Zelensky government in turmoil amidst reports of impending Russian offensive
Clara Weiss, WSWS, Feb 6 2023

The Zelensky government is in turmoil amid indications that Russia is preparing a new offensive with the hundreds of thousands of recruits who were drafted in the partial mobilization drive since Sep 2022. On Sunday, the head of the parliamentary faction of the ruling Servant of the People Party, Davyd Arakhamia, announced that Alexander Reznikov, Ukraine’s defense minister, would step down and be replaced by Maj-Gen Kyrylo Budanov, currently the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence. Writing on Telegram, Arakhamia stated “war dictates changes in personnel policy” and announced that Reznikov would be transferred to head the Ministry of Strategic Industries, whose head Pavlo Riabikin would in turn also be dismissed. Reznikov has been implicated in a major corruption scandal in which high-ranking officials were reported to have gone on vacation, accepted massive bribes or made use of vehicles that were sent to Ukraine by NATO to help evacuate refugees from the war. Defense Ministry officials have been accused of procuring food for the military at massively inflated prices. Reznikov’s deputy, Viacheslav Shapovalov, was already forced to resign. Reznikov has been a central figure in negotiating the tens of billions of dollars in weapons that are being funneled by NATO into Ukraine. A few weeks ago, he bluntly declared:

Ukraine is a member of NATO de facto.

As of this writing, the official removal of Reznikov has not occurred, with some outlets reporting that the Ukrainian parliament will be voting on it. Reznikov has publicly denied Arakhamia’s announcement that he would be transferred to head the Ministry of Strategic Industries, declaring that he would not take the position even if it was offered to him. Ukrainian media have reported that, as a military general, Budanov is legally not allowed to assume the position of the head of the defense ministry, which is reserved to civilian leaders. However, in a meeting on Monday by Zelensky with the military high command, which included the chief of the Ukrainian army, Valery Zaluzhny, the head of the National Security Council, Alexei Danilov, and military commanders, Budanov was reported as a participant, whereas Reznikov was not. According to the Ukrainian press, the meeting focused on preparing for a potential Russian offensive in the very near future. Following the meeting, Zelensky announced that he would replace a series of regional officials with figures who have a military background.

As part of the corruption scandal, there have also been raids by the Ukrainian Secret Service (SBU) on the homes of the oligarch Igor ‘Benny’ Kolomoisky and the former Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, who is notorious for his ties to the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion. The corruption scandal involving some of the country’s best known politicians and oligarchs has no doubt highlighted the callous criminality of Ukraine’s oligarchy, which has shamelessly used the war as yet another opportunity to engage in plunder, while the population is suffering extraordinary deprivation and mass death. However, the claim that what is involved in the shake-up of the Ukrainian state and ruling class is a fight against “corruption” cannot be taken at face value. Within the Ukrainian state apparatus and oligarchy that have emerged out of the restoration of capitalism by the Soviet bureaucracy, itself one of the largest orgies of organized plunder in history, the alleged fight against “corruption” has long been a preferred method of settling political scores and conflicts within the ruling class and cover up the intervention of the imperialist powers in these conflicts.

The purge of the state apparatus now unfolding is the largest since the beginning of the war, surpassing that of last summer when the head of Ukraine’s Secret Service and long-time ally of Zelensky was dismissed and 651 state employees were investigated for treason. As the WSWS noted at the time, there were clear indications of a direct intervention by Washington in this purge. This time too, the Western press has openly welcomed Zelensky’s crackdown on high-ranking officials as an effort to prove to NATO that Ukraine would not tolerate the misuse of the tens of billions of dollars in military aid that have been flooding the country. There are also reports of significant tensions within the Zelensky administration and the ruling Servant of the People Party as well as between Zelensky and the army’s Chief of Staff Valery Zaluzhny, who is being touted as a potential rival to Zelensky in the 2024 presidential election. Zaluzhny is an open admirer of the Ukrainian Nazi collaborator and fascist mass murderer Stepan Bandera and has been repeatedly photographed with far-right paraphernalia. Shortly after celebrating Bandera’s 104th birthday on Jan 2, Zaluzhny had his first in-person meeting with US Joint Chief Mark Milley earlier this year. Now, he is engaged in a public conflict with Zelensky, as Zaluzhny has angrily opposed what amounts to a significant cut in pay for military employees and employees of the interior ministry that took effect with new salary regulations set by the government on Feb 1.

The current purge of the Ukrainian state was preceded by the high-profile resignation of one of Zelensky’s top advisors, Alexei Arestovich, in mid-January, who was attacked by the military and the far right after he had publicly suggested that Ukrainian air defense was responsible for a missile that hit a residential building and killed dozens of people. Since his resignation, Arestovych has repeatedly gone public with warnings that Ukraine could lose the war and cease to exist as a state. Days after Arestovych’s resignation, a helicopter carrying the entire leadership of the Ukrainian interior ministry crashed, leaving five of its officials dead, including the Interior Minister Denis Monastyrsky, a close ally of Zelensky and central figure in the wartime leadership. No successors for their positions have been named in the two weeks since.

