International Communist Party Against Capitalist Wars

War maneuvers in Europe

(From Il Partito Comunista, no.367, September-October 2014)

Over the last weeks, the events in the regions of the South-East of the Ukraine, which have seen clashes between the Ukrainian army, supported by volunteer militias, and pro-Moscow rebels supported by divisions of the Russian army, confirm what we have been saying over recent months: that this conflict is not an internal matter of the Ukrainian state but is between alignments of imperialist states.

Let us recall recent events.

At the end of June, following the annexation of the Crimea by Moscow and the outbreak of the revolt in the Eastern regions of the country, the Ukraine signs the economic part of the agreement of association with the European Union, while Moscow and Washington seemingly try to put an end to the military actions in the Donbass. However in early July Kiev’s army launches an offensive which on 5 July results in the city of Slovyansk being taken. On 17 July a Malaysian Airlines plane with 295 passengers is shot down. Each side accuses the other for the shooting down. At the end of July, the Ukrainian prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk announces his resignation, denouncing the reduction of the government’s parliamentary majority due to the Rada, the Ukrainian parliament, having failed to approve a series of measures requested by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to release a new loan.

According to the parties of the nationalist right, following the fall of the Viktor Yanukovych government in February, the Ukrainian people were called on to choose a new president but not a new assembly. As stated by the leader of the nationalist Svoboda party: “We believe that in the present situation a parliament such as this, which protects state criminals, agents of Moscow, and which refuses to withdraw immunity from those working for Moscow, should no longer exist”.

President Poroshenko, a month after the fall of the government, is obliged on 25 August to dissolve the Rada and call new elections for the 26 October. However, in clear demonstration of the hesitation and wavering that also afflict the Ukrainian bourgeoisie, which is forever undecided about which boss to sell itself to, it is Poroshenko himself who, on 26 August, takes part in the Minsk summit where he meets Putin, and the presidents of Byelorussia and Kazakhstan, who are members of the Eurasian Customs Union, and representatives of the European Union. The meeting, it seems, did not produce a positive outcome.

Meanwhile on the battlefield, by the second half of the month of August, rebel troops, with the support of divisions of the Russian army, have conquered more territory, pushing back and encircling Kiev’s troops on several occasions.

On 29 August the Ukrainian prime minister Yatsenyuk, despite having resigned, confirms he will introduce a bill to Parliament on the Ukraine joining NATO. On 2 September the European Union announced new sanctions against Russia, on 3 September France would postpone the delivery to the Russian navy of the first of three Mistral landing craft, due in October. The same day Presidents Putin and Poroshenko hurriedly try to agree a ceasefire, which is achieved a few hours later. This fragile truce serves to gain some time in order to prevent a broadening of the conflict which would see some of the largest global military powers opposed to one another and would form the backdrop to the extraordinary summit meeting called by NATO for 4-5 September, precisely in order to consider the Ukrainian question.

A war in the heart of Europe today still seems premature, but the economic crisis is leaving increasingly less room for maneuvering and diplomatic agreements and it is pushing the various states to defend their interests by using armed force and by remaining in a state of perpetual readiness for a future armed conflict on a global scale. And this preparation is taking place not only on the military level but also in the media, by getting so called “public opinion” used to the possibility that it may happen.

Bourgeois propaganda can no longer conceal the possibility, a certainty as far as we are concerned, of a future war between imperialist states, and the tone of the current declarations over recent days proves it. Putin and Obama are exchanging reciprocal accusations and menaces in preparation for a military undertaking that will fall on the shoulders of the proletariat on each of the fronts.

According to “Il Sole 24 ore” of 2 September, four thousand soldiers from nine countries, with the support of armored vehicles and aircraft, are participating in NATO military exercises on the eastern border which will be concluded in early October. The Atlantic alliance explains that the maneuvers were initially to have been led by the United States, but it was then decided to pass them under the aegis of NATO, against a backdrop of the current effort underway to reassure the eastern countries in the face of the aggressive moves by Russia. Other military initiatives are also underway: in the Black Sea joint exercises are being held by the United States and Ukrainian navies; “The exercises, in which Spain, Canada, Rumania and Turkey are also participants, are focusing on the technical aspects of managing an international operation to maintain the security of shipping in a region hit by a crisis”. Another exercise “on a vast scale”, employing 5,000 participants from the United States along with some European allies, is currently being held in the south of Germany; the exercise simulates in particular the liberation of a city. “These exercises have the objective of demonstrating that NATO is capable of discouraging and preventing aggression by Russia if any one of our allies is attacked”, says USA General Frederick Hodges, in order to make even more indigestible the message being sent to the Kremlin (“Il Messaggero”, 9 September).

