by Brecht Jonkers (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 51, No. 9, Rabi' al-Thani, 1444)
Russia’s ‘Special Military Operation’ (SMO) aimed at denazifying the country, stopping NATO’s expansion further east and aggression plots against Russia proper, together with safeguarding the population of Donbass, has now lasted more than eight months. In this timeframe, we have witnessed a rapid Russian-Donbass advance in the first few weeks, followed by somewhat of a slow grind and eventually a bit of a stalemate at certain sections of the frontline.
Ukrainian counterattacks, while failing to make any progress in the Kherson region, eventually achieved limited success in Donetsk, but at great cost to Kiev’s own manpower.
The appointment of Sergey Surovikin, the famed “General Armageddon”, as commander of SMO, means a major shift in how the war would be conducted. He proved his mettle in the war against Daesh and Al-Qaeda in Syria. Since his promotion on October 8, barely a day has passed without precision strikes being carried out on strategic targets all across Ukraine. Missiles, drones and artillery have left no crucial infrastructure fully out of reach.
On the ground meanwhile, new Ukrainian attempts to advance on Kherson have failed to make much headway, whereas Russian forces are keeping a steady pace towards taking the key Donetsk city of Artemovsk, called Bakhmut by supporters of the Kiev regime.
While the conflict itself looks like it may drag on for a while, NATO’s failure to bring about the promised swift defeat of Russia, coupled with the near total ineffectiveness of western sanctions to damage Russia’s economy and the energy crisis that has put much of Europe in a chokehold with the approach of winter, has caused global attention to shift to a much broader question.
This is perhaps even more terrifying than reports of actual battle. The question is: “where is this conflict going in the future?” And related to this: “what if it escalates further”?
As far-fetched and Cold War-esque as it may sound, it is undeniable that more and more onlookers, analysts, political pundits and even politicians have started to talk in hushed tones about the possibility of a global conflict, a conflict between Russia and NATO, or even the horrible prospect of nuclear war.
The potential for the conflict escalating to the level of global war has not escaped attention of US elites either, with President Joe Biden claiming that global tension has reached a height not seen since the Cuban Crisis. This has not caused the White House or the Pentagon to back off from a war that they claim is not even their doing to begin with. As journalism collective “Towards Freedom” stated in an article on the duplicitous attitude of the US:
“Yet despite voicing the possibility of an existential threat to our survival, Biden was not issuing a public warning to the US public and the world, nor announcing any change in US policy. Bizzarely, the president was instead discussing the prospect of nuclear war with his political party’s financial backers during an election fundraiser at the home of media mogul James Murdoch, with surprised corporate media reporters listening in.”
This is not the first time that even US mainstream media has raised questions about the wisdom of American foreign policy vis-a-vis Russia and Ukraine. The New York Times editorial board had already criticised the Biden regime’s position back in May:
“Is the United States, for example, trying to help bring an end to this conflict, through a settlement that would allow for a sovereign Ukraine and some kind of relationship between the United States and Russia? Or is the United States now trying to weaken Russia permanently? Has the administration’s goal shifted to destabilizing Putin or having him removed? Does the United States intend to hold Putin accountable as a war criminal? Or is the goal to try to avoid a wider war (...)? Without clarity on these questions, the White House (...) jeopardizes long-term peace and security on the European continent.”
Various experts and analysts even in the imperial core that is NATO, have tried to call for calm and warned against paranoia that some appear keen on spreading among the population. Matthew Bunn, professor at Harvard Kennedy School, nuclear expert and former advisor in the Bill Clinton regime, has pointed to the elephant in the room: the fact that Russia has no real reason to use nuclear weapons in this conflict.
“Russia can do just as much damage, if not more, with a relentless barrage of conventional weapons. The Russian military has already devastated a number of Ukrainian cities with conventional firepower,” Bunn said in an interview with WBUR news agency. He added that most analysts on the matter believe the likelihood of Kremlin going nuclear is very low, but the Clinton advisor didn’t pass up the chance to add that “given Putin’s current predicament, and his public statements, the threat is seen as increasing.” The professor added that he believes the threat of nuclear war is around “10 to 20 percent”, which he quite logically calls “intolerably high.”
