By Dmitriy Kovalevich,
Published on NewColdWar, August 29, 2022:
In his monthly report for August, the New Cold War’s correspondent in Ukraine, Dmitriy Kovalevich explores in detail Ukraine’s so-called independence, the continuing intervention by western powers, the country’s refusal to comply with the Minsk agreements, the failure of grain to reach the third world countries that need it, the slow but continuing Russian advances, and how blackmail (including nuclear blackmail) and state terrorism has become policy and practice.
On August 24, Ukraine celebrated 31 years of its post-Soviet independence. The same date marked six months of Russia’s special military operation in the country. Paradoxically, the independence anniversary was marked by a Ukrainian state that possessed all the markings of independent statehood well before 1991, including a seat at the United Nations. The former Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was a founding member of the UN in 1945.
Also on August 24, independence celebrations took place in the Russian-controlled part of the Zaporozhye region and in the Kherson region. But these celebrations were held to mark independence from Ukraine, anticipating a vote in the coming months to join the Russian Federation.
In August, leaflets printed prior to the start of the Russian special operation were found in the former headquarters of the SBU (security service of Ukraine) in the city of Mariupol.[i] They were intended for distribution in the territories of the Donbas republics and stated that the president of Russia was preparing to abandon the Lugansk and Donetsk republics. This played on longstanding frustrations by the Donbas populations with the failure of Ukraine to implement the Minsk 2 peace accord of 2015 and the inability of Russia to do anything about it… except to launch a military operation to secure the two republics’ safety and security.
The messaging on these leaflets once again underlines that the main goal of the coup in Ukraine in 2014 and the eight year-long refusal to comply with the Minsk 2 peace agreement one year later was not only to block positive political change in Kyiv and Donbas (by granting forms of political and social autonomy to the Donbas republics), but also to effect a change of government in the Russian Federation.
A Ukraine government beholden to the Western powers
Unlike in previous years, the Ukrainian authorities did not hold solemn mass events this year on August 24. They recommended to Ukrainian citizens that they not gather in large groups or come close to military facilities and government buildings. On the eve of this Independence Day, martial law and universal conscription were once again extended, this time for three months.
In the year 2022, the very independence of the Ukrainian state is very much in question. At the end of 2021, Ukraine was effectively under the external control of the United States and Great Britain, standing at attention whenever instructions were issued from Washington and London. Following the start of the Russian operation in February, the Ukrainian economy has become ever more dependent on the West for military supplies and government financing. Military salaries and weapons are actually being directly paid by the West, as though Ukraine is some kind of private, military company for hire.
Only such dependence on the West can explain President Zelensky’s militant and unwavering rhetoric at the moment, despite a series of military setbacks and a collapse of the Ukrainian economy. On August 23, he once again announced his unwillingness to agree to a ceasefire with Russia, showing that he is more responsible to foreign powers than to his own people. Even if the state he leads ceases to exist or if a large-scale nuclear/environmental catastrophe occurs in the country, this will not affect London. Zelensky only voices instructions from there. In fact, the concept of ‘war till the last Ukrainian’ was voiced once again by former British PM Boris Johnson, in Kyiv on August 24. “Peace talks between Ukraine and Russia at the moment would be a disaster for the whole world,” Johnson said during a quick visit to the capital.[ii] Which means more Ukrainians are to die.
Slow and steady Russian military advances
In August, Russian troops continued their slow military advances, breaking through the defenses of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and advancing several miles daily. The counteroffensive long promised by the Ukrainian authorities did not take place. Instead, they simply changed the meaning of the term. The head of the press center of the Ukrainian command of the ‘South’ group, Natalya Gumenyuk, said that the offensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine is already underway and consists of “exhausting” the enemy.
“We systematically and methodically carry out actions equivalent to what is called a ‘counter-offensive’,” Gumenyuk said.[iii] “Anyone who expected that this would be the raising of an army and a march through the steppes of the Kherson region will be disappointed. This would be in vain because in the conditions of modern warfare, a counteroffensive looks different. It consists basically of the depletion of the enemy’s forces.”
In reality, a ‘counteroffensive’ in Ukrainian terms amounts to a slow retreat. In this case, terminological manipulations are being borrowed from Western politicians, of the sort that speak of ‘negative GDP growth’ in place of falling GDP; ‘development with negative dynamics’ in place of economic deterioration; and a ‘necessary economic slowdown’ in place of ‘recession’.