The NATO summit, held in Cardiff and Newport on 4 and 5 September, precisely in order to take concrete measures regarding the matter of the war in the Ukraine, saw the war-mongering positions defended by the United States and Great Britain clearly prevail. The final declaration openly commits the 28 members of the Atlantic Alliance to “reverse the tendency for defense budgets to decline”, an appeal openly addressed to the countries in central-southern Europe which, over recent years, due to the impact of the economic crisis, had reduced their military expenditure. The document commits all countries to bring their military expenditure up to at least 2% of their GDP, an enormous amount for the industrialized countries.

What is more, a special support fund was created for the Kiev government, (“candidate to join NATO along with Georgia, Bosnia-Herzogovina, Montenegro and Macedonia, extending the Atlantic Alliance further to the east” (Manlio Dinucci, “Il Manifesto”, 6 September).

The intentions of the United States had already been declared by President Obama in the speech he gave in Tallin, in Estonia, the day before: “The vision [of a free and peaceful Europe is threatened by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. It is a brazen assault on the territorial integrity of Ukraine -- a sovereign and independent European nation. It challenges the most basic principles of our international system. Borders cannot be redrawn at the point of a gun”. Obama supported the principle that “NATO’s doors will remain open to all”, in open antithesis with Moscow’s position, which has stated, over and over again, that it would not tolerate NATO pushing missiles up to the Russian border. In short, he anticipated the final decisions made at the summit in Cardiff and Newport by declaring that a military immediate intervention force would be formed for deployment in the Baltic countries. Later in the summit it would be specified that this force of a few thousand men would have five bases/depositaries in the Baltic countries, in Poland and in Rumania, that it would be very “reactive”, and that it would maintain a continuous presence in the countries of Eastern Europe.

The NATO summits threaten, furthermore, to establish military bases in Norway (a member of NATO) and even in Finland (which isn’t), a hypothesis that can only reinforce the Kremlin in its nationalist onslaughts; and it won’t be the last time we hear Putin’s declaration that if he wanted to he could occupy Kiev in two weeks.

Russia is however aware that it cannot allow itself to sever its economic ties with Europe nor get into an open military confrontation with NATO: It can bare its teeth, but only in order to arrive at a compromise, counting on the support of Europe and Germany in the first place, and also on the indirect protection of China, which is certainly not in favor of NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe.

Commercial and military collaboration between Russia and China has intensified over recent years. Already at the beginning of July last year the two countries had planned “Six days of maneuvers in the Gulf of Peter the Great, on which Vladivostok is situated. Joint Sea 2013, as it is known, was the biggest naval exercise ever planned by the two countries. From what has emerged, 12 Russian and 7 Chinese ships took part, plus an unspecified number of aerial combat planes. Despite this certainly not being the first time the two countries have carried out joint maneuvers, the Beijing media underlined the importance of the operations, which concluded on Wednesday 10 July: it was the first time, in fact, that China had chosen to send a military force of this size abroad ‘to take part in exercises in an unfamiliar maritime area’ wrote the China Daily” (Gabriele Battaglia, “Lettera 43”).

To strengthen the collaboration between China and Russia, in May last year, after ten year’s of negotiations, there came the announcement of a deal between Moscow and Beijing on the future supply of gas. In the May 24 issue of “Il Sole 24 Ore” we read: “the agreement – announced by the New China agency – was clinched during the visit of the Russian president Vladimir Putin to China, following a long phase of deadlock over the price of natural gas. The contract stipulates that Russia will supply methane to China for thirty years, at a rate equivalent to 39 billion cubic meters per annum (half of what Italy consumes), guaranteed by a yet to be built 2,200 kilometer pipeline to run from Siberia to eastern China. The deal is worth 400 billion dollars over the thirty-year period. It will begin in 2018 (…) The signing of the contract, which took place in the presence of Putin and Xi Jinping, represents an important development for Moscow which from the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis has been looking for alternative customers for its gas. Up to 2013 Europe was Moscow’s main client with 160 billion cubic meters purchased, but this year China alone is already a bigger market. Beijing predicts that it will increase its imports of gas by 20%, in order to reduce the amount of polluting coal it uses to generate electricity, and that it will take up to 186 billion cubic meters”. And even if, as evidenced in the article, the agreement only stood for ten years, the fact that it was signed in the middle of the Ukraine crisis was a clever move on Moscow’s part.

