We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Discussion point: what do you think of the apparent sabotage of Nord Stream 1 and 2?

On February 7th, Joe Biden said, “If Russia invades…then there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it.”

Today the Guardian reports: “Fears of sabotage as gas pours into Baltic from Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines”

Was it sabotage? If so, who did it and was it a good thing to do?

Samizdata quote of the day

The alternative to the cornering and humiliation of Russia would be for the United States and its allies to halt or reduce their aid to Ukraine and impose a stalemate. But that would mean delivering a victory to Russia, because it would still hold more Ukrainian territory than it did in 2014 and would have gone unpunished for pervasive war crimes, including mass murder. In three or four years, a rearmed Russia, thirsting for revenge for the losses and defeats it has suffered, would do the same thing again, and against a dispirited Ukraine. If that were to happen, it would be an utter disaster for American policy and Western security. Such an imposed stalemate would be profoundly immoral, but equally to the point, it would be profoundly stupid.

So this is indeed a dangerous moment, because Putin will inevitably find himself humiliated and cornered and may very well look for a way to lash out. But as General James Wolfe said before storming the heights of Quebec in 1759, war is an option of difficulties. The error lies in thinking that one can titrate the application of violence to achieve exquisitely precise results. To the extent that the West continues to attempt to do so, it will merely ensure more mass graves like those of Bucha and Izyum, and more soldiers lying limbless or in the burn wards of Ukrainian military hospitals. So now, as ever, Churchill’s observation that courage is the virtue that makes all others possible holds, particularly for the leaders of the embattled West. Zelensky could not put it better himself.

Eliot Cohen

Pondering the ongoing Ukrainian counter-offensive

Here is an interesting thread about the ongoing Ukrainian counter-offensive by Mick Ryan.

Ukraine’s counter-offensives – “Seven months from Kyiv to Kharkiv”

Yet another outstanding dissertation from Perun looking at the big picture. It is long but jam packed with good analysis.

Recommended.

Samizdata quote of the day

“German Galushchenko, the minister of energy, told the YES conference that Ukraine could potentially supply two gigawatts of power to the EU right now, but was being prevented from doing so by bureaucratic obstacles on the European side”

Niall Ferguson (not that one, the other one).

First there was #GamerGate and then there was #NAFO

I have written here about the #GamerGate phenomenon before, which was a series of rolling online flash mobs, events and activist commentary mostly doing its thing circa 2014-16. This was kicked off by something specific but quickly evolved into a far wider reaching grassroots pushback against rampant corruption, collusion and ever more woke politicisation in games ‘journalism’ and indeed games themselves.

Naturally the gaming press harrumphed with indignation, howling that GamerGater was an unconscionable harassment campaign; its largely nameless supporters all racist/sexist/homophobic. And much to their shock it didn’t work. GamerGaters ridiculed their evolving official narratives. And to the PR wonks working for MSM publications and their assorted vassals, none of it made any sense, which is why they still make sure the preposterous Wikipedia entry conforms to the official narratives (i.e. very little relation to reality). Too bad guys, you can’t bomb a hashtag.

GamerGate was something that drove (and still drives) many people insane, living rent free in their heads for years. Even now, the mere sight of GamerGate mascot Vivian James (video games, geddit?) can cause hilarity and rage in certain people.

Vivian James

Fast forward to 2022 and behold #NAFO: the North Atlantic Fellas Organisation.

And who are ‘the fellas’? A large and growing online pack of attack dogs countering, dare I say smothering, official Russian troll factory output, as well as other pro-Kremlin talking heads online. And their mascots are daft cartoon dogs (variations of a Shiba Inu to be precise). If journalistic collusion was a constant target of #GamerGate, the Russian troll farms are the modern analogy to that, constantly targeted and smothered by NAFO posting either pro-Ukrainian counter-narratives or just ridiculing or flagging up pro-Russian ones.

Many people, particularly those operating within institutions, don’t understand #NAFO for same reason PR departments of various video games companies & press outlets didn’t (and still don’t) understand #GamerGate.

