Zelensky’s Plea for Help

Ukraine's leader wants more help than he's going to get.

The News:

WaPo (“As diplomats hint of progress in talks, Ukraine accuses Russia of bombing Mariupol theater“):

Ukrainian officials accused Russia on Wednesday of bombing a theater where hundreds of displaced families have sought refuge in the besieged port city of Mariupol, part of a string of intense attacks that continued even as diplomats said they were making progress in peace talks.

Video footage showing the smoking ruins of the once-stately Mariupol Drama Theater emerged soon after officials from both Russia and Ukraine expressed cautious optimism about negotiations to end almost three weeks of fighting, and President Volodymyr Zelensky delivered an impassioned virtual address to U.S. lawmakers calling for air support and the creation of a “humanitarian no-fly zone” to protect evacuation corridors.

There was no immediate word on deaths or injuries, though a local official said the fate of “several hundred” people remained unknown.

The strikes in Mariupol and other cities served as a vivid reminder of international concerns about whether Russia would hold to any negotiated truce, and of the immense toll that will be taken as each day passes without a deal. Further cutting against the idea of an imminent end to the war, Russia is deliberating reinforcement of its troops and supplies, the Pentagon said Wednesday, as naval forces bombarded towns outside Odessa, a key port city on the Black Sea. A defense official said the Russians may be softening defenses before invading on the ground.

[…]

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a Russian TV channel that there is “hope for reaching a compromise” in negotiations, echoing comments by Ukrainian officials that the parties were inching closer to a breakthrough. However, both sides stressed that the talks were difficult, with differences remaining over security guarantees for Ukraine and other thorny issues.

U.S. and Western officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, expressed skepticism about the optimistic statements from the Ukrainian delegation about the talks. Some officials said they suspect Zelensky is trying to keep up momentum, even if negotiations are progressing poorly. Others say the Ukrainian leader may not be sharing a full account of closed-door discussions. Many diplomats fear that Moscow is only using the talks to buy time and replenish its forces.

NYT (“As Russian Troop Deaths Climb, Morale Becomes an Issue, Officials Say“):

In 36 days of fighting on Iwo Jima during World War II, nearly 7,000 Marines were killed. Now, 20 days after President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia invaded Ukraine, his military has already lost more soldiers, according to American intelligence estimates.

The conservative side of the estimate, at more than 7,000 Russian troop deaths, is greater than the number of American troops killed over 20 years in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

It is a staggering number amassed in just three weeks of fighting, American officials say, with implications for the combat effectiveness of Russian units, including soldiers in tank formations. Pentagon officials say a 10 percent casualty rate, including dead and wounded, for a single unit renders it unable to carry out combat-related tasks.

With more than 150,000 Russian troops now involved in the war in Ukraine, Russian casualties, when including the estimated 14,000 to 21,000 injured, are near that level. And the Russian military has also lost at least three generals in the fight, according to Ukrainian, NATO and Russian officials.

Pentagon officials say that a high, and rising, number of war dead can destroy the will to continue fighting. The result, they say, has shown up in intelligence reports that senior officials in the Biden administration read every day: One recent report focused on low morale among Russian troops and described soldiers just parking their vehicles and walking off into the woods.

The American officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss operational matters, caution that their numbers of Russian troop deaths are inexact, compiled through analysis of the news media, Ukrainian figures (which tend to be high, with the latest at 13,500), Russian figures (which tend to be low, with the latest at 498), satellite imagery and careful perusal of video images of Russian tanks and troops that come under fire.

American military and intelligence officials know, for instance, how many troops are usually in a tank, and can extrapolate from that the number of casualties when an armored vehicle is hit by, say, a Javelin anti-tank missile.

The high rate of casualties goes far to explain why Russia’s much-vaunted force has remained largely stalled outside of Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital.

“Losses like this affect morale and unit cohesion, especially since these soldiers don’t understand why they’re fighting,” said Evelyn Farkas, the top Pentagon official for Russia and Ukraine during the Obama administration. “Your overall situational awareness decreases. Someone’s got to drive, someone’s got to shoot.”

WSJ (“A Ukrainian Town Deals Russia One of the War’s Most Decisive Routs“):

A Kalashnikov rifle slung over his shoulder, Voznesensk’s funeral director, Mykhailo Sokurenko, spent this Tuesday driving through fields and forests, picking up dead Russian soldiers and taking them to a freezer railway car piled with Russian bodies—the casualties of one of the most comprehensive routs President Vladimir Putin‘s forces have suffered since he ordered the invasion of Ukraine.

A rapid Russian advance into the strategic southern town of 35,000 people, a gateway to a Ukrainian nuclear power station and pathway to attack Odessa from the back, would have showcased the Russian military’s abilities and severed Ukraine’s key communications lines.

Instead, the two-day battle of Voznesensk, details of which are only now emerging, turned decisively against the Russians. Judging from the destroyed and abandoned armor, Ukrainian forces, which comprised local volunteers and the professional military, eliminated most of a Russian battalion tactical group on March 2 and 3.

The Ukrainian defenders’ performance against a much-better-armed enemy in an overwhelmingly Russian-speaking region was successful in part because of widespread popular support for the Ukrainian cause—one reason the Russian invasion across the country has failed to achieve its principal goals so far. Ukraine on Wednesday said it was launching a counteroffensive on several fronts.

“Everyone is united against the common enemy,” said Voznesensk’s 32-year-old mayor, Yevheni Velichko, a former real-estate developer turned wartime commander, who, like other local officials, moves around with a gun. “We are defending our own land. We are at home.”

NPR (“Biden calls Putin a war criminal“):

President Biden on Wednesday was asked by reporters whether he was ready to call Russian President Putin a war criminal.

“I think he is a war criminal,” Biden said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted that a legal review has been under way at the State Department to review the matter.

“He was speaking from his heart,” she said.

This is the furthest that Biden — who often emphasizes the role of personal leader-to-leader diplomacy in international relations — has gone to decry the actions taken by Putin. When asked earlier this month if he thought Russia was committing war crimes, he said the White House was following events closely but that “It’s too early to say that.”

Earlier Wednesday Biden spoke about the “appalling devastation” inflicted on Ukraine, including reports of doctors and patients being held hostage in Mariopol. “These are atrocities,” Biden said. “It’s an outrage to the world.”

