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THE RUSSO-UKRAINIAN CONFLICT: A WAR FOR WHOM?

YVES BONNET titled “THE RUSSO-UKRAINIAN CONFLICT: A WAR FOR WHOM?”

Link : https://cf2r.org/tribune/le-conflit-russo-ukrainien-une-guerre-pour-qui/

Brief History of Ukraine

Legally, Ukraine was born in the 20th century, specifically on March 17, 1917, by separating from Russia and Austria-Hungary; thus, it emerged as a young nation from a long Polish and Lithuanian occupation and underwent various annexations, mostly Russian. The word Ukraine (“borderland”) corresponds to that of Krajina, this undefined area found between Serbia and Croatia. The disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian empire allowed the emergence of a West Ukrainian People’s Republic, the ZUNK, but Polish and Romanian agreements at the Peace Conference put an end to Ukrainian hopes.

Paradoxically, nearly thirty years later, it was the Soviets who provided Ukrainians with their first form of statehood by uniting the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, and the Transcaucasian Soviet Socialist Republic. Two visions for the future of these territorial and human entities clashed: that of Stalin, who pushed for the amalgamation of the four republics; and that of Lenin, who advocated for a federation; the latter prevailed. From this point, Ukraine enjoyed unexpected autonomy. However, the worst was yet to come with the endless war between the White zarist and Red communist forces: for the populations, who were at the beginning of their suffering, the belligerents lived off the country and starved them.

The Bolsheviks eventually prevailed: the previously Russian part, with Kyiv as its capital, was integrated into the USSR; while the previously Austrian part, with Lviv, became Polish. The small Subcarpathian Ukraine voted for annexation to Czechoslovakia, and Bukovina to Romania. Peace brought little, if not the Sovietization undertaken under the name of “indigenization,” which aimed to liberate the non-national minorities contested by Ukrainian communists. Kaganovich, a Ukrainian Jew protected by Stalin, emerged, promoting Ukrainization, with the immediate effect of the widespread use of Ukrainian, but could not prevent the spread of Russian in the cities. Industrialization advanced by leaps and bounds. Ukraine was one of its lands of excellence: the largest hydroelectric power plant in Europe was built on the Dnipro, and the Donbas mining basin saw the consecration of the nobility of labor with the largely exaggerated myth of Stakhanovism. Stalin changed direction in 1923 with Russification at the expense of Ukrainian nationalism. In 1929, an exemplary trial for its scope sent the cream of the Ukrainian intelligentsia to the execution post, prison, or Gulag. This was followed by what constitutes the main milestones of Ukraine’s Sovietization: the famines of 1922 and 1933, the latter, known as the Holodomor, causing four million deaths. Ukraine would suffer the ordinary fate of Soviet oppression with another famine in 1947 and the great purges of 1937. When the German Ost Heer penetrated Ukraine, it was well-received by a population satisfied with the retreat of the oppressor. This is the first and profound break between “Russians” and “Ukrainians” with the creation of a Ukrainian state vassal and ally of the Third Reich and the enlistment under the swastika banner of enough manpower to create an entire Waffen SS division. This is not the only Ukrainian commitment alongside the Nazis: volunteers flood in to reinforce other SS divisions and in the management of concentration camps. Witness also the commitment of numerous Ukrainians in the police forces, the Ukrainian Legion, the 201st Schutzmannschaft battalion, the Ukrainian Liberation Army, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), and especially the 14th division of the Waffen SS mentioned earlier, the Galicia division.

