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Four battles that broke the Ukrainian army

The latest fighting near Avdeevka in Ukraine repeats the same disastrous tactics which led to the Ukrainian army’s previous defeats in the “cauldrons” along the Russian border (the ‘southern cauldron’), in Ilovaisk, at Donetsk airport, and in Debaltsevo.

Alexander Mercouris

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The latest fighting in and around the eastern Ukrainian town of Avdeevka is being represented as the product of a supposedly new Ukrainian ‘infiltration’ tactic whereby Ukrainian troops are said to insert surreptitiously into no-man’s land thereby gradually gaining territory and putting the eastern Ukrainian militia at a disadvantage.

In my opinion this is wrong.  The latest ‘infiltration tactic’ is simply a variant of the same tactics the Ukrainians have used throughout the war, which is to attack headlong, putting their troops in an untenable position, which causes them to suffer heavy losses for no actual gain, and in which certain cases leads them to becoming surrounded in pockets which the militia calls “cauldrons”.

The militia use of the term “cauldron” (sometimes translated as “kettle”) to describe how these pockets work.

The Ukrainian troops cut off in these “cauldrons” are deprived of resupply and reinforcement.  Over time their position becomes completely untenable.   The militia does not try to storm the “cauldron” but instead lets it slowly ‘heat up’ until resistance finally collapses.  Any Ukrainian troops still left in the “cauldron” when the collapse comes are then generally exchanged for militia prisoners taken by the Ukrainians.  The heavy weapons left behind – the tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery – are however taken by the militia and refurbished in the militia’s workshops.  The Donbass being a major industrial area there is no shortage of the necessary tools and skills to do this. They are then reused by the militia, becoming weapons in its increasingly sophisticated army.

An unknown but probably very large percentage of the large number of heavy weapons the militia now possesses have probably come to it in this way, with no less a person than President Poroshenko admitting in September 2014 that the Ukrainian military had as of that point lost 65% of its armoured vehicles (see my discussion here).  It is likely that a good percentage of these vehicles are now in militia service.

The fighting in Ukraine most of the time now has something of the static quality of trench warfare.  Whenever the Ukrainians have however attempted large-scale offensives the result has however almost invariably been “cauldrons”, which are the result of the Ukrainians’ own tactics.

A list of the most important of “cauldrons” (there have been other smaller ones) would include the following:

(1) The “southern cauldron”

Arguably the most important and decisive of them all, though one which has been entirely unreported by the Western media.  This arose in July 2014 as a result of a Ukrainian attempt to outflank the militia and cut it off from the Russian border.  The result was that a large Ukrainian armoured column itself got cut off and found itself pinned down against the border.  The Ukrainians tried to resupply this force by dropping supplies by air, but to little effect, and lost several aircraft in the process, for which they blamed the Russian air force.  Without going into the details of this contentious topic, I would here merely say that MH17 was shot down during this fighting.

This “cauldron”  finally collapsed in early August, providing the Ukrainian militia with many of the heavy weapons (including armour) they used in the counter-offensive they launched in late August.

(2) Ilovaisk

This arose in mid August 2014 as a result of a Ukrainian attempt to split the two militia strongholds of Donetsk and Lugansk from each other.  A large Ukrainian force advanced into the town of Ilovaisk only to be rapidly surrounded there.  Ukrainian losses in this “cauldron” were exceptionally heavy, but were limited by Russian President Putin’s call to the militia to allow the Ukrainians to retreat.

The Ukrainians have consistently blamed their defeat in Ilovaisk on the intervention of the Russian army, and this has become an article of faith in Ukraine and amongst the Ukrainian regime’s supporters in the West.  Ilovaisk is also often cited as the decisive battle which caused the defeat of Ukraine’s military campaign in the Donbass in the summer of 2014, which up to that point was supposedly going well.

Neither of these claims should be allowed to go uncontested, though in the West both invariably are.

The reality is that by the time of the battle of Ilovaisk the Ukrainian offensive launched to suppress the Donbass on 1st July 2014 was already in serious trouble, with the defeat in the “southern cauldron” having already happened, and with Ukrainian troops elsewhere becoming increasingly bogged down and unable to make progress against the strongly defended militia positions in Donetsk and Lugansk.

Far from being an unexpected defeat brought about by Russian intervention in a hitherto successful campaign, the advance on Ilovaisk looks more like a desperate last throw to rescue a campaign that was already failing.

As for claims of Russian military intervention in the battle, the supposed ‘proofs’ of this are nothing like as clearcut as is usually said.

The excessive emphasis given by the Ukrainians and their Western supporters to the Ukrainian defeat in Ilovaisk, and the blame for it which they put on the Russians, is arguably explained by a wish to conceal the extent of the Ukrainians’ previous unreported failure in the summer campaign.  In that incidentally it has been largely successful, creating a false narrative of a decisive defeat in August brought about by Russia, which supposedly threw into reverse a previously successful campaign.

