The Russo-Ukrainian War

This week Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine became overt for all the world to see. Since February, Moscow waged a semi-covert campaign that I term Special War, with the initial aim of taking Crimea. This succeeded almost bloodlessly thanks to confusion in Kyiv. Over the past six months, inspired by Crimean success, Russian strategy has focused on creating and preserving Kremlin-controlled pseudo-states, the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk “People’s Republics,” which are in fact subsidiaries of Russian intelligence.

This, however, is a far more ambitious goal than the Crimean operation, and resistance has mounted. In recent weeks, Ukrainian efforts to retake territory around Donetsk and Luhansk in what Kyiv calls the anti-terrorist operation (ATO) have gained momentum, and this week Moscow sent troops across the border more or less openly since the alternative is the defeat and collapse of its proxies in southeast Ukraine. That Putin will not allow, and it’s difficult to see how he could, after months of stoking fiery Russian nationalism over the Ukraine issue, with casual talk of “Nazis” ruling in Kyiv ready to inflict “genocide” on ethnic Russians in Donetsk and Luhansk.

There is no doubt that hundreds of Russian armored vehicles and thousands of troops are operating in southeast Ukraine now. Dead Russian paratroopers are coming home for burial and NATO has shown satellite imagery that leaves no doubt that the Russo-Ukrainian War, which began in the winter, has become a full-fledged conflict this summer. As I write, the city of Mariupol on the coast of the Sea of Azov is preparing to defend itself against an expected Russian onslaught this weekend. If Mariupol falls, a land corridor to Crimea will open up and the war will likely grow wider, fast. Certainly Russian tanks provocatively flying the flag of Novorossiya, which was the Tsarist-era name for south and east Ukraine — a term that Putin himself has picked up recently — gives a clear indication of what the Kremlin wants.

The next few days will be decisive in determining if Russia’s war against Ukraine remains limited or expands significantly into a major conflict that will imperil European security in a manner not witnessed in decades. The course that Putin has plotted is described ably in an article today in Novaya Gazeta, the last Kremlin-unfriendly serious newspaper in Russia, by Pavel Felgenhauer, a noted Russian defense commentator. “We are still a half step from full-scale war,” he states, explaining why:

War will happen if the current alignment does not achieve the strategic goals that Moscow is setting itself. The strategic goal, as Putin has been saying since April, is a stable ceasefire. In order to achieve it, it is necessary to achieve a military balance on the battlefield: To rout the Ukrainian forces, throw them back from Donetsk and Luhansk, and consolidate the territory that the insurgents are controlling. Donetsk People’s Republic representatives have repeatedly stated that they want the complete withdrawal of the Ukrainian troops from the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk.

To date, Moscow has shown restraint, Felgenhauer notes, committing only a few thousand Russian troops to battle in Ukraine, rather than the tens of thousands it could deploy. But that may not last:

The main battle now will obviously take place around and within Mariupol. Unless the Ukrainians are driven back, a real war will begin. Furthermore, there will be an air war on all of Ukraine’s territory. Then tens of thousands of Russian military will intervene. They will try to achieve air superiority and throw the Ukrainians out. In an extended version, perhaps, this will not only be from the territories of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Time, that trickiest of strategic concerns, is not on Putin’s side any longer, as Felgenhauer observes accurately, between weather and the Russian military’s conscript cycle:

There is not much time left. Fall is approaching. The short hours of daylight and low clouds will complicate the matters for the air force. It will have difficulty supporting ground troops — pilots in Su-25 ground-attack planes need to see the targets on the ground. In addition, starting 1 October, it is necessary to conduct a new draft and begin the demobilization of those conscripts who are stationed on the border as part of the artillery battalion groups. It is specifically for these reasons that the question must be resolved now.

We will know in a few days, then, if Putin has achieved his relatively limited military aims in eastern Ukraine. If he does not manage a quick win, there is every reason to think Ukraine and Russia will become embroiled in a protracted war for which neither Moscow nor Kyiv is ready.

Despite the impressive tenacity shown by Ukrainian volunteer units in the ATO, the overall condition of the country’s military remains lamentable, thanks to a generation of political and financial neglect after independence from the USSR in 1991. Moreover, too many Ukrainian senior officers retain Soviet-era habits of sloth, drunkenness and thievery, which has led to protests this week by citizens angry at military corruption and poor support for the men who are fighting and dying in the southeast. While the courage of Ukrainian troops is not in question, the competence of the military system certainly is.

There is ample reason to doubt the staying power of Ukrainian forces against a genuine Russian onslaught in the southeast. How badly things are going with the Ukrainian military in the field was laid bare in a recent interview with Serhiy Chervonopyskyy in the Kyiv daily Obozrevatel. A highly decorated veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, Chervonopyskyy heads the country’s Afghan War veterans’ association and has observed the situation around Donetsk and Luhansk. He’s not impressed:

Many military leaders show a criminal lack of professionalism.  Which, as always, is compensated for by the heroism of the ordinary soldiers.  Afghanistan veterans are fighting in Donbas, working as instructors, delivering humanitarian aid, freeing captives, living in the battle zone.  In the [Afghan veteran’s association] we receive a lot of information, particularly from experienced men who know more about war than just what you see in films. We can make an objective assessment of the situation.

Chervonopyskyy minces no words, finding fault with nearly everything about Ukraine’s military, save the soldiers themselves, citing poor logistics, outdated weaponry, abysmal staff work, plus a dysfunctional medical system that does not care for the many wounded properly. The Russians seem to know when the Ukrainians are coming, not only due to numerous Russians spies, but because Ukrainian troops, officers too, use their mobile phones constantly in the combat zone, creating a bonanza for Russian military intelligence, which is listening in. His verdict is harsh: “in recent years the army in our country has been systematically destroyed. Unlike Russia’s army.”

