The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or Timothy Clancy. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim: Today’s guest is, Tim Clancy. He is CEO of Dialectic Simulations, a company that helps other organizations do structured systems thinking. He’s got a video on the homepage there, about three minutes long, which is a quite remarkable introduction to systems thinking despite being cringingly simplistic. It’s actually pretty damn good. If you don’t know anything at all about systems thinking, check it out. What’s your URL for that company?
Timothy: It’s dialecticsims.com.
Jim: All right, dialecticsims.com, check it out. But more to the point for today’s show, Tim, is the voice behind InfoMullet, at InfoMullet.com, and @InfoMullet on Twitter. I stumbled across them somehow or other, and I said, “Damn! This guy’s less dumb than most.” And I think we had a conversation back and forth a bit on Facebook. And I said, might have this guy on the show in our continuing series talking about what’s going on in Ukraine. Now, unlike some of the conversations we’ve had so far with other guests, we’re not going to talk about the battles of the day, who’s pushing who 200 yards north of Kyiv. We’re going to talk about the mid-game scenario. Some things that can happen over weeks or months, probably a couple of months, month and a half, something like that. And we’re going to talk about five scenarios that, Tim, has laid out. And we’re going to talk about our guesses about some inflections, some things that could happen along the way that might lead to one or the other of the scenarios. With that, welcome, Tim. Good to here.
Timothy: Thanks, Jim. Welcome for having me today.
Jim: Yeah, that should be fun. First got to ask, how’d you get the name, the InfoMullet?
Timothy: Well, for about 20 years now, going back to 2002, actually, I’ve been commentating just on live journal, Facebook, any complex events, I just like commentating and on them, and it’s always along. And my friends would say, could you shorten that up and TLDR, too long didn’t read. So the joke with the InfoMullet is we start each article on the website, TLDR upfront, full context in the back. We try and make sure you get the little bits you need to know up front, but then do try and go a little bit deeper into the context of what’s going on behind just the reporting of the day to day events.
Jim: Yeah, it really is worth reading. It’s now added into my regular rotations, even got its own column in my tweet decks. How about that? Anyway, we’re going to talk about these five scenarios. Number one, why don’t you tell us what your scenario number one is?
Timothy: Sure, Jim. So these mid-game scenarios, if we think what is the mid game, first of all? I play go and in go, the opening game is where you try and take the corners and sides. And if you think of Ukraine as a board, and I’m using this as analogy, it’s obviously a very tragic and devastating war. But if you think of Ukraine as a board, the invasion up to this point has been a contest between Ukraine and Russia to take various corners and sides and establish themselves. The mid-game and go is where you go from those established points and try and move forward into the center. The mid-game scenarios that I’m looking at it for Ukraine is the invasion has happened, we’ve had three weeks of test after the invasion. Now, as things start to settle down, what’s going to happen over the next few weeks to few months, maybe out to mid-May before we get into the end game and the end game scenarios where you’re finalizing the lines of control, just trying to finish up the things.
Timothy: And these scenarios are based off contingencies of assumptions of how Russia will adapt to it’s rather abysmal start. The scenarios, there’s five of them will go through and I’ll let, Jim, pick where we’re going through. But they’re going from most likely to… Let me restate that. There’s five scenarios, one through five, and they’re ranked in order of most likely to occur to least likely to occur. So the scenarios 1, 2, 3, are all fairly likely to occur in my mind, looking at the current conditions, four and five, much less likely. And the first scenario is looking at the situation right now and taking a little bit of different take, Western reporting tends to focus on whether Russia’s advancing on Kyiv, whether it’s made progress today. And Jim, I appreciate that you’re not doing a 200 meter type discuss here because what I see going on is that Russia is making significant gains in the south.
Timothy: The first scenario is that Russia holds the Land Bridge to Crimea. They’ve already established this Land Bridge from [inaudible 00:04:33] in the East all the way over to Kherson in the west. Now, they actually are further out than this, but I project that where we’re going to be few weeks to a month from now is a negotiated settlement where Russia can take that Southern land court, not the entire one, but at least going to Kherson and everything east of the Dnieper up to Highway N 15 near Dnipro. And that includes the Donbas region. So if you think about why is that possible? What’s going on in the North? What’s happening on the cities? This is very important. Modern urban combat in the last 20 years has changed significantly. And I listen to some of your podcasts. And you mentioned some of the cities in World War II and the fights that went on. That’s very introductive to how people think about fights in the 20th century. But in the 21st century, it’s different.
Timothy: In the past, you’d bypass a city. You’d leave it behind you. That’s best stone, during the Battle of the Bulge. You might encircle in a besieged city. You mentioned Stalingrad the other day, that’s a tactic. You might also just directly assault it and go block by block. And that’d be like the Soviets invading Berlin. But in the 21st century, we’re talking about very large cities, both by population and space. They don’t just have a city center with a few roads, they have suburbs, and exurbs. They have hundreds of thousands or millions of people. And a strategy that’s been developed, and we’ve seen this in Mosul, Araka, Aleppo, Homs, Baghdad it was attempted. It’s called the belt strategy. And I think Russia is employing a belt strategy around these cities in the north.
