Tag Archives: military

Veiled Threat or Realistic Admission?

Those who have been following Russia’s war on Ukraine have no doubt heard the increased buzz about the US potentially supplying lethal arms to the Ukrainian military. While I’m all for supplying Ukraine with military technology (though there’s a big difference between what they want and what they actually need), I find the hype to be ridiculous when you actually look at what US officials are saying. Basically Putin enthusiastically dumps tons of weapons and military vehicles into Ukraine without any reservations whatsoever, while US officials say things like “the US is now seriously considering the possibility of providing lethal weapons…” and the talking heads act like this is a sincere promise, as though the weapons are currently being crated for transport as we speak. Of course on the US side, and only the US side, there are also pundits who object to such transfers, but their arguments are typically poor.

Recently, Vladimir Putin reacted to the question of US arms for Ukraine during a press conference at the BRICS summit. His comments were rather ambiguous, with the first half seeming to indicate no reaction and the last half being a veiled threat about taking more territory in Ukraine. I give you his quotes here, translated by the Ukrainian UNIAN news service.

“This is a sovereign decision [providing lethal aid to Ukraine] of the U.S., whom to sell weapons or supply them for free, and the country that is the recipient of such assistance. We will not be able to influence this process in any way,” Putin said.

According to him, “there are international rules and approaches: the supply of weapons to the conflict zone does not contribute to the peace settlement, but only aggravates the situation.”

 “If this happens in this case, this decision will not fundamentally change the situation, in general will not affect the situation change, but the number of victims, of course, may grow,” Putin said. “I want to emphasize so that everyone understands – nothing will change,” the Russian president vowed.

“There is one more point to which those bearing such ideas should pay attention. This is about the fact that the self-proclaimed republics have enough weapons, including those seized from the opposing side – from nationalist battalions and so on. And if American weapons will be delivered to the conflict zone, it will be difficult to say how the proclaimed republics will act. Maybe they will get their weapons to other conflict zones that are sensitive to those who create problems for them,” Putin said.”

As far as interpreting the statement as a veiled threat, it seems that UNIAN focused on the last quote, wherein Putin hilariously claims that the “self-proclaimed republics” are somehow well armed entirely from captured weapons and, presumably, weapons that they either somehow manufactured or acquired from abroad. I tend to think the key takeaway in Putin’s statement comes before that, where he stresses there will be no change. Basically he’s posturing, trying to signal to the West that he won’t back down in Ukraine. To understand why you have to look at what “arming Ukraine” means in Western parlance.

Since the battle of Debaltseve in 2015, “arming Ukraine” has basically been boiled down to one issue- Javelins. For those non-military types out there I’ll give you the quick crash course. The FGM-148 Javelin is arguably the most effective portable anti-tank weapon in the world right now. It is “fire-and-forget,” meaning the operator does not have to guide the missile to its target and therefore can relocate to another position upon firing. It has incredibly long range, over 4 kilometers or nearly 3 miles. It also attacks from the top, where tanks are most vulnerable.

 

Of course there are some caveats- the system is extremely expensive and it’s not exactly a magic “Make Tanks Go Away” wand. We cannot say for sure how they would have affected the outcome of a battle like Debaltseve. More importantly, plenty of experts have correctly pointed out that Ukraine actually produces plenty of high-quality anti-tank missiles on its own– the problem is that Ukraine’s arms industry often fails to adequately deliver its products to the front. Ukraine’s arms industry also produces another product which is good at knocking out Russian tanks- they’re called other tanks.

But Putin’s quote about arms not making a difference may serve as another reminder of why the arm Ukraine debate should constantly revolve around Javelins. I’ve been saying for some time that Javelins would make little difference given the situation and the Ukrainian government’s position on the war. They can only serve as a deterrent to a Russian attempt to advance in the Donbas, something which they don’t seem interested in doing. Putin’s comment would seem to confirm this. Everything in 2014 from the Crimean annexation to the attempt at creating “Novorossiya” was nothing but a big gamble to see what Russia could get away with. After Minsk II in 2015, Putin knows his limit of advance. So in other words, Javelins would definitely serve as a deterrent, but they’d be deterring something Russia’s not planning to do.

