187 – Sim Tack: Can Ukraine Still Win Against Russia?

E89 – Sim Tak_mixdown

Jacob Shapiro: Hello, listeners, and welcome to another episode of Cognitive Dissidence. As usual, I’m your host. I’m Jacob Shapiro. I’m a partner and the director of geopolitical analysis at Cognitive Investments. No weekly podcast from me and Rob this week. I’ve had to travel this week and we just didn’t want to squeeze in a podcast.

And besides that I spoke to SimTac this week to have an update on the Russia Ukraine war. So we’re going to slot the episode with Sim into the normal slot and Rob and I will pick it up next week as usual. Sim as always has great insights and I left our conversation feeling in some ways more optimistic and in some ways more pessimistic about Ukraine’s position.

But certainly. Not as concerned for a complete breakdown in Ukraine’s defenses, but it’s similarly laid out why that’s not really the fear, why this really, as most things always do, comes down to politics and whether European nations And Ukraine’s allies are going to be there for Ukraine in more than a rhetorical way.

So thanks, Sim, for pinch hitting. Rob and I will be back at it next week. Listeners, you know where to find me if you want to talk. It’s Jacob at Cognitive. Investment. Leave us a rating or a review if you have not already. Take care of the people you love. Cheers, and see you out there.

All right, Sim, I can’t remember when you were last on the podcast. I think it was fairly recently, but I wanted to have you back on because I’m getting more and more pessimistic. Ukraine’s position in the Russia Ukraine war. So I need some Simtac therapy to tell me what whether I’m right to be worried or wrong to be worried and just a general check up on the situation.

So thank you for joining us. It’s nice to see you.

Sim Tack: Thanks Jacob. It’s nice to be back. So I think since last time we spoke, which I think was early 2024 or maybe just the very end of last year, I forgot the exact moment. But I think since then on the strategic level, so to say not much has changed in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.

Of course, the lack of change, we can see that as a positive or a negative thing. It means, on the one hand, that Russia hasn’t broken yet. It also means that Ukraine hasn’t broken yet, right? I think there’s there’s definitely some reasons to be concerned about The lack of activity that Ukraine is able to force on the front line.

But at the same time, I think we also need to be aware of the fact that them being able to stay in the fight and especially United States and Europe being able to ramp up some of the support initiatives is definitely not a negative sign for Ukraine.

Jacob Shapiro: Fair enough. But so let’s maybe talk about some of the tactical things that have happened in sort of recent weeks.

And it’s hard to keep track of them all ’cause there’s a lot. So lemme just throw a couple at you and you tell me whether these were the right ones to pick out of the bucket or whether there are other things we should be paying attention to and how to establish importance for them in general.

So the first thing is that you had that Russian counter offensive in the east. had some success. They managed to claw back some territory. There were the Ukrainian forces in Avdiivka, I think is how you pronounce that. I’m not a Russian speaker. Russian speakers, I’m sorry if I completely butchered that.

A Ukrainian retreat there. So we’re talking about the Ukrainians going backwards really for the first time in quite a while. And there were reports about, Russia finally getting land and air forces to Ukraine. It’s talking, working together in tandem, like finally the much vaunted Russian military behaving like a, an advanced military for the first time in the conflict.

You’ve had political trouble inside of Ukraine. The chief general has been sidelined, Zelensky’s facing political pressure from all sorts of sides. At the same time, Ukraine’s forces, even though they had to retreat in the east, they’ve also been continuing to strike Russian naval assets.

I think just over this weekend, they’ve hit two more. landing ships or something like that. They’re also using drones to attack inside of Russian territory. So they’re putting a meaningful dent in Russian oil refining capacity as a result of going after energy infrastructure, so much so that the Biden White House, according to the Financial Times, is telling Ukraine not to go after Russian oil infrastructure, https: otter.

ai That also boggled my mind. I don’t really understand what the United States is doing there. And then, also the big news of last week, this massive terrorist attack outside of Moscow perpetrated, claimed at least by an affiliate of ISIS Khorasan, I think they call themselves ISIS K.

It’s like different varieties of soda pop or something like that. It’s ISIS K, ISIS this, ISIS that. What a nightmare. Those are just the things that I’ve picked out. And I, the last thing, and I said this, I think on the podcast a couple of weeks ago, there was a French magazine report that came out and basically said that French defense officials were worried of a complete and total Ukrainian breakdown.

That what was happening in the East. was evidence of the fact that Ukraine’s forces were demoralized, were tired and that Russia was finally starting to push the advantage of numbers. And, there’s this Ukrainian mobilization campaign, there’s controversy inside of Ukraine, domestically and politically.

I, I also joked that, France was probably saying that in 2022 as well, like I’m sure they’ve been saying for the last two years that Ukraine was about to collapse. So I don’t know how to benchmark that. It makes sense of all of this noise. Cause it’s been hard for me to find the signal.

Last thing I would say is just, I think it’s hard to find the signal because. Reporting in Russia is just dead. I don’t really trust anything that’s coming out of Russia anymore because foreign journalists are either arrested or have left, and local journalists are afraid of getting arrested. So we really don’t have good access to information inside of Russia.

And Ukraine, Ukraine is spinning everything for obvious reasons. But it’s all spin, maybe start there. Help me there.

