Yes, the fog of war has descended
PNG economy ‘fragile’, but don’t mention the C word

The Ukraine War is a warning to us all

Russian marines train in Belarus before invading Ukraine (Russian Defence Ministry Press Service)
Russian marines train in Belarus before invading Ukraine (Russian Defence Ministry Press Service)

CHRIS OVERLAND

ADELAIDE - The Ukraine War has now been going on for 11 days and I have been following developments as closely as possible in both mainstream and social media.

While not a military person, I am an avid student of military history and feel able to offer these tentative observations about how events have unfolded so far and how they might reveal themselves in future.

Perhaps the most significant and surprising factor has been the obvious inability of the Russian military to quickly and easily impose its control over Ukraine.

The reasons for this are unclear but appear to include poor planning and coordination at a command level, persistent maintenance and logistical problems with munitions and the unexpectedly ferocious resistance from Ukraine’s military, notably its territorial and irregular fighters.

Volunteers of Ukraine's Territorial Defence Force train in Kyiv (NPR)
Volunteers of Ukraine's Territorial Defence Force train in Kyiv (US National Public Radio)

Perhaps most importantly, Russian troops seem reluctant to engage in the close order fighting necessary to subdue agile and motivated opponents.

Battles of this nature are notoriously ugly, and serious casualties are guaranteed.

The result is that, well into the second week of warfare, the Ukraine political and military command structures remain operative and effective, its air defence system, although degraded, is still functional and an effective asymmetric warfare strategy has been unleashed upon a Russian army that, unexpectedly given the time it had to organise, seemed almost entirely unprepared for the spirited Ukrainian response.

The term ‘asymmetric’ in this military context refers to unconventional strategies and tactics adopted by a force whose military capabilities are unequal in terms of conventional military strength to those enjoyed by the opposing power.

Examples from modern history include Vietnam ousting France in 1954 and having to do it all again to get rid of the USA and its allies in 1975 after a 20-year war.

Another case is that of the Mujahideen expelling the Soviet Army from Afghanistan after a nine-year war in 1989 and, just last year, the Taliban (who had pushed the Mujahideen aside) victorious in a 20-year guerrilla war against a US-led military coalition.

Zelensky (Jamine Wolfe)
Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been the courageous, clever and inspirational leader Ukraine needed at this time of crisis (Jamine Wolfe)

Importantly in Ukraine, it seems that the steady flow of hand-held rockets and missiles from the US, Britain and some European countries (notably Germany), has ensured that the Ukraine military now have access to at least 15,000 anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, with many more on the way.

Ukraine has an army of about 190,000 plus 900,000 trained reservists, the majority of them with battlefield experience.

In addition, as of two days ago, an estimated 20,000 foreign fighters had joined on Ukraine’s side since the invasion, with the number growing rapidly each day. (Russia is said to have deployed about 200,000 troops so far of a permanent force of one million with 2.6 million reservists.)

The experience of the Ukrainian forces and the armaments now pouring in may prove to be of pivotal importance in the outcome of the war.

Putin’s increasingly strident demands that Western country’s butt out of assisting Ukraine tends to reinforce a conclusion that he is concerned with at the strength of the resistance his forces are encountering.

Putin’s statements in the last 24 hours – warning, not for the first time, that Ukraine “is not a real country”, that Western sanctions are “akin to a declaration of war” and that Ukraine “could lose its statehood” if it does not sue for peace – are not words of unbridled optimism.

But none of this means that the hugely larger and more heavily armed Russian military will fail in its mission.

That said, however, it does mean that the price paid for ‘victory’ (whatever that may be) is going to be many orders of magnitude higher than foreseen in the Kremlin.

In the economic sphere, Russia has been hit with the most comprehensive and painful sanctions ever inflicted upon a sovereign nation.

As a consequence, the value of the Russian rouble has collapsed, its stock exchange has closed to prevent a market collapse and there are signs of a run on the banks.

70 years of peace (Madison.com)
Illustration by Madison.com

Also, much to Putin’s shock, access to about half of his entire foreign currency reserves, around $US300 billion (one trillion kina if you can count that far) has been frozen, meaning the cash available to both fight his war and soften the worst impacts of sanctions has been greatly reduced.

Putin’s statement that the sanctions amount to a declaration of war carries with it the implicit threat that the war could be waged against countries other than Ukraine.

I interpret this sort of language as a sign of increasing desperation, not of strength, but you can never be sure what this man might do if he feels his hold on power slipping.