Just to be sure, the Javelins could serve as a deterrent to something I’ve long worried about, especially after the winter of 2016-2017, which is a sort of punitive raid or small offensive aimed solely at isolating and destroying a Ukrainian front-line unit, in a place like Avdiivka or the so-called Svitlodarsk bulge. But beyond this, the only thing Javelins would be good for is sniping the occasional tank which comes up to the front to take potshots from time to time. The Russians could simply halt this practice and rely on their long-range artillery to keep inflicting casualties on Ukrainian forces. They’d be better off for it.

Of course there are ways Ukraine could use Javelins in a more offensive manner to actually retake territory, but the government clearly doesn’t have the stomach for that and doing so would require the military to adopt unconventional, insurgent-style tactics, something that conventional military forces typically don’t do unless they’re absolutely forced to. The Ukrainian military has worked so hard just to achieve a minimum of professionalism as a conventional army that I can’t imagine there’d be anyone among the top brass willing to consider more revolutionary methods of warfare, which is a pity because personally I think Ukraine’s only hope lies in such bold, unconventional strategies and tactics.

Getting back to the topic at hand, one can still read Putin’s final comment as a veiled threat, but it’s most likely an empty one. The meat of this statement is that he’s calling the whole situation a stalemate by saying that new weapons won’t make a difference. For the moment, at least, arms can only serve as a deterrent to something he’s not planning to do.

Of course there is one scenario in which Putin might make good on his threat, and US leaders and other officials had better pay close attention. Although the Russians naturally tell themselves that the US has been arming Ukraine this whole time (this is the a priori justification that Russia’s leaders so often use), if they see the US seriously talking about the matter they might choose to act before those weapons arrive and rule out something like a small-scale offensive. This could serve as a major spoiler and let the Russians chalk up one more operational victory to go along with Crimea, Ilovaisk, and Debaltseve. Therefore if the US actually wants to help and thinks the arms will make a difference, it would be a lot better if they would stop making ambiguous statements and hinting signals at Putin and just provide the missiles. Realistically, what Ukraine actually needs is more advanced electronic warfare platforms, but the rapid shipment and deployment of Javelins could at least prevent or deter a potential “now-or-never” offensive action from the Russian side.

Then again, you might choose to ignore Putin’s comments as another example of his increasingly delusional, rambling statements. After all, this is the guy who seems to have no idea whether he wants to run for president next spring, nor does he seem to have any idea what is supposed to come after him. Perhaps the real key to Putin’s statement is when he said Russia can’t do anything to influence America’s decision. Maybe the confidence from 2014 is beginning to wear off like a crystal meth high, and he’s starting to realize that all this time he’s been punching far above his weight (it’s easy when your opponents are all centrist dipshits who can’t fathom the idea that someone would question their so-called “norms of behavior”). Fatigue, desperation, belligerence? Who can say what’s going through that little man’s mind at this point?

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Russian Defense Ministry Worried About Positive Image

 

MOSCOW- Recent photographs showing Russian soldiers assisting Kurdish fighters of the leftist “People’s Protection Units” in Northern Syria have become a cause for concern among the Russian military’s top brass. According to a source in the Russian Ministry of Defense, publicity surrounding the photos might reflect positively on the Russian armed forces, which have worked hard to cultivate an image of pure, unadulterated evil since 2014.

The concern over the threat of positive connotations may explain Moscow’s official denials of involvement. Speaking at a press briefing the day after the photos emerged on social media, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted that Russia is not involved in helping the Kurds in the North Syrian Confederation.

“All this talk of the Russian military doing something positive or morally correct is nothing but nonsense from the typical sources,” Peskov told journalists.

“I can assure all of you that Russia and its Armed Forces are working their absolute hardest to fulfill their duty of spreading misery to the fullest extent of our reach,” he added.

State media has also hit back at the allegations, calling them “hypocritical,” pointing out that US forces are assisting the same Kurds, and listing numerous historical examples of when the United States’ armed forces acted as a force for good. Sunday news presenter Dmitry Kiselyov reminded his viewers that the US military had been instrumental in such positive historical developments as the abolition of slavery and the destruction of Nazi Germany. He too denied that Russia was deliberately helping the Kurdish movement, insisting that Russia would never support a democratic movement favoring local autonomy, self-administration, and radical women’s rights.

“It’s absurd,” Kiselyov told his viewers.

“Why would we, a nation with a highly centralized authoritarian bureaucracy bolstered by a fascist-inspired imperialist ideology want anything to do with these so-called ‘democratic confederalists,’ who insist that women are something other than breeding stock, entertainment, and a means for obtaining kompromat?”

