I don’t usually write about cultural products from my own country, but I must make an exception for Slovenian filmmaker Miran Zupanič’s new documentary Sarajevo Safari, which details one of the mostMore
It has been two years since the military coup in Southeast Asia’s Myanmar. The military junta came to power after overthrowing the democratically elected government on charges of corruption. Myanmar has been under the leadership of the country’s military chief Min Aung Hlaing since February 1, 2021. For more than two years, the military government has repressed the people’s movement and protest demanding democracy. According to various international organizations, at least 2,000 people have been killed and more than 15,000 arrested in the junta’s crackdown; At least another 1 million have been displaced. Even then, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has not seen any role in the beleaguered country.
The people of Myanmar may be in solidarity with their Ukrainian brethren, but they have every reason to be infuriated by the contrasting response from the international community to the crisis they face at home.
Western nations and key Asian allies responded within days to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with tough sanctions and weapon supplies. The international reaction to the bloody military takeover in Myanmar one year ago has been half-hearted by comparison.
There is a degree of racism. The West is quick to defend a fellow and easily identifiable Western state. In part, it speaks to diaspora politics in the West, given the presence of Ukrainian communities in the U.S. and across Europe, something Myanmar does not enjoy to the same extent.
The types of Russian weapons used in Ukraine are also killing people in Myanmar, an independent United Nations expert has said, urging countries at the UN to form a coalition — as they had done after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine — to put pressure on Myanmar’s military rulers. UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, said that a coalition of countries should target Myanmar’s military with sanctions and an arms embargo.
Following the military coup, in April 2021, Myanmar’s pro-democracy and elected representatives formed the National Unity Government (NUG). They formed a government against the junta and announced the acceptance of the mandate of the ICC. The ICC also recognized the declaration. The NUG originally requested the ICC to investigate the junta’s war crimes and crimes against humanity in Myanmar. Because the political leaders know very well that there is no possibility of trial in the courts of that country. And that is why Myanmar, a country of 55 million, is now looking to the international organization in the hope of justice.
But sadly, the ICC is not as active in Myanmar as it is in investigating the crimes committed in Ukraine. This raises the question of many, is the ICC more concerned about the suffering of the West? Myanmar and Ukraine lend themselves to comparison, but the differences in international response are revealing. Why have many countries in the Indo-Pacific responded more forcefully to Ukraine than to Myanmar? Ye Myo Hein and Lucas Myers argue that the “democracy versus authoritarianism” framing is not persuasive to many regional actors, who are more interested in defending the norms of sovereignty and territorial integrity. Additionally, their findings expose differences in risk tolerance and interests regarding global order between Russia and China.
Russia-Ukraine recently marked one year of direct conflict. Just a few days after the start of the conflict, the ICC representative went there and started investigating the incident. The International Criminal Court even issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Putin on Friday (March 17) for war crimes. Although the Myanmar conflict has passed twice as long, there is still no ICC activity there.
Political analysts say that since the ICC has recognized the NUG’s declaration, the ICC must send a team of investigators like Ukraine to find the truth and announce a fair trial against the perpetrators. This will increase the transparency of this international organization and make it a place of trust for the affected countries.
But here comes a question. That is, whether the anti-junta NUG government can represent Myanmar at the ICC. According to an analysis published in The Diplomat, a Washington DC-based online news outlet, the Government of National Unity has the power to make this representation. According to the authors of the analysis, John Daugaard, Chris Gunes, Tommy Thomas, Yuyun Wahuningram and Ralph Wilde, according to domestic law, the NUG is the legitimate government of Myanmar. Because according to the 2008 constitution, these representatives were elected through popular vote in 2020. Thus, they have no chance of being illegitimate even if they are repressed by the junta; Their government formation is completely legal.
On the other hand, the junta seized power through a military coup, in clear violation of Articles 71(a) and 417 of the country’s constitution. These articles contain clear instructions for the impeachment of the President and the imposition of a state of emergency. But according to the rules it was not followed. On the contrary, the military has taken power by force, ignoring the protests of the people and putting the democratically elected people, including the president, in jail.
As a result, analysts say, the military’s seizure of power in this way is completely illegal.
At the end of 2021, the UN removed the junta representative from its General Assembly and allowed the NUG representative to represent Myanmar at the meeting. The International Labor Organization (ILO) also agreed with this decision of the United Nations. As a result, the ICC must now accept the NUG’s declaration as valid. There should be fair investigation and prosecution of the crimes committed and committed there.
The UN Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar was established in 2017 by the United Nations to investigate the persecution of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar. Analysts believe that a similar investigation committee should be formed against the illegal junta government. And through this they are of the opinion that justice should be ensured for the common people of Myanmar. The people of the country have been waiting for justice for a long time. So, the state, UN and ICC should take appropriate steps in this regard. ICC should be equally active not only in Ukraine but also in Myanmar.
It is evening in Bucharest, the capital of Romania, one of NATO’s easternmost members. I am waiting at the edge of Izvor Park in the city center to meet with a young friend who has fled Ukraine. In the backdrop of the park is the Palace of the Parliament, the brutalist architectural crown jewel of the Ceaușescu era, and the heaviest building on earth.
When my friend Pyotr arrives, we sit for beers and share our recent stories; it is late March 2022, just one month since Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine began. I have been maneuvering a bureaucratic maze as I try to gain entry into the Russian Federation and the separatist republics of the Donbas; I am awaiting a call back from consulates in Romania and Moldova. Pyotr has just arrived from Kiev by train. A number of his comrades in communist, socialist, and union organizations around Ukraine have been detained.
Recently, the Kononovich brothers, notable Ukrainian communists, had been arrested and disappeared (following their imprisonment, they are now under house arrest). Over a few days of conversation, I learn more from Pyotr than I could ever put into writing; he says to me at one point: “if there is one thing to understand, it is that sovereignty in Ukraine and Eastern Europe has been stolen by the West not through any military invasion or political party, but through the infiltration of Ukrainian civil society by Western interests, NGOs, and right-wing nationalists. Everyone in Ukraine knows that Washington directs this process, whether they support it or not.”
After a week in Bucharest, I head for the consulate in neighboring Moldova, where I have just spent nearly a month reporting on the refugee influx from Ukraine. I have been advised that it is my only option for obtaining a visa to Russia. The divide between pro-Western and pro-Russian civilians is palpable where the Moldovan government is led by Maia Sandu, a graduate of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and former staffer for the World Bank.
