“Together Forever” is no longer just a pop song, but the title of Moscow’s celebration of its annexation of the four eastern provinces of Ukraine. This single act has locked in the intractability of its conflict with the West.
Before the invasion, it already controlled most of Ukraine’s coal through is satellite statelets in the Donbass region (accepted de facto in the Minsk Accord stalemate), and most of Ukraine’s Black Sea oil following its annexation of Crimea (not recognised but largely unchallenged).
The annexed territories amount to 15% of the recognised territory of Ukraine, though barely register a percentage as part of Russia as a whole. So why has Russia decided that this is the hill to die on?
From a purely military point of view it might look like there simply was no coherent ‘Plan B’ following the rout at Kyiv of its much-vaunted military machine. This seemed as good a corner as any to be painted into. It has an additional value of allowing conscripts to be deployed on new ‘Russian’ territory and throwing a ‘spanner in the works’ as neither NATO nor the EU will accept an accession state with an active border dispute.
At it’s heart though, the annexation is a desperate and, for Putin, irreversible move born out of real existential threat to Russian capital.
The collapse of the USSR as a global superpower and Russia’s relative lack of development since has led to it being caricatured as a giant nuclear armed petrol station. The parody though reveals a lot. The total economy is around the size of Italy’s, okay, but not that significant. In fossil fuels however, it is a colossus.
With little else going for it other than its military power, and the world appearing to be moving towards dropping hydrocarbons within the next generation, Russia has few places to go. It is a giant facing extinction.
The driver of the next industrial revolution is climate change and essential to achieving that is access to rare earth minerals and metals such as iridium. lithium, terbium, europium et al. From the 1960’s their value was mainly gadget-based, colour TVs, computers, mobile phones et cetera. Now they are essential for electronic engines, satellites, power storage, electronic batteries and other clean power technologies – hydrocarbon free mid-21st century capitalist planning.
Despite their name, they are not ‘rare’, just often inaccessible, complex to mine, and often toxic. 90% of the world’s production currently takes place in China. Putin knows what this means. China already sees Russia as week and future pickings. The glimpses of dependence are already emerging.
The European Union also sees the danger and in 2019 contracted with, amongst others, Ukraine for access to its vast resources of these elements. According to a specialist advisor quoted in the Financial Times: “Ukraine has deposits of 117 of the 120 most widely used minerals and metals. At least 40 of them are needed for the green transition. It is a resource superpower.”
Ukraine sits on an estimated $15 trillion worth of rare earth elements, most of which are in the east, and half of which Russia now controls. Neither Russia nor the EU will be prepared to compromise when the future wealth and profit of their capitalist heartlands are so invested.
Many, including some who think of themselves as revolutionaries, have struggled to understand our opposition to both sides, summed up in the internationalist revolutionary position of ‘no war but the class war’, instead myopically seeing it in moral terms: David versus Goliath, imperialism versus national liberation, good versus evil.
This is of little help to the ordinary people like us, the workers and producers on both sides whose lives are being squandered because Ukrainian oligarchs want to sell their stolen riches to the west and Russian oligarchs want to steal the riches for themselves.
The suffering is obviously real, the war barbarous, the tragedy is the continuing slaughter of our class who only have their labour and their lives, neither owning, controlling, directing nor benefiting from the wealth they are being conned or coerced into dying for.
It hasn’t stopped being capitalist exploitation by virtue of its distance. This is the way we need to see through the moral mist to the class reality. This is a bosses war over resources for their future profiteering.
Our side is our class, at home and abroad. This is what we mean by No War But The Class War!