Monday, August 11, 2014

Neither the worst, nor the best, but time is running out for Novorussia

They flutter behind you your possible pasts
Some brighteyed and crazy some frightened and lost
A warning to anyone still in command
Of their possible future to take care
Roger Waters

On July 1st I wrote a short piece entitled "Novorussia - Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and settle for anything in the middle" in which I looked at the various possible outcomes of what appeared to be an imminent and massive Ukie attack on Novorussia. I think that now is a good time to look back and what happened in the past 40 days and compare it with the possible outcomes.

Life somewhere in the middle

First, the best possible outcome which I summarized like this: Hope for the best is easy: the Novorussian resistance beats back the Nazi forces. That clearly did not happen and, frankly, that was the most unlikely outcome.  However, I have to note here that the destruction of the "Southern Cauldron" is a huge success for the Resistance which, I think, took most people by surprise.

Then, here is how I described the worst possible outcome:

But what is the worst which can happen?
The worst which can happen is that a lot of Novorussian defenders get killed, that the towns of Slaviansk, Kramatorsk, Krasnyi Liman and others will get basically flattened and most of their inhabitants killed, that the road between Donetsk and Lugansk gets cut-off by the Ukies and that Ukie forces enter deep inside these two cities. I have to be honest here, there is a pretty good chance that all of the above will happen in the next 24 hours.
Superficially, it might look that this is very close to what actually happened.   Except, of course, that instead of happening in 24 hours, it took the Ukies 40 days to achieve this result.  Then, please consider the following "details":
  1. The Donetsk-Luganks road has not been cut-off yet, but it is threatened, no doubt here.  But the Ukies are afraid to fall into a trap and being surrendered again.  So even if their forces have entered a few towns on that axis, they also had to withdraw back to their positions.
  2. All the combats are taking place on the suburban periphery of these cities and no Ukie forces have entered Luganks or Donetsk proper.  Yes, they are mercilessly shelling these cities, but that is out of frustration because they are clearly unable to actually punch through the defensive lines of the Resistance.
  3. The destruction of the Southern Cauldron has opened 165km of border between Novorussia and Russia and that means that far from being able to cut-off the Resistance from Russia, the junta is now in control of even less crucial border crossings.
In fact, these are not details, but crucial elements of the overall strategic picture.  Of course, civilians are paying a horrible price for the junta's lack of real military success, and this kind of horror will continue for as long as the West will fully back Poroshenko's war.  The Ukies have shelled random buildings, kindergartens, churches and even hospitals.  Sadly, this is par for the course, this is what the USA did in Serbia and Montenegro, this is what the Israelis did to Lebanon in 2006 and this is what they are doing to Gaza now.  Still, terrible as these atrocities are, we should not mistake them for some kind of junta military success, quite to the contrary.

In July, I also looked at the very real possibility that the junta's deathsquads would actually enter Donetsk and/or Luganks.  I wrote:
Even if Poroshenko announces that Donetsk and Lugansk have "fallen", this will be only a empty statement on par with Dubya's "mission accomplished". What will *really* happen is that the type of warfare taking place will change. Not only will it change, but the new (urban) type of warfare will almost completely negate the current huge advantage in aviation, artillery and armor of the Ukie side. So if these cities "fall" - please do not despair.  
Apparently, the Resistance did not have to give up defense in what the military calls "mixed terrain" (vegetation, small villages, natural obstacles) nor did it have to retreat deep inside the urban areas to negate the huge junta advantages in hardware and manpower.  So even though this kind of "the worst did not happen" news does not make for good headlines, it is very important, especially when we consider the bigger picture.

The race against time

The war in the Ukraine has now turned into a pure race against time.  If we assume that the junta has an infinite amount of time available to crush the Resistance then we can only conclude that the Resistance will be completely wiped out.  No matter how much covert aid comes from Russia, the junta is sitting on top of huge stores of old, but still usable, weapons systems.  The junta also has an immense reservoir of manpower.  So no matter how heroically and skillfully the Resistance fights, on the long-run it simply cannot win.  Even if we assume that the Ukie forces in the Donbass are brought to a total standstill by the Resistance, it is one thing to defend yourself against an attacker and quite another to mount a successful offensive.  So even if the Ukies are beaten back around Donetsk, this hardly means that Strelkov can launch a counter-attack on Kiev.  No matter how you slice it, in the long run the Ukies win.

