Russian President Putin suspended the last nuclear arms control treaty with the U.S., the New START (Strategic Nuclear Arms Reduction) Treaty. In his state of the nation address, Putin likened the demands made on Russia to “a kind of theater of the absurd” because the U.S./NATO demanded to inspect Russia’s nuclear facilities but refused to allow Russia to inspect theirs.
Sign for a severe weather store in Malmo, Sweden. As storm clouds of war gather in Europe, once neutral Sweden awaits membership in NATO.
Much has changed in Europe since the start of the Ukraine-Russia War on February 24, 2022. Under the direction of the United States, Europe and the U.S./NATO military alliance has moved stepbystep towards direct war with Russia. Many Europeans fear that a conventional war with Russia would have devastating consequences for Europe while a nuclear war, even a so-called limited one, would be fatal for the planet and the human species.
Civilian deaths in the last year in Ukraine are estimated to be over 8,000, with an additional 13,734 injured, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on March 13, 2023.
Estimates for the number of combatants killed on either side are obscured by the fog of war. General Mark Milley, U.S. Joint Chief of Staff, said on January 20, at a news conference in Germany, that Russia and Ukraine had both suffered well in excess of 100,000 casualties. [i] Aside from this, Western bias has generally maintained that Ukraine is winning the war and portrays Russia as experiencing higher losses.[ii] On February 2, The New York Times reported 200,000 Russian casualties since the start of the war. The Washington Post reported 120,000 Ukrainian combatant deaths on March 13. While these figures must be taken with a grain of salt, it is clear the human toll from this war is horrific.
Waist deep in the Big Muddy and the big fool said to push on
Pete Seeger’s 1967 folk song “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” was a metaphor for the Vietnam War, and every major U.S. war since then. Now the U.S. and its NATO allies are involved in another major war, and the big fools say to push on.
According to the U.S. House Oversight Committee on February 22, the U.S. had given Ukraine $113 billion since the start of the war.
The renowned Kiel Institute for the World Economy in Germany reports that EU nations have been following the U.S. with contributions, albeit reluctantly, after a short delay and have provided $59 billionin military, financial, and humanitarian aid. Of this, the humanitarian aid, like that of the U.S, is a negligible portion. The vast majority is military aid and financial aid to the Ukraine government.
The leading European NATO countries funding the war are Germany, the UK, France, Italy, and Spain.
The war in Ukraine is truly a proxy war, paid for with U.S./NATO money, fought with U.S./NATO weapons, and supported by the U.S./NATO sanctions against Russia.
The symbol of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) with a map of the world on the ground before it.
In the last two months, since the report released by the Kiel Institute, there has been a sharp rise in military aid and transfers to the Ukraine and within the NATO nations. For instance, on March 5, the EU announced an additional one billion euros for the purchase of artillery shells for Ukraine, according to the Spanish newspaper, El País. The transfer of Leopard 2 battle tanks (a German-manufactured tank used by NATO forces) is another recent development. Currently, Ukrainian forces are being trained in Spain and other NATO countriesto use the Leopard 2. The tanks fire armor-piercing shells with depleted uranium cores, a hugely significant health and environmental hazard and one which Russia warned NATO against.[iii] (For more about the effects of depleted uranium, see: “On the Anniversary of the Battle of Fallujah,” by Sami Rasouli in this newsletter.)
On March 17, El País reported that Poland has sent four MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine to strengthen the Ukrainian air force. The U.S./NATO military buildup is designed not just to fight Russia in Ukraine, but to weaken the Russians militarily.[iv]
There are also very concerning transfers of weapons within the U.S./NATO alliance. On February 14 for example, Spain announced the transfer of NASAMSmissiles to Estonia, a NATO member that borders on Russia, to bolster the Estonian air defenses. The transfer will include Spanish troops to train the Estonian military on the use of the missiles and the advanced Sentinel radar system that is part of the package.
Wading into the big muddy has been good for one group, the defense industry. A special investigative report in the Spanish press showed that the top ten U.S. and European defense companies all experienced significant increases in sales in 2022. Six of these top ten companies are American, one is French, one is Italian, one is from the UK, and one is a consortium of German, French, and Spanish companies. Of the six Western countries that are backing the war: Boeing (the U.S.) is the big winner, with a 35 percent increase in sales, Northrop Grumman (the U.S.) and Airbus (the consortium of German, French, and Spanish companies) have also made out like bandits, with Northrop Grumman enjoying a 16 percent increase in sales and Airbus a 21 percent increase in sales.[v]
Yet, at the seemingly last minute, the EU appears to be losing some of its passion for war. The EU has slowed its delivery of military aid in the last month and has delayed imposing new sanctions on Russia. Ukrainian President Zelensky has “warned” the EU that any delay will prolong the war. At the same time, officials of the EU, supported strongly by France, are talking to the Chinese government about its proposed peace plan. Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who will assume the EU presidency after French President Macron, is meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing.This mixed messaging is par for the course for the European members of NATO, who have ultimately followed the U.S. lead in the last 12 months, albeit with lots of anxiety.
