From a briefing by NATO spokesman Jamie Shea. Brussels, May 25, 1999:
Question : If you say the [Yugoslav] army has a lot of generators, why are you depriving the country of 70% not only of electricity but also of water supply, because, according to you, [NATO] only strikes military installations.
Answer : Unfortunately, command and control systems also depend on electricity. If Milosevic really wants his citizens to have water and electricity, all he has to do is accept NATO’s terms, and we will stop this campaign. Until he does, we will continue to attack the targets that supply his army with electricity. If there are consequences for the population, that is his [Milosevic’s] problem. Water and electricity are used against the people of Serbia, we have “cut them off” permanently or for a long time for the sake of the lives of the 1.6 million Kosovars who have been driven from their homes and whose lives have been badly damaged. Not everyone will like that difference, but to me that difference is fundamental.
This is a great rebuke to all the faux western indignation now doing the rounds because of Russia’s current campaign. And, unlike what NATO was doing to Serbia in 1999 (which involved the destruction of 70% of water and electricity supplies) the Russians in 2022 have only targeted the more readily repaired electricity distribution stations and not the electricity generating stations.
The NATO news briefing from which this quote comes is at the link below. The question was put by a representative of the Norwegian News Agency. It can be seen towards the end of the briefing report at the link below.
Listen to a very clear exposé of the background to the war in Ukraine by Jeffrey Sachs, interviewed by Russell Brand:
And to read Putin and Lavrov in their own words, please download Irish Foreign Affairs Special Issue December 2022
This is the introduction to the Special Issue, by Pat Walsh:
This special edition of Irish Foreign Affairs is largely made up of speeches revealing the Russian perspective of events in Ukraine. This is entirely absent in the Western mainstream media which has been careful to present a narrative facilitating unquestioning support of the government in Kiev among the European masses. In some quarters this would be labelled ‘information terrorism.” The main purpose of the totalitarian narrative that saturates Western consciousness is to elicit total support for a sanctions regime and the waging of a war against the Russian people of the Donbas and Ukraine in order to overthrow the functional administration that presently exists in Russia. To question this dubious and dangerous project of Washington ideologues is to be pro-Putin and to be a Russian stooge. Dissent is unacceptable.
When a great moral campaign of demonisation was launched in August 1914 against Germany to muster up support from liberal, and previously anti-war people, in Britain, the German view was still made available to the public. It was sometimes published under misleading titles to distort the meaning in English translations, but it was published all the same. Today Russian news agencies are suppressed by various means and there is almost a complete absence of criticism in the UK and Ireland of Western activities in Ukraine. There is a pretence that the whole world is in favour of the West’s actions in Ukraine, when, in fact, the vast majority of the world’s population is either opposed or not supportive. Moral outrage over Ukraine, is, in fact, confined to the White, privileged, former Imperialist and Colonialist sections of humanity which now dress their geopolitics in the colours of the rainbow. Like the disgraced anti-war liberals of 1914, who collapsed under pressure of war, they need to feel good about themselves in waging it, to make the sacrifices needed in their standards of living for the cause. As long as the Ukrainians do the fighting and dying, that is.
There are large numbers of people in the West who believe the war in Ukraine began with the Russian military intervention in February 2022. That is the seminal event in their understanding. Nothing before that matters. And that understanding is what is encouraged in the narrative to prevent any deeper thought that might be inconvenient to support for Kiev’s enthusiasm on the battlefield.
The all-prevailing narrative is produced by a network of the UK State’s military, intelligence and diplomatic bureaucracy that has suddenly appeared on the scene, having lay beneath the public consciousness for years.
Tom Stevenson, in reviewing a recent book written by one of the Ukraine analysts for the BBC, Lawrence Freedman, for the London Review of Books, 6 October 2022, described the people and networks who lie behind the construction of this narrative that the BBC presents to the public:
“Many countries find a special place for civilians who share the interests of the state’s military, intelligence and diplomatic bureaucracy but operate outside its hierarchy. In Britain they are spread among a network of security think tanks and academic departments that include the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), the Royal Institute for International Affairs (Chatham House) and the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. From fine old buildings in Whitehall, Temple, St James’s Square and the Strand, they shape much of the foreign and defence policy analysis produced in Britain. Each institution has its own flavour (the Chatham House sensibility is more mandarin than military), but they have a great deal in common. All have close connections with the intelligence services – after John Sawers retired as head of MI6 in 2014, he took up posts at King’s and RUSI – and an equally close relationship with the national security establishment of the United States.
