Russian General: Never Mind About Us Conquering Kiev, This Is Just A Big Boring Border Skirmish Now
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Earlier: Never Say "Never," But "Never Start A Land War In Europe" Sounds Pretty Reasonable Right Now

From the Las Vegas Sun:

Russians shift focus from Kyiv — scaling back goals in war?
Published Friday, March 25, 2022 | 2:59 p.m.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Russian forces in Ukraine appear to have shifted their focus from a ground offensive aimed at Kyiv, the capital, to instead prioritizing what Moscow calls liberation of the contested Donbas region in the country’s industrial east, officials said Friday, suggesting a new phase of the war. …

Putting a positive face on it all, the deputy chief of the Russian general staff said his forces had largely achieved the “main objectives” of the first phase of what Moscow calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine. Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi said Russian forces had “considerably reduced” the combat power of the Ukrainian military, and as a result Russian troops could “focus on the main efforts to achieve the main goal, liberation of Donbas.”

Trust the Plan!

A month of fighting has left Russian forces stalled in much of the country, including on their paths toward Kyiv. A senior U.S. defense official said Russian ground forces in the past few days have shown little interest in moving on Kyiv, though they are keeping up airstrikes on the capital.

“At least for the moment, they don’t appear to want to pursue Kyiv as aggressively, or frankly at all. They are focused on the Donbas,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal U.S. assessments of the war. …

Not long before Putin kicked off his war, some U.S. military officials believed that he could capture Kyiv in short order — perhaps just a few days — and that he might break the Ukrainian military within a couple of weeks. Putin, too, might have expected a quick victory, given that he did not throw the bulk of his pre-staged forces into the fight in the opening days. Nor did his air force assert itself. He has made only limited use of electronic warfare and cyberattacks.

Putin is resorting to siege tactics against key Ukrainian cities, bombing from afar.

… Philip Breedlove, a retired Air Force general who served as the top NATO commander in Europe from 2013 to 2016 and is now a Europe specialist with the Middle East Institute, said Ukraine may not win the war outright, but the outcome will be determined by what Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is willing to accept in a negotiated settlement.


Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.

The day before Putin launched his massive attack on Kiev and on other axes, I put up the following post in response to Putin’s latest diplomatic ploy, which, for 24 hours, appeared to catch the Biden Administration wrong-footed. But then this relatively optimistic interpretation by the Washington Post, which I shared, turned out to be spectacularly wrong, at least for the last month:

WaPo: Has Putin Invaded Ukraine or Not?


From the Washington Post news section:

White House wrestles with whether Russia has ‘invaded’ Ukraine

Putin announced he is sending troops into Russian-backed separatist regions within Ukraine. Opinions differ on whether that is an invasion of the country.

By Ashley Parker
Today at 9:17 p.m. EST

The White House on Monday confronted the reality that its months-long effort to avert a Russian invasion of Ukraine would likely be futile, as officials grasped for last-ditch ways to head off what one called “military action that could take place in the coming hours or days.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin spent the holiday weekend effectively closing off one diplomatic path after another, suggesting ever more clearly that he would not be swayed by diplomacy or deterred by sanctions. And by announcing that he was recognizing two pro-Russian separatist regions of Ukraine and ordering troops into them, he forced the United States into an uneasy dilemma about whether that constituted an invasion.

The Biden administration sought to hit back at Russia’s aggressive action while stopping short of declaring that it had officially invaded Ukraine, which would have triggered the array of hard-hitting sanctions President Biden has been warning about for months. …

Putin’s last prewar gesture seemed at the time to imply that he was was planning some sort of diplomatic-political-military ratcheting up in the disputed East of Ukraine carefully calibrated to not exceed what Biden had earlier described as a “minor incursion” that might not be intolerable.

Still, the administration official repeatedly refused to say whether Putin’s decision to send “peacekeeping” troops into the two Russian-backed separatist areas constituted a red-line invasion in the eyes of the Biden administration. If anything, the official tried to portray Monday’s developments as far short of a dramatic change in the status quo.

“Russia has occupied these regions since 2014,” said the official, a point he emphasized several times throughout the call. “It has been Russia’s position that there are not Russian forces present in this part of the Donbas. The reality, as we pointed out on a number of occasions over these past years, has been quite different. There have been Russian forces present in these areas throughout.”

After the call, a different administration official defined a Russian invasion that would prompt a clear U.S. response as crossing into Ukrainian territory that Russia has “not occupied since 2014.”

Not everyone agreed. Donetsk and Luhansk are not generally recognized as independent countries, and some experts suggested that sending troops to them amounted to dispatching a military force into Ukraine itself.

Michael McFaul, the U.S. ambassador to Russia under President Barack Obama, tweeted that “Russia is invading Ukraine right now.”

Well, this interpretation by the Washington Post and me turned out to be spectacularly wrong. In the same vein, I went on to write some boring stuff that turned out to be a terrible prediction:

This reminds me of the various brouhahas over the last 55 years regarding the varying official status of the various chunks of land — East Jerusalem, West Bank, Golan Heights, Gaza Strip, and Syria — militarily conquered by Israel in 1967.

