Thursday 12 May 2022

That Putin non-Speech: What Now? (part 1)

Sadly there are no competition awards to be made after Putin's Speech - none of us really reckoned on nothing much to say, did we?  Mostly, people everywhere figured either ...

(a) escalation (declaration of war / mass mobilisation / small nuke somewhere / big distraction-stunt); or

(b) declaration of victory (got what we want / now - what we have, we hold)

Nobody really expected "I am a tired old man / weather's a bit cold & overcast for the time of year, pity about the flypast / WW2 was great / all rather difficult now / oh well, soldier on, I suppose / safe journey home, mind the tanks round the corner, they have a habit of breaking down / let me have that blanket".

I need this blanket more than you, Grandma

So: what does it betoken?  

  • he doesn't fancy escalation.  You could see why: maybe the west has more sanctions up its sleeve; he doesn't have the military resources for anything much on the battlefield in the near term; mobilisation (& declaration of war) would be a very two-edged sword - potentially deeply unpopular where it matters, for not much return in the short run beyond the legal freedom to send conscripts into the battle.  Also, putting aside the morale-boosting double-down effect of any spectacular escalation, in military terms he might not need it - see part 2. 
  • he doesn't have a victory worthy of the name.  Russians are patriotic, and fairly-much whipped into line right now to swallow (or at least pretend) quite a lot; but they ain't stupid.  And calling a 'victorious halt' right now would come with all manner of practical problems, not least that they are positively retreating on the Kharkiv front and may find holding the Donbas line really difficult - maybe even Kherson, which is really important for them (water supply to Crimea).  So: no point, even, in that rehearsed 'Z' flypast: no triumphalism whatsoever**.  
  • status quo is priced in for his audiences.  The home audience is more-or-less conditioned for the long haul - at least in their current frame of mind, before sanctions really hit (which they will: Russian industry is grinding rapidly to a humiliating halt).  The RoW can hardly think any worse of him; and China specifically was utterly disgusted at a very early stage - only a lightning victory at low (material) cost would have been good enough to impress them and give them encouragement for their own heartfelt designs on Taiwan.
  • there is at least the possibility something helpful turns up.  Top of his list must be the EU splitting badly as Germany refuses (i) to stop buying the gas; (ii) to pay for the pain Poland et al are suffering; and the populace as a whole tires of massive stagflation - we were happy enough to send weapons, but we never figured on 20% inflation ...  Yes, folks, there's every possibility the Russian public has more tolerance for hardship than we do.  (I'm being flippant here, of course; they absolutely do, by the bucketload.)
  • he's run out of ideas - if not his own, then anyone else's.  Somebody could have come up with something, by way of an imaginative, low-cost surprise / fillip / morale-booster.  I am always banging on about how the point of being in power is that you always have vast scope to take the initiative, limited only by the shortcomings of your own imagination.  Even Saddam Hussein could be credited with understanding that: he pulled several surprises on us in 1991, not to mention the big one in 1990.  There's never been any indication Putin has any imagination himself; but in a land of avid chess players, there must be someone around him who does.  Mustn't there?  No, apparently not. 
I conclude he's now adopted a strategy of doggedly bringing about a situation conducive to a mission his massively disappointing army can actually be expected to execute.  We should add, 'as best possible', because performance to date doesn't provide much encouragement.

What's that mission?  More at the weekend in part 2. 



** For my money, the scrapping of the flypast is an impressively logical & decisive reinforcement of his 'nope, comrades - no victory yet' posture.  Somebody is still thinking coherently in there (if not imaginatively), and Putin is listening - to them, at least.

PS: à propos of our speech-drafting compo, at least poor little troll-anon's worst fears were not realised ...   ["My fear is a NATO-sponsored terrorist attack, either on the parade or its spectators. A 9/11 style spectacle. It's unlikely the US can let this pass without doing something."]  Or was it a Kev-spoof ..?


DJK said...

"It's unlikely the US can let this pass without doing something."

That part, at least, was true. The something was the attack to retake Snake Island, which the Russians allege was a British-planned operation.

In other news, Tucker Carlson has an entertaining rant about the $40Bn of additional US aid to be sent to Ukraine, and all the better uses the money could be put to in America itself.

Jan said...

Perhaps a slow grind of a war was what he was planning all along. He wants to damage the west and isn't doing too badly so far.

He built up his gold reserves and doesn't have any debt. Making the west pay for energy in roubles means the rouble is fairly strong. Western investments in the Moscow Exchange are all frozen so westerners can't take any money out of Russia. He can sell his oil and gas to China et al.if Europe don't agree his terms. He's taken control of the biggest steelworks in Europe (even though it's been flattened in the process) which means neon gas as well (an important by-product used in semiconductors). He's got control of a large proportion of the world's wheat supply and other commodities eg lithium.