Among the British defence intelligentsia, Atlanticism is a foundational assumption. A former director of policy planning at the US State Department and a former director at the US National Security Council are on the staff of the IISS. Until he stepped down in July, Chatham House was led by Robin Niblett, who spent time at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. RUSI’s director-general, Karin von Hippel, was once chief of staff to the four-star American general John Allen. In 2021, RUSI’s second largest donor was the US State Department. (The largest was the EU Commission; BAE Systems, the British army, the Foreign Office and some other friendly governments account for most of the remaining funding.) IISS’s main funders – aside from the EU Commission, the State Department and, notably, Bahrain – are mostly arms companies. Chatham House gets more money from the British government and oil companies than from arms sellers, but its list of backers is similar. Despite these US links, however, and despite the fervency of their commitment to American national security priorities, British security think tanks have next to no influence across the Atlantic. Staff from UK think tanks sometimes take temporary jobs in more prestigious offices in Washington, but they very rarely become insiders.”
So it is British Intelligence and its offshoots, acting for British and US State interests, that owns and forms the narrative about Ukraine that is presented to the British and Irish public and makes up its thoughts. What we hear about Ukraine is therefore neither objective, realistic or really informative. News management and control, along with misinformation and disinformation, also involves a process of deliberate omission and the suppression of information.
That is why the current edition of Irish Foreign Affairs publishes the Russian view of the events of Ukraine. Some day this will be needed, in order to explain events, which, if history is a guide, we can predict will be inexplicable within the current narrative.
And this is the editorial from the Irish Political Review magazine:
Ukraine: outcome of war takes shape
The West-Ukrainian nation and nation state are being fashioned before our eyes. It had until recently been a precarious and fragile development. The Russian Federation on the other hand is a construct fashioned on a very different basis, one reminiscent of the Habsburg Empire, incorporating a multitude of autonomous regions, including 22 republics and other districts and entities defined by their dominant ethnic component, with varying degrees of political and administrative home rule, national languages and national anthems. Few, apart from Chechnya and some elements in the volatile Caucasus and Central Asian regions, have striven to break from the Federation.
Ukraine struggled for a decade after 1991 as a type of bridge between the expanding and homogenising EU-led structure to its West and the weakening Russian Federation to its East.
That bridging has now been well and truly ruptured. As long as it functioned satisfactorily for Russia and in particular did not disrupt Russia’s position on the Black Sea – its only “warm port” outlet and foothold in Europe—Ukraine’s peculiar frontier status was acceptable to Moscow.
But from the 1990s, US meddling was concertedly directed towards unbalancing this arrangement and tipping Ukraine into the West. For the US State Department, under a succession of Presidents, the prize was very big. “Colour revolutions” and a western orientation were assiduously nourished and encouraged with the goal of precipitating a complete break with Russia.
As the American Establishment journal, Foreign Affairs, blurted out earlier this year, “Europe” for three hundred years has essentially been engaged in a great push to eject Russia from itself. The Soviet Union had massively expanded the Ukrainian SSR’s territory to the East and South to dilute the potential of nationalist tendencies. That massive expansion had meant incorporating historically Russian ethnic territories and virtually the entire coast of the Black Sea and Sea of Azov.
The panic in the EU at the consequences of the geopolitical game in which it had allowed itself become a tool in 2014 is now well known, as is the immortal recorded response of US Secretary of State Victoria Nuland to these EU realisations that a powder-keg was deliberately being lit. Her memorable words were “Fuck the EU”.
Defining Ukraine and the Ukrainian nation has now become an existential requirement for Europe, including Russia, and essential to future European security.
The intellectual development of Ukrainian nationalism began soon after the late 18th century great “Partition of Poland” between Germany, Austria and Russia. It developed in the Province of Galicia, and its ire was directed primarily against Polish domination by the Habsburg area of the partition. The western part of Galicia incorporated Krakow and extended well to the west of it, while its eastern (“Ruthenian”) part extended east of, and was centred on, Lvov. Krakov was indisputably Polish but Lvov (Lemberg), despite Polish dominance, had a large “Ruthenian” population.
