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Culture War Roundup for the week of January 16, 2023

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The Big Serge has a good overview of the RU-UA war. The TL;DR is that Ukraine has burned through multiple iterations of armaments and is now reduced to begging for active NATO matériel, hence Germany's reticence to send Leopards. One should understand that Europe's and even America's production capacities have atrophied badly over the decades. Losing hundreds of tanks - the number that Ukraine is asking for - isn't something you replenish within a year.

Serge's prediction that Ukraine will lose the war "gradually, then suddenly" seems plausible given Russia's attrition strategy. If we assume that Russia will win this war, then the question needs to be asked.. how much will actually change? Ukraine as a country isn't particularly important and the population is likely to be hostile to Russia, meaning that to integrate it into Russia proper will be difficult if not impossible.

I keep hearing hysterical rhetoric that the West must win this war or... something something bad. It reminds me of the flawed 'domino theory' that was used to justify the Vietnam intervention. While I don't think NATO will ever proceed towards direct intervention á la Vietnam, I can't help but think that too many of the West's elites have trapped themselves rhetorically where Ukraine's importance is overblown for political reasons (so as to overcome domestic opposition towards sending arms) and it has now become established canon in a way that is difficult to dislodge.

The idea that Russia is winning or win an attritional war against a united NATO (more so than since the Berlin Airlift); I'm completely astounded that people can look at the last year and think Russia is a near-peer. They chose a blitz to Kiev because a long attritional war against a united NATO is precisely what they wanted to avoid.

NATO Goals:

  1. avoid a large-scale nuclear exchange

  2. prevent Russia occupation of territory that shares a border with NATO; related to point 1.

  3. damage Russia enough so as to impact their ability to aggress in the future

What we see now is, literally, perfect. Ukraine would prefer a quicker resolution; they're paying in blood. But, unfortunately, there is no easy resolution here. For reasons I'll get to, I think NATO could amp it up a bit and absolutely defang Russia's capability to wage any sort of conventional war -- but that is a less-than-desirable outcome. A slow bleed is preferable than a Russia shocked into even more humiliation (and credible reasons to fear for it's own safety). If Ukraine is willing to fight -- and polling indicates that they are -- then NATO has no reason to disrupt this status quo.

Feel free to disagree with me; I'd like to hear opposing viewpoints:

Even if the US is limited to contributions of material, intelligence, and resources: I rate their current involvement a two out of ten. There are many, many options available -- the difficulty is finding the appropriate balance point between preventing a UKR collapse and accidentally going to far and causing the collapse of the entire Russian war effort.


Intelligence/Precision Fires

  • They're slinging missiles at cities; this makes no sense at all unless they lack the capability to engage worthwhile military targets. When has strategic bombing ever actually worked? Strategic bombing of civilian centers is a (cold-blooded) gift to Ukraine; Zelensky's task of maintaining NATO support is easier when Kremlin TV runs segments of civilians shrieking in terror, bombs, and syncopated cheering.

  • Despite Russia's claims, no visual evidence that they've destroyed a single HIMARS; I think the 80km precision fire capability is a genuine problem for Russia; note the quantity of destroyed C2 vehicles (visually-confirmed; This is weird; so is the quantity of KIA RUS field/general officers.

Kharkiv Offensive

  • This was a rout; the sheer quantity of abandoned material is absurd. 100+ tanks, 100+ IFVs, 80+ APCs, 60+ arty... and many of these were left in working order; i.e., Russian forces didn't even take the time to disable them.

  • Some of Russia's elite broke: T80s were recovered; only the elite get those. Specifically, 4th Guards Tank Army; stationed in Moscow... these are Russia's best.

