By Nauman Sadiq for VT Islamabad
Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin, leading the Russian peace delegation in Istanbul talks, told reporters Tuesday: “In order to increase mutual trust and create the necessary conditions for further negotiations and achieving the ultimate goal of agreeing and signing an agreement, a decision was made to radically, by a large margin, reduce military activity in the Kyiv and Chernihiv directions.”
Ukrainian negotiators said that under their proposals, Kyiv would agree not to join alliances or host bases of foreign troops, but would have security guarantees in terms similar to Article 5, the collective defense clause of the transatlantic NATO military alliance.
The proposals, which would require a referendum in Ukraine, mentioned a 15-year consultation period on the status of Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014. The fate of the southeastern Donbas region, in which Russia demands Ukraine cede to separatists, would be discussed by the Ukrainian and Russian leaders.
Kyiv’s proposals also included one that Moscow would not oppose Ukraine joining the European Union, Russia’s lead negotiator Vladimir Medinsky said. Russia has previously opposed Ukrainian membership of the EU and especially of the NATO military alliance. Medinsky said Russia’s delegation would study and present the proposals to President Vladimir Putin.
The generous Russian offer to scale back its blitz north of the capital and focus instead on liberating the Russian-majority Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, a task that has already been accomplished in large measure, was a major concession in ending the month-long offensive in Ukraine.
Whereas Ukrainian demands were minor details that can be discussed later, either bilaterally between Russia and Ukraine, or on international forums, such as the UN Security Council or General Assembly. In any case, Russia has already accomplished its strategic objectives in Ukraine, as the Crimean Peninsula and the Donbas region are now de facto independent territories where Russian peacekeeping forces have been deployed to maintain peace and stability.
“Ukrainian negotiators have essentially agreed to Russia’s principal security demands of rejecting NATO membership and regarding the presence of foreign military bases on its territory,” the Kremlin’s chief negotiator Vladimir Medinsky told Sputnik News.
Tacitly acknowledging Russian troop withdrawal north of the capital as pledged by the Russian peace delegation in Istanbul, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky referred to Russian troop movements away from Kyiv and Chernihiv in an early morning video address and said that was not a withdrawal but rather “the consequence of our defenders’ work.” Zelensky added that Ukraine is seeing “a build-up of Russian forces for new strikes on the Donbas and we are preparing for that.”
“The combat potential of the Ukrainian Armed Forces has been significantly reduced, which allows us to focus our main attention and efforts on achieving the main goal—the liberation of Donbas,” Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu proudly boasted Tuesday. He added that 123 of Ukraine’s 152 fighter jets had been destroyed, as well as 77 of its 149 helicopters and 152 of its 180 long- and medium-range air defense systems, while its naval forces had been totally eliminated.
It’s noteworthy that the Russian special military operation, dubbed “Operation Z” by Vladimir Putin, wasn’t a full-scale war. In fact, the Kremlin strictly forbade Russian media from calling the operation a war. It was a calculated military incursion having well-defined security objectives: the liberation of Donbas and the denazification and demilitarization of Ukraine.
Those military objectives have already been achieved in large measure, as not only have the Russian-majority Donbas including Kherson and Mariupol in the southeast have been liberated but the battles are ongoing in the adjacent areas in the northeast, Kharkiv, and Sumy, that will hopefully fall soon.
Sergey Shoigu has already proved through facts and figures how the country has been demilitarized with the combat potential of Ukraine’s armed forces significantly degraded. As for denazification, Donbas was the hub of neo-Nazi Azov, Right Sector, Dnipro 1 and 2, Aidar, and a myriad of other ultra-nationalist militias funded, armed, and trained by the CIA since the 2014 Maidan coup toppling Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and consequent annexation of the Crimean Peninsula by Russia. With the liberation of Donbas and deployment of Russian peacekeeping forces, neo-Nazi militias wouldn’t find a foothold, at least, in east Ukraine bordering Russia’s vulnerable western flank.
As for the “40-mile-long” convoy of battle tanks, armored vehicles, and heavy artillery that descended from Belarus in the north and reached the outskirts of Kyiv in the early days of the war without encountering much resistance en route to the capital, that was simply a power projection gambit astutely designed as a diversionary tactic by Russia’s cunning military strategists in order to deter Ukraine from sending reinforcements to Donbas in east Ukraine, where real battles for territory were actually fought, and scramble to defend the embattled country’s capital instead.
