Donbass and the Second Punic War


July 7, 2015

Donbass and the Second Punic War

By Rostislav Ishchenko

Translated from Russian by J.Hawk

Hannibal brought Rome to the brink of defeat during the Second Punic War. Carthage’s army marched all over Italy as it if were its own backyard. However, in the end, Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus the Elder was able to move the theater of operations to Africa, destroy Carthage’s armies, defeat the invincible Hannibal, and establish peace on Rome’s terms.

The actual victor over Hannibal was not the brilliant tactician Scipio, but the profound strategist and outstanding politician Fabius Maximus Cunctator. The Romans did not elect him Consul or even Dictator during the course of the war. Fabius Maximus remained an influential politician even when he did not exercise official power. His personal authority was strengthened by the election to the Pontifical College and as the Senate Princeps. His proteges and family members became consuls, while the opponents’ sacrifices “were not favored”, to the extent that election results were canceled on several occasions.

What was the strategy of Fabius Maximus? It consisted of the correct choice of the method of fighting Hannibal. Carthage’s army was fundamentally different from Rome’s. The Roman army consisted of citizens (recruits, conscripts), while the Carthagenian of mercenaries. In the hands of a talented commander like Hannibal, that army was a powerful instrument. Romans suffered one catastrophic defeat after another in the first years of the war. Hannibal had the ability to increase his forces not only thanks to warlike Gallic tribes living in the Po river valley, but also due to the switching of sides by Rome’s allies in central and southern Italy. Therefore each of Rome’s defeats not only lead to the loss of an army, which was painful enough (Carthage lost someone else’s citizens–mercenaries, while Rome its own), but also to the loss of more allies.

Therefore Fabius Maximus made the only correct choice–Hannibal has to be deprived of an opportunity to score more victories. Rome’s army must thwart Hannibal’s maneuvers by its presence, destroy local detachments, support the loyal and, whenever possible, punish traitorous allies, but avoid a general engagement. On one occasion, the consuls of  year 216 B.C. decided to abandon this strategy and organized an offensive against Hannibal’s positions at Cannes. The ensuing catastrophe was on such a scale that the next defeat of this sort occurred only at the height of its power when Emperor Valens died at the head of his infantry at Adrianopolis in 378 A.D.  Rome attrited Hannibal for an entire decade by adhering to Fabius’ Maximus’ strategy. Only then did the victories of Scipio Africanus become possible. However, even then the Cunctator was against resuming active operations, believing that he could finish of Hannibal and Carthage without excessive loss of live, especially since the mercenary army was weakening and disintegrating in the absence of major victories, and as the situation at the front worsened the conflict between Hannibal and Carthage grew. A battle always entails a risk, after all.

Right now we are seeing Russia adopt an identical strategy in its conflict with the United States. That strategy was not born today, and it allowed the state survive after the destructive 1990s and recover sufficient strength to thrown down the gauntlet before Washington. It’s just that, until the head-spinningly successful return of Crimea and until blood was spilled on the Donbass, the masses did not even notice that the US and Russia have several irreconcilable differences, and that the two states are moving toward open conflict. It was in Russia’s interests to delay that clash for as long as possible. Moreover, as a result of all the time won, US grew weaker as it squandered its strength in various local conflict all over the world. Russia in the meantime grew stronger, carried out an elite rotation (in such a way so as not to disturb the internal political situation), strengthened the role of the state in the economy, rearmed the military, restored old alliances, and recruited new allies. In general, Russia has been deliberately changing the balance of power for an extended period of time. It is continuing to do so right now, when the confrontation with Washington became a reality.

Nevertheless, the post-Crimea absence of triumphant reunifications, military parades in cities liberated from the Nazis, and the blood flowing on the Donbas are allowing various political speculators, as well as immature romantics, to continuously whine that “Putin is afraid to make the US angry,”, “Surkov is shoving the Donbass back into Ukraine,” and the usual “they betrayed everyone.”

Fine, Putin is the head of state and Surkov curates the situation in Ukraine. In order to assess the results of their work, one has to listen not only to the detractors. The problem lies in that neither Putin nor Surkov have entered into a public discussion with the representatives of the “betrayal” theory. On the one hand it’s a proper thing to do because once a politician enters into a debate with a political marginal, he raises that marginal to his own level, increases his importance, and ensures he will gain new allies. On the other hand, the absence of a straightforward answer to the hysterical accusations discourages part of the society (those who haven’t gotten used to think on their own)–people who can’t assess the situation will adopt the first plausible explanation. And that’s a wrong approach because part of the society (a small one but also a politically active  and patriotically-minded one) is acquiring undeserving ringleaders and starts to move in the wrong direction, thus making it more difficult for the state to reach the objective which that part of society actually wants to see reached.

Since the Russian state media never distinguished themselves with their initiative and can’t react to new problems without directions from above, we’ll try to independently assess, on the basis of known facts, whether the claims of Putin-Surkov Ukraine policy ineffectiveness are true. We’ll start by saying that, from my point of view, accusing Vladimir Vladimirovich and Vladislav Yuryevich of attempting to conclude a peace at any price and of readiness to “shove Donbass back into Ukraine” is at the very least a distortion of the facts, and at most an open lie. Right now, even according to the betrayal theory adherents, the militia has a well trained army 55-60 thousand strong. A year ago all it had was scattered partisan detachments no more than 15 thousand strong. It’s almost embarrassing to ask, but who created that army?

