Glacis Ukraine: Putin versus Stalin?

“Beyond those walls… extends a glacis of varying breadth and dimension. We do not want to occupy it, but we also cannot afford to see it occupied by our foes. We are quite content to let it remain in the hands of our friends; but if rival and unfriendly influences creep up to it and lodge themselves right under our walls, we are compelled to intervene, because a danger would thereby grow up that might one day menace our security… He would be a short-sighted commander who merely manned his ramparts… and did not look beyond; and the whole of our policy… has been directed towards maintaining our influence, and to preventing the expansion of hostile agencies on this area…”

That was Lord Curzon, Viceroy of Britain’s Indian Empire, and later British Foreign Secretary, addressing the Legislative Council in Calcutta on 30 March 1904. He was explaining why Britain could never permit “hostile agencies” arriving at the frontiers of its territories and assembling there. Before that happened Britain “was compelled to intervene” to disperse anyone who thought of doing such a thing. He was thinking mainly of Russia, and the expanding Tsarist Empire.

Lord Curzon would surely have appreciated Russia’s position in relation to the US and its allies which have been relentlessly advancing over the previous quarter century up to its borders with the objective of lodging NATO and its ordnance right under its walls.

Curzon was talking about the glacis of India. A glacis is the killing ground on the approaches to a fortress, where fighting takes place before it is too late and it occurs on the ramparts of the fortress itself. It would not be inaccurate to describe Ukraine, today, as the glacis of Russia.

The problem was to know when to sally forth beyond the fortress walls to engage any forces which were about to muster on the glacis. If this was done too early it might well end in disaster. If it were done too late, when the forces were firmly lodged with plentiful supplies of men and siege equipment it might end in catastrophe.

Britain met disaster in Afghanistan, the main site of the glacis of India, on a couple of occasions it sallied forth to Kabul. But Curzon maintained, decades later, that the policy was sound and nobody should expect anything other of Britain, if it were to remain a great power. The maintenance of spheres of influence, after all, are essential to the existence of great powers. The US’s Monroe Doctrine, and the Cuba Missile Crisis, are testament to the continued relevance of that.

Putin’s Intervention on the Glacis

With regard to the decision to invade the present writer is reminded of de Valera’s reaction to the assasination  of Sir Henry Wilson: “I do not approve but I must not pretend to misunderstand…..” 

Vladimir Putin took the momentous decision to militarily intervene in Ukraine, and sally forth to the glacis, because the US had made Ukraine into a de facto NATO state, minus the Article V guarantee. The Western media has taken care not to broadcast the fact that Ukraine’s constitution commits the state to joining NATO, making it a legal imperative for its politicians to support this.

Evidence confirming this emerged when an enormous 360 sq. km NATO training facility that had been constructed in Western Ukraine was duly bombed by the Russians on 12 March, inflicting hundreds of casualties on foreign fighters being trained there.

The US and its allies had already been training and supplying Ukrainian forces with massive amounts of weaponry and financial assistance. The Ukrainian President had also announced that he was prepared to abrogate the December 1994 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty on 21 February making Ukraine a base for nuclear weapons aimed at Russia. Russia launched its Special Military Operation 3 days later. And then there was the presence of US biological warfare laboratories in the Ukraine in violation of Article I of the UN Biological Weapons Convention (which the Americans failed to destroy evidence of before the Russian invasion forcing an admittance by Victoria Nuland at a Congressional hearing). The US intelligence reports of WMD in Iraq constituted the justification for war and now actual WMD development laboratories have been found in Ukraine.

Ukrainian forces were also massing on the peripheries of the Russian-populated break away areas poised for an imminent revanchist attack scheduled for late February/early March which would force Moscow to intervene to prevent massacre. The evidence for this is in documents captured by Russian forces. A British General, when asked on Radio 4 Today programme why NATO had not helped the Ukrainians more stated that one more month of supplies would have been sufficient to deal a blow to Russia but Putin had moved too quick (or in the nick of time, perhaps).

Alexander Dugin, wrote back in 2014:

“Putin cannot let the radically anti-Russian government in Ukraine dominate a country that has a population that is half-Russian and which contains many pro-Russian regions. If he allows this, he will be finished on the international and domestic levels. So, reluctantly he accepts war. And once he begins on this course, there will be no other solution for Russia but to win it.” (Putin vs. Putin, p. 302)

If Dugin understood that, Washington, which read Dugin carefully, understood it too.

