Russia’s War in Ukraine and NATO’s Imperialist Siege
Translated by comrades of Bolshevik-Leninist (Australia). Since the original publication of this article the situation has progressed significantly but our position and perspective on it remain the same. Some footnotes update outdated information. Bolshevik-Leninist would also like to highlight Australian imperialism’s role in the conflict as a key ally of NATO (acting essentially an external member) in its encirclement and attempted strangulation of Russia as part of its war drive, as such some additions and edits to the text have been made to reflect this.
February 24, 2022
Down with NATO and its provocations!
Down with the Australian/NATO war drive!
No sanctions against Russia!
No to a Russian occupation of Ukraine!
For the right to self-determination of the Donbass republics!
The working class must end the war though socialist revolution!
On February 24, the tension built up between Russia and Ukraine in recent months finally exploded. After the long push by the United States and other NATO members for Ukrainian entry into this military alliance of the imperialists, against which Russia has repeatedly complained, Vladimir Putin is carrying out an invasion on the grounds of defending Ukraine’s eastern provinces – which in 2014 declared themselves the independent “People’s Republics” of Donetsk and Lugansk. In addition, he launched a multi-pronged assault on Ukrainian territory, with the declared intention of “disarming and denazifying” the country, targeting the main depots of weapons and anti-aircraft artillery.1
Class conscious workers and Marxists need to have a clear position so that we do not fall victim to the powerful anti-Russian and pro-imperialist propaganda being produced at this moment. At the same time, we cannot hold any illusions or expectations in the reactionary at the head of the Kremlin today. Russia is not the Soviet Union, which despite Stalinist degeneration remained a workers’ state until 1991. As such the position of the Marxists must be to facilitate the socialist revolution in the region, to get rid of the enemies of the workers’ and inaugurate a new chapter in European and world history.
Euromaidan and “pro-Western” fascists
In 2014, the then Ukrainian government, led by Viktor Yanukovych, was overthrown in a coup orchestrated by liberals and fascists. Taking place in Central Square in Kiev, the movement became known as Euromaidan. This conflict was caused because Yanukovych played a dangerous double game while negotiating Ukraine’s entry into the European Union. And at the last minute backed out of the deal, bargaining instead for trade advantages with Russia.
The anger of liberal pro-Western political sectors, for their economic interests, and of anti-Russian fascists, incited mass frustration against the Yanukovich government, also involved in major corruption scandals, leading to the eventual flight of the president and overthrow of the government. Several fascist groups and sympathizers participated in this overthrow, carrying out armed actions. They used as a symbol the Nazi collaborator during the Second World War, Stepan Bandera. The United States approved of the movement, and Republican Senator John McCain personally visited Central Square occupation and greeted the protestors. Shamefully, at that time several sectors of the left which claimed to be Trotskyist supported this rightist and pro-imperialist movement as if it were something progressive or even a “revolution”
The actual result of Euromaidan was tremendously reactionary: a Ukraine to be used as a spearhead and vassal for NATO and American imperialism on Russia’s border. In its aftermath followed persecution and fascist attacks against members of left-wing parties, communists and trade unionists, as well as attacks on Russian speakers (who make up the majority of the population in Eastern Ukraine). The use of Russian in schools and other public institutions was banned, despite Ukraine being a multinational country.
Russia in response moved quickly to seize Crimea, a southern peninsula that had been transferred to Ukraine by Russia in the Soviet era, and which contains an important military base used by the Russian navy. In the East, against repeated aggression supported by the new government in the capital Kiev, a civil war began against the central government. In these regions, where the majority of the population is Russian-speaking, clashes against the government began for the establishment of independent regions – showing sympathies with Russia and, to a large extent, seeking confederation with it. This was the origin of the Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, in the Donbass region.
These territories remained part of Ukraine until the present moment, although effective power had already passed to the rebels in a significant portion of the provinces. While not obtaining formal recognition, they had been receiving Russian material aid after the destruction left by civil war and international sanctions. Putin recognized the independence of the republics only on the eve of his attack, saying that this recognition “comes very late”, since he had denied for years that he had any intention of annexing them.
