Wednesday, February 4, 2015

War in the Ukraine

by Alexander Mercouris

Russia Insider has published my latest piece on the course of the Ukrainian war. It is a more refined and thought through version of the piece I previously wrote on this Page.

1. My key point is that it is not minor tactical movements that are determining the course of this war. It is the level of casualties the Ukrainian military is suffering. They were hammered in the summer and they are being hammered again now.

In my pieces for Russia Insider I quoted the number of Ukrainian military deaths on the basis of official Ukrainian documents obtained by a hacking group as 1,100 for a two week period that covered the battle for Donetsk airport. The NAF today puts the total number of Ukrainian military deaths presumably since the resumption of the fighting at 1,500. Colonel Cassad yesterday was saying that the number could be over 1,800.

The figures of 1,500 and 1,800 cover a longer period than the 1,100 in the hacked Ukrainian documents. The fact that they are all of the same order of magnitude however suggests that all these figures are reliable. If so then that that shows that my guess that the Ukrainian army is suffering deaths at a rate of several hundred a week is probably correct.

2. Of course the NAF is also currently suffering a high rate of losses. However it is clear that these are at a substantially lesser level than the Ukrainian. As I said in the Russia Insider piece an NAF spokesman put the loss ratio at 4 to 1. Colonel Cassad put the total number of NAF deaths at 600 for the same period as that of his 1,800 estimate for Ukrainian deaths. That is a 3 to 1 ratio.

I suspect that the number of NAF deaths over the last 3 weeks is higher than usual because the NAF has been on the attack for most of this period. When that stage ends after the Debaltsevo pocket is fully encircled I would guess the number will fall. By contrast as the pocket collapses the rate of deaths of Ukrainians will rise especially if the pattern of unsuccessful counterattacks the Ukrainians have a habit of launching is followed.

3. As I said in the article for Russia Insider the Ukrainian military simply cannot go on taking losses at a rate of several hundred a week. In the slugfest we are seeing it is only a matter of time before it breaks. This is especially so since I strongly suspect that I have greatly overestimated the total number of Ukrainian troops in the Donbass in my Russia Insider piece. I put the number in the same range of 60,000 or so thousand that was the case in the summer. I suspect the real total is substantially less, thus the attempted mobilisations about which in the Russia Insider piece I have much to say.

4. On the political front, the DPR/LPR are taking a very hardline in the negotiations. Specifically:

(1) they are now formally challenging Kuchma's plenipotentiary rights i.e. his right to sign agreements that formally and legally bind the junta. They are insisting that he formally be given such rights.

As I have argued before there was no doubt that Kuchma was acting on behalf of the junta when he signed the Minsk Protocol and it is fatuous to deny the fact. However the junta has repeatedly resisted pressure to formalise Kuchma's position since if they formally admit he is their representative then they formally admit they are negotiating with the NAF, which is something for political and ideological reasons they emphatically do not want to do.

(2) the NAF has said that they would agree to a new ceasefire on the basis of the actual combat line and not the line agreed in the Minsk Memorandum. This is a way of rejecting calls for a ceasefire because they know perfectly well that the junta will not agree to this. Importantly the NAF rejected a call for a temporary 7 day ceasefire in Debaltsevo today. I think this is the first time the NAF has rejected a ceasefire when it has been offered.

This is a fundamental shift from the position last spring and summer. At that time it was the NAF (and the Russians) who were repeatedly calling for a ceasefire and the junta that was ignoring such calls even as it purported to agree to them. Now the situation is reversed. There is no better indicator that the initiative has now passed to the NAF than that.

(3) The Russians are backing the NAF line. It has been completely overlooked but yesterday 2nd February 2015 Interfax carried this brief but momentous report at 20:03 hours Moscow time:

"Kremlin source: East Ukraine militias' hardline 'absolutely justifiable'"

As I have said previously, the Russians have abandoned hope of Western pressure to force the junta to negotiate. This provides further confirmation. The NAF has the green light from Moscow to see its offensive through.

(4) To understand why the Russians have given up hope of a negotiated solution consider Poroshenko's latest statement today. Even as the situation collapses around him he is continuing to reject calls for federalisation and is continuing to say that the Ukraine will remain a unitary state. As I have said previously, the ideological and political nature of the junta makes no other response possible and anyone who thinks the junta will voluntary agree a compromise is fooling himself.

5. I am not going to say anything about what looks like a gathering political crisis in Kiev because there are others who understand it better than me.

Saker commentary: here is what I wrote in the comments section of Russia Insider under Alexander's analysis.

Since Alexander has been so kind as to mention me I just want to say that I indeed *fully* agree with his analysis, especially when he predicts further disaster for the Ukrainian military. He is also correct when he says that the number of killed Ukrainians is a humanitarian catastrophe: we might well see something quite amazing happening - a war where there are more military casualties then civilian ones. Furthermore, I also fully agree that the decision to stop the massacre depends not on Kiev, but on Washington. This war will last as long as the US wants to keep this bleeding wound open and no amount of western "aid" (lethal or otherwise) will turn the tide in this war. The only question is how many Ukrainians will have to die for this abomination to finally stop. Even the "solution" to this war is obvious and understood by everybody: a nominally unitary Ukraine with full cultural, economic and political autonomy for *all* its regions, not only the Donbass and a full recognition of the Novorussian authorities as a equal partner for negotiations. All this nonsense about "9000 Russian troops" "invading" the Ukraine and Russia as the "aggressor country" (as the Rada says) or the nonsense about the LNR and DNR being "terrorist organizations" (official Kiev position) only delays the inevitable and will generate more useless deaths. Finally, I also agree that the US/NATO cannot and therefore will not send forces to crush the Novorussians. What US/NATO can, and will, do is provide some financial and some military aid, and lots of hot air and big empty statements and promises. That will not be enough. Alexander's analysis is flawless.
The Saker