by David Webb
We are told we are democratic; we have freedom; we have civil society. Yet what we are living through is the clearest refutation of this. Just as, early in the pandemic, the edict came down from on high that the virus did not escape from a laboratory, and instantaneously the media all parroted that line, and any other view was suddenly unavailable in the free press, and indeed was scraped from social media, so, early in the Ukrainian war, the entire Western media fell into line with the CIA foreign policy line. You can find some other views online, but not in the mainstream media. A different and more judicious analysis is required.
I don’t want to repeat Kremlin talking points either. But there is much food for thought in three areas: military, economic and geopolitical.
The performance of the Russian military
I don’t think anyone is going to claim the Russian military have done as well as expected. This war was expected to be wrapped up in three days, and yet, here we are, a year on, and Russia is trying to dig itself out of a strategic defeat. Russia did not seek to destroy Ukrainian infrastructure in a shock-and-awe campaign early in the war, like the US does (the media pretend they don’t know this). This was a classic mistake. Even when they began bombing power infrastructure, it seems Russia focused mainly on substations and distribution infrastructure—which can be repaired in two days—rather than taking out power-generating facilities. Isn’t this pointless? They have not shot down US satellites over the Ukraine, despite the fact the US is actively participating in this war. They did not seek to interdict Western supplies (difficult to do, but a line through Zhitomir from Belarus to Transnistria could maybe have been taken and held?). They promised a severe response to any attack on the Crimea—and then did nothing when the Crimea was attacked. They said they might attack decision-making centres in Kiev, and said they knew which building the CIA operated from in Kiev—but have never sought to attack it. Putin is clearly a cautious guy, although written up in the Western press as “Hitler” (a rather tired meme). But here are a few less negative takes:
- The Russian invasion was initially impressive. Who expected them to plough through the radioactive soil around Chernobyl and appear at the gates of Kiev at the beginning of day two? The Americans didn’t get to Baghdad until day 21 of the Iraq War.
- From the east (i.e. from around Kursk), the Russians marched over 400 km to the eastern approaches of Kiev and only ran out of steam at the very final moment. Presumably, this was intended to be like the 1968 Operation Danube that toppled Dubček in Czechoslovakia: they weren’t prepared to assail Kiev itself and were hoping the Ukrainian government would just agree to be toppled more or less bloodlessly. Nevertheless, the ground covered in that axis of advance was impressive.
- The retreat from Kiev was well-executed. Retreat is the hardest military manoeuvre and can easily descend into flight and disarray. That did not happen.
- The loss of large territories in Kharkov province was a low point, but there was no “big battle” that the Western press claim took place: Russia only had a few thousand men there, and just left. Where they did stand and fight, around Liman, 500 Russian soldiers held off 5,000 Ukrainians for two weeks before having to evacuate, an act of heroism glossed over in the Western media.
- The retreat from Kherson city was another low point, but General Surovikin executed it well. He got all troops and equipment over the river before the Western press even realised what was happening. His blocking troops on the perimeter outside Kherson held the line while the bulk of the army was evacuated. That was also a difficult manoeuvre.
- In the Spectator, Jack Watling of the Royal United Services Institute (https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/why-didn-t-ukraine-fall/) stated: “The data demonstrates that the realities of the war diverged considerably from the public narrative. To take an example, many have speculated that Russian electronic warfare systems–comprising interference with electronic systems–have been ineffective. Just look at the proliferation of uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) throughout the conflict: surely Russian electronic warfare and air defences could have neutralised these technologies. Yet UAVs have proven their usefulness. The Ukrainian military would agree that the overview of the battlefield they offer is vital. However, the operational data reveals that 90 per cent of Ukrainian UAVs flown before July were lost, mainly to electronic warfare”. Media analysis is not always correct. The RUSI—these are Britain’s expert military analysts—concluded that Russia has excellent electronic warfare and air defences, contrary to what has been stated in the media.
- Russia is bogged down around towns that have been fortified for eight years. But the US can’t cope in urban warfare either. The US were still fighting in Fallujah 18 months after the war began. Somalia is not a great military power, but the US was humiliated in Mogadishu. It is the wrong lesson to take away from this that Russia can’t fight. In fact, Bakhmut, the most fortified town, which British analysts said simply couldn’t be taken, is about to fall. (Bakhmut is a strongly pro-Russian town that, like Mariupol, Lisichansk and Severodonetsk voted heavily for pro-Russian parties in the Ukrianian general election in 2019, but the media have never mentioned this; see the Wikipedia image at https://tinyurl.com/3sm7c87z.)