Sim Tack: There being this vast amount of this is this vast

Jacob Shapiro: amount of stuff. I just Jackson Pollock to you geopolitically. I’m like here explain all of this nonsense that I just threw at the wall.

Sim Tack: No. So actually one, one of the really big points, and this is an important one. I think for people to understand is the the significance of Ukraine withdrawing from Avdiivka, right? It’s a pretty big event. In the war Avdiivka is a place that has been on the front line. It’s right outside the city of Donetsk.

It’s been on the front line since 2014 essentially. The fact that after nine years, Avdiivka has fallen is obviously going to cause quite a bit of ripples and and different takes on it. But if we just look at the. History of the Russian offensive on a shorter term, when we look at what they’ve done in the past year and a half then what happened in Avdiivka doesn’t stand alone.

In fact, if we go back a little bit to Bakhmut if you remember that everything was about Bakhmut, the loss of Bakhmut was the collapse of Ukraine only it wasn’t and Russia obtained control of Bakhmut in a very similar way. And then before Bakhmut. It was Popazna, a village just to the east of of Bakhmut.

So all of these villages sit in the same general area, just north of Donetsk, west of Luhansk. That it’s a small border area that has been the border area since the conflict broke out in 2014. And essentially what happened is that when the, Maneuver war ended in Russia’s latest iteration of the of the invasion.

Essentially when they when the front lines became concentrated around the beginning of 2023 and end of 2022. Those front lines became more static. There wasn’t any room between the front lines to conduct these big offensives. The last one that we really saw was was the one in Kharkiv where Ukraine recovered a lot of terrain.

And then we had Russia withdrawing from the areas north of Dnipro near Kherson. So after that, we’re talking about a very different type of warfare. And the way that Russia has been trying to achieve success, and some people will call it success, I will. In a bit here, argue the opposite. But the way that they’ve been trying to achieve success is by massing their resources, massing insane amounts of troops sacrificing them.

We saw very in depth descriptions of how all of that happened. When this was happening in Bukhmut and when it was Wagner that was providing the the meat for the grinder. And eventually what we saw in Avdiivka now is the exact same. Concept at a higher level. It was conducted slightly differently than Wagner, the way Wagner did it in in Bakhmut, because this was the actual Russian military doing it.

They have slightly different structures, habits, et cetera. There were a lot of elements that they were taking away from what Wagner did in Bakhmut that they impose in Avdeevka. But for example, the fact that we saw a little more usage of armored vehicles and things like that than compared to what Wagner had in Bakhmut, that was a big difference.

But essentially, it was human waves, right? That’s the concept here. The way Iran did them in the Iran Iraq war. That’s the way Russia’s been doing them From Popasnaya to Bakhmut to Donetsk, just push your weight in, accept the losses and this is where, we can argue the the level of victory that Russia actually achieves here and eventually the enemy will buckle and you will advance Now, when it comes to the actual degree of success, so I refer to those sacrifices of personnel and equipment the battle for Avdivka the last couple months of that battle, the big push into Avdivka that’s, I’ve seen estimates of up to 60, 000 Russian troops being lost for Avdivka alone.

That’s insane. We’re talking about divisions going lost here, multiple, right? We saw the same thing in Bakhmut where, basically Wagner just had a constant pipeline from prisons and recruitment centers to the frontline and was just constantly feeding people that were being sacrificed as a way to to force an advance.

And yeah, and at the end of the day, Russia did advance by one little village. We’re talking about a very large static frontline where tons of forces are amassed, and we’re defining this success, so to speak, by moving a couple kilometers into a single village along that frontline. So on a strategic level, honestly I don’t want to belittle the efforts that were put into defending Bakhmut and Avdiivka, but At the strategic level, these villages are insignificant, right?

Any relevance they had was because they were on the front line and they were being defended. Once that’s not the case they don’t hold any other strategic value anymore. Yeah I don’t know. That whole that whole narrative about Avdeevka proving that Russia is breaking sorry, that Ukraine is breaking I don’t subscribe to that.

For sure, there were forces. In Avdiivka that had been there for very long times that were actually rotated out shortly before the withdrawal. And there, there are significant difficulties for Ukraine to maintain their force level on the front line to be able to let units actually rotate out, get some R& R train new people, get back to the front line at a later date.

So it, I’m not completely discarding. The argument there, there is a significant stress on Ukraine’s ability to keep fighting. But just the fact that they lost Avdiivka or before that Bakhmut and before that Popasna, that doesn’t signify that they’ve reached a breaking point in much the same way that the huge losses that Russia suffered in those battles hasn’t caused their breaking point either, of course.

Jacob Shapiro: Yeah. Fair enough. When you say we’re defining success we’re defining success that way, because that’s how Zelensky has defined it. He was the one who was really pushing the counteroffensive. And I think one of the reasons that the narrative is this way is because even let’s say we, let’s say I take your argument completely that these towns like Avdivka are not important at all.

Okay. But it’s Russia taking land back after a failed Ukrainian counteroffensive that Ukraine made a big deal out of. So I think that’s maybe at least part of the reason why the narrative is in that sense. And I I would. I would respond then with a two part question, which is you talk about, quote unquote, human waves coming from Russia and you cited Iran as an example.

