Crimean Wars 1347 to 2023 – The Plague #1 (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #296)

Wars and plagues led to the worst cataclysms in European history. Among other things, they caused massive losses of life. The ensuing demographic disasters led to the upheaval of political, economic, and societal orders. Wars might get pride of place in the history books, but plagues were recurring disasters that Europeans feared just as much. Anyone who has traveled in central or eastern Europe cannot help but notice the numerous Baroque plague columns located on the most prominent squares in city centers. These were erected as a reminder of past plagues and in the hope that they would never happen again. With the rise of modern medicine, plagues became less of an agent of change in Europe and more a thing of the past. As for wars, after 1945 they were something to be avoided at all costs, especially large ones. Unfortunately, the most unsavory parts of the past have a way of reoccurring again when least expected.

More than a memory – Genoese fortress of Caffa (Credit: Qypchak)

Dangerous Precedents – Plagued By The Past
Plagues and wars are two of the ugliest aspects of the past that most of Europe managed to sidestep for decades. This was largely by design. Modern medicine was thought to have relegated plagues to the dustbin of history. As for large wars, European nations spent nearly eighty years constructing and/or joining organizations that ensured their collective security. Foremost among these were the European Union and NATO. They have played an outsized role in minimizing conflicts in Europe. Both organizations have been dynamic, flexible, and opportunistic in their expansion. Boosted by the collapse of the Iron Curtain, the European Union and NATO assimilated much of Eastern Europe into their existing structures. This process spread peace and relative prosperity.

Unfortunately, something horrible happened on the way to a bright and shining future for a unified Europe. A modern plague and a large war returned with a vengeance. The return of war happened in a fringe area of Europe that few thought much about a decade ago. Back then, Crimea was an afterthought. For the last eight years it has been at the heart of a conflict between Ukrainian sovereignty and Russian aggression. That conflict threatens to worsen this year with unpredictable consequences for the future of Crimea.  There has also been a plague, but not in the usual form. While Crimea’s suffering in the Covid-19 pandemic was no worse than the rest of Europe, its arrival made for a strange historical coincidence. Few realize that Crimea was once the setting for a unique combination of war and pandemic, the likes of which led to an unprecedented human catastrophe, one that is rarely talked about. More about that in a moment.

On the move – The Golden Horde fighting a battle in southern Russia

Under Siege – A Biological Weapon
Another plague arrived in Crimea eight years ago. This one had nothing to do with viruses, instead this plague was caused by Russian aggression. Like other plagues in European history, this one has also spread. First, to the Donbas region where separatists supported by the Russian military did their own land grab and then the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine that began on February 24, 2022. This plague was stopped, but not cured by supplying Ukrainian forces with the military means to defend their nation. The only cure for this plague is a military campaign where the Ukrainian Army manages to expel Russian military forces from Crimea. That is the only suitable result for those who believe in the sanctity of borders and the international rules-based order which has kept Europe largely peaceful since 1945. The plague of Russian aggression has already had major consequences for Europe, if not the world. That is only likely to grow more so in the months ahead.

When it comes to armed conflicts, Crimea is certainly not lacking in memorable moments. Many history buffs are familiar with the Crimean War and the Siege of Sevastopol during World War II. Both resulted in hundreds of thousands of casualties. Yet a battle that occurred in a much earlier conflict turned out to be much worse.  It was not just lethal for the combatants involved, but also spread death across a wide swath of Europe as a whole. The Siege of Caffa is not well known in European history circles, or for that matter among regional history specialists. Students will scarcely find a reference to it in history textbooks. That is an unfortunate oversight because one of the most infamous and consequential events in European history occurred during the battle. The Siege of Caffa helped spread the Black Death into Europe and was the setting for one of the first biological weapons attacks in history. Though the battle and where it occurred are rarely mentioned, that does not make it any less consequential. Crimea was the scene for one of history’s fateful turning points, just as it might soon be again.

Balance of power – Crimea in the 15h century (Credit: Amitchell125)

Magnificence & Malevolence – The Golden Horde
The Golden Horde is a magnificent name. One that literally gleams as it materializes in the mind. Imagine hundreds of thousands of men on horseback thundering ever westward across the vast Eurasian steppe. All resistance falls before them. They pillage and plunder across millions of square kilometers before finally settling into what would be a centuries long occupation. Decadent ruling courts with exotic khans decide the fate of their subjects. The population they rule can hope for benevolent despotism at best, barbarism and cruelty at worst. For such an evocative name, the Golden Hordes name was paradoxical. They had a sordid side and were known for being merciless. This served them well in their lust for conquest.

The Golden Horde was the northwest arm of the Mongol Empire. While Mongols were the original force behind its creation, the Golden Horde’s subject populations were mainly Turkic. Their rule over Crimea began in the mid-13th century, but the Golden Horde was not above selling to foreigners the rights to areas if it suited their purposes. This was how the Italian city state of Genoa came to purchase the port city of Feodosia in 1266. They soon built it up into a viable economic entity. The only problem was that relations with the Golden Horde changed over time. When they did, this meant war and all the problems that came with it. In this case, it would be more than either side could have ever imagined.

Future Uncertain – The Unpredictable Ukraine-Russia War in 2023 (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #295)

Someday this war will be over, but it will not be anytime soon. The victories and defeats that each side has suffered thus far has failed to bring the conflict anywhere closer to a conclusion. If anything, these respective successes and failures have only ensured the war will continue indefinitely. The coming months could prove to be more decisive than anything that has happened during the war’s first ten and a half months. It would be foolhardy to predict what will happen next. Predictions are predicated upon past performance. Judging by that, this war will be long and unpredictable, just as it has been so far. That may seem obvious, but there have been few obvious things about the Ukraine-Russia War. Like all wars it tends to have a logic all its own. Outside observers, can scarcely understand this logic. More confounding is the likelihood that those on the frontlines may not conceive of the logic that governs their actions. The only thing certain, is this war’s future is uncertain.

