Anthony Burnett, a friend, comrade and collaborator, just published an article in openDemocracy, a splendid and much loved source of progressive ideas and material, to which he alerted me in a mail reading: “Dear Yanis, we disagree but in solidarity!” Since Anthony’s article mentions me, along with Jeremy Corbyn, in its subtitle, here I am, responding in the spirit of solidarity, affection and goodwill.
Anthony’s article was in response to a petition I gladly co-signed that, in the face of a New Cold War and a collapsing climate, called for an immediate end to the war in Ukraine, for the aversion of another war over Taiwan, for the de-escalation of the New Cold War engulfing, primarily, the United States and China and, lastly, for a genuine global Green New Deal. That petition, it is perhaps helpful to note, was in the spirit of The Athens Declaration which I, Jeremy Corbyn and Ece Temelkuran issued on 13th May 2022 on behalf of DiEM25 and the Progressive International.
Whenever you and I debate anything, the hardest part is to disentangle the things we agree on from our genuine differences. So, let me begin by pointing out four of your points with which I agree before homing in on our one major disagreement:
“Any threat to use nuclear weapons is an outrage”.
Obviously. Whether it is a panicky Putin who issues such threats, or North Korea, or the United States perpetually refusing to rule out a first strike, we must condemn every nuclear threat and any attempt to normalise nuclear weapon use.
“Invading other countries is wrong… it is wrong for Israel in Palestine’s West Bank and Gaza, and it must now be reversed in Ukraine.”
Absolutely. This is how I put the same point on 5th March in an article entitled What we must do in the face of Putin’s criminal invasion of Ukraine: “When a country or region is invaded, I am overcome by one duty: To take the side of the people facing troops with direct orders to violate their homes, to bombard their neighbourhoods, to destroy the circumstances of their lives. Without hesitation. Unconditionally.”
“If [Ukrainian] neutrality were guaranteed by military commitments from outside to safeguard the country’s independence in a way that satisfied the government in Kyiv, and did not deprive it of weapons for self-defence, then this would be reasonable.”
Agreed. Here is the same idea as I put it in my aforementioned 5th March article: “[I]t must be an agreement guaranteed jointly by Washington and Moscow, guaranteeing an independent and neutral Ukraine as part of a broader agreement that de-escalates tensions with the Baltics, Poland, around the Black Sea, across Europe.”
“Neutrality should not prevent Ukraine from joining the European Union if it so chooses (something even Putin’s Russia seems to have accepted). This, too, needs to be said.”
This is also my position. From the first moment Putin invaded Ukraine, I have been arguing that to stand with Ukraine should mean, amongst other things, a commitment to empowering Ukrainians to integrate, if this is what they want, with Western Europe in the same way that Austria did during the Cold War: militarily neutral but with a boisterous democracy, strong economy, full political independence, and freedom “to truck, barter and exchange” with anyone they want.
You warn leftists, like myself, of the danger that, while discussing Ukraine and the manner in which Russia, the USA and NATO are exploiting the war, we should avoid denying “Ukrainian agency and the commitment of a huge majority of Ukrainians to their country’s integrity and independence.”