Russian military operation in Ukraine
Beyond the false frame and distortions of the Western media
Granma, the principal daily newspaper in Cuba, is the Official Organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba. Since the initiation of the Russian military operation in Ukraine, the Granma Website has been publishing daily reports, republishing information that appears in Russia Today, Sputnik, and a Ukrainian website that disseminates announcements of the Ukrainian government. It constitutes a daily briefing, reporting what is being said by the two governments in the conflict. Granma makes no editorial commentary in its daily reports, leaving it to the reader to sort out contradictory claims of fact and perspectives between the two sides.
Independent of the daily reports, Granma presents the perspective of Cuban leaders, journalists, and intellectuals on the conflict. This was particularly so in the first days of the conflict, constituting an effort to explain to the people what was happening, and to clarify the position of the party and the government. In essence, as I reviewed in my March 1 commentary, “Cuba backs Russia on Ukraine,” the Cuban position is that NATO, led by the United States, has been engaging in expansionism to the east since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and it has intensified its territorial aggression in Ukraine since 2014. This constitutes a threat to Russian security, which Russia has repeatedly expressed to the West. The USA and NATO have ignored the protests of Russia and have continued their expansionist activities, and in this situation, “Russia has a right to defend itself.”
In today’s commentary, I review the major points of the Granma website daily report from March 15 to the present, organized in various themes.
Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted on March 16 that the purpose of the military operation in Ukraine is not to occupy Ukrainian territory but to stop the genocide by neo-Nazi groups. He stated that he had communicated with the authorities in Kiev through different channels, in order to avoid the shedding of blood, proposing that they simply withdraw their troops from Donbass. He observed that the Western nations and the United States are providing the Ukrainian government with the incentive to maintain the combat, in that they are supplying arms, military advisors, intelligence data, and mercenaries. Putin added that the Russian troops have to act beyond the borders of Donbass in order to eliminate the fascist threat.
Putin noted that a bloody terrorist attack with a Cochka-U tactical missile, killing 20 civilians and wounding 26 in the center of the city of Donetsk on March 14, went unnoticed by the international community. It was launched from an area controlled by ultranationalist battalions, and it was a cluster bomb, prohibited by international organizations, because of its lethalness when striking a mass of persons. The bomb struck while the people were in line at a bus stop. There were no armed forces positioned in the area, so it appears that the bomb was deliberately used against civilians. Putin declared that this incident illustrates the hypocritical oversight that the international community has had for eight years, when it did not notice mothers burying their children in Donbass, and when elderly persons in Donbass were killed. Not seeing this history of sustained attacks against civilians, the international community cannot see the reasons for the Russian military operation in Ukraine.
The Russian president also asserted that the West is misinterpreting the Russian military presence near Kiev, not seeing its strategic objectives. “The presence of Russian troops near Kiev and other cities of Ukraine is not related to any intention to occupy the country. We do not have that objective.”
Vladimir Medinski, head of the Russian delegation, expressed on March 16 Russia’s position in entering the negotiations with Ukraine. First, Russia insists on the neutrality of Ukraine, that it not be an instrument of the West in a conflict with Russia. Secondly, Russia seeks the demilitarization of Ukraine, based on the format of Austria or Switzerland, which have their army and naval forces, but of limited size. Thirdly, Russia wants “denazification,” that is, the elimination or neutralization of the right-wing ultranationalist groups and militias that inflict violence and terror on the population, the protection of the rights of the Russian-speaking population, and recognition of Russian as an official language. Fourthly, Russia seeks agreement concerning the status of Crimea and the Donbass region.
With respect to the people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk in Donbass, I should note that, according to the Swiss-French intelligence analyst Jacques Baud, the Minsk accords of 2014 and 2015 established the two as autonomous territories within Ukraine. However, the government of Ukraine continuously violated the agreement, launching air attacks and supporting nationalist militias in the region. Therefore, since the 2014 rebellion against the government of Kiev, these fledgling autonomous regions have exercised real control over only 1/3 of the territory that they claim; said territory has been under the control of right-wing militias. During this period, Russia repeatedly called upon implementation of the Minsk accords.
