wsws

Johnson government mounts warmongering campaign of lies and threats against Russia
Chris Marsden, WSWS, Jan 24 2022

The UK is acting as an attack dog for the Biden administration in justifying military conflict with Russia. Its latest provocation was a transparent attempt to provide a casus belli, blaming Moscow for an escalating drive to war that is being provoked by the US. On Saturday evening, the Foreign Office issued the press release above, signed by Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. The former Ukrainian MP Yevghen Murayev was cited as “a potential candidate,” with links to Russian intelligence, along with Sergei Arbuzov, a former deputy prime minister and later acting prime minister of Ukraine, Andrei Kluyev, another deputy prime minister and chief of staff to former President Viktor Yanukovich, Vladimir Sivkovich, former deputy head of the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council, and Mikola Azarov, a former prime minister. Most of those named reside in Russia, which the Observer was forced to note makes “their ties to Russia’s leadership less a matter of subterfuge than public record.” Murayev, Moscow’s putative president of Ukraine, told the newspaper:

I’m banned from Russia. Not only that, but money from my father’s firm there has been confiscated.

History has proved that anything that emanates from Britain’s government and security services regarding the danger of war and who is responsible should be assumed to be a pack of lies. In 2002-3, Tony Blair’s Labour government provided its services to the Bush administration in preparing war against Iraq. In Mar 2002, Blair met with Bush in Crawford, Texas, having promised he would support war against Iraq and, according to Secretary of State Colin Powell, “suggest ideas” on how to “make a credible public case on current Iraqi threats to international peace” and “handle calls for a UNSC blessing that can increase support for us in the region and with UK and European audiences.” MI5 and MI6, with the support of the CIA, then assembled evidence they knew to be false to further war aims already decided upon—the Sep 2002 dossier asserting that Iraq possessed WMDs and the Feb 2003 “dodgy dossier,” mostly plagiarised from a thesis by a graduate student.

Once more a monstrous lie is being crafted to justify an act of imperialist violence with potentially unimaginable consequences. The same filthy alliance is in play, with the UK seeking to reinforce the Biden administration’s claim on Jan 20 that Russian intelligence was recruiting current and former Ukrainian government officials to take over government following an invasion. British imperialism has consistently sought to capitalise on its relationship with the US in order to project its own interests globally. This criminal policy took on even greater importance post-Brexit, as a means of countering Britain’s declining world position and meeting the challenge of its European rivals. Today, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government, battered by a raging economic crisis, widely hated for its murderous herd immunity policy and intent on ending all measures to even ameliorate the pandemic, is seizing on a war drive as a means of rescuing itself. The aim is not to strengthen a supposedly “defensive” struggle by Ukraine, but to create the conditions for an aggressive anti-Russian offensive by the NATO powers.

To make this clear, the Foreign Office press release was accompanied by another portraying Johnson as fighting to establish a new version of Blair’s “coalition of the willing,” this time an anti-Russian alliance. It was centred on criticisms of France and Germany, along with boasts of Britain’s greater determination to confront Russia. Advancing Johnson as the defender of a unified NATO, the press release attacked Macron’s suggestion of an independent response to the Ukraine crisis by a stronger European defence pillar as a form of appeasement, stating:

The prime minister has been clear to counterparts in recent days that now is not the time in the face of spiralling aggression on the border to start a conversation about Europe’s strategic autonomy.

Also noted was Johnson’s declared opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline transporting Russian gas to Germany as “a major strategic problem for European security.” The NYT commented:

The theatrical timing and cloak-and-dagger nature of the intelligence disclosure, which came in the midst of a roiling political scandal at home, raised a more cynical question, whether some in the British government were simply eager to deflect attention from the problems that threaten to topple Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Some Conservative lawmakers warn that Britain cannot afford a messy leadership battle at a time like this. Tough talk about Russia also appeals to the Tory right, and critics say some ambitious officials are taking advantage of the tensions.

Among such ambitious officials, the Conservative chair of the Commons Defence Select Committee, Tobias Ellwood MP, told the BBC:

This is more than just about Ukraine, this is about Putin wanting to establish, absolutely, a sphere of influence way beyond Ukraine itself. NATO needs to develop a fresh sense of purpose.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace wrote in the Times:

Russian aggression in Ukraine is driven by the ethno-nationalism at the heart of President Putin’s ambitions, not the straw man of NATO encroachment.

