HOW TO FIX UKRAINE

  • Hold a plebiscite throughout the territory of the former Ukrainian SSR (yes that includes Crimea – we’re trying to make a settlement that everyone agrees with and there’s no doubt how that would turn out).
  • Said plebiscite to be monitored by countries with no dog in the fight: say China, India and a South America one. Get the UN to bless the results in advance.
  • Question for Round 1
    • Do you want to be part of Russia?
    • Do you want to be part of Ukraine?
    • Do you want to be independent?
  • Re-design the borders to accommodate results of votes as much as possible.
  • Generous financial assistance to those who want to move from one area to another. Paid for by the USA and the EU who, after all, blew up the old Ukraine.
  • In five years as Rump Ukraine gets worse off, repeat plebiscite with one additional question
    • Do you want to be part of a neighbouring country? If so, which one?
  • Repeat in another five years and keep repeating until everyone is where he wants to be.
  • Make sure you have tight border controls around Rump Ukraine to keep the nazis in.

What are the chances of this happening? Well, given that Trump is a new phenomenon, you can’t say it’s absolutely zero.

What happens if this isn’t done? The same thing eventually but after a lot more suffering and a lot more time.

Is this a precedent? Yes, what’s wrong with that?

THOUGHTS ON KOREA

(Response to a question from Sputnik. https://sputniknews.com/analysis/201804301064040839-kim-north-south-korea-summit/)

I have long thought that the solution in Korea is what the Chinese call the “dual suspension”: the north gives up its nuclear weapons and the south agrees to stop the annual threatening exercises with the USA. Kim remembers the horrors visited on North Korea by the USA in his grandfather’s time and has little trust in Washington. Especially after the destruction of Libya.

But, getting from here to there will take a lot of careful testing of intentions and actions. Yesterday’s announcement suggests a step towards “dual suspension” in this sentence: “South and North Korea agreed to carry out disarmament in a phased manner, as military tension is alleviated and substantial progress is made in military confidence-building.” But a seven-decade situation will take a long time to end.

The real question is what will Washington do? The last agreement in 1994 – a type of “dual suspension” – was broken by Washington; Washington is what Pyongyang really fears. Will Washington step back and let the locals solve the problem?

Reading his inaugural speech, one would expect Trump to want to get out. But who can say? Washington is, as the Russians say, not-capable-of-agreement-with (недоговороспособниы). One President says no to NATO expansion; the next says expand. Korean agreements are passed by presidents, blocked by Congress. UN resolutions are used as licences to kill. One says deal with Iran, the next says no deal. Syrian ceasefires are negotiated by State and cancelled by the Pentagon. The present one says time to get out of Syria and a week later attacks Syria. Impossible to predict; impossible to trust; impossible to agree with.

That’s the problem. I believe that the two principals and their immediate neighbours could work their way to a solution over time; Washington is the unpredictable part.

NEW US OPERATIONS IN AFGHANISTAN

(Asked by Sputnik for comments on US scheme to use “small teams of highly experienced officers and contractors alongside Afghan forces to hunt and kill Taliban militants.”)

“Precise”, “targetted”, “pinpoint”, “experienced”. All exciting words that look good on the prospectus but they all require accurate and detailed intelligence. And that is something that the ever-expanding US intelligence apparatus – “all 17” – does not have very much of. The US intelligence establishment was surprised by Pearl Harbor, the Soviet A bomb, the invasion of South Korea…. the fall of the Berlin Wall, 911, virtually every subsequent terrorist attack on US soil… the rise of ISIS, Russia’s operations in Syria, North Korean nukes… (Of course there are those who insist that half of these were actually CIA operations and therefore no surprise at all….).

In short a lot of activity, a lot of killings, a lot of doors kicked in, a lot of personal grudges paid off by fooling the Americans into doing your dirty work and not much else. Shades of Operation Phoenix in Vietnam.

And why go after the Taliban anyway? It’s not ISIS/DAESH or Al Qaeda: it’s a purely Afghan phenomenon and it has been getting stronger because it embodies the long Afghan desire to be left alone by foreigners.

So the result will be more deaths, more Taliban and another signpost on the road to American overextension.

But the program will succeed in getting the USA to the milestone of being in Afghanistan twice as long as the USSR was.

