The Ukraine Quagmire

A month before the Russian military intervention in the Ukraine the British Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss stated:

“… the number one thing that will stop Vladimir Putin taking action (in Ukraine) is if he understands the costs of that action. This could result in a quagmire like the Russians saw in Afghanistan or Chechnya, and he should be well aware of that… We cannot favour short-term economic interests over the long-term survival of freedom and democracy in Europe. That’s the tough decision all of us have got to make.” (Daily Mail, 30 January, 2022)

President Putin ignored the warning from the British Foreign Secretary. He chose to enter the Ukrainian quagmire instead of allowing Kiev’s forces to penetrate into the Donbas and to threaten the vital Russian interest in Crimea. He decided he had good reason to do so from the Russian point of view. Evidently the Kremlin viewed the situation as an existential threat – so a quagmire was unavoidable. It was the lesser of two evils. If it were not why do it?

Caught in a trap?

As Russian expert, Prof. Geoffrey Roberts of University College, Cork, has written, Putin saw an imminent Kiev/Western-backed military assault about to be launched against the break away provinces in the east along with,

“a future nuclear-armed Ukraine embedded in NATO and intent on provoking a Russian-Western war. From this perspective, going to war to stop Ukraine from becoming yet another NATO bridgehead on Russia’s borders was not a difficult decision to make. As is often the case in decision-making processes that result in drastic military action, the hard option, the statesmanlike choice, would have been for Putin to persist with diplomacy and accept the risks of remaining at peace with Ukraine.

If the public record is to be believed, Putin felt he had no choice but to wage a preventative war against Ukraine. Much like Kaiser Wilhelm II and his advisors in July 1914 when they urged Austria-Hungary to crush the Serbian threat to their empire before it was too late, Putin concluded that it was ‘now or never’ – invade Ukraine before NATO’s position in the country became too strong to risk war. And the hard fighting of the actual war with Ukraine can only have reinforced that calculation of Putin’s.” (Now or never’: Putin’s Decision for War with Ukraine, p.2)

Making a Quagmire for the Russians in Ukraine was undoubtedly a Western objective. On 9 May the Washington Post triumphantly headlined with “Putin is Trapped in a Quagmire and Doesn’t know how to get out”. The aptly named website headlined on 3 March with “Putin’s Quagmire: Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine is a Strategic Disaster for the Kremlin.” Its article heading gave the reasons for US jubilation: “The economic costs from sanctions will weaken Russia as a global power”; “Putin now needs to worry about his internal standing”; ‘Russia’s global pariah status will be hard to undo”; “Europe will now become a military power”; “Russia’s invasion has shown the strength of the democratic world”.

Robert H. Wade, Professor of Global Political Economy at the prestigious London School of Economics stated it bluntly and in amazingly candid fashion in “Why the US and Nato have long wanted Russia to attack Ukraine” on the LSE’s official website:

“The US-laid trap

It now appears the Kremlin has fallen into a trap. The trap has similarities to the trap the US set for Saddam Hussein in 1990 when it said it would not interfere in his government’s dispute with Kuwait. Saddam invaded Kuwait, which gave the US the casus belli to destroy Iraq’s military.

The trap also has similarities to one the CIA laid for Moscow four decades ago, by arming the mujahideen to fight the Soviet-backed government in Afghanistan. The US intended for Moscow to send in its military to defend the government, which it did in 1979. President Carter’s national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, in an interview in 1998 with Le Nouvel Observateur, happily admitted the US had set a trap… Brzezinski presumed, as the US does today, that control of Eurasia is vital for US “primacy” or “hegemony” in the world system (directly countering Russia’s Eurasian ideology)… So the long-held US aim has been to push Ukraine away from Russia, as a major step towards constraining Russian strategy, and more distantly Chinese strategy too, thereby sustaining US primacy.

It seems likely that US and Nato strategists have a second Ukraine trap in mind. The first one was the invasion; the second one is Russia bogged down in another long insurgency, the second after Afghanistan, the second Russian “Vietnam”. As the Afghanistan insurgency against the Soviet military helped bring down the Soviet Union, the western strategists hope that the Ukrainian insurgency against the bogged-down Russian military will help end the Putin regime. From the US standpoint, the longer the Ukrainians can sustain the insurgency and keep the Russian military bogged down the more likely is the end of the Putin regime. This is called “realist politics”!

