The Russian Recession, Part Dva

I just wanted to add a little more data on the Russian recession. Apparently according to Citi Group analysts, the Russian economy is expected to contract 1.5% in 2016. It is probably too early to make predictions for 2017, and some of that is dependent on the price of oil.

The cuts in government spending in 2015 were 10% and the Russian government has said they are expecting another 10% budget cut in 2016. They are expected to run a budget deficit of around 4.4% of GDP according to Citi Group analysts.

Just to put this in context, it was estimated by CBO that as a result of sequestration that U.S. government discretionary spending (meaning not including Social Security and Medicare) in 2013 would decline by 5.6% and in 2014 by 3.6%. The cuts to the U.S. Defense budget was expect to be 6.4% for 2013 and 5.5% in 2014 (non-defense discretionary spending was a reduction of 4.7% in 2013 and 1.6% in 2014). I gather the real figures were close to these projections. I do not have the figures for 2015 near at hand, but I gather it was less.

During the height of the Great Recession in 2009, the U.S. government budget deficit was 9.8% of GDP. For 2015 it was 2.5% of GDP.

The Russian Recession

The Russian economy this last year shrunk 3.7% according to their own figures (the Ukrainian economy is also not doing very well). Just to put this in context, in 2009, during the worst economic year in the United States since the Great Depression, the U.S. economy shrunk 2.8% (and it only grew 0.3% in 2008 as the recession kicked in according to World Bank figures). United States unemployment figures rose from 4.7% in November 2007 to 10% in October 2009. The “Great Recession” officially ended in July 2009 and the economy grew 2.5% in 2010. The U.S. economy in 2014 grew 2.4% and the unemployment rate has just recently dropped to below 5%. Some people are saying that is too slow. Still, this provides context for a 3.7% contraction feels like. The Russian unemployment rate in 2014 was 5.4%.

The Russian economy was not a power house to begin with, being in 2014 only the tenth largest economy in the world, ranked just above Canada and just below India. Its economy was around one-tenth the size of the U.S. economy in 2014 ($17,348,071 million for the U.S. vice 1,860,597 for Russia according to United Nations). The U.S. economy constitutes something like 23-24% of the gross world product. With the current contraction, Russia’s economy may become smaller than Canada’s. Not sure this qualifies Russia as a world power, even with nukes.

US_share_of_world_GDP_since_1980U.S. Share of World GDP (%) since 1980

It does not appear that this is the end of it. With oil down to $30 a barrel from a height of around $100, with China’s economy slowing down, with more oil coming to the market place due to the release of sanctions on Iran, it is expected that oil will remain below $40 a barrel for some time to come. Gas and oil make up something like 50% of the Russian government revenue (they have a 13% flat income tax). This is creating a massive economic and budget shortfall at a time when they are building up their military and engaged in activities in Ukraine and Syria. Of course, the Russian government has a lot of other expenditures besides defense. It is an interesting balancing act.

The Russian economy is expected to decline in 2016 also, although probably not as much as it did in 2015. The ruble has dropped precipitously compared to the dollar and Euro over the last couple of years (from below 30 to around 80 rubles per dollar). With trade sanctions still in place, Russia’s generally poor relations with most nations in Europe and the west, the Chinese economy slowing down, and oil prices remaining low; there is little reason to expect an immediate turn around.

The Russian recession is clearly deeper and probably will be longer than the U.S. “Great Recession.” But, while our recession lasted around a year and a half (2008 – 2009) and recovery has been slow, the Russian recession is clearly going to last longer. How much longer, we do not know. This is a potentially very long recession for them, and not surprising, this raises questions about internal political stability.

Ukraine Lost?

