The darkest hour is before the dawn? Assembly’s view on another year of trench warfare in 2024

The following article originally appeared recently on the Libcom site, Assembly, an anarchist group in Ukraine, have asked us to also host it on the ACG website.

This is a shortened version of our Russian-language publications from November and December. You can find there a lot of references, videos, etc.

Welcome to join the fundraising of our team for to work on this international column and offline volunteer activities. A couple of cups of coffee in your country, even before the war, could be equivalent to a day’s earnings of a worker in Ukraine. Many thanks everyone in advance!

Stalemate. This word began to appear in almost every analytical material of the Western press about the Russian-Ukrainian war. Since the retreat of the Russian army from Kherson in November last year, the front line has frozen almost without movement, despite the bloody attempts of each side to achieve a turning point in their favor and gain operational space. After the new Verdun – the winter-spring meat grinder near Bakhmut – came a new battle on Somme for a dozen villages in the steppes of the Azov Coast, which from October smoothly turned into another Verdun/Bakhmut around Avdeevka. If it falls, the same will continue on new frontiers a little further. Meanwhile, the mess of mud and corpses in Krynki, perhaps, is already looking like a new Passendale.

If the current positional balance is not compared to the First World War only by the lazy, its finale is not yet remembered so often. It was disrupted by the workers of the warring countries: “The war did not end in 1918 because of the military defeat of one side or another. The generals would have happily spent a few more years killing millions of people to achieve their goals. It ended because it was against the various armies and populations of Europe took action. Most people know that Russia emerged from the war in 1917 thanks to the Russian Revolution. One of the key factors in the revolution was that the workers and peasants of Russia rebelled against the war and against their own ruling class. What is less known is that that there had been major mutinies in the French army, as well as smaller but equally significant mutinies in the British army, in 1917. The key uprising ended the war was the Kiel mutiny of the German navy in 1918. The High Command, in a desperate attempt to turn the tide of the war, ordered bring the practically intact fleet to sea. However, the naval underground organizations, which included anarchist sailors, were already expecting this. In response, they formed the Soviets and seized their ships, surrounding ports and barracks. This caused a wave of military mutinies and workers’ strikes, forcing the panicked ruling class of not only Germany, but also Europe as a whole to sit down at the negotiating table and work out a peace treaty.” By the time of the probable arrival of Trump or another isolationist candidate for the presidency in the United States, the Russian-Ukrainian war will rage for 3 years already. This is approximately the same amount of time it took for the revolutionary situation to appear then. Neither the barrier detachments, nor the military tribunals, nor the hordes of street screamers for “until the bitter end” helped.

The very threat that those celebrating 2024 in the trenches next New Year will meet on the neutral land, drink 100 grams each and go home with weapons, can become a powerful incentive for the Kremlin and the Ze-Office to begin to negotiate in order to prevent something much more dangerous for both of them option. But even if the scenario of the last century beginning is repeated – instead of, for example, the story of Iran and Iraq, which got stuck in the same massacre for 8 years and then both declared it won, that only strengthened the two regimes – this means that the next year will bring many more rivers of blood. According to BBC News Ukraine, with the new bill on mobilization Ukrainians may be required to appear at the recruitment centers within 48 hours after receiving a summons by email or registered mail. Death postmen will receive more tools to check the military registration documents of citizens on the streets, deliver them to enlistment offices, and put them on the wanted list. For ignoring of summonses, the terms of arrest and fines will be increased, it will be possible to prosecute violators in absentia, and the circle of those entitled to a deferment will be narrowed. It is also proposed military registration for those in prison. Will prisoners want to go to the front, knowing that even law-abiding people, to put it mildly, are not very well trained and equipped – a big question that could threaten prison riots. It will be especially hard for draft evaders who prefer to go to prison rather than fight. When the “Assembly” began to sound the alarm about the fact that Kharkov courts stopped issuing suspended sentences for failure to appear to a unit, many local readers brushed it aside like it is “better to jail than to the grave.” Well, let’s see how soon the first will cease to be an alternative to the second.

There is no public information to what extent the mobilization plan for Kharkov is currently being implemented, but the state authorities spoke it out during the autumn in neighboring cities. In Poltava, implementation is only 13%, in Sumy – 8%. A week ago, the chief of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine Kyrylo Budanov admitted the minimal effectiveness of forcibly mobilized Ukrainians: “Everyone who wanted came in the first 6 months. Who is being drafted now? Unfortunately, there will be no good answer here. If you don’t find motivation for these people, then how many people are forced or in accordance with the law “No matter how hard you drive them, their efficiency will be almost zero. Which, in principle, is what has been happening lately.” A former adviser to the Zelensky’s Office and one of its top propagandists Alexei Arestovich said in the last days of November: “Let me name some numbers: 100 people who left military units without permission per day in Ukraine. 100 people per day, it’s a brigade per month. A brigade escapes from the front per month. 4,5 million draft evaders who don’t want to register for military service. In units there are 30-40, up to 70% refusers. It’s just: “I won’t fight, do with me what you want.” What are the borders of ’91st year?” Knowing his craving for hype on any occasion, the estimates may be exaggerated, but our sources said about numerous refusers in the Armed Forces of Ukraine back during the summer counteroffensive. This is not desertion, so such militaries should be transferred to non-combat units.

Petersburg liberal activist Grigory Sverdlin, founder of the “Go Forest Go” project to help Russians avoid participation in war, shared the following statistics on his Facebook page:

“There are more and more deserters. In October, almost every fifth (!) appeal to Go Forest Go was with a request for help to leave the unit:
April 121/4288 = 2.8%
May 87/997 = 8.7%
June 54/644 = 8.3%
July 115/1142 = 10%
September 185/1614 = 11.4%
October 218/1197 = 18.2%
Approximately 30% of deserters remain in Russia. Because there is nothing to live on abroad, it’s scary to cross the border and not leave the relatives behind. They hide, move, but stay. We also help with this as much as we can.”

