Ukraine Photos: Public Domain

Glyn Secker provides a detailed historical and political analysis of the drivers of the war in Ukraine, Russian imperialism and neo-fascism in Europe

Lest this critical appraisal of Ukraine be misunderstood and to ensure the absence of any doubt, the starting point of this paper is a principled rejection of the dictatorial regime that was Stalinist Russia and of the autocratic and increasingly oppressive nature of the regimes which followed the 1991 collapse of the USSR. Equally assumed is a rejection of the dictatorial, extreme-right regime built by Putin, and revulsion at the crimes against humanity being inflicted on Ukraine.

However, the cynical use of the far right across the southern Americas and Europe by both the US and its Nato allies to combat the development of socialism over the same period has been absent from the Western narrative. A long period of relatively stable liberal democracy in the West followed the Second World War. However, a blind eye has been turned to the steady development of the far right, expressed across a spectrum of major political gains – most notably in Hungary and France – to an extensive capture of key parts of the armed forces and of the state in Ukraine. This alone should raise alarm bells, and the prospect of these two developments joining in common cause should set off sirens. The fear is that liberal democracy may once again be walking blindfold into fascism.

This paper assembles commentaries from a wide range of sources to identify the nature and motives of the parties to the conflict. Revulsion at the horrors inflicted on the Ukrainian people by Putin, for which he should be held personally responsible, should not obstruct an historical and political analysis of the drivers of the conflict, nor cause us to shy away from what may be uncomfortable conclusions.

The contrast between the presentation by the Western press of the organisations of the Ukrainian resistance as models of liberal democracy fighting the forces of evil, and the reality of the depth of penetration into the Ukrainian establishment and armed forces of the neo-fascists is stark. Likewise, the expansion of Nato is presented as a simple issue of free choice by the new democracies following the fall of the USSR, whilst no serious attention is given to the active and often determined manipulation by the US of these states’ internal politics, usually backed by significant funding.

Beneath the surface is a Western shift to the far right which is already removing core civil rights in Britain, France and Germany and extending mass impoverishment to the ‘developed’ west. The war is increasingly between right-wing power blocks, such that the outcome, regardless of the victor, will see major developments of neo-fascism. But as Enzo Traverso warns, these may take a different form to that of classic fascism’s mass rallies and blatant propaganda:

‘The fascism of the twenty-first century, “post-fascism” […] no longer needs mass movements or a more or less coherent ideology. It seeks to affirm social inequality and the subordination of the lower classes to the higher classes as unconditional, as the only possible reality and the only credible law of society.’

Dismissing Putin’s dog-whistle allegation that Ukraine is a fascist state, and pointing to the fact that Ukraine’s president and previous prime minister are Jewish, should not cause us to fall for the crafted public image of the Azov Battalion and of its political arm, Svoboda, that they are not in the mould of classic fascism and antisemitism.

The US and Nato are fully aware of the game they are pursuing, with the risk that pushing Putin to the edge would create a maelstrom, and with the cynical objective that he would attract all the blame. This is the marque of US foreign policy, played out over decades in South America, in the Middle East and Europe. America and its Nato allies are the historical and current drivers. Ukrainian and other socialists who castigate the Western left for not placing total blame on Putin are falling for the Nato narrative.

This is not at all to dismiss the perspective of the Ukrainian left, which bases its position on the continuity of Russian imperialism from the time of the Tsars, through Ukraine’s imposed membership of the USSR and Stalin’s genocide to Putin’s oligarchy. This paper sets this history in the context of the contest between the US and Russia, in particular from the period following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and identifies the US and Nato as the main drivers of the conflict, whose original agenda was the destruction of ‘communism’, and which subsequently has been to relegate the Russian block to an adjunct of the West, in pursuit of which they are prepared to risk nuclear war.

There are signs that fascism is once again ‘haunting Europe’, with Azov placed to become its military epicentre. That the mainstream media together with the major political parties are silent on the development of the extreme-right infrastructure within Ukraine, and that instead of sounding the alarm, they function as Nato’s propaganda agency is mind numbing and truly criminal.

