Answers, Ramblings, And A Bit More On Vladimir and the Ukraine

First, to answer a question I saw elsewhere: Yes, I am Laughing Wolf who used to post at Blackfive. I started here, had the honor of being asked to be an author there as well, and continue here as I can.

Yes, I did get hit by lightning. Yes, it has led to a number of health and related issues. Yes, it did lead to open heart surgery. No, we still don’t have everything under control. Hence my effort to start A New Life. More info on parts of this through that link, as well as the archives here.

Am I out of my flippin mind? Well, that’s debatable (even though the neuro people tell me I’m good for now post strike). When it comes to Vladimir and the Ukraine, I don’t think I am, though I am sure there are some (including those now crying that they alone understand all that is going on) who would beg to differ. I make no claim to having a lock on things, only observations that may or may not be getting a lot of play elsewhere.

As for my thoughts on cyberwar and the use of nukes, some background is in order. I’ve talked about the subject before, but everything going on now revolves strongly around the concept of mores. No, not s’mores or anything like it, but the concept pronounced MORE-A-zzz. These are the cultural blinders we all wear, that how things are done around here is the way they are done elsewhere. Within the intelligence game, it is probably the single largest unforced error routinely made. While analysts suffer from it, politicians seem particularly adept at falling into the trap.

Politician A presumes that how power and corruption take place in location A is universal. Yet, how it is done in location B can be, and often is, very different. In location A, a great deal of public attention may be given to “listening to the people” even as the people are ignored as the real deals are made behind the scene (Indiana statehouse caucus sessions for one example). In location B, however, there may not be as much public pomp on listening to the people even as things happen in an even more bare-knuckled way. It also can come down to the same words or phrases having very different meanings. For example, peace can be defined as a condition where a variety of groups coexist without strife; or, it can be defined as the absence of all opposition. Two very different meanings.

Right now, we are dealing with a combination of definitional differences as well as different ways of operating. In Vladimir’s world, there is no such thing as independent actions by groups. Groups that do such only do so if their actions are approved in advance, otherwise they and their leadership tend to get gutted. A hacking group taking on the West in response to provocations against the Rodina? Approved in advance and usually orchestrated at the behest of the government so as to avoid official acts. If you think the shoot down of a civilian airliner by dissidents in “breakaway” segments of the Ukraine happened without the knowledge and full approval of Vladimir, you’re nuts.

Right now, you are getting a lot of warnings like this one because even if you took Vladmir and other top Russian leaders on a ghost-of-Christmas-X type trip and showed them Anonymous and other groups deciding to act on their own, they literally would be unable to believe it because it is so far outside of how things work in their world. Their brains would boggle. Because of that, they see every unofficial action as being a covert official action. Add to it the previously discussed NGO issue, and what sounds like paranoid conspiracy theory to us sounds like something perfectly rational to them.

Now, add in a Vladimir who has shown signs to many (including me) of mental deterioration. Does that mean he’s completely lost it and unfit? No. It simply means he is not tracking as well as he used to in at least some areas. Does he appear to be taking some things far more personally than he used to? In my opinion, yes. And there’s part of the rub.

He knew going in that there would be sanctions, grandstanding, and other twaddle in response to the invasion. Yet, I don’t think he expected the extent or level of response, given that little to nothing realistic was done after his doing the same thing to Georgia years back; the shootdown of the airliner; or even his previous operations in the Ukraine. The fact that his invasion has forced the Germans to rearm and re-assess (one hopes they will actually do something concrete instead of continuing to fellate Vladimir); that the Finns (and others) are now looking at joining NATO (and if there was anyone, anywhere, who didn’t predict this response to the threat from Russia, they are ignorant of the Finns and history, and probably too stupid to breathe on their own); and, that the sanctions are harder, deeper, and more personal than ever before. Now, add to that the actions of Anonymous and other groups, which they see is covert action by one or more Western governments….

I will note that it is not necessarily a sign of mental deterioration that Vladimir apparently believed all the good readiness reports from the military. One, the Red Army, Soviet or Russian, was/is noted for gundecking reports on a regular basis. Two, it is pretty much an international (hell, probably intergalactic) phenomena for militaries to tell leaders what they want to hear, rather than reality.

However, I think he was surprised by both the strength of the resistance and how badly the military failed. This report (hat tip Insty) shows a lot of the why, and that clearly the logistics required for any form of shock-and-awe were not only there but unlikely to have been practiced on any realistic scale at any time. It also suggests a tactic for the irregular forces since taking out truck tires (that they can’t replace) does not require large caliber weapons, and would allow them to play Finland 1939 to great effect. If in the next few weeks they are foolish enough to get off into the mud, break out the horses and Hakka Palle!