Uprisings and political reforms within the Habsburg system, as it itself evolved in the emerging 19th century world, had their counterparts in Ruthenian rebellions in reaction to the Polish rebellions of the 1830s, and as part of the Europe-wide wave of national and social revolutions of 1848. The Habsburg monarchy responded by granting increasing local autonomy and representation in many of its territories, including Galicia, which, however, remained Polish-dominated. Ukrainian nationalists sought an end to Polish domination, and separation and autonomy for a “Ruthenian Ukrainian” province within Habsburg’s multi-national system. The Ukrainian national identity also stirred within the Russian Empire, with Lvovian influence nurturing its spread in the Kiev region where linguistic, cultural and religious separatism from Russia was also growing.
The Brest-Litovsk Treaty of March 1918 between Germany and the new Soviet Union, then in its very precarious stage of coming into being, is today forgotten or remembered only vaguely as some kind of punitive and extractive seizure by Germany of vast regions of Russian Empire territory.
As Europe descended into a chaos of break-up following the German collapse just six months later, Brest-Litovsk was soon no more than a historical curiosity. But it had been a very substantial and potentially stabilising affair, providing an orderly framework for the evolution of a system of states in Eastern Europe.
At the time of the Treaty, Germany was still, despite Britain’s food blockade enforced by the Royal Navy, supreme on the battlefields of East and West. Both the German and Soviet negotiating delegations regarded the Treaty as a long-term settlement of borders in Europe’s eastern area. Minorities in both camps—whether Soviet revolutionary expansionists or German Imperialists—were overruled.
Brest-Litovsk established the Kingdom of Poland, consisting of the former Polish provinces of Russia centred on Warsaw. Secure boundaries were also agreed for the Baltic States and Finland.
The agreed Republic of Ukraine established under Brest-Litovsk would begin began east of Lvov, as Galicia was to remain an autonomous province of the Habsburg state, and extend east to the Dniepr river, with Kiev as the capital. This eastern border—far to the west of that of today’s Ukraine—corresponded to the centuries-long border that had divided the Polish-Lithuanian from the Russian Empire. Samuel Huntington in the 1990s described it as a rational “civilisational” boundary and warned against calling into question its profound historical validity. The first-ever Ukrainian State, founded at Brest-Litovsk, was accorded a section of the Black Sea coast to ensure its viability, including the all-important port city of Odessa, despite its majority Russian population.
The Treaty explicitly declared all of these arrangements an enduring settlement of East European State boundaries.
The leaders of the new Soviet State were divided over Brest-Litovsk. In this division, Trotsky first emerged as a significant geopolitical figure. He led the opposition to accepting the Treaty, demanding that the Soviet State keep its options open through retaining events in a military state of flux. He summed up his position in a slogan “neither war nor peace”. Lenin won out by convincing his Government of the need for of the Treaty to enable the new Soviet state to consolidate.
Trotsky made much of the “punitive” terms of the territorial and financial provisions of the Treaty, and western propagandist have liberally borrowed Trotsky’s arguments ever since to justify the far more draconian terms of the later Versailles Treaty. But Russia proper lost very little Russian territory and the reparation payments were formulated as restitution to Germany for German assets appropriated by the Soviet Union in nationalising its economy. It was a sum quite concisely calculated and agreed.
A similar seizure of US assets by the Soviet State was the ostensible casus for the interventionist army the US sent to Russia and for its long-term refusal to recognise the Soviet Government.
Brest-Litovsk freed up hundreds of thousands of German troops for transfer to the West. The German “Spring Offensive” of 1918 in France was expected, including by the British, to achieve a decisive breakthrough and force a similarly negotiated peace settlement in the West. It was British panic in response to this prospect that precipitated the conscription crisis in Ireland. The Irish refusal to participate in it swept the movement for Irish national separation forward. The German Spring Offensive in France was only thwarted by the hurried arrival of the first large contingents of US forces onto the western battlefield.
The Polish, Ukrainian and Baltic states established under Brest-Litovsk are today usually dismissed as intended to be mere German “puppet states”. This is a retrospective view which distorts the realities of the time, when the new entities were widely welcomed by the leaders of the nationalities involved. The new entities were no less “puppet states” than the east European states which Britain and France created at Versailles in 1919, which French Foreign Minister Poincarré described as a “cordon sanitaire” controlled by them to ensure against a German revival or Soviet expansion. Is the status of today’s former Soviet but now western-aligned East European states really all that different in this respect from either of these arrangements?
