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

Russia Hits Power Infrastructure

Well. Maybe hitting the Crimean bridge was less smart than it seemed.

There are two possibilities here:

It’s a tit-for-tat. “You hit our key infrastructure, we’ll hit yours and we can hit harder.” If so, it’s actually a warning from Russia to end the escalation here.

It’s “gloves off” time. Russia has been very restrained going after power and water and sewage. Power is still on in Ukraine, they even kept shipping them gas. (Far more restrained than the US in Gulf I and II, by the way.) For Americans, think of this as “the heavy hand of war.”

If it’s the second, then what happens is another huge refugee wave to Europe. I’d expect it to be even larger than the last one, over ten million. This weakens Ukraine, damages Europe and warns NATO of the consequences of not keeping Ukraine on a leash. It may also lead to further Ukrainian and “Ukrainian” attack on Russian infrastructure, leading to a cycle of escalation.

I don’t know which it is. A lot of powerful people and a large part of the Russian population have wanted “gloves off” for a long time, and there’s a strong military case for doing so, though Russia wants to do it only when it seems justified, mostly because China is uneasy about escalation, and Russia needs China.

(This is also clearly a war crime as well as a tragedy, but it’s the sort of war crime which has become routine over the past 20+ years.)

We’ll see.

(Addendum: some indications Belarus is moving troops to the border.)



Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – October 9, 2022


Ukraine Is The First Major War Of The “Age of War and Revolution”


  1. Astrid

    Well, according to your definition pretty much any war, especially offensive war, is a war crime. Not disagreeing per se, but how does a sovereign nation react to somebody else committing war against you and ethnicity? Putin gave Ukraine and the West eight years to hold up their end of the Minsk Accords and the Maidan regime killed thousands of ethnic Russians in the Donbas in response. There was intense shelling in February as Ukraine was preparing to destroy the Donbas or provoke Russia into what they believe would be a self destructive war (because Russia is a gas station with the nukes “that probably don’t work” and an economy the size of Andorra…).

    Can you propose an alternative solution beyond bystanding and watching Ukraine commit genocidal warcrime against people for sharing the same ethnicity as you AND install even more missiles next to your borders? I’m sure Western liberal thinks slightly wringing their hands before getting distracted by something something Trump is sufficient response, but I don’t think most Russians would agree. Allowing this to continue could fatally delegitimize the Russian government – if you’re a RF citizen who already survived through the economic crime scene that is 1990s Russia and Western instigated separatist terrorism, how can you them trust them to protect you.

    There are very few successful political pacificist movements. Gandhi only succeeded because there were plenty of violent alternatives and the US forced the UK to decolonialize to cripple and subordinate their one of they’re two likely post-war competitors. Western complaints about brutalities of the “Other” is worthless unless we can reign in our war criminals so that other countries are not forced to commit war crimes to protect themselves.

  2. Ian Welsh

    There is the question of whether any offensive war is a war crime, and if this is an offensive war or a response to Ukrainian attacks.

    Then there are war crimes within a war: hitting power and water qualifies. The attacks on admin buildings such as Zelensky’s office, however, did not. To be clear, the attack on the Crimean bridge was obviously terrorism and a war crime (the driver was hired over the internet to make a delivery, which makes it even worse. Suicide bombers are volunteers.)

    I have been quite consistent. I am holding Russia to the same standards I held the US too, even 20 years ago in Iraq, and I have repeatedly praised Russia for, before this, not hitting power and water.

  3. Astrid

    Hitting Zelensky’s office would not accomplish anything and would escalate the war much more than hitting critical dual use infrastructure. These strikes are about bringing the pain to hopefully bring about an attitude change in your opponent while still leaving further increments of pain (Fallujah, Western targets) in the air. And doing things that the Western public doesn’t care about makes it harder for the Western politicians to escalate closer to nuclear confrontation (though no doubt they will try).

    Your approval (and mine) doesn’t to anybody outside this blog’s small readership (and in my case, very little inside of it). The difference between Russia and the US in the conduct of war is that the latter is the aggressor bent on total spectrum dominance. It’s not a purity test and targeting dual use infrastructure is well accepted conventional military practice, just as it was legitimate for Ukraine to target the bridge (far more so than shelling the nuclear power plant, whether it is wise to do so is a different matter).

    This is all so much about protestations of purity in a whorehouse, none of us in the West can stop eating the food, breathing the air, or suffering the fate of those around us. Meanwhile, Gaianne’s wise comment from the other thread sums it up. Outlasting the currently psychotic West is winning for Russia and China and the rest of the non-West. Most of them have survived upwards of 500 years of Western imperialism (excluding the Crusades), they’re in it for the long haul.

    I think the odds of a long haul are still against humanity, but one goal at a time.

  4. Z

    It’s “gloves-off” time. Russia fully realizes that there can be no peace with a U.S. compliant government in Kiev and that they have eradicate War Pimp “Let Them Eat Lead” Zelensky’s regime and that they can’t afford to wait for U.S. compliant European governments to do what’s in their countries’ best interests and eventually force an end to this conflict.

