Original Patrick Lawrence Ukraine

Patrick Lawrence: Depleted Ukrainium

What Comes After Failure?
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the Pentagon, Sept. 21, 2023. (DoD photo by Chad J. McNeeley) U.S. Secretary of Defense, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By Patrick Lawrence / Original to ScheerPost

You cannot name the last time you read anything about a parliamentary election in Slovakia, so I won’t bother asking. But you are reading about one this week, assuming you still follow mainstream media—if only to understand what you are supposed to think about one or another event, as against what has actually occurred. 

In results announced in Bratislava Sunday, a leftist party whose primary platform plank is opposition to the war in Ukraine won 23 percent of the vote. On Monday the Slovakian president, Zuzana Čaputová, formally asked Robert Fico, who leads the SMER party, to form a government. It looks like he will do so in a coalition with either Voice, a social-democratic party that took 15 percent of the vote, or with Progressive Slovakia, a liberal-centrist party that finished with 18 percent of the vote. 

Fico is an interesting figure. He has served as prime minister twice over the course of a decade, during which time he proved sufficiently European to bring Slovakia into the euro. To one or another extent, his likely coalition partners favor keeping Slovakia as a card-carrying member of the Western coalition supporting Ukraine. But they did not win the election: Fico did. And Fico is all business in his opposition to Slovakia’s support for the U.S. proxy war tearing Ukraine and its people to pieces. 

SMER’s platform assigns the West and Ukraine equal responsibility for the war—a purposeful rip into the “unprovoked” charade—and promises an immediate end to all Slovakian arms shipments to the war effort. Speaking after the election results were announced, Fico pointedly pledged to press Kiev and its backers to begin peace talks with Moscow. “More killing is not going to help anyone,” he declared.

There are two things to say about Robert Fico’s return to the top of Slovakian politics. One, we find once again that the U.S. is a victim of its old, Manichean habit of dividing the whole of humanity into good guys and bad guys. The headline on CNN’s report on the elections reads, “Pro–Russian politician wins Slovakia’s parliamentary election.” The New York Times head is, “Unease in the West as Slovakia Appears Set to Join the Putin Sympathizers.” 

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Tell me, which of these is more pathetic? “Pro–Russian?” “Putin sympathizers?” This is infantile—apart from being false, I mean. Fico simply articulates an independent, perfectly sound position on the war. CNN and The Times are infantilizing their viewers and readers as they reduce this position to the simplistic binary of a Saturday-morning cartoon. The insidious thing here, and let us be ever vigilant on this point, is that these media are inserting into our brains the thought that any deviation from the Russophobic orthodoxy amounts to support for the Kremlin’s demonized occupant. 

Two, “unease” is too mild a word for the reigning sentiment among the war-mongering elites in Washington and the European capitals. An incipient panic is closer to the reality as public support for the war—and here and here official support—ever more visibly wobbles and wanes. The first front in any war is the home front, where it is imperative the battle is won. And those running the war in Ukraine are slowly but surely losing on this side of the conflict. 

They are losing it on the ground in Ukraine, too, it is now more or less obvious. Our question becomes: Where will the powers that instigated this war and invested heavily in it turn next? As I argued soon after the Russian intervention began in February 2022, this conflict was probably conceived as the Washington neoconservatives’ shoot-the-moon moment, its all-out play to take down the Russian Federation. What happens now, as the neocons lose this round of Hearts and the game as they have played it is over?

To my great relief, the blue-and-yellow flags that disfigured the American landscape in the early months of the war are now mostly gone. More than half of Americans polled agree with Robert Fico: No more military aid and weapons to Ukraine. This percentage is headed in only one direction from here on out. 

Volodymyr Zelensky’s swing through North America beginning with his attendance at this year’s General Assembly last month, went pretty badly. At the GA, he did not make any headway persuading the global majority opposed to the war to come over to his side. His reception in Washington was… what is the best word?… muted? House Republicans, many of whom oppose more military aid, refused to meet him. When, over the weekend, Speaker Kevin McCarthy finally pushed through a bill to keep the government funded, he had to strip out a provision authorizing another tranche of weapons funding. 

The mood elsewhere appears to be no brighter. That astonishing debacle in the Canadian Parliament—presenting an old SS man as a hero because he fought the Soviets?—cannot have done Zelensky’s constituency in Canada any good. Across the pond there are signs of impatience as roughly eight million Ukrainian refugees settle in Europe, displaying little interest—and who can blame them?—in going home when the war is over. War or no, solidarity or no, the Poles have blocked imports of cheap Ukrainian wheat. There are signs of buyer’s remorse among the Finns a matter of months after their impulsive decision to join NATO. And now the Slovakians and their new leader’s alarming display of political and intellectual independence. 

However these matters may stand as you read this commentary, the trends here outlined are destined to accelerate in coming months. The Ukrainians’ long-touted counteroffensive, a major prop in the campaign to maintain public support for the war, is touted no more. It is well on the way to taking its place next to the 2007 “surge” in Iraq. Remember that? Of course you don’t. And you won’t remember the counteroffensive any more distinctly in, I would say, a year’s time.

Not even The New York Times pretends any longer that the front line in eastern Ukraine has budged more than a matter of meters the whole of this year. And this is before the harsh winter weather begins. At that point, stasis will be the best the Ukrainians can hope for. All this autumn and all winter, the Russians are likely to continue their rolling volleys of rockets, missiles, and artillery shells to the point most of Ukraine east of Kiev resembles Ypres or the Somme in 1918. 

