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By John Helmer, Moscow

Kinetic lesson learning is a euphemism for what military and political commanders learn from mistakes, miscalculations, misjudgements, and misfortunes – their own, and their adversary’s. Kinetic is the newspeak; lesson learning, if it happens, is the reality.

A NATO military veteran has reviewed General P.R. Shankar’s detailed assessments of the Ukrainian war published yesterday.  The Indian artillery expert’s analysis has been appearing regularly in the Indian media. But Indian military experience has not been getting the attention it warrants in the North American and European press; there a handful of Swiss, German,  and US officers have been pitting their expertise against the mainstream media line.

The NATO military veteran’s views follow without editorial comment. The illustrations have been added for reader reference.

  • The political context of Russia’s Special Military Operation (SMO) extended back in time for several years before the operation began on February 24, 2022. The pre-operational warnings to the US and NATO allies were detailed and extensive. Some of them were open and public, as for example, the non-aggression treaty texts which were tabled by the Russian Foreign Ministry in December 2021 and then discussed with US officials during January 2022. The political and military intelligence available to the Russians indicated the culmination of the NATO-Ukrainian buildup to launch offensives against the Donbass and Crimea. The SMO timing preempted them. However, it did so with an unprecedented manpower ratio in which the Ukrainian side in long-prepared fortification lines outnumbered the Russian side by several magnitudes.  Russian military manoeuvre was restricted by this ratio, and the political constraints imposed by the Kremlin. Assessing this evidence helps us to understand now the difference between military mistakes and political ones, between tactical miscalculations and forced errors. When these things are better understood in retrospect we move on to the big question – which side learns the lessons best and fastest.
  • There’s a plethora of evidence in the casualty reports from the NATO side, and in the Russian reporting, that Polish, English, US, Canadian, French and other NATO personnel have been active on the Ukrainian battlefield and have been taking casualties. This is not the only evidence that NATO is in the battle. From the Russian point of view, this is not an academic point.
  • The Russian application of the Deep Battle doctrine includes the strikes on the Ukrainian grid, the cost and extent of which have been masked by the NATO and Ukrainian side. We are not getting an accurate accounting of what this is costing in money, in resources diverted, in political impact inside the Ukraine and in the border states – Poland, Hungary, Romania, Moldova. In such an alliance war against Russia, you must calculate, as the Russian General Staff calculates, how battle tactics contribute to the Russian strategy for those border states and for their readiness to sustain the steady escalation the US is imposing on them. There is no Indian precedent for this. It’s Deep Battle in the style of von Clausewitz, if you like German reference; or Sun Tzu if Chinese is your preference. For Russian reference, I’d call it Kutuzov in reverse – that’s scorched earth on the enemy’s territory, not on your own.  The Russians have now demonstrated  they have the capability to destroy the North American and European supply chains at or before they can deliver to the battlefield. For precedent, consider what the US, Poland, the UK and the others did to Germany with the Nord Stream demolition of September last. The Allied bombings in Germany, or the German bombings of the UK, occurred in a different historical context. They were aimed, as the wartime propaganda indicated at the time and as the subsequent US strategic surveys pointed out, at civilian morale. Those populations – German, British — were geared for, and committed to, war on the home front. That didn’t mean simmering or low-level civil war. At present the North Americans have no clue what a war at home would entail, and they are easily upset, with significant political consequences the leaderships are struggling to manage. We’re seeing General Shankar’s non-linear vector right now. This is the theatre of the war which is not getting enough attention.

Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov in reverse -- Napoleon retreats from Moscow as the city burns – October 19, 1812.

