Editorial: Ukraine makes gains, Putin brandishes nukes

November 6, 2022

From the November-December 2022 issue of News & Letters

In September and October Ukrainians unleashed a remarkable offensive, liberating huge swaths of their territory still held by Vladimir Putin’s Russia. To the amazement of the world, Putin failed to terrorize Ukraine into quick submission with his massive unprovoked Feb. 24 invasion. Ukrainians not only largely destroyed the Russian land army sent to conquer Kyiv, but held on for six months in a bloody stalemate in trench-warfare lines separating the 20% of Ukraine still occupied by Russia.

The new Ukrainian offensive engaged a demoralized, ill-trained and under-supplied army that suffered huge losses and defections. Like the earlier liberation of Bucha, just outside of Kyiv, the liberation of each village and major town unearthed new war crimes like torture sites and murdered civilians lying in mass graves. Ukraine is helping the UN chronicle those war crimes, including now the systematic use of rape as a weapon of war.

RUSSIA LEAVES TRAIL OF WAR CRIMES

The loss of Lyman, a critical hub for Russia’s war machine in Donetsk, brought a chorus of criticism from Putin’s fascist sycophants on the war’s conduct, amplifying his state-controlled media drumbeat to do whatever it takes to erase the Ukrainian national identity and wipe Ukraine off the map. On Sept. 30, after staging fake referendums, he issued a diktat annexing Ukraine’s partially occupied provinces of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson. He then threatened to use nuclear weapons to “defend” this newly annexed “Russia.”

PUTIN’S ‘GRAVE’ MOBILIZATION

Aftermath of the Russian bombing of the children’s and maternity hospital of Mariupol on March 9, 2022. Photo: Ukrainian Army

To replenish his broken army, Putin doubled down on his genocidal war against Ukraine. He announced a “partial mobilization” of 300,000—called a “mogilization” on social media, based on “mogila,” the Russian word for “grave.” Open dissent ensued, especially in distant republics like Dagestan where women led massive protests.

In Dagestan, as in other minority republics of the Russian Federation, lack of opportunity had driven many into the military. Now almost everyone knows someone who died in Putin’s war. Despite his totalitarian moves to crush any open dissent, Russian men have gone into hiding en masse. Educated urban men who have passports are voting with their feet: over 200,000 have fled to neighboring Kazakhstan, over 70,000 to Georgia and as many to the EU through Latvia and Estonia.

Ukrainians are being pushed by some, like U.S. oligarch Elon Musk, to negotiate in the face of Putin’s nuclear extortion and willingness for a temporary cease-fire. Ukrainians quickly dismissed Putin’s ploy, which insiders in the Kremlin have leaked is merely to buy time to regroup for an even bigger attack.

A WORLD BEYOND FASCIST TERROR

Ukrainian social solidarity, resilience and massive participation of all layers of the population inspired the world that a people do not have to cave to extortion engendering total fear and terror. There is hope beyond a world devolving into fascist terror, personified by Putin’s would-be Russian empire of white Christian nationalism that brooks no dissent and exterminates its opposition.

Pavel Gubarev, Putin’s propagandist in Donetsk, declared that Ukrainians are Russians who are “possessed Satanists from a Christian point of view” and “we” will “exterminate” them. A nuclear hit is another form of the extermination already experienced in demolished cities like Mariupol, where tens of thousands have been killed.

Ukraine has used longer-range missiles to destroy many of Russia’s ammunition depots and supply chains flowing through critical bridges. On Oct. 8, insurgents, who were most likely Ukrainian partisans, pulled off a spectacular explosion of the Kerch bridge, constructed and opened with great fanfare by Putin to eternally link Russia to Crimea, a peninsula stolen from Ukraine in 2014. Damaging this crucial conduit for the flow of Russian supplies on the war’s southern front effectively sealed off logistical supply routes to Russia’s tens of thousands of troops occupying Kherson, the largest city taken right after the invasion and declared by Putin to be forever Russian.

FIRST SYRIA, NOW UKRAINE

Putin’s response was to send over 800 cruise missiles in a nationwide barrage intended to terrorize the civilian population, killing 19 and injuring many more. Putin then appointed Sergei Surovikin as the new unified Russian battlefield commander. Surovikin, whose appointment was praised by military critics, is known as “General Armageddon” for his genocidal war on Syrian civilians, including the demolition of homes, schools, hospitals, and markets.

Now there is a daily barrage of missiles against civilian targets. A continuous swarm of cheap Iranian suicide drones has overwhelmed Ukraine’s air defenses. The drones that get through have taken out vast parts of the electricity grid, crucial to operating Ukraine’s centralized heating systems. Bombing civilian infrastructure is also a war crime. The impending freezing conditions of the Ukrainian winter portend another massive round of refugees fleeing the country.

Ukrainians are now poised to take back Kherson, their biggest prize yet. In Kherson 20,000 Russian troops have been left without logistical support and have been ordered to retreat along with civilians, many of whom were brought in for the bogus referendum along with Russian-appointed public administrators. Those administrators were particularly cruel, killing Ukrainian demonstrators and lately executing a Ukrainian conductor for refusing to take part in a concert celebrating life in occupied Kherson. When Ukraine retakes Kherson, it will be a real cause for celebration.

That is so even though Russia mined the Nova Kakhovka hydroelectric dam upstream from Kherson. Blowing up the dam or a nuclear strike would be a massive humanitarian and ecological disaster. Now Putin’s minions are trying to sell the idea that Ukraine is planning on using a “dirty nuclear bomb” which no one is buying. People are seeing it as something Putin is planning in order to blame it on Ukraine. It is absurd that Ukrainians, who have experienced the lasting and deadly consequences of a dirty spread of nuclear radiation in the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident, would entertain such a notion. Putin is looking for any opening to make good on his ongoing threat to cross the nuclear threshold with a full blown nuclear bomb, which hasn’t happen in war since the U.S. bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the the end of WWII.

Our age of absolutes, reflected in a negative way by either “General Armageddon” or nuclear Armageddon, needs to return to the human being and their struggle to live free as an absolute. Ukrainians are giving hope to the world that this struggle in its many dimensions is both possible and absolutely necessary.     

—Ron Kelch, Oct. 23, 2022

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