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Letter from a Reader on the War in Ukraine: Big Bangs, Red Lines, “MAD”... and Wrenching a Better Future for Humanity from the Horrors of Imperialism

U.S. Patriot weapons system being fired.


Both sides in the war in Ukraine—the U.S./NATO side, and their Russian opponents—have been working feverishly to prepare for possible major battles and offensives this spring.   

Dear Revolution:  

We can no longer afford to allow these imperialists to dominate the world and to determine the destiny of humanity. They need to be overthrown as quickly as possible.

Bob Avakian, The Bob Avakian Interviews

For the past year, numerous articles and polemics on the Revolution site, especially those by Bob Avakian, have provided unique and invaluable analysis and approach towards understanding the nature of the war in Ukraine. That war began when Russia invaded Ukraine, but quickly became a proxy war between rival imperialist powers—Russia on one side, and the U.S. and NATO on the other. The Ukrainian people, who have been used as cannon fodder by U.S. and West European imperialists, have suffered horribly in this war. I strongly encourage readers to go to Revolution’s Ukraine Resource Page,” which contains Bob Avakian’s articles and video clips from his speeches and interviews, as well as further analysis of the origins and developments in the Ukraine war over the past eleven months, and study and distribute these articles and videos. Below are some thoughts on the situation confronting all of us reading this—and for that matter, all humanity.

March 5, 2022, Ukraine: People cross path under a bridge destroyed by Russian airstrike.


People cross under a bridge destroyed by a Russian airstrike, fleeing the town of Irpin, Ukraine, Saturday, March 5, 2022.     Photo: AP/Vadim Ghirda

Ukrainians destroyed a hospital in Donbas with U.S.-made HIMARS rockets, January 28, 2023.


Ukrainian forces destroyed a hospital in Donbas with U.S.-made HIMARS rockets, January 28, 2023.    Photo: Sputnik news

Big Battles Looming

Russian and Ukrainian forces have been locked in a brutal stalemate for several months. Over the course of the war, tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of people have died, many more have been made refugees, and still more have been maimed, raped and traumatized in other ways. This has been a meat grinder into which human beings have been fed. And through it all, the danger of nuclear war has grown—to such an extent that the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has set its Doomsday Clock the closest ever to midnight.1

Biden-Putin_Doomsday clock at a few minutes before midnight.


The Doomsday Clock was set at 90 seconds to midnight on January 24, 2023. According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, this was done “largely (though not exclusively) because of the mounting dangers of the war in Ukraine." This is the closest to forecasting global catastrophe it has ever been.   

Right now, it seems that both sides are preparing for major offensives in the weeks ahead to break that stalemate. Reports indicate that Russia is sending hundreds of thousands more troops to Ukraine’s east, and that a Russian offensive is “imminent.” As I write this, Russia has begun massive” missile and drone assaults on the east and south of Ukraine, supposedly in preparation of that offensive. Ukraine has been receiving and preparing large-scale infusions of modern tanks and other weaponry from the U.S. and NATO. Many of its soldiers and officers are undergoing intensive training in the U.S., England, and Germany.2 And at this point, the U.S. is supplying Ukraine with intelligence, targeting information, strategic training and direction to such an extent that this is more than ever a proxy war between the U.S./NATO on one side, and Russia on the other.

In short, Russia is determined to solidify and extend its grip on southern and eastern portions of Ukraine that Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, and the Russian leadership generally consider rightfully theirs. Ukraine—again, backed and at this point acting as a proxy for the U.S.-NATO—is determined to prevent that, and to retake all of those territories from Russia. Neither side thinks it can afford to lose. Both are armed to the teeth.

A Nightmare Scenario

It is important to understand what is at stake if this war escalates—not just for the antagonists, but for humanity; not just in the distant future, but in the coming weeks and months. I think we are possibly entering the nightmare scenario described in an article by Bob Avakian last April, and still highly relevant and timely:

If Neither Side Backs Down—What Then?!

If neither side in this conflict between imperialists is likely to back down and accept defeat, what will this mean—and, specifically, what would it mean if in fact the U.S./NATO were to become directly involved in warfare with Russia, and if this were to result in Russia suffering serious setbacks? Would Putin/the Russian imperialists simply say, “Okay, you win, we give up, we will turn tail and retreat in defeat back to Russia?” Does any serious, thinking person really believe that is at all likely?! No, in that situation the far, far more likely response of Putin/the Russian imperialists would be to escalate the war, very possibly by using nuclear weapons, most likely not (at first) the most powerful nuclear bombs, but “tactical nuclear weapons,” which they might use not only in Ukraine but also in the territory of NATO countries that had become involved in the war (possibly including not only countries close to Ukraine but countries in western Europe as well, such as France, Germany and the UK).

