Russia/Ukraine INTSUM 08MAR22–1; 2000 Eastern/0300 Kyiv
[Analyst’s Comment: Today, first and foremost, there are some things I want to address. This war is a confluence of paradoxes. It is both fast and slow moving. It is dynamic and static. It is complex and seemingly simple. There are a lot of moving parts, consisting of UA and RU operations on the ground and in the air and in cyberspace and in hearts and minds, and other parts that seem as though they have seized up. It needs to be known that I cannot possibly give you a complete picture of the situation in Ukraine. No source can, which is why you, like I, must use dozens of them every day in order to stay informed in this environment. Open-source reporting skews heavily in favor of Ukrainian forces and effort. This is because: A.) Global public opinion decries the Russian invasion of Ukraine and overwhelmingly supports Ukrainian efforts, and B.) Ukrainian information operations are relentlessly on message and incredibly effective in terms of the global audience. However, do not think that Russian information operations aren’t effective in targeting their own audience, which is the Russian people. We can, indeed, talk about the protesters arrested (several thousand) and speculate on how oligarchs feel about their yachts being seized by Western nations. Those are important considerations; if Putin was ever going to be overthrown, it would be due to the efforts of an amalgamation of oligarchs and senior political and military leaders, not probably a public uprising. A great many Russians support this war and view it as the fault of NATO and the US. Further, the sanctions are not the fault of Putin, but the fault of — and a direct attack on — every day Russians. That’s how this is viewed in Russia by a lot of Russians. No, it isn’t universal, but it is likely substantial enough. We in the West often misinterpret civilian sentiment and affairs in countries like Russia, because we fundamentally do not understand Russians.
Armed with the knowledge that OSINT reporting skews in favor of Ukraine, it’s important to point a few things out. First, despite the narrative so expertly put forth by Ukrainian information operations (IO), this war is far from decided. It’s easy to get the sense that victory for Russia is impossible. Ukrainians have undoubtedly been far more successful in blunting the Russian effort to invade their country and overthrow their government than I think anyone could have predicted. Their successes, in contrast to the seemingly incompetent Russian offensive, are impressive. Ukraine is making the best of what it has, taking advantage of Russian missteps along the way. This war will be studied for years by war college students, amateurs, and experts alike. But, if you’ve followed this from before the beginning, you may have had this impression:
1.) Russia builds up forces in an effort to intimidate Ukraine, but Ukraine doesn’t believe it’s going to be invaded, so despite US intelligence repeatedly warning that an invasion is imminent, you aren’t worried about it.
2.) Russia invades, making rapid advances along various axes, while engaging in a “shock and awe” campaign that looks like it might end the invasion quickly, resulting in the capitulation of the Zelenskyy government, or worse.
3.) Russian efforts stall.
4.) This gives the Ukrainians time to regain their balance.
5.) Russians ramp up their use of artillery and airstrikes against civilian targets due to their failure to rapidly achieve their goals. The world gasps in horror.
6.) Then, stunning success after stunning success of UA forces, shooting down airplanes, cruise missiles, attacking convoys, and capturing Russians en masse, happening all in contrast to the apparent Russian incompetence on the modern battlefield, from logistics to communications to combined arms tactics.
The fact remains, however, that Russia is making gains, albeit more slowly than intended, and has significant combat power left. This cannot be understated. Russia has substantial resources still at its disposal, and while we’ve seen a lot of attrition, that’s the truth to the matter. Russian/Soviet execution in the arts of war has historically shown a willingness to trade corpses for territory on the battlefield. Whether those corpses are their own soldiers or civilians huddling in cities depends on the venue and circumstance. I cannot, at this point, offer any insight into how this situation ends. Perhaps we’ll see the collapse of Russian will as drone after drone and ambush after ambush erode their already seemingly fragile logistical situation and morale. Perhaps we’ll see the Russian Bear eventually come out of its apparent hibernation and steam roll the Ukrainian countryside in a modern-day version of Total War. Perhaps Kyiv and Kharkiv will be reduced to rubble and ash for daring to resist. Perhaps Ukraine is conquered entirely. Perhaps Ukraine is forced to concede the loss of Crimea and Donbass and other areas. Perhaps Ukraine maintains its freedom. Perhaps Ukraine becomes the hub of an insurgency the likes of which we’ve never before seen, with a Zelenskyy government-in-exile ruling the wreckage from Warsaw or London or DC. The end could consist of a buffet of these possibilities. Or something else entirely. It is, unfortunately, too early to tell. Just keep in mind that due to the circumstances, the reporting skews in one direction, and that might give people the impression that the war is going a certain way.