Timothy: And the belt strategy is you don’t try and go in and fight block to block. You don’t try and encircle and completely cut off a city. You hunker down in those suburbs or exurbs. You create a fortified position that’s easier to defend. It’s easier to harden your supply lines. You’re in a fixed position. You can concentrate your troops. And from there, you can use a tactic, which I call Grozny rules, which is, goes back to Russia’s doctrine of how do you reduce a city that’s supposing you? It used these tactics in Grozny, in Chechnya. It also used these tactics against Aleppo and Homs in Syria. These are ranged indirect fires, artillery, rockets, missiles, aircraft strikes. When you’re in the exurbs of a city, you can be 30 kilometers away from that city center. You don’t have to invade the city itself, you can reduce it to rubble, you can cut off most of its supplies. You do that by occupying these belts.
Timothy: And what that does is that creates this city that’s called a feral city. And this is a relatively new concept. The term was only coined by a scholar in 2000, made popular by Cocoon, who portrays his brand in counter-insurgency. A feral city that is a city, a large city that is still connected to both the stated existing and the international order, but has such reduced infrastructure, such reduced governing capacity, such reduced services that it struggles to provide basic essential everyday governmental services. And if you look at what’s happening in the Northern band of these cities, Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumi, Kharkiv, Russia may very well take these belt strategy, try and encircle parts of it, but then reduce these cities with a Grozny rules approach till they’re feral city status. That’s a low cost, relatively low cost option for Russia, given the struggles they’ve had with their logistics and their combined arms.
Timothy: I think we’re seeing that in Kyiv now. You’re seeing these forces begin to encircle on the west and take up a position. What that sets up as is the ability for Russia to secure the Southern corridor I mentioned at the beginning. Scenario one is about the land they want to take, which is the Southern corridor and the Donbas, and then negotiate through these talks. You’ll see Russia as they feel more confident that they’ve got all they can get in the south, they’re going to of begin negotiating the withdrawal of troops, this scenario one, at least, negotiate the withdrawal of troops to the north back to the borders. But what they’re leaving behind is this band of feral cities. You can almost describe it in some ways as Ukraine becoming a feral state, because for the next decade or two, it’s going to be rebuilding, investing in infrastructure, international aid will be flowing in. There may be military flowing in.
Timothy: But it’ll be like a buffer. It’ll be like Russia, put a giant mountain range between it and anything else with these band to feral cities. And that I think is scenario one, because Russia has improved its logistics and combined arms from where they were at in the invasion. And this scenario assumes that that progress continues, but isn’t significantly better than it is now. They’re still struggling in a lot of ways. You still see a lot of abandoned vehicles. You still see a lot of ambushes. I think scenario one is the most likely scenario to me because they’ve already got the facts on the ground to support it. They’re already in position in these belts, they’re already in a position to conduct these Grozny rules and reduce these cities to feral cities. They already occupy the territory.
Timothy: Probably the last, you talked about inflection points. The last two inflection points for this scenario is really the capture of Mariupol in the south, which will happen probably at some point. It’s in a very dire situation. And then the encirclement of the Joint Forces Operation Group, which is the Ukrainian forces that sit across the Line of Control in the contested separatist area. That’s a large Ukrainian force that has essentially been stuck there this entire invasion because across the separatist line, are whole bunch of Russian and separatist forces. And what’s happening is if you look at the maps, the Russian advances from the Northeast coming down from Kharkiv and then really from the south coming up from Zaporizhia, it looks like they’re going to push up to Dnipro and try and encircle that group. It would be a disaster for Ukraine. If that group got encircled. I think they’ll pull the group back and that will create a territorial border, which Russia might it wish to hold onto in a negotiated settlement. Let me pause here and see if you have any questions. That’s scenario number one.
Jim: Yeah, I like that inflection point, because I’ve also been looking at the convergence point of Dnipro. If that happens, then rather large forces that are stationed in front of the enclave would be cut off. Question is, how much air superiority do the Russians have? If they have enough, it may be very difficult to pull those forces back across Dnipro and essentially do defense in depth. Don’t know the answer to that one, but it’s certainly an interesting issue. Now with respect to the Grozny rules, I want to push back on that one a little bit.
Jim: I have this hypothesis that at a higher level of game theory, that the following is going on, the constraints on Putin more than anything else, is what I’ve decided to term maximum acceptable atrocity because he’s now especially more so than at the start of the invasion, realized that his army as military, ain’t up to fight NATO toe to toe. I mean, holy moly, he can’t run over the Ukrainians, what happens when he runs into the Americans and the Brits and the French and the Germans? They’re going to whip his butt big time. He can’t let the fight with NATO happen. And by the way, the west doesn’t want to either for the obvious nuclear escalation issues.
