Russian President Vladimir Putin declared on Thursday, 24 February, that he has ordered a “special military operation” in Ukraine. Socialists and the wider working-class movement must condemn Putin’s military invasion, which will bring the death of many innocent civilians and widespread destruction. The CWI stands resolutely opposed to all capitalist warmongers and reactionary nationalist chauvinism that pits workers against workers. The CWI also opposes Nato and the western capitalist powers, which are also responsible for the ratcheting up military tensions in the region that have now resulted in a new war in Ukraine. It is the working class of Ukraine and Russia and beyond who will pay dearly for the war, not the oligarchs and ruling elites in Moscow, Kiev and Washington.
The international workers’ movement needs to mobilise against the war, independent of the ruling classes and pro-capitalist political parties. Socialists should oppose attempts to set aside the struggles of workers and youth and the class interests of the workers’ movement because of pressures to follow the approach of pro-capitalist forces regarding the war in Ukraine.
We say: stop the war in Ukraine; withdraw Russian troops and end the bombing; withdraw NATO troops from Eastern Europe; No to ethnic division and cleansing; for the right to self-determination and full democratic rights for all minorities; for workers’ unity and a common struggle against warmongers, oligarchs and the system of capitalism that creates poverty, joblessness, ethnic divisions and wars.
In the fog of war, what is actually taking place on the ground is unclear. Endless propaganda and counter-propaganda are poured out by both sides in the conflict.
Explosions were reported in different areas of Ukraine, including in the cities of Kiev and Kharkov. The Ukrainian government claimed that Russian forces were in Odessa, which is refuted by Moscow. The Russian Ministry of Defence stated that they were targeting only Ukrainian military infrastructure. Media reports say that Russian long-range precision missiles hit Ukraine’s air defence systems, command and control infrastructure, air bases and large troop concentrations. Western press claims Russian troops launched attacks from Ukraine’s northern border with Belarus, across its eastern frontier with Russia, and south from Crimea.
In response to the Russian army’s actions, Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky made a television address, calling “everyone with battle experience” to take up arms and resist.
Nato announced it will deploy more land, air and sea forces to bolster its eastern flank with Russia.
To justify his actions, Putin said in a speech that Russia would not “occupy” Ukraine.
Putin went on to condemn NATO’s eastwards expansion. He attacked the hypocrisy of the Western powers which meddled in Yugoslavia, leading to its bloody breakup, and for waging catastrophic wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
Notwithstanding the undoubted bloody history of Nato, led by US imperialism, expansion to the borders of Russia, socialists and the workers’ movement, as a whole, must oppose Russia’s military intervention into Ukraine. Certainly, ethnic Russians in Ukraine face discrimination, and the breakaway pro-Russian enclave of Donetsk reportedly came under Ukrainian military shell fire in recent days. The people of Donetsk and Luhansk have the right to determine their future but this cannot be exercised under the shadow of Russian military hardware. Putin is not acting in the interests of working people in Donetsk and Luhansk or of Russia, for that matter. His authoritarian regime is in hock to the interests of the oligarchs and is anti-worker. Putin has imperialist ambitions within the region and beyond. He recently sent troops to prop up the regime in Kazakhstan against protests and earlier intervened to keep in power Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. The peoples of Donetsk and Luhansk, and all Ukraine’s ethnic Russians, are mere pawns for Moscow.
Nato’s eastwards expansion
The current crisis began at the end of 2021 as 100,000 Russian troops massed on the border with Ukraine, including in Belarus, an ally of Russia. Putin condemned Nato’s expansion towards its borders, whipping up Russian nationalism to justify his actions. In turn, Biden took a hard-line response, dismissing all Russia’s demands and any serious talks, playing up Russian aggression while, at the same time, supplying Ukraine and Nato states in the region with arms. Putin probably decided that now was the opportunity to act, to consolidate Russia’s presence in Ukraine, to ‘create facts on the ground’, to greatly weaken and part-Balkanise Ukraine, and prevent the reduced country from joining Nato.
