By Dave Stockton
TO CAP off a bad month for Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine, the Russian president staged blatantly fraudulent referenda in the four regions of eastern and southern Ukraine: Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson. Together, they constitute 15 percent of Ukraine’s internationally recognised territory.
Russian forces do not even control all of the four oblasts, with half of Donetsk and one third of Zaporizhzhia still in Kyiv’s hands. In addition, a major part of the population of the first two “republics’ fled or were deported when the war began. They could only meaningfully determine their future if they could return to their (reconstructed) homes, free of outside forces, and democratically choose their own representatives.
At a gaudy ceremony in the Kremlin’s Golden Hall and later at a patriotic concert in Red Square, Putin declared that he would never give up the occupied territories. He would regard any attack on them as an attack on the whole Russian Federation and could, therefore, retaliate with nuclear weapons. “We doubtlessly will use all weapons resources at our disposal … this is not a bluff”, he declared. If this were to prove no idle threat, it would indeed be a total game changer but not one in Russia’s favour since it would provide a pretext for a more direct and deadly NATO intervention, probably taking out some of Russia’s command structures and thus threatening a world war.
Putin is trying to cover up recent serious setbacks, starting with the successful Ukrainian counter attack in the Kharkiv region in mid-September, from which his troops fled in disorder. As we go to press, Russia has also confirmed its withdrawal from the strategically significant rail hub of Lyman in Donetsk. In the south, Ukrainian forces are conducting an offensive to recapture the city of Kherson. The fighting now extends along a front of some 620 miles.
Russian losses have been so severe that Putin has been forced to declare a partial mobilisation of some 300,000 reservists. He had resisted this, knowing it would expose his “special military operation” as a long term and bloody war. For months he tried to hide the needless sacrifice of thousands of young lives from their families. Upwards of 300,000 have fled Russia to escape the draft.
Moreover, Putin’s ill trained troops are unlikely to tip the balance of fighting as long as NATO continues to provide arms to Ukraine and train its army to use them. The US Congress responded by authorising a further $12.3bn in aid, including $3.7bn in weapons and other hardware to Ukraine.
Volodymyr Zelensky’s response was to publicly demand fast track entry to NATO. That would automatically draw all NATO allies directly into the war and will not be granted. However, his demand for more and better weapons was agreed to immediately by both Biden and Truss.
In this sense, there is an element of truth in Dmitry Peskov and Putin’s claim that they are really waging a war with NATO. That, however, does not alter the fact that they invaded Ukraine in order to install a puppet regime and turn it into a Russian colony. The “threats from NATO” were neither immediate nor particularly threatening. By invading a far weaker state, traditionally oppressed by Great Russia, they engaged in a war of national oppression, demonstrating that Russia is an imperialist power, intent on dominating the surrounding former parts of the Tsarist Empire and Stalin’s USSR.
Therefore, Ukrainians’ defence of their homeland cannot be equated with Russia’s attempt to conquer and occupy it in whole or in part. The protests by Russian citizens against their brutal dictator and the resistance to the draft, are contributing towards a progressive end to this war and the unity of the two working classes in the fight against their own oligarchs and exploiters. As far as Russia is concerned, the best way to end this reactionary war would be the overthrow of Putin. And this will be aided by the defeat of Russian forces and their expulsion from Ukraine.
However, this does not mean giving any support to NATO’s equally imperialist motives and objectives in the war and using Ukraine as its proxy. The NATO-Russia conflict is one between two imperialist camps and it is the duty of socialists in the G7 and NATO countries to expose their own rulers’ aims. These include the enormous increase in arms spending, aimed at Russia now but at their main imperialist rival, China, in the longer term.
Both the rival camps are driving humanity towards a third world war, as their system, capitalism, drags us into a major economic crisis and climate catastrophe. Our main enemy is at home. We must not be fooled for one minute by talk of NATO fighting for democracy against autocracy. Russia’s crimes against the Ukrainians (and the Syrians) are no worse than those of the US and its NATO allies in their even bloodier wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, or their support of the brutally repressive regimes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Israel’s cruel oppression of the Palestinians.
Our support for the Ukrainian people’s resistance to Russian conquest does not signify any political support for Zelensky and the Ukrainian ruling class, either. Their requests to join NATO and the European Union, their denial of self-determination to regions of their own country, are not in the interests of their own workers and farmers. Were they to be successful, the country would find itself subjected to the American commanders of NATO, the bankers of Frankfurt and the austerity enforcers of the IMF. Ukrainian extractive and manufacturing industries and agriculture would be plundered by Western multinationals. Apart from having a feeble government in Kyiv, they would be reduced to being a semi-colony of the Western imperialists.
For a truly sovereign and independent Ukraine, the economic and political dominance of the country’s oligarchs must be broken. In the event of a Russian defeat, the workers and working farmers, the youth and the women of Ukraine, should hold on to their weapons and maintain their territorial defence organisations, they will be needed to counter the inevitable offensive of international capital. Success in their struggle to give a social content to liberation and to resist super-exploitation of their land and their labour will require a revolutionary strategy and solidarity from their brothers and sisters both in Western Europe and in Russia. In this way, the dark spectre of a world war, with which the renewed conflicts between the imperialist powers threaten the whole of humanity, can be lifted for ever.