By Francis Lee for the Saker Blog.
Here is a typical political offering from the British centre-left. As follows:
‘’Putin’s war on Ukraine has led to thousands of deaths, upended the world order, and intensified the global energy crisis. At home in Britain, it has led to an outpouring of support for Ukrainian refugees – if not for black and brown people fleeing war and persecution – and provided cover for Keir Starmer to further crack down on the Left of Labour, from socialist MPs to Young Labour.
In this extract of an interview from the latest Momentum political education bulletin, The Educator, David Wearing (whomever he is!- FL) discusses the geopolitical interests at stake, the reactions of Western states, especially the UK, and how the Left in Britain can meaningfully engage in anti-imperialist struggle today.
Momentum a centre-left political grouping within the British Labour Party: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused untold devastation and loss of life. Evidence of fresh atrocities seem to emerge almost daily. Why has Vladimir Putin’s regime launched this war of aggression, in your opinion?’’ (Red Pepper – leftist British publication.)
Francis Lee (FL). You see the Russians are the really bad guys, or so we are told, and this is regarded as being axiomatic coming straight from the NATO propaganda handbook, the media, and the political elites in the west. But actually, the war against the Eastern Provinces in the Donbass in Eastern Ukraine started shortly after 2014 when the US organized the coup in Independence Square. Kiev was eager to march East and ‘deal with’ (to put it mildly) the two republics who subsequently were put under a siege by the Ukrainian army and death squads and 14000 of the two Republics of Lugansk and Donetsk were killed after being under the Ukie siege from 2014 to the present time. Of course, no mention was made of this in Mr. Wearing’s piece.
David Wearing holds forth as follows: There’s a standard imperialist mentality at work. (Agreed, but read Washington for Moscow – FL) Moscow evidently regards Ukraine with a strong sense of entitlement; part of its sphere of influence in the same way that the United States has historically treated Latin America as its ‘backyard’ under the so-called ‘Monroe Doctrine‘, and sought to dominate the Middle East more recently. Reasserting substantive control over Russia’s near abroad has been an overriding strategic priority for Moscow since the mid-1990s at least.
Indeed, the guiding principle across two decades of Putin’s presidency has essentially been ‘Make Russia Great Again‘. His revanchist, authoritarian nationalism is a product of the 1990s, when Moscow lost its grip on many of its former Tsarist and Soviet possessions in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and when the Russian economy imploded under neoliberal shock therapy. The ugly machismo of Putin’s rule is a backlash against all of this.
FL – Actually, it was Putin who pulled Russia out of the grip of the oligarchs and free riders who had almost destroyed Russia. Moreover, this would of course be yet another eastern expansion in NATO’s relentless march whose object is and always has been to place an ever-tightening tourniquet around Russia’s neck. It is the West through the instrumentality of NATO which has pushed right up to Russia’s borders in a defiance of the deal in 1991 where NATO would not move ‘’one inch’’ closer to Russia’s borders with a flight time of 5 minutes to Moscow by hypersonic missile.
In fact, Russia offered a peace deal with a view to winding down the conflict which involved an implementation of the Minsk Accords, restoration of the Lugansk/Donetsk independent republics and neutrality for Ukraine. Initially the Ukrainian diplomatic delegation seemed interested in these proposals during the peace talks in Turkey. But as soon as they got back home to Ukraine the delegation was told in short order – almost certainly by the Americans – that none of these proposals were acceptable. So, according to the hard-liners and the Americans, that leaves only war as an option.
But according to Mr Wearing
So, the imperial logic is obvious (yes, but whose imperial logic? FL) but it hardly adds up to a justification for war. Certainly not one you can sell to the Russian public as good reason to sacrifice their sons and daughters on the battlefield. Hence the various pretexts for the invasion that Putin has offered in terms of defending the Russian-speaking population in eastern Ukraine. We don’t need to detain ourselves with any of that. (sic! FL) Really, why not?
Wearing continues: Every imperial aggressor throughout history has claimed to be acting on some noble, virtuous principle.
FL – In actual fact the USSR as it was then constituted, was only too glad to get rid of these burdens, i.e., the Baltics, Georgia et cetera.
Aside from geopolitical motives, there’s been a palpable sense of hubris from Putin following previous military victories in Chechnya, Georgia (Georgia who firstly attacked South Ossetia killing a number of Russian Peacekeepers) and Syria (Presumably the writer thinks that a Russian victory in Syria was a defeat for democracy, when it was actually a defeat for the Takfiris).
But this war has proved a major miscalculation, and the danger now is that — like the US in Vietnam and Afghanistan – he (Putin) digs in for the long term rather than suffer the humiliation of accepting defeat. Given the sheer viciousness of the Russian campaign so far, this is not something that the people of Ukraine can afford.