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Economic activity on the Donbass is being revived, some industrial enterprises are resuming work, banks are working, the budget has money to pay salaries and pensions and, as odd as it might seem, 80% of the currency are Russian rubles. Students are getting scorecards which allow them to enter not only local but also Russian universities. Students are being awarded diplomas which also allow them to enter Russian universities. Even a year ago this was a major problem. The shelling of Donetsk has not even started at that time, and the kids already were not able to receive necessary documents certifying their education–they didn’t have their own, and Ukraine wasn’t issuing any. Right now that issue is resolved, and so are many others.

The leadership of the republics has been legitimized not only through elections but also, in part, in the eyes of international law. Regardless of all our “friends’ and partners'” ideas, during Minsk 2 Plotnitskiy and Zakharchenko were recognized as political authorities not only by Kiev, but also by Berlin and Paris, since they guaranteed their signatures on the documents regulating the situation. OSCE is making official contacts with both Donetsk and Lugansk authorities. They are gradually establishing themselves as international actors.

Once again, it’s almost embarrassing to ask, because if Putin gives orders to Surkov who in turn gives orders to Zakharchenko and Plotnitskiy, then why are Putin and Surkov arming and training an army and establishing government institutions, and even facilitating the growth of economic contacts with Russia on territories they are planning to surrender> And if Putin doesn’t give orders to Surkov, and Surkov has no influence over Zakharchenko and Plotnitskiy and everything that right now exists on the Donbass appeared there thanks to the militia’s acquaintance with the elderly Khottabych, then it’s Khottabych that should be asked all the questions related to Minsk, offensives, shelling, and everything else.

In order to check the correctness of my deliberations, there is another method available–see what the enemy is saying about all this. I wrote once before that the term “Surkov’s propaganda” appeared among the traitor-liberals right after one of their visits to the US embassy. But that was a long time ago, maybe something has changed since?

No. Nothing has changed. Kiev is blaming Surkov for personally organizing the killing of the Heavenly Hundred, and are at the same time accusing Putin of demanding that Yanukovych open fire on the Maidan. Therefore Kiev, even though with no proof, is continuing its attempts to accuse Putin and Surkov of implementing a most aggressive scenario in Ukraine.

But that’s late 2013–early 2014. Maybe those who are saying that Putin at the time wanted to annex all of Novorossia (or all of the Donbass) and then got frightened are correct. Also not true, Jeffrey Pyatt, the US ambassador to Ukraine and the de-facto regent of the Ukrianian state, gave an interview to Forbes published on July 3, 2015. Pyatt says the following: “Contrary to the Kremlin’s intentions, Ukraine retained its unity and Surkov’s plans to stimulate a split within the country and provoke a civil war in all of Ukraine completely failed.”

Time will tell how correct the ambassador was (Obama just recently “tore the Russian economy to shreds”), but even now, in July 2015, the US are certain that Putin (Kremlin) and Surkov were implementing “a plan to unleash a civil war in all of Ukraine.” Out of the entire numerous Russian leadership team, these two are provoking the greatest irritation in Washington. It’s no wonder that Russian liberals are echoing Washington. It is a wonder that the chorus is being joined by people who call themselves Russian patriots.

Every time the Romans attempted to depart from the strategic principles laid down by Fabius Maximus Cunctator and tried to heroically defeat the Carthaginians on the field of battle, Hannibal defeated them. In the end the Romans acquiesced to the fact that Cunctator’s strategy, even though incomprehensible to them, was victorious, and stopped experimenting.

The war on the Donbass is continuing. Nobody is about to end it. The Kremlin is planning to win, and not only on the Donbass. The enemy is strong, clever, and not bound by any rules. The desire to break one’s own neck by throwing oneself into a head-on clash may seem noble. But it’s one thing to risk oneself and something else to risk the country.

If a soldier wants to fight, he can go to the Donbass and die there. For example, Colonel General Werner von Fritsch who earned Hitler’s displeasure and was removed from command, took part in the Polish Campaign of 1939 at the head of Artillerieregiment 12 and died at Warsaw on September 22.

However, a politician has no right to risk the country for the sake of a beautiful gesture.

J.Hawk’s Comment: Ishchenko has a knack for historical analogies, and the Punic Wars analogy hits the proverbial bullseye. Then as now, the invader’s strength depended on the ability to reward allies with loot and plunder, which in turn depended on a steady succession of conquests. Therefore once you deprive the adversary of the opportunity for further expansion, his entire strategy unravels. His army is defeated without even fighting a single battle.

The fact that today’s Western societies depend on continuous expansion is the reason for the soundness of Russia’s strategy. One gets the impression that the US was hoping to get the EU’s acquiescence to its hegemony (TTIP, anyone?) by throwing a few Ukraine-shaped crumbs its way, just as Hannibal was extending Carthage’s rule by promising to reward its new subjects with Roman spoils. Fabius Maximus therefore struck at the most vulnerable aspect of Hannibal’s strategy, just as Putin today is undermining the cohesion of the West by depriving it of opportunities for further expansion. And not only in Ukraine. The war in Syria is part of the same struggle, as are sanctions on Iran, and many other conflicts around the world. Deprived of easy spoils overseas, Western powers are reduced to cannibalizing their own weakest members, starting with Greece…

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