Ukraine Chief of Intelligence drops the mask on forcible reoccupation of Crimea and partition of Russia

The 26th May is the ninth anniversary of the beginning of the shelling of Donetsk by Ukrainian forces in 2014. For the Donbass Ukrainians that opposed the new Maidan regime this event marked the point of no return. It followed the burning alive of the anti-maidan protestors in Odessa on May 2nd 2014 and Ukrainian forces trying to storm Mariupol that same week. The shelling has continued daily ever since, including today, killing several people. Yet, listen to the news here and there is silence about that. The casualties caused by a Russian missile strike in Dnipro were reported however, and President Zelensky’s comment that this showed the Russians to be “fighters against everything humane and honest” was not put in the context of what his own forces are doing. An enemy of the United States would be accused of “shelling his own people”.

Nevertheless, most people who support the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign, or call for a Russian military withdrawal and restoration of the pre 2014 borders, sincerely assume that this would be a liberation for the people who live in the Donbass and Crimea; and that this is where the war would stop.

This interview with Kyrylo Budanov – the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence (the GRU) – by a journalist who has been making a film supporting the Ukrainian war effort released last week, shows that the Ukrainian high command (and journalists) have no such delusions.

Budanov says a number of interesting things in this interview, some of them revealing, some quite far fetched. He is, after all, an intelligence officer, so he has access to a lot of information; but, as an intelligence officer, a large part of his job is to spin false but instrumentally useful narratives. He is also a firm believer in the notion that if you will something hard enough, it will come to pass and that Ukraine will “win”, despite their succession of grinding defeats since the new year and the terrible cost in lives that is the price of carrying on.

At the same time, he is secure enough in the presumed support of his audience to describe what the sort of victory he wants would look like. In the same way that the Guardian is now so sure of the allegiance of its readers to Ukrainian nationalism that they can reveal that, when collaborating with the Nazis in WW2, they killed around 100,000 Poles, a massacre described as “genocide” by the Polish government as recently as 2016.

In the interview’s final section, about what would happen in Crimea if Ukraine’s war aims were achieved (starting 36:57 minutes in) he is quite blunt that “victory” in the sense of military reoccupation would only be the start of a “difficult” “multi year process” of “reintegrating” territories with a population that is actually hostile and does not want to be reoccupied. Three million people with, as he puts it “a completely different view of the world”*. The interviewer uses the euphemism “three million not very devoted people” and Budanov states that those people with an “altered psyche” who can be “re educated” should be – without specifying what should be done with those that can’t, though “physical elimination” is a phrase he uses elsewhere. This will have to be done with a carrot and a stick, as the two only work together; and with a “firm hand”. This will be “hard work” he says.

Many words can be used to describe this scenario. “Liberation” for those 3 million people is not one of them. If you believe in self determination, you can’t support this.

His comments at the end section about “a new security architecture in the world” are put in context by a section “About the Future of Russia” a little before this (at 32.45 minutes in). In this, the interviewer pulls across a map of the Russian Federation – “your famous map” with the partition borders – that Dick Cheney and Zbigniew Brzezinski originally proposed back in 1991 as a way to manage the “Post Soviet space” most amenably for the US – drawn in in thick blue felt tip lines; remarking that “its been shown a lot”. Not in the media here it hasn’t. It might make people wonder a bit.

This isn’t Budanov’s map, but is similar. If you google US aim to partition Russia and click on images, you get a number of variations.

Budanov uses a number of euphemisms about “unanimous transformation” of Russia and the prospective partition being “conceptual”, and speculates that the more defeats the RF suffers the more it will break up, starting with the Caucasus. His confirmation, when discussing the prospect that “new states” will be imposed on the wreck of the RF that, “Russians are well aware of this” gives a tacit recognition that the Russian security concerns raised in the run up to February 24th were real and existential.

His statement “we don’t need Russia in the form that it exists now”, underlines this and, given where the partition plan originated, cannot be defined as defensive.

*If you want an insight into why the people in Donbass might have a “completely different view of the world” – which Budanov suggests is a result of “propaganda” – consider these personal accounts from the day the Ukrainian army started shelling Donetsk city on May 26th 2014. These are from the Donetsk Anti Fascist site.

Marina Kharkova: “May 25 was the last day of peace in Donetsk, as the family celebrated the birthday of my father, a miner. The mood was anxious, restless and tense because of the general situation, but nothing yet seemed to portend tragedy. On the morning of 26, on my way to work, I heard the sounds of flying planes and distant explosions. Everyone had gathered in the largest office and was listening to an employee who lived near the railway station. She cried and told how Ukrainian planes and helicopters had bombed from the air, how their nine-storey building on Privokzalnoye had been shaking, how women killed by shells were lying directly on the pavement bleeding, how the minibus she was travelling in had hurtled away from the danger zone. She sat in silence, clutching her heads, trying to comprehend. Tanya was given water and sedatives – she was so sick. Then, by inertia, they tried to get on with their business. The rumble outside the window increased, though the office was far away from the airport. Ambulances and cars with militia were whizzing down the street. After three in the afternoon everyone decided to stop their pointless attempts to pretend to be busy and drove home. The understanding of what was happening came at once, although the consciousness was still trying to cling to yesterday’s peaceful day. The 26th of May was the point at which “it will never be the same again”.

EIena Hovhannisyan, a biology teacher: “At that time we kept up with the news from Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. We already knew how people had been martyred in Odessa, Mariupol and Krasnoarmeisk. I had forebodings of near disaster. It was already hovering over us, but we did not think how tragic, long, brutal, hopeless the events would be. Sometimes it seemed that it was just a bad dream, that I would wake up and everything would be like before. But no. It is an illusion that the war will not touch you. It will touch everyone, sooner or later. We were simply the first to be in the epicentre. And May 26th I will always remember. The warm, sunny weather and the roar of planes in the sky. From the balcony on the side of the airport black smoke could be seen, you could hear explosions constantly. The first shelling, deaths, destruction, grief and pain. Since that day, there would be no peace in Donetsk for another nine years. But we didn’t know it then. And that day was endless, filled with horror and pain. The phones were literally ringing off the hook – everyone was trying to find out what happened to their loved ones, whether they were alive or not. In the evening my son arrived from work; his office was a couple of blocks from the station. He told about the horror in the city, about the dead woman vendor from the station market, about the very young guy who worked as a valet. He was killed by shrapnel from a missile fired by a Ukrainian helicopter. People were falling, screaming, crying, calling for help. Passers-by tried to save the wounded, car alarms howled. The railway station area in any city is the most crowded place. In Donetsk on Privokzalnoye there are markets, shops, banks, the area was teeming with life. They say helicopters flew so low that you could see the pilots in the cockpit. And these pilots also saw that they hit peaceful people. This was not done by some Hitlerites, but by Ukrainians, with whom we lived in the same country. May 26 was the day that turned everything upside down. There is no and will not be our forgiveness for Ukraine. And there will be no return.

From the diary of a Donetsk woman who wanted to remain anonymous: 26 May 2014, from the balcony, I saw planes firing missiles. My husband, coming home from work, told me about the dead in the station square. At the same time as the airport was being bombed, the fighting moved into the city, on Kievsky Avenue linking the city and the airport. People who had lost their jobs or shelter, relatives or loved ones, went to volunteer for the militia. And every day there were more and more of them, including my acquaintances, as the war gradually touched everyone.

It is difficult to describe the sensations of trying to sleep to the sound of shelling outside your windows. The deafening and resounding explosions are somewhere close by. Your heart sinks each time, because no one knows where the next shell will land. But when you see the dawn, you realize that another night is behind you, all your loved ones are alive today.

