Putin regime emerges as the main danger to global peace and security
Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives to deliver his speech at the concert marking the eighth anniversary of the referendum on the state status of Crimea and Sevastopol and its reunification with Russia, in Moscow, March 18, 2022. Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Russia continues its unrelenting, brutal, and immoral invasion of Ukraine while ignoring the growing global outcry to stop. Russian military forces have widened their lethal destruction to break the will of the Ukrainian population and their unexpected fierce resistance.

It is hard to grasp the breadth of destruction in Ukraine and the danger the world faces. Once unleashed, the dogs of war pursue a path with unpredictable and unknown consequences.

The attack has created deep hostilities against Russia by Ukrainians in the first place, which will take years to repair, and inflamed Ukrainian and Russian nationalism. Europe faces a humanitarian disaster not seen since WWII, with over 5 million Ukrainian refugees and another 2 million people internally displaced.

The most urgent issue facing the world is bringing the invasion, death, and destruction to an end as quickly as possible. The global community must prevent the conflict from spreading to neighboring countries and escalating to a nuclear standoff between Russia and the U.S. which possess 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons.

Gross violations of law committed

Russian military forces have committed gross violations of international law and war crimes. These include the invasion of Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders, leveling of cities, using cluster munitions, deliberately targeting civilians, including children, forced displacement, attacking refugee evacuation corridors, destroying hospitals, schools, and government buildings, and reports of rapes and executions.

The worst may be yet to come. On Feb. 27, President Vladimir Putin ordered Russia’s “deterrence forces,” including its nuclear forces, on combat readiness. Putin threatened to use nuclear weapons against any country interfering with the invasion. His Feb. 24 speech invokes the language of Russia’s updated nuclear policy adopted in June 2020 to justify their possible use. Biden’s refusal to impose a no-fly zone, which risks escalation to a nuclear confrontation between the U.S. and Russia, and global annihilation, has been validated.

Meanwhile, Putin and Russia’s ruling kleptocracy has unleashed its repressive state apparatus upon the growing and courageous Russian opposition to the invasion. The regime has jailed thousands, suppressed the independent media as “foreign agents,” and outlawed any criticism of the invasion or challenge to state-sponsored disinformation justifying it. In a chilling speech on Mar. 16, Putin likened the anti-war movement to “traitors” and a “fifth column” and that Russia must self-purify by getting rid of them.

Settlement requires withdrawal

A peace settlement likely requires a Russian withdrawal, recognition of Ukraine’s (and other countries in the region) national sovereignty, right to self-determination, non-interference in its internal affairs, and security guarantees for its territorial integrity. Ukraine likely accepts neutrality concerning NATO, already twice offered by President Volodymyr Zelensky, barring foreign military bases on its soil, recognition of Russian language rights, and may face some painful concessions, including loss of territory.

However, Putin’s response to Zelensky’s offer was to bomb a theater in Mariupol where hundreds of civilians and children were taking shelter. The action suggests Putin’s real goal may be to take over Ukraine, or at the very least its partition or ruination of its economy and infrastructure, the liquidation of the Ukrainian state, and installation of a puppet regime. Putin has already declared his intention to establish tribunals to try Ukrainian opposition and extinguish all “Western” influence, similar to “purifying” Russia of internal “traitors” and resistance.

It is hard to know all that the Biden administration has done behind the scenes to prevent the war and end it. But the administration’s outreach to China, which has a significant influence on Russia, is encouraging.

The Biden Administration knew about Putin’s plans and thought exposing them would give Putin pause. Perhaps at that moment, more could have been done to forge a compromise to stop the invasion, including emphatically taking NATO membership off the table. At the very least, it would have brought additional pressure to bear.

But suppose the Biden Administration and NATO’s only approach is sanctions against Russia and arms for Ukraine, without a diplomatic blitz. In that case, one wonders if the intent is to drag Russia into an Afghanistan-type quagmire at the expense of the Ukrainian people? A drawn-out war will only result in more destruction, death, and suffering.