With a significant escalation of the air attacks by Ukraine on the Donbass populations, which according to Baud began on February 19, Russia recognized the independence of the Donbass republics and signed a defense treaty with them. Said treaties enabled a Russian justification of military assistance under Article 51 of the UN Charter. These developments rendered the Minsk accords a dead letter, which they already were in practice, due to sustained violations by Ukraine. On a news report on Telesur on March 27, some citizens of Donbass were speaking of their hope for eventual incorporation into the Russian Federation. Similarly, on March 27, the president of the People’s Republic of Lugansk, Leonid Pasechnik, in a meeting with foreign journalists, suggested the possibility of a referendum on the incorporation of the territory into the Russian Federation. Therefore, in the negotiations, these territories could become autonomous territories in Ukraine, independent republics, or territories in the Russian Federation. With the negotiations now in progress, Russia is at this point seeking an agreement concerning “the principles under which the territories of Donbass will be governed,” as Medinski expressed it on March 19.
The military operation is proceeding according to plan
The Press Secretary of the president of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Peskov, declared on March 22 that the Russian military operation in Ukraine is advancing in accordance with the plans established beforehand. No one thought, he said, that the operation would take no more than a couple of days. Some Ukrainians are cooperating with the Russian army, he said, in order to avoid casualties and destruction, because if you do not try to kill Russian soldiers, no one will touch you. He stressed that the Russian army is prohibited from attacking civilians.
Igor Konashenkov, spokesperson for the Russian Ministry of Defense, reported on March 19 that Russia utilized Kinzhal hypersonic missiles, capable of evasive maneuvers in flight, to destroy a large underground deposit of missiles and aviation munitions in the region of Ivano-Frankovsk, in western Ukraine. The spokesperson also stated that during the night of March 18 and the following day, sixty-nine military objects had been destroyed, including four command posts, four anti-air systems, twelve arms and munitions deposits, and forty-three points of concentration of military equipment. In addition, the Russian anti-air defense force shot down twelve drones.
Konashenkov stated on March 24 that the Russian military forces had taken control of the city of Izium in the province of Jarkov, and that the Russian forces had brought down two more Ukrainian drones. In addition, Russian air forces during the night reached 60 Ukrainian military installations, including two command posts, two multiple rocket launch sites, four munition deposits, and forty-sevens zones in which the Ukrainian Armed Forces were accumulating arms and military equipment. In addition, they destroyed thirteen land-air missile launchers of Ukraine, including thirteen in the locality of Danilovka; and a temporary point of deployment of a nationalist battalion in the city of Lisichansk. In addition, Russian air defense intercepted 14 Ukrainian drones, and the Russian air forces attacked 137 Ukrainian military objects. A group of helicopters destroyed nine tanks and seven armored transport vehicles. Meanwhile the troops of the People’s Republic of Lugansk gained control of four towns.
Russian spokespersons declared on March 25 that Russia launched missiles against a training site for foreign mercenaries in Ukraine. On the same date, Russian helicopters destroyed a Ukrainian military bastion; and Russian cruise missiles destroyed an important fuel distribution center that supplies the Ukrainian army.
The Russian Ministry of Defense reported that during the day of March 27, the Russian forces continued to advance successfully in Ukrainian territory. During the day, the Russian air force attacked 36 military installations in Ukrainian territory
The Russian ministry of defense reported on March 28 that since the beginning of the military operation on February 24, Russian forces have destroyed 308 drones, 1,713 tanks and other combat vehicles, 170 multiple rocket launchers, 715 pieces of mortars and campaign artillery, and 1,557 special military vehicles.
