By Jeff Melton,
Published on The Bitter Pill, May 24, 2022:
War is inherently horrible. The current phase of the war in Ukraine has cost tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers—largely young men in the prime of life—their lives, and the toll on the Russian side will not be low, either. The prior civil war, which has gone on since 2014, has likewise been a horrific tragedy. And despite Russian efforts to minimize civilian casualties—which even Western sources such as Newsweek have acknowledged—many Ukrainian civilians have died, too.
How and Why Ukrainians Became Cannon Fodder in a US Proxy War with Russia
War is inherently horrible. The current phase of the war in Ukraine has cost tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers—largely young men in the prime of life—their lives, and the toll on the Russian side will not be low, either. The prior civil war, which has gone on since 2014, has likewise been a horrific tragedy. And despite Russian efforts to minimize civilian casualties—which even Western sources such as Newsweek have acknowledged—many Ukrainian civilians have died, too. Millions have become refugees. Much destruction has occurred. Economic sanctions imposed by the West against Russia are, as is always the case with sanctions, harming ordinary citizens rather than causing policy change or political instability—although, ironically, Russian countermeasures against the sanctions have resulted in far more economic harm being done to the countries that imposed the sanctions than to their intended target. (For instance, the Russian ruble is at its highest level relative to the dollar and Euro in several years.) The threat of expansion into a broader war remains ever-present. An end to the conflict—which could have been avoided entirely—should be negotiated as soon as possible. As of the time I am writing this, an end does not appear to be imminent, because Zelensky and his handlers refuse to negotiate, but it should, because hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers and some Russian soldiers as well as Ukrainian civilians are needlessly losing their lives every day in a war that the Ukrainian military cannot win.
Why Is The Russia-Ukraine/NATO War Happening? An Analogy
To hear Western politicians and media pundits talk, you’d think that Vladimir Putin woke up one morning and decided to invade Ukraine on a whim. Joe Biden literally called the Russian invasion of Ukraine “unprovoked.” But in fact, it was a decision that many political analysts predicted several years ago would ultimately occur because Russia’s security was genuinely at risk. Beyond that, Russia’s military operation was an intervention in an 8-year-long civil war that was requested by the governments of the besieged regions. Russia’s decision to intervene was itself fraught with risk—as I already noted, it is certainly possible that things could degenerate into a broader or even nuclear war—and the US abandonment of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty in 2002 and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 2019 has increased the likelihood. But the other possible decisions the Russian government could have made—for instance, delaying or refraining from military action and continuing to try to reach a diplomatic solution to the crisis with which they were confronted (briefly, a hostile and heavily-armed, NATO-allied even if not a formal member, nation on their border)—arguably also involved considerable risk.
To understand the situation Russia—and the besieged eastern part of Ukraine—found themselves in, imagine the shoe were on the other foot, so to speak. Suppose Russia was the bulwark of a hostile military alliance including mostly countries in North and Central America that grew over the years, ultimately including countries on the US’s border. Suppose Russia then backed a fascist-led coup in Canada, and the coup government promptly launched an attack on regions bordering the US, full of people with American relatives or who are actually American citizens, killing thousands of these border residents over the years—often deliberately attacking civilians. Suppose also that French was the majority language in most of Canada (the exception being the border regions) rather than only Quebec, and that the coup government banned education conducted in English, books being published in English, and official government business being conducted in English. And in addition to hostility toward various other minority groups, the fascists, who have political power far beyond their numbers, also hate anyone of American descent. The Russia-led hostile military alliance proceeds to heavily arm Canada, and conducts training and military exercises with the Canadian military. Although Canada eventually elects a new Prime Minister who ran on a platform of peace, he instead continues the civil war, threatens to invade the Upper Peninsula, which for a minority of its history had been part of Canada despite being ethnically American, and vows to acquire nuclear weapons. All efforts by American authorities to diplomatically resolve the situation with Russia and Canada are rebuffed. Shelling escalates in the American border regions, and tens of thousands of Canadian troops gather near those regions, poised to invade them and escalate their ethnic cleansing. Would the US government (never mind the ethnic Americans already being bombarded) perceive a threat under such circumstances? Would it take some sort of military action? Regardless of how you as an American citizen might feel about your government responding militarily, there is little doubt that it would perceive a threat and—since every effort to resolve the situation diplomatically had been rebuffed—respond militarily to that threat.
The historical evolution of events over the past several years in Ukraine, and the relationships among Russia, Ukraine, and the US and its allies—to be precise, the West’s use of Ukraine as a pawn in a game of global chess in which the objective was destabilization and regime change in Russia, starting with a US-backed coup in 2014—very much parallels the imaginary scenario I have described. Rightly or wrongly, the Russian government decided to intervene on February 24 in Ukraine’s 8-year-long civil war both for its own security and because the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics in the eastern Ukrainian Donbass region asked for their help in fending off the Ukrainian military’s attacks. This occurred after many unsuccessful Russian and DPR/LPR efforts at diplomacy to resolve these issues. Full understanding of how and why Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine happened requires detailed examination of the specifics of the history of the region, as well as the context of how the US-led imperial world order has operated over the past few decades; I engage in that examination below.
The Ever-Expanding “Defensive” NATO Alliance: Paving the Way for (Cold and Ultimately Hot) War
In 1991, as the Soviet Union was breaking up and the Warsaw Pact was dissolving, Western diplomats promised Russian officials that NATO would not expand beyond East Germany. And it was clear long ago to many Western politicians and foreign policy experts that eastward expansion of NATO was perceived as a security threat by the Russians. None other than Joe Biden said as much in 1997, although of course he was all for NATO expansion anyway. Not long afterwards, the decision to push for NATO expansion was made by the US Congress. Longtime diplomat George Kennan said that the result of NATO expansion would be a new Cold War, and regarded the decision as “a strategic blunder of potentially epic proportions.” The US and other existing NATO members plunged ahead anyway, adding Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic in 1999, seven more members (including three countries bordering Russia—Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) in 2004, and four more between 2009 and 2020. Vladimir Putin reiterated Russia’s view of NATO expansion as an existential threat in a famous speech in 2007, and also made it clear that US efforts to continue its global hegemony would be resisted by Russia and other countries outside its imperial orbit. From that point forward, the New Cold War that Kennan had predicted in 1998 was on. Presciently, CIA director Richard Burns, at the time the US ambassador to Russia, predicted the precise direction things were headed in 2008:
Ukraine and Georgia’s NATO aspirations not only touch a raw nerve in Russia, they engender serious concerns about the consequences for stability in the region. Not only does Russia perceive encirclement, and efforts to undermine Russia’s influence in the region, but it also fears unpredictable and uncontrolled consequences which would seriously affect Russian security interests. Experts tell us that Russia is particularly worried that the strong divisions in Ukraine over NATO membership, with much of the ethnic-Russian community against membership, could lead to a major split, involving violence or, at worst, civil war. In that eventuality, Russia would have to decide whether to intervene, a decision Russia does not want to have to face.
