Vinod Mubayi

It may appear quixotic to denounce both Putin’s outrageous invasion of Ukraine as well as the past three decades of NATO creep that has apparently precipitated this disaster. But a moment of sober reflection should reveal that if a necessary but only one-sided condemnation of, say, the Russian action is made, without considering what NATO and the US have done over the last few decades, the crisis is likely to repeat in some new form sooner or later.

When the Soviet Union disintegrated and the Warsaw Pact military alliance dissolved, the rationale and justification for maintaining the Western military alliance NATO also evaporated. In the immediate triumphalism that followed the bloodless “victory” of the Western alliance and the ‘end of history’ proclaimed by western ideologues, however, no attempt was made to examine the logic of keeping NATO going. The enthusiasm with which the victory of the so-called “Free World” in the Cold War was celebrated no doubt also played its part. Instead of dissolving NATO, pressure to expand it eastward to countries that had recently been part of the Warsaw Pact began to be manifested in the Clinton Administration in the mid-1990s. Some of this pressure, as shown in a recent book by Andrew Cockburn, The Spoils of War, came from the military-industrial complex in the US who were afraid of losing significant markets if peace and disarmament were to prevail. Cockburn notes, that by 2014, the 12 new East European members of NATO had purchased close to $17 billion of American weapons.

Whatever the reasons underlying NATO’s march to the East, saner voices at the time warned of the dangers of NATO expansion. The elder statesman George Kennan, originator of the strategy of containment of the Soviet Union in the late 1940s, issued an unequivocal warning in 1997 “expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the post-cold war era.”

Jack Matlock, US ambassador to the Soviet Union under the Reagan Administration, wrote that “In 1997, when the question of adding more members to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), I was asked to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In my introductory remarks, I made the following statement: “I consider the Administration’s recommendation to take new members into NATO at this time misguided. If it should be approved by the United States Senate, it may well go down in history as the most profound strategic blunder made since the end of the Cold War. Far from improving the security of the United States, its Allies, and the nations that wish to enter the Alliance, it could well encourage a chain of events that could produce the most serious security threat to this nation since the Soviet Union collapsed.”

These warnings and others, notably by the late Stephen F. Cohen, remained unheeded. Starting in 1997, NATO began a mushroom like expansion that started with the countries in the former Warsaw Pact and went on to even incorporate republics of the former Soviet Union like the Baltic states Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. Russia, the successor state to the Soviet Union, was politically and economically weak in the 1990s and unable to effectively prevent its encirclement by NATO, an outcome that the US Administration of George H.W. Bush had promised Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leader, would never happen when the latter agreed to withdraw Soviet troops from Germany. In fact, emboldened by the expansion of NATO, the US then began to encourage the so-called color revolutions to promote regime change in previous Soviet republics, notably Georgia and Ukraine. They succeeded in overthrowing the democratically elected President of Ukraine in a coup in 2014. These provocations brought forth responses from Russia, some of which have been highlighted by Putin in his speech justifying the attack on Ukraine.

However, while this summary of US-NATO actions can explain, to some extent, Putin’s actions it cannot in any way justify them. To understand what Putin is seeking it is useful to read and analyze his speech on the eve of the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian army that severely criticizes Lenin and the Bolsheviks for having created a union of republics that were accorded the democratic right of self-determination, a concept he pours scorn on, which disrupted the mystical, holy bonds between the peoples of Russia and the Ukraine in particular. Putin apparently wishes to recreate some part of the Tsarist Great Russian Empire when he emphasizes that “Ukraine is not just a neighboring country for us. It is an inalienable part of our own history, culture and spiritual space.” That may very well be true, but it seems strange to attack your spiritual space with bombs and missiles.

It is useful to recall what Lenin said about the Tsarist Empire: he termed it the “prison house of nations.” Putin must especially hate Lenin’s statement of December 28, 1919 that called on the communists of Russia and Ukraine to foil the nationalist machinations of the bourgeoisie and vanquish nationalist prejudices of every kind and set the working people of the world an example of a really solid alliance of the workers and peasants of different nations. Putin and the Russian oligarchs around him are no doubt light-years away from any of this kind of thinking.

