TRNN board member Bill Fletcher Jr. convenes Ukrainian historian and social activist Vladyslav Starodubtsev, Syrian-American activist Ramah Kudaimi, and Rafael Bernabel of the Puerto Rican Senate to discuss solidarity with Ukraine from parts of the Global South. This panel was produced in partnership with Haymarket Books.
The following is a rushed transcript and may contain errors. An updated version will be made available as soon as possible.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: Welcome to The Real News. I’m your host, Bill Fletcher. The rest of Ukrainian war proceeds with the end far from sight. The issues contained in this war continue to haunt global left and progressive circles. For those of us in the so-called West and particularly in the United States, there is the never ending question of whether one can condemn Russian aggression, let alone support armed resistance if the United States and its NATO allies are also supporting the Ukrainian government. There are those who quite understandably are dismayed by the hypocrisy of the United States government when it stands against Russian aggression in Ukraine, yet remains silent or actively supports similar such aggression in other locales such as the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara or the Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territories.
Today on the Real News, we shall be taking a different look at the matter of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The lens we shall utilize will be from struggles and parts of the global south, struggles that are sometimes remarkably similar to that of the Ukrainian people, but struggles that receive precious little attention. How we shall ask, can those who are facing aggression supported by the United States align themselves with the Ukrainian people despite the ironic fact that the United States is committed to also do so? In fact, the deeper question really comes down to what do we mean today in the 21st century by the notion of the international solidarity of the oppressed? In order to explore these issues, we’re absolutely delighted to have today’s panel which includes, Vladyslav Starodubtsev, a historian, political and social activist in Ukrainian left organization specifically Sotsialnyi Rukh Social Movement.
We also have Ramah Kudaimi, he’s a Syrian American activist, a member of Internationalism from Below and we have Rafael Bernabe, who is a member of Puerto Rico Senate elected in 2020 for the Movimiento Victoria Ciudadana, the Citizens Victory Movement and a longtime labor social and pro-independence activist. I want to welcome you to The Real News. I want to start with a sort of open-ended question but something that has been plaguing me. In light of the specific struggles that you’re facing and particularly Ramah and Rafael, the struggles that you’re facing in your own settings, why is the struggle in Ukraine, the struggle for self-determination, why is that critical? Why is it important even to express any solidarity with that struggle given the particularities of your own fight or fights around self-determination? Ramah, why don’t we start with you?
Ramah Kudaimi: Yeah, happy to jump in, thank you so much Bill for bringing us all together for this important conversation. I mean, from a very big picture point of view, as someone who identifies as an anti-war activist, as a leftist, solidarity to me is essential across struggles, across movements, across borders. I was someone who was politicized as a Muslim American in a post-911 world so anti-war activism is a big part of my belief and my activism and it’s so important that that means we are against all wars, all forms of wars and violence across the globe. And then more personally, my family is from Syria so seeing what Russia is now doing in another country in terms of war crimes and war and invasion hits personally because I understand what Russian war crimes look like, seeing what it has done to my own parents’ countries over a decade ago.
I’ve also worked on the issue of Palestinian liberation and again, there’s so much comes up in this last year of how people have talked about Ukraine versus how people talked about Palestine. And I think there’s so many ways that we can use this as a moment to really expand and build up our solidarity across struggles. And I’m hoping that is an opportunity that more people take versus sometimes we seem to get more into the nitty gritty of wait, who does and does not deserve solidarity?
Rafael BernabeI: Well, to speak about this situation in Puerto Rico, it seems to me that the war in the Ukraine, the invasion of the Ukraine poses a problem. The principle involved arising from that situation is the very same principle that we have to deal with in Puerto Rico when we talk about decolonization, which is the principle of self-determination. We are for self-determination of Puerto Rico, we are for self-determination of our colonial people and to be consistent, we have to be for the self-determination of the Ukrainian people. So, for me it’s a question of consistency and of the fact that the same principle is involved regarding the situation in the Ukraine and regarding the situation in Puerto Rico, which is the principle of self-determination.
How can I demand self-determination for Puerto Rico, denounce the occupation of Puerto Rico by the United States and at the same time, not do the same thing with the Ukrainian people and the occupation of part of the Ukraine by the Russian Federation. So, if we stand for self-determination on a global scale around the world, then in the same fashion that we defend Puerto Rico’s self-determination we have to defend the Ukrainian self-determination against whoever is violating that right.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: Which actually raises a question I want to ask you, Vladyslav, how in Ukraine are activists and maybe the general public, but particularly left activists dealing with these sort of mixed signals that have come from the global south in response to the Russian invasion? I mean, you have the voices of people like Ramah and Rafael, but there’s also voices in the global south in some cases supporting the Russian aggression and in other cases remaining strangely silent. How does that feel, what’s your interpretation of that?
