Following Boris Johnson's visit to Kyiv, Britain and the US continue to ratchet up tensions with Russia despite Ukraine urging calm, writes Terina Hine
With the build-up of troops on the Ukrainian-Russian border, the increased deployment of US forces to eastern Europe and an ever growing supply of military hardware to Ukraine, the threat of an all-encompassing European war is very real.
Russia accuses the west of “whipping up hysteria” and trying to draw it into a war it doesn’t want; while the west accuses Russia of trying to “redraw the security map of Europe”. No-one knows whether there will be an attack, but with such high-stakes sabre-rattling anything could happen. And it would not be the first time war was started by mistake – playing with fire is a sure way to get burnt.
Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, has once again tried to dampen the flames, directly contradicting the US and UK, by stating that Russia has not amassed enough troops to mount an invasion. Moments before Kuleba’s statement, Boris Johnson had declared there is a “clear and present danger” of an imminent military campaign. And a few hours after, the US announced a deployment of over 3,000 additional troops to eastern Europe to defend its NATO allies. Ukraine of course is not a member of NATO.
Russia’s response: these are “destructive steps which increase military tension and reduce scope for political decisions.”
Key to the current crisis is the breakdown of the Minsk peace agreement, signed by Ukraine and Russia in 2015. The agreement was intended to bring an end to the conflict between Ukrainian and separatist forces in the eastern region of the country, the Donbas. Putin has accused Ukraine of “chronic sabotage” of the agreement by failing to permit local elections and fulfil its promise of allowing the Donbas regional autonomy; the Ukrainians accuse Russia of political interference in the region and of providing military assistance to the separatist forces.
This regional crisis has been exacerbated by US and NATO interference. In 2014 the US helped install a new western-friendly government in Ukraine and has since been encouraging closer links between Ukraine and NATO. The US, hoping to expand its sphere of influence right up to the Russian border, has a 20-year history of encouraging NATO’s eastward expansion. Putin has asked the United States and NATO to guarantee Kyiv will not be joining the military alliance. They refuse.
In 1990, at the time of German reunification, the US promised NATO would not expand its borders beyond former East German territory. Verbal assurances were given by the US secretary of state James Baker, to Gorbachev, and were later reiterated by the British Prime Minister John Major to the then Soviet defence minister. In a clear breach of this agreement, thirteen additional member states, all from central and eastern Europe, have joined the alliance since 1999. Moving ever closer to Russia’s borders is, unsurprisingly, viewed as an act of confrontation in Moscow.
For the Johnson government the Ukraine crisis is an opportunity to boost its “Global Britain” fantasy in a post Brexit world. It provides the chance to try and prove itself as a serious player on the international stage and as America’s most loyal European ally. For the US, the UK is a useful tool in Europe freeing Washington to focus on its main strategic goal further east, namely China.
For Boris Johnson, there is the added bonus that few distractions are quite as distracting as war – and with his party imploding around him it is no surprise that the unscrupulous Johnson is keen to find a distraction. Playing the statesman, strutting on the international stage, offering military and financial support to Ukraine, and talking up the prospect of war provide the perfect diversion from the home front.
In contrast to its main European allies, Britain is firmly backing the warmongering US. Along with Slovakia, Hungary and Croatia, Germany and France do not hold that Putin is planning an imminent invasion, and do not agree that the way to handle Russia is through threats. France and Germany are hoping for a diplomatic solution and are in close contact with President Putin pushing for a negotiated agreement. The US has been pushing hard to get Germany on side.
Reflecting its historic and economic relationship with Russia, and the legacy of the Second World War, Germany has refused to supply Ukraine with weapons, and has even blocked Estonia from sending old East German military equipment. It is impossible for Germans to sanction the use of German-made military equipment against Russians.
Consequently, Ukraine has accused Germany of being untrustworthy while the Wall Street Journal call it an unreliable ally. But with the weight of history and gas pipes on its shoulders, Germany is unlikely to adopt the aggressive stance of its anglophone allies any time soon.
To prevent war, diplomacy must prevail, if not thousands of lives will be lost with Ukraine bearing the brunt of the horror. The strong anti-war sentiment felt by the vast majority of the public and the knowledge that recent western military action has been an abject failure with disastrous consequences, must translate into action that ensures Britain ends its addiction to military intervention and its desire to cling to the coattails of the US.
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