Is this how it all ends?

24 Sep


Gilbert Doctorow, a voice I’ve come to respect, writing yesterday, September 23:

Latest news on the war:  these past two days we have advanced considerably to a full-blown Russia-NATO war

Latest news on the war:  these past two days we have advanced considerably to a full-blown Russia-NATO war

This past week most Western media discussion of the Russia-Ukraine war has focused on developments in New York, where Zelensky and Biden gave their propaganda speeches about Russian imperialism threatening the world order, and then in Washington, where Zelensky met with Congressional leaders and with the President in his pursuit of further deliveries of arms. The focus was on air defense systems, on F-16 fighter jets and on the ATACMS ground to ground missiles.

This past week Western media broke ranks on the prospects for a Ukrainian victory. It appeared that there is growing consensus that the Ukrainian counter-offensive had failed and there was more talk of Ukraine-fatigue in American political circles.  Speculation now turned both in major media and in dissident media on how the United States will respond to a looming defeat in Ukraine.   Many decided that Washington would just move on after ‘throwing Ukraine under the bus’ and raise the war cries against China so as to avoid getting bogged down in recriminations over ‘who lost Ukraine.’

However, that was two days ago.  Today Washington’s Plan B is becoming clearer. And what I see does not look good for world peace and for our chances of surviving this conflict.

Plan B took the form of the Storm Shadow strike a couple of days ago directly on the General Staff building of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol.   You have not seen or heard much about this in Western media and the Russians were dead silent until today. And even today what little information we have comes from the civilian administration in Sevastopol, not from the Russian Ministry of Defense, a fact which by itself raises the intrigue.

The Russian news tickers, by which I mean Dzen (formerly Yandex news) and, tell us that one staff member of the general staff is unaccounted for. We are told by the Governor of Sevastopol that another strike may be expected and people were warned not to visit the downtown area.  As for the building itself, the attack touched off a fire which took several hours to bring under control. There were reports that debris was scattered up to several hundred meters away. There was talk of back-up equipment being prepared to carry on the functions that were performed in the staff building. Finally, the attacking missile has been identified as a British-made Storm Shadow air-to-ground cruise missile. There may have been a cluster of these missiles incoming, because Russian air defense is said to have shot down five.

Judging by past experience when the Ukrainians have committed some sensational act, such as their bombing of the Crimean bridge or the destruction of the Kakhovka dam or their incursion across the border to the Belgorod region of Russia, there was some menacing response from the Russian Defense Ministry. Now there is silence.  Why? Russian state television news yesterday and today has carried on as if there is nothing more important than the price of diesel fuel and whether the new ban on export will dampen the price and improve availability across the country.

The next troublesome straw in the wind is the reversal of the Biden administration on the question of sending the ATACMS to Kiev.  The optimal moment to announce such a decision would have been during Zelensky’s day on Capitol Hill and meetings in the Oval Office.  Instead Jake Sullivan told reporters that no decision had been taken as yet by the President.

I believe there is a clear connection between the successful Storm Shadow attack on the general staff building in Sevastopol and the decision to ship ATACMS to Ukraine now.  I also note that the decision to supply the American missiles will surely be followed in a few days by the German decision to ship its long-range TAURUS missiles.  Both decisions have till now been held back on grounds that they would lead to a Russian escalation of the war.  Now it would appear that, facing imminent defeat, the Biden administration is throwing caution to the wind and is ready to risk outbreak of a direct, not proxy Russia-NATO war.

As a further straw in the wind, I point to another deeply troublesome bit of information that you will not find in The New York Times. The Russian news ticker today carries a report from a Russian commander in the field in Ukraine that his unit just destroyed a Leopard tank and found that the entire crew was Germans.  Two of them were killed and one injured tank officer was taken prisoner. Those manning a Leopard surely were not soldiers of fortune but genuine Bundeswehr boys.   Put in other words, NATO is now directly on the battlefield and not as advisers or instructors.   We are headed into very dangerous territory.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2023

Poscript: One reader has sent in a valuable further bit of information that is not in mainstream reporting:

This, coming from Turkish sources, says that the Russians retaliated to the Sevastopol destruction by staging their own cruise missile attack on the Kremenchug Airport, the launch site used by the Ukrainians. “Both SCALP and Storm Shadow missiles, which were stationed at the airbase, along with the SU24M/MR bombers responsible for today’s attack, have been detroyed. A substantial number of firefighters and ambulances have been dispatched to the airfield. There are significant casualties among pilots, ground personnel and even NATO personnel, ncluding Poles, who were involved in coordinating the operatoins and maintaining the missiles.”

This all suggests an additional reason for Biden to consent to shipment of the ATACMS missiles to Ukraine now: unlike the Storm Shadow, they are launched from the ground on mobile launchers similar to HIMARS. Therefore the loss of airfields and bombers and pilots does not constrain their use and holds the promise of more destuction of Russian assets in Crimea. I would also wager that US forces will be sent not just to maintain but to target and launch the ATACMS.

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