I can’t help but think of China in the Korean War where it’s really just waves of Chinese soldiers against US tech. And it’s a stalemate. Like the Chinese had enough waves. to make it so that all of the US tech superiority and everything else didn’t lead to the fall of North Korea and things and, where they started in that war.

So the first question is, if Russia has the waves, Okay, like they if they can throw 60, 000 at a conflict like that and not be worse for the wear and continue to push forward. That’s a sign of their strength. Like they have numbers like what if they really lost 60, 000 in the battle over an insignificant, unstrategic town, like what is their breaking point?

Like how many would they have to lose for that for their back to break? And then the flip side of that of also is, You And let’s say that none of these signals are signs that Ukraine is about to break. What would you look for? What would be a report or a piece of evidence that would make you worried that Ukraine’s defenders were indeed on some kind of breaking point?

Because it sounds to me like we haven’t seen that yet, but I’m wondering signposts you would use that would make you nervous?

Sim Tack: To answer the last thing you said first, just to make sure I don’t forget it I think that what I What would really worry me a lot if this, if, sorry, stumbling over my words a little there what would really worry me a lot is if we saw Ukraine starting to retreat from certain locations and then shortly after having to retreat even further.

So when you go from your first line to your second line and then that one doesn’t hold and you have to go back, that, that would show a defense in disarray, right? And that would be something that would be exploited by Russian forces. Of course this goes for the Russians as well, right? This is the thing that we didn’t see in that summer offensive when we did see Ukraine actually able to do the same things that Russia achieved More recently, where they were able to push into the villages of Robotini and things like that, but they were not able to make that second line buckle and continue to exploit their advance, right?

If you spend long enough on one spot in the front line, eventually one side might give, but really mounting a successful attack or counter attack out of that, that’s a whole different thing. And I think that’s something that honestly we haven’t seen from either side. Since the Russians withdrew from Karasum.

, in terms of what you’re asking about the Russia having a breaking point and being able to to keep these waves coming one of the big tests in that regard is probably going to be Russia’s attempt to run mobilization, right? A lot of people were waiting for the Russian presidential elections to be over, just about everyone was right about who was going to win those. But now now there’s that question, are they going to conduct that mobilization? People are talking about 300, 000 additional people potentially being mobilized for a counter offensive around Kupyansk or around Kharkiv or.

Towards Tarkov from Kupyansk, whatever the exact tactical goal would be. But we could see a very similar situation there as the one that we saw in Bakhmut and more recently in Avdiivka, where Russia will conduct that mobilization. They will have an additional 300, 000 men to push to the front lines.

Of course, not all of them necessarily in that one spot, but a significant portion of those. And I’ll honestly say without any other kind of change on the Ukrainian side, the outcome will likely be the same as what we’ve seen before. And say that Russia mounts this offensive near Kupyansk it might take six months, it might take a year and then eventually by continuing to overwhelm those Ukrainian positions with wave after wave, Russia will probably put up a flag and Kupyansk and say, Hey, we scored another victory.

But what you have to keep in mind is that the reality of what’s happening there is not necessarily the shift in the conflict in terms of Kupyansk changing hands. The big shift there is that Russia went through another mobilization of 300, 000 people. And Ukraine would have been able to defend it at the cost of only a single village.

Jacob Shapiro: Let me jump in and ask what is Russia’s strategy then? Because I’ve been wrong about interpreting Putin’s actions since the very beginning of the war. I’ve been very transparent about the things that I got wrong about how, about his calculations in Ukraine. But if I’m trying to put myself in the Kremlin shoes here, I’ve got a U.

S. election. That could lead to a very non friendly president for Ukraine’s cause. It could also, you could keep with Biden, but either way, probably less support from the United States going. Europe has not met the challenge. I want to talk about that a little bit later, the extent to which Europe has or has not provided for Ukraine and what that means.

What that support might look like in the future. I’m still relatively optimistic of what that future support would look like, but hard to argue that over the last 8 to 10 months, Europe has given Ukraine what it needs to push the conflict going forward. So you’ve got European support flagging.

You’ve got the potential for a major reversal in U. S. Support. With the November election. That’s a toss up. Why are you throwing 60, 000 men into a meaningless strategic village? Shouldn’t you just hold the line, keep it static, keep picking at them, but rebuild your supplies, mobilize your soldiers, train them.

There’s a thought and push forward when political conditions are a little bit better. I don’t understand what the strategic logic of throwing human waves at meaningless towns is for the Russians. What am I missing?

Sim Tack: This is me taking a guess at Russian intent and reasoning there. But I think this is based on the principle of the best defense is an offense, right?

And in this case, just to make that a little more practical than just throwing out random mantras. If you have this kind of a fight going on, when Avdeevka was under that insane pressure, that means that you are essentially setting up the stage for the actions that Ukraine can consider.

They can either consider to ignore it and then lose Avdiivka while incurring a much, much lower cost on Russia. Or they can choose to do the same as what Russia is doing and concentrate their forces around around Avdiivka where they can try to Fight off that offensive where they can try to incur as much damage as possible.

So in a way Russia being able to force these centers of gravity in the conflict and, I’ll have a thousand class with fanboys Standing around with torches for using it in the wrong way, the term, but,

Jacob Shapiro: do you think there are a thousand Klausowitz fanboys in the world?

