With global media attention focussed away from the war in Ukraine, several key events happened that the world didn’t enough notice. One continues to shape the state of global relations, one continues to shape the state of diplomacy toward ending the war, and one continues to shape the state of the battlefield.
The State of International Relations
The wider context of the war in Ukraine is the struggle on the global stage between US led unipolarity and the multipolarity preferred by Russia, China and the global south, or what Russia calls “the global majority.”
Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov spoke to his audience at the High-Level International Conference Eurasian Security of the “stage of truly landmark tectonic change” that the international community has entered. Putin has used the same phrase. What the world is witnessing, Lavrov said, is “the rise of a new and fairer multipolar world order.” This rise, this tectonic change, has “met with tenacious resistance from the Western minority,” Lavrov said. “The United States and its satellites are not trying to hide their motives – they are determined to maintain their dominance and monopolise the entitlement to make globally significant decisions.”
But, despite that resistance, the rebalancing of the international order was recently on display at the fifteenth annual BRICS summit in South Africa where a multitude of countries lined up at the door to enter the multipolar organization, and six countries – Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates – did.
It was also recently on display in Beijing where Russia and China, leading advocates of the multipolar world, continued to build their “comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership” that is “superior to political and military alliances of the Cold War era” and has “no limit.”
On display for the world, Chinese President Xi Jinping made his entrance into the Great Hall with Putin, sanctioned and convicted at the International Criminal Court, at his side. Xi said that “political mutual trust” between China and Russia “is steadily deepening.” Both praised the end of hegemony and the rise of “a fairer multipolar world” in their speeches. Putin pledged to “work with China to intensify . . . cooperation within multilateral mechanisms such as BRICS . . . and promote the establishment of a more fair and reasonable global governance system;” Xi highlighted that the recent BRICS expansion demonstrates “the confidence of developing countries in promoting world multipolarity.”
Though the Belt and Road International Cooperation Summit Forum held in Beijing on October 17 attracted little media attention, it showed, once again, both the strengthening Russia-China relationship and the rise of the multipolar world.
The State of Diplomacy in Ending the War in Ukraine
While the US and its partners in the political West continue to place the blame for the absence of negotiations aimed at ending the war in Ukraine on Russia, insisting that Moscow is not serious about negotiating, the evidence continues to mount that it is the West, led by the US and the UK, that are roadblocking diplomacy.
Witnesses, including former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet, Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Erdogan party leader Numan Kurtulmus and reports in the Ukrainian media about the activities of Boris Johnson, have all entered their testimony into the public record of the US and UK “blocking” negotiations and putting an end to the tentative settlement to the war that had been initialled by both Moscow and Kiev.
In an October 20 interview, former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who, at the request of Ukraine, played a central role in the Istanbul talks, added his testimony that, in the end, “the Ukrainians did not agree to peace because they were not allowed to. They first had to ask the Americans about everything they discussed.”
The world did not take note of Schröder’s revelation or of its significance: that Ukraine and Russia agreed to peace and the US said no. Nor did the world take note that Russia did. In his speech to High-Level International Conference Eurasian Security, Lavrov made clear that Moscow had noted the significance of Schröder’s statement.
Lavrov said that Russia’s “readiness to negotiate [was] demonstrated as early as March and April 2022” in the very early days of the war. He confirmed that those talks in Istanbul “led to an agreement of principles between Moscow and Kiev negotiators.” He then confirmed that “The Anglo-Saxons simply banned them” because “they seemed insufficient for the United States and London.” But then Lavrov said, “This is well known. It is written about by all those who were involved in this event: the former Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany Gerhard Schröder.”
Schröder’s statement, that there could be peace in Ukraine had the US not said no, attracted little media attention. But it was noted in Moscow.
The State of the Battlefield
Ukraine’s counteroffensive has failed. Little land has been won at the enormous cost of life and limb. But the significance of the failure is not just the disappointment of Ukraine’s goals. It is the setup for the reverse. Russia’s decimation of Ukraine’s soldiers and weapons has created the vulnerability and opportunity for a Russian counteroffensive.
That opportunity now seems to be taking place on several fronts. No longer concentrating on imposing heavy losses of life and weaponry from a defensive position, Russia is slowly advancing on several fronts and in several locations. Most importantly around the town of Avdiivka, three miles north of Donetsk City.
Ukraine has been holding on to Avdiivka since 2014. It has become one of the most heavily fortified towns in Ukraine. In recent weeks, Russia has launched a massive assault on the fortified city. Ukraine has reportedly reluctantly acknowledged that Russia has now captured important strategic positions, including, especially, an elevated piece of land called the Slag Heap and a railway line. The Slag Heap is critical because its elevated position gives Russia artillery control over the area, including over Ukraine’s main supply root.
The battle is pivotal for two reasons. The first is that if Russia captures Avdiivka, a huge thirty mile line of the front could collapse – the entire Donbass front would “shatter like glass” as some analysts have put it–allowing Russian forces to advance further into Donetsk furthering Russia’s goal of securing all of the annexed region.
The second reason is that, as in Bakhmut, Zelensky seems to be fully committing the Ukrainian armed forces to holding Avdiivka. That is leading to enormous losses. But, in the face of the massive Russian assault from the air and from several fronts surrounding the town, it is also necessitating redeploying troops from the southern front to Avdiivka, weakening Ukraine’s counteroffensive.
The battle is not over. And Western accounts are painting a quite different picture with only hints of the alternative. However, there are reliable analyses and reports that the fall of Avdiivka may be imminent. On October 25, Oleksii Arestovych, former advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that “there is a high probability we will lose Avdiivka.” He also confirmed that “troops from the southern front have been transferred to Avdiivka. This means goodbye to the southern offensive.”
The battle of Avdiivka is crucial, not only because both sides seem to have fully committed to it the way they did to Bakhmut, but because a loss there would be Ukraine’s third major loss in a row: the loss of Bakhmut, the failure of the counteroffensive and the loss of Avdiivka.
The battle for Avdiivka has drawn little attention, but it may shape up to be one of the decisive battles of the war.
Though the world has paid little attention to any of these three events, they all may prove crucial in their own way. The Russian and Chinese performances at the recent Belt and Road International Cooperation Summit Forum in Beijing demonstrated the ever closer Russia-China relationship and the rising multipolar world order. The Gerhard Schröder interview demonstrated the painful evidence that the US is preventing peace in Ukraine and that it is not Russia that is not serious about diplomacy. And the Russian noose tightening around Avdiivka from all sides and above demonstrates the changing reality on the battlefield so different from the on Western officials and media continue to present to the public.
Ted Snider is a regular columnist on U.S. foreign policy and history at Antiwar.com and The Libertarian Institute. He is also a frequent contributor to Responsible Statecraft and The American Conservative as well as other outlets.