Ukrainians, Russians and Europeans against Putin’s war

On the day of the referendum in Crimea TPQ reproduces a piece from Gabriel Levy with his permission. It initially featured in People and Nature on 2 March 2014.

Ukrainians, Russians and Europeans were on the streets today protesting against the Putin regime’s attack on Ukraine. It’s the only shaft of light I can see in a dark sky overshadowed by the danger of war, with 6000 Russian troops reportedly on Ukrainian territory in Crimea, some of them surrounding Ukrainian bases.


Nikolaev march
Demonstration in Nikolaev. Photo: Ukrainska Pravda
In Moscow, anti-war demonstrators were detained in large numbers. Eachtime protesters assembled on Manezhnaya square in the city centre, more were arrested. Novaya Gazeta, the liberal opposition paper, reported 265 arrests and counting just after 16.00 Moscow time.

Voices on the Russian radical left were unequivocal.

“It is necessary to call a spade a spade: what’s happening in Crimea these days is a classic act of imperialist intervention on the part of the Russian state”, said the Open Left group in a statement published in English here.

Open Left wrote:

Maidan has opened the sluices of activity of the far-right thugs – and at the same time has spurred to political life great masses of people, who perhaps for the first time perceive that they themselves are capable of determining their fate. This range of possibilities has the potential to resolve itself both into progressive social changes, and into the victory of extreme reaction. But the final decision must, without doubt, be left to the people of Ukraine themselves.


Large numbers joined demonstrations against the war not only in Kyiv but in all the large Russian-speaking cities in the east. Ukrainska Pravda reported a demonstration of 5-10,000 people against Putin’s aggression in Nikolaev, a predominantly Russian-speaking city in southern Ukraine. The report said that agricultural and public sector workers, students and the intelligentsia were all at the march.

In Dnipropetrovsk, a predominantly Russian-speaking industrial city, and Odessa, the predominantly Russian-speaking port city in southern Ukraine, several thousand people joined similar marches. There were demos in Kharkiv, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporozhye – smaller than pro-Russian marches … but shamefully downplayed by western media reports.

In Kyiv, the radical left called for working-class solidarity against Putin’s militarism. “There’s no point in waiting for ‘rescue’ from Nato”, said a statement by the Autonomous Workers Union, published in English here. “The war can be averted only if proletarians of all countries, first and foremost Ukrainian and Russian, together make a stand against the criminal regime of Putin.”

Activists in eastern Ukraine

Messages from activists in social movements in eastern Ukraine painted a grim picture. My friend G., a trade union activist based in Dniprodzerzhinsk, emailed to say:

Most ordinary people are cautious or hostile to the [Ukrainian] nationalists, and so Euromaidan got very meagre support here. There have been many rallies here against the accession to power [in Ukraine] of ‘fascists’ and ‘nationalists’.

But after Russia sent its forces into Crimea and threatened war – both sides appeared ready temporarily to drop their differences and defend Ukraine. The bottom line is that this conflict is starting to unite people. Those who openly support Russian intervention are not visible right now. On the other hand there is the threat of the right radicals coming to power.
Yesterday many oligarchs were appointed to the governerships of eastern regions. [Among a string of new governors appointed, Igor Kolomoisky, the oil-to-telecoms billionaire was made governor of Dnipropetrovsk region and Sergei Taruta, the steel magnate, governor of Donetsk region.] And earlier on there were rumours that they are financing Euromaidan, supporting [the right wing populist party] Svoboda, for example. And now we are getting confirmation of that. But ordinary people, workers, have little to say about that.

A radical left activist, D. from Dnipropetrovsk, emailed in a more pessimistic vein, quoting Pushkin: “The people were silent.” [The famous last line of the poem Boris Godunov – GL.] “That applies to workers whether young or old”, he said. The events around the Maidan demonstrations had a polarising effect.

Wide layers were seized by nationalism, Ukrainian or Russian. [...] That’s a catastrophe that could be compared to August 1914 [the outbreak of the first world war].

Among socialists and anarchists there is a very pessimistic mood. Twenty five years of socialist propaganda from a wide range of left groups and ideas seems to have gone nowhere, disappeared like a puff of smoke. Of course, we didn’t have such great achievements before (in contrast to 1914). But what’s happening now gives the impression that all these decades of socialist work were for nothing, have produced no results.

Despite his gloomy prognosis, D. added that, in respect of a possible incursion by the Russian army, “the indignation is overwhelming. In the last three or four days, since the beginning of the military activity in Crimea, I haven’t heard any other reaction.”