Chervonopyskyy leaves no doubt that Ukraine’s military needs root-and-branch reform that is nearly impossible to achieve while it is at war. Too many officers engage in profiteering while soldiers die without necessary supplies, including ammunition. Repeated offers from Afghan war veterans to assist the war effort have been rebuffed in Kyiv:

Our generals, colonels, and other commanders, of whom there are too many, are very frightened of appearing incompetent in front of us, as we understand military matters well.  They are more frightened of this than of losing soldiers or suffering a defeat.  Again it is a question of professionalism.

As long as this lamentable situation continues, it is unrealistic to expect the Ukrainian military to successfully defend their country against attacks by some of the best units in the Russian army, the demonstrated heroism of Kyiv’s soldiers notwithstanding. Ukraine is fighting for its life now, and the utmost seriousness is required to prevent defeat at the hands of Putin’s soldiers and proxies.

But we must not find fault only with Ukraine. It is far from encouraging that Western leaders, including the White House, will not use the word “invasion” in connection with Russian moves. Such institutionalized escapism in the West does not discourage Russian aggression, rather it encourages more of it. Putin is playing va banque now, his two options are a quick win in the southeast of Ukraine or a protracted conflict: backing down is not an option in the Kremlin anymore, and only naive Westerners think it is.

Sanctions will have no short-term impact on Russian behavior at this point. Vaunted Western “soft power” has been run over by Russian tanks. The decision for war has been made in Moscow, and it will be prosecuted until Putin achieves his objectives or the cost — rising numbers of Russian dead — becomes politically prohibitive. Putin knows that the Russian public, heady after the nearly bloodless conquest of Crimea, has no stomach for a costly war of choice with Ukraine, their “Slavic brothers.”

If the West wants to prevent more Russian aggression and save Ukraine from further Kremlin depradations, it must offer Kyiv armaments, logistics, training, and above all intelligence support without delay. Nothing else will cause Moscow to back down. Only by arming and enabling Ukraine’s military can the West make the cost of Putin’s war prohibitive for Russia. Ukraine’s defense ministry and armed forces require major Western aid to transform its underperforming military from bad Soviet habits to real fighting capability, but that is a long-term enterprise. Right now, Kyiv needs direct military aid. If NATO does not provide it, a wider war for Ukraine becomes more likely by the day, with grave consequences for the European peace that NATO has preserved, at great expense, for sixty-five years.






62 comments on “The Russo-Ukrainian War”
  1. WJM says:

    Just a minor comment/observation:
    The local link /Serhiy%20Chervonopyskyy only works in the online version, not in the mail version….;))
    (haven’t clicked any link in the email-versions before, and there might be compelling reasons to do so, for having an identical online version, but I thought you should know….;))
    (I do see however that the first local link, to Special War, is an absolute one, not relative to the site, hence does work also in the mail-version)

      1. David Lutes says:

        About the state of the Ukrainian military….why is it so widely and obviously missed that – apart from the highest ranks of the military being impregnated with Russian spies and ‘advisers’, Yanokovitch sold off about 75% of Ukraine’s military assets over the past 7 years and signed exclusive deals for the production of sophisticated weaponry in the Donbass Region – with Russia.

  2. Niccolo Salo says:

    1. The SBU is riddled with Russian agents. Many people have already been fired but the subversion is possibly an entire one. The Donbass rebels know exactly where UA and Ukrainian paramilitaries are at all times.

    2. Yatsenyuk handed Russia a causus belli today by pushing for NATO membership. The Ukrainian political leadership has been consistently awful in this crisis (not to mention since independence in 1991).

    3. Morale has plummeted with hard rightists now demonstrating openly in Kiev against the regime for failing to support forces in Donbass and with conscripts from ultra-nationalist areas like Ivano-Frankivsk openly refusing to go to the front/deserting (see: roadblock in Dnepropetrovsk).

    4. The economic pressure on Ukraine is immense and the EU is insisting that it won’t pay for its energy bills and it must allow the free flow of gas and oil through the pipelines that criss-cross Ukrainian territory.

    5. The West has been left wrong-footed with the collapse of the UA/Ukrainian paramilitary offensive in the Donbass and are wholly unable to mount a united strategy in how to deal with this. Most Western/Central Europeans frankly don’t care, with German business/public opinion openly rebelling against German government/media.

    6. SE Ukraine is a higher value object for Russia than for anyone in the EU or North America.

    7. Facts on the ground will continue to outpace the ability to herd cats in NATO and the EU.

    Speculation: Germany and Russia are close to a negotiated settlement over Ukraine which will be presented to Poroshenko as a fait accompli, with the Obama administration allowing Germany to take the lead (to the consternation of interventionists/neo-conservatives) so that it can focus on ISIS, where there is still no strategy 🙂 The images from Minsk do suggest that this might be the case.

  3. xtmar says:

    I thought it was rather clever of Putin to wait for Labor Day weekend to go out in the open with this. Not that it will make any difference to the Ukranians or Russians, but it also means that by the time most people get back from the holiday, the news will already be 3 or 4 cycles old, and that much farther down the front page in terms of public opinion, especially if ISIS keeps dominating the headlines. Perhaps Putin can pay them to behead someone else? (Only semi-joking)

    Also, while I’m sure there are plenty of people burning the midnight oil tonight around the world in the various departments that are responsible for this, I can’t help but think it will at least somewhat impede the rapidity and cohesiveness of any American response (assuming of course that there will be one, which is less certain than I would have thought even a month ago).

    The bigger question to me is, assuming the West mounts only a minimal response, is where does Putin stop? It seems like going across the Dnieper would be aggressive even for Putin, but perhaps he will stop somewhat short of that, being content just to get to Crimea. On the other hand, his continual doubling down seems to have worked thus far, so go big or go home, right?

    1. 20committee says:

      Timing is everything

  4. Julius Stein says:

    Who is going to be running the proxy war against Russia – US by itself, or NATO? Germany is making loud noises about not being willing to suffer a recession to support US war adventurism.
    This week a former German foreign minister complained that Germany is tired of following the US in to wars “here, there, and everywhere.”

    1. 20committee says:

      Germany’s own track record there isn’t so great, FYI.

