Tuesday 29 March 2022

New Russian Military Doctrine On The Fly? Yeah, right

"Jack Watling said in a recent paper that to survive in the east, Ukrainian forces needed to “prevent the Russians from being able to concentrate their efforts on one axis at a time” by continuing to counter-attack in and around Kyiv. In other words, Russia’s new strategy is to try to concentrate its forces to achieve a breakthrough. Ukraine, meanwhile, has to find a way of making the invaders’ original multiple-front offensive continue to work against itself, by keeping the fighting spread out." [my emphasis]
This may be right: but if the Russians are now trying for a breakthrough on a single axis, they really have thrown the Red Army playbook out of the window.  Do they have a single general who's capable of improv on this scale and with these stakes?

*   *   *   *   *

'Breakthrough' or 'breakout' is a concept that armchair military commentators assume is kinda obvious - it's what tanks are for, right?  Well, there are certainly great examples of breakthrough in the conflicts that are close to home for us:  Monty breaking out at Caen (eventually) and the Americans to the west and south of Normandy.  

But it played no strategic part in Soviet military thinking, which was essentially oriented towards parallel progress on multiple axes across a front, departing from parallel forward movement - in an individual thrust, being one of several - if and whenever and to the extent that an obstacle, natural or man-made, was in danger of halting the advance (as I summarised in the second parts of this, and again in this).  Manoeuvre - another Red Army obsession, along with firepower and speed - was to be by way of an attacking rugby player's 'step' - dodge the head-on tackle by swerving to one side whilst maintaining momentum and aiming to resume the direct forward line immediately, ideally leaving the defender grasping at thin air.  It's a skill, an art (think Jason Robinson): it takes practice.

There's some evidence that the initial phase of the Russian invasion of Ukraine was planned as a classic Red Army series of multi-axis parallel advances, on each of several fronts, aiming (unsuccessfully) to be swift in their penetration.  But they didn't seem to attempt even the rudiments of manoeuvre - the quality and competence of troops and leadership involved didn't run to anything more tactically adroit than steaming along the open roads.  And it's not obvious they brought anything like the requisite firepower to bear (difficult if, in your arrogance and ignorance, you don't think you need to wait for a big preparatory barrage by air and land AND you remain in line astern on the road).

If these jokers can't execute according to basic Red Army doctrine, how much less likely are they to be able to come up with, and successfully carry through, a new doctrine on the hoof?  The type of strategic-scale axis-shifting being contemplated (by these western observers) takes a Patton to devise and execute, and an army (like the USA's) truly skillful at logistics.  Don't see it here, meself.  


Monday 28 March 2022

'Germans Don't Understand Markets', part 94

From time to time I am moved to observe that Germans, as a rule, have no intuitive grasp of how markets work.  Perhaps their postwar social-democrat / Christian democrat tradition is so inherently mercantilist and dirigiste (and, by many lights, successful!) and now so deeply ingrained, that market dynamics pass them by.

At the state level the French 'Enarchists' aren't much better (though you meet far more French business people who know the score).  So there's little hope that 2022 Brussels, with no leavening of UK influence, will have the first clue.  Here's some up-to-date evidence.  

EU leaders pledged to bulk buy natural gas jointly and review the role of the fuel in setting electricity prices as part of plans to protect European consumers from spiralling energy costs ... “Instead of outbidding each other and driving prices up we will pool our purchasing power,” said Ursula von der Leyen

Where to start?  We all know where bulk buying and large-scale procurement by state entities leads, and it ain't prone to driving down prices++.  (It is prone to monstrous corruption: the mysterious middlemen who will insert themselves in this process when the politicians realise they are totally in the dark in such technical matters, will ensure an extra € or two gets added to the unit price, and is silently shared around a bunch of deeply undeserving individuals.  (Libel laws forbid me elaborating, but suffice to say the gas sector has not proved in any way immune from this in the state monopoly days of yore.)  It's just one of those things that can be made to 'sound sensible', sort-of, and is promoted by people like Peter Mandelson who has advocated it in the past.  But experience tells heavily against it.

The one that really amuses me is "review the role of the fuel in setting electricity prices".  Boris - another ignorant prick - has mouthed similar words.  Well, review away, fellahs; but I can tell you in a couple of sentences what the answer is.  The price of any traded commodity** is set by the cost (or opportunity-cost) of the marginal source of supply (or demand, in some cases), which for most of the time in European electricity is NATURAL GAS.  Occasionally it is something a bit more obscure and we get negative prices (something else that has always puzzled German politicians).  But the dynamics are exactly the same.