Of course, we need not pretend that all of these voices speaking up in the US mainstream media are dedicated anti-war figures, let alone anti-imperialists of any kind. But it is a sign on the wall showing that even within the most warmongering country in the contemporary world, one that has barely been at peace for the past half century, there is severe apprehension about the idea of taunting Russia or risking an all-out war for the sake of Ukraine.
The potential threat of world war, especially in today’s nuclear-armed times, deserves to be looked at in a level-headed and serious manner, but without undue paranoia. After all, it needs bearing in mind that the majority of fear-mongering about an upcoming Third World War comes from media and political figures in the US. Aside from claiming that all options, including the nuclear one, are on the table in case Russia proper is invaded, Moscow has never actually threatened to use atomic weapons in the current conflict, even if the Special Military Operation escalates into an official state of war with Ukraine.
On the contrary, as Russian envoy to Washington DC, Anatoly Antonov stressed recently, nuclear war is not in any way considered a viable option by the Kremlin.
“We are committed to the position endorsed by our presidents, not only Russia, but also of the Five Nuclear-Weapon States, that a nuclear war cannot happen and there will be no winners in it. There just won’t be, there won’t be anything, there won’t be anybody. That is why I think we must do everything to prevent this from happening,” Antonov said in an interview with TASS.
If anything, it was the leadership in Kiev that has made the most blatantly obvious call for worldwide war, with president Volodymyr Zelensky going as far as calling on NATO to carry out “preventive strikes” against Russia. He later issued a rather bizarre statement claiming he was merely asking for economic sanctions, following a worldwide storm of criticism of his bellicose language.
It is not just warmongering language that is the issue in the halls of Kiev. On September 30, Zelensky made an official bid for Ukraine’s membership of NATO, in an apparently desperate move to safeguard his regime. His country in the process of disintegration; it is in a de facto state of conflict with a major power that has vested interest in preventing NATO expansion. Further, the Kiev regime is notorious for corruption and domestic instability. Seeing such a state join NATO does not appeal to every member of the military alliance.
Most notably, countries like Hungary and Croatia have voiced serious concerns about Kiev in the past, which incidentally has led Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Croatian President Zoran Milanovic to be marked as targets on the Ukrainian “kill list” website Myrotvorets. The sudden fast-track membership bid by Zelensky was immediately met with clear rejection by Bulgaria, as well as hesitation in Slovenia.
Russia responded to Ukraine’s application for NATO membership by stating it would mean a “guaranteed escalation to World War Three”. NATO would be required to intervene directly in an ongoing conflict. Interestingly, the US has not officially responded to the fast-track bid, leading many to believe that Zelensky may have acted of his own accord in the hope that he could force an escalation of sorts. If this was his plan, it seems to have failed.
There appears to be significant weariness by NATO members to get involved more directly in the conflict than they have done so far. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg recently claimed that NATO is “not party to the conflict”, and while this may seem quite ludicrous coming from an organization that has pumped billions of dollars into Ukraine to beef up its forces, it is still a far cry from the direct bombing campaign that the imperial alliance unleashed on Yugoslavia without hesitation back in the 1990s.
French President Emmanuel Macron has made similar statements about his country’s non-involvement. He promised to continue the dialogue with both Moscow and Kiev while emphasizing that he does not see Paris as party to the conflict.
“We cannot decide for Ukraine when it should start negotiations with Russia, but we must continue dialogue with each side (...) It should be done, as some day they will have to sit down at the negotiating table,” Macron said, thereby completely disregarding Zelensky’s threat that he would not engage in any diplomatic talks with Russia.
Former US President Donald Trump, talking in an audiobook excerpt released to CNN, has openly called for coexistence with Russia, and has even called for friendly relations between Washington and Moscow. “Getting along with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing, all right?” Trump was recorded as saying.
It seems the threat of a Third World War, let alone a nuclear conflict, between NATO and Russia may thankfully be much further off than western propaganda would have us believe. Of course, vigilance is necessary, especially with reports coming in about Ukraine possibly working on a “dirty bomb”, a conventional weapon with radioactive material, for a false flag attack meant to blame Russia for a nuclear first strike and get the west directly involved in the war.
It remains to be seen how a belligerent and imperialist power bloc like NATO will act when its hegemonic interests are being threatened. However, paranoia and panicked attitudes towards global events are not a good response, and this is all the more important when we are talking about major nuclear-armed powers.