Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Maidan - one year later

Today is the first anniversary of the deal made between Yanukovich and the "opposition" and guaranteed by foreign ministers Radosław Sikorski of Poland, Laurent Fabius of France and Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany.  As we all know, the deal resulted in a withdrawal of the security forces from the Kiev city center immediately followed by an armed insurrection which overthrew the government.  Predictably, Poland, France and Germany did not object.  I won't recount all of the events which happened since this infamous day, but I think that it is important to look at what has changed in a year.  I think that it also makes sense to compare what I had predicted might happen with what actually happened simply to see if a person if a person with no access to any classified data and who is using only "open sources" for his analysis could have predicted what happened or if this was all a huge and totally unpredictable surprise.

So let's look at my predictions in a chronological order.

November 30th, 2013: in "The Gates of Hell are Opening for the Ukraine"
The supposedly "pro-Russian" Eastern Ukrainians 
They have no vision, no ideology, no identifiable future goal.  All they can offer is a message which, in essence, says "we have no other choice than sell out to the rich Russians rather than to the poor European" or "all we can get from the EU is words, the Russians are offering money".  True.  But still extremely uninspiring, to say the least.

The future of Yanukovich

I am beginning to fear that this will all explode into a real and very dangerous crisis for Russia.  First, I am assuming that the the Eurobureaucrats and the Ukrainian nationalists will eventually prevail, and that Yanukovich will either fully complete his apparent "zag" and reverse his decision, or lose power.  One way or another the the Eurobureaucrats and the Ukrainian nationalists will, I think, prevail.  There will be more joyful demonstrations, fireworks and celebrations in Kiev, along with lots of self-righteous back-slapping and high-fiving in Brussels, and then the gates of Hell will truly open for the Ukraine.

The real risks for Russia
Being drawn into the inevitable chaos and violence with will flare up all over the Ukraine (including the Crimean Peninsula), stopping or, at least, safely managing a likely flow of refugees seeking physical and economic safety in Russia and protecting the Russian economy from the consequences of the collapse of Ukrainian economy.  Russia will have to do all that while keeping its hands off the developing crisis inside the Ukraine as it is absolutely certain that the Eurobureaucrats and the Ukrainian nationalists will blame Russia for it all.  The best thing Russia could do in such a situation would be to leave the Ukrainians to their private slugfest and wait for one side or the other to prevail before trying to very carefully send out a few low-key political "feelers" to see if there is somebody across the border who has finally come to his/her senses and is capable and ready to seriously begin to rebuilt the Ukraine and its inevitable partnership with Russia and the rest of the Eurasian Union.  As long as that does not happen Russia should stay out, as much as is possible.

Sarajevo on the Dniepr
Right now, all the signs are that the Ukraine is going down the "Bosnian road" and that things are going to get really ugly.
It is hard to tell, but my sense is that when the local authorities in the southeastern Ukraine threaten not to accept any regime change in Kiev they probably do really mean it.  This very much reminds me of the repeated warnings of the Bosnian-Serbs that they would not accept to live in an Islamic state run by an rabid fanatic like Itzebegovich.  At the time, and just like today, nobody took these warnings seriously and we all know how that ended.  The big difference between Bosnia and the Ukraine is first and foremost one of dimensions: Bosnia has an area of 19,741 square miles and a population of 3,791,622 while the Ukraine has an area of 233,090 square miles and a population of 44,854,065.  That is a huge difference which make a direct foreign intervention a much more complicated endeavor. 
And Russia in all that?

