On Monday evening, Vladimir Putin ordered troops to cross the border into Ukraine. Russia claims they are “peacekeepers”, aiming to protect the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics (DPR and LPR), based in two Russian-backed separatist controlled areas. In a speech shortly before this invasion, the Russian President denied Ukraine’s right to statehood, recognised the separatist DPR and LPR as states, and claimed Ukraine should never have existed in the first place.
We need to call this what it is: an invasion and an escalation in a brutal war that has already been raging across Eastern Ukraine since 2014, when Russia-backed forces occupied parts of Ukraine, armed with Russian weapons and led by Russian intelligence officers. After the Euromaidan protests in favour of democracy and EU membership, which removed Russia’s puppet Yanukovych from power, Russia sent troops with hidden insignia to occupy Crimea and Donbas (the region of Eastern Ukraine where Donetsk and Luhansk are located). They then held a bogus “referendum” in Crimea to claim their annexation was legitimate and have occupied the peninsula since then.
Unlike in 2014, when Russia attempted to maintain plausible deniability while annexing Crimea and helping the separatists claim their territory in the east of the country, they are now openly, brazenly, invading Ukraine with their insignia showing and their flag flying high. Make no mistake, they are not there to keep the peace but rather to shatter it. Putin has no interest in stopping with Donbas, as anyone who listened to or read a transcript of his speech will understand – in it, he claimed bizarrely that Ukrainian national identity was invented by Vladimir Lenin, the Bolshevik leader, that the creation of national republics from the ruins of the Russian Empire was “madness”, and that he was happy to “help” Ukraine in its “decommunization” by destroying it.
It is not necessary to bog ourselves down in debunking Vladimir Putin’s warped understanding of Ukrainian history – it does not matter. This is a war of aggression caused solely by Russia. Ukraine does not want a war; the war is on Ukraine’s soil, it is Ukraine’s people who will be killed. NATO – contrary to the claims of fringe figures across the political spectrum – does not want a war. Ukraine’s right to independence and desire to retain its sovereignty means that Ukraine shall defend itself against invasion, even though this is a war it did not, and does not, want. In the words of Dmitry Mrachnik, Ukrainian leftist and editor of leftist website Nihilist.li, “the only possible response to a likely Russian invasion is participation in the defense of Ukraine… we are all united by a common cause – freedom and protection, and an albeit imperfect, but democratic republic.” We must stand with Ukrainians as they fight off this invasion, and against the aggression of Putin’s Russia.
If Putin is successful in gaining control of Ukraine, it will only embolden him to further aggressive acts against Russia’s neighbours. In Monday’s speech, it became clear that what we are dealing with is not a canny autocrat seeking strategic concessions from geopolitical rivals, but a violent ultranationalist singularly dedicated to ending the independence and even the nationhood of Ukraine and other countries once part of the Russian Empire. What we witnessed is a paranoid, murderous, rambling Russian supremacist growling at his subordinates when they would veer off a clearly pre-prepared script.
Ukraine, of course, will not allow Putin to succeed without great cost. Ukrainians young and old are declaring their intention to fight and, if needs be, die for their independence. These are real people, real lives that will be torn apart or ended by the coming war. This is not an academic question but is happening right now, and we have a duty to stand with Ukraine as it faces this Russian imperialist aggression. This once again places a massive onus on those of us in the West to demand our governments end the Fortress Europe approach they have pursued to refugees and asylum seekers for a decade now, be welcoming refugees seeking shelter while standing in solidarity with those who choose to stay and fight.
For those of us in Scotland who are in favour of independence, we must oppose Russian aggression in Ukraine. As the First Minister said today, we must impose “the most severe of sanctions” on the regime that pursues this imperialist grotesquery from behind the walls of the Kremlin. It may not seem apparent why this matters, but we in Scotland must understand that if the existing rules-based international order is torn up, with it will go principles that make the life of a small independent nation possible at all – self-determination, national sovereignty, and the inviolability of borders by military force. It will be much more difficult to survive and thrive as a small, independent nation in the future. If a precedent is set that independent countries can be invaded by their neighbours because of historical ties, with only minimal consequences, then what guarantees will we have one day, when the world is different, that our own independence will be safe?
Ukrainians are right now asking for our help in supporting them as they fight off the Russian invaders. As the country prepares for a war they did not want, as parents worry for their children and Ukraine braces itself for what is coming, those of us fortunate enough to live in countries safe from this aggression ought to consider how best to show our solidarity and ensure that Ukraine has the best possible chance to both survive this, and thrive in the future.
For more information on how you can help Ukraine, see this carrd. Those in Scotland who are able to travel to Edinburgh are also invited to attend a demonstration outside the Russian Consulate on Friday 25th February at 12:30pm.
This was written by both Stephanie Melnick and Dovydas Kuliešas.
Stephanie first became engaged with Scottish politics at the age of 17 and has been trying and failing to escape ever since. She usually has her head in a book, except when she’s trying to write one. She is passionate about the environment, sci-fi & fantasy fiction and abolishing all forms of involuntary confinement. Follow her on Twitter @AutieScot.
Dovydas joined the SNP in Spring 2017, and has been a member of the party since. Lithuanian by birth, lost in identity crisis on the banks of the Clyde by choice, a devoted social democrat by belief, his interests include history, antifascism, khachapuri, speculative fiction and foreign policy.