Putin presumably calculated he had to someday fight on the ramparts or on the glacis. He threw a surprise by not just coming to the defence of the Donbas but in launching a much more extensive offensive aimed at disabling and disintegrating the Ukrainian State, at least temporarily, so that it would be incapable of hosting an enemy beneath Russia’s walls.

The Western media has been engaged in extensive misinformation with regard to the course and progress of the Russian military campaign and its objectives. First, it was asserted that the campaign was expected by the Russians to defeat the Ukrainians in a matter of days. At this point the BBC journalists sitting on top of their 5 star hotels in Kiev were reporting that the Russian forces were going to enter the city imminently. When they didn’t it was said that the Ukrainians had offered great resistance and the Russian forces were inept.

There was a 40 mile long military column that was stuck in the mud, or run out of petrol, or had broken down or something. It was a sitting duck for the Ukrainians but they couldn’t destroy it, even with the much famed Bayraktars, which had proved so deadly against Armenian armoured vehicles during the Karabakh war. The column parked at its leisure in a war zone for a week and then systematically fanned out around Kiev into carefully selected positions as if the Russians had a plan!

Where were the Ukrainians? Perhaps they were being occupied by advancing Russian forces elsewhere, which were steadily surrounding them in pre-determined cauldrons. The main military focus of the Russian operation has been in the East and it has been particularly effective here. Operations around Kiev have more of a political character, aimed at forcing the Ukrainians to settle at the conference table. Perhaps the Russians were sensibly avoiding rushed direct assaults on urban centres like the one Yeltsin disastrously attempted in Grozny on New Year’s Eve 1994, in favour of Putin’s successful two month long siege of the city in 1999-2000. It should be noted, however, that the fall of Grozny was not the end of the matter in Chechnya. It took a number of years of Russian counter-insurgency operations and political initiatives to quell Chechen resistance and develop a friendly administration. So the Russians are no strangers to longer campaigns.

Anyone who has studied these events could have predicted what course the Russian campaign would have taken, but Western politicians, media, military analysts etc. have issued a tissue of lies to deceive the general public. The Ukrainian leadership have enthusiastically offered their territory as a glacis and been willing accomplices in the destruction of their country.

By the day 6 of Operation Z Russian forces had surrounded all the major Ukrainian cities East of the Dneiper, including Mariupol, Kharkov and Kiev, and had cut off Ukrainian forces from the sea of Azov. Western Ukraine was left as an evacuation corridor to ensure the safe passage of those not wishing to be combatants in the battle area. The Ukrainians have press-ganged the male population into remaining in the urban centres, whether they wish to or not.

In point of fact, the military campaign Putin has set in motion, to destroy the heavily armed, sophistically equipped, highly trained (by NATO), well-motivated and battle-hardened 200,000 Ukrainian forces, extensively assisted by Western intelligence and surveillance services, will be no mean feat. Defeating a country of 44 million, one and a half times the size of the UK, should not be underestimated. No Western country would be capable of such a thing, outside of the US – which would obliterate everything from the air, regardless of civilian casualties, before it committed any soldiers to the ground.

It took the Azerbaijani army 44 days to defeat much inferior, poorly organised and trained Armenian forces, with Soviet era equipment and no outside assistance, and to take an area the size of an Irish county. The Armenian forces were at least four times smaller than the Ukrainian army and were often made up of volunteers who had never fought in a war. That campaign was regarded as a great military success by Western analysts. But the same analysts lead us to believe that the Russians should have steamrollered the best forces NATO could have put in the field of battle, with 7 years of preparation, defending the existence of their country, in a week or two! In truth, a Russian victory in Ukraine in the first half of 2022 would be a remarkable military accomplishment.

One US military analyst has estimated that to secure the perimeter of a new Russian Ukraine from infiltration, the major urban areas and communications networks, control the population and conduct civil-military and counter-insurgency operations,

“the Russians would need to deploy 168,000 occupation troops and keep another 168,000 in constant rotation for a total of 336,000 troops. That constitutes over 95% of the entire Russian Ground Force of approximately 350,000 personnel, not including available Russian airborne, special operations, or National Guard troops.”

That is the actual plan from Washington: to absorb the Russians into a destroyed Ukraine and bleed them dry in blood and treasure over an extended period in order to topple the functional government in Moscow and return Russia to the days of Yeltsin. This is a scenario in which US and Ukrainian interests sharply diverge.

