Dieter Elken:

On The Ukraine War

The Russian war in Ukraine comes as a shock to many Western politicians and commentators. They are surprised and openly express their disappointment with Putin. They declare that they were mistaken. Putin is just unreliable. Various television editorial departments compete in explaining Putin's unpredictability with his biography. Third-rate psychologists speak of his loss of reality and his disturbed personality. Journalists and politicians declare him to be an isolated, mentally disturbed maniac. A madman who is not only overrunning the peaceful and democracy-loving Ukraine with war, but dragging the world to the brink of nuclear war.

Putin is thus becoming a medical phenomenon. Ukraine, NATO, the so-called Western community of values, are the good guys. Putin and Russia are the embodiments of evil. Putin and with him Russia must be put to an end. Morality takes precedence over analysis. There is no need to worry about the historical and international context of the war, about conflicting economic and political-strategic interests. Anyone who thinks along these lines is branded as a Putin supporter. But even those who see Putin as the enemy to be destroyed should know that one should understand one's enemies.

Instead, NATO is showing Russia, by reinforcing its combat units on its borders, that it is ready to defend itself and could possibly do otherwise. With arms deliveries to Ukraine, Russia is to be forced into a war of attrition. The economic war of the NATO countries and their allies is fully unleashed. Biden talks of continuing it beyond the end of the Ukraine war until Russia's economic power will be halved. Since a nuclear war with Russia would be too costly in terms of losses on both sides, the strategists of the Western community of values are aiming to incite the hopefully exhausted Russian population to revolt against Putin.

NATO and international law

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, international law has been on everyone's lips. The Western community of values is outraged. The UN General Assembly condemned the Russian breach of international law. The journalists of the western mass media make this outrage their own – without any thinking. Critical questions are not asked. It may be assumed that those who are outraged by the Russian breach of international law, as a rule, do not know the ABC of international law themselves. They also have a short memory.

International law is not a law that the peoples of our planet have given themselves. If we refer to its German or French wording (Völkerrecht/law of peoples or droit international), the same applies: International law is not the law that regulates the relations between whole peoples or populations. Nations are not subjects of international law. International law is interstate law. This explains why the principle of inviolability of frontiers under international law is declared sacrosanct by almost all states at almost all times. This principle could also be called the law of vested rights. But that doesn't do so well in propaganda.

International law does not recognize the right of nations to national self-determination. And if it does, then only under the pressure of power relations. Let us remember the phase of decolonization after the 2nd World War. The national self-determination of national minorities in multinational states is recognized by international law only as a domestic right to release national minorities into state independence.

Accordingly, the oppression of the Kurds in Nato memberstate Turkey is okay under international law. The repeated military invasion of Iraq and the Turkish warfare in Syria, on the other hand, were blatant breaches of international law. The Turkish invasion of Cyprus, the proclamation of a Turkish-Cypriot separate state and the stationing of Turkish military forces are equally incompatible with principles of international law. They were wars of aggression. NATO's war against Afghanistan and its occupation of the country were equally contrary to international law. Not even the U.S. had accused the Taliban government of attacking the U.S. in 2001.

Likewise, the wars of aggression by the U.S. and then its coalition of the willing against Iraq were blatant violations of international law. Nothing else applies to the military crushing of the Libyan state by NATO powers led by France.

The German state also has a dubious relationship to international law: The recognition of Croatia's secession from Yugoslavia and then Slovenia's and Bosnia-Herzegovina's were just as illegal under international law as Russia's recognition of the Donbass republics now. The same applies to Kosovo in relation to Serbia and the NATO air war against Serbia under the pretext of preventing a new Auschwitz (Joschka Fischer) in Kosovo. The years-long intrusion of German Awacs reconnaissance aircraft into Syrian airspace in order to provide the U.S. troops stationed there in violation of international law with data for their war there is also contrary to international law.

