War against Ukraine’s sovereignty by Russia and pro-Russian separatists

Faster and Furiouser: Ukraine’s Forces Take Back Kharkiv Oblast and More

[NB: check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

It’s been quite a while since the last post about the Russo-Ukrainian War here. It’s difficult to write about a war of attrition as not much big happens, just the grinding count of materiel damaged and seized along with the grueling and gruesome casualty count.

But the narrative in Ukraine has changed in huge way over the last six days. What initially looked like a push into southern Ukraine by its own forces turned into a blazing two-front counteroffensive with the eastern front cutting off Russia’s critical supply route from Belgorod north of the Russian-Ukraine border to the cities of Kupiansk along the Oskil River and Izium. The appearance of a push along a single southern front may have been effective information warfare.

The tweet below includes a GIF showing the ground taken back over the last week:

During the counteroffensive there has been some confusion online about the ground taken, in part because Ukraine’s forces had been asked to take photos and videos and share them to show their progress in an effort to demoralize both Russian troops and Russian media. The lag between the photos and videos and the time necessary to validate the locations along with the rapid dispersion may not only have surprised Ukraine’s supporters but shocked-and-awed Russians.

Russian media analyst Julia Davis shared some reactions which are all over the map. The loss of the Battle of Kharkhiv has punctured their bubble; they’re trying to find a way to spin this.

They were surprised on Friday, rationalizing what they’d seen:

Yesterday they sounded bitter, swinging wildly between demands for full mobilization to defeat “Ukrainian Nazis” or getting out:

But something isn’t quite right in Moscow. The lack of obvious discussion and reaction from Moscow to this counteroffensive combined with calls on September 8 by St. Petersburg’s city council to charge Putin with treason limns a black hole.

One might wonder if Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu is avoiding windows, rooftops, and helicopters.

~ ~ ~

There are numerous reports of Russian troops literally running away heading east to the Russian border, abandoning equipment and clothing in their haste to avoid encirclement which surely must have happened at Izium. Still more reports mention Russian-speakers leaving the Donetsk region heading to Russia but being refused entry in spite of carrying newly-issued Russian passports issued as part of the annexation and integration of eastern Ukraine by Russia.

A major concern is for the welfare of prisoners of war. There may be 20 to 30,000 from this counteroffensive — and now even more with the apparent negotiations of Russian troops surrender east of Mikolaiv in the Kherson oblast north of the Dnieper River — they need to be housed, fed, clothed, and secured. Resources to manage this will come at the expense of personnel needed to continue the drive east and south as well as resources necessary for the Ukrainian people.

Anne Applebaum has an essay in The Atlantic encouraging a shift in thinking:

She’s right that we need to think about a Ukrainian win, but we also need to consider what a Russian loss means. Not only do we have to consider the likely succession in leadership in Russia which is not delineated in publicly available records, but we need to think about control of Russian nuclear weapons.

Applebaum wrote Ukraine’s expectations of a win are “extraordinarily ambitious,” based on Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov statement to an audience in Kyiv this weekend that “victory should now include not only a return to the borders of Ukraine as they were in 1991—including Crimea, as well as Donbas in eastern Ukraine—but also reparations to pay for the damage and war-crimes tribunals to give victims some sense of justice.”

It’s not ambitious but prudent to make this demand; one asks for everything and works out a compromise for less. The first demand sets a ceiling and the response will set the floor. Failing to demand enough would play into Putin’s hands. Reparations are most likely negotiable since Russia’s economy has been badly damaged by this ridiculous genocidal war.

Which brings us to more damage which must be discussed and addressed as soon as possible, once Russia does fold its operations in Ukraine: where are the kidnapped Ukrainians including thousands and thousands of children forcibly taken into Russia? What is needed to return them home, to care for the children if separated permanently from family?

Further, what will Ukraine need from the rest of the world to document the war crimes which will be uncovered as the Russians exit occupied territory? There will be more horrors like Bucha left behind.

How does the world prevent potential unresolved anger from spilling over when Russian troops return home, to find they may not be compensated as promised. Russia has agreed with China to sell China fossil fuels for yuan and rubles, but conversion of the yuan may be hampered by sanctions and rubles have no value in countries where Russian interests are tightly sanctioned. Which means currency of real value will be limited inside Russia. There may be a population easily radicalized and motivated for cash.

Winning, though, is a distance away. There are other immediate problems in addition to regaining southern Ukraine and occupied Crimea, like the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant which has been powered down into a safe state after experiencing power cuts to the plant. How this plant will be safely cycled back up once fighting ends may need resources.

~ ~ ~

All of which is to say the US, NATO, and the rest of the world need to switch gears to keep up with Ukraine.

Faster and furiouser, people. Slava Ukraini, heroiam slava!

A ‘Dicks Out’: On the Reported U.S. Intelligence Assist to Ukraine

[NB: check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

By now you’ve probably read Marcy’s post, Bragging on U.S. Intelligence. I agree with her take in part, but I suspect the situation isn’t just dick-wagging.

It’s a ‘dicks out‘ situation, an attempt using the media to make a statement.

Not in the sense there’s any competition here between dick-swinging leaders — dick-wagging — but in the sense there’s a display. It looks like a show of power and it is, reminding Putin and Russia’s military leadership within view of the Russian public and the globe that the world’s largest army can aid an eastern European democracy and make it look like it’s a trifling amusement.

Russia media already acknowledges the aid provided by the U.S. and other NATO countries is tough competition.

The report about U.S. intelligence in The New York Times wasn’t a surprise to Russia, though. There had been numerous reports in social media about a U.S. military surveillance aircraft flying over the Black Sea shortly before the Moskva was reported to have taken a hit from Ukraine’s Neptune missiles — or caught fire, if one paid attention only to pro-Russian accounts. The flight was not unexpected as the U.S. had been flying surveillance over the Black Sea for years before the invasion began.


Note there was more than just a lone P-8 flying surveillance the day the Moskva was hit, though these reports shared here are likely well after the attack.

What’s not clear is the timing of the attack on the Moskva — late on April 13, or very early on April 14. Lithuania’s Defense Minister posted early morning ET about the attack:

By evening GMT the vessel had sunk which Russia confirmed.

Russia and the U.S. have had run-ins over the Black Sea even during the Trump administration.

The U.S. military made a point then that its duties continued in spite of the change in leadership. This may even have been an issue during the Helsinki summit in July 2018 but we may not know for certain since Trump squelched interpreter’s notes.

~ ~ ~

The British newspaper The Times reported at 12:01 a.m. BST on April 20 about the same surveillance aircraft which had been sighted over the Black Sea before the Moskva was in distress.

A U.S. aircraft was patrolling the Black Sea in the hours before the Moskva was hit by Ukrainian missiles, The Times can reveal.

A Boeing P8 Poseidon was within 100 miles of the Moskva on the day the Russian cruiser sustained catastrophic damage. …

“The Times can reveal” suggests either The Times were waiting validation from local sources, or the outlet had received authorization to report this news from either British or U.S. military. The just-past-midnight time stamp suggests the latter.

But this wasn’t just a show of power for the benefit of NATO; EU member states who are NATO members are too deeply committed now whether the U.S. gets involved or not providing assistance to Ukraine. The chances of Russia nailing a EU member accidentally or on purpose is real, while the risk to the U.S. is slim to none; we don’t have any real skin in the game. NATO members likely knew already the U.S. was providing intelligence because of the emergency session between NATO and G-7 allies on March 24 in Brussels where commitments of effort from sanctions and aid were discussed.