Future uncertain – Ukrainian man walks in front of buildings damaged by Russian shelling

Obstacles & Objectives – Putting Up A Good Front
It is understandable that anyone looking to predict the war’s future will look back at what has already occurred. If we go by past performance in the Ukraine-Russia War here is what should happen. Russian forces will continue to lose men and ground. They will lose the latter at a slower rate than before. This is not because they are fighting any better than before, but because they are bringing hundreds of thousands of more men to the battlefront. Even the worse trained, poorly armed, badly fed, undersupplied, and frightened Russian soldier who would rather be anywhere other than Ukraine will be a formidable obstacle. When a Russian soldier is fighting for his life, his livelihood, his chance to make it back home alive, then there is little doubt that he will present a barrier to Ukrainian forces recapturing their territory. That does not mean several hundred thousand soldiers will succeed in any kind of decisive victory. It just means that they will slow the Ukrainians down.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainians will make further territorial gains. These will be more like the ones they made in Kherson Province rather than Kharkiv Province. Breakthroughs will occur, but the Russians will throw tens of thousands of men at the Ukrainian forces to slow their advances. The Ukrainians will still destroy large amounts of Russian men and material. They will be the aggressor in most battles and viewed as “winning” the war, but “winning” is not “won”. A decisive defeat of Russian forces will continue to prove elusive. The war will grind on through the spring, summer, and fall. At that point both sides will lick their wounds, assess their respective strengths, and decide whether to negotiate. Neither will have achieved their ultimate objectives. The Russians, because they still have not decided their objectives. The Ukrainians, because they have not taken all their territory back, including that which the Russians captured after their full-scale invasion. Ukraine will be in a better position than they were when campaigning began during the dead of winter in 2023, but this will not be good enough to claim victory. Keep in mind that this is what should happen, it is almost certainly not what will happen.

Before the war – Mariupol Theater at Christmas in 2021

Then & Now – Role Reversals
The greatest argument for the Ukraine-Russia War’s unpredictable future is the past ten and a half months. Consider how so many of the truths now seen as self-evident would have been considered improbable, if not impossible prior to the war. A then and now comparison bears out this transformation. Then: The Russian military is the second most powerful in the world. Ukraine does not stand a chance against them in a war. Now: The Russian military is a disorganized disaster plagued with incompetence and corruption. Ukraine is winning the war. Then: Russia will capture Kyiv and install a pro-Russian puppet government. The Zelensky government will go into exile. Now: Russia not only failed to capture Kyiv, but they have no chance of capturing it in this war. Kyiv is the epicenter of Ukrainian nationhood and will continue to be long after the war is over.

Then: Vladimir Putin is a master strategist who has strengthened Russia into a great power once again. Now: Vladimir Putin presides over a degenerate regime that has weakened Russia irreparably. It is a second-rate power with a bleak future at home and abroad. Then: If the west supports Ukraine with state of art the weapons system Russia will attack NATO member states. Now: The west is continuing to increase military support to Ukraine with everything from Patriot missile defense systems to armored personnel vehicles. Russia can barely hold off the Ukrainian Army. They will not attack a NATO member state because that would lead to an even greater disaster. Then: Genocide, ethnic cleansing, and targeting civilians is a thing of the past in Europe. Now: Genocide, ethnic cleansing, and targeting civilians is part of Russian military strategy in Ukraine. Then: Ukraine will be forced by its western allies into a negotiated peace. Now: Ukraine will decide when negotiations with Russia will begin. The western allies offer continued support for this stance.

War changes everything – Mariupol Theater after Russian siege

Tracking Changes – Never The Same
Those are just an arbitrary list of how much has changed in less than a year of war. The war has disabused military strategists and geopolitical analysts of long held assumptions about Russian military strength and Ukrainian political military weakness. The same can be said concerning the effectiveness of Russian autocracy versus Ukrainian democracy. If someone on February 23, 2022, questioned the Thens given above and professed a belief in the Nows, they would have been called crazy or ignored as a foolish provocateur. The difference between the Thens and Nows proves the truth behind that old cliche that war changes everything. War is provocative and unpredictable. Out of chaos comes clarity. The world as it existed in Europe, Russia, and much of the west prior to the full-scale invasion of Ukraine has been upended. It will never be the same. The question is what kind of world will arise to replace it. No one really knows. In 2023, we may find out or we may be right back to where we started this year by wondering what the future will bring.

Click here for: Crimean Wars 1347 to 2023 – The Plague #1 (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #296)

A Conventional War – Ukraine/NATO & Russia Finally Face Off (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #294)

The European theater during World War II was really two different wars. On the Eastern Front, casualties reached levels unprecedented in human history. The most terrifying example of this were losses by the Soviet Union, which reached an estimated 25 million people. That is more than the combined total of all other combatants in the war. Another stunning statistic is that 80% of all German casualties in the war occurred on the Eastern Front. The battles were fights literally to the finish. The hatred engendered by the warring ideologies of fascism and communism infused the fighting with a merciless fury. The Nazi doctrine of racial superiority over Jews and Slavs added another lethal element to the fighting. The result was a war defined in the starkest terms possible. There was only conquest or complete subjugation, if not destruction. The Red Army went through the equivalent of two entire armies by throwing great masses of men at the Germans. This turned every battle into a war of attrition. An insidious numbers game ensued. This favored the Soviets who had much more men and material (with crucial assistance from the Allies).  

Meanwhile in western and southern Europe, Allied forces (Americans, British and French) fought battles relying on their superiority in armaments and equipment. They incurred hundreds of thousands of casualties, but nowhere near the level of those suffered by the Red Army or German forces on the Eastern front. The western Allies also massed great numbers of men (particularly America). Nevertheless, they leaned more heavily on technology than brute force. To be sure, both the Soviets and western Allies used many of the same methods, but for the most part, the Soviets were more reliant on great masses of men, while the western Allies on technology. Incredibly, very little has changed. Seventy-seven years after World War II ended, the same stylistic impulses are getting ready to face each other on the battlefield. The warring sides may be different, but their tactics are much the same as before. The Russians are stand-ins for the Soviets, the Ukrainians for the western Allies.

Conventional war – Aerial view of Bakhmut

Contrasting Forces – The Fight For Supremacy
Despite efforts at modernization and attempts to integrate digital technology, the Russian military has largely inherited its tactics from the Red Army. The past eleven months of war in Ukraine has offered copious evidence that the Russians still prefer massing men and artillery to overwhelm any opposition. The doctrine of brute force lives on in the 21st century Russian Army. The longer the war has lasted, the more Russian tactics revert to those of the Red Army. As Russia has shown less technological proficiency than imagined, their reliance on vast reserves of manpower is increasing. This was the impetus for their “partial mobilization” in the autumn. The Russians are thought to be on the verge of an even larger round of conscription to put greater masses of men on the battlefield.

For their part, the Ukrainians are supported by the technologically superior military might of NATO and European Union member states. They will continue to wage the war with sound tactics, combining them with first class weaponry and military equipment. Their goal is to minimize casualties while probing for weak points in the Russian lines. Stealth strikes done with maximum efficiency can lead to breakthroughs. They have made greater gains on the battlefield than the Russians over the last six months by outsmarting them tactically and relying on precision weaponry. This is 21st century warfare as taught to them by experience and with the assistance of NATO instructors that arrived to train Ukrainian forces after war in the Donbas began in 2014. For the smaller Ukrainian Army these are essential. They cannot afford to lose massive amounts of manpower for minimal gains.

