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What in the World?

Russia was bad at war before. Now it’s worse.

Sep 02, 2022

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The Ukrainians have launched a highly-anticipated counteroffensive, coming after weeks of targeting Russia’s supply lines with western weapons. At the center of the battle is Ukraine’s southern Kherson region, where Ukraine claimed this week it killed more than 200 Russian soldiers and destroyed a half-dozen ammunition depots. After some weeks away from discussing the war, Straight Arrow News contributor Peter Zeihan is back with an in-depth status update and an analysis covering Russia’s continued weaknesses:

It’s been about five weeks since I talked about the war in general. We’re now going to talk about where we are today.

The single biggest takeaway of the last five weeks is that everything — I mean everything that the Russians were bad at before — propaganda, logistics, precision, training, maintenance equipment, everything that they were bad at before — they’re worse now. The Russian offensive has stalled pretty much everywhere. And there’s two big reasons for this.

The first and the most spectacularly — and in many ways impressively — is in the past six weeks Ukraine has shifted the type of war that it is fighting. They’ve gone from predominantly trying to arrest the Russian advance with things like stingers and javelins, you know, shoulder-mounted weapons to an ever-increasing number and ever-increasing style — heavier artillery that has enabled Ukraine to increasingly strike deep behind enemy lines, blow up ammo dumps, destroy logistical hubs, damaged infrastructure, and even get to the point of assassinating military leadership.

Some of the Wagner bases — these are Russia’s mercenaries — have been just destroyed and other places they’ve found out that a number of officers were getting together for a happy hour and they hit the bar.

The degree to which the Ukrainians are able to put targeting information either from their own human network or signal interest intelligence that is provided by the Americans, and put it to use, has been very impressive, and it has snarled the entirety of the Russian advance in both the east and the south.

Hey, everyone, Peter Zion here coming to you from home in Colorado. We’re going to start off this new series with what I’ve learned during the Ukraine war to this point, specifically, now that I’ve had a little bit of time to kind of step back and reassess. It’s been about five weeks since I talked about the war in general, we’re now going to talk about where we are today.

The single biggest takeaway of the last five weeks is that everything I mean, everything that the Russians were bad at before propaganda, logistics, precision, training, maintenance equipment, everything that they were bad at before the worst now, the Russian offensive have stalled pretty much everywhere. And there’s two big reasons for this. The first and the most spectacularly and in many ways impressively is in the past six weeks, Ukraine has shifted the type of war that it is fighting private Amazon, they’ve gone from predominantly trying to arrest the Russian advance with things like stingers and javelins, you know, shoulder mounted weapons to an ever increasing number and ever increasing style heavier artillery that has enabled Ukraine to increasingly strike deep behind enemy lines, blow up ammo dumps, destroy logistical hubs, damaged infrastructure, and even get to the point of assassinating military leadership. Some of the Wagner bases these are Russia’s mercenaries have been just destroyed and other places they’ve found out that a number of officers were getting together for a happy hour and they hit the bar. The degree to which the Ukrainians are able to put targeting information either from their own human network or signal interest intelligence that is provided by the Americans, and put it to use has been very impressive, and it has snarled the entirety of the Russian advance in both the east and the south.

Second, and perhaps even a little bit more significantly than the Ukrainian increasing battle powers is that Russia may be running out of ammunition. Now, the Russians don’t fight wars like most modern military, certainly not like the United States, the United States does high impact long range deep penetration to prevent the front from ever even forming. That’s not how the Russians do it. The Russians use trains to supply a nearly bottomless supply of material and fuel and ammo to the frontline. And then they assault the entire frontline with a massive amount of artillery, destroying everything they see in their path, and incrementally advancing maybe a mile a day. Now, Russian maintenance and of anything has never been great, especially in the post Soviet system, and explosives, like food have used by dates. Typically, for artillery shells, you don’t want to use anything that’s more than 2025 years old. Russia really hasn’t built much in the last 30 years. We don’t know a huge amount of Russia about Russia and conventional forces because they’re not sharing the data. But we do know that they face a massive industrial collapse in the 1990s that they never really covered recovered from. And they have fought three artillery intensive wars since the Soviet collapse, two in Chechnya, and then one in Syria. So now the Russians are attempting to advance over a front that’s 1000 miles along with the burn rate for their artillery, in excess of 40,000 shells a day, going through a relatively small by Soviet standards arsenal that has been acquired since the Soviet collapse when the industrial system collapsed as well. Any equipment any shells that they’re going to use that are not from that stack are things that were built before 1989, meaning that they’re in excess of 30 years old. We’ve seen reports several a year in Russia going back 30 years that every once in a while one of these shells, falls or just has a problem clicks off and the entire ammo dump goes up. It’s entirely possible that some of the explosions we’re seeing in places like Belgrade or western Russia, are not actually being caused by the Ukrainians but by the Russians men handling of their own equipment. But regardless, that burn rate 40,000 a day is not something that anyone could maintain at length.

