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The Internationalist
February 2022

Ukrainian Fascists and Nationalists Hands Off Donbass!
Defend Self-Rule in Southeast Ukraine!

Defeat U.S./NATO War Drive
and Sanctions Against Russia!

As part of NATO military exercise Baltops, U.S. Marines practice landing on beach in Lithuania 25 miles from Russian territory (Kaliningrad region), 4 June 2018. The op was held simultaneously with two other exercises in the Baltics involving 25,000 troops from at least 22 NATO countries. The NATO imperialists hold huge war games every year practicing war on Russia.  (Photo: Mindaugas Kulbis / AP)

The following statement was issued by the Executive Committee, League for the Fourth International on February 23.

On February 21, after weeks of increasingly hysterical imperialist war propaganda and daily escalating attacks by Ukrainian government and fascist/nationalist forces against the breakaway Russian-speaking regions of Donetsk and Lugansk in eastern Ukraine, Russian president Vladimir Putin formally recognized the independence of these embattled self-styled people’s republics and sent in troops. The United States, NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and the European Union immediately condemned Russia for its defensive action and announced they would impose severe economic sanctions. Class-conscious workers and all opponents of imperialism should denounce the U.S./NATO imperialist war drive, which raises the spectre of world war. The imperialists seek to isolate, provoke and demonize Russia, which despite Putin’s imperial ambitions is an intermediate, regional capitalist power.1 Yet the imperialists’ ultimate aim is to spark counterrevolution in China, Cuba and North Korea.2

The next day, U.S. president Joe Biden seized upon Russia’s action to declare it “the beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine,” in order to declare economic sanctions against Russia, as was foreseen. (See “Spike U.S./NATO Anti-Russia War Threats and Provocations!The Internationalist, 20 February 2022). Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, however, is still having difficulty following the imperialist line and declared, “There will be no war” with Russia. The announced U.S. sanctions, which Biden called the “first tranche,” with more to follow, would block Russian investors from raising loans from the West, something that Putin has been trying to cut down on for several years anyway. The German government declared it would pause certification of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, bringing Russian natural gas to Europe, for a new security review.  

For years, Putin has complained of the increasing encirclement by NATO and its threatening military actions against Russia, to no avail. Two months ago, Moscow handed the U.S. proposed language for security guarantees, and for emphasis, it mobilized its armed forces for military maneuvers all around Ukraine’s borders. The imperialist media went into full Russia-bashing mode, calling up Cold War images of the Russian bear seizing Europe. Non-stop fear-mongering over a supposedly impending Russian invasion of Ukraine recalled the war propaganda over non-existent “weapons of mass destruction” in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The Western powers responded to Putin with nothing but empty arms-control talks and flatly refused to rule out NATO expansion. With its almost 1,300-mile border with Russia, inclusion of Ukraine in the Western military alliance would be an act of war. By declaring any limitation on NATO’s eastward expansion a “non-starter,” Biden and his European allies are declaring that the imperialist alliance is gearing up for war on Russia, sooner or later.

Biden is beating the war drums against Russia in a desperate attempt to appear strong after the U.S. imperialism’s humiliating defeat and flight from Afghanistan, where two decades of U.S./NATO invasion and occupation could not keep the puppet government from collapsing. The current inhabitant of the White House is desperately trying to resuscitate a unipolar “New World Order” that was proclaimed by the U.S. with the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union three decades ago. But Washington no longer has the military and economic strength to impose its global hegemony, and instead has to rely on its European and Asian allies. In large part, the U.S.’ insistence on isolating and attacking Russia with economic warfare measures is driven by a determination to keep its imperialist ally and rival Germany in line, particularly by insisting on cancellation of Nord Stream 2.

In his speech announcing recognition of the two breakaway republics, Putin noted that in negotiations over the reunification of Germany in 1990, the U.S. assured Soviet leaders that there would be no expansion of NATO to the east. The existence of this pledge, which the U.S. now pretends was never made, is confirmed in a February 1990 exchange in which U.S. Secretary of State James Baker vowed to Mikhail Gorbachev that “not an inch of NATO’s present military jurisdiction will spread in an eastern direction,” and in a classified German government document recently leaked by Der Spiegel. Yet NATO’s Drang nach Osten (march to the east) goes on unabated. And while Putin hails Russia’s “contribution to overcoming the legacy of the Cold War,” we Trotskyists fought tooth and nail against the capitalist reunification of Germany and the counterrevolution that brought down the multinational Soviet workers state.

