This Winter’s Reckoning.

A recent article in the Financial Times puts things very starkly, albeit in very restrained language.

“This coming winter will bring a reckoning. Western governments must either invite economic misery on a scale that would test the fabric of democratic politics in any country, or face the fact that energy supply constrains the means by which Ukraine can be defended.”

Put more bluntly, this means that the cost of energy is now so high – a recent email from Octopus Energy to its customers stated that wholesale natural gas is now eight times more expensive than it was before the war – that unless it is stopped soon, the economic and political consequences will be catastrophic.

We can have war, or social stability. We can’t have both.

This is already unfolding in parts of the Global South, which has nothing to do with fuelling this war either way, but as always suffers the blowback first and hardest. Sri Lanka is an example.

This means that “Western governments”, should they decide to keep fuelling the war with loans, munitions and rhetoric, will face the blowback of an economic crisis beyond their control; with unpredictable political consequences and an unprecedented level of turmoil.

A straw in the wind for this is advice given to their workers by the Austrian Supermarket chain SPAR, not to intervene to try to stop mass looting in the event of energy blackouts this Winter, on the grounds that the looters would then become enraged and smash the shops.

Governments, like Italy’s, or, in Boris Johnson’s case, Prime Ministers, are already beginning to topple. Olaf Scholtz is looking shaky. Ukraine is the Trojan Horse for the Latin Americanisation of Europe. Local instability the price for an increased US grip.

Recent moves, reported in the FT but not much more widely, that the US had pressured the EU to ease off on sanctioning insurance for Russian oil shipments, indicates that the impact of the price of gasoline at petrol stations on how people vote in the mid term elections is a material consideration for the Biden administration. So, they will soft pedal aspects of sanctions which are too much to bear; for them.

But, this is a tactical nudge within a framework of seeking a long war “to weaken Russia” on the lines of the Afghan war in the 1980s; so, there’s the tension.

The problem for the “West”/Global North/NATO is that anything less than a sudden Russian collapse this Autumn will see such a severe level of economic blowback that they may not be able to sustain it.

There is no sign that such a Russian collapse is on the cards. Quite the contrary. The most optimistic assessment from the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence this week is that the war is at a “strategic stalemate”. This is not the case, but, even if it were, Winter is coming, and a frozen conflict would freeze the economic crisis into place; with everything that flows from it. There needs to be a quick resolution.

Even when looking through the filtered reports in the media here, the military situation on the ground appears to be one of continuing incremental Russian advances in the Donbass, where they seem to be punching through both flanks of the fortified Ukrainian defences opposite Donetsk City, with the infantry trying to hold the line taking heavy casualties; as well as making advances around Kharkiv in the North. The massive Ukrainian counter offensive to retake Kherson in the South, that was widely broadcast as in the offing at the end of July, has not materialised, and is unlikely to; being replaced with small but spectacular sabotage operations, or possibly drone strikes, in Crimea. This could continue for a horribly long time.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian economy is in a state of collapse (60% down even from the beginning of the year, when the Ministry of Finance was warning of its then unviability). The response has been to organise a massive fire sale of state assets to the private sector and cement in place legislation that removes the trade union and contract rights of the workers the government is conscripting to fight at the front. While the military conflict is going badly for Ukrainian oligarchs, the class war within Ukraine is all in their favour. But short term gains of this sort have no long term viability if the war continues to degrade the country.

More to the point, aiming to reconquer the Donbass and Crimea is beyond Ukraine’s current capacity. It implies a war without end, requiring permanent Western loans to keep the economy functioning on life support level. This would reduce Ukraine to even more of a client/frontiersman state than it already is – a source of raw materials and foot soldiers, and assets to be gobbled up, but not a genuinely independent sovereign nation on any part of its territory.

So, a continuation of the war is far more disastrous to Ukraine than it is to Russia; in the short, medium and long terms.

The G20 in Indonesia on 15/16th November, with the NATO powers, Putin, Xi Xinping and the Presidents of the BRIC countries and Turkiye attending could be a point at which the outlines of a cease fire and peace deal could be set up, global tensions reduced, food and energy supplies boosted, the suffering in the war stopped and the world’s attention turned back to cooperation to deal with climate breakdown and global poverty. Or not.

For that to happen, we need countries currently pushing and fueling the war to start pushing for a solution to it instead. This is difficult, because they have invested so much face in it – and bluff is nine tenths of power. The first instinct of government’s like the one we can expect from Liz Truss will be to brass it out – having already signalled that they will promote the war, expect workers to see their living standards fall “in the national interest”, face down any domestic unrest, pass laws to make lawful strikes or protest harder. And that’s just for starters.

The issue for the labour movement therefore, is whether it allows itself to be dragged behind such a policy. We can expect enormous pressure to be put on “enemies within”, dissent interpreted as treason, peace campaigns put on proscription lists.

We can also expect an even louder emphasis on atrocity stories, as, if you are going to mobilise a population behind a war, you need them to fear and loathe the other side. The argument is essentially that the suffering in the war has been, and is, so bad that we should keep it going until the Russians are punished for “starting” it. The continuing suffering of everyone involved as the fighting drags on is somehow collateral damage that can be disregarded. News of the last atrocity fuels the next one, and the one after that.

It is essential in stories like these to project the other side as the sole source of atrocities, or morally culpable for all of them. Hence the need to talk about “Russia’s unprovoked attack” – a constantly repeated phrase used by everyone from President Biden to the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign aimed to mesmerise anyone listening into ignoring everything that happened in Ukraine from 2014 onwards.

You don’t have to agree with Sergei Lavrov that all accusations of Russian atrocities are made up – because all armies commit atrocities in war, which is why the UK government recently passed legislation making British soldiers immune from prosecution for the war crimes the same government likes to pretend they wouldn’t dream of committing – to recognise that many of them have been exaggerated (in exactly the same sort of way that those committed by German soldiers in Belgium in 1914 were) to moralise the public response behind the war drive. But it is helpful to be oblivious that the scale of Russian attacks on civilian infrastructure in Ukraine has been limited compared to what the Americans do in “Shock and Awe” attacks – in which all power stations and water treatment plants are smashed on Day 1.

The need to moralise the public response also requires that people are guided away from any awareness of atrocities committed by the side that “we” support. In the interests of balance, here’s four.

In recent weeks the Ukrainian army has taken to firing thousands of petal mines into Dontesk City. This is an anti personal mine designed to maim; essentially to blow people’s legs off. Firing them into a city is targeting civilians in an indiscriminate way. Thousands of them. We can be sure that any victims of this won’t be given the full Feargal Keene treatment. No instrumentally useful sympathy due there.

