Ukraine: Hearing or Listening?
Hearing or Listening?
Publication date: 2022-02-25 (note: as with all ‘developing situations’ the detail on activity will date very quickly)
Update 2022-02-26: the latest OSCE SMM report has been added under sources. It covers many regions of Ukraine, according to their mandate. Additional commentary sources will be added as thought provoking ones are identified. Plus, a new map showing areas of likely control by Russian forces and some guesswork on their objectives.
Update 2022-02-27: OSCE SMM statement of evacuation, update on map, and some notes on changes on the ground.
Update 2022-02-28: Recent developments and new sources. Developments are under Commentary, and sources at the end under More Sources. I recommend the Chris Hedges piece.
Update 2022-03-01: Recent events (under Commentary with today’s date). An interesting article by Gilbert Doctorow has been added to ‘More Sources’.
Upadate 2022-04-26: Minor spelling or expression fixes, and one update next to some text. There is no evidence to support the Russian paratrooper deployment to Odessa, which this update clarifies, though it was suspected at the time of writing.
Many are very sorry to have seen Professor Paul Robinson terminate his newsletter through which he has offered much calm and thoughtful analysis. There could only have been one reason for this. I carried a very heavy heart into Thursday's research.
The following report is as dispassionate as it is possible to be about armed conflict. Some analysis and comment follows.
During the pre-dawn hours of Thursday an extremely heavy artillery bombardment was begun by the DPR+LPR, with some counter fire by the Ukrainian army. Early on Thursday morning, Moscow time, Russian Federation President Putin delivered a nationally televised address in which he launches a "Special Military Operation" (SMO). To justify it he cites requests for assistance from DPR+LPR and U.N. Charter's Article 51. We shall return to this after chronicling what could be verified over the last 34 hours.
The purpose of the SMO is the "demilitarization and denazification" of Ukraine but not to "occupy" her. To achieve these aims Russia must defeat Ukraine's military, capture or kill Ukrainian Nazi elements, and replace Ukraine's military command and political structures with versions devoid of this influence. Russia's objectives likely extend beyond this. These modern Nazi elements are real and their pre-2014 paramilitary units have been integrated into Ukraine's army. Russia takes this very seriously. She lost between 20 and 25 million citizens fighting Germany's Wehrmacht during WWII and many of them on Ukrainian or Crimean territory. My mother lost a father she never knew fighting the Japanese in WWII, and likely many of the German military command bare similar pain, but due to Nazis.
Andrei Martyanov quotes an upcoming article by Byron King in which King makes many a noteworthy point, some of which are:
The takeaway here is that Russia’s General Staff are quite capable of planning combat operations in and around Ukraine. Do not underestimate Russian planners or equipment for even a moment. In my professional opinion (my 30 years of association with the U.S. Navy) they are outstanding at what they do.
As just an aside, and to illustrate the point, I should mention that Russian military maps are beyond excellent; they are works of art. Long story, but it goes back to the Napoleonic Wars when Russian generals realized they needed better maps. So they set up a cartographic branch that is nothing but superb, and that legacy continues today.
Meanwhile, Russia’s military cartographers work hand-in-hand with Russia’s extremely competent intelligence services (another legacy of the Napoleonic Wars) to identify pretty much everything; and I mean everything! They know the weight-bearing capacity of every bridge. They know what’s inside every factory. They know where every petroleum pipeline is buried. All this and more.
Pepe Escobar notes:
Russia, this past weekend, has staged a spectacular strategic missile display, hypersonic and otherwise, featuring Khinzal, Zircon, Kalibr, Yars ICBMs, Iskander and Sineva – irony of ironies, in sync with the Russophobia-fest in Munich
That "Russophobia-fest" was the Munich Security Conference at which NATO was demonstrating "unity" and to which Russia was uninvited because its CoVID vaccines are unrecognized by Germany.
During Richard Medhurst's interview (see Sources) with Scott Ritter, Ritter declares:
The Russians are unleashing the kind of hell that a modern combined arms military is capable of doing.