The authors of the Ukrainian telegram channel ‘Ze Rada’ recently asked jokingly of the Ukraine military: ‘What are you doing?’ The answer that came back was, ‘I’m counterattacking. The enemy is using up its shells on me, that’s how I am depleting its strength.’[iv]
In an interview with the Ukrainian publication Strana, an officer of the Armed Forces of Ukraine described the fighting that is currently taking place. “The shelling at the frontline is almost continuous: sometimes it is impossible to raise one’s head. Our fighters lie at the bottom of the trenches for hours, some covering themselves with makeshift protection, for example pieces of metal dragged into the trenches. Beyond the parapet of the trench, we jump out one-by-one and only when absolutely necessary. Ninety per cent of the time, we sit at the bottom of the trenches,” the officer explained.[v]
In such situations, according to him, widespread panic happens, with entire units abandoning their positions and leaving undefended miles of the frontline.
Terrorism and blackmail become policy and practice
In the absence of any possibility of a counteroffensive, Kyiv has increasingly begun to use the tactics of terror and blackmail.
First, there was the blackmail of hunger against countries in the Third world that did not support sanctions against the Russian Federation. (Many of these are actually increasing their trade with Russia.) After initially blocking its own ports for months, Kyiv needed sales of grain in order to help pay for the supply of weapons and other costs of war. Following an agreement negotiated in Istanbul in late July with the participation of the Turkish government, cargo ships loaded with grain began to sail from Odessa and pass through Turkish waters. However, as it turned out, most of their shipments did not go to the Third World countries that Western media was reporting as facing dire food shortages. So much for the professed concerns by Western governments and media about hunger there.
“There are not enough ships to transport Ukrainian grain, and most of what can be taken out does not end up in distressed countries,” writes the Ukrainian edition of Strana, citing an August 18 report by the German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle.[vi]
For months, Western politicians have thrown tantrums over allegations that Russia was blocking Ukrainian ships in ports and thereby depriving poor Africans of grain and dooming 15 million people to starvation. But most of the grain from Ukraine has ended up in Turkey (12 ships) and in Italy, Great Britain, Ireland and Romania.
So, more than half of the Ukrainian ships rushed to the aid of the already well-supplied and fed NATO countries, those from which Ukraine is receiving military and financial assistance.
“The market… is not always efficient at sending the grain where it is needed,” lamented a report in the New York Timeson August 12. “The first ship that left Odesa, Ukraine, last week loaded with grain was headed to Lebanon, the country with the highest rate of food inflation. But the buyer said it no longer wanted the grain because it was too late. It will now be resold.”.[vii]
A report in Open Ukraine draws attention to the discrepancy between the rhetoric and practice of the West in helping feed the world’s hungry.[viii]
During the first 20 days of August, 27 ships left Ukrainian seaports, carrying 670,000 tons of agricultural products on board.
On August 26, Zelensky announced that a million tons of agricultural products had been exported through the ‘grain corridor’. He said, “The export grain initiative has been working for about a month, and during this time, our three seaports – Chernomorsk, Odessa and Yuzhny – have exported the first million tons of agricultural products since February 24. This is a victory.”
According to him, a total of 44 ships left Ukraine’s seaports, delivering Ukrainian grain to 15 countries of the world. Another 70 ships have applied for loading.[ix]
Nuclear blackmail was next in line. The Armed Forces of Ukraine have regularly shelled the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant in August, threatening a catastrophe worse than the one that occurred in Chernobyl in 1986. In Kyiv, they say that Russian troops are shelling the station, which they, the Russians themselves, control.
This tactic of accusing the enemy of self-attacking is being endlessly repeated. Western media has eagerly picked up claims that Russian troops have shelled Donetsk city, the city of Novaya Kakhovka in Kherson, and the city of Energodar (adjacent to the ZNPP), all of which Russia controls.
“Russia is likely using the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine to shield its troops and equipment,” says Bloomberg News.[x]
“Ukraine’s Energoatom energy company [state utility] said Russian shells struck the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant several times on Thursday, including near the site where radioactive materials are stored”, the German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported on Friday, August 12.[xi]
Western audience seemingly see no inconsistencies and absence of logic in such contradictory narratives by Western media.
The Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant has a large margin of safety built into it. The shellings by Ukraine and the dire threat of thus causing a nuclear catastrophe are intended to rally the United Nations and Western countries behind a demand that the Russian Federation relinquish control of the complex.
