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Angolan President Lourenco Wins Second Term

Angola’s President Joao Lourenco won a second five-year term on Monday after his MPLA party emerged victorious with a thin majority in last week’s closely fought election, extending its decades-long rule in the oil-rich country.

He promised to be the “president of all Angolans” and to open dialogue after the electoral commission announced the results, which saw the opposition make large gains while his party won with a slim majority.

“This is a victory for Angola and Angolans,” Lourenco, 68, said in his inaugural address shortly after the unveiling of the result of the August 24 ballot.

“This vote was a vote of confidence, which gives us the immense responsibility of promoting dialogue and social consultation.”

The National Electoral Commission (CNE) reported the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola won 51.17 percent of the ballots against 43.95 percent for the main challenger, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).

Despite the victory, the outcome — the tightest in Angola’s history — marked a record low for the MPLA and might yet end up in court after UNITA had earlier rejected provisional results.

Four members of the 16-strong electoral commission did not sign off on the final tally, poll officials said.

The MPLA has traditionally wielded control over the electoral process and opposition and civic groups had raised fears of voter tampering.

UNITA leader Adalberto Costa Junior, 60, last week called for an international panel to review the count.

International observers raised concerns over the electoral roll and biased reporting by state-owned television, but most said voting was peaceful and well organised.

Lowered majority

The MPLA, a former Marxist liberation movement, has ruled Angola for nearly half a century since independence from Portugal in 1975.

But it has seen a steady decline in support over recent elections.

While it romped to victory with 71.84 percent in 2012, it dropped to 61 percent in 2017.

UNITA scored 26.67 percent in 2017 elections and contested the official count.

There was no celebration and honking of horns as in previous elections on the streets of Luanda.

“I (am) dissatisfied because it was not the results that the people expected,” said Luanda resident Fernandes Domingos, 38.

Street vendor Rebecca Moyeta echoed the sentiments, saying: “I’m very upset with this (MPLA) party… We want a change.”

Alex Vines, of the UK-based think tank Chatham House, said that while UNITA was likely to challenge the count, the former rebel movement had reasons to be happy.

“It’s an amazing result for UNITA when you think that 20 years ago, they were defeated on the battlefield,” he said.

“Politics will have to change in Angola now. There’s going to have to be the politics of compromise,” he added.

The results gave the MPLA 124 of the 220 parliamentary seats up for grabs while UNITA won 90.

Turnout was low, with only about 45 percent of those registered casting their ballots, which pointed to a growing disillusionment with politics, said Vines.

The United States on Monday called on all parties “to express themselves peacefully and to resolve any grievances in accordance with applicable legal processes”.

The European Union encouraged “an open, constructive and inclusive dialogue” between the government, opposition and civil society, and urged the “election authorities to make every possible efforts to respond to them in a fair and transparent manner”.

Second term

The latest election has been overshadowed by a struggling economy, inflation, poverty, drought and the death of Lourenco’s predecessor Jose Eduardo dos Santos.

Dos Santos was buried in Luanda at a solemn funeral on Sunday.

The opposition has proved popular in urban areas, winning in the capital Luanda and among youth disaffected with the ruling party.

Angola is Africa’s second largest crude producer, but the oil bonanza has been accompanied by corruption and nepotism.

Lourenco, a former general educated in the Soviet Union, is credited with far-reaching reforms since taking power, including boosting financial transparency, tackling graft and attracting foreign investors.

But critics say his anti-graft crusade has been one-sided and aimed at settling political scores, targeting children and cronies of dos Santos.

His economic reforms have also so far failed to translate into better living conditions for most Angolans, critics say.

“With this vote of confidence, it is time to continue the reforms necessary to make Angola a more prosperous and more developed country,” Lourenco said, promising to pay particular attention “to the expectations of young people”.

AFP

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How to prevent a war between America and China over Taiwan

 

America and China agree on very little these days. Yet on the subject of Taiwan, at least in one regard, they are in total harmony. The status quo surrounding the self-governing island, which China claims and whose thriving democracy America supports, is changing in dangerous ways, say officials on both sides. War does not look imminent, but the uneasy peace that has held for more than six decades is fragile. Ask them who is at fault, however, and the harmony shatters.

That much is clear from the crisis triggered this month by a visit to Taiwan by the speaker of America’s House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi. She was well within her rights, but her trip was provocative. It infuriated the Chinese Communist Party. One of Ms Pelosi’s predecessors had visited the island in 1997, but China’s top diplomat claimed that American “saboteurs” had wrecked the status quo. After Ms Pelosi left, China fired missiles over the island and carried out live-fire drills that encircled it, as if it were rehearsing for a blockade.

Since the previous stand-off in 1995-96, America, China and Taiwan have all grown uneasy with the ambiguities and contradictions—the status quo, if you will—on which peace precariously rests. China, especially, has bared its teeth. If the world is to avoid war, it urgently needs to strike a new balance.

In part this reflects the breathtaking change of the past half-century. Taiwan has blossomed from a military dictatorship into a prosperous, liberal democracy of 24m people, nearly all of them Han Chinese. Its citizens are more than twice as rich as mainlanders. Their success is an implicit rebuke to China’s autocratic regime, and an obvious reason for them to resist being governed from Beijing. Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, has made no formal moves towards independence, but the island is drifting away from the mainland. China’s offer of “one country, two systems” has looked empty since the mainland crushed civil liberties in Hong Kong, which was given the same deal. Today very few Taiwanese say they want formal independence immediately, if only because that would surely provoke an invasion. But even fewer favour prompt unification.

America has changed, too. After intervening to protect Taiwan twice in the 1950s, it began to doubt that it was worth defending, but the island’s democratic success and its importance as a source of semiconductors have upped the ante. Today allies such as Japan see resolute support for Taiwan as a test of America’s standing as a dominant and dependable power in the western Pacific. America has made no formal commitment to defend Taiwan directly, adopting instead a policy of “strategic ambiguity”. But amid growing Sino-American rivalry, and with politicians in Washington vying to sound tough on China, there is little doubt that America would join a fight over Taiwan today. Indeed, President Joe Biden has repeatedly said as much—though each time his staff have walked back his remarks.

