Given the debate among socialists regarding Russia's war on Ukraine, Green Left is publishing a piece submitted by long-time contributor Barry Sheppard which advocates a position of demanding a negotiated settlement. For a different view see "Opposing Biden’s war strategy requires supporting self-determination for Ukraine" and the Socialist Alliance's statement "Russia out of Ukraine! No to NATO!"
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The New York Times printed a long opinion piece by Christopher Caldwell in its June 4 edition, headlined “U.S. Helps Prolong Ukraine War”. While not an editorial, it appeared where editorials normally do.
Caldwell is a neoconservative who opposes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The NYT identifies him as “a contributing opinion writer”.
Caldwell argues: “The United States has helped turn this tragic, local and ambiguous conflict into a potential world conflagration.”
Providing context to the current war, Caldwell writes: “In 2014 the United States backed an uprising — in its final stages a violent uprising — against the legitimately elected government of Viktor Yanukovych."
Caldwell does not explain this was an uprising by Ukrainian nationalists — with armed far-right groups in the lead — who went on to form, with direct US intervention, a rightist nationalist government.
That government moved to ban Russian as an official language and mandated the teaching of Ukrainian in schools in the Russian-speaking east.
The government also launched a civil war against the east. Armed far-right groups that formed the Azov Brigade became the spearhead of the Ukrainian army in the east.
The West supported the Ukrainian nationalists in this civil war, while Russia supported the east.
The civil war came to a stalemate in the Donbas region, which borders Russia. But earlier this year, the Ukrainian army launched a new offensive in the Donbas, resulting in separatist troops from the Donbas and Russian soldiers stepping up their resistance.
The West, led by the US, supported the Ukrainian government’s pledge to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which would have completed NATO’s eastward move to Russia’s western border.
Crimea, at the time of the 2014 nationalist uprising, was part of Ukraine.
It had been part of Russia since tsarist Russia conquered it from the Ottoman Empire in the late 1700s. In the mid 1950s, the Soviet Union transferred Crimea from the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) to the Ukrainian SSR for administrative reasons, though it remained part of the USSR.
The port city of Sevastopol, in Crimea, had been the naval base for tsarist Russia’s (and then the Soviet Union’s) Black Sea Fleet. With the breakup of the USSR and independence for Ukraine, it was agreed the naval base would remain under Russia’s control.
If Ukraine had joined NATO, the naval base would have fallen under US control. Russia responded by retaking Crimea, with the support of the local Russian-speaking populace.
Caldwell writes: “In recent years, Russia’s control of Crimea has seemed to provide a stable regional arrangement. Russia’s European neighbors, at least, have let sleeping dogs lie.
“But the United States never accepted the arrangement. On November 10, 2021, the United States and Ukraine signed a ‘charter on strategic partnership’ that called for Ukraine to join NATO … and affirmed an ‘unwavering commitment to the reintegration of Crimea into Ukraine’.
“That charter ‘convinced Russia that it must attack or be attacked'.”
US arms Ukraine
On arming Ukraine, Caldwell writes: “The United States started arming and training Ukraine’s military, hesitantly at first under President Barack Obama. Modern hardware began flowing during the [Donald] Trump administration, though, and today the country is armed to the teeth.
“Since 2018, Ukraine has received US-built Javelin antitank missiles, Czech artillery and Turkish Bayraktar drones and other NATO-interoperable weaponry.
“The United States and Canada have lately sent up-to-date M777 howitzers that fire GPS-guided Excalibur shells. President [Joe] Biden has just signed into law a $40 billion military [additional] aid package.
“In this light, mockery of Russia’s battlefield performance is misplaced. Russia is not being stymied by a plucky agricultural country a third its size; it is holding its own, at least for now, against NATO’s advanced economic, cyber and battlefield weapons.
Others are therefore “correct to accuse the West of sleepwalking” into direct war against Russia, writes Caldwell.
He concludes his article: “The situation on the battlefield in Ukraine has evolved to an awkward stage. Both Russia and Ukraine have suffered heavy losses. But each has made gains, too.
