Why we oppose NATO sanctions on Russia

By Jairo Monterojo

NATO and the Western imperialist order responded with a series of sanctions against Russia after its invasion of Ukraine. NATO frames these sanctions as punishment against Russia for infringing on Ukraine’s sovereignty, which NATO states it seeks to defend. Furthermore, NATO paints these sanctions as a form of peaceful coercion against Russia, in solidarity with the Ukrainian resistance.

We seek to expose the imperialist ambitions behind NATO’s role in the Ukraine war and state our unconditional solidarity with the Ukrainian fight for independence. As revolutionary socialists, we stand in opposition to imperialist sanctions and put forward an alternative policy of class struggle and class independence in solidarity with the Ukrainian struggle for national liberation.

The U.S. and EU sanctions on Russia accentuate the tendency towards global inter-imperialist conflict and are not designed to assist Ukraine. Thus far, NATO sanctions on Russia have had little effect on Russia’s war against Ukraine; the Russian state has offset losses from sanctions with its significantly increased oil revenues. The sanctions do, however, intensify the economic and political competition between rival imperialist powers, in particular for control of energy production and distribution, and geopolitical positioning in preparation for future conflicts and world war. Sanctions policy by the U.S. and NATO is a form of warfare that stands opposed to the struggle for sovereignty, independence, and lasting peace.

The Russian bourgeoisie has been preparing itself for these Western sanctions for years, knowing the West would respond with them when Russia decided to invade Ukraine or another one of its regional satellites. The Russian state amassed huge reserves and has built financial links with China to offset its loss of Western financial ties. These sanctions have neither had a dramatic effect on the Russian economy in general nor weakened Russia’s military. These sanctions increase the cost of living through inflation for workers around the world rather than providing a significant threat to Russia’s capitalism. Since Russia is the world’s largest exporter of grain and fertilizers, this ongoing war has cut down supplies and increased prices, pushing millions of people in the semi-colonial world to the brink of starvation.

These sanctions are primarily aimed at Russia’s financial and energy sectors in order to weaken Russia’s emergent imperialist economy, which is centered around these two industries. The U.S. and Europe’s goal is to disrupt Russia’s position in the global energy market by cutting its imports of Russian oil and severing it from the global financial system. Already, the U.S. and Canada have banned the importation of Russian oil and gas. European sanctions on Russian oil are limited to oil transported over sea, which accounts for the vast majority of Russia’s oil exports, and which Europe plans on fully implementing by the end of 2022, with the exception of Hungary. Most recently, the U.S. and Europe expanded sanctions on Russia at the G-7 summit to include the Russian military.

In the United States, the fossil fuel industry clamors for increasing domestic oil production—a move that could take two to three years to meaningfully implement. In the meanwhile, Biden has visited Saudi Arabia in order to ask that the Saudis increase its production, in addition to relaxing sanctions on Venezuela in hopes they can increase their production of fossil fuels to offset the inflation driving discontent with the Biden regime. Already, Biden has released more than one million barrels of oils a day from U.S. reserves since early June after releasing a historic amount in November 2021. Neither of these events have reduced gas prices but are exacerbating the already catastrophic climate changes wrought by fossil-fuel extraction and consumption.

The long-term goal of the U.S. is to increase the domestic exploitation of its natural energy resources, in particular liquid natural gas (LNG), in order to delink Europe from Russian natural gas. The struggle for control of energy markets stands at the core of U.S. imperialism’s approach to Russia and China and, in the immediate term, their view of the war in Ukraine. U.S. imperialism’s program of economic and military expansion stands diametrically opposed to Ukraine’s fight for national independence and the overall struggle against oppression and ecological disaster. The drive toward increased fossil fuel production will exacerbate the ongoing droughts, floods, hurricanes, and other natural disasters destroying the lives of millions of working people across the globe.

These sanctions are occurring in the context of a massive arms race between the U.S. and its allies against China and Russia. NATO sanctions aim to weaken Russian imperialism up until the point in which direct military conflict is inevitable—and for which it plans to be ready for with a revamped military arsenal that will also provide a huge boon to the military-industrial complex. The Russian invasion of Ukraine serves as a suitable pretext for this Western imperialist alliance to ramp up its military production and presence in Europe, which now includes Finland and Sweden’s membership along the Russian border.

The latest summit of G-7 countries in Madrid announced an exponential increase in NATO’s rapid response forces in the context of that organization’s commitment to imposing further sanctions on Russia. The imperialist powers thus lay the groundwork for further military conflicts that could boost their political power over their rivals, discipline the working-class with severe economic conditions and political repression, and increase the profits of the global weapons manufacturers.