(3) Donetsk airport

The temporary ceasefire agreed between the Ukrainians and the militia in Minsk in September 2014 left the Ukrainians in control of a part of Donetsk airport.

The Ukrainian defeat in August 2014 left the Ukrainian troops holding the airport in an untenable position.  However despite this, and despite suggestions by some in Ukraine that the Ukrainian troops in the airport should be withdrawn to more defensible positions and militia claims that the September 2014 Minsk Protocol required control of the airport to be transferred to them, the Ukrainian leadership ordered its troops in the airport to dig in, and reinforced them with some of Ukraine’s best Special Forces troops, whose prowess was talked up by the Ukrainian media, which called them “cyborgs”.

This is very typical of the approach taken by the Ukrainian leadership throughout the conflict.  It persistently refuses to give up a centimetre of territory however indefensible it has become, an attitude that has repeatedly doomed Ukrainian troops to heavy defeats and heavy losses.

The result was that throughout the autumn and early winter of 2014 and 2015, despite the supposed ceasefire, fighting in Donetsk airport continued unabated until Ukrainian resistance finally collapsed in January 2015 after hundreds of Ukraine’s best troops had been killed, with hundreds of others captured.

As in the battle of Ilovaisk the Ukrainians have blamed their defeat at Donetsk airport on military action by the Russians, with President Poroshenko making the fantastic claim that no less than 9,000 Russian troops were involved (presumably defeating the “cyborgs” needed that many).

In reality the Ukrainian defeat at Donetsk airport was the result of the Ukrainian leadership’s insistence that the Ukrainian troops hold an indefensible position long after that fact had become obvious.

(4) Debaltsevo

Debaltsevo is an important town and railway junction which was captured by the Ukrainian army during the summer 2014 campaign.  The ceasefire in September 2014 left it in Ukrainian hands but surrounded on three sides by militia controlled territory.

In January 2015, following a Ukrainian offensive coinciding with the battle of Donetsk airport, a militia counter attack caused the Ukrainian troops – supposedly the ‘heart’ of the Ukrainian army and numbering according to some reports as many as 8,000 men (some reports put the number much higher) – to become trapped there.

The Debaltsevo “cauldron” caused panic amongst Ukraine’s supporters in the West, with concern that the best part of the Ukrainian army would be destroyed there.  This led to a frantic round of negotiations spearheaded by Angela Merkel, who flew to Moscow for private talks with Russian President Putin leading to further talks in Minsk which eventually resulted in the February 2015 Minsk Agreement.

During the negotiations in Minsk Merkel and French President Hollande, who also participated in the talks, discovered the same intransigent refusal by the Ukrainian leadership to face reality and retreat from an untenable position in Debaltsevo that has been a consistent feature of the whole Ukrainian war.

Not only did Ukrainian President Poroshenko refuse their pleas to order his troops to retreat from Debaltsevo, but he refused even to admit that they were trapped there.  This is how I described his behaviour in an article I wrote at the time for Sputnik

The denial reached farcical levels during the negotiations in Minsk. Half the 16 hours of negotiations were reportedly taken up with attempts to get Ukraine’s President Poroshenko to admit the obvious, that his troops in Debaltseve were encircled. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko refused to do so, refusing to order his troops to retreat and rejecting all offers from others to arrange this.

There is no logic behind this denial of reality. No military objective was achieved by continuing to defend Debaltseve when its capture by the militia was just days away.  As commander in chief President Poroshenko owed it to his men to agree the terms of their withdrawal when it was clear their further sacrifice was in vain. At an earlier stage in the war militia commander Strelkov withdrew his men from Slaviansk when it had become clear Slaviansk was undefendable and that no purpose was served sacrificing the lives of his men defending it. That is the basic duty owed by every commander to his men.

President Poroshenko failed in that duty.

The result is scores of Ukrainian soldiers (thousands by some counts) who might be alive are now dead.

In the event the Ukrainian troops did eventually retreat from Debaltsevo after suffering heavy losses and in great confusion, and apparently without waiting for orders from Poroshenko, after which Poroshenko preposterously claimed a “victory”.

As I have written previously, reports of the fighting in Avdeevka suggest that nothing has been learned from these repeated disasters.

The Ukrainian leadership continues to order its men to take and hold indefensible territory.  The Ukrainian ‘infiltration tactics’ near Avdeevka have not resulted in any significant change in the overall military situation.  What they have achieved is to expose the Ukrainian troops to heavy artillery fire by the militia, which has caused them to suffer heavy losses whilst threatening them with encirclement in another “cauldron”.

Realistically, just as peace in Ukraine is impossible whilst the present regime remains in power there, so a change in tactics is hardly likely whilst the same people remain in charge.  It is Ukrainians in the meantime who pay the price.

