Aletho News


Ukraine war: The short view


Ukraine President Vladimir Zelensky has somewhat eased the suspense by his remark to the western media on Thursday that his army needs to wait and still needs “a bit more time” to launch the much-anticipated counter-offensive against Russian forces. 

He acknowledged that Ukraine’s combat brigades are “ready” but would reason that the army still needed “some things,” including armoured vehicles that were “arriving in batches” from NATO countries.

Zelensky proffered the explanation that “we can go forward, and, I think, be successful. But we’d lose a lot of people. I think that’s unacceptable. So we need to wait. We still need a bit more time.” 

However, Zelensky’s claim that Ukraine’s military still needed some equipment is at variance with the assertive statement by western officials. None other than NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said a fortnight ago, one full week after returning from Kiev after talks with Zelensky and his top aides, that NATO deliveries constituted more than 98 percent of the combat vehicles promised to Ukraine. 

Stoltenberg added, “In total, we have trained and equipped more than nine new Ukrainian armoured brigades. This will put Ukraine in a strong position to continue to retake occupied territory.” 

Last Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken broadly endorsed what Stoltenberg said, during a joint press conference with the visiting UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, while also taking care to add a caveat: 

“They (Ukrainian military) have in place … what they need to continue to be successful in regaining territory that was seized by force by Russia… It’s not only the weapons; it’s the training. It’s making sure that the Ukrainians can maintain the systems that we provide them, and it’s important, of course, that they have the right plans, again, to be successful.” 

Cleverly agreed with the drift of what Blinken said but gave a political perspective to it. That is perfectly acceptable, since this is a war that is more political than military. 

Cleverly said people shouldn’t expect a film-like counteroffensive from Kiev. He cautioned: “The real world doesn’t work like that. I hope and expect they will do very, very well, because whenever I’ve seen the Ukrainians, they have outperformed expectations… (but we) have to be realistic. This is the real world. This is not a Hollywood movie.” 

To be fair, Stoltenberg also had cautioned on a parallel track, saying that “we should never underestimate Russia.” He claimed that Russia was mobilising more ground forces and is “willing to send in thousands of troops with very high casualty rates.” 

Perhaps, the salience of what these three officials were harping on was that no matter the outcome of the planned Ukrainian offensive,  NATO countries “must stay the course and continue to provide Ukraine with what it needs to prevail” in the face of what appears to be a prolonged conflict. Indeed, both Blinken and Cleverly are in sync with what Stoltenberg said. 

In fact, even as the two foreign ministers spoke, on the same day, the US announced an additional $1.2 billion in aid to Ukraine intended to bolster air defences and keep up ammunition supplies. 

There is a lot of angst in recent weeks as to whether a Ukrainian counter-offensive is indeed in the pipeline. The answer is a categorical ‘yes’. As to its timing, it seems there could be a difference of opinion. 

Weather conditions are no longer an insurmountable factor and Zelensky’s western sponsors want him to get going with the offensive — the sooner the better. Their calculus is that the offensive has a reasonable chance of success, which would go a long way in placating the Western domestic opinion that such costly support for Ukraine was after all not going into a bottomless pit.

Second, the offensive is useful politically to shore up European opinion. In fact, the European Commission headed by its president (and an ardent Atlanticist), Ursula von der Leyen has just confirmed that the EU is preparing to take initial steps toward adopting methods of US sanctions and impose extraterritorial (collateral) punitive measures on enterprises of third countries including those in the United Arab Emirates and possibly in Turkey. 

It seems the EU will first focus on the resale of sanctioned EU goods to Russia. In future, enterprises will be punished even if they are not based within the EU and, therefore, are not subject to EU norms. 

Indeed, such extraterritorial implementation of one’s own system of norms will be in violation of international law — and the EU itself had officially held that position up until recently — but Von der Leyen is pushing for a revised “rules-based order” to add a new cutting edge to the western strategy to weaken Russia. 

The underlying assumption is that the sanctions will weaken the Russian economy and create social disaffection. It only goes to show that no matter the fate of Zelensky’s counter-offensive, there isn’t going to be any let-up in the proxy war against Russia. On the other hand, no one can blame President Biden for a Ukrainian defeat, either.

However, there is a catch: Zelensky also has his priorities — first and foremost, his own political survival. He knows that his narrative about an impending Russian defeat, et al, has unravelled and he may become the fall guy in any blame game in the aftermath of a crushing defeat in the crucial weeks or months ahead. 

Indeed, the Game of Thrones in Kiev is nearing a critical stage. Sensing danger, Zelensky is dithering. He is buying time. (General Valerii Fedorovych Zaluzhnyi, chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, skipped a NATO meeting!) But how long can Zelensky push back the mounting US and NATO pressure to launch the offensive? His exit strategy could have been to open a line to Moscow but that option no longer exists.

On its part, Russia is doing brilliantly well to keep its cards close to its chest. Russia has the capability to launch a “big arrow” offensive towards the Dnieper but Kremlin’s preference is to continue to grind down the Ukrainian military — a strategy that proved cost-effective in human and material terms, productive, and is sustainable. 

Depending on the trajectory of the Ukrainian offensive, therefore, Russia has the option to switch to a massive attack to pulverise the adversary. Presently, its heavy bombing campaign is intended to create shock and awe in Kiev and despondency in the European capitals, and to degrade Ukraine’s mobilisation. The West is kept guessing about the Russian intentions.   

