From lobbying for fighter jets to supplying depleted uranium, the U.K. is making sure escalation is the only way forward, writes Jonathan Cook.
By Jonathan Cook
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made an unexpected trip to Britain last week on a whistle-stop tour of European capitals, pleading for more powerful and longer-range weapons to use in his war against Russia.
What was hard to ignore once again was the extent to which the U.K. is playing an outsize role in Ukraine.
Last year, shortly after the start of the war, the then-prime minister, Boris Johnson, hurried to Kiev — presumably on Washington’s instructions — apparently to warn Zelensky off fledgling peace talks with Moscow.
At around the same time, the Biden administration made clear it favoured an escalation in fighting, not an end to it, as an opportunity to “weaken” Russia, a geo-strategic rival along with China.
Since then, the U.K. has been at the forefront of European efforts to entrench the conflict, helping to lobby for the supply of weapons, training and military intelligence to Ukrainian forces.
British tanks and thousands of tank shells — including, controversially, some made from depleted uranium — are being shipped out. Last week, the U.K. added hundreds of long-range attack drones to the inventory.
And an unspecified number of £2 million-a-blast Storm Shadow cruise missiles, with a range of nearly 300km, have started arriving. Last week Ben Wallace, Britain’s defence secretary, said the missiles were already in use, adding that Kiev alone was deciding on the targets.
Storm Shadow allows the Ukrainian military to strike deep into Russian-annexed parts of Ukraine – and potentially at Russian cities too.
A recent leak revealed that the Pentagon had learnt through electronic eavesdropping of Zelensky’s eagerness for longer-range missiles so that his forces were “capable of reaching Russian troop deployments in Russia.”
Britain now pays little more than lip service to the West’s claim that its role is only to help Ukraine defend itself from Russian aggression. The supply of increasingly offensive weapons has turned Ukraine into what amounts to a proxy battleground on which the Cold War can be revived.
During Zelensky’s visit to the U.K. last week, Johnson’s successor, Rishi Sunak, effectively acted as an arms broker for Ukraine, joining with the Netherlands in what was grandly dubbed an “international coalition” to pressure the Biden administration and other European states to supply Kiev with F-16 fighter jets.
Washington appeared not to need much cajoling. Three days later, Biden dramatically changed tack at a G7 summit in Japan. He effectively gave a green light for U.S. allies to supply Ukraine not only with U.S.-made F-16s but similar fourth-generation fighter jets, including Britain’s Eurofighter Typhoon and France’s Mirage 2000.
Administration officials surprised European leaders by suggesting the U.S. would be directly involved in the training of pilots outside Ukraine.
After a highly staged “surprise” visit by Zelensky to the summit at the weekend, Biden said he had been given a “flat reassurance” that the jets would not attack Russian territory.
British officials, meanwhile, indicated that the U.K. would start training Ukrainian pilots within weeks.
‘Rightful Place is in NATO’
The government has made clear that Sunak’s purpose is to build “a new Ukrainian air force with NATO-standard F-16 jets” and that the prime minister believes “Ukraine’s rightful place is in NATO.”
These statements seem intended once again to block any potential path towards peace. President Vladimir Putin repeatedly spoke out against NATO’s growing, covert involvement in neighbouring Ukraine before Russia launched its invasion 15 months ago.
[Related: The War in Ukraine Was Provoked]
It is hard to imagine that the U.K. is heading off-script. More likely, the Biden administration is using Britain to make the running and soften up Western publics as NATO becomes ever more deeply immersed in the military activities of Russia’s neighbour.
Ukraine is being gradually turned into the very NATO forward base that first set Moscow on course to invade.
At the same time, Britain appears to be exploiting the Ukraine war as a showcase for its weaponry. After the U.S., it has been the largest supplier of military equipment to Ukraine.
This week it was reported that U.K. arms exports hit a record £8.5 billion, more than double last year’s total. The last time Britain was so successful at selling weapons was in 2015, at the height of the Syrian war.
Risk to Health
Europe’s weapons largesse is, we are told, the precondition for Ukraine to mount a long-awaited counter-offensive to take back territory Russia has seized in the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine.
Speaking candidly in Florence this month, Josep Borrell, the European Union’s top diplomat, ruled out peace talks. Ukraine needed massive supplies of arms because otherwise “Ukraine will fall in a matter of days,” he said.
Borrell’s warning not only suggested the precariousness of Ukraine’s situation but implied that, out of desperation, its leaders might be prepared to approve ever riskier combat scenarios.
