles, artillery, bullets, mortars, grenades, etc etc etc…

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  48. charon says:

    @charon:

    As to Russia being basically a colonial empire rather than a normal nation:

    https://twitter.com/dhbreiding/status/1569749239210582016

    “No one can stop this war, … Neither [Putin], nor Zelensky and not the West can end this war. This war can end only with the defeat of one of the sides. For us [Russia], this defeat may prove fatal. We should understand that it might lead to the disintegration of the country.”

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  49. gVGOR08 says:

    We had some discussion a day or two ago about U. S. participation and how the Russians missed the Ukrainian buildup in the north. NYT has a good article. Long story short, Zelensky wanted a victory in the south before winter to solidify Ukrainian morale and stiffen the west before any energy crisis. U. S. and Ukrainian officers war gamed it saw it turning into a bloody stalemate. But they saw opportunity in the north where the Russians had thinned their defense and didn’t have the capability to quickly reinforce.

    However Kherson wasn’t downgraded into a diversion, it’s still an active offensive. Russia heavily reinforced, but they’re still on the wrong side of the river from their supplies and reinforcements and the bridges are within range of U. S. and NATO supplied artillery. Like Adam Silverman likes to say, it’s HIMARS O’clock.

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  50. Andy says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Andy acknowledges this fact but then downplays it by insisting that it is an option available to Putin.

    It seems to me that Putin disagrees with you Andy, otherwise he’d do it.

    It is and always has been an option available to Putin. I’ve said before that Putin wants to avoid it for domestic political reasons, and clearly, he’s done about everything possible to avoid it up until now. My position is that he can only kick the can for so long, and that time is just about up.

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  51. JohnSF says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:
    Ukraine has had conscription since February.
    Their current military establishment is around 700,000.
    Possibly as high as a million.
    Some 400,000 Ukrainians who were on reserve lists in Feb. had experience in combat on the JFO lines from 2014 to 2021.
    UK is currently running four months training in infantry combat and combat engineering for some 10,000 Ukrainians at a time.
    I think the Poles are training on a similar scale.
    And the Ukrainians have not been rushing untrained conscripts to the front (apart from some times in the first month) but continue to train, to recylcle experienced troops as trainers.

    Ukraine has more troops available than Russia, and the advantage is increasing.
    Unless Putin can pull a remarkable rabbit out of the hat, the Russian is in a non-recoververable situation.

    I’ll stick my neck out here: I don’t think this can carry on steady state or stalemate.
    At some point, and likely this winter, the Russian army in Ukraine will collapse due to cumulative damage, supply problems and morale.

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  52. Modulo Myself says:

    @Andy:

    Did you just learn about analogies yesterday and now you’re still working out the kinks? I mean, I can dig around in my mind palace and come up with other terms to relate ‘rosy assumptions’ with than ‘Wehrmacht officer’ or ‘Fred Barnes’–especially given the facts of invasion and aggression in this case. It strikes me as a dishonest way of saying, ‘Maybe you are being too optimistic’ and in real writing and not tabloid schtick it is what an editor would ask you to change.

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  53. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Andy: It is and always has been an option available to Putin.

    You keep saying that Andy, but actions speak louder than words. You are far more knowledgeable about this stuff than I, so why not take a few moments and explain exactly what is holding Putin back. You say “politcs” but that word means something entirely different in Russia than it does in the good old US of A, and in the wake of everything that has happened (and not happened) I can’t see why he hasn’t and I am seriously wondering wtf is holding him back? It all seems to point to he has weaknesses I am unaware of and intel is loathe to speak of.

    Is he really as afraid of the oligarchs as I snarkily imply?

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  54. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @JohnSF: My point was only that “higher morale” will only get you so far and that UKR has a much smaller pool of recruits to pull from than RU. RU has a much larger pool of recruits (read as “cannon fodder”) to feed into the meat grinder.

    Like you and Andy both, I see a stalemate in the future. The wildcard is the oligarchs. How much are they willing to put out? How much will they sacrifice for Putin’s vision of a Greater Russian empire? The seized yachts were only the beginning.