In the last fortnight, Ukrainian artillery has been shelling the Zaporozhzhia nuclear power station. The potential consequences of this hardly need spelling out. This is unhinged. But, instead of a simple demand that this stops, we have had surreal reports in the press here echoing Ukrainian claims that the Russians themselves are actually shelling a power station that they control, before moving quickly on before anyone has a chance to reflect on how absurd this is; the same sort of ludicrous stretch in credulity that conspiracy thinking depends on. Everything bad must be done by the bad people so we can stay comfortable in our moral certainty.

In the case of the Bucha massacre, the public claim by the Press Officer of the Azov battalion that their troops were moving through Bucha after the Russian withdrawal to “cleanse” the town of “saboteurs and collaborators” would account for why so many of the victims were found with Russian ration packs or water bottles. This does not mean that no civilians were killed by the Russians, but it takes a real act of will not to conclude that many of them were killed by Azov. This is dismissed in Western media, but, as its a public statement by them on Twitter, I think we can take them at their word.

And there are over 1000 warrants out for treason, and dissidents have been “disappeared” or just shot (and their bodies posted on social media with tags like “one less traitor”).

The bottom line here is that war brings out the worst in everyone. Which underlines why we need to end it.

To conclude. The war is slowly going Russia’s way. Ukraine’s economy is collapsing. Continued NATO arms and financial support won’t change the dynamic of either. Without a resolution – or basis for it – at the latest by the G20, we face a scale of economic and political crisis – even in the wealthiest countries – that is off the map.

We need to campaign for opposition Parties to break with the government line of fuelling the war if we want to avoid economic misery on a scale that would test the fabric of democratic politics.

Historical Note

Sometimes in these discussions, people put the argument that Ukraine has been struggling for independence against Russia for over 100 years. This map from time of the Treaty of Brest Litovsk in 1918 is very interesting when you compare it with the map showing votes in the 2010 Presidential election. Leaving aside the parts of Western Ukraine that were still parts of the Austro Hungarian Empire in 1918, the division between the rest of Western Ukraine and the areas in the South and East that formed Soviet Republics foreshadows almost exactly the political/national fault line shown up by the way people voted in 2010. This shows that the Nationalist movements that are presented as the representation of the people of Ukraine as a whole are not representative of all of it, and never were.

https://www.edmaps.com/html/ukraine_march_1918.html
http://antifon.blogspot.com/2014_11_01_archive.html
https://www.edmaps.com/html/ukraine_claims_1919.html

This map from 2019 showing an aspirational Greater Ukraine, incorporating both Novaya Rossiya and the lands of the Don Cossacks as far as the Caspian Sea, shows that inside every thin nation struggling for self determination, yearning to breathe free, there can be a bloated expansionist version busting to get out and impose itself on others if given the chance.

Class Struggle inside Ukraine

Two recent articles in Open Democracy report responses from Ukrainian trade unions to the “Lugano Declaration”, which came out of a conference between high Western and Ukrainian officials in Switzerland last week and sets out plans for economic reconstruction “after the war is over” by the Ukrainian Oligarchy* and its major imperial sponsors; the US, UK and EU.

This exposes the way that Ukrainian Oligarchs are ruthlessly using the war to entrench their position against the working class.

Natalia Zemlyanska, head of Ukraine’s Union of Manufacturers and Entrepreneurs commented, “No representatives from Ukrainian trade unions, nor our social partners from the employers’ side, were invited to help develop the reconstruction plan.

Thus, Ukrainian unions are not considered by their ruling class to be a significantly valuable part of their nation to deserve any voice in discussions about helping shape its future economy. This is not new. As Zemlanskya noted, the principle of social dialogue “died in Ukraine long before the Russian invasion”.

Its worth bearing in mind what the pre war baseline they are “reconstructing” was. Overall, Ukraine was a country in structural crisis and decline. In 2019 the population was down 10 million from the level of 1993, declining at about half a million a year. Its GDP was lower than it was in 1989, with an aging population despite a low life expectancy of just 71.76 years (67 for men) and the shortest healthy life expectancy in Europe. Unemployment was consistently around 9%. It was 88th out of 189 countries on the Human Development Index – well below Russian and Belarus, just below China, Ecuador and Azerbaijan; and just above the Dominican Republic, Saint Lucia and Tunisia.

The reconstruction planned at Lugano will entrench these trends by consolidating the liberalisation of labour legislation that has accelerated since the Maidan events in 2014 – which has now been entrenched by emergency wartime regulations – to further squeeze the space for trade unions to operate, to give employers a free hand, and remove state oversight of the labour market.

This has been supported by countries like the UK for some years. Alongside the military training delivered since 2014, in 2021 the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office funded a propaganda project to make labour deregulation popularly acceptable; in a clear demonstration of what making “development” subordinate to foreign policy imperatives looks like.

This highlights something that at first sight looks paradoxical. While seeking EU membership, Ukraine is moving sharply away from EU labour standards. In October 2020, eighteen months before the Russian invasion, the joint report of the Ukrainian unions and the European TUC , noted that obligations to enshrine “international labour norms in law and in practice, ensure freedom of association and collective bargaining in particular, strengthen social dialogue and capacities of social partners, and gradually align its legislation with the EU Acquis in the field of employment, remuneration, social policies and equal opportunitieswere just not being done. As they noted, “no reasonable progress has been achieved“.

Now that the EU powers like Germany and France, which previously might have aimed for a modus operandi with Russia, both militarily and economically, have been brought to heel by the US and will be paying the economic price both for increased arms expenditure and being forcibly weaned off relatively cheap Russian energy supplies, negotiations on labour standards with Ukraine could well be used by neo liberal forces in the EU to leverage a weakening of its own current levels as an unaffordable luxury in straightened times – in an odd mirror image of the downward pressure exerted by the UKs trajectory of a post Brexit race to the bottom.

Before the war, wage levels were already among the lowest in Europe, with one quarter of the population receiving an income lower than the actual living wage, fuelling a persistent and massive exodus of younger workers in a search of better pay in the EU, particularly in the neighbouring countries, and avoiding being conscripted to fight in the Donbass at the same time.

It has got worse since. Employers are now able to suspend employment contracts: so employees do not receive wages, but are still considered employed. And this is being widely used. By 1 April, roughly five million citizens had applied for income loss benefits – 16 times more than the 308,000 registered number of unemployed at the end of May.