The geopolitical war on Russia was launched 8 years ago in Ukraine by the EU/US Maidan coup, and not by Putin last month. It can only be stopped, short of a Ukrainian surrender, by the US calling it off. In fact, the probability is that Washington would not recognise any Ukrainian government coming to terms with Moscow and would promote a resistance movement to keep the war going. That was the quagmire strategy in Afghanistan and look at that country now.

All that is very bad news for the Ukrainian people. A glacis is not the best place on which to live because the expectation is that you continue to do the fighting and dying.

Putin versus Stalin?

Putin has departed from Stalin’s preferred mode of defensive warfare, which helped preserve the Soviet Union and enhance its power to a considerable degree. Stalin’s successful defensive warfare took the Red Army to Berlin and helped create a defensive buffer for Russia that encompassed the whole of Eastern Europe in a bloc of socialist states. The last General Secretary of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev, voluntarily surrendered that defensive buffer in 1989, with the best of intentions, but found that he had facilitated NATO’s rapid expansion up to Russia’s walls. He believed that the West had the best of intentions toward Russia and its people but found it was duplicitous and had not.

Why therefore should Russia believe anything the West says about its honest intentions today about only being interested in Ukraine’s security, as it marches its forces onto the glacis of Russia?

Back in 2014 I wrote an article entitled ‘The Putin Problem’. In it I noted:

“It seems that De Gaulle was right all along. The Cold War was just a passing phase. The eternal struggle was the Anglo-Saxon world preventing Russia from emerging onto the stage of history. Britain began it and conducted its Great Game for half a century against Russia. Two interludes happened when Russia was required as an ally to do down Germany. But the US took over from its Anglo-Saxon cousin after 1945 and has continued the doing-down of Russia long after Communism ceased to contest the world.”

It is all about geopolitics and nothing about communism.

As Andrei Martyanov has written:

“… if the Czars still reigned in Russia, if Lenin had died of the measles at an early age, if Stalin had never been heard of… the problem of Russia would be for us by and large what it is today… and we would be… confronted with the same problems which confront us today.” (Losing Military Supremacy: The Myopia of American Strategic Planning)

The problem for Russia is the West’s insistence that it cannot remain a functional state, behaving as a Great Power.

Both Stalin and Putin have contributed in their own way to Ukrainian nation-building. But there is a substantial difference between Soviet Russia and Putin’s Capitalist nationalist Russia in relation to Ukraine.

Prof. Stephen Kotkin of Princeton University, a supporter of NATO expansion and the curbing of Russia, has, in the New York Times of 27 November 2014, described Stalin as the “father of the Ukrainian State”:

“Stalin’s rule saw the formation of a land with strong Ukrainian national consciousness. Yes, he was a murderous tyrant, but he was also a father of today’s Ukraine… Against the wishes of other early Soviet officials, who wanted to suppress nationalism, Stalin strongly advocated recognising — and using — it. “Clearly, the Ukrainian nation exists and the development of its culture is a duty of Communists,” Stalin told the 10th Party Congress in March 1921. “One cannot go against history.

Stalin knew from his Georgian homeland that national sentiment was too strong to suppress. He also knew that the Communists could use it to win loyalty and achieve economic modernisation.”

Ukrainian nationalism, though having “a highly developed national consciousness” proved incapable of cohering the Ukrainian people into a nation state in the early 20th Century. And the Western Powers actively obstructed the development of Ukraine (which means “of the frontier”) into a state for the Ukrainians.

The American, Alexander Powell, noted in 1931:

“It is extremely unlikely that anything will be done through outside influence to right the wrongs of the Ukrainians, for Galicia is far away – the average American has only the haziest idea where it is located; the voice of the Ukrainians is feeble; the League of Nations will continue to listen to the Poles and their French allies…” (Thunder Over Europe, p.107)

The Western Powers, through the Supreme Council of the League of Nations at Paris, authorised the Polish occupation of Eastern Galicia/Western Ukraine and granted to the Poles a protectorate of 25 years over the four and a half million Ukrainians there. In June 1919 Britain and France had promised the people of Eastern Galicia, who were overwhelmingly Ukrainian, a plebiscite to decide their future in accordance with President Wilson’s doctrine of self-determination.