NATO "shortage"

  • This has got to be sheer cope; nothing contributed thus far (or ever) will actually weaken any NATO countries security posture. All this old stuff was kept around specifically for this purpose; e.g., fucking around in regional conflicts. And to say that NATO -- as a collective -- is incapable of diverting the resources necessary to produce more... how does that make any sense at all? GDP is a component of military effectiveness, and NATO enjoys a 15:1 advantage. Given the long-term attritional nature of the conflict thus far, even if Russia were to miraculously transform itself, pick up momentum, and even if they shifted to a full-scale war economy with no internal friction... this really changes nothing at all. To think that the US would just say "aww shucks; we're a bit low on arty shells, guess we lost" is ridiculous.

I have no doubt that if the US actually sent over the good shit, then in conjunction with the battle planning and intel... Russia's conventional force would be lambs for a slaughter. How could they maintain logistics for 300k+ combatants when every single GLOC is actively observed and within reach of precision munitions.

We'll know more over the next few months; mud season ends by May. Should Russia start gaining momentum, I'd expect to see more zany attacks designed to disrupt logistics/C2. Note: Russia withdrew from Kherson shortly after the Kerch Bridge was disabled. Critical GLOC.

They're slinging missiles at cities; this makes no sense at all unless they lack the capability to engage worthwhile military targets.

Are you being serious here, I mean, what ?

You are taking the propaganda about the Dnipro apartment block at face value - that it was nothing but a terror attack, and that Russia lacks missile that can hit point targets of their choice ?

One follow up question. Do you expect that Ukraine will take back Russian controlled territory in Donbas and Crimea? That seems to be the objective I hear these days, admittedly, from online people, rather than anything official. So I don’t k ow the stated Ukrainian objectives.

If the answer is no, and the war ends with the lines as drawn today. Who has won?

I'm no expert, but I think the Donbass is highly likely, but Crimea is pretty unlikely.

Crimea is extremely defensible, so I would put low odds on it being recaptured militarily. On the other hand, if Putin is ousted/killed somehow I think the odds of Crimea being offered up as a way for Russia to exit the war are fairly good.

Sure, if Putin kicks the bucket, all kind of interesting things can happen, especially if the carrot of "drop all this silliness and accept you're a second-tier power who could sell all the oil and gas you want to Europe and Central Asia, but continue to treat your own people like crap, and we won't care since we think your authoritarianism is f'ing you long term" is put forward, which I think is entirely possible.

I'm no expert either, but isn't Crimea pretty easily embargoed? IIRC, Ukraine recaptured Kharkiv by threatening Russia's supply lines, and I don't know why they couldn't do the same to Crimea.

There's a new road/rail bridge over the Kerch strait (though it has also come under attack and might be considered vulnerable), and with control of the Black Sea Russia can supply Crimea via sea as long as it wants. The Soviets (and subsequently Germans) both maintained Crimea after its land connections were severed in WWII.

My understanding is that Crimea's main vulnerability was its water supply, which might be a longterm consideration in peacetime but isn't so crucial during the war.

I wouldn't think so; even if you took out the Kerch Strait Bridge entirely, supply by sea should be quite possible if more expensive.

It's hard to imagine a plausible cessation of hostilities that isn't preceded by RUS regime change. Likewise, why would UKR or NATO agree? Russia already has imperiled demographics; the longer this war goes on the more they write themselves out of the future.

To answer your question -- if the war ended today; both Russia/Ukraine lose, NATO wins.

Not who you responded to, but I'll answer anyways. It's certainly plausible that Ukraine successfully counterattacks, but hardly a forgone conclusion.

A stalemate around the current battle lines would be a draw of sorts, but more of a win for Ukraine than Russia. Remember that Russia's original goals were a complete decapitation of the current democratic Ukrainian government, and to effectively turn the country into a Belarussian-style puppet state. At the very least, they would have preferred to federalize the country to retain influence so it couldn't be used as (what Putin perceives as) a threat. That option is basically gone now, and even if Russia recaptures Kherson and even Kharkov they'd still have to contend with the rest of Ukraine, which will hate Russia for the next century. Ukraine might be economically and politically diminished to some degree in such a case, but that's still not a "win" for Russia in any grand sense.