Saturday 12 November 2022

Putin's Kherson Humiliation

Seeing Ukrainians enthusiastically welcoming soldiers on the streets of Kherson would move all but the stoniest, politically blinkered hearts. The Russian withdrawal from Kherson region - long planned but rapidly executed - is testament to the resilience. skill, and sacrifices of the Ukrainian military. The Russian Ministry of Defence's removal of all its troops, though certainly not all its heavy equipment, is just about the first outright battlefield success Vladimir Putin's regime has enjoyed since the war began. But the price paid is Russia's utter humiliation on the world stage. Its military losses are staggering and the pre-war edge the Russian army had over Ukraine in properly-trained personnel and materiel has taken such a dent that Moscow is now pressing prisoners and draftees into the line, where casualties are proving particularly horrendous. And in further blows to Putin's prestige, his military is proving to be the biggest donor to Ukraine thanks to the machinery and ammunition fleeing troops are wont to leave behind. What should have been a quick, sharp policing action has become a grind that can only imperil Putin himself.

He can't say he wasn't warned. Indeed, one of the reasons why a lot of commentators were caught on the hop by his invasion, despite his weeks of posturing and fiery rhetoric, was the fact the troops assembled for the "special military operation" were too few and that Ukraine not only had a larger and better equipped army than in 2014, when Crimea, Luhansk, and Donetsk were claimed by the Russian Federation, it would mobilise for total war. Forget the nonsense about the United States goading Russia into war, this catastrophic misjudgement was Putin's and Putin's alone.

Consider the last nine months. The Russians poured over the border and headed toward Kiev where their armour simply sat on the roads and was gradually worn down by determined resistance to the point they had to abandon the attack and with draw from the environs of the city. In the summer, Ukraine very loudly announced to the world that it would be undertaking a counter offensive in the south of the country to liberate Kherson region. The Ministry of Defence took it on face value and rushed troops and heavy equipment across the Dneiper. The Ukrainians then shelled and knocked out the bridges, and slammed the real counter attack into the thinly held region around Kharkhiv. The Russian lines melted and 12,000 square km of land was recaptured, along with masses of equipment and the grim findings of multiple mass graves. By October, the pressure on the southern front was too much for Russia and the withdrawal began, with all soldiers making it back to the east bank of the river within the space of 24 hours. A decrepit state can only ever field a decrepit army.

Apart from withdrawing from Kherson in a timely manner, the only other success Russia can point to presently is the fighting on the borders of Donetsk where, for the best part of two months, its has been grinding towards Bakhmut. Almost two thirds of the city are in rubble, and it's been the site of some of the most intense fighting seen in the war. Every advance by Russian forces has been countered and thrown back but, with the remorseless logic of a First World War meat grinder, hundreds of newly mobilised Russian troops are thrown into the fray day after day. Yet the price paid in blood and equipment doesn't appear to be allied to any strategic perspective. Should the town get captured, it doesn't really improve Russia's tactical position. Indeed, the Ukrainian army would, if anything, find it even easier to degrade their opponent's forces by artillery from nearby higher ground. It appears to be an operation aimed at taking the city for the sake of taking something.

That is indeed the case. This region of the front line is under control Yevgeny Prigozhin, the former caterer/restaurateur turned private military contractor. His Wagner Group (who harbour as many if not more Neo-Nazis than Ukraine's famous Azov Regiment) have fielded their own private army outside of the Ministry of Defence's chain of command. It's Wagner that have recently been allowed to recruit from prisons. The use of mercenaries on the battlefield are normally problematic. Fighting for coin rather than country marks them out as more risk averse troops, but on the face of it the modest advances made since the beginning of the Autumn compares favourably to the 'official' army's performance in the north and south of Ukraine. And this is entirely the point of the Wagner "offensive". Prigozhin, as a long time Putin crony who amassed a huge fortune from corrupt state contracts, is angling for more power. It is an instance of how, as per all authoritarian regimes and dictatorships, elites compete with one another for favour and office. What does it matter if Ukraine are chewing up hundreds of troops around Bakhmut as long as Prigozhin's star carries on rising? No amount of deaths or setbacks can stop this from being a good war, as far as he's concerned.

The question now is where does the war go next. The Russians are dug in on the south bank of the Dneiper and with crossings across the wide river out of action, a lightning fast thrust from the environs of Kherson seems unlikely. However, the two main access roads into Crimea are within range of Ukrainian artillery and so we can expect the Russian occupation there to come under pressure. Which hasn't been great since a (seeming) special forces attack severely damaged the Crimean Bridge that linked the peninsula to Russia proper. An attack further to the east to cut off Russian holdings from Donetsk would appear to be a logical choice - one so obvious even Putin's MoD should be able to anticipate it. On the other hand, there are concerns Belarus might enter the war on Russia's side, imperilling Kiev once again, and the situation in the East could do with reinforcements and added firepower to squash Wagner and prosecute an advance into Luhansk. With momentum, confidence, strategic nous and a steady stream of Western weapons, Ukraine has the initiative.