I can only repeat that Russia should stay out of whatever happens in the Ukraine.  The Russian government should prepare for an influx of refugees and the Russian military should be placed on high alert to avoid any provocations or cross-border violence.  A special goal for Russia should be to use all the means possible to avoid any violence on the Crimean Peninsula because of the presence of the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol which can find itself in the position of the 14th Army in Transdniestria when it simply had not other choice than to get involved due to the high number of officers with relatives living in the republic.  If, God forbid, the nationalist try to militarily take over the Crimean Peninsula or Sevastopol I don't see how the Black Sea Fleet could stay uninvolved - that is simply impossible and this is why that situation needs to be avoided at all costs.
January 26th, 2014:  Yanukovich's latest move might make a partition of the Ukraine unavoidable:
The partition of the Ukraine is inevitable
This has, of course, not been reported in the western Ziomedia, but the eastern Ukraine is now also bubbling with political actions.  To make a long story short, the folks in the southeastern Ukraine have no desire whatsoever to let folks like Iatseniuk, Klichko or Tiagnibok rule over them.  In fact, several local assembles - including the Parliament of Crimea - have adopted resolution calling on the President to restore law and order and warning that they would never accept a "regime change" in Kiev.
March 1st, 2014: Obama just made things much, much worse in the Ukraine - now Russia is ready for war 
Russia is ready for war
Something absolutely huge has just happened in Russia: the Russian Council of the Federation, the equivalent of the US Senate, has just UNANIMOUSLY passed a resolution allowing Putin to use Russian armed forces in the Ukraine, something the Duma had requested earlier.  Before the vote took place, Russian senators said that Obama had threatened Russia, insulted the Russian people and that they demanded that Putin recall the Russian ambassador to the USA.  I have never seen such a level of outrage and even rage in Russia as right now.   I hope and pray that Obama, and his advisers, stop and think carefully about their next step because make no mistake about that RUSSIA IS READY FOR WAR.
April 23rd, 2014: The US plan for the Ukraine - a hypothesis
The US will try to force Russia to intervene in the Donbass
The eastern Ukraine is lost no matter what. So the junta in Kiev have to pick on of the following options:

a) Let the eastern Ukraine leave by means of referendum and do nothing about it.
b) Let the eastern Ukraine leave but only after some violence.
c) Let the eastern Ukraine leave following a Russian military intervention.

Clearly, option 'a' is by far the worst.  Option 'b' is so-so, but option 'c' is very nice.  Think of it:  this option will make it look like Russia invaded the Eastern Ukraine and that the people there had no say about it.  It will also make the rest of the Ukraine rally around the flag.  The economic disaster will be blamed on Russia and the Presidential election of May 25th can be canceled due to the Russian "threat".  Not only that, but a war - no matter how silly - is the *perfect* pretext to introduce martial law which can be used to crack down on the Right Sector or anybody expressing views the junta does not like.  That is an old trick - trigger a war and people will rally around the regime in power.  Create a panic, and people will forget the real issues.

As for the USA - it also knows that the Eastern Ukraine is gone.  With Crimea and Eastern Ukraine gone - the Ukraine has exactly *zero* value to the Empire, to why not simply use it as a way to create a new Cold War, something which would be much more sexy that the Global War on Terror or the really old War on Drugs.  After all, if Russia is forced to intervene militarily NATO will have to send reinforcements to "protect" countries like Poland or Latvia just in case Putin decides to invade all of the EU.

Bottom line - the freaks in power in Kiev and the USA *know* that the eastern Ukraine is lost for them, and the purpose of the imminent attack is not to "win" against the Russian-speaking rebels or, even less so, to "win" against the Russian military, it is to trigger enough violence to force Russia to intervene.  In other words, since the East is lost anyways, it is much better to lose it to the "invading Russian hordes" than to lose it to the local civilian population.

So the purpose of the next attack will not be to win, but to lose.  That the Ukrainian military can still do.

Two things can happen to foil this plan:

1) The Ukrainian military might refuse to obey such clearly criminal orders (and becoming a target of the Russian military might help some officers make the correct "purely moral" choice).
2) The local resistance might be strong enough to draw out such an operation and have to come to a grinding halt.

Ideally, a combination of both.
So let's summarize the above:
  1. Yanukovich will be overthrown.  Check
  2. The Donbass will rise up.  Check
  3. The Ukraine will be partitioned.  Check
  4. A civil war will break out.  Check
  5. The US will try to pull Russia in. Check
  6. Russia will protect Crimea.  Check
  7. Russia will say out of the Donbass.  Check
  8. Russia will have to deal with refugees.  Check
  9. The US/NATO will not intervene like in Bosnia.  Check
  10. The Ukrainian economy will collapse. Check
There is one point which I did really get wrong: the people of Novorussia.  I saw them as very passive, interested only in getting paid (in Hrivnas or Rubles - doesn't matter) and with very little Russian national identity.  Here I got it very wrong, but in my defense I would say that the Russian identity of people of the Donbass was awaken by the huge military assault of Ukrainian military and by the clearly russophobic and neo-Nazi rethoric and policies of the junta.  But setting aside the motivations of the Novorussians, I did predict that the Donbass would rise up, and it did.  In fact, it looks to me like my predictions resulted in a score of 10 out of 10.

