Ukraine push in Kharkiv has Russia in retreat, on verge of collapse

Commentary

Peter Zeihan

Geopolitical Strategist
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Ukraine continues to press forward with its counteroffensive in Kharkiv that has the Russian army on the verge of collapse. The Ukrainian troops have maintained the pressure despite Russia launching air strikes against power plants in retaliation. Straight Arrow News contributor Peter Zeihan says that while it is too soon to know if this is a true turning point in the war, Ukraine’s push in Kharkiv has devastated Russia’s military position.

Excerpted from Peter’s Sept. 12 “Zeihan on Geopolitics” newsletter:

The Ukrainians so far have basically destroyed all functional Russian military formations in the Kharkiv province in the country’s east. And they are now in the process of doing some mopping up and moving into Luhansk and Donetsk, which were those two provinces that the Russians invaded back in 2014 and declared to be independent republics. The government of Luhansk seems to have dissolved and the military of Luhansk Republic, which is the illegal fiction that the Russians created to justify the current invasion, seems to have dissolved as well. 

The Russians are not retreating. This is not moving your tanks and orderly formations to get to a more defensible border. The military has crumpled. Izium, which was the location that the Russians spent the last two months trying to seize and ultimately did, and has been the forward military base for most of their operations in eastern Ukraine, has been captured by the Ukrainians. And not just captured, captured intact.

The Russians did not even get on trucks to drive…try to drive away because the Ukrainians were using drones to hit trucks on the highway. They simply left their equipment and ran. And it appears in most cases the only reason that the Ukrainian assault is not happening more quickly is that they are waiting for Russians on foot to run to the next town, tell everyone that the Ukrainians are coming so that those troops can get off their equipment and run. So we’re not just seeing a broad-scale collapse of the entire Russian military position in these areas; we are seeing them abandoning every piece of equipment that they have brought in and stored up for the last six months as part of their effort to go onto the rest of Ukraine. So in the case of Izium specifically, that is enough tanks, artillery, ammo, and fuel to supply 10 to 20,000 men, making it the single biggest arms transfer we have seen since World War II in the days of Lend-Lease. It’s just that it’s from the Russians to the Ukrainians. 

That one day has transferred more weapons to the Ukrainian military than everything that NATO has done to this point. And it seems to be par for the course that there are dozens of instances like this on a smaller scale. Now, for those of you who have been cheering for the Ukrainians, I don’t want you to get overly excited here. We have seen this before. The Russian military is not well trained. It is not well equipped. Its logistics suck. They can’t fight outside of rail systems because that’s how they transport all of their material. And that’s one of the reasons why the Ukrainians are doing so well here, is that they’ve taken out some of the rail depots or captured them and leaving the Russians to know that they’ve been completely cut off from resupply and reinforcement.

However, however, however, however, however…Russia has won about half of the wars that it has fought and in every single one of the wars that it has fought –that it has won – there have been moments like what is going on right now. Because what happens is the Ukrainians or sorry, the Russians move in, they get sucker-punched. Superior forces in terms of either number or more likely technology and logistics and moral and training, destroy them. The Ukrainian position – geez, sorry…the Russian position collapses, the Russians retreat or more likely that military division is simply obliterated, and then back in mother Russia, there is a bit of a regeneration and a new force comes in with different tactics and different leadership and better equipment. And then the numbers turn.

Remember that the Russians still, at least on paper, have a military force that’s over 10 times the size of Ukraine. They’ve got more tanks, they’ve got more artillery, they’ve got more aircraft. Everything on paper suggests that this is still the Russians’ war to lose. So yeah, they’ve had a really crappy week and a lot of us are cheering that this continues, but we should not bet on that.

Hi everyone, Peter Zeihan here. It is September 12th and the news out of the Ukraine War is just mind-boggling. The Russian collapse on every point of contact has been so extreme and so total that it’s very difficult for even people who follow this issue full-time to keep track of what’s going on. The very, very short version is that over the course of the last couple of weeks – couple of months really – the Ukrainians have advertised that they’re going to launch a major invasion counter-attack in the Kherson region in an attempt to reclaim that territory. 

 But instead, the bulk of Ukrainian forces seem to have somehow snuck all the way across Ukraine and sucker-punched the Russians. The Russians did deploy maybe 10% of the troops from their Eastern front to the Kherson region and attempt to re-supply because they knew that’s where the attack was going to be. And as a result, they were unprepared for the Ukrainian assault. 

The Ukrainians so far have basically destroyed all functional Russian military formations in the Kharkiv province in the country’s east. And they are now in the process of doing some mopping up and moving into Luhansk and Donetsk, which were those two provinces that the Russians invaded back in 2014 and declared to be independent republics. The government of Luhansk seems to have dissolved and the military of Luhansk Republic, which is the legal fiction that the Russians created to justify the current invasion, seems to have dissolved as well. 

The Russians are not retreating. This is not moving your tanks and orderly formations to get to a more defensible border. The military has crumpled. Izium, which was the location that the Russian spent the last two months trying to seize and ultimately did, and has been the forward military base for most of their operations in eastern Ukraine, has been captured by the Ukrainians. And not just captured, captured intact.