Why Russia Hasn’t and Won’t Invade Ukraine

These pieces are papers that I believe to be still relevant; they were published earlier elsewhere under a pseudonym. They have been very slightly edited and hyperlinks have been checked. NOTE 2017: I originally wrote this in November 2014. Breedlove has come and gone but a new American general is apparently believing that there are thousands of Russian soldiers in Eastern Ukraine. So this is apposite again.

https://orientalreview.org/2017/09/11/russia-hasnt-wont-invade-ukraine/

Here we go again. NATO is again – how many times does that make it? – echoing Kiev and saying that Russia has invaded Ukraine. Or so says NATO’s General Breedlove. “‘Across the last two days we have seen the same thing that O.S.C.E. is reporting,’ General Breedlove said at a news conference in Sofia, Bulgaria. ‘We have seen columns of Russian equipment, primarily Russian tanks, Russian artillery, Russian air defence systems and Russian combat troops entering into Ukraine.’” Well, here are the OSCE reports, read then and see whether you think Breedlove is telling the truth: columns moving around in east Ukraine, yes; crossing the border, no. Meanwhile, back at the Pentagon, the official spokesman has no “independent operational reporting that tells me that they have crossed the border”. But NATO has its own reality.

So has Russia invaded Ukraine? Of course, that all depends on your definition of “is” is, or some similar piece of deceptive hair-splitting, doesn’t it? But, for most people, “invasion” means regular troops and equipment crossing the border and staying there. Is Moscow aiding the rebels in the east? Probably. But that’s not what’s being claimed.

The neatest way to respond to these endless frothings is this:

If Russia had invaded, you wouldn’t have to ask; if you have to ask, it hasn’t.

It would have happened quickly and be plain for all to see. A thousand soldiers, a dozen or two tanks is not how it would have happened: it would have been big, it would have been sudden and it would have been over quickly. There would be no need for grainy satellite photos of combine harvesters or whatever they were; no need for reporters who forgot their cell phones saying they saw something: there would be Russian soldiers at the Dnepr certainly and maybe in Kiev or Lviv; Russian soldiers, guns, helicopters, tanks and aircraft all over the place. (Interesting to speculate, as it gets colder and armed thugs throw their weight around, how Russian troops would be received in Kiev today, isn’t it? But we’ll probably never know).

Or at least the first part would have been over quickly. Just like the US invasion of Iraq. Getting to the Dnepr, Kiev or Lviv would have been easy, but once there, the Russians would have found themselves surrounded by people who didn’t want them to be there. And that, as the Americans found out in Iraq, is quite a different thing. If one were to take a horizontal slice of Ukraine from east to west and ask the inhabitants to rate the presence of Russian soldiers in their neighbourhood from one to ten, one would get an answer ranging from ten in the far east to minus ten in the far west: flowers in the east, bullets in the west.

Russian troops in the centre and west would find themselves opposed by people who had had military training in the Soviet or Ukrainian Armed Forces, many of whom had military experience in Afghanistan. In other words, Russian invaders would be met with exactly the same response that western Ukrainian invaders found in the east.

Crimea was different: there it was all flowers, all the way and the borders are clear, distinct and obvious. Not at all the same in the rest of Ukraine. (NOTE 2017: And the Russian troops were already there, a point that Western accounts usually glide over.)

Yes, the Russian Army could get to the western border in a week or two without much difficulty but it wouldn’t be able to stay there.

So that’s why Moscow hasn’t and won’t “invade Ukraine”: it doesn’t want to find itself bogged down in months or years of ambushes, IEDs and all that. And then probably have to leave at the end, anyway. Moscow has watched the US in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, of course, it remembers its own experience in Afghanistan. Huge cost for a trivial and momentary gain.

The same reason, come to think of it, why Moscow, with its alleged desire to rebuild the empire or whatever, didn’t put Georgia into the bag in 2008. And why it won’t invade Estonia either. It could do it, but it wouldn’t be worth it.

Afterword: All this is predicated on the West confining its support to the discreet provision of training and weapons (something that Breedlove and the others don’t talk about much – the projection in this whole affair is enormous). Should NATO forces enter Ukraine and move east, then all bets are off.

Something for them to talk about

US President Trump and Russian President Putin are due to have their first face-to-face meeting in Hamburg in a few days. This meeting should have taken place in April or May and, had that happened, by now the two would be well into substantive issues. But thanks to the devotion of the lügenpresse to the anti-Russia tarradiddle, Trump was unable to move. And, exploded as a “nothingburger” it may be, and devoid of evidence as we are continually told it is, people are still banging away at it: “You must state bluntly to Putin that Russia can never again violate our sovereignty by stealing and publishing our data, and must stop cyber probes of our electoral machinery.”

So Trump may be wary that anything he does or says to Putin, short of outright rudeness or a punch in the face, will be spun as further “proof” that he is Putin’s puppy. Although – one can hope – Trump, empowered by his contempt for the fake news media and emboldened by CNN’s troubles, may ignore the yapping.