The White House has called for an investigation into if Russian forces are committing war crimes in Ukraine, and experts have told NPR that evidence of them is “undoubtable.” If any International Criminal Court investigation advances, Putin and his generals could face indictment.

Some Opinions:

Max Boot, WaPo (“We can’t let Putin’s threats deter us from supplying Ukrainians with fighter planes“):

Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has plunged the world into its worst military crisis since the end of the Cold War. From the U.S. standpoint, the war carries two opposing dangers: We could underreact, and thus let Russia get away with unprovoked aggression that will destroy the world order. Or we can overreact, allowing the conflict to spiral out of control. Put another way: We can’t afford to start a larger war, but we also can’t afford to let Russia win.

President Biden has mostly done a good job of walking this narrow line. He has rejected, for example, dangerous calls for a no-fly zone that would force U.S. troops into combat with the Russians. But Biden has erred too far on the side of caution by refusing Poland’s offer to supply Ukraine with its MiG-29 fighter jets. The administration’s position is that Ukraine doesn’t really need the aircraft and that providing them would be a dangerous escalation.

We shouldn’t let an aggressor veto aid to his victims. If the Ukrainians say they want MiG-29’s, we should provide them. We should also send anti-ship missilesS-300 antiaircraft missiles armed drones, and lots more munitions of all kinds to replenish Ukrainian stockpiles. The volume of weapons is already high but needs to be higher.

What is the difference, anyway, between shooting down a Russian airplane with a Stinger missile or a MiG-29? The Soviets supplied fighter aircraft to North Korea and North Vietnam to shoot down U.S. aircraft; in Korea, some of those planes were even flown by Russian and Chinese pilots. The United States, for its part, supplied Nationalist China in 1941 with both aircraft and former U.S. military pilots — the famed Flying Tigers — to fight Japanese aggression. That is how great-power competition works. As long as U.S. personnel are not firing on Russians, Ukraine is still a proxy war — and not a precursor to World War III.

Henry Olsen, WaPo (“Sorry, President Zelensky. The U.S. cannot risk direct war with Russia.“):

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s virtual address on Wednesday to Congress was moving and persuasive. He’s right that the United States can and should do more to help his country win its existential fight with Russia. But he’s wrong to ask us to risk direct war with Russia by establishing a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

Wearing the olive-green T-shirt that has become his wartime uniform, and appearing virtually from a capital that’s under siege, Zelensky was David asking us to join his fight against Goliath. Make no mistake: That’s what the no-fly zone he wants would mean — a hot war between the world’s two biggest nuclear powers.

President Biden’s greatest skill is showing empathy, but the current crisis has proved that he’s also capable of hardheadedness. We must be clear-eyed about where our interests align with — but also diverge from — Ukraine’s. We climb the escalation ladder at our peril. That’s why Biden’s response to Zelensky was so wise: The most we can realistically do is give David more slingshots.

E.J. Dionne Jr., WaPo (“Zelensky reminds us that impunity is the enemy of justice“):

The power of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s video address to Congress on Wednesday owed to something more than charisma born of clarity, tenacity and personal bravery.

Five words, unlikely to make a list of Top 5 sound bites, defined why this is a battle for a generation. The confrontation in Ukraine, Zelensky declared, is a fight “to keep justice in history.”

He’s right. Allowing Russia’s aggression to succeed would mean ratifying a future that privileges power over justice, autocracy over self-determination and impunity over accountability.

Charles M. Blow, WaPo (“What Is Our Moral Obligation in Ukraine?“):

After a discourse into our inconsistent intervention decisions in humanitarian crises over the last 30 years, he writes,

When does America have a moral obligation to intervene — particularly for humanitarian reasons — in conflict? And which factors contribute to the choices we make?

[…]

I say that the United States must supply military aid and should supply humanitarian aid. But I also say that we must be more consistent in determining who deserves outpourings of our humanitarian impulses.

Human suffering is human suffering. It has been a constant in the story of mankind. Sometimes it overlaps with our national interests, and sometimes it does not. But our sense of morality must remain constant, and in it we must find a place for equity.

My Two Cents:

As heart-wrenching as Zelensky’s speech was, I’m not sure why Congress agreed to host it. President Biden already has an incredible burden in dealing with this crisis without adding to the emotionalism surrounding it. The above-quoted columnists lay out the difficult choices in front of the administration. Thus far, I believe the President and his team have threaded the needle incredibly carefully, continuing to ratchet up pressure on Putin and support for Ukraine without crossing a red line. I’m agnostic on the issue of fighter jets versus drones but have no reason to distrust Biden and company’s instincts here. They certainly have access to more information than I do.

That negotiations are ongoing is, I suppose, good news. But I haven’t the foggiest what end state will be acceptable to both parties at this juncture. Anything short of a complete Russian withdrawal and Putin in irons before the International Criminal Court will be unjust. And Zelensky and company are clearly not in the mood for appeasement.

Putin is indeed a war criminal of the highest order. He invaded a peaceful, law-abiding nation without provocation and is deliberately slaughtering innocents. But it’s hard to envision a scenario where he sees justice.

Finally, while I would imagine that thousands dead and much tougher resistance than expected is indeed taking a toll on the morale of Russian troops, I’m skeptical that they’re anywhere near a breaking point. As a good friend and seasoned combat leader recently reminded me, Russians have a long history of putting up with unspeakable misery in wartime and continuing to slog on.

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. drj says:

    I’m not sure why Congress agreed to host it. President Biden already has an incredible burden in dealing with this crisis without adding to the emotionalism surrounding it.

    Elected representatives do have an obligation to explain why they make or support certain policy choices (such as, e.g., supplying Ukraine with another $100bn in military aid), no?

    It’s far better than some unpopular backroom deal (*cough* Iran-Contra *cough*).

    10
  2. drj says:

    Also, Zelensky knows he is overasking when he’s begging for a no-fly zone.

    A no-fly zone wouldn’t even do much good, as most of the damage is being done by artillery, some of which is located on Russian soil.

    It’s a deliberate strategy to get greater quantities of other stuff that’s more useful.

    Same thing with the Polish MiGs. These have all been brought up to NATO standards, meaning that these planes are equipped with avionics Ukrainian pilots are wholly unfamiliar with. I wouldn’t even be surprised if these planes can no longer carry Soviet/Russia-style ordinance. So you’re looking at a logistical nightmare, too.

