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Ukraine on the World Chessboard

Historically, Ukraine has been strategically important in the confrontation between Russia, the United States, and NATO. Today, as Russia mobilizes its troops to the Ukrainian border, the drums of war are beating. But will Russia invade? This article analyzes the situation from the beginning, addressing the various dimensions of a conflict that is much more complex than it appears, as well as the strategic views of each competing power.

Santiago Montag

January 15, 2022
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In a famous scene from Shakespeare’s As You Like It, two characters draw an analogy between fiction and the reality of the world. Duke Senior says, “This wide and universal theater / Presents more woeful pageants than the scene / Wherein we play in.” Jacques responds with his famous monologue, which begins, “All the world’s a stage”; he is comparing the stages of life with those of a play.

In acting, what matters is each actor’s appearance and skills, so that the audience enters into the play’s illusory world and establishes with it a certain empathy. Depending on the circumstances, some of the play’s characters will appear to be the “bad guys,” while others will be the “good guys.”

A few days before the end of the year, tensions flared up in Ukraine — a stage on which the world’s main actors have climbed to play different roles. But the drama is quite complex; understanding this global geopolitical dispute requires diving deeply into Ukraine’s history.

Several theatrical stages overlap in Ukraine; there are many plays in one. Behind the curtain, directors and producers prepare the staging, in a state of ongoing tension over who will direct each act. There are the internal tensions in the United States, among players who have different geopolitical objectives; there are the intentions of a more autonomous European Union (EU), which is nonetheless still tied to the United States through NATO; and there are the intentions of Russia, which seeks to be great again. While the United States stirs up the specter of Russian authoritarianism to justify an eastward advance, Russia points to the NATO monster, with its nuclear weapons and military infrastructure, coming closer and closer. Meanwhile, the EU seeks a dialogue with Russia to calm the waters, given that Europe depends heavily on Russian energy. As for the Ukrainians themselves, they are living through a social tragedy that, since the Euromaidan protest movement of 2013–14, has divided the country into two large regions and has generated new internal fault lines.

The crisis in Ukraine has multicausal explanations and has unfolded on different scales, from the Euromaidan movement, which brought down President Viktor Yanukovych, to the war unleashed in the country’s southeastern Donbass region. As Rubén Ruiz-Ramas explains, the war in the Donbass is a hybrid war, that is, an asymmetrical war that lacks a rigidly delineated front, but one whose continual battles are waged in different arenas — political, economic, military, informational, and cybernetic.1Rubén Ruiz-Ramas, introduction to Ucrania: De la Revolución del Maidán a la Guerra del Donbass [Ukraine: From the Maidan Revolution to the war in the Donbass], ed. Rubén Ruiz-Ramas (Salamanca: Comunicación Social), 2016. It is a war in which the main actors are local, but in which international actors also participate, both on the ground and by outlining strategies from outside. And it is far from resolved.

The Historical and Structural Background of the Current Ukrainian Drama

In late 2013 protests broke out in Kyiv’s Maidan Square after the Ukrainian government decided to suspend the signing of an agreement to associate with the EU. The movement, which took its name from Maidan Square, consolidated an old rift in Ukrainian society. The most immediate roots of that crisis can be found in the Ukrainian nationalism born after the fall of the Soviet Union, which divided the country into two general populations. The first is that of the country’s east and south, where a sector of the oligarchy inherited from the Soviet productive apparatus is located, along with the Russian-speaking population (about 30 percent of Ukrainians), which sees its historical roots and cultural identity as linked to Moscow, transcending borders.2Ukraine has long been home to diverse ethnicities and cultures, but after the establishment of Kievan Rus by the Slavic peoples in the ninth century, it began fighting the Tatars and Mongols to the east, where Moscow was established as the capital of the Russian czarate in the 12th century. The second comprises those among the political elite who sought to approach the EU as part of their effort to create a pure Ukrainian identity (i.e., free of Russians), one similar to that of the rest of the eastern European Slavic countries. They sought this more as a way to distance Ukraine from Russia than to embrace European liberalism.

The Ukrainian region has been under the rule of Moscow since the 12th century, but it is recent history that carries more weight in today’s consciousness. Since the 19th century in particular, the region’s population has gone through several historical processes that shaped a deep anti-Russian sentiment among the country’s western population: czarist oppression; the 1917–21 civil war (in which the White Guard, the Red Army, and Ukrainian nationalists clashed); the forced collectivization of Stalinism; the famines of 1932 and 1933; and World War II. All this dragged the country into a historical crisis of state building and national identity, leading the Ukrainian political elite to choose not to follow any one geopolitical vector. Thus, after independence in 1991, they sought to establish both equidistance and good relations with both Russia and the West. But their objective was generally to import the Western liberal-democratic model.

