The inflection in the war of Ukraine

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By RICARDO CAVALCANTI-SCHIEL*

The Ukrainian counter-offensive was meticulously planned by the NATO military, and triggered on the day of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's visit to Kiev

The conflict in Ukraine is undoubtedly already the detonator (in terms of phenomena; while in terms of structures it can be considered a manifestation) of a broad seismic movement in the contemporary geopolitical order, and now it would even be tedious to reiterate the magnitude of the waves of shock that, from this event onwards, begin to impact the economic, political and subjective dimensions all over the world, starting, in particular, with Europe, which in this next boreal winter will be faced with a logistical crossroads of great amplitude, capable even even taking it away from the relative protagonism that until then it had been occupying worldwide in those mentioned dimensions. These are large-scale changes and, without a doubt, we are facing a historic moment, even if it cannot yet be precisely dimensioned.

The war in Ukraine was born, planned, conceived and conducted, inducing a context that, in a text from five months ago, I called agonistic hegemony of the United States, based on political action, within the scope of that country's government, from a solid neoconservative palace faction which, despite more lay expectations, is in no way linked to Trumpism (eventually it is even antagonistic to it – and today it is frankly antagonistic to it), but which penetrated the North American bipartisan spectrum, finding safe shelter in the Party Democrat, from the governments of Bill Clinton.

Such is the state of affairs that this faction, which a few decades ago could be relatively isolated after the diplomatic setbacks of the Iraq War (when it sought shelter in the Republican Party), can no longer be so. It has metastasized, and today it has become the expression of the strategic interests of the so-called “Deep State” in that country.

The conflict that is taking place in Ukraine today began to be planned by the vanguard of this interest group at least twenty years ago. Its direct precedent and testing laboratory – including diplomatic and “legal”[1] (and which formed the subjective background that today engulfs Europe) – was the conflict in the Balkans, at the beginning of the last decade of the last century. From then on, military, political and informational tactics (the “psychological warfare”) were refined and increased, to fulfill the strategic objective that, a decade later, would guide the preparation of what today turned out to be the war in Ukraine. That goal is simply the dismantling of Russia as a nation.[2] to later do the same with China. Ukraine is just the spearhead in a rosary of chaos that found some of its manifestations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

However, in this Slavic country, such a strategy takes on a crucial dimension. And crucial are its developments and results. For this agenda, “losing Ukraine” is a blow of cardinal magnitude, which is unlikely to be reversed with another front of attack, like Finland, since the countries of Central Asia (the former preferred target of “color revolutions”) are beginning to conform solidly under the institutional web (or umbrella) of the Sino-Russian geopolitical alliance and since the “internal front” (pro-Atlanticist) in Russia collapsed under the Vladimir Putin government, and has now received its coup de grace (at least for the next few decades).

It is this dramatic aspect of the Ukrainian case that explains why the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken (a stellar character in the neoconservative faction) has been in Kiev for a week, promising new immediate military aid of 675 million dollars, in addition to another 2 billion in long-term commitment, at a time when a new “counter-offensive” by the country's military forces against the allied forces of Russia and the republics of Donbass was underway.

Nothing is free. The scenario behind this intended “counter-offensive” represents a major shift in the Ukrainian conflict, which seems to have even surprised the Russians tactically (but no more than tactically). In summary: with the scenario of the conflict already almost decided, in operational terms, in favor of Russia, the United States decided to double the stakes and go for all or nothing, before everything collapses, in the hope of maintaining a lasting war of wear to Russia.

The mainstream media, evidently controlled by the business machine of the West, reported with fanfare the recent “devastating” advance of Ukrainian troops in the north of the country, in the eastern portion of the region from Kharkov. Its context and its details are what reveal the dimension of that inflection of the war. Let us see, however, what happened in the recent Ukrainian “counter-offensive” operations.