The crisis of the Zelensky government is unfolding as NATO is dramatically escalating the war against Russia. The US and Germany have promised Kiev the delivery of hundreds of Leopard 2 and Abrams tanks, and several NATO members are now openly discussing the deployment of F-16 fighter jets. The escalation has been accompanied by a flurry of meetings by high-ranking officials of the Biden Administration and the Pentagon in Kiev since mid-January. It was later also reported that the director of the CIA, William Burns, also traveled to Kiev to meet with Zelensky. Also in January, the US Joint Chief Milley has toured Europe to prepare troops, in his words, “to go on the offensive to liberate Russian-occupied Ukraine.” Amidst this escalation by NATO and reports of a planned offensive by Russia, the Zelensky government has begun to publicly acknowledge that it finds itself in a highly precarious military situation. Russian forces are making advances in the fight over Bakhmut, the focus of the fighting in East Ukraine over the past months.

This weekend, Zelensky publicly complained that the “fighting spirit” in the population had markedly declined. He later acknowledged that the fighting near Bakhmut is “getting tougher.” His government has stepped up efforts to crack down on “deserters” and the WSWS has received reports that men across the country are now being forcibly drafted into the military off the streets. Three months ago, in November, Joint Chief Milley declared that both Ukraine and Russia had each suffered about 100k casualties in the war so far. This figure has no doubt increased dramatically since. While catastrophic for both sides, proportionally these figures mean far higher losses for Ukraine, which had a prewar population of 40 million as opposed to Russia’s 140 million. Over 8 million people have fled the country since the beginning of the war and several million of those remaining are living in territories controlled by Russia. The vast majority of the working population, already the poorest in Europe before the war, is now completely impoverished. According to the latest figures of the World Food Program, almost one in four children (22.4%) are suffering from chronic malnourishment and 12.8 million Ukrainians who still live in the country have only “insufficient food consumption.”

Australian government, media join hysteria over Chinese balloon
Oscar Grenfell, WSWS, Feb 6 2023

Penny Wong with Ben Wallace in Portsmouth, Feb 2 2023.

Even after it was shot down by the USAF on Saturday, the corporate media in America and around the world continues to churn out hysterical commentary on the purported Chinese “spy balloon.” The slow flight of the object across parts of the US prior to Saturday is still being presented as a major attack on US sovereignty, with sinister motivations. There is no attempt to substantiate what is an utterly implausible official narrative. According to the story, the Chinese government decided to secretly spy on US military facilities, including nuclear sites, with a slow-moving research balloon that was without an engine and easily visible to the naked eye. A Chinese defense ministry statement on Sunday declared:

The US used force to attack our civilian unmanned airship, which is an obvious overreaction. We express solemn protest against this move by the US side.

China’s foreign ministry, which has lodged an official protest with the US, stated:

The Chinese side has repeatedly informed the US side after verification that the airship is for civilian use and entered the US due to force majeure. It was completely an accident.

The force majeure in this instance was a strong wind. The foreign ministry noted that senior US military officials had publicly admitted their assessment that the balloon did not pose any threat to the US before it was shot down. Despite all this, the campaign persists. The right-wing commentary has turned its attention to a similar balloon flying over Latin America, which Beijing has acknowledged is also Chinese.

The confected hysteria has been aimed at fostering a pro-war atmosphere, to legitimise the escalating US-led war drive against China, which is viewed as the principal threat to American imperialist hegemony. This has been evident, not only in the US, but among its closest allies such as Australia. They have also used the balloon incident to again highlight their full alignment with the Biden administration and its provocations against China. At a press conference yesterday, the Australian Labor government’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong branded the balloon’s flight as a “violation of international law” and an infringement of “US sovereignty.” The comments were as ludicrous as those emanating from Washington. Exactly twenty years after the US and its allies touted lies about “weapons of mass destruction” to justify the illegal invasion of Iraq, a war which claimed up to a million lives, they would have the public believe that international law is breached by a weather balloon.

As the WSWS has noted, such research balloons are used by a host of countries, including the US. The American government, moreover, does not limit its violations of sovereign airspace to harmless meteorological balloons. For the past decade, it has conducted intensive drone warfare, routinely violating the sovereignty of countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen and killing thousands of civilians in the process. In reference to the shooting down of the Chinese balloon, Wong praised the US response and presented it as restrained, saying:

We appreciate the measured way in which the US ensured that this was brought down safely and over its territorial waters.

