From a Greek cartoonist pic.twitter.com/Hyuzj7CUxW
— Olga Tokariuk (@olgatokariuk) March 10, 2022
I’m going to start a bit differently, order wise, tonight. Specifically I’m going to attempt to answer Redshift’s question from late last night/early this morning in the comments. Though this is going to blend into the update proper fairly quickly.
I have people I love in Ukraine (safe so far, thank god) and I would love to have the Western alliance come riding to the rescue and end this war. But I feel like what you’re advocating for in this post is a big shift from many of your previous ones, and I don’t quite grasp the rationale for the shift. I get that the things the Russian army is doing are horrible, but they’re largely things you were predicting, so I’d like to know how the balance of risks has changed.
Not pushing back on him as strongly as possibly only encourages him.
No disagreement, but that doesn’t prove that pushing back on him more strongly will discourage him. And “as strongly as possible” is pretty open-ended. I don’t want Ukraine reduced to rubble, but I don’t want it to get nuked either, and if Putin’s mindset is really “either I get it or no one does,” then what are the chances of that happening if we decide to get more directly involved? (Leaving aside for the moment the question of wider nuclear threats, which tend to be used to end the argument.)
I’m honestly hoping you can convince me. I would be happy to start making calls to my representatives if I feel confident of the odds of it leading to a better outcome.
I think the source of Redshift’s question and many of your comments about what I wrote last night is that I’ve failed to clearly articulate my position. So let me try to do that, which should also mark some beliefs to market. Or make things clear as mud…
Putin has been running this same basic playbook since at least 2008. I would argue he’s actually been running it since 2004 in the immediate aftermath of the Beslan Massacre. The playbook is to either seize on a crisis or threat that originates outside of Russia, but that can be framed as targeting the Russian state, Russian society, and Russians themselves (either Russians in Russia, ethnic Russians, or native non-ethnic Russian speakers in other states), and use it to justify military operations in the name of protecting Russia, Russian culture and society, and Russians or create one to do those things. He’s done it in Chechnya, in eastern Georgia, and in Ukraine. In each of these conflicts the laws of war, the Geneva Conventions they’re rooted in, and any form of professional military ethics went right out the window very quickly in how the Russians prosecuted the war. When Putin has decided to aid a foreign ally like Assad or advance his interests in places like Africa, he sends small compliments of actual in uniform on the books Russian military personnel accompanying much larger amounts of Wagner mercenaries. And in these conflicts too the laws of war, the Geneva Conventions, and any form of professional military ethic are completely ignored. In between these conflicts, or when they are ongoing but not getting a lot of news coverage in the US, Britain, and the EU states, he tries to get the US and the EU to engage with him as if he’s just a normal leader of a normal country, while reminding everyone that Russia is the successor to the Soviet Union and should be treated as such. Very often we do engage. We have tried a variety of diplomatic resets. We’ve decided we can hold our noses when we need something, such as help with reconstituting the JCPOA, which the Russians may have blown up today. We try for detente over and over and over. Each and every time we fail. Each and every time Putin then gets more aggressive. We don’t really push back that hard, when we do we almost never maintain the pushback, and Putin learns that he can continue to do what he’s doing. Or, worse, that he can escalate.
And that’s really what all this worry is about: escalation. The problem is that Putin escalates regardless of what anyone does. As I’ve written about the last two nights, the Russians are promoting agitprop that the US has a military bio-weapons lab in Ukraine and that we ,working with the Ukrainians, have been making biological and chemical weapons there to use against the Russians. This conspiracy theory all started with the same woman, who was first pushing it about a lab in Georgia that would churn out biological and chemical weapons to be used against Russians in occupied east Georgia. That woman’s name is Dilyana Gaytandzhieva. And the conspiracy theory she’s amplifying on behalf of Russia neatly dovetails with the QAnon conspiracy theories about Dr. Fauci funding bio-weapons research, which, of course, they believe is how COVID was created. I’ve been tracking her stuff for a while, so am not surprised she’s popped up here. Here’s a nice long thread by Clint Watts of the Foreign Policy Research Council diving into Gaytanzhieva, so I don’t have to go and pull each and every individual bit of info for you.
