Rather than moving arms and armies eastwards, the need is to revive the Minsk process and arrive at a democratic and peaceful settlement to the crisis

Andrew Murray

The danger of war presently threatens in three parts of the world – in the far east, between the US and its allies and China; in the Middle East, between Iran and the US and/or Israel, and in eastern Europe, between Russia and NATO.

The factor common to all three is the involvement of the USA.  Each has contingent reasons for tension, but the underlying factor is the attempt by Washington to maintain and prolong its pretensions to global hegemony and “world leadership”.  It is long-standing and bipartisan policy in the US to resist the rise of any power which could even regionally dispute US domination.

As of December 2021, it appears that tension is highest in eastern Europe.  The media is full of speculation that Putin’s Russia may be on the point of launching a large-scale invasion of Ukraine, alleging that significant numbers of troops have been massed on the border of the two states.  US President Biden has threatened sweeping economic sanctions against Russia if such an invasion takes place, and is arming Ukraine to the hilt to resist.

Of course, it is impossible to tell whether Putin intends any such thing.  But it is certainly the case that for the last seven years, in particular, Ukraine has been turned into a centre of confrontation between Russia and the NATO powers.

There are immediate reasons for this, rooted in world politics.  There is also a deeper background, located in the entangled history of the two countries.  Both were, of course, a part of the Soviet Union until the collapse of that state in 1991. That collapse turned what had been internal borders, arbitrarily drawn, with no great significance, into inter-state boundaries.

As in several ex-Soviet republics, that left large numbers of people – Russians or Russian-speakers in the case if Ukraine – feeling they were living in the “wrong” country. Putin wrote a long historical article on the relationship of the Ukrainian and Russian people down through history in July.  One need not sign up to the totality of his historical excursus to recognise the truth in his assertion that  “inside the USSR, borders between republics were never seen as state borders; they were nominal within a single country, which, while featuring all the attributes of a federation, was highly centralized… But in 1991, all those territories, and, which is more important, people, found themselves abroad overnight, taken away, this time indeed, from their historical motherland.”

Ukraine itself was divided between those areas in the east of the country which had always been part of a union with Russia and ruled from Moscow and those in western Ukraine which had been annexed to the territory of the USSR during the Second World War and had previously been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire or Romania.

In western Ukraine support for an independent Ukraine and for nationalism ran very strong, while in the Russian-speaking districts some form of association with Russia was generally preferred.

That is not to say that Ukraine could not have developed as a united and democratic country for all its citizens. However, after 1991 it was ruled by a succession of oligarchic cliques who manipulated the political process, robbed and ruined the economy and failed to develop anything like a common democratic culture.

These tensions came to a head in 2014 with the overthrow of the elected, if corrupt, President Yanukovich by nationalist forces.

Here the international aspect becomes decisive. As the Cold War was drawing to an end in 1990-91, western leaders pledged that a Soviet withdrawal from eastern Europe and the winding up of the Warsaw pact would not lead to the expansion of NATO.

That pledge was broken almost straight away, and one country after another started being absorbed into NATO under US tutelage.  Indeed, NATO even incorporated the former Soviet republics of the Baltic. Ukraine was offered NATO membership in 2008, although it has not formally progressed since. This was designed to stop any possibility of Russia recovering its great power status and to ensure US political domination over the continent.

The immediate trigger of the 2014 uprising against Yanukovich was the latter’s decision to sign an economic treaty with Russia rather than the EU, on the grounds that the Russian option was more economically advantageous (the Soviet period left myriad economic ties between the two states).  The EU and, standing behind it, the USA refused to accept this.  Uniting their cause with Ukrainian nationalism, they sought to draw Ukraine as the most populous and economically significant ex-Soviet republic other than Russia itself, into their orbit.

The establishment of an anti-Russian government in Kiev gave Putin the long-sought pretext to return the Crimean peninsula to Russian sovereignty, where it had been prior to an arbitrary decision by the Khrushchev leadership to transfer it to Ukraine in 1954.  This seizure was relatively peaceful and ratified by a referendum of the people of the peninsula.

It also provoked mass resistance to the new regime in the south-eastern part of the country – the Donbass – mainly populated by ethnic Russians or Russian-speakers.  Basically, the fragile balance of Ukraine’s integrity had been overturned by the coup in Kiev, and the people of the Donbass, with Russian state support, refused to accept the new dispensation.

This in turn led to a conflict with the central government that continues to this day and has cost 14,000 lives.  Agreements signed in Minsk by the two countries, with western involvement, have largely been ignored.  In particular, a promise by the Ukrainian government to give the Donbass regions autonomy has never been enacted.

Since then the USA and other western powers, including Britain, have poured arms into Ukraine and maintained support for the Kiev government, which remains deeply corrupt and under effective oligarchic control, and is barely more democratic than authoritarian Russia.  The Ukrainian regime has effectively banned the broadly supported Communist Party and passed legislation directed against Russian speakers.  This reflects the regime’s reliance on extreme nationalists and in some cases neo-Nazis.

Indeed, Ukraine joined the USA in opposing at the United Nations General Assembly a resolution condemning the glorification of Nazism.  They were the only two countries to do so (Britain abstained). This despite the millions who dies in Ukraine during World War Two as a result of Nazi aggression.

Today, it is NATO that is trying to seize Ukraine by means of moving NATO right up to Russia’s borders.  Already British troops are stationed in the Balkans and NATO military have moved eastwards into Poland.  Biden’s threats to Putin are not about protecting Ukraine’s independence but about extending US hegemony and preventing the emergence of Russia as a rival power. While not formally bringing Ukraine into NATO the US is effectively treating it as a military partner, directed against Russia.

NATO should have been abolished after the Cold War, when its raison d’etre had disappeared. It is nothing but an instrument of US power. Defeated in Afghanistan it is now being used to advance Washington’s power across Europe.

The anti-war movement must not be taken in by the anti-Russian rhetoric.  One does not have to admire Putin or his regime (it is Tories who welcome corrupt Russian money in London) to acknowledge the historic ties between Russia and Ukraine and the problems left behind by the break-up of the USSR.  If there is conflict over Ukraine, it is the west that bears most of the blame.

Rather than moving arms and armies eastwards, the need is to revive the Minsk process and arrive at a democratic and peaceful settlement to the crisis.  Stop the War stands against the sabre rattling and against the British government’s participation in this dangerous war drive.

10 Dec 2021 by Andrew Murray

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