Vladyslav Starodubtsev: Yeah, I would say that we understand the complexity of the situation. For a lot of people it’s really hard to support Ukraine seeing that NATO supports Ukraine and remembering all the context of NATO participation in crimes and so on and so on. So, they have this association that if NATO supports Ukraine that it should be probably a bad case and so on and so on. And we are patient about this, especially for people who experience crimes because we can understand how it feels. I think we can expect something like this from Ukrainian society if someone would be supported by Russia.
So, we understand and try to build bridges and just explain what’s going on with people who are wholeheartedly left in principles of the anti-colonial values, of peace values. I think they’re keen to listen to us and to understand. We have very strong connections with Syrian movements and also [inaudible 00:07:50] is trying to establish new communications with people from South Africa, from Thailand and from Latin America and other regions to speak about our problems and trying to build bridges on universalist principles of anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism and so on.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: One of the things that has been really amazing is that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has received an amazing amount of attention in mainstream media circles in the West, and I’ll speak specifically in the United States, whereas other struggles that are very similar have received very little attention. I mean, I do work around Western Sahara and getting attention in the US media, I mean, it’d be easier for me to get an audience with the Pope than to get attention to Western Sahara in the US media. And so, I’m wondering particularly with Rafael and Ramah, how do you respond to the disproportionate attention Ukraine has received compared to other struggles? And that’s not a criticism of the attention Ukraine has received, I want to be clear about that, but how do you respond to the disproportionate attention Ukraine has received as opposed to struggles in Puerto Rico or Palestine or for that matter, even the complexity of what was going on in Syria? Whoever would like to jump in?
Rafael BernabeI: Well, what I can say is first of all, I will underline what you just said, which is that we should not criticize or even worse, we should not use the fact that the media doesn’t pay enough attention to the situation in Puerto Rico to take one example as an excuse not to support the Ukrainian resistance against Russian invasion. Of course, we should denounce the fact that no attention is paid to many situations around the world, including Puerto Rico, including the Western Sahara and so on. And we should demand that as much attention be paid to that as is being paid to the situation in the Ukraine. The problem I have with some comrades in the left, with some friends in the left is that they use the fact that, for example, the media doesn’t cover Puerto Rico enough as a reason or an excuse not to pay attention to the situation in the Ukraine. And I think that’s wrong. I think we should demand that they pay as much attention to Puerto Rico as other problems, but not complain that they are focusing their attention on this very grave situation in the Ukraine.
I think we should denounce that the US government is inconsistent in focusing on the situation in the Ukraine and not focusing in other colonial or situations of imperialist aggression. But we should not imitate them in their inconsistency and then focusing on some issues and not on others. We should reject all imperialist aggressions, we should defend the right of self-determination of all peoples and we should demand that the media pay equal attention to all of these situations. So, that’s the way I would respond to that. And in Puerto Rico, I try to insist with the friends who do not care about the situation in the Ukraine that we have to care precisely because we are people that has been colonized, the people that has been occupied, the people that has been invaded. We have to be concerned with the situation in which other peoples are facing exactly the same situation.
Ramah Kudaimi: Yeah, I agree with that and I think it’s also important to note that even with all the attention Ukraine has gotten, the war continues, Ukrainians continue to die, the occupation continues. So, I think that sometimes this idea of just this oppression Olympics that we try to play sometimes with these conversations is they’re getting all the attention and still the war continues. So, I think that should let people understand that there’s a magnitude here and having these kinds of conversations sometimes aren’t useful for anyone, including the people you’re thinking of defending. And I do think also it is important in the context to talk about the racism and particularly at times the Islamophobia that has come out, that has been showcased through these attention that has been played.
So, for example, the bravery that is being lauded by many in the media in the West related to Ukrainians fighting back is great. And yet we know Palestinians, for example, have never been afforded that kind of same thing, instead they’ve been labeled as “terrorists” as a way to dehumanize them and justify Israeli war crimes against them. The fact that there were corporations taking action and support of Ukrainians, the all of a sudden boycotts and divestments became so popular, something that Palestinians have been calling for decades in relationship to their struggle and oftentimes derided. I think that showed a lot of hypocrisy in that moment in time. And again, an opportunity for us to say, yes it’s wonderful now that companies like Airbnb are taking action in support of Ukrainians. It’s wonderful that FIFA is suspending Russia.
