So apparently, Russia is planning to invade Ukraine. Maybe. Or at least that’s what we’re all being told. Western leaders insist that war is imminent and Russia is planning on invading Ukraine. The British government appears to think that the Kremlin is conspiring to install a puppet regime in Ukraine. More recently, the United States has claimed, without presenting evidence, that Russia is planning to fabricate a Ukrainian attack on Russia or Russian-speaking Ukrainians in order to justify invading Ukraine. Vladimir Putin and the Russian government have predictably denied all impropriety and blame Western/NATO leaders for increasing tensions by their aggression against Russia, though they do seem to be assuring that there will be “consequences” if the West doesn’t agree to its “security demands”. Ukraine itself seems to be giving mixed signals on the issue: on the one hand the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky is saying that the West is hyping up the threat of Russian invasion to create panic, and the people cited by the British government have explicitly refuted the government’s claims; on the other hand, the Ukrainian government has apparently taken the British government seriously, is accepting military aid from Britain, America, and other countries, and is concerned that other countries such as Germany are not on their side.
What are we to make of all of this? Should we take the West completely at face value and accept that war with Russia is a necessity? I think that can be flatly ruled out. Yet, this does not mean that Russian invasion is distinctly impossible. Russia will, of course, claim that it has no plans to invade Ukraine, but that’s to be expected of Russia. There is a significant extent to which the statements of Russia cannot be relied upon or taken at face value. However, it is certainly true that there is an extent to which the Western narrative is lurid and quizzical, given to dysfunctional conspiracy theory, eager to frame Putin as irrational, and absolutely certain of invasion. The build-up is surely familiar at least.
There are many important things to consider when discussing Russia, and in establishing a consistent anti-imperialist position in the context of the Ukraine-Russia conflict. There are several reasons not to take the Russian side of the conflict, or certain arguments from some who defend Russia on at least theoretically anti-imperialist, at face value. Russia will insist that it has no plans to invade Ukraine. But there are obvious problems. Russia has amassed 100,000 troops beside the Russian-Ukrainian border, and there are some reports which suggest that there are not only weapons but also blood supplies and medical equipment being brought to the region. It’s not clear what non-military purpose all of this should have. If the invasion thesis holds water, they are almost certainly amassing units for the purpose of entering Ukraine. If it doesn’t, we still have to assume there is some other reason for 100,000 troops coming with a medical team on standby to treat wounded combatants, and a mere drill would stretch credulity. Perhaps they are preparing to remain on the Russian side of the border so as to be in a defensive position against NATO? That too is possible. It is also possible that nothing will happen, but we’ll cross that bridge later.
An important point to address is the subject of annexation in Ukraine, since it is often relitigated. It is frequently pointed out that in 2014 there was a referendum in Crimea in which its people voted to be absorbed into Russia. The problem with this, however, is that before the referendum was held the parliament of Crimea in Simferopol was already seized by pro-Russian gunmen in February 2014, checkpoints in the region had already been seized, and in that month Russia was already sending tanks, personell carriers, and troops into the area. It was strictly after this that the Supreme Council of Crimea held a referendum, the outcome of which was apparently decisive but also disputed. It was claimed that 85% of Crimeans had voted in the referendum, delivering a decisive majority in favour of joining Russia. However, a report that was briefly and accidentally leaked by the Russian government suggests that both the turnout and the people who voted for annexation were considerably less than that; according to that report, only 22.5% of Crimeans actually voted for annexation, and on a turnout of 40% of the Crimean electorate. This would mean that Russian claims that the Crimeans voted in a majority to join Russia are a lie. But even if they were true and a majority did vote to join Russia, the fact that this was done right after parliament and checkpoints had already been captured invites us to consider the outcome as a inspired by coercion; if the Crimeans did vote in a majority, as Russia claimed, they might as well have done so with a gun pointed to their heads. After all, Crimea had practically already been invaded at this point, parliament had already been sieged, so from a certain point of view, what would be the point of resisting what is already fait accompli, especially if a vote to remain in Ukraine might have triggered further violence? If that’s democracy, then democracy is just a joke. In fact, years later, some Crimeans believe there should be a second referendum, and the current president of Ukraine isn’t ruling that out.
