In 9 AD the Roman general Publius Quinctilius Varus led three legions across the Rhine to teach the barbarians a lesson. In what the history books call the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, the barbarians ambushed the Romans and wiped them out in what the Romans would call the Varian disaster. This event ended the expansion of the Roman empire into what is now Germany. Other than some retaliatory excursions, the Rhine became the de facto boundary for the empire.
We may be seeing another Varian disaster in Ukraine. This time the empire moving east is the Global American Empire and the battle is the Donbas. This is the disputed region in the east of Ukraine that has historically identified with Russia. They revolted against Kiev in 2014 after the American State Department toppled the Ukrainian government and installed a puppet regime hostile to Russia. The resulting civil war in the east and the south culminated in the Russian invasion in January.
A few months ago, every cable shout show host was festooned with Ukraine flags while spinning tales about the evil Russians. Ukraine was who we were as a people, willing to bear any burden to defend democracy. Every expert assured us that the Russians would revolt against their evil dictator and the Russian army would quit in the field, once they knew the Twitter mob had cancelled them. It was just a matter of time before Zelensky was taking selfies in Moscow.
Like the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, the Battle of the Donbas is shaping up to be a humiliating defeat for the empire. The Ukrainian army is now trapped in various pockets with limited supplies and no chance to escape. The Russians have maneuvered them into a position where their artillery, what little remains cannot reach the Russians, but the Russian artillery can reach them. The Russians have a lot of artillery and they are incredibly good at the use of it in siege warfare.
No one knows for sure, but reliable estimates going back a couple of months suggest the Ukrainians have been losing up to one thousand troops a day. These estimates are based on known figures for Ukrainian units at various places like Mariupol and then comparing them to areas that have come under Russian control. The Zelensky government has been slowly raising its own estimates, suggesting they are losing close to five hundred troops per day.
Until the war ends and there is an official effort to count the dead, we are left to guess about the casualties, but what is clear is that this is a one-sided war. For reasons no one has yet to explain, the West instructed the Ukrainians to take up positions in fortified cities rather than go out to meet the Russian army in the field. The Ukrainians had more battle ready troops at the start of the war than the Russians and they had the advantage of working on their own territory.
Choosing to fight a defensive war allowed the Russians to maneuver the Ukrainians into pockets around the east and south. They could then pick and choose their targets, bringing superior fire power to destroy the defenders. The West poured in weapons but it turns out that anti-tank weapons are of little use against an artillery barrage from over the horizon. Once the Russians sorted out what the Ukrainians were doing, it has been a turkey shoot since the spring.
Just from a military perspective, this is a disaster. War doctrine says that an invader needs a significant advantage in men and material. Because of the blunders of the Ukraine’s Western handlers, the smaller invading force will end up obliterating the larger defending force. It is not just about taking territory. The Russians are systematically destroying the army so that it can never regroup. This will be one of those events that military historians study for years to come.
The military aspect is the smallest part of this unfolding disaster. The absurd triumphalism of last winter has now given way to panic in Europe. Their economy is in an inflationary spiral that is only going to get worse. The sanctions on Russia have wreaked havoc on the EU economy. Energy prices are ratcheting up and serious food shortages are on the horizon. Compounding it is the fact that the sanctions are just starting to bite. Things will get worse by autumn.
The scene is not much better in the United States. The added element is that the people in charge look like the day room at a rest home. The economic woes have highlighted the fact that the people in charge are old and stupid. People will suffer bad economic time if they assume the ruling class has people who will eventually rise up and put things in good order. What the unfolding economic crisis is doing in America is revealing the dearth of competence in the ruling class.
Things are about to get worse. At some point this summer, the Ukrainian army will cease to exist as a practical matter. Observers think the Russians will wrap up the Donbas in the coming weeks. They will have achieved most of their goals when the conflict started plus a couple of extra items. They will be free to take control of Odessa, thus turning Ukraine into a landlocked country. It will also be an economic basket case entirely dependent on Western aid.
In other words, the West will be saddled with an exceptionally large humanitarian disaster at a time when the West is facing terrible economic conditions. The West may have no choice but to sit down with the Russians to hammer out a solution. On top of the loss in the field and the economic debacle, Western leaders will have to endure the humiliation of shaking hands with Putin. Whatever credibility Western leaders have left will evaporate at that moment.
In the grand scheme of things, the Varian disaster was more of an inflection point than a disaster for the empire. It was the point at which the empire shifted from expansionism to a defensive posture. For the Global American Empire, the Ukraine disaster may be much more consequential. This debacle undermines the fundamental logic of the global American system. In time it could be the point where the Cold War finally ends for the West and a great retrenchment begins.
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