A depressing clip from a depressing WaPo story about morale waning in the east.
We’ve written a lot about low morale among the Russians amid shocking numbers of casualties, and that’s true. But as Ukrainian forces take a pounding in the area around Sievierodonetsk, it sounds like their optimism is beginning to fade too. Some volunteer troops told WaPo that they were handed AK-47s, given half an hour of training, then sent to the front lines in the Donbas, site of the most ferocious fighting in the country. They also received just four RPGs for 15 men with zero training on how to use them, they claim, and on some days received no more than a potato to eat. “When we were coming here, we were told that we were going to be in the third line on defense,” said one volunteer. “Instead, we came to the zero line, the front line. We didn’t know where we were going.”
Ukraine is strapped for manpower, in other words, at a moment when Zelensky’s government is as tight-lipped about casualties and desertions on its side as Moscow is. They’re strapped for firepower too: The immediate problem near Sievierodonetsk is that Ukrainian forces are badly outgunned. Instead of attempting major encirclements of Ukraine’s troops, with which they’ve had little luck so far, Russia’s army has shifted to smaller encirclements (“cauldrons”) designed to cut off smaller Ukrainian units from resupply. Tactically their approach is straightforward. They’re trying to leverage their superior firepower by pounding Ukrainian positions with artillery and air attacks, reducing the enemy’s forces so that Russian infantry can cautiously advance.
Ukraine desperately needs a way to counter that advantage in firepower. This afternoon came the news they’ve been waiting for. They’re about to get it.
The Biden administration is expected to announce as early as next week it will send to Ukraine long-range rocket systems Kyiv says are necessary to fight off the Russian onslaught in the Donbas region, U.S. officials said Friday.
Among the weapons the U.S. is expected to provide are Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, or MLRS, which are mobile artillery launchers that can fire dozens of miles farther than any current system in Ukraine’s control.
The U.S. is also expected to give to Ukraine High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, known as Himars. Those are light multiple rocket launchers with a comparable range to the MLRS. But unlike the MLRS, which moves on tracks, the Himars move on a wheeled chassis…
“The situation [in the Donbas] is threatening and will soon become catastrophic,” a senior Ukrainian official said Friday.
Russian advances in the east haven’t been as dramatic in the east these past few weeks as some of the reporting would have you believe…
Another map visual, in this case showing the two week change in the SDonetsk pocket. Incremental much better to use than breakthrough. https://t.co/Ah9zBp0qIH
— Phillips P. OBrien (@PhillipsPOBrien) May 27, 2022
…but they’ve laid waste to Sievierodonetsk from afar, turning it into another Mariupol via shelling. The Journal is reporting this afternoon that Russian troops are already inside the city and meeting resistance. Zelensky has begged the U.S. for weeks to send him the MLRS and HIMARS systems, which can operate from a longer range than most artillery and therefore allow Ukrainian troops to move out of harm’s way when targeting Russian positions. The White House held off for fear that Russia would view supplying that weapon as a major escalation, the sort of thing that might halt the incremental gains the Russians have been making in the Donbas. But evidently Team Biden is now prepared to take that risk. How come?
Maybe it’s a “sunk cost” thing. It’d be silly to give the Ukrainians $40 billion to hold off the Russians only to deny them the weapon they need to prevent a major Russian victory, no? Or maybe the Pentagon is calculating that Russia is in no position at this point to respond to our escalation. If you assume that they won’t go nuclear — a big if! — what can they do realistically to punish us for providing the MLRS and HIMARS?
The anti-anti-Putin crowd will brighten up at reports of flagging Ukrainian morale but they should bear in mind how Putin himself has reduced the odds of Ukrainian capitulation. The ruthlessness displayed by Russian troops in towns like Bucha has left Zelensky and his troops little choice but to fight on even if they’d be willing in the abstract to sacrifice some territory. After all, for many, captivity by Russian savages would mean a fate worse than death. Lawrence Freedman:
Having seen what the Russians are getting up to in the areas already under occupation they are not going to consign more of their people to such treatment. They are collecting the evidence to demonstrate that Russia is engaged in a genocidal war, not necessarily in the sense that the term is often understood as seeking to exterminate a whole people, but in terms that meet the criteria of the 1948 Genocide Convention (‘to completely or partially destroy a group based on its nationality, ethnicity, race, or religion’). Putin and his minions, including on state media, have not bothered to hide their intent, denying the existence of a separate Ukrainian people and, when given a chance, acting upon this denial, including by separating children from parents (so they can grow up as proper Russians), mass rape, deportations, abductions of community leaders, and erasure of the Ukrainian language and symbols of its national identity.
Just yesterday CNN reported new details on Ukrainians in occupied territory being forcibly deported en masse to Russia, some of them to regions as remote as Sakhalin Island, north of Japan. That’s ethnic cleansing. It’s not the sort of “round everyone up, take them into the woods, and shoot them” ethnic cleansing that we tend to think of when we hear that term, but the goal is the same. Russia wants to change the ethnic character of Ukraine by removing Ukrainians and replacing them with Russians to fulfill Putin’s claim that Ukraine isn’t a distinct country or culture but rather an extension of Russia. Moscow doesn’t want Ukraine’s land on the merits; what does Putin gain, after all, from controlling cities like Mariupol and Sievierodonetsk that now resemble Germany in 1945 and will need to be rebuilt with Russia funds? What he wants is to eliminate Ukrainian identity.
And the Ukrainians know it. How many Ukrainian men can afford to quit the fight knowing now that their wives and daughter are apt to be raped and/or deported to be married off to Russians 5,000 miles away if they do?
On that note, watch a few minutes of Zelensky responding to Henry Kissinger’s perverted pleas for appeasement a few days ago in Davos.