Putin Defers to Health Technocracy on COVID, but Not to War Technocracy on Special Military Operations
Not all Russia technocrats are created equal
It is interesting to think that my war takes have caused a lot of saltiness for allegedly being too negative (from the Russia-favoring POV), yet if anything I have been consistently too bullish on Russia.
For example I honestly thought that after 4 weeks of war the Ukrainian military would be sufficiently degraded that going forth operations would become noticeably easier for Russia.
So I didn’t think that war would be over in 4 weeks but I did expect that war would be decided in 4 weeks.
I was wrong.
After 8 weeks of fighting the Ukrainian armed forces are if anything a tougher nut to crack than they were on day one.
They have lost a lot of equipment. Enormous quantities of equipment. But they have also placed tens of thousands more under arms than they had initially and have gained experience and self-belief.
Of course, on February 24 Russia didn’t launch the kind of campaign I would have predicted. It didn’t strike to rip out the heart of the Ukrainian military. It did the exact opposite. It launched an eccentric stress test of the Ukrainian state while trying to avoid having to deal with the Ukrainian armed forces as much as possible.
Could a more by-the-books operation have decided the war in 4 weeks? I don’t know. I don’t think we’ll be able to answer this until years after the war when we have more information.
But what I think is already clear is that just inflicting a grievous blow against the Ukrainian standing army in the first 4 weeks would not have been enough. It’s something that Russia could only fully exploit if it was already mobilizing from day one so as to have the men to flood the openings that presented themselves after the initial Ukrainian military defeat.
And yet even now Russia is not mobilizing. One has to wonder if Russia is serious about winning the war or if Putin is a space lizard conspiring to humiliate and break up Russia and ready it for a sufficiently demeaning absorption into the Anglo-led order where Russians will be invited to permanently self-flagellate as the equal of former Nazis for the simple fact of being Russian.
But I digress.
One type of pushback that I have received is that surely Valery Gerasimov knows infinitely more about how to wage a war than does Anti-Empire. Surely he does. And James LeBron knows infinitely more about playing basketball than does Anti-Empire. — Does that mean that AE can’t possibly know if LeBron is having a good basketball match or not?
You don’t need to be as good at basketball as LeBron is to be able to tell if he’s having a good night.
And you don’t need to be a basketball coach yourself to be able to tell if a coach hit or missed with his game plan.
I don’t know basketball. If there’s a game on I couldn’t tell you if anyone is getting outcoached or not. But I know there are super fans of the game who while not qualified to be coaches themselves do know enough to be able to tell if that happens.
The reason we can do this is because we have hindsight. Yes, with hindsight you can tell if a game plan paid off, or if something else stood a better chance.
Yes, the people who drew up the Russian war plan are much more expert than us. They know the Russian military in and out and spent decades studying war. They know far more about how to run a military operation than we ever will. But we have something that at the time they didn’t and that’s hindsight.
Yes, armed with hindsight we, the non-generals, absolutely can judge if they did well or if they could have done better.
If so it doesn’t mean that we could have done better. It just means that they with all of their expertise and ability could or should have.
No, I don’t think that Russia’s campaign so far would have met with Vasilevsky’s or Suvorov’s approval.
Of course we don’t know if that is the fault of the generals, or the fault of the political leadership ordering them to do certain things while taking others off the board. In fact, I think there is a lot of circumstantial evidence for the latter.
So no, I criticizing the skill of the Russian effort doesn’t mean that I am proposing that could have done better. Or that I am a better general than Gerasimov. Of course not. I didn’t spend decades studying war, how could I be? That would be absurd.
But it’s equally absurd to say we can’t possibly know if the Russian plan worked out or not, when we literally saw it play out before our eyes.
To say that even with hindsight we can’t possibly cast any judgment would invalidate the entire field of history. It would mean that a historian could only ever recount what happened but could never be allowed to draw any lessons or to say if something — in hindsight — was a good idea or not.
I’m sorry, that’s just not true. While I’m no general, I am a passable historian. I can look at a military campaign that already happened and say if it worked out as desired or not, because anyone who cares to study it and has intellectual honesty can.
