Mercury Rising 鳯女

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Archive for the ‘Russia’ Category

Gunboat diplomacy, but with tanks

Posted by Charles II on March 13, 2015

I don’t like it when the U.S. does it.

I don’t like it when Russia does it.

Posted in Russia, Ukraine | 2 Comments »

Report: Major Russian military intervention in Ukraine began in mid-2014

Posted by Charles II on March 11, 2015

Via The Guardian, a report by Igor Sutyagin of the Royal United Services Institute claims that:

intervention by Russian troops in combat roles then followed in the middle of August, when the prospect of
rebel defeat had become realistic.

The first phase of large-scale incursions by regular Russian troops commenced on 11 August 2014 and has involved a substantial array of forces (see Table 1). Elements of some Russian reconnaissance and special operations units have operated on Ukrainian soil since 14 July (at the latest), comprising teams generated by six units.

Following their increasingly large-scale, direct and conventional involvement in combat against Ukrainian troops in the middle of August 2014, Russian troops in Ukraine numbered between 3,500 and 6,000–6,500 by the end
of August 2014, according to different sources.

That number fluctuated, reaching approximately 10,000 at the peak of direct Russian involvement in the middle of December 2014.

Now, I don’t know if this is just the same stuff we have gotten from General Breedlove. A journalist who I trust says that it looks like it’s from the Mighty Wurlitzer. But one estimate of troop strength is from Lt. Gen. Frederick “Ben” Hodges, Commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, so it’s not from the intelligence-free NATO command that Breedlove represents.

The rebel side has expended a lot of energy in denying that Russian troops are present in any significant numbers. This report is a direct challenge. To be fair, according to the WSJ, Sutyagin was accused of espionage by his native Russia, and is living in exile. He’s not a completely disinterested party. But it all depends on his sourcing. He is not the story. If his sourcing is bad, then the question of why RUSI and The Guardian are pushing it is the story.

For what it’s worth, I have consistently said that I thought that Russian intervention began in mid-summer (see here for an example, though I didn’t specify a time or a scale). However, I have guesstimated overall troop strength at about 1,000, those in the form of deniable “volunteers.” I would be surprised if there were over 10,000 troops there, and if they were there on that scale, the US should be able to show us–its citizens– the massive number of mechanized vehicles (51 total units, including four armored and 12 rocket units, not to mention airborne troops!) that Sutyagin proposes are involved. If we don’t see the evidence, we should assume this is another mobile biological weapons lab.

Posted in Russia, Ukraine | 3 Comments »

General Strangelove and the lovely war in Ukraine

Posted by Charles II on March 7, 2015

Matthias Gebauer, Christiane Hoffmann, Marc Hujer, Gordon Repinski, Matthias Schepp, Christoph Schult, Holger Stark and Klaus Wiegrefe, Der Spiegel:

… The battles between the Ukrainian army and the pro-Russian separatists had largely stopped and heavy weaponry was being withdrawn. The Minsk cease-fire wasn’t holding perfectly, but it was holding.

On that same day, General Philip Breedlove, the top NATO commander in Europe, stepped before the press in Washington. Putin, the 59-year-old said, had once again “upped the ante” in eastern Ukraine — with “well over a thousand combat vehicles, Russian combat forces, some of their most sophisticated air defense, battalions of artillery” having been sent to the Donbass. “What is clear,” Breedlove said, “is that right now, it is not getting better. It is getting worse every day.”

German leaders in Berlin were stunned. They didn’t understand what Breedlove was talking about. And it wasn’t the first time. Once again, the German government, supported by intelligence gathered by the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, did not share the view of NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR).

The German government is alarmed. Are the Americans trying to thwart European efforts at mediation led by Chancellor Angela Merkel? Sources in the Chancellery have referred to Breedlove’s comments as “dangerous propaganda.” Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier even found it necessary recently to bring up Breedlove’s comments with NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg.

The government in Berlin is concerned that Breedlove’s statements could harm the West’s credibility. The West can’t counter Russian propaganda with its own propaganda….
…Berlin sources also say that it has become conspicuous that Breedlove’s controversial statements are often made just as a step forward has been made in the difficult negotiations aimed at a political resolution.

Although President Obama has decided for the time being to give European diplomacy a chance, hawks like Breedlove or Victoria Nuland are doing what they can to pave the way for weapons deliveries. “We can fight against the Europeans, fight against them rhetorically,” Nuland said during a private meeting of American officials…

Nuland, who is seen as a possible secretary of state should the Republicans win back the White House in next year’s presidential election

So, we’re going to start World War III so Victoria Nuland can become the next Republican Secretary of State?

What is the Obama White House doing?

Posted in abuse of power, Russia, Ukraine | 2 Comments »

An addendum on Debaltsevo: it was a rout./Update on Russian involvement/a counterclaim

Posted by Charles II on March 4, 2015

Added 3/7/15, a counterclaim on the deaths in Debaltsevo from Oksana Grytsenko, Kiev Post:]

In Debaltseve alone, up to 7,000 soldiers escaped death in the encirclement.