Who else benefited from the published confirmation the U.S. had provided intelligence to Ukraine? Cui bono?

1. Ukraine — not just because they have access to the intelligence apparatus of the largest military in the world, but their own intelligence sources and methods are no longer in the spotlight drawing the attention of Putin and his remaining intelligence system from FSB to ad hoc hacking teams.

2. U.S. — because one of the audiences who needs to know U.S. intelligence is both capable and effective is the U.S. itself, in Congress, the intelligence community, and the public; the reports assure the general public in the U.S. and abroad that the U.S. has an active role if not as a combatant. We’re providing intelligence as well as materiel but not the personnel who ultimately act on intelligence available.

3. U.S. corporations — in particular, Apple and John Deere, because there have been stories of apps built into their products which may have allowed their hardware to be used for intelligence collection directly and indirectly, placing the companies at risk of attack by Russia.

4. Iran and other parties to the JCPOA P5+1 agreement — because elements in Iran are still demanding revenge for the assassination of Lt. General Qasem Soleimani; it’s a reminder the U.S. is watching though Iran’s intelligence apparatus surely knows this; factions desiring a return to the agreement know retribution works against them.

5. Japan — with Russia’s military demonstrating weakness, Japan has seen opportunity to not only recover some of its stature post- Abe but make demands related to the occupation of the Kuril Islands; its public may be reassured its partner is watching Russia closely as it does so.

6. Taiwan — China is watching closely how the U.S. responds to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a model for its response should China attempt to realize its One China ideology and take Taiwan; it’s already seen in Hong Kong a lack of U.S. intervention. While China’s leadership surely knows about U.S. intelligence provided to Ukraine, Taiwan’s public needs to know this is on the table for them as well.

7. Aspiring NATO members Finland and Sweden — while these two countries have been prepared for Russian hostilities since WWII, the invasion of Ukraine has heightened their sensitivity to national security. Both are now pursuing membership in NATO as Marcy mentioned; open acknowledgment of the benefits of membership may help their public feel more at ease with joining after holding out for so long.

Marcy’s post noted the value of the publicized intelligence to several of these beneficiaries’ voting constituencies.

Of all of who benefit, two most critical are Ukraine and U.S. corporations. As a ‘dicks out’ effort, the U.S. draws attention to itself and its intelligence capabilities which the media have gladly hyped up.

I have to wonder if this change in NYT hed was really because of an error, or an attempt to ensure the Russians were sitting up, paying attention to, and pissed off at the U.S.


Especially since the NYT’s article pointedly said there was no targeting information.

… The Pentagon press secretary, John F. Kirby, asked about a report in The Times of London that a Navy P-8 spy plane from Sigonella air base in Italy was tracking the Moskva before it was hit by Ukraine, spoke of air policing missions in the Black Sea as part of a carefully worded response: “There was no provision of targeting information by any United States Navy P-8 flying in these air policing missions,” he said. …

By drawing attention away from Ukraine and U.S. corporations, the use of non-traditional sources of intelligence based on non-government private resources becomes less obvious, potentially reducing their risk from retaliatory attack by Russia.

(An aside: Did you know that Apple iPhones were the second or third most popular cell phone in Russia? While Apple has now stopped selling its products in Russia, it’s not clear iPhones and MacBooks are no longer operative on Russian networks.)

~ ~ ~ 

There were two other things worth noting related to the day the Moskva was hit and Russia’s response afterward.

First, the U.S. Navy P-8 (and other surveillance craft) weren’t the only unusual flights on April 14. A “Doomsday” plane took off from Moscow; the plane is equipped for use in the event of nuclear war.


But it wasn’t just a Russian “Doomsday” plane in the air that same day.


Most media didn’t appear to have noticed the Russian plane. The Daily Express-UK published an article on April 14 at 13:16 hours London time, edited at 14:25 hours, about the Russian craft’s kit, and wrote about a flight at 4:16 pm which lasted nearly four hours. It also mentioned the U.S. “Doomsday” plane taking a flight but in little detail. The Daily Express didn’t tweet their article.

Second, Russia told the families of Moskva crew members who died on April 14 that they would not receive survivor compensation:

This seems particularly callous especially since crew members families were told little to nothing immediately following the Moskva’s “fire” and sinking, calling to mind the handling of the Kursk submarine disaster. Were the Moskva’s crew and their surviving families punished financially for failing?

Another particularly odd detail was the immediate reaction of crew on board the Moskva after it was hit by Ukraine’s Neptune missiles — the radar didn’t respond as if it wasn’t watching for another attack, and life boats didn’t appear to be deployed and loaded once the ship appeared to be in extremis. A report by U.S. Naval Institute News said the ship was blind to the attack, its radar not detecting surveillance by drones or planes or the missiles once it was targeted.

One analysis of the attack in this following Twitter thread suggests the weather conditions the night of April 13/morning April 14 may have helped mask the missiles if the radar was working and its 180-degree range aimed in the correct direction.

There are a lot of ifs here even after reading an analysis of the attack (pdf) shared by USNI News.

Perhaps the publication of the news that the U.S. intelligence isn’t merely a ‘dicks out’ statement to garner attention away from others, or make the point the U.S. is assisting with intelligence up to but not including targeting.

Perhaps the message was meant to tell Putin, “The U.S. intelligence community knows exactly what happened to the Moskva,” implying another mishandling of information a la the Kursk could be used strategically against weakened Russian leadership.

The deployment of our own “Doomsday” plane the same day Putin moved his also says something, but that may be even more cryptic and intended for a very small audience compared to the ‘dicks out’ about the Moskva’s sinking.

Bragging about US Intelligence Assistance Increases the Value and Solidarity of NATO Membership

The US is dick-wagging about intelligence successes again, this time by making it public that its intelligence-sharing helped Ukraine target the Moskva.

Intelligence shared by the U.S. helped Ukraine sink the Russian cruiser Moskva, U.S. officials told NBC News, confirming an American role in perhaps the most embarrassing blow to Vladimir Putin’s troubled invasion of Ukraine.

A guided missile cruiser carrying a crew of 510, the Moskva was the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. It sank on April 14 after being struck by two Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missiles, U.S. officials said. Moscow said the vessel sank after a fire. The Moskva was the largest Russian warship sunk in combat since World War II. American officials said there were significant Russian casualties, but they don’t know how many.

The attack happened after Ukrainian forces asked the Americans about a ship sailing in the Black Sea south of Odesa, U.S. officials told NBC News. The U.S. identified it as the Moskva, officials said, and helped confirm its location, after which the Ukrainians targeted the ship.

The U.S. did not know in advance that Ukraine was going to target the Moskva, officials said, and was not involved in the decision to strike. Maritime intelligence is shared with Ukraine to help it defend against attack from Russian ships, officials added.

The news comes amid unconfirmed reports that Ukraine has struck the Admiral Makarov in the last day, which David Axe described as the most important Russian ship remaining in the Black Sea, reportedly with another Neptune missile.

To be sure, even on its face, this dick-wagging serves another purpose. The reports all include details that explain where the US is involved — intelligence sharing — and where it is not — targeting decisions. I noted after the sinking of the Moskva that Ukraine accomplished that feat using Ukrainian weapons assisted by Turkish drones, not weapons supplied by the US or UK. By leaking details of the US involvement in Ukraine’s military success, the US is also making public details about where it is not involved, which extends to the implementation of the most controversial strikes. The US is making the limits of its engagement public, which actually could help avoid escalation (and, if critics were more honest than they are, entails giving Ukraine full credit for the tremendous success it is having).

