This statement from the Party for Socialism and Liberation was originally published in Liberation News.
The Russian military operation in Ukraine highlights that the world has reached a dangerous fork in the road. It is critically important for people in the United States, who are receiving the bulk of their information from the capitalist media that functions as an echo chamber for the U.S. government, to know that the current crisis is the byproduct of a long effort by the United States to establish absolute domination throughout Europe. The U.S. policy is aimed at undermining Russia’s security by surrounding it with advanced missiles that can reach their Russian targets in less than 10 minutes.
For the last three months, the Russian government simultaneously called for negotiations about their security concerns while at the same time amassing troops at the Russia-Ukraine border and at the border of Ukraine and Belarus. Putin announced that Russia would militarily intervene in Ukraine after the United States and NATO rejected their fundamental demands that Ukraine not be incorporated into NATO and that Ukraine, which shares a 1,200-mile border with Russia, not be used as a staging ground for advanced missiles that target Russia.
In essence, Putin and Russia were demanding that Ukraine be a neutral country and never a member of NATO. It was precisely through the territory of Ukraine that Russia was subjected to the Nazi invasion of World War Two and earlier invasions by western powers. In World War Two, when Ukraine and Russia were one country (the Soviet Union), more than 27 million people died resisting the Nazi invasion of their homelands.
At this critical moment, it is imperative that the U.S. government change its reckless, provocative stance of encircling Russia and relentlessly expanding NATO eastward. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States has attempted to incorporate almost every former Soviet/Russian European ally into NATO, which is an offensive military alliance.
After having all of its demands rejected by the United States and NATO, the Russian government decided to invade Ukraine. As of this moment, major military operations are underway. The Russian government said it will not occupy Ukraine but that it intends to carry out the “demilitarization” and “de-Nazification” of the country. It is unclear what these terms actually mean. In some segments of the Ukrainian state – particularly the police and military – there is considerable Nazi influence. In the political life of Ukraine, the power of fascist groups has waned considerably in recent years and they do not exercise decisive influence inside of the administration of President Zelenskyy.
The United States and European powers have vowed to impose a total sanctions regime on Russia, cutting the country off from the world economy and targeting its most vital industries. An initial volley of sanctions was announced by Biden today. These target some of the largest banks and corporations in Russia and are especially aimed at limiting Russia’s ability to access foreign currency and high tech markets. A series of sanctions have already been imposed since 2014, with Russia’s incorporation of Crimea after the U.S.-backed coup in Kiev. More measures are likely to follow. Taken together, the events of the last two days constitute a profound and historic rupture in the existing geopolitical order and will have cascading consequences for years to come.
A preventable tragedy
The deadly fighting currently raging across Ukraine is a tragedy. In any war, the working class of the nations involved are the ones to bear the brunt of the hardship and suffering. From 1922 until the dissolution of the Soviet Union the peoples of Ukraine and Russia lived in peace. They were partners in a socialist planned economy and together they defeated the fascist, Nazi invasion of 1941 at the cost of 27 million Soviet lives. The bourgeois-led counter-revolution that dissolved the Soviet Union separated the peoples and republics. This animus and hostility that followed was the predictable outcome of the end of socialism and the beginning of capitalist competition.
While we do not support the Russian invasion, we reserve our strongest condemnation for the U.S. government, which rejected Russia’s legitimate security concerns in the region, with total intransigence that they knew could provoke such a war. This is the consequence of decades of U.S.-NATO bullying and humiliating Russia. The Party for Socialism and Liberation demands that the U.S. government and its allies in the imperialist NATO military alliance immediately cease their provocative behavior designed to escalate the crisis and provide security guarantees that can be the foundation for the restoration of peace – the cornerstone of which must be a pledge to end NATO expansion. This is what can bring relief to the people of Ukraine.
A highly explosive situation has been developing in Eastern Europe not only in recent weeks and months, but for many years. What happened last night and the terrible violence to come was preventable, but decisions made by NATO powers at every key juncture since the end of the Cold War set the region on a collision course that was bound to come to a head sooner or later.
