Ukraine: Zelensky gets cold feet?

Mesmerised by the mirage of a ‘spring offensive’ which will somehow miraculously turn the tide of war in its favour, Kiev is meanwhile wasting an irreplaceable generation of young men in a series of pointless last-ditch stands like those unfolding around the cauldrons of Bakhmut and Avdiivkaz. It is unclear just who will be left to staff this grand offensive, in the spring or any other time.

Asia Times recently reported on a private gathering of former top US soldiers, intelligence officials and scholars, at which some very gloomy estimates about Kiev’s battle readiness were aired (Spengler, Why Ukraine may embrace China’s peace plan, 20 March 2023).

One expert averred that the entire army that NATO trained between 2014 and 2022 in preparation for a Russian attack is dead, and raw recruits are being thrown into battle lines with just three weeks of training. Another noted that one Ukrainian battalion lost 600 men in January, received 700 replacements, and then lost 800 men in February—a 60% casualty rate over two months.

Not surprisingly demoralisation is spreading in the ranks. The Kiev gestapo recently detained 34 people involved in smuggling men who wanted to evade mobilisation. The cost of smuggling across the border ranges from $2,000 to more than $13,000. The scheme involved fake documents declaring the men unfit for military service. Meanwhile those unlucky enough to wind up in the army have just found out that they are to be stripped of the bonus pay on which they depend both to feed their families and to equip themselves with the military gear not supplied by the army. According to the Kyiv Independent,some are concerned, disillusioned or considering going back to a civilian job”.

Perhaps some belated dawning awareness of the disastrous consequences of having allowed Ukraine to be used as an expendable launch pad for a proxy war against Russia accounts for an apparent shift in tone in recent briefings from the Zelensky camp, dropping broad hints that talks could be back on the agenda.

Kyiv is willing to discuss the future of Crimea with Moscow if its forces reach the border of the Russian-occupied peninsula, a top adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has told the Financial Times. The comments by Andriy Sybiha, deputy head of Zelenskyy’s office, are the most explicit statement of Ukraine’s interest in negotiations since it cut off peace talks with the Kremlin last April.

“‘If we will succeed in achieving our strategic goals on the battlefield and when we will be on the administrative border with Crimea, we are ready to open [a] diplomatic page to discuss this issue’ Sybiha said, referring to Kyiv’s long-planned counteroffensive” (‘Ukraine “ready” to talk to Russia on Crimea if counteroffensive succeeds’, Christopher Miller in Kyiv and Felicia Schwartz in Washington, Financial Times, 5 April 2023). This runs counter to previous statements categorically ruling out peace talks until Russian forces have left Crimea. Behind the bluster about Kiev’s predicted advance to the Crimean border, the real significance of the statement lies in the fact that it no longer demands the withdrawal of Russia from Crimea as a prerequisite for engaging in talks. The hurried face-saving caveat that “It doesn’t mean that we exclude the way of liberation [of Crimea] by our army” cannot conceal the real significance of the shift. In short, Kiev, along with its Western allies, appears to be having serious doubts about its ability to annex Crimea from Russia by force of arms and is cautiously signalling a new readiness to consider moves towards a political settlement. It is possible that Kiev is responding to pressure from its allies to do a deal; the FT suggests that “Sybiha’s remarks may relieve Western officials who are sceptical about Ukraine’s ability to reclaim the peninsula and worry that any attempt to do so militarily could lead President Vladimir Putin to escalate his war, possibly with nuclear weapons.”

In this context it’s worth noting a shade of difference in the way the different parties responded to Beijing’s suggested road map to end the war in Ukraine. Given the startling diplomatic coup so recently effected by Beijing in the Middle East, convincing both Tehran and Riyadh to lay aside a history of mutual loathing and to forge a tripartite alliance (thus taking an axe to the ties that have bound the Saudis to US imperialism), it would be folly to underestimate what fruit might come of China’s twelve point plan for Russia and Ukraine. Here is the plan.