This gives carte blanche for ‘shadow employers’ who do not employ people officially. The state now no longer monitors wage debts – a long term problem in Ukraine.

In response to the war Parliament has further suspended parts of workplace protections and collective agreements, put forward legislation to take employees of small and medium-sized enterprises – 70% of Ukraine’s workforce –outside of the scope of current labour legislation and given employers the right to terminate employment contracts at will.

Wages fell by an average of 10% in May, compared to the pre-war period. Wages in raw material extraction, security and manual labour have almost halved.

Future Faking?

Right now, under the impact of the war, six million people, mostly women, have left the country. In Europe, many of them are now living in countries where wages are higher, laws are largely obeyed, and housing and Nurseries are affordable. Their return en masse gets less likely the longer the war goes on, and, after the end of martial law, which forbids men under the age of 60 from leaving the country, many who can will leave the country to join them. A long war will create tensions on this front too.

In the immediate term the state wants to develop microbusinesses to relaunch the economy: which amounts to lending to micro-entrepreneurs or training people in IT skills. This will be hampered by the destruction of Ukraine’s infrastructure, low purchasing power and general instability which present small businesses with enormous problems in setting up supply chains or finding customers.

The Lugano Declaration rests heavily on ‘A Blueprint for the Reconstruction of Ukraine’, published by a group of international economists in April, which aims to:

1) introduce more flexible employment contracts and eliminate labour legislation that precludes the development of liberal economic policy;

2) provide government subsidies for foreign companies;

3) large-scale privatisation, including Ukraine’s biggest banks;

4) priority credit support for export sector;

5) use of low-skilled and labour-intensive public works to fix infrastructure;

6) establish a technocratic agency that will distribute international aid.

The kind of future society envisaged here is quite clear.

And this is beginning to generate tensions. As Vitaliy Dudin notes, “Ukrainians were ready to endure any difficulties in the immediate aftermath of the Russian invasion. But as the tide of the war has changed, not everyone thinks the current situation – where business has advantages over workers – is fair”.

The extent to which this finds expression remains to be seen. This is a very important perception. “As the tide of the war has changed”. A spirit of unquestioning national unity might be viable in the immediate shock of an invasion, or when it looked, briefly, as though the Russian withdrawal from Kyiv might be the prelude for a general victory for Ukraine in the short term. But, the longer the war drags on, and the more Russia advances, the more the class contradiction on the Ukrainian side is likely to find expression.

Dudin’s argument that an alternative based on state investment to create secure, sustainable jobs, with popular engagement and trade union involvement, skills training, proper state scrutiny and regulation of employer practice because, as he puts it post-war Ukrainian society needs integration, and that will be ensured by the development of state-owned and cooperative enterprises that do not make profits to the detriment of society and environment, and this requires policies of redistribution through taxation and the confiscation of surplus wealth from Ukraine’s richest people runs counter the interests of those running the state – who are precisely “Ukraine’s richest people” – and contrary to the kind of society they are fighting the war for; in alliance with the most predatory imperialisms on the planet.

Achieving a programme like Dudin’s won’t be done with the Oligarchs in power, nor with NATO backing them. Zemlanskaya’s argument that “The most important thing is to win – and then to see in what form Ukraine has ended the war, and what the future will look like,” is declaring a class truce while the war lasts – a truce that is not being respected by the ruling class. It also begs two questions

  1. Is the neo liberal dystopia the Oligarchs and NATO have in mind worth fighting and dying for?
  2. When and in what circumstances will the war be over, and what interest do the working class in Ukraine have in the circumstances in which that happens? The US, UK and the gung ho wing of NATO are for fuelling it for as long as possible, years not months; and are quite insouciant what might be left of Ukraine at the end of it. They are pre-emptively opposing diplomatic negotiations.

This is also a question for the international labour movement, being hit increasingly hard by the economic blowback from the war itself and, more severely, the sanctions the US has imposed to pursue it by other means. None of us has an interest in this war continuing.

Arguing against negotiations on the grounds that this would “reward” Russia should bear in mind the consequences for all concerned if the war continues. And that peace on the Russian terms – Crimea and Donbass not part of nationalist Ukraine, Ukraine not in NATO, Mutual Security arrangement (or even long drawn out negotiations around them) – would be better than a resolution on NATO’s terms – forcible reconquest of Crimea and Donbass, Ukraine fully integrated into a triumphant and triumphalist NATO with rapidly increasing military budgets, readying its new 300,000 strong strike force for interventions further east against countries they would consider ripe for plucking.

*Ukraine, we should note, had more politicians named in the Pandora Papers than any other country; 38, twice as many as Russia’s 19. President Zelensky was one of them.

Neither Moscow nor Kyiv, but Washington

The commitment by the US of $40 billion to funnel war fighting material into Ukraine makes it clear that this war is being driven by neither Moscow nor Kyiv, but Washington.

$40 billion is ten times Ukraine’s 2021 military budget.

Figures from Wikipedia

If the aid were a country on its own, it would be the tenth biggest military spender in the world, not far below Japan and Saudi Arabia, well above Italy and Australia, and double the budget of Canada or Israel.

Figures from Institute for International Strategic Studies, using average market exchange rates.

This comparison can be seen even more clearly if we leave off the USA and China, as the two countries with an expenditure in a different league to all the others – the US especially.

It is also noticeable on this graph that the UK spent more on its military in 2021 than Russia did.

It is clear from this that the US is pushing for a long war, that it will sabotage peace negotiations and keep sanctions in place even if a ceasefire is achieved. The knock on effects on the rest of the world are already grim and will get worse unless a peace deal is reached.

The UK’s role as the USAs most bellicose supporter will be discussed at an online meeting – Opposing the New Age of Militarism – on June 15th organised by No Cold War Britain.

“No one in the West will believe you”.

Evan Davies, of the BBC Radio 4 PM programme, is so deeply bought into ruling class ideology that he sometimes gives the game away without realising it. My all time favourite is when he commented, on the impending French Presidential election in 2007, that the 35 hour week really had to go because although “it is really good for the people, its really bad for the economy. Which begs the question of what, or who, “the economy” is supposed to be good for, if its not for “the people.”

He did it again when interviewing the Russian Ambassador to the EU on 26th May. Having asked what Russia’s aims in Ukraine were, and being told that they are

  • an end to military threats against the Donbass
  • and demilitarisation and denazification in Ukraine

and that a Russian perception of an imminent threat of a Donbass invasion set for March 8th, as far as they could make out, was the trigger for the preemptive invasion on Feb 24th; his response was not to challenge any of the assertions or argue whether they were right or wrong, but simply to state, with a sneer you could almost cut, “no one in the West will believe you”.