But no country has done more to wreck the status quo than China. Whether peace lasts is largely up to President Xi Jinping, its strongman. He gives ample grounds for pessimism. As China has grown rich, he has nurtured an ugly, paranoid nationalism, stressing every humiliation it has suffered at the hands of perfidious foreign powers. He has linked unification with Taiwan to his goal of “national rejuvenation” by 2049. China’s armed forces have been building the capacity to take the island by force; its navy now has more ships than America’s. Some generals in Washington think an invasion could occur in the next decade.

Fortunately, China’s actions in this crisis have been muscular but calibrated—designed to show its anger and might, while avoiding escalation. Its forces have been deployed so as not to start a war. America has sent similar signals. It postponed a routine test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile. And Ms Pelosi’s plane took a circuitous route to Taiwan, to avoid flying over Chinese bases in the South China Sea.

The danger is that China uses the crisis to set new boundaries for its encroachments into what Taiwan considers its airspace and territorial waters. It could also attempt to impose even stricter limits on the island’s dealings with the rest of the world.

That must not happen. The task for America and its allies is to resist these efforts without getting into a fight. America could start by re-establishing norms that held before the crisis. It should promptly resume military activities around Taiwan, for instance, including transits through the Taiwan Strait and operations in international waters that China claims as its own. It could continue to expand military exercises with allies, involving them more in contingency planning over Taiwan. Japan was irked when China fired missiles into its vicinity and has indicated that it could intervene in a war, which would greatly complicate a Chinese invasion.

The aim is to persuade China that such an invasion is not worth the risk. It makes sense to use the Taiwan Policy Act (tpa), now before Congress, to provide more training and weapons to Taiwan. But Taiwan needs a better strategy based on small, mobile arms like those Ukraine has used so well, not the costly kit favoured by its generals. The island should become a “porcupine” that would be hard for China to digest. Like Ukraine, Taiwan must also show more willingness to defend itself. Its armed forces have long been plagued by corruption, waste and scandal.

Sometimes a public stand-off with China makes sense. More often it causes a lot of trouble for very little gain. The g7 condemned China’s missile-lobbing, as did Japan and Australia. But South Korea did not and South-East Asian countries have been loth to take sides. Even as it condemns China’s aggression, the Biden administration should stress that it does not support formal independence for Taiwan. Congress should avoid symbolic moves that will bring few real benefits to the island, such as renaming Taiwan’s representative office in Washington, currently in the tpa. Why not pass a trade deal instead?

War is not inevitable. For all Mr Xi’s ambition, his priority is to keep a grip on power. If the invasion of Ukraine teaches one lesson, it is that even a supposedly easy victory can turn into a drawn-out struggle, with ruinous consequences at home. America and Taiwan do not have to prove that a Chinese invasion would fail, just cast enough doubt to persuade Mr Xi to wait. ■

 

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Why is China no longer respecting Russia?

However, China found it interesting to ally itself with Russia in order to better fight against its great rival for the place of the first world superpower in the future: America.

However, this war is not to the liking of Xi Jinping who would have preferred Vladimir Putin to stick to fear-mongering by massing men around Ukraine, but not to act on it.

China is now in an awkward situation, with a partner it said earlier this year was a rock-solid ally, but which seems to be making totally crazy decisions strategically.

Putin needs China’s help, but China itself risks alienating the West by helping Putin evade sanctions to continue waging this heinous war in Ukraine.

So China is on a very narrow ridge.

On the other hand, China realizes that America’s sanctions are likely to create a new world monetary order in which they would have a stronger place and America would be weakened.

China also realizes that if it helps Russia, Russia will become a kind of satellite country, totally dependent on it economically. It will be far from Putin’s dreams of grandeur for Russia. Another strategic mistake on his part.

For China, the challenge is to make the most of the consequences of this crisis while preserving all the parties involved. An extremely difficult exercise that Xi Jinping would have done well without during this year when the congress of the Chinese Communist Party will take place.

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Japan Ask Citizens To Reduce Energy Consumption Amid Record Heatwave

Japan’s government warned Monday of a power crunch as extreme heat hits the country, with temperature records toppling and Tokyo’s rainy season declared over at the earliest date on record.

Temperatures of 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) were forecast in Tokyo throughout Monday, and the mercury is not expected to drop below 34 until Sunday, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA).

The power warning was initially issued for late Monday afternoon, and was subsequently extended to cover the same time on Tuesday, because solar generation dips as the sun sets.

“We ask the public to reduce energy consumption during the early evening hours when the reserve ratio falls,” Yoshihiko Isozaki, deputy chief cabinet secretary, told a regular press briefing.

But he warned that residents should do what was needed to stay cool and avoid heatstroke.

Much of Japan would normally be experiencing rainy season at this time of year, but the JMA on Monday declared the season over in the Kanto region, home to Tokyo, and neighbouring Koshin area.

It was the earliest end to the season since records began in 1951 and a full 22 days earlier than usual.

The agency also declared an end to rainy season in central Japan’s Tokai and part of southern Kyushu, saying this year’s rainy season in these areas and Kanto-Koshin was the shortest on record.

On Sunday, Isesaki city in Gunma prefecture north of Tokyo logged the hottest temperature ever seen in Japan in June, at 40.2C.

Asako Naruse, 58, was out sightseeing in Ginza alongside pedestrians carrying parasols for shade.

“Every year, July and August are this hot, but it’s the first time I’ve felt such heat in June,” she told AFP.

“I’m from northern Japan, so these temperatures seem really extreme.”

Scientists say record-breaking heatwaves are linked to climate change, which makes extreme weather more common.

The Earth has already warmed 1.1C since preindustrial times and 2011-2020 was the warmest decade on record.

