Thursday 25 August 2022

Can Russia sustain this indefinitely?

On this blog we've all, contributors and commentators alike, recognised from the start that Russia has enormous powers of endurance.  So that's not at issue.  

But what of its political stability for the long haul?  Its ability to re-equip?  To raise adequate manpower?  For a very good essay on this, I recommend Can Russia Continue to Fight a Long War from the esteemed RUSI, whose Ukraine coverage is generally quite excellent. 

To the question of whether Russia has the political capacity to sustain a prolonged conflict, the answer must be a qualified yes.  What of the material capacity of Russia to generate military power?  Here, the answer is more ambiguous. A key consideration will be how Russia’s major manufacturers function in the absence of Western components – which, notably, they have failed to substitute in the last decade...

The growth of China as Russia’s largest supplier of machine tools may provide a margin of safety for the Russians, but Western suppliers still account for a large percentage of machine tool imports. The more important point, however, is what an inability to produce machine tools domestically tells us about the state of Russian industry and its potential to achieve import substitution.  As such, Russia is likely to struggle with many areas of import substitution even if it accepts lower quality products and higher costs. There are certain things it simply cannot make. Russia will not replace nonfungible military capabilities without external help from China ...

If Russia has to keep a steady stream of resources flowing to the front lines because it is not allowed the luxury of a pause or because a second offensive also fizzles out, its material capacity to conduct a long war will be limited...

Moreover, the Russian military training system will struggle to generate combat-effective units in numbers – even if it can push new recruits into existing understrength units ... Russia can generate a large number of new troops, but only if it avoids intensive refresher training and trickles new recruits into existing units, which risks mixed units on the front underperforming. If it seeks to generate fully formed units during an operational pause for a second phase of offensive activity, its training pipeline may substantially limit its capacity.



Matt said...

If troop numbers is a problem, what is Ukraine going to do if it becomes a war of attrition?

Ukraine - population of 44 million
Russia - population of 144 million

Assuming similar demographics, Russia has ~3x the manpower available. Sure, one is the attacker, the other the defender, but even so, I fancy Russia can last longer than Ukraine can.

DJK said...

As Matt says, Ukraine will run out of men long before Russia does.

As an apprentice in the eighties, at Rolls Royce Tech College, some of my training was done on soviet machine tools. (Yes, even RR used them.) So it should ultimately be possible to replace German machine tools with Russian made ones, and that's before even considering grey imports.

North Korea and Iran show that sophisticated engineering industries can be developed in spite of sanctions. Check out the products of MAPNA (Iran)
Or listen to this catchy NK ditty:

Anonymous said...

TFR is pretty awful in both countries, but worse in Ukraine.

Amazingly high in 1960 considering the huge dearth of males of reproductive age in both countries. The survivors were obviously working overtime.

In Solzenhetszyn's novel Cancer Ward, setb in the 50s, the young lady doctor bemoans the harsh reality that "if you don't put out there are plenty of girls that will".

Anonymous said...

DJK - sanctions seem to have forced Iran to produce some quite sophisticated products. Autarky may not always be bad. Having a very high-IQ neighbour who hates you is I'm sure a spur and necessity is the mother of invention.

But Russia has basically all of the Global South to call on. China makes most things, and your prescription meds will probably come from India, even if they don't make it obvious.

dearieme said...

Using the Russian collapse of 1917 as the model, the question should be are there any equivalents of the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks in Russia?

I guess that Putin's regime is far more repressive than the Tsar's and so the answer is "no".

It was interesting to se the implication that Russia is fighting an artillery war because artillery ammo aplenty is what they happen to have.

Anonymous said...

I think the UK might collapse before Russia does.

Funny how this

leads directly to this

"Yesterday, CF Fertilisers UK said it would halt ammonia production, which produces CO₂ as a byproduct, at its Billingham Complex in Cleveland, Teeside. The company blamed soaring gas prices – an example of how the energy crisis is making some business operations uneconomical."

