The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Addendum To My Fifteen Points On The Ukraine War

Decided a little more needed to be added to the post, but email went out just before I added it, so I’m putting it here.


My argument, from the beginning, has always been simple: Russia can mobilize more men than Ukraine and has reason to do so. Unless they are weaker internally/China than I think or NATO intervenes more than I think, they will eventually have a conventional military victory.

Of course, I could be wrong, but nothing which has happened yet has changed my view. What has happened is that NATO was willing to mobilize more resources than I expected, and that has made a Russian victory require more mobilization (and I always felt doing this with only 200k men was stupid.) However, absent sending in large numbers of NATO troops, the fundamental assertion remains.

As for the internals, the Russia economy, as far as I can tell, is doing better than much of Europe. The fundamentals are simple: Russia a food and fuel surplus and can get almost everything else they need from China and other sources and China needs Russia to not lose. This is not the late USSR, constantly running food deficits.

This leaves internal political instability, and my judgment is that if Putin loses power he is replaced by hard right wingers who will mobilize more, not less. There is no meaningful centrist or left wing opposition in Russia.

If you believe I’m wrong on any of these points and you’re right my argument may be wrong, but this is the argument.



Fifteen Points About the Future of the Ukraine War


Open Thread


  1. Astrid

    1. The Communists are the second most popular party in RF. How are they not the “Left”? Why should old school leftist movements outside of the West have to satisfy the current Western tests for wokeness and representation to be admitted left?

    2. Tactical nukes make very little sense as battlefield weapons for Russians. Kinzhals work better as bunker busters and carrier sinkers. They have enough kinetic energy and precision to work, without nearly as many nasty side effects. But the West, which doesn’t have hypersonic weapons yet, may be tempted.

    I think once Russia gets to the phase of considering nuclear (“final step”), it’s more likely that they will aim it at a Western capital or middle of the ocean as a final warning before total all out nuclear war. It may well be in response to Western use of tactical nukes.

    3. Not really sure why you think Russia or China, once they really get going, would have problems in non-nuclear warfare with the people who couldn’t beat sandal wearing guerrillas in Vietnam, Afghanistan, etc. Even the weakened USSR, fighting US backed Mujahideens, didn’t have the disgraceful exit that the US gave itself leaving Kabul.

  2. Willy

    There is no meaningful centrist or left wing opposition in Russia.

    An aside, but the statement that most stood out for me. Sure, it helps that a Soviet “left wing” willing hit their so-called brothers with a Holodomor is gonna leave a mark. But I’m old enough to remember a time when they had the undisputed second largest economy ever, in PPP terms even. And they sure as hell weren’t into rolling out rusty old museum pieces to go to war with, back in the day. How the hell does this happen?

  3. Purple Library Guy

    Looking at what’s happening now, the one thing that surprises me is that it didn’t start happening earlier. The Russians had the Ukrainians on the back foot for months, slowly chipping away and taking territory, with occasional bursts of speed when they got a big force encircled. Even when there was no real movement, what was happening was that superior Russian stand-off weaponry (more artillery, missiles, air power) was gradually eroding the defending Ukrainian forces. Ukrainian morale seemed bad, and they were mostly just trying to hang on defensively; any offensive operations were mostly small and often seemed poorly co-ordinated, and were generally defeated fairly quickly.

    A little while ago, the Ukrainians put together a really big offensive and just threw their superior manpower at a piece of the front. It seems like at the time they weren’t really expecting much, but they needed something to show the West that it wasn’t pointless to supply them with weaponry and other support. But the key thing about the Russians seems to be that, at least with their smaller force, they’re very wary about losing many men. So they decided to just bleed the offensive a bit and pull back. Which was maybe tactically a decent idea–certainly the Ukrainians lost a lot more men than the Russians did in the process.

    But what the Ukrainians realized was that hey, they could trade bodies for territory! They realized that if they put together a big enough force that the Russians would get hurt bad trading blows with it, they could push them back. The Russians weren’t unstoppable, and sure, the Ukrainians might lose men in those offensives, but if they just sat around defending they were losing men for NOTHING anyway. The Ukrainians lost their fear. And they’ve been pushing the Russians back ever since.

