|Volume 46 Number 10, April 16, 2016||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
March 30 marked one hundred and fifty-nine years since the end of the Crimean War waged in the 19th century by an alliance of Britain, France, Turkey and their allies against Russia. At that time the interests of the rulers of Britain demanded that Russian expansion into the Eastern Mediterranean region, at Ottoman Turkey's expense, as well as in Central Asia, must be prevented at all costs, since this threatened Britain's naval hegemony and posed a threat to its empire and especially to colonial India. As part of their contention both Britain and Russia encouraged, or suppressed, struggles for national liberation in Europe as best suited their interests. The immediate causes of the conflict leading up to the Crimean War were soon resolved and made war entirely unnecessary, so the British government engineered a provocation which resulted in war and led to the deaths of thousands, including over 20,000 British troops. However, when the Treaty of Paris was signed in March 1856 the Crimean peninsular was evacuated by Britain and its allies and returned to Russian rule.
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond made no direct comment on that nineteenth century conflict but issued a statement in March 2016 demanding that Russia cease what he referred to as its "illegal occupation" of Crimea. According to the Foreign Secretary, Russia was guilty of "violating" the "territorial sovereignty" of Ukraine, "destabilising eastern Ukraine", and he alleged that Russia had "contravened international law and challenged the rules based international order". Hammond alleged numerous human rights abuses, defended sanctions against Russia, imposed by Britain and its allies, and concluded by stating "the illegal annexation of Crimea was an act of aggression. And in the face of this aggression, we must stand united in defence of our values".
Of course, Hammond and the government would not consider Britain's occupation of the north of Ireland, Gibraltar and the Malvinas as "illegal annexation" since the control of those foreign territories continues to suit the interests of the rulers of Britain. Defending the status quo in these cases is therefore for the British government not at odds with defending the values of neo-liberal globalisation and the right of might. While in the Ukraine it has been the actions of the the Anglo-Americans and others that have destabilised the country, brought self-declared fascist elements to power and created the conditions to incorporate the entire territory more closely into the orbit of both the EU and the NATO. The struggle between the big powers, the US and major EU countries, on the one hand, and Russia, on the other, over the future of Ukraine, has been going on for many years and created the conditions for the so-called Orange Revolution of 2004, as well as the coup of February 2014. It was in response to the coup that opposition developed in the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine and in response to requests from the population in the Crimea following a referendum that Russia's intervention took place. The big powers, particularly the US and Britain, created all the conditions for what is now an ongoing civil war in eastern Ukraine in which over 9,000 have lost their lives and which has created an impasse. Loss of life and the displacement of many continues despite the ceasefire agreement reached at Minsk last year. The most recent UN report raises concerns about the deteriorating living conditions of some 3 million people as well as human rights abuses by the Ukrainian security forces.
The US, Britain and their allies have continued to use the unstable situation in Ukraine, and Russia's intervention in the Crimea in particular, as a means to strengthen their encirclement and military offensive against Russia and they have continued to provide training and equipment to the Ukrainian army. Recently, for example, the US military announced that it was sending a dozen fighter jets and nearly four hundred military personnel to Iceland and the Netherlands in order to counter possible "Russian aggression", while earlier in the year six US jet fighters were sent to Finland for similar purposes. Only last month the Cameron government signed a fifteen year defence pact with Ukraine that involves training and "intelligence gathering" and will mean that British troops will engage in more joint exercises. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon commented that the government "will stand firm with Ukraine as they defend their territorial integrity". The new agreement revives an earlier pact that lapsed in 2006 because of the anti-EU stance of the then Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, who was removed from office by the 2014 coup. The Ukraine and Turkey have also been engaged in joint naval exercises directed against Russia in recent months, while NATO has again announced this year that it is in the process of strengthening its military presence throughout eastern Europe.
The situation in the Crimea and in parts of Ukraine remains unstable as the contention between the big powers continues. Ukraine is in the midst of an economic and political crisis and efforts to integrate it more firmly within the EU appear to be in disarray. Certainly the current situation is of no benefit to the Ukrainian people who appear to be used a pawns in a wider conflict between the big powers. What is evident is that the situation in Ukraine and the Crimea is being used by the British government and the other NATO powers as a means to justify the increasing encirclement and attempted bullying of Russia. A very dangerous situation has been created and the belligerence and warmongering of Britain and its allies must be brought to an end.
What is required for a lasting peace is the ending of all foreign intervention in the area and an end to hostile actions by the Britain and the other leading members of NATO and the EU. The dangerous situation in Ukraine and other parts of the world necessitates that all democratic and peace-loving people step up their struggles to establish an anti-war government in Britain, one that immediately withdraws from the warmongering NATO, ceases all intervention abroad and ends the deployment of British troops on foreign soil.