The prevention of Ukraine’s integration into NATO is likewise not a snap idea of an irrationally acting Russian President Vladimir Putin, but a basic consensus within the Russian state oligarchy. The latter had repeatedly clearly marked the corresponding efforts of the West as a red line.
A radical peace movement is needed more than ever before
Ukraine is facing a similar horror scenario as Syria – and the world may be facing nuclear war
By Tomasz Konicz
[This article published on 3/16/2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.streifzuege.org/2022/eine-radikale-friedensbewegung-ist-noetiger-denn-je/.]
While the course of the war may be a disaster for Russia’s army so far, the Kremlin has chosen an opportune strategic moment to invade Ukraine. At least, this is suggested by the skyrocketing prices of many raw materials, fossil fuels and basic foodstuffs. With the sanctions that the West has imposed on the Russian Federation as part of its economic war, it is thus also hitting itself. The supply bottlenecks that have already existed since the beginning of the pandemic, the accelerating inflation in the wake of the expansive monetary policy of the Western central banks – they will increase as a result of the sanctions. The tendency to further tighten sanctions, especially in the Federal Republic, is thus likely to be quickly overridden by economic calculations. While gas prices are going through the roof, Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) has already ruled out a boycott of Russian energy sources. The Kremlin thus retains a crucial economic lifeline despite its brutal imperialist war.
This one calculation by Putin, who otherwise sees himself facing a shambles of his great power policy, thus seems to be working. It is based on the Kremlin’s strategic geopolitical conception, which was already worked out at the beginning of the 21st century, at the start of Putin’s reign. According to this concept, Russia is to rise to become an energy empire. It is to become a world power that economically controls the entire exploitation chain of fossil fuels: from extraction in the vast expanses of Siberia, through transport to the markets of Western Europe and China, to local distribution and final sale. The Baltic Sea pipeline formed one project within this strategy, where natural gas is transported directly to a center of the world system, excluding transit countries.
Putin’s second strategic project is the modernization of Russia’s national economy. Since this has largely failed, the invasion of Ukraine is taking place at the last minute, so to speak: On the one hand, the current supply bottlenecks in the – in any case rapidly eroding – global production chains are potentiating the follow-up costs of the sanctions for the West. At the same time, the energy transition in the centers has not yet been advanced far enough to be able to cope with a decoupling from Russian energy sources without severe disruptions. Russia’s entire imperial conception of using fossil fuels as a means of imperial power seems to be becoming obsolete in the medium term.
It was precisely the establishment of a “hydrogen office” in Kiev announced in January 2022 as part of the first state visit by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) that probably set alarm bells ringing in the Kremlin in this regard. The longer the Kremlin would have waited, the less its “fossil” levers of power would have been in the fight over Ukraine. Based on this imperialist calculation, the far from “insane” decision was made to launch the invasion of Ukraine.
Struggle for zones of influence
The prevention of Ukraine’s integration into NATO is likewise not a snap idea of an irrationally acting Russian President Vladimir Putin, but a basic consensus within the Russian state oligarchy. The latter had repeatedly clearly marked the corresponding efforts of the West as a red line. Ukraine was originally supposed to become part of a Moscow-dominated Eurasian Economic Community until the pro-Western government overthrow in 2014. Putin wanted to establish, in effect, a greater economic area between China and the EU, which was perceived by the West – both the U.S. and the EU – as a clear threat to its own eastern periphery. The countries put on a neoliberal starvation diet by the then German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU), such as Greece, would simply have had alternatives as a result.
It was precisely this classic “zone of influence,” such as that claimed by the United States in the Western Hemisphere or Germany in Central Eastern and Southeastern Europe, that the West was no longer willing to grant Moscow. During the months of negotiations leading up to the war, neither Washington nor Berlin wanted to rule out future membership of Ukraine in NATO. They clearly signaled to Kiev their willingness to accept it – but at the same time, the West ruled out direct intervention in the conflict. Moscow and Kiev were thus signaled Nato’s will to expand in the post-Soviet space, without any guarantees of assistance for Kiev in the event of a resulting conflict.
In this respect, the West was clearly complicit in the war. Whether this was a miscalculation, since hardly anyone expected such a major attack by Russia, or whether the conflict was deliberately provoked in order to let Russia “bleed white” in Ukraine, as the lightning-fast and massive military aid suggests, remains speculation. But the fact remains that Ukraine, as a “borderland,” has become the bloody battleground of an imperialist war between East and West. A similar confrontation between Eurasia and Oceania, in which spheres of influence would be drawn by military force if necessary, also threatens in the Pacific region, especially in Taiwan.
