Last week, following two days of heavy fighting along the southern front in Ukraine, I concluded that the expected push from the south into the back of the Ukrainian forces at the Donetzk frontline, was finally happening.
Ukraine – Russian Army Activates Southern Front
I was wrong. I, and other analysts following the war, had been deceived by the sudden rush of news from that frontline. It said that Russian forces made progress in a large number of towns. But nearly as soon as I had published my piece that news died down. In the following days nothing happened but the usual exchange of artillery fire and minor local clashes.
I am not sure what happened. But the Ukrainian army also seemed to have believed that something big was coming as it had rushed an additional mechanized brigade to that line.
While the big one has not happened yet there are several probing attacks in the area with some successes around Vuhledar.
It is interesting that this was followed by additional government turmoil in Kiev as another senior advisor of president Zelensky, the deputy head of his office Kyrylo Tymoshenko, resigned. Additionally several deputy ministers and oblast governors were fired:
Deputy Defence Minister Vyacheslav Shapovalov also resigned, following reports he oversaw the purchase of military food supplies at inflated prices from a relatively unknown firm. The department called this a “technical mistake” and claimed no money had changed hands.
The defence minister himself – Oleksii Reznikov – has been under scrutiny for the same reason.
A host of other top officials were dismissed on Tuesday, including:
- Deputy Prosecutor General Oleskiy Symonenko
- Deputy Minister for Development of Communities and Territories Ivan Lukerya
- Deputy Minister for Development of Communities and Territories Vyacheslav Negoda
- Deputy Minister for Social Policy Vitaliy Muzychenko
- And the regional governors of Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhia, Kyiv, Sumy and Kherson
I urge people to be careful with corruption allegations in Ukraine. These often come from the extralegal National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU). The bureau was setup in 2014, after the Maidan coup. It was created and controlled by the U.S. embassy. NABU was used in various power plays to remove people who the embassy disliked.
In 2020 the supreme court of Ukraine ruled that NABU was outside of the law and should not have the investigative powers it assumed. This came after NABU had investigated several supreme court judges in anti-corruption cases. That fight between two camps of power in Ukraine led to a constitutional crisis.
A year later Zelensky fired the leading supreme court judge who had written the opinion on NABU. The judge appealed the decision and the court took his side. The conflict remains unresolved. The judge fled to Austria where he is now threatened with arrest under a Ukrainian warrant.
There are many of such little reported power plays in Kiev with Zelensky moving more and more into a dictatorial role. Over time his position will become very lonely.
But in the east the battle continues and Ukraine keeps losing the war. The Telegram channel Intel Slava Z notes:
Prigozhin on the objectives of the actions of PMC “Wagner” in the Artemovsk region.
“The task of taking Bakhmut is to destroy the Ukrainian army in the vicinity of the city and prevent any offensive actions in any direction of the front. All of their combat-ready units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine are sent to Bakhmut. And PMC “Wagner” destroys them, opening up operational opportunities in other areas”
I count the equivalent of some 27 brigade size formations in that area. The usual size of a brigade is some 3,000 to 4,000 men with hundreds of all kinds of vehicles. If all brigades had their full strength that force would count as 97,500 men. In a recent interview the Ukrainian military commander Zaluzhny said that his army has 200,000 men trained to fight with 500,000 more having other functions or currently being trained. The forces which are currently getting mauled in the Bakhmut area constitute 50% of Ukraine’s battle ready forces.
There are still Pentagon officials who deny the real situation:
Russian forces took control of the city of Bakhmut almost a year ago after Moscow opened a phase of the war that focused on territories in the Donbas, the far eastern corner of Ukraine comprised of the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts.
Recent successes by Ukrainian fighters in the Bakhmut area have prompted Moscow to send in reinforcements, said the senior U.S. military official who spoke on condition of anonymity. U.S. and Ukrainian officials have said Ukrainian troops are presently in control of Bakhmut, though Moscow claimed this week that its forces have taken control of a nearby salt-mining town, Soledar.
