Why I launched Labour Friends of Ukraine

British politics is mired in an inward-looking and parochial phase, but I believe Labour is better than that


If I tell you I was at Euromaidan you’ll immediately get the wrong idea. On a freezing cold day of brilliant sunshine, I was keeping an appointment with an important Ukrainian for whom I have a soft spot; my wife. It was December 2013 – before the violence erupted – and despite the anger at recent events the atmosphere was convivial, you might even say comradely.

The demands at the centre of the protest were unremarkable, even humdrum. An end to the corruption that was (and still is) crippling the country and the introduction of what makes our lives in the EU prosperous and enviable – the rule of law; operating inside a framework of rules presided over by fair courts and transparent institutions.

You know the history – those simple ambitions had been dashed by Viktor Yanukovych after a late intervention by Vladimir Putin involving the offer of cash, the exertion of energy blackmail and the application of threats.

In front of the hastily erected stage the huddled crowd pogoed together for warmth to a chant of ‘Khto ne skache toy Moskal’ (Those not jumping are Russians), proud activists graffitied their home town in the maze of tunnels around the Metro stations – Rivne, Odessa, Mukachevo, Kharkiv – and enterprising vendors sold flags and scarves asserting Ukrainian pride and independence from Russian interference.

The Euromaidan I saw, and prefer to remember, was fond, hopeful and emboldened. I imagined it to be a second Orange Revolution and hopefully more successful. I’d be lying if I claimed to foresee what happened next.

What happened next – long after our departure – was closer to a cataclysm. The streets aflame, the same pogoing activists I’d stood alongside – now in ramshackle armour – scrambling for cover as their friends were picked off by snipers.

Back in London we worried for our family and friends, and worried still more when Russia’s ‘little green men’ invaded and annexed Crimea. I’d spent time in this beautiful, rugged, region and never detected in the taxi drivers and shopkeepers the ability or inclination to pick up Kalashnikovs and drive tanks through Sevastopol.

What did we think Putin would do when we acquiesced in this nonsense of ‘concerned citizens’ taking up arms? He did what any nationalist who considers the collapse of the Soviet Union ‘the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century’ would do: he made another land-grab by moving into eastern Ukraine. Francois Hollande may say there is no military solution to this conflict, but Vladimir Putin would like to disagree.

For someone with a real connection to Ukraine I arrived shamefully late to the conclusion that I had a responsibility to do something more than tut at the hot air of Western leaders and compose anti-Putin tweets. I launched Labour Friends of Ukraine last week with the modest ambition of bringing together sympathetic party members, providing news and notice of events and perhaps even attracting some support from our MPs and MEPs.

British politics is mired in an inward-looking and parochial phase but I believe that Labour is better than that. We believe in a better world, not just better gas and electricity bills.

With his old fashioned masculinity and faux-deference to conservative religion Putin is, almost to a comedic extent, the personification of a Sicilian mobster. In his creepy ethnocentrism and appeals to national destiny there are historical parallels that are nothing to laugh about. Labour has faced down such men in the past and expressed solidarity with their victims. It’s time to do so again.

Jamie Milne is the Labour councillor for Evelyn ward, Lewisham. Follow LFU on Twitter

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23 Responses to “Why I launched Labour Friends of Ukraine”

  1. Matthew Blott

    I support this wholeheartedly. Well done and good luck !

  2. damon

    I completely respect your position, though Ukraine is a country split along ethnic or cultural lines.
    I remember reading about its potential fault line years ago in Samuel Huntington’s book. Which is flawed so I’m led to believe by reading more recent articles like this one.

    But still, once you get into that ”Labour friends” or ”Conservative friends of” carry on, you end up in rather sectarian politics I think.

  3. Guest

    “Respect” does not mean what you think it does, I see (tip – it’s not the political party of that name) – as you fail to note your own massively sectarian domestic policies!

    You WANT the Ukraine split. Not the same thing at all.

  4. damon

    Leon Wolfeson is an idiot.
    He will now insist that I ”want” Ukraine to be split.
    I don’t have any particular view of it. Although Russia is of course the biggest problem and trouble maker in the region. The Ukraine government has used deadly bombardments of civilian areas under rebel control though, which is the kind of thing that parliamentarian ”friends” groups will often overlook because of their sectarian outlook on these things.
    And that’s why I wouldn’t have much time for them.
    Friends of Israel, Friends of Palestine, Friends of Ukraine – which is better?

  5. Asteri

    “British politics is mired in an inward-looking and parochial phase but I believe that Labour is better than that. We believe in a better world, not just better gas and electricity bills.”

    Its going to do wonders for BAE Systems and the usual band of private security companies, war profiteers and mercenaries – thats for sure.

