Censorship Update; Russia Continues its Encirclement of Key Ukrainian Cities; Washington Tries to Mend Fences with Venezuela for Oil and Leverage

Censorship Update

That didn’t take long:  In my post from 2 day ago, I speculated that Russia might, in retaliation for the west’s banning of RT/Sputnik, ban RFE/RL.  The next day Russia’s General Prosecutor announced that RFE/RL was now restricted in the country.

Facebook and Twitter have now both also been restricted.  Furthermore, a law for criminal liability against those “knowingly” spreading misinformation about Russia’s armed forces or military action has been signed by Putin.  A writer for the Moscow Times and Meduza, Alexey Kovalyov, has reported on his Twitter account that he was forced to flee Russia in the dead of night due to: 

 “[R]umors of impending martial law, also state propaganda calling us traitors and the parliament spending about 15 minutes deliberating a new law which effectively criminalizes my work”.

Unfortunately, some aspects of democracy that Russia did have are now apparently being systematically dismantled.  I doubt these will be reversed any time soon, if at all.

Meanwhile, in the Home of the Free and Land of the Brave, the Censorship/Cancel Brigade is now coming for John Mearsheimer.  A letter has been sent by students and faculty to the University of Chicago, where Mearsheimer is a professor, expressing concern for Mearsheimer’s comments on the Russia-Ukraine war and what led up to it as representing “Putinism.”

Update on the Conflict

Reportedly the third round of negotiations between Russia and Ukraine could be held as early as Monday.  Meanwhile, Russia’s circling of its forces around major cities in Ukraine continues. I’m thinking that if the third round of talks doesn’t go the way Russia wants, then it’s going to get very ugly on the ground.

According to Clint Ehrlich’s SITREP for Day 10:

Many analysts are predicting an imminent defeat of the Russian military.

In reality, Russia is on the verge of annihilating the bulk of the Ukrainian army.

The people denying this are gaslighting you.

No, I’m not exaggerating.

This viral thread from a prominent “expert” claims the Russian military is days away from collapsing and suffering the worst defeat in history.

Another, even more popular thread predicts the course of the war from looking at tires.

It’s time for a reality check.

Everyone RTing these threads needs to look at an updated map of the conflict.

What they’ll find is that the bulk of the Ukrainian military has been *encircled* in the East of the country.

That isn’t a fluke. It isn’t an accident.

It’s Russia executing textbook Soviet military doctrine.

Specifically, the doctrine of the “cauldron” – in Russian, «котёл» – the strategic-level encirclement of enemy forces, which are then annihilated.

I previously pointed out that Russia was attempting to encircle the bulk of the Ukrainian military.

But I predicted the UA forces would try to “punch out” to escape.

I argued that effort would fail, since larger cauldrons could be created. It claims that maintenance problems observed on a few vehicles show that Russian forces are doomed.

Yet the Russians didn’t even have to resort to that.

In the open, the Ukrainians are so vulnerable to attack by Russian helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft that they chose to remain in their fortified positions within cities around Kramatorsk.

They didn’t even try to escape.

As a result, the cauldron is now in place. Encirclement is complete.

Russia is creating humanitarian corridors to clear civilians from the area.

It will soon have a free hand to use heavy weapons against the trapped UA defenders.

Specifically, Russian conventional and rocket artillery will inflict massive losses.

They will be augmented with heavy bombing.

The Ukrainians will attempt to hide in requisitioned civilian buildings – and those buildings will be utterly destroyed.

Whatever the casualty ratio is now in the conflict, it’s about to swing far into Russia’s favor.

The bombardment that we will see plays to the strengths of the RU forces.

It will allow them to remain at standoff distances and inflict devastating losses via superior firepower.

So let’s return to the narratives we were debunking.

If Russia’s maintenance is so bad that its vehicles cannot even operate in Ukrainian mud, how did Russia outmaneuver such a huge chunk of the Ukrainian military?

It would be impossible.

To believe that Russia is on the verge of defeat, you have to engage in “bottom up” analysis of the war.

That is, looking at some photos and videos and trying to construct grand narratives.

I prefer a “top down” approach.

That is, I look at maps and objectives.

I infer the side that is winning the war from who is achieving their goals + executing their grand strategy.

The advantage of this approach is objectivity: it’s harder to be misled by out-of-context/non-representative details.

Using my approach, the biggest question mark is why the Russians have not made more progress towards Kiev.

It’s not entirely clear; fierce Ukrainian resistance from their special forces certainly has something to do with it.

But there are other potential explanations.

The most plausible is that Russia wants to maximize the ratio of attackers to defenders when it takes Kiev.

In order to do that, it will need to complete the defeat of the Ukrainian forces in the East, so that its full array of Battalion Tactical Groups is available.

