Monday, January 26, 2015

The Big Push?

Russia's offensive appears to be on, although the scope doesn't seem to include Russian regulars in the spearheads since the toll so far is in dead and not ground taken or lost.

Putin's hand puppets may have simply telegraphed their offensive with the Mariupol bombardment. Fighting is renewed in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine:

Russian-backed rebels pushed forward on Monday with a new offensive that has brought all-out war back to eastern Ukraine after a five-month ceasefire, bringing U.S. and European threats of tighter Western financial sanctions against Moscow. ...

"Rebels are constantly attacking Ukrainian government positions across the conflict zone with artillery, mortars, grenade launchers, tanks," Kiev military spokesman Volodymyr Polyovy said at a televised briefing.

Meanwhile, the Russians are angry with the West for economic sanctions and disapproval over Russia's military aggression against Ukraine!

Russia blamed Kiev on Monday for a surge in fighting in Ukraine and warned the West that any attempt to increase economic pressure on Moscow would be "absolutely destructive" blackmail.

Pro-Moscow separatists, backed by what NATO says are Russian troops, have launched an offensive in southeastern Ukraine and President Barack Obama said Washington was considering all options short of military action to isolate Russia.

Yet for all the fantasy of Russian pronouncements on NATO plots against Holy Mother Russia, the Russians are doing far more damage to themselves:

The renewed Russian offensive in Donbas has brought forth more (and stronger) Western protests and more sanctions. Russia pretends to ignore the impact of the mess it has gotten into over Donbas and Crimea. Most of the world disapproves of such aggression. The UN charter explicitly forbids that sort of thing. No one, including most UN members, believes the Russian fiction that they are not involved. The Russian leadership, especially president-for-life Vladimir Putin, is making a major gamble here as he has made nationalism and “rebuilding Russian glory (and the empire)” a core part of his justification for turning Russia back into a police state. While the majority of Russians go for the glory part they are not happy with the economic problems and worldwide condemnation. Unlike back in Soviet (pre-1991) days the government cannot keep out all the bad news from the rest of the world. In this case the bad news is that the rest of the world sees Russia as the bad guy here and this angers some Russians but dismays and demoralizes many more. Russians know their history and they know what a disaster power mad and power hungry leaders have been in the past. More Russians are doing the math and most are concluding that Donbas is not worth the price the country is being forced to pay. Putin risks a backlash that could cost him his power and reputation.

Russia will have to do more of the heavy lifting if it wishes to achieve victory:

In Ukraine the Russian backed rebels are actually disorganized, discouraged and not all that effective. Interrogations of captured rebels indicate that there are many different factions, some of them not even from Ukraine (like the “Cossack” units from southern Russia). The Cossacks are very nationalist and really keen on rebuilding the Russian empire (which is what Cossacks were invented for centuries ago). The Cossacks were welcome arrivals when they showed up in 2014, because the original local Donbas rebels quickly lost their enthusiasm when their uprising triggered a nationalistic fervor throughout Ukraine and inspired Ukrainian troops and armed volunteers to fight a lot harder than the rebels expected. Russia, which sponsored and encouraged the rebels from the start soon found that the only way they could take territory was to send in Russian troops and heavy weapons (tanks, artillery, rocket launchers, missiles). The special operations units (Spetsnaz) were the best for this because these guys knew how to pretend (that they were Ukrainian rebels) and were very effective fighters. But there not enough of them available and regular Russian troops (which are mainly conscripts) had to be sent in as well, especially for support (transport and supply) functions. As more and more of these non-elite troops were killed a growing number of parents were not accepting the cover stories created to cover up the fact that their conscript son died in combat, not because of some accident.

The fact that Putin really wants victory, the fact that stringing this out is causing Russia big economic and political headaches, and the fact that the locals just aren't up to the job makes me wonder if even I have over-estimated Russian army capabilities.

Seriously, why haven't the Russians rolled the armor through Donbas to settle the territorial question once and for all, and send out Lavrov to cut a deal to put relations back on a more normal path--after a decent interval for the West to pretend we tried to stop the Russians?