Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

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 | 1 Comment »

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.

Posted in Russia, Ukraine | Leave a Comment »

Friday Cat Blogging

Posted by MEC on February 13, 2015

Friday Cat Blogging

Posted in Alexander the Great, Friday Cat Blogging | Leave a Comment »

48 hours of bedlam until the resumption of war

Posted by Charles II on February 12, 2015

Making out what is going on with the Minsk 2 agreement, which goes into effect right after midnight on the 14th, i.e. on the 15th, is a genuine intellectual challenge. Both sides of course are spinning furious. But they seem to agree that the war is not over.

Kyiv Post:

The biggest question after the new Minsk deal is how long it will last. Reached after a night of talks among four European leaders, the Feb. 12 Minsk II peace agreement might repeat the fate of the September Minsk I deal, which was routinely violated.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that she had “no illusions” that peace would be achieved soon, while French President Francois Hollande said that the Minsk deal itself did not guarantee peace.

Russia Today:

RT: Do the results of the negotiations give grounds to speak about a lasting peace in Ukraine?

Jan Oberg: I wish I could say yes. … this is only a very weak beginning. I’ll tell you a ceasefire is just a beginning and the question is how it will be enforced if somebody breaks it in the future, and I’ve argued for United Nations troops to get into the place. And nobody seems to have it on the agenda.

A member of Der Spiegel’s editorial board, Roland Nelles, thinks Putin is the victor, as does the WaPo editorial board. Too many more “victories” of this kind, and Russia is undone.

One of the rebel sites points out this very troubling point regarding the Debaltsevo encirclement. Ivan Lizan:

Can you imagine how Poroshenko is supposed to issue orders to the Debaltsevo group after many of its officers had fled? If even Poltorak says that there is no encirclement. How are the Ukrainian soldiers to return to the demarcation line if they are encircled? Breaking out – means violating the ceasefire, staying put means death and capitulation.

You break the ceasefire and Minsk-2 collapses.

And, Lizan points out, many Ukrainian units are volunteer units that aren’t under Poroshenko’s control, Kiev owes large amounts of money to pensioners and others in Eastern Ukraine (money which Kiev doesn’t have), and it’s going to be impossible to convince the Rada (Parliament) to establish autonomous zones along the battle lines. But, basically, Kiev has 48 hours to rescue the men in Debaltsevo, and the rebels have 48 hours to annihilate them–otherwise, there will be men inside of rebel-held lines who are not prisoners. They may well include westerners, which disclosure would be an embarrassment for Kiev.

So, this sounds like a pause for re-loading.

Posted in Russia, Ukraine | 4 Comments »

Bill O’Reilly, State Propagandist?

Posted by Charles II on February 12, 2015

[Added: Our blogbrother, Hermano Juancito pointed out in comments that El Mozote was populated with evangelical Christians, who one would imagine the Salvadoran army troops would have regarded as neutrals, or at least not pro-rebel.]

The Nation has a fascinating little piece on whether Bill O’Reilly neglected to report on war crimes in Central America. Greg Grandin:

Before Bill O’Reilly was, well, Bill O’Reilly, he worked for a time as a foreign correspondent for CBS Nightly News, anchored by Dan Rather. O’Reilly talks about that period of his career in two of his books, and in both mentions that in early 1982 he reported from northeastern El Salvador, just after the infamous El Mozote Massacre. “When the CBS News bureau chief asked for volunteers to check out an alleged massacre in the dangerous Morazán Territory, a mountainous region bordering Nicaragua, I willingly went. [As one of the commenters at The Nation notes, El Salvador does not border Nicaragua]

The story of the massacre [at El Mozote, El Salvador] was broken on the front page of The New York Timesby the journalist Raymond Bonner and in The Washington Post by Alma Guillermoprieto; both stories were published on January 27, 1982, and accompanied by photographs taken by Susan Meiselas. Bonner and Meiselas got to El Mozote, after hearing about the massacre, by walking for days in from Honduras. Guillermoprieto wrote about seeing “countless bits of bones—skulls, rib cages, femurs, a spinal column” poking “out of the rubble.” Bonner noted the “charred skulls and bones of dozens of bodies buried under burned-out roofs, beams, and shattered tiles.” Later, Mark Danner reported on the massacre in detail, first in a lengthy New Yorker essay and then in a book.

Aside from the brutality of the killing, El Mozote is distinguished by the fact that Washington moved quickly to cover it up.

[In his reporting] O’Reilly doesn’t mention the massacre at El Mozote. He rather focuses on a supposed killing committed by leftist insurgents in nearby Meanguera (Meanguera, a municipal town center, is nine kilometers away from the hamlet of El Mozote). It is extremely unlikely that O’Reilly would not have known about the El Mozote massacre.

