T.O. Weekly 54: Reports from Our Correspondents in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus on Two Weeks of War
The ORGANIZER Weekly Newsletter
Special Supplement — March 9, 2022
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IN THIS DOSSIER
• Reports from Our Correspondents in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus on the FIRST WEEK Following the Russian Invasion of Ukraine (Feb. 25 to March 2, 2022)
– With the Ukrainian People as the Bombs Fall
– Russia: By the Thousands, the People Demand, “No to the War!”
– Russia, Belarus: Labor Activists Speak Out Against the War
• REPORTS from Our Correspondents in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus on the SECOND WEEK following the Russian Invasion of Ukraine (March 2 to March 9, 2022)
– Russia: The Regime Is Unable to Stop the Antiwar Wave
– Ukraine: The People Face the Russian Army: “Damoi!” (Go Home!)
– Russia: 13,500 protesters arrested
– The repression is unleashed
– The crisis of the regime is growing
– First strike against the collapse of living standards
– March 6 again in tens of thousands
– “Our enemy is not in Kiev or Odessa but in Moscow!”
– Among the Victims of the Repression: Irina Shumilova, Vera Kotova, and Andrei Rudoi
• MESSAGE from 957 Students in Hong Kong: “NO to Putin’s Military Aggression and NO to NATO!”
• Statement on Ukraine by Nambiath Vasudevan, Co-coordinator of the IWC: “This War Is Disastrous for the Working Class.”
• Statement by Labor Fightback Network (excerpts) on War in Ukraine
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• REPORTS from Our Correspondents in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus on the FIRST WEEK following the Russian invasion of Ukraine (Feb. 25 to March 1, 2022)
[The following articles and interviews are reprinted from Issue No. 329 – March 2, 2022 – of Tribune des Travailleurs / Workers Tribune, the weekly newspaper of the Democratic Independent Workers Party of France.]
With the Ukrainian People as the Bombs Fall
– A curfew has been declared until Monday [February 28] and no one is allowed to go out. A provocation is being prepared with the bombing of residential areas. Yesterday, 28,000 machine guns and grenade launchers were distributed to anyone who wanted them in Kiev alone. It seems that Kiev will be completely surrounded tomorrow” (report from a worker activist, Kiev, Saturday 26 February).
– Yesterday around 5:30 p.m. a shell fell on the nearby neighborhood, and since then I can’t sleep. My daughter (10 years old), it’s even worse: this generation has not been, like us, given films on the Great Patriotic War [World War II – ed.], so it is difficult for them to understand. There is no transportation, it is almost impossible to get out of Kiev because of the fighting all around. For the moment, most people in the neighborhood have hardly left the cellars and metro stations” (a young mother, Kiev, Sunday, February 27).
– Many videos are circulating showing Russian soldiers being taken prisoner. These conscripts – often born between 2002 and 2000 – sometimes break down in tears and say they were sent to Ukraine by force. For many of us (Ukrainians), these videos have changed our perspective: they too are victims. It is not they who are at fault, but their commanders who send them to the slaughterhouse!” (on the social network Vkontakte, Sunday, February 27).
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Russia: By the Thousands, the People Demand, “No to the War!”
On February 28 around noon, the Russian democratic rights website OVD-Info published the list of 5,930 Russian citizens arrested since February 24, during anti-war protests. This is a figure that reflects the brutality of the repression, but especially the scale of the demonstrations.
On Thursday, February 24, Russia woke up to war. One of our correspondents explains: “From February 24, there were individual protest pickets and demonstrations against the war in at least 60 cities. OVD-Info reports that more than 1,830 arrests were made by the 24th: more than 1,000 in Moscow and nearly 450 in St. Petersburg. In a largely spontaneous movement, thousands of Russians took to the streets chanting simply “No to war!”. The demonstrations continued, including Sunday, February 27 at 4 p.m. in the center of all cities.
Despite the outburst of the Kremlin’s “patriotic” propaganda, thousands of individual or collective initiatives appeared, like these handwritten placards from a group of women. They read: “Our soldiers must come home. If we all take a stand against the war, they will come back alive. No to war!”; “The country’s money must go to science, health and life, not to war and grandfather’s ambitions. No to war!”; “Those who are sure of their right do not silence their opponents. The truncheons and censorship are the admission of the lies of the powers. No to war”; “Your neighbor is for war with Ukrainians? Don’t break the dialogue: convince him or her otherwise. No to war!”; “Are you against war? I’m against the war too! Let’s talk about it everywhere: in the elevator, on Instagram, etc. No to war!”
