September 12, 2022

Ukraine

Ukrainian forces kept pushing north in the Kharkiv region and advancing to its south and east, Ukraine's army chief said on Sunday, a day after their rapid surge forward drove Russia to abandon its main bastion in the area… In the worst defeat for Moscow's forces since they were repelled from the outskirts of the capital Kyiv in March, thousands of Russian soldiers left behind ammunition and equipment as they fled the city of Izium, which they had used as a logistics hub.” Reuters

Both sides urge continued support for Ukraine, but worry about the ongoing stability of Putin’s government:

“In less than a week, Ukrainian forces have retaken some three thousand square kilometers from the Russian invaders. That’s more Ukrainian territory than Russia has seized since April…

“The offensive vindicates Ukraine’s assurances that with enough advanced Western weapons it could retake territory. After Ukraine’s early victory in defense of Kyiv, the U.S. and Europe let Russia gain an artillery advantage in the Donbas. But once the U.S. supplied longer-range rockets and artillery, especially precise Himars, it has become a more even fight. Ukraine’s recent advances show the U.S. should supply even more Himars platforms, and not merely more rockets for the 16 platforms Ukraine currently has.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

“The Kharkiv offensive has seemingly thrown the occupiers into disarray, liberating important towns and territories and sowing dismay and fury on the Russian side. At the same time the Russian answer to Ukrainian courage and Western armaments is about to take full effect. The Nord Stream 1 pipeline is shut down, Europe’s [leaders] are scrambling to prepare for a potential $2 trillion surge in energy costs, and everyone is trying to predict the consequences…

“In wartime there is a dynamic relationship between events on the front and the political situation behind the lines. Some Western pessimists, conditioned by years of elite failure, expect the European home front to be the crucial theater, the place where hawkish hubris generates domestic rebellion against an open-ended commitment to Ukraine…

“This is certainly Vladimir Putin’s hope, but my guess is that the interaction will run the other way — that events on the battlefield will be decisive, determining how the war is experienced politically in Germany, France or the Britain of King Charles III… It’s plausible to imagine a positive military-political feedback loop, where consistent Ukrainian gains shore up European resolve and carry the de facto alliance through the winter into a better 2023.”
Ross Douthat, New York Times

“Putin and his immediate circle are counting on the Western aid drying up eventually, if not immediately. That calculation appears to stem from a fundamental disbelief in the ability of democratic governments to stick to their guns… As energy prices jump and inflation spirals, Putin expects European governments to start making concessions in order to mollify voters…

“[But] Even a bundled-up voter can understand that feeding a blackmailer is not a wise strategy. To expect Western countries to throw Ukraine under the bus while it’s clearly capable of sustained, spirited armed resistance is wishful thinking. Aid flows increased exponentially in the first months of the war as Ukraine proved that its unwillingness to surrender wasn’t empty talk. As long as Ukraine can maintain pressure on the invaders and retake territory — even if it’s just a village here and there — it makes sense for its allies to keep sending money, equipment and ammunition… giving up while it’s demonstrably not too late would be a loser’s move.”
Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg

Some note that “The sheer scale and speed of the assistance being sent to Ukraine has observers concerned that existing monitoring mechanisms, already riddled with problems, won’t be able to keep up. In recent conflicts, the U.S. lost track of tens of thousands of rifles and pistols it bought for Iraqi security forces, and tens of thousands more pieces of equipment were lost in Afghanistan, frequently ending up in the hands of the Taliban… Ukraine has historically been a hub in the illicit arms trade, with weapons smuggled through Ukraine ending up in conflicts from Afghanistan to West Africa…

“Ultimately, critics warn, flooding Ukraine with weapons faster than officials can monitor them presents risks whose full impact won’t be known for years. And while most agree there is a moral imperative to support Ukrainian defense against Russia’s aggression, they note that sending military assistance alone, and boosting military spending across the board, only sets the stage for more conflict.”
Alice Speri, The Intercept

“I can’t help but have a competing sense of dread. Vladimir Putin is not one to admit defeat easily, if at all. It’s frightening to think of what he could do in response to the developments this week. Ukrainian officials claim that a missile strike launched from Russia hit a hospital in northeast Ukraine on Friday, and that Russians had also fired missiles into civilian areas in Kharkiv. But Ukrainian gains are better than the alternative. And the West should not only continue to support Ukraine, but do whatever it can to take advantage of the moment.”
Rachael Larimore, The Dispatch

“Many things about the current Russian political system are strange, and one of the strangest is the total absence of a mechanism for succession. Not only do we have no idea who would or could replace Putin; we have no idea who would or could choose that person. In the Soviet Union there was a Politburo, a group of people that could theoretically make such a decision, and very occasionally did. By contrast, there is no transition mechanism in Russia… [Yet] It is inconceivable that [Putin] can continue to rule if the centerpiece of his claim to legitimacy—his promise to put the Soviet Union back together again—proves not just impossible but laughable…

Now is the time to ask about the stability of Russia itself and to factor that question into our plans. Russian soldiers are running away, ditching their equipment, asking to surrender. How long do we have to wait until the men in Putin’s inner circle do the same? The possibility of instability in Russia, a nuclear power, terrifies many. But it may now be unavoidable. And if that’s what is coming, we should anticipate it, plan for it, think about the possibilities as well as the dangers. ‘We have learned not to be scared,’ [Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii] Reznikov told his Kyiv audience on Saturday. ‘Now we ask the rest of you not to be scared too.’”
Anne Applebaum, The Atlantic

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