    But while Ukraine won’t get planes, they are now getting loitering munitions which weren’t forthcoming earlier (and would probably be a lot more useful). So a win for them regardless.

    And how do you overcome internal resistance against giving Ukraine some really advanced stuff? Let him do his “emotional” thing in Congress.

    Neither Biden nor Zelensky is being naive here.

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  3. Jon says:

    @drj:

    Also, Zelensky knows he is overasking when he’s begging for a no-fly zone. […] It’s a deliberate strategy to get greater quantities of other stuff that’s more useful.

    It also gives the Biden admin a way to publicly claim/display that they are trying to limit escalation while at the same time providing increasing amounts of support.

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  4. CSK says:

    Various reports indicate that Russian forces are stalled outside all of Ukraine’s major cities.

    Biden has called Putin a war criminal.

    3
  5. Sleeping Dog says:

    Pentagon estimates place Russian war dead at ~7000, that would likely mean 21,000-25,000 casualties. Reports out of Belarus state that the bodies of Russian dead are being loaded in to refrigerated rail cars. Putin can’t hide that from the Russian people, nor those in the Russian government, for long.

    There have been several analysis in the past few days to the effect that w/in the next 10 days to 2 weeks the window on a possible Russian victory will close and Ukraine will become a war of attrition that Russia can’t win. Russia’s defeat at Voznesensk and reports of Ukrainian offensive actions maybe the leading edge of a Russian defeat.

    We know Russia has run low on precision weapons, food and even ammunition and they have a massive resupply problem. While Ukraine is drawing on comparatively unlimited NATO supplies, that the NATO nations can restock. The world is likely at the point where does Russia choose to stand down or escalate (use nukes).

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  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    I wrote in the open thread yesterday that I think we’re having a hard time absorbing the possibility that the Russians may actually lose. Ukrainians may actually fight them to a stalemate.

    Autocrats who lose wars may not always be overthrown immediately. Saddam survived Desert Storm. But if what Putin comes away with is a stalemate where he’s still taking losses, and a wrecked economy, his days must be numbered. That’s not the ideal situation for Ukraine, obviously, but it could be pretty sweet for the US and NATO.

    In not at all unrelated news the Taiwanese are apparently getting serious about territorial defense. Xi cannot be happy with his toothless pit bull.

    2
  7. Kathy says:

    Finally, while I would imagine that thousands dead and much tougher resistance than expected is indeed taking a toll on the morale of Russian troops, I’m skeptical that they’re anywhere near a breaking point.

    Against the breaking point is the knowledge of what happens to soldiers who refuse to fight or follow orders, or to those who mutiny.

    A good case study is trench warfare in WWI in the western front (it wasn’t prevalent on all fronts). Aside from the unpleasant state of life in the trenches, soldiers faced lots of fire, artillery, poison gas, and barbed wire, and saw many of their comrades die, to gain a few meters of ground (if that), or to minimize the loss of a few meters of ground.

    Imagine risking death or gruesome injuries for very little to no gain, for days on end, while the blood flows and the bodies pile up on both sides.

    There were mutinies, which were dealt with harshly. There were desertions, too, also dealt with harshly. But by and large the Belgian, French, British, and German troops kept fighting to the end of the war.

    There were stretches of front where both sides reached an unspoken agreement not to attack if the other side didn’t attack them first. That is, the local commanders in charge saw a chance to gain a few yards of ground, but wouldn’t because what was the point? But when ordered to attack by more senior or area commanders, they did.

    So, it’s not likely the would-be Czar’s army will either fold or mutiny or desert en masse, no matter how bad things get for them. it’s also not likely they will fight effectively, enthusiastically, or with much initiative. There are advantages in fighting a demoralized enemy, but the enemy won’t just give up regardless of the orders of their Butcher in chief.

    1
  8. KM says:

    As heart-wrenching as Zelensky’s speech was, I’m not sure why Congress agreed to host it.

    BECAUSE it was heart-wrenching. Please don’t forget there are plenty of FOXbots in Congress and elsewhere parroting Russian propaganda, acting like this isn’t an invasion or that civilians are suffering greatly. They’re minimalizing how bad this is or emphasizing that it’s got some form of justification – hell, they’re giving him sh^t for “not dressing up” when the man’s leading a country in an active warzone like it makes him a bad leader!!

    Let’s be honest: Americans have the attention span of flies. We need to be constantly refocused on the necessity of urgent issues or we “get tired” of them. Zelensky and the Ukrainians are masters of the meme and viral clips, a great way to keep focus. What did this speech effectively do? Generate articles, think pieces and opinions on it thus making sure their narrative is the main one, not the Russian lies trying to creep into the mainstream (looking at you, Tucker and MTG). Congress is aware of that and let him have his say. It gives them all sorts of wiggle room too: we’re the reasonable ones not escalating with a no-fly zone, we’re compassionate by giving aid and arms, we’re defiant against Putin’s imperialist goal. It even gives MAGAts wiggle room to play whatever angle they need to today via their reactions.

    What did it buy Ukraine?
    A few more days as they damn well knew they weren’t getting the wish list. You put everything on the wish list because if you manage to get it, great but it’s not necessary to succeed.
    What did Congress gain? Political capital. The pressure was already there. If Putin escalates to chemical weapons or nukes, it shows constituents that Congress wasn’t just sitting on their thumbs but “working on it”.

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  9. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Two huge unaddressed mastodons in the room;
    – all of the Republicans, who stridently approved of Trump withholding military aid from Ukraine in an attempt to bolster HIS OWN political fortunes, now clutching pearls and claiming to stand with Ukraine.
    – and the stenographers – I mean media – who refuse to hold them to account for their actions and instead hurry to transmit their empty, hypocritical, words.
    Let’s review.
    Manafort, a Russian asset and trump campaign manager, removed aid for Ukraine from the 2016 Republican platform. No Republican questioned the actions of their presumptive nominee.
    Russia attacked America. Trump sought ought the attack, welcomed the attack, then lied about the attack.
    Then Trump tried to bribe Ukraine into manufacturing an investigation, and withheld military aid to Ukraine in the process. That aid, allocated by Congress, wasn’t released by Trump until his scheme was uncovered some time after the fact.
    Republicans in the Senate, with the lone exception of Mitt Romney, gave their approval to the scheme by refusing to hold Trump accountable for his crimes.
    Make no mistake.
    Republicans have actively strengthened Putin and Russia and weakened Ukraine.
    There is blood on GOP hands.
    That this history is now being memory-holed by Republicans, and a fecklessly complicit 4th Estate, is an example of one of the great failings of our political system.