The Granma website regularly has reported on statements released by the Ukrainian government in a Ukrainian Website. To a considerable extent, the Ukrainian reports were consistent with the Russian reports, giving the impression that Russia is prosecuting the war with a focus on military targets, and that the Russian army is not seeking to occupy towns and cities beyond Donbass. Generally, Ukraine has been reporting on the damages by Russian air strikes to buildings and infrastructure, without for the most part noting their functions, which is not inconsistent with the Russian claims. The Ukrainian reports do not focus on civilian casualties; only five civilian deaths were mentioned in the reports picked up by Granma.
One area of contradiction between the Russian and Ukrainian reports concerns the number Russian soldiers killed. Ukraine claims that 17,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in combat; whereas the Russian Ministry of Defense reported on March 25 that 1,351 Russian soldiers have died, and 3,825 have been wounded. Granma reported these figures without commentary with respect to the contradictory claims of fact.
To a considerable extent, intelligence analyst Jacques Baud supports Russia’s description of the military situation. See my March 25 commentary, “The military situation in Ukraine.”
The situation in Mariupol
The Russian objective of “denazification” includes elimination of control by right-wing ultranationalist militias in territory claimed by the two Donbass republics. In cities and towns, where buildings are concentrated, civilians are a problem, because they can be caught in the crossfire between combatting forces. Jacques Baud noted that in the situation in Ukraine, the Russian forces have superior strength, and they have an interest in avoiding damage to civilians; in contrast, the ultranationalist groups, with a history of abusing the population, has had a tendency to use the civilian population as a shield, to seek cover in the midst of the civilian population, thus deterring Russian attacks. For this reason, Russia has had an interest in developing humanitarian corridors to remove civilians from zones of conflict, so that Russian forces could directly engage the militias, without damage to the civilian population. Ukraine, on the other hand, tended to be noncooperative with respect to the corridors.
This difficult situation came to a head in the city of Mariupol, which was under the control of nationalist militias. Russia announced on March 16 that 31,367 civilians had been evacuated from the city of Mariopul in the previous twenty-four hours through humanitarian corridors. They noted that 99% of them expressed a desire to head toward Russia or territories controlled by the Russian armed forces; only 36 persons opted to be relocated to localities under the control of the Ukrainian authorities.
On March 17, the Russian embassy in the United States urged the U.S. media to cease in disseminating false information and to cover in an objective form the situation in Ukraine. The Russian embassy communiqué asserted that “we categorically reject the accusations” of the U.S. press that Russian forces had carried out an air attack against the Dramatic Theatre of Mariupol. The statement further noted that “on the day of March 16, the Russian air force did not carry out any task that would imply attacks against land objectives within the limits of the city of Mariupol.”
The Ministry of Defense of Russia stated on March 17 that “the Russian Federation is carrying out a humanitarian operation without precedent.” In one day alone, 42,992 civilians were evacuated, and the inhabitants of the city received 134 tons of humanitarian aid, including food and medicine.
On March 19, the chief of the Center for Administration of the National Defense of Russia, Mijail Mizintsev, reported on the presence of more than 200,000 civilians in the city of Mariupol in Donbass, which could be used as human shields by the neo-Nazi armed groups in that territory. Ukrainian authorities are in agreement with that estimation, Mizintsev noted. Russia is disposed to open corridors that would permit the civilian population, as well as nationalist groups that turn over their arms, to leave the city. But the Ukrainian government, he observed, rejected the proposal.
Mizintsev asserted that two days previously, Russia was disposed to open humanitarian corridors to “these supposed martyrs, who already have been made famous for their exploitation of a nursery school, two schools, a maternity hospital, and a theatre,” referring with mockery to the false stories in the U.S. press. He noted that Russia had alerted the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross that these armed neo-Nazi battalions will attempt to blame Russia for the deaths caused.