While Ukraine is not presently a NATO member, it has been informally part of NATO for some time. Its military has been trained by NATO forces (and by the CIA), troops from NATO countries have participated in military exercises within Ukraine, and it has received military aid from NATO countries (and from Israel) for many years. Clearly, in the view of Ambassador Burns and many others, Russia perceived NATO expansion (particularly if it included countries such as Ukraine with a long border with Russia) as a threat. Even the Pope has said that “the barking of NATO at the gates of Russia” is likely what motivated Russia to invade Ukraine. And foreign powers barking at Russia’s gates is nothing new.
The Long History of Imperialist Foreign Intervention in Russia’s Affairs
One vitally important thing to understand about Russian culture is the impact that devastating foreign interventions in Russia have had on the national psyche. Within months of the Russian Revolution, several imperialist nations, including the US, Canada, Japan, and numerous European countries, invadedRussia, joining the White Russians’ effort to overthrow the Bolshevik government. During World War II, the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, causing the deaths of roughly 27 million people. The Soviet Union both did more than any other country to defeat the Nazis and paid a higher price for doing so than any other country. Victory Day, the May 9 anniversary of the victory over the Nazis, is one of the biggest holidays of the year in Russia.
But the Soviet Union’s, and later Russia’s, troubles with foreign meddling did not end in 1945. In the westernmost Soviet republics, particularly Ukraine, there was a substantial degree of collaboration with the Nazis during World War II. Stepan Bandera and his associates in the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) participated in the Nazi genocide in a major way, accounting for 1/4th of all Jews killed in the Holocaust. After the war ended, the US organized fascists from around the world, including Ukraine (at the time a Soviet republic), into an international network. Between 1945 and 1953, when Soviet forces were finally able to defeat them, the OUN and UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army) conducted a campaign of sabotage, terror, and assassination within the USSR, killing tens of thousands of both KGB agentsand civilians.
The Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991. In the 1990s, under the “guidance” of Jeffrey Sachs and Western financial institutions, and with US puppet Boris Yeltsin as Russia’s President, the vast majority of the public sector was “privatized” (essentially, public assets were stolen by private individuals), price controls were removed, and the value of the ruble was kept artificially high. The result was catastrophic: Russia’s GDP and industrial production fell by nearly half, poverty skyrocketed, and life expectancy plummeted by nearly 4 years during the first half of the 1990s. Just to make sure Russia remained under the thumb of the US for the time being, the US rigged the 1996 Russian election to make sure Yeltsin won. Although in the 21st century Russia was able to end its subservience to Western imperialism and recover economically, foreign intervention continued. US-backed “color revolution” coups occurred in neighboring Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine in 2004 and of course in 2013-14. Although neither country has yet joined NATO, both countries’ militaries have been armed and trained by the US, and both have engaged in deliberate attacks on civilians in separatist regions right on Russia’s border. And US interference in Russia’s internal political affairs did not end with the backing of Boris Yeltsin: The National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the Soros Foundation, and other US-associated NGOs have spent millions of dollars funding Russian opposition groups, until the Russian government banned the practice in 2015. However redundant it might seem when American “private” propaganda networks such as Fox, CNN, and MSNBC are broadcast worldwide, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a radio network developed by the CIA to broadcast Western propaganda into the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, continues broadcasting to this day.
Part of a Broader Pattern—From the Monroe Doctrine to Full-Spectrum Global Dominance
Of course, US interference in Russia’s affairs is part of a broader pattern in which the US, aided by its junior partners (NATO members, Australia, ruling elites in various neo-colonies, etc.), has interfered in other countries’ affairs so as to perpetuate its global imperial hegemony for many decades. US intelligence services and NGOs such as the NED have interfered in dozens of elections, and backed anti-government protests and terrorist groups in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Ukraine, Nicaragua, and many other places. US-dominated international financial institutions such as the IMF and World Bank have imposed crushing debt on dozens of countries, and demanded that their governments implement policies that served the interests of foreign multinationals rather than the working class of their countries. Just since 1945, the US has overthrown dozens of governments and waged proxy or direct wars that have killed more than 20 million people.
Strangling Development in the Crib
Two things are striking about the manner in which the US and its largely white/European-descended allies—the imperial core countries—relate to the rest of the world. First and foremost, not only are they rabidly anti-communist, opposing with every available means (election-rigging, propaganda, economic means such as sanctions, and military violence) any government or sizable national movement with anti-capitalist leanings, but really they oppose even a hint of independent economic development, of a nation’s efforts to maintain control over its own natural and human resources. Of course the US and other imperialist countries have tried to overthrow or undermine socialist governments in the Soviet Union, Cuba, Nicaragua, Chile, China, etc. But the US also overthrew the mainstream liberal government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala, which was deemed a threat to the interests of the United Fruit Company because of his land reform policy, which gave land to desperately poor peasants at the expense of wealthy landowners including this multinational corporation. It overthew the equally mainstream liberal government of Mohammad Mossadegh of Iran when he nationalized its oil fields.
Similarly, the US and its allies have not just attempted to overthrow the Soviet Union, but also continued attempting to undermine the sovereignty of the quintessentially capitalist Russian Federation that emerged following the fall of the Soviet Union. Like so many other foreign leaders—Qaddafi, Assad, Hussein, etc.—have been, Vladimir Putin is on the West’s “shit list” not because he was some sort of communist, but because, unlike US puppet Boris Yeltsin during Russia’s “lost decade” of the ’90s, Putin has made sure that Russia was in control of its own resources and, albeit in the context of a capitalist and economically unequal society, able to use them for its own economic growth and development, rather than leaving them open to foreign plunder. To the imperialist vultures who rule our world, this is an unforgivable sin. Accordingly, it is hardly a surprise to see institutions of US imperial power such as the Rand Corporation openly declare that regime change in Russia, followed by the unrestrained pillage of Russia’s vast natural resources by foreign predators, is a central goal of US foreign policy.
