Ukrainian Christmas Meridian: Russia attacks from the front, Zelensky attacks from the rear.

By Oleg VERNIK, president of the «Zahist Pratsi» Independent Union, Ukrainian Socialist League.

Just before the Christmas holidays, the President of Ukraine gave another gift to Ukrainian workers. He signed the Law of November 22, 2023, No. 3494-IX “On Amendment of Certain Legislative Acts of Ukraine Regarding the Optimisation of Labour Relations”, previously voted on by the Verkhovna Rada. The long and extremely cynical name of this law should not mislead about its true intentions. The presidential party “Servant of the People” could not help but continue, in the midst of a difficult war with the Russian aggressor, to attack Ukrainian workers and their unions.

According to this law, Ukrainian trade unions, in fact, lost the right to provide training to their members of union committees. Previously, the legislation gave unions the opportunity to organize union training for members of their elected bodies for up to six days a year, while maintaining salaries at the expense of the employer. Trade unions managed to include this democratic achievement in the Law on Trade Unions of Ukraine in 2009. According to the legislation, trade unions are an equal part of the so-called “social dialogue” regime, where their partners/counterparties within the framework of this “tripartite” are also employers and the State. But Zelensky’s neoliberal regime (“the State”) has been methodically destroying unions and their rights for several years, in favor of the interests of employers.

The “social dialogue” that European Union officials rant about has been completely buried in Ukraine. The bourgeois power of Zelensky and his Servant of the People party, relying on the oligarchic business sector, has once again dealt a severe blow to the labor and union movement. Now, if a union wants to organize union training for its key activists in the company, then it will have to pay those days to the workers itself, that is, the activists’ salaries will no longer be paid by the company. Of course, no union in Ukraine, not even the most “yellow” one, will be able to compensate workers for the lack of wages during union formation.

It should be noted here that virtually all unions suffered membership losses at the front. In March 2022, in our independent union “Zahist” our comrade and activist of the mining labor movement Alexander Agafonov died. The current attack by the bourgeois authorities on the unions seems completely immoral and disorients the labor movement in its fight against Russian imperialist aggression. More and more often, among the working masses, we hear the idea that we must categorically distinguish in our minds the category of “the country of Ukraine“, which we love and protect from the Russian aggressor, and the “State of Ukraine“, which is hostile to the workers and does everything possible to weaken their resistance.

Government chaos

This neoliberal madness of the Zelensky team in matters of social policy at the most difficult moment for the country and the people to repel Russian military aggression, of course, is associated with the complete imbalance of public administration that has been developed at the end of 2023. Sociologists note that in a situation of protracted war, the mass public opinion of Ukrainians is subject to periodic fluctuations, the dynamics of which resemble a kind of mathematical sine wave: from unbridled optimism and faith in early victory (“peremoga“) to states of panic and capitulation (“zrada“). In the Christmas holidays of 2023, the mass sentiment of Ukrainians, unfortunately, was at the lowest point of the recession phase.

This is due to a complex of interrelated factors. The failure of the counteroffensive in the summer-autumn of 2023 caused Russia to switch to an offensive along almost the entire front. The end of December was marked by the loss of the city of Márinka, well fortified since 2014, and by the serious threat of loss of Avdiivka. These two cities were considered key Ukrainian outposts in the Donbass. The army simply fights heroically against the numerically superior Russian aggressor, and in a situation of relative equality of forces in artillery, manages to stop the attacks of Russian troops along almost the entire Russian-Ukrainian border on a front of 1,000 kilometers.

However, the “shell famine” problem, which the Russian army previously faced in early 2023, has now directly affected the Ukrainian army. The European Union, which had previously officially promised to supply 1 million shells, has now publicly admitted that its economy is unable to fulfill this promise. Now we are not even talking about half of the promised figure.

The blocking of financial assistance to Ukraine by the US Congress also clearly indicated the serious foreign policy failure of the Zelensky government. Zelensky’s traditional reliance on a “special relationship” with Joe Biden and the US Democratic Party has proven extremely vulnerable. Biden initially allocated weapons and funding to Ukraine so that it could deter Russian aggression, but not defeat the aggressor. In the summer of 2023, Biden abandoned the use of the “lend-lease” regime and put the Ukrainian military in a rather difficult situation. Attacking fairly well-fortified Russian positions in the summer of 2023 as part of a counteroffensive, without superiority in personnel and equipment and without any type of aviation, would be a suicidal act for the Ukrainian army. Army commander General Zaluzhny was forced to abandon the counteroffensive plan agreed upon with the US and largely held back the army.

President Zelensky, realizing that Joe Biden’s victory in the future US presidential elections is in doubt, is chaotically trying to establish relations with representatives of the Republican Party, but has not yet achieved significant success in this direction. Within the framework of these attempts, Zelensky’s visit to Argentina for the inauguration of Javier Milei, ideologically close to Trump, should also be considered. Let me remind you that former US President Donald Trump congratulated Milei on his victory in the presidential election. He wrote about it on social media Truth Social, using the phrase that became the symbol of his electoral campaign in 2016: “I am very proud of you. You will turn your country around and truly make Argentina great again!” It is obvious that with his visit, Zelensky tried to send Trump a signal of his willingness to interact on the terms of the conservative US Republican Party.

By mid-December 2023, the conflict between the political leadership of Ukraine (Zelensky, “president’s office”) and the military leadership (Zaluzhny) had reached its climax. On December 17, the public was informed that listening devices had been found in several offices of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, General Valery Zaluzhny, and some of his employees.

