By ERNIE GOTTA and MICHAEL SCHREIBER
UPDATE, FEB. 23—U.S. media sources reported that Russia has launched a “special military operation” against Ukraine. Reportedly, explosions could be heard in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odessa, and other cities. Ukrainian authorities stated that Russia had launched a missile attack against military installations and against fighter planes stationed at an airport near Kyiv. “I have taken the decision to carry out a special military operation,” Russian President Putin said. “Its goal will be to defend people who for eight years are suffering persecution and genocide by the Kyiv regime. For this we will aim for demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine, as well as taking to court those who carried out multiple bloody crimes against civilians, including citizens of the Russian Federation. Our plans do not include occupying Ukrainian territory.”
FEB. 22—Russian President Putin announced on Feb. 21 that his government would recognize the independence of two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine and that troops would be sent into the region. The authorizations were advanced in the Russian parliament in the form of a bill issued by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, a collaborator with the Putin regime.
Although Putin said on Feb. 22 that he had not decided to send troops in Ukraine “right at this moment,” the chances of a far wider war have become greater than ever. Putin made clear that he saw the boundaries of the newly “independent” republics—which Russia has dominated for nearly eight years—as extending all the way to the outer borders of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces. If Russia moves troops into the larger area, which is under the control of the government in Kyiv, it would likely mean conflict with the thousands of Ukrainian soldiers that are stationed there.
In addition, Putin demanded that Ukraine recognize the Russian annexation of Crimea, declare that it would never join NATO while maintaining “neutrality,” and give up the advanced weaponry that the U.S. and other Western countries have given it in recent years. In turn, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called up military reservists and urged Ukrainians to fight for their country.
The projected troop movements are being labeled by Russia as a “peacekeeping” mission but really are designed to serve the interests and goals of Russian imperialism and its capitalist class. Russian capitalism does not represent a progressive alternative that is fighting for the interests of the people in either Ukraine or Russia. Putin’s dream of unifying Ukraine, Belarus, and other former Soviet states is a project for Russian capital to dominate those markets and exploit their labor forces.
At the same time, the threat of a full-scale war is creating more instability in an already sensitive marketplace. Stock markets tumbled worldwide as the price of oil futures skyrocketed. Reuters commentator Thomas Westbrook reports (Feb. 21), “Brent crude futures rose 4% to $97.35, their highest since September 2014.” Russia is a leading producer of gas and oil, and the major supplier to several countries in Western Europe and elsewhere. Now with the new sanctions that are being imposed on Russia, the U.S. petroleum industry stands to gain by increasing its exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Europe.
Blame it on Lenin?
Russia’s expansionist efforts are driven by Putin’s vision of a new Russian empire, which includes reclaiming regions that became independent following the breakup of the Soviet Union. Putin is continually clarifying his vision of Ukraine as a historical and spiritual Russian land, while denying or downplaying the existence of the Ukrainian nationality. Putin said in an address following the invasion order, “Since time immemorial, the people living in the southwest of what has historically been Russian land have called themselves Russians and Orthodox Christians. This was the case before the 17th century, when a portion of this territory rejoined the Russian state, and after.”
In the same address, Putin blamed the separation of Russia and Ukraine on the rise of “Ukrainian nationalism” brought on following the 1917 Russian revolution and encouraged by Lenin and the Communist Party policy. He said, “Ukraine was entirely created by Russia or, to be more precise, by Bolshevik, Communist Russia. This process started practically right after the 1917 revolution, and Lenin and his associates did it in a way that was extremely harsh on Russia—by separating, severing what is historically Russian land. Nobody asked the millions of people living there what they thought.”
This analysis, of course, is a revision of history. Putin looks to win support around the idea of reviving the Tsarist empire as it existed before the Bolshevik revolution. Putin’s view is reactionary to the core and ignores the language and cultural differences within the Russian sphere of influence.
Lenin and the Bolsheviks recognized that the Russian Empire under the Tsars had dominated and oppressed the national interests of peoples whose lands covered one sixth of the globe. Lenin wrote about the importance of recognizing the right of self-determination for Ukraine and other oppressed nations; this meant granting the right of oppressed nations to secede from the Soviet Union if they so chose. At the same time, Lenin expressed the confidence that the Soviet leadership could win the majority of nationalities to form a collective federation of republics led by the working class.
Putin’s statement that Ukraine was “created” by the Bolsheviks is likewise absurd. Ukrainian nationalism predated the Russian Revolution, arising largely as a movement against Tsarist oppression. At the time, Ukrainian nationalist sentiment received a wide hearing among the vast peasant population, but less so among the mainly Russian-speaking workers in the industrial cities of eastern Ukraine. The nationalist movement gained a strong impetus through the February 1917 revolution, which toppled the Tsar. An independent Rada (National Assembly) was established in Kiev (Kyiv), and in June 1917, it proclaimed an independent Ukrainian republic—four months before the Bolshevik-led revolution.