Except in the early days of the war when Russian airstrikes and long-range artillery shelling targeted military infrastructure in the outskirts of Kyiv to reduce the combat potential of Ukraine’s armed forces, the capital did not witness much action during the month-long offensive. Otherwise, with the tremendous firepower at its disposal, the world’s second most powerful military had the demonstrable capability to reduce the whole city down to the ashes.
What further lends credence to the indisputable fact that the Russian assault on Kyiv was meant simply as a show of force rather than an actual military objective to occupy the capital is the factor that Belarusian troops didn’t take part in the battle despite staging military exercises alongside Russian forces before the invasion and despite the fact that Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko is a dependable ally of the Russian strongman, Vladimir Putin.
Although Russia incurred 1,351 fatalities during the war, as candidly admitted by the Russian defense ministry, the myth of countless charred Russian tanks, armored vehicles, and artillery pieces littering the streets of Ukraine’s towns and cities is a downright fabrication peddled by the corporate media as a psychological warfare tactic to insidiously portray the losing side in the conflict as a winning side.
Besides the handful neo-Nazi militias and foreign mercenaries fighting pitched battles against Russian forces in Donbas, the much-touted “resistance” was nowhere to be found in the rest of Ukraine. The “40-mile-long” column of armored vehicles that created panic in the rank and file of Ukraine’s security forces and their international backers didn’t move an inch further after reaching the outskirts of Kyiv in the early days of the war.
In fact, it wasn’t a fighting force at all. After conducting joint military exercises with Belarussian troops last month, young Russian soldiers, dubbed “conscripts” by the Western media, continued their training exercises on the Ukrainian territory and gained valuable battlefield experience. Now, they would return home and recount their adventures to their families.
Nonetheless, in the parallel reality of the Russo-Ukraine War conjured up by the spin-doctors of foreign policy think tanks and national security correspondents of the corporate media, Russia “failed to achieve” its presumed military objectives of “ransacking the capital Kyiv” and “overrunning the whole territory” of the embattled country, and that the “botched invasion” was thwarted by the “valiant Ukrainian resistance.”
In line with this illusory narrative of the war, the mainstream media is abuzz with fabricated reports, citing “credible Western intelligence,” that President Putin was supposedly “misled by Russia’s military leadership,” and tensions over the military’s alleged “setbacks have strained ties and created a rift” between the Russian strongman and his military.
White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield told reporters: “We believe that Putin is being misinformed by his advisers about how badly the Russian military is performing, and how the Russian economy is being crippled by sanctions because his senior advisers are too afraid to tell him the truth,” Bedingfield said, without providing details on the evidence behind the assessment. “It is increasingly clear that Putin’s war has been a strategic blunder that has left Russia weaker over the long-term, and increasingly isolated on the world stage.”
Speaking in Algiers, Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged Putin had been given “less than truthful information” from his advisers. “With regard to President Putin, look, what I can tell you is this, and I said this before, one of the Achilles’ heels of autocracies is that you don’t have people in those systems who speak truth to power or who have the ability to speak truth to power,” Mr. Blinken said. “And I think that is something that we’re seeing in Russia.”
In a news conference on Wednesday afternoon, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that the Defense Department believed that Putin has not had access to an accurate account of his “army’s failures” in Ukraine. “We would concur with the conclusion that Mr. Putin has not been fully informed by his Ministry of Defense, at every turn over the last month,” Kirby said.
“If Mr. Putin is misinformed or uninformed about what’s going on inside Ukraine, it’s his military, it’s his war, he chose it,” a Pentagon spokesman said. “And so the fact that he may not have all the context — that he may not fully understand the degree to which his forces are failing in Ukraine, that’s a little discomforting, to be honest with you.”
Other American officials, as reported in the mainstream media, have said that Putin’s rigid isolation during the pandemic and willingness to publicly rebuke advisers who do not share his views have created a degree of wariness, or even fear, in senior ranks of the Russian military. Officials believe that Putin has been getting incomplete or overly optimistic reports about the progress of Russian forces, creating mistrust with his military advisers.
