Monday, 23 February 2015

Look, a new post!

Bonjour mes amies! (My French was always a bit suspect (E or F at GCSE level) so I hope that's right). Apologies for the delay, but such is sometimes the fate of someone who has to blog on the side. Today I just want to briefly touch on the situation in Ukraine. Not the politics or the operational level situation however, but something that amuses me greatly.

Because for many, many years Russia (or rather the Soviet Union) was very skillful in its handling of the Cold War against the United States and its allies. They played the long game for the most part and placed a high value on the return for investment of their decisions. This is exemplified by their support for North Vietnam in the 60's and 70's, which in return for financial, material and training support was able to bog down the US for around 8 years of conventional operations, at the cost of over 58,000 American dead and 153,000 plus wounded, and around $140 billion in financial costs, which equates to about a trillion dollars in today's money.

From the Russian perspective it was a (relatively) low input, high output arrangement, one which they used the world over. Some subsidised equipment and a bit of training could go a long way in terms of securing allies and resources, while at the same time serving as a thorn in the side of the US. But what's interesting about the situation in Ukraine, and why it amuses me so much, is the fact that the tables have been turned on their head to some degree. This of course is subject to accepting the allegations made against Russia that it has been sending soldiers across the border to help the Rebels fight, which still hasn't been proven by the standards that would be required in a UK court ("beyond reasonable doubt"). 

If the allegation is indeed true though then the situation represents a remarkable shift from what was typical of the cold war days (Afghanistan excepted), as Russia now finds itself having to pour manpower into the cauldron to try and shore up the situation while the west finds itself in the enviable position of observing from the sidelines, only having to pass on the odd shipment of non-lethal aid (and probably a few sneaky lethal shipments) to keep things ticking over, as Russia loses more and more diplomatic support by the day and its economy continues to suffer under the triple whammy of sanctions, depressed oil prices and the need to fund its broad day to day military activities.

What doesn't make me chuckle is the idea that western leaders seem so keen to just roll over and give the rebels very generous peace terms. For all the bluster, hysteria, huffing and puffing that's going around, the battle lines remain resolutely quite static and pose very little danger to Ukraine as a whole. There is no real light at the end of the proverbial tunnel for the rebels, at least not through a military solution. Western aid to the Ukrainian government, if stepped up, would at the worst probably just trigger a greater surge by the Russians that would extend the stalemate, and at best allow the Ukrainian forces to make the sort of progress that might just convince Putin to pull out and write the situation off as a lost cause altogether.

One has to think (for one art in posh mode) that if the roles were reversed then the Russians would jump at the chance to bog the old enemy down in a fight which they have very little to gain from. But it also raises an interesting question in this pre-SDSR silly season. With this crisis taking place in Eastern Europe, with ISIS at large in both Syria and Iraq, and now apparently Libya, with the government in Yemen falling to rebel elements, and with Boko Haram causing the Nigerian government no end of problems, is this the right time to expand the UK's capacity for unconventional warfare?

These sorts of situations are after all precisely the sort of thing that the SAS was resurrected to deal with, and a lot of the US Special Forces community owes its existence to the need for unconventional forces during the cold war. In an era of biting cutbacks is there perhaps some more money to be found down the back of the sofa to expand the military's unseen and unadvertised fighting/training ability? And if so, with cuts already having taken place and with more likely on the horizon, where will the military get the manpower for this? As it can't increase the size of the suitable recruitment pool that really only leaves the option of lowering the standards for entry.

Some interesting things to mull over I think.


  1. Western Ukraine holds worthless beet fields, the Donbass republic has taken (or at least contests) the major towns, cities and transport links.

    Reversing that situation isn't going to require a few sneaky containers of rifles, it requires a massive mobilisation, the west can win, but only at Vietnam like cost.

    And for what? To subjugate a Russian speaking minority under a Ukrainian speaking government? Forgive me if I dont rush to the recruiting office.

    Its hard to support Ukrainian expansionism and protest Argentinian.

    As for recruits for the SF

    A 500,000 man army on a ten year term provides as many recruits as a 50,000 army on a one year term.
    Twenty plus year terms makes sense for specialist staff, or a vast army, but the UK would be far better suited with a lot more soldiers churning through much shorter terms.

    1. @ TrT,

      I think you misunderstand the point. The rebels are going nowhere quickly, so it is not for NATO to go charging in, it is simply to help the Ukrainians hold the Russians off, which they're doing very well at. The only reasons the Ukrainians haven't finished the rebels off is because they lack some of the resources needed. I also don't see how you can class this as Ukrainian expansion? It's their country and has been for a long time.

      As for short duration churning, considering it takes the best part of 6-8 months to train a modern soldier then a one year term is not much use.

    2. The rebels aren't advancing quickly, but they are advancing. A Ukrainian conquest of Russians who have thrown off the yoke is little different to the Argentine conquest and subjugation of the Falklands, both based on historical territorial claims rather than self determination.

      I'm neither convinced that Ukraine is capable of winning without vast aid, nor that its moral for us to aid them crushing an independence mocement

    3. The rebels are basically just holding their lines. A lot of the "advances" are just where Ukrainian forces have been forced to pull back from previous gains.

