As the steady advance of the Russian army into the Donbass makes it clear even to the New York Times that the outcome of the war is now beyond all doubt, the political fall-out from the defeat of NATO aggression suddenly looms large, testing just how much of a stomach individual countries within Europe really do have for making further open-ended sacrifices of their own national interests on the altar of America’s failing proxy war against Russia.
Zelensky himself acknowledged the crucial juncture that the conflict had entered, declaring that “in many ways, the fate of our Donbass is being decided” around Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk. Since he spoke these words, Sievierodonetsk has been surrendered by the Ukrainian forces and, as the NYT correctly foresaw, if Russian forces continue to press on to Lysychansk, Kiev would “have to make a strategic decision: withdraw or risk an encirclement of Lysychansk, too.”
With the surrdender of Sievierodonetsk, “…a city critical to its goal of seizing Ukraine’s east, and with a neighboring city squarely in Moscow’s sights, the question of how realities on the ground will shape the next phase of the war became still more pressing Sunday for Ukraine’s Western allies…
“But with the momentum of the war shifting more decisively in Russia’s favor, Ukraine’s allies, their economies threatened and their resolve tested, may soon find themselves forced to confront far more fundamental questions than what sort of weapons to provide, including whether to put pressure on Ukraine to reach a peace agreement with Russia or risk Russian escalation with more aggressive military support” (Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Matina Stevis-Gridneff, ‘Tough questions for West as Ukraine cities teeter’, New York Times, 12 June 2022).
Disquiet in the EU
So whilst Washington keeps bending Zelensky’s ear, encouraging him to dig in his heels and insist upon impossible preconditions before engaging in peace talks, some European allies are getting cold feet about just where NATO is herding them next.
“For European countries, the question of how to defend Ukraine now is both tactical and political — and raises issues closer to home. Several EU members are fretting that they have sent too much of their own ammunition to Ukraine and are lagging behind in restocking their arsenals. With the bloc’s foreign policy and defense not integrated, European leaders have been forced to try to source their own military supplies“.
Under severe American pressure, and with aim of bolstering Zelensky at home, the EU at its Summit of 23-24 June in Brussels, has given the green light to Ukraine’s application to join the European Union as a candidate. This decision means absolutely nothing in practice, for this candidate status can go on indefinitely. And into the bargain, this decision will bring nothing but trouble to the existing members, “…considering the nation’s dire situation since the onset of war and the poor governance and corruption that marked it even before the invasion” (ibid).
US arms industry cockahoop as Zelensky drags out the war
Meanwhile, as the EU starts to get cold feet about the whole warmongeing venture, the US arms industry is cracking open the champagne in anticipation of bulging order books, thanks to the juicy $40 billion Ukraine war package just passed by the Senate (and heartily endorsed by the self-identifying socialist Bernie Sanders). Luckily for the ‘defence’ industry, Volodymyr Zelensky responded to pressure from his masters in Washington to drag out the war in Ukraine, absurdly insisting upon the return of Crimea to Ukraine as the bare minimum precondition for talks, secure in the knowledge that there is not a snowball in hell’s chance of this being accepted. Whilst even a notorious warmonger like Henry Kissinger recognises the impossibility of overturning the overwhelming referendum mandate delivered by the Crimeans in 2014, it suits Washington to encourage Kiev in this delusion – and the US arms industry is cockahoop. By keeping up the pressure on Zelensky to needlessly prolong the suffering, Washington hopes to wear down the military strength of Russia and to feed the US war industry with an endless supply of lucrative arms contracts.
Stresses within the imperialist camp
In Europe, Germany’s decision to shell out 100 billion euros on modernising its armed forces has similarly raised hopes of a bonanza for arms manufacturers. The problem for European nations, however, is that, despite all the guff about presenting a united front against Russia, when push comes to shove each country carves for itself and lets the devil take the hindmost.
“Germany’s decision to lift the cap on its military budget offered a beguiling future for Europe’s defence industry as the region’s biggest economy readied itself to write large cheques on everything from jets to tanks. But less than a month since the invasion of Ukraine prompted Berlin’s historic move to establish a €100bn fund to modernise its armed forces, the initial euphoria risks giving way to the divisions that have long bedevilled European collaboration on defence. The trigger for the reversal in sentiment was Germany opting earlier this month to replace its ageing Tornado fleet with a batch of F-35 fighter jets, which can carry nuclear weapons and are made by US defence group Lockheed Martin. Handing Lockheed the order prompted dismay in France, with the industry angered that the choice of an American weapons system sent the wrong signal when the focus should be squarely on bolstering Europe’s own capabilities” (Sylvia Pfeifer, Sarah White, ‘Divisions risk undermining windfall for Europe’s defence industry’, Financial Times, 30 March 2022).
Back in 2017, Germany and France committed to a joint project to build a new European fighter jet, the FCAS, which would eventually take the place of all the different fighter planes in each country. This project meshed with the long-time aspiration to move towards a European army, but repeatedly fell foul of mutual suspicions. The French company Dassault, which had already been at odds with Germany (represented by Airbus) over sharing technology and over who would be in charge in particular areas, has now thrown its toys out of the pram and pulled out all of its engineers from the project.
