Russia is deploying troops, fighter planes and S-400 missiles to Belarus and bringing amphibious units to the Baltic. The German press is pushing its government to organize conscription if war breaks out. And while a new meeting of US and Russian foreign ministers is being prepared for Friday in Geneva, US discourse insists on presenting the invasion of Ukraine as imminent. Are we just a few days away from a new imperialist war in Europe?
This post was originally published in Spanish the 19th of january
Table of Contents
- What is the source of this conflict?
- What forces are pushing for war?
- Is Europe paddling toward war or away from it?
- But will there be an invasion of Ukraine?
What is the source of this conflict?
To understand the current situation we need to understand the overall framework of the US strategy. The withdrawal from Afghanistan was the most visible milestone of its “pivot to China”. The US was showing that it was willing to abandon the decades-long effort in the Middle East in order to effectively concentrate forces in the Pacific.
In Europe, the “pivot to China”, accelerated through Kabul, translated immediately into a “warming up” of the borders with Russia in the Black Sea and Ukraine. For the US, it served to discipline its increasingly difficult European partners and to contain Chinese temptations to lean on Moscow.
In the background, the end of the short- and medium-range missile treaty (INF) opened the door to put an end to Russia’s “strategic depth”. Western borders would be immediately “frozen” because Moscow would have no time to respond to a NATO missile attack. Russia, unsurprisingly, identified the change as a danger that neutered its entire European projection.
EWe are extremely concerned about the deployment of elements of the U.S. global missile defense system near Russia. The Mk 41 launchers located in Romania and planned for deployment in Poland have been adapted to the use of Tomahawk strike systems.
If this infrastructure moves forward, if US and NATO missile systems appear in Ukraine, then their flight time to Moscow will be reduced to between seven and ten minutes, and with the deployment of hypersonic weapons, to five. For us, this is the most serious challenge: a challenge to our security.Putin 21/12
Consequently, Putin began to demand, accompanied by ever greater demonstrations of force and factual threats of invasion of Ukraine, guarantees that Ukraine would not join NATO and that no new INF missiles would be deployed in new European countries, betting that the “pivot to China” would facilitate, if not an explicit agreement, then a balance with certain guarantees with the USA.
To sum up: we are basically in an imperialist conflict in which the US and Russia are trying to impose on each other guarantees that will set their respective spheres of influence in Europe. The invasion of Ukraine within that framework is a tactical threat, not Moscow’s central goal.
Read also: Biden redraws the map of world conflict: out goes Afghanistan but back comes Ukraine... and Falklands, 4/14/21 and Russia-US Talks over... Ukraine?, 11/1/22
What forces are pushing for war?
For the Russian ruling class the loss of “strategic depth” presents itself as an existential problem for its imperialist projection. The invasion of Ukraine is just one of the tactics and threats it uses to assert itself with the aim of reversing it. But whether in Ukraine or elsewhere, there is no doubt that the Kremlin would be ready to start a war if it sees possibilities of obtaining its goals… something which is not, however, clear.
In the US, the situation is more complex. The fracture of the ruling class and the dismal political prospects of the Democrats are consolidating a party of “hawks” in the White House. An invasion of Ukraine could mean for them something similar to what 9/11 meant for Bush’s “neocons”. Among other things, because some sectors of the Democratic Party are beginning to despair at Biden’s “lack of leadership”.
The risk, announced for months by Democratic Party analysts, that the 2022 mid-term elections will result in Republican control of Congress and the Senate is already evident. The bottom line is that if Biden and the Democrats have not succeeded in making the slim majority they now hold in the chambers work for them to decisively revive accumulation by moving the Green Deal forward and increasing, even temporarily, the consumption base, the November 2022 results may make it utterly impossible.Elections in Virginia and New Jersey and the slide toward war in Taiwan, 3/11/2021
Earlier today in the New York Times, the idea of escalating conflict with Russia as a “preemptive” response to an invasion of Ukraine was being presented as a pillar on which to “save the Biden presidency.”
The view that the Biden presidency is faltering – and failing – has now moved from the op-ed pages to the news pages, from right-wing critics to the conventional wisdom of the Beltway [Washington DC beltway].
“With the White House’s legislative agenda in tatters less than a year before the midterm elections,” my colleagues Lisa Lerer and Emily Cochrane reported last week , “Democrats are sounding alarms that their party could face even deeper losses than anticipated without a major shift in strategy led by the president.” […]
Biden may be eager to take advantage of any deal he can strike, but he must be careful not to stumble into a world where adversaries do not fear us, allies do not trust us, and Americans conclude that their president is weak.