But should not international law at least now be enforced by the Western community of values? Is it not necessary to help international law to have a break through at least now? International law provides only one mechanism for its enforcement: UN Security Council action. There is no right for other coalitions of states to take international law into their own hands. That would be to replace international law with the law of the jungle. The latter, however, is typically done by NATO member states.


The newly discovered love of NATO states for international law is pure hypocrisy. International law is only good for providing the background music for the NATO economic war against Russia. This war has other causes. And these have little to do with the Ukraine war.

Democracy versus dictatorship?

It is a foregone conclusion in the media that Russia is ruled by a brutal dictator, Putin. A dictator who suppresses every unwelcome oppositional movement. The latter is only partially true. Certainly, Russia is ruled in an authoritarian and repressive manner. The judiciary appears to have little independence. There is a multiparty system, but there is also clear discrimination against opposition parties and severe restrictions on civil liberties. But there are many countries where there are at least similar restrictions on freedom. This is the case, for example, in NATO country Turkey. Moreover, NATO countries have maintained the very best relations with totalitarian dictatorships, both in the past and in the present. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are only two examples.

Russia is contrasted by Biden and the NATO politicians with the freedom-loving Ukraine, politically supported by the allegedly equally freedom-loving Western community of values. In the annually updated democracy index of the British magazine The Economist, Ukraine is ranked 86th out of 167 states listed. It is therefore to be considered merely a "hybrid" regime between "flawed democracy" and authoritarian or dictatorial regime.

The U.S. non-governmental organization Freedom House also considers civil liberties in Ukraine to have been severely restricted even before the war began. It should be noted that the so-called Euromaidan revolution of 2014 was directed against a president who, according to Western countries, had been elected in a free election in 2012. According to all bourgeois democratic principles, it was a coup d'état. A coup whose most militant supporters were politically and materially nurtured and supported by the United States. One of the first measures taken by the new regime was the ban on the Russian language (later withdrawn under pressure from the EU). The state was to be Ukrainianized at the urging of the ultra-right parties. This measure and the intended economic turn toward the European Union (disastrous for the economy of eastern Ukraine in particular) stirred the separatist movement in the east. Nevertheless, the anti-Russian culture war continues.

There have been no all-Ukrainian elections since. Whether there ever will be seems doubtful. Now, after the war began, a large number of opposition parties have been banned, especially parties based on the Russian-speaking population and leftist organizations.


It takes a fair amount of audacity to hail Ukraine as a haven of democracy and freedom. When NATO and the EU speak of freedom, they mean their freedom to incorporate Ukraine militarily and economically into their sphere of influence.

National right to self-determination?

When the Western community of values talks about freedom, the rights of national minorities are largely excluded. The right to national self-determination, which was on everyone's lips in the FRG after 1949, has disappeared from the language of the ruling class in Germany since 1990. It has been ignored ever since.

What is happening in Ukraine in this regard is also ignored by the media. Instead, it is suggested that there is only one unified Ukrainian nation. The Russian separatists in Ukraine are at best dismissed as Russian agents. Accordingly, the Ukrainian government's war against the separatist areas in eastern Ukraine, which has been going on for 8 years, is either concealed or downplayed. 14,000 dead Russians - not least civilians - are not a media issue in this country. And certainly not the hundreds of thousands who fled to Russia to escape the Ukrainian troops.

However, the Russians' right of national self-determination in Ukraine has never been a driving motive of Russia's Ukraine policy, even for Putin's government.

Had Russia been concerned with the Russians' right to self-determination in Ukraine, it would have intervened in Ukraine in 2014 and secured it there and then. Instead, Russia limited itself at the time to annexing the militarily strategic important Crimea. It supported the separatist areas in eastern Ukraine precisely to the extent that they could serve as a pawn in Russia's strategic influence over Ukraine.

Taking into account the military-strategic balance of power in this region, this was de facto accepted by the leading powers of the European Union, France and Germany. The Minsk Agreement between the aforementioned powers, Russia and Ukraine stipulated this. The Donbass was to remain part of the Ukrainian state, but with regional autonomy.