Why don’t you take the same actions in relationship to Israel instead of ignoring Palestinians and even calling them anti-Semitic at times when they make those same demands? And I think those are again, those are opportunities for us to expand the conversation versus comparing why is this person getting this and this person does not? Because you saying Ukrainian, it’s unfair Ukrainian refugees are being welcomed by open arms but Syrian refugees have suffered for the past 15 years, that doesn’t really help Syrian refugees. And you’re just again, making Ukrainians feel guilty in ways that they shouldn’t be feeling.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: I want to dig a little bit more into this because it’s something that I sort of obsess on, which is this question of, well then what does solidarity look like more generally? You mentioned Ramah, we have to avoid oppression Olympic because then I couldn’t agree more. But what seems to happen all too often is that regular people and even many activists are very much influenced by the victim of the week as articulated by mainstream media circles. Are there certain things, if there was a particular lesson, I’d like the three of you to respond to this, are there particular lessons or recommendations that you would offer to try to get people to think more broadly about how to respond to these global struggles that are underway and not be just taken in by the victim of the week? Whoever would like to respond.
Rafael BernabeI: Well, it seems to me that you posed it the right way. I think above all of us, people in the left, people in progressive movements have to insist that solidarity cannot be selective, that we have to support all democratic struggles around the world. For example, people who are suffering some sort of occupation or colonial invasion or colonial aggression. We have to support the resistance to that, whether it’s in Palestine, whether it’s in Puerto Rico, in the Western Sahara, in the Ukraine, wherever it happens. If people are oppressed in some fashion, we should be in support of the struggle against that form of oppression. And that cannot be either a competition to see who is more oppressed and therefore we support those and not the other ones who are less oppressed or nor can it be that we only support the struggles against certain powers and not other powers.
We have to support the struggles against all of these major powers that are somehow violating the concept of self-determination. And I think we in the left, I think it would be expecting a little bit too much for the corporate media to do us the favor of focusing all of these struggles in the way we would like it to happen. But I think we in the left have the job, have the task of trying to keep the focus wide enough to include all of these struggles and to show how they are linked, how they are connected. I remember I once had a little debate in Twitter of all places because somebody writes on Twitter and saying, “I can’t support the Ukrainian struggle because I’m concerned with the situation in Palestine.”
And I wrote, “But what impedes us from supporting Ukrainian resistance against Russian invasion and at the same time supporting the Palestine resistance against the Israeli occupation? What is it that prevents us from doing these two things at the same time when it’s the same principle that it’s involved and we are for people’s self-determination, we are against occupation of a people by a foreign state? So, why is it that we cannot combine these two positions, which is what I think we should strive for and we shouldn’t struggle for.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: It’s a lot of stuff. This makes me think about the relationship of your struggle and the Palestinian struggle and specifically this situation where President Zelenskyy reaching out to Netanyahu in Israel really sent a shiver up the backs of a lot of people. How did that play out in Ukraine and how are progressive forces in Ukraine dealing with that type of situation?
Vladyslav Starodubtsev: Well, we are trying understanding our struggle and attention to us, try to expand this attention to us as people and as a nation, as oppressed group, understanding that we have privilege of attention to our struggle. We are trying to empower to speak about other struggles. And with this situation about Palestine and Zelenskyy, there recently was a vote in UN about Palestine and Israel oppressive regime and Ukraine first to support Israel, but then after the pressure of human rights organization in Ukraine, they backed down. They said that they’re changing their vote. So, Ukraine activists trying to actively pressure Ukrainian government to participate and to take a right side. Of course, there is this myth in Ukraine that goes on about Israel as a role model.
A lot of speculation, especially from the right saying that Israel is like Ukraine and Palestine is like pro-Russian and so on and so on. But it’s absolutely false and then just speculation and we are trying to combat them as strong as we can. And actually, Ukraine from time to time takes in UN and tries to support to Palestine. And it’s partially because of pressure of human rights activists, progressive activists in Ukraine for Ukraine to do the right thing. I think now we have a lot of attention to us and we need to speak about this and we are doing this, especially left-wing activists. They are posting publication about struggle in Palestinian and trying to create this universal principles that all the struggles of oppressed deserve the same attention, that all the struggle are about the same thing. People resisting oppressor for their rights, for just right to live and to express their freedom and so on and so on.
