Those of us who began chronicling the current NATO proxy war with Russia over Ukraine from the launch of the Russian SMO in February 2022 started from the positions that:
(1) The war was NOT “unprovoked” – this has been very amply chronicled over previous months and I will not elaborate on it now. The most important element of this is the cluster of indications from leading US neocon strategists, as in the 2019 RAND corporation report “Extending Russia,” that the ultimate western goal is the dismemberment of the Russian Federation. There is a good argument that the war was not simply provoked, but that it was necessary for the existential security of the Russian Federation. The first major consequence of and reaction to the US-backed coup and its shaping of the post-coup regime was the defensive move by pro-Russian Crimea to seek the protection of Russia via Russian annexation of a territory that for many hundreds of years has been Russian;
(2) The USA had been deeply implicated in the anti-Russian 2014 coup d’etat in Kiev, and in the build-up of, and continuing assault by, the forces of Kiev against the people’s republics of the Donbass, from 2014 to now;
(3) Early in 2022, Kiev was amassing its forces against the borders of the people’s republics in preparation for a major assault;
(4) The USA was committed to maintaining and enhancing nuclear offensive/defensive facilities targeted against Russia on the borders of Russia in Poland, Romania and, possibly in the future, Ukraine; this was in addition to highly aggressive annual NATO war games on Russian borders with Ukraine, Poland and Romania.
(5) Neither Kiev nor the collective West showed the remotest seriousness about implementing the internationally agreed 2014-2015 Minsk agreements – which were never about making the Donbass oblasts independent, but about giving them a greater autonomy within Ukraine – a move, in other words, towards greater federalism.
(6) Far from being heroic, Zelensky has proven to be a puppet for oligarchs and for western intelligence, misleading the people of Ukraine into thinking that he would do anything serious about corruption or about peace. So far as corruption is concerned he and his acolytes are a major part of the problem as indicated by inclusion of his companies in the Panama Papers of off-shore tax havens. So far as peace is concerned, all he had to do was to take out the Minsk accords from the bottom of his desk. The blueprint for peace had already been drawn up, i’s dotted and t’s crossed. In domestic politics he has been the supreme and supremely simplistic neoliberal, grooming Ukraine for the sell-off of its prized agricultural resources for the benefit of BigAg and, through policies of privatization, practically everything else. In the context of rebuilding the country from scratch after the war he has talked with BlackRock, the supremely powerful American investment fund.
Many, like myself, were deeply indignant on account of the false narratives that western leaders and their acolytes in western mainstream media were spinning as to the reasons for the war and what they claimed was Russian culpability for it. We were indignant, too, at the usual, outrageous mendacity, hypocrisy and hubris that accompanies all the aggressive military adventures of the collective West. In this respect, events in Ukraine 2014-2023 continue to reaffirm and re-express what we have witnessed since the 1989 invasion of Panama, the 1990-91 invasion of Iraq; the 1990s’ break-up of Yugoslavia; the dubious invasion and even more dubious occupation of Afghanistan 2001-2021; the assault, on clearly false pretext, of Iraq in 2003 and its subsequent occupation for well over a decade; the murderous break-up of Libya in 2011; the cooption of the 2011 revolution in Egypt; the attempted break-up of Syria from 2011, in alliance with Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda and ISIS related factions, all bought and paid for by the West, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar; constant war-mongering directed against Iran, mainly on false pretext, on behalf of Israel, in defense of Israel’s continuing occupation of Palestine and Israel’s role as US policeman for the Middle East.
(To name only some of the most nefarious of Washington shenanigans to shore up the fading dynasty of US unipolarity).
