Ukraine: Russia has escalatory dominance

8 Jun

Has it occurred to [Economist editor] Simon Long that while [ATACMS aimed at Crimea] will up the death count, they won’t put a dent in the inevitability of Ukraine’s defeat [or] that Russia, besides taking out Ukraine’s entire power supply, a capability it has long refrained from exercising, will step up its north and west advance into Ukraine to place Crimea out of range?

The military genius of The Economist

The feebleness of the US response to a Russian incursion into Kharkiv, to prevent further strikes on civilian targets in the border city of Belgorod, and the quick Russian counter-moves, confirms how the West has no good options, even if its leaders can’t yet admit that to themselves …

At Kharkiv it became clear that US approval on April 23 of $61bn Ukraine funding would result in few additional arms. That led Zelensky to press Germany for Taurus missiles, and anyone who had them for Patriot missiles and F-16 jets. This period saw escalation fever, as France and the more rabid Baltic states spoke of NATO boots on Ukraine soil. Russia told France that any of its forces would be aggressively hunted down, and staging areas outside Ukraine targeted. For their part Italy, Germany and Belgium gave Macron a flat “no”.

Yves Smith, below (edited for brevity)

Here’s a funding plea. Not for me. Retired on a low but adequate income, and running a low overheads site, I have no need of money. On the contrary, I’d like to do more to support sites out there combating corporate disinformation, and by that fact unemployable where lesser journalists play safe. Sites whose hosts fret over making ends meet. (Caitlin Johnstone, with a family to support, last month had to find new housing due to spiralling rents in an overheating Melbourne property market.) I do what I can to promote them, in a couple of cases through small monthly donations, in most simply by airing them; mainly because their output advances my understanding and hopefully yours, but also in the hope that this increases the possibility of financial support from others.

You for instance.

My plea made, here’s one of the many sites I deem worthy of support. For a Harvard Business School graduate whose expertise is finance and management consultancy, Susan Webber – aka Yves Smith (a playful nod to Adam) – has been a consistently shrewd assessor of the Ukraine war. She’s also a skilled and punchy debater. Her interventions below the line at her Naked Capitalism site are infrequent and always succinct, but show zero tolerance for the fact-lite and the sloppily argued.

Here then Is Yves on why, as a cautious Barack Obama had foretold – say what you like about him, he did know a thing or two about waging imperial warfare – America’s Ukraine escalation ladder is missing a few vital rungs.

The Cautious US Escalation Against Russia Is Developing Not Necessarily to US Advantage

The feebleness of the US response to a Russian incursion into Kharviv, which was to prevent further strikes on civilian targets in the border city of Belgorod, and the quick Russian counter-moves, confirms how the Collective West has no good options, even if its leaders can’t yet admit that to themselves and come up with better alternatives than punching into air or a wall, as the case may be. Obama warned that Russia would have escalatory dominance with respect to Ukraine, and we are seeing that play out now.

The short version of what follows is that the Biden Administration may have made a tiny gain against its big objective of not losing in Ukraine before the November election, since Russia may slightly delay an expected next move, of entering Sumy oblast. An advance into Sumy would further lengthen the line of contact, increase the degree of over-extension of Ukraine forces, and thus accelerate the process of attrition, which is Russia’s big goal. But even if the US policy change did produce this effect (and since none of us have Russian plans, we can’t know if any change occurred), it is coming at considerable geopolitical cost, that of Putin suggesting, and deputy chair of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev confirming, that Russia will arm third countries in conflicts with the United States.

To recap the recent state of play: earlier this week, the US described a policy change regarding the use of US weapons by Ukraine On a superficial level it seemed simply to give permission for what Ukraine had been doing already, as in using Western (here US) missiles to hit Russian territory, as in pre-the-2014-dispute Russia.

The reason for this move was signs of panic in Ukraine, and substantial concern in the Western media, that Russia had re-opened a front by sending forces into Kharkiv on May 10. Even Russia fanboi map watchers were impressed by how quickly Russian forces advanced despite the Russian priority of destroying fighting power over taking ground. One reason was that the Western funding to build defense lines in Kharkiv had apparently been looted.

The Western press was correspondingly alarmed, as headlines like Ukraine faces its worst crisis since the war began from the BBC on May 28 attest.

Zelensky in particular was reported as being panicked over the possibility of losing Kharkiv city, the second biggest, even though that seemed vanishingly remote. The Russian deployments weren’t large enough for such a sprawling city with many many sturdy buildings, plus Putin said Kharkiv was not on the menu right now. But Zelensky nevertheless deployed what little he had left of reserves to Kharkiv and also thinned defenses elsewhere to bolster manpower levels in the north.

Recall that around the time of the Russian entry into Kharkiv, it was also becoming clear in Ukraine that the US approval of the $61 billion in Ukraine funding (which took place on April 23) would result in perilous little in the way of additional arms delivers. That led to renewed efforts by Zelensky to wring more weapons out of his Western backers, such as pressing Germany for Taurus missiles, and pretty much anyone who had them for Patriot missiles and F-16 jets.

During this period there was an outbreak of escalation fever, with French president Macron and some of the more rabid Baltic states trying to get support for the idea of NATO-member boots on the ground in Ukraine. Russian officials told France in no uncertain terms that any French forces, even trainers or others operating as something other than sheep-dipped little green men, would be aggressively hunted down, and any staging areas outside Ukraine would be targets for Russian attack. Mind you, it is not as if Russia has not warned before agains doing stupid things like flying F-16s out of, say, Poland before, but Russia has to use more threat-display language of late for the message to penetrate.

Macron’s effort to rally Europe to take on big bad Russia went splat as many countries such as Italy, Germany, and Belgium flatly said “no”.

But the Biden Administration seemed to feel the need to assert leadership and defend Western manhood while (perhaps) trying to de-escalate by making what it likely perceived was a very limited response to the Russian entry into Kharviv. While there were complaints about how unclear initially the new policy was, and it finally emerged that the US was authorizing Ukraine to use longish-range missiles, but not ATACMS, which have a range of up to 300 KM, the longest range of US missiles delivered from mobile platforms, and the “limited” to areas in Russia that were supporting the operation in Kharkiv.

Now to close conflict-watchers, this change might seem like a nothingburger, since it was authorizing what Ukraine had been up to already, which was attacking Belgorod and environs. But there is a big difference between de facto and de jure. Having to pretend that Ukraine’s NATO friends weren’t providing a lot of help may have limited the scale of past operations. And Ukraine is an established rule-breaker in ways more than just selling Western provided weapons on the black market. It has repeatedly done things the US disapproved of, such as (ineffectually so far) attacking Russian refineries.

But now the US is unabashedly making it possible for Ukraine to hit Russia in ways that would be impossible absent not just US supplies, but also US targeting data and assistance. So the sharp response from Putin should have been no surprise …

Read in full at Naked Capitalism …

* * *

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *