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Five reasons why we oppose the war in Ukraine

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Socialists must equip themselves with the arguments about why it is so important to oppose imperialist war
Issue 2794
Nato troops training in Poland this year

Nato troops training together in Poland in preparation for conflict pic- NATO enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group Poland

1. It’s an Imperialist conflict

Most of the media and politicians now talk about the war in Ukraine as if is entirely about the imperial ambitions of Russian president Vladimir Putin. It’s a disgrace, they say, to even suggest that the West, the US and its military alliance Nato are in the slightest bit responsible. 

The Russian invasion is brutal and has to be opposed by everyone on the left. It would be a blow against imperialism if the Russians were defeated by the Ukrainian resistance. But there would be no war if it wasn’t for Nato and its expansion across eastern Europe over decades. 

It’s impossible to explain why the war is happening without talking about Nato. It’s not just about who fired the first shot—but the process that led to war in the first place. And that’s all about the West and its own imperialist ambitions. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, the US and Nato broke their promise that they would not expand into eastern Europe. 

The US wanted to extend its own empire into parts of the world that Russia had left open. It tried to draw countries formerly part of the Soviet Union under its influence and direction. 

So Nato joined and fuelled wars in the Balkans to try and manipulate governments friendly to the US and the West. And in 2008 it agreed that Ukraine and Georgia should begin the process of becoming Nato members. That would mean two US-backed military powers right on Russia’s border. 

At the same time, the European Union (EU)—an economic rival to Russia—began trying to draw Ukraine closer towards it. If Ukraine were to join Nato and the EU it would be a major prize for the US and the West. It would give them more military power in eastern Europe—and better access to its vast sources of mineral wealth including oil, gas and coal. 

For its part, Russia has used its control of gas supplies to rebuild its power in Europe. The US, which is worried that its position as the dominant world power is falling, is desperate to stop anything that challenges it. 

It’s this competition between rival governments that leads to wars such as the one in Ukraine—and Nato is one of the key players. 

The Western fiction of “humanitarian intervention” actually helps Putin to falsely claims to be acting on behalf of beleaguered “ethnic Russians” and democracy in Donetsk and Luhansk. And it allows him to present the anti-war movement in Russia as supporters of Nato.

2. Nato intervention won’t help ordinary people

Nato and the European Union are using the crisis in Ukraine to prepare for further wars and are ramping up their military forces massively. The British ministry of defence boasts, “Royal Navy ships, British Army troops, and Royal Air force fighters are arriving on new deployments in eastern Europe to bolster Nato’s eastern front. RAF Typhoon fighter jets are now patrolling Nato airspace over Romania and Poland.”

Over 1,000 British soldiers and tanks have arrived in Estonia. On Friday of last week, Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg activated, for the first time since it was created in 2003, parts of Nato’s 40,000-strong “rapid reaction force”. They are going to Romania, Norway and other countries. 

Germany has used Russia’s invasion to carry through a transformation of its military policy. Chancellor Olaf Scholz told a special session of the Bundestag on Sunday, “We are in a new era” as he unveiled an extra £90 billion this year for the military.

Germany has previously blocked Estonia sending German-made artillery to Ukraine. Now it has agreed that transfer and for the Netherlands to send 400 German-made rocket-propelled grenades. Soon after that, the German government said it would grant Ukraine missiles, armoured vehicles, and 10,000 tons of fuel.

German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock, a member of the Green Party, said the country was making a “180-degree turn”. “Perhaps it is the case that Germany is today leaving behind a form of special restraint in foreign and security policy,” she said.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen announced that “for the first time ever, the European Union will finance the purchase and delivery of weapons and other equipment to a country that is under attack” in a package worth nearly £400 million. The Irish government, long committed to official neutrality, said it would not send lethal equipment elements. But it “will provide a corresponding contribution to the provision of non-lethal support. Our understanding is that a number of Member States, including Austria and Malta, are likely to take the same approach.”

Nato is not yet ready to commit troops directly to fight in Ukraine. But we can be almost sure that there are units of various “special forces” already there leaning lessons about urban warfare and assessing the Russian military. But the mobilisations that have already taken place guarantee that even if the Russians are driven out Ukraine will be reduced to a puppet of the West.

Meanwhile ordinary people across Europe will be told that this emergency means less money for health and education, and more for the technology of death. We oppose the Nato escalation and the money for war.

3. Mainstream media want to manipulate public opinion 

British media coverage of Ukraine is designed to shore up support for “our nation” against Russia. And to help the process, the press want to combine their usual prejudices with new ones they are in the process of inventing. The Daily Mail’s coverage last week of a Chechen special forces “kill squad” is an example. The squad it featured is made up of primarily Muslim soldiers. The paper’s idea is to connect Muslims directly to the most violent part of the invasion.

We’re flooded with pictures of Ukrainian solidarity, such as Downing Street lighting up blue and yellow, but with limited coverage of the reality on the ground. Ordinary people rightly want to show support for those opposing the Russian invasion. But it is very hard to find reliable reports from Ukraine. A tank that ran over a car with a man inside hit headlines as an “outrage” act of murder by Russian forces. 