  5. steve says:

    Hi John,

    For sure Putin has a purpose. Who was it that pushed him to find it? Other countries have interests
    and it is really time for the USA to back off and let history go, Maybe that will mean a big effort like ww2 in the future but I doubt it. Nukes change everything. The Industrial Military Complex just wants the cake and eat the icing was well.

    One other thing, I came to your site because as far as I know BI will not let me post. I could be wrong but when you will not let a dissenting view air, your headed for disaster.

    1. 20committee says:

      You mean “you’re”

  6. So, Putin is the aggressor here?? A very myopic view of the problem in Ukraine. A very US myopic view.
    Putin from the beginning until now is the ONLY leader who has continually called for a ceasefire and that talks are the ONLY way to solve this mess.
    Have a look, prove me wrong. 2 days ago Russia made another call for a ceasefire at the UN but was blocked AGAIN by the Australia/US block.
    Check it out!

    You make NO mention of the Nazi’s who have taken power in the Ukraine Government.
    You make NO mention of the coup that put Poroshenko in power financed by the $5Billion made available by Victoria Nuland and the US Govt.
    No mention of the 80 Police and Protestors shot & killed (by the same people) at Maidan.
    You make NO mention of the huge Gas fields in the Donbass which contracts have already been signed for by Western Corporations divying up the fields. have you heard of the term Fracking by any chance???
    No mention of Joe Biden’s son and John Kerry’s Adopted son on the Board of Ukraine’s biggest Gas Company.

    You make no mention of the Nazi thugs who raped, burned and murdered 50 Christian Russian speakers in Odessa. They locked them in a multi story building before a Mob of approx 300 set upon them with stones, clubs, guns and gas torches. I can show you a video of that massacre and many pictures if you like.

    You make no mention of the poor people of Lughansk and Donetsk being bombed by their own Government Forces.
    Oh, wait a minute, yes you did, you called those people and I quote,
    “which are in fact subsidiaries of Russian intelligence”

    Well, I can show you hundreds of photo’s of those “Russian Intelligence” people who have been blown to bits and burned by Ballistic Missiles, Phosphor Bombs, Cluster Bombs and ‘good old’ Howitzer Artillery! while they have been going about their normal lives (as Russian Intelligence Officers) living in the cities they were born in.
    Funny, the Russian Intel officers are so young and so old. I’ve seen photo’s of SO MANY dead babies and OLD people yet MOST of them are women. Well, in Russia it must be equal opportunity for Russian Intelligence Officers?

    What about the Toshka2 Missiles? the Phosphorus Bombs? even chemical weapons! and the Ballistic Missiles. All being used on Civilians pal?? Not once or twice but hundreds! (BTW that is against International Law) as if we needed such a law!

    Your stated “evidence” of NATO proof is laughable. I read your “About”
    Are you are serious!?
    IF you are trained as you state you are and, you train others in this field…….
    and then, you have seen the “evidence’ of NATO and the bleating of the US……….
    Well, God help the people of the US and Western nations who depend on US military forces for their protection pal because, you are useless at your job!!!

    There is no evidence at this point! None!
    However, IF it was proven Russia was helping the people of the Donbass I would applaud them! My father and Uncles fought in WW2 against Nazism and that is who has taken power in Ukraine! all with the full support of the US and EU.
    It is disgusting! and as a US citizen you should be too

    I can ONLY surmise after reading your ‘Ukraine Bit’ that the real TRUTH is…………. that you have been very busy at work and with your family and you hav’nt really had a chance to look into this situation at all other than what you have heard on CNN, MSM and Fox. Isn’t THAT the truth?

    Because the facts on the ground are SO FAR from what you are writing it would be laughable if not so sad. Get your facts straight or just shut the f### up because you’re doing more damage and adding to the possibility of WW3 happening like so many others.

    Maybe, THAT is your job?

    Maybe, that is the aim of this article?
    I don’t know what your motive is but what you are spewing is SO far from the truth and what is happening on the ground it is laughable.

    1. 20committee says:

      I’m guessing you also think Elvis is alive, running a 7/11 in Des Moines.

      1. Derek G Birch says:

        Well John, I’ll say this about some of the folk who have a rant at you or about you and attack your considered, intelligent, analytical and assessment skills and dedicated professionalism;

        An awful lot of those abusing you-for abuse is what it is-really seem to have incredibly questionable intelligence, warped and twisted logic and reasoning abilities. Some of them are so amazingly inventive and creative they make conspiracy theorists seem almost plausible.

        I’m certain vastly many more people hold you in high regard and even esteem, and your analysis and assessments, and your humour, to be; exceptional, considered, insightful, knowledgeable, and intelligent. They are always definite “must-reads” for anyone seeking true awareness and understanding of the events and topics they cover.

        So without any subtlety, a message to your abusers, denigrators and detractors: “Balls to you all. If you had any decency, any conscience, any real intelligence, any real understanding, and any real grasp of what the World is really like and who the good guys really are, you wouldn’t express such abuse for this man nor anyone else-male or female-who perform such difficult tasks with such committed, dedicated, professionalism and personal sacrifice. Shame on all you abusers, and believe me, my message to you abusers is only muted by my wish to avoid descending to your level of abuse”.

        As for you John Schindler, you have my Best Wishes and Regards, and I wish you all the very best. Thank you, very much, for all your efforts and hard work.

      2. 20committee says:

        Derek: Thanks so much for your feedback and very kind words — they are greatly appreciated!

    2. Eric Swinson says:

      Putin will only entertain a ceasefire if the Separatists/Russians are holding ground valuable to Russia. Everything else in your comment seems to indicate you are fine with the view that it’s ok to conquer your neighbor militarily simply because you don’t agree with his politics? Anything that happens in Ukraine is the business of Ukrainians and only Ukrainians. Prior to Russia’s invasion nothing rose to the level of humanitarian crisis that would even warrant international redress, much less armed intervention/invasion. If Russia is sincerely so interested in insuring the rights of “Ethnic Russians” and preventing “Fascist” governments from forming on its borders, then why has it not invaded N. Korea in over 60 years or had a discussion with China or Belarus about human rights? Instead it props up N.Korea and Belarus and trades with China allowing them to be total dictatorships not all that different than Russia.

