Friday, February 6, 2015

The Vineyard of the Saker: War in the Ukraine

by Alexander Mercouris

Russia Insider has published my latest piece on the course of the Ukrainian war. It is a more refined and thought through version of the piece I previously wrote on this Page.

1. My key point is that it is not minor tactical movements that are determining the course of this war. It is the level of casualties the Ukrainian military is suffering. They were hammered in the summer and they are being hammered again now.

In my pieces for Russia Insider I quoted the number of Ukrainian military deaths on the basis of official Ukrainian documents obtained by a hacking group as 1,100 for a two week period that covered the battle for Donetsk airport. The NAF today puts the total number of Ukrainian military deaths presumably since the resumption of the fighting at 1,500. Colonel Cassad yesterday was saying that the number could be over 1,800.

The figures of 1,500 and 1,800 cover a longer period than the 1,100 in the hacked Ukrainian documents. The fact that they are all of the same order of magnitude however suggests that all these figures are reliable. If so then that that shows that my guess that the Ukrainian army is suffering deaths at a rate of several hundred a week is probably correct.

2. Of course the NAF is also currently suffering a high rate of losses. However it is clear that these are at a substantially lesser level than the Ukrainian. As I said in the Russia Insider piece an NAF spokesman put the loss ratio at 4 to 1. Colonel Cassad put the total number of NAF deaths at 600 for the same period as that of his 1,800 estimate for Ukrainian deaths. That is a 3 to 1 ratio.

I suspect that the number of NAF deaths over the last 3 weeks is higher than usual because the NAF has been on the attack for most of this period. When that stage ends after the Debaltsevo pocket is fully encircled I would guess the number will fall. By contrast as the pocket collapses the rate of deaths of Ukrainians will rise especially if the pattern of unsuccessful counterattacks the Ukrainians have a habit of launching is followed.

3. As I said in the article for Russia Insider the Ukrainian military simply cannot go on taking losses at a rate of several hundred a week. In the slugfest we are seeing it is only a matter of time before it breaks. This is especially so since I strongly suspect that I have greatly overestimated the total number of Ukrainian troops in the Donbass in my Russia Insider piece. I put the number in the same range of 60,000 or so thousand that was the case in the summer. I suspect the real total is substantially less, thus the attempted mobilisations about which in the Russia Insider piece I have much to say.

4. On the political front, the DPR/LPR are taking a very hardline in the negotiations. Specifically:

(1) they are now formally challenging Kuchma's plenipotentiary rights i.e. his right to sign agreements that formally and legally bind the junta. They are insisting that he formally be given such rights.

As I have argued before there was no doubt that Kuchma was acting on behalf of the junta when he signed the Minsk Protocol and it is fatuous to deny the fact. However the junta has repeatedly resisted pressure to formalise Kuchma's position since if they formally admit he is their representative then they formally admit they are negotiating with the NAF, which is something for political and ideological reasons they emphatically do not want to do.

(2) the NAF has said that they would agree to a new ceasefire on the basis of the actual combat line and not the line agreed in the Minsk Memorandum. This is a way of rejecting calls for a ceasefire because they know perfectly well that the junta will not agree to this. Importantly the NAF rejected a call for a temporary 7 day ceasefire in Debaltsevo today. I think this is the first time the NAF has rejected a ceasefire when it has been offered.

This is a fundamental shift from the position last spring and summer. At that time it was the NAF (and the Russians) who were repeatedly calling for a ceasefire and the junta that was ignoring such calls even as it purported to agree to them. Now the situation is reversed. There is no better indicator that the initiative has now passed to the NAF than that.

Complete story at - The Vineyard of the Saker: War in the Ukraine

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