This is the text of a leaflet distributed today at a rally in Melbourne against war in Ukraine.
Solidarity supports the struggle of the Ukrainian people against Putin’s invasion. The ongoing war does not benefit the workers of any nation and has already killed hundreds of innocent civilians and displaced thousands. The imperialist powers that are tearing Ukraine apart have blood on their hands.
• Russia out of Ukraine now
• Withdraw NATO troops from Eastern Europe
• Send aid, not weapons
• Australia: Welcome all refugees
Russia plays an imperialist game
Russia has entered Ukraine to assert its interests as an imperial power. Putin wants to use the war to secure his economic interests, such as continuing to export gas to Europe, while also whipping up Russian nationalism to bolster his popularity.
After America’s defeat in Afghanistan, Russia is also looking to challenge US dominance in Eastern Europe and stop Ukraine getting closer to NATO.
In the past, Russia has used separatist movements as military leverage against neighbours who drift too close to the West, such as in its war with Georgia.
It invaded Afghanistan in 1979 to install a puppet regime and instead got bogged down in a proxy war with the West that tore that country apart.
Living under Russia’s thumb is of no benefit to ordinary people. We only need to look at the brutal crackdowns on anti-government protests in Belarus and Kazakhstan to see the lengths that Putin will go to prevent struggle from spreading.
Western imperialism offers nothing to Ukrainians
However, it is a mistake to look to the West as an alternative. The Western ruling classes also have no interest in the welfare of ordinary Ukrainians.
What is the true attitude of the West to the economic welfare of Ukrainians? After former president Yanukovych was kicked out by protests in 2014, Ukraine accepted a bailout from the US- and EU-dominated International Monetary Fund.
The IMF imposed brutal austerity conditions such as cutting fuel subsidies, gutting the civil service and healthcare system, raising taxes on the working poor, and slashing public programs. Today Ukraine is the poorest country per capita in Europe, even poorer than in 1993. The West will not improve living standards in Ukraine.
What is the true attitude of the West to the people of Ukraine? For decades, the EU has treated the people of Eastern Europe as disposable buffer states, pools of cheap labour, and places to outsource their brutal anti-refugee border regimes. Oil companies in the West are already talking up the potential profits of oil sales in Europe if Russian pipelines are cut.
Recent Western-aligned Ukrainian governments have been well-aware that Russia uses Ukraine’s mistreatment of minorities as a talking point, but they continue to trample on minority rights anyway. The West is sending weapons to Ukraine and troops to the surrounding countries to strengthen its position against Russia, not to help Ukrainians.
Now the West is lining up to apply sanctions onto Russia. The same sort that destroyed economies and living standards in Iran, Iraq, Cuba and elsewhere.
The effect of sanctions will be to punish ordinary Russians for Putin’s actions. Sanctions also give Putin an excuse to further whip up nationalism. They are weapons of economic warfare, meant to hurt ordinary Russians just like any bullet.
If the anti-war movement truly supports our comrades on the other side of the conflict, we must oppose sanctions.
Western militarism is no alternative
The West paints the Russian invasion as simply a matter of Putin’s ambition to rebuild a Russian empire. This obscures their role in this terrible crisis.
Russia may have fired the first shots in Ukraine but the origins of the military clash lie in the much deeper rivalry between competing imperialist blocs.
When the Soviet Union fell in 1991 the US promised that in return for allowing the reunification of Germany, NATO would not expand eastwards. NATO broke that promise and incorporated almost all former Soviet republics in Eastern Europe.
Ukrainians will never have peace if NATO and Russia are constantly pointing guns over their heads. This would only intensify the anxiety and anger in Russia towards NATO and Ukraine and increase the likelihood of a far more horrific war.
It is not a question of whether Russia’s agenda or the West’s is justified; neither is. They are the major powers in a world of imperial rivalry that threatens the entire world with destruction.
Anti-war demos in Russia show the way forward
There have been rallies of tens of thousands in Russia against the war. 780,000 people have signed petitions. Entertainers, academics, teachers, municipal workers and journalists have spoken out.
Rallies like this are the way forward. We want more protests and especially strikes in Russia, so that support for Putin and his invasion will continue to fall, and Russian workers can force a withdrawal.
But no matter who wins this war, the build-up of weapons around Ukraine will threaten the people of the region for decades to come. Wherever we are, our fight is against the militarism of our rulers.
Here in the West, we must ensure that NATO withdraw their weapons and troops from Eastern Europe and eventually dissolve NATO completely.
We must prevent Australia from ratcheting up the same war tensions against China in our region.
We say money for health, climate, and education, not war
No foreign intervention can achieve peace and decent standards of living on behalf of the people of Ukraine. They should not be forced to choose between two bands of imperialist butchers.
It is up to us in the international anti-war movement to force the imperialists to back off.
This will allow the workers of Ukraine, through socialist struggle from below, to get rid of their corrupt government. Only then will there be real peace, a decent standard of living, and equality for everybody in that country.