A response to John McDonnell MP on Ukraine

April 11, 2023 8:43 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

Article by John Green

Many will have been surprised and saddened to see John McDonnell’s signature attached to the recent open letter on Ukraine in the Morning Star. He has also elaborated on his stance in a longer article in the online paper, Labour Hub (21 February 2023).

He comes to the conclusion that the only way to end the war in Ukraine is to supply more arms to the Ukrainian government so that it can defeat Russia.

McDonnell is a founding member of the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign and over the years has worked together with Ukrainian trade unionists on trade union campaigns through the Confederation of the Free Trade Unions of Ukraine.

Through the Donbass miners, he writes, he came into contact with Ukrainian socialists, anarchists and anti-fascists, through the organisation Sotsialnyi Rukh (Social Movement) This small, overtly Trotskyist organisation says, in its own words: “Certainly, there’s urgent need for us and for the entire Ukrainian society in ending the war in Donbas and achieving peace. This goal requires uniting the working class all over different parts of Ukraine. We offer defending our common class interests against the Ukrainian, Russian and Western capitalists rather than geopolitical nonsense and artificial separation by competing nationalisms and imperialisms.” It notably does not call for more arms or more Western interference.

McDonnell writes that Sotsialnyi Rukh, “linked with the independent trade unions was active in the Maidan protests against the corrupt Russian-backed presidency of Yanukovich” and is opposed to the growth of fascist groups. He ignores the fact that this opposition has been singularly ineffective and that it is only a tiny, marginalised grouplet.

In his alleged aim of supporting trade unionists in Ukraine McDonnell seems to be very choosy about which trade unionists he supports. He fails to mention that Zelensky’s regime has banned all trade union organisations in the country or that, in 2014, in the City of Odessa, fascist elements besieged a trade union headquarters and burned it to the ground killing 42 people who were deemed to be pro-Russian. No one has been prosecuted for this crime.

Before the Russian armed forces entered Ukraine in February 2014, several mainstream western media outlets, including the Guardian and the BBC highlighted the dangers of fascism in Ukraine, including the notorious Azov Battalion.

On 1 March 2014 BBC Newsnight released a report, headlined: Neo-Nazi threat in Ukraine, and again, on Apr 3, 2018, Jonah Fisher reporting from Ukraine for BBC Newsnight talked about “the increasing visibility of far-right groups in Ukraine”.

Seumas Milne in the Guardian on January 2014, wrote: “You’d never know from most of the reporting that far-right nationalists and fascists have been at the heart of the and attacks on government buildings. One of the three main opposition parties heading the campaign is the hard-right antisemitic Svoboda, whose leader Oleh Tyahnybok claims that a “Moscow-Jewish mafia” controls Ukraine.”
Since then, there has been total silence on this issue. McDonnell et al fail to even mention the fascist factor. Only a few weeks ago the regime held official commemorative services for Stepan Bandera the notorious fascist leader during the 1940s who was responsible for genocidal operations against Jews, Communists and ethnic Poles. Fascism is a live and kicking, it seems.

In his condemnation of ‘imperialist Russia” McDonnell also fails to mention the clear evidence of continued US interference in Ukraine, NATO’s determined expansion up to Russia’s borders or the terrorist act by the USA of blowing up a Russian gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea.

In April 2014, Victoria Nuland, a representative of the US State Department told an audience that, ‘We have invested over 5 billion dollars in Ukraine with the aim of achieving a change of government and ensuring a democratic and prosperous Ukraine’. The US actively engineered the overthrow of a flawed but democratically elected government under Yanukovich. Biden himself has openly stated that his aim is ‘regime change’ in Russia.

The new anti-Russian government that replaced the Yanukovich administration, in 2014, immediately instituted anti-Russian legislation. It decreed that Russian would no longer be an official language alongside Ukrainian. Russian was removed from all educational programmes. These measures were followed by the mass renaming of streets with Russian names and the banning of Russian books. Russian-speaking citizens have since been the victims of continuous discrimination. This has caused a deep trauma among the Russian-speaking populations, centred largely in eastern and southern Ukraine. They still had vivid memories of the nazi invasion and the atrocities committed by nazi troops during the Second World War. They began to resist. They refused to recognise the new Ukraine government installed by violence. In a referendum held in the Crimea in 2014, 96% voted for secession and to join Russia. There was no war, no violent seizure, the Crimeans voted by their own free will.

An attempt to transfer school education from Russian into Ukrainian gave rise to powerful resistance in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions. In May 2014 a referendum was held there, in which 87% of citizens voted for independence. This is how the Donetsk (DPR) and Lugansk people’s republics (LPR) arose. After several unsuccessful attempts to invade the LPR-DPR, by the Kyiv regime, it turned to continued bombardment. During 8 years of shelling from large-calibre guns, more than 13 thousand civilians have been killed. This was met with complete silence by the world community.

McDonnell does not address the clearly racist and Russophobic policies of the present Ukrainian regime. He also shows no knowledge of the chequered history of Ukraine and its centuries old ties to Russia. It had never been a nation state in the accepted sense before the collapse of the Soviet Union, and its unilateral declaration of independence, leaving millions of Russian-speakers stranded within its new borders.