So the overall situation remains febrile and perilous for the Ukraine but not yet hopeless.

The chosen strategy of using asymmetric warfare tactics has been effective so far and the Russian army has struggled to achieve its objectives owing to the unexpected difficulties I’ve discussed.

Added to these must also be the possibility, much reported upon but with no hard evidence yet, that there is low morale amongst the Russian Army’s mostly conscripted troops.

Russian army commander major-general Andrei Sukhovetsky was killed in action by Ukrainian troops last week
Russian army commander major-general Andrei Sukhovetsky was killed in action by Ukrainian troops last week

The deaths of at least three senior Russian commanders, including Major General Andrei Sukhovetsky, commanding general of the Russian 7th Airborne Division, are emblematic of a plan going seriously wrong.

Furthermore, Russia’s erstwhile allies have generally been reluctant to engage in the fighting.

China has issued guarded statements about the war that fall far short of endorsing Putin’s actions.

It is pretty clear to no-one is in a hurry to rescue Russia from the military and economic trap it has fallen into.

This week will be critical, but if the Ukrainians can keep their political and military command and control structures robust and ensure the rockets, missiles and other weapons they possess are able to be deployed to hit important Russian munitions and push back or hold off its military, then there is a chance that this might trigger an outcome unexpected and unforeseen within the Kremlin.

As has been observed many times in PNG Attitude, we are at a hinge point in history and the world is changing rapidly in many ways, not all of them good.

Democracy is under severe challenge from both external and internal forces, and it is by no means certain it can survive the attacks on it unscathed or, in the longer term, even at all.

Ukraine troops in combat outside Kharkiv
Ukraine troops in combat outside Kharkiv (New York Times)

Like Australia, Papua New Guinea is caught up in what may become an existential struggle between the world’s democracies and its totalitarian powers.

The ‘quiet militarisation’ of the Pacific needs to be seen in the context of this much broader problem.

Decisions seemingly taken in isolation about loans for the construction of mines, ports and other infrastructure may become significant elements within this overall strategic equation.

Make no mistake, the world’s great powers are manoeuvring for their own advantage in the Pacific, and elsewhere besides.

Seen in this context, what is happening in Ukraine has the potential to be just a prelude to a much wider, more brutal and more protracted struggle.

The Ukraine War should serve as a warning to each one of us about the shape and content of our futures.

Whether the resurgence of autocrats like Vladimir Putin and Xi Zinping leads to total catastrophe for the planet or whether we find a way to peacefully and successfully manage the many problems we have created for ourselves remains very much in the balance.

Comments

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Lindsay F Bond

"Some troops have crossed the border with MREs (meal, ready-to-eat ration packs) that expired in 2002."

If the leaders of the Russian armed forces care so little about their troops, be not surprised about the belligerence that has led the invasion of Ukraine.

Or was their motivation to get a war going before more stock went out of date?

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-03-18/inside-russias-military-morale-problem/100907188

Lindsay F Bond

Ask me a question about matters that are “over the hill and far away” and I’m likely first to ask and to reason.

See: https://military-history.fandom.com/wiki/Over_the_Hills_and_Far_Away_(traditional_song)

Wars ever were being fought in and of Europe, as that lyric (and “a long way to Tipperary”) demonstrates.

Presently there is a nation, Ukraine, that once held the seat of power over most or all of what we know as Russia.

Having said that, folk more informed than I will bear down upon this evident lack of learning and its presumptions. (Europe has an immense wealth of archived chronologies.)

Of Ukraine, we see the capital Kyiv (in the Ukrainian Cyrillic alphabet, Ки́їв).

See: https://www.scotsman.com/news/world/why-kiev-changed-to-kyiv-and-how-to-pronounce-the-ukraine-capital-name-3583903

Here it might be surmised about some coincidence of name. An era of wide acclaim for Kyiv was during the decades (c AD 956-1015) of the ruler Vladimir the Great, resulting in sainthood for Vladimir I, grand prince of Kyiv 980-1015: first Christian ruler of Russia.

See: https://www.thefreedictionary.com/Vladimir

USSR (1922-1991) had strategic or more hold over Ukraine from 1939 till 1991.

See: https://ukrainetrek.com/about-ukraine-history/soviet-union-period

Yet in the most recent decades, there has occurred infringements of Ukraine’s territory by persons in or of Russia and culminating in declarations by the current President of Russia.