Nevertheless, this declassification has raised a number of complaints that the Biden Administration invites escalation by bragging about its intelligence exploits.

I think those complaining are ignoring a number of obvious benefits of declassifying this information. First, releasing this information promises to exacerbate three problems that have already badly harmed Russia’s war effort: Putin’s isolation and with it, bad decision-making on his part, poor command structure within the Russian military, and snowballing paranoia in the Russian security community and with it a collapse of morale.

But Russia is likely not the only audience for these leaks. Existing and aspiring NATO members, including the voters within those countries, likely are also the intended audience.

Trump spent four years degrading the value of NATO and doing everything he could to sow distrust in the alliance. America’s past mistakes, most notably in Afghanistan, have made NATO membership more controversial in Europe. Because the Iraq War catastrophe was public while other American intelligence successes were private, it became routine to assume American intelligence wasn’t all that reliable. Russia has done everything it could to exacerbate such controversies, including with information operations targeting anti-imperialist and anti-war activists. Germany was a particular focus for such efforts on Russia’s part.

As a result, when Russia started this invasion, Putin believed, with good reason, that the alliance would crumble. Biden’s Administration did remarkable work, along with key allies, in defying those expectations. But the solidarity of NATO will come under increasing stress as inflation soars, refugees exacerbate housing shortages, and the media attention on Ukraine wanes.

Meanwhile, Finland and Sweden are about to start the process of quickly joining NATO. Russia is already making incursions on countries that border Ukraine. But until such time as Finland and Sweden formally join NATO, they will be in a vulnerable position, lacking the guarantee of NATO membership while having provided Russia a reason to want to strike.

What is being portrayed as dick-wagging offers a number of advantages in this climate. Without exposing sources and methods, it demonstrates that American sources and methods that come with NATO membership are excellent — far better than what Russia could offer (say) Hungary or Moldova, or even Saudi Arabia, right now. By emphasizing the way that the US has offered intelligence but not taken over targeting decisions, the US makes it clear that one can remain sovereign even while benefitting from the advantages NATO offers. The stories make it clear that the superior intelligence accessible with NATO membership can help a vastly overmatched country defend itself against an invader.

This may feel like dick-wagging. But it also makes a tremendous case for the value of alliance with the United States, particularly (for the Finnish and Swedish public) within the framework of NATO.

I wrote in March how important it was — even by his own telling — to have lifelong diplomat William Burns in charge of CIA as the US declassifies such information, because he understood how declassifying intelligence could be used to strengthen alliances.

[U]nder this former diplomat, the Intelligence Community is actually using the intelligence it gathers to gain tactical leverage. After years of Russian intelligence operations designed to split American alliances, that has had the effect of raising US credibility with allies.

Burns said then, and I assume he still believes, that after a career of losing information wars to Putin, “this is one information war that I think Putin is losing.”

I can only assume the US has reviewed these earlier decisions, including the effect they’ve had on strengthening US alliances, and decided that the advantages vastly outweigh the risks.

Update: See also Cheryl Rofer’s comments on this.

Three Things: Dead, Deader, Deadest

[NB: check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

Watching Russia’s continued assault on Ukraine has been horrific, bodies shredded and families burnt to cinders as their cities are leveled by Russian missiles. Photographic evidence of war crimes has been particularly difficult to witness.

Whatabouters argue western countries particularly the U.S. engage in a double standard over Ukraine’s losses compared to Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and other past engagements in which western military force has been mustered.

If their point is that U.S. foreign policy has been conflicted in the past, yes, it has, and it’s been so because of conditions established long before many of us were born.

Like our nation’s reliance on oil and the agreement to protect Saudi Arabia to assure continuity of oil production for economic national security.

Other crappy foreign policy decisions spin from that origin or are tangentially related to that agreement because in part elections have been bought by oil and gas money, or the dependency of U.S. national security on the flow of oil and gas has been made economically sticky.

We had a critical opportunity in 2000 to take an alternative time line and delaminate our security from oil but that fork in the road wasn’t taken.

Instead the presidential election was decided by the Supreme Court in favor of an oil man who lost the popular vote — in essence, a right-wing coup took place in favor of continued reliance on oil and the eventual hamstringing of Americans’ domestic needs by trillions of taxpayers’ dollars spent in unlawful and unnecessary wars to assure our continued addiction to fossil fuels.

But this is what has made the existential crisis in Ukraine so dynamic and engaging to western observers, particularly Americans. The problem is black and white: a sovereign democracy was attacked by a larger hostile neighbor which seeks to eliminate its existence. It happened in full view of the global public with access to the internet and social media platforms.

The fossil fuel problem is now likewise simplistic: the hostile neighbor’s kleptocratic economy relies heavily on oil and natural gas. It has used both to bully neighboring countries for decades, threatening the economic security of western allies. It’s using its fossil fuels now to cudgel the market for supporting Ukraine and to raise funds to continue its illegitimate invasion.

We’ve returned to the fork in the road again, 22 years later. Our national security and that of our allies is threatened by the continued reliance on fossil fuels, not including the increased geopolitical and economic instability generated by the mounting climate crisis.

Fossil fuels must die, should already have been long dead. It’s past time to liberate ourselves and other sovereign democratic nations from its grip.

~ 3 ~

Speaking of death, there have been a few unexpected deaths in Russia. Reported by Russia’s Sota Vision via Twitter:

…Family members of the former vice-president of Gazprombank Vladislav Avaev and himself found dead in Moscow According to the preliminary version of the investigation, Avaev shot his wife and thirteen-year-old daughter with a pistol, and then shot himself. The bodies of the dead were discovered by a relative of the family.

Gazprombank converted Gazprom sales in non-rubles to rubles. Vladislav Avayev’s death is the third one of executives affiliated with Gazprom this year. The unconfirmed scuttlebutt is that Avayev had been in the middle of a messy divorced, tensions heightened because his daughter was disabled. But the divorce makes a handy cover story if this wasn’t a murder-suicide situation.

The previous Gazprom-related deaths were also suicides in which windows weren’t used.

Alexander Tyulyakov, an executive identified as Deputy General Director of the Unified Settlement Center of Gazprom, was found hanged on February 25, the morning after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. Quelle coïncidence.

(Side note: I’m not able to confirm one way or another this Tyulyakov is the same one who held onto a bunch of uranium which was involved in the U.S. uranium repatriation program with Russia back in 2003.)

Leonid Shulman, executive at Gazprom Invest, was found on January 29 dead of an apparent suicide. Descriptions of his death are sketchy but it sounds like he’d bled out in a bathtub.

Both Tyulyakov and Shulman died at home in the region referred to as “the nest” where many of Gazprom executives lived.

Reading about this cluster of deaths, one outlet remarked how rare executives “suicide” deaths have been with only four having occurred over the last dozen years. It’s a rather dry method of noting how very bad this cluster of three deaths is from Russians’ perspective, and how deadly being an executive in Russian business can be.

~ 2 ~

Russia has suffered the loss of yet another general this past weekend. Major General Vladimir Frolov, deputy commander of the 8th Army, died in combat in Donbas region. That’s eight dead generals since the invasion began. Details about this officer’s death are fuzzy at best.

Frolov wasn’t the only senior Russian government figure of note lost this past week; retired army general and veteran of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service Vyacheslav Trubnikov died at age 78. No mention of cause of death in any report I found, only praise for Trubnikov’s service and mourning over his death.

Trubnikov’s death was announced more than 5-10 days after Ukraine doxxed 620 members of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), the intelligence agency.

