Andrew Murray breaks down ten myths surrounding the current tensions around Ukraine

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss meeting NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the NATO Headquarters in Brussels.

States have a right to join NATO

The media give the impression that not joining NATO would breach Ukraine’s fundamental rights. In fact, no state has a right to join NATO – the existing member countries determine who should be admitted. Ultimately, the matter is decided by the US government. That is why its 2008 decision to admit Ukraine (and Georgia) at some point is so important and threatening to Russia. The extension of NATO is the extension of US power and military hegemony. It should have been wound up at the same time as the Warsaw Pact thirty years ago and replaced by new Europe-wide security arrangements.

NATO is peaceful, so no-one should feel threatened by its expansion

NATO was founded after the Second World War, ostensibly to protect against “Soviet expansion.” Leading supporters at the time, like Labour right-winger Denis Healey, later admitted that it was a mistake. However, NATO was not directly associated with international aggression during the Cold War. The US and Britain operated outside it when required. However, that is no longer true. After the collapse of the USSR NATO not only expanded geographically, it also extended its mission. It led the illegal war against Yugoslavia in 1999 and was the flag under which Afghanistan was invaded and occupied for twenty years. It also took the lead in the 2011 war against Libya. So, over the last generation NATO has a substantial record as an instrument of war initiated by the US and Britain above all.

The Ukrainian government wants peace

In fact, the Ukrainian government has failed to implement the agreements signed in Minsk to end the conflict over the Donbass. These required it to offer autonomy to the breakaway regions within a new Ukrainian constitutional settlement, recognising its diversity. It has taken no steps to act on this signed commitment, nor have the western powers pushed it to. It is true that Russia too has not implemented its obligations arising from Minsk, but it cannot be pretended that Ukraine is actually working for a peaceful resolution of the crisis.

Ukraine is a democracy

This is an over-simplification at best. No-one pretends that Putin’s Russia is anything other than authoritarian, but Ukraine is little better.  Since the 2014 coup by nationalists, which overthrew Ukraine’s elected President, it has taken a number of undemocratic steps – the Communist party, which had mass support, has been barred from competing in elections. Other pro-Russian politicians have been arrested or harassed. And despite being the first language for millions of Ukrainians, Russian has been banned from the public sphere. The country is also blighted by oligarchic corruption as bad as in Russia, with considerable sway over the political process.

Ukraine shares Western values

Again, this tells only half the story. Alone in Europe, Ukraine celebrates Nazi collaborators and pogrom-mongers, like the Bandera movement. This movement endeavoured to work with the Nazis when they occupied Ukraine during World War Two and was responsible for the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Jews and Poles. Yet this movement is hailed in today’s Ukraine. Its supporters – overt fascists – are also embedded in the Ukrainian state apparatus. Ukraine is not fascist, but it is very open to far-right ideologies and politicians. It even votes against UN resolutions condemning Nazism, the only country other than the US to do so!

It’s all about Ukrainian self-determination

Ukrainians have the same right to self-determination as any other peoples. We do not sign up to Putin’s arguments that Ukraine can only be sovereign in association with Russia. That is a matter for the Ukrainian people. However, that is not the same as saying that Ukraine’s present borders, which include millions of Russians and Russian-speakers, and which were constructed arbitrarily in Soviet time, are the most sensible. Russians in the east of the country have a right to self-determination too, which should be peacefully negotiated. There are similar problems in several parts of the ex-USSR, which needs recognising.

Russia has no legitimate concerns

Russia has been invaded from the west several times in its history, most recently in World War Two, when the Soviet Union suffered 25 million dead. It was promised in 1991 that NATO would not expand eastwards, but this happened nevertheless. Then it was promised that western troops would not deploy to the countries of Eastern Europe. This happened too. Washington has never been interested in anyone’s interests other than its own. The US played a key role in deposing a friendly and elected President in Ukraine in 2014. There can be no solution that does not give these concerns due weight.

The Tories are resolute against Putin

The Tories’ anti-Putin rhetoric has been notable for its stridency. However, London has become notorious as the world’s number one bolthole for corrupt Russian money. The Tories have rolled out the red carpet for corrupt Russian businessmen, Putin’s principle supporters, and have done nothing to crack down on illegal activities, nor to establish the legitimacy of their money. Indeed, the Tories have taken large sums of money from oligarchs to fund their own party – more than £2 million since Boris Johnson became PM. The Biden administration is making it clear that the UK will have to clamp down if sanctions are imposed, but the government has made no moves in that direction. The Tories have no serious interest in tackling corruption by Russian money, which a US report noted has close ties to “the ruling Conservative Party, the press and its real estate and financial” industries.

The British government is standing up for peace and international principles 

The Tories have taken the lead in talking up the prospect of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, to the point of a suspicion that they want it to happen, perhaps as a welcome distraction from Boris Johnson’s domestic political woes. They have no interest in Ukraine at all. They merely wish Britain to be the foremost partners to the USA in its plans to extend its hegemony, as it was in Iraq. They ignore the UN whenever it suits. British troops have no business in Eastern Europe – they only serve to ratchet up tension further.

The anti-war movement should confront Russia

We are against war in Ukraine. The differences should be negotiated peacefully, respecting Ukrainian rights and Russian security concerns. Our focus is, however, on the British government – how it has contributed to the present situation through its post-Cold War policy of backing NATO expansion and moving its own troops eastwards, and how its bellicose rhetoric and arms sales are aggravating it now.  Our contribution to peace must lie in forcing our own government to assist de-escalation of the crisis.

31 Jan 2022 by Andrew Murray

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