So, they’re thinking that this struggle should be interconnected firstly in moral values that we are as left, should support internationally all oppressed people who are fighting their oppression and they are trying to do this, especially in the situation of war and what’s going on in Ukraine. And of course, unfortunately this war we can see a lot of structural racism and inequalities. For example, with relations to Syrians and how European powers accepting Ukrainian refugees and not accepting Syrian refugees and how right-wing governments and fake social democratic governments trying to create ways to accept Ukrainian refugees but decline Syrian refugees. And how we can see on Eastern Europe camps of refugees near borders with horrible conditions, horrible life conditions, especially in Eastern Europe on Poland borders, on Italian borders, this people from Syria and how they’re just like Ukrainians.
And we should speak about this and show really controversial and racism in these situations that it’s not okay for one people they’re applying one principle and for other people they’re applying absolutely other principle. We should fight this and we are trying to do this. And before the war and now we are speaking about problems of refugees, about other oppressed nations, about Iran, about Palestine, about Syrians and so on. And I hope we will continue this as international left because I think it’s just the right thing to do and sorry for taking too much.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: No, no, that’s fine. Ramah, did you want to add anything on this one?
Ramah Kudaimi: Yeah, I think it’s also, it should be very clear that oppressed people shouldn’t be perfect to get solidarity. I think that’s a principle that we’ve seemed to on the left forget at times. You have to prove X, Y, Z before we earn solidarity with you, when instead it’s just like they are oppressed people, it’s very clear who is the oppressor and who’s the oppressed and solidarity should be there. And that’s not saying it’s not complicated, that’s not saying that they are not problematic forces amongst oppressed people, that they are not right wingers amongst oppressed peoples and that they’re not people we don’t specifically, we may not be in solidarity with their ideals, but in general an oppressed person deserves solidarity.
I think also at times, specifically with the issue of Zelenskyy, I think we already differentiate in many situation solidarity with people versus solidarity with their states or the “official leadership.” I think that’s important to continue to think about because again, I think we assume, we sometimes forget as someone, myself speaking as someone based in the US identifies as a leftist for so many years, it seems like we’ve forgotten that people on the ground across the globe have agency. They are not just agents of the US or agents of whatever country their people are [inaudible 00:23:56]. People have agency and sometimes we get so wrapped up in the geopolitical conversation and we need to just bring down US militarism and US empire that we forget every single day there are people on the ground struggling in their own way to build a better life for themselves and their families and their communities.
And that’s what we should be thinking about more. I’m not saying that geopolitical stuff is important and we need to be paying attention to do and thinking about what is our role in impacting that, especially for those in the US. But it does not mean that the rest of the world is just sitting around waiting for us to figure things out in the US, they are doing things and there’s a lot of lessons actually that we should be taking from them to deal with what we’re facing in the US ourselves.
Rafael BernabeI: I agree with what has just been said but I would add to that that it should be clear and it should be clear in the left in particular, that opposing the Russian invasion of the Ukraine does not imply that one endorses the government of Zelenskyy or any particular position taken by the government of Zelenskyy. It’s perfectly possible and logical to oppose the Russian invasion of the Ukraine and at the same time criticize whatever you want to criticize about Zelenskyy’s government or even oppose Zelenskyy’s government but you also oppose the Russian invasion. The fact that we do not like many aspects of Zelenskyy’s government does not excuse or justify the Russian invasion of the Ukraine. And this should be, it seems to me from a historical point of view and even from a recent point of view, this should be clear to the left.
Let me take an example from the 1930s when Japan invaded China, the left supported China, the left opposed the Japanese invasion of China. But the Chinese government at that time was the government of Chiang Kai-shek who was a reactionary conservative force that had massacred progressive forces and the labor movement in China and still the left supported the right of China to self-determination against Japanese imperialism regardless of the nature of the Chinese government at that moment. In the same fashion, I think most of the left of all of the left in the world opposed US intervention in Afghanistan. Does that mean that we supported or support the Taliban government? Of course not. But we are against imperialist intervention in Afghanistan even though we evidently do not agree with the fundamentalist government of the Taliban.