Jim: However, the third party here is public opinion. And we saw this in Kosovo where the Clinton administration said many times, never going to get involved there militarily, we’ll provide humanitarian aid. We’ll help the UN send in peacekeepers. We’re never going to get involved. Well, enough atrocities occurred with ethnic cleansing and what have you. That we actually launched a pretty heavy duty attack on Serbia, fucked it up a fairly seriously, nailed their ground forces with B 52 Arc Light, boom. And that’s what actually brought them to the table.
Jim: My hypothesis is, there is something called the maximum acceptable atrocity, which nobody knows what it is. That’s makes the game theory interesting and dangerous. And if Putin goes cross that line, NATO will be forced to intervene. Notice in the current polling, three quarters of Americans support establishing a no fly zone over Ukraine. And no fly zone is equivalent of going to war with the Russians, because soon we’ll be shooting airplanes down. They’ll be shooting our planes down. So I’m not at all convinced that Putin can do a Grozny on Kyiv or Kharkiv and get away with it without going over that line. And then we’re toe to toe and potentially on the escalation ladder to World War III.
Timothy: Let me respond to that because I actually think that’s a hypothesis that supports my scenario and I’ll tell you why it has to do with these belt strategy. It’s the part that people generally, when they’re thinking about that assault into a city or they’re thinking about encirclement. When you’re doing a 20th century tactic on a city, you have to go all in. If you are heading into the center of the city, you can’t let up, you’ve got to stay on top of it. If you’re encircling to besiege it, you can’t let a gap. With a belt strategy though, think of it like a dial. Putin has a dial where he can adjust the level of fires day by day. I mean, maybe he or his generals. And you’ll see that they do this, they do it for two ways.
Timothy: One of which I think as you are correct, there’s some abstracted atrocity level that they’re heuristically feeling how hot the temperature is and they can go out up or down. They also do it in relation to the negotiations they have as a tempo to, if the negotiations are getting installed, they can turn the dial up. If the goal is feral cities and not occupation, then all you need to do is continue letting the fires into the city at some rate over some time. And as a low cost option in the belts, you can turn that dial down and you’ll see this in conflicts where there’ll be pauses for days, hours, days, maybe sometimes even a week with low intensity, but then the dial gets turned back up. And the trick is when you’re in the belts to dislodge them, Ukraine now has to counter attack out of the cities and that puts the onus on them.
Timothy: I actually think you’ve got a good idea here in this hypothetical atrocity rate. I think that’s something they’re considering. But being in the belts and staying at that distance, it’s why they’re not rushing into the city center. Now, this may be giving to Putin the benefit of the doubt of initial strategy that thought they could just thunder run into the center of the city and the whole thing would collapse. This may be a byproduct of the reality of, like you said, their military has not performed well. But being in the belts means they can sustain that position and turn that dial as necessary as they feel public opinion warrants.
Jim: I think that’s a very good point. And I do see that is a fairly likely end game scenario. But I think my point is, Grozny, they just pounded at the shit, there was nothing left. I don’t [crosstalk 00:15:13].
Timothy: Same with Aleppo.
Jim: Yeah. And that’s true, Aleppo also. I don’t believe that in Europe public opinion would allow that to happen and it’ll be well short of a feral city. But the rest of the dynamic I buy that’s, this would be classic negotiation. I tend to see this very much like a Union Labor negotiation. We’re at the point now where both sides have shown that they can give and absorb punishment. And neither of them now has a big victory probably on the table. It doesn’t look like Putin can actually grab and hold Ukraine and it doesn’t look like the Ukrainians can push the Russians out at anytime soon. That’s usually the time when negotiations become possible.
Jim: And I like the idea of a dial, okay, we’re having negotiations not going well, turned up the artillery values up for a couple of days. And then the Ukrainians become a little bit more realistic or the Ukrainian drones come in there and take out a bunch of artillery pieces. And it goes the other way. Well, we don’t know, it’s contingency. But so I see the dynamic, I’m going to suggest doesn’t go as far as Grozny because of the maximum acceptable atrocity. But in terms of a final settlement in the mid game, not a bad one. Let’s go on to number two.
Timothy: Scenario number two is the same scenarios as number one, but in this case, Russia continues to adapt and improve its logistics and combined arm responses. Remember, the beginning of the invasion was a disaster for Russia. I think, like you said, very articulately that they certainly couldn’t stand up to Ukraine as they thought they could just roll over them. I think the intelligence was very bad. They thought they would be greeted as liberators. Zelensky would be overthrown. The military would collapse and they could do these styles. They’ve had to improve the logistics and combined arms for a true serious conventional conflict. Scenario one is they continue to have mixed results. Scenario two is that improvement in capability continues, and they begin to be able to exert the kind of force employment that a lot of analysts anticipated.
