It is obviously hazardous to predict the outcome of the war given the conflicting claims of both sides and the obvious propaganda character of most of what is published. The involvement of so many actors makes it difficult to have confidence. What role will Belarus play, and will a ‘coalition of the willing’ e.g. Poland etc. be the subterfuge that NATO will adopt for a more direct intervention? How much escalation will NATO go for on the basis that they argue that they will not be intimidated, Russia hasn’t reacted so far, and the threats from Russia are outrageous intimidation?
What one thinks will be the outcome very much reflects what one thinks is already happening.
A strange consensus exists in the Western media. Ukraine is winning but there are repeated entreaties for the Western powers to maintain their support, calls really directed to the populations consuming their media. The ‘between-the-lines’ message is that Ukraine will not win if the West does not continue to support it. That Ukraine can win, and claims that it is doing so, are meant to convince that the sacrifices already made have achieved results and not been wasted, although apparent setbacks also give rise to the same appeals.
What this means is that while Ukrainians are doing almost all the fighting, they cannot continue without Western support. In other words, the war must continue, and can only continue, if the West remains in the fight. Despite this repeatedly admitted dependence of Ukraine on the West, by both parties, their leftist supporters still claim to support their war based on the idea of ‘self-determination’.
In point of fact self-determination was achieved by Ukraine when it became an independent state in 1991, whereupon it suffered an economic collapse. It attempted to carry out an independent foreign policy by balancing between Russia and the West but this too failed. Its dependence now on the West is complete and all talk of self-determination and independence is so much deceitful humbug. Win or lose Ukraine–as it has existed–is not going to determine its own future, or be in any genuine way independent of imperialism: ‘self-determination’ has also failed.
Ukraine started the war with 43 million people and 5 million military-aged men, but according to the U.N.,14.3 million have fled and a further 9 million are in Russian-occupied territory. Ukraine is therefore reduced to about 20 to 27 million people and at this ratio it has less than 3 million draftable men. A million have already been drafted, and many of the rest are either not physically fit or have a vital role in the economy. The GDP of this economy has declined by an estimated 30 per cent.
It started with an army of 250,000 regular troops, together with 450,000 mobilised citizen soldiers, with 1,800 artillery pieces that allowed firing rates of 6,000 to 7,000 rounds a day, plus perhaps over 2,500 tanks. The weapons supplied by the West are needed not to add to these totals but to replace them because Ukraine does not itself have the necessary military-industrial complex to do it. If Ukraine could not defeat the invasion with these initial forces the lesser supplies from the West are not going to achieve this task despite the escalation in the power of the new weapons. Their purpose is to keep the war going, with all the horror this must necessarily entail.
Ukraine and the West have been able to present the idea that not only can it win the war, but actually is, through two arguments about how it has proceeded so far. First is the failure of the Russians to take Kyiv and its retreat from the city, and secondly the reverses and retreats in Kharkiv and Kherson, reducing Russian control to approximately 50% of the territory it had captured by the invasion on 24 February.
The Russian objective has been a neutral Ukraine if an allied one could not be attained, while Ukraine as a member of NATO is unacceptable.The initial invasion seemed to be based on the view that Russia could point the gun to the head of Ukraine’s political leadership in Kyiv and gain the concessions that it required without a full-scale war. When this leadership, with western intervention, rejected this course the only alternative was the grinding conflict that the war has become.
Since Russia has had no intention of occupying all of Ukraine the purpose of the invasion is to enlarge the buffer between it and the NATO powers and to destroy the military capacity of the country – to ‘demilitarise’ and ‘de-nazify’. A buffer, even an enlarged one through annexing Ukrainian territory, is not enough; Russia already started the invasion with a buffer but a continuing military threat in the remaining un-occupied state would be a very meagre victory.
This is why Russia invaded with only around 200,000 troops made up of regular Russian forces and soldiers from the two separatist areas of Donetsk and Luhansk; less than the Ukrainian armed forces when an overwhelming numerical superiority would have been required.