Just as in Ukraine, there is a push in Moldova by pro-West factions to limit public use of the Russian language, despite Russian being the native tongue of hundreds of thousands of Moldovans. One man I speak to there, who is the head of a Ukrainian diaspora NGO, and a former candidate for vice mayor of Chișinău, the capital city, happily informs me that Ukrainians are European, while Russians have “Mongol blood.”
At last, the visa materializes. I leave Moldova and travel to Russia, and then I make my way through Russia to Rostov-on-Don, the last stop on Russian Federation turf before the border with the breakaway Donetsk and Lugansk People’s republics (DPR/LPR). There, in the Donbas, a region that became a mining powerhouse in the USSR, war has been raging for eight years. I am questioned for hours at every border crossing, even in Saint Petersburg, because of my U.S. passport and my tattoos (of which I have many). I am never violated or intimidated, just thoroughly questioned and checked. Mostly, it seems to me, the border officials are looking for swastikas, or evidence of Ukrainian nationalist affiliations, the markers of an individual likely to be hostile to Russia’s advances.
My final crossing into DPR happens in the evening. I emerge from a forest into the capital city of Donetsk. I arrived ready to accept any reality that I witnessed. What I saw was a people who had been through hell, and had adjusted to it, all the while unwavering in their commitment to what they see as a fight for self-determination against the reach of the United States and its vassals, especially NATO.
I see Russian, Soviet, and DPR flags everywhere, along with large signs and billboards: “To Victory,” “We Take Care of Our Own,” “We are Russia.” Victory Day, the anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany by Soviet forces on May 9, 1945, perhaps still the most significant day on the Russian calendar, is fast approaching.
I am brought by an official escort to the Central Hotel, about 300 meters from an enormous statue of Lenin that overlooks the main square of Donetsk. There is no active plumbing in the city for about 20-22 hours each day, and no hot water at all; Ukrainian armed forces had blown out the water supply. For the first time in my life, I can hear live artillery going off in relative proximity.
The next morning, I walk to the “fancy” hotel in town, where journalists congregate to have coffee and use fast Wi-Fi (that hotel has since been leveled by Ukrainian munitions; a friend of mine was injured in the attack). I strike up a conversation with a Moscow-based Canadian journalist, who sees on a Donetsk Telegram feed that the Sokol market in the Kirovsky District of Donetsk has just been hit by shelling and that there are fatalities. We rush to a cab and head there.
When we pull up to the marketplace, smoke is everywhere, and many stalls have been burned to a crisp. Shelling continues nearby, close enough to shake the earth beneath our feet. We are brought to a member of the neighborhood safety commission, Gennady Andreevich, who walks us through the wreckage, down side alleys into the food market. An old woman’s body is lying on the ground in a pool of blood. “She came to buy vegetables,” he tells us. “There was also a local teacher who came to buy supplies for his mechanics class; his body was not left in recognizable condition. They never target military positions, you know? Always the markets, where the people go to socialize, to work, to get the things they need to live… or the residential buildings. See? Over there? That is where our neighborhood office is. They hit that last month. My colleague was killed.” He points to a large concrete building.
He is steely, but not without emotion. “There is absolutely no military reason to strike places like this,” he tells us. “They do it to strike fear in our hearts, but it does not work.” This is just my first day, and I am already seeing that the things we’ve been hearing about Donbas are anything but the common NATO refrain of “Kremlin fabrications.”
The following night, a residential building behind a school is hit, and we discover an elderly couple arranging some of the wreckage at the entrance to their building. The woman, who will only give her first name, Elena, is eager to speak with a Western reporter. She tells us that their block has been hit almost weekly for eight years, as they live on the outskirts, near the front. Most of the younger people have abandoned the area, she says, but she has had to stay to care for her bedridden father. “He served as a miner in the Ukrainian army in the USSR. He received many distinguished medals,” she tells us. “They attack us, simply because we did not want to follow a government that betrayed our heritage. We in the Donbas did not support Euromaidan. We are Ukrainian, but we are Russian.” I ask if the Minsk accords, which previously negotiated ceasefires between the separatists and Ukraine, had helped at all. “When Minsk was signed, the shelling here on the edge of the city only got worse.” We pass through their apartment, where their grandchildren left just that morning. She credits an Eastern Orthodox icon painting of Mary for protecting them.
“What would you have to say to anyone reading or watching this in the West?” I ask her.
“I want to repeat to America and to Europe: You send weapons to Ukraine. Ukraine kills… I’m not sure who they consider us to be now, but we are Ukrainian. We all have Ukrainian passports. You aggravate and escalate the situation even more. You should sit at the negotiation table, and not try to solve this by sending more arms.”
I spend some of April, all of May, and some of June in the Donbas. I tour front-line cities, alone and with military transports; I meet with people everywhere: there is Alexei Aybu in Lugansk, a member of “Borotba,” (Struggle), a Ukrainian communist party, who fled Odessa after he barely survived the May 2014 Ukrainian nationalist massacre of more than 40 of his comrades in the trade union building. There is “Aurora,” a Donetsk-based Marxist women’s collective comprised of a mix of locals from the Donbas and refugees from western Ukraine, who have especially harsh words for Western “socialists” who are largely backing their attackers in Kiev.
In Mariupol, we see destruction on an inhuman level. Over and over, the locals there tell us that the Ukrainian Azov battalion, who at the time of my visit are still in the Azovstal bunker, has occupied the city for years with an iron fist; they tell us that when the Russians came nearer, Azov laid waste to the city, not allowing civilians any safe escape corridors, and threatening them with death should they attempt to flee.
Everywhere this narrative is repeated, as is the theme of Kiev as an occupier, and Moscow as the liberator. We see the huge influx of reconstruction and humanitarian aid brought in from Russia, while all Western organizations seem to have abandoned Donbas. I tour the peripheral districts at length; everywhere is another memorial for the dead, a list of names, and stuffed animals to remember the children. It is estimated that between 2014-2022, 15,000 people lost their lives in the Donbas, the vast majority in these extremely poor residential areas, forgotten casualties in a war hidden from the view of the West, who seem to believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin awoke one morning in February and decided he wanted some of Ukraine.
On May 9 (the aforementioned Victory Day of the Soviets over Germany in World War II), I join a caravan of reporters (I’m the only U.S. journalist in sight) to Mellitopol, a city in the Zaporozhye region, next to Mariupol. Mellitopol had also been occupied by Kiev-friendly forces until February 2022, but the city was abandoned by Ukraine without a fight. We have come to witness the festivities for Victory Day; for seven years of what the locals we spoke with there called “occupation” by the Kiev regime, any celebrations of the Soviet victory in World War II have been made illegal, so this will be the first one. Most of us assume that given the instability of the political climate, the curfews, and the closeness of the ongoing battles, it will be a fairly subdued affair.
