Discover more from Euphoric Recall
Day 31 of the Special Military Operation to Take Kyiv in 3 Days
Russia's in trouble.
Euphoric Recall is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, please consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
A Stalingrad Requiem
When I was studying American history, my concentration was in the Era of the Second World War (1939-1945) and the American Civil War (1861-1865). And while I loved studying both periods and learning about the countless incredible events and people that, sadly, are rarely remembered, as well as the hard truths concerning some of America's less than honorable moments, what’s ironic is that I became really interested about Russia and its hellish fight against Hitler.
In the popular American imagination, World War II was a conflict we won. It was fought on the beaches of Normandy and on the sands of Iwo Jima, in the vicious cold at Bastogne and the sweltering heat at Guadalcanal, in the infinite Midway skies and on the bottomless Coral Sea.
But history tells a different story. Truth is that it was far from an American victory and very much an Allied one, and Russia — then the Soviet Union — bore the brunt of the Nazi war machine long before the U.S. had even joined the conflict.
That number right there? That’s how many Russians were killed during WWII—11,000,000 Soviet soldiers, and 13,000,000 civilians.
Do you know how many Americans were killed during WWII?
For added perspective, consider that for every single American soldier killed fighting German forces, 80 Soviet soldiers died doing the same, and 60% of Soviet households lost a member of their nuclear family. What's more, the Germans suffered three-quarters of their wartime losses fighting the Red Army.
“It was the Western Allies’ extreme good fortune that the Russians, and not themselves, paid almost the entire ‘butcher’s bill.’” — British historian Max Hastings, Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945.
The Battle of Stalingrad (the city is now called Volgograd) has always been a private nerd interest of mine. Spend 10 minutes reading about Stalingrad and you’ll never lose respect for the Russian people, I promise you.
From July 17, 1942–February 2, 1943, the Soviet defense of this large industrial city on the banks of the Volga River was, in the opinion of most historians, the greatest battle of WWII. It foiled Operation Barbarossa, Germany’s advance into the Soviet Union as part of the Lebensraum policy designed by Hitler and the Nazi Party in fulfilment of the Drang nach Osten (drive to the East) ideology of German expansionism. Essentially, Hitler intended to exterminate every single person in Eastern Europe for the “survival” of the genetically superior blonde-haired blue-eyed brood.
The Battle of Stalingrad also turned the tide of the war in favor of the Allies. Stalingrad was where armaments for the Red Army were produced, a critical nexus for Soviet transport links with Southern Russia. For the Germans, capturing the city would serve to anchor the northern flank of the larger German drive into the oil fields of the Caucasus—that, and Hitler really, really wanted the victory because the city bore the name of then-Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, and it would be an excellent propaganda trophy.
But Hitler gravely underestimated the Soviets. The intel he was given wasn’t the greatest, this is true; but the failure had more to do with Hitler’s arrogance and hubris than anything else. Murphy’s law strikes again: He was positively sure that even if Stalin managed to cobble together a fresh 50 divisions as reinforcements, which is what he and his expert advisors believed the Red Army was capable of, the city would still fall due to a lack of “domestic support.”
Well, Stalin managed to bring up 200 fresh divisions (for a total of 360), the Russian people turned out to be savagely tough and iron-willed, and the Germans faltered in the brutal Russian cold. Hitler’s invasion plans were drawn up under the assumption that his armies would conquer the Soviet Union before the legendary Russian winter could set in:
Still clad in their summer uniforms, the German Wehrmacht had to resort to using newspaper and straw to insulate themselves against subzero temperatures. They soon faced frostbite in epidemic proportions. Some 100,000 cases were reported by end of 1941, resulting in the amputation of nearly 15,000 limbs. — History.com
Soviet tenacity — more than 1,000,000 soldiers died defending the city — played a key role in setting the stage for an Allied victory.
And I submit that it's impossible to ignore the similarities between what happened then in Russia, and what’s happening now in Ukraine.
There Are Things Worth Dying For
Russia’s strategic pivot to the indiscriminate, long range bombing and shelling of Ukrainian cities brings to mind the London Blitz.
A quick layman’s summary of the London Blitz1: Hitler launched an 8-month bombing campaign on London and other strategic cities fully expecting to psychologically break Great Britain; what he ended up doing was really, really pissing off every single British citizen, solidifying their resolve and turning them into rabid, ravenous war jackals willing to go the distance with Germany.
Strategic indiscriminate bombing and shelling never demoralizes; it fortifies the will to fight and survive.
