Russia’s brutal war on Ukraine sends ripples across globe

East Ukraine military map

By Geoff Mirelowitz and Argiris Malapanis

June 3, 2022 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from World-Outlook — One hundred days since Moscow’s unprovoked invasion of its neighbor, Russia’s war on Ukraine shows no sign of abating. Stiff resistance aimed at defending Ukraine’s sovereignty has pushed Russian forces back in parts of the country — particularly around the capital Kiyv and most of Ukraine’s north.

In the eastern region, however, the Russian military continues to conquer territory. The Institute for the Study of War, a U.S. “think tank,” estimates that 95% of the Luhansk region is presently under Russian control. News reports on June 1 stated Russia was close to capturing the eastern Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk. This would give Putin control of the last major city in the Luhansk province still in Ukrainian hands.

On May 28, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky said the situation in the country’s east was “indescribably difficult.” In an interview that day, he added it is impractical for Ukraine to retake all the lands lost to Russia since 2014. “I don’t believe we can regain all of our territory by military action,” Zelensky told Dutch TV. “If we decided to do that, it would cost us hundreds of thousands of lives. We want to fight to the last gasp, but not to the last man.”

Meanwhile, the consequences of Moscow’s war continue to spread around the globe. Vladimir Putin’s ongoing aggression has handed Washington a pretext to consolidate its military hegemony in Europe by further expanding the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The Russian assault, and the U.S.-European sanctions imposed in response, pose increasingly deadly dangers to working people around the world.

Looming food shortages

Chief among these, immediately, are looming food shortages. Ukraine is the world’s largest exporter of sunflower oil, the fourth largest exporter of corn, and the fifth largest exporter of wheat. Russian control of the northern third of the Black Sea largely prevents these products from being exported today. More than 20 million tons of grain are reportedly rotting as a result. Driven by his goal of subjugating Ukraine, or at least usurping parts of its territory, Putin has shown utter disregard for the needs of workers and farmers everywhere.

The U.S.-led sanctions against Russia have only increased the peril of food shortages, hunger, and malnutrition for millions. These steps, allegedly aimed at punishing Putin and wealthy Russian businessmen, have, in fact, hit working people in Russia and elsewhere hardest. Russia is also one of the world’s largest grain exporters. Millions in other countries, such as Egypt and Lebanon, depend on those exports for basic food needs. Imperialist sanctions thus also endanger workers and farmers everywhere.

The war and the sanctions have also accelerated inflationary pressures on food and energy prices worldwide. These have now spread to virtually all goods and services, diminishing the buying power of workers’ wages.

Moscow is actually taking advantage of these inflationary pressures to rake in billions, enabling it to withstand the sanctions and continue financing its war machine.

“Even with some countries halting or phasing out energy purchases, Russia’s oil-and-gas revenue will be about $285 billion this year, according to estimates from Bloomberg Economics based on Economy Ministry projections,” Bloomberg News reported on June 1. “That would exceed the 2021 figure by more than one-fifth. Throw in other commodities, and it more than makes up for the $300 billion in foreign reserves frozen as part of the sanctions.” 

Russia’s oil-export revenue alone is up 50% from a year earlier, Bloomberg News said, largely due to skyrocketing energy prices. The news agency continued: “The US has already banned Russian oil, but Europe is only slowly weaning itself off this dependency. That’s giving Moscow time to find other markets — such as commodity guzzling behemoths China and India — to limit any damage to export revenue, and its financial war chest.” 

As all this unfolds, the danger of more direct U.S. military intervention grows. The Washington Post reported on May 26 that a U.S. Senate committee heard testimony from General Christopher Cavoli, commander of all U.S. Army forces in Europe and Africa. Cavoli is also about to become the next supreme commander of all NATO forces. According to the Post, Cavoli warned “that Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian grain exports could enable terrorist networks in other parts of the world and may require U.S. military intervention to ensure global markets don’t become destabilized.” Cavoli also hinted that at some point “the U.S. military could get involved in an effort to guarantee that exports from Ukraine can resume.”