Before looking at the validity or otherwise of the Ambassador’s statement, it is significant that Davies said “no one in the West, not “no one in the world. While “the West” tends to mistake itself for “the world”, or at least, as the only part of the world that matters, this does give the game away that the perception of this war in “the West” is not the same as that in the rest of “the world”; which Davies must be at least subconsciously aware of. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The countries imposing sanctions on Russia are the United States and its direct allies: the European Union, United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Taiwan, Australia, and New Zealand – all of them part of the Global North. The Global South has not joined in.

So, taking “the West” as the aberration that it is, could the tendency to dismiss anything the Russians might say as “just what you’ve been told to say”, as Davies put it, have anything to do with the almost complete lack of dissenting voices on our media?

Taking the points one at a time and examining them…

Militarisation of Ukraine and military threats against the Donbass.

Vyacheslav Tetekin, a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (the largest opposition force in the country) details the sharp and sustained increases in military spending by Ukraine after 2014, at a time in which living standards are still below the level they were at the time of the break up of the Soviet Union, the involvement of the US and its allies in training and arms supply, and the huge build up of forces focussed on the Donbas, particularly this year. This is cited in an article by John Ross on the military turn of the US in Monthly Review that is well worth reading. As has been remarked, Ukraine is not in NATO, but NATO has certainly been in Ukraine.

After the 2014, “the country’s finances were redeployed from the tasks of improving the welfare of the nation to strengthening the armed forces. Ukraine’s military budget has grown from $1.7 billion in 2014 to $8.9 billion in 2019 (5.9% of the country’s GDP)… Ukraine… spent three times more [as a percentage of GDP] for military purposes than the developed countries of the West…

Hundreds of instructors from the United States and other NATO countries participated in training of the Army. Ukraine was preparing for war under the supervision of the United States.

Huge funds were spent on the restoration of military hardware. During the war against Donbas in 2014-15, Ukraine has not used air combat support, as all combat aircraft required repair. However, by February 2022, there were already about 150 fighters, bombers and attack aircraft in the Ukrainian Air Force. Such a buildup of the Air Force would make sense only for the capture of Donbas.

At the same time, powerful fortifications were created on the border of Donbas and Ukraine… the salary of soldiers at the end of 2021 tripled, from 170 to 510 dollars. The Government of Ukraine has been dramatically increasing the size of its Armed Forces.

The first stage of Ukraine’s preparation for war was successfully completed by the end of 2021. The combat capability of the Ukrainian army has been restored, military equipment has been repaired and modernized…

the United States has planned two options for using the new, militarized Ukraine… The first one was to capture Donbas and, in case of a successful combination of circumstances, proceed for invasion to the Crimea. The second option was to provoke Russia’s armed intervention…

…Ukraine being under the heel of the United States creates a very real danger. In December 2021, Moscow put forward a demand to the NATO on measures to ensure Russia’s legitimate interests. The West…. ignored these demands, knowing that preparations for the invasion of Donbas are in full swing. The most combat-ready units of the Ukrainian Army numbering up to 150,000 thousand people were concentrated on the border of Donbas. They could break the resistance of the People’s militia of Donbas within 2-3 days, with the complete destruction of Donetsk and spill so much blood of the defenders of the DPR [Donetsk People’s Republic]…

Ask yourself if this assessment, by the main opposition Party in Russia, is more or less plausible than the explanations in the media here, and why it is that we hear it so little. Is this because the accepted wisdom here, the cod psychology version; that its all down to a belated mid life crisis for President Putin, or the version that plays up timeless fears of an eternal Great Russian chauvinism, always just itching to expand and reconquer the old Russian Empire, are so weak by comparison?

The Freudian slip by President Bush last week did shed a little light on the way adverbs are used. “A brutal and unprovoked attack on Iraq…err.. Ukraine”. Of course, the Iraq invasion was never described in such terms. we were taking part, so how could it possibly be?

We should not forget that, in this country, at the time of the second Iraq war, there was a majority FOR the war when people believed that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction capable of being deployed against the UK within 45 minutes. This was on the say so of our Intelligence Services, who told us what it was useful for us to believe, who we are expected to believe that they and their co workers in politics and the media are now telling us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about Ukraine. It was only when it became clear that we had been lied to, that there were no WMD, that majority opinion turned against the war.

In the case of Russia and NATO, there is no doubt that NATO possesses WMD. Were Ukraine to join and they were deployed on its territory, flying time to Moscow would be a few minutes. A small fraction of the 45 that were considered a good enough reason for war in our case.

Denazification.

This is generally dismissed here with a scoffing reference to President Zelensky being Jewish and then the subject changed as quickly as possible. It is seen as absurd hyperbole. Given the tendency for the media here to label any target enemy, from General Galtieri to Saddam Hussein, as the new Hitler, and that we have used that as cover to intervene in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya since 2000 alone, a little self awareness might be in order here too. The airbrushing of the role of the far right in Ukraine goes as far as the BBC and the Guardian rubbishing their own previous reporting (without mentioning it of course, because what is instrumentally useful now must always have been “true”). A glance back at their previous coverage shows how absurd this is.

Here are some headlines from media here before the war started, from the BBC, Politico, Bellingcat, the Guardian and other sources, that have now been consigned to the memory hole because it is now embarrassing to acknowledge reality.

Ukraine celebrates Nazi collaborator; bans book critical of pogroms leader.

Ukraine’s got a real problem with far right violence (and, no, RT did not write this headline).

Hundreds march in Ukraine in annual tribute to Nazi collaborator.

Violent Anti-Semitism is gripping Ukraine – and the government is standing idly by.

Ukraine conflict: “White Power warrior” from Sweden.

Ukraine conflict: child soldiers join the fight.

Far- Right fighters from Europe fight for Ukraine.

Nazi symbols. salutes on display at Ukrainian nationalist march.

Yes. Its (still) OK to call Ukraine’s C14 neo Nazi.

A new Eurasian far right rising.

Far Right extremists in Ukrainian military bragged about Canadian training.

German TV shows Nazi symbols on helmets of Ukrainian soldiers.

Ukraine designates national holiday to commemorate Nazi collaborator.

Kiev’s far right groups refuse to disarm.

