A View from Europe: Peacenik Extremists and Liberal Warmongers in the New Wave of NATO Expansion

Simon Turner  –  Apr 5, 2023

We are one year on from the projected Ukraine-Russia peace deal.

Ukraine was to have become a neutral state, one unable to own nuclear weapons, with internationally guaranteed independence. It would have rolled back the Russian advance to February 23, for the loss of Russian Crimea and part of Donbas, which the Ukraine government had anyway bombed for years, killing thousands.

So, were a hundred thousand lives saved? No. Like a role-play US envoy, on April 9 Boris Johnson appeared on the scene and “urged” Ukraine not to negotiate because its Western backers were not ready for a deal.

As the US Democratic Party’s Adam Schiff said before the war, “The United States aids Ukraine and her people so that they can fight Russia over there, and we don’t have to fight Russia here.”

Reiterating this last summer, the Republican Party’s Lindsey Graham stated: “I like the structural path we’re on here. As long as we help Ukraine with the weapons they need and the economic support, they will fight to the last person.”

But in the real world, beyond the confident cabal of warmongering elites, it’s frightening.

“There is one circumstance that everyone should be clear about,” said Vladimir Putin on February 21, 2023: “The longer the range of the Western systems that will be supplied to Ukraine, the further we will have to move the threat away from our borders. This is obvious.”

Yesterday, Finland became the 31st member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). While the Russian border with Ukraine is over 500 miles from Moscow, the border with Finland is just 250 miles from Saint Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city.

“Are we deploying missiles near the US border?” Putin had said, on December 23, 2021, two months before the invasion, “No, we are not. It is the US that has come to our home with its missiles and is already standing at our doorstep. Is it going too far to demand that no strike systems be placed near our home? What is so unusual about this?”

Two European conservatives, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey, and Prime Minister Victor Orbán of Hungary were the last to move aside and allow Finland to step up to the firing line.

In February, Orbán stated his position, saying, “We are not supporting anybody, because there can be no winner in this war.” Russia cannot win, because “the whole Western world is behind Ukraine,” he said, and “Russia is a nuclear power and cannot be cornered because that could trigger a nuclear war.”

Other sections of European conservatism have seen the Russia-Ukraine war for what it is even more clearly.

In the Netherlands, Thierry Baudet, leader of the Forum for Democracy, (FvD), said at the February 21 55th session of the Dutch House of Representatives:

Since 2007, Putin has been calling on the West to abandon the ‘Cold War’ attitude and cooperate in a normal, equal way. NATO’s response followed in 2008 when it declared in Bucharest that Ukraine would join NATO.

In 2011, NATO then launched an offensive war against Libya, and not long after that, firing began in Syria. In 2014, the United States staged a coup in Kyiv. It effectively controlled Ukraine from then on.

Bombing of Russia’s Donbas region began with cluster munitions… A drinking water blockade against Crimea began. Russia asked for security guarantees one last time, at the end of 2021. America responded by repeating that Ukraine would join NATO and launching a major military exercise.

Putin then decided to attack first because he believed he had no other choice. So, it was an expressly defensive move by Russia. The whole idea that it was an unprovoked attack, and that Russia wants to advance and conquer all of Europe, is completely absurd and should be relegated to the realm of fables.

Ukraine is being sacrificed on the chopping block of NATO expansionism and US aggression. I say this with sincere empathy for the more than 150,000 Ukrainian victims, and I also say this to the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, who is here.

Break away from the yoke of NATO and the State Department in Washington. They are not your friend. Put the interest of your Ukrainian people first. Make peace with Russia. It can be done today. And leave all these warmongers here behind.

The left’s Irish Members of the European Parliament, Mick Wallace and Clare Daly, could not have put it better or as straight. Baudet is, however, a declining force in Dutch politics.

Populism in the Netherlands has swung from Euroscepticism to greater opposition to tackling the Netherlands’ oversized part in climate change. The FvD was the biggest loser in last month’s Dutch provincial elections.

As for the several Dutch parties that are center left to left-wing, you would presume that they ought to have less in common with a (any) US government than the right. They must surely be aware of the fate of politics like theirs in the face of US subversion in countless countries.

As Brian Becker, the anti-war organizer and a founder of the US Party for Socialism and Liberation, said about comprehending the Russia-Ukraine war, “The question is how did we get here.”

But where comprehension should be, and having had a further year to find out, there is a void in the Dutch left:

“It is bizarre to see Putin blatantly blaming others for this war this afternoon.” (SP – The Socialist Party)

“From Fantasia, he blames his own aggression on the victim and on those who want to come to the rescue.” (GroenLinks – Green Left)

“Dutch support for Ukraine is also about protecting our democratic values” (PvdD – Party for the Animals)

“Crucial that promised military resources are actually delivered.” (PvdA – The Labour Party)

“Moscow’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.” (DENK – Think)

The Dutch left may be dead, but its anti-imperialist representation in the provincial elections is definitely absent, even now.

Only the tiny, intersectional BIJ1 on the left has even called out US responsibility for the Nord Stream pipeline explosions. BIJ1 didn’t take part in the elections.