Instead, at least 10,000 people take the streets, in a procession led by a column of Red Army veterans, many of whom fought in the World War II Battle of Stalingrad. The jubilation is contagious; tears stream down the eyes of people of all ages, including both those who lived through World War II, and those who have only lived through this one. It is an experience unlike any other.
A woman sees me capturing footage of the procession, and beckons me over. She says, “You tell them over there, we are Russian, and we have always been Russian. We defeated fascism then, and we will do it again.”
I asked many people there if they had criticisms of the Russian government, or of Putin’s decisions. There is one refrain that I heard, over and over, maybe best articulated by Svetlana Valkovich, of the aforementioned “Aurora” group: “Putin, yes, made many mistakes. Most of all, he waited far too long to come to help us here in Donbas. We begged Russia to come for years, but at least they have come now.”
Days before the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2023, U.S. officials claimed that China was considering providing Russia with lethal weaponry to support its military campaign. China denied the accusations, and on the anniversary of the invasion instead put forth its 12-point peace plan to end the conflict. These events followed after tensions between Beijing and Washington flared during the Chinese spy balloon scandal that began in early February 2023.
Since the war’s inception, the U.S. has cautioned China not to support Russia. Following reports that Russia had asked China for military assistance in March 2022, Washington warned that countries providing “material, economic, financial [or] rhetorical” support to Russia would face “consequences.” The Biden administration also confronted China in January 2023 with “evidence that [suggested] some Chinese state-owned companies may be providing assistance” to the Russian military.
China has largely adhered to Western sanctions restricting business with Russia. Nonetheless, it has been essential to Russia’s economic resilience and its war campaign since February 2022. China substantially increased its coal, oil, and natural gas imports from Russia in 2022, for example, which alongside India’s increased imports, have helped the Kremlin negate some of the effects of declining energy sales to Europe. The underlying motive for increased Chinese and Indian purchases of Russian energy, however, remains the steep discounts they have been offered by Russia, which is desperate to replace its former customers in Europe.
China has also increased its technology exports to Russia for use by its defense industry after many Russian companies were denied access to technology from Europe and the U.S. because of the imposition of sanctions. According to the think tank Silverado Policy Accelerator, “Russia continues to have access to crucial dual-use technologies such as semiconductors, thanks in part to China and Hong Kong.” Additionally, China has helped Russia undermine Western economic sanctions by developing international payment systems outside of Western control and has advocated for building an “international alliance of businesses” comprising non-Western companies.
Beijing has also been essential in undermining Western efforts to portray Russia as an international pariah. China has repeatedly abstained from UN votes condemning the Russian invasion and voted against an April 2022 resolution to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council. Beijing also seems to have vacillated between calling the situation in Ukraine a conflict and calling out the breaking of UN rules regarding borders. In addition, China, alongside Russia, declined to endorse the G-20 communique that featured language critical of the war in Ukraine at the end of the meeting on March 2, 2023. Chinese state media has also been largely favorable or neutral to Russia since the invasion began.
Russian and Chinese forces have held several bilateral military exercises and patrols since February 2022. The last exercise took place in the East China Sea in December 2022, and the “main purpose of the exercise [was] to strengthen naval cooperation between the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China and to maintain peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region,” the Russian Ministry statement said. Meanwhile, both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping met and posed for photos at the September 2022 Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit. And in the coming months, Xi Jinping is expected to travel to Russia after top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi visited Moscow in February 2023.
While China has shown it is willing to assist Russia, it has been careful to avoid perceptions of overt support. China has cited the need to respect and safeguard “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries,” without denouncing Russia or calling for it to end the conflict. But after China’s top drone maker, Da Jiang Innovations (DJI), banned exports of its drones to Ukraine and Russia in April 2022, Russia has continued to freely operate DJI surveillance technology to target Ukrainian drone operators, demonstrating the limits of Chinese neutrality.
Alongside the suspected impending Chinese military supplies to Russia, that were referred to by the Biden administration, Beijing is clearly more invested in a Russian victory than a Ukrainian one, even if it won’t admit it publicly.
So why is China so invested in supporting Russia while refusing to do so openly? There is no doubt a calculus in Beijing that the greater and longer the West focuses on Ukraine, the fewer resources Western countries can afford to give to Taiwan and the Asia-Pacific region. Prolonging the conflict would also weaken Russia, which in some Chinese nationalist circles is still viewed as a competitor and as having unjustly seized Chinese territory in the 19th century.
Still, there are clear benefits for China if the conflict ends sooner rather than later, and on Russian terms. Just weeks before the invasion in February 2022, Russia and China had signed their “no limits” partnership, while both Xi and Putin have called the other their “best friend.” Giving support to allies will help increase trust toward Beijing while also growing its leverage over a strained Russia.
China also desires a stable, friendly neighbor. A Russian defeat could lead to the country’s collapse, potentially destabilizing much of Eurasia. Russian leadership change, in case of a defeat, could also usher in a pro-Western Russian government on China’s doorstep, something Beijing is keen to avoid.
The war has in turn destabilized global energy and food markets and caused extreme instability in the global economy, at a time when China’s national economy is still fragile as it recovers from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Russia is a vital economic partner to China, largely in the energy industry, but also owing to the Kremlin’s role in China’s Belt and Road Initiative to increase trade across Eurasia.
While Russia’s importance in this regard has diminished since the invasion, Moscow retains significant leverage among the former Soviet countries that form the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), as well as across the energy industries of Central Asia.
A Ukrainian military defeat would also have negative effects on the U.S.’ standing in global affairs by proving Western military assistance was unable to turn the tide of a major conflict. Contrastingly, a Ukrainian victory would solidify Western support for Taiwan, embolden Western-style democracy advocates around the world, and reverse perceptions in China of Western decline in global affairs.
But an open supply of lethal weaponry could destroy China’s economic relations with the West when China is still studying the effects of sanctions on a major economy like Russia. This has not prevented Beijing from pointing out the U.S.’ double standard in supplying the Taiwanese military with weapons, most recently in March 2023, when Foreign Minister Qin Gang asked “Why, while asking China not to provide arms to Russia, has the United States sold arms to Taiwan in violation of a  joint communique?”