Wearing: Clearly, responsibility for this heinous violence lies first and foremost with Putin and the Russian state.
(F.L., I beg your pardon, but heinous violence came from the Ukrainian military and particularly from the neo-nazi units who couldn’t wait to start shelling the Donbass and continuing to do so for 8 long years killing 14000 ethnic Russians in their homes. Moreover, by 2021 Ukie army decided to take a second bite of the cherry. One hundred thousand Ukrainian troops were about to roll over the Donbass, but Putin after all the dithering stopped them in their tracks with the Russian Regular Forces and the Don Bass Militias.
Such is the policy of the British left’s framing of the situation which is one that they don’t understand and have no wish to.)
DW: There’s been a debate within the US foreign policy establishment about the wisdom of expanding NATO going back over a quarter of a century. One side (the old conservatives and Cold War veterans) argued that expanding the alliance too far into Russia’s former sphere of influence would raise tensions between Washington and Moscow to a dangerous degree. The other side (the neo-liberals and neo-conservatives of the post-Cold War era) argued that Washington’s interests lay in opening the alliance up to any state that wanted to join. At least initially, it was the latter group that got their way.
This is a debate among imperialists about the best policy for Washington to adopt Moscow in its own imperial interests. So, it’s been a little odd to see the anti-expansionist position in that debate being portrayed in recent weeks as ‘pro-Moscow’. Take the US diplomat George Kennan, who argued in 1997 that ‘expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold-war era’, which would ‘inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion [and] restore the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations’. Back in the 1940s, Kennan had been one of the key intellectual architects of Washington’s entire Cold War strategy toward the USSR. It’s a sign of the depths to which the current debate has degenerated that even the sort of analysis offered by people like him is now routinely denounced as apologia for Putin.
For myself, I can see some logic in the arguments made by these old conservatives of the US foreign policy establishment. Clearly, they are attempting to explain, rather than excuse, their imperial adversary’s response to the expansion of NATO. And clearly some of their predictions have come true.
However, as socialist anti-imperialists we have our own language and frames of reference which are much more analytically useful than some of the shoddy euphemisms of the grand strategists. For example, we should dispense with talk of Russia’s ‘security concerns’ (Oh, yes Russia’s ‘paranoia’ about ‘security concerns’ regarding NATO’s inexorable moving up to the Russian border and stationing their hypersonic assets right on the Russian doorstep with 5 minutes flight time to Moscow and St. Petersburg – FL) as a ‘great power’, and instead refer more frankly and accurately to Russia’s imperial ambitions in places like Ukraine.
FL – (BS! Russia and Putin did not harbour any imperial ambitions, nor did it want a war either with any of its ex-soviet republics, or NATO’s relentless push to its western borders. It was NATO who were belligerently encouraged for exactly that eventuality, not Russia).
The term ‘security’ is one that mostly has an obfuscators effect in political discourse. Imperialists may see control over neighbouring countries as a matter of security, even ‘defence’, but the rest of us don’t have to indulge that.
We also need to think beyond how imperial powers should best manage competition over their respective spheres of interest. A better question for us might be, how can West, Central and Eastern Europe, including Russia, be made into a common home rather than a geopolitical battleground? This is likely a question for a post-Putin world, but we should start thinking about it now. If we’re lucky enough at some point in the future to enjoy another historical moment of détente between the West and Russia, and another interlocutor in Moscow like Mikhail Gorbachev, then we should seize that moment to build a durable peace, rather than squander it a second time.
FL – (But Gorbachov was tricked by the US – this in the shape of Chief US negotiator, James Baker, and the Americans whom NATO had promised would not move ‘’one inch further to the East’’ who then reneged on the promise. The NATO military machine then predictably moved right up to the old Soviet borders. From the US-NATO viewpoint this was a shrewd move, which caught the Russians napping. Well Putin must have mused ‘fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.)
Momentum: So that’s the Western meta-narrative around the confrontation with Russia. What about the West’s approach to the Ukraine war itself?
DW: The fact that the Western powers find themselves on the right side (‘’the right side indeed’’! Along with, Svoboda, C14, Right Sector, the Azov Regiment! These are the shock-troops of NATO under US leadership) the Ukraine war reflects imperial interests and expediency not some high moral principle. They perceive a clear geopolitical advantage to be gained either from a Ukrainian victory or at least a Russian military failure. Support comes in the form of arms supplies to Ukraine and sanctions against Moscow, but a no-fly zone or some other direct intervention has thankfully been ruled out so far, due to the entirely rational fear that this would trigger World War Three.