A major part of the false or misleading western narratives has been spun in favor of myths of (1) the moral or, perhaps we can say, civilizational superiority, of the collective West (this requires one to forget about western imperialism, colonialism, and multiple genocides, just to get started); (2) the political superiority of the collective West (based on ideas of “democracy,” in which countries continue to be led and manipulated by the same multi-generational plutocratic dynasties that have always ruled them, drawing for their “legitimacy” on the supposed “freedom of speech” exercised by media conglomerates that they own (largely dependent on advertising revenue from large corporations of the automobile, pharmaceutical, cosmetics industries and the like) and which are central to power structures everywhere; (3) the economic superiority of forms of oligopolistic, corporate capitalism which leaves the vast majority of people perched in a state of wage slavery or worse, and which entitles the West to whip its competitors with economic sanctions in order to cripple their economies and preserve them in a state of subservience to the imperial centers; (4) the military superiority of the West in terms of advanced weapons, a theme to which I shall return. For now, I will just say that I know of no category of weapon, least of all nuclear, where Russia is less than a peer of the collective west if not superior to it. I will also note that with respect to the most basic of all weapons – manpower – Russia is currently discussing a second major mobilization that, if implemented, will likely produce another trained 500,000 soldiers by flal 2024.
As we have seen over the past 18 months, the mythological edifice of the collective West, never terribly convincing, if at all, has now been shredded by clear evidence of (1) another “forever” war concocted by Washington necons less than one year after the debacle of the previous “forever” war in Afghanistan, showing that these wars are rarely if ever fought for the reasons given but in order to feed the incubus of the military-industrial complex; (2) despite all its braggadocio, the militaries of the collective West are feeble, unable to defeat even peasant armies, and whose weapons systems are vastly over-complicated and over-expensive to produce in the bulk needed to confront peer armies and whose production systems, driven only by the profit-motive, are wholly unsuited for actually winning wars; and (3) whose economies, hollowed out by the fallacies of the petro-dollar, neoliberalism, monetarization, privatization, financialization, and monopolization, are undermined by the rapid emergence of new, international alliances based on competing, more autonomous and more humanistic principles.
These factors together have finally corroded the idea of a superior western civilization and they promote, in its place, the idea of multiple civilizations, diverse roads to the good life, the possibility of entirely new forms of local, national and global governance, and a promise, even now, that humanity can start to deal with the greatest ecocidal threats of nuclear war and climate change with the urgency, determination and confidence that they require.
If I may at this point, then, return to the battlefield in Ukraine.
The sheer gigantic scale of the stakes here have led some of us, with justification, to breathe a sigh of relief at the evidence, very real, of western weakness and of EurAsian strength. But this has its dangers, and one of those is that of hubris or, in this instance, unwillingness to acknowledge problems with one’s own sources of conviction. My intention is merely to fire a warning shot because I think that some of my colleagues in this general endeavor to save the world from the collective West’s monumental errors when it comes to Ukraine (and, for different reasons, to Taiwan) have become just a tad too jubilant and self-assured.
Part of the cure here is to pay detailed attention to what is actually going on on the ground and in the battlefield. One thing we see when we do this is the grotesque and continuing expenditure of large numbers of human beings, both Ukrainian and, quite a bit less, Russian (I am going to guesstimate: 225,000 Ukrainian dead and wounded, against 75,000 Russian).
Some of those lives are in the city of Russian-controlled Donetsk which, over the past 24 hours or so at the time of writing, has been subject to a newly resurgent battery of Ukrainian artillery attacks and the scattering of butterfly mines, whose targets included a trolley bus and many residential buildings. This is repeating a pattern that goes back to 2015. Unlike most if not all Russian missile barrages these attacks do not appear to have a military purpose; they are simply intended to kill, maime, and terrorize – the kind of thing, in other words, for which Azov and other Banderite movements are well known.
Most of these attacks are launched from Avdievka. For quite some time now, Russia has been slowly advancing on and in the process of encircling Avdievka and it may very well be that Russia will in the near future take control of this town (it has already laid waste to nearby Marinka which, though supposedly still “controlled” by Ukraine, is now just one large, flattened tomb).
But why, given the sheer superiority of Russia in air-defense (including high precision bombing), drones, missiles (from subsonic to supersonic to hypersonic), electronic warfare, surveillance, artillery, armored vehicles, ammunition and manpower, has Russia so far been unable to protect its own people in Donetsk, after eight years?
Why, indeed. There could hardly be an iconically more significant issue for Russia in the former Ukraine than the safety of Donetsk. Explanations as to the “difficulty” or “challenge” of providing safety hardly wash. This is an existential issue, it has to do with why this war is happening, it is an issue that calls for exceptional effort and, if necessary, exceptional risk and sacrifice. If this is not forthcoming then something is very badly wrong at either a strategic or tactical level, probably both.
