by James Tweedie for the Saker blog
Back in August 2022 I wrote that NATO was ‘demilitarising’ itself, sending such huge amounts of arms to the Ukraine before and during the Russian special military operation (SMO) that its armies had nothing left to fight with.
That process has continued, with Slovenia, the northernmost of the former federal republics of Yugoslavia, sending its entire armoured vehicle fleet to Kiev. The last scrapings of the barrel, just announced, are 28 M-55S tanks. These are modernised Soviet-designed T-55s with some Israeli explosive-reactive armour (ERA) blocks added. But underneath that they’re still a 1950s design, four generations behind the latest Russian tanks.
The question now is: can those arms sustain the Ukrainian military effort? And if the Ukraine, the buffed-up proxy for all NATO and the Five Eyes countries too, is losing the war, when will Russia and its Donbass republican allies achieve victory?
I was born in the mid-1970s, during the Cold War, and I grew up under he shadow of the mushroom cloud. So I must confess to being one of those who were anxious for this conflict to be over quickly, before the nuclear powers came to blows. But one can’t hurry history.
War of Attrition
In his bombshell speech on the morning of 21st September 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin explained that the apparent slow progress of the SMO by the need to unpick the Gordian Knot of hardened defences the Ukrainian Nazi battalions built up on the front line over eight years.
“A head-on attack against them would have led to heavy losses,” Putin said, “which is why our units, as well as the forces of the Donbass republics, are acting competently and systematically, using military equipment and saving lives, moving step by step to liberate Donbass.”
Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu gave a televised interview the same morning. He gave extremely specific figures for both Russian and Ukrainian military casualties. “Our losses to date are 5,937 dead,” he said, but added that 90 per cent of the wounded had recovered and returned to duty.
According to Shoigu, Ukraine has lost 61,207 killed and 49,368 wounded (a total of 110,575 casualties) from an initial military strength of 201-202 thousand. The caveat to that that the Ukraine has conscripted hundreds of thousands of men into territorial defence units since the start of the conflict. That’s greater than a ten-to-one ratio of Ukrainian to Russian casualties
Shoigu also said that over the previous three weeks — since the launch of Kiev’s counter-offensives in Kherson and Kharkov — the Ukrainians had lost more than 7,000 men and 970 pieces of heavy equipment, including 208 tanks, 245 infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs), 186 other armoured vehicles, 15 aircraft and four helicopters.
That amounts to about 60 per cent of the roughly 350 tanks, and three-quarters of the 328 IFVs, supplied by Western countries since February 24. If one lumps armoured personnel carriers (APCs) in with IFVs, Shoigu is still talking about 30 per cent losses of NATO-supplied heavy armour.
Kiev is preparing for or has already begun more counter-offensives towards Lisichansk in the LPR, Donetsk city, from Ugledar to the south to Mariupol and towards Berdyansk or Melitopol in Zaporozhye oblast. Russian aircraft, missiles and artillery are already hitting the groups of forces concentrated for that. If those offensives go the same way as the others, surely the Ukrainians will soon run out of both men and machines, right?
Blogger and YouTuber Andrei Martyanov, a Russian who served in the Soviet armed forces, is not worried about about how long it takes to get the SMO over and done with. He has argued that his countrymen can win simply by waiting for the Ukrainians to throw themselves onto their bayonets, until they run out of bodies.
With all due respect, allow me to sound a note of scepticism: that assumes that Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and his Western backers care how many die, or that the Ukrainian people (more than 8 million of whom are now scattered across Europe and even further afield) have the inclination and the opportunity to rise up against the fascist death-squad state.
The daily Russian Ministry of Defence body-count of hundreds of the miserable ‘territorial defence’ conscripts along the Donbass line — untrained and barely-armed middle-aged men press-ganged in the street — is not much of an indicator of progress.
It’s the territorial gains, no matter how slow, that matter. Russia cannot just count on the Ukrainians to suicidally ‘demilitarise’ themselves.
Putin’s announcement of a “partial mobilisation” of 300,000 army reservists was warmly welcomed by pro-Russian social media commentators. It is hard to exaggerate the importance of this, coupled with the referenda in Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporozhye and Kherson on reunification with Russia.
But there are caveats. State Duma Defence Committee chairman Andrey Kartapolov clarified that those troops would be deployed to defend the country’s borders and to create “operational depth” — in other words as a second defensive echelon. Martyanov argues that will free up regular front-line troops to conquer more territory. But it remains unclear how many of them were deployed to begin with.
Eyes on the Prize
So what is Russia trying to achieve in the Ukraine? Putin said in his Wednesday morning speech that the main task was to defend the Russian-speaking people of the Donbass. That implies capturing the whole of the oblasts of Donetsk and Lugansk.
But some ‘stretch goals’ may be added, including forging a land corridor to the Crimea and maybe even Transnistria, the Russian protectorate in Moldova.
