July update: A promised counteroffensive by Kiev in southern Ukraine on behalf of foreign interests

In his monthly report from Ukraine, Dmitriy Kovalevich provides details of the military and political situation in Ukraine during July including from the Russian and Ukrainian perspective.

July was the sixth month of full-scale war in Ukraine. Russia calls its intervention a “special military operation”. In late June, the entire territory of the former Luhansk region of Ukraine  was taken by Russian and Lugansk defense forces. The fall of the twin cities of Severodonetsk and Lysichansk sealed the victory for the Lugansk People’s Republic, which was declared in 2014 and took full shape in the years following Ukraine’s refusal to implement its side of the ‘Minsk 2’ ceasefire agreement of February 2015.

Russia has taken an operational pause following the heavy fighting in Lugansk in June. But its operation to take the Donetsk region of Donbass, together with Donetsk republic defense forces, continues. Rocket attacks by Russian forces have become more frequent as ground combat has lessened. Throughout Ukraine, air raid alerts are sounding four or five times a day. Russia’s main targets, according to its military command, are the depots storing Western weapons, especially the American ‘HIMARS’ multiple rocket launchers and their ammunition. These have begun to cause trouble for the Russian military, forcing it to disperse its own ammunition depots.

Using its missiles, Russian forces are trying to strike U.S.-supplied weapons at the point of transportation once they arrive in Ukraine. They are using intelligence received, in part, from the Ukrainian security forces. Constant leaks of information from Ukraine government agencies led to the dramatic firings in July of the heads of the SBU (Ukraine’s security service), the prosecutor general and a number of heads of military departments.[1] The formal reason for the firings is the high number of Ukraine personnel in these departments said to be cooperating with the Russia military and thereby disrupting the military operations of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

Announced ‘counteroffensives’ by Kiev

Ukraine authorities continued in July to promise a military counteroffensive, continuing similar promises made since April. Richard Moore, the head of the UK spy agency MI6, has lately joined in making these promises.[2]

Kherson city and region are said to be the main target of the planned counteroffensive, recognizing that Russian military forces are concentrating their efforts further east in the Donbass region (now focused on the Donetsk republic). Russian forces grouped on the right (west) bank of the Dnieper River are said by Ukraine to be vulnerable and could be partially cut off if bridges across the river are destroyed.

Kherson city lies on the Dnieper River. It was founded by Russia as its first port and shipbuilding center on the Black Sea, nearly 250 years ago.

The strangest thing in the Ukrainian announcements of such ‘counteroffensives’ as in Kherson is their prolonged duration. According to the logic of military operations, such announcements should be kept secret and not announced days or weeks in advance. Yet the promised, imminent  ‘counterattack’ on Kherson has been announced almost every day for the past three months. For Ukrainians, it has become a joke.

To launch its ‘counteroffensive’, Ukraine would need a minimum threefold superiority over Russia in manpower and weapons. On the manpower side, the simple numbers may be there for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. But Ukraine’s soldiers are inexperienced, with many unwilling to fight. Many have been forcibly seized on the streets as part of Ukraine’s obligatory military service. Meanwhile, in firepower, Russian forces have multiple advantages, allowing them to move forward even in the midst of their declared, operational pause.

The state of the Ukrainian military

In an interview for a Ukrainian publication at the end of July, an officer of the Armed Forces of Ukraine spoke about the real state of affairs in southern Ukraine. He said, “The Russians have concentrated their forces on our sector of the front and they are significantly superior to ours–in the number of personnel and, especially, in the number of artillery pieces, tanks and other heavy weapons.

“Moreover, in some areas, our troops have retreated. These have been short distances – up to 10 kilometers – in what our military calls ‘leveling the frontline’. Every day, our positions are under constant fire. There are days when there is no way to get to the surface for fresh air. We sit in basements and dugouts for days on end, being strongly hit.”[3]

This situation, the officer says, causes problems of psychological fatigue of Ukraine’s military. There are practically no rotations of personnel. In many units, there are personnel shortages of up to 40 per cent due to losses and illnesses. Many fighters, having spent a month or more at the front, become tired, lose their morale and look for any way to get to the rear. Some even refuse orders to advance to front line positions.

The officer explained that many conscripts suffer from serious, chronic diseases. “It is a huge mystery to me how some have passed the medical examination upon conscription. For example, they recently sent me a conscript with minus-mine myopia. Without glasses, he cannot see anything at all. When I asked him how he passed the medical examination at the military registration and enlistment office, he replied that the optometrist did not even examine him.”

Obviously, in this state of affairs a Ukrainian counteroffensive is impossible. Any such attempt would be suicidal. ButUkrainian authorities are under great pressure to report military ‘achievements’ to Western sponsors. This is in order to receive and then plunder Western aid. That ‘aid’ is provided on credit, or with guarantees of repayment using Ukrainian assets as collateral.

