In the diplomatic engagement two months before the invasion of Ukraine, Russia published its proposals on security guarantees on 17 December 2021. These demanded a formal end to NATO expansion and restrictions on western deployments of troops and weaponry in Eastern Europe. Putin stated that it was “extremely alarming that elements of the US global defence system are being deployed near Russia . . . If this infrastructure continues to move forward, and if US and NATO military systems are deployed in Ukraine, their flight time to Moscow will be only 7-10 minutes, or even five minutes for hypersonic systems.”
He stated that Russia required legal guarantees, not verbal assurances that NATO expansion would stop, because “fine words and promises” had not stopped this expansion. If western states persisted, Russia would “take appropriate military-technical measures and will have a tough response to their unfriendly steps.”
According to Russian sources Joe Biden expressed a willingness ‘to engage in a serious and substantive dialogue’ at negotiations in Geneva in January 2022, although by the end of the month Russia’s central demand for a written guarantee that Ukraine would not join NATO had been rejected.
Putin responded in a press conference:
‘Listen attentively to what I am saying. It is written into Ukraine’s doctrines that it wants to take Crimea back, by force if necessary. This is not what Ukrainian officials say in public. This is written in their documents.’
‘Suppose Ukraine is a NATO member. It will be filled with weapons, modern offensive weapons will be deployed on its territory just like in Poland and Romania – who is going to prevent this? Suppose it starts operations in Crimea, not to mention Donbass. Crimea is sovereign Russian territory. We consider this matter settled. Imagine that Ukraine is a NATO country and starts these military operations. What are we supposed to do? Fight against the NATO bloc? Has anyone given at least some thought to this? Apparently not.’
‘The United States is not that concerned about Ukraine’s security. Its main goal is to contain Russia’s development. This is the whole point. In this sense, Ukraine is simply a tool to reach this goal.’
On the last point he is correct, which no doubt scandalises the pro-war left–that anyone would agree with Putin on anything, but their alternative is to claim that the United States is only interested in Ukraine’s welfare and not in Russian power, which is patent nonsense.
For them to accept that the US continues to act as the imperialist hegemon would mean accepting the last part of Putin’s statement–that Ukraine is simply a tool and that it is waging a proxy war. Since the pro-war left supports Ukraine it too would become a proxy for US imperialism just as, in the old children’s rhyme – the thigh bone’s connected to the hip bone, the hip bone’s connected to the backbone, the backbone’s connected to the neck bone . . . All separate but effectively joined as one.
Putin went on to say:
‘This can be done in different ways: by drawing us into some armed conflict, or compelling US allies in Europe to impose tough sanctions on us . . . or by drawing Ukraine into NATO, deploying attack weapons there and encouraging some Banderites to resolve the issues of Donbass or Crimea by force . . .’
In the past year this is what has happened. The provision of NATO weapons to Ukraine, along with intelligence resources, has drawn the country further into the alliance itself; Europe has been persuaded and bullied into sanctions; NATO weapons supplied have become more powerful and, of course, Ukraine’s fascists have employed them; all with the support of the pro-war left, showing, in other words, that they have become extensions of imperialism as well.
A year ago a leading spokesperson for this left declared that only the supply of defensive weapons could be supported and stated that ‘we must also oppose the delivery of air fighters to Ukraine.’ He swallowed the nonsense that ‘for now, NATO members are declaring that they will not cross the red line of sending troops to fight the Russian armed forces on Ukrainian soil’, and he parroted these imperialist lies with all the appearance of a rookie amateur while his followers inhaled the illusions like naïfs.
Since there is no real distinction between defensive and offensive weapons the reason for such delicate distinctions is only the brutal appearance of the real nature of the war that these steps would reveal. Their position on the war has always relied on the superficial, with a studied disregard for its real and essential nature, but to accept the word of imperialism has opened these leftists to ridicule.
But now there is no hiding the proxy nature of the war for anyone except those who place their hands over their eyes. Main battle tanks and fighter aircraft are being supplied by NATO and ‘the red line of sending troops to fight the Russian armed forces on Ukrainian soil’ has been crossed. Over a year later all this is forgotten as the war proceeds, so that since the real character of the war must be ignored so also must the significance of the triumphant provision of imperialist weapons. However, just as the road that brought us to war received no opposition neither has its results.
The much awaited Ukrainian offensive against Crimea threatens massive escalation should it look like succeeding and massive destruction of Ukrainian lives if it fails, and once again the degenerate pro-war left is on board.
