Yuliya Yurchenko explains why appeasement, ‘peace now’ and other positions on Russia’s war against Ukraine are dangerous defeatist views
Ukrainians fight to survive and exercise national self-determination while Russia carries out its imperialist nationalism project, where the space it deems itself entitled to is absorbed and people are either assimilated or annihilated, thus denoting a clash of two distinct national projects: one decolonial (however imperfect so far) and one neocolonial.
Pacifism, moral distancing, and non-resistance in the condition of racist, patriarchal and ecocidal capitalist imperialism, where the right in all its shades is on the rise, are expressions of bourgeois positions and ideology, an internalised imperialist worldview not unlike that of Putin – one can be an anti-imperialist and antifascist or a pacifist, but not both.
Peace at any cost is not just a phoney peace – for Ukrainians, it means sanctioning genocide of them in occupied territories, erasure of their collective identity and the diversity of their “we-understanding” by Russia’s annihilation by assimilation. For people of the Russian Federation who oppose Putin, it means persecution, torture and even death. The peace demanded is violence. As Clausewitz stated, war is the continuation of politics by other means, or, in the words of Foucault, politics is the continuation of war by other means. Indeed, we have seen both in the Russo-Ukrainian relationship since Ukraine’s formal independence. When control and domination by means other than force failed in the winter of 2013-14 and Yanukovych had to flee, Russia invaded. There is further perversion in the “anti-war” left who somehow manage to simultaneously recognise Russia’s right to “defend its interests” while denying the right of Ukrainians to defend their very lives, or assert their national self-determination, that Russia previously legally recognised. Further, they deny the right to ask us and the UK for arms committed to in the same Budapest memorandum in which Russia promised to protect Ukraine from military aggression.
Whose pacifism, what stability, and what peace?
A curious question without an answer among those who are against arms supply to Ukraine is: how to arrive at those principles without a military defeat of Russia? Gerard Delanty succinctly observes that “an unfortunate paradox of peace is that it sometimes needs military action to defend it”. Peace between Ukraine and Russia should not be confused and conflated with faux international stability – peace for some nations at the expense of localised wars for others – as one does not mean another while also giving “permits” for armed conflicts to play out in the “periphery”. We see this dangerous, legitimising, Cold War-era narrative instrumentalised repeatedly by some self-declared anti-imperialists and pacifists alike.
Those who demand peace have no plan besides calls for talks, while the talks proposed are to take place in a domain devoid of normative principles. The answer, though, does exist – in the fight for universality of norms and universality of sanctions for their violation, both nationally and internationally; in the fight for making the global security disorder orderly; in democratising the UN Security Council and creating a collective, democratically-run institutional infrastructure for addressing international security issues (military, climate, health, food, social and economic).
The global left has largely failed Ukrainians for some nine years, and that has serious political consequences for the viability of the project necessary to resuscitate Ukraine’s suffering people and economy and those of Europe and the rest of the world. Ukrainians, scholars and experts on Ukraine, various solidarity drives and campaigns (eg, the UK Ukraine Solidarity Campaign (of which I’m part) and the European Network for Solidarity with Ukraine) and the US have all appealed to the ‘anti-NATO/USA’ groups, to no avail. The late Marko Bojcun, a socialist historian of Ukraine, was ignored by campists for years. Stop the War Coalition (StW), Code Pink, New Left Review, the DSA International Committee and now Lula (and many more) all failed in their amoral position of demanding peace at any cost while ignoring Ukrainian voices, apart from the occasional instrumentalising of the Ukraine Pacifist Movement’s Yurii Sheliazhenko and sociologist Volodymyr Ishchenko, who are in no way representative of popular opinion in Ukraine nor scholars or experts of the conflict. Early in 2022, Ishchenko engaged in questioning the London and Washington intelligence on imminent invasion, as well as their failure to prevent the invasion and negotiate with Putin “more actively”, before divulging “painful compromises” that might be “necessary” over Crimea and Donbas – seemingly forgetting that Russian troops were in other regions by then, too, and that Putin had other, openly declared aims in the war, or that the sort of “compromise” stated in Minsk I and II led to a new invasion, not to a lasting peace (a “phoney peace” that can never last).
