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Battered and demoralised – the truth about Ukraine

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IN HIS Warning to the West, a series of lectures delivered during the mid-1970s, Alexander Solzhenitsyn cautioned that Western intellectual life was succumbing steadily to perpetual lies. He said:

‘Why is it that societies which have been benumbed for half a century by lies they have been forced to swallow find within themselves a certain lucidity of heart and soul which enables them to see things in their true perspective and to perceive the real meaning of events; whereas societies with access to every kind of information suddenly plunge into lethargy, into a kind of mass blindness, a kind of voluntary self-deception?’

The cultural revolutions of the 1960s enshrined in our collective thought a set of delusions that dominated every subject from the nuclear family, to traditional education, to utopian nation-building in Indochina. Yet, since Solzhenitsyn’s warning, Western culture has not only erred further from reason but become increasingly authoritarian. Indeed, the authoritarianism flows from the worsening irrationalism of our discourse: the further that compulsory elite opinion deviates from reason, the greater the effort required to suppress commonsense dissent.

Everywhere one looks now, the liberal house of cards is creaking and fracturing under the weight of its own lies. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the fast-collapsing utopian narrative on the war in Ukraine. Since Putin’s invasion in February 2022, Washington has attempted to use Ukrainian resistance as a vehicle for inflicting long-term military-strategic damage on Russia. In April last year, US Secretary of Defence, Lloyd Austin, stated openly that the guiding purpose behind US policy has been to ‘neuter the Russian army and navy for [the] next decade’. Such ambitious objectives explain why Boris Johnson, acting in tandem with Washington, urged Volodymyr Zelensky in March 2022 to dismiss Putin’s offers of negotiation.

By that time, Moscow understood that its scheme to enact rapid regime change in Kiev had failed. Both sides had been given a bloody nose in the initial fighting and were ready for the negotiating table. It was Westernleaders who prevented peace at this juncture, driven by the hubristic, historically illiterate notion that an opportunity to deplete and humiliate the Russian behemoth lay before them. Hence, without peace talks in sight, the Russian army pivoted to a grinding, steady advance from the east that played directly to its industrial and demographic strengths, and which has led to its dominating one-sixth of the Ukrainian landmass.

From the outset, Western mainstream discourse was ruled by a deadly combination of crass flag-waving and manifold lies that have distorted every aspect of the conflict. Take just two examples. First, the much-touted financial sanctions imposed on Moscow from March last year have failed utterly. The rouble stabilised almost immediately after the sanctions struck; the economic arteries between Russia and non-Western nations expanded drastically, compensating for initial losses. Oil exports to India and China soared, large portions of which have, predictably, been siphoned back to Europe at marked-up prices. Second, the Ukrainian offensive of September last year was trumpeted as a great success, yet the truth is that casualties soared above the 600 to 1,000 daily losses that Kiev had been suffering for months – losses far greater than those incurred by Moscow. Moreover, the territorial gains were modest relative to the vastness of the map, and the Russian army was subsequently restructured and reinforced to guarantee that no such humiliating withdrawals could occur again. So it has proved.

The truth has been deliberately suppressed by mainstream media across the West. A mirage of falsely optimistic propaganda has been held before the public, perpetuating support for the doomed Western policies that seek to escalate, not end, the war. Most dangerously, the media pillars have encouraged us at every turn to regard the Russian force as weak, ill-equipped, badly led and perpetually on the verge of collapse. These premises are all false. As the author, consultant and former US Army colonel Douglas Macgregor observes, the Russian military is not only exceptionally powerful, but dwarfs the forces of Kiev. For months on end, Russian might has bled the Ukrainians of lives and equipment. It is assessed that for every Russian soldier who dies, six to eight Ukrainians are killed, this being largely the result of a seven-to-one advantage in artillery fires and a regular five-to-one local manpower advantage on the battlefield.

This devastating imbalance was extant long before the catastrophic Ukrainian offensive was launched in early June. Within the first two weeks of the attack, it was estimated that 15,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed and hundreds of Western-provided vehicles destroyed. The Ukrainian force is yet to reach a single main objective. It has been lodged for weeks in the 15.5mile-deep ‘security zone’ of mines, tank-traps and delaying positions that the Russian army spent months developing in front of its defensive line.

By contrast, Russian losses from the June/July offensive, as Macgregor notes, have been minimal relative to the size of the force. Moscow has some 750,000 troops in and behind the front line. It has immense reserves of ammunition and manpower: 20 per cent of its GDP is spent on its military. Critically, the Russian population is hardened and mobilised behind the war effort.

