Russia: Paper Bullets


July 12, 2022: Russian GDP will shrink at least 15 percent in 2022. It’s worse in Ukraine, where deliberate Russian missile and artillery attacks on economic targets are causing long-term economic damage. In Russian occupied Ukraine there is no effort to repair economic damage and useful economic assets are shipped back to Russia. Russia is following the ancient strategy of “creating a desert and calling it peace”. Russia is also trying to mobilize its economy for wartime production despite senior government economic officials pointing out that Western sanctions emphasize crippling weapons production. Russian supreme leader Putin insists Russia will find a solution, as it did during World War II. This assessment ignores how Russia lost the Cold War and its empire literally fell apart because of economic mismanagement. The last war Russia won was World War II or the “Great Patriotic War”. That victory was made possible by massive economic aid from the United States and a few other countries not occupied by the Germans. In 2022 Russia is the German aggressor and Ukraine is the Russian defender. This perception is anathema to senior Russian leaders but makes unpleasant sense to Russians closer to the situation. It’s against new Russian laws to contradict the official interpretation of the war. Yet the government has not jailed any of the increasing number of critics with front line experience who assess the war more as Russian aggression than the official explanation that Russia was protecting Ukraine from NATO Nazis.

Reality asserted itself for the Russian occupation forces in parts of Ukraine that were seized early on and are still under Russian control. The occupation was supposed to emphasize winning over the locals without resorting to mass murder and similar atrocious behavior that Russians endured under Nazi occupation. The main occupation zone is north of Crimea and centered around the city of Kherson, which is the capital of Kherson province. Kherson City was captured during the first week of the invasion and Russia has held onto most of the province ever since. The city is a major port because it is located near the mouth of the Dnieper River and the Black Sea. The Dnieper is a major navigable river for Ukraine and has long been used to handle the movement of cargo, especially wheat being exported. Russia is blocking such exports and burning Ukrainian crops before they can be harvested.

Ukraine has been trying to recapture Kherson City and province ever since March, and is making progress, aided by a growing partisan movement inside Kherson province and passive resistance to Russian occupation by most Ukrainians there. Some Ukrainians agreed to work for the Russian occupation, including pro-Russia Ukrainian politicians that were so unpopular in post-2014 Ukraine that they fled to Russia. These officials returned to administer the occupied territories and were soon the targets of attacks by Ukrainian partisans. Some of the turncoats were killed but more worrisome to the Russians were indications that other Ukrainian officials quietly agreed to work for the partisans. The Russians now believe that many of their Ukrainian administrators were working with the resistance from the beginning. At the same time the Russian occupation forces still have their orders to try and win over the Ukrainians or at least discourage them from joining an armed insurrection. To help with that the Russians sought to Russify the province as quickly as possible. That meant replacing the Ukrainian cell phone service with a Russian one. Ukrainian TV and radio transmissions are blocked. Russian ID documents became mandatory and use of any currency but the Russian ruble was forbidden. Russia controlled utilities (especially water and electricity) and every effort was made to link Kherson to the Russian economy. The initial reason for pacifying the population was to make life safe for Russian troops in Kherson. That was never fully achieved and now Russian troops have to worry about roadside bombs or anti-vehicle mines as well as sniper fire and assassination via pistol or a bomb planted in a vehicle. Russian efforts to impose conscription on Ukrainians in Crimea, Donbas and other occupied areas failed, often violently in places like Crimea and Donbas.

The Russian goal in the newly occupied territories was to hold elections that could be depicted as honest and show a majority of Kherson residents supporting annexation by Russia. The Ukrainians are not cooperating and doing so in clever ways that Russian Information War specialists could recognize but struggle to counteract. The Ukrainian resistance is both armed and dangerous but also mindful of the importance of outperforming the Russian Information War campaign.