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  55. Modulo Myself says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    I don’t know if survival will be easy, but the forecasts of doom are overblown and coming from the same sources who have been talking about the imminent collapse of multicultural liberal western Europe for the last decade. The simple truth is that actual hardships can be managed. But Covid showed how screwed up the other side is–the people who just couldn’t handle the minor sacrifices of masking or the bigger sacrifices of having schools shut down are pretending the world matches who they are 100%, and they’re the ones who are gleeful about Europe’s upcoming winter.

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  56. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: “It’s Bay of Pigs stupid.”

    Except the Bay of Pigs was clearly a disaster, was over in three days and JFK took responsibility right away. This is like two new Bays of Pigs per week for eight months.

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  57. wr says:

    @Andy: ” Remind me who is in charge of Afghanistan right now and how many microprocessors they have?”

    I know that you are experienced in this field, so I’m having a hard time understanding you acting like you don’t understand how asymmetrical warfare works. The superpower needs massive, overwhelming superiority to maintain their invasion, while the invaded can use guerilla tactics.

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  58. JohnSF says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:
    No, I don’t think there’s going to be stalemate; my prediction now is the Russian Army in Ukraine will break within a few months, unless they pull back to much shorter lines.

    If Russia started mobilizing tomorrow, their effective force formation is going to lag.
    To catch up with Ukraine on this will take at least six months.
    And Ukraine will no be standing still.

    In fact, perhaps not that effective even, then due to loss of trainers, cadre offices etc
    Not to mention functional equipment.

    And just shoving an AK in their hands and shipping them to the front will arguably make things worse for the Russians, not better.
    They’ll just use up supplies, then do nothing useful, then die (or desert).
    Arguably one of the most stupid Russian decisions of this war was their reliance on the DNR/LNR militias.
    Cannon fodder are just a waste of valuable resources.

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  59. wr says:

    @JohnSF: I think Ukraine is not going to run out of soldiers because for most Ukrainians it’s a matter of fight or be killed anyway.

    People who are fighting to save their home from invasion are a lot more eager to sign up than those who are fighting for their leader’s ego.

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  60. Andy says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    Ok, I used some hyperbole, which is, as everyone knows, very rare on the internet. I’m not sure why you are so worked-up about it.

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    You say “politcs” but that word means something entirely different in Russia than it does in the good old US of A, and in the wake of everything that has happened (and not happened) I can’t see why he hasn’t and I am seriously wondering wtf is holding him back? It all seems to point to he has weaknesses I am unaware of and intel is loathe to speak of.

    There are a few reasons:

    One, he’s engaged in a war of choice, one that he promised or thought would be a lot easier than it turned out to be. That puts him and Russia in a difficult choice of accepting a loss or significantly escalating to try to win. Both those options are bad from a domestic political perspective, and that isn’t something unique to Russia.

    Consider our own war of choice in Iraq and when it started to go to shit. We didn’t have enough manpower for a proper occupation (remember how Gen. Shinseki was fired for stating it would require a decade and hundreds of thousands of troops).

    How well would it have gone over in domestic politics if the Bush administration turned around and said they needed to restart the draft or recall hundreds of thousands of IRR forces to get to that level of manpower to win the war of choice that suddenly wasn’t going well? It was better to muddle through and hope for the best.

    Now consider that Putin and the Russian government are in that same political dilemma, but it’s ten times worse. They want to muddle through as well because the political costs are much less, but I think their chances of succeeding are a lot lower.

    Second, recalling prior service personnel, utilizing conscripts, and mobilizing will have other negative effects besides being unpopular, especially negative economic effects as productive workers are retasked for military duty. And you’d have more people who aren’t nobodies from the sticks dying. Putin may be an authoritarian, but he’s not a dictator and he needs the support of the Russian urban elite.

    It significantly raises the stakes for Russia and Putin. By making this a formal war and not merely a “special military operation,” it becomes much more difficult to cut bait or accept less than total victory. It’s something you do only if you’re totally committed to the war and are willing to suffer all the negative effects of that. Putin understands – as any political leader should – that war on such a scale is usually economically and socially ruinous.

    Is he really as afraid of the oligarchs as I snarkily imply?

    Putin has always controlled the oligarchs, not the other way around. The ones who didn’t play ball are no longer around or are exiled.

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  61. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    More now than at any other time in the history of humanity, the raw size and strength of a soldier matters very little.