    15
  10. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:
    A couple additional thoughts;
    Mueller indicted 13 Russians for the attack on our Democracy. Meaningless, yes. But Trump and Barr promptly dropped the indictments. That was not meaningless.
    Putin had 3 goals in this area – weaken NATO, weaken Democracy, and intimidate and control Ukraine. Republicans and Trump have actively and enthusiastically aided Putin in the achievement of those goals.
    The history of this Ukrainian episode won’t be kind to Republicans, no matter what they say now.

    2
  11. Argon says:

    @drj: “Neither Biden nor Zelensky is being naive here.”

    Exactly. Zelensky has to ask for all help for his country. Biden has to say ‘No’ for some of what’s asked.

    I’ve read posts in other venues, often from those born after the Cold War, panicking that Zelensky is asking us to do something that will lead to WW III and nuclear war. But no, he can ask for direct intervention. It’s his responsibility to ask for everything he can get. But that doesn’t mean he’s going to get everything he requests. And Putin threatening a nuclear exchange over something doesn’t means he’s going to do it, especially if it results in him being dragged out and shot by his own countrymen.

    7
  12. gVOR08 says:

    A sense of scale. In 20 days Russia is estimated to have suffered 7,000 dead of 150,000 engaged. 70,000 Marines suffered 7,000 dead in 36 days on Iwo Jima. The Marines didn’t break, and the Russians haven’t. Yet. But it is far worse for Russia than they ever dreamed. And eventually even the Russians have to tell his mother that Ivan isn’t coming home.

    1
  13. CSK says:

    The mayor of Melitopol, Ivan Federov, who was kidnapped by Russian forces last week, has been freed by special operation. Federov thanked Zelenskyy for his help.

  14. de stijl says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    I’m not sure Putin has any goal at all beyond personal self-aggrandizement by military conquest. By demonstrably exerting his will for the world to see.

    He is a pathetic person. Wants to be the new Stalin. A joke. A powerful joke, but still just a joke.

    Hopefully, a future cautionary tale about misguided hubris.

    1
  15. de stijl says:

    Some former high-ranking dude’s Twitter take on Zelenskyy:

    “Why is he not wearing a suit and tie while addressing Congress? This is all highly disrespectful! Harumph!”

    Dude got dragged hard and rightfully so.

    1
  16. gVOR08 says:

    @de stijl: At least Zelenskyy didn’t wear a tan suit. I sometimes think a prerequisite of conservatism is a lack of any sense of proportion.

    5
  17. Jen says:

    @de stijl: I think OzarkHB posted that tweet yesterday. I read through some of the comments, it’s been a minute since I saw someone get ratioed that badly. He deserved it.

    2
  18. Gustopher says:

    As heart-wrenching as Zelensky’s speech was, I’m not sure why Congress agreed to host it.

    It’s also an incredibly powerful message to Putin that we are standing with Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people. It’s leverage for the peace talks.

    You might think the supplies of weapons does that, but people respond to big, emotional and symbolic images more than facts.

    4
  19. Andy says:

    As heart-wrenching as Zelensky’s speech was, I’m not sure why Congress agreed to host it.

    Congress wants to – at the very least – appear engaged on the issue. How would it look if Zelensky asked to address Congress and they refused?

    So this is mostly about optics, but Zelensky’s very effective messaging lays the groundwork for Congress to approve additional measures.

    6
  20. Kathy says:

    @de stijl:

    I’m not sure Putin has any goal at all beyond personal self-aggrandizement by military conquest.

    The thing about that is he first has to militarily conquer something. There’s a long list of men who sought out such glory and wound up defeated, humiliated, and often dead as well.

    1
  21. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK:

    Biden has called Putin a war criminal.

    Considering that it will take a military force to take Putin into “custody,” I’m not sure how much what Biden, or anyone else, calls Putin matters much. A slap in the propaganda war?

  22. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Michael Reynolds: While “Xi’s toothless pitbull” is a great line (ah, you writerly types), I’m not sure that it reflects Xi’s level of investment in this particular matter or his geopolitical worldview. To the extent that the incursion into the Ukraine sucks the air out of the room of global attention, the incursion may be permitting Xi to do more things that he prefers not be noticed (SQUIRREL!), but the notion that Putin is some sort of a proxy force or guardian(?) of Xi’s interests seems preposterous to this lil ignint cracker.

    Maybe Putin is more in the line of a “useful idiot.”

    1
  23. JohnSF says:

    A very smart move by both President Biden and President Zelensky.
    It means that almost all the political pressure will be for additional assistance, not quibbling about what is given or cost etc.
    Leaves Taylor Greene and other isolationist Trumpkins outliers themselves isolated and looking stupid.

    Also works in the international political/information context.
    Other countries know that Ukraine has the ear of the USA, and will be very hesitant to do Russia any favours.

    4
  24. de stijl says:

    @Kathy:

    It reminds me of Roman generals and Caesars who wanted conquest and glory on the frontiers. Germany, Gaul, Dacia. The “barbarians” were well-equipped and salty about being invaded and occupied and made the process, the whole shebang not really worth the effort or expense.

    Taking and holding Germany makes no sense. Some iron ore, some salt. It really does not benefit us much and costs us a lot. Rome was brutally practical.

    Yet every decade or so saw those boundary conquest wars pop up.

    Glory seeking. Hubris. Wanting to look like and be perceived as a bad-ass. Pride.

    It’s all so stupid.

    1
  25. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @de stijl: I read the Twitter bio of one guy when I read his twits (or is that tweets?). The bio didn’t say “high-ranking” anything to me. It spoke more of a “self-important mutual funds salesman.”

    2
  26. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    When I look at maps for Xi’s belt and road initiative I think I’d really like to have Russia on-side. I think Ukraine also served as a sort of public relations dry run for Taiwan – how united would the West be.

    2
  27. de stijl says:

    @gVOR08:

    I used to wear an olive suit for work. Cotton. Summer weight. Maybe more avocado than olive. Wore it proud and bold as brass.