Despite official denials, sources within the Ministry of Defense say that the command is taking the issue of its image very seriously and is looking for ways to compensate for its potential improvement.

“They’re frantically searching for ways to offset the potential improvement of their reputation,” said Gennady Borisov, a retired Soviet/Russian General who now works for a Moscow-based think tank dedicated to security issues.

“Any potentially positive action on the part of the Russian armed forces is a serious black mark on their image, so all options are on the table- stepping up the shelling of civilians in Ukraine, bombing hospitals in Syria- these are just two examples.”

Borisov said that the Ministry of Defense may even decide to take even stronger, proactive measures such as dropping napalm on a maternity ward in a relatively peaceful area of Syria or releasing a video of Russian soldiers crushing newborn kittens.

“Desperate times call for desperate measures, as they say. It might sound revolting, but it’s nowhere near as bad as having people all over the globe think that our armed forces were involved in something positive.”

You use it you lose it: Russia vs. Reality Round #517

Anyone with military experience knows that shit breaks. There’s the way a particular weapon or piece of equipment is supposed to work, and then there’s the way it works in the field. In the army there was this joke that went like this: “Why is the chemlight (glow stick to civilians) the best piece of equipment in the army? Because you have to break it to make it work.”

It doesn’t matter if you’re in the military of the biggest spender in the world, the US, shit…breaks. Take a look at these mishaps with the super-advanced Javelin missile, for example.

Oh but that only happens to hi-tech, super-sensitive technology, you say? Think again. Here’s the good ol’ “Ma Deuce” .50 cal, showing us that even old, venerable weapons can still screw up in the field.

Right about now some pro-Russian tank wonk is probably laughing his ass off and about to tell us how all this super-expensive, high tech equipment is laughably fragile in the field compared to rugged, reliable Russian technology. Yeah, about that…

Oh I’m sure that terrorist didn’t take care of his Kalashnikov properly, even though we all know Kalashnikovs are invincible and don’t need any care, right? Well…

 Oh and what about those awesome S-300 and S-400 SAM systems that can shoot down a migrating seagull dozens of kilometers away?

Here we have a Tochka-U surface-to-surface missile mishap in the Donbas, though it’s not entirely clear which side was using it (irrelevant for our purposes in this case).

So to repeat- military shit breaks. The more you use it, the more you increase the chance of something going wrong. I was once involved in field exercise where we actually had to come in from the field early because a vital piece of equipment spontaneously caught fire. We’re talking about rugged signal equipment first developed in the 1970’s, not terribly sensitive stuff. On a more tragic note, three soldiers from our brigade were killed at the National Training Center when a mortar round went off in the tube. Mortars have been around since WWI, and yet things like this still happen.

When you put any kind of strain on a nation’s military, say by launching a major military campaign, you’re going to see more and more accidents and fuck-ups. Not only are you using the equipment more, and often under more stressful conditions, but you also have an increased opportunity for human error. People are overworked, sleep-deprived, nervous, scared, confused, etc. This can lead to improper usage and lapses in maintenance. It’s not just big campaigns like Iraq or Afghanistan that pushed US or NATO forces to the limit. Even the Kosovo campaign was marred by several accidents which were unrelated to combat action, including the loss of two AH-64 Apache helicopters that were only flying training missions.

Now keep in mind that this is the case for the biggest defense spender in the world, with an all-volunteer professional military force largely made up of highly motivated people with some of the best military training on the globe. What happens when a country whose military is largely conscript-based and rife with all manner of socio-political problems, from corruption to ethnic hatred, tries to pretend it’s on par with NATO forces and gets engaged in a secret war while running almost continuous snap drills and exercises in more than one theater at the same time?

This is what happens. That’s not all. I woke up this morning to find that another Tu-95 “Bear” strategic bomber crashed. Russia’s recent exercises and airspace violations definitely achieved their likely goal of provoking panic among certain European leaders and pundits such as Ed Lucas, but as I said when this all began, it is nothing but desperate posturing. After years of looting state budgets, Putin and his bureaucratic cronies seriously weakened their military, which for many had become a source of free construction labor. Then they thought they could throw a lot of money they didn’t really have at it, make slick new logos and digital camo uniforms, and suddenly all those endemic problems would just go away. Clearly they were wrong. Not only is Russia losing planes in exercises and soldiers in Ukraine training exercises, but they’re even losing soldiers who are peacefully occupying their own barracks, which apparently collapsed due to suspected safety violations during its construction. Once again, corruption rears its head and ruins Russian aspirations.