Repeated NATO provocations led to the current conflict
The current conflict has its direct origin in negotiations for the entry of Ukraine into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, pushed by leaders of the Organization and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. For this to occur would mean the likely installation of missile launchers, bases and troops hostile to Russia on its border. NATO was created for the destruction of the then Soviet Union and its allies, and continued to exist as a military coalition to impose interests of American and European imperialists on weaker nations that did not accept their dictates.
Contrary to the narrative of pro-imperialist media in the West, the Kremlin made several attempts to open negotiations to prevent the accession of Ukraine into NATO. Without any success, Russian troop mobilization began in January, as a sign that Russia would not back down and would not tolerate the most recent plan for NATO expansion. Throughout this time, there was no lower disposition among the imperialists or the Ukrainian government for the expansion of the military coalition.
Russia, in spite of its expansionist appetites, has a largely defensive motivation in the current conflict. European Union countries have repeatedly disregarded guarantees that NATO would not expand east, undeterred by Russian protest. NATO has battalions in each of the Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), in Poland, and a brigade in Romania. The imperialists have spent years heavily arming Ukraine and neighboring allied countries, sending ammunition, weapons and fighter jets. Russia, as well as the Chinese bureaucratized worker state, is literally surrounded by all sides by NATO and US military bases.
The current conflict is a result, more than anything, of Joe Biden’s warlike and expansionist policy, both when he was part of the Obama administration in 2014, and now. It is not a “free choice” nor a “national right” of Ukraine join NATO, as advocated by some scoundrels who use the question of national autonomy to justify the promotion of wars and coups in the interest of imperialists. Does Russia have the choice to have tens of thousands of hostile soldiers stationed on its border?
Imagine if the scenario was reversed and Mexico, for example, united in an anti-American military alliance with Russia, which planned to station soldiers, airplanes and missile launchers on the southern border of the United States. Imagine the frenzy that this would cause among pro-imperialist “democrats”. However, when it comes to the inverse, and the decadent North American colossus seeks to do just this against its enemies, this is portrayed as perfectly natural and justifiable.
In Australia, imperialists have long complained of China asserting control of parts of the South China Sea and of a Chinese “invasion” through commercial ownership of some land in and around Australia by a few Chinese companies. Could one imagine the hue and cry that would result if China stationed troops right by Australia, entered military alliances with neighboring countries for the purpose of encircling Australia, and started parading around Australian waters with war ships? Yet, when it comes to Russia, Australian imperialists gleefully aid the provocative actions of NATO – the hypocrisy is palpable!
Is Russia Imperialist?
Post-Soviet Russia was shaped between the duel forces of pro-imperialist neoliberal political movements – carrying out the “shock therapy” of its reintegration to the world market, destroying the living conditions of the working masses – and a renewed Russian nationalist “pan-slavism”. But the country has not yet become a global imperialist power. It is a regional power in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, with a powerful military inheritance and atomic arsenal from the Soviet state, destroyed in 1991. However, Russia does not export shares of capital for the exploitation of workers and resources in other countries at rates that are comparable to those of global powers, such as the US, Germany, UK, France, the Netherlands, and Japan. Not even to imperialist powers of secondary importance such as Canada, Belgium, Ireland, Spain, Italy and Australia. Russian foreign direct investment (FDI), that is, capital exported to the exploitation of other countries and territories, is less than a third of the Canadian and just over half of the Spanish.
In our programmatic manifest, we wrote:
“In its modern sense, imperialism is a relationship that is established between countries as soon as one is able to export capital (in the form of investments) to another at a significant level. This relationship is based on monopoly (dominance by a handful of large companies) and the merging of industrial and banking capital, generating financial capital and shaping the state in its interests. But these economic characteristics of imperialism, which at the beginning of the 20th century were unique to the great global powers, are now present in much of the world. This means that nations that are not global imperialist powers can sometimes establish imperialist-type relations with other subordinate nations. […] Russia, although it has a predatory position in relation to some countries of the former Soviet bloc and in the Middle East, is also not a world imperialist power, although certainly its oligarchs have this desire and aspiration. It is a regional power that, in relative terms, is surrounded and under pressure by global imperialist forces.”Organize an International Marxist Proletarian Nucleus!