And thanks to British meddling, the heavy toll of casualties as the war rages on — among the Ukrainian population and Russian soldiers, as well as potentially inside Russia’s borders too — may be felt not just over the coming months but for decades.
In March, Declassified broke the story that some of the thousands of tank shells Britain is supplying to Kiev are made of depleted uranium (DU), a radioactive heavy metal produced as waste from nuclear power plants.
Keir Starmer’s opposition Labour Party has said it “fully supports” the U.K. government’s supply of these armour-piercing shells to Ukraine, despite the long-term risk they pose to those exposed to the chemically toxic contamination left behind.
DU shells fragment and burn when they hit a target. One analyst, Doug Weir, from the Conflict and Environment Observatory, told Declassified that the ammunition produces “chemically toxic and radioactive DU particulate [microscopic particles] that poses an inhalational risk to people.”
Nonetheless, British ministers insist the threat to human health is low – and worth the risk given the military gains in helping Ukraine to destroy Russian tanks.
As Declassified has highlighted, however, a growing body of evidence following the use of such shells by the U.S. in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s and by Britain and the U.S. in Iraq a decade later undermines these reassurances.
Italian courts have upheld compensation claims against the country’s military in more than 300 cases where Italians who served in the police or as soldiers in Bosnia and Kosovo have died of cancer after being exposed to DU.
Many thousands more Italian former service-people are reported to have developed cancers.
In 2001 Tony Blair’s government downplayed the role of DU in Italy’s deaths to avoid upsetting the new administration of George W. Bush. Both leaders would soon approve the use of DU rounds in Iraq, though the U.K. admitted a “moral obligation” to help clean up some of the contamination afterwards.
The West has taken little interest in researching the effects of DU weapons in Iraq, even though local civilian populations have been the most exposed to its contamination. DU shells were used extensively during both the 1991 Gulf war and more than a decade later during the U.S. and British-led occupation of Iraq.
Nonetheless, Iraqi government statistics suggest the rates of cancers leapt 40-fold between the period immediately before the Gulf war and 2005.
The city of Fallujah, which the U.S. devastated after the 2003 invasion, is reported to suffer “the highest rate of genetic damage in any population ever studied.” Birth defects are said to be roughly 14 times the rate in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki regions of Japan, where the U.S. dropped atomic bombs.
In 2018 the British government reclassified a 1981 report into the dangers of DU weapons by the Ministry of Defence’s Atomic Weapons Research Establishment it had made available three years earlier.
Meanwhile, James Heappey, the armed forces minister, has misleadingly suggested that international bodies such as the World Health Organisation and the United Nations have found no long-term health or environmental hazards associated with DU weapons.
But as Weir told Declassified in March: “None of the entities cited by the MoD has undertaken long-term environmental or health studies in conflict areas where DU weapons have been used.”
In other words, they simply don’t know — and possibly don’t care to find out.
Weir added that the WHO, U.N. and International Atomic Energy Agency had all called for contaminated areas to be clearly marked and access restricted, while at the same time recommending that risk awareness campaigns be targeted at nearby communities.
British officials have also recruited the Royal Society to their efforts to claim DU is safe— as the U.S. did earlier, in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, citing two of its reports published in 2001 and 2002.
However, the Royal Society has vocally distanced itself from such claims. A spokesperson told Declassified that, despite the British government’s assertions, DU was no longer an “active area of policy research.”
Back in 2003, the Royal Society rebuked Washington, telling The Guardian that soldiers and civilians in Iraq “were in short and long term danger. Children playing at contaminated sites were particularly at risk.”
At the same time, the chairman of the Royal Society’s working group on depleted uranium, Professor Brian Spratt, also warned that corroding shells could leach DU into water supplies. He recommended removing ordinance and conducting long-term sampling of water supplies.
By lobbying for more overtly offensive weapons and introducing DU shells into the war, Britain has raised the stakes in two incendiary ways.
First, it is driving the war’s logic towards ever greater escalation, including nuclear escalation.
Russia itself possesses DU weapons but is reported to have avoided using them. Moscow has long warned that it regards use of DU in Ukraine in nuclear terms: as the equivalent of a “dirty bomb.”
In March Putin responded to the U.K.’s decision to supply DU tank shells by vowing to move “tactical” nuclear weapons into neighbouring Belarus. Meanwhile, his defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, said it put the world “fewer and fewer” steps away from “nuclear collision”.
But Britain is also creating a situation where a catastrophic move, or miscalculation, by either Russia or Ukraine is becoming ever more likely, as events last week highlighted only too clearly.
