Ukraine Post #9: Again

This is once again a ‘sources and information on everything happening’ post. In the last few days after Russia’s retreat from the Kyiv area, focus has shifted from military and other issues to the atrocities discovered in Bucha. This covers both.

Military Progress and Conditions

The Battle of Kyiv is over, Russia has withdrawn, not entirely smoothly. Here is a claim that sabotage of railway connections with Belarus forced Russia to withdraw. This is in contrast to previous reports of Russia digging in around Kyiv and more in line with earlier reports from late March they were destroying bridges.

The entire Kyiv front is now back in Ukrainian hands, including Chernobyl. The Russians may or may not have been playing chicken with nuclear power plants, but they do not seem inclined to use them as hostages as some originally feared.

It appears they are indeed instead going into some sort of Phase Two, with more limited war goals involving claiming territory in the east. The primary effort looks indeed to be in Donbass. The goal appears to be to encircle Ukraine’s forces. If Russia’s efforts to do this fail, there does not appear to be another path to success even in the east beyond grinding down over a long period.

That does not mean this was ever the plan. It wasn’t, although the encirclement aspect was. Bret Devereaux points out in this thread that Russia’s attacks are entirely consistent with trying to encircle the Ukrainian army and capture Kyiv with a quick knockout punch to achieve a fait accompli, and complete massive overkill for the goal of taking the rest of Donbass.

Also there are any number of other things Russia could attempt to do instead, including something outside of Ukraine.

Here is the new map as of 3 April.

And here’s April 4 from a different source, for contrast

Here is a third source from April 5. Yellow is reclaimed territories.

Russia will attempt to use what remains of the withdrawn invasion forces in the Donbas, where they will try to claim a victory that much more urgently. Ukraine will be able to free up a lot of its own resources to do the same. At one point there were 80,000 defenders in Kyiv, many of which are now unnecessary.

According to some reports, Russia then made preparations to attack Kharkiv (4 April). They had a ‘covert mobilization’ starting on 3 April but the covertness level leaves something to be desired. I also have no idea how they think this is going to work. Previously Ukraine had been actively making progress in the area and should now have far more forces locally available. Metaculus did not adjust.

Russia claims some Mariupol defenders surrendered, which those defenders then denied. Given what we know, and the likelihood anyone surrendering would be tortured or simply be killed, I would not expect a surrender.

Thread of some things not going so well for Russia on the war front.

From 27 March: Russian soldiers often steal civilian phones to communicate with, which is rather poor operational security as it is very easy to listen in on the calls.

War Crimes

Now that Russia has withdrawn from some areas around Kyiv, it looks like Russian troops did some rather horrible things. Images of mass murder in Bucha are appearing on televisions around the world. Is it possible they do not indicate what they seem to indicate? Perhaps, but it seems very unlikely.

As always, there are reasons to claim such things happened when they didn’t, so treat all claims with skepticism, especially extreme ones. Some false claims inevitably slip through, at least at first.

With that disclaimer out of the way, still seems like things are at the level where it is worth highlighting some of the claims of what happened – which again, I am not in position to verify.

Wall Street Journal, original title was: Ukrainians Count Dead, Dig Mass Graves, Clear Land Mines After Russian Pullback. New title is: New Reports of War Crimes Emerge as Russians Retreat From Kyiv Area. It starts like this.

BUCHA, Ukraine—More than 100 civilians lay buried in mass graves in this suburb of Kyiv after Russian troops withdrew last week, one of several regions in which Ukrainian officials and independent rights watchdogs say they are uncovering evidence of war crimes perpetrated by occupation forces.

When the Russian military forces abandoned Bucha, it left streets littered with bodies of civilians. Human Rights Watch on Sunday released a report documenting instances of rape and summary executions in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine, including Bucha, as well as other alleged crimes.

WSJ also ran an editorial saying Biden was right and Putin has to go.

Yes, we need the pictures. It matters. Pictures. Pictures. Picture. Picture. Short video. Short video. Six minute CNN segment without the pictures, it’s not the same. Firsthand account from a soldier, worth reading. Firsthand report.

We have reason to believe we will find similar scenes in Sumy. The pattern isn’t subtle.

Thread from last week on rapes.

Ukrainian official says on April 5 that similar conditions to those in Bucha indeed exist in many other places. Obvious caveats there, but them overselling here seems unwise.

Russia denies all of it and claims all the images are fakes, that they ‘didn’t show up until four days after they (arrived?) left’ (which NYT also verifies is false from satellite images), that the bodies were moved (which they weren’t), and that it will crack down on such claims, threatening felony prosecution. Link has analysis of these Russian claims, as well as links to many graphic videos.

Here is one thread about other places.

He later had another follow-up thread on the starvation aspect.

RT reports Russians killed 93 Ukrainian civilians, claiming they were deserters in civilian clothes. Could potentially be trying out a new line.

A potentially interesting angle.

State department claims what happened in Bucha was a deliberate campaign.

In response, France, Germany, Spain and others expelled diplomats. Latvia lowered its diplomatic relations with Russia. Lithuania expelled the Russian ambassador. Biden called Putin a war criminal and called for him to be put on trial, to which Russia responds with whataboutism. USA also wants Russia suspended from the Human Rights Council. Boris Johnson says he will not rest until justice is done, I give him a day. He also called for “maximum sanctions,” whatever that means, matching my image of him from reading descriptions by Dominic Cummings.

In Ireland, Russian embassy asks for government intervention because their bank accounts got closed and no one is willing to deliver them any fuel. Good luck with that.

