Can Ukraine’s infrastructure survive the winter?

“The scale of the destruction makes quick repairs impossible. Replacement parts are not often readily available. Energy infrastructure also remains vulnerable: A lot of it is big and out in the open; once hit by a missile and fixed, it can be hit again. “It’s not possible to repair quickly after it’s been damaged,” said Volodymyr Shulmeister, founder of the Infrastructure Council NGO and former first deputy minister of infrastructure of Ukraine from 2014 to 2015. “There were some spare parts, some electric power stations has been repaired, but there will be new problems coming from the air.”
That is on top of all the other destruction Ukraine accumulated in months and months of war: houses and apartment buildings, bridges, roads, railways. There is always collateral damage in conflict, but Russia’s attacks on non-military critical and energy infrastructure are intentional. “This is not a new tactic for Russia,” said John Spencer, a retired Army officer and chair of urban warfare studies at the Madison Policy Forum. “If you think about what they did in Chechnya, and in Syria, to basically bring the civilian population to such despair that they’re willing to capitulate.”

Moscow’s targeting of infrastructure, which some have argued amounts to war crimes, is an effort to undermine Ukraine’s economy and deprive people of essential services — heat, water, electricity — as winter approaches. Russia is struggling against Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the east and south, and so Moscow is trying to extend the war and spread out that pain across Ukraine, not just in war zones. All of it will make Ukraine even more reliant on aid from the West, which is dealing with its own inflation and energy crises. “Russians are actually now acting very cruel, but also in a very well-thought-through way,” said Andriy Kobolyev, former chief executive officer of Ukraine’s largest national oil and gas company Naftogaz.

In areas closer to the fighting, the infrastructure destruction is even more extreme, but also harder to fully assess. Zelenskyy accused Russian troops of destroying “all the critical infrastructure: communications, water, heat, electricity,” before retreating from Kherson last week. In Mykolaiv, in southern Ukraine, Russia cut off the city’s water supply months ago; salt water had run through the taps for months, and potable water is now just being restored. Zelenskyy said in early November, before the latest round of air strikes, that Russian attacks damaged about 40 percent of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure; precise data on how badly and where is hard to get, in part because Ukraine is closely guarding that information as a matter of national security.”

3 ways of looking at Putin’s barbaric escalation against Ukrainian civilians

“Eight months into the war, Ukraine is now on the offensive. Their forces seem better armed, better trained, and better motivated, and most military analysts are predicting further Ukrainian territorial gains before the onset of winter. Russia’s partial mobilization looks like a logistical mess. Only four countries voted with Russia in the latest United Nations General Assembly vote condemning its attempted annexation of Ukrainian territory.
An underrated source of power in world politics is a reputation for effectively wielding power. This means Russia is in serious trouble.

What was supposed to be a lightning-fast decapitation of the Zelenskyy government has turned into a costly conflict with an opponent out-fighting and out-thinking Russians on the battlefield. Even before the recent strikes on civilians, Putin was forced to acknowledge that key partners like China and India had started making noises indicating dissatisfaction with the war.”

“Russia very much wants to remind friends and foes alike that it still can project destructive power. And while bombing civilians seems to have minimal military value, Russia might believe it to be an effective signal that bolsters its nuclear threats. After all, the logic runs, if Russia demonstrates that it is unconcerned about the norms and laws governing the use of conventional force, that sends a message that it is likewise unconcerned about the norms and laws governing the use of nuclear weapons.

And the more credible Russia’s nuclear threat is, the more it can rely on that tool as a form of coercive bargaining.”

“Even autocrats need to placate supporters among what political scientists call the “selectorate” — the people or group who, in practice, select a state’s leader. In a democracy, the electorate is the selectorate; in a more authoritarian regime, the selectorate is smaller and murkier. Regardless of regime type, a ruler needs to command a winning coalition with the selectorate.

Who are the actors in Putin’s coalition? A recent Institute for the Study of War (ISW) analysis of Russia’s information space concluded that there were three key pillars of support for Putin: “Russian milbloggers and war correspondents, former Russian or proxy officers and veterans, and some of the Russian siloviki — people with meaningful power bases and forces of their own. Putin needs to retain the support of all three of these factions.”

The reverses on the battlefield in the east and south of Ukraine cost Putin some support among his selectorate. According to the Washington Post, “A member of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle has voiced disagreement directly to the Russian president in recent weeks over his handling of the war in Ukraine.” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told the Post that was “absolutely not true,” even while acknowledging, “There is disagreement over such moments. Some think we should act differently. But this is all part of the usual working process.”

This jibes with the recent public criticisms by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and Evgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary organization, about the way the war has been prosecuted. ISW reported similar discontent from nationalists and military bloggers.