At this point let’s just be clear here, based on the facts. What happened in 2014 was an annexation. Before the referendum on Crimea happened, Crimea was invaded. This was an invasion. Russia set out to conquer Crimea, and it did, because it wanted to take Crimea for itself, probably because Crimea was considered to be the “rightful” property of Russia. This is more or less fact, and cannot be disputed. The main people who do try to dispute it are Russia and its allies, so it’s the word of the country that invaded Crimea, and the people who support said country, against everyone else and the facts of the matter, and the line that Crimea is actually “theirs” comes from Russia. What happened in Crimea can’t be treated as anything other than the invasion and capture of Crimea by Russia. Everyone involved knows it, including the Russian government, which is part of why the Russian government and state media has worked to suppress the truth. This is imperialism, of the sort that might be recognized as such if only it were carried out by the West. Since Crimea will come up again as a subject in any discussion of whatever Russia intends to do this year, it’s worth establishing this basic fact as a reason not to trust Russian statements regarding its plans. To do anything else, to not believe your own lying eyes and assert that this was not an invasion, or an annexation, even if said annexation really was “chosen by the people”, is nothing more than political correctness by any and indeed all definitions of the term.
For this and other reasons it is also profoundly unwise to assume that Russia has no expansionist or militarist goals on its own side of Europe. Russia, under the oversight of Putin and previously under the US-backed Boris Yeltsin, bombed and invaded Chechnya several times over two decades, killings tens of thousands in the process, and in 2007 Putin installed Ramzan Kadyrov as the puppet dictator of Chechnya. Incidentally, Ramzan Kadyrov also supported the Russian annexation of Crimea. Returning to the subject of Crimea, there is certainly an expansionist motive with ideological grounds. The Russian government has repeatedly stated that Crimea is rightfully a part of Russia, that annexing it was the correction of a perceived historical injustice, and that Ukraine itself is rightfully a part of Russia. This basic idea is, incidentally, also supported throughout the hard right in Western countries, including Donald Trump, the former President of the United States. Aleksandr Dugin, the ultra-reactionary and arguably fascist advisor to the Russian government, has stated that he does not believe Russia should stop at Crimea, argues that Russian aggression in Ukraine is part of a broader struggle for the “reunification of Slavic peoples”, and that according to him Russia is not to compromise with Western Ukrainians. From the Western standpoint Dugin may appear to be some sort of crank, but the Russian government takes his ideas seriously.
The Russian government has also justified aggression in Ukraine with the argument that Ukraine is a fascist country with a fascist government. There are many leftists who appear to believe this to be the case as well, no doubt guided to this conclusion by the fact that the Ukrainian government drafted the neo-fascist Azov Battalion (which has also received support from the governments of America and Israel) as a mercenary contingent of its armed forces as a bulwark against pro-Russian separatist forces. I could talk about the broader and fairly amoral political and military realities that underpin that from the standpoint of the Ukrainian government, but however logical it might be it’d go nowhere. Instead, however, I think it would be more prudent to point out that not only is the Ukrainian government still basically not unlike many Western governments in ideology, but also that Russia too supports and is supported by fascists. In fact, Aleksandr Dugin is considered to be part of a hardline faction of the Kremlin (referred to as the “war party” by Russian media) which favours full-scale invasion of Ukraine and rejects the Minsk ceasefire. Another fascist in the Russian government is Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who was the deputy chairman of the State Duma and is the leader of the “Liberal Democratic” Party of Russia, and he called for Ukraine to be destroyed and for its territory to be divided between Russia and its neighbours, arguing that the continued existence of a sovereign Ukraine was a “historical error” that is to be “corrected”. Furthermore, the Ukrainian Azov mercenaries are not the only fascists doing the fighting in Ukraine.