An article in the Bloomberg View caught my attention called “Russia and Ukraine Finally Break Up”. It is at:

As everyone is pretty aware, Ukraine and Russia have been closely integrated throughout their history. The word for the Russians, come from the “Rus,” the original Swedish Viking established civilization centered around Kiev (now capital of Ukraine). Kiev is also where the Cyrillic alphabet and the original Russian Orthodox Church were developed. At the height of the Soviet Union, there were many Ukrainians in and about the Kremlin, with one of the eight leaders of the Soviet Union being Ukrainian (Chernenko). My mother-in-laws’ family were from the Ukrainian town of Radomysl, and were driven out of it during the same Russian Civil War my English grandfather was involved with. The family ended up in Kiev and Moscow. As Russian President Vladimir Putin has stated: “We in Russia have always considered Russians and Ukrainians to be one people. I still think so.” Ukraine and Russia have always been connected economically, culturally and often politically. What this article is showing is that there has now been a break economically.

There was also been a clear break politically. Up until the last year, the government of the independent Ukraine (independent since 1991) has swayed between Ukrainian oriented leaders and Russian oriented leaders. This was very much driven by the presence of 17% of the population being ethnic Russians and 67.5% of the population being primarily Russian speakers. Yet, this political break has occurred over the last year. The previously Russian oriented leader of Russia, the now exiled Yanukovich, in the election of 2010 led the first round with 36% of the vote. Even though he then won the run-off election against the Timoschenko with 49%, this third of the Ukrainian electorate seems to have been his core support, having garnered 39.3% in 2004 and 44.2% in the second run-off election of 2004 (with the first run-off results vacated due to extended protests). His support was strong the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine, especially among ethnic Russians and Russian leaning Ukrainians. With the events of the last year, the majority Russian areas of Crimea have been annexed by Russia and the parts of the provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk have become independent areas in rebellion. This pulls a significant number of Russian leaning voters out of the electorate. Needless to say, this has tilted the electoral power in Ukraine to guarantee that no Russian leaning leader can be elected in the near future (and Ukraine is still a functioning democracy).

If Ukraine has broken politically with Russia and is breaking economically with Russia, does this mean the country has truly and completely evolved into a new relationship with Russia that breaks significantly with the past and puts Ukraine on an truly independent course?

Is this Putin’s real legacy? Has he lost Ukraine, although he gained Crimea?  Is this the uncalculated trade-off resulting from Putin’s foreign policy where he gains Crimea (population 2 million) but losses Russian influence in Ukraine (population 44 million before losing Crimea). Is this the permanent shift of Ukraine from long historical ties to Russia to tying itself to the rest of Europe?


The Battleship the HMS Glory in Murmansk

The Battleship the HMS Glory in Murmansk

I still have a half dozen blog posts to make on airpower and insurgencies, but I am going to shift directions for a little bit to discuss affairs in Eastern Europe.

In 1919 a young man from Liverpool ended up in Murmansk, Russia on board the British merchant ship the S.S. Nigeria. This British and allied intervention, which started towards the end of World War I, was now in the middle of the Russian Civil War. We know little of his actions at that time. Family legend is that he was with the British Marines fighting the Bolsheviks. His own memory was of constantly cleaning the fireplace irons. His record states that he was a ship assistant steward and was credited with a very good rating, as were 21 others on the ship. But there were also 11 men whose conduct was “decline to report.” This was clearly not a happy ship.

The ships log stated on 3 January 1919 that three of the firemen (listed by name) “…when ordered by Chief Engineer to work bunker coal from shelter deck into bunkers, refused to do so. When brought before me (the master) when I asked them to perform this duty they refused.” It continues: “They do not consider it their work, but will perform this work if paid one shilling per ton.”

On 4 February 1919, 10.12 AM it stated: “Sailors and firemen, combined not to allow the [S.S.] Competitor’s crew to bunker S.S. Nigeria, thereby endangering the frozen meat supply for the whole of the Northern Russian Forces at Murmansk. An armed guard from H.M.S. Glory arrived on board and arrested mutinous crew and took them away.”

Then on 4 March it states in the ships log: “The deck hands when ordered by chief office to discharge fifty empty coal barges to S.S. Competitor, also two men for coaling platform, they flatly refused, using threatening language. [name redacted] said we are on deck but it is damned little we intend doing.”