China’s Twelve-Point Proposal

1. Respecting the sovereignty of all countries

2. Abandoning the Cold War mentality

3. Ceasing hostilities

4. Resuming peace talks

5. Resolving the humanitarian crisis

6. Protecting civilians and prisoners of war

7. Keeping nuclear power plants safe

8. Reducing strategic risks

9. Facilitating grain exports

10. Stopping unilateral sanctions

11. Keeping industrial and supply chains stable

12. Promoting post-conflict reconstruction

The attack-dog President of the European commission, Ursula von der Leyen, predictably dismissed China’s offer of assistance with contempt, saying that “We will look at the principles, of course, but we will look at them against the backdrop that China has taken sides. It is not a peace plan.” Speaking for NATO, Jens Stoltenberg muttered that “China does not have much credibility because they have not been able to condemn the illegal invasion of Ukraine” (Ryan McMorrow, Joe Leahy, Henry Foy and Demetri Sevastopulo, ‘China’s support for Russia taints Ukraine “peace” plan, Western officials say’, Financial Times, 24 February 2023).

But the initial response from Zelensky was noticeably more nuanced: “It was an important signal that China looks like it’s going to participate in [a peace formula]. I don’t know what comes next .  I want to believe that China is going to side with the idea of peace” (Christopher Miller and Felicia Schwartz, ‘Ukraine “ready” to talk to Russia on Crimea if counteroffensive succeeds’, The Times, 5 April 2023).

In taking this approach, Zelensky could be in tune with a growing body of opinion in Europe. The fact is that fears of being dragged into a further escalation of the war, triggered by any attempt by Kiev to retake Crimea by force, are forcing Kiev’s Western allies into a panicky double-bind, continuing to pour arms into the Ukrainian black hole and urging Kiev on, yet at the same time wanting to rein in the scope of its proxy forces lest they spark an extension of the war theatre across the whole of Europe.

The Financial Times even quotes Alyona Getmanchuk, director at the New Europe Centre, a Kyiv-based think-tank, suggesting that “Some of them are so afraid of Ukraine approaching the administrative border of Crimea that they are directly or indirectly trying to postpone this moment”, adding that concern was so high about fighting over Crimea escalating that it affected some allies’ “decisions on what kind of weapons to supply Ukraine with and at what speed”! So much for “we stand with Ukraine”.

The FT also cites no less an authority than Britain’s defence attaché, Rear Admiral Tim Woods, who opines that Crimea would need “a political solution because of just the concentration of force that is there and what it would mean for the Ukrainians to go in there”, adding “I don’t think there’s going to be a very quick military solution, hence we need to see what are favourable conditions for Ukraine to negotiate and I think Ukraine would be up for that.” Wavering allies of the Kiev junta might also be “up for that”. After all it is one thing to fight a war against Russia to the last drop of Ukrainian proxy blood; it is quite another to spread the bloodshed right across Europe on to everyone’s front door stop.

Meanwhile, as Russia’s just war of national resistance stands firm, the imperialist propaganda war machine is going into an impotent frenzy. Currently trending is the ludicrous decision by the ICC (International Criminal Court) to charge the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, with “abducting Ukrainian children”.

The ICC is a tool of imperialism whose pretensions of objectivity and legality are without merit. Since its formation, it has been employed to act as a kangaroo court whose primary purpose is to provide a legal cover for the persecution of anyone whom imperialism deems to be hostile. The objectivity of the Court is best judged by the fact that the US unilaterally exempts any of its own citizens from ever ending up in the dock, reserving the right to investigate the rest of the world whilst never facing trial for its own numerous criminal wars.

Given the pandemic levels of russophobia, it was only a matter of time before the ICC went for broke and issued an arrest warrant against Putin himself. The charge? The unlawful deportation of Ukrainian children to a network of camps across Russia. Politicians and media pundits instantly snapped to attention, competing with one another to make the most lurid supposed historical parallels. “It is exactly what Hitler did”; “re-education camps”; “evidence of genocide”; “Thousands of children are in a hostage situation” etc. ad nauseam.