Let us look ahead to next spring, then. The Ukrainian front will have sustained another winter’s deterioration, and popular discontent among Europeans is likely to have sharpened. It will be considerably harder to pretend that the Kiev regime can win the war or, indeed, that it makes any sense to continue it. And Joe Biden will be looking at an election in seven or so months. 

At that point, what? 

A moment, please, while I Windex the crystal ball. Yes, yes, it all comes clear. 

We already see signs of one major development out front, Slovakia’s election but one example among several. It is difficult to see how Europe can sustain the commitment to the war it has displayed to date. There are too many weak spots appearing. If I am correct about this, at a certain point, it will no longer make sense to speak seriously of a unified alliance ganged up behind Ukraine and against Russia. And then the war hawks’ worst fear will look less a nightmare than a reality: A weak Europe means a weak NATO.

In my read, Ukraine is likely to resemble Iraq quite beyond the 2023 counteroffensive as a reprise of the 2007 surge. Remember “the coalition of the willing” the Bush II people assembled? It was better named “the coalition of the coerced,” I always thought, and in a very short time it had the consistency on the ground of papier mâché. How long did it take for the pretense to fall away, and no one any longer pretended Iraq was other than an American war?

The same will occur in Ukraine, I predict. As early as next year it will be an American war waged by an American proxy, the Europeans doing their bit by transshipping U.S.–made weapons and assuming other odds-and-ends chores but reducing their own participation and supplies of matériel to token levels. 

As Ukraine emerges as an American project, no more nonsense about “Western unity” and “allies and partners” about it, American attitudes are likely to shift further in the direction of objection. If the majority of Americans has already had enough of this conflict as they drive to work along potholed roads and across crumbling bridges, Ukraine will be a much harder sell once the Biden regime can no longer pretend the rest of the West is with us. At that point—best outcome here—Americans may realize once again that the street is a very fine place to conduct politics. 

Let’s look at this more closely. As it emerges that Washington and Kiev are the only powers committed to prolonging hostilities, it will also become evident that neither has a choice under its current leadership. Volodymyr Zelensky cannot at this point enter seriously into peace talks: He has sacrificed too many Ukrainian lives. Joe Biden, apparently skilled at grifting, seems a dumbhead when it comes to thinking things through tactically or strategically. He has staked far too much on Ukraine and is now stuck—in an election year no less—with his whatever-it-takes, as-long-as-it-takes grandstanding. 

There are a few wild cards to consider. What if the Biden regime, which is known to consider Zelensky increasingly obnoxious, forces the Ukrainian president to organize elections next year and then makes sure he, Zelensky, loses them? There is some speculation to this effect. What if Biden is impeached? What if his incapacities at some point overpower him? What if Donald Trump, who is vociferously opposed to the war, assumes a lead in the polls such that the results on November 5, 2024, are nearly a foregone conclusion?

Possibles, improbables: There are always some of these to bear in mind.

Anyone who wonders just how worried Washington’s political cliques are about weakening enthusiasm for the war in Ukraine can consider a piece The New York Times published in its Monday editions. The headline above Julian Barnes’s piece is in that line I have come to love since the old Russiagate days. It reads, “Putin’s Next Target: U.S. Support for Ukraine, Official Say.” 

Use this piece as a mirror, readers. In it you will see reflected the anxieties of the policy cliques as they address the matter of declining popular support for the war they intend to prolong.   

“Russia’s strategy to win the war in Ukraine is to outlast the West,” Barnes begins. “But how does Vladimir Putin plan to do that?”

Our Julian is generous with his dum-da-da-dum, you have to say. And then he delivers, with that superb punch and paranoia you used to find in American Opinion, the John Birch Society publication: 

American officials said they are convinced that Mr. Putin intends to try to end U.S. and European support for Ukraine by using his spy agencies to push propaganda supporting pro-Russian political parties and by stoking conspiracy theories with new technologies.

The Russia disinformation aims to increase support for candidates opposing Ukraine aid with the ultimate goal of stopping international military assistance to Kyiv….

Moscow is also likely to try to boost pro–Russian candidates in Europe, seeing potential fertile ground with recent results. A pro–Russian candidate won Slovakia’s parliamentary elections on Sunday. In addition to national elections, Russia could seek to influence the European parliamentary vote next year, officials said.

I see, I see, amazing grace and all that. If I oppose Western support for the unwinnable war in Ukraine, it is because the Russians have gone to work on me. How could I have missed this? How could I have been so foolish as to assume a figure such as Robert Fico actually thinks for himself and means what he says when he asserts that the atrocious death toll in Ukraine is senseless? All those Slovakian voters: Kremlin dupes, every one.

TO MY READERS. Independent publications and those who write for them reach a moment that is difficult and full of promise all at once. On one hand, we assume ever greater responsibilities in the face of mainstream media’s mounting derelictions. I take up this very topic in the commentary you have just read. On the other, we have found no sustaining revenue model and so must turn directly to our readers for support. I am committed to independent journalism for the duration: I see no other future for American media. But the path grows steeper, and as it does I need your help. This grows urgent now. If you are already a supporter, big thanks. If you aren’t, please, to sustain my continued contributions to ScheerPost and in  recognition of the commitment to independent journalism I share with this superb publication, join in by subscribing to The Floutist, or via my Patreon account.

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Patrick Lawrence

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a media critic, essayist, author and lecturer. His most recent book is Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century. His web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon siteHis Twitter account, @thefloutist, has been permanently censored without explanation.


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