On the road to Bakhmut – Bomb craters (Credit: Maxar Technologies)

Clash of the Titans – A War That Was Never Fought
The clash of differing philosophies between Ukraine/NATO and Russian/Soviet inspired doctrines has been a long time in the making. This could lead to some of the largest battles the world has seen since 1945. This clash was supposed to happen during the Cold War, but thankfully it never did. The great western worry back then was that the Soviets would launch a massive offensive in central Europe. This would threaten to overrun western Germany and then other European allies before American and British force could mobilize a commensurate response to slow the Soviet momentum. The worry was that the Red Army would already be in Bonn, Brussels, and Paris before a major defensive effort could be mounted. Fortunately, this Third World War scenario never occurred.

The fear of escalation kept both sides from engaging in a conventional conflict because it could have led to cataclysmic consequences. That fear has largely subsided. The battle lines between Russian and western style warfare are now drawn much further east than either would have ever imagined. No longer are the opposing sides within spitting distance in Berlin. Now they are a stone’s throw from one another in the Donbas and southern Ukraine. Each side is preparing for the type of large conventional battles that they managed to avoid from 1945 – 1989. The Cold War ended with a whimper, but the Ukraine-Russia War is proving to be different. In the coming months, it will only become more so as the opposing armies conduct offensives.

The fog of war – Scene from Bakhmut

Decisive & Dreadful – Men Versus Machines
Just because Ukraine, rather than NATO, is directly fighting Russia does not mean it will be any less of a showdown. In the past couple of weeks, the west has been increasing donations of lethal weaponry that could make a difference on the battlefield. For instance, infantry fighting vehicles and tanks from the Americans, Germans, British. Poles and many other countries. There is sure to be much more to come. This promises to tilt military technology further in Ukraine’s favor. Meanwhile, the Russians will have little choice but to rely on manpower for the bulk of their military efforts. Masses of men will face off against machines. The contrast in tactics between the two sides is stark. The past and future finally meet on the field of battle in Europe. It has been a long time coming. The consequences will be decisive and dreadful.  

Click here for: Future Uncertain – The Unpredictable Ukraine-Russia War in 2023 (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #295)

Mister-What-Is-This – Laszlo Magyar: A Hungarian Explorer in Africa (Part Two)

The Hungarian Academy of Sciences missed their first opportunity to support Laszlo Magyar’s explorations. In 1845 they rejected his proposal to lead an expedition to the Andes Mountains in South America where he would explore Incan ruins and study the people of that remote area. In retrospect, it is easy to see why the Academy rejected Magyar’s proposal. He was a sailor of fortune who started his career abroad in the Austro-Hungarian Navy and then served in the Argentinian one as well. Magyar then sailed on different commercial ships around the globe. He was a man who loved adventure but was an unknown quantity. That would change during the final sixteen years of his life as he made a name for himself in in parts of Angola that Europeans had scarcely visited. The change in Magyar’s fortunes over this period were so great that the Academy admitted him as a member. Following his death, the Academy tried to obtain his unpublished manuscripts and documents. Sadly, their attempts would be unsuccessful.

Back to the start – Laszlo Magyar plaque in Szombathely

Congo ExpeditionIlluminating The Darkness
While Laszlo Magyar’s efforts to explore deep into the interior of South America were unsuccessful, this did not stop him from looking to other remote regions to satisfy his curiosity. Magyar was more than a sailor; he was also a sort of renaissance man whose interests included everything from climate and culture to geography and geology to agriculture and science. What Magyar needed to pursue his astonishing curiosity was funding. His ability as a sailor would pay off. From his own writings, Magyar claimed that he commanded a ship for a ruler in the Kingdom of Calabar (located in what is today Nigeria). The only problem with this story is that Magyar was not above inventing the name of a ruler for Calabar who did not exist. He would not be the first, nor the last European explorer to embellish the truth concerning his exploits.

Whatever happened, the upshot was that Magyar had found his way to Africa which offered a vast canvas for adventurous and intrepid explorers. His seamanship provided him with the financing to carry out an expedition up the Congo River in 1848. While other European explorers would gain greater fame for their exploits on the Congo River, Magyar’s expedition has been overlooked by historians, but is notable. His report on the expedition was sent back to Hungary for publication. It provided details of the slave trade which had been outlawed in Europe for decades. He made it safely back to the mouth of the Congo River and Atlantic coastline. The expedition stoked Magyar’s interest in further explorations in the African interior.

Just a few months after the Congo expedition, Magyar was along the Atlantic coastline in the city of Benguela (today the second largest city in Angola) which had been founded by the Portuguese in the early 17th century. Caravans arrived in Benguela from the interior loaded with a wealth of goods. Magyar learned that there was fertile land inland with inhabitants who were receptive to visitors. This sounded promising enough that Magyar joined a caravan to the Kingdom of Bie (analogous to Bie Province in central Angola). This was terra incognito to Europeans. Strangely enough, Magyar’s presence with the caravan helped ensure its security. As a white man, he was viewed as an authoritative presence. These caravans were no minor affair. They would have hundreds, if not thousands of participants carrying goods into and out of the interior.

Starting point – 17th century map of Benguela (Credit: Dirck Jansz van Santen)

Detailed Findings – An Inquiring Mind
The caravan passed through hostile territory, meaning that security was always at a premium. Magyar cleverly attached himself to the party of a nobleman from the Kingdom of Bie. He was given the duty of making payment of customs duties exacted by tribal chieftains along the way. Arriving safely in Bie, Magyar was impressed with the land he found there. The tribal prince he had accompanied on the journey gave him permission to build a home and settle along the Kuiti River. Doing this also meant Magyar would have to meet with the Kingdom of Bie’s ruler, Prince Kajaja Kajngula who resided in the provincial capital. The ruling prince proved extremely hospitable to Magyar, to the point that he allowed the Hungarian explorer to marry one of his daughters. This would not be the only wife Magyar had as he found the custom of polygamy to his liking. Nevertheless, his wife bore him five sons, two of whom would live into adulthood. Through her, Magyar gained many slaves.

The Hungarian adventurer was being assimilated into the kingdom. This allowed him a unique perspective on the culture and customs of the people. While Magyar enjoyed an exalted position in tribal society, he also lived among the people allowing him to observe their daily interactions. As someone with an interest in ethnography, this proved extremely valuable. He did further exploratory trips into the interior. On some of these journeys he fell ill or suffered hostile attacks. He ranged widely throughout the region while meeting as many of inhabitants as possible. Most of them had never set eyes on a person of European descent. Magyar’s courage and curiosity were profound. To the point that the native’s gave him the name of Mister-What-Is-This because of his constant questioning.