The situation for Kiev is dire. The Ukrainian force is assessed to have been depleted to between 30,000 and 35,000 combat-capable troops. Much of the gifted Nato equipment has been destroyed, bringing into question the assumption of Western military superiority on which our interventions have been predicated. The US is running extremely low on artillery ammunition and is therefore resorting to increasingly desperate and ineffective measures, such as the provision of outdated cluster munitions. Support for the war among Ukraine’s already-divided population is waning, and surrender among front-line units is rife.

Crucially, Kiev’s officials are warning the West that a massive Russian attack against their own demoralised, fractured army is imminent. Macgregor notes that this was always Moscow’s strategy: allow the Ukrainians to exhaust themselves in a fruitless offensive before mounting a renewed Russian attack to extend the depth of its strategic buffer. 

Importantly, this follows directly from the annihilative fighting in the town of Bakhmut, a battle chosen by Zelensky as a symbol of resistance. This, too, was a Russian trap. Moscow’s military chiefs knew that protracted, brutal urban fighting would play to their strengths whilst depleting Kiev’s limited manpower and morale. And so it was: Russia’s troops are now anchored firmly in the town. Media outlets, eager to downplay the facts, are therefore claiming that Bakhmut is a meaningless victory for Moscow, of no true military significance. This is simply a lie. Like the battles of Kursk and Stalingrad, Bakhmut’s strategic importance is its symbolismand the breakdown of the Ukrainian force, not any specific territorial advantage.

It is commonplace in the liberal media to describe the situation as an ‘attritional stalemate’. Attritional for whom, exactly? The truth is that the Ukrainians are being defeated terribly.Indeed, US General Mark Milley warned as long ago as November last year that an immediate negotiated settlement was the best possible outcome for the Ukrainian nation. 

Reality is now finally confounding liberal idealism: the ruinous offensive has focused minds. US policymakers know that a glaring defeat for Kiev, and a crushing humiliation of global importance for the West, is looming. Scepticism is bubbling steadily to the surface. At the Vilnius conference in early July, Ukrainian Nato membership was blocked, as were Zelensky’s demands for an unlimited supply of top-end Western equipment and ammunition. Calls for the inevitable negotiations are increasing, yet talks will now be undertaken in the shadow of a Russian military supremacy that cannot be ignored.

The fundamental error was made at the very beginning, rooted in the long-held belief that, if given enough Western money and arms, a small bankrupt nation would be able to defeat a nuclear-armed superpower with a proven history of immense military resilience. As a result of perpetuating that illusion, an estimated 300,000 to 350,000 Ukrainians have been killed by the Russian military. It does not absolve the Russians of moral culpability to recognise that many of the principal levers of war, and the decision to refuse Putin’s repeated offers of negotiation, have lain in Washington, not Kiev. It is a matter of historical fact that the US has tried – and failed – to humiliate and hobble Russia through Ukraine’s armed forces. 

(The facts and statistics from the battlefield are in constant flux. Nobody knows, for example, exactly how many soldiers are dead on either side; however, the approximate imbalance of 40-50k dead Russian soldiers and >300k dead Ukrainian soldiers is taken from satellite imagery of battlefields, cemeteries, and official and media reporting on both sides. The broad point that we have been lied to about the devastation of the Ukrainian force is certainly true.)

The great lie at the centre of our folly is the notion that the war is being waged in an attempt to reconstruct the Soviet Union from the ashes of history – a Hitleresque imperialism from the east that civilised nations must resist at any cost. It is upon this false moral ideal that the entire liberal position has rested. However, as Richard Sakwa, Emeritus Professor of Russian and European politics at the University of Kent, observes, the aggression in Ukraine, like the invasion of Crimea in 2014, has been based in Moscow’s long-held fears over the security of Russia’s western flank vis-à-vis the expansion of the Nato alliance in Eastern Europe. Indeed, Western diplomats, along with then German chancellor Angela Merkel, warned for years that meddling in Ukraine was a path to certain conflict. So it proved after the Western-enabled Kiev putsch of 2014 that sparked this conflict. The only route to peace, as experts have tried to explain for years, is through Ukrainian neutrality. 

This vast delusion is a form of utopianism: an obstinate insistence that the conflict, morally and militarily, is the way the liberal wishes it to be. The idealists, in all matters from biological realism to economic policy, wrap themselves in sophistic, ignorant fantasies – a Plato’s Cave in which the shadows on the walls are the enforced slogans of one ideological incoherence after another. It is all part of the simplistic, confected and Sovietised (guided by the compulsory ideology of the age) worldview in which we are all now expected to hold as a matter of course.

The only remedy to the lethargy, blindness and wilful self-deception of which Solzhenitsyn warned is the unfiltered glare of reality. Truth is the daughter of time; she is rapidly unmasking the insanity – and the profound danger – of our utopian delusions in Ukraine.

You can read more of the writer’s work on his substack. 

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