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First came the shock

March 9, 2022 - 13:24 -- Admin

Since I don’t seem able to tear myself away from daily descending into the madness of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, I figured I might post links to some of the better, thinkier pieces I come across in my obsessive online trawling.

This essay by Eliot Cohen at The Atlantic, is a long but well argued piece about the meaning of the invasion and what will be required of the West to defeat it. Ukraine can't beat Putin on its own. (I’ve used the 12 Foot Ladder to get over the paywall here).

First came the shock: the sight of missiles and artillery shells slamming into apartment buildings, helicopters pirouetting in flames, refugees streaming across the border, an embattled and unshaven president pleading with anguished political leaders abroad for help, burly uniformed men posing by burned-out tanks and infantry fighting vehicles, Russian police spot-checking cellphones on Moscow streets for dissident conversations. Distress and anger and resolution were natural reactions. But the time has come to think strategically, asking what the West—and specifically the United States—should do in this crisis and beyond.

French Marshal Ferdinand Foch once said that the first task is to answer the question De quoi s’agit-il?, or “What is it all about?” The answer with respect to Ukraine, as with most other strategic problems, is less straightforward than one might think. At the most basic level, a Russian autocrat is working to subjugate by the most brutal means possible a free and independent country, whose independence he has never accepted. But there are broader issues here as well. The other wars of the post–Cold War era could be understood or interpreted as the consequence of civil war and secession or tit-for-tat responses to aggression. Not the Russian attack on Ukraine. This assault was unprovoked, unlimited in its objectives, and unconstrained in its means. It is, therefore, an assault not only on that country but on all international norms of decent behavior.

The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal both had good pieces yesterday about the massive airlift of military aid into Ukraine, via Poland. Although the Times went into greater detail about less obvious efforts being made on Kyiv’s behalf by various western cyber commands.

One of the odd features of the conflict so far is that it runs the gamut of old and modern warfare. The trenches dug by Ukrainian soldiers in the south and east look like scenes from 1914. The Russian tanks rolling through the cities evoke Budapest in 1956. But the battle of the present day that most strategists expected to mark the opening days of the war — over computer networks and the power grids and communications systems they control — has barely begun.

American officials say that is partly because of extensive work done to harden Ukraine’s networks after Russian attacks on its electric grid in 2015 and 2016. But experts say that cannot explain it all. Perhaps the Russians did not try very hard at the outset, or are holding their assets in reserve. Perhaps an American-led counteroffensive — part of what Gen. Paul M. Nakasone, the head of Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, calls a doctrine of “persistent engagement” in global networks — explains at least some of the absence.

Government officials are understandably tight-lipped, saying the cyberoperations underway, which have been moved in recent days from an operations center in Kyiv to one outside the country, are some of the most classified elements of the conflict. But it is clear that the cybermission teams have tracked some familiar targets, including the activities of the G.R.U., Russia’s military intelligence operations, to try to neutralize their activity. Microsoft has helped, turning out patches in hours to kill off malware it detects in unclassified systems.

WSJ, meanwhile, had some interesting deets about private military aid flowing from civil society, which Putin probably didn’t count on, since he doesn’t believe in civil society.

The allied effort is buttressed by ordinary citizens in Europe and the U.S., who say they are buying hunting-grade gear online—to circumvent rules against shipping military equipment—and funneling it to friends headed into Ukraine. In Warsaw, a 67-year-old woman is in charge of smuggling night-vision goggles to the country’s defenders. Packed hotels near the Polish-Ukrainian border cater to men asking each other how they can ship body armor to major cities, before Russian troops seize the roads.

(Sorry, no getting thru Rupert’s pay wall, which tempts me to just cut-n-paste the whole thing.

Some of the best writing I’ve come across so far is right here on Substack, from Professor Lawrence Freedman. Yesterday, he gave a little master class in the strategic implications of space and time.

Russia has now committed well over 90 percent of the massive force that was gathered around Ukraine before 24 February, and is still unable to take its early objectives, let alone work out, should they be taken, how they might be occupied and then governed. This suggests there is not much spare capacity for the western parts of the country, which is where Ukrainian forces, commanded from Lviv, could regroup with supplies coming in from Poland, Slovakia and possibly Hungary, if Kyiv were to fall.

But the maps don’t show the full extent of the quandary faced by the Russians. To repeat a point made in my previous post, presence is not the same as control. As we saw yesterday in extraordinary videos from Kherson and Melitopol, in which unarmed civilians were demonstrating against the Russians, these towns are not truly in Russian hands. The populations remain resolutely Ukrainian in their loyalties, providing evidence not only of their indignation about the Russian occupation but warning how the lack of effective control could have deadly consequences for Russian units if this turned into an insurgency.

Another area of Russian ‘control’ shown on the map, coming down from Belarus includes the famous 60 km Russian convoy, now stretching from Prybirsk, near Chernobyl, to the much fought-over Antonov airport near Kyiv. This is no longer a convoy. It has not moved for days and is not going anywhere. It is full of vehicles that have broken down, or been abandoned, or attacked by Ukrainian forces. The spectacle no longer coveys a menacing threat but instead epitomises Russia’s poor planning and the limitations of its equipment. Vehicles have not been well maintained and are unable to move off the road as they cannot cope with the boggy land, in some areas made boggier because of deliberately flooding. This ‘convoy’ denies this key road for any following Russian forces as surely as a blown bridge while preventing Russian forces accessing a vast amount of equipment and vital supplies.

And finally, I find myself waiting each day on the latest thread from Mick Ryan, the recently retired AU Army General, making simple some diabolically complex aspect of this whole nightmare.

@ForeignPolicy) ","username":"WarintheFuture","name":"Major General (just retired!) Mick Ryan","date":"Wed Mar 09 00:43:27 +0000 2022","photos":[{"img_url":"https://pbs.substack.com/media/FNXgZC0VkAMHWyV.jpg","link_url":"https://...}],"quoted_tweet":{},"retweet_count":325,"like_count":1057,"expanded_url":{},"video_url":null}">Twitter avatar for @WarintheFutureMajor General (just retired!) Mick Ryan @WarintheFutureThirteen days since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. Today I examine reports that Russia has committed 100% of forces assembled before the invasion, including what it means for their campaign. War, among other things, is also about maths. 1/25 (Image - @ForeignPolicy) Image

March 9th 2022

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