By Yuriy Kasyanov
Translated from Russian by J.Hawk
Let’s speak openly. We are losing the war. The string of battlefield defeats, punctuated by the so-called “peace agreements” demonstrates the political powerlessness of the government and the total inadequacy of the military high command. Let’s count. The agreement to let Girkin [a.k.a. Strelkov] from Slavyansk, the destruction of our forces in the border sector D, Ilovaysk, the retreat from Lugansk airport, the loss of Novoazovsk, 32nd and 32st checkpoints, the defeat at Donetsk Airport, Debaltsevo…It’s a far from complete list of our failures. The list of victorious lies is even longer: we tend to call our defeats victories, and to blame the Kremlin for all the failures. If the retreat cannot be prevented then it has to be renamed, by calling it a “planned withdrawal” with subsequent military decorations and commemorative photos. The treacherous Putin can serve as an alibi personal cowardice and incompetence. Our losses are under-reported by a wide margin. We are short of equipment, artillery ammunition is nearly all gone; we can’t expect military aid from the glorious Western democracies. We can see the specter of total military catastrophe, the loss of even greater territories, an economic collapse, and the break-up of the state system of governance.
We are losing. We are losing because we are fighting an enemy which we do not want to defeat. The enemy is not the homegrown separatists, not Russian occupiers, and not even the entire “Russian world” of Putin. We are our own enemy number one: our cowardly short-sighted leaders and clumsy commanders; our new/old Rada, incapable of accepting the responsibility for the country; the mindless corruption which had become a part of our lives; our serf worldview which expects favors from a good master.
We do have enlightened minds, clean hands, and burning hearts. Nearly all of them are at the front. In general brains work better at war; life becomes more understandable and people show their true nature. Here you are valued by your deeds and not by your words; no rank, expensive equipment, or fashionable assault rifle are worth anything if the person is a craven coward. Here they fight well enough, to the extent that our GenStaff does not interfere; they consider each peace agreement the prelude to an even bigger war, and they know what needs to be done for that victory.
It’s different behind the front. Some are praying for the president, others curse him. While cursing, they find themselves a new icon on the blue screen, and pray to it. Behind the front, people put their hopes in the West, sanctions, and military aid. They consider all volunteers heroes, and the prominent battalion commanders Napoleons. Behind the front they don’t want to fight and don’t like bad news. In the battle between the truth about the war and the TV, the latter wins. When the reality of war penetrates mass consciousness, the citizens fall into cognitive dissonance with the propaganda inculcated earlier. It may end with a blind rebellion—an assault on the presidential administration, a siege of the GenStaff, the burning of the Rada, or the destruction of other foundations of the state which would only make our northern neighbor happy.
The northern neighbor wants Ukraine. Putin dreams of rebuilding the USSR. The majority of Russia’s population wants the same thing. Chauvinism is reaching unheard-of heights, military hysteria is growing, peaceful inhabitants of affluent Russian cities are ready to come to kill us. Putin is prepared to launch a direct aggression. The West and the US will not fight for us. Kremlin had won a convincing victory in the war of nerves against the entire civilized world: Ukraine was surrendered to Putin like Czechoslovakia to Hitler. We are losing. We are, in fact, alone, one on one with a cruel enemy. But we want to win. What is to be done? Fight in the rear areas and fight at war. Don’t rebel but forcefully change the system. Change yourselves. Build a new army. Advance talented combat commanders. Develop the military-industrial complex.
It’s too early to give up. The struggle will be a long one…We’ll talk about winning in the next article.
[and here is the next article]
What is to be done?
What is to be done when the country is facing aggression, but no war has been declared? What to do, when the president shakes hands with the main enemy? How to fight, when GenStaff only creates obstacles, and plans defeat after defeat? What to hope for, if the West has chickened out and does not help? Where to find a fulcrum, when the majority of the country does not know and does not want to know the truth about the war? How to win?
We have to admit we are at war. Don’t declare war on Russia, but don’t negotiate with the aggressor, in hopes for a mythical peace. One has to fight for real. The work of state agencies, the entire economy, societal life, everything has to be oriented toward victory.
Victory is the achievement of the ultimate objective of the war. The objectives are understood and just: reestablishment of territorial integrity, reestablishment of the Constitution and the rule of law on the entire territory of the country, punishment of collaborators, criminals, and killers.
Those are the national objectives, and not the “peace agreements” which should animate all of our ideas and deeds. One must not compromise with enemies of Ukraine, the state, and the people. The more consistent we are in pursuing our goals, the faster and with fewer casualties will our victory arrive.
The West will not support us, or it will support us conditionally. NATO troops will not defend us, the US will not step in. Europe is too fat and peaceful, and is not ready to sacrifice for Ukraine. Obama is not Reagan or Bush, he is a weak president. We cannot expect military aid, serious arms supplies, or even full diplomatic support. The Old World is too dependent on Russian energy, and the US president is very afraid of the Kremlin midget with the nuclear button.
We can count only on our own strength. This awareness will help us mobilize and win.
