By Geoff Mirelowitz
March 16, 2022 March 13, 2022 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from World-Outlook — Moscow is escalating its savage assault on Ukraine in the face of worldwide opposition to the invasion ordered by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. Any idea that Russia’s military could score a quick victory and rapidly impose a successful occupation of the country has proven false. Ukrainian resistance has been stiff and determined.
Inside Russia, demonstrations against Putin’s war have occurred in over 150 cities leading to more than 13,000 arrests by Putin’s cops.
About 7,500 academics, students, and graduates of the prestigious Moscow State University, Russia’s oldest university, have signed an open letter to the Russian government that reads in part, “We, students, graduate students, teachers, staff and graduates of the oldest university in Russia, Moscow State University… categorically condemn the war that our country unleashed in Ukraine.” The entire statement can be read here.
On March 14, Marina Ovsyannikova, a state TV employee burst onto the live broadcast of Channel 1’s “Vremya,” Russia’s most-watched evening news show, yelling, “Stop the war!” and holding up a sign that said, “They’re lying to you.” It was another courageous act protesting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, given the harsh repression the Kremlin has unleashed against those expressing opposition to its war.
After his ground troops made only slow progress, Putin launched an air war aimed at terrorizing the population of Ukraine. “At least 67 Ukrainian towns and cities have been hit — some attacked on multiple days—with shelling, airstrikes and other projectiles,” reported the New York Times on March 13.
In a sign of how quickly this war can escalate, Russia hit a Ukrainian base only 12 miles from the border with Poland on March 13. “A day after warning that weapons flowing into Ukraine from Western allies were ‘legitimate targets,’ ” the Times wrote, Russia “brought the war perilously closer to NATO’s doorstep.” Thirty-five people died in the raid but 22 of Russia’s 30 missiles were intercepted by Ukrainian defenses.
While Putin appears intent on marshaling as much military power as necessary to accomplish his goals, the most likely prospect based on the evidence so far is that this will be a long war unless Moscow adjusts its course.
The population of Ukraine is engaged in a war for national independence against a regime in Moscow that aims to restore in Ukraine the situation that existed under the Russian Tsar, when the Russian empire was a prison house of nations. This explains the fierce resistance that has clearly come as a surprise to Putin, as well as others. Ukrainians will not easily become the subjects of efforts to establish a new Russian empire.
A vivid expression of Ukrainians’ determination to defend their national rights has been demonstrations in cities Russian troops have already occupied.
“Days after Moscow’s troops took control of the southern Ukrainian city of Melitopol,” the Wall Street Journal reported on March 7, “a Russian armored truck rolled through its center blasting a message from loudspeakers: Demonstrations are temporarily banned to prevent disorder.
“The next day, Saturday,” the paper continued, “thousands of locals marched through the streets waving Ukrainian flags, singing the national anthem and chanting at Russian soldiers in their native language: ‘Go home! Go home!’ ”
Since then, Russian troops appear to have arrested Ivan Fyodorov, the mayor of Melitopol. In response, hundreds of Ukrainians took to the streets of that city to protest.
These courageous actions deserve the support of working people everywhere. Russia’s war against Ukraine must end. Putin must withdraw all Russian troops, end the air war, and stop all forms of aggression against Ukraine. Now. With no conditions.
The war has created a colossal stream of refugees, driven from their homes by Moscow’s military. By mid-March, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that nearly three million Ukrainians had fled their homes.
Russian strikes have also killed fleeing civilians, even as Moscow and the government of Ukraine have repeatedly agreed to create “humanitarian corridors” in Ukraine, which are supposed to provide safe passage to those trying to escape the horrors of war.
The situation is most dire in the southern city of Mariupol, which has been under siege with heavy shelling by Russian forces and cut off from any humanitarian aid for weeks. More than 2,500 residents of the Black Sea port city have died so far, according to Ukrainian officials’ estimates reported by the British daily The Independent on March 14.
“Putin is carrying out a genocide against the Ukrainian people who include us Greeks,” a Greek-Ukrainian taking shelter underground in Mariupol told Greek radio, according to the Greek daily Kathimerini. A sizeable number of Greek-speaking Ukrainians live in eastern Ukraine, including other nationalities such as Russians, Bulgarians, Hungarians, and Moldovans.
The United States should open the doors to all Ukrainian refugees immediately. Washington’s NATO allies have a responsibility to do the same.
Washington and the imperialist powers of Europe now try to exploit this situation for their own economic and political advantage. Every day we are witness to the worst hypocrisy when leaders of these governments decry Putin’s merciless assault as if they have not engaged in the same savagery—or worse. This sanctimony is led by U.S. President Joe Biden who has long been a cheerleader for brutal wars waged by Washington.
As chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden helped draft the law authorizing the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. A year later he voted to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq that began in 2003.
Biden initially opposed the bill authorizing the U.S. assault on Iraq in 1990. After the war, however, Biden co-sponsored the Senate resolution “Commending the President and the Armed Forces for the success of Operation Desert Storm.” That resolution said Congress “applauds” then-President George H.W. Bush and then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney. A year after that war, Biden also voted in favor of a resolution authorizing Bush to continue military action against Iraq.
What was Biden “applauding” 30 years ago?
The first U.S. war against Iraq unleashed terrific bloodletting and butchery. Estimates of those killed range upwards from 150,000 over the six weeks of relentless U.S. bombardment. U.S., British, French, Canadian, Saudi, and other planes carried out 109,876 sorties and dropped 88,500 tons of bombs. As Iraqi forces attempted to retreat, and as civilians fled the bombing, the highway from Kuwait City to Basra was turned into a killing zone. One air force officer called it “a turkey shoot.” U.S. General Colin Powell, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was asked at a press conference for an estimate of the number of Iraqis killed by combined air and ground operations. “It’s really not a number I’m terribly interested in,” Powell replied.
The violence unleashed by the U.S. Congressional resolution that opened the “war on terror” that began with the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, was truly monstrous. The Brown University Cost of War Project estimates the human costs of the U.S. Post-9/11 wars to be 929,000 dead and 38 million displaced over 20 years.
Yet today Biden and his NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) allies shed crocodile tears about the “horror of war.”
Similar hypocrisy is evident in the U.S. media of all stripes, from liberal to conservative. Russian businessmen are routinely referred to as “oligarchs,” a term big-business media never uses to describe their U.S. counterparts who are dubbed “entrepreneurs.” But like Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos, or Bill Gates these wealthy Russian businessmen are capitalists whose enormous wealth comes from the exploitation of working people.
NATO is not a defensive alliance. It exists to advance and defend the economic, political, and military interests of the U.S. government and its imperialist allies in Europe. Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the reimposition of capitalism there and in eastern Europe, NATO has extended membership to other smaller capitalist governments, in part to extend its military bases throughout Europe and maintain U.S. military hegemony on the continent. In doing so, it has acted aggressively to surround Russia with offensive weapons.
Sanctions are also weapons
Led by Washington, these same governments now impose brutal economic sanctions on Russia claiming to aim them at Putin and the wealthiest Russian capitalists who support him. But the world has seen the impact of U.S.-led sanctions before. They have been used against Iraq, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, and other countries. Those who suffer most are always working people.
Today the sanctions against Russia can have dangerous and tragic consequences. Russia is the world’s largest wheat exporter accounting for some 17% of global supply. Russia and Ukraine together exported 25.4% of the world’s wheat in 2019. Among the countries that depend most heavily on that grain are Egypt, Turkey, and Lebanon.
A Reuters report from Cairo explained: “Wheat importers face a threat to delivering politically sensitive bread supplies across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine closed off access to the lower priced Black Sea grain they depend on.”
Egypt is often the largest importer of wheat. With a population of more than 100 million people, there is a serious danger of severe hunger as the situation worsens. Prices of local wheat and flour have risen 23% and 44% respectively since the Russian invasion began, Ezzat Aziz of the Cairo Chamber of Commerce told Reuters.
Lebanon, according to Reuters, had wheat reserves to last one month when Russia invaded Ukraine. In Tunisia, “reduced bread stocks, rationing of flour in shops and problems docking wheat imports have raised doubts about official claims that there is enough supply to last until the summer,” Reuters wrote.
This is only one of the ways in which working people—outside Russia as well as inside—will suffer from these sanctions.
The price of gasoline—which has been rising dramatically in the U.S. due to the oil monopolies’ insatiable drive for profit for over 20 years—is now soaring. Biden claims this is a price that must be paid, blaming it on Putin. But again, the primary cost is borne by the working class, small farmers, and small businesses that can least afford the rising prices.
Unintended and unpredictable consequences
With the war on Ukraine roughly three weeks old, it is still too early to know its full consequences for the world. But already it has upended politics across the globe. Putin’s decisions as well as those by Biden and his allies can all have unintended consequences and unpredictable results far from the current battlefield.
Russia’s demands that a revised nuclear accord with Iran shield it from sanctions because of its invasion of Ukraine have halted the negotiations to resurrect the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran, the U.S., and other countries (the agreement voided by Donald Trump during his presidency). Among the other consequences is the delay in any resumption of oil sales by Iran on the world market.
How will China, the world’s second-largest economic power after the U.S., respond to these developments? Will its leadership continue to offer tacit support for Putin’s aggression? What will be the total impact of the war and imperialist sanctions on the world economy? Nor can anyone ignore the danger that Moscow and Washington both control enormous arsenals of nuclear weapons.
