Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Of facts, opinion and (mis)-interpretations

This morning a reader brought to my attention a very interesting post by Vladimir Suchan entitled "The Minsk “Ceasefire” Protocol and Russian Diplomacy’s Masterful “Sabotage” which I recommend that you read in its entirety. Suchan quotes a short note of mine where I said the following:
“Knowing the degree to which Russian diplomats are normally maniacally fastidious and pedantic with words, I can only conclude that they have deliberately sabotaged this agreement and that it’s sole use what to deflate the bellicose mood of the NATO summit.”
What is missing is the preceding and following stance. The full section reads like this:
What is certain is that this documents is imprecise, nebulous, ambiguous and otherwise vague to such a degree that I would argue that it is basically impossible to implement. Knowing the degree to which Russian diplomats are normally maniacally fastidious and pedantic with words, I can only conclude that they have deliberately sabotaged this agreement and that it's sole use what to deflate the bellicose mood of the NATO summit. But as a basis for a real ceasefire it is useless, nevermind a real negotiation for a final status agreement or peace treaty.
Same difference?  Let's see.


At this point, I am going to have to post a lengthy quote of Suchan's analysis, I apologize for that in advance, but it is crucial to follow his logical flow: (crucial parts bolded out be me - the Saker)
In other words, the implementation of Putin’s 7-point initiative was written so poorly and badly that Saker concluded not only that it must have been written by Russian diplomats, but that Russian diplomats must have composed the Minsk Protocol so terribly on purpose. For how could someone comparatively intelligent and reasonably well educated produce something so horrible and awful? One does not make something so bad by mistake. One has to be a master to be able to do that.  And why would Russian diplomats deliberately sabotage the document and made it so poor and thus making themselves appear as bad as the document they made? According to Saker, this was not because they had any intention to sabotage Novorossiya or its struggle, but because they wanted to sabotage “the bellicose mood” of NATO by appeasing NATO and its bellicosity with the sabotage of the ceasefire agreement.  And why exactly would NATO, receiving such awful provisions for Novorossiya, find its “bellicose mood deflated”? Because of being in awe of the horrible work of the Russian diplomats? Or just being stunned by it? Or because in some way this sabotage made their “bellicose mood” much happier and relaxed?  So does this mean that we have at last found the secret for deflating NATO and its aggressiveness–by sabotaging our own work, by promising to keep Novorossiya dissolved into several “special regions” for which the Nazis might at some point write their “Law” and run their “new elections”? Is it really by sabotaging genuine peace and actual principles that friends of Russia and Putin can appease, deflate and defeat NATO’s intelligence and plans, which were decades in making, as Avakov said the other night?  Does this mean that the worse their work Russian diplomats do, the more they “sabotage,” the more NATO will be deflated and the better and more effective Russian diplomacy is actually going to be?
Now let' take the key parts one by one:

"In other words": this is the crucial introductory opening - it indicates that what will follow is not what I actually said, but what Suchan thinks I said and what will be concluded from that is, unsurprisingly, not what I meant, but what Suchan thinks I meant. In plain English - a strawman.

"they wanted to sabotage “the bellicose mood” of NATO by appeasing NATO": actually that is not at all what I meant.  Notice the missing part of my quote now put together into one:
What is certain is that this documents is imprecise, nebulous, ambiguous and otherwise vague to such a degree that I would argue that it is basically impossible to implement. But as a basis for a real ceasefire it is useless, nevermind a real negotiation for a final status agreement or peace treaty.
Now let us not confuse goals and means.  In the sentence above I am looking at the means: to create a useless document impossible to implement.  That is the means.  The goal is not to "appease NATO" as such but to create enough friction inside NATO and the EU to prevent what was supposed to be a "historical summit" come up with anything useful.  As far as that goal is concerned, I would say that it has been fully achieved.  All that this so-called "historical summit" produced was hot air.  Some might say that NATO could not have come up with real actions, but if we recall the various predictions before this summit that is "Monday morning quarterbacking".  Expectations ranged from overtly anti-Russian ABM deployments, to massive assistance to the Junta, to actual troops deployments into the Ukraine, to a the adoption of a "special ally status" for the Ukraine to economic sanctions on Russia.  None of that happened.  Why?  We now know that a number of states blocked that or demanded a "delay" in implementation (which is a diplomat's way of taking something off the table).  So this part of the "plan" worked.

