By Malik Miah and Barry Sheppard
The Ukrainian government is not as stable as the U.S. and Western media presents it to the public. Since alternative analysis and views are rarely allowed by the mainstream media, and even many publications on the left, the term “fog of war” is appropriate.
Yet once in a while the truth trickles out from pro-government media.
On July 17, President Zelensky fired two top officials of his government – Iryna Venedikova, the prosecutor general, and Ivan Bakanov, the head of the domestic intelligence agency.
The charge against both was that they turned a blind eye to pro-Russian “traitors” in both of their agencies. The deputy head of the president’s office said they were ousted for failing to “cleanse their agencies of collaborators,” according to a major article in the July 19 New York Times.
The Times said that Zelensky’s dismissal of Bakanov was likely related to glaring intelligence failures in the first days of the war in the southern city of Kherson, which the Russians captured without a fight. “Local officials in Kherson” the NYT reported, “switched sides, and explosives were removed from bridges around the city, Mr. Volodymyr Ariev, the opposition leader in parliament said.”
“In late March, Mr. Zelensky stripped two generals of the security service of their ranks, calling them traitors; one was in charge of the Kherson region and the other fled Ukraine on the eve of the invasion…”
Unanswered were why this charge against Bakanov was only made in July. These divisions in the government clearly existed early on and continue.
“By the height of the fighting for the eastern city of Lysychansk [in the Donbas Luhansk province, which Russia now occupies] last month, most civilians had fled, but significant portions of those who remained showed open disdain for the Ukrainian defenders. ‘We are a Russian nation,‘ said one resident in the city’s market who declined to provide his name. ‘You can kill us, but you can’t defeat us.‘ ’’ the Times reported.
A front line in the war is now in the other province in the Donbas, Donetsk.
“Out in the villages and towns on the front-line of the war in eastern Ukraine, the most pro-Russian region of the country, soldiers worry continually about the threat posed by enemy sympathizers reporting their positions or helping direct Russian artillery fire,” the Times says.
This gives the lie to assertions in much of the U.S. media pedalled by Washington and Zelensky that the Donbas Russian-speakers were mostly supportive of the Ukrainian nationalist government.
Zelensky promised a “cleansing” of the two agencies. “Actions and any inaction of each official in the security sector and in law enforcement agencies will be evaluated,” Zelensky said.
The Ukrainian security forces are the largest in Western Europe, some 27,000. That fact alone indicates that the Ukrainian nationalist government fears internal resistance.
But it also indicates the Zelensky purge faces a big task.
“The security service, known by its Ukrainian initials SBU, is the country’s main domestic security and intelligence authority, Ukraine’s successor to the Soviet era KGB. Its vast size has drawn criticism – by comparison, Britain’s MI5 has just 4,400 employees, according to the Atlantic Council – and it has long faced calls for reform.”
The Times article said that “many of its chiefs graduated from KGB schools.”
“Business groups have said that the service shook down companies for bribes and that corrupt agents, compromised and facing possible prosecution, became easy marks for recruitment by Russia.
“ ‘Surprise, surprise,’ Serhiy Fursa, an analyst for Dragon Capital, a leading Ukrainian bank, wrote on Facebook of Zelensky’s charges of treachery in the service. ‘What lesson did this war give us? A corrupt man is Putin’s best friend.’ ”
Corruption runs deep in the Ukrainian government. Zelensky once promised to root out corruption but didn’t and is part of it.
All the countries that came out of the overthrow of the USSR organized by the Communist Party of the USSR, are saddled with bureaucratic and corrupt regimes, including Russia and Ukraine.
The reason for this was how capitalism was restored when, initially, there were no private capitalists, except for those in the capitalist enterprises of organized crime. The process has been referred to as “gangster capitalism” where organized crime figures and bureaucrats who organized the transition emerged as the capitalist owners of the means of production.
Through the processes of competition normal to capitalism, some became the very rich “oligarchs” over time in these countries, including Ukraine.
Of course, we don’t know what Zelensky’s purge will actually do, or what its real targets are. Will the “traitors” include anyone who disagrees with his continual triumphalist assertions that the war is going in Ukraine’s favor? Anyone who is not fully aligned with him? Anyone who is not a rightist Ukrainian nationalist? Are all Russian speakers suspects?
On U.S. mainstream TV there have been brief reports of the firing of Venediktova and Bakanov without reporting Zelensky’s given reasons. So far, the Times report stands alone in the U.S.
The White House is silent on the matter. In its war against Russia, the U.S. is in charge, not Zelensky. Washington doesn’t want Americans to know about the divisions in the Ukrainian government.
Two articles about Ukraine appeared in the New York Times the following week in late July.
One was about the planned “retaking” of the province of Kherson province in southeast Ukraine that Russia occupied early in the war. The other was about “Hazy Standards” in drafting men into the Ukrainian military.
The latter article, from Kharkov, begins “At a subway station, a recruiting officer named Oleksandr, one of dozens deployed to different spots around Kharkov, pulled young men out of the crowd recently, checking documents and determining whether they were eligible for military service.
“A nationwide campaign is underway in Ukraine to recruit, register and draft men – a predictable response for a country at war, that campaign includes fanning out on the streets to find potential soldiers and issuing summonses ordering them to report to recruiting offices.