Russia already had experience with how Ukrainians respond to military occupation. This occurred in the portions of Donbas that Russia occupied since 2014. Since April Russia has been fighting to gain control over all of Donbas. By the end of June Russia controlled nearly all of Luhansk province, which is the northern half of Donbas. Russian experiences with occupied areas of Donbas since 2014 are repeating themselves. In 2014 Donbas comprised about nine percent of Ukrainian territory, 13 percent of the population and 15 percent of the GDP, and was about 38 percent ethnic Russian. The two provinces comprise the Donets Basin (or “Donbas”) which was originally an economic powerhouse for Soviet Russia. That began to decline in the 1980s and accelerated when the Soviet Union fell (and Ukraine became independent) in 1991. Between 2014 and 2016 over two million people fled rebel-controlled parts of the Donbas, most heading for Ukraine and only about three million remain in rebel-controlled areas by 2022. About half of those people are ethnic Russian pensioners who lose their pensions if they leave. Russia held illegal elections in 2014 and created the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic in the portions of those two Ukrainian provinces they controlled. Russian sponsored violence in Donbas has reduced economic activity to less than a third of what it was in 2013. Many businesses moved to Russia and Russia had to supply money to pay over 100,000 military and civilian employees of the new governments. Russian-occupied Donbas was and is sustained by money and supplies trucked in from Russia. This was costing Russia several billion dollars a year. Where Russian occupation forces controlled the Ukraine/Russia border, the border ceased to exist. The Russians controlled only about half of Donbas from 2014 to 2022 and that area gradually became part of Russia. Only the Russian currency is used and any foreign trade is with Russia. Some rebuilding was financed by Russia. Until the 2022 Russian invasion, the Russians offered peace in Donbas if Ukraine recognized the loss of the Russian-occupied Donbas, which would then be free to become part of Russia.

Russia ignored or failed to accurately assess how, since 2014 Ukraine had been expanding and reforming its Soviet-era military. In early 2019 Volodymyr Zelensky was elected president of Ukraine by a large margin. He was not a politician but proved to be a lot more capable than the Russians expected. Worse, Zelensky quickly demonstrated that he was more of a threat than the professional politician he replaced. Since taking power in 2019 Zelensky quickly replaced notoriously corrupt or incompetent government and military officials. Zelensky tried to get negotiations going between himself and Russian leader Putin. The Russians did not want that, and their response was an “invasion threat” that became real in February 2022. Zelensky didn’t flinch because he could do the math. Ukraine could win if it obtained enough military support from nations also threatened by Russia, especially new NATO members who had joined since the 1990s and shared Zelensky’s assessment of Russian goals and the relatively poor state of the Russian economy and military forces. Ukrainian forces stopped the Russian 2022 invasion and forced Russian troops back towards the Russian border. The Russian threat to Europe was revealed as very real, and this prompted Sweden and Finland to abandon their long-held neutrality and join NATO. Russia justified its 2022 invasion by claiming NATO was conspiring to attack Russia and that part of that conspiracy was NATO installing anti-Russian politicians in Ukraine so that Ukraine would become an involuntary NATO member. This was quickly revealed to be a lie as the invading Russian troops were being defeated by better armed and motivated Ukrainians who wanted nothing to do with Russia. That reality slowly got back to Russia despite Russian efforts to deny it and describe such information as another clever NATO lie.

The Russian government is losing the support of its own people, including a growing number of senior officers who speak out, usually via encrypted messages on Telegram, a popular cell phone app in Russia and Ukraine. Early on many of these Russian Telegram based military blogers (“mil-blogers” supported the invasion and were supplied with information by the Russian government, including opportunities to spend some time with the troops inside Ukraine. By June the Russian mil-blogers were no longer reporting the official Russian version of events in Ukraine, but what was being reported by Russian veterans of the fighting in Ukraine.

After Russia announced a pause in offensive military operations in early July, one of these mil-blogers, a former general who had served in occupied Donbas before the invasion, reported a different reality. He insisted that Russia had suffered higher losses in Luhansk than the Ukrainians, who were conducting a classic attrition defense. The Russians had suffered far more losses in men and equipment than the Ukrainians who were not driven out of Luhansk but withdrew deliberately to encourage Russia to keep attacking and losing troops and combat vehicles that could not be replaced. Meanwhile the Ukrainians were receiving more weapons and equipment from NATO and forming new units, including armed resistance groups in Russian occupied Ukraine. This was not the official Russian assessment but it was the reality that Russian troops in Ukraine were experiencing and some Russian mil-blogers were reporting.

