By Mark Buckley
Britain plays only a minor role in the Ukraine conflict, in line with its reduced status as an imperial and military power. But that does not in any way remove its responsibility for the death and destruction now taking place in the Ukraine.
Every supply truck driver and every junior person in the propaganda department who volunteers for war bears some responsibility for it, and every arms dealer more so. These are Britain’s various roles in stoking and prolonging the conflict.
The most important of these roles is political. Britain is the most fawning and enthusiastic junior imperialist power to the US in NATO. The US uses NATO in a dual role, to augment the military hardware and logistical support it can direct and to convince others, especially US public opinion that it is leading a ‘worldwide coalition’ of champions of democracy. In reality, it is leading a rapacious war machine as the US seeks hegemony over the whole world.
Successive British governments have played the most active role in this. Where the cowardice of the current French and German political leaderships led them quickly to abandon pursuing their own interests for peace and a commercial relationship with Russia, the British government’s sycophancy rules out independent action completely.
Instead, it operates as the biggest cheerleader for NATO expansion outside of the US, which is the cause of the current crisis in Ukraine. It is also the most bellicose, with the British defence minister arguing that Putin was ‘going to carpet bomb’ Ukraine, a tactic that has only been used by the US across south-east Asia and by NATO in Iraq. Britain enthusiastically supported the US campaign for NATO members to raise military spending to 2% of GDP, boasts that it was the first major economy to do so outside the US, and regularly criticised other countries for not making that commitment.
But there is also a wide array of directly military measures that Britain has taken, under US direction. Britain was part of NATO exercises in the Black Sea in 2014. Britain also sailed a warship close to Ukraine in 2021 in a deliberate provocation. The Times now reports the government here is using British troops to train Ukrainians at secret locations across Europe to use weaponry to take down Russian aircraft.
There are also numerous reports that ex-British army snipers are arriving in Ukraine either to fight or to train Ukrainians using sniper methods. Given the near-certain involvement of Mi6 in facilitating transport with sophisticated weaponry overseas, it is questionable how ‘ex’ many of these personnel are.
The government also introduced ‘Operation Orbital’ in 2015 which effectively treated Ukraine as a NATO member for training purposes, but only after it was clear that the fascist-supported coup had been successful. As a House of Commons briefing makes clear, the training and material was denied to the democratically-elected Ukrainian government (pdf).
Like their US counterparts the British authorities will know that Ukraine has no prospect of defeating Russian forces, which are far larger and better equipped. Without direct NATO intervention the Ukrainians could be reduced to prolonged guerrilla warfare, which explains both the supply of portable anti-aircraft weaponry and sniper resources. The prospect of prolonged guerrilla warfare is a welcome outcome to some US military strategists, who argue it is an option that makes this war an attractive proposition.
If this is a welcome outcome for the US, Britain cannot have any greater ambitions. But it is clear that as a junior partner to the US, the British government has just as much Ukrainian and Russian blood on its hands. It is therefore wilfully naïve to claim that British imperialism is not involved in this war. And naturally, all socialists must oppose their own imperialism.