The US and Nato’s ulterior motives in the Ukraine crisis is to end the Putin regime and replace it with one friendly to and subordinate to the US... This larger strategy for containing Russia is the context to understand the expansion of Nato members all along Russia’s borders, from the Baltics to Bulgaria, and the presence of 30,000 Nato-designated troops. It also helps understand the US and some other western states’ military intervention to overthrow Syria’s ruler, Bashar al-Assad, Russia’s ally, as well as the policy of encouraging US NGOs to foment unrest in Russia.

Since 2015 the CIA has been overseeing a secret intensive training programme in the US for elite Ukrainian special operations forces and other intelligence personnel. On 13 January, it was reported that the CIA-trained forces “could soon play a critical role on Ukraine’s eastern border, where Russian troops have massed in what many fear is preparation for an invasion.” A former CIA official explained, “The United States is training an insurgency.” It is no surprise that Moscow has long read US and Nato actions as being deeply hostile and intended to produce “regime change” in the Kremlin.”

There was barely concealed joy in Foreign Affairs and the Western media generally over the luring of the Russians into a second Afghanistan. Even the usually sober and mild-mannered Prof. Stephen Kotkin was purring in a “I told you all Mr. Biden was a clever man and the US is back” kind of way. Afghanistan was popularly thought of in the West as having did for the Soviet Union and Ukraine, and it was believed that it would similarly destroy the revived Russia, along with the man who had revived it.

But how wrong this has turned out to be. Now the quagmire in Ukraine is Europe’s quagmire, in which it has become bogged down and overwhelmed. European political, economic and social progress has been dealt a hammer blow and been made extremely problematic. And most of all extrication is most difficult without great moral loss, and without Washington’s permission.

Quagmire for Russia?

Ukraine was meant to be a quagmire for Russia both militarily and economically. So how has this worked out?

The Russian military, employing only one-fifth of its strength up until now, have gone about the business of demilitarising Ukraine in a business-like fashion, in a way no Western army could have done. Sure, there have been military blunders but what is a Russian war without some military blunders? The Russians always learn quickly – except in 1914-17 when British finance encouraged the Tsar and Kerensky to destruction. And they learned from this.

The Western narrative on the Russian Special Military Operation is completely false. The Russians intervened in Ukraine to support the Russian-inclined separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk and to protect the vital Crimean strategic port of Sevastopol on the Black Sea. The early thrust toward Kiev was most likely a feint to divert Ukrainian forces and material from the Donbas, or at most a lightning strike which, when it encountered substantial resistance was abandoned, as all military manoeuvres should be if they would prove costly. There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that it has ever been the Kremlin’s desire to conquer or occupy the bulk of Ukraine. Russia never employed forces on Ukrainian soil necessary to achieve such an objective. It was neither desirable nor feasible from Moscow’s perspective.

The slowness of the Russian advance in the Donbas is often derided in the Western media. It has been compared to a glacier. But the thing about glaciers is that they are slow, but relentless in their forward movement, carving out the hardest of rock and sweeping up everything in their path. The terrain in the Donbas, with multiple meandering rivers and limited crossing points, boggy ground and long-prepared well-fortified defensive positions makes swift movement very problematic and costly. Western military “experts” have been spinning a yarn to their audiences and tending to their media careers at the expense of their future credibility. British Generals who have never won a battle in their lives pontificate against a real military that they would never be capable of commanding and certainly not in the field.

The fact that Russia is going about its business of demilitarising Ukraine in a slow, methodical and systematic manner should be a concern for the West. It shows that Russia believes time is on its side. And that is not the general experience of a quagmire.

A word should be said at this point about the form of warfare Kiev is waging, that the Western media would never point out. The Ukrainians have admitted to intentionally digging into urban positions in the midst of the local civilian population. This is clearly to maximise Russian difficulty and casualties. But it also maximises civilian casualties, of which the Ukrainian military does not seem to care about. Perhaps Kiev views these eastern Ukrainians as disposable “collaborators” whose only use is to make good anti-Russian propaganda in the West.

A close aide to Zelensky, Mikhail Podolyak, explained the reasoning behind the strategy on 14 June, in “Why Ukraine fights in urban areas.” He stated that “you can resist a longer time and inflict significant casualties on the Russians” so that Ukraine could “inflict several military defeats” against Moscow’s forces which would result in a “transformation of the political system of the Russian Federation.”

In other words the Ukrainians are fighting in a manner designed to suit Western geopolitical purposes, and their paymasters in Washington, rather than in the interests of Ukrainians.

