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June 25, 2022

Ukraine Open Thread 2022-95

Only news & views related to the Ukraine conflict ...

The current open thread for other issues is here.

Posted by b at 16:48 UTC | Comments (74)

June 24, 2022

Ukraine SitRep - Zolote Cauldron Closes - Lysichansk Blocked (Corrected twice)

[Corrected (twice) below]

In the last situation report about the war in Ukraine I discussed the situation near Lysichansk.

The Ukrainian leadership is still sending new units into the Lysichansk cauldron in the east. The Russians do not mind that. Their job is to "demilitarize" Ukraine. To enclose more troops in one swoop makes that easier.


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The distance between the red Russian held area at the the top to the one at the bottom at the most narrow gap is a mere 15 kilometer or some 9 miles. There is only one open road running through it from west to east which is used for pushing resupplies to the Ukrainian troops in Lysichansk.

The map has since changed significantly:

Cont. reading: Ukraine SitRep - Zolote Cauldron Closes - Lysichansk Blocked (Corrected twice)

Posted by b at 14:37 UTC | Comments (326)

June 23, 2022

Ukraine Open Thread 2022-94

Only news & views related to the Ukraine conflict ...

The current open thread for other issues is here.

Posted by b at 14:25 UTC | Comments (227)

Open (Not Ukraine) Thread 2022-93

News & views (not related to Ukraine) ...

Posted by b at 14:24 UTC | Comments (294)

Two Big Errors About Russia - By Helmholtz Smith

by Helmholtz Smith

American and Western policy towards Russia is founded on two serious errors. (A considerable understatement, of course – the past thirty years show that conventional Western ideas of Russia are almost completely wrong.)

But these two are endlessly repeated and, no matter how many times they are proven wrong, they remain the foundational assumptions of the West's attempts to change or control Russia.

First is the idea that the Russian economy is feeble, unbalanced and dependent on income from the West. The second is that Putin is the chief of a band of thieves who, who if made to feel pain, will get rid of him. Sanctions will collapse the first and bring the pain to cause the second. (Another delusion is that once Putin goes, everything will be to the West's liking – but I did say there was a multitude of misconceptions.)

First let's consider Russia's economy. Op-eds that say that the Russian economy is the size of Texas or Belgium or Luxembourg or whatever simply translate rubles into dollars and gallop to their preassigned conclusion. They never ask how big the space program of the country Russia is compared to is, or how many nuclear submarines it makes, or new subway stations, airports or bridges it opens, or whether that country makes all kinds of airplanes and trucks, or how much food it grows and exports or anything else that actually measures a real economy.

As soon as they did, of course, they would see that the Russian economy is much bigger than the puerile ruble-dollar comparison suggests. And, a slightly closer look would reveal that Russia's economy is almost self-sufficient. But the West carries on confident that Russia is a "gas station with nuclear weapons" and its feeble economy can be easily collapsed. RAND based a whole strategy on "Russia’s greatest vulnerability... is its economy, which is comparatively small and highly dependent on energy exports

They persist in the face of all experience to the contrary. The EU cut food exports to Russia to, I suppose, bring people out into the streets protesting the disappearance of exotic cheese (remember Masha Gessen's heartbreak about my little cheese?) Russia responded intelligently and is now self-sufficient in food and Europe has lost that market. Biden was going to reduce the ruble to rubble but Moscow effortlessly countered him and the ruble is now tied to energy – one of the strongest foundations a currency can have.

And still the sanctions pile on. But it's educational – now we know a lot more about what potash is used for and where it comes from. And neon – who knew that was important? Rare earths! Beer bottles! Moscow is only just now starting to counter-sanction and the world is discovering that Russia is a major producer of a lot of important things and if you sanction them, you will find yourself running short of lots of things you'd never heard of. (You'd think anyone who owned an atlas would be able to figure out that a country as large as Russia must be a big producer of most resources).

Biden can blame Putin all he likes, but sanctioning energy and potash is a certain way to drive up prices all round. Biden used to think that Russia had "nuclear weapons and oil wells and nothing else". Maybe the people running Russia are better at thinking things out and seeing reality than we thought they were. (Yet another mistaken Western assumption – what is there in the last twenty years that suggests we're smarter than they are?)

The idea that Russia is a big criminal conspiracy and Putin is the Boss of Bosses is the foundation of the personal sanctions strategy. So-and-so is deemed "close to Putin", whatever that means, and he's prevented from going to Paris to buy cheese and his yacht is stolen confiscated. Angry, he sits down with the other capos and decides it's time the Boss was found face down in a bowl of kasha and blood. The think tankers tell us that Putin is the Chief Thief holding onto power by spreading the loot around, fake elections and making critics disappear. (By the way, wasn't he supposed to have tried to kill Navalny, where's the oped savant explaining why he's still alive?)

All elections in Russia are fake, all opinion polls are fake, all media is controlled by the Kremlin, the underbosses are hurting so why is Putin still there? It surely couldn't be that he is the very popular and respected elected head of state – to suggest that would be to call into question three decades of US and EU think tankery. Therefore he must be just one more sanction away from being whacked out. And so more names – all "close to Putin" – are added to more lists. But nothing changes.

