There was a magnitude 4.5 earthquake in Poland yesterday caused by human activity. No, not that kind, although I have the computers watching for that sort of thing (and in fact can see tremors from the artillery fire in Ukraine). So what caused this one? Well, not nature. Here’s the impact map …
If you look carefully you’ll see something in the middle of the map. Zooming in we can see what it is:
Natural earthquakes in Poland are rare. Most of the recent earthquakes have been associated with mining activity such as rock bursts (collapses) or like this one due to hydrological stress from tailings lakes. The company that owns the Żelazny Most site (KGHM Polska Miedź S.A.) seems to have been associated with many of the more recent events.
This Washington Post article (via msn) captures a lot of what is not just wrong, but completely bonkers about US foreign policy. The headline: “US gambles on Russia’s Empty Threats” (link goes to article). I don’t even know where to start on this. Over the last 20 years Russia has on multiple occasions told the US “if you do X we will do Y.” Not taking them seriously, the US goes ahead with “X”, and Russia then does”Y.” Here’s just a few of the most obvious examples:
2008: if Georgia continues to attack South Ossetia we will intervene. 2014: if Ukraine threatens our bases in Crimea we will intervene. 2016: if the US continues to support the SDF/AQIL in Syria we will intervene. 2021: if Ukraine does not implement Minsk II agreement we will intervene.
In each case, Russia drew a bright line and said “if you cross it here is how we will respond” and in each case the West, led by the US, dismissed it as an empty threat. And in each case Russia did pretty much exactly what they said they would.
That’s not to take sides with Russia, but to point out that the attitude displayed in the article is delusional. It is vital to keep in mind that this conflict didn’t start overnight. Originally Russia was only insisting that their basing rights and the rights of ethnic Russians, be respected within the Ukrainian state, as well as that Ukraine not be turned into a base to threaten Russia. Only when those demands (many of which were reasonable, or at least a basis for negotiation) were ignored did they begin to take action. You can’t really argue they weren’t very clear this was going to happen, and that we didn’t really try to avoid it. Worse, if you read the articles written by several top administration officials, you will see key people in the US foreign policy establishment actually thought this conflict would be a good thing for the US, so rather than respond to Russian demands the US simply doubled down on the most inflammatory behavior. Rather perverse and heartless, considering the suffering it has inflicted on the people of Ukraine and increasingly elsewhere.
Whatever you may think about Russia or the present situation in Ukraine, Russia has been very clear about both “red lines” and paths forward. In each case the US has either not responded at all to the proposed paths forward, responded with ultimatums, or been otherwise dismissive. These previous gambles that Russia was bluffing have not paid off, so you would think by now that when Russia delivers a formal démarche demanding we stop supplying weapons to Ukraine, we would take it seriously. Yet the US continues to roll the bones … with very little chance of a “positive” outcome, the mostly likely outcome at best being more suffering in Ukraine, and the price if we really miscalculate the potential for nuclear war. It’s insanity.
I couldn’t decide on an appropriate image to accompany this depressing post, so here’s a picture of one of the вежливые люди (“Polite People”) of the DPR Militia and a rescue…
It’s amazing how many pictures there are of soldiers on all sides of this thing with cats. Except for one particularly noxious regiment of the Ukrainian National Guard – which makes sense, animals can tell. Speaking of which, the story that the Ukrainians are using cats to detect Russian sniper lasers is false.
Important note: the above images are not to make light of this situation, but to further highlight the madness of this whole situation and point out that humans are capable of such compassion, and yet such stupidity and cruelty. I’ve seen many cases where hardened soldiers melt over animals caught up in wars, just as I’ve seen the same inflict horrors on their fellow humans. As I often repeat, wars are sometimes unavoidable, but this one was almost certainly avoidable without compromising our beliefs or world standing. Very definition of tragedy.
“Cannot say. Saying, I would know. Do not know, so cannot say.” – Zathras, Babylon 5.
Zathras was one of the many fascinating characters in the mid/late 1990’s science fiction series “Babylon 5.” A lot of the series revolved around the diplomatic/military relationships between various races and their star empires. Although like most series it has some slow episodes, the arc of the story and characters are interesting and worth the effort. In looking at several of the disasters facing humanity, an awful lot of people should take Zarthras’ advice and resort to “not saying.”