Certainly, this is unconventional warfare, using civilian populations, and one’s own citizens, as human shields against the enemy. The conventional military practice is to avoid encirclement in which costly breakouts become necessary in order to preserve forces to fight another day. That was the pattern of German tactics when the Red Army fought them in Ukraine in 1944. However, the present Ukrainian practise is to embed their forces in highly fortified urban centres, among helpless civilians, making it necessary for the Russians to destroy everything with artillery prior to street by street fighting. Then the Ukrainians either die or surrender at their fixed positions when they have inflicted as much Russian (and civilian) losses as they can manage.

This is all part of making Ukraine a quagmire for the Russians out of east Ukrainian blood.

It is the very opposite of what Patrick Pearse did in Easter 1916 when the British began to destroy Dublin and its civilian population using long range artillery. Irish Republican forces surrendered to the British and the leaders went to the firing squads. And Ireland lived to fight again.

Russia, having embarked upon its limited Special Military Operation, involving less than 200,000 troops, and rotated for purposes of rest and recuperation, has aimed to secure an eastern Ukrainian/Black Sea coast as protection against Kiev/NATO. It had no intention of attempting a conquest of right-bank Ukraine (west of the Dneiper) against a much larger Ukrainian army totalling around 400,000 dug into formidable defensive positions.

Any Russian move across the Dneiper and further on, perhaps toward Eastern Galicia/Western Ukraine, would undoubtedly be the result of Western provocation rather than Russian strategic objective. Last week’s big Ukrainian bombardment of its own citizens in Donetsk, using long range artillery supplied by the US, prompted calls for Russian assistance to eliminate the new threat. A move by Russian forces across the boundaries of the Donetsk and Luhansk boundaries will come about as a consequence of Kiev’s use of longer range artillery, which is not being used to target Russian forces, but is being used to bombard civilian areas behind Russian lines.

Whether this is Washington’s intention – to embroil Russia deeper and deeper into Ukraine’s territory through the necessity of protecting its Donbas and Crimea buffer against long-range Western artillery and missiles supplied to Kiev – is a moot point. But that will surely be the consequences of such a policy from the West, in which Kiev seems only too happy to oblige at present.

A supreme and ultimate sacrifice, involving the maximum amount of Ukrainian deaths and territory lost, seems to the policy of the Kiev government, until their army cracks or some force finally says enough is enough!

Quagmire for Europe!

Europe should realise by now that this is not Soviet Afghanistan II.

In the Afghan war there was limited Western involvement in fighting the Soviets. It has been called “Charlie Wilson’s war” after the Congressman single-mindedly pursued the supplying of the Mujahideen with modern weapons. Of course, there was wider involvement among the US intelligence services and military-industrial complex but it all had a controlled, semi-secret atmosphere about it, with President Reagan exercising careful restraint.

But the Ukraine war is completely different. Washington and the West has invested almost totally against Russia in terms of moral, military and economic resources. This is a reckless, unlimited war on the lines of 1914. It aims at limited liability in that the military battlefield has been so far confined to Ukrainian territory and the blood is meant to be that of Ukrainians and Russians in Ukraine alone. However, the only restriction from the Western side at present is that for now President Biden has prevented Western conventional forces being employed alongside the Ukrainians.

Given the current extent of Western involvement such a move would seamlessly make it a world war.

So Washington has made Ukraine a quagmire not only for Russia but particularly for the Europeans, who have consented in a great altruistic suicide pact. European leaders go on pilgrimage to Kiev, following in the footsteps of Boris, to kiss the feet of Zelensky, paying homage to the hero of democracy.

Such altruistic, self-destructive, behaviour is rare among self-respecting states and statesmen. It is not the sort of thing Hungary or Turkiye would consider doing, for instance. But Europe has departed from the pragmatic realism of Angela Merkel and become something different under the moral leadership of Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel. It has become like those members of a cult who self-sacrifice for a charismatic leader – in this case Volodymir Zelensky and his democratic cult.

The blowback of the economic sanctions are hitting Europe hard and will hit harder still if the Ukrainians can stay in the field until winter. Inflation is spiralling to unprecedented levels in a generation as energy gets dearer, growth projections are falling down and the European currencies, Euros and Pounds, are sinking like stones against the Dollar. German industry will be made uncompetitive without cheap and reliable Russian gas and the LNG contracts are already tied up by the Asian producers. Massive expenditure will be required in Europe to construct new port facilities to receive the LNG from the US while the already paid for, low cost pipelines from Russia lie unused.

