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Ukraine Update: Stalemate, Cold War, Shifts In Consciousness

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It is now nearly two years since the Russian imperialist invasion of Ukraine ordered by Vladimir Putin. Despite an initial wave of enthusiasm to sign up for the Ukrainian military to defeat the invasion, the war is now at a stalemate while carnage continues with no clear end in sight.

The world situation plummets into further disorder with the Israeli state’s mass murderous assault on the Palestinian people. Worldwide, people are more wary of war and specifically the cynical aims of US and European imperialism in their backing of both the Israeli onslaught and the reactionary Zelensky government.

Military conflict throughout history takes on its own logic despite the personal or tactical goals of different world powers. In Ukraine and Russia, this means an increasing turn towards aerial assaults in the context of deadlocked ground combat. Despite Western imperialism initially objecting to attacks within Russia itself, Ukrainian military logic has led to drone assaults, shelling attacks, and a brief ground incursion on Russian territory in Belgorod. 

The Zelensky regime has tied itself to strong support for the Israeli mass murder campaign in Palestine. While Western imperialism would like to limit the prospects of a regional war in the Middle East, military conflicts have intensified in Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, and Syria, threatening a wider conflagration. The overarching context for the growing horrors of capitalism is the “New Cold War” with US and Chinese imperialism, with blocs surrounding them, battling each other for global influence and corporate profits.

Global Rivalries And Roadblocks

Like all major global events, the conflict in Ukraine can’t be viewed outside the context of the New Cold War. While inflation continues and a global economic downturn looms, US and European imperialism have given over $100 billion towards the Ukraine war effort. More military aid is coming despite the political obstacles in the halls of power and the increasing unpopularity of the war among ordinary people.

In December, Republicans blocked another $50 billion for the war in Ukraine, but Democrats have vowed to find a way to further finance the bloodshed. Trump is currently leading in Presidential polls, and he’s vowed to cut funding, cynically posing as the only viable “anti-war” candidate. This is one crucial reason why the majority of the US ruling class will do whatever they can to try to stop Trump from returning to the White House.

European imperialists have also been temporarily hampered in some of their pro Ukraine initiatives by a right-wing populist, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, but the ruling classes are determined to step up their war funding. In the December 21 issue of the Financial Times, Simon Kuper wrote, “The Europeans could help Ukraine withstand Putin even if Trump pulled out. We’d have to build up our arms industries fast, but the effort required of us would be tiny compared with Russia’s. We’d also need to replace American aid to Ukraine — €71.4bn in the war’s first 21 months, according to the Kiel Institute, or €40.8bn on an annualized basis. That’s €70 a year per European citizen of NATO. We could find that if we wanted.” Of course, whether the European ruling classes would actually be able to deliver on this is another matter, but the idea that the Ukrainian regime will just be “abandoned” even if Trump is elected is fanciful. The stakes are too high for Western imperialism.

On the other side of the New Cold War, Russian imperialism is taking in weaponry directly from North Korea and Iran, two states firmly backed by China in the global great power rivalry. That’s only the tip of the iceberg though. Surpassing all expectations, trade between Russia and China totaled well over $240 billion in 2023, more than in other year ever. This includes material that can be used to produce weaponry for the battlefields and increasing air assaults in Ukraine. 

Roadblocks to intensification of the New Cold War are only temporary, and imperialist warmongers will bust through them or speed around the obstacles. While there can be temporary pauses and detours, the general direction of travel in the world situation is towards more conflicts, and unstable right populists currently pretending to be anti-war will likely eventually intensify the antagonisms. For instance, Trump and Biden will compete to ramp up anti-China sentiment on the campaign trail which will probably result in another horrific spike in anti-Asian hate crimes.

US and European ruling classes didn’t initially support the Ukrainian war efforts leading to attacks in Russian territory, but conflicts have their own logic. Same goes for the murderous Israeli assault on the Palestinian people leading to the prospect of war dragging into Lebanon and Yemen.

The New Cold War has its own momentum outside of the subjective wishes of any ruling class politician. The very logic of capitalism leads to intense scrambles for super-profits, resulting in wars and deep disorder, especially in this period of capitalist decay. Socialists shouldn’t mistake temporary roadblocks, personal intentions, or diplomatic efforts as lasting moves towards stability. The great power rivalries will intensify deeply in the coming months and years, leading unfortunately to further conflict, even wider wars.

Currently, the eyes of the world are focused on the Middle East. A new generation is moving into anti-war activity, and the brutality of Western imperialism is fully exposed with their support for the Israeli slaughter of Palestinians. Zelensky’s full-throated support of Israel has further exposed his regime in the eyes of millions as a right-wing government.

