I mentioned yesterday that I’m going through a lot of information. The amount of propaganda out of all sides is staggering, and the quality of some of it is amazing. It makes trying to figure out what’s real and what isn’t a challenge. Between that and some of the shitposting some people love to do it also makes it hard to spot true trends in critical propaganda.
As I noted yesterday, the Kremlin has made a crucial change in its propaganda efforts. The new focus is that Russia is really at war with NATO and the U.S., and that the Ukraine is just a proxy for the West. Admittedly they are for some reason focusing on the U.K./Commonwealth as being behind the loss of the Moskva, but stories like this (particularly the article in The Times) are going to have an effect on that and aid the Kremlin in its propaganda efforts.
If there is proof of the U.S./U.K./Other providing targeting data, show it. What this comes across as for now is salacious speculation designed to drum up audience numbers and public sentiment. Not a great idea during a time when Vladimir is both looking to blame NATO for the war, the war taking so long (along with the re-appearance of Sergei Shoigu) and make a case for escalation including the possible use of special weapons (which at least someone in the Pentagon is taking seriously).
Remember, May 9 is fast approaching and things were supposed to wrapped up with bow and pretty paper by then. There is no way Vladimir can claim any of this as a victory, and he (and his survival) demand a victory. Instead, you have reports on the losses in the Wagner Group; yet more losses of top officers here, here, here, and here; and, you have conscription of 16-year-olds (and possibly younger) to make up losses. For all that the Russian military is supposed to be HUGE, keep in mind that every flippin unit may be at least 25 precent understrength and the units that are stationed in various locations around the country are usually there for a reason, such as restive populations, propping up friendly governments, and preventing incursions from people who don’t much care for the Russians. Add to that the absolute limits on being able to move those troops given the limitations on rail and air assets (much less the pre-positioned stocks are largely useless because of corruption, see previous posts on that), and you get the conscription and the urgent call-up of the reserves (who were not necessarily reserves as we think of such).
Which may explain his apparently sudden decision to simply encircle the Azovstal plant and seal it off, rather than launch the planned assault. The ceremony, and make no mistake it was a ceremony, where he gave the order is aimed primarily at the internal audience, not external. I fear he was honest in talking about the number of Russian troops that would die in that final assault. Those troops are desperately needed elsewhere, and encircling will free up the majority of them. It also creates a very good opportunity for the use of chemical weapons since most of the Ukrainian forces (and civilians) are underground. Hope I’m wrong, but…
Now, we get to some of the real war that is going on in the Russian military. I’ve been hearing a lot about troops refusing orders, refusing to advance, etc. A while back, I speculated on Vladimir using the Chechens to replace the KGB troops that used to ensure the Soviet Army advanced. Instapundit has a link to a story on this, and there are other reports bouncing around that it has happened elsewhere. Vladimir has been using the Chechens for particularly brutal actions military and otherwise, so using them this way is a logical progression. Trust me, the Russian military is watching this and making note of it. It’s entirely possible that the Chechens are about to discover that accidents happen, from artillery hitting the wrong coordinates to crucial information not getting to the right person/place at the right time.
The fact is, there are rumors/reports/whatever that Russian officers and troops refusing to obey orders is far more widespread that is being officially acknowledged. Nor is it apparently just the conscripts and/or contract troops. If true, this is huge. Add to it that there may be slowdowns in the already screwed up logistics chain, and you get a truly messed up situation. Oh, and there are fairly well confirmed reports that “volunteer” aka conscripted troops from various previous ‘liberated’ areas (Donbas, Georgia, etc.) have not just refused orders, but deserted and returned home.
There’s more, but it would be potentially premature and irresponsible to get into it right now. What I want to look at is the great marble stone under the statue that is Vladimir on the White Horse as the noble strongman of Russkiy Mir. The media and fanbois love to portray it as a solid monolith and rave about the delicate veins that make such pretty patterns. I look at it and I see stress fractures, fractures that are growing every day.