"And rather than demoralizing the Ukrainians, I think you've all seen that this kind of violence has only motivated them more, which means that they're resisting more, which means the Russians continue to get frustrated and flummoxed and kind of stuck where they are." — Senior Defense Official at a U.S. Department of Defense Background Briefing (Monday, 3/21/22)
Years ago, when Operation Enduring Freedom was not yet considered a quagmire and the consensus among military brass was that “victory” in Afghanistan wasn’t just possible, but probable, so long as the U.S. was willing to stay the course and commit the awesome manpower and resources necessary to bring it to fruition, a Taliban commander said something I’ve always remembered.
Canada’s former Chief of the Defense Staff Rick Hillier was talking to this particular commander about the sheer firepower the U.S. had managed to establish in such a far-flung country, and how the Taliban were more or less getting trounced by U.S. forces in every engagement.
The commander was unperturbed.
“You have the watches,” he told Hillier, “but we have the time.”
And time is not on Russia’s side. A long, slow slog tremendously favors the Ukrainians. Ol' Vlad was under the impression that he’d be running the 100-meter dash, silly goose. Turns out it's a marathon. Preparing for the former rather than the latter only to find yourself in the latter rather than the former has disaster written all over it. This is not Desert Storm, and you are not America.
After one month, Russia hasn’t just failed to take Kyiv, they’ve failed to accomplish any of their objectives. In a background briefing Monday (3/21), a senior U.S. defense official said something that aptly summarizes the RU performance thus far against a massively inferior enemy: "I mean, when you look at the map, you can count literally on one hand the number of population centers that we assess are in Russian control right now."
What they've managed to take are Melitopol, Berdyans'k, and Kherson. That's it. They do not have Mariupol. They do not have Kharkiv despite it being a few miles from the Russian border. And they most definitely do not have Kyiv. In fact, per a senior U.S. defense official on Friday afternoon, “The Ukrainians are trying to take Kherson back, and so… we would argue [that] Kherson is actually contested territory again." The front lines have barely moved in more than a week, and according to some Western intelligence estimates Russia’s taking casualties at a rate of 1,000 a day, which, needless to say, isn't sustainable.
Kyiv And The Importance Of Topography
An ancient tactic that enables a few to hold off many is to defend places where a larger number of foes must pass through in smaller numbers, giving the defenders the advantage or leveling the playing field. Picture an hourglass ⏳. It consists of two pear-shaped bulbs of glass, united at their apexes with a tiny passage formed between them, and this passage is proportioned in such a way that the sand running through from one bulb to another will take a specific measurement of time. That's what I'm talking about, except in a topographical context. I.e. - Alexander the Great defeated a massive Persian army near the coastal city of Issus by using a narrow strip of land between a rocky ridge and the sea to neutralize a numerical disadvantage. (This is what occurs in the movie 300, though that's about the Battle of Thermopylae, roughly 150 years before Alexander.)
Kyiv, the crown jewel that Putin wants most, is a city consisting of a sprawling snarl of roads intersected by rivers and tributaries, a metropolis with workshops and factories that have been repurposed to produce the items fortifications require, like concrete blocks and sand bags and impediments. They have already laid out pie-sized anti-tank mines on the shoulders of roads, which can be quickly dragged across streets to block advances. Every single individual in that city is going to have either a rifle or a crate of Molotov cocktails.
Putin, if he wants to, can certainly level the city via attrition from afar, but as we’re already seeing play out in Mariupol, fighting in rubble gives the defenders the advantage (q.v. - Stalingrad). Cover and concealment is plentiful, and savage, street-by-street gunfights akin to guerilla warfare against an entrenched and motivated foe will, at a minimum, double Russian casualties. In an existential battle, the invaders are hard-pressed to match the tenacity of the defenders.
Nota Bene: Armor becomes very vulnerable within urban grids. RPGs would literally bounce off an M1 Abrams in Fallujah, but we’re not talking about RPGs, and we’re definitely not talking about U.S. tanks. We’re talking about Javelins and NLAWs (Next Generation Light Anti-Tank Weapons) and Russian T-72/80/90s.
The American-made Javelin has a thermal camera you can use to zoom in/out and search for targets and a range of 2.5 miles; the projectile can guide itself in flight and hit moving targets—a ”fire and forget” weapon. The British-made NLAW, on the other hand, isn’t nearly as high tech but is slightly lighter, fires a faster projectile, and is more effective in close-range engagements—an ”aim, fire, run the fuck away or hide” weapon. Both can be programmed to hit tanks from above, which is where armor is weakest. The Javelin has a kill rate of 93%.