At the failure of the initial effort, the Ukraine won some key battles on several levels. Make no mistake, these were much needed and hard won victories. That said, they now face some very hard choices. Thwarted in his initial ambitions, Vladimir will be quite content to go back to slow, ruthless, and grinding. He’s quite content to feed troops into the furnace as quantity makes up for quality. The Ukraine is likely to lose in the long term, as much of their country, along with standing armies, are destroyed. They have hard choices to make now and in the next few days. To prevent the complete destruction of many military units, they will need to break out to the West and reform, which means giving up, for now at least, the eastern third of the country. It could mean giving up the eastern two thirds of the country. They key is getting as many units and troops out of encirclement by the Russians and keeping the Ukrainian military alive as a viable fighting force.

Now, though, comes the fun part. Vladimir, nor anyone else involved, is operating in a vacuum though to read many reports and analyses you would think otherwise. There is a great deal of synergistic “energy” involved as well.

Cyberwarfare is ongoing and escalating. The efforts by Anonymous and other groups are being taken as covert governmental attacks, and as such any response is, in the eyes of Vladimir and others, fully justified. It is going to get worse, I suspect much worse.

The logistics problems of the Red Army can’t be overstated. Tires are only one part, and none of the parts can be replaced in the quantities needed. This not only effects military operations (and budgets), but the civilian economy as well. They can grind the Ukraine under, but if they do so they are likely to be a shadow of what they once were. Even if they maintain minimal capability, others are no longer scared of them because it has been shown they CAN be beaten by much weaker foes.

The sanctions are hurting their economy in ways they never dreamed. Your average Russian now can’t use Apple Pay or other systems for everyday expenses — and they were massive users of such systems. It is hitting them hard. The oligarchs are now running scared, just look at the number of them moving their yachts (which are targets of some actions) away from Europe and into the Indian Ocean. That’s just the tip of the iceberg as it were, and the oligarchs and the economy are taking a beating since not even Switzerland is a safe haven for funds (or anything else) anymore.

Now, Vladimir and his captive (and non-captive) oligarchs face some tough choices. Vladimir has already shown, as I mentioned before, that he has upped his personal paranoia/security. Doesn’t mean he can’t be reached, just that it will be more difficult. So, don’t necessarily expect much direct and in person from the oligarchs or anyone else. There’s also a reason he’s at his bunker in the Urals… Now, away from him, well, the military can effectively choose to ignore certain orders (especially strategic nuclear) and get away with it. He can be isolated, and that is a possibility. That said, I don’t expect it anytime soon.

He is still in charge. He is unlikely to commit to grinding the Ukraine under conventionally if it will gut the military as it could. Even if he could do so, it is unlikely that other leadership, civilian or military, would allow it. Which brings us to the use of special weapons. There are already reports of thermobaric weapons being used. I expect to see more, and more open, use of same. That said, keep in mind that both Soviet and Russian military doctrine have long called for the use of nuclear weapons. Unlike the West, they don’t have a bright and shiny line that clearly differentiates between tactical and strategic use. Their line is more, er, flexible. Remember mores in this context, as we are going to see most uses as strategic rather than tactical simply because of how our military and civilian theoreticians view it. Also keep in mind that per their doctrine, the use of a nuclear weapon is not an attack but a response. If we respond in kind, they are going to see THAT as an attack and an escalation based on their mores. My thoughts on their doctrines for preventing full escalation are not printable, any more than I respect some of the similar on our side.

One area where I see the potential for special weapon use is in the west, near the border with Poland. In fact, I’m a bit surprised that we have not already seen Belorussian forces attacking south and west in an effort to block the resupply of the Ukraine. If it happens, I don’t expect them to be shy about incursions into Poland or Polish airspace even though it is poking NATO; and, the Poles are unlikely to tolerate such on their own. Yes, we should have been front-loading them with weapons for months, but you are asking for competence out of the same gang that gave us the Afghanistan withdrawal (and if you don’t think that debacle didn’t encourage Putin in this…). Right now, the weapons, ammunition, humanitarian supplies are crucial — and frankly even more exposed than the current targets in the east. If the full weight of airpower is brought in to cut off the lines of resupply…

None of the decisions to come will be made in a vacuum. Vladimir wants/needs his cordon sanitaire if he is to have any shot at his dream of a new Russian Empire/restored Soviet Union. He’s very serious about that, and while I think he’s overplayed his hand it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a hand to play. He is going to respond to everything that happens through the lens of his mores, as will those around him. Right now, they see their way of life as being threatened with extinction, and are unlikely to simply calmly accept such. When you look at the doctrines, the fix they are in, and all the other factors, the odds of things suddenly getting happily-ever-after are pretty fucking slim. The odds of them going seriously pear shaped are much higher even if someone took Vladimir completely out of the equation right now.

So, there’s your cheery thoughts for the day. I hope and pray for good decisions and effects, but also acknowledge that the chances of bad decisions or outcomes is — sadly — much higher. All we can do is hope and pray for the best, and wait to see what comes. Meantime, make what preparations you can.

If you like what you are reading, hope you might help me out. You can hit the tip jar in the upper right, or I’m also working on A New Life following the lightning str