This combination of intelligence and planning with Russia's very well trained and armed military is doing what its political leadership have asked of it. Before we get to the alarming aspects of this military campaign, one small component of it may help to highlight both the professionalism and some of the motives at play. An article published at thesaker.is a week or so ago laid out a potential military operation against Ukraine. This was essentially fanciful military porn, but one element of it was quite prescient. Following the initial use of cruise type missiles to destroy Ukraine's air defense capabilities, Russia captured the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
It seems likely that this operation was performed by paratroopers delivered by helicopter. In securing their objective they were under attack from three sides. The troops involved in this would have been the best of the best that Russia has. What advantage does Russia achieve by this? Neither Russia nor her armed services have any use for power which is generated by this facility (except that perhaps it also supplies Belorussia?). Having no way of knowing Russia's military logic, I contend that the purpose of the capture is to deny Ukraine the ability to use the site to cause a humanitarian and ecological disaster. This is not to say that Ukraine would have, but Russia had sufficient cause for concern to expend some of its best soldiers in what turned out to be a very dangerous mission to deny this possibility. When spokespersons for Russia's Ministry of Defense state they they are not targeting Ukraine's civilian population, only military targets, keep this capture of the Chernobyl power plant in mind. While having no evidence to support the following claim, it would be extremely surprising if the facility is not now very well defended, including the rapid installation of anti-missile defense systems, and having been reduced in operation to a level to make attacks upon it reduced to a minimal possible level to cause a disaster. This is not "Russian propaganda”. It is the author's opinion which I've not heard anywhere else.
In Ritter's "modern combined arms" commentary he considers Russia’s military plans. Phase one of the operation seems to have been the use of precision missile systems for a variety of purposes including:
destruction of air defence systems
destruction of weapons and (military) fuel depots
destruction of military communications infrastructure
destruction of command and control headquarters
Once air supremacy and communications dominance was established:
damage to / destruction of Ukrainian military airfields, or their capture
moving in to the LPR+DPR controlled areas Russian army units, including armored personnel units and tanks, and all of the logistics which they require. These units have supported the LPR+DPR units in pushing beyond the line-of-contact boundaries
capture or surrounding of Mariupol in the DNR, which is/was a base of the Nazi Azov battalion/regiment
landing of paratroopers in Odessa [Update 2022-04-26: There is no evidence to support this suggestion. It almost certainly did not happen.]
advance by land units on Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city, in its own province (not that of LDR or DNR)
later advances on Kyiv itself seem likely to be happening. There were reports of large explosions around Kyiv early on Thursday, and more recent reports which I’ve not been able to confirm of fighting on its outskirts.
One of the captured air bases is in Ukraine's west in Lvov. Another, over which fighting appears to continue, or has just concluded with Russia’s capture of the facility, is on the outskirts of Kyiv.
RT has provided a collection of numbers. More than 70 military sites are damaged/destroyed, and over 100 air defense sites. 11 airfields have been damaged or captured or battles continue for their control.
Ukrainian President Zelensky has in the last couple of hours appealed to Russia to negotiate a cessation of hostilities.
Given that Russia will withstand the ecomonic wrath of the west whatever happens, Zelensky is in the weakest of possible bargaining positions. One feels that military action will end when Russia’s military have achieved all of the objectives set for them by their political leadership, and not before. If Zelensky wants to end the fighting, then telling his military to abandon their weapons, take off their uniforms and go home seems his best option.
The territorial attack on Ukraine is widespread and not limited to the oblast territories of LPR+DPR. Neither LPR nor DPR have been admitted to the UN, so they cannot invoke the Charter. Thus, Putin is invoking it on Russia's behalf. This logic amounts to the "preventative war" used by the USA in its lead up to invading, fracturing, terrorizing and killing the peoples of Iraq on their territory. It was illegitimate then, and is illegitimate now.
Justifications and Arguments
Various members of the commentariat have been citing NATO nations' or the collective's activities from Yugoslavia to the list of other nations upon which grievous harm has been visited: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria not to mention support for the genocide in Yemen. True though these points are they don't provide legal or moral justification for Russia's actions in Ukraine.
A far more damning analysis is of NATO's either passive complicity or active rejection of U.N. Security Council resolution 2202, the Minsk Agreements. The leadership created this crisis by their inaction or repressive action, however you see it. This still provides no legitimacy for Russia's actions, but one may feel a sense of the Russian frustration with nobody listening to them, let alone taking them seriously. This is further echoed by NATO's boilerplate response to Russia’s request to discuss security guarantees, and despite the USA agreeing to engage on some important topics like intermediate range nuclear weapons, refusing to engage the wider issue of NATO advancement and security guarantees.
What is happening now is the suffering of the Ukrainian people at the hands of Russia and due to the deliberate carelessness of Western leadership. It will not stop at the borders of Ukraine either. World energy prices have already risen, and the almighty sanctions package that will be issued upon Russia by NATO/EU will make the politicians feel good to be doing something. Its consequences, however, will be felt across the world, and particularly in Europe, and again it is the people that will suffer.
