(Written on September 26)

Along with some other non-mainstream analysts, I had formed the impression earlier in the summer of this year – taking into account what Brian Berletic and others were chronicling as a Ukrainian army that was failing, amidst diminishing generosity of supplies from the collective West and in the context of a sharply recovering Russian economy, Russia’s booming arms production capability, and its closer alliance with China and the Global South – that the beginning of the end would be apparent by the end of August.

And perhaps it was, but there was some confusion arising from what appeared to be a possible last-ditch expenditure of effort and intensity in the Robotyne area, in particular, in offensives on Staromaiorsk and Urozhaine, and along the line of combat west of Bakhmut, as well as long-range missile and drone attacks on the Russian interior and, particularly, on Crimea.

Now, I think, the Ukrainian demise is more evidently in motion. As Dima puts it today on the Military Summary Channel, “we see complete collapse of Ukrainian positions everywhere on the front line.” There are fewer Ukrainian armored vehicles on the line of combat; there is increasing dependence on Ukrainian light infantry pitted against Russian artillery; there is an increase in reports of the number of zones close to the front lines for which Ukraine appears to lack the advantage of air-cover, air-defense and even artillery protection; Ukrainian casualties continue to be horrendous. These amount to 17,000 for September alone, according to the latest figures from the Russian MOD, together with 2-3,000 armored vehicles and artillery pieces, including 2 Lepord IIs and 1 UK Challenger, and multiple Howitzer mutliple rocket launch systems, 7 Bradley light infantry fighting vehicles and the like. Russian MOD figures have yet to be proven seriously deficient and a formal source like this understands the importance of being accurate and, therefore, trusted – a lesson long ignored by Ukranian equivalents, dominated as they seem to have been, by the thoroughly scurrilous SBU, which the West is now trying, far too late, to sweep out of the picture. In short, I would put the trustworthiness of the Russian MOD above that of the Pentagon in the final years of the Vietnam War where Western reporters whom I spoke to at the time in Saigon chuckled about US Army casualty estimates for the Vietcong: you had to cut in half the numbers that the US said they had killed, and double the number the US gave for US casualties.

But above all, the flair exhibited by Ukraine a month ago is no longer in evidence. Its troops are stuck on the Dnieper islands while Russia decimates Ukrainian settlements on the north bank. Ukraine has not seized Verbove (in whose region even in the past 12 hours Ukraine has suffered heavy losses, without artillery or air cover, without armored vehicles), and still struggles for control over Robotyne. Here, as Dima discusses today on the Military Summary channel, Russia has sight and fire control over the supply roads, and contains the Ukrainian forces within Russian-controlled Western and Eastern flanks, while Ukraine’s strikes further south on Novoprokopivka and Tokmak have been patchy and incapable of being sustained. Ukraine cannot move its own artillery closer to the salient because it will be destroyed immediately from Russian positions on the flanks and to the south.

The advantage Ukraine held temporarily in Staromaiorsk, Urozhaine and Novodonetske seems to have been evaporated under Russian artillery dominance and FPV drone control. In Donetsk, Russia now controls Marinka and is dropping FAB 500 bombs on Novomykhailivka and Konstantanivka. In Bakhmut, Ukraine still struggles for complete control over Klishchiivka and Andrivka (where today the Russian MOD claims that Ukraine lost 310 soldiers and 18 armored vehicles) and its attempts to cross the railway lines to the east of these settlements are routinely repelled by Russian forces, which have operational reserves and control over underground facilities in this area. Ukraine is still advancing on Russian positions on the railways to the north of Klishchiivka and has had success in attacks on Mykolaivka to the southeast. To the northwest of Bakhmut in and around Zaliznianiske and Orikhova-Vasylivka, Russia is making steady advances as it it is further north around Lyman and Kupyansk, where a force of some 8,000 Russian soldiers are in the immediate vicinity of Kupyansk while tens of thousands stand ready for action in Kharkiv. Meanwhile, Russia destroys most or all the bridges near Kupyansk over the Oskil river making it increasingly difficult for Ukraine to supply the settlement. Ukraine reportedly lost 140 soldiers in the Kupyansk area over the past day.