However, the Minsk Agreement had a serious birth defect. The United States was not on board and, behind the scenes, encouraged the Ukrainian government to sabotage it. Militant nationalist forces, not least the political influence of fascist forces from the Banderas tradition, pushed for a military solution to the Donbass problem. The United States supported this course by systematically supplying the Ukrainian army with weapons.

Both the French and German governments were unwilling or unable to stop the U.S. policy. At times, the impression suggests itself that they did not want to see the U.S. activities. Criticism of Ukrainian policy has therefore been refrained from for the last 8 years. In view of this, repeated attempts to urge Russia to pressurize the separatists to abide by the provisions of the Minsk Agreement were futile.

France's and Germany's recent siding with U.S. policy on Ukraine, and thus with NATO's renewed expansion, became the starting shot of the Russian war.

NATO Enlargement and Russian Security Policy

All NATO pronouncements speak of the need for NATO to protect the territory of its member states from a Russian attack. It is pretended that Putin's unpredictability is reason enough for all NATO countries' rearmament efforts. The small Baltic states supposedly need to be protected from the reawakened Russian bear. But for years NATO has been conducting large-scale international maneuvers in the Baltics - virtually within sight of Petersburg and right on the Russian border. The Ukraine war prompted Western NATO countries to move more fighters and combat aircrafts to Romania, Bulgaria and Poland, within range of Russian territory. NATO announced it would double its combat units on its eastern flank. The whole thing remains largely uncommented in the bourgeois press.

Not a single journalist in the major bourgeois mass media seems to notice that Russia has not threatened a single NATO state. There was and is no seemingly threatening Russian troop deployment on the borders of any NATO member state. Making such claims has not occurred even to the most creative NATO propagandists. That does not stop the most aggressive NATO propagandists from pretending that Russia is on the verge of rolling up NATO's eastern flank.

Whatever Western media have to rant about Putin's state of mind: Mad he is not. He respects balances of power and strength. These are clear, as a look at NATO and Russian arms spending shows. NATO countries invested $1,118 billion in their military budgets last year. For 2021, an increase of 5.8% was planned before the start of the Ukraine war. . This makes the Russian military budget of $62.2 billion look modest.

In view of this military situation, the Russian government sees itself threatened by NATO. Who could seriously understand this as a loss of reality? Let us also remember the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962:

After the U.S. had brought about a nuclear first strike capability against the USSR with missiles in Turkey and an initial U.S.-led invasion of Cuba had failed, the USSR stationed nuclear missiles in Cuba. The US under Kennedy found itself threatened by missiles 160 km from Miami. The US Navy imposed a naval blockade. The world was on the verge of nuclear war. This was averted by the USA guaranteeing the security of Cuba and withdrawing its missiles from Turkey; Russia also withdrew its from Cuba. Kennedy let himself be celebrated as a hero. He was allowed to feel threatened, Cuba and the USSR were not...?

Back to today's threat of Russia by NATO:

Made wiser by the rupture of U.S. promises not to admit former Soviet republics to NATO after their release to independence, Russia therefore demanded security guarantees from NATO. NATO was to make a binding commitment that it would not also make Ukraine a NATO member state. Ukraine should not also be made a deployment area against Russia and its core territories. The NATO countries rejected this. They claimed that each country could decide for itself which alliance it wished to join. That sounds plausible to the uninitiated. But it misses the point. Likewise, each alliance has the freedom to refuse to admit new states. The decision about every admittance is based on geostrategic considerations. Russia has therefore interpreted NATO's refusal to guarantee security for the weaker Russia as an aggressive provocation. Rightly so.

Thus all signals were set for war for Russia.

