Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Fall of Slaviansk, its meaning and implications

Military analysis:

So today Slaviansk has finally fallen to the Nazis.  Those of us with a military background all understood that this was pretty much inevitable and, obviously, so did the leaders of the Novorussian resistance.  The fact that it took so long for the entire Ukie army to take that small town really says a lot about the amazing courage of its defenders and/or about the no less amazing incompetence (or lack of motivation) of the attackers.  It appears that what happened is that Strelkov took the (wise) decision to abandon the town and to only leave a very small covering force to protect his retreating units.  This plan apparently went well, the defenders broke through the Ukie lines with no losses and they are now heading towards the city of Gorlovka (as defending Kramatorsk and Konstantinovka makes no sense at this point).  The military purpose of Slaviansk was to concentrate the Ukie death squads around itself to allow for the preparation of the real line of defense along the Donetsk-Gorlovka-Lugansk axis.  The battle for Slaviansk achieved this purpose.

In purely military terms, the above is pretty much all which can be said about this event.  But war is not a purely military phenomenon.  In reality, wars are always deeply political, and politics is a multi-dimensional realm in which purely military factors are always secondary to much more important ones such as symbolism.

Political dimension

In political terms, the fall of Slaviansk is a disaster for Novorussia and even Russia.

If Slaviank had been taken weeks ago after a couple of days of fighting, it would have been a no big deal loss.  But Slaviansk resisted for weeks and in the course of these weeks it became a symbol of resistance.  Now that it has fallen, however, Slaviansk has become the symbol of Russian inaction.  Purely military arguments simply don't matter here and perceptions become everything.  And the perception is clearly that Putin failed to deliver on his promise to protect Novorussia and that the defenders of Slaviansk fought and died in vain.  Furthermore, now that Slaviansk, Kramatorsk and Konstantinovka have fallen (or are in the process of being overrun by the Ukies), there is no way to avoid the worst kind of combats: Donetsk, Gorlovka and Lugansk are next.

Furthermore, what matters here is not only that Slaviansk has fallen, but why and how it has fallen.  Slaviansk has fallen because Russia did absolutely nothing or, at least, nothing adequate, to prevent it from falling.  As for how it fell, it fell in a bloodbath of murdered civilians: the Ukies essentially used only artillery to basically flatten the town.  In other words, Russia let a mass murder of civilians go not only unpunished, but even unchallenged.  One could argue that Russia had no obligation to take any action.  This would be true if Putin had not officially promised not to allow such an event to take place.  But he did commit himself and, through him, all of Russia, to extend a protection to the people of Novorussia.

Today, this promise appears to have been just words.

Consequences for Putin

The consequences for Putin of this situation are now becoming very serious because not only has the lack of Russian proactive measures terribly disappointed the Novorussian people, but it is now also beginning to alienate more and more people inside Russia including Putin's core base of support.  As I have written many times, the rage in Russia about the actions of the Nazi junta is huge and becoming stronger every day.  The risk for Putin is that this rage might eventually become directed at him personally.

Does that mean that Putin has to send in the tanks ASAP?

No, but at the very least, Russian officials should stop their never-ending flow of appeasing statements and also express that popular rage.  Today, the Russian TV channels have announced that Russia is "suspending" the return of Ukie military hardware from Crimea to the junta.  If that is their idea of a sign of rage, then they PR folks in the Kremlin should be immediately fired.  Not only is it both lame and crazy to hand back even one old and broken AK to an illegal Nazi regime in Kiev (remember, symbolic actions matter), but the notion that stopping this shameful handover is an adequate reaction to the events in the Donbass is simply delusional.