Finally, on 14 March 1919, 4 PM the log states: The following members of the crew [9 names redacted] has this day been convicted and sentenced to various periods of imprisonment for refusing [unreadable word] to duty, and [name redacted] to be discharged from the ship and pay a share of the expense of the court; and [three names redacted] pay a share of the expense of the court and return to ship. These men were tried before a Naval Court and His Britannic Majesty’s Consul and [10 names redacted] has been payed off articles. Wages deposited with H.B.M. Consul.”

On 10 April, one other crewman was found drunk and sent back to the UK at his own expense. Wages in full were handed to him.

There was also another curious problem, with an entry on 4 February 1919 at 4 PM stating: “On going into sailors and firemen forcastles, we found a quantity of stores which were apparently pilfered from the British and American Storerooms in the [S.S.] Nigeria. Also a sum of Russian money (3728 rubles).

At the time, a ruble was worth a whole lot more than it is now.

It was a curious piece of family history, with 10 out of 32 crew members of the S.S. Nigeria effectively revolting against the assigned work. My grandfather, William E. Catherall, the assistant stewart, was not among them. He never mentioned this incident to us, although we asked him about this trip.

William E. Catherall first went to sea on 22 September 1916, during World War I. He was 15 years old and lied about his age to join the merchant marine, as he claimed that many of the Liverpool kids did at that time. His father “died at sea” in 1905. On 7 June 1922, he left his ship in New York Harbor and did not return. There he made his living in New York owning and operating restaurants and bars. But this little trip to Murmansk, where he may have never even left the dock area, regardless of family legend, created a life-long interest in all things Russian in his descendants. This has resulted in a very large book on a tank battle there (Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka) and many other Russian influences in my life. A hundred year-old event in my family history leads us to the next series of threads.

Pouring Cold Water in ‘Boots on the Ground’

Both Chris and I questioned the proposed force size figures being bandied about by advocates and opponents of a U.S. ground force intervention to combat Daesh in Iraq and Syria. It turns out that we were not the only ones who found these figures to be curious. Kevin Benson, a retired U.S. Army colonel and the Deputy Chief of Staff, J-5 for the Army component of U.S. Central Command in 2002, found these proposed force levels to be far too low on simple logistical grounds. In an analysis published on War on the Rocks, he summarized the challenges and requirements:

In the case of a campaign against ISIL, the length of the lines of communication in this theater of war, from seaports and airports to key ISIL-held cities, is daunting. From our bases in Kuwait, it is roughly 1,000 kilometers to Mosul.  To Raqqa it is another 400 kilometers.  If we were to attack ISIL through the Syrian port of Latakia, the distance to Raqqa is 300 kilometers.  We can assume these lines of communication will be contested.   It may well only require two U.S. brigade combat teams, along with French, Russian, Turkish, Kurdish, Jordanian, and Iraqi forces to defeat ISIL in combat.  Nonetheless, it will take a lot more than 10,000 soldiers to deliver two brigade combat teams to Mosul and Raqqa in the form required to engage in battle with an enemy who clearly knows how to fight.

Two BCTs would be a minimum force level commitment just to defeat Daesh on the battlefield. They would clearly be insufficient for follow-on stability or counterinsurgency operations.

Benson concludes with an excellent point about the pitfalls of spitballing numbers in policy discussions:

Military and security professionals need to overcome policymakers’ fascination with low numbers of troops being the best course of action and their resultant tendency to micro-manage troop numbers down to the tactical level.  Military advice must be solid, fact-based advice on the structure we would need to put into place to truly defeat ISIL on its home turf.  After 14 years at war, we know no plan can look with certainty beyond initial contact with the enemy main body — the enemy gets a vote.  We know friction and the fog of battle are real.  Still, unsubstantiated numbers proposed through the media and other journals do not really help address the issue at hand.  Frankly, Sen. McCain and Gen. Zinni ought to realize that what they are saying about what it would take to defeat ISIL is not helpful in crafting the plans really needed to accomplish this task. Hurling low ball figures without considering the mathematics of war is not rendering sound military advice, it is chasing sound bites and re-tweets.