This is what Fulvio Scaglione, vice-director of the Catholic weekly magazine Christian Family, had to say about the agreement, in Limes [an Italian geo-political publication]: “Going back to Russia and China, one thing is certain. The agreement on gas puts in direct contact, for the first time, the major holder, extractor and exporter of energy resources with the main consumer of same. To this we could add additional facts: China, the most populous country in the world is linking up with Russia, the biggest country in the world and one endowed with 10% of the fertile land on the planet. Russia, the state with the richest mineral resources (…) is making a strategic alliance with China, that is with the economy that drives the world consumption of raw materials”.

Apart from the economic aspect and the drawing together of the two states that this deal involves, it is also clear that the Kremlin can use it as a warning, to its European customers, who depend on Russian gas, not to push things too far because Moscow will soon have an alternative outlet for its merchandise. So it is really with the prospect of an agreement with Ukraine in view, but mainly with Europe, that we should interpret Moscow ‘s move in June last year, when it switched off the supply of gas to the Ukraine: ”On 16 June 2014” Scaglione continues, “Putin gave the order to cut off the supply of gas, that is, to not to release more than the 40 billion cubic meters per annum which constitutes the Ukraine’s quota of the gas sent to the West. A strange energy war this, that starts during the first days of Summer (…) The Kremlin’s decision seems to imply an invitation to negotiate, to profit from the hot months in order to return to the table to discuss the matter”.

Also, the threat of sanctions against Russia by Europe and the United States are only explicable in view of an imminent clash between the powers. Beyond gas, there are important trading links with Russia: in order of the amount of trade they conduct with Russia, the first two countries in Europe are Germany and Italy. Leaving aside the cowardly Italian bourgeoisie, that has neither the strength not character to go up against states that are more powerful than itself, what would Berlin, the most powerful economy in Europe, stand to gain from the sanctions? What is the quid pro quo, what could Washington offer it to make it break with Moscow? Or what threats could it make?

The German economy is stalling, and it needs to grow, not restrict its own markets. Over and above Chancellor Merkel’s official declarations there are accounts that need to be squared in German businesses. The same evaluation does not follow for the United States, which have few commercial links with Russia, and in fact intend to compete with it as a supplier of gas from what they manage to extract from shale.

These agreements between states, these business deals which involve the sale of gigantic quantities of merchandise, these struggles to acquire new markets, and important strategic and military positions, what good are they to the proletariat? In the media orgy of bourgeois information, composed of sensationalistic headlines and little else, we read that the battle in the south-east of the Ukraine has resulted in around 3,000 dead, plus an unspecified but certainly very high number of wounded and almost a million refugees, who have been forced to abandon their homes and jobs to escape the war. For the most part these victims are members of the proletarian class which, unaware of its strength and historic mission, will be forced, in all parts of the world, to pick up a gun in defense of interests that are in direct opposition to its own.

The Ukrainian bourgeoisie, the “oligarchs”, have been able to enrich themselves out of all proportion over the last few years by selling themselves to the best bidder, by lining their pockets, and by looting and plundering, naturally all in the name of a “free and independent” Ukraine. Like every other bourgeoisie they just seek profit in order to increase their own capital.

The Ukrainian proletariat, on the other hand, has nothing to gain from lining up on either side in this inter-imperialist struggle. It is not true that proletarians in the Donbass would see their standard of living and working conditions improve if the region were independent or annexed to Russia. And neither would it gain anything if, despite the promises made to them by the rightwing pro-western parties, the Ukraine were to cross over to the European Union and NATO zone. The Ukrainian proletariat will be redeemed only by itself, by organizing itself separately, by refusing to get drawn in by nationalist or chauvinist appeals, and by reconnecting itself to the internationalist traditions of revolutionary communism.

War is one of the factors which determine the stages of the capitalist cycle in both its rise and its decline. In the third millennium, the wars between states, all of them bourgeois, are part of their strategy of counter-revolution and conservation of capitalism. The proletariat needs to march in the opposite direction to the war fronts; not against the national enemy, but by turning men and weapons against the domestic enemy, against its own state, against the class power of the bourgeoisie. This is the one way forward which the true communist party indicates to the international proletarian class, and therefore also to Ukrainian proletarians.