Day Five of Russia’s ‘Special Military Operation’ in Ukraine

I am not a military expert and will not comment daily on the action on the ground during this military operation. However, the analytic possibilities of even military professionals are severely limited due to the intentional withholding of information by the Russian side as regards all activities outside the Donbas area, which they cover extensively in minute detail for reasons I will set out below.  As regards the “news” released by the Ukrainian authorities, its propagandistic nature is evident both in inflated and fake reports and videos of Russia-caused devastation and death and in reports on the extraordinary bravery and successes of their own forces.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, some things begin to become clear about this operation at the strategic as well as tactical levels.

Firstly, what we received from the Russian side at the outset was only their war objectives and their conception of the path to victory.  The objectives were two:

  1. to denazify Ukraine by killing in battle or arresting and sending onward to trials those radical nationalist elements who were behind the coup d’état of February 2014 and worked hand in glove with the Americans to establish a viciously anti-Russian government that has oppressed Russian speakers throughout Ukraine and waged an incessant war on the breakaway republics of the Donbas
  2. to demilitarize Ukraine and establish its future development as a neutral country that does not participate in any alliances

To this, in recent days the Kremlin has added a third objective:  Ukrainian formal recognition of the loss of Crimea and of its incorporation into the Russian Federation.

Secondly, at the strategic level, the Russians from the beginning said they planned to separate the professional Ukrainian army from the radical nationalist battalions who were the main aggressors in the conflict at the line of demarcation between the breakaway Donbas republics and Ukraine proper, and who have been the ‘force behind the throne’ in Kiev ever since 2014 as presidents of Ukraine come and go. Indeed, the Kremlin’s stated ambition was to do a deal with the senior command of the Ukrainian army establishing a period of martial law during which the denazification could proceed.

The opening days of this military campaign have put in serious doubt the validity of the assumptions underlying that strategy. It is now becoming fairly obvious that the past 8 years of military reorganization in Ukraine under the tutorship of the USA and other NATO powers has established discipline within the armed forces, while the political indoctrination from radical nationalists embedded within the military ensures that defection, raising the white flag is not easy any more.

By bringing up reinforcements to the initial 80,000 troops that Russia committed to operations within Ukraine, the Kremlin has indicated that it is about to change its game. Today, we understand that the ‘cauldron’ has been closed around Mariupol, the port and Ukrainian naval base on the Azov Sea, which has a substantial radical nationalist force defending it, the infamous Azov Battalion, in the environs. We will see in the coming days how the Russian command deals with these worst of the Ukrainian elements and whether ordinary Ukrainian army forces in their midst are treated any differently. How this plays out will indicate the further conduct of the Russian troops throughout Ukraine.

Thirdly, I wish to share an observation that bears on my previous description of what I called “the Russian Way of War.”  There is a very specific consideration in how the Russians have prosecuted the incursion, invasion, however you wish to call their operation, in Ukraine.  That consideration arises from the special relationship of the two peoples, Ukrainian and Russian.  In a way, the present conflict is fratricidal, or a form of civil war.  Ukrainians and Russians are very extensively intermarried.  A great number of Russians have relatives in Ukraine and vice versa.  Moreover, during the past eight years there have been several million Ukrainians who fled their country not to the West but to the East and have settled either temporarily or permanently in the Russian Federation.  This being the case, the Kremlin wanted to avoid any brutal assault on Ukraine that would generate enormous casualties, both of combatants and of civilians.  Such an eventuality, much more than the plight of aggrieved oligarchs caught in the sights of Western sanctions, could pose a threat to the stability of the Russian government.

Fourthly, and in conclusion, I call attention to the fact that nearly all Russian news coverage of the opening days of the campaign in Ukraine has focused on the combat being waged by the military forces of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republic with only minor support from the Russian Federation.  This is a key point both for the population of those republics and for the Russian ‘mainland’ in the RF. These republics must win their own territory back by their efforts, not be handed it on a silver platter by RF forces.  The net result of this approach will be to reinforce the sovereignty and national pride within these republics and obviate the need to annex them to Russia, which Moscow plainly does not want to do.

Instead, the independent, Russia friendly Donbas republics are a model for what may be the division of Ukraine into several different states, among which the westernmost based in Lviv will be the homeland of the dyed-in-the-wool radical nationalists. It will be land-locked and sufficiently far from Russian borders not to pose a greater threat to Russia when it joins NATO and the EU than do Slovakia or Poland. In the middle of what is today still Ukraine the Russians may oversee the formation of a country with its capital in Kiev and with genuinely mixed ethnic Russian and ethnic Ukrainian populations that is tolerant of minorities and freed of all radical nationalists and neo-Nazis.  I am not saying that this endgame solution is already set, but it does exist as a possible denouement.

Time will tell.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022

8 thoughts on “Day Five of Russia’s ‘Special Military Operation’ in Ukraine

  1. Thank you for the very helpful observation and analysis. Even from here in Russia it is a bit difficult to get the overall picture of things.


    1. Western media has cancelled/censored news from eastern Ukraine, slyly legitimizing atrocities. I did not know of the scale till I read this. I am super glad that you dressed down Arnab Goswami, its good for our collective eardrums.


