NATO tanks in Ukraine: Prelude to a US-Russia shooting war
Andre Damon, WSWS, Jan 26 2023

At least 10 civilian contractors watch closely as a crane lowers a 30-ton turret back onto an Abrams M1A2 in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.

On Wednesday, Biden announced that the US would send 31 Abrams heavy tanks to Ukraine, after Scholz said that Germany would send 14 Leopard 2 tanks, as part of the shipment of over 100 main battle tanks from NATO countries. The decision to send main battle tanks into the conflict is intended to set in motion a chain of events that will justify an ever-greater involvement of NATO troops and aircraft, up to and including a shooting war with Russia. The significance of Biden’s announcement is less the battlefield impact of the tanks, than in the consequences of deploying them. The turbine-driven Abrams tanks will require a massive logistical network inside Ukraine, involving large numbers of specialist American contractors. Attacks on these supply networks and American personnel servicing the tanks will then be used to press for implementation of a “no-fly zone” and the deployment of US and NATO troops to Ukraine. Immediately following Biden’s announcement, retired four-star General Barry McCaffrey, appearing on MSNBC, made an offhand comment that revealed the essential content of Biden’s announcement. Countering the argument made earlier by military officials that the Abrams was too complex to send to Ukraine, McCaffrey declared:

Of course the Ukrainians, with civilian contractor support, can maintain these Abrams.

Who are these “civilian contractors,” if they are not “Ukrainians?” McCaffrey was never asked. America’s vast fleet of M1 Abrams tanks is serviced by civilian contractors at Army bases throughout the world, and these civilian contractors are generally Americans with specialized knowledge and skills, including direct employees of General Dynamics and other major arms manufacturers. The Abrams, the Army’s most complex vehicle, requires about eight man-hours of maintenance for every hour that it serves in operation. In explaining why the US military was reluctant to send the Abrams tank last year, the WaPo noted:

A senior US defense official said that it is hard for the US to maintain the Abrams tanks and their sophisticated turbine engine. For the Ukrainians, the official said, it would be impossible.

Of course, it would be impossible, unless, as McCaffrey indicates, a large number of American civilian contractors already trained on the Abrams are sent alongside the tanks. Thousands of civilian maintenance personnel from NATO countries will be deployed to Ukraine, along with the creation of massive supply chains for the specialized high-tech, precision parts required to keep the machines in operation, stretching hundreds of miles from the eastern front through Poland and into US bases in Germany. These supply lines and American personnel will likely become targets of Russian attacks on the weapons systems flowing into Ukraine. The demand, first raised early in the war, to “close the skies” and initiate a no-fly zone will quickly be raised by the entire US media, in order to “save the lives” of Americans deployed in Ukraine. Like clockwork, Wednesday’s announcement was accompanied by demands in the press for sending F-16s and other fourth-generation NATO fighter aircraft. Former UK commander Greg Bagwell wrote in the Telegraph:

Tanks won’t be enough: Ukraine needs F-16 jets to win. “There is a military axiom that only armies can take and hold ground. It is also true that armies don’t take or hold ground for long without air support.

The former RAF commander implied if the US sends tanks, it will have to send F-16s as well. Yuri Sak, an adviser for Defence Minister Alexei Reznikov, told Reuters:

The next big hurdle will now be the fighter jets. They didn’t want to give us heavy artillery, then they did. They didn’t want to give us HIMARS systems, then they did. They didn’t want to give us tanks, now they’re giving us tanks. Apart from nuclear weapons, there is nothing left that we will not get.

Plans for supplying NATO jets are already underway. The Financial Times reported that Lockheed Martin has already increased production of F-16 fighters to compensate for countries planning to transfer them to Ukraine. The company is “going to be ramping production on F-16s in Greenville to get to the place where we will be able to backfill pretty capably,” said Frank St John, COO of Lockheed Martin. The deployment of openly offensive weapons to Ukraine has blown apart the White House’s fiction that “This is a war between Russia and Ukraine” and that “NATO is not involved.” Speaking before the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg on Tuesday, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock acknowledged the basic truth when she declared:

We are fighting a war against Russia and not against each other.

The fact that the NATO war against Russia is undeclared by both Germany and America is entirely par for the course. The US has not declared a single war it fought since WW2. The Korean, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars were all waged without a congressional war declaration. Since the start of the war in Ukraine, every public statement coming out of the White House has been aimed at keeping the American people in the dark about the government’s plans to massively escalate the war. In March, Biden promised the public that the US would not send “offensive equipment” and “tanks” to Ukraine because this would trigger “WW3.” But if we take Biden’s statements of last literally, then the decision to send tanks to Ukraine is in fact a decision to begin “WW3.” The NATO powers have decided to cast the die of war, seeking through the military defeat, conquest, break-up and exploitation of Russia to solve the myriad crises confronting the capitalist oligarchies.