There’s been no groundswell of opposition to this from the left, and rightly so. Ukraine has no option but to defend itself (sic!) militarily, (by marching east presumably and attempting to over-run the Don Bass and killing its own citizens therein? FL) and it has the right to do so (yes, apparently on a regular basis. FL ), and it has the right to seek the means of self-defence. (self-defence! But of course, shelling your own citizens in the Don Bass – a strange form of self-defence this!) from the only sources credibly able to provide it, namely Russia’s Western adversaries.
But given the nature of Western power we are understandably wary. We are wary of sanctions having a devastating effect on the Russian population, and without seriously hurting the regime. We are wary of any escalation into a direct NATO-Russia war, which would be utterly catastrophic.
Already in the past few weeks we’ve seen US President Biden announce huge additional spending on nuclear weapons. Experts have long warned that upgrading and renewing nuclear arsenals makes the world less, nor safer. We can expect a serious rise in military spending in the UK, and in Germany as well, where decades of foreign policy have been torn up. It’s really important that we stand by our anti-militarist principles in this moment. That doesn’t mean an absolutist form of pacifism, but it does mean an insistence that people recognise that arms races inflame rather than guard against the danger of military conflict.
Finally, in the prevailing atmosphere of machismo, we need to ensure people don’t forget the non-military, humanitarian dimension. That means demanding swift and safe paths to entry for Ukrainian refugees (as part of our wider demand for a complete change in UK border policy). It means aid for displaced Ukrainians wherever they might be. And it means any other economic measures that might help, such as cancelling Ukraine’s national debt to support its recovery whenever the war finally ends.’’
FL – Yes, I get it, a sort of ‘soft NATO’ approach?
OK, so let’s have another version. The Soviet Union was invaded by Nazi Germany in 1941. During the retreat the Red Army was pushed back almost to Moscow. Ukraine was occupied by Germany and also by indigenous Ukrainian fascist collaborators – still unfortunately with us – for most of WW2. Not only did Bandera’s (OUN-B) and Shukeyvich (UPA) fascist (yes, fascists!) collaborate with the Wehrmacht particularly in the massacre in Volhynia (1943-44) of Poles, Jews, and Russians, they were also lauded by the local population (and still are to this day) of the inhabitants of the western Ukraine centred around the cities of Lviv, Ternopol and Vinnytsia, et al. Not to be missed are the statues of Bandera lovingly adorned with flowers in the major cities west of the river Dnieper.
Around the period of 2013, ultra-nationalist groups (inveterate fascists) in the shape of Right Sector and Svoboda C14, and those lovely chaps of the Azov Regiment (1) began to emerge from the shadows and appear among the genuine moderate majority and joined in pitched battles in Kiev with the Berkut (riot Police) daily which the opposition forces finally won. This was, according to the UK’s Guardian ‘newspaper’ a victory for democracy (sic!) and peoples’ power. Well, it might have started like this, but it soon transmuted into something very different. Nobody should be in any doubt about the political complexion of these ultra-nationalist groups – who were and continue to be more than a marginalist political-military force – who went on to hold 6 portfolios in the new ‘government’ based in Kiev. Nor should anyone be in any doubt about both the overt and covert roles played by both the US and EU officials (not forgetting the ever-present Mr. Soros, who is always a fixture in these situations) and the formation of the future interim government.
Throughout this period the EU and high-ranking US officials were openly engaged in Ukraine’s internal affairs. The US Ambassador, Geoffrey Pyatt, and the US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Victoria Nuland, were strolling around Independence Square reassuring the protestors that America stood behind them. Also basking in the political sunlight were US NGOs (such as the National Endowment for Democracy – NED – directly funded by the US Government) and (USAID). Also involved was the US Human Rights Watch (HRW) and not forgetting of course the ubiquitous Mr. Soros. Identified as GS in the leaked Open Society Foundation (OSF) documents, others involved in the Ukrainian coup in the planning, were the already named, US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, along with the following: David Meale (Economic Counsellor to Pyatt, Lenny Benardo (Open Society Foundation – OSF) Yevhen Bystry (Executive Director International Renaissance Foundation – IRF) Oleksandr Sushko (Board Chair, IRF) Ivan Krastev (Chairman Centre for Liberal Studies, a Soros and US government-influenced operation in Sofia, Bulgaria) and Deff Barton (Director, US Agency for International Development AID – USAID – Ukraine). USAID is a conduit for the CIA.
Even right-wing thinkers such as George Freidman at Stratfor described these events as being ‘the most blatant coup in history.’
The new ‘government’ in Kiev was represented by a hotch-potch of oligarchs, Kolomoisky, Akhmetof, Pinchuk, Poroshenko, et al, and petty fuhrers including Pariuby, Yarosh, Biletsky, from the Western Ukraine with their violent armed Squadristi units (as in Italy’s period under Mussolini’s regime) terrorizing their opponents. The ultra-right Svoboda Party had a presence in the Ukrainian parliament (Rada). It was and still is a neo-nazi, ultra-right, anti-Semitic, Russophobic party with its base of support in the western Ukraine. The most important governmental post was handed to its fuhrer Andriy Parubiy who was appointed as Secretary of the Security and National Defence Committee, which supervised the defence ministry and the armed forces. The Parubiy appointment to such an important post should, alone, be cause for international outrage. He led the masked Right-Sector thugs who battled riot police in the Maidan in Kiev.