Western ‘aid’ finances Ukraine’s military… and its budget deficits

Kiev is drafting Ukrainian men into military service thanks to financial aid from various Western governments and militaries. According to the Ministry of Finance of Ukraine, in the first half of 2022, Ukraine received $12.2 billion for its government budget.[4] Its major sponsors were the USA, at US$4 billion; the IMF and World Bank, $2.3 billion; the European Union, $2.1 billion; Germany, $1.4 billion; Canada, $1.4 billion; Japan, $600 million; Great Britain, $600 million; and France, $300 million.

Here we see the essence of the countries of the Western imperialist elite, whom populations Russians increasingly refer to as ‘The Golden Billion’.[5] President Vladimir Putin himself used the term in his speech to Russian and foreign business people attending the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in June.

Of these Western funds, $ 7.7 billion went directly to payments to the military personnel of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. In other words, the Ukrainian army is not primarily funded by the state of Ukraine but, rather, appears as a group of mercenaries in the pay of the West.

Such funding by Western taxpayers makes Zelensky fawn before the leaders of the U.S., Canada and Britain. Former British prime minister Boris Johnson became a special idol for Zelensky. Some streets in Ukraine have even be renamedafter him. In July, a petition was registered on Zelensky’s website with a proposal to award Ukrainian citizenship to Johnson.[6] But here is the irony: a ‘Ukraine citizen Boris Johnson’ (born in 1964) could be a formally summoned to military service and sent off to the trenches to dodge Russian missiles.

Economic woes

In July, Ukraine’s budget deficit grew significantly. The National Bank of Ukraine was obliged to devalue the national currency by 25 per cent.[7] Accordingly, the prices of most goods have skyrocketed.

Against the backdrop of a US$50 billion budget deficit[8], the devaluation of the hryvnia, rising prices for fuel, goods and services, and a military conflict that is moving into a protracted phase, it is becoming increasingly difficult for Ukraine to pay its state employees. If the conflict escalates, then everything will worsen. Experts are predicting a “hole” in the budget in the amount of $80 billion (which is more than 60 per cent of the country’s GDP). This risks completely destroying the already shaky economy of the country.[9]

Despite sharply rising prices, the Ministry of Finance of Ukraine has no plan to raise the minimum wage. It sits at 6,700 hryvnia ($150) per month. That hasn’t stopped the deputies in the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian legislature) from voting in July to raise their salaries (financed by Western financial assistance).[10]

As a result of the worsening economy, the number of Ukrainians traveling to Russian-controlled territory in search of work is growing. Every day, up to 200 cars cross the front lines in the Zaporozhye region. “Ukrainians say they are returning not only to reunite with their families but also in search of work that they could not find on Ukrainian territory,” reports Euronews.[11]

Now that Ukrainians are offered Russian citizenship on a simplified basis (facilitating their search for employment in Russia), Ukrainian authorities are resorting to repression to block this. A draft law has been  submitted to the Verkhovna Rada providing for up to 15 years in prison for Ukrainian citizens who accept Russian citizenship.

“Rada deputies are discussing the strengthening of criminal liability for all categories of the population that receive these passports,” said Anatoly Stelmakh, Deputy Minister for the Reintegration of Uncontrolled Territories of Ukraine.[12] “The bill that we are currently processing sets the range of  punishment from a fine to 15 years in prison.”

Ukrainian officials allege that Russian authorities are imposing Russian citizenship on Ukrainians by force. But these same officials are threatening 15 years in prison for people they allege were ‘forced’ to obtain the forbidden fruit of Russian citizenship (along with much improved social services, wages, pensions and employment opportunities). Westernmedia does not bother with such logical inconsistencies. The life task of Ukrainians has been set by them as as dying for the interests of Western corporations, and paying for this with loans and accrued interest.

According to an official of Russia’s National Defense Control Center, a total of 2.8 million people have moved to Russia from Donetsk and Lugansk and from other Ukrainian or former Ukrainian territories since the beginning of Russia’s military operation. Many of these movements were made in advance and anticipation of the military operation.

The number of Ukrainians leaving for western Europe or moving internally is also in the millions, though contrary to Western media reporting, these are not all due to the war. Millions of  Ukrainians are in year-long queues for work permits and citizenship applications in neighbouring Poland or further west in Europe because they have no faith in social and economic improvements in the country.

RIA Novosti reported on July 28 that some 300,000 Russians have left their country to live in the West. Their average age is 32 and their incomes are higher than the Russian average. The RIA columnist describes the departed Russian citizens as “in love with something imaginary”.

“They loved something imaginary, this ‘European lifestyle’, with its high salaries for ‘creative work’ and its capacity to make one feel like a ‘man of the world’, a ‘cosmopolitan’ surrounded by people like themselves with similar tastes and views. So unlike the many ‘cattle’ they left behind in Russia.”