One could level charges of ineptitude upon this collection of western leadership. The other is malice. There is certainly indifference to the peoples of the Ukraine. It is probably a combination of the above, but it amounts to a class war. Sorry to use this old socialist term, but I believe it is well beyond time for its resuscitation in this age of extreme wealth inequality.
This, I believe, is the lesson of Ukraine. I dearly hope that military operations underway come to a rapid close and that the peoples of Ukraine have peace, along with the social services which they will need of food, water, shelter and power provided for them.
To borrow an Islamic phrase, peace be with you. As an extension, be thankful of it when have have it.
[Image: the base map which was cropped and annotated is from here]
To better visualize what has been happening in Ukraine an annotated map is provided.
The dark red line (and hashing) in the south is Crimea, annexed by Russia bloodlessly essentially by the local community and existing security forces, in 2014. The dark blue line and hashed area in the east are the two "break away" republics of LPR and DPR.
In the south, from left to right (west to east) we have three cities which appear to be under the control of Russian forces:
Reports by both Russel Bentley (on behalf of DPR) and Scott Ritter (independent) indicated that Russian forces had landed in Odessa. The area is dominantly Russian ethnic, and the OSCE's SMM report from 25th February describes the area as "calm". RT briefly mentioned that its military facilities were under Russian control. Thus, I conclude that Russia holds this territory. There are also reports of bridges in the region begin destroyed, which is a tactic employed by withdrawing forces. [Update 2022-04-26: repeating the above update, this almost certainly did not occur.]
Moving east we have Kherson. RT has declared that the region is calm or under control. I take this as probably reliable. However, for the previous day the OSCE/SMM report cites explosions and heavy machine gun fire in the area, and the observation of military jets. Thus, we can be sure that a battle has been fought, but cannot be sure if it is concluded.
Further west we have Melitopol. RT declares that its Mayor has ceded the town to Russian control. This is probably reliable, but is not certain.
These last two major centres are the natural endpoints of the roads and railways north/northwest of Crimea through which we know that Russia has delivered ground forces.
In the north of Ukraine, moving left to right (west to east):
We already have reports of the capture by Russia of the nuclear power facilities at Chernobyl.
At Konotop I'm a little uncertain due to pronunciation of the name on RT. It lies on the main route from the NE to Kyiv, and we are confident that fighting has moved from the outskirts of Kyiv closer towards its center. It also controls a major rail junction and is a therefore a key military logistics target. Nonetheless, the "control" is merely probable.
RT has declared that the peoples of Sumy welcomed Russian forces. The town is very close to Russia and sits across a major road into Ukraine. It is very likely that Russian forces have moved down this road. RT's declaration is probable, even highly probable.
Kharkiv is Ukraine's second major city (in population) and sits abreast the major road and rail junction in Ukraine's northeast. Reports of fighting on its outskirts were reported early during the "Special Military Operation" and continue to be reported by RT with the odd footage of evidence of fighting. OSCE/SMM's report cites many explosions and the reports of multiple launch rocket systems from the 25th. Thus, the Russian military control some territory around it and fighting is active.
Moving back towards the capital, Kyiv/Kiev, reports of explosions around Kyiv were made very early in the SMO, with ongoing military activity being reported, and indeed seeming to move further in towards the city center. RT declares a nearby military air base captured by Russian forces after an extended battle which seems to have concluded late on the 25th. Thus, Russian forces control some territory on the outskirts of Kiev and almost certainly that airfield which will allow airlift and logistics support.
RT has also reported that weapons are being distributed to civilians. They have shown some footage of this, but its is brief and only shows a few people, and its locality is not clear, though claims to be in/around Kyiv. I cannot verify their claim of thousands of weapons. If this is the case, it is alarming. Arming untrained civilians with rifles against professional soldiers in kevlar vests with automatic weapons and heavy weapon support is a recipe for creating civilian casualties. There is evidence to support claims by Russia's military to not be targeting civilians, and none yet which I have seen to counter this claim. To add to that, it makes no sense for Russia to attack civilians either. Arming civilians, if this is true, is a desperate and deplorable act.
To Mariupol, it seems that the Azov battalion and possibly less ideologically aligned Ukrainian forces have been surrounded, but are resisting. RT reports that civilians are being prevented to from leaving the town, but this is virtually impossible to confirm. There is a potential human tragedy unfolding, but there is no way to verify this.