But the promise was broken and in 1923 the Allies awarded Western Ukraine to Poland in perpetuity. The Poles ruthlessly repressed Ukrainian resistance, burning homes and churches on a large scale and ruling with “an iron hand”. Many of the Ukrainian nationalist leaders fled into Russian Ukraine for protection. There, 20 million Ukrainians were being organised into a state by the Soviets, who had established a government in Kharkiv in November 1918.

Kotkin also notes:

“In 1991… the Soviet Union dissolved. Ukraine, having avoided absorption into Russia thanks to Lenin, became independent. But the new nation encompassed as much land as it did thanks to Stalin.

When it was first formed, Soviet Ukraine had no natural border in the east with Soviet Russia. The demarcation disappointed all sides — and it is the site of today’s separatist rebellion. In the west, as a result of his 1939 pact with Hitler, Stalin seized eastern Poland and joined it to
Ukraine. The city today known as Lviv was then a largely Polish and Yiddish-speaking community, surrounded by a Ukrainian-speaking countryside; under Stalin and his successors the city would become predominantly Ukrainian-speaking — and the center of western Ukrainian nationalism.

With the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, Stalin annexed Transcarpathia, formerly part of Czechoslovakia, and now the southwest corner of Ukraine. Finally, Crimea, at the time a predominantly ethnic Russian territory, was transferred to Ukraine from Russia in a decision taken under Stalin but implemented only after he had died, in 1954, on the 300th anniversary of the Cossack request for imperial Russia’s protection against the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth.

Except for Crimea, today’s nationalist Ukraine is a bequeathal of Stalin…

Of course, in helping to enlarge and consolidate Soviet Ukraine, Stalin never imagined that the Soviet Union would someday disappear. And so Mr. Putin faces a formidable obstacle.”

It was the Soviet Union which created the Ukrainian State and united the Ukrainian people. Stalin actively built the Ukrainian nation and extended its territory into Eastern Galicia/Western Ukraine, uniting all Ukrainians within a Ukrainian state, in September 1939. When Soviet forces united Ukraine the British Government “issued a declaration sharply attacking the USSR and affirming that Poland must be restored” (The Maisky Diaries, p.226). In September 1941 the bulk of Marshal Timoshenko’s Soviet army was caught in Guderian’s and von Kleist’s great pincer movement and annihilated in the defence of Kiev.

During that month Stalin made a request to Churchill that he open a second front in Western Europe as a matter of urgency to relieve the tremendous German pressure on the USSR. When Churchill refused to fight on the continent Stalin asked for 25 British divisions to be sent to Ukraine for its defence. Churchill refused, leaving the Soviets to defend the country alone (John Lukacs, The Last European War, p. 149).

Lukacs notes the following about the German entry into Western Ukraine:

“In many of the villages and towns of… the western Ukraine etc., the people greeted the Germans with flowers, sometimes resuscitating ancient ceremonies such as the presentation of bread and salt, the kind of folklore show that would impress these powerful… invaders. There was more to the pro-German feeling among these peoples than the gratitude for having been liberated from Russian Bolshevism. At best, these people saw in the Germans the harbingers of European culture… At worst, some of these people… admired not only the efficiency but also the very brutality of the Germans, who were popular not despite but because of their cold cruelty: They knew what to do with the Jews.” (p.396)

The anti-Jewish excesses replicated those in 1918 under Hetmat Skoropadski during the previous German occupation of the Ukraine, and in 1919 after the German withdrawal when between 50,000 and 200,000 Jews were massacred in Ukraine. The highly regarded US Jewish historian, Professor Richard Pipes, who details these events in ‘Russia under the Bolshevik Regime, 1919-24‘, suggests that:

“In every respect except for the absence of a central organisation to direct the slaughter, the pogroms of 1919 were a prelude to and a rehearsal for the Holocaust. The spontaneous lootings and killings left a legacy that two decades later was to lead to the systematic mass murder of Jews at the hands of the Nazis…” (p. 112)

It is this kind of historical memory that has produced the de-nazification idea in Moscow, that is ridiculed in West, in countries where the Jews were done to death.

The Red Army secured Ukraine’s territory during the Great Patriotic War against the Nazis and their Ukrainian fascist allies, at great loss. In March 1943 the Soviet Ambassador and Anthony Eden discussed the post-war future of Western Ukraine in London. Eden told Ambassador Maisky that the Polish government in exile expected to take back Ukrainian territory, including Lvov, after the war for the Polish state. The Soviet Ambassador reminded Eden of the Curzon line and insisted that Poland stay within its “ethnographic boundaries”. He stated that Lvov was Ukrainian and would be part of the Ukrainian state and nation after the war (p. 496).