We also stand against U.S. sanctions on Russia because such a policy would align us with the imperialist objectives of the United States. We place no faith whatsoever in Western imperialism’s ability to guarantee Ukrainian national independence; its sanctions policy aims to beat back Russia while placing Ukraine in deep debt so that Ukraine will become a semicolony of the EU and the U.S. Ukraine’s imminent entry into the European Union will include expectations by EU powers that the Zelensky regime will implement anti-worker austerity plans so that Ukraine’s economy is as amenable as possible to European and American imperialists. Toward this end, Zelensky will play the role that the national capitalist classes of semi-colonial nations have historically played; they will seek the backing of the imperialist masters that best guarantee their existence and privileges at the expense of the livelihoods and rights of their working-classes.

Our historical tradition on sanctions and military aid

To the policy of imperialist sanctions, our political tradition counterposed that of “workers’ sanctions” a term that British and American Trotskyists used to describe revolutionary socialist policy in Britain and the U.S. during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War—in which Mussolini’s Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935—a policy that called on workers in Britain to oppose British imperialism’s sanctions on Italy as it stood in solidarity with the self defense of the Ethiopian nation.

The Trotskyist Worker’s Party of the U.S. stated at the time: “The Workers Party calls for the defense of the Ethiopian peoples against Italian aggression, for the defense of the USSR, for unremitting struggle against the coming imperialist war. But for this defense and this struggle, the Workers Party calls at the same time for the sole means by which they can be, in fact, conducted: for the independent and autonomous action of the working class. It is the international working class, especially the Italian working class, together with the oppressed colonial peoples who are the true allies of the Ethiopian peoples—not “peace-loving” Britain, nor the League of Nations, nor Stalin-Laval, nor Roosevelt, nor their own Christian Emperors and semi-feudal lords. It is the independent sanctions of the working class, its own boycotts, strikes, defense funds, mass demonstrations that can aid the battles of Ethiopian peoples, not the sanctions of finance capital and its puppet-states.”

Like our predecessors in the British and U.S. Trotskyist movement during Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia, we stand in support of Ukraine’s right to self-defense. As in any attack by an oppressor against an oppressed people, defending the right of the oppressed to their self-defense and self-determination is a matter of principle. Therefore, we also defend Ukraine’s right to use the weapons it receives in order to wage its war of national defense, including those coming from NATO.

It may appear contradictory to both oppose NATO imperialism while at the same time affirming the Ukrainian people’s right to use its arms. But this contradiction is merely superficial; socialists cannot defend the policy of self-determination and self-defense and then oppose the oppressed having full access to weapons, regardless of the source. We warn, however, that aid from the imperialists has troublesome strings tied to it, and Ukrainians must not trust their imperialist “allies.“

The fact that NATO has sent these arms—old and clunky weaponry far below Ukraine’s needs in this war—does not change the political character of the struggle as a progressive war of national liberation.

It is a gamble that Western imperialism is playing, as it did in the late 1930s and early ’40s when U.S. imperialism sent weapons to the Chinese nation fighting against the Japanese invasion prior to Worlld War II. These weapons ended up weakening Japanese imperialism but also strengthened the Communist forces, which went on to defeat the Nationalists in the Chinese Revolution of 1949. This wasn’t the outcome the U.S. was hoping for in China.

It is true there is no social revolution underway in Ukraine at present; nor does a significant independent working-class movement exist within the Ukrainian resistance. In order to build this, however, we must support the Ukrainian struggle against this imperialist invasion.

For revolutionary socialists, the criteria for supporting a particular side in a war stems from our characterization of the war. We see the conflict in Ukraine as a war of national liberation, against the background of inter-imperialist competition. In a war of national liberation, we favor the victory of the oppressed nation regardless of its political leadership; the criteria for support does not depend on the presence of a revolution or a revolutionary party. Socialists must help to develop such a party, but it would be impossible to do so if we did not stand in solidarity with their fight—much as we would with any struggle of the oppressed.

Our party in the U.S., Worker’s Voice, undertook a solidarity campaign with an independent mineworkers’ union in central Ukraine with ties to a leftist organization called Social Movement. We undertook this campaign as part of an international effort coordinated by CSP-Conlutas, a militant trade-union federation in Brazil that our international body, the International Workers League, supports and participates in. In this campaign, we educated people regarding the struggle in Ukraine, the recent history of struggle of this miners’ union, and the reasons behind this solidarity effort. By doing so, we sought to play a concrete role on the side of the Ukrainian workers’ struggle against Russian imperialism and to help nurture a policy of class independence within their movement.

We understand there is one social force that can truly guarantee Ukraine’s national liberation—the Ukrainian working class together with the rest of the international working-class. While Zelensky is the political and military leader of the Ukrainian side, we give no political support to his regime, for we understand that its goal is to become integrated into the Western imperialist economy, for which Zelensky will continue to implement anti-worker austerity policies. As socialists in the U.S., we combine the irreconcilable fight against U.S. imperialism—tying the immediate struggles of workers here to the fights of workers across the world, including in Ukraine—to support for Ukraine’s struggle for national independence.

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