I support Ukraine’s side in its fight against Russian aggression, though this support comes with serious reservations. Keep reading to find out what those reservations are.
It’s hard being a leftist who’s critical of Ukraine but doesn’t support Vladimir Putin’s chauvinistic, revanchist, far-right, corrupt, brutally repressive, capitalist, neoconservative regime. It’s especially hard when you’re critical of Ukraine and Volodymyr Zelensky’s government but also want them to receive military support to quash Putin’s ambitions to reconquer former Soviet states, since most “Ukraine-critical” leftists would rather withdraw aid and push for a peace settlement.
Some on the left—the tankies—support Russia’s invasion as a form of resistance against the imperialist NATO powers. Others—typically pacifists and Trotskyists—want a peace deal to be brokered immediately. Others promote a solidly pro-Kiev* position, advocating the use of more and more sophisticated arms for Zelensky’s forces. I fall into none of those groups. My position is complicated: I am an enthusiastic supporter of ordinary Ukrainian people who are suffering because of the Kremlin’s attacks, but I have harsh criticisms of the government and ultranationalists who use justified anger at Russia to promote regressive policies and justify neo-fascist elements within the Ukrainian armed forces. Regardless, Putin must be driven out of Ukraine for national-security and humanitarian reasons alike.
Of course, it’s hard to know the whole story if you can’t see everything on the ground. But I think I’ve read enough to have an informed opinion.
*A note on nomenclature—I use Russian names for predominantly Russian-speaking areas and cities (e.g., Kiev, Odessa, Kharkov, Lugansk) and Ukrainian ones otherwise (Lviv, Ternopil, Zhytomyr, Ivano-Frankivsk).
What do you believe about Russia and Ukraine?
- Ukraine is generally being truthful about Russian atrocities, including the Bucha massacre and the Kremenchug mall bombing.
- NATO is a tool to uphold American and European hegemony, but it is also a valuable security alliance for post-Soviet countries that could be attacked by Putin.
- The causes for this conflict are multifaceted and tortuous. Susan Watkins gives a good introduction (albeit long) in New Left Review.
- It is highly likely that US/NATO support for Ukraine is a kind of proxy war against Russia. The powers supporting Kiev should make military aid conditional on focusing on self-defence rather than attacking on Russian soil (not including Crimea, Zaporozhye, Donetsk, Kherson, or Lugansk, all of which were illegally annexed by Russia by force or though false “referenda”). Unfortunately, Ukraine has already used drones against Russian targets this year.
- At the same time, this is also Russia’s proxy war against the West. Kremlin propagandists have framed this conflict as a clash of civilisations—not between Ukraine and Russia, but between Russia and the “collective west.” Either way, Ukrainians are suffering the consequences.
- Russia’s pretext for invasion—the “demilitarisation” and “denazification” of Ukraine—is bullshit. But Ukraine does have a serious problem with ultranationalism, fascism, and neo-Nazism, especially in its armed forces. Stepan Bandera, a fascist Nazi collaborator whose work led to the slaughter of Jews and Poles, is a national hero in Ukraine. Unfortunately, even organisations sensitive to antisemitism, like the Anti-Defamation League, have chosen to paper over Bandera and the fascist roots of Ukrainian ultranationalism. Putin has capitalised on the very real problem of Ukrainian ultranationalism and admiration for Bandera to justify his invasion. This is nonsense; after all, Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who terrorised his people, but George W. Bush was still wrong to invade Iraq. Volodymyr Zelensky is no Saddam Hussein. Not even close.
- The Russian language and culture are not synonymous with Vladimir Putin and never have been. (If you want to argue “but imperialism”—are you planning on cancelling Shakespeare too? I write in English. My ancestors were forcibly brought to this continent by the British Empire. I still think there’s something valuable in British literature and culture, and it’s not just because I lived there for a few years growing up.) The knee-jerk anti-Russian-culture and -language campaigns are alienating and counterproductive, especially when many Ukrainians are native Russian-speakers and feel ignored and unsupported by the central government in Kiev. Justified anger at Putin’s aggression has wrongly spilled over to Russians in general.
