Main enemy is at home

When it comes to Ukraine, writes Eddie Ford, what matters is not territorial integrity, but the danger of generalised war in Europe

As I write, today is supposed to be invasion day, according to “multiple US officials”.1 Apparently, if we are to believe this “specific and alarming” intelligence, Russia’s assault on Ukraine could be preceded by a barrage of aerial bombing, missile strikes and cyberattacks. Well, looking at the television, this does not appear to be happening. Perhaps everything will start to kick off later, or it could be a load of nonsense. In a show of defiance, Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, has declared February 16 a “day of unity”.

We have been told repeatedly by the US and its ever-loyal poodle, the British government, that a Russian invasion is an “imminent” or “immediate” threat, could happen “at any time”, is a “distinct possibility”, “highly likely”, and so on. Whether any of these predictions are based on any real intelligence or facts is almost impossible to know, but it does not appear, so far, that Vladimir Putin has given the go-ahead. All you can say in conditions of pre-war and war (excuse the cliché) is that truth is the first casualty. Unsurprisingly, there are splits and differences within the western camp. A senior European Union diplomat is widely quoted as saying they “still refuse to buy” the idea that an invasion is imminent because “it would be such a mistake by Putin”, as Ukraine “will fight them with everything” - which seems a reasonable assessment. Another official from an eastern EU country said it is “difficult to say”, but “the main idea is to be prepared with sanctions” and that “coordination and unity are key”.


There have been numerous stories about Russian troops being moved away from the Ukraine border and also withdrawals from Crimea in a “partial” drawdown. Such news has certainly acted to calm the markets, the Russian rouble gaining 1.5% against the dollar and euro. However, many of those troops are returning to permanent bases that are just dozens of kilometres from Ukraine, meaning they could be redeployed quickly if the order is given to attack. Jens Stoltenberg, Nato’s secretary general, has said - correctly or not - that there has not been any de-escalation on the ground, claiming that Russia continues its military build-up. New satellite images released by the US company, Maxar Technologies, reportedly show a flurry of Russian military activity at several locations near Ukraine, including Belarus, Crimea and western Russia. Ominously, if true, Maxar pointed to the arrival of several large deployments of troops and attack helicopters, as well as new deployments of ground-attack aircraft and fighter-bomber jets to forward locations - exactly what you would need if preparing an invasion, given that air superiority is key.

Whatever the exact complexities of the Ukrainian question or the wider issues of self-determination, important though they obviously are, the main job of socialists here in Britain is to oppose our own government - to do everything we can to expose the expansion of Nato, the attempt to encircle Russia and the egging on and arming of Ukraine. A necessity highlighted, in some respects, by the recent comments of defence secretary Ben Wallace. He told The Sunday Times that there is “a whiff of Munich in the air” - the only logical inference being that he was accusing some allies of seeking to appease Putin. But ministers scurried to the airwaves to explain what Wallace really meant. Apparently the defence secretary was suggesting it was possible the Russian leader had already decided to invade Ukraine, in the same way Hitler had already decided before Munich to occupy part of Czechoslovakia. Therefore all current diplomacy might come to nothing and the west should prepare itself for that.

Sorry, guys, but Ben Wallace was clearly making a reference to France and Germany - especially the latter. Putting it mildly, they are less than enthusiastic about arming Ukraine or stepping up the anti-Russian rhetoric. The explanation is simple: gas and oil. They need it and Russia has it.

Whenever there is talk of “aggression”, we need to essentially treat it in the same way as the internationalist left did during World War I. They did not champion Belgium’s rights specifically, unlike the pro-Entente socialists, who whined about poor little Belgium being the victim of German aggression. Of course, the progressive left stood up for people that had been overrun and occupied. But they understood that what was going on was a big imperialist war, and hence the priority for socialists was to oppose their own side. The main enemy is at home.