Force Ratios and Counterinsurgency IV

picture-17Much has changed since James Quinliven kicked off discussion over manpower and counterinsurgency. One of the most significant differences is the availability now of useful collections of historical data for analysis.

Previous posts in this series:
Force Ratios and Counterinsurgency
Force Ratios and Counterinsurgency II
Force Ratios and Counterinsurgency III

Dataset origins

Detailed below are the lineages for the data sets used in six of the seven analyses I have discussed. The cases used by Libicki and Friedman were drawn from databases created by several academic organizations and work by James Fearon and Daivd Laitin [1] and, Jason Lyall and Isaiah Wilson III [2]. Both Libicki and Friedman contributed additional research of their own to complete their datasets.

Datasets 01

The data used by Lawrence, CAA, and IDA was all researched and compiled by The Dupuy Institute (TDI). Both TDI’s Modern Insurgencies Spreadsheets (MISS) Database and CAA’s Irregular Warfare Database contain data on at least 75 variables for each historical case.

Datasets 02

The details of the dataset created and used by Hossack at Dstl have not been addressed in public forums, but it is likely to be similar.

Future directions for research

Given the general consensus of all of the studies that counterinsurgent manpower levels do correlate with outcome, the apparent disagreement over force ratio and troop density measures may not be as relevant as previously thought. More data collection and testing should be done to verify the validity of the postulated relationship between counterinsurgent force levels and the local population within an active area of operation.

Though there was consensus on the advantage of counterinsurgent manpower, there was no agreement as to its overall importance. More analysis is needed to examine just how decisive manpower advantages may be. Hossack and Goode suggested that a counterinsurgent manpower advantage may be important largely to prevent insurgent military success. Hossack and Friedman suggested that there may be points of diminishing manpower returns and Lawrence indicated that a force ratio advantage was decisive only against insurgencies with broad popular support. Given the potential difficulties in generating significant additional counterinsurgent manpower, it may be applicable and useful only under particular circumstances.

Due to the limitations of the available data, all of the studies based their analysis on data averages. The figures used for insurgent and counterinsurgent force sizes were usually selected from the highest annual totals across years or decades. All of the studies indicated the need to obtain more detailed data on individual cases to allow for more discreet and dynamic analysis to look for undetected links and patterns. Lawrence in particular called for examination of conditions before insurgencies begin and when they are just getting underway.

Friedman noted the value of quantitative analysis in helping to drive forward discussion and debate on defense and security topics. Research and analysis on insurgency and counterinsurgency was left to languish during the Vietnam War, only to be exhumed under the dire circumstances of the U.S. war in Iraq. It would be deeply unfortunate if promising new lines of inquiry were abandoned again.


[1] James D. Fearon, and David D. Laitin, “Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil WarAmerican Political Science Review 97, 1, Feb 2003

[2] Lyall, Jason and Isaiah Wilson III, “Rage Against the Machines: Explaining Outcomes in Counterinsurgency Wars,” International Organization 63, Winter 2009

Of course, we are not the only people talking about this

See General David Petraeus’s article:

And for a response:

By the way, it appears that the responder is tapping some of the same statistics used in the Micah Zenko blog that we previously posted:

Bombing Kosovo in 1999 versus the Islamic State in 2015

I just wanted to do a little ‘back of the envelope” comparison between these two air campaigns. In the case of Kosovo, if you believe the casualty figures provided virtue of Wikipedia (which are not always incorrect), they flew 38,004 sorties and killed 956 supposed hostiles (that is 956 killed, 5,173 wounded and 52 missing for a total of 6,181 casualties). Or, maybe that should be 10,484 “strike sorties.” Regardless, this was either 38 sorties per person killed or 10 “strike sorties” per person killed (missing are counted among the killed for this calculation). Or if based on total casualties, 6 sorties per casualty or 1.7 “strike sorties” per casualty. Now, only 35% of the bombs and missiles used were precision guided.

