Translation of article initially posted on Xekinima.org on June 20.
From the very beginning of the war in Ukraine, the West (NATO, USA, EU, etc.) saw it as an opportunity to deliver a major blow and push Russia “out of the game”. It launched the biggest arms transfer (Financial Times, 10.03.2022) since the end of the first cold war (in 1991, with the break-up of the USSR) and talked about a long war. Let us not forget the statement by James Stavridis, NATO commander from 2009 to 2013, who said on March 6 that Vladimir Putin “…may be the best thing that ever happened to the NATO alliance”.
As we wrote in previous articles, the Western powers’ aim was to trap Russia in a situation similar to that in which the Soviet Union found itself in Afghanistan in the 1980s. That is, to put Russia in a situation of a continuous “hemorrhage”, both economically and in terms of human lives, with the hope that it would not only lose the war in Ukraine but that this would cause a crisis internally and bring about the fall of the Putin regime. Disagreements in the Western camp exist and are widening (as we will elaborate below) but still, at this stage, the above policy remains the dominant one, with the US and Britain as its main exponents.
We deal with these points in greater detail in the article “Ukraine: a long inter-imperialist war, a new international situation” (May 16, 2022) where we explain how the West’s optimism that it could bring Russia to a defeat similar to that of the Soviet Union’s in Afghanistan, was not seriously grounded. And that instead, the West could find itself trapped in a war that would entail enormous economic costs for itself.
Western hopes dashed
As the war in Ukraine approaches its fourth month (at the time of writing it’s been going on for about 110 days) a wave of concern is sweeping the countries of the West (and the Ukrainian government). It is not an exaggeration to say that some of the most serious analysts in Western countries are on the verge of panic. This is for a variety of reasons.
First, they have been unable to isolate Russia. China remains firmly on Russia’s side, despite the West’s naive attempts to break their alliance. The whole of Africa, the whole of Latin America and the overwhelming majority of Asian countries refuse to take the side of the Western bloc. In reality, it is not “the whole planet” against Russia, it is basically the US and Europe, with some important allies like Australia and Japan.
Second, the West’s hope that the Ukrainian army could stop the onslaught of the Russian army proved unrealistic.
In the initial phase of the war, Russia attempted to invade from all directions, apparently waiting for the collapse and surrender of the Zelensky government. This plan failed. Encouraged and armed by the West, the Ukrainian army stopped the advance towards the capital Kiev, as well as from the north of the country, and forced the Russian army into retreat with heavy losses. But in the eastern and southern regions, Luhansk, Donetsk, Mariupol, Kherson, etc., the Russian advance continued. And after the defeats of the first phase, the concentration of the Russian army’s attacks in the east and south-east brought very significant gains (which the West is trying to underplay).
Russia has occupied over 20% of Ukrainian territory, according to the official admission of Ukrainian President Zelensky on the 100th day of the war and is advancing slowly but steadily, destroying everything in its path. According to official statements, again by Ukrainian officials, Ukraine is losing around 1,000 soldiers a day, who are either killed or seriously wounded and taken out of battle.
The Western media outlets, which until recently wrote praising reviews about the heroism of the Ukrainian army (as well as the Ukrainian Nazis…) and wrote in a completely dismissive and unbalanced way, comparing the Russian army to a “paper tiger”, are beginning to refer to desertions and low morale in the Ukrainian army as well as to Zelensky’s laying off of army officers and state officials… due to “incompetence”! They also acknowledge that the Russian army has made the necessary adjustments and cannot, for the moment, be stopped by the Ukrainian army.
In these circumstances, at this stage of the war, Ukraine will continue to lose territory however much it tries to fight back.
The reality is that the West would have no hesitation providing even bigger numbers and even more powerful and sophisticated weapons to Ukraine, so that the war drags on, despite the huge human loss this will entail, hoping that from the end of the summer onwards (because it takes time to transfer the weapons and provide the necessary training) Ukraine will be able to pin down the Russian army and cause the permanent “hemorrhage” mentioned above. But this is where the impact on the economies of the West comes in, creating double-edged-knife-situation for the western block.