All efforts to portray Russia as the aggressor are disproved by an official UK government research briefing, “Military Assistance to Ukraine,” issued Jan 18. This noted the major extension of military relations with Kiev by the UK, the US and NATO, beginning with Operation Orbital in 2015, when the UK began training the Ukrainian Army, and now encompassing “enhanced defence cooperation,” a Memorandum of Intent on developing Ukraine’s naval capabilities and the release of a massive £1.7b of financing. Royal Navy vessels have been regularly deployed to the Black Sea region “to conduct joint training exercises with the Ukrainian Navy, most recently in summer 2021 as part of exercise Cossack Mace and as part of NATO’s annual Sea Breeze exercise,” leading in Jun 2021 to an altercation between HMS Defender and Russian jets. Britain is already leading a 1,200-strong battle group in Estonia, involving 830 UK troops, alongside 300 French troops, and has 140 British soldiers in Poland as part of NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence mission. Britain’s largesse, however, pales before the $2.6b provided by Washington between 1990 and 2000, and around $5b during the US orchestrated campaign to install an anti-Russian government in 2014 that precipitated Russia’s defensive annexation of Crimea. NATO has in addition stepped up maritime cooperation with both Ukraine and Georgia, in an extensive list of exercises including Exercise Joint Endeavour in 2020, with British, US and Canadian troops.

This is a policy of encirclement of Russia, focused on the expansion of NATO membership and the stationing of military forces and equipment directly on Russia’s borders or within striking distance. This past week, the UK sent an additional 30 troops from the Ranger Regiment to Ukraine and delivered 2,000 anti-tank missile launchers. More broadly, the UK is considering sending hundreds more troops to Ukraine’s NATO neighbours to act as a “deterrent” to Russia, according to defence sources. Other NATO member states are considering similar moves, a source told the Times. This follows Sunday’s report in the NYT that the Biden administration has discussed deploying 1k to 5k troops to Romania and the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, with the possibility of increasing this to 50k troops. The US navy has now sent the USS Georgia guided-missile submarine to the eastern Mediterranean, where it joins the Truman aircraft carrier battle group. A US shipment of 90 tonnes of “lethal aid” arrived in Kiev Saturday, as part of a $200m security support package approved in December. This is the massive campaign of military provocations the Tory warmongers are complicit in, and which must be resolutely opposed by workers and young people. As always, Johnson and his criminal clique are being backed to the hilt by the Labour Party. Sir Keir Starmer wrote an opinion piece in the Tory Party’s house organ, the Telegraph, headlined, “Britain must stand firm against Russian aggression.” Starmer fulminated:

Not only does Labour understand the threat posed by Putin’s Russia, we stand resolute in our support of Ukrainian sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity. For too long the implicit message to Moscow has been that Putin can do what he likes and the West will do little to retaliate.

Poverty surging so fast in UK that foodbanks unable to keep up with demand
Henry Lee, WSWS, Jan 24 2022

The Footprints in the Community food bank in northern England (Photo: Footprints_UK)

Despite the claims of the media and Johnson government during the pandemic that “we are all in it together”, warnings this month by poverty and food campaigners reveal the depth of the social immiseration facing the working class. As rising death tolls from the pandemic have mirrored the rise in financial markets, so too have rates of poverty, debt and hunger. According to the Food Foundation, one in five households with children reported they were unable to access enough food during the first lockdown. In the first year of the pandemic, from Apr 1 2020, the Trussell Trust, one of the UK’s largest networks of food banks, distributed 2.5m emergency three-day food parcels, an increase of 33% on the previous year. Nearly a million of these parcels were for children. In the six months from Apr 2021, Trussell Trust foodbanks distributed 936k parcels, but as the new year sees many more workers thrust into poverty and desperation, this is expected to sharply increase. Inflation has risen to 7.5%, the highest monthly increase in prices in almost 30 years, pushing up the average bills faced by households.

With the financial difficulties caused by inflation and the ruling Conservative government’s attacks on the working class, The Independent newspaper reported at the start of January that foodbanks were concerned that the situation was so bad that they would be forced to turn people away this winter due to supply problems. Food banks reported not only higher levels of need, but fewer donations, as many people were less able to donate to charities, and supply chain issues meant retailers had less excess food. The impact of price increases will be much worse for the poorest households, as the cost of certain essentials, such as heating, is increasing even faster than the average price of goods. At the start of October, the energy price cap—the maximum that can be charged for a household on a default tariff—increased from £1,138 annually to £1,277, an increase of over 12 percent. Fuel poverty charity National Energy Action (NEA) said that before the price cap increase, 4 million households were classified as in fuel poverty, unable to afford to adequately heat their homes as well as meet other daily necessities. According to NEA’s estimate, this price cap increase pushed a further 500,000 households into fuel poverty.