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Russia, Belarus: Labor Activists Speak Out Against the War
– A labor activist:
“The crimes of some cannot justify the crimes of others: in the Donbass, in Kiev, in Moscow and elsewhere. It is necessary to pose the problem of ending the root cause of the war: class inequality and exploitation of the working majority by the rich minority. At present, each of the conflicting parties is holding the nations hostage, speaking and killing in their name. We have a duty to put an end to this once and for all.
– A political activist speaking as a socialist, after Putin announced that he had “unsealed the nuclear briefcase”: “Does this mad dictator want to take the whole world to his grave? Do you, gentlemen of the police, the FSB (secret police) and other loyal servants of the regime, have any idea of the danger for all of us? In the face of economic and military disaster, you and your families will find yourselves in the same boat as us.”
– A teacher unionist responds to the Kremlin’s propaganda claiming that Putin’s war is aimed at “Ukrainian fascists and Nazis.” “Yes, the Ukrainian regime is reactionary, nationalistic and anti-communist. And the Russian regime? What about Putin and his public admiration for the pro-Nazi “philosopher” Ivan Ilin, and what about the State helping to develop Cossack units (especially in southern Russia), the ‘Orthodox Brigades’, who are recruited from the circles of neo-Nazi soccer fans.”
– In Belarus, whose regime is allied with Putin, a labor activist says: “Unfortunately, Belarus is involved in these events. A terrible tragedy is unfolding on our doorstep. … Today, the real class position, the only one in the interest of all the suffering peoples of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus, is a clear anti-war platform: immediate cessation of hostilities! For peace “without annexations and conquests”! The continuation of the war, under any pretext, leads us every day a little more towards terrible consequences, which can become irreversible. No to war! Peace between peoples!”
Bringing together many independent trade unions, the Confederation of Labor of Russia (KTR), “convinced that conflicts must be resolved through negotiations,” in accordance with “the secular anti-war positions of the labor movement,” noting “that it is the workers (of Ukraine and Russia) who will bear the brunt of the military conflict directly,” calls for “the cessation of fighting as soon as possible, the resumption of peaceful dialogue and coexistence between the multinational peoples of Russia and Ukraine.”
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• REPORTS from Our Correspondents in Russia on the SECOND WEEK of the War (Feb. 25 to March 2, 2022)
RUSSIA: The Regime Is Unable to Stop the Antiwar Wave
(from our correspondents in Russia, reprinted from Tribune des Travailleurs / Workers Tribune, March 9, 2022)
Ukraine: The People Face the Russian Army: “Damoi!” (Go Home!)
In Ukraine, the Russian army is bombing Kharkov, Marioupol … but it is not advancing as fast as the Kremlin had planned. At the entrance to Energodar (Zaporizhia region) Russian tanks even had to retreat on March 2 when confronted with several thousand inhabitants. Similar scenes are repeated in the occupied cities: hundreds, sometimes thousands of Ukrainians are shouting out to the occupier (in Russian) “Damoi!” (go home!).
The young Russian conscripts are unsettled: They were told they were going to fight “Nazis,” but they find themselves facing Ukrainian civilians, often Russian-speaking, who look like their parents and relatives. In Berdiansk (Mariupol region), on March 1, soldiers and residents are face to face: “Why are you here?” the crowd asks. A soldier stammers: “To bring peace!” A woman replies in Russian: “We had peace without you. Look: I speak Russian, no one humiliated me for that!”
Russia: 13,500 protesters arrested
The images from the war zone fuel the powerful movement of opposition to the war in Russia, which arose spontaneously beginning on February 24, the first day of the war. The Russian website OVD-Info, which records acts of repression, indicates that since February 24, more than 13,500 demonstrators against the war have been arrested. This means that probably 40 or 50 times as many citizens have demonstrated against the war … in a country where participating in an unauthorized demonstration can lead to prison.
The repression is unleashed
On March 3, the Russian Attorney General’s office declared that participation in demonstrations was “extremism” punishable by heavy fines and up to six years in prison.
On March 3 and 4, the Duma (parliament) adopted amendments to the Criminal Code that increased the penalties for those accused of “spreading false information about the armed forces,” raising the prison term to 15 years. The regime banned the use of the word “war” and referred to it as a “special operation.” During the night of March 4-5, hundreds of police searches were carried out.