War Weariness

Poll after poll shows people throughout the world are less and less enthusiastic about supporting Ukrainian war efforts despite a media onslaught. Suspicion and opposition to Western imperialism was always strong in the neocolonial world, and now people in Europe and the US are increasingly wary of billions in war spending after the failure of the Ukrainian offensive and the current stalemate.

In Russia itself, there was a heroic anti-war movement at the start of the invasion, but Putin has carried out vicious and ongoing repression as his propaganda machine intensifies its efforts. Some brave Russians, including family members of troops, are still speaking out. In Ukraine, after initial popular resistance to Russian invasion, there are many signs of people wanting an end to the ongoing bloodshed that has no end in sight. Without a mass movement to stop Putin’s war machine, this mood is instead reflected in estimates that 600,000 have fled the country.

Scandal after scandal has erupted in Ukraine about corruption connected to draft dodging. As with most wars, the rich and powerful making the decisions leave it to the poor and working class people to die, get maimed, and lose family members. As many fighting-age men have left Ukraine to avoid death and destruction, the average age of Ukrainian soldiers is now more than 40 years old! Stories abound of untrained draftees being sent to the front lines when they were told their role in the war would be elsewhere. No wonder morale has clearly decreased during and after an offensive in 2023 that gained little ground.

In recent weeks. Ukrainians have started staging small protests, with women at the forefront, demanding soldiers are allowed to come home for leave. Promised time off is now being taken away by a reactionary regime in the back pocket of Western imperialism. A program for the working class to end this war needs to take into account the widespread war weariness, and socialists should support just struggles against the reactionary Ukrainian government.

Socialists reject Putin’s ridiculous claims that his imperialist invasion aims to “denazify” Ukraine. Putin himself is backed by the far right and spreads authoritarian and racist ideas internationally. The Zelensky government is not fascist, but it is thoroughly right-wing and reactionary; socialists do themselves no favors by failing to point this out. 

Under cover of war, Zelensky has enacted repressive anti-union laws, and he’s trampled on the language rights of Ukraine’s significant minority populations. Russian-speaking and Tartar peoples should have the right of self determination, including greater autonomy and the right to separate from the country. Unfortunately some socialists have buried the struggle of national minorities in Ukraine, saying it should wait until Russia is defeated. Marxists need a different approach of fostering working class unity through a struggle to win full rights for oppressed people now, not at some distant point in the future after western imperialist war aims are met.

Socialists should be at the forefront of a struggle against war, whether in the Middle East or Eastern Europe, calling for mass demonstrations and working class action to end the bloodshed. This can be a crucial step towards building the working class movement necessary to confront and defeat the capitalist system at the root of this increasing death and destruction.

Right-Wing Danger And Socialist Solution

Unfortunately, the left is largely missing from the struggle against the horrors of war. Bigger “left” parties, and even some claiming to be Marxists, wrongly support either Russian imperialism or give cover to Western ruling classes by calling for “victory to Ukraine,” which amounts to advising people to sign up for Zelensky’s NATO-backed army, or giving abstract advice to a now Ukrainian war effort. Anti-colonial struggles throughout the 20th century show numerically larger militaries can be defeated by popular resistance, provided this resistance is based on fighting for social revolution as well as national liberation. Zelensky’s government doesn’t fight for liberation of any sort, just more attacks on working people and the oppressed. Ordinary people internationally are increasingly turning against the madness of escalating military conflict. 

Sadly, the right wing in many countries are gaining support through cynically posing against the war. Trump is not alone in this with far right Islamophobe Geert Wilders in the Netherlands winning a shocking electoral victory while promising to cut funding to Ukraine. The extreme right “AfD” in Germany is gaining in polls, and there are other terrible examples of this worldwide. Right wing populism has no solutions and will contribute to ramping up nationalist tensions and racism. The warmongering ruling class contributes to this by posing the war in Ukraine as a “battle for Western civilization,” a phrase also used by reactionaries and outright fascists.

The left needs to put forward an anti-war alternative to the ramping up of militarism internationally. War production should be retooled and taken under working class control to produce goods that meet the needs of people and the environment. A mass movement of street protests should oppose both the war in Palestine and in Ukraine, connecting calls for peace to concrete needs of workers facing inflation, housing crises, climate change, and rampant inequality. While some on the left will say that calls for socialism in this struggle would be “abstract,” society is crying out for fundamental change. If we don’t get organized to pose an alternative, the right wing will continue to gain.

Capitalism has created a world of profound disorder, plummeting towards even deeper disaster. It is only working people who have the potential power to stop the war production, refuse to fight for imperialist aims, and begin to organize towards a society free of all exploitation and oppression. Join us in this historically necessary struggle for socialism!

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