Ukraine Facing the Abyss
Western populations are being prepared for the idea of a stalemate after the failure of the recent Ukrainian offensive. The real prospect is of collapse in defeat.
There is a map on the internet showing the front line in Ukraine as it was on January 1st this year, plus blue or red areas gained respectively by Ukraine or Russia up until last month (October 2023). Both areas are comparatively tiny. Over the four months of the recent failed Ukrainian Offensive no more territory went blue than red. Overall, the picture on the ground looks basically unchanged since the winter.
So far, so apparently boring. The Western public has been encouraged to believe that the Ukrainians have ground the Russians to a halt and could push them back again, as they were said to have done in their attacks last year in the Kharkov and Kherson regions. At the worst the situation is said to be a stalemate where neither side can prevail. But in reality, it is not.
That this is not widely understood is a tribute to the excellence of the West’s propaganda resources, and general Western ignorance of warfare, especially large-scale land warfare. War is seen as a rewarding pursuit of aggressive elite projects overseas. It is enabled by manufacturing war hysteria in distracted, manipulated and largely uninterested populations.
The UK, in particular, has had the luxury of sending expeditionary land forces abroad. If expeditions fail, the defeated army could be re-embarked and brought home, and the defeat forgotten, if not mythologised - Moore’s death at Corunna in 1808 and the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940 spring to mind, alongside many, now forgotten, fiascos. America’s experience is similar. Its expeditionary army failures include Vietnam, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Lebanon and Afghanistan in just one lifetime.
Perhaps the only time that Britain has been alone doing the heavy lifting of breaking the army of a peer great-power opponent in large-scale attritional land warfare was in 1918. In that crucial year, when Russia and (de facto) France had been knocked out, Britain finally brought to bear all its industrial and manpower resources to inflict losses on the weakened German army from which it could not recover. Victory in 1918 was, naturally, forgotten by the British, who prefer legends of naval and expeditionary derring-do.
The German people misunderstood the lesson of November 1918. The suddenness of the surrender surprised and shocked them. Why had Germany surrendered when hardly any of its territory had been invaded? It still possessed huge new eastern territories ceded to it by Lenin (including Ukraine). Surely treachery in Berlin, rather than a British attritional victory, was to blame? Such was the thinking of those who followed the Nazis into the WWII rematch. But, in fact, Germany surrendered because it could not prevent military collapse.
Britain’s success in 1918 was akin to the unrecognised but decisive success that Russia has achieved over the last year in Ukraine. Very little net change in the position of the front lines occurred in 1918 or, so far, in 2023. But in both cases the losing side, Germany and Ukraine respectively, faced the certainty of eventual collapse.
In WWII, Russia repelled another unprovoked European invasion, a repeat of the French onslaught in 1812, but this time from Germany. Russia lost many, many millions in 1941-1945. Nobody knows how many. Many deaths should be laid at the door of the Russian Communist state, but war loss estimates of 20 million, plus or minus, could well be correct. This compares to around 350,000 and 450,000 WWII war deaths each for Britain and America. Defeat in 1812 or 1941 would have been an existential failure for Russia. It has never had the option of sailing away. Instead, it had to stand fast and destroy first Napoleon’s Grande Armee, and then the Wehrmacht. Russia inflicted 80% of Germany’s WWII military casualties.
Western support for the anti-Russian government in Ukraine after the coup in 2014 was understood in Russia as another developing Western threat. First, to the Russians in eastern Ukraine, trapped in the ‘wrong’ country by Soviet Era internal boundaries, and then to the stability of Russia itself, if it failed to protect Ukrainian Russians.
Ukraine has been shelling its Donbass region ever since 2014, causing somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 civilian deaths. Eventually Russia would have had to take military action, once the West failed to keep their word over the Minsk Accords. Ukraine’s outsized army, then well over 500,000 men, would be able to rely on NATO’s economic and military superiority to bleed Russia white. Such was the plan.
The memory of such bleeding, of repeated carnage caused by invasions, is hard-wired in Russia. The country is always alive to the possibility of another attack. It is fundamentally psychologically equipped to engage in attritional defensive warfare. In particular, Russia has maintained enormous over-capacity in mothballed weapons manufacturing facilities. It has also maintained, at the least, technological parity with the West.
This has given Russia ‘surge capacity’ in weapons production, especially artillery shells. It is out-producing the West many times over. The West has little ability to increase its production. Russian weapons are more modern designs, as well as being more numerous, than the tired Western line-up of 1970s types (F16s, Leopard and Challenger tanks).