  28. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Michael Reynolds: While I see your points, I’m still not convinced that they reflect as much an intentional motive on the part of Xi as a willingness to capitalize on Putin not being particularly competent. The fact that the Ukraine serves as a dry run may simply be happenstance. (And the PLA is not likely to be anywhere near as incompetent as Putin’s force, but I still wouldn’t be particularly interested in testing the proposition. Maybe even regardless of the West’s reaction. But I’m just a cracker, so I probably don’t know nuthin.)

  29. JohnSF says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    Explicitly, publicly, calling another head of state a war criminal is well outside the normal rules of the international presidents union.

    It’s a sign that as long as Putin is ruler there is no path back to “normal relations” for Russia, as far as the US is concerned

    7
  30. Mikey says:

    MARIUPOL, Ukraine (AP) — The bodies of the children all lie here, dumped into this narrow trench hastily dug into the frozen earth of Mariupol to the constant drumbeat of shelling.

    This piece is hard to read, the pictures hard to see. It brings both rage and despair. Can’t we do more for them? How can we do more for them?

    1
  31. Kathy says:

    @de stijl:

    I was thinking about Romans. and King Pyrrhus and Hannibal before them as well.

    A notable place for the deaths of ambitious Romans was Persia. Crassus died there attempting conquest, and later so did Emperor Julian the Apostate, the last pagan Roman emperor.

    The original Julius Caesar famously conquered Gaul, sending dispatches often to Rome so people would know of his deeds. One thing he was planning was an invasion of Persia. He was saved from likely historical ignominy by Brutus, and the others who assassinated him, before he could put such plans into motion.

    Vlad the Butcher, as we’re witnessing, wasn’t so lucky.

    2
  32. dazedandconfused says:

    @gVOR08:
    The Marines on Iwo were motivated. They were absolutely convinced the fight was righteous and necessary. I see no reason to believe a similar feeling exists within the Russian army in this. They are fighting people with their culture, speaking the same language for the most part, and not in cities with civilians.
    They will have morale problems, bet the farm, and those problems will grow with time.

    It’s worth mentioning a direct intervention by the US in the form of a no-fly zone would encourage Zelensky not to negotiate and would make granting even minor concessions to get an armistice more difficult for him politically. It would also make it more difficult for the Russians.

    1
  33. Kathy says:

    @JohnSF:

    I thought that was exactly the point. Also a way to maintain sanctions after the war on Ukraine is over, one way or another.

  34. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @JohnSF: Okay. I’m standing by waiting for the next sociopathic despot to apply the solution to the current one to “restore normal relations” then.

    At least until the return of FG or the next GQP knothead gets elected in 2 years. 🙁

  35. dazedandconfused says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    A stock broker who has firmly placed his non-hedged silver foot in his mouth. Twitter: A megaphone for idiots. Perhaps one day he will figure out the intelligent comments are ignored and one only gets famous by saying stupid things in it.

    Xi had his ambassador publicly praising the courage of the Ukrainian yesterday, and today their state-run twitter showed the horror of 10 civilians killed while trying to get bread.

    Anyone who thinks Chinese media and ambassadors make idle public statements is a fool. The noise about Chinese/Russian alliance is still just noise. The Chinese are far more likely to be upset about the price of a barrel of ME oil and a loss of stability than being obsessed with taking down the US. Their silk road planned port to the EU was to be at Odessa and they’ve sunk a ton of money into improving the port. They have strong links to Ukraine.

    Many US foreign policy wonks are assuming the Chinese must be on Putin’s side of this but the scant existing evidence is to the contrary. Everything is not about us, it really isn’t. The wonks have difficulty imagining that sometimes.

    2
  36. inhumans99 says:

    I have said this before, but despite some wonkiness on the timing of it all (Trump has not been in office for over a year), I am convinced that one of main reasons that it got into Putin’s head that he could go ahead and try to take over Ukraine was that one he thought Trump would still be President, and two, even if he lost that Trump in tandem with a GOP controlled Senate (I won’t say for all practical purposes the GOP does control the Senate, but it is certainly a stalemate in which both sides do not get much done to further their agenda) would be able to prevent any opposition to his actions from around the world from amounting to something that could effectively stand in Putin’s way.

    Putin erred on both points, Trump did lose, but despite the hold he has on certain members of Congress, his influence did nothing to push the Senate into going forward with denouncing all the condemnations Putin is receiving from many leaders around the world, and the Senate could only stand by and watch as nation after nation clamped down hard on Russia, freezing their money, etc..

    You have GOP Senators, who for the most part now only want to be quoted in print and media as denouncing Russia’s actions, and if one asks who is it in the U.S. that Putin still has cheerleading for him, well, it is folks like Tucker Carlson, and that young reporter who worked for I believe an appendage of the RT media empire (empire is a strong word to use as of today, as a bit of the influence RT had in spreading propaganda around the globe has been noticeably diminished in recent weeks).

    If Putin were not such a monster, I would almost want to play the comedic sad trombone for him, as I almost feel sorry for him (yeah, not really, but still, Tucker Carlson and a wet behind the ears reporter, pretty sad indeed). Honestly, less than 16 months back he was on top of the world, if Putin wanted to continue to try and take out his opponents on foreign soil no one seemed able to stop him, if he wanted to spread misinformation, again, no one seemed able to stop him, now he is down to begging China to get involved in his war, and claiming that he has over 16,000 volunteer fighters who were in Syria who are chomping at the bit to fight for Russia, and are not even concerned about getting paid (probably the funniest thing I have heard someone say in quite some time), such is their love of Mother Russia, it is indeed quite pathetic.

    What is happening to Russia really is proof of the saying that everything (and I do mean everything) Trump touches eventually turns to crap, and while it may taken a bit longer than usual for Russia to feel the effects of Trumps magic touch, they certainly are feeling its full effect now.

    2
  37. JohnSF says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    Maybe for the US a future president might “reset” with a post-Putin regardless of other considerations.

    But if I read things correctly a fairly solid section of the political elites of the EU are now convinced that not only Putin but any other Russian leader who ascribes to Great Russia ideology is too dangerous a neighbour to be normalised.

    Their doctrine of the right of Russian hegemony is as intolerable as the similar doctrines of Germany and Japan in the 1930’s were.
    Only a Russian government that abandons this can be regarded as trustworthy.

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  38. gVOR08 says:

    Tom Sullivan at LGM links to the best thing I’ve read on why Putin is doing this. The context within which he is rational, if I dare bring that up again. He quotes and links to Ezra Klein’s interview with Tim Snyder, a Yale historian who’s written six books about Ukraine. He was defending a doctoral dissertation in Ukraine when the Russian troops entered. (Oddly, I first saw Tyler Cowen link to this and Sullivan spends the first part of his post dunking on an earlier post by Cowen.)