Was Trubnikov still a spy for Russia even at his advanced age? Was this a roll-up or just an old dude shuffling off the mortal coil?

~ 1 ~

Russia lost nearly one million citizens between October 2020 and September 2021. The country’s total population before the pandemic began was less than 43% of the U.S.’s population, which suggests its COVID deaths were not only grossly underreported but multiple times greater than that of the U.S.

And you know how stupid and avoidable U.S. COVID deaths have been even before vaccines were approved and distributed. COVID surely had an impact on the number of active duty and retired Russian military available for deployment.

At a rate of 10.7 births per 1,000 citizens, Russia has experienced a decline in birth rates like all other developed nations. Its birth rate is lower than that of the U.S. and may be related to factors like increased alcoholism and the lingering fallout from the economic upheaval of the 1990s. Russian women born during the 1990s are much fewer in number than the cohort who were children and young adults at that time.

… The effects of this dramatic and prolonged collapse in birthrates are now becoming apparent. A brief glance at Russia’s population pyramid illustrates this knock-on effect. There are around 12.5 million Russians between the ages of 30 and 34 who were born around or just before the collapse of the Soviet Union. But there are around 6.5 million people between the ages of 20 and 24 who were born during the chaos of the late 1990s. This smaller base of people able to bear children means the birthrate is almost destined to decline. And that is exactly what has happened; after a brief period of natural population growth in the mid-2010s, Russia’s population once again began to contract in 2019. It will continue to do so well into the foreseeable future. … [source]

Which means there were fewer male children born during the 1990s as well. This certainly has affected the number of Russian service persons, and likely explains why we’ve seen Chechens enlisted as well as recruiting from African countries and the Middle East, and why military contractors have been engaged to fight against Ukraine.

The deaths of so many Russian military leaders may also be related to COVID. Russia does not encourage its lowest level service persons to exercise much independent decision making in the field; major generals and superior officers below them are in the field to provide direction. If much of the military has been exposed to COVID with at least 20-25% suffering from some degree of long COVID, leadership’s function is degraded as is the function of all subordinates. (In actuality the percentage globally of COVID infected who suffer from long COVID is closer to 43%. Age appears to increase the likelihood of long COVID.)

Poor performance due to the effects of COVID only exacerbates morale problems among those serving who weren’t told they were going to invade Ukraine, who weren’t supposed to be engaged in active warfare as conscripts, who were police and not military as some were.

Many have surely paid with their lives for Russia’s inability to plan for the effects of COVID. One can only wonder how much more COVID will cut into both Russia’s military, its country, and its future — recall that COVID also does a number on men’s testicles and on pregnant women.

~ 0 ~

And now today, even as I was writing this, yet another executive of a Russian gas company was found dead along with his wife and daughter. Sergei Protosenya was the former deputy chairman of Novatek, Russia’s second-largest natural gas producer. He had been staying in Catalonia with his wife and daughter; his son couldn’t get them on the phone and called the police to investigate. They found what appeared to be a murder-suicide but reports implied this was subject to further investigation.

What are the odds of two Russian natural gas executives and their families dead by murder-suicide within a week’s time?

Two Possible End Games in Ukraine

Brothers in Authoritarian Leadership: Stalin and Putin (h/t openDemocracy, (CC BY-SA 2.0)

With all the conversations around Russia’s withdrawal from around Kyiv in order to refocus on the Donbas, and the discussions of the various negotiations that seek to arrange for a cease fire if not a complete end to the fighting, there are two big possible end games that appear increasingly likely to me, though I don’t see anyone publicly talking about them. (More common are big picture “likely outcome” pieces like this.) I don’t know the odds of either of the following two end games happening, but the odds are not zero for either one of them and, IMHO, they are going up.

End Game 1 begins with a simple premise: from Putin’s point of view, Putin cannot fail – he can only be failed.

Given the demise of the initial battle plan of some of Putin’s generals and the absence of the cake walk with Ukrainians greeting the Russian Army as liberators predicted by at least some of Putin’s intelligence officers, there is plenty of failure to go around.

Per BBC Russian, via The Guardian, the Russian officer corps has been taking extreme casualties.

. . . [G]rowing evidence suggests high numbers of casualties among the units that led Russia’s invasion in February, including paratrooper units considered to be the “tip of the spear”.

The video of the memorial for the 247th Guards Air Assault Regiment, which is based in Stavropol, Russia, showed a number of men whose deaths have already been confirmed through public accounts.

Another video from a nearby cemetery that is used by the unit, along with others, showed a long row of funeral wreaths.

The unit was reported to have fought in southern Ukraine near the city of Kherson, which has been held by the Russian army since late February. A Ukrainian counter-attack near Kherson has led to heavy losses for Russian troops there.

Last month, Russia reported the death of the commander of the regiment, Col Konstantin Zizevsky, one of at least eight Russian colonels to have been killed during the war in Ukraine.

BBC Russian, which has kept a confirmed count of the number of Russian losses, has said that 217 of its 1,083 confirmed Russian war dead were officers, from junior lieutenants to generals. Senior Russian officers often fight alongside their units because decisions must be confirmed by higher-ranking personnel.

Of the confirmed deaths in the military, more than 15% come from Russia’s elite airborne, or VDV, units. The high number of losses among those units has also been accompanied by reports of desertions.

The NY Times emphasizes those casualty figures in this little nugget on the BBC report:

The Russian service of the BBC counted 1,083 military death announcements by local officials or news outlets. But 20 percent of those deaths concerned officers — a disproportionate toll indicating that vast numbers of deaths of lower-ranking soldiers may be going unreported.

Lots of dead officers means lots of newsworthy funerals, funerals, and more funerals. Add in reports of desertions by soldiers already in Ukraine. And now this as reported by the NY Times:

Word of the dangers of fighting is filtering down through the public in Russia. Mikhail Benyash, a lawyer in the southern city of Krasnodar, said he had received more than 100 requests from Russian military and national guard service members about their legal rights should they refuse to fight.

“They don’t see a point in killing anyone,” Benyash said. “Plus, they don’t see a point in being killed.”

From Putin’s POV, all of this is unacceptable, and all of it is proof that he has been failed. This, obviously, cannot be allowed to stand. With End Game 1, the question for Putin is who he should hold responsible for these failures.

Russian history demonstrates how a leader obsessed with his personal power and who sees himself as the embodiment of the nation reacts to a situation like this: he makes An Example of someone. Or several someones. Or hundreds of someones. In the post-WWII USSR, Stalin invented what came to be known as the Doctors’ Plot — a conspiracy theory that various doctors had or were preparing to kill various Soviet leaders. Stalin did so in order to justify a purge of his political enemies, consolidate power, and in various other ways continue to build up the cult of personality around him. The only thing that saved these doctors was that Stalin died before the trials could be held.

Three years later, Stalin’s successor Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin in his secret speech to the 20th Communist Party Congress entitled “On the Cult of Personality and its Consequences.” As Khrushchev noted, the Doctors’ Plot was but a small piece of a larger whole for Stalin:

Stalin’s willfulness vis-a-vis the party and its central committee became fully evident after the 17th party congress, which took place in 1934…

It was determined that of the 139 members and candidates of the party’s Central Committee who were elected at the 17th congress, 98 persons, that is, 70 percent, were arrested and shot (mostly in 1937-38). [Indignation in the hall.] . . .