As ISW writes, this dissension has a feedback effect that erodes Putin’s standing: “Word of fractures within Putin’s inner circle have reached the hyper-patriotic and nationalist milblogger crowd, however, undermining the impression of strength and control that Putin has sought to portray throughout his reign.”

Striking Ukrainian civilians with missiles makes sense for Putin within this domestic context. After the bridge attack, there were calls from Russian nationalists to escalate the conflict. They want the gloves to come off in the fight against Ukraine, advocating for ever more brutality. The rocket attacks against Ukrainian cities will placate Putin’s nationalist supporters for the time being, and allows his subordinates and surrogates to make the case on television that they are responding to reverses on the battlefield. Putin’s promotion this week of Gen. Sergei Surovikin, known as “General Armageddon” for his brutality in Syria, will also bolster his standing with nationalists.”

“Daniel Kahneman won a Nobel Prize for his research with Amos Tversky demonstrating that most humans do not make decisions based on rational choice, but rather use a collection of cognitive shortcuts known as prospect theory. A central tenet of prospect theory is that individuals will be risk-averse when they are winning, and risk-tolerant when they are losing. In other words, when someone faces a setback relative to the prior status quo, they are more willing to take risks in an effort to “gamble for resurrection.”

This seems to describe Putin’s behavior over the past few months.”

“the West should hope Russia’s actions are explained by Putin’s individual psychology. Both the international and domestic explanations suggest that Putin will double down on aggressive actions. At the global level, Russia keeps getting humiliated by UN General Assembly votes. At the domestic level, Putin will need to amp up the barbarism to maintain nationalist support as Russian fortunes in Ukraine continue to deteriorate.

Only Putin’s reputed procrastinating tendencies suggest a return to Russian lethargy in adapting to Ukrainian military successes. It would be ironic indeed if the greatest gift Russia can give Ukraine is Vladimir Putin’s torpor.”

What comes next in Ukraine’s fight against Russia

“The war is being fought in Ukraine, and Ukrainians are certainly suffering the most. But the costs incurred by Ukraine’s primary backers, the United States and Europe, will determine Ukraine’s capacity in defending itself against Russia. Without Western support, Ukraine’s recent victories in the counteroffensive will be difficult to sustain.”

With Western Weapons, Ukraine Is Turning the Tables in an Artillery War

“Ukraine now has an edge in range and in precision-guided rockets and artillery shells, a class of weapons largely lacking in Russia’s arsenal. Ukrainian soldiers are taking out armored vehicles worth millions of dollars with cheap homemade drones, as well as with more advanced drones and other weapons provided by the United States and allies.

The Russian military remains a formidable force, with cruise missiles, a sizable army and millions of rounds of artillery shells, albeit imprecise ones. It has just completed a mobilization effort that will add 300,000 troops to the battlefield, Russian commanders say, although many of those will be ill-trained and ill-equipped. And President Vladimir Putin has made clear his determination to win the war at almost any cost.

Still, there is no mistaking the shifting fortunes on the southern front.

Ukraine’s growing advantage in artillery, a stark contrast to fighting throughout the country over the summer when Russia pummeled Ukrainian positions with mortar and artillery fire, has allowed slow if costly progress in the south toward the strategic port city of Kherson, the only provincial capital that Russia managed to occupy after invading in February.

The new capabilities were on display in the predawn hours Saturday when Ukrainian drones hit a Russian vessel docked in the Black Sea Fleet’s home port of Sevastopol, deep in the occupied territory of Crimea, once thought an impregnable bastion.

The contrast with the battlefield over the summer could not be starker. In the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, Russia fired roughly 10 artillery rounds for each answering shell from Ukrainian batteries. In Kherson now, Ukrainian commanders say the sides are firing about equal numbers of shells, but Ukraine’s strikes are not only longer range but more precise because of the satellite-guided rockets and artillery rounds provided by the West.”

How Iranian Kamikaze drones could help turn the tide of war in Russia’s favour

“Russian forces have apparently obtained scores of the cheap, plentiful and potentially deadly Iranian-made drones. Like the Nazis in the Second World War, the Russians may hope these new weapons could turn the tide of the war in Russia’s favour.
Made by the Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industries Company, the Shahed-136 entered service last year. With a range of up to 1,500 miles and carrying a warhead of 35 kilograms, the drones are designed to loiter overhead before striking targets. Ukrainian forces say they come in both Kamikaze and munition-launching variants.

Constructed from commercially available components – including mobile phone parts and model aircraft engines – the drones are easy and cheap to build with a supply chain that is difficult to disrupt with Western sanctions.

Their deployment comes amid signs that Russia is running out of other precision weapons. Last week, Sir Jeremy Fleming, the head of GCHQ, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We believe that Russia is running short of munitions.”

The waves of drone strikes are a rudimentary new form of terror, compared with the precision Kalibr cruise missiles which have been used to strike targets deep inside Ukraine.