And there it is. Russia’s Defense Ministry has accused Ukraine of using U.S. money to create and develop biolabs that experimented with … coronavirus samples from bats. Moscow is now suggesting that Ukraine weaponized fucking COVID. https://t.co/gGnK9Gp4At
— Kevin Rothrock (@KevinRothrock) March 10, 2022
What I was waiting to see was whether the Russians would be able to get any big names in the US conservative news media ecosystem to bite on this. It didn’t take long for Tucker Carlson to take the bait. Hook, line, and sinker.
This comes after an episode of Tucker where he played statements from Russia and China and claimed he had to because the US government was lying pic.twitter.com/FIsLUPprmV
— Acyn (@Acyn) March 10, 2022
It doesn’t matter that Jennifer Griffin, Fox News’s senior defense correspondent, spent ten minutes debunking all of this live on air immediately after Carlson’s program went off the air (the video in the first tweet), Carlson has far more reach and far more people that believe what he says than what Griffin reports.
The Russians took this insanity even further today. They’ve scheduled, as the current president of the UN Security Council, a Security Council emergency meeting on the US’s bio and chemical weapons development in Ukraine for tomorrow. They’ve also expanded the conspiracy theory to now include that we’ve infected birds as living weapons and those birds are now in Russia. But they’ve also added another layer to things. They’re now warning about the Ukrainains or NATO shooting down a civilian airliner.
? Maria #Zakharova: We call on #EU & #NATO countries to stop the thoughtless flooding of the unviable #Kiev regime with the latest weapons systems in order to avoid enormous risk to intl civilian aviation & other means of transport in Europe & beyond.
— MFA Russia ?? (@mfa_russia) March 10, 2022
As I’ve explained a few times here, Russian military doctrine is to use informational and psychological warfare to fix the context and narrative of a conflict before undertaking an actual operation. These ever more absurd statements about US biological and chemical weapons manufacture in Ukraine for use against Russia or Russians and the warning about threats to civilian aviation are Russian attempts to do just what their doctrine says they will do: fix the informational space as part of setting the theater for actual physical operations. Here’s an entire thread with screengrabs tracking Russian civilian aviation squawking 700/general emergency all day long. All of this is right out of and consistent with Russian military doctrine.
Maybe we’ll get lucky and the fact that the US, the UK, NATO, and even Fox News’ own senior defense correspondent have all debunked the agitprop and misinformation will keep Russia from actually staging a false flag attack and using it to justify whatever the next thing that Putin wants to do to Ukraine or Europe. But I doubt it. And I would really like all of you to be able to tell me I got this one wrong!
When I write that not pushing back on him as strongly as possible only encourages Putin, it is because I’ve been watching this dynamic play out over and over and over again since 2014. Sometimes while on actual civilian mobilization orders as a supervisory senior civil servant assigned to US Army Europe (2014), sometimes as a senior fellow at Special Operations Command’s in house think tank (2015), and sometimes as a consultant and contractor (2016 to the present). That dynamic is the result of Russia’s ambiguous military doctrine in regard to the use of nukes. Basically, we don’t act, we only react and we react in the most minimal ways possible that are still feasible, acceptable, and suitable (the test for policy and strategy), but that might have some effect. This is why I’m one of the people that recognizes that the very strong and broad and deep sanctions and economic measures we’ve leveled on Russia are still unlikely to actually achieve our objectives.
The Western response has been far broader than most experts anticipated, and threatens to throw the Russian economy into chaos. Yet there’s a catch. Absent significant domestic reforms in the West—reforms that should have been enacted long ago—sanctions targeted at the oligarchic and official figures close to Russian President Vladmir Putin risk inflicting little more than a flesh wound on Russia’s imperial kleptocracy.
Rampant financial anonymity in places like the U.S. makes it relatively easy for powerful rich people to evade sanctions. A Russian oligarch may have multimillion-dollar mansions in Washington, D.C.; or multiple steel plants across the Rust Belt; or a controlling stake in a hedge fund in Greenwich, Connecticut; or an entire fleet of private jets in California; or an array of lawyers setting up purchases at art houses around the country. And all of that wealth can be hidden—perfectly legally—behind anonymous shell companies and trusts that are enormously difficult to penetrate.