Even today, as we will see later, there are remnants like the now-famous Azov Regiment whose soldiers wear badges inspired by those of the Waffen SS. On a territorial level, the joint invasion of Poland by the USSR and Germany in 1939 allows Soviet Ukraine to expand its territory, but at the price of Stalinist repression, bringing us back to the Soviet atrocities and the entry of the Ost Heer into Ukraine two years later, welcomed as liberators by a significant part of the population. This population quickly adopts Nazi practices: Jews are killed in large numbers as is the communist apparatus of the people’s commissars. Other Ukrainians, remaining loyal to their Russian ancestries, enlist in the Red Army. They pay with 1.377,000 dead. In 1945, at Stalin’s request, Ukraine becomes, alongside Russia and Belarus, one of the founding members of the UN. Four cities, Odessa, Kerch, Sevastopol, and Kyiv are declared “hero cities” by the Soviet Union. The massive population transfers resulting from the Yalta and Potsdam conferences are the consequence of the westward shift of the USSR’s borders. Part of Poland is annexed to the Ukrainian SSR, as is Subcarpathian Ruthenia, several Romanian islands in the Black Sea, and, in 1954, to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Pereyaslav, Crimea – the latter modification on Khrushchev’s orders. In total, Ukraine gains 15% of territory but loses more than 7 million citizens. It then counts 36 million inhabitants, two of whom are promised an interesting future: Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev.

In the post-Stalin era, the Ukrainian Communist Party pushes various pieces – Kirichenko, Podgorny – and their immediate collaborators. The annexation of Crimea is better understood, justified also by the agricultural failure for which the Russian settlers, who do not adapt to the climatic conditions, are responsible. Khrushchev, having risen to power in Moscow, proves to be a good administrator and a fine politician by loosening the noose of Stalinization, rehabilitates the Ukrainian Catholic Church but intensifies the repression of the Orthodox Church. In any case, the worm is in the fruit.

Russia and NATO Expansion

The fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) resulted in Ukraine transforming from a satellite state to a fully sovereign state. However, the two neighbors remain closely united, especially economically, with the gas pipeline passage and the complementarity of their industries. But in the shadows, the United States, which had given Putin the firmest assurances about Russia’s security, does not intend to let the opportunity slip to push their advantage and advance their pawns to the heart of the new Russia. The chronology of this strategy is clear, and Putin quickly understands: assurance given to Gorbachev in 1997 by George Bush and James Baker that NATO would never take advantage of Russia’s eclipse to advance even an inch eastward. Assertion confirmed by Roland Dumas; refusal to consider the Russian request for non-expansion of NATO (1997 borders) and non-nuclearization of Eastern Europe; continuation of containment through the overthrow of Arab regimes favorable to Moscow (Iraq, Libya, Syria) and weakening of theocratic Iran; refusal of the request to stop Kiev’s policy of “derussification” of Ukraine and subjugation of the Russian-speaking and Russophile provinces of the East. Ukraine becomes, despite itself, the theater of a confrontation between the United States, seeking to push their advantage through a policy of dual containment based on a Ukraine anchored to Europe and NATO, and Russia, which refuses the installation of the Atlantic Alliance on its border that multiplies its own aggressions.

In Ukraine, a crucial theater of this confrontation, each side has its champion, Yushchenko for the United States, Yanukovich for Russia, with unequal stakes at play. Bolstered by Washington’s financial support, the “pro-Westerners” unleash the “Orange Revolution” that deposes Yanukovich, despite his electoral victory. The OTPOR movement – which brought down Milosevic in Serbia and then engaged in the Rose Revolution in Georgia – plays an active role in the sedition. For her part, Yulia Tymoshenko, the darling of the West, plays between the two rivals and manages to be appointed head of government. The European Union, led by Commission President Barroso, intervenes by promising Ukraine financial aid on the condition of integrating into the EU. The failure of the Yushchenko government brings the pro-Russian Yanukovich to power, intolerable for the United States, which relaunches the sedition. Tymoshenko is subsequently tried and imprisoned for corruption, an endemic evil in the country. Ukraine then knows a certain respite and a return of some prosperity supported by Russia. One might believe in pacification, wisdom commanding that everyone mind their own business.