FBI: Militia trained by US military in Ukraine now training US White Supremacists

Ukrainian Neo Nazi C14 vigilantes drive out Roma families, burn their camp

Ukraine underplays role of far right in conflict

New “Glory to Ukraine” army chant invokes nationalist past

Britons join neo Nazi militia in Ukraine

Neo-Nazis and the far right are on the march in Ukraine

How the far right took top positions in power vacuum

Ukraine’s far right menace

With axes and hammers far right vigilantes destroy another Romany camp in Kyiv

“Defend the White Race” American extremists being targeted by Ukraine’s far right

When the media here talks about the Azov battalion as though they are heroes, this is who they are talking about.

In the context of climate breakdown, the impasse of neo liberalism and the rise of China, politics in the Global North will increasingly squeeze down the democratic space that exists for the left and the labour movement, and the rehabilitation of the far right will advance in leaps.

This issue is explored in further detail in the No Cold War Britain webinar here.

The bankruptcy of an “anti- imperialism” that sides with imperialism.

The recent article on Labour Hub from Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval – reprising the Euston Manifesto in a French accent – makes up in tetchiness what it lacks in analysis. Without dropping to their level and accusing them of “stupidity”, I’d like to put some of their assertions and arguments under a bit of scrutiny in the hope that, even in the impassioned polarisation of current arguments, a bit of light can be generated amidst the heat.

Their argument, that the Left has more than one enemy, is a statement of the obvious that no one could disagree with. What they don’t do, however, is examine the actually existing power relations between different states and draw any conclusions about who the main enemy is.

Since the object of the argument is the reality of imperialism, and how that is revealed in the Ukraine crisis and war – as the latest front line of an aggressive expansion of the NATO alliance right up to the borders of Russia – lets examine the forces involved and their scale.

  • Russia has a GDP slightly smaller than Italy and spends $62 billion on its military.
  • NATO includes all the major imperial predators on the global stage, corralled into one bloc by the USA so that it can intervene at will throughout the rest of the world; knowing that all of its smaller rivals will be lined up behind it (or, in the case of the UK, trying to jump up and down alongside it in a desperate attempt to be noticed and approved of). It has a collective GDP 20 times the size of Russia’s and its military spending is 19 times as much (before recently announced increases which will make this gap even bigger). NATO is the military lynch pin of the global imperial system centred on the United States. Russia is not included in it.

The proportionate military spend looks like this.

These are from 2021. Very large increases are planned by Germany and the USA from this year. UK military expenditure is also increasing.

A quick glance at this imbalance should put paid to any notion that the NATO powers face any kind of threat from Russia’s military, that “Ukraine is just the start” or that revived “Great Russian chauvinism” or “neo Stalinist fascism” is about to steamroller across Europe, restore the Russian Empire and put paid to “democracy”; and therefore plans to significantly increase military expenditure have any “defence” rationale at all. Offence is another matter.

Even more absurd is any notion that that the active expansion of NATO across Eastern Europe since 1991 – amassing East Germany, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania, Croatia, Montenegro and North Macedonia into the bloc, with Ukraine, Georgia and Bosnia added to the active waiting room in 2022, following a US Ukraine Security Agreement signed in November 2021 – has been a passive act; let alone “reactive” in Diderot and Laval’s words. The ante has been consistently upped from the US.

The Russian response to this has been to try to be incorporated in it; or to seek “common security arrangements” in Europe with it. Approaches have been made repeatedly since 1991 and consistently rebuffed by the USA. So, no incorporation , no accommodation, just inexorably increasing pressure.

So, Russia has reacted with aggressive defensiveness when this pressure has got too much.

  • defending the South Ossetian enclave after the Rose Revolution installed a pro US President in Georgia, who launched an attack on it-
  • and, in Ukraine – reacting to the 2014 US backed overthrow of a President who had just signed a trade deal with Russia rather than the EU – by annexing Crimea and moving forces into the Donbass; after the rebellion there was about to be crushed by the Ukrainian army and Azov battalion.

The expansion of NATO up to Russia’s borders is not simply a matter of “humiliation” for Russia, as Dardot and Laval put it. It is an existential military and political threat; and seen as such across the full spectrum of Russian political opinion. It has been repeatedly stated as a red line which will lead to a violent reaction if crossed. This is not a mystery to NATO or the USA. It takes a real act of will to ignore it on the Left. The question is, knowing this, why did the USA and NATO push across it and provoke the reaction they had been warned about?

Dardot and Laval explain that in reaction to the Russian response, “pacifism is not an option” and “the immediate imperative is to help the Ukrainians resist” and “let’s not play non-intervention again”. So, theirs is not an anti war stance.

  • They would have no sympathy with the Italian and Greek airline and rail workers who have refused to move NATO munitions to stop fuelling the war.
  • In arguing for arms to be sent to Ukraine until the 2014 borders are reestablished they are calling for the forcible reoccupation of the Donbass and Crimea, against the wishes of the people who live there. So much for self determination and human rights.
  • They are in favour of anti war demonstrations in Russia, not anti war demonstrations against NATO in NATO countries.
  • They don’t specify how far they want to go to “intervene”, but NATO is intervening already. And Dardot and Laval line up behind it.

They try to cover this by turning their polemical fire on “campism”, which they characterise as “one sided anti imperialism”, even though they themselves are forming a bloc with their own imperialism and its allies. You can’t get more “one sided” than that.

They argue that “my enemy’s enemy is not necessarily my friend”,

  • but pose a delusionary framework in which there are no hierarchies of power, as though we were already in a multi polar world,
  • and at the same time pose the actions and values of any powers opposed to the dominant imperialism as worse. “The terrible reality of Communism in either Russia or China” or “post colonial regimes” during the first Cold War.

This follows the well worn trope of every “human rights” intervention by the US and its allies, that the enemy of the day is the new Hitler. So, in practice, my enemy’s enemy is more my enemy than my enemy is. At best, the currents that espouse this sort of position are an opposition within imperialism, not an opposition to it. Firmly in their home camp.

This is not a new phenomena on the European Left. It has been the dominant tradition of Social Democracy since 1914. Lest we forget, at the outset of the First World War, the overwhelming majority of Socialist and Labour Parties across Europe voted for the war budgets of their own countries to “defend” them against the threatening barbarism of their enemies, firmly subordinating themselves to the barbarism of their own ruling classes. At the start of the war, there were already plenty of atrocities to choose from. Looking only at those committed by the other side became almost a moral imperative to justify looking away from those committed by our own. Plus ca change. Plus c’est le meme chose.