…With the Help of Nazis and Other Fascists
The second thing that is striking about how imperialist core countries relate to the rest of the world is how consistently their drive for global dominance leads them to support the most rabidly reactionary and sociopathically violent governments or social forces they can find in every corner of the earth. The aforementioned US backing for Nazi collaborators in Ukraine (at the time part of the USSR) following World War II was only part of much broader US support for Nazis and other fascistic forces; all in all, the US’s fight against the fascist Axis powers (Germany, Japan, and Italy) during World War II is an anomalous 4-year “blip” in a decades-long history of consistently supporting Nazis and their ilk. Allen Dulles, one of the architects (along with his brother, John Foster Dulles) of the coup that brought down Jacobo Arbenz and ushered in decades of violent repression in Guatemala, complained that the US was fighting on the wrong side during World War II. But that “mistake” was soon rectified: Just prior to the end of World War II, Dulles, at the time working for the CIA’s predecessor organization, the OSS, met with General Karl Wolff, an SS officer who played a central role in the Nazi genocide, enlisting him to assist the US in the fight against communism. Wolff was just one of thousands of former Nazis, as well as Italian fascists, recruited by the OSS and subsequently the CIA (of which Allen Dulles was the first head) to develop a network of spies and thugs to try and prevent the success of communists or any other leftists in Europe. The significance of this cannot be overstated: Before the war against fascism was even over, the US recruited fascists to wage war against communism. This network of fascists wreaked havoc throughout Europe, most notably in Italy, where nearly 15,000 acts of violence were carried out, killing hundreds and injuring thousands, and severely hampering the political success of the left. Similar efforts were carried out in Japan, where one of the most brutal fascist war criminals, Nobusuke Kishi, wound up becoming Japan’s Prime Minister. Needless to say, these efforts meant that thousands of war criminals went unpunished.
In every corner of the earth, in its relentless efforts to prevent the emergence of any sort of political and economic independence from its imperial domination, the US has supported right-wing extremists of one sort or another—Islamofascists throughout the Middle East, North Africa, Western Asia, and even Yugoslavia; brutal thugs trained at the School of the Americas in Latin America; or the Zionazis of Israel, to name a few examples.
NATO as the Handmaiden of Imperialist Treachery
In its quest for continued global dominance, the US relies heavily on international institutions in which it is the 800-pound gorilla: the Organization of American States, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, and, of course, NATO. A self-described “defensive military alliance,” NATO is anything but that. NATO, whose founding members included the at the time fascist government of Portugal, worked with the CIA and the UK’s MI-6 intelligence agency to build the aforementioned post-World War II fascist network in Europe. Given that it was purportedly set up to defend Western Europe from alleged Soviet aggression, many presumed that it would be disbanded after the Soviet Union dissolved itself. Instead, its true purpose as an instrument of imperial aggression only became more self-evident. In 1999, following several years of violence by Islamic terrorists backed by US, German, and British intelligence services, and false claims of genocide directed against Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic, NATO forces launched a 2 ½ month bombing campaign in Yugoslavia, resulting in its dismemberment. In 2001, despite the lack of evidence that anyone connected with the Afghan government had anything to do with 9/11, NATO forces launched a war in Afghanistan, ostensibly in response to 9/11, that lasted for 20 years. Though principally a US affair, the war in Iraq that began in 2003 was another NATO-backed operation. NATO also organized the bombing of Libya in 2011. All of these operations—by design—resulted in regime change. And none of them had anything to do with threats to NATO members, whereas all of them had to do with the furthering of NATO countries’ imperialist aims.
Fomenting a Proxy War: The Case of Ukraine
Before The Coup
Ukraine’s 2014 territorial boundaries were a result of its becoming a state of the Soviet Union in 1922, and a later decision by Nikita Kruschev to make Crimea, which had for centuries been part of Russia and overwhelmingly inhabited by Russian-speaking, culturally Russian people, a part of Ukraine. Though the multi-ethnic status of Ukraine as thus constituted—largely Polish in Western Ukraine, Ukrainian in the middle, and overwhelmingly Russian in Eastern and Southeastern Ukraine—was not necessarily a problem while Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, Ukraine’s independence when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991 set the stage for it to become a potential problem.
Moreover, like Russia, Ukraine followed a path of neoliberalism after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. This meant that state enterprises were privatized (i.e., state property was stolen by oligarchs), and Ukraine’s economic policy served the interests of oligarchs and international capital rather than those of its working class. A sharp drop in average Ukrainians’ standard of living, a vast increase in eonomic inequality, and the deindustrialization of Ukraine, one of the most economically developed regions of the Soviet Union, began. Naturally, once Ukraine became independent, the US attempted to interfere with its elections just as it did in Russia. A propaganda campaign was launched after the 2004 election implying that the winning candidate, Viktor Yanukovich, had cheated and was “pro-Russian,” and the US backed (to the tune of $14 million) a “color revolution” that forced a run-off election against the US-backed candidate, Viktor Yuschenko, who was declared President.
The Coup and Its Aftermath
Yuschenko’s program of austerity and his efforts to suppress the language rights of the Russian minority made him highly unpopular, and in the 2010 election, he lost badly to Yanukovich, only receiving 5% of the vote. In 2013, Yanukovich rejected a partnership agreement with the EU because it would have required Ukraine to accept an IMF loan the terms of which involved further privatization of the Ukrainian economy and deep cuts in government social programs, and instead accepted a much more favorable offer of economic aid from Russia.
That was unacceptable to the US, and to Western-oriented and/or more right-wing members of the Ukrainian public. Massive street protests ensued, led by far-right elements such as Svoboda (a Nazi party), C14 (its youth brigade), and Right Sector (a coalition of fascist organizations), and heavily backed by the National Endowment for Democracy, the CIA, and the US government generally. Various US dignitaries, including US Senators John McCain, Amy Klobuchar, and Chris Murphy, met with these fascist forces and expressed their approval for the Maidan “revolution,” which was consummated in February 2014 when President Yanukovich was forced to resign by (an illegitimate vote of) parliament, after threats of violence from the fascists, and he and several other members of his administration fled the country. Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary of State under Obama at the time, boasted in late 2013 that the US had spent $5 billion on promoting “European aspirations” and “democracy” in Ukraine. A leaked phone call between Nuland and the US Ambassador to Ukraine showed the extent to which the US stage managedwho came to power in the new government. Recognizing that they couldn’t get away with appointing an open fascist even though there were plenty to choose from, the US goons instead chose Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a leader of the nationalist Fatherland Party, as the hand-picked new Ukrainian Prime Minister. Members of the fascist organization Svoboda also played important roles in the coup government; e.g., its co-founder, Andrei Paruby, served as speaker of the Ukrainian parliament until 2019, and six members joined Yatsenyuk’s cabinet. Curiously, many foreign citizens were also appointed to important Ukrainian government roles, including Americans Natalie Jaresko and Ulana Suprun (Ministers of Finance and Healthcare, respectively). Neoliberal economic policy was the order of the day, with gutting of social programs and mass layoffs of government employees; Ukraine, already an economic basket case, ultimately became the poorest country in Europe.