The false characterization of Russia as a qualitatively comparable imperialist power to the NATO/US bloc, made by some currents on the left, serves solely to equally share responsibility for the present crisis. As Marxists, we are against all sanctions by imperialist powers on Russia, which tend to most heavily impact the poor and working classes of targeted countries. To date, Ukraine’s imperialist allies have not imposed the heaviest possible sanctions, which could include seizing the funds of Russian citizens abroad and imposing commercial import or export bans.2 Part of Putin’s war calculation was to carry out the actions at the height of winter in the northern hemisphere, when many EU countries are particularly dependent on Russian gas for heating and power generation. In any case, all the sanctions of the imperialists are weapons in their siege against Russia.
Putin’s nationalist, anti-communist speech and the right to self-determination of Donetsk and Lugansk
Russia carries a legacy of national oppression against Ukraine, which during the Tsarist Empire was governed by powerful Great-Russian chauvinism. The backwards Russian Imperialism of this time was destroyed by the October Revolution of 1917 and the Russian Civil War that followed. Lenin and the Bolshevik Party undertook substantial efforts to destroy the chains of national oppression built by Tsarism. Stalinism saw a rebirth of Great-Russian chauvinism against the minority nationalities of the USSR, though never to the same dark levels as before. It is at least possible to say that other nationalities were recognized as republics with their own rights and use of their languages and customs. The destruction of the USSR in 1991 poisoned the region with renewed waves of nationalism and anti-Russian sentiments that are the basis of many fascist and right wing movements in several Eastern European countries.
In his speech recognizing the independence of the Donetsk’s and Lugansk republics, Putin declared that Ukraine was created “as a result of Bolshevik policy” and that it had been an error to allow its constitution as an Autonomous Republic (within the USSR). Referring to the destruction of Soviet statues in Ukraine after 2014, he said, “Do you want decommunization? Well, that suits us just fine. But it is unnecessary, as they say, to stop halfway. We are ready to show you what real decommunization means for Ukraine.” In the same speech Putin claimed he wanted to rid the Ukraine of a fascist government, he resurrected reactionary arguments worthy of White Army Tsarists and counterrevolutionary officers.
This was only the most recent instance of anticommunist posturing that the conservative nationalist Putin has taken over his long term in government. He is an enemy of Russian workers and workers of other nationalities, a servant of the parasitic oligarchs that took control of the country after the destruction of the USSR. It is shameful that some on the left, are enthusiastic for this arch-reactionary, as if he were some kind of metaphysical representative of a reborn USSR. The declarations of the pro-imperialist media that “Putin wants the Soviet Union back” could not be further from reality. His sympathies are closer to the Romanov Empire.
Marxists advocate for the right of nations to self-determination, the right of a people to constitute itself into an independent state if they wish – as did the Bolsheviks of Lenin and Trotsky. It is for this reason that we also support the right of the people of the Donbass region, the self proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, to separate from Ukraine and join Russia if they wish.
In polls conducted in 2019, which provided several scenarios options, 51% of the inhabitants of the Donbass supported union with Russia, with an additional 13.4% wishing to be part of Russia, but with special autonomy status. Only 20% considered region part of Ukraine.3 After news that new Ukrainian attacks on the Donbass republics would occur – something that has been happening for years – the Russian Parliament, in a coordinated move, demanded the recognition of the republics by Russia, which Putin then did.
However, we warn the workers of the Donbass that the entry of these small republics into Russia will not solve the evils of unemployment, poverty, low wages and exploitation, for these are evils also experienced by Russian workers. Despite its right to separation and union with Russia, it is the movement of Russian and Ukrainian workers that they should seek to count on against fascist hordes and the Ukrainian government, as well as against the reactionary Putin.
Against a Russian occupation of Ukraine
It is not clear what the limit of Putin’s intentions are in bombing Ukrainian cities and advancing through land and sea. It is possible this is aimed at carrying out a preventive attack to prevent any possibility of Ukrainian retaliation, forcing a ceasefire that requires the Zelensky government to retreat from plans for NATO membership. Until the present moment, Putin’s strategy has been characterized by extreme caution. He knows that he has the upper hand at the moment and does not want to take steps longer than his legs.
However, it is possible that the current war could progress to a total overthrow of the Ukrainian government, establishing a pro-Russian puppet government in its place, or even a long-term occupation of Ukraine, beyond the Donbass Republics.