And pubs are having to pay up front

‘We don’t think a lot of pubs are going to make it this year and we need security.

E-K said...

Can *we* sustain this war indefinitely ?

That should be the question. We'll see soon when our people are actually starving and on rations.

Putin only has to hold out until our countries are broken economically.

Boris has already declared that the war MUST be won by Ukraine so that rules out a relatively quiet trench war with lines drawn and troops taking the odd pot shot at each other being acceptable... Putin could keep one of those going for decades.

I read the other day that Russia's gas has been diverted to India and China and that their trade is only down 3%.

E-K said...

Unlike the '70s most homes no longer have open fires and there won't be the pubs to visit for communal warmth for the price of a cheap pint or two. Oh. The music is shit these days too.

We're going to see just how full of shit most of those who said we should stand by Ukraine are whilst waving blue and yellow flags.

jim said...

So Russia might be able to sustain a long but not very successful war. Ukraine does not get its territory or life back on any reasonable timescale and the West gets high fuel and grain prices and high inflation for the foreseeable future. A cheery prospect. Indeed the Politburo must be rolling around laughing.

What might we do to change Russia's course of action? Sanctions only last so long, they get leaky over time. We could squeeze a bit harder but could Russia aka Putin's regime be made to collapse from within. Probably not by force but maybe by guile and greed. Must be very tiresome having to hide one's yachts and be limited as to where one can hire good hookers.

Possibly by offering a more attractive deal. Snag is that takes us back where we started - isolating Russia and then poking its underbelly kicked this whole thing off. If we were to start tickling and inviting Ruskies round for tea and bikkies that might upset our friends in the Pentagon. Keeping ones friends close and ones enemies closer was not allowed.

Must be a bit boring running a petrol station with nukes, the devil makes mischief for idle hands etc. Offer them some not-quite-so-modern semiconductor factories and the not-quite-so-top-range pharma licences.

The only snag is we need those to keep Wales and Oop North afloat. Still, one must make sacrifices. In return Ukraine gets a bit of land back and some peace and quiet.

Just as British oldies are sitting on a cash pile so oligarchs will also be cash rich. Good for the Belgravia property market. What is not to like.

Caeser Hēméra said...

Soviet engineering != Russian engineering. High quality Soviet work tended to come from Ukraine, if half the OSINT reports are correct, the actual Russian stuff is low quality crap.

Russia's biggest problem is that they're the geopolitical version of Scousers, I have no doubt there is a great deal of ability, it's just drowning in a sea of corruption that Putin has only increased.

And if you want to know just how well Russia is doing, we do have a nifty barometer called Erdogan that we can read from.

He's about as nakedly self-interested and pragmatic as they come. And he's not acting like Russia has as much use to him it once had.

Bill Quango MP said...

It’s a mixed picture.

Inflation in Ukraine, that is printing to survive, is destroying their already badly damaged economy. Ukraine is on life support. That is unplugged.

Sanctions on Russia have an effect. But it is the complete loss of confidence in Russia for trade that has doomed it.
long term Russia is already in deep, deep, deep, economic crisis. The West won’t ever be dependent on Putin’s Russia for ANYTHING, ever again. And everyone who does trade will want hefty discounts.
Russia can expect just a fraction of its western fossil fuel revenue for its economy in the future. Plus, it’s lost long term investment and income and market building, from the west.

Recent post by Adam Tooze asks the very important question, what is the goal of the war? For everyone.

Ukraine currently want Russia out of ALL of Ukraine.
Russia wants , ?? Kiev ? The Donbas? All of Ukraine? Downfall of NATO? Who knows.
What does the West actually want? Wear down the Russian military so it cannot attempt land grabs again? Allow Ukraine to recapture the invaded territory ? Plus the previously stolen territory? Give Russia another Afghanistan War. that will eventually collapse the Putin regime.

War aims are unclear.