The government should be up to the challenge, namely, the war. It’s obvious our president is no commander-in-chief. Not a warrior. We need a Ben Gurion, who tore Israel out of centuries of non-existence, a Churchill who could mobilize the nation for a national struggle against fascism, our Vaclav Havel or Lech Walesa. We have none. (Timoshenko, Gritsenko, Lyashko, and Tyagnibok don’t count). The country has no national leader, therefore all appeals for a “Third Maidan” are senseless and harmful. We’ll get a pig in a poke or, worse, we’ll get open traitors or marginal. Any destabilization of the country will be destructive to Ukrainian statehood, and will totally discredit the national idea.
We need to influence the government. We need to insist. We need to argue. Through authoritative national representatives. Through the media. By meetings and demonstrations. Lawfully, but forcefully.
Incidentally, the president is only part of the government. We are de jure a parliamentary-presidential republic. We need to demand action from our deputies. Meet with your deputies. Picket the Rada, organize meetings and demonstrations. This is a perfectly normal means of influencing the government in a civilized [sic] society.
But no rebellions or coups. Unless we want to bury Ukraine. Our task is to force the president and parliament to adopt a range of important personnel and legislative decisions which will bring effective managers into positions of authority over the country’s defense and untie their hands.
First of all, we need to replace the military high command which has already established its inadequacy. In the army, as the saying goes, “the fish rots from the head”—all the problems, victories, and defeats are created from above. We fight in accordance with the quality of our leadership. We fight better when we ignore the leaders.
It’s stupid to blame soldiers and officers in their lack of preparedness, their inability to use equipment and weapons, in unwillingness to fight, in cowardice. It’s stupid, because commanders are responsible for the cadre selection and for training. The soldier is only allowed to take initiative by dying in battle.
The role of personality in the army and at war is very high. Military history is the history of war leaders. Everything depends on who commands. We’re still yet to see any victories, and the long list of defeats is the responsibility of the president, the GenStaff chief. The Minister of Defense has the role of ensuring the logistical support of the military. The National Defense Council is an advisory institution. The Rada committee on defense has no authority whatsoever, therefore it’s completely ignored. Only the president and the GenStaff chief are truly responsible for the war. To be more specific, only the president is responsible, because Muzhenko is the creature and subordinate of the president.
Removing Muzhenko should be simple. The problem is in replacing him. There are officers at the front or in the GenStaff who are talented and who can lead the army to victory (Semenchenko, Melnichuk, Gritsenko, and Lyashko don’t count). But will the president choose the best one, or at least one of the glorious pantheon of experienced combat commanders? What will he take into account, other than personal loyalty?
The new GenStaff chief, should one appear, ought to receive a carte blanche from the president and Rada to wage the war. It means that the people, the Rada, the government, and the President will adopt the idea of preserving Ukraine as the national idea, and will entrust its implementation through military means to the new command. The new command should not have its hands tied by pseudo-piece with occupiers and bandits.
The army ought not to languish on the perimeter of the occupied zone while the enemy is preparing new offensives and cauldrons. One should not merely react to attacks after the fact, but attempt to prevent them. The army ought to be constantly on the move, quickly and effectively. Plan offensive operations, destroy occupier basis and march columns as soon as they cross the borders of Ukraine.
The tragedy of Debaltsevo was that after the “peace” agreement the command undertook no measures, except for unsuccessful attempts to create a “corridor”. The enemy was counting on that, and carried out a regrouping which included the withdrawal of forces from other sectors of the front. At that time we could have easily liberated Pervomaysk and Gorlovka which were practically abandoned. We could have created a corridor to Debaltsevo from Krymskoye through Fruze and Stakhanov, attacking from the rear and surrounding the enemy forces near Bakhmutka. None of that was attempted. We strictly abided by the “ceasefire” while the enemy destroyed our forces at Debaltsevo…
We can win, return our lands, and defend Ukraine only by attacking. It must be understood and implemented. It must become our military doctrine in the east. We must place talented commanders at the head of the army and give them real authority. We must reorganize the army and the front. We must act. We have very little time left. The enemy is mustering his forces. The real war will begin soon.
J.Hawk’s Comment: The Ukrainian internet is positively overflowing with the "Do Something!" genre of political analysis which, alas, tends to be rather divorced from reality. Because if eternal conflict with Novorossia and Russia is the dogma on which the post-Maidan Ukraine is founded, then any advice rendered on the basis of such assumptions is bound to belong to the realm of fantasy. This, too, is a highly unrealistic set of proposals. What, exactly, has kept Poroshenko from doing any of these things since he became president? We can safely assume nothing Kasyanov wants will come to pass.
Which brings us to the next question: then what? Kasyanov comes very, very close to arguing in favor of a military dictatorship, both in his depiction of the front as the repository of Ukraine’s real patriots who know how to get things done (not unlike the Frontsoldaten who would fix Germany once they came to power in the 1930s…) and in his call for the next GenStaff chief to have virtually unlimited authority. Should Poroshenko fail to deliver the hoped-for victory, might Kasyanov not place his hopes in a military strongman next?