Pro-war liberals who refuse any talk of peace underestimate what is being sent to Ukraine writes Lindsey German

Those of us opposing British and NATO involvement in the war in Ukraine are often told that there is no chance of the war escalating. Putin may claim that he will retaliate even to the extent of using nuclear weapons but he will do nothing despite threats. Simon Tisdall in the Observer repeats the claim this week, in an article which excoriates US president Joe Biden for being too indecisive and which is a paean of praise to Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky. Tisdall writes:

‘Biden should listen to Antony Blinken. His secretary of state has spotted a pattern over the past year: Kremlin warnings of retaliation and direct confrontation rarely amount to much in practice. The Russians huff and puff but mostly bluff. Putin is not entirely stupid. He knows he’d never win a fight with NATO, let alone survive nuclear warfare.’

It’s a remarkably insouciant view of Putin, given that the western press image of Putin is that he is a brutal and deranged war criminal (but don’t worry he’s just bluffing). It’s also remarkable to see the US as dragging its feet over weapons provision when it has provided $37.3 billion in arms since the Russian invasion last year, including, as listed by the British government:

‘Stinger antiaircraft systems, Javelin and other anti-armour systems, tactical unmanned aerial systems (UAS), counter-UAS systems, air surveillance radar, helicopters, self-propelled howitzers, coastal defence vessels, high mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS), national advanced surface-to-air missile systems (NASAMS), missiles for HAWK air defence systems,104 Avenger shortrange air defence systems, high speed anti-radiation missiles, armoured vehicles, tactical secure communications systems, a Patriot air defence battery, Bradley infantry fighting vehicles and non-lethal equipment such as helmets and body armour’.

That doesn’t include the provision of Abrams tanks, the training of Ukrainian military personnel, the agreement to train pilots on F16 fighter jets. But the problem is it’s never enough for those who want to push the war to its very limits. The pro war liberals who refuse any talk of peace have to both underestimate what is being sent to Ukraine – and it’s eye-watering, a huge movement of arms – and to pretend that the Russians will not or cannot respond.

Similarly the range of ‘unofficial’ exercises are admired from afar. The missile attack on the Kremlin earlier this month (likely carried out by Ukrainian forces acting unofficially but claimed to be a Russian ‘false flag’ operation by some politicians), the various acts of sabotage, the assassination in Russia of right-wing political figures, are all lauded and applauded without any consideration of where they might lead. The most dramatic example of this was the incursion into Russia itself by pro Ukrainian Russian forces, the Freedom of Russia legion, led by a fascist, using US military equipment. There are plenty of examples from history where such events have led to wider conflict, which no doubt would lead to more calls from liberals to send arms.

The risk is much too high over Ukraine, which as I argued last week is also inextricably linked to the second front in which western imperialism is engaged, the Indo-Pacific with the growing threats to China. The alternative – and the only alternative, as there is highly unlikely to be a decisive victory for Ukraine in the coming counter offensive – is a ceasefire and peace talks now.

These have become dirty words in western political discourse – regarded as naïve and pacifist at best, and apology for Putin at worst – but this development is in itself political. Zelensky is touring the world demanding more weapons and characterising those who don’t agree with him 120% as helping Russia because he knows that if the counter offensive is not successful, or even partially successful, then there will be growing calls for peace talks from a number of European governments and also from the US as another election year looms. That’s what is behind the pressure for more offensive arms now.

Socialists in the imperialist countries should see this for what it is, rather than cheer their own rulers in the bidding war of weapons provision. This is nowhere more so than in Britain, where our government is leading the demands for more arms, and where an incredible £4.6 billion will have been provided by the end of this financial year. It is an area where the left – critical enough over NHS spending, the environment or scapegoating of refugees – simply refuses to criticise. The war can only be understood in its wider political context. Any other approach involves putting down the shutters on the role of the major powers and the growing threat of war internationally.

30 May 2023 by Lindsey German

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