While relations between the U.S. and China are increasingly tense, there is fear in Beijing that overt support for Russia could damage Beijing’s relations with the EU. The EU is now China’s largest export market, and China still hopes to drive a wedge between the EU and the U.S. and prevent the development of a joint trans-Atlantic policy toward China. Meanwhile, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on March 5, 2023, said that China will not supply Russia with lethal military aid “suggesting that Berlin has received bilateral assurances from Beijing on the issue.” Together with Xi Jinping’s comments in November 2022 stressing the need to avoid the threat or use of nuclear weapons, China seeks to highlight its mediating position and prove it is a responsible actor in world affairs that promotes peace. The Chinese-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to re-establish official relations on March 10, 2023, was further evidence of this initiative.
Contrastingly, China views the U.S. as a rogue superpower, and sees “confrontation and conflict” with the U.S. as inevitable unless Washington changes course, according to Qin Gang. And while China continues to be suspicious of U.S. attempts to contain it, such policies have become increasingly acknowledged even in U.S. political circles in recent years.
Nonetheless, both lethal and non-lethal military aid to Russia from China will likely increase, funneled indirectly through willing third countries. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s arrival for a state visit to Beijing on February 28 caused alarm in the U.S. precisely because of this reason. Ultimately, China sees the Ukraine war as part of a wider conflict with the U.S.-led Western world. Aiding Russia is seen as a strategic decision for China, meaning its “pro-Russian neutrality” will continue to be cautiously tested in Beijing.
While China did not cause the Ukraine crisis, it seeks to navigate it effectively. The Sino-Soviet split in the early 1960s allowed Beijing to rapidly expand its ties with the West, and the Ukraine crisis will help China benefit from its relationship with Russia amid global economic uncertainty. China will take the necessary steps to avoid spooking the EU, while recognizing that tension with Washington may be inescapable.
Business is booming for arms makers, energy companies and camping equipment manufacturers — due to the war in Ukraine. Many American and European companies are benefiting from the crisis. Why is that? How is that?
The winner and losers are apparent. The losers are civilians in Ukraine and soldiers on both sides of the conflict. More clearly, the winners are weapons manufacturers like BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon Technologies and Rheinmetall, et al.
BAE offers howitzers like the M-777, which can fire 155-mm shells at targets 30 kilometers away. Lockheed Martin and Raytheon make infra-red guided Javelin missiles that have a range of 4 kilometers that are used to penetrate armoured vehicles. Raytheon also makes Stinger missiles. Rheinmetall has offered to provide 50 old Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine as well as 35 Marder infantry fighting vehicles.
Meanwhile, Northrop Grumman’s RQ-4 Global Hawk has been making regular surveillance flights over the Ukrainian border. “They profit from war, and they push for war, and they even hope to profit more from bloodshed, from destruction,” Yurii Sheliazhenko, the executive secretary of the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement, told Democracy Now.
Indeed, the CEOs of military contractors have been quite public about how profitable they expect the war to be. “We see opportunities to further enhance the medium-term outlook as our customers address the elevated threat environment,” Charles Woodburn, CEO of BAE Systems, told investors.
“Security – as shown by the current conflict – is the bedrock of our life in peace and freedom. Rheinmetall has a special obligation here,” Armin Papperger, Rheinmetall CEO, told investors back a long time ago.
In fact, fully one month before the invasion, Gregory Hayes, CEO of Raytheon, told investors: “I fully expect we’re going to see some benefit from it.” He remains defiant about his comment when questioned by a reporter from the Harvard Business Review. “We don’t apologize for making these systems, making these weapons. The fact is, they are incredibly effective in deterring and dealing with the threat that the Ukrainians are seeing today,” he said.
These companies are openly backed by the U.S. government. The Pentagon issued a press release on April 13, 2022 about a meeting that Kathleen Hicks, the deputy secretary of defense, convened with leaders of eight weapons makers, namely BAE Systems, Boeing, General Dynamics, Huntington Ingalls, L3Harris, Raytheon Technologies, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.
“The Biden Administration is working around the clock to fulfill Ukraine’s priority security assistance requests, drawing down weapons from U.S. stocks when they are available, purchasing directly from industry for rapid delivery to Ukraine, and facilitating the transfer of weapons from allies and partners when their systems better suit Ukraine’s needs,” said Eric Pahon, a Pentagon spokesman.
President Biden has also been very candid about the role he expects of the weapons makers. “You’re making it possible for the Ukrainian people to defend themselves, without us having to risk getting into a third world war by sending in American soldiers fighting Russian soldiers,” Biden told workers at Javelin missile factory operated by Lockheed in Alabama earlier.
Meanwhile, the war in Ukraine is also expected to increase overall demand for weapons systems especially as Finland and Sweden have applied to become members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) after decades of staying neutral. Not least Germany, which demilitarized in 1945 after the two World Wars, recently announced plans to increase military spending immediately by more than US$100 billion.
Weapons companies were already receiving a massive amount of money from the U.S. government – some US$768 billion in 2021 before the war in Ukraine began. The U.S. Congress approved a US$40 billion spending package for the Ukraine war with a big chunk going to arms companies.
In order to keep the money flowing, these weapons makers spent US$2.5 billion on lobbying over the last 20 years, according to numbers gathered by Brown University’s Costs of War Project. Indeed, the number of military lobbyists over the past five years has outnumbered the number of members of the U.S. Congress.
The same is true in the UK where BAE Systems has been the largest lobbyist in the UK during the past ten years, according to Transparency International. Indeed, BAE has held 30 meetings with government ministers in just the past two years.
For these companies, the war in Ukraine came at just the right time, say analysts. “When the Afghanistan war ended, when you had some of the CEOs of defense contractors lamenting the fact that the war ended and they were expecting a hit to their bottom line,” Dan Grazier, a senior defense policy fellow at the Project on Government Oversight in Washington DC, told Vice President. “When the Ukraine war started, there were people there almost eagerly anticipating it—you know, big, big profits.”
Others noted that the weapons companies have little interest in diplomatic solutions to put an end to the conflict. “There’s not very much money to be made in diplomacy, usually,” Erik Sperling, executive director of the anti-war group Just Foreign Policy, told Xinhua news service.
Since the war began, stock market speculators have rewarded shareholders of these companies. The shares of BAE Systems, the largest weapons manufacturer in Europe and the UK, had risen by 21 percent since the start of the invasion; Rheinmetall has seen its stock price surge 88 percent over the last three months. In the U.S., Northrop Grumman’s stocks are up by around 16 percent, while shares of Lockheed Martin, the world’s biggest weapons manufacturer, and shares of Raytheon Technologies increased by 28 and 20 percent respectively in the first month of the invasion.
“The situation is delightful for Rheinmetall, they probably never even dreamed of something like this €100 billion fund,” Alexander Lurz, a disarmament expert at Greenpeace Germany, told the Irish Times. “Now they just have to wait for the orders to arrive.”