To reference Ilya Budraitskis:

‘Russia itself is rapidly evolving towards a new form of fascism – the fascism of the twenty-first century, a frightening sign of a possible future to which extreme right-wing parties striving for power in various European countries could lead.

In order to fight for a different outcome, we all need to reconsider the very foundations of the capitalist logic, which is quietly but persistently preparing the ground for a “move” from the top, which could happen in a heartbeat. The old and somewhat forgotten dilemma of Rosa Luxemburg, “socialism or barbarism,” has become an urgent reality for Russia and for the world since the fateful morning of the 24th of February.’

With apologies for the long read which follows.

The historical context

The geographical area with huge expanses of dark, rich soils and access to Mediterranean ports, today’s Ukraine, has been the breadbasket of Europe since Greek and Roman times. Kyivan Rus of the Middle Ages was conquered by the Mongols, and subsequently incorporated into the empires of Poland-Lithuania, Austria-Hungary, the Ottomans, and Tsarist Russia.

With the overthrow of the Tsars by the 1917 Russian Revolution, Ukrainian peasants were set free from their serfdom. After briefly being ceded to Germany under the Brest-Litovsk agreement, Ukraine became a Soviet Socialist Republic in March 1919 and, after a civil war, became a founding member of Soviet Union in December 1922. Lenin’s plan to form a union state as a federation of equal republics, with each free to secede, was in the ‘Declaration on the Establishment of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics’ and was enshrined in the 1924 USSR Constitution.

However, Ukraine was deeply divided between the industrial regions of the east and the agricultural region of the west. As Trotsky noted, joining the Socialist Republic ‘was largely by the authority of Moscow, Russian Communists and the Russian Red Army,’[1] and in his 1939 paper on Ukraine, stated that ‘under Stalin as early as 1922-23 there was outright strangulation of any kind of legitimate independent development of oppressed nationalities.’

Months after the 1917 revolution, Russia was attacked by the White Armies of most bordering states as proxies for the Western powers. Plunged into a combined civil and foreign war, production collapsed by 80% and along with it food supplies. The leadership imposed ‘war communism’, which meant for the peasants they were allocated a portion of their produce, whilst the bulk was sequestered to sustain the core of the revolution: the organised workers and the military.

The revolutionary forces won the civil war, however the leadership recognised it had made a major mistake with its programme of war communism, which had alienated the peasantry, especially those of Ukraine. As a result, in 1921, the New Economic Policy was adopted which levied a small tax but allowed the peasants to keep all their produce and to be free to sell it on the open market.

However, the hunger and suffering experienced under war communism seeded hostility to and a suspicion of Russia, which was to be played out in horrific proportions when Stalin, in 1932, embarked on the collectivisation of farms, syphoning off all surplus to fund industrial growth. When met with resistance, he imposed military rule, mass deportations and the removal of everything edible, including pets. During this crisis, six million in the USSR perished, 4.9 million of them Ukrainians. Ukraine refers to this as a genocide. Known as the Holodomor (death by starvation), it is commemorated on 27 January each year.

The extreme suffering at the hands of the Soviet regime undermined belief in socialist and communist ideologies, leaving the door open to extreme-right politics, and intensified hatred and mistrust of Russia and the dominating regime in the Kremlin.

During World War Two, millions of people in western Ukraine sided with the Germans, with the aim of defeating the Soviet Union and establishing an independent Ukraine. As Ali Abunimah recounts, their political leader was Stephan Bandera, a fascist and head of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). The three military divisions and battalions most loyal to Bandera – the SS Galitzian, Nazigal and Rowen – formed the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). These combined with the Nazis in the genocide of 150-200,000 Jews, including the Babi Yar massacre of 33,771 Jews, together with the massacre of many thousands of Poles in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia, documented by Grzegorz Rossoliński-Liebe of the Freie Universität Berlin.

The Germans had promised Bandera they would support an independent Ukraine and when they invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Bandera issued a proclamation of independence. But Hitler reneged on the agreement and Bandera was arrested and interned in Sachsenhausen concentration camp. He was released in 1944 to be sent back to Ukraine to organise resistance to the advancing Red Army on its way to Berlin to finish off the war. There were also, however, very many Ukrainians who fought with the Red Army rather than with the Nazis.