Finland and Sweden request to join NATO

This threat arises as NATO is preparing to expand. The governments of Sweden and Finland have formally requested to join, a move that all the imperialist members of the alliance have welcomed.

Turkey’s objections to these requests — likely intended as a bargaining chip to win concessions from Washington — have tempered hopes for quick admission of the two Nordic states. Ankara has dressed its objections in its reactionary opposition to the Kurdish struggle for self-determination, a stance that is unlikely to prevent NATO’s expansion in the end.

NATO has always claimed to be a “defensive” alliance. However, it is, and has been since its inception, the main instrument ensuring U.S. military domination of Europe.

The U.S.-led military alliance originally claimed the Cold War with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) necessitated its existence. The Cold War ended, however, over 30 years ago with the fall of the USSR, and the subsequent reestablishment of capitalism in the former Soviet Union and the Eastern European states that made up the Warsaw Pact. But NATO did not dissolve after the Warsaw Pact’s collapse. Rather, it aggressively expanded by incorporating former Warsaw Pact members such as Poland, Hungary, and others.

NATO’s very existence and any further expansion are a threat to world peace.

Putin has claimed his aggression against Ukraine is necessary to prevent this expansion. The result has been the opposite. He has handed the imperialist powers, Washington above all, a golden opportunity. It allows them to falsely parade as defenders of peace, democracy, and self-determination in response to Moscow’s war while strengthening NATO.

In this sense, Putin’s actions are not unlike those of Saddam Hussein when he ordered Iraqi forces to invade Kuwait in 1990. Like Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, that military action was a violation of the sovereignty of another country. It provided the excuse Washington was looking for to send hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops to the Middle East. It set the stage for yet another wider war when the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003.

Washington does not — yet — see the opportunity to intervene in Ukraine with U.S. troops. But it has seized the opportunity to expand NATO.

Working people should oppose NATO and its expansion. The sanctions Washington, Paris, London, and their allies have imposed against Russia should be lifted immediately. Moscow should cease hostilities, get out of Ukraine now, and end the blockade of the country’s ports with no further delay.

Some on the left in the United States and other countries claim the fighting in Ukraine is nothing more than a “proxy war” between Washington and Moscow. On this basis, they deny the Ukrainian people their right to self-determination and self-defense. This view is utterly mistaken. It reduces the Ukrainian people to the role of helpless bystanders in a “great power” conflict. The popular resistance in Ukraine, in the face of terrible death and devastation, is evidence of how false and dangerous such a position is.

A useful lesson from World War II

All imperialist powers seek to take advantage of every development in world politics to advance their own interests. This is nothing new.

We can draw a useful lesson from one element of World War II. The war in China during that world conflagration began with the brutal invasion of the country by Japanese imperialism. The U.S. government backed China against Japan, providing military and other aid to the Chiang Kai Shek regime.

Despite the dictatorial nature of that government — which had drowned the 1925-1927 Chinese revolt in blood — revolutionists supported China’s right to self-defense.

Regardless of its rhetoric, Washington acted in its own interests, not to genuinely defend Chinese self-determination.

This became clear when WWII ended with Japan’s defeat. As a popular revolution threatened Chiang Kai Shek’s regime, Washington began preparations for more direct military intervention in China to fight the insurgent masses. A movement of rank-and-file U.S. soldiers and sailors in the Pacific region — who demanded, “Bring Us Home!” — prevented the U.S. government from sending its military forces to oppose the popular struggle. The Chinese revolution quickly triumphed.

The article “1945: When U.S. Troops Said ‘No!’” tells that story.