Some Russian military objectives can be guessed at. Controlling Odessa gives Russia control of the Black sea, and of the logistics routes it provides. The capture of Mariupol, if it happens, does the same for the Sea of Azov. RT did report attacks on two civilian transport ships on the Sea of Azov during the first day of the conflict. I have already speculated on the Chernobyl power station. Kharkhiv is a critical town politically and culturally (it has a magnificent Orthodox Cathedral), and sits on the largest transport nexus in the north east. All roads lead to Kyiv and Ukraine's military leadership.
Despite Russia's early success and advances, pockets of stern resistance are emerging, and in at least some cases seem to be enmeshing themselves among the civilian population.
Caveat: I am not militarily trained, and certainly not a military analyst. My guesswork at "probabilities" above is my own fallible opinion.
Lastly, I believe all war to be fundamentally evil. My heart is with the wives, children and wider families of those who suffer and die during it.
This map largely agrees with mine with the significant difference of Odessa, where no Russian military presence is asserted. I thus question on my reading of the situation.
The OSCE's latest report says that they are withdrawing all international observers from Ukraine which is sad. This felt strange for LPR+DPR in which activity seemed to have calmed, but that is not true. A long range, large ballistic missile seems to have been fired on a fuel/oil storage facility in the area, as reported by RT, who even show images of the remainder of the missile and declare its manufacture type.
Germany has decided to reverse policy and send "lethal aid" to Ukraine, which may be seen as alarming as a political statement. Whether it has any affect remains to be seen.
Imagery shows Russian forces entering Kharkiv. RT reports that ammunition depots have been destroyed by Russia military strikes.
RT reports that Ukrainian forces in the Chernobyl region have agreed to protect the facility with the Russian occupiers. If this is true, it makes little difference on the wider scale of things, but amounts to a further chipping away of the greater unity of Ukraine's military forces. This may be propaganda, so take it with a heavy dose of salt for now.
Although reported two days ago, we now have footage (shown on RT) of the destruction by Russian forces of a damn built by Ukraine 8 odd years ago to deny water to Crimea. The blocking of the waterway had created water shortages in Crimea, which will be eased as the canal flows again.
Refugee flows, in thousands, are approximately 130 from LPR+DPR into Russia, 150 from greater Ukraine into Poland, and 20 into Romania.
As if to prove the veracity of "truth is the first casualty of war" the latest SMM report says:
Until the late hours of the night of 26-27 February and from the early morning hours on 27 February, the SMM continued to hear multiple explosions, including multiple launch rocket system and heavy artillery fire in and around the cities of Kharkiv, Kherson, and Odessa.
Then, just down the page is:
During the night of 26-27 February, the Mission noted that the situation in Kherson city was calm.
You can't have it both ways SMM.
Other developments include:
Negotiations for a cessation of hostilities between representatives from Ukraine and Russia in a southern border area of Belarus. Due to statements made by some Ukrainian representatives before the meeting Russia media are conveying a lack of confidence, though not hope, in the meeting's outcome. Negotiations between parties in conflict is always a positive.
Russia has placed the forces in charge of its nuclear capabilities on high alert
The USA/EU/NATO economic responses to Russia, including disconnection of some banks, including the Russian central bank from SWIFT (which is a messaging system, not a payment system) have taken effect. The scope of restrictions remains unclear, but the Russian national currency, the Ruble, has lost 30% of its value against the USD. Markets react. It will take time to see lasting effects, and those effects are almost certainly not going to be limited to Russia's economy.
NATO countries continue to commit to supplying more weaponry to Ukraine, with the USA seeking congressional approval for even more.
The EU has/will deny access to its entire airspace for Russian planes (made in, owned by, ...)
The EU intends to remove broadcasting licenses for to RT and Sputnik in Europe
Another emergency UN Security Council meeting has been called so that various representatives can make speeches.
SMM has mostly completed the withdrawal of its international observers. Its report yesterday was self-contradictory, which indicated a degradation in the quality of reporting. Today's report is very brief. They are thus a now less effective independent voice on events on the ground.
RT is not reporting on Russia's latest military moves, obviously. They are reporting on the political and economic sphere, and have on the ground reporters in LPR+DPR.
There are some independent reporters in LPR+DPR, some more partisan than others.
News from Ukraine is heavily propagandistic and unreliable. Meanwhile the west's Mighty Wurlitzer is in overdrive.
Thus, one is left to derive information from the odd statement.