U.S./NATO forces achieved a major political and military victory with the decision of Finland to join NATO. Since World War II, Finland has remained neutral while at the same time having a highly trained and well-equipped military with universal military service. On March 23, Finnish President Niinistö signed into law all the legislation needed for Finland to join NATO. On the same day, a committee of the Turkish parliament approved Finland’s membership (new members must be approved by all existing members to join NATO). President Erdoğan of Turkey said that full approval would happen soon. On March 27, Hungary ratified Finland’s bid to join NATO, thus ending its neutrality. (Sweden, which had applied for NATO membership at the same time, did not have its bid ratified.)
The addition of Finland means that the U.S./NATO forces can choke off Russia’s access to the Baltic. At the same time, Finnish airbases are within easy striking distance of the Russian North Fleet whose main base is located on the Arctic Ocean. Russia is literally surrounded on its western border. This too raises the risk of nuclear war.
The consequences of war, so far
From the U.S., the war in Ukraine seems distant. Inside Europe, it is here and now. In addition to the death and destruction in Ukraine, the war has created a massive refugee crisis and economic hardship in the European Union (EU). This is taking place against anaggressive right-wing attack on the social safetynet of the EU.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) the war has produced 4.8 million refugees so far. Poland has the over 1.5 million refugees and Germany has almost a million. The other EU nations alsohave refugees, and these refugees are straining the social safety net of the EU. A minuscule amount of humanitarian aid is being provided and many of the refugees are taken in by individual families, especially in Poland and some of the other EU states that directly border on Russia or its allies. In addition, there are refugees in Russia; while the exact number is unknown, the highest estimate is 2.8 million.
Adding to the massive refugee crisis, the working people of the EU have been especially hard hit. The cost of living has jumped 10 to 48 percent in the various EU member states. Hungary has been especially hard hit, with a one-year increase to approximately 48 percent in the cost of living. The people of Germany and Poland have both experienced a 20 percent increase in the cost of living, while the UK, France, Italy, and Spain have all experienced increases in the teens [El País, March 5, 2023].
The refugee crisis and the economic hardships of war are taking place against a backdrop of social unrest generated by the attacks of the EU ruling elites on the social safety net of EU member states. In France, changes to the social security system have generated weeks of massive protests as the Macron government tries to impose by executive order a change in the retirement age. In Spain and the UK, there have been massive and sustained protests against the destruction and privatization of the public healthcare system. On March 25, for instance, massive protests of 12 to 30 thousand took place in Seville led by doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers. Other EU countries have also seen a rise in protests and strikes as the social safety net is attacked.
Protests against the privitization of the Spanish heathcare system draw massive crowds. Giant puppet is of a regional heathcare minister depicted with a Pinocchio nose. Photo: Alejandro Martinez Velez. Europa Press.
Alongside these protests is a possibly significant crisis in the EU banking sector, with the collapse and rescue of Credit Suisse by a Swiss government-brokered deal with UBS (the largest bank in Switzerland and the largest private bank in the world), and the possible failure of Deutsche Bank (the 21st largest bank in the world and the largest in Germany) that was signaled by a sharp drop in the price of the bank’s shares. A collapse of the German banking giant would trigger a banking crisis in the entire eurozone – the nations of the EU that use the euro as their common currency.
Since the end of World War II, Europe has never looked more fragile.
In spite of the refugee crisis, economic hardships, and attacks on the social safety net, the antiwar movement is still alive in Europe. While most of the mainstream conservative parties and socialist parties support the war – Pedro Sanchez, the socialist president of Spain, for instance, is a fanatical supporter of the U.S./NATO war – the smaller far-left parties and the broader peace movement have organized against the war. Protests took place in all major EU countries on or around February 24, the one-year anniversary of the war. The protests were relatively small compared to the protests that took place against the Iraq war, but they are larger than the protests in the U.S., for instance, – 10,000 protested in Berlin and 2,000 in London. Political demands at the protests included support for refugees, humanitarian aid to the Ukrainian people, no more arms shipments, and in some cases a call to withdraw from NATO.
The danger of nuclear war
The danger of a nuclear war is real and is generally acknowledged and talked about, at least in the Spanish press.(For a perspective from the U.S., see the article by Coleen Rowley in the previous issue of the Women Against Military Madness Newsletter: “WWIII and Nuclear Annihilation,” Vol. 41 No. 1, Spring 2023.)
