More to ignore, Book 49..........

Ten Thousan Marbles

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Ten Thousan Marbles

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Feb 6, 2014
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Fiona Hill: Trump said he wanted more than two terms in the White House—and he wasn't joking
Laura Clawson

Fiona Hill is a longtime Russia expert who has repeatedly distinguished herself as someone willing to speak boldly, from the strong warning she offered about Russia’s efforts to undermine U.S. democracy during her testimony at Donald Trump’s first impeachment hearings to her statement soon after Russia invaded Ukraine that using nuclear weapons would be in character for Vladimir Putin.

Hill’s expertise on Putin—she co-authored a biography of him—inflects her read of Donald Trump, who she was able to observe in detail during her time as senior director for European and Russian affairs at the National Security Council in his administration. A New York Times Magazine look back at Trump’s treatment of Ukraine highlights an important passage from her recent memoir, There Is Nothing For You Here: Finding Opportunity in the Twenty-First Century: “In the course of his presidency, indeed, Trump would come more to resemble Putin in political practice and predilection than he resembled any of his recent American presidential predecessors.”
........
In the Times piece, Hill offers more thoughts on that basic assessment, describing how “He would constantly tell world leaders that he deserved a redo of his first two years,” because, “He’d say that his first two years had been taken away from him because of the ‘Russia hoax.’ And he’d say that he wanted more than two terms.”

When interviewer Robert Draper suggests Trump was joking, Hill responded, “Except that he clearly meant it.”

Hill also heard David Cornstein, Trump’s ambassador to Hungary and a longtime friend, say similar things about Trump’s ambitions. “Ambassador Cornstein openly talked about the fact that Trump wanted the same arrangement as Viktor Orban”—the prime minister of Hungary, one of the autocratic leaders Trump so admires—Hill told Draper, “where he could push the margins and stay in power without any checks and balances.”

But it was the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol that fully clarified for Hill who Trump is and what his ambitions are. “I saw the thread,” she told Draper. “The thread connecting the Zelensky phone call to Jan. 6. And I remembered how, in 2020, Putin had changed Russia’s Constitution to allow him to stay in power longer. This was Trump pulling a Putin.”

Yeah. And U.S. institutions and democracy were strong enough to withstand it once, but we can’t afford a second attempt. Especially since, as Hill also told Draper, “Putin has been there for 22 years. He’s the same guy, with the same people around him. And he’s watching everything”—everything that happens through U.S. elections and changing administrations.


As Hill warned during her impeachment testimony, “President Putin and the Russian security services operate like a super PAC. They deploy millions of dollars to weaponize our own political opposition research and false narratives. When we are consumed by partisan rancor, we cannot combat these external forces as they seek to divide us against each other, degrade our institutions, and destroy the faith of the American people in our democracy.” Donald Trump is at this point Putin’s eager ally in doing that.
 
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Ten Thousan Marbles

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Ukraine update: NATO dramatically expands Ukraine weapons shipments after Russia's war crimes
Hunter

In a previous update, we noted that the United States and NATO allies have been pointedly dropping the distinctions between "defensive" and "offensive" weaponry that sharply limited what sorts of equipment NATO countries were willing to send to Ukrainian forces. Body armor, ammunition, and anti-armor drones and missiles were readily handed over; armored vehicles and especially military aircraft were right out.

The distinction was made in an effort to not be seen as providing anything that could be used to attack Russian territory directly, out of fear that Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin would insist that NATO was now attempting to attack Russia itself. That would lead to Putin ordering retaliatory attacks on whatever NATO member he declared to be most involved, which would trigger NATO's reciprocity agreements and turn the war directly into one between NATO and Russia. The Biden administration was especially fierce about limiting such aid, knocking away proposals from NATO countries (read: Poland) that wanted jets or other offensive tools handed over—even as Ukraine's president stumped furiously for such assistance.

