Friday 3 June 2022

What Putin Didn't Do next

Ten days ago, one of our BTL anons asked: why aren't the Russians interdicting Western military supplies en route to Ukrainian forces?   We suggested that wasn't the only dog not barking, and that we'd take a look at the whole subject.  What hasn't Putin done, that he might have?  And what might that mean?  Here's a random handful - one could list many more.

  1. Cut off gas supplies to GermanyIndeed, nobody has done this - and nothing could be simpler, for Russia, Ukraine, or a rogue actor with a big long gas position and access to mercenaries with a kilo or two of semtex.  We know exactly why: literally nobody wants to piss off Germany in such an obvious fashion.
  2. Use gas in Azovstal.   We know Putin isn't squeamish in matters of chemical warfare.  And he had to sit and watch  for a truly remarkable number of weeks while the defenders of Azovstal incommoded him seriously, riveting observers worldwide, and buying Ukraine a lot of time.  Obviously a Red Line there.
  3. Interdict inbound western military supplies - the one that puzzled Anon.  Actually, I think we do hear occasional reports that Ukrainian logistical bases close to Poland have indeed been hit.  But maybe not as much as one might expect, given that one presumes Putin's intelligence forces have at least some fifth-column sleepers and sympathisers on the ground with mobile phones.  He seems, though, to be husbanding his aircraft and stocks of cruise missiles, which may be more to the point.
  4. Mount serious cyber warfare against the west.  It could even be conducted on a disavowed basis, if Putin so chose; there are enough rogue players out there in cyberspace.  Another important straw in the wind.  Readers will recall I warned against this before 24th Feb: it seemed to be an obvious one.   Clearly, I was being overly pessimistic. 
  5. Deploy readily-available Red Army operational doctrine - which was purpose-written for invading places swiftly, based squarely on a realistic assessment of what Russian resources could muster.  See below.   
  6. Pick on 'loudmouth UK' for unpleasant unconventional retribution - as some of our own BTL commenters have suggested (!), a propos of some of the bellicose nonsense spouted by Truss, and our egregious military assistance.  After all, the UK is no longer owed any "compulsory solidarity" by the EU: why not make an example of us ?     
  7. Reduce Odesa to a smoking ruin.
  8. Have a submarine accidentally trawl up one of the massive transatlantic comms cables.
Nota bene, all these "surprises" are passive / negative: surprises of omission, the kind we can identify when we know what dogs we're expecting to hear in the night.  Equally, we haven't seen any "positive surprises" from Putin, the creative kind that any military commander worth his salt should sprinkle liberally around his campaign to keep everyone guessing.  Readers will know this is one of the most damning criticisms I have to offer of any politician or military leader.  What creative strokes has he pulled?  The nearest we've seen from Putin is the hint that something nasty might come out of Transnistria, which is pretty feeble; and the flamboyant testing of a new strategic missile off-stage.  OK, Putin thought he could pull off the whole thing inside a week, Crimea-style: and an outright coup de main doesn't need an accompanying smokescreen of several other little surprises.   But he knew that it wasn't working almost straight away.  By contrast, the pocket dictator Saddam Hussein was well up for unexpected eye-openers, when he in turn realised his own sudden (and successful) lightning invasion wasn't going to be the end of the story.  Hat-tip to the man: pulled several strokes, he did.    
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As regards 5: we've discussed this one before, mostly concluding (as have many others) that the Russian Army of 2022 doesn't have the leadership or training to execute on what would be involved.  One aspect I haven't mentioned: if we take at face value Ukrainian claims of Russian aircraft shot down - well over 200 - it suggests Putin is potentially unable to deliver the necessary aerial bombardment, at least from within the resources he's willing to hazard.  More recently, I've seen it suggested that Russian 'grinding' techniques in Donbas are perfectly appropriate, and will ultimately be successful; and, hey, it's only been 100 days!  

Here, we've never doubted some limited territorial gains can be delivered that way: but the cost and the time involved can't possibly have been in the original budget.  Sure, Russians will put up with a great deal - a lot more than soft westerners will, as many pundits suggest - and ultimately (if they can manage conscription plus mass mobilisation plus training) they can "win" against objectives that are narrowly-enough defined.  