The Czechs sent Ukraine tanks. More, from a number of Eastern European nations, may be on the way.

Thus the lack of surprise in these two pictures.

Day before the war:

April 4:

As usual, Twitter responded by suspending at least one of those trying to share information on the terrible things happening, saying it is against the rules to share such terrible things.

Genocide

Zelenskyy is calling what Russia is doing genocide. It certainly seems to fit the UN definition. A genocide scholar agrees.

Then there’s this, which has been published by Russian state media, here is the Russian media original source. I have read the Google translate version of the original, and the summary here if anything downplays the content. If you want to split the difference, here is a longer thread that covers more details, the shorter one is reproduced below.

It is clear that in this lexicon, ‘Nazi’ simply equals Western equals any opposition to Russia. It also says quite plainly that all Nazis deserve death, and that Ukraine and its culture must cease to exist. Anyone who took up arms is explicitly to be killed but it clearly goes much farther than that, with calls for ‘liquidation.’ ‘Passive’ Nazis who supported the state are also guilty. The design here says it envisions some sort of fully demilitarized (and likely occupied) rump state in Western Ukraine where people who hate Russia can go, but that does not seem compatible with the rhetoric otherwise used.

That does not make this policy but there is only one reason to allow this to be published.

It is all consistent with Russia systematically destroying monuments, looting churches and museums and taking Ukrainian history textbooks.

In Putin’s Russia

USA claims that Putin is not being informed of the real situation by the Russian military. Many say this may be the actual greatest insult one could throw at him, given his background as KGB, to call him uninformed. It is almost certainly true. Who would dare tell him what is happening? That doesn’t mean he can’t figure it out on his own if he wants to, but full and honest communication is not possible here.

Kasparov will keep repeating that Putin must be opposed and must go, and pointing out that people should stop denying this obvious thing. Here he was on March 26 after Biden said Putin ‘could not remain in power’ to point out that Biden was obviously correct, and to point out that in his model saying this explicitly is helpful. Here he is later on March 28 calling for more support for Ukraine, along same lines.

A report from Russia on April 1, so before the full retreat from the Kyiv area, that Russians felt confident in victory and did not expect major disruptions in their lives or for companies to stay away from Russia for long, the ‘few months theory.’ Some scary other stuff is included as well, like the normalization of the use of nuclear weapons. I’d be curious to hear an update now.

Galeev thread of advice on how to do effective sabotage in Russia, in case anyone reading is interested.

March 26: Member of Russian Parliament suggests invasion of Poland.

At least for now Russia seems to be holding up from the sanctions rather well. The ruble has stabilized (although who is willing to hold it at these prices I have no idea, except for short-term use), and the reports of shortages and panics and disfunction have stopped. If there were major problems I would expect to hear about them. There is still hope for new more impactful sanctions or for greater effects over time, but the most impactful estimates seem clearly wrong.

March 26: at least one place in Russia runs out of paper.

March 27: Warning on Russian state TV that if they cannot beat Zelenskyy and sign any peace treaty whatsoever, that will be the end of Russia.

The New Statemen interview that’s been going around, for those who missed it, claiming that Russia ‘needs some kind of victory’ and will find a way to get one no matter what, and generally giving Russian perspective. Sees risk of escalation as very high.

March 27: Russian parliament introduces bill to make all who speak Russian ‘Russian citizens residing abroad.’ Speculation is that this is to justify future interventions, could also be a way to attract good people. Interesting thought experiment what would happen if we did the same for everyone who speaks English.

March 28: Citizens of ‘unfriendly countries’ will be unwelcome in Russia. Oh no.

Thread arguing that Russia’s military performance has historically been quite poor and thus we should not be so surprised by its performance this time around.

Also some thoughts on working on and viewing Russian history in light of current events. Like everything else, one should not worry that accurately describing past events will somehow help the wrong people. That way lies madness.

An argument that it is the ‘correct mistake’ to overestimate opponents such as Russia. I agree that the cost of that mistake is lower, but it is very much not first-best to believe false things in military situations. Yes, one shouldn’t assume the enemy tanks will be stuck in the mud but one should plan that they might indeed be stuck so you can take advantage. And there is the very important argument that Ukraine was initially denied aid on the basis of the situation being hopeless, so these pessimistic forecasts did real damage.

I had selected Russians With Attitude as my attempt to hear what the semi-plausible Russian line on things was, but finding one of those proved difficult.

If anyone has a new pro-Russian source to take their place, let me know. I demand a plausible lie.

Kamil Galeev has doubled down in many of this threads in predicting, if the West stands firm, not only the fall of Putin but the collapse of the Russian Federation. In this one he compares it to the collapse of the Spanish colonial empire.

Galeev also speculates on Russia’s future. If Russia is seen as winning in Ukraine, he predicts an outcome similar to North Korea. If we stand firm, he predicts Russia breaks apart.

April 5: TV host calls for killing as many Ukrainians as possible.

Russian host also explicitly says Tulsi Gabbard is a Russian agent.

Russian soldiers behaving terribly? No, no, they must be Ukrainians dressed up as Russians.

Russian soldiers impressed with how rich Ukraine is? Sounds weird, Ukraine is rather poor, but Russia’s wealth is concentrated in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and the places Russia actually gets its soldiers are that much poorer.

Man holds up sign saying ‘you can’t arrest everyone,’ is arrested.

Russia planning its usual size crop of spring conscripts.

Leaving Putin’s Russia? We have questions (link).