  • Take the so-called Unidentified Flying Object crisis for NORAD [North American Aerospace Defense Command] or the so-called Chinese balloon crisis in the US media. All these UFO shoot-downs and conflicting accounts from the Pentagon, Congress, state governors, the Canadian government, NORAD,  etc., show just how vulnerable they feel. There’s been an embarrassingly obvious display of military tactical and political mishandling of weather balloons, and the disconnect between the military and the political commands.  All systems were tested and they’ve failed. Everything since has been catch-up, grotesquely overdue, clumsily handled, political posturing. It’s obvious and it’s been noted by the Chinese and Russians.
  • Imagine from the military point of view, if the enemy decided to launch a swarm of a thousand weather balloons,  or 5,000 party balloons,  from the Sea of Okhotsk – the US defence capacity would be paralyzed, and [President] Biden and [Prime Minister] Trudeau would have shown themselves up to be asses. The US media haven’t caught on to this yet,  but you can be sure the Russians and the Chinese have. I suppose Chancellor Scholz and President Macron have ordered up top-secret maps and plans for what would happen to their defences if the Siberian east to westward winds which once carried Chernobyl radiation, and regularly carry Siberian cold snaps,  delivered swarms of balloons.  A Maginot Line fantasy in the sky?
  • On the Ukrainian battlefield I believe the Russians made initial missteps. They’ve admitted them and discussed them openly in the Russian media. The special forces operation to trigger a coup in Kiev was one of them; the mistake there wasn’t what the western media have portrayed it. Since then the Russian General Staff has been fighting with a great deal of imagination reflecting a depth of appreciation of their enemy’s vulnerabilities,  as well as the growing appreciation that they have been handed full spectrum initiative. The big mistakes have been made by the other side – the Ukrainians and their NATO handlers.
  • One particular thing that illustrates how the Russians have been learning the battlefield lessons — recognizing their deficiencies in the capacity, bringing in Iranian drones was brilliant. This has also caused quite a “nonlinear” stir among the enemy. General Shankar is right in speaking from his experience – and it’s very valuable to hear him articulate and apply it – that  overwhelming artillery fires, to be effective, should be  accompanied by infantry advances following up. In the Ukrainian situation, however, there are cities in the way, including large Russian-speaking urban populations like Odessa and Kharkov.  What does General Shankar mean by “headway” – Stalingrad, Dresden, Berlin, Grozny?  From what we’ve been witnessing, headway in this war means destroying as much Ukrainian and NATO military capacity as possible so that the Russian populations and resources of the east will be preserved and Russian forces also conserved.  This means drawing the enemy into the eastern “cauldron” – and the battlefield reshaped so as to drive the NATO weapons as far west as possible. This is what’s been happening. As we’ve also seen over the past few weeks, the front east of the Dnieper is not static. With conservation of manpower, yet overwhelming firepower, Russian advances in the Donbass have been steady, and they are accelerating. So has the Kiev and NATO panic. Headway is also sowing, and taking advantage of, this panic in the rear.
  • Yes, General Shankar is quite right — air power cannot cut off or seal borders. The USAF learned that lesson in bombing and defoliating the Vietnamese jungles over years. But in this war Russian air power of all types can severely hamper resupply of forces currently caught in the fire trap that is the Donbass Front. The case in point is the history of the Zatoka Bridge strikes starting in April of last year and then last week. Only this time it wasn’t airpower; it was a cheap drone boat. Now ask the French generals, the Romanians,  and the Moldovans how ready they feel at running the gauntlet into the Ukraine?

The Zatoka Bridge strike on February 9, 2023: source: https://www.youtube.com/

  • If Russia isn’t fighting NATO, as General Shankar implies, it follows that there is no force on the Ukrainian battlefield currently capable of stopping Russian interdiction of a few hundred tanks. Since Russia is indeed fighting NATO, they and the Ukrainians have been hard pressed to fend off low-cost Russian drone and missile strikes. Their US anti-missile and anti-mortar radars have been shown to be vulnerable to Russian electronic jamming and counter fire.  There’s enough western evidence that at least a plurality of the promised French, German and US tanks will be crewed, commanded,  and serviced by NATO personnel. They’ll be just as vulnerable as anything else the Ukrainians have managed to field. Using them “sensibly” would mean not using them at all.
  • The general reminds us of the Red Army’s Operational Manoeuvre Group tactics; he thinks the Russian Army isn’t up to the same quality. In my assessment of the record to date, the Russians are fighting the war based on their current doctrines which appear to be in a state of continuous improvement. The Red Army of World War II was much the same – only there was no democracy of the Russian media at the time discussing the pros and cons. I do not believe we’ve seen the Russian capacity for manoeuvre on full display yet.
  • According to Shankar, “I do not think that buildup of large forces can be concealed in this era of extensive battlefield transparency. So the question is academic.”  C’mon General. Maybe the buildup can’t be concealed, but once everything starts to move, how to determine the true objectives and the direction(s)  of the arrows, the targets, the purpose of the blows? This is where Russian tactics of rapid manoeuvre, plus concealment, plus surprise, will come into play. There’s also plenty of western evidence of the Russian capacity to blind or or at least mitigate NATO surveillance capacity over local areas of the battlespace to consider. Don’t be fooled by what the western propaganda is reporting of what Russian deployments actually are – or what the Kiev regime wants to pretend as they desperately appeal for more weapons. If I were the Russian chief of staff I’d be deploying even more bait on the border now, to draw the US, Germans,  and French into the cauldron that’s cooking for them. The JCS [Joint Chiefs of Staff, Pentagon] understand this too.

Financial Times, February 14, 2023 
Source: https://www.ft.com/

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