Japan has committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, but it faces criticism for its continued reliance on coal.

 

AFP

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Heatwave Grips Spain As UK Readies For Soaring Temperatures

Spain and Portugal were sweltering in their second heatwave in a month on Monday, with scorching temperatures also expected in France and Britain in the coming days.

People in Spain baked with the temperature in the central town of Candeleda hitting a stifling 43.3 degrees Celsius (110 degrees Fahrenheit) shortly after 6 pm (1600 GMT), according to Spain’s meteorological agency AEMET.

The mercury meanwhile hit 42.4C in the southern city of Seville.

The southwestern cities of Badajoz and Merida also saw temperatures of 42C.

AEMET forecast 46C in Badajoz on Thursday and Friday with Seville predicted to swelter in 45C on Wednesday and Thursday.

“This heatwave really has the potential to be exceptional,” said AEMET spokesman Ruben del Campo.

The current temperature surge began Sunday and could “last nine or ten days, which would make it one of the three longest heat waves Spain has seen since 1975,” he told AFP.

Heatwaves have become more frequent due to climate change, scientists say. As global temperatures rise over time, heatwaves are expected to become more intense.

June had already seen Spain grapple with temperatures above 40C in swathes of the country.

The previous month was Spain’s hottest May since the beginning of the century.

In August 2021 Spain recorded its highest ever temperature when the mercury reached 47.4C in the small southern town of Montoro.

Meteorologists did not rule out the prospect of that record being broken in the coming days.

The heightened temperatures have been accompanied by a lack of rainfall.

Reservoirs in Spain stood at 45.3 percent of capacity on Monday, well below the average of 65.7 percent recorded during the same period over the past decade.

In neighbouring Portugal temperatures topped 44C over the weekend, fuelling wildfires and vast smoke clouds which were visible in the capital Lisbon.

Firefighters brought the largest blaze under control on Monday after it had burned through swathes of the central municipality of Ourem, local officials said.

‘Maximum risk’

While temperatures eased somewhat in Portugal on Monday they were expected to soar again in the coming days with 44C forecast for the southeastern city of Evora.

“In the coming days we will experience conditions of maximum risk,” Prime Minister Antonio Costa said.

“The slightest lapse in vigilance could result in a fire of significant proportions.”

A front of hot air began pushing into France on Monday, with the mercury rising above 30C across much of the country, according to national weather forecaster Meteo-France.

Temperatures could hit 39C in some parts of France on Tuesday, it added.

The heat wave should reach its peak between Saturday and next Tuesday, said Sebastien Leas of Meteo-France.

Britain on Monday issued an extreme heat warning, with temperatures predicted to hit more than 30C across large parts of England and Wales.

The extreme heat warning was classified as “amber”, the second-highest alert level, indicating a “high impact” on daily life and people.

Met Office deputy chief meteorologist Rebekah Sherwin said the UK highs would continue into early next week.

“From Sunday and into Monday, temperatures are likely to be in excess of 35C in the southeast (of England), although the details still remain uncertain,” she said.

 

AFP

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Why War Fails; Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine and the Limits of Military Power

On February 27, a few days after Russia invaded Ukraine, Russian forces launched an operation to seize the Chornobaivka airfield near Kherson on the Black Sea coast. Kherson was the first Ukrainian city the Russians managed to occupy, and since it was also close to Russia’s Crimean stronghold, the airfield would be important for the next stage of the offensive. But things did not go according to plan. The same day the Russians took over the airfield, Ukrainian forces began counterattacking with armed drones and soon struck the helicopters that were flying in supplies from Crimea. In early March, according to Ukrainian defense sources, Ukrainian soldiers made a devastating night raid on the airstrip, destroying a fleet of 30 Russian military helicopters. About a week later, Ukrainian forces destroyed another seven. By May 2, Ukraine had made 18 separate attacks on the airfield, which, according to Kyiv, had eliminated not only dozens of helicopters but also ammunition depots, two Russian generals, and nearly an entire Russian battalion. Yet throughout these attacks, Russian forces continued to move in equipment and materiel with helicopters. Lacking both a coherent strategy for defending the airstrip and a viable alternative base, the Russians simply stuck to their original orders, with disastrous results.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has described the Chornobaivka battle as a symbol of the incompetence of Russia’s commanders, who were driving “their people to slaughter.” In fact, there were numerous similar examples from the first weeks of the invasion. Although Ukrainian forces were consistently outgunned, they used their initiative to great advantage, as Russian forces repeated the same mistakes and failed to change their tactics. From the start, the war has provided a remarkable contrast in approaches to command. And these contrasts may go a long way toward explaining why the Russian military has so underperformed expectations.

In the weeks leading up to the February 24 invasion, Western leaders and analysts and the international press were naturally fixated on the overwhelming forces that Russian President Vladimir Putin was amassing on Ukraine’s borders. As many as 190,000 Russian troops were poised to invade the country. Organized into as many as 120 battalion tactical groups, each had armor and artillery and was backed by superior air support. Few imagined that Ukrainian forces could hold out for very long against the Russian steamroller. The main question about the Russian plans was whether they included sufficient forces to occupy such a large country after the battle was won. But the estimates had failed to account for the many elements that factor into a true measure of military capabilities.

Military power is not only about a nation’s armaments and the skill with which they are used. It must take into account the resources of the enemy, as well as the contributions from allies and friends, whether in the form of practical assistance or direct interventions. And although military strength is often measured in firepower, by counting inventories of arms and the size of armies, navies, and air forces, much depends on the quality of the equipment, how well it has been maintained, and on the training and motivation of the personnel using it. In any war, the ability of an economy to sustain the war effort, and the resilience of the logistical systems to ensure that supplies reach the front lines as needed, is of increasing importance as the conflict wears on. So is the degree to which a belligerent can mobilize and maintain support for its own cause, both domestically and externally, and undermine that of the enemy, tasks that require constructing compelling narratives that can rationalize setbacks as well as anticipate victories. Above all, however, military power depends on effective command. And that includes both a country’s political leaders, who act as supreme commanders, and those seeking to achieve their military goals as operational commanders.

