This article first appeared in The Anvil Vol 11 No 1, published 28 February 2022.
Note: As we go to press, it is apparent that Russian forces are making less progress than observers predicted. They are being slowed down and, in some cases, halted by Ukrainian forces. It is not impossible that Russia will fail to conquer Ukraine. In this case, the necessity to oppose the Ukrainian military will rise in proportion to the increase in fortunes of the Ukrainian side of the war.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has begun. Like the invasion of Belgium in 1914, it is a clash of empires wrapped in a cloak of aggression of a great power towards a smaller neighbour. The parallel stops there, though. The US has no appetite to throw its own troops into action there and risk a nuclear war, as Vladimir Putin has threatened would be the response. As a result, the disproportion of forces means that Russia is likely to succeed in conquering Ukraine in a couple of weeks and installing a puppet government in Kyiv, though perhaps not without taking heavy casualties if the morale of the Ukrainian military holds.
The working class has no side in this clash of empires. On the one hand, there is NATO, the US dominated Western military alliance. Originally set up to contain the USSR during the Cold War, it was not wound up when the USSR dissolved. Instead, the United States has overseen its expansion to include all the old Warsaw Pact allies of the USSR, plus the Baltic states that left the USSR and a number of the republics of the former Yugoslavia. This has been a massive expansion of US military and institutional power and has occurred alongside the substantial relative decline in its economic power. Ukraine applied for membership in 2002 but has not yet met the membership requirements. The United States would like Ukraine to join NATO in due course, though press reports indicate opposition from France and Germany.
NATO is not a peaceful organisation. Rather, it is the primary means by which the US imposes its order on Europe (and, to a lesser extent, elsewhere) and subordinates its allies. Since the dissolution of the USSR, NATO has engaged in out-of-area military operations, such as the wars over the breakup of Yugoslavia, a “humanitarian” bombing campaign in Libya and long term assistance to the losing US war in Afghanistan. Ukrainian membership of NATO would be a major threat to Russia.
On the other hand, Russia is being ruled as if the White armies triumphed over the Bolsheviks in the Civil War from 1918-21. A dictatorial President advances reactionary policies at home and abroad, allies himself with a gang of corrupt oligarchs, suppresses domestic opposition, assists tyrannical friends and engages in bloody military adventures in Syria. Putin has also become increasingly open about his intention to restore as much of the territory of the old Russian Empire as possible.
The Ukrainian Situation
The eastern half of Ukraine speaks Russian and has looked to Russia for its cultural and economic links. The western half, on the other hand, speaks Ukrainian and looks to Europe for cultural and economic links. Since independence in 1991 with the dissolution of the USSR, the country has been ruled by alternating gangs of corrupt oligarchs. Public dissatisfaction with one party leads to it being kicked out after a term or two, only to be replaced by an equally corrupt party representing different oligarchs.
In November 2013, President Viktor Yanukovych ignited the “Euromaidan” protest movement when he terminated an application to join the European Union and turned instead to Russia for economic relations. He sent police against protesters, but they fought back, leading to months of battles with the cops. The political character of the protest movement changed as time went on. Fascist groups, especially Right Sektor, gained influence due to their ability to confront the police. They then dominated the movement through physical intimidation of the Left. After that, most Leftists left the rebellion, while those who stayed were confined to voiceless support roles like kitchens and first aid. The United States and various European powers manoeuvred in the background, attempting to influence the outcome of the uprising.
In late February 2014, Yanukovych’s own party deserted him and he fled. Power passed to a Ukrainian speaking group of oligarchs, led by one of their own number. Within days, Putin had sent troops into Crimea and returned it to Russian control. A rigged plebiscite followed, which resulted in the official union of Crimea with Russia. Meanwhile, some tendencies in the Donbas (an industrial region in eastern Ukraine on the Don River), agitated by Russian propadanda, began their own insurgencies, which quickly came under outright Russian control. A civil war followed, though it eventually settled down to a very low level.