The crisis of the regime is growing
But the brutality of the repressive measures only reflects the panic at the top of the regime in the face of an increasingly massive mobilization that it does not control. It’s a regime in crisis: Its social base, the main oligarchs – who have lost several hundred billion dollars in the last week – are beginning to speak out. Oleg Deripaska, the head of Rusal (aluminium), has gone the furthest by calling into question “state capitalism,” i.e., the Kremlin. Among the leading oligarchs who have criticized the regime is the boss of Lukoil (oil) and Alfa Group (oil, gas, banking, insurance).
First strike against the collapse of living standards
The consequences of the sanctions and the fall of the ruble, leading to the collapse of the purchasing power of the masses, began to provoke reactions in the working class. In the GEMONT oil factory in Nizhnekamensk (Tatarstan) on March5, several hundred Turkish workers went on strike for payment of wage arrears. The Putin regime is forced to use the stick and the carrot. On March 6, the RIA Novosti agency announced a new Putin law confiscating the bank accounts of senior officials if the amount exceeds three years of their income. The regime has to make working people, who are affected by imperialist sanctions and soaring prices, believe that it is also targeting the rich.
March 6 again in tens of thousands
But neither the repression, nor the unleashing of “patriotic” propaganda, nor the demagogic announcements are stopping the movement. On Sunday, March 6, new massive demonstrations against the war took place in 100 cities all over Russia. OVD-Info reports that the police made 5,020 arrests in 69 cities on that day alone. In St. Petersburg, the arrested and beaten young demonstrators are taking pictures of themselves doing the V sign of victory in the “salad baskets” [police wagons]. In Kazan (Tatarstan), demonstrators chanted “No to war! Our children are not cannon fodder!” According to the polling institutes, although controlled by the regime (VTSIOM, FOM), half of the respondents under 30 years are opposed to the war.
“Our enemy is not in Kiev or Odessa but in Moscow!”
Antiwar initiatives are multiplying, such as an appeal by 5,000 teachers against the war. Or this initiative by 300 leaders of the Communist Party and the Komsomols (Communist Youth) against the pro-war position of their party*. “Several hundred of us are threatened with expulsions,” said a regional Komsomol leader in a Siberian city. Finally, let us quote the manifesto of the “Coalition of Socialists Against the War,” which concludes as follows: “Our enemy is not in Kiev or Odessa but in Moscow. It is time to get rid of them. The war, that is not Russia. The war is Putin and his regime. That is why we, socialists and communists, are against this criminal war. We must stop it to save Russia. No to intervention! No to dictatorship! No to misery!”
* Zyuganov, leader of the “Communist” Party and staunch supporter of Putin’s war, took part on March 5 in Red Square in Moscow in a fully authorized demonstration in honor of the 69th anniversary of Stalin’s death!
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Among the Victims of the Repression
• On March 5 in Kostroma, Irina Shumilova, was arrested for holding up this sign: “This special operation war is financed by our taxes, but in order to pay for the hospitalization of our children, we have to appeal to charity.” She was fined 30,000 rubles (250 euros, one month’s average salary in many parts of Russia).
• On March 6 in Krasnoyarsk (Central Siberia), demonstrator Vera Kotova was arrested, accused of writing “Down with War!” in the snow in front of the statue of Lenin during the rally.
• On March 7 in Dzerzhinsk (a suburb of Nizhny Novgorod), Andrei Rudoi, an activist of the Union of Marxists and former president of the Russian Teachers’ Union, was arrested on the basis of an “anonymous complaint” accusing him of “spreading hatred, carrying out extremist actions and gathering elements of the radical left.”
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Soldiers’ Mothers Confront the Governor
An exchange widely circulated on video on social networks, shows the governor of Kemerovo (Siberian industrial region of Kuzbass) facing off with mothers of soldiers.
One mother: “You are taking our children to be used for cannon fodder!”
Another: “Why did you send them there? They are kids barely 20 years old!”
Another: “And you, where is your son?”
The governor, embarrassed: “… My son is at the university…”
A mother gets indignant: “At the university!”
The governor: “It’s a ‘special operation’… we used them…”
A mother cuts him off: “You used our children! You used them!”
The governor, unsettled: “This will all be over soon … we have to stop talking about it.”
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ALSO IN THIS DOSSIER:
957 Hong Kong University Students Have Publicly Signed a Declaration Against the War
“NO to Putin’s Military Aggression and NO to NATO!”
“We oppose not only Putin’s military aggression, but also NATO, which led to the crisis in Ukraine; we stand in solidarity with the thousands of anti-war protesters in Russia. … Between Great Russian chauvinism and NATO’s expansionist ambitions, the Ukrainian people and oppressed ethnic minorities are paying the price for the failure of negotiations between the two populist governments.
