Ukraine is on a razor’s edge. The whole thing hangs in the balance. It could go either way. The Ukrainian elite is rotten. It is psychologically Soviet. Poroschenko is just another apparatchik. He is typical. The problem in Ukraine, like in Russia, is that we don’t have any leaders. It is the same old story, same old biographies. The thinking is not that different from the past.Vladimir Bukovsky, 16 December 2018 [i]
Please be patient! Ukraine is in the midst of a very real and very significant social revolution. This revolution for many Ukrainians involves a new conceptualization of their values and identities. This is a painful process that needs to occur through collective actions, introspection, and without external intervention.Mychailo Wynnyckyj [ii]
Bukovsky’s pessimism of 2018 is contradicted by Wynnyckyj’s optimism of 2019. The apparatchiks of Ukraine have been subjected to a genuine revolution, says Wynnyckyj. What was once psychologically Soviet has now become something different, something genuinely Ukrainian. Wynnyckyj argues that the Euromaidan Revolution was a “bourgeois revolution,” profoundly anti-Soviet in character. This revolution, he says, is multi-ethnic rather than chauvinistic. It signifies a renewal of the Ukrainian elite. Because of this renewal, and its implications for Russia, the Kremlin has launched a violent military assault against the Ukrainian people that has lasted nine long weeks.
In 2018 I shared Bukovsky’s skepticism about Ukraine and its revolution. But now the proof is “in the pudding.” The war between Russia and Ukraine has shown us that Ukraine is no longer Soviet, and is no longer willing to take orders from Moscow. The Ukrainians are fighting for their independence. And in this fight the Russian military appears to have blundered badly. Ukraine seems to be winning this war.
How do we explain it?
Ukraine has developed and matured as a country, while Russia appears to be governed by an incompetent gang of kleptocratic lackeys. Somehow the West failed to notice the emergence of something special in Ukraine. Wynnyckyj says the Euromaidan Revolution is the most important political event of the twenty-first century (to date). Here we see the appearance of an “autonomous … market sphere … in parallel with the ‘oligarchic system’ during the two decades preceding [the] Maidan [Revolution].” Ukraine developed an “alternative economy,” leading to cultural and structural improvements. “In this ‘de novo’ entrepreneurial sector,” says Wynnyckyj, “… a ‘bourgeois’ culture opposed to that of oligarchic companies developed: competitive, market-oriented, meritocratic, and with value placed on intangible assets (e.g., intellectual, cultural, social capital) on par with material possessions.”[iii] Ukraine’s new middle class was not rich, but idealistic and competent. These were people in the midst of discovering spiritual values. In this forgotten corner of the post-Soviet world a little dose of freedom gave birth to something new. Here were people interested in truth, patriotism, and higher things.
For years I have suggested that the political system in Russia has remained Soviet in character, cynically mimicking Lenin’s New Economic Policy (NEP) of the 1920s with the incompetent military leadership of 1939-41.. At the same time, Russia has continued to collaborate with communist regimes around the world – in Latin America, Africa and Asia. In fact, Russian agents have even attempted to ship weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).[iv] Putin’s emerging military coordination with communist China can only be fully explained if the post-Soviet regime in Russia remains under communist directorship. But, for a host of reasons, the Kremlin dares not reestablish open communist rule. The Russian people would not like it. Furthermore, it has become convenient for Russia’s “Soviet structures” to operate as a loosely confederated mafia, having descended into a semi-bureaucratic feudalism. Even so, the surviving communist cadres in these decrepit “Soviet” structures would like to put the old union together. Therefore, the Euromaidan Revolution in Ukraine cannot be allowed to stand. It represents a threat insofar as certain “progressive” options are being closed off once and for all. How, then, can Russia’s “secret rulers” (to borrow a phrase coined by Lev Timofeyev) put Humpty Dumpty together again?
This analysis is what led me to believe that the Russian armed forces would invade Ukraine last February. Absent this sort of motivation, the invasion makes no sense. All the given excuses for invasion are palpable lies. And they are stupid lies to the bargain. When you cannot say what you are really up to, because everyone will cry foul, you make stuff up. And that is what the Russian government has done.
Immediately in the wake of the Euromaidan Revolution of 2014, the Russian authorities under Putin deployed agents to create the basis for breakaway regions that would eventually join the Russian Federation. Machinations of this kind were used to annex Crimea and start a war in Donbas (eastern Ukraine). Russian subversion in Odessa and other areas of Ukraine’s south and east were also attempted at the time. Only seven percent of Ukraine’s territory then came under Russian control. From Putin’s point of view this was not enough. Therefore the war was continued in Donbas for eight years to bleed Ukraine and undermine its sovereignty. And now a final solution to the Ukraine problem was decided on: full scale invasion.
A Brief Interview with Historian John Mosier
One week ago I contacted military historian John Mosier, who predicted that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would meet with serious difficulties. Here is my interview with him:
NYQUIST: Ukraine recently claimed roughly 19,000-20,000 Russian dead with roughly 3,700 Ukrainian battlefield deaths. Is this claim credible in your view?
MOSIER: That was last week, it’s now higher, plus it doesn’t count MIA [Missing in Action] and WIA [Wounded in Action]. It’s much worse than the numbers suggest, owing to a surprisingly high number of senior officers killed (almost all confirmed) and the losses in the supposedly elite units. Ukraine’s claims are definitely credible.