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has underscored the crucial role of command in determining ultimate military success. The raw force of arms can only do so much for a state. As Western leaders discovered in Afghanistan and Iraq, superior military hardware and firepower may enable forces to gain control of territory, but they are far less effective in the successful administration of that territory. In Ukraine, Putin has struggled even to gain control of territory, and the way that his forces have waged war has already ensured that any attempt to govern, even in Ukraine’s supposedly pro-Russian east, will be met by animosity and resistance. For in launching the invasion, Putin made the familiar but catastrophic mistake of underestimating the enemy, assuming it to be weak at its core, while having excessive confidence in what his own forces could achieve.

THE FATE OF NATIONS

Commands are authoritative orders, to be obeyed without question. Military organizations require strong chains of command because they commit disciplined and purposeful violence. At times of war, commanders face the special challenge of persuading subordinates to act against their own survival instincts and overcome the normal inhibitions about murdering their fellow humans. The stakes can be extremely high. Commanders may have the fate of their countries in their hands and must be deeply aware of the potential for national humiliation should they fail as well as for national glory if they succeed.

Military command is often described as a form of leadership, and as outlined in treatises on command, the qualities sought in military leaders are often those that would be admirable in almost any setting: deep professional knowledge, the ability to use resources efficiently, good communication skills, the ability to get on with others, a sense of moral purpose and responsibility, and a willingness to care for subordinates. But the high stakes of war and the stresses of combat impose their own demands. Here, the relevant qualities include an instinct for maintaining the initiative, an aptitude for seeing complex situations clearly, a capacity for building trust, and the ability to respond nimbly to changing or unexpected conditions. The historian Barbara Tuchman identified the need for a combination of resolution—“the determination to win through”—and judgment, or the capacity to use one’s experience to read situations. A commander who combines resolve with keen strategic intelligence can achieve impressive results, but resolve combined with stupidity can lead to ruin.

Not all subordinates will automatically follow commands. Sometimes orders are inappropriate, perhaps because they are based on dated and incomplete intelligence and may therefore be ignored by even the most diligent field officer. In other cases, their implementation might be possible but unwise, perhaps because there is a better way to achieve the same objectives. Faced with orders they dislike or distrust, subordinates can seek alternatives to outright disobedience. They can procrastinate, follow orders half-heartedly, or interpret them in a way that fits better with the situation that confronts them.

To avoid these tensions, however, the modern command philosophy followed in the West has increasingly sought to encourage subordinates to take the initiative to deal with the circumstances at hand; commanders trust those close to the action to make the vital decisions yet are ready to step in if events go awry. This is the approach Ukrainian forces have adopted. Russia’s command philosophy is more hierarchical. In principle, Russian doctrine allows for local initiative, but the command structures in place do not encourage subordinates to risk disobeying their orders. Inflexible command systems can lead to excessive caution, a fixation on certain tactics even when they are inappropriate, and a lack of “ground truth,” as subordinates dare not report problems and instead insist that all is well.

Russia’s problems with command in Ukraine are less a consequence of military philosophy than of current political leadership. In autocratic systems such as Russia’s, officials and officers must think twice before challenging superiors. Life is easiest when they act on the leader’s wishes without question. Dictators can certainly make bold decisions on war, but these are far more likely to be based on their own ill-informed assumptions and are unlikely to have been challenged in a careful decision-making process. Dictators tend to surround themselves with like-minded advisers and to prize loyalty above competence in their senior military commanders.

FROM SUCCESS TO STALEMATE

Putin’s readiness to trust his own judgment in Ukraine reflected the fact that his past decisions on the use of force had worked out well for him. The state of the Russian military in the 1990s before he took power was dire, as shown by Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s 1994–96 war in Chechnya. At the end of 1994, Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev reassured Yeltsin that he could end Chechnya’s effort to secede from the Russian Federation by moving Russian forces quickly into Grozny, the Chechen capital. The Kremlin viewed Chechnya as an artificial, gangster-infested state for which few of its citizens could be expected to sacrifice their lives, especially when confronted with the full blast of Russian military power—misguided assumptions somewhat similar to those made on a much larger scale in the current invasion of Ukraine. The Russian units included many conscripts with little training, and the Kremlin failed to appreciate how much the Chechen defenders would be able to take advantage of the urban terrain. The results were disastrous. On the first day of the attack, the Russian army lost over 100 armored vehicles, including tanks; Russian soldiers were soon being killed at the rate of 100 a day. In his memoirs, Yeltsin described the war as the moment when Russia “parted with one more exceptionally dubious but fond illusion—about the might of our army . . . about its indomitability.”

The first Chechen war concluded unsatisfactorily in 1996. A few years later, Vladimir Putin, who became the ailing Yeltsin’s prime minister in September 1999, decided to fight the war again, but this time he made sure that Russia was prepared. Putin had previously been head of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, the successor to the KGB, where he began his career. When apartment buildings in Moscow and elsewhere were bombed in September 1999, Putin blamed Chechen terrorists (although there was good reason to suspect the FSB was seeking to create a pretext for a new war) and ordered Russian troops to gain control of Chechnya by “all available means.” In this second Chechen war, Russia proceeded with more deliberation and ruthlessness until it succeeded in occupying Grozny. Although the war dragged on for some time, Putin’s visible commitment to ending the Chechen rebellion was sufficient to provide him with a decisive victory in the spring 2000 presidential election. As Putin was campaigning, journalists asked him which political leaders he found “most interesting.” After citing Napoleon—which the reporters took as a joke—he offered Charles de Gaulle, a natural choice perhaps for someone who wanted to restore the effectiveness of the state with a strong centralized authority.

 

The taking of Crimea confirmed Putin’s status as a shrewd commander.

