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On Ukraine: 8 months, 4 weeks November 24, 2022

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Ukraine news continues to arrive – in some ways so rapidly changing as to make posts redundant by the time they are published. Tomás Ó Flaharta carries a very interesting piece here. Consider though the numbers above. 8 months, 4 weeks and 3 or so days since the start of the war.

An excellent analysis of the flaws in the ‘realist’ analysis in international political science here from Fred Kaplan in Slate. One aspect of that analysis, along with others, is how incoherent it all is, and contradictory too. Russia acted because it was exercised over NATO expansion, but as Kaplan notes:

It’s also indisputable that NATO’s “enlargement,” right up to Russia’s borders, intensified Putin’s resentment and paranoia. But this is no excuse for invasion. Mearsheimer ignores the fact that, in the weeks leading up to the invasion, U.S. officials assured Putin that NATO would not offer membership to Ukraine in the foreseeable future. In early March, just two weeks after the war began, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he had “cooled down” on the need to join NATO. If this were Putin’s only, or even main, fear, he had plenty of chances to stop the war or avoid starting it to begin with.

Moreover the invasion resulted in two non-NATO members joining NATO and other states strongly reorienting to NATO (and the EU as a whole adopting approaches that just three months earlier would have been anathema). That Moscow failed to see this potential outcome speaks to its broad delusion as to how this invasion would  proceed. But then as Kaplan notes one need only listen to what Putin actually says to see how thin the NATO excuse actually is. And this other piece from Convergence offers a further insight into that:

It was in the context of the Russian intervention in the internal affairs of Ukraine that the matter of NATO arose. Prior to 2014 there was little interest in Ukraine joining NATO. As a result of Russian interference in Ukraine, including but not limited to the seizing of Crimea, interest in NATO emerged.

In the lead-up to the February 2022 invasion, the Ukrainian government conveyed to Putin that it would not join NATO. This did not stop the invasion, largely because the invasion had little to do with NATO. Putin made the objectives very clear on the day of the invasion where he declared that Ukraine was “national fiction.” Thus, for Putin, the invasion was not about an alleged NATO threat and more about the destiny of Ukraine as a country.

That too, of course, is a delusion. 

In the case of Ukraine, the international borders of an independent Ukraine were recognized in 1991 in the context of the collapse of the USSR. Ukraine, however, did have a national-territorial status as a recognized nation after the formation of the USSR and, further, in the context of the formation of the United Nations. The internationally recognized borders of Ukraine were affirmed in 1994, with the signing of the Budapest Accords whereby Ukraine turned over nuclear weapons on the condition that Russia pledged to never invade Ukraine and to always respect Ukrainian sovereignty.

Note that point about the United Nations – if sovereignty in the context of the UN means anything then surely Ukrainian sovereignty means something.

But then this is of a piece with so many delusions held in that quarter, and more widely. It is worth noting that long before Western sourced supplies were sent to Ukraine it had managed to fend off the direct attack on Kyiv and stymie Russian advances in the east and south of the country. Not to a full extent in the latter case but certainly sufficient to prevent a rout. And to be honest having integrated, wrongly as it transpires, the examples of Iraq, Afghanistan and Georgia and Crimea, I and many I suspect, also felt that set against the Russian military Ukraine’s defeat was a matter of time and a short time at that – in the first hours of the invasion I was certain Kyiv would fall. That attacking Ukraine was a substantially different challenge to those other instances only became apparent across a period of time. A week perhaps, a little more. But as it did the scale of Moscow’s miscalculation was apparent. Even then it seemed that Ukraine could only stand its ground at best, not retake captured territory. And yet, from the off in retrospect it is now clear that Ukraine was substantially better positioned than anyone gave it credit – both to resist and to repulse attack, even in the absence of others weaponry, though with regard to repulsing Russian gains that assistance has without question been key.

Notable how Moscow has now stated that it is not seeking government change in Kyiv. One could view this as both a statement of the obvious, in the sense it has been unable to effect government change, and also question why this should be taken any more seriously than the statements emanating from the same quarter right up to the commencement of the invasion that it had no intention of invading. Indeed this particular conundrum does render the calls for negotiations somewhat beside the point. What possible mechanisms are in place to ensure that Moscow under the current circumstances is true to its word? Until they are there why would Kyiv treat them as being any more robust than the Budapest Accords were in their time?

