In a cynical attempt to distract from his crises back home, Boris Johnson is whipping up hysteria around the ‘threat’ of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Socialists must expose these lies – and the imperialist interests that hide behind them.
If you believe everything written in the mainstream press in Britain, or heard on the airwaves, you would no doubt think that Russia is on course for either an all-out invasion or a coup d’etat in Ukraine.
But even the leading representatives of the British establishment are unclear about which of these self-fabricated threats poses the biggest danger.
Cries of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ are the talk of the town, with solemn and stern words emanating from Downing Street and the Foreign Office.
We are warned that the 11th hour is fast approaching, with invasion looming large, as British diplomats leave Kyiv; noises are made about sanctions against Russia; and military personnel and equipment are sent to Ukraine and surrounding countries.
At the time of writing, Boris Johnson, our Bond-esque talisman, has just touched down in Ukraine – presumably to single-handedly avert the impending ‘catasphrophic invasion’.
Bullish Boris has made it clear that he will not tolerate Russia’s ‘destabilising activity’. The Prime Minister even claimed that he was set to call Putin yesterday, where he intended to “reiterate the need for Russia to step back”.
Instead, however, the Tory leader ended up finding himself busy apologising to Parliament over the findings of the Sue Gray report into illicit lockdown gatherings at Number 10.
Travelling to Kyiv today to meet President @ZelenskyyUa for talks.— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) February 1, 2022
As a friend and a democratic partner, the UK will continue to uphold Ukraine's sovereignty in the face of those who seek to destroy it. pic.twitter.com/qmKBmNJhhx
Theatrics and alarm
All the while, Ukraine looks at Britain with confusion and consternation, with officials in Kyiv distancing themselves from the alarmist picture being spun by Washington and its obedient allies.
For starters, this ‘unprecedented’ build-up of troops in fact has much precedence. The encircling of Ukraine and skirmishes on the border are tried-and-tested tactics from Moscow, designed to bring the West to the bargaining table, flex Russian muscles in the region, and shore up support for Putin’s regime back home.
While this is nothing new, Putin’s manoeuvre has already brought relative success, forcing NATO and the US to the negotiating table for discussion of Russia’s demands.
Ukraine’s President Zelensky, meanwhile, has further cautioned against ringing the alarm bells.
“Ukraine is not the Titanic,” Zelensky wryly remarked, commenting on the evacuation of staff from British and US embassies. Such theatrics are something that Ukraine’s leaders could do without, it seems.
The Tories have decided to double down on their hysterical propaganda regardless.
Speaking in Parliament, for example, Tory foreign secretary Liz Truss referred to declassified MI6 files that named five potential pro-Russian coup plotters. It quickly transpired, however, that four of these potential usurpers already live in exile in Moscow, meaning that there was little added ‘intelligence’ provided by the British secret services.
It is often said that the first casualty of war is truth. In this case, the manufactured threat of war – based on the movement of troops to the Ukrainian border – has been enough to grab the headlines.
The ‘war’ has supposedly been ‘imminent’ for over two months now. And yet we are still warned that a Russian invasion will come any day now.
Tory calls to curb this threat, in this respect, resemble the children’s story of the little boy who cried wolf. Yet in this variation, the wolf never arrives.
No doubt this furore over Ukraine provides a spot of rest and respite for boozy Boris, who faces mounting problems back home in relation to #Partygate, with an endless torrent of scandal and sleaze surrounding Downing Street.
The PM clearly believes that there are few better distractions than banging the drum about war.
Even Ukrainian officials and intelligence do not believe that Putin will invade, however, as it would be a gargantuan task for Russian forces to hold the country.
As we have explained elsewhere, it is not in Russia’s interests to invade. An all-out invasion would prove disastrous for Putin and his oligarchical regime. But why let such facts spoil a good story?
Crime and punishment
As early as November, Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, chair of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, was leading the charge against Russia massing troops on the border of Ukraine.