What didn’t hit headlines is the claim that the tank was actually Ukrainian. Many are comparing Russian president Vladimir Putin to Hitler. Not many outlets have noticed the occasional far right and pro-Nazi flags supporting pro-Ukraine protests, such as red and black flags that venerate those who cooperated with Hitler.

And the racism of the mainstream media keeps seeping through. One CBS correspondent said Ukraine was, unlike conflicts in Iraq or Afghanistan, “a relatively civilised” place, “where you wouldn’t expect that”.

An Al Jazeera English presenter described Ukrainians fleeing war as “prosperous, middle class people”. These are families “that you would live next door to”, unlike refugees in the Middle East or North Africa.

4. Real weapons of mass destruction 

Vladimir Putin has ordered Russia’s nuclear warheads be put on a “special regime of combat duty”. That raises the appalling vision of war fought with weapons that could end humanity.

Putin said the move was in response to “aggressive statements” by Nato forces. The US, with its huge nuclear arsenal, hypocritically denounced the move as an “unacceptable escalation”.

Unfortunately, nuclear threats are nothing new. In the continuous arms race between competing nations, a move by one force triggers a reaction by another.  This can have deadly consequences. A mistake, military setback or a provocation in a conflict such as Ukraine could push one side into considering a “nuclear option”.

And that could be a trigger to a wider war. Nuclear weapon arsenals are now so enormous that if imperialist forces are determined to use them they will wipe out the planet. There were approximately 13,080 nuclear warheads in January 2021 with almost 90 percent of them owned by the US and Russia. Britain has 225 nuclear warheads, 120 of them on its Trident nuclear submarines.

This potential for barbarism is where capitalists and  imperialists have brought us to. Russia’s announcement does not necessarily mean the weapons will be used. But nuclear threats—and the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction—have been a constant of war since the end of the Second World War. Since 1945 the US has threatened, discussed and drawn up plans for the use of nuclear weapons over 200 times. 

This included threats to Cuba in 1962, Vietnam in 1968, during the Arab‑Israeli war in 1973 and to Iran in 1980. “Controlled escalation” is a central principle of Nato doctrine. As weapons develop there is less distinction between conventional and nuclear escalation.

5. People and protests have the power 

Anti-war protests across Russia offer a different vision of how to tackle Vladimir Putin and his war. Despite intense state repression, the demonstrations could be a lightning rod for wider discontent.

The round up of activists is sign of fear in the regime. Police and secret services have made up to 6,000 arrests in 60 cities according to the monitoring group OVD. During protests in the capital, Moscow and St. Petersburg last week, chants of “No to war,” were heard. In smaller cities and before the larger demonstrations were called, lone protesters who unveiled anti-war and anti-Putin banners were arrested in seconds.

Many fear they will be charged with treason and suffer long prison sentences.Other prominent activists and journalists were arrested and fined for leaving their homes.

Denis, a member of the International Socialist Tendency in Russia, said the protests “have to try to turn the imperialist war itself into a civil war”. Reflecting on the 2014 Russian invasion of Ukraine, he said, “Eight years ago, the vast majority of Russian society directly and openly supported the occupation of Crimea and the creation of puppet ‘Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics’ by Russia. Now the situation is different—it is clear that a significant part of society opposes the war.”

There were mass protests last year in support of the opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Navalny’s supporters make up a large section of the current anti-war protests.

Denis described the anti-war movement as a “big step forward for the conservative Russian society”. “This means that the protests will be massive and will continue either until the war is over, or until Putin’s secret police repress all the most active participants,” he said.

Putin’s repressive government outlawed demonstrations without a permit. It means those who are brave enough to publicly speak out can face imprisonment of up to five years and heavy fines. A government spokesman said the protesters have no right to protest, but added, “There are citizens who have their own point of view. Clearly we should do a better job explaining things to them.” If the anti-war movements in Russia can grow to mass protests and strikes it has the potential to win.It could cause a crisis for Putin.

The things they say

‘I do support that. That’s something people can make their own decision about’

Foreign secretary Liz Truss says she’s fine with British citizens going to Ukraine to fight

‘There are a number of safe routes, not least our seasonal workers’ scheme… which Ukrainians can qualify for’

Immigration minister Kevin Foster suggests those fleeing war apply to be fruit pickers

‘It is certainly against every principle of international law… the world is fair, certainly Nato is fair’

Iraq and Afghanistan war architect, Condoleezza Rice agrees with a news host who said, “When you invade a sovereign nation, that is a war crime.”

‘This is the first major war between two civilised nations in my lifetime’

Conservative commentator Michael Knowles thinks the wars that wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were against ‘uncivilised’ peoples

Join the Stop the War Coalition day of action on Sunday 6 March

  • Events across Britain, including London 12 noon, BBC, Portland Place, W1A 1AA
  • Details of your local protest at

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