I feel like that’s a fairly small number of people who would call themselves that. Anyway, sorry.

Sim Tack: They seem to pop up whenever you don’t need them, but yeah. But the point is that essentially it’s the concept of initiative at a strategic level where, if Russia is able to use those human waves their capacity for personnel, essentially, if they are able to use that to establish the initiative, meaning we are going to decide where we are fighting and when we are fighting, that means that Ukraine is on the back foot.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that Ukraine. Is fighting a losing war or is about to break or anything, but it means that Russia is able to control where the fight is happening, which means it can control where the fight is not happening, or at least not at that same level of intensity, right? So in that way, if if Russia’s goal is to outlast Ukraine, which I think is probably the best strategy they can hope for, I don’t think there’s any capacity on the Russian side to mount any kind of mobile offensives, even when the Ukrainians weren’t defending the front lines at the very beginning of the war, they managed to to really botch that effort.

So I don’t think they’re counting on that. But if they can just outlast Ukraine in terms of The levels of support they are receiving from the US and Europe, as you’re mentioning, as well as their ability to continue to rotate forces in and out of the front line to keep units in a fighting condition then they could eventually win this war, or at the very least Run it to a point where Ukraine has no realistic hopes for for counteroffensives and has to accept some kind of a ceasefire.

So I, I think that’s where Russia is is looking at, and then, that automatically brings us to, to your other Point about the Western support to Ukraine, and I think that continues to be the essential fight in this war. Actually, obviously, the fight on the front line is tremendously important.

But I think if we’re talking about the future outcome at a strategic level the ability for the West to actually provide Ukraine with the means. To fight off Russia is going to be the thing that makes or breaks this entire effort.

Jacob Shapiro: Alright, put a pin in that, because I want to come back to that before I ask you one more question, which is and I want to just riff on something you just said.

Does Ukraine have a realistic chance of retaking, Parts of Eastern Ukraine that Russia currently holds. Is there a realistic chance of them doing that? And the second byproduct that is, you said that Russia’s strategy would be so that they can dictate the time and place of when the war is happening.

Ukraine’s hitting them in the Black Sea. Ukraine’s hitting them Refineries? It looks like what they’re doing on the battlefield is not working. So like what is the Russian response to that? Is it just bomb the shit out of Kiev and hope that the Ukrainians will be cowed? That doesn’t also, doesn’t seem like a particularly good strategy.

A two part question. The question A two part question. Is there a realistic chance for Ukraine to push Russia back from places like Donetsk and Luhansk to follow through on Zelensky’s promise to reunite the country? And then what does Russia do in response to Ukraine saying, Okay, you’re gonna great.

We’re gonna destroy oil refining capacity. We’re gonna keep making you look like jokers in the Black Sea. What is the Russian step back to that?

Sim Tack: Those are very good points to raise or questions to ask. Terms of Whether Ukraine still has a realistic opportunity to gain back territories of Ukraine, perhaps not necessarily all of them I do think there is still that potential.

I think a lot of that, of course, will be dependent again on the kind of capacity that is granted to them through continued Western support. And to a smaller degree to the the ability to. For Ukraine to actually bring together all of these efforts that they have going on in a way that they are actually mutually supportive of each other.

Because then, when I jumped to the second part of your question, there were when we’re talking about Ukrainian attacks against the Black Sea fleet the strikes against refineries and energy. Plans as well as the, what I would coin as as diversionary attacks in the Belgorod and Kursk regions along the border there those kind of efforts are if we’re talking in that same context of seizing the initiative that we were before, I think those kind of effort, Are meant to try and distract Russia from its concentration of resources to define that initiative and trying to retake the initiative by shifting the front or shifting the threat to other places.

But I think up to this point even though, we see a lot of ships in the black sea fleet being crossed off the list on a fairly regular pattern That isn’t necessarily forcing Russia to change the way that they are fighting the war, right? It’s, it’s great that we’re taking those ships out.

Like it’s, I assume it’s better to see the number of ships go down than not. But at the same time if those kinds of resources were used in a more comprehensive manner with a more direct effect on the battlefield that could potentially have a have a more significant effect on their ability to actually conduct offensives.

Jacob Shapiro: And do you think so? Russia’s response then is just to pile on the pressure on the eastern front. And it’s, the more that Ukraine tries to make the conflict somewhere else, the more Russia will try and concentrate it where it has its advantage. Is that the right way to think about it?

Sim Tack: I think so.

That doesn’t mean that they will ignore all of these other areas. But for example, when we’re talking about the the recent attack into the Kursk region, so the the the Russian volunteer forces there went into into Russian territory, started occupying a couple villages. It’s surprising that this small, relatively ragtag band would be able to occupy territory of the Russian Federation without being instantly wiped off the map.

If you just consider the scale of those two actors but that shows you how Russia is very intent on being able to concentrate its resources where it actually wants to use them. And it’s not going to pull a couple brigades out of the frontline just to go and respond to something happening in Kursk.

No, instead they’ve, they’ve built their defenses a little further back and more. An easier places to to raise a defense without putting too many resources in them. They conducted some responses initially using their air power, which is a little easier to to go and redistribute and then bring back to the front line where they need to be.

And that way, I think that kind of shows how Russia is responding to all of these things, but trying to keep the effort minimal to reserve. That force for the the main event, so to speak.