Since the breakup of the Soviet Union and the socialist camp of Eastern Europe, the imperialist NATO military alliance has steadily expanded eastward, absorbing 14 formerly socialist states between 1999 and 2020. Three of these countries — Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia — were former republics of the Soviet Union itself. In 2008, a war broke out between Russia and western-allied Georgia after Georgian forces attacked the pro-Russia breakaway region of South Ossetia.
In 2014, a coup supported by the west took place in Ukraine that replaced the neutral government of Viktor Yanukovych with a staunchly anti-Russia government. This coup created the essential preconditions for the current crisis and war. It did not come out of nowhere in the last few months. Under the Trump administration, the United States withdrew from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Open Skies Treaty, which were cornerstones of the arms control architecture of Europe.
Actions elsewhere in the world compounded the tensions. In 2011, NATO carried out the destruction of Libya on the basis of UN Security Council resolution 1973 – which Russia allowed to pass based on false assurances from the west that it would not be used to justify a regime change operation. Around the same time, a civil war broke out in Syria, a close Russian ally. Russia intervened in Syria militarily to prevent U.S.-backed reactionary fundamentalist forces from seizing control of the country.
A turning point in world politics
The speech given by Vladimir Putin last night announcing the invasion made it clear that he was prepared for an intense and long-term confrontation with the west. Starting with the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, Putin listed a litany of aggressive actions by the west and called on all segments of Russian society – military and non-military – to do their part in the coming mobilization, which undoubtedly will involve profound economic turmoil inside of Russia. Putin’s intention appears to be to change the balance of forces in Europe and turn the geopolitical tide with a major military intervention.
The plight of ethnic Russians, especially those in the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine, factored heavily into the speech delivered by Putin, which was directed towards the Russian public. Putin has been outspoken in recent days about his opposition to the Soviet policy on nationalities and considers the creation of modern Ukraine to have been a grave error on the part of Vladimir Lenin. As the PSL pointed out in our Feb. 22 statement:
“[T]he policy promoted by Lenin was the cornerstone of maintaining peaceful relations and unity among the peoples of the Soviet Union from the Russian Revolution until the beginning of the USSR’s collapse. By organizing the new, socialist state along the lines of the right to self-determination, Lenin was striking a blow at what was called “Great Russian chauvinism” — the domination of the Russian state and the Russian nationality in the territory of the just-overthrown Russian empire. Along with the administrative transfer of territories, this was a way of ensuring that the peoples of the newly formed socialist state could live together in peace and equality, replacing the brutal domination characteristic of the Czar’s regime. The principle of self-determination laid the basis for multinational unity that was the foundation of the Soviet Union’s great successes — for instance, 4.5 million Ukrainians fought alongside Russians to defeat fascism in World War II.”
There is no guarantee that Russia’s effort to reverse the geopolitical situation in its favor will succeed. So far, the events of the past several days have allowed U.S. imperialism to secure key objectives. The critical NordStream 2 pipeline that would have brought massive amounts of Russian gas into the European market is no longer going forward. NATO troops have been and will continue to flood into the Eastern European members of the alliance, including the Baltic countries that share a border with Russia. Just today, the Pentagon announced that it was sending 7,000 additional soldiers to Europe. While Russia clearly aims to install a friendly government in power in Kiev, public support inside of Ukraine for the country’s membership in NATO – which has never been a completely dominant position – will undoubtedly surge in the aftermath of the invasion.
The conflict currently exploding in Ukraine and rippling throughout the region and the entire world is hugely dangerous. The reckless and provocative actions of the U.S. government and its allies must cease immediately. The economic warfare being unleashed against Russia – which will first and foremost affect the country’s working class – will only deepen the crisis, as would troop deployments anywhere in Europe.
Recognizing that Russia has legitimate security concerns does not require an endorsement of all its military actions, nor Putin’s suggestion that Ukraine has no basis to exist as an independent county, nor his larger geopolitical strategies. The role of the U.S. anti-war movement is not to follow the line of countries in conflict with U.S. imperialism, but to present an independent program of peace and solidarity and anti-imperialism.
The menace of war can only be defeated by international solidarity among the peoples of the world and a resolute struggle against U.S. imperialism.