At the time of writing, Russia, Ukraine, the European Union (EU) and the United States (U.S.) are all potential immediate military combatants in the greatest war in decades of world history. These parties are struggling over the fate of Ukraine as either a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) or a militarily independent country more under Russian influence.
Being a land of great national significance to Russia, the fight over Ukraine dates more recently to the foundation of NATO by the U.S., the United Kingdom, France, Italy and other western European countries in order to counter the influence of the Soviet Union. NATO has since grown to include many more European countries and today, member states, countries in the EU and the U.S. are all interested in curtailing the strength of a perceived rival power. Conversely, Russia remembers what has happened historically when Western European hegemony has converged on its borders. Belarus and Ukraine are the only non-Russian major European countries also not yet NATO members, and NATO missiles are positioned all throughout Eastern Europe in close striking distance to Russia.
Last November, Russia completed the mobilization of 100,000 soldiers near its border with Ukraine. On a Dec. 7 phone call between the two leaders, Russian president Vladimir Putin demanded a NATO promise to cease eastward expansion, and U.S. president Joe Biden responded threatening Russia with economic sanctions in the event of an invasion. There have since been weeks of speculation, rhetoric, diplomacy and U.S. weapons shipments to Ukraine, and each country’s refusal to concede to the other on the ability of Ukraine to potentially join NATO. The situation seems to grow more dangerous each day.
Last Friday, in a break from previous less direct support, Biden said he would “move U.S. troops to Eastern Europe in NATO countries in the near term,” significantly increasing the legitimate threat of global war. On Monday, representatives of Russia and the U.S. at the United Nations Security Council at a request from the U.S. to negotiate a solution. While no agreements were reached at the conference, each country blamed the other for the crisis. Russia insisted they had no invasion plans, which were instead fabricated, and U.S. diplomats claimed Russia was refusing to negotiate.
On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov in a call that “this is the time to pull back troops and heavy weaponry” if Russia does not intend to invade Ukraine. The same afternoon, Putin claimed that the U.S. and European allies had “basically ignored” their security concerns at the security council meeting Monday. These developments all coincide with weekly increases in Western weapon shipments and deployments to Ukraine, economic assistance for the Ukrainian economy, augments in the Ukraine military force and the withdrawal of U.S. diplomats from Ukraine and neighboring Belarus since last week.
On one hand, it is in the interest of some Western parties, such as the U.S. military industrial complex and Western media outlets, to play up the risk of Russian invasion as the country claims is happening. Yet invasion or not, the immediate proximity of Russia, NATO members and particularly the U.S. to such a massive conflict is unambiguous.
In response to the threat of Western sanctions or — pending future developments — retaliation, Russia may occupy eastern Ukraine, it may deploy military in Latin America or more realistically it can deny the supply of natural gas to Europe; this would hike energy prices and result in mass shortages in the middle of winter, during an existing energy crisis. The Biden administration is already attempting to cushion this potential catastrophe by finding fossil fuel supplies from elsewhere around the world in response to NATO concern. There is no telling the horrific consequences these actions could have on the population of Europe and the world.
So too, there is no telling the horrific consequences of U.S. sanctions on Russia. A bipartisan group of senators has produced what Foreign Relations Committee Chair Robert Mendez has dubbed “the mother of all sanctions” for this very occasion. U.S. sanctions have completely paralyzed the economies of countries as diverse as Syria, Cuba, Iran and even the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, preventing them from developing basic infrastructure. U.S. Sanctions in Venezuela may have killed as many as 40,000 innocent civilians since their imposition in 2017. According to a 1999 UNICEF Report, as many as 1.5 million Iraqis were killed as a result of sanctions placed on Iraq by the UN after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Potential U.S. sanctions against Russia are now supposedly considered the “mother” of even these.
Thus far, we’ve considered dangers to the world in the event that a dispute over Ukraine does not turn into war. A real war between Russia and NATO would be utterly devastating, regardless of the weapons or strategies chosen by each side. Russia and Europe combined hold almost 600 million people. The U.S. spends $800 billion on its military yearly, a wide majority of the still greater $1.2 trillion yearly spent by combined NATO membership. While Russia spent only $62 billion on its military in 2020, the country is said to have a highly advanced military force complete with supersonic missiles, anti-aircraft, ballistic submarines, and supposedly more tanks, rocket projectors, self-propelled gun vehicles and towed artillery than any other country. These capabilities are all paralleled in danger by NATO and particularly by the U.S., which spends more on military than the next 11 greatest spending countries combined.
Perhaps the greatest danger of our situation is that Russia, the U.S. and multiple NATO members are nuclear powers. The United Kingdom and France are each estimated to hold hundreds of nuclear warheads, and the U.S. and Russia each hold thousands of active warheads themselves. This is more than enough firepower to kill the world’s population many times over and make Earth uninhabitable because of nuclear winter. Furthermore, existing nuclear weapons are far more powerful than those which the U.S. used to kill hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians in World War II. Even a small scale nuclear conflict between the U.S. and Russia could cause a decade of apocalyptic climate change.
At the same time as devastating war is being considered, there are multiple developing global humanitarian crises. Due to increasing global ecological breakdown, each year we see historically unprecedented resource shortages, deaths from extreme weather, and the displacement of entire populations due to political and climate instabilities. According to the Food and Agriculture organization of the United Nations, of Earth’s total population “one in three people did not have access to enough food” in 2020. Further, there is no clear end in sight of the COVID-19 pandemic as cases, deaths and mutations continue to develop worldwide. Every dollar spent on war is a dollar diverted from these existential threats, and conflict of any kind would make them much, much worse.
Yet here in the U.S., as if there had already been extensive referendums and polling supporting the popularity of such a deadly war, the Biden administration marshals troops and the Democrats and the Republicans outbid each other in the billions to support greater and greater military budgets for this disaster.
If you live in the U.S., your government isn’t going to convince Putin or the Russian people of whatever values they claim are at stake in NATO and Ukraine. This war is about hegemony of the U.S., who believes that Russia is trying to “rewrite the rules on which the world is based.”
The “rules” on which the world is based are neo-colonialism, empire, and the dominance of private property and finance capital over human life. The U.S. is the wealthiest country in human history and the primary entity defending this order, and Russia would prefer more influence in a power struggle over such an order. This inhumane global regime is the reason why catastrophic war can even be considered at a time when every spare resource is needed to address existing humanitarian crises.
In the U.S., we need to make clear our refusal of the expenditure of public resources, funds and lives on imperialist war. We need to build solidarity with people in other countries whose lives are threatened by our government. Perhaps most importantly, we need to seriously consider the political strategy necessary for a decoupling of U.S. society from imperialism and war entirely. Demanding peace with Russia is the first step.