The Putin regime’s war in Ukraine is strengthening the very forces it claims to be combatting. Firstly, Russia’s violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and the unjustified bombardment of civilian areas has enabled NATO to promote its bogus image as the guarantor of peace, freedom and national sovereignty in Europe, while President Zelensky presents himself as the saviour of the Ukrainian people. This is despite the latter’s reckless support for NATO expansion and his domestic policy of austerity and privatisation backed by corrupt oligarchs.
Secondly, Moscow’s policy has strengthened the position of nationalists, the far-right and fascist forces inside Ukraine itself. Extreme right-wing military formations such as the Right Sector have been promoted within the security apparatus of several major municipalities, while the fascist Azov Battalion has increased in size, influence and prestige.
Thirdly, Russia’s invasion has provided the pretext for a substantial extension of censorship and self-censorship in the mass media. Russian state broadcaster RT and its satellite Sputnik channel have been banned from mainstream broadcasting networks across Europe, including Britain, while anti-war and NATO-critical views are now excluded from most media coverage and social media accounts are censored or closed down. This restriction of freedom of expression could have far-reaching consequences for the ability of citizens in Britain and other NATO member states to hold their governments to account in the future.
Thus there has been little or no reporting of President Zelensky’s suppression of socialist and progressive organisations in Ukraine that do not share the aggressive nationalist politics of his far-right allies. On March 6, Mikhail and Aleksandr Kononovich, leaders of the Ukrainian Communist Youth Union, were seized by Security Service officers in Kyiv. They were then held in secret, seriously assaulted and now face serious charges relating to espionage (they are of Belorussian origin). Other left-wing activists, trade unionists, journalists and bloggers have since been detained or disappeared.
On March 20, the Ukraine authorities banned 11 parties allegedly linked to Russia, including the main parliamentary opposition. The outlawed organisations also include the Union of Left Forces, the Left Opposition, the Socialist Party and others who are not pro-Moscow but who oppose membership of NATO and the EU. The Communist Party of Ukraine has been illegal since 2015, despite its electoral support and after its leader was physically attacked while addressing the country’s parliament. Left-wing and communist symbols and publications are also banned under that country’s ‘de-communisation’ laws, as they are in some other east European and Baltic states. The closure of all independent television stations in Ukraine has been condemned by media trade unions across Europe.
Much of this has not been reported in the Western mass media. While Ukrainian state repression does not justify the brutal war unleashed by President Putin and his oligarchs on February 24, the struggle for democratic rights is universal. It must embrace Ukraine and Europe as well as Russia and the Middle East.
The Communist Party of Britain adds its voice to demands that the Kononovich brothers be released, that all Ukraine’s political parties and media outlets be permitted to operate freely as long as they do not engage in acts of terrorism or sabotage, and that the criminal actions of far-right and fascist groups are punished rather than tolerated or encouraged. We also reaffirm our call for an immediate ceasefire and a negotiated settlement that respects Ukraine’s sovereignty while also recognising Russia’s legitimate concerns about NATO’s 26-year long military build-up in eastern Europe and parts of the former Soviet Union.