Russia/Ukraine INTSUM 25FEB22–3; 1420 Eastern/2140 Kyiv
[Originally posted on author’s Facebook page; post is publicly available.]
1.) A NATO Response Force (NRF) is evidently mobilizing in order to show Putin that the alliance is ready, willing, and able to defend allies. NFI at this time. I’m not sure what an NRF looks like in terms of composition and combat power. Probably about a brigade in size, I’m guessing. President Biden had a secure call with Zelenskyy today for about forty minutes. Also, Italy is now stating that they support Russia’s removal from SWIFT, which is a…shift…from yesterday. We’ll see if Germany gets on board. [Update: German Finance Minister evidently already said the Germans were open to cutting Russia off SWIFT.]
2.) Odessa is being shelled and hit with air strikes; UA air defenses appear to be quite active. It is unclear if the amphibious operation in the Sea of Azov took place.
3.) Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated today that cyber attacks can trigger Article 5 of the NATO charter. Article 5 says, basically, that an attack on one member is an attack on all members. I am of the position that cyber attacks can constitute acts of war. Stoltenberg also stated that NATO was to provide air defense systems to Ukraine. What that entails remains to be seen. As does how long it’ll take to get them there. Also, I wonder if that will set up accusations of being co-combatants by Russia. I don’t think those accusations would be legitimate, but nor were Russian accusations of indiscriminate attacks into Luhansk and Donets by the Ukrainians.
4.) Journalist Emma Burrows reported on Twitter that she’s “been given a copy of [a] document issued today [25 February 2022] by Russian Ministry of Health. It indicates Russia is anticipating a massive medical emergency & has ordered health organizations to immediately identify medical staff ready to relocate & work…to be promptly involved in activities aimed at saving lives & preserving the health of people in Russia.” There’s a section on “reimbursement of travel and accommodation expenses, as well as payment of labour is expected form funds from the Federal Centre of Medical Disasters.” The letter also describes the sort of personnel they’re looking for: “Trauma, heart, maxillofacial and pediatric surgeons, anesthetists, radiologists, nurses (including for operating rooms) and infection disease specialists.” Burrow reports that she’s told “this is highly unusual and almost unprecedented.” This is very significant. Let me mull why…
4.a.) The obvious theory is that Russian forces operating in Ukraine have suffered much greater losses (KIA and wounded) than anticipated and those casualties are thus threatening to overwhelm those field hospitals I reported on last week. This may well be the case. We will likely never have a good idea as to combat casualties; Russia isn’t going to report them, and Ukraine is probably going to inflate them. There are a lot of battles raging across the country. Even if you knock off some of the UA estimates by 1/3, there’s still a lot of destroyed tanks and vehicles. Blowing up tanks tends to do bad things to those frail human bodies inside them. This says nothing of infantry losses. Based on the activity around the Antonov airfield the last few days, I’d assess the casualties as pretty severe. Much more severe than Russia anticipated, most likely.
4.b.) The less obvious theory is that Russia anticipates an dramatic increase and shift in combat operations, perhaps exceeding the scope of the “special military operation” in Ukraine. Given the posturing by NATO, perhaps Russia is preparing for an expansion beyond those borders. Additionally, UA has already shown the willingness and capability of conducting missile strikes into Russia. Perhaps there’s a worry about casualties beyond the front lines. Yesterday, I saw that estimates were showing between 30–60,000 combat troops in Ukraine. There may be more now. But that still leave a very substantial number of troops surrounding Ukraine. Estimates placed forces at around 190,000. These troops could have originally been placed to warn off NATO movements, in addition to providing a ready reserve if needed. It’s starting to look like they’re needed, as UA forces are giving the Russians a serious run for their money.
4.c.) Why infectious disease specialists? Diseases run rampant in combat troops, for one. Ask Napoleon how disease impacted his invasion of Russia. For two, UA has a relatively low level of COVID vaccination rates.
4.c.) This goes to reinforce what I’ve said about not knowing how things will transpire, and that events often shift rapidly despite your planning. Russian logistics aren’t terribly good, nor is their tactical intelligence capabilities. RU should be concerned.
