Fighting has spread to several countries and the economic war leaves no national economy untouched. The demand for an end to escalations, sanctions and war remains vital, argues David Jamieson.
Quick victories have been predicted for both sides since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February. But after seven months, and after yet another false summit – with Ukrainian victories in the North-East of the country inspiring hysteria among western pundits – the grim reality of escalation and mutual attrition has returned.
The successful Ukrainian offensive leaves no doubt about proxy-war status of the conflict – the push around the city of Kharkiv was organised by US Pentagon officials, and US and British officers in Ukraine itself. The offensive relied heavily on western arms, intelligence and expertise, and was clearly a political as well as a military manoeuvre, launched to shore up support for the war effort ahead of a difficult winter, which could see the war and resultant inflation pit populations against pro-war governments.
In response to Russian setbacks, Putin has announced a ‘partial mobilisation’ of 300,000 reservists, that he will accept the (apparently already known) results of hastily organised ‘referendums’ in eastern parts of Ukraine to join Russia, and that he will defend Russian territory (including newly annexed parts of Ukraine) with all weapons at his disposal – a threat to use nuclear weapons.
Ratcheting-up the rhetoric, a senior adviser to Ukrainian President Zelensky called for the western powers to adopt a pre-emptive nuclear bombing policy, and to announce they would use nuclear weapons “as soon as Russia even thinks of carrying out nuclear strikes”. Whether this was a mis-stated policy or a calculated one, it shows the extreme danger of escalation. Even loose rhetoric can, in situations of this kind, trigger devastating real world consequences.
The war in Ukraine has reached a new phase of mutual escalation, and has burst boundaries to reach into several other countries.
A web of secondary conflicts has tumbled out from the Russia-Ukraine war. Nato ally (and member of its misnamed ‘Partnership for Peace’) Azerbaijan has attacked Russian ally Armenia, with hundreds of casualties. This opportunistic assault is clearly a consequence of Russian losses in Ukraine. Condemnation in the west has been scarce.
Fighting broke out in April in Transnistria – a Moscow backed breakaway from Moldova neighbouring Ukraine. Nato troops have clashed with Serbian civilians in northern Kosovo, with the government in Pristina claiming that Russia is behind unrest in the western protectorate. Russian and western proxies have clashed in Syria.
Turkey is using its loyalty to the Nato and Ukrainian cause to cover a fresh assault on the Kurds, with western powers and media obligingly turning the blind eye. Israel has received Ukrainian support (a much-desired commodity these days) in its latest attacks on the Palestinians. One hand washing the other in the soap of anti-Russian solidarity, Turkey and Israel have enjoyed a rapprochement after years of icy relations.
At least one powerful faction in the Byzantine war in Yemen – a gruesome Saudi bombardment largely co-ordinated by western forces – claims that French troops have occupied gas fields to make up for the loss of Russian fuels. German troops and Russian mercenaries have entered a tense standoff in Mali.
Perhaps the most dangerous area of secondary escalation isn’t with Russia at all, but with that other (and greater) challenger to US world power, China. Tensions between the US and its chief rival have reached new heights, with President Biden threatening war with China over Taiwan. Since the Russian invasion in February, it has been apparent that Russia and China are not separate problems in the minds of US strategists. Instead, they represent two manifestations of the same threat to the US’ previously unchallenged status as global hegemon.
The other global dimension to the war in Ukraine is the economic war, which is impacting every national economy the world over through inflation and other forms of economic dislocation. Though some European countries are more dependent than others on Russian energy, the disruption to international energy trade is raising prices everywhere (and consequently leading to a sharp spike in Russian oil profits).
In the UK, Prime Minister Liz Truss openly declares that workers will have to endure economic hardship in the name of the proxy war with Russia. In Germany, a country re-arming at an astonishing rate, the centre-left dominated coalition government has taken an even harder and more anti-democratic line. Green party foreign minister Annalena Baerbock has said that German citizens must take a back seat to the needs of the war: “If I give the promise to people in Ukraine – ‘We stand with you, as long as you need us’ – then I want to deliver. No matter what my German voters think, but I want to deliver to the people of Ukraine.”
It is an argument reproduced all over western, central and eastern Europe – and has already led to street level resistance from Germany to the Czech Republic. In the UK, striking workers have been denounced as ‘Putin’s Stooges’, undermining the war effort from within. As winter sets in and household bills spike, such accusations are set to increase.
It is simply not credible for anyone who claims a stake in the current industrial and class disputes over the cost of living to not declare an interest in ending the sanctions on Russia. In a bid to avoid this matter, some are debating energy alternatives. The UK Conservative government has announced new fracking projects under the guise of the need to secure energy resources not controlled from Russia. Some have responded with the need for more renewable energy production. But neither of these plans will reduce energy prices this winter, or for some time to come. An end to war and sanctions is the fastest, most straightforward way to stabilise prices in the immediate term.
None of the global scope of the conflict underway is reflected in western state and media narratives. Instead, the war in Ukraine is discussed as an isolated, contained and morally simple conflict between a victimised smaller nation and a larger, more powerful oppressor motivated by sheer malice or insanity.
It must be discussed in these terms, both to obscure the history and context of the war, and the interests of the US and its western European allies in continuing and escalating the fighting. To concede the world scale of the struggle is to confess its roots in geostrategic competition, and the reality that the west is an aggressor in some aspects of the conflict, and not merely responding to unprovoked assault.
That competition is manifesting everywhere, from battlefields in several continents to price rises and strikes on home fronts. Any separation of the war from the economic crisis can only take place in our heads, not in reality. As winter wears on, the importance of opposing the war in all its manifestations will only increase.