All this was nothing new. When the most modern and effective Russian forces were assembled to invade Ukraine in 2022, they quickly discovered they were not facing an inept, poorly trained and armed foe but one that was far more effective. The main offensive in the north against the Ukrainian capital took heavy losses and within weeks was forced to retreat. Russian troops were told by their government that they had encountered NATO troops who were in Ukraine preparing to invade Russia. The surviving Russian troops knew better because all they encountered were Ukrainians, usually armed with weapons similar to what Russia used as well as more effective ones they had received from NATO. The Ukrainians used more effective tactics and some new weapons that were based on Western models but Ukrainian- made. The Russian state-controlled media was ordered to ignore reports like this and stick with the official story that this was all a secret NATO operation to attack Russia via Ukraine.

While this information war played on, the Russian military ordered everything Russia had, short of nuclear weapons, into use in an effort to salvage the situation. Russia was at war with a near-peer opponent and losing. Many Russians, civilian and military, figured out what was happening and were openly criticizing and sometimes physically attacking their government because of the mess in Ukraine that was killing a lot of Russian troops. These Russian critics were often well-educated professionals in regular contact with Westerners, including more than a million Russians who had left since 2014 because of fears Russia was headed for what actually happened in 2022.

NATO countries believed the Russians had the edge in some areas, like electronic warfare, but the Ukrainians were coping by using their own ingenuity and the help of Western technologies that no one believed had military potential. Chief among these was the American Starlink satellite-based Internet service that Ukrainian engineers and electronics experts believed, even before the 2022 invasion, had military potential. Ukrainians also developed new equipment and s0ftware. One striking example was artillery fire-control software and tactics that were far more effective than anyone, Ukrainian, Western or Russian, imagined.

Russia encounters major problems trying to control information made available to its people. This became a critical problem after the invasion of Ukraine and the government wants to conceal the extent of their military failures. Passing new laws against disclosing such information and shutting down the last few media operations that were not state-controlled has not been enough. The ban on casualty information created a lot of public protest that found ways to get past the censorship.

July 11, 2022: Iran has offered to supply Russia with UAVs of various types and capabilities. Iran is one of the few countries that support the Russian invasion of Ukraine and has already sent the Russians some weapons via the landlocked Caspian Sea, which borders Russia and Iran. The UAVs are expensive and the economic sanctions on Iran and cash flow problems have already limited foreign military operations Iran supports, especially those against Israel in Syria, Lebanon and Gaza.

July 10, 2022: In eastern Ukraine (Kharkiv province) Russian forces have been pushed out of most of the province and now control only about 30 percent of the province and about ten percent of the population. Russian occupied areas are all near the Russian border. Russian forces continue to launch attacks that fail. Desperate to maintain a presence in the province Russia, over the last four days, established a separatist government in the province, declared martial law and announced that this government was declaring independence from Ukraine. Russia simultaneously declared Kharkiv province, like Donbas, was actually part of Russia and efforts were under way to officially annex the province and reincorporate into the Russian state. Russia has already done this in Crimea and threatens to do it in Donbas. In 2014 Russia sought to stage a takeover in Kharkiv province, which had many ethnic Russians and a number of separatists, including some prominent politicians. While the separatist takeover was partially successful in the two Donbas provinces, the Russian backed separatists in Kharkiv province failed and known separatists were driven out, most heading for exile in Russia, while a few went to Russian occupied Donbas. The Russian government in Crimea is increasingly becoming Russian occupation forces.

July 9, 2022: Ukrainian president Zelensky fired the Ukrainian ambassadors to Germany, India, Czech Republic, Norway and Hungary. Replacements were not immediately announced. Zelensky was dissatisfied with Ukrainian diplomatic efforts to obtain more foreign support for the fight against the invading Russians and Russian efforts to evade economic sanctions. For example, Russia and China have already organized a method for conducting trade in Russian rubles and Chinese yuan. A few other nations are willing to join this network, but none of them can help with the Russian airliner spare parts problem. China sees the situation as a useful and low risk challenge while for Russia it's more a matter of life and death for airline passengers facing lower flight safety levels and Russian officials responsible for the war crimes in Ukraine. Substitute spares can keep the airliners flying for a year or so but then the need for more difficult to counterfeit components will make this massive improvisation more difficult and unsafe. China is involved but Russia is committed to making this work and willing to risk lives to make it happen.