The workers’ movement in the Nato and Western countries must oppose the actions of their own bellicose governments. Why should the working class have any faith in the motives of these pro-capitalist governments, which have presided over covid policies that have left millions dead and are now trying to make workers pay the economic cost of lockdowns? The western powers act from the class standpoint of the ruling elites and billionaires both at home and abroad. When it is in the interests of western imperialism, it has not hesitated to invade and occupy smaller countries, as we have seen over the last three decades.
While the working people of Ukraine have the right to live free of Russian military threats, coercion and attacks, they can have no faith in the Zelensky government. In response to Putin’s military operation, Zelensky proclaimed ‘martial law’. This comes on top of a 30-day state of emergency, announced yesterday, which gives the president far-reaching powers, including banning political parties and protests. Under these conditions, workers’ rights will be quashed. Since a bloody coup brought a pro-Western regime to power in 2014, Ukraine has been ruled by right-wing, authoritarian governments, involving far-right nationalists and fascistic elements, which have curtailed democratic rights and are no friends of the workers’ movement.
Socialists and the wider workers’ movement must oppose the war in Ukraine and the region, in which working class people will, in the main, pay the price. International working class solidarity is essential to build a mass anti-war movement everywhere. We should support any attempts at genuine cross-community unity taking place on the ground in Ukraine, including democratically organised self-defence. All possible action should be taken to aid the building of genuine independent workers’ organisations in Ukraine, Russia and throughout the region. This includes constructing independent trade unions and mass parties of the working class with bold socialist policies. A socialist programme can unite workers across all national and ethnic lines, to oppose the local war-mongers and oligarchs and the outside imperialist powers.
The CWI supports the cultural, language and other democratic rights of minorities, and also the right of nations to self-determination, up to and including separation, should they so wish. This is a far cry from the false calls for ‘self-determination’ made by Nato powers and Moscow. For Biden and co, self-determination for Ukraine means bringing it further into the orbit of western imperialism. For Putin, self-determination means Russian capitalist domination of impoverished Donetsk and Luhansk and elsewhere in Ukraine.
Putin’s war aims?
It is not clear what Putin’s intentions are on the ground in Ukraine as the invasion unfolds. He has overwhelming military power against Ukraine. He said he wants to “demilitarise” Ukraine, which has a standing army of 215,000.
“The Russians have such supremacy that it is effectively a bulldozer that can, given time, go anywhere…take territory almost as quick as they like” a ‘senior western intelligence official’ told the Financial Times. He went on “…the key variable factor is how much the Ukrainians can put up a fight and give Putin a bloody nose”.
“I suspect this will be a stop-go operation…It looks like a maximalist approach, but could be a deception strategy to merely retake the Donbas”, commented Mathieu Boulegue to the Financial Times (London). “What will the map of Ukraine look like at the end of it all?”
Putin may indeed intend to consolidate Russian control of Donetsk and Luhansk, pushing further into the Donbas region, and to create a ‘land bridge’ to Crimea. Still, there can be a fierce and very costly struggle for these territories.
Russia has overwhelming military force against the Ukraine army and theoretically could invade and occupy the whole country. Putin still denies this is his intention. It would be an extremely dangerous and reckless course of action for Putin to take. It would come at a high cost in lives and destruction. Attempting to occupy Ukraine for any length of time would be at a colossal cost and ultimately could not succeed. Russian forces would face a largely hostile population that has access to modern arms. Western intelligence claims Putin may go for “regime change” and will “require a force of 600,000 troops in Ukraine to tackle Ukrainian armed forces and to suppress a guerrilla war from resistance fighters after the state is captured”.
Putin may be the beneficiary of a temporary rise in support at home at the moment as he “liberates” Donetsk and Luhansk. He hopes the invasion of Ukraine will divert attention from the growing anger by workers in Russia at the economic crisis they face. But any longer-term military operation, particularly across territories where the population is mainly Ukrainian, would most likely see many body bags coming home and the domestic mood turns sharply against Putin.
Nato powers have stated that they have no intention of militarily intervening in Ukraine and directly confronting Russia – it is clearly not in the interest of both nuclear arms-holding Nato and Russia. Yet many workers and youth are understandably fearful of the Ukraine crisis leading to a wider war, particularly after being subject to months of hysterical propaganda from the Western politicians and media. There is a danger however that other forces can be drawn into skirmishes. “Western forces’ leaders are concerned about the Russian air force may chase the Ukrainians into Polish airspace. That could lead to a direct clash between Russians and Poland, a Nato member”, warns, Gideon Rachman (Financial Times, 24/02/22).