Among the first actions of the coup government were to ban the Ukrainian Communist Party and other left-wing parties and to attack the language rightsof the Russian minority (e.g., education could no longer be conducted in Russian). Protests against the coup broke out in cities around the country, particularly in the predominantly Russian eastern (Donbass) and southeastern regions, where polls indicated the overwhelming majority of the population opposed the Maidan “revolution.” These protests were violently attacked by the fascists. A particularly egregious attack occurred in the southeastern city of Odessa, where an assault on coup protesters resulted in 48 people being burned alive after being locked in a labor union building. Unfortunately, in a number of cities such as Mariupol and Odessa, fascists wound up having de facto control. However, in the Crimean Oblast (state, essentially) and in much of the Donbass, the protests were more successful, and the people had had enough of the coup government and its anti-Russian bigotry. In an overwhelming (87%) vote, the people of the Donbass region backed the formation of the independent Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, and by an even more overwhelming margin (96%), the people of Crimea voted to rejoin Russia, which Crimea had been part of until 1954. The referendum in Crimea took place during a period when there were two holidays during which Crimeans typically go on vacation. That year, instead, the vast majority stayed home to vote. A recent poll of Crimeans found that the vast majority remained happy with their decision to leave Ukraine and join Russia.
Because Crimeans had the good fortune to live in a region with a Russian military base (in Sevastopol), Crimea was not attacked for its “transgression”; instead, the coup government retaliated against Crimea by damming the canal that had supplied the majority of Crimea’s water, wreaking havoc on its considerable agricultural sector. Nonetheless, Crimeans benefited in many ways from joining Russia. The Russian language was not discriminated against as it has continued to be in Ukraine—Russian as well as Ukrainian and Tatar are official state languages—and Crimeans were able to practice their longstanding cultural traditions (e.g., celebrating Victory Day) without hindrance. And Crimea, which had suffered economically due to the Ukrainian government’s longstanding neoliberal policies (and allegedly also due to the coup government’s anti-Russian views), instead prospered economically. Eva Bartlett, one of the few Western journalists to visit Ukraine in recent years, was struck by the well-maintained infrastructure there and the amount of new construction. As one of the residents she interviewed put it:
When I came here in December 2012, everything was dilapidated and run down. The nice roads you were driving on, they didn’t exist when Crimea was still a part of Ukraine…In the past four years, the Crimean government has built 200 new kindergartens. This is the most obvious example of how things have improved. They also built the new Simferopol airport.
The people of the Donbass were not so lucky. Immediately after the Donetsk and Luhansk independence votes, the coup government sent troops there in an attempt to forcibly retake control of the region from what they called “terrorists.” Many in the Ukrainian military at first hesitated to attack their own people, but the newly-formed fascist militias (Azov, Aidar, Tornado, etc.) showed no such hesitation. The upshot has been 8 years of relentless attacks by the Ukrainian military and fascist militias (since integrated into the military) on the Donbass region, often targeted at civilian areas with no military targets present, resulting in over 14,000 deaths. (To add insult to injury, Ukrainian corporations have contaminated the drinking water of the Donetsk region through dumping toxic waste and extensive fracking.) Throughout this time, the US and other NATO countries—and even Israel—have supplied Ukraine with abundant military aid and training, despite (or is it because of?) being well aware of this civil war and of the strong influence of literal Nazis and other far right forces within the Ukrainian military, security services, and government.
There have been some efforts to resolve the situation in the east. The Minsk Protocol, an agreement reached in September 2014 between Russia, Ukraine, and representatives of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics as well as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that called for a ceasefire and limited autonomy for the (to this day unrecognized by any government except Russia) republics, was violated within days when Ukrainian military and paramilitary forces resumed shelling in Donetsk, and DPR forces responded. Although the fighting was less intense over the ensuing months than was the case prior to the agreement, it continued, and another attempted settlement, Minsk II, was signed in February 2015. This, too, was violated almost immediately, despite a unanimous UN Security Council vote supporting it, with leaders of the fascist Right Sector and Azov militias declaring that they had no intention of honoring it. Barely a month after Minsk II was signed, the Ukrainian government insisted that it would not honor the agreement unless the Donbass rebels surrendered, an offer which they of course refused. Right-wing President and corrupt oligarch Petro Poroshenko, elected in May 2014 amidst martial law-like conditions in which journalists critical of the coup government were routinely arrested, stated a year later that Ukraine was at war with Russia. Numerous cities such as Mariupol (Azov’s home base) and Melitopol have been under de facto fascist militia/military occupation ever since, and in many other cities such as Kharkov and Kiev, anyone who is outspoken (particularly if they’re communist or of Russian ethnicity) must fear for their safety, so residents have suffered a different sort of hell than that faced by those living in the DPR and LPR.
The West portrays Ukraine as a democracy. However, while its elections appear to not be rigged, since the coup it has been a repressive society where communist parties or political candidates, expression of pro-communist views, and any communist- or Soviet-associated symbols or propaganda (e.g., singing The Internationale) are banned, with violations of the ban punishable by 5 to 10 years in prison, as even Western outlets such as The Guardian have acknowledged. In addition to the above, Ukraine’s “decommunization” laws passed in 2015 ban celebrations of Victory Day, the Russian term for the anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over the Nazis; all written references to the “Great Patriotic War” (Russia’s name for World War II) were required to be eliminated; more than 1300 statues of Lenin were toppled, and names of many towns as well as tens of thousands of streets were changed. Kidnapping, torture and extrajudicial executions of left-wing activists or journalists and many others have been common.
Meanwhile, fascists who participated in the Holocaust and continued their violent activities after World War II have been honored. The birthday of Stepan Bandera, the best-known leader of the Ukrainian Nazis of that era, is now celebrated as a national holiday, and a book criticizing one of his anti-Semitic colleagues was banned. Ukraine, as well as the US and Canada, voted against a UN resolution condemning the “glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.” And as Ukraine was taking down statues and monuments honoring Lenin or other communist or Soviet figures, it was putting up statues and monuments honoring Nazi collaborators like Bandera, or naming streets after them, just as fast. It also bestowed honors, such as the Hero of Ukraine award, on many present-day fascists. Pogroms against the Roma people, attacks on feminists and LGBT groups, desecration of Holocaust monuments and racist diatribes about Jews, violence against leftists, torchlight marches reminiscent of those in Nazi Germany, and of course attacks on Russians, have become commonplace. As previously noted, discrimination against Russian speakers has been institutionalized. In 2014, a Ukrainian journalist openly called for genocide in the Donbass, and in March of this year, a Ukrainian TV host likewise called for genocide against Russians, quoting Adolph Eichmann’s advocacy of killing children in that regard. Recently, the official, verified Twitter account of Ukraine’s National Guard called Russian Chechen Muslims “orcs,” and approvingly described the Azov Battalion’s practice of greasing bullets intended for Muslims with pork lard.