The same fate met not only the central committee members but also the majority of the delegates to the 17th party congress. Of 1,966 delegates with either voting or advisory rights, 1,108 persons were arrested on charges of anti-revolutionary crimes, i.e., decidedly more than a majority. This very fact shows how absurd, wild, and contrary to commonsense were the charges of counter-revolutionary crimes made out, as we now see, against a majority of participants at the 17th party congress. [Indignation in the hall.] . . .

The parallels between Stalin and Putin are . . . troubling. The murder of Boris Nemtsov. The repeated assassination attempts against and subsequent imprisonment of Alexei Navalny. Dig a little more, and you come to names like Sergei Magnitsky, Anna Politkovskaya, Alexander Litvinenko, . . .

The list is long, and the pattern is clear: cross Putin or fail Putin, and Putin will have you killed.

So how might Putin choose to deal with the generals, colonels, and intelligence officers in Moscow who failed him? The more charitable path would be that Putin reassigns them to take the places of the generals, colonels, and intelligence officers killed in Ukraine. I say “charitable” because this lets them take their chances with the Ukrainians, who seem incredibly good at killing senior Russian officers, but not completely effective at it.

The less charitable path cuts out the Ukrainian middle men, and is more emphatic and more thorough: Putin simply executes them in Russia. I can hear the statement from the Kremlin now . . . “They did not properly train their troops . . . They criminally diverted money to equip our fine troops with the equipment they needed, and lined their own pockets instead . . . They lied to me about the prospects of this special military operation . . . They were acting as spies for the West . . . They have failed me. They have failed Russia. They have failed you, the Russian people. They will do so no longer.”

Either way End Game 1 is for Putin to declare failure in Ukraine, blame it on military and intelligence officers he wants to get rid of, dispose of them, and move on from there.

Which brings us to End Game 2.

Russian military and intelligence officers are no doubt much more acutely aware of and worried about End Game 1 than I am. End Game 2 is that the generals take matters into their own hands, hoping for a more successful result than Operation Valkyrie had on July 20, 1944.

Of course, Putin is aware of the possibility of End Game 2, which may make him more anxious to work toward End Game 1. But the generals know that Putin is aware of this, which may make them more anxious to work toward End Game 2. But Putin is aware that the generals are aware . . .

Let me be clear: I have no secret sources in anyone’s intelligence agencies. I simply read what is publicly available, and put it alongside a bit of historical perspective. As I said at the top, I don’t know the odds of either of these End Games happening. But between the sanctions taking a stronger bite every day and the ongoing military failures on the ground in Ukraine, Putin and his generals both need some way to bring this to an end, and fast. End Game 1 will accomplish that, and so will End Game 2.

The Collective Response to Russia’s Ukraine Invasion

Yesterday, the government rolled out two hacking indictments from last year as part of its effort to use legal documents to expose Russian spying operations. While the indictments are important speaking documents, I realized from the response that the subset of journalists who focus primarily on cybersecurity were unaware that this effort was part of a larger effort to demonstrate Russia’s spying that DOJ (and, surely, other agencies of the IC) have been pursuing since the Russian invasion.

So I wanted to start collecting all instances here as a way to see the entire package of what DOJ is doing. I’ll try to keep this up-to-date.

February 22, 2022: Treasury sanctions Russian banks

Individual targets include Denis Aleksandrovich Bortnikov, Petr Mikhailovich Fradkov, Vladimir Sergeevich Kiriyenko.

(press release)

February 24, 2022: Treasury sanctions Russian banks

Targets include Sberbank, VTB, Gazprom, Rostelecom, Alfa Bank, Sergei Sergeevich Ivanov, Andrey Patrushev, Ivan Sechin (the latter sons of key oligarchs).

(press release)

February 25, 2022: Treasury sanctions Putin and Sergei Lavrov

(press release)

February 28, 2022: Treasury sanctions Kirill Dmitriev

Targets include Dmitriev and RDIF.

(press release)

US expels 12 Russian diplomats at UN.

March 3, 2022: Treasury sanctions key Putin cronies

Targets include Alisher Burhanovich Usmanov, Nikolay Petrovich Tokarev, Yevgeniy Prigozhin and their families.

(press release)

March 3, 2022: US v. Jack Hanick

November 4, 2021 sealed indictment against a former Fox employee who helped sanctioned oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev set up some media outlets to push Russian propaganda. Hanick was arrested in the UK on February 3, 2022 and is being extradited. (press release; my post)

SDNY 21-cr-676

March 7, 2022: US v. Elena Branson

March 7, 2022 complaint against the one-time chair of the Russian Community Council of the USA. Branson attempted to set up meetings with Trump. (press release; my post)

SDNY 22-mj-2178

March 11, 2022: Treasury sanctions Oligarchs

Targets include Dmitri Peskov and his family, Viktor Feliksovich Vekselberg, and the VTB board.

(press release)

March 14, 2022: US v. Andrey Muraviev

September 17, 2020 indictment against the funder for Lev Parnas’ cannabis donations, Andrey Murviev. The S2 indictment is otherwise identical to the S1 indictment obtained the same day, though with Muraviev identified. (press release; my post)

SDNY 19-cr-725

March 17, 2022: Treasury creates task force to target Oligarchs

(press release)

March 18, 2022: Baltic states expel diplomats

Baltic states expel 10 diplomats.

March 24, 2021: Treasury sanctions targeting industrial base

Sanctions targeting military industrial complex, Duma members, Herman Oskarovich Gref.

(press release)

March 24, 2022: US v. Evgeny Viktorovich Gladkikh

June 29, 2021 indictment against Evgeny Gladkikh for Triton hacking operations targeting refineries and other energy facilities

(press release)

DC 21-cr-442

March 24, 2022: US v. Pavel Aleksandrovich Akulov

August 26, 2021 indictment against three FSB officers working as part of the Dragonfly or Berzerk Bear hacking group for targeting ICS systems.

(press release)

KS 21-cr-20047

March 29, 2022: Europeans expel diplomats

Ireland expels 4 “diplomats.”

Lithuania expels

March 31, 2022: Treasury focuses on sanctions-evasion network

Treasury adds sanctions against companies used to evade sanctions, four key Russian tech companies, and the head of the organization for which Gladkikh works, TsNIIKhM’s General Director, Sergei Alekseevich Bobkov and itsDeputy General Director, Konstantin Vasilyevich Malevanyy.

April 4, 2022: FBI and Spanish authorities freeze Viktor Vekselberg’s yacht, Tango

FBI and Spanish authorities freeze Viktor Vekselberg’s yacht, Tango, for sanction violations and money laundering efforts to evade those sanctions.

Also Germany expels 40 “diplomats” and France expels 35.

April 5: Dmitry Pavlov and Hydra Market

DOJ charged Dmitry Pavlov and, with German assistance, shut down the Hydra Market to which he leased a server.

(press release)

April 6: Semion Meogilevich, Konstantin Malofeyev, additional sanctions on Sberbank, Alfa Bank, and Putin, Medvedev, and Lavrov’s families, Cyclops Blink

Department of State offers a $5 million reward for information leading to Semion Mogilevich’s arrest.

FBI wanted poster

DOJ charged Konstantin Malofeyev under the mirror charges to those against Jack Hanick.

(press release)

The White House added sanctions to Sberbank and Alfa Bank, added new restrictions on US investments in Russia, and added family members of Putin, Medvedev, and Lavrov’s families.

(press release)

DOJ rolled out the shut-down, in March, of the Cyclops Blink botnet run by Sandworm.