Since the beginning of the conflict, Russia and the republics of Donbass have operated with a military contingent that is known to be smaller than that of the Ukrainian army. For Russia, the war has an internal legal aspect, which conforms to international law. That's why they call it a "special military operation". As in the case of the Syrian conflict, Russia was called upon by the constituted power of a country – in this case, the republics of Donbass, which Russia recognized – to provide support against a military aggression that was already sustained. The war in Ukraine is fought by a fraction of Russia's permanent professional military forces, which, throughout the conflict, were "rotated" to provide real combat experience to all their contingents.[3]

With a smaller force, the operations start to have a certain feature, they demand the preponderance of the logic of the movement, as well as the tactical diversion to “hold” enemy troops on fronts different from those of the “hot spots” or of the decisive operations. And without a formal declaration of war, attacks on Ukraine's basic logistical infrastructure are avoided, unlike what the United States, for example, always starts doing in its wars. Russia has clearly opted not to confront the Ukrainian civilian population, despite the massive propaganda campaign carried out by the Western psychological warfare machine. This type of limited manpower operation also requires massive long-range air and artillery superiority, which Russia has in spades.

For all this, it is reasonably clear that Russia has always intended for Ukraine to enter into an agreement, and the latter showed signs of moving towards that, until the moment when the then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, decided to go to Kiev in person at the beginning of April – a visit repeated several times – and to win from the Ukrainian president the guarantee of the continuation of the war at any cost; cost that would be largely subsidized by NATO countries. This subsidy catapulted the personal gains of power holders in Ukraine from the diversion and sale on the black market of weaponry supplied by the West; something that is now starting to worry even American politicians.

On the other hand, the continuation of the war at any cost also feeds the fundamentalist ideological obsession of the neo-Nazi sectors that control the Ukrainian government.

However, from then on, with developments on the ground, any eventual agreement for Ukraine would become progressively more expensive. It was the Russian message. And that ended up implying the massive deployment of Russian civilian infrastructure in southern Ukraine, with the implied meaning: “now we are here to stay”. The biggest and most unpalatable defeat for the neo-Nazis is for the civilian population to escape their ring of truth fire. If this happens, the “deserters” automatically become enemies. This is, effectively, a gang logic.

The superiority of Russia's military equipment in an all-out war ensured that time worked in its favor. Both the armament, even sent by the West, and the trained military contingent from Ukraine began to run out, and the Russian victory was almost a matter of inertia. Only what was not known was its size and design.

But behold, before the onset of northern autumn, Western planners decide to give new impetus to the war at any cost. Doing so is simply part of the business of US agonistic hegemony. Its strategic objective, as the Rumsfeld-Cebrowski doctrine, is first of all to support it, not necessarily to win it. And, in this case, what matters goes far beyond the borders (current or former) of Ukraine. Strictly speaking, Ukraine matters little. What matters is just breaking Russia, even if the actual results demonstrate the exact opposite or that its cost is… Europe. In that case, one would have to ask whether this is a cost or whether, for the United States, it is a collateral gain.

Earlier this month of September saw what Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had been trumpeting as the “great counter-offensive”. And if costs don't matter, here the costs seem considerable. The first attack front was launched in the southern steppes of the country. Only Ukrainian conscripts, in a frontal attack in an open field, without any air supremacy. Something around an army division was decimated. Not an inch of ground was regained, but this was to fix Russian troops on the southwestern edge of the portion they controlled and keep the attention of Russia's tactical reserves focused on that extreme. It seems to have been, more than anything else, a tactical diversion, but one that cost thousands dead and maimed and an enormous loss of equipment.

The second front was meticulously planned by the NATO military, and activated as soon as the actions on the first front were exhausted, that is, on September 8, the day of Blinken's visit to Kiev. This time, it pointed to the other end of the disputed territory, the east of the province (region) from Kharkov, in the north of the country. In this range, NATO intelligence surveys indicated that the Russian lines of defense were lighter and thinner, without much armor and without much anti-armor weaponry, and discreetly concentrated a large amount of military personnel, armored personnel and NATO artillery to attack them.