Image

With so many tech experts leaving, Russia is hoping it can help convince them to stay by exempting them from the draft. It is an interesting dilemma. If you admit you’re an expert, you can’t be drafted, but also you can’t leave. I wonder if they have linked up the two lists successfully.

Sanctions, Oil and Gas

Biden released a million barrels a day from the strategic oil reserve, and in order to do that he is… drum roll, please… waiving the Jones Act. Nice.

My tax incidence modeling confirms the story checks out, the correct play is to tax Russian oil (MR).

Russia tried to respond to sanctions by insisting that Europeans pay for its gas in rubles. Europeans gave them a very firm no. At first it looked like Russia’s bluff had been called and it would simply fold, but then Putin stepped in and insisted no, really, we will make this happen, and seems to have implemented this by having the payments be made in Euros to Gazprom accounts, then having Gazprom buy rubles which they use to ‘pay for’ the gas.

This setup is important because it matches the mafioso status hierarchy model. Putin escalated against Europe, made a demand and a threat. Europe refused and it turned out the threat was a bluff. Which would move Europe up and Putin down, and is actually kind of a huge deal. Putin’s whole system collapses if he makes threats, doesn’t get what he wants and doesn’t follow through, but he couldn’t follow through for real. So Putin claims he got what he wanted. Interesting.

Man responsible for Nord Stream 2 says he ‘regrets’ it. Man is not resigning.

Germany takes control of German branch of Gazprom to ‘secure energy supply’ and infrastructure. Not sure how that is going to work exactly. Germany has shown a willingness to switch to coal (that’s what you get for closing down nuclear power) if gas is disrupted, but Slovakia and Austria say they won’t cooperate with any gas sanctions and Germany says ‘we need some time’ and there are claims they are the main barrier to further sanctions including by the Prime Minister of Poland. The Baltics are going ahead and stopping the purchase of Russian gas on their own, but even Poland won’t be ready for that until December. Given gas is most needed in winter, that is odd timing to stop buying gas.

Thread about the technical issues surrounding scaling up our use of heat pumps, claiming the main limiting factor is people to install the systems rather than manufacturing. More than that, it seeks to highlight the pattern whereby those trying to solve our environmental (or other) problems are amateurs who talk strategy instead of logistics. It is all symbolic actions and none of it involves asking about the physical path through spacetime that leads to desired results at scale.

Or rather, they talk logistics in the sense of actively sabotaging logistics, like shutting down New York’s nuclear power plant on the argument it could be replaced by renewables, then shutting down the plans to allow New York to import hydropower, forcing us to fall back on natural gas.

We also get efforts like when the European Commissioner for Competition says ‘no more long showers in the EU. Every time you turn off your hot shower water say ‘Take that, Putin!’’ This destruction of the joys of life for symbolic gains while not making the changes that would actually matter is Peak European Union. As with climate change, it is not about how much carbon or energy you save, it is about how visibly you suffer.

Meanwhile France is asking people to do their laundry and dishes on the weekend due to supply issues in order to manage demand, which makes sense but also is the kind of thing that used to be handled by (Bart Simpson standing ready by the blackboard) changing different prices.

Actually impactful new sanctions in the wake of the newly discovered atrocities: Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are closing their borders with Russia and Belarus for all goods. Russia will be cut off from Europe by land. Kaliningrad will be cut off except for the sea.

Even better, on April 5 comes a new EU sanctions package proposal that includes full transaction bans on banks, and a ban on Russian coal. Still making exceptions for gas and oil.

March 22: Claim that ruble is strong (it has continued to be strong) but that we should not confuse that for sanctions not working because if we cut Russia off from imports and won’t let anyone sell rubles then there is no way for the ruble to weaken. There is clearly some truth in this, but it is still not a good sign, and also you very much do not want to be holding rubles.

Biden’s budget includes substantial new support for geothermal energy and storage.

Famine To Go With Our War, Pestilence and Death

Russia blocking the export of Ukrainian wheat on an Egyptian ship.

A lot of people pointed me to Sarah Taber, usually this thread, where she makes the case that the wheat market will be fine. Here are the main points.

I am mostly convinced that this will turn out fine, but markets know better than statistics. If prices are spiking a lot, there is a reason. If most wheat stays local, then losing 0.9% of wheat all of which usually gets exported can still be a pretty big deal, especially if various places ban wheat exports expecting trouble.

This thread claims it will take 15 months for world grain production to adjust, and I see no signs various countries will release their grain reserves to smooth things over despite the obvious futures play of selling grain now and buying cheaper grain futures to restock later.

India however has a surplus now, and is negotiating to get into various markets. When you don’t allow people (who are in no way attacking anyone) with wheat to sell their wheat to you, it is bold to complain about a shortage of wheat.

This thread claims that no, seriously, the wild swings in commodity prices, including both wheat and fertilizer, are going to be huge problems for poorer countries, and even threaten to disrupt China’s rice crops. Yes, India has lots of wheat to sell, but the bigger problem seems to be not the wheat but the fertilizer. Fertilizer prices are getting crazy high, and this may discourage many from planting more than rising grain prices encourage them, which could end in much bigger production gaps. Paul Graham reports a farmer friend tells him some farmers are indeed not planting due to the high fertilizer prices. If there is not enough ability to produce crops, there is going to be big trouble even if the direct wheat shortfalls from Ukraine and Russia are not too bad.

Ryan Peterson asks for everyone’s best ideas.

EU Style

Reminder that we should be very grateful here in America that we have the right of free speech, for Europeans enjoy no such right. As an example, Germans who approve of the Russian invasion could be subject to prosecution.