    The interview is quite long. The first chunk is a useful, but not riveting discussion of the “politics of inevitability”. Much of what Snyder says is not about Ukraine but useful in understanding our domestic present moment. And the EU. And Russia/China.

    So in the case of Mr. Putin, it’s, in my view anyway, absolutely the case that he doesn’t care about the things that we think people ought to care about. You know, he doesn’t care about the Russian economy. I don’t think he even cares about Russian interests, perhaps not even the survival of the Russian state.

    But he does care about other things. And he’s been very clear about those things. He cares about how he’s going to be remembered after he’s dead. He cares about an image of an eternal Russia. He cares about these things which are out of our normal field of view. But that doesn’t make them either rational or irrational. It just means that they are different values.

    So the way we tell the Second World War is completely inside out, you know, Western Front rather than Eastern Front. And in the Eastern Front, we don’t really understand what Hitler’s ambitions were. So I guess in the broadest possible way, it’s important to understand that in a colonial paradigm, Ukraine is going to be central. Ancient Greece got grain from Ukraine. In the 16th century, Poland effectively colonized Ukraine during the Age of Discovery and sold grain from Ukraine around the world for gold and silver that came from Latin America. In the 20th century, Stalin also colonized Ukraine. And he actually used that language.

    He (Stalin) talked about self-colonization, internal colonization, the notion being that if you’re going to imitate capitalism, which is what Stalinism was all about, if you’re going to imitate capitalism at an accelerated pace, you have to go through all the stages of capitalism, including the imperial stage. You have to exploit yourself because you don’t have distant Maritime colonies like the British do. And Ukraine was the main thing to be exploited because of the fertile soil. Hence, collectivization of agriculture, hence a famine that kills 4 million people.

    And I have to say all that because it’s prelude to the Germans. Hitler is looking at Ukraine as a breadbasket. Hitler is looking at Ukraine as the last best opportunity for the Germans to create a colonial system, which he sees as like that of other countries, but coming in later, coming in harder and allowing Germany to catch up and become a superpower, like the British are, like the Americans are from his point of view.

    And so his war aim, his central war aim is to destroy the Soviet Union and to control the oil fields in the Caucasus, but above all, to control the rich soil of Ukraine, from which most of the population is going to be expelled or starved. (Lebensraum)

    And then what Putin does with it — and this is the mystical part — is that he sees history just in terms of a kind of fragmented unity, which is his word by the way. He wrote this very long essay in July of last year, which we called “On the Historical Unity of Russia and Ukraine.” And everything about it is wrong, starting with the title. But it’s revealing that he sees the past in terms of a lost unity. And so the things which don’t seem to fit that unity he dismisses immediately as artificial. If something shows you that Ukraine isn’t just part of Russia, that’s not really the past. That’s artificial. That should be stripped away.

    The real past, although you can’t always see, it is this underlying unity. And that brings us very close towards the kind of ideas precisely that animate this war in Ukraine. In that essay and then his recent pronouncements, he stresses that Ukraine as a state, as a nation is not real. What he means is that all of the facts which you and I might see which might suggest that it is real, all those things are artificial.

    Those things have to be stripped away in order to get to the underlying reality, which is that Ukrainians really do want to be part of Russia. They may not know it, but as soon as we get rid of their elites, as soon as we get rid of their state, they will realize all of that. So this notion of underlying unity, you know, it’s interesting, it’s an idea.

    We should at least start from where he’s (Putin’s) starting from. Because there is a logic here. You know, the logic is cutting through the confusion, undoing the fragmentation. I may not be able to think it all through, but I’m going to show you that I can act it all through. The world may not be the way I describe. I may not be able to gather up in my paragraphs, but I can gather it up in my paratroopers. I can make it make sense. Watch me make it make sense.

    That last is what DeSantis is doing on a much smaller, and less horrible scale, by creating an election police force after what he himself described as a clearly fair election. He’s making The Big Lie real.

    Sorry about the extensive quotes, but it’s hard to excerpt and I left out a lot of good insight.

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  39. JohnSF says:

    @dazedandconfused:
    The evidence is that China is ambivalent.

    The US will not be releasing reports of Chinese possible material and economic support for Russia if those options were not a real possibility.

    And it is not just “US foreign policy wonks” who are concerned.
    And still less that this is solely about China – US relations.
    Manfred Weber, leader of the European People’s Party, the largest group in the European Parliament:

    “China’s direct military support for the Russian war in Ukraine would have major implications for Europe’s relations with Beijing. The situation between Europe and China is already tense, but China should be aware it can get much worse.”

    The signs are that China is probably rather displeased by Russian rashness and lack of realistic planning.
    Especially if Putin gave false assurances of a short war on the basis of wishful thinking.
    And, as you say, China is unlikely to be happy about oil (and grain) prices.

    Incidentally, if Odessa was the terminal for a belt route, they also need transit via Russia.
    As a port, if Odessa was unavailable, Novorossiysk in Krasnodar in the Russian Kuban would serve, with three times the tonnage handling capacity of Odessa.

    Less good for onbound rail shipments though.
    But then, the near to medium term prospect of thriving rail traffic westward out of Russia to Ukraine or anywhere else in Europe is doubtful.
    To put it mildly.

  40. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    Oh, I didn’t mean to imply that Putin was doing Xi’s bidding, they weren’t at that point in the relationship. What I assume is that both men thought they would get the better of any informal alliance, and now Putin has lost face. I don’t for a minute think Xi ever saw Putin as a peer, but as potentially useful. Now Putin’s market value has dropped.

  41. JohnSF says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Putin has lost face. I don’t for a minute think Xi ever saw Putin as a peer, but as potentially useful. Now Putin’s market value has dropped.

    It’s more than that.
    Putin has porked the pooch on an epic scale.
    As @dazedandconfused indicated, and I followed up on, this utterly shafts the westbound “Belt and Road” project for the forseeabale, and is hitting the Chinese econmy hard on other fronts.
    Oil price, likely grain shortages; and just look at the capital flows out of China. Ouch.

    Next to this, some metals mines in Siberia, or consumer goods sales to an economy best compared to a train wreck are small potatoes. Even gas pipes couldn’t make up for potential downsides on this.

