As we approach the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it continues to be really hard to find out what is going on ‘on the ground’. Not long ago we were hearing that the Russian military machine had stalled and that Ukrainian forces would be building on successes to put their opponents under increasing pressure. Some journalists were even talking of a Ukrainian victory.
Now we are hearing that Russia, on the back of a vast re mobilisation, is about to push again and President Zelensky is doing the international rounds asking / begging for more military hardware and seeking to bolster a Western support that he is concerned is flagging.
The truth about the relative strength and effectiveness of the opposing armies is likely to be revealed in the next few weeks (1). However, what is certain, is that over the course of the last 12 months the conflict and tensions between the key players (Russia, US and NATO) has steadily escalated and this escalation is becoming more and more dangerous. It increases the likelihood of direct conflict between the two blocks and with it, the potential for nuclear exchanges.
It is in this context that a couple of key messages have come from Russia in the last couple of weeks. They are attempts to engage directly with the populations of the US and NATO countries – but I have to say I seem to have missed them being mentioned in our mainstream media. Well, there you go.
On the 27th of January, Russian Foreign Office Official Maria Zakharova was fielding questions at the end of a lengthy international press conference (2). This had covered confusing and contradictory statements from western officials on the role of NATO in the conflict and the recent announcement that Germany was to supply Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine. She reportedly became visibly upset at the prospect of German tanks once again moving through Ukraine to attack her country and went on to say:
‘Do you believe that as you send tanks, which require maintenance …. you are still not a party to the conflict? Who are you then? Explain. Just invent some new term to identify yourself. ‘Citizens of NATO states should know: their bloc is fully engaged in confrontation with our nation, and this confrontation is escalating.’
Nine days later on the 5th of February, the Russian State Television news programme Sixty Minutes (3) was discussing moves in US and NATO countries to provide Ukraine with more weaponry. This included coverage of a suggestion from Lt. General Ben Hodges (former commander of US forces in Europe) that Ukraine should be provided with long range precision missiles to attack the Crimea and into the Russian heartlands.
A statement was made, that Russia’s current nuclear weapon operational guidance is being reviewed and a shift being considered to a policy of ‘preventive’ tactical nuclear strikes, which would match the US’s current position. This would enable counter strikes against European and US continental bases should missiles be launched into the Crimea and Russia. Furthermore, the programme stressed that this threat of preventive nuclear strikes should be made public and explicit, so that no one is in doubt about what to expect from the Kremlin.
So, do we think us citizens of the West have a full understanding of what is being done in our name in this conflict and a good grasp of where all this may be leading?
It seems to me that the full consequences of the failure of the Turkish brokered peace talks in March of last year, may well soon be coming home to roost. Since then the continuing conflict has killed, injured and displaced countless more people and is reducing Ukraine to a shattered shell of a state. The parties to the peace talks had agreed the basis for discussion (often the sticking point in such negotiations) which suggested that they were both serious about negotiation. Then came the intervention from NATO, led by the then prime minister of Great Britain, which persuaded Ukraine to withdraw from the talks on the promise of ongoing, unlimited military support. The messaging in the West then became focussed on the total defeat of the Russian forces and the regaining of all pre war territory by Ukraine, including The Crimea. This zero-sum approach stripped away any chance of a negotiated cease fire and longer-term peace agreement. The US and NATO painted not only Ukraine into a corner, but also themselves.
I don’t get the impression that the British public were, or are aware, of ‘our’ role in this or of its implications. Nor do I think there is much understanding of the risks for everyone, not just for citizens of Ukraine, of the West’s gradual creep into direct engagement in this war.
— x —
(1) As I have previously made clear I have little knowledge of military strategy and am sceptical of reports about the military situation in Ukraine available through our mainstream media. However, I am picking up perspectives which suggest that:
– The two sides are fighting very different types of war. Whilst the Russians are prioritising military objectives and careful management of their troops, the Ukrainians are undertaking high profile actions with a view to maintaining support from the West. Hence the now apparently failed Ukrainian advances in the Autumn and the large number of losses incurred.
– Despite reports of how badly led and ill-disciplined the Russian forces are, the truth seems to be the exact opposite. Ukrainian defenders report the Russian forces to be well equipped and effective. This would seem hardly surprising.
– The recent flurry of Ukrainian diplomatic activity seeking increased military support from the US and NATO, would suggest that reports of Ukrainian forces being exhausted and fearful of the predicted Russian advances this Spring are credible.
– The paltry response of the US and NATO to these requests in the form of a handful of largely obsolete and second-class battle tanks sometime in the future, may indicate that the West is running out of ideas and out of spare materiel. Recent reports from the Rand Corporation point out that stocks of artillery shells are running low in the US and that military commanders in the west are raising concerns about the impact on the effectiveness of their own forces of continued support for Ukraine.
I may of course be wrong, but what would in conventional warfare be a boost to peace initiatives (one side running out of supplies) might in this situation provoke a more aggressive and escalatory stance from the US and NATO. The West may well prioritise staving off the consequences of what will be perceived as a major defeat. This stance could include more direct involvement in the conflict (boots on the ground), missile attacks on Russia itself and ……… attempts at first strike nuclear attacks.
Of course, the US could view even a major defeat of Ukrainian forces as ‘job done’. Russia has had to commit and expend considerable personnel and materiel, and political and economic relations between it and Europe have been trashed. The US could wash its hands and simply move on to the next target – China. However, war tends to develop its own momentum (always easier to start than stop) and the fact that Russia’s economy has not imploded under the weight of western sanctions mitigates against this.
(2) Quoted in – Live Stream – Taiwan What’s next – Let’s talk China – Brian Berletic, Cyrus Jansenn, Alex Reporterfy. Youtube 29.01.23.
(3) Cited and quoted from Gilbert Doctorow, Antiwar.com Blog 08.02.23. – ‘The Coming Existential Threat’
Another good post. Maria Zhakarova has long impressed me with her sincerity and intellectual agility in fielding questions from invariably hostile Western reporters.
(The latter more self-servingly obtuse, IMO, than consciously mendacious.)
The same goes for Putin and Lavrov. Though I should be used to this, it continues to amaze me that millions of my peers can hold such strongly antagonistic views of these leaders – and such unquestioning assumptions of the superiority of ‘our’ media – when so few trouble to read or listen to them at source. Not least because, with such as RT and Sputnik blocked by all mainstream browsers and search engines, it takes a bit of effort to do so. (Plug: everyone should download the Tor Browser and use Duck Duck Go.)
Thanks for raising the issue of Ukraine wanting long range missiles to strike not only Crimea but targets within Russia. A short but usefully chilling piece by Gilbert Doctorow …
… throws light on this, and the danger we all face. My baby boomer generation especially has grown complacent about nuclear war. Even now, when we stand closer to it than at any point since nuclear fission began.
The West has done a comprehensive propaganda job on Putin and Lavrov, to the point where nearly everyone of their utterances is immediately followed by a comment which rubbishes their veracity and accuracy. If I’m honest I rarely read even any Western leaders at source – and I’m interested in politics and have time – so it’s probably a bit of an ask to hope that many people would do so for foreign leaders – and as you say there are significant obstacles to doing so. Most of us rely on others to report politicians’ speeches and responses to questions – and thus to set context and provide interpretation – which is where the problems lie and where propaganda can be rooted.
The quote from Maria Zhakarova was important for me. Whilst I have long understood intellectually the pressure that the US and NATO have been exerting on Russia, her outburst (if I may call it that) really brought home to me the anger, frustration and fear that is being felt by her and by extension many Russians.
They are being played and they know it. They fear for the future of their country and for themselves, their families and friends.