Gottit, Ursula?  Great: so you can save that million € being asked for by McKinsey or whomever to answer the question for you.  All part of the C@W service.

By the way, this situation is destined to prevail for many years - in fact, decades, as far as anyone can see - however much new 'renewable' electricity capacity is brought on line.  The only truly 'dispatchable' renewable source is hydro from reservoirs (as opposed to run-of-river).   In practice, biomass can be, too (if it isn't already running baseload because of the vast subsidies involved) - but large-scale biomass ain't renewable: its deemed renewable status is a massive scam.

Of course, Ursula's oh-so-predictable follow-up question is: what can we do about it?   Ans:  well, you can suspend the laws of gravity for just so long as you are willing to throw money at it.  But that's what happens:  you waste even more money, and it still comes out the same when, eventually, you've had enough.   Gottit?   Well no, sadly; probably not.



++ presumably, as dearieme has wittily observed BTL, "in homage to their success in buying vaccines jointly"  

** the physical commodity, that is.  Forward prices are set by completely different dynamics.

Wednesday 23 March 2022

Shocked at the 5p Fuel cut?

Who could have predicted that?

As ever, the Government in their Spring Statement are happy to play the cynical nice guy, making a 5p cut in Fuel tax which actually still leaves them raising taxes over what they expected this year. 

Together with the very high levels of inflation, at over 6% now and heading for 10% as we can all see, is also the rise in NI to pay for the social care fund. yes, a small adjustment to NI thresholds will help the lower paid. 

But overall, this is a high level of financial repression. Let's not mess about, we are here at the start of the recession today. Never has there been this level of energy costs across the world without causing a recession, and that is before we factor in the cost of food thanks to the war in Ukraine too. 

Yes the government is worried about paying for the (ongoing) pandemic, but to raise tax and interest rates in the face of rapidly collapsing demand and confidence is idiocy. You can't tax your way out of this hole. the better strategy to to engender growth a bit faster than planned, with a more conducive environment for business. Unfortunately, the Tories are very lost here, we have high levels of business taxes, unreformed rates and constantly rising personal taxes. Mr Laffer has been long ago executed.

Rishi Sunak will regret this statement at leisure, it will be the thing that kills the Tory chances for an election or two. The fact they won't feel that today is ironic, the blows will come with the economic headwinds later in the year. 

Sunday 20 March 2022

The War of Putin's Arse

As was suggested BTL on Friday, the Chinese piece we linked to last time certainly conveys (inter alia) a worldview fairly palatable to western readers, i.e. that China - a nation that has thrived mightily in the recent world order - has at least something to lose by finding itself on the wrong side of history.  Whether that means the piece is a come-on to embolden the west into doing something stupid is another matter.  I suppose it might be.

It's not just the Chinese, of course, who'll be priming the www with self-serving inputs.  Here's a briefing on behalf of Biden, making out he's a wise and consistent judge of Putin, with a realistic - i.e. very worried - view of the dangers.  Hmm.  Maybe.

Various western commentators say that our interests are best served by giving Putin a clear cut face-saver because the alternative is rapid escalation towards an existential threat to ourselves; against which outcome Ukraine as an integral, independent political entity may need to be sacrificed.  I'm not sure it's as easy as that.

Right now it looks to most of the world as though the stout Ukrainian defenders (with a little help from their sponsors) have already handed Putin his arse.  Sure enough, he may deploy heavy artillery plus an army of mercenary orcs to flatten and then occupy half the country.  Maybe that even includes a puppet regime in Kyiv.  But that's not even "Hitler Captures Most Of France in a Lightning Strike, Parades in Glory at the Arc de Triomphe, and Sponsors a Compliant Vichy Government", is it?  Nobody's the slightest impressed - most specifically, not Xi, as I keep saying. 

So: assuming the chances of Putin swiftly repeating his Ukrainian, errr, triumph on Estonia are vanishingly small, what scenario can possibly give him that face-saver, expunge his global humiliation?  