The mythic origin narrative

Putin laid out his view of Russia-Ukraine history and relations in a lengthy article on July 12, 2021, which many historians have criticized. In it, Putin conjures up a mythic Russian origin narrative and declares Ukraine an illegitimate state, created by Bolshevik policies following the 1917 October Revolution. In reality, the revolution formed the USSR as a union of republics to address the Ukrainian people’s legitimate national rights and aspirations and other nations oppressed by Czarist Russia, known as the “prison house of nations.”

But Putin believes Russia and Ukraine, along with Belarus, form three branches of a distinct historically developed Russian people. In this version of history, Putin invents a justification for violating Ukraine’s national sovereignty. Putin concluded by stating, “true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia.” And therefore, the aim becomes to absorb Ukraine into Russia or make Ukraine a subordinate colony.

Therefore, taking Putin at his word, the very existence of Ukraine as a sovereign nation is at stake. Ukrainians will never accept such an outcome and the fierce resistance reflects their national aspirations. An occupation will result in ongoing resistance by Ukrainians and brutal repression by Russia.

But the invasion and Ukraine’s struggle for national sovereignty and self-determination also occurs under sharpening global geopolitical rivalries, including between U.S. and Russian imperialism and the US’s “strategic competition” with China and Russia. Simultaneously, Russia is attempting to assert its role in the global order, including military means, and upend the US’s still mainly hegemonic role. The invasion may signal a tectonic shift in international affairs, an era of greater instability and fracturing, and a growing world war danger.

NATO and other factors

But it still begs the question: did NATO expansion precipitate the invasion, or did other factors play a role? Indeed, NATO expansion and U.S. interference were critical to laying the foundation for the crisis. But it can never justify Russia’s brutal invasion and war of choice over diplomacy. In any case, NATO wouldn’t have accepted Ukraine’s bid for membership because Germany and France opposed it.

Indeed, Putin would have known a Russian invasion would strengthen support for NATO and militarization of Europe, which precisely is what has happened. Perhaps Putin didn’t care and made it quite clear in his Feb. 22 speech that all territory once part of the Russian empire is fair game.

Whether Putin means this as a rhetorical device or not, it alarms those countries that were former Russian colonies which have struggled for independence against Russian domination historically. As such, public opinion has swung in favor of NATO. That includes the countries of the former USSR, including the Baltic States, Finland, and Poland.

Not only do NATO countries in Eastern Europe feel more vulnerable, but previously unaligned countries like Finland are aligning with NATO, and Germany and Norway are increasing military budgets. Any effort to phase out NATO, demilitarize and denuclearize Europe is now much more difficult, if not impossible, for the foreseeable future.

An even more significant issue may be Ukraine’s desire to join the European Union, robbing Russia of what Putin believes is a critical part of Russia’s economic sphere. Putin refuses to acknowledge Ukraine’s right to pursue its foreign policy, trade, and financial relationships.

Other justifications falling apart

Putin’s other justifications for invading are falling apart. By shelling majority Russian-speaking cities, Putin undercuts his claim to be protecting Russian-speaking Ukrainians.

The military offensive across the breadth of Ukraine undermines the claim of “denazification” of the Donbas region. A “fascist regime” doesn’t square with a country that elected a Jewish president, who lost family in the holocaust, by 73% of the vote and where far-right parties got less than 3% of the vote in the last presidential election.

Nor does Putin define what he means by “fascists,” which could encompass the Ukrainian people as a whole given its historical meaning in Russia. Ousting the Zelensky government, what Putin describes as the “neo-fascist” regime, is a cover for justifying the imperial expansion of Russia.

Indeed, Ukraine has become deeply polarized since the Euromaidan events of 2014, Russia’s invasion of Crimea, and the orientation toward EU and NATO. Since the invasion, the government has curtailed democratic rights, including banning political parties, and inflamed nationalism, including far-right nationalism.

Right-wing nationalism and the integration of fascist militias, including the Azov Battalion and other followers of the WWII fascist Stephen Bandera, into the national guard in the Donbas region is a dangerous development made worse by the invasion. But this still does not justify the attack, and defeating this menace is an internal matter for the Ukrainian people.

The struggle for economic and political democracy is a matter for the Ukrainian people, as it is for each country. And Ukraine’s national democratic movement has been struggling to win advances. Still, it now wages the fight for democracy and against far-right movements while defending national sovereignty in a war situation.