The government is planning to pass more fuel price increases onto the working class, with a further rise in the energy price cap planned for April. According to the NEA, this would push the number of those in fuel poverty up to 6 million. The charity quotes industry experts who estimate the price cap could even be raised to over £2k/yr, doubling heating costs compared with the winter of 2019-20. A poll commissioned by the NEA showed that 28% of all households would need to reduce how often they turned on the heating “by a great deal”, and 31% “by a fair amount” if prices increased so sharply. Office for National Statistics data for 2019-20 showed that 8% of households were “food insecure,” unable to afford balanced meals or forced to skip meals. Of households receiving Universal Credit (UC) welfare payments, 17% were classed as having low food security, and 26% as very low. In October, the government sadistically ended the meagre £20/wk uplift to UC for over 6m people, which had been introduced at the start of the pandemic. This has seen more working class families impoverished and forced to rely on charity. The Independent reported that a foodbank in Swansea had seen demand double in the months following the UC cut, distributing 472 parcels in September and rising to 1,103 in November.

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation charity, in addition to struggling to feed themselves and heat their homes, millions of workers have fallen into debt during the pandemic. In October, it reported that 3.8 million households were in arrears, both with bills and borrowings, and 4.4m had taken on new borrowing during the pandemic. The figures showed that low-income households owed £3.4b in rent, utilities bills and other household expenses, and £1.8b in personal borrowing. The Labour Party has sought to conceal the true cause of the social crisis facing workers in the COVID-19 pandemic. In parliament, deputy leader Angela Rayner described rising inflation and the increase in National Insurance contributions as examples of the “incompetence” of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and called for the government to take the meagre step of cutting VAT (sales tax) on energy bills. Johnson is following a conscious strategy of defending the interests of capital through vicious attacks on the working class. As share prices collapsed at the start of the pandemic, hundreds of billions of pounds were paid out in direct government subsidies to corporations and quantitative easing to protect the wealth of the bourgeoisie, while workers have been forced to bear the brunt of both growing poverty and the lethal risk of the virus.

The right-wing hardliners in the Tory party demanding that Johnson act as a “true Thatcherite” and threatening a leadership challenge, are demanding even more brutal attacks against the working class. At the end of last year, while spreading the lie that the Omicron variant was “mild”, the British ruling class celebrated the return of the FTSE100 stock index to its pre-pandemic level. As the WSWS has explained, the astonishing rise in financial markets during the pandemic does not represent the generation of real value, but a claim on future value that must be extracted from the working class. This has been reflected in the changes to Universal Credit (UC) paid to working families. Its introduction by the Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition government in 2013 was part of an explicit drive to “make work pay,” to ensure workers have no choice but to work long hours for low pay. Those working who receive UC payments because their income is so low are subject to a “taper,” essentially a punitive tax on their wages. Financial journalist and broadcaster Paul Lewis reported in December that despite a small reduction in the taper in November, anyone receiving UC who earned enough to pay National Insurance and income tax would take home only 30p of each pound they earned, equivalent to a 70% tax rate. This can be even less for recipients of other tapered benefits.

The removal of the £20 UC uplift is a key part of the Tory government’s strategy to force reluctant workers back into unsafe workplaces, with many employers being hit by labour shortages. The British Chambers of Commerce released figures on Jan 13 showing that four in five companies who attempted to recruit staff reported difficulties, especially in the hospitality sector, where workers face low wages in return for extreme exposure to COVID-19. ONS data show that across the economy, there are still 27.8 million fewer hours worked per week than before the pandemic. Work and Pension Secretary Thérèse Coffey linked the end of the UC uplift with the record number of job vacancies, telling BBC Breakfast:

I’m conscious that £20 a week is about two hours’ extra work every week. We will be seeing what we can do help people perhaps to secure those extra hours.

As Paul Lewis pointed out on the BBC’s More or Less, the UC taper means that to make up for the cut would require many times more than £20 in wages. According to his latest calculations, someone would need to work sufficient hours to earn an additional £83 (almost 9 hours at the new minimum wage) to then receive just £20 in UC and Council Tax benefit after the taper was applied. Accounting for other taxes paid by those on Universal Credit, the Resolution Foundation calculates that claimants take home as little as £2.24 for every hour worked.

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