By 2013, Putin had gone some way toward achieving that end. High commodity prices had given him a strong economy. He had also marginalized his political opposition at home, consolidating his power. Yet Russia’s relations with the West had worsened, particularly concerning Ukraine. Ever since the Orange Revolution of 2004–5, Putin had worried that a pro-Western government in Kyiv might seek to join NATO, a fear aggravated when the issue was broached at NATO’s 2008 Bucharest summit. The crisis, however, came in 2013, when Victor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s pro-Russian president, was about to sign an association agreement with the EU. Putin put intense pressure on Yanukovych until he agreed not to sign. But Yanukovych’s reversal led to exactly what Putin had feared, a popular uprising—the Maidan movement—that ultimately brought down Yanukovych and left Ukraine completely in the hands of pro-Western leaders. At this point, Putin resolved to annex Crimea.

In launching his plan, Putin had the advantages of a Russian naval base at Sevastopol and considerable support for Russia among the local population. Yet he still proceeded carefully. His strategy, which he has followed since, was to present any aggressive Russian move as no more than a response to pleas from people who needed protection. Deploying troops with standard uniforms and equipment but no markings, who came to be known as the “little green men,” the Kremlin successfully convinced the local parliament to call a referendum on incorporating Crimea into Russia. As these events unfolded, Putin was prepared to hold back should Ukraine or its Western allies put up a serious challenge. But Ukraine was in disarray—it had only an acting minister of defense and no decision-making authority in a position to respond—and the West took no action against Russia beyond limited sanctions. For Putin, the taking of Crimea, with hardly any casualties, and with the West largely standing on the sidelines, confirmed his status as a shrewd supreme commander.

But Putin was not content to walk away with this clear prize; instead, that spring and summer, he allowed Russia to be drawn into a far more intractable conflict in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. Here, he could not follow the formula that had worked so well in Crimea: pro-Russian sentiment in the east was too feeble to imply widespread popular support for secession. Very quickly, the conflict became militarized, with Moscow claiming that separatist militias were acting independently of Russia. Nonetheless, by summer, when it looked like the separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk, the two pro-Russian enclaves in the Donbas, might be defeated by the Ukrainian army, the Kremlin sent in regular Russian forces. Although the Russians then had no trouble against the Ukrainian army, Putin was still cautious. He did not annex the enclaves, as the separatists wanted, but instead took the opportunity to get a deal in Minsk, intending to use the enclaves to influence Kyiv’s policies.

To some Western observers, Russia’s war in the Donbas looked like a potent new strategy of hybrid warfare. As analysts described it, Russia was able to put its adversaries on the back foot by bringing together regular and irregular forces and overt and covert activities and by combining established forms of military action with cyberattacks and information warfare. But this assessment overstated the coherence of the Russian approach. In practice, the Russians had set in motion events with unpredictable consequences, led by individuals they struggled to control, for objectives they did not wholly share. The Minsk agreement was never implemented, and the fighting never stopped. At most, Putin had made the best of a bad job, containing the conflict and, while disrupting Ukraine, deterring the West from getting too involved. Unlike in Crimea, Putin had shown an uncertain touch as a commander, with the Donbas enclaves left in limbo, belonging to no country, and Ukraine continuing to move closer to the West.

UNDERWHELMING FORCE

By the summer of 2021, the Donbas war had been at a stalemate for more than seven years, and Putin decided on a bold plan to bring matters to a head. Having failed to use the enclaves to influence Kyiv, he sought to use their plight to make the case for regime change in Kyiv, ensuring that it would reenter Moscow’s sphere of influence and never again contemplate joining either NATO or the EU. Thus, he would undertake a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Such an approach would require a huge commitment of armed forces and an audacious campaign. But Putin’s confidence had been boosted by Russia’s recent military intervention in Syria, which successfully propped up the regime of Bashar al-Assad, and by recent efforts to modernize Russia’s armed forces. Western analysts had largely accepted Russian claims about the country’s growing military strength, including new systems and armaments, such as “hypersonic weapons,” that at least sounded impressive. Moreover, healthy Russian financial reserves would limit the effect of any punitive sanctions. And the West appeared divided and unsettled after Donald Trump’s presidency, an impression that was confirmed by the botched U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021.

When Putin launched what he called the “special military operation” in Ukraine, many in the West feared that it might succeed. Western observers had watched Russia’s massive buildup of forces on the Ukrainian border for months, and when the invasion began, the minds of U.S. and European strategists raced ahead to the implications of a Russian victory that threatened to incorporate Ukraine into a revitalized Greater Russia. Although some NATO countries, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, had rushed military supplies to Ukraine, others, following this pessimism, were more reluctant. Additional equipment, they concluded, was likely to arrive too late or even be captured by the Russians.

Less noted was that the Russian troop buildup—notwithstanding its formidable scale—was far from sufficient to take and hold all of Ukraine. Even many in or connected to the Russian military could see the risks. In early February 2022, Igor “Strelkov” Girkin, one of the original Russian separatist leaders in the 2014 campaign, observed that Ukraine’s military was better prepared than it had been eight years earlier and that “there aren’t nearly enough troops mobilized, or being mobilized.” Yet Putin did not consult experts on Ukraine, relying instead on his closest advisers—old comrades from the Russian security apparatus—who echoed his dismissive view that Ukraine could be easily taken.

As soon as the invasion got underway, the central weaknesses in the Russian campaign became apparent. The plan was for a short war, with decisive advances in several different parts of the country on the first day. But Putin and his advisers’ optimism meant that the plan was shaped largely around rapid operations by elite combat units. Little consideration was given to logistics and supply lines, which limited Russia’s ability to sustain the offensive once it stalled, and all the essentials of modern warfare, including food, fuel, and ammunition, began to be rapidly consumed. In effect, the number of axes of advance created a number of separate wars being fought at once, all presenting their own challenges, each with their own command structures and without an appropriate mechanism to coordinate their efforts and allocate resources among them.