So, the nature of the government of a country that’s being invaded by an imperialist power should not be a reason for us not to justify to not support the resistance of that government being invaded. I think Bill, if I may take one minute to point out something, which I think is one of the big, big problems that the left or sectors of the left have with dealing with this situation in the Ukraine is the reduction that many people make of imperialism to US imperialism. We still have this notion that, some people have the notion that there’s one imperialist power, there’s one imperialism that we have to fight against, which is US imperialism. And that any forces that somehow oppose the United States, they are by somehow by definition already progressive and we should somehow support them or agree with them or at least not be against them.
And that I think the situation in which we live in the world right now is very similar to the situation that existed when Lenin wrote about imperialism, which is that we have several imperialist powers that are competing with each other, they are in conflict with each other. And we have to be against US imperialism, absolutely, but we also have to be against Russian imperialism when it invades the Ukraine. We have to be against all imperialisms, we don’t choose between one imperialist power or another and we have to build solidarity of all the peoples who are the victims, who are being attacked or are being occupied by whichever imperialist power we are dealing with to fight against all of these imperialist powers. And I think the left really has to abandon the notion that we live in this world in which there’s only one imperialist power that we have to worry about because unfortunately there’s more than one and we have to fight against all of them.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: Now, one of the issues that has been on the front pages of many papers over the months as this war has proceeded has been the interruption of grain production and trade, and specifically that this has devastated sections of the global south. Now, some people have made an argument that as a result of this this should, how can we put it, push the Ukrainians to bring about an end into the war so that the production can recommence. And I’m just wondering how do we look at something like this when there’s certainly clear evidence that there’s segments of the global south that are suffering deeply because of this interruption. What do we say to them and what do we say to the Ukrainian people?
Vladyslav Starodubtsev: Yeah, I think it’s important not to blame a victim in this situation because if Russia didn’t attack, grain would be produced normally and so on and so on. By giving up to this demand, by legitimizing just food blackmailing and blackmailing by famine it’s absolutely awful mechanism. And I don’t think that you should give ground legitimacy to such mechanism to exist in the world. And now fortunately, grain deal are kind of working and the time that it was disrupt, it was disrupt by Russia who even signed, by signing grain deal attacked ports with Ukrainian ships with grain. So, it’s very important to look at the situation in this context. We shouldn’t attack victim who are trying to defend and we should find the first reason why a situation like this and try to go from there. Pressure Russia to support continuation of grain deal, not to break it, not to give any ground to such blackmailing by hunger.
It’s absolutely awful mechanism that shouldn’t work in this world. And by supporting this demand of Ukraine surrendering for global south to get grain, they’re legitimizing this mechanism that Russia or any other states can just block food supplies for the health of the world and just go on with it and get what they want. It shouldn’t work like this. And what we can do as the left is to pressure and help Ukrainians to fight that for Russia wouldn’t have such possibilities, that grain will go and Ukraine could plant more agricultural sectors and produce more food. And especially in the context that most of the grain-producing sectors and regions are now occupied by Russia and shelled and people killed there. So, the only way to bring stability and fix the situation is to win the war for Ukrainians. In other way just creates a very dangerous precedent which we shouldn’t support.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: Go ahead. Rafael, go ahead.
Rafael BernabeI: No, no, yeah. I would underline that it’s true that the war in the Ukraine, the situation in the Ukraine is endangering the grain shipments to the rest of the world, it may be causing hardship in many parts of the world. But we should remember that this situation did not emerge because the Ukraine invaded Russia, it emerged because Russia invaded the Ukraine. So, if we are worried about the situation, then we should pressure Russia and the Russian government to stop the war and then the grain shipments can proceed normally. The other point I would make about this question is that here, we also have to widen the scope of our analysis. Why is it that many countries around the world depend on shipments of grain and food from the Ukraine? If not because of the policies of the developed countries, which for many years have promoted export production in Third World countries or the global south, which no longer produce food for their own consumption and they depend on food imports.