But do they have time?  Are they certain to win the slow-bicycle race between their own grinding methods, and German / French / Italian unwillingness to keep the sanctions applied ... with winter coming ... and starvation looming for Africa etc ..?  Maybe that calculation is all he has left now by way of grand strategy.
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So what do we conclude?  We might ponder these potential inferences, some or all of which might be in play:

A.  He's persuaded himself everything is going just fine: he's Stalin in 1943.  Hell, some of our BTL-ers have said as much!  Personally, I'd say that's a delusion, but there we are.

B.  He's holding all the above possibilities - and more - in reserve, just letting us stew on them.  Burn as few boats as possible.  Hope to get back to normality by Xmas in the time-honoured fashion.  On Odesa, for example, for the long term he'd rather capture it intact.

C.  Xi has had a little word with him.

D.  He's imposed some rigid Red Lines of his own devising (as any political leader should, c.f. George Bush Snr), on the assumption that 'Vietnam Rules' apply: i.e. he can do more-or-less whatever he wants in-theatre, and the Americans can do whatever they want outside the theatre, provided everyone makes sure direct clashes don't occur, in-theatre or anywhere else.  In particular, he guesses use of chemical and cyber weapons might trigger a western response that would really hurt him - in other words, he does have something in mind that really makes him lose sleep.

Maybe we should try to guess exactly what it is.   Here's a suggestion, which relates (e.g.) to 6 above: he knows there's a lot more we (the UK financial authorities in concert with GCHQ) could do to beggar him personally, and all his friends.  

Any other suggestions as to why he's staying his hand?



Simon Fawthrop said...

There's a good discussion on some of these points on this week's Goodfellows Podcast with their guest being Condoleezza Rice.

On the subject of Germany, its not just about not pissing them off. Having them undermining both western military unity and even EU unity has far more strategic benefits than the negative ones of pissing them off.

As a slightly more than casual observer of Germany I think there's a signficant chance that pulling the plug on Germany's gas might well force a breakdown in the coalition to the point where Germany can't do anything because it will be politically paralysed for a number of months. Some of the States are still trying do do business with Putin and the left of the SPD won't give up easily.

djm said...

No mention of Kissinger’s speech at the World Economic Forum ?

He didn’t criticize the way the war in Ukraine is being conducted or the lack of progress on the ground. No. What he criticized was the policy itself, that’s what triggered the firestorm. He threw a bucket of cold water on the people who concocted this loony policy by telling them to their faces that they “got it wrong.”

But he wasn’t just critical of the policy, he also offered an ominous warning that has been almost-entirely ignored by the media. Here’s what he said:

“Negotiations need to begin in the next two months before it creates upheavals and tensions that will not be easily overcome. Ideally, the dividing line should be a return to the status quo ante (…) Pursuing the war beyond that point would not be about the freedom of Ukraine, but a new war against Russia itself”.

That might sound too apocalyptic for some, but look at the massive changes the world has already experienced since the conflict began; the disruptions in supply lines, the food and energy shortages, and the rolling-back of the globalisation project. Pretty big changes, I’d say, but the real pain is still ahead of us.

What is this winter going to look like when home heating bills go through the roof, industries succumb to the higher energy costs, unemployment soars to Great Depression levels, and rolling blackouts become a regular feature of life in the west? That’s what the future holds for the UK & Europe if the policy isn’t reversed and a negotiated settlement quickly reached.

Putin has already stated that Russia will not put itself in a position where it is economically dependent on Europe again. Those days are over. Instead, he is redirecting critical energy flows to China, India and beyond. The UK & Europe is no longer a priority customer, in fact, they have emerged as a threat to Russia’s survival, which means, Russia will continue to reorient its production eastward...

Nick Drew said...

thanks for the extract, djm

redirecting critical energy flows to China, India and beyond

I suspect Chinese terms will not be generous ...

Clive said...

I’d offer a variation on the “Xi Jinping had a little word” explanation. China is aware that it is either wittingly or unwittingly going to end having to contend with a tarted-up (definitely bigger and probably quite a bit better, but basically the same dynamic) Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea to the west of it. Russia will be bound in a relationship of dependence on China economically. The longer the Ukraine conflict goes on, the tighter that binding becomes.