Only when you read the story, about how traumatized those who escaped were, it doesn’t ring true.
I have been skeptical of rebel claims of a near-annihilation of the troops at Debaltsevo. But the Kiev Post published this account of a sergeant who was just outside of the combat area, in Popasna. Olena Goncharova:

Although Kostyantyn Zubov was not in Debaltseve when his fellow servicemen were leaving the town under enemy fire, he was just 18 kilometers away in Popasna, and saw the soldiers who had just left the trap on Feb. 18. They were headed to Artemivsk, some 46 kilometers away.

“This was not a planned exit. Crushed and shredded into pieces, they had seen how their comrades died,” this is how Zubov describes the soldiers who exited Debaltseve.

He said Ukrainian artillery gave them very little support, the flanks were not covered. “They (commandment) rounded up (thousands of) people in the trap. They were shot point blank. I don’t know if it was because of uselessness of the commandment and what sort of maps they have there, and in whose interest this all was,” Zubov says.

He says that despite President Petro Poroshenko’s claim that he had given the order for the army to exit Debaltseve, the order was actually not given from above. It was a decision taken by commanders in the field on the night of Feb. 17.

Zubov’s recollection is different, though: They lied. It was a defection as the soldiers have left everything – ammunition, their belongings, equipment.”

There is also a major communication problem in the army, he says. “There was a large group of (Russian) troops there in Debaltseve,” Zubov said. “And there was no proper interaction among our units, because of Russian electronic countermeasures. The defense wasn’t planned either.

The army is also very poorly equipped, the sergeant complains. “Supplies are at zero level. The uniforms are useless, poorly made, the die goes bad very quickly, it tears up and it’s cold. It’s has a semblance of a foreign uniform, but the quality is poor,” Zubov says.

This is consistent with the latest report from the pro-rebel site, Colonel Cassad:

The overall number of the junta’s KIA in the fighting for Debalcevo and the adjacent areas were up to 1500, 900-1100 more KIA the junta lost in the fighting near Logvinovo, Nizhnyaya Lozovaya, Sanzharkovka, Dolomitnoye, Mironovka, Krasnyi Pakhar, and Troitskoye. Overall, according to the preliminary data, the junta lost up to 2400-2600 KIA and MIA in the battle for the Debalcevo wedge (perhaps the number of KIA is somewhat lower, because some of them may still roam somewhere in the area of the former Debalcevo cauldron), about 4500 WIA, up to 650 POW.

I guess we can be grateful that 5,000 men were not killed [just wounded or captured. The rebel claim amounts to nearly a 100% casualty/capture rate, which is why I have been skeptical].

I guess we should be worried whether Sergeant Zubov is correct that these were primarily Russian troops that spearheaded the assault. If there are Russian troops in significant numbers, there will be long-term consequences, probably including the re-armament of Europe and the renewal of the Cold War.
Novaya Gazeta has an interview with a Russian soldier who participated in the fight at Debaltsevo. One can translate this. It sounds like he volunteered under pressure. The article doesn’t yet seem to be available in English (see here for Novaya Gazeta in English). I have seen enough of this sort of evidence so that, when added to the extraordinary effectiveness of the rebel troops, it seems likely that there is significant Russian involvement in Ukraine.

The reason that this is an important story is that, just as Russia cannot accept a NATO state on its border, the west probably cannot accept the seizure of a major country by military force. Mariupol is essential to the Ukrainian economy, accounting for an amazing proportion of its industrial output. If Russian troops advance on Mariupol, I could easily see NATO positioning troops–perhaps equipped with tactical nuclear weapons– in Ukraine. I can certainly see Germany and France deciding to re-arm. In other words, the calculus that Russia has used so far for creating a buffer zone in eastern Ukraine starts to turn the other way should the conquest start to look like the full annexation of Ukraine.

This is not a matter of who’s right and who’s wrong. The U.S. is clearly wrong for meddling in the Yanukovych situation. It wasn’t prepared to back the new (coup) government with the $100B or so that is needed to get it out of the woods. It wasn’t prepared to send in troops immediately to signal a determination not to allow Russia to meddle in Ukraine’s affairs. So, the best course would have been to let Ukraine stay under loose Russian control and let the Russians deal with its intractable debt. If they annexed it, they would be seen as the bad guys. Instead, we gave guns to extremists who then went and committed war crimes in the east. Sounds a lot like Iraq our response to the “Sunni rising.”

And Russia was wrong to send in troops. Even “volunteers.” Although several million Ukrainians do support Russian intervention, tens of millions find it frightening. Granted, they’re not frightened enough to clean up the corruption and put together an effective army, but this is normal. Probably a lot of Iraqis wish they had done something more before ISIS became such a problem. I hear reports that genuine terrorists have found the chaos of eastern Ukraine an ideal ground for weapons transfers, human smuggling, and other criminal activity. I don’t know if they are true, but that’s what happened in Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan. What better place for criminal activity than a war zone?