Will Ireland join NATO? Public now supports doing so.

The closer EU countries are to Russia and Putin, and the better they know him, the stronger the line they want to take. This is of course not a coincidence. Here is a joint proposal by Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic from 25 March.

I am fully with them on 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 8 and 9 (especially, how is this not already done).

I continue not to believe that censorship is the answer to anything, but given what else the EU is censoring, by their principles they should do 3 I suppose.

I actively oppose 7. If Russians want to leave Russia, Europe should welcome such folks. Rather than deny visas, the right move is to throw open the border.

I am highly skeptical of 10, the exclusion from organizations. I get the idea, but you absolutely can even, and sit across from people and talk to them. That is the point.

Austria happy to welcome refugees, but using lack of ‘blue cards’ to deny them ability to work. They are offering 215 euro per adult, 100 euro per child in social support, which is not exactly enough to buy reasonable food.

Claim that Poland supports giving Russian soldiers political asylum, which is a completely obvious free win that very much should have been done by now.

China Style

The closest parallel to Russia’s debacle in Ukraine might be China’s invasion of Vietnam. Author here thinks this is evidence that China will learn from mistakes by itself and Russia and avoid them in the future. An alternative interpretation is that authoritarian armies that have not been tested in a long time and then are asked to invade have a tendency to dramatically underperform – it has been a long time since China’s lessons and things have changed quite a bit. No one who was there at the time is still around now.

China pushing Russian propaganda lines in school.

That was before the atrocities in Bucha were discovered. It is too early to know what line China will take there, but state-aligned sources for now are still defending Russia.

Trump Style

By March 26, Trump had returned to calling Putin smart, describing the whole incident as a ‘great negotiation that did not go so well for him.’ I’d hate to see what he thinks a not so great negotiation looks like.

Then he explicitly asked, in public, ‘as long as Putin is not a fan of our country,’ for Putin to release dirt on Biden.

As far as I can tell, the reasoning is that things that help Trump hurt America, so Putin should help Trump? I mean, fair, but a little on nose and saying the quiet part out loud even for him.

Russian TV host calls on Russia to help “our friend Trump” once again become president.

Trump continues to trade around 40% to be the Republican nominee. I suppose the Scottish teens do not think anyone will care.

Peace Talks and Victory Conditions

For a while there were some plausibly real peace talks. I doubt there will be much talk of peace for the time being after the atrocities in Bucha, as it doubtless makes Ukraine much less willing to compromise.

Also there’s the whole thing where it seems there was an attempt to poison participating-in-the-talks Russian oligarch Abromavich, who lost his sight for several hours, and the Ukrainian negotiating team? We have confirmation that three otherwise healthy people had symptoms. Everyone involved has recovered. Not trying to kill the negotiating team seems like an important safety tip for a successful negotiation, but I have a very different negotiating style so what do I know. There is the implication this might have been done by a hardline faction trying to sabotage the talks, which would make sense. The subsequent public downplaying of the whole incident by all sides also makes sense.

(Here is a thread on Abromavich, and how he got so rich.)

When the parties met on 29 March in Istanbul, the host called even asking for Crimea and in independence of Donetsk and Luhansk as “maximalist” and “not realistic.” This seems very much like siding with Ukraine. Ukraine presented a concrete proposal, in which they get security guarantees (I still don’t get what they are thinking these actually do for Ukraine), Ukraine becomes a neutral non-aligned nation but can join the EU, Russia withdraws, and they agree to then settle the questions of Crimea and Donbass. Russia seemed to at least be pretending to take the talks seriously, including no longer demanding demilitarization or ‘denazification.’ Here is a good list of the details.

Not sure how this fits into a report from 28 March that Putin responded to a handwritten Zelenskyy note outlining peace terms with ‘we will thrash them.And it seems there was much criticism that the negotiators were ‘too soft.’

Either way, seems like a moot point now.

As part of those negotiations, Russia claimed it would pull back from Kyiv area. Then, as if it was afraid it might be seen keeping its promises and lose its street cred, it bombed Kyiv. Since then, of course, it as completely withdrawn from the area, so it does seem like Putin wants to be seen as constantly breaking his promises even when he is going to effectively honor them. It’s a bold strategy.

Risk of Nuclear War

Putin spokesperson says ‘no one is thinking about using a nuclear weapon.

Normally this would be alarming, since whatever such governments loudly proclaim they are not thinking about has a way of soon happening, but with nuclear weapons the threat is stronger than its execution so this actually does seem reassuring.

Less reassuring is that many senior Russian officials are in a nuclear war bunker.

For more on the subject see my previous post.

In Other News

Current equipment bounty levels offered by Ukraine.

Reminder how shameful it is we are only taking 100k Ukrainian refugees.

Reminder that letting Russia win would indeed end the existing world order.

Thread on the military future of tanks.

Tyler Cowen’s take on who loses in status based on the war. I might say more on this in the future, and the most interesting name is one that is not there.

Samo Burja watch: On 31 March he recognizes that Russia will not win militarily within the first 50 days, still predicts a similar outcome within the year as the most likely result and considers Russia taking a bunch of territory the optimistic scenario.

Thread (from 25 March) documenting some of the terrible conditions Russian soldiers are subjected to, and that Zelenskyy promises good treatment to Russian soldiers who surrender. I still say they’re not paying enough.

Of course, neither is Russia. Hence: Da loot. Da loot. Da loot.

Anonymous claims to have identified over 100k Russian soldiers in Ukraine.

