Subscribe via RSS Feed

Tag: "russia"

Sunday Book Review: White Eagle, Red Star

[ 0 ] January 4, 2010 |

First published in 1972, Norman Davies’ White Eagle, Red Star covers the Soviet-Polish War of 1920. Davies went on to write extensively about Polish history in the 20th century, and White Eagle, Red Star was re-issued in 2003. Unfortunately, the new edition has not been updated to reflect the opening of Soviet and Polish archives following the end of the Cold War. Nevertheless, White Eagle, Red Star remains an exceptionally lucid and useful account of the Soviet-Polish War, probably unmatched in the English language.

Early on, Davies establishes the central problem of Soviet-Polish War historiography; the war has no clear start date. From August 1914 on, the entirety of what would become the Soviet-Polish frontier was fluid and militarized. In addition to the armies of Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary, a variety of Polish, Ukrainian, and other nationalist groups sought to achieve independence. The collapse of the Imperial Russia in 1917 only enhanced the chaos, as did the retreat and collapse of the Russian Army in the face of the German advance. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk solved little, as German troops remained deployed deep within the disputed territory, and continued to carry out periodic offensive action. The October Revolution led to further ideological and national conflict. Finally, the defeat of Germany on the Western Front and the collapse of Austria-Hungary made Polish independence achievable, and conflict with whatever Russian state emerged from the chaos inevitable.

The reconstituted Polish state was carved out of territory from the German, Hapsburg, and Russian empires, with the latter boundary being the most fluid. Several different entities contested for authority along the notional border, including the Soviet state, various White warlords, several different Ukrainian statelets, the Baltics, and the German Army. With a relatively stable base, there was ample opportunity for the Poles to expand at Russian expense. The Polish Army was cobbled together from units in the German, Austrian, and Russian armies, with some British and French training and equipment. It wasn’t a terribly impressive force by the standards of World War I, but in mid-1919 it was probably the class of Eastern Europe.

The Red Army had problems. It was engaged on several fronts against many different opponents. The Russian industrial base had been gutted by the war and the revolution, leaving the army with meager and outdated equipment. The continuing hostility of the Western Allies and Japan made resupply from abroad difficult. The officer corps was a disaster, and included some veterans of World War I, some czarist officers, and a large number of relatively inexperienced recruits. Red Army doctrine, such that it was, developed in the battle against the Whites, and was not up to the challenge of static warfare with an even quasi-modern European army. On the upside, the Red Army had some good senior leadership, high morale and crack discipline in some units, and eventually a substantial numerical advantage.

Polish objectives weren’t entirely coherent, but were based on three essential premises. First, Poland should secure a favorable border with Russia, without overextending itself. Second, the Russian Empire posed a threat to Poland in either its Soviet or Imperial forms, and as such any weakening of the Empire would enhance Polish security. Finally, Poland had a critical diplomatic role to play in Eastern Europe as the leader of an emerging bloc of independent states; victory in war against Russia could help secure this place of prominence.

The Soviets suffered from strategic confusion. First, some believed that regime survival was at stake. The Poles, in collusion with various White forces and potentially with the support of the West, might attempt the military destruction of the Soviet regime, or at least the detachment of a geographic area large enough to substantially weaken the Soviet state. Related to this were general territorial concerns, which manifested in a desire to push the Soviet frontier as far west as possible. Finally, a significant portion of the Soviet elite saw the war with Poland as an opportunity to spread the Revolution. Poland was, in this conception, the first stop on the way to Germany. These goals stood in some tension with one another. The desire to spread the Revolution encouraged risk taking, and precluded the consolidation of sensible territorial positions. The concerns about regime survival encouraged paranoia, and led to misunderstandings both of Polish war aims and of the potential for a grand anti-Bolshevik coalition.

During the war, the Soviet elite ran into the unexpected problem of nationalism. Appeals to Russian nationalism, it turned out, proved far more productive in terms of morale and mobilization than class based propaganda. Russian workers displayed more interest in crushing their Polish comrades than in liberating them. Since most Bolsheviks were Russian, a turn towards nationalism was probably inevitable. The turn, however, helped alienate Polish Bolsheviks in both the USSR and Poland. The Poles themselves had little use for Bolshevik propaganda, preferring the domination of their own feudal class to alliance with Russian workers.

