Putin's invasion must be condemned: A response to 'Theses on the war in Ukraine'

Stop Putin Stop War

The article written by Dave Holmes and Renfrey Clarke, “Theses on the war in Ukraine”[1], makes no criticism of Russia's invasion. Instead, these comrades write: “The fundamental responsibility for the war in Ukraine lies with Western imperialism in general, and with Washington in particular.”

Western imperialism certainly played a part in creating the context for the war. But it was Russian President Vladimir Putin who took the decision to invade, and he must be condemned for this.

Holmes and Clarke write: “The advance of NATO up to Russia's borders is perceived in Moscow as an existential danger. Western missiles are being installed ever closer to Russia, with alarmingly short flight times.”

That was a legitimate cause for concern, but not a justification for the invasion. Predictably, the invasion has caused other countries to join NATO, thereby increasing the threat to Russia.

Holmes and Clarke write: “Especially since the mid-2000s, the US has devoted enormous resources to overturning previously close and friendly economic and political relations between Ukraine and Russia. Large sums have been spent on such activities as funding pro-Western, anti-Russian media outlets; establishing and supporting pro-Western NGOs: and bankrolling sympathetic political currents.”

That is all true. But Russia’s invasion has boosted anti-Russian sentiments in Ukraine more than any amount of Western funding of anti-Russian organisations could have done. It created hatred towards Russia among the people of Ukraine.

Holmes and Clarke write: “The process of tearing Ukraine away from its traditional links to Russia and other post-Soviet countries, and of realigning it with the Western alliance, escalated dramatically with the 2014 Maidan coup. Carried out with the extensive and admitted involvement of US diplomats and other personnel, the coup installed a right-wing, anti-Russian government and greatly increased the influence of the ultra-right in Ukrainian political life.

“The 2014 coup was followed by a popular uprising in the Donbass provinces, seeking autonomy from Kiev.”

Holmes and Clarke call the Maidan rebellion a “coup”, while calling the Donbass rebellion a “popular uprising”. But, in fact, both rebellions were complex phenomena, combining mass protests for legitimate demands with the seizure of power by reactionary groups. Both were a mixture of “popular uprising” and “coup”.

The Maidan rebellion included people who were protesting against government corruption and repression. But it also included Ukrainian ethno-nationalists and fascists.

The Donbass rebellion included people protesting against the threat of discrimination against Russian speakers. Some participants were workers who feared losing their jobs under the new Ukrainian government. But the movement also included reactionary Russian nationalists and fascists.

Various Russian extreme-right groups, such as the Russian Imperial Movement and the Russian Orthodox Army, had a presence in Donbas, as did mercenaries employed by the Russian military company, the Wagner group.

Holmes and Clarke write: “Russia has absolutely legitimate security concerns. Washington wants to weaken Russia, to subordinate it to Western capitalism, if possible to break it up, and generally to eliminate it as any sort of independent entity.”

I agree that the US wants to weaken Russia, which is a rival imperialist power, and a potential threat to global US dominance.

I am not convinced that the US wants to break up Russia, as the comrades claim. But Putin certainly wants to break up Ukraine, as shown by his annexation of four provinces. 

Holmes and Clarke are sensitive to Russia’s security concerns, but do not acknowledge Ukraine’s security concerns. Ukraine faces a more powerful neighbour (Russia) whose leader has called Ukraine an artificial creation, with the implication that it has no right to exist.

Looking at the situation from a Ukrainian point of view, we could paraphrase the comrades’ words which I quoted above, as follows: “Ukraine has absolutely legitimate security concerns. Moscow wants to weaken Ukraine, to subordinate it to Russian capitalism, if possible to break it up, and generally to eliminate it as any sort of independent entity.”

Holmes and Clarke acknowledge that Russia has a reactionary capitalist government. They write: “Russia, however, is dominated by a ruthless capitalist class (the 'oligarchs') that arose out of the break-up of the Soviet Union, enriching itself by stealing state assets and impoverishing the mass of the people. The Putin regime represents the oligarchs and administers their collective political life. As an anti-worker, anti-democratic force, the regime is incapable of mounting a popular, progressive response to the US-NATO threat...

“The hatred and distrust of the regime felt by Russian progressives is often so intense that they do not accept that their country is actually threatened by NATO.”

It is true that Russian socialists such as Boris Kagarlitsky tend to downplay NATO expansion as a factor influencing Putin's decision to invade Ukraine. Kagarlitsky emphasises rising discontent within Russia, and Putin's desire for an external enemy to divert people’s attention.