The main Dutch left parties are no more informed than the average man or woman in the street saturated in Western propaganda. Take the New York Times’ outlandish theory on the Nord Stream pipelines’ sabotage, for instance, as a case study.

In Germany, however, where the energy companies Wintershall Dea AG and PEGE/I.ON hold a total 31% stake in Nord Stream, the far right, and leftwing parties, Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) and Die Linke (the left), both quickly laid the blame for the attack at the door of the US.

The AfD co-chairman Tino Chrupalla told the Bundestag chamber that the question was whether “NATO’s leading power has carried out an attack on our country’s vital critical infrastructure in European waters.” Chrupalla continued that if this was indeed the case, then “one would have to question whether the alliance guarantees security in Europe or rather endangers it.”

The context to answer these questions was provided by Vladimir Putin in his assessment of Russia’s problem described in his December 23, 2021, annual news conference: “Take the 1990s, for example. The Soviet Union did everything to build normal relations with the West and the United States … They should have treated Russia as a potential ally and made it stronger, but it all went in the opposite direction; they wanted to break it down even further.”

What Mr. Putin may not have considered was that there could be nothing Russia could fix about itself if it were Germany, and German agency, which was the imperialist US’ problem.

Treating Russia as a “potential ally” and agreeing to the Russian request to join NATO would not have allowed US business interests to maintain the required oppositional relationship between Europe, led by Germany, its strongest economy, and Russia.

For the US, it wasn’t enough to break up the USSR and plunder the Russian economy. That impacted only Russia, not Germany, which would, if not itself impacted, naturally gravitate to its near neighbor, taking its business with it and leading the way.

The aforementioned “agency” was personified, immediately, the day after the invasion, at least, in the form of Germany’s prominent and popular Sahra Wagenknecht of Die Linke (the left party).

Addressing her social media following (682k Twitter subscribers, tens of thousands more than Chancellor Olaf Scholz or foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock), Wagenknecht said:

Now we must do everything we can to de-escalate and banish the threat of a world war. And of course, the question arises: How did it even come to this?

If a peace solution can only be achieved at the price of Ukraine’s permanent neutrality—well, for whom would that actually be a problem? What did the insane rearmament bring to Ukraine, which took part in seven NATO maneuvers last year alone and stationed up to 2,000 US soldiers on its territory?

Even if many are now calling for it, supplying even more weapons to Ukraine would only add fuel to the fire. This conflict cannot be solved militarily! A forced rearmament of the NATO countries, sanctions, and a new Cold War will not solve any problem, but only increase the danger of an even greater military escalation.

We must leave the path that can only end in the abyss.

Two days later, in the Bundestag on February 27, the co-leader of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), Tino Chrupalla, also spoke words of peace:

I much more agree with all speakers who support de-escalation and détente of words and deeds. And I myself call for restraint [moderation]. We all want peace in Germany and Europe. Therefore, valued colleagues, please gather all partners at the negotiation table. Exit the thought corridor of East-West conflict and sketch a common future for the European continent. For that, we must remain in dialogue.

Chrupalla queried whether “soon all Russian citizens in Germany [will] be held guilty by association? Ideology-driven cancel culture for freedom and democracy?… Whom then is it supposed to affect–Putin?”

Fellow AfD leader, Alice Weidel, stated that “the understanding of all origins is a prerequisite in the search for solutions”:

Countless opportunities…were neglected to negotiate a status of secured neutrality for the Ukraine which took into account the security interests of all and would have made possible that the Ukraine evolve from a dispute to a bridge between East and West.

The challenge of creating a European security architecture which overcomes the thinking of East-West blocs is not off the table, but it has become more difficult. Germany here can and should play an important role as an honest broker. The prerequisite is that we draw the correct consequences and again rebuild lost trust, sovereignty, and freedom of action, and not merely allow ourselves to be heedlessly drawn into a war.

At the same time, a minority in De Linke, led by Wagenknecht, denounced the actual government response:

The proposal signifies the uncritical acceptance of the policy pursued above all by the USA in recent years, which bears a significant share of the responsibility for the situation that has arisen… NATO’s eastward expansion is the most fatal mistake of American policy in the post-Cold War era.

We reject this general authorization for the federal government to de facto participate in the war in Ukraine with arms deliveries and sanctions affecting the population. Only compliance with international law by all and the resumption of diplomacy can bring about peace.

One year on, on February 25, as part of the protests on the anniversary of the invasion, Wagenknecht joined veteran feminist Alice Schwarzer in leading a rally of tens of thousands of people called the “Uprising for Peace,” around the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, saying:

It’s about making Russia an offer to negotiate rather than ammunitioning an endless war of attrition with more and more new weapons.

They pretend that this is solidarity with Ukraine. What kind of a lie is that? This is not solidarity. This is the exact opposite.  Because solidarity would be doing everything to stop the dying. Solidarity means saving lives, not destroying lives. Solidarity means working for peace and not for war. And for doing so, you don’t need tanks. It takes diplomacy, negotiation, and a willingness to compromise on both sides.

