By Dave Stockton
Vladimir Putin’s failed blitzkrieg against Ukraine has been now transformed into a merciless missile and artillery bombardment of cities and their civilian population.
This is an unconscionable crime against humanity, as well as a reactionary violation of Ukraine’s right to self-determination and independence.
Putin’s claims to be saving Russian speakers in Ukraine from genocide and that the Ukrainian government is composed of Nazis, as well as his denial of the national exitance of Ukrainians are those of a cynical despot who has crushed the most elementary freedoms of his own people. By attacking a militarily and economically much weaker country Putin is attempting to wrest control of Ukraine from under the influence of US and EU imperialism and turn it into what would in effect be a colony of Russia.
Having failed to take Kyiv and install a puppet government, Putin has resorted to a war of attrition against civilians, hoping to force President Zelensky to negotiate a partition of the country.
Initially he aimed to create a land corridor along the Sea of Azov to the Crimea and even westward to Odessa. This has centred on the weeks-long pounding of the city of Mariupol into rubble. It involved, too, the destruction of a theatre in which upwards of a thousand civilians were taking shelter, with 300 deaths. Up to 20,000 of the 300,000 civilians remaining are estimated to have died.
This exposes once more the brutal imperialist character of the Russian state, previously witnessed in the siege of Chechen capital Grozny in 1999–2000, in which 5,000–8,000 civilians were killed, and air support for Bashar al-Assad’s siege of Aleppo, Syria in 2012–16, resulting in 23,000 civilian deaths.
The invasion has been met with resistance not only from the Ukrainian state but also ordinary citizens. The city of Kherson, northwest of Crimea, was one of the first to be taken by the Russians but thousands of courageous unarmed demonstrators have pushed back the invaders’ tanks on the streets to the extent that, three weeks after its fall, the Ukrainian flag was seen flying over public buildings.
On a smaller scale the townspeople of Voznesensk halted a Russian tank column’s advance. ‘We used hunting rifles, people threw bricks and jars,’ a shopkeeper reported on social media, ‘Old women loaded heavy sandbags. The Russians didn’t know where to look or where the next attack would come from.’
These setbacks have forced Putin, if he can be believed, to refocus the invasion on the east of Crimea or even just the Donbas, though any attempt to limit his war aims to the partial or total annexation of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions would still constitute a reactionary war.
Across the world we have seen protests against the invasion, most importantly in Russia itself. People have taken Ukrainian refugees into their homes and others have donated food, clothes and toys to those fleeing war. It is possible however that those outside the Nato countries who have suffered the equally savage and more frequent bombings and invasions waged by Nato or US-led ‘coalitions of the willing’—in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya—might see Putin as some sort of hero, standing up to US imperialism.
But imagining that there is only one imperialist camp, or that my enemy’s enemy must be my friend is blind to the reality of twenty-first century politics.
The fact is that we now live in a multi-polar world with several ‘Great Powers’ fighting over the spoils they already have or those they hope to gain. The US admits in its strategy documents that its goal is to prevent the emergence of a rival to its unchallenged world dominance by a revived Russia or a resurgent China.
Cloaked in the ideology of democracy and liberty and easily able to cast its challengers as authoritarian and enemies of ‘our values’, Nato’s involvement in Ukraine over the past decade has been part of an ever-eastward advance, siting missiles which could render Russia’s ballistic missiles vulnerable if not obsolete. Nato’s claim to be a purely defensive alliance is a patent lie (see page 4).
This conflict, presently waged by tariffs and sanctions, by arming regional powers and supporting proxy wars with one another, has a more disastrous outcome lodged within it—ultimately a third world war.
The defeat of Putin in Ukraine could provoke a revolutionary upheaval in Russia, which would bring down his dictatorial regime and open up great possibilities for the working class and democratic forces within Russia itself.
Victory for Ukraine will only be progressive, however, if its workers take power out of the hands of the West Ukrainian nationalist politicians who helped to push their country to the brink of war by their assault on Russian speakers in the east of the country, denying them the right to self-determination. Without these rights for all language groups and ethnicities, without stopping the privatisation of industries, social services and land—a Ukrainian victory will be a hollow one.
Nato’s declaration of a cold war against Russia, consisting of unprecedented sanctions, with the implication that, should China fail to support them or dare to supply Russia with weapons, this could extend into direct military involvement in Ukraine. This would lead to an open and tremendously destructive inter-imperialist war.
The workers’ movement throughout the world must do all in its power to prevent this development. Therefore, we oppose the creation of a nofly zone over Ukraine by Nato forces; we oppose the sanctions regime and we oppose arms shipments from Nato governments.
The Ukrainian people find themselves in a terrible dilemma. On the one hand their homeland is invaded by a rapacious imperialist power, seeking to deny them basic democratic rights and national independence. On the other hand, obliged to turn to Nato for military and humanitarian aid, under governments that have sought Nato and EU membership, victory for Ukraine under US–EU tutelage will reinforce its status as a semi-colony of the West.
For socialists in Ukraine and internationally, support for the resistance of the Ukrainian people and their victory over the invaders should not be confused with support for Volodymyr Zelenskiy and the country’s oligarchs.
The only progressive outcome to this terrible war would be the uprising of both Ukraine’s and Russia’s workers and peasants, bringing to power governments based on the organisations of the exploited classes and oppressed people. The local organisations and militias in the cities under attack could play a vital role in this.
Meanwhile the labour movements in Europe and North America should oppose the Cold War under Karl Liebknecht’s 1914 slogan, ‘The main enemy is at home’ and Lenin’s ‘Turn the imperialist war into a civil war’.
In Britain this must start with our own ‘oligarchs’ and their bought and paid for politicians, including Labour’s Keir Starmer. It means opposing sanctions, not to aid Putin, but to thwart their economic war aimed at subordinating Russia and opening their resources and people to western exploitation.
There must be no let-up in the class struggle during the inevitable economic crisis that will result from sanctions; we must speak up against the ideological stranglehold over society under the false flag of ‘democracy’ and Ukrainian rights; we must stop the diversion of resources away from education, healthcare and the fight against climate change.
For internationalism and socialism—against all attempts to divide the international working-class movement!
Photo credit: Steve Eason