A special report by Dmitri Kovalevich, correspondent in Ukraine for Al Mayadeen English, July 19, 2023, regarding the Vilnius NATO summit. Originally published on Almayadeen.net.
On July 11 and 12, the Lithuanian city of Vilnius hosted the summit meeting of leaders of the governments of the NATO military alliance. The Ukrainian leadership held high hopes for the meeting; or at least, this is what they told the people of Ukraine and Western media. Volodymyr Zelensky used the occasion to aggressively press for an invitation to Ukraine to join the military alliance. Membership has long been intimated and often declared by Western leaders, even if it would mean a direct political clash and a potential military clash with nuclear-armed Russia.
The summit meeting was preceded by a months-long information barrage by Western governments and media centered on a hoped-for but highly unlikely admission of Ukraine into NATO. Many corporate media voices along with many politicians sitting in opposition in Western countries called on the NATO governments to accept Ukraine into membership, or at least pledge to accept accession within a specific and foreseeable timeframe. In Ukraine proper, this story was constantly exaggerated and inflamed by analysts and journalists.
Right up to the start of the summit, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was being promised some sort of “surprise” (to use the term of Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas). The implication was that the hawkish governments in Eastern Europe and in Britain would prevail in pressing the U.S. president to make a surprise announcement opening the door for membership by the Kiev regime in the NATO alliance.
Ukraine regime overplays its hand
Zelensky felt so emboldened as to demand that the U.S. and other NATO countries accept Ukraine’s membership, saying that failure to do so would be a betrayal of the Ukrainian people. He wrote on July 11, “It’s unprecedented and absurd when [a] time frame is not set, neither for the invitation nor for Ukraine’s membership. While at the same time, vague wording about ‘conditions’ is added even for inviting Ukraine.”
In the end, Zelensky overplayed his hand. His thinly veiled attempts to blackmail his own Western sponsors soon stirred barely-concealed irritation among Western officials. UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace responded to Zelensky’s barbs with an appeal to “cool down”. He said, “Whether we like it or not, people want to see gratitude,” meaning that Zelensky and the rest of his leadership group should be grateful for the destruction that NATO has visited upon the country with its weapons, military training and direct financial assistance.
British PM Rishi Sunak joined the media exchange with ‘cooling down’ words of his own. “President Zelenskiy has expressed his gratitude for what we have done on a number of occasions,” Sunak told a press conference at the summit in Vilnius. “I completely understand Volodymyr’s desire to do everything he can to protect his people and to stop this war, and we will continue to give him the support that he needs.”
On the eve of the summit, Ukraine was expected to show maximum military results on the battlefield. For this purpose, Ukrainian soldiers were herded into a six-week ‘counteroffensive’ beginning in early June that, in the end, made no dent in Russia’s robust defenses nor its capacity to take the offensive. But the exercise did cost the lives of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers. And, according to the New York Times, fully 20 percent of the Ukraine regime’s heavy battlefield weapons were lost in combat.
Every day during the counteroffensive, the Ukrainian military, as well as the foreign mercenaries from Western countries (mainly from Poland), went on the attack against strong Russian defensive lines in the land between the Dnieper River and the historic Donbass region. And every day, they would be turned away, sometimes losing up to half of the personnel of attacking units. Due to the widespread presence of mines in the areas targeted by Ukraine, many of the bodies of Ukrainian servicemen cannot be removed for burial. Sky News cited Irish mercenary Rhys Byrne in a July 11 report: “The biggest problem we get when we’re going into trenches is stepping over all the dead bodies that are already there from the last people [who] went in. That kind of stuff really haunts you.”
According to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, the Ukrainian army’s losses in the counter-offensive since June 4 amounted to more than 26,000 military personnel and some 3,000 military vehicles and equipment. The minister said that Russian troops destroyed more than 1,200 armored vehicles during this period, including 17 German Leopard tanks, 12 American Bradley BMPs and five French AMX wheeled tanks.
Konstantin Gavrilov, head of the Russian delegation to the Vienna talks on military security and arms control, told RT Russian on July 11 that the NATO countries are emptying their arsenals in order to keep the conflict going in Ukraine. “Our interlocutors in Vienna point out that there is a growing understanding among Europeans that their victory in Ukraine will not be easy; in principle, it is impossible. They recognize the power of the Russian army, which has gained tremendous combat experience on the battlefields,” he said.
The situation for NATO is aggravated by the fact that the alliance’s military-industrial complex is in decline and unable to match the quality and quantity of Russia’s production. Ukraine has already received all the available supplies of Stinger MANPADS and Javelin portable air defense systems; the warehouses in the West are now empty and it will take years to replenish them.
The West’s production of missiles also does not keep up with the pace of Ukraine’s use of them, Gavrilov added.
Cue the threats against the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant
Already on the eve of the NATO summit, there were dissatisfied voices in Western media saying that the counter-offensive of the Ukrainian armed forces was too slow and not bringing anticipated results. As if on cue, one week before the summit, Ukrainians began to be actively misled about the possibility of blowing up the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (located some 60 km south and east of the city of the same name (the fifth or sixth largest city in the country, according to pre-war population). The Ukrainian authorities claimed that the Russian military intended to blow up the plant in order to deter the AFU counteroffensive from capturing it, even though the Ukrainian army had not come one step closer to the nuclear plant since June 4.