Without knowing how to end, the war will just continue. At a low tempo with occasional offensives, minimal gains on each side, and atrocities. Plus higher prices for the entire world.

andrew said...

The economist reckons that their commercial aircraft will not be usable in about 12m and the same is true for a lot of advanced machinery that needs spares from the west

Anonymous said...

BQ - I think it's a historic inflection point in that it's turning away from Europe and towards Asia.

I also think that's a tragedy.

I also think that's "our" doing, by which I mean both parties (and obviously the neocons in the States who stay in power no matter the elections).

I'm not sure I'll live long enough to see it all play out, but it strikes me the declining American empire may well take Europe down with it. Around 1960 was probably Peak USA, just as 1890-odd was Peak Britain. And America didn't even have a poet to record it!

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!

Anonymous said...

andrew - I'm sure the Economist is a trustworthy data source ;-)

Anonymous said...

BQ - on Russian war aims, well in December they wanted autonomy for Donbass/no NATO i.e. the Minsk agreement. And very sensible that would have been.

I think that's changed in that they'll now want security for Donbass/Crimea - which means if say HIMARS have 70 mile range, a 70 mile buffer zone. I think they're soundly pissed off by now and they'll want the whole coast and a bridge to Transnistria. Once you start paying in blood it hardens attitudes.

DJK said...

Peak British Empire was 1897 --- diamond jubilee year --- from when the Kipling poem was written. Also, as I think Niall Ferguson observed, the historical low point in the yield of Consols (apart from recent financial repression).

Peak USA power, relative to the rest of the world, must have been 1945, but early sixties with the Apollo programme must have been about peak of optimism and soft power. It's quite clear that American power and influence is currently draining away. Take the sanctions on Russia. Only the five eyes countries (US/UK/Can/Aus/NZ), the EU, South Korea and Japan have joined in the sanctions. Even Israel hasn't gone along with them. As Anon says, Europe is not in a good place going along with Biden's war on Russia. Doesn't mean that Russia is in the right here, but a responsible statesman would be trying to end the war, rather than throwing more fuel on the fire.

Don Cox said...

I don't think it's our doing at all. Putin started the trouble by refusing to relinquish power when the end of his term limit was reached.

He can't accept that the Soviet Union collapsed because top-down government doesn't work. Like Hitler, he has been bitter and resentful because he believes he was cheated out of the empire that his country had a right to. In his mind, the Russians have the right and duty to rule Eastern (or all) Germany, Poland, Hungary, the Baltic States, etc in perpetuity.

The biggest problem facing the world today is still men who are obsessed with power.


DJK said...

Don Cox: OK, so Putin is the new Hitler. Perhaps you agree with Boris and Macron that insanely high energy costs are a price worth paying to stop him? If pensioners freeze and businesses go bankrupt in the next six months is that just something we have to live with to show our disapproval of the Russians?

Anonymous said...

The above is a complete misunderstanding of Kipling's Recessional. It was written in the aftermath of the colossal naval review ("our pomp of yesterday") to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee. Our navies are "far-called" because they are returning to patrol our "far-flung battle line." They "melt away" because departing ships melt over the horizon.

The poem is saying that Britain has immense Imperial responsibilities, and should undertake them in a spirit of "an humble and a contrite heart", and not of "such boastings as the Gentiles use." The latter term probably refers to the Germans.

In fact the British Empire became even larger after the defeat of Germany and Turkey in WWI, with the acquisition of colonies and mandates in Africa, the South Pacific and the Middle East. It reached its peak in 1934, with the expiry of the Iraq Mandate.

Anonymous said...

The above is a complete misunderstanding of my comment.

"Our navies are "far-called" because they are returning to patrol our "far-flung battle line." They "melt away" because departing ships melt over the horizon."

Yes, did I say different?

How about Ninevah and Tyre?

Bill Quango MP said...

Russian commercial aviation is already finished. Russia has broken the aviation rules already. The EU has noticed.