Leaving a legacy – Hungarian book on Laszlo Magyar

Unfinished Work – The Great Unknown
Magyar’s unique insights and innate curiosity led him to write a monograph. He sent a great deal of research material back to Europe. This became the basis for his membership in the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and lasting fame for Magyar in his homeland. It is a great shame that more is not known about his explorations. Magyar’s life in Bie might sound idyllic, but he was eventually forced to flee. His father-in-law was deposed as ruler. Life in the interior was difficult even with a patron, without one it could prove fatal. While Magyar left Bie, he never left Angola, settling along the coast where he, one of his sons, and sixty slaves tried to earn a living by supplying British textile firms with a seaweed used in their products. Magyar probably hoped to regain his previous stature at some later time. It was not to be. His remarkable life would come to an end on November 9, 1864, in Ponte de Cuio. Scholars believe he succumbed to malaria. Long after Magyar’s death another part of him would perish.

Before his death, Magyar was believed to have completed a two-volume work which was to follow up on his monograph. There were also research materials he collected during his considerable travels. These resources were kept in a hut along the Atlantic seashore that had been his final home. The Academy of Sciences made inquiries to the Portuguese after Magyar’s death in trying to recover them. Sadly, they were informed that the hut had burned down. A considerable part of Magyar’s invaluable work was lost in the fire. A large part of his explorations will never be known, but at least we have the monograph, letters and some other documents. One of the great African adventurers lives on through those works. It is a tragedy that our knowledge of Laszlo Magyar’s explorations in Africa will always be incomplete, but that is no different from the rest of history. To understand Magyar’s life and legacy it is best to use your imagination, just like he did.  

From Hungary to Angola – Laszlo Magyar: A Hungarian Explorer in Africa (Part One)

In early November 1864, a Hungarian man suffering from malaria spent his final days on the coast of Angola. He was alone and living in poverty, a sad irony since this was how he started his life forty-five years before in Hungary. The places where his life began and ended could not have been more different. Hungary was part of the Habsburg Empire, an inland kingdom with a continental climate. Angola was a place with brutal tropical heat and sublime beauty. In between the man’s birth and death, he had sailed across much of the world, visiting places as disparate and distance as Cuba, the Congo and Java. He had come so far, only to spend his final moments on a distant shoreline, nearly forgotten. His exploits, like his life, would have been lost to history if he had not previously put pen to paper leaving a record – albeit incomplete – of what he had seen and experienced of his journeys into areas of Angola that Europeans had never seen. He made history and wrote it. For that he deserves to be remembered.

The adventurer – Statue of Laszlo Magyar in Dunafoldvar Hungary (Credit: szuzi78)

Historical Records – The Written Word
History is incomplete. The ratio between missing and available information about the past is a million to one or more. That estimate is being generous. So little of the past has been documented for the sake of posterity that there is really no way of knowing the pure, unadulterated truth of any single event. What we have is an approximation pieced together from fragments. And yet we try our best to develop the past in its purest form. We try, we fail, we try again. Out of these many failures a pale representation of the past eventually emerges. This is what we call history. If history can never be complete, if the truth can never be distilled to its essence, than why bother? Because understanding the past, can help us understand ourselves. One definition of history could be that it is a search for self-understanding by understanding the actions and experiences of others. The Hungarian adventurer who went into parts unknown in Africa did this.

So where do we begin to find historical truth in a world so vast and complex. The written word is where it begins and ends for most of us. When it comes to history, we are what we read. This is particularly true before voice and video recordings began to become part of the historical record around the turn of the 20th century. Any history before that is largely based upon the written word. If something was not written down, then it might as well have never existed. There are a few exceptions which serve to reinforce this rule.  Archaeology is one of them. Ruins and excavations can tell us quite a bit about the past. They can help fill in gaps, but archaeology’s ability to inform the past runs a distant second to the written word. Imagine for a moment just how much has been lost because it was not written down, either because of illiteracy or the proper tools were unavailable to etch on stone, parchment or paper.

Charting a new course – Fiume (Rijeka) where Magyar went to the Austro-Hungarian Naval Academy

Out of Africa – The Unknown World
Without the written word, piecing together the past is close to impossible. Fortunately, many people in the past thought it important to document what was happening. Notable events and experiences were recorded. Humanity should be ever grateful to them. Without their efforts, history would be even more incomplete than it already is. One of those who did the world this favor was Laszlo Magyar, the Hungarian who became an African explorer. His name is not widely known, though it should be. If you have not heard of Magyar, then count yourself part of the majority. In popular history, the exploration of Africa by Europeans is predominantly a 19th century affair. The preserve of men like Stanley and Livingston who tromped through the vast wilds of Africa and brought the continent to the attention of millions.

British, French, Belgian, and Portuguese exploration of Africa during the colonial era gets the lion’s share of attention from historians. Other European explorers who were not one of those nationalities barely garner a mention in the west outside of academic circles. They are either forgotten or so obscure that they might as well have not existed. That would be the case with Magyar, except that he left writings of his African explorations that have helped scholar’s piece together his explorative endeavors. Unfortunately, not all his writings survive, but the ones that do are extremely valuable for ethnographers, historians, and scientists to understand parts of Africa that were a blind spot for foreigners until the mid-19th century.   

Taking on the world – Laszlo Magyar

Getting Started – Inauspicious Circumstances
Laszlo Magyar was not born into auspicious circumstances. His life began in the city of Szombathely, located in southwestern Hungary. His birth was the product of an affair between a maidservant and bailiff. His mother died not long after he was born. Nothing in Magyar’s early years marked him out for history making feats later in life. He was initially raised by his maternal grandmother in poverty. The one thing Magyar did have going for him was his father. A man of means whose profession of bailiff afforded him a good standard of living. Magyar’s father took him to his own parents where he would be raised close to the Danube in south-central Hungary. The boy was able to acquire a good education, completing his secondary school studies in the city of Szabadka (present-day Subotica, Serbia). It looked like Magyar would follow in his father’s footsteps as a bailiff, but instead the young man had a sense of adventure that would serve him well for the rest of his life.