July 8, 2022: In Moscow Alexei Gorinov, a Russian lawyer, who is also an elected member of the Moscow City Council, was convicted of calling the Russian war in Ukraine a war and sentenced to seven years in prison for that. Calling this war, a war was outlawed soon after the war began and Gorinov criticized that law as well as the continued fighting in Ukraine, which he kept calling a war. During his trial Gorinov was, as is customary, in a glass box to restrict unauthorized outbursts. Gorinov had brought with him a folded-up sign saying “Do you still need this war” and displayed it to the dozens of people attending the trial. The sign was greeted by applause from the people in the courtroom. The judge ordered the sign seized and the courtroom cleared. Several people in the courtroom had used their cell phones to take videos of the sign and those applauding the sign. Only three people have been tried for violating the law and Gorinov was the first to be sentenced to prison.

July 7, 2022: Not all Ukrainians are steadfast in their support for the war against Russia. After 2014 Ukrainian intelligence services detected and arrested a growing number of Ukrainians who were working for Russian intelligence, regularly passing on information about current Ukrainian military operations. Some do it for the money, others do it to obtain better treatment of family members in Russian occupied portions of Ukraine. Russia depends on these local agents for information on where new NATO weapons are being stored. With such information they can use their shrinking supply of ballistic missiles to guided rockets to destroy these weapons before they can be used. Ukrainians have since become more cautious about moving these weapons and where they are stored. These agents use the Telegram app to report what they have found and Ukraine counterintelligence (spy catcher) efforts have improved their ability to detect Russian agents using Telegram or other encrypted apps to communicate. This probably benefited from advice provided by Western intel and counterintelligence agencies. This is particularly important as Ukraine receives more HIMARS trucks that carry and launch six GPS guided rockets. Ukraine has also received its first shipment of GPS guided 155mm artillery shells. These guided weapons are responsible for accurate missile and artillery fire, often deep in Russian occupied territory. The targets are often key weapons systems or military headquarters. Ukraine has access to superior NATO satellite and electronic surveillance of Russian forces, especially those in Ukraine.

July 5, 2022: The United States considers the Kerch Strait Bridge a legitimate target for Ukrainian forces. Ukraine has been receiving more long-range guided rockets that could hit the Kerch Bridge. Russia is aware of that as it adds defenses against missile attacks. In 2019 railway link across the new Kerch Strait bridge connecting Russia with Crimea was opened for service. This enabled the bridge to move 13 million tons of freight and 14 million passengers a year. The bridge cost $3.5 billion and is mainly a prestige and diplomatic project as it enables Russia to control the Sea of Azov. In April 2018 Russia declared the Sea of Azov, reached from the Black Sea via the 4.5-kilometer-wide Kerch Strait, was now under Russian control. The Crimean Peninsula, when it was part of Ukraine, was separated from Russia by the Kerch Strait. Maximum depth of the strait is 18 meters (59 feet) and there had long been talk of building a bridge between Crimea and the Kerch Peninsula (now and always part of Russia). Once Russia seized Crimea in 2014 proposals that a bridge be built actually turned into reality. The Kerch Bridge opened in March 2018, at least the highway part, the sturdier railroad section took longer to complete. With that Russia declared the Sea of Azov under Russian control and no foreign ship could enter with Russian permission. The Russians seized ships trying to reach the Ukrainian ports of Berdiansk and Mariupol that are on the shore of the Sea of Azov. Russia is putting these two ports out of business. Ukraine accuses Russia of violating international law as well as a 1990s Russia-Ukrainian treaty by seizing Crimea, building the bridge and restricting access to the Sea of Azov. Another problem with the bridge is that it only allows about 30 percent of the large bulk carrier ships that visit Ukrainian ports to get into the Sea of Azov. Taking down that ship access portion of the bridge would reopen the Sea of Azov to large ships.

