An Unwinnable War

Bill Bonnar sets out a socialist case for a negotiated peace in Ukraine.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine represents an attack on a sovereign country and is in violation of international law. This principle has been front and centre of every statement produced by the Scottish Socialist Party on the subject. However, we reject much of the narrative around the causes of this war and what will form the basis of an eventual solution. Failure to understand its causes will make a solution impossible to find. The result will be the continuation of an unwinnable war in which hundreds of thousands of innocent young Ukrainian and Russian soldiers are slaughtered in scenarios resembling those of the First World War, alongside mass killing of civilians and blanket destruction of large parts of

The background factor ignored by the western media has been the complete and total failure of capitalism in Ukraine. The imposition of capitalism in 1991 following independence has proved a disaster by just about every definition of disaster one can think of. The Ukrainian economy collapsed into a catastrophic crisis from which it never recovered. Compared to Soviet times, the economy today is around half the size it was. Living standards for most people are lower than in the 1980s, and Ukraine was listed as the poorest country in Europe in 2020. Spending on everything from health care, education, social care and even culture and sport is significantly less than when it was part of the Soviet Union, while average life expectancy is lower today than forty years ago. Ukraine has become a failed capitalist state. Ironically, so has Russia. All of the figures outlined above equally apply to Russia since 1991. In fact this has been a war between two failed capitalist states.

When Ukraine became independent in 1991 it was governed by a number of different and volatile regimes, yet for twenty years these regimes agreed on two basic principles. The first was that in terms of relations between Russia and the West, Ukraine should be neutral and non-aligned, seeking positive relationships with both. Second, given that Ukraine contained large ethnic and regional minorities, the new Ukraine could not simply be an ethnically- based Ukrainian state. An element of concerted nation-building was necessary.

This changed in 2013 when a mass popular protest, fueled by a severe economic crisis, was hijacked by right-wing nationalist forces who staged a coup and overthrew the elected president. This brought to power a radically different regime in Kiev. Strongly nationalist, and interlaced with elements of fascism, it
was pro-western, virulently anti-Russian, awash with American money, and surrounded by American advisors. When Russian regional forces rose up in support of the former president, a civil war quickly developed in which an estimated 14,000 civilians were killed and hundreds of thousands were forced to flee their homes. These were mostly Russians; often the victims of ethnic cleansing carried out by Ukrainian fascist forces like the notorious AZOV Battalion. While this was going on the government in Kiev made no secret of its desire to join Nato in an anti-Russian alli-ance, while Nato was pouring vast amounts of military hardware into the country. Almost overnight Ukraine became a member of
Nato in all but name.

Moscow viewed these unfolding events as a direct threat to its national security. The SSP holds no truck with Russia’s gangster capitalist regime. Yet the simple truth is that no government in Moscow, not even a socialist one, would tolerate Ukraine becoming a vehicle for Nato expansionism.

Since 1991 Nato’s aggressive drive eastward has been relentless. Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria have all joined Nato, pushing this nuclear-armed military alliance to the borders of Russia. For Russia, the prospect of Ukraine joining Nato would take this threat to a whole new level as even the most superficial reading of modern history would show. In 1917 after the Brest Litovsk Treaty, Germany occupied large parts of Russia; the occupation was channeled through Ukraine. During the civil war following the Russian Revolution, fourteen countries invaded Russia; most invaded through Ukraine. In the Second World War, the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union was primarily through Ukraine. Ukraine joining Nato is seen as an existential threat to the Russian state.

Why is all this important? Failure to understand the reasons for the war makes finding a solution more difficult. The conflict has now reached horrendous proportions. An estimated 200,000 innocent young Russian and Ukrainian conscripts have died on behalf of their respective regimes in a conflict which already has parallels with the fighting of the First World War. It is a war with no end in sight that is unwinnable on either side. Russia has failed to overthrow the government in Kiev, while Ukraine cannot regain control of the Donbas Region or Crimea.

There can only be one solution; a negotiated peace settlement. The vast majority of the international community have already arrived at this position, in contrast to the United States which is carrying out a proxy war against Russia and is willing to fight to the last drop of Ukrainian blood.

What would be the basis of such a peace agreement? An unequivocal recognition of Ukrainian sovereignty by Russia and a withdrawal of its armed forces from the country. An end to the Nato arming of the Ukrainian government and a general demilitarization of the region. A categorical rejection of any attempt by Ukraine to join Nato. Plebiscites to be held, under international supervision, to allow the people of the Donbas Region and Crimea to decide their futures.

These form the core of a number of peace proposals doing the rounds, and are self-evident routes towards ending this conflict. The fact that they fail to appear almost anywhere in the British media will soon change as more and more people realise there is no alternative. An unwinnable war lasting years, or a peace settlement? For socialists, there can only be one choice.