The first sign that things were not going according to Putin’s plan was what happened at the Hostomel airport, near Kyiv. Told that they would meet little resistance, the elite paratroopers who had been sent to hold the airport for incoming transport aircraft were instead repelled by a Ukrainian counterattack. Eventually, the Russians succeeded in taking the airport, but by then, it was too damaged to be of any value. Elsewhere, apparently formidable Russian tank units were stopped by far more lightly armed Ukrainian defenders. According to one account, a huge column of Russian tanks that was destined for Kyiv was initially stopped by a group of just 30 Ukrainian soldiers, who approached it at night on quad bikes and succeeded in destroying a few vehicles at the head of the column, leaving the rest stuck on a narrow roadway and open to further attack. The Ukrainians successfully repeated such ambushes in many other areas.

Ukrainian forces, with Western assistance, had undertaken energetic reforms and planned their defenses carefully. They were also highly motivated, unlike many of their Russian counterparts, who were unsure why they were there. Agile Ukrainian units, drawing first on antitank weapons and drones and then on artillery, caught Russian forces by surprise. In the end, then, the early course of the war was determined not by greater numbers and firepower but by superior tactics, commitment, and command.

COMPOUNDING ERRORS

From the outset of the invasion, the contrast between the Russian and Ukrainian approaches to command was stark. Putin’s original strategic error was to assume that Ukraine was both hostile enough to engage in anti-Russian activities and incapable of resisting Russian might. As the invasion stalled, Putin appeared unable to adapt to the new reality, insisting that the campaign was on schedule and proceeding according to plan. Prevented from mentioning the high numbers of Russian casualties and numerous battlefield setbacks, the Russian media have relentlessly reinforced government propaganda about the war. By contrast, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the initial target of the Russian operation, refused offers from the United States and other Western powers to be taken to safety to form a government in exile. He not only survived but stayed in Kyiv, visible and voluble, rallying his people and pressing Western governments for more support, financial and military. By demonstrating the overwhelming commitment of the Ukrainian people to defend their country, he encouraged the West to impose far more severe sanctions on Russia than it might otherwise have done, as well as to get supplies of weapons and war materiel to Ukraine. While Putin stubbornly repeated himself as his “special military operation” faltered, Zelensky grew in confidence and political stature.

Putin’s baleful influence also hung over other key strategic decisions by Russia. The first, following the initial setbacks, was the Russian military’s decision to adopt the brutal tactics it had used in Chechnya and Syria: targeting civilian infrastructure, including hospitals and residential buildings. These attacks caused immense suffering and hardship and, as could have been predicted, only strengthened Ukrainian resolve. The tactics were also counterproductive in another sense. Combined with the revelations about possible war crimes by Russian troops in areas around Kyiv, such as Bucha, Russia’s attacks on nonmilitary targets convinced leaders in Washington and other Western capitals that it was pointless to try to broker a compromise settlement with Putin. Instead, Western governments accelerated the flow of weapons to Ukraine, with a growing emphasis on offensive as well as defensive systems. This was not the war between Russia and NATO claimed by Moscow propagandists, but it was rapidly becoming the next closest thing.

 

An unbroken string of poor command decisions left Putin with few options.

A second key strategic decision came on March 25, when Russia abandoned its maximalist goal of taking Kyiv and announced that it was concentrating instead on the “complete liberation” of the Donbas region. This new objective, although it promised to bring greater misery to the east, was more realistic, and it would have been yet more so if it had been the initial aim of the invasion. The Kremlin also now appointed an overall Russian commander to lead the war, a general whose approach would be more methodical and employ additional artillery to prepare the ground before armor and infantry moved forward. But the effect of these shifts was limited because Putin needed quick results and didn’t give the Russian forces time to recover and prepare for this second round of the war.

The momentum had already swung from Russia to Ukraine, and it could not be turned around quickly enough to meet Putin’s timetable. Some analysts speculated that Putin wanted something that he could call a victory on May 9, the Russian holiday marking the end of the Great Patriotic War, Russia’s victory over Nazi Germany. As likely, though, was his and his senior military commanders’ desire to make territorial gains in the east before Ukraine could absorb new weapons from the United States and Europe. As a result, Russian commanders sent units that had just been withdrawn from the north back into combat in the east; there was no time to replenish the troops or remedy the failings exhibited in the first phase of the war.

In the new offensive, which began in earnest in mid-April, Russian forces made few gains, while Ukrainian counterattacks nibbled away at their positions. To add to the embarrassment, Russia’s Black Sea flagship, the Moskva, was sunk in an audacious Ukrainian attack. By May 9, there was not a lot to celebrate in Moscow. Even the coastal city of Mariupol, which Russia had attacked mercilessly since the start of the war and battered into rubble, was not fully captured until a week later. By that time, Western estimates were suggesting that a third of the initial Russian combat force, both personnel and equipment, had been lost. Rumors had circulated that Putin would use the holiday to announce a general mobilization to meet the army’s need for manpower, but no such announcement was made. For one thing, such a move would have been deeply unpopular in Russia. But it would also have taken time to get conscripts and reservists to the front, and Russia would still face chronic equipment shortages.

After an unbroken string of poor command decisions, Putin was running out of options. As the offensive in Ukraine completed its third month, many observers began to note that Russia had become stuck in an unwinnable war that it dared not lose. Western governments and senior NATO officials began to talk of a conflict that could continue for months, and possibly years, to come. That would depend on the ability of the Russian commanders to keep a fight going with depleted forces of low morale and also on the ability of Ukraine to move from a defensive strategy to an offensive one. Perhaps Russia’s military could still salvage something out of the situation. Or perhaps Putin would see at some point that it might be prudent to call for a cease-fire so he could cash in the gains made early in the war before a Ukrainian counteroffensive took them away, even though that would mean admitting failure.