The current crisis over Ukraine has been building for years. In 2014, Ukrainian fascists and ultra-nationalists staged a coup d’état that ousted the elected, pro-Russian president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovich. This was a second attempt, after the 2004 so-called Orange Revolution, one of the U.S.-sponsored “color revolutions” for “regime change” in post-Soviet states. In 2014, the State Department’s Europe chief financed and directly coordinated with the nationalist fascists and hobnobbed with them in Maidan square in Ukraine’s capital.3 Ukrainian nationalists marched with portraits of Stepan Bandera, the infamous collaborator with the Nazi invasion of the USSR during World War II, who has now been officially declared “hero of Ukraine.” Following the February 2014 coup, its organizers launched a war on Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine and staged a pogrom in the south, burning dozens of people alive in the trade-union headquarters in Odessa.4 The use of Russian in schools and government was banned.

Azov Battalion marching in Kiev. Symbols on their flags include the wolfsangel (black, foreground),  used by the German Nazi SS Panzer Division Das Reich which was involved in tank battles in Kharkov, Ukraine. The Azov Battalion includes known Nazi fascists, but has been funded by the U.S. government and incorporated into the Ukraine National Guard.  It is one of the main forces fighting against pro-Russian republics in eastern Ukraine and has engaged in war crimes against Russian-speaking inhabitants, including rape and torture .  (Photo: Euromaidan Press)

When an uprising against this murderous Ukrainian national chauvinism broke out in the east, the Kiev junta considered the army unreliable and dispatched fascist squads to try to put down the revolt. Yet the populations of Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts (regional divisions) voted overwhelmingly in a May 2014 referendum for independence from the central government, and after hard close-quarters fighting, the would-be ethnic cleansers failed. In Crimea (whose main city Sevastopol has for centuries been the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea fleet), after Russian troops seized the peninsula in March 2014 without a shot being fired, the overwhelmingly ethnically Russian population voted in a referendum to exercise their self-determination by joining Russia. The League for the Fourth International called to support the eastern uprising and to defend the regional republics that have tenaciously resisted the Ukrainian nationalist/fascist attacks, as well as defending Crimea’s democratic choice to join Russia.

Russia’s move to recognize the Donetsk and Lugansk republics puts an end to the 2015 Minsk Accords between Russia and Ukraine for regional autonomy of the eastern oblasts. While the separatists sought independence, Putin preferred that the Donbass be an autonomous part of a neutral Ukraine that could be a buffer between Russia and NATO. But the Kiev government never undertook promised reforms providing security guarantees and a say in foreign policy to the breakaway regions. Recently, the prohibitions on use of the Russian language have been intensified, even though it is the predominant language in the cities of the east and south, and is widely used in the capital, in business and popular culture. Putin talks of “genocide” against Russians, which is an exaggeration, but Russian-speakers in the east are definitely threatened by the Ukrainian nationalist army and fascists that have besieged the region for eight years. As for the now-defunct Minsk Accords for autonomy in Ukraine, it was always hard to see how the central government could reassert control without a bloodbath.

The escalation of anti-Russian provocations by the Ukrainian government is a direct result of the election of Democrat Biden to the U.S. presidency. As Republican Trump sought to make nice with Putin and Russia, the Democrats whipped up the “Russiagate” frenzy, blaming the Kremlin for Hillary Clinton’s loss of the 2016 election. The Democrats have been tight with Ukraine’s anti-Russian nationalists for years, engineering the 2004 and 2014 coups, sitting on the board of a Ukrainian gas company, etc. As soon as Biden got in, the Ukraine government began a string of provocations, announcing a new military strategy in March 2021 centered on joining NATO and getting it to support Ukraine against Russia. Russian-language television stations were shut down, and the main pro-Russian “oligarch” business mogul in Ukraine was placed under house arrest on charges of “treason.”

The Ukrainian government and nationalist paramilitaries simultaneously launched a military escalation in the east, to which Moscow responded by beefing up its forces on Russian territory on the other side of the border. In the fall, Russia again mobilized for a series of military exercises, stating over and over that it had no intention of invading Ukraine. The purpose of those exercises was to make clear to the Western imperialists that if Ukraine joins NATO, it would be considered an act of war, and to indicate what would be the consequence. If Russia wanted to, it could easily take much of Ukraine. Even the Ukrainian top military brass admitted they would not last more than a few days against the modernized Russian military. So Putin’s point was made very clearly. The U.S. response was frenzied propaganda portraying the Russian leader as the embodiment of evil.