The question is: Did O’Reilly intentionally deflect away from a war crime that implicated Reagan’s Central American policy, or was the deflection a result of his ignorance and laziness?

The journalists who reported the truth got punished. The politicians and journalists who lied got promoted. Is there a connection between O’Reilly’s rise and his willingness to close his eyes to the massacre of hundreds of civilians and the rape of girls as young as 10?

I wish I knew.

Posted in abuse of power, Fox Noise | Leave a Comment »

Megalomaniacs Anonymous

Posted by Charles II on February 11, 2015

The world press delights in psychoanalyzing Vladimir Putin. Adam Taylor, Washington Post:

Just last week, we learned of a 2008 Pentagon study that concluded the Russian president’s “neurological development was significantly interrupted in infancy” and that Putin probably had Aspergers. He’s also been called a narcissist, diagnosed with “pleonexia” (the insatiable desire to have what rightfully belongs to others), and simply been accused of being a “thug.”

Personally, I think anyone who wants the kind of power that most national leaders have is a bit cracked. Ronald Reagan liberated concentration camps he was never near. LBJ liked talking to aides, allies and reporters while he was taking a dump. And, of course, Nixon (“when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal”)

If those represent megalomania, what to make of this?

Israel’s most prestigious award, the Israel prize, has been plunged into controversy after the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, intervened to remove three prominent judges of whose politics he disapproves.

Netanyahu has been accused of declaring war on the country’s intellectual life, and a series of judges – including the entire literature panel – and candidates for the award’s different fields have resigned or withdrawn their candidacy amid fears that this year’s literature prize may not take place.

Set up to award excellence in the arts, science and broader cultural and social contributions, the Israel prize is one of the country’s most venerable intellectual institutions. Inaugurated in 1953, it is handed out on Israel’s Independence Day with a $20,000 award in each category.

Maybe presidents and prime ministers should form a Megalomaniacs Anonymous chapter.

Posted in abuse of power | 3 Comments »

Elections In Greece, India, The UK, France: Why Are US Media Relatively Quiet About Them?

Posted by Phoenix Woman on February 10, 2015

It’s a funny thing, American media coverage of the politics of other nations. The US press (and especially its TV networks) will always let you know when right-wing parties and politicians do well, but almost never when lefties do well – unless it’s to, as in the case of Greece and the Syriza victory, sternly lecture the winners on the alleged dangers of “going too far”.

That’s why I’m willing to bet that, if you get most of your news from network TV or drive-time radio, you likely don’t know that India’s much-vaunted turn to the economic right just got 180ed yesterday, with bellwether elections in New Delhi (h/t chandu):

NEW DELHI: Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party has swept the Delhi assembly polls, winning 67 wins out of the 70 assembly seats, about two and a half times the number they won in the last election. The AAP chief won the New Delhi seat, defeating BJP’s Nupur Sharma by more than double the number of votes.

This is the highest share of seats won in the history of Delhi elections.


For the AAP, a young party born in 2012, this is a dream win. It has proved that an alternate politics can be viable. And its victory in Delhi, because of the city’s prominence as India’s capital and its nursery of ideas, will resound across the country.

For the Congress, this adds to the string of its recent failures. If the inability to win a single seat in Delhi, a city it ruled for 15 years till 2013, doesn’t prompt change in the party organisation, it’s unclear what will.

You may also not know that the Tories are in big electoral trouble in the UK, with Cameron likely to lose his PM job before the year is out.

Or that French president Francois Hollande, a Socialist, has seen his popularity, as low as 12% in November, rise to 40% last month (a huge amount for a country that doesn’t use a first-past-the-post electoral system), though it’s leveled off to the mid-thirties since then. The Charlie Hebdo attacks were credited for this, though his numbers had already started to rise in December, before the attacks. (Regardless, both he and the Socialists are now popular enough to beat back the far-right National Front in a recent by-election.)


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The apparent fall of Debaltsevo and the campaign to stabilize the Mariupol region; Mearsheimer v. War Party; report of a cease fire

Posted by Charles II on February 10, 2015

Added: IBT and NYT report a ceasefire is at hand. Reuters denies this. Let’s hope the former is correct.
A Kievan irregular unit that uses Nazi insignia, the Azov Battalion, is credited with pushing the rebels away from Mariupol, an important port. Maxim Tucker, Kyiv Post:

Ukraine’s Azov Battalion, famed for its near-suicidal bravery and ultra-nationalist views, is spearheading a Ukrainian counter-offensive along the country’s Black Sea coast today.

