In the Guardian of 5 March, Seumas Milne, associate editor of the paper, argued for blaming the conflict in Ukraine entirely, or almost entirely, on the USA and the EU. “The clash in Crimea is the fruit of western expansion”.
Of course the USA and the EU wish to pull Ukraine more fully into the capitalist world market, as a rich source of raw materials and cheap labour-power.
But Milne’s objection is not to the logic of the capitalist world market. He does not, for example, raise the call for the USA and the EU to cancel Ukraine’s crippling foreign debt and thus short-circuit IMF plans to impose drastic neo-liberal policies there as a condition for bail-out loans. Or give any reason why we should think that being under Russian domination would shelter Ukraine’s people from the withering blasts of the world markets.
Milne is concerned about threats to Russia’s position in the world, not about threats to Ukraine’s working class.
“The US and its allies have... relentlessly expanded Nato up to Russia’s borders, incorporating nine former Warsaw Pact states and three former Soviet republics into what is effectively an anti-Russian military alliance in Europe... That western military expansion was first brought to a halt in 2008 when the US client state of Georgia attacked Russian forces in the contested territory of South Ossetia...”
Milne sees it all as an anti-Russian plot.
In reality, US and EU capitalists want to do profitable business with Russia, but not to conquer it. The basic drive is much more that small states, recently escaped from the Tsarist then Stalinist empires, turn to alliances with the US and EU to bolster their new-found independence. (See bit.ly/osseti for Georgia, and Milne’s comments at the time).
We don’t endorse or approve the smaller states’ alliances. But Milne endorses Moscow’s attempts to regain imperial power as just an understandable defensive reaction: “it is hardly surprising that Russia has acted to stop... Ukraine falling decisively into the western camp”.
He concedes that Putin’s excuses for invasion are “flaky” and that Putin’s “conservative nationalism” and “oligarchic regime” have little “appeal”. But to him those are secondary objections: “Russia’s role as a... counterweight to unilateral western power certainly does [have appeal]”.
Milne’s other argument, highlighted at the head of his article, is that the EU and US have “put fascists in power” in Ukraine.
It is true, and worrying, that fascists hold positions in the new government in Kiev. But a long roll call of writers and researchers into the far right in Ukraine, from across the world, have issued a statement warning that “The heavy focus on right-wing radicals in international media reports is... unwarranted and misleading”.
The fascists do not dominate. Opinion polls for the presidential election due in May show Svoboda on just 3%. Petro Poroshenko (an “oligarch” of slight social-democratic pretensions) and Vitaly Klitschko (close to Germany’s Christian Democrats, and, as it happens, someone who has Russian as his first language and is relatively hesitant in Ukrainian) lead the polls. Both are neo-liberals, but not fascists.
Far right figures in Russia, such as Vladimir Zhirinovsky, have at least as much weight in Putin’s circles as Svoboda has in Kiev.
Somehow, in the minds of people like Milne (a former member of the “Straight Left” diehard-Stalinist splinter from the Communist Party), Russian state policy always has an aura of leftism, or at least anti-imperialism, even when it is straightforwardly right-wing and imperialist.