No to the war in Ukraine! Troops should return home. Build an anti-war movement in the workplaces and universities. This is the call being made by Socialisticheskaya Alternativa in Russia. It follows the announcement of the attacks on Ukraine by Russian forces. On Thursday spontaneous protests, mainly by young people, broke out in 58 cities across Russia. Nearly 2,000 were detained by the police. Yesterday only widespread police action prevented even more protests.

People attend an anti-war protest, after Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized a military operation in Ukraine, in Saint Petersburg, Russia, February 24, 2022. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov

Shock and disbelief are still the dominant feelings that such a war could be launched. Both in Ukraine, obviously, but very widely across Russia too.

With the start of war in Ukraine, ordinary Ukrainians are having to deal with the situation every whichever way they can. Most are spending sleepless nights, many hiding in shelters, in underground car-parks or, in those cities that have them, in Metro stations. Others are collecting weapons and resisting the occupation by Russian troops in whatever way possible. Many, especially those with young families, are trying to get out of the country. Romania and Poland are expecting for a big influx of refugees.

Refugees heading to Poland

Volodymyr Zelensky has declared that he and his family will remain in Kyiv. He says he is the Russian’s number one target, and his family number two. He has called for all men between 18 and 60 to be mobilized with a ban on them leaving the country.

The Russian military authorities claimed on Thursday they had achieved their war aims for the day. They had, they say, destroyed a number of key military objects, airfields, and command points across Ukraine, as far as Ivano-Frankovsk in the west. They re-established control over a canal which feeds the Crimean water supply and took over a couple of small towns in the south-east. Yesterday official statements implied that not much progress has been made. Forces from the two disputed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk advanced their front lines and claim to have taken over 5 towns — having a combined population of about 15,000. Most notable Russian troops took over an airfield close to Kyiv and the Chernobyl site — which despite the accident decades ago, is still an active nuclear waste storage site. Today they have only been able only to report the capture of the town of Melitopol, with a population of 150,000 in the south.

Ukrainian forces report that a number of cities including Kharkiv, Mariupol, Sumy and, of course, Kyiv are under attack, including from cruise missiles. There are pictures of residential homes and a hospital badly damaged. A brutal fight over who controls Kyiv is continuing. Russian tank forces are attempting to enter Kyiv, although Ukrainian forces have blown up key bridges and they appear to be meeting considerable resistance. In one case, a young Ukrainian knowingly sacrificed his life to destroy a bridge. Automatic weapons are being distributed whilst Ukrainian TV is broadcasting instructions on how to make Molotov cocktails.

Ukrainian casualties are mounting — according to official statistics, on Thursday over 100 were killed. By today the figure will probably be much higher. Russian statistics are more difficult to come by — the Ukrainians claim over a thousand have been killed. Most importantly, despite Russian military claims that they are only going for military objectives, there are many civilian casualties. One investigation suggests that aircraft, tank, and other equipment losses appear to be more or less evenly balanced. Yet today the Russian health ministry sent a letter to all hospitals, instructing them to draw up a list of medical teams to be sent urgently to save lives and treat wounded. As each hospital is expected to send several people, that implies there are many wounded, or it is expected there will be.

Russian tank destroyed near to Luhansk

It is difficult to predict exactly how this horror will unfold. The Kremlin clearly wants to force a change of government in Kyiv. Yesterday Putin appealed to the Ukrainian Army to launch a coup against the government. “Take power into your hands! It will be easier to agree with you, than with this gang of drug-addicts and neo-Nazis, who have taken Kyiv and taken the whole Ukrainian people hostage.”

This really demonstrates the hypocrisy of the Kremlin, which says it wants to “demilitarise” and “denazify” Ukraine, but it is encouraging a military coup by the armed forces into which the nazis that formed the “Right Sector” during Euromaidan have been integrated as the notorious “Azov battalion.”

Unlike in 2014, when the take-over of the Crimea was accompanied in Russia by mass events organised by the government and local authorities to demonstrate support, there have been no such events this time. Reports have just appeared of the first plan for a pro-army/government demonstration, which will undoubtedly by allowed. It plans an attendance of 25000. It is organised by “Tsar radio” and the fascist “Black hundreds.” For some strange reason these fascists do not talk about the need for “denazification”!

If the Kremlin cannot provoke a military coup, the occupation of Kyiv, if it succeeds, will see the dispersal of the Rada (Parliament) and the dismissal (to put it mildly) of Zelensky. A new puppet government will only be able to maintain power if backed by strong repressive forces. This will lead to a huge growth of opposition taking up arms against the occupation force. Given the strong feelings, an occupation would be long and bloody, feeding the very right-wing nationalist and militaristic moods that the Kremlin claims to oppose. It will also see the strengthening of an even greater desire by other Ukrainians to eventually join the EU and NATO. The Kremlin would not be able to retreat from such a position for fear of losing face, so would have to devote more and more financial and repressive resources to maintain control.

It is possible, that after a demonstrative capture of Kyiv, the Russian army could then retrench to the expanded Donbas region, maintaining a strip along the south-east to allow land access to Crimea from Russia itself. Alternatively, today some discussion has developed about whether Putin could go even further and extend further into Eastern Europe, certainly if he occupies the whole of Ukraine, Moldova at least would be threatened.

Many Ukrainians have been justifiably angry that the western institutions have not stepped up with measures that could act effectively to stop the Kremlin’s aggression. Zelensky’s office report that the U.S. have offered him a flight out of Ukraine. Once again, the west is demonstrating its callousness — other Kyiv residents will be left to face the Russian assault. Zelensky has replied that he needs no flight out, but weapons sent in.