Despite the consequences for the West’s economies, that we will deal with below, the West will go ahead with an even more massive deployment of more powerful weapons to Ukraine (especially by the US and Britain) at least for the immediate period. And this despite the fact that it is clear that Russia has not yet thrown all its military firepower into the war. We are not referring to nuclear weapons but to conventional weapons of even greater destructive power than those it has used so far (see New York Times quote below).
Can there be peace?
Even assuming that the Ukrainian army manages to contain the Russian onslaught over the next few months, or if Russia simply stops the onslaught on its own accord (not being interested in occupying the whole of Ukraine but only the regions dominated by Russian speakers, which would be the logical thing to do in a sense, although war has its own logic and no accurate predictions can be made – see a related article here) the Russian army will have occupied about 25% or more of Ukraine. What will happen then?
The Ukrainian government will under no circumstances accept the ceding of these territories to Russia. And the West is not going to pressurise Ukraine to sign off on this. This means that we should not expect peace in the near future, but instead, a warlike situation of great tension will prevail for an indefinite period of time.
The Ukrainian president Zelensky, who has gone from being a comedian to a hero in the West and seems to have taken this role very seriously, insists that the war will not stop until Ukraine takes back not only Luhansk, Donetsk, Mariupol, etc., but also Crimea. Such claims can only be described as “crazy” – but in a system that is by definition absurd you cannot expect logic.
Plans such as those to which Zelensky refers, are not only very unlikely to be successful but would mean an endless bloodbath. As soon as Russia occupies the territories it wants or can, it will fortify them and move from offense to defense. The task of the Ukrainian army, which under these circumstances will be leading an offensive, will be much more difficult than it is today – because offence demands far superior means and personnel compared to defense. The chances of the Ukrainian army achieving this are quite remote and the West knows it. They also know that if Putin is faced with the possibility of defeat, he is very likely to use “tactical nuclear weapons” (i.e., “low-power” nuclear weapons that can destroy a few blocks but not entire cities).
Dilemmas of Western imperialists
The question that many Western analysts are beginning to raise is to what extent is the continuation of this war in the West’s interests. It is now clear that there are serious disagreements in their ranks, which they don’t even try to hide.
The reason why Western leaders are divided is not so much the cost in human lives, which as long as this bloodbath continues will be counted in hundreds of thousands and not in tens of thousands as they are today. After all, in the Iraq war of 2003, the death toll was estimated at around 1,000,000 (according, e.g., to “Οpinion Research Βusiness”) but the Western defenders of “freedom and democracy” did not even sweat over this. If we go further back, we see the atrocities of the European capitalists in the colonies where there are simply no words to describe what was going on… Even after we had entered the 20th century, Leopold II of Belgium was continuing the slaughter of 10,000,000 (ten million – there is no mistake in the zeros) inhabitants of Belgian Congo, apparently to “civilize” them! Or should we remember what has been going on without pause in Palestine for nearly a century?
The really burning issue for the Western leaders concerns the economy. The cost of this war to the West and to the global economy as a whole is enormous.
The global economy is in the process of a very serious economic crisis. The economies of the rich industrialised countries are entering a phase of stagflation, that is, a situation in which there are rising prices and stagnation of the economy, or recession, at the same time. This is one of the worst combinations for the stability of the capitalist system and for the profits of big business/multinationals.
At the same time, the poor countries of the world are being driven into a new cycle of nightmare conditions, with bankruptcies, soaring poverty and hunger – at least 40 countries are estimated to find themselves in a food crisis situation.
The countries of the European South (Italy, Greece, Portugal and Spain) are in danger of facing a new debt crisis, as borrowing rates rose to 4-5% over the past couple of weeks, up from near 0% a few weeks ago.
At this juncture, the West has to face two intractable problems.
The first is that whatever economic policies they try to take in order to stabilize the capitalist economy, the development of the war may easily ditch them.
In its latest announcement on June 9, in which it announced (in two phases, one immediately and one in September) interest rate increases of 0.75%, the European Central Bank stated that in the “pessimistic scenario” the price of oil could reach $175 a barrel (up from $100 in its baseline scenario) and natural gas €250 a megawatt hour (up from €80 in the baseline scenario). When energy prices soar to such heights, no economic policy on the part of the world’s major powers can save their economies from crisis.