There’s also a Russian ultra-nationalist group called the Black Hundreds, named after the old genocidal tsarist movement in Russia which opposed revolution and incited pogroms (and also opposed Ukrainian nationalism while regarding Ukrainians as Russian), which fights Ukrainian forces with the aim of overthrowing its government and then eventually the Russian government. Its members, once among them Anton Rayevsky, wear Nazi imagery as tattoos and describe themselves as fascists, so they could also be described as fascists and arguably neo-Nazis. Its leader, Alexander Shtilmark, certainly is a neo-Nazi. Alexander Zakharchenko, who led the pro-Russian separatist Donetsk People’s Republic until he was killed in a bomb attack in 2018, was an anti-democratic traditionalist anti-semite who referred to Ukrainian politicians as Jews in order to lambast them. The Donetsk separatists also accept fascists from other countries to fight for them, just as the Ukrainian Azov Battalion does. Pavel Gubarev, the former leader of the Donbas People’s Militia was a member of a Russian neo-Nazi group known as National Unity, has apparently still thanked them for influencing him, and was the member of the Progress Socialist Party of Ukraine which is practically a National Bolshevik Party and seems to be aligned with Aleksandr Dugin. National Unity was also involved in trying to stage a referendum outcome in Donetsk. Igor Girkin, the man who helped Russian forces capture the Crimean parliament before the referendum and now poses as an opponent of Putin’s regime, was a fascist admirer of the anti-communist White Army and was a commander for the white supremacist Russian Imperial Movement. The Russian Imperial Movement is a prominent part of the international white supremacist movement as a whole, maintaining contacts with neo-Nazis across the Western world while training Russian white supremacists, and advocates for the restoration of Russian tsarism and the organization of the Russian state along ethno-nationalist lines.
The Luhansk People’s Republic is supported by National Bolshevik militias, including Interbrigades from the Other Russia party as well as the Prizrak Brigade, whose former leader Aleksey Mozgovoy was also a Russian Imperial Movement commander, an anti-semite who believed that Ukraine is ruled by “miserable Jews”, and such an authoritarian extreme misogynist that he would ban women from entering cafes – this was after he ordered the execution of a man suspected of rape. He was incidentally hailed by the Morning Star newspaper as an anti-fascist hero in a now-deleted web article, and after his death anti-semites claimed that he was killed by Jews as some kind of sacrifice. Igor Plotnitski, the leader of the Luhansk People’s Republic, is a viciously reactionary anti-semite who believes the Ukranian government is controlled by Jews and accuses Jewish people of being responsible for the Ukranian Revolution which overthrew Vladmir Yanukovych. Another notorious though now-defunct pro-Russian militia was Rusich, a neo-Nazi organization run by Alexei Milchakov, a sadistic fascist thug who is literally the kind of evil bastard that would kill and torture puppies, and whose followers practiced torture and committed war crimes and ranted about how they believe Hitler didn’t kill enough Jews. A Russian mercenary outfit known as the Wagner Group seem to be neo-Nazis, on top of being known for committing war crimes against and human rights abuses esepcially against Muslims, and was founded by a man named Dmitry Utkin, a Russian former special forces lieutenant who admired Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany to the point of naming his unit after Richard Wagner, who was Hitler’s favorite composer. Into the present day, Milchakov doesn’t seem to regret his time in Luhansk. Russia also enlisted members of far-right and even neo-Nazi parties across Europe to act as election observers during the Crimean referendum, along with even some pro-Russian leftist politicians, and invited members of Jobbik to visit Crimea after its annexation. Jobbik also appparently invoked anti-semitism in its argument for why it decided to abandon its support for the Svoboda party in Ukraine in favour of supporting Russia. And finally, we cannot forget that the main media outlet taking the side of the Russian government on Crimea is a fascist news outlet called Russia Today, which manufactures consent for Russia’s actions in Ukraine through propaganda and censors criticism of Putin’s actions.