Timothy: There’s a danger here and I’m borrowing from, Michael Kaufman, which is one of the sources I watch on this. He describes at the beginning of the invasion, everyone thought Russia was 12 feet tall. Now everyone thinks they’re four feet tall. Those extremes and analysis can be dangerous because even though Russia performed badly, they are adapting and improving their capabilities to some extent. And if that continues to improve and they get better than then, they are now, in scenario two, they may take the entire Southern land strip. So this is everything I described before, plus Mykolaiv, Odessa, all the way connecting to Trans-Dniester and Moldova and that Southern portion of Ukraine. So they take an entire land strip. Even as we go on the air right now, there’s amphibious ships heading toward Odessa, there’s reports of missile attacks.
Timothy: They’re still aiming, I think. They would like to get this. This is probably the best of the worst case options that Putin has. You take the entire Black Sea coast. You get the natural gas deposits offshore. You take control of the gas pipeline that runs through that area. You bar Ukraine from getting sea access. And I think the interesting thing, you can challenge me on this, in this scenario, they may also try and annex the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. If they feel they have a strong upper hand when they go into these negotiations, the strategy of Putin for two decades is push until you can’t push anymore and someone pushes you back. I think they’re going to go to annex the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. And the purpose of that is to create an area where Russia can continue to stage troops.
Timothy: It’s depopulated because of, obviously, the Chernobyl incident. I certainly wouldn’t want to be posted there, but Russia is on a willingness to conduct military activities. That puts a dagger at the heart of any future Ukraine, it means Russian forces. It almost creates a scenario like we see in the 38th Parallel between North Korean, South Korea, where there are North Korean forces close enough to soul that at any, in a matter of hours, they can shell the city. And that creates a very interesting strategic dynamic for any future relationships to the Ukraine. I only think they would go this route if they felt they had gotten the upper hand enough to take those cities. And they were able to complete that Southern corridor land [inaudible 00:19:25]. I still don’t think they would. We can debate about to the extent the rest of the cities are feral, but I don’t see them occupying anything in the north other than perhaps that Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in this scenario.
Jim: And so the inflection there is that the Russians improve their gameplay considerably over what it’s been to date at a fast enough rate that essentially friction and exhaustion doesn’t set in. Because I mean, you start looking at the number of losses they’ve had. And so far they found no more reserves to throw into this thing. At some point, the friction’s going to bring the thing to as stasis. One of the big, I think, insights for all of us that are studying this, is that the asymmetry… Well, for first, the number of major military assets, planes, tanks, ships is way smaller than it was say in World War II or even Vietnam. And the asymmetry between the major assets and the things that can take them out, anti-tank, anti-missile, anti-air, anti-ship, they’re also somewhat expensive, but much less expensive than the major assets. And this is the most important, but they’ve gotten a shit load better. Javelin is a fire and forget system with an 80% hit rate, which is pretty amazing.
Timothy: I think analysts looking at Russia, who just focused on Ukraine and NATO missed the last couple years. Russia has been involved in three proxy wars in the last four years in Libya, Syria and Armenia, Azerbaijan. Now, granted these were proxy wars, but they brought their air power. They brought some of their military forces and they were going up against Turkey. That’s a near pier. Now Turkey’s probably better positioned in Ukraine. Turkey, beat them pretty handily each time. And the types of problems we saw in the Russian force, lack of air superiority, the vaunted air superiority that everyone thought the S 400 and their air superiority. They weren’t able to establish.
Timothy: Turkey was regularly able, not just Turkey, but Turkish backed rebels with, like you say, fire and forget MANPADS surface to air. Anti-armor, the use of drones. Drones that are guided, are linked to precision artillery just demolished armored formations in the Armenia, Azerbaijan. And these were seen as… Well, this is just a proxy fight. We’ll see what if it happens at scale. And it certainly did appear, like you said, that asymmetry goes all the way up the scale to even a major conventional conflict like this, where we can flow in what amounts to infantry weapons and still provide Ukraine the punching power it needs to really create that friction that you’re talking about with Russia.
Jim: Yeah. And so that’s why I would say the Russians have to get quite a bit better for your scenario two to happen, but it certainly could. And I do think that’s an interesting insight that do the sole equivalent by taking the Chernobyl exclusions zone where you’re at the limits of artillery range. So you can reduce Kyiv to rubble at will as a dagger at their heart. Okay. That’s number two, now let’s go on to number three.
Timothy: And remember, all three of these are fairly likely given where their logistics go. When you talk about inflection points, we’re looking at logistics capability. I’ve talked about them staying at status quo and getting better. Scenario three is where it degrades. This is a scenario where their logistics, they brought it up a little, but it goes back to where we saw heavy abandoned vehicles. And I have a site that tracks, not just what’s lost, but how it’s lost. And I look at the rates of change over time. How fast are vehicles being abandoned or captured? Those are good indications in addition to destroyed of the type of nature of the logistics. Tank runs out of fuel, it’s a pill box. The troops are going to abandon it. You can go ahead and capture it easily. That’s an indicator by proxy of logistics.
