So, it has started. Russian forces have unleashed a massive attack on Ukraine. In the early hours of the morning, in a short televised address, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation” at dawn. Within minutes of the broadcast, at about 5am Ukrainian time, explosions were heard near major Ukrainian cities, including the capital Kiev.
In previous weeks, Putin built up an estimated 190,000 troops close to Ukraine’s borders, while European leaders shuttled between Kiev and Moscow, seeking a diplomatic solution. But one does not mobilise such a huge number of troops, tanks and guns just in order to dance a diplomatic minuet.
In the immediate fog of war, with only scraps of information at our disposal, it is impossible to give an accurate appraisal of the military situation. But the scope of the Russian attack appears to be massive. To cite one report:
"Ukraine’s interior ministry reported that the country was under attack from cruise and ballistic missiles, with Russia appearing to target infrastructure near major cities such as Kiev, Kharkiv, Mariupol and Dnipro.
"Explosions from artillery rockets lit up the night sky as shelling began near Mariupol, as videos showed. A senior adviser to Ukraine’s interior ministry said that it appeared Russian troops may soon move on Kharkiv, which is about 20 miles from the border. Locals in Kiev sought safety in bomb shelters as explosions were heard outside the city."
"Some of the first explosions after Putin announced the operation were heard near Kramatorsk, the headquarters of the Ukrainian army’s operations centre near the Russian-controlled territories in south-east Ukraine. Explosions were also reported at military headquarters, and at military warehouses."
There have also been reports of an amphibious assault on the key port city of Mariupol and ground forces moving in from Belarus, Crimea and from Russia. The Russian military claimed it was not targeting population centres. “High-precision weapons are disabling the military infrastructure, air defence facilities, military airfields and aviation of the Ukrainian army,” the Russian Defence Ministry said in a statement carried by state-owned news agency Ria Novosti.
The stage for the offensive was set on Wednesday night, after the leaders of the two Russian-controlled territories in east Ukraine sent an official request to Moscow for military aid to “help repel the aggression of the Ukrainian armed forces in order to avoid civilian casualties and a humanitarian catastrophe in the Donbas”.
An examination of Putin’s speech from this morning tells us something about his aims and intentions. Every war must have some justification and, in this case, Putin mentioned: “A hostile anti-Russia is being created on our historic lands.”
This claim is constantly rubbished by the West as mere propaganda. “How can poor little Ukraine pose a threat to Russia?” they snort. That is of course, a question that is supposed to answer itself. On its own, clearly Ukraine does not represent much of a threat. But as part of an imperialist military bloc led by the United States, planted on Russia’s doorstep, it most certainly would.
At the heart of the present dispute is, therefore, Ukraine’s future membership of NATO. Guaranteeing against this was a central Russian demand, which has been repeatedly refused by Washington – a refusal that was all the more absurd because the West acknowledges that Ukraine does not meet the minimum requirements for NATO membership at this point in time. It is not quite clear whether acceptance of this demand would, in itself, have prevented an invasion. But continually rejecting it out of hand made it inevitable.
The second requirement in any war is to gain the element of surprise and to put the blame on the other side. In this case, it was the shelling of the Donbas region. But that has gone on uninterruptedly for some years.
However, the immediate excuse is really a secondary consideration, since once the war becomes necessary, any excuse can be found. And as far as the element of surprise is concerned, that has been achieved very effectively, with the active assistance of messrs Biden and Johnson. They have behaved like the little boy who cried “Wolf!” so often that, when the wolf finally appeared at the door, nobody believed him.
Putin’s speech was really a declaration of war, but he studiously avoided mentioning it. This man, who is the nearest thing I know to an Egyptian Sphinx, likes to keep everyone guessing. “We have taken the decision to conduct a special military operation,” he said, without even hinting on just how special it would be.
And what would be the aim of this “special military operation”? He claimed it was for the “demilitarisation and denazification” of Ukraine. “We do not intend to occupy Ukraine,” he said, but at the same time, he had a warning for other nations who might be tempted to get involved:
“To anyone who would consider interfering from the outside: if you do, you will face consequences greater than any you have faced in history. All relevant decisions have been taken. I hope you hear me,” he said.
