The Russian invasion of Ukraine, launched on 24th February, has rightly been condemned around the world. Briefing joins with socialists and peace campaigners everywhere in condemning the attack and calling for the withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine and an end to the bombing.
While opposing Russia’s actions, we also try to understand them. In the fog of propaganda pumped out by mainstream media in the UK it would be easy to be misled into thinking the Russians are behaving like madmen. Russia has long standing concerns about NATO’s eastward expansion and its encirclement by hostile states. The repeated US/UK attacks on states allied to Russia, such as Iraq, Serbia and Syria, makes those concerns more understandable.
The entire western establishment has united in condemning Russia’s actions. An enormous range of far reaching economic sanctions have been launched and we have seen Russian cultural and sporting enterprises banned from international events. If a precedent has been set that invading neighbouring territories and killing civilians can be punished by boycott, divestment and sanctions, we hope that the Labour leadership will be consistent in support for punishing all human rights violations.
The western powers are flooding Ukraine with weapons, including anti-aircraft munitions, in a ramped up version of the way they supplied weapons to the opponents of governments in Afghanistan and Syria. Some MPs have called for NATO to enforce a ‘no-fly zone’ over Ukraine – a move that could see NATO and Russian fighters engage and lead to a dangerous escalation. Fortunately the White House has ruled out this proposal.
Opponents of the war in Russia should be applauded for their bravery in speaking out in incomparably tougher conditions than we face in the west. Western socialists should do everything we can to support them.
Millions of people have now fled Ukraine, the largest refugee movement in Europe since 1945, and the number continues to rise. Most of these people have gone to Poland or other neighbouring countries. The British government has been typically miserly, announcing a support programme that will exclude refugees with no settled family already in the UK and insisting that visas are acquired in advance of travel. The labour movement should call for a visa waiver and for it to be made easier for those fleeing the war to settle here.
The racism faced by black and Muslim residents of Ukraine should be roundly condemned, along with the repeated suggestion that war is much more terrible when it affects “people who look like us”, rather than darker-skinned non-Europeans.
The Starmer leadership has, predictably, wrapped itself in the flag, declared its undying love for NATO and criticised the Johnson government for the sanctions not being tough enough. We’ve also seen the Labour leadership use the war as another way of attacking the left in the Party with attendance at Stop the War rallies or any criticism of NATO now, apparently, liable to disciplinary action. Eleven left wing Labour MPs were threatened with removal of the whip for signing a statement critical of NATO’s eastern expansion. This level of bullying wasn’t seen even under Blair during the Iraq crisis.
Briefing believes the situation in Ukraine must be settled by de-escalation, dialogue and negotiation and not by resort to further military conflict. The first priority must be for an end to the bombing and the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine. If Ukraine is to survive without partition there must be some sort of return to the agreements reached at Minsk in 2014 and 2015 that respected the rights of the Russian-speaking minority in the east of the country. In the medium term, there is a strong case for a demilitarised zone in the area, with Ukraine pledging not to join NATO or seek to acquire nuclear weapons, and the Russians pledging to respect Ukraine’s borders and not threaten any further invasions.