When the Ukrainian army took back vast swathes of territory in a surprise Kharkiv offensive in September, a new phase of the war began. Previously Putin was sitting tight, hoping to grind Ukrainian forces down militarily and exert pressure on the west through severing gas supplies to Europe.
The dynamic has now shifted. Alongside the rapid advances in Kharkiv, Russian troops in Kherson have been pushed back 20-30 km and Kremlin installed officials have announced an “organised, gradual displacement” of citizens from four towns in the region. Do these breakthroughs mean the war is closer to an end? Or are we facing the prospect of further escalation, up to and including the use of nuclear weapons?
Kerch Bridge and Russian airstrikes
The destruction of parts of the Kerch bridge which connects Russia to Crimea was a real blow for Putin. On top of being an important route of supplies for the Russian military, symbolically it is a jewel in the crown of Russia’s 2014 annexation. Retribution came in the form of air strikes targeting infrastructure in a number of cities including Kyiv, the first time since the war’s beginning that the capital was under attack. Playgrounds and busy traffic intersections were destroyed and, at the time of writing, 30% of Ukrainian power stations have been destroyed.
Such callous attacks illustrate that Putin’s onslaught is not yet exhausted. He now seeks to demoralise behind enemy lines, using a cold winter to slow down the Ukrainian advance. However, these are really acts of desperation as problems pile up for Putin’s war.
Crisis for Putin regime
“You are all military men now,” one video shows an officer telling nervous new conscripts as he enforced Putin’s ‘partial mobilisation.’ Yet these words quickly turned to ash in the mouth of the regime. Hundreds of thousands of men of fighting age and their families reportedly dashed to flee Russia through airports and land borders; a new wave of anti-war protests erupted, and there were reports of recruitment centres torched by Molotov cocktails.
Joining an already undersupplied and underfed military, significant numbers of conscripts mobilised against their will could add to the sense of demoralisation and discord within the Russian army, rather than turn the tide of the war in Putin’s favour.
The internal turmoil that Putin faces is mirrored and compounded by increasing isolation on the world stage, even amongst Russia’s allies. The Russian-led CSTO military alliance, established as a supposed counterweight to NATO, verges on disintegration as Armenia threatens to leave. And, at the recent Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit, India’s President Modi made thinly veiled criticisms of the invasion of Ukraine.
New Cold War
Likewise, some point to potential cracks in the no-limits partnership of Xi and Putin. But despite the inevitable contradictions within the Russia and China alliance, they remain pressed in a bloc against an emboldened US imperialism and its western allies. This inter-imperialist rivalry between the US and China – the new Cold War – is shaping global events, heralding a new era of militarism and nationalism.
Massive military aid flowing in from the US and NATO is not sent in the interests of ordinary Ukrainians, but to rebuff Russian imperialism and send a message to Chinese imperialism, still the “biggest long-term threat” to the US according to FBI Director Christopher Wray.
Washington’s latest package, which includes more ammunition for HIMARS, brings the total promised US military aid to Ukraine to a colossal $18.3 billion. The UK is the second biggest supplier of aid to Ukraine, and has given billions in arms and equipment as well as training thousands of Ukrainian troops. Since the most recent Russian airstrikes over 50 countries have pledged to step up military assistance, in particular the provision of air-defense systems.
War hawks and nuclear weapons
The Russian war hawks have also become more vocal in pushing for escalation, making open criticisms of what they see as a weak approach to waging the war. Putin himself has threatened the use of tactical nuclear weapons. Whereas at the war’s beginning Putin made similar remarks, he did so from a position of apparent strength, hoping it would usher in a quick military surrender and deter the West from more direct involvement.
Now, he is on the defensive, backed into a corner with his options running out. Nevertheless, if he were to make good on his threats, he would risk provoking a significant rupture in the China partnership, or, even more dangerous for the regime, a mass movement against war and nuclear weapons. For that reason, he seems to have opted for other forms of escalation for now. But, while the conflict continues to escalate, the threat will remain.
Independent resistance and International solidarity
International Socialist Alternative (ISA) opposes all imperialist powers and the dangerous military build-up that will remain a defining feature of the current epoch. We call for an international movement of the working class and oppressed to resist the slide into further conflict. Therefore, alongside implacable opposition to the invasion of Ukraine and the demand for the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops, we oppose Western, including British, imperialism’s intervention in Ukraine, including arms deliveries.
Of course, some will respond with the argument that the advanced weapons, equipment and military technology, alongside US and NATO expertise and training, have been key for Ukraine’s recent military successes. Are we not abandoning Ukrainian people to the same Russian imperialism that has left a trail of mass graves in its wake?
However, while Western imperialist arms are decisive to the war currently being fought by the Ukrainian army, this is not the only way which Russian imperialism’s invasion can be resisted. Already, the fact that ordinary Ukrainians are motivated to volunteer to defend their homes and national right to self-determination against imperialist annexation has been a crucial factor throughout the war.
This willingness to resist needs to be harnessed into a mass movement led by the Ukrainian working class to repel the occupation, both with arms in hand, but also through mobilising the full power of the masses through strikes, protests and demonstrations. Such a movement could play a crucial role in appealing to working class Russian soldiers to refuse to fight, and spur on the necessary mass movement to bring down Putin’s regime.
Crucially this movement must be independent of Western imperialism and the pro-capitalist Zelensky regime who pursue this war for their own interests and are unable to meet the most basic needs of the working class and poor of Ukraine. To do so would require adopting a socialist program and waging a struggle against the capitalist system itself, building a global movement against imperialism, war and climate destruction.