pandemic and war

Yin Xiuzhen, Weapon, 2003-7


Comments on the likely origins and repercussions of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict

More important than organizations without any relevance and public influence, not even national ones, declaring support for this or that “gang” in confrontation or categorical slogans, is understanding the concrete relationships of what is happening in Ukraine.

The current world situation is unique. After three years of epidemic, a ghost gallops terrorizing not only Brazil, but the world: inflation. Covid has disrupted the planet's logistics (and thus value/trade) chains. Everything has become more expensive and difficult to transport with the restrictions, only now starting to give a semblance of stabilization, with the madness of the forced opening in the West and with the happy success of vaccines.

The human cost, we know. Covid is projected to have killed, in actual numbers, well over 10 million people, the vast majority in Western liberal democracies and India. A ferocious pandemic, which has already carved its place in history, brought down economies that had not even recovered from previous crises, as is the case of Brazil, coming from sustained stagnation and plunging into recession.

In this scenario, as a result of the previous distrust with governments of different shades, a very dangerous movement of denialists, not infrequently fused with extreme right-wing conspiracyists, rode the minds of masses much larger than themselves, doing everything to prevent vaccination, protective measures and spread panic. This is, for example, what is common between USA and Russia.

Until a certain point, nearly 1/4 of Americans resisted getting vaccinated. The army even had to threaten to dismiss soldiers who did not, and today, hundreds of millions are still unvaccinated and thousands of people die daily from the Omicron variant. In Russia the situation is even worse. Until January 2022, the country had not managed to vaccinate even 50% of its population. This, not only the result of practical difficulties and mismanagement of the pandemic, but the distrust and resistance of huge sections of the Russian population.

After a trial of lockdown in 2020, many Russian establishments and the population in general continue to resist even basic measures such as wearing masks or accepting a vaccine passport, in addition to demonstrating a deep distrust in the management capacity and veracity of the information provided by the Russian regime.

It is seen that this scenario of denialism and distrust in relation to governments is, therefore, worldwide, with Europe, until now, seeing violent demonstrations against restrictions in several nations.

And why does it matter? Because there is one place (to be fair, some) where, despite all the regrets, Covid has never been master of the situation: China (and some points outside the curve, like Vietnam). Explaining the importance of the Chinese role would take a very long digression in this text. What matters is the following: the Chinese virus control strategy, with lockdowns (of entire cities) and vaccination, known as “Covid Zero”, despite its fluctuations, was a resounding success. More important: a success with popular support.

It is clear that it is always difficult to measure popular support in an oligarchic dictatorship like the Chinese one, but, as everything indicates, the government measures had very low proportional degrees of repression compared to the Chinese population and those applied by Western capitalist countries. How many deaths has China had since the beginning of the epidemic? Astonishingly, only 4636! And cases? Two and a half years later, they have less than the US or Brazil had in one day of an outbreak of the Omicron variant: only 108!

Let us speculate freely whether these data are more or less false and even about the indispensable importance, for the success of the undertaking, of extreme decision-making centralization, possible only in conditions of a dictatorship. What matters here is that the billions of Chinese identified the government's actions as positive and gave their consent to keep an invisible enemy out of their lives.

The result of this strategy? While the USA had a drop of 3,4% in GDP in 2020 and growth of 5,7% in 2021, reaching, then, a growth of around 2% in two critical years, something close to stagnation, China grew 2,2% in 2020 (!!!) and 8,7% (!!!) in 2021. Let's compare the engine of liberal democracies and the “dragon” of the Chinese capitalist bureaucracy and we will see that, in this challenge, the USA took the worst.

Today, while the capitalist economies around the world are struggling to get out of the spiral of high prices, inevitable in the face of the disorganization caused by the epidemic, the USA is trying to save its own skin (harming the others) by increasing interest rates in its economy and sucking dollars into the market. country (to control its domestic inflation). All this, while life for the Chinese is much closer to normal (and even better, materially) than that of any average Westerner.

Such a disparity in “performance” in the face of a historical fact, by itself, poses a clear challenge to the global hegemony of US imperialism.

And Ukraine in this story? What happens there is not lightning that strikes on a sunny day. The conflict in the regions to the east, known as Donbass, develops from a separatist insurgency inflamed by Moscow in an acute way since 2014. To be more precise, Russia had already imposed the conquest of the strategic region of Crimea, fundamental to control Russian access to the Black Sea and from it to the Mediterranean, almost following the events known as the “Maidan square protests”, which overthrew the then pro-Russian Ukrainian government, replacing it with one favorable to rapprochement with the European Union.

Such a military achievement, covered up by a referendum held in the region, was, in addition to a kind of response to the loss of support from the Ukrainian government, one of the culminating points of the Russian line of containment of NATO's advance in the countries of the East, former members of the so-called Pact from Warsaw or directly from the Soviet Union.

