U.S. President Joe Biden has been engaged in a flurry of activity about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In mid-March, he had a two-hour video call with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Biden warned the Chinese rulers that there would be “consequences” if they were to provide military or other material support to Russia’s war against Ukraine. The Chinese response to Biden has been to continue to call for peace negotiations and even mention Ukraine’s sovereignty without directly criticizing the Russian invasion. Biden also recently traveled in Europe for talks with leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) partners, including Germany, France, Britain, Poland, and others. He then told European government officials to prepare for possibly years of war and called on them to support expelling Russia from the “G20” – the association of most of the world’s largest economies. And the war of words goes on, with Biden and others accusing Putin of war crimes.
Meanwhile, the Russian military has indeed slaughtered thousands of Ukrainians and has made refugees of 4.5 million people in a little more than a month.
But despite all the political rhetoric coming out of Washington, Moscow, and Beijing, it would be a mistake to believe that this is all about Ukraine. Yes, the Russian invasion has been a direct and brutal assault on the people of Ukraine. No one should believe Russian President Putin’s lies about fighting Nazism in Ukraine. Thousands of Russian people have risked their lives protesting the invasion. And thousands of Russian soldiers have lost their lives for Putin’s lies.
Just three weeks before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Xi and Putin met in Beijing at the opening of the Olympic Games to announce an agreement between their two regimes. In their joint statement, Putin and Xi declared that the world has entered a period of increased rivalry among the world’s powers; they see “the development of such processes and phenomena as multipolarity, economic globalization … transformation of the global governance architecture and world order … [and that] a trend has emerged towards redistribution of power in the world.”
Although the agreement does not mention Ukraine by name, it does say that China will support Russia to “oppose further enlargement of NATO” – and the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO is a major concern of Putin’s regime and the Russian capitalists it represents.
NATO was created as a military alliance by the U.S. government and its western European allies after World War II, to threaten the Soviet Union. So, with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the triumph of capitalism in Russia, what was the reason for NATO’s continued existence? It’s clear today that the European and U.S. capitalists still fear Russian influence in the world. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a number of governments of Eastern European countries that were formerly part of what was known as “the Soviet Bloc” or “People’s Democracies,” which has served as a physical buffer zone between Western Europe and the Soviet Union, have joined NATO. This includes Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania, all standing as part of this military bloc against Russia. In addition, most of them have deepened their economic ties to Europe and a number have joined the European Union. The addition of Ukraine to NATO would be a major threat to Russia, extending NATO’s direct access to Russia’s border further to the south.
This expansion of U.S. and Western European influence in the region isn’t the only shift in economic and political alliances. During the past decades, there has been a weakening of U.S. world dominance, economically and politically. China’s development as a capitalist power has emerged as a challenge to U.S. imperialism’s domination of the world economy, which since World War II had been uncontested. The new Russia/China agreement not only challenges NATO, but also opposes U.S. domination in Asia and its support for Taiwan’s independence from China. In general, it declares opposition to U.S. imperialism and its allies.
During this period, the economic relations of the European Union have solidified while it has expanded to include additional countries. As a consequence, the role of the U.S., and by extension the role of NATO, is also being questioned, if not challenged by some of these nations.
What is emerging is the struggle among the world’s biggest economic, military and nuclear powers for world domination. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has increased those tensions. This confrontation has served to unify the U.S. and the nations in NATO while exposing their different positions in the world economy. One central issue is Europe’s dependence on Russian energy resources. Much of the focus of U.S. global policy is on its relationship to China and the economic and military control of eastern, southern, and southeastern Asia. This was highlighted recently by the new nuclear arms alliance of the U.S., United Kingdom, and Australia, featuring a plan to arm Australia with nuclear submarines – an obvious threat to China. (This move also undermined France’s tentative agreement to build the submarines.) Other flashpoints in the superpower conflicts of recent years have included Iran, Syria, and other parts of the Middle East and South Asia.
The apparent goal of the big capitalists of China and Russia is to establish and secure their access to the vast natural resources and labor of the enormous Eurasian landmass, which would help to dominate the world economy. Also, China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” is a trillion-dollar infrastructure investment program across Asia, Europe, and Africa to link the economies of those continents under Chinese leadership. But the main obstacle to this project is U.S. imperialism, with investments virtually everywhere in the world, alongside about 750 military bases (by far the most in the world) and a huge naval fleet to protect those investments. The U.S. imperialists have made it clear that they are ready to do everything in their power to oppose China and Russia.