But in the case of Ukraine, Versailles came too late for the West. Despite Anglo-French interventionist armies dispatched to the region following the German withdrawal, the dominant Ukrainian nationalist strand accepted the vastly enlarged territory promised it by the Soviet regime, and integrated as an autonomous “Soviet Socialist Republic” into the USSR. Poland seized East and West Galicia, and others such as Romania also acquired slices. Under the Berlin-Moscow Pact of 1939, East Galicia was declared part of the Soviet sphere of influence, which it occupied a year later.
West Ukrainian nationalists allied with Nazi Germany in World War 2 in the hope of carving out or restoring the 1918 Ukrainian State with the addition of Polish and Russian provinces. Germany had been active in the 1930s nurturing Ukrainian rebel elements both in exile and covertly within the Ukrainian SSR. Between the wars, the Polish state had several times thwarted Ukrainian rebel organisations operating within its borders. These rebel Ukrainian elements in both Poland and Ukraine were the lead forces in the nationalist development of 1941-45, and their remnants were re-organised by the CIA after that, sustaining an impressive insurgency in the forests of the Ukraine up to the mid-1950s, along with an intellectual/political exile movement.
Many more Ukrainians, especially from the eastern areas of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, formed a formidable cohort of the Soviet Army and were to the fore not only in the liberation of Ukraine from the end of 1943, but all the way to the final battle of Berlin, led by Ukrainian-born Generals. It is monuments to these Ukrainian liberators and their graveyards which are now being systematically dynamited across the territory controlled by today’s Kyiv state.
Western Ukrainian nationalism is today a powerful and assertive force. It has developed a historical narrative which is a mixture of truth and fiction and these views are uncritically relayed to European consumers as historical reality, through media such as the EU Commission’s propaganda outlet Euronews.
The story is that Ukrainians have been victims of centuries of Russian “colonisation” and “imperialism”, but are now finally, with western support, throwing off that yoke. The massive contribution of Ukrainians in the Red Army to the defeat of Nazi Germany is being quietly deleted from national memory. Der Spiegel came to the fore in the re-telling of the story. Hitler’s Operation Barbarossa became the “Nazi invasion of Ukraine” and it initially called Putin’s invasion “a war of extermination” (the term heretofore reserved for Hitler’s one). But that characterisation proved a step too far for some who became queasy at the sinister comparison, and Spiegel has retreated to now calling it just “Putin’s war of aggression”.
Among the claims made by Ukrainian nationalists is that the Famine of 1932-33 in Ukraine was a conscious and wilful act of “genocide” against the Ukrainian people. A cross-party motion recognising this “genocide” (“Holodomor”) has been passed unanimously by the German Bundestag, to rank alongside the Holocaust and the alleged Armenian Genocide. Presumably this will be followed by criminalisation of “Holodomor-denial”. The Wikipedia description of it will certainly require editing, as it currently falls short of such a totalitarian certainty:
“The Holodomor, also known as the Terror-Famine or the Great Famine, was a man-made famine in Soviet Ukraine from 1932 to 1933 that killed millions of Ukrainians. The Holodomor was part of the wider Soviet famine of 1932–1933 which affected the major grain-producing areas of the country.”
The leadership of the Soviet Union, which famously included many figures of Ukrainian, Georgian and other non-Russian backgrounds, resolved in the late 1920s on a dramatic industrialisation plan. The USSR, said Stalin, a Georgian, would have to achieve industrially in 10-15 years what it had taken England 200 years to accomplish, though hopefully at a lower human cost. If the USSR did not succeed in this, he warned, it would fall prey to European Imperialism, as indeed happened just ten years later.
But within a year of the plan being launched, farmers across the prosperous grain-producing south of the USSR, way beyond the Ukrainian border, who formed a social class of considerable power, rebelled at the cost-level price-caps the State imposed in the compulsory sale of their grain to feed the new cities being created at break-neck speed. (This is not entirely dissimilar to the production-cost price-caps the West is currently attempting to impose for Russian energy.) The resulting grain-seizures, without which the cities and their new industries faced collapse, ultimately, in association with other factors, led to famine across the southern agricultural belt, including, though far from confined to, Ukraine. Of the 3-4 millions of victims, perhaps a half were Ukrainian.
Western intellectuals of a moral bent vent much spleen on Stalin and all his works. It is never considered for a moment what the outcome of a farmer victory might have been. The humanist communist and later dissident novelist, Lev Kopelev, recounted in his memoirs how as a Komsomol activist he had idealistically headed out from the Ukrainian city where he lived with teams of other Young Communists to participate in the seizure of grain being hidden, destroyed or sold on the black market by the “Kulaks”, so as to save the mortally-threatened cities. It was only in retrospect decades later that he came to understood the horrendous consequences of what he had been involved in, as at the time he recalled it accurately as having been an existential necessity.
The current process of “de-colonisation” in Ukraine includes official State campaigns of “de-Sovietisation” and “de-Russification”. Despite up to forty per cent of Ukrainians using Russian in their daily affairs, that language has now been banned in official transactions and all traces of Russian cultural influence are being eradicated. Its status as a second language has been removed from the State, schools and libraries. Streets named after Russian poets, including Ukrainian-born ones, are being renamed. Instead of Pushkin there is now “Queen Elizabeth 2 Street”, named after the deceased monarch of Ukrainian nationalism’s most ardent Western advocate. Tolstoy’s War and Peace has been banned for “glorifying the Russian army” and—though not without some embarrassment for Kyiv—more enthusiastic city councils, such as that in Vinnitsa, have been honouring WW2-era nationalists instead. Despite a US-managed PR make-over, crack regiments of the Ukrainian forces are often photographed still sporting WW2-era SS-inspired insignia.
The viable Ukrainian nation state, if fate should allow it survive, is one which has already defined itself as cleansed of its Russian aspects and, inevitably, territories.
At the cutting end of this spectrum, leaders of major Opposition Parties have been arrested and charged with treason and all media centralised under Government control. Two months ago, the city of Mikailev was shut down to outsiders for three days while police carried out a “purification drive” to root out “collaborators”. Hundreds have been purged from Government bodies. The West has viewed these events approvingly, though never following up on exactly what they had entailed.
While seven million Ukrainians have fled westward, up to three million have also fled eastward, to Russia. The German magazine, Der Spiegel, which has been to the fore in radicalising German politics towards a complete break with Russia, still features as its illustration above its daily “war reports” a photograph of heroic civilian resisters throwing petrol bombs at the “invaders”. While there was some of this in the early stages of the skirmishes around Kyiv, the conflict has never taken on the form of such a popular resistance movement. But the notion of a heroic “resistance” continues to be disseminated in the west. There have been car bombs and assassinations of “collaborationist” officials in Russian-occupied areas, activities which when practised by the Provisional IRA were denounced as acts of unparalleled “depravity”—but here are the acts of brave “partisans”. The first car bomb, in an occupied southern city months ago, killed soldiers and relief workers distributing food.
The Ukrainian State is currently run by a political-military Junta, or Oligarchy. This is understandable and efficient in a time of war, and too much should not be made of it. Before the limited Russian invasion, Ukraine was classified by US NGO, Transparency International, as the most corrupt state in Europe, and the EU envisaged the need for a thirty-year transition period of arduous reform to adjust the state and its economy towards EU “standards”.
It was in this State that Zelenskyy, a popular TV comedian, became President. He was promoted by a media mogul named Kolomoisky, who had created and financed Zelensky’s TV show and then his presidential campaign. Zelensky, of Russian-speaking Jewish background from Kryvyi Rih (Krivoi Rog), a large heavy-industry city in the south east, north of Zapparoshe, was revealed in the Panama Papers as a having become a multi-millionaire in his first year as President, with financial assets in Caribbean tax havens and several properties in western countries. This was before the West transformed him into a symbol of heroic democratic resistance. He has since fallen out with Kolomoisky, who has emigrated to Israel.
Zelenskyy had been elected President of Ukraine in 2019 on a surge of support strongest in the centre, east and south of the country—precisely the areas least hostile to Russia. He easily beat his predecessor, Piotr Poroshenko, a radical west-Ukrainian nationalist supported in the Lviv region, on the promise of reconciling east and west Ukraine, ending the War in the Donbas and balancing Russian and EU-oriented Ukrainian tendencies by implementing the Minsk 2 accords of 2015.
None of this occurred, of course. Poroshenko recently revealed that those Franco-German facilitated Agreements had been a cynical “holding operation” which he had no intention of implementing, and which were used as a breathing space while Ukraine’s armies, battered and facing defeat in 2015, were regrouped and extensively re-organised, equipped and trained up under semi-covert NATO direction. The plan was for a lightning offensive to retake the Donbas and even Crimea as soon as circumstances allowed. Merkel and Macron’s greatest failure, as they pursued their fantasy of an “autonomous” EU foreign and security policy, was in refusing to act to ensure the implementation of the Minsk Accords in which they had originally invested so much, but which the US and Britain had obstinately opposed. That the West is led, or rather ordered about, by its victorious WW2 US-UK component has rarely been more patently demonstrated.
