F-16 fighters: The next stage in the relentless US military escalation against Russia
Andre Damon, WSWS, Feb 3 2023

Two Polish Air Force MiG-29s fly above and below two Polish Air Force F-16s
during the Air Show in Radom, Poland, Aug 27 2011.

The announcement last month that the Biden administration would send M1 Abrams main battle tanks to Ukraine has set the stage for further demands for escalation through the provision of the F-16 fourth-generation fighter aircraft. A familiar script is playing out. Months in advance of any public announcement, the Pentagon confirms it is working out plans to send a weapons system to the front. At the appropriate time, demands are placed simultaneously in the US press and Ukrainian officials for the system in question. The Biden administration declares it has no plans to send the weapon. Its “reluctance” is denounced in the press and by Republican and Democratic Party officials. Within a matter of weeks or months, the White House announces precisely the measure that it has previously ruled out, without any explanation of the reversal. This exercise in kabuki theater, repeated over and over, makes clear the extent to which the US civilian political leadership has become merely a means to package decisions made by the Pentagon to the broader public. This cycle has become a parody of itself, to the point where any statements of America’s civilian government about the limitations of military action is largely treated as meaningless. As Yuri Sak, an adviser for Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov, told Reuters:

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.

Commenting on this pattern, the NYT wrote in an article published Wednesday:

If the usual script plays out, the Biden administration’s reluctance to provide the planes could be temporary. For Ukraine, the US and its NATO allies, the playbook has now become standardized. First, Kyiv asks for an advanced weapons system. The Biden administration says no. After months of hemming and hawing, the Biden administration says yes, and the gates to more weapons open.

An article in the WaPo Tuesday made the same point:

President Biden’s brusque refusal to fulfill Ukraine’s request for F-16 jets has been greeted with skepticism at the Pentagon, where some officials, citing the administration’s pattern of reversal after first rejecting other pleas from Kyiv, foresee eventual approval or a scenario where American allies provide the aircraft with administration approval.

In other words, despite Biden’s categorical declaration that the US will not send F-16 fighters to Ukraine, the decision to do so has already been made. Nothing remains but the working out of the political details within NATO and the launching of the media propaganda campaign of lies to sell the decision to a skeptical public. Plans to send advanced Western fighters have been underway for months, according to earlier statements by US officials. In July, Gen Charles Q Brown Jr, chief of staff of the USAF, told the WaPo that “discussions are ongoing” about sending fighter jets to Ukraine. 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. Frank St John, chief operating officer of Lockheed Martin, said:

We are going to be ramping up production on F-16s in Greenville to get to the place where we will be able to backfill pretty capably.

Last week, ArmyINFORM, an information agency for Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense, reported that Ukrainian fighter pilots have already begun training in the US, likely on the F-16. Quoting a Ukrainian official, the publication wrote:

Our military pilots went to the US. Funds were allocated for the training of our pilots. The type of aircraft the US will send to Ukraine has already been decided.

The F-16 is the workhorse of the US’ “nuclear sharing” program. In the event of a full-scale nuclear war, atomic bombs based in Turkey, Germany and Poland, delivered from F-16 fighters, would be the among the first to explode. Last week, leading Democratic and Republican senators called on the White House to send F-16 fourth-generation nuclear-capable fighter aircraft to Ukraine. Rhode Island Democratic Sen Sheldon Whitehouse, South Carolina Republican Sen Lindsey Graham and Connecticut Democratic Sen Richard Blumenthal demanded that the jets be provided to “erode Russia’s capability to continue fighting in Ukraine.” To an even greater degree than the M1 Abrams battle tank, sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine would involve the deployment of a massive logistical infrastructure and supply lines into Ukraine from the NATO countries, likely including the deployment of US civilian contractors to help maintain these sophisticated systems. CNN speculated:

The deployment of F-16s would mean that Western contractors could be sent to Ukraine, putting them at risk of Russian attack.

