Ukraine – the relief of Debaltsevo
One month on from the junta’s ill-fated winter offensive, the relief
When the illegal junta in Kiev began its winter offensive on 18 January, Poroshenko and his NATO masters had high hopes that the breathing space that had been afforded by last September’s Minsk “ceasefire” accords would have given them long enough to replenish their forces and crush the resistance forces of the Donbass. Instead, the spectacular collapse of the new offensive has driven the junta to sue for peace, signing the Minsk II accords that agreed a new ceasefire from 15 February.
Needless to say, the junta is no more sincere in its adherence to the ceasefire provisions of Minsk II than it proved itself to be in the case of Minsk I, still dreaming that a future third or fourth offensive could transform the whole of Ukraine into an outright colony of NATO. But it is far from clear that, as the war drags on, Germany and France, who played such a significant role in brokering Minsk II, will be prepared indefinitely to stake their own economies on the uncertain fortunes of a war designed primarily to serve the geopolitical interests of US imperialism.
If Washington presses on with its plans openly to run lethal weapons to the junta, and puts pressure on European faint-hearts to follow suit, it could find itself shaking the very ground on which NATO now stands: the unequal imperialist alliance led by the US and tail-ended by Europe. Minsk II, whether it holds or not, will be universally understood as a Russian initiative, brokered with Europe, and running against the grain of US imperialist policy.
Kiev’s January offensive
Kiev’s mid-January attempt to resume the military offensive, officially suspended since the Minsk accords of last September, has backfired spectacularly on the Kiev regime. At no point had Kiev adhered to the ceasefire upon which the accords insisted, continuing to shell schools, factories and hospitals at will. Yet the September deal, brokered by Russia and coming on the back of the striking advances made by the liberation forces in late August, nevertheless marked the beginning of a long and bloody stalemate.
In this period, the junta contented itself with a grisly war of attrition against the people’s militias and against the civilian population on the south and east of Ukraine. In parallel with this came the economic war of attrition against Russia and the regime’s severing of all public service and infrastructural links with the Donbass. And the soundtrack for this many-sided war of attrition was provided by the media, pumping out ever more reckless and brazen lies designed to keep public opinion in the imperialist homelands ignorant of what was really being done in the name of freedom and democracy.
But with the dawning of a new year, and with the anti-fascist militias showing no signs of folding their tents, the junta (doubtless having been tipped the wink by its imperialist masters, and having profited from the phony “ceasefire” to replenish its forces) roused itself to attempt a decisive military offensive, in order to break the stalemate and win back the initiative. Yet despite deploying tanks, artillery and air forces, the Ukrainian forces gained little or no ground. Worse, in just the first 16 days of the onslaught, Ukraine’s army succeeded in losing 136 tanks, 110 combat infantry vehicles and armoured vehicles, 80 artillery units and mortars and 58 cars.
Setbacks for the junta
The militia’s recapture of Donetsk airport, the regime’s sole toehold in Donetsk, was a major blow to the junta, and highlighted the incompetence and desperation of the Ukraine army’s military leadership. An article in the Los Angeles Times by Sergei L. Loiko reveals something of the mentality of the leadership.
“At one point, in a desperate bid to rescue his men, Moysyuk borrowed a couple of armored vehicles with drivers from another brigade. But the drivers refused to go into what they knew was a fiery hell. So Moysyuk’s own officers drove into the fog that had descended on the tarmac. Misled by the fog, they arrived at a different building, where they were surrounded by the enemy… The next day, the remaining paratroopers were ordered to attack the airport head-on.’This is just sheer idiocy!’ exclaimed an airborne battalion commander, Maj. Ruslan Prusov. ‘We are not infantry; we are paratroops. We need some armor to travel on into battle. We don’t have it.'” (‘How Ukraine’s outgunned “Cyborgs” lost Donetsk Airport’, 28 January)
Worse was to come for Poroshenko, with the news that 8,000 of the regime forces, thrusting deep into liberated territory but over-stretching supply lines, had found themselves being cut off and surrounded by militia forces. On 5 February the Russian TV Channel REN-TV reported that the Debaltsevo “cauldron” has at last been closed, trapping the hapless Kiev forces inside. In the town of Debaltsevo itself, junta forces remained trapped when the new ceasefire kicked in, and continued to try to fight their way out. This military action was necessarily countered by the surrounding resistance forces, and on 18 February the town was finally liberated by the resistance. An unknown number of Ukrainian forces remain trapped within the “cauldron”. The junta itself estimates that at least 1,500 of their troops are missing in action.