So, if we are going to discuss why the people in the global south have no food and have no access to food, then it’s not simply because there are no shipments from the Ukraine, it’s because this whole global, terrible global situation and it’s another example of the hypocrisy we were talking about. It’s as if all of a sudden there’s hunger in the global south because there are no shipments from the Ukraine when we know that the problem of food shortage in the world did not begin with the situation in the Ukraine. So, we have to bring up all of these issues as well when this question is brought up.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: Ramah, there’s something that has been perplexing me since the February invasion, not to mention the developing war that started in 2014. Even if one accepts the argument about NATO expansion as threatening Russia, even if, I don’t want to get into that argument right now. Russia, the Putin regime made a decision to violate international law. And what I find perplexing among some governments and political movements in the global south is the relative silence about the semi-fascist nature of the Putin regime. And I’m talking about even forces on the left in the global south who seem to ignore the white supremacist, male supremacist, the misogyny, the repression, what was done to the Chechnyans, et cetera, ignoring all of that in the name of opposing NATO expansion. And when the invasion took place it seemed to me it was very straightforward, violation of international law, violation of the national question, got to stand with people against aggression, but not so fast. Ramah, what do you make of this?
Ramah Kudaimi: I think the last and it’s not a new issue but I think what’s happened in the last couple of decades, particularly around this idea of the US being the sole hegemon Agamemnon and the US being the one who is fighting “terrorists”, terrorism abroad. They’re the sole empire, it becomes this idea of reduction to, “Well, the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” thinking it comes the reduction of, “Well,” people engaging in this what aboutism of just like, “Well, how are we to say anything as who is the US to say anything or NATO to say anything because they’re doing X, y, Z as well?” And really sadly I feel like a replacement for any real political engagement and education and connection and rather to just deflect and stop people from taking any sort of action in support of Ukraine or any people’s struggle that again, don’t fall neatly into anti-US imperialism.
And I think people coming to accept that the reality is there isn’t the US against Russia or the US against China, but in fact these nations work together more often than not, even if they’re putting out a front. I use the example of the global war on terror a lot to focus on this point because when George W. Bush launched the global war on terror back in 2001, it was very much like, “Yeah, this is awful.” But since then, every so many states, including the imperial powers or even smaller powers have used the war on terror rhetoric to launch their own wars against and oppress people. So, Syria to me again always comes up an example of just like where the entire world pretty much came together to fight again “terrorism” on behalf of Bashar al-Assad ended up being. So, when Obama finally started bombing Syria in 2014, it wasn’t in support of the revolution, it was to fight terrorism.
And then, when Putin followed track a year later in 2015, it was also again to support Assad more very clearly this time through bombings in support of “fighting terrorism.” Obviously, they’re not fighting terrorism, they’re fighting people’s freedoms movements. And we see this language of fighting terrorism again and again being adopted, whether what Turkey does to Kurdish forces and Kurdish communities or what China is doing to the Uyghur people. And China very clearly saying that, “Actually, we’re using the same playbook the US used against the Uyghur people.” Saudi Arabia talking about terrorism in Yemen, the UAE talking about terrorism in Yemen. What happened to the Rohingya people, again, the use of the terrorism framework. So, this idea of coming together and fighting terrorism is showcasing that there is these forces bringing these states together to keep the status quo and let them do what they want to oppress people.
In addition to all that, there’s a whole bunch of corporations, asset managers, venture capitalists, billionaires who are willing to profit from all of that. So, I think that’s an important part of the conversation that also doesn’t get a lot of attention from the left of just like these corporations, Chinese corporations selling surveillance technology to the Malaysian government or the Israeli corporations using Palestinians to showcase their weaponry and then selling them abroad or Russia doing the same in Syria. There’s a lot of profit-making happening here and the idea that somehow or another it’s only the US that’s keeping the status quo or benefiting from the status quo needs to be completely demolished.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: Vladyslav, go ahead.
Vladyslav Starodubtsev: Yeah. Okay, great. I was thinking about the status about terror, but more broadly that in speeches of Putin, you always hear this idea that US, the imperialism there, there and so on and so on, and all of this ideologies of Putinism, they say they’re condemning to it but not in the way that it shouldn’t be done, but in the way that we should have possibility to do it too. Because it would be very unrealistic and very unjust if only one country can exploit other people. So, it creates a situation that by breaking international law by any state, other states saying that they want to do it too. They’re not saying that, “Okay, US imperialism bad,” so in Russian TVs, they’re saying that, “We want to do the same. Why US can do this? Why cannot we do this?”
So, it creates this precedent that any such violation is just a green card for other states to try to realize their ambitions towards the right of internationalist government to push for some war or some other expansionist means. And now, with the situation with Ukraine, it’s very clear that if we give a green card to Putin, it would intend on Ukraine. It would intend on Russia even. It give a possibility for Turkey to continue their wars. It will give possibility for Serbia to attack Kosovo or even China to attack Taiwan because they could see that, “Okay, it works,” and from there to go on. And it is important to understand that … well sorry, can I have a little time for just to …
Bill Fletcher Jr.: Yes, go ahead.
