Boris Johnson in Kyiv, February 2022. Photo: Flickr/Andrew Parsons Boris Johnson in Kyiv, February 2022. Photo: Flickr/Andrew Parsons

Lindsey German on the hawks circling over Ukraine  

It beggars belief that in a world where we have by no means emerged from the end of the Covid pandemic, the major powers are talking up war. But it has now reached a pitch with various pronouncements in and around the Munich Nato conference. When does talk about war turn into war? We may be on the edge of finding out this week. The past two months have seen the talking reach an intense pitch. US president Biden predicted that Russia would invade Ukraine last Wednesday. That didn’t happen but now he is certain that it will happen this week.  

Biden also said that any attack that looked like it was by Ukraine on the Russian supported republics of Donetsk and Lugansk would in fact be a ‘false flag’ operation set up by Russia in order to create a pretext for invasion and war. This is a no win situation for Russia: it is to blame for war regardless of how it looks or who fires the first shot.  

US intelligence claims include the likelihood of a ‘false flag’, a possible air assault on Kiev, the installation of a puppet government… there has been no public evidence for such claims, and they have not been shared in detail with European governments, to the latter’s increasing frustration. While it is impossible to verify such claims, we should remember that the US has a record second to none in its own false flags. These include:   

  • The Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, where US trained and backed Cuban exiles launched a failed offensive against Castro’s government
  • The Gulf of Tonkin in 1964, where a supposed attack by North Vietnamese torpedo boats on a US ship led to passage of a law allowing the involvement of the US in full conventional war against Vietnam
  • The claim that Iraqi soldiers had pulled new-born babies off incubators and left them to die in a Kuwaiti hospital following the invasion there in 1990 – this false charge had such initial force that even Amnesty International said it was genuine, and it was used as a major justification for the first Gulf War
  • The dossier presented by Colin Powell to the UN early in 2003 which repeated the lie that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Similar claims were made by Tony Blair’s government in September 2002 where his own dossier made the notorious assertion that Iraq had WMD that he was able to use against British interests within 45 minutes

Given these and many other examples it is hardly surprising that there is widespread scepticism about so called intelligence. Indeed it is the responsibility of anyone looking at these claims of war to show a high degree of scepticism before being dragged into a hideous war between nuclear-armed powers.   

Scepticism should be particularly high about the claims of our government. Britain has been the most vociferous in fomenting war of all the Nato powers. Boris Johnson is hoping that this and endless rhetoric about war will distract from his domestic unpopularity. Liz Truss and Johnson are making increasingly wild claims – that Russia will not stop at Ukraine but also wants to reassemble the whole Soviet Union, that this will be the worst war since 1945, and so on.  

They are unfortunately backed to the hilt by the Labour ‘opposition’ which parrots every aspect of this Tory rhetoric and where Keir Starmer is desperate to be seen as more patriotic and warmongering than his counterpart. His attack on the Stop the War Coalition last week is partly to distance himself from any whiff of Jeremy Corbyn’s politics (not that anyone paying attention could confuse the two), but partly to head a witch-hunt in the event of war coming.  

The reliably pro-war Iain Dale on LBC has called Stop the War ‘fifth columnists’ – i.e. the enemy within. And Paul Mason, erstwhile left-winger who backed Starmer for leader saying he would ‘advance the class struggle’, has decided that this war is the one where defence of Nato and all that it stands for is key. To this end he has organised a delegation to Ukraine which while claiming to be anti-war reserves all its criticism for Russia not the western powers. We’ve seen this before with Christopher Hitchens, Norman Geras, Nick Cohen, Gilbert Achcar and others who’ve moved from left to right as a result of supporting their own imperialism.  

I regard Russia as an imperialist power and there is no doubt that Putin is capable of waging war for his own interests – he was the architect of the war in Chechnya for example (which I and others on the left opposed). But the truth is that Russia’s GDP is 11th in the world and bears no relationship to the economic strength of the Nato powers. It is smaller than Canada or Italy for example. Even if we accept the US figure of 150,000 troops near the Ukraine border, this is nowhere sufficient for the invasion many predict. Compare that with the 700,000 amassed by the US for the invasion of Kuwait against Iraq in 1991. 

Nato’s expansion towards Russia is a key grievance of Putin and if you look at the map, he is right to be alarmed. There has not only been a massive increase in membership across Eastern Europe, but also Nato ‘partnerships for peace’ with a number of former Soviet Union republics. There is also the record of Nato in aggressive wars including Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Libya. These plus its current expansion into the Indo-Pacific belie the claim that it is a defensive alliance – none of these countries attacked Nato members.

#NATO has been marked by expansionist aggression.

Since 1999, NATO has added 13 new member states, all in Central and Eastern Europe, despite Western assurances at the end of the Cold War that there would be no eastwards expansion of NATO.#StopNATOExpansion

— Stop the War (@STWuk) February 18, 2022

The only solutions to the Russia-Ukraine conflict lie in diplomacy, not war. Every pronouncement from our government is moving things in the opposite direction. It’s why we need to dramatically step up anti-war campaigning. We need to do so internationally, supporting those who oppose their own governments in Russia and Ukraine. The statement from Stop the War has attracted more than 10,000 signatures in a few days. That shows the strength of feeling against war. We must not let our politicians take us into another one.

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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’.