It is unclear how sincere Zelenskyy was in his political programme of reconciliation and peace, but it is clear that he rapidly abandoned that platform following his election. The army had been discredited in the Donbas, suspected of containing many officers with Russian-leaning sympathies. The cutting edge of the fighting of 2014-15 had been shouldered by a series of extreme right-wing or nationalist formations created in western Ukraine for the purpose and financed privately by a number of oligarchs. They never formed part of the army, but operated under the command of the Ministry of Internal Security. These units also featured prominently in the early stages of the current war as a stop-gap before a genuine mass army was successfully mobilised. It is clear that these private armies made it impossible for Zelenskyy to do other than follow the agenda already set out by Poroshenko.
That the Ukrainian State, in whatever form it emerges from this conflict—though without its Russian part—can transition to a acceptable capitalist “liberal democracy”, should not be doubted. Indeed, it is a foregone conclusion. One of the historical embarrassments of the west European political system, despite its hyperbole, is the ease with which Europe’s many former fascist nations transitioned seamlessly to liberal democracy post-1945. The pattern was repeated post-1991 when in many East European states the original historically-dominant fascist tendency re-appeared rather unselfconsciously, but were soon taken in hand by western Public Relations agencies and Non-Government Organisations and fashioned into acceptably liberal-democratic entities without too much fuss or stress.
The great experiment in re-education had been implemented in post-war West Germany. While blatant representatives of the Nazi setup were eased out of the public eye, and individuals with “anti-fascist” pedigrees hoisted into public leadership positions, the mass memberships of the new parties, as well as of the administrative, economic, judicial, academic and media structures, consisted of what until then had been the personnel of the Nazi regime, often card-carrying party members. Formal “Denazification” tribunals issued certificates of cleanliness like confetti, popularly known as “Persil Certificates”—from Persil’s advertising slogan that its detergent “washes whiter than white”. It was a running joke. The inner editorial regime of Der Speigel contained former SS officers among its leading personnel, who quickly transitioned to a fervent espousal of “liberal western values”, intent on whatever remained of Germany having a future as part of the new hegemon, the Atlantic “liberal”West.
The reality is that what fundamentally defines the “west” is not its philosophical and often superficial liberalism, but its market-economic essence, with the creation of a liberal structure to accompany it not a serious challenge, once the supremacy of market relations is assured.
At the time of writing (28th November), it is unclear in what direction the war will develop. It is widely stated that Putin “miscalculated” disastrously. This may be so, but the “miscalculation” is not what his western critics mean by it. Putin never set out to “invade” Ukraine, saying from the start he had no intention of occupying “Ukrainian territory”. The aims he stated were for a very limited “special military operation” to protect the Russian-oriented Donbas and to “demilitarise” and “de-nazify”the Ukrainian state. These terms are the source of much hilarity among the frivolous western media. In totalitarian unanimity they proclaim it a “totally unprovoked” and “full-scale invasion”—with 150,000 soldiers! Their “war reports” amount to little beyond uncritically regurgitating the “Daily Briefings” of the British MoD and fanciful claims of the Ukrainian Government, embellished by “analyses” by the Washington arms industry- and State Department-funded “Institute for the Study of War”, all of which had Russia running out of missiles back in May. (The ISW has close links to the family of Robert Kagan, with its current director, Kimberly Kagan, his daughter-in-law. Robert Kagan is the firebrand co-author of the US “neo-con” strategy statement of the Bush era which has not been disawowed by his Democrat successors, The Project for a New American Century. He is also Victoria Nuland’s husband.)
Putin’s “miscalculation” was that his meandering army column, rumbling towards, and then sitting outside, Kyiv would hasten a negotiation process on a Western-Russian security treaty for Europe and within Ukraine an implementation of Minsk 2, granting the Donbas autonomy within the state, accepting the Russian status of Crimea, recognising Russian language and culture, and committing to Ukraine remaining a non-NATO state. In other words, a type of Minsk 3.
