Defining moment in the Battle of Donbass, as the 4-month long defiant Ukrainian resistance to the Russian offensive is ending
The meet-up location of NATO foreign ministers on November 29-30— Bucharest — was where ten years ago, former US President George W. Bush persuaded America’s transatlantic partners that Ukraine and Georgia should one day join their military alliance. The foreign ministers duly “reaffirmed” that decision yesterday and left it at that.
However, their statement on the conflict in Ukraine emphatically stated that the NATO “will never recognise” Russia’s incorporation of four Ukrainian regions and underscored the alliance’s resolve to “continue and further step up political and practical support” to Kiev.
The NATO General-Secretary Jens Stoltenberg who is the mouthpiece of Washington, warned that despite Ukraine’s bravery and progress on the ground, Russia retains strong military capabilities and a large number of troops, and the alliance will continue to support Kiev for “as long as it takes … we will not back down.”
Such pronouncements betray the absence of any new thinking although developments on the ground are showing that Washington’s best-laid plans are floundering. And there are also growing signs of disunity on Ukraine issue among the US’ European allies and between the latter and the Biden Administration.
The neocons in the Biden team who are the driving force in the Beltway are still full of passionate intensity. The flicker of hope that the moderate opinion voiced in the famous statement by 30 Democratic lawmakers recently was brusquely snuffed out.
Moscow has drawn appropriate conclusions too, as evident in the Russian Foreign Ministry stance that it makes no sense in the prevailing climate of unremitting hostility from Washington to hold the Bilateral Consultative Commission under the Russia-US New START Treaty, which was originally scheduled to take place in Cairo on November 29 – December 6.
Again, nothing much need be expected out of the French President Emmanuel Macron’s meeting with President Biden at the White House tomorrow. Macron still hopes to be the western leader to accept President Putin’s surrender terms and go down in history books, but in reality his credibility is in shatters in Europe and Atlanticist circles in particular, and even within France.
Europe’s number one priority at this juncture, which is a turning point in the conflict in Ukraine, ought to be its strategic autonomy to act in its own interests. But that requires deep thinking as to what is it that Europe wants to be autonomous about, and secondly, the understanding that deep down, a strategic interest cannot be reduced to security interests.
In our new Hobbesian world, a world of competing economic zones, Europe’s first goal should be to achieve strategic economic autonomy. But is that goal attainable anymore when its energy security that gave underpinning to its prosperity and industrial might has been smashed to smithereens in the depths of the Baltic Sea by unseen hands?
Be that as it may, the unfolding events in Ukraine are sure to create a new dynamic. The visible acceleration of the Russian offensive in Bakhmut in the most recent weeks is dramatically shortening the timeline for the capture of the city from several weeks ahead to the next few days at the most. Similar signs are appearing in Maryinka and Ugledar in the Donbass region, too.
If Bakhmut is the lynchpin of the Ukrainian defence line in Donbass, Maryinka is from where Ukrainian forces are bombarding Donetsk city; and, the capture of Ugledar will enable the Russian forces to move toward Zaporozhye city and conclusively ward off any future challenge to the land bridge to Crimea and to the ports in the Azov Sea.
The common thread here is that the ongoing beefing up of the Russian forces deployed in Donbass after the mobilisation of nearly 400,000 soldiers is beginning to show its first results. For once, Russian forces are outnumbering Ukraine’s and Russian fortifications have been significantly strengthened.
The fall of Bakhmut will signal that the Battle of Donbass, which is the Russian special military operation’s leitmotif, is entering its final phase. The Ukrainian defence line in Donbass is crumbling. Russian control of Donbass is at hand in a conceivable future.
What happens next? The Russian objective may be to push the Ukrainian forces further away from the Donbass region and keep the steppes to the east of Dnieper river as a buffer zone. Indeed, the Dnipropetrovsk oblast is also rich in mineral resources, containing large deposits of iron ore, manganese ore, titanium-zirconium ore, uranium, anthracite coal, natural gas and oil and lignite coal and is the major centre of Ukraine’s steel industry, apart from being a region of intensive grain growing, animal husbandry, and dairy industry. Its loss will be a crippling blow to Kiev. In political terms, the narrative of victory in Kiev — that Ukraine is winning the war and is about to capture Crimea, etc. — is becoming unsustainable for much longer.
Meanwhile, Europe too is struggling with its demons — unable to shake off the idea of a price cap on Russian oil that is sure to boomerang and further aggravate Europe’s energy security; need to step up imports of LNG from Russia still, which is far cheaper than from America; Europe not being in a position to respond to the launch of the highly consequential inflation reduction act in the US or migration of European industry to America; EU’s inability to strengthen the international role of the euro for absorbing some of the world’s surplus savings, and so on.
Therefore, at this defining moment faced with an imminent escalation of the conflict in Ukraine in the coming weeks, the neocons in the US are having their way to step up the arms supplies to Ukraine. The neocons invariably win the turf battles in the Beltway, especially under a weak president. If the Republicans step up the investigations on Biden, his dependency on the neocons will only increase during the period ahead.
The regime-change-in-Russia propaganda is not going to wither away even under the emerging stark realities of the emerging ground situation in Ukraine. The neocons’ aim, as the investigative historian Eric Zuesse put it succinctly, is “to destroy Russia so fast that Russia won’t be able to destroy America in retaliation.” The sheer absurdity of the thought is self-evident to everyone but the neocons. So, they are going to argue now that the cardinal mistake the US made in Ukraine was its failure to put boots on the ground in that country in 2015 itself.