Yet the ‘anti-war’ brigade continues with deliberate manipulations, wilful ignorance, invoking hunger in low-income countries and ecological damage of the war as arguments for peace at any cost – all to keep their self-delusion alive. One might ask: why the lack of support for pacifism within Ukraine? Well, because pacifism is a bourgeois luxury in a state enduring a neo-imperialist invasion. It is not the pacifism of Ukrainians nor the lives to be saved that StW and the like campaign for, but to preserve their own purity in their anti-NATO stance. Not even the overwhelming evidence of genocide perpetrated by Russia is enough to convince those appealing for “peace negotiations”.
Another big blow to solidarity has been rolled across feminist circles with the publication of ‘Feminist Resistance Against War: A Manifesto’. Along with my Ukrainian feminist friends and colleagues, I was surprised to see the names of Federici, Bhattacharya, Aruzza and Fraser among those who signed it. “Not in our names… weapons perpetuate war… there is no greater security than peace,” they wrote from the peaceful locations where they did not have to test the effectiveness of those slogans for intercepting cruise missiles. Both Ukrainian feminists and the Russian Anti-War Resistance feminist movement publicly condemned that message. I was in Ukraine, in Kyiv, when Russia invaded. I can attest that peace banners are as useful as #thoughtsandprayers Twitter posts.
The Right to Resist’s manifesto of Ukrainian feminists, which I, too, signed, has a sober view of reality which embodies core feminist values in its name and text – from armed resistance to socio-economic justice and war crimes tribunals, in Ukraine and globally. It states that “abstract pacifism which condemns all sides taking part in the war leads to irresponsible solutions in practice” and that there is “an essential difference between violence as a means of oppression and as a legitimate means of self-defence”. It calls for “an informed assessment of a specific situation instead of abstract geopolitical analysis which ignores the historical, social and political context”. Appeals to peace that fail to do the latter appear to suffer not only from denial but also from selective historical amnesia.
In the Federici et al manifesto, a verbal promise not to expand NATO to the east is amplified while the Budapest Memorandum that solidified Ukraine’s nuclear disarmament and made Russia guarantor of its security is omitted. So is the fact that 92.3% of Ukrainians voted for independence in 1991, or the fact that Russian speakers were not oppressed in Ukraine (in fact, it was the Ukrainian language and culture that were systemically suppressed). It doesn’t mention that there was no coup in 2014 but there was a Russian invasion, and that before that there wasn’t majority support for NATO membership in Ukraine nor appetite for it on the NATO side. Nor does it point out that Russia violated the UN Charter while it had recognised Ukraine’s 1991 borders, including the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, as sovereign at the time.
The shape of peace to come
Russia’s constant lies about troops in Ukraine, the downing of the MH17 plane, staged referenda, and murder of journalists and politicians are all disregarded by the invokers of negotiations and treaties, despite the rallying cries of those who insist on the futility of treaties without the redrawing of the rules of engagement, and foundations for peace being set out that would also be acceptable to both parties and enforced internationally. Currently, such agreement is impossible to imagine, as the Russian Federation does not recognise Ukraine’s claim to sovereignty.
So, one must first answer this: what would make Russia accept that claim besides a military defeat? The matter of economic sanctions and their effect is very important yet too complex and contested, practically and morally, to discuss here, so let me stay on the subject of military support to Ukraine, the shape and timing of negotiations, conditions necessary to arrive at peace talks and finally the peace itself. Our focus, inevitably, must be both on the Russo-Ukrainian relationship dimension and the international legal and security order, whose previous unpunished violations, eg, by USA and UK, are utilised as legitimation tropes by Russia. That will mean that criminals of all wars – collective and individual – must be brought to justice. Yet before that can be completed, Russia must be defeated militarily in Ukraine, and that means Ukraine must get all the weapons it may need to fight for peace.