Russia struck a military ammunition depot in western Ukraine, creating a giant fireball. Rumours suggested the site may have included British DU shells.
Whether this is true or not, it is a reminder that Moscow could hit such a storage site, intentionally or not, spreading contamination widely over a built-up area.
With Ukraine soon to be in possession of a full array of offensive weapons, largely courtesy of the U.K. — not only long-range drones, cruise missiles and tanks but fighter jets — it is not hard to imagine terrifying scenarios that could quickly bring Europe to the brink of nuclear conflict.
Moscow hits a DU ammunition depot, exposing a large civilian population to toxic contamination. Ukraine retaliates with air strikes deep inside Russia. The path to a nuclear exchange in Europe has never looked closer.
Those who warned that peace talks were urgently needed rather than an arms race in Ukraine are looking more prescient by the day. For how much longer can their voices continue to be silenced, not only by Western leaders but by the Western media too?
Jonathan Cook is an award-winning British journalist. He was based in Nazareth, Israel, for 20 years. He returned to the U.K. in 2021.He is the author of three books on the Israel-Palestine conflict: Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish State (2006), Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (2008) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair (2008). If you appreciate his articles, please consider offering your financial support.
This article is from Declassified U.K.
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.
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I suppose if one cannot feel or much think, there are no bounds to folly.
The strategy in the West appears to involve just escalating every time Ukraine falters, since they are in reality and in their perception and intent attacking Moscow, and not all so indirectly. I have had trouble working out how Russia resolves this without leveling Ukraine, to just eliminate the ongoing threat. But NATO’s regularly increased entry brings me to conclude that even that cannot be adequate, that at base Washington just wants its war on Russia and sees a graduated escalation as a way towards reduced risk.
We have these monsters in power. And, in the States, at least, we lack an electoral system by which to curb or replace them.
The rock and the hard place are coming together.
The belligerent hypocrites running Nato are not fooling anyone with their false narratives. These deceivers are most definitely not the saviors of civilisation nor guarantors of “freedom and democracy.” Rather they are an out of control mob hell bent on subduing Russia in every way possible and baldly stealing all the natural resources they tried once before to thieve from it during Yeltsin’s administration which was blessed upon Russia solely through illegal and immoral machinations of its political system by the United States and its European minions. (Yes, American election fraud in Russia, NOT the other way around!) This is a lynching, a gang rape of Russia and its people that the world has been observing for the past decade, replete with “sanctions” (extortion) upon “sanctions,” coup d’etat, “color revolution,” “hybrid war,” and now extreme kinetic war by proxy, not all of it directed exclusively at Russia but even at Russia’s sometime allies and trading partners, like Belarus, Serbia, Armenia, Kazakhstan and the biggest ball of wax anywhere on the planet, the People’s Republic of China.
Most of the world, outside of the American-led Anglosphere, most of obsequious Europe, Korea and Japan can see the truth of this and support or have actually signed on with Russia and China in their refusal to submit to American hegemony which methodically chokes the life out of the rest of the world simply to advantage every possible American interest–and I do not mean the interests of the American people but rather their exploitative oligarch overlords. Putin, absurdly likened to Hitler, was Russia’s last best hope who most impressively, almost miraculously, put a stop to the shameless plunder of his country by the West. The ingrates running America’s fight club have been hopping mad about that and, for the past decade have contrived every possible means and excuse to sabotage Russia and extract Putin from power. The American excuse for a president, Loco Joe Biden, has succinctly expressed these goals several times before the public. Biden has projected onto Putin and Russia every malefaction that he and his corrupt party of fascist neocon Democrats have contrived to hurl at Russia, and everyone knows this even though the American mass media will obfuscate the “big guy’s” embarrassing words, that is until they inevitably come to fruition through every subsequent escalation of the conflict. If the world is to be saved from full spectrum American aggression, to be followed inexorably by American repression, Russia and China must prevail in this latest great war of the greedy, grasping upper classes, with all the power that money can buy, against the hapless persecuted masses. This may well turn out to be a war to prevent the extermination of most of humanity all so the upper crust can have even more of everything.
Of course, this drive towards escalation is pure madness, but none of it would or could happen without approval from the United States.
“But as Weir told Declassified in March: “None of the entities cited by the MoD has undertaken long-term environmental or health studies in conflict areas where DU weapons have been used.””
That’s right. One of the oldest tricks in the book. Don’t study what you don’t want to know. Just rely on facile claims that enough people will be only too happy to swallow whole so as to smooth over the question at hand.
Lesson in Bunkum 101, if you don’t want to be held responsible, play dumb.
