By Conor Payne
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has horrified the world because of the brutal bombardment of cities, the creation of a new refugee crisis and because of the clear imperialist ambitions which underlie the whole project. At the same time we have seen the extremely impressive resistance of the ordinary people of Ukraine, as well as the bravery of many in Russia who have taken to the streets against the war.
Likewise, there has been mass solidarity with Ukraine all across the world and a desire to do everything possible to assist the people of Ukraine. For some, this will understandably mean supporting the involvement of the US and NATO, as the only possible counterweight to the power of the Russian military and state.
No trust in US / NATO
However, the US and NATO are false friends and cannot be trusted. The US and the other main powers which make up NATO – e.g. Britain, France and Germany – are no defenders of democracy, peace or national rights. The US is the world’s biggest imperialist power, which regularly deposes governments, including elected governments, that do not suit its interests. It acts on the world stage in the interest of the biggest US capitalists including banks, energy companies and arms companies.
The US and Britain launched the unprovoked invasion in Iraq in 2003, which led to the deaths of up to one million people. They have only recently ended (in defeat) their disastrous 20-year long occupation of Afghanistan, leaving that country with an impending famine. While they denounce the invasion of Ukraine, they actively support the no less brutal Saudi war against Yemen and the Israeli occupation of the Palestinians. So much for ‘international law’, ‘national sovereignty’, ‘territorial integrity’ and all the other phrases they use when it suits them.
For both the US and Russia, this is a great power rivalry over whose so-called ‘sphere of influence’ Ukraine and other Eastern European countries should fall into, and this is all in the context of a new cold war between the US and China. NATO is a US-led military alliance, originally founded to combat the Soviet Union. In the wake of that state’s collapse, NATO expanded eastwards, taking in Eastern European countries, including Poland and the Baltic States, bringing NATO right up to the borders of Russia.
The planned incorporation of Ukraine and Georgia would have significantly advanced this process. Putin’s complaints about this ring hollow, however, as he has made clear he considers Ukraine merely as his “backyard” without any authentic rights to national self-determination.
Notwithstanding this, it is a reality that NATO expansion contributed to the development of this conflict and, most importantly, that ordinary people in Russia generally don’t trust the US or NATO. Therefore, any involvement by the US and NATO in this conflict will actually undermine the developing opposition to the war within Russia and will assist Putin’s regime in stoking up nationalism to buttress its policies, something which it has so far struggled to do. At the same time, the NATO powers’ ‘support’ for Ukraine will only extend as far as their own narrow imperial interests.
Workers’ anti-war movement
There is a real danger of escalating tensions between the blocs and increased militarisation on all sides. We are hearing calls for more arms spending, for increased EU militarisation, for more NATO troops and weapons in the region. None of this will lead to peace. Instead it poses the danger of a further escalation of this war, with disastrous consequences for the world. Nuclear war is once again an all-too-real threat.
Working-class people cannot rely on any of the different sets of capitalist rulers to resolve this conflict. Instead we need a global anti-war and anti-imperialist movement from below, in solidarity with the working people of Ukraine and their right to defend themselves. A movement which could really defeat the war machine would involve mass mobilisations, including in Russia, as well as workers’ action, for example refusing to transport weapons or in other ways obstructing Putin’s war effort. This is the alternative we need to fight for.