Back and Forth in the Quagmire

Saturday, April 2, 2022

The news from Russia and Ukraine this week has oscillated between intense Russian bombardments of Mariupol and other cities in Ukraine, followed by Moscow's pledges to relent somewhat and re-position its forces in the eastern part of the country. 

So what's been going on with this? 

I could be wrong, of course, but I'm of the opinion that Moscow probably is really planning to re-group in eastern Ukraine. From the looks of things, some troops are also retreating to Belarus for now. 

Yet on Sunday there were attacks on Lviv, an apparent escalation of sorts as Lviv previously had been bombed only sporadically. This, however, was not much of a surprise, as Joe Biden was at that moment just across the border in Poland. Pathetic as it may seen, it was actually predictable that Russian forces would choose that moment to shell the area close to the border.  

That'll teach him. 

Since then, there's been a fair bit of speculation about whether Russian talk about re-deploying to the east is genuine or if it's just a ploy. 

I wouldn't be surprised if retreating to the east really is the plan for now. It's hardly a secret that the war has been going badly for Russian forces. 

Could this mark the emergence of a "Plan B" in Ukraine? Perhaps. As I intimated last week, now that hopes for a quick victory have been dashed, I think the goal right now is primarily to make Ukrainians suffer and to destabilize the country as much as possible. More than 4 million Ukrainians have fled the country, but the total number of people who have been chased from their homes is about 10 million. That's one quarter of Ukraine's entire population. Bucha, I fear, will not prove to be an isolated case. 

Even if the war were to end today and Russian forces were to quit the country, Ukraine would likely be destabilized for years. Does anybody remember what happened to Albania in 1996-7? After a series of pyramid schemes collapsed, people looted the military's armories. Pretty soon, folks were armed to the teeth. It took years to rein that in. While it obviously made sense for authorities in Ukraine to distribute weapons to resist Russian forces, I can't help wondering what will happen to all of those guns--and the people using them--once the fighting is over. 

Meanwhile, the refugee crisis does not only affect Ukraine, but also a series of countries surrounding it, most of which are in the EU and NATO. While we're still in the "honeymoon" phase of this crisis, with eastern Europeans displaying genuine concern for refugees, I wouldn't be surprised if authorities in Russia were counting on that goodwill to evaporate as the months, as possibly years, of conflict wear on. Ultimately, this could real problems in places like Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania. 

And thirdly, while this might seem a relatively minor concern at present, the economic impact of the war on Ukraine is going to be enormous. Even if the fighting turns into a stalemate and recedes to some degree, the longer this goes on the worse it is for Ukrainian civilians. It's going to be a long time before many people are interested in investing in Ukraine if there is a constant threat of continued, or returning, violence.  

So, this might be where we're headed with this conflict: Russian re-deployment to the the east, continued Ukrainian suffering, an extended and ongoing refugee crisis, and long-term prospects for instability in Ukraine. And that means, too, chances for instability among the US' NATO allies in eastern Europe who are taking in the lion's share of these refugees.

Meanwhile, there are also obvious risks on the Russian side, at least insofar as the prospect of continued fighting is concerned. Watching the Russian Army bleed out in Ukraine for the next several years was probably not what Vladimir Putin had in mind when he launched this idiotic war of conquest. 

Back when I was writing about the Russian build-up in December and early this year, I had assumed Putin was bluffing, because invading Ukraine seemed like such an opportunity for folly. But, as I surmised then, sometimes these things can take on a life of their own. If, for example, you've been making threats for seven years and feel like you have to go through with them in order to avoid looking weak. 

But that, of course, is a terrible reason to go to war--and not just for ethical reasons, but also tactical ones. The same guy who annexed the Crimea without firing a shot eight years ago is now shooting up everything and conquering nothing. 

From Russia's perspective, re-deploying to the east might therefore make sense. In the meantime, however, the Kremlin will likely continue its ongoing blunder of putting the screws to Kyiv at the negotiating table. Moscow wants to leave Ukraine with a victory big enough to justify all of the turmoil that Putin's misgovernance has inflicted upon Russia so far this year. In my opinion, that would mean something more than just Ukrainian pledges of neutrality

The quagmire, I think, is going to get a lot deeper before anyone reaches the other side.


Also see:

A "Mission Accomplished" Moment?

This past week...

More Thoughts Re Ukraine and NATO

The USA: NATO's Weakest Link?

Brown Trouser Time

Looking for the Long-Term in Putin's Moves

Moscow Recognizes Two Breakaway Republics: Why do this?


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  1. Good to hear from you, Chance. As far as Russia and China are concerned--sure, both regimes oppose what they view as a largely hegemonic (and critical, vis-a-vis Beijing and Moscow) US administration. A genocidal regime is Beijing is, in some ways, certainly going to prefer a non-judgmental regime in Moscow to one in Washington that points out their misdeeds.

    That being said, how much does China trade with the US, in comparison to their trade with Moscow? It's not even close. My guess is that Beijing is more interested in money than aligning itself politically with Russia.

    And frankly, long term China is probably Russia's biggest threat. Russia has a small population relative its size, and enormous tracts of land on the Chinese border. For how much longer is Moscow going to be able to hold onto that?

  2. Sorry Chance, I deleted your comment accidentally when I was removing spam. This is what you wrote:

    "I have been shocked at how poorly the Russian military has been on the offensive. The armor they have committed into urban areas has zero infantry supporting/protecting their flanks and are being chewed to pieces by Ukrainian defenders with very basic anti-tank weapons. Russian military doctrine must rely on bludgeoning the objective to death with privates and using very little tactical fighting. I don't see how they can sack most of Ukraine without flattening everything with artillery and airstrikes. The innocent will suffer the most as war never brings out the best in anyone, especially an attacking army failing to seize objectives.

    Jim, I know Russia and the Turkish world is more your flavor of history, but it seems Russia and China are really aligning in a new order of business that will really challenge the status quo. I am far more concerned about China and their potential to realign the stars. The February 4th "no limits" partnership simply scares the hell outta me.

    As the suffering continues we are all going to feel the global consequences of the Russian invasion. Having participated in the Iraq war I'm very worried that Volodymyr Zelenskyy's pleads for help will eventually lead to NATO or American boots on the ground.
    We can only stay tuned to what will actually happen in the coming months or even years. The refugee crisis is going to cause unbearable problems in the coming months."