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Sensemaker: Losing Russia’s war

Sensemaker: Losing Russia’s war

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Citigroup said UK inflation could pass 18 per cent next year.
  • Usain Bolt applied to trademark an image of himself pointing skyward in silhouette.
  • Two senior Hungarian weather experts were fired for forecasting rain that never came but still led to the cancellation of the country’s biggest annual fireworks display.

Must read: Trump is suing the FBI over its raid of his Mar-a-Lago mansion. This op-ed is an excellent explanation of why the raid was justified, and was published by Fox News.

Losing Russia’s war

Tomorrow is Ukraine’s Independence Day. Russia will mark it with a show trial of Ukrainian soldiers in a converted concert hall in Mariupol. The soldiers are prisoners of war but Russia will treat them as war criminals. Prosecutors will seek the death penalty, and state propaganda outlets will trumpet Russian gains six months to the day after its invasion.

Outside Putin’s echo chamber the war looks different. The biggest land offensive since World War Two has ground to a halt. Crimean targets held by Russia since 2014 are under attack by Ukrainian forces. Turkey wants peace talks but most of Ukraine’s western allies accept President Zelensky’s position that its territorial integrity has to be restored first. 

Is that plausible? 

Some factors in Ukraine’s favour are familiar: Putin’s catastrophic misreading of Ukrainians’ will to fight; low morale among Russian troops (if diaries like that of Pavel Filatyev are any guide); the delusion that Russia could hold a country of 40 million people against their will.

Others are less often discussed:

Ukraine is not a failed state. Putin’s belief that Kyiv would fall quickly was based on military hubris but also an intimate knowledge of Ukrainian corruption. That corruption is real, but as the Atlantic Council’s Melinda Haring notes:

  • banks are still open for business;
  • public sector workers are still paid on time;
  • hospitals and (most) schools still function;
  • and the rail network still carries refugees to safety and materiel to the front.

Export controls. These are the slow-acting components of the West’s sanctions regime. RUSI, the military think tank, found 318 American-made parts in Russia’s arsenal, including 30 year-old Texas Instruments semiconductors in Iskander cruise missiles. All are subject to comprehensive export controls that should make it hard for Russia to restock with high-tech weapons. 

Artillery. Low-tech bombardment with inaccurate howitzers is the Russian army’s default alternative. The drawback, Haring writes, is that by using it to level formerly pro-Russian towns and villages in the southeast, Russia is “destroying its own political foothold in the country”.

But winter is coming. The prospect is already driving up energy prices in the West and energy revenues in Russia. The reality will only exaggerate those trends. Putin’s calculation is that European unity will fray before his own losses force a reckoning at home, but those losses are substantial:

  • About 50,000 military dead or injured, which represents almost 30 per cent of Russia’s army.
  • At least 10 generals have been killed in Ukraine on the battlefield; 6 have been dismissed. 
  • The Moskva cruiser, the Black Sea fleet’s flagship, has been sunk along with 14 other warships.
  • Up to 2,000 tanks and close to 200 military jets have been destroyed, as well as dozens of military bases and weapon storage depots.
  • Initial gains in the north and occupation of Snake Island in the south have been reversed.

Russia’s gains have therefore come at a heavy price. They amount to:

  • control of roughly 20 per cent of Ukraine’s land mass;
  • control of one regional administrative centre in Kherson;
  • control of Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia;
  • the destruction of one major city – Mariupol; and
  • control of a land corridor from Donbas to Crimea, both occupied since 2014.

The Russian army dominates in terms of infantry and ammunition. Ukraine’s is smaller and reliant on Western weapons supplied in small batches with multiple ammunition standards and complex training requirements. 

Multiple-launch rocket systems from the US, UK and Germany have nonetheless changed the military balance in Ukraine’s favour. Their accuracy and range have been used to cut supply lines and destroy important junctions and bases. The recent series of explosions in Crimea looks like a signal of intent. Ukraine’s official war aims include returning to its 1991 borders, which include Crimea and all Donbas, and the destruction of the Kerch Strait bridge, built since 2014 to connect Crimea to the Russian mainland.

Sir Jeremy Fleming, head of the UK’s signals intelligence at GCHQ, says Russia is losing the information war in Ukraine and the West even as it runs out of soldiers and smart missiles. 