On the contrary, starting from 2014, provocations multiply, the first and most serious being the Maidan coup financed by Washington, as Ambassador Victoria Nuland would boast – advancing the figure of five billion dollars for its financing -, with the complicity of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED); the second, which goes unnoticed, is the blocking of Southstream at the level of Bulgaria. The provocative ban on the Russian language in the eastern provinces of Ukraine is added.

Putin responds on three fronts: he intervenes to save Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, the last bulwark against the Islamic State and a passage point for the Kuwait/Turkey pipeline, following the requests of the Crimean Rada for reintegration into the Russian empire. In these two cases, for the Kremlin, it is a matter of securing Russia’s access to warm seas. Finally, he annexes Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The change of status and nationality of Crimea, ratified by two electoral consultations within a week by the population, is based on the precedent of Kosovo, which it matches in all points. Instead of making it the starting point for a consultation that would have led to the de jure recognition of the State of Kosovo, the United States turns it into a useless and incoherent hobbyhorse against their own principles.

Indeed, two significant facts emerge that will offer new light on the unrest beginning on the peninsula: the United States, like Germany and France, pretend to ignore that there are many defections in the Ukrainian army, unwilling to participate in order maintenance operations. This is also why the government that emerged from the Maidan coup resorts to militias – some openly neo-Nazi – to suppress the unrest. Massacres are perpetrated on which the Western media are silent as they did in Bosnia twenty years before.

Consequences of the Annexation of Crimea

To sanction Crimea’s secession, the West reacts as it knows how, with an overused recipe: the embargo. Applied to Haiti, Iraq, Iran, this ignominy has no other result than to multiply the victims of all kinds. In Baghdad, it’s a million Iraqis, women, and children first, dying in the name of a more than questionable morality, actually the right of the strongest. Unintended consequences ensue: the Russian economy reacts contrary to the hopes of Americans and Europeans. Industrial growth, halted for two years, resumes stronger than before, not only for the regeneration of weapon factories but also for the development of its own industry and agriculture: Russia moves from the field of grain importing countries to that of exporters. Shipbuilding recovers color while France alone loses the market for Mistral-class amphibious assault ships and a good part of its credibility as an arms exporter.

Negotiations are initiated in Minsk under the aegis of Germany and France leading to agreements guaranteed by the two “neutral” countries. Confirmation will be given in 2022 by former Chancellor Merkel and former President Hollande specifying that the signature of the two European countries was only a war stratagem intended to give Ukraine the necessary time for its rearmament. Such an admission weighs heavily because it chips away at the received idea of a gratuitous Russian aggression in 2022.

Kiev’s Offensive

Similarly, on February 17, 2022, Kyiv launches a military action to reconquer the Donetsk and Luhansk republics, well aware that Moscow cannot remain without reacting. It’s a trap. It is Machiavellian in the sense that, from October 2021 to February 2022, Russia took care not to provoke any incident despite the multiplication of flights and sea patrols in the immediate vicinity of their territory.

The bombardments intensify on the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, which have risen as autonomous republics (16,000 dead in seven years from 2015 to 2022). It is also necessary to refer to the statement of the Russian ambassador to the UN on November 11, 2021, stating that “Russia has never planned the invasion of Ukraine and this will never happen unless we are provoked by Ukraine or someone else and Russia’s national sovereignty is threatened.” For his part, Sergey Lavrov, head of diplomacy, does not exclude that Kyiv might venture into a military operation in the Donbass. These are facts silenced by a Western press that decided to accuse its own dog of rabies to kill it.

The Sabotage Action of the United States

Logically to the end, the United States goes to sabotage the NordStream pipeline to make definitive the rupture of Europe’s and particularly Germany’s relationship with Russia, then organize logistical, military, and financial support to Ukraine. They deploy the formidable propaganda tool represented by their media. The similarities are numerous between the Ukrainian crisis and the preparation of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, over which the media shamelessly gloss: the Americans have constructed a non-existent threat with the consequences we know. I personally met in Baghdad the Swedish ambassador Ekeus, head of the UN inspection and control mission for weapons of mass destruction, and asked him about the results of his investigations. I received only an embarrassed silence while children died by the hundreds due to the lack of medicine. Remember, the blockade caused the death of a million children and adults in Iraq.