The antagonism with nuclear guarantees between (the capitalist oligarchies of) Russia and the “West” (of capitalist corporations and banks) is not new. It is an unavoidable product of the fall and dismemberment of the Soviet Union, whose entire territory could not be completely colonized and subjected by the institutions of the so-called Washington Consensus (even if it could not economically escape from it), insofar as broad layers of the former Soviet state bureaucracy became the ruling bourgeois classes in that territory.

Heirs to the siege mentality (and arsenals) of the Cold War, Russian bourgeois oligarchies have sought to establish a position of active flexion of their military muscles, since the Chechen war to the recent conflicts in the Nagorno Karabakh region, as a deterrent tactic. deterrence directed at the US and Western European countries and the assertion of control over its zone of direct influence in the Caucasus and Eastern Europe.

NATO, initially thought of as a military alliance responsible for the ideologized “containment of communism” in the USSR, not only did not cease to exist, but continued to expand as a geopolitical tool to the east. The entry of the Baltic countries (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia) in the early 2000s and the continuous mobilization of troops and attempts to reach agreements for the accession of new members, such as Ukraine, have since then provoked reactions and a state of permanent alert. , from which the Russian oligarchs cannot escape.

It is from this scenario that the so-called Ukrainian civil war emerges, which has lasted almost a decade, with the confrontation between the separatist regions in eastern Ukraine and the Kiev government, which is a kind of war by proxy for geopolitical interests, on the one hand, from the USA and NATO and, on the other, from Russia.

However, to return to the question, besides the mistrust and damage to the political stability of Putin's quasi-autocratic Bonapartist regime, what else caused Covid? It shrank Russian GDP by 2,7% in 2020. In 2021, Russia resumes growth of 4,7%, something very close to that seen in the US, in a scenario close to stagnation. It is in this economic quagmire that Clausewitz's maxim that war is “the continuation of politics by other means” draws our attention.

The current political situation in the US is one of evident internal destabilization, with a political regime and questioned institutions, broad movements against police violence against blacks and minorities, and a very dangerous movement of far-right denialists that is increasingly organized.

The scenario of inflation and consequent rise in interest rates projects difficulties for a solid resumption of growth which, despite still maintaining low unemployment rates, may lead not only to difficulties in projecting international influence, but also worsening the internal conditions of governance of the group of the political regime due to the growing worsening of the living conditions of the population.

All of this, tied together by an increasingly evident inability to overcome the pace of its ascendant adversaries (China) in almost all areas of dispute, such as technology, innovation, weaponry, space exploration and, most importantly, control of the Covid-19 epidemic. XNUMX. A tendency to be absorbed by issues of internal class struggle further undermines the US's ability to assert its role as a hegemon on the world stage.

An empire in decay, faced with such setbacks, shudders at the fear of losing even more ground and tries, as it has done for decades, to flex its most concentrated policy muscles: the military. The window of opportunity to advance on the bloc of nations indigestible to the US and which remain in the quagmire of covid does not appear, however, in the Chinese case. That's why we don't see the US-Australian alliance move further into countries in Southeast Asia or force their hand in a conflict over Taiwan.

With Russia it is different. Internal confidence in the Putin regime has been shaken in recent years, which may explain the rise of Western harassment and Ukrainian calls for more military aid from NATO members. Therefore, it is also crucial for him to flex his muscles to regain stability and prevent the “outside wolves” from getting excited.

To make a long story short, geopolitically, the decision to initiate the conflict in Ukraine was an inevitable result of pressure from NATO, driven by US fear. A sort of decision about who would throw the punch first, hoping to avoid worse consequences.

American decadence has always led that country to impose a policy by arms. It was like this in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and, even in 2014, Ukraine.

In all cases, the only result was trillions spent and more proof that the Sheriff only has bullets, which eventually run out. Today, fearful of losing more ground, they tried to get ahead and move forward to corner what they considered an "unstable link", Russia, expanding NATO's harassment of Ukraine.

Putin was forced to react, which he did in a classic way: he supported the independence of the puppet regions of Lohansk and Donetsk and acted with the defensive argument (always safer) to protect the regions. Here, the conflict gains the meaning and importance of a mutual measurement of forces. In this test, over the last few days of the conflict, we could glimpse some unexpected changes in Russian calculation and application.

If, initially, we could predict that we would not see a war of total conquest, annexing Kiev and Ukraine, which could be something too much to be accepted by Western Europe, today we are facing a Russian advance beyond expectations. In addition to the reassertion of control over the separatist areas in the east, updated information reports a multidirectional Russian advance, also in the north and south.

Having, in practice, all of Ukraine surrounded by puppet nations or supporting/controlled regions from where their troops left (Belarus, Moldova and Crimea) the Russians advanced along the Dniper river that crosses Ukraine and dispute with government forces and part of the civilian population armed, at that moment, block by block, the outskirts of the capital Kiev, towards the center, where the government buildings are located.

Reports say air strikes on civilian areas across the country and a Russian advance meeting stiff resistance in Ukraine's two other biggest cities, Kharkov and Odessa. In a war, dynamics can often lead to changes in anticipated plans. One can only speculate whether the lack of troop support from NATO emboldened Putin to move towards a policy of occupation war and political decapitation of the Ukrainian government, which would grant him definitive control to stop NATO's advance.

