Now is the time for socialists to stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian people

Mick Antoniw
President Vladimir Putin, May 2020. © Photographer RM/

For those socialists who oppose imperialism and believe in the right of nations to self-determination, international law and democracy, now is the time to stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian people. The situation in Ukraine for most comrades is admittedly confusing and Vladimir Putin’s propaganda strategy has been hard at work for over eight years, in Ukraine and throughout Europe. But there are certain facts which cannot be credibly ignored.

The current tensions are a threat to European peace and economic stability. They are also a direct result of eight years of hybrid warfare on the border of Ukraine, sponsored and co-ordinated by the Russian government, and accelerated by the build-up of an invasion force of around 130,000 soldiers and an array of military equipment and weaponry the like of which has not been seen in Europe since the Second World War. Putin has added to this with his increasing military engagement to the North of Ukraine in Belarus, the additional build up of forces and the Russian Black sea fleet in occupied Crimea and some 8,000 troops in Transdnistra to the West of Ukraine.

Ukraine is de facto surrounded by a Russian invasion force. Every month that has gone by since 2014, Russia has been controlling, financing and arming mercenary and surrogate separatist groups it has created and controls in parts of Eastern Ukraine in Luhansk and Donetsk, which has led to over 14,000 deaths and nearly two million displaced persons.

The risk of war with Ukraine will only be realised if Russia invades Ukraine. It is clear that Ukraine has no intention or even capacity to invade or in any way threaten Russia. Nobody should be under any illusion that this conflict is a direct result of Putin’s commitment to recreating a greater Russian empire. He sees Ukraine and Belarus as one people, one volk, with Russia. He has made it clear that he does not recognise Ukraine as a sovereign nation.

Prior to the 2014 invasion, the overwhelming population of Ukraine did not see any need or desire to join NATO. The invasion and Putin’s actions and rhetoric have changed all that, probably irreversibly. Ukraine now looks for allies who will help it resist Russian aggression and asserts its right to defend its sovereignty.

It is ironic that Putin now seeks legally binding defence guarantees from the West, yet it is the very same Putin who, alongside the United States, Britain and France, signed a legally binding guarantee of Ukrainian sovereignty in return for unilaterally giving up its nuclear weapons. It is a tragedy that, at a stroke, Putin has, by his actions, guaranteed that there will never be any further unilateral nuclear disarmament in any part of the world. Why would any country now ever give up its nuclear weaponry in return for such a worthless guarantee?

For socialists, there are, of course, many valid issues and concerns about NATO and its role in Europe – but these have little to do with the current conflict. Putin is intent on the assimilation of Ukraine and Belarus in any event, and his speeches and writings make that clear. Blaming NATO and his absurd claim of protecting Russian speakers are merely camouflage for these ambitions.

Even if NATO succumbed to all of Putin’s demands, it would not change his geopolitical strategy of creating a greater Russia under the direction of Moscow. The invasion of Eastern Ukraine and the illegal occupation of Crimea had nothing to do with NATO. The current aggression is a continuation of a strategy he could not complete in 2014 when the Ukrainian army and volunteers turned back the tide of invasion by Russian and hybrid forces.

Were NATO to agree, it would in all likelihood only make this process, in time, inevitable, and without military support and weaponry Ukraine would have no substantial ability to resist other than in the form of long-term and bloody partisan resistance.

There are those on the left who are so fixated with NATO and American imperialism that they have become blinded and indeed apologists for a ruthless Russian expansionism, for Russian imperialism based on a greater Russian nationalist ideology.

The belief amongst some sections of the left that what is happening is a result of NATO expansionism does not stand up to scrutiny. It is at best misguided and at worst delusional. It puts the Ukrainian people into the category of mere geopolitical pawns and lends succour to the authoritarian and fascistic politics that now dominate Russia. It denies the Ukrainian people the fundamental right to determine their own future.

To add to the mythology is the assertion that this is somehow about protecting Russian-speaking people. Most of those resisting Russian-backed aggression on a daily basis, on the front line of the occupied territories, are Russian-speaking.

There is no doubt that Russian propaganda has been increasingly effective in promoting these ideas across the world, but the scale of interference and manipulation across Eastern and Central Europe is significant as it is in the US and in Europe. Russian money has increasingly been manipulating political systems across Europe, including the Conservative Party, which may explain their reluctance to act on the Russia report commissioned by the Tory government following the Skripal murders by Russian agents, and their total failure to tackle oligarchic money laundering and corruption in London, which has become the money laundering capital for the world’s oligarchs.

Ukrainians have never expected NATO to fight their battles for them. They do, however, expect those countries to at least give it the weaponry ability to deter aggression and, if invasion occurs, to defend itself.

There is a route to peace. It is by Russia fulfilling its obligations under the Budapest agreement, ending the supply of weaponry to its hybrid forces in the East, withdrawing its invasion forces and entering into multilateral discussions to reduce militarisation throughout Central and Eastern Europe and Russia.

The fear amongst Ukrainians is that the US and European will try force some sort of Minsk 3 deal upon Ukraine, which will only strengthen Russia’s foothold in Eastern Ukraine and the Black Sea, delaying but not ending the risk of invasion.

Mick Antoniw MS is a second generation Ukrainian, a former member of the EU committee of the regions taskforce on Ukraine, and is regularly engaged with Ukrainian civic organisations and trade unions. He is a member of Ukraine Solidarity.

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