    3. Alexandre Charron-Trudel says:

      let’s play russian apologist bingo, shall we?

      On a more serious note,

      John, what do you think the chances are that Putin pushes all the way to the Dneiper, effectively splitting Ukraine in half? and what are the chances, subsequently, that we see “little green men” popping up within the rest of Ukraine and/or the easternmost NATO members within the next few years, in your opinion? What has been the most alarming to me is the positively tepid response of the EU and the U.S to all this, despite Putin’s blatant mockery and outright revanchism. While, as you have so oft stated, analogies are tiresome, at this point one can only be reminded of the events in 1938 and the stubborn refusal of the european powers of the time to intervene because they were fearful of being seen as aggressors and equally fearful of “starting a war” that was already well underway. Putin has made it clear since 1994–well before he ascended to power–that he considers his objective the “restoration of Russia to ‘greatness.'” Given this irredentism, I see no reason why NATO should not put forces on the border between Poland and Ukraine, and otherwise assume that Putin fully intends to start World War III.

      Or, as another commentator elsewhere put it: “Fascinating how Kremlin’s Nazi=Ukraine statements mesh with the insistence of expanding Russia based on notion of ethnicity.”

      There was no excuse for it then, when Germany did it, and there is no excuse for it now. Better that we do everything in our power to stop Putin in his tracks here and now before we see Russian forces in Estonia….and then in Poland….and then in Eastern Germany.

      1. 20committee says:

        LOL well then! I think Putin has rather grand strategic ambitions in the post-Soviet space but he would prefer to achieve them cautiously, bit by bit, a nibble here, a nibble there. Of course, if he encounters serious resistance, all bets may be off.

      2. WJM says:


        Just checked that apologists bingo.

        In particular that ‘What about [unrelated topic]’.

        Because this was exactly the repetitive phrasing used by the KAMAZ director of foreign exports, when he paid our rally-convoy a visit, after arriving in Naberezhnye Chelny, Tatarstan….he soon came into the typical drill/frenzy of a sales guy, stating all the benefits/differences of KAMAZ trucks….after item #10, it became a bit unnerving.
        (his English was of course quite decent, but his staccato repertoire a bit limited, much more than his vocabulaire)
        (it gave me the same ‘This is life Jim, but not as we know it….’ revelation/shivers that I had when descending the Ural mountains on the east side)

        Anyway, thanx for that reminder….:))

        (likes the URAL trucks more, for having an 8×8 with true twin bogie tandem axles, but of course couldn’t tell the poor guy at that time….:))

  7. Elveesh says:

    Mr. Schindler,

    You are obviously in the camp committed to a resort to war and nothing else.

    Considering that Russia’s armed forces are vastly more powerful than Ukraine’s, (could probably conquer all of Ukraine in short order if they wanted), then war isn’t going to work.

    Additionally, the West will require Russia’s help to resolve the conflagration in the Middle East.

    Perhaps confrontation isn’t the only option.

    Over at the Guardian, Angus Roxburgh argues:

    “the delusion persists that sanctions can be widened and deepened, strengthened and escalated, until finally Putin caves in. But nothing in his character, or in Russia’s behaviour in the past, suggests this will happen. The only outcome is that time is wasted on an endless search for new targets to punish, instead of grappling with the root causes of the conflict.

    Since sanctions don’t work, and war is unthinkable (President Obama on Thursday explicitly ruled out military intervention), then only one viable option remains. If Ukraine is to become peaceful and whole again, and Putin prevented from carving chunks out of neighbouring countries, there needs to be political engagement with Moscow.”

    Why don’t you believe he’s right?

    1. 20committee says:

      Obama says war is unthinkable. I don’t hear Putin saying that.

      FTR, I am actually committed to peace. I just don’t think it can be preserved with happytalk.

    2. Gus says:

      A political engagement with Moscow is necessary, but at the moment this is pointless as Moscow wants a solution on its terms only. You are right that Putin will not be deterred from his actions by sanctions, he has mistakenly manoeuvred himself in a position where he cannot, but they can cause serious damage to Russia in the long run and possibly force them to come to political solution on (at least) equal terms. Whether this possible outcome is achieved depends on the severity and duration of the sanctions. If the US and the EU especially are accepted to bear pain, Russia can be seriously hurt.

    3. TSB says:

      “Considering that Russia’s armed forces are vastly more powerful than Ukraine’s, (could probably conquer all of Ukraine in short order if they wanted), then war isn’t going to work.”

      Umm, no, Russia’s armed forces, while more powerful than Ukraine’s are not up to the task of conquering and holding all of Ukraine, or in fact even a large piece of it. Furthermore, to even attempt to do so would probably require the Russians to strip forces out of every other unstable theatre where they are currently stationed, the North Caucasus, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno Kharabak which could potentially see those conflicts reignited. Furthermore both Japan and China both have territorial claims on Russia. With Russia’s forces tied down in Ukraine, it would be an opportune time for these two countries to start demanding concessions. China has already negotiated an extremely lopsided deal with Russia on the sale of natural gas earlier this year, because Putin, having made it clear to Europe that he cannot be trusted to be a reliable energy supplier desperately needed customers. Russia will barely break even over the course of the twenty year contract.

      1. dougr100 says:

        I think that’s a large part of Germany’s push towards much more solar power. They don’t like being on the other end of Putin’s gas tap.

  8. Airwalk says:

    Obama is the worst US President ever. No leadership. Zero. The Germans … well … I think they are working on a new Ribbentrop-Molotov agreement. It’s a mess.

  9. Мамаев Курган says:

    Hi John,

    Good to see that there are still folks using their brain on the east coast.

    I am not as knowledgeable as you or the other commentators, but as a basic citizen of the EU, I am wondering if there are some alternatives to an increase of military operations ?