The fact of considerable far right/fascist influence on Ukrainian politics following the made-in-America 2014 coup has often been denied or downplayed by Western media, particularly since the Russian special military operation was launched on February 24 of this year, and those who criticize the influence of the far right on Ukrainian society are caricatured as claiming that all Ukrainians are Nazis, which in turn is characterized as a claim made by “Russian propaganda.” The fact that Ukraine’s current President, Vladimir Zelensky, is Jewish is pointed to as “proof” that Nazism is not a big influence in Ukraine.
But nobody is saying that all Ukrainians are Nazis, any more than anyone says that all Germans were Nazis or all late 20th century Chileans were supporters of Augusto Pinochet. Despite its fascist summer camps for kids, the far right is actually not very popular in Ukraine. Though he won an election in 2014, Petro Poroshenko—not a Nazi but definitely a member of the far right—became highly unpopular by the time he ran for re-election in 2019, obtaining only 24%of the vote to Vladimir Zelensky’s 73%. And in that 2019 election, a coalition of the far right parties only received 2.2% of the vote in the parliamentary election, not enough to earn a seat. Ukraine’s problem with the far right—at least since 2019—is not so much that they hold elected office (although some do) but that they have such a widespread presence in the military and security apparatus (where not only are there entire battalions or regiments of fascists, but they are widely distributed throughout) as well as continuing to exist as paramilitary units. Thus, these heavily armed thugs can use violence and intimidation to get their way—and are supported in doing so by some ofUkraine’s wealthiest people.
The Zelensky Era
Events since Zelensky was elected in 2019 have only reinforced that the far right has an iron grip on Ukrainian affairs. Zelensky, an actor famous in Ukraine for portraying the President of Ukraine on a popular TV show, was elected on a platform that, although generally vague, promised peace with the Donbass and with Russia. When asked by an interviewer what he would say to Vladimir Putin, he responded that he would say “First and foremost, I want the shooting to stop.” He also advocated repeal of Ukraine’s discriminatory anti-Russian language laws. Yet the story of how he became President not only reveals that most Ukrainians are not fans of war or Nazis and, unlike Nazis, have nothing against ethnic Russians or Jews (both of which Zelensky himself is), but also reveals much about the corruption and far-right influence that permeates Ukraine. Zelensky’s TV show, Servant of the People—which presented a sort of informal platform for his Presidential run that was generally populist/anti-corruption/anti-oligarchy—appeared on the TV network owned in part by Igor Kolomoisky, a billionaire oligarch who, it turns out, also has a controlling interest in Burisma, the gas company that paid Joe Biden’s son $80,000 a month for sitting on its board. Kolomoisky also happens to be the leading funder of Zelensky’s election campaign—and has also been a leading private funder of the Azov Battalion and other Ukrainian fascist groups.
Once Zelensky and his newly-formed Servant of the People Party (yes, really!) were firmly ensconced in Kiev, controlling both the executive and legislative branches, the real Zelensky was revealed (and within less than a year, most Ukrainians decided they didn’t like the real Zelensky, for reasons that will soon become apparent). Only 3 days after coming to power, he began implementinga program of privatization, “land reform” that made it easier for wealthy foreigners and local oligarchs to buy up much of Ukraine’s best land, deregulation, and regressive taxation. And, although its extent is thus far unclear, there is evidence in the Pandora Papers indicating that Zelensky made sure he would get a slice of the oligarchs’ pie. Zelensky also failed to keep his promise to protect Russian language rights. In May 2021, the Zelensky government decided to essentially continue the discriminatory language policies of Zelensky’s predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, which requires that Ukrainian be the language used in most aspects of public life, such as education and government proceedings. All national print media are requiredto publish in Ukrainian, with some exceptions for English, languages used in various EU countries, and some minority languages used in Ukraine—but specifically not Russian! Zelensky also banned the importation of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, claiming that it was part of a “Russian information war” against Ukraine.
Zelensky may have initially intended to keep his campaign promise to end the civil war. However, the far right was not having it: The Azov Battalion launched a “No To Capitulation” campaign. After a tense meeting with Azov members in Zolote, a town they occupied in the Donbass, he implored them to stop the fighting and essentially they reiterated their refusal. Andrei Biletsky, an Azov leader and proud neo-Nazi, said he would bring thousands more fighters to the area if Zelensky pushed any further, and other fascists made death threats against Zelensky. Under this political pressure from the far right, Zelensky abandoned his campaign promise and refused to meet with the leaders of Donbass independence forces or implement the Minsk Accords.
Shortly after Zelensky’s meeting with Azov leaders in the Donbass, his administration began cozying up to the right. Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk appeared on stage at a neo-Nazi metal concert organized by C-14 leader and accused murderer Andriy Medvedko, and the Minister of Veterans Affairs promoted the event on Facebook. Zelensky subsequently describedUkrainian soccer player Roman Zolzuya, a Banderite and supporter of Azov, as “not only a cool football player but a true patriot,” and appointed former Right Sector head Dmytro Yarosh as an advisor to the Commander In Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. In December 2021, Zelensky honored Right Sector commander Dmytro Kotsyubaylo with the “Hero of Ukraine” award. And early this year, Zelensky appointed former Aidar Battalion commander Maksym Marchenko as the chief administrator of the Odessa region. He also appointedMikkheil Saakashvilli, the rabidly right-wing and anti-Russian former president of Georgia who came to power there in the US-backed “color revolution” in 2003, and fled the country in the wake of criminal charges including abuse of power and embezzlement of government funds, as chair of the Ukrainian government’s Executive Committee for Reforms. Saakashvilli was a supporter of the Maidan coup and has close ties with Svoboda and the Azov Battalion. In April, Zelensky met via video link with the Greek Parliament to ask Greece to send Ukraine weapons—and was accompanied by a member of the Azov Battalion, much to the outrage of many in Greece. All in all, despite Western propaganda about how Nazism/fascism cannot be a serious problem in Ukraine because its President is Jewish, the fact of the matter is that, like some Jews during World War II, Zelensky is a Nazi collaborator, and despite the opposition of the majority of the population to Nazism (which seems likely to have been true in Nazi Germany as well), those who subscribe to it play a dominant role in Ukrainian society—and intimidate their opponents with violence and threats of it. Particularly in eastern Ukraine, people characterize the Maidan Coup and its aftermath as a “Nazi takeover,” and do not regard Zelensky becoming President as having changed that state of affairs despite their initial hopes.
