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Russia-Ukraine Conflict

Who is the real cheerleader for the war in Ukraine?

Print edition : Jun 20, 2022 T+T-

Who is the real cheerleader for the war in Ukraine?

Ukrainian service members load a shell to a CAESAR self-propelled howitzer before firing towards Russian positions in Donetsk Region, Ukraine, on June 8.

Ukrainian service members load a shell to a CAESAR self-propelled howitzer before firing towards Russian positions in Donetsk Region, Ukraine, on June 8. | Photo Credit: STRINGER / REUTERS

The continued supply of sophisticated weaponry by the US to Ukraine reduces the chances of a quick peace negotiation and threatens to widen the scope of the conflict.

Even as saner voices in the US and elsewhere have called for a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Ukraine, the Joe Biden administration has egged on the government in Kyiv to continue hostilities. After initially agreeing to hold talks with Russia in March, Ukraine adopted a tough posture. The leadership in Kyiv, encouraged by Washington and a few hawkish member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) such as Poland and the three Baltic republics, started talking about routing the Russian army and recapturing all the territory it lost in Donbas and the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

The West has been pumping in weapons into Ukraine at an unprecedented rate since the conflict began. After announcing a $40 billion military aid package in the last week of May, the Biden administration expanded the range of sophisticated weaponry it is providing to Ukraine. US-made Harpoon anti-ship missiles were shipped to Ukraine in the last week of May under the auspices of NATO member state Denmark.

The US directly delivered M109 Paladin armoured self-propelled howitzers, which weigh around 30 tonnes and have the capacity to fire artillery rounds weighing 45kg over a distance of 50km. These moves threaten to widen the scope of the war beyond the borders of Ukraine.

Ukrainian service members rest after firing shells in Donetsk Region, Ukraine on June 6. The West wants the momentum of war to shift in favour of Ukraine.
Ukrainian service members rest after firing shells in Donetsk Region, Ukraine on June 6. The West wants the momentum of war to shift in favour of Ukraine. | Photo Credit: STRINGER / REUTERS

By the third month of fighting, it had become clear that the Russian military had gained the decisive upper hand. The real purpose of the sudden splurge in the despatch of sophisticated American armaments seems to be to delay a military rout of the Ukrainian army and loss of further territory. The West wants the momentum of war to shift in favour of Ukraine so that Moscow does not hold all the bargaining chips when the inevitable peace talks begin.

Ukraine, a non-NATO member, will now be able to use the same kind of weaponry as the US armed forces and will theoretically be able to strike targets hundreds of kilometres inside Russian territory. Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said that his country’s army had also recently received more than a hundred Turkish-made Bayraktar drones, again with Washington’s help.

Ukraine loses control over territory

The massive inflow of arms is happening at a time when Ukrainian forces are on the retreat across the eastern and southern fronts. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky admitted that the government had lost control of more than 20 per cent of his country’s territory. He also said that more than 14,000 soldiers and civilians had been killed since the conflict with Russia began.

More than 8 million Ukrainians have sought refuge outside the country in the past three months. Of these, 2 million have sought refuge in Russia. The United Nations has estimated that another 6.5 million Ukrainians have become internal refugees.

Ukrainian refugees wait in front of a bus in Sarafovo, Bulgaria.
Ukrainian refugees wait in front of a bus in Sarafovo, Bulgaria. | Photo Credit: Hristo Rusev / Getty Images

The Russian side, too, has suffered casualties, but no official figures have been released since the end of March when the Russian Defence Ministry had said that 1,351 soldiers had been killed by that time.

Severodonetsk is the latest city in the Donbas region that seemed about to fall to the Russian forces when this went to press. As casualty rates rise and cities are destroyed, the sensible thing to do is to restart peace negotiations. But the Ukrainian government, armed by the West, continues to insist that talks will only begin after all Russian troops withdraw.

Kissinger’s warning

Henry Kissinger, former US Secretary of State, suggested at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos that Ukraine should reconcile to the loss of some territory and make peace with Russia in the interest of global economic and political stability. He warned that if negotiations did not start soon, there was a serious danger of the crisis escalating out of control. “Pursuing the war beyond that point would not be about the freedom of Ukraine, but a new war against Russia itself,” Kissinger said.

Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. | Photo Credit: SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

But Zelensky, along with the neoliberal interventionists in Washington, were quick to criticise Kissinger’s suggestion.

Public fatigue

The New York Times, which started out as a strong supporter of the US-led proxy war against Russia, has now changed its stance. “Biden should make clear to Zelensky and his people that there is a limit to how far the United States and NATO will go to confront Russia, and limits to the arms, money and political support they can muster,” a recent editorial in the paper said. According to it, “inflation is a much bigger issue for Americans than Ukraine”. A recent University of Maryland Critical Issues poll revealed an increase in “public fatigue” in the US over Ukraine.

France and Italy have indicated that they want Ukraine to agree to an early cessation of conflict. French President Emmanuel Macron recently told the European Parliament that “Europe is not at war with Russia”. Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said the time had come to think about a peace deal with Russia. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has gone on record stating that he would prefer a ceasefire in Ukraine “sooner than later”.