March 18 warrant

March 23 warrant

(press release)

April 14: Aleksandr Mikhaylovich Babakov

(press release)

Indictment

April 20: Malofeyev’s network

Treasury sanctions Malofeyev’s family, sanctions-evasion, and influence networks

(press release)

April 26: Sandworm

State offers a $10 million reward for six hackers involved in the Sandworm NotPetya attack.

(press release)

May 5: Pursuant to a US warrant, Fiji seizes Oligarch Suleiman Kerimov’s yacht

Fiji seized the $300 million yacht pursuant to a US based warrant.

(press release)

September 30: Treasury sanctions a ton of Duma and Federation members

These sanctions were prepared as a response to Russia’s claim to have annexed additional parts of Ukraine.

Playing Jenga the Russian Trade Edition

[NB: Check the byline, please and thanks. /~Rayne]

If you’ve played Jenga, you know many pieces can be pulled out of the tower of blocks and added to the top before the tower collapses. The trick is knowing how many pieces and which pieces must remain if the tower is to remain standing during its ongoing construction.

Now that Russia’s economy is heavily sanctioned, let’s play Jenga with Russian commodities. Which export commodities will be most affected? Which importing countries might be most affected?

I’ve spent a little time looking at Russia’s exports, concentrating on those where Russia’s products are a large part of the market. The picture is complicated. (It’s also not complete here, there are a few gaps which aren’t easy to fill.)

Context also matters which this simplistic look doesn’t offer. It should give us something to discuss and to consider outcomes.

Look at refined petroleum as an example. Within the last few years the US has been the largest importer at 7.84% of the total global export volume, but the US is also the largest exporter at 12.3%. While refined petroleum means more than one product — including ‘Mineral fuels, mineral oils and products of their distillation’ as well as ‘Oils petroleum, bituminous, distillates’ (under Harmonized Tariff Code 271000) — sanctions on Russia’s refined petroleum aren’t likely to affect export/import of US’s refined petroleum products.

Where sanctions will pose more serious challenges: smaller countries which may have relied on Russia because of negotiated finance terms which kept them in Russia’s political orbit, sometimes through secondaries. Think Cuba as one example (for good or ill, it’s not an IMF member) and its relationship with Venezuela. These countries may have difficulty obtaining materials in the market if they are crowded out by larger countries with better financing vehicles.

Here are the top products exported by Russia listed in order by total value:

Largest export product

Value USD

World Rank

Largest Importer

1 Crude Petroleum

121443

2nd – 12.5%

2nd in daily production

(2019 data)

1 – China ($204B) – 20.7%

2 – United States ($123B)

3 – India ($92.7B)

4 – South Korea ($67.4B)

5 – Japan ($64B)

Note: all EU combined ($276B, 2017)

2 Refined Petroleum

66887

1st- 9.62% (2019 data)

1 – United States ($54B) – 7.84%

2 – Netherlands ($41.8B)

3 – Singapore ($41.4B)

4 – Mexico ($29.3B)

5 – Germany ($23.5B)

3 Unspecified commodities

– Barley

– Buckwheat

– Oats

– Rye

55265

– Barley – 1st

– Buckwheat – 1st

– Oats – 1st

– Rye – 3rd

Barley:

1 – China 10K MT

2 – Saudi Arabia 6K MT

3 – Turkey 2.7K MT

4 – Iran 2.6K MT

5 – EU-27 1.3K MT

6 – Japan 1.2K MT

7 – Thailand 1.2K MT

8 – Libya 850 MT

9 – Jordan 800 MT

10 – Viet Nam 800 MT

Buckwheat: TBD

Oats:

1 – United States 1.3K MT

2 – China 350 MT

3 – Mexico 150 MT

4 – Peru 50 MT

5 – Switzerland 50 MT

6 – Chile 50 MT

7 – EU-27 50 MT

8 – India 50 MT

9 – Japan 50 MT

10 – South Korea 25 MT

Rye:

1 – United States 241 MT

2 – EU-27 60 MT

3 – Israel 30 MT

4 – Japan 20 MT

5 – Turkey 20 MT

6 – Norway 10 MT

7 – Kazakhstan 6 MT

8 – South Korea 5 MT

9 – United Kingdom 5 MT

10 – Belarus 3 MT

4 Coal

15987

2nd – 14.4%

(bituminous, not briquettes)

(2019 data)

1 – Japan ($19.3B) – 20.3%

2 – China ($15.8B)

3 – India ($11B)

4 – South Korea ($10.3B)

5 – Taiwan ($5.27B)

5 Petroleum Gas

9501

4th – 8.77% 1 – China ($47.8B) – 15.9%

2 – Japan ($42.3B)

3 – South Korea ($21.8B)

4 – India ($16.4B)

5 – Italy ($15.8B)

6 Wheat

6399

3rd 1 – Egypt 13K MT

2 – Turkey 11K MT

3 – Indonesia 11K MT

4 – China 9K MT

5 – Algeria 7.7K MT

6 – Bangladesh 7.4K MT

7 – Iran 7K MT

8 – Brazil 6.5K MT

9 – Philippines 6.5K MT

10 – Nigeria 6.2K MT

7 Semi-Finished Iron

6090

1st – 27.1% (2019 data)

1 – United States ($2.79B) – 10.8%

2 – Taiwan ($2.22B)

3 – Indonesia ($1.7B)

4 – South Korea ($67.4B)

5 – Egypt ($1.62B)

8 Gold

5740

less than 7% (2019 data)

1 – United Kingdom ($65B) – 19%

2 – Switzerland ($63.5B)

3 – China ($41.5B)

4 – India ($33.8B)

5 – United Arab Emirates ($31.8B)

9 Platinum

5121

1st – 16% (2019 data)

1 – United Kingdom ($6.83B) – 16.8%

2 – United States ($6.69B)

3 – Germany ($6.01B)

4 – Japan ($4.22B)

5 – China ($2.78B)

10 Raw Aluminum

4640

2nd – 10.1% (2019)
1 – United States ($8.63B) – 16.8%
2 – Japan ($4.44B)
3 – Germany ($4.44B)
4 – Netherlands ($3.36B)
5 – South Korea ($2.9B)
11 Sawn Wood

4506

2nd – 12.4% (2019 data)

1 – China ($7.36B) – 20%

2 – United States ($6.01B)

3 – Japan ($2.03B)

4 – United Kingdom ($1.95B)

5 – Germany ($1.45B)

12 Oils

4458

TBD TBD
13 Copper

4137

less than 3%

(copper bars)

(2019 data)

1 – China ($474M) – 9.17%

2 – Germany ($438M)

3 – United States ($395M)

4 – Italy ($392M)

5 – France ($226M)

14 Diamonds

3768

less than 4%

(all diamond types)

(2019 data)

1 – India ($21.4B) – 20.7%

2 – Hong Kong ($18.6B)

3 – United States ($17.9B)

4 – Belgium ($12B)

5 – United Arab Emirates ($9.56B)

15 Chemical Fertilizers

– Nitrogen

– Phosphorus

– Potassium

3165

– Nitrogen – 1st

– Phosphorus – TBD

– Potassium – 2nd (potassic fertilizers)

Nitrogen TBD

Phosphorus TBD

Potassic fertilizers (2019)

1 – Brazil ($2.98B) – 18.4%

2 – United States ($2.81B)

3 – China ($2.34B)

4 – India ($1.25B)

5 – Indonesia ($716M)

16 Nitrogenous Fertilizers

2896

1st – 12.9% (2019 data)

1 – India ($2.71B) – 11.4%

2 – Brazil ($2.36B)

3 – United States ($2.17B)

4 – France ($1.14B)

