Russia is having more trouble with its southern “allies.”
Despite the European Union’s triumphalism, Europe is merely shifting its energy supplies from one murderous despot to another. The CIA Factbook notes the nature of the country’s “elections”:
election results: Ilham ALIYEV reelected president in first round; percent of vote - Ilham ALIYEV (YAP) 86%, Zahid ORUJ (independent) 3.1%, other 10.9%
note: OSCE observers noted shortcomings in the election, including a restrictive political environment, limits on fundamental freedoms, a lack of genuine competition, and ballot box stuffing
Amnesty International notes other abuses. It’s certainly not the kind of place anyone should do business with, but given Western addiction to fossil fuels, it’s cut from the same cloth as President Joe Biden fist-bumping the murderous Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Until renewable energy allows the West true energy independence, we’re trapped into doing business with the worst of the worst. (Though if you want a silver lining, Europe has clearly realized energy is a national security issue and is aggressively working toward carbon-neutral renewable energy in the midterm.)
Anyway, this isn’t a post about murderous petro-states, but about Russia loosening its hold on its supposed southern allies. Indeed, Azerbaijan signed an alliance treaty with Russia two days before the invasion of Ukraine. Among other things, it bound the two countries militarily and diplomatically.
Point 4 stipulates that the two countries, “holding the same or similar positions on topical international issues, deepen constructive cooperation.” Point 7 obliges them to “refrain from any actions that, in the opinion of one of the Parties, damage the strategic partnership and allied relations of the two states.” ...
The agreement also includes several provisions on mutual military aid, including a stipulation that the two sides “may consider the possibility of providing each other with military assistance.”
While the treaty ostensibly bound both nations, in reality these things go one way. There is no universe in which Azerbaijan could demand Russia withdraw from Ukraine because it “damage[d] the strategic partnership and allied relations of the two states.” Yet Russia could aggressively invoke that clause to meddle in its southern neighbor’s affairs. It was one more step toward Russia and dictator Vladimir Putin’s plan to reconstitute the Soviet empire.
Yet just two weeks later at the United Nations, Azerbaijan was conveniently “absent” when the General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It joined other supposed Russian “allies” like Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, and Venezuela by cravenly pretending to be elsewhere at the time. Indeed, only four nations supported Russia: Belarus, Eritrea, North Korea, and Syria, all murderous regimes. One-hundred-and-forty-one nations supported Ukraine, while 35 abstained (including stalwart Russian allies like Cuba and Nicaragua).
Azerbaijan, prohibited by its newly minted treaty from taking an action that would “damage relations” with Russia, simply found somewhere else to be for that vote. Then it laid low. It certainly didn’t offer any military assistance, despite Russia’s requests. But given that the treaty only required “consideration” of such help, that was seemingly fine. But now, that has all changed.
The agreement to supply the European Union with natural gas is a direct violation of the treaty. Russia can’t win the war militarily, so it’s looking to fracture and end Western economic and military support for Ukraine’s defense. If the West pulls the plug on that support, Ukraine’s ability to continue the war effort would be severely compromised, forcing it to the negotiating table where Russian gains would be locked in (including their land corridor to Crimea).
Russia’s new ploy is simple: Starve Europe of natural gas and watch their unity and resolve crumble as the weather turns cold and Europeans struggle to heat their homes. Ukraine knows this, hence the long-running preparations to go on the offensive in September. There is a very real possibility that the map in December would be frozen for years … until the next war.
But if Azerbaijan can help fill the natural gas gap (along with increased supplies from places like Oman and the United States), Russia’s energy leverage would be severely compromised or even outright eliminated. The West can continue supporting Ukraine without the fear of a domestic political backlash from having to wear sweaters indoors this winter. (Remember, people lost their shit over having to wear a cloth over their faces. We’re not the most resilient society.)
By directly undermining Russian strategy, Azerbaijan’s action “damage[s] the strategic partnership and allied relations of the two states,” and thus violates the treaty. Essentially, Azerbaijan is tearing it up. In normal times, Russia would be able to threaten its way to compliance, but like so many other suddenly frisky neighbors, Russia has lost its military and economic leverage. It’s now far more advantageous to align with either the West or China (or both).
We’ve seen it with Kazakhstan, with a murderous regime that was literally kept in power against a popular revolt (or maybe it was a coup attempt by the former dictator) with Russian “peacekeeping” VDV airborne forces in January of this year. Yet not even two months later, the country abstained in that United Nations General Assembly vote condemning Russia’s invasion. Meanwhile, relations between the two countries have steadily deteriorated. At a June conference, both Putin and Kazakh dictator Kassym-Jomart Tokayev sat on stage together and took shots at each other. Putin telling Tokayev that the former Soviet republics should all be part of Russia went over really well.
So Tokayev retaliated by proclaiming that his country wouldn’t recognize the independence of Luhansk and Donetsk in Ukraine. (So far, only Syria seems to have agreed to do so.)
Russian Member of Parliament Konstantin Zatulin responded to Tokayev by saying, “We say always and everywhere, including in relation to Ukraine: If we have friendship, cooperation and partnership, then no territorial questions are raised. But if that does not exist, everything is possible, as in the case of Ukraine.” There’s nothing veiled about such threats. The difference is, Russia has lost all ability to enforce its will on its neighbors. Not only was Tokayev emboldened to challenge Putin to his face, and not only has he ignored threats like the one above from Zatulin, but he has actively worked on separating himself from Russia’s sphere of influence.