As was clear during Zelenskiy’s visit to New York and Washington earlier this month, Zelenskiy’s situation has become precarious. There is mounting opposition throughout the collective West to the unremitting flow of Western wealth to Ukraine for the purposes of fighting a war with Russia which is immoral in itself and from which the only clear winners are the MICIMATT or military-industrial complex and its hangers-on.

This war was initiated by the US and NATO in multiple ways: Western refusal since at least 2008 and, really, from long before, to dignify legitimate Russian requests for international consideration of its national security interests; the placing of defensive/offensive nuclear weapons facilities along Russian borders in Poland and Romania, and, so it seemed likely, Ukraine; the annual staging of aggressive NATO “exercises” along Russian borders; the US and NATO support for the 2014 anti-Russian coup d’etat against Ukraine’s democratically elected government, a coup which panicked Crimea into seeking annexation by Russia, and panicked the peoples of the Donbass into seeking Russian military support for their People’s Republics (which were only integrated into Russia in 2023); Ukraine’s war against its own people in the Donbass from 2014 onwards; Ukraine’s US-supported escalation of that war in the months leading up to Russia’s defensive SMO in February 2022; the refusal of the US and Europe to insist that Ukraine honor the internationally and UN-endorsed Minsk accords of 2015 which would have required Ukraine to federalize within the ambit of Ukraine nationalism; the pressure on Ukraine from both London and Washington not to proceed with the advanced peace talks in March and April of 2022.

Zelenskiy’s constant begging, his threats to incite terrorism against their hosts among Ukrainian refugees in Europe so as to force Europe to hand over yet more of its wealth, the manifest silliness of his camouflage T-shirts, his stubborn insistence that peace talks can only begin when Russia is prepared to give up all its gains and to pay compensation, his failure to do as his western sponsors want him to do on the battlefield (which is to concentrate all Ukraine’s energy on pushing south to Crimea, despite the obvious perils to his regime of leaving the eastern combat line inadequately defended from Russian breakthroughs, in an area of huge concentration of Ukrainian forces, that would enable Russia to entrap them in broader cauldrons), his history of corruption, Ukraine’s tangled relationship with the Biden family and its threat to the Democrat run for the 2024 US presidential election … all these and more are sources of disenchantment with the Disney character molded for western media consumption by, amongst others, UK’s MI6.

A few hits by Ukrainian drones on targets in Crimea will change nothing; and even these Ukrainian-spun narratives (for example, of causing many injuries and the death of a Russian admiral, in its strike on a historic naval building in Sevastopol – the admiral in question appears to have attended a meeting since his death) are looking increasingly fragile, as are so many Ukrainian narratives from and before Bucha.

The West’s mood is not helped by the clear failure of Western sanctions to hurt Russia, and the manifest collapse of the oil price cap which has hardly dented Russian oil and gas revenues or managed to impede the sale of these fossil fuels above the West’s pompous price cap ($60 a barrel), strengthening Russia’s influence in OPEC over production levels and the price of oil (to three to five times the oil price cap). This has exposed Western inability to control insurance for the shipping of Russian oil and gas (the “shadow fleet” of non-Western ships) in whose industry Greek shipping oligarchs (whose share of Russian oil shipments has increased from roughly 30% to over 50% in the space of a year) have helped subvert the West’s economic war, challenging control of the shipping insurance industry by Lloyds of London. Its hold is broken. And if, say, Chinese ships cannot call in at UK ports, because they are uninsured by Lloyds, well, who cares? This turnaround may have helped the Greek economy to recover from the cruel assault upon it by Western financial elites in the period 2010-2015.

Zelenskiy has been converted therefore from the Western media-constructed Che Guevara icon of national sovereignty and European civilization to a symbol of grubby, neo-nazi petulance and sense of privilege, of European snottiness, self-importance and hubris.