Great Russian nationalism and fascism

According to some scholars, the ideas of Ivan Ilyin, Russia’s Christian fascist philosopher and an admirer of Hitler and Mussolini, have a significant and insidious influence on Putin. Ilyin asserts “a quasi-mystical belief in the destiny of nations and rulers” and that Russia is pure and the embodiment of redemption from the corruption of the West.

By combining ideas of Russian national and racial supremacy with authoritarianism, anti-Semitism, and white Christian nationalism, the result touches many of the hallmarks of fascism. Indeed, these ideas resonate with fascist movements globally, and Putin and Russia are a beacon for far-right movements, white nationalists, and fascists worldwide, including the US.

Putin’s stated objective is to break up the prevailing world order by brute force, one he sees dominated by the U.S. and “globalists,” which is eerily similar to the “global Jewish conspiracy.” Putin seeks to ensure Russia has a top place in a multipolar world and sees himself as the historic figure who will restore the traditional Russian empire under authoritarian rule.

A new global reality

Russia’s invasion challenges the post-Cold War paradigm whereby U.S imperialism is the world’s sole superpower and source of global tensions. And anything opposing U.S. policies, including by Russia in Ukraine, is seen as anti-imperialist.

U.S. imperialism has a long, shameful history of invading and occupying other countries, committing state-sponsored terrorism and war crimes, engineering coups, installing puppet governments, possessing colonies, and controlling and exploiting other countries by dominating the global financial system. But that view doesn’t account for a vastly changed world in which U.S. domination is steadily giving way to a multipolar world, and other actors have emerged on the global stage.

The rise of China as the world’s largest economy and its growing trade and diplomatic relations is profoundly influencing global developments. The newly emerging economies like Russia, Brazil, and India, the election of left governments in Latin America and elsewhere, and other global alliances also herald a new era of globalization.

On the one hand, U.S. imperialism is not behind every development. On the other, nations and people are not passive actors but also have agency. Domestic democratic movements impact national developments and national sovereignty within the broader geopolitical struggle.

At the same time, new threats to peace, security, and democracy have emerged, including climate change, pandemics, mass disinformation, global fascism, white nationalism, other anti-democratic movements, regional rivalries, and far-right religious nationalist movements.

The main danger to peace and democracy

The invasion of Ukraine reflects the logical outcome of what some call kleptocratic patronage capitalism and the narrow economic interests of Russia’s ruling elite. This immensely wealthy cabal enriched themselves by looting the vast wealth of the USSR. Putin’s extreme nationalism and reverence for the glory of Czarism and Russian fascism reflect this gangster-reactionary class outlook. Repression and attacks on democratic rights flow from this internal dynamic.

As part of the sharpening inter-imperialist rivalry with the U.S. and effort to assert its role in the world order, the Putin regime interfered in U.S .internal affairs, including the 2016 elections when it helped Trump. Russia also interfered in the 2018 and 2020 elections, Brexit vote, and spread mass disinformation about covid vaccines to widen internal political divisions in the U.S .and other capitalist countries.

By invading Ukraine and seeking to redraw internationally recognized borders violently based on Great Russian chauvinism, the Putin regime has emerged as the main danger to global peace and international law at this moment. Global collective unity is required on the order of the WWII anti-fascist alliance to end the invasion and in solidarity with the Russian people to oust Putin from power.

The world must chart a way forward that rejects war and seeks a new global democratic order. One that strengthens international law respects national sovereignty and self-determination, non-interference in internal affairs, equality of nations, democratic and human rights, demilitarization, and dissolving military alliances.

Humanity faces existential threats from ecological crises and nuclear destruction. Our survival depends on global cooperation over competition and peaceful co-existence between states. Too much is at stake.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author. It does not reflect the opinion of People’s World nor of the Communist Party USA.

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CONTRIBUTOR

John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He served as national chair of the Communist Party USA from 2014 to 2019. He is active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, Pittsburgh, and Albuquerque and attended Antioch College. He currently lives in Chicago where he is an avid swimmer, cyclist, runner, and dabbler in guitar and occasional singer in a community chorus.

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