Act of Desperation – Russian Attacks on Ukraine Infrastructure (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #253)

One way of measuring the desperation of the Kremlin is by the ferocity of the war against Ukrainian civilians. Vladimir Putin and his handpicked commander of Russian military forces, Sergei Surovkin – known as General Armageddon – have hit on what they believe will be a successful strategy, destroy Ukraine’s critical infrastructure. Leave millions of Ukrainians without heat, water and electricity in the dead of winter and they will scream for mercy. In turn, this will force their leaders to the negotiating table. And if that does not work, it might still force another wave of Ukrainian refugees on the rest of Europe. Ukraine’s allies might then then force the Ukrainian leadership to negotiate a ceasefire or better yet, an uneasy peace that locks in Russia’s territorial gains in the four Ukrainian provinces it absurdly annexed.

Smoking ruins – Aftermath of Russian missile strike on Ukrainian infrastructure

Striking Back – Attacking the Innocent
The volume and vileness of the latest Russian missile strikes illustrate a larger point. It is no coincidence that their ultimate targets are civilians rather than soldiers. That is because the Russian military realizes that they cannot defeat the Ukrainian Army. This is a simple and provocative point that the Kremlin makes by focusing their newest strategy not against Ukrainian forces which threaten to destroy their own, but against innocents. No matter what Russian forces have tried, thermobaric bombs, massive artillery bombardments, human wave attacks, the result has been the same, Russian forces in retreat. The Russians have lost 55% of the territory they once occupied in Ukraine. Their forces are stretched thin across the frontlines. Raw conscripts feel many of the gaps created in their lines by the loss of over 80,000 soldiers killed and counting. What does it say about the current state of the Russian military that they target the defenseless, rather than the defenders.

The interesting thing is that the Russian missiles strikes show little sign of eroding the Ukrainian population’s will to resist. If anything, it seems to be reinforcing resistance. Meanwhile, the Kremlin has resorted to conscripting whomever they can as cannon fodder in a desperate bid to patch up their frontlines. The chance of the Russian Army suffering a decisive defeat. not just in separate battles or campaigns, but in the entire war is greater than ever. Thus, Putin has ordered Surovkin to use extreme measures. The upshot is a no holds barred attack on Ukrainian civilians. The goal is to make them feel pain and suffering. Cold, thirst, lack of light, these uncomfortable conditions are supposed to break the will of the Ukrainian people. If they give in, even worse will come. The campaign is relentless. The Russians have launched massive attacks multiple times over the past few weeks and will continue to do so until they run out of missiles. Thus far, this has been the most successful tactic the Russians have employed during the war.

The hits keep on coming – Smoke rises from Russian missile strike on Ukraine

Futile Attempts – Failure to Execute
Only time will tell if the missile attacks are successful in weakening Ukrainian resolve. If they is not, Putin will be searching for yet another tactic in what has been up to this point, one futile attempt after another to achieve something that can be called a victory. Most likely, the next idea will be a long-rumored mass mobilization. The Kremlin continues to come up with bad ideas, whose execution is even worse. Putin and those whose livelihoods are reliant upon his regime, must be extremely concerned for their future. With each passing month, the likelihood of instability inside Russia increases. Putin wanted to cause chaos and calamity to keep Ukraine weak and from turning to the western world. Oddly, that is what his mismanagement of the war has done to Russia. In his twenty-two years in power, Putin’s Russia has never looked so weak. It is hard to see how he can extricate his regime from Ukraine without causing internal upheaval.  

The Kremlin is running low on ammo, and not just the kind that goes in guns. Putin is not yet down to his proverbial last bullet, but he has emptied several chambers over the past nine months. How many more botched miliary operations can the Kremlin mismanage before the sheer number of failures finally backfires? One of the most ironic aspects of Putin’s prosecution of the war is that everything he tries ends up hurting Russia as much or more than it does Ukraine. For instance, the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine made Russia’s closest neighbors much more wary of the Kremlin. They are now likelier to increase military spending to protect themselves. Holding Europe hostage to Russian oil and gas has now led Europeans, particularly the Germans, to diversify energy supplies away from Russia. At the same time, Russia has lost pricing leverage over the oil and gas they sell to China and India. War crimes have ruined Russia’s reputation in much of the civilized world, consequentially their prestige on the international stage has taken a terrible blow. Russia closest allies now are Iran, North Korea, and Syria. Ukraine’s are the United States, the European Union and Great Britain. Russia is now much more isolated and poorer than it has been at since Stalinist times, but at least the Soviet Union had victory in World War II to fall back on. The Kremlin has nothing to fall back on except its battered reputation.

In the dark – Kyiv without electricity

Firing Away – Sources of Frustration
If all the above was not bad enough, Ukrainians were supposed to be the ones who would be plead by now for negotiations. The opposite has occurred. The Russians are now the ones doing the pleading, not by words, but through actions. Hence the missile strikes on civilian infrastructure. Anything to get Ukraine into negotiations. Putin is trying to signal that Russia is far from done in the war. A more realistic assessment would be that Putin is signaling that he is far from done with the war. It is debatable whether Russians are done with the war, if they were ever really for it to begin with. Desperation and frustration are not viable strategies for winning a war against a well-trained and highly motivated opponent. That has not stopped the Kremlin from trying. The missile barrages will continue, but so will the failures to break the will of Ukrainians.