Russian experts began warning that the AFU intended to attack the plant and use resulting radioactive contamination as a pretext to justify direct NATO military intervention in the name of responding to nuclear disaster. By late June and early July, Ukrainians began to be advised each day by Ukrainian media to stock up on drinking water and on duct tape (to seal their houses from radioactive contamination). Municipal services in various cities were ordered to clean up garbage, claiming that this would facilitate the cleanup after the alleged danger of nuclear disaster. Ukrainians began to rush en masse to pharmacies to buy potassium iodide, which is said to reduce the effects of radiation on the internal organs of the body.
The Ukrainian Telegram channel ‘MediaKiller’ commented on the situation: “The presidential administration [headed by Zelensky] is peddling false rumors about the planting of explosives [by Russia] at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in order to divert attention from the fact that the administration’s counteroffensive has stalled. Such scare tactics are also meant to provoke panic among civilians in the Russian Federation and to artificially create a negative image of the Russian Federation before the entire world.”
In the West, the warnings over the alleged nuclear danger were mostly met with skeptical comments. Ukrainian authorities were not believed, said many, especially since the prevailing winds in the region of the ZNPP blow southward, directly onto Russian-controlled territories. Blowing up a nuclear power plant that results in radiation contamination over one’s own territory– what could be more foolish (and unlikely) than that?
The director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency reported on June 30that his agency had not found or confirmed anything of what the Ukrainian authorities were claiming, including an alleged ‘mining’ by Russia of the roofs of the six nuclear reactors which make up at the ZNPP (Europe’s largest nuclear power station). Following that, Ukrainian authorities began gradually to tone down their rhetoric while continuing to throw fresh reserves into the military fray and continuing to beg NATO for new weapons.
Ukraine as a live training ground for NATO weaponry
NATO needed the Ukrainian ‘counteroffensive’ in June in order to assess its own capabilities. As a matter of fact, the Armed Forces of Ukraine are now using much of the same equipment as well as military tactics on which NATO’s new military plans, discussed at the summit in Vilnius, are based. The AFU is being trained by NATO instructors at bases in Ukraine and supporting countries in Europe. For the first time since the Cold War began some 75 years ago, NATO is preparing for large-scale military conflict instead of the easier but more limited ‘force-projection’ operations in such distant regions as Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Ukrainian counteroffensive, launched five weeks before the NATO summit, was designed to demonstrate the combat effectiveness of the alliance’s military equipment and tactics in a real conflict with the most likely adversary. Should the offensive fail, the very principles of the new military plans that had only recently been drawn up would be called into question. Simply put, the AFU was assigned its role in a live training exercise.
By the end of July 12, it gradually became clear that the summit in the Lithuanian capital, like the Ukrainian attacks on the front lines, had produced no ‘breakthroughs’. Ukraine was left with a set of standard promises, generally repeating past promises made at previous NATO summits. Zelensky looked dejected and angry at the summit, even making unhappy comments about the U.S. and UK pushing him to act on the battleground but leaving him and the AFU alone to face the Russian army.
No NATO membership for Ukraine
Ukraine was told at the summit that it would be able to work with the alliance, but immediate membership is not on the agenda. Membership can only happen once the regime in Kiev fulfills all the conditions set before it, namely, agreement by all the members of the bloc and, most importantly, achievement of some kind of ‘victory’ in the military conflict, or at least the appearance that victory may someday be achieved. In other words, Ukraine must not only defeat in battle the powerful Russian Federation, it must also stamp out corruption and carry out all the other economic reforms demanded by the West to win NATO membership. To put matters diplomatically, that means ‘never’.
Russian military analyst Malek Dudakov explained to Ukraine.ru on July 12, “To somehow sweeten the pill for Kiev, the G-7 countries have promised to provide Ukraine with security guarantees. The White House, however, is leaning toward an ‘Israel’ scenario, according to which the U.S. has no obligation to come to Israel’s aid in the event of war but does provide $3 billion a year each year with which to buy American weapons.
“Hawks in the West hope to legislate similar, permanent commitments to Ukraine. They fear that the political climate in the United States and Europe could change dramatically in the months and even years ahead and cause the level of support for Ukraine to weaken dramatically.”
The publication writes that this is being done to prolong the Ukrainian conflict as long as possible and prevent it from ending in peace. However, the West wants this on its terms, namely, to place its weapons in the hands of people in other countries and send them off to battle for a Western cause. The ‘Israel’ scenario is precisely a scenario of endless war, as has taken place for many years now in Israel and in Colombia. This is exactly the scenario held out for Ukraine at the Vilnius meeting.
The West doesn’t care about Ukraine or Ukrainians, says Alexei Zubets, director of the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the Financial University of the government of the Russian Federation. Zelensky and Ukraine are absolutely dependent on the West, he explains. More than half of the money that makes up the Ukrainian public budget comes from Western donors. The West has all the leverage and can remove Zelensky in a matter of months.
Ukraine is trapped by its dream of NATO membership
“Zelensky’s regime no longer has a back door. It cannot go to negotiate with Russia and so must accept any position of the West. The West’s position is that Ukraine is a tool to be used to weaken Russia. The country resembles a mercenary that has decided to fight for money. There is no other status for Ukraine in the West. NATO is a ‘white man’s club’ [an ‘elite’ club], and Ukrainians do not conform to the West’s racist category of ‘white people’. Zelensky will accept any of their decisions, in part for reasons of his own personal security.”
An anonymous Ukrainian commentator on NATO policy recently compared Ukraine to a woman who is seduced and leaves her husband, only to lose her children (Crimea and Donbass) after they decide to remain with the father. The woman is left destitute, holding only the empty promise of a lucrative new marriage while being stuck in an empty, trashed house. The comparison may be strained, but it captures the essence of the Ukrainian conflict in general, and NATO promises in particular, as delivered at the summit in Vilnius.
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