The dispatch of such “contractors,” who would overwhelmingly be nationals of the US and NATO countries, would provide the occasion for further demands for the creation of a no-fly zone. When these fail to have their intended effect, the ground would be set for calls for the direct deployment of US and other NATO troops. The logic of military escalation is at work. Each step generates the necessity for further escalation, all the way to all-out war with Russia. Having tied the prestige of the US-led NATO alliance to victory over Russia, the Biden administration will escalate all the way to nuclear war, unless it is stopped. Beyond Russia, moreover, the US is already in the advanced stages of planning for military conflict with China. There is a social force that can put an end to imperialist war: the international working class. This week, strikes have erupted throughout Europe in opposition to the sweeping austerity measures being implemented by governments and major corporations, whose aim is to make the working class bear the cost of the war. Millions have demonstrated in France, and half a million in the UK. This is part of a broader movement of the working class developing in the United States and throughout the world. If the logic of military escalation is nuclear war, the logic of the escalation of the class struggle is socialist revolution. This, however, requires the building of a socialist leadership in the working class, to connect the class battles erupting through the world with the fight against war and the capitalist profit system.

US defense secretary in South Korea to further war preparations against China
Ben McGrath, WSWS, Feb 2 2023

Austin with South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup during a joint press conference
at the Defense Ministry in Seoul, Jan 31 2023.

Earlier this week, US Sec Def Lloyd Austin visited South Korea for talks with President Yoon Suk-yeol and Defense Minister Lee Jong-seop. The trip is part of Washington’s efforts to consolidate alliances in the region in preparation for a US-instigated war against China. Arriving Monday, Austin met first with Lee then Yoon on Tuesday. He made clear that not only did Washington’s alliance with South Korea remain “ironclad,” but that the US would also ramp up its military presence in the region in coordination with Seoul. He emphasized once again that the full range of Washington’s destructive capabilities were capable of being deployed to the region in a thinly veiled threat to China and North Korea. Austin stated at a joint press conference with Lee:

The US stands firm in its extended deterrence commitment, and that includes the full range of US defense capabilities, including our conventional, nuclear, and missile defense capabilities. Now, we have 28,500 uniformed personnel in South Korea who proudly work together every day with their ROK counterparts. That’s one of the largest US troop deployments around the world.

Austin’s visit to Seoul has nothing to do with defense. It is to ensure that the Yoon administration is working in lockstep with the US in pursuit of the latter’s strategic goals in Northeast Asia, directed above all against China. This means greater collaboration between the two countries’ militaries, including on the deployment of the strategic and nuclear assets to the Korean Peninsula in the event of war. Referencing recent past measures taken by the US, Austin stated:

We deployed fifth-generation aircraft, F-22s, F-35s, and also deployed a carrier strike group to visit the peninsula. You can look for more of that kind of activity going forward. But in addition to that, you can look to see deeper consultation between our two countries and that leadership.

This comes after President Yoon made remarks last month about joint planning and coordination with Washington on the use of US nuclear weapons in an interview with the Chosun Ilbo newspaper. He went further in a statement released on Jan 12, supposedly over the North Korean threat, declaring:

If the issue becomes more serious, we could acquire our own nuclear weapons, such as deploying tactical nuclear weapons here in South Korea.

This was the first time a South Korean president has publicly made such a declaration, though Seoul has previously had a nuclear weapon program. During the Park Chung-hee regime in the 1970s, Seoul worked in secret to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles capable of delivering a nuclear payload. Seoul only gave up these programs under pressure from Washington. Yoon later walked back his comments in an interview with the Wall Street Journal published on Jan 19, stating instead:

We are preparing a stronger joint planning and joint execution in operating the US nuclear assets on the Korean Peninsula.

For Washington, all of this provides the opportunity for deepening its nuclear planning for a war with China while integrating Seoul closer into these plans. The US intends to draw South Korea as well as Japan into a tighter trilateral alliance that includes increased intelligence sharing and coordination to complement its other alliances in the region, including the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, which includes the US, Japan, Australia, and India; and the AUKUS pact comprised of Australia, the UK, and the US. At the same time, Yoon is increasingly confrontational with North Korea. He has threatened to suspend a 2018 agreement with Pyongyang that is meant to reduce clashes along the border. The agreement bars hostilities in the border area, which includes guard posts, propaganda speakers, and live-fire drills. Moon Jang-ryeol, an advisor in the previous Moon Jae-in administration stated that under Yoon:

We are now on the verge of military conflict with North Korea.

While speaking in private with Yoon and Lee, Austin no doubt worked out a plan to further integrate Seoul into Washington’s nuclear war planning. When asked directly by a reporter Tuesday about South Korea obtaining its own nuclear weapons, Austin reiterated that the two sides would continue to work together to strengthen the US “extended deterrence.” This, however, already includes US and South Korea tabletop exercises this month to coordinate the allies’ planning, which would include nuclear scenarios. In a Tuesday piece written for South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency titled “The Alliance Stands Ready,” Austin stated:

We are expanding the scope and scale of our combined exercises. We plan visits to US strategic sites housing our most advanced capabilities to demonstrate the role these capabilities may play in crisis or conflict.

Austin called the US-South Korean alliance one of the most “interoperable, and adaptable alliances in history.” Significantly, South Korea is also working to expand alliances, not just with the US and Japan, but with Europe. On Jan 27, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg gave an interview to Yonhap, shortly before arriving in South Korea for a two-day visit last Sunday. He stated:

The most important message is that I strongly believe that we need to strengthen the partnership between Korea and NATO because security becomes more and more interconnected. What happens in Asia, the Indo-Pacific, matters for Europe and NATO, and vice versa.

As justification for NATO’s expansion into Asia, Stoltenberg went on to denounce China, claiming “China is also coercing and intimidating countries, for instance in the South China Sea region, and it matters for global trade and for the freedom of navigation.” He is simply repeating Washington’s propaganda used to justify US military provocations in the South China Sea and its military build-up throughout the region. Backing this war drive, Seoul is working closer with the alliance, establishing a diplomatic mission to NATO in Brussels last November. Yoon became the first South Korean president to attend a NATO summit last June. Ultimately, neither Washington nor any of its partners are concerned about peace in the Indo-Pacific region. The US consolidation of these treaties and alliances is above all aimed at planning for war against China even as it is rapidly escalating its war against Russia in Ukraine.

France and Australia to make artillery shells for Ukrainian army
Mike Head, WSWS, Feb 2 2023

L-R: Marles, Lecornu, Colonna and Wong at the French foreign ministry in Paris, Jan 30 2023.

The Australian and French governments have agreed to a deal to jointly manufacture and supply thousands of artillery shells to the Ukrainian army, the defence and foreign ministers of the two countries announced on Monday. The plan reportedly involves the Australian supply of explosives for the shells, to be made in France. Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles, French Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna and Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong met at the French foreign ministry. “Several thousand 155mm shells will be manufactured jointly” by French arms supplier Nexter, Lecornu said. Marles said the plan would come with a “multi-million-dollar” price tag, but neither provided an actual figure. The agreement marks a further significant stepping up of both governments’ involvement in the US-NATO war against Russia in Ukraine, in line with the dangerous escalation by the US and Germany, marked by the deployment of advanced heavy tanks. It came soon after the Jan 4 announcement by President Macron that France would deliver AMX-10 RC light tanks to the Ukrainian military. That was the first dispatch of Western tanks, soon followed by Washington and Berlin. It also came on the heels of the Australian Labor government sending 70 military personnel two weeks ago to join Operation Interflex, a UK-led mission that has already trained around 10k Ukrainian troops. That took Australia’s military contribution to at least $655m, including the supply of 90 Bushmaster armoured vehicles, making it one of the largest non-NATO contributors to the war. Several types of artillery sent to Ukraine from the NATO powers fire 155mm shells, including French-made CAESAR truck-mounted guns, the British-built M777 howitzer and the German Panzerhaubitze 2000 self-propelled gun.

Marles declared that the ammunition supplies fit into “the ongoing level of support both France and Australia are providing Ukraine to make sure Ukraine is able to stay in this conflict and see it concluded on its own terms.” That language indicates an indefinite commitment, echoing similar aggressive statements from the Biden administration. Lecornu said the aid would be “significant” and “an effort that will be kept up over time,” with the first deliveries slated for the first quarter of 2023, that is, within two months. Such comments underscore the intent of the US-led powers to deliberately stoke and ramp up the war, using Ukraine as a battleground for a drive to defeat and dismember Russia, having goaded Putin’s oligarchic regime into a disastrous invasion.

