Opposing Biden’s war strategy requires supporting self-determination for Ukraine

June 14, 2022
A pro-Ukraine protest in London's Trafalgar Square on February 27. Photo: Alisdare Hickson/Flickr

More than 100 days after Moscow’s unprovoked invasion of its neighbour, Russia’s war on Ukraine shows no sign of abating.

Stiff resistance aimed at defending Ukraine’s sovereignty has pushed Russian forces back — particularly around the capital, Kyiv, and most of Ukraine’s north.

In the east, however, Russia’s military continues to conquer territory. The Institute for the Study of War, a US think tank, estimates 95% of the Luhansk region is presently under Russian control. Russia now almost completely controls Severodonetsk, the last major city in Luhansk in Ukrainian hands.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said on May 28 that the situation in the east was “indescribably difficult".

In an interview that day with Dutch TV, he added it was impractical for Ukraine to retake all the lands lost to Russia since 2014. “If we decided to do that, it would cost us hundreds of thousands of lives. We want to fight to the last gasp, but not to the last man.”

Meanwhile, the consequences of Moscow’s war continue to spread around the globe. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ongoing aggression has handed Washington a pretext to consolidate its military hegemony in Europe by further expanding the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The Russian assault, and US-European sanctions imposed in response, pose increasingly deadly dangers to working people around the world.

Global food shortages

Chief among these is looming food shortages. Ukraine is the world’s largest exporter of sunflower oil, the fourth-largest exporter of corn, and the fifth-largest exporter of wheat. Russian control of the northern third of the Black Sea largely prevents these products from being exported. More than 20 million tonnes of grain are reportedly rotting as a result.

Driven by his goal of subjugating Ukraine, or at least usurping parts of its territory, Putin has shown utter disregard for the needs of workers and farmers everywhere.

US-led sanctions against Russia have only increased the peril of food shortages, hunger and malnutrition. These steps, allegedly aimed at punishing Putin and wealthy Russian businesspeople, have hit working people in Russia and elsewhere hardest.

Russia is also one of the world’s largest grain exporters. Millions in other countries, such as Egypt and Lebanon, depend on those exports for basic food needs. Imperialist sanctions therefore also endanger workers and farmers everywhere.

The war and sanctions have accelerated inflationary pressures on global food and energy prices, thereby diminishing the buying power of workers’ wages.

Moscow is taking advantage of these inflationary pressures to rake in billions, enabling it to withstand the sanctions and continue financing its war machine.

Bloomberg News reported on June 1: “Even with some countries halting or phasing out energy purchases, Russia’s oil-and-gas revenue will be about $285 billion this year, according to estimates from Bloomberg Economics based on Economy Ministry projections. 

“That would exceed the 2021 figure by more than one-fifth. Throw in other commodities, and it more than makes up for the $300 billion in foreign reserves frozen as part of the sanctions.” 

Russia’s oil-export revenue alone is up 50% from a year earlier, Bloomberg News said, largely due to skyrocketing energy prices.

As all this unfolds, the danger of more direct US military intervention grows. The Washington Post reported on May 26 that a US Senate committee heard testimony from General Christopher Cavoli, who is about to become the supreme commander of NATO forces.

Cavoli warned: “Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian grain exports could enable terrorist networks in other parts of the world and may require US military intervention to ensure global markets don’t become destabilized.” He hinted that at some point “the U.S. military could get involved in an effort to guarantee that exports from Ukraine can resume”.

NATO’s ranks grow

This threat arises as NATO prepares to expand. Sweden and Finland have formally requested to join, a move that the imperialist members of the alliance have welcomed.

NATO has always claimed to be a “defensive” alliance. However, it is, and has been since its inception, the main instrument ensuring US military domination of Europe.

The US-led military alliance originally claimed the Cold War with the Soviet Union necessitated its existence. The Cold War ended more than 30 years ago, but NATO did not dissolve. Rather, it aggressively expanded by incorporating former Soviet Union allies such as Poland, Hungary and others.

NATO’s very existence is a threat to world peace.

Putin has claimed his aggression against Ukraine is necessary to prevent NATO’s expansion. The result has been the opposite. He has handed imperialist powers a golden opportunity to falsely parade as defenders of peace, democracy and self-determination in response to Moscow’s war, while strengthening NATO.