Here's what I think.  He gets and holds whatever slice of UKR he can, maybe even just Donbas (who's to stop him?), but there's non-stop sniping resistance from whatever's left (there are enough wealthy bear-baiters to finance that).  And the west carries on with serious sanctions: not remotely sufficient to guarantee an early anti-Putin putsch, but more than enough to make a mark, and have him permanently angry (and demeaningly in thrall to China).  Whatever the finer details - even if China feels strong enough, and the inclination, to tell him to wind his neck in surely in all cases we are likely to be in for a protracted 'War of Putin's Arse': his retribution by way of non-stop Kremlin-sponsored sub-military mayhem (sabotage, assassination, cyber attack, support for Bad Guys, encouragement of organised crime, sponsorship of illegal migration ...) against western interests by land, sea, air, space and cyber, never quite crossing anybody's red line into actual combat.  The west's lines of logistics are really quite extended and exposed ...

Whose nerve cracks first?  Germany, seriously incommoded by inability to rely on Russian energy supplies?  USA, with isolationist opposition to bearing the costs of strife in faraway places, and elections every two years?  Brussels, always keen to deal and never noted for its spine?  The entirety of western public opinion, ground down by shortages, price increases, limitations on safe travel, random unexplained power cuts and www outages, big defence bills  etc etc etc ad nauseam?  Or ... Putin's praetorian guard?

I really can't guess.  


Friday 18 March 2022

Superb writing: Chinese UKR paper, + 'Hatfield Girl'

You'll never read a more instructive short position-paper than this Chinese one on how China should conduct itself vis-à-vis Putin and Ukraine.  So rich, so clear-sighted, so crisp, so well stated (and well translated, we must assume).  I'm not going to summarise or extract from it: it's quite short and you should read the lot (its headline below is a link). 

Possible Outcomes of the Russo-Ukrainian War and China’s Choice

*   *   *   *   *

On the subject of rich, clear writing, a heartfelt lament.  'Older readers' will recall we once had an active and exceptionally fruitful ongoing dialogue here and elsewhere with 'Hatfield Girl' who blogged at Angels in Marble.  Alas, the lady left that blog frozen in its marble state some seven years ago, and if she contributes to the www anymore, I don't know under what moniker.  (And I think I'd have spotted it anyway because both her style and thinking were distinctive.)  We miss her as much as we miss Raedwald - and that's a serious compliment.  Hopefully she hasn't suffered a parallel demise.

Anyhow, as best I can summarise a subtle writer's views without pernicious distortion - perhaps a ridiculous thing to try (and I invite readers who recall her to pitch in on this: there are several of you) - HG held a position roughly as follows:

  •  there is such a thing as Christendom, however badly represented by current-day man-made institutions
  • Christendom can be a great (one of the greatest) and valuable force for civilisation 
  • Christendom is internationalist in essence (which made HG temperamentally inclined towards the EU, but she was no supporter of Brussels) 
  • Orthodox Russia would ideally be a strong candidate for inclusion in this vision
She didn't bang on very much about Christendom by name and per se, but here's a 2012 post - actually not one of her more subtle offerings, but rather a short summation piece - where she made things more-than-usually explicit. 

Read this whole thing, and the BTL thread.  It's very prescient, pointed, and poignant.
... this Europe, core Europe and its surrounding states, is Christendom ... not the 'Jesus wants me for a sunbeam' with tambourine accompaniment Christianity so dear to other parts of the world ... Europe isn't a tyranny - it has been and it could be again - but now it stands against the global, a-cultural imperialists ...
Seeing ... the destructiveness of the current EU's institutions and actions on European democracies ... I turn to Europe's cultural and strategic reason and forces for its unity in the face of uncivilised and rapacious assaults on its values and its peoples. And accept, for now, the Union with all its deficiencies and deficits. The assertion of a single 'West' led by a 'global' America and its interests is repellent. NATO has become a monstrous armed threat to European values. 
Well, I never fully agreed with her, but ...  

HG, where are you at this hour?


Tuesday 15 March 2022

Why does the UK Government allow the petrol catastrophe?

After some stabilisation in the Ukraine war and also a realisation that much of Europe is not about to ban Russian oil imports, Brent Crude prices have dropped from $139 a barrel back down to around $110. 

$110 oil is still very expensive and will mean UK retail prices of over £1.60 for the foreseeable future. 

This is about 30% higher than pre-war and of course is broadly linked to the 30% increase in oil price. 

However, as we all know Retail fuel prices are a huge chunk of tax. Currently that is set at 57.6p per litre, plus 20% VAT on the remainder. 

If we take petrol at £1.60, this means you have 82.8p per litre of tax - just over 50%. This is 17p odd more in tax than when the fuel price was £1.30. 

