Ukraine: defeat in war reveals the cracks

The imperialist proxy war against Russia is now dead in the water, with the much-lauded Ukrainian ‘offensive’ stuck in the mud and all the previous claims of imminent victory ringing hollow. Attempts to soften the blow of defeat by rebranding it as a ‘stalemate’ fool nobody: there is neither an equality of rival forces nor any serious obstacle to Russian advance.

Kiev’s quiet decision to shift from an offensive to a defensive posture on the battleground makes it clear that the proxy war, costing so much in blood and gold, has failed. The reality of this failure is even being hinted at by the mainstream press. The Times described Ukraine’s last ditch efforts to stop the advance of Russian forces in Avdievka “desperate,” fuelling perceptions of an “inevitable collapse” of Ukrainian positions, and diminished hope of preventing a Russian victory by the beginning of the New Year holidays (cited in ‘Accepting defeat in Ukraine’, Moon of Alabama, 14 December 2023).

As the impact of this failure is absorbed, both within Ukraine and within US imperialism, the blame game kicks off. The imperialist stooge Zelensky, one time poster boy for Ukrainian ultranationalism, courted by all the movers and shakers in the world, is now yesterday’s man and prime candidate for universal scapegoat.

The catastrophic failure of the Ukrainian ‘offensive’ has led to bitter recriminations between the military and the politicians, most visibly in the stand off between top general Valery Zaluzhny and the beleaguered president. A report on the Ukrainian website Strana claimed that President Zelensky had ordered regional governors to ‘stop all communication’, seemingly to make sure that all military communication with the regions went via the presidential desk.

Voices from within the political establishment have been berating the top brass for lacking any plan other than endlessly repeating the need for more shells and more men. This latter complaint has been addressed by scouring the remaining overtaxed population for conscripts. Controversial in this regard have been plans to lower the conscription age and to start press-ganging women into the gaping holes left in the army’s basic manpower requirements.  

Whilst the army and the political establishment brief against each other, the mixed signals emanating from within ruling circles are creating a vacuum in leadership which rival oligarchs will hope to turn to their advantage. Given a handy clause in the Ukrainian constitution which forbids elections under martial law, the planned presidential election due last March was abandoned. In practice though it has not been possible to quieten speculation about who might succeed Zelensky at the helm. Former president Petro Poroshenko, who clearly fancies his chances of getting his snout back into the trough of public office, heads up the European Solidarity party. One of his elected minions, Volodymyr Ariev, created a scandal by alleging that Zelensky’s defence minister was just about to sack the outspoken Zaluzhny. The episode concluded in farce, with Ariev hastily retracting his allegation whilst piously expressing the “hope that there will be a clear message that no one is going to fire Zaluzhny and that all these games will end.”

In the super-charged toxic political atmosphere currently obtaining in Kiev, with mutual backstabbing now assuming the character of a national sport, a truly incredible story related by the Kyiv Post renders comment superfluous. Says the Post:

General Valery Zaluzhny’s assistant, Major Hennadiy Chastiakov, was celebrating his 39th birthday on Monday when he was presented with a gift box from a colleague, Colonel Timchenko. The wooden box contained six grenades and a bottle of ‘Black Label’ whisky. Chastiakov was later showing his son the gifts he had received when one of the grenades exploded, killing him and seriously injuring his 13-year-old son. Interior Minister Igor Klymenko said in a statement on Telegram: ‘At first, the son took the munition in his hands and began to turn the ring. Then the serviceman took the grenade away from the child and pulled the ring, causing a tragic explosion’” (‘How a birthday gift grenade killed General Zaluzhny’s assistant’, Kyiv Post, 7 November 2023).

Meanwhile US imperialism is tying itself in knots, continuing to intone the mantra about standing by Ukraine whilst in practice desiring nothing more than to call time on the whole sorry business. Whereas in March 2022 Biden helped Boris Johnson and NATO to bully Zelensky out of engaging in peace talks with Russia, now the same line-up just can’t wait for Zelensky to face reality and negotiate an end to the war (i.e., a surrender by any other name).

Biden has failed in his bid to steamroller a $60bn aid package for Ukraine through Congress. And at its December summit in Brussels, the EU likewise failed to pass a 50bn euro donation to Kiev, when the president of Hungary used his veto to block it. As a consolation prize, Orban agreed not to use his veto on the question of opening EU accession talks with Ukraine, safe in the knowledge that Hungary could exercise its veto at any subsequent stage of the talks – in other words, the accession talks were mostly symbolic and followed a format which required over seventy key decisions to be supported by all 27 members.

Whilst few of the EU leaders may be willing in public to take Orban’s side in his resistance to the poison of Russophobia, or to share his readiness in October to meet with President Putin in China, or applaud his call to the West to stop sending guns to Kiev, it is not to be doubted that, off the record, there are many who don’t want to be dragged any further into a war started by NATO and will be quietly chuffed that somebody else has the courage to challenge the warmongers publicly.

Republicans in the US Congress are fed up with the war and are digging in their heels against its further funding. Whether Donald Trump stages a comeback in the coming elections or not, his pragmatic attitude towards Russia and the war is one that is shared not only by most fellow Republicans in Congress but also by an increasing number of Democrats, as Biden’s political and diplomatic isolation grows more acute, as does the state of his health.