On February 24, 2022, Russian armed forces crossed the Ukrainian border and launched a Special Military Operation (SMO) to, as Vladimir Putin put it, ‘de-Nazify’ and ‘demilitarize’ Ukraine. The already eight-year-long Russia-Ukraine conflict had escalated into a full-fledged war. A year later, the war is still raging, millions have been displaced, and hundreds of thousands are dead. As Ukraine gears up for another round of mobilization and awaits new shipments of strategic arms from the West, rumors of a massive Russian ‘spring’ offensive and an Ukrainian counter offensive are in the air, making chances for a negotiated peace settlement even more unlikely.
At the start of the war, large sections of the people across Europe had vociferously rallied against Russia, supporting the sending of arms to Ukraine, and harsh sanctions against Russia.
However, the impact was felt in a matter of days. Due to the sanctions on Russian energy imports and profiteering by multinationals, energy prices skyrocketed across Europe, provoking an acute cost of living crisis. Amid soaring inflation and facing a fuel-strapped winter, working people have began to call on their political leadership to immediately start negotiations with Russia to end the war in Ukraine. However, many European leaders have remained insensitive to people’s demands, and, instead, have resorted to increasing military spending and providing shipment of arms and ammunition to Ukraine, thereby escalating and prolonging the conflict.
The leadership of the European Union (EU) has failed miserably in de-escalating the conflict and mitigating the crisis. It now seems clear that the EU has become completely subservient to the influence of the United States and its imperialist policies enacted through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Europe.
NATO has been preparing the ground for expanding its sphere of influence up to the vast borders of its arch enemy, Russia, by getting access to more bases in Europe and conducting joint military exercises in the region. Communists and peace groups in Norway, Germany, and Luxembourg have long warned about the possible impacts of NATO’s military maneuvers, such as the Trident Juncture 2018 and Exercise DEFENDER-Europe 20.
Many in the global anti-war movement believe that NATO’s actions, not Russia’s, actually sparked the war in Ukraine. NATO is de-facto led by the United States, which for decades have ignored Russia’s security concerns by using NATO to build bases and recruit member nations closer and closer to Russia’s borders—despite promising to not spread “an inch” of NATO jurisdiction eastward. Most recently, the US has ignored Russia’s security concerns by sending weapons to Ukraine and courting the nation as a potential NATO member, which some argue triggered the outbreak of war.
NATO conducted three major military exercises in Europe last year alone—Neptune Strike 22.2 in the Mediterranean, Cold Response 2022 in Norway, and Iron Spear in Latvia—while a deadly war was raging in Ukraine.
In May 2022, Sweden and Finland formally submitted a joint request to join NATO, reversing their longstanding policy of neutrality. Communists in both countries intensified their campaigns protesting this decision to join NATO, arguing that it will endanger peace and stability in the region, which has been undergoing rapid militarization. Leftists in Norway are protesting the militarization of the country, which has become an important host and party to NATO-US military exercises in the Scandinavian region.
Working class against the war
Protests were staged outside the 2023 Munich Security Conference on February 18 which was widely criticized for not supporting a negotiated settlement to end the war in Ukraine and instead encouraging further military escalation under the leadership of NATO members.
Another major anti-NATO protest took place last year ahead of the NATO 2022 Summit in Madrid. In June 2022, anti-war and anti-imperialist groups in Spain and across Europe gathered in Madrid to protest the three-day conference attended by the heads of state of NATO member countries. The organizers of the protests also held a two-day peace summit in Madrid over June 24 and 25, at the conclusion of which a joint declaration was issued asserting that “NATO is a serious threat to world peace, having left a trail of destruction from Yugoslavia to Afghanistan.”
Working class organizations in Greece have also consistently mobilized against the transfer of arms and ammunition to Ukraine via Greek territory. On multiple occasions, they have protested at railway yards and ports across the country against the transport of tanks destined for Ukraine and the docking of NATO warships. Turkey also witnessed protests by communists demanding the closure of NATO bases in the country. Progressives in Cyprus have protested the cost of living crisis and denounced the intimidating presence of NATO in the Mediterranean, which has also derailed the Cyprus peace process.
In Italy, unionists from USB and the members of communist parties and youth groups, including Potere al Popolo, have been protesting the use of Italian airstrips and ports for transferring arms. The anti-base movement is campaigning against plans for a new military base in Coltano, and has demanded an end to NATO/US bases in the country. The Italian working class also continues to protest against attempts by the far-right government led by Giorgia Meloni to reinforce the war effort in Ukraine.
In Belgium, anti-imperialists forces like Intal Globalize Solidarity, the Workers’ Party of Belgium (PTB-PVDA), and the Communist Party of Belgium (PCB-CPB) have taken to the streets several times demanding that the government tackle the cost of living crisis and to denounce the war in Ukraine. They have also protested the Belgian federal government’s decision in February last year to allocate EUR 10.2 billion (USD 10.76 billion) in additional defense spending, anticipating the war. The Czech Peace Movement (CHM) and the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) have also organized protests along the same lines.
In Denmark, on February 5, working class sections organized a massive protest against the government’s decision to add an extra working day to the annual calendar to raise an extra 3 billion kroner (USD 0.43 billion) for the rearmament of the country.
In Berlin and several cities across Italy, anti-war and leftist groups organized major mobilizations on February 25, calling for peace. Tens of thousands participated in the mobilization in Berlin called for by Left party MP Sahra Wagenknecht, journalist Alice Schwarzer, and others demanding that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz take an active role in encouraging negotiations to end the war. In Italy, trade unionists, and leftist-communist parties, including Potere al Popolo and youth-student groups, took part in the mobilizations denouncing the war and called for ‘negotiations instead of escalation.’ Meanwhile, far-right forces are also trying their best to exploit the situation and people’s anger.