Note on the U-turn in German Russia policy

The start of the Ukraine War marked a turning point in German and Franco-German foreign policy. The German government reacted hectically and headlessly. She suddenly became the victim of the continent's most reactionary politicians. At the same time, the NATO crisis that developed in the past period seems to have been overcome. This arose because the US and the German and French leaders of the EU disagreed on how to deal with the crumbling USSR. Germany and France are counting on including Russia in a new Euro-Asian axis. The USA also wanted to revoke the Russian influence on the former Central Asian Soviet republics. In this way, they hoped to gain strategic control over their oil and gas deposits. The Afghan war planned and prepared by the USA before 9/11 should clear the way for a new pipeline. The US goal was to strangle China by taking control of the world energy market. The war against Iraq and the permanent aggression against Iran also served this goal. As is well known, Germany and France did not take part in the latter. And not long ago, Macron stated that NATO was brain dead.

The USA has not yet achieved its goals in key respects. Russia stabilized and once again tightened its grip on Central Asia's energy resources. China was emerging as a dangerous neo-imperialist rival in the Pacific and beyond. It became a major nuclear power with intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

The USA therefore intensified its anti-Chinese policy even under Trump and took every opportunity to prevent the further strengthening of Russia and the creation of a European-Russian axis. The sabotage of Europe's Ukraine policy was a tried and tested means of doing this. The Minsk Agreement was sabotaged.

With the adoption of NATO enlargement rhetoric, both the German and the French leadership allowed themselves to be led onto the slippery slope of US politics. Their confusion over the Ukraine war suggests thatß neither knew what they were doing. On the surface, the NATO crisis appears to have been resolved overnight.

But the economic war against Russia that has now begun and the clash of military arms are dangerous. The economic war can not only backfire in the short and medium term. The opposites will break out again. A nuclear war is no longer unthinkable. The forces that are willing to risk it are already speaking out in various NATO countries.

The Character of War

Making your position on a war dependent on who started the fighting is kindergarten level. At its core, the Ukraine war is proving to be a conflict between NATO, the most powerful imperialist bloc, and the comparatively weak Russian imperialism.

This conflict is carried out militarily on the territory of Ukraine. This is shown not only by the hectically organized arms deliveries. These prolong the war and increase the catastrophe for the civilian population, especially since Ukraine is trying to compensate for the inferiority with heavy weapons by defending the cities from house to house. This is also proven by the economic war unleashed against Russia by NATO.

Incidentally, both of these violate the principle of neutrality enshrined in international law. From an international law perspective, both are pure acts of aggression.

The Ukraine war is not only about the relationship between Russia and Ukraine. Nor is it about the relationship between Ukrainians and Russians. It is about its main driving forces, and therefore about the redistribution of imperialist spheres of influence and their military security.

The NATO states are neither concerned with international law nor with democracy. Nor is it about the right to self-determination and independence of Ukraine. What Ukraine can do will ultimately be decided by the great powers. The Ukrainian rulers just want to put themselves in another dependency.

The current rulers in Ukraine have been trying for years to be admitted to the European Union. They are hoping for financial EU grants along the lines of the Baltic and other former CMEA states. A new middle class would benefit from this. But Ukraine, even from a benevolent perspective, does not meet any of the usual requirements for EU membership. And it remains to be seen whether the EU and other NATO countries will provide enough funds to enable Ukraine's reconstruction after the war. First of all, NATO is causing a crisis in the world economy with its economic war. In any case, the last 8 years of pro-EU politics have not lived up to the expectations of the rulers in Ukraine. And most of their population was no better off before the war started than it was 30 years ago.

This war is not the war of the working class on either side.

Economic war and class struggle

How dangerous is the dependence on Russia?

NATO's economic war was not started by Russia.

It is exclusively an imperialist fatigue campaign aimed at wearing down Russia. Russian economic output is to be halved in the long term (O-Ton Biden). The alternative to a nuclear war that cannot be waged at present is to put the knife to the neck of the working class of the Russian Federation until it overthrows Putin.