Is #NAFO engaged in ‘information warfare‘? Absolutely. They even get a shout out from the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence. But they are not managed out of an office in Langley, Virginia nor by some adjunct of the Ukrainian intelligence services. #NAFO is a hashtag, a phenomena, it isn’t “run” by anyone, because it doesn’t need to be. Like GamerGate, NAFO is a confluence of the motivated willing in every timezone on the planet.

And just as GamerGate had a single original trigger, which was then largely forgotten as the ‘movement’ grew and started attacking larger more juicy prey, NAFO started as a fund raising effort for the Georgian Legion (a now battalion sized unit of about 600 within the Ukrainian army made up mostly of Georgian volunteers). At blinding speed, NAFO rapidly morphed into a wider distributed online effort supporting Ukraine in the “information space”.

NAFO… daft, puerile, bonkers, pervasive. But it works.

Samizdata quote of the day

There can be no more questions from Western partner nations about the long-term prospects for Ukrainian victory on the battlefield, which should help guarantee continued large-scale support throughout what promises to be a very economically and politically difficult winter. The Ukrainian government will now be highly resilient against Russian-sponsored narratives that aim to undermine domestic faith in the Zelenskyy government. The Russian leadership faces very awkward questions about its decision to invade and the way in which it has conducted the war, and has also lost any semblance of a bargaining position to try and compel Ukraine to negotiate a settlement that might lock in some Russian gains. Finally, in the all-important area of morale, Ukrainian troops will be going into a muddy, cold and dangerous winter period with confidence in their victory, while Russian troops must come to terms with a major defeat, heavy losses, the obvious lies of their leaders, and fear of what the Spring will bring.

Justin Bronk

Well he does have a point…

The next version of the Stugna software is going to have a “share to social media” button on the screen

– ‘Disruptive Politics

The breakthrough continues

These maps become out of date by the time I post them (Izyum has actually fallen it seems).

The general directly presiding over this astonishing display of operational art is General Oleksandr Syrskyi, who along with his boss Valerii Zaluzhnyi is going to be much studied in the future.

See larger version of this excellent map by Martinn

A Russian military disaster unfolding

The news from Ukraine is so remarkable, I have spent three days oscillating between exuberance and sceptical incredulity of the claims of a huge penetration of Russian lines. But now there are images of Ukrainian infantry on the edge of Kupyansk, a crucial strategic rail junction, others showing units on the banks of the Oskil river. This suggests that in three days, the Ukrainians have come close to undoing what took Russia four bloody months to achieve.

This graphic is already out of date, with video evidence showing Ukrainian mechanised forces approaching Izyum from the north.

Having drawn Russian reserves and focus towards Kherson to face a much announced offensive, Valerii Zaluzhnyi appears to have totally played his opposite number: Ukraine has struck with a fast moving combined arms offensive on a completely different section of the front, achieving near complete tactical and operational surprise. Astonishing.

Update: Ukrainian infantry in Kupyansk, and next to the town hall. Last week it was 60km behind the frontline.

Update again: claims that Ukraine has taken Lyman, which if true suggests at least possibility of Russia retreat a considerable distance away from the Ukrainian axis of advance north of Izyum. However treat as RUMINT at this stage until we see OSINT pictures & videos.

The Battle of Kherson: Somme or Amiens?

It would appear that the Ukrainians have begun a major offensive in the Kherson region. So, using my knowledge of the First World War, how do I think it’s going to go?

“Using your knowledge of a war that ended a century ago! What is this nonsense, Crozier?” Let me explain. I like history in and of itself but I also believe that it can teach us things. Or, to put it another way, part of an historian’s job is to stick his neck out and use his knowledge of the past to make predictions about the future.

So, what predictions am I going to make? I’ll try but first of all I’ll lay down my reasoning (you get marks for that in exams, don’t you?) beginning with the similarities between 1916 and today:

  • the aggressor is everywhere on enemy soil. The strategic imperative is to remove him.
  • the frontline doesn’t move much.
  • the main tool of exploitation is highly vulnerable.
  • the Ukrainian army is large, determined, unskilled and inexperienced.
  • the Ukrainian army is yet to have an offensive success. The battle of Amiens could not have happened without the successes (yes, there were successes mixed with the failures) of the Somme, Arras and Passchendaele.
  • the Ukrainian army lacks material. It is coming but (to the best of my knowledge) isn’t there yet.