From Russia’s perspective the meeting is easy enough. Putin is self-controlled, intelligent and disciplined: he’s ready and capable of talking about anything; he knows what Russia’s interests are; he has an open mind; I believe he is hopeful but not deluded. He knows that the WaPo and NYT think Trump is an idiot but I doubt he looks to these propaganda rags for guidance. He is smart enough to know that a man who became POTUS against all opposition could not possibly be an idiot but, at the same time he is experienced enough not to hope for too much (as he told Oliver Stone: presidents come and go but US policy doesn’t change).

The commonly suggested subjects for discussion present some difficulties. In Syria Washington is simply too involved with fantasies of “moderate rebels”, confusion from moment to moment and speaker to speaker about what Assad’s future should be. Added to which, there is more than a little evidence that, whatever official Washington may say, the generals on the ground will attack Syrian units or aircraft ad libitum. Therefore it is too complicated a subject for a first discussion. Countering terrorism is another suggestion but, for a serious discussion to be possible, Washington must first decide what side it is really on: it has too long a history of supporting jihadists here but fighting them there to be believed (and especially not by Putin who told Stone that he had proof that Washington had supported jihadists in Chechnya). So, neither of these subjects makes for a good first discussion.

But there is one serious subject that would work and that is North Korea and its nuclear and missile programs. It drew attention to itself in the most dramatic way by launching a rocket that could reach Alaska on the most sacred holiday of the American mythos. There is no reason to think that either Beijing or Moscow are much pleased with this development either. Chinese President Xi was just in Moscow with Putin and the two discussed North Korea and a joint statement was issued. They call for the cessation of missile and nuclear tests by Pyongyang and cessation of US-South Korean military exercises near the border; Beijing calls this the “double suspension”. If a solution is found, it will have to be that; threats from Washington do nothing to solve anything. Pyongyang isn’t scared and it has every reason to hate and distrust Washington: US aircraft dropped 25% more bombs on North Korea than it did on Japan, killing, one US general estimated, 20% of the population. Americans may have forgotten that, but North Koreans have not.

This, therefore, is a subject that is topical; it is a problem that all three capitals recognise; there is a solution. While the solution will necessitate some climbdown by Washington, it can be accomplished in the spirit of Catch-22’s Colonel Scheisskopf by the announcement, every year, that this year’s exercise has been cancelled.

North Korea’s missile launch will certainly be on the G20 agenda. Trump has met with Xi, Xi has met with Putin; Xi and Putin have the solution, they’re all going to be in the same place at the same time. So I would suggest that a meeting of the three of them to discuss the “Korean peninsula” issue would make for some fruitful results. Xi could, as it were, make the introduction.

I don’t suppose that any of the three has people devoted to reading my website so I don’t expect one of them to pick up the suggestion.

But I think that it is something to watch for and there isn’t any reason not to think that bilateral discussions in North Korea couldn’t segue into a three-sided conversation.

Russia the Eternal Enemy Quotations

The world now faces a choice between the cooperative exploitation by the East and West of natural resources or a wasteful struggle that could cost a fortune in blood and treasure. Regional conflicts in the Caucasus and Central Asia threaten to deny Western access to the vital oil and gas reserves the world will need in the 21st century. The wars in Chechnya, between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and in Georgia were started or exacerbated by the Russian military, and the outcome of these wars may determine who controls future pipeline routes. Moscow hopes that Russia will. Powerful interests in Moscow are attempting to ensure that the only route for exporting the energy resources of Eurasia will pass through Russia.

Ariel Cohen, Senior Policy Analyst, The Heritage Foundation “The New ‘Great Game’: Oil Politics in the Caucasus and Central Asia”; 25 January 1996.

Living the Dream – Latvia, NATO and the EU

This essay is an attempt to discuss the consequences of Latvia’s membership in both NATO and the EU. I chose Latvia simply because I found data for it. Membership in either standard bearer of Atlanticism, let alone both, would have been unimaginable for any citizen of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic and, for many, a glorious dream.

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation

Because Latvia joined it first, I will consider the NATO half of the dream first. Latvia became a full member in April 2004 (“From now on, 26 Allies will be joined in a commitment to defend each others’ security and territorial integrity. This is the strongest, most solemn commitment nations can undertake“).

There is a widespread meme that the new NATO members eagerly sought membership because of popular concerns about Russia but the truth, in Latvia at any rate, is that public opinion required some time (and lots of American GONGOs) to develop the preference. And while EU membership followed a referendum, NATO’s did not. In an opinion poll in 1998 we find a slight preference for neutrality “In Latvia, the larger group of population believe that the neutrality best guarantees Latvian security and stability (29%). The second option – NATO and EU membership together (26%) while NATO membership is the third option (15%). 10% of Latvian population believe that EU membership alone can guarantee stability and security for Latvia.” The same poll found that if there were to be a referendum on joining NATO in the three Baltic states “Latvia has the lowest number of the supporters for the country’s membership in alliance: 37% would vote for, 29% against, while 34% of Latvian population has not decided yet.” Not much enthusiasm there.

