Saturday, August 16, 2014

A couple of short pointers about the situation in the eastern Ukraine

Guys, I came home late after a pretty crazy day and I can't write a proper SITREP, if only because of the still very confused situation in the eastern Ukraine.  Still, I want to share a couple of short pointers with you.

The "destroyed Russian armor column": Poroshenko vs Carl Sagan

I cannot prove a negative.  But then, I am not the one making the claim.  The Ukies and a few British reporters did.  And they presented ZERO proof.  As Carl Sagan so well put it "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" and the notion that Russia would send in only 23 armored vehicles, with no protection, in broad daylight is quite extraordinary.  As is the notion that in a region chock-full of Russian military units nobody would have taken any action to save the column.  So even if a Russian unit got into the Ukraine by mistaken (at the age of GPS and GLONASS, yet another extraordinary claim!) the notion that those who sent it did nothing to protect or extract their own men is also extraordinary.  As for the British reporters, they don't even have a cellphone to show even bad images, maybe taken from far away?  They have nothing at all?  Quite extraordinary again.  Last, but not least, there is one more extraordinary element to this story, but one which I do believe.  I just heard that the British Foreign Office summoned the Russian ambassador to the UK over this Russian incursion.  Excuse me -but since when is the Ukraine part of the British Empire of Commonwealth?  What business does the Foreign Office have in this matter?

I am quite sure that there are *lots* of destroyed armored columns all over the Donbass.  In fact, the Resistance always makes a point of filming them.  I just came across this one today: (sorry, no translation yet).  So maybe the Ukies did show some burned armor to the British journalists.  Ukie armor, of course.  As for Poroshenko, he is desperately trying to convince the world that the Russians are about to invade, possibly by using their humanitarian convoy.  What is sure is that until I see some rock solid evidence, with a credible scenario explaining how this could have happened, I will continue to side with Carl Sagan and dismiss this story completely.

The change of the Novorussian leadership

Unlike the previous story, this one is also quite extraordinary, but it comes with plenty of extraordinary evidence: there is no doubt possible about the fact that all the key figures in Novorussia have been replaced.  Strelkov is alive and apparently not under duress.  What could explain this?

As much as I hate baseless speculation, I will say that two theories seem to make sense to me.  I present a summary of both of them here for discussion's sake, and I am at this moment endorsing neither one.

Theory One: a "grand deal" is in the works.

Under this theory, some key individuals in the Kremlin and the Ukie oligarch Rinat Akhmetov are trying to stop the war and hammer out a deal in which Novorussia would remain part of a single Ukrainian state, but with very large autonomy, especially in cultural, linguistic, political and economic terms.  Some speculate that the Ukraine would not join NATO.  This theory is similar to the "secret Putin-Merkel deal" theory also put forward recently.  The strongest argument for this theory is that from the onset of the conflict Moscow's #1 goal has always been a unitary but neutral and stable Ukraine, but not a russophobic, Fascist or NATO one.  Russia neither wants nor needs the Ukraine or even the Donbass.  What Russia needs is a stable, predictable and safe neighbor on its eastern border.  The biggest problem with this theory is that for the majority of those who took up arms against the Nazi junta nothing short from a complete separation from Kiev is acceptable.  This does not, however, mean that such a solution is also unacceptable to most of the people in Novorussia a majority of whom have not taken up arms.  There is only one actor which has the means to conduct a survey of majority public opinion in this war zone, and that is the Russia state.  Thus, I submit that only the Kremlin knows what a majority of Novorussians want or would settle for.  Finally, let me be clear here.  We are not, repeat, NOT discussing any type of "sellout" or "betrayal" or "backstabbing" of Novorussia by Putin.  Yes, all the Putin-bashers (paid or not) will present that like this, but even a close friend of Strelkov like Pavel Gubarev has unambiguously stated that there was zero chance of that happening.  What we are talking about here is a compromise deal with would probably be acceptable to some parties (most non-fighting Novorussians, the Kremlin, Rinat Akhmetov, the EU) and non-acceptable by others (Kiev, Uncle Sam, most fighting Novorussians).

Theory Two: a "grand counter-attack" is in the works.

Contrary to a lot of comments I have seen posted here over the pas few days, I see exactly zero reasons to believe that the Resistance is about to be crushed.  In fact, from all the reports I have seen, it is the Ukie sides which at tremendous costs has achieved exactly nothing.  Furthermore, the re-taking of Saur Mogila by the Ukie forces might well result in yet another cauldron for them.  Add to this the very persistent rumors and hints by various commanders on the ground that a big counter-offensive is in the works and I get feeling that the Ukies might well have reached a breaking point.  Please be careful to notice that I said that such a hypothesis is consistent with the available data, I did not make a prediction that this will happen.  However, in this hypothesis what happened is that all the key Russians-from-Russia figures have been  replaced by local, Russians-from-Donbass people.  The rationale would be to avoid the impression that "Russian forces are invading the Ukraine" and to show, instead, that "Ukrainian forces are liberating their own land".  The best argument in favor of this hypothesis is that if the Resistance was to go on the offensive it would need a more complex headquarters and that this is why Strelkov was "promoted" to "chief of staff" of the Novorussian military.  The best argument against this hypothesis is that I simply don't see the Resistance which yesterday was only a militia of volunteers become an effective military force capable of operational-level actions.  Now, if there really is nobody between the Ukie troops in the Donbass and Kiev, maybe such a move could be achieved by a constant series of tactical-level engagements, but I just don't see that happening.