As the Left in the imperialist countries has stagnated in reformist parties – sometimes allowed into government if self consciously subaltern enough – or small revolutionary currents with a weakness for syndicalism, and nowhere overthrown capitalist rule; revolutions have taken place at imperialism’s weakest links, in countries that are poorer, with lower standards of living, smaller infrastructure development, often devastated by the struggle and having to build up economic, health and education infrastructure almost from scratch. These have faced military threats, and interventions, from the USA and its allies, and constant economic pressure. The Labour movements of the Global North have been at best ambiguous about the struggles of these countries, with small solidarity movements largely outweighed by an insular condescension, even on the far left, which has considered the judgement of small Western European groupuscules on what is or is not “socialism” to be of more weight than, say, the Chinese Communist Party; which sees itself as a Marxist Party, is running its country with significant success and has 90 million members.

Following in this tradition, Dardot and Laval are quite clear than in a confrontation between developed capitalist countries/imperialist countries/the Global North/ the “democracies”/the “international community”/the “West” (delete description according to political taste) and any actual challenge to it, even from countries that see themselves as Socialist, or “post colonial regimes”, in the final analysis, they plump for the former.

They seem to presume that the “West” supporting dictatorships – and invasions and coups and terrorist movements – across the Global South was a function of the old Cold War, and seem unable to explain why it is a constant feature of what they have continued doing since. The dramatic shift from the “End of History” in 1991, the USA’s dominant unipolar moment, in which it was possible to imagine that the future of the world would be to become a gigantic American suburb, to the current moment in which the USA is for the first time since 1871, no longer the World’s largest economy in real terms is registered in the Global South by a series of political realignments around the Chinese model of investment led development , but in the Global North by a movement among both the ruling class and labour movements that could best be described as “nostalgic”(in the UK ranging from the swashbuckling imperial delusions of Brexit to Keir Starmer’s oddly retro political framing; so he looks like a Labour Prime Minister, but a Labour Prime Minister from the last century). The US is no longer able to subsidise its allies in the way it did after World War 2. It doesn’t generate the capital any more. In fact, it sucks it in, and this has a destabilising effect, primarily on the Global South but increasingly on its allies; the stagnation of Japan since 1989 being a stark example. And this is driving an increasingly delirious domestic politics in the US too.

Because the USAs global dominance is slipping, it is using its armed forces to reassert itself, pushing beyond previously sacrosanct red lines and provoking confrontations – today with Russia in Ukraine and, if it gets away with it, tomorrow with China in the South China Sea. This is designed to spark conflicts it can “win”, lead on to regime change in its interests and the Balkanisation of rival powers before China, in particular gets beyond its threats. It is this that is the threat to world peace, just as it is the current wave of US driven sanctions that is the biggest threat to the wellbeing of the global population, as this briefing from No Cold war makes clear.

We should always bear in mind that this is the country that

  • dropped more munitions on Iraq on the first day of the second Iraq war than the Russians have managed in the whole 5 weeks of the Ukraine invasion,
  • carpet bombed Vietnam, killing 2 million people,
  • imposed sanctions on Iraq in the 1990s that killed 500,000 Iraqi children (a price “worth paying” according to Madeline Albright)
  • killed up to a million Iraqis in the ensuing war,
  • is currently imposing sanctions on Venezuela which have killed 40,000
  • and on Afghanistan which have led to a situation in which a million children are on the verge of starvation.
  • We could add to this the situation in Yemen, ably abetted by its UK vassal, backing the Saudi intervention which has killed almost 400,000 people according to the UN, has directly led to a cholera epidemic and “the worst humanitarian disaster in the world.”

This is what global misleadership looks like. That’s what imperialism IS. That is why the USA is the main enemy, along with our own ruling classes, who are aligned with it. No other country has the capacity to inflict so much pain simultaneously around the world. No other country has 800 military bases in other countries or the capacity to use the world’s financial system to “make the economy” of any given target country “scream.” That’s why an “anti US lens” is essential to any sense of proportion on global developments and, whatever we might think of their opponent in any given conflict, or of what they do in the course of it, a victory for the US is a defeat for all of us and no one on the Left should aid or abet it.

We can add to this the complete failure of the USA – and the ruling class more broadly – to lead humanity in combatting our greatest collective threat; climate breakdown. This is the clearest indication that the capitalist class – through its most powerful states – is no longer capable of leading humanity anywhere except to disaster. The USA is spending 14 times as much on its military as it does in combatting climate change. China is spending one and a half times as much on climate change as on its military. The USA would need a change of regime to begin to do what is necessary.

This shows that imperialism will kill us – in more ways than one.

Dardot and Laval, writing in France – which is about to have a Presidential election between a fascist matron and a centrist blancmange, vying with each other for who can demonise France’s 6 million Muslims the most – note that the other enemies of the Left include “dangerous ideologies” which support “forms of oppression and domination, notably religious”, giving an unmistakable genuflection to the boorish laicity that is barely distinguishable from the Islamophobia that runs virally through the French Left and disables its anti racist solidarity. The only Presidential candidate, in this context, that they take a pop at is Jean Luc Melenchon, the only Left candidate in spitting distance of Len Pen and Macron, presumably on the basis that “the honour of the Left” would not be safe with him.

Their attempted parallel between Ukraine and Palestine – that the Left should support the nationalist side of Ukraine in the same way it supports the Palestinians – shows exactly what is wrong with their argument. For the Palestinians to be free, they would either have to have equality within a common state with Israeli Jews from the river to the sea, or, if this could not be achieved, a viable separate state. The cause of the rebellion in the Donbass against nationalist Ukraine in 2014 was that equality was no longer guaranteed for the Russian population. Support for nationalist Ukraine is therefore – in fact – more like support for the current state of Israel than for the Palestinians who are oppressed by it.

Their central argument is that what they describe as “great movements of democratic emancipation” throughout the world have an independent dynamic and take place completely independently of outside influence or support or direction.

They lump together in this

  • movements like the Arab Spring; that developed organically from large numbers of people rebelling against economic conditions that were becoming sufficiently unbearable that the inhibitions of a repressive state and the ingrained habits of just getting by and making the best of things could be overcome in a great rush of inchoate solidarity – which the US struggled to get a grip on and divert
  • with movements that have been described as “colour revolutions” because they followed a script written in the State Department and could be most accurately described as creatures of it. As good capitalists, the US State Department can’t help themselves in branding these events, even though doing so is a bit of a giveaway that they are their products.

