A Quick Update on Ukraine
A special Monday Jackal.
Hello my beautiful babies. There is honestly too much happening in Ukraine right now to cover in just one Jackal a week, so I decided to do a quick should-reads1 list of some relevant articles. But before we do that, I have to re-up my praise of the Substack app. I am now fully using it as my go-to Substack reader, and it neatly organizes all your subscriptions into one tidy little app. Get it here.
Bottom line: The war is going very poorly for Putin. His army wasn’t prepared for the Ukrainian resistance and has vastly overcommitted its resources. The initial assumption (not just from Putin) was that the Russians would be able to take Kyiv in roughly 48 hours. When that didn’t happen, it was assumed that the Russians would eventually take Kyiv, but would have to resort to brutal, Aleppo-like tactics. Now, it’s looking like the Russians may never take Kyiv. I am putting this piece first because it is the most must-read on this list. Michael Weiss and Holger Roonemaa give us the good news:
[T]he Ukrainians have started to go on a mildly successful counteroffensive north of Kyiv. According to their defense ministry, they recaptured the town of Baklanova Muraviika, thus halting Russian efforts to take Chernihiv. Moreover, Russia’s losses in firepower also tell a story of squandered manpower. As of this writing (late on March 11), the popular, open-source intelligence analysis blog Oryx has verified at least 171 pieces of abandoned Russian equipment and 464 pieces of captured equipment, ranging from tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery and even sophisticated air defense systems. All of this materiel was once manned by Russian operators who have either been taken as prisoners of war or simply deserted and wandered into the Ukrainian countryside. Karl specifically indicated to New Lines the “massive” fatigue of Russian units as a reason for the sluggish pace of their movement. “A third of the units have been replaced [as of now], but incoming units have even worse quality. Another third has been destroyed, killed or wounded. Re-formation of units doesn’t have a good impact on combat capability.”
That piece squares with other reports from the U.K., which are saying that the Russians have actually lost territory since the (illegal) invasion’s early days. While that could be due to an overestimation of their acquired territory early on, let’s take the good news and hope for the best. Another thing squaring with this: Russia asked China for military and economic help. There are two important ways to think about this:
First, Russia asking China for help in the first place shows that Putin is getting desperate. Doing so relatively early in the conflict shows that Putin knows he doesn’t have the resources to carry this war to the finish line.
Second, the fact that this request leaked to begin with is super important. From the beginning, the Biden Administration has taken a very aggressive point of leaking every possible piece of intelligence related to Russia’s invasion, which has frustrated Putin. If new reports are true that China reacted positively to Russia’s request, then we may have brought the issue out into the open just in time.
All that said, is Biden really doing enough to help Ukraine? Leave aside the nutcases on the Right; there has been some healthy bipartisan criticism of the Administration. Charlie Sykes says Biden has given Russia dangerous signals, where we basically tell Putin where the red line is and allow him to run right up to it.
My general thoughts on this: I think it’s important to say the Biden Administration is getting a lot of things right (especially on sanctions) while also criticizing them for not doing more. It seems obvious to me that Jake Sullivan going on TV and communicating to Putin that we would not tolerate the use of a chemical weapon logically allows him to conclude that we will tolerate anything short of that, which shouldn’t be the case.
It’s hard for me to look at pictures of bombed maternity wards and not immediately say, “OK, time for a MOAB on the Kremlin.” But, emotional decisions generally aren’t wise when dealing with a country that has nukes (nor would I make a good President with my Starship Troopers-esque foreign policy). It’s important to remember that a Russian war with NATO has been war-gamed for decades; experts have planned out how this could go probably longer than some of my readers have been alive (not me, I was born before the Soviet Union even existed).2
But those experts are only right until Putin proves them wrong. It is becoming harder and harder to see how a limited no-fly zone (protecting humanitarian corridors) should be considered off-limits. And for all of that, the Administration deserves criticism, and it could get harsher as time goes on.
Another point for the good guys: Russians are leaving the Motherland en masse. This is also a direct counter to my argument above for more military action; as the costs of Putin’s war become more obvious, the chances grow that he will be overthrown by the Russians themselves.
Relatedly, a woman burst onto Russian TV with a sign calling for an end to the war:
You love to see it. She even did a video explaining her actions:Marina Ovsyannikova, the woman who ran onto a live state TV news broadcast, even recorded a message beforehand. In it, she says her father is Ukrainian. She calls for anti-war protests, says she’s ashamed about working for Kremlin propaganda, and she denounces the war absolutely.
There has been some hesitancy to praise Ovsyannikova (and others) because she worked for Russian media and fed false information to her viewers. I think that is misplaced; we’ve talked a lot on here about the power of misinformation and how it can warp your brain. When that is coupled with the threat of State power, it can be overwhelming. These Russians are heroes and we should praise them! Otherwise, why would others in the same position feel motivated to speak out?
Speaking of misinformation, Ben Collins has a great thread on the “biolab” garbage conspiracy theory and how it all started with QAnon:
This isn’t directly related to Ukraine, but China is taking notes on Putin’s invasion of Ukraine:
Finally, Russia’s default might be coming soon.
Hopefully that catches you all up. In a final note, I think it’s important to emphasize that you can’t read everything about what’s happening in Ukraine. There is simply too much information out there, and if you don’t limit yourself you will end up getting anxiety because you don’t “know” enough. Trust me, you could read articles for 10 hours a day and there will still be more for you to read. Don’t doomscroll.
Digest what you can and pray for our friends in Ukraine and that Putin meets a swift defeat. See you Friday.
Since there are new subscribers to the Jackal, we don’t do “must-reads” here because that is too bossy. However, my use of the word “should” in this context is really the same as your Mom saying you “should” wash your hands. Of course, if you are an employee of a restaurant, you must wash your hands before going back to work, so now I’ve lost the point of this footnote. Wash your hands?