Jacob Shapiro: Okay I’m feeling a little bit better, so I’m glad to be at the halfway point. Cast and be feeling better rather than than not.

That hasn’t been the norm lately. Let’s get at Europe and its support. The West in general, Europe and its support for Ukraine. I want to start by asking you a fairly strange question, which is and you shared with me that you’re in the process of buying a house in Belgium, closer to the French side.

And obviously this is just your opinion. We’re not going to extrapolate all of Europe’s point of view just from your opinion, but I am curious what you think of Emmanuel Macron. And what you think of his relatively aggressive support of Ukraine in the last couple of weeks. He’s obviously trying to do something in France domestically and politically to, for Ukraine.

But I just wonder does that land for someone like you who’s in Belgium? Do you look at him and you’re like, dude, what is with these boxing pictures and all of these strident comments? I’m not buying it. Do you like, oh, he’s strategically, maybe he’s saying some stuff just. Off the cuff, what do you think of Macron?

Sim Tack: Won’t talk about Macron as a holistic political figure. There’s a lot of different things to unpack there, but when it comes to the stance towards Ukraine specifically I think it’s very interesting what we’re seeing. What I think the essence of what Macron’s statements were about because of course he made a lot of statements about, sending troops to Ukraine about potentially doing that if Kiev became under threat or if if Russia was about to cross the Dnieper river towards the West things like that.

And those were some, some virtual red lines that Macron was drawing, but realistically those red lines are not anywhere near. So it’s easy to make those statements, knowing that the risk is very low of something like that happening. But under those more inflammatory statements, there was a little bit of a basis of of potential actions that a couple other countries also share.

And I’m thinking of Czech Republic, the Baltic States, the idea of actually, Slowly inching NATO towards a qualitatively higher level of involvement in Ukraine and specifically the idea of officially having NATO or forces belonging to NATO members. On Ukrainian soil, even if they are nowhere near the front line, some of the things that were talked about were, for example, conducting the training of Ukrainian forces in Western Ukraine, instead of, for example, bringing them over to Western Europe to conduct that training there that would be a significant shift.

In what NATO or those NATO members because it wouldn’t necessarily happen under the NATO flag. Of course, if not, all of NATO is into this idea. But that would be a significant change in how those countries are relating themselves towards Ukraine, which would be a very big signal to the Kremlin in terms of the commitment that those countries have to Ukraine security.

Now. This is all about trying to ensure that support to Ukraine without pushing it so far that it becomes a direct conflict between NATO and Russia, right? And within NATO, a lot of people are still very concerned about the potential for nuclear escalation and at one of the most extreme levels that this could represent.

So everybody wants to do more, but they don’t want to do so much that it completely falls down on them. And then I think that’s where, those concepts of deploying some troops into Ukraine, probably Western Ukraine to conduct training, et cetera. It’s a very interesting symbolic way to do that.

Now, when we’re talking about the European support to to Ukraine, I think there’s a couple other things that are a little more important than those statements about the The deployment of forces and the one that actually really stood out for me in the past months is the role of President Pavel of Czech Republic where this guy single handedly has changed the culture and capacity for, for the West to provide artillery, ammunitions and air defense systems to Ukraine. So before, before Pavel’s efforts we were talking about that whole promise of the European Union to provide I think the total was a million. Artillery shells by by March of 2024 current month which of course, based on European production was not something they were going to achieve.

European production is being ramped up a lot. Next year, those kind of numbers might actually be within the realm of the possible. But for now, they weren’t getting there. And then, suddenly, we have this guy, Pavel, who’s a former general, by the way. Who’s served as the commander of the Czech Armed Forces and who’s also held a position.

Positions at NATO. A pretty experienced military guy that, that suddenly pops up and says Hey what if we get this ammunition from outside of Europe? I know some people, he’s not telling us who, but I know some people that happen to have massive stockpiles of artillery shells laying around and we can buy them.

And first it was I forgot the actual numbers, but I think first he, Came across the bridge with a potential for 800, 000 rounds then there was a a potential to acquire air defense systems for Ukraine. And now they’re talking about an additional artillery deal that might be on the table.

That also shows that there is a shift where at least some countries in Europe are trying to find the less conventional. But more effective manners to support Ukraine. Let’s do away with this whole produced in Europe thing and let’s just get the artillery they need and we’ll pay for it and we’ll get it there.

So I think that kind of hints at a possible break within Europe between. A coalition of the willing, so to speak the countries that really want. Ukraine to succeed and the other countries that are politically supportive of Ukraine, but not looking to break the bank to actually allow them to win, right?

And then I think specifically when it comes to that divide, the countries like the Baltic States so Estonia Latvia and Lithuania. As well as Czech Republic and France, those are standing out in that regard. The UK continues to be pretty gung ho when it comes to, to support of Ukraine, but they’re dealing with some of their own defense issues at the same time.

And surprisingly, a country like Poland, I’m not sure whether to count them in that group or not, because traditionally you would have thought they would have been very much in that group, but Poland since last year has also been indicating that they want to prioritize their own military development more than the material support and they are providing to Ukraine, right?

Yeah I’m probably forgetting some countries that are, supporting all of these kinds of contributions, but it’s the age old story of, Europe being divided and there being, different lines of thinking, different approaches among different member states.