In addition to the fighting at the airport and the aerial bombardment with unguided shells, Ukrainian snipers shelled the Putilovsky Bridge. This road was then called the “road of death”: civilian cars with people were burnt and shot, and in the Putilovsky Grove there lay the bodies of both civilians unluckily caught up in the active fighting and the militiamen trying to save people. For several days, the bodies were decomposing in the terrible heat: there was no opportunity to pick them up and bury them.

An ambulance was also shot up on the road to Donetsk airport. Its crew, Artem Kovalevsky, the ambulance driver, paramedic Sergei Kozhukharov and doctor Vladimir Vasilievich, miraculously survived and managed to get out of hell.

They told reporters from the local branch of Komsomolka in Donetsk how they managed to survive when Ukrainian snipers shot even those who had managed to run into the wooded area.

Victoria Sergeyevna, neurologist: I was on duty that day, the hospital was far away from the airport, but we all knew what was going on. In the evening, many people of different ages with strokes or suspected strokes were brought to our department. People’s chronic illnesses were exacerbated by the stress. The statistics of deaths from heart attacks and strokes during the war has increased dramatically compared to the peacetime. And these are also our victims of the war, just as innocent as the victims who died under shelling”.

Peace in Ukraine?

In a recent interview, President Zelensky said that unless Ukraine can hold Bakhmut, he will come under immense pressure, at home and abroad, to negotiate a peace with Russia. It is possible to interpret this in four ways.

1 Zelensky is trying to stiffen the resolve of the troops in Bakhmut, whose morale is low, after conceding inch after inch of ground and terrible losses, fully aware that they are virtually surrounded and after hearing for weeks and weeks about a relief counter offensive that never arrives.

2 He is putting pressure on NATO to up its military supplies, warning them that there is a limit beyond which the Ukrainian armed forces and people will no longer fight on their behalf.

3 He is giving himself an opening to go for such negotiations if Bakhmut does fall, to cut his country’s losses in all respects – as arguing for such negotiations in public hitherto has be tantamount to treason and people have been assassinated for doing so. It is of some significance in this context that, while the USA dismissed the Chinese Peace Plan outright, Zelensky didn’t.

4 He is doing all three at once.

A negotiated peace then is no longer unthinkable. Even his more recent statement that Ukraine would be willing to discuss the status of Crimea if the offensive that has been flagged up for the end of this month and start of May manages to get through to the Black Sea, underlines that negotiation over territory is not off the table. Obviously he does not talk about what will happen if the offensive is a debacle, but this would be a much bigger deal than simply losing control of Bakhmut, which is slowly happening.

Its evident that NATO has no end game beyond crossing its fingers and hoping for the best. Its military industrial complex isn’t designed around wars of attrition with an “almost peer” military.

  • It is designed to produce immensely expensive and complex weaponry requiring months of training to use and squads of maintenance crew to keep going. These are very profitable for its manufacturers and very effective in short wars in which any resistance is qualitatively outgunned. Not so much in this war, in which the capacity to mass produce shells is more decisive. So, all they can do is shovel in enough aid to keep the war going, but not enough to turn the tide.
  • With the sanctions only adopted by direct allies and having blown back hard on Europe primarily, their presumption that the economic war would do the job has failed.
  • The alternative, of decisive direct intervention would be World War 3 and we’d all die.

So, in the meantime, hundreds of men, mostly Ukrainians, are dying every day with no prospect of “winning”. While a reader of the Guardian here might well believe that the Russians have lost 200,000 troops, because they paper they (still) trust says so, the BBC Russian Service calculated just 10,002 killed by December last year, the Russians themselves say they have lost 14,000 and the Israeli Security Agency Mossad calculated 18,840 last month. With the US reckoning on at least 100,000 Ukrainian soldiers killed that’s a loss ratio of at least 5 to 1 that’s completely unsustainable. Something has to give. And in the interests of not throwing away more and more lives in a hopeless fight, the sooner the better.

The outlines of a possible peace are quite clear and very like the initial Russian call before last February. Demilitarisation of Ukraine – demobilisation of the army and redeployment in reconstruction – no membership of NATO, recognition that the areas that have seceded from Ukraine don’t want to be part of it and have as much right to join the Russian Federation as the West of Ukraine does to stay out of it and mutual security guarantees between Russia and NATO, to allow both sides to de-escalate and put scheduled expansions of military budgets to more constructive use. This will open a period of intense struggle in Ukraine and NATO countries, because the war will be seen to have been futile, the far right will cry betrayal and “stab in the back” resentments at NATO might well lead to all sorts of unpredictable blowbacks, and the reconstruction deal that Zelensky has agreed with Blackrock looks like creating a neo liberal dystopia. One motivation for trying to prolong the war on their part.

Those, in USC and elsewhere, who argue for the NATO/Kyiv war aim of restoring sovereignty over all of Ukraine’s pre 2014 borders and for “Russian troops out” are ignoring a political reality within pre 2014 Ukraine, which is that there has been a civil war there since the population of the Donbass rebelled against the overthrow of a government that they had voted for. There is no doubt that the Maidan movement in Kyiv had popular support in that part of Ukraine. It was also taken advantage of by the US and EU. And hegemonised by the far right. USC people tend to emphasise the first point and turn their eyes away from the latter two, but all three are true and have to be taken into account.

The rebellion against that in Donbass has been described like this in New Left Review. After the Maidan events “opposition to the new government was broad. In late February, some 3,500 elected officials gathered at an anti-Maidan conference in Kharkiv. The following day, the Kiev parliament repealed protections for Russian as a regional language. The anti-Maidan uprisings in Eastern Ukraine copied the Kiev model of occupying central squares and taking over government buildings. The security forces were also divided; in some areas the local police made no effort to stop the anti-Maidan protestors. In cities like Kharkiv or Odessa, Kiev’s authority prevailed. In hardscrabble towns like Donetsk and Luhansk, popular militias made up of miners, truck drivers, security guards and the local unemployed stormed the regional-administration offices and declared peoples republics…” In effect a parallel movement. Arguing for Ukraine’s right to self determination while denying it to the people of the Donbass is wilfully inconsistent.

The initial, rather cautious, Russian intervention that summer was to prevent this uprising being completely crushed by the Ukrainian army. The ensuing civil war killed over 14,000 people, mostly in the Donbass Republics, over 3,000 of them civilians.

They have a memorial garden in Donetsk City to all the children that have been killed by Ukrainian shelling. And these kids are just as dead as any killed in Western Ukraine. They won’t get the full Fergal Keane treatment on the BBC, but they are just as dead. While Donetsk holds these graves…

The Donbass militia, which is locally recruited and has done a lot of the front line fighting even after last February, is 44,000 strong. They see themselves as Russian, and, since the referendums last autumn (far from perfect though they were) see their land as part of Russia. Calling for them to “withdraw” is calling for them to leave their homes, dismiss their own right to self-determination and become refugees, alongside the 3 million or so others who have fled to Russia during the conflict – about a third of the total (and the largest single destination country). This would also apply to a large number of non-combatants. Given that the Ukrainian armed forces “cleanse” captured areas of “saboteurs and collaborators” and one senior politician has called for the local “Sovoks” to be put in concentration camps after “liberation”, a very large proportion of the local population would have to abandon their homes to keep safe. USC is actually calling for ethnic cleansing.

If you doubt that, here are some statements by leading spokespeople in Kyiv in an ongoing discussion about how Ukraine should reintegrate the territories lost after the Maidan. There are various perspectives on this, from the genocidal to the more precisely targeted. The solutions range from wholesale killing, driving out the local population in whole or in part, to filtration measures for the population to identify ‘agents’ and ‘proponents of the ‘Russki Mir’ ie pro Russians, more selective punishment for anyone associated with military resistance overarched by ‘cultural’ measures, re-education, re-naming everything, forbidding use of Russian and so on.

