By all indications, Russia has suffered a catastrophic military defeat near Kharkiv, the second-largest city in Ukraine.
In the course of six days, the Ukrainian military, armed and financed by the United States and NATO, has taken dozens of miles of territory. The Institute for the Study of War reports: “Ukrainian forces have penetrated Russian lines to a depth of up to 70 kilometers in some places and captured over 3,000 square kilometers of territory in the past five days since September 6–more territory than Russian forces have captured in all their operations since April.”
The rapid breakthrough by Ukrainian forces is the result of the massive escalation of the conflict by the United States and NATO. American paramilitary forces are on the ground, directly coordinating the offensive. Ukrainian missile strikes are directed by the US intelligence agencies, which designate targets.
Increasingly, the rifles borne by Ukraine troops, the armor they wear and the vehicles that transport them are all NATO-standard weapons, paid for by the US and its European allies. Most importantly, Ukraine has been provided with the forces to strike dozens of miles behind Russian lines in the form of the HIMARS guided missile system and M777 long-range howitzer, as well as the HARM anti-radar missile and the Harpoon anti-ship missile. Ukrainian troops are backed by the NASAMS anti-aircraft system, the same system that guards the White House.
The American media no longer seeks to conceal the extent of direct US involvement in the war. In the words of The Hill, the US has become “brazen” in its intervention in the war. “Over time, the administration has recognized that they can provide larger, more capable, longer-distance, heavier weapons to the Ukrainians and the Russians have not reacted,” former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor told the newspaper.
The New York Times, ecstatic over the Ukrainian advance, wrote: “Senior Ukrainian officials stepped up intelligence sharing with their American counterparts over the summer as they began to plan the counteroffensive that allowed them to make dramatic gains in the northeast in recent days, a shift that allowed the United States to provide better and more relevant information about Russian weaknesses.”
The Times quoted Evelyn Farkas, a top Pentagon official for Ukraine and Russia under the Obama administration, as saying, “These guys have been trained for eight years by [US} Special Ops. They’ve been taught about irregular warfare. They’ve been taught by our intelligence operators about deception and psychological operations.”
To refer to the conflict as a “proxy war” is something of an understatement. The Ukrainian army has become a wholly owned subsidiary of the US military, which has armed, funded and trained it to the standards of the US Armed Forces.
The US-led offensive has resulted in a catastrophic loss of life, both for Ukrainian forces and for Russia, with reports of more than a thousand people dying per day in recent fighting.
The capitalist governments of the United States and Europe are absolutely determined to carry out their goal of subjugating Russia. The consequences, in terms of the lives of Ukrainians and Russias, along with the disastrous economic and social impact on workers throughout the world, amount to nothing in comparison to the geopolitical imperatives of the ruling class.
Borrowing the methods of the Stalinist Soviet bureaucracy, the Kremlin is responding to this catastrophe with lies and evasions. The Russian Ministry of Defense claimed that Russian forces are “regrouping,” a statement that is obviously false. It is impossible to deny that what is taking place is a rout.
For the Russian government, the debacle in Kharkiv is not only a tactical, but a strategic failure. The Putin government’s decision to invade Ukraine was a desperate and reactionary response to the intensifying pressure of the US and NATO on Russia.
Putin’s strategy, to the extent there was one, was to create the circumstances for a favorable negotiation of terms with the United States and its NATO allies.
To the extent that the factions of the Russian oligarchy that support Putin oppose the US’s policies, it is because they wish to retain for themselves control over the mineral and energy resources that the imperialists wish to plunder. Putin sought to make an agreement with US imperialism that the Russian oligarchy could live with.
The US and NATO have shown, however, that they are uninterested in negotiation. They view the complete subjugation of Russia, including its carve-up into multiple statelets, as a critical strategic goal. Time and time again, the Kremlin has underestimated the determination of the US and its European imperialist allies.
It is not precluded that the Kremlin will conclude from this military catastrophe that it is necessary to wage a massive military escalation, which would itself only lead to an escalation by NATO. Paradoxically, the desperate efforts by the Kremlin to reach an accommodation with imperialism do not preclude a series of actions that could trigger a thermonuclear war.
As David North wrote in his April 2 letter “to a Russian Comrade”:
What is surprising is that Putin and his military command appear not to have fully grasped the extent to which NATO had armed and trained Ukraine’s military. But this failure of their intelligence services is rooted in the Stalinist dissolution of the Soviet Union, which was based on wildly unrealistic, almost childishly naïve, conceptions of the imperialist system. While repudiating all association with Marxism, the Kremlin retained its faith in the possibility of “peaceful coexistence” with its Western Partners. Putin, shortly before ordering the invasion, complained pathetically that Russia had been “played” by the West.
The defense of the Russian masses against imperialism cannot be undertaken on the basis of bourgeois nation-state geopolitics. Rather, the struggle against imperialism requires the rebirth of the proletarian strategy of world socialist revolution. The Russian working class must repudiate the entire criminal enterprise of capitalist restoration, which has led to disaster, and re-establish its political, social and intellectual connection with its great revolutionary Leninist-Trotskyist heritage.
This is the fundamental lesson of the present debacle. The Stalinist bureaucracy dissolved the Soviet Union based on the false belief that imperialism was merely an invention of Lenin. The ensuing three decades have shown, however, that the social processes identified by Lenin are the fundamental processes at work today.
The central task is to mobilize the working class in opposition to imperialist war. This requires a break not only with all of the forces of the petty-bourgeois pseudo-left that defend the US/NATO war drive, but those who claim that Russian nationalism offers a solution to the catastrophe created by the dissolution of the USSR.
It is necessary to make a warning: The debacle suffered by the Russian military only presages an even further and more bloody escalation of the war. The imperialist powers smell blood in the water, and they will redouble their efforts to conquer and subjugate Russia.
But this escalation will at the same time intensify the war on the populations of the United States and Europe, who will pay the cost of the war in the form of surging prices and falling living standards.
The 20th century has witnessed the most destructive wars in human history. In the 21st century, capitalism now threatens disasters on an even greater scale.
The only social force capable of stopping the imperialist war drive is the working class. It must combine its economic demands in opposition to the surging cost with the struggle against war, and the fight to unite the workers of Europe, Asia, and the Americas in a common struggle against the capitalist system.