There are no good options for Putin. The recapture of Kherson underlines how unwinnable the war has become for Russia. So low are its military stocks that it's relying on Iran for drones and missiles and, incredibly, North Korea for small arms munitions. The professional army has been virtually thrown away without enough left to train the draftees, meaning hundreds are showing up on the front lines every morning who will be dead by evening. And, it was widely reported, that Russia has begged Syria to send troops and is looking at recruiting Afghan commandos abandoned by the West after the Taliban took back power. Unfortunately for Putin, his humiliation has cost tens of thousands of Russian deaths and a growing crisis of confidence in his regime. The protests that greeted the outbreak of the war have become muted under the cosh of heavy policing, but the resentment of the partial mobilisation, and the inevitable turning of grief into anger is something that no regime, let alone one as decayed as Putin's, can forestall forever. It will not be molified by crude propaganda, nor by pointless punishment bombings of Ukrainian residential blocks and power stations. In Russian history, war has had the tendency of being the midwife of revolution. Putin beware.

Image Credit


Anonymous said...

A Very Public Sociologist doesn't usually comment on foreign affairs. Having read this post I can see that it is a sound policy.

Old Trot said...

All quite true, as far as your analysis free summary of the current ongoing battlefield Russian disaster goes , Phil. But, and it is a VERY BIG but , the corrupt Putin gangster oligarchy isn't just facing a plucky democratic, Ukrainian nation , or even only a massively corrupt , facade democracy Ukranian oligarch-owned state (remarkably similar to all the ex soviet states). In reality socialists need to always remember that the Russian Federation is facing the active full military and economic might of the USA and its NATO satrap states, in an inter imperialist proxy war initiated BY THE WEST. Sparked deliberately by an endless provocation of the Russians via years of Western subversion in Ukrainian politics, culminating in the fascist militia-backed 2014 'Maidan' coup, and endless oppression thereafter by the post coup, hyper nationalistic, governments, of the Russian speaking majority in the Donbas - deliberately drawing an unwilling Putin into his disastrous invasion.

This is not a war that socialists should be taking sides on. It could have been peacefully resolved by the Minsk 1 and 2 agreements. It could have been resolved even after the war had started, in the bilateral Ukraine/Russia talks hosted in Turkey, if Boris Johnson, on behalf of NATO, hadn't personally persuaded Zelensky that he would be supported no matter what by the full power of NATO and the West.

Today we face the real possibilty of all out thermonuclear war because of the long term plan of the US/NATO to break the Russian Federation as a state and Balkanise it and steal its huge resources - as only the opening phase of US Imperialism's longer term objective to break China as the up and coming global power rival to US Imperialism. This is not a battle between a democratic victim state (Ukraine) and the Great satanic villain (Russia) , it is a classic WW1-style inter imperialist war, in which the Ukraine is merely the proxy combatant - aided on a huge scale by the most advanced NATO weaponry and hordes of NATO special forces. By the way, the Baltic gas pipeline was almost certainly destroyed by either direct US or British naval forces - as the Russians could have simply turned off their gas supply taps at any time. So the US/UK have actually destroyed a key energy source for their ally, Germany, as well as stoking up the entire disastrous war in the first place. Your analysis free article, Phil, whilst accurate on curent battlefield developments, simply feeds into the unceasing, blanket, propaganda myths of the MSM I'm afraid, without the wider context.

Anonymous said...

So refreshing to read a Western leftist take that isn't either naive useful idiocy for the Kremlin, or outright campism/tankieism. Please keep it up.

Anonymous said...

Ah, I see in both the comments here and the Twitter response that the red-brown brigade are upset at this very sensible and lucid article.


Your pro-genocide Russian ghouls got their posteriors handed to them - hopefully this will continue.

Freedom for Ukraine!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the Putinists on the British left need to read this. It seems though that the addled Leninist brain cannot compute that there is such a thing as Russian or Chinese imperialism and the only manifestation that can be seen is American. Furthermore the peculiarly British public schoolboy inflected version of Leninism-Trotkyism that marks the British leftist tradition is highly skilled at denying agency to local populations, whether Syrian or Ukrainian. All must be seen as stooges of NATO and brought to enlightenment.

Old Trot said...