  • July 2014 – MIkhail Koval (Ukrainian Minister of Defence) states that special filtration measures are needed to ‘identify those linked to separatism’
  • August 2014 – Bogdan Butkevich (journalist) speaking on live TV states that Ukraine should free itself from ‘excess people’ in the Donbass and that ‘some people need to simply be killed’
  • In 2018 the Ministry of Interior under Avakov proposed a law on deoccupation and reintegration and a law on collaborators. These were passed in February that year. The laws effectively suspended citizenship to suspected ‘collaborators’ and denied them political rights, and provided almost unlimited powers to the military in the ‘liberated territories’
  • In 2019 Oleg Radik (journalist) wrote that ‘when we go in there, there’ll be 40 years of purges and anti-terror, a ban on the use of Russian by state officials. Close all the higher education institutions, let them study in Lvov.’
  • November 2020 the Prime Minister Denis Shmigal proposes Bill No.4 327 which allows the SBU to identify people to be {forcibly} interned by the military.
  • In March 2021 Alexei Reznikov (vice Prime Minister for the Temporarily Occupied Territories) discusses the removal (Otseleniya) of Russians in Crimea (some 500k people).
  • In August 2021 President Zelenskii told Donbass residents who think they’re Russian ‘to go to Russia’.

Daily life in wartime Ukraine – Ukraine Dissident Digest 3.

Every Month Ukrainian dissident blogger Dmitriy Kovalevich writes a summary of developments for the New Cold War website. The extracts here deal with everyday life and media and present a very different view from the one you will see on the BBC or read in the papers here.

The full version, entitled One year of the tragic proxy war being waged by NATO in Ukraine, which also covers the ‘Official’ deaths of the peace agreements of 2014 and 2015, Russian military strategy, a ‘Ukraine offensive’? and the Tense situation brewing over Moldova can be read here at

The situation in agriculture and utilities

As the sowing season looms in Ukraine’s countryside, agricultural enterprises in all regions are complaining about the shortage of tractor drivers and other machine operators because so many workers have been taken for military service. Due to shortages of workers, fuel and fertilizers, Ukrainian experts predict a 40 per cent drop in wheat and corn yields this year, even if fighting were to suddenly stop.

Similar shortages of skilled workers are being experienced by the country’s utility companies. Hundreds of electricians, mechanics, cleaners and other vital workers have been taken into military service and there is no one to replace them.

The utilities are experiencing an acute shortage of skilled workers because their employees are being conscripted into in the AFU, they are hiding in their homes to evade military service, or they have succeeded in fleeing the country. Current law in Ukraine prohibits any male of the age of military service from leaving the country, and this is strictly enforced along the country’s borders.

Most Ukrainian towns outside of the front lines in the southeast of the country have not been hit particularly hard so far by military hostilities. On the other hand, there is a gradual degradation of infrastructure throughout the country and there is an ever-present danger of its collapse. 

“All business in Ukraine is close to being paralyzed,” writes the Ukrainian telegram channel ‘The Skeptic’. “Entrepreneurs are suffering huge losses. Several factors contribute to this, one of which is the shortage of male employees. Men are being taken from the streets by military conscription units and immediately shipped off to the front lines.”

The channel emphasizes that no economic recovery is taking place in real life. The prospect of recovery is only ‘announced’ by Ukrainian authorities from time to time when they decide it is a good moment to again plea to the West for more money. 

Daily life in wartime Ukraine

Thanks to a relatively warm winter, the energy situation for ordinary Ukrainians has improved in February. In most regions, shutting off of electricity has diminished and hot water supply has reappeared.   

Another issue is that despite relatively low gas and electricity prices (frozen during the current period of martial law), Ukrainians have nonetheless accumulated significant debts owed to utilities. Russia has cancelled such debts in regions that have come under its control and is promising more of the same to other regions that may come under its control in the future. 

The price of gas and electricity has been raised for businesses and industrial enterprises, which has led to the closure of many enterprises and, consequently, mass layoffs of workers. 

Beginning in February of this year, businesses are required to submit lists of their employees to the military enlistment offices. Male employees then receive notification to appear for military service. To get around the loss of key workers, many companies do not list them as employed.

Significant part of workers in Ukraine since the years of privatizations during the 1990s work unofficially – working part-time or off-site—and are paid in cash. Officially, they are unemployed. This allows a business owner to avoid paying salary-delated taxes and allows workers to avoid paying income taxes. But it also means that workers do not have such rights as joining a trade union, paid vacations or paying into a company’s pension plan. Ukraine’s government has for many years tried to reduce such ‘shadow employment’, but it has returned with a vengeance due to the fear of military conscription. 

However, with this form of ’employment’ causes big problems for workers in receiving salaries. An employee can be listed as employed and is therefore subject to army recruitment, or he works without a formal contract and risks not receiving a paycheque or a fair paycheque.

For businesses and industrial enterprises, the prices of gas and electricity have risen, leading to the closure of many enterprises and, consequently, to the dismissal of employees. 

Similar problems are experienced by the utility companies. They are experiencing acute shortages of workers due to military conscription or because workers are hiding in their homes to avoid conscription or have fled the country. The hundreds of electricians, mechanics, cleaners and loaders needed to replace them are simply not available.

Most Ukrainian towns, outside the front lines in the southeast of the country, have so far not been hit particularly hard by the military conflict. On the other hand, there is a gradual degradation of infrastructure.

Continued media censorship

One year later, all media in Ukraine with a different point of view from the official line remain closed. All television channels are required to broadcast the ‘United News’, telemarathon-style broadcasts where only the official position of the office of the Ukrainian president is aired. For the past year, not a single attempt to reflect upon or explain the conflict has been broadcast in the permitted media.

Official Ukrainian propaganda involves almost exclusively the airing of hysterical emotions by Ukrainian citizens. The country’s opponents are termed “psychopaths” and the causes of the conflict are reduced exclusively to the desires of a single “tyrant”, namely, the president of Russia. The study and practice of political economy in once-renowned schools of political economy in Ukraine has been replaced in such institutions by straight-up, pro-government propaganda. 

Ukrainian propaganda for domestic consumption is focused exclusively on the emotional whipping up of its audience. This has led to a sharp fall in viewers and in trust for the television channels because their ‘reporting’ is, frankly, bringing much of the civilian population into states of nervous breakdown. This media promotes hatred of all things Russian. But most Ukrainians speak Russian fluently and many have Russian relatives. Thanks to strict censorship in the media following adoption last year of the Zelensky regime’s ‘Law On the Media’, the share of Ukrainians using television as their main source of news has fallen by 12 per cent. The images and messages on television differ too much from real life.

Nordstream 2 – “the silence shouts in your ear” (Graham Greene)

I wrote this yesterday evening after listening to PM. Whatever your views on the Ukraine war, the way the blowing up of Nordstream 2 is being reported is so transparently manipulative that they must know they are doing it. The almost complete silence on Seymour Hersch’s story in particular is almost deafening.

The Ministry of Truth? User:Canley, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

During the discussion with Frank Gardner about the blowing up of the Nordstream pipeline and the current information from Germany that they are investigating a “pro Ukrainian group” for carrying it out, Gardner complained that the Russians were calling for an international investigation that they should be part of. Given that it was their pipeline, that doesn’t seem so odd.

He went on to say that the Russians were considered the main suspects for some time, without clarifying that they were considered to be this by the West, and that this would be -as “false flag” operations go – a spectacular example of cutting off their nose to spite their face given

1) that cutting Germany off from cheap Russian gas has been a strategic objective of the US for some time (and stated as such)

2) that blowing it up helps undermine peace movements in Germany seeking and end to the bloodshed and a deal that could get their cheap gas back (blow up the pipeline, no prospect of gas)

3) thereby removing a significant piece of Russian diplomatic leverage. this is about as plausible as the stories that the Russians were shelling their own troops at the Zaporizhzhiya power station which were repeated – or at best muddied – by your programme too.