    Can’t say that Putin wasn’t patient in this matter, and to a fault in many Russians’ eyes.


  5. Astrid

    I’m not questioning your consistency (though consistency is not particularly relevant, people should be about to change their minds over time in good faith, I certainly have many times in the last 25 years, heck last 3 years).

    I’m just questioning the viability of what you’re advocating. It seems to me that the RF government has done everything it can during the last 22 years to peacefully defuse the situation and normalize with the West. However, the West will not accept anything short of utter subjugation and neocolonialism. It will use color revolution, economic sanctions, supporting terrorists and terror states, assasinations, etc. If the only way to be “moral” leads to more subjugation and betrayal of people who put their trust in you, are you moral?

    This is a line that all men in power must deal with. To lead a great nation invariably require the leader to do monstrous things. To me the better question is whether the monstrous acts were necessary and proportional to what provoked them.

  6. Ian Welsh

    Red lines exist for a reason. When we cross them, things go to hell in escalating downward spirals. It is to Putin’s great credit, actually, that he largely did not hit civilian infrastructure before this. I understand why he did now, mind you. This is the first big war of this era, but it won’t be even close to the last. We should be careful what we justify.

  7. Astrid

    Russia and China has made their red lines very very clear and the US stomped over them again and again. Lied. Strategically ambiguitied. Said nothing was signed. Broke treaties. Stole.

    Again, how is unilateral disarmament against an enemy that already showed itself to be an unrestrained monster in Vietnam Serbia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, and Syria a workable solution?

  8. Dan Lynch

    I’m not up to speed on the legal definition of war crimes but taking out electricity does have military value. Ukraine’s trains run on electricity, not diesel. Lots of military-related infrastructure grinds to a halt without electricity. I.e., gas stations and fuel depots won’t be able to pump fuel without electricity, so how do you supply fuel for military vehicles?

    Starlink is said to have become blocked in Ukraine, without which military communications come to a halt.

    To its credit, so far Russia’s attacks on power plants seem to target the “substations” that pump the electricity into the grid, but avoid damage to the boilers and turbines. The substations can be repaired in weeks or months while rebuilding boilers and turbines would take years. So Russia seems to be trying to shut down power for weeks or months, but in a way that can be quickly repaired when the war is over.

    War crime or not, the risk of bombing things that civilians depend on, like power plants, is that it makes the civilians hate you, and raises the question of what will happen in Ukraine when the war finally ends, and how will a lasting peace be achieved? It’s not in Russia’s best interest to be bordered by festering failed states that breed extremism, though come to think of it, that is exactly what Ukraine became after the fall of the USSR.

  9. elkern

    I guess blowing up stuff is an unreliable method of communication.

    Everybody [that I’ve read] is interpreting the recent Russian attacks on Ukrainian electrical infrastructure as a message about the attack on the Kerch Bridge. I would have expected Russia to respond to that by taking out a bunch of bridges – say, everything over the Dnipro, from Zaporizhzhia up Kiev. “You blow up our bridge, we blow up MANY of yours.”

    IMO, attacking substations, etc, makes more sense as saying “Stop shelling the ZNPP, or we will turn out ALL your lights!”.

    Got another article yesterday in my Yahoo news feed about the ZNPP still getting shelled. The article carefully avoids ascribing blame, which is rare these days. In most cases, articles like these loudly parrot Ukrainian/NATO/UK/US sources blaming everything on Russia, followed by a dismissive blurb saying that Russia denies it. But the ZNPP articles I see generally put the Ukranian & Russian blame-calling on equal footing; also, they don’t include US/NATO comments. To me, this implies that the writers and editors *know* that Ukraine is responsible, but can’t say it (“Good Guys Risk Meltdown”? Nah, can’t print that); and they know that claiming that Russia is shelling its own troops would undermine the credibility the “journalists” still crave (but no longer deserve).

    Sadly, I’m learning to read “news” in the same way that Russians once read Pravda: the real info is all in-between the lines, it what isn’t said.

  10. StewartM

    Our leaders are idiots. I keep asking myself “what supposed benefit is being sought?” “What danger is being avoided?” and I keep drawing blanks.

    On the issue of war crimes, nothing that Putin has done so far comes remotely close to what the West has done, and even bragged about doing. And I am no fan of Putin. But don’t worry Ukrainians, when you lose power and water we in the West will all go out and put more Ukraine flags decals on our cars and post more “Sláva Ukrayíni!”s on FB.

  11. Harry Haller

    “To lead a great nation invariably require the leader to do monstrous things.”

    This fatalistic line of thinking is straight out of the 19th century and justifies pretty much every atrocity committed by “great” nations across the ages. If you are on board with this you can’t really complain should you ever find yourself on the receiving end of some dear leader’s monstrous act.

    On the Moon of Alabama blog a few weeks ago some of the regular bloviators there were calling for Putin to use nukes in Ukraine to speed up his “inevitable” victory over NATO while on Twitter a couple of the more enthusiastic NATO cheerleaders were rationalizing a “limited” and “totally winnable” nuclear war against Russia.

