Will Russia go to war with Ukraine? Russian troops are massing on the border, prompting fears they will launch a major offensive in the new year. Similar troop movements and an anti-Ukrainian disinformation campaign emanating from Russia, happened before the Russian annexation of Crimea.
So how real is the Russian threat and how should our government respond?
The new head of the UK armed forces, Admiral Radakin has said that the situation is, ‘deeply worrying.’ But a full scale invasion would mark the biggest land grab in Europe since WW2.
Crimea is a virtual island connected by a narrow isthmus and a bridge to the mainland. 1.5 million of its 2.4 million population are Russians who welcomed the annexation by Russia. By contrast, Ukraine is the largest land mass in Europe after Russia with a population of 42 million, most of whom oppose Russia.
All-out war with Ukraine would be bloody and costly to Russia. Western sanctions would almost certainly stop the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from bringing Russian gas into Germany. Biden has declared that US troops would not get involved. But that does not preclude logistic support and no fly zones. Ukraine has already received $2.5 billion in US military aid since Crimea was annexed in 2014. The UK has signed deals to supply Ukraine with warships that will operate in the Black Sea alongside NATO vessels.
A more likely scenario is that Russia is engaging in its own version of gunboat diplomacy. Ukraine in NATO would leave them with only Belarus as a buffer zone on their borders. Russia would also like to see an autonomous republic, sympathetic to Russia in the Donbass region of Ukraine. There is a large Russian population and in the civil war that has been waged with Russian support since 2014 there have been 14,000 deaths.
Lessons from history
If you look at the geography of Russia, the Great European Plain stretches from France to the Urals and the Russian border that crosses it is 2000 miles long with nothing but flat and open country between the border and Moscow. History has shown that such a border is impossible to defend. Russians remember Napoleon’s march on Moscow, the Crimean War, two world wars. From 1811 to 1945 every other generation of Russians has had to fight Western invaders on Russian soil.
All that ended with the Warsaw Pact and a buffer zone of pro-Russian governments separating it from the West. With the collapse of the Soviet Union nearly all of those Warsaw Pact countries, apart from Ukraine, are in the EU or NATO or both. And history has taught Russia to look west for danger.
This is not to justify Russia’s actions or defend its autocratic regime. Their cynical support for Belarus is a case in point. But it helps to understand a nation before we demonise it. And Russia may be an affront to liberal and democratic values, but with a population (144 million) less than that of Nigeria or Pakistan and an economy which relies heavily on extractive industries: forestry, mining, oil and natural gas; it is not a serious threat that justifies the posturing from Western powers
Which side are we on?
Russia sees itself as a nation under siege, defending itself against incursions from the West. While the Western powers respond that this is evidence of Russian expansionism. Our leaders invoke memories of the old Soviet empire and the Cold War to justify their hostile stance and deflect from their own imperialist ambitions to dominate the world.
It would be a mistake for socialists to take sides in this dispute. But we have a duty to point out the disastrous outcome of every military adventure we have supported in the Middle East, in Africa and in Afghanistan in recent years. If there is conflict in Eastern Europe we should oppose any UK involvement in direct or economic warfare, or by arming one side in the conflict.
If as socialists we want to support anyone it should be to Stop the War.
Life long socialist. Now retired, I have been an office junior, a bookseller, a docker and a teacher. I write a lot and read a lot more. Committed member of the Society of Authors, English PEN and the National Education Union. Never voting Labour again.