Don't make excuses for Putin

As DSA members and members of the Ukraine Socialist Solidarity Campaign, we are writing to debunk several beliefs about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The first myth is that the 2014 Maidan uprising was a U.S. inspired right wing “coup”. Of course in any popular movement foreign powers will try to find an advantage. There were participants of the Arab Spring in Tahrir Square who were working with the (U.S. Republican Party’s) International Republican Institute. (One of the authors of this article, John Reimann, personally met them in Tahrir Square.) That does not mean that the Republican Party was manipulating and controlling the uprising.

Andrey Kurkov, a Ukrainian writer who was at Maidan

and kept a diary of the events makes clear that this was a popular uprising from below. Kurkov also bears witness to the fact that it was outright Nazis who invaded Donbass from Russia on behalf of Putin! (See quotes from his book “Ukraine Diaries” here.)

second myth is that Putin ordered the invasion in order to preempt Ukraine from joining NATO, which had been expanding and threatening Russia. It had nothing to do with any imperialist aims on Putin’s part. That claim ignores some history:1994: Russia, with US support, acquires Ukrainian nuclear arsenal in exchange for the assurances to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity

  • In 1994, the governments of Russia, Britain, Ukraine and the United States signed the Budapest Memorandum. This confirmed the process under which all the nuclear weapons of the former Soviet Union that had been kept in Ukraine were repatriated to Russia on the condition that Ukraine’s borders would be respected.
  • In 1997 Russia acquired the Sevastopol naval base and almost all of the ships (82%, to be exact)… in exchange for the assurances to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
  • In 2004 Russia meddled in Ukrainian presidential elections, fighting hard to force an undemocratic fraudulent outcome. It failed in that.
  • In the mid-to-late 2000s as punishment for Ukraine electing Yushchenko, Russia used energy blackmail, a form of economic coercion not very different from the IMF and World Bank lending and conditionality.
  • In 2008 Ukraine applied to join NATO. However, NATO has never acted on that application; it never even started to develop a “roadmap” for Ukrainian membership.

Did NATO really threaten Russia at the time of the invasion? Retired Russian General Leonid Ivashov did not think so. The head of the All Russian Officers Assembly and known as a military hardliner, Ivashov issued a strong statement just before Putin’s invasion, in which he said that there were no current external threats to Russia. He clearly was referring to NATO.

In fact, Putin had two main reasons for the invasion:

First is that Putin bases his entire regime on a drive to return to the “glories” of the old Tsarist empire. That is why he has taken such a reactionary domestic position - severely repressing LGBTQ rights, encouraging male supremacy, nearly giving state recognition to the reactionary Russian Orthodox Church, etc. Internationally, this is represented by imperialist expansionism. Putin has said that Ukraine has no right to exist as an independent nation (In both these senses, it’s not that different from the most reactionary forces in Israel.)

Second was that, however corrupt the Ukrainian government and society in general was (and since when has Putin objected to corruption?), there were and still are democratic rights in Ukraine. There were and still are avowedly socialist and anarchist groups and individuals operating openly. There were and still are independent trade unions. None of this exists in Putin’s Russia. And when the people objected to electoral fraud, millions came out to protest. In Russia, protesters are hauled off to jail. All of this in a country on Russia’s border was a threat to Putin’s repressive and corrupt rule.

A final myth which we would like to refute is that Ukraine is overrun with fascists and the Zelensky regime has outlawed all left wing parties. Yes, Ukraine has fascists as do all countries in Europe (and the United States!) But if they are so influential, why is it that in the last elections they could not get a single national representative elected? And as far as the much denounced repression of “left” parties in Ukraine: The fact is that those parties were not “left”; they were all connected with the invading government. That is despite the fact that they may have used names like “socialist”. It is significant that none of those who make apologies or excuses for Russia’s invasion have had any contact with the genuine left - socialists, anarchists, trade unionists, environmentalists or feminists - in Ukraine.

So, let’s not align ourselves with US fascists like Matt Heimbach and the Proud Boys, with Britain’s professional racist Tommy Robinson, with the Greek fascist Golden Dawn, with French semi-fascist Marine Le Pen or German fascists in the AfD. Let’s not defend Donald Trump’s closest international ally and the number one centralizer of global fascism, Vladimir Putin.