Monday’s meeting was the first Australia-France Foreign and Defence Ministerial Consultations since the diplomatic rupture caused by the Sep 2021 AUKUS treaty between the US, UK and Australia. Australia dumped a $90b contract to purchase French submarines in favour of a deal with the US and UK to supply nuclear-powered attack submarines. The resumption of strategic and military ties between Australia and France, which has colonies and bases across the Indian and Pacific oceans, highlights the reality that the war against Russia is regarded by the US and all its imperialist allies as a prelude to one against China for control over the entire strategic and resource-rich Eurasian landmass. By repairing relations with France, which began with a visit to Paris last July by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, the Labor government in Australia is assisting the Biden administration to strengthen a network of military alliances encircling China, while bolstering the interests of Australian and French capitalism in the region. Marles said the signed agreement was the opening of “new cooperation between the Australian and French defence industries.” He said the meeting also agreed to “grow and deepen the relationship between our two defence forces” and the two countries would have greater access to their respective defence facilities in the Indo-Pacific region.

As indicated by the joint statement issued by the four ministers, the two imperialist powers regard this collaboration as part of a wider alliance, focused on the Indo-Pacific, directed against China as well as Russia. The statement declared that “France and Australia agreed to continue to work together” to “address shared security challenges” in the Indo-Pacific region. While not explicitly naming China as the target, the statement left no doubt about that. It employed all the catchphrases used by the US and its allies against China, including vowing to support “freedom of navigation” naval operations and overflights in Chinese-controlled areas of the South China Sea. The statement effectively lined up behind Washington’s escalating steps to provoke China into a conflict over Taiwan by eroding the 50-year-old “One China” policy, whereby the Chinese government was in effect recognised as the legitimate government over all of China, including Taiwan. While claiming to support the “status quo” and “peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” the statement pledged to “support Taiwan’s meaningful participation in the work of international organisations” and “continue deepening relations with Taiwan in the economic, scientific, trade, technological and cultural fields.”

French imperialism, which once directly controlled a vast colonial empire, notably in Africa and Indochina, remains a major nuclear-armed power across the Indo-Pacific. It retains colonial rule over territories with about 1.65 million citizens and five permanent military bases manned by 7k personnel, from the Indian Ocean islands of Mayotte and Reunion, to the Pacific Ocean islands of New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna and French Polynesia. During a visit to the region in 2018, Macron called for a new Indo-Pacific “axis” directed against China, signalling moves alongside other European imperialist powers, particularly the UK and Germany, to assert their own predatory interests in the region under conditions of rising Chinese influence and Washington’s aggressive moves against China. Monday’s statement signalled a heightened involvement of French forces in allied military exercises and operations in the region:

The ministers welcomed Australia’s increased involvement in the Croix du Sud multilateral exercise this April and Australia’s support for France’s first full participation in Exercise Talisman Sabre in 2023, following its participation as an observer member in 2021.

Croix du Sud is a French military exercise held every two years in New Caledonia and surrounding waters. Talisman Sabre is a major US-Australian exercise, involving thousands of troops, held in Australia every second year since 2005. In 2021, the French nuclear attack submarine Émeraude, along with the naval support ship Seine, conducted patrols in the South China Sea. That year, France also sent an amphibious assault ship, the Tonnerre, and the frigate Surcouf to pass through the disputed waters twice during its annual Jeanne d’Arc mission, and French SIGINT ship Dupuy de Lôme sailed through the Taiwan Strait. This week, French naval sources said the country’s navy was working toward a Pacific Region deployment in 2025 for its Charles de Gaulle carrier strike group, which carries nuclear weapons. Ever since taking office last May, the Australian Labor government has outdone its Liberal-National predecessor in placing the country on the frontline of US war plans, joining NATO and other US-led alliance summits, bullying Pacific island states into security pacts aimed against China and spending billions on new military hardware, at least $4b in the first three weeks of 2023. The visit to Paris by Marles and Wong was just the first part of a bigger mission. It centres on talks in London and Washington to seek to finalise the AUKUS arrangements for the far-greater Australian purchases of submarines, hypersonic missiles and other weaponry.