A pre-emptive Polish invasion of Ukraine began in late April 1920. The invasion was mildly successful; it captured Kiev, but no one in either the Polish military or political leadership believed that the city could be held. Indeed, the arrival of the Soviet First Cavalry Army threw the Poles back, and began a series of staged offensives across the entire front. The Poles managed to fall back in good order towards Warsaw, where they reorganized their defense for the expected Soviet onslaught. The senior Soviet commander was Mikhail Tukhachevsky, a former czarist officer who had served time in Ingolstadt Prison, where he met Charles De Gaulle. Ingolstadt, incidentally, served as the basis for the final prison in Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion. Tukhachevsky would later play a major role in the development of modern armored warfare, a project for which Stalin rewarded him with execution.

Tukhachevsky believed that the momentum of the Red Army offensive would unhinge the Poles and leave the Soviets in control of Warsaw. It turned, out, however, that the Soviet offensive developed too slowly and carried too little punch; the Polish Army successfully defended Warsaw, then threw the Soviets back. The larger Soviet offensive broke down, while the Poles remained in good order. By the end of August, it was clear that the Red Army would not be extending the Revolution to Warsaw, much less to Germany.

Davies argues that the Western Allies played a very minimal role in the war. None of Britain, France, or the United States had much stomach for war with the Soviet Union after the interventions of 1918. Moreover, few in the West believed the Poles capable of unseating the Bolshevik regime. The Germans had no interest in seeing a strong Poland on their eastern border, and indeed some Germans believed that a Russian victory would speed the end of the restrictions on German military power. Davies conclusion on this point contradicts most Soviet historiography, which sees the Polish-Soviet War as just another attempt by the West to strangle the Revolution. It also contradicts some Western accounts that emphasize the importance of British and French advisors in organizing the defense of Warsaw. However, I found Davies argument pretty compelling. The Allies were tired of war by 1919, and what little interest they had in Russian affairs was devoted to support of one White faction or another. More importantly, the Poles and Russians had their own very good reasons for fighting a war, few of which had anything to do with Western anti-communism.

The Soviet-Polish War wasn’t simply the result of Bolshevik aggression. There’s no question that much of the fault for the war lay with the Poles. While the Polish leadership wasn’t interested in being part of the Allied project to strangle the Bolshevik Revolution, or even in cooperating very closely with White Russian forces, it did want to seize as much territory as possible, and had an expansive vision of the role that Poland could play politically and diplomatically in Eastern Europe. The Poles believed that the chaos attendant to the Revolution could be profitably exploited. At the same time, however, conflict between the new Polish state and the Soviet Union was probably inevitable. For both nationalist and ideological reasons, the Soviets were likely to eventually pursue control over Poland. For the nationalists, Poland remained an integral part of the reconstituted Russian Empire. For the ideologues, Poland was the gateway to Europe, and to world revolution. Unfortunately for the Poles, there was simply no way out of the trap. The best hope for Poland might have been a full disintegration of Soviet Russia, along with a generally supportive Western Alliance. In other words, it’s difficult to imagine conditions under which Polish security might have been achieved short of what was accomplished in 1991.

India’s Carrier Fleet

[ 0 ] December 19, 2009 |

No, India will not be purchasing one of the Royal Navy’s Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers, or at least not in the short term. The most important reason, I suspect, is that the British aren’t selling; despite a mish-mash of reports to the contrary, the Royal Navy seems as committed as ever to moving down the two carrier path, even if it guts the rest of the fleet. Reading Joshi’s article, however, I’m increasingly convinced that the purchase of the Russian Admiral Gorshkov was a serious mistake. She’s over budget, behind schedule, likely to be less capable than new Indian construction, 32 years old, and was built in Russia. I suppose that the deal may have made sense when the Russians promised that they could deliver the modified Gorshkov in 2008, thus helping to close the gap between the old Hermes and the new Indian carriers. Right now, however, Gorshkov seems the whitest of white elephants.

Kitty Hawk would have made more sense. I’m just sayin’.