    I’d place a small bet that Xi is currently cursing the day he gave any credence to assurances from the delusional fool in the Kremlin.
    And also bawling out the European desk people at the foreign ministry who didn’t brief him on the realities of the situation.

    1
  42. JohnSF says:

    Thanks for this.
    Snyder is generally worth a read.
    His Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin is very good for a background on the recent history of the area.

  43. Kathy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I wrote in the open thread yesterday that I think we’re having a hard time absorbing the possibility that the Russians may actually lose. Ukrainians may actually fight them to a stalemate.

    A stalemate is not a loss until Vlad withdraws his troops or concedes defeat. the question is how long he can maintain it. See Vietnam, Afghanistan under the Soviets, Afghanistan 2001-2021.

    Ukraine’s problem is they can’t hit Russia directly. If they could, Putin couldn’t hold on to a stalemate or years. Or he’d resort to chemical weapons or nukes to get them to stop.

  44. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @JohnSF: Time will certainly tell. My admittedly cynical take is that Europe will look for any one not exactly identical to Putin as the dawn of a new era in Euro/Russo relationships with the same kind of vigor that American conservatives disenchanted with FG are breathlessly seeking anyone that isn’t vulgar and doesn’t have orange hair and a bad spray-tan job to usher in the “new look GQP” (*with and even bigger and better wall-and the best door evah!!!).

    1
  45. JohnSF says:

    @gVOR08:
    Thanks for that, Snyder is always worth attention.
    I can’t read the NYT article: “Reached you limit of free articles” LOL.
    Didn’t even realise I’d looked at any lately.
    Have to try Lexis link at work.

    Anyway; do you know if he touched on the nature and basis of Ukrainian nationalism.
    It’s a topic I keep meaning to address here, but it’ll take a hefty post and a bit of time to set it out properly.
    It’s kind of Great Russian “Third Rome” ideology meets Ukrainian anarcho-nationalism: the irresistible force meets the immovable object.
    The Ukrainian “No. Won’t.” and antipathy to the Russian state (NOT to the Russian people) has deep roots in their tragic history.

  46. JohnSF says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    You could be right.
    But my view is that it is a step change; as important as the French and British reaction to the German treachery after Munich 1938.
    Or the US reaction to the Japanese invasion of China in 1937.

  47. gVOR08 says:

    @JohnSF: Snyder does touch on Ukranian nationalism, both historic and current. Briefly of course, but in a way Klein saw as quite hopeful. He also speaks of Russia’s geopolitical situation, which Putin is ignoring, which requires balancing between a powerful nation in Asia and a a powerful coalition in Europe. Snyder feels Putin has unwittingly just committed Russia to being dominated by China. Hope you can find it. If not, raise your hand and I can email a PDF or something.

  48. JohnSF says:

    @Kathy:
    The basic Russian problem now, which is insufficiently appreciated, is that (as I posted a few days ago) as of now the Russian Army in Ukraine is far smaller than the Ukrainian forces.
    Some 180,000 to 200,000 Russians comitted to the war; out of c. 280,000 total army (depending on estimates).
    The Ukrainian Army has 190,000 “regular” soldiers.
    But it also has 900,000 reserves.

    Since 2014 there have been six drafts.
    Of these, contingents of 60,000 have been rotated through the Donbas front, where the Russians have very kindly (snark) provided fairly intense combat training.

    So roughly 400,000 (!) reservists with European combat experience.
    Far more than the Russian have.
    Russian have not rotated formations in a similar way.

    Their recent combat experience is largely limited to units deployed against irregulars in Syria, Libya, Mali. And Chechens most experienced in terrorizing their own people.

    The main Ukrainian problem has been lack of weaponry to match it’s reserves, and an “infantry-centric” defensive basis.
    The flood of western missiles and other equipment has given them exactly the firepower they need to make their combat experience effective.

    The usual rule of thumb is that armies need a 3 to 1 superiority for the attack to prevail against a reasonably competent peer-level defence.

    The Russians (and quite a lot of outside observers, to be fair. Including me, before I looked at the figures) thought they could get round that by air superiority, more armour and artillery.

    And by a rapid “decapitation” assault on Kyiv, and presumption that Ukraine would fail to resist.
    That Ukraine army of 2022 = Ukraine army of 2014.

    Oopsie!

    Russia has a whole number of secondary screw-ups and problems, but basic one is lack of manpower to take and hold.

    They can mobilise 2 million reservists; in theory.
    In practice former conscripts who never had much training, have likely forgotten most, have no experienced NCO cadre to form up on.
    And equipment for them? Supplying them?
    Given performance up to now, what’s the betting?

    Not to mention an economy falling apart; is the economic capacity there to support that scale of mobilisation?
    I doubt it.

    If the Russia persist, Russia may “conquer” Ukraine; but the Russian Army will expire doing it.

    If they can even take Kyiv which looks rather iffy as of now.
    And winning there is very unlikely to break the Ukrainians.
    More likely the Russian Army will break first in that meatgrinder.

    3
  49. JohnSF says:

    @gVOR08:
    Thanks, should have access via work account, it’s a pretty comprehensive resource set.
    Will get back if not 🙂

    (Usual problem is providers not feeding the proper metadata, as they are so used to googlificatin these days 🙁 )

  50. Kathy says:

    @JohnSF:

    I’m reminded a bit of Israel in its first 30 years or so, when they repeatedly beat back larger hostile neighbors. Unfortunately Ukraine lacks a large air force, and worthwhile targets in Russia might be too far to strike anyway….

    And by a rapid “decapitation” assault on Kyiv, and presumption that Ukraine would fail to resist. That Ukraine army of 2022 = Ukraine army of 2014.

    This proves not everyone fights the last war. Putin is trying to, the Ukrainian people didn’t go along.

    Air superiority is not hard to achieve. Simply put more planes in the air than your opponent. Air supremacy is a different matter in this era of cheap drones that can strike ground targets, more so if Ukraine has a sufficiency of surface to air missiles. I suppose the Russians aren’t very good at taking out radar and missile sites.

    1
  51. dazedandconfused says:

    @JohnSF:
    Do you really believe that China is ambivalent about the price of oil and world market destabilization?

  52. JohnSF says:

    @dazedandconfused:
    No indeed not; hence my words:

    And, as you say, China is unlikely to be happy about oil (and grain) prices.

