Ukraine: Still Not the Good War

Image by Max Kukurudziak.

The Russian bogeyman is played out. The threat of a Russian empire is as empty as Joe Biden’s scolding of Israel’s slaughter in Gaza or Donald Trump’s protestations of innocence. This doesn’t mean that I support the current government in Moscow. Nor does it mean its war in Ukraine is something I support. It does mean I strongly believe the US-sponsored campaign against Russia in Ukraine needs to end. Between Washington’s unashamed support for the elimination of most of Ukraine’s democratic forms and the Zelensky government’s increasing vacuity, the Ukrainian nationalist cause—no matter how one frames it—has been manipulated beyond recognition. A point the Ukrainian leftist journalist Volodymyr Ishchenko has made more than once is that the pre-Maidan Ukraine is never returning and the longer the conflict goes on, the greater is the likelihood that Ukraine will be independent in name only. Ishchenko argues that either it will be a colony of Russia or a neo-colony of the United States, never certain of its peace and owned by western capitalist interests. In Ukraine, oligarchs out of favor are arrested or exile themselves while others sell off public lands to US corporations like Monsanto. In what is certainly an escalation of the war, the United States just gave Kyiv’s military permission to use US weapons to attack inside Russia. This can only mean a rise in civilian deaths, intentionally and otherwise. Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported on May 30, 2024 that the possibility of NATO countries publicly sending advisors and other regular forces into Ukraine is once again being broached. Nothing appears in the article regarding opening negotiations among the parties involved. Obviously, peace is not on Washington’s agenda.

While US/NATO special forces and intelligence operatives slip into the country, the US media continues its despicable yet familiar role of promoting the conflict, repeating the same lies it told to provoke it in the first place. The fact that pro-war liberals and their allies continue to play the Russian bogeyman card in their attempts to keep the armed conflict going seems to prove they don’t want an end to the conflict or a resolution of the issues underlying it. Given the fact that it is the West’s far right factions that tend to be the most organized opposition to the conflict, I fear that in the long run the NATO refusal to negotiate will only strengthen the far right in NATO countries (including the United States) as the voters’ anger at the war’s negative consequences intensifies.

Meanwhile, political thinkers speculate about a new imperialism. From where I sit, the more imperialism looks new, the more it returns to its earlier incarnations. In today’s world we see imperial rivalries between states, one dominant empire (US and its military alliance NATO), a smaller imperialist state in Russia, several regional powers vying for dominance (i.e., Iran and India in their spheres), and China, which is certainly an economic power but not currently a military imperial one. The last fact could change rapidly if the US succeeds in its mission of further militarizing its rivalries with other capitalist powers.. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine created a situation where Washington was finally able to see its dream of NATO bases on Russia’s borders. In an ironic counterpoint to this, the US/Israeli massacre of Palestinians in Gaza has created a scenario that has pushed international popular support for Palestine’s struggle for a sovereign state to proportions never seen before.

Certain sections of the western left reject the position of other leftists who operate from a position that says “an enemy of my enemy is my friend” in conflicts around the world. Rejecting such a position does make sense. After all, taking such an approach can end up with one having rather distasteful friends. However, many of these same folks argue that supporting the US/NATO arming of the neoliberal/far right coalition government in Kyiv and its cousin in Taiwan are positions left anti-imperialists should adopt. Talk about making distasteful friends. Historically speaking, the United States government is right near the top of any list I can conceive of those who I would not befriend. I’ve tried to wrap my head around the contradictions implicit in the argument supporting US arms for Ukraine and Taiwan, but no matter what I do, I can’t get past the fact that both the Ukrainian and Taiwan conflicts are encouraged and intensified by Washington and its arm industry as part of its imperial rivalries with Russia and China, respectively. The goal of the pro- US factions in both Ukraine and Taiwan is not national liberation of the socialist kind, but a deepening of relations with US capital and the profits it would bring to the capitalist class in those countries; profits that come with a price the rest of the population will pay. In Ukraine, that price has already included rivers of blood, martial law and more. The left should not be supporting policies (like arming Ukraine and Taiwan) that further the goals of Western capital. No matter how it is spun, supporting such policies is taking sides in imperial conflicts just like supporting Russia in Ukraine and the nationalists in Taiwan is. The Left should be calling for peace and demanding negotiations. Indeed, it makes considerably more sense to call for peace negotiations in Ukraine while organizing opposition to the capitalist regime currently in place there instead of aligning with the warmongers in Washington in its imperial conflict with Moscow. Telling oneself that the war against Russia is a war of national liberation requires ignoring the far-right/fascist definition of Ukraine favored by the Ukrainian government and that government’s ongoing attack on the Ukrainian left and workers. Furthermore, it means ignoring the manipulation of Ukrainian politics by US intelligence and capital, while overemphasizing Moscow’s role. It is also a misrepresentation of the role of both powers.

Like Israel, the current government in Kyiv would probably not exist without Washington’s billions and fanatic support. Although the specifics of each of these client relationships are different, the essential fact of the relationships between Washington and both states is that Israel and Ukraine serve US interests in the regions they exist in. This doesn’t mean those relationships are without disagreement. It does mean that as long as Washington wants those nations to play their agreed upon role in its so-called rules-based order, their funding will continue. Israel knows this and so does the government in Ukraine. Arming either of these nations is supporting US imperialism, no matter how one convinces themselves the justice they seek will be the result of doing so. Now that Biden has given permission for the Ukrainian military to use US provided weapons inside Russia’s borders, it’s reasonable to assume the bloodshed caused by those weapons will only increase.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com