Vladyslav Starodubtsev: With this idea. That all of these violations of international laws, they’re just giving signals to each other that, “Okay, it could be done and nobody would react.” And especially with Russia, it is very important that US and UK in their geopolitical thinking, they were thinking the same. After US interventions and UK interventions, they allowed actually Russia to intervene in Chechnya and they were absolutely okay with this. It was relations of, “We are doing this and we are allowing to you to do this.” And actually, when Russia invited Chechnya because it didn’t start from Ukraine, it started a long time before with the strong Chechen Republic. When Russia invited Chechnya, Prime Minister of United Kingdom at the time, Tony Blair, freely moved to Moscow to meet Putin and to speak with him and to speak how West and this should be allies and to work to global cooperation. And at the same time as Russian tanks were moving to Chechen.
So, it’s very important to underline these connections and that firstly, it didn’t start from Ukraine, it starts a lot earlier. And secondly, that possibilities for such invasions are given by countries, governments and sometimes people ignoring violations and ignoring such unlawful invasions and just give them the green card especially it comes from a hypocrisy of the West, which makes this situation of other imperial states saying, “We want to do the same and we should fight in this way very universally any such kind of invasion.” And by stopping one invasion it makes easier to stop other invasion. It’s in some way it works like a domino effect.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: Thank you. Rafael?
Rafael BernabeI: Yeah, in the debates we have in Puerto Rico about this issue, I often have to emphasize that when Putin denounces NATO expansionism, he’s right, he’s correct. That’s not the problem. The problem is that he responds to NATO expansionism with his own imperialist project. What he’s saying is, “Since NATO is imperialist, since NATO is expansionist, therefore we have the right to invade the Ukraine.” And we as an anti-imperialist, we cannot accept that logic that is to say, “Of course, NATO is imperialist. Of course, NATO is expansionist. Of course, we oppose NATO expansionism but that doesn’t give the Russian Federation the right to invade the Ukraine. We are also against the invasion of the Ukraine. We do not respond to one imperialism by supporting another rival imperialism. We are against all imperialisms and we are for the right of self-determination to all peoples.”
I mean, through history, empires and imperialism have denounced each other and in these denunciations they are normally telling the truth. That is to say, when British and French imperialism denounced Japanese imperialism because it was aggressive, they were right. And when Japanese imperialism denounced British and French imperialism because they were occupying Asia, they were right as well. Imperialisms tell the truth about each other. They are the predatory, they are destructive. But we do not choose between them, we fight all of them. We were against French imperialism and British imperialism and Japanese imperialism. Even though they were fighting each other, we are against all of them and for the self-determination of all the peoples. And we should take the same stand today, which is we are against NATO imperialism, but that doesn’t lead us to endorse Russian occupation of the Ukraine. We are against NATO and we are also against Putin.
And that we should build a huge big worldwide solidarity movement of all oppressed peoples by whoever is it that is oppressing them.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: So, we’re down to our few remaining minutes and I have one question that probably could take us for another hour, but I’m going to ask you all to respond briefly when you’re thinking about this situation, the Russian invasion of Ukraine but also thinking about your own respective struggles, how do we guard against these various struggles becoming intertwined with the objectives of this or that imperialist or dominationist force? What are some of the lessons, both positive and negative, that can be identified that we can look at in terms of responding to that question? How can these movements, particularly when we’re dealing with smaller countries, how can they actually remain independent as opposed to becoming subject to some of these other forces? So Ramah, I’m going to start with you.
Ramah Kudaimi: Yeah. Just the reflecting back, I think I’ll talk specifically about Syria and things. A beautiful struggle that started back in 2011 that now is in a very horrific situation with so many refugees, with so much death and with so many forces kind of normalizing back with Assad now in the region across the region. I think the number one thing is just really sticking to what the values of that initial spark of the revolution is so important. And I think what we’ve seen in Syria is there’s been parties who have actually given up any principles on being like, “Well,” their own, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” kind of thinking but as pro-revolutionary.
So, when it comes to, for example, relationships between some opposition parties in Turkey and being like, “Well, Turkey’s supporting us so we can ignore the issue of what they’re doing to Kurdish communities and the Kurdish people.” Or when it comes to, again, the United States of just like, “Well, we can use the issue of US aggression against Iran to our advantage,” and not to … Iran has played a horrible role and an oppressive role in Syria, but that what does that mean then when the US wants to use Syria as a way to get to Iran as well? And I think that having those hard conversation of just like, “No, we can’t look at those supposedly small gains in the wrong run to win, they just need to be have.”
