Commentary on The Duran’s new video “Kharkov, Palmyra and constraints of a ‘special military operation’”

A lot of thought-provoking points have been floated in this video. So, I would like to comment on some of them.

Point #1: Putin is ultimately responsible for the Izyum offensive debacle.

As much as I subscribe to the idea of Putin is being ultimately responsible to everything happening in and to Russia, on this occasion I have to disagree completely. Political leader, especially the one without military background, shouldn’t intervene in any way in military planning. We know examples of such leaders from history, as well as the example (allegedly) of Zelenskiy, constantly trying to micro-manage the Ukrainian war efforts. This is a recipe for a disaster, unless you are a military genius akin to Julius Ceasar.

In the Putin’s case, he is a leader who especially removes himself from any decision-making or management of affairs that could be litigated to some other bureaucrat. This is his way to stay in power while different fractions inside the Russian government are fighting each other. The “divide and conquer” approach.

If so, then who is responsible and who is to blame? First of all, the Russian military command in Ukraine is divided into three fronts, each has its own military commander with its own staff. Let us, for reasons of simplicity, refer to them as armies, though technically, I believe, those aren’t armies but rather more similar to army corps. If so, there are three Russian armies participating in the “special military operation” (SMO), each one being responsible for its own front — let us call them the eastern front, the Donbass front, and the southern front. Those armies are combined into the SMO military contingent under a senior commander, ultimately responsible for the conduct of the war. This senior commander also has its own staff and assets. He, in turn, is a subject of the Russian General Staff, which is headed by the Chief of the General Staff. Who is a subordinate of the Minister of Defense, Shoigu, who has the Supreme commander president Putin above him.

We need to know the level at which the failure occurred, in order to place blame. The first candidate is the commander of the eastern front, which includes the Izyum region. It is possible the command wasn’t aware of the Ukrainian intention to conduct an offensive operation there, and it wasn’t ready for this eventuality. It is also possible that they were aware of the dangers, but there overruled by a senior commander, who wanted to divert reserves to other fronts. Even if it was the case, the responsibility of the front commander is to prepare for this possibility using the (maybe) limited reserves he has. We know the Ukrainian force taking part in the offensive is counting around 9,000 men, and it doesn’t include large number of heavy armor (which is probably the reason it wasn’t taken as a serious danger). If so, even a few battalion-tactical groups (BTG) in defensive positions against the directions of the Ukrainian offensive would have at least bought enough time for reserves from other fronts to arrive. And I assume that the front command does have at least a few armor or mechanized combat-ready BTG’s under its command.

If so, ultimately it is the front commander who is responsible for the failed defence in his area of responsibility. That is why I expect him to be released of his command. His immediate commander is also to blame, since he must be prepared for such eventualities and have quick-reaction forces (like air-assault units) that can be deployed in a matter of hours if urgently needed. But it seems the large available reserves were far away and not immediately available for quick deployment, and the paratroopers were thrown into Kherson defense, and currently sitting on their hands, it seems. Usually, if the situation requires, a weak defense can be supported with a large number of ground-attack aviation. But as I wrote previously, Russian military aviation, especially the part of it intended for ground-support, still cannot operate freely because of the large number of shoulder-launched missiles the Ukrainians still possess. Nor did the artillery and rocket troops had fire-solution data to effectively engage the attacking forces.

So how does president Putin come into this equation. Obviously, he has no direct responsibilities in the matter, unless he personally diverted troops from the area in contradiction to the military command. Which is quite obviously not so. But he is responsible to make sure the Russian Army will make necessary cleaning work in its own house, and not sweep the failures under the rug, taking care of its own, as it often happens. A war is a situation in which the systematic faults and incompetence of top military brass make themselves obvious to all. But since the problem is systemic in nature, Putin has to make sure the appropriate fixes are being implemented. Which he usually avoids doing, in order not to steer the cesspool of Russian corruption. “Divide and conquer” approach has its negative side, if taken too far. A leader cannot remove himself from the job of cleansing the corruption. And especially he shouldn’t support the creation of a corrupt and stagnant elite, which is first and foremost oriented towards protecting itself from any outside competition. Generals are a part of such an elite as much as government, legislative and judiciary officials or top managers of state-controlled corporations.

Point #2: The attacks on the decision-making centers.

Here the Duran’s critique is of the lack of the Russian response. Namely: strikes on military, and, possibly, political headquarters if Ukraine start targeting the “Russia proper”, like Crimea.

The Russian warning was obviously (to me at least) regarding military attacks, such as using missiles. It was obviously (again, to me at least) not related to terrorist or “partisan” attacks. So, if Ukraine will try to strike “Russia proper” with Harpoons or ATACMS or any other military hardware, especially the one provided by the West, then the Russia would be expected to retaliate in the similar military fasion, with ballistic or cruise missiles flying into Kiev and such. If some people take the lack of Russian military response against high value targets in Ukraine as a sign that the Russian warning was false, then they are in danger of provoking the very same reaction Russian officials talked about.

Regarding the continuous talks about the scary ATACMS missiles. As I’ve said previously, those missiles are easy targets for Russian anti-missile defence forces. Unlike MLRS rockets fired in salvos, which aren’t a typical target for air-defence systems*, the tactical ballistic missiles are. I would be extremely surprised if any western tactical ballistic missile could hit any major Russian city. Unless some grave mistakes are made, that is.

* I have previously stated that a rocket is a typical training target for Russian close- and short-range air defence systems. And we have seen Russian air-defences regularly intercept MLRS/HIMARS rockets and missiles, as well as Soviet-era Smerch and Uragan rockets. The problem, as I have also previously explained, is the number of those missiles. Since Russian air-defence systems aren’t intended to intercept salvos of rockets simultaneously.

Ballistic missiles, unlike MLRS rockets, are fired in much fewer numbers, and have a much higher trajectory, which allows for longer range detection and longer response time. That makes them a typical target for a medium and long-range systems like Buk, S-300, S-400 etc. And unlike short-range systems which have a few fire channels at best, long-range systems can engage a large number of targets simultaneously (while in practice there will be fewer of them). So any supplies of ATACMS or similar ballistic missiles to Ukraine will not have any effect on Russians but will only serve to justify escalation of Russian strikes.

Point #3: Russian officials are not able to formulate a precise message

This is by design. Putin is very cautious man who likes to keep his cards close to his chest and his options open. That is why his threats are always vague. This also relates to the previous point.

I think the best way to explain this is that is a cultural thing. Unlike in the West, there politicians are almost expected to lie, and no one cares then it happens, in Russia, on the other hand, keeping you word is much more important. If Putin to make a specific threat, and then to roll it back because the situation changed, then he would lose his credibility as a man and, subsequently, as a leader. For many Soviet-vintage people the notion of keeping your word no matter what is an important principle, especially for someone in a position of authority. As I’ve said, in the West this would be disregarded as a normalcy, without any real consequences for an official.

That is probably also a reason many in the West take Russian warnings as bluff. Because culturally it is much more acceptable to bluff in the West. We also see many blatant lies coming out of Ukraine and Western media. I guess people in the West don’t mind to be lied to, if it makes them feel better. For them it’s just not a big deal. In Ukraine, I suppose, it only works because many people still genuinely believe in what they are being told by the authorities. Of course, it wouldn’t last forever.

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