No actual facts or analysis of any kind from the empty 'Anonymous' post above. 'pro genocide Russian ghouls' - is that the best 'analysis' you can do ? Such is the standard 'quality' of the pro NATO, pro US Imperialism, simplistic nonsense on the Ukraine v Russia proxy war we get across our MSM nowadays. Tragic. In the , very historically similar pre and wartime 1914-18 period , this poster would have been wittering on about 'poor little Belgium', and the need to 'crush Kaiser German militarisam to defend the democracies' (like the British Empire !). And that was actually an inter imperialist war too, Anonymous, - nothing to do with 'freedom', the 'rights of small nations', or , least of all, 'democracy'.

RobertD said...

Old Trot writes: 'No actual facts or analysis of any kind from the empty 'Anonymous' post above.'

People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, and there are not many facts in Old Trot's comment either.

So he writes, without any shred of supporting argument: 'It could have been peacefully resolved by the Minsk 1 and 2 agreements.'

Not once the Kremlin had recognised the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk since this was incompatible with both accords.

Then he goes on: 'It could have been resolved even after the war had started, in the bilateral Ukraine/Russia talks hosted in Turkey, if Boris Johnson, on behalf of NATO, hadn't personally persuaded Zelensky that he would be supported no matter what by the full power of NATO and the West.'

Again, really? How does he know that Johnson said this? No evidence given. And even if Johnson did say this, how does he know that Johnson was speaking on behalf of NATO? Also, why did Johnson have to go to Kyiv himself to say it? He had an ambassador there he could use for delivering messages. More to the point, so did Biden. These are just Russian claims, and repeating them as if they were established fact justifies (an) Anonymous' use of the word 'Putinist'.

Finally, in his first paragraph Old Trot writes 'in an inter imperialist proxy war initiated buy THE WEST'. However, Russia is not fighting any sort of proxy war, as it is not fighting by proxy.

Anonymous said...

Old got the trots more like lol

Zoltan Jorovic said...

I always think you can measure the quality of an argument inversely to the number of insults and slurs used. Anonymous - who can't even bring themself to supply a name so little belief do they have in their own position - has a remarkable ratio. No rational argument at all, but a lot of mud slinging.

It seems to me that both sides are at fault, and both are pursuing goals other than the ones they claim. The Russians have been provoked, but they have responded brutally and stupidly, and also have an agenda that has no intention of respecting other countries sovereignty.

Nobody can claim the moral high ground because all have designs on exploiting, dominating or undermining anyone they can. Everyone is out for themselves, and only looks for allies to strengthen their own position to better achieve them.

Of course the Americans encouraged the Ukrainians not to pursue peace through the Misk agreements. Peace is only useful if it delivers a solution of advantage. Who can seriously believe that "we" the "west" are the good guys with our track record of invasion, destruction and mass civilian casualties from Vietnam to Iraq via many other places?

Equally, the Russians have no humanitarian interest in people other than as a tool to pursue a greater Russia strategy. The attack on Ukraine was a folly based on relatively successful episodes in Chechnya, Syria, Georgia and Crimea. Putin developed the tactics of policy by devastation, and argument through atrocity. He believed that his casual brutality would cow the Ukrainians, and the "west". Weirdly he failed to grasp just how destructive the Americans are prepared to be, despite decades of evidence. The American way is controlled violence rather than savagery, but it is remorseless. How Putin got it so wrong can only be explained by the corruption of power destroying his judgement.

Anonymous said...

I've been his hearing reports of massive Russian casualties since the start of the conflict deo. For example in March in an address to the nation, the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, claimed 31 Russian battalion tactical groups have now been rendered incapable of combat.
A battalion usually has about 800 men. Zelenskiy is implying that, a) the Russians have deployed at least 24,000 troops to the front line, b) these units are now spent.
I. E. one sixth of the original 150,000 'special operation' force had been put out of action.
Since then we've had Western estimates of anything between 30,000 to 60,000 Russian dead.

Anonymous said...

Old Trot asserts that "Phil, whilst accurate on curent battlefield developments,.."

On the contrary Phil is just repeating MoD briefings which make claims about Russian losses that are so high that , if true , would mean that their army had ceased to be a fighting force months ago.
Since the Russians continue to attack and make gains these claims must be false .

Anonymous said...

Funny how Old Trot seems to think regurgitating Kremlin talking points counts as "analysis" XD

South London said...

dismissing a comment as being somebody's 'talking point ' is an easy way of avoiding the truth value of the comment .
If Old Trot was just parroting the Kremlin then he wouldn't have endorsed Phil's assessment of the military situation .

Karl Greenall said...

Is that the Ukraine that has banned the opposition parties, abolished workers'rights, and murdered citizens merely accused of "collaboration"?