The war in Ukraine two years after the Russian invasion

Joint Statement by the International Socialist League (ISL), the International Trotskyist Opposition (ITO), and the League for the Fifth International (L5I).

February 24 marked the second anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with a toll of thousands of deaths, millions of displaced people, and devastating levels of destruction of infrastructure and housing.

Putin’s aim to conquer large parts of Ukraine and to install a pro-Moscow puppet regime failed. During the first year of the war, Russian troops were pushed back, faced by Ukrainian resistance.

The war turned into a war of position. The Russian military consolidated its lines in Donbas and Luhansk, where the invaders, working with Great Russian nationalist militias, expelled a large part of the Ukrainian population and annexed the regions to the Russian Federation. Russia also occupied parts of the regions of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.

Despite the massive Western sanctions and military and economic support for Ukraine by part of the NATO countries, Russia — backed by China — was able not only to reorganize its economy, but also to consolidate its positions militarily.

NATO expanded eastward, all powers increased their military spending massively, and this kind of New Cold War between imperialist powers entered a new stage of confrontation. At the same time, the inner divisions in the Western camp came more to the fore, and the initial strategy — to arm Ukraine to an extent that it could resist the Russian invasion, but to avoid an open confrontation between NATO and Russia — came to its limits.

After two years, the war may lead to three possible developments. First, but unlikely, NATO and the West will increase their engagement and intervene openly in Ukraine — a confrontation that would change the character of the whole war, but also threaten a World War. Second, the war continues as a war of position — with a massive material cost, but without great movements on the front. Third, an imperialist-imposed peace — whether in the form of a ceasefire, an armistice, or “negotiations” — aiming to freeze the conflict. All those three developments would be at the expense of the working class and the popular masses in Ukraine, but also in Russia and the West.

Against this, revolutionaries need to advocate a just and democratic solution to the war: Russia out of Ukraine, NATO out of Eastern Europe, and self-determination for Crimea and the Donbas regions. This must be linked to the longer-term perspective of an independent socialist Ukraine, since nothing else would bring a just and lasting peace.

The character of the war

The war combines two processes. On the one hand, the invasion by an imperialist power of a semi-colonial or intermediate country it has historically oppressed, and the just resistance of the Ukrainian people in defense of their self-determination and sovereignty. On the other hand, a concentrated intensification of the inter-imperialist struggle between NATO and Russia, which seek to advance their respective imperialist interests at the cost of the lives of Ukrainian and Russian working people.

Western imperialism has advanced in Eastern Europe since the dissolution of the USSR and has managed to strengthen its political influence in Ukraine since 2014, when the US, Britain and the EU openly supported nationalist, pro-Western, and far-right forces taking power. The undersigned organizations will continue to discuss the characterization of the Maidan and the resistance to it from the Russian and Russian-speaking population. Meanwhile, we agree that the conflict was aggravated by Western dominance over Ukraine and by Russia taking control over Eastern Ukraine after 2014. The resulting conflict has cost thousands of lives.

In 2022, the motive of Putin’s invasion was to try to bring Ukraine back under Moscow’s imperialist control. NATO and Russia have the same objective in Ukraine: to subjugate the country and its people to their respective imperialist interests. The Ukrainian bourgeoisie has decided, in its majority, to change sides, and to keep on exploiting the workers and peasants in their own interests and those of their imperialist backers.

The Russian invasion was not resisted by most of the Ukrainian bourgeoisie. In the first days of the aggression, a large number of central and regional officials fled the country or collaborated with the Russian occupiers. The NATO powers offered Zelensky asylum to form a “Ukrainian government in exile”.

The Ukrainian working people took the defense of their country into their own hands, organizing grassroots “territorial defence forces” in many cities and regions. This huge support of the Ukrainian working people for the resistance against the invaders has to be added to the much better state of the Ukrainian army compared to 2014. The Western imperialists had equipped and reorganized that army in a way that an effective resistance by highly motivated soldiers was possible. The Ukrainian army held out, and Zelensky positioned himself at the head of the war effort. But it was in spite of the local bourgeoisie, not thanks to them, that the Ukrainian people prevented the Russian forces from reaching Kyiv.

On the other hand, the Ukrainian working class, although it participated in the popular resistance, did not develop its own political position against that of the Ukrainian bourgeoisie.