Neither the Americans nor the Russians care enough about the Ukrainian people to make themselves their stewards. The Russians would have been wise to let the west fumble around in Ukraine until the Ukrainian people as a whole made a decision that they were safer allied with the Russians. The Americans would have been wise to let Russia continue to control the Ukrainian government until the mess collapsed of its own weight. But of course America has the same problem as Russia: it is run by unaccountable power, and that power has become corrupt as unaccountable power inevitably does.

All of these consequences–the re-arming of Europe, the introduction of tactical nuclear weapons into the confrontation, and the continued immiseration of all of Ukraine–do not depend on who is right and who is wrong, but emerge simply as the logical consequence of the interests and actions of the participants.

Posted in Russia, Ukraine | 2 Comments »

An estimate of captured materiel at Debaltsevo/updated

Posted by Charles II on February 25, 2015

This from rebel commander Aleksandr Zakharchenko (uploaded Feb. 23), so take it as one side of the story:

170 tanks captured in repairable condition.
50 artillery pieces captured
too many mortars captured to count
enough ammunition to fight a battle equivalent to Debaltsevo captured
the only American foreign weapons he mentions are the counter-mortar radar and radio jamming equipment, an M4 carbine, a machine guns, and shells (here he is very vague)
predicts a breakdown of the ceasefire at the end of March or in April
very roughly 3,000 dead Ukrainian soldiers and 300 still evading capture
Debaltsevo proper had 2,500-3,000 defenders (and others presumably in surrounding villages) vs. 1,000 rebels

There’s no confirmation of the presence of western mercenaries from Greystone-Akademi-Xe-Blackwater-whateverthehell that Der Spiegel reported on (it appeared in Bild am Sonntag; see here to see how unsure the report is).

I don’t know what is meant by repairable, but 170 tanks is a lot of armor. As of 2012, there were only about 700 tanks in the whole Ukrainian military–including the navy.

Some sources are reporting activity near Mariupol, including Russian tanks apparently crossing the border (the latter from a channel 4 reporter, Alex Thomson). And there are reports that rebels have taken some villages, but it sounds as if these are in a no-mans-land buffer zone.

The Kyiv Post is reporting that the UK will send military trainers. Washington Times and HuffPo say so as well. So, there’s the danger of escalation. As congressman Seth Moulton interviewed by Rachel Maddow pointed out, trainers often get caught up in combat and have to fight.

I really hope that Russia recognizes how dangerous the situation is becoming. Brinksmanship was a bad policy when the U.S. used it. It’s a bad policy if Russia uses it, too.

Update: Fortruss published a claim about losses by Kiev from Jan 12-Feb 20. This would include the garrison at Debaltsevo, forces involved in fighting on the access road to Debaltsevo, forces involved in fighting at Donetsk airport, and forces involved in skirmishes in Mariupol. However, by far the largest component would be Debaltsevo and environs. The claim is sourced to the Donetsk People’s Republic Ministry of Defense.

The personnel losses listed are:

6,830 wounded
4,110 killed
1,178 captured

This is about 1/3 of the strength of the regular army.

Claimed materiel destroyed or captured
299 tanks (this is nearly half the total number of tanks Ukraine had in 2012)
290 motor vehicles
24 Grad and 1 Smerch multiple rocket launcher
45 self-propelled howitzers
205 towed artillery
16 anti-aircraft guns

Let’s just say I am skeptical.

Posted in Russia | 2 Comments »

And, oh by the way, please send lots of weapons and money…

Posted by Charles II on February 23, 2015

As I commented below, reading the Kyiv Post is an experience. A recent Op-Ed by one of their former chief editors, Askold Krushelnycky, is truly a marvel:

the mealy-mouthed German Chancellor Angela Merkel and puny French President Francois Hollande

the toothless, yokel, poorly-trained thugs that form the “separatist” pro-Moscow fighters

with sickening hypocrisy Merkel

The despicable duo [Merkel and Hollande]

Conveniently for Merkel, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe can’t provide incontrovertible proof of Russian involvement because the Russians wouldn’t allow them to enter Debaltseve while it was being pummeled…[Also conveniently for Kiev, no independent reporters were present to document any of Kiev’s claims which, Krushelnycky admits, are probably unreliable when it comes to casualties].

Would you buy a used war from this man?

Doesn’t he understand that the entry of NATO into the conflict would require the approval of France and Germany?

Posted in Russia, Ukraine | 4 Comments »

An example of how bad the analysis Ukrainian rebels rely on can be

Posted by Charles II on February 22, 2015

I had to laugh when I read this post at Fortruss:

Dailykos’s Cover-Up of Obama’s Ukrainian Atrocities
Eric Zuesse

Here are typical examples of how this ‘liberal’ (or even some fools call it ‘progressive’) site, dailykos, has ‘reported’ on these events during the past year. (And, please consider that all of these articles were published after the U.S. President whom that site supports had already installed in Ukraine, via a violent coup, an outright exterminationist nazi regime; and, that this is supposed to be a ‘liberal,’ or even ‘progressive,’ ‘news’ site — this site that hides its hero’s nazism, is supposed to be taken as being instead liberal, or even progressive.)