As I said above, I am endorsing neither theory at this point, it is too early to call and there are way too many "unknown unknowns" (to borrow Rumsefeld expression) to make categorical statements.  But I will say that I find the first theory substantially more plausible than the second one.

The half-empty trucks

That is a simple one.  The Russian convoy of trucks is composed of trucks roughly loaded at 50% of max capacity to make sure that no truck stops in route or has any difficulty getting through very bad terrain.  It was planned this way and the Russians announced that on day 1.

A nationalist Maidan against Putin this fall

I am not a big fan of the Dugin-Fedorov-Limonov crowd because they tend to do what I call "headline baiting": they always predict the most extreme events (such as a US nuclear attack on Russia) and they always get the most attention form the general public.  The case in point is this notion of a nationalist backlash against Putin.  First, you will notice that this very idea implies that Putin would betray Russian national interest.  He might do that tomorrow morning.  But as of right now there is absolutely zero evidence for that.  Again, I would never place my faith in the hands of a politicians, and I don't want people to "trust" or, even less so, "believe in" Putin.  But I am saying that the theory that tomorrow morning Putin will "sell out" Novorussia or "betray" the Russian national interests has as much factual or logical basis as the theory that tomorrow Putin will join the Hare-Krishnas: zero.  There is a HUGE difference between "possible" and "probable" or "likely" and while "possible" requires very little, if any, substantiation, it is amateurish and often irresponsible to call "probable" something which is only "possible".  Second, right now Putin's rating is at a stratospheric 87% - higher than ever before - and even his way of dealing with the anti-Russian sanctions has made him more popular than before.  Third, there are many lies and inanities written by the MSM about "Putin the Dictator" but one thing is true: Putin has complete control over the Russian security services and the Russian security services are more powerful now than ever before.  Lastly, how can one seriously think that the Russian people have seen the horrors of the Ukie Maidan only to start one of their own.  This is utter nonsense.  My strictly personal advice would be this: take anything Dugin-Fedorov-Limonov have to say with a couple of cubic meters of salt.

The countdown to Dmitri Orlov's stages 4 and 5

One more thing.  All these topics are just like the proverbial trees hiding the forest.  The real story is that we are living a countdown to a huge explosion in Banderastan.  We all know that the rump-Ukraine is broke, but we forget what that means and what this really means.  Dmitri Orlov, in his absolutely fantastic book "The Five States of Collapse" explains that collapses happen in the following sequence:
Stage 1: Financial collapse. Faith in “business as usual” is lost. The future is no longer assumed to resemble the past in any way that allows risk to be assessed and financial assets to be guaranteed. Financial institutions become insolvent; savings are wiped out and access to capital is lost.
Stage 2: Commercial collapse. Faith that “the market shall provide” is lost. Money is devalued and/or becomes scarce, commodities are hoarded, import and retail chains break down and widespread shortages of survival necessities become the norm.
Stage 3: Political collapse. Faith that “the government will take care of you” is lost. As official attempts to mitigate widespread loss of access to commercial sources of survival necessities fail to make a difference, the political establishment loses legitimacy and relevance.
Stage 4: Social collapse. Faith that “your people will take care of you” is lost, as local social institutions, be they charities or other groups that rush in to fill the power vacuum, run out of resources or fail through internal conflict.
Stage 5: Cultural collapse. Faith in the goodness of humanity is lost. People lose their capacity for “kindness, generosity, consideration, affection, honesty, hospitality, compassion, charity.” Families disband and compete as individuals for scarce resources. The new motto becomes “May you die today so that I can die tomorrow.”
art: Josetxo Ezcurra
By the way, Orlov correctly notes that the collapse of the Soviet Union stopped at Stage 3.  Now think about the rump-Ukraine lead by the Nazi junta in Kiev.  It is already more or less at Stage 3 and the economic collapse has not really made landfall yet!  Sure, the junta's western patrons are keeping the Hrivna artificially high (have you ever seen the currency of a country in the midst of a civil war remain more or less stable?  Of course not! The western banks are buying that useless toilet paper for political reasons!) and fake short term loans can give the illusion that "so far so good", but the reality is catching up really, really fast.  Within the next couple of months Banderastan will full enter Stages 4 and 5 of Orlov's collapse model and then things will get really ugly.  At this point the introduction of some kind of dictatorship is simply inevitable.  Either that, or a "Somalization".  In either case, this is really going to be hell on earth and this is were the real focus should be right now: how to prepare for the absolutely inevitable explosion.

As for the EU, the Russian sanctions are beginning to bite.  Badly.  Hence more and more EU politicians are frantically trying to climb out of the hole they dug for themselves.  The really weird thing is that Russia has, so far, avoided to enter a recession in spite of the outflow of speculative capital.  Oh sure, eventually, factors such as the recession in the EU, the war in the Ukraine and western sanctions will hurt Russia, but it is quite remarkable so far Russia is doing better than predicted.

Bottom line: very soon the rump-Ukraine will either completely explode or see a new regime, this time openly dictatorial.  The EU economies are likely to begin really hurting and the combination of these two phenomena will leave the USA without any viable puppet to use against Russia.  Things might get so ugly that we might even see a moment in which the EU will welcome a Russian intervention in the Ukraine.

That's it for tonight.  Hopefully the very confused and murky situation will become clearer soon at which point I will try to sit down and write a halfway decent SITREP.

Kind regards to all,

The Saker