For Kyiv, the potential loss of a large source of electricity generation from the ZNPP threatens to significantly reduce the income Kyiv could otherwise earn and use to pay for the supply of weapons. But such is the gamble willingly undertaken by the Zelensky-led regime.
The ZNPP supplies some 20 per cent of Ukraine’s electricity generation when fully operational. However, it turns out that this electricity is not so much for Ukraine’s needs. In early July, the Ukraine government began selling electricity to countries of the European Union, according to the U.S. Energy Department.[xii]
Zelensky is acting in this situation like a suicide bomber threatening to blow up a nuclear reactor: ‘Don’t touch me or I will blow up the reactor!’ In general, such tactics are typical of leaders of a colonial country seeking to get his or her way. In this case, there appears to be little concern about the extreme danger of a nuclear accident. Some Ukrainian commentators have said that Zelensky doesn’t care because nuclear contamination will only cover half of Ukraine and is unlikely to reach as far as London.
In conditions when the Ukrainian army cannot organize a counteroffensive, Kyiv is placing more and more emphasis on terrorist methods. In addition to the shelling of the Zaporozhye Nuclear Power Plant, the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense is organizing the assassination of Russian media figures, or Ukrainians who are trying to organize normal life in the territories controlled by the Russian Federation. Such murders and explosions are occurring regularly in the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions, as well as in Crimea.
Terrorist actions are also taking place on the territory of mainland Russia. On August 20, Darya Dugina was assassinated in Moscow, a journalist who first reported from the Azovstal steelmaking complex in Mariupol, where militants of the neo-Nazi ‘Azov’ paramilitary force surrendered in May. Russian authorities suspect Ukrainian serviceman Natalia Vovk of the assassination, reporting that she managed to flee to Estonia.
On August 28, following repeated assassination attempts, the former legislative deputy of Zelensky’s Servant of the People party, Alexei Kovalev, and his wife were killed. The woman’s throat was cut and Kovalev was shot dead. He was a former member of the Ukrainian Rada from the Kherson region. Since the spring, he served as the minister of agriculture of the Russian-controlled Kherson region.
Earlier, on August 12, the car of the head of the local registration department, Askyar Laishev, was blown up in the Lugansk region.
In August, bombings and attempted bombings against Crimea also became more frequent. An ammunition dump was blown up in a sabotage action by Ukraine special forces and several drones were shot down near the Kerch bridge and over Sevastopol. Ukraine officials formally deny they are waging direct attacks against Crimea but affirm they aim for the “demilitarization” of the peninsula.
Amnesty International released a report on August 4 accusing Ukraine of violating international law through extensive placing of military equipment and operation centers in civilian areas, including in or near to schools and hospitals. Amnesty International researchers visited 29 schools and found soldiers using the premises or found evidence of current or prior military activity at 22 of them.
The reaction of Kyiv to the published AI investigation was extremely negative. The office of the President of Ukraine said that human rights activists began to work for “Russian propaganda”. Under intense pressure from Ukraine and Western government officials, Amnesty issued an apology for the any “distress” caused by its report, then a few days later announced it would conduct an audit to verify the truthfulness of its original report. The fact that the organization is succumbing to pressures by one side of the conflict says a lot about its “independence”.
In fact, it can be said that the entire Ukrainian population is being used as ‘human shields’. In August, Zelensky was obliged to respond to reports that his regime had failed to warn the Ukrainian population of what his regime’s obstinance towards Russia could produce. He told an interview with the Washington Post in August 16 why the population had not been warned of a looming war with Russia despite stark warnings to that effect being issued by U.S. officials. He cited fears that Ukrainians would panic, flee the country and trigger economic collapse[xiii].
“If we had communicated that … then I would have been losing $7 billion a month [in government revenue] since last October,” Zelensky said. “At the moment when the Russians did attack, they would have taken us in three days.”[xiv]Note here the use of the pronoun ‘I’ by Zelensky in making an equivalence between himself and the government he leads.
Simply put, Zelensky and the governing regime he leads deliberately sacrificed the safety wellbeing of the civilian population so as not to lose $7 billion in government revenue. He would never dare to say such a thing about the lives of Westerners.
Here we see what 31 years of “independence” has wrought in the country. This story will not end well for the many Ukrainians who risk being trapped in a country marked by austerity and economic collapse once the inevitable negotiations for peace with Russia are completed.
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