Jacob Shapiro: Yeah, and the age old story of different alliances working against Russia or even for Russia or in between it starts feeling like pre World War I a little bit when you start laying out, oh these are the countries that are militantly against Russia, and these are the ones that are the middle, and these are the ones that are, on the weather vein.

They’re not sure which way to go. I also we’ve been doing this new segment on the podcast recently when I’ve been on the road called micro geopolitics, where I’d break down whatever town or city that I’m in. And one of the things I’ve noticed is that you can be in a town that’s hundreds of years old and that town is still doing and behaving the same Stuff that it was doing hundreds of years ago And I bring that up in the context of the czech republic because they’ve literally been doing this for almost a century the israel defense forces in 1948 don’t get weapons if then czechoslovakia is not Finding weapons on the black market and getting them to israel.

So it’s like part of this whole It’s funny to see, czech arms dealers or czech You the Czech Republic as being the arbiter between these different groups. Where is the general finding this ammunition? Where are these mythical piles of ammunition that he’s sourcing?

Sim Tack: I honestly don’t know.

I can speculate, but I anything I throw out would be a wild guess. Great.

Jacob Shapiro: Speculate, speculate. I love speculation. It’s, this is speculation. Go ahead. Speculate. Where is it coming from?

Sim Tack: My, my first guess is the Asian markets, which. Which some countries have started to lean on more. South Korean defense industry that’s one possibility.

Other possibilities are old stock in the rest of the world, maybe even lesser developed countries like Egypt, for example might have a ton of ammunitions laying around that they’re just not using right now. Not necessarily producing themselves. I, I don’t have any indication towards any of those countries, but it, honestly, it could be anywhere other than Europe and the Europe and the US and the Russian sphere of influence,

Jacob Shapiro: right?

Forgive the slightly simple question, but Would Egypt’s ammunition, would that be Soviet or would that be Western or would that be a combination of both?

Sim Tack: So they, they would have a combination of both. I don’t know what kind of stockpiles they would have for for each, of course. So yeah you’re probably looking, of course, at countries that are using Western standards of of artillery.


Jacob Shapiro: Because you’re right, it’s interesting to think of a country like Egypt, which is in economic turmoil, or Pakistan, which is in economic turmoil, and could probably use some foreign currency in exchange for ammunition shells that they’re not using at all. So that’s interesting. I hadn’t really thought of that.

Just generally then zooming out, like it’s good, like your Ukraine needs, needs ammunition and artillery shells and things like that. What about F 16s? This has been a mythical thing that’s been happening forever, but maybe this summer Ukraine is finally going to F, get F 16s.

Does that matter? Is that symbolic? Are they going to actually get them? Help me benchmark that.

Sim Tack: I do think they will get there. The training. Programs are ongoing. We get little bits and pieces from from the ongoing training program. Whether it’s going to be this summer, whether it’ll be later, I honestly can’t tell.

Some people have talked about the end of the year. I think that was the Dutch Prime Minister pointing towards the end of the year rather than the summer. Yeah, they’ll get there, but the question is how much of an impact will they be able to have on the battlefield, right? Now, the thing is, these F 16s, even in smaller numbers we’re talking about, about two wings of F 16s they they would be able to actually, Have a significant effect, depending on what kind of munitions actually go with them and how they are actually being used.

And this comes back to the whole discussion about, okay, so Ukraine has a couple of storm shadow missiles. They launched them at some Ropukas in the Black Sea on, some kind of very high level view of the conflict. deteriorating Russia’s naval transport capabilities is a positive effect, but it’s not going to immediately impact the situation on the front line, right?

So maybe say that a year or two years from now, Ukraine might get close to starting to encircle Crimea from the north and hitting the the the Crimea bridge at that point that becomes useful and has an effect, but right now it’s more of a propaganda or symbolic success than anything else.

So when you have these F 16s, you have these storm shadows, you have your various air defense systems. If you would use those in a very coordinated manner to set up. temporary air superiority over certain areas by combining all of these, deep strike missiles with the F 16s, with the air defense systems.

And then you combine that with an actual concentration of resources on the ground in that same location. That’s the makings of a successful counter offensive. But if they are going to use the F 16s by conducting some patrols in various different parts by maybe once in a while trying to sneak deeper towards Russia and taking down one of their their early warning aircraft that over the sea of Azov it’s not going to be zero effect, but it’s not going to be that direct effect on the battlefield.

And that means that can add in all of these things, but it’s not guaranteed to actually have the effect that it could potentially bring. And a lot of that is going to depend on the Ukrainian military leadership which, brings us back to what you mentioned earlier about Zaluzhny being replaced.

And, I’ve heard various different things from different people that served in Ukraine or that have some knowledge about the the personalities involved. And, a lot of people seem to be down on the on the new commander saying he’s very Old school Soviet trained, not a great not a great commander.

He’s primarily taken credit for the initiatives of people below him. And that’s why Zelen considers him to be a good commander, but on the opposite side, there’s also Zaluzhny and Zelensky. Did not agree at all. Zelensky was ordering around people going around Zaluzhny. He was essentially, they were working against each other.