That sort of relationship, forged in dependency (Russian, on China) inevitably causes tension and eventually resentment. However much largesse China extends to Russia, it maybe a long leash Russia is on, but it’s China that will be holding the end of it. China doesn’t want to have the yank the choke chain. Certainly not too overtly. Russia doesn’t even want to have to acknowledge the existence of the leash. It would much prefer, like North Korea, to pretend it is fully autonomous, even though without China’s tolerance and ad-hoc bailing out, its elite leadership would be dead in a week. And economically, China doesn’t want a “deadbeat dad” welfare supplicant, endlessly pestering for trade (in whatever Russia finds it needs that no-one in the west is willing to sell it) on anything other than strictly commercial terms. No Friends With Benefits in the Russia/China relationship.

So Russia can’t get itself into a quagmire. The more gloop it creates — and has to wade through — the more in hoc it will, strategically, be to China. So it’s trying to not get into anything that threatens to become unmanageable or risks becoming overcommitted to. And China doesn’t want Russia in that position, either.

Nick Drew said...

I like that perspective a lot, Clive

Incidentally, see item 3 in this post:

Graeme said...

Just a few wider thoughts...

Is Germany in danger of being out-mercantilised by China? Are the low volume but high margin exports of Germany in danger of being eclipsed by high volume but low margin exports of China? And do threats of shutting off gas to Germany play into that?

Plus the belt and road initiative. Can China outflank the per blind EU with its subsidies to Southern EU States?

Anonymous said...

Just one thing - Russia seems to have finally started interdiction - the two-track tunnel to Lviv from Slovakia was attacked last night, also a bridge at Odessa.

"The new tunnel is expected to handle nearly 60 per cent of all rail traffic travelling between Ukraine and the European Union."

Anonymous said...

Slovenia, not Slovakia

Anonymous said...

"if we take at face value Ukrainian claims of Russian aircraft shot down - well over 200"

That's more than the # of PR firms working for the Ukr Govt!

“According to the industry news site PRWeek, the initiative was launched by an anonymous figure who allegedly founded a Ukraine-based public relations firm. According to the anonymous figure, more than 150 public relations firms have joined the propaganda blitz. The international effort is spearheaded by public relations firm PR Network co-founder Nicky Regazzoni and Francis Ingham, a top public relations consultant with close ties to the UK’s government. Ingraham previously worked for Britain’s Conservative Party, sits on the UK Government Communication Service Strategy and Evaluation Council, is Chief Executive of the International Communications Consultancy Organisation, and leads the membership body for UK local government communicators, LG Comms.”

I wonder if Francis Ingham is related to Bernard Ingham, Thatcher’s Press Secretary?

E-K said...

The 'surprise' is the invasion itself. The last thing we needed post Covid.

Bill Quango MP said...

The border business.
At the beginning of March a Romanian Mig21 disappeared from radar. The rescue helicopter sent to find it, also disappeared. Both discovered destroyed with all crew killed, around 100km from Ukraine border.

The Russkies went into lie mode, and blamed the Ukrainians for shooting the NATO aircraft down. Suggesting they were not skilled and a menace to all nations and must be stopped from using AA missiles.

The Ukrainians, blamed the Russians for the same. Reviving memories of Russia’s missiles being used to shoot down a civilian airliner.

Romania said the aircraft crashed. They do not yet know why. All Mig 21 were then grounded in Romania, for its poor safety record.

It has since been put back into service. The Mig21 is the Soviet jet that looks a bit like the RAF lightning. Both sixties era designs, that looked amazingly futuristic in the day.

The Mig21 interceptor has been upgraded many, many, many,many, many, times since. Wiki has listed over 50 official version modifications and seven major upgrades. Current thinking from people who do that kind of thing, is, for something this ancient, it’s a lot better than it should be. Even so, it’s a one year extension as Romania is awaiting US f-16s to replace them.

To the point.

Both sides claimed the other shot down a NATO aircraft, within NATO territory, killing its crew. And both sides claimed that the other deliberately destroyed the rescue helicopter, again, within NATO territory, killing that crew too. The fake news was all over the place.

Does this help explain how targeting border areas is just a risk too far for Russia? They are not accurate enough. A missile going into a suburb in Poland might not ignite WW3. They can deny it. Blame the Ukrainians. They would do that even if they were not at war.

But what if it was their missiles? Their strike aircraft? Hitting a civilian factory in error. And everyone knew it was them. And then it happens the next day too. They destroy a commuter train or a warehouse?