July 2, 2022: Russian forces took control of Lysychansk, the last city in Luhansk province the Ukrainian forces occupied. Luhansk was one of the two provinces Russia tried to seize in 2014, Russian forces seized less than half of Luhansk and Donetsk and Russian advances halted until February 2022 when Russia launched a major offensive in northern (Kyiv), eastern (D0nbas) and southern (north of Crimea) Ukraine. The most effective Russian forces were sent against Kyiv and took heavy losses and found themselves cut off from resupply. Rather than risk further losses, Russians forces in the north withdrew by the end of March and the remaining combat-ready units were moved to Donbas for a renewed offensive there, or kept away from the front like to be rebuilt. In early May Russia resumed its Donbas offensive by going after the port city of Mariupol. It took weeks of heavy fighting before Mariupol was finally captured on May 17th. After that the fighting shifted to Luhansk province and more than a month of heavy fighting Russia had all of Luhansk. Then Russia declared a pause in its offensives. This was because so many Russian combat units were no longer fit for combat. Russia hopes to conscript or recruit Ukrainians from recently captured territories.

The Russian military has a manpower problem in Ukraine, where heavy losses among officers and combat troops have been difficult to replace. This includes senior commanders. Not only have more than a dozen generals been killed in combat, but even more senior generals have been fired (relieved and often forced to retire) for lack of success. The senior generals are often replaced by recently retired generals who, while older, have more experience and a record of success in combat situations. But no Russian generals alive today faced a situation like modern Ukraine, where the opposition is composed of fellow Slavs who are better prepared, armed, led and more numerous than the Russian invaders. Worse, Russia doesn’t consider Ukraine a combat situation but rather an internal security matter as Russia seeks to pacify what Russian leaders consider part of Russia. The rest of the world and many, if not most Russians disagree with this fantasy and are not willing to die trying to make it work. This is a rather unique, and tragic situation that Russian history is full of. Russian leaders, especially the current president-for-life Vladimir Putin make it work by observing a few rules to prevent Russia from blowing up in their faces. Post-Soviet Russia only works if the leaders comply with certain public demands. One such here involved an end to conscription. That was supposed to happen gradually as Russia hired more contract (volunteer) soldiers. Eventually all Russian troops were to be better paid volunteers with conscription retained only for use in a national emergency, which invading Ukraine is not. For the Ukrainians the Russian invasion was a national emergency and conscription was not needed because there were so many volunteers. Russian troops in Ukraine are outnumbered a Ukrainian force that is about fifty percent larger than what the Russians have in Ukraine. The better led and motivated Ukrainians face reluctant and often poorly led Russian troops who suffer higher casualties.

Russia still depends on obtaining about a quarter million conscripts a year, who serve for a year and are banned by law from being sent into combat unless it is a national emergency. Putin refuses to declare Ukraine a national emergency because it isn’t, and too many Russians will actively oppose such a move. Putin was supposed to have more contract troops in the Russian military by now but he is short of cash because his initial 2014 land grabs in Ukraine got him Crimea and Donbas. The international response was economic sanctions on Russia and military and economic aid for Ukraine. Putin’s response was not to back off but to attempt to seize all of Ukraine in February 2022. This brought more economic sanctions on Russia and substantial military aid for Ukraine.

June 30, 2022: The United States has added five Hong Kong based firms to the growing list of Chinese companies sanctioned for violating Ukraine-related economic sanctions. Russia discovered it was more dependent on Western component suppliers than realized. Cut off from these suppliers has halted production of many Russian missiles, guided weapons, and aircraft. Russian airlines are grinding to a halt because they can no longer obtain spare parts. China manufactures some of these spares under license but many other unauthorized (counterfeit) components continue to be made and quietly sold. The Chinese counterfeits have improved their quality levels because one of these components causing an accident in a Western built airliner used by a Russian airline causes major problems for the airlines involved. The Chinese counterfeits also show up with U.S. airlines and even American military aircraft. This is where Chinese counterfeit parts are usually discovered because the American military is much more diligent about authenticating the source of components. Russian counterfeits are not as reliable nor are those from outlaw manufacturers in several other countries. China had driven many of the other counterfeit manufacturers out of the business.

