Back on February 18, a week before Russia’s unjustified invasion of Ukraine, I spent some time sifting through Russian media accounts and concluded:
To hear the Russian media, President Vladimir Putin’s saber-rattling against Ukraine has been a huge success. After decades of being shunted aside as an irrelevant corrupt backwater, the world has to pay attention again. Just like North Korea’s missile tests, Russia’s self-worth is apparently measured by how much everyone else pays attention to them. Like a toddler. (A toddler with weapons and nuclear missiles.) [...]
This is about wounded pride. And wounded pride cannot be negotiated away without complete acquiescence to Russia’s ridiculous demands. And if Russia actually wants to do something about it, it is in a race against time.
Diplomacy never stood a chance, because this was never a war about substantive issues. No one could ever find a diplomatic solution to Russia’s “humiliation” that wasn’t “give back the Warsaw Pact countries to Russia.” It was literally what Russia was demanding, as ludicrous as it still seems. And they were serious.
Russia’s sense of grievance is shocking for a major colonial power that has mostly been on the subjugating side of the sword. It feels humiliated at having lost the Cold War and its empire, humiliated at the United States brushing aside Russia to look eastward to China, humiliated that NATO set up shop on its borders, and humiliated that those nation’s invited NATO in. And the ultimate humiliation was watching Ukraine—their Slavic children!—make kissy-face with the European Union and the West, rather than bend the knee to Russia.
Thus Vladimir Putin, seething with those grievances and more, looked at the state of Ukraine’s armed forces and became concerned. Turkish TB2 Bayraktar drones were streaming in the country. The United States, Canada, and other NATO nations were training and modernizing Ukraine’s armed forces. Ukraine’s experience as an arms manufacturer for the Soviet Union was yielding some quality home-grown weapons systems, like Neptune anti-ship missiles and precision-guided artillery munitions. Every year that Russia waited, Ukraine would be that much harder to defeat. Russia spectacularly lost the flagship of its Black Sea Fleet, the Moskva. Imagine if Ukraine had another year to stockpile dozens or hundreds more Neptunes. Putin must be kicking himself for not invading during the Trump administration!
Having finally decided to invade, Putin made his second major delay error.
Mud saved Russia twice, against Napoleon and the Nazis. Its existence and relevance to military movement wasn’t lost on Russian planners. There is even a Russian word, rasputitsa, for the periods in both spring and fall when rain and melting snow makes travel on unpaved roads difficult. They knew they had to launch Putin’s “special military operation” before April rains arrived, the very rains that haven’t just fixed the battlefield in place this week, but also masked the successful attack on the Moskva. However, this year there was one thing that slowed Russia down even before the mud arrived; the Olympics.
The Olympic Truce requires ceasefires starting one week before the games begin, and ending after the closing of the Paralympic games. The truce has been violated three times, all three by Russia: In 2008, during the Russian invasion of Georgia, in 2014, during the Russian annexation of Crimea, and of course this year.
Here is Kyiv’s historical daytime temperatures:
You’ve seen Ukraine’s flat, wide open spaces. With frozen ground, tanks would have have all the freedom to maneuver as needed. Historically, January and February were ideal, before warmer weather in March began thawing Ukrainian fields. However, this year’s Olympic truce began January 30, and while Russia maybe cared about host nation and ally China’s feelings, it really wasn’t about to give up its own pursuit of Olympic gold. No reason to waste all that cheating.
Russia didn’t bother observing the full truce period—they’re too barbaric to care about the Paralympic games—but they did wait for the main games to end on February 20. Starting the operations this late in the calendar, Russia needed a quick victory to avoid disaster. It also needed global climate change to not exist.
Russia started this war February 24. On February 20, the high in Kyiv was a balmy 46 degrees. On February 22, it was a ludicrous 50 degrees. In fact, in all of February the daily highs were below freezing only a single day. Ukraine never got its historical hard-freeze. But what could Russia do? Wait until summer, when the forests around Kyiv would be lush, giving defenders fantastic defensive cover. Wait until fall, and we’re talking mud again. Wait until winter 2023, and Ukraine has that many more Neptunes, Stingers, TB2 drones, NLAWS and Javelins, and who knows, maybe Ukraine might’ve convinced Israel to allow it to purchase and deploy the Iron Dome air defense system, or at least American Patriots.