The Conduct of the War between Ukraine and Russia

As for Ukraine, I will limit myself to providing factual elements that cannot be denied, but of which the actors might not have been aware in real-time Britain collaborates actively in arming Ukraine: weapons and materials, military advisors, surveillance.

On February 17, 2022, Kyiv launches a military action to reconquer the Donetsk and Luhansk republics. This attack is launched with NATO’s support. The Western media remain silent and probably await a reaction from Moscow. They are not disappointed. President Putin, who was probably only waiting for this to fulfill the duty of assistance to the forgotten provinces of eastern Ukraine, crosses the Rubicon, in this case, the Dnieper, and enters Ukrainian territory. He becomes the aggressor in the eyes of the entire world: his justifications change nothing, especially when they are addressed to a Western public opinion that is prejudiced. The Americans have won the first round.

In reality, looking closer, what the “military experts” avoid saying is that the Russian military force is not impressive: the first assault wave counts 60,000 men (compared to the 265,000 soldiers of the Iraq invasion) and the military force between 120,000 and 150,000. Without being a great strategist, it is evident that this was a “special military operation” and not an invasion threatening the entirety of Europe. The capture of Kyiv seems implausible knowing that the Russian army is a limited force attacking a city of 12,000 km² with more than 4 million inhabitants. Moreover, military staff, no matter the side they belong to, know that the Russian army is prepared for defense and not for external operations as European and American armies are. The fall of the Berlin Wall ratified this configuration with drastic cuts to budgets, except for the nuclear submarine force. The resumption begins in the 2000s with Putin’s rise to power.

NATO and US Psychological Warfare

Simultaneously, psychological warfare is unleashed, proof that the NATO camp was waiting for this moment. It begins by glorifying the Ukrainian army for its resistance to the invader. It continues by stating that the Russian army failed in the conquest of Kyiv, when such a capture was simply impossible for a numerically inferior army, unfamiliar with the territory, and unprepared for urban guerrilla warfare. For comparison, remember that the IDF deployed in Gaza, on a smaller territory, 180,000 men in front of a Hamas resistance of 20,000 men.

The claim that Russian superiority would be overwhelming is refuted by numbers: the government of Kyiv has 250,000 soldiers, the second largest contingent in Europe (after the Russian army), 53,000 border guards, the National Guard (60,000 men), and foreign military advisors. It’s not a small army, especially since it has been tempered in the fights against the Donbass separatists. The Russian forces attacking Ukraine do so with a very unfavorable force ratio, in the order of 1 to 3. Add to this that the Ukrainian army had established, particularly around the Donbass, very solid defense lines.

The fighting stabilizes after a few weeks which saw Russian forces retreat to the level of the imaginary line of separation between Ukraine and the eastern oblasts. From both sides, it’s realized that the two belligerents have bluffed, the Americans betting on Moscow’s passivity, the latter betting that the concentration of troops at the border would deter Kyiv.

The real trigger, the Ukrainian attack of February 17, is passed over in silence and the Kremlin “forgets” to mention it. A serious error that will not be easy to correct.

Quickly, discrete negotiations begin, in Istanbul, with Israel’s mediation. They proceed well, but Boris Johnson intervenes to sabotage them behind the scenes. The former British Prime Minister embodies Russo-phobic activism in ideological rupture with the spirit of the war that seals the fate of the Second World War.

On the ground, the Russian general staff knows that it will not win a war but will save millions of Russians from a coexistence made impossible with Ukrainians, who are not only Russian-speaking and Russophile but simply Russian. It regroups its forces, reinforces positions, and continues operations with its weapons, in which it excels, artillery, and the sky. Ukrainians fall into the trap, deceived by the ease with which they receive heterogeneous weapons, insufficiently supplied, which the enemy takes care to bomb. The propaganda, which to express itself needs all Russian media to be banned as in the best moments of the inquisition, announces the reconquest, victories, Russian failures, a great offensive for June 2023.

