The politics of annexation in Ukraine

Vladimir Putin and Ukraine, Wikipedia photo
Vladimir Putin and Ukraine, Wikipedia photo

George Melnyk is a founder and former director of the Consortium for Peace Studies at the University of Calgary, and he is also a close observer of the events unfolding in Ukraine. In this guest piece, Melnyk says the Canadian left is wrong in supporting Russia’s contrived rebellion in Ukraine.    

The situation in Ukraine has been overshadowed by the horrors of Gaza with its more than 2000 dead and thousands injured, as well as hundreds of thousands of traumatized children. With Stephen Harper’s undiminished support for Israel, it is no wonder that progressive Canadians who identify with the Palestinian desire for freedom and independence have been confused on Ukraine.

Harper is equally vociferous in his support for the Ukrainian government, and his anti-Russian rhetoric against Vladimir Putin seems very much like his glorify and demonize approach on Israel and Palestine. However, to separate Harper’s position on Palestine from his position on Ukraine, we must view each situation on its own merits.

In an op-ed in The Globe and Mail on July 26, the Prime Minister described the situation in Ukraine as “a threat to Europe, to the rule of law and to the values that bind Western nations.” He pointed the finger at “Russia’s aggressive militarism and expansionism.” It is this characterization that bothers the Canadian left, especially when it comes from someone whose over-all foreign policy they abhor.

Domination,  annexation

The left tends to accept the argument that Russia has an inherent right to either control or guide Ukrainian affairs in its self-interest, either because Russia has a “right” to a buffer between Europe and itself, or because Russia has dominated Ukraine for several centuries prior to the country’s independence in 1991. Secondly, the left agrees with the Russian annexation of a significant part of Ukraine (Crimea) earlier this year.  Again, the rationale is that Russia has a right to the place, no matter how contrived and undemocratic the process. The Canadian left seems to have fallen for Russian propaganda that Ukraine is under the control of “fascists” because these categories were accepted currency in the good old days of capitalist and communist camps. However, viewing Putin as some kind of social progressive and the Ukrainian government as reactionary is a complete misreading of socio-political ideologies and realities.

The principled position 

The Canadian left should view this matter from a principled position. As long as Putin felt that he could control Ukrainian affairs it was business as usual. But when the “Euromaidan” revolution brought about the overthrow of its pro-Russian president, Putin moved into high gear discrediting the revolution, creating a fake uprising in Crimea, and launching a separatist insurgency in the east of the country. The Ukrainian people responded by voting for a new president in a democratic manner. Those in the areas still controlled by “separatists” had no such freedom or right. If the Canadian left, which has a long history of supporting popular uprisings against dictators and empires, could find its way to see that the February revolution was a democratic revolution against corruption and foreign manipulation, it would support it.

The distrust of Ukrainian nationalism, which goes back to the Soviet era, was very much tied to the Canadian left’s support for communist Russia and its opposition to American imperialism. In the Cold War era only the Soviet Union had the political might to balance that of the U.S. But this legacy of opposition to imperialism, of which the left can be proud, has to be even-handed and applied fairly in the post-communist era. Opposition to American imperialism should not ignore Russian imperialism, or Israeli imperialism, or any attack, overt or covert, on small nations.

Support the Ukrainian revolution

The Ukrainian revolution is one that deserves the support of the Canadian left because of its emphasis on democracy and pluralism. Ukraine’s wanting to embrace Europe and the West is something to be applauded, not reviled. As someone who has been active in the contemporary peace movement, I have applied my peace principles to the conflict in Ukraine. As an opponent of war, I decry the killing that has gone on in that country because of a contrived “rebellion” instigated, directed, and supplied by a foreign power. Since April there have been over 1100 civilian deaths and a quarter-million displaced people, as well as military casualties.

As an anti-war activist,  I accept the right of small and weak nations to defend themselves as best they can. In supporting Ukraine’s independence and sovereignty, I am supporting a democratic revolution against imperialism and a dictatorial Russian regime, in the same way that I have supported and continue to support Canadian independence, democracy and sovereignty against foreign intrigues and domination.

