The war in Ukraine is heading into the winter with the great counter-offensive all but officially declared a great failure. After six months of attacks, the Ukrainians gained a small sliver of ground in the south and lost a large swath of territory in the north, along with billions in Western equipment. Outside of small ventures to keep up appearances, Ukraine is no longer conducting offensive operations. The big question that looms over all of it is what comes next for Ukraine?
The place to start is the battlefield. The Russians have the initiative everywhere now and they seem to be preparing the battlefield for winter. They are about to take the fortress city of Avdeevka in Donetsk and there are reports that they have fire control of the key logistics hub in the north called Kupyansk. There are also increasing reports of desertions on the Ukrainian side as the Russians press them nonstop. Right now, the Ukraine army is doing what it can to hold its positions.
This is an untenable position for Ukraine as the politics of this war are such that they must always be looking like they have the initiative. This is why so much time and money were invested in the public relations system. Ukraine needed to look like it was winning the war and that meant flooding Western media with stories about Ukrainian success on the battlefield. Stories about Ukrainians desperately clinging to bombed out fortress cities is poison for the public relations system.
There are three angles to the politics. One is the internal politics of Ukraine, which at this point is the struggle between the military, Zelensky and the secret police, all of whom have friends in Washington. It is assumed they need to be showing progress on the battlefield in order to keep the money flowing. The fallback plan in these cases is always the same and that is find a scapegoat. You blame that guy for the failures and buy another round of funding the operation.
Rumors out of Kiev suggest Zelensky wants to fire his top general, Zaluzhnyi, and the head of operations in the south, Oleksandr Syrskyi. Last week there were rumors that both had been arrested then there were rumors that they were in hiding. Officially, nothing has happened, but Zelensky no longer uses their names in public, instead referring to their titles. That is the only hard evidence that something is happening, but it confirms that there is a rift of some sort.
For his part, Zaluzhnyi has made no bones about telling Western media that the offensive failed and the situation is dire. The reason to do this is to publicly undermine Zelensky who always insists that things are going great in the war. The result here is you have Zelensky trying to pin the blame on Zaluzhnyi, while Zaluzhnyi tries to undermine the credibility of Zelensky. You do not have to be a political genius to see where this is heading if things deteriorate much further.
This is why CIA director William Burns was sent to Kiev last week. One school of thought says he was sent to calm the situation, while another school of thought says he was sent to get a frank assessment of what is happening. This seems strange, given that the whole war is a Washington operation, but it is clear that the Ukrainians have not been entirely forthright with Washington. This is most likely at the behest of the State Department, which has been running things on the side.
That brings up the second political angle. Washington has been poached in a warm bath of public relations nonsense for two years, so the reality of the war is now just starting to appear in the media. With an election on the horizon and Biden in serious trouble, mentally and politically, bad news from Ukraine is very bad news. That is probably part of what Burns is up to in Kiev. If the White House needs to abandon the Ukraine project, they need a plan to do it.
The third political angle is the money. The Ukraine project is and has been a very lucrative money laundering operation. This means it has a very large lobbying effort behind it, so cutting off the money will be difficult. On the other hand, sending unknown billions through a failing operation, one that could be overrun by the Russian army very soon, is a tough sell even for Washington. Therefore, pressure is on to produce a new winning narrative to keep the money flowing.
This is why the Republicans are going to move heaven and earth to get fresh cash into the money laundering system. If the cash runs out, not only does the money laundering end, but it also means the end of Ukraine in a hurry. Ukraine no longer has a functioning economy and it is no longer able to pay for its own government services. If money from Washington and Brussels stops flowing, Ukraine will collapse in weeks. This kills project Ukraine for future money laundering.
The result of all this is all the players now see the status quo as the only workable option, even if the battlefield reality says otherwise. Zelensky knows he cannot kill Russians with dollar bills, but dollar bills keep him alive. At the same time, Washington thinks they can pretend it is a stalemate as long as Zelensky remains in charge, so giving him money works for them. Of course, the money laundering machine wants the cash to keep flowing for its own sake.
The trouble is the reality on the battlefield. The Ukrainians officially mobilized three quarters of a million men. They have less than half that number remaining. There are pictures of girls and old men turning up dead in trenches now. There is only so much damage an army can take before it begins to crack. The politics of the war point to maintaining the status quo, but the reality of it is pointing to collapse. That is what lies ahead for Ukraine in 2024.
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