By Alex Callinicos
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2908

Declining empire threatens escalation in Ukraine

As Russia bombards Kharkiv, Western countries increase imperialist tensions with military aid
Issue 2908
Volodymyr Zelenskyy is seeking more support from the West

Ukraine leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy seeks more support from the West amid increasing Russia pressure

While the genocide in Gaza rightly attracts the world’s attention, the war in Ukraine is escalating dangerously. The balance of advantage has been shifting in Russia’s favour thanks to its superior troop numbers, munitions and airpower.

One of its main targets in recent months has been Ukraine’s second city of Kharkiv, which has been subjected to an intense bombardment.

This has caused increasing panic in European capitals. There have been growing calls for more aggressive Nato action against Russia. The loudest noise is made by the governments of the Baltic states.

These countries border on Russia and were invaded and annexed by the Soviet Union during the Second World War.

Kaja Kallas, “Estonia’s steely prime minister”, as the BBC calls her, recently said she would welcome Russia’s breakup. This is the kind of talk that feeds Russia’s most paranoid fantasies. Still, Estonia is a tiny country, with a population of barely a million.

But French president Emmanuel Macron is a much more powerful figure. Back in February, he raised the possibility of sending French troops to Ukraine if Kyiv’s defences looked like collapsing.

He repeated this in an interview in The Economist magazine at the beginning of May. “I have a clear strategic objective: Russia cannot win in Ukraine”, Macron said. “If Russia wins in Ukraine, there will be no security in Europe. Who can pretend that Russia will stop there?”

Macron has also backed Ukrainian demands to be allowed use of the weapons supplied by Nato governments to strike targets inside Russia.

Forbidding this has been one of the red lines that United States president Joe Biden and German chancellor Olaf Scholz have resisted crossing for fear of provoking a direct confrontation between Nato and Russia.

These red lines reflect the logic of the proxy war the US and its allies have been waging. It is supplying Ukraine with the weapons and technical assistance it needs to fight Russia but stopping short of participating in the war themselves.

The US and Germany are the biggest suppliers of military aid to Ukraine. The US Congress passed a massive £50 billion package of further military aid at the end of April.

But on Tuesday last week Macron announced he would allow Ukraine to use French Scalp cruise missiles to strike sites in Russia that are being used to attack Ukraine. Biden followed suit two days later, allowing the use of US-supplied artillery and Himars multiple rocket launchers for “counterstrike” purposes into Russia but only to defend Kharkiv.

The British and German governments made similar announcements.

Russian president Vladimir Putin issued another of his nuclear threats, directed specifically at the European Union. “They should keep in mind that theirs are small and densely populated countries, which is a factor to be reckoned with before they start talking about striking deep into the Russian territory,” he said on a visit to Uzbekistan.

Biden is still maintaining his ban on the use of longer range ATACMS ballistic missiles to hit targets further into Russia. But the pattern is the same—the US and Germany set red lines, for example, not to supply tanks for Ukraine’s failed offensive, only eventually to give way under pressure.

Now the Wall Street Journal newspaper reports that Macron intends to announce that Nato governments plan to send military instructors to Ukraine at the 80th anniversary celebrations of the Normandy D-Day landings this week.

This would be more symbolic than real. It’s an open secret that Western special forces, technical advisers, and instructors are already operating in Ukraine.

But if Ukraine continues to weaken, the pressure to send Western troops to prop it up will grow, increasing the risk of nuclear war. The European Union is weak and divided, and has been unable to keep its promises to supply Ukraine with ammunition. Yet it seems able to push the US into action.

As in the case of Israel in Gaza, the tail seems to be wagging the dog. And thus a declining empire shambles on, dragging us towards Armageddon.

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