Mon Jan 30, 2023
January 30, 2023

Ukrainian military resistance and the new momentum of the war

We are facing a new situation in the war in Ukraine. The surprising success of the Ukrainian resistance – whose military includes a significant majority of workers and members of the working class – put the world’s second-largest army on the defensive and turned Ukraine into the epicenter of the confrontation between revolution and counter-revolution on a global level.

By Américo Gomes and Pavel Polska

The Ukrainian resistance is proving that it can win the war. The resistance is coordinating activity between artillery and infantry together with the action of volunteer fighters and civilians carrying out sabotage in occupied territory. But they need adequate, superior and more efficient weapons for the battles ahead.

Imperialism refuses to send these weapons, claiming that it is afraid that they will fall into the hands of smugglers and the Russian army, or that they will be used against Russian territory and escalate the war. But the truth is that imperialist countries fear the consequences that a categorical victory of the Ukrainian resistance will have on struggles across the world.

The bourgeois press conceals the role of the courageous resistance, formed by ordinary workers of the most diverse trades and professions, who take up arms to defend themselves against the Russian invaders. An armed proletarian population defends Ukraine while the bourgeoisie flees the country to do business from abroad.

A new moment in the war

During nine months of fighting we witnessed several moments of Russian offensives, such as the siege of Kyiv, which later saw the retreat eastwards of the Russian army. Today there is a shift in positions, with the Russian military abandoning the city of Kherson and the entire west bank of the Dnieper River, digging in on the left bank to defend Crimea. We can now say that Russia is on the defensive. But we shouldn’t underestimate their actions, the damage they can continue to cause, and the possibility of a new offensive.

The Ukrainian resistance managed to defeat the Russian blitzkrieg, exhaust the offensive, and reverse the war’s course. It is estimated that approximately 80,000 Ukrainian soldiers died proving that the Ukrainian cause is worth fighting for and that aid and defense work. The volunteer fighters from the working class were crucial for the defense of Kyiv.[1]

Resistance in Kyiv

On 25 February, the military was forced to hand out around 18,000 AK rifles to Kyiv citizens in preparation for the resistance [2]. “Very ordinary people,” but all ready to fight to the bitter end in the streets or on the battlefields of Bucha and Irpin, with many of them relying solely on Molotov cocktails to face Russian tanks. They shared food, slept in common quarters, and often despaired together at the sound of enemy artillery. [3]

Meanwhile, Russian convoys moving along Ukrainian forest roads were ambushed by Ukrainian units. On some occasions, these units let the tanks through to attack the fuel trucks following the armored vehicles. As a result, the tanks soon ran out of fuel and had to stop, in a position to be captured intact.

To cope with the advancing Russian hordes, the Ukrainian army decentralized the command and control system and gave authority to the leaders on the ground who knew the situation better. The most motivated, flexible, and effective Ukrainian formations were small, highly mobile units to avoid becoming large, easy targets for a Russian attack.

The fighting in Kyiv was rapid – five weeks between February and March. Eventually, the invaders fled, but the losses were terrible. This was the roadmap to victory in the Battle of Kyiv.

Ukrainian resistance to the offensive

At the moment, the Ukrainians have the upper hand and their military is on the offensive. They are liberating a large territorial area around Kharkiv and advancing to the south and east. There is news of liberated localities in Lugansk and Donetsk, forcing Russia to withdraw, such as Kupiansk, which was an important eastern supply center for Russian forces. Russia’s defense ministry said its troops also withdrew from the military center of neighboring Izyum to “regroup,” and from Balaklyia.

According to military specialists, this is the first time since World War II that entire Russian units have been lost. The combination of massive rocket attacks on the Russian rear and successful attacks on their main frontline locations, such as Davydiv Brid, eventually showed results.

Ukrainian soldiers attack the enemy

At this point, the city of Kherson was recaptured and the population, which was resisting the presence of Russian troops and the forced deportation (which the Kremlin called “evacuation”), welcomed the Ukrainian troops as true liberators. This was one of the most important events of the war and will have consequences for its outcome. It means that Russia’s chances of taking Mykolaiv and Odessa have been eliminated. A humiliating defeat for those who, a month ago, claimed sovereignty over Kherson and the region.

The fighting will now focus on the eastern bank of the Dnieper, with Russian forces fortified on the east and south banks, according to satellite images, with three 100-kilometer-long parallel defensive lines consisting of trenches, machine gun nests, bunkers, and armored vehicles. For the Ukrainians to win requires air superiority, which can only be achieved by equipping them with aircraft and artillery capable of reaching 300 kilometers away, plus more air defense systems. All of which the U.S. government has so far refused to provide.