    The key issue is deterrence : Mr Putin seems to play along the lines of blackmail with the EU “leaders”. If they show resolution, there won’t be gas in winter, plus certainly a few punitive operations.
    (I do not factor in the nukes related speech : that’s mostly machismo to please the russian crowds).

    Now let’s suppose the main pipelines such as Nordstream get damaged through sabotage conducted by some groups who want to contribute to the solution by kicking their old friends where it hurts. (I am sure that plenty of the Chechen warriors would be usefully employed here, instead of spending their time blowing up innocent civilians in public transportation.. which usually leads nowhere given the contempt of russian leadership for their own population). Then EU is facing a chilly winter (and I’ll eat my own dog food here 🙂 ) but Russia loses two things : the threat, and lots of cash. If done properly enough, such ans operation could cut 25% to 30% of the cash-flow for 3 to 4 months. Given the present state of the russian economy, this would not be without consequences.
    Then I am sure that having to handle crowds of hungry and angry russians would provide enough activity to Mr Putin so that he would not have too much time for invading neighbor countries.
    But as I warned, I am only a naive citizen, and things in this realm are said to be very complex.

    Anyway, thanks again for providing us with analysis that obviously make some of the powerpoint fed bureaucrats rather uncomfortable (Jeeez, taking a risk.. that may hurt my career 😉 ).


    1. 20committee says:

      Thanks for the input. I think Putin remains quite deterrable, but that requires the means and will to actually deter. I won’t encourage terrorism in Russia, but Kremlin vulnerabilities in its rear area are quite real.

      1. El Gringo says:

        Can you elaborate on this?

      2. 20committee says:

        Can you be a tad more specific?

  10. James Willerton says:

    I would suggest there are only a few questions here.

    How far will Russia push? Setting out with the objective of winning SE Ukraine is one thing. But when a full war is engaged and losses mount, we suddenly have a moving front in Europe. The risks rise as NATO responds to a reversal of momentum. Poland and the Baltics become flammable.

    What is the West doing behind the scenes? Clearly there has been furtive action behind closed doors since this crisis started. The lack of information and leadership from Western leaders is conspicuous by its absence. Our elite are battling the situation – but they are largely unaccountable and operate in only national interest or self interest. If they get it wrong, many worker bees could suffer.

    What financial interests are being protected on both sides? This is ostensibly a war of ideology and cultural blocs. However as with all wars, money underpins it.

  11. Ihor Molodecky says:

    The defences of Mariupol are being quickly reinforced but unfortunately the city is still lightly defended as the situation there has been relatively quiet. As I understand it, there are only a couple of volunteer battalions and a small number of regular troops in the city. There is a lack of both armour and artillery. The ability of the Ukrainian army to move troops around and to provide reinforcements and resupply is extremely limited….even if there were enough troops to spare which is not the case.

    The defenders will put up a good defence but against an all out artillery and armoured assault will be totally outgunned.So it seems that it’s a not if but when question as to Mariupol falling into Russian hands.
    On the surface of things the land corridor to Crimea doesn’t seem to be that complicated. There is one main road (M23) leading from the Russian border through Mariupol and continuing further west mostly close to the coast. There are several cities still along the way which would have to be taken. Also controlling just the road would not be of much use as it would be susceptible to Ukrainian artillery, ambushes and lots of IEDs. To make this corridor useful many kilometres on either side of the roadway would have to be controlled…plus the cities taken. We are now talking about the need for many thousands of Russian troops. This then becomes the serious “Novorissiya” scenario and a major invasion and occupation of Ukraine which for Putins brings many more risks and unknowns.
    It all becomes that much more complicated with many more possible unknowns .

    I am guessing that Putin will just keep sending in enough troops to expand the region of instability and keep applying pressure by all means to prevent Ukrainian government control.
    With winter on the way and the Ukrainian economy in dire straits, he may decide that he doesn’t have to take the huge risks now. There are still parliamentary elections in two months which he can disrupt as well as the gas supply this winter.

    Hoping that I am right……but then again he may not get another situation like this to go for it all and all hell could break loose. We have all been much too complacent for too long,

    1. Aeneas says:

      I suspect you are correct in your analysis of Putin’s aims – for now – in Ukraine: namely contiguous territory from Russia to the Crimea, and perhaps as far as Odessa and Transnistria. I do, however, disagree with you on the means. I think he intends to impose some kind of political solution – a “Novorissiya” – on Kiev. What the Crimea provided naturally due to its geographic boundaries, this solution, another Molotov-Ribbentrop, pact will provide politically. He believes, perhaps quite plausibly that inflicting military losses on the Ukrainians and the threat of economic losses on the Germans will be enough to coerce the Ukrainian government into accepting the dismemberment of their nation. Thus, he would not need to worry about a large and expensive occupation force, or the Ukrainian army using guerrilla tactics. In this scenario the Ukrainian government would withdraw behind the newly made borders, and any native insurgency would likely be crushed by ethnic cleansing and executions. A small increase in forces attached to the Crimean units but based somewhere in the new territory may be sufficient? Perhaps Prof. Schindler can weigh in with his judgment.

      The success of the drip-drip military strategy the Russians are using brings to my mind a problem of political philosophy. The strategy seems to be to tip-toe over the line, gauge western response, and then push a little further. First there were Russian special and paramilitary forces, then 3 T-64s coming across the border, shelling on Ukrainian troops from Russia proper, a mechanized column in plain view of western journalists, and finally a small-scale invasion. To western leadership each of these steps were not in themselves sufficient for a serious response, and so allowed the Russians room for further escalations. It may soon be the case that an invasion by 20-40 000 Russians will not result in a serious response, where had such an opening move happened in March, even Obamists might have been outraged and demanded action. But what if the same thing is happening – and I dare say it is – geopolitically? We demur on a common NATO missile defence plan, allow the Syrians the use of chemical weapons, accept ISIS as a de facto political agent, allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons, allow Russia to retake the Baltics, withdraw military bases from the Middle East and Asia, etc, etc. None of these steps necessarily means the collapse of America, though this would be the end of the trajectory, and so corrupt men can always say once the monsters have achieved this one more thing they might be “very cooperative on other questions.” At what point does the liberal soul in its post-modern stage say this far and no farther and with grim determination set to the heavy and hot work at hand? Or have too many of us lost the strength of soul to fight?

