A new stage has been reached in the Ukraine crisis. Putin has formally recognized the two breakaway “republics” – The Donetsk Peoples Republic and the Lunetsk Peoples Republic, known alternatively as the DPR and the LPR or alternatively the DNR and LNR. He has also sent his troops into the region.
Let us be clear on Putin: He came to power as the most powerful and richest oligarch after Russia returned to capitalism. Since then he has played the key role in centralizing and encouraging fascist forces throughout Europe and beyond. For example, Deutsche Well reports that German fascists have received military training in Russia. And US fascist/racist David Duke is close to Putin’s right hand man, Russian fascist Aleksander Dugin.
Under his regime, a series of conferences have been held around religious and “family value” themes. Oaklandsocialist’s pamphlet “Putin, Assad and the Syrian Disaster” goes into further detail.
Putin and “Greater Russia”
On Monday, Feb. 21 Putin gave a speech on why all of Ukraine should be part of Greater Russia. The speech is revealing, but even more revealing was a paper he produced in July of 2021. In that paper, he made the same claim, but he also sounded some additional themes. He referred to Ukraine being part of the same “spiritual space” as Russia. He emphasized the ancient traditions of the people: “Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians are all descendants of Ancient Rus…. the rule of the princes of the Rurik dynasty, and – after the baptism of Rus – the Orthodox faith. The spiritual choice made by St. Vladimir, who was both Prince of Novgorod and Grand Prince of Kiev, still largely determines our affinity today.” He talked about the “historical motherland”. These are the themes that lie behind much of European fascism.
This is what is driving Putin.
The complaints about NATO’s expansion are secondary at best in this regard as far as Putin’s actions. After all, NATO requires unanimous consent for a country to join it and the governments of several NATO nations have said they oppose Ukraine joining. In addition, Putin must know that in fact his invasion of Ukraine is driving other non-NATO nations to consider joining. For example, that is what Sauli Niinistö, the president of the historically unaligned Finland, said in an interview with CNN. While the very existence of NATO, never mind its expansion, is not in the interests of any workers anywhere, Putin’s claim of self defense in invading Ukraine should be taken as seriously as similar claims made by former US president Bush when he ordered the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
This does not mean support for NATO. The working class has no interest in any military alliance of capitalist governments. Nor does any of this mean support for Biden, Scholz, Johnson or any of the others. For example, according to an article in Jacobin Magazine, it now appears that despite denials, the US is training the fascist Azov group as part of its training camp in the US. (Update: This claim was explicitly rejected in this article in New Politics. The article points out that congress passed a bill prohibiting US collaboration with Azov. However, the repeated reports of fascists active in the anti-separatist armed struggle in Donbas gives reason to question whether the prohibition is necessarily the end of the story.)
US and European Capitalists
The Western European capitalist governments are looking out for their own interests as the editors of the Wall St. Journal recognize: “Italy is already wavering,” they write. “‘We are discussing sanctions with the EU and in the course of these discussions we have made our position known, that they should be concentrated on narrow sectors without including energy,’ Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said Friday…. Italy imports some 90% of its gas and is one of Moscow’s biggest clients on the Continent…. Germany’s reluctance is well-established, and Hungary is afraid too. Banning Russia from the Swift financial clearing system has already been ruled out as it could imperil tens of billions of dollars in payments to Russian creditors in Austria, France and the Netherlands.” As for Biden, the WSJ editors point out: “Yet the White House seemed unsure in its response Monday evening, including whether this was even an invasion, and its initial sanctions were limited to blocking American trade and investment in ‘the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics.’”
As for Ukrainian president Zelensky, he seems to be floundering at best. Who knows if he is trying to decide whether to end up in Putin’s corner? Operating under the claim that he doesn’t want “panic”, he has continually reassured Ukrainians that a Russian invasion is unlikely. He has been proven to be totally mistaken. The result is that according to an alJazeera article as recently as mid February of this year 62.5% of Ukrainians believe that a Russian invasion will not happen “in the nearest future”. The fact is that Russia has been conducting a low-key invasion since 2014 when it sent its direct agents and commando units into Donbas to create a “civil war” there. As Oaklandsocialist has already pointed out members of Russia’s fascist National Unity Party, Russian citizens and others flooded into Donetsk and Luhansk in 2014. Putin sent in hundreds of Kalashnikov assault rifles as well as grenade launchers and other arms. He has been the backer and organizer of the armed insurrection in that region. And the leaders of the insurrection are a collection of con artists, thugs, fascists and outright agents of Putin.
The View Inside Donbas
It is difficult to know what the people of that region want. In 1991, when Ukrainians voted for independency by well over 90%, over 80% of those in Donbas also voted that way. Since then, opinions may have shifted. In one poll conducted in 2019, 55% of the people in the area controlled by Russia (the two “republics”) still said they wanted to be independent of Russia. In Donbas outside of Russian control 96% said that. As these results show, there was a mixed opinion regarding “autonomy”, but does anybody really know what “autonomy” really means? And as far as the results in the “republics”, they would tend to be skewed in favor of Russia and are not completely reliable.