Click here for: Hard Target – Vladimir Putin’s Personal & Professional Security (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #254)

The End Is Just Beginning – Przewodow & The Next World War (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #247)

I never imagined that the end of the world could start in a remote corner of eastern Poland or that the possibility of a nuclear apocalypse might be centered around a grain storage facility in a place called Przewodow. For several hours the darkest of possibilities arose from a smoldering crater, the product of a missile that landed in the village. What a way it would have been for the apocalypse to begin. On a sleepy afternoon, at the beginning of winter, in a village that few have ever heard of. What did Przewodow and its 413 inhabitants ever do to deserve such infamy. Fortunately, Armageddon was averted as Poland and its fellow NATO member states discovered that the missile was not fired from Russia, but instead came from Ukraine’s air defenses. This was a near miss of world historical proportions. A what if warning to the world that the danger of the Ukraine-Russia war spreading is clear and present. That at any moment the potential for escalation can rise from the obscure places.

Humanity can exhale for now, as life in Przewodow and life on earth will go on much as before. Most of us are either blissfully ignorant, willingly indifferent or vaguely aware of the storm which continues to gather on the warzone’s periphery. It threatens to explode outward beyond the borders of Ukraine at any moment. The incident at Przedonow was an excellent example of this ominous trend that continues to grow. The specter of nuclear war will continue to hang over Eastern Europe, if not the world. One good thing has come from this close call, at least Przewodow will not have its name etched in historical infamy forever. Instead, the village will go back to being as obscure as it always has been. The incident that occurred there will soon be all but forgotten. Thankfully, the village will once again fade from memory until it is a paragraph or two in history books on the Ukraine-Russia War. Przewodow, the place that played a leading role for less than a day, can return to anonymity.

Close call – Poland’s President Andrzej Duda speaks about the missile that hit Przewodow

Close Call – Armageddon Averted
A close friend once told me that it was always better to be lucky, than good. Make of that advice what you will, judging by what occurred in the more obscure reaches of eastern Poland, the world was extremely lucky. Nothing about what happened at Przewodow was good. Two innocent famers lost their lives, NATO members were forced into an emergency meeting, no one wanted to accept responsibility for what occurred, and the international community was reminded how quickly the war could escalate with potentially dire consequences far beyond the battlefield. What happened at Przewodow was the byproduct of over a hundred Russian missiles launched at infrastructure across Ukraine. An overwhelming majority of them were destroyed before they struck their targets. A deadly few made it past Ukrainian air defenses which by the standards of the western world are antiquated.

Just as the Russians are forced to rely on less than smart technology at this point in the war, so too are the Ukrainians forced into using old Soviet missiles to defend themselves. More rather than less incidents like the one at Przewodow are likely to occur. One of Ukraine’s air defense missiles was off target and took no heed of the border. There is no such thing as border control anywhere above ground level, thus the missile fell to earth ten kilometers west of the Poland-Ukraine border in Przedonow. Those farmers who lost their lives to the missile were collateral damage in a war often marked by that. Because the missile turned out to be Ukrainian rather than Russian, there was no need for NATO to invoke Article 5 and there was also no need for the rest of us to clutch articles of faith. Armageddon was averted, for now.

Digging a deeper hole – Investigators at site of the missile strike in Przewodow

Warning Signs – A Matter of If, Not When
The threat of conflict between NATO and Russia passed in a matter of hours. A near miss mainly due to luck. That is not a strategy that any nation wanting to avoid war, especially the nuclear kind, ever wants to rely upon. Nonetheless, that is where the international community finds itself due to the inherent danger of the Ukraine-Russia war. Just how dangerous the situation has become is illustrated by this seemingly random incident. What otherwise will have little bearing on the outcome of the war, almost led to an international crisis the likes of which has not been seen since the height of the Cold War. The situation that just occurred can best be regarded as sinisterly sublime. Here we had an anonymous spot on the map – one that does even rise to the level of a backwater – that could have triggered World War Three.

What ifs, near misses, and narrow escapes rarely focus the mind on a way that leads to course correction. In a world that suffers from attention deficit disorder, moments of reflection are few. That is why Przewodow will go back to being forgotten, the proverbial wide spot in the road, a blink and you miss it village. The obscurity of Przewodow will lead to the incident being downplayed. If the missile had landed in Warsaw, Krakow or even Lublin, the outcry would have been much louder, the warning likely to be heeded. Instead, the incident at Przedonow seems like a one off. A coincidence rather than a trend. Failure to recognize warning signs may lead to a worse outcome the next time. Luck will eventually run out. It is not a matter of if, but when. This is a very dangerous game to be playing.

Look of concern – Western leaders discussing the missile that hit Przewodow at the G7 meeting in Bali

A False Sense of Security – The Next News Cycle
If ever there was a false sense of security than it exists post-Przewodow. Sure, there will be politicians proclaiming that everyone needs to be more careful, but that thought will not last much longer than the next news cycle. Ensuring that an incident like the one at Przewodow does not happen again would need action that is extremely unlikely to be forthcoming. The Ukrainians need the most advanced air defense systems the west can provide. Until those are forthcoming, the Russian missile barrages will continue. Along with them will come the risk of another missile landing where it should not. Przewodow could have been the end, now it looks like the beginning.

Click here for: Altered Lives & Lines– Przewodow & The Poland-Ukraine Geopolitical Fault Line (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #248)