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It’s not progressive to label pacifists ‘Putin stooges’

Engler: We need to challenge leftists supporting NATO’s dangerous escalation in Ukraine

Canadian PoliticsEuropeWar ZonesUSA Politics

Street art depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin displayed at Filatorigát, a legal graffiti wall in Budapest. Photo courtesy Hungary Today.

Promoting a proxy war with Russia isn’t progressive. It’s time to challenge leftists supporting NATO’s dangerous escalation in Ukraine.

Last week two protesters interrupted a town hall hosted by Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ to denounce her support for Washington’s proxy conflict with Russia. “You voted to send arms and weapons to Ukraine,” yelled activist Jose Vega. “You’re voting to start a third [world war or] nuclear war with Russia and China.” The three-minute video has have seven million views on Twitter and received significant media attention. It has hopefully rattled AOC’s followers and emboldened others to challenge progressives backing the proxy war.

In the wake of Russia’s February 24 invasion, many North American leftists and liberals have effectively aligned with NATO and the military industrial complex. NDP Foreign Affairs Critic Heather McPherson supports sending more weapons to fight Russia and opposes negotiations. When it recently came to light that the new premier of Alberta, Danielle Smith, opposed NATO expansion and called for negotiations with Putin, McPherson denounced her. She said Smith “doesn’t stand with Ukraine” and “thinks Ukrainians should just submit to Russia’s illegal, genocidal invasion.” For his part, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh quote tweeted McPherson and added that federal Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre had failed to “condemn her dangerous words.”

A number of liberals panicked recently after Nora Loreto tweeted, “What do Ukrainians want from the international community? More weapons, more long-range weapons, air defence systems and long-range weapons. Yeah, that’s a recipe to end war.”

Adding to the hysteria, journalist Max Fawcett labeled pacifists Putin stooges. After it was pointed out that former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson scuttled a developing peace accord between Kyiv and Moscow in April, the National Observer’s lead columnist declared, “Yes. Things have changed since April, in case that wasn’t clear. And Ukraine isn’t interested in ending this conflict. In this situation, pacifists are just carrying water for Vladimir Putin. Support Ukraine instead.”

Fawcett’s either-or, Manichean attitude could be justifiable in Ukraine, but Canada is 7,000 kilometres from the fighting and not officially a party to the conflict. Liberal proxy war supporters often act as if Canada is at war while failing to admit as much. Canada’s de facto war footing—sending special forces to Ukraine, encouraging former soldiers to fight, providing intelligence assistance—suggests the war is between NATO and Russia, not simply Ukraine and Russia.

Since February 24 the US has provided $17.6 billion in military assistance to Ukraine, while Canada has poured in $700 million. Billions more in arms have flowed from European countries. Is it “carrying water for Putin” to support a fraction of those amounts?

Loreto’s tweet could be interpreted as saying weapons donations were justified initially but that more shipments will prolong the fighting and increase the odds of a dangerous escalation. Is it “carrying water for Putin” to say the shipments can’t go on forever?

The Ukrainians have asked for far more military assistance than they have received (no fly zone, fighter jets, longer-range missiles, preventative strikes). Is opposing those requests “carrying water for Putin”? If so, US President Joe Biden is doing so.

It is also helpful to look at the issue through a non-Western lens. Many countries like India, Brazil, Mexico, Turkey, Indonesia, and numerous African states have remained largely non-committal throughout the conflict.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is illegal and brutal, but Ottawa played a role in provoking it by pushing to expand NATO, helping to overthrow elected President Viktor Yanukovich in 2014, by participating in a military training mission that undermined the Minsk II peace accord. For seven years Canada engaged in a low-level proxy war with Russia which Moscow drastically expanded on February 24. Rather than peace in Ukraine, Ottawa is prioritizing weakening Russia.

Asked a week ago how the government sees this war ending, Defence Minister Anita Anand refused to even mention negotiations or a peace accord. “I am focused on continuing to provide Ukraine with the military aid and equipment that it needs to fight and win this war. That has to be my focus as the minister of national defence.”

Commentators and politicians who oppose negotiations while denying the geopolitical and economic forces driving Canadian policy are carrying water for the military industrial complex and an aggressive NATO military alliance. Born in a bid to crush the Western European left, prop up European colonial rule and bring it under Washington’s geopolitical umbrella, NATO has launched wars in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Libya.

Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and the North American arms industry have long been the chief beneficiaries of NATO expansion. The war in Ukraine has been a boon to both Canadian subsidiaries of top US weapons makers and homegrown Canadian military suppliers such as Bombardier and CAE. Canadian generals are also pushing industry to go on “war footing” while representatives from Global Affairs Canada are speaking at forums promoting “defence sector opportunities” in Ukraine.

Resistance is essential. Three weeks ago, 150 people marched against NATO expansion in Montréal. Last Friday I interrupted a press conference hosted by Minister of Canadian Heritage Pablo Rodriguez to ask about the proxy war and why Ottawa never calls for negotiations. Meanwhile, activist and doctoral student Tamara Lorincz confronted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Waterloo about why Canada is prolonging an environmentally destructive war in Ukraine.

At the moment the anti-war and anti-imperialist movement is not in a position to bring large numbers into the street. But we should at least be challenging politicians where we can and chipping away at progressives supporting the continuation of this horrible war.

Yves Engler has been dubbed “one of the most important voices on the Canadian Left today” (Briarpatch), “in the mould of I.F. Stone” (Globe and Mail), and “part of that rare but growing group of social critics unafraid to confront Canada’s self-satisfied myths” (Quill & Quire). He has published nine books.

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