For a sector of the Ukrainian bourgeoisie, rapprochement with the EU was key to distancing itself from Russia, given that Ukraine still maintained important economic ties to Russia in the form of integrated industry and a growing energy dependence, as well as the cultural, religious, and ethnic ties in the country’s south and east. Ukraine, like all the countries that were once part of the Soviet Union, was racked by processes of accumulation by dispossession, based on huge privatizations, along with the concentration of Ukrainian capital and the entry of transnationals. All social and economic indicators dropped significantly, as did the population. The impact of this was comparable to that of a large-scale war. Zhukovskii has called this a “peripheral involution” — that is, the premeditated destruction of a system of social relations and its substitution by a capitalist system of lesser historical development, both in its materiality and its ethico-political foundations.3Ivan Felixovich León Zhukovskii, “La involucíon periférica de Rusia y la geopolítica del capitalismo global” [Russia’s peripheral involution and the geopolitics of global capitalism], in ¿Nueva guerra fría o guerra mundial fragmentada?El resurgir de Rusia, el avance de China, los nuevos bloques emergentes y el desafío a las fuerzas unipolares de “Occidente” [New cold war or fragmented world war? The resurgence of Russia, the advance of China, the new emerging blocs and the challenge to the unipolar forces of the “West”], ed. Gabriel Esteban Merino and Carlos Alberto Rang (Posadas, Argentina: EDUNAM, 2016). This meant that imperialism — which was entering a phase of unipolarity — would strongly discipline not only the countries of the former socialist bloc but also all the workers of the world. The former socialist bloc would be subordinated to the “New World Order,” while workers would be materially and symbolically subjected to expanding forms of capitalist production and reproduction.

Territorially, then, the main companies of western Ukraine monopolized the most fertile lands on the planet, while the eastern region remained industrially integrated to the Donbass Basin, where important mineral resources are extracted for the ex-Soviet factories. This ethnic, cultural, and territorial partition is also expressed electorally: the pro-Russian oligarchy and the pro-European oligarchy have fought to keep their bases circumscribed to these two large regions of the country, respectively, leaving the country in a delicate struggle between international influences.

From the Orange Revolution to Maidan Square

It was in the 2004 elections that a candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, became the first to show himself openly in favor of a pro-Western and pro-European course. His opponent, Viktor Yanukovych, who was part of the pro-Russian oligarchy, was averse to any rapprochement with the Atlantic alliance. That year, the crusade of accusations regarding electoral fraud led to the so-called Orange Revolution (the color of the pro-Western Our Ukraine party), which put Yushchenko in power from 2005 to 2010. During that period, he was dedicated to moving full speed ahead with becoming part of the EU and NATO. Meanwhile, the West4The “West” is a concept used in geopolitics to refer, fundamentally, to the dominant powers that make up the historic core of NATO — primarily the United States, the United Kingdom, and the EU. See Gabriel Esteban Merino, “Tensiones mundiales, multipolaridad relativa y bloques de poder en una nueva fase de la crisis del orden mundial. Perspectivas para América Latina” [World tensions, relative multipolarity and power blocs in a new phase of the crisis of the world order: Perspectives for Latin America], Geopolítica(s): Revista de Estudios sobre Espacio y Poder [Geopolítica(s): Journal of Studies on Space and Power] 7, no. 2 (2016): 201–25. provided economic aid and political support with little regard for the widening internal rift caused by the new international alignment; this led to internal reforms of the political system. Yushchenko considered the eastern and southern regions a burden from the Soviet era, which made the population of those regions feel discriminated against by the Kyiv government. The policy of confrontation with Russia, which led to the “gas wars” (2006–9), along with a form of government that favored a Ukrainian oligarchy, allowed Yanukovych’s triumph in 2010.

