"Who is winning? It is all down to timing"
by Gilbert Doctorow
gilbertdoctorow.com (May 11, 2022)
Over the course of the past couple of weeks, Johnson’s Russia List, the daily digest of news and commentary about Russia to which a great many American academics and international affairs professionals subscribe, has been filled with articles by respected experts from think tanks, from the universities all explaining why Russia is losing the war. Some of these analysts specialize in military affairs: they tell us that the Russians do not have sufficient men and materiel to close the cauldron in the Donbas and achieve their objective of destroying Ukraine’s most effective fighting force. Being just a layman in these matters, I read their arguments with concern. This concern is amplified by the writings of other American experts published in JRL who explain how Russia’s failure at arms will precipitate regime change or chaos in the Russian Federation [emphasis added].
Against this background, I was amazed to read today’s Morning Briefing from The New York Times, which seemingly out of nowhere is telling a very different story. It is so remarkable that I copy it uncut below.
Russia makes gains in eastern Ukraine
More than two months into the war in Ukraine, Russia is making some significant territorial gains, even as its invasion has been marred by poor planning, flawed intelligence, low morale and brutal, indiscriminate violence against civilians. Follow the latest updates from the war.
Russian forces have advanced to the border between Donetsk and Luhansk, according to the Russian defense ministry — provinces where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukraine’s army for eight years. If confirmed, the news makes it more probable that Russia could entirely control the region, known as the Donbas, compared with just a third of it before the invasion.
If Russia can hold on to, or expand, the territory it occupies in the south and east, and maintain its dominion in the Black Sea, it could further undermine Ukraine’s already battered economy, improve Moscow’s leverage in any future negotiated settlement and potentially expand its capacity to stage broader assaults.
To be sure, Russia’s announcements yesterday of successes in reaching the western and northern territorial boundaries of what had been Lugansk oblast before the civil war that began in the summer of 2014 bear on the NYT’s article. However, by just following the daily maps of territories under the control of the Lugansk People’ Republic the “new” conclusion about the overall state of play could have been reached by any military professional without guidance from the Russian Ministry of Defense. I believe the greater factor in the NYT’s change of tune today about who is winning and who is losing the war was the successful passage yesterday of a new 40 billion aid package by Congress. From the standpoint of Washington, “mission accomplished” and now we can move on. The entire logic of that bill was to provide urgently needed assistance to back Kiev in what has been portrayed as a very successful defense and the start of a counter-offensive against the Russians to recover lost ground. If the Ukrainians are seen to be losing, and losing badly, why bother? [emphasis added] In this regard, it is worth considering another item in the news today, this time in the pro-Kremlin Russian daily newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta:
A foolish PR stunt by the Kiev regime to seize Zmeiny Island [in the Black Sea, southwest of Odessa] on the eve of Victory Day led to the senseless death of more than 50 Ukrainian fighters and soldiers from elite subdivisions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. In addition, the Ukrainian army lost 4 planes, 10 helicopters, 3 cutters and 30 drones. This was reported by the representative of the Russian Ministry of Defense, Major General Igor Konashenkov. In particular, during the attempt to seize the island, the Kiev regime lost in the area around the island three SU-24 bombers and one SU-27 fighter jet. Out of the 10 Ukrainian Air Force helicopters which were destroyed, three Mi-8 were shot down with a landing party on board along with one Mi-24 support helicopter. Additionally, six Mi-7 and Mi-24 helicopters which were detached to the operation were destroyed on ground near the city of Artsiz, Odessa oblast. Konashenkov said that three Ukrainian armored Centaur landing craft cutters were destroyed at sea together with their landing parties on board. “Thus, this military adventure ended in catastrophe for Ukraine.”
If this is indicative of the way the long-awaited Ukrainian counter-offensive in Donbas will be managed, it is unlikely the trajectory of the war sketched in today’s New York Times article will be changed in the coming weeks, with or without Mr. Biden’s package of 40 billion dollars of assistance [emphasis added].
©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022