View from Washington: Regime change is coming... to Kyiv

11:54 21.02.2024 •

The Russian flag has been raised in several parts of the Avdeevka in Donetsk region, hours after Ukrainian forces beat a hasty retreat.

The catalyst for regime change in Kyiv is the bloody and now ended battle over Avdeevka, writes Stephen Bryen, a former US deputy under Secretary of Defense.

Avdeevka is very close to Donetsk city, the capital area of the Donbas region. Donetsk is about halfway between Mariupol on the Sea of Azov and Luhansk in the north. Both Donetsk and Luhansk are regions (oblasts) in eastern Ukraine with mostly Russian-speaking populations.

Avdeevka was highly fortified and a difficult target for the Russian army. The Russians focused on flank attacks that eventually squeezed off resupply of weapons and food and made rotation of forces difficult. By the last week of the battle the roads in and out of the city were under Russian fire control.

Zelensky staked his reputation on Avdeevka and wanted it held at all costs. He fired his overall commander Valerii Zaluzhny, who saw Avdeevka as a lost cause. Zaluzhny wanted to pull Ukrainian forces back from the existing line of contact and move them into defensible fortifications that could protect Kyiv and other important cities.

But the reality was that Ukraine lost around 1,000 to 1,500 soldiers.

Syrsky committed the 3rd Brigade to the fight for the city. The 3rd Separate Assault Brigade which, in reality is the reformed Azov Brigade (banned in Russia). The Azov brigade is the backbone of Zelensky's ultra nationalist support in Ukraine. If any organization in Ukraine fits Putin's description of Ukrainian Nazis, the 3rd Brigade is the premier example. Zelensky's political power depends on the Ukrainian military, and in particular the ultra-nationalists.

The 3rd Brigade did not perform as advertised. When its units got into Avdeevka, coming in from the north, they found the situation dire. By that time there were around 4,500 Ukrainian soldiers in the northern parts of the city, mostly holed up in the Coke Plant. Another 3,500 were in the center of the city verging on the southern town’s districts and an old abandoned airfield.

The 3rd Brigade disobeyed orders and ran out of the town, countermanding Syrsky and Zelensky's explicit orders. Above all, Zelensky did not want to get embarrassed while he was at the Munich conference exactly while he was running around trying to get more ammunition for "the cause." Some from the 3rd Brigade surrendered to the Russians.

This is what triggered Syrsky to signal a retreat and abandon Avdeevka. That retreat was a significant blow to Zelensky's prestige and, apparently, there were angry phone calls from Munich to Syrsky. But Syrsky had little choice, other than to openly surrender.

The loss of Avdeevka leaves Zelensky in a bad situation. He has all but lost his most ardent supporters in the Army, has humiliated his former commander Zaluzhny and replaced him with Syrsky who has a reputation as a loser. He has lost face with the Europeans, and probably with the United States, although it is hard to tell for sure.

Washington does not want a deal with the Russians. All its focus has been on handing Russia multiple defeats, squeezing the Russians dry, and replacing its leader, Putin. Biden's "team" also can't stomach the idea that the Ukrainians might make a deal with Russia and undermine "the policy."

Most of the central elements of Washington's policy have failed. Excessive sanctions did not break the Russian economy but succeeded in driving the Russians in a wholly new direction, embracing China and India and BRICS. US technology did not turn the tide of war in Ukraine’s favor.

Not talking to the Russians helped solidify the Russian view that Washington and NATO were the enemy, intensifying their already stressed view that they had been lied to over the years about NATO expansion.

While the US and Europe either could not, or would not, revitalize their defense industrial base, the Russians did so, with a vengeance. Meanwhile the US and Europe are standing by for the war to end and hundreds of billions are sunk into rebuilding Ukraine, which is less and less likely to happen under US and European auspices.

The bottom line is Zelensky's regime is tottering. Because of Zelensky's martial law based regime, there will be no elections and no open political process. But anger in the army is growing, and sooner or later they will choose a leader, most likely Zaluzhny. 

There will be regime change in Kyiv, coming soon, Stephen Bryen predicts.


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