By: Travis Smith
Over the past few days, many people have either asked me what’s going on with Ukraine and Russia or have expressed their opinions, many of which demonstrate some concerning misunderstandings of the situation. It’s led to some interesting and rather heated debates in our society and even among communists and different progressive factions. It’s important to have a grounded and historical understanding of the situation so that ideals in the abstract don’t turn into words and actions that serve the reaction.
After the dissolution of the USSR and the independence of Ukraine, there arose the question of what to do about Ukraine’s massive stockpile of Soviet nuclear warheads, along with the related question of the security of its independence. After years of wrangling, and in response to the economic ruin created by the fall of the USSR, Ukraine agreed in 1994 to become a non-nuclear state in exchange for economic aid, U.S. assistance in dismantling its nuclear infrastructure and protection assurances from both the U.S. and Russia.
Also during that time a reprogramming of NATO took place. Formerly, NATO had existed primarily as an anti-Soviet alliance. With the Soviet Union gone, the imperialist forces needed to find a new architecture for what they called “global security.” The tocsin would sound for the reformulation of this “defensive” alliance with the bombing of Yugoslavia. Later, 9/11 would provide the precedent needed to use the alliance to prosecute a “war on terror” that would find its way to nearly every corner of the globe. Many countries would be added to the alliance during this time, mostly to the east of Germany, towards Russia.
Putin himself had asked about entry into NATO in 2000, but was denied. He recalled:
“I will not reveal all the details of that conversation, but the reaction to my question was, let us say, quite restrained, and the Americans’ true attitude to that possibility can actually be seen from their subsequent steps with regard to our country. I am referring to the overt support for terrorists in the North Caucasus, the disregard for our security demands and concerns, NATO’s continued expansion, withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, and so on. It raises the question: why? What is all this about, what is the purpose? All right, you do not want to see us as friends or allies, but why make us an enemy?
There can be only one answer—this is not about our political régime or anything like that. They just do not need a big and independent country like Russia around. This is the answer to all questions. This is the source of America’s traditional policy towards Russia. Hence the attitude to all our security proposals.”
Ukraine’s position between Russia and the expanding NATO and EU has led to many debates about which direction the country should lean. Former president Viktor Yushchenko favored NATO to the point that relations with Russia deteriorated. His successor, Viktor Yanukovych, however, was elected on a platform of repairing relations with Russia and killed the movement to join. Pew reported in 2010 that just 31% of Ukrainians had a favorable view of NATO.
In 2013, Ukraine had the option to sign a trade pact to move closer to Europe economically. This ultimately was rejected, primarily because it was unclear if it would actually benefit Ukraine and because of an IMF loan attached to the deal that would have required huge budget cuts and a 40% increase to gas prices. Russia, meanwhile, was offering cheaper gas prices and a similar loan without the harsh restrictions, along with the stick of a mini trade embargo if Ukraine moved towards Europe.
This sparked off the U.S.-backed Euromaidan protests, which did not have majority support, particularly in primarily Russian-speaking Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Nevertheless, the protests escalated and the police cracked down with arrests and violence, which prompted a violent response led primarily by the far right. Groups like Svoboda, which had a nationalist platform including the re-nuclearization of Ukraine and included pro-Goebbels members, were held up as “democratic” by the U.S. media machine.
A peace deal was brokered with the opposition parties, but the very next day Yanukovych was ousted in a violent coup and exiled. As armed neo-Nazi thugs took to the street, John McCain and Chris Murphy met with Svoboda, the main fascist party, proclaiming their support, while U.S. assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland handed out sandwiches to them.
This is because for decades the U.S. has been funneling billions of dollars all over the world through organizations such as the congressionally funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and USAID in order to overturn hostile governments and promote Western-friendly replacements. This has been true everywhere from Ukraine to Hong Kong to Venezuela. In fact, the NED claims to have operations in 100 countries. Its current president said in 1986 of the CIA’s régime change work, “It would be terrible for democratic groups around the world to be seen as subsidized by the CIA. We saw that in the 60s, and that’s why it has been discontinued. We have not had the capability of doing this, and that’s why the endowment was created.”
After this NED-backed, undemocratic, nationalist-led coup, political repression began. The eastern parts of the country fell into heavy unrest. Crimea, being primarily Russian-speaking and not willing to submit to the anti-Russian, undemocratic platform of Svoboda and other far-right-wing parties that had seized power, voted 97% with an 83% turnout to secede and join Russia, a series of events the media calls an “annexation.” The eastern oblasts of Ukraine, Donetsk and Luhansk, declared their independence in May of 2014.
The official U.S. position was feigned outrage that Russia had violated the earlier security agreements made during Ukraine’s denuclearization. Russia’s official position was that that agreement had been with the legitimately elected government of Ukraine, not its new U.S.-backed nationalist government, the product of a violent coup.
The result was the war in Donbas, where the Ukrainian military was deployed and beat back the separatists nearly to the Russian border. As a result, Russia began sending forces into eastern Ukraine to support the Russian-speaking Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR) and Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and prevent a genocide, turning the tide of the war. In September 2014, they agreed to the Minsk Protocol, which provided for a ceasefire, a withdrawal, an independent organization to monitor the situation and the release of prisoners. This agreement did not last more than a few weeks, as fascist paramilitaries like the Right Sector refused to withdraw and fighting continued.
