Europe and the phantom war

25 January, 2022

Ukrainian soldiers with Grad rocket launchers. The permanent maneuvers are part of the "phantom war" we are living through.
Ukrainian soldiers with Grad rocket launchers. The permanent maneuvers are part of the "phantom war" we are living through.

The tenser the situation with Russia, as the US tries to mark its hegemony over Europe, the more France and Germany respond against the US… and the more the seams within the EU itself between the Franco-German core and the countries closer to Washington are coming apart. The real battlefield in the “phantom war” of these weeks is the EU, subjected to Putin’s and Biden’s double attack.

This article was originally posted in Spanish the 25th of January

Table of Contents

The phantom war is a dangerous game of “dramatizations”

Ukrainian soldier on the border with Russia
Ukrainian soldier on the border with Russia

The US could not fail to bring AUKUS into the crisis with Russia. The chosen moment was this week and the move a coordinated quasi-evacuation of the embassies of the three countries: Australia, the UK and the USA.

Immediately beforehand, the British had tried to make their presence felt by airing intelligence reports accusing Russia of trying to place a friendly government in Ukraine. The Russian Foreign Ministry dismissed them as mere “disinformation”, but “European partners” did not even acknowledge receipt, apparently determined to make the British invisible in this crisis.

In fact, the EU’s response to the AUKUS embassy evacuations has been limited to the US, ignoring Australia and Britain. And it hasn’t exactly been affectionate either. Borrell’s call for calm was above all a reproach and a challenge. Reproach for “dramatizing” and making the situation worse for no good reason by creating a sense of abandonment in Kiev. He openly challenged Blinken to “give us a reason to justify this move”.

To the chagrin of Brussels, however, a few hours ago the German Foreign Ministry announced that it would withdraw its non-essential personnel from Ukraine. Germany is once again bowing to pressure from Washington, which accuses it of being “the weak link in NATO”. A new gambit after the forced resignation of the admiral in command of the German navy, who had stated at an event what is still the German position, i.e. that the US discourse according to which Russia wants to invade Ukraine is “nonsense”.

The new US strategy…

US tanks of NATO's Extended Presence Battle Group in a military exercise in Latvia last March.
US tanks of NATO’s Extended Presence Battle Group in a military exercise in Latvia last March.

As we predicted, Biden is changing his strategy in this crisis, accelerating and escalating it to regain political space within the US. He wants to show strength to regain leadership against the Republicans by moving troops and forcing Putin into something that can be presented as a defeat resulting from a “strong presidency”.

The deployment of thousands of additional US troops to NATO’s eastern flank, which includes Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Biden administration officials said, is exactly the scenario Putin has wanted to avoid as he has seen the Western military alliance move closer and closer to Russia’s own border. […]

Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, said Sunday that the U.S. needed to conduct more maneuvers in those NATO nations. “We need joint exercises in Poland, the Baltic states, Romania, Bulgaria, to show Putin that we mean business,” McCaul said on “Face the Nation.” “Right now, he doesn’t see that we’re serious.”

Biden weighs deploying thousands of troops to Eastern Europe and Baltic countries. New York Times

At this point the U.S. military has put 8,500 troops on high alert, signaling its rapid mobilization toward Europe. A few hours later, cyber-attacks and the first episodes of (Touhou-themed) electronic warfare against the Russian army began. Biden is stepping on the gas pedal.

…undermines the EU by exposing its contradictions

EU foreign ministers at yesterday's summit.
EU foreign ministers at yesterday’s summit.

The latest US moves are not amusing either to Paris or Berlin. Both are trying to stay in command of the “European position” with increasing difficulties.

Macron has been downplaying the alleged invasion threat all week. His speech blames the current military escalation on Poland, for its blocking of an “EU dialogue with Russia”. But the attempt to polarize around Warsaw is not working. Yesterday’s NATO communiqué had no other meaning than to remind the European capitals that the Baltic States, Denmark and the Netherlands are playing on their own and that even Spain had popped its cork in front of Blinken with an extemporaneous speech in which it offered itself to the USA as a “preferential ally”.

The pathetic maxim of the Spanish minister, saying that it was time for “the four ds” (diplomacy, détente, de-escalation and deterrence), as if de-escalating the military presence and increasing deterrence were not opposites, well describes the argumentative banality of a part of the member countries that until now aligned themselves almost automatically with Paris and Berlin.