No sooner was the warrant issued, however, than glaring inconsistencies threw doubt on these sensational allegations. The main source of the information on which the ICC based its warrant, one Nathaniel Raymond of the state funded Yale Humanitarian Research Lab (HRL), kept changing his story. In the original report he compiled for the Yale HRL, he conceded that “Many of the children who have attended these camps appear to return to their families when scheduled” and that “Many children taken to camps are sent with the consent of their parents for an agreed duration of days or weeks and returned to their parents as originally scheduled.” So much for “hostages”! The report continues, “Many of these parents are low-income and wanted to take advantage of a free trip for their child” and “Some hoped to protect their children from ongoing fighting, to send them somewhere with intact sanitation, or to ensure they had nutritious food of the sort unavailable where they live. Other parents simply wanted their child to be able to have a vacation.” The report also notes that “There is no documentation of child mistreatment, including sexual or physical violence, among the camps referenced in this report.”

Yet when Raymond went onto CNN to talk about the ‘hostage’ claims, he appeared to suffer a bout of amnesia about the contents of his own report, running off at the mouth about thousands of Ukrainian children being in a hostage situation.

Journalist Jeremy Loffredo, on whose account of Raymond’s shifting testimony our article is based, points out the single most barefaced lie on which this arrest warrant is based. Loffredo explains, “nearly all of the children referenced in the Yale HRL/State Department report are ethnic Russians from families and communities that have sided with Russia in its conflict with the nationalist government in Kiev.” By omitting this very basic fact, the ICC conspires to fuel the assumption that Ukrainian children are being sent to Russian camps to be forcibly russified! By telling such blatant and easily disprovable lies, the ICC only undermines its own pretensions of upholding the rule of law. Once more, imperialism is picking up a rock only to drop it on its own feet (Jeremy Loffredo and Max Blumenthal, ‘ICC’s Putin arrest warrant based on State Dept-funded report that debunked itself’, Grayzone, 31 March 2023).

If the ICC really wants to talk about ‘hostages’, first up in the dock should be the US and the EU. By financing and steering the Maidan coup in 2014 which installed a fascist junta in Kiev, imperialism has turned the whole Ukrainian people into hostages of its proxy war against Russia.

All these efforts to undermine Russia’s just war, trying to make up for the failure of the imperialist war effort by engaging in a campaign of lies and slander against Russia and her chosen leader, are falling flat on their face, serving only to undermine the credibility of the institutions which allow themselves to be employed in this way.

And just how far the anti-Russian propaganda is failing to convince an ever-widening section of world opinion is charted in a remarkable survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit. This right-wing think tank, no friend of Russia, wrings its hands over the palpable failure of Western propaganda when it comes to winning hearts and minds to its cause and spreading paranoia about Russia.

Contrary to the stories put out by the media portraying Russia as an isolated pariah state universally loathed by all right-thinking people, the survey reveals that in fact “net support for Russia had grown in the year since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.” Using a range of criteria like how obediently a country enforces anti-Russian sanctions, which way it votes at the UN and other political trends, the survey tracks the number of countries now positively leaning towards Russia, from 29 last year to 35 now, including South Africa, Mali and Burkina Faso. Meanwhile the number of countries designated as neutral rose from 32 to 35, including Colombia, Turkey and Qatar. The EIU said the number of neutral countries rose from 32 to 35, now representing almost 31% of the global population.

On the other side, the report reveals that the number of countries actively condemning Russia fell from 131 to 122 – in the first year of the war, at a time when the propaganda war was in full pelt!

Bewailing these damning statistics on CNBC, a spokesman for the EIU complained that “Russian propaganda in developing countries is working extremely well, stoking up resentment against former colonial powers, and I would say also fueling the idea that sanctions from Western countries are fueling global food insecurity, global energy insecurity especially in emerging countries. Obviously this is wrong, this is not the case [!] but I think that it works very well in disinformation campaigns, propaganda campaigns.” In point of fact it is the collective West which must rely on lying propaganda, not Russia, whose deeds speak louder than their words. The EIU man sums up the West’s quandary: “There is a lack of willingness to acknowledge that people may not be thinking like we do, and it is really worrying.” Quite so. (Elliot Smith, ‘”It’s not a pretty picture”: Russia’s support is growing in the developing world,’ CNBC, 30 March 2023).

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