Civilian underground resistance in Kherson

Along with the encirclement of Kherson is the clandestine work of the civilians in the city. To prevent them from communicating, the Russians cut off the internet in the region, so they communicate instead with radios or mobile phones when the towers are working.

Russian officials deluded the soldiers that they would be welcomed as liberators of the Ukrainian people against the “Nazi” oppressors. Therefore, many Russian combatants are astonished and unprepared for the reception they received. Not only were they not welcomed with flowers, but actively hated. This hatred fuels the partisan movement in the occupied Ukrainian territories.

Being a civilian does not necessarily mean being directly involved in sabotage. Many transmit the movements of columns and groups of invaders in real time to Ukrainian troops, often simultaneously, by dozens of observers from buildings on several sides of a street or avenue. Ukrainians have a public service app called Дія (Action), which publishes electronic copies of documents such as passports, driver’s licenses, vaccination certificates, etc. Since February, this application is used for donations to the Ukrainian army, to buy military vouchers to help the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and to join the eVorog (Enemy) programme. [4]

EVorog allows all Ukrainian citizens to report in real time about the movement of enemy convoys, where they spend the night, and who are their collaborators.

As of September, more than 368,000 Ukrainians have used the EVorog chat, and now a Telegram account. Reports also cover the movements of railways, ammunition depots, radar stations, artillery positions, helicopter airfields, and locations of Russian troop commanders.

In Kherson, there is the Supervision Group, which coordinated the first protest demonstrations in the city against the Russian presence and became a Ukrainian intelligence network in the region. It has 42,000 subscribers who currently follow the offensive of the Ukrainian Armed Forces (VSU, Ukrainian acronym).

It also raises money to help Ukrainian units liberate the region. This money is used to buy everything, from thermal imaging cameras to thermal gloves.

Among these partisans are individual “heroes” and self-organized groups. These groups, in addition to providing information, also attack Russian patrols and take up arms, sometimes executing members of the occupying troops. Others are specialists in certain areas or simply scouts.

Civilian informers range from elders who, with their grandchildren, report on tank movements or Russian headquarters. The civilian center organizes the information and catalogs it individually and in groups, ensuring the flow of information to the fighting forces.

Others are stockpiling weapons and preparing ambushes. There is no large network organizing everything, even though special groups of fighters have entered and continue to enter the occupied territory.

Of course, the Russians react with filtering and control camps, used by the occupation forces to interrogate and deport hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians, in some places reaching 100% of the male population. In Kherson, all 16-year-old-plus men were arrested, beaten for a couple of days, and imprisoned in pits dug they themselves dug, along with population cleansing operations as in the Dnieper. Not to mention house searches and telephone checks. There are concentration camps for civilians, like near Mariupol, with many underaged and young prisoners. In addition to the “Colony 17” in Henichesk; the “90”; the temporary detention center in Kherson; and the pre-trial detention center in Nova Kakhovka. And torture centres such as the vocational school in Henichesk, where they equipped a kativno (executioner).

Russia is considered a world leader in advanced capabilities and tactics of Electronic Warfare (EW), the set of military actions that use electromagnetic energy, from radio waves to gamma rays, to take control of the enemy’s communication. These radio, radar, and microwave transmissions send information, intelligence data, images, orders, and reports. Therefore, they jam, neutralize, and block enemy HF, VHF, and UHF transmissions. They try to blind or falsify emissions from navigation systems (such as the GPS) on Ukrainian territory in order to make it difficult to monitor the trajectory of medium-range missiles implanted in the theatre of operations. [5]

When none of this works, they simply completely cut off electricity and communications in some cities for a day or two.

Even so, the resistance in the occupied territories continues to function.

Territorial defense

In some liberated areas, the Territorial Defense Forces of Ukraine were created. Officially considered a reserve military component of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, they were formed after the reorganization of the Territorial Defense Battalions. They are volunteer militias, made up of part-time reservists, usually veteran combatants and local civilian volunteers for territorial defense, technically under the command of the Ministry of Defense, formalized in 2022 as a unified defense corps.

Many of them are former fighters defeated in the 2014 conflicts, in the Crimean War, or in the initial fighting of the Donbas War by Moscow-backed separatists. At that time they were ill-prepared, ill-equipped, lacking in professionalism, morale, and fighting spirit, and with serious incompetence in the high command. Since then, volunteer militias and paramilitary groups were formed to fight the separatists. These Territorial Defense Battalions and Volunteer Battalions had the merit of holding the line against the separatist forces and allowing the Ukrainian army to now go on the offensive.