The OUN and the UPA were the precursors of the Azov Battalion, the dominant fascist paramilitary force in contemporary Ukraine. ‘Stsiborskyi, a senior ideologue in the OUN developed the concept he called “natiocracy” (natsiokratiia), laying out […] “a Ukrainian model of totalitarianism with a one-party system” modelled in many ways on Fascist Italy.’[2]

Modern Russia

The Stalinisation of the Comintern at the turn of the 1930s saw the vassalisation of the Eastern European countries, played out graphically with Russian tanks on the streets in Budapest in 1956 and Prague in 1968. Of the period following the dissolution of the USSR in 1991 Francois Chesnais observes that:

‘The relations of production and property in Russia became capitalist, and this process was locked in by key legislation of Boris Yeltsin’s government. From the perspective of ownership of the means of production and of mining and energy resources, these relationships are marked by a high degree of concentration and centralisation. This trait is characteristic of contemporary capitalism, but it was accentuated in Russia in 1995-97 by the privatisation of state enterprises, a process marked by extreme corruption and the formation of a stratum of oligarchs.’

The Moscow sociologist Greg Yudin in Analyse & Kritik: International in April 2022 elaborates:

‘Putin was able to build a strong and robust neoliberal economy by sticking to the 1990s model of the unchained market. In fact, the neoliberals who were in power under Yeltsin are still in charge of the economy under Putin, the key figure being Elvira Nabiullina, the head of the Russian Central Bank. This neoliberal setup has some peculiarities, such as, for instance, the blending of private and public companies like Gazprom or Rosneft, which theoretically belong to the state, but in reality channel the revenues into the pockets of Putin’s cronies …’

While Putin left ‘both the super-rich and the technocrats in charge of the Russian economy’, he made them ‘vow they will never engage in politics, and they don’t even dare to challenge his decisions. They are afraid of him.’

Then, ‘With Putin’s accession to the presidency in 1999 we saw the gradual establishment of a system of de facto military and police dictatorship, marked by a very strong concentration of decision-making in Putin’s own hands and accompanied by the absence of any countervailing power’, (Chesnais). Greg Yudin characterises this system as having similarities with what is described as fascism.

Today the letter Z (with its reference to an unfinished swastika) has become almost an official grim symbol of the invasion of Ukraine, adorning the windows of Russian public transport, schools and hospitals; the cosy space of private life has lost its right to exist.

Z symbol flash mob at Platinum Arena in Khabarovsk. Photo: City of Khabarovsk / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 4.0 license

In Tempest, Ilya Budraitskis describes how ‘the regime now requires unequivocal public acceptance of the war from every citizen. Any sign of deviation from this civic duty is condemned as treason, and any dissemination of information about the war other than official Defence Ministry briefs is treated as a crime. Since the war began, dozens of Russians – young and old, residents of Moscow and provincial towns – have been charged with new criminal offences of ‘discrediting the Russian army’. Not only going into a square with an anti-war poster, but even a pacifist badge on a backpack, or a careless comment in the workplace, can be grounds for arrest or a huge financial fine.

‘The persecution of dissidents is gradually becoming not only a matter for the police, but also for ‘vigilantes’. Russia is rapidly evolving towards a new form of fascism – the fascism of the twenty-first century, as the historian Enzo Traverso defined it, ‘post-fascism’, as noted above.

Nato’s long history of subversion

The context for the current conflict is the collapse of the Soviet Union and with it the Warsaw Pact in 1991. This presented the West with an opportunity to expand eastwards, which, as the Cato Institute details, it has done aggressively; there are fourteen former Soviet satellite states with Nato membership. Ukraine is one that is not, and its potential membership is a major contention.

This expansion is presented as a simple issue of free choice by the new democracies following the fall of the USSR, but no serious attention is given to the active and often determined manipulation by the US of these state’s internal politics, usually backed by significant funding.