NYQUIST: You analyzed Russian causality figures for past wars in your book, Deathride: Hitler vs. Stalin, finding similarly high Russian loss ratios in past military operations. Does your previous analysis fit the present situation?
MOSIER: Pretty much. I was one of a couple of people who argued that the Russians would have tough going in Ukraine if they invaded. But I was pretty surprised by how bad it was. The Russian failures were way worse than I thought they would be. Sending armored columns down a highway without infantry and tactical air support is suicide. When you fail to get command of the airspace over the battlefield in the first 48 hours, you’ll never get it. I grant you, seeing what happened was really bizarre. In hindsight, it’s starting to make sense, but that’s in hindsight. When Russian airborne troops failed to capture the airport outside of Kiev, they were basically massacred by the Ukrainian National Guard – [and] that called for a massive revision. Clearly all our assumptions were way off.
NYQUIST: In your view, what is it about Moscow’s strategy that accounts for Russia’s recent military failures?
MOSIER: Unlike a lot of folks, I don’t think Putin is crazy. I believe his decision was based on horrifically bad intel and the fatal mistake of believing what he was being told about his military. The failure wasn’t strategic, it was tactical: the Russian military hasn’t learned much about modern warfare. It was operating like it operated in 1939. But to be fair, if he studied what was being said in the west, he would have been supported in his ideas. Given the purges [of Russian generals by Putin], he realizes mistakes were made; and the way he is systematically changing his strategic aims indicates he has some idea of what’s going on. The difficulty is that it’s really difficult to recover from an initial plan that was faulty – which is the problem he’s having now. It’s also very tough to change doctrine. All the more so given the nature of the early losses: too many of the officers who could have corrected the mistakes are dead. Eight generals and thirty colonels isn’t just a major hit on your combat commanders – it means that those units must have had severe losses – and also that a lot of lower level officers were either incompetent or being very passive-aggressive.
I also think Putin misjudged the impact of public opinion on the leadership in the West. Left to their own devices, the West’s leaders would have just wrung their hands and made a few symbolic gestures, but their citizens forced them to take action. But it’s a rational failure: someone who grew up inside the USSR, who was educated there, simply cannot understand how public opinion works [in the West], any more than a Marxist can understand economics. The same as with nationalism, which is poorly understood just about everywhere. Not my idea: see Anderson’s “Imagined Communities.”
NYQUIST: Is Russia in danger of losing the war?
MOSIER: That depends on definitions. If we go by Putin’s original objective, the Russians have already lost. By this week’s objectives, they might win. But the odds aren’t good, and as of this morning (4/23) the odds have dropped some more. If Putin is willing to take the losses, he might be able to extend the “independent” parts of the Donbas and establish the land bridge. But the Russians have been trying to do that for a week and haven’t managed it. I’m not sure they have the manpower and the equipment to do that.
The problem is typical of wars: it’s like reading the tea leaves. As one Spanish general observed about the Spanish Civil War: the problem is you can find evidence to support anything you want to believe. Since I really believe that Ukraine is the injured party, I’d like them to win outright. So naturally I pay close attention to information that supports that. But I’m also aware of how little we actually know. For example, there’s a lot of evidence about serious problems in the Russian military: desertions, refusals to renew or sign contracts, and so forth. But it’s impossible to know what the impact of that is.
However, I will say that as of this moment, most of the evidence suggests the Russians are losing. But there are just too many unknowns. We can guesstimate some of them, for example, the surprisingly high percentage of Russians shells and missiles that are duds. And in some cases common sense can help: sure the Russians have thousands of tanks parked out in the fields [in reserve]. But they have been sitting there for thirty years, so it’s not like you can just sit down and drive one off.
But other factors – perhaps the most important ones – are simply unknowable: the attitudes and possible actions of some of Russia’s neighbors: Turkey, Romania, Poland, and the Stans. While we can safely assume that these people would love to see Russia defeated and even humiliated, we have no idea how they would actually react if, for instance, the Russians invaded Moldova or tried to send more warships into the Black Sea. Would they wring their hands and ask the UN to send Moscow a stiff note or would they fight? For that matter, we have no idea what they may have told the Russians.
None of the major players are saying squat – including the Ukrainians, who are very good at giving solid info about Russians losses, but they are really tight-lipped about their plans.
[Part Two coming Soon]
Notes and Links
[i] My interview with Bukovsky
[ii] Mychailo Wynnyckyj, Ukraine’s Maidan, Russia’s War: A Chronicle and Analysis of the Revolution of Dignity (Stuttgart: Ibidem Press, 2019), p. 241.
[iii] Ibid, pp. 293-4.
[iv] Viktor Bout is a self-admitted Marxist-Leninist Russian national who infamously traffics in arms. He is connected to Putin’s longtime lackey and former deputy prime minister, Igor Sechin, who tried to get Bout out of jail in Thailand prior to his extradition to the Untied States. Bout not only sold weapons to communists in Africa, Latin America and Asia, but he also sold arms to the Taliban and al Qaeda. When Bout was supplying arms to an undercover agent of the DEA posing as a communist FARC guerilla, he admitted to being a true-believing communist. How Viktor Bout Fell for the DEA’s FARC Trap (insightcrime.org).
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