Invasion

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has not gone well for Russia. The Financial Times, under the heading, “How Russia’s mistakes and Ukrainian resistance altered Putin’s war,” stated this:

“The snarled up 65km Russian convoy that was stuck for days outside Kyiv neatly illustrated Moscow’s misplaced belief that it could achieve a lightning-fast victory in Ukraine.

Western military analysts say Russia’s leadership initially thought its “special military operation” would reach the capital and other big Ukrainian cities in days, forcing Volodymyr Zelensky’s government to capitulate and allow a puppet administration to be installed.

“It’s clear that Russia was pursuing regime change in Ukraine,” said Michael Kofman, Russia studies director at CNA, a US think-tank. “Regime change operations are often derived of hubris and bad assumptions—and they usually go terribly wrong.”

Russia’s invasion has not gone to plan, but it has made significant territorial gains, notably in southern Ukraine where its forces have reportedly created a land corridor linking the Crimean Peninsula to the Donbas region, held pre-war by Russia-backed separatists.

The initial failures have ushered in a new phase of the conflict, characterised by heavy bombardments of densely populated areas such as Kharkiv and Mariupol—a tactic Russia used previously in Chechnya and Syria. Ukrainian civilians have borne the brunt of these assaults.

Military experts say Russia’s problems stem from its own disorganisation, underperformance and overconfidence; and the Ukrainian army’s preparedness, supported by weapons and advice from members of the NATO military alliance.

This is an anatomy of the first phase of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s war: how an invasion on three fronts foundered in the face of fierce Ukrainian resistance and Russian shortcomings.

Russia’s approach in the war’s first 48 hours suggested a plan to move rapidly towards key urban centres, where it would force local mayors and officials into submission. But in multiple locations, notably in northern Ukraine, these units quickly outran their supply lines.

The Russians not only left logistics units behind, but they also failed to protect them with infantry or air cover, creating opportunities for the Ukrainians to take them out and cut off the units out front.

“The Ukrainian forces were able to absorb the initial psychological shock of the attack…organise themselves, generate reserves, distribute weapons, and quickly stymie Russian momentum,” said Kofman.

Ukraine did not have the firepower to take on Russia when its tanks rolled into Crimea in 2014, leading to Moscow’s annexation of the peninsula. This time, however, the international supply of weapons to Ukraine has enabled its military to inflict significant damage.

Hubris was also evident in Russia’s attempt, at the outset of hostilities, to seize Hostomel airfield outside Kyiv with about 200 paratroopers supported by helicopters, said Bullock.

“They [would usually] send in a lot more troops supported by artillery and light armoured vehicles,” he said. “For this assault, however, they appeared to think, ‘We can just catch these airfields and won’t meet much resistance so we don’t need to commit’.”

Russia has fared much better in its opening campaign in southern Ukraine. Crucial to this was the early capture of a bridge over the Dnipro river, “a huge milestone for the Russians, and they’ve capitalised on it ever since,” said Bullock. The captured bridge is just outside the city of Kherson, which fell to Russia six days later.

The weather has also played a significant role. While the ground in southern Ukraine is hard, much of the north has been unseasonably muddy, which Breedlove said became “a huge problem” for the Russian forces. “Nearly every time the tanks tried to deploy off of the roads, they got stuck.”

One puzzle of the war is why Russia has not made greater use of its superior air power. One explanation could be the defending force’s use of anti-air weapons. Russia only executed two waves of air attacks in the first days of the war, said Breedlove, such as on the Dnipro river outside Kherson.

A new and potentially bloodier chapter of the war is now under way as Russia changes its battlefield tactics.

“We’re definitely in a second phase of the war,” said Justin Bronk, research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute think-tank. “We’re increasingly seeing the Russian military starting to fight like they normally fight.”

This means it will increasingly resort to methods tried and tested in previous conflicts, an approach that can be seen in its assault on Mariupol. The port has been subject to a ferocious Russian bombardment that has flattened much of the city and killed a large number of civilians.

