oDR: Opinion

Many Russians don’t want this war. The Left must unite to oppose it

Putin’s aggression has failed to galvanise support at home. Those around the world must reject his actions, argue two Russian writers

Ilya Budraitskis Ilya Matveev
24 February 2022, 2.51pm
Fires blaze after the state Border Guard Service in the Kyiv region was shelled this morning
Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs/Twitter

The Left around the world needs to unite around a simple message: no to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

There is no justification for Russia’s actions, which will result in suffering and death. In these days of tragedy, we call for international solidarity with Ukraine.

The extent of the invasion is not fully understood, but it is already clear that the Russian military has attacked targets all over the country, not just in the southeast along the border of the so-called ‘People's Republics’. Ukrainians in various cities have woken up to explosions.

The military objective of the operation has been made clear by Vladimir Putin: the complete surrender of the Ukrainian army. However, the political plan remains unclear – most likely it will be the establishment of a pro-Russian government in Kyiv.

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The Russian leadership assumes that resistance will be quickly broken and that most common Ukrainians will dutifully accept the new regime. The social consequences for Russia itself will obviously be severe – already in the morning, even before Western sanctions were announced, Russian stock exchanges collapsed and the ruble's fall broke all records.

Putin's nightly speech, in which he announced the outbreak of war, represented the unconcealed language of imperialism and colonialism.

Russia is the only country in the world that speaks like an imperialist power from the early 20th century. The Kremlin is no longer able to hide behind other grievances, including even NATO enlargement, a hatred of Ukraine proper, or a desire to teach Ukraine a lesson and punish it.

These actions are beyond rationally understood ‘interests’ and are somewhere in the realm of the ‘historical mission’ as Putin understands it.

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Since Alexei Navalny’s arrest in January 2021, police and special services have essentially crushed the organised opposition in Russia. Navalny’s organisation was deemed ‘extremist’ and dismantled, demonstrations in his defence resulted in some 15,000 arrests, and almost all independent media were either closed down or branded ‘foreign agents’, severely limiting their operation. In effect, mass demonstrations against the war are unlikely - there is no political force capable of coordinating them and participation in any street protest, including even a single-person picket, is swiftly and severely punished. Activist and intellectual milieus in Russia are shocked and demoralised by the events.

One reassuring sign is that no clear support for war is discernible in Russian society. According to Levada Center, the last independent polling agency (itself branded a ‘foreign agent’ by the Russian government), 40% of Russians do not support the official recognition of the Donetsk and Luhansk ‘people’s republics’ by the Russian authorities, while 45% of Russians do.

Nothing like the patriotic mobilisation that followed the annexation of Crimea in 2014 is happening today

While some signs of the ‘rally around the flag’ are inevitable, it is remarkable that despite complete control over major media sources and a dramatic outpouring of propagandistic demagoguery on TV, the Kremlin is unable to foment enthusiasm for war. Nothing like the patriotic mobilisation that followed the annexation of Crimea in 2014 is happening today.

In that sense, the invasion of Ukraine disproves the popular theory that the Kremlin’s outward aggression is always aimed at propping up domestic legitimacy.

But if anything, with the ‘problem of 2024’ (the need to put up a convincing show of Putin’s reelection) still on the table, this war destabilises the regime and could even threaten its survival.

This article originally appeared in Jacobin.

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