There are still a whole lot of reasons why Ukraine probably won't be getting planes anytime soon, but that other equipment? It's flowing. Our own speculation was that this was a direct result of Ukraine forcing a dramatic Russian retreat in the captured towns north of Kyiv, a retreat that left behind a landscape of Russian war crimes. Pictures showed evidence of the torture and summary execution of civilians, the indiscriminate targeting of civilians, and a Russian focus on looting that went past obsession to something bordering on pathetic. The evidence of those crimes was enough to goad NATO nations into taking more aggressive action; it became clear that every passing hour of Russian occupation, in the lands presently under their control, is another hour in which Russian troops are committing new war crimes in the places they still can.

Mother Jones picks up on this too, and provides some corroborating evidence from the Sunday shows confirming that yes, Russia's exposed war crimes are the reason the U.S. is now dropping its previous objections to offensive weapons delivery. Biden National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan used Meet the Press to link the two directly:

“Given the nature of the battle, how things have shifted and adjusted and what the Russians have done, frankly, killing civilians, atrocities, war crimes, we have gotten to a place in the United States and across many members of the NATO alliance where the key question is: What does Ukraine need and how can we provide it to them?”

Sullivan even boasted that the U.S. deserved some of the credit for the Russian retreat, asserting on Face The Nation that Russia "failed chiefly because of the bravery and skill of the Ukrainian armed forces, but they also failed because the United States and our partners put in the hands of those armed forces advanced weapons that helped beat back" Russian forces. That's a long way from previous administration's insistence that the United States mainly was a third party to the war—on the contrary, it's a public boast that NATO involvement is a big part of the reason Russia faced heavy enough losses to force a retreat.

It's also clearly an intentional move. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made a public show of speaking with Ukrainian soldiers being trained on the use of U.S.-provided Switchblade drones in Biloxi, Mississippi, highlighting the direct U.S. training of Ukrainian troops that was no doubt being provided all along but which defense officials were circumspect in talking about. Now it's not just out in the open, the U.S. is very nearly rubbing it in the faces of their Russian counterparts.

Sullivan's statement also hints at the second reason NATO is suddenly being much more aggressive in the sort of weapons they're willing to provide Ukraine, enough so that talk of "offensive" or "defensive" weapons has largely dropped from the discourse. Sullivan lauded the "bravery and skill" of Ukraine's forces in pushing back Russia's Kyiv advance; those Ukrainian forces have shown such dramatic success that NATO countries are now much more confident that if they do take the step of supplying heavy offensive weapons, provoking likely Russian rage, it won't just be pissing into the wind. Those weapons will be used and used effectively and might even make the difference between Ukrainian defeat, long-term stalemate, or outright routing of Russia's forces.

In balancing the risks of "provoking" Putin against the potential gains of providing those weapons, the scales have now tipped heavily toward the gains. NATO now sees Russian occupation of Ukrainian towns as far more intolerable, due to the documentation of war crimes, and sees the odds of Ukraine's military being able to kick those occupiers out as being quite high, compared to what NATO's own military analysts were expecting in the early days of the war.

So Ukraine gets the weapons, and the United States is now much more willing to poke Putin in the eye.
 

Ten Thousan Marbles

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Vladimir Putin has thrown a top spy chief into prison amid concern over apparent leaks to the US about Russia’s plans in Ukraine, according to reports.

A report on Monday suggested Colonel General Sergei Beseda, the head of the FSB’s foreign intelligence unit, has been sent to Moscow’s high-security Lefortovo prison, typically used to house those suspected of treason.

In the weeks preceding the invasion, US media repeatedly quoted intelligence sources that seemed to have a unique insight into the Kremlin’s preparations for the war.


Andrei Soldatov, a respected journalist and author known for his work covering Russian intelligence, quoted several unnamed sources who said Col Gen Beseda, 68, had been transferred to Lefortovo after he was placed under house arrest last month on suspicion of embezzlement.

‘Looking for traitors a tradition of sorts’


While the charges against Col Gen Beseda are unknown, Mr Soldatov quoted sources in Russian intelligence as saying the case was initially handled by the internal security service before it was taken over by Russia’s military counter-intelligence.

“The only thing they deal with is looking for spies,” Mr Soldatov told The Telegraph on Monday.

