Thursday, May 25, 2023

25: Ukraine

Wagner Group boss, "Putin's butcher," says Russia at risk of losing Ukraine war and facing a "revolution" The man in charge of Russia's notorious Wagner Group private mercenary army, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has warned that Russia could face a "revolution" and lose its war in Ukraine unless the country's "elites" fully commit to the fight and put the country "into North Korea mode," with martial law imposed, to achieve results on the front lines. ........ In a lengthy video interview with a pro-war, pro-Kremlin blogger, Prigozhin lashed out against Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and his daughter Ksenia, a sports executive whose New Year wartime vacation in Dubai drew ire from the Russian public. ......... "This duality may end like it did in 1917, with a revolution, when first the soldiers rise up, and after that their loved ones do," he warned .......... Prigozhin said Russian citizens could raid the elites' homes with "pitchforks… and don't think there are hundreds of them, now there are now tens of thousands of relatives of those killed, and there will probably be hundreds of thousands." ........... "We stormed in an aggressive manner and stomped our boots all over Ukraine while looking for Nazis," Prigozhin said. "We approached Kyiv, s**t our pants, and retreated. Next onto Kherson, where we also s**t our pants and retreated, and nothing seems to be working out for us." .......... He said the vague goals stated by his long-time associate President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials at the beginning of the war, as aiming to "denazify" and "demilitarize" Ukraine, had failed. ........... Prigozhin, who grew rich on government catering contracts and has since branched out, as CBS News' own investigation has found, to bankroll his private army through a vast and brutal international criminal enterprise, offered two potential scenarios of how he believed the war in Ukraine may pan out for Russia: ....... "There are optimistic and pessimistic scenarios. The optimistic one, which I don't really believe in, is that Europe and America will get tired of the Ukrainian conflict, then China will put everyone at the negotiating table," he said. "We will agree that everything that we have already seized is ours, and everything that has not been seized is not ours. It is unlikely that this scenario is possible." ......... Instead, Prigozhin said, Ukraine could get more Western weapons and ramp up its long-expected counteroffensive, which "may succeed in some places." .......... "They will try to restore their 2014 borders, and this could easily happen; they will attack Crimea, they will try to blow up the Crimean bridge, cut off the supply lines, and for us, this scenario won't be good, so we need to prepare for a hard war," he continued. .......... "We are in such a condition that we could f***ing lose Russia, which is the main problem... We need to impose martial law," Prigozhin concluded. ............ For the first time, Prigozhin also commented on his nickname, "Putin's chef," given to him by Russian investigative journalists after they uncovered his vast government catering contracts. "I have never been a chef; I used to be a restaurateur and quite successful. I can't cook myself. They should have just come up with 'Putin's butcher' instead," Prigozhin quipped in an apparent reference to the brutal tactics his mercenary army has now deployed from Ukraine to central Africa. ......... Prigozhin's ability to spew bitter criticism at senior Russian officials with seeming impunity, which is then amplified by cohorts of influential pro-war bloggers on Russian Telegram channels, has puzzled many Russia-watchers. Similar comments, even tamer ones, have landed dozens of political dissidents and others in prison under strict laws passed by Russia's rubber-stamp parliament at the onset of the Ukraine invasion to silence opposing voices. .............. "I love my homeland. I obey Putin. To hell with Shoigu," Prigozhin said in his latest rant. "We will continue to fight."