Watch as We Pretend that this is a Reasonable Position…

[ 0 ] September 24, 2009 |

It’s unfortunate that these Eastern European leaders feel that they need to humiliate themselves in the cause of solidarity with Saakashvili; the Hitler-Poland analogy is barely worthy of Michael Goldfarb, much less Vaclav Havel. I very much doubt that the EU report will apportion blame primarily on Georgia, despite the fact that almost all evidence revealed since the war has indicated that the Georgian attack on South Ossetia was the proximate cause of the conflict. I suppose it will be a very long time before the screech of “Appeasement!!!” rings entirely hollow…

Russians Prep Missile Defense Battery on Nork Border?

[ 0 ] August 27, 2009 |

Guardian:

Russia has placed an anti-missile defence system close to its border with North Korea, in an apparent sign of growing alarm in Moscow at Pyongyang’s nuclear programme.

Russia’s chief of army staff, General Nikolai Makarov, told reporters on a trip with President Dmitry Medvedev to Mongolia the military had deployed its S-400 anti-missile division, a state-of-the-art anti-aircraft system capable of shooting down short- and medium-range ballistic missiles.

The system, stationed in Russia’s far east, would “guarantee” fragments from an errant North Korean missile would not fall on Russian territory, he said. “We are definitely concerned by the conditions under which tests are being carried out in North Korea, including nuclear devices,” he added.

There’s apparently some question regarding the veracity of the claim, and it’s unclear what the S-400 can really do in terms of missile defense, but interesting nonetheless. If true, I guess it means that the Russians are pretty much finished with Pyongyang. I do wonder whether this is connected with North Korea’s more cooperative attitude in the past few weeks…

Russia Buys a Mistral

[ 0 ] August 26, 2009 |

The Russian Navy is buying a French Mistral class amphibious assault ship. Exciting.

Russian Military Reform

[ 0 ] August 24, 2009 |

This post, on the prospect for Russian military reform, is absolutely fabulous. A taste:

These reforms amount to the complete destruction of Russia’s mass-mobilization military, a legacy of the Soviet army. Such a change was completely anathema to the previous generation of Russian generals, who continued to believe that the Russian military had to be configured to protect the country from a massive invasion from either Europe or China. This perception explains the military leaders’ reluctance, for two decades, to dismantle key aspects of the old Soviet army and, most especially, its vast caches of outdated and unneeded weapons overseen by an equally vast number of officers with very little battlefield training and no combat experience. These officers and weapons are the remains of an army designed to fight NATO on the European plains and have served no functional purpose since the end of the Cold War.

Read the whole thing.

Sleep

[ 0 ] July 25, 2009 |

Just to be clear; we swaddle Miriam because we want her to invade and conquer small countries. Elisha can be a pacifist if she wants.

Friendly Fire in South Ossetia War

[ 0 ] July 12, 2009 |

Via FP, a new independent Russian report indicates that three of the six Russian aircraft lost during the South Ossetia War were shot down by friendly fire. The report also suggests that cooperation between Russian ground and air forces was less than fruitful. While the Russian Army has denied the friendly fire allegations, I don’t find them particularly surprising. It wasn’t outside the realm of possibility that the uncoordinated Georgian air defense “network” could shoot down six Russian aircraft, but it was certainly the most impressive element of Georgia’s military performance. That both the Georgians and Russians were less effective than advertised seems entirely plausible.

And here’s one thing that I don’t really understand about journalism:

But the BBC’s Rupert Wingfield-Hayes says losses sustained by the Russian side in just five days have led analysts here to question how Russian troops would fare against a bigger, better-equipped and better-trained enemy.

No shit? Did the BBC need to pay someone to come to the conclusion that the Russians would do less well against a “bigger, better-equipped, and better-trained enemy”?

Typhoons Coming Back?

[ 0 ] July 6, 2009 |

Via Chet, the coolest submarines ever built may be returning to service:

A week ago, Admiral Vladimir Vysotskiy, the Navy Commander-in-Chief, told journalists that the Navy intends to keep Project 941 Typhoon submarines in service. These submarines were waiting for some kind of decision about their future since at least 2004, then the Navy disbanded the division that held them.