The primary goal of the military conflict has therefore become the destruction of the Ukrainian armed forces, and not the acquisition of territory, which can be taken after a military victory. This includes those oblasts which Russia now claims as its territory but which it currently does not completely control. The primary purpose of Ukraine has been the recapture of territory lost; together these explain the character of Russian reverses in Kharkiv and Kherson.
In the former few Russian forces were in place to defend earlier gains and most of those that existed belonged to separatist militias; Russia did not have enough soldiers to maintain its occupation of the area. It was however able, in due course, to halt the Ukrainian offensive and then consider a counter-attack. In Kherson the Russian forces were exposed and retreated before this exposure crystallised into a more pressing threat. The result was that it was able to keep its forces intact and strengthen its immediate strategic position. In both Kharkiv and Kherson the maintenance of its armed forces was more important than territorial loss. To these must now be added the partial mobilisation of a further claimed 300,000 Russian soldiers, giving its forces numerical superiority for the first time.
Pro-Russian commentators have therefore argued that the static conflict that has been in place for the last three to four months has not been a stalemate but a result of Russian strategy to engage greater and greater numbers of Ukrainian forces with the purpose of then destroying them with greater firepower. So, while we have noted that Ukraine could fire 6,000 to 7,000 artillery rounds a day, Russia has been firing 40,000 to 50,000, with some reports stating that it has a six-to-one advantage in artillery pieces. It is therefore obvious that this sort of war is to Russia’s advantage; it is also true that it is not a war that Ukraine can win.
Attempts to keep it going by Western arms do not benefit Ukraine but will only result in the death of more Ukrainians, not to mention Russians. The number of weapons, including their diversity and the logistical problems arising from this, are inadequate and cannot in themselves rebuild an army that superior Russian forces already degraded when this army had larger weapons systems on which it had already been trained.
The political leadership of Ukraine, who walked their country into this war and promised victory, will find it difficult to admit defeat and so face the wrath of its far-right supporters and the displeasure of its US backers. EU leaders may decide that sanctions have failed to impose the costs on Russia that they expected; that they themselves can’t afford, and that would not be justified by the project of incorporating Ukraine in NATO. The rest of the world outside what calls itself ‘the international community’ has not rallied to the demands of the US, and China has not decided that doing the bidding of its declared enemy is better than maintaining its alliance with its new friend.
These point to an end to the war sooner rather than later, but not until Russia has degraded the Ukrainian armed forces and occupied those parts of Ukraine it now claims as its own sovereign territory.
This, of course, will not end the hatred and division between Ukrainian and Russian, including their working classes, and will not end the mutual antagonism between the two states. The US and its NATO creation will have suffered a reverse but these have happened before; military setbacks will not destroy western imperialism, and the Russian and Chinese states certainly won’t.
A victory for Ukraine and the US would have similar reactionary consequences and would not usher in any progressive Russian regime. We will leave to left-wing bourgeois moralists any notion that a victory for Ukraine would be a victory for the working class anywhere, least of all in Ukraine itself, which would then in such an eventuality have its future celebrations consist of the triumph of western imperialism and of Ukraine’s most reactionary nationalist traditions.
A war with potentially only reactionary outcomes and consequences is not one that can be supported. Its lasting tragedy may be that any sort of democratic and progressive peace settlement is impossible. Right now it certainly looks extremely unlikely, which is unsurprising. This could only arise from a working class armed with its own political alternative, and not some second-hand programme that has already failed and which is the most impossible outcome of all.
Good update on the current situation concerning the escalating European war.
I have been doing a little digging to look at the roots of this conception of self determination. One on likely reading is a strongly liberal sounding ‘principle’ relating to the rights of the sovereign individual, what I. Berlin dubbed negative liberty. The root principle is that the individual is sovereign, has the right of self determination.
However self determination seems to contain another root principle, namely the assertion that the State is sovereign, often the term nation is added to the mix, so the nation State is the sovereign power. This seems to be the root principle recognised by the United Nations, a State can be recognised as sovereign even if it is a multi-nation.
How is it that liberalism can have it that the individual is indeed fully sovereign, retains a negative liberty and human rights and in the same breath assert that the State is also fully sovereign? There does seem to be a serious contradiction at play.