If you look at the link in my post “Bleeding an Insurgency to Death” you could surmise that in 2015 in Iraq and Syria, the U.S. and its allies dropped 28,714 “munitions.” They claim 25,500 killed. This is 1.13 “munitions dropped” per person claimed killed. So, one bomb kills one person.

Kosovo was 23,614 “air munitions” for 1,008 deaths or 6,181 casualties. This is 23 “air munitions” per person killed or 3.8 “air munitions” per casualty. So, Kosovo in 1999 is 23.42 ‘air munitions” per person killed while Syria and Iraq in 2015 is 1.13 “munitions dropped” per person claimed killed. This is an effectiveness improvement of over 20 times! Of course, these campaigns were conducted against different terrain and somewhat different circumstances that may favor one over the other. We have not evaluated those factors (after all, this is just “back-of-the-envelope” calculations).

Now, in Kosovo, only 35% of the bombs and missiles used were precision guided. Don’t know what the figure is now, but if it was 100%, and if we assumed that only the precision guided munitions in Kosovo hit anything (a questionable assumption), then we still end up with an effectiveness improvement of over seven times.

But maybe the 25,500 killed really means 25,500 killed and wounded (of which the majority would be wounded). In that case using the Kosovo figures for total casualties you end up with 3.82 “air munitions” per casualty versus 1.13 “munitions dropped” per casualty for Syria and Iraq. Again, if we completely discount the effectiveness of non-precision guided munitions in Kosovo, and assume that in Syria and Iraq 100% of the munitions are precision guided, then we end up with similar levels of effectiveness per casualty (1.34 “air munitions” versus 1.13 “munitions dropped” per casualty). There are a lot of “ifs” to get to this point.

Now, one should not put to much stock in the “back of the envelope” calculations, but something doesn’t quite line up here.


A lot of time could and should be spent examining this campaign. It was example of trying to change of countries’ policy by an extended air campaign. It is such an odd case that I left it out of my original article (see blog post “Defeating an Insurgency by Air”, which is also posted to the History News Network). I simply did not want to address it. I probably should have.

As with the U.S. in Afghanistan in 2001, this was a case where U.S. and NATO airpower was supporting the insurgency. The mostly Muslim Kosovars were revolting against the established Yugoslavian government. In this case through, there was not much of an insurgency and the actions on the ground consisted mostly of Yugoslavia attempting to firm up their control over the area, in part by driving the local Kosovars out of the area. At one point, hundreds of thousands of people were dislodged or migrating from the homes.

The United States and NATO were really not providing air support for the insurgents, so much as attempting a punishing bombing campaign against the Yugoslavian Army without taking any risk of losing aircraft. This was an odd aerial bombardment that continued for 78 days at a loss of five aircraft (two due to combat). Finally, on 3 June 1999, the Yugoslavian government agreed to cease their operations in Kosovo and withdraw their forces. Their losses according to some sources were 14 tanks, 18 APCs, 20 artillery pieces and 121 airplanes and helicopters (see Wikipedia: NATO Bombing of Yugoslavia). This was surprisingly low ground losses for a 78 day air campaign that included 38,004 sorties and involved over a thousand aircraft. This included 10,484 “strike sorties; that released 23,614 “air munitions” over Kosovo (these figures are from NATO covering the period from 24 March to 9 June 1999). This was 6,303 tons of munitions and 35% of the bombs and missiles used were precision guided.

Many commentators, including the NATO commander General Wesley Clark, consider that the primarily reason they withdrew is because the Yugoslavian leader, Milosevic, believed that the U.S. was about to insert ground forces in the campaign.

So it was a successful air campaign, but the reason it was successful was that the Yugoslavian leader thought that it was about to turn into a ground campaign. While this is one of the few cases of a pure air campaign actually achieving its stated political goal, it is not a case of an insurgency being defeated primarily by air, especially as the air campaign was done in support of the insurgency.