      1. dougr100 says:

        So what happened to those that Syrian chemical weapons again?

      2. Pretty spot on I think.

        Except for the last bit. I’m not sure it’s a case of losing the strength of soul to fight. I see it more as the West undermining itself through greed, corruption, short-termism (politically and financially) – all the universal human failings.

        We have the appearance of liberalism, to a point. The appearance of a free market, to a point. It is a pragmatic existence and I guess works for most people, most of the time.

        However, a country with an authoritarian government does have some key advantages if you’re looking at a competitive scenario. Strategically it has the longevity to out-play its enemies, who only think in 4-5 year blocks if that. Tactically is has the speed of response and decision-making which leaves democracies floundering and bickering between themselves for consensus.

        What does a quasi-libertarian West do with its individualistic and heavily fractured society, against a purposeful bloc? Where is the leadership in the West, really? And I mean, based on something more than the “national interest”? Where is the big idea that binds humanity together?

        To be objective about it, the West has just about eaten its own tail as the rich elites have taken huge swathes of capital out of the system and left a massive gap for the minions to fill – are we right in considering this as a battle of ideologies in the first place, and assuming that ours is “right”?

        I’m no fan of Putin, don’t get me wrong. But I’m also aware of where I sit in the pecking order of Western society. What I see is EXACTLY the same nationalism from Western countries as we see in Russia. I see lots of racists, criminals, extremists and lots of inequality.

        It is depressing to see the demons coming out of the cracks and corners in the world as soon as the USA shows weakness though. I think the US in particular needs to find a stronger narrative to the world, and to try to repair some of the damage her previous arrogance has caused, and to be less insular. Otherwise, I believe this empire will fall as surely as all the ones before it, and in similar fashion.

        There is a really big war coming around the corner if these issues aren’t discussed and addressed, in my opinion.

  12. Frankie Bones says:

    I reread the last paragraph of your column. You can for a proxy war against Russia, by a Kyiv government armed and trained by the United States.

    In what way does that solution merit your charactarization of yourself as committed to peace?

    Would a bloody and interminable proxy war in Ukraine be good for other neighboring countries? Would it cause a huge refugee crisis? Would it threaten recession, depression, or worse in Europe?

    Would it encourage Russia to want to work with the US to contain the escalating international chaos in the Middle East?

    Isn’t the truth that you’re merely making bellicose calls for war because you’re a soldier and can conceive of no other solutions than the ones for which you’re trained?

    Have you considered that the solution might be the problem in a different set of clothes? That far from being a new Hitler, Putin is merely what he appears to be; a Russian nationalist committed to keeping the naval base, not allowing Ukraine to become a NATO country, and that with those objects secured, he might be very cooperative on other questions?

    Perhaps you should climb out of your foxhole.

    1. 20committee says:

      Or you could learn grammar and spelling.

      1. Just a thought says:

        No, no, it’s ok, ok-ish actually, if tranlated back to Russian. 🙂 It’s actually quite fun to read these Kremlin trolls. The only thing is, they haven’t got that the trolling time has passed, that everyone who is not a “useful idiot” or on a payroll of a “certain organization” has alredy understood what the real deal is.

      2. Alexandre Charron-Trudel says:

        John, This was from the “Bell Interpreter” as of about 3 hours ago:

        “President Vladimir Putin has been ratcheting up the rhetoric on the eve of the NATO summit in Wales this Thursday, AP reports:

        Russia declared NATO a major “threat” on Tuesday after the Western military alliance announced plans to reinforce defences in eastern Europe because of the Kremlin’s perceived stoking of war in Ukraine.

        Moscow’s surprise declaration of a shift in its military doctrine came just ahead of a NATO summit in Wales on Thursday….”

        Perhaps it’s time to reconsider the NATO-Russia Founding Act publicly? Because Putin appears to be trying to do his best to launch the world into a new Cold War; the latest smacks of something like:
        “How dare you defend yourselves from Russia’s proven track record of colonialism and abuse! Very well, if you want to defend yourselves, I’ll just declare you a major threat….”

    2. WJM says:

      Perhaps a reminder:

      The absence of war does not equal peace.

      But I guess your analytical talents might even be suffixient to convince Hongkong that China’s democracy is indeed that?

      No need to fight, eh?

      Peace man.

      1. 20committee says:

        It certainly does not equal peace 🙂

  13. Phineas Fahrquar says:

    Reblogged this on Public Secrets and commented:
    Our “We don’t have a strategy yet” leadership in DC has left to initiative to Vladimir Putin, who has exploited it to the hilt and is now settled on a revanchist war in Ukraine. Mr. Schindler is right: if NATO means anything anymore, it must respond to this with something more than sanctions.

  14. Reblogged this on Aquilon's Eyrie and commented:
    Things are worse in Ukraine than I thought. Here’s an article which outlines the crisis. A Russo-Ukranian War in the near future seems almost inevitable.

  15. Gus says:

    There seems to be no doubt that the Ukrainian military would be helped with the supply of arms by the West. There are a couple of aspects to this that I do not read a whole lot about anywhere but that seem to me to play an important role in this.

    1. What is the exact status of the armament of the UKR army? From the limited sources available to me, it seems that UKR weaponry consists almost exclusively of Russian-made material. I have read that for instance many types of armoured units cannot be used because UKR has no access to spare parts that can only be provided by Russia. The same must apply to all kinds of other weapon systems, fighter jets and helicopters in particular come to mind. To what extent is the UKR army’s efforts already hampered by a lack of supply of armament, if so then this seems only likely to get worse in the future when more and more weapon systems are destroyed, lost, damaged, or need to be replaced/repaired for other reasons. In short, what does UKR army need and what can the West supply? It seems to me that what the UKR army needs mostly is products that are only produced by Russia.