On 13 November 2014, another said (and strongly disagreed with) “Henry Kissinger, that notorious Russian commie sympathizer, says that the West in effect caused the crisis in Ukraine (not, of course, that it’s OK for Russia to have, in response, intervened in Ukraine) because it failed to understand Russian strategic interests.”

If you haven’t guessed, the post that Zuesse links to is mine. In which I say that Kissinger is one of the saner voices of American foreign policy for objecting to US policy in Russia.

Now, I admit that some posters at Daily Kos are extremely hostile to Russia. But a post that highlights Kissinger saying that the West caused the crisis in Ukraine is not one of them. No, I’m not pro-rebel. I am an American– one who sees our national interest as best served by not toppling governments and starting unnecessary wars. And as a corollary, I think that armed conflict is generally a bad idea, especially when it turns your own territory into rubble and your own population into refugees, amputees, and corpses. That goes for Donetsk-Luhansk no less than for Kiev (though, of course, Kiev is operating in rebel territory, and therefore has a lot more control over what gets destroyed).

There are some things that shouldn’t require [snark] tags, like calling Kissinger a “Russian commie sympathizer.” Anyone who can’t figure that much out shouldn’t be calling himself an “investigative historian.” Strangely, everyone publishes Zuesse– Op-Ed News, Truthout, Huff Post, you name it. I hope whether they take the time to fact-check him.

Alas, that’s a problem with the rebel sites: lack of editorial oversight. And, in Zuesse’s case, a failure to provide an e-mail address for corrections.

Not that the pro-Kiev sites are better. Just that in this case, Fortruss printed one thing that is rather obviously false.
Added: Jo6pac points out that the e-mail of the editor of FortRuss, Joaquin Flores is posted on that website. If this were more than a tempest in a teapot, I’d complain to him.

Posted in Russia, Ukraine | 2 Comments »

The debacle in Debaltsevo

Posted by Charles II on February 16, 2015

As for Ukraine reporting, I think I’ll outsource further reporting to Moon of Alabama, who has been doing great work. His post (dated 2/18) on Debaltsevo is here. But there are some important questions to be asked in terms of understanding the reliability of sources and the likely direction of future activities, particularly:

1) When, and how tightly encircled was Debaltsevo?
2) Why did Kiev continue to hold Debaltsevo despite being informed that what had been a salient into rebel territory had become an isolated pocket?
3) What were Kiev’s losses?

The basic timeline is:
Feb. 11: Ceasefire talks convened, with especial concern about the situation at Debaltsevo.
Feb. 12: A ceasefire is announced. It is to begin on Feb. 14/15th at midnight.
Feb. 18: A massive exodus of Kiev troops from the town of Debaltsevo.
Feb. 19: The last fighting in Debaltsevo.

The question of how tightly encircled Debaltsevo was might seem to be an arcane one, but it goes to the heart of who is telling the truth about the Ukraine crisis. A good starting place for understanding this is Der Spiegel, since Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, was the lead in the ceasefire talks. Nikolaus Blome, Matthias Gebauer, Christiane Hoffmann, Dirk Kurbjuweit, Christian Neef, René Pfister, Matthias Schepp, Christoph Schult and Holger Stark:

The problem has four syllables: Debaltseve.

Debaltseve is a small town in eastern Ukraine, held by 6,000 government troops, or perhaps 8,000…. It is the heart of an army that can only put 30,000 soldiers into the field [plus about 35,000 National Guard], a weak heart. Until Sunday of last week, that heart was largely encircled by pro-Russian separatists and the troops could only be supplied by way of highway M03. Then, Monday [Feb. 9th] came.

Separatist fighters began advancing across snowy fields towards the village of Lohvynove, a tiny settlement of 30 houses hugging the M03. The separatists stormed an army checkpoint and killed a few officers. They then dug in — and the heart of the Ukrainian army was surrounded.

The situation in Debaltseve plunged the Ukrainian army into a desperate, almost hopeless, position, as the negotiators in Minsk well knew [the loss of 8,000 men and their materiel would have been catastrophic]. Indeed, it was the reason the talks were so urgently necessary. Debaltseve was one of the reasons Merkel and Hollande launched their most recent diplomatic offensive nine days ago.

The low point of the Minsk negotiations was reached on Thursday [Feb. 12] morning…. The rebels no longer wanted to sign the closing document.

The separatists, not surprisingly, wanted to delay the beginning of the cease-fire for as long as possible so as to give themselves time to completely conquer Debaltseve. Poroshenko, too, seemed to prefer a delayed cease-fire — apparently not fully understanding the situation facing his military. The Europeans were trying to protect the Ukrainians from themselves.

Russia has likely already achieved its minimum goal, that of preventing Ukraine from joining NATO or the European Union. The deal agreed to in Minsk includes a kind of veto right for separatist areas in eastern Ukraine on important fundamental issues. That right would apply to membership in military alliances and to membership in economic blocks such as the EU or Putin’s Eurasian Economic Union [so, as long as the ceasefire holds, Russia has won its primary objective. The side with the motive to break the ceasefire at present is Washington].