After the October 1917 socialist revolution, a Soviet of Workers’ Deputies was set up in Kiev, but it soon came into conflict with the Rada, which was dominated by bourgeois and petty bourgeois parties. The tensions escalated when it became known that forces in the Rada were looking to obtain military aid from France and other European countries in order to wrest Ukraine from the Ukrainian Soviet government. For the next four years, civil war raged in the region. Power swung back and forth between pro-Soviet forces and reactionary “White” armies, which were aided by occupying troops from Poland. Ukraine was finally stabilized in 1921 as a Soviet Republic. Cultural and language rights and the right of self-determination were supported until the counter-revolution under Stalin—who once again imposed domination by the Great Russian nationality.
World powers respond
President Biden’s responded to Putin on Feb. 21 with an executive order that stated, “The Russian Federation’s purported recognition of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) or Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) regions of Ukraine contradicts Russia’s commitments under the Minsk agreements and further threatens the peace, stability, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and thereby constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”
After appearing to deliberate for a day about how to characterize the Russian incursion and how severe the retaliation should be, President Biden declared in a televised address on Feb. 22 that the “beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine” was in progress. An additional 800 U.S. troops were ordered to the Baltics along with a number of warplanes, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken called off his planned meeting with the Russian foreign minister. Biden also approved sanctions against two prominent Russian financial institutions and others as well as measures to block borrowing by the Russian state. This is an addition to the 2014 sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Biden said that more sanctions would be imposed if necessary.
The U.S. has been struggling to rebuild alliances with allies in Europe over the past year. Many thought that Russia could potentially be a dividing line in Europe. Germany, for example, a country accused by other EU nations of being soft on Russia due to trade deals that would allow gas to flow to Europe from a pipeline in the Baltic sea, issued a swift response to Putin’s latest maneuver. Melissa Eddy of the New York Times reports, “Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Tuesday that Germany would halt certification of the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline that would link his country with Russia, one of the strongest moves yet by the West to punish the Kremlin for recognizing two separatist regions in Ukraine.”
Chancellor Scholz, highlighting the changing character of international alliances, said, “The situation today is fundamentally different,” He told reporters in Berlin, “That is why we must re-evaluate this situation, in view of the latest developments. By the way, that includes Nord Stream 2.”
The major world powers still display a lack of confidence in how to handle the crisis. The old alliances are not strong and there are new imperialist players like China in the mix. The recent statement produced by Russia and China clearly shows the potential for a new economic pole that has the potential to bypass Western powers. China has been trying to strike a delicate balance that does not give full support to Russia but still acknowledges Putin’s security concerns over NATO troop deployment in the region.
Lily Kuo reports in the Washington Post, “Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called on all parties involved to “exercise restraint” and resolve the crisis through negotiation, in a phone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. He still, however, referred to countries’ legitimate security concerns, a nod toward Russia’s assertion that Ukraine represents a threat. “The situation in Ukraine is getting worse,” he said.
Speaking at an emergency UN meeting on Monday night, Zhang Jun, China’s representative to the United Nations, urged all parties to “seek reasonable solutions” and address each country’s concerns based on “equality and mutual respect.” China’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that it was in communication with all “relevant parties.”
Ukrainian President Volodmyr Zelensky, sensing the indecision on the part of European governments on how to deal with the present crisis, is demanding a summit of world powers in order to repair the broken international security system’s ability to guarantee Ukraine’s interests. Zelensky said, “The rules that the world agreed on decades ago no longer work. They do not keep up with new threats. Not effective for overcoming them. This is a cough syrup when you need a coronavirus vaccine.”
Working class key to ending wars
The greatest costs of imperialist war will be to the working classes of Europe and Central Asia, which are caught in the middle. Where do workers turn when war breaks out? How do workers respond? Many will look to flee the situation, and there is already growing concern over this possible reality. Tim Gosling reported in Al Jazeera, “The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia all say they are preparing for the possibility that war will send Ukrainians flooding their way. Some estimate that as many as five million people could flee the country in the worst-case scenario.”
The refugee crisis brought on by the previous conflict in Syria has already sparked far-right sentiment against immigrant workers escaping war. Far right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban warned Putin that hundreds of thousands could flee across his country’s border. In recent years, Orban has defied EU rulings against Hungarian laws that criminalize lawyers and activist groups who help asylum seekers.
As the media beats the war drums, some will no doubt be misled by the message and allow themselves to be whipped into a nationalist frenzy. Yet many workers around the globe will come to the conclusion that it is necessary to mobilize against war and build mass actions and strikes to halt the advance of inter-imperialist conflict.
The Russian, Eastern European, and Central Asian working class can lead the way by uniting around the defense of their class interests, and not the interests of the capitalists. In the U.S., Western Europe, and elsewhere, workers have to build mass movements that extend solidarity to the working class on the front lines while making demands against their own governments. A central demand is that imperialism—of the U.S., the EU, and the Russian variety—keep its hands off Ukraine. In the U.S., antiwar protesters should demand that NATO be disbanded and that the entire U.S military budget be redirected in order to end poverty, to deal with climate change, and to solve other pressing social needs.
The movements against NATO and the U.S. war machine have to make it politically impossible for the wealthy elite to justify war. Ultimately, antiwar actions can lead into a fight for workers to take power and create a society that puts human needs over the drive for profit, which leads to war.
Photo: A tank belonging to the Donetsk Peoples’ Republic. (Euractiv)