The feebleness of the US response to a Russian incursion into Kharviv, which was to prevent further strikes on civilian targets in the border city of Belgorod, and the quick Russian counter-moves, confirms how the Collective West has no good options, even if its leaders can’t yet admit that to themselves and come up with better alternatives than punching into air or a wall, as the case may be. Obama warned that Russia would have escalatory dominance with respect to Ukraine, and we are seeing that play out now.

The short version of what follows is that the Biden Administration may have made a tiny gain against its big objective of not losing in Ukraine before the November election, since Russia may slightly delay an expected next move, of entering Sumy oblast, a smidge. That would further lengthen the line of contact, increase the degree of over-extension of Ukraine forces, and thus accelerate the process of attrition, which is Russia’s big goal. But even if this is the effect (and since none of us have Russian plans, we can’t know if any change occurred), it is coming at considerable geopolitical cost, that of Putin suggesting, and deputy chair of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev confirming, that Russia will arm third countries in conflicts with the United States.

To recap the recent state of play: earlier this week, the US described a policy change regarding the use of US weapons by Ukraine On a superficial level it seemed simply to give permission for what Ukraine had been doing already, as in using Western (here US) missiles to hit Russian territory, as in pre-the-2014-dispute Russia.

The reason for this move was signs of panic in Ukraine, and substantial concern in the Western media, that Russia had re-opened a front by sending forces into Kharkiv on May 10. Even Russia fanboi map watchers were impressed by how quickly Russian forces advanced despite the Russian priority of destroying fighting power over taking ground. One reason was that the Western funding to build defense lines in Kharkiv had apparently been looted.

The Western press was correspondingly alarmed, as headlines like Ukraine faces its worst crisis since the war began from the BBC on May 28 attest.

Zelensky in particular was reported as being panicked over the possibility of losing Kharkiv city, the second biggest, even though that seemed vanishingly remote. The Russian deployments weren’t large enough for such a sprawling city with many many sturdy buildings, plus Putin said Kharkiv was not on the menu right now. But Zelensky nevertheless deployed what little he had left of reserves to Kharkiv and also thinned defenses elsewhere to bolster manpower levels in the north.

Recall that around the time of the Russian entry into Kharkiv, it was also becoming clear in Ukraine that the US approval of the $61 billion in Ukraine funding (which took place on April 23) would result in perilous little in the way of additional arms delivers. That led to renewed efforts by Zelensky to wring more weapons out of his Western backers, such as pressing Germany for Taurus missiles, and pretty much anyone who had them for Patriot missiles and F-16 jets.

During this period there was an outbreak of escalation fever, with French president Macron and some of the more rabid Baltic states trying to get support for the idea of NATO-member boots on the ground in Ukraine. Russian officials told France in no uncertain terms that any French forces, even trainers or others operating as something other than sheep-dipped little green men, would be aggressively hunted down, and any staging areas outside Ukraine would be targets for Russian attack. Mind you, it is not as if Russia has not warned before agains doing stupid things like flying F-16s out of, say, Poland before, but Russia has to use more threat-display language of late for the message to penetrate.

Macron’s effort to rally Europe to take on big bad Russia went splat as many countries such as Italy, Germany, and Belgium flatly said “no”.

But the Biden Administration seemed to feel the need to assert leadership and defend Western manhood while (perhaps) trying to de-escalate by making what it likely perceived was a very limited response to the Russian entry into Kharviv. While there were complaints about how unclear initially the new policy was, and it finally emerged that the US was authorizing Ukraine to use longish-range missiles, but not ATACMS, which have a range of up to 300 KM, the longest range of US missiles delivered from mobile platforms, and the “limited” to areas in Russia that were supporting the operation in Kharkiv1

Now to close conflict-watchers, this change might seem like a nothingburger, since it was authorizing what Ukraine had been up to already, which was attacking Belgorod and environs. But there is a big difference between de facto and de jure. Having to pretend that Ukraine’s NATO friends weren’t providing a lot of help may have limited the scale of past operations. And Ukraine is an established rule-breaker in ways more than just selling Western provided weapons on the black market. It has repeatedly done things the US disapproved of, such as (ineffectually so far) attacking Russian refineries.

But now the US is unabashedly making it possible for Ukraine to hit Russia in ways that would be impossible absent not just US supplies, but also US targeting data and assistance. So the sharp response from Putin should have been no surprise.

Given that the US and NATO conduct of this conflict is still well behind the state of play, as in Russia almost certain to dictate whatever the final map and cessation terms look like, it may seem overly generous to think that the US might have had something more than the need to look tough and try to get Zelensky to quit undermining that via his almost constant whinging about short materiel supplies.2 There might have been an attempt at cunning here.

Specifically, note that Administration spokescritters, when they finally figured out their messaging, stressed that any attacks would be limited and would target assets that were supporting the Russian forces in Kharkiv.

Consider also that during this offensive, Russian troops were reported as building up on the border with Sumy oblast.

An obvious next step would be for Russia to move some troops into Sumy to further overtax Ukraine forces by lengthening the line of contact. There also would likely be Ukraine, NATO and media freakout that this move was a step-stone to moving on Kiev.

So the Kharkiv “limited response” precedent would tidily set up the US and perhaps then some of the more frisky NATO allies to extend the permitted targeting area to Russia near the Sumy border.

Since Belgorod is now under attack, the current US escalation, in terms of practical effect, is likely not to amount to much. But the US scheme sets up more areas of Russia to be deemed fair game if/when Russia increases its physical conquests, which will be the result as its attrition campaign grinds on and the US continues to refuse to negotiate.