Nonetheless, when we look at the battlefield as a whole, certainly, we see enough to lend itself to the argument, an argument I frequently make myself, that the Ukrainian counteroffensive is failing and failing badly. Part of the evidence in favour of this conclusion comes from the battlefield itself. From this point, I urge readers (some of whom may not come to this for several days) to bear in mind that situations in war can change very rapidly.
I shall note, first of all, that Ukraine has not been able to puncture the lines of Russian fortifications between Ukrainian positions in Zaporizhzhia and the Azov coast and Crimea. All Ukrainian attempts to do so – the last coming only a day or so ago, at the time of writing, in an ambush of Ukrainian forces in the area north of Robotyne, leading to the loss of battalions’ worth of men (in addition, President Lukashenko of Belarus has claimed, to 15 Leopard II tanks and 20 Bradleys just in one day) – have consistently resulted in Ukrainian debacles, at the cost of hundreds of lives, and dozens of tanks and other armored vehicles.
Secondly, I would point to the numerous Russian advances, slow and deliberate, to be sure, that are evident in the north of the front lines close to Lyman, around Kupyansk, Kreminna, and Svatove, with Russian moves likely in the direction of Zarichne and Dvorichna. I note that war-critic Colonel Douglas Macgregor is talking of there being a force of 100,000 Russians in this area, along with 900 tanks and all other kinds of materiel. In Zaporizhzhia Russian forces are advancing on Ukrainian positions in islands of the Dneiper close to Kherson. Russian attacks on a Ukrainian brigade in and around the Antonovsky bridge have reportedly reduced it to 20% in size. Russia is also moving against Piatykhatsky, on the route to Ukrainian positions in Lobkov and Stepove. Near Avdievka, Russia is likely to move in the directions of Krasnohorivke, Neveske, and Pervomaiske. In the meantime, Russia continues its shelling of grain and ammunition depots in Reni close to Ukraine’s Danube border with Romania.
Russian missile and drone attacks continue across Ukraine on a daily basis, most dramatically on Odessa, and further west have threatened a bridge between Ukraine, Bulgaria and Romania along which Ukrainian grain trains would have to move.
Yet, we also see highly determined Ukrainian attempts to attack areas near Bakhmut that were considered solidly in Russian hands only a few weeks, ago, as evidenced by constant Ukrainian attacks on Klishchiivka (where Ukraine appears to have control over the nearby forest), Kurdiumivka and Ozzrianivka. There is a build up of Ukrainian forces in preparation for a two-pronged attack, possibly next week, on Soledar, Yakolivka, Bilohorivka, and Berestove. There are Ukrainian movements in the direction of Verbove and Urozhaine in Zaporizhzhia. In recent days, there have been several Ukrainian strikes on Crimean ammunitions depots, railway lines, and training groups. These have involved multiple drones and drone storms, and a total of four Storm Shadow missiles, of which none were intercepted. I have previously noted the recent Ukrainian drone attacks on Moscow. Although Russia says all the missiles were intercepted, damage was sustained to two buildings of which one was close to a Ministry of Defense building. Russia clearly has problems of air defense both in Crimea and in Russia.
Ukraine attacks – or threatens attacks – on Russian ships in the Black Sea, including a drone attack in the past 24 hours, at the time of writing, on a Russian surveillance vessel. The ship managed to shoot down the drones. With respect to the grain deal, as I have previously noted, the impact on global grain markets, in particular in the Global South, will almost certainly be far less than the more extreme fears that have been expressed in the UN and Washington. The Ukraine harvest is not good, given the conditions of war, while the global grain harvest is robust. Further, as mentioned by Putin at the Russian African summit this week, Russia will take measures to supply free grain to African countries that would otherwise be in difficulty.
