An interview by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky last Sunday kicked away some of the key justifications that are supposed to justify Nato’s escalation against Russia.
He said Ukraine would declare “neutrality,” promise not to develop nuclear weapons, and formally withdraw its plan to join Nato. Speaking to Russian independent journalists ahead of key negotiations this week, Zelensky said he was putting forward the compromise if Russia withdrew troops. Had such a plan been presented a few weeks ago, it would probably have averted the present war.
It is a long way from the repeated claims that Nato must pour in weapons and risk a nuclear war in order to defend “Ukraine’s right to join Nato”. But now the concession is backed by details that will probably mean the Russians don’t accept it.
Zelensky’s solution would mean although Ukraine wouldn’t technically join Nato, it would be protected militarily by Nato allies. “Effective security guarantees for our state are mandatory,” he said. It’s an attempt at clever political sidestepping that doesn’t remove a central motivation behind the Ukraine war—Russia’s attempt to stem Nato expansion on its doorstep.
He also said he would conduct separate negotiations regarding the disputed territory of the Crimea peninsula, and the Donbas and Luhansk regions, which Russia is attempting to take control of.
Meanwhile, US president Joe Biden ramped up the pressure on Putin by threatening regime change. During a speech in Poland on Saturday, he said Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power”.
Biden did not mean he was banking on a new revolution in Russia. He was laying out wholly new objectives for the war in Ukraine that cannot stop until the Russian president has been toppled.
It’s the arrogance of US military power that it believes it can dictate who is or is not in charge of any country. And it’s even clearer the West wants Ukraine wholly subordinate to US power and Nato troops if Russia is defeated. The White House immediately sought to “clarify” Biden’s comments, insisting his statement should not be taken as official policy.
But it fits with the rampant escalation of the past week. His “mistake” was to say openly what until now has been shrouded in talk about freedom. His openness embarrassed his allies and panicked his advisers. On Sunday US secretary of state, Antony Blinken said, “We do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia—or anywhere else, for that matter.” And Josep Borrell, the European Union’s chief diplomat, France’s president Emmanuel Macron and even Boris Johnson’s officials distanced themselves from Biden’s remarks.
Biden has blundered. His speech uttered views that are best kept for secret cabals. They will reinforce the belief held in much of the world that the Russian invasion is terrible but the US is also a murderous bully.
Biden’s administration is also pushing to extend its power over the region economically. It wants to supply 15 billion cubic metres of liquefied natural gas to the European Union in an attempt to bypass Russian fossil fuels.
Russia supplies 40 percent of the gas the EU needs for heating and power general and more than a quarter of its oil imports. The war leaves European Union leaders scrambling desperately to get their hands on energy supplies.
The 27 member states agreed to negotiate gas prices altogether as a bloc, but remained split on whether to ban Russian gas altogether. Biden also led calls for tightening the economic pressure on Russia by creating an EU and Nato led body to track if sanctions were being broken. He demanded “a system whereby we have an organisation looking at who has violated any of these sanctions, and where and when and how they violate them.”
Joe Biden underlined his threats of escalation by offering a nightmarish vision of the future in his speech in Poland on Saturday. “In this battle, we need to be clear-eyed,” he said. “This battle will not be won in days, or months, either. We must commit now, to be in this fight for the long haul. There will be a cost but it’s a price we have to pay.”
Biden’s recent worrying comments come in stark contrast to his electioneering in 2019. Back then, he said it was “past time to end the forever wars, which have cost us untold blood and treasure.” And he used the US forces’ exit from Afghanistan to boast that his election promise was fulfilled. Yet just two years into office, Biden is stoking up the prospect of a long scale war in Europe as well as firing shots at China.
Biden reiterated a warning to Chinese president Xi Jinping, and told him there would be “consequences” for supporting Putin. Although China claims to be neutral on the war, it was the only member to agree to a Russian resolution at last week’s United Nation’s security council.
It will be ordinary people in Ukraine and elsewhere that will be told to pay the price in blood and strangled living standards. The speech means even more significant escalation immediately—and fierce confrontation for so long as Putin stays in power.
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