Another story pre-written story that did not happen accidentally published in Russian state media.

Zelenskyy interview from 27 March (video).

Arnold Kling asks the not-asked-enough question ‘what did we learn?’ I strongly agree that the lesson is not ‘the country with the larger GDP will win.’ That is true for long protracted symmetrical battles like World War 2, but very much not what mattered here. The lessons I am taking are that modern warfare favors the defense, being highly motivated matters a lot, having had experience matters a lot (Ukraine got to fight in Donbas for 8 years). And most importantly, that corrupt autocratic mafioso states like Russia are by default far more dysfunctional than we realized.

It is no longer the current thing, but there were numerous reports that the Red Cross (seen here meeting with Lavrov) was helping Russia distribute forcibly displaced Ukrainian citizens to where they would be put to work, calling the whole thing an ‘evacuation,’ although this did not stop Russia from detaining Red Cross workers aiming to help people in Mariupol. Ukrainian sources were warning not to donate to the Red Cross. Among those I know this is a moot point, since everyone already considered them a relatively inefficient option.

The real River Tam would never apologize.

Prompt: I am the very model of a Russian major general.

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25 Responses to Ukraine Post #9: Again

  1. NoPie says:

    Thanks for posting this. It is good that Kyiv did not fall but the war is far from over. The western countries should help Ukraine in every way possible.

  2. myst_05 says:

    An anecdote in regards to sanctions. A childhood friend of mine works for a very large factory in Uzbekistan. He told me that since early March, Russian businessmen have started negotiating about using the factory to go around the sanctions. I presume similar negotiations have happened with companies in Kazakhstan, Armenia, Mongolia, China and anyone else friendly enough to consider it. So if the EU/US keep things up, its going to be a never ending game of whack-a-mole to truly disrupt supplies, at least for goods valuable enough to reroute via another nation.

    This would explain why Russia is still doing not too bad – whatever stuff was sanctioned is still in stock plus they’re actively working on rerouting supplies.

  3. Basil Marte says:

    > Many say this may be the actual greatest insult one could throw at him, given his background as KGB, to call him uninformed. It is almost certainly true. Who would dare tell him what is happening?

    That’s what the court jester is for.

    > Meanwhile France is asking people to do their laundry and dishes on the weekend due to supply issues in order to manage demand, which makes sense but also is the kind of thing that used to be handled by (Bart Simpson standing ready by the blackboard) changing different prices.

    Multiple-tier residential electricity is an existing technology/organization. My mom’s house has a heating system like this, with two-circuit heat-storage heating units. During the day a low power fan blows the air through the heat storage bricks; whenever the cheaper lower tier (called “night electricity” here) is switched on, the (alas, resistive) heating elements warm up the bricks.

    > Trump continues to trade around 40% to be the Republican nominee. I suppose the Scottish teens do not think anyone will care.

    (Link to) explanation of what the “Scottish teens” remark/joke/I-don’t-yet-know means?

  4. John Schilling says:

    +1 on reports of the Death of the Tank being premature. Yes, Russian tanks have performed very poorly in this campaign. But Russian infantry has performed very very poorly, Russian artillery has performed poorly, Russian special forces have performed very poorly, Russian helicopters have performed very poorly, Russian drones have performed very poorly, Russian aircraft have performed so poorly that this post cannot contain enough “verys”, and Russian cruise and ballistic missiles have I think managed to eke out a “mediocre”.

    Meanwhile, the Ukrainians seem to have been putting their tanks to good use, and asking for more of them. There is a common thread here, and it can be summarized as “X really doesn’t do well in modern warfare”, but X != “tanks”.

    The potentially quite interesting tactical or doctrinal observation of this war is the bafflingly incomprehensible failure of the Russian air force to secure control of the skies in spite of their substantial technical and overwhelming numerical superiority. Maybe that’s just one more example of “Russia sucks at this”, but if it’s more than that, if e.g. integrated air defenses run by people who know what they’re doing means *nobody* gets air superiority, then an awful lot is going to have to be rethought. And tanks will have gotten a substantial boost in the process.

    • Gullydwarf says:

      Russians suffer from too rigid command structure and poor communications, especially between infantry/armor/air support (and trying to go on offense makes both of these problems more severe), so they are just not as ‘modern’ as US army, for example.

    • Dojan says:

      You left out the Russian Navy.
      This is appropriate.

  5. Gullydwarf says:

    One major comment to this whole post – it is high time to practice bounded distrust.
    Current narrative demonizes Russia, attributes any questionable things to malice, and tends not to mention bad things Ukrainians did (for example – https://twitter.com/politblogme/status/1507975823290216448?s=20&t=TVB_p3xsWeqLAnBz7kSH7g).
    To get reasonably coherent and intelligent Russian viewpoint you
    a) have to read Russian (writing in English from Russia for Russian audience would be a weird choice)
    b) need to look for specific people at Telegram / LiveJournal (and that is not trivial), all Russian mass-media is tightly controlled by inept liars who can’t admit past lies even in their self-interest

    Imagine that you are trying triangulate what really happened by watching FoxNews and CNN… except that you can only see FoxNews, with FoxNews showing what _they claim_ is CNN footage.

    Example: kungurov.livejournal.com / t.me/alekseykungurov, in particular – kungurov.livejournal.com/309161.html , Google translate does a decent job on that one; the author has somewhat insulting style, was a journalist / political operative in Russian regional elections for a while, went to jail twice (and spent few years there), last time – allegedly for an article on his blog (so he is a political prisoner; digging to much dirt on important people in his hometown didn’t help either); migrated to Georgia few years ago, right after getting out of jail; as you can see from his writing, doesn’t like Putin and his regime, calling it ‘Fourth Reich’…

    • TheZvi says:

      Well, yeah. I did what I could to put a lot of conditionals on claims, and only outright stated things when I was unusually confident they were accurate.

