[News] In These Days of Great Tension, Peace Is a Priority

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Thu Mar 3 10:57:59 EST 2022

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*In These Days of Great Tension, Peace Is a Priority: The Ninth 
Newsletter (2022) - Vijay Prashad*

Konstantin Yuon (USSR), People of the Future, 1929.

Konstantin Yuon (USSR), /People of the Future/, 1929.

March 3, 2022

Dear friends,

Greetings from the desk of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social 

It is impossible not to be moved by the outrageousness of warfare, the 
ugliness of aerial bombardment, the gruesome fears of civilians who are 
trapped between choices that are not their own. If you read this line 
and assume I am talking about Ukraine, then you are right, but of 
course, this is not just about Ukraine. In the same week that Russian 
forces entered Ukraine, the United States launched airstrikes in 
Somalia, Saudi Arabia bombed Yemen, and Israel struck Syria and 
Palestinians in Gaza.

War is an open sore on humanity’s soul. It draws precious social wealth 
into destruction: ‘The impact of war is self-evident’, wrote Karl Marx 
in the /Grundrisse/ (1857–58), ‘since, economically, it is exactly the 
same as if the nation were to drop a part of its capital into the 
ocean’. It disrupts social unity and damages the possibility of 
international solidarity: ‘workers of the world unite in peacetime’, 
wrote Rosa Luxemburg in /Either Or/ (1916), ‘but in war slit one 
another’s throats’.

War is never good for the poor. War is never good for workers. War 
itself is a crime. War produces crimes. Peace is a priority 

Anton Kandinsky (Ukraine), Grenade, 2012.

Anton Kandinsky (Ukraine), /Grenade/, 2012.

The war in Ukraine did not begin with the Russian intervention. There 
are a series of authors for this war, each one important to 
understanding what is happening today.

*Pluri-nationalism vs. ethnic chauvinism*. Ukraine, shaped out of 
Lithuanian, Polish, and Tsarist empires, is a pluri-national state with 
large minorities of Russian, Hungarian, Moldavian, and Romanian 
speakers. When Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, the question of 
ethnicity was held in check by the fact that all Ukrainians were Soviet 
citizens and that Soviet citizenship was supra-ethnic. In 1990, when 
Ukraine departed from the Soviet Union, the question of ethnicity 
emerged as a barrier to full participation in society for all 
Ukrainians. The socio-political problem faced by Ukraine was not unique; 
ethnic nationalism surfaced in almost every country in the 
post-communist East, from the terrible break-up of Yugoslavia initiated 
by Croatian independence in 1991 to the military confrontation between 
Georgia and Russia in 2008. Ethnic cleansing was treated as utterly 
normal, such as when the West cheered 
on the forced removal of half a million Serbs from Krajina, Croatia in 
1995. In contrast, Czechoslovakia, one of the countries in the communist 
East, broke up along ethnic lines peacefully in 1993 into the Czech 
Republic and Slovakia.

*Regional peace vs. NATO’s imperialism, part I*. After the collapse of 
the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact (1991), the 
United States sought to absorb all of eastern Europe into the North 
Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). This was despite the agreement made 
in 1990 with the last government of the Soviet Union that, in the words 
of then US Secretary of State James Baker, NATO would not move ‘one-inch 
eastwards’. In the new period, eastern European countries and Russia 
sought integration into the European project through entry into the 
European Union (for political and economic purposes) and into NATO (for 
military reasons). During the presidency of Boris Yeltsin (1991–1999), 
Russia became a NATO partner and joined the G-7 (which, for a time, 
became the G-8). Even in President Vladimir Putin’s early years, Russia 
continued to think that it would be welcomed into the European project. 
In 2004, NATO absorbed seven eastern European countries (Bulgaria, 
Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia); at that 
time, NATO’s secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said 
that Russia understood that NATO had ‘no ulterior motives’. However, 
Moscow eventually called NATO’s persistent march eastward into question, 
and, in 2007, Putin accused 
NATO of ‘muscle-flexing’ in eastern Europe. From then on, NATO’s 
expansion became an increasingly contentious matter. Although Ukraine’s 
entry into NATO was blocked by France and Germany in 2008, the question 
of Ukraine being drawn into the NATO project began to define 
Russian-Ukrainian politics. This last point highlights how the 
discussion about ‘security guarantees’ for Russia is incomplete; it is 
not about Russia’s security fears alone – since Russia is a major 
nuclear power – it is also about Europe’s relationship with Russia. 
Namely, would Europe be able to form a relationship with Russia that is 
not predicated upon US diktats to subordinate Russia?