The result is stalemate, and risk. Nothing Putin has tried so far has shown him a path to victory. Whether he escalates depends on whether western unity survives. If it doesn’t, only he knows what he might try next. 


CAPITAL ECONOMY, BUSINESS AND FINANCE

Rent-a-Room
An Irish housing crisis is only getting worse, and students are suffering; a lack of suitable and affordable rental living spaces combined with extra demand from Ukrainian refugees and delays in the release of offers for university places are causing particular pressures this month. A solution offered by Simon Harris, the education minister, is a Rent-a-Room scheme to coax homeowners into renting out spare rooms to desperate students. Participants can earn rental income up to €14,000 (£11,800) a year tax-free. There is a similar policy in the UK; the income threshold currently stands at £7,500. It’s not a new idea and is unlikely to transform student cities into utopian and inclusionary spaces. But for anyone looking for a legal tax break, it might be the spare room.


TECHNOLOGY AI, SCIENCE AND NEW THINGS

Back to 39B 
Nasa’s most powerful rocket ever has rolled to launchpad 39B at Cape Canaveral, where Neil Armstrong departed this earth for the moon 50 years ago and where Artemis 1 will blast off at the end of the month. All being well it will go round the moon and 30,000 miles beyond it, carrying no one but testing myriad components on a much longer flight (42 days) than Apollo 11, which brought Armstrong et al back in eight. The idea is to take diverse crews, not just white men, back to the moon by 2025 as a prelude to Mars. The essential context for this story is a revolution in space tech led by SpaceX, which has reinvented the rocket engine, pioneered reusable rocket boosters and begun building a much bigger rocket than Artemis to leapfrog Nasa and get to Mars first. Bizarrely, there was no mention of any of this in the BBC’s coverage on last night’s News at Ten, which was read as if from a press release.


The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Foetal personhood 
Two months since the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, anti-abortion groups have their sights on a new target: foetal personhood laws. The Unborn Child Support Act, introduced in Congress last month, would give the same legal rights and protections to a foetus from conception as to a “born” child – including the right to support payments. It could also pave a path to a federal ban on abortion, which would designate the procedure as murder. Widening foetuses’ rights raises a broad set of legal questions. Georgia’s anti-abortion laws already mean foetuses qualify for tax credits and are included in electoral redistricting decisions. In Texas, a pregnant woman defended her decision to drive in a carpool lane on the basis that two “people” were in the car. Whether the new act becomes law may depend on the midterms, when the Senate majority is up for grabs.  


Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Orca attacks
Teenage orcas are causing havoc for sailors in the Gibraltar Strait with a “trend” of attacking boat rudders. YouTube videos and posts on a Facebook page with over 14,000 members show the whales breaking off bits of rudder. In some cases, Maritime Rescue teams have had to tow boats to shore. Jared Towers, director of the Bay Cetology research group tells NPR that moving parts, like rudders, seem to stimulate the orcas into launching the attacks. To note: although these encounters can be dangerous and have reportedly been violent enough to sink a boat, they don’t mean the orcas are intentionally scaring the sailors. It’s more likely that they have embraced rudder bashing as a fad and will grow out of it. Previous orca trends include playing with crab-and-prawn traps. One pod in the North Pacific became known for “wearing” dead salmon on their heads. 


CULTURE soCIETY, IDENTITY AND BELONGING

Justice delayed
Barristers across England and Wales have voted for indefinite strike action that will bring criminal courts to a halt, timed to welcome Britain’s new prime minister on 5 September. There have been a series of walkouts since late June in protest over legal aid fees: while junior barristers can earn £70,000 in civil law (and much more working for City firms), newly qualified criminal barristers sometimes earn less than the minimum wage, or about £13,000 a year. Dominic Raab, the deputy prime minister, says barristers are “holding justice to ransom”. The government has offered a 15 per cent increase in criminal legal aid rates; lawyers say they need 25 per cent after years of underfunding. Meanwhile, the backlog of crown court trials is 60,000 and growing. Another prime ministerial headache on the horizon: the government expects strike action across the civil service in the lead-up to Christmas.


Thanks for reading. Please share this around and tell us what you think. Send an email to sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

Nina Kuryata
Contributing Editor

Giles Whittell
@GWhittell

Additional reporting by Jessica Winch, Phoebe Davis and Laoise Murray

Photograph: Getty Images


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