Russian tanks abandoned by the Russian army in the retreat from Izyum Ukraine (Picture: Ukrinform TV)

The second anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine falls amid panic in European capitals unprecedented since the Cold War. There are two reasons for this. The first is the realisation in Nato that, when it escalated its military support for Kiev in response to the invasion, it had underestimated Russian power.

It is what lies behind the warnings— starting with Tory defence secretary Grant Shapps and British chief of the general staff Sir Patrick Saunders— of the prospect of war between Russia and Nato.

Russia’s “land forces have been degraded in Ukraine, but its air force and navy are largely intact, and Russia is still a major nuclear power,” a British defence official told the Financial Times. 

“Degraded” or not, Russia’s forces have just compelled the Ukrainian army to abandon their bridgehead at Avdiivka, close to the Russian-held city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.

The Financial Times went on, “One reason for Western officials’ alarm is Russia’s revival of its industrial defence machine over the past year, which took place at a speed many in the West had thought impossible. 

“Russia churned out four million artillery shells and several hundred tanks during the year. It will recruit another 400,000 men this year without resorting to full-scale mobilisation, Ukrainian officials forecast.”

There are signs of a clampdown in Russia. Boris Nadezhdin, who was running as an anti-war candidate in next month’s presidential elections, has been blocked from standing.

Another critic of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s war, the Marxist sociologist Boris Kagarlitsky, has been sentenced by a military court of appeal to five years’ imprisonment for the absurd charge of “justifying terrorism”.

Whether these actions are signs of confidence or fear on Russian president Putin’s part, they show he’s not going away. 

The weakness is more evident on the Western side. Europe’s huge manufacturing economy has failed to switch to producing the weapons and ammunition Ukraine needs. 

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen is now calling for government subsidies for arms production, breaching the free-market dogma that reigns in Brussels.

Meanwhile, Republican opposition means that president Joe Biden’s new military aid package for Ukraine remains stuck in the US Congress. Interestingly it’s neoliberals who are increasingly strident in their calls for more support for Kiev.

Zanny Minton Beddoes, editor of the free-market Economist, told Jon Stewart that “aiding Ukraine, giving the money to Ukraine, is the cheapest possible way for the US to enhance its security. The fighting is being done by the Ukrainians, they’re the people who are being killed. 

The US and Europe are supplying them weapons, and in doing so we are pushing back against Putin.”

Martin Wolf of the Financial Times pompously lectured us that “Ukraine fatigue is unpardonable”. 

But his bottom line is the same. “Aiding Ukraine is also cheap. No Western soldiers are at risk. The sums to be agreed this year amount to less than 0.25 percent of the combined GDP of the EU, UK and US,” he argued. 

Comments such as these confirm that Socialist Worker was entirely right to describe the war from the start as a struggle in which the US and its allies were arming Ukraine as a proxy to weaken a dangerous rival. 

As Beddoes puts it, the West thought it could push back against Putin on the cheap.

The Russian invasion was quite wrong. Ukrainians have the right to national self-determination.

But the West’s response was quite wrong as well. Ukraine is being torn apart in the struggle between two imperialist titans.

It’s now widely accepted that Boris Johnson sabotaged a possible settlement between Kiev and Moscow in the early weeks of the war.  There are rumours that a new proposal by Putin for a ceasefire has been dismissed in Western capitals. Mass pressure on both sides will be needed to end this disastrous war.

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