This contradiction was noted by the first critics of the political philosophy Hobbes. He seemed to espouse both a radical individualism or possessive individualism and an absolute State authority in the same breath. It has sometimes been said that Locke corrected Hobbes by dropping the the sovereignty of the State understood absolutely and then Rousseau came along and reinstated the sovereignty principle of the State. There is much more I could say about this but I will stop here.
How does this play out in everyday politics. Well it is said that Ukraine is standing up for both of the root principles of liberal politics as contained in the phrase self- determination, standing up for the sovereign rights of the individual, the negative liberty of the sovereign individual etc, we are also assured that Ukraine is also standing up for sovereign right or power of the nation State. The contradiction is more than a theoretical one as it is with the above.
If the individual is sovereign, has the right to negative liberty, how come he or she can be ‘drafted’ by the State into the military, being a part of the military is now compulsory in Ukraine, leaving one’s job, family and maybe losing one’s life has been been compulsory by the Government, the State has commanded the
absolute obedience of the civilian population, has cancelled their individual self-determination or sovereignty. If an individual hopes to retain their self-determination they must either leave the country of Ukraine or disobey the State Law.
The condition of practical contradiction as it plays out in Ukraine is not in fact an exceptional one. Just to give one other powerful example. The United States, founded on the principle of negative liberty, individual sovereignty, or self determination sought to draft tens of thousands of young men into the military to go fight a war in Viet Nam, this set off a massive civil disobedience campaign to ‘resist the draft’ in the name of individual liberty, this was especially felt on the university campuses. On reflection, conservative critics of the students have ever more accused the American students of being selfish, of placing their own life and liberty above the sovereign power and right of the State to decide what is most urgent.
The suggestion therefore must be that both in Ukraine and in Russia the civilian population must be encouraged to exercise their own right of self-determination by resisting the military draft if they wish to do so.. While it is true that in resisting the military draft one is starting out from a less than noble base, one’s own individual and selfish feeling for self preservation, as the conservative critics will no doubt allege, it likely count as a more solid basis for successfully ending the war between States standing on the grounds of their conflicting national sovereignty than the more lofty ideal of an Internationalism of European brotherhood and final or perfect end called socialism.
In summarising the break with traditional political philosophy, Hobbes maintained that his predecessors who wrote about politics had all aimed at an ideal much too high.
“Hence he demanded that natural right be derived from the beginnings; the elementary wants or urges, which effectively determine all men most of the time and not from man’s perfection or end, the desire for which effectively determines only a few men, and by no means most of the time. These primary urges are of course selfish; they can be reduced to only one principle, THE DESIRE FOR SELF PRESERVATION, OR NEGATIVELY EXPRESSED, THE FEAR OF VIOLENT DEATH. This means not the glitter and glory -or pride- but the terror of fear of a violent death stands at the cradle of a peaceful civil society.” Leo Strauss on the political thought of Hobbes.
In short the war can and should be stopped, with or without the requirement for socialism. This is no doubt a somewhat challenging conclusion for socialists to swallow, but wars do often come to an end without a socialist revolution intervening.
By far away the majority of wars have not been stopped by socialism but it is nevertheless necessary to end war. The politics of individualism falls because no one lives as an individual but as a member of society and appeals to a selfish nature is as likely to produce war as peace, if not more likely.
Excellent account. The obvious losers are the global working-class, and directly the Russian and Ukrainian workers, followed by those in the EU, whoa re paying with artificially high energy and food bills resulting from NATO’s boycotts on Russia. It would be tempting to say that the international socialist movement is also a loser, but the reality is that such events separate the sheep from the goats, and as with WWI, we now can see clearly the bankrupt nature of most of the Left that collapsed into bourgeois nationalism, and social-imperialism, simply acting as cheerleaders for one or the other of the opposing capitalist camps, unable to provide a rational, non-hypocritical critique of the opposing camp, let alone a class analysis, or, consequently, independent working class position. So, it clears the decks, as in its way, did their abysmal performance in relation to lockdowns, so that we can see where the healthy shoots of rebuilding international socialism reside, and the dead wood that needs to be ripped up and burned for the sake of the hygiene of the socialist movement.