Luke Harding of the Guardian was on the Guardian politics podcast from Ukraine last week (and again worth a listen) and he made an excellent point that there have been three key pivots in the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Those being the initial effort to take Kyiv – which failed. Then the inability to encircle Kharkiv by the Russians, and most recently the retreat from Kherson by Moscow forces. He also mentioned that Kherson represented a cultural erasure – for example, art galleries there which have been looted by Russian forces. 

Mark Galeotti on his always insightful podcasts noted a further feature of this which linked into some interesting thoughts about Putin’s regime, where he argued that Putin has long abandoned the idea that he is ruling on behalf of the masses but instead is going in a direction that is very close to that of monarchy. It’s not, as Galeotti noted, that he has pretensions to being a monarch or Tsar, not divine right or dynastic succession, though functionally how would one tell the difference given the centrality of Putin to the direction the state, but rather that he ruling in the name of ‘invocation of a greater national destiny of Russia’. He argues that Putin’s framing of this as an existential and cultural struggle against a hegemonic west which is both self-serving but also part of his belief. He believes he is  channelling to live up to his dream, his ideal, and that, and this I find particularly troubling that it is not rather than for him to live up to their expectations. But then as Galeotti notes, an official on the Russian Security Council argued that Russia’s role was the deSatanization of Ukraine. The fact that that sort of rhetoric is regarded as acceptable tells us much, whatever the true feelings of those using it.

And he pointed to news reports of the removal from Kherson by the Russian authorities “two statues and the mortal remains of Prince Grigory Potemkin, a favourite of Catherine the Great”. He argues this reflects  increasing trend of mysticism in Russian official doctrine and narratives. But note too that this language of Ukraine and the conflict on foot of the invasion as being ‘Satan’ is used liberally on Russian media outlets as reported by the BBC this week. 

It need hardly be noted that this is utterly irrational. 

Anyhow this part of this piece in The Irish Times isn’t bad – referencing possible responses on foot of 50 plus politicians being banned from entering Russia, though whether as a whole the article holds up is another matter,  in pointing out that:

The Irish Government’s response has so far been to keep a cool head and retain open channels of communication with Moscow. This is broadly in line with the EU and Nato approach to the conflict, which has been strongly supportive of Ukraine, but also avoids provoking the Russians. If Ireland were to evict the Russian envoy, not only would this pose a threat to the Irish Embassy and its staff in Moscow, but it would exacerbate tensions even further.

Comments»

1. On Ukraine, 8 Months, 4 Weeks – A post published first on the Cedar Lounge Blog | Tomás Ó Flatharta - November 24, 2022
2. tomasoflatharta - November 24, 2022
3. terrymdunne - November 24, 2022

It is not joining NATO per se, it is an entire re-orientation away from Moscow towards the West which has been going on in the case of Ukraine for sometime (and has included military links prior to February 2022), which Finland has already undergone (so their joining NATO is by no means a new departure) and which much, almost all, of the rest of central & eastern Europe has been at since 1989. There is no pro-Moscow corollary from recognising that context.

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WorldbyStorm - November 24, 2022

Agree with your point completely that there’s no pro-Moscow aspect to recognising those realities. Still to consider those realities, why did those states do that in that period and secondly why did Putin rhetorically place NATO as a key excuse/apologia? Perhaps the latter because it served as a simple short hand for the process that occurred and also because it looks worse than a more organic process of reorientation towards Europe really? But the former perhaps for the usual reasons that we see worldwide where smaller states attempt to get out from under the shadow of former – I’m reaching for words to describe the multitude of processes, military, cultural, economic, etc, hegemon? It’s difficult to boil all that down into a single experience isn’t it in Eastern Europe and stretching all the way to the Russian border? The 1945-1991 experience was one thing, that of a state like Ukraine different again.

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terrymdunne - November 25, 2022

Well elites in the colonies, post-colonies, semi-colonies or peripheries often shift to another imperialist bloc/core, this allows them to re-integrate into the world order in a more advantageous position – I mean there is an echo of that here with American FDI & Common Market membership turning the country into something other than a large farm neighbouring Manchester.

Whether the 1991 scenario is exactly analogous with Ukraine – yeah you could consider Ukraine part of the Soviet core – but uneven patterns of development lead to seperatist movements in advanced regions too (eg Basque country, Catalonia) – it is though part of the same process, the long-term decline in Russian power.

The reason NATO is rhetorically central (notwithstanding very real Western-Ukrainian military co-operation prior to February 2022) is like . . .what would you say they are gonna join the EU or they are gonna join the alliance pointing nuclear weapons at us since the 1950s & which rehabilitated the guys that invaded us in granddaddy’s time with a 25 million death toll. I think the second option packs more punch & in any case it is perfectly possible to co operate closely with NATO to the point of being a member in all but name (as Finland) without joining.