* * *
When Macron visited Putin on 7 February 2022 he asked if he intended to invade Ukraine, Putin replied that ‘“We are categorically opposed to NATO’s eastward expansion…It is not us moving towards NATO but NATO moving towards us.” He also reiterated the point that Ukraine’s membership of NATO was dangerous because at some point in the future it might attempt to reoccupy Crimea and the Donbass by force and thereby spark a broader Russian-Western conflict.’ A few days later he complained that his proposals had not received a substantive response and stressed “the reluctance of the leading western powers to prompt the Kiev authorities to implement the Minsk agreements.”
In response to Western counter-proposals, the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov warned that in the absence of legally binding security guarantees Russia would resort to ‘military-technical means’.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but what is not wonderful is ignoring it. The Russian invasion was a surprise to many, including this author, and it immediately needed to be opposed. With hindsight however it could have been more readily anticipated. The US and British intelligence services were more on the mark, but then the policy of both states was to provoke an invasion and they knew what the Russian red lines were. The Ukrainians simply became fodder for western strategy to weaken Russia and thereby more easily isolate and neuter China. The story of US policy regarding China would explain the progress to war much more than nonsense about it being Russian imperial ambition to change the borders of Ukraine etc.
Geoffrey Roberts argues that:
‘The final trigger for war might have been President Zelensky’s defiant speech to the Munich Security Conference on 19 February, in which he threatened Ukrainian re-acquisition of nuclear weapons. As Gordon Hahn has pointed out, there were no western protests at Zelensky’s threat to abrogate both the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Ukraine’s nuclear status and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to which Ukraine was also a signatory.’
‘Another crucial contingency was a significant uptick in ceasefire violations along the border between Kyiv-controlled Ukraine and Donetsk and Luhansk.’
On 21 February Putin stated that:
‘The information we have gives us good reason to believe that Ukraine’s accession to NATO and the subsequent deployment of NATO facilities has already been discussed and is only a matter of time. Given this scenario, the level of military threats to Russia will increase dramatically. At this point the risks of a sudden strike on our country will multiply.’
Seven months into the ‘special military operation’ Putin stated that Western states ‘have always been seeking the dissolution of our country – this is very true. It is unfortunate that at some point they decided to use Ukraine for these purposes. In effect . . . we launched our special military operation to prevent events from taking this turn.’
The following month he said that ‘What is happening today is unpleasant, to put it mildly, but we would have got the same thing a bit later but in worse conditions for us, that’s all.’
As long as Ukraine sought NATO membership and NATO was prepared to award it; as long as it strengthened its armed forces and was armed with a policy of regaining lost territory in Donbas, the leadership of the Russian state believed that war was inevitable, and it was better to have it before both Ukraine became more powerful and it had joined NATO. To wait for the former would make a Russian invasion harder, just as it was much harder in 2022 than it would have been in 2014, and if it waited until Ukraine joined NATO it would have signalled war against the whole of Western imperialism.
This is of some consequence today. The execrable Guardian columnist Simon Tisdall forecasts that the Ukrainian offensive will cause lots of casualties but may fail to expel the Russians, at which time Russia might agree a conditional ceasefire, while ‘Volodymyr Zelenskiy is obliged to temporarily postpone his drive to restore his country’s pre-2014 borders . . . The US and its west European Nato allies declare that democratic Ukraine’s sovereign independence, and the global rules-based order, are saved . . . Richard Haass, an influential former senior US diplomat, and Georgetown professor Charles Kupchan noted last week [that] “the west should do more now to help Ukraine advance on the battlefield, putting it in the best position possible at the negotiating table later this year. Ending the war while deferring the ultimate disposition of land still under Russian occupation is the solution” while a truce on this basis “could prevent renewed conflict and . . . set the stage for a lasting peace.”
Do the western powers really believe that they can pull another Minsk agreement that promised peace but was put in place to buy time to strengthen the Ukrainian armed forces for a renewed war? This time it is proposed that a ceasefire would involve NATO membership, as NATO powers have promised when the war is over. After all that has happened why on earth would Russia agree to a ceasefire after it has defeated a Ukrainian offensive?
Undoubtedly if or when the Western powers believe there is nothing more to be gained from Ukrainian deaths, they will don the mantle of peacemakers and condemn continued Russian aggression, but Russia will be more interested in ensuring that Ukraine with NATO membership is unable to pose a threat. By promising membership to Ukraine, the NATO powers have condemned Ukraine to further devastation, just as its history of intervention with this objective brought about the current war.
The workers of Ukraine will continue to be victims of rivalry among the biggest capitalist powers and their ruling class will continue to be complicit. The only alternative is to oppose all these capitalist forces and the only solution to their war is socialism, as one other famous Russian called Vladimir put it.
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