Editorial – Sabre-rattling over Ukraine
Western capitalist powers – the USA and its allies in Europe – won the Cold War when the USSR finally collapsed in 1991. It was a humiliating defeat for state-capitalist Russia. Russia lost not only most of what it had conquered in Eastern Europe after WW2 but even parts it had held before. On paper the USSR was a voluntary union of so-called ‘socialist republics’, one of which was Ukraine, an area that had been contested for centuries and which afterwards became an independent state.
The Western capitalist powers moved quickly to extend their sphere of influence and signed up as members of the NATO military alliance all the states that had formed part of the Russian Empire in Eastern Europe. They have long had their eyes on Ukraine, Europe’s second largest country after Russia.
A revived and more confident – and openly capitalist – Russia under Putin regards the incorporation of Ukraine into NATO as a threat to its vital interests. Already Russia has taken back Crimea and some Russian-speaking areas in eastern Ukraine. Now it has massed troops on Ukraine’s borders to back up its demand that Ukraine should not join NATO as this would bring US military influence and missiles up to its southern border.
It’s a conflict of interest between two openly capitalist powers. This time, ‘The West’ cannot use the pretext, to disguise its geopolitical aims, of it being an ideological struggle. It is a naked struggle between capitalist powers over spheres of influence. That the Cold War was a case of capitalism versus communism was a sham. And they knew it. When Mikoyan, a top member of the Russian ruling class, visited the USA in 1959 the then US Secretary of State, Dulles, sent a farewell message to him on behalf of President Eisenhower which began: ‘The President is aware that you operate under a system of State capitalism’ (Daily Telegraph, 21 January 1959).
Will it come to war? Probably not as, from a military point of view, Russia could easily overrun most of Ukraine. The Western powers will probably not insist on formally incorporating Ukraine into NATO. They will back down just as the USSR did in 1962 over the Cuban missile crisis, which is the nearest the world has come to a nuclear war. In fact, according to a headline in The Times (13 January), ‘Russia threatens US with a new Cuban missile crisis unless NATO stops eastern enlargement’. This will just be more sabre-rattling as the US could easily conquer Cuba and Venezuela.
So, it’s a stalemate, a balance of terror. This is why no state can refuse to arm itself with the most terrifying weapons it can afford. Under capitalism might is right and disarmament a pipe-dream.
The tensions over Ukraine remind us that the climate crisis is not the only threat to the world and its population. Nuclear war is too, and that threat needs to be removed as well. The only way to do this is to end capitalism and replace it with a frontierless, stateless world community based on the common ownership and democratic control of productive resources. In short, world socialism.