The new president — a traditional ally of Russia — took office with the idea of resuming the path of better relations with the EU associated with economic development, social welfare, and consolidation of democracy. As Javier Morales explains, around 2013 the idea of opening up for the importation of EU products created fear in the government because of the likely negative impact it would have on Ukrainian industry, which in turn was associated with the IMF’s demands for structural adjustments as part of the conditions for credit the country needed to avoid total ruin.5Javier Morales, “Ucrania entre Occidente y Rusia: La dimensión internacional del conflict” [Ukraine between the West and Russia: The International Dimension of the Conflict], in Ucrania, ed. Ramas, 265–94. In addition, the EU was demanding constitutional reforms that would undermine the power of the executive in favor of other institutions. The tradeoff was that Ukraine would be unable to join the Russian-driven customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan, the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). This led Putin to further pressure Yanukovych to abandon the EU agreement. For the Russian leader, the EEU is an important means of economically integrating the region and of projecting the influence of Greater Russia.

From the Maidan Protests to the War in Donbass

In late 2013, thousands of Ukrainians rallied in Maidan (Independence) Square to confront the decision by Yanukovych’s Party of Regions to accept Putin’s terms for financial aid amid a major economic crisis. Ukraine would receive Russian natural gas at a reduced price and a $15 billion credit line to avoid bankrupting the Kyiv government in exchange for Yanukovych’s ending his focus on rapprochement with the EU; the country was about to sign the Ukrainian-European Association Agreement, a free trade pact.

The protests in Kyiv were led by different social groups, from NGOs to nationalist and pro-European politicians; far-right parties were also a huge component of the demonstrations. The mobilizations of thousands of Ukrainians combined widespread weariness over the economic crisis — inherited from the social disaster after the fall of the Soviet Union, coupled with the 2008 global economic crisis — with various social demands. The pro-European sector employed the neoliberal banners of democracy and Western values, using the specter of authoritarianism and the corruption of the pro-Russian oligarchy to polarize the demonstrators — the vast majority of whom had also been subjected to the ideological bombardment of American soft power. As Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, acknowledged:

Since Ukraine’s independence in 1991, the United States has supported Ukrainians as they build democratic skills and institutions, as they promote civic participation and good governance, all of which are preconditions for Ukraine to achieve its European aspirations. We’ve invested over $5 billion to assist Ukraine in these and other goals that will ensure a secure and prosperous and democratic Ukraine.

Like other officials from Western countries, Nuland was taking an active stance against the Yanukovych government, which was interpreted as a shift from soft power to hard power, since the United States was now intervening directly in the conflict.

Yanukovych’s brutal crackdown on the demonstrations further angered the population of Kyiv and the EU, which began to put pressure on the president. The growing radicalization of the protests was linked to the Euromaidan movement’s heterogeneous and decentralized social and political composition and its lack of a clear political leadership. But as events unfolded, far-right nationalist sectors occupied a strategic place by organizing self-defense brigades. After negotiations to stabilize the country, seeking to give it a negotiated exit from the crisis, the parliament voted to remove Yanukovych in February 2014 in a session surrounded by self-defense groups that did not allow pro-government deputies to enter, even though the ousted president publicly gave in on most of the demands. Yanukovych fled to Moscow, and a transitional government was immediately installed in Ukraine, which called for elections in May of that year — which Petro Poroshenko, the pro-European nationalist leader, would later win.

The provisional government was quickly recognized by the West, without taking into account future consequences. In the country’s east, the government was rejected with a series of smaller “anti-Maidan” demonstrations in support of Yanukovych. A few days after his departure, armed pro-Russian groups seized the Crimean parliament in Simferopol, and they did the same in Donetsk and Lugansk; Putin later acknowledged that Russian forces had infiltrated Ukraine. (The regions of Lugansk and Donetsk are two oblasts, or provinces, that have been trying to integrate into Russia. They are strategic because they account for 20 percent of Ukraine’s GDP, and their population is mostly Russian, but they were submitted to referendum, since they are territories that lack the same link that Crimea has with Russia.)

Russia took immediate steps to ensure that it didn’t lose the strategic Crimean Peninsula. A referendum was called first to make Crimea an independent republic and then to annex the territory that includes the main Soviet-era shipyards and the Russian naval base, including the main one on the Black Sea. In March of that year, with 90 percent approval, Crimea was incorporated into the Russian Federation as an autonomous republic, but only the governments of Nicaragua, Afghanistan, Syria, and Venezuela recognized the peninsula’s accession to Russia.6Russians saw the annexation of Crimea as simply taking its natural territory, since a large part of the population is Russian-speaking, it was in the hands of the czar for 300 years, and it wasn’t until 1954 that Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev transferred the Crimean oblast from the Russian SSR to the Ukrainian SSR. Putin offered two arguments in particular for intervention: Crimea’s right to independence and its request for annexation; and the potential danger to the Russian population from regime change in Kyiv.