China is taking risks violating sanctions to keep Russian military and commercial aircraft flying. The risk is seen as acceptable because China is now building locally designed airliners and is better at it than Russia. In the future China will be an alternative to Boeing and Airbus for airliners. China has always had a marketing edge because they will sell to anyone who can pay. No political or ideological background check required. Despite that, the international pressure to not violate the sanctions is causing China problems. Despite the generally low-key assistance to Russia, more such assistance is being investigated and resulting in sanctions on China. Too much of this is more that China is willing to do for Russia. China advised against the 2022 invasion but Russia ignored that and went ahead.

June 29, 2022: The United States announced that it is moving its U.S. Army 5th Corps (aka as Fifth or V Corps) headquarters to Poland and build support facilities, including storage for prepositioned military equipment that enable U.S. combat brigades to fly in their personnel and use the prepositioned equipment to be combat ready within 24 hours. The 5th Corps headquarters will assume many of the functions it performed for decades in Germany during the Cold War. Poland is the most powerful of the new (since the 1990s) East Europe NATO members. Poland is equipping its armed forces with American M1 tanks and F-35 stealth fighters. Poland, the Baltic States, Rumania, Slovakia and the latest to join NATO; Finland and Sweden, all agree that their warnings of Russian aggression came to life in Ukraine, a nation that wanted to join NATO to provide additional protection from Russian attack. By invading before Ukraine could join NATO, the Russians do not have to fear Article 5 of the NATO charter which defines an attack on one member as an attack on all members who are expected to supply forces to deal with that attack. Without NATO membership, Ukraine has to depend on the voluntary contributions of military assistance to defeat the Russian attack. The initial NATO response was massive and demonstrated the superiority of NATO weapons. It also revealed that NATO nations had underestimated the need to stockpile sufficient munitions to fight this kind or war and nations manufacturing most of these weapons had not paid attention to how long it would take to achieve wartime production levels. Also neglected were the problems of additional economic burdens placed on NATO member civilian populations. The new NATO members had warned of the growing possibility of a Russian attack, even though that was dismissed as unlikely because of Article 5. But it happened in pro-NATO Ukraine and the new NATO members see doing everything they can to support Ukraine as essential to prevent future attacks on NATO members. Taking Ukraine is part of Russia’s plan to rebuild the Russian empire in spite of Article 5 and Ukraine is the place to prove the plan works. Some of the original (Cold War era) NATO members do not believe the Russians are that reckless. The new NATO members suggest that all NATO members review the long and violent history the new NATO members have had with Russia in light of the current war in Ukraine and Russian plans for continuing their aggression after they conquer Ukraine.

June 27, 2022: Russia and Iran signed a new agreement that expanded economic and political cooperation between the two nations. This agreement ignores that sanction currently imposed on Russia and Iran and formalizes the cooperation between the two oil producers to evade Western efforts to prevent Iran and Russia from exporting its oil. The new agreement also confirms joint efforts to support each other militarily. Iran has supported the Russian invasion of Ukraine while Russia backs Iranian threats to other Middle Eastern oil producers. This does not include unofficial Russian agreements in Syria that keep Israel and Russia from going to war because of continued Israeli attacks on Iranian forces in Syria. Russia continues to support Iranian efforts to expand its influence over the Iraqi government.