Dardot and Laval argue that “the peoples have free will and they are not the puppets of the great powers” which is true up to a point. Free will is nevertheless often expressed in a way that does indeed make the movements concerned a creature of Foggy Bottom; and given the weight of US finance, expertise and media power, it can be very hard to avoid being suborned by them. The contrary also applies. The existence of the USSR provided a pole of attraction for movements in the Global South/Third World which, at the time, tended to take a secular form and aspire to socialism in some form. The collapse of the USSR meant that such forces have tended to dissipate and be replaced by millennialist style religious movements. The current rise of China is leading to significant political realignment. Each struggle in each country is a unique combination of common elements, but whatever the local specifics, none is innocent of the influence of outside forces. Sometimes this is simply the weight of example or cultural aspiration, sometimes the power of investment or trade, sometimes conscious manipulation and intervention.

The USA, in particular, runs a vast international network of human rights organisations and social media networks, funded through the National Endowment for Democracy, and it intervenes everywhere. Sometimes it initiates a movement. Sometimes it moves in on one and bends it to its will. They have cultivated an international network of “democracy activists” and hold cadre schools to refine their tactics and compare notes. Anyone involved in these networks will in practice be acting as an agent of the USA. Many of them are conscious of that and proud of it.

Some rebellions are not in the USA’s pocket. These tend to be the ones that are demonised by it. Hezbollah in Lebanon is one, the Houthis in Yemen are another, as are the Cubans, Venezuelans and Bolivians.

So, the question is what is the relationship between any movement and the US and its local relays. This is not predetermined, as we make our own history, but not – as Marx once noted – in conditions of our own choosing.

  • Dardot and Laval argue that ISIS was not the inevitable result of the Syrian uprising against the Assad regime, but the involvement of the USA and its local allies certainly helped push it that way. ISIS has been in some ways an irregular frontier version of Saudi Arabia.
  • Similarly, the Rose Revolution in Georgia didn’t have to end up with military adventurism from President Saakashvili, but US involvement and the prospect of NATO membership certainly encouraged him.
  • And in Ukraine, the dynamic of the Maidan movement was inexorably towards the far right. The least that can be said about US involvement is that it inhibited that not at all.

Sometimes the US is aiming for regime change, sometimes to create chaos as a preferable alternative to a government that does not do its bidding.

The current sanctions being imposed on Russia by the US are going to have an immense blowback across the Global South that will be more severe the longer they are in place. Millions are being thrown into poverty right now. The rebellions that erupt as a result will be almost certainly too much for the US to handle. The US war drive is leading to Global chaos and misery. No support should be given it.

Ukraine; How can this war end?

We are living through a nightmare. The logic of war is escalation and demonisation. Each horrific event fuels the next, justifies retaliation, and righteous vengeance screams a descant in the headlines. Once a war starts, the bloody toothpaste is out of the tube, the eggs are smashed, and there is no putting them back together the way they were.

When Tariq Ali writes in the London Review of Books (24/3/22), “no one knows how this will end”, there are a number of possibilities; most very grim indeed.

1. It could escalate out of control into an open clash between NATO and Russia; and we stumble into a Third World War. This is openly discussed. The shadow of the mushroom cloud that has hovered in the back of our nightmares for most of our lives is bigger than ever, and beginning to preoccupy waking thoughts. The USA has 3,500 nuclear warheads. Russia has over 4,000. The “independent” UK Trident fleet is an auxiliary of the US and would fire when they did.

The explosive power of these warheads is many times those of the atomic prototypes dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Use of these weapons would be fast and devastating. Neither Russia nor the USA has a no first use policy, so each would be nervous of the other’s itchy trigger finger. Hundreds of millions would die in a matter of hours and human civilisation would not survive.

Its a moot point whether it would deserve to.

It should be noted that each Trident submarine carries 24 missiles, each of which has 8 warheads that can be independently targeted, so each missile has 192 times the explosive power of the single warhead shown here..

President Zelensky’s call for a No Fly Zone is an invitation to Armageddon. Journalists thinking it makes good emotional copy to promote it, need to get a grip on the scale of the fire they are playing with.

2. The conventional war bogs down into a long term stalemate; or a limited Russian tactical victory leads to no durable settlement, leading to an Eastern European version of Afghanistan in the 1980s. This is a scenario that Hillary Clinton and others project with some relish.

The current pattern of NATO powers fuelling the fire with weapons deliveries would continue. Snipers are being trained for this eventuality. The consequences of this for Ukraine would be to make it a permanent war zone.

The consequences for the rest of the world would make the current impact on oil, gas and bread prices spiral ever upwards – leading to successive waves of impoverishment and upheaval across the planet. This Briefing from No Cold War spells out just how devastating the US Sanctions regime will be for the Global South if they are not brought to an end quickly.

And the resources we need to invest in green transition are being diverted to arms budgets. Great news for Raytheon, Lockheed and BAE systems; a medium term death sentence for the rest of us.

3. A deal is done on the basis of Ukraine remaining outside NATO and ruling out deployment of missile systems on its land, no Russian occupation of Western Ukraine, recognition of the decision of the people of Crimea to join the Russian Federation and an autonomous arrangement for the Donbass.

This would recognise a number of realities. Russia does not have the forces to occupy Western Ukraine even if it wanted to. Ukraine is being used in a proxy war by NATO which it has nothing to gain from. The people of the Donbass and Crimea do not wish to be part of a nationalist Ukraine, even a neutral one. A settlement on these lines could begin the process of de-escalation and rebuilding, allow refugees to return to their homes and limit the damage to the rest of the world.

The scars would take a long time to heal, but this is probably the only basis on which they could even start to. Such a deal would be perceived as a betrayal by the Ukrainian far right and a defeat by the US, so they will try to prevent it in the first place and undermine it if signed. With feelings running as high as they are, they would be cutting with the grain unfortunately.

4. The Russian army loses its will to fight and pulls back in disarray, leading to forcible recapture of the Donbass and possibly even Crimea, NATO rampant right up to the Russian border, political repercussions within Russia and a colour revolution movement pushed by the US to consolidate its advantage and gain control of Russia’s vast fossil fuel resources via a docile and subordinate leadership; which may or may not involve Balkanisation of the country on the lines proposed by Dick Cheney in 1991.

Pro US oligarchs in office in Moscow would break their bloc with China, allowing the US to use its colossal military advantage (3,500 nuclear warheads to 350) to fight the conventional war in and around Chinese territory that is now an openly discussed project there. Steve Bannon argues that such a war would have to be fought by 2024. Former Trump Deputy Assistant Secretary for Defence Eldrige Colby, who crafted Trump’s 2018 Defence strategy argues, in his book, The Strategy of Denial, for a “limited” conventional war centred on Taiwan.