And, on the other hand, what if—contrary to the expectations of American chauvinists—it turned out that, in direct warfare with Russia (and with Russia then committing much more of its forces to this conflict) the U.S./NATO did not do so well, and they were at least frustrated in their attempts to deliver some kind of decisive defeat to the Russian forces, or were even suffering serious setbacks themselves? Would the imperialist rulers of this country—which is the only country that has actually used nuclear weapons, and has never acknowledged that it was wrong to do so—would they simply admit that they had failed to defeat Russia and accept a resolution that reflected that? Does anyone really think that would be likely?!

No, the “dynamics” of direct war between the U.S./NATO and Russia would very likely lead to a process of continuing escalation, with neither side willing—or really able—to back down when faced with the prospect of some kind of defeat in this war.

Palmcard Front - BA Interview (Color)





For more from Bob Avakian on the war in Ukraine and for other key articles from see The War in Ukraine: A Resource Page >>

A “Big Bang”

Revolution recently analyzed, and Lenny Wolff and Andy Zee addressed on The Revolution, Nothing Less! Show, how for the first ten months of the war in Ukraine the U.S. orchestrated its support for Ukraine and its (indirect) participation in the war as a series of calculated risks. The U.S. has steadily escalated the war, and repeatedly crossed and erased supposed “red lines,” getting into ever more dangerous realms of conflict. At each step, the level of violence has grown.  

Each step taken by one side faces an uncertain response by the other side. At each step the entire situation becomes more unpredictable. Far from bringing stability to the conflict, this approach of incremental escalation makes the entire situation more dangerous. It makes the likelihood of direct fighting between U.S./NATO and Russian forces more likely. It is like walking across an open minefield, knowing full well that each step could bring disaster, but unable to turn back.

Dangerous Escalation in Ukraine— A conversation between Andy Zee & Lenny Wolff, from The RNL—Revolution, Nothing Less!—Show

The End of “Incrementalism”?

Now, a year after the war began, significant and influential voices in and around the Biden administration, as well as a few non-Trump Republicans, are arguing that “incrementalism” in the Ukraine war is against the U.S.’s best interests. They say it needs to change dramatically, and it needs to change now.

Ross Douthat, a “conservative” but non-Trump columnist for the New York Times wrote, “… A long war leaves America ill-equipped to pivot, not just to face a Chinese threat but against whatever other surprises the 21st century might yet have in store.” Douthat does not specifically call for massive escalation now, but he does lay out the “fix” that the U.S. will get itself in if it “allows” the war to become too protracted.

Others argue that a prolonged war in Ukraine will heighten divisions within and between the U.S. and many of the NATO countries. They say it will be enormously expensive, and some warn it will further devastate the economies of poorer countries (i.e., countries oppressed by imperialism), further destabilizing the capitalist-imperialist system. And yes, some mention, it will result in a lot more deaths, and may give rise to anti-war outpourings.

Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, and former senior advisor to Barack Obama, wrote in the journal Foreign Affairs that the U.S. needs to lead in providing much more “advanced weapons, more sanctions against Russia, and more economic aid to Ukraine. It needs to be provided swiftly, so that Ukraine can win decisively this year.… The dangers (to the U.S. and NATO) of incrementalism grow over time.” He calls for designating Russia a “terrorist nation” and “tightening a vise around Russia” with a range of embargos, sanctions, penalties on companies that do business with Russia, and other measures that even punish “family members of everyone who fits in these categories.”

And he says all this should be announced on February 24, the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, to maximize its impact. His proposal is aimed at bringing Russia to its knees. He calls this a “Big Bang.”

Cold-Blooded Calculations and Assured Destruction

McFaul recognizes that his plan would leave a defeated Russia “only with the nuclear option.” He makes the delusional argument that Putin is unlikely to use nukes because, McFaul says, “Everyone agrees that a nuclear attack against the United States or other NATO countries is off the table because mutual assured destruction is still in place.” “Mutually Assured Destruction”—MAD—is the demented theory of some imperialist nuclear strategists that the way to deter the use of nuclear weapons is for nuclear-armed opponents to have enough weapons to assure the obliteration of their rivals—thus ensuring the destruction of both countries (and much of what remains of life on this planet). What McFaul does NOT mention is that many strategists consider MAD out of date and believe that the use of “tactical” (smaller-scale but still incredibly deadly) nuclear weapons can be used without escalation.