If this is what the Russian government, pro-Russian separatists, and Western defenders of Russia consider to be an alliance against fascism, then they mock anti-fascism as a concept. I mean, it’s not like there aren’t Nazis in Ukraine. There definitely are, and in fact Ukraine is still notoriously a place where neo-Nazis can gather, network, receive training from militants and become mercenaries or insurgents, likely aiming to take advantage of the Ukrainian warzone as a place to prove themselves as “Aryan” warriors and perhaps help turn Ukraine into a kind of microcosmic Fourth Reich; not to mention, this is the country home to the infamous Asgardsrei Festival, a neo-Nazi music festival where Nazi bands play and far-right terrorists go and socialize. But even despite that, Russia’s narrative of some sort of anti-fascist conflict in which Russia is merely defending its citizens from an orgy of fascism is rich when we consider that the pro-Russian side of the war in Ukraine is represented by fascist militias that aren’t so different from what the Azov Battalion is, and has fascist ideologues behind it hoping to either conquer or destroy Ukraine. The difference is that the Azov Battalion just happens to be working for the Ukranian government (who, as I understand, they ultimate would like to overthrow), opposes Russian expansion into Ukraine, and happens to be the bigger fish when it comes to neo-fascist militias. But you cannot look at a conflict that consists of Nazis versus Nazis and expect to paint one side as the anti-fascist versus the other. Such an error portrays anti-fascism as meaningless, and that cannot be abided.
In this light, I actually consider Russian arguments that justify military involvement in Ukraine on the grounds of fascism to be virtually identical to the arguments made by Western imperialists, particularly the United States, and right-wing ideologues who argue for the invasion of various countries in the Middle East, such as Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The West argues for military adventurism and imperialism in the Middle East on the grounds of containing the ideology of “radical Islam” and fighting terrorism, even as the United States exports terrorist violence throughout the world in service of the power of the Western bourgeoisie and the capitalist system they rule. In the same sense, it seems to me that if Russia is truly interested in anti-fascist struggle, perhaps Russia should invade itself, since Russia has fascists in its government and is supporting fascist and white supremacist militias on its side of the Ukraine conflict.
Now, I have been very harsh on the Russian side of all this, and frankly I think that’s because Russia deserves such unsparing criticism as this. But all I’ve done so far is to establish reasons to doubt Russia’s claims as to its lack of desire for aggression, and perhaps reasons why future aggression might be credible, though not necessarily certain. It’s difficult from this to conjure proof at this time, and Russia certainly isn’t going to give any proof of its intentions if they mean to invade. And yet, there’s an elephant in the room, by which I course mean the other imperialism at large: Western imperialism.
NATO might well care about Ukraine enough that they seem willing to lend support to the Azov Batallion even despite the fact that they seem to be neo-fascists who wear Nazi insignia, but we can hardly take this as proof that they actually care about Russian authoritarianism in principle, or even any authoritarianism rising in Ukraine for that matter (more on that later). After all, where was NATO when Russia was busy with its brutal suppression of Chechnya? Perhaps Saddam Hussein’s corpse and his phantom weapons of mass destruction were just too pressing a matter for America to busy themselves with the massacres, tortures, and rapes committed in Chechnya, let alone the installment of a clerical fascist puppet. The simple truth is that America operates in a manner not terribly different from Russia, and on a grander scale. America, at least since the end of World War 2, has gone into numerous countries in order to invade them, overthrow their often elected leadership, and manufactured consent for it via propaganda and phony elections. Of course, America doesn’t tend to claim that Grenada, for instance, is rightful American soil, as Russia does for Ukraine or at least Crimea, but America does perform a very similar pattern of imperialism across a broader share of the world, and often with the greater death toll and greater trail of destruction to its name. Not to mention that Russia is still not the only country that can claim aggression against other peoples as an act of assuming its rightful territory. Who can forget the enterprise of Manifest Destiny that came with the birth of the United States as we know it, and who could forget the ongoing occupation of Palestine by Israel (who, I’d like stress again, supports the Azov Battalion).