It appears that the Navy plan is to keep the Project 941 submarines, but without ballistic missiles – as cruise missile carriers or in some other role (these options were mentioned some time ago). I’m not sure why the Navy would want to get into the trouble of converting the submarines, but this definitely can be done. Especially since the conversion would not have to involve cutting out the missile compartment as it is required by the START treaty.

Speculative and vague? Yes, but conversion of the surviving Typhoons to SSGN status would certainly be possible, and would be roughly similar to what the USN has done with four of the Ohios. As to why the Russians would do it… well, why do they ever do anything?


I almost feel dirty after watching that.

I Do Not Think That Word Means What You Think it Means: GAZPROM Edition

[ 0 ] June 27, 2009 |

Ahem:

Russia’s energy giant Gazprom has signed a $2.5bn (£1.53bn) deal with Nigeria’s state operated NNPC, to invest in a new joint venture.

The new firm, to be called Nigaz, is set to build refineries, pipelines and gas power stations in Nigeria.

H/t Chet, via TPM.

…the gods of blogging would strike me down if I failed to include this:

Via Dan.

Putin’s Still Got It…

[ 0 ] June 16, 2009 |

This is kind of old, but I still have to acknowledge the fabulous theater of it all:

Moving quickly to stamp out growing unrest, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin flew to the small town of Pikalyovo on Thursday to demand that angry workers receive wage arrears and rebuke their delinquent employers.

Putin told the owners of the town’s three factories that the government had transferred 41.24 million rubles ($1.34 million) to their Sberbank accounts on Wednesday and they had until the end of the day to pay their workers.

“All wage arrears must be settled,” Putin said at a meeting with owners and government officials. “The deadline is today.”

Turning to the owners, including tycoon Oleg Deripaska, owner of one of the plants, Putin offered a stinging rebuke of their business practices.

“You have made thousands of people hostages to your ambitions, your lack of professionalism — or maybe simply your trivial greed,” Putin said in remarks shown on state television. “Why was everyone running around like cockroaches before my arrival? Why was no one capable of making decisions?”

He threw a pen at a contract and told Deripaska to sign it.

North Korea Nuclear News

[ 0 ] June 13, 2009 |

Fox News is reporting this morning that North Korea has declared the existence of its uranium program, and is threatening the weaponize its remaining plutonium. The New York Times confirms the latter, but not the former, and I can’t seem to find the text of the North Korean declaration (although CNN confirms the Fox account). The suspected existence of the uranium program helped derail the Agreed Framework that held between 1994 and 2002 (US intransigence also helped), which eventually led to the restart of the plutonium program at Yongbyon. The North Korean declaration is in response to the tighter sanctions regime established by yesterday’s UN resolution. It also looks as if North Korea may be preparing a third nuclear test; the general consensus is now that the device in the first test failed completely and the device in the second failed partially. North Korea is suspected to have enough plutonium for about half a dozen bombs (with perhaps one or two more if the rest of the plutonium at Yongbyon is weaponized), but I haven’t seen a good estimate of how much uranium it could have enriched.

Galrahn has a brief discussion of what the UN resolution means; China and Russia have committed, in word if not yet in action, to a regime which allows the interception and inspection of North Korean ships carrying prohibited weapons. As the resolution bars North Korea from exporting any arms at all (and from importing most arms), this is fairly wide-ranging authority. Even if China and Russia aren’t fully on board with implementation, the resolution makes any effort to export very risky for the North Koreans.

All of this seems to me to be the right way to go. It’s fair enough to suggest that we should tread lightly where North Korea is concerned, but that doesn’t obviate the international community of the responsibility to establish boundaries of appropriate conduct. North Korean breaches of these lines have made China, Russia, and South Korea willing to engage in more assertive diplomatic action than they had previously been prepared for. If additional tests are simply a negotiating tactic on the part of the North Koreans, then additional UN sanctions are the diplomatic counter-tactic of the US, Russia, China, and South Korea. I’m not too worried about additional North Korean nuclear tests (each test expends plutonium while unifying the international community), but the concern is that the next negotiating tactic the North Koreans will employ will involve military skirmishes along the DMZ, or near offshore islands.

Page 4 of 12« First...2345610...Last »