Now let's look at the two key words I used:

Useless: in other words, it could not be used as a basis to do or achieve anything,  it was designed to have no effect, to prevent any meaningful change in the circumstances on the ground.

Impossible to implement: again, that indicates that even if both parties wanted to do something with it, on the basis of it, they could not have done so.

What is the key feature of something useless and impossible to implement? That it collapses on it's own.  Neither the Novorussians or Russia could be blamed for its inevitable and almost immediate collapse.

So we have three characteristics spelled out now:

1) The plan was designed to create friction inside NATO.  That worked.
2) The plan was designed to prevent changes on the ground. That worked.
3) The plan was designed to rapidly collapse on its own. That worked.

To suggest, as Suchan does, that this plan could in any way form the basis for a final status agreement ("promising to keep Novorossiya dissolved into several “special regions” for which the Nazis might at some point write their “Law” and run their “new elections”?") is, at best, mistaken.

Here is the key point which is so often overlooked or misunderstood: the ceasefire agreement was not a strategic move, but a tactical one.  It was never designed to achieve anything more than a short term effect on one specific event: the NATO summit.

The real contradiction

Still, those who are upset by the Agreement have, I think, a very valid point.  They say that this agreement was not good for Novorussia.  I think that they right, but I also think that they very much overestimate its magnitude.  Let me explain what I mean.


It is true that the Novorussian Armed Forces (NAF) were on the offensive and that the Junta Repression Forces (JRF) were in full retreat on all fronts.  And it is true that in Mariupol the panic was such that most Ukies were on the run.  I don't think that the NAF was about to retake Debaltsevo, but I will accept that Mariupol was within reach.  The strategy chosen to take Mariupol was to envelop it from the north and surround it.  Some (not in the NAF, but commentators who were clearly civilians) even spoke of going all the way along the coast to "open a land bridge to Crimea". Now let me ask this: does "creating a long but narrow advance along a barrier" remind you of something?  Did we not see something like that tried out pretty recently?

Sure did.

That is what the Ukies did earlier this Spring with the ill-conceived attempt to encircle Novorussia along the Russian border.  The NAF let them walk in, then they stopped them, then the cut their supply route, then the cut them into sectors and then the finished them off.  And they achieved all that with numerical inferiority on their side.  Now let's look at the situation around Mariupol.  Here are the latest figures for the NAF forces surrounding it:

About 6'000 soldiers, 28 tanks, 90 armored vehicles, 60 mortars, 60 artillery guns, 20 MLRS2'500 of these 6'000 soldiers are needed to occupy the towns around Mariupol and to keep the ONLY highway connecting the NAF forces to their rear bases in Novorussia.  

What does the JRF have inside Mariupol?  The same source provides the following figures: 3200 soldiers, 50 tanks, 150 armored vehicles, 120 mortars, 140 artillery guns, 70 MLRS.  True, the NAF has much better morale and tactical combat skills. And the population is massively on the NAF side. But consider this: just north of Mariupol the JRF also has 3000 soldiers, 100 tanks, 200 armored fighting vehicles, 150 mortars, 140 artillery guns, 100 MLRS.  So, in the operational vicinity of Mariupol the NAF is literally sandwiched in between no less then 6'200 soliders (vs 6'000 for the NAF), 150 tanks (vs 28 for the NAF), 350 armored vehicles (vs 90 for the NAF), 270 mortars (vs 60 for the NAF), 280 artillery guns (vs 60 for the NAF) and 170 multiple rocket launchers (vs 20 for the NAF).  There are three very important things to keep in mind here:

1) the NAF force around Mariupol is most definitely the best and most powerful one in the NAF.
2) the figures above do only include the JRF in the operational vicinity of Mariupol and do not include the other JRF available to the Junta from it's strategic depth.
3) there is only one highway connecting the NAF force around Mariupol to the rest of the NAF controlled Novorussia.  This is why the NAF has had to put 2'500 of 6'0000 of its soldiers in protection of the rest of the NAF force available to attack or blockade Mariupol.