Somehow, Russia managed to invade too late, in 2022, and too late, in late February. With the litany of Russian failures—to win quickly, to capture Kyiv, to achieve air superiority, to keep its navy on top of water, to keep its own cities safe—Russian media is sounding a wee bit different.
Gone is the triumphalist, imperialistic, smug hubris. Now it’s just anger and fury as they realize that this supposed backwater province of Russia isn’t just refusing to surrender, it’s actually—gasp!—winning! So they blame NATO and the United States. “It’s easily called WWIII,” says the host of the show. “We’re fighting against NATO infrastructure!” They can’t fathom being in a fight for their lives against just Ukraine. It is Russia’s shitty army losing to Ukraine’s spirited, fierce and not-shitty-at-all defenders.
So is Russia going to mobilize? For unfathomable reasons, Vladimir Putin has refused to tread there. He’s supposedly at 80% approval ratings, yet he refuses to ask his nation to sacrifice for his “special military operation.”
So once again, he’s late. Too late in 2022, too late in late February, and too late in reinforcing the outmatched and outclassed troops dying in Ukraine.
Friday, Apr 15, 2022 · 1:11:47 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner
In response to the sinking of the Moskva, Russia directed missiles into Kyiv overnight. There was also reported explosions in Mykolaiv, as well as Kharkiv and sites in the east.
And there was this:
Whether that was in retaliation for the Moskva, or just a continuation of Russia’s well-established tradition of violating evacuation agreements that it made hours before, isn’t clear.
Friday, Apr 15, 2022 · 2:06:04 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner
CNN is reporting on conversations among Western officials and quote two anonymous European diplomats as saying that U.S. Sec. of State Anthony Blinken is not optimistic about a swift end to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
However, the date they’re discussing is a long way from the “10 year war” talk that dominated predictions shortly after Putin sent tanks across the border.
“Secretary of State Antony Blinken told European allies that the United States believes the Russian war in Ukraine could last through the end of 2022, two European officials told CNN, as US and European officials have increasingly assessed that there is no short-term end in sight to the conflict.”
Considering the relatively slow movement of actions in the east at this moment, it’s not hard to believe that fighting could continue for months. With the level of horrors being revealed about Russian actions, especially in occupied areas, it’s terrible to think about what might happen in places like Mariupol over that time.
“The longer the war goes on, the more brutal the humanitarian toll on the people of Ukraine. And while officials stressed there is likely to be continued international resolve to provide high levels of support to Ukraine, they acknowledged there may be very real practical challenges regarding weaponry that will need to be dealt with as the war wages on.”
Ukraine is burning through about a week’s production of anti-tank missiles each day, and there is concern about how far stocks of other nations should be depleted. (Here’s a clue: If they were in warehouses in your country, and they’re being used in Ukraine, they should be in Ukraine.)
Friday, Apr 15, 2022 · 2:31:08 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner
In the wake of the Moskva sinking, the concern for thousands of Ukrainians taken hostage at 'filtration camps' should be enormous. Russia has already demonstrated that it intends to strike back brutally at non-military targets, and those people are way too handy.
The same goes for the over 100,000 people still trapped in Mariupol.
The idea that Russia is really now going to “declare war” and that this is somehow different than what they had done before is ridiculous. The idea that Russia will increase the level of horrendous crimes against civilians is all too likely.
Friday, Apr 15, 2022 · 2:42:02 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner
At this point, how many times have their been claims about various forces being sent to Ukraine only to have them not show up? Belarus has never sent forces in from the north, those thousands of Syrian “volunteers” never showed up, and any number of former Soviet republics that were rumored to be climbing into the ring on the Russian side have stayed far away.
According to Aljazeera, you can add the Wagner Group mercenaries to this list. There have been claims that the group was either about to land in Ukraine, or already in Ukraine, for weeks. And yet…
“While there are some unconfirmed reports that Russian mercenaries have been withdrawn from the country to fight in Ukraine, the majority have remained [In Libya].
‘The number of [Russian] fighters who made their way to Ukraine would probably be tiny as the Kremlin wants to have a stake in Libya’s future and needs these foreign mercenaries to maintain their hold on the country,’ said Ferhat Polat, a Libya researcher at the TRT World Research Centre.”