But Latvia has been a member for a decade now and one has to wonder whether Latvians feel secure. One would think that Article 5 of the NATO treaty gave as indisputable a security assurance as could be wanted. “Collective defence means that an attack against one Ally is considered as an attack against all Allies.” So, if Russia were to attack Latvia it would be the same as if it had attacked the USA, Canada or Germany; there would be no need for American, Canadian or German troops to actually be there. And yet there are always calls for more money to be spent and more troops to be stationed. And the recent NATO summit agreed to do so. Outsiders with weapons to sell Latvia have their interests in playing this up as when a BBC program in February 2016 had Russia invading Latvia. Propagandists keep the pot boiling: “Counting Down to a Russian Invasion of the Baltics“, “Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank: Wargaming the Defense of the Baltics“, “If Russia Started a War in the Baltics, NATO Would Lose — Quickly“, “Russia’s aggression in Ukraine is part of a broader, and more dangerous, confrontation with the West“; War games show NATO’s eastern flank is vulnerable. To deter Moscow, the United States will need to deploy heavy armor on a large scale, a new study says.” And so on. There are sceptics, to be sure: “Why on Earth Would Russia Attack the Baltics?“, but the subject is omnipresent and the Warsaw communiqué is full of Russian “aggression”, “destabilising actions”, ” military intervention”, “provocative military activities near NATO borders” and so forth. (And, lest we forget profits: “We welcome Allied efforts to address, as appropriate, existing dependencies on Russian-sourced legacy military equipment”). Indeed, NATO is back in business at the old stand.

All this scare-mongering is having its effect. A recent Gallup poll finds 42% of Latvians seeing Russia as a potential threat. A 2015 poll finds 69% of Latvian speakers seeing a threat from Russia. We see these op-eds: “The society has fear“. “Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Bear?“, “Latvians fear elections could let Kremlin in by back door“, “Panic in Latvia: Trump Will Hand Ukraine, Syria and the Baltics to Putin“. “Russia’s Annexation Of Crimea Worries Baltic Nation Of Latvia“. “Baltic Russians could be the next pawns in new cold war“. In short, Latvians are becoming nervous.

Nonetheless, the cynic who really thinks about it understands that the foreign troops are wanted not because of some perceived immediate Russian threat, but because of a lack of confidence that, when it came to it, the NATO allies would stand up. Indeed, we have a poll that suggests just that: “NATO’s European Allies Won’t Fight for Article 5“. Another poll finds that not even Americans are very willing to fight for Latvia. So, the deployments probably owe less to the “Russian threat” than to the “indifference threat”. We are reminded of George Kennan’s prescient remark: “We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way“.

It has to be said that the comparison between Crimea and Latvia (or the other two Baltic states) is rather forced. A thousand years ago, Crimea was clearly part of the Byzantine/Rus culture – indeed Vladimir the Great, ruler of Novgorod and later of Kiev, was baptised in Khersones in Crimea. Conquered by the Mongols in the 1200s, it became an appanage of the Ottoman Empire and was reconquered by Russia in 1783. The Russian Black Sea Fleet was then founded and has been based there ever since. In 1954 Khrushchev transferred Crimea from the RSFSR to the Ukrainian SSR (illegally it appears). When the USSR broke up, the Black Sea Fleet remained under treaty between Moscow and Kiev together with up to 25,000 Russian soldiers and sailors. In the 2014 referendum well over 90% voted to (re)join Russia and the Russian troops provided security; there was no “invasion”. As to the Donbass: when the president you voted for is ousted, the party you voted for is declared an enemy, the central government sends the army at you and your home is renamed the “Anti-Terror Operation Zone“, there’s no need to invent a “Russian invasion”. Latvia’s history is quite different: it has been ruled by Germans, Poles, Lithuanians and Swedes until absorbed by the Russian Empire about the same time Crimea was reacquired. Despite a substantial Russian minority, it has never been considered part of the “Russian lands” and there are no Russian troops there. So the parallels are very contrived – propagandisticly contrived – indeed. And, if Latvians are really concerned that a crafty Moscow may use the Russians inside Latvia as some sort of lever, then they might consider giving them full citizenship. (An idea, it is interesting to note, that seldom occurs to the reporters who write pieces like this one: “Latvia, with a large minority of Russians, worries about Putin’s goals“).

So, one could make the case that one part of the Latvian dream – NATO membership – has not in fact given the Latvian population a greater sense of security. Indeed, an effect of the non-stop anti-Russia campaign may be that Latvians feel less secure today than they did when they were neutral.

And, as a further irony, Latvian soldiers are back in Afghanistan: under a different flag this time but with much the same results.