Some kind of deal may still be afoot between Ukraine and Turkey for the re-establishment of safe shipping lanes for Ukrainian grain, under the protection of NATO warships. This is a worrying escalatory possibility. It may be made worse by Ukraine’s attacks on the Danube ports of Reni and Izmail. Ukraine is already losing money by having to switch from shipping to rail for its deliveries of grain to Europe and other destinations, since trains cannot compete with ships in the volumes of grain they can carry. Now that Russia is bombing grain stores and rail connections with the Danube, Ukraine has greater cause to resort to Turkey’s and NATO’s assistance. Turkey has also been impoverished by the end of the grain deal, since it made quite a lot of money by processing raw Ukrainian grain into flour. Turkey is a crucial player with whom NATO must deal in the matter of the Montreaux Convention and what can and cannot pass through the Dardenelles.
Any and all of this should be enough to at least give one pause. On the other hand, it is the second part of the evidence for a failing UCO that should be just as compelling, and that has to do with estimations as to existing Ukrainian manpower and existing Ukrainian stockpiles of air-defense, artillery, ammunition and so on.
Current estimates appear to converge on the end of August as the time by which Ukraine will begin running out – of practically everything – or on some point of time between the end of August, the beginning of the mud season in mid-October or at least, by the end of the year. The evidence for this, backed not simply by clear indications of declining western confidence in the war, but by assessments of declining weapons stocks from which the west is still prepared to draw for the purpose of extending further aid to Ukraine. This latter is quite solid, but never quite solid enough. One should also take note of convincing indications of a rapid expansion of Russian weapons production capability of the order in 2023 of twelve times its 2021 capacity.
Russian General Mordvikhev in recent interview (one that appears to have had the approval of the Russian MOD), and on the basis of the multiple reasons I have also considered over recent weeks (e.g. scale of recent Ukrainian losses, scale of Russian military build-up, petering out of western weapons aid), estimates that the Ukrainian offensive will exhaust itself by or from the end of August. It will be followed by a pause during which the initiative will pass firmly to Russia. But the war, he says, will be over by the Spring.
In this light, we have to distinguish between the effective end of the Ukraine counteroffensive (one that I and others think may come as soon as the end of August) and the actual end of the war. Between the two is some form of Russian advance, or advances, big or incremental or somewhere in between. Others have suggested the war will end by the fall of 2024. Mordvikhev describes the current situation as one of “active defense” for Russia, whose measures will snowball into an active Russian offensive on all fronts. More time is needed, but this will happen in the near future. There will not be “big arrow” offensives, but advances all across the front lines – rather as is currently the case, leading to an eventual military collapse of the Ukrainian army. It remains to ask: where will all these multiple advances go, when will they stop?
Who knows what efforts are being made behind the scenes, what schemes are being conjectured by intelligence agencies, what low-resource acts of terrorism that the collective West, with Ukraine, can come up with to shock Russia sufficiently in its tracks?
The game is not over, as they say, until the Fat Lady sings, and in this game one is never entirely sure who the Fat Lady is and where she can be found. Warsaw? If Warsaw looks west and sees what some have estimated to be Ukrainian losses of a battalion a day, afflicting an army from whose fortunes the West is feeling increasingly disengaged, its political and military leaders might well think twice. But if in looking west it is looking only so far as the Dnieper, well, perhaps. But then, it must still take account of Lukashenko’s assurances that it will respond to any request for assistance to west Ukrainian forces in resistance against a Polish invasion. Veteran Indian diplomat M.K. Bhadrakumar thinks it doubtful that Poland really is strong enough to fight Russia. It has an army of 150,000 of whom 30,000 constitute a weekend territorial army. Bhadrakumar presumes that a Polish invasion would indeed lead to its war with Russia, although one scenario suggested by Putin, is that Russia would leave Poland to deal with the hornets’ nest of western Ukraine. Polish elections in November may be of critical significance.
Russia’s General Shoigu is visiting Pyongyan in North Korea to celebrate what North Korea considers was its victory over South Korea in 1953. This is the highest level Russian visit to North Korea since a visit by Putin in 2000/2001. Russia has in the past joined the West in sanctioning North Korea for its nuclear weapons development, but this visit may suggest a new era in relations between the two countries. Russia may be looking for additional assistance in shells production, including in cluster munitions production. North Korea has an enormous stockpile of shells and has one of the largest facilities for producing them. This is just one more instance of how the litany of aggressive NATO moves in both the West and the East is helping solidify alliances that look very likely sooner or later to challenge western hegemony and in doing so destroy NATO itself.