He's fed up with being ridiculed and taken for granted I would say. By the way I've never been to Russia and I'm not a Russian plant. This is just what I've seen happening. He's definitely not a nice character and probably someone we would have done well to keep on the right side of. I would surmise he's been plotting to seriously damage the west for years and struck when we were at our weakest.

andrew said...

"It's unlikely the US can let this pass without doing something."

Sounded like a friend of Jeremy to me.

andrew said...

On 'long grind'...

The US has just allocated >50% of Russia's annual defense budget to Ukraine.
The other nato countries have probably supplied ~15-25%

He will not mothball all Russia's military installations - otherwise someone (Japan?) may send some unarmed boats to occupy some disputed islands.

How long before he runs out of the more advanced weaponry, then aircraft, then artillery shells, then food for the occupied areas...

Surely Ukraine only needs to cut the supply lines and then push.
(just as Russia needs to stop the flow of arms into Ukraine)

Nick Drew said...

Jan - couple of points:

Making the west pay for energy in roubles means the rouble is fairly strong ... He can sell his oil and gas to China et al

Nope, the rouble thing is just a means of demeaning western buyers by forcing an extra-contractual new requirement on them. They still pay in hard currency, at a hard-currency-denominated price. But now, they must also open a rouble account with the same bank and make a "transfer" themselves. Russia gets the hard currency, just as before.

He can switch oil destination to some extent, though not freely, since refineries are configured to run "only" certain grades of crude oil (e.g., as the Hungarians endless point out, their refineries can run "only" on Russian grade crude). I say "only" because they can be modified over time and/or run other grades rather inefficiently & with extra maintenance. And he'll take a stiff haircut on price - as embargoed producers (Iran etc) always do

He can barely switch gas at all without major new infrastructure, which he can't build now. And the Chinese have always screwed him royally on price, in such small gas deals that they have struck in the past

Anonymous said...

"he's run out of ideas - if not his own, them anyone else's. Somebody could have come up with something, by way of an imaginative, low-cost surprise / fillip / morale-booster. I am always banging on about how the point of being in power is that you always have vast scope to take the initiative, limited only by the shortcomings of your own imagination."

Seems to apply to Boris too. Likes to cosplay.

Bill Quango MP said...

It’s a bit pro west.
But it isn’t wrong.

How is Putin’s Russia going to avoid the economic crisis it has made?

Anonymous said...

If it was a kungfu kev spoof it would of had a lot more whinging

Anonymous said...

BQ - economically Russia seem reasonably positioned - they have energy and they have food. They have India and China as suppliers. China will back them as they know with Russia gone they are next on the list.

OTOH people are going hungry in the UK right now and could be starving in Egypt and points east not too far ahead.

"In 2020 Ukraine was the world’s fifth largest exporter of wheat, and low- and middle-income countries were important beneficiaries. The main export destinations were Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Lebanon."

Time for another mass movement into Europe a la Merkel's Millions?

Strategically and militarily, otoh, not so good. The US plans against Russia are still bearing fruit - for Finland and Sweden asking to join NATO opens the prospect for Russia of wars on several fronts at once.

You might wonder why on earth their leaders might be open to joining, given that Russia stuck to their word that Ukraine was a NATO member too far, but I can only imagine the US have told them it won't happen, Russia too thinly stretched, an impression reinforced by the slow progress of the Russian forces. Still, did Zelensky realise when he was installed that he was on a collision course? Maybe - he can always go to the US or Israel.

This was all so unnecessary, of course - a simple declaration that Ukraine will not be invited to NATO "in the light of Russian concerns which we believe to be unfounded but which are very real" - and Europe would have NS2 with plenty of time to move to other energy sources, we could still afford to fill the central heating tank, the recovery from covid could continue.

Our rulers didn't want that, Boris because "war leader" means no questions about parties, the US State Department presumably because far too many of them still want revenge for great-great-grandpa's clothing store in Bryansk being looted by drunken Cossacks in 1882.

One slightly worrying thing - I've seen somewhere polls suggesting that the younger generation, whose life-chances have been smashed by house prices and low wages, but who have been educated on a diet of Hitler at school and for whom war is something on TV, are a lot more gung-ho about confronting This Decade's Hitler than even those who remember the Falklands, let alone Malaya or Aden.

dearieme said...

My father taught me to shoot on the grounds that "Next time the Germans might be Russians".

I suppose I can now say that 'This time the Russians are Germans'.

Anonymous said...

I see the Italians are now over Romania, plus a tanker from Mildenhall.

E-K said...

That was no spoof by me. Though I do believe that the closer NATO gets to Russian borders the more likely a false flag incident or terrorist mischief to stir up conflict.

