The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

U.S./Russian Standoff in Ukraine

Feb 14, 2022

Translated and excerpted from Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group active in France.

[For Vladimir Putin], stopping the Western military alliance’s drive toward Russia’s borders depends only on Russia’s balance of power with the U.S. But the U.S. keeps raising the stakes. The U.S. sends ever more weapons and troops to Eastern Europe, while “informing” the whole world about a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine—according to American secret agents, it is scheduled for mid-February.

It would just be political theater if there weren’t real people living in Ukraine and Russia. The residents do not appear in official press releases and hardly ever in television reports. This is not an accident. For Putin, Biden and Zelensky, the people do not exist in this showdown except as cannon fodder. This is already the case in Donbass, the separatist east of Ukraine, where clashes between pro-Russian and Ukrainian forces have already left 15,000 dead, caused the exodus of hundreds of thousands of people, and destroyed many places.

For the past eight years, on both sides of the front lines in Donbass, shells have never stopped falling. On both sides, the populations fear most of all that the conflict between Moscow and Kyiv will not remain limited to their region but will spread widely. Zelensky repeats that everything will be alright because of all the weapons the West is supplying Kyiv. The supporters of ex-president Petro Poroshenko and ultra-nationalist groups are calling for “heroic struggle” against “the Russian enemy.” But in many areas the authorities—who depend on powerful groups of oligarchs—are not sounding the war klaxon until they know which way the wind blows, or rather, how the balance of power is shifting.

Added to Zelensky’s discredit—there has recently been talk of his imminent overthrow—all this probably shows that the Ukrainian population is not as contaminated by nationalist propaganda as is claimed by the Kyiv government, its Western sponsors, and the French media. Among working people the threat of war might seem remote. In terms of geography, many live far from the Russian border. But above all, workers, retirees, and the poor have many other more immediate and vital concerns.

Last year, as for many years, 600,000 Ukrainians emigrated to find work in Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany, or France—wherever they can hope to live better than in Ukraine. That’s not a tall order, because the standard of living is dropping as fast as the exchange rate for the national currency, the hryvnia. And even in the capital region, long electrical blackouts happen several times a week.

Blackouts are not rare in Russia either. After all, the government skimps on maintaining the network. And exporting the country’s abundant oil and gas matters more to the bureaucrats in power who control this black gold, than satisfying the population’s needs.

This same population has seen its standard of living drop sharply for years, so the authorities have every reason to fear their discontent.

Following an old script, Putin tries again and again to create a climate of a besieged citadel. He’d like to force ordinary people into closing ranks behind him. From this perspective, the strategy of tension chosen by the U.S. and its allies does a great service to the Russian bureaucracy. The tension gives Russian officials a pretext to bring its population into line. And the Russian regime does not shrink from creating a climate of reinforced police authoritarianism by banning organizations it dislikes.

None of this means the Kremlin has unanimous support. During his military intervention in Kazakhstan in early January—which Washington, Paris, London and Berlin approved of because it was aimed at suppressing the working class—Putin did not win massive support at home. Even claiming to defend Russian-speakers in Kazakhstan did not help. In the conflict over Ukraine, Putin might see his warmongering propaganda parroted by monarchists, by so-called communist party KPRF, and by government bosses. But not by workers.

Workers no doubt realize more and more that the government is with their exploiters. They also know that the permanent inflation of military budgets—necessary for the top brass, for arms manufacturers, and for those who run the government—is paid for by ordinary people. The price is more and more unbearable, in both Ukraine and Russia. These populations, whose standard of living is melting away, have no interest in fighting each other.