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Putin's SMO Half-Assery Has Been an Invitation to US to Send More Weapons Faster
One million (!) shells in seven months as nobody fears a power that wages "SMO"
The US has so far transferred around one million 155 mm artillery shells to Ukraine. One million since late-April, early-May when the shipments started, or 150,000 per month. That is not counting the 152 mm shells that someone (likely the US) is buying in Bulgaria and transferring via Poland to Ukraine.
Along with the financial aid, and satellite support, the shells are the most important aspect of US intervention in the Russo-Ukrainian war.
The quantities being transferred over are so great that the US stockpile is noticeably shrinking. The one million shells transferred in seven months represent about 20% of the pre-war stockpile, and the production doesn’t come close to covering the deliveries. Pre-war production in most years was well under 300,000 annually, which wouldn’t even cover two months of transfers.
It is quite likely that in the medium term the US will start rationing its deliveries, assuming that the US won’t want to go under 50% of the pre-war stockpile. I guess that in one sense this is “good news” for Russia. But viewed differently it also means that in America’s shell-delivery war against Russia the only limiting factor for DC is shell availability.
That is quite something when you consider that in March-April the US was debating with itself whether to introduce American-caliber artillery to the conflict at all, wondering if that was too much of an escalation.
Indeed from February through April there was a lot of American talk of “self-imposed red lines” on US arms shipments which has now disappeared.
In terms of deterring US arms shipments, the Russian leadership can be deemed to have failed. Now let’s be fair. There are objective reasons for that. The Empire with its vassal swarm simply is considerably more powerful than Russia. Complete deterrence was never possible. The US was always going to send over some weapons and was always going to be gradually escalating the quantities and types of weapons it was sending. However, the problem that I see is that at every step the Kremlin has acted to encourage the Americans to send more weapons, rather than to discourage them. Instead of offering deterrence — no matter how limited — Kremlin’s peculiar prosecution of the war has served as an open invitation to the Americans to send more.
One piece of news this week has been that the US has transferred over so many shells to be fired at Russian soldiers that this is straining its stockpiles. One other piece of news this week has been that Putin has re-entered the “grain deal” (after being outside of it for the whole of 2 days) and that he guarantees the safety of commercial shipping sailing to and from Ukrainian ports.
That is bizarre, isn’t it? As you have the enemy feed one million shells into Russia’s war to be fired to kill Russian soldiers, Vladimir Putin is rewarding it by entering into a “grain deal”. At this point why in the world wouldn’t the Americans be sending over these shells? What do they have to fear??
Russia forsaking a naval blockade helps out Ukraine’s budget leaving more money for the military and it eases the load on its railways. The grain would still get out eventually but every railway car that is carrying grain is a car that can’t transport something else. The Russian military will (sometimes) hit Ukraine’s railway infrastructure and at the same time, Putin will be concluding deals to make the life of the railways easier.
(I am told that the grain deal grants some SWIFT-related concessions to Russia as well which make its own export of grain and fertilizer easier, but even this part of the deal also benefits the West by lowering world prices.)
Look, I am not remotely saying that Putin could get a deal where he would allow grain to get out, and in return, the US would stop bringing in shells. That obviously would never happen. What I am saying is that by half-assing his war to such an enormous extent Putin is constantly signaling to the US that this isn’t an important conflict for him, and that the US intervening with these arms shipments isn’t a big deal.
I read his essay and therefore I know that his Ukrainian enterprise is actually enormously important to him. He views it as a belated, desperate, existential war to preserve the last vestiges of the All-Russian nation. The last bit of a united East Slav identity.
(Arguably war is precisely the wrong tool for this, but it is also the case that the very reason the invasion plan was so toothless and so disastrous, is that it went to extreme lengths to try to produce a result while avoiding any real war, — regardless of how utterly improbable that outcome actually was. If there was any chance at all that SMO could win Ukraine without a war he was going to explore that possibility to the fullest.)