    Likelihood is Putin promised Xi it be over within a few days.
    It’s often easier to mislead others when you have already misled yourself.

    As to China’s reason for not opposing Russia in this:
    – The Russian parade of resenting American “interference” plays well in Beijing
    – China shares the attitude that “provinces” are to be subordinated to the empire regardless of their inhabitants wishes: Taiwan, Hong Kong, Xinjaing, Tibet.
    – The prospect of a rapid victory humiliating the US and hopefully increasing splits in the Alliance
    – Russia is a useful supplier of raw materials; and Siberian gas could be very handy in the future; and a reasonable market for manufactures, albeit nowhere near the size of Europe or America.
    – Russia is potentially a useful tool for coercive diplomacy in Africa and managing the Middle East. Replacing US dominance in the region esp. the Gulf would be highly advantageous.
    – Xi appears to share a rather typical autocrats view of “liberal” states: decadent, declining, unable to rule effectively, yadda yadda. Same old song.

    As I replied to Michael Reynolds:

    I’d place a small bet that Xi is currently cursing the day he gave any credence to assurances from the delusional fool in the Kremlin.
    And also bawling out the European desk people at the foreign ministry who didn’t brief him on the realities of the situation.

    And there are signs that Beijing is now trying to sidle away from it’s embarrassment, but slowly enough to save the appearances.
    Interesting that there are now reports of Chinese negative reporting re. Ukraine on internal media.

  53. JohnSF says:

    @Kathy:
    Ukraine appears to have been very smart about use of air defences: missiles, aircraft and radars.
    Aircraft dispersed to concealed secondary sites, and shuffled between them.
    Radars switching on only for short periods for a SAM launch or air intercept, then switched of and moved.
    Missile launchers fire and move.
    All this minimises targets for Russian defence suppression missiles.

    In addition, Russia has been incredibly, stupidly incompetent in its use of missiles.
    Instead of using them for strikes on military targets, they are wasted on hitting apartment, hospitals etc in terror tactics.
    The chekist mentality at work.

    There are also indicators that Ukraine are using sophisticated networked battle management systems to co-ordinate land operations, and possible air integration. And supply management, which is quite tricky with highly dispersed and mobile forces.

    And I suspect, though it is not being talked about (perhaps because it’s not being talked about) electronic warfare activity.
    Russia seems to having massive problems with communications, and senior officers being identified and killed.

    3
  54. SC_Birdflyte says:

    The fact that four of Putin’s generals have been killed in Ukraine over the last three weeks points to a basic flaw in Russian operational doctrine: too much reliance on orders from superiors. Whereas in the U.S. military, field-grade officers are told to think for themselves. I’m reminded of a tale which a former colleague (Vietnam veteran) once told: He was in a Marine convoy bringing up reinforcements to a firebase. When an ambush erupted, the battalion commander tried to micro-manage the battle and was put in his place by the general who was observing from a helicopter.

  55. Kathy says:

    @JohnSF:

    I was under the impression that turning off and moving radars and missile batteries after each use was standard procedure. A radar gives away its location the minute it turns on, as does a missile battery the moment one launches.

    There are also indicators that Ukraine are using sophisticated networked battle management systems to co-ordinate land operations, and possible air integration. And supply management, which is quite tricky with highly dispersed and mobile forces.

    People rarely pay attention to what goes on behind the scene, which is usually not only more important, but also most of the work that needs doing.

  56. JohnSF says:

    @Kathy:
    It’s supposed to be procedure; but Russians and Ukrainians used to be rather lax, as explained to me by someone who actually know about this stuff.
    Apparently its a bit more complex than just “switch off, move, switch on” for radar systems.
    Missile launchers are apparently easier to shift without complications.

    There are some indications that Ukraine may be using networked passive detectors to identify Russian interlopers, so that SAM radars only need to run for a short spell, and/or alert MANPADS teams to incoming.

  57. Kathy says:

    @JohnSF:

    Apparently its a bit more complex than just “switch off, move, switch on” for radar systems.

    That’s why the demons live on the details. There are many and not all are obvious. that’s before you get into all the different types of radar and/or radar deployments.

  58. dazedandconfused says:

    @JohnSF:
    Is there any evidence Putin informed Xi he would attack Ukraine? It appears to me his op-sec was so tight it precluded even informing his own troops, even while they were moving in.

  59. Lounsbury says:

    @dazedandconfused: Valid point. There appears to be a good amount of evidence by corresponding claims of Russian prisoners that even officer level staff learned of the real extent within 24 hours of launch while Soldier Ivan learned essentially on being put in trucks to cross the border.

    It seems entirely plausible and consistent that PRC was told and had intel of a “special military operation” but like many interpreted and thought it would be a Donbass and Crimean borderlands snatch and grab, not a full out (and colossally badly planned) invasion.

    It would seem in keeping with Putin securitate mentalité what was seen in first days that he engaged in layers of deception to the point even Xi et Co got a deformed idea.

    Impossible to know for sure but in overall body of evidence seems plausible.

  60. JohnSF says:

    @dazedandconfused:
    Direct evidence? No.
    But do we expect a verbatim transcript of their meeting on 4th February?

    I would suggest that if Putin had not informed Xi that some sort of “operation” was forthcoming, the latter would be extremely annoyed.
    It is not how two friendly Powers would normally interact at this level, especially given that just before the summit Beijing had publicly stated it “understood” Russian security concerns.
    But their post summit statements, and the initial favourable “guiding voices” in Chinese internal social media indicate that China was neither surprised nor displeased.
    At first.

    My guess (and it is just a guess) is that Putin assured Xi that the “operation” would be swift and conclusive, as all indications are Putin genuinely thought it could be: a decapitation strike and installing a “friendly” government in Kiev, and a political settlement on Moscow’s terms.

    And I think Xi was inclined to go along given displeasure at Western boycotts of the Winter Games.

    But the relationship is still a far from an alliance, as yet.
    China is ambivalent, I think.
    It will naturally seek to maximise advantage and minimise cost.
    It is plain Beijing desires to avoid open rupture with either party.
    That is why Xi is probably thinking, in retrospect, it would have been better to investigate the strategic realities, and urge Putin to desist.
    After all, Russia has scant leverage against China, short of burning its own economic bridges.

    As I say: guesswork.
    Shoot me if I’m wrong.
    (But I’m not. 😉 )