In reality, the US inflamed the situation as much as it possibly could. What might have been a minor curiosity, a research balloon blown off course and meandering around, was elevated to the level of a national security crisis. The destruction of the balloon, moreover, praised by Wong, could well be construed as an act of aggression. There is no question that if the shoe was on the other foot, and China had shot down an American research craft, that is how it would have been presented. Having thus explicitly endorsed a major escalation of hostilities, Wong then issued a few weasel words about continued “engagement” and the danger of “competition” becoming conflict. None of the journalists present bothered to draw attention to this glaring contradiction, or the absurd nature of the claims about the Chinese balloon. Their publications have been every bit as gung-ho as the Labor government. The Murdoch-owned Australian led the charge, publishing an editorial depicting the balloon as a demonstration that war between the US and China may already be underway. The editorial promoted comments by Douglas Wise, a former deputy director of the US DIA). He had told the Australian that “the crisis over the balloon showed China already saw itself as being ‘at war’ with Australia and the US, even if we did not.” Citing Wise, the Australian opined:

A former intelligence official’s warning that Australia and the US are being targeted in “the largest intelligence operation in the history of the human race” underlines the importance of Sunday’s shooting down by an American warplane of a Chinese surveillance balloon.

Elevating the incident to China’s “balloon operation,” Wise warned of its purported “brazenness.” Wise worked not only at the DIA, but also the CIA, the intelligence agency renowned for assassinations, coup plotting and other nefarious actions. All of this paled in comparison to the balloon, which demonstrated that the Chinese “don’t have accountability and don’t operate under the rule of law or a moral frame of reference.” Wise acknowledged the supposed sky balloon would be easily “found out,” and was of little “intel value” thus contradicting the entire US narrative, only to conclude that China was being especially “provocative.” Even more inflammatory, Wise declared without a shred of evidence that the balloon could have been testing “a potential weapons delivery or advanced sensor system.” The tone of the coverage in every other official Australian publication was the same. While they are thrown into a state of apoplexy over a research balloon, the media reported matter-of-factly and without a hint of concern Australia’s rapid acquisition of actual offensive weaponry. Alongside its hysterical coverage of the balloon yesterday, the Australian reported:

One of Australia’s most potent fighter jets, the EA-18G Growler, will become even more capable with the commencement of a $2b program to upgrade the electronic attack aircraft and hone the skills of its pilots. In the first phase of the ­’Advanced Growler’ program, Defence has signed a $277m contract with Australian-owned CEA Technologies to provide advanced radar capabilities at the nation’s electronic warfare training ranges. Subsequent contracts will deliver the next-generation Jammer weapon system, sensor upgrades, and new longer-range missiles to destroy enemy radar systems.

Meanwhile, Wong has recently returned from talks in Britain alongside Labor’s Defence Minister Richard Marles. The discussion centred on Australia’s acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines, which are among the most lethal assets for modern naval warfare. Marles then went on to Washington, for further talks on the Australian military build-up. Under AUKUS, the militarist pact with Britain and the US, the country is also set to acquire hypersonic missiles, along with a range of other missile systems, and will host an ever-expanding array of American military infrastructure including its most advanced fighter jets. This militarisation is the physical and logistical preparation for an aggressive war with China. The confected hysteria over the balloon is part of the ideological preparation, aimed at fostering a pro-war climate.

The Turkey-Syria earthquake catastrophe: An indictment of capitalism
Ulaş Ateşçi, WSWS, Feb 6 2023

Emergency teams in the rubble of a destroyed building in Gaziantep, Feb 6 2023.

Yesterday, two powerful earthquakes shattered the Turkish-Syrian border region. A 7.7 magnitude quake centered in the southern Turkish city of Kahramanmaraş in the early morning was followed by a massive aftershock, of magnitudes 7.6 in the afternoon. The quakes, felt as far away as Lebanon and Cyprus, have left thousands dead and tens of thousands desperately awaiting rescue, buried under the rubble. In Turkey, the quakes destroyed at least 6,200 buildings, killed 2,921 people and injured 16k in 10 cities, where over 15m people live. Hospitals, roads and airports all have been destroyed or damaged, and damage to electricity transformers and natural gas lines is leading to widespread power and gas outages. In Syria, devastated by the NATO alliance’s 12-year war for regime change, the confirmed death toll has already exceeded 1,300. The ongoing war is preventing rescue teams from reaching many areas. Parts of northwest Syria are under the control of the Turkish army and its Islamist proxies, while northeastern Syria is under the control of US forces and their Kurdish nationalist allies. Tragically, with many people still trapped under collapsed buildings in both Turkey and Syria, the death toll is set to rise substantially. Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to spend the night in freezing temperatures or in buildings damaged by the earthquake. The World Health Organization has warned that the death toll may rise eight-fold, to nearly 30k.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government has declared seven days of national mourning, but people across the earthquake zone are largely being left to cope on their own. With only 9,000 Turkish rescue workers mobilized, no official teams have yet arrived in many places. Miners from various provinces are volunteering to go to the region to join search-and-rescue efforts. While the Turkish government boasts of producing killer drones and long-range missiles capable of hitting Athens, people trying to rescue their friends and loved ones from under the rubble are being to left to work with picks and shovels. The callous reaction of the financial oligarchy to the disaster was summarized by the Istanbul stock exchange: After the earthquake, shares of cement companies soared.