So there’s a question whether having unity of command, even if that command might be qualitatively, less less impressive that unity of command might actually allow Ukraine to better utilize the resources that it has. At least that, that would be, what we’d hope for. There’s nothing showing that yet, of course that, that is the effect of it.

And then in addition to that, some other people have also pointed out that Zaluzhny had been in that position for a very long time. That starts to weigh on people, that starts to limit their scope because you’re constantly, Working on the same problems. So having some fresh blood, having some new looks at things, new approaches that could potentially be beneficial.

Sorry. And I think then finally, another element in that is also how the relationship between the commanders and Zelensky, And NATO is going to develop because NATO, obviously, as it is providing a lot of these resources, is also trying to influence the the course of the war in terms of, how does Ukraine prioritize certain operations?

How did they plan certain operations? But Ukrainians have different ideas, which is normal. They have very different perspectives. The Ukrainians are there on the ground. They are experiencing things. They are learning lessons from that. NATO on the other hand has a much longer history of Of agile modes of command of military training, et cetera.

Both of these are very valid pools of experience and guidance into how to actually conduct this war. But if the support that NATO gives is geared towards one potential use of them. And the Ukrainians decide to use it in a different way that doesn’t necessarily give you the best results.

And I think that’s something that we saw in that, the failed summer offensive of 2023, where NATO masked all of this armor, a very mobile fighting force to conduct an offensive by Western design. And then that didn’t really work out for Ukraine. And I think they tried initially, but very quickly gave up on it when things went differently.

And yeah, things fall apart then.

Jacob Shapiro: I can feel any optimism that was generated in the first half of our conversation evaporating. I, we’re having Yaroslav Trefimov on the podcast in a couple of weeks. He wrote a book called Our Enemies Will Vanish, and I’ve been reading it at night before I go to bed.

Lovely bedtime reading if you’re looking for, I keep on picking the weirdest books to read before bed. I’m reading Our Enemies Will Vanish now. Before that, it was The I’m forgetting the name of the book, but it was a book about the second Congo war and the millions of people who died after the Rwandan genocide.

And for some reason, this puts me to sleep. I don’t know. But in, in this book that I’m reading he, and I’m only in the first half of it, but he really builds up Zaluzhny as the architect of Ukraine’s defense, that it was Zaluzhny who had the vision, who had been thinking about this for years that without someone like Zaluzhny.

Ukraine’s defense might have gone a lot differently. A, do you think that’s fair? And B, great for getting fresh blood, but you’re not talking about fresh blood, you’re talking about somebody who’s going to do Zelensky’s bidding and Zelensky for as remarkable as he’s been as a political figure, he is far outperformed anyone’s, most reasonable expectations for him.

This is a dude who was a stand up comic. Like certain point at which you’re not the general, you’re not the executive, let the generals who have done this do their thing. If he’s starting to go into that delusions of grandeur, I have to go around the general who was the architect of the defense, like that sends a little shiver down my spine.

What about you?

Sim Tack: No, for sure. And I do hope sincerely that Zelensky is not adopting that kind of personnel, personality. I think he has been putting that personality as the military commander out there. To serve a certain political purpose to essentially if he represents himself as the fighting Ukraine to the outside world, then the outside world sees Ukraine as the country that it’s fighting, right?

So in that regard, I can see how that persona works for him. And I think in a certain to a certain degree, we’re still seeing Zelensky very actively going out of country, visiting various summits and meetings, receiving international leaders. So he seems to be filling that political spot.

He hasn’t locked himself into the command bunker to, to take over operations or anything like that. Of course, it’s difficult to guess from the outside of how that interaction between Zelensky and the generals is is going exactly. So I do hope that, even if the generals aren’t Zaluzhny, he is still putting a lot of a lot of faith in having the generals and the commanders below them, by the way do their jobs for him.

Yeah, I forgot what the first part of your of your reaction was. No

Jacob Shapiro: You answered it and I, you’ve been generous with your time.

Sim Tack: You actually I remember there, there was something I wanted to comment on where you were talking about Zaluzhny in the book you were reading having the reputation of being the guy that organized the entire defense and everything.

And I think that’s very Very fair and something that needs to be acknowledged Zaluzni has definitely put his stamp on the early phase of the conflict and he was very successful at that, right? That’s the part of the conflict where the Russian offensive completely fell apart initially that, that’s authored by Zaluzhny.

But then of course we came into a different situation where I’m not saying Zaluzhny was doing poorly at all. Not something I would ever claim but it’s also, A phase in which there was a a significantly higher challenge and nobody really was coming up with the big solution to break out of that.

Jacob Shapiro: Maybe because there wasn’t, no, that’s fair solution. He was, of course, a general who did. To commit human waves of Ukrainian troops that they didn’t have. It seems to me that the real disagreement was that Zelensky purposes and political purposes are important. You can make an argument that it was the right move to engage in a counteroffensive to keep up Western support, but Zelensky wanted the counteroffensive.

And it seems to me that Zelensky said, we’re not going to win a counteroffensive. I don’t want to waste my best troops in a counteroffensive that they’re just going to die and we’re going to be back where we started. And it seems to me, at least on March 25th, that Zeluzny was right. The counteroffensive didn’t go anywhere.

Russia’s starting to take the narrative back a little bit and Western support. It’s great that the Czechs are ponying up. It’s, it’s not too late, but. It’s a little later than the Ukrainians needed it. Like that Western support is not necessarily going to be there. And man if Trump wins in November the chess board looks a lot different for Ukraine in general.

