Friday, July 11, 2014

July 11th Ukraine SITREP: important developments for the Resistance

Besides the apparently devastating attack on a Ukie armored column, there are several important development which have recently taken place which I feel must be reported here:

Alexander Khodakovskii
1) With Strelkov's return to Donetsk, order and unity of command in the Resistance forces have apparently been restored and the disagreements between Strelkov and Alexander Khodakovskii (ex-commander of the Donetsk "Alpha" unit) settled.

2) In a joint press conference, Igor Strelkov , Alexander Borodai and Vladimir Antiufeev (respectively in charge of military, political and state security affairs) have announced the formation of a council of military commanders which will be in charge of all the military units in Novorussia.  At the same press conference they also announced a large (voluntary) evacuation of civilians from the suburbs of Donetsk.  Clearly the city is preparing itself for a major attack followed by a siege.

Sergei Kurginian
3) A fierce dispute has taken place between Igor Strelkov and Sergei Kurginian who accused Strelkov of abandoning Slaviansk and who claimed that the Novorussians were now receiving much more and much better aid from Russia than before.  While Borodai accused Kurginian of spreading Ukie or US propaganda, I personally believe that Kurdinian's role is to reassure the Russian public that enough had been done by the Russian civil society (nobody has ever mentioned any aid from the Russian government). Whatever may be the case, Alexander Borodai settled the dispute when he reported that his consultations in Moscow were "very successful, and I am very much counting on the assistance of the Russian Federation in the nearest possible future. As it is, the Russian people, at present, are already providing colossal assistance to us, both in terms of volunteers and in terms of humanitarian aid. I expect that this assistance will continue to grow".  Clearly, some kind of deal has been struck between the Novorussia leaders and the Kremlin, though of course the details will remain secret and the assistance presented as one of the "Russian people" as opposed to the Russian government (-: though one could, of course, wonder why Borodai needed consultations in Moscow to get assistance from the Russian people :-)  

Vladimir Antiufeev

4) The Ukies have apparently been reinforcing their artillery on the border with Crimea, but the consensus is that while these systems have the range to strike at Crimean towns, the Russian response to that would be as swift and as devastating as to make such a move suicidal for the Ukies. The Russian military has been steadily and rapidly reinforcing its capabilities in Crimea which now include total airspace coverage by the latest version of the S-300 air defense systems and a redeployment of Russian fighter-bombers.  Even the usually soft-spoken Sergei Lavrov has delivered a blunt warning saying that he would not advise anybody to try to attack Crime as Russia would retaliate.

5) The Ukrainian Air Force continues to lose aircraft on a regular basis, today again a Ukie Su-25 was shot down near Lugansk.  

6) In another interesting recent development, Igor Strelkov announced that from now on the soldiers fighting for the Novorussian military would be paid a salary which is more than adequate by Ukrainian norms.  Clearly another sign that "somebody" is now financing the Resistance.

My guess is that Poroshenko will declare that the Grad MLRS who today destroyed much of the 79th Brigade were firing from Russia.  The first reason why I believe that he will say this is that this will allow him and, more importantly, his US bosses to re-ignite the russophobic hysteria.  The second reason is that if these Grads were in Russia, then those Ukie units who are away from the Russian border are in relative safety.  But if these Grads were fired by the Resistance from Novorussia, that would mean that any and all Ukie units in Novorussia could potentially become the target of such strikes.

Whatever may be the case, we have one of two options here: either the Russian finally decided to give the Ukies a little taste of their own medicine, while at the same time making them pay for the numerous attacks on Russian border posts, or the Resistance really did get their hands on enough Grads to carry out such an attack.  In that case it is pretty darn obvious were these Grads came from, even though, of course, nobody will admit anything.

Is the Russian border with the Ukraine porous?  Yes, of course.  But not to the point that convoys of MLRS' could cross it without the knowledge and agreement of the Russian government.  Could Strelkov and his forces have "nationalized" some money from seizing Kolomoiskii's banks?  Yes, of course.  But not enough to pay for a war.  Could Russian volunteers (including Russian oligarchs) have sent money to help the Novorussians?  Yes, of course, but not without the FSB knowing and allowing it.  So what we are witnessing is clearly the following: the Russian *government* is not sending any "official" military assistance to Novorussia, but instead it is the Russian *society* which, with the full knowledge and blessing of the Russian government, is doing it.  Hence the happy smile on Borodai's face when he spoke about this "consultations" in Moscow.

Is the Kremlin taking a big risk with this strategy?  I don't think so.  Since that aid is small enough it offers what the CIA calls "plausible deniability", but since it is continuous enough, it is sufficient to make a crucial difference.  Furthermore, all that the Kremlin is *really* doing is not impeding assistance, this is a passive position which can easily be explained away "we try", "it is hard", "you know our corruption problems" etc.

Finally, I will hazard a guess.  My feeling is that the Atlantic Integrationists in the Kremlin and around it are not happy at all with the aid Russia is providing and that there is a pretty good chance that Putin is using his old contacts with the secret services to get things done.  When I look at the latest actions of Strelkov, Borodai and Antiufeev I do get a strong sense that this recent "consolidation" of power has a very typical "KGB feel" to it.  Not that this is a bad thing in present circumstances.

Strelkov, Borodai, Antiufeev
There is a word in Russian which is hard to translate but which more or less means "near/around the Kremlin circles" (околокремлевские круги).  This basically refers to the "silent" pro-Putin power base which has a great deal of political influence but is not formally part of the government structure.  These circles - who are the bane of the Russian liberals - have access to the Kremlin, and support the President, but are not formally part of the Presidential Administration, Government or any other state entity and thus they cannot be formally controlled by anybody except the FSB, of course.  My sense is that these circles, which are fiercely anti-US and anti-Nazi, have informally organized themselves to create a network of assistance to Novorussia.  One should never under estimate the power and capabilities of these circles.  For example, under the pro-US Eltisin regime, they not only organized a covert assistance to Transdniestria, they even had the means to charter their own military aircraft to fly there with no need for identification to anybody at any point during the trip.  I know that because I myself have been offered to participate in such a flight and I was told that "we will just give you a uniform and nobody will ask any questions".  That was in 1993.  I can just imagine what these guys can do today now that they have access to the Kremlin...

What kind of people can one find in these circles?  Military men, of course, mostly ex-special forces, FSB officers who don't bother denying it, GRU officers who will deny it to their last breath, but also businessmen, journalists and even some "entrepreneurs" who are more or less connected to the Russian mob.  This is an eclectic mix of idealists and folks who know that this the "shadow power" of these circles can also be very useful for their own interests.

In conclusion I will say that while all of the above is definitely good news, this is very very far from over.  The Atlantic Integrationists are still powerful, Putin openly spoke about a "5th column", and they will resist with everything they have.  As for Putin, he is engaged in a difficult and dangerous balancing act where anything that goes wrong will be blamed personally on him.  He understands that and tries hard to appear as removed from the nitty-gritty of the combats in Novorussia as possible.  His opponents also understand that with this war in Novorussia they have a perfect opportunity to weaken him or even discredit him, but this time from an apparently "patriotic" position (as the pro-US position right now is basically a non-starter).  To simplify this to the extreme I would say that this struggle involved "big money vs secret services" and that so far, at least, the latter seemed to have gain control of the situation, which is good for Novorussia.  But that still could very much change depending on the evolution of the situation.

The Saker