Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Ukraine: Op-ed

SITREP from the front lines by "Juan"

26 May, 2014

This is the latest "SITREP from the front lines" sent by "Juan" to whom I am immensely grateful for sharing this information with us.

The Saker

A lot has happened since I wrote the last items for the Saker. The situation in the south and east of Ukraine is quite fluid and changes by the hour. 

Early on 24 May 2014 strong movements of Nats units began, converging on the city of Slavyansk and it's outlying towns and villages. 

One armor battalion of the Nats Army moved at speed to the east from their lager some distance away from Slavyansk. This was an 'all arms' movement, the tank companies consisting of upgraded main battle tanks and including at least one Oplot upgraded T80 known as T84,the usual variants of BMP tracked light armored vehicles and BTR troop carriers, many soft skin vehicles (trucks, fuel bowsers, support vehicles amongst others) and the usual large numbers of troop filled trucks. Accompanying this unit was a battery of Msta self propelled howitzers of 15.2 cm main gun size, the howitzer being in a rotating and lightly armored turret built on an older main battle tank chassis. Also in the train was at least one battery of Grad missile launchers. 

This unit stopped on the outskirts of Slavyansk on 24 May and stood down for most of 25 May. 

Numerous other Nats units, some armored and some not, also moved on 24 May to positions close to Slavyansk and the outlying areas. Most of these units appear to be national guard/right sector units.

For the Nats national guard/right sector units, morale appears to be the same, most quite motivated, a few not. However, they have yet to prove they can stand and fight. This mode, 'stand and fight', is the essence of combat and always has been. If the Nats right sector units will not stand and fight then they are useless in any campaign and will only pursue their penchant for terror aimed at unarmed civilians with the resultant anger on the part of the civilians.

Many of the right sector units are composed mainly of young men, many veterans of the brawling in Kiev during the maidan debacle but few with military experience. It is quite one thing to stand against highly trained but unarmed police and Berkut units (unarmed meaning no weapons beyond short truncheons and shields) and rather a different experience to fight armed units who have every intention of killing you. 

The consist of a combat unit is of the utmost importance when going in to combat. As I explained earlier the Nats army does not have a professional NCO corp nor does it have the tradition of such a corp and as such there are few if any combat experienced sarjanti to train and guide these totally inexperienced and poorly trained young men as they enter in to the world of War. Mentioning this failure on the part of the Nats Army and right sector units does not violate my policy of not giving them ideas to improve their units and tactics. It takes years to form, train and deploy such a cadre and in this instance they do not have the time nor the will to do so. 

I have seen extant videos of these young men joyfully riding around on various vehicles, laughing and smiling. I have also seen these same young men in videos as they rolled in to a set piece ambush, I've seen the look of surprise turn to horror to realization they are going to die in seconds. And die they did, shot down by the people who intended to kill them in the beaten zone.

It remains to be seen how these losses, and there has been more than a few of these incidents, will affect the overall morale of right sector units. The losses to right sector have been quite large. The losses are kept secret as much as possible, however the total losses in KIA are approaching 900, possibly more, in the last 3 weeks alone. Wounded are reported to be half of that. Many of the wounded and dead are reported to be evacuated to Kharkov in a clandestine manner and treated at close facilities. We'll leave it at that, although anyone willing to dig a little can find what and where this event happens and how. I will say this about losses, though. It is an established fact that for most units in a combat situation, either actually fighting or in lagers preparing to fight, that 10% or so of your losses are self inflicted one way or another. Accidents do happen, especially when you have a bunch of young men running around with all kinds of dangerous little items that go 'bump' in the night so to speak. Relatively inexperienced drivers piloting large and cumbersome vehicles do hit things, misjudge curves and embankments and roll the vehicle, weapons not treated with the utmost respect do have a nasty habit of discharging at an inopportune moment. Thus 'non combat' casualties are generated with surprising regularity and the dead are just as dead as if they were killed in combat. As an aside, I have always beaten in to my men, either those I was training or those I was serving with, rank didn't matter, that there is no such thing as an 'unloaded weapon'. Period. 