While sections of the US political establishment may believe that the Kremlin will not respond to the deployment of tanks, the conflict has a logic of its own. The Putin government, representing sections of the Russian oligarchy, hoped that its invasion of Ukraine would result in some form accommodation with the imperialist powers. It confronts internal crisis and demands within sections of the Russian ruling class for a major escalation. The risk of the development of the war into a nuclear exchange, and what Biden himself referred to as “Armageddon,” is raised to a new level at every point in the escalation. As the US and NATO powers implement their war policies, they are doing everything they can to keep the broad mass of the population ignorant of the consequences.

Biden’s perfunctory 10-minute remarks on Wednesday announcing a major new stage in the war were delivered in the middle of the day, without even the pretense of questions from the media. The Biden administration is well aware that, beyond the Republican and Democratic politicians, the ruling elite and privileged sections of the upper middle class, there is no broad support for war. The immense danger of the situation, however, is that popular opposition to war is not politically organized. It is urgently necessary to unify the growing struggles of the working class erupting throughout the world with the struggle against war and to arm these struggles with the socialist program of abolishing the capitalist system that is the root cause of war.

Pentagon presses Latin America to ship arms to Ukraine
Bill Van Auken, WSWS, Jan 26 2023

Gen Richardson reviewing Panamanian troops in the Darién Gap, Oct 2022.

In an increasingly frenetic search for arms to pour into the US-NATO proxy war against Russia in Ukraine, the United States has turned to Latin America, the senior US commander for the region has revealed. SOUTHCOM chief Gen Laura Richardson told an online forum held last week by the Washington geopolitical strategy think tank Atlantic Council that the Pentagon is trying to convince several unnamed Latin American governments to “donate” Russian-made military hardware to the US-backed regime in Ukraine. General Richardson told a virtual audience last Thursday:

We are working with the countries that have the Russian equipment to either donate it or switch it out for US equipment.

Diplomatic relations are either nil or sharply curtailed between the US and the three countries in the region that have the closest military-to-military ties with Moscow (Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba). All of them, like Russia, are subject to US sanctions. While Richardson declined to name them in the forum, titled “On Security in the Americas,” she said that six other countries in the region have significant stockpiles of Soviet or Russian-made weaponry, and that talks were “in the works” on getting them “to donate it to Ukraine or the ongoing cause.” Such deals to send Russian-made equipment into the Ukraine war would include pushing the Latin American countries to replace the Russian gear with US-made armaments.

While SOUTHCOM also declined to say which countries were in talks on such weapons transfers, the Pentagon has kept careful track of the inflow of Soviet and Russian arms to the region. In testimony last July before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Evan Ellis, the US Army War College’s chief expert on Latin America and a vocal proponent of Washington viewing the region as a battlefield in the preparations for world war, gave a detailed list of such weapons systems. Significantly, he testified, the Latin American country with the largest number of such arms (outside of Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua) is Peru, which began importing Soviet weapons in the 1970s under the nationalist military regime of Gen. Velasco Alvarado, and as recently as 2013 bought 24 Mi-17 military helicopters and two Mi-35 attack helicopters from Moscow. In the intervening years, including under the right-wing dictatorship of Alberto Fujimori, Lima bought Su-22 fighter bombers, Mig-29 fighter jets and other equipment, while its armed forces received Russian military training.

The Dec 7 parliamentary coup that ousted President Pedro Castillo and brought in a regime dominated by the Peruvian right and the security forces under Castillo’s former vice-president Dina Boluarte may well have greased the wheels for the kind of deal being promoted by General Richardson. A day before the coup, the US ambassador in Lima, Lisa Kenna, a veteran CIA agent, met and reached an understanding with the country’s defense minister to support Castillo’s ouster. Since then, the security forces have been unleashed against protesters, killing at least 60 of them. Other countries with significant stocks of Soviet/Russian weapons include Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico, Uruguay and Argentina. The weapons include tanks, armored vehicles, multiple-launch rocket systems, surface-to-air missile systems, MANPADS (man-portable air defense systems) and various fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. In her remarks, Richardson stressed that the Pentagon was moving “aggressively” to exploit the obstacles imposed by anti-Russian sanctions on Moscow’s providing parts for its weapons systems and financing for Latin American customers.