On the other hand, it may be that the strategic line chosen is that of a lightning war, imposing the destruction of Ukrainian anti-aircraft defenses and Russian air supremacy, which can guarantee freedom of movement and imposition of sieges to force an agreement “with weapons in the air”. head". The acceptance of ongoing peace talks already on the fourth day of the conflict by the Ukrainian president and the Russians on the territory of Belarus perhaps corresponds more precisely to Russian objectives.

In any case, Putin, by going far beyond what everyone expected, already reconfigures the world interstate state of affairs and, perhaps, with more harmful consequences in the long term. In addition to economic sanctions against its oligarchs and even Putin, Russia has just been banned from the international financial transfer system, SWIFT, responsible for the flow of international payments, crucial for foreign trade.

While continuing uninterrupted and sanction-free, the transport of Russian natural gas and oil, the country's biggest sources of export revenue and thus elements of reciprocal dependence on Europe, could be affected by the ban as an "indirect" sanction. ”, hampering international transactions and undermining Russian economic conditions.

This, in addition to the apparent Russian popular dissatisfaction with this war of aggression, evidenced by protests and thousands of arrests in dozens of cities, may be important in defining the limits of the conflict and how far Putin can go.

On the other hand, the icing on the cake of this war game presented itself in a very subtle and yet eloquent way in this crisis. China, the main US competitor that last week defended the legitimacy of Russian concerns in the name of “international stability and prosperity” and even shared with Russians intelligence information made available by the US as a naive attempt to defuse the crisis, has adopted a position more restrained and, after the invasion, was swept away by a flood of expectations.

Thus, it maintained an ambiguous position, claiming for the sovereignty of all those involved, signaling that the legitimate sovereignty of Ukraine cannot mean a risk to the sovereignty of other nations. This limited support given to Russia found its affirmation in the Chinese abstention in the vote on the proposed US resolution condemning the Russian attack, which may signal that Chinese support has limits.

These limits are found in the undesirable results for the projection and Chinese business, inevitable in a scenario of instability such as that caused by the invasion. By benefiting from the neoliberal economic order, whose demand for its flood of cheap products is the basis of its overwhelming growth for decades; for organizing its projection, business and capital exports in the wake of its structures (as exemplified by the well-known project Belt and Road); and because, in this way, it has deep economic ties with Europe and even the US (China holds more than a trillion dollars in US treasury bonds), the Chinese have nothing to gain from encouraging measures of force, even more in European territory.

If direct Chinese intermediation for the end of the conflict could even be a sign of global projection, the circumspection and rejection of seeking a leading role in the recent crisis perhaps points to the extent to which the Russian action proved to be a nuisance, even more so in view of its territorial claims in Taiwan and the South China Sea. Until now, the Chinese have maintained a firm rhetoric regarding their territorial rights, together with a practice of projection through the so-called soft power and the economic infiltration that the overexploitation of its workforce and its overwhelming manufacturing machine provide. They have not yet taken a decisive step to force their military projection.

The Russian action, the result of which is likely to be a resurgence of Russophobic sentiments rather than a weakening but a strengthening of NATO, creates additional obstacles to this Chinese step and galvanizes European countries around a possible US role. Everything leads to believe that the US will interpret this as a block challenge, which will lead them to increase closer ties with allies in Europe and Southeast Asia and toughen their tone and measures against China in the region. There is nothing to suggest that the Chinese, who have been exploiting European divisions for the benefit of their businesses, had in their plans to anticipate this shock so soon.

It goes without saying that, combined with the economic scenario, national protectionism, xenophobia and geopolitical conflicts could worsen in the coming years. That would amount to a kind of reenactment of the Cold War, which, of course, is not good for business, especially Chinese. At stake, then, is the credibility dispute between the regimes of the capitalist oligarchies and the decadent liberal democracies. A dispute, evidently, intercapitalist.

Revolutionaries and Marxists are left with no dignified position other than to reject the carnage of a theater of war totally alien to the needs of workers, whether Russians, Ukrainians, Chinese or Americans.

In a scenario of hunger, unemployment, exploitation and death, the workers of the world are against a war for the interests of the bosses and, if they have the possibility, they will solve their problems by turning their weapons against the ruling classes and imposing a war against the engine of these disputes : private property and its defenders in Russia, Ukraine, China and the USA. Unfortunately, however, we are far from being able to turn imperialist conflicts into revolutionary civil wars. It remains to be seen if the conflict will end in a treaty signed in 3 different alphabets or if it will degenerate into the installation of a Ukrainian puppet government faced by a guerrilla war.

In any case, we will witness yet another chapter in the slow decay of the US empire, confronted, unfortunately, by capitalist oligarchies, before the astonished eyes of a working class that is more disorganized, exploited and disarmed, bearing all the costs, material and human, than Never.

* André Bof He holds a degree in social sciences from USP.




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