The military situation in Ukraine
Russian self-defense and media lies
The Centre Français de Recherche sur le Renseignement (French Intelligence Research Center [CF2R]) is an independent think tank founded in 2000. It specializes in the study of intelligence and international security, with the goal of “demystifying intelligence and explaining its role to the general public.” The mission of its international security branch includes analysis of international conflicts as well as political and religious extremism.
The Website of CF2R has recently published a detailed account, written by Jacques Baud, “The Military Situation in Ukraine.” Baud is a former Colonel of the French General Staff, a former member of Swiss strategic intelligence, and a specialist in Eastern European countries. He was policy chief for United Nations peace operations, and he worked for five years in NATO, with responsibility for the struggle against the proliferation of small arms. His latest book, Poutine: Maitre du Jeu? (Putin: Master of the Game?) was published by Max Milo Editions on March 16, 2022.
I became aware of Baud’s article when my Cuban colleague, Juan Azahares, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Havana, sent me a Spanish language translation of the original French.
In today’s commentary, I provide a summary of Baud’s principal points, working with an English translation downloaded from the CF2R Website.
Baud begins by noting that the so-called experts on television “analyze the situation based on dubious information, most often hypotheses turned into facts,” leaving us unable to understand the situation. This approach to news, he observes, generates panic.
The road to war, 2014 to 2021
Baud observes that media errors have been present since the current conflict began in 2014, when the media referred to “separatists” and “independence” with respect to Bonbass. In fact, the referendums conducted by the two self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in May 2014 were not on the question on independence; they were referendums on what could be translated as “self-determination” or “autonomy.” He views the journalists who claimed that they were referendums on independence to have been unscrupulous. He also notes that Vladimir Putin advised against conducting the referendums.
Therefore, Baud maintains, “these republics did not seek to separate from Ukraine, but to have a statute of autonomy guaranteeing them the use of the Russian language as an official language.” This was in reaction to the abolition on February 23, 2014 of a law that had made Russia an official language. The elimination of the law set off a popular outcry in the Russian-speaking population, which led to “fierce repression against the Russian-speaking regions (Odessa, Dnepropetrovsk, Kharkov, Lugansk and Donetsk)”, beginning in February 2014, and which included massacres of the population, especially in Odessa and Mariupol. “At the end of summer 2014, only the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk remained.”
The conflict entered a new stage from 2014 to 2016, in which the Ukrainian army waged war against the autonomists of Donbass. As a military man with experience in these matters, Baud was definitely not impressed with the operational schemes of the Ukrainian generals, who followed conventional doctrines, while the rebels used less doctrinaire approaches to “trap” the Ukrainian forces repeatedly.
Working in NATO in 2014, Baud was responsible for the struggle against the proliferation of small arms, and his team tried to detect deliveries of Russian arms to the rebels, to see if Moscow was involved. In spite of allegations being made, they were not able to detect any delivery of arms and materials by the Russian military. They found that the rebels were armed via defections to the rebels by Russian-speaking Ukrainian units. As Ukrainian failures accumulated, entire tank, artillery, or anti-artillery battalions crossed over.
These defeats in the field of battle led Ukraine to agree to the Minsk Accords. However, shortly after the signing of the accords, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, following the poor advice of NATO officers, launched a vast anti-terrorist operation against Donbass. But “the Ukrainians suffered a crushing defeat at Debaltsevo which forced them to commit to the Minsk 2 Agreements.”
The Minsk 1 (September 2014) and Minsk 2 (February 2015) Agreements did not provide for the separation or the independence of the republics. Rather, they provided for “their autonomy within the framework of Ukraine” (italics in original).
For this reason, Russia, since 2014, has considered the conflict to be an internal matter of Ukraine. Baud stresses that “there were never any Russian troops in the Donbass before February 23-24, 2022” (italics in original). In contrast, the Western powers, led by France, tried to replace the Minsky Accords with the “Normandy format,” which framed the issue as a conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
By October 2018, after four years of war in spite of the Minsk agreements, the Ukrainian army was in a deplorable state. “Chief Ukrainian Military Prosecutor Anatoly Matios said that Ukraine had lost 2,700 men in the Donbass: 891 from disease, 318 from road accidents, 177 from other accidents, 175 from poisoning (alcohol, drugs), 172 from careless handling of weapons, 101 from breaches of safety rules, 228 from murder and 615 from suicide.” Moreover, the army was demoralized by corruption in its ranks and by the lack of support of the population as well as by desertions to the rebels. Most reservists who were called up did not report for duty.