But this of course leads us to the other main angle repeated in standard arguments about imperialism: that Russia is not intending to invade Ukraine, and that US/NATO aggression is the single cause of escalating tensions. For starters, we don’t actually know that Russia isn’t intending to invade Ukraine, and there are a fair few reasons to assume that in fact they might. Yet, there are reasons to think that perhaps he might relent or that he might not intend to invade Ukraine. Russia might be able to pick off Chechnya and Georgia on their own, but it is doubtful that they could emerge victorious from a confrontation with NATO, and it would be wrong for Western commentators to assume that Putin does not consider that a possibility. A likely defeat is not proof that Russia will not try to invade Ukraine, after all America has become notorious for embarking multiple failed military expeditions in living memory; Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan spring to mind. But I suppose America’s overconfidence and its size might have been a theoretically assuring factor for many. And I suppose that America does not have tons of Russian or Chinese bases surrounding itself, whereas Russia has tons of NATO bases surrounding it.
NATO has played a substantial role in shaping the situation as it exists. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO expanded its sphere of influence over the former Soviet states in Eastern Europe, even after a not necessarily formal agreement to the contrary. But, I would stress that NATO cannot be the sole cause of aggression and escalation in the region, for the simple reason that this requires us to assume that Russia has no motives of its own. Already we can see reasons why it is necessary to doubt that assessment. It also requires omitting the fact that the West are not the only people arming militants in Ukraine. Russia has for years given arms to pro-Russian separatists and supported the “people’s republics” in Donetsk and Luhansk – who, by the way, have had a habit of banning Ukrainian media, kidnapping journalists as well as priests and Jewish citizens, and getting involved in violent insurrections as well as committing war crimes and even employing child soldiers – and in the wake of recent escalations the Russian state may continue arming them. But having said that there is one important factor that puts Russia in common with NATO: imperial grievance. It is often said that NATO and America’s current designs for aggression against Russia can be traced to certain humiliations suffered by the Western sphere of influence. The cataclysmic fall of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to the Taliban and the subsequent re-establishment of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan last year is likely what is meant by such humiliation, having cast serious international doubts on the efficacy and moral authority of American hegemony. But this is ultimately a recent humiliation, and from the looks of it America and NATO are not poised into deep decline because of it, at least for now. From the standpoint of Russia, the humiliation of Russia would be deeper and more long-running.
The Soviet Union may not have been the biggest empire in history, but in its time it was certainly one of the largest and most expansive powers in the world, capable of standing toe to toe against America, and so from the Russian standpoint it represented a time in living memory when Russia could exercise a vast sphere of influence in the world and be capable of challenging the West. This is one reason why the memory of at least the idea of the Soviet Union, even if moreso than its reality, is a source of pride for the Russian state, even functioning as a sort of national mythos, which just like any other capitalist state is readily employed so as to mobilize the Russian masses along the lines of national pride, and mobilizing a patriotic mass in support of the government is exactly part of Putin’s goals and agenda. Indeed, Putin himself is no communist, certainly not a socialist, but he too employs the memory of the Soviet Union as national identity via the cult of Josef Stalin, which the Russian government also reinforces by suppressing critics of Stalin’s authoritarianism and human rights record. The collapse of the Soviet Union represented the loss of Russia’s ability to take on the West, and NATO’s expansion into the former Soviet countries represented the loss of Russia’s former sphere of influence, leading thus to the sense of the Soviet Union as a sort of “former glory” for Russia. In this sense, any talk of the West having been “emasculated” as some suggest is easily also applicable to Russia, if not moreso.