“They seem to be falling back on the extremely brutal, but unfortunately very successful, pattern in Syria and Grozny [in Chechnya]—besiege them, cut them off,” said Bronk. “Shell people until starvation and bombing just compels a surrender.”

Kofman added: “Now they realise they’re in for a serious fight…this war is going to get uglier.”

Will Putin go beyond Ukraine?

The Russians will learn from their mistakes because when Gog and her allies invade Israel it will be with a massive amount of force. We can only imagine the horrific devastation of a small country like Israel when it is overwhelmed with a force likened to a cloud covering the land.

CNBC ran this report on 18 March 2022, on Putin’s next target:

“Three weeks into the war in Ukraine, as Russia faces staunch and seemingly unexpected resistance on the ground, analysts have warned that President Vladimir Putin may be considering his next target: Moldova.

A landlocked Eastern European country situated on Ukraine’s western border, Moldova shares several parallels with its neighbour that could see it become a staging post for the continued onslaught—or itself vulnerable to attack.

If the conflict escalates beyond Ukraine, Moldova is one of the places that ranks highest on list,” Adriano Bosoni, director of analysis at risk management firm Rane, told CNBC.

Moldova, like Ukraine, is not part of the European Union, nor is it a member of NATO—though it has ambitions to become both. But, like Ukraine, the former Soviet republic is home to a sizeable pro-Russian separatist population based primarily in the breakaway state of Transnistria on the Ukrainian border”.

Reuters ran a piece (U.S. seeks to calm fears in Baltics that Putin ‘will not stop in Ukraine’) on 8 March 2022:

“U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken sought on Monday to reassure Washington’s Baltic allies who fear President Vladimir Putin will not stop at Ukraine in trying to redraw the borders of Europe.

Blinken spent the weekend in Ukraine’s neighbours Poland and Moldova before visiting Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, NATO members that were once ruled from Moscow and fear they could face Russian aggression next.

Addressing Blinken, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda warned that ‘Russia’s reckless aggression’ could lead to a ‘third world war’.”

Fallout – Sanctions and the Russian economy

AP News ran an article entitled: “Economic dangers from Russia’s invasion ripple across globe”:

“Infuriated by Putin’s aggression, the United States and other Western nations have targeted Russia with sanctions of unprecedented breadth and severity for a major economy. They have thrown major Russian banks off the SWIFT international payment system, limited high tech exports to Russia and severely restricted Moscow’s use of its foreign currency reserves.

The rapid and unified international retaliation against Russia appeared to catch Putin’s regime by surprise.

“The world—or most of it anyway—is laying economic siege to Russia,” wrote Carl Weinberg, chief economist at High Frequency Economics.

The sanctions quickly caused damage. The Russian rouble plunged to a record low Monday. Depositors lined up at ATMs to try to withdraw their money from the embattled banking system. Cut off from Google Pay and Apple Pay, Russians were stuck at ticket booths at Metro rail lines.

The Institute of International Finance foresees the Russian economy enduring a double-digit contraction this year, worse even than its 7.8% drop in the Great Recession year of 2009.

Oxford Economics said evidence from wars ranging from the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war to the 1999 NATO bombing campaign against Serbia suggests that a staggering collapse of the Ukrainian economy of 50% to 60% is possible.”

The Conversation (11/3/22) had this to say about Russia’s war bill:

“The invasion of Ukraine has placed Russia on the verge of bankruptcy. Interest rates have doubled, the stock market has closed, and the rouble has fallen to its lowest level ever.

The military costs of war have been exacerbated by an unprecedented level of international sanctions, sustained by a large coalition of countries. Russian citizens, now unable to spend at IKEA, McDonald’s or Starbucks, are not allowed to convert any of the money they do have into foreign currency.

Generous estimates suggest the Russian economy could shrink by 7% next year, instead of the 2% growth that was forecast before the invasion. Others say the drop could be as much as 15%.