Magyar joined the navy, graduating from the Austro-Hungarian Naval Academy in the coastal city of Fiume (present-day Rijeka, Croatia). The navy provided him an opportunity for adventuring abroad. Magyar sailed to far flung destinations in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans. He soon became attached to the Argentinian Navy. This service nearly cost Magyar his life when he was on the losing side of a battle with Anglo-French forces and barely escaped execution. Such close calls did not keep Magyar from planning exploration of his own that would satisfy a curiosity to study ancient cultures. To this end, he attempted to get funding from the Hungarian Academy of Science for a daring journey deep into the Andes Mountains where he hoped to study Incan ruins and the people living in the area. The academy rejected his request for funding such an expedition. Magyar then set off on new adventures which led him to Africa and what would become his life’s greatest work.

Coming soon : Mister-What-Is-This – Laszlo Magyar: A Hungarian Explorer in Africa (Part Two)

To Be or Not To Be – The German Question & War In Ukraine #2 (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #293)

Will Germany play a larger military role in Europe? To be or not to be, that is the German Question. If so, then the Ukraine-Russia War offers an unprecedented opportunity and one that is necessary. There is no better time for Germany to begin providing not just some, but all the military support Ukraine needs to hold off an expected Russian offensive either in the later winter or spring. The support, along with that of other western allies, would allow the Ukrainian Army to go on the offensive in a bid to take more of its territory back. If Germany chooses to limit its support, then Ukraine will struggle to win an outright victory in the war. They may even have trouble holding off the next Russian offensive.

The German question comes down to what 21st century Germany want to be. Either a power that protects the post-World War II rules-based international order from which it has greatly benefitted or risk losing military and moral authority in Europe as the Russian military runs further amuck, threatening European security. The answer to whether Germany plays a larger military role would seem to be a positive since they can help preserve European security for decades to come. What could be better than that? Certainly not the unknown which might result from limiting military support to Ukraine. The Germans are in a classic pay me now or pay me later situation. Help defeat Russia now or risk a much larger war when and if the Kremlin tests NATO’s resolve by attacking a member state in Eastern Europe. The choice between the two extremes is stark, but German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is still undecided.

Free the Leopards – Protest in Berlin

Zeitenwende – The Not So Historic Turning Point
For a people who are known for their love of stability, it is strange how the Germans are risking that by limiting military support for Ukraine. German policy since the Second World War has been risk averse. The country’s prosperity and stability has been predicated upon the existing European order. Germany has grown into an economic power within that framework. Militarily, the story has been different. Germany has been able to lay low while others in NATO and the European Union do the heavy lifting. Fear of militarism is pervasive throughout German society. Any decision that supports military action sends a shiver down the spines of many Germans. One such decision would be a greater military buildup to boost its security. In that regard, Scholz announced the Zeitenwende (historic turning point) three days after Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. The upshot was that 100 billion Euros would go to increase spending on the German military.

This change in policy was widely applauded by Germany’s allies. Scholz has also allowed more military support for Ukraine. The latest of which was the promise of German Marder infantry fighting vehicles that the Ukrainian Army will use in a future offensive. So far, so good, but as the war continues to escalate this support will not be enough. Ukraine needs the most effective weapons possible. One of those is the German Leopard tank, a formidable fighting machine that could help turn the tide of battle in favor of Ukrainian forces. This is the type of game changing weapon Ukraine needs now more than ever. Unfortunately, the Germans are still unwilling to provide these despite pressure from their allies. The situation could not be more critical since a Russian offensive is expected to begin soon. Ukraine needs all the firepower it can get.

A special relationship – Vladimir Putin & Olaf Scholz meeting in February 2022

Leashing The Leopards – From Fissures to Cracks
What is holding Germany back from providing Ukraine with Leopard tanks? According to Scholz, he will be more than glad to send Leopards after the Americans begin sending M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine. The Americans believe Scholz is using the Abrams as a convenient excuse. The Abrams is a notorious gas guzzler that is difficult to support logistically and requires more training. Some say the Americans are being disingenuous, that they could easily choose to send Abrams. Meanwhile, Scholz continues to dither. After several weeks of negotiations with allies, it was expected that Germany would announce they were either sending Leopards to Ukraine or allowing fellow NATO member states to do the same. Because Germany donated Leopards to European allies in exchange for them sending their own T-72 tanks to Ukraine, legally Germany must approve for them to send Leopards to Ukraine. This approval was expected to be announced when western military leaders met at Ramstein Air Force Base in western Germany last week. While a large package of weapons for Ukraine was announced, there was no mention of providing Leopards. This was a major setback. Reports appeared in the media that fissures in the western alliance were widening into cracks.

There is nothing standing in the way of Germany providing Leopard tanks or allowing other allies to do the same except for Olaf Scholz. There are many theories as to why Scholz continues to stick stubbornly to a position that looks more foolish and untenable by the day. One theory is that he hopes to still be able to preserve Germany’s “special relationship” with Russia. This line of thinking is hard to fathom. Trust between Russia and the rest of Europe is at its lowest point since the days of Stalin. It will not recover anytime soon and will likely take a generation or more to improve, if it ever does at all. Scholz seems unable to comprehend the vast changes that have occurred, even when he has been the one at times having to implement those changes. Specifically in Germany’s military posture.

Striking a pose – Olaf Scholz anti-militarist

Unanswered Question – Silence From Scholz
The other theory is that Scholz does not want to be the one who makes the decision that leads to German tanks fighting against Russian ones. This would be the first such instance of that since World War II. It is the memory of that catastrophe which still manages to have a hold on the psyche of many Germans. The pacifist instinct which has been pervasive in post-World War II Germany is still alive and well. The fear of being involved in another war has kept Germany from a military build up for far too long. It has also led to the latest iteration of the German question. Will Germany play a larger military role in Europe? To be or not to be, Scholz refuses to answer that question.

Click here for: A Conventional War – Ukraine/NATO & Russia Finally Face Off (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #294)

Teutonic Shifts – The German Question & War In Ukraine #1 (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #292)

The German question. Those three words express an idea that has dominated European political, economic and military affairs for centuries. The German question has meant different things at different times in European history. It has been central to war and peace, prosperity or penury in Europe. Definitions of the German question have been highly dependent on historical circumstances. In the mid-19th century, the question concerned German unification. Following World War I, the question concerned the potential incorporation of Austria into a Greater Germany. The question has ranged across a wide variety of political entities including empires, nation-states, kingdoms, and any other fiefs dominated by ethnic Germans.

The German influence has been so vast in Europe, that it is hard to overstate its influence. For instance, most of the royal families in Europe were German in origin. Few now remember that the House of Windsor, England’s ruling family, used to be known as the House of Anhalt-Saxe-Coburg. The name change occurred due to World War One. German minorities played influential roles in Eastern European regions such as the Swabians in Hungary and the Baltic Germans in Estonia and Latvia. No matter the political and economic circumstances, Germans were often at the top of the pecking order. They have an incredible talent for finding themselves at the center of European history. The German question comes right along with them.