The Euromaidan uprising marked the peak of Fascist influence in Ukraine and since then it has decreased markedly. Svoboda, the main Fascist party, which had received 10.45% of the vote in 2012 and collected 37 seats in the Rada, was down to 2.15% and one seat by 2019. Right Sektor, with its aggressive proclamation of national socialism, has fared even worse. The eclipse of extreme Right politics was symbolised by the election in 2019 of a Russian speaking Jew as President, with an overwhelming majority. This is significant as it contradicts the rhetoric of Putin and his supposedly “Leftist” supporters abroad about the Ukrainian Government being Fascist.
The Current Crisis
Last year, following the ejection of his ally Donald Trump from the US Presidency, Putin decided to increase pressure on Ukraine. Large numbers of Russian troops massed on the border. Western powers called his bluff, noting that the troops were not backed by the necessary infrastructure to wage a war. The troops were scaled down a few months later.
The fall of Afghanistan, though, changed Putin’s calculations. Now confident that the US would not intervene to stop him, he started another military build-up in October-November. In December, Putin published “draft treaties” which would roll NATO back to its 1991 borders and require Western recognition of a Russian sphere of influence in the territories of the former USSR and Warsaw Pact countries. The build-up continued, this time accompanied by the infrastructure required to stage an invasion of Ukraine. By February 2022, and with the US not making enough concessions for his liking, Putin was ready to strike. On 24 February, he did so.
What to do
Anarchists around the world including, most commendably, those in Russia and Ukraine, have opposed both regimes and taken up the banner of “No War But the Class War”. This is an excellent beginning, but it gives little guidance on how to oppose both sides while one is invading the other.
The question becomes even sharper when it is realised that a Russian occupation of Ukraine would be opposed by a guerilla insurgency. The Government is already distributing weapons to the population and giving instructions on making and using Molotov cocktails. Reports indicate that many of these weapons have fallen into the arms of Fascists.
In addition, the US is already promising to arm the “Ukrainian resistance”. It will include supporters of the current government, but will also most probably include the Fascist followers of Stepan Bandera, with whom the US has been in regular contact since the Euromaidan uprising. They are particularly strong in western Ukraine and will be more easily reached by US agents than guerillas in other areas of the country. Bandera was a Nazi collaborator during World War II and in 1944 was released behind Soviet lines to wage bloody guerilla warfare with Nazi support.
Anarchists in Ukraine must struggle against any occupation – unarmed if possible, but armed if necessary. The strategy must be to mobilise the working class for non-cooperation with the occupation and fraternisation with the lower ranks (conscripts especially) of the Russian military and to spread this resistance into Russia. Destruction of Russian military equipment and self-defence against violence by occupying forces or the puppet government would also be necessary. The trade unions would be the ideal vehicle for this orientation, but if class struggle against the occupation is prevented inside the unions, it must be conducted outside of them. In the course of this struggle, the working class resistance would come into conflict with the Banderites, who will hate them as much as they hate the Russians. Given their murderous Fascist politics, reasonable force in self defence will be necessary to deal with them.
Vladimir Putin has over-reached himself. Even if he succeeds in conquering Ukraine, he will be brought undone by the impossible task of maintaining a puppet government over a country of 41 million truculent and resisting subjects. What comes after, though, will be determined by the character of the resistance that brings him down. If Putin is brought down by a Banderite resistance, supported by the United States, the Russian ruling class will re-consolidate itself on the basis of an even fiercer, if more cautious, reactionary Russian nationalism. Russia will continue to be a bastion of global reaction. A US-backed Ukrainian regime of Fascist Banderites is a real possibility. In addition, NATO would be strengthened by the accession of Ukraine and possibly other countries, too. The United States would ride high once more, at least for a time.
On the other hand, if Putin’s war is ended by working class resistance that spreads to the Russian working class and renders the Russian military useless as an instrument of aggressive warfare, the politics of Russia and Eastern Europe would be turned upside down. Russian stooge regimes in Belarus and Kazakhstan would fall to local rebellions, while support for reactionary nationalists in Poland, Hungary and elsewhere will drain quickly away. These movements will weaken NATO, not strengthen it, and open the door to the re-birth of revolutionary politics across Europe and beyond.
Anarchists must do everything in their power to assist working class resistance to the invasion of Ukraine – and fight against the US agenda there.
BUILD CLASS STRUGGLE RESISTANCE