By February, the balance sheet is not at all as depicted in the unanimous press: Russian forces are firmly attached to 18% of the territory they hold, Ukrainian assaults are repelled despite numerical superiority, and losses become unsustainable.

As of February 9, 2024, the TASS agency provides the following numbers on Ukrainian losses: 570 airplanes, 265 helicopters, 12,137 drones, 464 anti-aircraft systems, 14,953 tanks and other armored vehicles, 1,218 multiple rocket launchers, 80,000 pieces of artillery and mortars, 18,404 special vehicles. It’s reasonable to think that deliveries barely compensate for the losses and that fatigue is visible. The most severe is that Ukrainian human losses are heavy: from 400,000 to 500,000 dead against 80,000 for the Russian side. In the last week, Ukrainian losses would be 2,500 dead according to the Russian general staff. Experts who populated radio and TV programs predicting the Russian collapse must confront reality and begin to predict at least the definitive stabilization of Russian advances.

Russian Military Advances and Sanctions

Once again, the Russian steamroller demonstrates its irresistible strength, whether celebrated or feared. It will be very difficult to dislodge an army that hardens, supported by a population that has plebiscited it, whether admitted or not, and fears the return of Ukrainians and fights to maintain its status as Russian land.

Meanwhile, the sanctions imposed on the economy, assets, and Russian trade prove to be ineffective, given that the growth rate of a country that Bruno Le Maire predicted to fall is triple ours (3.6 points versus 1.01). Yet, the precedent of the 2015 sanctions could have taught us something, with the consequences of the stop of French grain exports to a large customer who became one of our competitors and the cancellation of the agreement for two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships. In the war of communiques, where the EU distinguishes itself for its partisanship and echoes found from the Cold War propaganda, Human Rights Watch has denounced the massacre of 8,000 civilians in Mariupol. Moscow points the finger at neo-Nazi militias.

Conclusion

If after two years of war we absolutely had to draw lessons, we could propose the following: The United States has not achieved its war objectives. They failed to “make” the government of Kyiv “return” its “lost territories”. Even better, Russia, which perhaps had no intention of doing so before the escalation of Ukrainian artillery on the self-proclaimed republics of Donbass, has annexed the four dissenting oblasts, following a procedure (referendum, deliberation of the Duma) that many countries in the world will deem valid. This “return” to the Russian orbit will be very difficult to contest while the precedent of Kosovo can be legitimately invoked. When the concept of state sovereignty is violated, Pandora’s box is opened: it’s what the vast majority of EU members did. Spain, Bulgaria, Slovakia, more consistent with themselves, have refused to recognize an independent state of Kosovo. Russia, on the other hand, has taken the same liberties with international law as the EU. As for NATO, it has long respected nothing, not even the UN resolutions.

Russia has expanded with Russian-speaking and Russophile territories in the industrialized part of the country. It has recovered the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and strengthened its access to the Black Sea. Aside from the European Union, its foreign relations have not been affected by sanctions: the BRICS group has never been stronger and threatens the long-term dominance of the dollar. Russian media outlets, banned by the President of the European Commission and the French government in the name of a very particular conception of democracy, like Tass, Sputnik, or Russia Today, make use of those from neutral countries. It’s the only way to approach the truth and relativize the accusations of war crimes or genocide expressed without measure by Western journalists like Christine Ockrent, not previously known in this light. The downside of brainwashing is that it triggers an opposite reaction to the expected one at the first event that does not go in the direction of the propagandists. Vladimir Putin has perfectly understood how to dismantle this strategy, in this case learning lessons from the Yugoslav precedent. Accused somewhat lightly of being seriously ill or threatened with being deposed by a lobby led by Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian leader – who it is recalled is under international arrest warrant – afforded himself the luxury of granting a very long interview to the American journalist Tucker Carlson on February 8, 2024. The matter made a lot of noise… outside Europe. The Russian leader appeared at his best, lucid and moderate, totally master of his subject. He knew not to present himself as a lawyer but as a politician. A few days later, to reinforce his good mental and physical health, he was filmed at the controls of a large Ilyushin – the largest in the world. These performances place him well above Joe Biden, whose intellectual and physical fatigue opens a boulevard to his rival Donald Trump.