Such a fall would be bigger than the 1998 crash of the Russian stock markets—a major shock to an economy which has hardly seen any growth in the last decade and failed to diversify away from exporting oil and gas. Meanwhile the European Union is planning to drastically decrease its energy dependency on Russia, while the US and the UK have begun to phase out their own, more limited, imports.”

If Putin feels cornered, he will come out swinging and the temptation of invading other countries to take a spoil to pay for his war effort in Ukraine will loom large in his thinking.

Russia’s war in Ukraine may ‘fundamentally alter’ global economic, political order – IMF

This was the heading of an article by Reuters dated 16 March 2022:

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will affect the entire global economy by slowing growth and jacking up inflation and could fundamentally reshape the global economic order in the longer term, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said on Tuesday.

Beyond the human suffering and historic refugee flows, the war is boosting prices for food and energy, fuelling inflation and eroding the value of incomes, while disrupting trade, supply chains and remittances in countries neighbouring Ukraine, the IMF said in a post on its website.

It is also eroding business confidence and triggering uncertainty among investors that will depress asset prices, tighten financial conditions and could trigger capital outflows from emerging markets, it said.

“The conflict is a major blow to the global economy that will hurt growth and raise prices,” the IMF said.

At the same time, food insecurity was likely to further increase in parts of Africa and the Middle East, where countries like Egypt import 80% of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine.

In the longer term, it said, “the war may fundamentally alter the global economic and geopolitical order should energy trade shift, supply chains reconfigure, payment networks fragment, and countries rethink reserve currency holdings.”

Fallout – European politics

When Russia was threatening to invade Ukraine the response of individual European countries towards Ukraine was lukewarm. For example, Germany stuck to its longstanding practice of not permitting lethal weapons that it controlled to be transferred into a conflict zone and sent 5,000 helmets and a field hospital—a move that sparked outrage in Ukraine.

But all that changed dramatically one week into the invasion. The London School of Economics and Political Science published an article under the heading: “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine signals new beginnings and new conflicts for the European Union”. It stated:

“It is difficult to overstate how much the EU owes Ukraine and its president Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Their heroic defence and determination in the face of Russia’s invasion, and their commitment to values that have long been seen as central to the EU’s mission, have given the EU the motivation and courage to stand up.

They have both highlighted the necessity and increased the willingness of the EU to defend its own values and interests. The actions by the EU in the past weeks have been applauded by many as uncharacteristically swift, ambitious and effective. They also, however, foreshadow much more fundamental and long-term changes to the EU’s self-understanding and its institutional and political structures, and hint at the emergence of controversial choices to be made.

During that weekend in February the EU recast itself: it shed its self-understanding and image as a reluctant global actor that focuses on diplomacy and normative power; and instead emerged as an actor that can swiftly and effectively protect its strategic short and long-term interests. This new geopolitical role for the EU, however, comes with several implications that will—indisputably and irreversibly—change the EU in the long term.

Arguably, the EU’s response to the Russian invasion foreshadows some fundamental changes to its nature. A first change sees to the EU’s purpose. For a decade there has been lots of soul-searching about the ‘point’ of the EU.

We now have a new answer to that fundamental question: the point of the EU is that it protects the strategic geopolitical interests of its member states and its citizens—whether within the context of climate change, or in its relationships with other global powers, including protection from military threats. It can be expected that the EU will make much of this in the coming years: the creation of a new raison d’être that fosters its legitimacy, shapes its internal structures, and allows its member states and citizens to rally around the blue flag with its yellow stars.

Arguably, we will look back at the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a turning point in the EU’s story: the moment in which it has turned itself outwards and transformed itself into an actor that can effectively protect its strategic interests in different domains, with the use of a wide arsenal of regulatory, political, economic and military means. This represents a shift in the EU’s nature that cannot be underestimated.”

At the moment Europe stands against Putin. In the future it will stand with him.