      As you note, the Russian official media are inept liars – it is very easy to know that they are lying, and when they tell the truth it only makes them look worse. For some reason, to the extent that there are things they could say that would help their cause, they are not saying them, which makes one think such things are not available. The reports of UA bad actions that I do see seem to have some merit but seem… really small time? And when I see the bothsidesism on such things, it seems pathetic, we killed civilians systematically but a few UA soldiers shot a few Russian prisoner soldiers in the leg (and took a while before investigating?) so who is to say, that sort of thing.

      I read the LJ post you linked, and he basically is making the point that the accounts you are reading are the prosecutor’s and you should avoid jumping too far too fast, so fair enough on that point, but there isn’t much in the way of a defense – it reads exactly like the defense lawyer for a super guilty defendant trying to create reasonable doubt where there isn’t any. But at least it’s an actual attempt to do that as opposed to what state media is doing.

      Anyone else have good LJs? I much prefer LJ to telegram, it’s an actual reasonable communication medium.

      • Gullydwarf says:

        > For some reason, to the extent that there are things they could say that would help their cause, they are not saying them, which makes one think such things are not available.
        Well, in most cases, there ARE such things, and there ARE people who can articulate them well. However, people who can do that are actually considered dangerous for Putin’s regime (they have independent thoughts! we don’t have dirt on them! they are uncontrollable!), and don’t have access to large audiences.

        > The reports of UA bad actions that I do see seem to have some merit but seem… really small time?
        Depends on your selection of data sources; language barrier as well as signal boosting/blocking play a major role. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the ratio between RU / UA bad actions is 2:1, and some evidence is available (either in the form of local government reports, or CCTV footage / video from somebody’s phone shared somewhere).
        What happens next in case of RU doing those bad things, en-route to Western audience?
        – Ukraine would try to get the most favorable angle while translating / showing evidence to Western media, and will share it on Facebook and Twitter, ~2x boost
        – Western media (who are not impartial in this conflict) would keep those bad things in focus, ~2x boost (do you remember so much vivid reporting in case of other recent war, like Yemen, or Iraq, or Syria?)

        What happens next in case of Ukraine doing bad things, again, en-route to Western audience?
        – Russian media would try to report on it, sometimes before verifying / gathering additional data – but they are known liars, ~0.5x boost
        – Western media would pick up only some of the stories (to be able to continue with ‘we are helping heroes’ narrative), 0.7x boost
        – Social media usage is restricted in Russia, so it won’t be shared on Facebook or Twitter (but will be on Telegram and VK – which are not reqularly read outside of ex-USSR), ~0.7x boost

        And after multiplication, it would look like 8:0.3, or 24:1, something that can be called ‘really small time’.
        Of course we don’t know exact coeffecients, but to me, it sure looks like a lot of this is actually happening.

        Example: https://www.npr.org/2022/04/06/1091125305/bucha-ukraine-executions-war-crime-allegations , ‘In Bucha, death, devastation and a graveyard of mines’.
        Note the word ‘mines’, scroll to the picture called ‘Ukrainian authorities have organized tours for foreign journalists to see the damage done to Bucha. Officials say the suburb is still riddled with mines and other explosives left by the Russians.’
        Note ‘mines’ again.
        What would you think about when reading a word ‘mine’ in this context? ‘Land mines’, perhaps? And leaving land mines in a town with a civilian population can be counted as a bad thing.
        But things in the photo don’t look like land mines – there are some hand grenades, rifle ammo, and mortar and/or artillery shells. Moreover, Bucha was under Russia control for about a month, and it was shelled by Ukrainians (check out photos of destroyed tanks in Bucha – who and how destroyed them? Did they just hit tanks, or maybe there were some misses?).
        It is quite likely that not all ordnance detonated, and undetonated ordnance was not cleaned up – until now; yes, technically, Russians left it behind, but would you count retreating from a battlefield without cleaning undetonated enemy ordnance as a bad thing?
        One (very charitable) explanation why ‘mines’ are being mentioned so much is that Russian (and Ukrainian) word for mortar is literally translated as ‘mine thrower’, and its ammo is called ‘mines’ (not ‘shells’), and somehow literal translation made it into English article.

        Also, worth noting that Bucha’s mayor is saying that electricity / water / sewer is being restored, residents should be able to return within a week, no mention of mines, but warns about police walking the streets and looking for looters (https://www.pravda.com.ua/news/2022/04/5/7337387/). I would guess looting is much bigger problem than mines there?

        > And when I see the bothsidesism on such things, it seems pathetic, we killed civilians systematically but a few UA soldiers shot a few Russian prisoner soldiers in the leg (and took a while before investigating?) so who is to say, that sort of thing.
        Well, unfortunately, in the physical reality it might be quite widespread, not just few UA soldiers; evidence is being circulated in LJ/Telegram/VK (in Russian), and one of the reactions would be more bad things by RU soldiers – which would be then duly reported by Western media, causing further outrage and calls for harsher collective punishment of Russia/Russians. In turn, that would be seen as completely unjustified (from Russian perspective), and thus can unite and mobilize all population to fight a war that would become existential.

