On the evening of 21 February, Russian President Vladimir Putin officially recognised the separatist « republics » in eastern Ukraine. A few hours later, Russian tanks rolled in. This is the latest episode in military escalation between the US and Russia that has been going on for months. Who is responsible for the march to war? For what reasons? Faced with the propaganda machine, it can sometimes seem difficult to make sense of it all.
What are the regions of Donetsk and Lugansk that Putin has annexed?
The populations of the eastern regions of Ukraine are closely intertwined. Russian-speaking Ukrainians and Russians are in the majority among the 4 million inhabitants of the eastern industrial regions (Donbass). In February 2014, Ukraine’s pro-Russian regime was replaced by a new regime calling for membership in the European Union and NATO, and threatening to challenge the status of Russian as an official language. In response, Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula. In eastern Ukraine, forces linked to Russia declared the « secession » of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, which Russia had just officially recognised. Despite the ceasefire of the Minsk « agreements » (2014-2015) signed by all protagonists, the war never stopped between the US-equipped Ukrainian army and the Russianarmed separatist militias: more than 13,000 dead, 30,000 wounded and 500,000 refugees.
Why did the problem of Ukraine’s potential membership of NATO cause the conflict?
In 1997, Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former adviser to US President Carter, described Ukraine as a « geopolitical pivot », which was necessary to open the way to Russia. In Ukraine, in 2005 and again in 2014, pro-US regimes demanded that Ukraine join NATO. On 4 June 2019, Zelensky, Ukraine’s new president, declared that membership « remains an unwavering goal. » In early November 2021, US Secretary of State Blinken took it a step further by signing a strategic partnership charter with Ukraine, which recognises the objective of « full integration into European and Euro-Atlantic institutions« . The US administration is well aware that NATO membership is, for Russia, a line that cannot be crossed.
What are the economic and financial stakes of the conflict?
The first is a new boom for the arms industry. In December 2021, Biden pushed through the largest military budget in US history: $778 billion. The US had previously demanded, and obtained, that all NATO member countries increase their military spending beyond 2 % of their gross domestic product. Who benefits from all this? In 2020, according to the US magazine Defense News, 51 of the top 100 companies in the global arms market were North American, including the top five.
The second issue is gas. US governments are contesting the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is to deliver cheap Russian gas to Germany, a project in which the capitalists have invested heavily. But Biden has said it: a Russian invasion of Ukraine would sound Nord Stream 2’s death knell. Radio France Internationale (22 February) comments: « One country also intends to profit from this. It is the United States, the world’s largest gas producer. With the threats to the Russian tap, there is much less talk in Europe about the environmental damage caused by the American method of production, hydraulic fracturing (« shale gas » editor’s note).The share of American liquefied natural gas in European imports has been rising steadily for several months and the trend is unlikely to be reversed if the weapon of gas is wielded in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.” Behind the war are, as always, capitalist interests… and especially those of US capitalists.
Against war and exploitation
The struggle against war is therefore inseparable from the struggle against capitalist exploitation. This is what is stated in the appeal launched by the 601 worker activists from 57 countries preparing the World Conference against War and Exploitation, for the Workers’ International (Paris, 29-30 October 2022):
After devastating Afghanistan, » and after the debacle of the evacuation, US imperialism is reordering its forces to prepare new wars. Deadly conflicts are multiplying in Africa. Iran is under threat. The military encirclement of China and the formation of the new US-AustraliaBritish military alliance (AUKUS) are threatening peace. (…) All the military interventions of imperialism, carried out in the name of ‘democracy’, have resulted in bloody chaos, the dislocation of whole nations. The peoples of the world want peace. The international struggle for peace and the fight to prevent war will be on the agenda of our world conference.”