*Democracy vs the Coup*. In 2014, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych 
sought a loan from Russia, which Putin said he would provide if 
Yanukovych would sideline the country’s oligarchy-controlled financial 
networks. Instead, Yanukovych turned to the European Union (EU), which 
offered similar advice, but whose concerns were set aside by the United 
States, a dynamic that was on full display when US Assistant Secretary 
of State Victoria Nuland told 
US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, ‘Fuck the EU’. Earlier, Nuland 
had boasted 
about the billions of dollars the US spent on ‘democracy promotion’ in 
Ukraine, which in fact meant the strengthening of pro-Western and 
anti-Russian forces. Yanukovych was removed and replaced in a 
parliamentary coup by a string of US-backed leaders (Arseniy Yatsenyuk 
and Petro Poroshenko). President Poroshenko (2014–2019) drove a 
Ukrainian nationalist agenda around the slogan /armiia, mova, vira/ 
(‘military, language, faith’), which became reality with the end to 
military cooperation with Russia (2014), the enacting of legislation 
which made Ukrainian ‘the only official state language’ and restricted 
the use of Russian and other minority languages (2019), and the 
Ukrainian church breaking ties with the Patriarch Kirill of Moscow 
(2018). These measures, along with the empowerment of neo-Nazi elements, 
shattered the country’s pluri-national compact and produced serious 
armed conflict in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, which is home 
to a substantial Russian-speaking ethnic minority. Threatened by state 
policy and neo-Nazi militias, this minority population sought protection 
from Russia. To mitigate the dangerous ethnic cleansing and end the war 
in the Donbass region, all parties agreed to a set of de-escalation 
measures, including ceasefire, known as the Minsk Agreements (2014–15).

Vasiliy Tsagolov (Ukraine), Untitled, 2008.

Vasiliy Tsagolov (Ukraine), /Untitled/, 2008.

*Regional peace vs. NATO imperialism, part II*. Emboldened by the West, 
the Ukrainian ultra-nationalists grew their power, and the possibility 
of negotiations to settle the conflict waned. Violations of the Minsk 
Agreements by all sides undermined the process. For eight years, the 
people of the Donbass lived in a constant state of war, which, according 
the United Nations, produced over 14,000 deaths and over 50,000 
casualties between 2014 and 2021. There appeared to be no exit from that 
situation. What began to take place was essentially ethnic cleansing, 
with large sections of Russian speakers fleeing across the border to the 
Rostov region of Russia and Ukrainian speakers moving westwards. There 
was little international attention paid to this crisis and the rise of 
the neo-Nazi elements. NATO powers refused to take these issues 
seriously or provide Moscow with security guarantees; particularly, to 
guarantee that Ukraine would not be provided with nuclear weapons and 
would not become a member of NATO. Furthermore, Russia intervened to 
seize Crimea, where its navy has a warm water port. These moves further 
destabilised the situation, threatening the security of the region. 
NATO’s refusal to negotiate over Russia’s security is the spur that led 
to the intervention.

Otto Dix (Germany), Schädel (‘Skull’), 1924.

Otto Dix (Germany), /Schädel/ /(‘Skull’),/ 1924.

Wars make very complicated historical processes appear to be simple. The 
war in Ukraine is not merely about NATO or about ethnicity; it is about 
all these things and more. Every war must end at some point and 
diplomacy must restart. Rather than allow this war to escalate and for 
positions to harden too quickly, it is important for the guns to go 
silent and the discussions to recommence. Unless at least the following 
three issues are put on the table, nothing will advance:

 1. Adherence to the Minsk Agreements.
 2. Security guarantees for Russia and Ukraine, which would require
    Europe to develop an independent relationship with Russia that is
    not shaped by US interests.
 3. Reversal of Ukraine’s ultra-nationalist laws and a return to the
    pluri-national compact.

If substantive negotiations and agreements regarding these essential 
matters do not materialise over the next few weeks, it is likely that 
dangerous weapons will face each other across tenuous divides and 
additional countries will get drawn into a conflict with the potential 
to spiral out of control.

The Soviet Ukrainian writer Mykola Bazhan wrote the powerful poem 
/Elegy for Circus Attractions/ (1927) on the tensions of a circus. Could 
there be any better metaphor for our times?

A lady will shriek out piercingly…
Then panic takes aim and flies
into their heart-breaking howls,
crumpling their naked mouths!
Grind up the spit and tears,
whisk lips into grimaces!
They’re swinging like corpses on threads,
the voices.



Website <www.eltricontinental.org>




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