Working-class people have no interest in supporting either side in this conflict, be that Nato, the main imperialist military force in the world, or the smaller but brutal imperialist power of Russia.
Apart from funnelling arms to Ukraine and increasing their forces in neighbouring Nato member countries, the western imperialists have been largely impotent in military terms in the face of Putin’s actions. They are currently reduced to enforcing new sanctions against individual oligarchs and the Nord 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany has been put on hold by Berlin. Stronger sanctions are threatened, including cutting off financial and technical links to world markets, and will hurt Russia’s economy. The workers’ movement internationally should oppose sanctions by capitalist states, which will hit working class people in Russia hardest, sooner or later. Although it is the largest landmass country in the world, with many natural resources, Russia has a smaller GDP than Italy and has an average standard of living of less than a quarter of that of people in the UK.
In recent years, Moscow has taken action to alleviate further possible sanctions. The economy is more self-sufficient after meat, fruit, vegetables and dairy exports were banned when sanctions were imposed in 2014. The Power of Siberia gas pipeline to China is an example of diversification by the Russian state, with Power of Siberia 2 already approved by Putin.
Russia has also used earnings from oil and gas exports to build substantial financial reserves. It has foreign currency reserves of about $500bn and very low levels of the national debt by international standards.
The EU is meeting to agree on new sanctions against Russia but this can cut both ways. Russia provides 40% of the EU’s oil and coal, and 20% of its gas. If Russia stops gas supplies it is estimated it would knock off 3% of Russian GDP and ending oil would see a 1.2% hit. Western countries would look for alternative sources but a cut in supplies would lead to even higher energy prices for businesses and homes, accelerating existing deep problems in the European and world economy. Russia is also a supplier of key components for global manufacturing, including car parts, and cutting these supplies will have far-reaching consequences for both industry and the economy.
On a wider scale, the Ukraine conflict has to be seen in the context of the ongoing rivalry between the relatively declining economic power of the US, which is still the largest military power, and the rising economic and increasing military power of China. Biden partly took a hard line against Russia in recent weeks (reportedly dismissing the idea of resuming the Minsk talks to try to find a deal with Russia, which Germany and France pushed for), because he wanted to send a strong signal to China. Indeed, Chinese president Xi Jinping supports Putin over Ukraine, with an eye to claims on Taiwan and its eventual ‘reintegration’ into China.
Russia is Beijing’s biggest recipient of loans from official sector institutions, worth as much as $151bn between 2000 and 2017. According to the Financial Times, China will probably help Russia weather sanctions “mostly through resource deals and lending by several state-owned banks, while seeking to avoid damage to its own economic and financial interests”. Beijing will continue to try to strike a balance between backing Putin and its own self-interest in the region’s stability and regarding its worldwide trading links.
The war in Ukraine is yet another dangerous escalation of the development of hostile military blocs on a world scale. The main task of socialists and the workers’ movement is to oppose all imperialist powers and their warmongering ruling class at home; to struggle for workers’ unity and against the coercion and oppression of all nationalities and minorities, as part of the programme for a socialist society.
- Stop the war in Ukraine
- Withdraw Russian troops and end the bombing
- Withdrawal of NATO troops from Eastern Europe
- Build the international movement of workers and youth against the war
- Expropriate the arms industry and transfer production to public ownership for social use
- We will not pay for capitalist wars – cap energy and heating costs and nationalise the energy sectors under democratic workers’ control and management
- Expropriate the wealth and property of the oligarchs and ruling classes – put the main planks of the economy under public ownership, with management and control by the working class
- For the building of independent trade unions and mass workers’ parties in Ukraine, Russia and the region
- No to ethnic division and cleansing; for the right to self-determination and full democratic rights for all minorities
- For workers’ unity and a common struggle against warmongers, oligarchs and the system of capitalism that creates poverty, joblessness, ethnic divisions and wars. For a socialist society!