by Egbert Nohbakkon 2 April 2023
An inside page headline in yesterday's (1 April 2023) Daily Telegraph claims 'Russia will never recover from this devastating collapse,' though the article below it does not quite make clear exactly what collapse the writer is talking about. The Telegraph has been unashamedly pro Ukraine, Zelensky worshipping and Russophobic in its coverage since day one of the war and the article was not an April Fool joke (the Telegraho did have a rather good one about the UK government planning to put wind turbines on top of tall buildings.)
Wind Turbine on London's BT Tower (Daily Telegraph)
Almost every day new victories for the glorious Ukrainian military have been proclaimed, readers have been told the Russian economy was in a state of collapse due to western sanctions, the Russian military was in disarray with troops on the brink of mutiny, the Russian war machine was out of artillery ammunition, Soviet era tanks were being brought out of storage and Vladimir Putin was suffering from terminal cancer and on his deathbed (if not already dead. And some were gullible enough to believe it.
By all means, both sides of the case should be explored and investigated, and while it is clear the 'Special Military Operation has not gone to plan for Moscow, objective reports agree that Ukraine is suffering massive material damage to its infrastructure and is suffering heavy casualties.
We have seen -- as in all wars -- senior commanders being replaced for poor performance. And by all means, if there are any additional preparations we can make in readiness should the war spill beyond Ukraine, or is any incremental threat to the security of western nations that flows from this conflict, our leaders should also prepare to deal with the consequences.
Perhaps the most concerning is the suggestion, which is not entirely incredible, that there is a fifth column of elites either actively working towards Russia's defeat, or to ensure that it does not succeed too well. I think they may exist; but it also seems their position is considerably weaker than before the SMO. They might regain some degree of power if events turn decisively against Russia.
However as things stand sanctions have failed to dent Russia's economy and have damaged the NATO member states that imposed them far more than the target. Worse, Russia is now economically closer to China with India, Iran, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and a host of emerging economies eafer to do business with Russia and China.
But let us assume for a moment, that all of the specific events (if not the secret intentions and agendas) in this account are roughly accurate; then the main point is that Russia is quietly succeeding and NATO noisily failing in spite of all this across multiple domains (which should be considered in tandem as elements of total warfare): military, economic, defense-industrial, logistical, strategic commodity access, technology, sustainability, diplomacy (outside West), geopolitical alliances, currency, domestic support...
Insofar as this general picture is true, in its totality and in almost all of its particulars, this is the diametrical opposite of what Western 'strategic planners' anticipated, publicly forecasted, & bet our life savings on.
From this, at the very least, we can infer that the general premises and foundational concepts underpinning Western strategic planning--things such as GDP, financialized vs industrial economies, military spending as a reflection of or proxy for military strength, reality based analysis vs self-defeating propaganda (e.g., lack of respect for Russian military, industry, technocracy, technology), a war of territorial gains, battlefield symbolism & information warfare vs. macro-strategic thinking, logistics, & attritional warfare--should by now be greetied with ever increasing skepticism.
Conversely, we might at least seriously entertain the possibility--without lapsing into Copium--that the Russian strategic planners are better--indeed vastly better than the Zelensky fan club view would support, and considerably better than we have seen from the West to this point.
Let's take the issue of the bridgies on the Dneiper bridges for example. The failure of the Russian military to bomb these strategically importand bridges is repeatedly cited as proof of the Russian military leadership's incompetence. But why would anyone
imagine that a Russian strategic-planning team that is at least holding
its own against (if not humiliating) a 50-country Western adversary,
does NOT GRASP THE IMPORTANCE OF BRIDGES? Assuming, instead, that they
are not far more stupid than we are, and that they do understand, then,
a) they don't think they can take the bridges out (if so, case closed);
b) they don't want to take them out.
Why wouldn't they want to take them out if they can (and still assuming they aren't stupid)? Is the next best explanation traitorous or corrupt intent?
Is there a broader strategic vision in which this would make sense--might even be strategically clever?
Better strategic minds than mine might conjure better scenarios but here's one:
Arguably from the before the SMO, or at least soon after, Russia recognized itself to be at war with NATO--indeed a NATO that was brashly talking about crushing Russia's economy, crashing its financial system, triggering a Moscow Maidan (or more likely a Palace Coup of Atlanticist elites) while it launched a long-term NAZI mujahideen guerrilla campaign after the inevitable quick & bloody Russian victory. A victory that in the NATO mind would have required a full-frontal tank assault on the massively fortified Maginot line built over 8 years in the Donbass, & likely at the cost of something on the order of 150,000 to 200,000 Russian KIAs, or more if the standard 3:1 attacker:defender ratio were also reflective of casualty ratios.
Let's just say that Russia has given them something very, very different. Overall, an economy of force operation and war of attrition.
Though Russian losses are hard to calculate (and Ukraine's impossible with any precision), the only credible Western source with a plausible & announced methodology is the BBC's survey, producing evidence for only 16,000 burials. Conversely, not only is there now nearly universal recognition that Ukraine losses are staggeringly high (anywhere from 120k to 350k KIAs), this represents something even more than demilitarization per se, but the elimination of an increasing proportion of the mobilization potential from which the 20-year, stay-behind, nazi guerrilla campaign would be drawn.
As for the war of attrition, it's now clear that Russia more or less on its own is winning that war against a 50-country Western block that includes 30 of the world's highest-GDP per capita economies.
If Russia's planners are fools, knaves or traitors, they're doing it wrong.
I would argue that almost from the beginning Russia has been conducting the war in such a way as to essentially counter and overcome the West's advantages--real but also falsely imagined--and exploit its weaknesses.
Russia has managed to a remarkable degree the pace and escalation of conflict, such that the West, rather than being terrified and spurred to full wartime mobilization by an overwhelming display of Russian power, has instead conducted a remarkable campaign of maskirovka on itself. (Russia weak, corrupt, incompetent, stupid--sound familiar?)
As a result, instead of joining its full NATO forces to the Ukraine military that was at full strength a year ago, the West has watched that UKR military broken twice, then seen thousands of mercenaries and weapons fed into a buzzsaw in the Donbass like those sushi boats we see being floated down to hungry customers at the far end of a sushi counter.
If you decided you must be ready for a NATO (or coalition of the willing) attack at any time--especially after a battered Russia had lost 200k KIAs in a frontal assault on the Donbass--WHERE would you choose to fight? Close to the Russian borders in the East & South or at the end of a 1000k logistical train (across the Dniepr BRIDGES) in Western Ukraine?
Meanwhile, by slowing the pace of engagements, Russia has been able to fully restart its defense-industrial complex, and partially mobilize without sacrificing the civilian economy to the war. New weapons systems and tactics are being steadily tested and deployed. The mobilized are clearly receiving intensive training, likely in new doctrines. The Russian technical education system--already strong--is being upgraded.
And of course, this overall building of war fighting strength, should be seen to include military backing available from allied countries (Iran, China & perhaps NK) and keeping other major economic partners onside.
Indeed it could be speculated that *from the beginning* the primary constraint driving Russia's choices from a menu of strategic and operational options is to fight only at a pace and in a manner that *increases* Russia's overall war readiness in comparison to NATO's in the event of a NATO attack.
This, after all, is exactly the time-biding strategy Russia was
pursuing before the SMO and why they delayed an incursion as long as
they did. But instead of letting the war interrupt this process--they
have accelerated it, with the forces that weaken the West now in
overdrive, and Russia now a year ahead at least in actual mobilization
for large-scale combat.