A popular anchorwoman on the Russia I TV channel spoke the other day about the distances the latest and most lethal Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) in the Russian arsenal could cover in seconds from their launch bases to reach European capitals such as London or Paris.
They would only take seconds, she said. To make a more dramatic effect, she even said that the “island of Great Britain exists, but in seconds it will exist no longer”.
You might guess that this discourse took place in the context of a debate about the war in Ukraine, which, theoretically speaking, should be a military confrontation between two countries ending in an agreement between the warring parties to settle the differences that were at the origins of the war.
However, the “special military operation,” as Russia has called its military onslaught on Ukraine, or the “invasion,” as the Ukrainian government and media describes the Russian offensive of 24 February, has gradually become a major indirect military confrontation between Russia and the US-led NATO alliance. The latter has also recently become an offensive military alliance despite the declarations of its secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, that it is defensive in nature. The all-out mobilisation of its member countries, politically, militarily, and in the media, refutes any such claims.
The war in Ukraine has now entered its third month, and it is next to impossible to predict when it will end and on what terms. Following the declarations of the various parties involved in this war, whether directly or indirectly, we get the impression that they find themselves in a vicious circle of destruction with every move by the other party being met by more escalation by their adversary, or enemy, depending on who is doing the talking.
There is probably no more succinct statement explaining such a dangerous state of affairs than the one quoted in The Hill, a US publication on Congressional affairs, and made by the former secretary of defence in the Obama administration Leon Panetta. He said that the US and its allies “have drawn a line on Russia, and we have to make sure that they pay a price,” adding that “we cannot afford to back off at this point, and [US President Joe Biden] really understands that and he understands the big picture right now.”
In the same vein, present US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin, hosting a meeting of the Ukraine Defence Consultative Group in Germany on 26 April, said that the US intends to “weaken” Russia. As I argued some weeks ago in this column, the war in Ukraine is no longer about Ukrainian sovereignty or independence, or about a choice between democracy and dictatorship, but rather has become a proxy war between the US and Russia fought on Ukrainian territory.
The US and its Western allies have found in the present Ukrainian government a willing partner in “weakening” Russia. However, it is difficult to see the long-term strategic benefits for the Ukrainian people in accepting to see their country becoming a theatre of battle for a war intended to determine who will steer the world in the 21st century.
Whatever the answer to such questions may be, today the name of the game is escalation, and more escalation with more contenders for world hegemony has begun, with some of them publicly speaking of resorting to the use of nuclear weapons if need be.
One only needs to look at the declarations made by the UK secretaries of defence, James Heappey, and foreign affairs, Liz Truss, to see how nations can cause wars with incalculable consequences for their own people and other countries. Heappey said the other day that it would be “legitimate” for the Ukrainian army to target Russian “military infrastructure” inside Russia – in other words, calling on the Ukrainians to attack military bases, airports, and missile bases on Russian territory.
I would not be surprised if the British government announces soon that it will be providing the Ukrainians with advanced weapons systems to carry out such attacks. But just imagine what the Russian response would be if this diabolical scenario became reality. The Russian Defence Ministry commented in a statement that “London’s direct provocation of the Kyiv regime into such actions, if such actions are carried out, will immediately lead to a proportional response.”
It is highly regrettable that the British government promised Ukraine additional military assistance worth 300 million pounds last week and that some official British sources have said London will provide Ukraine with “long-range weapons.” Militarily speaking, such weapons would have the range needed to attack Russian targets inside Russia. The least that can be said is that such assistance would be reckless and very risky. Most importantly, it would also cause more death and destruction within Ukraine. No senior British official has ever talked of peace.
Last week, Biden asked the US Congress to authorise more than $30 billion in additional security, economic, and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine over the next five months. Furthermore, the administration sent Congress on 28 April an “outline” of measures tightening sanctions enforcement, and amazingly, and I use the word sarcastically, to seize the assets of wealthy Russians put under the Western sanctions regime after 24 February to help Ukraine rebuild.
The package, according to an official quoted in The Hill, would establish new authority for seizing the property of Russian “oligarchs” and establish new protocols for how the seized funds can be used to assist Ukraine. To put this more plainly, the US and NATO is pouring billions of dollars’ worth of weapons, both defencive and lethal, into Ukraine. These have not halted the steady advance of Russian forces inside Ukraine, but they have contributed to turning this war into an endless one with huge costs for the Ukrainian people in the present and the future.
The military involvement of NATO in the war in Ukraine is becoming a serious threat to international peace and security, and it has brought the world nearer to the use of nuclear weapons, whether some experts speak of tactical nuclear weapons or the unleashing of more destructive ones.
Regrettably, no leader in the West has had the courage to say that geography and history mean that Russia and Ukraine are destined sooner or later to reach an agreement that must ultimately cement good relations between the two countries and ones that will outlive both Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
What will the West and NATO do if the Russians succeed in carrying out their military mission in Ukraine? The Russian forces are advancing, albeit with significant losses in men and material, and they are insisting that their military plans are going to plan. Maybe this is why there are growing concerns in some European countries as to where all this will lead in the absence, whether deliberate or for tactical reasons, of serious and concerted diplomacy to end the senseless war in Ukraine.
The world is adrift because of a lack of statesmanship all round. This is all the more reason for Egypt to remain non-aligned in the insecure and unstable international system that is emerging out of the ashes in Ukraine.
* The writer is former assistant foreign minister.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 12 May, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.