Furthermore,  according to many sources the Ukies have learned how to fight, even if they learned that at a huge cost in lives.  A month or two ago we had a war of clueless conscripts versus mostly older but combat trained Resistance fighters.  This has now changed.  Of course, the Ukies have suffered terrible casualties, and they still are, but there are increasing signs that those who survived have learned their lesson the hard way and that they are much harder to defeat than in the past.

However, there are many reasons why the Ukies do not have that much time.
  • The first colds of winter will arrive in a month or so, followed by winter.
  • The Ukies economy is coasting to a full halt (expected around September-October).
  • The EU has just realized that the retaliatory sanctions imposed by Russia will be both extremely costly and politically divisive.
  • The true story of MH17 will continue to leak out in one way or another
  • The Ukie elites are already fighting each other pretty openly.
  • The constant massacres by the Ukie death squads are becoming harder and harder to hide.
For all these reasons, Poroshenko had his sponsors badly need victory soon, something to show that the regime is not hapless and that Uncle Sam's will "be done on earth as it is in heaven".  Conversely, every passing day makes an (unlikely but always possible) Russian military intervention less politically costly.  Bottom line is this: time is on Russia's side, but not on Novorussia's side.  For the Novorussians, the crisis is severe, the horrors a daily fact of life, and the hardship harder and harder.  Still, the Novorussian Resistance has done better, even much better, then what I had feared and that should be recognized.

Russian options short of over military intervention

Still, since we don't know how close either side here is to its breaking point, it appears that the situation remains very fluid, very unstable and very dangerous.  I continue to think that Russian must do more to make sure that the Novorussians do not get run over (especially considering their lack of operational depth, this could happen in, literally a period of 24 hours). 

First,  Russia should increase its covert military, financial and technical aid, and she should probably also switch its official stance from "declared non-intervention" to "limited intervention on the basis of humanitarian grounds".  At the very least, if the US and its colonies could gather a conference of so-called "Friends of Syria", Russia should consider political moves to help ease the pressure on Novorussia.  The BRICS countries and the members of the SCO could declare an emergency based on the humanitarian situation in the Rostov region.  And if the US wants to consider a humanitarian mission as an "intervention" so be it!  Who cares about what the US might say? At this point the US has said it all and to pretend like the next statement from the "crazies" makes a difference in the real world is pointless, I think.

Second, now that Russia has imposed economic sanctions on the EU Russia should clearly spell out to her "EU partners" that these sanctions will remain for as long as the EU keeps acting like "Uncle Sam's bitch".  While officially these sanctions are a retaliatory measure against US/EU sanctions, I am convinced that their real purpose is not to respond to the rather lame US/EU sanctions, but to punish the EU and to use it to break the total EU subservience to the USA.  This is why Russia chose to use sectoral sanctions, sanctions which would very precisely hit the most subservient US colonies (Poland, Lithuania) and, at the same time, the most rebellious US colonies (Greece, France, Spain).  Furthermore, Russia will now be re-directing billions of its dollars/rubles away from those countries which supported Uncle Sam to those who did not.  Argentina, Brazil, China, and others are now openly celebrating the signing of huge contracts with Russia.  That, in turn, means that these countries will gradually have a bigger and bigger personal interest in keeping relations with Russia excellent which, in turn, will give Russia more and more political clout.  The BBC has reported today that "EU Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso has told Russia's Vladimir Putin not to carry out unilateral military action in eastern Ukraine under any pretext".  This is a perfect example of what Nikolai Starikov has called a "the boorish attitude towards Russia as a guilty child, who must be punished and taught a lesson".  Who the hell does Barroso think that he is?  There is a full-scale war and a massive humanitarian disaster right on Russia's doorstep and that Portuguese bureaucrat thinks that he can tell Russia what she can do or not do?!  Russian sanctions need to teach Barroso and the likes of him a good lesson in pain to make them understand that a tiny dog like them better not bark at a bear.  The EU needs to be taught some basic manners and this is, I am quite sure, a central element of the Russian sanctions policy.

The next crucial months

So this will all come to head in the next few months.  First, Novorussia must absolutely hold.  Neither Donetsk nor Lugansk can be allowed to fall.  If that is achieved, then the "season of pain" will begin in earnest for Banderastan and the EU neither of which can afford what is about to hit them.  One this process begins, Russia will have the option to just relax and watch the bovine excreta hit the proverbial fan, in Kiev and Brussels.  Then we will see what these Europatriots are really made out of.

But first and foremost, Novorussia must hold. 

The Saker