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Transnational Thursday for May 9, 2024

Transnational Thursday is a thread for people to discuss international news, foreign policy or international relations history. Feel free as well to drop in with coverage of countries you’re interested in, talk about ongoing dynamics like the wars in Israel or Ukraine, or even just whatever you’re reading.

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Russia is currently trying to open another front by crossing the border between Belgorod and Harjkov. It's something I've been expecting for a while: why expend your material advantage on pushing through entrenched Ukrainian defenses in the Donbass when you can use it elsewhere? But the direction of the attack left me puzzled. You can't take over a major city with 50k men, especially one that is an important military hub for the existing frontline: that's not enough neither for a frontal assault nor for an encirclement. Getting closer so that you can reach it with your tube artillery isn't a valid military reason either, unless you want to just punish the locals for self-identifying as Ukrainians. I would've tried to threaten Sumy or even the Konotop-Bahmach-Baturin triangle.

Didn’t the Russians just capture it? Possible they knew something we didn’t.

Nope. They have captured a strip of land across the border, but the city itself is still very far away in this war's terms, 20-30 kms or so.

The standard commentary says that it's mostly just meant to focus a chaotic redeployment from other sectors of the front on the UA side, since even losing some irrelevant frontline villages would have an adverse impact on UA morale that is already cracking. The Ocheretino breakthrough seems to indicate that rotations and redeployments are currently Ukraine's weak spot - single brigades hold stretches of the front successfully even if they grumble as they have been forced to do so continuously for over a year, but the moment they are rotated out it's a gamble whether their green replacements will even take their positions or flee upon their first encounter with a FAB shockwave. Entrenching a new defensive belt presumably requires at least some experienced troops to be pulled from elsewhere (rather than throwing new conscripts into a new frontline to figure out things for themselves from scratch), creating a myriad of such opportunities as their former positions have to be replenished with new troops.

RU might also correctly expect that in that particular area, the remnants of the RDK (for whom Ukrainian leadership evidently has little love, but who are also a priority target for Russian spite) will be used as first-echelon cannon fodder.

Finally, do we know the 50k actually represent an upper bound on what could be committed to this offensive if it develops in a promising direction? How hard is it to rapidly redeploy troops to somewhere within 50km of the old Russian state border? Surely attacking with ~200k right away if you can afford to would be better, but in this conflict in particular massing so many troops at once might actually just make them an easier target.

an important military hub for the existing frontline:

Is it really one though?

It is. The northern third is supplied from Harjkov (directly and via Izûm), the central third from Dnepr via Pokrovsk, the southern third via Orehov.

Fair enough. But hasn't pretty much all combat since late 2022 taken place in the central and southern sectors? I imagine Kharkov's logistical role as a railway hub hasn't been that important since then.

Also, maybe the current offensive is limited because it's only meant to capture areas which are due to serve as starting points of a bigger offensive in the summer. Not that I'm certain that they want to capture the city this summer.

Since it's 9th of May today, of course Victory Day events are taking place. This has historically been mostly ignored in Western/Central Europe, aside from minor things like ambassadors laying flowers on whatever monument is available locally. Over the past few years, these things have been successfully prevented through organized performance art style protests drawing gigantic crowds of journalists. Of course, something similar happened again this year:

None of this is news, of course. What is interesting is that they haven't updated them at all in about two and a half years now, with these performance art events now kind of falling into irrelevance. This year they actually didn't even prevent the thing they were trying to prevent and the only attention they garnered was derision from their opponents. Whether it means that the media and the general public are now less interested in this kind of pseudoshock content, or is this subject in particular now being retired?

Over the past few years, these things have been successfully prevented through organized performance art style protests drawing gigantic crowds of journalists.

Sorry, not sure I'm parsing correctly. What are they preventing?

Traditionally Russians have this thing, where they (in contrast to rather lukewarm interest in Western Europe) send their ambassadors, cultural orgs, and anyone else who is in any way official - to go and put flowers on wherever local WW2 monument is. The propaganda point there is fairly obvious - hey, we still remember the war that we won, while the rest of you don't, and are probably cryptonazis or at least sympathizers anyway.