Therefore, “to compensate for the lack of soldiers, the Ukrainian government resorted to paramilitary militias. They are essentially made up of foreign mercenaries, often far-right activists. As of 2020, they constituted around 40% of Ukraine's forces. . . . They are armed, financed and trained by the United States, Great Britain, Canada and France.” They include more than nineteen nationalities.
Accordingly, Baud maintains that the Western countries have created and supported “Ukrainian far-right militias.” He does not think that the term “Nazi” is entirely appropriate, because even though they are violent and are virulently anti-Semitic, their anti-Semitism is more cultural than political. These militias stem form the “far-right groups of the Euromaidan revolution in 2014,” and they “are made up of fanatical and violent individuals.” Although some consider the characterization of the Ukrainian paramilitaries as Nazis to be nothing more than Russian propaganda, Baud notes that this is not the opinion of The Times of Israel, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, or the Counterterrorism Center at West Point.
Baud maintains that “the West supports and continues to arm militias that have been guilty of numerous crimes against civilian populations since 2014: rape, torture and massacres.”
On February 7, 2022, French President Emmanuel Macron, during his visit to Moscow, reaffirmed to Vladimir Putin his commitment to the Minsk Accords. However, Ukraine continued to refuse to commit to the Minsk Accords, which, Baud believes, was due to pressure from the United States.
Russian and European intelligence services had been aware that the Ukrainian army had been preparing to attack Donbass as early as 2021. Alarmed by the continued Ukrainian preparations in the zone of contact, the Russian Parliament on February 15 asked Putin to recognize the independence of the two republics. Putin denied the request.
Beginning on February 16, Ukrainian artillery shelling of the populations of Donbass increased dramatically, a fact that is shown in the daily reports by observers of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Neither the media, nor the European Union, nor NATO, nor any Western government reacted, and they later claimed that Russian statements noting this fact are disinformation. Baud is of the opinion that “the European Union and some countries purposely glossed over the massacre of the people of Donbass, knowing that it would provoke Russian intervention” (italics in original).
On February 17, President Joe Biden announced that Russia will attack Ukraine in the coming day, although, Baud maintains, there is no evidence in support of this assertion. On the other hand, Biden knew as early as February 16, Baud states, of the significant escalation of the shelling of the civilian population of Donbass, which put Russia in a position of either creating an international situation or doing nothing to protect the Russian-speaking population of Donbass from sustained daily attacks.
On February 21, Putin acceded to the request of the Parliament to recognize the independence of the two republics. On the same day, he signed treaties of friendship and assistance with them. With Ukrainian artillery bombardments continuing, the two republics on February 23 requested military aid from Russia. On February 24, Putin invoked Article 51 of the UN Charter, which can be interpreted as allowing for military assistance to a partner in a defense alliance for reasons of collective self-defense.
Baud maintains that the war actually started on February 16 with the escalation of the bombings of the Donbass population, occurring in the context of ongoing Ukrainian preparations for attacking Donbass. He further maintains that the Western media and governments obscure this fact, “in order to make the Russian intervention totally illegal in the eyes of the public.”
Baud describes the Russian military action as a limited operation that does not intend the seizing or the occupation of Ukraine nor regime change. One of the principal objectives of the Russian operation is “demilitarization,” which Baud describes as destruction on the ground of Ukrainian aviation and air defense systems; the neutralization of command and intelligence structures and main logistics routes; and the encirclement of the Ukrainian army mobilized in the southeast of the country.
Baud believes that many in the West think that Russia wants to occupy Kiev and eliminate Zelensky, because this was the strategy of the West in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, and it is what the West attempted in Syria with the aid of the Islamic State. However, Baud maintains, Putin does not want to overthrow Zelensky. The Russian strategy is to push Zelensky to negotiate by encircling Kiev and by attaining the military advantage, with the political goal of Ukrainian neutrality.
Baud maintains that the Russian military operation has proceeded rapidly and successfully toward the attainment of its objective of demilitarization. It destroyed the Ukrainian air force on the ground in a matter of hours. Moreover, the Russian forces sized a territory as large as the United Kingdom in six days, advancing on several axes where resistance was weak, leaving the cities, where troops are concentrated, for later. Russian troops occupied the Chernobyl plant immediately to prevent sabotage, and the plant subsequently has been guarded by both Russian and Ukrainian soldiers, a detail not mentioned in the Western media.