Ukraine cracks down on military “deserters”
Jason Melanovski, WSWS, Feb 2 2023

Amidst a major escalation of the war in Ukraine by NATO, the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has begun cracking down on “refuseniks,” or deserting soldiers, as bloody fighting continues with Russian forces for control of Bakhmut. Under the newly signed law draft Law 8271, soldiers directly disobeying an order, threatening a senior with violence or deserting one’s unit would face five to 10 years in prison. Convictions of desertion in the face of fire will carry a minimum of five and a maximum of 12 years in prison. The law enforcing stricter penalties on soldiers convicted of abandoning fighting positions or defying their commanders was initially ratified by the Ukrainian parliament in December and publicly supported by the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Valeriy Zaluzhny. Zaluzhny, an admirer of the far-right fascist hero Stepan Bandera, complained at the time that Ukrainian soldiers could theoretically flee an assigned position or defy a commander and face little more than a 10% deduction from his military salary. Earlier in December, Andrey Marochko, an officer with the Russian-backed LPR, had alleged an increase in desertion rates among Ukrainian forces. Marochko said:

There have been increasingly more saboteurs and people deserting their positions, as well as more wrangling with commanders and hazing. Incidents of taking drugs and alcohol have also increased. Besides, social tensions have grown sharply in Ukraine.

While Marochko certainly has a strategic incentive to make such statements, the introduction of the law shortly thereafter lends credence to his remarks. Zelensky signed the law on Jan 25 despite widespread criticism from Ukrainian citizens and soldiers who rightfully view the Ukrainian justice system as corrupt and controlled by the wealthy. Following the initial introduction of the law in December, an electronic petition appeared calling for Zelensky to veto the proposal and quickly gathered the necessary 25k signatures for Zelensky’s consideration. According to the author of the petition, Tetiana Kostohryzenko:

The command will gain leverage to blackmail and punish the military with prison for almost any criticism of their decisions, even if the decisions are incompetent and based on unsuccessful combat management.

A total of 34,941 Ukrainians signed the petition leading up to Zelensky’s signing of the law. Despite garnering the necessary signatures for an official response from the president’s office, Zelensky completely ignored public opposition and signed the bill into law anyway. According to Ukrainian media outlets such as the Kyiv Post, Zaluzhny, who maintains extremely close ties to the US military, is widely viewed as a potential rival to Zelensky in the upcoming 2024 presidential elections. A Zelensky veto of the measure could have potentially undermined his own support within the Ukrainian military and the US government. The law is clearly intended to bolster the Ukrainian military command’s control over its troops as it is nearing a “very active phase of the war” with “intense operations” expected at the front in February and March, according to the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense. Speaking to the Freedom channel, Andrii Yusov, representative of the Chief Intelligence Directorate, revealed that the Ukrainian military foresaw “a difficult situation” developing at the front due to a Russian offensive and is counting on further weapons shipments from the West as the war escalates in the coming months. Yusov’s comments essentially suggest that thousands or more Ukrainian and Russian soldiers will lose their lives in an imperialist-backed war with no peaceful resolution in sight. While both Ukrainian and Western officials have attempted to hide the scale of death within the military, Ukrainian casualties likely equal or exceed Russian losses. In November, US General Mark Milley nonchalantly revealed that 100k Ukrainian soldiers had been killed or wounded in just eight months of fighting while speaking at the Economic Club of New York City. Milley said:

You are looking at well over 100k Russian soldiers killed and wounded. Same thing probably on the Ukrainian side.

Milley speaks regularly with his Ukrainian counterpart Zaluzhny and is well aware of the mass casualties taking place on the battlefield as the US government continues to escalate its direct involvement in the war. More recently, Der Spiegel reported that Germany’s foreign intelligence had informed members of the Bundestag that “three-digit number of soldiers” per day while fighting Russian soldiers around Bakhmut. The drive to crack down on evaders is also taking place as videos of the forced mobilization of Ukrainian men have spread on social media. In one video (above), a man is shown being grabbed in an apartment by two men dressed in military clothing, while a small child intervenes. While such videos are denounced by the Ukrainian government as “fakes,” they correspond with reports of haphazard and arbitrary forced mobilization over the previous summer and fall. Such reports were even taken up by the NYT, which admitted at the time:

Recruiters approach young men on the street, but the standards are not always clear, and there are reports of unwilling men being signed up while some eager to fight are turned away.

Approximately 2,500 cases of draft dodging have been opened so far in Ukraine during the war with 400 indictments.

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