“the working class are to be sacrificed that a small clique of rulers and armament makers may sate their lust for power and their greed for wealth.”
– James Connolly, 1914
Russia’s invasion of Western Ukraine is reactionary and imperialist. Yet, the Russian state cannot be cast as the sole or primary antagonist in this conflict. Critics cannot afford to go silent now and implicitly condone Western imperial expansion.
People must reject the binary and refuse to allow themselves to be sucked into an imperialist struggle where the exploited classes are pitted against one another for the sake of state power and the enrichment of the elite.
Most Western leftists have so far avoided critiquing Russian activity in Ukraine. This is due to the overwhelming degree of criticism that Russia receives in Western media. Levying further critique at the Russian state risks giving legitimacy to NATO activity.
It is also important to note, without condoning repression, that Russia is less expansive than NATO and is a lesser threat to global liberty. NATO’s global military activity has been well-documented and critiqued. To focus on Ukraine, it is important to note that NATO should not be viewed as a legitimate critic of imperialist action.
NATO has spent the past thirty years expanding across Eastern Europe, situating itself firmly along Russian borders. Before the annexation of Crimea, NATO member states co-opted social unrest to install a friendly government in Ukraine. These states have continued to interfere in Ukraine’s political and economic structure since.
In addition, NATO has been actively training Ukraine’s military, including its National Guard, for years. NATO forces specifically met with and supported Azov Battalion, the National Guard’s most effective unit, which is a militant neo-Nazi organization.
The leader of Azov has explicitly stated that “the historic mission of our nation in this critical moment is to lead the white nations of the world in a final crusade for their survival, a crusade against the Semite-led Untermenschen.” On a tour of Azov’s headquarters, Time reporters were also told that Azov’s mission is “to form a coalition of far-right groups across the Western world, with the ultimate aim of taking power throughout Europe.”
These neo-Nazi militants have been actively waging war in Eastern Ukraine with Western backing since 2014.
The United States, NATO’s largest member, maintains global dominance with military force. On February 18, 2022, Foreign Policy published an article by Matthew Kroenig titled “Washington Must Prepare for War With Both Russia and China.” In this article, Kroenig stated that:
“First, Washington should increase defense spending. Contrary to those who claim that constrained resources will force tough choices, the United States can afford to outspend Russia and China at the same time. The United States possesses 24 percent of global GDP compared to a combined 19 percent in China and Russia. This year, the United States will spend $778 billion on defense compared to only $310 billion in Russia and China.”
This statement is incredibly revealing. Though the United States continuously depicts Russia and China as threats to peace, its own military spending is more than double the combined total of both countries. In order to contain these states, Kroenig also suggests that:
“Washington could always take a page from its Cold War playbook and rely more heavily on nuclear weapons to offset the local, conventional advantages of its rivals. The presence of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in Europe helped deter the massive Soviet Red Army for decades. Similarly, the United States could rely on threatening nonstrategic nuclear strikes to deter and, as a last resort, thwart a Chinese amphibious invasion of Taiwan or a Russian tank incursion into Europe.”
As there is nothing less effective than an empty threat, threatening nuclear strikes would meant that the state would have to be willing to actually launch them.
Matthew Kroenig is not just a columnist – Kroenig has worked for both the Pentagon and the CIA and is now a Deputy Director for Atlantic Council, one of the most influential think-tanks in Washington. Atlantic Council is funded in large part by defence contractors and is a de-facto NATO organization. In fact, its counterpart in Canada changed its name from Atlantic Council of Canada to the NATO Association of Canada in 2015.
In keeping with American Cold War strategy, the Atlantic Council and the NATO Association primarily advocate for a transatlantic alliance. This alliance cements itself by establishing strong military, economic, political, and cultural ties.
Kroenig is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. The CFR is a private think-tank, funded by foundations and corporate donors, which was established by wealthy Americans following the First World War. The significance of this is that his position of influence is one of deep entanglement with both the corporate elite and the military apparatus.
The military industrial complex serves to both enrich the capitalist elite but also to further solidify the state’s position of dominance in the world. There is no benevolence in this militarization.
America’s ‘defence’ of Ukraine is entirely self-interested – all it takes is a glance at its relationship with Palestine to demonstrate that the American state does not legitimately have an interest in the right to national self-determination.
It should go without saying that NATO’s imperialism does not mean that Russia is benevolent. The Russian state is repressive. Contrary to lofty comparisons between Putin and Stalin, it is also capitalist. In particular, it continues to embody the kind of gangster capitalism that America supported in the country in the Yeltsin years.
There are elements of ‘the left’ which uncritically support Russia and China because they are viewed as states with the potential to upset America’s position of global dominance – because they undermine the notion of a unipolar world.
While America’s position of dominance means that it is definitely worthy of more critique than lesser powers, it is important to remember that a multi-polar world dominated by capitalist elites and their repressive states is not a world of liberty.
The war in Ukraine is not revolutionary. It is a war controlled by capitalist nation states. In such a war, the only winner can be the elite. Ordinary people will suffer tremendously. There will be siege and sanction, violence will unfold, reactionary elements will be fueled, and the consequences will become impossible to chart. War is unpredictable – a chaotic endeavor.
Conflict between the great powers has been brewing for generations. It has emerged and dissipated repeatedly. By some clumsy fortune, nuclear war was avoided decades ago – but the dice won’t always come up sevens – and, while most American and Russian officials probably do not actually want a war with one another, “the great danger remains the unplanned one,” as George Woodcock wrote in 1954.
Those who carry out imperialist wars are not the ones who benefit from them. To those who play dress up in the halls of government, people on the ground are mere pawns to be sacrificed for lust of wealth and power. To avoid such wars, people must stand resolutely against imperialism in all its forms.
Reject Russia – Reject America – Reject repressive states worldwide. Stand for people, for freedom, and for liberty. For love, respect, and mutuality.