POWER WITHOUT PURPOSE

One must be careful when drawing large lessons from wars with their own special features, particularly from a war whose full consequences are not yet known. Analysts and military planners are certain to study the war in Ukraine for many years as an example of the limits to military power, looking for explanations as to why one of the strongest and largest armed forces in the world, with a formidable air force and navy and new equipment and with recent and successful combat experience, faltered so badly. Before the invasion, when Russia’s military was compared with Ukraine’s smaller and lesser-armed defense forces, few doubted which side would gain the upper hand. But actual war is determined by qualitative and human factors, and it was the Ukrainians who had sharper tactics, brought together by command structures, from the highest political level to the lowlier field commanders, that were fit for the purpose.

Putin’s war in Ukraine, then, is foremost a case study in a failure of supreme command. The way that objectives are set and wars launched by the commander in chief shapes what follows. Putin’s mistakes were not unique; they were typical of those made by autocratic leaders who come to believe their own propaganda. He did not test his optimistic assumptions about the ease with which he could achieve victory. He trusted his armed forces to deliver. He did not realize that Ukraine was a challenge on a completely different scale from earlier operations in Chechnya, Georgia, and Syria. But he also relied on a rigid and hierarchical command structure that was unable to absorb and adapt to information from the ground and, crucially, did not enable Russian units to respond rapidly to changing circumstances.

The value of delegated authority and local initiative will be one of the other key lessons from this war. But for these practices to be effective, the military in question must be able to satisfy four conditions. First, there must be mutual trust between those at the senior and most junior levels. Those at the highest level of command must have confidence that their subordinates have the intelligence and ability to do the right thing in demanding circumstances, while their subordinates must have confidence that the high command will provide what backing they can. Second, those doing the fighting must have access to the equipment and supplies they need to keep going. It helped the Ukrainians that they were using portable antitank and air-defense weapons and were fighting close to their home bases, but they still needed their logistical systems to work.

Third, those providing leadership at the most junior levels of command need to be of high quality. Under Western guidance, the Ukrainian army had been developing the sort of noncommissioned officer corps that can ensure that the basic demands of an army on the move will be met, from equipment maintenance to actual preparedness to fight. In practice, even more relevant was that many of those who returned to the ranks when Ukraine mobilized were experienced veterans and had a natural understanding of what needed to be done.

But this leads to the fourth condition. The ability to act effectively at any level of command requires a commitment to the mission and an understanding of its political purpose. These elements were lacking on the Russian side because of the way Putin launched his war: the enemy the Russian forces had been led to expect was not the one they faced, and the Ukrainian population was not, contrary to what they had been told, inclined to be liberated. The more futile the fight, the lower the morale and the weaker the discipline of those fighting. In these circumstances, local initiative can simply lead to desertion or looting. By contrast, the Ukrainians were defending their territory against an enemy intent on destroying their land. There was an asymmetry of motivation that influenced the fighting from the start. Which takes us back to the folly of Putin’s original decision. It is hard to command forces to act in support of a delusion.

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China Puts ‘Aggressive’ Terms On Uganda Airport Loan – Researchers

A top Chinese lender has imposed “aggressive” repayment terms on a $200 million loan to expand Uganda’s international airport, US-based research lab AidData said Monday, criticising the bank for forcing the government to repay its debt before funding public services.

Chinese state banks are the biggest source of infrastructure funding to Africa and have been criticised for their predatory lending practices although details of contracts are rarely made public.

Under the loan from China’s Exim Bank to modernise the Entebbe Airport, the Ugandan government is required to channel all revenue from the country’s only international airport into an account held jointly with the lender, according to the contract published Monday by AidData.

The government is then required to use part of the revenue to repay the loan each year before it can invest in public services.

“These are (more) aggressive terms than what we have seen earlier,” Bradley Parks, executive director at AidData, told AFP, saying the contract “limits the fiscal autonomy of the government”.

State-owned China Communications Construction Company began repairing runways and building new airport hangers in Entebbe in 2016 and the work is expected to be completed this year.

Chinese creditors — unlike other lenders from developed nations — require governments to deposit some earnings from big infrastructure projects in bank accounts they control to serve as collateral.

But the contract for the Ugandan airport goes further.

“The lender is asking not just for revenues from the new projects they are funding, but also from the underlying asset — or the airport — that already exists,” Parks said.

The airport, built in 1951, was generating about $68 million in annual revenue prior to the expansion project and the money was used to fund public services according to Parks, citing data from the government.

The project led to public outrage last year after Ugandan media reported China will take control of the airport if the government in Kampala defaulted, a claim that Beijing later denied.

China Exim Bank did not respond to a request for comment.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen this month said China needs to contribute more to global efforts to provide debt relief for poor nations that are struggling to repay after the pandemic battered their economies.

AFP

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Five Reasons Why Ukraine Has Been Able To Stall Russian Advance

Almost two weeks into the Russian invasion of their country, Ukrainian forces have managed to hold up the advance of their foes with resistance that has won plaudits from Western allies.

Analysts say their performance against a numerically far superior army has been fueled by a combination of good preparation, national solidarity and Russian mistakes.

However, the future remains unclear, with President Vladimir Putin repeatedly declaring that nothing will stand between him and his aims.

“They (the Russians) are basically not going very fast,” said a senior French military source, asking not to be named. “At some point, they will have to realign but it will not signify a failure.”

AFP looks at five ways Ukraine has been able to stall the Russian advance.

 

Preparation

 

Ukrainian Territorial Defence fighters test the automatic grenade launcher taken from a destroyed Russian infantry mobility vehicle GAZ Tigr after the fight in Kharkiv on February 27, 2022.
Sergey BOBOK / AFP

 

Ukraine, with Western help, substantially bolstered its armed forces after 2014, when Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in a lightning operation and pro-Russia separatists overran parts of the east of the country.

In 2016, NATO and Kyiv began a training program for Ukrainian special forces, who now number 2,000 and have been able to help civilian volunteers.

“Ukrainians have spent the last eight years planning, training, and equipping themselves for resisting a Russian occupation,” said Douglas London, adjunct associate professor at Georgetown University.