The annexation took a heavy economic toll on Russia. Crimea lost about $4 billion in annual financial aid, while Russia lost $2 billion from transporting gas through Ukrainian territory, and more as the result of difficulties accessing international financing, the closure of Russian banks abroad, and the decrease in foreign direct investment. The International Monetary Fund quantified the impact as a 2 percent drop in annual growth.

There was a strong presence in the mobilizations of nationalist and moderate parties, but there were also far-right parties (unchallenged by the West), far removed from any idea of liberal democracy. These further raised the level of violence by participating with weapons and occupying public buildings. They included Pravy Sektor (Right Sector), a party that takes its name from the nationalists who fought alongside the Nazis against the Soviet Union in World War II, and whose ideas — paradoxically — center on a rejection of Western liberalism and EU membership. This party has some 10,000 members, most of whom were at the front of the mobilizations; many of them formed paramilitary groups that later joined the Azov Battalion, an ultranationalist unit of the Ukrainian Army. The participation of armed, far-right fascistic organizations and pro-Russian paramilitary groups raised tensions to the point that civil war broke out in Donbass, where the belligerents were strongly supported by foreign powers. The role of foreign powers has become of decisive importance in the conflict, and it continues to prevent any resolution in a conflict perceived as a zero-sum game. From 2015 to 2020, the war claimed some 13,000 lives and displaced nearly 2 million people.

Since then, there has been only isolated fighting on the border with Crimea and in the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. This has kept the conflict suspended, creating over the past few years a status quo that has allowed it to be used for both external and internal interests. But so deep a rift has been generated that it led, for example, to the breakup of the local Orthodox Church, and to Kyiv becoming independent from the Moscow patriarchate in 2019 — after being allied since 1686. There has also been an isolation of the populations of Donetsk and Lugansk since the Covid-19 pandemic. Throughout it all, Russia has maintained its involvement in the conflict, not only with economic and intelligence support, but also with secret weapons and covert troops — just as the West supported President Petro Poroshenko with armaments and economic aid when he held office.

In 2019, Volodymyr Zelensky became president, with expectations that he would end corruption, achieve peace in the Donbass, and improve the overall situation of Ukrainians. His government, which enjoys strong popular support despite unfulfilled expectations, initially had a policy much more oriented toward dialogue than his predecessor’s. But fighting at the borders increased in 2021, thanks to the failure of the Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine, which held talks on Donbass among Ukraine, Russia, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. There was also strong domestic popular pressure mobilized to “prevent Ukraine’s surrender to Russian aggression.” Zelensky subsequently pushed for the Crimean Platform diplomatic initiative to recapture the peninsula, generating further pressure on Russia, which has responded by increasing its military activity at the borders.

Ukraine’s Geostrategic Importance

The current Ukrainian tragedy can be traced back to the 1989 Malta Summit, at which George H. W. Bush promised Gorbachev that NATO would not expand eastward in view of the imminent collapse of the Soviet Union. After the collapse of the so-called socialist bloc, the West sought to bring Kyiv closer to Western structures and institutions on the basis of what became known as unipolarity. George Kennan, the influential U.S. diplomat and historian, and liberal sectors in Moscow warned at that time that if Ukraine adopted an anti-Russian stance, it would generate a hostile reaction in Moscow and undermine regional stability. But the West turned a deaf ear, and more and more countries joined the Atlantic alliance and the EU.

After Ukraine’s formal independence in 1991, following the disintegration of the Soviet Union (a process that resulted in new “independent states”), the country was born as a “buffer state” to avoid what British geographer and geostrategist Halford Mackinder had warned of in 1904, in the framework of the “Great Game”: a possible alliance between Germany and the Russian Empire on the eve of World War I.7The “Great Game” is a term used to refer to the confrontation between the British and Russian empires in the dispute over Central Asia and the Caucasus during the 19th century. It was during that period that the Crimean War (1853–56) took place on the peninsula, the result of which was a humiliating defeat for czarism that served as a brake on Russia’s expansionist plans. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, American (neo)realist thinkers updated this vision in order to contain post-Soviet Russia, which still maintained significant military and productive capacities, to distance it from the Western alliance and prevent it from reemerging as a superpower. For Mackinder, Eastern Europe was the key to the continental heart of Eurasia, or “Pivot Area” — a space of vast resources whose potential would provide the capacity for world domination to whoever ruled it. That is why it was necessary to prevent the Russian Empire, and later the Soviet Union, from accessing the seas by surrounding Asia with military bases (i.e., with related colonial states).8Augusto Zamora R., ed., Política y geopolítica para rebeldes, irreverentes y escépticos [Politics and geopolitics for rebels, irreverents, and skeptics] (Madrid: FOCA, 2016).