The expansion is in fact in breach of concords made in the 1990s; non-expansion by the West was formally agreed in the 1990 Berlin Agreement in exchange for German unification. This included the principle that Ukraine would be neutral. However, the West failed to abide by the agreement to which it had signed up. As MIT and John Mearsheimer explain:

‘Contrary to what U.S. officials told their Soviet interlocutors, the Bush administration privately looked to use the collapse of Soviet power in Central-Eastern Europe to enhance U.S. pre-eminence on the continent … Even as diplomatic talks with the Soviet Union proceeded, the United States was moving to circumvent many of the promises made during the 1990 negotiations.’

And the US pressed ahead with plans to subsume Ukraine into the Western theatre and into Nato.

As a US Public Broadcasting Service analyst points out, Nato’s expansion in the ensuing years would leave deep scars on the Russian psyche. And as James Goldgeier, an expert on Nato-Russian relations, wrote in War on the Rocks:

‘For many Russians, most importantly Vladimir Putin, the 1990s were a decade of humiliation, as the United States imposed its vision of order on Europe (including in Kosovo in 1999) while the Russians could do nothing but stand by and watch.’

At the 2008 Nato summit in Bucharest, it was announced that the objective was for Georgia and Ukraine to become part of Nato. In response Russia made it clear that it considered this to be a red line not to be crossed (see Oliver Stone).

The Army Times explains the practical organisation of the Nato strategy:

‘Since 2018, U.S. and European officials have quietly helped Ukraine implement key portions of a total defence framework that military officials call the Resistance Operating Concept (ROC) … the work took place over time, through interagency meetings in Kyiv and with multinational representation; the official explained [that] Ukraine’s total defence project, which is part of a US and NATO supported defence reform collaboration, has been ongoing since war began in 2014.’

‘“The ROC did help Ukraine self-evaluate [their national defence plan] … and it generated some momentum for Ukraine to catch up with their neighbours in that proper legal structure,” explained the U.S. special operations official familiar with the country’s resistance planning. The official added that other countries have also implemented lessons from Ukraine’s combat experience against Russia in the Donbass region. The law also placed Ukraine’s highly capable SOF units — who have trained extensively with U.S., Canadian and European troops since 2014 [emphasis added] — in charge of building out and coordinating insurgent forces in the event of occupation.’

Opened files show that from the end of World War Two until to today, the US has had intelligence relations with the extreme right in Ukraine. They also show that Bandera, Mykola Lebed and other fascists escaped trial at Nuremberg with CIA assistance (see Oliver Stone).

These strategies sit comfortably within the wider operation conducted from the end of World War Two by the CIA and MI6 codenamed ‘Gladio’ (‘the sword’). Described in detail by Daniele Ganser, Senior Researcher at the Centre for Security Studies at the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Switzerland, in Nato’s Secret Armies:

‘Gladio was a network of clandestine anti-communist armies in Western Europe after World War II trained on remote islands in the Mediterranean and in unorthodox warfare in centres in England and in the United States by the Green Berets and SAS Special Forces, and armed with explosives, machine guns and high-tech communication equipment hidden in secret arms caches. [Often] they linked up with right-wing terrorists, who engaged in political manipulation, harassment of left-wing parties, massacres, coup d’états and torture, blamed on Communist organisations or to discredit the left. Aimed at spreading maximum fear among the population and ranging from bomb massacres in trains [Bologna station August 1980] and market squares (Italy), the use of systematic torture of opponents of the regime (Turkey), the support for right-wing coup d’états (Greece and Turkey), to the smashing of opposition groups (Portugal and Spain).

‘The Italian secret army was exposed in 1990 by Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti to the Italian Senate, whereupon the press spoke of “The best kept, and most damaging, political-military secret since World War II [fn.4]. Secret armies of NATO have also been discovered in France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Belgium (SDRA8), the Netherlands, Luxemburg, Denmark (Absalon) Norway, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Austria, Greece and Turkey.” Secret Gladio soldiers included moderate conservatives as well as right-wing extremists such as notorious terrorists Stefano delle Chiaie and Yves Guerain Serac.’

Complimenting this is the Joint Expeditionary Force, a Nato-aligned, non-EU military grouping embracing the UK, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and the Netherlands. As Simon Tisdall states, the JEF is deeply involved in Ukraine-related defence.

This is also consistent with the US’s covert operations, code named Condor, against socialist parties and governments in South America, now widely exposed by both mainstream commentators, such as the Guardian, and left-wing journals such as Jacobin.