Meanwhile, Ukrainian peace activists have been speaking out against the war, stating that they want Western governments to understand that escalating weapons supplies has devastating consequences.
“I feel that my country now is like a battlefield for all countries’ ambition: NATO parts and Russia parts. And two imperialistic countries want to divide my country,” Nina Potarska, coordinator for the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in Ukraine, told Democracy Now. “I just want to stress one very simple idea, that this is not movie. We are real people, and we die like real people. And real children cry because of the explosions everywhere. It’s not matter in Ukraine or in Afghanistan or in Syria: We all alive people, and we want to be in peace.”
And across the world, activists are taking this message to corporate headquarters.
For example, Lockheed Martin was the target of protests in earlier by the British group Block Lockheed, which blocked traffic from entering the company’s technology plant in the town of Ampthill in the UK. A spokesperson for the protesters said, “We are trying to draw people’s attention to the fact that war profiteers aren’t interested in peace… They make a lot of money out of constant war.”
In late March, 2022, five demonstrators were arrested for protesting on the roof of Raytheon Technologies’ building in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Protestors, including the FANG Collective and Resist and Abolish the Military Industrial Complex (RAM INC), held banners that read: “Raytheon profits from death in Palestine, Yemen, & Ukraine” and “End all wars, end all empires.”
In late April last year, peace activists across the globe – from Seoul to Sicily to Montréal – protested and brought petitions and banners to Lockheed Martin offices, demanding the company begin working on conversion to peaceful industries.
On May 10, 2022 a number of peace organizations in Germany held a protest at the headquarters of Rheinmetall in Düsseldorf, the largest weapons maker in Germany. “Capital feels well in times of war. We already know that from the past,” an activist from the Disarming Rheinmetall group told Die Tageszeitung.
And on May 17 last year, a University of California coalition called UC Divest protested outside the university Board of Regents meeting to demand the university divest from weapons manufacturers, chanting: “Hey hey, ho ho, corporate greed has got to go,” and “UC, UC, you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side.”
by Roger McKenzie
News reports emerging from Germany and the United States claim that a pro-Ukrainian group was behind the blowing up of the Nord Stream gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea in September 2022.
German daily newspaper Die Zeit, public broadcasters ARD and SWR, and the ARD political magazine Kontraste reported in March 2023 that investigators were able to reconstruct how the pipelines from Russia to Germany were sabotaged on September 26, 2022.
Citing several unnamed officials, the investigation by the news outlets revealed that five men and a woman used a yacht hired by a Ukrainian-owned company in Poland to carry out the attack.
The New York Times also reported that U.S. intelligence is suggesting a pro-Ukrainian group was behind the blasts.
The Times said that U.S. President Joe Biden and his top aides “did not authorize” the attack.
The New York Times typically behaves like a mouthpiece for the State Department. The Times was forced to issue an apology in 2004 over its misleading coverage about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. It was essentially used by the State Department to parrot the lines that justified the illegal war carried out by the U.S. and its allies.
But here we are again—this time after a report by award-winning investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, which accused the U.S. of ordering the bombing of Nord Stream pipelines under cover of a NATO exercise.
Hersh explained how the Norwegians helped U.S. divers set the remotely triggered explosives under the pipelines in June 2022.
Washington and its allies have denied the accusation made by Hersh. The New York Times, true to form, has chosen to parrot the lines given to it and hand-picked German outlets.
Germany’s Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said that he had read the news reports “with great interest” but warned against drawing quick conclusions on the issue.
“We need to clearly differentiate whether it was a Ukrainian group that acted on the orders of Ukraine or… without the government’s knowledge,” he told reporters.
This is so different from the insistence by the U.S. and its allies that Russia was responsible for blowing up the pipelines it earned money from by supplying vast quantities of energy to Europe.
The Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov rejected suggestions that the attack might have been ordered by Kyiv.
He told reporters: “It’s like a compliment for our special forces, but this is not our activity.”
Of course he denies it. He will already be aware that the U.S. was responsible for the explosion.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby declined to comment on the New York Times report, noting that investigations by Denmark, Germany, and Sweden are still ongoing.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the latest media reports as a coordinated manipulation intended to conceal the origins of the attack.
He said: “The masterminds of the terror attack clearly want to distract attention.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his officials have accused the U.S. of staging the blowing up of the pipelines, which they described as a “terror attack.”
Jan Oberg, the director of the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research said that once the reporting by Hersh is vindicated and the role of U.S. Navy forces proven, “Europeans will wake up and finally understand that they no longer share interests with the U.S.”
The Women-led peace organization CODEPINK issued a statement that “We need a real, public investigation into this crime against the environment!”
Not for the first time, national organizer for Black Alliance for Peace, Ajamu Baraka, got it right when he tweeted: “The arrogance of the white supremacist mind makes it impossible for it to understand how latest propaganda ploy with the misinformation campaign on the U.S. attack on Nord Stream pipelines is making the U.S. press a laughing stock around the world.”
“Since the U.S. claims it wants to crack down on misinformation campaigns, perhaps it should investigate the [Times’] misinformation campaign on the Nord Stream attack?”
Author Bio: This article was produced by Globetrotter. Roger McKenzie is the international editor of the Morning Star newspaper. Follow Roger on Twitter on @RogerAMck.
With over one year gone after the commencement of Russia Ukraine war, there is fatigue evident in Russia, Ukraine and worldwide about this war. There is an overwhelming desire across the world that this unnecessary and counterproductive war with apparently no valid reason for the war should be ended forthwith. Now, who can end this war? This war can be ended only by Russia.
Russia started this war around a year back claiming that Ukraine wanted to join NATO and NATO would admit Ukraine, which would be a threat for Russia’s territorial security. NATO denied any move to admit Ukraine in NATO. However, this statement of NATO fell on the deaf ears of Russian leadership. Many suspects that Russia started this war against Ukraine deliberately to occupy Ukraine fully and completely, as part of its territorial expansion plan. Possibly, this was part of a move to restore the Soviet Union as existed earlier. Russia said that NATO would admit Ukraine only as an excuse to start this war.
Obviously, Russia’s calculation has gone wrong and it’s expectation that it would quickly run over Ukraine has not materialized due to resilience by Ukraine leadership and support of the NATO and USA for Ukraine. Probably, Russia thought that it would occupy Ukraine in quick time before NATO and USA could respond.
But for the support extended by NATO and USA, Ukraine would have been part of Russia by now and Russia would have been holding on to Ukraine forever. This would be similar to China entering Tibet around seven decades back and completely occupying Tibet for very long time now. The difference between Ukraine and Tibet was that in the case of Ukraine, NATO and USA actively supported it by supplying arms but in the case of Tibet, it was only a lip sympathy from USA, Europe and India and China had its way.