    But . . . it remains the case that they are losing far more forces, both in terms of soldiers and in terms of armoured vehicles and such, than the Russians. Every day, drip drip drip, a few hundred, sometimes in the thousands when they mount a big push. They have plenty of soldiers to lose, so if they had enough time they could probably keep trading bodies for territory until the Russians were pushed entirely out of Ukraine. But I don’t think they have enough time before the Russian reinforcements arrive. Apparently, this will happen a bit faster than might be expected because the Russians are actually training them in the Donbass. So rather than training them in Russia and then moving them in, they’re already there.

  4. Astrid

    I figured that Kiev stole their strategy from Zapp Brannigan

    The slow grinding action is also demilitarizing NATO. Just check the various aid packages to Ukraine these days, very little actual weapons these days because the West has bared its cupboards. And this is fighting a “country with the economy the size of Luxembourg” with a fraction of its regular army, who has left the CnC and dual use infrastructure largely intact.

    I am not a Russian speaker and my ability to tell the future, as attested by my investment strategy, is worse than a stopped clock.. But I would say that if mud season is going to make moving heavy military equipment difficult or impossible for the next month and I got a lot of missiles, I too would want my enemy to be concentrated in exposed positions without the ability to move.

  5. bruce wilder

    Unless they are weaker internally/China than I think or NATO intervenes more than I think, they will eventually have a conventional military victory.

    This seems like an incoherent claim. Not just because of the “if’s” but because “a conventional military victory” remains undefined.

    Historically, there have been periods and places where convention defined “winning” a war or, more narrowly, a battle. Capture the enemy capital or king might do it.

    The U.S. practice of destroying the institutions and infrastructure of a country to “save it” and avoid having to acknowledge failure in war (while keeping appropriations flowing) provides no good definition of victory beyond outlasting the opponent. Are you saying Russia can outlast the EU and U.S.? Or just outlast the Zelensky regime?

    I think Ukraine’s political economy has been destroyed already. Crimea and the Donbas is like 40% of GDP, maybe more. If Russia in frustration and fully armed decides to take Odessa, there is not much left to call a state. Ukraine, already corrupt, is living on financial flows from the West.

    Maybe there is a point where exhaustion leads to surrender, but if the lifeblood of the country is military aid, surrender has little appeal. But, I am not seeing how Russia forces surrender while continuing to pursue only limited objectives regarding territory or the political status of its neighbor.

  6. bruce wilder

    How the Russians FORCE surrender


  7. NL

    “My argument, from the beginning, has always been simple: Russia can mobilize more men than Ukraine and has reason to do so. Unless they are weaker internally/China than I think or NATO intervenes more than I think, they will eventually have a conventional military victory.”

    Russia finds itself in eerily similar situation to the one it was at about the same time last century. In my answer to Ian in the previous post, I wrote the following:
    “Men is only part of the story. Industry is a bigger thing. Look how Russia did in WWI and what happened to it in large part because of WWI. The Czar could mobilize millions to the army but had no industry to equip or establish proper logistics. The bourgeoisie/capitalists ousted the Czar, pushed on with the war but had no industrial solution. End result – the Bolsheviks swept to power, cleared the corrupt and incompetent, won the civil war –> including reconquering Ukraine <–, industrialized the country and won WWII.

    If we look at the present Ukrainian-Russian war as a civil war (supported by foreign intervention, which was also the case in 1917), then the play may be for a committed and competent force to knock out Putin's oligarchy, win the second civil war and begin rebuilding the country's industrial base."

    So, when we say a much worse grouping may be waiting to seize power from Putin — and I have no special knowledge whether modern Russia has a power like that – we really mean someone like the first generation Bolsheviks. Short of that, Russia is toast…

  8. Ché Pasa

    Huh… Well, the “West” has been prepping the population for a nuclear exchange for months. The radicals are not joking. “When they show you who they are, believe them.” Some of them desire and are eager for nuclear holocaust. If it destroys the Soviet Union… erm…. Russia…eh, whatever, so much the better. Nearly all the talk right now of Putin/Hitler threatening nukes is pure projection.