Another attempt was made a few months later with Minsk II. It provided for constitutional reforms which would have provided Donetsk and Luhansk more autonomy and given the entire border region back to Ukraine with a complete withdrawal of all foreign combat formations. This too was not to last, as the nationalist Right Sector leader declared it unconstitutional and vowed to keep fighting until “complete liberation of Ukrainian lands from Russian occupants.” It was a promise of complete ethnic cleansing. From 2015 until 2022 numerous attempts have been made to implement the Minsk agreements, with Russia pressing the issue numerous times. Current president Volodymyr Zelenskyy was elected in Ukraine on a platform of finally getting peace done in 2019, but soon caved, not wanting to lose popular support to the far right, who had vowed numerous times to overturn the government should any such peace agreement be implemented. He even went so far as to say it was “normal and cool” that many people saw infamous Ukrainian fascist Stepan Bandera as a national hero.
Meanwhile, the U.S. provided $2.5 billion in military aid to Ukraine for its “defense,” much of which finds its way into neo-Nazi formations such as the Azov Battalion, which uses old German Nazi symbols such as the swastika and Wolfsangel. Essentially, groups that vowed to rid Ukraine of all ethnic Russians by force have been receiving U.S. weapons and then using them in the DPR and LPR at the cost of many thousands of lives.
The ultimate goal of this is to move all of eastern Europe into NATO to keep Russia and China contained. This is a strategic red line which Russia made clear at least as early as 2008. Much like when the U.S. nearly invaded Cuba (again) over the Cuban Missile Crisis, Russia sees the potential for U.S. nuclear warheads four minutes from Moscow to be an unacceptable risk to its security. Indeed, some of the main demands of the right wing in Ukraine include re-nuclearization.
In the context of U.S.-armed and -backed anti-Russian neo-Nazis fighting against the DPR and LPR, threats to attempt to retake Crimea by force (by some of those same genocidal U.S.-backed forces), moves to bring NATO into Ukraine, the threat of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of those fascist forces on Russia’s border and the abject failure of the Minsk agreements that Ukraine had accepted but failed to implement because of those fascist forces, Russia decided—right or wrong—it had no other choice but to carry out this special operation.
The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) stated in this regard:
To put an end to hostilities in Donbass a compromise was reached in the shape of the Minsk Agreements whereby the DPR and LPR could remain part of Ukraine enjoying broad autonomy. However, Russia’s attempts to secure compliance with the agreements failed. Other measures were urgently needed in order to protect 800,000 Russian citizens and prevent a genocide of civilians in Donbass.
All these years the CPRF [has been] guided by [the ideas] of historical friendship and brotherhood of our peoples, exposing the Fascist nature of Bandera ideology and demonstrating the undemocratic character of the Kiev regime. We defended the right of Donbass people to life and dignity, Russian language and culture and recognition of their newborn statehood. Communist volunteers were fighting in the trenches on the line of fire and dying from shelling by Nazi units. The CPRF had dispatched to the DPR and LPR 93 convoys of humanitarian aid and for years implemented the Children of Russia to the Children of Donbass program.
This now brings us to a conundrum on the left: what line is it we should take? Of course, the social democrats and ideologically bankrupt “progressive” liberals are taking a hawkish line of decrying the invasion and then advocating for economic warfare in the form of sanctions and even more lethal military aid (to give to the Banderites). We know this path of escalations has only one logical conclusion: the destruction of humanity.
Among the Communist movements in the West, and even all over the world, there has been some amount of confusion as to what line exactly to take. The debate is fierce! Is this two imperialist powers? Is this one imperialist power and a nuclear-armed target of its imperialism fighting a proxy war? Is this a defensive war started by NATO-armed Banderites as the CPRF has asserted?
For the CPUSA, “peace is our line,” as Joe Sims has noted. Of course—but what does that mean? Even the Republicans want “peace.” The Banderites want “peace.” The Russians and Ukrainians want “peace.” Some have erroneously interpreted the need for peace to mean a return to the status quo prior to February 23 as a starting point so that “diplomacy” can take place. That cannot be considered peace, as many brutal fascistic crimes were perpetrated then against the communists fighting in the trenches for the people of the DPR and LPR. An examination of history shows that the roadblock to peace is in fact the fascist forces who have time and again scuttled the peace agreements reached already in 2015.
The logic then progresses: if the existence and arming of fascist forces in Ukraine are the principal barrier to peace, then it’s the fascist forces that must be dealt with to achieve peace. The weapons shipped to the neo-Nazis in Ukraine are built here. The organizational tools of the world’s most prolific imperialists such as the NED and USAID originate here. What good is it to demand peace from the Russian Federation when it’s our weapons being recovered from the bodies of these neo-Nazis Russia has vowed to run out of Ukraine? How can we square telling Russia to cease fire while our country is still dumping hundreds of millions of dollars of weapons into a war our country started in 2014?
Demand instead that we spend the hundreds of millions we’re spending arming fascists on dealing with our own rising neo-Nazi danger, on housing the homeless, on providing our youth with education instead of crippling debt, on healthcare. Biden is trying to send even more weapons there as we speak—no question of cost from Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema, who have held up the progressive domestic agenda Biden was elected to enact. Four separate corporate journalists asked why we weren’t thinking about sending troops to fight Russia at a recent White House press briefing. There are even people pressuring NATO to create a no-fly zone such that NATO pilots would engage and kill Russian pilots. The sheer insanity of such a thought in a nuclear age!
If peace is our line, peace is our special responsibility and we must take an initiating role in it.
As always, articles represent the opinion of the author.