- We have no good figures for military casualties. The Ukrainian figures are openly dismissed as fabrications even by Western organisations. US General Milley said in November that both sides had suffered 100,000 casualties each (i.e. approximately 25,000 killed and 75,000 wounded apiece). The Norwegian military recently said the figures are now 100,000 casualties for the Ukrainians (as if not one casualty has been recorded since November) and 180,000 for the Russians. These are fictive figures. But one thing we can say is that if Britain had suffered the casualties Russia has, it would no longer be in the field. Neither would France, or any European NATO country other than Turkey. That is because there are only around 70,000 soldiers in the British Army. That Russia can sustain 100,000+ casualties and still be in the field is impressive.
- Putin dreadfully miscalculated by refusing to mobilise fresh troops until September. Those troops take at least six months to be properly trained. So the Russian army has been holding the line for six months waiting for reinforcements. No NATO country other than the US and Turkey could have done so.
- We have repeatedly been told Russia is running out of ammunition. But, in fact, Russia has been firing 20,000 rounds a day to the Ukraine’s 6,000 (Western broadcasters claim this means Russian casualties are higher than the Ukraine’s, but my reading is precisely the opposite). Now it seems it is the West that is running out of ammunition. The Ukraine’s 6,000 rounds of ammunition a day is apparently equivalent to the entire monthly ammunition production of all European NATO members combined. This war could easily become a débâcle for the West.
Russia’s economic resilience
Some Western analysts claimed Russian GDP would plunge by 20% in 2022 as a result of the sanctions. The final result was -2.1%. Unemployment is low, at only 3.7% in December. This is a recession, but not the cataclysm the West thought they were imposing on Russia. President Biden thought he had reduced the rouble to rubble, but by requiring foreign oil and gas purchasers to pay in roubles, Putin shored up demand for the rouble so much that interest rates had to be slashed to prevent the currency from soaring too rapidly. From 20% in April 2022, Russian interest rates have been slashed to 7.5%.
Russian inflation peaked at 17.8% in April 2022, but declined to 11.8% by January 2023. This is around the same level as the UK and much lower than in some EU countries. We were told that banning iPad exports to Russia would crush the economy and/or public morale, but who was that sanctioning? Wasn’t it Western IT firms that bore the brunt? It now transpires that Russia has circumvented sanctions, and has managed to import semiconductors from China. McDonald’s pulled out, in what the Western press imagined to be a bitter blow for Russia. Surely Russia couldn’t manage to run burger joints? A Russian firm took over McDonald’s franchises, and now sells the exact same food under a different label. Who knew this could even happen?
We are told that Russia has lost US$300bn in foreign-exchange reserves frozen in the West. This is widely quoted, but no source for the exact figure is ever given. in fact, the Atlantic Council has researched this figure and found the real number less than one-third of that (see https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/in-depth-research-reports/issue-brief/windfall-how-russia-managed-oil-and-gas-income-after-invading-ukraine-and-how-it-will-have-to-make-do-with-less/#reserves). Given high oil and gas prices, Russia’s foreign exchange reserves were US$597bn in January 2023, down from US$634.9bn in February 2022. Despite the war, Russia is holding up. Of course, a long war could challenge this perspective—and if China chose not to buy Russia’s oil and gas then things might deteriorate quickly. But Russia was not supposed to be this resilient to sanctions.
Destabilisation of the global political system
Whether or not Russia manages to eke out a victory of sorts, the most interesting development is that the US, by conducting a proxy war against Russia in a country that Russia simply cannot allow to fall in the arms of NATO, has destabilised the entire global system of international relations. Claims that “the whole world” is against Russia are nonsense. At the UN, few countries overtly support the war, but many more have abstained on resolutions condemning Russia, and those supporting Russia or abstaining combined have the majority of the world’s population. The only countries to impose sanctions in Russia are the core Western countries. The Global South is quietly praying for a US defeat.
- China is the key player here. Western media accounts play up Xi Jinping’s expressions of concern over the war, but in fact a US victory would be a very negative outcome for China. The US is warning China not to arm Russia (while it sends as many weapons as it can spare to the Ukraine), but a clash between the US and China over Taiwan is moving up the agenda. We can only hope (vainly) that Britain will stay out of such conflicts in which we have zero national interest.