The situation in Ukraine today is not directly analogous. There is no rising anti-capitalist revolution there. The struggle of the Ukrainian people is limited to upholding their right to national self-determination. The Ukrainian army, volunteer territorial troop units, and millions of other citizens of that country are fighting to prevent Moscow from dragging them back under the boot of Great Russian chauvinism. That remains the primary political dynamic of the war today, despite the machinations of the U.S. government and its allies.

Zelensky’s anti-democratic measures

Support for Ukrainian self-determination and for an immediate end to Moscow’s invasion does not imply political support for the Zelensky government. In an interview World-Outlook recently re-published, Ukrainian activist Yuliya Yurchenko explained:

“The election of Zelensky was a popular rejection of the chauvinist divisions and an expression of hope for peace. He’s an interesting figure. Behind him are a set of oligarchic forces and campaigns based on a promise of peace and anti-corruption, albeit naïve.

“In the end, he has ruled like every other neoliberal politician, failed to secure peace, and oversaw ongoing corruption and oligarchic plunder. On top of that, he was exposed as incompetent at ruling. His rating went down as their standard of living plummeted.

“Before the war, it is highly unlikely he would have been reelected. But now he’s a war hero and guaranteed to win a second term if Ukraine exists as a nation-state with a democratic electoral process at the end of this war.”

The full interview is available here.

On March 20, Zelensky used martial law regulations to suspend 11 political parties. Ukraine’s parliament endorsed the move, turning it to a full ban by May 14, a ban Zelensky promptly signed into law.

Zelensky’s government has taken other steps to restrict democratic rights. The New York Times reported on April 25 that Zelensky “combined six television stations that previously competed against one another into one outlet for news. The merger, he said, was necessary for national security, but it frustrated political opponents and free-speech advocates.”

These anti-democratic measures have weakened the struggle to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty. We should unequivocally oppose them.

Equally dangerous is the political message Zelensky and his government send every day. They tell the Ukrainian people that U.S. imperialism, and its junior partners in Europe, are not only reliable allies but an example to emulate. This is utterly anti-working class. It also makes it more difficult for Ukrainians to appeal to working people around the world. Millions of people — especially in semicolonial countries — know firsthand that Washington’s hypocrisy about self-determination cannot mask its record of using the same brutal military power Putin uses today to impose its own will. The U.S. government has done so many times before and it will do so again.

Deceitful nature of U.S. policy

It is equally necessary for working people in the U.S. to recognize the deceitful and dangerous nature of U.S. policy in this war. Washington aims to shape the outcome of the war to strengthen its own hand as the main military power in Europe. That may include sharp opposition to Putin today and tactical compromises with him tomorrow. In any scenario, the political and economic interests of the U.S. capitalist class — not Ukraine’s right to self-determination — will be the deciding factor.

The recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, offered clear evidence of this. There, former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger — an architect of U.S. foreign policy for decades, responsible for U.S. butchery in Vietnam, Chile and elsewhere — “urged the United States and the West to not seek an embarrassing defeat for Russia in Ukraine, warning it could worsen Europe’s long-term stability,” reported the Washington Post in a May 24 article. “After saying that Western countries should remember Russia’s importance to Europe and not get swept up ‘in the mood of the moment,’ Kissinger also pushed for the West to force Ukraine into accepting negotiations with a ‘status quo ante,’ which means the previous state of affairs.”

The Post went on to observe: “Kissinger, a longtime advocate of a realpolitik approach that has nations putting their practical aims in front of morals and principles, urged European leaders to not lose sight of Russia’s place in Europe and risk the country forming a permanent alliance with China.”

The “practical aims” of U.S. imperialism are to maintain its economic and political dominance in Europe and the world. For Kissinger and others who implement U.S. policy, “morals and principles” are nothing but rhetoric aimed at concealing those aims.

All of these factors provide the context for the current war.

Working people in Ukraine face many political challenges. Addressing those challenges and finding a way forward requires getting Moscow’s boot off their neck. That is why the fight against Putin’s invasion and for Ukrainian self-determination continues to demand our support today.