A fairly clear message, I think.
Can Ukraine resist?
The immediate reaction of the Kiev government was words of defiance:
“Putin has just launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine,” said Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba. “Peaceful Ukrainian cities are under strikes. This is a war of aggression. Ukraine will defend itself and will win. The world can and must stop Putin. The time to act is now.”
President Volodymyr Zelensky used a video address to appeal to the Russian public for help after an attempt to speak to Putin was unsuccessful. “Do Russians want wars? I would very much like to answer this question. But the answer is up to you,” he said.
He also vowed to defend the country, saying: “If someone attempts to take away our land, our freedom, our lives, the lives of our children, we will defend ourselves. By attacking, you will see our faces, not our backs, but our faces.”
He announced that martial law was now being imposed across all of Ukraine.
“No panic. We're strong. We're ready for anything. We'll defeat everyone, because we are Ukraine,” the Ukrainian leader said. Ahead of Russia's attack, he had made a last-ditch attempt to avert war, warning that Russia could start “a major war in Europe” and urging Russian citizens to oppose it.
Brave words! But this is just so much empty bravado. The Ukrainian army is in disarray, being taken hopelessly off guard by the suddenness of the attack. In any case, it was in no position to resist the might of the Russian army. The moment the West announced that it did not intend to send troops to defend Ukraine, the matter was settled in advance.
The assertion that there is no panic in the capital is belied by television pictures that show long lines of cars fleeing Kiev.
From the very start, the Kiev government has been a picture of helplessness. By stubbornly insisting on its right to join NATO – a clear provocation to Moscow – it threw itself unto the arms of the West as its only hope for survival. That was a very foolish mistake.
For all their public displays of bravado, the imperialists have not the slightest interest in the people of Ukraine. They are regarded as mere pawns in a cynical game of Great Power politics.
The Russian military claimed that all of Ukraine’s aviation bases were disabled in the barrage of missiles that began the Russian invasion. Smoke has been seen rising from near major airfields outside of Kharkiv and other cities in the east, and as far west as Ivano-Frankivsk, which is nearer to the border with Poland.
Thursday’s attack was preceded by a massive, continuous cyber-attack that targeted Ukraine’s ministries and banks, a form of hybrid warfare to sow confusion.
There have also been reports indicating that Russian forces have entered Ukraine, claiming that Ukraine’s border forces “are not putting up any resistance to Russian units”.
In a recent Facebook post, Dmitri Kovalevich a commentator based in Kiev paints a picture of Ukrainian forces in disarray:
“Unconfirmed messages on the Ukrainian web suggest that some 70 percent of recent western arms supplies for Ukraine were destroyed directly on arms depots. Our military is lamenting the fact that the depots were run by officers who turned out to be Russian agents, and simply blew them up.
“Update: all Turkish Bayractar drones were also destroyed right on the air fields.
"Donetsk rebels seized the city of Marioupol. Almost no resistance there from Ukraine’s army – they just walked into the city.
"Missiles that hit Ukraine’s military bases in Odessa were launched by underwater submarines.
“Reportedly, Ukraine’s border control checkpoints were captured in the Sumy region [north-east Ukraine]. Russian marines landed in Odessa region. Kiev anti-aircraft base was hit by ballistic missiles – within an hour Ukraine lost almost all its anti-aircraft systems.
“Mass fire from rocket-launchers along the entire frontline in Donbass. A Russian military column crossed the border in the Kharkov region.
“People from various regions of Ukraine report loud explosions, which happened simultaneously in Odessa, Kiev, Kramatorsk, Marioupol, Kharkov and Dnipro-city. This looks like large, timed explosives, detonated at once throughout the country.
“US intelligence drones left the airspace over Ukraine.
“Update: explosions hitting Ukraine's arms depots.
“Airspace over Ukraine is completely closed. Some jets flying to Kiev were ordered to turn back.”
It is clear that these reports, based on confused and partial information during the heat of the fighting, must be treated with some caution. But if only half of this is true, it shows that the Russians made sure that the military capabilities of Ukraine’s defences were destroyed, or at least severely impaired, before the invasion started.