    I wrote a trilogy called FRONT LINES which is an alt history of WW2 in which a SCOTUS decision has made women subject to the draft. For one of my female leads I used Audie Murphy as an inspiration. WW2’s most decorated soldier. Audie was 5’5″ and waifish on his best day. Even then I guess gigantic balls made up for height.

    And how tall were the Vietnamese? And the Japanese?

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  62. MarkedMan says:

    @Andy: There are other people with power in Russia besides the yacht boys. The Russian mafia is one of the reasons the whole “Russia as the next Brazil” thing collapsed in the oughts. You could reach a deal with the business people, and pay off the government officials, but neither of those had any sway when the mafia came to take what they wanted.

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  63. JohnSF says:

    @MarkedMan:
    This is not how things worked (or work) as I understand it.
    Both from reporting, and from talking to people who have done business in Russia.

    And why not is the key to how Putin’s Russia functions.
    There are several key subordinate interest groups, none of whom are a cohesive, directed power block
    – the oligarchs and related corporate/business groups
    – the state officials, and “politicians”, and “technocrats”
    – the military
    – the mafiyas, divided between two main “traditions: the “old thieves” and the “bandits”, and then by geography; and the largest mafiya of them all: the police
    – the passive interest group of the middle class

    And emerging atop all of them the siloviki, the “men of force” or “of power”; implying both capacity for violence, freedom of action, and a sort of acknowledged authority.
    The FSB, the militia, GRU etc; the group Putin emerged from and used, who have become his key support group.

    They overlap a lot with the “police mafiya”; and for while were often junior partners to outright criminals, or ambitious businessmen, or local politicians.
    But in the end figured out that they were the ones with the real muscle; and used it.
    Putin’s supremacy in the state enabled them to use hybrid power: both official, legal and extra-leagal (but “authority sanctioned) force and fear.

    In the end the oligarchs and “region bosses” were cowed or co-opted, or killed or went into exile.
    Most accepted a secondary status: they got to keep most of their wealth, and their skins, in return for political passivity, and serving the Putinist State when it calls on them.
    In other cases the top silovike themselves became ultra-rich “oligarchs” but their base was and is the state and coercion, not business activity.

    Similarly the criminals: they could keep on criming, as long as they stopped massacring each other in public, and knew who was not to be touched: anyone under a “roof”.
    Same with the low level police, for that matter.
    And all such usually try to have their own “roof”: one of the silovik power verticals.
    As do politicians, administrators, etc etc.

    And Putin sits atop the whole lot, the spider in the centre of all the webs.

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  64. charon says:

    https://twitter.com/ChuckPfarrer/status/1569889497403510785

    IZIUM AXIS: /0300 YTC 14 SEP/ UKR has yet to release figures on the number of RU prisoners taken, but at lease one unit, the 1st Guards Tank Army has been rendered hors de combat, defeated and disarmed, this unit numbers more than 10K men. The extent of this defeat is epic.

    https://twitter.com/ChuckPfarrer/status/1569876964378378242

    MORALE IS A FACTOR: Ukraine Weapons Tracker
    @UAWeapons

    reports that the the crew of this Russian R-934BMV UHF jammer bailed out and abandoned it in Kharkiv Oblast. Part of the Borisoglebsk-2 electronic warfare complex, it will be a bonanza for western intelligence.

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  65. charon says:

    More threads:

    https://twitter.com/wartranslated/status/1569597014089900033

    https://twitter.com/wartranslated/status/1569708010078863361

    Each day fewer Russians continue buying the Russian Ministry of Defence crap and appear to be opening their eyes. This text has been shared by a bunch of channels, it blames MoD for reporting single strikes while the army is retreating, and is financed by regular citizens.

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  66. charon says:

    Raiding the Navy for warm bodies:

    (Prisoner interrogated)

    https://twitter.com/Horesmi/status/1569297210667421696

    -Where were you going?

    -…Near Izyum.

    -Advancing or retreating?

    -No clue.

    -Why are you in Ukraine?

    -I am a dumbfuck.

    -Rank?

    -Seaman First Class

    -F L O A T I N G T A N K S???

    -I was reasigned to a tank, given a week of training.

    -Fleet?

    -Baltic Fleet.

    -You are lucky to be alive.

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