    2. What weapons could be supplied by the West exactly? This in the light of the fact that western weapons systems could be not compatible with Russian systems. And what about training? Can all UKR soldiers understand instructions, or even read the latin alphabet? If training / instruction is needed, who is willing to provide it by sending the necessary personnel? Does that mean that the direct involvement of military personnel (as instructors) is inevitable, or could that type of work also be performed by contractors? These questions seem especially relevant for weapon systems in the area’s of sofisticated air defense and anti-tank systems.

    3. What are the risks in supplying western weapons to the UKR army? I am thinking about the Russian army possibly seizing these weapons systems and being able to use this to analyze them to their advantage in the case of future conflicts, for instance with NATO. Or maybe they could gain a significant advantage by fighting against these systems, and thus finding out what their weaknesses are and how to defend against them better in the future. On the other hand, this could perhaps work two ways as the use of these weapons in battle against Russian-made weaponry would also allow their manufacturers to gain information helpful to improve their products.

    4. How fast could such a supply of arms take place in an effective way so as for it to have a significant effect on the conflict in the short run, which is what seems to be needed at this time? The minimum time path from a political decision to the actual transportation to UKR, and then the actual supply to the soldier at the front (not to mention time needed for training and instruction) could be too long for it to have a significant effect on this conflict, especially given the fact that the supply of weapons by Russia to the separatists is already taking place, not to mention the shorter distances etc.

    5. The next question could be, how can we expect this armament by the West to influence the conflict? Given possibly negative answers to the questions before, it could be that the final conclusion is that (for instance given the dire and dependant state of the UKR army’s weaponry, the expected time line, limited compatibility, and limited possibility of effective training) any expected influence is marginal.

    6. And lastly: Who should pay? Should the construction be that UKR buys arms from a western country or should it be a gift? Seems unimportant perhaps, but it could be quite significant from a political point of view.

  16. За́йцев says:

    Hi John,

    Could time be a strategic variable here ?

    I mean, on short term Ukrainians are going to lose many battles as the Russians push more reserves on the front. But if they were able to inflict enough damage, and slow enough the advance of Russian troops, don’t you think that it would generate lots of tensions on the rear, in Russia itself.
    Since the end of the 2nd Chechen war, they haven’t gotten lots of losses. the tolerance level might not be as high as at the end of the Soviet Union.
    On this point, I was also wondering if a couple of highly targeted strikes conducted on high-value targets such as tactical HQ’s at Brigade level in Ukraine would be significant ? Blowing up senior and experienced officers may send a strong message to their colleagues. As they are not officially in Ukraine and the strike itself could be conducted with a few cruise missiles, hence be not official either, this would be a non-event and couldn’t generate much protestation from Moscow.

    Moreover, this war is costing money. So if there is a scissor effect generated by the cost of these operations vs. the reduced availability of cash due to tougher sanctions, some other parts of the population will have to make more efforts.
    I hear for example that pensioners are already upset because they get twice and half less rubles per month than refugees from Ukraine. Let’s not forget that they do represent a fairly influential group there. This is not going to change things dramatically but having these types of groups being less supportive will decrease the effectiveness of the propaganda machine as they won’t relay its messages anymore, feeling (rightly) betrayed.

    In order to avoid this slow motion degradation, and be fast and decisive (“Two weeks to Kiev”), Putin would have to wage a full scale war, which would then be difficult to justify, even with the complacent post-modern Europeans. The likelihood of more serious sanctions would be really high. And both cost and losses would be significant.

    Finally I tend to believe that when the Ukrainian Minister of Defense is writing about Ukraine fighting its “Great Patriotic War” ( it seems to me that the Ukrainian leadership gets this point and is preparing its country for a major effort in the coming weeks. Holding several more than the imprudently stated two weeks would be in itself a victory.

    Thanks once more for all the insights you are providing through your blog and twitter feed. This is very useful for basic citizens trying to make their mind on what is going on there.

    1. 20committee says:

      Time is always a very critical aspect of strategy…thanks for your feedback!

  17. rods2 says:

    Excellent article.

    One of the great strengths of the Ukrainian people is rallying to a common cause in the face of adversity and largely ignoring any government laws, rules or systems to get the job done. If you’ve ever had to deal with Ukrainian bureaucracy, then you will understand why! In the current war this has manifested itself from many people raising money and supplying the Ukrainian army in the field to the volunteer battalions.

    With the current ceasefire, the question now is has Putin achieved enough of his aims to bank them or will the ceasefire breakdown for him to achieve more. The current build up of forces and sporadic shelling and attacks (like in June’s ceasefire) suggests not. Major new Russian forces have been deployed in the Novoazovsk Raion and troops moved from south to north Crimea in the last few days, with this suggesting that a pincer movement will be used to cut off and isolate Mariupol and to establish the land corridor from Russia to Crimea. There is also regular shelling of Ukrainian forces at Donetsk airport and around Lugansk. I’m sure the annexation of the Donetsk airport will be an aim to serve a DNR capital but it might also be more ambitious than this where the ‘Prime Minister’ of the DNR [Donetsk People’s Republic], A. Zakharchenko, claiming that the DNR wants the entire territory of the Donetsk and Lugansk Oblasts for special status.

    The West’s response to date to the Ukrainian-Russian war has been pitiful and a massive encouragement to Putin and his totally unacceptable actions. I’m sure that at the first opportunity possible, sanctions will be reduced or dropped for ‘good behaviour’ when that has only happened as a result of Putin achieving his aims. Unfortunately, Putin the opportunist will then look for further territorial gains in the future in Ukraine and other Eastern European countries on the back of the west’s indifference. Is the kidnapping of an Estonian official inside Estonia the first act in a bigger campaign towards the annexation of Estonia and the other Baltic countries to create a land bridge to Kalingrad?