So the Russian General Staff might mildly de-prioritize Sumy until Russia further bolsters its air defenses in the nearby areas of Russia (that might not take very long).

The present US reactiveness to territorial gains might also lead Russia to place even more emphasis on its campaign against the Ukraine grid. Oddly that is under-reported in image-sensitive Western capitals. And since summer has only just begun, loss of power won’t produce the same level of distress as in the winter, again diminishing its visibility/controversy level in NATO, despite its effectiveness.

Look at how far the damage has gone in Kiev, which until recently was spared the impact of the war. From Остафійчук Ярослав on June 4:

According to DTEK’s schedules, each guaranteed blackout in Kyiv will last up to 4 hours in a row, with the possibility of extending it for another three hours. Guaranteed electricity will be supplied only for 2 hours a day. The blackouts will last throughout the day.

For example, one of the capital’s streets will be without electricity for at least 9-12 hours a day, and possibly for all 18 hours.

An example of power outages on a street in Kyiv

The article does say that repairs of two nuclear plants are underway and a power line from Slovenia are underway, implying conditions should become less dire….absent further Russian action.

So back to the main event, the Russian response to this new US gambit.

Remember that Russia had warned the West as far back as 2022 that if the US and NATO attacked pre-conflict Russia, Russia would need to establish a buffer zone in Ukraine, and the extent of that buffer zone would also depend on the range of the missiles used against Russia. Putin reiterated, including at his big meeting with international journalists this week, that the incursion was the direct result of the continued shelling of Belgorod, as in Ukraine and its backers had triggered a defensive response.

In addition, Russia has held back from taking military action outside the Ukraine theater, which in fact under international law it would be permitted to do in light of Western countries openly providing substantial assistance to Ukraine, which had already been attacking Belgorod and other targets in Russia.3

Putin described in the aforementioned international journalists how the US move would justify Russian responses in kind. From a transcript at Mirage News:

Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the Italian agency ANSA, Stefano Polli: I would like to ask about the recent events in Ukraine. NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg proposed allowing Ukraine to strike targets on Russian territory with weapons supplied from Europe. European countries and the United States have agreed with this idea. Not all, but the United States is among them. At the same time, there is a discussion in some countries about sending military advisers and instructors.

I would like to ask you to comment on these two decisions and what Russia’s response will be. Thank you.

President Putin: […..] What should we do in response?

First, we will certainly improve our air defense systems. We will destroy them [the launched missiles aimed at Russia].

Second, we are considering the idea that if someone deems it possible to supply such weapons to the conflict zone for strikes on our territory and to create problems for us, then why shouldn’t we have the right to supply our weapons of the same class to those regions of the world where strikes will be carried out on sensitive targets in the countries that are doing this against Russia? In other words, the response could be symmetrical. We will think on this.

Third, of course, such actions will ultimately, and they have already reached the highest degree of degradation, but they will ultimately destroy international relations and undermine international security. Ultimately, if we see that these countries are being drawn into a war against us, and this is their direct participation in the war against the Russian Federation, then we reserve the right to act similarly. But generally, this is a path to very serious problems.

Medvedev’s remarks of today, amplified by the Russian Foreign Ministry, indicate Putin was not just being rhetorical. Take note of the first line of this tweet:

Another line of response is for Russia to interfere with surveillance of the Black Sea, which would severely curtail Ukraine/NATO efforts to attack targets in Crimea and Russian ships in the Black Sea. These strikes depend on precision targeting data. Some Russia friendly commentators suggested Russia might go so far as to shoot down Reaper drones and harass surveillance planes.

Both Simplicius and Alexander Mercoursis described a possible electronic warfare attack instead. From Simplicius on June 5:

After several new persisting rumors that Russia intends to take action against NATO’s Black Sea surveillance drones, today an interestingly ‘anomalous’ incident occurred. The American RQ-4B Global Hawk was said to have disappeared from radars, spurring headlines that it was shot down, but soon after reappeared—seemingly indicating it had turned off its transponders at a certain point near Crimea:

However, that’s when things got even stranger. Amid other rumors that it was ‘jammed’ and even sent out an SOS signal of malfunction, the RQ-4 immediately flew back to Romania and did several circles—itself a non-standard action. Then it continued to the Black Sea again, but this time did its tracks much further south than usual, near Turkey’s coast.

The obvious conjecture would be that—for now—Russia has resorted to messing with it electronically. The operators first panicked and took it to the safety of NATO airspace to make sure all systems were nominal, then upon return they flew it ou tof Russian EW range for the remainder of the flight. That’s my “educated guess” as to what could have happened, and I would assume it would serve as ‘warning’ to the U.S.

So the US and its allies have again been warned against trying to bluff with a weak hand. Have they finally learned their lesson


1 Putin had recently pointed out via a detailed lecture, the pretense that Ukraine could operate these systems without Western targeting assistance from satellite and other inputs was absurd, and so the various nations providing these systems used against Russia were in fact attacking Russia.

2 Mind you, Zelensky is completely within his rights to make as much trouble as we can. It was the Collective West that pumped him up for this fight (see the Munich Security Conference of 2022 if you have doubts) and promised repeatedly we’d back him for as long as it takes. Then we got him to ditch the Istanbul negotiations of late March 2022. And we turned him into the reincarnation of Churchill, so even in his diminished state. he still has lots of media access.

3 Per former Lt. Colonel and State Department officer Larry Wilkerson in this interview:

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