The war in Ukraine has many similarities with the Iran-Iraq War. That was a proxy war on one side too, in which the US used Saddam Hussein as its direct proxy to fight its enemy Iran, against whom it had been embarrassed during Carter’s Presidency, during the hostage crisis, and the abortive US intervention. As that war sank into increasing levels of bitterness and depravity, killing millions of workers and peasants on both sides, the US and its allies, like Britain, lined up behind the corrupt and vile regime of Saddam, just as they now line up behind the corrupt and vile regime of Zelensky and the Ukrainian oligarchs, and their fascistic and ultra nationalist supporters within the Azov Battalion, Right Sector, and international fascist movement, many of whose supporters have rushed to Ukraine as mercenaries to get practical experience.
In the Iran-Iraq War, as Saddam failed to get the job done for the US, it provided more and more weapons, and more and more deadly weapons, including of course, the chemical and biological weapons they later used as the basis for justifying their own war against Saddam, after he had failed them. They sent “advisors” to show how best to use those WMD against the Iranians. In no way could those weapons be described as “defensive”, and now we see, as Zelensky fails his US masters, the same process. The weapons being provided are ever more deadly, and clearly offensive rather than defensive weapons. The focus on battle tanks is clearly an offensive weapon, but where does that stop, as in the Iran-Iraq War. What is next, the provision to Zelensky and the Azov Battalion of WMD, chemical and biological weapons, some of which reportedly already exist, tactical battlefield nuclear weapons, and probably already depleted uranium munitions have already been provided, because of their superior armour piercing capacity to destroy Russian hardware with all of the legacy on deformation of foetuses, cancers and so on that they have caused when used by NATO in the Balkans, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere.
The provision of such offensive weapons is clearly an admittance that Ukraine is losing, because what they are about is an attempt to launch a counter-offensive against the territory it has already lost, and been annexed by Russia. But, those territories, with their majority ethnic Russian populations are not going to want to be taken back into Ukraine, because of the inevitable pogroms that would result, mush as NATO has allowed to occur against ethnic Serbs in Kosovo. The position is now like that described by Trotsky in relation to the Sudeten Germans in the 1930’s.
“There are three and a half million Sudeten Germans. If war breaks out, the number of dead will probably be four or five times, possibly even ten times, as much with a corresponding number of wounded, cripples, and insane; and a long wake of epidemics and other tragedies. This consideration, however, is incapable of influencing in the least any of the enemy camps. For the robbers in the final analysis it is not at all a question of three and a half million Germans but of their rule over Europe and over the world.
Hitter* speaks of the “nation,” of “race,” of the unity of “blood.” In reality his job is to broaden the military base of Germany before opening a struggle for rule over colonies. Here the national banner is only the fig leaf of imperialism.
The principle of “democracy” plays a similar role in the other camp. It serves the imperialists to cover up their seizures, violations, robberies and to prepare for new ones. This is very brilliantly revealed in the question of the Sudeten Germans. Democracy means the right of each nation to self-determination. But the Versailles treaty concocted by the highest representatives of the most democratic governments one could find — France, Great Britain, parliamentarian Italy of yore, and, finally, the United States —basely trampled underfoot this democratic right of the Sudeten Germans, the Austrians, as well as many other national groups, Hungarians, Bulgarians, Ukrainians, etc.