The Wagner group forecasts disaster if Russia does not move into total war footing. Yevgeny Prigozhin has been ramping up pressure on Russia’s military leadership and extending his criticism to the country’s moneyed elites............ “We are in such a condition that we could lose Russia,” he continued, his speech laced with profanity. “We have to prepare for a very hard war that will result in hundreds of thousands of casualties.” ...... An oligarch closely allied with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, Mr. Prigozhin has been ramping up pressure on Russia’s military leadership with bombastic diatribes on public internet platforms, and extending his criticism to the country’s moneyed elites. ........ The Kremlin, Mr. Prigozhin said, must declare a new wave of mobilization to call up more fighters and declare martial law and force “everyone possible” into the country’s ammunition production efforts. .......... “We must stop building new roads and infrastructure facilities and work only for the war, to live for a few years in the image of North Korea,” he said. “If we win, we can build anything. We stabilize the front and then move on to some kind of active action.” ............ “The children of the elite smear themselves with creams, showing it on the internet, ordinary people’s children come in zinc, torn to pieces,” he said, referencing the coffins of dead soldiers, and adding that those killed in action had “tens of thousands” of relatives. “Society always demands justice, and if there is no justice, then revolutionary sentiments arise.” ............ Mr. Prigozhin said Ukraine had “one of the strongest armies in the world” and added that the violence at the border reflected poor leadership at the highest level of Russian military. He has often singled out Defense Minister Sergei K. Shoigu as the object of his ire, and in the interview, Mr. Prigozhin defined his personal credo as, “I love my motherland, I serve Putin, Shoigu should be judged and we will fight on.” ............ “If he doesn’t stop, he will wind up like Aleksei Navalny.” Mr. Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition politician, is now in poor health in a penal colony. ........... “You are given everything, permission to break the law, to take people from prisons without asking anyone’s permission, to kill those people if you don’t like them for discipline,” Mr. Oreshkin said about the terms of the deal between Mr. Putin and Mr. Prigozhin. “If he had not brought this victory, he would have been torn apart” by the elites he has been disparaging. .

The U.S.-Chinese Economic Relationship Is Changing—But Not Vanishing How “De-Risking” Can Preserve Healthy Integration .......... the United States is “for de-risking, not for decoupling,” a formulation first articulated by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen ........ U.S. export controls would remain “narrowly focused on technology that could tilt the military balance,” adding that “we are not cutting off trade.” ........... Although direct investment in both directions has declined, trade in goods between the United States and China hit an all-time high of $690 billion last year. ........ corporations are already working to mitigate the risk that a single point of failure could upend their operations. .......... The COVID-19 pandemic turbocharged this shift. Supply chain disruptions altered basic assumptions about China’s role in the global economy, undermining the view that China is always open for business and a dependable source of “just-in-time” manufactured goods. Xi’s draconian “zero-COVID” policy spurred boardrooms to reexamine their dependence on foreign suppliers. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine only heightened these concerns. .......... unprecedented export controls on advanced technology, an upcoming screening mechanism on outbound U.S. investment into Chinese technology companies, and industrial policies that encourage the relocation of manufacturing and sourcing to the United States and allied countries............ Chinese consumers increasingly prefer local brands, and Chinese firms now compete more effectively against multinational firms, partly because Chinese state regulators often tilt the scales in favor of domestic champions. ....... little de-risking (let alone decoupling) shows up in the data at first glance. U.S.-Chinese trade in goods reached a record high in 2022, and China remains the United States’ third-largest trading partner after Canada and Mexico, accounting for nearly 20 percent of total U.S. goods imports. ............ European trade with China is also on the rise, with EU imports from China more than doubling since 2016 and EU exports to China increasing by 50 percent. ......... four firms (BASF, Daimler, Volkswagen, and BMW) accounted for 34 percent of all European foreign direct investment into China between 2018 and 2021 ......... Vietnam and Mexico don’t have the capacity of China given their smaller populations, and India is plagued by perceptions of volatile regulation and subpar infrastructure. .......... The reality is that for many companies, the Chinese market is too big and too valuable to abandon, despite the geopolitical risks. China accounts for one-fifth of global GDP and has a consumer class of 900 million people. Its unique combination of infrastructure investments, human capital, and supplier ecosystem has made it a manufacturing powerhouse. De-risking therefore requires sacrificing revenue and efficiency, and a full break is often impractical. ............ One strategy companies are adopting is to localize their branding and operations to cater to a more nationalist market. Many are building “China for China” ecosystems, creating self-contained operational divisions in China that manufacture for the Chinese market while moving manufacturing operations for export elsewhere. ............ Some are also moving final assembly or critical components outside of China—even if many of the inputs are dependent on China—to avoid the “made in China” tag and U.S. tariffs. ........... Finally, companies are actively planning for crisis scenarios that could transform de-risking into rapid decoupling. Many companies were caught flat-footed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and don’t want to repeat the same mistake. An escalation over Taiwan is the most-discussed threat, since it would put companies operating on the mainland in an impossible position. But Taiwan is not the only worry: other triggers for decoupling could include a crisis in the South China Sea, policy changes targeting China from a more hawkish U.S. government after the 2024 election, and sanctions in response to Chinese lethal aid to Russia. ............... China is home to 77 percent of global lithium-ion battery manufacturing capacity and dominates 80 percent of the manufacturing stages of solar panels. China is also the global leader in the processing of critical minerals necessary for clean technologies, refining over half of all lithium, nickel, and cobalt. ............