For progressives, however, the record of NATO and the US in waging aggressive war across the globe, in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, not to speak of their role in the breakup of Yugoslavia, hardly offers any encouragement as an alternative to support in the resolution of this conflict by comparison. Supporting NATO as a counter to Russia and Putin’s ambitions to be recognized as the leader of a reconstructed Russian empire means getting enmeshed in a great power state conflict that is likely to erupt from time to time.

Yanis Varoufakis, member of the Greek Parliament, former finance minister of Greece in the previous leftist regime, stated in an interview with Democracy Now that while Putin is to blame entirely for the war, “at the same time, NATO must be condemned for creating the circumstances leading to Putin’s escapade in the Ukraine.” He went on to state “We have to create international solidarity in order to ensure that the people of Ukraine live in peace, not under the boot of any army, and for NATO to keep out of Europe, and especially Eastern Europe, as, let’s not forget, George Bush — the senior George Bush — had promised Mikhail Gorbachev.” In his view, NATO and the US should declare that Ukraine will not become a member of NATO on condition that Putin “ceases all hostilities and removes all troops from Ukrainian soil.:

According to Varoufakis “our best comrades, our best friends and collaborators in bringing about peace are the democrats in Russia, the democrats in China, the democrats in the United States of America — small-D democrats. I’m not referring to the ruling party.”

In summary, to fashion a response to Putin’s aggression, progressives need to recall the famous words of revolutionaries like Rosa Luxembourg and Lenin who denounced the social democrats in European countries that voted for war credits to finance the inter-imperialist World War 1 between the British, French, Russian and the German, Ottoman empires.

It is worth quoting an extended Facebook post a few days ago by our comrade Shuddhabrata Sengupta in India that summarizes this view clearly and forcibly:

Geo-Politics is not a zero-sum game!

Opposing Russian aggression does not mean endorsing American postures.

In Syria, Russia and Iran back a genocidal dictator, and the US, Israel and Turkey laid the foundation for the presence of the Da’esh. Listening to the agony of the people of Syria means opposing both these axes.

Opposing the disastrous legacy of the US military presence in Afghanistan does not mean endorsing the Chinese cozying up to the Taliban or presenting the Taliban as ‘anti-imperialist’ fighters. They are not.

The thing to do is to acquire the courage and the intelligence to oppose all power blocs and militarised formations that destroy the life of people everywhere. This is neither ‘neutrality’ nor ‘non alignment’, it’s a principled and partisan position in solidarity with those who are being attacked.

In Yemen, the KSA (Saudi Arabia) and the USA rain bombs on the people of Yemen. Israel bombed Syria again yesterday.

And Ukraine is a story we know by now.

What is the right position to take? Not to support and endorse one power against another. Not to tailor and polish arguments for one war and against another. The only way for us to look at war is to remember the way in which Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, Jean Jaures and Vladimir Lenin (I am speaking specifically of the Lenin of Zimmerwald) rejected the social democratic betrayal of proletarian internationalism when representatives of social democratic parties in opposing countries voted for war credits in their respective parliaments.

The Communist movement – birthed by Luxemburg and Lenin and their comrades was born in opposition to nationalism and war. It was born in a revolutionary commitment to peace.

That is the position worth taking today. Everything else is bullshit. And we know it is.

People are taking pro-Russian or pro-NATO positions as if this is football match and they are cheering their teams. This is not a football match. It’s a fucking war. And the only position to take is to oppose war. To oppose the regimes that rule Russia, the US, KSA, Israel, Iran, India, Pakistan China (I could go on) and their puppets and clients – and to stand by the peoples of Ukraine, of Russia, of Iran, of Yemen, of Syria, of India, Pakistan and Kashmir, of the KSA, of China, of everywhere in the world.

Get over your narcotic fixations on the zero-sum game of the nation state system and start thinking of a different way to imagine and live in the world. People could do it a hundred and five years ago, in 1917, and that is how, and why, the First World War ended.

The reality of war demands that we think differently. The reality of climate change demands we think differently. The reality of capitalism demands we think differently.

Wake up!

Perhaps this is hopelessly utopian and idealistic. But anything less seems a cop out with nothing to offer a world hurtling to catastrophe from global warming.

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