    As for the keyboard generals who have been wrong about nearly everything so far, I don’t pay much attention to them, nor to the intense pro-Ukie propaganda saturating the media of almost every stripe. Best I can figure, Ukraine ran out of regular troops some time ago and have been dragooning civilian males off the streets of the cities and towns they were not allowed to leave when the women and children escaped to Poland and Germany and what have you. Bad as the Russian military may be — and I don’t know whether they are or not — how can a barely trained if trained at all Ukie conscript “army” be victorious against their foe? It doesn’t scan. Something else is going on, and we don’t know what. It’s not unlike the situation during WWII when Americans were told lots of stories about the War, but didn’t find out about what really happened until years afterwards — if ever.

    Ian says he thinks Russia will ultimately win. Win what? Territory? Status? Survival? I don’t know… I can’t see a victory for anyone in this conflict. It’s leading so far to the ruin of Europe, the destruction of Ukraine, and the potential destruction and dismemberment of Russia which would in turn lead to the decapitation of China if not its destruction and what? What then?

    Of course this is what the insane radicals (Kagans, Kristols, Nulands, etc) have wanted for decades, and they have been very, very open about it, yet what they’ve said and written has just been brushed off. Why? They and their running dogs — and there are plenty — are in position to realize their dream. What makes anyone think they won’t?

    Barring multiple miracles, this won’t end well for any of us. What could we have done to stop this? And don’t say “elect Trump”. For his part, he would have triggered wars with Iran and quite likely China directly and who knows where else. There haven’t been any peace leaders in the US for a very long time, maybe never in the presidency. So let’s not fool ourselves into believing that one or another of our bad choices would lead to global harmony. Nunh-uh.

  9. Ammonite

    China would not let Russia fall, as Ian mentioned China cannot withstand western naval blockade without Russia’s resources. China is fighting on the economic front and the recent OPEC+ cuts shows where the oil producers stand.
    Europe is emptying out with winter coming, and the US have midterm elections in Nov.

  10. Lex

    The communist party in Russia is complicated. It is Marxist-Leninist and it does argue for socialism and state ownership (as well as democracy), but it is also very nationalist. And it hates liberalism (the western philosophy to which all western political parties in the mainstream adhere). It generally equates western liberalism with fascism. There’s currently an article on their English web site discussing this if anyone’s interested ( It’s leadership has called for general mobilization and full war footing.

    So what Ian means is no western liberal opposition. Russians call western style liberals the 5%, based on their internal support which is almost entirely in Moscow and Petersburg and is primarily made up of “new Russians” from the 90’s and their kids. Probably 3% now that so many left after February. They appear to have a real presence in Russia only through western eyes because they’re the only ones western media talks about or to.

    Western media is making a big deal about problems with mobilization, which are real but overblown in western media. What Russians are pissed about, and vocally pissed about is government fuckups around mobilization, not the mobilization. Russians are deeply cynical when it comes to government, generally assuming that government is both incompetent and corrupt. (They’re not wrong and westerners could learn something from them.) But what’s been fascinating is how responsive to the public the Russian government has been.

    Some bullshit happens in the never used in 80 years outside the yearly 18 year old conscription and it rips through social media. People get fired, problems get fixed…at least the immediate and local ones. Last I checked, the mobilization is 2/3 complete with many already training nearish the front and there’s been another 70,000 volunteers. I’d be more willing to chalk that up to MoD propaganda if it wasn’t for the public discussion of problems followed by the public discussion of those problems as they’re fixed from the same people calling out the problems.

  11. VietnamVet

    These points are well taken. A few additions;

    The Ukraine Special Military Operation is as much an existential war for the US/UK Western Empire as it for the Russian Federation. Western Europe is energy depleted except for renewables, coal and what is left in the North Sea. Canada and the USA will shortly replay the 1970s energy crises, all over again, with a European War on top. The USA is starting to play nice with Venezuela. Only fracking at high cost makes the USA currently an oil exporter. Exports will have to end to keep North American transportation going and to avoid a workers revolt. Prices will rise. Also, drilling any offshore petroleum reserves will require giving up current Environmental Standards and another big flip flop by the so-called political leaders; plus, take years to get on line. The only cheap reserves left are Russian.