It is obvious that Russia has at least some interest in re-establishing a credible sphere of influence in Europe so as to once again challenge the American or NATO sphere of influence. For the Russian ruling class, the benefits include no longer being dependent on raw exports to global markets, and for the Russian state, it means continuing to exercise authority over territories formerly under Soviet control. Chechnya, for example, was a Soviet republic from the 1930s until the Soviet Union’s collapse, and when a Chechen independence movement formed it was opposed by Boris Yeltsin, ironically the same man that America helped get elected as the new “democratic” face of Russia, thus Russia opposed Chechen sovereignty by arguing that Chechnya, and not to mention its oil reserves, were part of Russia, and enforcing that argument through continuous warfare. As it turns out, America is not the only country to wage war for oil. A much more recent event, though, that I think illustrates my point, concerns another former Soviet republic: Kazakhstan. When protest over increased gas prices occurred in Kazakhstan, to which the government responded by cracking down on protesters and shutting down the internet, Putin intervened by deploying Russian paratroopers to protect the government of Kazakhstan and attack protesters. This was done with intention of securing Russian influence in the region; in fact, after the unrest ended, Putin promised the other ex-Soviet states that Russia would protect them as well. This coupled with the history of Russian participation in the suppression of dissent by neighbouring governments such as Belarus shows that Russia wants to demonstrate that it will militarily support its allies, which would allow Russia to cultivate a credible military sphere of influence of its own.
But does this in itself mean that Russia will soon invade Ukraine? There is one other possiblity I may be inclined to entertain: the possibility that nothing will happen and that recent speculation to that effect is all hype. Volodymyr Zelensky seems convinced of this, insisting that the West is trying to incite panic in Ukraine through its talk of Russian invasion, and there are many people in both Russia and Ukraine, particularly the ordinary citizens of those countries, who are not convinced that war is coming and suspect that both Putin and the West are just talking tough because that’s just what leaders do. Even the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres thinks that Russia is not going to invade Ukraine and hopes that the situation in the region will de-escalate; if anything Guterres seems much more concerned about the fate of Afghanistan than the fate of Ukraine.
There are good reasons to believe that perhaps this is the reality of the situation. The US has come alarmingly close to starting a new war under the Trump administration, but the suspense has met no payoff. The Trump administration has bombed Syria twice, despite ostensibly promising a non-interventionist policy in Syria, but this did not lead to a full-scale war in Syria. In the outset of 2020, the Trump administration bombed Iran and killed Qasem Soleimani, leading to rampant speculation about possible war with Iran and some tough talk from Iranian leadership. But months later, after all that, nothing happened and there was no war against Iran. War with Venezuela was also speculated during the Trump administration, but while the US government made attempts to smuggle units and weapons into the country and manufacture a “democratic” coup, nothing happened.
It’s also possible that Putin thinks he may not even need to invade Ukraine, but rather instead use the threat of invasion to exercise soft power over the region. That’s the argument that Loren Thompson gives, anyway. He argues that Putin tends to prefer to challenge NATO and thus appear to be standing up to NATO aggression, but in a way that still means he can take as few risks to Russia as possible. And there are perhaps reasons to believe that this might be true. For one thing, it would serve as a credible alternative explanation for why Russia is stationing troops on the border just outside Ukraine as opposed to inside Ukraine or even spread across the separatist “people’s republics” or in Donbas. It may also make sense of how Russia is keen enough to mobilize in countries like Chechnya or Georgia, but not directly in Ukraine. Ukraine represents the possibility for NATO to sit close to the heart of Russia, and is thus a serious risk for Russia, whereas Chechnya or Georgia do not present that same risk, which may allow Russia relative free reign in terms of the exercise of power. Alternatively, the Ukrainian socialist activist Taras Bilous suggests that a full-on invasion of Ukraine is not likely because it is too expensive and not cost-effective enough for the Russian state, and too unpopular with Russians, and suggests that the real threat from Russia would instead be Russian expansion into Donbas via the territories already controlled by pro-Russian separatists. More recently, the Ukrainian deputy defence minister Hanna Maliar, while still asserting that Ukraine is at risk of a Russian attack, appeared to suggest that perhaps nothing will happen in Ukraine because of the West calling out Russia on the subject via alarmism. Perhaps that is possible, but it does smell an awful lot like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
One thing that could easily be neglected in conversation is that Russia is still a nuclear power. In fact Russia has threatened to deploy nuclear missiles in Europe in response to perceived plans by NATO to do the same. According to the Federation of American Scientists, Russia currently possesses over 6,000 nuclear weapons, which is apparently more nukes than even the United States. None of this has gone unnoticed in media coverage of the current escalations in Ukraine. I trust that it is safe to assume that nobody wants a situation in which organized human life is wiped out by nuclear war, and so I believe it is reasonable to conjecture that perhaps this may motivate the progress of an ultimately diplomatic resolution. At the same time as Boris Johnson is pledging to get the UK militarily involved in Ukraine, he also seems to have agreed to hold diplomatic talks with Putin. Perhaps it’s not impossible that war will in fact be averted.