It was the workers’ movement itself that should have put an end to plans for NATO membership, not Putin’s Russia. Now that the invasion has taken place, Marxists must speak out clearly against Russian military occupation. Stationed in Ukraine, the Russian military would act less against the liberal and fascist allies of the current government, provided they bend to Russian will, and more against Ukrainian workers, their organized political movements, and their interests. Such an occupation, should it occur, would fuel further nationalist hatred in the region, pulling workers away from the necessary path of class unity above national divisions.
Russian and Ukrainian workers must end this war
The current war can only bring harm and death to the working people of Ukraine and the border regions. As we have explained, it is a result, firstly, of NATO’s aggressive policy against Russia and, secondarily, of Putin’s expansionist appetites. But the program of the working class is not that of useless pacifist clamor.
The Ukrainian government is calling up reservists and arming the population in hopes of stopping the Russian onslaught. It says it has been “abandoned” by its imperialist allies. Meanwhile it is working people who are being sent to the front lines to die for a situation they did not create. But such a scenario is conducive to workers taking their fate into their own hands, getting rid of Zelensky’s pro-imperialist government, turning their weapons against the puppet politicians who are to blame for creating this war. They must do so with complete independence and without trust in Putin.
Russian workers, for their part, must not passively accept the carrying out of a protracted war. Putin hopes for a quick victory, to avoid tougher sanctions and economic attrition that will sap his popularity. Protests are already taking place in Russia against the war, leading to thousands of arrests. Russian workers must be against a continuation of the war and an occupation of Ukraine, but it is crucial that their fight against Putin is equally independent of any interests and any illusions in the deceitful Western NATO “democrats”, who yearn to see the living conditions of workers across Europe worsened for the benefit of their investments.
In every NATO member country – as well as imperialist countries adjacent to and in support of NATO, such as Australia – the workers’ movement must engage in actions that denounce the provocations and threats of this coalition of humanity’s greatest enemies – the imperialists! It must force them to give up on the expansion of their forces into Eastern Europe and force the expulsion of all imperialist troops from countries in the region.
Appendix: Three Questions and Answers About the War in Ukraine
Bellow is a translation of a short series of responses to common questions and objections to the position we advocate in regards to the current war.
March 6, 2022
1. “If the fight against Russia favors NATO, should Ukrainian workers let themselves be killed? Should they abandon self-defense?”
For anyone who claims to be a communist, the self-organization of the working class is an absolute principle. It would be absurd to say that Ukrainian workers should “accept death”, as if the Russian invasion entailed complete and indiscriminate extermination. Real life is not a board game. There are Ukrainian workers supporting the Russian invasion, especially in the Eastern provinces, because they see in it a defense of their interests, either because they believe Putin’s lies, or because they hate the Kiev regime. There are those fleeing the war. There are those being forced to join the Ukrainian army, which is being used as NATO vassal. There are those who volunteer to face Russia for the most varied reasons.
Communists should call upon the Ukrainian workers, their unions and left-wing parties, to fight primarily against their own government, which implies taking advantage of the situation to arm themselves, against Zelensky and the fascist battalions allied to his government. It is obvious that they have the right to defend their lives and their interests, but this does not mean following the pro-NATO army – that is not the program that communists should advocate.
Instead, they must maintain that “the main enemy is at home,” in the same way that Russian workers should intensify the fight against Putin and against an expansionist occupation of Ukraine. But a victory of the Ukrainian government and army, which is receiving extensive imperialist support, and not of organised workers (and the two are completely different things!), is the most reactionary scenario. It would mean an NATO victory, which will succeed in imposing a greater stranglehold on Ukraine. The country would not then be “free”, and much less have a real “self-determination”, but would be consolidated as a servant of imperialism. It would also escalate the siege against Russia and any country in the region that dared reject imperialist dictates.
2. “But what about Russia’s historic oppression against Ukraine? Don’t Marxists always advocate for oppressed nations and defend their right to self-determination?”
Yes, Ukraine has historically suffered Russian national oppression, throughout the Tsarist Empire and later under Stalinism, even though Ukraine had (formally) recognized national autonomy. Contrary to Putin’s reactionary view, Ukraine has the right to exist as an independent country.