If Putin was actually worried about NATO expansion, his actions have been totally counterproductive. But whatever Putin’s motives, at a time when Russia is invading Ukraine, it is correct for Russian socialists to focus on the crimes of the Putin regime rather than those of NATO.

Holmes and Clarke write: “Ever since the 2014 Maidan events, Ukraine has been run by hard-right, ethno-nationalist regimes that have kept power centralised in Kyiv; restricted the rights of the country's large Russian-speaking minority; and made little effort to stop an aggressive neo-fascist street movement from beating and intimidating Roma (Gypsies), LGBTI people, and other elements judged ‘non-Ukrainian’.”

This is oversimplified. Under Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi, the influence of the far right in the state apparatus has been reduced (though not eliminated). There has been a growth of feminist and LGBTI movements. The antifa movement has challenged the fascists on the streets.

Ukrainian socialist Taras Bilous said: “2010-2018 were the most successful years for the Ukrainian far right. They have been in crisis in recent years and last year has been particularly bad for them. Notably, last summer, following the resignation of Interior Minister Arsen Avakov (who is considered a patron of the Azov battalion) numerous arrests of right-wing extremists, including members of the National Corps  (created on the basis of Azov) took place.” [2]

I agree with Holmes and Clarke that “the Zelenskyi regime is selling Ukraine to international capital while restricting workers' and popular rights.”

Commenting on the referenda organised by the Russian occupation authorities in parts of eastern Ukraine, Holmes and Clarke write: "The Donbass results, however, have a high degree of credibility. The breakaway region has endured eight years of brutal attacks by the ethno-nationalist Ukrainian regime, including the showering of Donetsk city with anti-personnel 'petal' bomblets.  It is simply inconceivable that the people of the Donbass would want to return to Ukraine, or would not resist such an outcome.”

However, for the past eight years, the people of the Donbass have also suffered under an oppressive regime imposed by Moscow. Holmes and Clarke admit that this regime was "undemocratic" and "bureaucratised".

Kagarlitsky, who was a supporter of the Donbass revolt in its early period, is even harsher in his denunciation of this regime. He says: "Now, these [Donbass] republics are being run by totally corrupt puppets installed by Moscow. In that sense, the movement was eroded, and it lost its original meaning...

“Quite a few people who were central to this movement, to this effort, were actually killed. They were not killed by Ukrainian troops. They were killed by security forces within Donbas. These people were killed, and we have some reasons to think they were killed by the mercenaries sent from Russia … In the current circumstances, we have to repeat that it’s not the same Donbas movement nor the same Donbas republic as it used to be eight years ago.” [3]

During the invasion, Russian bombing has devastated cities in eastern Ukraine where most inhabitants were Russian speakers. Undoubtedly this would have reduced even further any remaining support for Russia among the people of eastern Ukraine.

Hence it is uncertain whether the people of Donbas regard the Russian regime or the Ukrainian regime as the lesser evil.

Holmes and Clarke write we should advocate a “ceasefire in place as a prelude to negotiations.”

The problem is that a ceasefire in place can become a permanent occupation if negotiations make no progress. I think we should call for the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from all areas seized since February 24. After that, there can be negotiations about issues such as UN-supervised referenda in Donbas.

Holmes and Clarke call for the revival of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, scuttled by Trump in 2019. I agree with this.

Holmes and Clarke write that NATO should be dissolved. I would add that the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) should also be dissolved. It plays an aggressive role, not solely a defensive one. When Russia invaded Ukraine, some of its troops came across the border from Belarus. Presumably, they had been stationed there under the provisions of the CSTO.

Holmes and Clarke write: “All Western sanctions against Russia should be ended”. I think that most sanctions should be ended, except for those that mainly affect the Russian military, for example the supply of spare parts for military equipment.


[1] Theses on the war in Ukraine, by Dave Holmes and Renfrey Clarke http://links.org.au/theses-war-ukraine

[2] Taras Bilous interviewed by Officine Civiche https://www.officineciviche.it/divulgazione-2/ucraina-una-prospettiva-solidale-e-popolare-ne-parliamo-con-taras-bilous/

[3] Boris Kagarlitsky interviewed by Paul Jay, June 2022 https://theanalysis.news/putins-war-driven-by-domestic-politics-boris-kagarlitsky/