June 26, 2022: China is disappointed with the poor performance of Russian forces in Ukraine and the long-term damage done to the Russian economy. This means Russia is no longer as powerful a component of the Chinese coalition facing the West. China has provided as much economic support to Russia as it can without incurring crippling sanctions. This provides long-term economic benefits for China by providing a major source of oil and natural gas delivered via pipelines rather than ship. These energy supplies will also be cheaper than any other source. Until Russia invaded all of Ukraine in 2022, Russia was still hurting from low oil prices. These were headed up in 2018, peaking at $74 a barrel in early October then falling over 40 percent (to $43) by the end of 2018. Oil prices recovered a bit in 2019 but the prospects of much more price growth in 2019 were not good. The major customer for oil, China, continues to reduce use because Chinese economic growth continues to decline and it is feared China might even suffer a major recession because of the continued economic problems. Because of the sanctions Russia has to sell its oil and gas at a discount to China, which China is willing to trade with Russia using rubles and yuan (the Chinese currency) rather than dollars. This means Russia receives less value for its oil and gas sold to China. Meanwhile, other nations are able to replace Russia as a supplier of oil and natural gas. These alternate suppliers provide LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) at a lower cost than Russia provides via pipeline. European customers don’t trust Russia, partly because of the war against Ukraine but also because of the increasing belligerence against NATO. This is all about an imaginary NATO scheme to weaken Russia. Russians seem quite capable of doing that all by themselves. European nations are turning away from Russia for oil and natural gas and the only alternative for Russia is China, which is willing to invest in new or expanded pipelines going to China as well as provide modern oil and gas technology for upgrading Russian production facilities. This increased dependence on China limits long-term economic and military prospects for Russia, which is becoming a subsidiary of the Chinese economy. This is not a positive development for China, where the economy is already in trouble and the side effects are becoming obvious. There is the growing exodus of foreign entrepreneurs and tech specialists. This is the result of China cracking down on Chinese entrepreneurs who had built huge fortunes and showed signs of independent thinking. Chinese government officials value obedience above all else even though that contradicts the economic reforms of the 1980s that turned the Chinese economy loose and resulted in the second-largest economy in the world. Now the economic growth is stumbling, mainly because of bad government decisions. This includes establishing closer links with Russia and turning on anyone criticizing the government. This is a reminder that China is still a communist police state and by law the security forces and military are committed to protecting the CCP (Chinese Communist Party), not China. Economic growth was achieved by loosening the traditional right government control over everything. Independent thought and action have served its purpose but are now seen as a threat to CCP power, especially the power to make bad, and very expensive economic and political decisions. Closer economic and political links with Russia are hurting the economy and criticism of that by anyone, especially Chinese, is seen as an attack on the legitimacy of the CCP. Economic growth continues to decline and is now under two percent a year and getting worse. That means more unemployment and lower living standards for most Chinese.

June 25, 2022: Russia finally completed its delayed (by covid19) census. These are carried out every ten years and Russia had some good news which, on closer examination, was anything but. Before providing details of the census, Russia announced that the population increased 1.4 percent since 2010. This was unexpected because the trend since 1991 has been falling birthrates and growing death rates. Russia solved this problem by seizing Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and later annexing it and its 2.3 million people. These involuntary new citizens of Russia were included in the 2020 census and many Russians did the math and realized that without the conquered Ukrainians in Crimea, Russian population would have shown a continued decline since 2010.

June 22, 2022: The Russian commander of forces in Ukraine, four- star general Aleksandr V. Dvornikov, was relieved (removed) for failure to do what he did in Syria. Dvornikov was the first commander of all operations in Ukraine. Previously all Ukrainian operations were commanded by Stavka (the Russian General Staff) and civilian officials in Moscow. Dvornikov was free to do whatever it takes to turn the defeats in Ukraine into a victory. He was ordered to achieve a victory in eastern Ukraine by June 10th and failed. Dvornikov was the first commander (for a year) of Russian forces that entered Syria in 2015 to rescue their long-time Middle Eastern ally the Assad clan, which was a large and loyal customer for Russian weapons. A major insurrection against the Assads began in 2012 and by 2015 they were facing defeat. Dvornikov noted that one Assad tactic seemed to work was attacking pro-rebel civilians with artillery and air strikes in order to compel migration to neighboring countries. Dvornikov helped with that while also bringing in tech support to rebuild heavily used Russian tanks and artillery and supply ammunition. Russian special operations troops and aerial surveillance aircraft were brought in to find and attack the Islamic terror groups that now dominated the rebel forces. For his achievements in Syria Dvornikov was put on the fast track for promotions and key defense jobs. This included the command of all forces in Ukraine. Suddenly there were more Russian attacks against Ukrainian civilians even though Dvornikov realized that Ukraine was a lot different from Syria. There was no beleaguered Assad government nor were their many Ukrainians who supported the Russian invasion. While the Assads received more Russian weapons, the Ukrainians were not only producing superior versions of Russian weapons but receiving huge quantities of Western weapons from NATO nations that border Ukraine. Dvornikov supported the shift of Russian forces from northern Ukraine, where most Russian units suffered heavy casualties and were stalled, to eastern Ukraine. Here they were to take part in a major offensive to expand Russian control of Donbas and gain control of the entire Ukrainian Black Sea coast. The offensive stalled and in some areas Russian forces were being pushed back and local partisan groups were appearing in many areas that Russia technically controlled. Dvornikov reported that more unified and effective resistance by locals and the poor quality of the troops he was sent made it unlikely that he could deliver a victory. In Syria, Dvornikov had the most effective and enthusiastic Russian troops available, including special operations forces, many of them training and advising dispirited Syrian troops. Russian pilots were eager to serve in Syria where the targets were numerous and unable to shoot back. The air was free of hostile warplanes. Ukraine was very different and Dvornikov was following orders and trying to come up with a plan that would enable Russia to hold on to some Ukrainian territory and thus claim a victory. This was not acceptable and he was ordered to continue the Russian offensive and do it successfully and with lower losses. The Ukrainians are defeating every new attack plan Dvornikov came up with. This is partially due to the declining capabilities of Russian troops who have suffered nothing but defeat for 90 days and are less enthusiastic about staying in Ukraine.