Russia’s response

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesperson, accused Washington of trying to prolong the war by sending new long-range missiles to Ukraine. The Biden administration, he said, “is intentionally adding fuel to the fire.... Such supplies do not contribute to the Ukrainian leadership’s willingness to resume peace negotiations.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that such deliveries only increased “the risk of third parties” getting drawn into the conflict.

The gutted remains of cars sit along a road during heavy fighting at the front line in Severodonetsk in the Luhansk region of Ukraine on June 8.
The gutted remains of cars sit along a road during heavy fighting at the front line in Severodonetsk in the Luhansk region of Ukraine on June 8. | Photo Credit: OLEKSANDR RATUSHNIAK / AP

Following Biden’s announcement of the despatch of new weapons, Russian forces targeted Kyiv with a cruise missile to signal their military capacity.

Despite Biden saying that Washington was not sending rocket systems capable of striking into Russian territory, US officials told the media that Washington was not putting any conditions on the use of the weaponry.

Ukraine has already carried out a few attacks inside Russian territory since the conflict began. Washington has promised the government in Kyiv more long-range weaponry, including multiple rocket launchers. According to Michael McFaul, a former US envoy to Russia, Ukraine will get “new shipments of precision-guided missiles with longer ranges”.

The US has also been providing Ukraine with military intelligence on Russian troop positions since the beginning of the conflict. The sinking of the Russian naval flag ship, Moskva, and the shooting down of a Russian transport plane have been attributed to intelligence inputs provided by the US.

Global concerns

The Biden administration’s attempts to escalate the conflict come at a time when the international community is feeling the brunt of it. Energy prices have skyrocketed globally. The resulting food insecurity is affecting tens of millions of people in the global south. David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Programme (WFP), said recently that 44 million people around the world “are marching towards starvation”. Organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank predict a humanitarian catastrophe if the conflict is not brought to an end soon.

US President Joe Biden. The Biden administration’s attempts to escalate the conflict come at a time when the international community is feeling the brunt of it.
US President Joe Biden. The Biden administration’s attempts to escalate the conflict come at a time when the international community is feeling the brunt of it. | Photo Credit: Patrick Semansky / AP

Some prominent US military and strategic analysts are trying to exploit the deteriorating humanitarian situation to fan the conflict. James Stavridis, a recently retired US admiral, has advised the Biden administration to use NATO forces to break the Russian “blockade” of Ukrainian ports, which America claims is preventing the export of Ukrainian wheat to the international market. Stavridis wants the Biden administration to allow NATO warships to escort Ukrainian ships carrying wheat in the Black Sea.

During the eight-year Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, US naval ships used to escort oil tankers belonging to allies such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

‘Stolen wheat’

Moscow has repeatedly stated that it has no objections to the export of Ukrainian wheat and has pointed out that it is the Ukrainian army’s mining of the key port of Odessa that has prevented wheat exports from Ukraine. Most of Ukraine’s wheat is exported by sea, with 20 million tonnes awaiting export from Odessa itself.

Wheat farmers in a wheat farm outside Bashtanka, Mykolaiv region in Ukraine on June 9.
Wheat farmers in a wheat farm outside Bashtanka, Mykolaiv region in Ukraine on June 9. | Photo Credit: Edgar Su / REUTERS

In mid-May, the US government sent alerts to around 14 African countries, warning them that Russian ships were trying to offload “stolen Ukrainian grain” in their ports. Washington issued similar warnings to Pakistan and Bangladesh. Pakistan is planning to buy two million tonnes of wheat from Russia. Pakistani officials say that the Americans have not specifically demanded that Pakistan not buy Russian wheat.

The US government also warned Turkey against buying wheat from Russia. All these countries have been importing wheat from Russia for many years.

African continent’s bid

Macky Sall, the African Union (AU) President, personally met with Putin during a recent visit to Moscow and was full of praise for the Russian leader. The main purpose of the AU chief’s visit was to secure grain supplies for the African continent. The conflict in Ukraine and the repercussions of the Western sanctions on Russia have hit the African continent severely. Russia and Ukraine together account for around 40 per cent of the wheat sold in Africa. The AU President’s visit was focussed on ensuring uninterrupted supply of Russian wheat to the continent.

Macky Sall, chairperson of the African Union, with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on June 3. The main purpose of his visit was to secure grain supplies for the African continent. 
Macky Sall, chairperson of the African Union, with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on June 3. The main purpose of his visit was to secure grain supplies for the African continent.  | Photo Credit: SPUTNIK

Washington and its allies have been putting pressure on countries around the world to boycott Russian products, including foodgrains and oil. The US-led sanctions on Russia have proved counterproductive so far, with Russian oil and gas exports rising. Sanctions on Russian oil and gas increased global energy prices, helping Moscow bolster its economy. The country’s foreign exchange reserves have grown substantially in the past three months, and the rouble has become stronger than it was before the conflict started in late February.