The Ukraine War

Bruce Hartford, March 2, 2022

History teaches us that despite rhetoric and propaganda, most wars are — at root — caused by domestic politics in the aggressor nation rather than any external threat or attack from whomever they invade. Ukraine posed no military threat to Russia, and an enlarged NATO only threatened to contain expansion of Russia's sphere of power. While NATO expansion was probably a factor in Putin's decision to invade Ukraine, I believe the more important reason was the domestic political threat that Ukraine's two-steps-forward-one-step-backwards progress towards greater democracy and economic-equity posed to his continue power over Russia itself.

Under Putin, Russia has become an anti-democratic, police-state kleptocracy where all power is concentrated in his hands and those of his tiny circle of crony oligarchs who siphon off their nation's wealth into Swiss bank accounts and Manhattan real estate. Some researchers estimate that as much as 40% of Russia's wealth is stolen each year by those kleptocrats. After skimming off a good portion of the remaining wealth for Russia's small middle class, there's not much left for the working class and rural peasants.

After centuries of war and conquest, and a long shared border, there's a lot of family intermingling and cultural contact between Ukrainians and Russians which means that Putin can't prevent Russians from seeing what is happening in Ukraine. He and his cronies cannot tolerate the example of the Ukrainian people's march towards democracy and a more equitable economy because it shows the Russian people that a better and fairer life is possible for them. Ukraine's experiment with democracy must be made to fail lest it lead to unrest in Russia. Hence, first Russia's destabilization campaign, then biting off the Crimea and Donbas, and now full scale invasion.

But Putin's invasion of Ukraine is not an isolated event. It's part of a broader attack against democracy that echoes events of the 20th Century. In the 1930s, when corporate greed and Wall Street speculators threw the entire planet into a decade-long global depression, the resulting poverty, hunger, despair, and social unrest posed an existential threat to the economic and political elite's status quo of wealth, power, and privilege. They reacted by promoting and financing a worldwide fascist movement to destroy democracy and suppress social movements that threatened their continued rule. Similarly, today's multiple climate crises pose an existential threat to those at the top of the pyramid. And once again, we see an international rise of authoritarianism and a global assault against democracy and social movements that might threaten or reform the established order. Not just in foreign nations, but also here in America.

It is a truism that when not a war with each other, authoritarians mutually support others of their ilk against their common foes — democracy and equality. Here in America, Trump and his Republican sycophants proclaim the "stolen election" lie, attack the Capitol, and launch a racist, multi-state assault against voting rights. Simultaneously, they praise and openly admire Putin of Russia, Bolsonaro of Brazil, Erdogan of Turkey, Orban of Hungary, Modi of India, and other "strongman" autocrats.

Authoritarianism and militarism go hand in hand. Armies, police, and prisons are authoritarians' tools for imposing their rule on recalcitrant subjects and enlarging their sphere of control. The more a nation spends on militarism, the less it can spend on improving the lives of its people. Subject populations who lack a minimal level of economic stability and security are easier to control — and easier to exploit, because people who are barely surviving on the ragged edge of hunger & homelessness have no choice but to accept whatever work is offered, however onerous, dangerous, or underpaid.

So it's no surprise that here in America, Republicans and corporate Democrats like Manchin and Sinema urge greater spending for the Pentagon, police, and prisons, more tax cuts for Wall Street, and less regulation and larger subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, while they simultaneously block voting rights legislation and sabotage domestic initiatives that raise people out of poverty, strengthen education, heal the sick, feed the hungry, and shelter the homeless.

It's that broader context of authoritarianism vs democracy that links Ukraine's struggle against Putin and Russia's invasion to our struggle to defend democracy against our home-grown authoritarians such as the current leadership of the Republican Party and their white-nationalist base.

Copyright © Bruce Hartford


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