Looking the other way at the violent activities of far right groups (and refusingto hold them accountable), honoring them, and putting them in positions of power is plenty harmful enough. But Zelensky has made an absolute mockery of Western claims that Ukraine is a democracy. In February 2021, Zelensky shut down three TV networks, accusing them of showing “Kremlin-funded propaganda.” Shortly thereafter, he had his chief political opponent in the legislature, Victor Medvenchuk, arrested, charging him with “treason” for allegedly promoting pro-Russian views, and several other dissenters who supported settling the conflict with the Donbass were similarly charged. And despite his insistence that the Donbass region was part of Ukraine, in December 2021, Zelensky introduced bills that could be used to strip Ukrainian citizenship and voting rights of any resident of the region who allegedly participated in “actions threatening Ukraine’s national security and national interests” (which of course could be used against anyone dissenting from the government), and even from anyone who held a Russian passport.
A year after his initial arrest, Medvenchuk was again arrested, and beaten, by the SBU, Ukraine’s security service. The SBU has a long record of kidnapping and torturing political dissidents, and that has not changed under Zelensky. On March 1, the mayor of a city in the Ukrainian-controlled part of Luhansk who publicly advocated for a negotiated peace, Volodymyr Strok, was kidnapped, tortured, and murdered. Several other elected officials have also been kidnapped, tortured, and/or murdered based on accusations of “collaborating with Russia” (typically when they accepted humanitarian aid from the Russian military) since the war began. Private citizens, particularly political dissidents/leftists or people of Russian or Roma descent, have suffered a similar fate. Russian prisoners of war have been tortured by Ukrainian forces, such as by being deliberately shot in the legs, or having their eyes gouged out, as well as murdered. A French writer, Adrien Bocquet, says he personally witnessed some of these crimes while volunteering on a humanitarian mission in Ukraine. (The full interview, in French, can be found here.)
As has been the case throughout the 8-year long civil war, Ukrainian troops have continued to deliberately launch artillery and rocket attacks at civilian areas, killing or wounding many and destroying their homes and workplaces, during the months since Russian troops entered the country. They have located their troops in civilian (primarily ethnically Russian) areas, thus using civilians as human shields, which is a war crime. (Ukrainians have made similar allegations against Russian troops.) Azov Battalion troops have been repeatedly alleged to have taken civilians hostage, as well as shot at civilians attempting to flee war zones. Discussion of such events is forbidden in the Ukrainian media: In March, Zelensky banned all opposition media. He also banned 11 more political parties, including the second-leading party in parliament, the Platform for Life Party, accusing them of being “pro-Russian”—but imposed no bans on openly fascist parties. As previously noted, Platform for Life’s leader, Victor Medvenchuk, was arrested and beaten. In general, dissent is not tolerated in Ukraine. Even Zelensky’s predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, was not immune from the repression: Zelensky attempted to have him arrested on charges of “treason” for selling coal to the Donbass region, even though the Ukrainian government supposedly considers it part of Ukraine! Not even being an American citizen provides any guarantees: Gonzalo Lira, an outspoken critic of the Ukrainian regime, was detained by the SBU for a week in April, and is facing unspecified charges.
Those seeking to minimize the problem of far-right violence in Ukraine and the repressive nature of present-day Ukrainian society generally often say “But Russia is repressive and has fascist elements, too!” While that is true, that is a bit of a false equivalency. Although political repression is certainly an issue in Russia, there is a difference between a country that bans all left-wing opposition (and now all opposition media), as is the case in Ukraine, and a country such as Russia where the Communist Party is the second-leading party in the Duma and a diverse spectrum of opinion is tolerated. And although right-wing extremists exist in almost every society, there is a difference between a society such as Russia where open Nazism and Holocaust denialare deemed illegal and often punished and Ukraine, the only country in the world where openly neo-Nazi groups are fully incorporated into the military and, as discussed previously, this ideology has been normalized in various ways through government policy.
There was some justification even before Zelensky was elected for wondering whether he would keep his promise of bringing peace to Ukraine: He refusedto commit to all of the provisions of the Minsk Agreements that his predecessor’s government had signed (but refused to honor). His time in office has borne out such concerns. In October 2019, he raised a new objection to the Minsk agreements, stating that his government would not permit the elections in the Donbass region called for by them as long as there were troops there, even though the only troops that were there besides Ukrainian troops were the militias the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics organized in order to defend themselves from Ukrainian troops! (Meanwhile, Mariupol, which is not within the current territory of the republics but is part of the Donbass region, has been under military occupation by the fascist Azov Battalion throughout Zelensky’s Presidency.) At a meeting in December with Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, Vladimir Putin, and himself regarding implementing the Minsk agreements, Zelensky objected to yet another provision, stating that “We will never agree to federalization of Ukraine [i.e., granting autonomy to the Donbass, as explicitly called for by Minsk!] by way of amending our constitution.” In April of 2021, he signaled his rejection of yet another provision of the Minsk agreements, refusing to meet with representatives of the Donbass republics by saying “I’m not holding talks with terrorists.” Meanwhile, Zelensky’s government announced plans to “recover” Crimea, which had been part of Russia for 7 years at that point by virtue of a 96% vote to secede from Ukraine and join Russia—in other words, Zelensky’s regime was announcing plans to invade Russia. Shortly thereafter, Zelensky proclaimed that Ukraine was ready for war with Russia. Zelensky also lobbied heavily to join NATO—which NATO officials and member governments never publicly stated they opposed—and in May, Ukraine participated in a joint military exercise with NATO countries. Training of the Ukrainian military by NATO members’ militaries, including fascist units such as Azov, has continued. It has also been alleged that there are de facto NATO military bases in Ukraine, even though Ukraine’s constitution prohibited foreign military bases or the stationing of foreign troops within Ukraine. And although of course it has now escalated to tens of billions of dollars, Zelensky had already sought and received billions of dollars in military aid from NATO member countries even before the current war with Russia.