Actually I claim the prize !

I didn't offer *any* ideas about a Putin speech but he certainly didn't sound like a lunatic to me.


I think he did say something in code though. That Russia faces an existential threat and that this is a fight for survival. This, I believe, is his offer of justification for the use of nuclear weapons.

Here is his speech.

Anything irrational in that ?


Yet again, the BBC is light on real news about Ukraine but plenty of sad-voiced *people* stories.

War is AWFUL. Shit happens during it, which is rather the whole point of doing it. Which is why I think it was evil of NATO and the US to even risk provoking one.

The West will fight this to the last drop of Ukrainian blood (to quote another.)

Anonymous said...

"the BBC is light on real news about Ukraine but plenty of sad-voiced *people* stories"

Suggestio falsi and suppressio veri are so baked into our media that I basically ignore their coverage, remembering the babies torn from their incubators by the troops of The Hitler Of 1990. If the BBC reported that the sun rose in the east this morning I'd have to look out and check it.

The Nayirah testimony was false testimony given before the United States Congressional Human Rights Caucus on October 10, 1990, by a 15-year-old girl who was publicly identified at the time by her first name, Nayirah. The testimony was widely publicized, and was cited numerous times by United States senators and President George H. W. Bush in their rationale to support Kuwait in the Gulf War. In 1992, it was revealed that Nayirah's last name was Al-Ṣabaḥ (Arabic: نيرة الصباح) and that she was the daughter of Saud Al-Sabah, the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States. Furthermore, it was revealed that her testimony was organized as part of the Citizens for a Free Kuwait public relations campaign, which was run by the American public relations firm Hill & Knowlton for the Kuwaiti government. Following this, al-Sabah's testimony has come to be regarded as a classic example of modern atrocity propaganda.

In her testimony, Nayirah claimed that after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait she had witnessed Iraqi soldiers take babies out of incubators in a Kuwaiti hospital, take the incubators, and leave the babies to die. Her story was initially corroborated by Amnesty International, a British NGO, which published several independent reports about the killings ...

Anonymous said...

Watching on Flightradar24 an Azerbaijani cargo plane flying straight across the war zone from Amsterdam to Baku at 32,000 feet. Don't envy the pilots. Silk Way West Airlines.

Anonymous said...

Not to mention an A124 Antonov with no registration or owner, just taken off from Rzeszow Jasionka Airport (not far from the Ukraine border) and heading west. More weapon deliveries?

Anonymous said...

Biggest cargo aircraft in the world, after the 225 was destroyed.

Anonymous said...

@ Don't envy the pilots. Silk Way West Airlines.

Silk Way? Sounds Chinese? Ain't nobody gonna shoot that one down.

Elby the Beserk said...

Anonymous said...
If it was a kungfu kev spoof it would of had a lot more whinging

8:33 pm

"WOULD HAVE", please. As a baby boomer grammarian, "would of" makes my teeth ache. Please don't do it again.

Anonymous said...

DC - just about everything in your post is wrong, including "and" and "the".

"NATO is a defensive alliance, set up in response to the Russian conquest of Eastern Europe after WWII"

No, NATO WAS, set up in response to the Soviet conquest of Eastern Europe (for which at the time we in the UK were extremely grateful, if you've forgotten).

Remember "Communism"? The dictatorship of the proletariat?

Communism has been gone for 30 -odd years, as has the Soviet Union against which NATO was directed.

Anonymous said...

It looks as if Rzeszow in Poland is a Ukrainian support/supply airfield - must be big if it can take an AN124. Currently an aircraft of unknown type with no callsign is heading from there NE close to the Ukraine border.

Odd bird, only 110 kts and 2,000 feet. Drone?

Don't think I'm giving away any secrets. 1500 people are tracking it.

E-K said...

Don @ 9.28

I wasn't suggesting that Ukraine isn't in a fight for survival. The whole thing is bloody tragic.

My point is that Putin was using code to his people. Prepare for nuclear conflict. Existential threat is one of the stipulations for deployment.

Far from him saying nothing this was an important speech of the quality of which one can but dream of in Western leaders. Bunter could only plagiarise Churchill. Biden ? God !

This was a speech of the same level as any WW2 leader.

Far from being that of a conqueror it was that of a leader of a nation under threat and under siege... which Russia is.

It sounded like "We must fight to the death" to me. It didn't sound like a tub thumping "Germany will then be masters of Europe and the Balkans."

NATO has expanded relentlessly eastwards long after the entities it was created to resist ceased to exist, the Communist USSR.

They are the ones with imperial ambitions.


Anon at 8.33

Never did Kung Fu myself. Shotokan Karate, Ju Jitsu and plain old boxing, up to age 44.