This more sophisticated military equipment requires several months of training to fully operate. During the last few months, soldiers from Ukraine were sent to European countries for training and, when they returned, their troops found themselves unusually increased by another third in the number of fighters. Formally they would be “mercenaries”, but, given the complexity of the war material they were put to handle, everything indicates that they are just NATO soldiers in Ukrainian uniforms. The war in Ukraine seems to be starting to take on a similar aspect to the Vietnam war, where Ukraine would correspond to the former South Vietnam. Here is the signaling of the turning point: now the war begins to be more clearly and explicitly, even at the tactical level, a NATO war against Russia.

In an article published on September 12 in the News Consortium, military analyst Scott Ritter sums it up: “The Ukrainian army that Russia faced in Kherson and the Kharkov region was unlike any other Ukrainian opponent it had ever faced. Russia was no longer fighting a Ukrainian army manned by NATO, but a NATO army manned by Ukrainians.”

The response to this second front in the north was a challenge for Russian forces. Something very similar happened in the same region in May 1942, in what was probably the biggest defeat of the Soviet army by the Nazis in World War II. Much like the movements that took place now in early September, Soviet troops were surrounded from the north and south by Nazi corps at Izyum (the same location as the current operation), at the end of the widest stretch of the Oskol River. . Stalin refused to allow Marshal Timoshenko to retreat, only allowing him when it was too late. The Soviets lost about 210 men and 1.000 tanks.

By the way, it was a question of evacuating the region without arousing further suspicion. There is the possibility that there was an inexplicable delay on the part of the Russian intelligence services in diagnosing the situation, and the Russian withdrawal, although organized, proved not to be a full game initiative, but a situation-induced reaction. Proof of this is that the Russian forces stopped mining the ground when they left, which favored the rapid advance of the Ukrainians led by NATO.

These then retook all the territories of the region of Kharkov under former Russian control, and there are already reports that the neo-Nazi militias are starting to carry out retaliations and executions of those civilians they consider “collaborators” (even simple civil servants or teachers who started to teach their classes for Russian school planning). Around 30 civilians were evacuated by the Russians, in an attempt to prevent what had happened in Bucha, near Kiev, in early April, where Ukrainian forces, as is now known, executed civilians they considered “collaborators” and put blame it on the Russians, on a Show media armed and capitalized by NATO war propaganda.

However, one more front is missing in the logic of the Ukrainian “counter-offensive” at the beginning of September. It appears to be unfolding right now. The timing of the other two movements suggests that they were designed to “pull” Russian tactical reserves to the extremes of controlled territory. The Russian evacuation of the west portion of the Oskol River – a river that will soon become impassable with the advance of autumn – was carried out, in all certainty, to relocate the troops that were there to a more sensitive point, namely, that of the possible third front.

For a few weeks now, the Ukrainians have been clearing land on the southern (or southeastern) front, between Vasylivka (on the east bank of the Dnieper, just south of Zaporozhye) and Ugledar (north of Mariupol). The intention seems clear on this front: to try to open a corridor to the Black Sea coast, to cut the land supply lines to Crimea and to attack the bridge linking Crimea to Russia, thus dealing a blow to Russian logistics. That seems to be the main front. For one reason: NATO military planners have realized, as have other independent analysts, that the next phase of this war will be fundamentally defined by logistical capabilities and skills.

To optimally effect the attack on this second southern (or southeastern) front, the well-equipped "Ukrainian" troops who carried out the operation on the northern front, in Kharkov, needed to be quickly moved south. It's just over 200 kilometers, and that would be logistically feasible, even with Russian air control. So, for the first time, on the night of September 11th, Russia launches an attack against Ukraine's basic infrastructure: the electricity supply network in the east of the country. And then all the railways in the region, which run on electric locomotives, stop. If any troops or equipment intended to be transported, it was immediately blocked. Once locked down, he became an easy target. In this situation, with full control of the airspace by the Russians, at least 800 Ukrainian fighters would have been killed in one night.

After its separation from the Soviet Union, Ukraine never built a single power plant or power distribution center. I believe that no more than this index is needed to point to the significance of its logistical capabilities. Most likely, Ukrainian railways will freeze this winter.