Colby’s calculation is that such a war would damage the US economy by 10% but the Chinese by 40%. Therefore, the USA “wins”. The millions of people who would die don’t get much attention: collateral damage.

The current state of the war on the ground – Russian withdrawal from around Kyiv and consolidation in the East and South – and the limited progress in peace negotiations, do not give a clear indication of how things will go, but whatever is going to happen looks like a long and gruesome slog.

The best hope is a settlement along the lines in 3) the outlines of which are being discussed in the peace talks; and the sooner the better.

The Speech that Keir Starmer did not Make.

With Boris Johnson visiting Saudi Arabia, in an attempt to get more oil pumped, just a day after the execution of 81 prisoners by the Bin Salman regime, this is the speech that Keir Starmer could have made but did not.

While he made a general point…“going cap in hand from dictator to dictator is not an energy strategy”, he stopped well short of calling for Johnson’s trip to be called off,and steered well away from any demand for a shift in policy on Yemen remarking instead, “Obviously there’s a real energy crisis in terms of the cost at the moment, so anything that brings the cost down now is a step in the right direction, whatever it is.” (my emphasis).

In this dark hour, our thoughts, our solidarity, and our resolve are with the people of Yemen.

They have been cast into a war, not through fault of their own. But because Mohamed Bin Salman knows that no people will choose to live under his bandit rule unless forced to at the barrel of a gun.

The consequences of Bin Salman’s war have been horrendous and tragic for the Yemeni people but also for the Saudi people, who have been plunged into chaos by a violent elite who have stolen their wealth, stolen their chance of democracy, and stolen their future.

And we must prepare ourselves for difficulties here. We will see economic pain, as we free ourselves from dependence on Saudi Oil, and clean our institutions from money stolen from the Arab peoples.

But the British public have always been willing to make sacrifice to defend democracy on our continent. And we will again.

Saudi Arabia’s neighbours and every other democracy that lives in the shadow of autocratic power are watching their worst nightmare unfold.

All those who believe in democracy over dictatorship, the rule of law over the reign of terror, in freedom over the jackboot of tyranny, must unite and take a stand and ensure Bin Salman fails.

We must make a clean break with the failed approach to handling Bin Salman, which after the intervention into Yemen started in 2015 – has been complicit in more than 20,000 bombing raids on Houthi territory, indiscriminately bombing civilians and hospitals, schools and other infrastructure, killed over 377,000 people, with one child under five dying every nine minutes, displaced millions more, led directly to a cholera epidemic with over a million people infected and much of the country on the brink of famine, with the United Nations describing Yemen as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and turned a blind eye to the arrests of anyone who publicly opposes him, symbolised by the murder of Jamal Kashoggi – and has fed his belief that the benefits of aggression outweigh the cost. We must finally show him he is wrong.

That means doing all we can to help Yemen defend herself -urgently withdrawing the military support that we and our NATO allies provide Bin Salman, and the hardest possible sanctions must be taken against his regime. It must be isolated. Its finances frozen. It’s ability to function crippled. We should even withdraw the after sales services provided by BAE systems for the missiles and aircraft they have so lucratively sold.

And there are changes we must make here in the UK. For too long our country has been a safe-haven for the money that Bin Salman and his fellow bandits stole from the people of the Arabian peninsula. It must end now.

And this must be a turning point in our history, we must look back and say what this terrible day was actually when Bin Salman doomed himself to defeat.

He seeks division, so we must stay united. He hopes for inaction, so we must take a stand. He believes that we are too corrupted to do the right thing, so we must prove him wrong.

I believe we can. But only if we stand together.

Very few words have had to be changed from Starmer’s televised speech at the beginning of the Ukraine invasion – mostly personal names and places. If he were genuinely concerned at projecting “a liberal international order in defence of human rights” we should expect to hear a speech like this directed at UK and US allies and calling for an end to UK complicity in their war crimes.

But we don’t.

Could it be the direct involvement of RAF pilots training Saudi Airmen, or the Royal Navy personnel seconded to the Saudi fleet, and all that money made by UK built munitions that have blown up Yemeni civilians in large numbers, that explains the reticence?

An Invitation to Armageddon

CND poster from late 60s

Nuclear war is not “unthinkable”. Military planners spend a lot of time thinking about and planning for it. We are now closer to it than at any time this century.

President Zelensky of Ukraine is making continual calls for NATO to try to impose a “No Fly Zone” over Ukraine. War reporters elicit similar appeals from people on the ground, giving it a moral charge that builds pressure for it. It is possible that this is being done on the delusion that the consequences are so severe that it can’t happen; that no one in their right mind would sanction it. But the logic of war is escalation. And the people running it are not always in their right mind. Rehearsing something, even as a fantasy, can be preparation for doing it.

In case there is any doubt about what a No Fly Zone would mean, Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander of Europe, General Philip Breedlove has spelt it out “If you put a no-fly zone in the eastern part of Ukraine … and we’re going to fly coalition or NATO aircraft into that no-fly zone, then we have to take out all the weapons that can fire into our no-fly zone and cause harm to our aircraft. So that means bombing enemy radars and missile systems on the other side of the border [i.e. Russia].That is tantamount to war.” General Breedlove is, we should note, in favour of doing this. And he is not alone, if media pundits on US talk shows are anything to go by.

If an action is “tantamount to war” between NATO and the Russian Federation, we should all be clear that a nuclear exchange becomes more likely than not and understand why.

Russia does not have a “no first use” policy for its nuclear weapons, and carried out drills for them just before the invasion, with an explicit warning to NATO not to get involved.

US nuclear war policy is, and always has been, based on a devastating first strike. The first iteration of this was their Strategic Integrated Operations Plan of 1960, in which a conventional war with the USSR would trigger the US smashing every city in Eastern Europe, Russia and China with 3,400 nuclear warheads; killing 600 million people (200 million of them collateral damage in Western Europe, Japan, India and other places close enough to the targets to be impacted) in a matter of hours. That would have been one person in 5 of the total global population at the time. There is no reason to believe that subsequent reiterations of this plan are any less restrained.

Having the two powers with the world’s greatest stockpiles of nuclear weapons, primed and ready, in an open conflict and incredibly nervous that the other is going to strike them first, means that we would be a nerve shredding hair trigger away from mutually assured destruction. No exchange of these missiles would be cautious or incremental, or slow. It would be all or nothing and very fast. All and nothing.

Whatever anyone’s view of this war, the reasons for it, or the way it could best and most swiftly be brought to an end; recognition that anyone calling for a No Fly Zone is inviting us to Armageddon should be seared into all of us and resolutely opposed.