We could say that Ukraine was trapped in the region that Mackinder called the “continental margin” — that is, the “Heartland at the center of the world island,” an area of friction that was necessary to control in order to block the expansion of the Russian Empire. In the same way, we can circumscribe the current conflicts in Georgia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh, among others, to the Russian borders. For the geopolitical intellectual of the early 20th century, whoever dominated the continental heartland would dominate the world island, and whoever dominated it would dominate the world.

Later, in his 1998 book The Grand Chessboard, Zbigniew Brzezinski — former adviser to Jimmy Carter and then Barack Obama’s geostrategic thinker — explained that Ukraine is of great strategic importance for the United States in its confrontation with Russia.9Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives (New York: Basic Books, 2016). For him, were Ukraine to be dominated by the United States, the Russian giant could be tamed, while Russian control of Ukraine gives Russia a chance of again becoming a great world power.

Ukraine’s importance can also be seen in the situation opened up by the Russian Revolution — a situation of revolution and counterrevolution — when Leon Trotsky led the Red Army as war developed in Ukraine from 1918 to 1920 against the White Guard (backed by all the imperialist armies of the world). Then, in “For the Soviet Ukraine!,” Trotsky put forward the strategic importance of that region for the defense of the proletarian revolution against the White reaction, which was allied with all the imperialist armies. Later, with the Soviet Union already bureaucratically deformed under Stalinism, Trotsky raised in 1939’s “Problem of the Ukraine” the importance of an independent and revolutionary Soviet Ukraine on the eve of the World War II before the imminent advance of the Nazi troops, which would find popular support in Ukraine after the disaster caused by Stalin’s regime.

Conversely, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the integration of Russia into neoliberal institutions, the United States observed the very thing Mackinder had warned about a century earlier: a possible alliance between Germany and Russia. This fear was the basis of the U.S. grand strategy in the Balkan War to deepen a rift that would prevent any rapprochement between Russia and Europe. This has generated diverse results at the strategic level. Post-Soviet Russian geopolitical thinking ceased to look to the West as the key to world integration and turned instead to Eurasianism, a set of ideas with conservative, Slavophile, and Orthodox Christian roots, based on a capitalist project that seeks a multicultural, multiethnic, and multireligious integration on a continental scale in opposition to Western Atlanticism. According to Alexander Dugin, Eurasianist intellectual and adviser to Vladimir Putin, the Russian objective is to build a multipolar world in which Russia is a pole of power among several other world poles.10Alexander Dugin, The Theory of a Multipolar World (Budapest: Arktos Media, 2021). This means constructing an order based on an oligarchy of states that can attract and subordinate other weaker states. The balance of power in such an order is generated between the superpowers at a global level.

Thus, the power bloc of such countries as Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia, and Kazakhstan are vital to Putin’s Greater Russia project because of their historical, cultural, and ethnic ties, which would justify any direct military or diplomatic intervention. This also justifies Russia’s approach to China, with which it has solidified its nonformal alliance through various institutions such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, its integration into the New Silk Road, and with financial institutions to deal with economic sanctions, among others, in addition to functioning as a bloc in the UN Security Council. Considering the historical rivalry between the two countries, this is a relationship of necessity. There is currently a great deal of distrust over the demographic pressure that China is exerting on Russia for the use of labor in Siberian regions. Eurasianism is an approach that also gives Russia some weight as an actor at the negotiating table, since it justifies military and diplomatic interventions in various regions, such as the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. We see this in Russia’s actions in the civil wars in Syria and Libya, as well as Russian participation in the mercenary Wagner Group in Africa, its rapprochement with both Israel and Iran, and its role in the unfolding situation in Afghanistan.

These opportunities that opened up for Russia can be understood as part of the decline of the United States and the ability of Western institutions to write the rules of the game, as well as flowing from the pressure from other global players such as China, India, and Brazil as they also pursue their particular national interests.

