British capitalism and the British state are deeply involved in the crisis that is evolving in Russia and Ukraine at three different levels, all of which present challenges and opportunities for socialists in the UK in extending solidarity to those resisting war and struggling for progressive change in both countries.
The first level relates to the role that the UK has taken in shaping and supporting the kind of capitalism that has emerged in both Russia and Ukraine over the last two decades and in particular the links between the City of London and the ruling elites who have systematically looted those countries – not excluding Vladimir Putin himself, who is reliably reported to be one of the two or three richest people in Europe. Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs have become effectively de-territorialised; their money is held in British banks, their disputes are settled in British courts, their children are educated in British schools and they own British apartments and football teams.
The territories of Russia and Ukraine have simply become areas for looting and extraction and again multinational capital is central to that process with the UK to the forefront; oil, gas and minerals in Russia, agri-business in Ukraine. Any progressive social change in Eastern Europe will involve confronting the link between the ruling groups in the region and international financial capital and the role of Britain is central to this.
The second level is concerned with the European Union. The weakness of Ukrainian capital and the parasitic nature of both contending groupings within the political system have left the Ukrainian economy devastated; characterised by low productivity and investment, a small tax base and a looming demographic crisis. The austerity programmes currently being planned by the IMF and the EU are likely to be even more severe than those we have seen in the last few years in Southern Europe. Socialists in Britain need to stand with those who joined the Euromaidan protests in support of equality and justice against any attempt to use austerity policies to force Ukraine into a core-periphery relationship with Western Europe
Thirdly, the role of NATO and the questions of international `security’ and power politics cannot be forgotten. Britain, through its military alliance with the US, has been instrumental in pushing for the expansion of NATO to the East since 1989. Now, more than ever, it is clear that this process is incompatible with allowing the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe freely to decide their future and to live securely in peace. The dissolution of NATO and its replacement by relationship of mutual respect and equality is a necessity for any just solution to the difficulties of the region.
What is currently happening in Ukraine and the involvement of Britain shines a sharp light on the fundamental nature of the British state. The role of the City of London, the integration of British capital within the structures of the EU and the alliance with the US in NATO are all fundamental pillars of British capitalism. And it is the responsibility of British socialists to challenge each of these in order to help those in struggle both in Moscow and Kiev.