Ten years from now, clean energy supply chains will remain mostly integrated.

........... Export controls, investment restrictions, and subsidies have more power if they are jointly implemented by a U.S.-European superbloc.

Two Weeks at the Front in Ukraine In the trenches in the Donbas, infantrymen face unrelenting horrors, from missiles to grenades to helicopter fire. ......

If you want to live, dig.

........ shock waves and shrapnel had reduced the surrounding trees to splintered canes. Artillery had churned up so much earth that you could no longer distinguish between craters and the natural topography. ......... A log-covered dugout, where the soldiers slept, was about five feet deep and not much wider. ........ As for the infantrymen, their mission was straightforward: not to leave and not to die.......... The village was controlled by the Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary organization notorious for committing atrocities in Africa and the Middle East. ......... “They were like zombies. They used the prisoners like a wall of meat. It didn’t matter how many we killed—they kept coming.” ........... and the conventional troops who replaced them were far less numerous and suicidal ........ “A lot of the new guys don’t have the stamina to be out here,” Pavlo said. “They get scared and they panic.” ........ The uncanny extent to which both men had adapted to their lethal environment underscored the agitation of the recent arrivals, who flinched whenever something whistled overhead or crashed nearby............ Taking out his phone, he swiped through a series of photographs: “Killed . . . killed . . . killed . . . killed . . . killed . . . wounded. . . . Now I have to get used to different people. It’s like starting over.” .......... He’d been there for six weeks and had not so much mastered his fear as accepted the illogic of running: there was nowhere to escape to. All the same, he was so timid by nature that it was difficult to imagine him repulsing a Russian attack. “I hate weapons and violence,” he said with wide-eyed incredulity, as if he still could not believe where he was. “I’m just trying to stay alive until I can get home.” ......... I spent twelve days with the 28th Brigade, and I never once saw Tynda, Odesa, or Bison put on body armor or a helmet. When I asked Bison about this, he replied, “If I’m going to die, I’ll die.” ........ the veterans had so internalized the soundscape of the war that they knew instinctively where each munition was coming from and where it would land .......... The gun’s operator, a rawboned soccer hooligan with brass knuckles tattooed on his hand, spoke of the Maxim like a car enthusiast lauding the performance of a vintage Mustang. ........... In the course of the past year, the U.S. has furnished Ukraine with more than thirty-five billion dollars in security assistance. Why, given the American largesse, had the 28th Brigade resorted to such a museum piece? A lot of equipment has been damaged or destroyed on the battlefield. At the same time, Ukraine appears to have forgone refitting debilitated units in order to stockpile for a large-scale offensive that is meant to take place later this spring. At least eight new brigades have been formed from scratch to spearhead the campaign. While these units have been receiving weapons, tanks, and training from the U.S. and Europe, veteran brigades like the 28th have had to hold the line with the dregs of a critically depleted arsenal. .......... it was “more important to focus on the accumulation of resources” for future battles. “May the soldiers in the trenches forgive me,” Zaluzhnyi said. .............. his mortar teams had fired about three hundred shells a day; now they were rationed to five a day. The Russians averaged ten times that rate. ............. The most important element of any dugout is the roof. Raw logs are brought on trucks as close to the front as possible, then carried by soldiers to the trenches. A proper roof consists of three layers of logs stacked crosswise under three feet of dirt—a thickness greater than the distance that most projectiles can penetrate during the millisecond between their impact and their detonation. Railroad ties serve as vertical posts. The dugout should be deep enough that the top barely crests the ground; from outside, all you see are steps descending to a subterranean door. ................ “I’d seen how people burn alive inside,” he told me. “One R.P.G. or mortar strike, and that’s it.” ........... and as we approached a white church outside Kostyantynivka I noticed Volynyaka crossing himself. In town, I asked him if the war had made him more religious. “No, the opposite,” he said. “I’ve started to question the existence of God.” ........... According to Volynyaka, “almost everyone” who had not already fled the town was pro-Russian. A clerk at the local grocery store had told him, “We don’t want you here.” I asked him if the hostility had eroded his motivation to keep fighting. He shook his head. “I know it’s my land—why should I care what they think?” ............... and asked me if the soil in the United States was as rich and arable as theirs. The fact that this same soil now shielded them against injury and death had only deepened their attachment to it. ............. In his spare time, he tended the vegetable patch, which he hoped would be sprouting when the homeowners returned. ............. He later told me that his preferred avatar in his favorite video game, Skyrim, was an archer. “grove st 4 life,” a reference to Grand Theft Auto, was tattooed on his forearm. When he found enough bandwidth, he planned to download a game called World of Tanks onto his phone. ........... Then, on the eve of the offensive, a young member of the brigade posted a video of himself and his comrades in which he announced where “we will be attacking.” By the time the video was deleted, it had been viewed more than eleven thousand times. ......... When a sergeant overheard a draftee telling me that he was sick, the sergeant interjected, “Everybody is sick.” .......... “Maybe the drone saw the Starlink satellite,” Ivan said. “Or they saw our toilet. It’s obviously for officers.” (The toilet was just a pit that had been dug deeply enough to afford its occupant protection while squatting.) .......... Ivan grabbed a pastry from the food rations. “I want to eat some cake before I die.” ......... Morale was as crucial an asset as any in the infantry. One day, while I was on the Zero Line, an “Army psychologist” had visited. He did not have a degree in psychology, and his role was limited to identifying soldiers who were incapacitated by fear and could not “overcome their paralysis.” He explained, “I try to convey to them why they must follow their orders. If that doesn’t work, then we send them to a real psychologist.” ............. Ivan claimed that men often faked injuries in a bid to escape the trenches. “It happens all the fucking time,” he said. But, he allowed, such desperation could arise from genuine psychological damage. ............ Almost all the veterans had suffered multiple concussions, but, as Kaban had told me, “If we get sent for treatment, who will stay in the trenches?” ............ Post-traumatic stress disorder did not seem to be an apposite diagnosis for anyone on the front, because the traumatic event was still happening. .................. “It’s easier psychologically to stay here. It’s hard to come back after visiting civilization.” ........ Kaban had recalled going to Odesa a few months earlier and experiencing a panic attack as soon as he exited the train station. The overwhelming stimuli—bustling crowds, speeding cars, jarring city noises—felt like an onslaught of potential threats. Strangers were rifling through their bags, making phone calls; Kaban instinctively reached for his Kalashnikov, only to realize that he was unarmed. When he spotted a group of soldiers patrolling the station, he ran to them, pale and shaking. “Don’t worry,” a soldier assured him. “You’re not the first. This happens a lot.” ........ At the start—when there were no Five Hundreds or fainthearted draftees, and everyone was still a volunteer, galvanized by a profound sense of patriotic duty—Oper had commanded twelve extraordinarily courageous men. He had loved them all, and all of them had died. The losses had broken something in him, and he no longer permitted himself to form comparable attachments to his subordinates. ............. The whole country has been affected by the war, but nobody has absorbed its misery and horror the way infantrymen have. ............ and he did not think that having three children should exclude a man from serving. “It should be the other way around,” he said. “They have more to fight for.” ............. “Just like the Battle of Saratoga, the fight for Bakhmut will change the trajectory of our war for independence and for freedom.” This March, Zelensky told the Associated Press that if Ukraine lost the city Putin would “smell that we are weak” and “sell this victory to the West, to his society, to China, to Iran.”

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