- India is a country of 1.4bn. The US evidently thought that India could be placed under pressure to follow US foreign policy, but it seems countries of over 1bn people don’t like to receive their instructions by fax from Washington. It is alleged that the US is merely supporting the right of the Ukraine (not really a democracy) to choose its allies, but India (a more substantial democracy) can’t? India has held firm. India’s foreign affairs minister, S. Jaishankar (who speaks Russian and spent several years as a student in Moscow), humiliated an Austrian journalist in an interview on India’s stance on the war (https://www.wionews.com/world/terror-epicentre-indias-external-affairs-minister-jaishankar-in-a-veiled-attack-on-pakistan-in-austria-549020). A great blog commenting on the war is maintained by a former Indian diplomat (https://www.indianpunchline.com/).
- Turkey is visibly becoming semi-detached from the US Empire, and is seeking to join the China and Russia-led BRICS grouping.
- We don’t know what quid pro quo has been conducted between Russia and Iran, but Iran is now very close to getting a nuclear bomb.
- Saudi Arabia is a security ally of the US, but angered the US by refusing to raise oil production to bring down oil prices in late 2022. Saudi Arabia is also seeking to join the BRICS and to price its oil in Chinese yuan. Biden claims the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia is a murderer (over a journalist chopped up into bits in a Saudi consulate in Turkey) and conveniently leaves out his own support for US-backed terrorism in Syria that has led to half a million deaths. It is Biden who is the genocidaire, not the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is now calling for Syria to be admitted back into the Arab world.
- The UAE refused to back a US resolution condemning Russia in the UN Security Council.
- Israel, a key ally of the US, has been trying to be neutral in the conflict. My read is that Israel knows that US hegemony is on borrowed time, and that they need to adapt eventually to a China-led world. (This may take two or three decades, but the writing is on the wall.)
- Indonesia, the host of the G20 summit last year, refused to bar Russia, despite coming under considerable pressure to do so.
- South Africa has fallen out with the US over constant US pressure to adopt the US line on the Ukraine war. It’s kind of like the US doesn’t believe that other democracies have the right to adopt their own foreign policies at all.
- Brazil and Mexico have both refused to back the US and sanction Russia.
- In Europe, Finland, a country that signed a treaty with Russia in 1947 to be permanently neutral (a treaty unilaterally ripped up by Finland in 1990), is, ludicrously, adopting the position of a permanent and entrenched enemy of Russia. So is Sweden, although Sweden does not directly neighbour on Russia.
- Hungary in the EU is openly speaking out against the idiocy of the Ukraine war.
- Britain is playing the role of a ridiculous US lapdog, and is enthusiastically supporting the war. I’m not sure this plays as well in Berlin and Paris as the British think. It confirms their view that Britain does not aim for European strategic autonomy, but is a Trojan horse for permanent US hegemony. This, despite the fact that Biden is openly angling for the end of the UK and the handing over of Ulster to the Republic of Ireland.
- France and Germany are clearly less happy with the embroiling of Europe in war, but are having to go along with it. The US blowing up of the NordStream pipeline was a terrorist attack on an ally, and unlikely to have gone down well behind closed doors in Berlin. France and Germany appear to realise the main purpose of the Ukraine war is to keep them in the US Empire.
- The International Monetary Fund, which formerly confined itself to helping bankrupt countries, is now openly playing the role of bankrolling a war in the Ukraine. Such institutions are clearly tools of US foreign policy.
Defending a “rules-based order”?
We are told the West is fighting for a rules-based order, but in fact Britain and America are the leading powers opposing a genuine rules-based order.
- The decision to cut Russia off from the SWIFT payments system amounts to a rules-based order where one country, the US, controls financial access to the global economy. Why wasn’t the US cut off from SWIFT over the Iraq War and the Syrian conflict (fuelled by US-backed Al Qaeda and Islamic State terrorists)?
- Iran has been pinned in sanctions for decades. Its own money, amounting to tens of billions of dollars, has been frozen in the West and each attempt to negotiate an end to sanctions has failed.
- Venezuela saw its gold reserves sanctioned when the US decided no longer to recognise the democratically elected president Maduro. The UK courts refused to allow Venezuela access to its gold during the pandemic.