If Western policy makers hope to hold Putin’s cronies truly accountable, sanctions will have to be paired with pro-transparency reforms that can disassemble this web of secrecy. Western governments should start by ending anonymity in shell companies and trusts; demanding basic anti-money-laundering checks for lawyers, art gallerists, and auction-house managers; and closing loopholes that allow anonymity in the real-estate, private-equity, and hedge-fund industries. That is, if the sanctions are to retain their bite, the entire counter-kleptocracy playbook needs to be implemented—immediately.
Global transparency reform is essential because the people and entities who are bankrolling Moscow’s bloodshed don’t exist in some kind of geopolitical vacuum, limiting their grand larceny to Russia alone. They rely not simply on access to the Kremlin and its largesse, but also on Western financial-secrecy tools to hide and launder their illicit wealth, destabilize markets, and upend Western polities.
Much, much more at the link!
To finish this up and then get to more traditional updates after the jump, we have let Putin dictate our decision making for at least eight years. The result is we have artificially limited our policy and strategy options leaving us with few actual options to choose from. We’ve assembled a toolkit with very few tools. This has, in turn, led Putin to just continue to do what he wants to do because he’s learned, because we’ve taught him that we won’t act to stop him in any meaningful way for fear that he will escalate. He always escalates anyway. He’s used/backed the use by Assad of biological and chemical agents in Syria. The one time he didn’t escalate, interestingly enough, is the one time his forces screwed up and actually engaged with US forces in Syria. In February 2018 Wagner mercenaries made the foolish mistake of shelling US troops in Syria. They did not survive that mistake.
The artillery barrage was so intense that the US commandos dived into foxholes for protection, emerging covered in flying dirt and debris to fire back at a column of tanks advancing under the heavy shelling. It was the opening salvo in a nearly four-hour assault in February by around 500 pro-Syrian government forces – including Russian mercenaries – that threatened to inflame already simmering tensions between Washington and Moscow.
In the end, 200 to 300 of the attacking fighters were killed. The others retreated under merciless air strikes from the US, returning later to retrieve their battlefield dead. None of the Americans at the small outpost in eastern Syria – about 40 by the end of the firefight – were harmed.
The firefight was described by the Pentagon as an act of self-defence against a unit of pro-Syrian government forces. In interviews, US military officials said they had watched – with dread – hundreds of approaching rival troops, vehicles and artillery pieces in the week leading up to the attack.
The prospect of Russian military forces and US troops colliding has long been feared as the Cold War adversaries take opposing sides in Syria’s seven-year civil war.
At worst, officials and experts have said, it could plunge both countries into bloody conflict. And at a minimum, squaring off in crowded battlefields has added to heightened tensions between Russia and the US as they each seek to exert influence in the Middle East.
Commanders of the rival militaries had long steered clear of the other by speaking through often-used deconfliction telephone lines. In the days leading up to the attack, and on opposite sides of the Euphrates River, Russia and the US were backing separate offensives against the Isis in Syria’s oil-rich Deir el-Zour province, which borders Iraq.
US military officials repeatedly warned about the growing mass of troops. But Russian military officials said they had no control over the fighters assembling near the river – even though US surveillance equipment monitoring radio transmissions had revealed the ground force was speaking in Russian.
You know what didn’t happen after Putin’s mercenaries got blowed up real good, escalation didn’t happen. The one time we bloodied his nose he did nothing. I think that tells us something important and we need to take appropriate account of it.
I am not suggesting we run willy nilly into doing something that will lead to a nuclear exchange. I am suggesting that we stop letting Putin and his ambiguous military doctrine limit our policy making and strategy development. We need to give ourselves permission to obtain more tools. For instance, we can create a deconfliction line with Russia in regard to Ukraine. We can then tell Putin in no uncertain terms that the Red Cross is going to establish a humanitarian corridor to relive Mariupol and other cities and towns, provide the dates and times, make it clear that an international coalition, which we will assemble, will be providing security via air patrol just on those days and at those times, and use the deconfliction line to keep things from getting out of hand. That would, at least, be a viable plan for relieving the humanitarian crisis that is growing day by day in Mariupol and other cities and towns. It is feasible, acceptable, and suitable. Is it more risky than what we are doing now? Yes it is. Is the risk unacceptable? I do not think so. I think the risk is manageable. Moreover, it puts the onus back on Putin. Does Putin really want to risk targeting air assets from an international coalition providing overwatch to a humanitarian relief effort? Does he really want to try to target a humanitarian relief effort that is being protected?