But the fact that the war in Ukraine actually is enormously important to Putin and to Russia doesn’t matter, when at the same time: War has not been declared. It is deemed a “special military operation”. Conscripts have been made non-deployable. Russia didn’t mobilize for 7-months into it, and still hasn’t touched the Dniper bridges. “Grain deals” continue to be made and Russian gas continues to flow through Ukraine for Western markets. When Putin does stuff like fly off to Vladivostok to observe an irrelevant military drill while his outnumbered soldiers (and cops) are about to get hit by a massive Ukrainian offensive in Kharkov.
In fact, the main message that Moscow tried to project at home until the September disaster in Kharkov was that nothing had changed. That peacetime has not been broken and that normalcy will continue.
When you lay all that on top of each other, then why the Empire shouldn’t pour weapons by the planeload into your war? When you’re being so cavalier about your own war, then why should America be very careful not to rush ahead of its “self-imposed red lines”? There was literally the situation that the Russian effort was screaming out for manpower and Putin wouldn’t do something as simple as proclaim Russia to be in a state of war and release the 150,000 already-trained conscripts into the war even as Ukraine kept expanding its force by leaps and bounds.
Why should the US have been nervous about escalating its transfers when Putin was pursuing the war with all of the intensity owed to some no-stakes adventure in Africa?
Particularly sending shells that will now kill — not just professional Russian soldiers — but also just normal Ivans mobilized for the war is, I think, a qualitative difference. Pouring in heavy weapons into a war that regular Russian citizens are going to serve in en masse would normally be quite a grave and escalatory step to take.
Had Putin prosecuted the war with conscripts and mobiki from the start it seems likely to me that Americans would have been a lot more careful and would have balked at sending in US-made artillery quite so early. And if this greater Russian manpower also meant that the Russian war was proceeding much better the Americans would have remained respectful for even longer.
Instead, we have the situation now where regular Russians are being introduced into a conflict in which gigantic US 155-mm deliveries are already a fact and thus a “non-issue”.
And the situation where Americans are delivering shells to be fired to try and kill Russian soldiers at such break-neck speed that they’re starting to be worried for the state of their stockpiles, and looking for ways to boost production.
Regardless of what you think of the Russian war in Ukraine the inverse is of course entirely impossible. The idea that the US would invade a country, say Iraq, and that Russia would then pour weapons to help kill Americans is preposterous. There was the brouhaha about Russian-paid “bounties” in Afghanistan but that was all made up. The US hasn’t fought a war where somebody was actively arming the other side since Viet Nam fifty years ago in an entirely different world.
But to the reverse scenario of America propping up the other side in a Russian war, Putin has no answer. In fact, with his dilly-dallying, he assured the Americans of his confusion and invited the problem of fast-growing US intervention into his home.
The big problem with defending Putin’s performance in this war is that it hasn’t even been average. It’s not just not-judo and not-5D. It has been anti-judo and anti-5D. It’s just one rudimentary unforced mistake after another.
I understand that he was hoping against hope that when he rolled across the border that Zelensky would just flee and the Ukrainian state would fall apart. That he could have Russo-Ukrainian unity restored without the need for a fratricidal war. And that he had only the fuzziest idea of how to proceed if that didn’t happen.
But the fact is that it didn’t happen. The fact is that people are dying and that his procrastination is making it worse. Worse for Russia, and worse for himself.
Even his own position is not improved by this endless refusal to take command of the situation. Yes, on February 24 it was his action that got him into a great big mess. But since then it has been his inaction that has been digging his hole deeper. Small problems today grow into bigger problems tomorrow.
Since February 24 he has looked like a man who, afraid of what is in the envelopes, refuses to read his mail until the unpaid bills pile up to where he loses the house.
There are 300,000 regular Ivans from Sverdlovsk headed to the front where a daily barrage of 5000 US-made shells awaits them. Perhaps this is not the time for grain deals, gas deals, and signing onto G20 COVID declarations? Perhaps now is the time to give NATO a reason for pause?
Or else, as tonight some Ivan’s gut spills out from an American 155-mm he can die in the comfort of knowing that Russia “hasn’t even started anything serious yet”?
Well, what are you waiting for? The Americans are starting without you.