What does the future hold?
Putin’s formal recognition of the two “republics” means they will be incorporated into Russia either formally or informally. Citizens in that area will have to use Russian passports and use the Russian rouble. It is difficult to see how Putin won’t end up directly annexing the two “republics” into a Greater Russia. But it won’t end there. A wider war is most likely. Already there are reports of Russian military sending troops into the region.
How far will Putin go?
In the late 1990s, Putin fought a war against separatists in Chechnya. Part of that war as the destruction of Grozny, the main city of that region. According to reports, 80% of the population of the city were driven out and 24,000 civilians were killed. “Grozny was left almost uninhabitable,” by Putin’s bombings.
In Syria, Putin has engaged in a similar air war alongside Syrian fascistic dictator Assad and against the Syrian people. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed, most through the air war of Putin and Assad. (Tens of thousands of others were tortured to death in Assad’s prisons.)
Relying as he does on racism, nationalism and the Russian Orthodox Church, Putin may not go as far as he did against Arabs in Syria or the largely Muslim and not-quite-fully-European Chechens. But anybody who expects that Putin won’t be responsible for widespread war crimes in Ukraine is being unrealistic at best.
The Putin Regime
An imperialist invasion – and that is what Putin is embarking upon – almost always leads to further repression at home. That can be expected in this case, especially since a clear majority of Russians already do not favor such an invasion. Already standard of living has been falling in Russia in the last few years. As the economic costs of this war are felt, that opposition will deepen.
As for Putin himself, he seems to have surrounded himself with a bunch of yes-men even more so than did Trump. That is almost inevitable in any one-person dictatorship, and it means that the dictator is inclined to make serious blunders.
Western European and US Capitalism
As forWestern European and US capitalism, we should remember the role of Britain in Northern Ireland in the 1970s. There, when the Catholic minority came under attack from Protestant bigots the British sent in troops supposedly to protect the Catholics. In fact, those troops did the exact opposite. Western capitalist governments will not protect Ukraine. On the contrary, their sole interest is in trying to protect their own opportunity to loot and plunder the country. They will defend Ukraine in the same way that a pride of lions defends its right to eat a zebra it has killed.
Turn to the Working Class!
Sometimes the possible solution can only be found when we lift our eyes from the immediate crisis. There are two countries where “hope” can be found: Iran and Turkey. Huge strike waves have broken out in both those countries. (See this inspiring report on “The Awakening of the Turkish Working Class” for example. ) Where will these workers’ struggles lead? It is possible that a new and even more powerful “Arab Spring” is in the offing, but one that involves workers in the entire region, even beyond the Arab states. (Neither Iran nor Turkey are mainly Arab.) If so, this could have an impact in Russia itself.
That is where socialists and fighters for the working class should turn. Many on the left insist that we should only oppose our own capitalists. In the US, for example, they say we should stick to opposing US imperialism and NATO. That only gives strength to the nationalist forces and to opposition to socialism in Ukraine. To repeat and add to what Oaklandsocialist wrote in its previous article:
The US and the world’s working class must figure out how to link up with the working class of all of Ukraine (including the L/DPR’s) to start down the road of helping unite the working class so that it can assert its own needs. That is impossible if it even appears to take the side of one or the other imperialist power and its representatives. Instead, a working class program should include:
- For an independent role of the working class in Ukraine, in Russia on the entire continent and in the world.
Build a united working class movement to fight for basic economic demands (minimum wage, social safety net, environmental controls, etc.) and oppose the nationalist far right. Build direct international links between workers.
- Link that up with the call for the immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops and the end of foreign military training of troops in Ukraine. Oppose NATO as well as the Russian-controlled Collective Security Treaty Organization.
- Oppose Putin’s recognition of the two breakaway “republics” and his invasion of Ukraine
- For a socialist federation of Europe and Eurasia and a socialist world.
- In the US, an independent working class movement, opposed to both capitalist parties and leading to a mass working class party, is necessary to even start down that road.
The workers rebellions in Iran and Turkey show the way!
See this book review https://oaklandsocialist.com/2022/02/08/ukraine-diaries-a-vital-explanation-of-the-2014-maidan-protests-and-what-followed/ of “Ukraine Diaries” for a more in depth history of what happened in the 2014 Maidan protests.
See The Crisis in Ukraine: Imperialism and a Divided Working Class https://oaklandsocialist.com/2022/02/03/the-crisis-in-ukraine-imperialism-and-a-divided-working-class/ for more background reading, including some background on Ukraine’s history. See this pamphlet, Putin, Assad, and the Syrian Disaster for an explanation on the forces on which Putin rests and what he represents, as well as what happened in Syria.