  6. Asteri

    “British politics is mired in an inward-looking and parochial phase but I believe that Labour is better than that. We believe in a better world, not just better gas and electricity bills.”

    Its going to do wonders for BAE Systems and the usual band of private security companies, war profiteers and mercenaries – thats for sure.

  7. Jim Bennett

    I never fail to be stunned at the lack of political understanding of Labour people writing on Ukraine. War is fundamentally a clash between capitalist interests for profit. Ukraine is no different.

    Locally, Both the Ukrainian nationalist forces and the ethnic Russians are funded and guided by local oligarchs (http://www.theguardian.com/world/shortcuts/2014/mar/09/ukraines-oligarchs-who-are-they-which-side-are-on ) who are manoeuvring simply to maximise their power, control and profit.

    This is exacerbated by both sides being used as pawns in the Great Game by two big capitalist powers in a war over access to energy markets. 55% of Russian gas comes into the EU via Ukraine. At the same time, the US are looking to destabilise Russian influence in energy markets in order to promote their own fracked gas producers access to European markets. The UK has even underwritten a £200 million loan to Ineos to prepare Grangemouth to handle US gas exports (http://www.ineos.com/sites/grangemouth/news/ineos-op-uk-receives-infrastructure-loan-guarantee-from-uk-government-to-the-value-285m–230m/ ).

    Both sides have been accused of hideous war crimes by Amnesty. The UK conveniently overlooks atrocities committed by Ukrainian militias ( https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/EUR50/040/2014/en/

    ). The Russians are undoubtedly funding and supporting militias in the East, however, there are between 30 and 36 privately controlled militias in West Ukraine, many of which are avowedly fascist ( http://www.vox.com/2015/2/20/8072643/ukraine-volunteer-battalion-danger ). These are a dangerous threat not only to ethnic Russians but to any emergent democracy in the West.
    The author and founder of Labour Friends of Ukraine is dangerously naïve. This conflict is about local profit and international energy markets. The sooner we understand this, the less inward looking and parochial will our politics be.

  8. Guest

    Keep justifying war on the back of capitalism.

    We’re looking to America for some gas supplies because of Russia’s actions. Cause and effect.

    You keep justifying Russia’s actions in sending troops to the Ukraine, as you ignore the fact that your beloved thugs in the East have driven the Jews out of the region, as you use your double standards.

    This is about Russia attacking the Ukraine. There is no justification for it.

  9. Guest

    Lord Blagger, you’re a capitalist thug.

    You said it, not me, on the split as you support Russia and demand that Russian troops not be fired on, as you show your Jewhate as usual.

  10. damon

    You’d think a moderator might have a word with you and tell you to stop wrecking the comments section.
    I have no particular view on Ukraine, other than thinking that Russia is a big big problem for the countries on its borders, but is something that we might just have to live with.
    Matthew Paris said in the Times the other day (probably another paper you don’t read Leon) that it might be best for the West to just ignore what goes on in Ukraine, as there is only so much we can do anyway.

  11. Guest

    Ah yes, the left and Jews must be purged in your world, your trolls must be allowed free reign.

    You don’t care about the Ukraine, right, you just support your Russian Brothers, etc, and we must “live with” Russia’s invasions.

    The Times has a paywall, LB.

    Of course you love the idea of turning a blind eye to Russia’s invasion, as you demand we do nothing about it.

    Not the same thing at all. And yet you’re demanding that other views be censored because you’re so scared of them!

  12. damon

    You’re trolling me Leon.
    Do you think you could stop it?
    Maybe you’ve got nothing else to do but lurk on here and pounce on people with your nonsense.
    But there are so many people like you online I really can’t be bothered with yet another one.

  13. Guest

    You’re claiming that criticism of your right wing views is “trolling”. You are desperate, clearly, to silence left-wing views by any means.

    You can’t “be botered” with people who don’t ascribe to your ideals, who don’t like censorship, who don’t have a problem with all theists, etc.

    You keep calling not having your intolerance “nonsense”, as you show how narrow-minded and anti-debate you are, Lord Blagger, Mr. “Scourge of Pensions”

    As you whine and moan about 10% of your hyperbole occaionally being used, as you put your views on a plane of non-criticism compared to everyone else’s.

    As you use PC bigotry when I talk about you, and you generalise against groups.

  14. damon

    Put up or shut up Leon.
    You have made no ”criticism” of my views, other than to take my saying I didn’t support any ”Labour friends of” groups with my saying I supported Russia in Ukraine, or that my saying that Israel was too bomb happy in Gaza last year meaning that I hated Jews.
    You’re as bad as Russia Today.
    I’m hoping you might just be a youngster and that this is a phase you’re going through.
    It’s slightly annoying though as it means that this blog is being spoiled by a selfish kid at the moment.