On March 22, Russia reported that Russian military forces and units of the Donbass militia liberated approximately half of the territory of the city of Mariupol, where confrontations with the Ukrainian nationalist groups were continuing. Residents in the liberated areas reported that in the days before the arrival of the Russian troops, volleys of missiles were landing, and they took refuge in shelters. The residents accused the Ukrainian nationalists of launching direct attacks against the civilian population. According to one witness, the [Ukrainian nationalist] battalion Azov used persons as human shields, took food and even occupied residences. Furthermore, he stated, the residents did not know where to go to receive assistance for evacuation.
On March 22, the Press Secretary of the president of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Peskov, reiterated that the principal objective of the actions of the Russian Army in Mariupol is to clean the city of armed neo-Nazi groups. On the same date, Russia Today reported that the Ukrainian authorities gave instructions to members of nationalist battalions to abandon Mariupol in small groups, disguised as civilians and using all ways of escape, including the humanitarian corridors.
Russian efforts to establish humanitarian corridors
On March 17, Russia opened humanitarian corridors of evacuation in the provinces of Kiev, Jarkov, Charnigov, Sumy, among others. Ukraine proposed to open nine more corridors, but it refused to accept any corridor in the direction of Russia. In spite of the Ukrainian denial, Moscow accepted these proposed new corridors, and maintained a cease fire in their implementation.
The chief of the National Center of the Administration of Defense of Russia, Coronel General Mijail Mizintsev, announced on March 21 that the Ukrainian government had rejected a Russian proposal for the opening of more humanitarian corridors for the evacuation of the population and for the laying down of arms by the militias. He added that more than 16,000 persons were evacuated from the people’s republics of Lugansk and Donetsk and the dangerous zones in Ukraine during the previous day, bringing to 346,740 the number of persons that have been evacuated since the beginning of the Russian military operation.
The UN Security Council did not approve on March 23 a humanitarian resolution on Ukraine, urging a cease fire through negotiations for the evacuation of civilians from zones of conflict. The resolution was proposed by Russia, with Belarus, North Korea, and Syria as co-authors. Russia and China were the only members of the Security Council that voted for the resolution, while the remaining members abstained. To be approved, a resolution needs nine votes (of the fifteen members) in favor.
Ukrainian First Prime Minister Irina Vereschuk announced on March 25 an agreement for the establishment of two humanitarian corridors. On March 26, Ukraine confirmed that there are ten humanitarian corridors.
US military aid to Ukraine
Russia Today reported on March 15 that Biden had signed the budget for the rest of the year, including 13.6 billion dollars of military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Granma reported on March 16 that during the past year, the USA sent to Ukraine more a billion dollars in arms, proceeding from existing U.S. military arsenals in Europe, sent by air cargo to neighboring countries like Poland and Rumania and sent by land to Ukraine. Recently, Biden approved an additional 200 million dollars in arms and equipment for Ukraine, including anti-tank and anti-air missiles and war materiel of high technology. Since the beginning of the war with Russia, Washington has called upon the nations of NATO to send missiles to Ukraine, and they have placed in the hands of Ukrainian commanders some 17,000 antitank arms.
Granma also reported on March 16 on Biden’s announcement that the USA will send additional military aid in the amount of 800 million dollars. The new measure brings the total military assistance of the USA to Ukraine in a week to one billion dollars. The president noted that the new package includes 800 anti-air systems, 9,000 anti-armor systems, 7,000 light arms like machine guns and grenade launchers, and twenty million cartridges of ammunition as well as drones. Granma reported on March 20, citing Sputnik, that the General Secretary of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, stated that the military alliance is intensifying its support to Ukraine with respect to supplying arms and providing humanitarian and economic assistance.
Granma also reported that the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, stated that the United States is not sending its troops to Ukraine, in order to avoid war with Russia. Similarly, Jake Sullivan, White House National Security Advisor, declared at a March 23 press conference that the United States does not have troops in the territory of Ukraine and is not at the present time undertaking any military training of Ukrainians. In addition, Granma reported that the General Secretary of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, commented at a press conference on March 23 that the military alliance will not send troops to Ukraine. He maintained that it is important to support Ukraine, but it also is important to avoid a war between the Russian Federation and NATO.