Given the Petrol Retailers Association says we buy around 38 billion litres of Petrol and Diesel combined, that 17p is about £6.5 billion more in revenue per year, or nearly £600m per month in tax revenue for the Government. Diesel  prices are up to 10p higher, so this is an underestimate in all likelihood. 

This increase is very inflationary  in the short term, because the price goes up for transport, end prices for goods also go up substantially. Normally, you would see tax rises as anti-inflationary as they reduce demand, but for goods whose purchase are necessary inputs, this argument does not hold so much water. Less travel and less deliveries of goods will reduce economic activity in the long-term causing a recession but still cause a short-term bump in inflation. Great. 

The Government could easily reduce fuel duty by 5p in its Spring statement next week and help the country through its fuel price crisis. It cannot do this so easily on residential gas, which will mean home bills will remain high. All the more reason to help out with energy costs somewhere for consumers.

Reducing by 5p the fuel duty still means the Government revenues will be going up during the year from what was expected at the last budget, where prices were £1.42 on average which is well below where they will be in terms of 2022 predictions. Some analysts say £2 diesel is only a couple of weeks away as so much (33%) of our retail diesel was imported from Russia. 

Of course, the Government is less keen on telling everyone that due to the rise it must keep raising Vehicle Excise Duty. Currently electric vehicles are 33% of all new cars sold and with Fuel costs at this price, this is only going to go up. (Although, with home energy costs rising 200%+, the differential benefit in cost terms to electric is still reducing, but overall worth it). 

Longer term, all this means we must move to road pricing or back to higher taxes on car ownership and less on the usage. Hard times for an eco-loon Government intent on pushing everyone electric.

But now is the time to commission the long-term review whilst alleviating the short-term issues - a free popularity boost to the battered Government too. 

Saturday 12 March 2022

Energy ignorance has dished Putin: thanks, Greens!

Our esteemed BQ gave an excellent account of how Putin must have totted up the scores before making his fateful move (BTL here).  It all looked so promising: almost a no-brainer!

Clearly enough, seventeen days in, we can safely say he made at least three monstrous miscalculations: and I'm going to suggest a fourth

  1. he thought the Ukrainians wouldn't fight, such is his contempt for them (but instead he's got a re-run of Finland 1939-40 on his hands)
  2. his own troops would fight - at least to some basic standards (on which more below)
  3. Europe wouldn't react in any material fashion   

Closely bound up with 3 is what I take to be his assumption that all European politicians understood the degree of Europe's dependence on fossil-fuel energy.

Well, as the man with possibly the world's biggest vested interest in fossil fuels, he knew that - so surely they did, too ..?   Boy, was that wrong.  Can we seriously imagine they'd all have rushed to support the kind of really quite striking responses we've seen, if they had half a clue just how bad our upcoming energy crisis is going to be?  Maybe they did: maybe they knew they were staring down the barrel (pun intended), at very least of a re-run the 1973-4 Oil Crisis and all that followed, (but maybe even worse).   Didn't really come across that way, though.

Instead, I think we may credit the Greens with having drummed it into empty heads that we don't need fossil fuels at all, really.  As recently as Wednesday we read George Monbiot saying that, seeing how the USA came up with the atom bomb in 4 years, we can dispense with fossil fuels now in the same kind of timeframe.  And there are people with a strong inclination to believe this crap, this utterly misleading analogy: you can see it peddled everywhere. 

I can see only one simple & decisive way this could get resolved without deep & serious economic pain for Europe - via an energy crunch - and I'm not suggesting it's plausible for a nanosecond.  It would be a putsch against Putin, and a new Russian regime that unilaterally restored the status quo ante.  Then, however quickly / enthusiastically attempts were made to wean ourselves off fossil fuels, it wouldn't matter too much when it turns out to take decades rather than months.

Just very expensive.

*   *   *   *   *

By the way, on the mystery of how badly the Russian military has been performing (and wow, what a disgrace on them: the sheer contempt Xi must be feeling.  No lack of respect intended for the outstanding Ukrainian defiance, naturally) ... the Beeb interviewed what seemed to be a fairly ordinary Ukrainian front line soldier the other day.  They asked him how the Russian were fighting.  He replied, in English:  "Like 1941 - only attack from front - make no manoeuvres". 