Even more striking was that at no point did Gardner, or Evan Davies, refer to the Seymour Hersch story based on leaks from US Special Services that they carried out the attack. Hersch has a long record of getting embarrassing stories for the US bang to rights – from the My Lai massacre to Abu Ghraib. I appreciate that you guys are under heavy manners to keep to the agreed script, but it makes me wonder if Vietnam was happening now, you’d close down the My Lai story too.


This is the key sentence in what the BBC write when you complain to them about a News item, so it doesn’t hurt to do it.

We’ll normally include your complaint in our overnight report to producers and management. This will circulate your and all complaints with other reaction we receive today (but with any personal details removed) so it will then be available for the right team to read tomorrow morning.

Emotive Plagues instead of Analysis on Ukraine – A Reply to Présumey and Bekier.

The most recent apologia for a pro war stance on Labour Hub from Vincent Présumey and Stefan Bekier claims to be dispelling myths, but is transparently erecting many of its own. The most glaring is this statement slipped in towards the end. “This all-out war since February 2022 was in no way caused by NATO expansion or any aggression towards Russia on its part.” There is no attempt to justify this statement. It is simply an assertion. The most obvious rejoinder to it is that it does not look that way in Russia.

If an assessment of this war and the historical background to it has any prospect of being taken seriously, it is necessary to have some analysis of Russian motivation that goes beyond trivialised prolefeed notions that its all a manifestation of a belated mid life crisis on Vladimir Putin’s part or that Russia is inherently, timelessly imperialist, but one of the strangest things about the wall to wall coverage in the media here since Feb 24th last year has been how little of it has seriously examined why the Russians sent their troops over the border, and this piece is no exception.

Here is a list of why they did, from their point of view; which can largely be summarised as the massive increase in Ukrainian military spending and NATO military aid, training and technical assistance from 2014 to 2021.

  • The signing of a new military doctrine (2015) which explicitly named Russia as Ukraine’s enemy (in violation of the Ukrainian constitution).
  • The number of soldiers increased from 140k in 2014 to 250k in 2015, and then by 2020 with 900K reserves). Even without the reserves, this is three times bigger than the British Army and about half the size of that of the US! It is also, again, even without reserves, significantly larger than the force the Russians invaded with (around 150K).
  • The growth of the Ukrainian nationalist national guard from 15k in 2014 to 60k men in 2019. These included overtly fascist elements.
  • The ongoing war in the Donbass in which 14,000 people were killed, including over 3,000 civilians in the Donetsk Rebel Republics.
  • The ongoing flow of far right volunteers to fight in the Donbass.
  • US military aid alone amounting to almost $3 billion dollars by the end of 2021. This has, of course, been dwarfed since, with a level of expenditure comparable to what they were putting into Vietnam in the late 60s.
  • The presence of NATO advisers in military units along the frontlines in the Donbass, sometimes as contractors from western military security companies.
  • The presence of a large contingent of US intelligence officers in the headquarters of the SBU (Ukrainian intelligence service) in Kiev (according to former SBU chief).
  • Statements from senior Ukrainian figures (including a former Foreign Minister and the head of the armed forces) that discussed a future war with Russia, the targeting of Russian cities and power stations, and the annexation of Russian territory in the Kuban.
  • In that context, Ukrainian claims that they had developed and would begin producing long-range cruise missiles (2019). Not hard to see who they would be aimed at.
  • Statements by a senior Ukrainian politician that the Russian population of the Donbass and Crimea should be put in concentration camps following their ‘liberation’ by Ukraine.
  • Statements by various officials during 2021 that Ukraine would seek to acquire nuclear weapons, which substantiated a long-term far right desire for Ukraine to become a nuclear armed power.
  • Increasing verbal expressions of support for a future Ukrainian membership of NATO by senior western politicians.
  • The cutting of military-to-military relations between NATO and Russia in late 2021.
  • Recent admissions by Hollande and Merkel that they used the Minsk 1 and 2 agreements to buy time for the Ukrainian military to grow.
  • The cutting off of water supplies to Crimea and the Donbass, which affected the civilian population.
  • The January-February 2022 incursions by Ukrainian special forces into Russia and the shelling of border posts near the Donbass.
  • The massing of Ukrainian forces around the Donbass, which Russia interpreted as preparation for an invasion of the rebel provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk.
  • Border incursions by NATO ships in the Black Sea during late 2021.
  • The use of Ukrainian territory for flights by US reconnaissance drones and aircraft.

    And this is without considering the political context within Ukraine since 2014:
  • The post 2014 purging of the state, and the promotion of fascist nationalists within its institutions.
  • The glorification of Nazi Germany and its collaborators in Ukraine, and the justification of their war against the peoples of the USSR, by both the state (in education especially) and the media.
  • The effective banning of socialist symbols and imagery through the twin effects of a ‘de-communisation’ law and a law on extremist symbolism which clearly defined socialist symbols, left Nazi symbols undefined, and which was exacerbated by selective application only to Soviet symbols such as the red star and flag, the hammer and sickle and so on.
  • Allowing nationalists and fascists to create a widespread network of social organisations, youth movements and businesses which propagated fascist ideology targeting Russians, Russian-ness (what they call the ‘internal occupation’) and manifestations of ‘Sovietism’.
  • Legal and social repression of the use of the Russian language, including in the education and state systems.
  • The imprisonment and judicial harassment of opposition activists and critical academics, the assassination of critical journalists and social leaders.
  • The adoption of laws that equated dissent with ‘separatism’ and ‘sedition’, which meant that even calls for peace and a negotiated solution to the Donbass crisis became criminalised.
  • And the total refusal of NATO to even consider negotiating about any of this in the period between November 2021 and February 24th, during which Russian attempts to propose a mutual security arrangement that would have demilitarised the crisis were turned down flat, mobilisations were treated as bluff and concessions seen as signs of weakness.

This is not simply rationally calculated on the Russian side. but emotionally felt. If you were to walk down the Arbat in Moscow, you would pass poster sized black and white portrait photographs of the hundreds of children killed by Ukrainian shelling in Donetsk since 2014. This might be considered as emotionally manipulative as the coverage we have on the BBC, though it lacks Orla Guerin’s mordant voiceovers, but it makes the point that, in any war, no one has a monopoly on suffering. Coverage that downplays that of the other side, or attempts to ignore their motivation leads to decisions based on outrage and lack of understanding.

On the Left, those that support the escalation of this war rely a lot on emotive propaganda of this sort. The point of which is to emotionally short circuit awkward questions, rule out of consideration any awkward facts, with a fierce emotional response that has to feed on itself more and more as the war drags on, digging so deep into a trench that it becomes impossible to see beyond it. This necessarily leads to some weird rewriting of history to justify it and a realignment alongside the traditional Atlanticist right in the Labour Movement in their bloc with the British ruling class and their “Special Relationship” with the USA. Ukraine Solidarity is calling a conference next weekend with the aim of generating a “new internationalism” which will gather together the currents that prioritise targeting enemies of the United States.

The Presumey and Bekier piece also contains a number of very strange historical assertions that simply don’t bear scrutiny.