    The Oligarch counter-revolt was a success because they developed credit cards and student loans to force workers into debt to maintain a middle class lifestyle. Without energy there is nothing to support the piles of debt of workers and voodoo corporations built up over the last decades. With Europe closed and banks failing, the Greatest Depression Ever meets WWIII. To win, to survive, the West must restore good government and bury neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism.

    No one is saying it but if the West took out three of the four Nord Stream natural gas pipelines, NATO is at war with the EU. With people freezing in the winter and sweltering in the summer, industry shut down, there are only two options for Europeans 1) shelter in place hoping to survive or 2) sign an armistice giving Russia their four former Ukraine regions for natural gas and peace. This would end the global hegemony.

    The alternative “whodunit” is that Russia intentionally destroyed billions of dollars of energy infrastructure because they recognize this is an existential world war and their traditional scorched-earth defense has commenced.

    The final truth ignored is that, right now, the Western Empire’s war policy is unconditional surrender like WWII. The April Armistice was scuttled by Boris Johnson. In the nuclear age, this means that the losing side has no diplomatic options and will have to use their tactical nuclear weapons to avoid defeat and pray there is no escalation. But in the fog of war once the nuclear threshold is crossed, anything that looks like a first strike will trigger the launch of one’s own strategic ICBMs rather than lose them. Then the apocalypse starts.

  12. NL

    Uke just took down the Crimean Bridge with a huge fireball exploding truck…

    But anyway. A title of a Bloomberg article:
    “NATO Once Feared a Putin Victory. Now It Worries Over His Defeat” — haha — In line with what I have been writing here — Putin’s regime has been good for us — hands down. It has kept Russia inept and backward. If we cause it to fall but fail to install a client, it would be worse for us than if Putin’s regime remained.

    “China would not let Russia fall, as Ian mentioned China cannot withstand western naval blockade without Russia’s resources.”

    The contention of China & the collective East fighting us & the collective West to the last Russian is gaining ground. You heard it here from me first…

  13. Astrid

    Old school Communist movements are invariably nationalistic since they are anti-colonial movements. They hate liberals as Fascists because when push comes to shove, the liberals always shift Fascist rather than Communist.

    RF goals were/are clearly laid out and transparent. They want a neutral or Russia friendly Ukraine and to stop NATO expansion. Their preference was always for a negotiated settlement and Putin signaled this at every turn that they are open to negotiation. However, as the West and Ukraine show themselves to be more unhinged and incapable of backing down, the only solution may be to bring down the entire Western governing apparatus. The upside is that Western conduct so far has been so unhinged and counterproductive that Russia has to do very little, the West is willingly destroyed itself and disarming itself through its sanctions and support of the terrorist Zelensky regime.

    Europeans have no idea what’s coming their way, even if somehow they get NS pipelines back, unless they’re able to abort their US dominated political class which likely means a hard shift right that will be quite nasty in its own way.

    US can’t even successfully mount a coup against Venezuela or Syria. The only reason it succeeded in Ukraine was because of the extensive NED groundwork in a basketcase society and because Russia didn’t realize the danger until too late (as in realizing that the West would never fulfill it’s role under the Minsk Agreement). Now they know the danger. Look how easily the attempted coup in Belarus and Kazakhstan were stopped. Thinking that they could topple the Chinese or Russian government, who are overwhelmingly popular and capable (in terms of being able to build things and solve problems), is the delusions of a West who thinks this is still 1994.

  14. NL

    The head of Wagner Prigozhin on the appointment of Surovikin as the new head of the “special operation” in the Uke. Is this is the end of the Putin oligarchy? Cause if you admit to stealing, you must put it back…
    (Machine translated)
    “Of course I know him. Surovikin is the most competent commander in the Russian army. But he can act in the current situation on the basis of the opportunities that he has and relying on the situation that was handed to him by his predecessors, and it was handed over, to put it mildly, not in the best possible way. As for his personal qualities, I can say one thing that Surovikin is a legendary person, he was born to faithfully serve the Motherland. Faithfully serving the Motherland is not beautiful uniforms and tsatski to fasten. We all remember the events at the White House in August 1991, and so Surovikin is the officer who, without hesitation, having received an order, got into a tank and rushed to save his country.