The apparent leaks to the US were “definitely quite unpleasant” for the Russian intelligence community, he said, adding: “It’s a tradition of sorts – if you screw up, you need to look for traitors to blame it on. So they started looking for spies.”....
 

Ten Thousan Marbles

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Ukraine update: Russia faces myriad challenges in Donbas front, and here's the primer
kos

With Russia massing its troops in Eastern Ukraine for a major offensive to take the entire Donbas region (or maybe stupidly drive into central Ukraine), there is increased chatter about the state of Russian forces. Specifically, what do they even have left to send there, and in what condition? And even if they amass all that combat power, would they even be able to coordinate a massive all-out offensive? In short, I’ve identified the five following key problems bedeviling Russia today.
  • Russia was undermanned even before the war began
  • Russia has suffered grievous losses
  • Some of those shredded units are being recommitted to the Donbas front too quickly, and without proper rest or reinforcement
  • Russia is out of experienced troops
  • Russia can’t attack with massive force
So I’ll try to concisely explain each one of those issues, since that’ll be foundational to the events that take place in the weeks ahead.

The Russian Battalion Tactical Group (BTG)

The BTG is Russia’s basic combat maneuver unit. On paper, it has anywhere between 600 to 1,000 soldiers, so it’s usually rounded out to 800. A BTG is supposed to have 10 tanks and 40 infantry fighting vehicles (IFV). Three BTGs make up a regiment (which has additional resources, like artillery). Of the 800 soldiers, only 200 are infantry, and according to a U.S. Army analysis, “as many as 50 percent of infantry soldiers can be required for local security and routine administrative tasks. This leaves relatively few infantrymen available for mounted squads.” As I’ve repeatedly written, the bulk of soldiers in an army are in support roles, and don’t fire or shoot anything.

Russia undermanned their BTGs, even before the war began


U.S. intelligence estimated that Russia had 120 BTGs at the start of the war. That means 1,200 tanks, 4,800 infantry fighting vehicles, and 96,000 troops. The other ~100,000 Russian troops massed in the area were likely additional support units, combat aviation, engineering detachments, etc. Note that some estimated Russian strength up to 130 BTGs, so it’s not a precise count.

Thing is, we’re not even sure that many BTGs deployed. Turns out that the BTG system was a fantastic vehicle for corruption and graft. A regiment commander could keep one of his three BTGs fully operational for deployments like Syria or to squash a rebellion in Kazakhstan. The other two could be pilfered from the top, for Italian villas and super yachts, in the middle for a country dacha, to the lowliest supply officer, for vodka. Just a few checkmarks on a spreadsheet, and no one would ever need to know. That’s what Russia’s nukes were for—to make sure they never had to fight a real war!

Furthermore, a big part of a pre-war BTG infantry was conscripts doing their one-year-and-out. While we know that many ended up deploying to Ukraine, contrary to Russian law, apparently many did not. Makes sense that various units across such a vast country would handle the situation unevenly.


So there’s a good chance that up to a third fewer BTGs ended up in Ukraine than those original estimates of 120-130, and the ones that did go in were undermanned and under-equipped.

Russia has suffered grievous losses


Ukraine claims 20,000 Russian dead. Last I saw, Western estimates were around 60,000 dead or wounded and out of the fight—a frighteningly high number. Russia obviously won’t release any numbers, not even bullshit ones, though Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson admitted that “[w]e have significant losses of troops and it's a huge tragedy for us."

The BBC reported that “the number of Russian battalion tactical groups (700-1k soldiers each) rendered combat ineffective in the Ukraine war so far has been reassessed at 37-38 according to a western official, leaving 90 operational.” Meanwhile, the Pentagon is saying that “Russia has more than 60 battalion tactical groups currently inside of Ukraine” and another 20 are “regrouping” in Russia and Belarus. Okay, so between 80-90 are left.

However, get this: All it takes for a BTG to become combat ineffective is a loss of 30% of its armor. According to the Oryx database of visually confirmed Russian losses, Russia has lost 475 tanks—the equivalent of entirely wiping out the tanks of 47 or 48 BTGs! And remember, a BTG only has to lose three tanks to be rendered combat ineffective. So presumably, even more BTGs are affected.