  • That 19th Century cultural figures like Gogol and Tchaikovsky were Ukrainian because they were born on current Ukrainian territory. I may be wrong here, but I don’t think that Gogol or Tchaikovsky considered themselves to be Ukrainian; or indeed, Trotsky, Khrushchev or Brezhnev, all of who were born in Ukraine, would have either. Identity is more complex than birthplace, and this kind of claim is crude, misleading and ahistorical.
  • The “specific Ukrainian and peasant revolution in 1917-1918” occurred within two broad developments; an attempt to set up Soviet Republics in the Industrial South and East and an attempt to set up a nationalist regime under Petliura in the rural West. In the Civil War that followed the Russian Revolution, the Petliura forces distinguished themselves by carrying out even more antisemitic pogroms that the Whites, who were hardly restrained on that front. That political division from 1917 to 1921 reflected the split between urban/industrial and Russian speaking on the one hand and rural and Ukrainian speaking on the other, and has been broadly replicated in voting patterns within modern Ukraine since 1991.
  • The existence within Ukrainian nationalism of left wing currents is taken to imply that the movement itself was overall leftish or progressive and still is. This does not look reality in the face. All national movements are diverse, but the question is, which current is dominant/hegemonic and why, (which relates to where such movements get their external support from), Given that Ukrainian nationalism’s core was in Western Ukraine, gaining sustenance initially from the Habsburgs, then later the Nazis is why even Presumey and Bekier have to concede points like “The majority of the ‘Banderist’ forces (in fact split into several armed factions) actively engaged in anti-Semitic genocide” and “Ukrainian peasants, while they were oppressed for centuries, undoubtedly had their own victims: the Jews, and a substantial part of the population had been favourably disposed towards, and even participated in, the Shoah” and today “a part of the oppressed Ukrainian youth has internalized the stigma and turned it around, taking up Banderite or Fascist emblems and flags.” While this is not original sin, there is no doubt that it is an accurate description of what the dominant current in Ukrainian nationalism has been, and still is.
  • The 1991 independence referendum is taken as still an accurate reflection about which state the peoples in the Donbass and Crimea want to be part of, without reflecting that at that time it was considered feasible to have a binational state with equal rights peacefully coexisting with Russia on the one side and the EU/USA on the other. Rather a lot has happened since then, and it no longer is.
  • The description of the 2014 crisis presents the Maidan movement as purely popular and anti oligarchic, with ne’r a whiff of Western intervention misses both the role of the US and EU and the reaction against it in other parts of Ukraine, which was equally popular. Putting “colour revolution” in inverted commas for the earlier movement of 2004 is of a piece with this and the statement about NATO having no role in the crisis. The most powerful actor in these crises is painted over, ignored, looked at and not noticed. Its as if it wasn’t (and isn’t) there. The movement against the results of the Maidan in the South and East is presented as though it had no popular support. This is an equally serious evasion of reality that makes a mockery of the fact that over 3,000 civilians have been killed by Ukrainian army shelling and thousands of Donbass residents have been actively fighting the Ukrainian Army since 2014 in the Donbass militias. They have a memorial garden in Donetsk City to all the children that have been killed. And these kids are just as dead as any killed in Western Ukraine. They won’t get the full Fergal Keane treatment on the BBC, but they are just as dead. While Donetsk holds these graves…So, any attempt to get a peace settlement has to take their rights into account as much as those of people in Western Ukraine. There is a distinct sense that Presumey and Bekier don’t think they should and that “pro Russian” forces and currents deserve everything they get for being “pro Russian”. It being OK to ban Parties, close down media outlets and even take reprisals against individuals because they are “pro Russian”. In taking this position they concede that “pro Russian” forces are sufficiently present to require such repression, which ought to make them wonder why.
  • This is also expressed in their attempt to downplay the Odessa massacre – nearly 50 people burnt to death – with a piece of nit picking about what the name of the building they were burnt to death in was, and that the people killed were “pro Russian” not just “trade unionists” as if that makes it OK somehow. They were still burnt to death. At the hands of a right wing nationalist mob.
  • If anyone thinks the Azov battalion have been sanitised, have a look at some of their films. The influence of the far right is not demonstrated in their showing in elections but by what role they play in the state. This assertion “the ethnic or culturally exclusive conception of the nation, expressed by the extreme right-wing currents claiming to be more or less Banderist, has in fact been in retreat since the Maïdan surge of social self-activity in favour of a democratic, inclusive and civic conception” is the direct opposite of the truth. Consider these points from Freedom House, quite a right wing source, from 2018. After Ukraine’s 2014 Euromaidan Revolution and Russia’s subsequent aggression, extreme nationalist views and groups, along with their preachers and propagandists, have been granted significant legitimacy by the wider society. Extremist groups are, however, aggressively trying to impose their agenda on Ukrainian society, including by using force against those with opposite political and cultural views. They are a real physical threat to left-wing, feminist, liberal, and LGBT activists, human rights defenders, as well as ethnic and religious minorities. In the last few months, extremist groups have become increasingly active. The most disturbing element of their recent show of force is that so far it has gone fully unpunished by the authorities. Their activities challenge the legitimacy of the state, undermine its democratic institutions, and discredit the country’s law enforcement agencies.
  • The notion that Ukraine since 2014 has been primarily characterised by ” the self-organisation of civil society” misses both this and the overarching pattern of privatisation in both industry and agriculture that has gained pace since then; and which the agreement signed between President Zelensky and Blackrock will copper bottom it if Ukraine “wins”. Negotiations with the EU on a path to Ukrainian membership have been marked by complaints from the EU that Ukraine is diverging from EU standards on labour rights and environmental standards and corruption is rife and deep rooted, with twice as many Ukrainian Oligarchs named in the Panama papers as the next most corrupt country (Russia). President Zelensky was one of the people named. This was leading to a structural crisis in which 600,000 people, mostly men, were emigrating every year, both to find better prospects and avoid being conscripted and the economy was close to collapse according to the Finance Minister speaking in January last year.
  • As “the essence of montage is conflict” these two sentences coming one after the other create a dissonance that the authors seem unaware of. There is an oligarchic faction behind Zelenskiy – that of Kolomoiski, of Dnipro, which financed his studios – but he will emancipate himself from it. He began by trying to move towards the implementation of the Minsk agreements, before backing down. Funny kind of “emancipation”. As with an earlier statement about the supporters of the Orange Revolution being deceived by the politicians it had put in power, this is noted without examination, the better to move quickly on. That Zelensky was elected on peace ticket accounts for his landslide win over Poroshenko. But the way that he was rapidly brought to heel by both the far right and the US and carried on with the war as before is passed over in silence.

Their summary – that the Russian intervention is a “genocide” – that to Russia “Ukrainians can only be Russians or dead” is the complete nonsense of people made delirious by their own rhetoric. The Russian war aims are for a demilitarised Ukraine that is outside NATO and without far right influence, was initially for autonomy for the Donbass but is now for its incorporation within the Russian Federation. That is still a reasonable basis for a peace settlement that could begin to ratchet down tensions and allow people to live, if not together, at least side by side.

Not settling on this sort of basis begs a number of questions, which no one from Ukraine Solidarity ever addresses. As Russia has military superiority and the supply of NATO arms at the current rate isn’t stopping them making slow but definite military progress, at terrible cost in casualties on the Ukrainian side, and with increasing damage to infrastructure like power stations and railways, USC has called for a specific escalation of arms supplies. So, as they think the reconquest of the part of Ukraine that does not want to be part of a nationalist Ukraine is a justifiable objective, they should answer these four questions;

  1. How much additional weaponry would be needed to do it?
  2. How would this be paid for, and what else would be sacrificed to do so?
  3. Do support escalating beyond nuclear thresholds, which the Americans have already broadly concluded it would be crossed if there were an attempt to reconquer Crimea?
  4. What would be the impact of the prolonged war that such an extension of military supply would entrench be on what’s left of Ukraine and the people who live there?

Give a little to NATO, and you end up capitulating a lot.

14 Questions for John McDonnell (and others) on Ukraine.

John McDonnell’s article for Labour Hub The Ukrainian Question for Socialists has so many missing dimensions its hard to know where to start. It is a story with a middle, but no explanation of the beginning, nor any projection of where the course of action he supports might end.

John’s judgement on the war is oddly flat, missing whole dimensions of the conflict and lacking any sense of causation beyond a kind of moralism, the 21st century equivalent of WW1 “German War Guilt”. The assessment of the conflict as Five Wars in One in the most recent New Left Review Editorial gives a fuller picture, every aspect of which has to be grasped to understand the dynamics of it.