Ukrainian volunteers

Now one after another western leaders are falling over themselves to launch sanctions. None will cause any real damage to Russia’s leaders but will harm ordinary people in Russia and the West. Several countries have put sanctions on Russia’s state banks, but Russian private banks will step in to take over the business. To great fanfare it was announced that on the first day, Russia’s oligarchs had lost $32 billion as the Russian stock markets collapsed by 40%. Compared to the $640 billion they own, a 45% increase during the pandemic, their loss was not great, but has already been partly restored as the stock market bounced back. They stand to gain even more as oil and gas prices skyrocket!

Noticeably, countries have so far resisted taking real measures such as stopping energy flows or blocking the SWIFT bank information system, which would hurt western companies. In part European leaders fear that if Russia can no longer use SWIFT, they will turn to the Chinese and use their system. The cancellation of the Moscow grand-prix, or refusal to allow Russia to participate in Eurovision are not likely to force Putin to rethink. Sanctions have never stopped dictators, they merely create an illusion that measures are being taken, whilst the ruling elite find ways to bypass the sanctions, leaving ordinary people to pay the cost.

Whatever happens in the next few days, life is going to be a nightmare for Ukrainians. Tens of thousands are already fleeing the country, if things get worse this figure could rise to millions. Ecological problems are raising their head as the situation in the Chernobyl exclusion zone is being put under threat. As the Ukrainian government is not allowing 18–60 year old males to leave the country, refugee women will be left to deal with the children. It is already clear that children who have lived near the front line of the disputed republics during the military conflict that has already lasted eight years are very susceptible to mental health problems.

Far more effective in stopping the aggression against Ukraine will be the building of a strong international anti-war movement including in Russia itself. It is clear that a large minority, if not even a majority, of Russians already oppose the war. Many youth turned out to protest spontaneously. Many TV and artistic personalities have spoken out publicly against the war. Some have paid for this by having their shows removed from the schedules. There are rumors of concern about the attacks on Ukraine amongst military officers, and even in the GRU — the undercover organization responsible for the poisoning of Shripal in England, and Alexey Navalny in Russia.

Although it is reported that the Kazakhstan government has so far refused to send troops to assist, the Belarusian dictator Alexandr Lukashenko rushed to give assistance. This has not met with full approval despite the brutal clampdown that followed last years uprising in that country. Students from at least one university report that they are being forcibly mobilized into the army.

A self-appointed “strike committee” at “BelarusKaliya”, the mining conglomerate which was at the centre of the strike protests against the fraudulent election has issued an appeal blaming the workers for their inaction. “If you do not listen to our call, if you do not think about what we say, then war will come to your home” they say. They go on to call for a strike before ending with the Ukrainian nationalist call “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes of Ukraine!”

In Minsk, the police raided the office of the “Free Trade Union of Metal Workers”, arresting two leaders and seizing equipment. There are members of ISA active in this union. They issued a protest “We call on all international trade union structures to give us all possible help, and put the maximum possible pressure on the authorities to get them to support all social and moral norms. We oppose this clash between capitalist regimes, that only leads to the suffering of ordinary workers.”

In Russia too, the Independent Union of Journalists and Media Workers, again with the active involvement of members of ISA in the leadership, has spoken out clearly against the war. “No to war! We, Russian journalists and media workers, are deeply shocked and upset that the government of our country has started this war against Ukraine. This unbelievable step can only lead to the death of many people in our countries and massive destruction. For the majority, war will lead to the growth of prices, economic collapse, and pauperisation in conditions of international isolation.” A letter issued by this trade union has already over a hundred signatures.

Website of Trade Union of Journalists “War -against this world”

These clear calls against the war are in contrast to those of the “Confederation of Labour of Russia” — the unions linked to the International Federation of Trade Unions which simply calls for the need to “quickly end military activities and restoration of dialogue.” Workers and youth now should have absolutely no confidence that international institutions, governments, or imperialist forces can show any way out of this crisis.

While people are getting angry, the regime is trying to stop discussion. Ten media outlets have been told to stop using the words “war” and “intervention” when covering Ukraine, or they will be shut down. Access to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are being restricted. The number arrested for participating in anti-war protests is now almost 3,000. But opposition to the war in Russia appears to be growing. Letters written by different groups, medical workers, teachers, students, IT workers, artistic workers are collecting thousands of signatures, while a general petition against the war has already been signed by a million people.

Even if the war was now to stop in some way or other — by the complete takeover of Ukraine, or the defeat by the Ukrainians of the Russian army — the world, let alone this region, will never be the same. Only by building an independent workers’ struggle linking up workers and youth in Ukraine, Russia, and in the western countries can stop this war. But we need to go further — if we want there to be no more wars, economic crises, climate change we need to get rid of the system that causes them. We need to fight against capitalism and establish a world in which all nations and peoples have the right to self-determination, a genuinely democratic and voluntary socialist federation.

We Say

  • No to war in Ukraine! For the immediate return of all Russian troops to their barracks in Russia;
  • For the right of Ukrainians to decide their own future, including the right of self-determination for minorities;
  • For emergency measures by EU countries to provide resources, housing and financial support for the wave of refugees;
  • No confidence in any of the “peace-keeping” imperialist forces or illusions in the diplomacy of the warmongers;
  • Build a massive anti-war and anti-imperialist movement linking workers and youth in all the countries involved;
  • For an internationalist, working-class alternative to capitalist conflict, that leads to war and destruction.
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