The first crisis is of course Ukraine. I haven’t posted a lot on it lately for a couple of reasons. First, it’s become almost impossible to have a rational discussion about it given the near unprecedented level of propaganda and emotion-laden narratives flooding the media. Second, while I think I’ve got a fairly good grasp of what is going on, it is a slowly evolving situation that just isn’t really conducive to rapid, day by day reporting. Truly, the Tao this is perceived is not the true Tao. For what it’s worth, I don’t have much to add to my post from April 3rd other than to say the time line is perhaps a bit slower than the original “90 day” plan. If by mid/late June major combat operations have not ended with Russia in control of “novorossiya” then we can start to talk about a failure of the operation. I suspect we are about to see a rapid shift in the situation in the coming 7-14 days (and not what you might think from the US media) but we shall see. There are lots of nuances and details over all this, and we are living in a time where the risk of civilization changing events are literally moments away, but the information space is so contaminated I think resorting to “not saying” is probably the smartest move at this point.
The pandemic is another of these slow moving disasters that isn’t really conducive to day by day, even week by week reporting. There is a lot of data about the new variants, and it seems that a combination of vaccination, decreased virulence (mortality) of the circulating virus, and sad to say the deaths of those most vulnerable to the virus and its secondary effects means we are likely reaching a stable situation where the virus will continue to circulate and like a predator attack those most vulnerable. With respect to the global response, there are a lot of lessons learned, and I’m working on an article on that I hope to post in a couple of weeks (waiting on the final data from the Omicron surge to settle down). China seems to be freaking out again, but may be relaxing the draconian lock downs in places like Shanghai. Was that justified? Time will tell (even if it doesn’t make the news).
Climate change is of course another background, slow moving crisis. Hurricane season is approaching, and we should have better seasonal forecasts as we move deeper into spring and the “spring barrier” is behind us. That’s another post coming up in the next week or so.
Time and patience are in short supply in our sound bite, tweet driven society, so here is one final bit of wisdom from Zathras: “Can not run out of time. There is infinite time. You are finite. Zathras is finite. — This is wrong tool. No. No. Not good. No. No. Never use this.“
For the Western Churches that trace their lineage back through the Roman Catholic Church, today (10 April 2022) is Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week. But for roughly 30% of the Christian World, Palm Sunday isn’t until next week (17 April). Why is a fascinating story that involves astronomy and geophysics, politics, and theology. Here’s a few notes for those who are curious …
At the time of Christ, the calendar in use was the Julian Calendar. Julius Caesar himself ordered it into use in 45 B.C to clean up a number of issues surrounding the old Roman calendar. His new calendar was designed with the help of Greek astronomers (who were among the best of the time) and by any measure it was a big advance, more closely matching the actual length of the time it takes the Earth to go around the Sun, which is 365.24219 days. The Julian Calendar is pretty close to that, 365.25 days. It did that by having a year that is 365 days for most years, but inserting an extra day in the month of February every four years. The problem is that over time, even that .00781 of a day adds up, so the calendar “drifts” by about one day every 128 years. They were aware of the problem but figured they could fix it later, Of course, like many problems politicians say will get fixed later, later never came, possibly due to stabby senators …
By the 1500’s that drift had added up to nearly 10 days, causing the calendar to be out of sync with the seasons and causing problems with the calculation of the date of Easter. So Pope Gregory XIII ordered a new calendar developed. It’s not really that different from the Julian Calendar, but tweaks things by making the average length of the year 365.2425 days (only .00031 days off, or one day of drift every 3225 years). It does this by dropping the leap year sometimes:
Every year that is exactly divisible by four is a leap year, except for years that are exactly divisible by 100, but these centurial years are leap years if they are exactly divisible by 400. For example, the years 1700, 1800, and 1900 are not leap years, but the years 1600 and 2000 are. – US Naval Observatory FAQ.
In the Catholic world, the Gregorian Calendar came in to use in 1582. But while Gregory XIII was still called Pontifex Maximus, he was no Pater Patriae or Imperator like Julius … and by then the Western World was fragmented. The Roman Catholic Church had split off from the Eastern Churches in the Great Schism of 1054, and the Protestant Revolutions of the 1400’s had caused a major fracturing of Western Christianity. Most Protestant countries rejected the new “Papist” calendar even though it was technically more accurate, and more in sync with the seasons. The Orthodox Churches simply ignored it as just another Papal heresy to add to the increasingly long list 😛 . However, over time, the Protestant countries created their own, so called “Improved Calendar” that just happened to be identical to the Gregorian Calendar, so under whatever name by the 1700’s most of the western world had adopted the Gregorian Calendar. In the early 1900’s, most nominally Orthodox countries had adopted a split system: a civil calendar based on the Gregorian calendar, but the religious calendar and thus the calculation of the dates of Nativity (Christmas) and Pascha (Easter) stayed on the Julian Calendar.
