Should the West go to war over the Ukraine?
We should oppose any foreign military intervention in Ukraine, says Jeremy Corbyn MP, as that would only succeed in that country reliving its traumatic past as a battleground for the Great Powers
Should the West go to war over the Ukraine? Jeremy Corbyn MP replies to the armchair warriors in the BBC studio.
In Parliament this week there were a number of tin-pot generals using the opportunity of the Ukrainian crisis to insist that Britain should rapidly and exponentially increase military expenditure. But as with all international crises, it’s important to recognise the history lurking behind the drama.
Ukraine’s national borders have ebbed and flowed with the tides of history, from being the original heartland of Russian civilisation, expanding under Moscow’s rule during the tsarist era and becoming part of the Soviet Union after 1917.
The relationship between Ukraine and Moscow was always strained. The famine of 1932-3 due to Soviet leader Joseph Stalin's policy of collectivization took the lives of millions and left a legacy of bitterness that has not disappeared.
In 1941 the Nazi operation Barbarossa saw the Wehrmacht march through Ukraine. Millions of Ukrainians fought and died heroically to stop the Nazis, but there were also significant pro-Nazi groups. Their descendants could be seen bearing Nazi insignia and spouting racist slogans in Kiev only a week ago.
As for the Crimea where Russia is now moving in, it has historically been separate from Ukraine. It was a theatre of war between Western Europe and Russia during the 1850s, a fact which should be a warning to us today. Then, as now, empires fought for space and influence. Its Tartar population was treated disgracefully by Stalin, and wholesale deportation followed the end of World War II.
Eventually many returned to the Crimea and they now make up an eighth of the population. Most of the rest are Russian speakers who came there during the Soviet period.
In 1954 Khrushchev transferred the Crimea to Ukraine, and this was later endorsed after the Soviet Union collapsed when Russia accepted Ukraine’s current borders.
Ukraine declared itself a nuclear-weapons free country. Theoretically it has maintained a policy of avoiding military alliances with either NATO or Russia, but it has been put under enormous pressure to come into the EU and NATO military orbit.
The end of the Cold War was an obvious time for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, founded in the 1970s as an east-west forum, to assert itself and replace the hostile parties of NATO and the Warsaw Pact. The pact was indeed wound up but sadly NATO, since 1990, has been looking to expand.
Ukrainian politics are divided between Ukrainian and Russian-speaking people. All census and electoral maps reflect much the same pattern. It resulted in Viktor Yuschenko being narrowly elected president in 2005, only to be replaced later by Viktor Yanukovych who was also narrowly elected.
Such divisions have been clear in the protests against Yanukovych which began late last year.
We must defend the right of people to demonstrate against their governments, but it was remarkable that the EU leadership in the person of Baroness Catherine Ashton and the US political Establishment in the guise of Senator John McCain both chose to give very strong support to demonstrations in Kiev which were far from representing all Ukrainians. Neither did they make any comments about far-right and racist involvement in the uprising.
Double standards come to the fore in times of crisis and none could be more obvious than those of the Western media over the past week.
Russia has gone way beyond its legal powers to use bases in the Crimea. Sending unidentified forces into another country is clearly a violation of that country’s sovereignty.
Interestingly in his press conference this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin backed away from his previous support for Yanukovych, declaring that the latter was political history.
That may have been because opinion polls in Russia are showing only 15 per cent support for military action. It is to be hoped that combined with the great economic cost and potential consequences of the military course this will result in a reduction of tensions.
Still, the hypocrisy of the West remains unbelievable. NATO has sought to expand since the end of the cold war. It has increased its military capability and expenditure. It operates way beyond its original 1948 area and its attempt to encircle Russia is one of the big threats of our time.
We should also remember the West’s ongoing use of drone aircraft over Pakistan, with no international authorisation whatsoever; the invasion of Iraq on a trumped-up charge contrary to international law and in the absence of any UN mandate; and of course the continued wholly illegal prison camp at Guantanamo Bay.
The self-satisfied pomposity of Western leaders in lecturing the world about morality and international law has to be challenged.
While some in Parliament yesterday were calling for a beefed-up military to “meet the threat” unfolding in Ukraine there were others who pointed out that unless any government there actually seeks to embrace the linguistic and ethnic diversity of the country it will forever be an unstable place.
We have marched against wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. We should oppose any foreign military intervention in Ukraine, as that would only succeed in that country reliving its traumatic past as a battleground where Russia and Western Europe vie for supremacy.
Ukraine obviously has enormous economic problems as well. It was ominous that in a throwaway line in yesterday’s statement from the Foreign Secretary he revealed that the IMF has already sent officials to the country to explain how its economy must be restructured. Such news will be met with a horse laugh in Greece and other places which have been on the receiving end of mass unemployment, the privatisation of public services and the destruction of welfare systems at the behest of the bankers of the world.
Jeremy Corbyn MP is national chair of Stop the War Coalition