Euromaidan London demo

Ukraine: Turn support into action

Speech at Ukraine Solidarity Campaign online rally 14 March

[200+ people attended the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign’s international rally, including trade union, youth and left activists currently inside Ukraine. Delivery varies from text. Link to recording will be posted here when online]

The past three weeks should teach us one thing: to take everything Putin says literally. Stop looking for subtexts and ambiguities. The Draft Treaties issued in December say it all.

After he has smashed Ukraine, and forced it into puppet status, or partition, and destroyed its cities, industry and ecosystem — for the occupied Donbas has already been subjected to ecocide — he wants to do the same to Moldova, Poland, the Baltics and possibly Finland.

So Ukraine’s struggle is not just about national sovereignty and international law. It’s the frontline of the defence of democracy in Europe. And no matter how flawed that democracy is, how corrupt, how unequal, it is worth defending — because there is no Universal Basic Income trial in a Finland under Russian occupation.

This feels weird to us on the left. We have opposed our own country’s interventions into Iraq, Afghanistan and, in our case Ireland. But we are now in a systemic conflict where we need to defend ourselves.

I want to say to our guests from Ukraine. We the British labour and trade union movement are with you. Putin has support, in case you haven’t noticed, from parts of the financial elite, from the far right — and sadly from a small faction of the far left who have hailed Russian troops as “peacekeepers and defenders”.

But Ukraine has massively more support. What matters is that we turn that support into action.

We demand, the British government: goes on arming the Ukrainian state; that we support all sanctions aimed at paralysing the Russian state — not just until a ceasefure but until the withrdawal of troops; that we drop Ukraine’s debt and provide unconditional aid; and that we open the borders without condition to all Ukrainian refugees; that we shut down all sources of Kremlin disinformation.

We have to congratulate the Ukrainian people, and their armed forces, for fighting Putin’s army to a standstill. The price they’re paying now is the destruction of major cities, the kidnap of elected mayors, and the organised slander of the victims. But there may be worse to come.

The attack on Yavoriv was not just a signal to NATO — we will attack you. The planes and missiles involved could easily have carried chemical or nuclear warheads. Putin’s playbook includes chemical attacks. He wrote the Russian playbook for so-called nuclear de-escalation — which is to fire a one off tactical nuclear weapon to shock the West into capitulation.

Whatever happens, there will be no direct NATO military intervention — because to do so would give Putin the excuse to trigger a war of self-destruction in the Western hemisphere. Western electorates are not ready for that and to be honest nor am I.

However, we can demand much more. Measures designed to scare Putin, to push him offbalance, to increase the cost of fighting in Ukraine . For example if there are western volunteers, why is there no Western Wagner group, running serious medium range anti-aircraft weapons that could have stopped the attack on Yavoriv?

For the European left, this is a turning point. The EU has decided to rearm, to become self sufficient in energy, food and defence technology. It’s likely that Sweden and Finland will become members or closer partners to NATO.

So the left has to make sure that decarbonisation, food and energy security are directed by the state, benefit the working class and minorities, and the costs of rearmament are borne by the rich. This is the moment for state direction, rapid decarbonisation and social justice.

To any American colleagues listening, I want to ask: where are The Squad? Looking at their social media feeds it looks like they have largely gone missing over the issue of Ukraine. It’s not top of their agenda. They look like they’re avoiding engagement. I want to point out that leadership in Europe is being done by young, female politicians from the social democratic and radical left traditions: for example Sanna Marin and Li Andersson in Finland, Magdalena Andersson in Sweden, Yolanda Diaz in Spain. It’s not enough to stand silent, issuing minimal statements of outrage and then getting on with your domestic political agenda — the American left needs need to show moral leadership: support arms to Ukraine, support sanctions, support aid and debt relief — those are the tests for the left of the US Democratic Party.

NATO itself is at a turning point. It needs a new strategy and we, the left, have a chance to shape it — as a primarily defensive, European focused, democratised alliance, taking it out of the hands of the securocrats with their fantasies of expeditionary warfare, and yes, the project of open-ended expansion. Only when Scholz and Stoltenberg assured people NATO is a defensive alliance did the legitimacy of arming Ukraine gain wider support. Let’s make that defensive-only claim a reality.

And the left must demand a voice for civil society, the labour movement, the social movements and the youth in rebuilding Ukraine.

Two million young Ukrainians will have seen what the West is like, with all its flaws. When they go back to rebuild Ukraine, after Putin is defeated, we must demand their right to create a social democratic and left politics, free trade unionism a space for all minorities.

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Paul Mason

Paul Mason

Journalist, writer and film-maker. Former economics editor at BBC Newsnight/Channel 4 News. Author of How To Stop Fascism.