In short, Europe will not be able replace the energy supplies it previously obtained from Russia any time soon and when it does these will raise costs substantially for both consumers and producers, making Europe a very high cost economy indeed.

Who would bet against energy shortages, rationing and 3 day working weeks and a depression by the end of 2022?

At the same time Russia gets new customers for its oil and gas like India, Saudi Arabia and UAE (who energy wash the Russian oil by using it for the domestic market whilst selling on their own energy at the new inflated prices to the West, courtesy of sanctions). Russia takes in more revenue for lower sales, with the rising prices, which is excellent in dealing in a finite resource like oil and gas. And the Ruble, predicted for meltdown, soars in value on the foreign exchanges.

There, alas is to be no release for Europe from the chains it has bound itself to Ukraine. There have been increasing voices calling for restraint in the West, most notably from the illustrious Mr Kissinger. However, on 13 June Zelensky reasserted his objective of “liberating” the Donbas and Crimea and flying the Ukrainian flag there again. This is despite the fact that the war has been an unmitigated disaster for Ukraine. In less than 4 months of war Russian forces have captured 20 per cent of Ukrainian territory; over 6 million Ukrainians have fled the country and 8 million are internally displaced; the economy is practically destroyed and 5 billion dollars is required every month from Washington to keep the state functioning. It will take a trillion dollars to rebuild the country from its present state.

Boris Johnson trumped the Europeans by returning to Kiev. He made sure that any thoughts of bringing the conflict to a close, which the Europeans may have communicated or any Ukrainians had been entertaining, were overwhelmed with British resolve to keep fighting:

“My visit today, in the depths of this war, is to send a clear and simple message to the Ukrainian people: the UK is with you and we will be with you until you ultimately prevail.”

British generosity to aid the continuation of the fight was contained in a promise to organise the training of a new Ukrainian army in ultra-fast time – the kind of training which puts recruits very quickly into the front line (and gets them killed too).

Johnson, who has invested much personally in the Ukraine war, in the interests of prolonging his political career, needs to keep the Ukrainians fighting for as long as he can. He went to Kiev in preference to supporting his candidate in an important by-election in the North of England.

This is all very bad news for the people of Europe. Their foolish governments have invested far too much moral capital for any retreat from the suicide pact they entered into in February. Zelensky will fight to the end in pursuit of an impossible agenda and Boris Johnson will squeeze the last drop of blood out of every Ukrainian willing to fight for it.

In the immortal words of Elvis Presley:

“Caught in a trap, I can’t walk out, because I love you too much, baby…”

Putin, the Saviour of Europe?

There is no way this war ends anytime soon since both sides – the US and Russia – are committed to avoiding defeat. Their objectives are diametrically opposed, so there is no chance of compromise. There is, in fact, a powerful tendency toward escalation within the conflict, despite the recent calls for restraint from some voices in the West.

So it is unlikely that President Biden will assist Europe out of its predicament in the quagmire it made for itself. The US, for one thing, now has Europe in its pocket. An independent Europe has been aborted after a short flirtation with the idea and Britain, after leaving Europe, has come back to lead it to its destruction. And just like Russia, the US cannot afford to lose the great trial of strength it has entered into. Its standing in the world would be seriously damaged if it fails to put an end to Putin at least. It may not be enough to simply deny Russia a clear victory. Any territorial concessions to Russia, which is the only conceivable way to end the war, would humiliate Washington.

The war may put paid to President Biden, Prime Minister Johnson and President Zelensky before it ends but it is unlikely that the US will give up on it until the Ukrainian will to fight has been eradicated by suffering hundreds of thousands of casualties.

Europe can only be saved from itself if Mr Putin obliges with a swift neutralising of the Ukraine through a mobilising of Russian forces and an absolute ruthlessness to do the necessary to end this problem for the people of Europe. He will have to take off the gloves to deliver a knock out blow to this most stubborn opponent and silence the corner.

Far from ridding itself of Putin Europe has now placed its future in the Kremlin’s hands. Only President Putin can save Europe from Washington and London! Will he oblige or will he prolong the agony for those who ganged up on Russia but refused themselves to fight?

Europeans may pray for this deliverance in the privacy of their own homes while their leaders cheer on the Ukrainians to the ultimate destruction of their menfolk and territory.

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