Baud notes that the bulk of the Ukrainian army was deployed in the south, in preparation for a major operation against Donbass. This enabled the Russian forces to encircle it by the beginning of March, coming from the east with the support of the forces of the two republics, and coming from Crimea from the south.
As of mid-March, “the objective of demilitarization is practically achieved, and the residual Ukrainian forces no longer have an operational and strategic command structure.” Western “experts” attributed a “slowdown” to problems in logistics, but this was due to Russia having achieved its strategic objectives. Baud believes that Russia wants to limit its advance to the linguistic border.
In addition to demilitarization, the second objective of the Russian military operation is “denazification,” which Baud describes as the “destruction or neutralization of volunteer battalions” that have been in control of the cities of Odessa, Kharkov and Mariupol. These militias “know that the objective of ‘denazification’ is aimed primarily at them.” In the city of Mariupol, the fighting is being carried forward by the republics of Donbass, which view denazification as the “liberation” of their own territory.
In any military attack on cities, Baud notes, civilians are a problem. Therefore, Russia has been seeking to create a humanitarian corridor, so that the cities would be empty of civilians, leaving only the militias to be engaged with military force. The militias, on the other hand, seek to keep civilians in the city, as a deterrent to Russian attack, and for use as a “human shield.” For this reason, Russian efforts to implement emergency corridors have been in vain.
Baud does not find credible the media indictments of Russian indiscriminate bombings of civilian populations, especially in Kharkov. With respect to the media allegations of a Russian bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol, Baud cites independent media reports confirming the Russian assertion that the hospital had been taken over by the far-right Azov militia regiment, which forced the civilian occupants out of the building. The hospital building is strategically located for anti-tank weapons and for observation; so the Russian forces hit the militia-occupied building on March 9. There is no evidence of civilian casualties related to the Russian attack.
Baud observes that the Western media has propagated a romantic image of popular resistance to an illegal Russian invasion, which contributed to the financing of the distribution of arms to the civilian population by the European Union. Baud considers this to be criminal. He notes that in his role as policy chief for UN peacekeeping operations, he was able to see that when arms are distributed to citizens haphazardly in a situation without command structures, as in Ukraine, violence against civilians escalates. Command structures, which are the essence of armies, channel the use of force in accordance with defined objectives. But when arms are distributed to citizens without command structures and without operational goals, weapons are used to settle scores and for banditry. “War becomes a matter of emotions. Force becomes violence.”
Baud concludes his informative three-part article with the observation that in many Western countries ideologically driven politicians ignore accurate intelligence assessments, and in some countries, the intelligence community itself has become driven by political ideology. This is what has happened in the case of the conflict in Ukraine, and for this reason, the conflict has been irrational from the beginning.
Baud’s tale of the conflict in Ukraine is written from the vantage points of Swiss and French intelligence services and intelligence/national security research. It shows the amorality of Western political leaders and the ideologically driven media.
It is a tale that saddens and angers, but it should not surprise. The political establishments and the media have been accomplices in the deception of the people for three-quarters of a century: in the Cold War, in Korea, in Vietnam, in Yugoslavia, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and in Libya. In converting themselves into compliant servants of those whose business is war, they assassinated truth, thereby undermining the faith of the people in their own capacity to collectively discern the true and the right, a faith that is the foundation to their freedom.
There is a way out that is both personal and collective, namely, listening to and taking seriously the voices of leadership of the anti-colonial revolutions of the Third World. Far from distorting truth in the service of war, these anti-systemic revolutionary forces historically had an interest in understanding the multi-dimensional dynamics of their oppression; and explaining them to their peoples, in order to develop a unified political force based in the people, their only possible road to political power. Once having attained political power, they were compelled to maintain popular support on a foundation of commitment to truth, because their taking of power had created powerful enemies. More than ever, their survival depended on understanding the true and the right, and explaining it to their peoples.
With more than a century in formation, the Third World anti-colonial and anti-imperialist revolutionary processes have led to the forging of an emerging alternative world order based on cooperation and mutual respect, seeking social justice and equality; with China, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Iran in the vanguard, allied with a revitalized and anti-imperialist Russia.
For those of us of the West, the road to our emancipation from lies and false assumptions goes through the discourses of the leaders of the developing countries constructing socialism, and well as those of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In these discourses, we find proclaimed not merely an alternative truth, but a universal truth that is the necessary foundation to the peace and prosperity of humanity; not as an idealist hope, but as a real construction unfolding in theory and practice.
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