Putin Has Sacrificed Russia’s Economy for This War on Ukraine’s People

After invading Ukraine, the Russian army failed to seize a single major city. Instead, it has been besieging and bombing civilians and terrorizing those in its control.

This ruthless, anti-popular character of the Russian war is the key to understanding what motivated the Kremlin to launch it in the first place, turning upside down its relationship with Western powers, and Russia’s own future, for decades to come.

Russian troops were confronted with thousands of people calling for them to return home in Kherson, Melitopol and Berdyansk. Reports say that mayors who refuse to cooperate have been beaten by the Russian army. kidnapped. Together with otherUkrainian activists, they were taken to Luhansk — one of the two eastern Ukrainian “people’s republics” established with Russian support in 2014 — and reportedly prosecuted there. The “republics,” unrecognized even by Russia until last month, suppress dissent with abductions and arbitrary detention free of meaningful judicial constraint.

The war looks very different from the previous one Russian President Vladimir Putin describedThe invasion was completed on the day it occurred. The Russian army would “demilitarize” and “denazify” Ukraine, but there were no plans to occupy or to impose anything by force, he said. OccupationSince then, it has been a central focus.

Putin called onThe Ukrainian army has refused to switch sides. Not only is it not doing so, but it has also proved to have been a formidable opponent. Russian soldiers expected to be greeted with open arms and flowers — but have apparently been shocked at the level of resistance. Even an attempt to set up a puppet “people’s republic” in Kherson, alongside those in Donetsk and Luhansk, failed. While Ukraine’s government has seen working people’s rights as expendable in wartime, the Kremlin’s war against those people is one of annihilation: It has already murdered hundreds of the Russian-speaking Ukrainians it claimed to protect, and driven hundreds of thousands from their homes.

Putin’s statements are laced with the nationalist ideology with which the Kremlin justifies the invasion. Alongside his false claims that Ukraine is governed by a “gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis” responsible for “genocide,” Putin has made a case that Ukraine could only have “true sovereignty” in unity with Russia, that Ukrainians and Russians are “one people,” and that Ukrainian nationhood was an invention by the Poles and/or Austro-Hungarians.

This view of Russia’s oldest colony is analogous, perhaps, to a British head of state claiming that Irish nationhood is fictitious. Putin is not speaking for himself or his closest associates, but for the most militant militarist elements within the state and a range extremists and fascists.

Since Putin took office 22 years ago, this militarism and nationalism has been married to an economic program that allowed Russian businesses to profit from integration with world markets — although this was integration as a subordinate power, a supplier of oil, gas, minerals and metals to world markets. Russia is dependent on export revenues, while Western nations depend on Russian oil and gas.

By going to war, and provoking a barrage of economic sanctions, Putin has not only condemned Ukrainians to death, destruction and exile, but has also wrecked the Russian economy’s prospects. Even business groups such as Lukoil, Russia’s largest privately owned oil company. EN+The vast aluminum business has voiced concern at the war.

The Kremlin has favored military adventure and its associated political aims over the long-term and medium-term economic interests for Russian capital.

To understand this reckless gamble, it helps to recall its motivation in 2014, when, after the government of President Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown in Kyiv, Russia decided to annex Crimea and give military backing to the armed gangs who established the Donetsk and Luhansk “republics.”

First, there was the threat of nationalism and militarism. While Russia’s economic reformers despaired at the damage done by the Crimea annexation and the resulting sanctions, Putin could not be seen by hardliners in the military and security services to be the president who had failed to undermine the Ukrainian state when he had the chance. Second, the Kremlin was concerned about Yanukovych’s political party. Despite being confused and politically heterogenous, it was embraced by a vast majority of the Ukrainian population. The Kremlin has always viewed active civil society and mass popular actions as threats to be contained with force. Recent times have seen it respond to it in Kazakhstan (this yea) and Belarus (2020). Third, it was feared that such social movements might echo in Russia. This was an opportunity for flag-waving to express concern. social control.

Between 2014 and 2021, the war in eastern Ukraine — between Russian forces and the “republics” on one side, and Ukraine on the other — claimed 14,000 lives. The living nightmare inside the “republics” strikes a contrast with Kremlin narratives of “liberation.” Independent media, civil society activity and trade unionism have been crushed. Torture and forced labor in prisons enforce arbitrary law. Half of the prewar population fled and has been expelled. economy of the area, once Ukraine’s industrial heartland, has been trashed.

While the U.S. imperial power and European imperial power combine military and economic power, Russian imperialism uses military power to counter its economic weakness. The use of troops to support the Lukashenko dictatorship in Belarus against social unrest in 2020 was a step toward this year’s war in Ukraine. Recognition on February 21 of the Donetsk and Luhansk “republics,” previously treated by Russia legally as areas of Ukraine, was the final trigger.