At the same time we can continue to provide Ukraine with the weapons systems necessary, such as top of the line counter battery radar and the systems necessary to quickly mass artillery fires. We’ve allowed ourselves to be put in a box and we need to find our way out of it. Not to escalate things into a nuclear war, but to come up with creative, more effective strategies to best help the Ukrainians as soon as possible. Otherwise we are going to keep getting more of the same results we’ve been getting for at least eight years
I don’t know if that answered Redshift’s question or clarified anything or if everyone is just more confused, but that’s my answer.
Update stuff after the jump.
This has graphic content, but if you can handle it, you should watch it all:
If you don't recognise these tactics, then you haven't been paying attention. From Kharkiv's frontline, #Ukraine @dcinfocus and Feras. With thanks to our local team. @BBCNews @BBCWorld Graphic content warning. pic.twitter.com/hhGK1tudpp
— Quentin Sommerville (@sommervilletv) March 10, 2022
You all should listen to all of this too, if you can tolerate doing so:
Our colleague Sasha is in #Mariupol right now.
It's tough to hear what he describes.
It's even tougher to imagine how people are managing to survive. pic.twitter.com/LAeBknHccx
— ICRC (@ICRC) March 10, 2022
Here’s a thread about what is going on in Mariupol:
Today, I attended an emergency online conference of ?? mayors from Mariupol, Kharkiv, Trostianets (Sumy region), Merefa (Kharkiv region), and Zhytomyr organized by the Ministry for Regional Development. What the mayors reported raises alarms on many different levels. A small ?
— Mattia Nelles (@mattia_n) March 9, 2022
The Russians have spent all day adding insult to the injury that this woman has already had to live through!
— katerina sergatskova (@KSergatskova) March 10, 2022
A smear campaign launched by Russia against Marianna, a pregnant woman from Mariupol's bombed hospital, is terrible. Not only Russian officials harass her, users from Russia write atrocious things on her Instagram page. These people are completely deprived of humanity https://t.co/n1hJDkc9pS
— Olga Tokariuk (@olgatokariuk) March 10, 2022
Pregnant survivor of Mariupol maternity hospital bombing is being harassed by huge numbers of Russians who call her an actress that took money from Nazies. Journalists and analysts should study this case to understand how Russians think and why it is not just Putin’s war pic.twitter.com/hhEBlWT4hn
— Olena Tregub (@OTregub) March 10, 2022
Why use one of your nukes, when you can just create a radiological disaster using conventional weapons?
⚡️Russia bombs Kharkiv institute, home to experimental nuclear reactor.
The State Inspectorate for Nuclear Regulation of Ukraine announced that the facility was struck, damaging the exterior and possibly numerous labs throughout the building.
— The Kyiv Independent (@KyivIndependent) March 11, 2022
These newly proposed humanitarian corridors are not going to end any better than the previous ones:
The corridors are planned for Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, and Mariupol.
— The Kyiv Independent (@KyivIndependent) March 11, 2022
Here’s a bayrakter doing what bayrakters do!
❗❗❗BAYRAKTAR УСПІШНО ОЧИЩУЄ УКРАЇНСЬКУ ЗЕМЛЮ ВІД ЗЕНІТНИХ РАКЕТНИХ КОМПЛЕКСІВ ОРКІВ!
СЛАВА Україні ?? pic.twitter.com/PwEKTi3gP7
— ??Armed Forces (@ArmedForcesUkr) March 10, 2022
And here’s some Ukrainian artillery engaging a Russian column:
Very poor tactics displayed by this Russian armored force so close to Kyiv. They're well within range of Ukrainian artillery in Kyiv, they're on an obvious avenue of approach, and they still decided to bunch up like this, leaving them more vulnerable to indirect fire. pic.twitter.com/3ShhyF5OsE
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) March 10, 2022
And here’s a woman doing wonderful work:
A woman near the town of Irpin, north-west of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, tries to save disabled dogs from a shelter and bring them to a safe place.