And an explanation of how Russian air got into this mess so quickly.
And how it was the most like.y scenario.

From April 2022 by an aviation blogger

DJK said...

Peak empire size was 1934, peak power (I would argue) was 1897. 1934 was post Invergordon muntiny and the rise of the American and Japanese navies, post-WW1 and the Washington Naval Treaty.

Recessional is usually cited as a humble, cautionary tale, at odds with most of the 1897 celebration.

Anonymous said...

Guns before butter?

“As a person who was born in and works in the city of gunsmiths, it was bitter for me to witness the powerful factories built in Soviet times, turn into shopping centers one after another” says Alexander Zakharov. — But there is a way to quickly and exponentially increase the production of unmanned vehicles. We have developed a concept for the re-equipment of shopping centers, which before the start of the SMO traded mainly goods of Western brands, into factories for the conveyor production of three types of drones.”

The first assembly line project in Russia will focus on the production of three main types of unmanned aerial vehicles and will meet the needs of any consumer. In addition to maintaining jobs and the level of tax deductions, the conversion of shopping centers into factories of military equipment and weapons will allow not only the conveyor production of well-established products, but also ensure the development of new production, which will increase the prestige of the country.

“I have long kept the idea that a time will come and the industry will return to those places where we lost factories for various office and shopping centers in the 90s. Now we need to look at the departure of foreign companies as an opportunity to create new jobs and provide the market with products necessary for our consumption,” says Alexander.

Anonymous said...

My poor French Lieutenants Woman is still standing outside the shop in Donetsk, it's dark now and she has a shawl over her shoulders.

Don Cox said...

Putin is not Hitler. Nor is he Ivan the Terrible, or Nicholas, or Peter, or Lenin; or Khomeini or Mugabe. Every despot is different. But they are all a menace to ordinary people, for whom they care nothing.

The US Constitution is specifically designed to block despotism, and so far it has succeeded. But those involved in writing and amending it were very much aware of the danger.

One of the first acts of a would-be tyrant is to find a way to evade term limits, which many constitutions have. He will also remove the freedom of the Press and then freedom of speech.


Anonymous said...

"the US Constitution is specifically designed to block despotism"

But not, alas, to block massive electoral fraud.

As a young politics student I devoured all the "Making Of The President" series.

It was a long, long time later that White revealed that the 1960 Illinois race was very close, until only two areas remained to declare - a rural area and a Chicago precinct. White, in Chicago, a Kennedy supporter, was concerned, but the Dem operatives weren't. Eventually, after a long delay, the rural precinct declared. Jubilation in the Dem camp - "they've folded! Now watch the vote come in!" - and sure enough half an hour later in came a close Dem victory. Chicago was run by Richard Daley, a byname for fraud.

So it could well be that Nixon won in 1960 - but White kept schtum til retirement.

dearieme said...

Any attempt to date Peak Britain that puts it after the Great War must be wrong. So the criterion of maximum Imperial area is misleading.

P.S. If we are never again to use Russian oil and gas shouldn't we be busy devastating their fields and pipelines? Non-attributably, obviously.

Sobers said...

"He can't accept that the Soviet Union collapsed because top-down government doesn't work. "

If only someone would tell the socialists is Whitehall...........

Sobers said...

'in Whitehall' of course!

(Where's the edit function?)

Anonymous said...

And they'll not retaliate?

Don Cox said...

No, we should not be devastating Russia's oil and gas industries. There is nothing to be gained from weakening the Russian economy: on the contrary, we want the Russians to be comfortable and prosperous. Not hungry and belligerent.


Caeser Hēméra said...

Putin can forget any help from China, has anyone seen what's happening over there at the moment? I wasn't aware of the drought they were having until today, and it certainly puts moaning about being unable to water the grass with a hosepipe in its place.

Looking like entire crop harvests are gone, and they're running out of water, not just for irrigation, but for energy generation too with the kind of power cuts *we're* worried about in winter happening now. In the wet season. And they've wildfires on a par with what our news showed happening in Europe during the heatwave.