So what at first glance appears to be a potential bonanza for the European arms trade and a boost for European unity in the face of a common enemy is in fact bringing to the surface the cut-throat rivalries within the imperialist camp itself and the increasing inability of the EU to agree about anything, with or without a common enemy. So far from uniting the disparate European countries, the war is serving to highlight and deepen the divisions in the West as the uneven impact of war and sanctions becomes clearer.
“In one of the first major estimates of the war’s hit, the European Central Bank ratcheted down its growth forecast for the euro area to 3.7 percent, down by 0.7 percentage points from December, when it released its latest forecasts on Thursday. Others went further, including Goldman Sachs, which shaved 1.4 percentage points off its GDP estimate for the single currency area.
“Insurance giant Allianz, meanwhile, is ‘looking at at least half a point to one point of GDP growth shaved off in Europe already,’ according to its chief economist Ludovic Subran.
“The Commission, for its part, is trying to avoid alarmism, stating that the war will impact growth in the EU but not derail it. But countries are speaking up and saying they’ll have to brace for the bill that the war will bring” (Paola Tamma, ‘EU will pay for the war, but the bill won’t be split evenly’, Politico, 14 March 2022).
Italy’s prime minister, Mario Draghi may have told a recent meeting of European leaders “not to relieve pressure on Russia” but rather to “work together” to “support our economies”, but that is easier said than done.
Germany might consider that it has already made by far the greatest sacrifice of its national interests on the altar of EU unity by taking the suicidal decision (for now) to buckle down to US pressure and cancel the NordStream 2 gas pipeline. Everywhere in Europe Russian gas is burning, but some rely on it more than others. Roughly 40% of the EU’s total gas imports are from Russia, but this breaks down nationally to widely uneven levels of dependence. Germany relies on Russia for over half of its gas supply, forcing Germany to go cap in hand to beg LPG from the US. Italy gets a third of its gas from Russia, Austria, Hungary and Poland get two fifths, and Bulgaria, Estonia and Latvia are wholly reliant on gas supplies from Russia. It would be folly to suppose that, with such differing levels of reliance, any common policy on sanctions could be implemented.
War bonds won’t heal EU divisions
France and Italy are pushing for the EU to weather the sanctions storm by collectively issuing EU war bonds. However, Germany and the Netherlands are resisting this, fearing that member states that are seen as higher risk borrowers (France, Italy, Spain) would benefit more from the scheme than would their more fiscally frugal colleagues. Normally borrowers with sounder credit histories (broadly the north) could expect to be rewarded with cheaper premiums on new loans, whilst borrowers with flawed credit histories (broadly the south) are punished with extortionate premiums. Under the ‘mutualisation of debt’ envisaged by the proposed war bond scheme, the EU would collectively issue bonds on behalf of all its members.
In point of fact this is the third time this kind of plan to create a debt instrument combining securities from different EU member states has been mooted and it looks like following the first two into the dustbin. The idea surfaced first in the 2008 crisis with abortive plans for a Euro Bond, then bobbed up again during Covid with the fabled Corona Bond, and is now popping up with France and Italy pushing for EU war bonds.
The theory of such mutualisation of debt schemes is that in long term they ought to curb the overall number of defaults, to the collective benefit of all. But for capitalism, there is no long term, and expecting the EU to embrace a cooperative approach is doomed to disappointment. The EU is a failing alliance that was already cracking at the seams long before Putin or Covid arrived on the scene, an imperialist institution so riven by corruption, mutual suspicion and backstabbing greed that it only requires the mildest of ‘external shocks’ to scatter it to the four winds. And the deepening crisis of overproduction will not be so mild.
EU ties itself in knots over Ukraine’s membership dreams
The EU’s decision to give the green light to Ukraine becoming a candidate member is going to be a thorny question in the years to come. In the recent past, some states, such as Portugal and Denmark, have clearly expressed scepticism about the prospect of Ukraine’s membership. Others, like Poland and the Baltic states, cannot get their Uko-nazi kindred spirits into the EU fast enough. But for the dominant forces remaining in the EU after Brexit, France and Germany, the overwhelming desire is to find some form of words which will allow them to kick the can down the road. Problem is, they are running out of road.
Notwithstanding their hypocritical words in support of Ukraine’s membership, France as well as Germany are not at all keen to have Ukraine in the European Union.
The reality is that whilst the EU is willing to go along with America’s proxy war against Russia and pat Zelensky on the head for services rendered to ‘European values’, it is quite another thing to have this dysfunctional maverick state actually inside the tent and armed with considerable electoral clout in the European parliament (thanks to its vast population). Indeed, under Qualified Majority voting rules, Ukraine could be in a position to veto Germany and France. That prospect is equally chilling in Paris and Berlin.
Doubtless egged on by the US, Zelensky has not been holding back on his opinions about his European ‘allies’. “EU officials have cautioned that Zelensky would be wise to tone down some of his recent criticism of Germany, France and Italy…
“In Germany’s case, the Ukrainian president has complained of slow and inconsistent support, including on weapons deliveries, while France and Italy faced rebuke for expressing willingness to compromise with Putin. Macron’s repeated comments that Russia should not be ‘humiliated’ have faced particular derision in Ukraine.