Russia understands the objective of warfare to be the destruction of its opponent’s army. Once this is achieved, appropriate territorial or other concessions can be extracted in the ensuing peace negotiations. There is no question of risking troops unnecessarily to hold territory and avoid ‘looking bad’ to the home population. That’s what propaganda-dependent regimes like WWII Germany and the modern West do. Retreating to regroup and conserve forces is central to Russian military doctrine. Russians are no innocents, least of all in terms of influencing world opinion, but they will not subordinate the reality of military success to the appearance of it.
The West has a propaganda-led approach to territorial gains in wartime (as opposed to after it). They see success in terms of ‘conquering’ as much territory as possible. This is partly because war is reported as something akin to a team sport. In team sports, both sides have precisely the same resources and objectives, defined as occupying the other side’s half of the field to score more than the other side. Advances and casualties are ‘the score’.
One historical example of this kind of thinking is the dismissal of Britain’s crucial naval victory at Jutland in 1916 as a ‘defeat’ because Britain’s losses in men and ships were higher than Germany’s. But everything in war depends on the quite different goals and resources of the opposing sides. Germany needed to destroy the Royal Navy to escape defeat and it failed to do so – thus sealing its doom. Britain’s objective was just to keep Germany blockaded until she starved, while ensuring that Britain’s fleet remained comparable in size to America’s. Which it achieved at Jutland.
The West’s re-arming of Ukraine to create NATO’s most powerful army, on historically Russian territory, and the ‘shock and awe’ sanctions aiming to cripple Russia’s economy show that the West’s war aim was to wreck Russia. But Russia’s goal is simply to survive. In those terms, the Ukraine war was always going to go Russia’s way, if it survived sanctions. Ukraine and the West have to break Russia in order to win. This is a much tougher task.
Ukraine has been the victim of this propaganda-led attitude to territorial gains during wartime. In order to secure Western support, it has had to attack all the time. It has had to mislabel Russian retreats to defensible positions as Ukrainian ‘victories’. This was particularly noticeable after the Russians withdrew from the Kiev area as serious peace negotiations with Ukraine got under way in March and April 2022.
When the draft peace agreement was overturned by the West, in the person of Boris Johnson, Russia recognised that it would have to gear up its military to match the greater numbers of Ukrainian soldiers already mobilised, trained and equipped by the West. The Special Military Operation (SMO) was undertaken by Russia to bring Ukraine to the negotiating table, and it nearly succeeded. But it was undertaken by in-theatre forces amounting to around 100,000 men. Russia has until recently been operating from a position of numerical inferiority.
The retreats from Kharkov and Kherson City a year ago were therefore necessary to avoid units being cut-off, but they were executed in such a way as to kill or disable many more Ukrainian soldiers than the Russians lost.
Throughout the war the one constant has been the extraordinary imbalance in Russian and Ukrainian casualties, with the latter losing up to ten times more. Napoleon famously said that one should never interrupt an enemy while he is making a mistake. The Russians have followed his advice. The Ukrainians have been continually attacking, without enough air cover and against growing Russian artillery, missile and drone superiority. The result seems to have been Ukrainian losses of 400,000 or more, with a similar number permanently disabled. In effect the Ukrainian Army of February 2022 has been destroyed.
In its place is a conscript force with an average age of over 40 in the front line. Lack of equipment has led to reliance on light infantry charges across enormous Russian minefields, which are replenished remotely using special artillery shells which relay more mines. How long before the Ukrainian army and state collapse is unknowable, but they will.
In the meantime, 300,000 conscripts recalled by Russia last year, and 400,000 volunteers who joined up over the last 12 months, have been trained in the latest technologies developed during this war, and equipped with modern weaponry. Only now does Russia have numerical superiority to go with the qualitative, technological and doctrinal superiority which it has used to decimate Ukrainian forces since the SMO began.
The new Russian forces have learned the lessons of a change in the nature of war in the modern electronic age. It is becoming difficult to hide concentrations of troops, munitions dumps and artillery positions from the eyes in the skies. Ukraine has the West’s satellite resources and Russia has its own. Much depends on elaborate countermeasures to cope with a battlefield dominated by swarms of drones and guided missiles of various kinds. Countermeasures range from anti-drone cages over tank turrets to very sophisticated jamming of opponents’ missiles. Russia’s reservoir of technical expertise gives it an edge.
The Russians started with a lead in such things, and have extended it. They have developed hypersonic missiles which have been used to disable US supplied systems such as the Patriot air-defense system. They have also been used to destroy underground bunkers including at least one NATO-staffed facility.