  2. I agree with what Mr.Doctorow writes. In fact, I had an exchange of views with him on these matters before the operation started. He was skeptical of the Russian (and my) belief that the Ukrainian army was going to collapse quickly. He was proven right. As it is true that there is no free lunch, so it is also true that there are no “humanitarian wars”. You may lead a war in a way that is civilized and professional, that is try to keep casualties at a minimum, but you cannot have a war where concern for human life overrides your military objectives. That is the terrible thing about war. That is why we are trying to avoid wars.
    Among the errors that Russia has made none is greater than failing to manage the information war. I can’t for the world of me figure out why the Russia’s own’ fifth-column and hostile western NGOs are still operating in Russia, including news organizations. They should have been shut down, and spies as well as western propagandists cross-dressing as journalists kicked out. Tout de suite. Also, the strategists should have by now figure out how to minimize the “nazi” mass media in Ukraine, and this goes especially to the breeding grounds in the west. Russia is not, repeat “not”, going to win any friends there, no matter how unobtrusive Putin tries to make his “special operation” to them. Duh!!! There should be some kind of a payback for Donbass. I don’t mean shelling indiscriminately civilian housing but knocking out luxuries like TV and cell phone towers, even power plants where feasible, is definitely in order. Get them busy with things other than scheming how to kill more people and get the world destroyed in nuclear war on their behalf.


    1. “That is why we are trying to avoid wars”

      Yes, but after watching the situation never since Maidan 2013, having followed the news, having tried to dissect the lies to see what was happening, the lies about the so-called” public driven overthrow of the government, the nonaction of the collective west, the lies about Ukraine not being engaged in a war in the Donbas, the lies about separation good for Kosovo but bad for anything that might help Russia keep its border safe.

      I am just tired. And this is not just a meme, it really hit me today suddenly that I just had enough, and shut down the information overload and the BS coming from the west.

      It could have been so easy. Ukraine accepting it had signed the Minsk agreements and follow through instead of stalling, the US advising not to engage with the independent republics, the Eu following the US.
      NATO declaring it had no interest in accepting Ukraine but “leaving” the door open instead of insuring Russia by assuring would not be accepted, and instead openly supplying weapons, thus creating a creeping unofficial affiliation.
      Ukraine, after the acknowledgment of the republics by Russian not continuing to bomb Donbas. Not instead increasing the attacks fourfold.
      The idiot Zel not threatening – without getting slapped down for voicing the idea by the collective west – to build Nukes, a credible threat considering Ukraine’s history.
      The west instead lying through its teeth about a “peaceful nonthreatening NATO”, acknowledging, after its recent history in Iraq, Libya, Yugoslavia, etc., that Russia had valid concerns about its security caused by the closeness of the block.
      I am tired of the West’s collective stupidity and the incompetence and justified by nothing pathetic arrogance, that led, under USA leadership since WW2, to the death and displacement of tens of millions, with no end in sight things will change.
      Stop this planet, I want to get off.


      1. I think the key phrase is “since WW2”. What this war proves is that there has been no “since WW2”. Let’s face facts. The belligerents in WW2 were immediately assimilated into the United States. The United States reluctance to enter WW2 was based firmly on support for Hitler (cf. Joe Kennedy, Bush grand-pere, Lamont, etc. etc. etc.). Every single solitary US war since then has been a continuation of WW2. Including, perhaps most obviously, the current war. Hitler based his appeal on the theory of a master race. The United States does the same thing: we are exceptional.
        Well, we are. We are a country built on genocide: the Native American, the black African, the residents of Nagasaki…
        As the witches in MacBeth say,
        “When shall we three meet again
        In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
        When the hurlyburly’s done,
        When the battle’s lost and won.
        Fair is foul, and foul is fair:
        Hover through the fog and filthy air.”
        The witches are not going anywhere any time soon. The only thing one can hope for is not to be MacBeth. Right now, the witches control the media, fair is foul and foul is fair, and we are all MacBeths.


  3. Nobody wants to be seen as saying the following, but one unspoken fact is that, whatever one general opinion about them is, «Nazis» (and «nationalists») are the least kind of people to be expected to surrender, or give up on anything that matters to them.

    They typically are very courageous in battle — and this doesn’t change whatever negative characteristic may, even rightly, be attributed to them.

    I agree with most Soloview and Peter Moritz commented.


    I believe the root of the dramatic situation we are in these years is that the USA found themselves too above all competition in the world as regarded the ability to print money indefinitely and have it accepted as worthy money and a strong currency by the entire world.
    This has meant unlimited resources, the possibility for that country to do, have, organize, anything it has wanted, in quantities unconceivable for any competion on earth. Including, of course, war ships, military aircraft, weapons of all kinds for the country itself or to be provided to “allies”.

    I am not sure China or Russia would have behaved better than the USA, had they found themselves in the same position the USA has, to be frank.
    Power corrupts.
    And because power corrupts, I strongly hope that the dawn of an actually multi-polar world may be approaching our present.


  4. Now that the Azov Battalion is back in the ‘limelight’, something I had just learned concerning the Leahy Law (does anyone even remember it?), passed by Congress in 2015 and how the Pentagon conveniently subverted it.

    The Nation: Congress Has Removed a Ban on Funding Neo-Nazis From Its Year-End Spending Bill

    The Pentagon’s objection to the Conyers-Yoho amendment rests on the claim that it is redundant because similar legislation—known as the Leahy law—already exists that would prevent the funding of Azov. This, as it turns out, is untrue. The Leahy law covers only those groups for which the “Secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.” Yet the State Department has never claimed to have such information about Azov, so funding to the group cannot be blocked by the Leahy law. The congressional source I spoke to pointed out that “even if Azov is already covered by Leahy, then no there was no need to strip it out of final bill.” Indeed, the Leahy law cannot block funding to groups, no matter how noxious their ideology, in the absence of “credible information” that they have committed human-rights violations. The Conyers-Yoho amendment was designed to remedy that shortcoming.


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