5.) The former UA president Petro Poroshenko gave an interview with CNN showing that he’s armed with a rifle and suggests that he will be actively engaged in the defense of his country. He was asked how long he thinks Ukraine can hold out. He replied, after a moment of reflection, “Forever.” Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko (yes, the former MMA fighter) [Correction: Boxer, not MMA fighter; hat tip to [REDACTED] for correcting my mistake.] formed “territorial defense brigades” last month. An announcer on the radio near Kyiv was providing instructions on how to make Molotov cocktails. I’m seeing homemade tank traps being constructed and deployed. And it’s been widely reported that the UA government has encouraged civilians to assist in defense; long lines were shown at enlistment sites. To be clear, partisans can be incredibly effective in harassing, delaying, and killing occupying forces. But in order to be so, they have to be organized and well-supplied. Random men with random rifles and a handful of bullets will be quickly neutralized. It is silly to think that such partisan activity would have any real effect. The key is organization, dispersion of cells, smart communications security, and good leadership. We are seeing, in real time, the formation of a follow-on insurgency should the legitimate government of Ukraine fall. This is fascinating. Kyiv is going to be a death trap.
6.) A humanitarian crisis is brewing. Some 50,000 people have, reportedly, left Ukraine for Poland and Moldova. They’d better get organized, and fast. In Kyiv, too, things are looking increasingly complex, as Russia is evidently targeting key infrastructure such as power plants in order to impact civilians. Five explosions were heard/observed IVO Cogeneration Plant-6. These types of plants provide both power and, as a way to mitigate energy loss, heat to local buildings.
7.) Speaking of fleeing, it’s probably going to become very difficult to get out of Kyiv. Zelenskyy evidently still has zero intention of doing that. A short time ago, he shared a video of him and some UA officials standing outside on Bankova Street. Some Russian propaganda had apparently suggested that he had fled the city. I guess not. Short video; Zelenskyy says, “Glory to Ukraine.” The man is brave, I’ll give him that. I am, to be honest, quite concerned that Zelenskyy will be cut off and captured. I would not be surprised if, in that case, Russia reports that he was killed by Russian troops in self-defense. In other words, Russia claims he’s dead because he fired at Russian soldiers. It doesn’t matter if it’s true, but it does remove the potential of having a legitimate president in exile or, perhaps, living in a jail somewhere. Russia isn’t terribly concerned with creating martyrs. Ask the Chechens.
8.) Not hugely significant, but I just saw a video of one of my favorite weapons systems from my days as an air wing intelligence analyst abandoned by the Russians on a road near Kharkiv. The 2S6 Tunguska. It features the white Z marking. The 2S6 is a self-propelled air defense system, with two 30mm cannons and eight launchers for the SA-19 Grison missile, along with the HOT SHOT radar. Anyway, I’m just nerding out a bit because I cut my teeth on this stuff.
9.) About five minutes ago, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said via Twitter that China, “firmly advocates respecting and safeguarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries…and that applies equally to Ukraine.” This is curious. Why the shift? Where they just waiting a bit to see how things played out with their ally’s imperialistic endeavors? Don’t read too into it though. This does not apply to Taiwan. Or all of the South China Sea.
Analyst’s Comment: It is likely that Putin dramatically underestimated the international blow back from this invasion. The justification was flimsy and transparent from the outset. Russia is slowly turning into an international pariah. For instance, Boris Johnson, UK Prime Minister, said today that it is impossible to normalize relations with Russia after its actions in Ukraine. Even the PRC seems to be slowly backing away. Perhaps Putin thought that this would be over too quickly for the West and the international community to respond, since the West seems to do everything slowly, and that relations would soon get back to the usual. He did not anticipate the galvanizing effect these actions would have, particularly within NATO. Russia is going to find itself increasingly isolated. However, an isolated, fearful Russia can be a dangerous Russia indeed. I expect that Russia will grow increasingly desperate and begin to more rigorously target installations that have no military value, such as the aforementioned power plant and, potentially, critical infrastructure upon which civilians rely.
That’s all for now. More to follow. Thanks, as always, for reading.