  1. There is a civil conflict within Ukraine itself.
  2. The Russian intervention after February 2014, which NLR defines as having “a double character”, interventionist against Ukraine, and defensive against NATO at the same time, leading to
  3. A Ukrainian war of national self defence combined with
  4. What former CIA chief Leon Panetta describes as a “proxy war” against Russia carried out by the US using Ukrainian soldiers on the ground, but also imposing global sanctions that have had a terrible blowback on food prices in the Global South and energy prices in Europe. NLR describes this as “unambiguously imperialist” in that “it aims at regime change… (in Russia) …and the assertion of American hegemony over the Eurasian continent”.
  5. “The prospect of a Sino-American conflict, the real focus of the last three administrations in Washington, is the final lock determining the Ukraine war’s dynamic”.

John only looks at 3 and half of 2. Does he recognise that he’s missing the determining forces driving this process?

In the context of a “civil war in Ukraine itself”, John’s article acknowledges fighting since 2014, but does not acknowledge that there is any popular legitimacy in the pro Russian side of the civil war. This disorients him from the off, as important facts have to be denied to maintain his posture.

The Guardian last week quoted a Ukrainian junior officer fighting around Vuhledar on the southern Donetsk front complaining that troops recruited locally didn’t want to fight. Most Ukrainian troops are conscripted. Some are unwilling. Aleksey Arestovich, an adviser to the office of the Ukrainian president, said in January that many Ukrainian soldiers fighting in Soledar simply fled and there were “a substantial number” of refuseniks who declared they “cannot fight any longer in this terrible war”. Arestovich said, “We have people who refused to dig trenches, and when they were led into ready-made trenches, they just stood still. Many said the enemy (Russian soldiers) were too close and it was better to move several miles back from the front lines.” This has meant that that month President Zelenskyy in January signed into force a punitive law introducing harsher punishment for deserters and wayward soldiers, even stripping them of their right to appeal.

At the same time Ukrainian dissident Dmitriy Kovalevich reports that refugees and residents in the south of Ukraine …are attending protest rallies organized by the wives and mothers of servicemen.

Perhaps more significantly, the soldier in Donetsk went on to note that “about half” of the local population was “pro Russian” anyway. Does John acknowledge this?

NLR describes the uprisings that led to the formation of the Donbass People’s Republics in 2014 like this.

  • After the Maidan events “opposition to the new government was broad. In late February, some 3,500 elected officials gathered at an anti-Maidan conference in Kharkiv. The following day, the Kiev parliament repealed protections for Russian as a regional language. The anti-Maidan uprisings in Eastern Ukraine copied the Kiev model of occupying central squares and taking over government buildings. The security forces were also divided; in some areas the local police made no effort to stop the anti-Maidan protestors. In cities like Kharkiv or Odessa, Kiev’s authority prevailed. In hardscrabble towns like Donetsk and Luhansk, popular militias made up of miners, truck drivers, security guards and the local unemployed stormed the regional-administration offices and declared peoples republics…”

In Odessa, Kiev’s authority “prevailed” through far right thugs trained in from the capital for a football match burning down the local trade union HQ with anti-Maidan protestors inside it, killing nearly 50 people. Is John unaware of this?

This division in the country is widely recognised inside it. NLR notes a student in Kiev remarking of workers rebelling in the Donbass, “They can’t help it. They’re all Sovoks over there”. Sovoks being a term applied to people nostalgic for the Soviet Union. “All Sovoks over there“. Does John think that these people should be occupied against their will?

In the context of this civil war since 2014, has John not noticed the steady stream of fighters from the European and North American far right who have signed up to fight in the Donbass, and get tooled up for future fights at home once they’ve gained the combat experience? While John mentions people in Ukraine that he knows and identifies with who are not like this, there are a lot of people fighting on the Ukraine side who are; some of them local, some from all over in a kind of fascist foreign legion.

John also does not note what happens when the Ukrainian army reoccupies an area and carries out “cleansing” operations against “saboteurs and collaborators”. Some of the dead bodies are posted on Instagram. Is that ok?

The same applies to Crimea. I don’t think there’s anyone even amongst the most gung ho Ukraine Solidarity Campaign supporters who argue that the population of Crimea is clamouring to be reconquered by Ukraine.

And there is a recognition now being freely expressed by the United States that, given the concentration of Russian armed forces, including nuclear weapons, on the peninsular, pushing to retake it could trip over the threshold into nuclear war, so best not try. Would John agree with that assessment, that surrendering territory will be necessary to avoid of tripping nuclear thresholds?

If so, would he be prepared to concede that this is a principle that may have to be applied more broadly; and that there is no level of escalation that is capable of reconquering the Donbass without pushing through nuclear red lines; so that has to be ruled out too?

In the first month of the war, President Zelensky called for a NATO enforced No Fly Zone. Arguing for Ukraine to be able to “defend” itself with all possible means would imply support for that. As this is an obvious invitation to Armageddon, it hasn’t been taken up, so far. Am I wrong to presume that John would be against that?

I hope so, but he doesn’t mention it, so its hard to say. The problem is that that’s where we are heading. The latest USC statement – signed by John – lists lots of additional sets of equipment that could be supplied by the British Army, including fighter jets. Where does this end?

Its important to be clear on this, because starting from the need to pull back from escalation to World War 3 requires the Labour movement to push for peace and a negotiated settlement, rather than going along with the step by step escalation in munitions. And pressure for that has to start with the Left.

There is a domestic dimension to this too. The UK government and Labour front bench support an increase in military expenditure at a time of collapsing public services and impoverishment of the working population. That means “hard choices” to build up the military at the expense of the population in a country that already spends more on it than any other country in the world apart from the USA, China and India. In fact the per capita burden on the UK population is already double what it is for Russian citizens and five times that on the Chinese. Does John support that?

To have an idea of how this could end short of escalation to mutually assured destruction, you need to go back to why it started in the first place and how it could have been avoided. John does not examine this at all. He just gives the invasion a pair of labels – “illegal” and “imperialist” – and leaves it at that. Any closer examination can’t help but look at NATO, and whether the Russians have any legitimate security concerns about it. I wonder if John thinks they do? He doesn’t say.

Just taking the months in the run up to 24th Feb,

  • the Russians were asking for NATO to rule out Ukrainian membership and for mutual security guarantees that could defuse the crisis – and implementation of the Minsk accords that would have gone some way to restoring a peaceful modus operandi; with autonomy within Ukraine for the Donbass Republics.
  • It also would have allowed Europe to sustain its supply of relatively cheap Russian natural gas, instead of being forced to buy expensive LNG from the USA and Qatar.
  • Just to spell out the obvious, NATO outspends Russia on its military by a factor of 19 to 1 – and that’s before the current proposed increases.
  • NATO is the core alliance of global imperialism centred on the USA.
  • “The West” is the same place as “The Global North”. It has armed forces to maintain its system of global dominance and exploitation.
  • Russia has never been included in this core because doing so would set up the potential for a Russo German bloc that would edge the USA out of its dominance in Europe.
  • So, Russia is not at the table (despite asking to be let in on numerous occasions). And, as they say, if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.
  • What this might look like is Dick Cheney’s 1991 plan to balkanise Russia into three more easily manageable countries, the European part, Siberia and the Far East.
  • A less drastic bottom line might be the replacement of Putin with a more compliant oligarch who knew his place in the US world order. more like Yeltsin.
  • The Russians are acutely aware of this. Which is why they feel under threat. And why the Ukrainian oligarchy being so eager to sign itself up as a US henchman in NATO feels like an existential threat.
  • The refusal of NATO to even discuss their proposals, couldn’t help but confirm the impression in Moscow that NATO was preparing for war.

Does John think that these concerns on the part of the Russians should have been negotiated about then and, more to the point, should addressing them be an essential aspect of any attempt to secure peace?

