What anti-imperialists should know about the war in Ukraine

May 7 — It’s been nearly 15 months since the start of the Feb. 24, 2022, Russian military intervention in Ukraine, which was provoked by decades of U.S./NATO expansion eastward. The Biden administration has given the Ukrainian puppet government billions of dollars in military aid, and many people are scratching their heads, wondering why?

New York City, Jan. 14, protest targets imperialists in the Ukraine war. Credit: Brenda Ryan

Ukraine’s current government is a product of a NATO-backed coup, carried out in 2014 with pro-Nazi participation, which was also referred to as the Maidan Coup. At that time Western-backed forces overthrew a sovereign, democratically elected government under President Viktor Yanukovych. The right-wing coup wreaked terror on people living in Ukraine — particularly Russian-speaking, Jewish, Roma and Hungarian citizens of Ukraine. 

The violent coup stepped up an anti-communist campaign, designed to distort if not erase history. Many Maidan leaders painted Soviet heroes as “villains,” while falsely propping up Nazi collaborators as “heroes.” 

One of the first actions carried out by ultranationalist Ukrainian forces — such as Svoboda and the Right Sector — was to destroy and set fire to the House of Trade Unions on May 2, 2014. The union hall was an important and historical site from the Soviet era, located in the Ukrainian city of Odessa — 48 people were murdered that day for trying to defend it from the Maidan terrorists. The Azov Battalion, the official regiment of the Ukrainian National Guard, was created by far-right Ukrainians a few days later. 

Background of Ukraine

Ukraine was one of 15 countries that collectively existed in the former Soviet Union. When Nazi-led Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, a handful of reactionary collaborators, under the direction of Stepan Bandera, sided with the fascist invaders and collaborated. Most Ukrainians supported the USSR, whose Red Army drove the German occupiers out and won World War II. 

The subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s and the restoration of capitalism allowed far-right reactionaries in the republics to rear their ugly heads, beginning with counterrevolutionaries in the Baltic countries. And Ukraine was no exception. 

Between 2004 and 2005, there was an anti-communist, neoliberal “color revolution” in Ukraine, known as the “Orange Revolution.” This came about in conjunction with the controversial election of Viktor Yuschenko. Among some of Yuschenko’s infamous maneuvers was to brand Stepan Bandera a “national hero” and rename a street in Kiev after another Nazi war criminal in 2009.

The 2010 election of Viktor Yanukovych produced a government less tied to the Western imperialists. While a moderate, Yanukovych attempted to reverse the Orange Revolution’s push to popularize Nazi war criminals. The 2014 coup changed that. 

‘Decommunization’ means privatization

The attack against the working class and people of different nationalities within Ukraine started after the collapse of the Soviet Union and continued under the guise of “decommunization.” In addition to destroying Soviet symbols such as statues of Lenin, and literally rewriting history, the decommunization campaign promoted privatization and helped multinational corporations penetrate the economy and rake in massive profits. 

The major aim of Ukraine’s decommunization was to demonize socialism on the one hand and to place any last industry or sector that could still be nationalized from the Soviet period into private, profit-seeking ownership on the other. Western business leaders have met with Ukrainian leaders, off and on, ever since the European Union-, NATO- and U.S.-backed coup of 2014.

In July 2022, several capitalist and corporate investors from the U.S., EU, Britain, Japan and South Korea met in Lugano, Switzerland, for a so-called Ukraine Recovery Conference (URC). The imperialist gathering focused on private market reforms, such as “decentralization, privatization, reform of state-owned enterprises, land reform, ‘state administration reform,’” all of which involved union busting and the deterioration of workers’ rights. (tinyurl.com/yc5c2wc2)

 On April 13, another private meeting was held between the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Department of Commerce and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, known as the “U.S.-Ukraine Partnership Forum.” (U.S. State Department, April 14) This meeting was intended to advance finance capital, while promoting the current proxy war against Russia at the same time.

A future URC conference is scheduled to occur in London June 21-22, this one between the British and Ukrainian governments. This gathering is expected to serve the same purpose as the other meetings between Western bourgeois representatives and Ukrainian officials. None of these meetings are aimed to help the Ukrainian people or offer a peaceful resolution with Russia. On the contrary those involved in these meetings have no interest in ending the war anytime soon.

In February, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with investors from BlackRock and JPMorgan Chase & Co. (Ukraine Business News, Feb. 21) Both these investment conglomerates are also major shareholders of Northfolk Southern, which was responsible for the toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, that same month.

In the midst of these meetings promoting profiteering, the puppet regime of Ukraine has stepped up its attacks on the Ukrainian working class. One month after the Russian intervention, Ukraine outlawed several left-wing parties, which once provided material and political support to labor unions. In August 2022, Zelensky helped ratify Law 5371, which stripped 70% of Ukrainian workers of their collective bargaining rights. (openDemocracy.net, Aug. 25, 2022)

Political confusion

Despite the decommunization efforts in Ukraine over the last 30-plus years and the recent assaults against Ukrainian workers and oppressed people, there has been a lot of confusion among political activists regarding the character of the war. For anti-imperialists in the centers of world imperialism, it should be clear that an end to the U.S.-NATO offensive, its defeat, should be the goal.

The Western and Ukrainian nationalist efforts to erase history, through their powerful propaganda machines, has complicated building a genuine antiwar movement. Years of verbal attacks against Russia, which were used as a weak attempt to criticize and discredit the bigoted administration of Donald Trump, have  contributed to this confusion. Many people who typically hold progressive positions on other political issues associate Russia with Trump — a dangerous trajectory. 

Another example of this confusion is how some racist, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ+ figureheads on the right have provided a small level of criticism of the proxy war against Russia, simply because their rival Democrats in national office have been leading the war effort. 

These same reactionary figureheads, such as Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, have more in common ideologically with the pro-Bandera forces inside the Ukrainian Right Sector and the Azov Battalion than they do with the Russian working class. 

This is showcased in their constant scapegoating of migrant families, Muslims and most recently, trans people, as well as their promotion of the racist and fascist “great replacement” rhetoric, which is used to divide workers.

Most of those on the right who claim to oppose the proxy war against Russia promote a U.S.-led war against socialist China instead, simply because they hate socialism, and they despise working-class and oppressed peoples of every continent. 

China’s peace initiatives

Although there is a lot of confusion and uncertainty regarding Ukraine, there are some facts no one can deny. The provocations and sanctions leveled against Russia have strengthened relations between that country and the People’s Republic of China. Much of the Global South now refuses to take the U.S.-NATO side against Russia and China, which hinders imperialist objectives of using sanctions, for example.

In April 2023, Chinese President Xi Jinping opened a dialogue with Ukrainian President Zelensky, encouraging negotiations with Russia. As a leader of the largest socialist country in the world, Xi promotes ending the imperialist proxy war. Washington, on the other hand, has blocked all serious attempts to negotiate an end to the war. 

It is the duty of antiwar forces in the U.S. to oppose endless, imperialist war. It is our responsibility to help educate those who have been misled into believing anti-Russian propaganda. Lastly, we must also call out racist, right-wing forces everywhere, whether they are carrying out terror in Ukraine or spewing misinformation in the U.S. We must assist in that effort to end the war by demanding: “U.S. and NATO out of Ukraine!”

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