After the 1940s’ series of unfortunate events, the world more or less decided that it doesn’t approve of military conquest anymore, so that those who does conquer some place don’t get to have the rest of the world recognize their conquest. Which sounds insignificant in practical terms, but can matter a lot in the long run since that can wind up being the re-dividing line.

Trump’s recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights to help Bibi out in his 2019 election doesn’t help right now. And then in 2020, Trump and Kushner recognized Morocco’s control over the old Spanish Sahara colony of Western Sahara in return for Morocco recognizing Israel.

“Kremlin recognition of the so-called ‘Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics’ as ‘independent’ requires a swift and firm response, and we will take appropriate steps in coordination with partners,” the secretary of state wrote.

But as Presidents’ Day weekend came to a close, the Biden administration’s definition of a “swift and firm response” remained nearly as murky as what exactly constituted an invasion.

The Biden Administration appears to have erred by not publicly emphasizing this as something the Kremlin might do. In contrast, they did a good job of warning about “false flags,” so that when Moscow started complaining about Ukraine supposedly attacking Russia with artillery, nobody outside of Russia much cared.

But they appear to have been wrongfooted by this move by Putin. We were promised Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, but so far we’ve gotten a Slavic version of the convoluted Jerusalem embassy question.

But, then, within 48 hours, we got ACTION!

Why was I so wrong?

Well, my assumption was that it would be stupid for Putin to start a major war, so he wouldn’t do it.

I wasn’t claiming any insight into Putin’s personality or morals, just that he seemed to have a track record of cold-blooded rationality. And that the rationality of starting wars has been decreasing for generations.

(To my surprise, Putin turned out after all to be a hot-blooded Slav incensed over insults, real and perceived, to his honor.)

For much of the 21st century, I’ve been arguing that war is increasingly obsolete. I made a particular study of the question in the summer of 2006 when the carnage in Iraq was at its peak and when Israel launched an attack on Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and didn’t do as well as expected. This drove neocons in the U.S. into a war-crazed frenzy.

But the more I looked into the question of why the vaunted Israeli soldiers didn’t seem as gung-ho about invading an Arab neighbor as they used to be, the more I realized that practically everybody is less gung-ho about invasions and conquests than in the old days. Military spending as a percent of GDP was way down from the Cold War, even in seemingly frontline states like South Korea and Taiwan. For example, from The Atlantic in 2006:

I Need Dirt, And I Don’t Care
By The Daily Dish
AUGUST 31, 2006

by David Weigel

Steve Sailer has two long, good exegeses (one, two) on war and the national need for territory. The first post collects some general thoughts:

There just aren’t that many empty spots on the map anymore, the way the San Francisco Bay Area, perhaps the finest spot for human habitation on earth, was practically empty in 1845.

Moreover, the spread of the idea of nationalism from Europe to the rest of the world, replacing dynasticism as the reigning assumption, means that the kind of easy occupations that, say, the British enjoyed in India for so long just aren’t feasible. If the masses assume that who rules them is none of their business, then it’s pretty easy for an outsider to take over. But, nowadays, everybody believes that their rulers should be, more or less, from among them.

In his follow-up Sailer unveils another one of his Theories – the mostly seamless historical or demographic trends that no one else ever seems to pick up. (They’re too busy comparing everything to 1938, if they’re talking war, and 1994, if they’re talking politics.)

Sailer’s Dirt Theory of War: In the past, when thinking about whom to conquer, the key fact was that most of the value of the potential conquest was in the dirt acquired. You could use the ground to raise crops or mine for valuable minerals, which made up two large parts of the economy back in the good old days. War couldn’t hurt dirt. Conquering California in the 1840s, for example, did almost zero damage to the place, which turned out, immediately afterwards, to have lots of gold in the ground.

… most fighting around the world these days is conducted less like Grant vs. Lee and more like the Corleones rubbing out the rival families at the end of the The Godfather. It’s less honorable, and less destructive, but more profitable.

This clarifies what’s been nagging at me when I hear the members of our executive branch compare the current crisis to an old, good war, like World War II. These people know, as much as Sailer knows, that preventing Muslim terrorists from blowing up airplanes or buildings or cities is a matter of police work and dirty work – like the Corleones rubbing out rivals, but also like a pre-White House Jack Ryan taking out his villain of the week. They know this and, for political reasons, obfuscate it. They pretend this is an old-fashioned army-vs-army war. But that leads to cognitive dissonance on a mass scale when the population, which is willing to support the war, and willing to send family members to fight it, doesn’t see clear-cut victories; isn’t asked to sacrifice anything; doesn’t know when the war will end.

As I wrote in my 2011 review of Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature:

Today, though, most of the asset value of a territory is in the buildings and people above ground, which are very easy to blow to smithereens with modern weapons. And if you don’t raze your enemy’s cities, they provide formidable makeshift fortresses for resistance to your invasion.

And if you do raze them, they make even more formidable makeshift fortresses because it’s harder to kill the defenders hiding in them by knocking the ceiling down on their heads because you already did that once.

You can’t win. The expected profit isn’t worth your trouble. You might as well stay home.

So, I was wrong about Putin deciding to start Mr. Putin’s War.

On the other hand, the way Mr. Putin’s War has played out over the first month, maybe I’ve been on to something after all?

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