June 21, 2022: In southern Syria (Daraa province) more Russian backed Syrians are dying. There have been 260 attacks (leaving 214 dead and many more wounded) so far this year against Syrian military personnel, most of them carried out by Iran. This level of violence remained fairly constant for three years until 2022. This is part of the undeclared war between Iranian and Syrian forces going on there since 2018. Anonymous assassins use pistols and hidden bombs to kill those who work, or worked for government forces or Russia and Syria backed local militias. There are also attacks against former members of ISIL and other militant groups. These victims had accepted amnesty. Russian and Assad forces openly force Iran-backed groups and individuals out of the area. There is no open violence because Iran, Syria and Russia are still officially allies. Israel sometimes fires on Iranian forces operating in Daraa, especially near the Israeli border. Israel also shares intel with Russia and Syria about Syrian officers who are secretly working for Iran. The Iranians pay well, and in dollars. Israel will sometimes release evidence of this to the media, so that Iranians back home have another reason to oppose Iranian foreign wars. Negotiations have been underway between Iran and Russia/Syria since 2020 but have not made much progress. The covert Iranian violence is just another incentive for Syria to get the Iranian agents out of the area. In 2022 much of the violence is from other groups, some of them criminal gangs retaliating against those who refuse to pay for protection from the violence.

June 17, 2022: Lithuania began restricting Russian train traffic to Kaliningrad and announced it would tighten the restrictions as more sanctions were imposed on Russia, Lithuania is calling on NATO to block ships from bringing sanctioned goods to the city. Recently Russia responded with a major Cyber War attack on Lithuania and threats against other NATO members, especially Poland and Germany if they cooperate with Lithuania.

Kaliningrad has been a threat to NATO for a long time. In 2020 Russia admitted that it had moved several batteries of satellite-guided RS30 MRL (multiple rocket launchers) into Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave bordering Poland, and Lithuania. These are in addition to several Iskander ballistic missile launchers moved to Kaliningrad in 2018. Russia has also moved more air defense batteries into Kaliningrad. Poland purchased eight Patriot air defense batteries from the United States to protect itself from this threat. Russian city of Kaliningrad itself has long been a threat, especially for its neighbors. Kaliningrad and the area around it used to be part of the ancient German province of East Prussia, which disappeared after World War II. Most of East Prussia went to Poland, but Russia retained the city of Konigsberg and its environs (15,100 square kilometers, about the size of Northern Ireland.) Konigsberg became Kaliningrad and was turned into a major naval base. After 1991 Kaliningrad continued as the headquarters of the Russian Baltic fleet and was guarded by a large force of troops and warplanes. In 2012 Russia activated a new early warning radar in Kaliningrad. Most Russians see bolstering the defenses of Kaliningrad as quite reasonable. You never know when those Western Europeans will invade again. The population of Kaliningrad is 400,000, nearly all of them Russians as the Germans were expelled at the end of World War II. When the Soviet Union fell apart Russia kept Kaliningrad, in part because Kaliningrad is a special place, a reminder of the great (and costly) World War II victory over ancient foe Germany and decades of Russian domination of East Europe that followed. After the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991 Kaliningrad found itself nestled between newly independent (and very anti-Russian) Poland and Lithuania and an ideal place to station a new missile like Iskander.




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