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Anti-war protest in Moscow, 24 February 2022

Anti-war protest in Moscow, 24 February 2022. Photo: Акутагава / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0, license linked below article

The best way of supporting Russia’s anti-war protesters is by protesting against Johnson’s warmongering at home, argues Dragan Plavšić

Protest is rarely more necessary than in times of war. Russians opposing Putin’s war on Ukraine know this only too well. Since the invasion, they’ve been holding protests across the length and breadth of Russia. 

So far protests have been reported in 45 cities, from St Petersburg on the Baltic coast to Novosibirsk, the capital of Siberia. The largest demonstration gathered over 2,000 protesters in Moscow on the day war was launched.

An online anti-war petition has also now garnered a million signatures. Tens of thousands have written open letters calling for an immediate end to the conflict.

Putin is aiming to clamp down on the protests as swiftly as they appear. Over 6,000 protestors have so far been arrested. He fears the protests spreading to the population at large where a deep reservoir of social discontent exists.

Putin also fears the protests linking up with disaffected young conscripts at the front. There are tentative reports emerging of disaffection among Russian troops.

Apart from police harassment and arrest, Russian anti-war protesters are also being routinely attacked as traitors who support Nato and the West. One Putin MP denounced them as ‘gays, lesbians, trotskyists and left scum’.

By contrast the establishment in the UK has been heartily applauding Russia’s anti-war protesters. Its support is rank hypocrisy, however.

By simultaneously talking up Nato’s military options instead of diplomatic ones, the UK has been leading the way in heightening tensions whose sum effect can only be to rally support behind Putin not swell the ranks of the anti-war movement.

The UK’s hypocrisy intensifies when we consider that applauding anti-war protesters in Russia goes hand in hand with attacking anti-war protesters here at home.

It’s now become routine in the UK too for anti-war activists to be denounced as the enemy within. Stop the War Coalition activists are called ‘Putin apologists’ merely for daring to argue what should be self-evident: that the fact of aggressive Nato expansion to Russia’s borders - 14 new members in 23 years plus an illegal war of aggression against Serbia in 1999 - is crucial for understanding why there is catastrophic war in Ukraine and how to resolve it by political not military means.

Not to be outgunned, Keir Starmer has been dutifully backing Johnson’s warmongering. His special role is to attack Stop the War. Labour MPs are now threatened with suspension if they sign Stop the War statements or speak at its meetings.

We should not be surprised. Ruling classes always justify their own bloody aggressions with the same self-righteous fervour with which they condemn those of their enemies. War crimes are only ever committed by the other guy.

This is why they decry anti-war protests at home as fervently as they support anti-war protests against their enemies abroad.

Russia’s protesters are doing all they can to oppose Putin’s war.

We must support them by doing all we can to oppose Johnson’s warmongering by protesting here.

Their cause is our cause. Our cause is their cause.

International solidarity between peace movements will be critically important in the days and weeks ahead. Together we can make a difference.

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Dragan Plavšić

Dragan Plavšić

Dragan Plavšić is a member of Counterfire in London and of Marks21 in Serbia. He jointly edited The Balkan Socialist Tradition and the Balkan Federation 1871-1915 (2003).

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