The drones are estimated to cost less than £18,000 per unit. That’s a fraction of the cost of conventional Russian missiles, which range from about £270,000 for a Tochka-U up to £11.6 million for a x-101 cruise missile.

The relatively low speed of the Shahed-136 – just over 100 miles per hour – make them a tempting if difficult target for Ukrainian small arms fire. Soldiers in the Kharkiv region recently told The Telegraph that the drones are slow and visible enough to engage with small arms fire and that they had downed at least one using ordinary machine guns.

But their lack of defences is not a design flaw. The disposable drone is designed to be launched in swarms to overwhelm air defences. The drone is fired from launcher racks in stacks of five aircraft that take off with a booster rocket before switching to a petrol engine.

This, plus the size of their payload, means the drones pose a serious threat, Ukrainian commanders say.”

“Tehran has carefully couched its denials about the Shahed-136, repeatedly rejecting accusations it has supplied Russia with weapons “to be used in the war in Ukraine”. But security officials told the Washington Post that Iranian technical advisors have visited Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine to provide training on operating the drones.”

The Afghanistan Deal that Never Happened

“McKenzie was flying to Doha, Qatar that day to offer the Taliban a deal: Keep your forces outside the capital so the U.S. can evacuate tens of thousands of Americans and Afghans from the city, and we won’t fight you.

But by the time McKenzie landed, the offer was DOA. Taliban fighters were already inside the presidential palace, and Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, had fled the city. The Afghan government the United States had worked so hard to keep afloat for 20 years had collapsed in a matter of hours.

McKenzie had to think fast. His mission, to conduct a massive air evacuation from Kabul’s one functioning airport, had not changed. So, on the way to Doha’s Ritz Carlton, he came up with a new proposal. Don’t interfere with the airlift, he told the Taliban’s co-founder, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, and we won’t strike.

The general, who spoke to POLITICO Magazine by video call almost exactly one year after the fall of Kabul, walked away from the meeting with a deal that would allow the U.S. military to control the airport while they undertook the largest air evacuation in U.S. history, flying out more than 120,000 people in the span of two weeks.

But during the meeting, he also made what critics say was a strategic mistake that contributed to what became a chaotic, deadly evacuation: refusing the Taliban’s offer to let the U.S. military secure Afghanistan’s capital city.

McKenzie defended his decision during the interview, noting that he did not believe it was a serious proposal, and in any case securing the city would have required a massive influx of American troops, which could have triggered more fighting with the Taliban.

At the end of the day, the U.S. military didn’t have many good choices.”

“I got on the airplane on Sunday morning. While I was on the airplane over, I was getting reports that the Taliban is in downtown Kabul, they’ve actually overrun the city. By the time I met with them, they had significant forces inside the city. So I said, ‘Look, we can still have a solution here. We’re going to conduct an evacuation. If you don’t interfere with the evacuation, we won’t strike.’

Mullah Baradar said, off the cuff, ‘Why don’t you come in and secure the city?’ But that was just not feasible. It would have taken me putting in another division to do that. And I believe that was a flippant remark. And now we know in the fullness of time that Mullah Baradar wasn’t actually speaking for the hard-line Taliban. I don’t know if he could have delivered, even if he was serious about it.

I felt in my best judgment that it wasn’t a genuine offer. And it was not a practical military operation. That’s why they pay me, that’s why I’m there.

By and large, the Taliban were helpful in our departure. They did not oppose us. They did do some external security work. There was a downside of that external security work, and it probably prevented some Afghans from getting to Kabul airport as we would have liked. But that was a risk that I was willing to run.”

“I believe the proximate defeat mechanism was the Doha negotiations [on a peace deal]. I believe that the Afghan government began to believe we were getting ready to leave. As a result, I think it took a lot of the will to fight out them.”

“You can go back to the very beginning of the campaign, when we had an opportunity to get Osama bin Laden in 2001, 2002 and we didn’t do that. The fact that we never satisfactorily solved the problem of safe havens in Pakistan for the Taliban. There are so many things over the 20-year period that contributed to it.

But yes, I believe that the straw that broke the camel’s back and brought it to the conclusion that we saw was the Doha process and the agreements that were reached there.

It’s convenient to blame the military commanders that were there. But it was the government of Afghanistan that failed. The government of the United States also failed.”

“It’s very hard to see in Afghanistan after we left. We had 1 or 2 or 3 percent of the intelligence-gathering capability that we had before we left. All our intelligence told us that the Taliban would probably allow space for al Qaeda to reassert itself and at the same time, they’re unable to get rid of ISIS. I think both are going to be entities that are going to grow.

The fact that al Qaeda leader Al-Zawahri was in downtown Kabul should give us pause. It tells you first of all, that the Taliban obviously negotiated the Doha accord in complete bad faith. They said they wouldn’t provide a safe haven for al Qaeda. What’s the definition of a safe haven if it’s not the leader in your capital city?”