Timothy: And in scenario three, it’s really Ukraine pushes Russia back to it’s pre-invasion lines. Now these are still where Russia holds on the ostensibly separatist area, kind of Russian back in the DNR, LNR in the Donbas. They still hold on to Crimea. It really gets into whether Ukraine can push further. There’s a later scenario where Ukraine tries to take those. But this is that friction point. I think if you Ukraine pushes, and this isn’t a route, this isn’t a collapse, this is a fighting retreat. This is a withdrawal. Whether it’s orderly or not, it will differ from day to day and front to front. But this is Russia basically having and being forced to pull back to its pre-invasion lines, which makes a very natural friction point, again, much like the Korean war. There’s all these movements north and south, the north and south, and they end up right back where they started.
Timothy: This has happened before and it may happen again, in which case, these lines may become frozen as sort of in the point at which we’re not willing to contest Crimea and the separatist areas. Russia has learned it can’t invade Ukraine. It has to basically accept a rather humiliating defeat for Putin. And the only thing that’s done in this case is that damage we talked about whether you want to call it a feral city or a heavily damaged city, those band of cities in the north leave Ukraine in a very difficult position going forward. But they have pushed Russia out to the territory except for the pre-invasion occupied areas.
Jim: Interesting. Yeah, it’s a possibility. I wonder if the Ukrainians have their own logistics sufficiently to do a counter attack at scale. I’m thinking they’re more like an Okinawa strategy, dig in, let the other guy keep punching you and rope-a-dope strategy. And I don’t know if they actually have the capability to go on the counter offensive.
Timothy: Yeah. I agree with you there. I think very much their strategy has been. Now they’ve got a lot of roving ambush teams, but those are small teams working with those javelins, the gear like that can move in and out quickly. I think their main forces are hunkered down. And like I said, is there going to be a will of Ukraine? And this gets almost into President Zelensky headspace. Is he willing to accept at this some negotiated settlement or does he have not one inch of our soil goes to Russia and wants to continue pushing? That’s the next scenario coming up.
Jim: Yeah. And I think that one’s, as you say, it’s less likely, but now not impossible. I continue to see a scenario and a lot of it depends on this negotiation dynamics. Because if Zelensky is smart and he appears to be, somewhat surprisingly, actually, that the real negotiation counter to Putin is we’re not going to drive you back to Donbas, but we’re not going to surrender either. We’re just going to keep you stuck in this endless grind for the next five years if necessary, our friends in the West will be sending us in man portable air defense, anti-tank, anti-air, anti-ship, by the tens of thousands. And we’re going to bleed you out. We’re not going to settle. We’re not going to drive you out. We’re just going to bleed you. And the West meta strategy, I call the Ukraine quick sand.
Timothy: I think you’ve got a really good point there because that’s what Russia and Iran were willing to do to the US and Iraq and may be in Afghanistan. And it may be time to return the favor. And there’s something to the people, it’s been mentioned a few times. Something like 60 to 80% of all Russian Armed Forces are now in this sandpit, this quagmire. I once said that Putin is a risk to all of Ukraine, but Ukraine is a risk to Putin’s control of Russia if this goes badly, because he put all his chips in on the table. There’s a lot of forces in there. And if you can keep them stuck. I mean, it’s an immoral calculus, a cold calculus, but if you can continue to bleed them dry, you will have denuded the forces of Russia across a lot of areas and statelets that are now probably watching this very closely to say, wait a minute, we were intimidated into compliance by this vaunted Russian military, and it’s not looking like that was the correct assessment.
Jim: Yeah. And of course, the pain to the poor Ukrainian people would be huge under this real politic approach.
Jim: But it probably would be the best outcome from the West from a non-moral perspective. Because it would have Russia stuck in Ukraine for a long time being bled away. And as you say, without being able to deploy its forces anywhere else, can’t intimidate George anymore. No chance of attacking the Baltics. I think there’s that interesting kind of stasis one. But one level higher to game theory, so Zelensky convinces Putin that he’s willing to do it if necessary with just no, we’re not going to drive you out and, but we’re not going to surrender either. We’re just going to grind on you for as long as you stay here until you leave.
Jim: If he could credibly get that idea across to the Russians, either Putin will then be more willing to settle or, and I still think there’s a possibility of this, the Russian military says we don’t want to get caught in the quick sandpit, we’ll Putin’s head off, put it on its spike. I think there’s a real chance of that one.
Timothy: We all love analogies in history and it’s easy to look back to the Bush blander going into Iraq as sort of to frame Putin’s mistake here. But I think it goes back further. This is approaching Nicholas the seconds interview in World War I, where he took control of the military. And like you said, literally a collapse of the military or significant defeat, that military is going to come back into Russia and be very, very displeased. And Russia does not have a strong history of treating leaders who lose their militaries in foreign wars well. I think that’s a very real risk.
Jim: Yeah. All right. Now let’s go on to your scenario number four.