    My theory: spending too much time immersed in political back and forths on Twitter and in the blogosphere drives some people insane. An “extremely online” version of Nietzsche’s “the abyss also gazes into you” in action…

  12. Soredemos

    @Ian Welsh

    Regarding red lines and justifying, this seems all very quaint. Cute, even. ‘The strong do what they well, and the weak suffer what they must’; a military is going to hit or not hit as it deems necessary to win its war. Talking about morality or legality in regards to whether energy infrastructure gets hit means literally nothing. They’ll be hit in this war if the generals decide they need to be hit, and they’ll be hit or not hit in the next war, and the war after that, etc, as other generals decide. “Oh, but is this ethical” isn’t part of the calculus. Raising a stink, or declaring it’s a war crime and ‘not allowed’, isn’t going to have any impact whatsoever on if it happens again in the future. Oh it’s ‘not allowed’? And you’re going to enforce that how, exactly? You’re going to drag Russian generals into the dock at The Hague? You and what army? NATO? Because Russia is already fighting NATO to a bloody standstill with its hands tied behind its backs, though it seems to finally be loosening the ropes.

    Speaking more generally, and I know I’m basically repeating what others have already said, so far Russia has been endeavoring to bring about the state of affairs it wants through a limited ‘Special Military Operation’. A unique and ambitious effort, and as far I can tell pretty unprecedented in the history of military offensives. It may even have worked, except Russia seems to have completely underestimated the willingness of the US and its NATO puppets to sacrifice Ukraine and Europe in a fanatical attempt to hurt Russia, and the degree to which Zelensky and his crew would psychopathically go along with being so exploited.

    It seems like Russia is now transitioning away from the SMO model, and if so, they’ll start dealing harder and harder blows if that’s what they deem necessary. Maybe they should have been doing that from the start and doing so might have resulted in the war already being over.

  13. Purple Library Guy

    As Dan Lynch said, there’s a secondary issue, a tactical one. Apparently, Ukrainian trains need electricity to run, and that’s the main way to get reinforcements and materiel, such as fuel for tanks and new NATO equipment, to the front. So, no power plants, no logistics.

    If you’re going to do a tit-for-tat signal, might as well make it one that also helps you win the war.

  14. Lex

    The US rational for civilian infrastructure attacks in the context of international law is that they can/do support military operations. It’s bullshit but also true in a way. The big difference between behavior is that the US does this on a massive scale from day one, while Russia waited months for any systematic destruction of electrical infrastructure. (I haven’t seen where Russia has hot water treatment facilities, a favorite US target, but water distribution is via electric pumping stations.)

    I see the recent attacks as both a warning and preparations for an offensive, with a little bit of economic war thrown in because Ukraine was selling electricity to Europe. As others have noted, the attacks are on substations rather than plants. Though a while back I believe the Kharkov steam heating plant was struck. I suspect not hitting bridges is because they’re difficult to repair, would trap civilians and they’re not that easty to blow up without dropping lots of bombs on them.

    I suspect this is also a show of force, partly for the sake of it and partly to remind the west that Russia doesn’t need nukes to level Ukraine. It’s pretty amazing that the Ukrainian published casualties are 14 dead and 90 wounded. That’s pretty precise, especially since it’s clear that quite a lot of civilian area damage was air defense misfires. (Based on crater/damage, video evidence and today a Ukrainian posted Buk shrapnel from the Samsung building along with debris identifying the munition.)

    Substations are not easy to repair. In most places there are limited transformers like that. One round of repairs and rebalancing the grid isn’t so difficult, but the difficulty level is geometric with follow on strikes. So what Russia’s done (and continues to do now) is make it hard for Ukraine to manage the grid. And easier for Russia to bring it down catastrophically whenever it chooses. Those substations may still be soviet equipment too, which would make repairs even more difficult over time.

  15. Jan Wiklund

    General Fuller would have wept. It seems that not any side of this war wages it to win, just to inflict as much damage on the other out of sheer spite.

    And who is general Fuller? Well, he wrote a still classic book about the second world war in 1948 which is till reprinted, and in which he restated classic opinions from Sun Tzu and Carl von Clausewitz about what war actions are for. They are there to win as soon as possible and with the least effort. Not to make as much damage as possible.

    But to do that you must have an aim, and an idea about how to achieve it. It’s like the allies during the WW2, believing that the smartest thing was to bomb as much as possible. Or, for that matter, general Westmoreland in the Vietnam war who thought that the more Vietnamese he could kill, the more sure was victory.

  16. Soredemos

    @Jan Wiklund

    Er, what? Theres nothing about the Russian war effort that has been ‘damage out of sheer spite’. The exact opposite has been the case.

  17. anon y'mouse

    war itself is a war crime. to try to turn yourself into knots is like negating a kantian imperative or something.

    in war, perhaps the absolute best course of action is to bring that war to a close as fast as possible so that rebuilding can begin.

    no matter who the winner and loser are, the loser is always accused of war crimes and the winner just “did what it took” to win. for that reason, most war crime trials are a hypocritical farce.

    and yeah, i don’t like torturing “civilians” any more than anyone else but nearly every war and every action in both sides in a war does that in some form or another.

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