The Russian military-industrial complex has extraordinarily reconstituted itself. It now ensures without fail the supply of an artillery that consumes a lot, which holds the frontline and inflicts severe losses on the enemy. On the other hand, European factories prove incapable of maintaining a production rate that should reach a million rounds a year to match that of Russia alone. It’s worth noting, the production of shells requires the use of chemicals that only Russia can supply. Furthermore, to complete the picture, it’s important to know that North Korea and Iran contribute to the supply of munitions for the Russian army.

Ukraine is the part most heavily impacted by the conflict: unsustainable human losses, on the order of half a million, devastations due to bombings given the overwhelming superiority of Russian artillery added to total control of the skies. The frenzied consumption of munitions, breaking the records of World War I, has emptied NATO’s arsenals, which, in turn, offers no alternatives. External aids, based on a short war, decrease and in the United States resistances emerge to continue without a foreseeable end the supplies and financial support. It’s not the treaty signed with President Macron that changes the situation, especially considering that France is on the verge of bankruptcy and its army is no longer able to defend the national territory. Like the Bundeswehr, the French army has only one or two days’ worth of munitions. This last observation is all the more serious considering that it’s fashionable to believe in a Russian army offensive towards NATO, something fortunately President Putin does not contemplate. But what to think of a French president who risks extending the conflict by depleting French arsenals?

The Ukrainian army faces a severe crisis of command: General Valery Zaluzhny was abruptly dismissed, and the new chief of staff, General Alexander Syrsky, is said to be very unpopular among the military who treat him as a “butcher” and “General 200”. He himself admits the need to “rebuild the Ukrainian armed forces”.

Reason would dictate an end to the fighting, and Vladimir Putin seems to accept the principle. But Volodymyr Zelensky has committed so much, and Western propaganda has so unleashed that it’s hard for Ursula Von der Leyen and Emmanuel Macron to admit they will not win and that it’s necessary to lay down arms. Hubert Védrine recently wrote that the situation has every chance of freezing because Russia will never agree to return to Ukraine territories whose inhabitants are vigorously hostile to any status quo ante. Putin has understood this, the people are willing to pay the price. Even stronger: Russia can sustain an enormous war effort without bringing its economy to its knees as “the enormous” Bruno Le Maire had predicted. The Yugoslav precedent weighs heavily in this state of mind. Having followed the German and Vatican policy on this subject, I believe Europe has earned the right to silence. The embargo without concessions imposed on a courageous people – as was done to another courageous people, the Iraqis – comes back like a boomerang in the face of those who launched it. And it’s not a bad thing, after all.

In conclusion, the two most evident lessons of this war are the defeat of propaganda and the weakness of a NATO that not long ago the French president declared “brain dead”. In a field where the United States disposes of resources far superior to those of their potential opponent, with the most colossal budget in the world, they have not managed to reverse the course of a conflict that Russia was forbidden to lose. Because it was about the very existence not only of the Russian Federation but of a nation that recovers from everything: from communism, from the degradation of its production means, from the living standard of its inhabitants, from numerous defections. The Russian people, it’s not nothing. It’s the reed of the fable: it bends to the breaking point but never breaks. Twice, in the last two centuries, the invader has reached Moscow. Neither the Grande Armée nor the Ost Heer won for that. I’ll let you guess why.

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