His concern lies not in the East, but in the trade war opened by Trump. After all, Biden approved a temporary suspension of tariffs as a gesture of goodwill, he did not consider it closed. The editorial of El Pais, the journalistic alter ego of the Sánchez government, telling Macron that “there is no time” for a European response or a dialogue of its own with Russia, reveals the scant real interest of the Spanish bourgeoisie for whatever happens in Ukraine and its desire to “get something out of it” at any cost.

In the East, on the other hand, the situation is the opposite. The Baltic countries, Bulgaria and Romania have found in Denmark and the Netherlands – the continental bourgeoisies traditionally most closely linked to Anglo-American capital – a pivot on which to corner the reluctance of Germany, Italy, Finland and France. The French press lamented that the anti-Russian warmongering bloc “in reality relies only on the US, not the EU, to guarantee its security”.

In reality, the Baltic bourgeoisies, whose ethnic states would be economically unviable outside the EU, are playing their own game. Far from preventing an invasion of Ukraine, their interest is to make tension with Russia the foundation of EU foreign policy.

Their permanent fear is that an energy-dependent EU, or at least on good terms with Moscow, will decide that the best way to stop the Baltic’s ambitions vis-à-vis Russia is to stop making invisible the large Russian-speaking minorities in these countries (over 30% in Latvia, 34% in Estonia) and give them a nationality that their governments deny them because of their ethnicist conception of the state. Most of them, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of workers from other parts of the former USSR, are still legally “non-citizens” and therefore stateless.

But evidently, neither Germany nor the EU can or wants to satisfy them by breaking off economic relations with Russia, even in the long term. The goal would rather be the opposite: to win Russia one day for the sphere of German capital.

For the time being, the German red lines are clear. Just this weekend Scholz again called for “prudence” with the imposition of sanctions, recalling that they would also affect the German economy and again putting the future of Nord Stream 2 in the mists.

Russia’s strategy

Russian ships take part in exercises in the Baltic Sea in October 2021.
Russian ships take part in exercises in the Baltic Sea in October 2021.

If we were to listen to Russian think tanks it becomes clear to us that in their eyes the fundamental issue in this crisis is the eventual deployment of U.S. short- and medium-range nuclear missiles in bordering countries.

Therefore, as we also pointed out, the most powerful way for Russia to retaliate in case it does not obtain the guarantees it demands from the US is not to invade Ukraine, but to threaten to deploy equivalent missiles in places from where they can threaten the US or its strategic interests and to carry out maneuvers in new “sensitive areas” for AUKUS or its European partners.

Regarding the first option, Vice Minister Ryakov already came out with a “I neither confirm nor rule out” to the question of whether they were thinking of a deployment in Venezuela or Cuba, something that was ruled out by Washington.

More serious in fact was the announcement of naval exercises with heavy artillery 240 km southwest of Ireland, off the waters of Spain and France next February. The Irish government has already made it clear that the exercise is “not welcome”, but could mark the beginning of a proliferation of such maneuvers as a form of pressure, not so much on the US as on the “weak links”.

France and Germany’s strategy

Macron will meet with Putin in the coming days. France and Germany desist from the EU and try to dismantle the "phantom war" by acting on their own.
Macron will meet with Putin in the coming days. France and Germany desist from the EU and try to dismantle the “phantom war” by acting on their own.

At this point France and Germany seem to have given up on having the EU as such contesting the leading role with the US in addressing this crisis with Russia. They are already trying to assert themselves, albeit in a coordinated manner, on their own.

Representatives of both powers will meet with Ukrainians and Russians, the famous “Normandy format”, this Wednesday. They are expected to present a first offer opening a certain path of negotiation. On his side, Macron will meet with Putin in the coming days to show him a “de-escalation path”.

The reality is that neither Germany nor France can give guarantees on Russia’s main goals -preventing a deployment of NATO short- and medium-range missiles in Poland, Romania or Bulgaria-. The “way forward” most likely consists in agreeing with Russia on a short term reduction of ground troops in exchange for a written guarantee from the US of reopening the negotiation of the INF missile non-proliferation treaty in Europe.

Can we rest assured that the conflict will be de-escalated now?

No. Even if the “phantom war” were to recede and no armed confrontation were to break out, the resulting situation will not be a mere “turnaround”.

In Europe, the extent of the fractures between the imperialist interests of the various EU states augurs a stormy time and a redoubled drive to rearm the Union by France and Germany. And what is more important, globally we will not be further away from war than a year ago, but in a scenario of “normalization” of regional escalations with the direct participation of the great powers.

As long as the ruling classes do not immediately fear the mobilization of workers against the war and its consequences, the “solution” of this crisis can only mark a new acceleration of the global imperialist tensions and generate dangerous echoes throughout the planet.

nos

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