February 24 marks the beginning of the so-called “special operation” launched by Russia against Ukraine. Since then, the United States and most of the European Union have provided substantial economic and military support to the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to prevent his downfall and a Russian victory on the battlefield.
On his “surprise” tour of Eastern European countries, Biden made a historic voyage through Kyiv to promise more military and financial aid — upwards of $500 million — to the Ukrainian government in the form of artillery munitions, anti-armor systems, and air surveillance radars. He also announced that the United States would place further sanctions on Russian companies and individuals.
A day later, Biden gave an address in Warsaw, Poland in which he reaffirmed Western support for Ukraine and gave strong denunciations of Russian president Vladimir Putin. “One year after the bombs began to fall and Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine, Ukraine is still independent and free,” Biden said. He continued by placing the blame for the continuation of war squarely on Putin’s shoulders, calling it a “tragedy,” not a “necessity.”
”President Putin chose this war. Every day the war continues is his choice. He could end the war with a word.” Naturally, Biden avoided mentioning the fact that the Western countries have played a central role in the escalation of the conflict, ignoring Russia’s warnings for NATO to withdraw from its zone of influence (something that was recommended even by the likes of war criminals like Henry Kissinger).
“There should be no doubt: our support for Ukraine will not waver, NATO will not be divided, and we will not tire,” Biden declared to a crowd of thousands in the Polish capital. It was essential for Biden to project this message of unity at this point in the war, especially after an investigation by Seymour Hersh suggested that the United States sabotaged the Nord Stream I and II gas pipelines that feed energy to Germany from Russia. If it is ultimately proven that the United States attacked a NATO ally in a “false flag” operation, it would unleash a crisis of unknown proportions among the alliance.
Speaking from Warsaw, Biden emphasized that Putin is failing in his strategic objectives in Ukraine. “[Putin] thought he’d get the Finlandization of NATO. Instead, he got the NATOization of Finland — and Sweden. He thought NATO would fracture and divide. Instead, NATO is more united and more unified than ever — than ever before,” he said, referring to the push by the two northern European countries to join the United States-led alliance.
However, within NATO there is not full agreement on getting further involved in the war. With all the symbolism that Biden’s voyage implied, he was seeking yet again to reassert U.S. leadership within the Atlantic alliance, something his administration has pushed forward over the course of the war in Ukraine. But there is still resistance by several NATO countries to deliver heavy, high-tech weaponry or missiles that could reach Russian soil. Although American Leopard 2 or Abrams tanks are on their way to Ukraine, they may take months to be delivered. On top of this, they take a long time to produce (at least one month per machine). The training of drivers and weapons operators takes even longer.
On the other hand, many European countries are facing dire inflation rates due to economic sanctions (commercial and financial) against Russia, which reacted to the sanctions by closing off the valves that supply energy to Europe. This has generated serious political and social problems within European countries and strong pressures not to participate in the war, supply armaments to Ukraine, or otherwise escalate tensions with Russia. Even in the United States, support for the war is divided. A poll released last week by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows that support for sending arms and economic assistance to Ukraine is declining. In early February, 11 House Republicans introduced a so-called “Ukraine Fatigue” bill to pressure Biden to end military and financial aid to Ukraine while working with Ukraine and Russia to reach a peace deal.
Even with these tensions, Washington and its allies have still provided billions of dollars in military, humanitarian, and budgetary aid to Ukraine since the conflict began, voting for round after round of arms shipments and financial support. It is clear that the course of the war in Ukraine is of vital importance to NATO, as is evident by the fact that it is a central issue at the Munich Security Conference.
Biden’s speech from Poland came hours after Putin delivered his own state of the nation address, in which he blamed the West for the conflict in Ukraine. Putin proclaimed: “I would like to repeat: they started the war and we used force to stop it.” Putin went on to argue that Moscow had pushed for an end to the conflict between separatists and government forces in eastern Ukraine, which began in 2014, through negotiations.
The Russian president added that his country would continue to “systematically” achieve its goals in Ukraine. He further announced that Moscow would suspend its participation in the New START Treaty, which limits the number of long-range nuclear warheads that can be deployed and limits the use of missiles that can carry atomic weapons. He stated that if the United States conducts atomic tests, Moscow will as well.
In this way, the Russian president, in a speech full of symbolism, escalated his war-mongering rhetoric a year after his reactionary invasion of Ukraine that has left tens of thousands of civilians dead and millions displaced, hit the world economy hard, and sparked a campaign of brutal repression within Russia against anyone who speaks out against the war.
The Geopolitical Importance of Poland
The second year of war in Ukraine is not trending towards lasting ceasefire negotiations, let alone a complete cessation of hostilities. In this scenario Poland plays an important role for several reasons: it shares borders with Ukraine; it is receiving vast numbers of war refugees; and it is one of the loudest voices calling for increased military pressure on Russia — recently Poland’s government accused Russia of launching an attack on Polish territory which put relations between NATO and Russia in maximum tension.
In a sense, Poland is Europe’s first line of defense against Russia. For this reason, Polish President Andrzej Duda initiated a series of consultations with allies to prepare for an even more complicated stage of the Russian invasion. For its part, according to various analyses of the war, Russia is preparing a new but less ambitious offensive in Ukraine.
Biden picked up on this thread during a meeting with President Duda, saying, “The United States needs Poland and NATO as much as NATO needs the United States, because there is no way in which — for our ability to operate anywhere else in the world, and our responsibilities extend beyond Europe, we have to have security in Europe.”
More than 1.5 million displaced Ukrainians have taken refuge in Poland and millions more have crossed into the country on their way to other parts of Europe. Poland is also providing aid to Ukraine directly, sending $3.8 billion in military and humanitarian aid so far, according to the White House.
Biden announced last summer that he would establish a permanent U.S. garrison in Poland, creating an enduring U.S. foothold in NATO’s eastern flank to contain the war and other advances.
In his speech in Warsaw, Biden reaffirmed the United States’ “sacred oath” to “defend every inch of NATO territory.” The alliance has a mutual defense pact, which means that an attack on any one of its members is considered an attack on all. This is one of the reasons why Ukraine, being at war, has not yet been admitted to NATO, as it would force all members to go to war directly with Russia.
After one year of the war, the human and material toll is terrifying. Both Russia and Ukraine have lost more than 100,000 soldiers each. In addition to 10,000 civilian deaths and over 12,000 people wounded, over 45,000 war crimes have been committed. Ukraine’s economy has shrunk by approximately 30 percent and in total 14 million civilians have been displaced (inside and outside the country). The country’s infrastructure has been destroyed, including damage to about 40 percent of its electricity generating capacity.
The conflict in Ukraine is the most significant war in Europe since World War II. War on European territory brings to the fore debates and possible “out of control” scenarios, including nuclear conflict, which many thought impossible until now. The war has seen the advent of a critical rearmament of European countries preparing for upcoming scenarios. And even now it is clear that it has had and continues to have a grave impact on a world order dominated by the United States, which for its part — as signaled by Biden’s Eastern European visit — is only feeding the war machine.
This article originally appeared in Spanish on February 21, 2022 in La Izquierda Diario.
Translated by Madeleine Freeman