The New York Times reported: “The Russian military’s stumbles have eroded trust between Mr. Putin and his Ministry of Defense. While Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu had been considered one of the few advisers Mr. Putin confided in, the prosecution of the war in Ukraine has damaged the relationship. Mr. Putin has put two top intelligence officials under house arrest for providing poor intelligence ahead of the invasion, something that may have further contributed to the climate of fear.”
It’s worth pointing out that these misleading news reports are based on declassified Western intelligence. But a question would naturally arise in the minds of perceptive readers that why the intelligence reports are being leaked to news organizations now.
A Reuters report offers a glimpse into the malicious motive for declassifying the intelligence now after Russia has wrapped up its military campaign in Ukraine and claimed victory in achieving the security objectives of the intervention: the liberation of Donbas and denazification and demilitarization of Ukraine.
“Washington’s decision to share its intelligence more publicly reflects a strategy it has pursued since before the war began. In this case, it could also complicate Putin’s calculations, a U.S. official said, adding, ‘It’s potentially useful. Does it sow dissension in the ranks? It could make Putin reconsider whom he can trust.’
“There were no indications at the moment that the situation could foster a revolt among the Russian military, but the situation was unpredictable and Western powers would hope that unhappy people would speak up, a senior European diplomat said. Military analysts say Russia has reframed its war goals in Ukraine in a way that may make it easier for Putin to claim a face-saving victory despite a woeful campaign in which his army has suffered humiliating setbacks.”
All the media hype in order to misguide gullible audiences on the eve of impending Russian troop withdrawal from Ukraine aside, the fact remains its old wine in new bottles. The intelligence wasn’t declassified now, it was declassified three weeks ago, but nobody paid much attention to the asinine assertion of an alleged rift between Putin and the Russian military leadership.
Politico reported as early as March 8, in an article titled “Putin is angry,” that the US intelligence heads warned before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence during the panel’s annual hearing on worldwide threats that Russia could “double down” in Ukraine.
The remarks by Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and four fellow intelligence agency leaders — Defense Intelligence Agency Director Scott Berrier, CIA Director William Burns, National Security Agency Director Paul Nakasone, and FBI Director Christopher Wray — represented some of the most candid assessments of Moscow’s thinking by US officials since the start of the security crisis in late January.
“Although it still remains unclear whether Russia will pursue a maximalist plan to capture all or most of Ukraine, Haines said, such an effort would run up against what the U.S. intelligence community assesses is likely to be a persistent and significant insurgency by Ukrainian forces.”
Clearly, DNI Avril Haines spilled the secret before the House Select Committee on Intelligence that the US intelligence was in the dark whether the Russian forces would overrun the whole of Ukraine, or the Russian blitz north of the capital was only a diversionary tactic meant for tying up Ukrainian forces in the north, while Russia concentrated its efforts in liberating Donbas in the east.
“Burns, the CIA director, portrayed for lawmakers an isolated and indignant Russian president who is determined to dominate and control Ukraine to shape its orientation. Putin has been ‘stewing in a combustible combination of grievance and ambition for many years. That personal conviction matters more than ever,’ Burns said.
“Burns also described how Putin had created a system within the Kremlin in which his own circle of advisers is narrower and narrower — and sparser still because of the Covid-19 pandemic. In that hierarchy, Burns said, ‘it’s proven not career-enhancing for people to question or challenge his judgment.’”
Read the academic-cum-diplomat CIA Director William Burns’ “candid assessments” psychoanalyzing Putin’s mental state amidst the war and the pandemic from early March alongside the recently plagiarized New York Times and Reuters reports asserting that “Putin’s rigid isolation during the pandemic” made him surround himself with “yes-men too afraid to tell him the truth” and consequently he rushed to invade Ukraine to figure out the malicious motive of an insidious smear campaign against the Russian peacemaker on the eve of the Russian troop withdrawal from Ukraine as pledged by the Kremlin delegation during the Istanbul peace initiative to Ukraine.
About the author: Nauman Sadiq is an Islamabad-based geopolitical and national security analyst focused on geostrategic affairs and hybrid warfare in the Af-Pak and the Middle East regions. His domains of expertise include neocolonialism, the military-industrial complex, and petro-imperialism. He is a regular contributor of diligently researched investigative reports to VT.