Are you starting to see where I am going here?  If not, I will put in plainly even though I know that the amount of hate-mail is going to spike after I post this.

The attack on Mariupol was an extremely dangerous operation and those who believe that it would have been a first step towards smashing the JRF, going to Crimea or even to Kiev simply don't realize how weak the NAF really is.

[I believe that the Russian General Staff fully understood that and that one of the factors in favor of the otherwise "useless and impossible to implement" was that it made it possible to a) stop the advance of the NAF beyond Mariupol b) talk to the NAF leadership and make them realize the risks of this move and c) probably to provide enough time to get the hell out of there before it is too late.  I have no evidence for this and this is purely my guess.  Hence I will put this in brackets].

What evidence do I have for the (relative) weakness of the NAF?
  • The Donetsk airport is still not taken
  • There are several "cauldrons" deep inside NAF controlled territory which have still not been cleared up
  • Not only has Debaltsevo not been re-taken, it is under huge pressure
  • The NAF offensive towards Schiastie is, so far, going nowhere.
  • There is a dangerous NAF offensive from Telmanovo which puts the NAF forces in the south at great risk
I know that some will say "yes, precisely, if not for that idiotic ceasefire all these problems would have been solved by now".  Except that these "problems" have not been solved for *weeks*, not days.

I will spell out again in clear what I am trying to demonstrate with all this:

1) The ceasefire did not have a significant impact on the military situation on the ground
2) The ceasefire might well have frozen a disaster in the making

I am sorry that it took such a long way to address a topic which, apparently, Suchan does not feel needs addressing at all (he does not say a single word about the military situation on the ground) and which I feel is crucial.

The impact of the Agreement on the military situation has been twofold: it gave the JRF time to regroup and to bring in reinforcements.  From that point of view it is a negative impact for the NAF and Novorussia.  Let me be clear here, I AGREE that this is bad for the NAF and Novorussia.  But I also think that the negative consequences of this indisputable drawback of this Agreement are dwarfed by the problems which the NAF is facing right now which have nothing to do with this Agreement.  In fact, I am not even sure that the negative consequences of this Agreement are worse than one would have happened if the NAF had pushed further or attempted to take Mariupol, which I think they were about to do, and successfully so, but at the cost of creating a cauldron for themselves in fact cutting off the best and most capable part of the NAF from the rest of the NAF forces in Novorussia at a time when the Ukies were threatening from at least three directions (Schastie, Debaltsevo, Volnovakha).

Now let me ask you this: let's suppose just for a second that I am correct and that the NAF forces in and around Mariupol would be "cauldroned-off" by a JRF counter-offensive along the Mariupol-Novoazovsk highway or an attack from Telmanovo towards Novoazovsk.  Can you imagine what would happen to the rest of Novorussia if at the same time the (very large) Ukie force north of Lugansk would have gone on the offensive or if Gorlovka would have been surrounded?

So, again, I will clearly spell-out my concern: the tactical offensive towards Mariupol (unless Mariupol is taken this would not be an operational one) potentially puts at risk the very survival of Novorussia.

Am I correct?  At this point I don't know for sure.  Maybe not.

But if we see a NAF withdrawal from Mariupol then this will be a sign that I might be.  Besides, according to Russian sources, Mariupol is not fully surrounded anyway and the Ukies are reinforcing their garrison there through corridors on the northeast of the city.  If that is true, the NAF will have to withdraw.


"Lasciate ogni speranza"

But here is the really nasty thing: IF the NAF withdraws from Mariupol the Putin-bashers will immediately blame the ceasefire agreement for this instead of realizing that this was the only way to avoid a strategic disaster.  I have concluded that no amount of facts or logic will in any way affect this group.  In their minds Putin has betrayed, period, Novorussia has been backstabbed and sold-out and the Kremlin is firmly controlled by Russian oligarchs.  Frankly, I have given up any hope of even marginally affecting their certitudes or to make them doubt.  Every time I try, I just get more hate mail or even full posts on other blogs explaining that I am either a complete idiot or a Putin groupie.  Fine, I will plead guilty to both charges and I will go on writing for those who prefer facts and logic over strawmen and ad hominems :-)