Working people should oppose NATO and its expansion. The sanctions imposed against Russia should be lifted immediately. Moscow should cease hostilities, get out of Ukraine now and end the blockade of the country’s ports.

Some claim the fighting in Ukraine is nothing more than a “proxy war” between Washington and Moscow. On this basis, they deny Ukrainians their right to self-determination and self-defence. This view is utterly mistaken.

It reduces the Ukrainian people to the role of helpless bystanders in a “great power” conflict. The popular resistance in Ukraine, in the face of terrible death and devastation, is evidence of how false and dangerous such a position is.

All imperialist powers seek to take advantage of every development in world politics to advance their own interests. This is nothing new.

But the Ukrainian army, volunteer territorial troop units and millions of other citizens of that country are fighting to prevent Moscow from dragging them back under the boot of Great Russian chauvinism. That remains the primary political dynamic of the war today, despite the machinations of the US government and its allies.

Zelensky’s anti-democratic measures

Support for Ukrainian self-determination and an immediate end to Moscow’s invasion does not imply political support for Zelensky’s government.

Ukrainian activist Yuliya Yurchenko explains Zelensky as such: “The election of Zelensky was a popular rejection of the chauvinist divisions and an expression of hope for peace. He’s an interesting figure.

“Behind him are a set of oligarchic forces and campaigns based on a promise of peace and anti-corruption, albeit naïve.

“In the end, he has ruled like every other neoliberal politician, failed to secure peace and oversaw ongoing corruption and oligarchic plunder. On top of that, he was exposed as incompetent at ruling…

“Before the war, it is highly unlikely he would have been re-elected. But now he’s a war hero and guaranteed to win a second term if Ukraine exists as a nation-state with a democratic electoral process at the end of this war.”

Zelensky used martial law regulations on March 20 to suspend 11 political parties. Ukraine’s parliament endorsed the move, turning it to a full ban by May 14, a ban Zelensky promptly signed into law.

Zelensky’s government has taken other steps to restrict democratic rights. The New York Times reported on April 25 that Zelensky “combined six television stations that previously competed against one another into one outlet for news. The merger, he said, was necessary for national security, but it frustrated political opponents and free-speech advocates".

These anti-democratic measures have weakened the struggle to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty. They should be unequivocally opposed.

Equally dangerous is the political message Zelensky and his government send every day. They tell the Ukrainian people that US imperialism, and its junior partners in Europe, are not only reliable allies but an example to emulate. This is utterly anti-working class. It also makes it more difficult for Ukrainians to appeal to working people around the world.

Millions of people — especially in semi-colonial countries — know firsthand that Washington’s hypocrisy about self-determination cannot mask its record of using the same brutal military power Putin uses today to impose its own will.

US policy

It is equally necessary for working people in the US to recognise the deceitful and dangerous nature of US policy in this war. Washington aims to shape the outcome of the war to strengthen its own hand as the main military power in Europe. That may include sharp opposition to Putin today and tactical compromises with him tomorrow. In any scenario, the political and economic interests of the US capitalist class — not Ukraine’s right to self-determination — will be the deciding factor.

The recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, offered clear evidence of this. There, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger “urged the United States and the West to not seek an embarrassing defeat for Russia in Ukraine, warning it could worsen Europe’s long-term stability”, the Washington Post reported on May 24.

“After saying that Western countries should remember Russia’s importance to Europe and not get swept up ‘in the mood of the moment,’ Kissinger also pushed for the West to force Ukraine into accepting negotiations with a ‘status quo ante,’ which means the previous state of affairs.”

The Post went on to observe: “Kissinger, a longtime advocate of a realpolitik approach that has nations putting their practical aims in front of morals and principles, urged European leaders to not lose sight of Russia’s place in Europe and risk the country forming a permanent alliance with China.”

The “practical aims” of US imperialism are to maintain its economic and political dominance in Europe and the world. For Kissinger and others who implement US policy, “morals and principles” are nothing but rhetoric aimed at concealing those aims.

All of these factors provide the context for the current war.

Working people in Ukraine face many political challenges. Addressing those challenges and finding a way forward requires getting Moscow’s boot off their neck. That is why the fight against Putin’s invasion and for Ukrainian self-determination continues to demand our support today.

[Abridged from World-Outlook.]

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