Nato’s Venn diagram

General James McConville, the alliance’s chief of staff explained the ROC planning guide:

‘We want the Baltics to present a deterrent to Russia. And part of what we can do in the Army is have our special operations forces work with the Baltic militaries to help them in terms of … developing what I would call resistance capabilities. The need [is] to coordinate and prepare for such resistance movements ahead of time … while also working within the legal frameworks of partner nations to provide public-facing preparatory support.

‘Focusing on building resistance capabilities allows the nations to “put their own face on their national defence … They’re not a puppet — their defence is that country’s defence, and we’re just assisting with their own project,” said Master Sergeant Frank Miller, a decorated Green Beret and Army Special Operations Command staffer.’

One experienced civil-affairs officer, Lt Col Matt Quinn, described the role of SOF in competition and resistance preparation as a Venn Diagram: “One circle is U.S. military objectives, and the other circle is U.S. diplomatic objectives, and the last circle is the host nation objectives,” Quinn, commander of the Europe-focused 92nd Civil Affairs Battalion, said in a phone interview. “And then where they overlap,” he added, “that’s where we operate.”

The authoritative journalist Jonathan Cook explains how this looks in practice:

‘Earlier this month, Biden accused Putin of being a “war criminal”, even though the charge drips with hypocrisy. Biden himself has played a critical role in Washington’s own historic war crimes: from ensuring Congressional authorisation of the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 to his part in the Obama administration’s expanded campaign of drone strikes across the Middle East. …

‘US ambitions for regime change – supposedly justified by efforts to stop war crimes – have been at the heart of US foreign policymaking in the post-Soviet era. In fact, one could argue persuasively that it was just such policies that unleashed the chain of events that culminated in Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

‘To understand how things look to the Kremlin, one has to recall a pattern of events following the fall of the Soviet Union. What attention has been paid to that period focuses on the question of whether Washington made promises that NATO would not expand into the former Soviet states. The documentary record suggests it did. Deception appears to have been at the heart of US designs. …

‘The neocons produced a series of documents through the late 1990s setting out their agenda, including perhaps the best known – A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm. One of the movement’s leading ideologues, Michael Ledeen, an adviser to President George W Bush’s chief of staff, Karl Rove, explained the plan in terms of what he called a “creative destruction”, in which the US would “undo traditional societies”. He observed that the goal was “not whether but how to destabilise” states like Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and even Saudi Arabia. …

‘What is emerging is a NATO war against Russia on the cheap, with Ukraine serving as the battlefield and Ukrainians paying the price. A further advantage for Washington is that it can weaken Russia militarily in Ukraine while avoiding a direct confrontation with another nuclear power.’ 

The Maidan Uprising

The Ukrainian terrain is of great importance to Russia. Access to the Black Sea, with its passages to the Mediterranean, the Suez Canal and the Atlantic, is critical, both economically and militarily. Hence the significance of Ukraine and Crimea, and the principal ports of Mariupol, Sevastopol and Odessa.

Especially significant in the conflict is Ukraine’s huge mineral deposits, as listed by Worldometers and Forbes, in particular gas which equals 25% of those of Russia, itself the largest on the globe, followed by oil, coal, iron ore, titanium, uranium, lithium and more, and not least Ukraine’s massive wheat fields, making it the bread basket of Europe, a principal supplier to world markets and especially to the underdeveloped world.

The state has enjoyed lavish funding from the US and EU. Since 2014, the EU has provided an estimated €15 billion in grants and loans to Ukraine; Germany on its own has provided €1.8 billion. The US provides millions of assistance a year, and as The Consortium reported, ‘on March 16th this year Biden announced another $800 million in military aid for Ukraine on the same day it was revealed Russia and Ukraine have been working on a 15-point peace plan.’ In addition, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has long provided loans to Ukraine, approving a $5 billion loan in 2020 to be disbursed over eighteen months.[3] This was before the current war.