My point is not to congratulate myself (I sincerely wish my pessimistic predictions would have turned out wrong), but to demonstrate that anybody armed with a) basic knowledge of Russia and the Ukraine b) access to open sources information c) basic common sense could have made all of these predictions.

There are, however, also events which I completely failed to foresee: the amazing inability of the Ukrainian military to get anything done.  On July 1st, 2014, in a post entitled "Novorussia - Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and settle for anything in the middle" I wrote:
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.
If that happens, I would like to remind you all that entering into a city is one thing, taking control of it is quite another.  Think Beirut, think Grozny, think Baghdad, think Fallujah, think Gaza, think Bint Jbeil.  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.
I hope that Novorussians will be able to resist the Ukie attack, but I also know that by all accounts the kind of firepower the junta is using now is truly huge - we are dealing with a merciless and massive attack with everything the junta could muster and we have to accept that the Novorussian Defense Forces might have to retreat deeper into the cities or even go underground.  While heroic for sure, it is not smart to stay in the open when your enemy is using Smerch and Uragan MRLS against you or even the building you are in.  During the first Chechen war the Chechen retreated deeply inside Grozny and did not even bother defending the outskirts, in part because the city center buildings were far stronger than the flimsy houses in the suburbs.  I never studied the layout of the cities of Lugansk and Donetsk, but if they are typical of the way the Soviets liked to build, then retreating into the city center and giving up the suburbs would probably make sense.
The first defensive option is to let the Ukies enter the suburbs and then cut them off, envelop (surround) them, and then attack them.  If that works, great!  But if the Ukies clear the way with massive sustained strikes and flatten their way in, then it will become necessarily to switch to "plan B" and retreat deeper into the cities.  If the Ukie advance is multi-pronged and too fast, or if the city center defenses were not adequately prepared (for whatever reason), then plan "C" is to go more or less underground and switch to an active mobile defense centered on short but intense ambushes followed by immediate retreats.
What really happened took my by complete surprise: initially the Ukrainian forces did move in, but soon they were bogged down and then gradually surrounded by the Novorussians.  In fact, both during the junta's summer offensive and during it's winter offensive the Novorussians succeeded in crushing the Ukrainian forces even in open terrain: steppes, hills, fields and forests.  The other amazing thing which happened is that for the first time in the past 200 years there were more combatants killed on the Ukrainian side than civilians.  The German intelligences sources estimate the number of victims of this war at about 50'000.  That figure sure makes sense to me.  That kind of outcome and these kinds of figures can only be explained by a huge, truly immense, difference in combat capabilities between the junta forces and the Novorussians.  Unimpressed as I was by the Novorussian behavior in February-March I failed to imagine that this rather passive and peaceful folk would turn into formidable combatants who would so radically defeat a vastly superior force (at least on paper), not once, but twice. Even as late as October 24th, in a post entitled "What could the next Junta offensive against Novorussia look like?" I again failed to predict the almost immediate defeat of the junta's winter offensive. I wrote:
What the Ukies are preparing is rather obvious. They will pick several key axes of attack along which they will unleash a massive artillery attack. This fire preparation will serve to prepare for a push by Ukrainian armored units (this time around we can expect the Ukrainian infantry to properly defend their tanks and not the other way around). The Ukrainians will not push deep into Donetsk or Lugansk, but rather they will try to, again, cut-off and surround Donetsk in a pincer attack and then negotiate some kind of quasi-surrender by the Novorussians. At most, they will try to enter a few important suburbs. I don't expect much action around Luganks - Donetsk is far more exposed.  Now, if I am correct and this is what happens, then please understand and remember this: the correct Novorussian response to this plan is to begin by retreating. It makes no sense whatsoever for the Novorussians to sit and fight from positions which are densely covered by Ukrainian artillery strikes. During the first Ukrainian attack I was dismayed to see how many people clearly did not understand the importance retreats in warfare. The "hurray-patriots" in particular were adamant that the initial Novorussian retreat was a clear sign that, as always, "Putin had betrayed Novorussia" (when the NAF went on a long and brilliant counter-offensive, these "hurray-patriots" fell silent for a while until the moment when Moscow stopped the NAF from seizing Mariupol, at which point they resumed chanting their mantra). The fact is that retreating against a superior forces is the logical thing to do, especially if you have had the time to prepare for a two, possibly, three echelon defense. While I do not know that for a fact, this is what I expect the Novorussians have been doing during all the length of the ceasefire: preparing a well-concealed and layered defense.  My hope and expectation is that once the JRF attacks the NAF will, again, carefully retreat, pull the JFR in, and then being to gradually degrade the attacking force. I particular hope that the Russians have finally send some much needed guided anti-tank weapons through the voentorg.
I was completely wrong.  Not only did the Novorussians stop the junta offensive more or less along the line of contact, but they went on the counter-offensive where they seized the heavily fortified Donetsk airport and then the entire Debaltsevo cauldron.  To say that I am extremely impressed is an understatement.