When it comes to Ukraine, we are dealing with the global hegemon, the US, aggressively expanding the EU and, crucially, Nato all the way to the borders of Russia. They clearly have ambitions to keep going east into Ukraine and Georgia - maybe other places as well like Moldova, Belarus and Kazakhstan - as they try to encircle Russia. Communists do not find it remotely surprising that voters in the non-Russian parts of Ukraine often yearn for EU membership and joining ‘the west’ - seeing American, German and British living standards on their televisions screens. In that sense, it is reminiscent of the expectations of people in the Soviet Union between 1988 and 1991. After all, the likes William Rees-Mogg - father of the horrid Jacob - promised them in The Times that they would enjoy “Swedish levels of social security and German levels of wages”. Who would not want that? Instead, however, they got the sharpest and deepest decline in living standards in the modern world - with a dramatic drop in life expectancy, a litmus test of people’s general health and wellbeing. It is particularly shocking that Ukraine’s decline was even more savage and long-lasting than that experienced in Russia.

Moscow tells us that we are at “peak hysteria”. But what are all these Russian troops amassed on the border doing there? Enjoying the view? On the other hand, what exactly is “aggression” in this context? Defending Crimea from far-right militias connected to the Ukrainian army or proper self-determination for the two ‘people’s republics’ in the east? Another thing we have been told is that the aim of those forces gathered to the east and north of Ukraine is to drive to Kiev, topple the government and install a pro-Moscow government. This seems far-fetched - or crazily optimistic. If the aim is to surround Kiev, then you have created the equivalent of a west Berlin during the Cold War. But that hardly means that the government falls - quite the opposite in fact. Under those sorts of circumstances, the civilian population - let alone the army - tend to show an extraordinary resilience and defiance. Kiev would be no pushover, let alone the country as a whole.

Frankly, 130,000 troops are not enough to conquer Ukraine, that is for sure. So why are they there? Maybe Putin is deploying them as a means to pressurise the US into accepting a deal over Ukraine - ‘Finlandisation’ is constantly mentioned. Something that keeps Ukraine permanently out of Nato. Any deal of this nature would apparently violate Ukraine’s sovereignty, goes the cry, which is the worst crime imaginable, it seems. But it is for the US to decide.


Meanwhile, Keir Starmer has declared that Labour’s commitment to Nato is “unshakable” under his leadership. Remember, he is not Jeremy Corbyn. Hence the slightly strange BBC headline - “Keir Starmer’s ‘I’m not Corbyn’ hints are getting louder”.2

Speaking for myself, I never thought he was Corbyn in the first place! Yes, there were some very naive Labour Party members who voted for Starmer because he promised to adhere to the 2019 election manifesto. But the vast majority have long been disabused of that notion, especially with Corbyn out of the Parliamentary Labour Party and very likely never to return. Showing that Starmer still feels he still has something to prove to the establishment, needs to reassure them, he has attacked the Stop The War Coalition for playing into Russian hands.

If the CPGB has any criticisms of the StWC, it is for the opposite reason - that it is playing into western hands by upholding Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Let us return to Belgium. Expressing outrage about the violation of Belgium’s neutrality by Germany helped whip-up popular anger and recruit a generation of young men to the colours (meanwhile keeping quiet about self-determination for India, Egypt, etc). But if the German army had directly attacked France, that would have been hugely costly in terms of death, injury and time because of the strong system of French forts along the border with Germany. As general Alfred von Schlieffen advised, German forces should simply go round these forts via Belgium and then drive south into France. And that is exactly what the German army did in 1914.

Under the circumstances of an intra-imperialist conflict - with Germany surrounded to the east by Russia and to the west by France and with Britain blockading the North Sea - insisting upon Belgium’s territorial integrity was to align yourself with imperialism. In effect this is what the StWC has actually done over Ukraine with its talk of territorial integrity. Certainly Andrew Murray urging Boris Johnson’s government to be more like France and Germany shows that the StWC has definitively placed itself in the camp of social pacifism.


  1. politico.com/newsletters/national-security-daily/2022/02/11/putin-could-attack-ukraine-on-feb-16-biden-told-allies-00008344.↩︎

  2. bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-60353516.↩︎