The Soviet Republic established by Russia after the October Revolution of 1917 called for the establishment of a voluntary alliance between nations. Ukraine, long oppressed by imperial Russia, was then liberated and allowed self-determination.
However, under the Stalinist dictatorship, Ukraine fell into the hands of fascism and imperialism.
In the current post-Soviet era, Ukraine is still a battleground for Putin’s imperial Russia and NATO forces. Neither collusion with Russia nor trust in the Western powers can provide a way out of this predicament. Ukraine should never be a pawn in the challenge of the great powers. We therefore strongly support the self-determination of the Ukrainian people. … We stand with all the oppressed in the world.”
— Signed: A group of students from Hong Kong universities
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NAMBIATH VASUDEVAN (IWC – Mumia, India) SPEAKS OUT
The IWC Has Been Consistent on the Stand that, “This War Is Disastrous for the Working Class.”
[Note: Following are excerpts from a Feb. 26 statement by Nambiath Vasudevan, co-coordinator, based in Mumbai, India, of the International Workers Committee Against War and Exploitation, For a Workers International (IWC). The full statement is printed in Issue no. 207 of the IWC Weekly Newsletter.]
This war is disastrous for the working class. The war that is now taking place in Ukraine will lead to an increase of the price of goods and especially of fuel. That will increase the prices of cooking gas for the common person; the prices of petrol and oil are already very high. … In India, at the moment there is a freeze on petrol and diesel prices because of elections due in March, and once the elections are over, it is feared that because of the war in Ukraine, the prices of those items will go beyond any reasonable imagination.
The workers of Russia and the workers in Ukraine will suffer as the workers of any other part of the world. The common situation in Russia or in Ukraine or in France, or in USA, or in India, is that working people have nothing to gain from this war. Only the ruling class will benefit.
In this particular war, the situation in India is complex. The government of India has not taken an open stand against Russia because India buys a lot of armaments from Russia. So there is a tacit understanding. …
We should struggle to build a very wide working-class unity, establish a class position in our respective countries. If that is understood, and we stand together, workers will fight together, and that will become a reality.
The workers have common interests, and they must stand together, irrespective of the continent or the country. We must work towards that.
We have always opposed war as it benefits only exploiters. The common interests of the working people in all country remain the same: better life, better health, steady prices and availability of necessary commodities.
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LABOR FIGHTBACK NETWORK STATEMENT ON THE WAR IN UKRAINE
(EXCERPTS — March 8, 2022)
On Sunday, March 6, thousands of activists gathered in the streets across the United States — and across the globe – in response to the call for an antiwar March 6 Global Day of Action by an international coalition initiated by Stop the War Coalition (UK), the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and the No to NATO network.
Following in the best traditions of the U.S. antiwar movements, we believe that it is necessary to build a united, independent mass-action-oriented movement in the streets around a few key principled “OUT NOW!” demands.
All antiwar activists, however, are not in agreement with what our demands should be. The movement is divided, as could be seen on March 6, where one national coalition held a webinar that excluded the demand to withdraw Russian troops, while another held a protest in the streets on the basis of the demands of the March 6 Global Day of Action coalition.
In our view, the best and most concise united-front demands to raise in the United States at this moment are the following:
• Russian Troops Out of Ukraine!
• U.S./NATO Troops Out of Europe!
• No Sanctions!
• $Billions for Jobs, Education and Healthcare, Not War!
The demand for Russian troops to withdraw from Ukraine is the most urgent one at this time.
The war is escalating and could soon engulf other countries neighboring Russia. Thousands of Ukrainian civilians have been killed. More than 2 million have become refugees in Poland and elsewhere. Also, as we witnessed with the missile strike that hit the Zaporishzhia nuclear power plant, the largest such plant in Europe, an errant bomb or missile could strike any one of Ukraine’s five other nuclear power plants, unleashing a massive radioactive fallout that could dwarf the fallout from Chernobyl.
At the same time, more than 4,000 Russian antiwar protesters have been jailed and face up to 15 years in jail for daring to denounce Putin’s war in Ukraine. The Labor Fightback Network stands in solidarity with their struggle to withdraw Russian troops from Ukraine.
We oppose the call to create a “No Fly Zone” over Ukraine. This would only escalate the war; it could even lead to a nuclear confrontation if a NATO force were to shoot down a Russian plane. It would make any peaceful settlement more difficult, even impossible.
We also oppose the call for sanctions against Russia, as the only ones who will suffer are the people of Russia. Sanctions can only lead to mass hunger and even starvation.