  15. Guest

    Yes, your self-admitted selfish trolling as a kid is – you keep screaming that left wing views must be censored, as they are not your hard right views.

    Then you demand that I be like your preferred news outlet, as you use slurs against all left wing views.

    You refuse to admit or think about the criticisms of your views, as you support your beloved Russia, and as you supported Hamas over Israel, criticising attacking terrorists.

    Your radical agenda is clear.

  16. Jim Bennett

    Thank you for your thoughtful and considered response to my comments, Leon.

    Just to reiterate my position:

    – I don’t “justify” the war on the basis of capitalism, I condemn it.

    – I do not justify the Russian involvement in the war, I condemn it.

    – I point out that BOTH the Ukrainian nationalists and ethnic Russians are funded and supported by local oligarchs in search of profit.

    – I point out that BOTH the Ukrainian nationalists and ethnic Russians are proxies for their respective international capitalist backers in their mutual struggle for control of energy markets.

    – I point out that BOTH the Ukrainian nationalists and ethnic Russians have been found by Amnesty to have committed horrendous war crimes.
    I take a face value your points about ethnic Russian anti-Semitism. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the Ukrainian nationalists, as exemplified by the Adair and Azov brigades, use Nazi imagery, celebrate former SS officers and have avowedly fascist politics. The history of Ukrainian nationalism has not been benign in relation to the welfare of Jewish people.
    I support neither Russian nor Ukrainian nationalism. As far as I’m concerned they are the same exploitative capitalists waving different coloured flags.
    A plague on both their houses.

  17. Guest

    Thanks, Lord Blagger, for now trying to backtrack. But you do that badly, even!

    You’ve tried try and claim that the Ukranians are evil for resisting your beloved Russian’s troops, on the back of your propaganda, as you try and make a basic proposition of self-determination about your capitalism.

    You “point out” something which has had no effect on the Jewish populations, false equivalence, as you want mass death – plague is exactly that after all, as you try and have the West abandon Ukraine to Russian troops.

    Which is supporting Russia and it’s invasion. of course.

    And Russia isn’t going to stop with the Ukraine. Want mass death in the Baltics, too?

  18. Jim Bennett

    Again, thank you for what you must consider to be an articulate and intelligent response to my post. However, I must admit that I’m struggling to understand what you write. I presume that your analysis, language and grammar is derived from a world which I don’t have the privilege of inhabiting.
    All the best.

  19. Guest

    So you say you don’t inhabit Britain or speak English well.

    So you have no basis to make a judgement on “articulate and intelligent”, Lord Blagger, as you carouse in Monaco. No doubt with some Russian friends.

  20. Oliver Coxhead

    Pathetic excuse for supporting US-EU imperialism. ‘EU prosperous and enviable’ what like Ireland, Portugal and Greece. Prosperous for the rich! No mention of Nazi gangs backed by NATO, genocide against Russian speakers and the fact the working class in Donbass is trying to overthrow the oligarchs and build socialism in the face of extreme violence from the US-EU backed Poroshenko and indifference (except for vocal moral support) from Putin. The working class in Eastern Ukraine are fighting fascism and imperialism. I am a member of the Labour Party in Vauxhall and a supporter of Solidarity with Anti-Fascist Resistance in Ukraine. I will be fighting for class politics against those who cover their support for fascism and imperialism with EU liberal style rhetoric.

  21. Leon Wolfeson

    You are, yes. You highlight your right’s austerity, as you make nonsense claims about NATO and non-existent genocides (although I’m sure you’d like a few, of say the now-fled Jews in your buddies newly conquered lands), as you say Russian soliders are magically from the Dombass, and that Russian central-command capitalism is “socialism”.

    You make excuses for Putin’s invasion, spinning your conspiracy theories, as you are a member of the BNP in Vaxhall and a supporter of Solidarity with totalitarian assassins in Moscow..

    You’re fighting democracy and the people, and trying to overthrow this country to isolate it for your personal profit.

  22. Oliver Coxhead

    And you are obviously a nieve fantacist. What conspiracy theory? So you deny NATO is building a massive blitzkreig force along the Russian border. Why stupidly accuse me of being in the BNP when i am not and am an anti-fascist. Jewish organisations have condemned the KIev government for relying on Nazi gangs. Russia put forward a resolution at the UN calling for action to curb ther rise of Nazism, which countries opposed this? USA and Canada, the only two to do so. There has been no Russian invasion, if there had been they would be in Kiev within a week! Putin is a capitalist and is not going to support the rebelion all the way as it will also turn on Russian oligarchs. What ‘personal profit’ do you refer to, I am on a low wage and a union rep, not in any way a capitalist.

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