European Union

Latvia became a full member of the EU in May 2004 after a referendum (“We welcome a country that naturally belongs to us and we trust, that Latvia as the others future Member States, will enrich and strengthen the European Union. Welcome home, Latvia!”) . It joined the Eurozone in January 2014 (no referendum then: support only about 20%).The source for most of what follows is “Latvia in the EU – Ten Years Later. A Different Latvia?” which is a fairly detailed assessment of the first decade’s experience. The purpose of the authors is described: “We intend to take a snapshot of the moment when Latvia joined the EU, and compare it with a snapshot of the country taken today”. It was published in May 2014, too early to show any effects of Eurozone membership; neither had the refugee criss bitten. A very quick summary of the various tables follows.

In the period defence expenditure declined and the armed forces became smaller. (We’ll see what effect the Russia scare will have on them). The unemployment rate improved, got a lot worse and is now about where it started. The service sector is larger, the industrial sector smaller, labour productivity significantly up, applications for high-tech patents down. The crime rate is much improved across the board with the exception of drug offences. The population has decreased (the authors don’t tell us how much). There are significantly fewer non-citizens, more foreigners live in Latvia, tourism is up quite a bit, the proportions of native Latvian speakers (73%-71%) and native Russian speakers (27%-27%) unchanged. The number of students is down, but those studying abroad is up, the proportion of the population with higher education has increased. The average net salary has better than doubled and GDP per capita has increased from about half the EU average to about two-thirds, the poverty rate is significantly down, agricultural production is significantly up. The population is a little more satisfied with the “quality of democracy” but trust in governmental institutions (including the EU) is down a bit, electoral participation is down nearly ten percentage points but the traffic police expect bribes significantly less. Life expectancy is up about 3 years, infant mortality is down, generally speaking health seems to be better (but a significant increase is reported for malignant tumours) although both doctors and hospital beds are down. Latvia is either “greener” or it isn’t, depending on what indicator you choose to emphasise. The authors sum it up as “in the course of ten years Latvia has become more secure and prosperous.”

So, altogether in the decade, there have been improvements in Latvia’s economic situation, health and crime. But these are not dramatic and, of course, there is no way of telling what the numbers would be if Latvia had taken some other course (cf Belarus, for example). The declining esteem in which institutions are held (trust in government down from 28% to 20%, parliament 20% to 15%, EU itself 39% to 36%) and drop in electoral participation (national from 72% to 59%, municipal 53% to 46%) argues a certain lack of enthusiasm for present circumstances.

The authors mention the population decline but don’t give the numbers. Wikipedia tells us the population in the EU decade dropped from 2.277 million to 1.995 million. It was 2.651 million in 1991. That’s a drop of a quarter; a significant decline indeed. “Demographic disaster” some say, “We are dying out“. If I were Latvian, I’d worry about that a lot more than about imaginary Russian invasions: at this rate, if they really wanted Latvia’s beaches, all the Russians have to do is wait fifty years or so to peacefully occupy an old folks’ home surrounded by vacant real estate.

Conclusion

It would appear that there are good reasons to argue that NATO membership has made Latvians feel less secure because they have been sucked into the NATO anti-Russia hysteria. In the ten years of EU membership there have been real gains albeit none very dramatic. There is no way of knowing where Latvia would be today had it adopted a different membership package.

So, it while it would certainly be wrong to call the dream a nightmare, it’s not proved as happy a dream as was no doubt expected. Improvements to be sure, but none of them dramatic and all overshadowed by depopulation (Latvia and Bulgaria are the only countries in the world with a smaller population today than in 1950.)

The downstream costs of the Euro and refugees – both direct consequences of EU membership – as well as pressures for greater defence expenditure from NATO are as yet uncalculated.

So, a bit of a wash altogether.

 

 

 

UKRAINIAN CIVIL WAR: WHERE THE REBELS GET THEIR WEAPONS, HOW THEY USE THEM AND WHAT THEIR MOST EFFECTIVE ARE.

(First published at Sic Semper Tyrannis under the pseudonym Shellback. They were first published in Russia Insider, respectively here, here and here)

Where they get their weapons

Especially as the shattering scale of destruction becomes apparent – Poroshenko says that Ukraine lost two-thirds of its military equipment (just one video of dozens) – Westerners who have been misled by the propagandist character of their media outlets are ready to believe that Russia must have been supplying the rebels with weapons and ammunition. While it is likely that some stuff crossed the border, there is another source that few Westerners are aware of.