According to a series of sociological opinion measurements, for the first time, Zaluzhny’s political rating began to surpass Zelensky’s. Both leaders engaged in a very strange and conflicting communication through materials and interviews in various Western publications. Zelensky has significantly reduced General Zaluzhny’s capabilities in the military sphere. A significant part of the Ukrainian army is controlled by Zelensky’s creature: the commander of the ground forces, General Syrsky. The press is actively discussing the possibility of replacing General Zaluzhny with Syrsky. However, Zelensky has not yet decided to take this unpopular step, as Zaluzhny is very popular in the military and is supported by Western partners.

General mobilization factor: increased panic and public discontent

In mid-December, it was officially announced that the General Staff needed the mobilization of another 500,000 people in the army to continue military operations. Zelensky responded that this question “requires additional study,” but made it clear that he was prepared for it. Parliamentarians close to him from the Servant of the People party also expressed the need for a general military mobilization of women. However, this issue turned out to be just a trick of the presidential team. Later, Zelensky announced his refusal to mobilize women for war, but he did so only to slightly overshadow his agreement to mobilize 500,000 men.

It should be noted that the mobilization in Ukraine acquired a clearly social and class character. Representatives of the property-owning classes and the state bureaucracy left the country en masse and took their children with them, saving them from mobilization in the army. Those who remained in the country, taking advantage of the corrupt nature of the Ukrainian authorities, by hook or by crook, were able to avoid mobilization. The army, in its social and class composition, is now exclusively worker-peasant. The poor sectors of society do not have the opportunity to evade the mobilization, unlike the representatives of the bourgeois class and the state bureaucracy.

Analysts point out that the army is now very old. The average age of soldiers is 43 years. Parliament is trying to rejuvenate the army by reducing the age of mobilization from 27 to 25 years. However, it is unlikely that this can significantly change the situation. Most of the active and patriotic young people joined the army as volunteers in early 2022. A significant part of them were trained in the European Union immediately before the summer 2023 counteroffensive.

Clearly, the mobilization reserve now remaining in Ukraine no longer has the same level of motivation and dedication. It is not prepared for military action, and it will be very problematic not only to gather 500,000 people, but also to arm and train them sufficiently. Russian missiles have already landed on military bases in Ukraine several times during the war, inflicting major defeats on manpower in places where military camps for training soldiers are located.

The government also hopes to mobilize tens of thousands of men who left Ukraine at the start of the war and ended up in Eastern and Western Europe. How it will do this technically remains very unclear, but it is obvious that this potential is more mythical than real. In many European countries, Ukrainian workers are already successfully filling important job gaps in the economy for significantly lower wages than residents of those countries, and there is hardly any real danger of their mass deportation to the front.

Currently, there are many more questions than answers about the new wave of mobilization. However, more and more videos appear on social networks about how representatives of military registration and enlistment offices catch men on the streets of Ukrainian cities and towns, forcibly load them into cars and send them to the front.

How will the war end? Various scenarios, wishes and current reality

It should be noted that, despite the aforementioned “sine wave” in mass sentiment, the desire to fight the Russian aggressor to the end, until the complete liberation of all occupied lands, as before, dominates Ukrainian sentiments. This is certainly an encouraging factor. Following such massive patriotism, Zelensky even banned by his Decree any talk of negotiations with Russia.

However, information about various secret negotiations and consultations between people close to Zelensky and Russia representatives is increasingly leaked to the media. Precisely, the other day another information bomb exploded related to secret negotiations between the leader of the Servants of the People faction, Arakhamia, and “Putin’s wallet”, the billionaire businessman Abramovich.

Most analysts at this time believe that the possibility of a complete liberation of the occupied Ukrainian lands and the departure of the Ukrainian army to the sovereign borders of 1991 is unlikely. Ukraine’s Western “partners” have also recently avoided mentioning this possibility. Most agree that the preservation of a Ukrainian state independent of Russia is in itself a victory over the Russian aggressor and its ambitious February 2022 plans. In such a paradigm, it is obvious that negotiations are possible and such secret negotiations are probably already underway.

At the same time, the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians are not ready to accept this option, when the negotiation process could end with Russia’s recognition of the occupied lands. And Putin now appears unwilling to consider other options.

A preliminary agreement on another possible format for the peace plan was reached in Istanbul on March 29, 2022, according to which the Russian army withdraws to the borders on February 24, 2022, and Ukraine officially refuses to join NATO. The issue of Donbass and Crimea is postponed indefinitely. Since NATO decisively and unequivocally denied Ukraine its real opportunity to join the Alliance, this option, it seems, could be quite acceptable for Ukraine in the current situation. But, as noted above, Russia is no longer ready for this, especially after it formally accepted the occupied Ukrainian regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia into the Russian Federation.

I already wrote earlier that this winter of 2023-2024 will be decisive in the history of the independent Ukrainian state. The people will have to go through unimaginable tests, they will have to survive under rocket attacks on urban infrastructure and power plants, and the Ukrainian army will have to hold its ground against the superior forces of the Russian imperialist aggressor.

The working class of Ukraine and its militant independent unions are entering the new year 2024 in an extremely difficult situation. In 2023, the bourgeois government dealt us very tangible and painful blows. However, we are not broken and we will continue our fight.

Red New Year, comrades!