This (which we have seen with our own eyes) is astounding stuff for an army with even the merest acquaintance with Red Army doctrine, which I certainly assumed they must have.  Several days ago I summarised what we might have expected in that case (second part of this C@W piece).  The essence of that whole offensive doctrine is summed up in the three must-haves the Red Army was based around:  speed; firepower; manoeuvre.  Well, I guess we saw a bit of haste, if not proper speed.  The firepower is not really in doubt (though as noted before, they seem to have withheld their air force).  But the complete absence of manoeuvre is just amazing.  Because it's winter?  FFS, that's what Russia specialises in!  Because the terrain is mountainous?  Not last time I looked.  Because they only brought two-wheel drive family saloons?  Plenty of perfectly adequate tracked vehicles in evidence, even if now charred wrecks smouldering on the tarmac.  Because Russian soldiers don't like bumping along off-road?  No, I suspect they'll do whatever they're told, at least for a few days & weeks.

Nope: it has to be down to very poor generalship - whatever crazy instructions they got from Putin.   ("... and stay on the roads, comrades:  take care not to drive across the fields ..." -  Seriously??)   Yes, that's a bit of a surprise.    


PS:  how about we try to avoid covid, hmm?  BTL, that is - as well as out in the big wide world.

Friday 11 March 2022

WW3 - Getting hard to avoid

 The statements from Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister yesterday are very concerning indeed. he has gone the full Comical Ali. The West is at fault, Ukraine are holding hostage their own people, using human shields, preparing chemical and nuclear attacks. All whilst Russia now vows to turn East and never deal with the West again. 

This is very dangerous territory indeed. There is no bakcing down from Russia and no sign that Ukraine is going to capitulate anytime soon either. the nastier the war gets, the more the pressure from the population of Western Europe and America to step in will grow. The polish planes will be given, the free brigades will start getting armed in Romania and Poland, much like the Taliban were re-supplied in pakistan (by opposite sides over time too!). 

Russia will then have a big decision to make, settle for the Eastern gains and have a Korea style ceasefire or go all out to crush Kyiv and the whole of Ukraine. Certainly the latter they are still aiming for today it seems. 

For the West, what to do, a madman at the help of one of the largest Nuclear armed countries has bascially been our worst fear since the manhattan project. Lots of wars and efforts to try and stop this ever happening. 

All the while, the economic damage will be great, whilst China and the East will benefit once more. In the grand strategy terms, this was is a total disaster for the US and Europe. For now we think it unites us, but there is no easy end and every day of fighting it strengthens an economically stronger competitor in China. 

Thursday 10 March 2022

EU: Federasts Gleefully Jumping on Crisis

The say the EC is full of devious people always waiting for opportunities to offer the unchanging panacea:  "the solution is more Europe, not less Europe!"   And what better opportunity than a full-blown crise?  In fact I seem to recall some proto-federast opining, donkeys years ago: Europe grows, crisis by crisis.  Never let a good one go to waste, eh?

Well they're gleefully jumping all over this one, n'est-ce pas?   Budgetary restraints out of the window; joint militaristic measures;  getting Germany to pay for everything, ... and I'm sure they have a big wish-list of other stuff they'll take the occasion to get through, by ramrod or stealth.

Makes you more glad than ever to be out of it, no?

Incidentally, they'll be watching the highly effective US/UK intelligence effort with much envy.  Couldn't you guys, errrr, let us in on that?  Please ...?


Monday 7 March 2022

Gas Price: This Should Be Obvious, But ...

This is off the scale - and totally unsustainable.  In the sense that the west cannot sustain what we normally consider civilisation like this.                      (Graphic: BBC)

"Civilisation is energy intensive" (James Lovelock, 2005)


Thursday 3 March 2022

Contra Starkey, contra Putin: "Ukraine" is a Real Thing

The Starkey lecturette we were directed to the other day is very good viewing indeed - all manner of interesting perspectives.  I can't go along with all of it, however.  As noted before, the degree of strategic capability we should attribute to Putin is very much open to question, as is his 'hero' status in the non western world.

There's something else that needs to be challenged, if not on the facts then certainly on the interpretation.  Right at the beginning, Starkey notes that through most years of recorded history we won't find 'Ukraine' on the map.  His clear implication, I suggest, is that Ukraine is therefore not a 'proper entity' in some sense - a latter-day confection - which very much invites the next step of "so maybe we shouldn't get exercised about something which lacks status in that way". 