I do think, however, that it’s safe to say that the war has not remotely gone the way Putin and his cadre of planners had thought it would. And this is another thing to emphasize: It’s human nature to despise the bullies who seek to impress their will upon weaker subjects, and we get joy when the smaller bloodies the nose of the larger. Ukraine has, indeed, bloodied Russia’s nose. It has not knocked Russia out.
It is also important to keep in mind that we are talking about real human beings; decision makers who might make the wrong decisions. We are also talking about real people who maybe have never seen the deprivations of war, many of whom are terrified, hungry, and thirsty and will do anything to escape with their lives. The only thing that some of my readers see about this conflict are my words and, frankly, I don’t blame them for not looking wide-eyed at the television or computer screen, glued to death and suffering like vampires who feed on tragedy. But behind those words there are bombed out buildings, destroyed businesses, and people dead or permanently scarred in ways that very few of us in the West can even comprehend. End Comment.]
1.) A short time ago, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the Republic of Poland announced that it will transfer all Polish MiG-29 fighters to Ramstein Air Force Base “immediately and free of charge…and place them at the disposal of the USA.” In return, Poland asks that the US provide fighter aircraft with “corresponding operational capabilities.” What might be even more interesting is the last line in the announcement: “The Polish Government also requests other NATO Allies — owners of MiG-29 jets — to act in the same vein.” This is a significant change from just yesterday. It’s important to note, however, that Poland is not transferring these aircraft to Ukraine. Instead, Poland is transferring them to the US, which can then do whatever it wants with them. This is very interesting. Essentially, Poland is giving itself plausible deniability regarding these aircraft so that Russia cannot accuse Poland of being a co-combatant. It’s transparent, but technically, Poland is not giving the aircraft to Ukraine; the US will have to do that. Rammstein isn’t terribly far from Ukraine, though it remains to be seen how the MiG-29s will make their way to Ukraine. I’d love to have been privy to the conversations taking place that resulted in this movement. It is likely that the MiGs will be refit while in Germany, which will include the removal of certain NATO-specific equipment.
2.) A “no-fly zone” continues to be bandied about as a potential option for the West/NATO to consider. This time, the idea has a slight twist. Proposed by Robert McConnell, co-founder of the US-Ukraine Foundation, and signed by a slew of people with influence in foreign policy discussions, this no-fly zone would be limited to protecting humanitarian corridors “agreed upon in talks between Russian and Ukrainian officials on Thursday…NATO leaders should convey to Russian officials that they do not seek direct confrontation with Russian forces, but they must also make clear that they will not countenance Russian attacks on civilian areas.” At this time, it remains unlikely that a no-fly zone of any sort will be implemented over Ukrainian airspace. It remains to be seen how the delivery of formerly Polish MiGs will be interpreted by Russia, let alone NATO fighters patrolling humanitarian corridors.
3.) President Biden has announced a ban on Russian oil and natural gas imports as does, reportedly, the UK. Everyone in both countries will soon become petrochemical experts with intimate details of fuel pricing.
4.) Kharkiv is still connected to outside resupply, as a shipment of AT4s and NLAWs have been confirmed as making it into the city.
5.) British Defence Intelligence stated that “Russia continues to directly target evacuation corridors.” This is the third day in a row that Russia has been accused of targeting cease fire corridors to which they agreed. Irpin has reportedly been without utilities for several days.
6.) There’s at least one Chinese reporter from the channel Phoenix embedded with Russian forces in the vicinity of Mariupol. I’m not sure what to make of that. Phoenix is a more outward-facing news organization, broadcasting to Chinese nationals in other countries.
7.) Russian forces have brought what looks to be an armored train to Melitopol. Its purpose is currently unclear, but several years ago, Russia began using armored trains again.
8.) McDonald’s is closing, at least temporarily, 850 locations in Russia. Starbucks is reportedly following suit. Also, Pepsi Co. And Coca Cola. I think one of the most fascinating things about this conflict will be the study of the interconnectedness of global commerce and how that may affect a nation’s foreign policy decisions and war-making capabilities.
8.a.) Between the armored train equipped with anti-aircraft artillery and the lack of culturally significant US consumer goods, it’s either 1944 or 1984 in Russia again.
8.b.) Russia’s central bank has suspended foreign currency sales until 09 September 2022. This means that Russian citizens will no longer be able to purchase foreign currency; if they have any, they’ll be able to withdraw up to ten thousand USD worth, and any further withdrawals will be in rubles. The ruble is currently worth 0.0077 dollars.
More to follow. Thank you for reading.