We should be clear here that framing the war as simply one of national defence in which NATO is just helping out, implies that the tail is wagging the dog. The power in this situation is in Washington not Kyiv. The Americans are now beginning to argue about the risks, costs and advantages of a long war versus a short one with a diplomatic off ramp. This is all within the framework of US national interests of course – which the UK political establishment will go along with; whatever it is.

The phrase “proxy war” was coined by Leon Panetta long before anyone in Stop the War started using it. But whatever its origin, it is a very accurate description of what’s happening. All the finance for the war and to sustain the Ukrainian state is coming from NATO powers. All the training for the army, targeting for missiles and artillery systems, is coming from NATO too. The USA will be perfectly happy to destroy Ukraine in order to save it. Does John not realise that that is what his position is supporting?

John’s call for a new Marshall Plan to rebuild Ukraine is the opposite of what’s on the cards. Since 2014 Ukraine has become increasingly neo liberal, with “Sovok” holdovers in state property sold off to multi national capital, including Monsanto in agriculture and negotiations around EU convergence noting that Ukraine is moving away from EU standards on regulations and labour standards. Were it to be fast tracked into EU membership it would act as a Trojan Horse to undermine them in the rest of the continent. The plan for reconstruction agreed at Geneva last Autumn sets Ukraine up to be asset stripped, with Blackrock presiding over the dismemberment. Fighting for a “victory” for the Kyiv government, is fighting for that.

The views of the Social Movement will count for nothing in that context. Does John really think that because there are small groups of left wingers who wanted to be part of the Maidan -but were marginalised and driven off by the right sector – and have opposed the neo liberal dystopia that Ukraine has become – but failed to make any headway – and are hoping that, in the event of a military victory by the world’s most powerful imperialisms, they will be in a position to move the country towards “socialism” that this is remotely realistic?

A United Kingdom that looks outward, with no self-awareness at all – David Lammy’s speech to Labour’s Conference.

Atlanticist Labour Shadow Foreign Secretaries have the difficult job of squaring the circle between the reality of UK subordination to US global dominance – with everything that flows from that – with the desire of the Party membership to be – and to be seen to be – “ethical”. This is usually covered by rhetorical devices that touch nerves and mobilise emotions, while obscuring awkward realities. A classic of its kind was Emily Thornberry’s speech in 2019 in which she included Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro in a list of “Trump inspired strongmen” that the Party had to oppose, sliding over the awkward fact that, far from being one of Trump’s acolytes, Maduro was one of his targets, and Venezuela to object of ruthless US sanctions that were responsible for the deaths of over 40,000 people. Details, details…

With the banishment of that awkward internationalist Jeremy Corbyn and the reassertion of a new era of unapologetic Atlanticism from the front bench, David Lammy has gone further.

He did not reflect, in his foreign policy speech to Labour conference this year, that the role of “Britain in the World” has historically been rather like that of the policemen he mentions who used to stop and search him when he was “a skinny kid in NHS glasses on the streets of Tottenham“; and for very similar reasons. At one time as dominant world cop and enforcer, latterly as the new world cop’s most eager henchman.

His speech provides a cover for it to continue to do so.

His list of challenges faced by the world is odd, and in a strange order.

Conference, the world faces more challenges today than at any other time in my 22 years in parliament. The rise of China. Conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Ethiopia and South Sudan. A global food crisis. And a climate crisis.

“And a climate crisis”. The climate crisis is the framework in which everything else takes place – or doesn’t. It’s not an item on a list. Least of all the last item. And the central problem is that the world’s most powerful state is prioritising military interventionism over dealing with it. The USA is spending more than 20 times as much on its military as it is on dealing with climate change, claims to “global leadership” notwithstanding.

China, by contrast, is spending one and a half times as much on climate change as on its military.

Who is doing the right thing?

The UK already spends more on its military than every other country in the world apart from the USA, China and India. It spends more than Russia. Through NATO and AUKUS it is in direct alliance with countries that account for two thirds of total global military spending. But the Truss government wants to increase spending by 50% by 2030 and the Labour front bench is going along with this. This is not a polict that tends to peace.

Lammy’s “green dimension” is subordinate to Cold War imperatives and inwardly oriented. The UK should not be dependent of “fossil fuel dictators” he says. Which ones does he mean? Will imports be stopping from Saudi Arabia any time soon?

And “we will seek to work with allies and partners to create a new international law of ecocide to criminalise the wanton and widespread destruction of the environment.” There’s that presumption of leadership from the Global North again, Britain’s “allies and partners” in setting and policing the ecological rule book for everyone else.

And note the weasel words – “we will seek to…” This will be rather tricky for the Global North because most of the fossil fuel companies seeking to develop the 350 carbon Bombs (projects which each have a carbon footprint of over a billion tonnes of CO2) that will bust us well beyond 1.5C on their own are companies that are based here; and so are most of the banks that finance them.

The news has just come through this week that major US Banks are threatening to withdraw from Mark Carney’s Climate alliance, because “they fear being sued over the alliance’s stringent decarbonisation commitments” and you can make your own judgement on whether the “law of ecocide” would target them or not, even if the UN made climate action its “fourth pillar”.

This also applies to the specific crisis that Lammy uses to frame his speech. The USA has for years explained to the Global South how hard it is to squeeze out a few billion dollars to help get to the 2020 target of $100 billion a year agreed at Copenhagen ten years earlier which has still not been met and that, with a bit of luck and a following wind (and a bit of redefinition of private sector loans) they might be good enough to get up to the target by 2024. Maybe. If the Global South is good. And nothing else comes along that is more urgent.

By contrast, they have magicked up $53 billion to fuel the Ukraine war in 6 months. Just like that. Easy. Whatever your view of the rights and wrongs of the war in Ukraine, and more on this later, it’s shocking how both the quantity and the speed are so dramatically different and provide such a clear demonstration of US priorities. Perhaps the way that a lot of this aid will go in orders for munitions and ammunition from US arms manufacturers may have something to do with that, but most of it reflects the war drive the USA is carrying out to try to shore up its economic decline relative to China.

In this framing, its odd that Lammy poses “the rise of China” as a challenge “for the world”. It is certainly a challenge for the US world order, Pax Americana, New American Century, Unipolar US domination; call it what you like. But that’s not the same as a challenge “for the world”.

For most of the world, benefitting from Chinese investment and trade, it looks more like an opportunity; and this is explicitly embraced by the Left in the Global South, Latin America particularly; where they are very clear about who runs the “Empire” and who has carried out coup after coup to install “dictatorships” across the continent.

It is peculiarly bizarre when considering that UK overseas aid is lauded for raising 3 million people a year out of poverty. This is not a figure I have seen anywhere else and have not been able to find online. It would be odd if true, because the impact of the COVID pandemic everywhere in the Global South outside China has been to throw back development and increase poverty. It would, of course, be a good thing if true, but pales into insignificance compared to China’s record as a developing country of raising 850 million people out of poverty in 40 years (21 million a year); seven times the rate. This was described in a Labour Foreign Policy Group document, generally rather hostile to China, as “perhaps the single most significant contribution to human wellbeing in world history”. But let’s not dwell on that. Let’s move swiftly on and not think about how this statistic is actual people whose lives have been immeasurably improved. It’s only the same number of people as the entire UK population thirteen times over. Just think of how many people that is. In forty years. And that includes everyone in Xinjiang, whose living standards are rising by 6% a year and whose labour is no more forced than that of anyone else who works in a factory.

It is also odd that Lammy does not mention that the “conflict in Yemen” is fueled by British made arms, of the sort that Conference sadly voted to boost, and the Saudi Air Force and Navy are trained to bomb and blockade ports by the RAF and Royal Navy – leading to famine and the world’s worst cholera epidemic. Nothing to see here. Let’s talk about Ukraine instead.