Like Svoboda, Right-Sector led by their own tin-pot fuhrer Dmitry Yarosh is an openly fascist, anti-semitic and anti-Russian organization. Most of the snipers and bomb-throwers in the crowds related to this group. Right Sector members had been participating in military training camps for the last 2 years or more in preparation for street activity of the kind witnessed in the Ukraine during the events in Independence Square in 2013-14. The Right Sector as can be seen by the appointment of Parubiy, is not able to control major appointments to the provisional government but he has succeeded in achieving his long-term goal of legalizing discrimination against Russians. What the Anglo-American left fail to understand – quite deliberately in my view – is the notion that the Ukrainian right-wing extremists are a marginal force in Ukraine. How much evidence do they need exactly? In fact, the politics of the western Ukraine is dominated by the ultras of the right, and every major city has statues of Bandera lovingly cared for and adorned with flower bouquets around his feet.
This discrimination took the forms of mass murder of the 45 people who passed out leaflets in the southern Black Sea port of Odessa when pro-Yanukovich supporters were attacked by fascist mobs and chased into a nearby building, a trade union HQ. The building was then set on fire and its exits blocked, the unfortunate people trapped inside were either burnt to death or, jumped out of the windows only to be clubbed to death when they landed. The practices of the political heirs of Bandera had apparently not been forgotten by the present generation. There is a video of the incident, but frankly, it was so horrific that I could only watch it once. (See more recently the whole murderous episode in the American publication Consortium News 2022). These barbarians were described by Luke Harding a ‘journalist’ of the Guardian as being ‘’an eccentric group of people with unpleasant right-wing views.’’ Yes, they were really nice chaps who got a little carried away!
One week later with the open support of Washington and its European allies, the regime installed by Washington and Berlin in February’s fascist-led putsch then began extending its reign of terror against all popular resistance in Ukraine. That was the significance of the events in the major eastern Ukrainian sea-port city of Mariupol less than a week after the Odessa outrage. (Mariupol has also come into the recent news for a second time around,)
After tanks, armoured personnel carriers and heavily armed troops were unleashed on unarmed civilians in the city, the Kiev regime claimed to have killed some 20 people. The Obama administration immediately blamed the violent repression on “pro-Russian separatists.’’
One week later Poroshenko, ex-Finance Minister in Yanukovich’s government, was elected as President on 29 May and duly announced that “My first presidential trip will be to Donbass where armed pro-Russian rebels had declared the separatist Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics and control a large part of the region.’’ This was the beginning of the Anti-Terrorist Operation the ATO. However, things didn’t quite work out as planned. After 2 heavy defeats at Iloviask and Debaltsevo the Ukie army was stopped in its tracks and the situation has remained static to roughly this day.
Until that is things changed. Some 8 years later the Ukie army started doing what comes naturally to them: namely to start shelling the Donbass again. It should be understood that the shelling had started in 2014 immediately after the Kiev coup. During the whole period some 14000 hapless citizens of the Don Bass were killed. Moreover, a large Ukie army of some 100,000 were beginning to mass outside of the Don Bass and were preparing their move.
There was no way that Putin was going to allow this. Not only would it mean mass murder of the Don Bass, but it would also put Ukraine (qua western proxy) right on Russia’s border with NATO hypersonic missiles 5 minutes flying time from Moscow. That settled it – Putin had had enough. The Russian Army moved in. It was left with no alternative.
No great power can allow a peer competitor to mass on its borders by any other great power. The US/NATO was precisely doing this. As Putin pointed out, the flying time for hypersonic missiles from the Russian border to Moscow was 5 minutes. See the American Realist theorist John Mearsheimer in this respect.
Yet, all we get from the legacy left is the incessant virtue signalling and anti-Russian rhetoric. In truth Putin didn’t want this war, but there was pressure building up not only from the US neo-cons but also internally in Russia for a more militant approach in both the Parliament and with the Russian public. Any disinterested account of Putin’s turned on the initial attack of NATO and its proxies and Russia’s counterattack. The neo-cons should have heeded Obama’s warning that Russia had an ‘escalation dominance’ and that the US would be advised to tread carefully on Russia’s doorstep.
Russia is slowly but inexorably winning the battlefield in what has been a total defeat for the regime in Kiev, and more importantly for the US-NATO bloc. The tectonic geopolitical plates seem to be moving.