Tugendhat’s primary concern was very obvious, however, with an article in The Telegraph lamenting that Britain “was nowhere to be seen” when Russia annexed Crimea; and stating that “the road to Global Britain runs through Eastern Europe”.
In other words, the bellicose Tory MP is less worried about the welfare of ordinary Ukrainians, and more worried that ‘Great’ Britain – now unbound from the shackles of the European Union – is not beating its chest and asserting its ‘national interests’ on the international stage.
For some time now, the UK ruling class has used the bogeyman of Russia as a very convenient distraction to problems at home. From insinuating that Jeremy Corbyn was a Kremlin stooge; to blaming the 2016 EU referendum result on Russian interference: the British establishment have been able to stoke up a siege mentality against the alleged menace of Russia.
And the press have once again wasted no time in greasing the wheels of war. The BBC, for example, made a comparison with Neville Chamberlain’s ambivalence to the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938, in order to stress what is at stake. A recent headline in The Times, meanwhile, reads: Russia ready to mount complete takeover of Ukraine.
The Tories and the press are all singing from the same hymn sheet, with Boris also bumbling about the threat of ‘lighting war’.
And so the theatrical performance goes on. Russia’s crime is clear, and Britain will pull no punches in delivering punishment.
But what has Global Britain got up its sleeve in the fight against pesky Putin?
Truss assures the British public that the UK will hit ‘em where it hurts. Legislation is being prepared to sanction Russian oligarchs who are using and abusing the City of London property market.
American officials, however, have pointed out that deeds will be much harder than words, given how entrenched suspect money is in London.
Indeed, such a move would seem a little out of character for the Tories. After all, a quarter of Johnson’s Cabinet have accepted Russian-related cash in the form of donations.
On the military front, British threats are just as farcical, with thirty ‘specialist’ troops and a couple thousand anti-tank missiles being sent to support Ukrainian forces.
But not to worry: we are told that the UK could double its military presence by sending hundreds of troops – not to Ukraine itself, which is the country allegedly threatened by imminent invasion, but to countries near Ukraine.
Truss and the Tories try to offer reassurance to a war-weary public audience: we are not trying to pull the wool over your eyes; it is highly likely that the Russians will invade – but it is very unlikely that we will send in any ground troops.
Such promises and prayers may be enough to cynically throw dust into people’s eyes back home. But confiscating oligarchs’ assets and guaranteeing an absence of military support on the ground will hardly have struck fear into the heart of the enemy.
Huffing and puffing
One British diplomat conceded as much, doubting whether Putin would be “quaking in his boots” as a result of the UK’s warnings.
Nevertheless, this same official went on to say: “But if the noise being generated by us and allies delivers de-escalation, the UK will suddenly look like a player again.”
This gets to nub of it. All of this huffing and puffing by Johnson, Truss, and co. is simply a deluded attempt to ‘Make Britain Great Again’. But if there actually were an imminent threat of war, Britain could make all the sound and fury it likes, and it would signify nothing.
The truth is, there is no appetite for war at home amongst the masses. And even the serious ruling class strategists are cautious about launching into any new military adventures, given the minefield – and humiliation – that British imperialism has created through its previous interventions abroad.
There will be no ‘leading the charge’ from the front. British imperialism is a paper tiger, and its screeches are akin to the cries of kittens.
In reality, such hysteria represents nothing more than nostalgic fantasy; a jingoistic ‘Rule Britannia’ dream that has captured the forlorn imagination of the Tory Party and its reactionary media mouthpieces.
As an increasingly irrelevant world power, Britain instinctively knows to kowtow to the US, even if this leaves it a pariah in Europe.
Indeed, the British ruling class has become so accustomed to serving the whims and wishes of the United States that Washington need not even brief London on what is necessary, or on the line to take.
This Pavlovian response has been nurtured over decades, with Britain relegated to playing the role of faithful sidekick and loyal accomplice to the interests of US imperialism – a ‘special relationship’ which more resembles the way a poodle looks wistfully to its master.