“Ukraine forces continue to successfully hold and defend Bakhmut,” the U.S. military official said, adding the new Russian troops are being “rushed” to the battlefield “ill trained” and “ill equipped.”
To read such nonsense in the Stars and Stripes, a newspaper for the U.S. military, is quite revealing. Can these people even read a map?
Bakhmut has never been under the Russian forces control. This was the situation near Bakhmut 6 months ago. The Russian held territory is red.
In a useless attempt to stop the steady drain of Ukrainian forces the ‘west’ is moving additional weapons into Ukraine. The U.S. wants to unlock the transfer of tanks by other countries to Ukraine by delivering parts of its own tank reserves:
The Biden administration is leaning toward sending a significant number of Abrams M1 tanks to Ukraine and an announcement of the deliveries could come this week, U.S. officials said.
The announcement would be part of a broader diplomatic understanding with Germany in which Berlin would agree to send a smaller number of its own Leopard 2 tanks and would also approve the delivery of more of the German-made tanks by Poland and other nations. It would settle a trans-Atlantic disagreement over the tanks that had threatened to open fissures as the war drags into the end of its first year.
The White House declined to comment.
The shift in the U.S. position follows a call on Jan. 17 between President Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in which Mr. Biden agreed to look into providing the Abrams tanks against the judgment of the Pentagon. A senior German official said that the issue had been the subject of intense negotiation between Washington and Berlin for more than a week and appeared to be on the way to resolution.
Previously, the Pentagon had ruled out providing the tanks to Ukraine, saying they were too complicated for the Ukrainians to maintain and operate. But White House and State Department officials were described as being more open to providing Abrams to break the diplomatic logjam holding up Leopard deliveries.
U.S. Joint Chiefs Chair Milley and Defense Secretary Austin have been against any tank delivery. They are afraid of the consequences of this steady mission creep. The Biden administration steadily blows through each of its own red lines. Biden had started out by declaring that the U.S. would only deliver defensive weapons. Then came HIMARS and other longer range weapons that hit targets in Russia. Delivering tanks was a red line. What will come next? Fighter planes that have no chance to defeat superior Russian air defenses?
They military are not alone in their fear. The Science and Security Board Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the hands of its Doomsday Clock:
The Clock now stands at 90 seconds to midnight—the closest to global catastrophe it has ever been.
Biden is in a bind. He started a war that he is not allowed to lose because losing in Ukraine will come with the loss of U.S. financial hegemony:
The Biden Team cannot withdraw its fantastical narrative of Russia’s imminent humiliation; they have bet the House on it. Yet it has become an existential issue for the U.S. precisely because of this egregious initial miscalculation that has been subsequently levered-up into a preposterous narrative of a floundering, at any moment ‘collapsing’ Russia.
This evolving New Order existentially threatens dollar hegemony – the U.S. created its hegemony through demanding that oil (and other commodities) be priced in dollars, and by facilitating a frenetic financialisation of asset markets in the U.S. It is this demand for dollars which alone has allowed the U.S. to fund its government deficit (and its defence budget) for nothing.
Team Biden thus has painted the U.S. into a tight Ukraine ‘corner’. But at this stage – realistically – what can the White House do? It cannot withdraw the narrative of Russia’s ‘coming humiliation’ and defeat. They cannot let the narrative go because it has become an existential component to save what it can of the ‘Ponzi’. To admit that Russia ‘has won’ would be akin to saying that the ‘Ponzi’ will have to ‘close the fund’ to further withdrawals (just as Nixon did in 1971, when he shut withdrawals from the Gold window).
Commentator Yves Smith has provocatively argued, ‘What if Russia decisively wins – yet the western press is directed to not notice?’ Presumably, in such a situation, the economic confrontation between the West and New Global Order states must escalate into a wider, longer war.
And escalating it is. With ever increasing speed.