As part of NATO military exercise Sea Breeze, held in conjunction with NATO exercise Defender Europe 21 (see graphic below), on 30 June 2021. with NATO helicopters and fighter jets in the air of Mikolayev, Ukraine, close to Crimea, home of the Russian Black Sea fleet. Target: Russia. (Photo: Sergey Smolentsev / Reuters)

For all the feverish denunciation of Moscow’s military buildup, NATO has been intensifying aggressive military operations near Russia. “Trident Juncture” in 2018 was billed as “the biggest exercise since the end of the Cold War,” focusing on the Baltics, including a D-Day style landing in Latvia. This was followed up in May-July 2021 with “Defender Europe 21,” a joint exercise involving 28,000 troops and a giant landing of more than 1,000 military vehicles in Albania. This was linked to the simultaneous “Sea Breeze” naval exercises in the Black Sea, with ships of 32 countries (including Japan), along with ground exercises in Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania. None of these are ever mentioned in the imperialist media, and all are aimed at Russia. Since 1999, NATO has expanded to include Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary and Romania, encircling Russia. And now the imperialists want to tighten the noose by refusing to rule out entry of Ukraine and Georgia, which were told in 2008 they could join NATO if they got their houses in order.

The League for the Fourth International calls to defend self-rule in the breakaway regions of southern and eastern Ukraine and to defeat the war drive against Russia and China. We militantly oppose imperialist sanctions and denounce the U.S./NATO hue and cry over Russian troops shoring up the besieged Donbass republics as the bleating of frustrated warmongers and their social-democratic acolytes. The conductor of this orchestrated uproar is U.S. imperialism, with its record of countless bloody invasions. If clashes lead to a full-blown war between Russia and Ukraine, Trotskyists would be for a policy of revolutionary defeatism in both of these regional powers, calling for workers to actively oppose the war effort of “their” bourgeoisies and to wage intransigent class struggle against the capitalist rulers in Moscow and Kiev. But if it turned into a war by Ukraine’s imperialist backers against Russia that would be a very different matter.

The Internationalist Group/U.S. warned repeatedly before the 2020 election that the Democrats were campaigning as “the more consistent warmongers against China, Russia and – of course – North Korea.”5 In an interview during the election campaign, Biden declared that the “biggest threat to America right now … is Russia,” while “the biggest competitor is China” (60 Minutes, 25 October 2020). And upon being named Biden’s ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield called China “a strategic adversary” (AP, 27 January 2021). Thus the February 4 joint statement of Putin and Chinese president and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping proclaiming friendship with “no limits” between China and Russia, which explicitly opposed the expansion of NATO, caused great consternation in Washington. Facing the escalating threats and dangers, we call on the world working class to defend China and the other bureaucratically deformed workers states against imperialism and counterrevolution.

Today, the overriding class issue is to fight against the aggressive U.S./NATO imperialist warmongers and their flunkeys in Kiev, as well as against the fascist and ultra-nationalist pogromists threatening the population in eastern Ukraine. In no case do Marxists give political support to the Ukrainian leaders or to the Russian nationalist and anti-communist Vladimir Putin, whose February 21 speech began with a diatribe against Lenin and the Bolsheviks for creating Ukraine in the first place. A Soviet Ukraine in a multinational USSR could have overcome regional and ethnic tensions, although Stalin’s brutal centralization negated that. But ever since Ukraine’s 1991 independence as a bourgeois state, it has been a deeply divided country, ruled by an inveterately corrupt, self-dealing oligarchy using ultra-nationalist and fascist shock troops as a battering ram to enforce “Ukrainization” on the Russian-speaking east and south.

Trotskyists defend the democratic, national and linguistic rights of all sectors of the population, seeking to unite Russian and Ukrainian workers in common struggle together with the workers of East and West Europe. As the imperialists continue to whip up war fever and impose escalating sanctions that ultimately point to world war, those who follow the internationalist program of Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks fight for world socialist revolution against all the bourgeois ruling classes. ■

Russian Nationalist Putin vs.
Bolshevik Internationalist Lenin

Great Russian chauvinist Vladimir Putin yearns to restore the tsarist empire. Above: Russian president holds court with the Russian Security Council, with Russian imperial flag behind him.  (Photo: Alexey Nikolsky / AFP)

A lot of nonsense is published in Western media about Russian president Vladimir Putin supposedly wanting to bring back the Soviet Union. Nothing could be further from the truth. What Putin wants to bring back is the tsarist empire. In a recent photo of the Russian president observing military exercises with his Byelorussian ally Alexander Lukashenko, we see in the background the Russian imperial flag with the double-headed eagle. And in his February 21 address recognizing the east Ukrainian “people’s republics” as independent states, the Russian president fumed, “as a result of the Bolshevik policy, Soviet Ukraine arose.”

In his speech, Putin noted that Ukrainian nationalists who demolished monuments to Lenin said they were engaged in “decommunization.” He goes on: “Do you want decommunization? Well, that suits us just fine. But it is not necessary, as they say, to stop halfway. We are ready to show you what real decommunization means for Ukraine.” Since he has previously stated that Ukraine is not a separate nation but part of the “large Russian nation,” the implications are clear. In fact, Lenin and the Bolsheviks, including Leon Trotsky, a Ukrainian Jew, called, as Putin said, for “the right of nations to self-determination, up to secession,” and this was enshrined in the 1922 declaration of Soviet statehood and the 1924 Soviet constitution. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was a multinational state, in keeping with the communist internationalist program.