And I’m not saying people have to make decisions and people have to take up arms and take arms and self-defense, there’s a lot of those conversations that need to be had and people need to survive. But I do think the fact that what gives me the most hope still in Syria is that in this past couple of weeks when Turkey has made very clear that they are more than willing to normalize back with Assad, that people have again taken to the streets after 10 plus years of their protests seemingly not going anywhere according to many analysts and outside observers, they’re still willing to go in the street and protest the fact that people are normalizing with Assad, the fact that Assad continues to be in power.
And that to me is that the people who are most at the forefront of the struggle in terms of being the ones who fought on the ground in whatever way that they think is best to fight for their struggle and being like, “These are the principles of our struggle,” I think it’s important to keep that at the forefront. And it’s not an easy answer and it seems can be like, “Well, principle, you’re trying dealing with survival,” but the reality is if people there can have those conversations under those circumstances, then we should be able to have those conversations everywhere.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: Thank you. Rafael, and finally, with Vladyslav.
Rafael BernabeI: As you say, it’s a very complex question. But I think we have to go back to one fundamental principle of the left and even of the labor movement, which is the principle of internationalism. The principle of supporting the struggle of working people and oppressed peoples across frontiers, which means that we do not support, for example, an example that was mentioned before, we don’t support gay people’s struggles in the US but not in Russia because in Russia we are aligned with the government of Putin. No, we have to support LGBT struggles all over the world, in the United States and in Russia and in Iran and wherever, no matter which government is in power.
In the same fashion if working people are fighting, workers are fighting for workers’ rights, we support them in the US and we support them in Russia and we support them in the Ukraine against the Zelenskyy government if necessary. So, before any loyalty to any government, we have to put our loyalty on the struggles of working people and oppressed peoples. And if we stick to that, I think we will be able to make our way through this very complex international political situation. The problem arises when we start saying, “Well, we support workers’ struggles in the US or in Mexico or in Venezuela, but we are not going to support workers’ struggles in Iran because since the United States opposes the government of Iran, therefore we are not going to support workers protesting against the Iranian government.”
No. We have to support workers’ struggles around the world against whoever is oppressing them or exploiting them.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: Vladyslav, in two minutes, you have the final word.
Vladyslav Starodubtsev: Great. I am very agreeing with this, I think that this is important to rebuild new left is to return to the question of what makes us left, why we are calling ourselves left? What does it mean? What does it mean for us? What does it mean for other people? And in this to return to ideals what makes us the left actually, to return to ideals of global emancipation of solidarity with oppressed people. Not to speak in terms of geopolitics or any other politics or something that are justifying to ignore struggles of oppressed people. What we should as left to do is always to look on who is oppressed by whom and how we can help them internationally. It should be a very universal principles that unite the left.
And I think this return to moral principles, return to guiding ideals should be our main instrument to fight against campism, against righting, against lefting who betray their ideals to just to think about why we are calling ourselves left, what we want, who we are and so on. And I think answering these questions can very easily underline what we are doing and what we should do. We are here with these four people, with very different backgrounds in very different countries, but we have the same ideas of global solidarity, of fight for the oppressed people against the oppressors. And I think this is the thing that should build bridges in our situation. And in terms of all these imperialist conflicts, the things that could guide us and could help us to stick to our ideals and not to go on with this friend of my enemy is my friend and so on and so on.
So, we just should remember our ideals and stick to them. And in all of the struggles, of course with Ukraine being supplied by the US with weapons and so on and so on, we shouldn’t forget about the situations when US is imperialist and to think in this and not of context of geopolitics and what is the best for us and only us, but in the context of universal values, of values of fighting for the oppressed and for global emancipation. And I think it really would help to build a new left and to show who we are in this situation.Bill Fletcher, …: I want to thank the panel, this has been fantastic and very much appreciate your insight on this very complex issues here, at the same time, very straightforward issues. And hopefully you, the listeners and viewers have really have come to appreciate that. I want to thank Ramah Kudaimi, Vladyslav Starodubtsev and Rafael Bernabe for joining us on The Real News today. And I want to thank of course the staff of the Real News for making this at all possible. I’m Bill Fletcher signing off, thanks for joining us.