Theses on the war in Ukraine
Climate change threatens the survival of humanity. Disasters are coming thick and fast and will quickly get much worse. But rather than deal with the truly existential crisis this represents, Western imperialism is devoting more and more resources to a war drive against Russia and China, two big countries that have persistently resisted subordination to Western imperialism.
This perverse misallocation of resources shows the pathological sickness of the world imperialist system presided over by the United States.
The war in Ukraine is being used to massively intensify the West’s anti-Russia campaign. But the blowback from the sanctions regime is destabilising Western Europe and intensifying the suffering of developing countries.
US imperialism & NATO
- The 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union did not lead to the dissolution of NATO but instead to its relentless expansion eastwards. 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.
- The incorporation of Ukraine into NATO, formal or informal, is seen in Russia as a particularly extreme escalation, directly threatening the Russian heartland. Russia has made bluntly clear, over some 15 years, that it regards this move as a “red line”, the crossing of which must result in an unspecified but forceful response. Nevertheless, the Western powers in the last few years have integrated Ukraine de facto into NATO structures, to the extent of large international military exercises being held on the country’s territory.
- The fundamental responsibility for the war in Ukraine lies with Western imperialism in general, and with Washington in particular. 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.
- 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. International efforts to settle the resulting civil war culminated in the 2014–2015 Minsk Accords that promised the Donbass a measure of self-government. The Ukrainian government signed the accords, but took no steps to implement them. Instead, Kyiv shelled rebel cities on an almost daily basis for close to eight years. Late in 2021 the Russian government appears to have concluded that the Minsk process was completely dead. Russian troops then began to be massed near the Ukrainian border. From mid-February 2022, especially intensive shelling by Ukraine of the city of Donetsk was followed by the Russian invasion on February 24.
- In fomenting the Russia-Ukraine war, and then in funding and supplying the Ukrainian side, the US has sought to force Russia into an endless and debilitating conflict.
- The US also wants to break its own NATO allies away from any economic cooperation with Russia (energy and trade) and to weaken their position relative to US capitalism. This economic warfare has been taken to new heights with the recent sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines. Washington, acting directly or through proxies, is the almost certain culprit. The destruction of the pipeline means that German-Russian gas trade is now impossible. Germany — especially the working class and the poor — will pay a very heavy price for this.
- Through a propaganda campaign of unprecedented scope in key Western countries, the corporate media have demonised Russia (especially its leader, Vladimir Putin, who is presented as a sort of secular Satan) and cast a thick fog over the real reasons for the conflict, the nature of the Zelenskyi regime, and the actual situation on the battlefield.
- The Western propaganda campaign has been used by the governments of Finland and Sweden to stampede their countries into joining NATO. In Germany it has been used to push through a vastly increased military budget.
- 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.
- Surveys indicate that a strong majority of Russians share the conviction that their country is under military threat from the West. Popular support for the war, and backing for the Putin administration, both evidently remain at high levels.
- 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.
- Repressive, and basing its mass appeal largely on an archaic social conservatism, the Putin regime cannot expect to maintain its support if the war lasts indefinitely. For many Russians, the high-minded explanations the Putin administration advances for its Ukraine policy jar with their experience of having their own political rights curtailed. 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.
- The emergence of the rebel Donbass republics in 2014 presented the Putin regime with a serious dilemma. Russian public opinion would not accept the imposition by the Ukrainian far right of a pogrom regime on the Russian-speaking Donbass. At the same time, Moscow was intensely wary of the popular and progressive aspects of the Donbass revolt. Though providing the Donbass republics with sufficient military aid to allow them to survive, the Putin regime showed a clear preference for a negotiated solution that would see the rebel republics finish up as semi-autonomous entities within Ukraine; hence Russia’s support for the Minsk accords. In time, bureaucratic arm-twisting from Moscow, together with the political inadequacies of the Donbass leaderships, saw the radical trends within the republics suppressed. The undemocratic, bureaucratised political forms that emerged in the Donbass could not act as a pole of attraction for the Ukrainian masses.
- Just as in Russia, in Ukraine the break-up of the Soviet Union saw the development of a ruthless, predatory capitalist regime based on the theft of state-owned assets. While the Russian oligarchy eventually became consolidated around Putin, Ukraine has seen the persistence to this day of an erratic, economically disastrous “oligarchic pluralism” within which rival oligarchs fight each other for control of state resources.
- 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 to be "non-Ukrainian".
- Like its post-Maidan predecessors, the Zelenskyi regime is selling Ukraine to international capital while restricting workers’ and popular rights. Repressive anti-labour laws cripple trade union organising. Once-important opposition and left parties have been outlawed or forced underground by neo-fascist violence.
- In early October, following endorsement in referenda in the districts of Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk and Donetsk, Russia formally annexed these regions.
- The referendums, conducted in wartime in occupied territory, have predictably been denounced by the West as a sham.
- 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.
- The referendums in the other regions are more questionable. Their fate will be decided on the battlefield and/or in negotiations.
- At the time of writing, the war has been raging for over seven months. Scores of thousands of soldiers and civilians have died, while many more have been maimed and traumatised. Millions of people have become refugees. The material damage to buildings, houses and infrastructure is immense.
- At this point, there are two broad alternatives: the war grinds on, fuelled by ever more copious amounts of Western weaponry and covert military assistance (intelligence sharing, “volunteers”, advisers and technicians), or the belligerents start seriously to talk to each other. Negotiations, of course, do not in themselves guarantee a positive outcome.
- Socialists should call for the following —
- A ceasefire in place as a prelude to negotiations.
- Washington must negotiate seriously with Russia and address its absolutely legitimate security concerns. Revive the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, scuttled by Trump in 2019.
- NATO should be dissolved.
- All Western sanctions against Russia should be ended.
- Ukraine and Russia must negotiate. Ukraine should declare its neutrality and renounce all claims to NATO membership.
- Whether any of the annexations stand or not, Ukraine must reinstate Russian as an official language.