Today, Russia Ukraine war is taking place on Ukraine soil and Ukraine airspace and not that of Russia. While Russia is the offender, Ukraine is only defending itself to the best of its capability. While millions of Ukrainians had to flee Ukraine as refugees to other countries to escape from the Russian attack and hundreds of Ukrainians have lost their lives and infrastructure destroyed in Ukraine, nothing of this sort has happened in Russia.
Russia’s accusations against NATO and USA for providing arms to Ukraine is thoroughly unjustified, as Russia is attacking Ukraine with its superior military strength. What Russia wants is that it must be left free to attack Ukraine and take over Ukraine, while the rest of the world should only be observing the massacre done by Russian forces in Ukraine, with the world citizens sitting in the gallery.
There are some traditional critics of USA and NATO who say that USA and NATO do not want this war to be ended and so they are supporting Ukraine in variety of ways. Is not this argument baseless? Many NATO countries really want this war to stop as economy of NATO countries is getting disrupted. Several demonstrations have been send in NATO countries by people demanding end of this war.
Possibly, one should even applaud USA and NATO for not entering the war directly and attacking Russia, which would have become a world war. To this extent, they have shown certain level of responsibility and maturity in viewing this Ukraine conflict. By confining themselves only to supplying arms and starting a trade war against Russia by imposing sanctions to force Russia to behave and stop the war against Ukraine, NATO and USA have adopted the only option they have to stop this war mongering Russia.
Today, there is no justification for continuing this war, since NATO has said that it would not admit Ukraine and Ukraine has said that it would not join NATO. In such scenario, there is no reason for Russia to continue this war.
This war can be stopped only if Russia desires to stop the war and the ball is clearly in the court of Russia. All in all, Russia stands accused as an invading country and the world sympathises with Ukraine as a victim of war launched by Russia.
Probably, Russia wants a face-saving formula to end this war which is going beyond Russia’s expectations. Only Russia has to evolve its own face-saving formula to end this war, as it cannot be the responsibility of the world to save the face of Russia.
Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang met with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Thursday over bilateral ties and a political settlement of the Ukraine crisis on the sidelines of the Group of 20 (G20) Foreign Ministers’ Meeting held here in New Delhi.
Under the strategic guidance of presidents of the two countries, the China-Russia relations have maintained sound and steady development, setting a new paradigm for a new type of major-country relationship, and playing an important role in promoting solidarity and cooperation among emerging markets and developing countries, Qin said.
The two sides should maintain exchanges at all levels and step up communication and coordination between their foreign ministries, he said.
In the face of the complex and grave international situation, China stands ready to work with Russia and other members of the international community to safeguard peace, security, development and prosperity, and join hands to build a community with a shared future for mankind, the Chinese foreign minister said.
For his part, Lavrov said he is willing to work with the Chinese side to implement the consensus reached by the two heads of state, intensify high-level exchanges and plan cooperation in various fields.
Noting that both Russia and China are members of the Group of Friends in Defense of the Charter of the United Nations, Lavrov said Russia is willing to strengthen strategic communication with China to inject more stability into the international system.
Russia supports and will actively participate in the Global Development Initiative and Global Security Initiative, and will continue to strengthen coordination and cooperation between the two sides within the frameworks of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the BRICS and other multilateral organizations, Lavrov said.
The two sides also exchanged views on the Ukraine crisis.
Qin expounded on China’s basic position, calling for joint efforts to uphold the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, support a political solution to the crisis, oppose fanning the flames and disrupting the peace talks, and object to double standards, sanctions and pressure.
China supports all efforts conducive to the peaceful settlement of the crisis and will continue to play a constructive role in this regard, he said.
Lavrov appreciated China’s objective and impartial position and constructive role, saying that the Russian side is always open to negotiations and dialogue.
The two sides also signed a consultation plan for 2023 between the foreign ministries of the two countries.
A year after, the war in Ukraine has invited diverse reactions from across the World. The two warring sides are continuing to look at successful culmination by attaining political objectives. There is a consensus in the military community internationally however that a closure to the War is not in sight in the near future.
At the larger geopolitical level division in blocks – West versus Russia/China was clearly evident at the G 20 Finance Minister’s conclave in Bengaluru, India over the week end. A joint communique could not be issued as mention of the Ukraine War was opposed by Moscow and Beijing jointly. India’s attempts at mediation as the G 20 chair could not achieve a breakthrough.
On the military front these ‘blocks,” have solidified in terms of provision of support to Ukraine in the form of a strong western alliance with an arms supply of billions of US dollars that will sustain Ukrainian armed forces in their ambition to regain lost territories including Crimea.
On the Russian side Moscow’s vast military industrial complex was exposed with many chinks resulting in a reach out to the most unlikely quarters Iran and North Korea for weapons and munitions support.
China has remained out of the arms grid so far and is not likely to provide lethal weapons concerned over what impact this may have on economic relations with the United States and Europe. An economically weakened at least partially Beijing may not seek to antagonise the West by providing arms to Russia, which will also pull the rug of the high moral ground attempted to be projected by China of abhorrence of lethal means for conflict resolution. If China does so to support Russia there may be repercussions that will go beyond the US and Europe to the many developing countries where Chinese projects are ongoing and Beijing is mindful of the same.
But what about the military lessons of the Ukraine War-
Firstly, Clausewitz the doyen of conventional warfare – fought by military of one state against another is back.
There are many military analysts who had written the obituary of conventional warfighting as it has been known since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648.
Coining new phrases as Hybrid War, Three Warfare Strategies, Grey Zone Warfare and so on they had advised a focus away from tanks and guns.
Russia abandoned the Gerasimov Doctrine the chief proponent of which was Valery Gerasimov the longest serving Chief of Staff of the Russian armed forces and embraced Clausewitz.
Alas! The proponents of New Way of War were proven wrong for in Ukraine it was not cyber or information that made a difference but the artillery shell and the missiles the roaring of tank guns and close in fighting in urban areas as the Azov Steel plant.
This is not to undermine the value of information, communication and media as well as other addendums that influenced Ukrainian people as well as the global community to support Kyiv, yet had the Ukrainian forces folded up as the Russians expected them, no amount of information tweaking could have saved the country.
Secondly Clausewitzian trinity of war – violence, chance and reason survives. Exemplified in the resistance by the government, people and the armed forces that dictates the outcome of wars.
While well versed in this trinity Russia attempted to target all three elements at various stages of the War so far but has failed and is unlikely to succeed in the near term.