The history of the last year is one of attempted provocations by the West, including the attacks on Nordstream and (twice) the Kerch bridge to the Crimea, and the steady introduction of more and more long-range Western weapons enabling Ukraine to threaten Russia itself. Russia has shown remarkable restraint. This is mistakenly interpreted as weakness in the West. But Russia is staunchly refusing to take the bait and ignite a wider war. It is helped to do so by the speed with which newly delivered Western weapon systems are neutralised by Russian countermeasures. The pattern for each new weapon is for one successful attack to be followed by a rapid reduction in effectiveness.
President Putin has made it clear that the suffering caused by war in Ukraine, and the pressure for a more general war, are the handiwork of a few thousand deep-state connected elites concentrated in Washington, London and Brussels. There should never be any question of punishing civilian populations for the warmongering proclivities of deep state elites, including their Military Industrial Complex hangers-on.
WESTERN MILITARY INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX CORRUPTION
One of the mysteries of the world is how come the United States manages to outspend Russia around tenfold in terms of defense spending, only to produce small numbers of weapons and munitions which are often inferior to their Russian equivalents.
The more mischievous of my readers will be wondering how I reconcile the superior performance of the Russian arms industry with the fact that it is state-owned. In contrast, the US arms industry is entirely privately owned by a handful of huge companies. Surely state sector bad and private sector good? Isn’t that what libertarians are supposed to think?
No, it isn’t. Libertarianism insists that everybody has self-ownership of their persons, and of possessions originally created or homesteaded by them, or subsequently acquired through exchange and contract, or gift. These rights require an equal application of laws embodying these principles. At the moment, some individuals, self-described as servants of a mythic entity called ‘the state’, assert a right to steal and coerce with impunity. Naturally their actions harm others, who would refuse their consent if they could. Hence the perennial tension and discontent underlying life in statist societies.
On this view of the world, the governments of Russia and America are both robbing and bullying their people to secure the resources they spend on their supporters and suppliers. The American arms manufacturers are simply an example of a fusion of private and public corporate power. Mussolini, the Italian Fascist dictator from 1922 to 1945, said that that was the definition of Fascism. Any organisation which does a bad job, and is not shut down, is a parasite and a threat to human flourishing – whether public or ‘private’. Obviously in free or private law societies no such parasitical organisations could survive.
The questions are:
Why do private/public systems in America, such as the military industrial complex, and the healthcare sector, including Big Pharma, produce such expensive, unsatisfactory outcomes?
And how can Russia achieve better outcomes from its state-owned weapons development and production systems?
Profit maximising concerns charge the state as much money as possible. But the problem is that Western states are weak customers. Officials are not rewarded for ensuring that the taxpayers get value for money. Military contractors, along with Big Pharma, are the two biggest sugar daddies for the very wealthy politicians in Washington. More humble officials, in and out of uniform, are attracted by the prospect of lucrative employment at the arms companies after ‘retirement’ providing they don’t rock the boat. The system in that sense is functionally corrupt. Everyone is milking Uncle Sam’s budget.
The underlying reality is that Americans, in particular, are not interested in the rest of the world and don’t feel that a failure to plan for war will have any adverse effect on their security. Wars follow the overseas military expedition model, and do not matter much. Left unsupervised either by Congress or an informed public, the inmates run amok.
The West seems not to have countervailing custodians of society’s legitimate interest in possessing an effective military. For example, Britain until recently spent nearly as much as Russia on defense. It has only 10,000 combat soldiers but it needs a year’s notice to deploy a battalion group (up to 2,000 men) overseas. Its principal brigade, the 77th, is the Psy-Op propaganda unit responsible for creating the Covid hysteria. There are a couple of small vulnerable carriers taking US F35 squadrons to fight in who knows what overseas adventure, and a small number of elderly UK warplanes that few others wanted to buy.
It may be worth describing the typical Western weapons development program.
Each military service teams up with its favourite contractors to lobby the government for a major new ‘weapons platform’ – new types of airplanes, warships, tanks, etc. Let’s say the plan is to develop a new stealth fighter. The Army is competing with Navy and Airforce priorities to get funding for the new weapon. Note straight away that inter-service rivalry promotes the non-integration of the defense effort, and so does the emphasis on the stand-alone technical attributes of the proposed weapon. There is none of the Russian understanding that what matters is the way weapons are used in integrated operations.
Let us say that the project is to develop and build 1,000 new stealth fighters. The expected development cost is, say, $20 billion, or $20m per plane. The manufacturing cost per plane is estimated at another $20m per plane. The officials are told that the whole thing will therefore cost $40bn and each plane will therefore cost $40 million overall. Of course, there is a tendency to understate the likely outturn costs, but then the contract is cost-plus so why worry?
