Tensions Escalate as US and Russian Imperialism Contend for Dominance in Ukraine

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

By Jakob Stein

On Monday, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin put 8,500 US troops on “high alert” to move into Eastern Europe in response to the months-long concentration of Russian troops along Ukraine’s eastern border. The White House is calling a Russian invasion of Ukraine “imminent” and has ordered all family members of US embassy staff to evacuate the country amid rising tensions between US and Russian imperialism. All this saber-rattling and talk of military force is the inevitable result of the struggle between imperialist superpowers as they fight for strategic positions and economic domination of the world.

This moment of high tension between US and Russian imperialism came about after North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), an alliance led by US imperialism, provided weapons and military training to the Ukrainian government. Russia considers NATO’s encroachment a threat to its own borders—the US wants to draw Ukraine under its influence and further encircle Russia, particularly to neutralize the threat posed to US interests by Russia’s capabilities as an atomic superpower. While the US is the world’s sole hegemonic superpower, Russia still represents a military superpower, especially with its arsenal of atomic weapons. The US bringing Ukraine more fully under its power would allow the US to install anti-missile defense systems right on Russia’s borders.

One of the biggest demands from Russian imperialism is that NATO ban Ukraine from joining and limit the deployment of troops and equipment in countries like Poland and the Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Ukraine is crucial to Russian imperialism for its richness in natural resources, its valuable trade routes, and its access to the Black Sea.

The Russian military has been sending tanks and ships to its western border with Ukraine as well as military forces to Belarus, which sits along the northern border of Ukraine. At the same time, NATO has ordered anti-tank missiles to be sent to Ukraine in addition to several military helicopters that were originally destined for the now-defeated Afghan military.

As both sides move weapons and troops into position, neither has made any decisive move. US officials are claiming that a Russian invasion of Ukraine is all but certain; however, Joe Biden stated on Tuesday that “we have no intention of putting American forces or NATO forces in Ukraine” and that there would be “serious economic consequences” if Russian troops were to invade. It seems that both sides are testing the waters, with Biden drawing back military threats and focusing on economic sanctions while Vladimir Putin gauges NATO’s response to the troop build-up.

The relationship between US and Russian imperialism is characterized by collusion—that is, working together in a temporary and relative sense—as well as by contention, in which each side struggles to gain the upper hand. Imperialism is predicated on expansion; imperialist powers are always seeking to expand the territories in which they can secure markets for their goods, cheap labor, raw materials, and strategic locations for military bases and alliances that allow them to better protect their interests and attack their enemies. The situation in Ukraine is no different: US imperialism seeks to expand its reach further and encircle Russia from both a military and economic standpoint, while the goal of Russian imperialism is to protect its semi-colonies from being taken over by pro-US and pro-European Union elements.

While the biggest alarmists are conjuring up fears of a potential World War III, in all likelihood any military action will be limited in scope similar to the annexation of Crimea or the civil war in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Full-scale war is only on the table once the strategic limitations of one side have already been defined—both are waiting to see how the other will respond and are analyzing strengths and weaknesses to inform future military tactics.

As the Brazilian people’s newspaper A Nova Democracia stated in an editorial, world war is not the “main trend for this period. As Chairman Mao analyzed in the 1960s, a new world war, although inevitable, will only occur when there is no other way to continue the partitioning of the world. For now, the disputes between the imperialists will necessarily be expressed as imperialist invasions and wars against the oppressed nations, exacerbating this, which is the main contradiction of the time and today.”

In the battle between US and Russian imperialism, there is no ‘good side,’ only villains competing to dominate Ukraine. The only heroes in this struggle are the people of Ukraine, those who refuse to be subjected to the misery that imperialism wreaks. The Ukrainian people will not benefit from supporting either side in the conflict, because both imperialists are only interested in securing their own interests. Instead, what Ukraine truly needs is to reconstitute its Communist Party, a party led by the workers to fight and overthrow the imperialists that wish to dominate them as well as the soulless politicians who sell the country out to the imperialists.

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