Moreover, Moscow found itself deprived of other opportunities to exert influence in Ukraine after the pro-Russian opposition politician Viktor Medvedchuk was arrested for “high treason” in 2021 and three Russian-language television stations were banned. The authoritarian, nationalist aspirations in Ukraine under President Volodymyr Selenskyj, which were characteristically hardly noticed in the West, went hand in hand with a revisionist politics of history. Many Western Ukrainian Nazi collaborators were rehabilitated and stylized as real national heroes. The political division of Ukraine into a pro-Russian east and a nationalist west, which had manifested itself since the 1990s in the corresponding changes of power between eastern Ukrainian (Viktor Yanukovych) and pro-western oligarch clans (Viktor Yushchenko), has thus been resolved unilaterally in favor of western Ukrainian nationalism. This is a red rag for Moscow, which had itself contributed to this intra-Ukrainian front shift precisely through its imperial annexation of Crimea.
Toward a Failed State
The already rampant oligarchic power structure in Ukraine as well as in Russia (where Putin’s state oligarchy has directly seized the state apparatus and state-owned enterprises), however, highlights the central difference between the current crisis imperialism and the bloody “Great Game” in the second half of the 19th century. This difference consists in the increasing tendencies toward denationalization, toward the crisis-induced savagery of the state apparatus, which in Russia is in the hands of oligarchic and mafia networks and networks of cronies and which also relies on mercenary units, for example from Chechnya, for its invasion of Ukraine.
In the case of Ukraine, it is again the fascist militias that are taking on a life of their own. After Selenskyj’s initial attempts to demobilize these Nazi units active in eastern Ukraine failed due to threats and resistance, he integrated them into the army, or placed them under the control of the Interior Ministry as an auxiliary force of the police (“National Militia Units”). The growing influence of fascist militias in Ukraine’s state apparatus, responsible for attacks on minorities such as Rom*nya and murders of pro-Russian opposition activists, manifested itself in Selenskyj’s awarding of the Order “Hero of Ukraine” to Nazi commander Dmytro Kotsyubaylo in December 2021.
Late capitalism does not have to go away with a miserable whimper – it can also go away with a big bang.
The war in Ukraine is accompanied by an influx of mercenaries, war veterans, adventurers, Islamists and Nazis, promoted by all warring parties, who are already active in Ukraine by the thousands. Russia not only has the notorious troops of Chechen ruler Ramzan Kadyrov (who has repeatedly praised AfD politicians) fighting for it, but Moscow is now also trying to recruit fighters from the post-state entity that was once “Syria”.
Without an early diplomatic solution, these forces will gain weight in the conflict. Ukraine will thus turn into a second Syria, a “failed state” in which there is a permanent, externally fomented war. So far, it is precisely these “wars of denationalization” (Robert Kurz), which tend to devastate the periphery of the world system, that are executing the crisis process that is objectively underway, acting, as it were, as “fire accelerators” of the social and ecological crisis of the capitalist world system.
In this context, all imperial powers feel the crisis breathing down their necks: Putin wants to prevent Russia’s imperial descent, the U.S. sees itself confronted with growing inflation despite world money, which endangers the previous deficit formation, the Germany sees its export-oriented economic model, its supply of raw materials threatened, and so on – that’s why the state monsters are ready to play this monstrous imperialist “poker” over Ukraine, which may well lead to a nuclear exchange of blows.
Anti-capitalist peace policy
The impacts that devastated Somalia, Libya, Syria or Afghanistan in the past decades are thus moving closer to the centers of the world system, Ukraine is a country of the semi-periphery. However, as the impacts of the relentlessly advancing crisis dynamics come closer, powerlessness is also increasing, especially on the left, which could be pulverized between the fronts of this confrontation. Movement autonomy can probably only be fought for together with radical critique.
The compulsion to unreflectively join one of the imperialist warring parties would have to be countered by an offensively anti-capitalist peace policy, in which the demand for an immediate ceasefire would go hand in hand with the thematization of the systemic crisis – not out of a left-wing radicalism, but because it is this real crisis movement that makes late capitalism unstable and drives it into self-destruction.
A consistent, radical peace movement, which could only emerge in demarcation from red-brown Putin trolls as well as from NATO propagandists from the environment of the Greens, would have to emphasize the clearly emerging necessity of system transformation. That capitalism is at its end is obvious, but its end is open. Without its conscious emancipatory overcoming, this system will break down due to its internal and external contradictions, which would actually mark the final defeat of the left. Late capitalism does not have to pass away with a miserable long whimper in social decomposition and climate catastrophe – it can also, and this seems likely due to the accumulated potential for destruction, go out with a very big bang.