So while the Ukrainians have been using more and more artillery with higher and higher range, and more and more accuracy more and more intelligently, Russia has been shifting in the other direction using older and older shells, which have a higher chance of blowing up in the barrel or not detonating when they actually arrive. And the logistical trail of getting that stuff the front is getting longer and longer and more disrupted. So rather than the broad if slow advances behind a hill of artillery, like we were seeing out of the Russians in May in June and early July when I less addressed this topic. Instead, Russia has been hitting high profile targets such as train stations and malls, your big static things, but those attacks have the feeling of the feel of being a little bit more than the Russians shooting at things to demonstrate to the world that the Russians can still shoot

Did things, tanks and inventory are not following up on any of these attacks, whereas with Ukrainians, they very clearly been setting the stage for something much more significant.

That much more significant is now on Play. On August 29, the Ukrainians began what they claim to be is a significant military offensive to recapture the KEARSON region. Now, for those of you who remember back to the beginning of the war, KEARSON was the only major city that the Ukrainians ever lost to the Russians. It’s the only regional capital. And it was a bit of a surprise because it is in a relatively defensible position on the north side of the Nieper River. We’ll talk about that here in a minute. But first,

all the normal things that plague offensives are appropriate to think about here. They trigger higher casualties among the attackers in the defenders, they require more troops that require better logistics are more vulnerable to disruption, all of that stands. Also, you have to consider that this isn’t simply Ukraine’s first significant offensive in the war. But this is Ukraine’s first significant offensive ever. Russia first captured Kiv in the 1600s. And it has been under some flavor of Russian administration almost the entire time since then, there is no national history of military conflict and Ukraine in independent of its position as a cog within the Russian system. So all the concerns that people have about whether the Ukrainians can carry the water on this all relevant. But two things matter. The Ukrainians have continually surprised to the upside, and the Russians have continually surprised at the downside. So what should have been a wildly unbalanced or that should have been over four months ago, all of a sudden, if not a conflict among equals, is suddenly looking like a little bit more of a fair ish fight. And that means we have to look at what’s going on in KEARSON.

First of all, where is it? Here’s a map we’ve pulled from the Institute for the Study of war, which is brilliant. Anything in red is a territory that the Russians have captured since the beginning of this conflict, which began back in 2014. The zones that are outlined in black are the territories the Russians captured, and the last war, and everything with the red outline or the territories that they’ve captured since February 22. When this war began, the most important thing to note there is that KEARSON is in the extreme western part of the section that the Russians have captured. And you’ll notice that double red line coming down just to the northeast of KEARSON. That’s the Nieper river. And let me show you why that is significant.

Here we are looking at southern Ukraine, I’d give you an idea of just where everything is the red line down at the bottom, everything south of that is the Crimean peninsula, those are territories that the Russians have controlled, more or less since 2014. You move north of that, and everything that is to the south and east of this big swath of water, that’s the NEPA river is under Russian control pretty firmly, you go further east on here, you will see eventually, we will hit variable there just to the west of that yellow line,

back over to KEARSON. Now, the one place where the Russians have succeeded in crossing the Niger River is at KEARSON, and Cova, which are a here Pearson’s with the red and Caicos up river a little bit. And they control most of the territory just to the north of this zone. In fact, they made it almost all the way to make Clive which is this little city up here in the northwest of KEARSON. Now normally, if you were to tell me that the Ukrainians were attacking the Russians, and their smaller population with a smaller military with less equipment, and less training, I would have just kind of laughed it off. It’s one of the reasons why I was one of the people who thought that the war would have been over by now with the Russian victory. Thankfully, I was wrong.

But what is in play here is a little bit different. I would like to think that if I saw this specific fight brewing a few months ago that I would have give more or less the same assessment. Let’s zoom in on curious since you can see what I’m talking about.

River City, it’s the final packaging ports, kind of their New Orleans. But you’ll notice that in the river here, there’s nothing crossing in fact, you have to come up here to the far eastern ranks of the city before you hit the only bridge in KEARSON. And this is a bridge that the Ukrainians have been hitting off and on for the last few weeks with some of those high art higher range high accuracy artillery rounds, so the bridge is still standing but it is now close to heavy equipment traffic because it is no longer stuck.