For the strategic purposes of the triumphant imperialism of the Entente, Messrs. Democrats, with the support of the Second International, delivered the Sudeten Germans into the possession of the young imperialists of Czechoslovakia. Meanwhile, the German Social Democracy waited with doglike submission for favours from the democracies of the Entente; waited and waited in vain. The results are known: democratic Germany, unable to stand the yoke of the Versailles treaty, threw herself in despair onto the road of fascism. It would seem that the Czechoslovakian democracy which stood under the august protection of Franco-British democracy and of the “socialist” bureaucracy of the USSR had every opportunity to show the Sudeten Germans the great advantages in reality of a democratic regime over a fascist one. If this task had been resolved, Hitler would not dare, of course, to make an attempt on the Sudetenland. His main strength lies now precisely in the fact that the Sudeten Germans themselves want unity with Germany. This desire was inspired in them by the rapacious and police regime of Czechoslovakian “democracy” which “fought” fascism by imitating its worst methods…
Only pitiful babblers or fascist crooks can speak of the irresistible “call of blood” in connection with the fate of the Saar, the Austrian and Sudeten Germans. The Swiss Germans, for example, do not want at all to go into slavery under Hitler, because they feel themselves masters in their country, and Hitler would think ten times before attacking them. Intolerable social and political conditions must exist for citizens of a “democratic” country to be seized by a desire for fascist power. The Germans of the Saar in France, the Austrian Germans in the Europe of Versailles, the Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia felt themselves citizens of third rank. “It will not be worse,” they said to themselves. In Germany, at least, they will be oppressed on the same basis as the rest of the population. The masses prefer under these conditions equality in serfdom to humiliation in inequality. The temporary strength of Hitler lies in the bankruptcy of imperialist democracy.”
(Phrases and Reality)
We already see the attacks by Zelensky’s regime not just on Ukrainian workers and their organisations, but even upon the institutions of liberalism in Ukraine, such as the media. Those attacks will only intensify as the problems of Ukraine deepen as a result of its war. Win or lose, and its almost certainly lose, in relation to Eastern Ukraine, Zelensky’s regime will be called upon to pay the price of its failure, just as was Saddam and Iraq, and that price will be extracted by what remains of its own working-class, subjected to abject penury, and requiring the most brutal regime to extract the pound of flesh from it on behalf of imperialism.
But, its not just the Ukrainian workers that will pay that price. The EU and Britain have pumped billions of Euros down the drain into that war effort, and trying to support a bankrupt Ukrainian economy, and imperialism will demand that workers pick up that tab, just as it did when the bankers crashed the global financial system and were bailed out to the tune of trillions of Pounds. The provision of new offensive weapons is a last gasp at that, in the hope that maybe some of the cost could, as with Versailles, by loaded on to Russian workers instead, just as it was after 1990, when US economists and financiers gorged themselves on Russian state assets, in conjunction with the new class of oligarchs they created, as the workers property was robbed from them.
But, as military experts, they don’t seem to bright, in the provision of these tanks and other artillery. Back in the 1990’s, one reason that the USSR suffered defeat in Afghanistan is that defenders, with modern weapons have an innate advantage. In WWII, to defeat tanks launching an offensive, you needed better, faster tanks, which is how the Russians defeated the Nazis in tank battles. Since the 1990’s, its been obvious that to defeat advancing tanks, what you need is sufficient infantry carrying sufficient numbers of shoulder launched anti-tank missiles, such as the Stingers that the US supplied to Bin Laden via Pakistan, used effectively against aircraft, or Javelin missiles. Armed with these, every Mujaheddin became a destroyer of planes, helicopters and heavy artillery, including tanks. Its the same reason the Russians lost heavy artillery in advancing into Ukraine.
But, for Ukraine to launch a counter-offensive with tanks and heavy artillery, that situation is reversed. Every Russian solider, or partisan in Eastern Ukraine, armed with a missile launcher, becomes a destroyer of British, German and US tanks as they try to advance, which will be another pretty demoralising and embarrassing event for those powers.
Russia has pretty much copied the playbook of NATO in Serbia/Kosovo, and its other recent adventures. It is consolidating its position in the areas it set out to take, with no intention of taking the whole of Ukraine. Why would it do that, when it would leave it with a bankrupt economy to bail out, whereas its better to leave the EU with that burden – the US will be found missing when any such task is required. The other feature of NATO actions has been to ensure that where it could not simply take over territory and install its own puppet regime, it settles for just neutralising it via its descent into anarchy and a failed state, and if Ukraine keeps draining itself in this war, that is its likely result, which again then becomes a further problem for the EU, much as happened with the failed states created in the Middle East, and on its Southern borders.