May 13, 2023 - Posted by | Economics, Militarism | , , ,


  1. The unfailingly-excellent MKB…kudos!

    “Cleverly(:)…(t)his is the real world. This is not a Hollywood movie.” How ‘cleverly’ said!

    Ahhh — the hydra-headed, omnipresent MIC salivates…


    Comment by roberthstiver | May 14, 2023 | Reply


    By Bernard Weinraub Special to The New York Times March 29, 1975 Credit…The New York Times Archives
    SAIGON, South Vietnam, March 28—
    The South Vietnamese have lost more than $1‐billion in American military weapons and other equipment over the last two weeks, according to qualified Vietnamese sources.The abandonment of hundreds of artillery pieces, trucks, planes, mortars, tanks, armored personnel carriers, rifles and ammunition—coupled with the rapid retreat of army units—is viewed by Vietnamese and Western sources as a stunning and, quite possibly irreversible military and psychological blow for South Vietnam.

    A senior Western official, who has spent more than a decade in South Vietnam, said today: “These losses are very, very, very considerable. It’s a catastrophic loss.”
    Another informed Western source said:
    “We’ve made no attempt to quantify the loss, but it’s staggering. The equipment has not been saved at all and we’re facing a devastating failure.”

    An informed Vietnamese said that the armed forces logistics command, which controls the inventory of all military equipment, had made a tentative estimate of at least $1‐billion in equipment losses—virtually all of it left over by the Americans — as a result of the Government’s abrupt decision to abandon two‐thirds of the nation and the hasty, panicky exodus of civilians and troops that followed.These losses are expected to be a key topic of discussion between Gen. Frederick C. Weyand, the Army Chief of Staff, who was sent here by President Ford to assess the deteriorating military situation, and Vietnam officials. General Weyand and Ambassador Graham A. Martin met this morning with President Nguyen Van Thieu for over an hour but there was no information on their discussion. The general is expected to remain here for several days.

    Lack of Coordination
    As the scale of the military retreat becomes apparent, Western military analysts and Vietnamese sources express dismay and alarm at the lack of armed‐forces coordination, “the failure of leadership up and down the line” in the chaos that has engulfed army units beset with mass defections and the huge loss of equipment to the advancing North Vietnaese.Beyond this, Western analysts view the civilian panic in such cities as Da Nang as symtomatic of the virtual breakdown of law and order and the Government’s failure to calm the frightened populace in the face of the deteriorating situation.One intelligence source said: “There’s been a complete loss of control by most of the army, by civilians. Self preservation is everything, there’s total panic at Da Nang airport, the army has left an extraordinary amount of equipment behind in the north and Central Highlands. It’s become a tragedy that I just can’t grasp.”

    How much equipment has been left behind—as wellhow much has been destroyed by the retreating South Vietnamese Army in the highlands and the northern provinces—is impossible to calculate in detail. Western intelligence officials and South Vietnamese say that because of the chaotic situation a clear analysis is unlikely to be forthcoming for weeks.One source said that dozens of planes and helicopters, including A‐37 ground‐support fighter‐bombers, were left behind at Pleiku when troops began to withdraw. In the retreat from the highlands, said one Vietnamese source, there was “panic everywhere” and soldiers left behind virtually, all their heavy weapons.The loss of the strategic province capital of Ban Me Thuot, which prompted the decision to abandon the highlands and northern provinces, resulted in a panicky troop withdrawal and the abandonnent of 105‐mm. and 155‐mm. artillery pieces, all Americanmade weapons now in the lands of the North Vietnamese.At Hau Bon, the capital of Phu Bon Province in the highlands and a scene of sharp, fighting, the South Vietnamese left behind dozens of M‐41 light tanks and M‐48 battle tanks as well as 81‐mm. mortars.One highly reliable Vietnamese source said that in the flight from Pleiku at least 15,000 tons of ammunition and 100 tons of bombs were left intact.In Ban Me Thuot, the source said, 3,200 rounds of ammunition were left behind, together with 81‐mm. mortars, 105‐mm. howitzers, rockets, generators and trucks.In Pleiku, said one source, signal equipment worth about $5‐million was left intact.

    Army radio equipment was also abandoned, enabling the North Vietnamese to overhear transmissions and to create further chaos in the ranks of the South Vietnamese.It is unclear whether the losses in the highlands are equal to the losses in the northern provinces of Thua Thien, Quang Nam and Quang Tin. In any their hand weapons,” said a event, the equipment losses are said to be considerable.Hand Weapons Only“They left everything between Hue and Da Nang and all they came out with were European diplomat today. “The artillery, the tanks, the APC’s [armored personnel carriers] were left in tact.”Hundreds of artillery pieces, as well as mortars, tanks, armored personnel carriers and antitank weapons were left behind in Quang Tri and Quang Nam, largely because of the abruptness of the North Vietnamese advance coupled with the Government’s decision to abandon the northern territory.Exactly how much equipment, the United States left in South Vietnam and its worth remain unclear. The United States has spent more than $150‐billion, in Vietnam, according to some estimates. Last year military aid totaled $1.23‐million while in the current fiscal year military assistance was cut to $700‐million.With the equipment losses, South Vietnamese military units are now in disarray. “I would say a good portion of the South Vietnamese Army—perhaps half of their combat divisions—have either been dispersed or are not combat effective,” said one informed Western source. “They’ll fight to defend Saigon, I guess, but the military is in terrible shape.”

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Pip | May 14, 2023 | Reply

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