Lammy says “No act of imperialism is ever the same. But Vladimir Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine this year was just the latest front in an age-old war between democracy and dictatorship. Freedom and subjugation. Empire and independence.” From the country and allies that have – just since 1990 -brought us two wars each in Iraq and Yugoslavia, the invasion and twenty year occupation of Afghanistan and the reduction of Libya from the most prosperous country in North Africa to a war ravaged basket case, this might be considered a little ironic. Quite what kind of “act of imperialism” Lammy considers these to be is unclear, who was fighting for “freedom” and who for “subjugation”, who for “Empire” and who for “independence“, he doesn’t say. Possibly because it’s too obvious if you think about it for a moment. Does he have no self-awareness at all?

“Vladimir Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine” is an oft repeated mantra that conceals more than it explains. Deliberately. The war in Ukraine did not start with the Russian intervention this February. It started with the overthrow of a democratically elected President in 2014, aided and abetted by the considerable resources of the USA and EU, in cahoots with the local far right. This led to a rebellion on the Donbass region and an eight year civil war. As Sir Richard Sherriff, the former NATO Deputy Commander, remarked, a little off script, “this war started in 2014”.

The invasion this February followed attempts by the Russians to get an agreed mutual security arrangement that was spurned with complete contempt by NATO.

The Russian decision to recognise the Donbass Republics in February was not carried out by Putin alone but had the support of the overwhelming majority of the State Duma, including the main opposition Party, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, reflecting concerns at the failure to implement the Minsk Agreement, refusal of NATO to engage in any talks about mutual security, and a build up of 130,000 Ukrainian troops – whose pay was tripled in December – opposite Donetsk and Lugansk threatening their liquidation.

All war is barbaric, but it may seem odd to viewers of the atrocity porn produced by Feargal Keene and the like that by comparison with what the Americans do, the Russians have been relatively restrained. There have been a number of specific strikes on infrastructure like power stations or dams, but in US air campaigns they aim to smash the entire power and water treatment systems on day one to reduce the population to a state of rebellious despair. “Shock and Awe”*. In fact, the US dropped as much explosives on Iraq on the first day of the second Iraq war as it took the Russians a month and half to do in Ukraine. All relative? Up to a point. But not if you’re underneath it.

The term “Special Military Operation” incidentally, is not a weaselly euphemism to cover all out war, but an internationally accepted definition of a particular sort of limited war, and everyone who reports on this knows it. This is now escalating and will continue to do unless peace negotiations can get going.

Worse, Lammy’s way forward is both delusory and condemns Ukraine and its people to being a permanent proxy war zone for NATO. “Whether it takes six months, three years or ten, Ukraine will win.” Ten years of war? Seriously? “Ukraine will win“? With Russia incorporating the South and East into the Russian Federation and mobilising accordingly, I can’t see that. Lammy is calling for war without end.

At a point that even EU Foreign Representative Jose Barroso is calling for a negotiated peace acceptable to both sides – “we stand ready to assist the peace plan just launched and we urge all parties to seize this opportunity to de-escalate the crisis and end violence of this developing tragedy,” it is deeply depressing that Labour’s Foreign policy spokesperson striking the same sort of bellicose posture that Boris Johnson did when he intervened to sabotage the last serious attempts at peace talks back in April.

If he wants the “global food crisis”, not to mention the energy crisis that he, again oddly, didn’t mention, to end, we need to end the war. That starts with pushing for peace, not a ten year war.

Lammy envisages a war crimes tribunal for Putin. On the model of the sort we have seen for George W Bush and Tony Blair for the hundreds of thousands of deaths in Iraq that their war led to? One like that? Or perhaps the one for Putin after the Chechen war, at a time he was considered a “strategic partner” by NATO? War crimes, it seems, are always committed by our enemies. Never by us, or anyone allied with us. The numbers don’t count. Especially if they are in the Global South.

Lammy is also right that the Tories tend to craft a Foreign Policy that is a wolf in wolf’s clothing and that the current government, delirious on Brexit Kool Aid is picking fights with everyone and thinking it can get away with it. It won’t. But his version of looking outward is simply to reassert traditional alliances with the rest of the Global North as it rearms on a colossal scale, while hoping a wee bit of extra aid will keep the Global South sweet enough not to start lining up with the Chinese model of development.

While Lammy is right to argue for restoring overseas aid to 0.7% of GDP, his argument is less that this is the right thing to do as partial reparations for the damage and exploitation done by the Empire and slave trade, more about enhancing the “soft power” of the UK as the beneficiary of it, even though, as he said his “ancestors knew what it was like to have their freedom taken away. They heard the twisted lies of imperialism as they were stolen from their homes in shackles and turned into slaves.” Quite so.

“A voice for peace, development and freedom across the globe” is sorely needed. A voice for expanded UK military expenditure, for an unquestioning alliance with the USA in its provocative militarist dotage as it pushes for wars it thinks it can win in Ukraine and the South China Sea, won’t provide any of that.

Historical Note

“Shock and awe” marries the two US bombing traditions of precision targeting with colossal force. But, unlike the initial advocates of precise targeting, who argued for overwhelming strikes on key targets of military significance, “choke points” like the Schweinfurt ball bearing factory in the case of Nazi Germany, these strikes combine taking out military HQs but also decisive civilian infrastructure. So, from day 1, there is no power, no clean water, no functioning sewage system. It seems odd that advocates of this approach are trying to argue that “the Russian way of making war” is more barbaric than that.

Have Brylreem, will bomb! US Air Force General Curtis Lemay in 1954. Sketch taken from the photo by A.Y. Owen in the Getty Images Collection which, if anything, is even more alarming to look at.

The idea that destroying civilian infrastructure makes a population less inclined to resist has never been vindicated in practice; unless it reaches the almost genocidal scale of the B29 raids on Japan in 1945 led by Curtis LeMay, who went on to bomb North Korea “back to the Stone Age” a few years later; in which the state of mind of the shattered survivors barely counts. In the initial argument in WW2 between the US Air Force, who thought they could “hit a pickle barrel from 6 miles up” using a precision bombsight in daylight (they couldn’t) and the RAF, which went into carpet bombing wide civilian areas at night, the British side disregarded its own experience during the Blitz, that the raids had made the civilian population hate the bombers harder and strengthened resistance to them, thinking this wouldn’t apply in Germany because the people were “a different sort”. No stiff upper…A racialised argument within white supremacy, indicating that the British took it for granted they were ubermensch, but that it was rather vulgar to proclaim it.

All quotes from “The Bomber Mafia” by Malcolm Gladwell.

Stats for Socialists: US priorities on Ukraine

The $4billion in aid to the world’s poorest countries to help them cope with the blowback from US sanctions (with $2.7billion coming from the US) is a desperate attempt to manage a situation that risks running out of control so that the war can be prolonged without two, three, many Columbias.

The US commitment, so far, to nineteen times as much spending on munitions (most of which will make its way to US arms manufacturers) shows what their priorities are.

On the one hand, hunger, primarily produced by their own sanctions. On the other hand, a war they want to pursue into next year if they can keep their own polities and those of the Global South stable enough.

Stop the War. Cut the Bills

From Labour List this morning, with my emphasis.

Ofgem’s chief executive Jonathan Brearley told MPs today that the energy regulator expects to increase the cap on energy bills by more than £800 in October. The cap is currently £1,971, having increased by £693 in April.

He said, looking beyond October, Ofgem are “managing between two extreme versions of events.

One where the price falls back down to where it was before – for example, if we did see peace in Ukraine. And one where prices could go even further if we were to see, for example, a disruptive interruption of gas from Russia,” he said.

So, a continuation of the war, and deepening the sanctions on Russia, leads directly to energy bills that are increasing 23 times greater than wages and 38 times greater than benefits, and could, as Brearley states quite clearly “go even further”.

The UK government’s bellicose interventions against peace negotiations will come back to bite it. As it will bite Labour too unless it starts mobilising for peace.