By Howard Machtinger

As the situation in Ukraine has deteriorated, like many of you I have been struggling to learn about a nation about which I knew little. The following are the best I can do.

Focus on Ukraine

We should center our attention on Ukraine–not only on Russia and the US.

Russian Nationalism

Russian nationalism is key to the Putin regime both internally and externally. He is part of the global authoritarian, white supremacist movement with aspirations to recreate an expanding Russian empire. As in many other empires internal and external racism go together. As Bill Fletcher has emphasized, anti-imperialists should oppose any “spheres of influence” as well as oppose imperial aggression.

“Putin’s Russia is a nuclear-armed white supremacist nation. The twenty years of Putin’s regime have created an ethno-nationalist state that celebrates white supremacy while consigning ethnic minorities and immigrants to the status of second-class citizens. Countries that are committed to an anti-racist foreign policy must oppose Putin’s white supremacist Russia—and America, given its recent descent into allied ideologies of racial confrontation, has a special obligation to highlight Putin’s pursuit of a white monoculture as a dire threat to all precepts of racial justice.”

“White Russian Empire: The racist myths behind Vladimir Putin’s power grabs” by Rafia Zakaria (African American Policy Forum, March 10, 2022)

“All leftists justly celebrate the victorious Asian and African national liberation struggles of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. For left analyses like {David] Harvey’s, however, the fact that 1989-91 marked the end of an empire and a massive moment of decolonization is invisible. The possibility that the liberated states might have desperately wanted, and might now want more than ever, to be protected from the re-imposition of a Russian imperialism from which they have suffered grievously in the past is not raised. NATO ‘expansion’ is thus presented entirely as a Western threat against Russia rather than as in part a response to the desire of central and eastern European countries for protection against a Russian threat that has turned out to be entirely real. The goals, aspirations, initiatives and fears of Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Moldova, and many other countries are ignored in favor of a narrative in which all agency is attributed to ‘the US and the West’.”

“Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine: A Response to David Harvey” by Derek Hall (, February 28, 2022)

“Blaming the West for “humiliating” Russia occludes Russia’s own expansionist ideologies and desires for restoration of empire, and justifies the violent military domination of people who can and should decide their own destinies.”

“When Western Anti-Imperialism Supports Imperialism” by Elizabeth Cullen Dunn (, March 3, 2022)

In Putin’s telling, the modern Ukrainian independence movement began not in 1917 but during World War II. Under the German occupation of Ukraine, between 1941 and 1944, some Ukrainian independence fighters aligned themselves with the Nazis, whom they viewed as saviors from Soviet oppression. Putin has drawn on this period in history to portray any Ukrainian push for sovereignty as a Nazi endeavor, says Markian Dobczansky, a historian at Harvard University’s Ukrainian Research Institute. “It’s really just a stunningly cynical attempt to fight an information war and influence people’s opinions.”

The 20th-Century History Behind Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine” – During WWII, Ukrainian nationalists saw the Nazis as liberators from Soviet oppression. Now, Russia is using that chapter to paint Ukraine as a Nazi nation. By Katya Cangel (Smithsonian Magazine, March 4, 2022)

Broken Promises

While certain people on the left emphasize the west’s reneging on a verbal promise not to expand NATO eastward; there is barely mention of Russia reneging on the 1994 Budapest Accords in which the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States pledged not to threaten or use military force or economic coercion against Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. As a result of other agreements and the memorandum, between 1993 and 1996, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine gave up their nuclear weapons. Why this cherry picking of the history?

NATO Expansion

NATO entry for Ukraine was not in the cards. ”German Chancellor Olaf Scholz had told Putin earlier this year that he did not support Ukraine’s membership of NATO. He said Russia could have obtained some sort of written deal with Germany had that been its objective. ‘If the Russians were truly interested, they could have gotten something like that,’ he said. NATO has to have the full agreement of its 30 members for an invitation to be made to a new member; of the current members, he predicted, perhaps only Hungary would be on board.”

“How does the conflict end? A long-shot idea that could lead to Putin standing down” by Andrew Buncombe (Independent, March 5, 2022)

“The truth is, NATO has no more devoted accomplice than Vladimir Putin. No other traditional enemy of U.S. imperialism has done more to validate the fever dreams of the most extreme hawks. Twenty years ago the alliance was a Cold War relic whose relentless expansion at Russia’s expense was a transparent U.S. attempt to cement unipolarity while its rivals were weak. More recently, it has been riven by internal crises, from Turkish aggression in Syria and Armenia to Donald Trump’s clear contempt for the organization. Yet each time Putin has escalated a political conflict into a military one, or a local military conflict into a larger one, both leaders and citizens of NATO states have been reminded that there are, after all, some benefits to living under the Article 5 umbrella. In Ukraine, only a small minority supported NATO accession a decade ago; today, after years of Russian-instigated conflict and territorial losses, a clear majority does. Traditionally, the alternative favored by NATO opponents has been “Finlandization,” in which smaller states agree to a neutral role in great-power politics in exchange for guarantees of sovereignty and internal noninterference. Thanks to Putin’s actions, this option is now evaporating: Finland itself now supports hardline sanctions on Russia and has joined other European states in sending military shipments to Ukraine. So if Putin’s principal motivation is to resist uncompromising NATO expansionism, why has he behaved in a way that guarantees that his neighbors will see him as a growing security threat? “

“The Seeds of War” by Gregory Afinogenov (Dissent, March 2, 2022)

Unstable Era

Putin’s aggression has inaugurated a new, more unstable era in global relations among nuclear powers. [“I’m a Cold War Historian. We’re in a Frightening New Era” by Mary Elise Sarotte (New York Times, March 1, 2022)]

What Then

As a movement, besides resolutely opposing Russian aggression–not giving Putin any sort of a pass, on the one hand, or pretending that Ukraine is a model democracy on the other— and pushing for a cease
fire and renewed diplomatic efforts, we should be focusing on the following:

  • A renewed anti-nuclear movement
  • A more immediate move away from fossil fuels—dependence on Russia’s petrostate is one of Russia’s main weapons
  • Opposition to NATO no-fly zones
  • Opposing attempted Russian occupation of Ukraine, but supporting or ignoring Israeli occupation of Palestine demonstrates both the racism and hypocrisy of the ‘western’ world’, as Ilan Pappé points out [“Navigating our Humanity: Ilan Pappé  on the Four Lessons from Ukraine” (Palestine Chronicle, March 4, 2022). See also “The Racist Double Standard in War Coverage” by Lorraine Ali (Los Angeles Times, March 4, 2022).
  • Opposing the dangerous growth of global and domestic authoritarianism exemplified right now by Putin (not to mention Modi, Bolsonaro, Bennett, Orban, and so on), and the Trump inspired Republican Party in the US.

An example of recent Russian nationalism, formally dedicated to President Putin personally.