Nato training exercise, Lithuania 2017. Photo: Flickr/Nato Nato training exercise, Lithuania 2017. Photo: Flickr/Nato

Lindsey German on the drums of war beating for Ukraine  

It’s a remarkable sight to see the British government in righteous mode about someone else going to war. This is after all a government grossly complicit in all the modern wars, most recently the failed interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. It sells arms and provides aircraft and personnel to help the Saudi-led coalition prosecute its war in Yemen, which has led to one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters, and which was responsible only last week for the bombing of a detention centre which killed nearly a hundred and injured hundreds more.

But here we go again. War in Ukraine looms dangerously close. The villain of the piece, according to western governments, military and media, is the Russian president Vladimir Putin, who has moved large quantities of military personnel and equipment close to the Ukrainian border. Ukraine has its own troops massed in similar numbers on the border with the Donetsk republic. Diplomacy between Russia, the US and other western powers has so far got nowhere. Weaponry and military personnel are now flooding into Ukraine from, among other countries, Britain. In coming weeks there are going to be naval exercises in the Black Sea by both Russian and Nato ships.

Any questioning of government narrative on this question is regarded as support for Putin. It is nothing of the sort. Putin runs an authoritarian and repressive regime and is acting in this belligerent way both for reasons of domestic politics and to maintain Russia’s imperialist interests. However we also have to look at some background to this question and at the complicity of our own government and its allies.

Crucial to this is what happened following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the east European states from 1989 onwards. The Cold War ended with the US the victor – a process due at least in part to the arms race of the Reagan-Thatcher years, designed to weaken the eastern bloc. Nato was a product of the Cold War, as was its East European counterpart, the Warsaw Pact. While the latter was disbanded, however, Nato embarked on a process of military intervention and geographical expansion. 

This has included direct intervention in three major wars - Kosovo, Afghanistan and Libya. Despite assurances given to Russian leaders after 1989 that Nato would not expand eastwards of the borders of what was then East Germany, the opposite has happened.  Whereas then Nato forces were 1000 miles from Russian borders, now they are right up against its borders, stationing troops and conducting military exercises.

The ridiculous conceit of its supporters that Nato is a defensive organisation is simply belied by the facts. Its support for failed wars, its demands that every Nato member state spends at least 2% of its GDP on the military and ‘defence’, and its expansion to include more and more countries all show that it is an aggressive and militaristic organisation which is trying to extend its hegemony.

Leaving projected membership of both Ukraine and Georgia aside, there is also talk in both neutral Sweden and Finland of joining Nato, which would be bound to be seen as provocative to Russia. It is now de rigueur for any new state applying to join the EU to also be prepared to sign up to this aggressive military alliance.    

Instead of engaging in any honest accounting about its failures in the War on Terror, and despite the evidence of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya in plain sight, the British government is fanning the flames of war. The claim by MI6 over the weekend that Putin plans to install a puppet regime in Kyiv following a war has been treated with derision by the supposed puppet, who is the subject of Russian sanctions, and clearly is regarded with some incredulity in press reports. It coincides with Boris Johnson trying to raise Britain’s profile in the warmongering stakes, in order to distract from his domestic travails. What could be better from his point of view than some flag waving and sabre rattling as an alternative to votes of no confidence, reports on parties, and stories of Tory whips blackmailing MPs. 

Yet it is part of a war of words which have reached a crescendo. Washington is ramping up its rhetoric as well as it supplies of weapons. Here in Britain, Putin is compared with a rogue male, and a very good novel by Geoffrey Household is traduced to allow – yet again – the comparison with Hitler. Keir Starmer is joining in the bellicosity, supporting the government to the hilt and sending shadow ministers to Kyiv.

The left really cannot allow itself to be fooled over this. There are two sides to this conflict – and Nato, the EU and US, along with the UK, represent by far the larger power. The Russia-Ukraine conflict is portrayed as plucky democratic David versus evil totalitarian Goliath. This misses out the huge military power behind Ukraine as well as the nature of the Ukrainian government itself, which contains far right ministers who look back fondly to the days of Nazi collaborator and antisemite Stepan Bandera.

There is no justification for war in Ukraine – and alternatives involve finding a diplomatic solution which recognises reality on both sides. The sacking of a German vice admiral for saying that Putin should be treated with respect hardly suggests this is going to be easy, but the alternative is a deadly war whose victims will be Ukrainians, Russians and the wider peoples of Europe.

It is unclear how things will develop since the west is still talking sanctions and weaponry rather than an all-out war between Russia and the Nato powers. And it is not certain what Putin himself will do. But the risk of war is ever present.

I’m afraid far too many on the left are lulled by the claims of the imperialists. The idea that we should ensure that Nato is a defensive force only is like asking a scorpion not to sting or a snake not to bite. The proposals for sanctions on Russia (which have already been used extensively) conveniently forget that they are a form of economic warfare and all too often a prelude to hot war. And while socialists are rightly sceptical of government claims on issues from environment to its housing policy, that scepticism is suspended over questions of war.

This ignores the fact that our main enemy is the one here at home. And we should not allow it a free pass in its warmongering.

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Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.