As a non-military theory type and someone who is naturally sceptical of media reports from one side in any war, I have struggled to understand what has actually been going on ‘on the ground’ in The Ukraine. Which is where Jacques Baud and his article ‘The Military Situation in The Ukraine’ comes in.
Why, might you ask, should we take note of what this Mr Baud has to say when absolute clarity is being provided to us in spades by our very own mainstream media? We know that:
– The Russian invasion of The Ukraine was entirely unprovoked and the result of the actions of a crazed, paranoid and expansionist Vladimir Putin.
– The Russian invasion did not go to plan as major cities have not capitulated and regime change has not happened.
– As a result the Russian invasion has stalled midst supply problems and the impact of an unexpected (for the Russians) solid resistance by Ukraine forces and civilians. The Russians are now regrouping and resupplying (and have recently initiated a much more focussed operation in the east of the country).
– The understandable terror has resulted in millions of displaced people seeking refugee status in neighbouring countries.
– Russian forces are wreaking destruction in many cities through shelling and missile strikes. Many non-combatants (men, women and children) are being killed and injured.
– Atrocities have been committed by Russian forces that are being investigated as potential war crimes.
– Russia has shown no signs of wanting to negotiate a cease fire and the only things that the West can do to ensure Russia is defeated (and dissuaded from undertaking other expansionist adventures) is to impose economic sanctions on it and arm The Ukranian resistance.
The reason that Jacques Baud may contribute to our understanding of this war is that he has expertise in analysing intelligence and military matters – and he was, until recently, working for NATO in The Ukraine advising on how the state military could regroup and rebuild after the defeats in the east of the country following the 2014 Maiden coup.
Colonel Baud is an intelligence expert (trained by the US & UK) formerly of The Swiss General Staff. His specialism is Eastern European countries, although he has also worked for the UN (as a peace-keeping advisor) and the African Union. His article is now three weeks old and events on the ground are moving on – but I think it provides a useful insight into how The Kremlin views the war they are fighting and fires a hefty warning shot over the bows of the ‘arm the Ukranian resistance’ policy of The West.
I intend to provide a precis / summary of this 6,000 article (https://www.thepostil.com/the-military-situation-in-the-ukraine/?s=09) and for simplicity’s sake will use italics for this. Any comments in ‘plain’ type are mine.
In his introduction Baud states, ‘The problem is not so much who is right in this conflict, but to question the way our leaders make their decisions.’ Nevertheless, I think it is clear by the time we reach his conclusion that he does have views on culpability.
In his conclusion Baud identifies three causes of the war:
i) On the strategic level: the eastward expansion of NATO post the disintegration of the USSR.
ii) On the political level: the Western refusal to implement the Minsk Agreements, which they helped negotiate and endorsed.
iii) On the operational level: the continuous attacks by Ukranian state forces on the largely Russian speaking civilian population of the Donbass since 2014 and their dramatic increase in February 2022.
Baud offers no commentary on (i). The focus of his article is on (iii) drawing in issues from (ii) as relevant:
1) The Road to War
The overthrow of the largely pro-Russian Ukranian government in 2014 and its replacement by a far-right administration which was decidedly pro-Western and anti-Russian had significant consequences for the unity of the country as a whole. Russia reabsorbed The Crimea. The eastern regions of The Donbass reacted in outrage at the cancellation of Russian as an official language of the state. Subsequent referenda in the region delivered a clear mandate for autonomy within Ukraine (not, note, separation).
Tensions between the state and the eastern regions escalated into state oppression and resistance with civilians being massacred in cities such as Odessa and Mariupol. Many Russian speaking units of the Ukranian army defected wholesale to the Donbass (including tank, anti-aircraft and artillery battalions). NATO intelligence found no evidence of arms supplies or military input from Russia. Despite being heavily outnumbered the resistance inflicted heavy defeats on a Ukranian army that was low on morale and suffering high levels of desertion and draft avoidance. The defeat at Debaltsevo forced the Ukranian government back to the negotiating table and the agreement of Minsk 2.