The liberation of Debaltsevo and the encirclement of enemy forces is a very important achievement of the resistance. The town is a strategic rail junction and effectively links up the forces of the two people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk.
Raising the Russian bogeyman
Such setbacks for their protégés have inspired panic and dismay in the West. Exactly as happened last August, when the Ukraine army met with similarly startling reverses, Washington and Kiev are squawking about “Russian invaders” – anything rather than admit that the country’s official army is no tactical match for the despised “separatist gangs” which are now (literally) running circles around it.
Yet no less a personage than the chief of staff of Ukraine’s army, General Viktor Muzhenko, has gone on record to state that the only Russians that are fighting in Ukraine either live there or have come from Russia under their own steam (as “members of illegal armed groups“). Lest there should be any remaining confusion, Muzhenko spells it out: “The Ukrainian army is not fighting with the regular units of the Russian army“. (Eric Zuesse, ‘Ukrainian Government: “No Russian Troops Are Fighting Against Us'”, posted on Global Research on 31 January).
Leaving aside what the Russian foreign ministry has contemptuously dismissed as the “hallucinations of Russian invasion”, the only substantiated sightings of Russian trucks streaming over the border are of those ferrying in humanitarian assistance to the Donbass. On Saturday 31 January two such convoys of over 170 trucks crossed the border, carrying several tons of food, medicine and building materials. The convoy underwent inspection by Ukrainian border control with the help of specially trained sniffer dogs, and the whole operation was overseen by the OSCE. This is the twelfth such humanitarian operation undertaken by Russia.
The real culprits are imperialism and its lackeys
Meanwhile, whilst Obama publicly anguishes over whether or not to supply lethal weapons to the junta, on 2 February TASS reported the speaker of Lugansk’s People’s Council as revealing that NATO is already in it up to the neck. ” “The fact that in the past several days LPR’s specialists have recovered fragments of munitions bearing NATO marks from sites of shelling by the Ukrainian army is of special concern. Now, the North Atlantic Alliance is killing our fellow countrymen not only with the hands of Polish and Lithuanian gunmen who were earlier commissioned to the so-called ‘Ukrainian volunteer battalions,’ but also it provides lethal weapons so that the Kiev regime continue to shed the blood of children and the elder people.”
We should expand the roster of fascist expats to accommodate such as Mikael Skillt, whom the BBC reported in July last year as being an ex-Swedish army white supremacist recruited into the fascist Azov Brigade as a sniper, one of four Swedish recruits. Azov’s leader brags that the brigade has recruited from Ireland, Italy, Greece and Scandinavia. Russia’s Ren-TV investigated the involvement of mercenaries from a number of EU states. Its journalists visited Sweden, Poland, the UK and Italy and found proof that ‘consulting agencies’ were sending hired guns to fight for the Ukrainian army.
It is well known that at the height of the Iraq war private security personnel hired by contractors like Blackwater actually outnumbered the regular troops. A German business consultant, Michael Luders, told Phoenix TV on 23 January that there are 500 mercenaries in the Ukraine, all of them trained experts, requisitioned in cooperation between the US and Kiev.
Low morale of Kiev forces
If and when the West chooses to go public on its supply of lethal weapons, this of itself offers no guarantee that fortune will smile on the junta’s genocidal efforts. Kiev’s flat-footed stormtroopers have already demonstrated how easy it is to lose vast quantities of war materiel when the army is led by donkeys, and doubts have been raised in the imperialist camp over how quickly the junta’s forces could hope to master all that hi-tech wizardry. TheSunday Times interviewed a forme(!) British soldier of Ukrainian descent who told them that “Six out of ten casualties among the Ukrainian volunteers occur because of blue-on-blue shooting [i.e. so-called “friendly fire”] and the inability to handle weapons“. The same mercenary averred that there are around thirty volunteer battalions operating with no central command, no coordination and no standard radio frequencies for mutual communication. (Bojan Pancevski, ‘Half Ukrainian fighters killed by poor kit and friendly fire’, Sunday Times,22 February 2015).