The design of the Russian T-72/80/90 is itself a liability. In the graphic below, you can see the crew is sitting on top of a carousel autoloader.
While the autoloader makes the tank smaller (ergo, [theoretically] faster and easier to operate and cheaper to produce) and means an additional crew member isn't necessary to manually load shells, if that ammunition is hit — and it’s clearly in a precarious location — it’s going to be a catastrophic kill. This is happening A LOT. T-72/80/90s don’t hold up well against Javelins and NLAWs.
Nearly a week ago, the reference I consult for all things destroyed Russian equipment — a source that tallies only visual confirmations, meaning every single tally comes with an actual picture of whatever it is that the Ukrainians say they’ve either destroyed or commandeered (this isn’t some MSM BS, folks) — showed that Russia had lost 250 tanks since February 24th. Nation, that is a shit load of tanks.
“The First Stage Of The Operation Is Complete”
Putin knows that it’d be ill-advised to try taking Kyiv block by block. Recall that it took 9 months to take back Mosul from ISIS. Door by door would be an even bigger catastrophe than the spec op blunder. There’ve been reports over the past few days of Russian troops pumping the brakes, so to speak, and digging in—as in actually unearthing trenches. Static.
Right on cue, today, Friday 3/25, Russia held a cute North Korea-style press conference featuring three dudes (important generals, yes, but still dudes) who rattled off some fictitious predications in a poor attempt to pretend everything that's come to pass over the preceding 31 days was fully expected and things are going swell and they're right where they want to be:
“In general, the main tasks of the first stage of the operation have been completed,” Colonel General Sergei Rudskoy, first deputy chief of Russia’s General Staff, said in a Friday briefing. “The combat potential of the armed forces of Ukraine has been significantly reduced, allowing us, I emphasize again, to focus the main efforts on achieving the main goal - the liberation of Donbas.” — CNN
“The liberation of Donbas” is not, and has never been, Moscow’s primary objective. If it had been the primary objective, they wouldn't have tried assaulting on three separate fronts without overall coordination (I have a post coming up about Russia’s astonishingly bad command and control, nation—sit tight). They’ve sacrificed an unconscionable number of men for small gains in terrain, and there’s little doubt that they’ve depleted a considerable portion of their overall combat capacity—not to mention the damage done to Russia's reputation; it's safe to say Russia has assumed the mantle of global pariah, a nation that'll be detested for decades to come.
What I think (and hope) is happening is that Putin is reading the writing on the wall and his eastern foray into Donbas is merely an attempt to salvage something — anything at this point — that can be used as leverage at the negotiating table, something he might also be able to wave around in front of the masses at home as proof of “victory.”
At this presser today, the most intriguing assertion these three dudes made, the statement with the biggest implications, was when they walked back regime change as a goal. In my opinion, that suggests they’re no longer looking to conquer Ukraine and usurp Zelenskyy; this, too, gives me reason to hope the war will be over sooner than later.
Russia cannot win. And because they cannot win, they’ve already lost. Based on Putin's recent speeches and actions I think he’s now keenly aware of how badly he’s butchered this “special military operation” and knows what the long-term repercussions will be like. You don't start talking about holding Soviet style mass purges of "traitors" if things are going well. As more and more reports suggest Russia has lost all tactical momentum, the soup sandwich is rapidly turning into a veritable dumpster fire, and according to retired U.S. Army General Mark Hertling, Ukrainian forces are currently in the midst of moving to surround the Russian 35th CAA northwest of Kyiv, “mauling RU logistics columns attempting to relieve all these forces.”
Clausewitz argued that the best defense is a shield of surgical blows. By all accounts, this is exactly what Ukrainian forces have started doing, transitioning from a purely static defensive position to a defensive posture in which they maneuver between strong points in urban areas. They are quite literally bringing the fight to the Russians, and yesterday (3/24) they liberated all the towns and villages in the Mykolaiv oblast that had been under Russian control (the blue in the above map).
My fear is that, as Putin comes to grips with this fiasco and the humiliation seeps in, he’s going to become even more dangerous. We all know what happens when you corner a wild animal.
Malcolm Gladwell has a good chapter on this in David and Goliath. Unfortunately, Gladwell’s books are like 97% pseudo-science based on the egregiously false premise that correlation proves causation. Don’t even get me started on his book about the Bomber Mafia during WWII. Let’s just say Gladwell and Nikole Hannah-Jones have a similar understanding of/respect for history.