The key point to notice is that re-supply to Debaltsevo was cut two days before the talks began.

And it’s not only Der Spiegel that confirmed the date of the seizure of Lohvynove (or Logvinovo as I have seen it written). This is what the Torygraph said on 14 February, before the ceasefire:

On Friday [Feb 13], a prominent Ukrainian commander, Semen Semenchenko, criticised official military spokesmen for pretending that the road was still open, saying his men had been forced to withdraw from a key hamlet. And the wounded in Artemivsk hospital had come from positions outside the pocket. “No one gets out of Debaltseve,” said one soldier who declined to give his name. “It has been closed for five or six days.”

Even the Kyiv Post admitted that Logvovino had been taken on Feb. 9.

But was the encirclement as tight as was claimed? Here is a pro-rebel claim dated February 10. It shows Debaltsevo encircled in an area approximately 2 x 2 mi. It claims Chernukhino (about 2 miles east of the crossing of M03 and M04) on the verge of collapse, Svetlodarsk (roughly eight miles to the northwest) heavily engaged and pockets formed around Ol’khovatke and Bulavyn’ske [however, as February 11th, this source indicates that Debaltsevo and Ol’kovatke are still connected]. By Feb. 11, Chernukhino (on the east edge of Debaltsevo is described as close quarters fighting.

But on February 18th, a week after this, with rebel claims of holding territory all around Debaltsevo and within about a mile of the city center, a substantial force managed to break out and rescue a number of vehicles. How many escaped? This rebel source claims 1200-1500 KIA and 500 wounded. Pravda quotes an unnamed rebel source as claiming 3,048 Kiev dead in the battle. This source suggests that 1 battalion’s worth of mechanized equipment made it out, with 5-7 battalions destroyed or captured. It lists 6 tanks, 26 BMP (infantry fighting vehicle) and MT-LB (armored tracked vehicle), 2 BTR-80 armored personnel carrier), 3 self-propelled howitzers, 4 command vehicles, one BM-21 Grad launcher, 2 UR-77 combat engineer vehicles, 5 BRDM-2 (recon vehicle), and a large number of trucks and wheeled vehicles as emerging from Debaltsevo on Feb. 18. You can see more here, via Vineyard of the Saker] But Kiev claims to have recovered 200 vehicles.

But (accepting the rebel estimate of the initial garrison) where are the missing 85% of the vehicles? While the rebels are proudly showing off their captured gear, there don’t seem to be many intact vehicles or heavy weapons. Lots of artillery shells and small supplies, a counter mortar radar, a Humvee… but not what one would expect from absolutely headlong flight. CNN shows photos of the situation in town immediately after capture, including one captured vehicle. The BBC quotes eyewitnesses as seeing dozens of tanks escaping. I’m guessing that more got out than what we saw arriving up the M03 highway. Thirty percent? Fifty percent?

In the pro-Kiev narrative, Debaltsevo was never cut off. Reuters, 2/16:

Military spokesman Vladislav Seleznyov said the town lies within territory under Ukrainian control in accordance with a ceasefire deal reached in Minsk last week.

KyivPost, 2/15:

The Ukrainian troops continue to deny that the road to the city is closed off, saying it was still possible to reach it, even though the road leading to it is under fire, and mined in many places.

As late as 2/18, Poroshenko was claiming that the retreat was an orderly one with almost no losses. France 24:

“Debaltseve was under our control, it was never encircled. Our troops and formations have left in an organised and planned manner,” he said in televised comments.

Poroshenko spoke at a Kiev airport as he traveled to eastern Ukraine to “shake hands” with the soldiers who were pulled out of Debaltseve.

He sought to portray the withdrawal as a tactical decision that “laid shame on Russia, which called on the Ukrainian troops yesterday to lay down arms, raise the white flag and surrender”.

Ukrainian troops “gave a blow in the teeth to those who were trying to encircle them”, he said.

The Kiev narrative-which was supported for many days by the western media– is simply delusional (it should be noted that some Kiev commanders were realistic from the beginning, but their views were not given an audience). The regular re-supply at Debaltsevo was interrupted no later than Feb. 9th. That meant it was no longer a salient, but an isolated pocket that could not have survived during a ceasefire. Now, had the Kiev military re-captured Logvovino before the ceasefire was signed, that would have been moot. But Poroshenko signed the agreement knowing–but denying that– Debaltsevo was isolated. Kiev and the western media seem to have tried to turn the battle for Debaltsevo into a reason for breaking the ceasefire.

For their part, the rebels I believe, overstated how tightly encircled the Debaltsevo garrison was. A good guess–and guess is all that it is– is that the garrison suffered about 30% killed, wounded, or captured–a terrible toll. But 70% probably survived unharmed, some by desertion and some in the bugout of Feb. 18th. Still, with control of the main road for eight full days, it should have been possible to seal the exits of Debaltsevo. I have seen a comment to the effect that the rebel forces magnanimously allowed the Kiev forces to escape: this is how bizarre the comments get. The troops who were interviewed said that they took heavy fire. The rebels tried to stop them from escaping. But they did not have the control of the area they claimed, and they’ll face what equipment did escape at some other time.