Searching for answers – Olaf Scholz

Power Plays – Military Might & Economic Heft
For the rest of Europe, the German question has often been how to contain Teutonic power or to control, harness, and manage it for their own benefit or survival, usually the latter. The German question continues to dominate Europe today. The question’s relevance for the first two decades of the 21st century was based on the outsized growth of German economic power compared to any other nation on the continent. The German economy has grown much larger and stronger than that of France, home to the second largest economy on the European mainland. As German economic might expanded, this meant Germany’s economic preferences, such as an emphasis on fiscal rectitude and austerity for the Eurozone became policy. This has led to resentment from other nations who feel that Germans consider their interest above all others. That they have traded military might for economic heft. The truth is that Germany has long been a mighty economic power. The difference now is that militarily, it ranks very low in Europe. Due to the Ukraine-Russia War, that may or may not be changing soon.

The German question as it exists in the 21st century has shifted from economic to military affairs because of the war in Ukraine. This is a head spinning change, one that many Germans are finding difficult to comprehend. Everything in modern Germany since 1945 has been predicated upon anti-militarism. Efforts by the western world were focused on providing military protection for Germany, instead of the Germans providing it for themselves. This made sense following the cataclysm of the Second World War, European nations and especially the United States did everything possible to ensure that German military power was kept in check. Memories of the German Wehrmacht conquering virtually all of western, central, and eastern Europe, along with the atrocities committed in the name of Nazism, meant that everything possible was done to ensure that there would be no resurgence of German militarism.

Unification – First German National assembly at St. Paul’s Church in Frankfurt 1848-49

Pacifist Potential – Cold War
To that end, American military bases were placed throughout West Germany. In East Germany, the Red Army did the same thing. These long-term occupation forces were stand-ins for the German military. Of course, the Americans and Soviets were also fighting the Cold War with the German Question at its epicenter. Both sides believed that whoever controlled Germany would also control the rest of Europe and become the world’s premier geopolitical power. It is not a coincidence that the defining struggle of the 20th century between democratic capitalism and communist totalitarianism took place in Germany. It was then, as it still is today, the place where much of Europe’s future would be decided.

When the Berlin Wall fell and the Iron Curtain collapsed, worries spread anew that a reunified Germany would rise again as a military power. Instead, pacifism had taken hold in Germany during the Cold War. Germany reunified as a neutral nation with a special historical mission to never repeat the militarism that led it into two World Wars. Such was the German aversion to all things military that it consistently failed to meet the required NATO minimum to spend 2% of annual GDP on defense. This became a point of contention between Germany and other NATO member states, in particular the United States which footed the bill – and still does – for a large portion of German defense. Prodding a nation that saw itself as a model of modern European pacifism only went so far. The Germans continued to drag their feet. Then the Russian full scale of invasion of Ukraine occurred on February 24, 2022.

Power struggle – US Army tanks face Soviet armor at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin October 1961 (Credit: USAMHI)

Making Amends – A Moral Duty
To get an idea of how much the Ukraine-Russia War transformed Germany’s relationship with military spending, consider that after the war began Germany’s initial offer of military support was a grand total of 5,000 helmets. This was insulting, tone-deaf, and foolish. The German chancellor Olaf Scholz was new to his job. He looked more like a puzzled amateur than seasoned leader. His coalition government is center-left and prefers pacifism. Scholz’s own party, the Social Democrats, have long cultivated ties with Russia. During the Cold War, the SPD was filled with skeptics of American military might. Its leanings tended toward accommodation with East Germany. Post-Cold War, Chancellor Gerhard Schroder of the SPD made himself Vladimir Putin’s best friend.

As distasteful as Schroder’s affinity for the Kremlin may seem, he is just the most recognizable example of a trend that has been going on for decades. It was not only Russia’s supply of natural gas to German industry that tied the two nations together, it was also German guilt for the invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II. Germany has tried to make amends as a moral duty. The war brought all this into question. And raised the newest form of the German Question. One, that this past week arose again. Specifically, whether Germany will play a military role once again? The war in Ukraine is providing an inconclusive answer.

Click here for: To Be or Not To Be – The German Question & War In Ukraine #2 (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #293)

A Sense of Immediacy – Ukraine & Romania Reconnected By Rail (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #291)

Beauty is few and far between these days in Ukraine. Tragically, the war tends to divert focus from the incredible acts of teamwork and unity that Ukrainians have shown during the last eleven months. Countless stories of the good and great are subverted to the endless series of tragedies small and large that occur each day with terrifying regularity. It is difficult to imagine what could possibly be good in a land where the inhabitants are going through long periods without electricity or water. With sub-zero temperatures in the dead of winter, Ukrainians are bundling themselves up against the cold and figuring out work arounds to find a bit of comfort amid the many miseries of war. Life goes on as it must. Ukrainians still go to work, commute to and from their homes, conduct their daily business with one eye on the sky, and their ears attuned to the scream of air raid sirens. Nevertheless, they continue to live and love while fighting to defeat Russian aggression. Every act of daily life, of normalcy is a small but essential victory in a war effort that demands self-control, suspension of disbelief, and incredible amounts of resolve.

The first train – Connecting Ukraine & Romania by rail (Credit: Alexander Kamyshin)

Reconnecting With Romania – A Thing of Beauty
Essential to making daily life a bit more bearable in a nation beset by war are the critical public services that allow Ukrainians to keep moving forward. These include metros and marshrutkas, open roads and railways running on time. The latter has been one of the greatest success stories of the war. Ukrainian Railways have continued to provide essential services despite, or perhaps because of the war. Their efforts at moving Ukrainians safely around the country deserve the highest commendation. One of the best ways to learn about their success is to follow the Twitter account of Alexander Kamyshin, the CEO of Ukrainian Railways. Kamyshin provides constant updates on the work that is being done to allow Ukrainians the freedom of movement. His tweets are a thing of beauty. They remind the reader that the war has not stopped Ukrainians from making sure a job is well done. To this end, Kamyshin relays some astonishing information. Take for instance, a tweet he made on Saturday, January 14th, stating that 95% of trains departed on time and 96% arrived on time. It is hard to imagine any national railway company exceeding those numbers in a time of peace, let alone amid the largest war fought in Europe since 1945.