    Sadly, with the lack of the west’s support with the supply of lethal weapons and training (especially the US and UK as signatories to the Budapest agreement), the best the Ukrainian army can hope for is that the number of Russian causalities acts as enough of a deterrence along with the size of the costs that the Russian army has to pay in trying to win the peace in their annexed regions, otherwise, there will be very few costs to Russia in annexing more of Ukraine in the future.

    A very big risk now is like that in the 1930’s with German annexation of territory and Europe’s indifference to them, that by crossing red lines, like happened with Poland, the west might actually mean it at some point which will cause another European war or worse. This leads on to another question where are the real red lines in Europe?

      1. rods2 says:

        In West Ukraine, but I don’t want to pinpoint where in the current situation as my wife’s family live there.

    1. The red lines, I think, are pretty clear – NATO member countries’ borders.

      Whilst we cannot rule out that Putin has Hitleresque tendencies and maybe ambitions: the world is very different today than is was in the 1930s. The Russians do have their rightful perspective on world politics just as the West does.

      It’s not as simple as just supplying the Ukrainians with lethal weapons and training. Who are you arming? Neo-Nazi sympathisers? Where will those weapons end up? In the hands of the enemy?

      Ukraine is a basket case state; I wouldn’t be advocating sending even more weapons in there, I’d be making it much easier for those seeking sanctuary to leave and move to other EU states in safety.

      You also need to appreciate that Putin is playing the long game, whereas many in the West have one political term and then it’s about-face. France is looking like they’re about to elect a nationalist, right-wing government with Putin sympathies. Russia is trying hard to build trade with China to remove her dependence upon Europe. If Russia was going to embark on something large-scale, the crisis point may be a few years in the future when a few more ducks are lined up.

      NATO does, of course, in the meantime need to “get real”.

      1. rods2 says:

        I hope you are right on the red lines, but I’m not so sure that the real red lines start on NATO borders as I think if push comes to shove they will actually be much nearer to Germany.

        Yes, but we don’t go round breaking international law by invading and annexing part of our neighbouring countries when we don’t like any trade agreements they have signed.

        All countries have neo-Nazis, Ukraine at about 2% is much smaller than most including Russia, Hungary, Greece and France to name but a few. The Nazis of Ukraine are largely Russian propaganda, where Putin and his ultra nationalist circle of friends having many more in the way of fascist ideals. The vast majority of Ukrainian people have one united aim and that is to expel the Russian army from their country.

        Politically, it has always had problems where it has always been under the shadow of Russia and since 2010 it has had much bigger problems when the Russian troll was elected. This is the whole point of the Euromaiden where the people are largely united as has been seen with the election of Poroshenko and his western outlook where all but one Oblast voted for him. They are determined to become a fully fledged democratic country, with proper functioning institutions. The people of Ukraine are actually very level headed, well educated, very, very friendly, but also very tough where they are used to hardship and adversity.

        If Putin was a good strategist he would not be where he is now over Ukraine. Personally, I think the Russians are very good tactically in unconventional wars (much better than the west, especially the US who tend to fight much bigger conventional wars), but very poor on long term strategy. The two long term elephants in the room for Putin is by going the nationalist route, the population are going to need regular popular nationalist top ups with any big loss probably making it curtains for Putin and their economy which is flat lining, going to get worse, with big spending commitments to doubling public servants wages in Moscow by 2018 and big increases in defence spending all at a time of soft oil and gas prices, sanctions, a falling Rouble, decreasing currency reserves and capital flight. To balance the books over Crimea they have had to dip into the state pension fund. His retaliatory sanctions are a mugs game where the Western economy’s enacting them have a combine GDP of $44 trillion against Russia’s $2.1 trillion economy. What will get the Russian economy into more serious trouble is not even a gnat bite to the west.

        Russia needs China much more than the other way around, which is why Russia has probably signed the gas agreement at much, much lower prices than they sell to western Europe at and with many Chinese working on building the new pipeline, it raises the status of the Siberian question, where Siberia used to be part of China.

        NATO has woken up from its slumber, but being a multi-member organization it is only as strong as the weaker members politically.

      2. Gus says:

        I disagree that Putin is playing the long game. Putin in fact stopped playing the long game when he started all of this by annexing Crimea. If you look at what Putin was doing before you see a steady path of strengthening economic and political ties with the West. For instance G8 membership (there was a summit planned in Sochi this summer), WTO membership, building of new gas pipelines, joint ventures with western oil companies, strengthening ties with selected political groups, Gazprom acquisitions, etc. He knows that Russia has everything to gain from good relations with the West. If you look at the specifics of its economic output (primarily raw materials) it does not succeed in modernising its economy on its own. Putin may pretend that China is an alternative, but regardless of the lack of economic infrastructure between the two countries, he will find it much harder to exert any influence in a unified China as opposed to a divided Europe. I wonder what the Chinese word would be for ‘Russland Versteher’?

        There are multiple reasons why Putin suddenly changed course but the long term was not one of them. The only long game I see is the fact that Crimea will most probably stay Russian indefinitely, but that is not what this conflict is really about.

  18. Bill Russo says:

    Mr. Schindler I am in agreement with much of your work; but I write not to praise you but to ask you to refrain from using my name as part of a war story; Russo-Ukraine War. The name Russo is the most popular in Italy and is also fairly common in the United States. The Russos are peaceful people. We like good books, good wine, good songs, good women, and good food. We do not like our name used as part of a war. PLEASE WRITE :”RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR” and leave the Russo family out of your war stories.


    Bill Russo
    South Dennis, Cape Cod
    Amazon Kindle Author

    1. 20committee says:

      Settle the Russo-Japanese War issue first, been there for 110 years, then get back to me.

      1. rods2 says:

        Great reply. 🙂

    2. Gus says:

      Actually, according to one source ‘Russo’ is a Sicilian name for a tribe of Vikings that settled in Sicily in the middle ages. Some hold that what the old slavic state of ‘Kievan Rus’ (present day Kiev, Ukraine) was actually established by this very same Viking tribe, also giving their name to later Belarus and Russia.

      BTW I think you will find that ‘Rossi’ is the most common surname in Italy.

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