Even when they used agents to blow up supplies, as happened in Czech Republic in 2014, when Russia saboteurs blew up a spectacular amount of ammunition destined for Ukraine, they got found out.

So far the USA is not keen on supplying weapons that could hit Russian targets, in Russia. It is discouraging all from giving any weapons capable of that kind of reach. Which suits Russia. Keep the war in the enemy country.

So, Probably not worth the risk at this stage.

Carl Edman said...

"Pick on 'loudmouth UK' for unpleasant unconventional retribution - as some of our own BTL commenters have suggested (!), a propos of some of the bellicose nonsense spouted by Truss, and our egregious military assistance. After all, the UK is no longer owed any "compulsory solidarity" by the EU: why not make an example of us ?"

The UK is still part of NATO, isn't it? And the NATO treaty still has an Article 5, doesn't it? That has proven a more battle-tested form of mutual protection than any EU "compulsory solidarity."

What's more, everybody in NATO, even Hungary and Turkey, have signed up for some level of support for Ukraine against Russia. It strikes me as extremely unlikely that the rest of NATO would allow any Russian strike, however unconventional, against the UK go unrequited because the "Brits provoked it."

Anonymous said...

"why aren't the Russians interdicting Western military supplies en route to Ukrainian forces?"

They are.

Anything military that so much as puts a toe over the Polish border is marked for destruction.

A couple of weeks ago, a good many of the electricity substations powering the Ukranian rail system were blasted by missile attack.

Note: to UK population, a unified electrically powered ( green pah! ) rail system isn't such a good idea if your government is hell bent on starting a war. How long would our North Sea oil supply line last if the UK did something that really ticked the Russians off?

The Royal Navy won't protect our civilian infrastructure in the North Sea, they're too busy ferrying immigrants across the English channel.

"C. Xi has had a little word with him."

Xi and the Russians are working in a coordinated fashion. There was a rocket /jet engine factory in Ukraine that has recently been disabled - the delay in attacking it, is thought to be a result of its partial ownership by the Chinese. Presumably the Chinese got a couple of train loads of refined oil products for free.

Caeser Hēméra said...

There have been some cyberattacks on both sides, but Russia is well aware that many of the juicy SCADA system vulnerabilities in the West also exist in Russia, but without the same amount of defensive work having been put in or the capability to get back on its feet in weeks.

As for why Russia is being so cagey, I suggest it's recognition that outside of a nuclear conflict, it's in no position to escalate against the West. China is closing its airspace to Russian planes, as it knows it's only a matter of time before they start dropping from the sky from lack of maintenance, which leaves just thousands of miles of undefended train lines stitching Russia together as a reliable method of moving people and material.

Had Russia been ran by grown ups over the last couple of decades - rather than the Russian ethnic version of BLM with their whining, grief mongering, victim card playing and internal thieving - it might be in a better place.

And having recently spent some time in the US, including the rust belt and some truly poor rural areas, the US should be very much aware that Russia is, in many ways, very much like the US, albeit through a glass, darkly.

Sobers said...

"Had the West been ran by grown ups over the last couple of decades - rather than its whining, grief mongering, victim card playing and internal thieving liberal woke elite - it might be in a better place."

Fixed it for you.

Nick Drew said...

@ China is closing its airspace to Russian planes, as it knows it's only a matter of time before they start dropping from the sky from lack of maintenance

www suggests the ban is only on "Russian" aircraft that were built in the west - which one might indeed imagine will be deprived of spares - but also that it's because Russia has re-registered them onto Russian registers (maybe they are leased?) and there could be nasty ownership spats at Chinese airports. So: choose your motive; either or both.

The spares issue was always a problem, decades before sanctions. When I worked in Russia in the '90s, I'd only take (internal) flights on carriers that used the old Tupolevs, which could be reckoned to have been maintained with proper spare parts, unlike the Airbuses etc.

The onboard food was OK; but the Tupolevs were pretty basic & uncomfortable. Still, they knew what seasoned air travellers expected. The stewardess gave the usual little speech at take-off and landing, "... make sure your seatback is upright, and the table in front of you is folded away ..." etc: but both seat and table were rigid fixtures.