Military analyst always tend to be very cautious and assume the worst-case, and this is how it should be when lives are at stake, but I cannot explain away my complete failure to predict the Novorussian successes by some professional inclination.  What happened is that I got the Novorussian mentality completely wrong by assuming that their initial passivity was a predictor of their ability to fight.  A fundamentally flawed and mistaken assumption.

Still, I mostly got it right and so could have done all the advisors, analysts, area specialists, etc. working for the governments involved in that crisis and I bet you they did.  But either the politicians did not want to listen, or they wanted precisely that outcome.

The shameful and utterly disgusting fact is that everything that took place was completely predictable.  In fact, Putin, Lavrov and many more Russians officials *did* try to tell everybody that the Ukrainian people were cheerfully waltzing straight into a precipice, but nobody was willing to listen.  Instead, western politicians blamed the Russians for everything, which is just about the most intellectually dishonest and hypocritical thing they could have done.

The next Ukie president?
In one year an entire country was destroyed, tens of thousands of people were murdered and millions are now left with nothing not even hope: the Ukraine is a failed state, having now gone through Dmitri Orlov's "five stages of collapse".  Kiev is in the hands of a regime of incompetent Nazi freaks and the only alternative to them looks even worse.

Make no mistake, if the Donbass is now probably safe from any future junta attacks, the risks for the rest of the rump-Ukraine are still huge and an even bigger bloodbath could happen next.

What is evident is that Poroshenko is a "goner": this sad buffoon promised peace to the Ukrainian people and instead he gave them a year long bloodbath culminating in a strategic defeat which cost the Ukrainians about half of their more or less combat capable forces.  The only thing which keeps Poroshenko in power now is the political support of the USA and the political recognition by the EU and Russia.  But the rest of the freaks in power don't care one bit about the EU or Russia and I predict that they will try to eject him at the first possibility.  When I look at list of freaks likely to succeed Poroshenko I get a knot in my stomach: if Poroshenko was a political prostitute and a spineless, incompetent imbecile, he was at least not clinically insane.  Most of his likely successors are.  As for Iats or Turchinov, I personally think that they are demoniacally possessed which is arguably even worse than being clinically insane.

In conclusion I will just say that if I believe that all the horrors of the past year were fully avoidable, I also believe that the horrors of the next, upcoming, year are not: the Ukraine has plunged over the cliff and is now heading for the very same future as Libya (another western "success story").  I hope that I am wrong and that I am missing something crucial, but I personally do not see any way to stop the implosion of the rump-Ukraine and my advise to anybody still living there would be to get out while you can.

In them meantime in Moscow there was a "anti-Maidan" demonstration planned for 10'000 people.  35'000-50'000 showed up to say "we will not forget, we will not forgive" and "no Maidan in Russia".  This anti-Maidan movement which was just formed very recently has a very bright political future because after watching the horrors right across their border and accepting close to a million refugees from the Ukraine, the vast majority of Russians want nothing to do with a Maidan-like event in Russia.  Combine that with the still 80%+ popularity of Putin in spite of western sanctions, and you will see that Russia is safe from the kind of events which happened in Kiev a year ago.

The virus which killed the Ukraine will act as a vaccine for Russia.

The Saker