With every day that this war is prolonged. With every additional lethal missile that we deliver into this powder keg, the danger of a major war grows throughout Europe. And possibly throughout the world. We must put an end to this at all costs. We know that weapons kill and that tanks are for waging war… And that this war is not about noble values either. It’s about NATO and the scope of the American zone of influence.

Wegenknecht concluded her speech by proclaiming, “Today, we give the starting signal for a new, strong peace movement in Germany.”

The protest was in support of the Manifesto for Peace petition which had amassed well over half a million signatures by the time of the rally toward an end to weapons deliveries, and for peace negotiations.

It was also, likely, a show of support for Wagenknecht, Germany’s second-most popular politician according to an October Insa poll, up from sixth and displacing Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock, who dropped to fourth. Wagenknecht had called out “the stupidest government in Europe” the month before for starting an economic war with its main energy supplier.

However, Die Linke’s Berlin branch criticized Wagenknecht and Schwarzer’s peace demonstration in advance.

The leader in Berlin, Katina Schubert, even claimed that the anniversary rally “had nothing to do with left-wing politics, let alone left-wing peace politics” and that “the confusion of victim and perpetrator was a recurring theme in the speeches.”

Wagenknecht responded that the leadership’s criticism of the rally “speaks to the sad decline of the former peace party.” As in the Netherlands, the anti-war left has shrunk with war.

Sahra Wagenknecht has decided not to stand again for Die Linke.

The party is the Bundestag’s smallest, remaining only due to a clause in German law: “Grundmandatsklausel.” This was last month repealed in a measure that “seems to mean that the traffic light (the colors of the parties in coalition) wanted to significantly weaken two of its political opponents” a few weeks after Wagenknecht’s popularity found its anti-war direction, according to Christian Hesse.

Wagenknecht has already had learnings in mobilizing popular movements outside of political leaderships with her Aufstehen (Get Up), which quickly attracted 100,000 members in 2018. She explained, “We don’t want to keep observing, we want to change something.” A poll indicated about a third of voters could imagine voting for Aufstehen if it then became a political party.

Fast forward to November 2022, in a survey for Der Spiegel magazine by Civey on whether people could imagine voting for a new Wagenknecht party, 20% answered that they could “definitely,” and another 10% responded, “probably yes.” A quarter of center-right CDU/CSU voters could also imagine voting for such a party.

In eastern Germany, the home of the AfD, 49% were open to the prospect of a Wagenknecht party, and among the left and the AfD nationwide, figures as high as 67% and 68%, respectively.

The following month, she appeared on the cover page of the monthly Compact magazine, a self-declared representative of the AfD, beside the banner, “The Best Chancellor—a candidate for left and right.”

“Her name is on everyone’s lips: one of the most sought-after guests on talk shows, a stir in her own party, a permanent topic in kitchens and at parties. In the chic style of Coco Chanel, traditionally in a suit and heels, she is also popular with those who wear a baggy look or overalls. We are talking about Sahra Wagenknecht, who is preparing to storm to the top.”

So goes the appreciative blurb to the offer of the back issue, but Wagenknecht’s potential, and potential as the leader of a powerful anti-war movement of true German agency, is clearly real.

Caution, though, marks her approach to founding a new party as she says, “The expectation that one could—even if one had decided—just launch such a party, from one week to the next, that would be doomed to failure.” But beyond party structures, three-quarters of a million signatories of the Manifesto for Peace are behind her lead to avoid the descent into the devastation of a wider war.

In the present, as AfD MP Petr Bystron says, “[We are] the strongest peace party… It’s not a coincidence that one day after our unveiling of the peace initiative we jumped over the Greens, who are the number one war party.”

The AfD initiative proposed that Russia should roll back its advance and Ukraine should have an EU partnership rather than EU or NATO membership. “In addition, no nuclear weapons should be stored, missiles or foreign troops should be stationed on the territory of Ukraine.”

AfD supporters continue to be ready for the anti-war message as the most opposed, at 84%, to Germany sending battle tanks to Ukraine according to the January Deutschlandtrend poll conducted by public broadcaster ARD.

Supporters on the populist right in Germany haven’t been swayed elsewhere, onto other topics, as happened in the Netherlands.

Last week, however, the AfD, too, struck a note of caution in a position paper designed to protect the party from criticism.

The AfD position, it defined, should not be “an uncritical acceptance of Russian positions,” but rather “a differentiated assessment based on German interests.” “Clumsy anti-American reflexes” would also not be supported. Further, the AfD were no “allies of left-wing pacifists” despite “demanding diplomacy instead of arms deliveries.”

By far more cautious than Sahra Wagenknecht and her wing of Die Linke, or the AfD, though, is the man who stood quietly by as the president of a foreign country stated he could “end” the national infrastructure supplying the foundation of Germany’s success.

This is “a Chancellor who, while always hesitating at first and promoting prudence and caution, nevertheless regularly buckles before the warhawks in his coalition, and crosses one red line after the next,” said Wagenknecht. “No, Mr. Scholz, we don’t feel represented by you. We don’t want Germany to be dragged further and further into this war until the war eventually arrives here.”


Simon Turner is a Netherlands-based political analyst, focusing on imperialism. He is a regular contributor to Popular Resistance and can be reached on Twitter @pressburgerpowe.

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