Discussion paper by the party’s study group on the Ukraine crisis
Communists must always go into the whys and wherefores of anything, use their own heads and carefully think over whether or not it corresponds to reality and is really well founded; on no account should they follow blindly and encourage slavishness.”.
Mao Zedong. Rectify the Party’s Style of Work (February 1, 1942)
To take the correct stand on any problem we should study the information before us and identify the core issues, and thereby recognize the true nature of the problem and visualize what the implications of our stand will be not only for the problem at hand but also a number of related matters which could be of far greater significance.
Let us face a few questions before we address the problem at hand.
- Is the conflict in Ukraine one mainly between Russia and Ukraine?
- What are the main contending forces?
- What are the interests at stake?
- Is it a conflict between two ‘imperialisms’?
- Even if it is between two ‘imperialisms’ can Marxist Leninists simply denounce the contending parties and refuse to take sides?
To answer these questions, we should be clear about certain matters which the Party has repeatedly discussed and arrived at a clear position. If our findings contradict the stand of the Party, the Party should critically review its position.
There is common tendency to locate Putin at the core and based on that adopt a stand to support or oppose Russia. The Party has no illusions about Putin or his politics. Putin is a strong nationalist hostile to communism. He has harshly criticized communism and rejected Lenin and Stalin. He resents the breakup of the Soviet Union from a Russian nationalist perspective while also rejecting what the Soviet Union stood for before or after revisionism took hold.
We know that the fall of the Soviet Union led to Russia becoming a kleptocracy and face economic ruin under Yeltsin. Putin inherited it and made deals with the oligarchs without fundamentally changing the scheme of things. But the partnership between the state and the oligarchs was re-balanced to stabilise the Russian economy.
What is at stake right now, to a Marxist Leninist, is not Putin, regardless of how he is painted by others, for better or worse. The fight for socialism in Russia is for the Marxist Leninists and other progressive allies there, who are still a force in Russia. But that is not the central issue here.
What is central is what US imperialism has been up to with the former Soviet Union, Russia in particular. That has to be seen in the context of what the US did to Yugoslavia and later to Serbia, and still does in the Middle East and North Africa, and of course Latin America.
The US undermined the Russian economy with ease under Yeltsin so that Russia would soon be a vassal of the US. Russia was in the process also militarily weakened. But things changed since Putin assumed power. The economy recovered, thanks to the oil boom and fair management of state finances. Putin also resurrected Russia’s defence. Some could see Russian imperialism at work. The party declined to take a dogmatic view and studied what Russia is and what imperialism is in the new context. The Party is clear that Russia is capitalist, even a kleptocracy. But Russia’s prospects to develop into an imperialist power are poor right now. Much has been written on the subject in the Party’s quarterly journal.
The Party should view events in Ukraine in the context of US imperialism closing in on Russia using NATO. Ukraine and Belarus are the last European defence frontiers of Russia. What is involved is not a matter of two superpowers racing to capture a piece of land.
The US has since 1991 worked on isolating Russia and surrounding it with its servile NATO allies. By 1999, three former Warsaw Pact allies joined NATO. In 2004, three more Warsaw Pact countries and the three Baltic States, formerly of the Soviet Union, and one member of former Yugoslavia joined. The process continued. All former Warsaw Pact partners of the Soviet Union are now in NATO. Of countries born of Yugoslavia only Bosnia, Kosovo and Serbia are not yet in NATO, and in a few years only Serbia may keep out.
Of former European Soviet Republics, Georgia, Ukraine and Belarus that adjoin Russia and Moldova are not in NATO. The US caused regime changes in the first two using its agents of subversion. But the colour revolution in Ukraine led to a corrupt regime that was electorally defeated soon after. A government friendly to Russia followed.
Moves by the US to draw Georgia into NATO were hampered by internal troubles amid which the autonomous Georgian states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia sought to secede in 2008. Russia retarded Georgia’s NATO bid by recognizing their independence and militarily backing them.
In 2014 Obama’s government got active in Ukraine to facilitate a fascist coup called the Maidan revolution. (Ukraine is the only former Soviet state in which neo fascists are a strong political force.) The coup government promptly declared its intention to join NATO (which it strangely got written into the new constitution). The neo-fascists acted to crush by force pro-Russian Crimean ‘autonomists’ and ethnic Russians and other minorities, especially in the industrialized south and east, and to downgrade the status of the Russian language (spoken by 30% of the people) and widely used in the country. Russia responded by encouraging Crimea (a strategic peninsula, once part of Russia ‘gifted’ to Ukraine in 1954 by the pioneering revisionist Khrushchev, himself a Ukrainian) to hold a referendum to secede from Ukraine. Predominantly Russian-speaking Crimea voted overwhelmingly to leave Ukraine.