The propaganda of the self-proclaimed Western community of values wants the world to believe that the looming consequences of NATO policy are caused by Putin. It says "Russia's war" is to blame for higher prices, inflation and coming social cuts as well as for burying all hopes of slowing climate change. This is nonsense.

Russia and its economy have always fulfilled their contracts (apart from the limited mutual sanctions after the annexation of Crimea) to the letter. This was already true for deliveries of Russian goods during the Cold War. Even before the start of the Ukraine war, the energy needs of industrialized countries had increased. Since this had been foreseeable in the long term, Nordstream II was planned and built. Russia was ready to meet the increased energy demand of Western Europe. The commissioning of the pipeline was blocked and delayed by sanctions imposed by the USA.

It was said that the USA wanted to prevent Germany from becoming further dependent on Russian energy supplies .This sanctions policy was welcomed by the countries in the Baltic region, which clung to the coattails of the aggressive U.S. policy, as well as Poland and Ukraine. The latter two feared for their revenues from fees for transit of gas and oil across their territories. The U.S. saw its prospects dwindle for selling its environmentally unfriendly and, in addition, considerably more expensive fracking gas. The ostensible environmental party toed the same horn.

It is possible that in the course of the economic war they have instigated, it will dawn on them that Germany and its economy are "dependent" on raw material imports in all possible fields. Germany has virtually no raw materials that can be profitably extracted. Germany and with it a large number of Central European states are not self-sufficient. They will always be dependent on imports.

Mutual and many-sided dependencies are not a factor of insecurity in international politics. On the contrary, they ensure international peace.

Therefore, the reliability of the suppliers of these raw materials matters. The dominant power on the world energy market, the U.S., has proven that it is ready to sanction even allies at any time. It even threatens companies and their managers outside its borders that do legal business in these allied states. This is not just about Nordstream II: Trump's motto "America first" was already the maxim of U.S. economic policy before him and also under Biden. To place oneself in total dependence on the goodwill of the USA is therefore not very intelligent, even from a bourgeois point of view.

The impact on the international working class

The economic exhaustion strategy against Russia is incomprehensibly cynical. It will, if successful, hit the Russian working class first and foremost. But it will also hit the working class of NATO countries, their allies and poorer countries.

NATO sanctions have fueled international speculation by finance capital as well as commodity corporations in a way not seen in decades. Without Russian energy companies pumping even one cubic meter less gas through the pipelines, without delivering a single barrel less of Russian crude oil, world market prices for energy sources have soared. The increased energy prices will turn company calculations everywhere into wastepaper, lead to unpredictable price jumps.

The effects of the sanctions policy on shortages of other strategically important raw materials are completely unknown. In the case of foodstuffs, this can already be foreseen in poorer countries.

No one has bothered to analyze which sanctions measures disrupt which economic cycles and supply chains. The longer the economic war lasts, the deeper the world economy will fall. The so-called Western community of values is setting out to destroy values on a gigantic scale.

Above all, the purchasing power of wages and pensions will be drastically reduced. The poorest sections of the working class will be hit first. But it will not stop there. The rulers will do everything they can to reduce the national debt, which was already inflated during the Corona pandemic. The decisions to accelerate rearmament will likewise become the engine for cutting social services. Urgently needed measures to improve the health care system, education and, last but not least, climate protection will fall by the wayside. Even the measures and resolutions on climate protection already decided upon, which have been inadequate anyway, will be postponed indefinitely.

Now the class struggle is being intensified from above.

Both the organized labor movement and the climate protection movement react bewildered. No perspective without a realistic assessment of the situation. The intensified class struggle from above will continue as long as the working class does not understand that economic war and rearmament means war against the working class at the same time and prevents climate protection.

The policy of economic and military threat leads into the social, economic and also climate political abyss.

What to fight for?