    By the way, in August 1991, I also participated in those events, however, then I was on the side of the protesters – the liberal forces. We were then in the deepest delusion, and instead of directing the fundamental assembled country, called the USSR, into a new direction, giving the idea of ​​private property, a new vector of economic development and working on mistakes, we all together destroyed it to the ground. We carried out a command from the United States and destroyed the greatest empire of our time for the sake of a bunch of greedy, treacherous creatures who, on the sly, plundered factories, factories, steamships.

    By the way, most of them are still sitting on the money stolen from the people and rubbing their hands. Historically, this is a global unique error. China followed a similar path, with one difference – they did not plunder anything, and now has an outstanding economy. The first in the world, if you put aside the murky criminal schemes of the United States. And we are still paying for this mistake.
    Surovikin in August 1991 did not have time to load full ammunition into his tank. And if we had time, then we would live in a completely different country, dozens of times more powerful.

    What we got as a result: Khodorkovsky, Berezovsky and others – a pack of dogs attacked the property of the Soviet Union and pulled it in different directions. I, along with the protesters that day, went to the square and overturned trolleybuses so as not to return the USSR. For what? For the sake of an extra piece of sausage or boiled jeans. The results of today’s problems were laid down in that distant 1991.
    By the way, those who destroyed the USSR are still alive and well, they manage factories and plants, and steamboats, they are called by one name – Russian oligarchs. And fuck they saw the entire military industry and the struggle for the interests of Russia. So Surovikin is the best, and he tried to save his Motherland, but his success depends, among other things, on his tank shells.”

  15. NL

    The Source of the previous was Prigozhin_hat post # 1793 on telegram

  16. Lex

    Agreed on Russian communists and old school communists, but to Ian’s point there is no liberal opposition in Russia to replace Putin that would work well for the west. I was probably unclear in my description but was referring back to Ian’s point more than anything.

  17. Trinity

    Vietnam Vet, I am in agreement with your post here, and just now posted similar in the previous thread.

    Also, I loved your post on the major differences between the West (including Western Europe) and Eastern Europe being based on religion derived from the splitting of the Roman Empire into two separate religions. It has led to much mistrust between the two for centuries (probably assisted by propaganda).

    I’m running behind this week, trying to catch up.

  18. Gaianne

    Che Pasa–

    As the current war is global–with the Ukraine being no more than a theater of combat, as the Russian and Chinese governments clearly understand–victory or defeat will not actually be decided in the Ukraine, nor will the Ukraine theater itself be fully decided until the war ends. So how will that decision happen?

    The immediate short-term Russian goal is continued existence, which means persistence. But the war is happening because the West in contrast is losing persistence–without direct control of Asian resources, profits disappear and the financialized Western system itself fall apart, which it is already beginning to do. This is the reason for Western desperation and panic. Conversely, the underlying principle of Russian strategy is to persist while the West falls apart.

    So the West acts aggressively. Deflecting this aggression is necessary, but also largely sufficient, as most Western moves are self-damaging–and merely accelerate Western decline. It is Western decline that would decide the war in favor of Russia and Asia–all Russia has to do is to avoid taking too much damage. Of course avoiding damage is a hard problem.

    The West escalates because it has no hope. So Russia must deflect the aggression–or stymie it–and persist: This is sufficient.

    A major risk is that Western leaders think they can win through nuclear war. They cannot, but that is a fact they are slow to understand–and the Russians have been releasing a great deal of what would normally be military secrets to make clear that fact.

    The main risk is that Western leaders choose suicide by nuclear war. This constrains the Russians from countering aggression with equal aggression. Dramatic moves will not serve at all–This is very frustrating to all us impatient observers. Rather, Russia must respond asymmetrically, as it is sometimes said, and assist the West in its self-induced collapse.