These demands were laughed off by the West, which proceeded to launch an unprecedented economic war designed to bring the Russian State and society to its knees “within weeks”. The Rouble, declared Biden, would be reduced to “rubble”, and, according to von der Leyen, the Russian economy destroyed. With the full might of NATO support pouring in on Ukraine’s side, the issue, declared Borrell, would be “decided on the battlefield”. The mysterious radicalism of the Brussels bureaucracy contrasts with a pronounced reticence among the leaders of the major EU countries. Steps towards Minsk 3, taking shape in Istanbul in March 2022, were aborted following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s visit to Kyiv in April. Western support for Zelenskyy, Foreign Affairs later revealed, would be dependent on him agreeing to all-out conflict. There could be no negotiations with the “dictator”!
Besides its limited focus and operations, the Special Military Operation refrained from the type of war-making fundamental to the western approach of recent decades. Trade was allowed continue, and the railways and critical infrastructure untouched. Western observers were astounded that unlike their own operations against Serbia, Iraq, Libya etc., all of which started with the massive bombing of communications, power and water infrastructure, Russia refrained from any such actions. But, after the assassinations and car bombs mounted by Ukraine in occupied cities, the assassination by car bomb in Moscow of Daria Dugina, the blowing up of the Nord Stream pipelines—which ended any possibility of a German ramp-off, the attacks on Black Sea shipping undermining the grain export agreement, and the lethal attack on the Kerch Bridge by human bomb (sacrificing the unwitting lorry driver), the Russian gloves came off.
Nevertheless, even then its missile strikes have remained limited to the power distribution network, as opposed to Ukrainian generating capacity, and to military installations. This ensures that damage is temporary and reparable, which was an approach pioneered by the West in its recent wars. Western media as a source of information has disgraced itself with stories of “indiscriminate bombing” of cities and “targeting strikes on residential areas”. In fact there have been remarkably few civilian casualties.
Residential buildings in western Ukrainian cities that have occasionally been hit have been the victim more often of falling Ukrainian air defence missiles, or only of Russian missiles which have been shot off course by them. Most cities outside the eastern/southern battlefields remain largely unscathed, apart now from their military facilities and, latterly, power-distribution systems.
Large-scale destruction of urban areas has been confined to the Russian-oriented East, where, as even Amnesty International briefly and grudgingly conceded, the cause was Ukrainian forces digging in in residential complexes, transforming them into fortified compounds and forcing the other side to confront them in short-range combat. The overwhelming destruction has been in the Donbas, and it is apparent that not many in the Ukrainian Army shed tears over that.
The military conflict at first saw high Russian casualties as Ukraine employed daring hit-and-withdraw tactics against the relatively unprotected Russian convoys. This has since changed radically with Russian casualties falling sharply while Ukraine’s losses have mounted. Ukrainian casualties resulted from massive Russian shelling of Ukrainian troop concentrations or attacking forces, with its Kherson offensive reportedly involving thousands of losses. Where holding territory threatened high losses, Russians have pulled back to defensible lines and allowed Ukraine re-occupy it.
Zelenskyy is certainly playing the role of his lifetime. To what extent he believes in it cannot be known. Bolstered by an astonishing level of western military and financial support—way beyond what the US had invested, short of lives, even in Vietnam—he has categorically ruled out any negotiations with a Russia ruled by Putin, or until all Ukrainian territories have been freed of the Russian presence. A fight to the finish?
The West blows hot and cold on a negotiated outcome. At this stage it is clear that the only negotiations that count are those that must finally occur between the US and Russia. As Napoleon ruefully reflected in exile, the biggest factor on the battlefield is General Luck. Western military intervention has certainly been a “game changer” disrupting Putin’s calculations. Besides the unprecedented enormous western transfers of military hardware and command/control systems, particularly effective has been its satellite surveillance Intelligence which has crippled Russian freedom of manoeuvre in the field.
But, short of a military event like Warsaw’s 1920 “Miracle on the Vistula”, being repeated on the Dniepr, it appears that the only viable outcome is some version of the Minsk Agreement, accompanied by some deal on a “European security framework”. This was all on offer a year ago, with Russia prepared to settle for much less than it now holds, but all of that was contemptuously dismissed by the West.
Now, some tens of thousands of military casualties later, extensive physical destruction, and the flight abroad of millions of Ukrainians who may never return, does Ukrainian obstinacy on Minsk make any sense?
There has, in addition, been the fundamental wrecking of Europe’s productive economy as it “decouples” from cheap Russian energy and access to China’s low-cost products and high-value export markets for the sake of its American security “umbrella”.
The local arrangements for a post-conflict Ukraine, now very much a secondary aspect of the conflict, will be what they could have been all along.