But, ultimately, at this point in time, everything is a matter of speculation, conjecture, and possibility. There’s no proof as yet that Russia is definitely going to invade Ukraine, and, if there are plans to invade, Russia is certainly not going to tell us anything about it until it’s too late, preferring instead to deflect the conversation towards the West. I consider the following to be possible: (1) Russia is preparing for a planned invasion of Ukraine, (2) Russia is merely using its troops as leverage with which to exercise soft power in Ukraine rather than an invasion, (3) NATO might attempt to attack Russia in order to pre-empt an invasion of Ukraine, though this to me seems unlikely, or (4) nothing will happen and everyone is just talking tough. Of these, although it seems to me that a Russian invasion of Ukraine is distinctly possible, I am also inclined to consider that the possibility that the hype may be for nothing is the strongest hypothesis.
But, with the question of whether or not Russia will invade Ukraine more or less fully explored, we must consider how we want the tensions in Ukraine to end, and what is the best outcome in accordance with anti-imperialist principle. The most obvious anti-imperialist recourse might be that NATO should simply pull out of Ukraine, recede its presence in the former Soviet bloc, and end all aggression against Russia. This is certainly desirable and a part of the classical anti-imperialist expectation as regards the US-NATO alliance. But, there is still a problem. We know that Russia to some extent desires to absorb Ukraine, or parts thereof, into its own territory or sphere of influence. The invasion and subsequent annexation of Crimea is surely proof of this, and the actions of Russia outside of Ukraine show a broader agenda to establish a strong military and political axis. There’s no guarantee that Russia won’t simply absorb Ukraine once NATO pulls back and, short of the collapse of imperialism as a global system, this is going to be a problem that needs a non-military solution.
I cannot stress this enough: in my opinion, for Ukraine to be absorbed into (or perhaps conquered by) Russia would be the worst possible outcome for Ukraine and its people. In saying this I’d like to stress one last time that I do not intend on downplaying or ignoring the problems with Ukraine. I already mentioned that the Azov Battalion is part of the Ukrainian armed forces, to say nothing of the fascists running around in Ukraine while not affiliated with the government, and this poses serious problems. The incorporation of the Azov Battalion along with other reactionary measures comprises what I suspect to be efforts by the Ukrainian government to appease dangerous elements that its leadership knows might threaten to overthrow the government, a possibility surely validated by the overthrow of Viktor Yanukovych during the Ukrainian Revolution in 2014. There is also a concerning degree of authoritarianism in Ukraine, as Zelensky’s government is censoring opposition and members of Right Sector are slowly gaining government positions. But I tell you now, a Ukraine that is absorbed into Russia will be worse than the status quo!