Since 2014, Putin has claimed that Russia’s military activity is necessitated not only by an (exaggerated) specter of Nazism in Ukraine — as though Russia doesn’t have a thriving fascist movement itself — but also by the threat to Russia posed by NATO expansion. This narrative is attractive politically to Western nations that see imperialism as a unipolar phenomenon, centered in the U.S. problematicYou can do it in two ways.

Politically, it diverts attention from the Kremlin’s responsibility for this war of aggression, which it has waged not so much against the Ukrainian state as against its civilian population. Analytically, it one-sidedly attributes the war’s causes to the U.S. military complex, rather than situating it in the broader crisis of 21st century capitalism. This crisis is what shattered the 1990s hopes of Mikhail Gorbachev (the last Soviet leader) and many social democrats that Russia would be integrated into the European Union as a democratic partner. It is this very crisis that also favored the rapacious capitalism upon which Kremlin autoritarianism rests. This was what led to the social unrest that occurred in Russia and Ukraine in 2010 that became the backdrop for the 2014 war.

The 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union remade economic relations. The implosion of the autarchic, state-directed economy — and the worst-ever peacetime slump that followed in both Russia and Ukraine in the early 1990s — presented Western capital with huge opportunities to access, above all, raw material supplies and consumer markets.

The Russian state was at its weakest so Western capital did not seek direct ownership of oil, natural gas, and minerals. Instead, it facilitated their transfer into emerging domestic business groups. In the 1990s, capital flew from both Russia, and Ukraine to offshore tax havens. In both countries, working people’s living standards were devastated by hyperinflation and the social crisis ruined health. Russia’s life expectancy was lower than that of developed countries in the 1960s. In the 1990s, it was 15 to 19 years for men and 7-12 years for women. Russia’s grain harvest fell by half between 1993 and 1998.

As Russian imperial power in Soviet form disappeared from eastern Europe, NATO indeed expanded — first to the Baltic states and then to the seven countries that acceded in 2004. The causality was just as western imperialist as it was east European. While, to American eyes, the U.S.’s ever-longer reach is striking, this process looked different to some east Europeans. With the exception of NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, many had historical memories of being invaded not by the U.S. but by Russia — and in the Baltics’ case, of being forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union under a secret deal between Stalin and Hitler.

Putin, the Russian president, established strong Russian state power when he was elected in 2000. First, he launched the bloody second war in Chechnya. Then, a crackdown on business groups led to them having to pay more tax. This model of skillful statecraft and state-business partnership, supported by the commodity price boom of 2001-08, underpinned the new Russian imperialism with the state’s finances back on a strong foundation of oil dollars, government centralized and business leaders’ wings clipped by arrests and confiscations, Putin could go to the Munich summit in 2008 and rail against the idea of a “unipolar world.”

The west responded not with NATO expansion (in 18 years since 2004, four Balkan countries were admitted), but by initially treating Russia as a necessary but potentially dangerous partner.

For all their disavowals of “spheres of influence,” Western powers not only ignored Russia’s multiple war crimes in Chechnya, but acquiesced in the invasion of Georgia in 2008 and, most significantly, Russia’s bloody intervention in support of the Assad dictatorship in Syria since 2015. This tolerance for Russia as a gendarme was the other side of the coin of the Western powers’ own military adventures in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, and their support for the Saudi-led war on Yemen.

The tolerance went only so far. The 2014 annexation and subsequent Western sanctions imposed restrictions on the flow of money to Russian companies but left unaffected the exports of oil, metals, and gas. Perhaps Russian intervention in Donetsk, and Luhansk simultaneously could have been concealed under the veil that hypocrisy covers Saudi crimes in Yemen and Turkish crimes against Kurdistan. However, the blatant violation by Ukraine of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum that allowed it to give up its nuclear weapons prompted a response.

The uneasy balance between the west and Russia, disrupted in 2014, has been finally blown apart by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the far-reaching Western response.

The well-publicized (and in the U.K.’s case, incomplete) sanctions on Russian business leaders are only part of it. The sanctions on Russia’s central bank are more severe as they prevent Moscow from obtaining its own money and make default almost unavoidable. Also significant is the withdrawal from Russia of major Western oil companies — BP, Shell, Equinor and ExxonMobil — which have written off billions of dollars. (Halliburton, Schlumberger & Baker Hughes have not complied.

The 180-degree turn in German policy, implied by supplying Ukraine with arms and freezing Russia’s treasured Nord Stream II gas pipeline project, is significant. To reduce Russia’s dependence on European energy, the European energy policy is being rewritten. This opens up new assumptions about climate policies that could be long-term positive or negative.

Russia seems to have been cut loose from the decision-making centers in Western Europe. It is now in danger of becoming an impoverished wasteland, heavily dependent on China.

Long-term, the world will be drastically different for labor and social movements in Europe. In the short term, all our efforts should be directed at supporting Ukrainian people — both those who are resisting the invasion, and the millions who have fled across the border — and the antiwar movement in Russia.