        > I read the LJ post you linked, and he basically is making the point that the accounts you are reading are the prosecutor’s and you should avoid jumping too far too fast, so fair enough on that point, but there isn’t much in the way of a defense – it reads exactly like the defense lawyer for a super guilty defendant trying to create reasonable doubt where there isn’t any.
        Well, how did you get to ‘a super guilty defendant’ and ‘no reasonable doubt’? What information sources did you use, and what comparisons did you make to get there (presumably, prior to reading that article)? Could it have been that those source are biased in some way?

        • TheZvi says:

          I hear what you’re saying, but I don’t see this as offering important new information. I am fully aware the accounts are biased – but even here I see the accusations against UA as ‘no seriously they do bad things to RU soldiers’ and ‘official UA sources are playing up the Russian atrocities for the cameras and reporters.’

          As opposed to RU soldiers, who murder civilians (and we’re talking about how many and how often and how brazenly, not whether it is happening), and RU sources which are saying lies that aren’t remotely plausible?

          As for why I say guilty defendant, I am saying that this mode of argument, this way of framing evidence, makes sense if you are an advocate on behalf of a deeply guilty person (or at least someone against whom there is overwhelming evidence) and you are trying to make things less clear or look less bad, and does not make sense otherwise – if things are otherwise you can do much better.

          Anyway, thank you for attempting to make the opposite case. I really do appreciate it, and if you wish you may have the last word.

        • Anonymous-backtick says:

          Zvi, if you’re really desperate to find the opposite case anywhere, you could always hold your nose and try uggcf://qnvylfgbezre.anzr/ohpun-ubnk-hxvr-fphz-abj-oynzvat-ehffvnaf-sbe-nmbi-fjnfgvxn-pneirq-pbecfr-va-nmbi-onfr/ . I apologize that his other positions are likely to cause offense, but it is the best at-least-sporadically-online source I’ve found summarizing the war videos/leaks that Twitter immediately takes down and analyzing the war.

        • Gullydwarf says:

          > I hear what you’re saying, but I don’t see this as offering important new information.

          Thank you.

          > I am fully aware the accounts are biased – but even here I see the accusations against UA as ‘no seriously they do bad things to RU soldiers’

          I was sticking to well-known examples, but there is much more (but you need to look for it, and translate video):
          UA force are quite close to Donetsk, and Donetsk is being shelled almost daily, artillery and multiple rocket launchers; there are reports about tactical missiles usage – see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2022_Donetsk_attack (both sides claim other guys did it, but fire a missile you no longer use, on your own city, just to show photos to a very unsympathetic UN council, really?)
          There are independent Russian crowd-funded volunteers/reporters in Mariupol talking to people on Russian-controlled part of the city – and those interviews paint quite unpleasant picture of UA soldiers.
          Some reports about Ukrainians shooting civilians who collaborated with Russians; and so on…

          > As opposed to RU soldiers, who murder civilians (and we’re talking about how many and how often and how brazenly, not whether it is happening),

          This is horrible, don’t get me wrong; but it looks like a ‘normal’ case of offensive war in not-so-friendly country (similar to what US army did in Iraq and Afghanistan); also see below.

          > and RU sources which are saying lies that aren’t remotely plausible?

          It is unfortunate that official RU sources have approximately the same relationship with reality as Breitbart, but don’t you think that we should still try to use accurate model of the physical world for making decisions?

          > As for why I say guilty defendant, I am saying that this mode of argument, this way of framing evidence, makes sense if you are an advocate on behalf of a deeply guilty person (or at least someone against whom there is overwhelming evidence) and you are trying to make things less clear or look less bad, and does not make sense otherwise – if things are otherwise you can do much better.

          Ok, good point, I think it would be helpful to split charges – a) ‘offensive war’ and b) ‘intentional indiscriminate civilians slaughter’.
          For a) – guilty, proven beyond any doubt, so indeed ‘deeply guilty person’
          But for b) it looks like evidence is very weak (so in a sense, ‘innocent’) – and if all Russians (in and possibly outside of Russia) would be treated as if this was this second case, and they are all guilty or complicit, it would be really sad…

          > Anyway, thank you for attempting to make the opposite case. I really do appreciate it, and if you wish you may have the last word.

          Not so much of an opposite case, actually – I mostly agree with what you’ve suggested under ‘To Fix The Problem of Russia, Fix the World’ few post back. I would like Putin and all his mafia friends go away (crimes question aside, they are just plain bad as rulers, and it was clear since 2012 if not since 2003); I would like the war to stop (both current invasion and low-grade hostlities that were happening in Donbass 2015-2021), and both RU and UA on the path to freedom and prosperity.
          (And I would like US to build a colonies on the Moon and Mars instead of more missiles, destroyers and aircraft carriers, but that is a different topic…)

      • Gullydwarf says:

        And, by the way, have you seen an interview with the woman in this photo https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-60715492 , from April 1st?

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=IEJ9xG6-Va0 (in Russian), she makes few statements that contradict ‘official Russian’ propaganda, few statements that cast doubt on Ukrainian version, but most importantly – she spoke with people who took those initial photos everybody saw a week or so later after giving birth, still in Mariupol… but that never got published.

  6. ociule says:

    > Russia claimed it would pull back from Kyiv area. Then, as if it was afraid it might be seen keeping its promises and lose its street cred, it bombed Kyiv.

    AFAIK they fired the artillery ammunition that was already stockpiled in forward positions – they do not want to have to schlep it back.

    Incidentally, that also frees up space for more loot to be carried back.