While European NATO allies are sceptical about the CIA’s claims about the supposedly ‘imminent invasion’, buoyant Britain is asking ‘how high?’ before its owner has even asked her to jump.
And when Biden announces ‘devastating sanctions’, as if on cue, Boris appears on stage to announce ‘unprecedented sanctions’. Such a promise, however, would not be hard to achieve, given that the Tory government’s response to the Salisbury poisoning was…not sending any official representatives or royals to the Russian-hosted World Cup.
But appeasing American imperialism need not be the only motivation for the Britain establishment.
The Conservative Party has been taken over by frothing rogues and reprobates; Brexiteers drunk on grandiose illusions of the past. For this flag-waving rabble, the UK’s evacuation from Afghanistan – in step with the US – was an utter humiliation.
Instead, they demanded that a post-Brexit Britain, rebranded ‘Global Britain’, prove its worth by maintaining a presence in Kabul. But British imperialism – now a third-rate power; a veritable pygmy in terms of world relations – was (and still is) in no position to give any credence to these little Englanders and their cries.
In this respect, hardman Boris hopes that bringing out the big guns against Putin will throw enough red meat to keep his critics within the Tory Party at bay – safe in the knowledge that the threat of war is just a spectre of his own making, and that no serious commitments will actually ever need to be honoured.
Imperialism and independence
The chasm between how the Ukraine-Russia tension is spoken about in Britain and how it is discussed pretty much everywhere else is significant.
Undoubtedly, Putin is toying with Ukraine in order to redress the aggression of US imperialism and NATO, which has consistently advanced eastward since the collapse of the USSR thirty years ago.
But when the West talks of national independence for Ukraine, what are they really defending? An ‘independence’ where NATO has free reign to swallow up Ukraine into its sphere of influence.
And when they talk about democracy, we need only think back to the not-so-democratic plotters of the 2014 Maidan movement; the closing down of media outlets; and the promotion of a brand of reactionary Ukranian nationalism inspired by Second World War Nazi collaborators – all of which had the West’s backing.
The enemy at home
Rather than joining in with the establishment’s carnival of reaction and hysteria, the first task of socialists – in Britain or anywhere else – is to expose these lies and hypocrisy of our own imperialist government.
Some on the left have fallen into this trap, losing their heads entirely, and calling for Ukraine to be ‘saved’...but only from Russian imperialism.
Such people have pitifully short memories, it seems, as this is precisely the sort of rhetoric that preceded NATO’s road to ruin in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and many other countries.
In effect, by concentrating their campaigning on attacking Russia (the enemy of our ruling class), such ‘lefts’ are de facto siding with US and British imperialism.
We must first and foremost criticise the hawkish, belligerent, destructive role of our own imperialist nation. The increased deployment of troops to Ukraine and surrounding areas to bolster NATO’s presence will not bring any stability to the situation.
We need only think back to the role that US imperialism and its sidekicks have played in backing so-called ‘colour revolutions’, which have undoubtedly been devastating for the region.
Furthermore, the UK government’s previous reluctance to send weapons to Ukraine was based on an assertion that these would end up in the wrong hands. Such concerns have now gone out of the window, however, despite the hesitation still shared by Britain’s European counterparts.
And whose hands are these, we may ask? The fascist militias, perhaps, such as Azov Battalion that forms part of the National Guard of Ukraine. One wonders if those today calling for Ukraine to be ‘saved’ have considered how British weapons and military training might lead to the bloodshed of Ukrainian workers tomorrow.
Ukraine will continue to be a hotbed of chaos and division, as long as it is ruled by a rotten capitalist oligarchy; crushed between the interests of competing capitalist nations.
Our main enemy is at home: our own ruling class, and the imperialist interests they serve in Washington.
Boris Johnson and the Tories may be a laughing stock. But this is not a laughing matter.
Our primary task is to organise to overthrow this gang of liars and reprobates. There is no time to waste.