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

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

Last week two protesters interrupted Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ town hall to denounce her support for Washington’s proxy conflict with Russia. “You voted to send arms and weapons to Ukraine,” yelled Jose Varga. “You’re voting to start a third [world war or] nuclear war with Russia and China”. The three-minute video has 7.6 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.

Many North American leftists and liberals have 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 on Ukraine, 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.”

Reflecting the hysteria, Max Fawcett labeled pacifists Putin stooges. After it was pointed out that former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson scuttled a developing Kiyv-Moscow peace accord in April, the lead columnist for the supposedly progressive National Observer 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, good/bad, attitude could be justifiable in Ukraine, but Canada is 7000 km from the fighting and not officially at war. Liberal proxy war supporters often act as if Canada is at war while failing to admit as much. Canada’s de facto war footing – special forces in Ukraine, encouraging former soldiers to fight, intelligence assistance, etc. – suggests the war is between NATO and Russia, not simply Ukraine–Russia.

There’s another tension with what Fawcett and other progressive proxy war proponents argue. They take a hard-line on a subjective, state determined, quantity of military assistance.

Since February 24 the US has donated $17.6 billion in military assistance to Ukraine while Canada has given $700 million and billions of dollars more in arms have flowed from European countries. Is it “carrying water for Putin” to support half those amounts?

In fact, 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’ve received (no fly zone, fighter jets, longer-range missiles, preventative strikes, etc.). Is opposing those requests “carrying water for Putin”? If so, US President Joe Biden is doing so.

It’s also helpful to look at the issue from outside the US/Canada/NATO bubble. Are Bolivians opposed to their government donating weapons “carrying water for Putin”? How about Indonesians? If not, why not? If so, then most people and governments are “carrying water for Putin”.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is illegal and brutal, but Ottawa helped provoke it by pushing to expand NATO, helping overthrow elected President Viktor Yanukovich in 2014 and through 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 does your government see this war ending?” Defence Minister Anita Anand refused to even mention negotiations or a peace accord. “You know, Nil,” she said, “I am focussed 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 arms industry forces driving 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 US arms companies’ Canadian subsidiaries and homegrown Canadian military suppliers such as Bombardier and CAE. The military is pushing industry to go on “war footing” and Global Affairs Canada representatives are speaking at forums promoting “Defence sector opportunities” in Ukraine.

Resistance is essential. Three weeks ago, 150 marched against NATO in Montréal. Last Friday I interrupted Minister Pablo Rodriguez’ press conference in Montréal to ask about their proxy war and why Ottawa never calls for negotiations while activist Tamara Lorincz protested Justin Trudeau in Waterloo about why “Canada is prolonging environmentally destructive war in Ukraine.”

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

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