We know already that the self-declared “people’s republics” in Donetsk and Luhansk are drastically more authoritarian and actually dictatorial than the Ukrainian government. Internet shutdowns are a feature of these governments, and so is the abduction and torture of journalists, threats against schools who refused to host polling stations for the militias, and beatings and tortures for anyone in these republics who dared to question pro-Russian talking points. We know that the separatist militias who establish these republics tend to commit gruesome war crimes against their enemies. We know that Crimea, under the rule of Russian authorities, has repressed and tortured leftists, including Marxists and anarchists, and justified these actions by claiming that they were “extremists”. This alone should already demonstrate the true nature of Russia’s false concern for fascism in Ukraine, and perhaps serve as a preview of the nature of Russian domination in the rest of Ukraine. Although communist symbols are banned in Ukraine, I think it’s fair to say leftists aren’t rounded up and tortured or executed by the Ukrainian government. Not limiting my analysis to Ukraine, we know that Chechnya, under the rule of Ramzan Kadyrov, sees political opponents get assassinated and gay people get rounded up and killed. If Ukraine is allowed to be absorbed by Russia, or established as a puppet state similar to Chechnya, then Ukraine will not be free of tyranny and fascism, and instead these will dominate and magnify in Ukraine under the thumb of Russian rule. I would expect that Ukrainians would no longer be able to vote for their leadership once subject to Russian rule, and the cruel repressions seen in Chechnya, Kazakhstan, and the “people’s republics” may be facts of life there. For those who are interested in peace and freedom just about anywhere, that cannot be allowed. Thus it is perhaps not for no reason that perhaps some Ukranians are prepared to take up arms against Russia.
If this is to be avoided without violence then the only way forward is for tensions to be alleviated or dispelled through diplomacy cultimating in a mutual non-agression pact. Necessary terms would include the disarming of pro-Russian separatist groups in Ukraine, a halt to Russian aggression in Ukraine, and guarantees that Russia not interfere with Ukranian sovereignty. Such terms would also ideally the restoration of Crimea to Ukraine, but I expect that Russia would never agree to it even in exchange for NATO withdrawing bases from Eastern Europe. I’m told that this is essentially what the Minsk agreement, as was being brokered by France and Germany, is supposed to be. A problem is that previous peace deals brokered over the war in Donbas had failed to stop fighting in the region and collapsed after two attempts. The point being, though, guarantees for the sovereignty of Ukraine have to be established between the West, Russia, and Ukraine as part of a peace process, and if it means NATO has to recede its bases in order for Russia to uphold said guarantees, all the better. But this is something that will have to be committed. Apathy can’t really be accepted in this situation. If Western countries recede and Ukraine doesn’t get those guarantees in place, then maybe it could be argued that Western imperialism has been thwarted in Ukraine, but this would happen only at the cost of Russian imperialism prevailing instead, with Russia using the opportunity to at least eventually take over Ukraine. Only a binding non-agression and non-interference agreement, made between all involved parties, can prevent a situation in which war is rendered inevitable. If this is not acheived, then there’s no telling what will happen with Ukraine. Ukraine will certainly seem forced to fight to prevent being absorbed into Russia, and maybe, with the help of European allies, they stand a chance of winning. But if Russia were to somehow succeed in invading Ukraine, then even if Russia fails to capture Kyiv, it would mean swathes of Ukrainian territory may fall into Russian hands and end up like Crimea.
To be anti-imperialist is to recognize imperialism as a global system. There is not simply the US-NATO alliance versus an axis of “anti-imperialist nations”. Imperialism is something that is participated across the world by developed capitalist hegemons and a competition of nation states that participate in a might makes right contest for dominance, political influence, and control over or access to global markets and resources. In understanding this, it makes no sense to take the side of Russia simply because it opposes the US-NATO alliance. Rather, if imperialism is a global system, then it can only be opposed as a global system, and anti-imperialism thus means opposing and seeking to dismantle the global mechanism of imperialism. The absorption of Ukraine into Russia simply means the victory of one imperialism against another, in addition to the triumph of murderous Russian fascism.
But, all that said, short of the dismantling of global imperialism, pretty much all we can do at this point is hope that talks between Russia, Ukraine, and the West don’t completely collapse and result in more imperialist war. And in the mean time, our solidarity is to be reserved neither for the Russian autocracy and its fascist-imperialist appendages nor for the Western imperialism of the US-NATO alliance, but instead for the Ukrainian socialist movements who oppose imperialism from both Russia and the West, for the people of Crimea whose land was stolen from them by Russia, for the people living in fear and oppression under the “people’s republics” in Donbas, and, of course, for the whole working class of both Ukraine and Russia, neither of whom benefit from the imperialist war in Ukraine.