The second is that Western countries have already exhausted to a very large extent the economic tools/policies they could use to deal with the coming crisis, because they already used them up in the 2008-9 financial crisis and the 2020 crisis triggered by the coronavirus.
In conditions of an economic recession, the normal reaction on the part of the capitalists is to increase public spending and lower interest rates to enable loans, so that consumers, investors and governments have cheap money to pour into the economies. These policies were applied both in the 2008-9 and 2020-21 recessions.
But the “cheap money” (with interest rates close to 0%) and abundant liquidity of the previous period, together with the unprecedented, in peacetime, public deficits and debts, played on the one hand the role of cushioning the worst consequences of the previous two recessions, but at the same time created the conditions for the return of inflation. The pandemic lockdowns, the energy crisis and then the war gave a further push to inflation and at the same time brought economies to their knees. Thus, we are now seeing the highest inflation in 40 years and stagflation that was a feature of the 1970s.
This combination is forcing capitalists and their governments to cut spending and raise interest rates to keep inflation in check. These policies are the exact opposite of what they would have liked to be able to do, in conditions of stagnating economies, in order to spur growth. They are thus pushing economies deeper into recession. The policy deadlock in the West is growing and with it the internal contradictions and conflicts.
In the beginning, the West tried to present a united face (and they are still trying to, as best as they can) but disagreements did not take long to surface.
The first disagreements became clear and open when Zelensky publicly denounced French President Macron for asking him to accept the ceding of territory to Russia in order to bring an end to the war.
The second resounding differentiation came from the notorious war criminal, former US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. Kissinger, who remains one of the most shrewd spokesmen for imperialist interests, speaking in Davos in May and in interviews that followed, stated in the clearest possible terms that territorial concessions must be made by Ukraine in order to achieve peace between Russia and the West.
Even Pope Francis, in a speech on 13.06.2022, after paying tribute to the heroism of the Ukrainian people who are resisting the Russian onslaught, clearly laid part of the blame for the war on the West, criticizing NATO for “barking at Russia’s door”.
The international press is now full of reports revealing the differences that exist between western leaders.
In a recent article in the New York Times (NYT) there is a complete departure from the dominant Western narrative:
“Russia may be down, but it’s not out of the game…”
“…What’s more, the war in Ukraine has done little to affect Russia’s more destructive military capabilities. It isn’t modernised Soviet tanks or Russia’s dated air force that most concern the United States and NATO; it’s Russia’s submarines, integrated air and missile systems, electronic warfare, anti-satellite systems and diverse nuclear arsenal. These capabilities, which have gone almost completely untouched during the war, remain available to the Kremlin.…”.
“For now, the Russian government’s coffers remain full: Its monthly exports, according to estimates, rose more than 60 percent in April compared to a year ago.”
The Financial Times makes no attempt to hide what is happening in an article titled
Liberal.gr, a serious bourgeois media outlet in Greece, is forced to recognize that
Contradictions in the West’s policies are more than clear and differences between the main protagonists too big to push under the carpet.
The “absence” of the Left
The crisis facing the system is huge and on multiple levels. It is economic, geopolitical, social. At no level does the capitalist system have solutions to the problems that arise.
It is a time of enormous instability, which will not be overcome if or when the war in Ukraine ends, because in the background of all this is the confrontation between US and China (and their allied forces) for global hegemony.
In these circumstances, a (mass) left political force ready to link the struggle for everyday issues and immediate problems with the struggle for the overthrow of the capitalist system, would be required. That would fight against price hikes, against the attacks on living standards and rights, against war and the imperialists of both camps, against hunger and bankruptcies that will again sweep through dozens of countries, against sexism, against the far right and the neo-Nazis, against the new cycle of destruction of the environment; and that will link this struggle to the struggle for an alternative society, without exploitation and inequalities, democratic and free, socialist in the true sense of the word.
This revolutionary, internationalist, mass Left force is what is essentially missing from the present historical context. It is a task of every serious organisation in the anti-capitalist Left to discuss both internally and with other organisations of similar thinking and strategic aims, about how to realise this goal.