The cross-party clamour for escalation on display in Westminster is dangerously irresponsible writes Chris Nineham

Wednesday’s speech by Ukrainian President Zelensky in Westminster was a carefully choreographed piece of war theatre. The key mover behind it was the discredited former prime minister Boris Johnson, who has been urging ever greater military support to Ukraine.

The terrible war in Ukraine has raged for nearly a year. Stop the War has repeatedly condemned Russia’s unjustified invasion but we also recognise that this has become a proxy war between Russia and Nato and it contains the seeds of dangerous escalation.

Applause began the moment Zelensky came out of a side-entrance dressed in khaki sweatshirt and made his way to the raised lectern. MPs from both parties repeatedly interrupted the half-hour speech with furious clapping. Only a handful of world leaders have been allowed to give speeches at parliament’s oldest building, including Charles de Gaulle, Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama.

Zelensky was introduced by Speaker of the House of Commons Lindsay Hoyle with the words “We are honoured you put yourself at risk to address us and again shine a light of the fact your country is still fighting for its survival.” During the speech Zelensky presented Hoyle with a Ukrainian fighter pilot’s helmet, on which were the words “We have freedom. Give us the wings to protect it.”

The aim was to boost pro-war sentiment in general, but also to use the British parliament to pile pressure on other western powers to provide fighter planes for Zelensky’s war effort.

Both the US and Germany have refused to deliver planes to Ukraine, knowing that to do so would be deeply provocative to Russia. It would provide Ukraine with the capacity to strike deep into Russian territory. It would mean western and Russian planes confronting each other in Ukrainian airspace, taking us to the edge of open war between NATO and Russia.

Ignoring these concerns, the British government has offered to train Ukrainian pilots on modern Nato fighter jets in a clear hint that it may follow up by providing the hardware.

Boris Johnson, unmistakably behind today’s event, issued a call after the meeting for British Typhoon jets to be sent immediately to the Ukrainian government. He has repeatedly dashed prospects of peace talks between Ukraine and Russia and sees sending planes as another opportunity to stoke war.

The cross-party clamour for escalation on display in Westminster today is dangerously irresponsible. It takes place against the background of spiralling tensions between the US and China – tensions that nearly came to a head in last week’s spy balloon incident.

It also comes at a time when austerity and inflation have created a desperate crisis for millions of people in this country, a situation actually made worse by the war in Ukraine.

In this frightening context, the anti-war movement has a big responsibility. Despite widespread popular misgivings about the western response to the Russian invasion here and around the world, Starmer has silenced anti-war Labour MPs, making it clear that MPs who criticise NATO will have the whip removed.

Just a few months ago even leading military figures in the US were saying publicly that negotiations were necessary to end this war. Like almost all conflicts, the war in Ukraine will ultimately end in negotiations, but the current policy of escalation makes the prospect of peace talks more and more remote, prolonging the agony of the Ukrainian people.

Despite this and repeated warnings from foreign policy experts that there can be no winners in this war and that NATO policy over the last few decades has contributed to the crisis, there is no space in the British media or politics for anti-war voices.

It is crucial in these circumstances that everyone who is against escalation from both sides and wants to see a peaceful resolution to this terrible war takes a public stand.

Protests calling for peace talks are taking place across Europe around the anniversary of the Russian invasion in two weeks time. Activists report that in most European countries a majority of people oppose involvement in the war and support calls for peace. In Britain the Stop the War Coalition and CND have called a demonstration in London demanding for negotiations and an end to the war. We urge you to join us.

08 Feb 2023 by Chris Nineham

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