Russia’s other main aim was to stop the Ukraine from joining NATO. That would allow the US to base nuclear weapons just 300 miles from Moscow in a position to launch a first strike attack.
US President Joe Biden’s response to Putin at the UN General Assembly later that day included the comment that “a nuclear war cannot be won — and must never be fought.” While true, that observation was shamelessly hypocritical. It was likely only made out of fear after Putin’s warning that Russia takes national defence and nuclear deterrence seriously.
Securing the Ukraine’s neutrality is not just part of “demilitarisation”: it could also be called “de-Nazification”, since NATO and its shadow the European Union (EU) were behind the 2014 coup by the Azov battalion and their ilk.
But Russia needs a legitimately-elected head of state to sign up to that, and right now that man is Zelensky. A peace deal struck with any military junta which might depose the comedian-turned-president would only be denounced by the next elected leader.
Even if a new civilian government was elected on a pro-peace, non-alignment platform (as Zelensky was), it would only last as long as it took the US, UK and EU to organise a repeat of the 2004-05 ‘Orange Revolution’ and the 2014 ‘Euromaidan’ coups d’etat.
The crazy Ukro-Nazis and their enablers have to ‘own’ the peace and the agreement to cede the Donbass and Crimea — and thereby lose all credibility.
But the Ukraine had already lost the Crimea and effective control over the Donbass before the SMO even kicked off. Kiev won’t sign any peace deal unless it has something else to lose. If Moscow is also serious about readmitting Zaporozhye and Kherson to the Russian motherland following a ‘Yes’ vote in the coming referenda, then there’s nothing to bargain with there either. Russia may need to capture other territories to use as bargaining chips.
To do so, it would have to inflict a defeat on the Ukrainian armed forces that would force them to retreat — not only from Donetsk and Lugansk but from other areas, maybe all the way back to the Dnieper river that divides the country in two.
Such a victory can’t be won unless Russia regains the initiative and actively starts pushing the Ukrainian armed forces back.
The Great M.I.C. Cash-In
The Kiev regime’s aims are clearly to keep grifting off its Western sponsors as long as possible, before fleeing to the sunny tax havens where they have billions stashed. But what does the West really want out of this war?
The stated aims of Washington and friends are to defend Ukraine’s territory and sovereignty (code for invading the Donbass and Crimea and ethnically cleansing them), along with its non-existent “right” to become a NATO launchpad, to “weaken” Russia militarily (by causing as many casualties as possible) and to put “international pressure” on Putin (economic warfare with the goal of regime change).
One should avoid making predictions, but let’s say the US and its satellites fail in all of that (since they have done so far). What will they try to win as a consolation prize?
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, an unelected bureaucrat who made a huge mess of her previous job as German defence minister, has vowed that sanctions on Russia will continue for years to come. That the sanctions are crippling the economies of EU member states, especially her home country, doesn’t seem to bother UVDL. And seeing the EU and its appointed commissioners are increasingly imposing their foreign policy diktats on the 27 governments, she might get her way.
More importantly, NATO desperately needs to save face — now that it has exposed by Russia as a paper tiger. Hence the triumphant crowing over moves, far from complete, to grant existing de-facto allies Sweden and Finland formal membership.
The West may try to claim a kind of moral victory on the basis that it may take Russia more than a year to defeat ‘brave little Ukraine’, or be forced to wipe out most of its military-age male population to win. But whose idea was that? Zelensky, Biden and all other Western leaders have made that bed.
But NATO is really just a pyramid scheme to sell overpriced Western, especially US, arms to its vassals. And therein lies a contradiction, because the US military-industrial complex (MIC) has competition from those of the UK, Germany, France and even Sweden — a country with a smaller population than the city of Moscow.
The Ukraine has used the referenda on unification with Russia as the latest pretext to demand Germany donate its newest models of Leopard 2 tanks and Marder infantry fighting vehicles. But why doesn’t Kiev ask the US for some of its M1 Abrams and M2 Bradleys instead? The Pentagon has many more to spare.
The truth is that neither Germany nor the US can afford to have its supposedly-invincible wunderwaffen shown up, and blown up, in battle with Russian forces. Despite weighing only two-thirds as much as the US and German behemoths, the Russian tanks have about the same effective armour protection — thanks to state-of-the-art ERA technology — and guns of equal destructive power. And there are a lot more Russian tanks, anti-tank missiles, attack jets and helicopters on the battlefield in the Ukraine.
The US has only managed to sell the M1 to eight other countries, compared to 18 for the Leopard 2. The export model of the Abrams is ‘Nerfed’ by removing the depleted uranium rods from its composite armour, so countries like Australia and Saudi Arabia get sub-par tanks. The only overseas customer for the British Challenger 2 is Oman, while the French Leclerc tank has been exported to the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.
By contrast, the Russian T-72 is currently in service in 40 countries, including both Russia and the Ukraine. Like the Russian intervention in Syria, the war in the Ukraine could prove to be a serious marketing tool for the Russian arms industry — eating the US MIC’s lunch.