“Russia has a land bridge to Crimea and control of some of Ukraine’s most fertile lands and energy deposits, and in recent days has held the battlefield momentum. Ukraine, after a robust defense of its cities, can expect further NATO support, know-how and weaponry — a powerful incentive not to end the war anytime soon.
“But if the war doesn’t end soon, its dangers will increase. ‘Negotiations need to begin in the next two months,’ Henry Kissinger, the former US Secretary of State, warned last week, ‘before it creates upheavals and tensions that will not be easily overcome’.”
Caldwell says that to make no concessions to Russia would be “insanity”.
That the NYT would feature this article so prominently indicates that an important section of the capitalist class’s political thinkers believe Biden’s present course could “sleepwalk” into direct war with Russia, and that a negotiated settlement with Russia must happen.
Germany, France and Italy are calling for a negotiated settlement, and have met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Under this pressure, Biden said the war would end with a negotiated settlement.
He also said the US would not tell Ukraine what to do about negotiations, meaning there will be none. Ukraine is not calling the shots in NATO’s war against Russia — the US is, and the US has blocked any negotiations with Russia.
For now, it is full steam ahead for Biden and his war machine, including threats to other countries that do not go along. He has also stepped up sanctions against Russia.
This includes sanctions against Russian wheat and fertiliser. Russia is a major supplier of those commodities. The result has been a shortage of wheat worldwide and hunger in much of the Third World.
The US administration visited Africa to get countries to stop importing Russian wheat, but they rejected that out of hand as their people face hunger.
Writing in CounterPunch, Dan Glazebrook explained that the US’s strategy has been to “bait and bleed” Russia: “The term ‘bait and bleed’ was defined by International Relations theorist John Mearsheimer in 2001 as a military strategy that ‘involves causing two rivals to engage in a protracted war, so that they bleed each other white, while the baiter remains on the sideline, its military strength intact.'
“In a widely viewed 2015 lecture on Ukraine, Mearsheimer noted that ‘If you really want to wreck Russia, what you really want to do is encourage Russia to conquer Ukraine.’
“The US and the [United Kingdom] — the latter in particular — appear to have been taking this advice very seriously.”
Putin fell into the trap with his invasion of western Ukraine to impose a government favourable to Russia. This was correctly denounced.
Putin also wanted to invade Ukraine under his version of himself as a reincarnation of Tsar Peter the Great to re-establish the pre-1917 Russian Empire — a pipe dream.
It was also a major blunder. Apparently, Putin was unaware that Ukraine had been “armed to the teeth” and was therefore able to repulse the drive on Kyiv. Russia was forced to withdraw its forces and regroup in the Donbas and the south.
Russia’s war then became a defence against Ukraine joining NATO and a future NATO attack, and a defence of Crimea.
Any realistic negotiated settlement would have to accept these justifiable Russian interests. Germany and France appear to accept that. Biden does not.
From proxy war to secret war
The NYT reported that Ukraine’s regular army has been defeated in the Donbas. Ukraine’s army in the Donbas is now composed of volunteers, it said.
Biden has responded to Ukraine’s defeats with ever more sophisticated weapons that the Ukrainian army does not know how to use, the NYT reports.
Among those weapons are ever more long-range ones. Putin has said that if those long-range weapons are used, Russia will respond. To utilise those weapons, it is likely that NATO troops will have to be used.
In this regard, Caldwell writes: “The United States may be playing an even more direct role. There are thousands of foreign fighters in Ukraine. One volunteer spoke to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in May of fighting alongside ‘friends’ who ‘come from the Marines, from the States’.
“Just as it is easy to cross the line between being a weapons supplier and being a combatant, it is easy to cross the line from waging a proxy war to a secret one.”
The only way Russia will now be defeated in the east and south of Ukraine — Biden’s goals — is with NATO troops entering the conflict.
Biden is attempting to recreate a unipolar world dominated by the US, first by defeating Russia and then China. Anti-war forces should be demanding a negotiated settlement with Russia now, thwarting Biden’s imperial goals.