The dual character of the Ukraine war

26 April 2023

By Dave Stockton

FOR 14 MONTHS, Ukraine has been battered by Russian bombs and artillery. Putin’s attack on Ukraine is part of a strategic plan to reassert Russia’s domination over the ‘near abroad’ states against a backdrop of increasing Nato encroachment. Yet so far he has failed. He has underestimated the national spirit of the Ukrainian people (whose very existence he had questioned) and therefore their courageous resistance. He overestimated the military effectiveness of his own forces. Most crucially, he underestimated the willingness of the Nato alliance to supply Ukraine with weapons, plus the degree of unity the US could impose on its European allies.

Nevertheless, the war has reached something of a stalemate. This is in part because despite the huge volume and cost of Nato’s weapon supplies, the West is not actually willing to provide the volume of high technology weaponry, modern tanks and aircraft required for Ukraine to win decisively. Leaked US intelligence documents suggest the Pentagon is not confident that the upcoming Ukrainian military offensive can oust Russian troops from the country, saying only ‘modest gains’ can be expected.

Meanwhile various world figures, including Xi Jinping and Brazil’s president Inacio Lula da Silva, are touting themselves as potential mediators. Whilst the US goal is to weaken and discipline Russia from interfering in the Middle East and Africa, and it is willing to prolong the war for as long as is necessary to force Russia to accept some sort of climb-down, it also probably does not to wish to see a seriously destabilised Russia, which would bring with it the risk of revolutionary upheaval and the continued disruption of the global economic system. If the threatened Russian and Ukrainian spring offensives do not break the military deadlock, an imperialist ‘peace’ may be on the cards.

The character of the war

The antagonism between the ‘old’ Western imperialist powers, the USA and its European and East Asian allies, and the new imperialist powers China and Russia had intensified over the previous 15 to 20 years. With the Ukraine War and military and naval provocations around Taiwan, it is plain that a new stage in the struggle for the redivision of the world is underway. The era of globalisation under the unilateral domination of the United States, Nato and the IMF is over.

Emerging from a long period of US global hegemony, it is hard for many on the left to stop seeing ‘imperialism’ as simply synonymous with the US and Nato powers. Certainly, the period from the collapse of the USSR in 1991 and the 2008 Financial Crisis (Great Recession) saw the US reject the proposals to dissolve Nato, and instead extend it eastwards, with 16 former Warsaw Pact or neutral states joining between 1999 and 2023.

Vladimir Putin in 2005 stated the breakup of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century as it cost Russia her status as a global superpower; although, ironically, he has also blamed Lenin for creating modern Ukraine and dismembering the Russian nation. The true tragedy of the fall of the Soviet Union was not the loss of Russia’s ‘great power’ status but rather the ‘big bang’ restoration of capitalism and the handing over of the means of production created by generations of Soviet and East European workers to a thieving handful of oligarchs, along with a collapse of living standards equivalent to the Great Depression.

Putin’s attack on Ukraine is part of a strategic plan to re-establish Russia’s domination over the ‘near abroad’ states, (those which were formerly part of the Tsarist Empire and the USSR), and was foreshadowed by its wars in Chechnya, Georgia and its annexation of Crimea. Russia’s military strategy is a response to the long-term eastern expansion of Nato into the USSR’s former ‘spheres of influence’, which were and are aimed at curbing Russia’s ability to reassert itself as a global superpower.

These actions by rival imperialist robbers have given the conflict a dual character. On the one hand, Russia has committed a violation of the Ukrainian nation’s right to self-determination and sovereignty. This makes the Ukrainian people’s and army’s resistance against it a justified war of national defence.

Revolutionaries must wish for their victory and Russia’s defeat, supporting the just war aims of the Ukrainian resistance: the withdrawal of Russian troops and the restoration of Ukrainian sovereignty. The fact that in this war Ukraine is receiving unprecedented levels of military and economic support from the Nato powers does not negate the fact that it is waging a just war of national self defence against Putin’s openly declared war for regime change or partition and annexation. This is the defining objective for the Ukrainian people, those doing the fighting, not the geostrategic aggrandisement of Nato.

Yet at the same time, the conflict marks a qualitative shift towards a new period of intensified inter-imperialist rivalry and conflict and is merely a part of the new inter-imperialist great power struggle, one that itself could develop into a catastrophic third world war. Although we are not yet facing an openly declared war between Russia and Nato, the Western powers, above all the USA, have a major influence on the war underway in Ukraine both its conduct and aims and certainly on the peace negotiations that will likely end it.

Nato’s supply of weaponry and military personnel is not motivated by any high minded ‘defence of democracy’ or concern for Ukraine’s national sovereignty but rather its strategic desire to weaken a rival on the world stage and halt its undermining of US hegemony in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa. A subsidiary but important motive for Washington is sabotaging the economic links the European Union, especially Germany and France, had built up with Russia. It also hopes to deliver a harsh warning to China of America’s undiminished military might and continued economic dominance. In short, Nato’s democratic rhetoric is cynical camouflage to justify actions motivated exclusively by its own imperialist self-interests.

Therefore, revolutionaries have to simultaneously support Ukraine’ fight to defeat the Russian invasion and resist any attempt at partition by Russia, but at the same time oppose Nato’s economic warfare, its massive rearmament programmes and its further expansion eastward to Finland, Sweden and, in some form or another, Ukraine.


Today, the masses of Ukraine are fighting national oppression and so their main enemy is not at home. The Ukrainian state forces and the armed civilian population are fighting to free their country, so the world working class must support them. They must therefore place no obstacles to their receiving armaments and material aid from Nato.

The necessity of defeating Russia’s attack does not mean giving political support to Zelensky’s undemocratic and anti-worker regime, or endorsing the post-2014 measures taken by previous Kyiv governments, such as discrimination against the country’s Russian speaking citizens in politics, education, or culture. It means supporting the right to self-determination up to and including secession of the inhabitants of eastern or southern Ukraine or Crimea. At the same time, we also condemn fraudulent referenda or forcible annexations by Russia of these regions.

Therefore, it remains vital to advocate a programme for Ukraine’s independence from both imperialist camps; opposing the country’s entry into Nato and the EU, and demanding the publication of all the secret treaties and conditions tied to the supply of arms and the huge loans from the EU and bilateral loans from the Western powers. We must also oppose any attempt by the Nato powers to use their economic and military support for Ukraine as leverage to convert it into a super-exploited semi-colony of the West.

Revolutionaries in Ukraine must pursue the class struggle. In the factories and the workplaces, it remains vital to defend the living and working conditions, and trade union and democratic rights, of the workers. This defence must include the rights of volunteers in defence units and the regular armed forces against right wing nationalist and fascist commanders and forces.

Wherever combat conditions permit, revolutionaries must agitate for the political rights of soldiers and members of defence militias. Indeed, if a major crisis in the country’s self-defence occurs revolutionaries must fight for the overthrow of the Zelensky regime and for a worker-led resistance and a workers government, the better to defend the country. Their aim must be a social revolution to smash the capitalist state and build a new one on the basis of workers’ power.

Revolutionaries must recognise the rights of all the non-Ukrainian speaking minorities, fighting against any sort of forced assimilation or political repression. They must also argue that the future of the so-called People’s Republics and Crimea must be decided neither by a Ukrainian nationalist regime, nor by Russia.

After the complete withdrawal of Russian troops, we argue that the right of a genuinely democratic expression of self-determination for Crimea and the ‘People’s Republics’ be recognised, including their right to join the Russian Federation, Ukraine or to become independent states. However, only a socialist federation of workers’ states can stop the various ruling classes fomenting national prejudices in their own interests.


Since it is an imperialist power engaged in an attempt to occupy Ukraine in whole or in part, revolutionaries there must adopt the classical Leninist policy of revolutionary defeatism. Military defeat can shake Putin’s rule to its foundations. For Russian workers, the main enemy is at home, and the goal there must be the transformation of the imperialist war into a class war,  for Putin’s overthrow and the establishment of a workers’ government.

Revolutionaries must be for an immediate ceasefire and fraternisation between Russian and Ukrainian soldiers on the front lines and the immediate withdrawal of all Russian forces from Ukraine. In short, they must be for the total defeat of Putin’s aggression, which will be in the interests of all the working people and youth of the country.

For the revelation of the full scale of the casualties suffered by Russian Federation forces! For the compensation of their families at the expense of the oligarchs and billionaires! For a socialist revolution in Russia and the installation of a soviet democracy such as was created by the October Revolution!

The west

In Europe and North America we must develop a mass working class anti-war movement independent of either imperialist camp, in order to bring the consequences of the war home to the warmongering imperialist profiteers. To be effective, such a movement must advance following positions:

Whilst trade unions and workers parties should not actively block weapons deliveries necessary for Ukraine’s self defence, they must fight against the continued expansion of military budgets and the build-up of weapons and troops along Nato’s eastern frontier. The Nato imperialists must not be allowed to use their arming of the Ukrainian resistance as an excuse to modernise their own militaries. In parliaments, workers’ parties must vote against all war budgets and call for the complete dissolution of Nato.

Should the Nato powers attempt any direct intervention (including the establishment of no-fly zones) a powerful anti-war movement will be essential to coordinating political mass strikes in order to convert the inter-imperialist war into a civil war for working class power.

The true conditions for a democratic not an imperialist peace must be:

In the longer term, by means of international revolutionary struggle, we call for the dissolution of both Nato and the Collective Security Organisation, plus the EU and the Eurasian Customs Union and their replacement by a Socialist United States of Europe.  

Tags:  •   • 

Class struggle bulletin

Stay up to date with our weekly newsletter