Russian troops from the north, on the other hand, need to cover a considerably greater distance and in more time to reach the south. But by this time, Russia's tactical reserves, especially the 3rd Army Corps, deployed in Rostov-on-Don, have already been mobilized to give the first combat to what is probably the last of the Ukrainian "counter-offensive" fronts, and under conditions very different from those on the fragile Kharkov front, even better than the situation just east of Izyum, at Krasnyi Lyman, which the Allies took at the end of May and where they have now successfully blocked the advance of the northern front of the Ukrainian “counter-offensive”.

The "reconquest" of eastern Kharkov by the Ukrainians and its likely consequences for the local civilian population produced a considerable blow to Russian public opinion, to the point that many political actors began to raise the idea of ​​a mobilization of reservists, something that the realism of the Kremlin immediately tried to bluntly deny it. This “reconquest”, however, may turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory.

As in the case of the southwestern steppe front (the first front), all that Russian air and artillery superiority needs is for the Ukrainian forces to “come out of the woodwork”. The lightning tactical conquest that the Ukrainian forces effected in Kharkov was made at the expense of a considerable amount of resources. If equipment is, theoretically, replenished by NATO, trained military personnel cannot be replaced so easily. It is estimated that Ukrainian losses on the northern front may have been similar to those on the southern (or southwestern) steppes.

The next few days will set the tone for the operational pace before the fall begins and the progressive logistical complication on the ground thereafter. This, then, may be the decisive battle of that war. Hence the greatness of the military gamble, not just for Ukraine, but for the entire political West, which sees its most cherished and greedy liberal ambitions begin to freeze due to lack of gas.

*Ricardo Cavalcanti-Schiel Professor of Anthropology at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS).

 

Notes


[1] There is a harmony of scale (which is the logic of liberal values) between the pretension of global legal governance engendered by the North American geopolitical hegemony in an agonistic state (or what the diplomacy of that country wanted to call an “international order based on rules”) and the global legal governance intended by neoliberalism. With regard to the latter, see the works of Yves Dezalay and Bryant Garth, in particular the collection Global Prescriptions. The Production, Exportation, and Importation of a New Legal Orthodoxy (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002). The identity discursiveness and the so-called “revolution Woke” are a constitutive part of the subjectivity of that same movement.

[2] The idea of ​​the nation (and not of the State – as a certain “anarchist” analytical perspective of anthropology likes to believe) as an expression of the One (gr. holos) seems to be a cultural construction that assumed special relevance for the historical protagonism of Europe (and the West, by extension) in the last five centuries. As I intend to develop (for certain aspects) in an essay in preparation, the conformation of this specific cultural construction is closely linked to the historical emergence of the New World. Here, for the horizon not only of the North American neoconservative political agenda but also of the globalist projects of the World Economic Forum (in Davos) ― such as, for example, the Great Reset ―, what matters is the dismantling of this sense of convergence of the national (and, by extension, public regulation) and, in particular, the national embodied in its direct geopolitical competitors. This is perhaps the last frontier for “finalist” liberal thought (that is, one that foreshadows the “end of history”). Despite appearances, the perspective just expressed is not necessarily in line with the interpretations of the Russian thinker Alexander Dugin, for whom tradition (as an intimate content of the nation) is immutable as an expression of the contingency of being, configuring itself as its transcendent. Unlike Dugin's Russia, in Latin America, tradition (Iberian ― beyond the legacy diagnosed by Richard Morse) can also be exacerbatedly perverse. Unfortunately for Dugin, the tradition is not optimally selective. All we have left is the ontological horizon (Marxist? Amerindian?) of transformation, that is, the refusal of the History end. Without that, regardless of the liberals (or exactly apropos them), the end of history is already marked. And it will be neither liberal nor “Duginist”. It's called climate breakdown.

[3] In addition to the Russian professional military forces, the 3rd Army Corps was formed in June, made up of Russian volunteers, exclusively for combat in Ukraine, and which can group between 15 and 60 combatants. It is called the 3rd Corps because the 1st Corps was assumed to be the volunteer fighters of the Republic of Donietsk and the 2nd the volunteer fighters of the Republic of Lugansk.

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