Posting a picture of their troops on Feb. 10 outside Pavlopil town hall, some 35 kilometers northeast of their base in the strategic port city of Mariupol, the battalion said that it had also seized the villages of Oktyabyr and Shyrokyne on their way to assault the Russian and separatist-held city of Novoazovsk.

“Ukrainian flags are already flying on government buildings in Pavlopil, Oktyabyr and Shyrokyne,” Azov Battalion press officer Andrii Biletski told the Kyiv Post live from the offensive.

“Our exact position now is secret, but we’re going all the way to Novoazovsk.”

Azov Battalion’s counter-offensive appears to be a coordinated effort by the Ukrainian military designed to relieve pressure on the embattled Debaltseve garrison, surrounded on three sides by separatist forces.

The latter paragraph is odd. Debaltsevo is a long way away from Mariupol (see maps below) and probably a lot less important to the rebels than Debaltsevo is to Kiev– based on how they have allowed their troops to be encircled. It would be hard for the rebels to shift resources this far south. In any case, rebel sources seem to believe that an assault along the Azov Sea coast from Mariupol has occurred. Another pro-rebel source says that this attack was for show:

The attack began in the morning. It was spearheaded by the Azov Special Purpose Regiment. Its troopers drove through the villages located between Mariupol and Novoazovsk which are located in the so-called “no-man’s land”—a buffer zone between UAF and Novorossia forces—where they made several photos which confirm their “victory”. The trip cost them two wounded, due to the fact they were photographing themselves: Novorossia snipers noted the camera flashes.

Azov claims that they captured genuinely important villages of Sakhanka and Shirokino were not confirmed. “As of 15:20, the UAF attack on Sakhanka was repelled. Ukrainian forces which entered the outskirts were forced to retreat. There is fighting around the western edge of Sakhanka and Shirokino”—is how the militia reported the events.

Again, we shall see. As for whether the fighting is designed to gain a bargaining advantage during talks, I am skeptical that a “peace agreement” is in the works.

Rebel sources are claiming as of 2/10 to be in downtown Debaltsevo and to have the remnants of the garrison tightly encircled, with little chance for relief. I can’t understand the commanders who would order their men to hold a position while entirely cut off, leaving them to be slaughtered. Debaltsevo is not Bastogne. It’s not even Pork Chop Hill. It’s a horrible waste of human life and the destruction of homes that Ukrainians need to love in.

Nor can I understand why rebels would consider this a victory. They are leveling their own homes.

John Mearsheimer, who oppose US intervention in Ukraine, debated Gen. Charles Wald, one of the authors of the Atlantic Council/Chicago Council/Brookings report, a report that urged we arm Ukraine. Granting that general officers tend to be incoherent, it’s baffling to me that Wald was the deputy commander of US-European Command. From DemocracyNow, a medley of Wald:

I believe the—first of all, the fact that Yanukovych left the Ukraine was not necessarily through force. It was through a diplomatic means.

No, I don’t believe the Soviets should have invaded Cuba.

If China and Canada want to have an alliance, that’s their problem.

So I think this idealistic, misplaced argument that everything is similar in the world, the Monroe Doctrine, the invasion or the movement of Russia into Cuba are similar, is an argument for people that haven’t studied history, frankly.

And a matter of fact, they have at least a thousand Russian officers in eastern Ukraine today.

NATO has said the Ukraine is not going to be part of NATO.

I think it’s a smart argument that a professor would make, but it’s wrong.

I’m not a weapons dealer, and I don’t represent Deloitte in this discussion

And the fact of the matter is, Putin has no claim to any sphere of influence whatsoever in Europe, other than Russia, period, dot, over and out.

Wald never managed to answer the question of how the US response to the Cuban Missile Crisis was fundamentally different than the Russian response to the coup in Kiev. If a general officer can’t at least manage to dodge the comparison with a little grace, he probably shouldn’t be a general officer. The crack about “a smart argument that a professor would make” was playground stuff.

I am interested in his claim that there are 1000 Russian officers in Ukraine. That sounds unlikely.

BBC Overview of the situation

Pro-rebel map of the region as of 1/30

Pro-rebel claims as to Debaltsevo, as of 2/10

Posted in Russia, Ukraine | 3 Comments »

Mearsheimer blames West for Ukraine crisis

Posted by Charles II on February 8, 2015

See here.

It’s a good file article by a professor of political science at U. Chicago explaining the sources of the crisis and the way out.

Meanwhile, Aleksandar Vasovic of Reuters reports that:

Pro-Russian separatists have intensified shelling of government forces on all front lines and appear to be amassing forces for new offensives on the key railway town of Debaltseve and the coastal city of Mariupol, Ukraine’s military said on Saturday.

Posted in Russia, Ukraine | 1 Comment »

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