It is hard to overestimate the appalling levels of morale now prevalent in Ukraine’s armed forces and in the ‘home front’. At the beginning of February, hundreds of people tried to storm Poroshenko’s presidential administration office, breaking through a cordon of National Guard in full riot gear. They demanded the resignation of the Defence Minister and the Prosecutor-General, and the withdrawal of the 25th Kievan Rus battalion from Debaltsevo. Meanwhile, at the front, ‘anti-retreat’ units drawn from special battalions were used against the regular troops to prevent them from retreating or surrendering during a night battle. Despite such efforts, 70 Ukrainian soldiers have surrendered since 9 January. So many officers have been lost that students fresh out of military school have had their studies curtailed and been sent half-trained to fill the gaps in the officer ranks. Parents are responding by staging protest rallies and blockading the military academies and universities.
The regime’s lack of confidence in its ability to enthuse its own population into fighting a war against their brothers in the south and east is evident from the manner in which the draft is being unrolled. The mobilisation for 2015 is intended to squeeze another 100,000 recruits out of a population already close to the end of its tether. Recruitment will focus on men aged between 25 and 60 – ‘old men’ in military terms. Female nurses will also be caught in the net. The popularity of these measures may be judged by the proliferation on the internet of offers of legal advice and promises of fake medical certificates for those wanting to dodge the draft. Threats of five-year jail sentences for draft dodgers are supplemented by new powers for army commanders to gun down deserters on the spot.
By contrast, the armed forces of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), for all their inferiority in numbers and weapons, have no need to resort to such measures to persuade the militiamen to fight. Unlike the demoralised troops of a national army hijacked by a fascist junta and dedicated to the service of NATO, the militias are engaged in a people’s war, well aware of the historic revolutionary and anti-fascist traditions of the Donbass. On 2 February the DPR too announced the plan to raise their forces to 100,000 in a voluntary mobilisation. The purpose of the mobilisation is to be prepared for a likely attack by the enemy massing its troops in the south. Five or more additional units will be formed and trained, including motorised rifle, artillery and tank brigades.
The junta’s prisoner exchange negotiator, noting that morale among the captured Ukrainian troops is bad, acknowledged that the Donetsk people’s militia had provided wounded POWs with medical assistance. The resistance has been hindered in the humane task of collecting and identifying the enemy slain by the fact that Ukrainian troops and National Guards have been trained to booby-trap corpses with explosives.
Thieves fall out
The crucial talks in Moscow between Vladimir Putin and German chancellor Angela Merkel along with French president François Hollande, talks at which John Kerry was nowhere to be seen, came just at the moment when the US and its creature NATO are indulging in ever-louder thinking on the question of delivering lethal weapons to the Kiev forces, and give a startling glimpse of the potential abyss opening up within the imperialist camp over the Ukraine war. Germany, France, Italy and Finland have all ruled out the supply of weapons to Kiev, and even Britain has sounded a note of caution. It is not left to reactionary maverick John McCain’s to attack Merkel’s position; the US Congress itself recently called for the provision of lethal assistance.
This spat over lethal weapons comes on the heels of disagreements between Europe and the US on the question of sanctions against Russia, sanctions which are doing a great deal more economic damage to Europe than to the US. Vice President Joe Biden fumed that European questioning of sanctions is ” annoying and inappropriate“, unacceptable in the face of supposed Russian plans to “redraw the map of Europe“. In an article posted on the ICH website (‘Europe wary of US “All Options” Threat to Russia’, 8 Feb 2015), Finian Cunningham notes that:
“An all-out war on the European landmass is an obvious calamity for the European Union. But even as it is, before an all-out war erupts, the EU is suffering far more from US-led hostilities than America would ever incur. With EU-Russia trade standing at ten times the volume of US-Russia trade, the Europeans have much more to lose. And are losing already -painfully. Germany is the biggest EU loser from the confrontation with Russia over Ukraine. German exports to Russia are projected to fall by 20 per cent this year compared with the previous year. That amounts to a gaping shortfall of €8 billion to the Germany economy. And what’s bad for Germany is equally bad for the economic prospects of the whole EU, mired as it is in recession and increasing unemploy-ment across the 28-member bloc.”
The massive overproduction crisis that is driving the world to wars of national oppression will increasingly poison relations between the imperialist warmongers themselves.
Victory to the Donbass resistance! Death to NATO!