Since 2014, Western imperialism has been turning Ukraine into a country dominated by West European and US imperialism, including massive military support. Once the Ukrainian resistance demonstrated that Putin would not achieve an easy victory, Western imperialism quickly recalculated its chances and accelerated even more the already huge economic and military support of Ukraine.

However, its policy, which it maintains to this day, is to regulate its support with the aim of wearing Putin down, so that he cannot win the war, but not allowing Ukraine to achieve a decisive victory over the invader. They fear that going beyond that strategy could lead to an inter-imperialist war between Russia and NATO.

Moreover, such a victory would be correctly interpreted by millions of Ukrainians as their own, even though the West might also take advantage of it. And the destabilization in Russia and all Eastern Europe that this would cause could evolve in a direction completely opposite to that sought by Western imperialism, motivating workers to fight independently.

Zelensky and the Ukrainian bourgeoisie have used the war to advance their entire agenda against the Ukrainian workers. In the last two years, the government has eliminated elementary labor, trade-union and democratic rights, and implemented a brutal neoliberal austerity policy. At the same time, the wretched corruption of the bourgeoisie and its political caste, who even robbed from the army and humanitarian aid, was also revealed.

The world’s left was, unfortunately, divided in the face of the war in Ukraine. A significant part of it adopted a “campist” position in favor of the Russian invader, in one way or another painting it as a lesser evil in relation to Western imperialism. Another sector characterized the war as just an inter-imperialist conflict, adopting a mistaken “defeatism,” which in fact placed them in the invader’s camp. A third sector of the global left went beyond supporting the justified self-defense of Ukraine to supporting NATO policies or asking their governments to do so.  

If an open war were to break out between the imperialist blocs intervening in Ukraine, the struggle of the Ukrainian people for their self-determination would pass to another plane. The goal would not disappear, but it would need to be resolved by the revolutionary struggle against the imperialist war.

But this is currently not the case, nor is it likely to be in the short term. In the war over Ukraine, we are not dealing with an open war between Russia and the NATO countries, though the Western powers, above all the US, have a major influence on the conduct and aims of the war. However, for Ukraine and its workers and peasants, the war is still primarily a war of self-defense against an invading oppressor state. Outside of Ukraine, the conflict between Russia and NATO has a reactionary character that socialists have to oppose. 

The undersigned uphold a principled revolutionary policy. We affirm that no imperialist power is progressive nor less evil than another. US imperialism and the bloc it leads are still the world’s leading powers. But Russia is itself a global imperialist power and the main oppressive force in Ukraine.

We defend the resistance of the Ukrainian people, their right to carry on that struggle by whatever means they can, and their right to self-determination and sovereignty. At the same time, we call on the Ukrainian people to put no confidence in, and give no political support to, Zelensky and NATO, which, as they have shown, only want to exploit and oppress them.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine allowed NATO to regroup and expand. It allowed the United States to regain a leading role in the bloc that had been weakening. It allowed Zelensky to advance his neoliberal and reactionary program. The longer the war drags on and the longer Ukraine takes to expel the invader, the more the dependence of the Ukrainian government on Western imperialism will grow, and the more Zelensky will be able to advance his reactionary program.

Whilst the working class has no interest in a war of attrition over years, it must also reject a “peace” imposed by the imperialist powers.

Revolutionary Marxists should advocate ending the Ukraine war on a just and democratic basis: Russia out of Ukraine, no to the inter-imperialist cold war, and self-determination for the populations of Crimea and Donbas. This, in the longer-term perspective of an independent socialist Ukraine, since nothing short of that would bring a just and lasting peace.

  • Russian troops out of Ukraine, for the defeat of the Russian imperialist invasion!
  • Support for the just war aims of the Ukrainian resistance and recognition of Ukrainian sovereignty.
  • Recognize the right of self-determination for Crimea and Donbas.
  • No to the Western war aims: No plundering of the Ukrainian economy by imperialist capital! Cancel Ukraine’s debt! No to NATO expansion! Disband NATO! Against the militarization of all Europe.
  • For an independent socialist Ukraine.
  • For a socialist revolution in Russia.
  • For a socialist Europe.

International Socialist League (ISL)

 International Trotskyist Opposition (ITO)

League for the Fifth International (L5I)