  7. hapablap says:

    It’s pretty unlikely that Tulsi Gabbard is a Russian agent. It’s even more unlikely that if she was, a Russian talk show host would know about it.

  8. Dojan says:

    On the prize of fertilizer, Peter Zeihan explained https://youtu.be/7nKvym5jmj8?t=308 on Feb 15 that “Russia and Belarus are the worlds second and fourth largest suppliers of potash. Nitrogen fertilizer is disappearing because of what is going on in energy markets. Phosphate fertilizer is disappearing because of what is going on in China. And if this war happens [this was on Feb 15], potash fertilizer globally has a shortages as well.”

    Peter Zeihan is prone to hyperbole and overstatement in pursuit of clarity. I have no problem with this, but it should be labeled as such.

  9. thechaostician says:

    “I still don’t get what they are thinking [security guarantees] actually do for Ukraine.”

    What do think of the idea that Zelenskyy is using this to try influence Putin’s propaganda in Russia?

    Russian media has been saying that Ukraine isn’t a real country. A security guarantee is a way of forcing Putin to say that Ukraine is a country that does and ought to exist. Russia guaranteed this right in 1994, but that was a long time ago and Putin wasn’t president.

    Why would Zelenskyy want that? (1) Russia accepting Ukraine’s existence discourages acts of genocide by Russian soldiers. It obviously doesn’t prevent it, but it might reduce the scale. The security guarantee could be protection for Ukrainian civilians during the Russian military withdrawal. (2) There is a good chance that Russia invades again in the future, even with the security guarantee. How illegitimate does this look in the eyes of the Russian people? There might be more resistance within Russia if there’s a security guarantee that’s been violated instead of just a ceasefire.

    • Gullydwarf says:

      > How illegitimate does this look in the eyes of the Russian people? There might be more resistance within Russia if there’s a security guarantee that’s been violated instead of just a ceasefire.

      People in Russia don’t have political power (as in ‘ability to change things’), oligarchs and high-ranking officials do (although not that much either, everything is very centralized, and everybody watching everybody else), and they control the media – so ‘legitimacy in the eyes of people’ question is kind of moot point (until significant change happens at the top).

      • TheZvi says:

        I would expect the *Russian* part of the promise to mean *exactly* as much as the 1994 promise. Which is nothing. Or at least, for it not to outlast a change in ruler.

        • Gullydwarf says:

          I view international treaties as reflection of power dynamics – they are kept only if keeping them is convenient or profitable (or at least allows to lose substantially less).

          Budapest memorandum started to look like an impediment to ensuring security (in the eyes of Putin and co), and there was nothing substantial in it to impose a cost – so it was broken.
          On the other hand, take natural gas contracts between European states and Russia – they are still honored, gas is still flowing (through pipelines in Ukraine!), despite the war and various crippling sanctions, including blocked access to currency reserves – all because it has benefits for all sides (including Ukraine!).
          And, well, in case of future deal – ‘do not invade’ can be coupled with ‘or you will get sanctions’ (or something else at least equally bad), and then it will work, and outlast the change of ruler.

  10. Sam says:

    Zvi, if you want an opposing take on the conflict, here are some suggestions: Jake Morphonios https://twitter.com/morphonios . He is more tweeting about events on the ground; talks about Azov quite a bit. There is also obviously Mearsheimer who made some bold predictions in 2015 that are playing out. Here’s a long thread about other figures talking about NATO expansion: https://twitter.com/rnaudbertrand/status/1498491107902062592. It seems clear that Russia views a Ukrainian-US alliance as an existential threat. It is hard to argue that the current situation in Ukraine is less of a threat to Russia than Iraq or Afghanistan were to the US.

    Why do call for more sanctions on Russia. Sanctions rarely (if ever?) cause regime change. It just seems to be punishing civilians. Why sanctions on Russia but not sanctions on Saudi Arabia or even going further why shouldn’t other countries have put sanctions on the US for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

    • cliffh says:

      I don’t think that’s clear at all. I do think Putin views a successful, democratic and Western Ukraine as an existential threat to his regime since it could breed intense dissatisfaction in the Russian population. The idea that Ukraine might really attack Russia is laughable and I’m sure Putin does not really believe that. But more so, it seems that he simply wants to reinstate the Russian empire.

      As far as Iraq and Afghanistan, keep in mind they were ruled by brutal and repressive non-democratic entities, and that the U.S. had no interest in doing anything other than rooting them out and replacing them with a democracy (sort of successful, in Iraq).

      Regarding sanctions, they will degrade Russia’s war-fighting capability. Other countries could have tried to put sanctions on the U.S. but probably the U.S. is too powerful for that to be practical. In any case the situation is far different so understandably the moral outrage at Russian conduct is much greater.

      • Sam says:

        It seems like the opposite. Putin would be okay with a democratic Ukraine if it is neutral. To have a buffer state between NATO and Russia. That should at least be offered for a peace deal. Putin wasn’t considered ‘bad’ by the US media until after the 2014 Maiden coup. He is too much of a realist to want to reinstate the Soviet empire.

        With Iraq and Afghanistan, the whole spreading of democracy was only a post-hoc justification of the invasion and justification to keep the war going for years. But doesn’t going to war for the sake of democracy, killing civilians, and destroying a country for the sake of ‘spreading democracy’ sort of strike you as weird? It is also using the ends to justify the means which becomes a slippery slope.

        The history of sanctions so far seems to just impoverish regular citizens and let dictators hold onto more power. If you read news from Palestine or India, for example, there isn’t greater moral outrage at Russia. The greater moral outrage is from Western countries.

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