- There is no evidence for an anti-Russian genocide in Donbass.
- The linguistic dickery (#KyivNotKiev, the lowercase “r” for “Russia” and “Russian,” “RuZZia/ruZZia,” and so on) used by some Ukraine supporters is tiresome.
- Moscow’s efforts to suppress the Ukrainian language in occupied areas are more than tiresome, though: they’re tyrannical.
- I suspect that some of the linguistic tensions could have been averted had Ukraine become officially bilingual after its departure from the Soviet Union. Instead, Kiev has doubled down on monolingual, monoethnic nationalism that offers little to people outside Western Ukraine.
- Volodymyr Zelensky is a skilled actor who can play to multiple audiences. Once known as the Russophone actor Vladimir Zelensky, he Ukrainianised his name after running for president. (Nowadays, the only major media that continue to call him Vladimir are Russian news agencies like TASS, RT, and Interfax.) He learned how to speak Ukrainian when he was running for president. He ran to uproot corruption, reconcile with Russia, and bridge the linguistic divides between Ukrainians, but he has not accomplished any of these goals. Instead, Russia and Ukraine are locked in a slow-grinding war of attrition.
- American, British and other pro-Ukraine media have started to suppress their criticisms since the invasion started, including its corruption and its relative tolerance of neo-Nazi and fascist movements.
- In trying to assert their cultural independence of Russia, Ukrainian politicians and activists have boosted the reputations of Ukrainian nationalists instead, including Nazi collaborators and fascists like Bandera. Last year, a street in Kiev was renamed to honour the fascist Azov Regiment. Another was renamed after the antisemitic Ukrainian nationalist Mykola Mykhnovsky. We in America have rightly started to pull down our Confederate flags and statues of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. Why, then, are we encouraging an equivalent kind of desperate chauvinism in Ukraine? (Speaking of Confederate flags, someone hung one in Kiev’s City Hall during the Maidan uprising, alongside other white-supremacist symbols.)
- If Russia is justified in taking over Ukraine because of its love for Bandera and other far-right nationalist figures, then Britain would also be justified in a (hypothetical) invasion of America because of the Southern states’ obsession with the Confederate flag, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, Civil War reenactments, weddings on former slave plantations, and everything else connected with our long history of racialised violence and state oppression of Black people. Neither, of course, is acceptable.
- The upsurge in far-right ultranationalism in Ukraine can be connected directly with Russia’s escalating aggression over the past decade.
- The referenda held in the so-called Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics were fake.
- Ukraine is not the democratic bastion many American and European leaders think it is. Last year, Zelensky banned multiple opposition political parties under the suspicion that they were all pro-Russian. Now he will suspend presidential elections until the war ends—whenever that is. (They’re an improvement over Russia, though.)
- Putin has shown some tendencies that recall those used by Hitler and other fascist dictators—for example, invading the Donbass to “protect” Russian-speaking Ukrainians, just as Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia to “protect” the Sudeten Germans, and dragging Ukrainian children and youth off to Russia to “reeducate” them. But he’s not Hitler yet. He’s behaved more like George W. Bush—and Bush is a brutal war criminal who deserves to be dragged in front of a tribunal in The Hague. Claiming that Putin is Hitler or worse than Hitler cheapens the memory of the Holocaust. I hope to God that Putin never becomes a Hitler clone. But to prevent him from becoming a Hitler clone, we must support Kiev militarily.
- American politicians who act as though Russian aggression is uniquely horrible ignore the damage we’ve done since the end of World War II, especially in the Middle East and Latin America. But at the same time, we cannot justify Moscow’s atrocities by highlighting those committed by the United States and its allies.
- Although Russia is rightly condemned by Western media and Russian dissidents for its repressive policies, such as its imprisonment of Vladimir Kara-Murza and Alexei Navalny, Ukraine has shown its own tendency to suppress dissent. Moscow’s repression of journalists has been well documented by North American and European media, but they are less likely to report Ukrainian repression.