Putin's got Iran though, which is going to shift Israel off the fence, so not without a price tag - especially if they lever out some nuclear tech, which might get the IDF 'disrupting' deliveries.

Anonymous said...

"the kind of power cuts *we're* worried about in winter happening now"

If we have no carbon dioxide or fertiliser we should be worried even if the lights stay on.

Energy affects everything. People are starting to give up their pets because they can't afford them.

Our sanctions on Russia are certainly having a huge impact - on us. Did anyone vote for this?

Anonymous said...

When granny is dying of cold cos she's scared to put the heating on ...

and old people's homes, what are they going to do? Schools? Hospitals?

I must say I wonder if HMG have quite thought this whole thing through.

I'm not sure the US State Department have either, unless destroying German industry is all part of The Great Reset.

"Welcome To 2030: I Own Nothing, Have No Privacy, I'm Freezing Cold And Life Has Never Been Worse"

Caeser Hēméra said...

@Anonymous 10:19

How exactly would you go about voting for it? Do we have a say in EU policy? US policy? Where is the ballot box for voting for our local representative of the mythical NWO?

Had the UK had decided not to help Ukraine or not to impose any sanctions, the impact on where prices are heading would be minimal. That is how _global_ markets work.

Certainly we could have kept on, indeed increased, buying Russian oil and gas at a wonderful discount, although there would be consequences to that too as I'm quite certain the EU and US would apply punishments to us in response.

The UK is not in a position to play such games, as a power we may be at the top of the second tier, but second tier we are. Our economy is service and consumptive based, and as such something of a hostage to those we import from.

You can go back though the years and what-if away, but we are where we are. The US may be in a measure of decline, but Russia is declining faster, and China has a number of tightropes to cross before it can truly replace the US as Top Dog. So when it comes to knowing where our bread is buttered, it is mostly in Washington DC.

The question is who voted us in this position. And the answer is very much "we did"

Anonymous said...

Russia's decline was huge in the 1990s, but Putin slammed the brakes on that big time. I agree it's a corrupt place and has been all its history - so it makes it all the more impressive how he gathered power and tamed the oligarchs without being blown up or poisoned as happened to so many who crossed them.

If Russia survives as an independent nation, he'll one day have operas or plays written about him. His YUGE problem is succession - I'm sure the US will try and cultivate anyone likely to be in line.

It was ironic when early in the SMO a number of oligarchs flounced out saying "I can't live in a country that bombs its neighbours and steals their land" - then went to Israel (which has no sanctions).

Sobers said...

"How exactly would you go about voting for it? Do we have a say in EU policy? US policy? Where is the ballot box for voting for our local representative of the mythical NWO?"

The NWO don't need a box on the ballot paper, all the politicians and civil servants are already fully paid up members. Why did Theresa May suddenly announce the UK was going Net Zero just as she was leaving? Who gave her the right to do that? No-one voted for that, no party stood on a Net Zero manifesto beforehand, yet now its a done deal, all parties are signed up to it, its something we have no say in.

We don't need to have a say in US or EU policy, we have all the energy we need within our own control. Gas, oil, coal, nuclear, even some renewables if you want. We are being told we can't have them, why, and by whom?

The UK is an island of coal and gas surrounded by fish and has a temperate maritime climate that would allow us to grow all the food we need, and yet our political class have somehow managed to make us short of energy and food. How can that be achieved other than as a deliberate act?

Caeser Hēméra said...

@Sobers - the existence of the NWO aside, you know that's not how our democracy works, ever has worked, or ever likely will work.

When elections come up, we don't get glossy brochure of everything that will be done, we get a list of the minimum they'll promise* to do. You vote for your representative/party of choice, and relinquish control to your MP until the next election. We have no say in 99% of what the government does, just in which flavour of government is doing the implementing.