So I imagine that’s where the locus of that conflict was.

Sim Tack: No I think you’re very right. The problem of course is that it’s a very real challenge right there. There’s, on the one hand, you need to ensure that Western support is going to be longer lasting if there is a more overt perception of success.

If you think back of, back when we had videos of entire columns of Russian forces being decimated as they were trying to run into Ukraine. Everybody in the West was a lot more enthusiastic about providing military support to Ukraine than they are now that it’s become this, static World War One style.

Fight, right? So I think it’s very logical that you would have the political side pushing for that and the military side, taking a little more conservative approach. But I think you’ll always have that poll. I imagine that’s not going to be very different with the with the changes in command.

I think the military will try to not completely sacrifice their resources, even if they might be A little more willing to take risks than Zaluzhny was but I imagine there, there will still be an additional pull from the political side to achieve more and more just for that perception in the West to to continue to exist.

Jacob Shapiro: Yeah, I can’t help but thinking about World War One, and maybe we’ll close out on this. Zelensky is often compared as a Churchillian figure. And Churchill is famous for what he did in World War Two. He’s also infamous for what he did in World War One. Churchillian thinking did not do well in World War One.

In fact, it led to one of the greatest military disasters in British history. And Left years in the political desert for Churchill because of the role that he played in supporting that. And I’m also thinking of World War I because Russia was not defeated on the battlefield in World War I.

Russia fell apart from within. It was the Russian Revolution. So if, and it’s Zeluzny who has said it’s a World War I style conflict. So if it is a World War I style conflict, and there is no, you, foreign power that’s going to come to Ukraine’s aid or no technical capability that’s going to come and change the calculus on the battlefield, then this does become dueling domestic politics.

Can Zelensky slash the Ukrainian government keep support long enough to keep the fight going? Can Putin keep support long enough to keep the fight going? And yes, he has his stupid rubber stamped election. But remember, we have Prigozhin. We now have ISIS K firing things off in Moscow. And if he’s going to mobilize another 300, 000 Russian troops for, to throw them into conflicts where they die at 60, 000 per stupid village that doesn’t look so, so good too.

So I, I wonder if that’s the place to be looking for where the future is. And if Ukraine is thinking about the future, if it’s really Internal Russian dynamics. Maybe that gets to why they’re hitting oil refineries. I don’t know. That’s I’m speculating.

Sim Tack: No, I think that is exactly why they are hitting the oil refineries and the it has been a very clear shift and Ukrainian objectives where they’ve started to target more of the resources of the Russian state rather than the the military on the battlefield per se and in the same vein, you have those Ukrainian special forces in Africa going after Wagner and those kinds of things.

So there’s definitely, An intent by Kiev to try and cut Moscow off from its popular support. But I think that’s a very long and very slow process. And then I think the battle on the battlefield might be over before they, they push that too far. But it’s, it’s very difficult to assess where the breaking point is at that kind of a level.

Jacob Shapiro: It doesn’t have to be long though. And at the risk of being too Klausowitz fanboys, just, plain risk rather than talking about reality. If you really want to hit Russia where it hurts you need to figure out how to break China away from them and to a lesser extent, India. And that’s where Europe has significant leverage is let’s say Trump gets elected and Macron always talks about.

Could Europe entice China to not support Russia as much as it is? You’d have to really give China a lot for them to risk instability on their northern border like that. But if you start thinking about how you can really affect the Russian economy, it’s not going to be by drones blowing up oil refineries.

It’s going to be take out the countries that are still consuming Russian products and keeping the Russian economy going. And if that’s the path to victory. Where you have to be focusing, I think, your political alignment, not on a battle that can’t be won in the middle of, as Marco Papich likes to say on this podcast, the Western Virginia of Europe, which is how he describes Donetsk and Luhansk.

No offense to Western Virginia.

Sim Tack: No that’s a very fair point. And it’s a very interesting analysis. I’m not sure how much capacity Europe would have to really go and hand out gifts to China at this point. Cause it’s not there’s no threat perception about Chinese economical.

encroachment in Europe either. But yeah, in terms of trying to knock Russia out of the war, I think that’s a very solid point.

Jacob Shapiro: All right. Sam, I don’t know if I feel better or worse, but I feel better informed. And that’s the point of the podcast in the first place. I see the squash racket behind you.

I hope you’re off to play squash some somewhere. And one of these, I hope wherever town you’re moving to also has a squash court. And one of these days we will get together and I will I haven’t played squash in 10 years, but I used to be pretty good. So I’ll embarrass you with my with my squash skills.

Although I want you to know my trash talk is much worse than my bite. I’ll be talking the whole time as I’m looking

Sim Tack: forward to it.

Jacob Shapiro: All right. Cheers. Thank you so much for listening to the cognitive dissidents podcast brought to you by cognitive investments. If you are interested in learning more about cognitive investments, you can check us out online at cognitive dot investments.

That’s cognitive dot investments. You can also write to me directly if you want at jacob at cognitive dot investments, cheers. And we’ll see you out there. The views expressed in this commentary are subject to change based on market and other conditions. This podcast may contain certain statements that may be deemed forward looking statements.

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