The demand of “U.S./NATO Troops Out of Europe!”  cannot be separated from the demand to withdraw Russian troops from Ukraine. Failure to couple these two demands inexorably leads to either adaptation to Putin (by failing to call for the withdrawal of Russian troops) or adaptation to the U.S. government and its allies (by failing to denounce the U.S./NATO role in helping to instigate the war in Ukraine). Both demands must be raised in tandem.
A variation on the second demand (concerning NATO) is one that is principled but fails to address the fundamental problem — that is, the very existence of NATO as a war machine against all the peoples in the region. We are referring to the demand to “Stop NATO Expansion,” which was the second main demand of the March 6 Global Day of Action.
We prefer the demand raised by the International Committee of DSA, which calls for the “U.S. [to] Withdraw from NATO!” This formulation points to the need to dismantle NATO, which has long been a tool of U.S. imperialist expansionism in Eastern Europe and which set the stage for the current war in Ukraine.
Organizing the Fight in the Labor Movement Against the War in Ukraine
We were heartened to read a statement issued in mid-February (that is, prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine) by founders and leaders of what had been U.S. Labor Against the War. They wrote:
“We oppose the bellicose behavior of the U.S. government regarding the crisis in Ukraine. We condemn U.S. provocative rhetoric and preparations for yet another war. We condemn the destabilizing policies the U.S. has pursued that have contributed to the crisis, in this case especially the steady expansion of NATO eastward toward Russia.”
“The American people don’t want another war. The Ukrainian people don’t want a war. The Russian people don’t want war. …
“The U.S. military-industrial complex has an insatiable appetite for war and the threat and preparation for war. Despite having just ended its ‘forever war’ in Afghanistan, the U.S. is increasing its military budget for the coming year to an astounding $778 billion. We must not allow Congress to once again squander hundreds of billions of dollars in military spending, money that is urgently needed to meet the needs of the American People.”
Such an internationalist stance is in sharp contrast to the statement issued on February 25 by AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler – a statement that echoed the declarations by Biden and the U.S. State Department. There was not a word about the U.S. role in the war.
Shuler stated: “The AFL-CIO joins with unions from around the world in standing in solidarity with our union partners in Ukraine. We demand an immediate withdrawal of Russian troops and a commitment to political and diplomatic solutions to the crisis that will cause needless suffering and hardship for people throughout the country.”
To denounce Russia while remaining silent on the U.S. government’s role in creating and escalating this conflict is simply to join the camp of the warmakers; it’s to fail to recognize the responsibility of U.S. labor to demand peace in defense of the interests of all workers throughout the world.
 The demand for the U.S. to withdraw from NATO (or for the U.S. and NATO to get out of Europe) focuses our demands against our own government, whose role in Ukraine has been criminal.
In early November 2021, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed a strategic partnership charter with Ukraine, which recognizes the objective of “full integration into European and Euro-Atlantic institutions.”
It is no secret that the last wave of “eastward enlargement” of the European Union (the Baltic States, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary in 2004, then Romania and Bulgaria in 2007) was followed immediately by all of those countries joining NATO, surrounding Russia’s western borders with a belt of U.S. military bases.
U.S. President Joe Biden was well aware that Ukraine joining NATO was, for Russia, a line not to be crossed. He was aware that Putin — just like previous Russian leaders — was adamant that the United States and NATO must respect the security-assurance pledge made to Mikhail Gorbachev by then U.S. Secretary of State James Baker that “NATO would not expand one inch to the east.”
Renowned foreign correspondent Jonathan Power, drawing on recently declassified documents as well as interviews that he conducted with former Soviet leaders, published an article in InDepthNews (IDN) that confirms this pledge to Gorbachev. On July 15, 1990, then U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and then National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski made repeated commitments to Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would not expand “one inch” to the east in exchange for Gorbachev allowing German reunification. No NATO forces were to be stationed in what had been East Germany or any other former Warsaw Pact country.
This pledge was confirmed by then U.S. Ambassador to Moscow Jack Matlock and British Foreign Secretary Joseph Hird. President Bill Clinton reneged on this pledge, as did Bush and Obama. (source: Jonathan Power, “Rolling Back on NATOs Expansion Should Be President Biden’s Immediate Task,” IDN, May 30, 2021)
The U.S. foreign policymakers set a trap for Putin — and Putin stepped right into it. Having said this, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is entirely reactionary; it is but the continuity of the age-old “Great Russian” chauvinism against Ukraine. Russia has every right to be concerned by the existential threat presented by a possible NATO encroachment on its border. However, invading Ukraine is not a legitimate solution.
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