This is also a rather bad year to be declaring we can be doing autarky too, crops across the UK and Europe are failing. Yes we have the capability of feeding the nation if we all go back to a limited diet, and good luck to any party succeeding on that platform.

As for energy, well, that's years of lazy politicians and NIMBYs. Same with water. Every time there's an idea for a new power station or a reservoir, the local MP sees a wonderful opportunity to harvest some votes from everyone wanting water and power, just not having the generation anywhere near them.

Again, the fault lies with us as a nation. Cakeism has become a sad factor of British political reality, when we say we get the politicians we deserve, we well and truly deserved Boris. He's practically the physical manifestation of modern Britishness.

The current crisis might reintroduce the concept of "adulting" to the nation as everyone goes and digs out their warmest pair of big boy trousers.

*subject to change, promises may materialise in a form the promised may not expect, promises may be aspirational and any promises that may not have been implemented may be down the fundamental misunderstanding of a political promise and its proximity to the concept of bullshit.

Caeser Hēméra said...

Speaking of water, recently found out we do have a desalination plant.

Not that it is ever ran, just like fixing leaks and processing sewage it is a pricier prospect than having an intern making sad faces to customers on Twitter.

Tying in utility corp and director tax levels to performance might be something worth looking into, along with a good run up in order to be fair.

Sobers said...

"When elections come up, we don't get glossy brochure of everything that will be done, we get a list of the minimum they'll promise* to do. You vote for your representative/party of choice, and relinquish control to your MP until the next election. We have no say in 99% of what the government does, just in which flavour of government is doing the implementing."

You don't consider that something as fundamental to the wealth of the nation as Net Zero should be given a bit more democratic scrutiny than be waived through Parliament on a wet Tuesday by a dead duck Prime Minister? And that at least one of the major political parties should take on the democratic role of opposing it?

Caeser Hēméra said...

No, as that is how our system is generally set up. If the opposition agree with the government, tough titty, it's going through.

At the following GE, 2019, the public had two pro-Brexit parties to vote for, one which had already advertised its negative position to Net Zero.

That party, the Brexit Party, didn't get a single seat. The electorate had the opportunity to give Labour a bloody nose over Brexit and both Labour and the Tories one over Net Zero in over 270 seats, and in one of the most tactically voted elections ever.

They didn't.

No one cared enough.

That's democracy.

Anonymous said...

This is why Peter Hitchens wrote that "Britain is the only virgin in a continent of rape victims" and also why for 50 years after WW2 no one in the UK worried about "the Serbian question" or cared where Ruthenia was, or who the Ruthenians were. Look what happened in Yugoslavia the moment the lid was removed in the 1990s.

The massacres of Poles in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia (Polish: rzeź wołyńska, lit. 'Volhynian slaughter'; Ukrainian: Волинська трагедія, romanized: Volynska trahediia, lit. 'Volyn tragedy'), were carried out in German-occupied Poland by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, or the UPA, with the support of parts of the local Ukrainian population against the Polish minority in Volhynia, Eastern Galicia, parts of Polesia and Lublin region from 1943 to 1945. The peak of the massacres took place in July and August 1943. Most of the victims were women and children. Many of the Polish victims regardless of age or gender were tortured before being killed; some of the methods included rape, dismemberment or immolation, among others. The UPA's actions resulted in between 50,000 and 100,000 deaths.

According to Timothy Snyder, the ethnic cleansing was a Ukrainian attempt to prevent the post-war Polish state from asserting its sovereignty over Ukrainian-majority areas that had been part of the prewar Polish state.

It's almost as if having different groups of people in the same nation is a bad idea. Even the famously well governed UK had its troubles in Ireland and may yet have them in Scotland.

The irony is that these days, at least at the top level, all's sweetness and light. The Polish president was the only leader other than Boris to go over for Ukrainian Independence Day.

Anonymous said...

ND - what's Spain's secret? I know they have gas terminals but power seems pretty cheap there.