It also paints a picture of demoralisation and lack of motivation in at least part of the Ukrainian forces, which contradicts the picture that has been peddled by western propaganda. Russia now has every incentive to move as fast as possible to seize the capital.
Military analysts have said they expect that Putin would send his forces in order to capture or surround Kiev. US Senator Marco Rubio, a member of the Senate’s select committee on intelligence, claims that “Russia’s airborne forces are attempting to take control of the airport in Kiev to… fly in forces to occupy the city.”
There were reports on Thursday evening on Russian state media that airborne troops had captured the airport in Boryspil near Kiev. Whether these reports are true or false, it is only a matter of time before the Ukrainian capital is in Russian hands. The war will then, to all intents and purposes, be over.
“Shock and horror”
Western leaders have fallen over themselves in their haste to condemn the invasion, which, if we are to believe them, will lead to something approaching Armageddon, with millions (sic!) of people killed and a bloody all-European war threatening the very existence of human civilization as we know it.
Joe Biden issued a written statement saying:
“The prayers of the entire world are with the people of Ukraine tonight as they suffer an unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces.”
“President Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering,” Biden said. “Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring, and the United States and its allies and partners will respond in a united and decisive way. The world will hold Russia accountable.”
“I am appalled by the horrific events in Ukraine and I have spoken to President Zelenskyy to discuss next steps. President Putin has chosen a path of bloodshed and destruction by launching this unprovoked attack on Ukraine.”
“We will hold the Kremlin accountable,” wrote Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the EU Commission, which had announced new sanctions against Moscow just hours before the attack.
All of these fine, defiant words are contrasted with the fact that Biden and co. never had the slightest intention of providing military support to Kiev. Their only contribution to the present crisis was a never-ending series of bellicose statements, accompanied by dire threats of “severe” (but unspecified) consequences that would allegedly follow a Russian attack. These remarks, backed up by an obstinate intransigence to even consider Russia’s demands, helped to make an invasion inevitable.
In short, all these ladies and gentlemen were quite prepared to fight to the last drop of the blood – specifically, that of the Ukrainians.
Even more despicable was the rabid ranting that was coming out of London. If incendiary speeches could win wars, the stupid rhetoric delivered on the floor of the House of Commons would have had the Russian army scurrying back to barracks as fast as their boots could carry them.
“The UK and our allies will respond decisively,” growled Prime Minister Boris Johnson, more to impress his own Tory backbenchers, who have attacked him for his timid response to the man in the Kremlin.
Unfortunately, the historical record tells us that wars have never been won by words. Putin must have had a good laugh at this circus that passes for a parliament. That is, if he paid any attention to it at all, which we doubt very much.
And what are we to say about Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer? The most earnest desire of this right-wing Blairite is to make the Labour Party look as similar to the Tories as possible. His dream is to see it waving the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes instead of the Red Flag.
So, it was no surprise to see him enthusiastically competing with Boris Johnson to prove who was the most ferocious enemy of Russia and the most ardent supporter of NATO.
The pot should not call the kettle black
All these words stink of hypocrisy. Where was the chorus of condemnation when the Americans and their “allies” (read: lackeys) launched a criminal and bloody war against Iraq? And what about their lying propaganda about non-existent “weapons of mass destruction”, that were supposed to be ‘proved’ by fake documents, and served as a cynical cover for an act of blatant aggression against a sovereign state?
That disgusting act – as well as the equally criminal invasion of Afghanistan and the imperialist rape of Syria – led to the deaths of at least one million people. But why let the facts ruin a good story?
Parading on TV for the world to see, in their tailor-made suits and polished smiles, the western leaders are made to appear as the voice of reason and humanism. But scratch that surface, and you will find nothing but filth. There is no force on earth as reactionary and as drenched in blood as US imperialism and its puppets in the west.
The “United” Nations
As always, when war breaks out, our ears are suddenly assailed by a strange noise. It strongly resembles the bleating of frightened sheep, but in fact it is the Voice of Sanity, the True Voice of Humanity, or so we are led to believe.