A few days ago, Kamyshin provided more good news in a series of tweets on the opening of a cross border railway line between Ukraine and Romania for the first time in 17 years. To complete the project on their side of the border, Ukrainian railway workers reconstructed 20 kilometers of track during the summer. The Romanians reciprocated by later finishing the section of railway on their territory. Prior to the war, this project had suffered from numerous delays. Ironically, the war has given new impetus to achieving efficiencies in public transport. The endless delays that befell such infrastructure projects prior to the war have vanished. A can-do spirit has taken hold. The war has brought few good things to Ukraine, but a sense of immediacy is one of them. “The future is now” should be the motto for Ukrainian railways.

Master of the rails – Alexander Kamyshin

Within Reach – A Single Railway Journey
The completed line connects Rakiv-Berlebash-Dilove in southwestern Ukraine with Valea Visului in northern Romania. From the latter, trains may head deep into Transylvania or further south to the Romanian capital of Bucharest. This connection between the two countries is particularly important because Romania is a member of both the European Union and NATO. Military supplies can now flow northward by rail. They will be entering Ukraine through an area that has been virtually untouched by Russian attacks. The rugged Carpathian Mountains – 60% of the range is in Ukraine – acts as a natural barrier making this part of Ukraine difficult to attack. With few population centers to target and its far-flung location, the region is an afterthought for Russian military strategists.

As Kamyshin made clear in his tweets, the completed project is more than just an avenue of transport for military supplies. It will also provide a connection for the 30,000 Ukrainians who are citizens of Romania that want to visit their family, friends, and ethnic kin back in the motherland. There are also the 86,000 Ukrainian refugees living in Romania who are waiting out the war. Whenever it is finally safe to return home, many of them will do so by using this new rail route. The most important effect of the rail line will be its benefits to the Ukrainian and Romanian economies.

The line is a major boost to the export of Ukrainian agricultural commodities which are still hampered by the Russian Black Sea Fleet blockade of Ukraine’s coastline. While trains cannot match ships for quantity of grain exports, any additional capacity will help support Ukraine’s economy. In that regard, tourism will also increase as more Romanians can begin traveling into one of the wildest and most affordable vacation destinations in Europe. The Carpathians are usually seen as exclusive to Transylvania, but the least visited part of the range can be found in Ukraine waiting to be discovered. Now the region is easily within reach on a single railway journey.

Marking the spot – Geographical Center of Europe near Dilove (Credit: Sergey Ventseslavsky)

Centerpiece – The Heart of Europe
One thing Kamyshin’s tweets did not mention is a monument located close to Dilove, a Ukrainian village the new rail connection passes through. Close to Dilove is a unique monument placed there by Austro-Hungarian authorities in 1887. This marks the spot imperial geographers claimed as the geographical center of Europe. While many other places have made similar claims, this was among the first. That notoriety was soon lost as the winds of war swept through the area multiple times, obliterating the empire and leading to the monument being hidden behind an iron curtain. That curtain was torn down between 1989 and 1991, this led to the birth of independent Ukraine. For many, that was the moment Ukraine rejoined Europe, but the truth was that it had never left. The heart of Europe was always there. It still is, now more so than ever.    

Click here for: Teutonic Shifts – The German Question & War In Ukraine #1 (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #292)

No Going Back – The Dnipro Apartment Building Attack (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #290)

Certain moments in the Ukraine-Russia War are points of no return. Moments where it becomes obvious that there will be no going back. That an invisible psychological barrier has been breached between moderation and excess, reason and emotion, logic and madness, anger and fury. In retrospect, the first of these moments is the most obvious, the unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine. The moment Russian bombers, missiles, tanks and troop transports violated the Ukrainian border in the early morning hours of February 24, 2022, nothing was going to ever be the same again between the two countries. History was about to be written in blood and so it has been.

Crime against humanity – Result of Russian missile strike on apartment building in Dnipro

Targeted Terror – A Wave of Atrocities
There have been many more moments of no going back since the initial invasion destroyed what little trust was left between Ukraine and Russia after eight years of on again, off again warfare in the Donbas. One point of no return was reached at the end of the Battle of Kyiv in the suburban town of Bucha. This happened when Russian forces assassinated innocent civilians and left their bodies lying conspicuously in the streets as a message to Ukrainians that the Russian way of warfare was deeply personal. The message could not have clearer. While Ukrainians might have defeated the Russian Army on the outskirts of Kyiv, they could not stop them from execution style killings of innocent civilians. Thousands more atrocities would soon follow in occupied areas.

Another turning point was the Mariupol Theater airstrike where the Russians knew children were sheltering. The outrage this provoked hardened attitudes towards any attempts at negotiation and ceasefire. The same could be said for the ten waves of missile strikes against Ukraine’s critical infrastructure which have denied its civilian population of electricity and water during the dead of winter. At this point, the chance for attitudes to soften enough for a brokered peace between the two sides is less than zero. And now as part of those airstrikes, there has been another point of no return reached last week when a Russian missile slammed into an apartment building in the city of Dnipro.   

Deadly sign – Smoke rising from Russian missile strike on the apartment building in Dnipro

Crimes Against Humanity – The War on Normalcy
Russian forces have committed so many war crimes in Ukraine that only the most outrageous and deadly attacks garner headlines. Those that get noticed by the media usually involve multiple deaths that target women, children, and the elderly. Or attacks that strike targets where large groups of people are in the same area. One of the most infamous involved a missile strike on April 8th that hit the railway station in Kramatorsk. This strike killed 60 people (seven children) and wounded 110 more. Many of those killed were waiting on the platform for trains to evacuate from the war-torn city. Another sadly memorable tragedy occurred on July 14th when several missiles hit a shopping center and several other buildings in the city of Vinnytsia at mid-morning. The attack killed 28 people (three children) and wounded another 203.

The latest Russian attack on Ukrainian civilians to garner international media attention and stoke outrage occurred last weekend. On January 14th in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro a Russian missile slammed into an apartment building with 1,700 inhabitants. The impact destroyed a portion of the concrete edifice causing 72 apartment and two staircases to collapse. The specific missile used in the attack was a KH-12 meant to target ships. It can also be used to carry nuclear weapons. The overkill was deliberate and the targeting intentional. The strike was part of two volleys of missiles fired that day in the tenth wave of Russian missile strikes against Ukrainian critical infrastructure since the beginning of October. In this case though, the target was not electrical or water facilities. Only on a superficial level was it an apartment building.