However, the current situation is not as simple as a Russian invasion oppressing Ukraine. If that were so, it would not be difficult for communists to take a stand. Russian troops recently entered Kazakhstan to crush a popular uprising. No serious communist could have the slightest doubt about denouncing this attack, which was applauded even by Western imperialists.
But in Ukraine, despite Russian expansionist interests, it is undeniable that Russia had been operating from defensive position – and that it was driven into this war by pressure and threats from NATO, with Ukraine’s plan to join the military alliance and install missile launchers on the Russian border. In other words, NATO is not a mere external detail in this conflict, it is the main cause!
Russia is a powerful yet ultimately dependent country surrounded by NATO, and we must recognize that Ukraine is being used by the imperialists as a spearhead in their plan to encircle Russia. In this way, the issue cannot be reduced merely to the question of Ukrainian national self-determination against Russia, since deterring the imperialists is a question of even greater weight for communists.
The victory of the Ukrainian army in this conflict directly supports imperialist interests. No wonder the US, France, UK and Belgium are sending weapons, billions in military aid, carrying out sanctions against Russia and conducting a fierce media campaign – they want to see Ukraine victorious (not its workers or its people, but its puppet government and its pro-imperialist army). Communists must be against all these weapons wielded by the imperialists. The victory of the Ukrainian armed forces, aided and abetted by the imperialists and infested with fascists, is no victory for the workers of Ukraine, or any country. Quite the opposite!
3. “What then should our program be? Accept the Russian invasion?”
The Russian invasion does not resolve this conflict in the long term, as it does not eliminate NATO pressure or defeat enemies of the working-class on both sides. Communists did not call for an invasion, nor do they support a permanent occupation of Ukraine by Russia. The question is how to end the war in the interests of workers, without bringing victory to NATO. There are four potential ways this war could end.
The first is the undisputed victory of Russia, which would lead to an occupation or a prolongation of the conflict in the form of a veiled civil war. In an immediate sense, the most recent advance by NATO would be impeded, including the possible destruction of some imperialist military forces. However, this would reinforce Russian dominance in the region and intensify nationalist hatred among workers (and Ukraine is a multinational country), as well as satisfying Putin’s expansionist appetites.
Another possibility is a victory of the Ukrainian army supported by the imperialists, expelling Russia. In this scenario, NATO’s drive to install a new base in the region would be triumphant. Ukraine would consolidate itself as an imperialist servant and be tied to imperialist interests. In no way would this be a victory for “freedom” or “self-determination”. Hatred against the Russian minority (as in the Donbass provinces) would grow exponentially. And it would increase Western imperialist dominance in Eastern Europe.
An intermediate possibility would be a ceasefire in which Russia annexed the eastern provinces or agreed to withdraw on Ukraine’s promise not to join NATO. Given the impact of imperialist sanctions on Russia, this is an increasingly realistic scenario. It would represent a freezing of the conflict in similar positions as before the current escalation. But the imperialists would not give up their siege and this “exit” would mean the continuation of the reactionary governments of Zelensky on one side and Putin on the other.
The way out that the communists must agitate for is a fourth. It is the overcoming of this war through the internationalist struggle of Ukrainian and Russian workers, which could replace the bourgeois governments of both countries with workers’ states based on their political organizations. Such workers’ states could definitively drive NATO’s objectives and troops from the region, crush the hopes of the imperialists, and ignite a revolt among the workers in the imperialist powers. They would also do everything in their power to stop the acts of national hatred of Ukrainians against Russians and of Russians against Ukrainians, guaranteeing an autonomous existence to a proletarian Ukraine, which could or could not join a democratic federation with a proletarian Russia (as was the original intent of the Bolsheviks).
Masses of Russian soldiers and Ukrainian workers are being sent to die and suffer the consequences of a conflict that serves only interests of the NATO imperialists (the main culprits for this war). The fourth way out is the only solution to this war that is not a capitulation to Putin and the Russian bourgeoisie, nor to NATO and the American and European imperialists.
- Since the original publication of this article Russian military actions have expanded to include operations, bombings and efforts to capture several major cities including the capital, Kiev.
- Since the original publication of this article much harder sanctions have been imposed, causing significant economic turmoil. Among the most impactful has been the withdraw of major companies from the country and the kicking out of its banks from the SWIFT payment system.