As I have also said before, at least some of the Russian maneuvers are a threat to safety, specifically flying around with transponders off. As Russia is already responsible for the destruction of one civilian airliner, it would be wise for them to tread lightly around civil aviation. But then again, we are dealing with people who are not wise, but in fact delusional. Russia’s puffed-up posturing is dangerous in the same way that a drunk man swinging his arms wildly can be dangerous. He may hit a couple people but he’s really not a threat once he’s pushed outside to collapse on the pavement in a puddle of his own vomit.

So what is really happening here? Thorough narratives of the behavior of interbellum Poland spoke of how the country aspired to be a great power “between the seas.” The problem was that Poland began acting as though it already was a great power when in fact it was nothing close to the sort. This led to decisions and flirtations with its real mortal enemy, Nazi Germany, which eventually sealed the fate of the Second Polish Republic. This kind of too-big-for-one’s-britches behavior is quite apt to describe Putin’s Russia. In order to save his popularity, he’s forced to play his best card- Russia as a great power. This means military parades, defense spending Russia can’t afford, snap drills, exercises, and of course, that war they can’t openly admit to, thus hampering their war efforts in a conflict where the goals are probably no clearer to Russia’s leadership than they are to the general public. The problem is, however, that Putin is writing checks that his military and economy simply cannot cash.

The really tragic part of all this is that none of these things make Russia a great power, nor is such an outdated concept a worthy goal. Russia’s true power could have been found in its publicly owned resources for the past 15 years, assuming more of that wealth had been directed to diversifying the economy and improving living standards as opposed to being siphoned off by everyone from Putin on down to the lowliest bureaucrat. Russia was certainly poised to take the lead in science, but instead its leadership preferred to create and maintain a society where the prospects for scientists were markedly low compared to the West, and of course, they chose to promote religion and the church in contradiction to the Russian constitution. No big surprise that Russia’s brain drain continues, and as always, Putin blames the West for his own 15-year failure. Russia still has a significant edge in space exploration, but right now what’s really important is ruining independent Ukraine and letting wannabe White Guards and Cossacks engage in lethal live-action role playing in the Donbas, so that falls by the wayside too.

There’s a sort of paradox here. If Putin had made the right choices, Russia’s economic power and influence would have given it a far better military, perhaps the all-volunteer force they’ve been talking about for over a decade. But then there remains a question- if Russia became that economic power with higher standards of living and strong leads in science and technology, it’s unlikely that this higher quality military would seem so important. Russian military power is something that appeals to a large demographic in Russia which sees no other value in their country. Unable to offer anything that the world wants, they hate all those countries which they feel have it better than them, and they are pleased at the ability to intimidate and bully those countries. Such people, for all their claims of patriotism, know full well how poor their conditions really are, not necessarily in economic terms but in terms of rights and rule of law, and so they relish in the idea of ruining things for those who live better, unjustly of course.

As Putin is appealing directly to that sentiment, his unprepared military is suffering thanks to the delusions and fantasies of his base, which he is trying to please at expense of Russia’s future as a country. Can one really feel pity in this state of affairs? Essentially what we have here is a 90lb lightweight who wants to be a professional MMA fighter with barely any training and none of the discipline such a sport requires. Are we supposed to feel sorry for him when he gets utterly crushed? Putin had other options. He chose instead to embrace the worst elements of Russian society and turn against his most talented people. Now pleasing the former means getting into that cage and getting trounced by reality. Or in the case of Russia’s air force- gravity.

The moral of the story- military shit breaks. The more you use it, the more you lose it.

Spilling secrets

Anyone paying attention to the news lately has probably noticed Russia’s impotent flopping around on the world stage, in an attempt to appear relevant and threatening on the world stage, and to distract from the fact that its corrupt oligarchy basically stole Russia’s future. Much of said flopping consists of running all kinds of military drills, many of which have led to airspace violations all over Eastern Europe.  Well guess what- turns out all these drills are great training for NATO pilots and radar crews. Not only that, but this has spurred new efforts by Eastern NATO countries to revamp their whole military arsenals with updated equipment. Countries like Sweden and Finland are now considering joining the alliance. Great job, Putin! You found a way to expand NATO when its own leaders were stumped!