So the war appears to be a proxy war for the United States and Western Europe. They are sending money and arms to Ukraine, but not troops. They plan for Ukrainian citizens and soldiers and international mercenary soldiers to shed blood for their cause, which is not the containment of an expansionist Russia, but the weakening and possible fragmentation of an anti-imperialist Russia.
In addition, Granma reported on Stoltenberg’s assertion that the conflict in Ukraine has showed that NATO ought to reestablish its posture of long-term deterrence and defense. Granma refrained from any editorial commentary or speculation to the effect that the NATO command is breaking with the aggressive U.S.-directed policy that has brought war and economic disaster to Europe.
Biden’s misreading of today’s world
Granma on March 22 reported on Joe Biden’s speech to businesspersons in Washington. The U.S. President declared that the world is changing, and that the USA must lead the new world order. It is a view that is based on a highly selective and ethnocentric misunderstanding of world and U.S. history. And it is a view that Russia believes is politically unworkable. As Granma reported on March 19, Russian Minister of Foreign Relations Serguei Lavrov maintained that the United States wants to create a global village under its control. However, “there are actors that never will accept a global village led by an American sheriff,” actors such as China, India, Brazil, and Mexico. As always, the Minister declared, “we are open to collaboration with all those that are disposed to do so on a basis of mutual respect and the search for a balance of interests.”
The Russian minister noted that the West seeks to divide Russia and Ukraine, but it will not succeed, because the two peoples share a common culture. He declared that “our Western partners use various tools to make Ukraine anti-Russian, but I hope that the historical closeness of the two peoples will triumph.”
From the point of view of the global South, things are perfectly clear. The imperialist powers believe that they ought to control the natural and human resources of the planet as well as the markets of the world, and they impose no moral limits on themselves for the attainment of this goal. It has been so from the era of Christopher Columbus down to our days.
But the modern European imperialist dynamic has gone through different stages, and today it is defined by the decadence and desperation of the hegemonic power. The USA no longer has the economic capacity or the political influence to impose its interests as the normal state of international affairs. Countries are breaking with U.S. demands, and China is rising to offer an alternative possibility of mutually beneficial trade, as Russia is finding an anti-imperialist road. In this situation, the USA makes a proxy war of aggression in Europe in order to rejuvenate the North American-European economic/military alliance.
It could be said that the U.S. proxy war in Ukraine, supported by its old Cold War European allies, is European colonialism’s last desperate gasp. It could possibly lead to unimaginable destruction, unless common sense intelligence interferes and pushes for a reasonable negotiated settlement. One thing that it cannot possibly do is restore U.S. hegemony in a neocolonial world-system; because in today’s global political conditions and planetary ecological realities, a world-system of competing imperialisms is no longer sustainable. We need to transition to a world of mutual respect among nations and mutually beneficial trade, as the necessary foundation for a secure future for humanity.
We intellectuals of the West must develop sufficient understanding, political maturity, and capacity for communication, so that our peoples would have the foundation in political consciousness for the taking of political power and the casting aside of the political establishments that have brought humanity to the brink.
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As a post-script to my post yesterday, I report on a news posting of March 29 on the website of Russia Today en español. Serguei Shoigu, Russian Minister of Defense, declared that the Russian military operation in Ukraine has completed its first stage, in that the Armed Forces of Ukraine have suffered essential damage, and their capacity has been considerably reduced.. Therefore, the Russian forces are able concentrate attention on the liberation of Donbass from neo-Nazi nationalist militias.
The report stands in contrast to the narrative in The New York Times, according to which the Russian troops are concentrating in Donbass because of the effective resistance of Ukrainian forces. Some independent military and intelligence specialists in the West are confirming the Russian claim that they did not make an effort to occupy Ukraine; their objective has been to effectively eliminate the military infrastructure of Ukraine. These specialists who are critical of the prevailing Western narrative base their views on reports of Russian military movements and activities in Ukraine.