These two errors run on and on. Russia is now the most sanctioned country ever and Western politicians still think another round of "tough sanctions" will do the job. But the more sanctions it survives, the more sanction-proof Russia becomes.

Wars are irruptions of brutal reality into fantasy and the Ukraine war is laying bare the empty complacency at the root of the West's view of Russia. It's going to be a cold hungry winter in Europe and in parts of America. Can't blame Putin forever.

But the depressing truth is that minds are rarely changed, you have to change the man. How much longer will the West's leaders outlast their repeated failures?

Posted by b at 14:06 UTC | Comments (98)

June 22, 2022

Ukraine Open Thread 2022-92

Only news & views related to the Ukraine conflict ...

The open thread for other issues is here.

Posted by b at 16:57 UTC | Comments (175)

The Neocon's Dream - Decolonize Russia, Re-colonize China

On March 26 U.S. President Joe Biden called for regime change in Russia:

Speaking in Warsaw, Poland, on Saturday, President Biden said of Russian President Vladimir Putin: "For God's sake, this man cannot remain in power."

The White House immediately rushed to talk back that call for regime change and a day later Biden himself denied that he was calling for regime change:

President Joe Biden told reporters on Sunday he was not calling for a regime change in Russia when he said a day earlier that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power,” a surprising comment the White House quickly tried to walk back Saturday.

When a reporter asked if he was calling for Putin’s removal from office, Biden replied “no” as he walked out of church Sunday afternoon, according to Bloomberg pool reporter Courtney Rozen.

However, other parts of the U.S. government makes unmistakeably clear that its aims in Russia go even much than regime change. Tomorrow the US Government's Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) will hold a briefing on the "Moral and Strategic Imperative" that makes it necessary to "Decolonize Russia".

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As Nicolo Saldo points out:

Cont. reading: The Neocon's Dream - Decolonize Russia, Re-colonize China

Posted by b at 16:55 UTC | Comments (203)

June 21, 2022

Ukraine Open Thread 2022-91

Only news & views related to the Ukraine conflict ...

The open thread for other issues is here.

Posted by b at 17:11 UTC | Comments (279)

This New Import Law Will Hurt U.S. Consumers

Today the the U.S., suffering from high inflation caused by a lack of supplies, is launching the dumbest sanction regime ever:

A new law, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, goes into effect in the United States on Tuesday and will bar products that were made in Xinjiang or have ties to the work programs there from entering the country. It requires importers with any ties to Xinjiang to produce documentation showing that their products, and every raw material they are made with, are free of forced labor — a tricky undertaking given the complexity and opacity of Chinese supply chains.
...
In theory, the new U.S. law should block all goods made with any raw materials that are associated with Xinjiang until they are proven to be free of slavery or coercive labor practices. But it remains to be seen if the U.S. government is willing or able to turn away such an array of foreign goods.

The 12 million Uighurs live predominantly in the south of China's Xinjiang province. The area is arid and there is not enough water for the growing population. Over the years this had led to poverty, social unrest and, with the help of some Saudi educated Wahhabi preachers, to terrorism against non-Wahhabis.

Cont. reading: This New Import Law Will Hurt U.S. Consumers

Posted by b at 17:09 UTC | Comments (126)

June 20, 2022

Ukraine SitRep - Lysichansk Cauldron - Sinking Morale - More Provocations

The former CIA and intelligence bigwig Graham Fuller predicts a gloomy outcome of the U.S-Russia proxy war in Ukraine. Gloomy for Ukraine, the U.S. and Europe:

Contrary to Washington’s triumphalist pronouncements, Russia is winning the war, Ukraine has lost the war. Any longer-term damage to Russia is open to debate.

American sanctions against Russia have turned out to be far more devastating to Europe than to Russia. The global economy has slowed and many developing nations face serious food shortages and risk of broad starvation.

There are already deep cracks in the European façade of so-called “NATO unity.” Western Europe will increasingly rue the day that it blindly followed the American Pied Piper to war against Russia. Indeed, this is not a Ukrainian-Russian war but an American-Russian war fought by proxy to the last Ukrainian.

Contrary to optimistic declarations, NATO may in fact ultimately emerge weakened. Western Europeans will think long and hard about the wisdom and deep costs of provoking deeper long term confrontations with Russia or other “competitors”of the US.

Europe will sooner or later return to the purchase of inexpensive Russian energy. Russia lies on the doorstep and a natural economic relationship with Russia will possess overwhelming logic in the end.

Europe already perceives the US as a declining power with an erratic and hypocritical foreign policy “vision” premised upon the desperate need to preserve “American leadership” in the world. America’s willingness to go to war to this end is increasingly dangerous to others.

All the above had already been said on this website in late February and March. But it is good to see that seasoned intelligence people are now coming to similar conclusions.

Two weeks ago I wrote that the Ukrainians will soon reach a breaking point. Today's 'clobber list' by the Russia Ministry of Defense has an additional part about Ukrainian troop loses that supports that take:

Cont. reading: Ukraine SitRep - Lysichansk Cauldron - Sinking Morale - More Provocations

Posted by b at 16:47 UTC | Comments (466)