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BREAKING: Explosion in Crimea, Russia kills many, injuring dozens, terrorism suspected

According to preliminary information, the incident was caused by a gas explosion at a college facility in Kerch, Crimea.

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“We are clarifying the information at the moment. Preliminary figures are 50 injured and 10 dead. Eight ambulance crews are working at the site and air medical services are involved,” the press-service for the Crimean Ministry of Health stated.

Medics announced that at least 50 people were injured in the explosion in Kerch and 25 have already been taken to local hospital with moderate wounds, according to Sputnik.

Local news outlets reported that earlier in the day, students at the college heard a blast and windows of the building were shattered.

Putin Orders that Assistance Be Provided to Victims of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The president has instructed the Ministry of Health and the rescue services to take emergency measures to assist victims of this explosion, if necessary, to ensure the urgent transportation of seriously wounded patients to leading medical institutions of Russia, whether in Moscow or other cities,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitriy Peskov said.

The president also expressed his condolences to all those affected by the tragic incident.

Manhunt Underway in Kerch as FSB Specialists Investigate Site of Explosion – National Anti-Terrorist Committee

The site of the blast that rocked a city college in Kerch is being examined by FSB bomb disposal experts and law enforcement agencies are searching for clues that might lead to the arrest of the perpetrators, the National Anti Terrorism Committee said in a statement.

“Acting on orders from the head of the NAC’s local headquarters, FSB, Interior Ministry, Russian Guards and Emergency Ministry units have arrived at the site. The territory around the college has been cordoned off and the people inside the building evacuated… Mine-disposal experts are working at the site and law enforcement specialists are investigating,” the statement said.

Terrorist Act Considered as Possible Cause of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The tragic news that comes from Kerch. Explosion. The president was informed … The data on those killed and the number of injured is constantly updated,” Peskov told reporters.

“[The version of a terrorist attack] is being considered,” he said.

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10 percent of American F-22 fighter jets damaged by Hurricane Michael

Part of the reason the F-22’s were left in the path of the storm is that they were broken and too expensive to fix or fly.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Note to the wise: When a hurricane comes, move your planes out of the way. Especially your really expensive F-22 fighter planes. After all, those babies are $339 mil apiece. Got the message?

Apparently the US Air Force didn’t get this message. Or, did they find themselves unable to follow the message?

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The Washington Times reported Tuesday that between 17 and 20 of these top-of-the-line fighter jets were damaged, some beyond the point of repair, when Hurricane Michael slammed ashore on Mexico Beach, Florida, not far from the Tyndall Air Force Base in the same state. The Times reports that more than a dozen of the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets were damaged after being left in the path of the extremely fierce storm:

President Trump’s tour Monday of devastation wrought by Hurricane Michael took him close to Florida’s Tyndall Air Force Base, where more than a dozen F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets were damaged after being left in the path of the powerful storm.

The pricey fighter jets — some possibly damaged beyond repair — were caught in the widespread destruction that took at least 18 lives, flattened homes, downed trees and buckled roads from Florida to Virginia.

The decision to leave roughly $7.5 billion in aircraft in the path of a hurricane raised eyebrows, including among defense analysts who say the Pentagon’s entire high-tech strategy continues to make its fighter jets vulnerable to weather and other mishaps when they are grounded for repairs.

“This becomes sort of a self-defeating cycle where we have $400 million aircraft that can’t fly precisely because they are $400 million aircraft,” said Dan Grazier, a defense fellow at Project on Government Oversight. “If we were buying simpler aircraft then it would be a whole lot easier for the base commander to get these aircraft up and in working order, at least more of them.”

This is quite a statement. The F-22 is held to be the tip of the American air defense sword. A superb airplane (when it works), it can do things no other plane in the world can do. It boasts a radar profile the size of a marble, making it virtually undetectable by enemy radars. It is highly maneuverable with thrust-vectoring built into its engines.

However, to see a report like this is simply stunning. After all, one would expect that the best military equipment ought to be the most reliable as well. 

It appears that Hurricane Michael figuratively and physically blew the lid off any efforts to conceal a problem with these planes, and indeed with the hyper-technological basis for the US air fighting forcesThe Times continues:

Reports on the number of aircraft damaged ranged from 17 to 22 or about 10 percent of the Air Force’s F-22 fleet of 187.

The Air Force stopped buying F-22s, considered the world’s most advanced fighter jets, in 2012. The aircraft is being replaced by the F-35, another high-tech but slightly less-expensive aircraft.

Later in the tour, at an emergency command center in Georgia, Mr. Trump said the damage to the F-22s couldn’t be avoided because the aircraft were grounded and the storm moved quickly.

“We’re going to have a full report. There was some damage, not nearly as bad as we first heard,” he said when asked about the F-22s, which cost about $339 million each.

