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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

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