So the situation today is that the Western Churches (Catholics and Protestants) use the Gregorian Calendar to calculate Easter, and the Eastern Orthodox Churches (Greek, Russian, Ukrainian, Serbian, Macedonian, Antiochian, the Orthodox Church in America, and so forth) use the Julian Calendar to calculate Pascha (Easter).
Today there is a 13 day difference between the Julian and Gregorian Calendars. Because Pascha/Easter are calculated based on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox (on 20/21 March), that means the dates sometimes fall on the same day, but in other years can be up to a month apart! In 2016 Easter was March 23rd on the Gregorian Calendar, but Pascha was on May 1st Gregorian (April 18th Julian). This year (2022) they are only a week apart.
Nobody really disagrees with the fact the Julian Calendar has drifted, and the Gregorian Calendar is more accurate. Why haven’t the Orthodox Churches updated the calendar? Worse, why have some (like Constantinople) switched for the daily calendar but not for calculating Pascha? A key reason it remains unsolved involves the way the Churches are governed and how councils that can decide that sort of thing are convened. The Orthodox Church suffered two major disruptions in the early 1900’s, the Communist takeover of Russia (which is the largest Orthodox Church in numbers), and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and rise of the secular Turkish regime. The situation in Turkey has become even more complex, and the Orthodox Church there nearly destroyed by the increasingly oppressive Islamic forces under Erdogan. There have been some attempts at convening a council but some complex politics have gotten in the way such as the growing Schism between Istanbul (Constantinople) and Moscow, and interference in Church affairs by secular authorities. But that’s a long. complicated mess … but the bottom line is in the Orthodox world, where things move slowly anyway, the mechanisms to fix things like the calendar problem aren’t working.
So that’s a bit of history. To wrap up, here are “Leonid and Friends” doing a fantastic cover of Chicago’s classic, “Does anybody really know what time it is?” This group is amazing – the musicians are scattered across Russia and Ukraine, working together even during COVID and the ongoing conflicts. They also did a session with Arturo Sandoval doing a trumpet solo on “Street Player”. Well worth exploring …
The storm system that has spawned tornadoes and thunderstorm damage across the southeast should clear the Georgia coast by noon, and South Carolina by mid-afternoon. May be a brief thunderstorm but the worst should be over. Here are tornado, hail, and thunderstorm wind damage reports over the last two days …
So far, 121 reports of tornado damage, 275 reports of thunderstorm wind damage.
Quite a few tornado reports across the southeast, as well as thunderstorm damage. Here’s the regional view …
… and zoomed in to the Savannah GA and South Carolina Lowcountry …
Storm Reports last 24 hrs
TSTM WND GST
TSTM WND DMG
HIGH SUST WINDS
NON-TSTM WND DMG
MARINE TSTM WIND
NON-TSTM WND GST
NON-TSTM WND GST
Reports from across the US yesterday (6am, 5 April to 6am, 6 April)
Some potential for more thunderstorms today, some may be pretty strong so keep your weather radios on this afternoon -and if you don’t have one, get one! Apps, etc. aren’t always as timely, and a good SAME radio can be had for about $30.
One of the things that needs repeating given 24/7 news channels, the social media treadmill, tweets and so forth is that the pace of events in the real world isn’t governed by the news or social media cycle. Unfortunately, that doesn’t feed the media beast, so events and information are distorted to fit the cycle, and it results in the average person focusing on isolated, emotionally engaging, easily digestible bits rather than the much more complex big picture. The ridiculous “real time” COVID death counters were a classic example. We see this again with the Ukraine special operation/invasion. Things are moving at their own pace, and most of the “breaking news” banners are unjustified: they are more about keeping you engaged and enraged than informed.