So a lad named Vlad
played his gaze more glad,
pitched plaint ambition
by neighbouring state
or it’s notable saint?

Well, apparently not of ethics and values from Christianity.

Phil's Putin an ask
values girdling task.
Vladimir put down
that's long on lowdown
Putin on the risk
Putin on the risk
Putin on the risk

Perhaps some readers will connect to "Puttin’ on the Ritz" and especially that "1940s film Blue Skies refer[ing] to wealthy people dressing up for a night in the expensive areas of a city".

See: https://genius.com/Fred-astaire-putting-on-the-ritz-lyrics
‘Ritz’ refers to a chain of upscale, expensive hotels owned by Ritz-Carlton.
President Putin airs assumption of affluence with an arrogance of arrant application in attainment.

If you're blue and you don't know where to go to
Why don't you go where’s trashing bits
Putin on the risk
Putin on the risk
Putin on the risk

Philip Fitzpatrick

Lindsay, I'm thinking about getting a bunch of old kiaps together to go in and take out Putin. If you're interested let me know.

Lindsay F Bond

There are folk who care.

About the phrase 'go to hell in a handbasket', I read that its earliest versions are British, dating to the early 17th century.

It reappears in a letter by Irish chartist leader Feargus O’Connor in 1841.

https://www.wordorigins.org/big-list-entries/hell-in-a-handbasket

One of my great great grandmothers was born around the year 1841 and lived in or close to County Tipperary, Ireland.

When she was aged 14, she departed Ireland, the governance of which was so oppressive that Catholics had to gather for worship as a church in secluded fields, not buildings, and finding sufficient food was most difficult.

Neither she nor Ireland ceased carriage in a 'handbasket', and she married (we are told) at age 15.

Ingenuity, enterprise and endurance given effect always benefit from emergent human endeavour.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Historians tell us that we should not make comparisons with the geopolitical situation in the world today with what prevailed just prior to World War Two.

This is even though the similarities have created a great sense of historical deja vu among many people.

Chief among these similarities is the emergence of a leader with imperialistic ambitions and scant regard for the human cost who is prepared to risk everything to right what he perceives as historical wrongs.

Comparisons between Vladimir Putin and Adolf Hitler are yet to gain traction among the cowed leaders of the so-called free world but it is not unimaginable that that is what they are thinking as they try to work out how to appease this despot as he sits atop his pile of nuclear weapons.

It is incredible to think that so much damage and suffering could be brought about by the delusional whims of a single human being.

Unfortunately this development has appeared on top of at least two other existential problems currently bedevilling the world, a vicious pandemic and climate change, both of which world leaders have failed to address with anything close to adequacy.

If you add the rampant excesses of neoliberalism that is resulting in unprecedented and obscene levels of wealth at one end of the spectrum and appalling poverty and inequity at the other, it would be fair to say that at this moment the world is in such dire straits as has not been seen for a very long time.

So, even if the facts are dissimilar, it would not be drawing a long bow to compare the mood present among many people today with that which prevailed among people in the late 1930s when they were emerging from a devastating economic depression and looking at the possibility of a world war.

The overriding sense contributing to this current mood seems to be one of ineffectualness and impotence. Even when one screams the wrongs of the world across the rooftops there is no one out there listening.

This is especially apparent in the weak and futile responses from our collective leaderships of second-raters and clowns whose sole interests extend no further than clinging on to power at all costs.

This collective sense of dread and depression couldn’t have come at a worse time for many of the world’s older residents.

These are the people who experienced and inherited the straitened task of picking up the pieces at the end of World War Two and painfully rebuilding their societies into what they hoped would be a better world.

And, despite all the setbacks, they achieved in large part of what they set out to do, whether at the domestic, national and international level. Until relatively recently the world was as peaceful and prosperous as it could ever be.

In their old age those people thought they could finally sit back with a sense of satisfaction that what they were handing on to their grandchildren, although far from perfect, was at least a firm basis for hope.

And then in a few short and sharp years everything changed. It is probably no wonder many of those people are now thinking about why they bothered.

What now seems to be happening, if my anecdotal observations are correct, is that this depressive and sad mood among older people has now shifted to one of indifference.

We tried, we failed, now we don’t care anymore. The world can go to hell in a handbasket for all we care.

Lindsay F Bond

Putin puts a string of words
each with sting
more, morph, mort
The West declines his pitiless purpose
and pretentiousness of plan

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