“Zelensky has also irked EU leaders with his constant praise of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson” (ibid).
Revolutionary justice in the Donbass
As the victory of the liberation forces approaches, imperialism starts to see its propaganda lies coming unstuck even within its home populations as the truth starts to leak out about what freedom and democracy really looks like in Zelensky’s Ukraine. This report from the Grayzone website gives a flavour of it:
“Zelensky and top officials in his administration have sanctioned a campaign of kidnapping, torture, and assassination of local Ukrainian lawmakers accused of collaborating with Russia. Several mayors and other Ukrainian officials have been killed since the outbreak of war, many reportedly by Ukrainian state agents after engaging in de-escalation talks with Russia. ‘There is one less traitor in Ukraine,’ Internal Affairs Ministry advisor Anton Geraschenko stated in endorsement of the murder of a Ukrainian mayor accused of collaborating with Russia.
“Zelensky has further exploited the atmosphere of war to outlaw an array of opposition parties and order the arrest of his leading rivals. His authoritarian decrees have triggered the disappearance, torture and even murder of an array of human rights activists, communist and leftist organizers, journalists and government officials accused of ‘pro-Russian’ sympathies” (Max Blumenthal and Esha Krishnaswamy, ‘”One less traitor”: Zelensky oversees campaign of assassination, kidnapping and torture of political opposition’, Grayzone, 17 April 2022).
Hoping to distract public opinion in Britain from such damning exposures, orchestrated howls of protest now fill the airwaves at the news that a court in the Donetsk People’s Republic has had the audacity to charge two Brits as mercenaries whose actions had “led to the deaths and injury of civilians, as well as damage to civilian and social infrastructure”. They pleaded guilty and were duly sentenced to death, with one month to appeal (Andrew Roth and Emine Sinmaz, ‘Britons sentenced to death after “show trial” in Russian-occupied Ukraine’, The Guardian, 9 June 2022).
It was to be predicted that the foreign secretary Liz Truss would be spluttering “I utterly condemn the sentencing of Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner held by Russian proxies in eastern Ukraine.” But the most eloquent tirade against the court’s verdict came not from Truss but from Amnesty International, revealing itself once more as a tool of imperialism. Describing the Donetsk court’s verdict as “grotesque”, Kristyan Benedict, Amnesty International UK’s crisis response manager, went on to urge the British government to do more to stoke the russophobic propaganda war, saying “This so-called trial always had the appearance of a show trial designed to exert pressure on the UK, and these sentences look like they’re intended to fire a warning shot to the UK over its support for Ukraine in this brutal war. Russia and its proxies in the Donetsk People’s Republic will be adding to a massive catalogue of war crimes if they attempt to carry out these sentences. The UK and the UN and other bodies should inform Moscow that these sentences are completely unacceptable and must be quashed immediately.”
With the liberation of Donbass in sight, soon the world will be able to judge for itself what has really gone down in Ukraine, when Russia can rest from its labours and has the chance to establish war crimes tribunals on Russian soil. The Russian foreign ministry reports that some 7,000 foreign mercenaries dredged from 63 countries, including Britain, the US, Canada, Romania and Georgia, have been active in Ukraine.
And even if it’s true that these two Brits were just regular army recruits following orders, rather than Nazis or mercenaries, Amnesty might surely have had some hazy recollection of the famous Nuremberg dictum insisting that ‘just following orders’ is no defence against war crimes charges.
As we go to press, Russophobic rhetoric has gone into overdrive with condemnation of a supposed callous attack by Putin on a shopping centre, crowded on a Monday with a thousand peaceful civilians innocently doing their shopping, an attack every imperialist war criminal responsible for thousands of civilian deaths in Afghanistan, Yemen, etc., etc., is solemnly declaring to be a war crime. What is the truth? It turns out that, on the one hand the shopping centre was not directly targeted and on the other hand it was not functioning as a shopping centre but had been closed down. The target was a nearby building which was being used for storing armaments supplied by western imperialist countries, which was hit, and the ensuing fire spread to the shopping centre in question. Indeed, it would have been quite contrary to Russia’s declared efforts to avoid civilian casualties as far as possible that a functioning shopping centre should be deliberately targeted at a time of day when it was likely to be full of shoppers. In fact the number of casualties of the attack was far too low for it to be consistent with an attack on a crowded shopping centre anyway.
As Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine nears completion, the geopolitical fall-out from these unfolding events is only just beginning to make itself felt. The sanctions war against Russia has ended up damaging its proponents worse than its intended target. The cultivation of fascists, jihadis and mercenaries to serve in a proxy war against Russia will be bitterly regretted when these proxy forces are cut loose to boomerang back on the west. The EU has subordinated the national interests of its member states to another failing American war, hammering another nail in its own coffin. And in response to the criminal NATO aggression and economic war, Russia and China have drawn ever closer in their fraternal relations, standing as a rallying point for all those countries who wish to follow a line that is independent of imperialism. Truly, imperialism has once again picked up a rock only to drop it on its own feet.