I refer to the bleating of the pacifists: those pleasant, well-meaning souls who inform us that peace is good and war is bad. But wars have never been halted by sentimental appeals to decency and common sense. On the contrary, common sense tells us that throughout the ages, all serious matters have always been resolved by force of arms.
One of the most remarkable features of pacifists is their seemingly endless capacity for self-deception. They eagerly cling to each and any speech by a leader fervently declaring his or her attachment to peace. Or this or that empty resolution passed by a government or institution repeating the same banal sentiments. A naïve belief in the efficacy of such things make the pacifists useful dupes of the warmongers, since they lull people into a false sense of security.
Such speeches and resolutions merely serve as a convenient smokescreen to conceal the real, aggressive intentions that lie behind them. And the biggest fraud of all is the comically misnamed United Nations. This body was set up following the Second World War, supposedly to prevent new wars in the future.
And every time there is a danger of war, the pacifists and left reformists call on the UN to intervene. That is a stupid illusion and a deception of the people.
This is not the place to repeat the sorry history of that institution. Suffice it to say that the UN has never prevented any war, and has in fact been involved in more than one, as the case of Korea shows.
Between 1945 and 1989 there have been more than 300 wars internationally. Since WW2 and until today, the United States alone has waged 30 major military operations. The United Nations had no impact whatsoever on any of these events.
And today is no different. At the very time when Putin’s words were being broadcast, the UN security council was holding an emergency session, chaired by Russia itself, which holds the rotating presidency.
It was begun by the UN secretary general, António Guterres, who made a direct appeal: “President Putin – stop your troops from attacking Ukraine. Give peace a chance. Too many people have already died.”
But no sooner had these words left his lips, the first detonations were being reported. The final epitaph on the grave of pacifism and the United Nations can be left to the Bible: “crying peace, peace, when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah, 6: 14)
Lenin once said that capitalism is horror without end. It is a system with war and reactionary national chauvinism baked into its foundations, as a part of the international competition for markets and spheres of influence. How many millions of workers and poor have been marched onto the battlefields and sacrificed in the name of the ‘nation’, which is merely another word for the interests of the capitalist class?
As long as capitalism remains, war will remain a permanent feature, and there can be no talk of ‘united nations’, just like there can be no talk of a united nation. The only unity that is possible is international class unity.
It is the task of Marxists and socialists to expose the illusion that the interests of the workers and poor can be reconciled with those of the ruling class. The only way to fight war is to fight against the system which causes war.
While it is too early to say that the war is over, nobody can doubt that the Russians will achieve all their declared objectives in a very short time. It is not easy to determine the precise mood of the Ukrainian people. In any case, it will be different in the eastern region, where there are many Russian speakers; and the western part, which has always been more inclined to nationalism.
But the prevailing mood will be one of despair, pessimism and, above all, war-weariness and a strong desire for peace and some kind of stability. This may provide Putin the basis for setting up a pro-Russian government in Kiev.
It seems to me that a man like Poroshenko might fit the bill nicely as a replacement for Zelensky. True, he has made some very sharp speeches lately, condemning Putin. But that was to be expected, and behind the scenes, negotiations will be taking place, the outcome of which may yet surprise everyone. But that is just my guess…
Obviously, the question of Ukrainian membership of NATO will be off the agenda. Under the declared banner of denazification, there will be a purge of right-wing and ultra-nationalist organisations.
It is self-evident that the Russian occupying forces will want to rid themselves of actual or potential enemies, and this will certainly include the fascist and ultra-nationalist armed militias.
When Putin says he does not intend to occupy Ukraine, there is no reason to doubt his word. To be more accurate, he will not occupy it for long. That would be too difficult and very expensive.
No. He will withdraw, having made his point. And that is to show both to the Ukrainians and the rest of the world that Russia is not to be trifled with, that NATO’s expansion to the east must stop, that Ukraine and Georgia must never join it and that NATO must not place large concentrations of forces near Russia’s borders or hold provocative manoeuvres in the vicinity.
He keeps repeating that he is open to negotiate, and that is also the case. But he will now be negotiating from a position that is far stronger than before. He will press his demand for the removal of medium-range nuclear weapons from Eastern Europe and the effective reinstatement of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, which, you will recall, was unilaterally ditched by Mr. Trump.
