Monday, April 11, 2022

The Battle Ahead

"The battle for Donbas will remind you of the Second World War," according to Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine's foreign minister, quoted in Financial Times.

Ukrainian troops are dug in with a network of trenches that is reminiscent of World War I.

The NY Times reports:

Analysts predict Russian troops, refocusing on the east after being thwarted in the capital, will carry out a major offensive stretching from Dnipro to Izium, a city almost 150 miles northeast [sic; it's NNW of Dnipro] where fighting has already been heavy, U.S. officials said Sunday. Satellite images showed hundreds of military vehicles moving through the town of Velykyi Burluk toward Izium on Friday.

This area is mostly flat, open land, and will not be conducive to the guerilla tactics that served the Ukrainians so well around Kiev. The sooner they get enormous supplies of heavy equipment, the better.

Two maps that tell the story:

Source: Institute for the Study of War

Source: The New York Times

Click on the maps for a larger view.

Saturday, April 09, 2022

The Russian Invasion

Here's something that caught my eye:

From the Financial Times:

A difference of 3mm encapsulates the challenges the west faces as it works out how to supply the weapons that Ukraine needs to hold off, or even repel, Russian forces during the next phase of the war: the looming battle for the Donbas. 

The list of weapons that Ukraine wants includes more long-range artillery to target the Russian positions that have been shelling its cities during six weeks of heavy fighting. However, most Nato countries’ heavy artillery has a 155mm calibre while Ukraine, as part of its Soviet legacy, uses 152mm. 

 “The Ukrainians are running out of 152mm ammunition. Where are they going to get it?” asked Chris Donnelly, an adviser to four former Nato secretaries-general on the Soviet and Russian military. “No one in the west uses it or makes it apart from the Serbs — and they’re on Russia’s side.” 

Looking for more detailed accounts of the military action in Ukraine than you can find in the New York Times or Washington Post?  The best I've found so far (and it's plenty for me) is Critical Threats, a website of the Institute for the Study of War. Critical Threats offers reliable reports and assessments of military activity in Ukraine. It is often used as a source by the Financial Times and the newspapers above.

The map below is from Critical Threats.


Friday, April 08, 2022


Back on March 15 we fully expected MiG fighter planes to be delivered to Ukraine for their use in providing air cover. But despite an offer by Poland to furnish the planes, they have not been delivered – apparently from fear that providing the planes, rather than the complications of delivering them, would involve NATO in the fighting.

Which is something I don't really understand.

During World War II, America provided military planes to Great Britain while we were still a neutral country.

In fact, the United States sent tanks to Russia while we were still a neutral country.

We should point this out as the planes and tanks cross the border into Ukraine.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Brainstorming Russian Reparations

I'd like to spend a little more time thinking about the proposal, discussed in my March 18 post, that we use Russia's money to rebuild Ukraine. The first mention I saw of this idea is in Robert E. Litan's article at the Brookings Institute website. By Litan's reckoning, Western countries and Japan are holding about $350 billion of Russia's foreign policy reserves; these reserves are currently "frozen" by the sanctions placed on Russia. The fact that the reserves are called "frozen" and not "seized" implies they will be "unfrozen" some day – presumably when Russian troops are withdrawn from Ukraine.

This chart from Statista illustrates the distribution of the reserves.

 Litan wrote "the fact that many countries already have control over Russia's holdings of foreign currency means that, in effect, reparations for the Ukrainian invasion have been pre-funded by Russia itself." Moreover, "there is a basis in international law for enabling nations that hold these reserves to commit them to pay for damages."

Russia has committed on a massive scale what under U.S. law is considered an “intentional tort”: unprovoked violence, which requires at a minimum that the aggressor pay damages for human suffering, deaths, and property losses. In December 2005 the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution affirming a variation of intentional tort doctrine by providing a right to reparations to victims of human rights abuses under international law.

The U.N. resolution is not self-enforcing, however. Instead, it charges member states to establish “national programs for reparation and other assistance to victims in the event that the parties liable for the harm suffered are unable or unwilling to meet their obligations.” It’s a safe bet that Russia won’t be willing to meet these obligations, so other countries now holding Russian reserves can best enforce the reparations principle by agreeing on a common plan.

Litan's Brookings article was originally published at Bloomberg.

There are several things to recommend this approach:

  • Turning all the frozen reserves back to Russia would mean that it gets to walk away from the damage it has done.
  • Russia's failure to help rebuild Ukraine means it would be entirely on the hands of, and dependent upon the generosity of, other countries.
  • The reserves can be used right now to provide help to Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, and Moldova, the nations that have generously welcomed 3 million Ukrainian refugees. They simply can't afford to do this forever, however, and who better to pay for it than Russia?
  • Perhaps knowing that every school, hospital, and apartment building destroyed by a Russian bomb or missile will be replaced using Russia's own money might incentivize Putin to reconsider further aggressive activities and negotiate a withdrawal as soon as possible, to cut his loses.

But there are arguments against confiscating and using Russian reserves in this way:  

  • Instead of making Putin anxious to conclude his invasion, the action might frustrate, humiliate, and infuriate Putin to the point that he takes a spiteful action that requires a NATO response.
  • There is that old law of unintended consequences. We must ask ourselves how unsettling actual confiscation, as opposed to "freezing," will be to the world financial system. It is beyond my ability to even imagine.

There may be a way to use the threat of reserves confiscation without actually taking the action. Let's say an American congressman introduces a resolution in the House that the reserves should be seized for refugees and reparations. A resolution is not a law, and the State Department and our allies would be under no obligation to do it. But a resolution might get Putin's attention, and encourage him to get ahead of things by working harder at negotiations.