By Martin Wicks
“Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians are all descendants of Ancient Rus, which was the largest state in Europe. Slavic and other tribes across the vast territory – from Ladoga, Novgorod, and Pskov to Kiev and Chernigov – were bound together by one language (which we now refer to as Old Russian), economic ties, the rule of the princes of the Rurik dynasty, and – after the baptism of Rus – the Orthodox faith. The spiritual choice made by St. Vladimir, who was both Prince of Novgorod and Grand Prince of Kiev, still largely determines our affinity today.” – Putin, On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians
Legitimate contempt for the hypocrisy of the leaders of the ‘Western democracies’ or the current Labour leadership, should not allow socialists to ignore what is fundamental about the situation in Ukraine. An independent country has been invaded by Russian imperialism.
I am no supporter of NATO, but criticism of NATO and its eastward expansion, should not stop us from recognising that behind Putin’s propaganda, lies the reality of Great Russian chauvinism. There is no justification for the invasion whatsoever. The supposed purpose of the ‘special military operation’ – journalists and news sources in Russia are banned from using the words invasion or war on threat of imprisonment – of ‘denazification’ and rescuing people from genocide, is nothing more than propaganda. As we know there are Nazis in Ukraine but they are not in power. In 2019’s parliamentary elections the far right did not win a single seat.
While Putin says that the invasion is a response to the threat of NATO, he insists that Russia and Ukraine are ‘one people’, whatever the Ukrainians think about it. He believes that they have a ‘spiritual unity’ – Russian Orthodoxism – which goes back hundreds of years. He supports the reactionary Russian Orthodox church and its ‘defence of the family’ – read persecution of LGBT+ people). As the quote above indicates Putin believe that the “affinity” of Russian and Ukrainians today rests on the “spiritual choice” of the Orthodox faith 1,000 years ago!
Patriarch Kirill, the head of the church calls Putin’s rule “a miracle of God”. In contrast about 300 Orthodox priests have issued a statement calling for an end to the war and for Ukraine to determine its own future.
In his astonishing essay last July, Putin blamed the Bolsheviks for smuggling into the constitution of the USSR the right of Republics to secede. This, he said, was the “time bomb” which would explode and break up Mother Russia. Also in his essay he said:
“I am confident that true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia… Together we have always been and will be many times stronger and more successful. For we are one people.”
So Ukraine can have its sovereignty only in “partnership” with Russia. Putin, the odious Russian nationalist is now prepared to destroy Ukraine in order to achieve ‘unity’ with a country which he has determined to be part of Russia. It is a strange ‘sovereignty’ in which the Ukrainians are denied the right to choose. Remember that in the 1991 referendum every region of Ukraine voted for independence. The lowest votes were Crimea with a 54% vote and Sevastopol with 57%. Even the later contested regions of Luhansk and Donetsk voted more than 80% in favour of independence.
As I write this, Putin’s army is bombing civilian targets and seeking to starve the Ukrainian people into submission. He is prepared to turn Ukrainian towns into a mirror image of Aleppo. While there is no way that Putin can maintain an occupation of a country the size of Ukraine, with a hostile population, he can decimate it physically and economically, creating a humanitarian catastrophe. No amount of death and destruction, it seems, can shake him from his opposition to the right of Ukraine to self-determination. Indeed yesterday he announced that if the Ukrainians continued to act in the way they were, that is to defend their country, then there could be a question mark over their statehood. This is Putin the Bonaparte’s bellicose threat.
In this situation, the first responsibility of socialists is unconditional solidarity with the Ukrainian people and those in Russia opposing Putin’s war. That does not stop us challenging the hypocrisy of our own rulers. Indeed, their hypocrisy is reflected in the government’s failure to follow the EU and provide an open door for three years for Ukrainians. One government minister even suggested that Ukrainians could pop over here to do a bit of fruit picking, just so long as they filled out a proper visa application, obviously a simple thing to do in a war zone. As for the money the Conservative Party received from some of the Russian oligarchs, that will not be handed back or given to charity. Although London has been nicknamed Londongrad, it is the world’s capital for money laundering and hiding countless fortunes offshore.
Labour’s refusal to demand the same response as the EU is shameful. The idea of unity with the Johnson government in defence of democracy, when it is carrying out its own assault against democracy in Britain, is risible. Labour should be exposing the hypocrisy of this ersatz Churchill and his corrupt party and government. ‘National unity’ means giving credence to the lie that the Tories are defenders of democracy and freedom.
The rapid action organised by various states against Russia contrasts starkly with the lack of action in relation to the Saudi-backed war in Yemen, the Russian war machine’s action to save the Assad dictatorship, and the 55 year occupation of the West Bank by the Israeli state. Yet the anger we feel at these double standards must not let us forget that our first duty is to offer solidarity with Ukraine and the Russian opposition.
This is not to play down the barbarism of US and British imperialism in Iraq and Afghanistan, now left to starve after their military departure, with the added insult of the US withholding Afghan money held in US banks – a form of collective punishment of the Afghan people which has largely been ignored by the mainstream media. But this is no reason not to exhibit the same anger at the barbarism of Russian imperialism. Anybody who thinks that they should be concentrating on challenging our government to the exclusion of practical solidarity with Ukraine is making a fundamental error.
What can be done? Many people are participating in providing material support for refugees who have made their way out of Ukraine. Médecins Sans Frontières deserve support. It was already carrying our work in Ukraine in relation to TB and HIV but they are shifting to an emergency programme. Here’s an interview with one of their staff. See also Ukraine war and regugee crisis.
We need to develop links with Ukrainian organisations, including the trades unions and listen to what they are saying. From Ukraine’s left the demand has been raised of cancellation of the national debt. This should be picked up by labour movement organisations internationally. Whatever the outcome of this war, large swathes of the country will have to be rebuilt. Ukrainians should not be starved of resources by having to service this debt which was $94 billion in 2020.
Dock workers in Britain and elswhere have taken action against the war launched by Putin by refusing to unload Russian ships. They have show exactly the right instinct, expressing their disgust for the Russian invasion.
Clearly we should demand of the government that they mirror the EU position in relation to refugees. Labour too should be demanding that. Ukrainians with family in Britain have been denied entry by Border Agency staff based in France. Others have been asked, “How long do you intend to stay?”, the ultimate bureaucratic stupidity.
There can be no equivocation on this invasion, notwithstanding opposition to NATO. Socialists should condemn it and demand the withdrawal of Russian troops. Whatever your view on the Ukrainian government, we must defend the right of Ukraine to self-determination. But it is not enough for the words to be uttered. We need to build practical solidarity.
One final point. Just as you would not blame all Jews for the action of the Israeli state you should not blame all Russians for the Putin government. It is not Ukrainians and Russians who are enemies, it is the Putin regime which is the enemy, to Ukrainians and Russians. The latter face the threat of imprisonment for spreading “fake news”, that is for simply calling a war just that. We should challenge any anti-Russian sentiment.
Martin Wicks is a member of South Swindon CLP.
Image ;C/o Mike Phipps
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