Nats Regular Army units are still to an extent an unknown entity as far as morale goes. The entire army knew of the right sector attack on the Ukraine Army unit of 22 May. Since that time there have been more reports, some confirmed, of Ukraine Army units going over to the Federalist side. There have also been two reports, one patently confirmed, of Ukraine Army units that planned to either stand down or switch sides and were promptly slaughtered by right sector, the confirmed one involving 28 soldiers killed. 

The tank battalion looked good and looked motivated when they were in transit. However, they have not seen combat yet. The Feds have no tanks and no air assets so any combat with tanks on the Fed side will mean someone has to do something unkind to the tanks on the ground, up close and personal. This takes experience and courage. Can the Feds do it? Yes. Will the Nats get their act together on how to use armor? That is unknown and only time will tell and I'm certainly not going to give them the slightest idea how.

Before I go in to the Federalist side morale, I first want to put to rest a phrase often heard in both media reports and civilian conversations. Late me state this once and only once. There is no such thing as a 'bullet proof vest'. Period. The phrases used by the military are 'ballistic armor', 'body armor' and an older phrase of 'flak vest'. This vest and accompanying accouterments do offer some protection against rounds and shrapnel but are in no way 'bullet proof', they are 'bullet resistant'. The material works by dissipating the kenetic energy of an impacting object by spreading the force of the impact through the fabric around the impact sight. Some vests are far better than others depending on the development level of the manufacturer and the standards of the manufacturing contract. I know of none that will stop a modern high energy round fired from a modern rifle at less than 75 meters. Anyone who has information on the latest and greatest of these vests, feel free to correct me. These vests will normally not stop a pointed weapon, read bayonet, when used directly at the vest. However, many years ago when I was in advanced training my grizzled old Sarjant, who had fought on both the East and West Fronts during The War, made it very clear to me what would happen if he ever saw me use the bayonet when I had rounds left in my automat. I have never forgotten his graphic description, told in clinical detail, the gentlest part involving how many teeth one needs to chew a piece of bread (two are needed, according to him the rest are redundant). 

75 meters you say with raised eyebrows? Yes. Look around you. Go out in the woods and look, see how far you have visuals. Go in to a town or city and look. How far can you see when huddled against a building or an alley or in a doorway? Most modern combat is at ranges of less than 50 meters unless you are on the wide open steppes or plains or desert. In built up areas this goes down to even less in house to house fighting, read up close and personal. Now, how to get around this problem will not be revealed in this writing and you know why. 

Morale is generally quite high. They have been reinforced of late with some experienced volunteers, most notably yesterday in Donetsk City seen publicly when the Vostok Battalion arrived to the cheers and tears of the populace. I have also heard various accents in Russian, most notably the soft, almost Southern Drawl of the Chechnyans. 

The Feds will fight and seem to be quite well trained, witness the losses they have inflicted on the right sector units and the very few Nats units that have attacked them at close range.

The problem for the Feds is the Nats have stand off arty up to and including the aforementioned Msta 152 cm howitzers and they have tanks, real tanks, on the edge of the combat areas now. As an aside, a 'tank' is not every vehicle with either tracks or wheels that has a turret and a weapon in said turret. A 'tank' refers to a 'Main Battle Tank', a heavily armored and armed vehicle with tracks and a rotating turret with a good sized piece of artillery in said turret. The Feds have no tanks to my knowledge but, reality being reality, I would not tell you if they did and I knew. They do have a very few BTR and BMP units, lightly armored and armed either fighting vehicles or troop transports. 

I have seen quite modern anti tank weapons in possession of the Fed troops plus the usual RPG systems of various models. They also have surface to air hand held missiles to discourage the Mi24 attacks, which they have, and these weapons are also useful against the Sukhoi ground attack aircraft Kiev is known to possess and which have been used once on Saturday.

However, the Fed morale again seems to by very high. They will fight as they have often already. How will they stand against an all out attack by the Nats forces? That is a question I can not answer. Is Kiev willing to destroy towns and cities to achieve their ends with the resultant very high civilian casualties? I think so. Today and tomorrow may well tell the tale. What are the Fed armed forces numbers? Even if I had that number, which I don't, I would certainly not devulge it. Better to keep your enemy guessing, in other words Operational Security. Always try to keep your enemy as ill informed about you as possible. Let him wonder and worry and be afraid of the dark. 

