It has been quite the busy weekend in both Ukraine and Russia. Here are some of the items of interest:
· ISW Assessrep for 13 March 2022.
o Here is the bottom line. Russia is stuck. Their failure to plan for Putin’s last minute invasion (as reported by WTOP on Friday), their lack of investment in operational logistics, and gross miscalculations about the Ukrainian response have resulted in a stalled offensive that yielded very little gains over the last 72 hours.
o A Russian airstrike against a military base in western Ukraine marks the one major departure from the current stalemate.
o According to the ISW report, Russia is also drawing more forces from its deployment to the N-K region in Azerbaijan and the Eastern Military District.
· No significant change in the worth of the ruble. It is currently worth 110 rubles to 1 USD. That is slightly higher from Friday (117 to 1 USD).
· Russian senior leadership is taking a significant hit. Several (currently 9) generals have been killed in action since the beginning of the war, several more generals have been sacked in a Stalin-esque purge, and Putin decided to place the head of the FSB under house arrest. The FSB crackdown provides additional evidence of the authenticity of the FSB whistleblower letter reported last week.
· Putin is now asking his buddy Xi for a helping hand. The US and NATO are giving China the hairy eyeball and telling Xi that there will be stiff penalties for material support to Russia. CNN reports that much of this material support could come in the support of armed drones. This raises the specter of a NATO vs. the Russo-China alliance proxy war in Ukraine.
· The New Yorker offers an interesting think piece on Russia’s knack for falling into the grips of despotism.
· In yet another new low, Russia kidnaps a second town mayor.
· The humanitarian impacts of this war are incalculable. So far, 2.5 million people have fled Ukraine. Those who are trapped are facing terrible conditions that include lack of food and heat.
· My assessment:
o Contrary to my early predictions, the military outcome of this “special military operation” is unclear. It is clear, however, that Putin will continue to double down on feeding combat forces into his Ukrainian Ulcer and employ terror tactics against civilians in order to coerce them to capitulate. The status of Ukrainian forces is unclear. Their combat losses, logistics, and combat effectiveness is all lost in the fog of war. Obviously, they are retaining some combat power, but this is probably more like a 12-round prize fight between a spritely underdog and a top contender… both exhausted and throwing what punches they can muster. Ultimately, even if Russia manages to win in the short-term, which is still more of a possibility than not, they will be faced with a fierce insurgency that will result in a defeat for Russia in the long-term.
o The political cost to Russia on the world stage is already clear. Putin has managed to make Russia even more of a pariah state than North Korea. The real question is how far will Xi go down this road with Putin? China enjoys their rogue states that keep their adversaries on their toes, but it has been 50 years since they’ve overtly supported a proxy war against the West. At that time, China did not have the same level of economic interdependence with Western trade partners that it does now. The conundrum for the US and its allies is that continuing to trade with China risks indirectly supporting Putin’s operations, but reducing or eliminating trade ties with China also risks pushing China more into Putin’s camp. The goal for US and western engagement with China should be to encourage them to be a moderating influence on Putin and ultimately help to craft an exit strategy for Russia that retains and restores Ukrainian sovereignty.
o Russia issuing a challenge to and not handily beating an undercard fighter only reinforces the US position as the dominant super-power. The notion of “the West in decline” and the “US in decline” is probably a combination of a twenty-year long drip of Russo-Chinese propaganda and the ensuing US perception of relative mediocrity (i.e. we can be the best but we still stink). Now that Putin has exposed just how rotten the core of his state really is, the position of the US, the West and the Quad is generally favorable, and Xi’s ability to challenge the international order is not nearly as strong as he thought it was.
o Any chances of Cold War 2.0 with Russia that resembles the last Cold War is effectively over. Competitions of influence require a perception of strength on the international stage, and Putin has completely shredded that.
o If Putin is not ousted by his cabal, the US and NATO will probably have to lock horns with him in military conflict. The potential for this conflict spilling over into NATO territory is escalating, and as Putin gets more desperate for either a win or something to rally the elite and the Russian people behind him, he’s may even try to goad NATO with false-flag attacks and covert operations. All of this comes, of course, as the US is positioning more forces in Eastern Europe, and Western European countries wake up to the Russian threat and begin rearming.
o As the evidence of Russian and Chinese military deficiencies continue to mount, it is possible that some policy makers may begin question the investments that the US is making in its own forces given that we aren’t as behind as what we believed… in fact, we’re still well ahead. The US needs to continue its efforts to field technologically-advanced, well-trained, well-supplied forces as part of its instruments of national power (IoP), and then be aggressively diplomatic because the cost of decades of perceived American weakness is being played out right now in Ukraine. It appears that although the current administration took military intervention off of the table (for now), it is actively using military means to reinforce diplomatic, information and economic means of protecting American interests and ending the Russian invasion. It is possible that we have not seen this kind of IoP synchronization since the Reagan Administration’s check against the USSR. Putin and Xi may have just created the impetus for American gunboat diplomacy for the next decade or two.
· The OSINT-based overview from @JominiW is below.
Eric (Token Army Guy)