“But the effort, especially the street recruiting, is drawing accusations that it is secretive and arbitrary, that it violates the government’s own rules and that it sometimes drafts the unwilling while spurning the willing. It has also led to a cat and mouse game between recruiters and men trying to avoid them.”
Oleksandr told the reporters “We ask them, do they have military training and do they want to serve in the war.”
The Times noted, “But some of those on the receiving end say they were never given a choice about appearing, while there are reports of men who are eager to fight being turned away, for reasons that appear bureaucratic in nature.”
Intra-bureaucratic struggles in Ukraine, including Zelensky’s use of charges of “Russian sympathizers” against his opponents, lead to many forms of arbitrary favoritism, including in this recruitment process.
The Times reports “A petition signed by more than 25,000 Ukrainians, the threshold for requiring President Zelensky to respond, requests a ban on issuing summonses at checkpoints, gas stations and other public places. It asks him to establish a transparent process for when people might be called up.”
But the process remains secret.
The Times also reports, “Andrii Novak, a lawyer who represents people trying to be excused from service, drew a distinction between a summons sent by a recruiting office because its records show that a person should register, and one filled out by a recruiter who stopped someone on the street. He said his law firm … considers the latter illegal.
“In Kharkov, Ukraine’s second largest city by population, a channel on the messaging app Telegram, provides anonymous, crowd-sourced, real-time information on the locations of recruiters for people trying to steer clear of them. It has more than 67,000 subscribers.
“ ‘Our goal is to prevent the inappropriate issuance of summonses,’ reads the channel description. It invites residents to send in locations and photos of police officers and recruiters….
“Another Telegram channel in the Lviv region of Western Ukraine reads: ‘It is important to get all the relevant information. Only by knowing your rights, you can protect yourself and your family!’ The channel lists the five places where the most summonses are handed out and the diseases that keep men from serving. It also explains how to refuse a summons….
“But the numbers [of volunteers signing up] have not been enough to match the Russian’s battlefield strength – or to keep up with the casualties, which officials have said peaked this spring of 100 killed and almost 400 wounded daily [the real figures are probably higher].
“There are also signs, five gruelling months into the war, that the sense of unity is fraying at the edges. Soldiers, including minimally prepared raw recruits, have done long hard service, while other have managed to stay far from it.
“Volodymr Marchenchenko, 48, a farmer, has served five months in a Territorial Defense Battalion, often at or near the front lines, without his unit being relieved. He knew how to shoot a hunting rifle and enlisted immediately when the invasion began.
“Sent to fight in street clothes and ordinary shoes, he sustained frostbite on his toes.
“ ‘There is no one to replace us,’ he said. ‘There are too few people. It’s very hard for guys psychologically.’ ”
“There is also disillusionment with a system that turns away some who want to fight, while taking in others who are unwilling and unqualified….
“Some commanders and senior soldiers say summoning the unwilling to serve is lowering morale among those who volunteered.
“Last month, the Kyiv police chief, Ivan Vyhivskyi, said that police and military commissars raided two nightclubs that were violating curfew and issued 219 summonses for military registration to men they found there.
“That drew a sharp response from a senior sergeant of the 47th Armed forces Battalion in a Facebook post this month.
“ ‘I am proud of my military service, and I am outraged that my profession is being reduced to the level of punishment for these scumbags,’ wrote the sergeant, Valeriy Markus. ‘It is humiliating.’
“He wrote that soldiers and officers who put their lives on the line were demoralized by a chaotic process that drew draftees with poor qualifications or little inclination to serve. He said he had personally faced situations where draftees’ alcoholism or other problems endangered other soldiers’ lives ….”
The resistance to being forced into the military, the putting of unwilling and poorly trained men into it and the ramifications of demoralization in the military, underline the Ukrainian government’s desperation.
The issues raised in the Times article also bring into question Ukrainian ability to carry out its the widely reported plan to launch an offensive in Kherson region.
While Washington and Zelensk say their aim is to defeat Russia and retake Crimea, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the U.S.’s aim in the war in Ukraine was to “weaken Russia” to the point it would no longer be a major factor in international politics.
The U.S. wants a prolonged war to accomplish this. It cynically is willing to keep the war going through arming the Ukrainian army – it whatever the cost to the Ukrainian people. The Biden administration gives Ukraine over $500 million a month in new budgetary and military aid.
Defeating the Russian invasion would require U.S.-led NATO troops to massively intervene. That would increase the threat of nuclear war. There are already some U.S. ex-army personal in Ukraine, as well as Canadian fighters, according to reports in the NYT and Canadian press.
Meanwhile little of the truth is reported. Independent journalists and bloggers are targeted by the government here in the US and also in the United Kingdom and other Western countries.
Whatever the Russian media reports is dismissed as “propaganda” and is rarely reported by the big business media.
For example, at least 50 captured fighters died in a blast at the Olenivka prisoner of war facility in the Donetsk region that is controlled by the pro-Russian Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) forces. There is no clarity on exactly what happened and each side in the conflict blames the other.
The State Department and Pentagon simply repeated the charge by the Ukrainian government that Russia blew up the facility – a claim disputed by Russia. The RT.com news outlet of the Russian government reported that the Russian military invited both the Red Cross and United Nations to come to the prison to investigate. This was never reported in the U.S. media.
That’s why the New York Times reports on the Zelensky purge and military recruitment disputes are significant. All is not as it seems.