In recent days the war in Ukraine has escalated. The situation now is more alarming than ever.
Hostilities are no longer confined to Ukrainian territory. There have been Ukrainian attacks on a number of targets inside Russia. British defense secretary Ben Wallace says it is legitimate for Ukraine to target Russian logistics even outside Ukrainian territory.
What would happen if Putin replied that in that case it must also be legitimate for Russia to target Ukrainian logistics outside Ukrainian territory? Arms deliveries passing through Poland, let us say? Poland is a member of NATO, so the whole alliance would immediately be at war with Russia. World War Three, here we come!
Fortunately, that is not how Russia has responded – at least not yet. The Russian defense ministry says its response will be to target decision-making centers in Ukraine, including those where Western advisers are present. True, that is not very reassuring either.
The negotiations in Turkey are suspended. Talk of compromise solutions seems to have vanished from the corporate media, replaced by analysis of warfighting scenarios. Some scenarios envision use of nuclear weapons. Only tactical ones, mind you. That sounds less scary – until you recall that the atomic bombs that obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 are nowadays classified as tactical.
British foreign secretary Liz Truss urges Ukraine to eschew compromise and fight on until the last Russian soldier is out of Ukraine, however long that takes. ‘We will keep going further and faster to push Russia out of the whole of Ukraine,’ she says. We? Simon Jenkins of The Guardian accuses her of ‘playing with fire … to serve her own ambition’: she hopes to win ‘a squalid forthcoming contest for leadership of the Conservative Party.’
Former NATO deputy strategic commander for Europe Richard Shirreff supports Truss’s stance but warns that Russia is likely to respond aggressively. Escalation to direct hostilities between NATO and Russia is therefore a real possibility and the West must ‘gear up’ for this ‘worst case scenario.’ Similar warnings come from Moscow. Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov says that Russia is already fighting a proxy war with the whole of NATO and the risk of nuclear war is ‘serious, real’ and ‘very significant’ – greater even than during the Cuban missile crisis, due to a complete breakdown in relations.
BBC commentator Steve Rosenberg asks whether Putin would resort to nuclear weapons rather than accept defeat in Ukraine. He points out that in a 2018 documentary Putin said that ‘if someone decides to annihilate Russia’ he would retaliate even though doing so would be ‘a catastrophe for humanity and the world, [because] what need have we of a world without Russia in it?’
This sentiment expresses the ultra-nationalist mentality of the Putin regime. The state is everything, humanity nothing. We cannot exclude the possibility of a Russian pre-emptive nuclear strike in the event that the Kremlin correctly or incorrectly believes that a Western attack is imminent.
Moreover, Putin is aware that Russia’s defeat in war led to the revolutions of 1905 and 1917. He may consider this outcome no less likely in 2022. Sudden collapse of a centralized regime revives centrifugal forces and may end in the disintegration of Russia as a state, which he views as the ultimate aim of the West. It has been his mission to consolidate Russian statehood by overcoming the disintegrative tendencies of the Gorbachev and Yeltsin eras. So he may well perceive the prospect of ‘regime change’ as a form of the deliberate ‘annihilation of Russia’ that would justify nuclear retaliation.
Prevention of nuclear war is an existential imperative for human civilization. Conflicting values and interests that in the pre-nuclear age often led to war must now be constrained within tight bounds. The age of crusades against evil must be put firmly behind us. The ‘good war’ against Nazi Germany was the last such crusade.
In fact, had the Allies learned in 1943 or 1944 that Germany had acquired nuclear weapons they would surely not have insisted upon unconditional surrender. They would have offered Hitler a face-saving way out.
Now it is Putin who must be offered a face-saving way out. He must be allowed to avoid the reality total defeat. Ukraine and NATO must make concessions that enable Putin to claim at least partial victory. Until recently it seemed that Zelensky was willing to make such concessions – in particular, to accept a neutral status for Ukraine.
First of all there must be a ceasefire. There is little point in negotiations while fighting continues, for the parties will always be waiting to see whether the outcome of the next battle places them in a stronger bargaining position. And unless the fighting ends soon, giving agriculture a chance to recover, Ukraine will again face a disaster worse than foreign occupation – famine.
The fate of Ukraine, Russia and the world now depends on the power struggles between moderate and extreme nationalists in Ukraine and between ‘hawks’ and ‘doves’ in Western ruling circles. On one side – politicians who hope to gain by stirring up war hysteria, mad generals who still believe it possible to control and win a nuclear war, armaments manufacturers and their lobbyists – the ‘merchants of death.’ On the other – those who are more inclined toward diplomacy and understand the imperative of avoiding nuclear war, if only for the sake of the continued functioning of capitalism.
But what of the world’s working people? Will they find a voice of their own and make it heard? Or remain the passive victims of manipulation and disinformation?
Ukraine & the Doomsday Machine. Paul Jay with Larry Wilkerson