Trafalgar Square
Protest banner in Trafalgar Square today
In London, home to the largest community of Russian migrants in western Europe, an anti-war demonstration at the Russian embassy was followed byaction at Trafalgar Square, where Boris Johnson, the mayor of London was hosting a festival to mark Maslenitsa (the Russian equivalent of Shrove Tuesday). 

A banner saying “No invasions! Stop repressions!” was hung over the balcony of the square. The demo organisers were aiming at the event’s Russian corporate sponsors – as they put it, “the largest oil polluter, Rosneft; the union busters Aeroflot; the hate mongering Russian state media and Kazmunaigaz, which was responsible for massacring Kazakh oil workers”.


Against what is Vladimir Putin directing this war? The story being told in the western media is that he seeks to undermine Ukraine’s new government – nationalist and right wing, with a neoliberal economist prime minister, and portfolios held mainly by members of Batkivshchina (Yulia Timoshenko’s right wing liberal party) and the extreme nationalist populists of Svoboda.

I don’t think this coalition, thrown together in the crisis that followed Yanukovich’s departure, is his main target. Rather, it is the mass movement that accompanied the Maidan protests, which brought ordinary Ukrainians into political and social action on a level unprecedented since the break-up of the Soviet Union. Above all, Putin fears the spread of protest, and popular participation, into Russia.

In a previous post, I wrote that “Russian support for separatism in eastern Ukraine, or even, in extremis, civil war” were not the most likely prospects. I was wrong. And now, although military action beyond Crimea is unlikely – or perhaps I mean “unthinkable” because the consequences would be so disastrous – it has to be acknowledged that Putin’s operation in Crimea could spin out of control.

I agree with the statement by Open Left in Russia, that the Crimean operation can not solve Putin’s basic problems. His regime is not built on strong foundations. Russia is slipping back into recession, its economy able to maintain its footing only thanks to high international oil prices.

In a discussion with British leftists about Ukraine yesterday, the opinion was voiced that “anti fascism”, meaning opposition to the new government in Ukraine, is the priority, and that it would be “no bad thing” if the Putin regime put arms in the hands of “anti fascist militia”.

But there are no “anti fascist militia”. The European left should not use this crisis to indulge its own fantasies. Yes, we in Europe should do everything we can to help Ukrainian socialists and trade union organisations who have come under attack from right-wing nationalists and fascists, as I argued in an earlier post. But there is no question about where the greatest threat is coming from to working-class solidarity, to social movements, and to the attempts of people in Ukraine and Russia to shape their own future … it comes from Putin’s militarism.

Let’s support the anti-war movement and independent working-class and social movements in Ukraine and Russia however we can.

GL, 2.3.14.


  1. I think this article is nonsense bordering on propaganda. While no fan of Putin I don't see how he is the problem in Ukraine. What happened in Ukraine can only be described as a coup there was no protocol followed, genuine protestors were quickly hijacked in my opinion.
    We don't even now who fired the fatal shots that day in the square. Russia today has reported that the shots who killed the police and protestors came from the same source. I don't know if this is true what I do know is operations like that happen regularly so I wouldn't rule it out.
    It seems to me that the west while cementing their hegemony seem to get a little buzz out of poking the Russian bear. Painting Putin as the evil threat fits into the west narrative. Of course the truth is the American military reigns supreme and most of international conflicts, diplomatic stand offs are in reaction to the expanding of the American empire but that doesn't sit well with people so we'll just blame Putin.

  2. Anthony, I am interested in what you are thinking now that Mikhail Gorbachev has come out in favor of Russian annexation of Crimea. Independent observers have certified the election, and said that the Crimeans truly desire to be a part of Russia, not. Ukraine. Is this like the situation in the north or Ireland or. Palestine, or is it coercion? I

  3. Dr l.a. Farrell
    Although I am not Anthony i'll weigh in if you don't mind. I don't think it resembles Ireland. Ukraine was a free country and although fractured seemed pretty stable until this coup. Every country has different relationships and the one between Russia and Ukraine is entwined historically in Russian imperialism however if it wasn't for western expansionism I couldn't see Russia behaving as defensively as they are.
    The situation in Ireland for me is completely different we've never known true freedom or autonomy, we've never had the chance as a united nation to decide what path we would follow. There are similarities in the sense that a portion of each country considers itself to be the nationality of a neighbouring power but how that came to be is different for each people.
    I don't think you can draw similarities between the two the history is completely different, although both have had a raw deal from outside influence.