All this being said, I have no doubts the Feds will fight to the last man. They really have no choice if it comes to an all out assault by the Nats. They either fight and defeat the Nats or fight and die standing rather than kneeling in subservance to a government that is both illegal and detested. 

Will Russia intervene in the event of a blood bath? That is an unknown but I personally do not think they will. 

Fighting going on at Donetsk airport since shortly after 03 today. This morning, reports are a full Rota (company, ergo 200 men if at full strength) of Kiev 'Army' are in the terminal. 4 choppers and 2 aircraft are in the area and there has been bombing. The main terminal is on fire hard in one wing. 

A fly on the wall says there is a 'high value target' with the Rota of Nats troops there, to wit, an American in command. That would possibly explain their 'stand and fight' deal. Either that or there was a landing scheduled of Nats troops at airport to attack Donetsk from within. Airport is on the north west edge of Donetsk City with major roads to it and around it. 

Two attempts have been made to 'get someone out', once by chopper that landed and immediately took off under fire with two others in support, no one got to the bird. An hour later 4 ambulances went at high speed to the main terminal but evactuated no one and did not leave. Possibly the ambulances contained reinforcements for one side or the other or their task was to get the target out and were not successful.

The Chechens and Ramzan Kadyrov - reply to a reader

26 May, 2014

After my recent post about Chechnia and the hope it gives me, one reader posted a particularly interesting comment which, I believe, deserves a full answer.  One thing which particularly motivated me to write this more detailed reply rather that a shot comment-reply was that what this reader wrote almost exactly mirrored my own thoughts just a few years ago.  So in replying to this reader I have the opportunity to explain why I changed my opinion about Ramzan Kadyrov and the Chechen people today.  So let's take the comments of this reader one by one:

1. “Image of Chechnia and Chechens is radically changing in Russia”. In reality, Chechens are being considered what they are – thugs from the mountains, using knives and guns without hesitation after slightest provocation, for example in a restaurant, against usually barehanded adversaries. What is worse, it’s well known that they will get away with it even with blood on their hands. Officials will be bribed or intimidated, so no one will be prosecuted. Even if the case gets to a court – well, persons involved will just go back to Caucasus, where local police will never try to catch them. These guys go through the downtown Moscow in dozens of cars, shooting live ammunition into the air and surrounding vehicles, and again, with impunity. So – there is no change in attitude towards Chechens: they are feared and hated. And since they are really a very small minority the only thing keeping them from being harassed and killed one by one is support from the police, judicial and special services. Sad but true. Google phrases below, if interested. Click images section or youtube if you don’t know Russian: 

Кавказский автопробег.
Стреляющая свадьба.

There is much truth to what you write.  However, what is important here is this: what is Ramzan Kadyrov's stance on the actions of these Chechens?  The reply is that he calls such behavior a disgrace for Chechens and that he demands that Chechen behave more courteously and more respectfully than any other ethnic group.  He not only says so, he takes action which one famous case illustrates very well.  There is this volunteer group in many regions of Russia called "Stop Kham" (stop the rude person") which confronts rude drivers and which glues a big sticker on the front window of cars parked illegally (you can find their videos on YouTube, some with English captions; they are quite fun to watch).  One day they confronted a rich and arrogant woman who, as it turned out, was the wife of a senior Chechen official.  She got really angry and called up some "body guards aka thugs" and a big fight ensued.  When Kadyrov learned about that he immediately dismissed the official.  So yes, there is a lot of Chechen thuggery and banditry, but that is not behavior Islam approves (often the Chechens acting this way are drunk) and Kadyrov tries as hard as can be to crack down on such behavior.

2. Media calls Kadyrov hero? That’s because he was awarded with the Golden star (highest Russian decoration) and title of Hero of Russian Federation, move, that caused sheer outrage and disgust in the Russian military. He is also called academic, which is also true. When Kadyrov is called a hero in media, there is /sarc tag in 100% cases. The tag you are probably missing.