The Deadly Logic of an Outmoded Economic and Political System

What Revolution wrote last week about the U.S. contention with China applies equally to the conflict with Russia: Biden and other NATO leaders are moving this way not because they are particularly bloodthirsty as individuals, but because the economic/political system they serve and represent—capitalism-imperialism—requires it. That system answers to one law: expand or die. And it is that law which is now driving forward the war in Ukraine.

Look at this from the perspective of humanity. It is intolerable.

Biden Administration Considering Yet Other Insane “Scenarios”

Locator map of Ukraine


Other scenarios which could trigger the use of nuclear weapons are being discussed and debated within the Biden administration and among the U.S. military leadership. Many of them center around Crimea, a peninsula on the northern Black Sea. Russia seized it from Ukraine in 2014, but Crimea (which has a long and complex history beyond the scope of this letter) is home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, as well as a large population of Russians. Both Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, and Russia’s Putin insist that they will accept nothing less than their country’s control of Crimea.

For the first year of this war the Biden administration held a “hard line” against providing Ukraine with weapons it could use to attack Russian forces in Crimea. But that, too, is changing. Much of the recent influx of advanced weapons to Ukraine provide it with an enhanced ability to attack on and around Crimea. Right now, U.S. and British military leaders are meeting with their Ukrainian counterparts to plan an offensive using those weapons. Evelyn Farkas, who was a top Pentagon official in the Obama administration, said, “without Crimea, the whole thing [i.e., the Russian war effort] falls apart.” Philip Breedlove, a retired four-star Air Force general who was NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe when Russia invaded Crimea in 2014, said that allowing Russia “… sanctuary (in Crimea) from which to fight, without fear of reproach, is absolutely absurd. It makes no military sense.”

The planning and debating with the U.S. and NATO leadership about whether and how to attack Russian forces on Crimea hinges on one big gamble. As James Acton, co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote, the Biden administration thinks that the risk of nuclear war developing out of a U.S./NATO led Ukrainian assault on Crimea has “dimmed.” Acton, who actually applauds Biden’s handling of the war so far, thinks such a further U.S. escalation would be “a catastrophic mistake.” Yet this is now being actively considered and fought for by some of these decision-makers.

Think about the insanely cold-blooded logic behind these “rationales” for mass slaughter. Monstrous creations of imperialism like Breedlove and McFaul are willing to “gamble” (with the lives of tens of millions of people!) that the escalations they are calling for won’t enter the realm of “mutual destruction.”

What will happen if these escalations and major offensives are carried through in the coming weeks and months? What impact will that have on the world? This would truly be something terrible of an unpredictable magnitude—possibly civilization-ending. 

And yet, there is another possibility. Such developments would also deliver a major shock to people everywhere, even in this country. A shock of that magnitude can be part of contributing to the kind of situation Bob Avakian talks about in his crucially important document “SOMETHING TERRIBLE, OR SOMETHING TRULY EMANCIPATING: Profound Crisis, Deepening Divisions, The Looming Possibility Of Civil War—And The Revolution That Is Urgently Needed, A Necessary Foundation, A Basic Roadmap For This Revolution” when he says:

And as “the normal way” society has been ruled is failing to hold things together—and society is increasingly being ripped apart—this can shake people’s belief that “the way things have always been” is the only way things can be. It can make people more open to questioning—in a real sense it can force people to question—the way things have been, and whether they have to stay that way. And this is all the more likely to happen if the revolutionary forces are out among the people shining a light on the deeper reality of what is happening, and why, and bringing out that there IS an alternative to living this way.

I end this letter calling on readers to ponder that last phrase: “if the revolutionary forces are out among the people shining a light on the deeper reality of what is happening, and why, and bringing out that there IS an alternative to living this way.”



1. The Doomsday Clock was created in 1947 (two years after the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki), “using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the planet.” The clock was set to 90 seconds to midnight on January 2023. According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, this was done “largely (though not exclusively) because of the mounting dangers of the war in Ukraine. The Clock now stands at 90 seconds to midnight—the closest to global catastrophe it has ever been.” [back]

2. See recent Revolution articles here and here. [back]

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