From the standpoint of the US-NATO proxy war in Ukraine, the shipping of the weapons from Latin America serves a definite purpose. While international attention has been focused on the provocative and potentially world catastrophic decisions to provide Kiev with advanced US M1 Abrams and German Leopard 2 main battle tanks, the reality is that it will take months before these weapons can be fielded with trained Ukrainian crews. The Soviet/Russian stockpiles in Latin America, on the other hand, are virtually identical to the arms already familiar to the Ukrainian military and can be deployed immediately. In terms of Washington’s aims in Latin America itself, removing Russia as a competitor and restoring the Pentagon’s monopoly on weapons provisions would provide US imperialism with increased political leverage throughout a region in which the military has repeatedly intervened to overthrow governments seen as insufficiently subordinate to US and national profit interests. Increased weapons sales mean greater numbers of US military advisers on the ground in these countries and more of their own officers being sent for their military training to the US. This works to forge military-to-military ties that are far deeper than those existing between diplomats or elected officials, putting in place the organizational infrastructure for the kind of US-backed military coups that swept the continent over the course of the last half century. While Richardson presented Russia’s operations in the region as an acute threat to US interests, in reality they pale in comparison and are largely a response to the massive US-NATO encirclement of Russia itself.

As the general made clear in her remarks, Washington and the Pentagon view China, which she described as a “malign state actor,” as the more consequential challenge to US imperialist interests in the region. Using the alarmist rhetoric of war propaganda, Richardson warned of “the invasion and the tentacles of the PRC in the Western Hemisphere countries so close to the US.” China’s presence, she said, had reached “right here on the 20 yard line to our homeland, right here in the red zone.” The general’s language echoes the 19th-century Monroe Doctrine, which the US first employed to ward off European imperial interlopers in the hemisphere, and later invoked in defense of military coups, police state dictatorships and bloody counter-insurgency wars conducted in the name of defeating “communism.” Like her predecessors, Richardson has the arrogant habit of viewing the countries to the south of the US border as American imperialism’s “own backyard.” But she is compelled to admit that Washington has lost a great deal of its grip over these territories. She said:

In a lot of our countries in this region, the PRC is the #1 trade partner, with the US #2 in most cases.

In reality, China is already South America’s largest trading partner. In the space of barely two decades, total trade between China and the Latin American region as a whole has leapt nearly 20-fold, from $17b in 2002 to $315b in 2019. 21 of the region’s 31 countries have joined Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, which has already produced significant infrastructure development, including 17 port facilities, highways and railways designed to direct the flow of Latin America’s vital raw materials across the Pacific to China. Meanwhile, in defiance of US pressure, the Chinese multinational Huawei has taken the lead in telecommunications and the provision of 5G networks. Richardson said:

I worry about these dual-use, state-owned enterprises that pop up from the PRC, and I worry about the dual-use capability—being able to flip them around and use them for military use.

As she continued, however, the SOUTHCOM commander made it clear that the real concern is securing US domination over the region’s strategic resources and being in a position to deny them to China. Explaining “why this region matters” to US national security, the general proceeded to catalogue its “rich resources,” including the vast oil reserves of Venezuela and the discovery of huge deposits off the coast of Guyana, copper, silver, gold and other minerals, as well as 31% of the world’s fresh water supply. She noted that today, China depends upon Latin America for 36% of its food. General Richardson laid particular stress on the so-called “lithium triangle” (Argentina, Bolivia and Chile) which accounts for most of Latin America’s estimated 60% of global lithium reserves. The strategic metal is a key component in the transition to electric vehicles and is utilized in virtually every modern weapons system. The struggle for control of lithium reserves in the region may soon resemble the fierce and bloody battles for control over Middle Eastern oil. Today, China accounts for over half of the world’s lithium refining capacity and produces 79% of lithium-ion batteries, compared to just 6.2% for the US. Richardson recounted:

Yesterday, I convened a Zoom meeting of the US ambassadors to Argentina and Chile, and then also the strategy officer from Livent [Tesla’s US lithium supplier] and also the VP for global operations from Albermarle [the largest US lithium company] to talk about the lithium triangle in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile, and the companies and how they’re doing and what they see as challenges and things like that in the lithium business. And then the aggressiveness and coercion from the PRC. Our aim was to figure the problems out and box out our adversaries.

The SOUTHCOM commander offered no details as to how Washington intends to “box out” China from a region and a strategic industry where it has already emerged as the dominant economic force. The fact that it is the Pentagon’s regional commander who is convening a meeting of ambassadors and big business executives to discuss how to wrest control of Latin America’s lithium reserves from China provides the answer. US imperialism is turning to expanding militarism in its attempt to offset the erosion of its global economic hegemony. It views Latin America as a target for imperialist plunder and a key battlefield in the march to World War III, even as it attempts to build up and tighten its control over the region’s armed forces to confront the rising threat of social revolution throughout the region.

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