On the other side, Kiev is trying to claim that the rebels violated the ceasefire by taking Debaltsevo. This claim is about as laughable as the claim that the rebels stepped aside for the garrison to leave, no matter how much western media claims otherwise. Debaltsevo, as a salient, was incapable of withdrawing its heavy equipment from the line to the distance required by the ceasefire. Once they became an isolated pocket, they became incapable of withdrawing heavy equipment without entering disputed areas. Therefore, the only honorable solution would have been to surrender Debaltsevo. It had been occupied mostly to make miserable the lives of civilians by preventing coal from getting to rebel cities– that was apparently why it was such a must-have location as to risk the lives of a quarter of the regular army.

Are Russian troops engaged in combat in Eastern Ukraine? Are NATO troops (or contractors) engaged in combat? This is one area where I simply am not sure. There certainly seem to be Russian soldiers in Eastern Ukraine (I’m ignoring the “little green men” of Crimea, since those were clearly Russian military personnel already present in Crimea due to the Russian base). The rebel side includes former Ukrainian soldiers, so it’s not like they’re purely amateurs. Luhansk and Donetsk are so close to the Russian border that it’s entirely possible for Russian troops to engage Kiev’s troops withut even crossing the border–though it’s also widely reported that they have crossed the border. Reports of Russian materiel are often mistaken or ambiguous, but some–like those presented by Jane’s– seem credible. It’s hard to believe the rebels have equipped themselves so well simply by the spoils of war. While I believe that Russia has intervened in Ukraine–and condemn any such intervention– it seems to be on the same order of intervention that the US has had in places like El Salvador and Haiti. It’s small enough that we deny involvement, just as Russia denies its involvement in the Donbas.

There are no reports of NATO troops or contractors captured at Debaltsevo. There are some reports of western materiel–like the counter-mortar radars captured at Debaltsevo– but nothing like what one would expect in a true proxy war.

Now, the situation may change. But at present, we seem to be just shy of a proxy war.

Just as Debaltsevo seems to have been a debacle for Kiev, but not a disaster.

Posted in Russia | 3 Comments »

Zero hour in Debaltsevo/Update 2

Posted by Charles II on February 14, 2015

As of zero plus 8-some, there’s no further elucidation of the situation in Debaltsevo. The garrison does not appear to have surrendered. The rebels have made it clear that no one is getting out alive unless they have surrendered. The Kyiv Post has a “Debaltsevo? Where’s that?” attitude. Fortruss presents an explanation of how Debaltsevo developed. It sounds like capturing it was the only part of a complex Kiev plan that worked. At which point, Debaltsevo should have been abandoned. But no one cared enough about the human beings there to tell them that it was time to withdraw.

I feel very bad for the men there. Their lives seem to have been squandered.

Recent Small Wars Journal posts here. Jane’s on Russian systems in Ukraine here.
As of zero plus one, I don’t see any statements about the ceasefire except RT:

The militias will stop all military action outside the territory of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Zakharchenko said. However, he said that the self-defense forces will reply to any provocative actions by the Kiev troops, including assaults and precision fire.

The DPR leader also said that rebels won’t release a large group of Ukrainian troops, who have been entrapped near the village of Debaltsevo since early February.

“Their every attempt to break out will be suppressed,” Zakharchenko is cited by RIA-Novosti news agency.

The rebels’ leader reminded that “there wasn’t a word mentioning Debaltsevo in the agreements” signed in Minsk on February 12, which means that “Ukraine simply betrayed the 5,000 people trapped in the Debaltsevo ‘cauldron’.”

RT has blown off Pyatt’s claims of “Russian systems” and said:

Also last year, Pyatt was found guilty of posting fake images of US drills and tanks taking part in exercises, after internet users immediately noticed the photographs had been published at a much earlier date.

A site Bellingcat has a database of alleged equipment sightings that could substantiate claims of Russian equipment being moved into and around Eastern Ukraine. Of course, these are “social media sightings” and therefore, it seems to me, could be uploaded by anyone. But unfortunately the U.S. isn’t providing any proof, and the Kiev government have been repeatedly caught lying, so…. By the way, the NYT registered this important fact:

the security forces [on the Maidan prior to the overthrow of the elected Yanukovych government] might not have used deadly force until after they were first shot at by armed supporters of the pro-Western demonstrators.

As I write this, six hours remain until the Minsk 2 ceasefire is established. Night has fallen, and any actual combat operations are probably over, though shelling may continue. My prayers for those isolated in Debaltsevo, as well as civilians there and in other areas near the shelling, continue.

The rebel sites have been quiet, although Cassad has uploaded a lot of videos in Russian, apparently having to do with humanitarian aid. A google translate of his last other post says that Zakharchenko is going to shell Debaltsevo till the last minute. Also that Poroshenko is threatening to impose martial law on the rest of Ukraine.

