Ukraine Conflict: The Interplay of Contradictions

Ukraine is being supplied with lethal weaponry by NATO countries and, for the first time, by Germany
Ukraine's city hall is seen damaged in Russian offensive. [Representational image]
Ukraine's city hall is seen damaged in Russian offensive. [Representational image] File

The US-led NATO’s attempts to seek the high moral ground against aggression by the “brutal dictator Putin” reeks of hypocrisy and double-standards.

Going by the shrill pronouncements of President Biden and Prime Minister Johnson, this is the first time peace has been shattered in Europe after the Second World War and the end of the Cold War.

They completely ignore the fact that the first war in Europe after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 was the NATO aggression against Serbia and Yugoslavia in 1999.

The NATO forces unleashed a 78-day aerial bombardment on Belgrade and other places to achieve their goal of the dismemberment of Yugoslavia.

The NATO, after the Cold War, made it amply clear that it is an instrument for global US hegemony. The US and its allies, including Britain, invaded and destroyed Iraq leading to the death of a million Iraqis on the false pretext that Saddam Hussein’s regime had weapons of mass destruction.

After that, the NATO forces invaded and occupied Afghanistan for 20 years. The NATO partners attacked Libya and Syria, all sovereign States, the destructive consequences of which are still unfolding.

Therefore, the great hue and cry about how NATO under US leadership is committed to foil Russian aggression in Ukraine hardly gets any purchase in vast parts of the world, especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

The Russian attack on Ukraine has produced a confusing matrix of analysis and response to a conflict that is a product of various contradictions at play.

It cannot be understood unless seen in the context of the historic breakdown of the Soviet Union and the east European socialist system and the interplay of two forces that it unleashed: the rise of ethnic nationalisms of various reactionary hues and, the other, the aggressive thrust by the US-led western alliance to appropriate the entire European region which had been within the socialist bloc.

Within months of the end of the Cold War in 1991, the US ruling circles had decided that US imperial hegemony would be established in a unipolar world. The US Defense Policy guideline stated, “Our policy must now refocus on precluding the emergence of any potential future global competition”.

The geopolitical doctrine since has been the imperialist strategy of world dominance. This first required the weakening of Russia, so as to make it an ineffectual power in EuroAsia.

The eastward expansion of NATO was the main instrument for this. Later, the focus was to shift to containing of the rising power of China.

Since 1990, when President George W. Bush assured President Gorbachev that reunification of Germany will not lead to NATO expansion eastward, this commitment remained only a verbal one. The NATO saw five waves of expansion since then, which have taken the whole of eastern Europe within the ambit of NATO and the three Baltic states which were a part of the erstwhile Soviet Union.

In 2008, the NATO offered Georgia and Ukraine membership of NATO. This was the last straw for Russia. Ukraine, as part of NATO, would be a dagger at Russia’s heart. In 2014, the so-called Maidan revolution was engineered in Ukraine to topple President Viktor Yanukovych, who had made some overtures to Russia for strengthening ties.

The Maidan revolution coup also saw neo-Nazi groups in action, who later formed the Azov Battalion, which serves under the Ukrainian army. From 2015, the US has been training Ukrainian combat troops and pumping in billions of dollars in arms and ammunition in anticipation of any conflict with Russia.

The rightwing regime installed by the US was hostile to the Russian ethnic population which is concentrated in large numbers in the Donbas region. The civil war, which began in eastern Ukraine got temporarily resolved through the ceasefire after the Minsk agreement.

The new dispensation in Ukraine got joining of NATO included into the constitution. Ukraine, with its historical, cultural and ethnic ties with Russia, turning hostile was worrisome to the Russian state.

The response came when Crimea, which was part of Ukraine and is predominantly Russian, in a referendum held in 2014, decided to join Russia. The Russian Black Sea naval fleet is based in Sevastopol in Crimea, which is the only warm water port available to Russia.

With the United States and NATO placing troops and offensive missiles in newly-joined NATO countries around Russia, tensions have increased. The Russians mobilised troops on the border of Ukraine and made a demand for talks for a new security architecture in Europe, the non-inclusion of Ukraine in NATO and a guarantee against stationing of offensive missiles there.

The US-NATO rejected this demand and maintained that Ukraine as a sovereign country has a right to decide whether to join NATO or not. The military attack on Ukraine that followed has set in place a chain of developments which are going to have far reaching consequences for the future of Europe’s peace, economic affairs and security arrangements.

The Ukraine war is a reflection of the wider conflict amongst imperialist and major capitalist powers – the US-led western powers and Russia. Russia in the post-Soviet era has become a capitalist oligarchy headed by an authoritarian leader.

Taking steps to safeguard the vital security interests is one thing but to militarily attack a sovereign country violating its territorial integrity is something that has to be unambiguously opposed. It has already taken a heavy toll of lives.

Putin’s nationalism is of the Great Russian chauvinist variety as seen in his denunciation of the Bolsheviks and the creation of “Lenin’s Ukraine”. That is why the CPI (M) called for end to hostilities and for talks to be held. For the Biden administration, this has been a golden opportunity to bind the Atlantic Alliance closer to it and scuttle any possibilities of the emergence of European Union autonomy.

Within Europe, the major power, Germany, had been a reluctant partner in the aggressive actions of NATO and been resisting calls for military rearmament in a big way, but has now shed its reticence. The German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has announced a 100 billion Euro ($ 112 billion) in the 2022 budget for the armed forces and promised to reach 2 per cent of GDP spending on defence – a demand of the US and other NATO partners which Germany had so far not acceded to.

More troops and weaponry from the US and the NATO have sent to Poland, Hungary, Romania and the Baltic states. Ukraine is being supplied with lethal weaponry by NATO countries and, for the first time, by Germany.

It is in this background that we have to see how the military conflict in Ukraine is going on. It is two weeks since the Russian armed forces attacked and they have made steady advances capturing Kherson city and encircling the capital, Kharkiv and Mariupol and linking up with the rebel forces in the Donbas.

Despite the Ukrainian resistance in many parts, the Russian armed forces have acquired dominance given their superior land, air and naval forces.

Three rounds of talks have been held between the Russian and Ukrainian representatives in Belarus. In the last meeting held on March 7, some progress seems to have been made regarding a cease-fire.

First of all, humanitarian corridors were opened up for civilians to move out to safer places such as Sumi, from where nearly 700 Indian students have also been evacuated.

The Ukrainian side has indicated that its joining NATO will no longer be an issue, something which was confirmed by President Zelensky in a subsequent interview.

The question of the status of the two Republics recognised by Russia in eastern Ukraine and Crimea as part of Russia is still to be resolved.

As this is being written, significantly on March 10, the Russian foreign minister Lavrov and the Ukrainian foreign Minister Kuleba are meeting in Antalya in Turkey for talks.

The elevation of talks to the foreign minister level indicates forward movement. The end of the war immediately, a neutral status for Ukraine and a solution to the Donbas Republics based on the Minsk agreements would seem to be the most practical solution.

Prakash Karat is Member, Polit Bureau of CPI (M).

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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