Since that article was written the world has moved even closer to nuclear war.
In mid-February, Norwegian military intelligence reported that the Russians had placed tactical nuclear weapons on their submarines and warships of their Northern Fleet. This is the first time that these ships have carried tactical nuclear weapons since the fall of the USSR.[vi]
A week later, Russian President Putin suspended the last nuclear arms control treaty with the U.S., the New START (Strategic Nuclear Arms Reduction) Treaty. In his state of the nation address, Putin likened the demands made on Russia to “a kind of theater of the absurd” because the U.S./NATO demanded to inspect Russia’s nuclear facilities but refused to allow Russia to inspect theirs. And, he said, they behaved as though there was “no connection between strategic offensive weapons and the conflict in Ukraine or other hostile Western actions, as if there are no vociferous claims about them seeking to inflict a strategic defeat on us.” He declared that Russia would resume the treaty when the U.S. stopped the war in Ukraine and the U.S. brought its nuclear-armed NATO alliance partners, France and the UK, into arms control talks.[vii] (The 2010 treaty had been concluded only between the U.S. and Russia.)
El País, on February 22, 2023, reported Putin saying that “nothing would stop Russia until the end” because Ukraine is “considered the historical territory of Russia.”
Antiwar demonstration on the one-year anniversary of the war on Ukraine.
Photo: Stop the War Coalition
On March 25, Putin announced the transfer of tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, stating that it was a response stating that it was a response to the UK delivering depleted uranium munitions to Ukraine.[viii] Since the fall of the USSR, Russia had not stationed nuclear weapons on land outside Russian territory. In contrast, the U.S. already hastactical nuclear weapons at bases in Italy, Germany, Turkey, Belgium, and the Netherlands. In addition,NATO partners France and the UK maintain arsenals of strategic nuclear weapons. According to the foreign affairs representative of the EU Josep Borrell, this is “another escalation of the conflict”[ix]
The U.S./NATO nuclear forces now stand facetoface with the nuclear forces of Russia. A single mistake and a few minutes are all that separates us from World War III and global catastrophe.
And the big fools say to push on.
Michael Livingston is a longtime peace and antiwar activist. He has lived andworked in Honduras, Chile, and Spain. A professor of psychology at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, he is currently directing a study abroad program in Seville, Spain.
[i]Video of General Mark Milley speaking. Defense Secretary Austin and Gen. Milley hold news conference in Germany. PBS Newshour. January 20, 2022.tinyurl.com/46w3bzzw
[ii]Norwegian Defense Chief General Eirik Kristoffersen told Norwegian TV2 on January 22, that there were 180,000 Russian combatants versus 100,000 Ukrainian combatants killed or missing in action.Tweet tinyurl.com/37twfsb3. Note: While Russian casualties may be inflated by the West, Russia has a larger population and the ability to send more soldiers. Russia has not published any casualties since September of 2022. All casualty figures for the war do not include 2014 casualties, mainly of ethnic Russians killed by Ukrainian forces, including by Nazi battalions, which was one of the provocations for the war that began on February 24, 2022.
[iii]Konstantin Gavrilov, the head of the Russian delegation to the Vienna-based Arms Control Committee told the Russian newspaper, Izvestia, that ‘if these weapons supplied by NATO are used against Russian troops, they would be considered a dirty bomb.’” Russia Warns Against Supplying Depleted Uranium Munitions to Ukraine. PL/Prensa Latina. Jan. 26, 2023. tinyurl.com/j7f6y4tt
[iv]Overextending and Unbalancing Russia: Assessing the Impact of Cost-Imposing Options. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2019. rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB10014.html; Ryan, Missy and Timsit, Annabelle. U.S. wants Russian military ‘weakened’ from Russian invasion Austin says. Washington Post. April 25, 2022. tinyurl.com/u37e7hun
[v]Gonzáles, Miguel. Major Weapons Manufacturers Reap Dividends from War in Ukraine. El País.March 13, 2023
[vi]Jackson, John. Russian warships armed with nuclear weapons deployed: Norway. Newsweek, February 14, 2023
[vii] Vladimir Putin’s Address to Federal Assembly of Russia. Feb. 21, 2023 en.kremlin.ru/events/president/transcripts/messages/70565
[viii]Putin announced that Russia was stationing tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, in response to the fact that “the British Defence Secretary said they were going to deliver depleted uranium charges to Ukraine.” Russia to Deploy Tactical Nukes in Belarus. Crux. Youtube. March 26, 2023. tinyurl.com/yuwkt572
[ix]Putin says Russia will station tactical nukes in Belarus. El País. March 25, 2023. tinyurl.com/ymzvc955