The massive death toll from these earthquakes is an entirely preventable and widely foreseen tragedy. It is in reality not a natural disaster but a social crime for which the capitalist system bears responsibility. Yesterday’s earthquakes occurred in the world’s second-most seismic region, the so-called “Alpide Belt.” Located on major fault lines, it has a long record of earthquake disasters. The 1999 Marmara earthquake in Turkey killed nearly 18k people and injured tens of thousands more, according to official statistics. Scientists have increasingly warned that yesterday’s disaster was imminent and implored public authorities to strengthen buildings, warning that failing to do so would come at a horrific cost in lives. After the Elazığ earthquake in Jan 2020 in Turkey, Hüseyin Alan, the chairman of the Chamber of Geology Engineers, stated that besides İstanbul, 18 city centers, including Kahramanmaraş and Hatay, which suffered major damage from yesterday’s quake, are on “active faults with high potential to produce earthquakes.” In a major earthquake, buildings there would be “destroyed,” he stated.

Prof Dr Naci Görür, one of Turkey’s most respected geologists and advocates of building earthquake-resistant cities, has long pointed to the comparison between Japan and Turkey. He wrote that only four people died from earthquake damage from the 7.4-magnitude quake in Fukushima in 2022, while nearly 20k people died in the 1999 Marmara earthquake of the same magnitude. This underscores that virtually all the deaths in yesterday’s quake in Kahramanmaraş could have been avoided. Görür has been drawing attention to the danger of major earthquakes in this region for years. In a TV program last night after the earthquake, Görür said his team had prepared a project to prevent these losses, but that the authorities had ignored it. Görür once again warned of a major Istanbul earthquake. A magnitude-7 quake is expected in this mega-city of at least 16 million. While Istanbul city hall, controlled by the bourgeois opposition Republican People’s Party, claims it would cause “only” 14k deaths, Görür predicts that the actual death toll could exceed 400k.

Building earthquake-resistant housing is a critical global problem that capitalism has proved incapable of solving. A 2021 article in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Science by Chinese, Australian, US, Canadian and German scientists found that in 2015, a staggering 1.5b people lived in earthquake-prone areas. This number is rising rapidly, mainly in vulnerable countries of the Middle East and Central and South Asia such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. Today, the level of development of science and industry is such that earthquake-resistant cities could be built worldwide. Why has social infrastructure gone constantly neglected, the call to redesign cities and renovate buildings to make them earthquake-resistant gone ignored, as were appeals to prepare for post-earthquake rescue and treatment?

Yesterday’s earthquakes occurred at the epicenter of the US-led NATO powers’ three-decades long campaign of imperialist wars in the Middle East following the Stalinist dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria have cost trillions of dollars and millions of lives. Syria has been devastated by a 12-year NATO proxy war that has cost over 500k lives and displaced over 10m people. Many Syrian refugees who fled Syria to save their lives and live in poverty in southern Turkey have been abandoned to their fate after the earthquake. Dozens of NATO states have made token statements about sending aid to their NATO ally Turkey, while largely ignoring the victims of the same disaster in Syria, which remains under a crippling US sanctions regime that denies its population access to medical and other resources desperately needed not only to confront the current catastrophe but to sustain daily life. In reality, the leaders of the imperialist governments, who hypocritically offer condolences to earthquake victims, are primarily responsible for the war in Syria and the catastrophic squandering of social wealth on war, rather than on public health and safety.

All major social issues today, including averting natural disasters, are by nature global problems requiring a socially-coordinated solution. Yet the private profit interests of the bourgeoisie and the division of the world into rival nation-states stand in the way of any progressive response. This is why there has been no worldwide scientific response to the COVID-19 pandemic or to global climate change. Instead, the imperialist powers, whose criminal “let it rip” policies on the COVID-19 pandemic have led to the deaths of over 21 million people globally, now threaten all humanity with WW3 by escalating their war on Russia in Ukraine. The obstacle to a planned, rational response to urgent social problems can only be removed by a frontal attack by the international working class on the power and wealth of the ruling class, thereby subordinating private profit to social need. The preventable devastation of yesterday’s earthquakes has demonstrated once again the urgent necessity of replacing capitalism with global socialism.

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