Destroyed residential building, Kiev Destroyed residential building, Kiev. Photo: Public Domain

Vladimir Unkovski-Korica assesses the staggering costs of the war in Ukraine and the urgent task for the anti-war movement to fight for peace

Well over one hundred years ago, the Scottish socialist John Maclean famously opposed the First World War, saying that a bayonet is a weapon with a worker on both ends. Nothing has changed in this respect over the last century.

Working-class people only stand to lose from imperialist war, and we should neither support Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine nor Nato’s cynical proxy war against Russia in the name of Ukrainian self-determination.

Instead, trade unionists the world over, East and West, should be calling for peace and urging all the relevant parties to strive for a negotiated solution through diplomacy rather than force. We must recognise that the killing and destruction in Ukraine and the global cost-of-living crisis are intertwined, and cannot be solved separately.


Let’s take it in parts. The human toll of the war has been huge. Leaked US documents in April indicated that 354,000 Ukrainian and Russian soldiers have been killed or wounded so far. That number will certainly have risen since then as the Russian military completed its gruesome capture of Bakhmut, and can only rise again with a Western-supplied Ukrainian counter-offensive imminent.

Moreover, the economic costs of the war are staggering. According to World Bank estimates in April, the costs for Ukraine alone have reached $411 billion. Unsurprisingly, the costs to the world economy are also growing, with the OECD estimating last autumn that it would amount to $2.8 trillion in lost output by the end of 2023.

It is not just a question of overall losses, though, but also of their distribution. Put differently, where are the resources that we are left with going? According to research conducted earlier this year by Unite, the UK’s largest trade union, corporate profits almost doubled between 2019 and 2022, feeding inflation. That was largely before the war in Ukraine even began to bite.

But the war has since certainly contributed to increases in energy and food prices. Moreover, as global tensions rise, world military spending reached a historic high of $2.24 trillion in 2022, and it is set to rise again in 2023. More military spending means less social spending and more poverty, but it also means an increased risk of war and ultimately nuclear catastrophe.

As socialists and trade unionists, we are often at the forefront of working-class resistance to the erosion of our living standards. In fighting the corner for our class, we literally can’t afford to ignore questions related to the Ukraine war. We have to be making the case for welfare, not warfare.

It is therefore mindboggling to see unions like GMB pushing for rearmament in Britain. That its motion for higher arms spending could pass at the TUC should be a warning to us all. With Socialist Campaign Group MPs like John McDonnell and supposedly leftist journalists like Paul Mason championing the arming of Ukraine with heavy weapons, we have to ask what the costs of this would be for working-class people in Ukraine, Russia and the world over.


While we should of course stand in solidarity with ordinary Ukrainians suffering from a war of aggression, we should not believe that pouring Western arms into that country will do anything but fuel the fighting and risk escalation. Worse, we should be aware that the UK is being consistently more aggressive and cavalier than even the US in terms of arming Ukraine.

When a peace deal was on the table in March last year, former prime minister Boris Johnson flew to Kyiv to dissuade the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky from signing it. The UK has since provided tanks ahead of the US, provided training to fighter pilots ahead of the US, and provided the first long-range cruise missiles in Ukraine’s arsenal ahead of the US.

This can only contribute to the spiralling violence on the ground in Ukraine, but likewise to mounting tensions in bilateral relations between Russia and the UK. The regime of Russian president Vladimir Putin has consistently bemoaned Nato’s eastward enlargement, citing it as one of the reasons for his war of aggression against Ukraine, and he has since lambasted Western aid to Ukraine as aimed at Russia.


Recent events in May will only have shored up Putin’s standing among ordinary Russians, who are furthermore enduring the effects of Western economic sanctions. Ukrainian drone attacks on the Kremlin and on civilian buildings in Moscow alike can only feed into Putin’s nationalist rhetoric. Moreover, an incursion over the border from Ukraine into Russia by Ukraine-supported Russian neo-Nazis, using US military vehicles, and with deep links with the German far-right, reinforce Putin’s presentation of the war as one that sees Russia defending itself against Western-backed fascism.

We should be under no illusions that Western military support to Ukraine not only feeds into Putin’s narrative at home, but also reinforces the reactionary, illiberal regime in Kyiv. Far from being a beacon of democracy, Zelensky’s government and preceding Ukrainian administrations had already driven many opposition politicians and parties underground before the start of the war.

Moreover, working-class rights have also been eroded. Proposed changes to Ukrainian labour legislation were first presented to parliament ten months before the Russian invasion. But Ukrainian officials used the war to move the so-called Law 5371 forward. Zelensky ratified the law in August 2022, removing collective bargaining rights for workers at small and medium-sized companies. The Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine complained that martial law prevented them organising strikes and protests against the legislation.

This is why we in the labour movement should link arms with the peace movement, with the Stop the War Coalition and CND, to oppose further escalation of the war and for peace negotiations. Labour movement pressure in Russia and the West could prove critical to creating the momentum for a diplomatic solution to a conflict in which, as always, working-class people the world over are bearing the brunt of the suffering.

Before you go

Counterfire is growing faster than ever before

We need to raise £20,000 as we are having to expand operations. We are moving to a bigger, better central office, upping our print run and distribution, buying a new printer, new computers and employing more staff.

Please give generously.

Vladimir Unkovski-Korica

Vladimir Unkovski-Korica is a member of Marks21 in Serbia and a supporter of Counterfire. He is on the editorial board of LeftEast and teaches at the University of Glasgow.

Tagged under: