Prelude to War — Russia/Ukraine (04 Dec 21–10 Feb 22)
In early December, I started paying closer attention to the recent situation between Russia and Ukraine. Below you will find everything I wrote about it starting on 03 December up to 10 February, after which time I transitioned to a more comprehensive update format. All of these below are publicly available on my personal Facebook page.
10 February 2022:
Today, 10 February 2022, Russia began military exercises in Belarus, with Belarus. These exercises will last ten days, ending on 20 February. Russian forces in Belarus include multiple infantry (motorized and airborne assault forces), tanks, air defense units, as well as ground attack aircraft and pilots with experience in Syria. It is reportedly the largest exercise ever conducted in Belarus by Russia and will focus on countering ambushes and IEDs against militia and volunteer forces. The sort of combat one might expect in an urban area.
Kiev, or Kyiv, which is the capital city of Ukraine, sits just a couple of hours from the Belarusian border. It has a population of about three million people.
Six Russian military vessels, described as “amphibious warfare ships,” arrived in Sevastopol, Crimea. These ships traveled from the Baltic Sea, and the largest of them can carry 40 armored vehicles and 300 soldiers. These ships offer a significant increase in sealift capacity. Joining them tomorrow will be a Kilo-class submarine. Submarine forces in the Black Sea will now include three Kilo-class submarines.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s super yacht, the Graceful, departed from the port in Hamburg, Germany, at which it was receiving repairs and modifications, on its way to Kaliningrad, Russia. Those repairs were evidently not finished prior to its departure. The yacht is worth over one hundred million dollars. Germany is a NATO country. Several NATO countries have threatened sanctions against Russia should the latter invade Ukraine. Sanctions include the seizure of property and assets.
The Olympics, which are hosted by Putin’s sometimes-ally President Xi of China, end on 20 February 2022.
All this is probably nothing about which to worry.
Ukraine has experienced an unusually mild winter, warmer and wetter than average. The ground is normally fairly frozen by now. The warmer weather, as well as rain, is expected to continue over the next ten days, which means Rasputitsa — spring mud — might come early this year. Weather in the region is notoriously fickle, however. Mud, which makes ruts and which sticks in tank roadwheels, can easily freeze overnight.
In other news, Russia has deployed armored recovery vehicles and bridging equipment to Belarus and the border with Ukraine.
03 February 2022:
On 31 August 1939, Polish nationalists assaulted a radio tower in Gleiwitz, capturing it and then using it to broadcast an anti-German message. Several Germans were killed. This was, it seems, the last straw. Overall, anti-German Poles conducted two dozen similar events, which together provided Hitler with justification for invading Poland, which began on 01 September.
Except none of this is true. These were all false flag operations orchestrated by the Nazi Schutzstaffel (SS). The attacks were conducted by Nazis posing as Poles. They were propaganda operations. They were fake. And they led to a devastating ware that ruined much of Europe over the next five plus years and contributed to the deaths of millions of human beings.
Today the United States suggested Russia was planning an “elaborate plot to fabricate an attack by Ukrainian forces that Russia could use as a pretext to take military action against its neighbor.” It just takes one incident, manufactured or not, to swing public opinion one way or the other. It doesn’t take much to convince a population to go to war.
31 January 2022:
Did you know that the Presidency of the United Nations Security Council rotates between member states every month? The President has a wide variety of responsibilities. For one, he or she calls Security Council Meetings. He or she also approves agenda for those meetings. They’re supposed to step down temporarily if their nation is involved in a conflict the Council is discussing, but that doesn’t seem codified in any rules or procedures.
On 01 February 2022, Vasily Nebenzya will take over as president. He’s from the Russian Federation.
19 January 2022:
Tanks don’t often do all that well in wet, muddy soils.
But the ground near and in Ukraine is probably going to freeze nice and hard any minute now.
04 December 2021:
We tend to discount the possibility of large scale war, having grown used to US hegemony after the fall of the Soviet Union as well as the prevalence of and preference for low intensity conflict in the post-9/11 world. The last major war — World War Two — seems so distant in the past, and so utterly destructive, that it’s difficult to contemplate it happening today. But I think there are some growing areas of concern; areas in which if events are not properly managed could well devolve into a major war between near-peer adversaries of the US and its allies. At least, I’m concerned, and I’m sure there are others who share said concern. Even if we are distracted by our own internal events and seem far more interested in battling ourselves, the world continues to move on.
1.) The first area of concern is the growing assertiveness and, some might say aggression, of Chinese activity in the South China Sea and continued “interest” in Taiwan. Much can be said about alarmist rhetoric regarding the apparent dramatic capability growth of the Chinese military, particularly its naval forces and hypersonic munitions advances. The fact remains that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is largely untested and lacks experience. But history has also shown a certain willingness on the part of the PRC to take military action first, particularly if its feeling isolated or otherwise threatened. It doesn’t take a major stretching of the imagination to see conflict develop over the desire to reintegrate Taiwan into China proper. And it doesn’t take much more stretching to see that devolve into a much larger, much more destructive war that goes beyond the immediate area around Taiwan. Imagine, if you will, that China desires to use force to bring Taiwan into the fold. What moves would it need to make if it believed the US would come to Taiwan’s aid? Would it conduct a first strike on Guam? Would it aim to remove the threat posed by a Carrier Battle Group or two? Do we think that such actions would go unanswered? China has worked a long time to diplomatically isolate Taiwan. Would its efforts pay off and see the rest of the world let Taiwan be invaded? I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I do know that we should be keeping a very close eye on things and, perhaps, think of some contingencies.
2.) Ukraine. I think that as of this moment, there’s a greater risk of conflict developing in Ukraine than in the Pacific. Reports suggest a fairly large massing of troops. Estimates vary; Ukraine says 94,000 and US estimates put it at around 70,000. A recent intelligence document obtained by The Washington Post indicates a planned Russian offensive being planned that includes 175,000 troops, which could kick off in early 2022. Russia wants assurances from the US and its allies that Ukraine will not join NATO and that NATO will not conduct exercises in or around Ukraine. Complicating matters, however, is the Budapest Memorandum. Signed in 1994, this agreement provides assurances to protect the territorial integrity of Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan in exchange for those nations giving up the nuclear weapons left in their territory upon the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is important to note that this document is not, evidently, binding. It does not require the US or Great Britain or anyone to actually do anything. It provides “assurances.” So what it means vis a vis a Russian invasion into Ukraine is unclear. It certainly did not provide much in the way of assistance when Crimea was annexed in 2014. Crimea provides, perhaps, some illustration. An incremental seizure of territory, under the guise of whatever excuse the Kremlin comes up with, may be more advantageous than an outright invasion. Perhaps Russia thinks that the mere posturing and threat of an invasion will be enough to induce acquiescence. Then again, perhaps the posturing results in some event which then sets us all down a path to a large scale war. Who knows? It is, however, yet another area to which we need to pay close attention. I think that an invasion would have to be done very, very quickly, with aims achieved spectacularly and rapidly, because the Russian armed forces suffer from poor logistics, even in operations so close to Russia. To be clear, Russia is a near-peer adversary mostly because of its nuclear stockpile, not because of the capabilities of its regular military.
Even though I remain concerned and intrigued, its hard to fathom either of these areas devolving into some sort of global war. It’s hard to think of it as even a very intense regional war, so baked into our psyche that such a thing cannot happen in modern times. But while it is hard to fathom, I do think that the risk is real and that it needs to be taken very seriously by very serious, calm people. I only partly joke when I say that I’m too damned old to be drafted.
Edit: I think that one ramification of the Budapest Memorandum and, it seems, the lack of desire to uphold the agreements within, is the very strong message sent that a nation does not in any way, shape, or form ever give up its WMD capabilities based on assurances that it will be aided. I don’t think that it does a lot for the goal of non-proliferation. I mean, ask Qaddafi how that went for him.