Today’s Ukraine crisis grew out of US policy to isolate and weaken Russia since 1990. The idea was that Ukraine, controlled by US clients, will be a NATO military springboard to strike at the heart of the Russian Federation, while Ukraine’s industrial and agricultural resources enrich Western investors. Thus, from early on, the US invested heavily in client-building among ‘civil society groups’ and malleable political parties and leaders, in western Ukraine, around Kiev especially. It paid early dividends in 2004: the ‘Orange Revolution’ installed a pro-US-EU regime. But corruption scandals and mismanagement brought the regime to an early end in 2006. The West lost its foothold in Ukraine in the elections of 2010, and reactivated its ‘direct action’ fronts with a fresh agenda. Neo-fascists seized power in 2014 through violent demonstrations, vandalism, armed assaults and mob violence to establish a dictatorial junta, comprising neo-liberal politicians seeking closer ties with NATO and neo-fascists and violent nationalists out to persecute ethnic Russians and other minorities.
The coup, besides leading to Crimean independence and reunion with Russia, also led to the predominantly Russian speaking Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic in Donbas region declaring independence. In that context, the West resorted to dirty tricks to discredit both the separatists and Russia.1
Russia sought to settle with Ukraine based on assurances of security and arrived at the Minsk Protocol of 2014, whose ineffectiveness led to Minsk II in 2015. But the Ukrainian attitude was negative, while Russia as late as 2022 January called for fulfilment of the Protocol of 2015.2
Let us now return to the questions raised earlier:
- Is the conflict in Ukraine mainly between Russia and Ukraine?
- What are the main contending forces?
- What are the interests at stake?
- Is it a conflict between two ‘imperialisms’?
- Even if conflict is between two ‘imperialisms’ can Marxist Leninists simply denounce the contending parties and refuse to take a stand?
The conflict is between the US and Russia, with the Ukraine government as a US proxy.
The Russian interest at stake is the security of Russia against encirclement by NATO rather than control of all or part of Ukraine.
The US-sponsored coup of 2014 was designed to use Ukraine to intensify military pressure against Russia.
It will be dogmatic to define Russia an imperialist and based on that treat any conflict with the US or its proxy as conflict between two imperialisms.
The Party has rejected the thesis that Russia is imperialist, and is aware that Russia is at present not in a position to adopt an expansionist agenda. Even, for argument’s sake one considers it to be imperialist, its actions have to be seen in context.
Russia does not use socialist logic or language in its foreign affairs. When it failed to take the correct stand (as in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya this century) imperialism gained (although to its eventual peril and great cost to its victims of aggression). Had it not been for Russian intervention in Syria, the US will now have a client state in Syria and be well placed to bully Iran and further humiliate Iraq. Russian backing for Nicaragua and Venezuela, regardless of Russian motives, is as important from an anti-imperialist perspective.
Let us consider the options before Russia.
- Do nothing and allow Ukraine to join NATO
- Persuade Ukraine diplomatically or by threat to abandon the thought of joining NATO
- Invade Ukraine in the event of its joining NATO
- Launch a pre-emptive attack
Russia was pushed to a defensive position by the expansion of NATO and ceaseless US attempts at regime change in former Soviet republics. In that context the first option would be suicidal. The second was explored unsuccessfully by Russia since 2014. The third will be too late and too expensive. Thus Russia had no choice but launch a pre-emptive strike in Ukraine, without which Russia would face slow strangulation by US using NATO.
Defending Russian military action in Ukraine is not defending Putin or Russian capitalism. What is defended is action by a state that is under escalating threat from the US on several fronts, the most crucial being the military front.
NATO should have been disbanded in 1991, when there was no more a case for its existence. It has only served to destroy countries outside Europe and North America besides prolonging instability in Europe. It is the root cause of the Ukraine crisis and elimination of NATO is top priority for peace in Europe and elsewhere. A NATO declaration that it will not covet Ukraine should precede any call for Russian forces to withdraw.
It will be good for a Marxist of any description to look at the totality and prescribe possible options with their implications and subject it to discussion among anti-imperialists before rushing to praise or denounce the Russian action.
It is recommended that the Party strongly urges an early end to the conflict based on:
- Neutrality of Ukraine with necessary assurances of its not joining any military alliance that could threaten Russian security.
- Ukraine recognizing the fee will of the people of Crimea to re-join Russia, while the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics will be controlled by a joint Russia-Ukraine administration for a limited period and let them decide their future on the basis of right to self determination.
- Russian assurance that it will not intervene in Ukraine or forcefully seize Ukrainian territory subject to Ukraine’s protection of Russian speaking minorities against neo-fascists and the ‘far right’.
- A Russia‒Ukraine peace accord free of meddling by US imperialists or its agencies.
- There was also the conspiracy to bring down the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 July 2014 just across the rebel held territory and blame it on the separatist rebels and Russia, although there was little for Russia or the pro-Russian Donbas rebels to gain from it. In 2018 Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad challenged the objectivity of investigations into the 2014 disaster. He rejected the findings of Dutch-led international team and asserted that Russia was being made a scapegoat for the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.
- For instance, in January 2022, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council said: “The fulfilment of the Minsk agreement means the country’s destruction. When they were signed under the Russian gun barrel — and the German and the French watched — it was already clear for all rational people that it’s impossible to implement those documents.”
In February 2022, the Finnish President said “the most possible solution (to the current situation) could be the Minsk agreement to be fulfilled or that there would be significant progress in its implementation.”