5 thoughts on “The politics of annexation in Ukraine

Add yours

  1. I live there and have for over 7 years. I do not understand the Left supporting Russia. I am opposed to imperialistic fascist police states, whether American or Russian. Unfortunately as you have pointed out, the blind hatred for all things American has resulted in a great many useful idiots spouting the Kremlin lines and lies. Ukrainians want to live in a liberal democracy free from corruption and with some hope of economic development. A Ukrainian kleptocracy, tied to a Russian kleptocracy, gave them no hope of a future. The country would have struggled to survive after getting rid of Yanukovych, and with this war with Russia on top of that Ukraine will have to be supported by the West or it will go under and Putin will have a good part of his empire back.


  2. Sorry to say that you have a very limited understanding of what happens in Ukraine. I am Canadian, have worked in Russia, Belarus and areas for 20 years and actually near fully support the Russian politics in their near abroad. It is not so much the questioning of a democratic process in the Maidan revolution that is in question, but its rape by a true right-wing fanaticism that has grown across western Ukraine. This phenomenon, condoned by the EU and actually encouraged for its anti-Soviet roots by the USA, lies at the heart of the issue and at the root of the violent streaks in the Ukrainian government. I personally know people in Crimea, and these people were not conned into joining Russia. I also know they truly felt distaste in eastern Ukraine for all matters Kiev or Maidan.

    And more so, I also know the popular grassroots movement in Russia, much more right wing than Putin is, which is pushing arms and volunteers across the border to help the eastern Ukrainians. Consequently, I believe that the right way should have been not to have recognized the coup, force the country into new elections as agreed on February 22, and all this violence would not have started. As with the Bosnian wars, the EU and US, and here also Canada, are to blame for being too quick on the draw for a so-called democratic revolution resulting in a non-democratic government.


  3. Melnyk does not say who the left is. Without such a description it is hard to say what they think. He is right to say that there is confusion about Ukraine because of Harper’s strong opposition to Putin and Russia. But to assert that the left is in support of Russia is a stretch. Harper, being on the right, needs an enemy and Russia is a very good one to suit his purpose. The retaliation by rejecting Canadian pork is hurting Canadian farmers more than anyone. Harper’s friends in the pork business sector now want compensation. A bit of irony there. In the end, what Harper has really done, is to say we will not talk (as in Palestine-Israel). Ideology trumps diplomacy. JB


  4. Thanks for this article, Dennis….but I think it simplifies a very complicated situation. As with most issues related to conflict….the truth likely lies someplace in the middle. I also know people living in the Crimea and they tell me they were not forced to vote to join Russia, but rather did so out of what they consider to be very real fears about the stripe of the new government in Kiev. Putin is no saint, but nor is the new government in Kiev. I think we need to go deeper and ask ourselves – when is it a coup d’état or a very real revolution – when do we see an actual democratic process and when do we see the legitimate hopes of a population taken over by a puppet government controlled by the west ….the same applies to the situation in the Ukraine….The OBAMA administration and Harper government are seeking to blame Putin – that is indeed convenient.
    Many on the left are not so much aligned with Putin, as they are in opposition to the new government in Kiev because of its fascist tendencies.
    And the conflict continues…..


  5. Several people responding to my piece on Ukraine have attacked the current government of Ukraine, accusing it of right-wing fanatacism and fascistic tendencies. This is a mis-characterization. The current government of Ukraine has the same parliament that it had under the previous regime. Was that parliament fanatical and fascist? It was not. Nor is it now. The current president of Ukraine was democratically elected. He is a wealthy capitalist, not a fanatic nor fascist. He is the kind of capitalist that Mao once praised in China as patriotic and progressive. The angst about Kyiv has been fomented by vicious and deceitful Russian propaganda toward its own people, Russian-speakers of eastern Ukraine, and those who are following the story world-wide.


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