Despite brokering the original Minsk 1 agreement The West (led by France) refused to endorse this second agreement and, crucially, failed to put any pressure on The Ukranian government to implement it.
By 2018 Ukranian military forces were in a deplorable state, undermined by corruption and had long since lost the support of the general population. Rather than undertake a lengthy process of rebuilding, the Ukranian government opted for the quick solution of establishing paramilitary militias, comprising local right-wing militants and foreign mercenaries. ‘They were armed, financed and trained by the US, UK, Canada and France.’ Many of these units have been subsumed into the regular Ukranian army (in 2020 comprising around 40% of its person power) and others have formed the basis of the ‘Reprisal Battalions’ of the National Guard. The latter, trained in urban warfare, are now defending Kharkov, Mariupol, Odessa, Kyiv etc.
These neo- fascist forces (my term) are guilty of numerous crimes against civilian populations (rape, torture, massacres) since 2014 and ‘those who defend human rights in The Ukraine have long condemned the actions of these groups, but have not been supported by our (western) governments, because, in reality we are not trying to help The Ukraine but rather to fight Russia.
2) The Outbreak of War
In March 2022 President Zelensky issued a decree for the capture of The Crimea and deployed forces to the south of the country. NATO undertook exercises between the Baltic and Black Seas and Russia responded by undertaking exercises of its own with a build up of forces along its western border.
By February 2022 tensions had risen appreciably and a number of negotiations between Russia, NATO and The Ukraine ended in failure. The Ukraine, under pressure from the US refused to implement The Minsk Agreements. The Duma, the Russian Parliament, alarmed at the Ukranian mobilisation and continued shelling in The Donbass, asked Putin to recognise the independence of the Donetsk and Lugansk Republics. He refused to do so.
The US President, Biden, publicly predicted that a Russian invasion of The Ukraine was imminent. Two days later The Ukranian shelling of the Russian speaking population in these republics increased dramatically – which was not reported by western media. This, deliberately, put Putin in an impossible position – to help the republics (and create an international problem) or to stand back and watch the crushing of the Russian speaking population in The Donbass.
At the second time of asking, Putin acceded to pressure from The Duma, recognising the independence of the two republics and agreeing friendship and assistance treaties with them. In the face of the continuing Ukranian bombardment the republics requested military assistance on 23rd February.
As the Russian invasion commenced Putin stated clearly its War Aims in respect to The Ukraine:
(i) Demilitarisation (which can be interpreted as):
– Ground destruction of Ukranian aviation, air defence systems and reconnaissance assets.
– Neutralisation of command and intelligence structures and the main logistical routes.
– Encirclement of the bulk of The Ukranian Army massed in the southeast of the country.
(ii) Denazification (which can be interpreted as):
– Destruction or neutralisation of volunteer battalions operating in Odessa, Kharkov and Mariupol.
Note – these war aims do not include occupying the entire country or forcing regime change.
The initial Russian offensive was in the classic tradition, with the immediate destruction of the Ukrainian air force on the ground followed by advances where resistance was weakest, leaving the cities largely untouched. This was completely different from The West’s approach to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya – which may account for western media’s assertion that Russia was trying (and struggling) to take over major cities such as Kyiv. Another, significant difference to the tactics of The West has been not to attempt to provoke regime change. Russia wants to keep Zelensky in power in order to have someone to negotiate with.
The initial Russian advance seized territory the size of the UK in 6 days (a greater speed of advance than the Wehrmacht achieved in 1940) and effectively encircled the bulk of the Ukrainian Army in the south of the country and then proceeded to ‘tighten the noose.’ The goal of ‘demilitarisation’ is being achieved with the surrounded Ukrainian forces now lacking operational and strategic command structures.
The lack of territorial gain since the first phase of the invasion is interpreted by The West as a ‘slowdown’ due to failing logistics and issues of morale – rather than the Russian Army focussing on one of its war aims – ‘demilitarisation’. It is no longer under any time pressure and can steadily increase the pressure on Ukrainian forces.