      What Russians threw off the yoke? We do know for certain that the Russian government was involved in sparking a violent uprising, something which had absolutely no paralells what so ever with the issue of the Falklands Islands.

  2. Bonjour mes amies! => It's correct, but french is gender specific, so, you are adressing a female audience here :)

    On the Ukraine case, we must correct the narratives.

    The separatist mouvement is russian, and led by moscow. The following points needs to be made :
    - Crimea was taken by russian forces (little green men). Putin admit it : (RT, not a pro western source).
    - Separatism in Donbass was sparked by Russian FSB members (Igor Strelkov, FSB member from 1996 up to 2013, based on the wikipedia article. You can follow the links here : ). He admit it here :
    - Ukrainian military was successful, and managed to repulse the separatist up to this summer. Then, russian forces intervene directly in the conflict. This is proved by the presence of the latest russian vehicle in ukraine (AA defenses, tanks, trucks ...), by the report from several journalists of armored columns entering ukraine (confirm by OSCE in some case), and several instance of artillery fire across the border in order to traps ukrainian army.

    We need to stop the russian narratives. This are not miners and trucks drivers, but russian soldiers preparing another frozen conflict in europe.

    Ukraine need one of the following :
    - lethal weapons / tracking system / intelligence sharing (allowing the destruction of ennemy artilleryà
    - control of the ukrainian / russian border by a neutral force (and NATO is neutral here).

    1. Hello anon, thanks for stopping by. Now you can see why I failed at French! I'm guessing it should have been Mon Amies? Would there be a gender neutral version?

      With regards to your first three points, one and two I can agree with completely, the issue is point 3. While everyone kind of "knows" that the Russians are helping the rebels, the evidence at the minute would not be sufficient to stand up in a UK court, or probably even an international court, so as such I still treat it as an allegation until such time as it can be proven independently and beyond reasonable doubt.

    2. Same anon as before :)

      The correct form is "Bonjour mes amis !". You are confusing mon/ma/mes with the indication of gender. Here, mes is correct (your's, and more than one). For this phrase, you need first to specify the gender of the subject (here "amis"). Severals of them, no precision of an all female group ? It's masculine. Then, you choose the correct possessive term (mon / ma / mes) for this subject (mon => singular, masculine, ma => singular, feminine, mes => plural, neutral

      Let's stop again to examinate point 3 : Russian forces have attack and aggress ukraine directly.

      Case 1 : little green mens in Crimea are Russian special forces. So russian forces attacked Ukraine. But, crimea is special, this will not be sufficient.
      Case 2 : Nadiya Savchenko. She was fighting against rebels, captured, and is now jailed in Russia. No contact, no russian transfer (note : she has been "arrested" by russian military).
      Case 3 : Ilyovansk. Do you really think that russia will allow another military / paramilitary to set up firing position inside russia ? Bellingcat show us a comprehensive report with several proofs, none of them enough in isolation, but in global, they prove the intervention.
      Case 4 : Summer counteroffensive. Not a proof for a tribunal, but again, this need to be taken in account in globality. August 15 2014 : Separatist are on the ropes, out of time, and both Donetsk and Luhansk are besieged and encircled. September 25 : Rebels counterattacked, with previously unseen armored column, latest russian artillery, latest russian tanks, from the inside of russia.
      Case 3 : Proof of russian based incursion in ukraine. Again, Bellingcat shine here. They have this hobby of tracking vehicles and spotting tracks on google maps.
      Case 4 : Those jokers at NATO :
      Case 5 : Top of the line russian equipment in Ukraine. Do you think a separatist, without prior experience in military, can control the latest AA system of russia ? Ground shooter, ok. Even tanker / tank gunner. But AA specialist in less than a year ? Radar operator ? Artillery commander ? Ex : From your governement.
      Case 6 : Size of the rebel arsenal. If reports are true, currently, the rebel force are near on par with the french or british army for armor, artillery, APC.

      The evidence is here, we just need to parse it, and make a judgement. I know that you want to play devil advocate, but we already have "beyond reasonable doubt" evidences. In isolation, each and everyone one of these proofs are debatable, but can't be easily dismissed. Take at least 5-6 of them, and you can draw a conclusion "beyond reasonable doubt".

    3. Yeah, I think I'll give up on French to be honest! Not really my forte ;)

      I'm afraid though that a lot of what you presented there still would not pass as being anything more than circumstantial evidence. Take the NATO photos for example. They've got pictures of artillery and tanks etc, but no way of proving who they actually belong to, let alone who is operating them. Now obviously we all think it's the Russians, NATO is pretty sure it's the Russians, and the Russians haven't exactly denied that it's them, but all of that would not be enough to secure a convinction if this were a court. The defence could easily argue that the equipment was sold, loaned, stolen, any number of excuses, and that the Rebels must have former Russian soldiers among them who have figured out how to use it. It's not sufficiently hard enough proof to use any word other than alleged for now, even though we're all 99% certain that it's true.