For now, go read this article in Bloomberg and then this analysis at the Daily Mail. Now, read this, this, and this. The last two stories are about people who know that they may pay with their lives for what they have said and done. We’ve established time and time again that Vladimir is not a nice man and loves to make examples of those he regards as enemies. Go read previous pieces on Vladimir for more details. Finally, read this and note the very precise phraseology that the deaths were carried out with his pistol. There is usually a reason for such precise phraseology and it sets off alarm bells in regular Kremlin/Russia watchers. While not making the Western news (and not much in Russia either) there are others who are dying, disappearing, or being arrested on the fringe (or even deeper) of Vladimir’s inner circle.
There is every reason to believe Vladimir is purging those he considers disloyal or risks. For ten Kremlin insiders to go to Bloomberg, knowing that surveillance is not just high, but increasing, says a lot. It also says that any surveys and such that say the elites/people/other groups are behind Vladimir and still believe in him should be taken with a grain of salt. As I noted in this post, almost nobody is going to be honest, especially about Vladimir.
One of the key questions is if Vladimir realizes how bad things are in military terms, in terms of long-term impacts (if you didn’t read this the other day from Trent Telenko, read it today as it is but one facet of the potentially horrific impact on the civilian economy) outside the military, and the large and growing larger stress fractures in his support? Despite the growing thickness of the bubble around him, I suspect he does have at least a hint. Thing is, if he has that hint and knows May 9 is coming, it’s not likely to make him more circumspect. Rather, it or the full knowledge of just how bad things are likely to push his hand.
For all the yapping by various functionaries about how Russia will never use nukes except in the face of a threat to the existence of the Russian Federation, there’s one thing to keep in mind. Vladimir himself has, in various speeches and comments, declared a number of non-physical things to be existential threats to him/Russia. This has included NATO giving the Ukraine supplies and training as but one such threat. Two, Soviet and then Russian doctrine has NEVER, to the best of my knowledge, applied that caveat to the use of chemical, biological, or tactical nuclear devices. Instead it has focused on maskirova and how to prevent retaliation for using them when Soviet/Russian troops hit a roadblock so to speak.
The Ukraine has been a massive roadblock, and the Azovstal plant has become iconic as a roadblock. Add in the push to declare the military action (and in particular the loss of the Moskva since it couldn’t, just couldn’t have been the Ukraine all on its own), and the miring down of Russian military operations, as the work of NATO, and voila you have an existential threat to Russia. And, no matter what, those evil nazi Ukrainians who are preventing the majority of Ukrainians from reuniting with the Rodina must be dealt with.
I honestly hope I am reading both Vladimir and the situation wrong. The problem is, for all that he apparently does feel that he is winning, he is in a desperate position. Even if the West could somehow give him an exit that he could possibly take, he won’t take it. Without a clear and major victory, his rule is finished and he will pay with his life. This might delicately be called a desperate situation, and as I’ve noted before several times, desperate people do desperate (and stupid) things.
If he has decided to ignore May 9, we are going to see a long and brutal war. If he succeeds in dragging NATO into direct conflict, I still see it as being brutal and lasting longer than people may think given the low numbers of troops for most countries. Most of NATO has depended on the U.S. and its troops for so long that what little defense they do have is about as firm as a bucket of spit. That said, if you haven’t already done so, take a look at which countries do have a defense, and a bit of offense. It’s clear that Vladmir is setting the stage in Russian public opinion for Russia to be already at war with NATO via proxy Ukraine. This gives him a number of options military and otherwise.
If he doesn’t ignore May 9, we are almost guaranteed to see orders for the use of special weapons in the next two weeks. I do not, repeat NOT, see orders for or the use of strategic nuclear weapons except as a threat at this time. Anything done will be tactical in nature, and I see the Azovstal plant as a likely first target of chemical weapons.
Based on the steps he is taking, including making this a war with NATO, I am moving my odds on orders being given for the use of special weapons from 60/40 to 90 percent until May 9. That said, I have one final question to ask:
Will such an order be obeyed?
The Chechens? Hell yes, they would do it in a heartbeat. There is reason to believe they already have used chemical weapons. I really don’t see the Russian military turning over working nuclear weapons to the Chechens, however. Not willingly.
Russian troops? I’m not so sure. That’s one hell of a thing to have to hope for.
Some Previous Posts:
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