What most Western commentators do not understand is that the USSR was preparing to fight World War II all over again with huge armies fleshed out with millions of conscripts and reservists. Millions of soldiers need immense quantities of weapons and ammunition and they need them to be ready and waiting for them as they are mobilized Consequently there were arms dumps all over the western USSR. Most of these sites were named as the headquarters of a division which had a skeleton staff in peacetime but would receive a flood of reservists who would find everything they needed to go to war with waiting for them.

The Soviets divided their formations into 3 categories. As far as I can remember after thirty years, Cat I were fully manned, equipped and ready to go; Cat II were partly manned but fully equipped and Cat III were at much lower levels. The idea being that Cat I formations were ready to go immediately (when the Wall came down I remember learning that the units in East Germany were on 48 hours notice to move. A stance, by the way, that indicated they were not intending to attack; and since NATO wasn’t either, that’s probably why we’re all still here). The Cat II formations would be ready to go in a week or so, while the CAT III formations would take a few months.

The whole Soviet system was based on waves of attackers (echelons) attacking, one after another, seeking out the weak spots; reinforcing success. So the Cat I formations in, say, the DDR and Polish PR assumed support from Cat II formations in their rear, in the Belarussian SSR and Ukrainian SSR and so on; behind that were the reserves of Cat III divs in the RSFSR etc.

When the whole thing stopped, this system was torn apart. Russia assumed responsibility for the stuff in the Warsaw Pact countries and Ukraine, for example, nationalized what was in its territory. As to the forward-based Cat I formations, Russia wound up responsible for the equipment and moving it to Russia, as to the personnel, the conscripts went home and the various nationalities went to their own countries. In short, almost overnight a tank division all ready to go would be turned unto an understaffed pile of equipment waiting to be quickly moved into Russia. I don’t think there were any Cat I formations in the Belarussian SSR and Ukrainian SSR; I think I remember that they were all Cat II there. These movements were accomplished quite quickly and the whole carefully constructed arrangement was destroyed. I used to explain what had happened with the analogy that Russia had got the spear head and Ukraine and Belarus had got the spear shaft; neither being much use without the other. But the enormous supply dumps necessary to bring Cat II divisions up to Cat I would have remained in Ukraine (and Belarus).

For some years Russia pretended that sites on its territory were actual divisions (I was in regular contact with our CFE and Vienna Document inspectors through this time) but the only things inspectors would ever find when they went to inspect the location of an so-called motorized rifle or tank division in the 1990s were fields of poorly maintained AFVs, officers and no troops. (We used to speculate that the secret that the Russians were guarding was that they had no soldiers – oh, they’re all out on a training exercise; oh yeah, with no officers and no equipment? But, as the CFE Treaty only covered equipment and the Russians were completely open about that, there was no problem.) Incidentally, training was impossible: I remember a Russian woman telling me that her brother was a company commander – he had two soldiers in his company! “Empty formations” was the expression used.

Then, suddenly one summer (I can’t remember the year: some time between the two wars in Chechnya), we received a blizzard of notifications (as required under the CFE Treaty) each saying something like “remove the xth MR Div from the list; enter the zth Storage Base at the same location”. When all this was completed, there was a much smaller number of divisions (which were gradually being transformed into independent brigade groups) and many storage bases. After thinking about it, we decided that the storage base idea was an attempt to provide employment in lieu of pensions for surplus officers. (In meetings at this time, the Russian military were always telling us that they simply could not afford the pension and housing obligations for the hundreds of thousands of unnecessary officers. Other ranks were easy to reduce, of course: as they’re conscripts, they can just be sent home early). These changes also recognized the reality that the old Soviet formations had gone forever.

Things began to change after this. I well remember one of the inspectors returning from an inspection of a brigade at Buynaksk in 1998 or 1999 quite excited: here, at last, was a complete formation with all the necessary equipment and men and (very significantly) a commander who commanded the whole thing. No more pretending that a handful of listless officers and field full of equipment would some day magically fill up with conscripts and become a real division. This process seems to have started in the North Caucasus and is one of the several reasons for the much improved Russian performance in the second Chechnya war.

So at the end of this process the Russian Army 1. had the beginnings of a rational structure (brigade groups) 2. had abandoned the fantasy that it was a huge multi-division army with a temporary manpower problem 3. pseudo-divisions with insecure storage of weapons manned by dispirited officers were transformed into something more secure and purposeful and the process of disposing of obsolete and insecure weaponry could begin. With money and a stable government since 2000, other improvements have been made as well.

Nothing like this happened in the Ukrainian Armed Forces. So one can expect the territory of Ukraine to be littered with piles of poorly guarded weaponry and “empty formations”. A Russian official recently confirmed this when he said: “

When the USSR collapsed, the Ukrainian territory was replete with millions of guns, mines, artillery systems and other weapons. The area where the combat activities are held today, where Kiev leads its punitive operation, is no exception

Slavyansk, in particular, is said to have a particularly large dump in an old mine.