When it came to the refreshing hot towels, she piled up dry face-flannels on a tray, and poured a kettle of boiling water over the top. Heaven help the person at the front who got the top one.

At least security was OK. The trains were plagued with bandits and travellers were advised to carry clubs

Caeser Hēméra said...

@Sobers - the west certainly has its issues with identarian politics, and its influence, but it isn't being ran by it yet.

Russia is an object lesson in what the West will become if it is though.

@Nick - sorry, yes, should have specified it was the leased planes Russia decided to nationalise. I'm not sure how serviceable any modern item in Russia is becoming though, or indeed some of the older ones given Ukraine was a hotbed of Soviet engineering.

Bill Quango MP said...

I like this guy. He’s really an air safety/ trainer pilot for the airlines.

Good explanation of the spares issue .

Elby the Beserk said...

"Ten days ago, one of our BTL anons asked: why aren't the Russians interdicting Western military supplies en route to Ukrainian forces?"

Seems they have

"Russian troops appear to have been filmed attempting to blow up a railway tunnel connecting the Ukraine to the West with the aim of stopping military supplies from reaching the country"

Sobers said...

" the west certainly has its issues with identarian politics, and its influence, but it isn't being ran by it yet."

Have you had your eyes closed for the last 10 years? We have mainstream politicians (who will probably in government after the next election) unable (or unwilling) to say whether a woman can have a penis or not. The State apparatus underneath the political class is even more woke than the politicos. Every government body and organisation is obsessed with woke ideas. And these are the people who run the country. People like the fairly junior NHS managers who were quite happy to declare to the police that 'There were no men on the ward' when some female patient gets raped by a 'chick with a dick' who had been placed in a women's ward. Wokeness is endemic within the State sector, and increasingly in the large corporate sector too. And these are the people who control what happens in the country. We the mass of the public who don't agree don't get a say in it.

E-K said...

A new Iron Curtain. This time with us on the poor side of it - the Thought Police are already well established here. Yup. Of course China will treat Russia badly and be the winners.

Elby the Beserk said...

Wokeness, Sobers, is indeed the name of the game for our public services.

"Here are some facts I learnt by watching an “inclusion workshop” for civil servants. A brain in a jar “knows” if it is male or female and, if transplanted into the “wrong” body, would exhibit distress. This country has no legal sex-based rights. It is impossible to define what “woman” or even “female” means. There is zero conflict between women’s rights and trans rights, so beware colleagues asking too many questions; they’re probably bigots."

I now refuse to answer form questions re "gender" and simply note that there is no scientific evidence that "gender" is separate from "sex", and that as far as I am concerned it remains what it always was, a grammatical term. I then note that my SEX is male.

Just say no. Or "fuck off", if that feels better :-)

AndrewZ said...

The poor state of the Russian forces' equipment, training and morale must be a factor. For example, they may have plenty of gas shells and warheads in storage, but what condition are they in? How many are still usable?

Russian troops aren't likely to trust their NBC protective equipment any more than all the other shoddy gear that's already let them down. If Russian commanders order the use of poison gas, they may find that their own troops refuse to advance because they see it as certain death.

After all that's gone wrong so far, it must be very hard for Putin to be sure who and what he can actually rely on.

As for cyberwar, it may be raging fiercely without us even being aware of it:

It's also possible that Putin is stuck in a secret police "Special Operation" mindset, and (unlike Saddam Hussein) doesn't really understand how to fight a large conventional war.

Anonymous said...

Looks like the booing of the Rootless Cosmopolitan-in-Chief may have finally pushed Tory MPs over the edge, not that I can see an obvious replacement who's both competent and uncompromised in some way. I've aired the fancy before that only Tory candidates with skeletons that enable pressure to be applied seem to get adopted.

Not many Guardianistas outside St Paul's methinks, unless it was a brilliant Labour strategy to cover activists in Union flags and send them there.

Incidentally a sombre sign from Middle England as was. In my rural village, rapidly transformed demographically as the director class move in, more than half the houses have flags or bunting outside. I drove to the outskirts of the nearest city yesterday, through a large privately developed fifteen year old housing estate, all owner-occupied. Only one house on the main road through had flags and bunting, a second house had an England flag, a third house had a Union flag and a Ukrainian flag which were both there a month ago. So out of maybe 150 houses I passed, two had flags up for the Jubilee. Not a good sign.