Likewise with infantry. Assuming the BTG’s entire 200-man infantry contingent is deployed (which the U.S. Army says doesn’t happen, but let’s assume a desperate Russia is pushing everyone to the front), only 60 need to be killed before the BTG is combat ineffective. So if 60,000 Russians soldiers are out of the war … you can see how that would affect far more BTGs than 37 or 38.

So how does this square with Western estimates? It seems clear that even more BTGs have been knocked out of the war, though it’s very plausible that reinforcements have arrived, others have been combined, bringing the number of available BTGs back up to 80-90.


But given that Russia only had around 170 BTGs in their entire armed forces to start with (assuming that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu wasn’t lying or exaggerating), they don’t have a limitless supply.

Some of the those shredded units are being recommitted to the Donbas front too quickly, and without proper rest or reinforcement

Lots of news like this the last two weeks:


Radio Svoboda published images of a document on April 10 that it reported was issued by the Russian Ministry of Defense on April 2 offering specific bonuses for Russian troops in Ukraine. The document specifies large payments including 300,000 rubles [$3,600 at the official rate] for destroying a fixed-wing aircraft, 200,000 for destroying a helicopter, and 50,000 for armored vehicles and artillery. Radio Svoboda stated the payments are intended to coerce units withdrawn from the Kyiv, Chernihiv, and Sumy regions to reenter combat. We have previously reported several instances of Russian soldiers refusing orders to return to Ukraine after being pulled back.

Russian troops around Kyiv, Chernihiv, and Sumy regions got absolutely mauled. They just lost a battle, saw unspeakable things, committed unspeakable things, and want nothing more to do than get their war loot and themselves back home. There are ample stories of desertion and mutiny, and while they are usually sourced to Ukrainian intelligence (which are listening in on cell phone calls and other unencrypted communications), stories like the one above lend supporting credence. (That’s a big part of trying to see through the fog of war, finding corroborating evidence for such assertions.)

But even if such reports were not true, you just can’t take a broken, traumatized unit, and send them to a new front in the span of a couple of weeks. You can’t take two broken units, smush them together, and call it an operational unit. Training matters—even the most talented musicians need to practice their symphony before performing before an audience, and they don’t have to worry about dying if they get a note wrong.

Russia is out of experienced troops


Western intelligence estimates that Russia still has 80 to 90 of its BTGs available, and the U.S. estimates 60 of them are in the country. However, the U.S. also says that only 20 BTGs are currently in the Donbas region. If you’re asking yourself, where the hell are the other 40 if Donbas is the main axis of attack, join the club! We know there are around six near Kherson in the south, and another six trying to take Mariupol. Beyond that, the math doesn’t add up. UA War Data, an open-source effort tracking all Russian units in Ukraine, has found around 40 51 BTGs in the country [see update below]. Doesn’t mean there aren’t more! Just that no one has found visual confirmation of their existence inside Ukraine. But if all that combat force is available near Donbas, you’d think that U.S. satellites would pick them up.

We also know that Russia is resorting to some extreme measures to maintain combat operations. There was this anecdote which I included in my morning update:

tweet.png


Three officers to crew an armored personnel carrier? Ludicrous. Three officers, none of them in the combat arms? Unfathomable. But it was clearly either that, or turn the vehicle over to poorly educated conscripts or other non-combat arms contract soldiers. They don’t have experienced crews left to operate their equipment.

We also saw Russia’s troop and equipment shortage in another anecdote I’ve previously discussed:

tw.png


Click here if you want my full analysis of the implications of that ambush, but in short, it was a BTG-sized attack with a fraction of the vehicles that BTG was supposed to have. Indeed, it was combat ineffective the second it rolled out of its staging area to the front lines. Instead of 10 tanks and 40 IFVs like it’s supposed to have, it rolled out with around six tanks and 25 IFVs.

