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Sunday, June 16, 2024
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HomeEditor's PickMillions are paying the price of Western delusion in Ukraine

Millions are paying the price of Western delusion in Ukraine

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THE Russian summer offensive in Ukraine began on May 10 with a rapid strike by some 35,000 troops into the northern Kharkiv region. The attack has eaten into hard-fought Ukrainian territory astonishingly quickly, and diverted thousands of Kiev’s troops to the region, depleting the remaining sectors of the thinly defended, 620-mile frontline.

Indeed, this is almost certainly central to the Russian stratagem: rather than pursuing an attritional and brutal fight for Kharkiv city itself, the campaign in the north is most likely designed to leave critical sections of the front vulnerable to other massive Russian attacking forces that are yet to unmask themselves. Zaporizhzhia in the south and, most vitally, the Donbas region in the centre of the front will be the principal targets for penetration. The aim will be to break through the Ukrainian line entirely and drive westwards towards the Dnieper River. How far Moscow will advance, and the extent of the devastation wreaked on the Ukrainian force, will soon be determined.

Zelensky is warning that Ukraine will lose this war if the US does not immediately send further military aid. Mick Ryan, a retired Australian major general, and hitherto a hawkish and loud advocate of Ukraine’s military effort, wrote last month that Russia is now over the ‘shock of its early failures’ and is able ‘to subjugate Ukraine in a way it was not capable of when it began its large-scale invasion in February 2022’.

The tone is shifting starkly among the neoliberal establishment as the precipice of inevitable defeat and humiliation finally looms. No longer do we hear the pseudo-Churchillian triumphalism and jingoism that defined the initial 18 months of the invasion. Instead, we hear low-pitched complaints about stalled US aid packages and criticisms of Ukrainian military strategy.

Yet, despite the US providing a total of $175billion in aid, defeat has been approaching steadily since the very start. I argued in TCW last October that Ukraine, tragically, cannot win this war, and that efforts to turn Kiev into a pro-Western bulwark against the Russian behemoth were fundamentally doomed from the start. That analysis was written in the immediate aftermath of the disastrous Ukrainian summer offensive, which ravaged and catastrophically demoralised Kiev’s forces. The war is now unfolding in the terrible shadow of that offensive, which killed tens of thousands of soldiers (the total death toll is a Ukrainian state secret. However, mortuary fatalities were said to double during the summer 2023 offensive) and destroyed hundreds of Western vehicles for next to no territorial gain.

Since then, the Ukrainian force has endured a long-standing crisis of manpower and materiel, stretching its line unsustainably. Zelensky thus announced in May a controversial mobilisation bill, reducing the age of conscription from 27 to 25, and enacting punitive measures against men that resist the draft, including restrictions on their property rights and blocking their bank accounts. The bill is a reaction to the terrible battlefield losses Kiev has endured, but also the estimated 650,000 fighting-age men who have fled Ukraine since the invasion.

Tragically, the brute military facts are stacked against Kiev, as they have been from the outset. Ukraine has some 200,000 troops on the front line. Russia, meanwhile, has at least 400,000 soldiers inside Ukraine, with another 100,000 stationed behind the border in reserve. In total, Moscow could draw upon 1.2million active servicemen – a force nearly double that of the Ukrainian active military.

Moreover, the Ukrainians are lacking desperately in firepower, with the Russians capable of firing ten times as many artillery rounds in most sectors of the front. In 2024, Moscow is forecast to produce 4.5million shells at a cost of $1,000 per unit. Together, the US and its European allies will produce only 1.3million shells at a cost of $4,000 per unit. Stockpiles of light anti-tank weaponry, too, are now critically low across the front. The Russians, meanwhile, are increasingly deploying sophisticated guided glide-bombs and advanced lethal drone platforms to destroy Ukrainian positions.

Hence, the Commander of US Forces in Europe, General Christopher Cavoli, has warned that Ukrainian forces will be outgunned on the battlefield by ten to one without significant and imminent US military aid. Although Congress approved a $60billion package in April, this will certainly not remedy the deep-seated economic and demographic overmatch that afflicts Kiev.

Critically, the Ukrainian defences have been ill-prepared due to a lack of engineering support, manpower and time. The Ukrainian offensive failed so catastrophically last year due to the exceptionally deep and complex Russian defensive systems, which proved impregnable to a numerically and materially weaker Ukrainian attacking force. The inverse is now the case: weak, undermanned, outgunned defences will attempt to repel a far superior attacking force.

How might the offensive play out? Dr Jack Watling of the Royal United Services Institute contends that Moscow’s principal aim will be an aggressive breakthrough in the central Donbas region, severing Ukrainian supply lines. This would give Russian forces access to routes north and south, potentially enabling devastating attacks against the rear and flanks of Kiev’s core positions in the Zaporizhzhia and Kharkiv regions. The outcome remains to be seen; yet it is inevitable that much Ukrainian territory will be lost over the coming months.

Indeed, this is the beginning of the end for the deluded US-led policy of stoking, rather than extinguishing, this dreadful war. The initial decision to refuse all negotiation and to use the Ukrainian people as a proxy to inflict military damage on Moscow was a Faustian pact – a hubristic absurdity that was destined to wreak carnage on Ukraine and diminish Western credibility on the global stage. The West will soon be forced to negotiate with Putin; and the military momentum and territorial advantage will be unambiguously on his side in a way that it was not during the opening weeks of the invasion. Fundamentally, the perpetuation of this war has always been an act of tragic, zero-sum folly.

So where are our Churchillian cheerleaders of the Ukrainian resistance now? Bored with this bleak war, the mainstream outlets now barely mention it: the circus has moved on to new fashionable causes. Yet in its wake, half a million men or more lie dead among the wreckage. Many others await the horror of battle as you read this. When considering this tragedy, we ought to remember the Western leaders and commentators who, in their ignorance and vanity, drove this Ahabian policy of war, sneering at and deriding the very notions of negotiation and peace. The approaching collapse is the inevitable failure of endemic neoliberal idealism in the region. We must not forget that the price of this delusion is being paid in blood and suffering by countless millions in a far-off land.

For further writing by this author please see Fathom Five’s Newsletter | Substack 

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