The Russians did not even get on trucks to drive…try to drive away because the Ukrainians were using drones to hit trucks on the highway. They simply left their equipment and ran. And it appears in most cases the only reason that the Ukrainian assault is not happening more quickly is that they are waiting for Russians on foot to run to the next town, tell everyone that the Ukrainians are coming so that those troops can get off their equipment and run. So we’re not just seeing a broad-scale collapse of the entire Russian military position in these areas; we are seeing them abandoning every piece of equipment that they have brought in and stored up for the last six months as part of their effort to go onto the rest of Ukraine. So in the case of Izium specifically, that is enough tanks, artillery, ammo, and fuel to supply 10 to 20,000 men, making it the single biggest arms transfer we have seen since World War II in the days of Lend-Lease. It’s just that it’s from the Russians to the Ukrainians. 

That one day has transferred more weapons to the Ukrainian military than everything that NATO has done to this point. And it seems to be par for the course that there are dozens of instances like this on a smaller scale. Now, for those of you who have been cheering for the Ukrainians, I don’t want you to get overly excited here. We have seen this before. The Russian military is not well trained. It is not well equipped. Its logistics suck. They can’t fight outside of rail systems because that’s how they transport all of their material. And that’s one of the reasons why the Ukrainians are doing so well here, is that they’ve taken out some of the rail depots or captured them and leaving the Russians to know that they’ve been completely cut off from re-supply and reinforcement.

However, however, however, however, however…Russia has won about half of the wars that it has fought and in every single one of the wars that it has fought that it has won, there have been moments like what is going on right now. Because what happens is the Ukrainians or sorry, the Russians move in, they get sucker-punched. Superior forces in terms of either number or more likely technology and logistics and moral and training, destroy them. The Ukrainian position, geez, sorry…the Russian position collapses, the Russians retreat or more likely that military division is simply obliterated, and then back in mother Russia, there is a bit of a regeneration and a new force comes in with different tactics and different leadership and better equipment. And then the numbers turn.

Remember that the Russians still, at least on paper, have a military force that’s over 10 times the size of Ukraine. They’ve got more tanks, they’ve got more artillery, they’ve got more aircraft. Everything on paper suggests that this is still the Russians’ war to lose. So yeah, they’ve had a really crappy week and a lot of us are cheering that this continues, but we should not bet on that.

The question is how fast can the Russian system adjust? And there’s really no way to judge that because the Putin government has such a tight information lockdown in Russia proper. We really can’t even gauge that. The second question that in the long run is gonna be far more important is whether or not this is the end. The Russian demographic is so far beyond terminal that I’ve long thought that this was going to be their last war. Now they still have the numerical advantage over Ukraine, which is even in a worse demographic situation. So in a fight between two maimed countries, Russia still has all the cards. But we now know from the way this war’s been carried out, that the Russian military equipment manufacturing capacity is nil. Most of that money’s been stolen. We know that Russia’s in-place capacity to train new troops is nil. We know that that has all been stolen. 

And we know that they’re now relying on imported weapons from places like Iran and North Korea, which are not synonymous with…scale and quality. And so if this is the situation the Russians are in where their population’s dying out, their youth generation is their last one, and they might not even be able to equip or train anyone they get, this could very well be the end. Do not count your chickens before they hatch because Ukraine isn’t exactly the same situation. And if something happens to the weapons pipeline from the west, there’s only so much equipment that the Ukrainians can capture from the Russians before it’s all back in Russia proper. So, does that mean there’s a lot of crosscurrents? Yeah. That’s where we are. This is not just a normal fog of war. 

This is fog of war when most of the assumptions that we were all operating on, have proven to be wrong. I was probably the most optimistic for the Ukrainians at the beginning of this. They had eight years to prepare. They have a sense of nationality. They did not exist a decade ago. And even I thought that this would be over with a complete Russian victory throughout all of Ukraine within six months. Clearly that is not how this is going right now, but it’s too late to count the Russians out. All the numbers are still on their side. And if they are able to rally like they did in World War II, we will go from a complete route across the Eastern front to something like the great patriotic war. That is still well within the…the realm of possibility. But the capacity of Russia to be an extra-regional power? That is now over for sure.

We have seen the Russians be forced to repatriate equipment from a number of their operations around the world, whether it be in the African continent where the Wagner Group’s been active, to Syria, where it’s a lot of air defense, to even places closer to home like Georgian-occupied territories in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The Russian equipment situation is now so desperate that they’re pulling it all back. So in the best-case scenario for the Russians, where they can still turn this around, you are still talking about a completely castrated military strategic position on a global scale that reduces Russian power to the Russian Federation proper and wherever they can impose direct military control moving forward, which may or may not be Ukraine. 

So even in a situation where the Russians can turn this around completely, it is an end to Russia as a strategic power. That we can say with high confidence now. You throw in some of the stuff that’s happening down the economic front…that’s a topic for another day…and that castrates the Russian power capacity even further. Okay. I realize that’s a little rambling, but honestly we’ve been getting one shock after another, hour after an hour for 96 hours. Now, I don’t know how far the Ukrainians can push this. They do have limitations on manpower and logistics, just like the Russians. But I certainly understand their desire to hit while the iron is hot because we have an in-progress rolling and accelerating route. And that is a once-in-a-war opportunity. They’re doing their best to take full advantage of it. Okay. That’s it for me until next time. Hopefully I’ll have something a little bit more ironclad.


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