The number of volunteers increased from 1.5 million to 2 million on 11 February 2022 [6]. The Russian invasion led many civilians to join local Territorial Defense Forces groups. By 6 March, almost 100,000 people had volunteered [7]. So many people volunteered that some units stopped accepting volunteers when they reached their operational limit. There are reports of Ukrainian volunteers paying bribes or using connections to join the Territorial Defense.

The volunteers sign contracts and receive salaries. Their status is no different from that of a soldier, and are legally allowed to deploy outside their regions.

There are towns close to the front, like Toretsk, or villages with a couple of thousand inhabitants, like Plakhtyanka, that cannot pay their volunteers. So they arranged their own resources: bulletproof vests they took from the police, defensive and hunting weapons, cast anti-tank hedgehogs to blockade the entrance to the villages. They organized themselves in shifts and elected a leader. And they connected with the SBU (Security Service of Ukraine).

They study combat tactics and military literature. When Russians attack cities, they hide files and computers and take flags out of public buildings. They constantly ask for weapons that are promised, but most of the time they don’t get them.

Once upon a time there was a bridge

We recently witnessed the explosion of the bridge across the Kerch Strait in Crimea. The attack damaged a strategic supply and logistical artery for Russian forces and was a major boost to Ukrainian morale, showing Russia’s vulnerability. Russian intelligence says it was a Ukrainian truck bomb.

The bridge seemed out of reach for Ukraine, which has no long-range weapons and no weapons powerful enough to cause damage to this concrete and steel bridge, as imperialism refuses to provide such weaponry; its air force is no match for Russian S-300 or S-400 anti-aircraft batteries. TB2 drone weaponry is only suitable for destroying vehicles and command posts.

In addition, the bridge was heavily patrolled by elite troops, combat air patrols, attack helicopters and electronic warfare units in the vicinity, forming a formidable shield for this most valuable target in the conflict.

Most of the logistics, ammunition, and weapons supplying the southern front cross Crimea from bases across the river to the city of Kherson. The attack on the Kerch Strait bridge greatly weakened this supply line and worsened the combat situation for the Russians, besieged and squeezed by the Ukrainian counteroffensive.

In terms of Ukrainian propaganda, it was a shock to Russian civilians, who were still recovering from the impact of forced mobilization. Putin himself opened the Crimean Bridge in 2018, steering a truck across the strait. An ally of his built the bridge, and the attack took place the day after Putin’s 70th anniversary. Again, Russia’s efficiency in waging war was questioned.

The FSB, Russia’s security service, is conducting an intensive security check. They are looking for the truck driver and the route he took before crossing the bridge, but little information was made public.

Credit for the attack goes to the Ukrainian resistance operating in the occupied territories. Since the beginning of the invasion, they have undertaken the assassination of local leaders considered to be collaborators with Moscow. A few weeks ago, five FSB officers and two high-ranking Russian military officers were killed in a hotel in Kherson.

Attacks have increased since Russia fraudulently annexed four occupied Ukrainian territories in September. These isolated attacks became increasingly effective as these groups began to coordinate with the Ukrainian military command. Sporadic attacks are becoming more focused and deliberate as part of an overall strategy.

Ukrainian special operations forces are training, mentoring and arming civilian groups in the art of sabotage, hit-and-run tactics, covert communications and the ability to remain hidden within a population while wreaking havoc on the enemy.

Inside Kherson, the core activity is surveillance with observers and the monitoring of Russian military and security movements, handing over information to the Ukrainian military.

The partisans operate not only in Kherson, but also in the railway town of Melitopol and in New Kakhovka, close to the Dnieper River, and near the dam and mouth of the North Crimean Canal. They are for the supply of fresh water to 85% of Crimea. More than 20,000 Russian troops are trapped on the other side of the Dnieper River.

The explosion of the bridge is emboldening guerrillas and resistance groups in the occupied areas, so attacks will increase in frequency and scope, focusing on Russia’s supply lines, as its over-reliance on rail transport makes Ukrainian guerrillas’ job much easier.

The bridge explosion comes on top of the sinking of the [guided missile] ship Moskva and the possible collapse in Donetsk.

Putin hits back

Putin is on the defense, but he is hitting back hard: he carried out the scandalous fraud of the plebiscites in the four territories to justify that being Russian territory he could do anything to defend it, including using atomic weapons. And he carries out Iranian drone and missile attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure, aiming to damage it irreparably by winter, disrupting access to basic services and causing great suffering to the civilian population, with the intention that the suffering from the cold will demoralize a part of the resistance.

These attacks left several regions of the country out of electricity and drinking water, affecting an estimated 40 percent of Ukraine’s infrastructure. In Kiev, and at least seven other regions of Ukraine, there are power failures. The attacks on the electric grid are considered “devastating” to the country’s energy infrastructure. This in a country where winter temperatures can drop as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius.