That’s just it. Most of my alleged critique of the Russian war effort is simply having the intellectual honesty to not shift the goalposts.
I was around on February 24 through March 1 and I know what I saw. I saw Russia launch a regime-change operation with maximalist war aims.
I am not now willing to spin a story where Russia capturing some of the south coast plus Donbass (while putting the final nail in the coffin of Russian-Ukrainian social relations and helping DC to mobilize its vassal swarm for economic war against her) now counts as some kind of a Russian “win”.
Perhaps it is easier for people who don’t write and aren’t on the record to shift goalposts in this way. I don’t have that luxury.
Of course, there are numerous commentators who are perfectly fine with saying one thing today and an entirely different thing tomorrow with zero self-awareness or reflection. But it’s not something I wish for myself.
Then of course are the commentators who had no idea the campaign was coming. Who denied and ridiculed the possibility almost to the very end. Who therefore were dumbfounded when it was launched and were totally out of the loop and had no idea what they were looking at and thus had nothing to say about what the actual war aims were except to parrot Russia’s official, and patently non-serious, demands. They have the luxury of being able to spin a tale of Russia’s aims always having been minimal but the amount of actual insight that goes into that is equal to how much they had before the campaign that proved them ignorant and out of all touch with reality. They live in a dream world. You don’t have to.
Looking at the deployment map before the invasion kicked off I was puzzled as to why the Russians had stretched themselves as much as they did. It was perplexing.
They had a coalition force of just 200K but were setting up an exterior lines advance along half a dozen axes on a vast front from Crimea to Belarus all at once. I knew that in WW2 such a dilution of effort would have been a grave mistake.
But did I call them out on it? No, I didn’t. Why not? Because they have generals which I am not. If actual generals are setting up something that you don’t fully understand then the safe bet is that it’s because they know more than you do. They are the experts. But no amount of expertise can beat hindsight.
I gave the Russian plan all due respect when we didn’t have hindsight. But when things start to roll and we gain hindsight deference goes out the window. As we gain hindsight deference to experts has to start being replaced by judgment of experts. Did they get it right or not?
Just because someone is named Valery Gerasimov or Vladimir Putin doesn’t mean that they can’t err, blunder, or even blunder catastrophically.
When I saw the puzzling pre-war Russian deployment I did the safe and statistically rational thing and assumed Gerasimov had a very good reason to set up the coming invasion the way he did. I assumed he being far more familiar with the Russian war machine knew something I didn’t. I conjectured that perhaps the jump in firepower brought about by the guided artillery revolution now allowed small forces to execute on what in WW2 would have diluted and squandered their strength.
How did my assumption that Gerasimov was doing the militarily sound thing hold up? Not very well. True, guided artillery has greatly reshuffled things but not quite to that extent.
Now that I am armed with hindsight I can see that militarily it wasn’t a sound way to launch which probably means it wasn’t the military’s decision. In my own deference to military technocrats, I had naively failed to consider that Putin might have no such deference but might have them do things that are military nonsense. (But make sense to him based on his socio-political estimation of Ukraine.)
He had deferred to the health technocracy on COVID, but curiously not to the war technocracy, which would have never in a million years advised him such a diluted effort. One that still lacks even a partial mobilization, or just the retention of conscripts.
There isn’t a general in the world told to fight a nation of 40 million supplied by the entire weight of The Collective West that won’t ask to — at the very least — be able to retain conscripts. That Gerasimov isn’t allowed to do so tells you the war is being directed by generalissimo Putin.
Never in my mind did I imagine Russia would be attempting to wage this war while simultaneously releasing conscripts when their 12 months are up. In fact, I thought the late February invasion date was picked to coincide with when the spring 2021 batch would be at near-max experience and would be the most useful. Instead, Putin claims conscripts aren’t even in Ukraine and only by mistake.
Why is he so willing to fulfill the lockdown and forced vaccination fantasies of Ginzburg, Sobyanin and Protsenko, but so resistant to giving manpower to the military after he literally told it to invade a country the size of Texas with the 2nd largest military in Europe after Russia?
Why is he giving NATO ample time to stand up an even bigger Ukrainian army?