Before withdrawing, just to make things absolutely clear, he may well pocket a few more pieces of Ukrainian territory, namely by expanding the newly recognised People’s Republics to include the whole of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
That, by the way, would be a purely defensive move, designed to create a buffer zone on Russia’s southern border. That would underline the impotence of Ukraine and remove it altogether from the list of possible future threats to Russia’s security – which was exactly what Putin did in the case of Georgia.
Incidentally, on re-reading what I wrote at that time, I think it fits the present situation very well, so I will quote it here:
“Yes, we recognise the right of the people of Georgia to self-determination, but not unconditionally. We do not defend their right to oppress other small nations, such as the Ossetians and the Abkhazians. Do we defend the right of the Abkhazian and Ossetians to self-determination? Yes, we do. But what kind of self-determination is it that depends entirely on subsidies from Moscow and allows itself to be used as the small change in the diplomatic intrigues of the latter to subvert and oppress the Georgians? In what way does this further the cause of socialism and the working class? In no way! This kind of ‘self-determination’ is a fraud and a lie. It is merely a convenient smokescreen to disguise the ambitions and greed of a larger power, namely Russia, which wants to take back its old possessions in the Caucasus. The absorption of these peoples into Russia will give them about the same ‘self-determination’ as that enjoyed by the Chechens – that is, none at all, just as there is no real self-determination in North Ossetia, Dagestan, or any other region in Russia.
“On the basis of capitalism no lasting solution can be found for the national question, whether in the Caucasus, the Balkans or the Middle East. Any attempt to ‘solve’ the national question on the basis of capitalism can only lead to new wars, terrorism, ‘ethnic cleansing’ and new waves of refugees, in a vicious spiral of violence and oppression. The question of the right to return for all refugees can never be solved on a capitalist basis. It would inevitably mean increased competition for scarce resources, jobs, houses, medical assistance, education, and other services. If there are not enough jobs and houses for all, it would inevitably fuel the fires of national or religious tensions. Partial reforms will not solve the problem. A root-and-branch solution is necessary. One cannot cure cancer with an aspirin!”
If we replace the word Georgia with Ukraine, and the Russian-speaking people of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions for the Ossetians and the Abkhazians, it fits like a glove. There is really nothing more to add to it.
The US will likely announce new sanctions against Russia on Monday, using tools to punish Russian banks and its larger financial system that Washington had so far held in reserve.
The sanctions imposed by the West will do nothing to alter Russia’s position, since Putin has taken steps to drastically reduce Russia’s dependence on the West. True, as an immediate reaction to the invasion, the Russian ruble fell to a record-low level since 2016, and trading was halted on the Russian stock market. But those effects will only be temporary. On the other hand, if sanctions lead to the cutting off of Russian gas supplies to Europe, it would have catastrophic effects and we would then expect a further rise in food and fuel prices.
What attitude should we take?
The present situation has inevitably been met by an intensified barrage of propaganda in the prostitute media. The aim of this is not at all to promote the interests and well-being of the people of Ukraine. On the contrary, their interests have been cynically sacrificed on the altar of imperialism.
It is imperative that we maintain a firm class position and do not allow ourselves to be dragged along by the lying imperialist propaganda machine.
Do we support Vladimir Putin and the Russian oligarchy whose interests he backs? No, Putin is no friend of the working class, either in Russia, Ukraine or anywhere else. The invasion of Ukraine is merely a continuation of his own cynical and reactionary agenda.
But that is not the question we should ask ourselves at this time. The question is: can we in any shape or form appear to be in the same camp as US and British imperialism? Can we associate ourselves, directly or indirectly with NATO, that reactionary imperialist gang? Or with Boris Johnson and the war-monger Liz Truss, or that Blairite traitor Starmer?
It is the task of the Russian working class to deal with Putin. Our fight is against imperialism, NATO and our own reactionary Tory government and those miserable so-called Labour leaders who are its partners in crime. As Lenin always insisted: the main enemy is at home. It is high time we reminded ourselves of that fact.
London, 24 February, 2022