Putin Should Take the “Golden Bridge” to Peace Before the Chinese Frog-March Him Across It…

Sometime soon, Putin is going to take an awkward call from his “eternal friend” Xi. China is the world’s largest importer of oil and food.  Xi wants a good year for his coronation.  Russia is spoiling his party.  Especially because China is heading to a bad local wheat harvest.

I learned yesterday that about about 30% of China’s grain imports come from Ukraine.  Come spring planting, China will want Ukrainian fields plowed by tractors, not tanks.  100% of that grain ships through Odessa.  China does not want a sit though a long siege of Odessa.  What about a quick, damage-free take-over of Odessa?  That seems unlikely given Russia’s under-sized Southern forces, limited reserves and performance so far.

Xi is going to tell Putin to take the Golden Bridge.  

Is Ukraine’s Zelensky showing weakness here?  No.  Zelensky is giving Putin a “Golden Bridge**” to a face-saving exit.

Volodymr Zelensky told ABC News on Tuesday that “I have cooled down regarding the question” of NATO membership and said he was open to dialogue on the fate of Eastern Ukraine republics, Donetsk and Lugansky, that Russia recognizes as independent.

Look at what he is actually promising. A return to the status quo that leaves thousands of Russian dead and a lot of its best. most expensive weapons behind.  Putin wins nothing in reality, but can pretend to have “won” something at home.  That is a Golden Bridge.

  • No NATO (wasn’t going to happen anytime soon anyway).
  • Putin can keep the disputed territories (but almost certainly not past the old front line).  Zelensky was clear there would have to be a free and fair referendum election by residents of those areas.  At this point that would at least reflect the old front line and quite possibly Ukraine gets it all back. Ukraine doesn’t really want their old rust belt anyway.  Apparently Russia helped create a pro-Europe Ukraine by taking pro-Russian voters out of the election system – tipping the balance to Europe.
  • Nothing about Crimea.
  • All with the un-stated caveat that agreements made under duress are not binding down the line.

Zelensky understands the situation on the ground is turning in his direction every day the Russians stay stalled (see below).

Putin does not seem to understand the situation on the ground. He should take the Golden Bridge before the Chinese frog-march him across it.  Or his foot-soldiers take it on their own initiative.

if we incite [Napoleon] to desperation, that will cost us useless blood: but if we let him run and give him a decent escort he will destroy himself in the course of a few days. You know: people cannot live on air, snow doesn’t make a very homely bivouac and without horses he cannot move his food, munitions or guns.”
Gen. Mikhail Miloradovich re Napoleon

All the trucks in the world can’t replace lost morale.  You have to pull those people out of the line and give them a break someplace safe.  But for that you need replacements.

Instead of one big push, Russia went with under-sized nudges based on a mis-read of Ukrainian morale and abilities.  Russia is having success is in the South, but their forces there are likely too small.  It appears they have limited reserves.  The Russian forces bogged down around Kyiv lose combat effectiveness every day.  Little onesy-twosy attacks suggest desperation.  You lack the fuel, ammo, and morale to do anything big, but you keep burning those reserves down further to show the boss you are “doing something.”

Russian forces have likely begun renewed offensive operations that ISW has been forecasting, but at a lower level of intensity and a smaller scale than we had anticipated. Individual Russian attacks at roughly regiment size reported on March 8 and March 9 may represent the scale of offensive operations Russian forces can likely conduct on this axis at any one time. The possibility of a larger and more coherent general attack either to encircle Kyiv or to assault it in the coming days remains possible, but the continued commitment of groups of two to five battalion tactical groups (BTGs) at a time makes such a large-scale general attack less likely.

This daily brief has been excellent and balanced so far. They have been steadily downgrading Russia’s outlook for the past few days.  At some point someone (maybe Xi) will have to break the news to Putin.

Per the below, Putin either walks calmly across that Golden Bridge or helter-skelter retreats in shame. Unless he gets a break-though in the next few days.

**I had no idea the term came from Napoleon’s march on Moscow, which is particularly apt. https://ricochet.com/1196928/time-for-the-west-to-start-building-russia-a-golden-bridge/

Czar Alexander was furious Kutuzov didn’t put up a fight-to-the-death for Moscow. But now was the general’s time to shine. Time to build a golden bridge.

“I prefer giving my enemy a ‘pont d’or’ [golden bridge], as you call it, to receiving a ‘coup de collier’ [blow born of desperation].” — Gen. Kutuzov

Kutuzov refused to engage in large battles until he was sure that Napoleon was safely out of the way. Why trap the French Guards in Russia and create a life-and-death struggle for the Russian army?

His subordinate, Gen. Mikhail Miloradovich explained the strategy to a vengeful underling desperate for a glorious set-piece battle:

“The old man’s view is this: if we incite the enemy to desperation, that will cost us useless blood: but if we let him run and give him a decent escort he will destroy himself in the course of a few days. You know: people cannot live on air, snow doesn’t make a very homely bivouac and without horses he cannot move his food, munitions or guns.”

Kutuzov knew that his best weapons weren’t cannons or Cossacks, but the brutal Russian winter and the vastness of the empire. Napoleon was 1,500 miles from Paris; he had lured the French emperor far, far from home. His troops were sick, hungry, and demoralized.

As officers drew up plans to surround the French, Kutuzov knew that the path to victory was getting those foreigners the hell out of Russia.

They cleared the main road back to western Europe and blocked other routes. As the French trudged through mud, then snow, then ice, they were cut down from behind and on either side by ruthless Cossacks. After they had abandoned gear and ate their horses, even more French soldiers died sick, frozen, and starving.

About 600,000 French invaded Russia; about 100,000 made it across Kutuzov’s Golden Bridge.

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