In common with other eastern Europeans, many Ukrainians have an urge for membership of the EU and a Western lifestyle. Negotiations for an Association Agreement with the EU began in 2012 but were broken off a year later by Ukraine President Victor Yanukovich over the terms on offer. The Moscow-oriented Yanukovich had won the presidency in 2010 in a bitterly divided contest with the pro-western Victor Yushchenko – whose last act in office had been to rehabilitate Stepan Bandera, declaring him a Hero of Ukraine for his fight for independent statehood. The election had revealed the nation split down the middle, with the Ukrainian-speaking west voting for Yushchenko and the Russian-speaking east for Yanukovich.

In 2013, after the EU rebuff, protest demonstrations began in Kyiv’s central Maidan Square led by Arseniy Yatsenyuk of the Fatherland Party, Oleh Tyahnybok of Svoboda, and Vitali Klitschko, the boxer and leading member of the opposition. The demonstrations were maintained over months and prominent speakers included the leading American politicians John McCain, a former US Navy officer and Republican candidate for the Presidency, and Senator Chris Murphy. The US Ambassador to Ukraine made frequent appearances.

When the police tried to clear the square to put up the Christmas tree, they were attacked by the right with staves and iron bars. The conflict escalated and the square became a battle ground with the deployment of guns, snipers and Molotov cocktails. The government buildings were occupied and Yanukovich fled to Russia.

In January 2014, an anti-Maidan movement developed in Odessa. Following a national football game, the crowds were incited by far-right groups to oppose the anti-Maidan encampment in the trade-union building. Violence ensued, the building was torched and 46 people burned to death.

Following the establishment of the Maidan government in Kyiv, the Georgian Mikheil Saakashvili was appointed Governor of Odessa. He was immediately visited by Geoffrey Pyatt, US Ambassador to Ukraine and made a member of an organisation called the International Leadership Institute for which he received an annual payment of $198,000. Oliver Stone also reports that his background shows he had received a US State Department scholarship, and had been a member of a New York law firm which serviced Condor, the organisation behind US involvement in South America undermining progressive governments. Following defeat in Odessa, Saakashvili, with continuing US support, returned home to govern Georgia, but after a failed attempted to invite in Nato he fled to the US.

The Nation quotes a systematic analysis by Vox Ukraine of more than 3,000 Maidan protests which found that members of the far-right Svoboda party were the most active agents in the protests. The party’s leader once complained that Ukraine was run by a ‘Muscovite-Jewish mafia’ (BBC), and, as reported by the Guardian, it includes a politician who admires Joseph Goebbels.

The Maidan occupation protest was styled a ‘Revolution of Dignity’ by its leaders. But Branco Marcetic wrote in Jacobin:

‘In truth, the Maidan Revolution [of 2014] remains a messy event that isn’t easy to categorise but is far from what Western audiences have been led to believe. It’s a story of liberal, pro-Western protesters, driven by legitimate grievances but largely drawn from only one-half of a polarised country, entering a temporary marriage of convenience with the far right to carry out an insurrection against a corrupt, authoritarian president. The tragedy is that it served largely to empower literal neo-Nazis while enacting only the goals of the Western powers that opportunistically lent their support — among which was the geopolitical equivalent of a predatory payday loan.’

In part two of this article, the extent and danger of the far right in Ukraine up to the present will be considered in more detail, before returning to the consequent dangers of current Western policy.

Read Part 2 here


[1] Trotsky Papers, 1917-1922, 2 Vols (The Hague: Morton & Co. 1964-71), vol. 2. p.347.

[2] Michael Colborne, From the Fires of War (New York: Columbia University Press 2022), p.40

[3] Colborne, From the Fires, p.149.

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Glyn Secker

Glyn Secker has a B.Sc. and M.Sc. in political science. He is the National Secretary of Jewish Voice for Labour; on the Executive Committee of Jews for Justice for Palestinians; was the Captain of the Irene, the Jewish Boat To Gaza in 2010; supplier and transporter of printing presses to Greek socialist parties, 1974, during the dictatorship of the Junta; information courier to socialist opposition groups in 1980 in Turkey in the period of the military coups; Charter 77 courier to socialist parties in Czechoslovakia in the period preceding the Velvet Revolution of 1989. He is the lifelong partner of Vanessa Stilwell, mother of our two children, who lost a generation of her family in the Holocaust.