And now the differences:

  • Military communications are good. The great problem commanders had in the First World War is the moment troops left their trenches they had no idea where they were or what they were doing.
  • German army morale (certainly in 1916) was much higher than Russian morale today (or then for that matter).
  • German army skill was much greater than Russian army skill.
  • In the First World War, the equipment on both sides was of roughly similar quality. Western-supplied Ukrainian equipment is way better than anything the Russians have to play with. The big difference was that by 1918, the Allies had more of it.
  • The battle space is much bigger. I haven’t got out my tape measure but I am pretty sure that in both breadth and depth (think Saky) Kherson is much bigger than the Somme. Whether this makes much of a difference is another matter.

There is another element to this which is regime existence. This is not about the survival of Putin who seems to be a dead man walking. This is about what sort of Russia is going to emerge from the wreckage. In the First World War, Germany was a monarchy. Now, I’ve never heard anyone say this, but my guess is that just about everyone in the Kaiser’s regime knew that if they didn’t win it was all over. It wasn’t just Willhelm who would get the push but all of them. And, so it proved. Pretty much. That’s a pretty good incentive to keep fighting. Do the Russians have anything similar? They don’t seem to. The reluctance to call up and use troops from Moscow suggests that Putin is very worried about public opinion. Why this might be, I really don’t know. It does, however, suggest that he is fighting this war with one arm tied behind his back.

So, prediction time. The big factors to me are the lack of experience and equipment of the Ukrainian army and the fragile morale and incompetence of the Russian army. At some point it really will be a case of “Kick in the door and the whole building will collapse” as someone once said. I just don’t think it is going to happen in August 2022.

Discussion point: the car bomb that killed Darya Dugina

On 20th August 2022 a car bomb near Moscow killed Darya Dugina, the daughter of the Russian ultra-nationalist Alexander Dugin, who was probably the intended target.

I am away from home at the moment and cannot easily link, but the story is everywhere.

Here are some of my reactions to the killing. I list them roughly in the order that I had them, rather than making any attempt to list them in order of importance.

My first thought was that this killing was ordered by the Ukrainians and was both a crime and a blunder. The rules of war exist for a reason. The fact that Mr Dugin has, and his daughter had, abhorrent views is not the point. Assassination of civilians is several steps along the way to making it a case of “they’re as bad as each other”. Along with many others I support Ukraine in this war because the two sides are not remotely equivalent: Russia is the aggressor, Ukraine the victim. Ukraine squanders that moral capital at its peril.

However, with their usual stunning incompetence at propaganda, an organ of the present Russian government reminded the world that they are quite happy to send assassins to other countries to murder their political enemies, and without the excuse of being at war. Margarita Simonyan, head of the RT television channel, formerly known as Russia Today, said that if the Ukrainians did not hand over the person allegedly responsible, a woman called Natalia Vovk, then Russia ought to send a hit squad to “admire the spires around Tallinn” – a clear, gloating reference to the 2018 Salisbury poisonings. If Putin’s methods are used against Putin’s supporters, why should anyone else in the world care?

The story about Natalia Vovk is odd in several respects. She is alleged to be an agent of the Ukrainian secret services. She is also alleged to have spied on Ms Dugina from a Mini Cooper. Surely a trained secret agent would not choose such a noticeable vehicle? Even more strangely, she is alleged to have taken her eleven or twelve year old daughter along on her deadly mission. While it is not unknown for terrorist groups to use children because children are less likely to be suspected, in these particular circumstances what would she have gained by bringing any child, let alone her own daughter?

If not Natalia Vovk, then who? Some say a Russian anti-government group called the National Resistance Army. Others say an internecine struggle between different factions of the FSB. Or the Russian mafia – not everything has to be political. Of course the Ukrainian government could be still be ultimately responsible even if the actual killing was carried out by any of these.