I don’t think Iraq is the right analogy – aside from that being a much greater disparity in terms of force – that was an actual invasion in a military sense – I think Moscow’s scenario in Feb 2022 was one where they would face minimal opposition – and in fact co-operation or acquiesce – and just have to get rid of the government & replace it with one of their choice, much like Afghanistan in 1979, or Prague in 1968, or indeed Crimea in 2014 – this is why they were just trundling columns of tanks up roads or landing paratroopers to seize airports – that seems like an insane miscalculation now but I don’t see how it makes any sense otherwise.

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4. Tomboktu - November 27, 2022

What will stop it?

There is an asymmetry in the fighting: the bulk of fighting is in Ukraine — not just the ground war, but importantly the missile attacks on the infrastructure that is crippling Ukraine’s electricity, heating and water systems. Is there any reason to believe those attacks would stop if Ukraine drove all Russian troops back across the border?

How can/could Putin be forced to stop?

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WorldbyStorm - November 27, 2022

I suppose it’s attrition on both sides. Russias mission stocks are low, sanctions preventing east manufacture of more (same for ranks) the idea being that at some point Putin has to stop for fear of Russias self defence in other areas being degraded. Is that it?

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Tomboktu - November 27, 2022

I don’t know if that is how it is working or will work.

Are the sanctions stopping all supplies?

Ultimately, would it take substantial attacks in Russia to stop Putin? But, of course, the fear is that he would escalate to using nuclear weapons.

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WorldbyStorm - November 27, 2022

Without question its catastrophic and particularly for Ukraine (though also for those thrust by Moscow into the conflict). And there’s no clear cut end. But I don’t think that it would take attacks on Russia, and certainly I don’t think (and I hope) no one is arguing for them. Russia is a significant power but it’s not infinitely resourced. Sanctions appear to be causing serious attrition of weaponry and more importantly the ability to replace weaponry. Russia also has to consider its location and how its neighbours and some of them are economic titans in comparison (the PRC for one) could cause mischief in some of its areas (to give but one example, there are more) and disrupt its territorial integrity to their own ends. So maintaining its ability to defend itself is key. One really telling piece of information is that for all the supposed threat from NATO Russia pulled most of its army away from the Finnish border during the last nine months to supplement the Ukrainian war effort. I doubt it would do quite the same on some parts of its borders with other states to its east and south. So at some point as the stocks run low it has to look to its own broader defence. Interesting the US has had a similar issue with respect to Ukraine where it has had to pause in giving certain weaponry in order to maintain its own stocks at a level viable to its own assessment of its security. So at a certain point the conflict will subside on the Russian side absent some other factor because their ability to wage war will reach a point where other concerns enter the equation (btw it would appear that Moscow has been warned off using nuclear weapons by China and India). Which doesn’t mean the conflict is over but one could see frozen lines or Ukrainian forces pushing the Russians slowly back and back over a protracted period. That’d be very ugly because Russia’s ability to defend them may be greater than their ability to project their forces into Ukraine. But it would speak of ultimate Russian defeat sooner or later.

Putin is dragging the war out in the hope that support for Ukraine falters, but as with Afghanistan and other conflicts (Vietnam) that works both ways. Every day that passes the simple fact that Moscow was unable to impose its will becomes ever clearer to its own people. That may have impacts too.

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Dr Nightdub - November 27, 2022

There’s a supplier based here that we use in work, my main contact is a guy called Evgeniy, who I deal with just by email.

Got a chilling out-of-office reply from him recently: “Owing to infrastrucure damage, my access to electricity and internet may be interrupted.” Only then did I check his phone number: country code 380 is Ukraine.

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WorldbyStorm - November 27, 2022

That brings it home doesn’t it?

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Alibaba - November 27, 2022

Somebody said, “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future!”

When it comes to Putin, it is surely unpredictable. Nevertheless I doubt that Putin will pull back, as that would mean the end of his political career and his fixation with winning despite any catastrophe.

And there are those who argue that the war will not end until there is a regime change in Russia.

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Colm B - November 27, 2022

You’re right in this sense, like the imperial regimes in Germany and Russia in WW1, the klepto-capitalist regime can’t lose without serious risk of collapse. That however, points to a progressive outcome; the more defeats the Russian imperialists suffer, the more the risk of the regime collapsing.

As for “regime change”, theres a good old- fashioned word for that – revolution.

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