Understanding that the US and NATO won’t come to its rescue on the battlefield, Ukraine’s strategy has focused “on bleeding Moscow so as to make occupation untenable,” the CIA veteran wrote in Foreign Affairs.

 Local knowledge

People flee the city of Irpin, west of Kyiv, on March 7, 2022. Russian forces pummelled Ukrainian cities from the air, land and sea on Monday, with warnings they were preparing for an assault on the capital Kyiv, as terrified civilians failed for a second day to escape besieged Mariupol.
ARIS MESSINIS / AFP

 

Russia, relying on Soviet-era familiarity with an area that Moscow controlled under the USSR, appears to have underestimated the Ukrainian forces’ home-turf advantage.

This included both knowledge of the terrain — at a time of the year when tracks can turn to mud — and the capacity of locals to themselves take up arms against the invading forces.

In such a scenario of irregular warfare, weaker forces can maximise the advantages they have over their stronger opponents — “advantages of terrain, local knowledge, and social connections,” said Spencer Meredith, professor at the College of International Security Affairs.

Challenges will mount further if urban fighting develops when Russia seeks to penetrate inside cities like Kyiv.

“That changes everything,” said the French military source. “The Russians will run into trouble at every street corner, building by building.”

Solidarity

 

A demonstrator waves a flag of Ukraine as she attends a rally in support of Ukraine in Tbilisi, on the 12th day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, on March 7, 2022. 

 

Led by President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has remained in Kyiv despite the risk to his life as Russia enters the region of the capital, Ukrainians have shown the deepest resilience in adversity.

Ordinary citizens have volunteered for the frontline, often after ensuring their families were safely headed to security in the west of the country or outside its borders.

Images circulating online have shown ordinary people making Molotov cocktails or farmers towing away captured Russian military hardware.

Ukraine had no “other choice than to further increase its attrition warfare capacity by rapid training of territorial troops and use of light weaponry,” said retired French colonel Michel Goya.

 Strategic errors

Military analysts say Russia made strategic errors in the early days of the invasion after it was launched on February 24, sending in too few ground troops in the initial phase and failing to get ground and air forces working in tandem.

It appears Moscow expected to achieve military success within days.

“At the outset they thought they could introduce units very quickly into the capital Kyiv… But very early on they got bloody noses,” said Michael Kofman, director of the Russia Studies Program at the Center for Naval Analyses in the US.

“The assumptions were ridiculous… how could you take Kyiv in three days? The Russian military has now adjusted and is trying to conduct this as a combined arms operation,” he said.

Psychological fear

Russia has set alarm bells ringing across the world by keeping tens of thousands of troops deployed close to the border with Ukraine over recent weeks.

But it is possible that few had any idea they were about to be sent to war in a neighbouring country whose inhabitants are fellow Slavs and where many speak Russian as their mother tongue.

Morale will not have been helped by heavy Russian casualties who, according to the French source, have included at least one major general — a sign the top military elite have felt compelled to visit the frontline.

Tom Pepinsky, non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said evidence so far suggested that Ukraine’s treatment of Russian prisoners of war could become harsher as the invaders press further into the country.

“The Ukrainian resistance will be most effective if Russians are on edge, sleepless, and prone to overreactions,” he said.

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Queen Elizabeth tests positive for COVID-19, symptoms ‘mild’, says Palace

Britain’s 95-year-old Queen Elizabeth II tested positive for Covid-19 on Sunday but her symptoms are “mild” and she intends to continue with light duties at her Windsor Castle residence, aides said.

The news comes after Prince Charles, the queen’s eldest son and heir, tested positive on February 10, two days after meeting his mother at Windsor.

No information was given then on whether Queen Elizabeth had herself taken a test. She resumed in-person audiences at the castle last week, but complained to one attendee of suffering from stiffness.

“Buckingham Palace confirm that the queen has today tested positive for Covid,” a statement from the palace said.

“Her Majesty is experiencing mild cold-like symptoms but expects to continue light duties at Windsor over the coming week,” it said.

“She will continue to receive medical attention and will follow all the appropriate guidelines.”

While normally secretive about the queen’s health, the palace has previously confirmed that she is fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

 

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China May Take Advantage Of Ukraine Crisis – US General

China may take advantage of the Ukraine crisis and do something “provocative” in Asia while Western powers are focused on defusing tensions with Russia, a US general warned Wednesday.

Russia’s deployment of more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s border has triggered fears in Washington and other Western capitals of a looming invasion.

General Kenneth Wilsbach, the head of US Pacific Air Forces, noted that China had aligned itself with Russia in the crisis, raising questions about own intentions in Asia.

“From the standpoint of will China see what’s happening in Europe and… try to do something here in the Indo-Pacific — absolutely yes, that’s a concern,” Wilsbach said, using an alternative term for the Asia-Pacific region.

“I do have my concerns that they would want to take advantage,” he added, speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the Singapore Airshow.

“It won’t be surprising if they tried something that may be provocative, and see how the international community reacts.”

Wilsbach said that when Beijing expressed support for Russia in the Ukraine standoff, he held talks with his staff and other “entities” in the region about its implications.

Based in Hawaii, Wilsbach’s command would play a central role if conflict erupts in the Pacific.

Over the years, Beijing has been blamed for stoking tensions in the region as it has steadily cemented control of key islands and atolls in the South China Sea.

Beijing claims almost the entirety of the sea, but that overlaps with those of Taiwan and four Southeast Asian countries — Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

While the United States and other Western nations have no claims there, they fear Chinese control would infringe on freedom of navigation in the strategic waterway.

In recent months, China has also ramped up pressure on Taiwan — which it sees as its territory — by sending fighter jets into the island’s air defence identification zone.

Wilsbach said that when China looks at crises, it considers whether “this is an opportunity for gain”.

He did not go into specifics about what China might do during the Ukraine crisis, saying only that there were “probably a number of options” for Beijing.

AFP

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