“I’m always concerned about cost. I don’t like it,” Mr. Trump said.

Still, the president remains a fan of the high-tech fighter jet.

“The F-22 is one of my all-time favorites. It is the most beautiful fighter jet in the world. One of the best,” he said.

The Air Force managed to fly 33 of the F-22s to safety, but maintenance and repair issues kept 22 of the notoriously finicky aircraft on the ground when the powerful storm hit the base.

About 49 percent of the F-22s are out of action at any given time, according to an Air Force report this year.

This is a stunning statistic. This means that of the 187 planes in existence, 90 of them are not working. At their cost, that means that over thirty billion dollars worth of military equipment is sitting around, broken, just in airplanes alone.

As a point of comparison, the entire Russian military budget for 2017 was $61 billion, with that budget producing hypersonic missiles, superb fighter aircraft and tanks. Russian fighter planes are known for being able to take harsh landing and take-off conditions that would cripple the most modern American flying machines.

It would seem that Hurricane Michael exposed a serious problem with the state of readiness of American armed forces. Thankfully that problem did not arise in combat, but it is no less serious.

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Saudi Arabia trying to squirm free of Khashoggi murder (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 2.

Alex Christoforou

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RT CrossTalk host Peter Lavelle and The Duran’s Alex Christoforou take a quick look at Saudi Arabia’s possible admission to killing journalist Jamal Khashoggi…accidentally, while they were torturing the man inside the consulate in Istanbul.

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Via Zerohedge

Even before the publication of last night’s Saudi trial balloon hinting that the kingdom would soon acknowledge that the extrajudicial killing of Jamal Khashoggi – the insider-turned dissident journalist who walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week and never walked back out – was the result of a “botched” kidnapping attempt carried out by “rogue killers” (despite reports that the US intelligence community knew that Khashoggi was being “targeted”), two realities had become increasingly clear. One: That the Saudis would avoid responsibility for the killing by pinning it on some unfortunate underling, and two: that there would be few, if any, lasting diplomatic repercussions.

And as more media organizations confirmed reports about Saudi’s plans to spin Khashoggi’s murder as a botched interrogation (we can only imagine what was said in that room to justify the use of such extreme violence), CNN calculated the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Saudi King Salman in Riyadh for approximately 15 minutes early Tuesday, following his 12-hour-plus flight to the kingdom.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s meeting with King Salman of Saudi Arabia lasted no more than 15 minutes, CNN estimates based on the time the top US diplomat’s motorcade arrived at the royal court and departed.

The motorcade arrived at the royal court at 11:42 a.m. (4:42 a.m. ET) and left 26 minutes later. There is a fair distance to walk from where the motorcade dropped Pompeo off to where he met the king.

While Trump said on Monday that Pompeo would travel to Turkey “if necessary”, the Saudi’s decision to “come clean” about Khashoggi’s death pretty much rendered Pompeo’s fact-finding mission unnecessary.More important are developments in Turkey, where the joint Saudi-Turkish “investigation” is turning its attention toward the home of the Saudi consul, where a black diplomatic van that departed the Saudi consulate just under two hours after Khashoggi entered was captured on camera disappearing into a garage. Some speculate that this is where the killers finished disposing of Khashoggi’s body. This comes after a “nine-hour” search of the Saudi consulate building that, according to leaks published in Al-Jazeera, turned up “evidence of tampering” by the Saudis. On Tuesday, Turkey’s foreign minister clarified that Saudi had yet to admit its role in Khashoggi’s disappearance and probable death.

Turkish investigators will carry out a search of the Saudi Consul General’s residence on Tuesday as the probe into the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi continues, according to a Turkish diplomatic source.

CCTV footage released to the media from the day the Washington Post writer vanished show movement of vehicles from the consulate building to the Consul General’s residence nearby.

As speculation mounts that the incident could unseat the increasingly authoritarian Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (who has already marginalized or incapacitated nearly every threat to his rule), it’s looking more likely that neither the US nor the rest of the Western world will do much to punish the world’s most important oil exporter, which can “weaponize” the oil market seemingly on a whim.

Any punishment for this flagrant violation of human rights will need to come, therefore, from the private sector, which, according to Bloomberg, could sabotage MbS’s grand Vision 2030 plan, which aims to remake the Saudi economy via a flood of foreign direct investment:

The economic strategy of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, known as MBS, is to make investment the main engine of economic growth instead of government spending, but the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi could frustrate these ambitions. Foreign direct investment, a key part of the plan to reinvent Saudi Arabia’s economy, declined sharply in 2017 and is unlikely to return to previous levels, leaving the government’s target for 2020 beyond reach, according to analysis by Bloomberg Economics. Increased policy uncertainty and, after the Khashoggi incident, the risk of reputational damage to foreign companies working in Saudi Arabia won’t help.

 

 

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