Ukraine battered but pushing back against Putin

Mick Antoniw on the urgent necessity to extend solidarity with Ukraine

As the winter approaches, the war in Ukraine resulting from Russia’s illegal invasion begins a new phase, which will surely test the solidarity of the West and Europe and all those countries supporting Ukraine. It will also severely test Putin and his cohort of supporters in the Kremlin and his ability to retain power.

Russia is losing the war. Ukrainian forces are not only recovering territory but have liberated the the only major city Russian forces have been able to occupy, Kherson. Putin nevertheless remains in a superior economic position. Unlike Ukraine, he has oil and gas revenues to fund his war but his need to conscript civilians and to finance the replacement of his devastated and creaking military infrastructure is beginning to fragment the Federation and those former Soviet Asian countries who are now equally concerned about the nationalistic rhetoric emanating from the Kremlin and Russian media.

Putin and his model of authoritarian centralised government is beginning to lose its grip. The conscription process has become a farce, exacerbating ethnic tensions between those countries and regions who see themselves disproportionately providing conscripts for the imminent flow of body bags from the Ukrainian front. Economic sanctions are impacting and Putin’s leadership, once unquestioned, is now beginning to be seen as failing and increasingly dependent on repression by state security forces. China and India, such important potential allies, both hesitate, anxious about the economic impact of the war on their own economies and uncertainty around Putin’s ability to achieve any credible victory and an end to the war.

So Ukraine must continue to be provided with the heavy weaponry and technology it needs to defend itself and to defeat Putin by liberating the country, including the occupied territories. It must also have the financial and economic support that is essential to surviving the winter.

The UK has rightly been a consistent supporter of Ukraine, and it is important to recognise this, whatever the motivation or geopolitical interests of the Government. For most of the left in the UK, there is now a growing recognition that Putin’s attack and invasion of an independent sovereign country is wholly unacceptable and must be opposed. Solidarity with the people of Ukraine is beginning to go much further, with the increasing recognition that Russia has become a fascist state and that the war against Putin has now taken on the identity of an anti-fascist war. Residual claims from parts of the left that, somehow, this is all a consequence of NATO expansionism are delusional and, to all intents and purposes, discredited. Yet there are those who maintain an almost evangelical belief that opposing what they see as Western imperialism justifies their ignoring Russian imperialism and fascism. Indeed, as we witnessed through Brexit in the UK and elsewhere in Europe and America, the political positioning and common ground between the far-right and far-left has never been closer and has become an embarrassing ideological infantilism.

The failure of the British Trades Union Congress to adopt any genuine leadership by supporting Ukrainian workers and their trade unions is probably a consequence of the undue influence of those elements within the trade union movement at a senior level that have fallen into the anti-NATO/western imperialism trap. It has, however, fortunately been countered by a growing number of individual organisations and trade unions who have begun to develop their own direct links and forms of solidarity.

Over the coming months, there is an opportunity to strengthen links with the Ukrainian trade unions and progressive organisations whose members are defending their country on the front line with their lives. We need to press both for continued military, financial and medical support and to start planning for the reconstruction of Ukraine once victory has been achieved. There will be a need to support those calling for social reform and an end to the influence of oligarchy. The hundreds of billions of pounds’ worth of Russian assets and funds frozen by the West now need to be secured and allocated for use by Ukraine for reconstruction, economic reform and reparations, and the European Union must finally admit Ukraine to its membership.

The siren calls from vested political and economic interests calling for a peace, which Putin will never deliver, must be resisted. We must remember the lessons from the past. Fascism cannot be appeased, only defeated. Solidarity is about giving genuine support when it is most needed. That moment is now. In Ukraine, workers are sacrificing their lives to defend their and our freedom. We have only one choice over the coming winter: solidarity.

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