As of now, there’s only one piece of additional news. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt has posted photos of what he says are “Russian systems” (whatever this means): artillery, towed and self-propelled, as well as air defense systems near Lomuvatka (southeast of Artemivsk, northeast of Debaltsevo, and a rocket launcher near Molodyy Shakhtar (about 20 mi west of Donetsk, I think). As I understand it (which is not too well, since I don’t read Russian), the rebels claimed to hold Lomuvatka a week ago, and Shakhtars’k-Molodets’k was well within their lines. And a lot hangs on what is meant by “Russian systems.” Is he alleging Russian personnel? Russian arms that the rebels could not have captured from Kiev? People are making fun of Pyatt on Twitter.

It would be surprising to me if the Russians aren’t sending artillery. As you recall the Brits just shipped armored cars lacking machine guns/cannons and claiming they’re “non-lethal” aid. Maybe the Russians are shipping the shells separately from the artillery so they can make the same claim.

The New York Times has a piece on Russian propaganda. Ironically, it sounds a lot like American news today:

Mr. Pomerantsev’s area of study is propaganda, and he believes he saw many classic techniques at work in Moscow. He says one favorite trick was to put a credible expert next to a neo-Nazi, juxtaposing fact with fiction so as to encourage so much cynicism that viewers believed very little. Another was to give credence to conspiracy theories — by definition difficult to rebut because their proponents are immune to reasoned debate.

Credible expert versus crazy liar to discredit the expert? Try almost anyone against Dick Cheney and the other architects of war. The media love to show the one guy at a demonstration with a Zionism is Pollution sign and ignore the 50,000 obviously sane people next to him.

Juxtaposing fact with fiction to promote cynicism? We’ve talked at length about the media’s “some people say earth is round but opinions differ” approach to discussing global warming, economics, and so on. When will American media simply start saying, this is crap and we are not going to sully our reputations by pretending otherwise?

Giving credence to conspiracy theories? A lot of what got reported about America’s official enemies is conspiracy theory stuff. Trying to psychoanalyze Putin, for example (see a few posts below).

From what I have seen, Russian media is often paranoid and assumes conspiracy where incompetence, greed, and malevolence would suffice to explain the situation. But US media is used propagandistically, too.

Posted in Russia, Ukraine | 3 Comments »

24 hour hours of bedlam until the resumption of war

Posted by Charles II on February 13, 2015

Added: Saturday afternoon our time is when the cease-fire is supposed to happen. Keep praying. There are up to 8,000 men, most of who probably don’t want to be fighting, trapped there.

The New York Times has indirectly confirmed that the Kiev Army attempted to relieve the Debaltsevo garrison. Michael Gordon and Andrew Kramer:

Some of the heaviest fighting broke out along a poorly defended, 31-mile Ukrainian supply route into Debaltseve within hours of the signing of the peace agreement.

Soldiers and medical crews interviewed at a hospital in Artemivsk say the rebels now control the road, and as evidence pointed to the ambulances and resupply trucks blown up by mines that now pepper a stretch of the route.

The Ukrainian military was reeling from the assault. Rumbling over the snowy steppe, a line of rebel tanks assaulted one Ukrainian stronghold on the road, according to soldiers interviewed on the steps of a hospital in Artemivsk.

Soldiers hunkering down in pillboxes at positions along the road were trying to hold out until Saturday…

But why would the soldiers be “reeling” unless they were trying to travel a road that was already controlled by the rebels? One doesn’t “reel” from defensive positions that one is holding. Indeed, Gordon seems to confirm this this by saying that the rebels control the road. He continues:

After the overnight talks, Mr. Putin said Mr. Poroshenko refused to acknowledge that the separatist forces had surrounded up to 8,000 Ukrainian soldiers in Debaltseve, but the Russian leader said he hoped that consultations between military commanders would settle that matter.

As the Russian military and separatist forces have pressed the attack, Western officials have become increasingly worried that Mr. Putin is seeking to seize Debaltseve before the cease-fire begins, expose the weaknesses of Ukraine’s forces and deal a political blow to Mr. Poroshenko.

Poroshenko has consistently denied that Debaltsevo is surrounded.

There is one good thing in the Gordon/Kramer article:

The Russians have insisted they are not assisting the separatists, and there were no first-hand reports of Russian troops engaged in battle. But in a proxy war, NATO and Western analysts say, Russian troops have consistently operated in the background, supplying, training and guiding the rebels.

This is an important distinction, and one that stands in distinction to the Brookings/Chicago/Atlantic report, which specifically said that “regular Russian army units entered the Donbas, and attacked and inflicted heavy casualties on the Ukrainian military and Ukrainian volunteer battalions.” Gordon and Kramer have to some degree refuted such claims by challenging the claim that Russian troops were directly involved. Now, I suspect that there are Russians operating as a command cadre. But it’s one thing to suspect, and another to know. Let the Obama Administration present the evidence, rather than hustle us into a new war.