The Crimea for Russia has a similar symbolic significance as Pearl Harbour for the USA. Russia’s Black Sea fleet had been based in the Crimean city of Sebastopol since 1783 under Catherine the Great. In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union it was leased by Ukraine to Russia by agreement between the two countries until 2042. However, the new Ukrainian leaders decided to expel Russia as they were planning to join NATO. The US had already been secretly preparing to publish a tender for the building of NATO military facilities there. Russia was determined to prevent this happening, as this would also threaten Russia’s own access to the Black Sea and Mediterranean. This is also not addressed by McDonnell.

After the Crimean secession, the pressure on other Russian-speaking areas of Ukraine grew. Fearful for their own futures, the majority in Donetsk and Lugansk regions, largely Russian-speaking areas, followed Crimea and declared themselves autonomous. The Ukrainian military then unleashed an armed assault on this region in 2014/15. That’s when the war in Ukraine really began.

Fighting started in eastern Ukraine in April 2014 and raged for months until Ukraine and the separatists came to a deal on 5 September 2015 to halt the violence and release prisoners, but this ceasefire never held. It was systematically violated, and the hot war continued. To date it has cost the lives of over 13,000 civilians (largely Russian) including 6,000 civilians in the Donbas. Many residential areas and infrastructure were destroyed by the Ukrainian army. No one in the West seemed to care. After all, it was mainly Russian-speaking civilians being killed. Russia, of course, began giving support to the separatists.

The Minsk Agreements of 2014 and 15 could have prevented all-out war, but as has since become clear (see former German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s admission of this) they were deliberately sabotaged by the US to give it and its allies time to beef up Ukraine’s army and supply it with weapons. This was underlined by John Kirby, Press Secretary at the Pentagon (quoted on Fox News), who said, ‘over the last 8 years USA, Canada and UK have been training the Ukrainian army and its commanders.

Why, one might ask, were the US and its allies preparing Ukraine for war, not for defence, but as an attacking force? Ukraine was not asking for air defence systems to protect it from a potential Russian attack but was requesting attack drones and other offensive weaponry. Is this what McDonnell is also asking for?

The Ukraine conflict is merely the culmination of a long-planned attempt to encircle and destabilise Russia to ensure US global hegemony. In 2003, an anti-Russian rebellion took place in the neighbouring country of Georgia, also a focus of US interference. In 2004, three countries bordering Russia joined NATO. In 2008 Georgia itself applied to join NATO and attacked Russian peace-keeping forces in Ossetia, although they were there legally under a UN mandate, unleashing a Russia-Georgian war. In 2018 an uprising in Armenia led to the installation of a pro-US government, but it was reluctant to pursue an anti-Russian policy. In 2020 Azerbaijan launched a war against Armenia (a Russian ally). Turkey, a NATO member, openly gave military support to Azerbaijan. But no one in the West, it seemed, wanted to stop that war.

At the beginning of 2022, another coup attempt was made in Kazakhstan, also a military ally of Russia and where its Baikonur cosmodrome is located, and from where Yuri Gagarin made the first manned flight into space. Armed rebels in Kazakhstan announced that they were waging a battle against tyranny and expressed anti-Russian sentiments. The Kazakh government then invited Russian troops in to help it put down the uprising and to protect strategic facilities including the Baikonur cosmodrome. It was a similar scenario to that in Ukraine in 2014.

Ukraine has banned the Communist Party of Ukraine and other opposition parties. The brothers Oleksandr and Mykhilo Kononovich, members of Ukraine’s banned Communist Party, were arrested and imprisoned on baseless charges of collaborating with the secret services of Russia and Belarus, others have simply been murdered.

McDonnell writes: “with a consistent track record of opposing illegal wars launched by imperial powers, it is completely understandable why I have opposed and condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine and why I have supported arming Ukrainians fighting the invasion of their country.

Does McDonnell not question the fact that he has now allied himself with US imperialism, NATO and Western leaders who also have a track record: of invading other countries not to impose democracy but to plunder resources and enforce neo-liberal economic systems on the defeated. Have they suddenly become defenders of democracy overnight? Is he happy to have such friends?

To expect, as he clearly does, that Ukraine, even with military aid from the West, can defeat Russia militarily is fanciful and the situation could easily descend into a nuclear war. Is this what McDonnell is prepared to risk?

He writes that “calls for a mass mobilisation of an international peace movement to halt the invasion sadly were unrealistic given the speed and ruthlessly violent drive of the invasion …
Ukrainians were faced with the realistic prospect of the subjugation of their country by an imperialist aggressor”. The opposition to the Iraq was also ‘unrealistic’ and unsuccessful, but that didn’t make it wrong.

“My Ukrainian socialist and trade unionist comrades, who believed in nothing more than internationalism, solidarity and peace, joined the territorial force to halt the aggressor.
What else could they do?” He argues lamely. It is not a question of ‘what else could they do?’ but of the insignificance of his “comrades” as a movement within the scheme of things globally.

“From the outset.” He writes, “I could see no other realistic option but to support their right to defend themselves”. Ukrainian and Russian lives are being sacrificed in their tens of thousands in a pointless war, but he seems to be at ease with that scenario.

He rejects the arguments that this is a proxy war between two imperialist powers, NATO and Russia, and that socialists should have no part in it.

He argues that “a democratic, lasting peace for the peoples of Ukraine and Russia requires the defeat of Russia’s brutal imperialism,” it called for governments to step up both humanitarian and military aid, including “the gifting to Ukraine of all the surplus UK military equipment due to be replaced,” including tanks and Typhoon fighter aircraft.” On this he is at one with the Tory government and NATO policy. I appeal to John McDonnell to rethink his present stance.

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