As he added to us, in November the figure was 218/1197 – that is, 12% of requests. The increase, in his opinion, is caused by the fatigue of the mobilized, who no longer hope for rotation, and general fatigue from the war. Other journalists were told in this organization that several unrelated deserters told how almost 80% of their squads escaped, and only about 15% of them were caught.

Storming of the Winter Palace in 1917. From the Soviet feature film “Lenin in October”

According to counting by “Mediazona”, released on the anniversary of the start of Russian mobilization, over the year in the Russian Federation there have been almost four times more sentences for unauthorized leaving of a unit and desertion than there were annually in such cases before the war: since July 2023, courts have handed down more than 500 of them every month. 2-3% of the Russian army group in Ukraine looks like a small figure for now, but even this is a percentage of the losses of Soviet troops killed in Afghanistan out of the total number of those who served there, and how many escaped were not caught and are listed as missing – one can only guess. It should also be taken into account that the motivation to desert is reduced by the European borders closed to Russians, the social control system in Russian cities, unprecedented in the history of wars, and the predominantly open terrain of south-eastern Ukraine, where it is difficult to hide from the military police.

The decay of the Russian army is also hindered by Ukrainian propaganda, which portrays as enemies all Russian citizens who are not lacqueying for Ukraine, even if they refuse to fight (they say, these are the same “orcs”, only funky). This is being done for the same reason why in the defense of Ukraine the emphasis is on driving people under pressure instead of developing voluntary initiative: horizontal ties at the grassroots are dangerous for anyone holding power. But this same barrack slavery can contribute to the fraternization of yesterday’s workers in camouflage uniforms, quickly making them understand that forced people have nothing to share, and the enemy is those who drive them to slaughter.

Almost right now, was published a statement of Russian soldiers from the Moscow and Ulyanovsk regions about monetary extortions and beatings from the command. Servicemen of military unit 41680 stated that two weeks after signing the contract, they were sent to an assault on the Avdeevka direction without training or preparation. From their words, most fighters are “beaten and kept in basements” before a mission. Their collegue Artyom Yakupov was diagnosed with a concussion after another beating. In this footage provided by the military, the man can be seen with bruises on his face. Artyom’s girlfriend also confirmed to reporters that he was beaten by his commanders. On October 12 he received a shell shock, and on the 20th he was sent on an assault, after which he did not return. They also claim that monetary “extortions” of up to 50 thousand rubles per month are collected by the sergeant majors of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd companies. The money allegedly goes toward “construction materials, vehicle parts, uniforms, funeral services and psychological aid to the relatives of the dead.” In fact, according to the military, the collected funds are spent on the personal needs of the command. “We repeatedly hear prices to avoid storming. Some pay 100 thousand rubles,” the military said.

A lieutenant colonel from East Siberia mysteriously died near the front line. Sergei Savenok was born in the Donetsk region, studied in Simferopol, since the late 80s he lived in the Irkutsk region and served as a political instructor in a military unit. Then retired in 2009 and last year voluntarily decided to fight. The local opposition media “People of Baikal” quotes on November 13 the words of his wife Yelena: “He went to the special military operation in September last year along with the mobilized. He was 62 years old, he was very worried about the boys, how they would be there. He has been in the service all his life, he has combat experience, and he wanted to teach the boys how to fight. When they told me that he shot himself in Svatovo, I didn’t believe it. This is not that kind of person. I believe that he was killed.” According to her, in May of this year, the officer came on vacation and complained to his wife that it was hard for him at the front and he did not want to return there. In July, she was informed that Sergei had shot himself with an automatic rifle. He was buried in August.

After being notified of the death, Yelena immediately wrote to Putin’s online reception, from where her appeal was forwarded to the Investigative Committee. Lawyer Yakov Iontsev, who is working on the case, believes that Sergei was killed by his colleagues: “The serviceman died under vague circumstances. We believe he was killed by another serviceman, that is, a representative of the authorities. We can easily imagine a violation of the rights of a soldier, less easily even his murder. But it’s hard to imagine that someone shoots a lieutenant colonel, and the investigation pretends that nothing happened.” There is still no response from the investigators.

The New York Times, citing American officials, warned on December 11 that “without changes in strategy, 2024 could be akin to 1916, the deadliest year of World War I, when thousands of young men lost their lives and the battle lines changed very little.” So, the Overton window is opening more and more, and may eventually swing so wide that it breaks off its hinges and blows someone’s head off.

The policy of war to the last Ukrainian/Russian rests to a great extent on patriotic women who are not afraid to go into the trenches themselves and look at it from the tribune like at gladiators (but the Colosseum at least had a paid entrance, whereas in this case, rooting for “our team” is available for free). If they are forced to try to overcome it with their own hands, they will immediately say “let’s come to an agreement”, “I don’t owe this state anything” and “why do I need this Ukraine/Russia at all”. Therefore, both dictatorial regimes will postpone the mobilization of women until the last minute. But a critical mass of those who do not want to defend others’ villas and yachts is gaining step by step even without this…

Stay tuned to the “Assembly” – there’s going to be a lot more interesting and important things in the coming year! Let’s move on!

In addition, you are highly recommended to look at this collection of recent subversive anti-state acts in Russia and Ukraine.

Plus, such an inspiring overview on a new wave of mass social protests across Ukraine throughout the autumn of the outgoing year.