5 – Turkey ($808M)

17 Frozen Fish

2497

11th (fillets) – 2.48% (2019 data)

1 – United States ($3.02B) – 19.1%

2 – Japan ($1.98B)

3 – Germany ($1.42B)

4 – United Kingdom ($930M)

5 – France ($855M)

18 Hot-Rolled Iron

2462

6th – 5.25% (2019 data)

1 – Italy ($3.35B) – 6.82%

2 – Vietnam ($3.24B)

3 – Germany ($2.86B)

4 – South Korea ($2.19B)

5 – Turkey ($2.1B)

19 Gas Turbines

2352

less than 2% of global total (2019 data)

1 – United States ($36.5B) – 22.9%

2 – Germany ($11.2B)

3 – China ($9.44B)

4 – Singapore ($8.37B)

5 – France ($8.14B)

20 Potassic Fertilizers

2337

3rd – 15.1% (2019 data)

1 – Brazil ($2.98B) – 18.4%

2 – United States ($2.81B)

3 – China ($2.34B)

4 – India ($1.25B)

5 – Indonesia ($716M)

Here are export products besides those in the list above for which Russia is among the top five exporters in the world.

Vegetables

Largest export product

Value

World Rank

Largest Importer

Cabbage and other brassicas

TBD

3rd TBD
Chickpea

TBD

3rd TBD
Potatoes

TBD

3rd TBD
Carrots and turnips

TBD

3rd TBD
Pumpkin, squash, and gourds

TBD

3rd TBD
Safflower

TBD

3rd TBD
Sunflower seed

TBD

2nd TBD

Fruits

Gooseberries

TBD

1st TBD
Raspberries

TBD

1st TBD
Currants

TBD

1st TBD

Meat

Chicken

TBD

4th Chicken meat:

1 – Japan 1K MT

2 – Mexico 940 MT

3 – China 800 MT

4 – United Kingdom 675 MT

5 – EU-27 635 MT

6 – Saudi Arabia 625 MT

7 – United Arab Emirates 445 MT

8 – Philippines 400 MT

9 – Iraq 375 MT

10 – South Africa 370 MT

Fibers

Bast fibre

TBD

2nd TBD
Flax

TBD

4th TBD

Wood

Sawnwood (sawn wood and dimensional lumber)

See above

See above See above
Wood-based panels (plywood, particleboard, fiberboard, and veneer sheets)

TBD

3rd – 9.31% (2019 data)

1 – United States ($2.47B) – 16.7%

2 – Japan ($1.38B)

3 – Germany ($982M)

4 – South Korea ($714M)

5 – United Kingdom ($682M)

It’s easy to discount some of these commodities as inconveniences if they aren’t readily available. But for a country like Germany for which more than 40% of its GDP relies on exports which in turn require raw material imports, it’s not as easy to say a gooseberry or cabbage shortage is no big deal when it exports a lot of jam or kraut.  That iron whether semi-finished or hot-rolled may be short is a problem for a country whose largest industry is automotive with one in ten Germans working for that industry.

25.5% of Russia’s GDP relies on exports with much of the volume and income consisting of fossil fuels. In years when fossil fuels have been volatile, other commodities like agricultural products have kept GDP elevated. With the sanctions Russia’s GDP is already taken a beating. It could try to sell to neutral countries, but some of them may not have the financing or come with other risks. What could Venezuela offer, for example, when more than 80% of its own exports are fossil fuels in direct competition with Russia’s? Venezuela isn’t likely to want rubles even if it did have something to offer Russia.

Russia could trade with Mexico which has declared its neutrality. But efforts to increase trade would come at the expense of Mexico’s relationship with the US which buys more than 75% of Mexico’s exports in comparison with less than 3% Mexico exports to Russia.

The more immediate problem for Russia isn’t just that its industries are forced to scramble to find alternative buyers while imports needed for production are substantially more expensive now that rubles have lost most of their buying power. Or that their workers are or will be very unhappy with their wages which have also lost buying power.

It’s that they can’t make enough materiel fast enough to replace what has been destroyed in its 21 days of war on Ukraine. There won’t be enough electronics without some sort of submission on the part of Russia to China, in the same submissiveness exhibited by asking China for MREs for its troops.

There will be tectonic shifts in the marketplace because of the sanctions. India may play a much bigger role in filling the world’s wheat demand, as Dr. Sarah Taber noted in a Twitter thread this week. But it’s going to take time to ramp up a sustained place for India in the wheat market, and the amount of time is damned hard to predict when talking about a country which still plants, harvests, processes, and packages a considerable amount of its wheat using methods predating the 20th century. India is trying to scale up its seaports, but its largest seaport Port of Kandla is the size of Corpus Christi, TX. The changes are necessary immediately, not another crop season away even if India has a longer, more versatile growing season.

The upside to India as a wheat exporter is the physical location of Port of Kandla and its proximity to the markets which will need it most and urgently in the Middle East and Northern Africa.

And none of this figures COVID’s impact on agricultural labor. We’re kidding ourselves this is not a contributing factor to Russia’s problematic military deployment when we can see it’s a problem in our US labor force. It will be a problem in other countries which are now looked to as alternatives to Russian exports and we haven’t yet seen the worst of Omicron subvariant BA.2.

What are the other short-term challenges sanctions on Russia and war on Ukraine will cause? Pull another Jenga piece…in addition to all the damage wreaked on Ukraine, roughly 10% of its exports went to Russia. Ukraine may not miss the rubles for now, but they’ll need trade to replace that once the war is over.

Let’s hope military adviser to Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy is right in his prediction this won’t be a protracted war.

________

Sources:

Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_producing_countries_of_agricultural_commodities

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_exports_of_Russia

Index Mundi:

https://www.indexmundi.com/agriculture/?commodity=chicken-meat&graph=imports

Observatory of Economic Complexity:

https://oec.world/en/legacy

https://oec.world/en/profile/hs92/petroleum-gas (2019)

Wheat Exporter Russia Begs China for Food

As noted yesterday, the US government appears to be declassifying details of Russia’s requests to China for help. After revealing that the US had learned of Russia’s requests, yesterday (the same day in which Jake Sullivan had a seven hour meeting with Yang Jiechi) more details about what Russia requested were released. CNN even reported on a cable shared with allies detailing that Russia had asked for Meals Ready to Eat — basically food for its soldiers.

In a diplomatic cable, the US relayed to its allies in Europe and Asia that China had conveyed a willingness to assist Russia, which has asked for military support. The cable did not state definitively that assistance had been provided. One official also said the US warned in the cable that China would likely deny it was willing to provide assistance.

Among the assistance Russia requested was pre-packaged, non-perishable military food kits, known in the US as “meal, ready-to-eat,” or MREs, according to two sources familiar with the matter. The request underscores the basic logistical challenges that military analysts and officials say have stymied Russian progress in Ukraine — and raises questions about the fundamental readiness of the Russian military.

Forward-deployed units have routinely outstripped their supply convoys and open source reports have shown Russian troops breaking into grocery stores in search of food as the invasion has progressed. One of the sources suggested that food might be a request that China would be willing to meet, because it stops short of lethal assistance that would be seen as deeply provocative by the west.

CNN is right that a request for MREs suggests a logistical failure to prepare for this invasion.

But the symbolism is far more alarming (which may be why it was included in a cable that got leaked).

As Al Jazeera notes, Russia is the world’s largest wheat exporter, accounting for 18% of the total, with Ukraine another big producer.