The contractors then diligently try to agree the specifications for the new plane with the Navy and the Army. These naturally want all singing all dancing planes with the latest features and add-ons. They also want naval and army versions of it. The originally clean conceptual lines of the futuristic fighter gradually change into a set of overweight variants put together by committee. The manufacturing cost increases to say $30 million per unit. Development costs reach $50bn due to delays and changes in specifications.
It is a contractors’ cost-plus paradise, but an official problem. The whole programme has doubled to $80bn ($50bn development and $30bn manufacturing cost). Other pet projects may be starved of funds if something is not done. The obvious thing is to order fewer fighters, and to skimp on the order for replacement parts and support. So, let’s order just 300 stealth fighters. The $40 billion development hit is now a ‘sunk cost’. That’s too bad.
However, manufacturing just 300 planes will only cost $9bn, not the $30 bn cost of making 1,000, so that’s a big saving, right? It is a pity that 700 presumably ‘needed’ stealth fighters won’t get built. And many of the 300 will soon be inoperable as they are cannibalised for spare parts. But hey, who is ever going to use them in a real war, eh?
The reported all-in unit cost of each of our hypothetical 300 stealth fighters is now $200 million each, a startling figure which is studiously ignored by Congress and the Media. And they don’t fly very well or (probably?) remain undetected by Russian equipment. Russia has spruced up its electronic warfare skills a lot after 18 months of practice against job lots of the West’s finest ‘Wunder-Waffe’.
Once the planes are built, the lines capable of building more in a real war are scrapped rather than mothballed in some cavernous Soviet style factory as they would be in Russia. America notoriously has just one site each for making tanks, carriers, etc. Not a good look in an era of globetrotting hypersonic missiles.
Part of the problem is the deindustrialisation and the technical dumbing down of the West due to its dysfunctional (oligarch) donor-led politics.
You may be wondering how the Russians have avoided the same problems. I don’t pretend to have a complete answer. But Russia is a smaller society than the USA, with less than half the latter’s population and less industrial production. It can’t afford contractor-led nonsense. Plus, Russian oligarchs are, let us say, under the state’s thumb, or living abroad.
But the main difference is that the Russian government is in a position similar to a normal business. If it doesn’t have a value for money product, in this case a military capable of stopping the West’s globalist elites from dismembering the country, it will be toast, just like any other failed enterprise, only more so. As a result, top management at the highest level of the Russian state must ensure that enough of the right gear is available to get the job done. In this context, states can be seen as competitors in a geopolitical market place.
IS THIS RUSSIAN PROPAGANDA?
The last time I wrote about Ukraine some readers suggested that I had simply fallen for Russia’s own propaganda. This is possible. But as time goes by even the legacy media is writing articles implying that Ukraine has lost. At the same time, the will to go on supporting Ukraine financially and with more weapons is visibly evaporating in Washington and in European capitals. This would not be happening if Ukraine were winning.
May I suggest some more authoritative sources of information than myself?
As discussed in earlier posts, Tucker Carlson has benefitted from being fired by legacy TV operator Fox News to set up a free podcasting channel on Elon Musk’s Twitter (now ‘X’).
Below is a link to his recent interview with retired US Colonel Douglas MacGregor. It discusses the reality of the situation in Ukraine and the West’s options in reacting to its looming defeat. Then it gets on to the structural reasons why the Collective West is under-powered militarily, and by extension economically, compared to its strength in earlier times.
Please take the time to listen to the podcast, which is around 50 minutes:
Sources of useful information which has been largely withheld from Western publics are also to be found on sites such as The Duran and Simplicius the Thinker.
LIBERTARIANISM AND SOVEREIGNTISM
The relevance of all this for beleaguered pro-liberty exponents in the world is that the ‘sovereigntists’, as represented by the expanding BRICS grouping, are proponents of a multi-polar world. Ahead of a likely Ukrainian collapse, they seem to be more than holding their own. Success for the BRICS should represent a move towards decentralisation. In this case it would take the form of a diverse international state system which is not under the thumb of New World Order officials creating a worldwide system of control and expropriation.
It is possible to reframe libertarianism as simply an extreme decentralisation of the state. The more autonomous political entities there are, the more likely it is that some will try to compete to attract valuable residents. The way to do that will be by offering, in Adam Smith’s words from the ‘Wealth of Nations’, in 1776, “easy taxes and a tolerable administration of justice’. In other words, Liberty, or close enough.