Putin also believes that the cold weather will slow down the pace of Ukrainian military operations. This will help Russia maintain its lines of defense, hold captured territory, and restore normal supplies for its troops.

Joy after Kherson’s recovery

Despite this, the Shahed-136 drone strikes are not a show of force, even if they cause a lot of damage; they are [vertical descent] launches, not troops, Iranian, not Russian.

Another aspect of Putin’s policy is forced deportations. In Kherson, he ordered 70,000 residents to be resettled further away from the occupied region east of the Dnipro River. There is even a threat to explode the Russian-controlled Kakhovka dam which could flood the area.

Resistance takes the necessary forms

As the ongoing Russian attacks on the heating and electricity systems by Kamikaze drone missiles take effect, Ukrainian workers repairing the power grid are working flat out, while the population saves electricity by refraining from using washing machines and other energy-consuming appliances.

In Kyiv’s main city centers, street lights are switched off at dusk while they are kept on in some downtown streets on Friday nights to allow street musicians to play and people to dance.

It is possible to win

According to experts, Ukraine’s advances on the battlefield were achieved by coordinating “tanks with armored vehicles backed by artillery, to pierce Russian defenses, identify weaknesses and exploit them, moving forces quickly,” and the action of civilians within the occupied territory, generating panic and terror in the Russian occupation troops.

It is up to the workers’ movement and its organizations to redouble the campaign to demand the shipment of arms necessary for the Ukrainians to defeat Putin’s military, and to expose the imperialist governments for not supplying quality arms in sufficient quantity, since their central policy is to negotiate an agreement to end the war at the expense of Ukrainian sovereignty and the surrender of part of the territory in the East.

The delivery of arms by imperialism has increased (pushed by the resistance and the international campaign), but it is still not enough. For example, U.S. imperialism continues to refuse to send warplanes and train Ukrainian pilots [8]. The Ukrainians ask for F-15 and F-16, A-10 Thunderbolt (special for air support against infantry ground forces). Also, they do not send advanced technology-weapons, claiming that they could fall into Russian hands.

The delivery of the 80 km M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (Himars) (the Russians go up to 90 km) was a breakthrough in isolating Russian units from their back-up units. But the Ukrainians still demand the Himars-compatible ATACMS missiles with a range of 300 km. The current ones allow the destruction of command centers and ammunition depots. The longer ones would allow the attack of back-up units. The justification is that they do not trust that the resistance will not attack Russian territory with them and the warplanes [9].

The Javelin anti-tank missiles were sent, as well as the Turkish “Bayraktar TB2” drones and the Polish “T 72 tanks.” The dispatch of German Marder infantry vehicles was a breakthrough. But the German government failed to send the state-of-the-art Leopard 2 tanks (built by the Munich-based Krauss-Maffei Wegmann arms company), which are vital to support troops liberating regions of eastern Ukraine.

In the U.S. midterm elections, Republican candidates, mainly pro-Trump, vowed to cut off aid to Ukraine. Incumbent congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene told a rally in Iowa that “with Republicans, not a penny will go to Ukraine.” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who hopes to become speaker of the House, said that a GOP-controlled Congress would not give Ukraine “a blank check.” Criticism of Ukrainian military and financial aid attempts to dovetail with the growing economic crisis in the United States. Nearly half of Republicans, 48%, believe the country is spending too much money on Kiev [10].

Back working-class and popular resistance with arms and political support

In Ukraine, the working class and proletariat are armed and organized for combat. This organization does not yet have political independence, and so there are still many illusions about the Zelensky government that, despite not having fled the country like the national bourgeoisie, is in fact at the service of the foreign oligarchs and corporations and the imperialist project of transforming the country into a semi-colony, which is what explains the enactment of many anti-working class laws.

The victory in Kherson, which surprised many, shows that the Ukrainian resistance can defeat Putin’s powerful Russian army, but for that it needs the support and solidarity of the world working class. That is why it is necessary to intensify the campaign “Weapons for Ukraine, for the military defeat of Putin.” It must be taken up by the trade unions and other labor organizations and extended to the factories and workplaces. The fighting on the east bank of the Dnieper will also be very difficult and violent, but the resistance has already shown that it can drive out the Russian invader. For this, the independent action of our class is essential.

This was the exemplary action of two international convoys carried out by the International Labour Network of Solidarity and Struggles, in which the CSP-CONLUTAS of Brazil participated: to bring political and material solidarity and to show that the Ukrainian resistance has the support of the workers all over the world.

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