Kazakhstan signed a new military cooperation agreement with China in late April, “Tokayev said Kazakhstan attaches great importance to the military cooperation with China and hopes that the two militaries will continue to strengthen practical cooperation in peacekeeping operations, joint exercises, personnel training, military technology and other fields.” Russia can’t be happy seeing China swoop in on countries it believes belongs to them. Indeed, Ukraine’s flirtation with the European Union and NATO was enough to trigger Russia’s invasion. Flirting with China is no different.
Russia is also seething from Kazakhstan’s decision to abandon the Cyrillic alphabet in favor of the Latin one, and has put English at the same level as Russian in its educational system. It abandoned the Soviet-style “victory parade” back in 2020, blaming COVID, and didn’t bring it back this year. When Kazakhstan offered up its gas to Europe on July 4, Russia shut down a key oil pipeline out of the country for 30 days, claiming “environmental concerns.” The pipeline runs through Russia and supplies Europe with 67 million tons of oil per year. And a little over a week ago, Kazakhstan quit a committee of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS, a formal gathering of the former Soviet states) that was supposedly working on a common currency for member nations. (Three guesses what that “common currency” was going to be: the ruble, the ruble, and … the ruble.) It was a clear sign to Moscow that integration with Kazakhstan just wasn’t going to happen.
We've repeatedly discussed the ways that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has harmed its broader interests; NATO enlargement and diplomatic and economic isolation usually rank at the top. But Russia’s naked expansionist ambitions and incompetent military performance have conspired to encourage greater independence from former Soviet satellite republics, crushing Putin’s colonial dreams.
At this point, he’ll be lucky of Russia doesn’t shrink in the coming years, given the potential for secessionist unrest in many of its far-flung regions. China, Turkey, Iran, and other regional powers would certainly be happy to encourage that along.
Yesterday I expressed surprise that both Bilohorivka and Hryhorivka—thought to have been in Russian hands immediately following the capture of Lysychansk—were still being contested. Today, it’s been further confirmed by Ukrainian General Staff that Hryhorivka is in Ukrainian hands.
In the Donetsk direction, the Russian military shelled civilian and military infrastructure in the districts of Donetsk, Siversk, Verkhnyokamyansky, Hryhorivka, Ivano-Daryivka, Spirny and others. The enemy is trying to storm near Hryhorivka, the fighting continues. [Emphasis mine]
As I noted yesterday, General Staff speaks in a sort of code, never lying. While it won’t publicly admit to losing territory, it will state the location of Russian attacks. It is thus assumed that anything to the rear of that zone of attack has been captured by Russia. Another code is this one: Russia won’t shell its own territory. So if a town is shelled by Russia, by definition it’s held by Ukraine. But in this case, General Staff went even further, noting that the town is under direct assault by Russian forces. “Trying to storm” and “the fighting continues” means Russia is actually engaging in a sustained assault and might even have a foothold in the town. Otherwise, they’d write something along the lines of “they had no success, retreated.” Here, there is no retreat happening.
That said, by the rules of Ukrainian General Staff code, if Russian forces are assaulting Hryhorivka, that means that Russia fully controls Bilohorivka, despite video of Ukrainian forces contesting the village just a few days ago.
Hryhorivka will fall at some point. It’s a small town of 1,700 (pre-war), not a lot of structures and not in a particularly defensible position. It’s risible that Russia is still struggling to capture it. The good news is that Russia’s progress is even slower than we thought—they’re still trying to capture territory everyone had assumed they had back on July 9.
Another ammo dump goes poof!
This is excellent and a must-read.
There are many ways wars can come to a halt. Total surrenders are the ones most people imagine. The surrender of the Japanese on board the USS Missouri comes to mind. Or, for that matter, Victory Day in Europe. Rarely do wars end that way.
Total surrenders are rare as nails. Most end around a table and even the shape of the table is contested.
Ukraine is likely going to end in a likely very Russian way. It’s starting to look like the armies of Vladimir Putin will go home on foot, leaving a lot of equipment behind.
There’s nothing new-new in there, if you’ve been reading our coverage regularly, it’s just a great summary of Russia’s problems with logistics, all of which Ukrainian intelligence has predicted since mid-May would culminate around mid-August.
That’s why Ukraine has been building toward a late-August to September counteroffensive to retake its lost territories. Someone in the comments yesterday was complaining about a “delayed” counteroffensive. That was weird. Nothing has been delayed. The date has always been “August-September.” And the goal, again, is to retake lost territory before winter, when domestic heating problems in Western Europe might create pressure for a ceasefire that would lock in Russian gains.
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Given Ukrainian priorities, “very good news” is either ATACMS—the long-distance 300km-range rockets that can be fired by HIMARS and M270 MLRS, or fighter aircraft. My money is on the former.
Seeing the effect HIMARS is having on the Russian war effort, it makes sense for the U.S. to help push those logistic lines out even further. Taking out the Russian Black Sea fleet’s home at Sebastopol would be a bonus. They’d need those stupid reassurances that Russia proper wouldn’t be hit (which is bullshit, but whatever), but I bet it’s happening.
Ukraine needs weapons for its September counter-offensive, and planes wouldn’t do that.