In the past few years the actions of local governments have really, really nicely played into that message, since EU members have acted unbelievably and consistently dumb in pretty much everything they did as far as foreign policy is concerned. There are extremes, like near-baltic microstates, where governments themselves are arresting people for flowers or flags, but in the actual EU, this was mostly done via the sort of organized performances by shady activists like the ones on the video above, just on a larger scale. It worked fine, with journos being able to get a headline of glorious victory of activists or whatever, but this year they've been relegated to just part of the background.

Since as it seems virtually nobody cares for both Russians' privatized victory day and their shenanigans on that day - at least the mentions of it in Western press seem to be rather scarce - then paying attention to whether or not they successfully performed those shenanigans would also be counter-productive. In this particular matter, ignoring them seems to be the best course of action. Of course, declaring the new large weapons shipment to Ukraine would be a better reaction, but that seems to be beyond hope now.

V-E…V-J…no, wait. It is V-E, as applied to the Soviet Union. Guess I learned something today.

It’s hard to search for previous Victory day protests. All that I get are Palestine happenings.

If you have telegram I could link a bunch, but it's annoying to have to download/reupload to hosting sites otherwise. It was always in this sort of style - over-the-top hysteria with ketchup and yelling.

Short attempt to explain an upcoming Canadian constitutional snafu

I'll try for brevity here. If you see any Canadian news showing up in your feed you might be aware there's been some wrangling over the "Notwithstanding Clause." This is the clause in the Canadian constitution that essentially allows the invoker (either a provincial government or the feds) to override court challenges to legislation except for stuff related to the basic functioning of democracy (like how elections are conducted). Outside of Québec the NWC has rarely been used at the provincial level and never at the federal level. It was included as a compromise in the 1982 constitution, and has historically been treated as an Option-of-Last-Resort when it came to disagreements between the provinces and the feds. It expires after five years of invoking which theoretically means it can only be used with popular support.

The structure of Canada's institutions were meant to mimic the United Kingdom's: parliament is supposed to reign supreme. Courts and the judiciary were meant to be deferential to the will of legislatures, and likewise legislatures were meant to honour the spirit of the broad constitutional principles embodied by the Charter. As many of you might suspect however, over time there has been some element of judicial creep, with the judiciary finding more and more things to be unconstitutional. Federal laws against abortion and gay marriage were struck down by Charter challenges (in each case I think correctly), but somewhat more speciously you have things like restrictions on public drug use or simple math tests for prospective teachers being declared unconstitutional. I know people around here might cynically think this is being done exclusively for progressive causes and while I think there is an undeniable slant among the judiciary you also have things like the courts deeming the measures taken against the trucker COVID protests unconstitutional.

More coherently the principle underlying the general trend is this: the judiciary wants more discretionary powers for itself. It does not want governments to dictate to judges the limits of their powers or decision-making. And where this is really drawing things into conflict is with respect to criminal justice. To give a non-culture war example, the previous Conservative government amended the Criminal Code to require consecutive life sentences be given for mass murderers; i.e. if you committed multiple first-degree homicides your eligibility for parole would not be after 25 years as normal but rather 50+ years (depending on the extent of your crimes). This was struck down on appeal on the grounds that this was "cruel and unusual punishment", on behalf of a man who had murdered six Muslims at a mosque in a mass shooting (not exactly a progressive hero, but now eligible for parole in 2039). Similarly the ability to hold potentially at-risk criminals without bail or severe bail conditions has been very limited, and a wide raft of possible contingencies for sentencing have been essentially mandated by court challenges. You might be familiar with "Gladue" reports (essentially lighter sentencing for indigenous offenders), but this has also resulted in bizarre sentencing decisions for immigrants who would risk deportation otherwise.

Almost-certain future PM Pierre Poilievre has made some waves by suggesting he would use it federally to override challenges to stronger criminal justice laws. This forthcoming showdown seems to be inevitable given the increased intransigence of both the judiciary and politicians: anger and confusion with these court appeals is not limited to conservatives and support for harsher sentencing is very strong. The original purpose of the Notwithstanding Clause was not as a means to reinforce parliamentary supremacy, but the expanded scope of court appeals has given it a new role in this context. The judiciary has badly overplayed their hand if they thought the political cost of using it would enable them to expand their reach without opposition.