In short, the Ukrainian Armed Forces are in the sorry state the Russian Armed Forces were in the 1990s but with another decade and a half of neglect. Much of this decayed equipment doesn’t work any more, but, if you cannibalize 100 tanks and get 10 runners, that’s a lot better than nothing. And, it should be remembered, the Donbass is full of mechanics, technicians, artificers and so forth. To say nothing of plenty of people who through conscription and the Afghan war, know how to operate them. Most of the weapons used in east Ukraine are from Afghan war vintage; the BM-21 Grad, arguably the most important weapon in the rebels’ arsenal and responsible for fearsome destruction, for example, has been around since the 60s. And finally, a characteristic of a lot of Soviet equipment was that it was easy to operate and very very rugged. (Remember that these guys actually got a T-34 that had spent the last 50 years sitting on a concrete slab in the rain and snow up and running: all the points illustrated at once!)

The other thing I recall that we learned when it was all over, was that, in contrast to the Western style of having dumps in floodlit spaces surrounded by fences, barbed wire, armed patrols and so on, making the site very noticeable but strongly protected, the Soviet style was to have something much more discreet in an out-of-the-way place and rely more on silence to secure it (an old mine, of which there are many in the Donbass, would be ideal). Given that the USSR military headquarters was in Moscow, it is quite possible that the Kiev government doesn’t even know where many of these dumps are. One service that Moscow could be providing is to tell the rebels where to look.

So, I have no difficulty seeing the rebels coming across (or being directed to) a dump and getting weaponry and ammunition; they have people who can get it working again and plenty of ex-Soviet Army veterans to make them work. On top of that is the equipment captured when Ukrainian conscripts abandon positions (quite a lot – this site attempts to make a photographic record) and a few things bought or bribed. So far all they would have needed from Moscow is maybe some command and control equipment and target acquisition services.

So Ukraine’s military problem today is that it has the two-decades decayed remnants of what was originally planned to be a first line of support for the best and most ready elements; never to be a stand alone force. And during this time Kiev has starved this remnant and sold off the best stuff abroad (Georgia got a lot from Ukraine). So, the rebels and the Kiev forces are much more evenly matched than would be the normal case in a rebellion against the center They are both learning on the job, but the rebels have much more motivation while Kiev has a larger stock of weaponry on which to draw.

Thus the rebels are doing better faster than would normally be expected and have a good stock of weapons and ammunition. This is one of the reasons why so many in the West believe that Russia must be helping them.

Cords and Cauldrons: How Good Little Guys Beat Bad Big Guys

Many in the West probably wonder how the the Ukrainian rebels can be defeating the Kiev forces without help from Russia. But this has happened many times before; good little guys often beat bad big guys: the Vietnamese beat the Americans, the Israelis beat the Arabs in 1948. But, for our purpose, it’s worth considering how the Finns beat the Soviets in the Winter War.

In 1939 the Soviet Army invaded Finland along the entire border. The Finnish Armed Forces were small and not very mechanized but they were determined and they knew the ground they were fighting on – it was theirs, after all. The Soviet Armed Forces were large, highly mechanized by the standards of the time but poorly led (Stalin had killed or imprisoned the best commanders a year or so before).

So what were the Finns to do? They could surrender, but they were Finns and disinclined to do so. They had two fronts to deal with. The first was in the south in Karelia. Here they understood that there could be no retreat. So they held the “Mannerheim Line” and sent whatever heavy weapons they had there. The Finnish strategy here was the word sisu. The English translation for sisu would be something like “We’re not giving up. Ever. No matter what”. I recommend watching the movie Talvisota to show what this actually meant.

But the Soviets also invaded in the north all along the border. Equipped, we are told, with Swedish-Russian dictionaries for when they got to the other side of Finland. Here the Finns could not spare their limited heavy weapons or manpower; but they could not afford to be defeated here either.

The Finnish word motti means a measure of wood cut for use. The English equivalent would be a cord of wood. The Finns chopped the Soviet invaders into manageable amounts of wood. The terrain was forest and frozen lakes; terrifying to the Russian, Ukrainian and Belarussian conscripts but familiar home to the Finns. The Finns made ski routes parallel to the roads the Soviets stuck to. The Finns chopped the Soviet columns into motti with abbatis (felled trees interlaced to make an impenetrable obstacle). The Soviet fragments found themselves in a hostile frozen nightmare with only the food, fuel and ammunition they happened to have with them. Two soldiers get together to have a smoke; an invisible sniper kills one of them. A field kitchen is lighted to give some hot food, an invisible sniper kills the cook, another destroys the stove. Soviet troops make a foray into the woods; they see nothing but on the way back an invisible sniper kills their officer. Soviet divisions simply disappeared, nothing was left but shattered vehicles and frozen corpses. It worked: a small, mobile light force of dedicated infantry who knew the terrain defeated much heavier forces; it wasn’t easy, there was very heavy fighting in places but, in essence, the five or six Soviet divisions that invaded simply disappeared. (I recommend A Frozen Hell by William R Trotter.)