These days I just do with a set of kettlebells, free weights, sandbags a pair of trainers and a chin up bar. I make sure I can pass the Royal Marines PRMC gym and running tests at least once a year.

You might take the piss but it all makes for a healthy sex life.

I come here to put the world to rights so there is no negativity shown in my real life. Most people don't think I hold an opinion on anything.

Anonymous said...

@ only 110 kts and 2,000 feet.


E-K said...

PS, anon

Two more young-ish people I know are gravely ill with cancers missed during the pandemic.

This will bring my close circle's death toll to 15

I know of no-one, personally, at all who has died of Covid. Not even remotely.

Figures from Geneva and Stockholm are showing that Sweden (no lock down) had the lowest number of Covid deaths.

We are left with the lockdown catastrophes of broken lives, a broken NHS (that we were supposed to be saving), lives imperilled by that broken NHS, broken businesses, a wrecked economy, spiralling taxes, a new world order and Putin emboldened to sort out Ukraine.

So I was absolutely right to whinge about lockdown and facemasks.

And now I think there's a high likelyhood that we'll be in a nuclear war soon.

With few exceptions mass brainwashing seems to have taken place and I appear to always be in a tiny minority.

Anonymous said...

Figures from Geneva and Stockholm are showing that Sweden (no lock down) had the lowest number of Covid deaths.

Seems very odd since the Swedish figure is 1800 per mn; UK is 2600 per mn; US 2900 per mn; and Canada is 1000 per mn.

Peru had the highest at 6300 per mn while China (cough, cough) had 4 per mn.

Seems that if you'd lock down in the Chinese model, you'd be safer - based on the current numbers. But you can use figures (and history) to prove anything (you want to believe).

Figures available from Our World in Data.

Bloke in Callao said...

Peru had the highest at 6300 per mn...

Yes and also the longest, most severe lockdown.

Anonymous said...

I was pretty sure covid was dangerous when

a) China shut everything down end Jan 20, severe lockdown of the kind we've not seen

b) my son's friend, working for global capital in Shanghai, ending on a stretcher in an overburdened hospital corridor with an oxygen mask - he was then 27. This was end Feb 20.

If you can remember back then, even when it was killing a lot of people in N. Italy, Italian rugby sides were still visiting and Cheltenham went ahead because "global Britain open for business" , Nancy Pelosi in the States was telling everyone to go to Chinatown and hug a waiter because Trump called it a "China Virus"

On lockdowns in general - I can see why HMG stopped people visiting loved ones in hospital - although in hindsight it was pretty inhumane and almost "cruel and unusual punishment". But there are always lawyers and there are always people who hate whoever's in power - I'm sure ministers could just see the negative headlines either way.

I don't think Boris or Keir having a little bash after work were likely to kill many of them - but having made the rules for everyone else, they should have stuck to them. We KNOW 87 year old Mr Jones in Ward 6 is more likely to die if he gets it than Boris is (though it was closer than he expected), but the rules weren't tailored to different groups.

(I have a few family in the NHS, the hospital people reckon half their covid cases were contracted "in-house", even with regular staff testing)

Anonymous said...

"I don't think Boris or Keir having a little bash after work were likely to kill many of them - but having made the rules for everyone else, they should have stuck to them."

It's not even the fact that members of the ruling class had a few clandestine parties.

What it is, is that this demonstrates that these people, at the heart of government with, you'd imagine, the best quality information about COVID-19 and in December 2020 had no fear or concern about contracting the 'deadly' COVID-19.

In short, they knew it was all bullshit.

Anonymous said...

"with, you'd imagine, the best quality information about COVID-19 and in December 2020 had no fear or concern about contracting the 'deadly' COVID-19"

Be fair. We all knew it was only generally deadly for people who were old, immune-compromised or with 'co-existing conditions'. As they didn't qualify they thought they were safe.

But Boris was pretty poorly. My 'locus classicus' is a nice guy in his 50s, very fit, Steve Cottrill, Shrewsbury FC manager - a tracksuit manager type. It put him in intensive care twice.

His positive test came the morning after he'd "excitedly" joined in a session with his squad. He had woken at 2am, with the bed in his hotel room "absolutely drenched" - hours after complaining he "didn't feel right". He returned to the hotel for a 10-day spell in isolation during which he "lost a stone-and-a-half and barely got out of bed". "Then the cough started," he recalls."You are in a room," he said. "You can't leave. You can't have a waltz up the corridor. From the hotel in Shrewsbury, to coming out of hospital for the second time, I had 69 days out of 80 in bed."

dearieme said...

"Bunter could only plagiarise Churchill. Biden ? God !"

Come, come: Biden would plagiarise Neil Kinnock.