Thirdly as Napoleon said moral is to material is to three is to one – this axiom has also been proven by the Ukrainian armed forces and the people at large who withstood the brunt of the fighting suffering heavy losses in turn yet the wondrous counter offensive undertaken in Kharkiv and Kherson proved Napoleon right apart from many other instances.
Fourthly integrated operations are the essence of success on the modern battlefield while artillery is the God of War, armour the King and Infantry traditionally known as the Queen – only combined arms can win success.
Importantly the air arm will also assume important though it did not receive as much attention due to limited employment for reasons which need to be gone into in detail in due course.
Fifthly logistics once again proved a key factor – an underprepared Russia military could not make a breakthrough in Kyiv in the initial months of February – March 2022 due to poor logistics preparation.
Sixthly just as in the Second World War – alliances win wars while the Soviet Union fought with the West in the 1940’s today the successor Russia is on the other side.
Ukraine supported by the West has survived without this support a collapse would have been inevitable and in the future too any weakness of support to Kyiv will spell disaster.
Seventhly security of information, operations and preparations continues to be an important factor. Ukraine’s curtain of security was evident as information flow was controlled even from the closest allies.
Eighthly, unmanned aerial vehicles commonly known as the drone – suicide and other forms is here to stay. First making a decisive mark in December 2020 in the Azerbaijan – Armenia war, in Ukraine multiple use of drones facilitated tactical advantage to the side which could employ the same effectively. Yet the limitations of drones to create strategic success continues to be limited.
Ninthly asymmetry has a decided advantage be it against the drones and the cost benefit calculation of use of inexpensive drones versus expensive missiles to bring them down is a dimension that needs to be explored further.
Finally the jury is still out if the supply of a bouquet of tanks, guns and air defence missiles provided by the West to Ukraine can be effectively managed through the training, operational and logistics cycle by Ukrainian armed forces.
On the flip side the depth of reserves manpower and military material of Russia will also be under test.
A Chinese envoy on Friday called for a resumption of non-conditional talks between Russia and Ukraine, stressing that Ukraine is not “an arena for fights between major countries.”
“We call on Russia and Ukraine to resume negotiations without any preconditions,” said Dai Bing, charge d’affaires of China’s permanent mission to the United Nations, while addressing a high-level UN Security Council briefing on Ukraine.
“Ukraine is not an arena for fights between major countries. No one should seek to benefit from the conflict at the cost of the Ukrainian people,” he said.
The security of one country should not be pursued at the expense of others. Strengthening or even expanding military blocs will only undermine regional security and will never bring about peace, he said.
Russia, Ukraine and European countries are neighbors that cannot be physically moved away. To realize lasting peace and stability in Europe, the Cold War mentality and bloc confrontation must be abandoned, and the legitimate security concerns of all countries must be taken seriously and addressed properly, so as to build a balanced, effective and sustainable regional security architecture, said Dai.
The envoy said China is ready to continue to play a responsible and constructive role in resolving the Ukraine crisis.
China issued earlier Friday a paper stating its position on the political settlement of the Ukraine crisis, he said. “We have always taken an objective and impartial stance based on the merits of the issue.”
Dai stressed that when handling and solving international disputes, universally recognized international law, including the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, must be upheld.
The sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of all countries must be effectively guaranteed. Observing universally recognized international law and the basic norms governing international relations bears on the stability of the international system and international fairness and justice. They should be equally and uniformly applied in every place and on every issue without exception, he said.
“Some country, while stressing sovereignty and territorial integrity on the Ukraine issue, is blatantly interfering in other countries’ internal affairs and undermining their sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Dai said. “This reveals its double standard at full display. The international community is clear-eyed about this.”
He underscored the need to pursue common security to facilitate a political solution to the Ukraine crisis, saying security is not an exclusive right enjoyed only by some countries.
Highlighting diplomatic negotiations as the only right way to solve the Ukraine crisis, he said “conflicts have no winners” and called on the international community to promote peace talks with the highest sense of urgency and work to create enabling factors and platforms for the resumption of negotiation.
Bringing parties to the conflict back to the negotiating table is not going to be easy, but it is the first step toward a political solution, he said.
Dai emphasized that it is imperative to never cross the red line of nuclear security under any circumstances.
Nuclear weapons must never be used, and nuclear war must never be fought. Faced with the risk that the Ukraine crisis could lead to an escalation of the conflict, major countries bear special and important responsibilities to maintain communication and coordination and to do everything they can to prevent a nuclear crisis, he said.
The international community should jointly oppose armed attacks against nuclear power plants or other peaceful nuclear facilities, ensure strict compliance with the Convention on Nuclear Safety, among others, and support the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in playing a constructive role in promoting the safety and security of peaceful nuclear facilities, he added.
The humanitarian crisis is worsening and should be proactively and properly addressed, Dai said.
The international humanitarian law is a code of conduct that must be strictly observed in conflict situations. Relevant parties should avoid attacking civilians or civilian facilities, protect the vulnerable, including women and children, ensure humanitarian access, and respect the basic rights of prisoners of war, he said.
The international community should increase humanitarian assistance, help restore civilian infrastructure, and ensure the basic livelihood of refugees and displaced persons, with a view to preventing a humanitarian crisis on a larger scale, Dai said.
“At the same time, humanitarian operations should earnestly follow the principles of neutrality and impartiality and avoid politicization,” he stressed.
The envoy also urged efforts to be made to manage the spillovers of the Ukraine crisis, which he said has far-reaching impacts, noting that developing countries that are not parties to this conflict should not pay an excessively high price for it.
Some relevant parties have been resorting to unilateral sanctions and maximum pressure, which cannot solve any issue, and can only undermine the stability of the global industrial and supply chains and exacerbate the global food, energy and financial crises, he said.
“We hope that the relevant parties will take responsible actions and stop abusing unilateral sanctions and long-arm jurisdiction,” said Dai.
The Black Sea Grain Initiative and the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the United Nations and Russia on the export of food products and fertilizers have great significance for ensuring global food security and should be implemented fully and effectively in a balanced manner, he said.
On February 2, 2023, former U.S. Marine Peter Reed was killed in Ukraine while evacuating civilians in the front-line city of Bakhmut. Two days later on February 4, the bodies of two British volunteers, Christopher Perry and Andrew Bagshaw, were returned as part of a prisoner swap deal with Russian forces. Their deaths mark some of the latest Western casualties in Ukraine one year after Russian forces invaded the country in February 2022.