In December 2021, Russia submitted draft treaties to the US and to NATO calling for security guarantees for itself and NATO countries that included an end to further expansion of NATO, an end to military exercises in countries on its border, non-deployment of offensive weapons on Russia’s borders or Russian deployment of such weapons on other countries’ borders, and general arms reduction in the region. The only response it received was essentially outright rejection, and an affirmation of NATO’s “open door” policy regarding future members. The military exercise that NATO conducted just 100 kilometers from Russia’s border in Estonia in January could also be considered a sort of “response.” And the hawkish posture of Ukraine, evidently hell-bent on provoking a war with Russia, continued. On December 21, Ukraine amended its constitution to allow foreign troops to operate within Ukraine. On February 14, Zelensky reiterated Ukraine’s desire to join NATO—an eventuality which, as previously noted, the US already knew would likely lead to a Russian military response—and on February 19, at a security conference in Munich, he stated that Ukraine wished to acquire nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, shelling by the Ukrainian military of the Donbass escalated enormously in February and, following the usual pattern, included many indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas. More than 100,000 Ukrainian troops were gathered on the borders of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, and a plan to launch a full-scale assault on these areas within a couple of weeks was allegedly discovered. DPR and LPR officials requested that Russia recognize their independence and ratify a mutual assistance treaty (which, it has been argued, legally allowed for Russia to militarily intervene in the conflict). The Russian government honored these requests on February 22, and on February 24, Vladimir Putin announcedthe initiation of what Russia called its “special military operation.” Its stated purpose was to protect the people of the Donbass region, and in conjunction with that goal, to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine as well as to bring to trial those who had perpetrated war crimes during Ukraine’s civil war.
Clearly, Russian government leaders did not wake up the morning of February 24 and suddenly decide to launch a military operation in Ukraine. In fact, during the preceding months, Russia warned Ukraine and its US puppet masters on many occasions that it would take military action if its citizens living in the Donbass (of which there are about 800,000) or its security interests were further threatened, and made many diplomatic efforts to attempt to resolve these issues. Yet not only has Ukraine continued to ignore the peace agreements it signed in 2014 and 2015, but it escalated its attack on the Donbass in mid-February and appeared ready to launch a full-scale invasion, which would have killed thousands more. The immediate impetus for Russia’s military operation was the request for help from DPR and LPR government officials in the face of the impending attack. That does not mean that the Russian government’s intervention is a purely altruistic gesture, or even that Russia doesn’t have anything to possibly gain from intervening in Ukraine beyond security—after all, the Donbass is a resource-rich area. But if Russia were chomping at the bit to take over the Donbass, rather than being quite reluctant to intervene militarily (in fact, of the two largest parties in Russia, the Communist Party started calling for intervention much sooner than Putin’s United Russia Party), it would have done so years ago.
The Ukrainian government could have stopped its war against the people of the Donbass and honored the agreement it signed in 2015 at any time, but so far it will not, even though doing so would have merely resulted in the Donbass becoming an autonomous region a la Hong Kong or Xinjiang, rather than part of Russia as is now likely. And Ukraine could return to the negotiating table with Russia and bring an end to the present conflict at any time—but so far it will not. It could have stopped its repressive, terroristic tactics toward people within Ukraine proper at any time, but it has not. Similarly, the US and its imperialist junior partners could have stopped sending military aid to Ukraine and supporting its provocative and aggressive actions at any time (and could now be pressuring it to negotiate an end to the current war with Russia at any time instead of pressuring it to keep using the Ukrainian people as cannon fodder), but they have not. In fact, President Donald Trump was impeached for even halting military aid to Ukraine briefly, even though he could have been (but was not) impeached for much more serious issues, such as for example the military occupation of part of Syria by US troops and the theft of Syrian oil.
There are other steps Russia could have taken beyond the extensive diplomatic initiatives it did take to try and address the Ukraine situation short of military intervention. It could probably have done a better job of publicizing the true nature of the situation in Ukraine on the world stage, as Vijay Prashadhas noted. It could as well, as the leading supplier of gas and oil to the EU as well as to Ukraine, threatened to shut off the supply if the escalation was not stopped. But, given the determination of the sociopathic leaders of the global hegemon and its vassals in Kiev to continue pursuing their path of war in the Donbass and escalating threats against Russia, I doubt that anything short of military action could have stopped this. If anything, many people in the Donbass say they wish Russia had intervened sooner. And, contrary to the impression given in the Western media that there is “universal” condemnation of the Russian invasion, 35 countries abstained from voting on a UN resolution to condemn it and five countries voted against it; together, these countries represented the majority of the world’s population. And regardless of how their governments voted, officials from many countries placed the blame for the escalation of the Ukraine conflict squarely on NATO and the US.
Those who only watch or read Western corporate media have “learned” that Russia’s military operation was an “unprovoked” attack on poor, innocent Ukraine, launched because Vladimir Putin is “crazy” or “evil.” If corporate media messaging is all someone is exposed to, it is understandable if they react only to that message, and accordingly conclude that what is required is to arm Ukraine so that it can defend itself against this attack, demand that “Putin” stop his “crazy” war, support imposing sanctions on Russia (perhaps not realizing that sanctions will only hurt ordinary Russians and, worse, backfire and hurt people in other parts of the world even more)—or even impose a no-fly zone and almost guarantee a major escalation of the war.
What I find much harder to understand is the views of many of my comrades in the Western left who have participated in some of the same anti-war marches and movements that I have over the years. They generally understand that a no-fly zone would be a terrible idea and understand that there have been NATO provocations of Russia, but both their positions and their understanding of the historical or current situation often leave much to be desired. These positions generally fall into two categories.
The first is those who take positions that seem reasonable on their face, most of which I agree with— ceasefire in Ukraine, negotiated settlement, Russian troops out now, and no NATO expansion or, better yet, abolition of NATO altogether—but for whom Ukraine wasn’t really on their radar before this year. The question that I have for those people is the same one a communist activist from Donetsk, Svetlana Valkovich, has for anyone whose position is simply “War is bad, and Russia should stop it”: Where have you been for the past 8 years? Why are you only demanding peace now? Ukraine had a US-backed right-wing coup 8 years ago, and ever since, your government, if you are American or in another NATO member country, has been backing these goons who have been terrorizing people in Ukraine and waging war against the people of the Donbass, who have been calling for peace the entire time and taking up arms to defend their homeland, because they had to.