The United States must meet Russia’s mobilization of forces on Ukraine’s borders with large-scale deployments of U.S. forces in the Baltics and Poland. And Iran should know that there is a sharp limit to U.S. tolerance of its risky nuclear policy.Biden can still salvage his presidency, New York Times
Is Europe paddling toward war or away from it?
If anything has become clear in all this escalation and the staging of the US-Russia talks, is Europe’s non-existence. It does not exist because the EU has been excluded to the benefit of both leading players and it does not exist as anything resembling a functional imperialist bloc because the differences between each member imperialism prevent them from going much beyond the declarative on something as basic as the position in the face of an eventual invasion of Ukraine.
In fact, the relationship with Russia divides even the German ruling class, making the US rightly doubtful that Berlin will join a forceful response from NATO countries in the event of an invasion of Ukraine.
Yesterday Baerbock, the Green leader who is now the new foreign minister, hinted in Moscow that an invasion of Ukraine would imply a shutdown of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, but this is not the majority view in the SPD. Chancellor Scholz, after much pressure, has come to the point of “not ruling it out”, after having stated that “Nord Stream 2 must be separated from a possible war”.
And the fact is that the supply of Russian gas is essential for Germany to be able to sustain the Green Deal without losing competitiveness in its exports outside the EU… something that Russia has been using since last summer to exert pressure through its influence on global prices. They know that the possible cutting off of Russian gas supplies becomes both unaffordable and inconceivable for the German bourgeoisie.
The US has tried to provide guarantees by organizing at full speed an alternative supply scheme with its own gas and the Algerian state supplier, but the German calculations do not work out. Result: Germany will go as far against Russia if there is an invasion of Ukraine as the latter is willing to accept without shutting down gas exports to Europe. They can even discuss a return to mass conscription for the first time since 1945… but, of course, without cutting off hydrocarbon imports.
CDU leader Merz expressed himself along the same lines with regard to the possible expulsion of Russia from the SWIFT system, the famous “financial atomic bomb” with which Blinken threatened Putin. Germany exports goods worth 23 billion euros to Russia… which without SWIFT would become irrecoverable. Which in the words of a German financier would result in “the [German] banks being stuck with their outstanding debts in Russia, having to accept high defaults.” In other words, the eventual response to an invasion of Ukraine also depends on the difficulties it could cause for the financial sector.
The Greens and the more pro-US sectors of the German ruling class may call it “short-sightedness” and “immediatism” and Washington may be shocked, but if one thing is clear to the German bourgeoisie, it is that its imperialist policy has to generate markets and dividends for it from day one, not curtail them. They are not in favor of investing too much in a new global imperialist balance, they are above all, in favor of not losing positions in the competition between great powers. The invasion of Ukraine would be an inconvenience for them, not an existential threat.
It is clear to them that their real imperialist competition is formed by China and the USA, which are clawing away at markets and investment opportunities, not Russia, which is a strategic supplier and an established market of a certain volume. Their aim is to contain Russia and discourage, with measures that do not endanger the bulk of their business, their imperialist ambitions in the German economic sphere of influence – including Ukraine. This, however, without escalating into open conflict. That is why, when push comes to shove, Berlin does not even accept Kiev’s armament orders.
But will there be an invasion of Ukraine?
For the moment, Russia is raising the stakes first and foremost to force a quick deal that would give it assurances of no INF nuclear deployment on its borders. And secondarily, to overcome resistance in Germany to Nord Stream 2 coming on line this winter.
The Russian ruling class knows that if it opts for an invasion of Ukraine, it could hardly hope to effectively and sustainably control the country by military means alone. And the situation of Russian capital, which has yet to recover from the impact of the worsening of the crisis in 2020, does not recommend a prolonged bleeding on its western borders.
So an invasion of Ukraine is unlikely. When it comes down to it, if Russia wants to continue upping its imperialist ante, it seems more feasible for the Kremlin to open a new front by taking nuclear bombers to Venezuela or Cuba, as it has already hinted. A risky move that it already tried in 2018 and that would again place the game of short- and medium-range nuclear deployment on the table.
The question is whether in that case the US would see the gamble or not. For the moment, the increase in the stakes for Moscow strengthens both the hawks in favor of containing China with a string of “localized wars”, and the sectors in the White House that see in this crisis one of the last opportunities to recover Biden’s image as a “strong president” capable of “uniting the country” (i.e. the now fractured ruling class) and disciplining his own allies.
However, the situation is already volatile. Any “mistake” could lead to a decantation of the whole situation towards war. Not necessarily in Europe.
A new stage of imperialist wars would have begun. And in that case, the only option to stop a disastrous armed escalation would be the struggle of the workers of the countries involved against their own governments and ruling classes.