Timothy: This is actually the one you were talking about where assuming there’s a collapse. Again, scenario number three is a fighting withdrawal. This is literally a collapse of the Russian forces. And if president Zelensky takes a nationalist tone for either calculated reasons as a negotiating ploy or earnest reasons, and urges his troops forward, you may see a scenario and this is a good news, bad news scenario. The good news is the Ukrainians would push Russia, attempt to push completely out of both the separatist area and the Crimea. The bad news scenario is you run into a trip wire effect where some of those Ukrainian forces cross into Russia, chasing Russian forces, attacking Russian forces, whether it’s lost control or not. In this scenario where Russia military collapses, you push them out to the international borders. You wipe your hands, you call it good, and you go back to restoring.
Timothy: If Ukrainian forces cross into Russia and conduct military operations in Russia, you talk about a very quick escalation ladder to CBRN. Some of those types chemical biological options for Russia, you see potential fracturing within Russia as, how do we respond to this? That could become very dicey very quick and escalate beyond just a Ukrainian-Russian conflict. In scenario four, they push them back to the edge of the borders. They retake what was had at 2014 prior to the Euromaidan protest the uprisings and the collapse of the Yanukovych’s regime. They basically reset to that. And just like scenario three froze the borders and said, well, we’re going to this, scenario four, if they can do that, I think that’s frozen borders. I think Russia does not want a second go at Ukraine in the foreseeable future and may not be able to for quite a bit of time.
Jim: I agree that if they don’t take it now, it ain’t going to. And then I believe that’s the reason Putin decided to move now is that the correlation of forces is moving disadvantageous to Russia. Henceforth, they’re losing population. But more to the point, now with Ukraine pretty strongly in the camp with the West, the Ukrainian military is going to get stronger and stronger by the year. I mean, they’re going to have modern air defense systems, they’re going to have 1000 drones, they’re going to have 20,000 and javelins. If Russia were to try it again, ain’t no way.
Timothy: And they have experience factor, the soft factors. I do simulations of conflict. And one of them is the experience of the troops. Going into this conflict, Ukraine had eight years irregular conflict with Russia across that line of control in the Donbas. So they already had. And I think Putin’s intelligence, he got a little bit carried away with eating his own dog food on the propaganda. They had a military that was ready to fight and knew how to fight. Bolstered by citizens who, I’ve heard some of your previous guests talk about, insurgency and things like that. Ukrainians are ready. If Russia does stay in there, there’s going to be an insurgency happening. The citizens are already out there. They’re already engaging. They’re already showing their willingness to do that. They have the experience. And after this conflict, they’ll have even more experience and something they may not have had before, a common point of unification, which Putin has handed both Ukraine and NATO strategically. Putin’s done more for the West in the last five weeks than the last 20 years, it seems.
Jim: Yeah. He undid most of the damage Trump did to NATO.
Jim: And probably more, actually. And I think the point you make about the galvanization of the Ukrainian nationality is actually very interesting. I remember I read some quotes on Twitter. One woman said, “I’m a Russian ethnicity. I speak Russian. I hate the fucking Russians.” A Ukrainian woman who live in the East. And have we seen anybody coming out with bouquets of roses to greet the Russians? Not that I’ve seen, maybe a little bit, but just around the Donbas. But this has really forged and strengthened the Ukrainian nationality. And a couple of my guests on the podcast earlier were skeptical of an insurgency, one of them on the grounds that modern nations don’t engage in insurgency. And the other was that Ukraine’s got too old of a population profile to engage in insurgency. I think that might have been true if three day collapse scenario had happened. But now after this, I think there’ll be an insurgency. It’d be in my sense.
Timothy: If I can talk a little bit on that. The simulations I create are actually about insurgency. We model the factors and we have a demographic fighting age, male. That’s a very common demographic. What’s the number of men, 16 through 34? How many are unemployed? But there’s other things we look at, too, which is the violence against the population and the perceived legitimacy of the state actor or the non-state actor. And when we do simulations and experiments, I would say they would’ve been correct. If you’re talking about how do you launch an insurgency from nothing? How do you get people out on the streets? It’s very hard to do that. The demographics need to be there. There’s expectation curves. We can get into that. But in this scenario, violence has an amazing galvanizing effect. You look in the Syrian civil war, those were people that largely rose up against the Asad regime because he was killing them.
Timothy: Every time you run a simulation, when the state actor or the aggressor actor engages in what we’ve seen in Russia, unrestricted bombing, artillery shells, targeting residential areas. This becomes personal. And from OG grandmother sunflower seeds, who went up to that soldier and offered to give them sunflowers to the go yourself, when you know someone who has been hit by a bomb, when you can look at an apartment building you grew up, and that’s now a crater, that type of violence overcomes things like when we talk about fighting aged men and what’s traditional and things like that. The human response to overwhelming violence is to do something about it. And so I see the conditions being very unfavorable for any occupation, even these scenarios I said before, where Russia takes a piece of the land, they still have to occupy it and pacify it. And they’ve set conditions to make that very difficult over the long run.
