Monday, July 11, 2022

A frozen war

Gotta give credit to Putin -- he has invented a new form of warfare. Sending his Little Green Men into the Donbas region of Ukraine in 2014 was similar to what Hitler played with in the 1930s, when  covert invaders were known as a "Fifth Column." But the invasion of Ukraine took an odd turn thereafter. The Ukrainians proved tough enough and agile enough to stop the Little Green Men and their local proxies from advancing, though not militarily strong enough to throw them out. So Putin kept the war going in a minor key, which the West began to call a "frozen conflict." That went on for more than (count them!) seven years!

After bleeding Ukraine during the administrations of three American presidents -- Obama, Trump, and Biden -- Putin launched a full-scale invasion in February, which he termed a "special military operation." He and almost everyone else thought that Kyiv would fall in a few weeks, if not a few days, but instead it is now almost five months. Ukraine proved far tougher than anyone expected, and the NATO alliance proved to have more guts -- though not enough to end the war, just enough to keep Putin from winning it. So now we have the phenomenon of a frozen war.

Russian casualties have been awful. The British military estimates that Russia has lost 25,000 soldiers killed out of an invasion force of 300,000. In war, the wounded always exceed the number killed, even allowing for the poor medical facilities likely to accompany the Russian army in a war Moscow won't call a war. Certainly 50,000 have been wounded, more likely 75,000, maybe even 100,000. Plus those taken prisoner. So: casualties on the order of at least 25 percent taken out of the front line, maybe as high as 42 percent. One soldier out of four, maybe as many as half in some units.

But it's still a "special military operation"! Putin doesn't dare put Russia on a wartime footing. It would be just too humiliating, a nation of 145 million fought to a standstill by what he regards as a breakaway province of 41 million (excluding Crimea), many of them Russian speakers, some sympathetic to Moscow. So he has resorted to recruiting ethnic minorities, offering what to them seems a huge pile of money to volunteer (nearly $2000 has been mooted), while in the occupied eastern and southern regions he has forcibly conscripted Ukrainians, and some ethnic Russians have no doubt volunteered. Then there are his mercenaries, from Syria, Chechnya, and the infamous Wagner Group.

NATO meanwhile continues to dribble aid into Ukraine. Germany is the worst holdout, promising stuff and finding one pretext or another not to deliver it, but the US is hardly a model of faithfulness. As of early June, despite all our promises, we had actually delivered military aid at about the same level as little (and until 1989 impoverished by Russian domination) Poland. I assume we have pulled ahead by now. Certainly we hear a lot of talk from Congress and the White House. But that "as long as it takes" language really worries me. America has never been good at "as long as it takes." We lose interest, as witness our shambolic flight from Kabul last August and our flight from Vietnam in the 1970s.

Already we begin to hear worries about our own inventory of weapons and ammunition. We have supply chain problems! Military contractors shut down! No computer chips for our sophisticated weaponry! 

So what's Plan B? Shall we order the stuff from China?


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