It is important to note that Ukrainian cities like Kharkov, Mariupol and Odessa are primarily defended by the paramilitary, neo fascist militias, who are the main focus of the Russian aim of ‘denazification’.
Urban warfare is particularly challenging for an attacker (as the US found in places like Mosel). Street fighting creates many combatant casualties, with the alternative being buildings and infrastructure destruction. Both approaches result in civilian (non-combatant) casualties. Russia has sought to create humanitarian corridors for civilians to escape – and the militias have sought to keep civilians in the cities in order to complicate things for Russian attackers – a direct inversion of the current western media narrative that it is the Russian forces who are disrupting escape routes. (BG – interestingly I saw a Fox News interview with a retired US Army general a couple of weeks ago who caused consternation by suggesting that, on the basis of his experience in Iraq, the militias would retreat into urban areas and imprison the civilian population to use as a shield and to feed stories of Russian atrocities).
The western media propagation of the image of ‘popular resistance’ to the Russian invasion has, along with calls for aid from the Ukraine government, facilitated the financing of the distribution of arms to the civilian population by the EU. As a former head of peacekeeping doctrine at the UN Baud says ‘this is criminal act’ as it turns civilians into combatants outside of any command-and-control structures – and will increase violence to all civilians. Some countries view the arming of civilians as a way of providing cannon fodder to fight Russia (BG and to use the inevitable casualties to legitimate the further demonising of Putin and the extension of further sanctions against Russia).
(BG it seems to me that wars cannot be fought without atrocities being committed. The only way to avoid this is not to fight a war. I have no doubt that there have been many incidents where non-combatants have been killed in the most appalling manner in this war – by both the Russian forces and the far-right militias defending the cities (they are not called ‘Reprisal Battalions’ for nothing). Baud gives a different perspective to that portrayed by western media on one of the most reported incidents – the shelling of the maternity hospital at Mariupol).
Mariupol is being defended by the Azov brigade and militias (composed mainly of foreign mercenaries). The maternity hospital occupies a dominant position and was well suited for an observation post and the siting of anti-tank weapons. On 7th March the Azov Brigade expelled staff and patients from the maternity hospital (BG – at least they didn’t forcibly imprison them to act as a shield / cannon fodder) and took control of the site. On 9th March Russian forces shelled the building and CNN reported 17 casualties including children – although no images were offered to support this. The likelihood is that the casualties were members of the Azov Brigade.
The EU responded to this attack calling it a ‘war crime’ and Zelensky followed up with another call for a no-fly zone to be imposed over Ukraine by NATO (BG an act that would assuredly lead to direct conflict between Russia and NATO and all that goes with it). It is ironic that western politicians have accepted Ukrainian strikes on civilians in the Donbass for the last eight years without raising the issue of war crimes or imposing sanctions. ‘We have long since entered a dynamic where western politicians have agreed to sacrifice international law towards their goal of weakening Russia.’
‘We can deplore and condemn the Russian attack (on The Ukraine). But the US, France and the EU have created the conditions for a conflict to break out.’ This is partly due to the poor quality of western intelligence analyses of the situation in The Ukraine and partly due to western politicians deliberately ignoring their intelligence services for ideological reasons.
This conflict would probably not have happened if:
– We had had a similar compassion over the past eight years for the refugees from the Russian speaking populations of Donbass massacred by their own government and who sought refuge in Russia as we are now expressing for those fleeing from the current fighting.
– The West had insisted that Ukraine abide by the Minsk Agreements. ‘If the West cared so much about peace and the Ukraine, why did it not encourage Ukraine to respect the agreements it had signed and that the UN security council had approved?’
The conflict, and the increasing toll on non-combatants (killed, injured or displaced) is being prolonged and exacerbated by western military aid.
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NB I thank the editorial team at Steel City Scribblings for drawing my attention to this article http://steelcityscribblings.uk/wp/2022/04/09/ukraine-a-military-assessment/ .