Now check this out:



I sat there and counted. It’s not gigantic. It’s a BTG. Except that instead of 40 IFVs, I counted 30 or so (the camera work isn’t always steady). No tanks, but let’s assume those are assembling elsewhere, otherwise this BTG is in even worse shape. Lots of supply cargo and fuel trucks—a reminder that most of the BTG’s manpower isn’t firing guns. But ultimately, it’s an undermanned BTG. On paper, it looks impressive. Driving along the road, it seems massive. But it’s already down 25% of its supposed IFV allotment.


Russia can’t fully man its BTGs, and what they do send out aren’t experienced contract soldiers who know what they’re doing. Is it any wonder that Ukraine has so far been able to chew them up?

Russia can’t attack with more than one or two BTGs at a time.

This is the big one. During this entire war, we haven’t seen Russia attack with more than two BTGs at a time. Maybe it’s happened! Fog of war and all. But we have no public evidence of it. All the way back on March 9, barely two weeks into the war, the analysts at the Institute for the Study of War were already doubting Russia’s ability to take Kyiv for this precise reason:


Individual Russian attacks at roughly regiment size reported on March 8 and March 9 may represent the scale of offensive operations Russian forces can likely conduct on this axis at any one time. The possibility of a larger and more coherent general attack either to encircle Kyiv or to assault it in the coming days remains possible, but the continued commitment of groups of two to five battalion tactical groups (BTGs) at a time makes such a large-scale general attack less likely.

They said two to five, but they were being generous. Two really seems to be the magic number.



I mean, think about it—they have four to six BTGs around Izyum, they’re stuck trying to push further south, and they can’t just roll that entire contingent south? Okay, maybe leave one BTG to hold Izyum, or better yet, park some separatist scrubs in some foxholes there. Regardless, they have a fair amount of combat power around the city, yet they rotate them so only one or two of them are on the offensive at any given time. As I noted earlier:

[W]e see it time and time again. The small, ineffective probes with little power, and no follow up elements to exploit any breakthroughs. Early in the war, observers thought these were “reconnaissance probes,” trying to suss out the location of defensive positions. Turns out, they were actual attacks, the most Russia could muster.
Thus, Ukraine continues to play rope-a-dope, letting the attacking BTG punch through, then slamming it from all sides. Nothing else is coming to its aid. And these attacks happen daily along this [Donbas front] line. Three such attacks yesterday, which was a relatively quiet day, seven on Friday, at least four on Thursday, seven on Wednesday, and so on. Imagine if Russia took those 20+ attacks, and combined them into one massive push? What a crazy idea! It would inevitably be far more effective! Instead, Ukraine continues to benefit from Russia’s rank incompetence

Ukraine gets to handle the drip-drip-drip of Russian attacks, because their enemy can’t open up the spigot. Everyone is expecting a massive Russian offensive in Donbas. No one should underestimate Russia, and NATO needs to hurry up with promised weapons shipments, while making new promises, daily. (That’s starting to happen now, but more urgency is needed.) Ukraine is obviously preparing for a worst-case scenario.

But do I think it’s going to happen? I’ve seen no evidence that Russia is capable of anything “massive’ other than killing civilians. They’ve got that down to a science. But taking and holding contested ground is a whole different skill set. And here’s hoping that they can't fix their issues—new supreme commander notwithstanding—given their severe equipment and personnel shortages.

Oh, and weather. Check out Izyum for the next week:

weather.png


Don’t expect much territory to change hands this next week, but lots and lots of Ukrainian ambushes as Russia is forced to stay on easy-to-target roads.

 
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Ten Thousan Marbles

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Monday, Apr 11, 2022 · 7:11:21 PM EDT · kos
Putin purges one of his intelligence services, with the head sent to prison.

In an article for The Moscow Times, Soldatov suggested that it was possible Beseda was suspected of having passed information to the CIA.
Before taking over the Fifth Service, Beseda worked in counter-intelligence, a role that involved close liaison with the CIA station in Moscow. Were he to be a double agent, it would explain the Kremlin’s suspicions as to how US intelligence had been so accurate in the build-up to the invasion.
Soldatov said he did not believe Beseda was a double agent, but said it suited Putin’s purposes to suggest so.

“It’s good to be able to blame things on a traitor. It’s a very Russian thing to do,” he said.
 

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