As Russia invades Ukraine, a country of 44 million people bordering the Black Sea, the war rages on. With the prospect of negotiations between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky teetering on a knife’s edge, our solidarity is owed to the people of Ukraine more than ever.
But so is it owed to the people of Yemen, Palestine, Syria, Somalia and, yes, the people of Russia, as these populations and more are all victims of violent sanctions and military campaigns supported wholly or partly by the U.S. and its military industrial complex. It is unequivocally a tragedy when innocent people are bombed, starved, exploited and maligned through xenophobia.
War is just one of many tools used to subjugate oppressed people and nations: U.S. economic sanctions which punish one-third of the global population to put pressure on their sovereign governments, embargos and blockades which attempt to starve regions of the world such as Cuba and Gaza, arms sales to the militaries of other nations engaged in their own wars, as with U.S. and Turkish arms manufacturers selling to the genocidal Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen, and neocolonial economic relations that force poor countries to sell their commodities for low prices to rich countries are all forms of forceful degradation of humanity’s well-being — in other words, violence.
The invasion of Ukraine by Russia is tragic, and any substantive anti-war, anti-imperialist movement should galvanize to support refugees and deescalate the violence by demanding an end to North Atlantic Treaty Organization expansion and a drawback from Eastern Europe. The U.S.-led military coalition has no right to police Russia’s borders or borders of any other nations. At the same time, it’s worth asking why we seem incapable of showing the same solidarity with nations who suffer similar oppression over longer periods of time.
Is it the racist otherization of the Global South country whose skies are filled with missiles daily? Is it the desensitization of the imperial center to Western-backed militarism in countries of poor people of color? Is it a quiet acceptance of and submission to the ubiquity of global suffering? It could be all of these, seasoned by the fact that the invasion of Ukraine has been covered so sensationally due to the legacy of Cold War conflict with Eastern Europe. We must not let its pervasiveness dilute the horror of war.
The fact that the U.S. has never been punished for encroaching on the sovereignty of Indigenous peoples and other nations in its history has been ignored. President Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon, Kennedy and Johnson did not stand trial for the genocidal violence the U.S. enacted in Vietnam and Korea in support of puppet governments, like those of Ngo Dinh Diem and Syngman Rhee, in supposedly stopping the spread of socialism. Washington was not called a brutal strongman for his attempted extermination of the Indigenous Haudenosaunee Confederacy in the 1780s. The ongoing project of American imperialism has such longevity because capitalist institutions, dependent on the profits gained from subjugating and exploiting the world’s poorest people, resuscitate the myths of a flawed but otherwise benevolent history and foreign policy. In doing so, the stewards of the American empire excuse its political, economic and military solutions to enforce a “rules-based order” which in itself has no basis in international law. Who establishes those rules and who gets to break them when it’s convenient is a key question in the geopolitical tensions between the U.S. and Russia.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a clear violation of the principles of sovereignty and national self-determination, as have been the majority of U.S. foreign policy ventures throughout its existence. The point here is not to handwave Russia’s belligerence away by referring to that of its longtime adversary. Rather, it is to drive home the understanding that all forms of oppression — whether they be war, sanctions, exploitation, discrimination or the systematic destruction of this planet by the capitalist class — are interconnected. If you feel compelled to speak out against one, your voice will be faint and weak unless you commit to speaking out against the others.
Unified movements challenging capitalism, imperialism, patriarchy, racism, ableism and climate collapse are strong because they ensure that a reduction in one form of systemic violence is not replaced by a strengthening in all other forms — consider how the Nordic countries’ strong social safety net can only exist because of its participation in the imperialism of the European Union.
The imperial ambitions of the U.S. and E.U., punctuated by the decades long creep of NATO into Eastern Europe and the flood of arms into the nations bordering Russia, is one of the strongest contributing factors culminating in Russia’s imperialistic maneuver into Ukraine. To fight for peace means to fight the ability of all nations to undermine others’ national sovereignty — NATO and Russia have a commensurate obligation to let the people of Ukraine breathe.
In the U.S., the relative peace (unless you’re in an overpoliced and underserved Black or Indigenous community) we experience on a day-to-day basis is not something we should take for granted. We must understand that, in a period of climate crisis, war anywhere is a threat to humanity everywhere. Whether it’s the American or Russian military, the strengthening of oil and gas infrastructure fueling machines of war accelerates our descent into a point of no return for carbon emissions. Hidden in the true toll of war are the externalities caused by pollution and ecocide that will come back to bite later.
War’s violence does not affect civilians equally. Scholarship on the disproportionate impact on women and ethnic minorities has been critically studied throughout the 20th century. However, a field that is desperately neglected is how violence is compounded for people with disabilities. The blockade on Gaza, Palestine by Israel hurts the 48,000 disabled people living in the open-air prison by depriving them of the resources to produce critical care items. The looming shadow of Israeli settler-colonialism not only suffocates the freedom of movement of disabled people, but victimizes them further with surveillance and policing.
In Ukraine, it is already observable that Ukrainians with disabilities and mobility conditions are trapped in the fires of war. As war is a mass disabling event, wherein injuries and trauma can have lifelong consequences, it follows that in an ableist society these people will be left behind by an austere state such as Ukraine. The anti-war struggle is an anti-ableist struggle as well. No marginalized groups should be forgotten in the hidden costs of war.