Vermonters Must Oppose War in Ukraine
By Ashley Smith
Ashley Smith of Burlington works for Spectre Journal and is a member of the Champlain Valley Democratic Socialists of America and Community Voices for Immigrant Rights.
Vermonters must oppose the drive to war between the US and Russia over Ukraine. We should demand a peaceful settlement of the crisis that recognizes the right of Ukraine to self-determination and protects the rights of the country’s national minorities.
The US bears the bulk of primary responsibility for the conflict. The Clinton Administration expanded NATO into Eastern Europe, subordinating the region, which had been part of the Soviet Union’s empire, to Washington’s political, economic, and military domination.
Washington’s interests in Ukraine and indeed all of Eastern Europe are predatory in nature. It aims to enforce its rule over a neoliberal order that exploits the region for cheap labor and natural resources.
Of course, Washington cloaks its project in the language of democracy and human rights. After its butchery and war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, however, such rhetoric is almost laughable and certainly not credible.
Russia’s interests are also predatory. Russia is a capitalist petro-power with advanced weaponry it markets to an array of nefarious allies like Bashar al-Assad’s brutal regime in Syria, a regime Vladimir Putin backed in a counter-revolutionary war against the country’s people.
Russia wants to reassert its control over its former sphere of influence. Its claims of anti-imperialism are no more believable than Washington’s invocation of human rights. Putin’s suppression of the recent rising in Kazakhstan is only the most recent example of his regime’s aspiration to reestablish the Russian state as a great power at the expense of less powerful countries and their people.
The EU is no alternative in this conflict. Most of its member states have been party to US aggression and expansion in Eastern Europe. Some EU states have been less eager for war over Ukraine compared to the US, but not out of any pacifist sentiment.
Remember, most of these states have their own horrific history of colonialism. And many have collaborated with the US in its brutal wars throughout the 20th century including in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Their reluctance is more than anything the result of their dependence on Russian gas and oil. Germany, for example, has struck an enormous deal for Russian gas to be delivered through the newly completed but yet to be activated Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
While the US and Russia are engaged brinksmanship with their militaries on red alert for conflict, they are doing so in the hopes of cutting a diplomatic deal. That, however, seems unlikely.
The US will not agree to Russia’s main demand that NATO halt its expansion in Eastern Europe. And the US will not tolerate Russia’s attempt to reclaim its former sphere of influence. These realities make war a real possibility.
Moreover, each power has domestic and imperial interests in ratcheting up hostilities. Putin’s regime wants to neutralize the widespread domestic opposition to his corruption, enrichment of the Russia ruling class, and repression of political resistance. It hopes a groundswell of great power nationalism against the US and NATO will recohere its flagging support at home.
Abroad, Russia sees the West as deeply divided and rudderless with weak leadership all around. It also has restored its economic fortunes amidst the dramatic increase in the cost of oil and natural gas over the last couple of years. So, it sees an opening for its imperial assertion.
The Biden administration has its own reasons for intensifying the conflict. Biden is overseeing a nation reeling in multiple crises, which he has failed to address. He confronts a hawkish Republican opposition that has skewered him for being a weak imperial president, pointing to his shambolic withdrawal from Afghanistan.
All of this has compromised his main foreign policy goal—gathering US allies together to confront China and Russia. A show of weakness over Ukraine would compromise that effort, while a show of strength would enable him to neutralize his domestic opposition, restore his popularity in a burst of nationalist war fervor, and reassert US imperial dominance over global capitalism.
At the same time, there are overriding dynamics that mitigate the likelihood of war. Neither the US nor Russia believe one is in their interests. It would disrupt a fragile world economy, especially in Europe. It would play havoc with already tense relations between the US and China, which would reluctantly but likely back Russia, throwing the whole neoliberal order of free trade globalization into a profound crisis.
The most likely outcome is therefore a protracted standoff over Ukraine and indeed the whole of Eastern Europe. The militarization of this standoff is nonetheless extremely dangerous and any number events, operations, or accidents, could lead to terrible unintended consequences including war.
In this crisis, Vermonters, especially progressives, must stake out a clear anti-war position. In this inter-imperial conflict, there is no good side for us to support. Both the US and Russia have only predatory and reactionary ambitions.
We must first and foremost oppose our own government’s drive to war. The main enemy for US workers and oppressed peoples is not in the Kremlin, but in Washington and on Wall Street—the US state and its ruling class.
At the same time, we must not make the mistake of adopting a foolish position of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” and support Russia as some kind of anti-imperialist force. It isn’t. It is a capitalist and imperialist state, however less powerful than the US.
Even worse, it is a supporter of the far right throughout the world, including inside the Republican Party. It is not an accident that Tucker Carlson on Fox News is calling for the US to back Russia against Ukraine.
Opposition to war does not mean we should have no concern for the people of Ukraine and their rights and freedoms. We must in fact champion them. Ukraine should have the right to self-determination.
So should national minorities within Ukraine, including Russian speakers in Donbas in the country’s eastern part. They should have official recognition of their language and have the right to political autonomy within Ukraine.
Neither the US nor Russia will defend those rights. Both have an ugly track record of violating them. Just look at what the US did in Iraq and Afghanistan. And just look at what Russia did in Chechnya, Syria, and Kazakhstan.
Both powers view Ukraine as a pawn in their imperial projects. And their interventions in the country have exacerbated its internal conflicts, not resolved them. Any solution to those must come from within the country, not from either of these two imperialist powers.
Instead of looking to them, we should support progressive forces fighting for democracy and equality in Ukraine and we must build international solidarity from below against imperial intervention and war. Such a project is not utopian.
There is widespread anti-war sentiment amongst the people of world. In the US, Washington’s long occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan has instilled deep opposition to war among workers and oppressed people. In Russia, there has been mass protest and opposition to Putin since his last imperial adventure in Ukraine when he seized Crimea.
In the EU, people are tired of warmongering after Iraq. And throughout Eastern Europe there is opposition to their regimes as well as Russia. And three decades of Washington’s neoliberal policies, which have impoverished the region’s workers, have undermined illusions that it provides any kind alternative to Moscow. We must organize this dissent into active opposition to war.
Even if this crisis passes, other imperial conflicts loom in the coming years especially between the US and China. Therefore, we need to organize meeting and protests against all imperial powers and their wars as part of a struggle for a world that puts people, their livelihoods, rights, and freedoms first.