In watching the news here in the US, I still haven’t decided to what extent this is one of the best propaganda campaigns in history, or a frightening example of the worst group-think exercise of all time. Of course, the truth is somewhere in the middle and it is a mixture of both with the occasional element of truth thrown in when convenient. (No, Russian Media isn’t any better, just a different biased perspective.) But that’s a different and more complex rant. This post is about the progress and pace of the conflict, which is on the order of weeks and months rather than days (much less hours), where things might be headed, and another caution about being manipulated by the horror of war.
It is disappointing to see the amateurish attempts at analyzing Russian strategy in the US media. They are almost uniformly based on several key assumptions that are most likely wrong. I hope internally the US Government has a better picture, but I have concerns over that. In any event, the public misconceptions are clear. First, the assumption behind much of the commentary is that Russia intended to occupy most or all of Ukraine and overthrow the government, and has been stymied. Second, that the Russians had numerical superiority. Third, they are assuming Russian forces are being used and deployed in a similar way that US forces have been in recent US military operations. As Russian forces are re-positioning from the two salients threatening Kiev and shifting east and south, two new narratives are being pushed: retreat and atrocities. What is really going on? It’s hard to say for sure, but here’s a shot at a coherent picture.
First let’s look at the overall Russian strategy. As noted in previous posts, based on both public and private statements from Russian sources,it seems the primary goals of the operation were to stop the civil war and ongoing ethnic cleansing, destroy the ultra-nationalist (and, yes, Nazi affiliated) elements especially in eastern Ukraine, and delay or prevent Ukraine from becoming a member of NATO with NATO bases moving in to that strategic area. Secondary goals were to force the US/NATO/EU in to negotiating a more stable European security environment, further disrupt the US stranglehold on the global financial system, and disrupt US efforts at “regime change” directed at Russia itself. That still seems to be the case.
I was surprised and thrown off a bit by the sharp initial advances towards Kiev in the early days. However, it has became clearer after the second week that the number of Russian troops involved in the push towards Kiev was in fact pretty limited, and this was likely a classic (if expensive) feint designed to pin down Ukrainian forces and test their resolve. All the while Phase I was under way, the elimination of Ukrainian command/control, logistics and air defenses was underway, along with consolidation and isolation of the units in the East. The same for the amphibious forces roving offshore from Odessa: to keep forces that could move east pinned down as their logistics and air defense assets were depleted. Those of you familiar with military strategy and tactics are aware that, in general, you want a significant local superiority before attacking – generally 3:1 is a minimum. Of course a lot goes in to that calculation, including the technical advantages of your hardware, not just raw numbers of troops engaged. Overall, it seems Russia is conducting this operation using an economy of force – they are outnumbered in Ukraine roughly 2:1. They have been successful (using their metrics, not ours) in the sense of destroying much of the ability of the Ukrainian military to maneuver, while, with a numerically inferior force, encircling the majority of the combat potential of Ukraine. This was Phase I. Phase II will be the ultimate destruction and consolidation of the bulk of the Ukrainian forces arrayed against Donbas. Phase III? Don’t know for sure – for whatever reason, Vladimir Vladimirovich isn’t in the habit of sharing his plans with me.
So for what it’s worth, it is my impression is that Operation Z is moving forward more or less on the planned (if not hoped for) pace. What I mean by that is there was hope by the Russians that the Ukrainian military would collapse. There is disappointment over that, but I don’t think it was entirely unexpected. It seems that the plan from the beginning was for a longer term (90 day by some Russian sources) operation and that is what we are seeing playing out. We are now entering Phase II: the final destruction of the offensive combat potential of the Ukrainian military in the east, the destruction of the remaining NATO infrastructure, and the establishment of a “buffer” in eastern Ukraine. Luhansk and Donets have already said they will vote on asking entry into the Russian Federation (also, lost in the noise over all this, South Ossetia, the disputed region from the 2008 Georgia-Russia conflict, is also scheduling a vote on admission into the RF). In the map below the orange areas should see the bulk of this next phase on the ground – but I expect air and missile attacks will continue, and likely intensify, in other areas especially the resupply corridors in the west.