    When Western society collapses underneath its leaders, nuclear aggression from the West will no longer be possible, and no longer be a danger.

    This will take a decade.

    The better part of what is happening, which is separate from the war, though certainly being shaped by it, is the construction of an economic system based on real resources and real production that avoids the trap of financialization. This is precisely the Multipolar World Putin has been talking about, but its construction would enable Asia to avoid being sucked down in the West’s inevitable self-destruction.

    At least until it meets its own resource constraints. Then we can only hope it chooses more wisely than the West has done.


  19. bruce wilder

    The Kerch Bridge is mostly back in operation today, with trains scheduled and reduced traffic capacity on the remaining road span.

    Now, we are just waiting for Russia to act? retaliate? What interpretations does The Narrative admit?

    The Narrative has been that Russia has been indiscriminately destroying Ukrainian infrastructure. Now the Collective West is celebrating the attack on the Kerch Bridge. Ukraine, I understand, issued a commemorative postage stamp! Cagey though about claiming credit officially and Estonia and Poland made congratulations without attributing the attack to particular agency or means. Maybe there is fear of accusations of terrorism?

    I regard the Kerch Bridge as a significant engineering achievement enhancing human welfare in the prosaic ways infrastructure does. The destructiveness of war is nothing to cheer, imo.

    I wish I understood the varieties of Russophobia deployed better. I am sure Russia (and the Soviet Union) earned more than a little of it. Poland has genuine grievances dating back centuries.

    But, I also saw Jeffrey Sachs recount his recollection of how U.S. officials funded his proposals to aid Poland in the financial crisis attending the transition from communism, helping to short-circuit the rise of Polish oligarchs, but refused to fund similar proposals to aid Russia without explaining (why to him, the idealist academic expert). Sachs has been one of the few mainstream voices drawing attention to long-term “deep-state” efforts to undermine Russia.

    Alexander Vindman, one of the witnesses who helped to get Trump impeached once, expressed his happiness at the Kerch Bridge terrorist attack. Funny about that.

  20. Ché Pasa

    I admit to being something of a Russophile, though i have no great love for Putin or any of the actors in or out of the Kremlin. I don’t pretend to know how Russia is ruled these days — or for that matter during any of its historical periods. All I can say is that things aren’t what they seem to be.

    I admire the tenacity of the Russian people — which includes many if not most Ukrainians, who, if they had a say in events, would have expressed a strong desire not to go down the warpath with Russia. But they didn’t have a say, any more than we have one over the actions and inactions of our rulers.

    I agree with Gaianne that Russia is now in survival mode drawing heavily on that popular tenacity we’ve seen the Russian people exhibit time after time. I think about the example of Russia/Soviet Union’s survival and ultimate triumph during WWII or the triumph of the Reds during the Civil War after the Bolshevik take over of the government. Neither seemed even possible when the struggle was happening. But tenacity and perseverance that goes well beyond following leader was what won the day.

    The West obviously wants the Russian state destroyed and dismembered; this appears to be the universal policy the psychotic Western rulers, and Putin knows it and says so.

    Neither he nor the Russian people are inclined to let that happen, though the struggle may be long and they may suffer enormous losses and destruction. They’ve faced these struggles before and survived and rebuilt better than before. I think about the Christ the Savior Cathedral, destroyed spectacularly by Stalin as a statement against organized religion and the hold it had on the minds and emotions of the Russian people. The Cathedral was rebuilt quickly after the fall of the Soviet Union, and it’s better — though seemingly identical to — what went before. Or think of the devastation of Stalingrad and Leningrad during the War, and how quickly they were rebuilt –without Marshall Plan aid– after the defeat of the Nazis.

    It seems the Russian people can endure practically anything to ensure the survival of the Motherland. Can the West?


  21. Jorge

    The behavior of the Ukrainian military in the war is best understood by positing the Ukrainian state as somewhere in between a “real national government” and a private military corporation like Blackwater (or whatever it is called now, probably “Magic Happy People Who Want To Help You”).

    They’ve been paid a lot of money and must be seen to be Doing Something. So they press east, and burn their people on the artillery pyre.

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