Likewise, central Europe has been incorporated into Russian thinking as part of its grand strategy. That is why it is so key that Europe — and particularly Germany, which is the EU’s productive and technological heart — now relies on Russia for 40 percent of its natural gas. Through the monopolistic giant Gazprom, natural gas is Russia’s main pressure factor, and the country needs it to address the economic situation resulting from the sanctions. The main gas and oil pipelines to European countries pass through Ukraine, but the key to the dispute is the Nord Stream 2, which links the Russian coasts with the German port of Greifswald through the Baltic and still awaits the approval of German regulators — which will depend on the outcome of the negotiations in Ukraine. The pipeline bypassing Ukrainian territory will mean a loss to that country of $1 billion in royalties from transportation rights. Ukraine is also one of the New Silk Road land gates to Europe for China, which has moved forward with trade agreements with several eastern European countries through the 16+1 Group.

Furthermore, Russia seeks to insinuate spaces that could have an energy-strangling effect on Europe, as can be seen in its dispute with Turkey over the eastern Mediterranean, its confrontations in the war in Libya, and with Gazprom’s participation in Sonatrach, the Algerian oil giant. This in no way means that Russia competes on equal terms with the United States or the EU, but rather that it is a giant with feet of clay, but can still fight to occupy spaces in different parts of the globe for its own interests in order to achieve better conditions when it comes to sitting at the small table. This shows that at present, disputes of enormous complexity are developing as a result of the economic interdependencies between countries — with the crisis of the Ukrainian chessboard constantly threatening the weak world (dis)order.

A “Warm Peace” in Ukraine?

The news that war drums are beating in Ukraine is making the rounds in the international press. On December 23, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced that it would carry out military exercises, employing more than 1,000 paratroopers and hundreds of vehicles, simulating the seizure of an area. This strains Russia’s dispute with Ukraine and NATO, which at the behest of the United States maintains military infrastructure near the Russian border, in breach of the Minsk Protocol — the 2014 agreement that halted the armed conflict in Donbass and stipulated that that there would be no NATO military facilities in Ukraine. The recent summit between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin, mainly to discuss the Ukrainian issue, was a mere formality from which no concrete commitment resulted.

Days later, the Kremlin delivered a series of separate demands to the United States and NATO, such as compliance with the Minsk Protocol as well as security guarantees in the form of withdrawal from the post-Soviet countries to de-escalate the conflict. Biden finds himself at a crossroads in this regard, as the domestic political polarization in the United States could lead to a new crisis in his government should he give in to the “Russian autocrat.” Moreover, partisan tensions in the United States during the global Covid-19 pandemic have undermined the country’s international standing as a model of liberal democracy and eroded its authority in matters of public health, just as the internal contradictions and weaknesses of the American structure have come to light amid social and political polarization.

The Ukrainian situation is delicate, but experts posit two unlikely scenarios: a Russian invasion of Ukraine or a complete Russian withdrawal. To wage a war, Putin would need popular support and economic resources that he is unlikely to obtain in a short period. But at the same time, Ukraine’s entry into NATO is a red line that Russia cannot tolerate because it considers it vital for its national security, which is why securing eastern Ukraine is considered a defensive maneuver.

The conflict in Ukraine has become the main geopolitical problem within European borders, in a context of increased U.S. aggressiveness toward Russia and China, but that is framed within a crisis of the global capitalist balance, with tendencies toward confrontations between the great powers at various levels, including military, economic, technological, and so on. In the same sense, Ukraine, as Gabriel Esteban Merino writes, “opened a new phase or moment of the crisis, characterized by the fact that the sharpening of the tensions between the world power blocs is being fought in major territories and the strategic confrontations — the dispute for influence in social territory — are direct between the powers.”11Merino, “Tensiones mundiales.”

But this same international situation has also opened the possibility of confrontations between social classes, and it has already led to powerful revolts from Chile, Colombia, and the United States to France, Lebanon, and Myanmar. Ukrainians have been trapped in a drama that cannot be harnessed by the nationalist parties, by the imperialist intervention of the United States or the EU, or by Russia or China with their local allies. Although the effects of the fall of the Soviet Union continue to batter the Ukrainian working class and its oppressed sectors, we cannot rule out that there is an alternative to the solutions offered by the actors in question.

First published in Spanish on January 2 in Ideas de Izquierda.

Translation by Scott Cooper


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