Prime Minister Rishi Sunak holds a bilateral meeting with Volodymyr Zelensky in Vilinus. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak holds a bilateral meeting with Volodymyr Zelensky in Vilinus. Photo: 10 Downing Street on Flikr

This week’s summit exposed the growing tensions between the Nato powers themselves and with Ukraine, writes Lindsey German

The various powers in the Nato alliance are in more open conflict over the war in Ukraine than they have been since it began. The US and Germany have been much more reluctant than various Eastern European powers to bring the country into a closer relationship with the alliance until after the war is over. Even the strongly belligerent British government has openly criticised Ukraine’s repeated demands for more weapons.

The divisions revealed between the Nato powers at this week’s summit in Vilnius reflect the fact that there are no easy answers when it comes to the Ukraine war. Russia’s invasion last year was met with an unprecedented response from the US, UK, and other Nato member states in terms of supplying weapons, intelligence, training and logistical support to Ukraine. This was clearly from the beginning a proxy war between Russia and Nato.

The war did not result in swift victory for Russia, as many expected, given the resistance of Ukrainians. But the war has become a war of attrition, with both sides enduring heavy casualties and very little movement on either side. For months now, there has been talk of a counter-offensive by Ukraine’s forces, but as spring has passed to high summer, this has not materialised on any scale, so the impasse remains.

The answer from several of the Western powers has been to send ever more sophisticated and deadly weapons to weaken Russia’s advantage and to strengthen the Ukrainian side. But so far this has not been sufficient to shift the balance of forces – nor was it likely to be given that many military experts regard such a counter-offensive as extremely difficult without extensive air cover. The major powers, especially the US, are not going to provide this since they know it can lead to direct conflict with Russia, and therefore war between nuclear armed states.

The summit exposed the growing tensions between the Nato powers themselves and with Ukraine. For months now Ukraine’s President Zelensky and his advisers have been waging a public fight to pressure governments into providing more weapons and to allow the country to join Nato. He has been particularly open about this pressure at the summit. It has been very successful to an extent – a whole number of red lines have been crossed, as European governments have sent Leopard tanks, provided training on F16 fighters for Ukrainian pilots, UK cruise missiles, and most recently the US government shockingly agreed to send cluster bombs to Ukraine.

But Joe Biden and the US ruling class are also wary about doing more to escalate the conflict. There are several reasons for this: public opinion there is divided on the war, which has been funded at vast cost, and next year is an election year where the Republican candidate will be much more cautious about supporting the war. The cost of the war and its economic consequences are also beginning to hit home. And – perhaps most importantly – the US is centrally aware that Nato expansion and its consequences is not just a ‘Putin talking point’ but one of the main sources of tension with Russia.

There is a difference between wanting to weaken and defeat Russia through proxy war, as the US wants to do, and creating a much greater conflict which will potentially involve both direct fighting between Russian and Nato forces, and nuclear weapons. This has been the fear of Germany and the US at the summit and reflects the final declaration which puts Ukraine’s path to membership on hold, a position that Zelensky describes as ‘absurd’. It is instead a reflection of the reality of a conflict which is at a bloody impasse, and which is already leading to much greater tensions on a world scale.

Hence Biden’s argument that Ukraine must deal with issues of democracy and corruption, and UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace’s attack on Zelensky, where he said, ‘Whether we like it or not, people want to see a bit of gratitude.’ He added that last year he told the Ukrainian government, ’You know, we’re not Amazon,’ when given a list of weapons to provide.

All these are signs of the major Nato powers’ nervousness over the war and its potential outcomes. A further example of this is the dropping from the final communique a proposal to set up a Nato office in Japan. The fears about escalation on a world scale, with Nato extending its operation to the Pacific in potential conflict with China, are also growing.

As Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf put it recently, these developments and growing Nato belligerence are regarded warily by many governments outside of the US, UK, EU and Japan. This too is a problem for those, like our own government, who have been some of the keenest to send weapons and increase military spending. Wallace’s remarks seem to suggest that even here, the government is getting cold feet.

The calls for a ceasefire and peace must get stronger. The alternative is much more suffering for the Ukrainian people, the terrible legacy of cluster bombs for decades to come, and the threat of greater instability throughout the world. For working class people in Nato countries, they are facing demands that ever more is spent on weaponry while public services crumble and living standards fall.

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’.

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