- Ukrainian ultranationalism has led to a culture in which “kill lists” like Mirotvorets have tacit government approval. Mirotvorets, founded by a former politician, is a doxxing site that identifies “enemies of Ukraine,” which apparently includes a 12-year-old girl [link in Ukrainian], as well as journalists who stray away from the Ukrainian party line. Whichever side you’re on, you should be against the idea of doxxing kids. “It’s all right if my side does it” is a bullshit argument.
- I’m more likely to believe a Russian or Ukrainian claim if it’s been corroborated outside those countries.
- War itself is a crime against humanity, and it’s common for both sides of a conflict to commit war crimes. Ukraine has committed its share of war crimes, but Russia is by far the worse of the two parties.
- Finally and most importantly, Vladimir Putin is and was wrong to invade Ukraine.
It is possible to oppose Putin’s illegal invasion—and even support supplying Ukraine with arms, which I do—without defending the neoliberal values of the deeply corrupt anti-labour Ukrainian government and its ultranationalist supporters. I squirm at the idea of showering Kiev with US weapons. But I can’t think of another way to protect Ukraine—and other countries near Russia’s borders—from Putin’s depredations.
Who supports Ukraine? Who supports Russia? Who’s neutral, and who condemns both?
Putin’s war on Ukraine has made strange bedfellows on the right and left in America and allied countries, though centrists seem to be more united in their support of Kiev.
On the right, pro-NATO neoconservatives typically support arming Ukraine and are extremely hawkish toward Russia. Examples include Prime Ministers Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson of the UK, or Victoria Nuland, the US undersecretary of state for political affairs. Now-Senator Mitt Romney demonstrated this tendency when he said that Russia was the United States’ number-one geopolitical foe in 2012, long before the full-scale invasion last year. On the other hand, paleoconservatives and “America First” isolationists—for example, Donald Trump, Tucker Carlson or Marjorie Taylor Greene—tend to be anti-Ukraine, even if they aren’t pro-Russian. Conspiracy-minded rightists are often pro-Russian, and Russian propaganda frequently co-occurs with QAnon theorising.
The left is split, too: some of us are unalloyed supporters of Ukraine, whereas others are more wary or downright hostile. Progressives and unaffiliated leftists tend to be strongly pro-Kiev and have views that are similar to those found in the mainstream media. Anarchists are split—some are pro-Ukraine, whereas others are critical of both Russia and Ukraine. “Tankies,” meanwhile, actively support the Russian side in the conflict. These are often the same people who think that North Korea is a happy workers’ paradise and that Stalin was just misunderstood. The less said about tankies, the better. Adjacent to tankies are the advocates of a multipolar world—though that means boosting the power of authoritarian governments like Putin’s Russia and Xi Jinping’s China to put a check on Washington’s imperialist ambitions. Ending American hegemony is admirable, but Moscow and Beijing are no improvement. Some Marxist groups—typically Trotskyists—are opposed to both the Putin and Zelensky governments and support revolutionary defeatism, a working-class overthrow of both the Russian and Ukrainian regimes, or a negotiated peace settlement. We have a pacifist movement, too, that encourages diplomatic solutions that often seem like appeasement.
Where do I fit? I’m a democratic socialist who wants the war to end on Ukraine’s terms, though I do not support the Kiev regime’s political aims outside its self-defence against Putin’s aggression. My support for Ukraine is military and humanitarian only, not ideological. I feel isolated because I am against many of the Ukrainian government’s actions, though I still want them to prevail against Russia. There are choices beyond uncritical support of Ukraine and defending Putin’s clear violation of the Ukrainian state’s sovereignty. My views about Ukraine are similar to how I felt about Iraq: although there are troubling sociopolitical tendencies in both countries (and this is an understatement, especially for Iraq), I don’t think ordinary Ukrainians or Iraqis deserve to be attacked. Incidentally, Workers Power, a British Trotskyist party, holds views almost identical to mine: Ukraine should be armed against Russian aggression, but we must not humour the Zelensky government, Ukrainian ultranationalist movements, or the marginalisation of people in the Donbass and Crimea.