But there has been barely a word about any of this from the people who turned out in the hundreds of thousands to protest the war in Iraq. Although I’m no longer an active member of the organization, I’ve been on the email discussion list for the US socialist organization Solidarity for decades. A search of the list for mentions of “Donbass,” “Ukraine,” etc. turned up nothing regarding the Ukrainian civil war, other than during the first few months after the coup, until recently, when I raised it and one other person did. The Green Party’s 2020 Presidential candidate, Howie Hawkins, who is on the list and as far as I know is a member of Solidarity, has never once mentioned anything about the civil war in the Donbass either on the list or in any public statement that I’m aware of. Maybe others have raised the issue in other forums, as I have. But I’m one of two people who has expressed concern on the list about people in the Donbass specifically, and their victimization (or that of communists and assorted minority groups in Ukraine proper) at the hands of the US-backed coup government and its henchmen; most simply treat Ukraine as a monolithic entity and purely a recent victim of Russian aggression or “imperialism,” rather than as having a government that has waged war against some of its own people for 8 years.
Worse still is the position taken by leftists who call for sending arms to the Ukrainian government, a position taken by none other than Howie Hawkins, who characterized it as aiding Ukraine’s “self-defense and national liberation.” I don’t mean to single out Howie alone, as this is a position taken by many who call themselves socialists; I mention him specifically because he is a well-known leftist who has taken this position in public statements. It is an un-Marxist and ahistorical position that fails to recognize the character of the Ukrainian regime, treating “Ukraine” as a singular entity rather than a nation whose neoliberal economic policies are decided upon at the behest of Ukrainian oligarchs and foreign imperial interests, not the Ukrainian working class, and preposterously supposing that the US or other NATO countries would support a country’s liberation. It also exhibits historical amnesia about the fact that the Ukrainian regime has been waging war for the past 8 years against residents of the Donbass region, and ignores their wishes for peace and their 8-year fight to defend their communities against the very government Howie wishes to arm—not to mention that it ignores the thousands of fascists who have been using the arms NATO countries have sent Ukraine to terrorize, torture, and assassinate communists, women, Roma people, Russians, and the GLBT community within Ukraine proper, with the US government’s blessing. How does it ever serve the interests of workers to arm a fascist-dominated, oligarch-dominated (and in this case US puppet) regime? (As an aside, some leftists have even denied that, for instance, the Azov Battalion—which was far larger than a battalion, by the way—was neo-Nazi. It is absolutely appalling to me that anyone who considered themselves on the left would whitewash Nazism, especially given that the corporate media and even the Atlantic Council, NATO’s unofficial think tank, have acknowledged it.)
In Howie’s comments defending sending weapons to Ukraine, he claimed that those opposing doing so are effectively supporting “a ‘peace’ that brings the violence of Russian colonial domination and a ‘peace’ of the graveyard for many Ukrainians who are and will be victims of it.” Never mind that over 14,000 Ukrainians have gone to the grave in the civil war of the past 8 years, which he has never acknowledged exists. Never mind that, given Russia’s clear military superiority, the only effect that arming Ukraine and pushing for it to continue fighting will have is to cause more unnecessary destruction and loss of life. Never mind that it is the US, not Russia, that exercises imperial dominance in Ukraine and countries all over the world.
That does not necessarily mean that Russia had no ulterior economic motives for intervening in Ukraine, that it has no imperial ambitions. However, the claim that Russia is presently imperialist in the sense that Lenin defined imperialism is questionable, and as I have discussed here, there were clearly other factors—the threats to Russia’s security and the escalation of Ukraine’s attacks on the Donbass—motivating Russia’s intervention.
But it should not even matter to our position of opposing our government arming Ukraine whether Russia is an imperialist country. The Allied forces during World War II, aside from the USSR, were indisputably imperialist powers, but nobody proposed sending arms to Italy to forestall the 1943 Allied invasion and support its alleged “self-defense and national liberation” from the invading imperialists. That would have been a silly position to take. It is equally silly to claim that arming the current Ukrainian government is liberating anybody. In fact, it is a means of continuing to deny the people of the Donbass, who voted in overwhelming numbers 8 years ago for autonomy from the central government, their right to self-determination, and to go about their daily lives without constantly worrying about artillery shells landing on them.
Instead, if we care about the people of Ukraine, what we should be calling for is for its soldiers to lay down their arms, as thousands of them who are realizing that their government is pointlessly risking their lives in a war they cannot win are doing. The US is hell-bent on using Ukrainians as cannon fodder to “weaken Russia”—an objective US officials have openly admitted. They obviously don’t give a damn about the Ukrainian people. Ukrainians are increasingly recognizing that and are not happy about it. We should not be, either.
In closing, for me, internationalism—solidarity with workers in every corner of the earth—has been a bedrock principle for me ever since I became an activist 40 years ago—I cut my eye teeth on supporting the Sandinista government of Nicaragua against the fascist contras, and the FMLN against the fascist ARENA government in El Salvador. To me, internationalism means unequivocal opposition to almost any US intervention abroad (the only exception that comes to mind is US intervention against the Axis powers during World War II). The fact that it seemingly shared that principle was one of the reasons that I joined Solidarity in 1992. To quote from its 1986 founding statement, “Contrary to ideologues of liberalism and even to some who call themselves part of the left, we do not distinguish ‘progressive’ versus ‘reactionary’ forms of U.S. intervention. The American ruling class has no progressive role to play anywhere in the world.” For me, this statement rings equally true today. Neither in Ukraine, nor Syria, nor Libya, nor Iraq, nor any other of the dozens of countries in which the US has intervened in one way or another during my 60 years on this planet has it ever played anything other than a reactionary role internationally.
And yet, sadly, many in Solidarity and other US socialist organizations seem to have drifted away from that position. Meanwhile, those of us who steadfastly adhere to the principle that virtually all US intervention abroad is inherently and unequivocally reactionary are called “campists” and other insulting terms (“Putin apologists,” “Assad toadies,” etc.) by those who have abandoned it. This is such a simplistic and dogmatic formulation. Irrespective of what its motives were, it’s simply a fact that, much as Russian intervention in Syria 7 years ago saved Syrians from the fate of being governed by Islamofascists, Russian intervention in Ukraine may have saved the people of the Donbass from mass slaughter or at the very least many more years of constant war, considerably weakened what is in all likelihood the world’s strongest fascist movement, and put many of Ukraine’s fascist war criminals in jail or in the ground where they belong. Adopting such a position does not mean that I support the Putin government, the Assad government, or even the regional governments of Donetsk and Luhansk, any more than supporting the military defeat of Nazi Germany during World War II would have made me a supporter of the Allied countries’ governments; it just means that I think that fighting and defeating Nazis and other reactionary extremists, whether in Syria, Ukraine, Central America in the 1980s, or World War II-era Germany, stands a good chance of somewhat improving the world.
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