For the rest of you

I will admit that I am worried.  I have already spelled out what my main concern in my Q&A/FAQ+RFC, but I will repeat here that the main danger to Novorussia is:
"political infighting. I don't know if this is possible right now, but I would like to see the emergence of an undisputed Novorussian leader who would have the official and full support of Strelkov, Zakharchenko, Borodai, Mozgovoi, Kononov, Khodakovski, Tsarev, Bolotov, Gubarev and all the other political and military leaders. This has to be a truly Novorussian leader, not just a "Putin proconsul", a person capable of negotiating with Putin for the interests of the people of Novorussia. (...) Until that happens, I will always be worried for the future of the people of Novorussia"
I have always said that the interests of Russia and Novorussia are not the same.  For one thing, Putin was not elected to fix the Ukraine or, much less so, start a war with NATO.  My personal sympathies go to both the people of Russia and the People of Novorussia, whom I see as one and the same, really.  But the fact is that Novorussia is not part of Russia (yet?) and that the people of Novorussia have not elected Putin to represent or, even less so, defend them.  The Russian people have.  Putin clearly has his first priority the interests of Russia and the Russian people who have elected him, and this is how it should be.  To expect him to have a higher loyalty to the Novorussian people would be simply foolish.  But these self-evident facts do not mean that Putin does not care or wants to "sell out" Novorussia.  Guys, now please pay attention here, if Putin had wanted to "sell out" Novorussia he had the *perfect* opportunity to do so earlier this Spring.  And if anybody seriously believes that the immensely successful NAF offensive last month happened without Putin's full support - I have a bridge to sell to you!

Where do we go from here?

I don't know except for one thing: this will be a very long struggle.  Barring a successful JRF offensive in the next week or so, the frontlines will probably stabilize and freeze up.  The "military action" will be replaced by the "economic and social" action as the Junta-run Banderastan collapses on its face and serious turmoil begins.  

Do I think that the JRF is about to launch a counter-offensive?  Yes.  Or, should I say, I know I would if I was in their position.  Do I think that their counter-offensive will be successful? Probably not or, at least, not much.  The NAF forces around Mariupol can probably fight their way back to their rear, they might even preempt the need to do that and withdraw before any such counter-attack (that is what I would do in their place).  I think that the best the JRF can hope for are a few tactical successes, but I think that by and large the NAF forces will hold.  And if that is not the case, Russia will make sure that it does (as she did earlier this year).  This is not about Putin, this is much bigger than him, and the Russian people or "Russia" as a nation will not allow Novorussia to be run-over by Nazis.  They stopped that one this Spring and, if needed, they will do it again.  And after that, they will again seek a negotiated agreement.  As far as I know, not a single person in position of authority in Russia supports the idea of a "move to Kiev", not by Russian forces, not by NAF.  So two things will not happen: the Nazis will not overrun Novorussia and the (Novo)russians will not invade/liberate Banderastan.  That is something the Ukrainian people will have to do themselves.

The Saker

Personal note 1: Please forgive me if I don't reply to comments or answer emails today.  I am exhausted and, frankly, rather disgusted and discouraged by this feeling that I am banging my head against a brick wall.  If I do post today, it will not be on the "Putin backstabbing Novorussia" bullshit any more.  Besides, I need to make a post thanking the donors to this blog, so I will do that later today (a far more pleasant task then to deal with the ugly stupidity I mention in the next personal note).

Personal note 2: I strongly urge all those who want to post hostile, rude, condescending, hateful, vitriolic or otherwise nasty comments to hurry to do so now.  The first rule of the moderation policy on the new blog (I hope to have it ready very soon now) will be to immediately toss out any comment which is not 100% polite and courteous to me, the host of this blog, to any guest author or to any other person posting comments.  I have put up with so much crazy shit and outright nasty attitudes on this blog that on the next one this rule will be absolutely inflexible.  You will have full freedom to disagree with anything anybody writes here, but you will have to make it with absolute courtesy.  But until I move to the new blog, knock yourself out, insult me to your heart's content - that will only strengthen my resolve to toss any such comments to /dev/null on the new blog :-P