Russia’s only hope to do significant damage in a war with a NATO country would necessarily be based on surprise. There are many new Russian weapons which haven’t really been tested in combat against a NATO-equipped foe, and Russia hasn’t been in a conventional war since August of 2008. Now that element of surprise has been pissed away, along with Russia’s economy, reputation, standards of living, and hope for the future. Good one, Vladimir! Are you absolutely sure you still want to go on taking advice from the delusional dipshits you’ve been listening to for the past few years?

The linked article does contain a couple factual errors that I must point out, however. It refers to Moldovan and Georgian territory supposedly annexed by Putin.  In reality the territories in question were taken by local forces with Russian help in the early 90’s.

War nerdery or The article where I criticize my own writing

I was just doing a little re-reading of some recent posts and in the process I realized something rather odd. Recently I posted this entry, on the subject of sex slavery and male prostitution among Russian army conscripts.  I chose the topic for several reasons, the main one being that it flies in the face of all those chicken little pundits who are constantly claiming that we’re on the verge of WWIII with Russia, as Russia is clearly not capable of waging such a war.

Abuse of conscripts, even if we exclude sexual exploitation, is still enough of a problem to severely hamper Russia militarily. Your signal soldiers, ADA(air defense), logistics, etc. cannot do their jobs properly when they have had barely any training and are being intimidated and abused by their higher ups. Of course even if we pretended the Russian military didn’t have problems with abuse of all sorts, there are still problems with its training nonetheless. Therefore it’s easy for a military history buff such as myself to get sidetracked into discussions about training deficiency, the short term of service, problems with conscription, et cetera, et cetera.

In the other article, I must admit I got sidetracked. I wrote about the vast difference between the US Army recruit and the training they receive versus that which a Russian conscript gets. In terms of military strategy and tactics, this is crucial since we live in an era when the average soldier must simply know more and be familiar with a wide variety of weapons and equipment, not to mention tactics. Gone are the days of the “grunt” who merely digs holes and shoots people. The infantryman must have enough knowledge to be able to act on his own initiative. And I’m sad to say, pro-Russia war nerds, but for all its many faults, the US military does a fine job of training its volunteers, and is currently light years ahead of Russia in this respects. But some where in that discussion about M203 grenade launchers and weapons qualifications, I lost sight of a very important factor, perhaps the most important factor.

Even if we ignore the superior weapons and infantry training given to all US Army recruits, by far the most important edge which the US military has as a whole over the Russian military is known in civilian terms as “not being forced into prostitution.” Sure, it is important that even in basic training recruits get to familiarize themselves with radios, anti-tank weapons, hand grenades, land navigation, and first aid, but not being brutally gang raped and pimped out is definitely, hands down, the best feature of the US military in terms of this comparison. That one factor easily makes all the other perks pale by comparison. I’m sure some Russian army survivors would agree, and they probably would have pointed that out were they able to read the blog entry in question.

Indeed, familiarization with weapons like the M203 grenade launcher is very important, from a tactical point of view. But what's far more important is what is NOT happening in this picture, i.e. nobody is being sexually abused and forced into prostitution.

Indeed, familiarization with weapons like the M203 grenade launcher is very important, from a tactical point of view. But what’s far more important is what is NOT happening in this picture, i.e. nobody is being sexually abused and forced into prostitution.

Indeed, war nerdery can make a person not see the forest through the trees. I got so wrapped up in jargon and nostalgia for the youthful adventure of basic training that I totally forgot about the real issue here, that being how much better it is when you’re not forced into sex slavery.  I apologize for this mix-up in priorities, and will  endeavor not to do so again in the future.  Yes, tactical training and equipment familiarization are crucial for soldiers in modern warfare. That being said, this is generally the case so long as you are not facing a realistic chance of being forced into prostitution. If there is such a probable scenario, then that is your main problem, and weapons qualification and familiarization must necessarily take a back seat.

Personally my military experience was far from stellar, and I often describe myself as a military historian who hates the military. That being said, I have to say that in spite of all the idiocy I saw in the US Army, they certainly kicked ass in the “not forcing people into sexual slavery” department. Passed with flying colors if you ask me. Not once did I see anyone even attempt to force someone into prostitution. I’m sure somebody in the past tried to do it, at least once, because there’s this specific law in UCMJ against “pandering,” basically trying to get someone into prostitution. But it seems to me that whatever measures they implemented to crack down on that were extremely effective, because I don’t remember seeing any pandering whatsoever. So now if people ask me for my best memories of being in the army, my new answer will be, “not being repeatedly beaten, robbed, exploited as slave labor, or forced into prostitution.” That was awesome.

Priorities, people.