Instead, the target was everyone living in that building. Mothers and daughters, husbands and sons, newlyweds and elderly, people who felt lucky just to have a roof over their heads. That was until the roof caved in and the walls collapsed. The target was also normal life. People cooking, sleeping, cleaning, playing, watching television, meeting with friends. And of course, life itself was targeted. The death toll so far is up to 40 people with 75 wounded, and many more missing. There will be no going back from this attack, just as there was no going back from the attacks at Bucha, Kramatorsk, Mariupol, Vinnytsia, and now Dnipro. A litany of war crimes that no one can forget, even if they wanted to. These atrocities are representative of the indiscriminate violence which the Russian military has carried out against Ukrainian civilians. This is the byproduct of hatred and a policy of terror. The Kremlin wants to make sure Ukrainians never forget that, not for one moment. They want them to live in terror, always looking to the skies to see what fate is about to fall upon them.

Targeted terror – Damage from the Russian missile strike on the Dnipro apartment building

Hearts & Minds – Fixated on the Future
The Kremlin and Russian Defense Ministry deny carrying out attacks such as the one in Dnipro. Their denials are little more than lip service. The statements are made for domestic political reasons. Cynicism informs the denials. The truth is that the Russian want the Ukrainians to know these attacks on civilians are deliberate. The desired outcome is to depress morale and break the Ukrainian people’s will. To make them believe the war is not worth winning. Thus far, the attacks have done the opposite. Spines are stiffening, fists are perpetually clenched, voices are filled with determination, minds fixated on the future. There are rage and tears in Dnipro, there are similar scenes like this all over Ukraine. There are people who live to see the day when those who committed these crimes are held accountable, but not in the hallowed halls of the Hague. They want to see it happen on the field of battle. There is a war going on in the hearts and minds of the survivors. A war that will not stop until the enemy is defeated. Only then will justice be done and still that might not be enough.

Click here for: A Sense of Immediacy – Ukraine & Romania Reconnected By Rail (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #291)

Battle For A Place That No Longer Exists  – The Struggle For Soledar #3 (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #289)

According to Vladimir Putin everything is going to plan. That is a sure sign Russian forces have failed to fully capture the salt mining town of Soledar in Donetsk Province. This is not a case where two things can be true at the same time. Either the Russians are in full control of Soledar or Putin is wrong, lying and has no idea of facts on the ground. Considering the Kremlin’s continued mismanagement of the war, no one those fed a steady diet of Russian propaganda would believe what Putin says about Soledar. In the past week, Putin, Yevgeny Prigozhin who is the leader of Wagner Group’s mercenary forces that have been fighting for Soledar and Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s chief spokesman all have claimed that Russian forces have captured the town. The pronouncements smack of desperation. Anything to show that Russian forces have achieved a successful outcome, no matter the thousands of soldiers lost in the fighting for what military analysts unanimously agree is a town of little strategic value. Declaring preemptive victory for such a minor success shows just how bad Russia needs a victory to sell back home. Nothing symbolizes the futility of Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine quite like the Battle of Soledar.

Violent Trajectory – Lacking In Logic
Over the past week as the Battle of Soledar continued to rage with reports of high casualty rates on both sides, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Chief of Staff, Andriy Yermak called Soledar “the Verdun of the 21st century.” While it is nowhere near the scale of that bloody, prolonged, and critical battle for the French fortress during World War I, Soledar is the same type of grinding battle on a much smaller scale. This is a battle that has been fought so ferociously that it has become less about territory, tactics or strategy. The battle has advanced to a level of violence which has little to do with logical outcome and strategic imperatives. Zelensky himself said that there were no walls left standing in Soledar. This means that in the dead of winter, there is nowhere for attackers or defenders to run and hide. The battle is analogous to hand-to-hand combat with machine guns, missiles, and artillery.

Soledar hearkens back to the fighting that occurred in the Donbas during the spring and early summer as Russian forces made slow, but steady progress. That fighting resulted in the last true Russian successes with the capture of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk. There are differences between those battles and the one for Soledar. The battles for Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk were heavily reliant on artillery. Massive quantities of shells were expended in those efforts. At Soledar, shelling has also been one of the tactics used to take the town, but the most conspicuous method of attack has been human waves of prisoner-soldiers employed as Wagner Group mercenary forces. Ukrainian sources report that their bodies litter the ground in and around Soledar. If they die, which most of them do, their bodies are “left to rot” according to Yermak. These attacks are nothing if not suicidal and still they have not been able to completely capture what amounts to scorched ruins. A question that needs to be asked at this point is what if the Russians do capture Soledar? The answer to that question is crucial to understanding the importance of Soledar for both sides.

Fighting for scraps – Scene at Soledar (Credit: K. Tymoshenķo)

Insidious Cycle – A Microcosm of Russia’s War  
Any reasonable military strategist would have advised the Russians several weeks ago to stop their assault on Soledar. A cost benefit analysis would show that the rewards are not worth the losses. It is not only the thousands of men they are losing which call their attacks on Soledar into question, it is also the fact that if or when they do manage to take what little is left of the town, Russian forces will be exhausted. This defeats the original purpose of the campaign which was to push on towards the city of Bakhmut and lay siege to it from the north. Whichever battalions on the Russian side manage to survive Soledar are not going to be in any condition to continue fighting. The longer the assault on Soledar has gone on, the less it has made any sort of sense. Yet the Russian forces fighting for the town are caught in a trap of their own making.

Now that they have claimed control over the town, calling off the assault would be a public relations disaster. No matter how the Kremlin and/or Wagner Group would try to spin a withdrawal, the truth would be obvious. They had wasted thousands of lives, expended countless number of missiles, shells, and other ammunition for a town that was never worth taking in the first place. In a sense, Soledar is the entire Russian war effort in microcosm. The problem for the Russians is that now Soledar must be captured. There is simply no going back. And after capturing Soledar, they are committed to making a push on Bakhmut, otherwise Soledar will not have mattered. This cycle is just as insidious as the battle they are fighting.

Into the maelstrom – Ukrainian military vehicles near Soledar

Elusive Victory – To Be Continued
The Ukrainians have a different objective. They can afford to lose Soledar, the town as it was once known no longer exists. Losing men fighting for what is left of Soledar makes little sense, but there does seem to be a method to this madness. Ukrainian forces are holding out because they want to exhaust Russian forces at Soledar. This will make it more difficult for the Russians to attack at other places along the front lines. Furthermore, the Russian focus has been squarely on Soledar for several weeks now. This benefits any future Ukrainian offensive because while Russian forces are fixated on capturing a place of dubious strategic value, Ukrainian forces might launch an attack at a weak point in the Russian lines, hoping to achieve another breakthrough like the one that occurred in Kharkiv Province this past autumn. Whether or not that happens is likely to be determined this spring. Meanwhile, the Battle of Soledar will continue as both sides search for an elusive victory on their own terms.

Click here for: No Going Back – The Dnipro Apartment Building Attack (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #290)