Specifically, Russian forces advancing North towards Kiev may delay their approach until they are joined by the BTGs currently in the South and East of the country.

A “triple pincer” formation would then advance on the Ukrainian capital, with a massive numerical advantage.

The alternative explanations –

that the pluckiness of the Ukrainian defenders has taken Russia by surprise,

that Russia’s logistics are so broken it can’t even operate –

fail to account for Russia’s success in the East of the country.

In medical terms, what I’m making is a *differential diagnosis.*

Yes, Russia’s failure to advance on Kiev could mean its forces are simply overmatched.

But when combined with the other evidence, that isn’t the most likely hypothesis. So don’t get your hopes up.

Russian President Putin commented on Ukraine’s attempts to get the west to institute a no-fly zone over Ukraine:

“We’re hearing now that there is a need to declare a no-fly zone over Ukrainian territory. This can’t be done over Ukrainian territory itself; it can be done only from the territories of some neighboring states. But we’ll view any movement in this direction as involvement in an armed conflict by the country from whose territory threats to our military service members are posed,” Putin said at a meeting with female employees of Russian airlines on Saturday.

“We’ll instantly view them as participants in a military conflict, and then we won’t care what kind of members they are. Excuse me, I mean members of what organizations,” he added.

Putin said he hoped “this is understood and things won’t go as far as that.”

There are reports that the Ukrainian SBU has killed a member of the country’s delegation to last week’s negotiations with Russia.  However, the circumstances of his death are disputed.  According to the Times of Israel:

First, widespread reports in local media and social media throughout the day claimed Denis Kireev, who had been photographed taking part in negotiations in Belarus in recent days, had been killed by Ukrainian security forces during an attempt to arrest him.

Kireev, the reports asserted, had been suspected of treason.

A subsequent Facebook post by Ukraine’s defense ministry confirmed Kireev’s death, but asserted that he was an intelligence operative for Ukraine who died in the line of duty.

RT’s report states that the original announcement of Kireev’s death claimed it happened during an attempt to arrest him, and suggests that Kireev’s supposed ties to Russian intelligence – alleged last month – could have been a part of a political smear campaign:

The first claim about the death of Denis Kireev came from Aleksandr Dubinsky, a controversial MP and journalist. In a post on social media, he claimed Kireev had been killed by agents of the SBU, the Ukrainian security service, during an attempt to arrest him…

… Kireev, who had a background in banking, was photographed sitting at the far right of the negotiating table alongside other Ukrainian officials during the first round of peace talks with Russia on Monday. For some reason, the official list of six representatives that Kiev released to the media did not include his name, so his status during the talks remains unclear.

Last month, Ukrainian TV’s Channel 5 claimed Kireev had been investigated by the SBU for purported connections with Russian intelligence services since at least 2020. It alleged the investigation had been called off because he had personal connections in the agency.

It remains unclear if the report about Kireev aired on the channel, which is owned by former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, was part of a negative publicity campaign conducted against him, however.

Washington Tries to Mend Ties with Venezuela for Oil

Apparently in their consideration of sanctioning Russia’s oil sector, Washington sent a personal high-level delegation to Venezuela to try mend ties with the Maduro government.  According to the New York Times:

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted the United States to pay closer attention to President Vladimir V. Putin’s allies in Latin America, which Washington believes could become security threats if the standoff with Russia deepens, according to current and former U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive policy matters.

As Russia’s economy craters, the U.S. is seizing on an opportunity to advance its agenda among Latin American autocracies that might start seeing Mr. Putin as an increasingly weak ally.

When the U.S. and its allies began considering sanctions on Russian oil and gas exports this month to punish the country for devastation wrought in Ukraine, prominent voices affiliated with both major American political parties pointed to Venezuela as a potential substitute.

We’ll see how that goes.

2 thoughts on “Censorship Update; Russia Continues its Encirclement of Key Ukrainian Cities; Washington Tries to Mend Fences with Venezuela for Oil and Leverage”

  1. The Georgian war in 2008 lasted a total of 5 days. The annexation of Crimea in 2014 took about 2 weeks, from the day when Russian soldiers first entered Crimea until the conclusion of the referendum to approve annexation. No one can be sure, but it’s likely Putin believed the Ukraine operation would also be quick and relatively easy. Perhaps he assumed Zelensky would be a coward and flee and/or he believed the West/NATO had too many internal conflicts and was weak. These are serious miscalculations. Now, the war is looking more like the war in Chechnya, which was catastrophic on so many levels. As a result, Russia is facing long-term isolation and hardship, regardless of the final outcome in Ukraine. It’s such a tragedy that the US National Security apparatus refused to listen to George Kennan back in 1997 when he so astutely warned that expanding NATO to Eastern Europe up to the border with Russia would have dangerous and devastating consequences.

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