Did you watch the latest 
Вести Недели с Дмитрием Киселевым (Weekly News with Dimitri Kiselev)?  He clearly means it when he says that Kadyrov is a hero and, as I am sure you know, Kiselev is arguable the most powerful and influential person in the Russian media right now.  As for the Russian military being disgusted with Kadyrov getting the medal of "Hero of Russia" this makes sense: he used to be a Chechen warlord who switched sides after all.  But look what he did after that?  His father was murdered and he inherited a horrible situation in Chechnia and yet he achieved what was in theory impossible: there are no more terrorist gangs to guerrilla warloards in Chechnia.  And look at the key role Chechen security forces have played in their elimination, including the recent one of Doku Umarov.  Does that not deserve the title of Hero of Russia?  I think that is completely does and any Russian with such achievements would have obtained it.

3. Kadyrov is really playing very important role. He (actually, his father) was chosen to become a rat wolf of a kind. A creature trained to eradicate its fellow rats, i.e. warlords, that failed to strike deal with the Kremlin first. Was that necessary to bring up such creature? The answer is likely “yes”. It was cost-effective solution. But that doesn’t change Kadyrov from what he is, nor it helps to improve attitude towards him. Nothing will help here, i think.

You are making one huge assumption here: that in essence folks like Maskhadov, Dudaev, Umarov, Basaev, Iandarbiev, Raduev, Zakaev or Baraev are of the same nature as Kadyrov.  That they are all rats.  I totally disagree.  The former were thugs and liars, they made a mockery of Islam and they used Wahabi Islam as a cover for their banditry and mobster activities.  They were in for the money first and foremost, for power second and for hatred third. These guys were truly vicious rats, the scum of the earth, and they have to be eliminated one by one.  I believe that Kadyrov is truly religious and that his goal is categorically different: he is trying to built up a peaceful and prosperous Chechnia and for that he puts his life on the line each day.  Can I prove it?  No.  Can you?  No.  Neither of us are mind-readers.  So it is your deeply held and sincere conviction versus mine.  All I can say is that I used to think exactly like you do.  Two things made me re-consider: discussions with Chechens and listening to Kadyrov in interviews.

4. After elimination of most rivaling warlords Chechnya is living quite well, thanks to the money they got from the federal state budget. Money, that doesn’t go to other regions, that is. They build great mosques and skyscrapers (skyscrapers, for god’s sake, in a rural area!) at expense of regions of Russia proper. It’s well known, and causes a lot of tensions too.

Is Kadyrov wealthy?  Yes.  Does a lot of money come from the Federal Center.  Yes.  So what?  Kadyrov is no richer than any other regional leader and pouring money into Chechnia was an absolute necessity to prevent the return to another civil war fueled by criminal gangs.  Does Chechnia need great mosques and skyscrapers?  First, it is not for us to judge what they want to do in their own country as long as they don't act against Russia.  But second yes, I do believe that Chechnia badly needed big mosques and skyscrapers!  Why?  To restore the badly hurt pride and self-confidence of the people and to give them a sense of hope for the future.  In New York they figured that neighborhoods with broken windows and painted tags foster crime.  So they decided to fix that and it worked.  Same thing for Grozny: these construction are a powerful, visible, signal of what Chechnia wants to become and that is essentially for a city which has almost been leveled to the ground.

One last thing: it would be naive in the extreme to compare Kadyrov to Buddha, Gandhi or Saint Seraphim of Sarov.  The main cannot simply press a button and transmute himself into a Sergei Lavrov kind of refined intellectual.  Besides, while a person like Lavrov is needed in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he would not make a good leader in Chechnia.  I think that Kadyrov should be compared to another Hero of Russia: General Shamanov who also did a fantastic job in Chechnia, who is equally hated by western "human rights" professionals and who is himself not averse to take some, shall we say, semi-legal actions.  These are tough guys, hard has iron, both personally very courageous and both merciless to their enemies.  These are folks you do not want to mess with and you definitely want them on your side.  But are they both also intensely patriotic and intensely committed to their ideals?  I believe so.  Of course, just like with Kadyrov, we don't really know what Shamanov really thinks or what he believes in.  But I think that this is a fair comparison: Kadyrov and Shamanov.  Neither of them will ever become a refined intellectual and both will always remain dangerous predators in their heart.  That is 
exactly the kind of persons Russia needs in the Caucasus today: to keep any wannabe Georgian, Dagestani or Ukrainian enemies of Russia frightened and deter them from taking any hostile action.  At least this is my personal conclusion.

Kind regards and many thanks,

The Saker

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