At the time, most “military experts” bet on the Soviets: more tanks, more aircraft, more men and so on. Just as most “military experts” probably bet that Kiev would defeat the rebels.

Much the same thing happened in eastern Ukraine; the favorite word there being “cauldron” or котёл. The principal difference being that you can create motti in forests, but only a котёл in steppe land. I no know better description of how to create one than the Saker’s. But it is very much the same as how to make a motti. Road-bound, poorly commanded heavily mechanized units advance too far and are cut off. Sometimes they can fight their way out but it’s a declining situation if they stay: every day they have less food, fuel, ammunition and water. If they don’t fight their way out, they die or surrender. In Ukraine it’s summer, so at least they don’t freeze to death as thousands of Soviets did in the motti.

So there you have it, that’s how the little guys (but they have to be very brave and very determined) can beat the big guys. We see the same thing in Iraq or Afghanistan, by the way. The difference being that the Iraq or Afghanistan insurgents can’t concentrate because of America air power so they never can create a motti or котёл.

And another similarity, and a very important one, in eastern Ukraine and Finland as well as Vietnam, Afghanistan, Israel in 1948 or Iraq is, to quote James Clapper, the director of national intelligence (USA),  that the attackers don’t “predict the will to fight”. In June Poroshenko was talking about the whole thing being over quickly: “in hours, not weeks”.

As that great military strategist, Muhammed Ali, put it, when you haven’t got the muscle to stand toe to toe, float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. And chop them up into into motti if you get the chance.

The Donbass RebelsSecret Weapons

The two decisive weapons of this war that have given victory to the rebels are the MANPADS (MAN Portable Air Defense System) and the Grad (“hail” in Russian).

Kiev had, at the beginning, complete air superiority; it may not have had very many helicopters and ground-attack fixed wing, but it had all that there were. Against these the rebels had stocks of the SA-7 shoulder-fired missile. Like many Soviet weapons it was modified and improved in incremental steps over its service life since the 1970s and produced in quite large numbers. It has an infra-red guidance system and is shoulder-fired. Like most weapons of this type, it is most effective against aircraft that are actually attacking the firer, ie when the angular momentum of the aircraft is low. According to this site, quoting the Kiev Post, Kiev lost ten helicopters and nine fixed-wing aircraft. The true number is likely higher but the point is that this weapon system effectively nullified the air superiority that the Kiev regime had; they either destroyed the aircraft or forced them to fly higher and faster and therefore be less effective. These weapons made the war into a ground war.

The real destruction of the Kiev forces – Ukraine President Poroshenko says two thirds of Ukraine’s military equipment was lost – was carried out by the BM-21 Grad MLRS. Another weapon system from decades ago, this is a truck with 40 122mm rocket tubes at the rear. Not particularly accurate – it is what is known as an “area weapon” – the fact that all 40 rockets can be fired in 20 seconds means that after a few ranging rounds a terrifying amount of explosive can be delivered very quickly by a few Grads. Here are a lot of them firing at a demonstration. Here are some videos from the fighting in Ukraine. Grads firing at night – we see the ranging rounds and then the full salvo from two. Hits nearby. This is what remains after a strike.

There are dozens of videos showing the destruction of Kiev forces trapped in a “cauldron” or котёл by Grads. As I said in another essay, the bulk of the rebel forces were men who knew the area: the back roads, where this forest trail comes out, where that hill is and how to get there without being seen. The Kiev forces did not know the area and had ludicrously inadequate maps (one report spoke of maps from the 1920s) and bad information; thanks to their reliance on heavy equipment they stuck to the main roads. Their commanders were spectacularly incompetent, they themselves were either either poorly motivated untrained forced conscripts unwilling to advance or gung-ho “volunteer” forces, pumped up with warrior fantasies, who charged down the road and got trapped. In either case, there would be periods of being stopped, all jammed together when the mobile rebel spotter forces would call in the target. A few adjustment rounds, then a hundred or more rockets. This is what would happen, over and over and over again. All done by discreet spotter teams and a few Grads within twenty kms or so.

Conclusion

Therefore, there is no particular reason to assume any large-scale Russian military assistance here. Dedicated people fighting for their homeland, on their homeland, have beaten many a bad invader. Add to this the military training left over from the Soviet days, the weapons stockpiled in the area against a future huge war, mechanical ability and the incompetence of the invader, it is not surprising that they have held their ground.