Jim: Yeah. And I like to remind my Americans or actually all people, that Ukraine is not a small place. It’s the size of Texas. And it has a bigger population than Texas.
Jim: And these modern armies aren’t that big, I mean, 200,000 people is a small army to occupied Texas. Come on now!
Timothy: And to give some numbers, there’s something called a good ratio. And this is a research ratio of troops to population, you need to conduct a counterinsurgency. And it’s measured in per 100,000. And it ranges from about 88 to 500 per 100,000. Now, if you think in a hypothetical that say X million of Ukrainians are still under whatever occupation, that’s an occupation force of hundreds of thousands to meet the ratio. Now, when you don’t meet the ratio, that means the hot insurgency that some of your guests talked about, the active insurgency goes up, the resistant comes up, there’s more fighting. It doesn’t mean you lose, but it becomes much more difficult. And I think part of my calculus in these scenarios is what can Russia reasonably occupy? They know about insurgencies. They’ve lived it in Chechnya. Now they watched us in Afghanistan and Iraq. These are not unknown things.
Timothy: But again, Putin surprised a lot of people when he did the invasion, maybe his thinking is, well, this will just turn a corner. But the fact of, what type of population will rise up against Russia? You have to include all genders, all age groups, anyone, like you said, the asymmetry of technology. Historical records aren’t that useful here. As you’ve mentioned before, there haven’t been a lot of large conventional conflicts in Europe to test an insurgency situation in the last 60 years.
Timothy: And the technology change, I don’t know what it takes to fly a drone, but I can’t imagine it’s a whole lot more than an Xbox or things like that, in terms of a skill, you can put any age person behind that. What does it take to fire a javelin? What does it take to create an IED? What does it take to be on a cell phone or take a video with a cell phone? The intersection of technology I think is really breaking down the barriers of what kind of people we see involved in insurgencies and will really come to play, especially in a modernized, highly technical, not obviously, great from an economic standpoint, but Ukraine has internet, they have cell phones, they have all that modern technology waiting there to be utilized. I think that would be a real problem in an insurgent environment.
Jim: I agree. I think that particularly after this forging experience of atrocity and war, it’s going to be a hot insurgency. And especially you look at, I’m sure the West is… Think of this, you flood the place with a man portable missiles.
Jim: And I did the research, I could only bracket it. But apparently, we supplied somewhere between 500 and 900 Stingers to the Afghan mujahideen to defeat the Russians back in the day. And there was 100 of them left, at least at the end. So no more than 800 Stingers were used to drive the Russians out of Afghanistan and no anti-tank. And we’ve already put way more than 900 Stingers or equivalents into Ukraine and probably 10,000 anti-tank at this point.
Timothy: And some of those are being stockpiled.
Jim: Exactly. Right.
Jim: And of course, if the collapse won’t happen instantly, we’ll rush a whole bunch more. So this will be a really hot, unprecedented, pissed off motivated Ukrainian people with very powerful man, portable weapons. This does not look good. [inaudible 00:38:11] why I say this, meta strategy of Zelensky, which is to don’t blink, don’t try to drive the Russians out, but just say, you’re in the quick sandpit pal and we’re just not going to surrender, we’re just going to grind you to dust. If it takes five years, it takes five years. Is actually a fairly realistic scenario in my book. But of course, now then, the meta is that if Putin and/or his military realizes Zelensky is credible to make that claim, that basically says settle, which might get back to your scenario number one. Okay, let’s go on to your last scenario, which is number five.
Timothy: The last scenario, this is the least likely scenario, and this is where Russia takes all of the land to the Dnieper. There was a speculation at first that Russia was going to pursue a Maxima strategy, take the entire country. I think that’s off the table, even with significant logistics improvement, which this assumes very significant logistics improvement. It assumes those forces, those JFO forces on the Donbas region, they get encircled and captured or destroyed. It assumes that you are able to take these cities that have been under the artillery bombardments. And basically, Russia takes and occupies all the land up to the Dnieper. I find this to be a very unlikely scenario. And remember, my time forecast here is between few weeks to mid-May. It’s possible that they do a rising tide approach, a very incremental, slow grind movement forward to reach these lines past mid-May in the summer.
Timothy: I still find it very unlikely, primarily for reasons we just discussed. I don’t remember the Mafia movie where there’s some bikers coming in a bar and cause a little problem and the Mafia dawn points him the door and says, you should leave and they choose not to leave. And then he locks the door and says, now you can’t leave. Russia occupying this amount of territory would be like Zelensky locking the door behind him and say, now you can’t leave. I can’t see this being sustained. I can’t see it being supported. They might claim it, but in the 18 to 36 month period after this, I can’t see this. However, it is possible that they turn things around enough, that Russia has a very large military, we can’t assume they’re four feet tall. And they begin to do that rising tide push over the next weeks and month, you have a few strategic collapses.