Another serious concern is the safety of Ukraine’s nuclear power facilities, including the shuttered plant at Chernobyl, which Russian forces have seized. “With no operating reactors at the plant, there is no risk of a core meltdown as there would be if an operating plant lost power and could no longer circulate water through the reactor,” reported the New York Times. “But Chernobyl carries some other risks related to the large amount of nuclear waste on site.”
Lenin’s Final Fight
The Russian Revolution of 1917 led by V.I. Lenin and the Bolshevik Party opened the possibility of new relations between Russian working people and those of Ukraine and other nations and peoples formerly oppressed by Tsarism. “[T]he interests of labor demand the fullest confidence and the closest alliance among the working people of different countries and nations,” Lenin wrote to Ukrainian working people in 1919. “The supporters of the landowners and capitalists, of the bourgeoisie, strive to disunite the workers, to intensify national discord and enmity, in order to weaken the workers and strengthen the power of capital.”
When Joseph Stalin and the bureaucratic caste he led betrayed the Russian Revolution, this possibility ended. Lenin had begun a political battle inside the Bolshevik Party and the Soviet government to ensure that “the closest alliance among the working people of different countries and nations,” could be developed. As he put it in a letter in October 1922, “I declare war to the death on dominant nation chauvinism.”
Unfortunately, less than a month later, Lenin gave his last public speech. Despite being partially paralyzed, he continued to work to ensure that the Bolshevik party understood how vital it was to defend the right of nations like Ukraine to self-determination. But in March 1923 he was felled by another stroke, and his political life ended. He died in January 1924. The last fight he led was lost. Policies inimical to those Lenin insisted upon became the norm in the party he once led and in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), which included Ukraine.
This is not ancient history. This course of events established much of the framework of relations between Russia and Ukraine that still exist today. The reestablishment of capitalism in Russia and the other former Soviet republics set the stage for the rise of authoritarian figures such as Putin, who now claims Ukraine has never been a nation and demands the Ukrainian people subordinate themselves to the Great Russian national chauvinism Lenin opposed.
Many who identify with the political left in the U.S. and elsewhere either reject or are utterly unaware of this history and its lessons.
One example is an article by Lorenzo Canizares posted to Cubanews@groups.io. Canizares is co-chair of the Labor Community Alliance of South Florida. In a piece titled “Stop Egging On the Ukrainian People,” Canizares writes: “Today we are facing the disgusting reality of seeing thousands of Ukrainians dying while being egged on by the West to continue a senseless war.”
This turns reality on its head. Why are Ukrainians dying? Because they refuse to roll over in the face of Moscow’s aggression. The fierce resistance by Ukrainian fighters is only “senseless” if one does not believe in the right of oppressed nations to self-determination. History is filled with examples of oppressed nations like Ukraine standing up for national rights against what appeared to be a stronger military power. Would Canizares have offered the same advice to the people of Vietnam who fought for decades at the expense of millions of lives for their right to self-determination against colonialist and imperialist powers?
Canizares also furthers a lie accepted by too many on the left: The Ukrainian government established after the Maidan revolt of 2014, he writes, “came to power after violent demonstrations many of them led by Neo-Nazis.” That revolt was a popular uprising and an expression of the demand for Ukrainian independence from Moscow. The ongoing claims that the Maidan revolt was “led by Neo-Nazis” only feed Putin’s lie that the Russian invasion is intended to “de-Nazify” Ukraine.
As is true in every country the working class in Ukraine will need to settle accounts with rightist forces that vie for political leadership. In many nationalist struggles, reactionary forces come forward and seek to mislead working people. If such forces were in the leadership of Ukraine today—and they are not—they could not be defeated politically by the Russian military marching under the banner of Putin’s Great Russian national chauvinism.
In fact, the popular and progressive nature of the Maidan revolt is a contributing factor in the resistance we see in Ukraine today. It took place only eight years ago. It is a fresh memory for those who joined the mass actions then. It is one more reason Ukrainians will not give up easily, no matter the military odds against them.
Rather than counsel surrender, as Canizares does, those who genuinely support Lenin’s firm position that the right of nations to self-determination must be upheld should extend solidarity to Ukrainian fighters and demand that Russia get out of Ukraine now.
 Lenin’s 1919 entire “Letter to the Workers and Peasants of the Ukraine” can be found here.
 World-Outlook recommends to our readers Lenin’s Final Fight, Speeches & Writings 1922-23, published by Pathfinder Press.. The issues addressed in Lenin’s writings include how to unify working people and defend the rights of historically oppressed nations and nationalities.