The Soviet leader Khrushchev gifted the Crimea Oblast to the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine in February 1954, adding nearly 1 million Russians to the population of the Ukrainian State, and extending its territory again, to what the Ukrainians claim today.

Prof. Kotkin, in discussing the current Russian leader, Vladimir Putin wrote:

“He is said by diplomats to have told President George W. Bush, at a NATO summit meeting in Bucharest, Romania, in 2008 that “Ukraine is not even a state.” And in claiming territory from Ukraine, Mr. Putin has cited Catherine the Great’s Black Sea conquests and creation of “New Russia” in the late 18th century. But Mr. Putin cannot escape more recent history.

… whether Mr. Putin does or does not have clear strategic goals, he cannot wipe out the
fruits of the Soviet period. Mr. Putin cannot simply swallow Ukraine — it is no longer “New Russia.” And unlike Stalin — indeed, because of Stalin… Mr. Putin cannot entice Ukraine back into a new “Eurasian” union with Russia either. Ukrainians’… struggle for statehood owes much to Stalin’s legacy — a legacy that, for different reasons, neither they nor Mr. Putin like to think about.”

Stalin provided the state formation and development that Ukrainians proved incapable of historically, and the ability to sustain a state, that had always eluded Ukrainian nationalists. He also expanded the territory of the Ukrainian state in a way that Ukrainian nationalism could never have achieved if left to its own devices. However, the Soviet achievement disguised the fact that Russia could never have held the Ukraine if a substantial body of Ukrainians had the capacity for state formation similar to Russia’s.

Putin, on the other hand, is a continuation of Boris Yeltsin’s nationalist Russia in the post-Soviet era. Yeltsin objected to independent Ukraine taking the territories within it that it had acquired in the Soviet period and which were considered Russian. He argued for national self-determination in the new era of separate nations. But Yeltsin did not have the power to enforce his argument against the Ukrainians. He prioritised recovering the Soviet nuclear arsenal in Ukraine over the territory that was considered historically Russian. And the West was insistent that this should be the case.

Putin showed in 2014 that he had the power to do what Yeltsin could not in the 1990s. The present Russian leader, however, seems to have reverted to a Tsarist notion of nationality with regard to Ukraine in the post-Soviet era of nationalisms. His military operation, therefore, is likely to have the effect of facilitating the cohering of the divided Ukrainians into a nation, although it may be within a smaller Ukrainian state. Oh, the ironies of history!

It is the Soviet Ukrainian territory established by Lenin, Stalin and Khrushchev that the government in Ukraine now fights for against Putin’s Russia. It is tragic that two peoples – Russians and Ukrainians – whose history is so intertwined have come to this as a result of Western geopolitics.

It is Putin versus Stalin!

Rather interestingly, on 24 February, in a televised address, Putin advanced a historical rationale in defence of his decision to launch a pre-emptive strike against Ukraine. In 1940/41, said Putin, the Soviet Union had gone to great lengths to prevent or at least delay an impending war with Nazi Germany. To that end Stalin, according to Putin, had restrained preparations to meet Hitler’s attack and when the Soviet leader finally did heed the advice of his generals, it was too late:

“The attempt to appease the aggressor ahead of the Great Patriotic War proved to be a mistake which came at a high cost for our people. In the first months after hostilities broke out, we lost vast territories of strategic importance, as well as millions of lives. We will not make this mistake a second time. We have no right to do so.”

Francis Fukuyama, who proclaimed the end of history with the victory of Western liberal democracy 30 years ago, has noted how Putin is prepared to take risks that no Soviet leader was ever prepared to do. Does that mean that capitalist Russia was a mistaken project of the West which may bring about a different end of history than was anticipated?

One comment

  1. An excellent analysis with historical facts at the authors fingertips. When I think of geopolitics without the content of a contest between capitalist unequal class societies and emerging socialism societies based upon the hope for equality I think of mercusio in Romeo and Juliet whose last dying words about the folly of feuds between similar families/ societies desire for power was “a curse on both your houses. And yet there are values that transcend this fall into blindness of National ambition. As Auden says ‘we must love one another or die’ about the second word war.

    Like

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