Capitalism’s war in Ukraine

August 23, 2022
A man seeks protection in a bomb shelter in Ukraine. Photo: Taras Chuiko/Pexels

The war in Ukraine continues. The cost in human lives and the destruction of infrastructure is painfully obvious. We see it on a daily basis. The other war — of capitalist control of land, resources and markets — also continues but out of the camera’s glare. The war should be over but grinds on. Why? Profits can be made. If it were not the case then wars would not be fought.

While the Ukrainian people suffer, the United States, NATO and Russia ensure that no quick solution will be found. The preferred option for the West remains a withdrawal of Russian forces and a weakened Russian economy that is compliant to the dictates and interests of Western capitalism. Russia clearly means to maintain control over occupied territory. Its economic future is largely built on achieving such an outcome.

There has been talk of a new Marshall Plan that would further European and US capitalist interests and serve Ukrainian capitalism. The Recovery Summit in Lugarno, Switzerland, in July set the framework for such a future. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen spoke of huge private capitalist investment in a post-war Ukraine. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen intimated that “reforms” and “support” for Ukraine will come at a terrible cost to the Ukrainian working class.

These “reforms” are predicated on a result that suits Western capitalism and, in this respect, reflect the needs and aspirations of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The cost of the war, in dollar terms, grows. Current estimates of the cost of rebuilding, according to Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, would be at least US$750 billion.

The stakes are high for all parties in this war and are counted in dollars and cents and in lives and blood. Ukraine is also counting the cost in land and national sovereignty. The territory that has fallen to Russia remains key to the outcome of the war and the economic balance sheet.

The Washington Post recently cited a report from analytics source SecDev which indicated that as much as $12.4 trillion of energy deposits, metals and minerals in Ukraine are now within the territories occupied by Russia and the Donetsk and Luhansk "republics". Sixty-three percent of Ukrainian coal deposits, 11% of its oil, 20% of its natural gas, 42% of its metals and 33% of its deposits of rare earth and other critical minerals, including lithium, are now effectively under Russian control.

Ukraine, in whatever future that emerges, will be squeezed and its working class will suffer.

Stanislav Zinchenko, chief executive of GMK, a Kyiv-based economic think tank, recently made the observation that “the worst scenario is that Ukraine loses land, no longer has a strong commodity economy and becomes more like one of the Baltic states, a nation unable to sustain its industrial economy”.

Kyiv’s economy will only survive with huge investment from the West. If Western capitalism were to lose the potential to exploit Ukraine's resources, then the “investment” that the Financial Times spoke so glowingly of when outlining the future of the country after Russia’s retreat, would be less alluring.

Kyiv would permanently lose access to almost two-thirds of its mineral wealth. While this has devastating ramifications for Ukraine and its people, there are broader geo-political issues to consider. Western Europe, as part of a global economic bloc that is seeking to simultaneously limit China’s economic ascendancy and weaken Russia, is keen to find alternative markets and reduce the need to import from both China and Russia.

And while the war grinds on, the US, Britain, France and Germany forge an alliance that can only be temporary. Anything else would be to defy the whole logic of capitalism, the very essence of which is the competitive accumulation of capital that leads corporations to push outwards for new markets and sources of raw materials, new arenas for profitable investment and for new supplies of labour to exploit.

Under capitalism, wars are fought to gain access to markets, resources and to harness the working class in its service. The suffering of the Ukrainian people attests to this. People everywhere want and demand an end to the war. It will end when the costs outweigh the gains for one side or the other. It is capitalism’s war. It is the working class, both Ukrainian and Russian that ultimately pay the price.

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