The sanctions on Russia and Ukrainian farmers’ focus on capturing tanks will significantly impact wheat markets globally — though one key impact will be that Russia will send wheat to China instead of Egypt and Turkey.

Meanwhile, Ukraine exported over $3 billion grain and other agricultural products to China in 2020.

Unless Russia were to leave Ukraine today, most of those exports won’t be delivered this year.

On top of all the other things that Russia did by invading Ukraine, it has created the conditions for food insecurity around the globe — the kind of food insecurity that large countries like China can ill afford.

That’s going to happen, too, as COVID shutdowns in China are about to cause more supply chain crises around the globe.

At the moment that Russia is destabilizing both Europe and much of the world (in part because a key food producer will be harvesting tanks and cluster bombs instead of grain), Russia has asked China for help feeding its soldiers.

 

The Lesson Marina Ovsyannikova Offers to Chuck Todd and Lester Holt

Yesterday, an editor at Russia’s official Channel One news, Marina Ovsyannikova, came onto a live broadcast and held up a sign condemning Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Predictably, she was quickly detained; thus far, her attorneys have been unable to locate her (though one outlet has said she’ll be charged under Russia’s new crackdown law).

Shortly after her detention, a pre-recorded video was released, in which she explained her actions. She spoke of the shame she feels about her past involvement in Putin’s lies.

What is happening right now in Ukraine is a crime and Russia is the aggressor. And the responsibility for this aggression lies on the conscience of only one person. This man is Vladimir Putin. My father is Ukrainian. My mother is Russian. And they were never enemies. And this necklace on my neck is a symbol of the fact that Russia must immediately stop the fratricidal war and then our brotherly peoples will still be able to reconcile.

Unfortunately, in recent years I have been working on Channel One, working for Kremlin’s propaganda. And I am very ashamed of it. I am ashamed that I was letting them tell those lies from the screen. I’m ashamed that I allowed to “zombify” the Russian people.

We kept silent in 2014, when all this was just in the beginning. We didn’t go to rallies when the Kremlin poisoned Navalny. We just silently watched this inhumane regime.

And now the whole world has turned away from us, and even 10 generations of our descendants will not be enough to wash away the shame of this fratricidal war. We are Russian people — thoughtful and smart. It’s up to us to stop this madness. Come out to rallies. Don’t be afraid of anything. They can’t imprison all of us.

It was an incredibly brave — and because she planned her actions in advance — well-executed protest.

But make no mistake. Ovsyannikova is not, like another brave journalist who spoke up this week, Yevgenia Albats, someone who has criticized the regime in the past, someone whose witness now is a continuation of years of brave reporting.

Rather, Ovsyannikova is someone who, a profile describes, “was a cog in a big machine of Channel One’s news production.” She was part of the the production of official truth. And as she describes, hers is the lesson of regret for that complicity, someone who will forever own a part of Putin’s crimes because she took the comfortable route of contributing to and participating in Putin’s exercise of power. She will almost certainly pay a stiff price for her speech, but she is also someone who did nothing, up till now, as Putin kept raising the price of speaking freely.

While Ovsyannikova’s protest will likely resonate for some time, I would hope that complicit journalists in countries where it’s not too late to defend democracy reflect seriously on Ovsyannikova’s shame. Even as Russia rains bombs down on Ukraine, journalists like Chuck Todd and Lester Holt invited Bill Barr onto their TV to tell lies about Russia’s attack on democracy in the United States, to tell lies about Trump’s extortion of Ukraine, to tell lies about his role in an attack on democracy. Like Ovsyannikova, Todd and Holt sit, comfortable, polished, and complicit, as Barr told lies that were a direct attack on democracy and rule of law.

And like Ovsyannikova, they are doing nothing to rebut the lies of authoritarianism before it’s too late.

Update: Ovsyannikova has surfaced and is thus far facing only administrative crimes, so days, not years, in jail.

Update: Ovsyannikova was fined 30,000 rubles and released, but that apparently only covers the social media video, not the protest on TV.

On the Benefits of Having a Career Diplomat Run CIA: “This Is One Information War that I Think Putin Is Losing”

Thus far during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the intelligence community has declassified at least four major reports and a slew of smaller ones:

I would bet a fair amount of money that, when the history of these events is told twenty years from now, we’ll learn of similar, but non-public, selective declassification with NATO-plus-Sweden-and-Finland partners, starting at a NATO summit in February, immediately after which a number of European countries (most spectacularly, Germany) took dramatic and unified action.

There has been a slew of commentary about the aggressive use the US has made of declassified intelligence. The triumphalism of such commentary may yet prove premature.

After all, it’s possible that Putin arrested two FSB officers because he suspects they were sources for some of the intelligence that got shared to undermine Russia’s efforts. It’s possible that Russia’s focus on neutralizing western support for Ukraine in recent days, particularly its attack on the western training base in Yavoriv yesterday, reflects a counterintelligence crackdown responding to declassified US intelligence.

But for now, such declassification has been tremendously successful. It allowed the US and its European partners to repeatedly undercut Russian efforts to gain surprise or legitimize their invasion with disinformation. It has exposed specifics about China’s support for the invasion, raising the costs of such support and, potentially, providing leverage to convince China to distance themselves both publicly and privately from Russia’s efforts. And it seems to have provided a basis for Western countries to unify quickly.

This most recent instance — the organized sharing of information about Russian pleas to China for help just before Jake Sullivan meets with Yang Jiechi in Rome — makes this comment from CIA Director William Burns at least week’s Global Threats hearing resonate.

In response to a question from Susan Collins about Russia’s efforts to use false flag attacks, he tied his own years losing information wars with Russia to decisions to declassify information now.

Well, thanks very much Senator. I think it underscores the concern that all of us need to focus on those kind of issues, whether it’s the potential for a use of chemical weapons either as a false flag operation or against Ukrainians. This is something, as all of you know very well, is very much a part of Russia’s playbook. They’ve used those weapons against their own citizens, they’ve at least encouraged the use in Syria and elsewhere, so it’s something we take very seriously, and it’s one of the reasons, as Director Haines said earlier, that I’m convinced that our efforts at selective declassification, to pre-empt those kind of false flag efforts and the creation of false narratives have been so important.

In all the years I spent as a career diplomat, I saw too many instances in which we lost information wars with the Russians. In this case, I think we have had a great deal of effect in disrupting their tactics and their calculations and demonstrating to the entire world that this is a premeditated and unprovoked aggression, built on a body of lies and false narratives. So this is one information war that I think Putin is losing.

Among other posts Burns served in, he was Ambassador to Russia in the final years of the Bush Administration (months before Russia’s invasion of Georgia) and he served as Deputy Secretary of State during Russia’s response to Viktor Yanukovych’s ouster, including its annexation of Crimea.

He knows how successful Russia has been at lying in the last twenty years.

And he explicitly tied his experience of attempting to diplomatically negotiate with Russia and others while Russia’s lies held sway to the decision to declassify information here.

Normally, CIA Directors protect such secrets with knee-jerk obstinance. But under this former diplomat, the Intelligence Community is actually using the intelligence it gathers to gain tactical leverage. After years of Russian intelligence operations designed to split American alliances, that has had the effect of raising US credibility with allies.

This is assuredly not just Burns. Even under Trump, Paul Nakasone was much more aggressive about taking credit for NSA or CYBERCOM operations than past NSA Directors. And Avril Haines, whose background is more diverse, promised a more open Intelligence Community during her confirmation as well.

But after the two decades of paranoid secrecy that followed the Iraq intelligence debacle, the United States is actually using the intelligence it makes such efforts to collect.

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