This is not a pretty image to see in the mirror. How does the Biden Administration propose to handle this alarming Snow White denouement? Getting rid of Zelenskiy is certainly part of the jigsaw. The man is increasingly disliked. A poisoned apple might be the thing, but doesn’t look good in the run-up to a presidential election. Through some means or other, Zelenskiy’s defense minister and deputy defense ministers have been ushered out the door, and other figures in Zelenskiy’s administration look vulnerable, while now there is talk of forcing resignations in the SBU. Is all this a prelude to forcing Zelenskiy himself out, or pressuring him to at least accept elections – which he had outlawed until Ukraine had won the war – so as to maintain Western “facework” over its claims to be the guardian of (Western-style) “democracy?” The West pays for every square inch of this administration so, of course, it must ultimately call all the important shots. Surely, the West can find some replacements who will be more immediately pliable and competent, but what is it that these replacements will be able to do?

They will not be able to win the war. As US Senator Josh Hawley exclaimed on emerging from a secret Congressional intelligence briefing yesterday, there is no path for Ukraine to win this war.

The Biden Administration can:

(1) pretend that it really is winning the war and go on acting out that part in the hope that Russia does not simply mount a major offensive of its own early next year and push as far westwards as it is inclined to go in order to feel secure from Western nuclear threat, a measure that would surely cost Biden the election and damage US “prestige,” accelerating the transition to a multipolar world;

(2) rather than merely pretend, it can somehow – as Victoria Nuland has recently insinuated – persuade Europe to rebuild and rearm Ukraine even as the war continues. This idea is a complete non-starter because Europe is already impoverishing itself on account of this war and does not have the means to rebuild Ukraine nor to continue fighting Russia in a war which Russia is already winning, and for which Russia has ample resources to keep fighting and to keep winning, to the point, very soon, where Ukraine simply collapses under the weight of its own bankruptcy. This will probably happen long before Russia brings the war to an end by early 2025 – as Russian Defense Minister Shoigu has just helpfully indicated;

(3) it can force Zelenskiy’s replacement to negotiate a “frozen conflict” solution with Russia. This is the most popular outcome in Washington. This could only be conceivable, in my estimation, with very major concessions to Russia, and these would have to include some form of negotiation over the future for European security architecture. I don’t think the West is yet sufficiently embarrassed by its own idiocy to be able to go that far;

(4) it can accept pretty much any solution that Russia is prepared to live with, so as to be better able to confront China. Most people of at least average intelligence know that this is the peak of neocon idiocy, since neither now, nor next year, nor in ten years’ time will the US and the collective West have remotely sufficient resources to be able to defeat either China by itself, or China+Russia+Global South. Abandoning the war with Russia will free Russia to invest further in its alliance with China.

The collective West has no good options in its ride up the escalation escalator. Its current political class is beyond redemption. This is the first barrier that has to be removed to enable entirely alternative visions to surface of how the world can be organized. There is very little time, of course, for such an elephantine conversion to rationality, normality and morality to manifest. When geopolitical tectonic plates shift, how have nations and civilizations learned to adapt in the past, and is there anything we can find in that review that we can apply to the present and to our new future? Or is this moment, as is quite possibly the case, entirely, existentially, a first for humankind?

So many past failures (think Westphalia, VersailIes, Paris or December 1991)! Past lessons be damned; an entirely new beginning sounds more promising.

(Featured Image: “Feb. 20, 2023 – Ukraine Under Attack: Documenting the Russian Invasion” by manhhai is licensed under CC BY 2.0. Cropped by Propaganda In Focus)


  • Oliver Boyd-Barrett

    Oliver Boyd-Barrett is Professor Emeritus (Journalism and Public Relations) from Bowling Green State University, Ohio and (Communication) from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. His first book, The International News Agencies, was published by Constable/Sage in 1980, and its French sister, Le Traffic des Nouvelles (with Michael Palmer) by Alain Moreau, in 1981. Since 2000 he has focused on issues of war and propaganda. Recent titles include Hollywood and the CIA (Routledge), Media Imperialism (Sage), Western Mainstream Media and the Ukraine Crisis (Routledge), Russiagate and Propaganda (Routledge), Media Imperialism: Continuity and Change (Rowman and Littlefield)(with Tanner Mirrlees), Conflict Propaganda in Syria (Routledge). Two current projects deal with Russiagate: Aftermath of a Hoax (Palgrave), and Afghanistan: Aftermath of Imperial Occupation (provisional).

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