Does Ukraine really have a Nazi and white-nationalist problem, or is this merely Russian propaganda?
Unfortunately, this is true.
For years, neo-Nazi and fascist elements like the Azov Brigade, as well as volunteer fighters from elsewhere, have been affiliated with the Ukrainian armed forces, though—mercifully—they do not constitute a majority, and one can hardly call Ukraine’s central government fascist. Volodymyr Zelensky is Jewish himself, and corruption seems to be a bigger problem among Ukraine’s elites than neo-Nazism. The idea that the Ukrainian government is run by hardened Nazis is mendacious Russian propaganda. Your average Ukrainian is highly unlikely to be a Nazi.
That said, the influence of the Ukrainian far-right is greater than it is in other countries—and it is frequently minimised by the Kiev regime.
All across Ukraine, far-right marchers carry banners with the face of Stepan Bandera and other fascist ultranationalists and Nazis, and Ukrainian leaders often connive at these spectacles—or even participate in them (or similar events, like neo-Nazi concerts). The government-sponsored Visit Ukraine site uncritically praises Bandera as a symbol of Ukrainian independence from Russian dominance. Far-right ultranationalists have harassed and assaulted Roma, LGBTQ people, feminists, and other victims in several Ukrainian cities and towns, including Kiev, Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv, and Uzhhorod. Even the Atlantic Council, a hawkish pro-US-military journal, highlighted Ukraine’s endemic far-right problem back in 2018.
Even journalistic efforts in Ukraine have occasionally become infested with far-right ultranationalism. StopFake, a project of professors and students at the Kyiv Mohyla Journalism School, has occasionally whitewashed the presence of neo-Nazis and other fascists in Ukraine’s army and paramilitary forces, to the point of claiming that a 2014 photo of Ukrainian soldiers standing in front of a Nazi flag was fake.
The New York Times and other publications have tried to bury this fact or minimise its importance since Putin launched his wanton invasion of Ukraine last year. Only The Nation, Jacobin, and a few other left-leaning media outlets have continued to cover the far-right movement in Ukraine. This is doubtless because Russia’s actions have overshadowed most of Ukraine’s failings, but we should also be more judicious about the states we support. Which brings me to my next point…
Should the US and NATO continue to supply Kiev with weapons?
Yes, with some conditions. Although I despise Ukraine’s promotion of petty nationalism and neoliberal policies, Russia poses a grave threat to its national security, as well as the national security of its other neighbours, including Georgia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Putin has already invaded Georgia and Ukraine. Only now has there been serious resistance against his warmongering.
The US, NATO, Japan and other pro-Ukraine states should hold Kiev to a few agreements.
- First, Ukraine must remove the neo-Nazi elements—for example, the Azov Brigade—from its army. If they do not, NATO, the US, Japan and other allies must withhold aid. This is right in itself—we should never tolerate neo-Nazism—but it also removes one of the Russians’ pro-war talking points.
- The US, NATO, Japan, and other pro-Ukraine states should be judicious in supplying Zelensky with weapons. The goal is to allow Ukraine to defend itself, not to attack Russia directly.
- If Ukraine shows little progress in recapturing its territory, its supporters should consider pushing for diplomatic solutions. This isn’t ideal—after all, I want Russia to be held accountable—but I would also rather not have people continue to be slaughtered in battle for little reward.
- If a peace settlement is reached, it must include security guarantees for Ukraine to protect it from possible Russian treaty violations.
Where can I find high-quality news about Ukraine and Russia?
To get the basic facts, I get most of my news from mainstream American, British and French media sources. For criticisms of Ukraine, I read left-leaning and libertarian alternative news sites (e.g. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting or AntiWar.com), and to understand Ukrainian and Russian partisans, I read news from those countries, either in English or translated.
- Most news sites seem to be clearly pro- or anti-Ukraine, with very few views in between. I find that leftists are the most likely to have nuanced views on Ukraine.
- Most sources I list are centrist or left-leaning, with a few conservative sites included as well. I rarely read conservative American or British news—after all, I’m queer and am sick of being demonised.
