Jeremy Corbyn MP looks at the conflict in the Ukraine
Fighting in Ukraine has intensified and is likely to continue to get worse. Behind the dramatic news coverage and films of bombing and fighting in the east, lies a human story; thousands of human stories. People fleeing across borders, destruction of homes, of jobs, and a narrative that will sow the seeds of hate for decades to come.
After the demise of the Soviet Union in 1990, Ukraine became independent and agreed not to join NATO, promising it would divest itself of all nuclear weapons. This agreement was for a non-nuclear, non-NATO Ukraine with Russian military bases remaining in Crimea.
The sticking points in all this remained the huge Russian military facilities in the Crimea, the large number of Russian speaking people living in Crimea, and the two, now contested, eastern provinces. Since 1990 every election has been dominated by linguistic and ethnic divides as well as a loose interpretation of being either pro-Europe or pro-Moscow.
Ukraine has been a European war zone for centuries, initially as part of the Russian Empire and subsequently as a place for western European armies to fight with Russia. The people of Ukraine have suffered the consequences of war like few others – from Napoleon Bonaparte’s disastrous 1812 campaign, the war with Russia in the Crimea in the 1850s and the Nazi invasion in 1941. Stalin enforcing collective farms on an unwilling population brought on the catastrophe of the famine of the 1920s. Ethnic groups, especially the Tartars, have also suffered grievously. Tartars who were deported wholesale by Stalin to Siberia, though eventually allowed back to the Crimea, now complain again of ill treatment.
The current crisis can be blamed on many causes. However, the greatest culprits must be western triumphalism over Russia since 1990, the disastrous Yeltsin years of greed and corruption, the relentless expansion of NATO eastwards and the parallel rise of Russian militarism and nationalism. The Warsaw Pact collapsed with the Soviet Union. That should have signalled the disbandment of NATO and the ascendancy of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, a non-military alliance of all of Europe.
Instead, constantly seeking a role, NATO wanted to become the major force in the Yugoslav war. Later, it became the logistical engine for western intervention in Afghanistan. Support for free market economics, and the race in arms sales, took most Central European countries into NATO and into the European Union. Indeed, following the Lisbon NATO and EU summits, the close relationship of NATO and the EU has become a cornerstone of the whole continent’s foreign policy, except in the Ukraine.
While the Maidan protest was a genuine expression of discontent, it was interestingly supported by the most militaristic right in the US – witness John McCain’s visit to the protest. The EU offered “aid” measures with extraordinary levels of austerity attached to its offer. Such measures would have put unemployment and poverty at a similar level as that being imposed on Greece by the European Central Bank. What most of the media chose not to report was the presence of far right Nazi forces at the Maidan. Thus Ukraine has become what it has always been – a place for conflict between western and Russian objectives. That NATO has now planned joint military exercises with the Ukraine can only provoke the situation further. Military occupation by Russia or NATO will not bring peace and stability.
Demands to stop the joint exercises planned for this summer are crucial, as is real discussion on the need for a UK foreign policy. This discussion should not be driven by the murky consensus of arms manufacturers and the theories of former military officers. Such thinking has brought us wars at huge costs.
This year the NATO summit will be in Wales at the exclusive Celtic Manor Hotel near Newport. The Stop the War Coalition, with other groups, are holding a parallel counter-conference and demonstrations in Cardiff and Newport over the weekend of 30 and 31 August.