Foreign fighters have flocked to Ukraine since the initial round of Russian military intervention in 2014. But following the Russian invasion in February 2022, the number of fighters making their way to Ukraine has skyrocketed. After Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy asked foreigners to join the International Defense Legion of Ukraine at the beginning of the war on February 27, around 20,000 volunteers from more than 50 countries arrived in Kyiv over the next two weeks.
Many traveled to the country for ideological reasons. In contrast to the disillusionment many Western veterans felt after combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, the belief that they would be helping to “ease Ukrainian suffering” and would be defending democracy have been powerful motivators in bringing thousands of volunteers to Kyiv.
However, the vast majority of foreign arrivals returned home before the summer of 2022 for several reasons. Some lacked credible experience and were accused of being “war tourists” instead of being dedicated to Ukraine’s liberation. Western soldiers who volunteered also found themselves operating without strong air support and other key technological advantages enjoyed over militant groups in the Middle East.
Language barriers have often inhibited foreign fighters from not being able to communicate clearly with their Ukrainian counterparts. Allegations of criminality, both in their home countries as well as in Ukraine, have also been levied on some foreign volunteers.
Most estimates place between 1,000 and 3,000 foreign fighters currently supporting Ukrainian forces, largely serving in three battalions of the International Legion. Hundreds of more professional foreign volunteers are believed to be serving in smaller units separate from the International Legion.
These include groups dominated by citizens from across the former Soviet Union, such as the Georgian Legion, Chechen battalions, and Kalinoŭski Regiment, a group of Belarusian fighters. Western-dominated military units include groups like Alpha, Phalanx, and the Norman Brigade. However, even these units have faced controversy. The leadership of the Norman Brigade, a Canadian-led unit, for example, has been repeatedly criticized by former members.
Western private military and security companies (PMSCs) are also active in Ukraine. The Mozart Group, a U.S. PMSC, styled to counter the Russian PMSC Wagner Group (similarly named after a German composer), was active in the Ukrainian conflict in the early days. But as funding dried up and remarks by some of its members drew negative attention on social media, the Mozart Group fell apart. Its remaining leadership is currently attempting to reorganize itself and get back to the front line.
The involvement of U.S. volunteers in Ukraine has also raised questions over potential violations of the Neutrality Act, enacted in 1794 to prevent American citizens from getting involved in foreign wars. Yet while the U.S. State Department has recommended against U.S. citizens from traveling to Ukraine, Washington has done little to prevent thousands of its citizens from traveling there.
The U.S. is not alone in its mixed messaging over foreign fighters. The British government has stated it is illegal for British troops and ex-service personnel to travel to Ukraine to fight, but just days into the Russian invasion in February 2022, then-Foreign Secretary Liz Truss announced her support for British individuals traveling to Ukraine to do so. Other Western governments have, meanwhile, declared they would discourage individual citizens from traveling to Ukraine but would not prosecute those who did so.
This has not prevented some legal action from being taken against those who are caught. In June 2022, a court in the Russian-controlled separatist region of Donetsk sentenced two British citizens and a Moroccan to death for fighting in the Ukrainian military. “Such treatment of prisoners of war constitutes a war crime, but the Russians claimed that they were mercenaries and, thus, the rules of war did not apply to them,” stated the Harvard International Review.
Wary of instigating a wider war between NATO and Russia, Western officials have refrained from putting official boots on the ground. Nonetheless, U.S. special operations forces have been active in Ukraine since before the war and continue to operate in the country, along with CIA personnel. Additionally, special forces from Britain, France, Canada, Lithuania, and other Western allies are also active in Ukraine.
Alongside the lack of clarity over the intelligence and special forces operations, it is difficult to confirm the exact number of Westerners in Ukraine, what type of roles they are serving, where exactly they are, and how many have died. Seemingly erroneous claims are also often made regarding their casualties. On January 25, 2023, a Turkish website, allegedly citing what is assumed to be data from Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad, stated that thousands of soldiers from NATO countries had been killed, including hundreds from the U.S. and the UK. This claim was quickly denied by NATO.
The Kremlin has, meanwhile, highlighted how Russia is not just fighting Ukraine, but NATO itself, and captured Western fighters are key to portraying this message to both the Russian public and international audiences. Moscow has sought to frame the conflict as a wider struggle against the West, which it believes will resonate with other populations around the world.
In March 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for foreign fighters to help liberate the Donbas, while according to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, 16,000 foreigners had indicated they were willing to fight alongside Russian forces in Ukraine, according to Newsweek.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the financier of Wagner Group, declared on his company’s Telegram channel in February 2023 that more than 10 million U.S. citizens had signed up with the group to fight for Russia. While Wagner has found most of its new recruits from Russian prisons, the Kremlin has had some luck in recruiting foreign fighters to Ukraine. Many Russian PMSCs have typically recruited from former Soviet states, and Central Asian fighters are suspected to be fighting on both sides of the conflict.
Many Serbians also resent the West’s historical role in their country’s affairs and small groups of Serbian nationals have been fighting alongside Russian forces in Ukraine since 2014. Serbian officials noted in January 2023 that they were monitoring reports of additional Serbians serving Russia in Ukraine. Montenegrin officials are also attempting to prevent their citizens, many of whom share pro-Serbian and pro-Russian sentiment, from going to Ukraine, with some having already done so since 2014 as well.
Iranian soldiers and personnel are in Ukraine helping Russians operate Iranian-made drones, and according to a Ukrainian official, 10 Iranians were killed during an attack on Russian positions in October 2022. Hundreds of Syrian fighters are also suspected to be in Ukraine, mirroring the dynamics of the Syrian civil war where Iranian, Syrian, and Russian troops have fought together since 2015.
The possibility of additional volunteers from other countries joining the war on both sides remains high. In August 2022, Russian state media began suggesting that up to 100,000 North Korean volunteers could end up supporting the Kremlin’s campaign in Ukraine. While that number is clearly optimistic, North Korean volunteers may come to exceed the handful of South Korean citizens known to have traveled to Ukraine to fight for Kyiv.
Additionally, small numbers of U.S. citizens have also gone to fight for Russia, alongside U.S.-trained Afghan commandos also now fighting for Russia in Ukraine. Though the Kremlin denies the reports, it is believed Afghan soldiers have been actively recruited by the Kremlin for months.
The Russia-Ukraine war is clearly more than a war between two countries. In addition to the material aid, both Russia and particularly Ukraine have received from their allies, thousands of foreign fighters from around the world have arrived to fight alongside them. As more volunteers continue to arrive, there is a greater risk of other countries becoming entangled in the conflict. Establishing safeguards to deal with foreign volunteer casualties and prisoners of war is crucial to preventing the conflict from escalating further.
This article was produced by Globetrotter.