However much it's important for some purposes to learn the history, for other purposes we needn't get into "what are the origins of modern-day Ukraine?".  Specifically, there's the rather pointed alternative question: "will they stand and fight?".   A few days before it all kicked off, against a BTL comment that pointed to several recent regimes that had simply crumbled in the face of a determined military thrust, I offered the view that Finland 1939-40 was the appropriate counter example (NOT France 1940); and that "Ukrainian nationalism is a real thing".  If that's right - and I remain of the view that it is - the answer to Starkey's observation is a resounding "so what?".  If they stand and fight, what's the relevance for immediate practical purposes as to how they came by their national identity?

My views on this stem from when I worked in Moscow, many years ago.  I was determined to learn the language, and took on a Russian tutor.  At a very early stage I brought him a list of my Russian staff and asked him how I should correctly pronounce their names (knowing that, for example, Олег would put up with being called Oh-leg, but really it is more like Alyeck).   The tutor scanned down the list, and with a look of utter disgust lighted upon one name:  This is a Ukrainian name, he spat out - why do you employ her?

And so it went on.   At one particularly memorable business lunch when my boss from the US was over, one of the assembled host told a joke, the punchline of which was to compare Ukrainians unfavourably with certain others of mankind's races, and also the apes.  This was solemnly translated for my man, who went purple but didn't know quite what else to do.  But it was par for the course in Moscow.

In a later business incarnation I found myself working alongside a Ukrainian for a sustained period, who gave me the other side of the picture over a beer or three.

Any suggestion on Putin's part that Russians and Ukrainians are blood-brothers that have been artificially and temporarily separated, doesn't ring at all true to me.  Ukrainian nationalism is a Thing alright, wherever it came from and whenever it dates from - and quite tangible enough to fuel serious resistance.  As we see before us daily.  I'm still on my Finland-not-France analogy.


PS: I might add that if it rumbles on into a stalemate where the west keeps the Ukrainians armed and fighting as did Russia and China keep the North Vietnamese, this Russian gentleman suggests we may live to regret it.  As with Starkey, we're not obliged to agree with everything he says: but it's a compelling little essay.

PPS - an afterthought: if Ukraine "didn't exist" for much of history, then how's about, errrr, Germany?  Italy?   etc etc etc 

Wednesday 2 March 2022

When does fracking sidle back onto the UK agenda?

It's kinda noteworthy that, the ruckus over the Cambo field notwithstanding, several more North Sea licences are under consideration.   And the Climate Change Committee (under silly "Lord Deben") has correctly opined that, while they'd prefer new licences not be granted, it's a purely political matter having nothing to do with objective reckoning of whether it would increase global CO2 emissions (which it wouldn't).  Ah, COP26 seems so long ago now ...

Of course the greenie-left is trying to get its retaliation in first, having spotted (again, correctly) what they take to be a great argument, namely that increased UK production would have no impact on the world price of oil or gas - so we wouldn't pay any less for our domestic energy.  AND - shock, horror - we might even export the stuff!  True, as far as it goes - but it misses two critical details that in my book invalidate the objection entirely.  (a) they are wrong about the price impact as regards local prices which would indeed fall (by a small amount), that being the transportation cost differential between home-grown and imports; (b) the Exchequer would gain mightily from the tax they would levy on the profits arising, there being clear daylight between production costs and today's high oil & gas prices.  All this atop the jobs created etc etc.

So:  perhaps some new offshore O&G licences first, & then see how the land lies?  Before getting back to the really interesting topic of fracking.  Incidentally, I am the last one to minimise the practical difficulties involved in fracking in the UK (we had many a thread on this several years ago); but the amounts of gas are so immense, and the value so high, we could afford to do the job really well and avoid, minimise, or handsomely compensate for any downsides.  There's no getting away from the political price that would be paid just now ...  but give it time: that shale gas ain't going anywhere.  And Germany seems to have changed its energy policy (as well as its military policy) quite significantly in the past few days.  The Ukraine factor might yet have transformative effects here, too.


Tuesday 1 March 2022

Mr Putin: What Are You Like?

Some folks around here suggested that mention of the Sudetenland was in bad taste.  I can't think why; the analogy seems pretty clear (in that excellent podcast we were referred to yesterday BTL, Starkey essentially agrees) and as with any analogy, it's there to be considered for its heuristic value.

Nothing daunted, I'm going to suggest another similarity between the two little dictators:  both seem to believe in their own abilities as military strategists and tacticians, with little compelling justification.