It is illusory to appeal to imperialism not to make imperialist policies. For that, it would need a social revolution. But we should make it as difficult as possible for imperialist powers. The goals of a defensive struggle should be, in my opinion:

  • Immediate lifting of all sanctions
  • Stop of all arms exports
  • Immediate withdrawal from NATO
  • Publication of all secret NATO treaties
  • Withdrawal of all NATO troops from Germany
  • Repatriation of all German military personnel abroad
  • Withdrawal from the European Union
  • Stop of all payments to the EU



I. This question by a friend was raised about the article: The question is what this means concretely for left politics and a working class standpoint.


The problem, of course, is that at present there is no independent working class movement in any country, certainly not in the countries directly or indirectly involved in the war, that stands up for its own, revolutionary goals.

Of course, in Russia it would have to attack the decision to go to war as a politically fatal mistake of the Putin regime. But at the same time it would have to make clear that the answer to the aggressive NATO policy (itself a reaction to the relative weakening of the traditional imperialist powers) must be the push ahead the international class struggle and not a recourse to Great Russian power politics. A rejection of war would be obligatory.

A revolutionary class movement in Ukraine would have to make clear that the Ukrainian regime of pro-Western oligarchs, through its ultra-chauvinist policies against all things Russian and its failure to recognize the right of the Russian minority of national self-determination, has itself helped to provoke the war and has set itself on a disastrous path in the interests of the United States. The result is, at the very least, the destruction of large parts of Ukraine and the sacrifice of human lives on the altar of a pretended national independence that does not and will not exist for Ukraine, which is dependent on foreign powers.

For us in the heart of the Western community of values, it is necessary to expose the hypocrisy of imperialism and its true motives; because, as we know, the main enemy is in our own country. Here, too, it is necessary to dare a new revolutionary attempt. It is necessary.

Otherwise, I think that in each country the closer shaping of a revolutionary perspective should be left to the revolutionary movement there itself.

II. Comrade N. writes on 6.04.22:

... The question is ... whether there will be further wars in war. I am guided there by Ernest Mandel's elaboration of a multiplicity of different wars in World War II with different class characters. In addition to imperialist war, could we also see a justified anti-colonial People's War of Ukraine (against a threat of colonization by Russia)? And aren't the People's Republics in the East waging a legitimate struggle for national self-determination? And what is the relationship between these wars? , ... a Trotskyist comrade with whom I am in exchange raised the argument.

Reply from D.:

Of course, for 8 years there has also been a struggle for national self-determination in the Donbass between the separatists and the regime in Kiev.

I find it remarkable that this is ignored even by many socialists in Ukraine. The parties to the Minsk agreement had not fully accepted this in the agreement. The Kiev government completely sabotaged it. Their war continues even now. It rejects territorial concessions of any kind and declares that it wants to liberate its state territory as a whole. A serious socialist movement would have to recognize the right to self-determination of national minorities. The war of the Kiev regime is reactionary. It is not a war to liberate the entire Ukrainian population.

In fact, the Kiev government is waging a war not only for the right to discriminate against and oppress the Russian minority, but also for the right to join NATO. Consequently, this kind of self-determination consists in being allowed to participate in NATO's military stranglehold around Russia (and, incidentally, around China). This is not the national independence that the labor movement can advocate.

By the way, this is not about Ukraine's perspective accession to the EU. This project was criticized by Russia, but not questioned. It was merely stated that the accession project would severely damage Ukrainian-Russian trade in view of the conditions imposed by the EU.

In view of Russia's main official war aims-recognition of Crimea's membership in Russia, demilitarization, and Ukraine's non-accession to NATO-to speak of intended colonization seems to me to be very fanciful. Finland and Austria, for example, with comparable status were in any case not colonies.

This is why I consider Kiev's and NATO's propaganda about the national freedom of the (non-existent) unified Ukrainian nation to be pure fiction. Likewise, I consider the idea that socialists must now defend Ukrainian freedom to be simple-minded. There is no question of a people's war. Not even because large parts of the Ukrainian population (especially of Ukrainian nationality) have succumbed to the national frenzy. That is no reason for socialists to join it. Socialists then have to swim against the tide, as they did in 1914.