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5 Mar, 2024 12:17

Reality check: Why the West risks dragging itself – and the world – into a nuclear nightmare

EU nations are pledging more lethal weapons to Ukraine while refusing to accept Moscow’s insistence that it harbors no intention to attack NATO into their comfortable war narrative. This could be a serious misjudgment
Reality check: Why the West risks dragging itself – and the world – into a nuclear nightmare

Any serious and objective non-Western observer of geopolitics would be baffled by the conduct of European nations in the Ukraine conflict. The US and its G7 partners seem determined to prolong the proxy war with Russia in the belief that by supplying increasingly lethal weaponry to Kiev and raising the level of confrontation, they can force Moscow to the negotiating table. 

The logic appears to be that this strategy will force a negotiated solution rather than inexorably lead to a conflict between Russia and NATO.

The West has progressively raised its involvement by supplying long-range artillery, advanced air defense systems, tanks, and air-launched cruise missiles, as well sea-based ones, to hit Russian targets. Satellite intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) has been provided to Ukraine for more accurate strikes. 

The New York Times has revealed, somewhat surprisingly, that the CIA has been “financing” and “partly equipping” several underground bunkers near the Russian border to gather vital information on defenses and equipment, as well as assisting the Ukrainian military in directing fire. The Dutch have announced their decision to supply 18 F-16s to Ukraine, despite strong Russian warnings.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told Radio Free Europe that Ukraine’s right to self-defense includes attacking legitimate Russian military targets outside Ukraine. Elsewhere, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has revealed that UK and French special forces are on the ground in Ukraine to operate the advance equipment supplied to Kiev. 

Scholz seems opposed to the supply of long-range Taurus missiles to Ukraine – because if these are used for strikes inside Russia, it may draw Germany into a direct conflict with Moscow. However, the leaked exchanges between German officers on the efficacy of using Taurus missiles to target the Crimean Bridge and ammunition dumps to its north, and how this should be done without directly involving the German government by using the manufacturer of these missile – the MBDA Deutschland – to act as a front, suggest a huge disconnect within the German establishment.

As a potential step that could cause the situation to spiral out of control, at a summit in Paris of 20 European leaders on February 26, French President Emmanuel Macron aired the possibility of putting European troops on the ground in Ukraine – disregarding Russian warnings that this could trigger a direct war between NATO and Russia. 

The US, Germany, UK, Poland, Czech Republic, and Slovakia, among others, have ruled out sending their troops to fight in Ukraine. Macron, however, believes that the people saying “never” to this idea today are the same ones who said “never” to the supply of tanks, planes, or long-range missiles to Ukraine two years ago. In the face of rebuffs and political opposition at home, Macron insists that what he said was well thought out and that the intention is to put Putin in a “strategic dilemma,” without explaining what that could be or why it would be only one-way.

The thought behind the proposals to increase EU military support for Ukraine is that European countries must take more responsibility for their own security, especially with the prospect of Donald Trump returning as US president. The Republican warned Europeans that if they don’t ramp up their defense spending, rather than relying on the US for security, he will leave them to fend for themselves against unstated threats from Russia. EU members are now increasing their defense budgets even when their economies are under pressure, with Germany and the UK facing a recession and social unrest spreading in several European countries, as indicated by the widespread protests by farmers, for instance.

France, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, Italy, Denmark, and Canada have signed bilateral security agreements with Ukraine. What these precisely entail is not clear, but the objectives seem to be to give assurances of support to Ukraine, should there be a change in the US administration; to give Kiev confidence that despite flagging public support for the conflict in European societies, aid will continue; and, last but not least, to signal to Russia that the EU’s investment in the conflict will continue, undeterred by Ukrainian losses and the war of attrition favoring Moscow. There is also a hint that Ukraine’s entry into NATO may not be imminent. Kiev needs assurance that individual European countries are willing to commit themselves to Ukraine’s defense.

The Baltic states are the most vociferous in pushing for a confrontation with Russia, both within the EU and in international conferences. Many countries of the Global South believe that the Ukraine conflict is “European,” which has adverse consequences for them economically because of the disruptions it is causing in food, fertilizer, and energy supplies. The Europeans argue this conflict goes beyond their continent and involves the international community as a whole, claiming that it violates the UN Charter, international law, and the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states. This is not a convincing argument as European nations are themselves guilty of such transgressions, and there is no guarantee that this will not continue in the future. 

Russia has not attacked the Baltic states, which are members of NATO and have the bloc’s troops stationed on their soil. These countries are hardly central to international geopolitics, have a combined population of only 6 million, and negligible military strength. That, based on their deep grievances against Soviet rule, they should want to be the driving force of an increasingly dangerous conflict in Europe, along with Poland, and now Finland and Sweden, is a matter of concern to non-Western countries. 

The argument that if Russia wins in Ukraine it will attack other countries to satisfy its imperial ambitions is factitious. Putin has been in power for 24 years now, NATO has expanded five times, the bloc’s troops and US missiles are stationed close to Russia’s borders, without any aggressive Russian riposte – except in the case of Georgia and now Ukraine. In both cases, Putin warned Russia will take action if these two countries were drawn into NATO. 

Putin’s repeated declarations that Russia has no intention of attacking any European country are being dismissed as they do not fit the narrative of Moscow’s threat to Europe. Why Russia would enter into a conflict with NATO is not explained.  As for Russia’s imperial ambitions – it has refrained from tightening control in erstwhile Soviet territories in Central Asia, with Armenia being the most recent example.

The other argument by the European hawks that a Russian victory in Ukraine will embolden China to intervene militarily in Taiwan is equally trumped-up. The Taiwan issue long pre-dates that of Ukraine, China will take decisions based on its own judgment of the rapport of force between it and the US and its allies in the region. Washington has committed itself to the One-China policy, though it is against the use of force by Beijing to take over Taiwan. China also has to take into account that its biggest trading partner is the US.

The prevailing belief among European nations is that, considering Russia’s past reactions to the West’s incremental support for Ukraine – such as providing lethal weaponry to Kiev – Moscow is unlikely to escalate militarily, even if the West continues to do so by supplying Ukraine with additional means to defend itself and potentially inflict damage on mainland Russian territory. This may explain why Europeans are not deterred by Russia’s formidable nuclear arsenal. But this could be a serious misjudgment – potentially leading to the West dragging itself, and the world, into a nuclear nightmare.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.