A pox of the three monkeys (see, hear, speak no evil) on all warmongers.
Last year in December I was passing the Millennium hotel in Gloucester Road, London. I could see through the windows a huge meeting of Bell Helictoper. Lots of suits, lots of military men, lots of smiles. It carried for a few days because I saw them again the next evening.
Bigger smiles on their faces.
The collective stupidity of the West is astonishing. Russia says no NATO expansion, the West says more NATO expansion! Then the West says that the war was unprovoked and sends more weapons. The West is going to force Russia to methodically dismantle Ukraine just to protect itself from NATO.
It would be interesting if you could provide an informed guesstimate as to how much of Oligarch Sunak’s vast wealth is invested in the arms manufacturers supplying the weaponry for Ukraine.
The problem is that the two most evil nations US and UK are ”safe” islands and far away from conflict areas. They can escalate and live in delusion that the violence will not reach them.
But it is in some perverse way comforting that they will burn in ww3 like everyone else.
Britain does seem to have a bigger love-fest with Nazi Ukraine than even the north Americans, but try as they might, everything they send to prolong the hostilities is quickly destroyed by Russia’s minimalist forces.. When do all of the generous western weapons donors expect to be paid, and will it be paid from the vast sums which it has gifted the notoriously corrupt Ukranians?
Jonathan thank you for this article. I think there to be no distinction between offensive and defensive weapons. It seems to me absurd. Weapons are precisely as the name indicates. You ask, with great clarity, how much longer can our voices continue to be silenced, not only by Western leaders but by the Western media too? Sadly, until far too late, perhaps posthumously. It may be wise to leave Europe for other locations. Regards. Mik
As a resident here I love the UK but despise it’s warmongering, troublemaking and perfidious political leaders. Almost every conflict in the world will have its origins linked to UKs or Americans grotty hands, with Ukraine being the latest. There will never be peace on earth with these demonic cretins trying to run the world.
NATO is a crime family. Nothing more.
The US is a gangster state run by demented and psychotic humans.
Imperialism will not go away until the world gets rid of the largest fascist nation in the world: the US.
The US cannot b changed from within.
There is no platform or base for what was the past.
The neoliberal mind has ransacked the attic of the mind with the use of Hollywood and corporate media.
These slovnely institutions work daily to assure the death of millions by US Empire.
No one knows how long the Empire can withstand its economic and political woes.
We do know that de-dollarization by the global south will do what organized workers did once upon a time in the US: blunt force trauma to the head.
The society is rampant with mental and physical illness.
It’s ready for the meat wagon and a quick trip to the morgue.
Meanwhile, as social media and corporate TV eat American’s mind they will soon see their hard fought for programs for ‘people’ not profit die.
Sad but true
Public radio and tv have led us down this path to destruction.
This PBS Newshour was made possible by:
JP Morgan Chase
The Oligarchy Foundation
and by gullible suckers like you, Thank You!
In this proxy fox, we’re prepared to fight to the last Ukrainian. Heaven help us/them.
How sad and silly humans are. They seem to believe that if they have a war—in a specific place, they can send poisonous items over there to ruin the local population. —-Don’t they realize that winds blow , waters run, and all kinds of things from food to medicines can be compromised along the way?
sigh—we poison the water and contaminate the land—–and yet, having some kind of a short term victory is more important to these wagers of war—-then having a clean and functioning planet. I wonder—–after contaminating everything—-how much longer do we the humans have before our insanity catches up with ALL of US on planet EARTH?
The top photo is of a bunch of war criminals, of all places, being photographed in Hiroshima, the first city annihilated by a nuclear bomb. They are set and capable to destroy the whole planet without losing one night of sleep. What monsters these people are.
Putin has made it clear that he will not tolerate missiles that could quickly hit Moscow. If Ukraine gets long range missiles, he will intrude much farther into Ukraine than originally planned. And Putin does not make idle threats.
I left the UK 40 years ago. I am ashamed at what subsequent governments have done.
The UK is the US Empire’s Jr. Partner in crime. They are not vassals like the EU/NATO countries, they continue a long tradition of foreign policy that goes back over 150 years. (Half a league onward….into the valley of Death rode the six hundred)
The UK population is also getting ripped off blind: de-fund the NHS, privatize everything, subsidies for the Weapons of Mass Destruction Industry, subsidies and tax-breaks for the oligarchy, but austerity (euphemism for kleptocracy) for the rest.
The bloody British are cheer-leading the escalation of war even more than the US imperialist mass-murderers (or is that even possible?). At least they could try to play “good cop, bad cop” that would be better for PR.