We've read in several places that Putin has proceeded very cleverly in strategic terms, "laid a trap for the West", built up substantial financial reserves, squared China away, allowed Germany to become hooked on his gas etc etc, and perhaps there's a decent argument along those lines - right up until he fired the starting-pistol.  But where's the shock-and-awe sudden victory?  Or, conversely, what's the merit in allowing the military stuff to unfold as messily as it is?  I can suggest only one, and a heavily qualified one at that.  Maybe he wants to occupy a really big chunk in perpetuity, and doesn't want to damage the infrastructure too much, or piss off the inhabitants.

Well.  That would have depended upon a very quick rolling-over by the defenders; or the spontaneous anti-government uprising he called for; or for the West to pull the rug.  As things stand, none of these being self-evidently just around the corner, it looks as though he'll need to contemplate something considerably less than ideal - (a) stepping up the destruction in a big way (which can always "succeed" in its own terms, but hardly glorious);  (b) continuing to look stupid in public (and pathetic to the Chinese);  or (c) settling for some near-term outcome that is rather lame-looking against the apocalyptic circumstances and his extraordinary rhetoric. 

On (c), it was widely suggested that Putin has available to him a fruitful strategy of "bloody a few noses, seize 50km, freeze the new border, wait for the waters to close over, rinse and repeat, from Tbilisi to Tallinn".  In other words, that's not to be characterised as I just did, as a less-than-ideal outcome: it's maybe what he wanted all along.

I'd be interested to know if any of our BTL-ers who espoused this view still reckon it flies.  He certainly has his 50km if he finds that satisfactory (though at the time of writing I'm not sure Odessa is in the bag).  IMHO, the flaw would seem to be: just how long is it that the professional Russian military etc is willing to be humiliated by the distinctly unfunny pantomime they're being made to participate in?  (Then again, people probably said that about the Wehrmacht in 1942.)   Additionally, the whole of NATO - including Germany! - has been royally stirred up; and Tallinn might be feeling a bit more secure than it did three months ago (for now, at least).  The "50km" strategy starts to look a bit, well, glacial: I ask again, how long has he got? 

*   *   *   *   *   *

In my view, then, Putin is guilty of Adolf-style micro-managing the military (the ever-tempting sin I've frequently lauded George Bush Snr for avoiding):  I'm not quite as ready as Starkey to attribute strategic prowess to L'il Volodya, at least in the purely military sphere (nor the 'hero' status in the non-Western world that Starkey confers upon him).

So what would have been the outcome if the Russian military professionals had been given proper delegated authority?  Even more destruction?  No.  [Caveat: I'm working off the 1970-80's Red Army playbook which used to be my concern.  But then again, so (probably) will the current generation of Russian generals.]

The first thing is that speed is always of the essence, and for that, you advance across a wide front avoiding towns, forests, mountains and bogs etc like the plague.  Even if they harbour forces of resistance, you bypass and (de facto) encircle them, to be mopped up at leisure if they are to form part of what you decide, eventually, to hold.  Otherwise they simply impose delay.

Exactly the same principle applies to any enemy strong-points you encounter along the way: you "fix" them and bypass.  Surrounded, they will be bludgeoned by second-echelon forces in due course.  By these clear-sighted and decisive means you aim to make maximum penetration along as wide a continuous front as possible in the least time.  Some kind of finish-line will have been given in advance, or you may decide on a different halt-line based on unfolding circumstances.  Back-filling to this new line is easy because you have the numbers to do so (in second- and third-echelon units): and the firepower in the first wave, coupled with air power and long range artillery, is sufficient to set up formidable defences along the line you have reached.  Maybe you won't hold it all, but that's your choice, to be dictated by a combination of politics, the terrain, and what the enemy is doing in front of you.  All in all, a fairly desirable outcome: and a lot quicker than what's going on today.

It's pretty clear this isn't what's happening.  Why?  I'm not sure inadequate numbers explains it (and if it does, so much for the brilliant strategy).  As noted here several days ago, the forces we've seen deployed are using fairly ancient kit - but then again, it should be adequate for the task.  Nor is it squeamishness - or even due caution - over the amount of destruction caused: the second-echelon "mopping-up" of bypassed towns mentioned above is entirely optional (less dramatic alternatives are available); and in the meantime the engagements will only be with the enemy's own military units, plus a little collateral damage to infrastructure.

I am left with my analogy with the other little guy who told his generals what to do in amateurish, self-defeating detail.  No, not Napoleon - (who knew exactly what he was doing): the other one.