Timothy: It’s almost like the Thatcher scenario with the IRA. Ukraine has to be on top of their game every single time they encounter Russian forces because of that disparity in forces. Russia can afford to lose a lot and they are losing a lot. But if Ukraine loses big, that JFO Force Kyiv, you may see a movement west that gets to Dnipro. I don’t think they’re going to take the entire country. I think that’s off the table now. And again, this is a fairly unlikely scenario, but I did feel it was important to put out as a potential. If they’re going to commit to this grinding, Putin’s going to double down, he’s going to put his regime on the line and they have this slow, incremental advance over several weeks and months. So that mid-May or further, we start to see them reach the Dnieper up and down the line.
Jim: And if that’s credible, that’s a weight on Putin side in the negotiations. Though, here’s a possible, again, you said, it’s a lower probability. I think it just reinforces that. I looked up the numbers today. And by this point, Ukraine has probably all of its reserves mobilized between its active duty and its reserves. It now has a military in the field of 460,000 people versus the Russians somewhere between 175 and 190,000. And as we know, typically, for the offense to beat the defense, you need at least a two to one advantage, and usually a three to one advantage. And you think about this asymmetry of defensive weapons versus offensive weapons, just pure military friction and a two to one advantage in numbers or more than, may make this extremely difficult to happen.
Timothy: Yeah. It’s very unlikely in [inaudible 00:42:02]. The type of improvements, you’d have to see Russia going back to combined battalion movements, true combined arms, which we haven’t seen a whole lot of. And that’s one of the things that’s puzzled analysts is they started out with effectively raiding detachments or isolated groups. You’d have tanks without infantry, infantry without air cover. If they move to combined battalions where each battalion is operating maneuvering with artillery, infantry, armor, air cover, they’re doing it in concentrated areas. They’re using their…
Timothy: I mean, Russia’s an artillery force for the most part. They’re able to do a lot of data image to people as long as they can keep standoff range and then maneuver into those areas. They’re not really good at the breakthrough high speed, like what we see with our version of armor. But that type of maneuver, we haven’t seen it yet. And it’s one of the things that I tend to look at systems like this and say, until I see evidence of it, I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I’m saying, it’s not like they’re going to pull it out of at the last minute. Again, I find this scenario very unlikely, but if they can get their act together, it’s possible.
Jim: All right. Well, I think that’s an interesting tour of possibilities. And of course, in war, the unexpected can always happen. Putin could accidentally get over maximum acceptable atrocities and we could put in a no fly zone or Russians could get in a break on intelligence and find Zelensky and kill him with a cruise missile or the military could overthrow Putin. There’s a lot of things that can happen way outside the box. But I think your five scenarios, aren’t a bad way to frame reasonable range of probabilities.
Timothy: Thank you. I agree, some of the scenarios that when I’ve gone and gamed this, certainly an introduction, a stray missile hits Poland or some sort of entanglement of NATO, the introduction of an air quarter, I think we’re at about the right point. You talk about friction. There’s the friction between, Zelensky, and Putin. Then there’s a friction between the international order and Putin. Framing that, Putin introduced a maximalist violence force in Ukraine has been met with a maximalist economic force from the international order. And that’s about the right level of friction we should maintain to avoid going up the escalation ladder. We can flow in these small arms, he’ll target them once they get in the country. There was the attack on the base with the foreign mercenaries and his staging. People were nervous.
Timothy: That’s a legitimate target of war. It contains foreign troops. It’s got military. He hasn’t targeted anywhere outside. He isn’t signaling that he wants to attack outside the Ukrainian space. I think we keep it at that level. Introducing NATO, no fly zones would probably escalate this very significantly. But it would escalate it rapidly to nuclear because I don’t think his air force could stand up to NATO. And within 24 to 48 hours, air superiority would be lost. It would rapidly spiral out of control. I actually recommend that as an option in the 2014 annexation to do something over Ukraine. You can do a no fly zone over uncontested areas, much easier than you can introduce a no fly zone into an actively contested area and [inaudible 00:45:02] risk.
Timothy: As for Zelensky getting killed, at this point, I think the galvanizing unification of Ukrainians will turn him into a martyr and continue fighting in his name. I don’t see that actually causing a collapse of the Ukrainian forces because he’s done such a good job of presenting this war time leader and stoic. The introduction of China arms and equipment that’s been rumored, that would be another game changer. I worry more about that than I do the introduction of Chechens or Syrians. Those are just more meat and the meat grinder. I don’t think they’re going to make too much of a difference in a large conventional war.
Timothy: But if China is seriously supplying arms and equipment and at first have to get there, and then there’s the question logistics, brass tacks, are these instructions written in Russian or Chinese? If they’re written in Chinese, I don’t think it’s going to make. I’m trying to game out some of these, but like you said, there’s an outer range of infinite or not infinite, but a lot of probabilities we can’t. These scenarios are the most likely as we know it now, but things are subject to change.
Jim: All righty. Well, Tim Clancy, thanks for coming on to, Jim Rutt Show. This has been a great conversation.
Timothy: Appreciate the opportunity. Thank you.