- I don’t recommend reading Russian or Ukrainian government-run sources alone. Russian propaganda is vastly more likely to be false than Ukrainian propaganda, though neither side is innocent. I check Russian and Ukrainian claims against each other, as well as US, British and Continental European news sources. I wouldn’t trust a Russian fact-checking site as far as I could throw it.
Strong pro-Ukraine bias
These are mostly North American and European mainstream media sources, as well as Ukrainian-run sites. I read these to get more accurate information about Russian actions in Ukraine, though I trust them less to report Ukrainian misdeeds or the historical relationship between the two states. I do not trust Ukrainian sites to report accurately on far-right and neo-Nazi movements within the country; American and European sources are more reliable here, especially in articles written between 2014 and 2022. Ukrainian sites will be marked with a caret (^). Sites I consult frequently are marked with an ampersand.
- Kyiv Independent ^ &
- Kyiv Post ^
- Interfax Ukraine ^
- StopFake ^
- Ukrainska Pravda ^
- New York Times &
- BBC &
- Deutsche Welle
- France 24
- The Conversation (mostly)
- Le Monde &
- The New Yorker &
- Dozhd/TV Rain (specifically the Fake News videos—a fantastic series by exiled Russian journalists that debunks Moscow’s propaganda) &
Mild pro-Ukraine bias
These sources unambiguously denounce Russia’s invasion, but they are more likely to criticise aspects of the Ukrainian government and civil society, including corruption, far-right movements, and ultranationalism.
- The Intercept
Strong pro-Russian or anti-Ukraine bias
Explicitly pro-Russian sources from countries outside Russia will be marked with an @ sign. Russian sources will be marked with a % sign. Explicitly pro-Russian sites are more likely to contain conspiracy theories and denials of atrocities in Russia and elsewhere (eg, China, North Korea). I read very few pro-Russian sources from outside Russia and mostly avoid RT and Sputnik. I don’t speak a lot of Russian yet, so I use machine translations for the parts I don’t understand. I do not trust pro-Russian sources to be honest about the Kremlin’s actions in Ukraine whatsoever.
- Consortium News &@
- Monthly Review Online/MROnline (clicking their “Ukraine” section shows a lot of pro-Russian content)
- Popular Resistance &
- World Socialist Web Site &
- TASS (both English and Russian versions) % &
- RIA Novosti % &
- Al Mayadeen
Mild anti-Ukraine bias
These sources don’t support Putin’s invasion outright, but they are often critical of Ukraine’s government and the necessity of NATO support for the country. Russian sources are marked with a % sign.
- Libertarian Institute
- New Left Review
- Electronic Intifada (mostly about Israel/Palestine, but there are a few pieces about Ukraine in there as well)
- Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting &
- Morning Star
- People’s World &
- The Nation
- American Committee for US–Russia Accord (ACURA)
- Interfax/Interfax Russia %
Very few sites take a neutral, pro-peace stance or post both pro- and anti-Ukraine stories, but here are two that do:
- Asia Times &
- CounterPunch (posts both pro- and anti-Ukraine pieces)
These are all pro-Ukraine. I wouldn’t trust a Russian fact checker as far as I could throw them.
- Media Bias/Fact Check & (my go-to site for bias and fact-check ratings)
- NewsGuard & (tends to be more hawkish on Russia than MBFC)
- StopFake ^ (useful for debunking Russian claims, except for anything involving far-right or Nazi movements in Ukraine)
I read these sources to verify Ukrainian or Russian claims about war crimes.
- Human Rights Watch
- Amnesty International &
- United Nations
Sources to avoid
I won’t list them out—I don’t want to give them any publicity—but any source that does the following things is not to be trusted:
- Refers to the “deep state,” “worldwide Jewish conspiracy,” and “LGBTQ groomers”
- Claims that the 2020 election was “stolen” from Trump
- Thinks that everything wrong in the world was caused by the CIA
- Refers to COVID-19 as a hoax
- Links only to Russian propaganda sites like RT and Sputnik