What a cracking idea: let’s corner Russia and China (with help from vassals), surround them with missiles and WMD and when they try and defend themselves – blame it on them. After the “limited” and “winnable” nuclear war, the oligarchy plan to hide out in their bunkers.
I grew up believing Hitler was the worst thing in history, but not anymore, now I am a senior citizen and find that Hitler pales compared to Biden and the gang of heads of state around him. How could such people get elected? Perhaps the CIA planted these so-called elected governments. The War is about two economic systems, a mixed social market economy or neoliberal economics pure.
Yeah, but Biden is a senile puppet who does not know where he is most of the time. It is elder abuse to have him propped up as Puppet Emperor. (also a giant embarrassment)
The LBJ/Nixon/Kissinger regimes dropped more bombs on Vietnam/Cambodia/Laos than in WWII. They were responsible for the mass murders of millions of people. The Biden regime is not quite there yet, but give them time. Kissinger is still alive
Elected? US Elections Inc. are merely the world’s most expensive PR stunts. The US is clearly and oligarchy/plutocracy. There is no such thing as US democracy. Do we really believe the “choice” between two wealthy, mendacious, amoral old crooks is meaningful? Sure you can “vote” but only for who the BigMoney tells you to vote for.
All good points.
First Brexit and then as you say:
“The UK population is also getting ripped off blind: de-fund the NHS, privatize everything, subsidies for the Weapons of Mass Destruction Industry, subsidies and tax-breaks for the oligarchy, but austerity (euphemism for kleptocracy) for the rest.”
You are also describing the US, Australia, France and all the other imperial powers, be they serfs for the medieval corporate system or Empires like the US.
Wait until the blinders are removed, if they ever are, and one can see that the US must be built from the bottom up.
Excellent comment, JonnyJames.
Thanks to Jonathan Cook, Declassified UK and Consortium News.
The White Supremacist Sinophobic Russophobic warmongering hegemons are risking the planet to prove that they are still in charge of the empire. Their delusions and recklessness are mind boggling.
It’s sickening to see them hug each other as though they are winning their soccer match.
Another escalation which didn’t appear to get much press in the MSM:
“OSLO, May 24 (Reuters) – The world’s largest aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, sailed into Oslo on Wednesday, a first for such a U.S. ship, in a show of NATO force at a time of heightened tension between NATO and Russia over the war in Ukraine.
The ship and its crew will be conducting training exercises with the Norwegian armed forces along the country’s coast in the coming days, the Norwegian military said.”
And from “the news in english” Noway:
“The visit seemed to disturb Russian officials. The Russian Embassy reacted on Tuesday through a message to NTB, in which the US aircraft carrier’s voyage with Norwegians on board was called “illogical” and a “damaging” demonstration of power.”
But we are still at 90 seconds to midnight on the doomsday clock. So that hasn’t changed.
Valerie, the Russian media covered it of course (RT, Sputnik) but the EU blocks these outlets you said, so you can’t get it unless you use a proxy server. Aircraft carriers are mostly obsolete against countries who have developed defense systems. The US is used to bombing poor countries who cannot defend themselves against the largest military machine in world history.
The Doomsday Clock is still 90 seconds. There is an old Iron Maiden song called “2 minutes to midnight” but that’s obsolete now. Your revised Kenny Rogers lyrics are up-to-date.
I think it was The Duran that opined that Putin bombed (not rumored) the DU weapons site in order to destroy them before they could be used to contaminate much more than a restrained area. If true, this is a commendable operation.
Jeesh, I haven’t felt this afraid of nuclear war since doing A bomb drills in elementary school. What the hell? So much for progress.
I grew up in Lasw Vegas in the 1950’s and am still very much aware of what we were put through as children — hiding under desks, alarm drills, speakers, films, etc.
I was taught to hate the entire East of the world when I was a child.
“Progress” is the buzzword of the bankrupt.
It can mean anything one wants it to mean but under capitalism it is sopecific. It means more profits, faster workers, better machines, and no government regulation or taxes.
The only progress made under capitalism is in the realm of the means of production.
As to our subjective lives and material conditions, progress has been defined to mean having a job, working for a living, accepting hierarchy and being patriotic.
This is why words are so important and why as Voltaire rightly stated: “If you want to converse with me, define your terms.”
Leftist, progressive, etc. all have become empty vessels devoid of rigorous critique and filled with liberals.
“Progress” as humanitarians see it means the betterment of the human condition.
We live in regressive times with permanent elections and permament war, all encased within a seedy, little cut-rate carny.