Russel Bentley claimed that 10 000 Chechen fighters have been deployed to fight the nationalist/Nazi forces in Mariupol, which I did not report as it was unverified. However, a statement by the head of the Chechen Republic of Russia confirms Chechen casualties in Ukraine, providing some confirmation that these forces of unknown number are fighting somewhere.
Turkey has closed the Bosporus and Dardanelles to military vessels, leaving Russia as the only effective naval force in the Black Sea. While this is a rather strange position for a NATO member state, it reduces the risk of parties outside of the current conflict becoming involved due to incidents in the Black Sea.
Traditionally neutral Switzerland has committed to apply economic sanctions to Russia
"Neutral" Sweden has agreed to send anti-tank missiles to Ukraine along with other non-lethal aide.
USA's Whitehouse spokesperson Psaki when asked if the USA should raise its nuclear alert levels in response to that of Russia said no. I am most relieved to hear this. It seems likely that high level communications are in place between the USA and Russia's military on use of nuclear weapons. Equivalent statements of "no" have been issued by the USA's Secretary of Defense.
The results of the discussions between Russia and Ukraine in southern Belarus are "no key outcomes". However, both sides have presented their positions and agreed to a second round of discussions
Youtube and some other tech-giants (e.g Bookface) are blocking RT from some parts of Europe. The same is reported for Sputnik. Russia has yet to take equivalent action. So a strange period has arisen in which Russia's population have a wider array of news sources than Europeans.
If you have time for only one source, the Medhurst interview with Ritter is recommended. If you prefer a longer read Gilbert Doctorow’s essay is thought provoking.
RT’s International service has been the primary news service used by the author, but with caution. Their reporters in Lugansk and Donetsk confirmed the early artillery barrages on the 24th. Independent social media sources have been used to gather a sense of the types of military forces involved. However, these sources are extremely difficult to verify and have not be used to identify locations of action.
Byron King's Thoughts., Andei Martyanov quotes a forthcoming article by Byron King, Martyanov' newsletter, 2022-02-24
Chernobyl power plant captured by Russian forces -Ukrainian official, Reuters, 2022-02-24
From the Black Sea to the East Med, Don't Poke the Russian Bear, Pepe Escobar, Unz Review, 2022-02-24
Disarming Ukraine - Day 1, b., MoonOfAlabama, 2022-02-24
Hedges: Chronicle of a War Foretold, Chris Hedges, sheerpost, 2022-02-24
Unjustified and Unprovoked? Russia’s ongoing ‘military operation’ in Ukraine, Gilbert Doctorow, his website, 2022-02-24
Critical Hour Interview on Ukraine Invasion, Ray McGovern, his website, 2022-02-25
(Contains the ability to play the 15 minute interview.)
Murad Gazdiev’s twitter feed, a clip of a CNN crew filming Russian paratroopers capturing a Ukrainian military airfield
(This is as far as I’m prepared to go on “military porn”)
NATO Too Weak to Face Russia: Scott Ritter on Russian Offensive, Richard Medhurst interviews Scott Ritter, Richard's youtube channel
Note (again): Bentley works as an "information warrior" for the DNR. I took his claim of the landing of Russian troops at Odessa combined with the identical claim by Ritter as sufficient evidence to corroborate it.
UKRAINE LIBERATION!!!, Russel Bentley, his youtube channel, 2022-02-24
An extended discussion with Gonzalo Lira (aka Coach Red Pill). Starts 00:40:14 ends around 01:30:00. (I disagree with CRP’s prediction of upcoming all out war by China, and find the his comments on “trans” culture simplistic and cringeworthy). But, many other interesting topics are covered, and he is in Kiev for commentary on local events. This is just another advisory that this author does not agree with all of the arguments or comments delivered by sources published here!
Zelensky ready to negotiate with Russia (Live), The Duran, their youtube channel, 2022-02-25
Note: This video was available on 2022-02-28. Thus, it seems that channels are being pressured to pull some publications down. It may be available via archive.org.
Daily Report 44/2022 25 February 2022, OSCE SMM, 2022-02-26
Scott Ritter & I Talk Ukraine on Today’s The Critical Hour, Ray McGovern, his website, 2022-02-25
Hedges: The Greatest Evil Is War, Chris Hedges, SheerPost, 2022-02-27
Ukraine: How Can the War End?, Craig Murray, his website, 2022-02-26
Putin’s Nuclear Threat, Scott Ritter, Consortium News, 2022-02-27
Day Five of Russia’s ‘Special Military Operation’ in Ukraine, Gilbert Doctorow, his website, 2022-03-01
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