Fred Leplat

Friday 24 February 2023 will mark one year since the Russian army invaded Ukraine on the orders of Putin and his regime. A year of indescribable suffering and bloodshed for the Ukrainian people. Tens of thousands of Ukrainians have died and millions of civilians are refugees abroad or are internally displaced. Innumerable war crimes have been committed by Russian troops. The death and destruction wrought on Ukraine is within the UN definition of genocide.

The invasion on 24 February 2022 was totally unjustified. Russia was at no risk of invasion from Ukraine and there was no imminent security threat from NATO. The purpose of the invasion was to make Ukraine a loyal satellite of Moscow, and to grab the mineral and agricultural resources of Ukraine. It is an imperialist adventure, no different to those carried out by Western imperialism such as the colonial wars of the 19th century. Putin wants to return Ukraine to being a colony as it was under the Tsars. Putin has justified the war by arguing that the country had to be “denazified” and that the Ukrainians were in any case not a separate people with its own language and history.

The Ukrainian people have rightly refused to be passive victims of this war of aggression, and are actively and massively resisting the invasion. For them, it is a war of national liberation and independence. It is an entirely legitimate resistance, which internationalists and revolutionaries should support unconditionally. The support for their military resistance against invasion, like for other similar wars by imperialism, is regardless of the character of the Ukrainian government. While the Zelenski government is bourgeois and neoliberal, it is not a far right nationalist or even neo-fascist regime like the one in Russia. However, we should be critical of the Zelenski government which has embraced neoliberalism, is attacking labour rights, and seeks to join the European Union and NATO. We should be supporting the left and the labour movement of Ukraine that is resisting Zelenski’s neoliberal reforms and join with them in discussion about a post-war reconstruction based on social, climate and economic justice, and call on our governments to cancel, not just postpone Ukraine’s debt.

Anyone who is an internationalist and anticapitalist should be in solidarity with the resistance (armed and otherwise) of the people of Ukraine against the invasion and destruction of their country. That means supporting the right of Ukraine to obtain all the military equipment necessary, from wherever possible including NATO, to liberate their country. The supply of arms should be without strings or illusions in NATO and the West because the supply of arms can be used to control the scope and duration of the war, and to force Ukraine into an unacceptable peace deal. The future of Ukraine must not be decided above the heads of its people by Russian and Western imperialism.

NATO and Western imperialism are backing Ukraine for their own geopolitical interests, so there should be no illusion that NATO and Western imperialism are forces for democracy. They will back countries such as Israel and Saudi Arabia that are undemocratic and carry a war on their weaker neighbours. Like most wars, the war in Ukraine has several characters. While the main character is one of national liberation, there is also, indirectly, a proxy war between Western and Russian imperialism. Western imperialism has regularly intervened into struggles for national independence and liberation to subvert and limit the goals of the popular struggle. This is in no way should stop internationalists from supporting the people of Ukraine in their resistance against the occupation, destruction and annexation of their country. This means providing political and material solidarity, in particular to left, feminist and trade union organisations in Ukraine.

The people of Ukraine did not start the war and they have no choice but fight militarily the onslaught of the Russian army. They desperately want peace to stop the destruction and deaths. Ukraine put forward a ten-point peace plan in December which includes: the release of all prisoners and deportees; restoring Ukraine’s territorial integrity; the withdrawal of Russian troops and the cessation of hostilities. But the response of Sergey Lavrov, Putin’s foreign minister, was a threatening ultimatum: “Our proposals for the demilitarisation and denazification of the territories controlled by the regime, the elimination of threats to Russia’s security emanating from there, including our new lands, are well known to the enemy… The point is simple: Fulfil them for your own good. Otherwise, the issue will be decided by the Russian army”. Russia’s intentions remain clear: carry on the war to annex the whole of Ukraine.

While all wars end with a negotiated settlement, it is a delusion to believe that a ceasefire now would be respected by Putin, and that he would withdraw his troops back to the 23 February 2022 positions, and that he would agree to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity. As long the people of Ukraine want to and are able to fight for the liberation of their country, and are satisfied with a peace deal, they should be supported. A call today simply for peace talks without also a call for an immediate withdrawal of Russian troops is tantamount to calling on the Ukrainians to accept an annexation of part, or the whole of their country. It removes from the Ukrainians any role they should have from the crisis in which they are at the centre, and fails to support their right to determine the future of their country.

The situation is of course very dangerous for world peace. There is a danger that the proxy war develops into a direct conflict between Western and Russian imperialisms. NATO has used the Russian invasion to give itself a new purpose. After the failure of the 20-years long war against Islamist terrorism, it now presents itself as defender of liberal democracy and smaller nations. NATO has seized the opportunity to accept new members and obtain massive increases in the military budgets of member countries. But NATO is not a force for democracy. It is the military wing of Western imperialism, acting or at least threatening to act, when its economic wing (e.g., the IMF, the World Bank and the European Central Bank) cannot defend its geopolitical interests when rival imperialist powers threaten its position as the dominant world power bloc. When internationalists support the Ukrainians’ right to resist military the Russian invasion and obtain arms form NATO countries, it is not an endorsement of NATO. There have been many movements of national liberation in the past which have called upon imperialist countries for arms without being condemned by socialists: Irish nationalists in 1917, the Spanish republic in 1936, the communist resistance in World War Two, to name a few.

The cynicism of Western imperialism in their claim that it is supporting a resistance against an unjust invasion of a small country can be judged by its enthusiasm for a war crimes tribunal. It is undoubtedly evident that Russian troops have committed war crimes, and arguably even a genocide. A war crimes tribunal should be set up. But Western imperialism also committed war crimes when NATO invaded Afghanistan in 2001, justifying it as necessary to fight terrorism and as part of a “clash of civilisations”. It also committed war crimes when Blair and Bush illegally invaded Iraq in 2003 on the spurious grounds that there were weapons of mass destruction which posed an imminent threat. Yet Blair and Bush escaped justice.

A year after the brutal and unprovoked invasion, a global week of action is being organised against the Russian aggression and in solidarity with Ukraine. Socialists and internationalists must show their support for Ukraine’s legitimate resistance to the Russian invasion. If we are not seen to be on the side of the people of Ukraine, then the only voices they will hear will be those of western imperialists, not those of the socialists and internationalists. We cannot let that happen.

Solidarity with the people of Ukraine!

Russian troops out!

PUBLIC MEETING – Tuesday 21 February, 6.30pm

Labour movement stands with Ukraine

Speakers:  Pavlo Holota (NGPU, Independent Union of Mineworkers of Ukraine); Yuliya Yurchenko (Sotsialny Rukh – Social Movement of Ukraine); Oksana Holota (KVPU – Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine); Maria Exall – TUC President); John McDonnell MP, and others

Venue: Portcullis House, Boothroyd Room, Victoria Embankment, London SW1A 2LW (Westminster tube)

Register here: