Chris Blattman

Links I liked: Ukraine edition

Share on email
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit

  1. How a Putin lookalike banded together with a Kim Jong-un impersonator to smuggle a Zelenzky doppelgänger out of Ukraine

[Kim Jong-un impersonator] Howard X told the Daily Star: “When the war started, I thought of Umid because I know he’s living in Ukraine.”

“I got in touch with him and told him ‘you need to get out of here’ because who knows what will happen if Russia gets hold of a Zelenskyy double.”

…grassroots efforts have been snarled by inexperience with the complex web of regulations governing the international shipment of such equipment.

Kellgren, who has dealt with such red tape for years, managed to connect through a Ukrainian neighbor with a diplomat in the Ukrainian Embassy who helped him secure a federal arms export license in just four days. That process can often take months.

This week, as Congress debated whether to send more advanced weapons and defense systems to Ukraine, workers at KelTec’s warehouse forklifted four plastic-wrapped pallets containing their 9 mm foldable rifles for delivery to an undisclosed NATO-run facility. From there, the shipment’s new recipient, Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense, will be responsible for smuggling the weapons into the war zone.

…From California to New York, elected officials, sheriff’s departments and nonprofits say they have also collected thousands of sets of body armor and millions of rounds of ammunition for Ukraine.

…But hazards abound: One New York City nonprofit leading an effort to collect tactical gear had 400 bulletproof vests stolen before they could be dispatched.

Many of the organizers have no clue how to navigate international arms export rules, which sometimes require approvals from the Departments of State, Commerce and Defense to ship even non-lethal tactical gear. Organizers of one such drive in New York are piggybacking on KelTec’s license to export 60 long guns they recently collected.

“I’m hoping that this movement spreads through the whole United States and every gun store and every gun manufacturer in the U.S. accepts these donations,” Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman said at a news conference Friday.

…there are few analysts of the Ukrainian military—a rather more esoteric specialty—and thus the West has tended to ignore the progress Ukraine has made since 2014, thanks to hard-won experience and extensive training by the United States, Great Britain, and Canada. The Ukrainian military has proved not only motivated and well led but also tactically skilled, integrating light infantry with anti-tank weapons, drones, and artillery fire to repeatedly defeat much larger Russian military formations. The Ukrainians are not merely defending their strong points in urban areas but maneuvering from and between them, following the Clausewitzian dictum that the best defense is a shield of well-directed blows.

The reluctance to admit what is happening on the ground in Ukraine stems perhaps in part from the protectiveness scholars feel for their subject (even if they loathe it on moral grounds), but more from a tendency to emphasize technology (the Russians have some good bits), numbers (which they dominate, though only up to a point), and doctrine. The Russian army remains in some ways very cerebral, and intellectuals can too easily admire elegant tactical and operational thinking without pressing very hard on practice. But the war has forcibly drawn attention to the human dimension. For example, most modern militaries rely on a strong cadre of noncommissioned officers. Sergeants make sure that vehicles are maintained and exercise leadership in squad tactics. The Russian NCO corps is today, as it has always been, both weak and corrupt. And without capable NCOs, even large numbers of technologically sophisticated vehicles deployed according to a compelling doctrine will end up broken or abandoned, and troops will succumb to ambushes or break under fire.

The West’s biggest obstacle to accepting success, though, is that we have become accustomed over the past 20 years to think of our side as being stymied, ineffective, or incompetent.

…The absence of Russian progress on the front lines is just half the picture, obscured though it is by maps showing big red blobs, which reflect not what the Russians control but the areas through which they have driven. The failure of almost all of Russia’s airborne assaults, its inability to destroy the Ukrainian air force and air-defense system, and the weeks-long paralysis of the 40-mile supply column north of Kyiv are suggestive. Russian losses are staggering—between 7,000 and 14,000 soldiers dead, depending on your source, which implies (using a low-end rule of thumb about the ratios of such things) a minimum of nearly 30,000 taken off the battlefield by wounds, capture, or disappearance. Such a total would represent at least 15 percent of the entire invading force, enough to render most units combat ineffective.

…The Russian army has committed well more than half its combat forces to the fight. Behind those forces stands very little. Russian reserves have no training to speak of (unlike the U.S. National Guard or Israeli or Finnish reservists), and Putin has vowed that the next wave of conscripts will not be sent over, although he is unlikely to abide by that promise. The swaggering Chechen auxiliaries have been hit badly, and in any case are not used to, or available for, combined-arms operations.