As I have been saying for some time, I think the Russian end game is a partition of Ukraine along its somewhat “natural” fault lines of east and west. Exactly where those lines “could” or “should” lie has shifted since the 2008/2010 time frame due to the massive anti-Russian campaign leading up to and subsequent to the overthrow of the Ukrainian government in 2014, not to mention the ethnic cleansing during the last eight years of civil war. I’m not entirely sure that Russia has appreciated the demographic shift in Ukraine, and the changes in some areas. That said I still suspect that by summer the situation will look something like the following map. I don’t know if that area in purple (I’m calling it a “Z Phase III”) is going to be occupied. The argument for it is to complete the land bridge to Russian friendly and affiliated Transnistria, “liberate” the traditionally Russian area of Odessa (how Russian it is after all this is in question), and isolate the remainder of Ukraine and inevitable subsequent NATO buildup from the Black Sea. The argument against is leaving those areas in Ukraine would be a good bargaining chip to ensure neutrality and improve the economic viability and independence of a new “reduced” neutral state of Ukraine. Hard to say, and I suspect the plans are in place to go either way, and the choice is awaiting events.
I don’t think Russia ever had the overthrow of Zelenskii, much less entering western Ukraine, as a specific goal unless Ukraine totally collapsed. If the Zelenskii government is willing (and able – a different question) to move towards stopping the civil war and becoming neutral Russia would be fine with that – in fact, Russian sources have said Zelenskii remaining is preferred to confer some level of legitimacy on the outcome. If not, then, yes, replacement of the current government of Ukraine becomes a goal. However I’m not sure Zelenskii or his government can survive this. I think the ultra-nationalistic forces (who have apparently already assassinated a number of officials who have tried to advocate compromise) will not permit compromise. They are not a majority in Ukraine, but they control the majority of the guns.
This does bring up a related issue – the Nazi factor. While Russia has certainly been exaggerating them as a reason/justification for the invasion since it plays well in Russia …
those who say they are not a factor are either lying or ignorant …
As I have often said, the question of the Nazi/neo-Nazi and ultra-nationalism in post-communist eastern Europe is complex. Unlike Germany and Western Europe (which, to be fair, still struggles with fascistic extremism, as does the US and even Russia), Eastern Europe never really came to terms with their complicity with Nazi Germany. So don’t fall in to either of these traps, denying they exist and underestimating their impact, or exaggerating their influence.
So how does this end? Hard to say – whatever happens, it may not be quick unless there is a breakthrough of some kind or collapse by one of the parties. The key now is to bring this conflict to an end in a way that contributes to future stability – not lays the groundwork for ongoing instability or a worse conflict in the near future. I think the least bad outcome is a partition something like the above. To be clear, as I have said many times, we’re well beyond any hope of “best” by now (“Best” would have been allowing Ukraine to chart a neutral path as a bridge between Russia and Europe without forcing it to take sides, but that opportunity has passed).
On atrocities and war crimes: war is always horrific on civilians. I’ve always thought the very term “war crime” was intellectually dishonest: almost all wars are a crime, usually by both sides – and of course you almost never see the crimes perpetrated by your side. War may sometimes become necessary at some point (usually due hubris and failures of diplomacy), but they are never fully “good” or “just.” The line between deliberate targeting and just caught in the crossfire is often a matter of perspective and propaganda. Given the incredible toll on civilians of recent US conflicts (including the unbelievable harm inflicted on innocent children by embargoes, sanctions, and “regime change” operations since 1991), it is an incredible level of hypocrisy for the US media to focus on the humanitarian impacts of the Russian operations in Ukraine without some perspective.
I have no doubt horrible things are being perpetrated by both sides in this conflict. Certainly Russia uses calculated brutality to try to bring operations to a conclusion in a way the US hesitates to do directly (but often does indirectly). It is also apparent that, using US standards applied in other circumstances, Ukrainian forces have been using civilians as “human shields” precisely to make Russia look as bad as possible. Is one side worse than the other? That is an open question at the moment and for history to decide – one which should take in to account the broader picture in the context of the civil war in Ukraine that has caused thousands of direct and indirect casualties. As near as I can tell, this operation is not significantly more harmful than some US inspired operations, and is nowhere near the worst the world has seen in the last few decades.
That’s not a criticism, endorsement, or justification: that’s just a perspective on how horrible wars are. If you haven’t been in one, you just can’t know. It’s only different levels of horror, not “good” or “bad.”
Wars are an ugly business. But something else is true: both sides are playing up atrocities (including several that are almost certainly fake) to gin up support and justify their actions. So be very cautious about the carefully crafted views of this conflict that are designed to sway your emotions and bum-rush you into supporting otherwise unwise policies and agendas not in the best interests of world peace and stability (much less your own well being).