The great disconnect 

There is something really weird happening in Russia right now.  While it is true that most Russians probably would not support an overt and full-scale Russian intervention in the Donbass, the Russia media is constantly barraging the public with reports about Ukrainian atrocities and about the Novorussian resistance.  Representatives of the resistance, including top-level political figures like Tsarev, get to speak on the main Russian TV news and talk shows no less than once a week and with the exception of a few confused and isolated "liberals", almost every single guest on these shows advocates some kind of retaliatory measure against the junta.  For example, it is my honest impression that a strong majority of Russian intellectuals and analysts favor a massive humanitarian, technical and financial support campaign for Novorussia.  I would also say that most of them feel that Russia has to send enough military aid to allow the Novorussians to defend themselves.  Again, with the exception of a few completely discredited (and openly ridiculed) pro-US "liberal", everybody shows a total contempt for, and condemnation of, Poroshenko and the Nazi junta in Kiev.  The best and kindest thing you hear about Poroshenko is that he does not matter, that he is only a spokesman for the US, that the real ruler of Kiev is the US Ambassador and that Poroshenko has no real power at all.  Most think of him as a Nazi war criminal.

So there you have it.  The people who for years have formed the power base of Putin openly call the Kiev regime a Nazi junta while the Kremlin makes one appeasing statement after another, interspersed here and there with lame protests which everybody simply ignores.

This cannot continue for much longer.

If the Russian betrayal of Iran and Libya could be legitimately blamed on Medvedev and his "Atlantic Integrationists", a now possible collapse of Novorussia will be blamed directly on Putin, and I would argue fairly so.

Now Russia cannot retreat a single centimeter further

That's it.  The conflict has now reached a critical phase.  If in purely military terms the fall of Slavianks and Kramatorsk are really no big deal, the fall of Donetsk or Lugansk would mean the end of the entire Novorussian project.  In simple terms, that would mean a NATO controlled russophobic Nazi regime right across the Russian border.  True, Banderastan is not viable and objective economic and now social factors (tens of thousands of heavily armed Nazis roaming across the country, for one thing) will inevitably result in an explosive collapse, but until that happens Lugansks and Donetsk must be held at all cost, including, if that is what it takes, a full-scale ground operation of the Russian armed forces.

Оn July 28, 1942 Stalin issued his famous Order 227 which contained the key sentence "ни шагу назад" or "not a single step backwards".  This order included the following words in which I have just substituted the words "Soviet" and "Red" with "Russian" and "German" with "AngloZionist":
The enemy throws new forces to the front without regard to heavy losses and penetrates deep into Russia, seizing new regions, destroying our cities and villages, and violating, plundering and killing the Russian population. (...)  The population of our country, who love and respect the Russian Army, start to be discouraged in her, and lose faith in the Russian Army, and many curse the Russian Army for leaving our people under the yoke of the AngloZionist oppressors, and itself running east.  Some stupid people at the front calm themselves with talk that we can retreat further to the east, as we have a lot of territory, a lot of ground, a lot of population and that there will always be much bread for us. They want to justify the infamous behavior at the front. But such talk is falsehood, helpful only to our enemies.  Each commander, Russian Army soldier and political commissar should understand that our means are not limitless. The territory of the Russian state is not a desert, but people - workers, peasants, intelligentsia, our fathers, mothers, wives, brothers, children. (...)  Therefore it is necessary to eliminate talk that we have the capability endlessly to retreat, that we have a lot of territory, that our country is great and rich, that there is a large population, and that bread always will be abundant. Such talk is false and parasitic, it weakens us and benefits the enemy (...) This leads to the conclusion, it is time to finish retreating. Not one step back! Such should now be our main slogan. It is necessary to defend each position, each meter of our territory, up to the last drop of blood, to cling for each plot of Russian land and to defend it as long as possible. Our Motherland is experiencing hard days. We must stop, and then to throw back and smash the enemy regardless of cost. The AngloZionists are not so strong, as it seems to the panic-mongers. They strain their last forces. To withstand their impact now, means to ensure our victory in some months.
Amazing, no?  Prophetic words which I wish we would hear from the Kremlin today.  Instead, all I hear from the Kremlin are vapid and lame protests.  This cannot continue any further: Russia must react in a determined and effective way.

What exactly that way must be is for Putin and his Security Council to decide.  But what is certain is that action must be taken now to clearly and visibly stop the Ukie assault.  And if the only way is to bring in the Russian military, then I say "do it!".

The Saker