- Afghanistan, a country where most people are on the brink of starvation, has seen its foreign-reserves sanctioned. Whether or not the Taliban regime breaches human rights, this is not something that shows there is a genuine rules-based order. Biden has ordered billions of the money handed over to compensate victims of the 9/11 terrorist attack, despite no proven link with Afghanistan.
- The freezing of Russia’s foreign reserves is also a unilateral outrage that refutes the idea the West are aiming to foster the international rule of law.
- The US runs a secondary sanctions regime, whereby it sanctions any other country that does not cooperate with its sanctions. These are not sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council, but America’s own unilateral sanctions imposed on the world.
- The US intervention in Yugoslavia in the 1990s was illegal, but no sanctions transpired. The US has assisted Kosovo in becoming independent of Serbia, but claims the Donbass in the Ukraine has no equivalent right of secession.
- The US and the UK fabricated a “weapons of mass destruction” claim in order to attack Iraq. The number of Iraqi dead over the various wars in Iraq runs to well over 1m.
- As the British journalist Peter Hitchens has shown (in numerous articles, but see https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9958679/BBC-admits-Syria-gas-attack-report-flaws-complaint-Peter-Hitchens.html), claims that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against the Syrian people were fabricated. The US presence in Syria is illegal. Al Qaeda is backed in Syria by the US to destabilise the Assad government. The US ally Qatar backs Islamic State in Syria. Altogether, 500,000-600,000 Syrians have died as a result. A British polling organisation has shown the Assad government has much more support within Syria than the international coalition led by the US, or the Al Qaeda or Islamic State outfits funded by the West (https://orb-international.com/syria-public-opinion-snapshot-2018/).
- The US has sought for years to destabilise the Ukraine. US undersecretary of state, Victoria Nuland, stated in a bugged phone call that the US spent US$5bn in achieving the Maidan uprising in the Ukraine in 2014 that overthrew an elected government, and ultimately led to the current war.
- The UN special maritime court in Hamburg ruled in 2021 that Britain’s occupation of the Diego Garcia archipelago in the Indian Ocean was unlawful. This area, handed over to the US as a military base, was the home of the Chagossian people, all evicted from the territory. Britain and the US, which claim to support international law, have ignored the ruling.
- Bradley Manning, a US private who published reams of information about US human-rights abuses, spent years in prison as a result. Julian Assange has been pursued by the Swedish, British and American governments over the Wikileaks information, and was pinned for years in the Ecuadorian embassy before a change of government in Quito led to British police marching straight into the embassy to arrest him. This is what happens in the homeland of the rules-based order; if Tibetan refugees were dragged out of an embassy and handed over to China, this would be seen as an astonishing abuse of human rights. Assange was arraigned by Sweden on trumped up “date rape” charges now acknowledged to be false. Edward Snowden has fled to Russia and is still being pursued by the US for publishing inconvenient information on how US intelligence agencies operate.
- The blowing up of the NordStream pipeline is yet another example of the “exceptional nation” believing itself to be an exception to the rules-based order it claims to support.
In fact, the whole of the Global South is alarmed at the rules-based order, which means one or two countries make the rules. No country in the developing world likes the secondary sanctions regime, or the freezing of financial assets, which could easily happen to any of them too. US financial hegemony has become a problem for all nations. But by so openly abusing their position of power, the US is hastening the day when the Chinese yuan replaces the dollar. This can’t happen overnight, but planning an alternative has now become urgent.
So, yes, Russia has not done as well in this war militarily as it hoped to, but the US has blundered by getting overly involved in this war, and many US allies in the developing world are openly questioning the value and purpose of US hegemony. This war isn’t really about the Ukraine, but about the future of US control of the world. Hegemony slides into tyranny, and an alternative to hegemony must eventually arise. Britain is condemning itself by siding with a vindictive declining hegemon. We need to adopt a course of neutrality and agree a trade deal with China, and yet our leaders are so fond of the US/EU summitry we are moving back under globalist control. We are desperate for a seat at the captain’s table on the Titanic just as the iceberg looms.
Connor Freeman, who writes for the US Libertarian Institute, reports that US officials are now saying over 100,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed (not just casualties, which includes the wounded). The normal 1:3 ratio means that 300,000+ are likely to have been wounded, giving a casualty number of over 400,000. See https://libertarianinstitute.org/news/100000-ukraine-soldiers-killed-in-war-including-most-experienced-forces/