For Putin, what this comes down to, as he complained in a speech last July “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians,” is “Russia was robbed.” He denounces Lenin’s call to fight against what Putin derisively terms “so-called Russian great-power chauvinism.” Today the Russian nationalist president praises Stalin for implementing “in practice not Lenin's, but his own ideas of state structure” in a unitary state. Lenin and Trotsky fought together against Stalin’s Great Russian chauvinism. The Bolsheviks were indeed the founders of Soviet Ukraine, upholding the democratic right of self-determination as part of the internationalist fight for socialist revolution. That hardly makes them the fathers of a bourgeois nationalist Ukraine.

In December 1917, when the nationalist Ukrainian Rada (governing council) was collaborating with White Guard counterrevolutionaries, Lenin and Trotsky issued a short “manifesto/ultimatum” that
succinctly summed up Bolshevik policy on the national question (the three-point ultimatum was written by Trotsky):

1) “Accordingly we, the Council of People’s Commissars, recognize the Ukrainian People’s Republic, and its right to secede from Russia or enter into a treaty with the Russian Republic on federal or similar relations between them….”
2) “Will the Rada undertake to assist the revolutionary troops in their struggle against the counterrevolutionary Kadet-Kaledin revolt?...”
3) “In the event no satisfactory answer is received to these questions within 48 hours, the Council of People’s Commissars will deem the Rada to be in a state of open war with the Soviet power in Russia and the Ukraine.”
–V.I. Lenin, “Manifesto to the Ukrainian People with an Ultimatum to the Ukrainian Rada” (16 December 1917)

At the time of the breakup of the USSR, counterrevolutionary forces seized upon the national question, first with Armenia vs. Azerbaijan, as a vehicle for their drive to restore capitalism. This reactionary appeal to nationalism was backed by a number of pseudo-Trotskyist currents. Throughout East Europe anti-communists used nationalist demagogy to grab power, leading to the breakup of other multinational workers states, notably Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. This often resulted in monstrous ethnic atrocities on all sides, not only Serb attacks on Bosnian Muslims and Kosovo Albanians but also reverse attacks by Kosovo Albanians and the Croatian expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Serbs from Krajina in the early 1990s. The bloodletting then became the pretext for the U.S. and NATO imperialist bombing campaign that finally buried Yugoslavia. And today the imperialists prate about the supposed inviolability of borders!

In the West, Putin’s recent denunciation of Lenin for creating a Soviet Ukraine was declared a “misreading of history,” as pundits discovered “Ukrainian identity politics and nationalism” going back to “feudal czarist times” (New York Times, 22 February), all in the service of Russia-bashing war propaganda. Grotesquely, in Germany various pseudo-Marxists in the Left Party are citing Putin’s attacks on the Bolsheviks and his Great Russian chauvinist version of history in order to justify pro-NATO calls for sanctions against Russia and for admitting Ukraine to the European Union (Junge Welt, 23 February)! After earlier calling on former chancellor Angela Merkel (!!) to mediate the conflict with Russia, these latter-day social-imperialists have snapped to attention as soldiers in the imperialist war drive.

Among these social-imperialists is the self-proclaimed Fourth International Bureau (formerly United Secretariat), which falsely claims to represent Trotskyism and characterizes Russia as imperialist. It argues that “it is up to the Ukrainian people - and not to blackmail and negotiations between great powers - to decide on their membership or not of NATO” (International Viewpoint, 1 February). So in line with social democrats going back to the days of World War I, they work to provide a “democratic” cover to the warmongering imperialists and their military alliance. Genuine Trotskyists oppose NATO down the line: the answer to nationalism and the barbarism of imperialist world war is the internationalist program of the Bolsheviks under Lenin and Trotsky for world socialist revolution. ■

  1. 1. See “The Bugbear of ‘Russian Imperialism’” (May 2014), The Internationalist No. 40, Summer 2015.
  2. 2.Oppose G7/NATO Imperialist War Drive Against China, Russia,” The Internationalist No. 63, April-June 2021.
  3. 3. See “Down with the Imperialist-Backed Fascist/Nationalist Coup in Ukraine!The Internationalist No. 37, May-June 2014.
  4. 4. See “Fascist Pogrom in Odessa, and the Aftermath,” The Internationalist No. 37.
  5. 5.Democrats’ Pro-Cop Ticket Vies with Trump Over ‘Law and Order’,” The Internationalist No. 61, September-October 2020.