For the sound enough to take, say a tank, and still take civilian traffic, but that’s about it. The next bridge up river is not until you reach Novikova right here, which doubles as a flood control lake for what is basically a reservoir up here. And once you’re done with that one, the next bridge up is all the way up here. It is so nice. Yeah. So that’s it. Those are the three lowest bridges right here. Those are the three lowest bridges on the river, in any equipment that the Russians want to get to the north side of the river has to cross through one of those three points, really one of the two that are down in KEARSON, specifically, our care, Senator Cova. So the Ukrainians have damaged those bridges, so they can’t be used for heavy equipment transfer.

Which means that the forces that are north of the river, abutting Russia or Ukrainian forces under Ukrainian territory, have to be able to get by with what they have already, anything else has to be reloaded out of a heavy vehicle and into a smaller truck to be brought north. And that means in terms of the Battle of forces, Ukrainians have a very strong force advantage here, I’m not predicting that they’re going to be able to pull this off. I’m saying that this is like one place where if you’re going to go through some teething pains in terms of learning how to do an offensive against the Russians, this is where you would do it. And that’s what they are doing it. There’s also a another complication here for the Russians, if it proves that the Ukrainians are successful, and the Ukrainians are closing and unclear, KEARSON and Kurkova.

Russian forces are going to have to evacuate on foot, they are going to have to leave all of their gear behind. And unlike the American and the Swedish and the German gear, that we have to train up the Ukrainians one squat at a time. Everyone in the Ukrainian military knows how to use old Russian equipment. This would be the single biggest military transfer to Ukraine of the post war environment and certainly of this war, it’s difficult to come up with something that would not just be a bigger, strategic or morale victory, but actually victory in terms of the availability of material all of a sudden, the Ukrainians might actually have what they need. So that’s kind of the first big piece of this. This is a realistic goal here for the Ukrainians. And if they achieve it, they will get some outsize benefits. There’s something more in play. Now Novica Cobra is important, not just because of the bridge, it’s also important because of these two little things right here. What you’re looking at here is a sluice gate that allows water to enter an irrigation canal. There’s one right there at the city, and then there’s one a little bit upstream. Now, the sole use for the water that’s coming up here is for irrigation. And in fact, you can see it in play right by the gates. These are crop circles, not caused by aliens, definitely caused by irrigation. And if you follow that big canal all the way south, you eventually end up in Crimea, where that same canal, here it is right here, is used to distribute within Ukrainian territories Russian occupied Ukrainian territories in Crimea itself. Now southern Ukraine has a similar moisture profile to western Kansas. So without irrigation, you’re not going to grow anything except for a little bit of dry season wheat.

If the Ukrainians succeed, in capturing KEARSON, they will be able to either blow up or shut off that sluice gate, which means that Crimea will be high and dry. Now in a typical season, Crimea imports over 80% of its food, anything that is not dry season wheat from Russia, if they’re able to get that irrigation water in, they’re self sufficient. So you’re talking about a population of 2 million and the greatest concentration of Russian forces in Ukraine, potentially being cut off from their normal food supplies. Now, they’d still be able to enter import food from Russia. But that brings us to the final point of this offensive, because if the Russians lose KEARSON, if the Ukrainians can get that far forward, then with some of the new equipment, the Ukrainians would be able to blow up a nice little bridge here that it looks like yep, there it is. This is the current Street Bridge. This is a road and rail combined piece of infrastructure and at present, it is the only uninterrupted rail line that links Russia proper to Russian occupied Ukraine, that remember the Russian Sukkot logistics, they’re not very good at moving things by truck. Sometimes they actually have to unpack their artillery shells from their casings, and move them a shell to show a person. Move the shells by hand one at a time. It’s like civilian vehicle

was for distribution. It’s ridiculous. They have to fight by rail. This is the only rail link that comes in. If you move further north into Ukraine proper, there are other road networks that go into places like blue Honson to NESC. But there is not a rail link that goes into those provinces and then drops back south of the river into the areas that the Russians are actually occupying. So it’s Kirche for nothing. And if the Ukrainians are able to blow up Kirche, then all rail supply for the entire force outside of Donetsk and Luhansk. themselves are suddenly lost. And Crimea goes from being an incredibly strategically valuable platform that the Russians can use to launch into Ukraine proper into the most significant military vulnerability that postwar Russia has ever had. That’s what’s at stake here. Now, again, this is not a forecast. This is a projection based on what their goals are, and where the targets are. If you’d asked me if they had a chance at this three months ago, I would have laughed and all of a sudden now you know, things have changed, or the Russians have underperformed Ukrainians have overperformed. The West has really come through with some more advanced equipment, and the balance of forces in the regions in question really have shifted. If Ukraine is going to win this war. This is how it’s going to start. Okay, that’s it for me. See you guys next time.

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