Photo: Christopher Occhicone @occhicone98 pic.twitter.com/ugccV0FA6I
— The New Voice of Ukraine (@NewVoiceUkraine) March 10, 2022
This thread reports the Ukrainian Foreign Minister’s remarks after his meeting with Lavrov today went nowhere:
LATEST: Ukrainian Foreign Minister @DmytroKuleba speaking after meeting with Russian FM Lavrov. "Russia is not in a position at this point to establish a ceasefire. They seek a surrender from Ukraine. This is not what they're going to get. Ukraine is strong, Ukraine is fighting." pic.twitter.com/jpM162whVo
— Christopher Miller (@ChristopherJM) March 10, 2022
- Kuleba continued: “Ukraine made Russia’s initial plans fail. We are seeking a diplomatic solution to this war. But we will not surrender.”
- Kuleba: “Upon my initiative, we dedicated most of the time addressing humanitarian issues on the ground…to bring relief to people who have suffered.” But he says Lavrov did not agree to a humanitarian corridor in Mariupol.
- Kuleba: I sincerely hope Mr. Lavrov will follow up with his colleagues in the military to help arrange the safe passage of people from the besieged cities, especially Mariupol, and to allow humanitarian aid to reach Mariupol.
- Kuleba: “It was not easy for me to listen to what [FM Lavrov] was saying. But I appealed to him several times” to address humanitarian issues.
I was absolutely shocked that the Brits actually did this. Thrilled, but shocked!
— Kevin Rothrock (@KevinRothrock) March 10, 2022
Here’s the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense’s (MOD) update on the Russian’s attempts to reach Kyiv:
The Battle of Kyiv as of March 10.
No significant changes, except for continuing civilian evacuation northwest.
Russians are still finding it extremely hard to advance further south to gain a foothold west of Kyiv. Not even close to success to the east as well. pic.twitter.com/vkamSzmWlE
— Illia Ponomarenko ?? (@IAPonomarenko) March 10, 2022
The Ukrainians are still holding in the bedroom communities, suburbs, and towns north and west of Kyiv. As I’ve written several times: they must hold those positions!
Here’s a couple of clips from LTG (ret) Ben Hodges, former Commanding General of US Army Europe (I worked for the one before him) speaking with Christiane Amanpour about Ukraine:
Russia is “running into a buzz saw of determined Ukrainian defenders with really good weapons,” says @general_ben, fmr commanding general, US Army Europe. “Ukrainian air defense is much better than many of us expected & Russians are worried. They’re losing a lot of air power.” pic.twitter.com/364lJLkNlo
— Christiane Amanpour (@amanpour) March 10, 2022
Finally, here’s a wonderful story from The Guardian about a Ukrainian immigrant in Oregon who has left his family there to go back to Ukraine to get his mother to safety and then stay and fight for Ukraine.
Sergey Korenev was running out of time.
He watched his daughter Anna, 11, practice skateboarding in a park on a rainy Thursday night outside Portland, Oregon. His midnight flight will board in a few hours that will begin a long journey to the war in Ukraine. Sergey still has to pack, but he doesn’t hurry her.
Sergey, 44, has been bringing Anna here to the park for a month and each time she gets better. He watched her roll down a small hill towards him. “Come on, come on, come on …” Sergey said in Russian, smiling at the progress she’s making.
Sergey’s eldest daughter Maria, 17, was standing next to him with her hoodie pulled up. She doesn’t look at her phone, even when Anna walks back up the hill and it turns quiet between her and her father. Sergey’s mother is alone in her home outside Kyiv, hiding from shelling. Sergey wants to go home to rescue her, take her to Poland and then stay and fight.
Since the start of the Russian buildup Sergey has been fixated on news, worried. On the night of the invasion Valentina Korenev, his ex-wife, texted him. He had already made his decision: he was going back to Ukraine.
“I’ve been monitoring the situation since last fall, like everybody,” Sergey said through a translator, his brother Alex Korenev. “But when it became a total invasion, I felt like I needed to do something. I could not watch it from afar.”
Sergey is one of about 66,000 Ukrainians returning home to help fight the Russian invasion following President Volodymyr’s Zelenskiy’s call for Ukrainians abroad return to the homeland to fight the Russians. Korenev, whose family is Jewish, is one Ukrainian in the US answering the call.
Much, much more at the link and well worth your time to read it.