Meanwhile, the State Department is trying to give “hypocrisy” a bad name. Let’s stipulate at the outset that the involvement of Russian equipment, trainers, and perhaps combat troops is illegal and destructive. But what to make of this from the BBC?

A consignment of former British military Saxon armoured vehicles has been delivered to Ukraine, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed.

But it said these were out-of-service unarmed vehicles and were not lethal equipment.

So, what are they going to use them for? Taxis? Bread delivery? No, much more likely, Kiev will equip them with weapons, turning them into lethal equipment. And the Brits are delivering them at exactly the moment that the U.S. is complaining about Russian provision of equipment.

The Poroshenko government is making it clear exactly what they think of freedom of the press. KyivPost:

Ukraine’s authorities arrested a second Ukrainian journalist on charges of treason today, according to the reporter’s employer in St. Petersburg-based news agency Nevskie Novosti. The agency said that Andrey Zakharchuk had been accused of “inaccurately reporting events in Ukraine.”

Zakharchuk’s arrest comes hot on the heels of treason accusations brought on Feb. 8 against Ivano-Frankivsk resident Ruslan Kotsaba, detained after he posted a video address to Ukraine’s President Poroshenko opposing conscription in Ukraine. Kotsaba claimed he would rather spend up to five years in jail for refusal to be drafted into the army than start killing his “fellow citizens who live in the east.”

Rebel sources from Eastern Ukraine are claiming to have beaten back an attack designed to relieve Debaltsevo. For example, Colonel Cassad:

1. Despite the talk of absence of the encirclement, the junta failed to unblock the M-103 road and capture Logvinovo. Fairly serious attempts have been made, which were triggered both by the military necessity of saving the encircled Debalcevo group and by political reasons, because unblocking the pocket until February 15th will allow the junta to claim that it holds the remaining part of the Debalcevo protrusion for the period of the next “truce”. Correspondingly, military and political necessity will push the junta towards maximally intense attacks by the Svetlodarsk group on Logvinovo, Nizhnyaya Lozovaya, and the high points in the area of Sanzharovka.

He also says that Kiev shelled rebel cities.

And also (Vladislav Shurygin, writing at the pro-rebel Fortruss):

from the early morning until almost 17 o’clock there was intense fighting for Logvinovo. Ukry threw all of their reserves for a breakthrough – no less than three battalion tactical groups numbering up to eight hundred people, with the support of not less than forty tanks. According to the militia, fresh, well-armed and well-trained battalions went in the battle.

Despite the fact that they had to advance practically in the open, in full view of the heights held by the militia, under crossfire, they rushed forward with exceptional persistence, ignoring the losses, skillfully using terrain folds and maintaining tactical order.

According to intelligence, these were shock battalions, which the Ukrainian command was saving for a decisive offensive. These battalions have completed a full course of study under the guidance of American and Polish instructors on Yavorovsky base and were recently covertly relocated to the area of the ATO.

But despite the surprise attack, and its strength, the Ukrainian storm-troopers failed to break through the defense of the militia.

Cassad is promising video.

And, weirdly, there is no discussion of any of this in the Kyiv Post or in much of the western media. The Kyiv Post is reporting a tank battle east of Mariupol, and has linked western sources regarding the death of a child in shelling. Reuters reports:

Two people were killed and six wounded when a shell hit a cafe in the Kiev-controlled town of Shchastya near rebel-held Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, a local official said, adding that other shells had struck elsewhere in the town.

The rebels accused Ukrainian forces of shelling the separatist stronghold of Donetsk and the town of Horlivka, where they said on their website that three children had been killed.

Fighting was intense around Debaltseve, a railway junction linking the two main rebel areas, where separatists used rockets and artillery to attack government forces holding the town.

“Rebels are repeatedly storming the strongholds and base camp of Ukrainian forces,” in and around Debaltseve as well as firing artillery, mortars and rockets, Lysenko said, stressing that government troops had held their positions.

There’s almost total reliance on Kyiv sources, and not from independent journalists. Notice that The BBC isn’t much better, though they do say that “BBC journalists in Donetsk heard new shelling on Friday morning” in Donetsk, implying that they actually have someone on the ground. AP is better. It focuses on rebel attacks on Debaltsevo, but concedes that Debaltsevo is encircled and that fighting is going on along the highway. They say that a map included in the agreement was leaked by Kiev, and that that shows Debaltsevo on the Kiev side of the line. WaPo is vague to the point of being useless.

Al Jazeera captures the critical point raised by the rebels in my previous post. If Debaltsevo is closely encircled, then its troops will be in automatic violation of the ceasefire agreement, since they can’t separate their lines to the indicated distance. If the town is not closely encircled, then at the conclusion of the ceasefire, they can walk out of the town without crossing rebel lines. If they’re not surrounded, why is there fighting along the highway?

I’ll go with AP’s judgment Debaltsevo is indeed surrounded and that Kiev is using its best troops to try to relieve them in time for the Sunday cease fire.

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